Day 164 – The Last Starfighter – 1984

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The Last Starfighter is the 1984 cult classic that tells the story of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) who live in a trailer park with his mum and brother. One day he is approached to join the Ryland Star League and become a Starfighter. The film also stars Robert Preston who plays Centauri, the renegade agent of the Star League tasked to find the greatest fighters. Directed by Nick Castle it was too many reviewers comparing it to Star Wars but praised the cast for their energetic performances.

Alex Rogan lives in a trailer park with his mum and brother. The inhabitants always go to Alex to fix various things. One day his girlfriend Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart) wants to visit the beach, and as Alex is about to enter the car his mother calls to help fix the electricity generator. Annoyed yet loyal he agrees to help. After he finishes he plays on the local arcade game ‘The Frontier’. He reaches the highest score anyone has ever seen. Proud of his accomplishments, he finishes the day turning off the trailer park neon sign only to be approached by a futuristic car. A man named Centauri asks him to join him in the car and he is whisked off to the Ryland Star League as a top starfighter. It’s up to Alex, Centauri and new friend Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) to stop the threat of Xur and his fighters.

The film has a similar premise to the classic Star Wars films thanks to its similarities with space battles and a lone male sent to save the galaxy. The film also contains all the classic 80’s charm with a clone character also played by Guest who actually has all the laughs. The comedic charm of which Beta Alex is deadpan because he doesn’t know what is right or wrong, and its funny to see him in situations. Alex, on the other hand, is more down to earth, thinking that he could be killed at any time. The cheese factor is also deep when we meet Grig. His head looks awfully like male genitalia but that doesn’t take away from his humorous persona. He brings the honour to the role with charm and charisma. What I believe that Nick Castle has done here is that he has tried to merge the characters from E.T and put them into the world of Star Wars. It kind of works, but thanks to the inclusion of a terrible villain Xur, it kind of plays as a campy fun.

The film was moderately successful in 1984, but as the years passed many fans looked back and loved it essentially giving it cult classic status. The film was also known as the first to fully incorporate computer graphics for the space sequences which was unheard of in the 80s. Every single scene that takes place in space was generated on a Cray X-MP machine which was incredible. 27 minutes of screentime, 300 shots on screen. Incredible work for something ahead of its time.

Overall the film was amazing, a concoction of Star Wars and E.T. fighting in space. Fantastic special effects for the time and some fun writing for the characters. Lance Guest and Dan O’Herlihy are fantastic as the dynamic duo with Robert Preston as the crazy yet infectious Centauri. Catherine Mary Stewart plays the girlfriend Maggie to Alex and she is perfect. Beautiful, funny and smart she was ideal for the role. The film is a hidden gem, and a sequel should be greenlit asap.

Should you watch it: YES

Day 131 – Solaris – 2002

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Solaris is actually a remake of the 1972 Russian film Solyaris directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. This time around the remake is directed by Steven Soderbergh and released in the UK in February 2003 to average reviews.

It tells the story of psychiatrist Chris Kelvin who has been approached by space agency DBA who have issues with scientists on their shuttle orbiting the planet known as Solaris. He is sent there to figure out why the scientists have not left the ship and returned home, and the status of the team. He arrived on Solaris to disturbing scenes of dried blood and two dead scientists. He meets Snow (Jeremy Davis) who is apprehensive at Kelvin, and also Dr Gordon (Viola Davis) who confines herself to her quarters. They tell him of hallucinations of bizarre proportions on the ship, essential taking the thing they love the most and it becoming real. While asleep Kelvin thinks of his deceased wife Rheya (Natascha McElhone), and the last time he saw her which was dead in his arms thanks to the aborted abortion. He wakes up to her on his bed laying next to him. Him thinking it’s an illusion puts her in an escape pod and jettisons it into space. The next day she returns and explains that she loves him but feels incomplete. She is a copy of Rheya taken from Kelvin’s thoughts and memories. The team have to figure out why the copies have appeared and what to do next.

The beauty of the film is the how the characters deal with the outsiders. On one hand, they welcome the visitors, but on the other, they are afraid thanks to the thoughts they behold. In Chris Kelvin’s case, Rheya is angry and emotional thanks him remembering her like that so her persona is like that. Dr Gordon killed her copy thanks to her logical thinking and emotional overload thanks to it appearing. Dr Gibarian, the man who invited Chris Kelvin to the ship to work out what was going on has his child as the visitor which meant he loved his son. The great thing about the remake is the scope that Director Steven Soderbergh has on the plot. The basis of the film takes place in 3 places. Kelvin’s house, the ship main rec room and Kelvins room on the ship. 3 centric places to infect the viewer with ambiguous answers that create a sense of loss of humanity on the ship. The film is slow, but that’s what makes it great. Soderbergh uses the score to mask the ships noise to create a vibe that is uneasy and cerebral to the mind.

This is the kind of film the audience either loves or hates, and the first 10 minutes usually decide that. A tale of the human condition, kill something you love to save others or sacrifice it all for the sake of love. Soderbergh has revisited a classic tale from the 70s and created something unique with it that can only be shown in the right context. Top notch performances from George Clooney and Natascha McElhone who provide the majority of the screen time. You can feel the chemistry as soon as they appear on screen, something that Soderbergh has hit correctly.

Should you watch it: YES

Day 53 – Strange Days – 1995

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Back in the 90’s, James Cameron was king of the world. He released the T2: Judgement Day and audiences across the world went insane for it thanks to the visual effects, explosions and adrenaline pumping storyline. He married Kathryn Bigelow in 1989 and asked her to direct his next big film, Strange Days in 1994. It was a commercial failure, of which many attributed to Camerons influences behind the camera of the film. I think the story was clever and was a little ahead of its time being made in 1995.

The plot is about Lenny Nero, a 21st cop turned street-hustler dealing in SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) discs that allow the user to experience the memories and physical sensations of the person who originally recorded it. He comes across a disc of which a murder takes place, and propelled into the underbelly of the LA as he tried to find out who murdered the victims. All before the Millenium approaches. It’s a great story by James Cameron and I have to say the acquisition of actors in the film that Kathryn Bigelow has chosen is fantastic on a $30 Million budget.

Leading the cast was Ralph Fiennes playing Lenny Nero, Angela Bassett as Mace the driver, and Juliette Lewis as Faith Justin, the ex-girlfriend of Nero. Also in the squad were Tom Sizemore, Vincent D’Onofrio, William Fichtner and the always scary Michael Wincott. They all work very well together, in particular, Fiennes and Bassett as friends who want to become lovers, the chemistry on screen palpates a fantastic culmination of friendship and honour. Also in the mix is D’Onofrio and Fichtner who play corrupt cops inserted into the story as a subplot. They have no morals or ethics and it shows via anger and rage they both possess on screen. At one point they are shooting into a large crowd, gunning quite a few of the public down onto the ground as the other cops just watch.

I love this film, it encompasses everything that the future could have been. The ability to jump into someone’s thoughts and feelings was impressive, that only the man who created The Terminator could think of. Bigelow stretches her shooting capability with some groundbreaking cinematography. She worked over a year with cinematographer Matthew F.Leonetti to miniaturise a camera system to fit on a head to emulate the first-person camera technique we see on screen. It streamlined the transition to creating realistic first person camera techniques as it emulated the human eye and how the body moves without being fake to a certain degree.

Music in the film is varied, as the filmmakers wanted an international soundtrack with a mix from all over the globe. Rock, trance and rap are heard throughout the film. It does a good job of creating the bizarre culture of which Lenny works in, showcasing talents from across the globe. Personally, I would have preferred to have a single style of music in the film, to identify with audiences, but then again 1995 was a different time.

Overall another great blockbuster from 1995, science fiction at the forefront of entertainment. A goal for James Cameron.

Should you watch it: YES

 

Day 45 – Underworld: Blood Wars – 2016

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Slick action and fantastic fight scenes can’t save this film from its terrible plot. Based on the Underworld Franchise written originally by Len Wisemen and Kevin Grevioux. This 5th entry into the world is lacklustre, to say the least. Usually, when a film looks incredibly pretty and has a very sexy feminine figure on the poster you would think that the film would be good.

Essentially this is trying to reboot the Underworld franchise to be more consistent with today cinemagoers. It applies to the younger generation who from no fault of their own have become accustomed to large set pieces and incredibly choreographed fight scenes. I blame this on the Fast and Furious franchise.

As this is the fifth in the franchise, the vampires have gone underground and the werewolves who are called Lycans are merging their forces to attack the last stronghold of the vampires. The only person who can save them is Selene (played by the incredibly sexy Kate Beckinsale). It’s a generic story, with some generic science fiction brought in to with blood and nonsense.

The only redeeming factor for the film is the visual effects and the cinematography. Let’s talk about the visual effects. Firstly the film is set at night so some of the set extensions look like they stretch for miles but in theory, they are literally only a couple metres long. The Lycans who morph from the human bodies look really bad. They look like they are trying to cross between the wolfman and a bear. Issues arise with the ability to make it look real to the point where is crosses the uncanny valley. The cinematography, however, looks incredible thanks to the sweeping shots of the night city and the long takes in the city streets with Selene slaughtering the variety of enemies in her path. It is quite a site to behold.

Overall the film is more style over substance. They should have left this film in development hell and brought us something new, fresh and vibrant.

Should you watch it: NO