ORBzine - Techno-Thriller 2008 Movie Reviews

TITLE & REVIEW

Short Circuit

Short Circuit John Badham delivers a film about a rogue android, a year after Terminator came out.

Nova Labs, a US Military contractor, has developed a new weapon in the Cold War. The SAINT robot is a morfax wheelbarrow with an AI unit and a shoulder-mounted laser that has no visible power source yet can destroy a tank! Robot Number Five goes AWOL, and shacks up with bunny-hugging Breakfast Club member Ally Sheedy . The robot thinks he's alive!

It's up to the robot's designer, Steve Guttenberg [ Veronica Mars (S2) ], to recover the robot and get the girl. Gutenberg's sidekick is Fisher Stevens [ Lost, Early Edition ], who had been blacked up to look like a Pakistani (but is very convincing and amusing in the role).

Nova's Head of security GW Bailey does pretty much the same thing he does in Mannequin and the Police Academy films (where he was Guttenberg's Nemesis). That pretty much sets the tone for the film - a light-hearted comedy. Number Five is not the Terminator , he's more like a robotic E.T.

  • Short Circuit 2
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    The Island

    The Island Director Michael Bay , best known for big-budget brainless action flicks like Armageddon , is out of his depth with this more thought-provoking piece. In contrast with John Woo 's work, it wants to be Face/Off but ends up as Paycheck .

    Ewan McGregor [ SWI: Phantom Menace ] and Scarlett Johansson live in a futuristic city like the one in Logan's Run . The city is run by a polite, well-spoken (and thus not entirely trustworthy) Sean Bean - reminiscent of his character in Equilibrium . If a citizen wins the televised lottery, they get to go live on an uncontaminated island - but we all remember what happened to the winners in The Running man ...

    All this setup is delivered in the first act. from then on, it's a simple chase film. McGregor and Johansson flee, chased by Special Forces mercenary Djimon Hounson. This allows for some incredibly expensive and overblown car chases, which explain why Michael Bay was directing.

    McGregor is totally miscast as some kind of action hero. He could (and in fact, does) get his ass kicked by Scarlett Johansson.

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    Firewall

    Firewall Harrison Ford [ Indiana Jones ] is a bigwig at a Seattle Bank. He meets up with old friend Robert Forster (Jackie Brown ), who introduces him to Paul Bettany ( Knight's Tale ).

    Bettany and his gang hold Ford's family for ransom. Ford must go along with the gang, helping them rob his bank under the suspicious nose of Robert Patrick ( Terminator 2 . He must also turn the tables on the crooks ...

    Ford's a bit old for this kind of thing. And he's far too rich, successful and talented to waste his time of mediocre thrillers like this. Paul Bettany, once ferocious in Gangster No. 1, is almost unnotable here. His role as a hi-tech villain has been done by Cilian Murphy [Red Eye], Sean Bean and the like - 24 does this so much better!

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    Max Payne

    Max Payne This is a adaptation of a computer game, brought to life in a Sin City type effort.

    Marky Mark Walberg ( The Happening ) is Cold Case Detective-cum-Filing Clerk Max Payne. By night he hunts down his wife's killers, vigilante style.

    As soon as we know that his wife worked for a Pharmaceuticals manufacturer, things become clear. Unfortunately Max has a bad case of genre blindness - everyone who has ever seen this of film (i.e. the entire audience) know EXACTLY who the villains are, but he is cluelessly ignorant.

    Max takes Bond Girl Olga Kurlenko home with him. Is she the Love Interest or a Sacrificial Lamb? Well, her sister is gangster Mila Kunis (actually kinda convincing, not just a mean Jackie from That 70s Show) ...

    The result is a predictable noir thriller, but it's a refreshing change. For example, the characters do not use Mobile phones!

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    Equilibrium

    Equilibrium This is a near-future thriller set in a Utopia where emotions are illegal. The result is a version of 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 that has the trenchcoats and action scenes of The Matrix . The fact that it was made in Germany by a German director also helps, giving it a non-Hollywood feel that certainly helps differentiate it from other action films.

    Christian Bale ( The Dark Knight ) and Sean Bean ( The Island ) are Clerics, super-cops who enforce the anti-emotion laws with a spectacular martial art called Gun Kata. They work for a Big Brother figure named Father (Sean Pertwee - Event Horizon ) and his sidekick, Angus MacFadyen ( Saw III ).

    Bale meets a woman ( Emily Watson ) who makes him question his work as a Cleric. He also finds himself under scrutiny from his eager young rival, Taye Diggs ( House on Haunted Hill ).

  • Ultraviolet
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    Ultraviolet

    Ultraviolet Violet ( Milla Jovovich ) is a vampiric assassin in a Utopian future. She uses her superpowers to challenge the dictatorship in a climax strangely reminiscent of the far superior Equilibrium . They share the same director, though Equilibrium's German locations made it authentic and menacing while in contrast Ultraviolet's over-reliance on CGI makes it look cartoonish.

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    Aeon Flux

    Aeon Flux Charlize Theron is the title character, a super-powered assassin in a futuristic city. The Government is a dictatorship, so she helps the rebels by bumping off hard targets. She is assigned to terminate The Chairman (rent-a-villain Marton Csokas - Kingdom of Heaven ). But she discovers that everything she believes is founded on a tissue of lies ...

    Aeon is pursued by the Rebels and the security forces. Can they escape alive?

    This is a mediocre Sci-Fi shoot'em-up. It's nice to see Theron in action (usually Milla Jovovich got this kind of work, although Angelina Jolie has done some action-girl flicks as well). Also, Csokas gets to show more depth and range than his usual snarling thug.

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    V for Vendetta

    V for Vendetta Evey ( Natalie Portman ) lives in England in the 2020s. It's a dictatorship run by John Hurt ( Alien ) and his Fascist party, Norsefire. But one man, a ninja type who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and calls himself V, seeks to assassinate the Party leaders and free the country.

    This was written and produced by the Wachowwski Brothers , based on the Graphic Novel by Alan Moore . Naturally, Moore had his name taken off it - but the changes are not too bad. The tone is nowhere near as dark as the original, so do not expect Sin City . Also, it resembles Bush-era American politics rather than anti-Thatcherite Anarchists in the 1980s. A more accurate version of Moore's original story would be like The Dark Knight , with the Joker as the protagonist instead of Batman!

  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
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    Circuitry Man

    Circuitry Man This begins in subterranean Los Angeles in the near future. A hard-ass is hired to bodyguard a gangster during a sale of illicit merchandise - pleasure chips, a metaphor for narcotics. Naturally the deal goes sour, and the bodyguard goes on the run with the merchandise. The next step is to get to New York and sell the stuff there.

    Of course, this is not a generic thriller. To start with, the bodyguard and gangster are both female! The Earth's surface has been polluted to an unliveable level, so the journey to NYC involves the usual characters and encounters. That said, there are enough nice touches in the script and direction that it's actually quite watcheable.

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    Ninja Assassin

    Ninja Assassin This was written by J. Michael Straczynski

    Naomi Harris is a desk-bound researcher at Europol. Her pet conspiracy theory is the existence of Ninjas who can turn themselves into shadows (a nice Babylon 5 reference), and hurl their shuriken with enough force to sever limbs and penetrate kevlar!

    Unfortunately, she turns out to be closer to the truth than she expects. The Ninjas come after her. Luckily, a rogue assassin protects her.

    The plot is basically a selection of action scenes strung together. But it's so artfully done ...

    This is much flashier than the old low-budget Japanese efforts, with plenty of money invested in fake blood and CGI enhancements to the incredible gymnastics and martial arts. The nearest comparison (certainly in terms of plot) is the film Hitman , starring the American Jedi himself. This effort is far superior. The Ninja's upbringing is shown in detail, bloodier than Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes' childhood in GI Joe and more than just the edited highlights of the TV show Dark Angel !

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    Imposter

    Imposter This is based on a short story by Philip K Dick, directed by Gary Fleder.

    Earth has domed cities, under attack by the Centauri Aliens. President Lindsay Crouse is a warmonger. Gary Sinise and Madeline Stowe are suspected of being android replacements. Tony Shaloub is Sinise's pal, Vincent D'Onofrio ( Men In Black, Whole Wide World ) is the counter-Intel agent chasing Sinise.

    This is a disappointing action-festival. It lacks the feel of Total Recall or Blade Runner .

  • Blade Runner`
  • Minority report
  • Total Recall
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    Repo Men

    Repo Men This was based on a novel, which is evident from the fact it is narrated by the protagonist. The author was probably inspired by a Monty Python sketch or something, and the feel of the film certainly seems reminiscent of Brazil .

    The story is set in a Dystopian future where Americans are kept alive by artificial organs which cost as much as a house. If you default on payments for three months, a bounty hunter will take the organ out and leave you to bleed to death. Naturally there is a massive bodycount, but nobody in the Government thinks of salvaging the body's natural organs and giving them away for free.

    Jude Law ( Gattacca ) is a hard-ass bounty-hunter. Not his usual kind of role, but he achieves it with passable success. Liev Schreiber ( Scream ) is the weasel-faced boss, while Forrest Whittaker ( ) is Law's partner - a cross between Chewbacca and Darth Vader.

    The plot really takes off when Law is injured, and needs a new heart. The company sells him one - no discount or insurance, even considering it was their dodgy equipment that injured him! He ends up going on the run with his love interest. Not exactly original, but watchable.

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    Alphaville

    Alphaville This is a famous 1965 French sci-fi film set 150 years in the future, in the city of Alphaville. However, it was actually filmed on location in contemporary Paris. The story is Film Noir, but the actual style of the film is French New Wave.

    P.I. Lemmy Caution is sent from Earth to Alphaville to capture or kill a man who calls himself Professor Von Braun.

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    The Losers

    The Losers The plot is basically GI Joe meets The A-Team , as directed in the style of Joe Carnahan .

    The protagonists are a Special Forces unit consisting of Jeffery Dean Morgan ( Watchmen ), Idris Elba ( 28 Weeks Later ), Chris Evans ( Fantastic 4, Sunshine ) and a couple of newcomers. They get framed by CIA uber-fixer Max (Jason Patric - Lost Boys ), so they fake their deaths and go to ground in Bolivia. A few months later they are tracked down by mysterious Zoe Saldana , who offers them revenge and a chance to clear their names.

    The cast all give good account of themselves. Morgan seems to be reliving his role as The Comedian, though he is now a goodie-goodie. Evans is the comic-relief, a change from his usual pretty-boy routine. Idris, Saldana and the others work well together.

    This is a marvellous example of OTT comic-book violence. We learn that:

  • a man can get shot in both legs and be unable to walk, yet feels no pain and is back on his feet to scale a building within a few days.
  • A twenty-ton lear-jet travelling down a runway at full speed has a stopping distance of ten feet.
  • The hired help cannot be redeemed, and deserve to get killed off, but a megalomaniac villain should be kept alive for the sequel.

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    Robert Langdon Franchise

    DaVinci Code, The

    DaVinci Code US Scientist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks - Big ) is summoned to the Louvre in France by Police Inspector Jean Reno ( Godzilla ). There has been a gruesome murder, and Langdon is the main suspect. Police Cryptologist Audrey Tatou , grandaughter of the victim, knows more about what is going on - so she goes on the run with Langdon, to find the real killer.

    The heroes are pursued by Silas the murderous monk (Paul Bettany - Knight's Tale ), working for a killer Cardinal (Alfred Molina - Species ). They find refuge with Ian McKellen ( Lord of the Rings ), but have to contend with murderous Opus Dei assassins.

    The core of the story is that Jesus had a family, and that the bible is a cover-up by the Catholic Church. This made it very controversial - the theories in the story have many flaws, but the Catholic Church is violently opposed to debate or discussion. Another major flaw in the film is the pacing. There is a huge lapse of time between the climax and the eventual conclusion. It seems to drag on forever, and thus totally loses all momentum in a film that is basically just a thriller.

  • Angels and Demons
  • Inferno
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    Angels and Demons

    Angels and Demons This is based on a book written BEFORE The DaVinci Code , but filmed after it. There are a few changes from the original version - characters have been amalgamated to make it faster-moving - but it remains shockingly poorly researched. That said, this shows the Roman Church in a much more positive light than The DaVinci Code did.

    An assassin steals anti-matter from the CERN lab in Switzerland, and places it somewhere in the Vatican. The Church of Rome asks Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks - Big ) to help them find it before it blows up Vatican City. Langdon and a female scientist must complete a scavenger hunt across Rome, gathering clues about a fictionalised secret society.

    Langdon is helped by a nice list of supporting characters who become suspects or victims along the way. Ewan McGregor ( Star Wars: TPM ) attempts an Ulster accent as a young Irish priest who served the previous Pope. Stellan Skaarsgard ( POTC: At World's End ) is the head of Security at the Vatican.

  • DaVinci Code
  • Inferno
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    Inferno

    Inferno US Scientist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks - Big ) teams up with Felicity Jones . She is far younger than him, but the movie makes it clear she is a companion and not a love interest.

  • DaVinci Code
  • Angels and Demons
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    GI Joe Franchise

    GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

    GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra Duke and Ripcord are a couple of US Army Grunts tasked with transporting a new super-weapon purchased from arms dealer McCullough (Christopher Ecclestone - Dr Who (2009) ). The Baroness ( Sienna Miller ) tries to steal the McGuffin, but is prevented by the arrival of Scarlet ( Rachel Nichols ), Snake Eyes (Ray Park - Star Wars: Phantom Menace ) and the other GI Joes. Ripcord and Duke are duly recruited to the world's most top secret anti-terrorist force.

    This is an origin story as much as anything. Cobra Commander does not even get a mention until the end of the film. McCullough is basically Destro, but this is before he starts wearing his mask full-time. The number of interpersonal links between characters makes it seem like a soap opera at times. In all fairness, it sort of keeps close to the comic in terms of the facts, but it squishes ten years worth of chronology into about two hours worth of film.

    The SPFX are OTT, making the whole thing like a ginormous live-action cartoon. Everything is so OTT it's impossible to feel that any character is in any actual jeopardy - although even if you did, you just would not care. Stephen Somers is best known for writing and directing the first Mummy movie. And fair enough, he gives Brendan Fraser a cameo here as Flint. But Sommer's movies have been going downhill in quality for the last decade, and this attempt to reboot his career (what has he done in the last five years?) is clearly the worst of the bunch. So far, that is. God forbid, they're probably planning a sequel right now.

    The villains want to destroy the Eiffel Tower as a demo of their new weapon. This was how Team America: World Police started - it was a puppet parody of this kind of idiocy, made YEARS before the GI Joe movie was even green-lit. How dumb does a movie have to be to steal ideas from something that makes fun of it?

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    GI Joe: Retaliation

    GI Joe: Retaliation Most of the original characters have been written out of the film. The GI Joe team is now led by The Rock, AKA The Block - Road-Block, that is!

    President Zartan has hired Firefly (Ray Stevenson - Punisher: War Zone ) to break Cobra Commander out of prison. They legitimise Cobra as a US military Special Ops unit, and outlaw GI Joe as a renegade unit. The real irony is that Cobra seems to be more popular with American voters than the real US Government. They certainly discover the fastest way to end the nuclear arms race!

    The Block, along with Lady Jaye ( Adrianne Palicki ) and Flint, has to start a Red Dawn type Insurgency against the US Government. They bring the original General Joe (Bruce Willis - Surrogates ) out of retirement.

    Elsewhere, Snake-Eyes and his new protege, Jinx, go after Storm Shadow. They massacre an entire mountain-full of Ninjas, in the name of revenge. The 3D SPFX are at their best when the characters are swinging around on ropes on a mountainside.

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    James Bond Franchise

    Quantum of Solace

    Quantum of Solace This follows directly after the end of the previous film, Casino Royale . Bond is still out for revenge, and he does not care who gets hurt in the process. He tries to get info out of Mr White, but this is harder than he expects ...

    The trail leads to the gorgeous Olga Kurleyenko and her BF, Mr Greene - a somewhat bland fellow who at worst looks a bit reminiscent of Peter Lorre. Do not let the Reservoir Dogs style name fool you, he is not a physically threatening opponent for Bond.

    CIA man Felix Leiter pops up, now a big man in the Agency's South American Section. Gemma Arterton is Bond's contact, a cross between a St Trinians girl (the film she is most famous for) and the Rowan Atkinson character from Never Say Never Again .

  • Casino Royale (2006)
  • Skyfall
  • Spectre
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    Skyfall

    Skyfall Javier Bardem, famous as the Terminator -style villain in No Country for Old Men, wages a hi-tech war against M (Judy Dench). Worse, Harry Voldemort (Ralph Feinnes - Harry Potter ) wants her to retire. Can Bond save the day?

    This completes the Daniel Craig reboot, introducing Q - and other characters. The actor who plays Q also played the protagonist in Perfume: The Story of a Murderer . This should be a knock-out, if only he was not made up to look like Moss from The I.T. Crowd. Bond also has a female sidekick, played by Naomi Harris .

    Sam Mendes does a wonderful job with the cinematography. The shot composition is masterful. The Producers did a great job of recruiting an Oscar-nominated Director!

  • Casino Royale (2006)
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Spectre
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    Spectre

    Spectre MI6 is still recovering from the aftermath of Skyfall . Bond follows M's last wish, to stalk and murder a suspected terrorist in the hope that other terrorists will turn up to the funeral.

    MI6 and MI5 are being merged into a single entity, favouring electronic intelligence rather than human sources. The new M (Ralph Feinnes - Harry Potter ) defends Bond's integrity, stating he only kills after making a value judgement. This is totally at odds with all on-screen evidence in this film, starting by the intro scene where he endangers half the civilian population of Mexico City in order to kill a complete stranger without a warrant or official death sentence of any kind. However, this is still preferable to the idea of all electronic intelligence being centralised like in Captain America: Winter Soldier - look at how Red China used Google info to oppress Free Speech activists!

    Bond is suspended from duty, like in Licence to Kill . He may be following a pattern set in the previous film, but this is nothing compared to the Mission Impossible franchise where Ethan Hunt has been suspended in four out of five films!

    Bond meets the grieving widow ( Monica Bellucci ) and uncovers a secret society run by Christoph Waltz ( Green Hornet ). The villain hires Hinx (Dave Batista - Guardians of the Galaxy ) to tie up some loose ends, including Bond himself. The cat-and-mouse game proceeds predictably.

    The problem with this film is that there is no suspense or excitement. At no point do we actually believe that Bond is in any jeopardy! He walks through every situation without breaking stride. There is never a scene where we ask ourselves How will he possibly get out of this one?

  • Casino Royale (2006)
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Skyfall
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