Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk
Director: Joss Whedon
After losing an inter-galactic war to The Alliance, a crew of rebels, captained by Mal (Fillion), drift through space in their spaceship, Serenity, making money from occasional robberies. Since aiding their doctor, Simon (Maher), rescue his psychic sister, River (Glau), from The Alliance they have been keeping a low profile. It soon becomes apparent that River knows something The Alliance don’t want anyone else to know and, led by a mysterious operative (Ejiofor), they will go to any lengths to get her back. The code word “Miranda” unlocks part of the mystery but Mal must put a value on doing the right thing.
“Serenity” could have gone unnoticed given its humble beginnings of a cancelled TV show – “Firefly” – with low ratings. Writer/director Joss Whedon stayed loyal to the show’s characters, hiring the nine main actors for the movie version. The downside of this is that the transition to the big screen does not always work given that the cast is largely a stereotypical ragtag collection. Having said that, it’s no worse than other films of this ilk (“Alien Versus Predator”, “Aliens”, “Event Horizon” etc).
Whedon should be praised for maximising the relatively humble $40m budget that Universal gave him (indeed the movie barely broke even). The space scenes are believable, the cinematography is a triumph and the pacing of the script (which he wrote) is just about spot on. The plot won’t tax you but the payoff is satisfying and in Nathan Fillion Whedon has a surprisingly strong main character who grows in stature as the movie goes on.
Probably one of the better Sci-Fi movies of recent times.
Starring: John Cena, Robert Patrick, Kelly Carlson, Anthony Ray Parker
Director: John Bonito
John Triton (Cena) is an active US marine who, rather than wait for the agreed backup, bursts in to an Al Qaeda hideout in Iraq, kills about 9 insurgents and frees three fellow marines. Although this was a rather cool thing to do, the US military think otherwise and issue him with an honorable discharge for disobeying orders. Triton returns home to his wife, Kate (Carlson), and, after failing to settle back in regular life as a security guard, he and Kate take off for a vacation.
Unfortunately he chose to stop for gas at the same service station as unpredictable diamond thief, Rome (Patrick) and his gang. One shoot-out later and John sees the desperate gang take his car and wife leaving the ex-marine with no choice but to engage in a a wild cross-country chase to reclaim his property.
If the plot line sounds linear and uncomplicated, well, that’s exactly what it is – painfully so. Action dominates proceedings: exploding buildings, exploding police cars; when you’ve seen John’s commandeered police car take about 200 bullets without slowing him down, you won’t be able to move for the eye-rolling. The script is terrible. Robert Patrick is a respected B-movie actor and TV star who wrestles with terribly-judged attempts at humour (hanging up on his fence to take a call from a cable company trying to upgrade his pacakge and Morgan’s suggestion of a homosexual relationship when he was young jump to mind). One line that does work is his henchman’s comparing of John Triton to The Terminator, which brings a knowing glance from Rome.
Patrick is entertaining considering what he has to work with and Cena’s acting is passable considering that he’s not an actor. But the rest of the cast are nothing to write home about and Jerome Ehlers (looking remarkably like a cross between Peter Crouch and Ryan Tubridy) is clearly someone more at home in predictable cable TV thrillers.
John Bonito makes his directorial debut here but doesn’t really distinguish himself. Some of the action scenes are well shot but there is no John Woo stylistics here to raise the interest level and the plot “twist” can be seen a mile off.
One for American student meatheads.
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie
Director: Christopher Nolan
“The Prestige” opens with Robert Angier (Jackman) drowning in a water tank, watched by arch-rival magician Alfred Borden (Bale). Borden is subsequently found guilty of his murder and is sentenced to death. While in prison he is approached by an aristocrat’s solicitor (Roger Rees) who offers to pay Borden for his tricks, intimating that the money would go towards looking after his daughter.
And – with this being a Christopher Nolan (“Memento”, “Insomnia”) film – we backtrack in time to turn-of-the-nineteenth century London where Borden and Angier are getting their start as illusionists under the watchful eye of Cutter (Caine). An illusion goes wrong and Angier’s wife, Julia, drowns. Angier pins the blamely firmly at the door of Borden and so begins a lifelong war between the two illusionists who not only aim to sabotage each other’s careers but also try to out-do each other by performing the ultimate trick: The Disappearing Man.
With Cutter by his side the showy Angier becomes obsessed with working out how Borden performs it, eventually leading him to renegade scientist Tesla (Bowie). Meanwhile Borden now has a wife and child and his career is taking off. The stakes are high and both men become obsessed with being the best – but how far will they go?
Bale and Jackman are the stars with perfectly-measured performances. Caine and Bowie perform well despite being overshadowed and Scarlett Johansson puts in another strong turn as the mistress. Nolan handles things expertly as you might expect, even managing to pull off the arguably slightly-over-scripted ending. But, even so, the twists, turns and surprises make this a remarkably entertaining flick and arguably Nolan’s best to date.