Review – Westworld Season 1

A futuristic Western-themed amusement park allows high paying guests to live out their wildest fantasies without real world consequences.
Westworld is a theme park with a difference – it enables rich holidaymakers to experience whatever fantasies they possess through artificial consciousness. The park is maintained by robotic ‘hosts’, who aid the fulfilment of the guests desires. However, the many advances in technology that have taken place since the park opened have meant the hosts have become increasingly lifelike over the years. Now, they’ve reached a point where they are growing more and more self-aware and have a stronger grasp on reality, that reality being that they are simply there to carry out a function. After this long, it would appear that the hosts have had enough, and the ultimate rebellion starts to get underway.
I know Westworld was on TV ages ago, but it is only now that I have managed to get round to seeing it. I have to be honest, for the first couple of episodes, I didn’t really know what was going on, but I’m glad I persevered because it built up to a very good finale that ha some very excited for the next season. Maybe I was at a disadvantage because I have never seen the original Westworld film? Who knows… I did eventually end up really enjoying the series, which is all that really matters I think.

A number of things caught my attention when it came to the previews for the show, and one of those things was the cast. Westworld boasts quite a line up. Anthony Hopkins plays Robert Ford, one of the co-founders of the park. I initially loved his character – the fact that Hopkins stuck with his native Welsh accent for the role really worked for me, however he turned out to be a right piece of work in the end, and something about that just didn’t quite sit right. It didn’t have the impact I would have liked it to.

My favourite character had to be Thandie Newton’s brothel madam Maeve. She really reminded me of a character similar to her in Ripper Street, and she was great to watch as she cottoned onto what had been going on for years and years inside the park. I also liked watching the transitions she and the other host actors underwent when the people in charge of the park were running diagnostics and carrying out other technological tasks. The smallest changes made a huge difference in these scenes and it was very easy to differentiate between their personalities and analytical selves.

As I’ve said, to start off I didn’t really have much clue as to what exactly was going on with the storyline, but by the time it got to the third or fourth episode I was fully on board. I think this is partly due to you watching the drama unfold as would be the case from the hosts’ perspectives. It is a non-linear narrative, and the story goes backwards and forwards a lot. Each episode tends to go back to the beginning with a different character, and each time it does this it brings up both old and new details. It kind of felt like what I’d imagine was what the hosts were experiencing as they woke up at the beginning of each storyline. Maybe that’s a bit out there, I don’t really know – that’s just the way I tried and succeeded in making sense of it all.

So, would I recommend Westworld? The answer is yes I would. After having not seen the original film, I didn’t really know what to expect, so I suppose I went into the series with fresh eyes compared to a couple of other people who I had spoken to who had seen the film and perhaps hadn’t quite been convinced by this version of things. It does take a couple of episodes to warm-up, and for that reason Westworld certainly isn’t for everyone. Those of you with patience, however, will hopefully find it to be a rewarding watch with a real Wild West vibe, which was absolutely the case for me! 

Review – Arrival

When aliens land across the globe, a linguistics experts is called in to try and decipher the messages sent by the visitors to figure out if they come in peace.
Aliens have landed in twelve different locations on Earth, and linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is asked to join the U.S. army team keeping the situation under control in the States. She is given the task of trying to figure out what it is the aliens want from humanity, but the language they use to communicate is like nothing that has ever been seen before on Earth. As her quest to establish a dialogue with these creatures unfolds, the other countries acting as host to the visitors start to see them as an increasing threat, meaning that it is a race against time to find out if the aliens are friend or foe before total war breaks out.

Considering I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, I’ve seen a decent number of those types of films lately. Arrival is the latest creation from Denis Villeneuve, and I think it’s fair to say that after watching four of his films and enjoying all of those films, I now consider myself to be quite a fan of his work. What I really liked about this film was the fact that what initially seems to be the focus of the film isn’t actually the main event. It just felt a bit different to what I’d imagine so many other alien invasion films to be like.

Amy Adams is terrific here, and the fact that she hasn’t been nominated for an Oscar is a travesty in my honest opinion. She is someone who I think has crept up through the ranks in Hollywood over a number of ranks to be where she is today, and the wait has been well worth it. It was so good to see her as Louise in what was the pivotal role in this film – without her, the world would’ve been destroyed. She was the perfect heroine and I loved every second she was on-screen.

Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker both co-starred alongside Adams here. They both played slightly different characters here, one was in full support of what Louise was trying to do and the other one wasn’t so much. They did good jobs as their characters, but I think the main purpose of them both was to highlight all the brilliance that came with Adams’ character and her performance here.

I said at the start that what I liked so much about this film was the fact that for a long time I thought it was just about an alien invasion, but was actually about something else entirely all along. I thought this was a nice little twist as it meant that the aliens weren’t so much the main event of the film, but were more of a tool to get the end product. I also loved the idea that the sole focus of the film wasn’t dead science-y. The way this whole language puzzle came about was really interesting for me to watch, and while some of the linguistics stuff went over my head as much as the science would have done, it was quite nice to delve into the details of something like language for once.

Overall, Arrival was one of those films that was a pleasant surprise for me to watch, and has certainly encouraged me to see a few more in this sub-genre of sci-fi. The characters and the themes made it feel really accessible for me as it wasn’t 100% science, and director Denis Villeneuve has well and truly cemented himself among my favourite filmmakers now. I would even go as far as saying that I could be persuaded to see the new Blade Runner film when it comes out given he is directing. Not a bad review from someone who isn’t the biggest fan of science-fiction, wouldn’t you say?

Review – The Martian

 So, today’s my birthday and this means that yesterday, a visit to the cinema was in order. I think this is probably the first time you’re getting a recent release, so can we all just take minute to appreciate this rare commodity…

After a fierce storm on a manned mission to Mars, one astronaut is separated from the crew and presumed dead. Little do his team know that he is still alive and alone on planet with only a handful of supplies and his own ingenuity to survive.
During their mission to Mars, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and her crew are hit by an unexpected storm and have to abort their operation and return to Earth. Whilst attempting to evacuate, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is struck by debris and sent flying into the storm. His crew is forced to abandon him, thinking him killed by a rupture in his spacesuit. However, Mark is, in fact, alive, but faces the prospect of not being so in the very near future if he cannot find any solutions to the seemingly endless number of problems he has encountered in his first few hours isolated in the never-ending Martian wilderness. Mark has to call upon every ounce of his training; venture to the darkest corners of his scientific brain and rely upon his wit, determination and spirit…. and the potato to survive long enough for NASA to coordinate a rescue mission to bring him home.

The Martian is basically Ridley Scott doing what Ridley Scott does best – unfortunate events taking place in outer space. It is a real thrill ride that I think could do pretty well during the awards season. Seriously, to anyone who has not seen it yet, I highly recommend you get yourself down to your local cinema and watch it because it is a truly wonderful experience, and if you can get to a 3D screening, even better! You can really lose yourself in the whole thing and, for me, that was the best thing about it.

The general cinema viewing experience was inevitably greatly enhanced by the tremendous performance by Damon. He was brilliant. He made Mark Watney a very likeable character who you wanted to come out on top right from the word go – something that was vital considering that, for the vast majority of the film, it is just Damon parading around Mars growing potatoes, sending emails back and forth to NASA, and eating his potatoes. The reason for why you’re rooting for Mark from the very beginning? His charm and wit. There were times when he was giving his little mission updates that the whole cinema just erupted with laughter. Damon kept this up from start to finish, which also made his fellow crew members, devotion to saving him very believable.

Jessica Chastain as Mark’s commander, Melissa Lewis, was equally as good, however I was slightly disappointed to find that, despite being one of the top-billed cast members, Chastain was in the film only for a relatively short amount of time. Nonetheless, when she was on-screen, Chastain’s Lewis was every part the strong female character I wanted her to be, which I suppose is some conciliation.

The rest of the cast was nothing short of star-studded. Alongside Damon and Chastain were the likes of Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Of course, this meant that what I frequently heard throughout the first hour of the film was, ‘Ah, now, that’s your man from that thing with that other eejit in,’ from my dearest father sat next to me. The Martian certainly, and very quickly, turned into a rather A-list version of Guess Who?.

So, I’ll say it again, The Martian is a film that you most definitely need to catch whilst it is still in cinemas to immerse yourself fully in the heart of the action. Ridley Scott has added yet another sci-fi accomplishment to his already triumphant filmography with this film, and I think we should all acknowledge that.

Review – Unbreakable

A man discovers a song things about himself after being the soul survivor of a fatal train crash.

When Eastrail train 117 derails and kills everyone but David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who escapes unscathed, nobody can believe it. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) hears of the so-called miracle and decides to meet David to find out more about him, or more so, the state of his physical condition throughout his lifetime. Elijah is a sufferer of a genetic condition that has left his bones very brittle, and after hearing the news of David’s remarkable escape, he believes that whilst he may be very susceptible to injury and illness, David might very well be the exact polar opposite.

Being the Brucie fan that I am, I will sit and watch anything he is accredited for (even The Sixth Sense and A Good Day To Die Hard). When I saw Unbreakable was being shown, there was no doubt I was going to watch it, and I am very glad I did. At first, I was a bit sceptical of the idea that it was a bit sci-fi as I’m not a huge fan of the genre. But, staying loyal to Bruce, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised by it. It wasn’t actually that science-fiction-y and Bruce beat some people up, so we were back to the norm, which made me happy.

The film was good, but not phenomenal therefore the performances were good, but also not phenomenal. As I’ve said, the general rule is that I like Willis in whatever he appears and this was no exception. He was very good as the confused David who couldn’t quite take in what had happened, or what Elijah was suggesting to him. Willis got to use the face that has featured in many of his films – the one of sudden realisation of the gravity of the situation he is in that was a big thing in Die Hard. As David struggled to comprehend just what was happening in his life, Willis would apply the worried look, then just do what he would normally do – carry on fighting for the greater good.

Alongside Willis, Jackson gave his magical tough as Elijah. Jackson showed a real desperation in his performance as the long suffering man. Elijah had clearly never quite come to terms with his condition and the way it imposed on his life, and when he discovered David, it was as though it was because of David that people such as himself had to exist, to keep the universe in balance or so to speak. However, whilst Elijah had his problems, you still got some of that classic sass that Jackson always delivers.

The storyline was also quite good. As well as seemingly being invincible, David had super instincts that meant he could tell if who touched him had ever done anything terrible, which I suppose is where it falls slightly under the sci-fi genre. The thing I really liked was the revelation there was at the end which I actually thought was brilliant. It made me realise that what I had spent the past two hours watching was a real-life comic book adventure and I just thought there was something very clever about that.

Overall, I wouldn’t say Unbreakable is a must-watch, and it certainly won’t float everyone’s boat either. However, for fans of Jackson, Willis or comic book adventures, it might just be worth a couple of hours of your time. 

Review – Lucy

A woman gains access to 100% of her brains’ capacity after a package of drugs she is smuggling bursts inside her.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is roped into handing over a consignment of drugs after her ex drops her in it. She hands the drugs over, then the next thing she knows is she is being handed a false passport with a ticket to America. However, whilst being held by her captors, she takes a beating which causes the packet which has been placed inside her to rupture, leaking the contents into her bloodstream. Hours later, Lucy is capable of doing things which had barely even been contemplated of being capable of man.

First of all, let me say that Lucy is in no way an original film. The whole story is very, very similar to that of Limitless, and many shots also bear a striking resemblance to that film as well. In fairness, you could say that Lucy is for the boys, with the lead role going to Johansson, and Limitless is for the girls as we have Bradley Cooper to look at (and I don’t know about anyone else, but he always makes me happy). So, going on that, I would say anyone who enjoyed Limitless for the story and not just the fact that Mr Cooper was in it, would also enjoy Lucy massively. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. I found Lucy to be a weird film that sort of left me questioning many things I thought I knew about the world. It was watchable, but I wouldn’t see it again in a hurry.

Johansson played Lucy who came across the drug, CPH4, by accident. At the beginning, she was frightened by what she had gotten into, but as the film went on, Lucy became more and more dehumanised. Johansson showed this in an excellent way, and the way that she communicated with the outside world was, at times, unnerving. Johansson had a way of staring into the middle distance with a massive emptiness in her eyes.

Morgan Freeman also starred as Professor Norman, he works as a university lecturer whom Lucy turns to for help. Freeman is the sort of actor who generally makes anything better just by being in it. I firmly believe that you could be having a heart attack and if Morgan Freeman was by your side, you wouldn’t mind too much. Fair enough, Lucy isn’t one of his best films – it isn’t a patch on The Shawshank Redemption or Se7en – but there is no doubt he lifts it above what it would’ve been without him.

One thing I did like about Lucy was some of the effects used. I imagine it would’ve been great to see in 3D due to the way people were sent flying through the air and that wicked car chase scene. Then there were, of course, the close-up shots of Lucy’s eyes that lit up when the drug was active. This was reminded me most of Limitless as that too included shots of bright eyes that appeared to finally be seeing everything so much more clearly.

Overall, I think it’s fair to say I’ve seen worse, although I have seen a lot better than Lucy. However, the film was very thought-provoking. I realised that so far, humans have evolved to use 10% of their brain power. At what point in evolution do we become robots and stop being people? Because that’s what happened to Lucy. The more of her brain she unlocked, the less human she became. She no longer loved or felt anything. She became a machine. Yeesh.

Review – Children Of Men

It is 2027, and in a chaotic world where women have become infertile, it is down to one man to ensure the safety of one miraculously pregnant woman.

Office worker Theo Faron (Clive Owen) leads a fairly normal life, or as normal life can be given the fact that he, along with the rest of the planet, are living under the weight of knowing that the human race is heading for annihilation. This all changes when old flame (Julianne Moore) shows up making demands of Theo in exchange for a considerable amount of money. he reluctantly accepts her offer and soon finds himself as the sole guardian of the first and only pregnant woman for 18 years, with a terrorist organisation hot on their tails hoping to seize the child when it’s born.

Usually, this type of film is like Marmite – either you love it or you hate it – as is the case with most films under the sci-fi genre. But what is good, in fact brilliant, about Children Of Men is that it spreads across a whole range of genres. In one of the opening scenes, Theo meets up with his longest known friend Jasper (Michael Caine). This is where we get a feel for some of the comedic undertones of the film, and this is needed as the whole of the film has a fairly heavy storyline. As the story unfolds, , touching and dramatic moments are plentifully dotted amongst the many edge-of-your-seat action scenes, giving the film depth.

Possibly what makes this film such enjoyable viewing is the performances. I’m a fan of Clive Owen, and I think he is one of the most underrated actors of his time. 

Owen ticks all the right boxes as Theo
Owen as Theo proved to audiences that he is a very adaptable actor, as Theo’s character changes a lot as the will to protect Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and survival instincts take over from how he is portrayed at the start of the film. Owen shows that he can’t be type-cast as one particular sort of character as he plays the good guy and the bad guy so well, often at the same time. Ashitey as Kee is also a pleasant surprise, given the fact that she is a relatively unknown actress and no-one really knows what to expect, but she takes on the role of a quietly frightened young woman living in a harsh world excellently. With Caine as the mischievous old Jasper breathing a breath of fresh air (for those of you who have watched or will watch the film, there is no pun intended) whenever he is on-screen to wash over some of the more intense moments, you will struggle to pull yourself away from this masterpiece. He plays the role of an old hippy who has seen it all and done it all brilliantly, and some of his lines in particular will bring a smile to your face. The best thing about all of the characters is that none of them chose the lives they are having to live – they are just everyday people caught up in the aftermath of what past generations have caused.

Director Alfonso Cuaron does a fantastic job of directing this film. His camera work, particularly in the scenes of the uprising, makes you feel as though you are there, experiencing all of the events it’s the characters, not just watching them go through the mill. However, the uprising was all filmed with a hand held camera that followed Owen as his character Theo ran through the battlefield, which enables you to feel engulfed and in the midst of war yourself – a perfect feature of a film that grabs you by the throat right from the opening credits.

All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable, must-see film for anyone. Whether you are a film fanatic or not, it’s fair to say Children Of Men will swallow you up and you’ll find yourself lost in a dystopian London. Thankfully, for our sakes, it spits us back out into reality afterwards, even if the landing is a bit rough.
Children Of Men is available online and in stores now.