Thursday, 27 December 2018

Altered Beast [Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald]

Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars

The second Fantastic Beasts movies takes place in 1927. An Obscurius transforming-rage-monster (it's no coincidence, by the way, that Obscurius rhymes with Mr. Furious) from the first movie is missing presumed alive. It seems everybody wants a piece of him - the Ministry of Magic, the American and French Ministries, Albus Dumbledore, and the naughty wizard Grindelwald, who has inconveniently escaped his US captors. Everybody, that is, except Newt Scamander who refuses to take sides as he is perfectly happy overworking his devoted assistant Bunty and playing with his seaweed-dragon. I know, right? Hufflepuffs... In order to prevent this being a very short trilogy, the Fates, in the form of US wizard Queenie and No-Maj Jacob Kowalski, conspire to send Newt and his family of baby Nifflers after the Obscurius. The trail leads to Paris, where Grindelwald is quite possibly up to something.

There are plenty of great cinematic moments, action set pieces and characters in this film, as well as points of interest for fans of the original series of books and films. Nagini, for example, turns up and is not quite as we remember her. The hypnotic sort-of-fascist Grindelwald is played brilliantly by Johnny Depp, to the extent that you can't tell if his ability to convert followers is a magic power or just extraordinary charisma. It's a rockstar performance vaguely reminiscent of David Bowie's Tesla in The Prestige.

However there are also many disappointments. The plot hinges on Dumbledore's past with Grindelwald and the reason they are unable to move directly against each other - but we get barely a hint of the romance. The Nifflers and Bowtruckles appear to good effect once or twice but not nearly enough, and there are very few new Fantastic Beasts. Human characters also don't get their chance to shine - can we have a Bunty spin-off series please? The plot itself is disjointed and difficult to follow, lacking in flow or perhaps logic, and while in the first movie there was great pleasure in exploring all aspects of US wizard culture and the 1920s setting in general, the second doesn't really get into either real or fictionalized history in the same satisfying way.

All in all, this movie is enjoyable in places but it's less than the sum of its parts and less satisfying than the first movie or the Harry Potter series, leading to the disappointing score of 3 stars out of 5.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Meteor War [Music Videos]

Two creative music videos for you to enjoy. Both have been added to The Sci-Fi Gene Music Video Choice playlist.

I'm always pleasantly surprised by just how geeky Ariana Grande is. I did not expect the video for One Last Time to be a Cloverfield-style found footage survival movie set during a meteorite strike - but I am grateful that it is. Thank you Ariana.

Nerina Pallot's classic anti-war anthem from 2009 demands a war movie for its' video - and gets one. I would argue this is the best war movie ever made, its' gritty realism really bringing home the grim horror that is a trip to the supermarket. I wouldn't necessarily win the argument, but winning isn't everything, is it? At least I participated.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Follow That Town [Review: Mortal Engines]

Score: 3 out of 5 stars
All movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog are given a score of 3 out of 5 stars

A small Bavarian mining village is minding its' own business when suddenly a predator city appears on the horizon. The town packs up its' houses, shops and streets and makes a dash for it but it's too small to outrun the caterpillar tracks of London, and its' fate is sealed. However as the village is pillaged and torn apart to feed the furnaces of London, amongst the villagers being "welcomed" into London's immigration system, there is a certain young lady with a desperate agenda.

Mortal Engines is a Peter Jackson-directed movie based on the Philip Reeve novel for children, young adults and old adults, set in a post-apocalyptic Earth a thousand years into the future, where cities have been uprooted and mobilized on wheels, legs or tracks, and where "municipal Darwinism" rules - the bigger cities prey on the smaller ones, and it seems London has become the biggest of all. The challenge for this film is to bring to life this very eccentric vision of city-sized vehicles driving furiously across a desolate landscape, without losing the humanity and the stories of the characters brought together by the clash of cities.

Does it succeed? Mostly. The traction city of London is an awesome creation, topped with St. Pauls Cathedral and its' gardens, its' overpopulated levels packed with houses and office blocks and connected by a transit system that combines the Tube, the red double-decker buses and the London Eye, and the entire structure driven on massive engines topped with Trafalgar Square lions. London kicks ass, and its' colourful citizens cheering in bloodthirsty fashion from their terraces as the City gives chase to its' next victim are just the icing on the cake. Meanwhile I can't describe in detail the other cities visited without the cast as that would be major spoilerage, but they are imaginative and full of character.

The central characters of Mortal Engines are mostly played by unknowns - at least in the Western Sphere. The singer Jihae, playing the rebel leader Anna Fang, is of course well known and loved in South Korea but hasn't broken the West yet - hopefully we will see or hear more of her. The unfamiliarity means that the cast are in competition with the cities to steal the limelight, and the cities put up a good fight. However I felt the lead players, Robert Sheehan and Hera Hilmarsdottir, gave super performances, and the most familiar face amongst the cast, Hugo Weaving, is a good choice for a villain who actually gets to do some genuinely villainous things *innocent face*.

Genuinely villainous. This is an extremely violent movie for a 12-certificate release. It is a war film of sorts. There is a lot of death, destruction and injury, whether in human-on-human firefights or in the collateral damage when cities clash or fall. Blood guts and gore are sparing - most deaths are clean, off-screen or implied, Doctor Who style, and sometimes this can be confusing.

For a movie based on such an original concept, it has to be said that Mortal Engines is derivative in some ways, and this comes down more to the way the movie has been styled than the original novel. London and particularly the Londoners are highly reminiscent of the Hunger Games' Capitol, and many aspects of the movie echo Star Wars, from paternity revelations to the assault by small flying machines on the Doomsday device. The novel itself, while original in many ways, also has its' precedents, such as the Christopher Priest novel Inverted World which also features a travelling city.

Overall I felt despite the derivative elements, Mortal Engines was a decent, enjoyable movie that well deserves its' highly accurate and meaningful rating of 3 stars out of 5.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Important Change To The Sci-Fi Gene Movie Review Policy

As regular visitors to the Sci-Fi Gene blog will know, as a rule I have tended to post movie reviews without a score.

This has always been a deliberate decision. I have always felt that giving a movie a score diminishes the review, and indeed the movie, the cinema industry, the general public, Life, The Universe and Everything and by logical extension the reviewer. Can we even assign a meaningful number to a movie? Or a restaurant, a car, a hotel stay, the amount of goals scored by each team in a football game, or the attractiveness of a random stranger? Is this not just the human fashion of attempting to impose order where there is none? Is it meaningful to compare two numbers, for example (and this is plucked purely at random from the many, many possible examples I could have chosen) the speed of a car and the applicable speed limit for that particular stretch of the A127? Do numbers such as the number 5 even mean anything? How do I know that the number I know as 7 doesn't appear to you as the number 25? Would the Universe notice if 3 came after 2 instead of before? How many roads must a man walk down before they call him a man?* And how in seven hells do you use an abacus?

Despite my feelings about the judgemental nature of imposing judgements, and my incredulous near-religious denial of the existence of all numbers between 2.5 and 19, I have nevertheless experimented with number-based scoring systems on a few occasions, incorporating my patent-pending Shark Bonus into certain reviews. The experience left me feeling perplexed, overwhelmed and frankly a little dirty.

However I have come to a realisation. Ethically, a choice not to make a choice is still a choice. By choosing not to score movie reviews, I am in fact assigning a score of unscored. And so, having deduced that avoiding movie scores, like all other aspects of life, is ultimately futile, I have decided to grab the bull by the thorns and turn the adversity of necessity into virtue. I have found a way to fulfil the need for a movie review to be scored, without any of the massive, lethal drawbacks this could otherwise entail. My system is not new or unique to the Sci-Fi Gene - in fact many reviewers on the TripAdvisor website use a similar system.

Henceforth, all movies reviewed on the Sci-Fi Gene blog will be assigned a score out of 5 stars. On all occasions this score will be 3. And on all occasions this score will be entirely justified.

*It's eight.