Sketchley's Translations Main Index
By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com) Ver 1.24 2017.01.23

Movie Reviews

A
  • AeonFlux
  • Aliens
  • Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery
    B
  • Batman Begins
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Blade Runner
  • Bourne Identity
    F
  • Fight Club
    G
  • Ghostbusters (2016)
  • GoldenEye
  • H
  • Hobbit: Unexpected Journey
  • Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug
  • Hobbit: Battle Of Five Armies
    I
  • Interstellar
  • Iron Man
    J
  • James Bond Films
    K
  • Kingdom Of Heaven
  • King Kong
    L
  • Last Action Hero
    M
  • The Martian
  • The Mask Of Zorro
  • Men In Black
  • Men In Black II
  • Men In Black 3
  • The Mummy
    P
  • Predators
  • The Prestige
    R
  • Rush Hour
  • Rush Hour 2
    S
  • Shaun Of The Dead
  • Spectre
  • Spider-Man
  • Star Wars II Attack Of The Clones
  • Star Wars Clone Wars Vol. 1
  • Star Wars III Revenge Of The Sith
  • Star Wars The Force Awakens
  • SWAT
    T
  • Terminator 2
  • Terminator 3
  • Terminator Genisys
  • Tropic Thunder
    X
  • X-Men
  • X2
  • X-Men: The Last Stand
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Wolverine
  • X-Men: Days Of Future Past
  • Aeon Flux
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.11.21
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2005
    Written by: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
    Directed by: Karyn Kusama


    One of the better films from the string of societal revolution films that came out during the late 90's and earlier 2000's. This movie made a greater impact than its peers because of its intriguing look at something fundamental to the human condition. The film doesn't spell it out, but this viewer considers it to be an examination of the soul. Perhaps one could say it is about the connection between the body and the soul (as nothing else could really explain the type of transfered memories between reincarnations that we're shown). The film doesn't even pretend to have any answers. Nevertheless, what the film does present is intriguing.

    Another of the film's strong points is its visuals: notwithstanding the eye candy, it is a gorgeous film to look at, with a lot of care put into what appears on the screen. The visual choreography - not just the fight scenes, but the editing of the shots - is breathtaking at times. The future tech it presents is also unique and intriguing in its own way. I don't think anyone will look at grass the same way after seeing this film!

    That said, although the story is done well (not necessarily well done), it leaves the viewer feeling that it could have fleshed things out a bit more here and there, and at the very least, made the protagonists a bit more sympathetic.

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    Aliens
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.25
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 1986
    Written by: James Cameron
    Directed by: James Cameron


    This movie has held up surprisingly well over the years. It has that good old movie magic in spades - I found myself on a recent rewatch having to remind myself that it was made before the era of CG, and then getting blown away all over again with the mind-blowing practical effects!

    Alas, I've watched this movie far too many times, and a lot of the suspense in the move has diminished for me. Nevertheless, some sequences are still very gripping, once the ball gets rolling. The characters and their interactions are also a lot of fun, and on top of this, the movie is stuffed full of instantly memorable quotes and one liners.

    If you haven't seen any of the Alien movies, make sure you see the first one (Alien) first! Not because there are things that you need to know from that movie to fully enjoy Aliens, but because of the way the alien creatures are presented in this film, and how that will diminish a lot of the suspense of Alien.

    The additional scenes restored in the "Special Edition" are wonderful additions for fans of the movie (my favourite has the nostalgia-inducing mid-80's plastic tricycle riding down the corridors of the colony, complete with Weyland Yutani stickers on it!) - though I tend to agree that cutting them improved the pacing of the film, and increased the suspense and tension in latter scenes.

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    Batman Begins
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.10.03
    Rating: 4 stars
    Release date: 2005
    Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan


    This film answers the questions we have about what makes and how Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. And those answers are both challenging and very satisfying.

    The film hits the ground running, and it doesn't let up until the end credits. Along the way, we see Bruce tinkering on and refining the Batman persona, as well as the incredible sacrifices he must make in the process. I also liked the presentation of Batman as being part of a greater team of willing and unaware allies, and not as a one-man show. One could say that by presenting Batman's vulnerabilities and limitations, it humanizes the character and enhances the audience's suspension of disbelief.

    The myriad of villains are all fresh and interesting, as well as adding additional layers to the story, the setting, and the Batman/Bruce Wayne character. The cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful at times, and the visuals are another standout feature of the film. Also, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's music also has a je ne sais quoi that takes the film to another level.

    Probably the only flaw to this film is that it renders Tim Burton's and Joel Schumacher's Batman films almost unwatchable due to their cartoonishness...

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    The Dark Knight
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.10.24
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2008
    Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan


    I want to give this film a higher rating. I really do. It has all the right elements (acting, effects, music) and makes some very pointed observations and arguments. But it just doesn't come together for me.

    Christopher Nolan's films are generally what I describe as 'breathless', in the sense that they have so much to say. Such as "Inception", "Interstellar", and "Batman Begins". However, The Dark Knight doesn't feel like that. Well, aside from the first reel, and the last ten minutes. The rest? I'll paraphrase Wikipedia: 'the film is always climaxing, and scenes are cut off just as they're getting interesting.' That 'constant climaxing' ends up deadening the senses, and coupled with the cutting off, it prevents some of the film's most important points from making a proper impact.

    I'd also like to add that Bruce Wayne is practically invisible in most of the film - troubling, as he is the most interesting character in "Batman Begins", and arguably the one person who the film should have been paying more attention to. The other character missing from the film is Gotham City itself. Maybe Nolan gave the city a bright and clean overhaul to make the film more relevant to the audience, but it came at the cost of eliminating a lot of the inner city grunge - the very thing that spawned Batman and gave him his raison d'etre.

    As the movie is full of excellent, believable performances, and as each scene more or less works on its own, I'm left with the conclusion that the movie overreached itself, and the pacing problems are down to grief during editing over the (at the time) recent passing of Heath Ledger. And speaking of Ledger: his performance is one of the main reasons to see this film.

    I'd like to note that I'm making this review after watching the film numerous times. I felt that it was more effective on the first viewing; which is another thing unusual for a Nolan film - usually they get better after the first viewing!

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    The Dark Knight Rises
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.11.07
    Rating: 4 stars
    Release date: 2012
    Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan


    Nolan returns to form in the Batman series with this film. His Batman is as much about the present and the future, as it is about looking back on the past for the motivations and causes. The flashbacks in this film are plentiful and refreshing, and sometimes breathtaking.

    This film is about what it takes to be Batman - in the sense of the will needed (what makes Bruce Wayne a 'super' hero), and the emotional and physical costs involved. This film unflinchingly examines both. They're not pretty, but through it, the Bruce Wayne character is rounded out even more than we could have hoped for. That examination of Bruce Wayne makes this film one of the better ones in the series. More than the title character alter ego, it is Bruce Wayne himself who is the most interesting thing about Batman - and this film continues from where "Batman Begins" left off in probing what drives him on.

    I really liked the film's running theme of questioning 'how much is enough' and 'when is it time to move on'. Questions that the viewer readily answers, but the film holds off answering until the very end. And oh, what an end! The film keeps building and building and building... for a truly cathartic payoff. And in a decade of endless sequels, it's great to have a proper conclusion to a film franchise (never mind that this one was restarted a few years hence).

    Hans Zimmer's score is also one of, if not the highlight of the film. Not only does it revisit the themes from the preceding films, but he incorporates aspects of the story into it (sometimes even before we're aware of their significance - another reason why Nolan's films get better when watched again). And at one point, I found myself wondering if the apparent co-opting of Bane's theme by Batman in the climax was a deliberate choice! Great stuff.

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    Blade Runner
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.12.05
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 1982
    Written by: Hampton Fancher, David Peoples
    Directed by: Ridley Scott


    This film is good, not because of what it tells you, but because of what it asks you to interpret in your own way. How else could we still be debating and discussing it 30 years after its release?

    The film was at once extremely familiar and foreign - so many movies and anime have copied its cityscapes that I was immediately reminded of such works as Bubble Gum Crisis, and the influence they had on my manga work in the early '90s. The plot, on the other hand, is more about what it suggests and implies, than what it specifically shows. Take Tyrell's massive trifocal glasses - what do they say about the character? Couldn't those massive trifocals be a metaphor for Tyrell being the all seeing - but at the same time a barrier that blinds him?

    Throwing my 2 cents into the debate on whether Deckard is a Replicant or not - I'll say this: all the humans in the film are portrayed as physically flawed (e.g.: Gaff has a limp, Sebastian has Methuselah Syndrome) and the Replicants are not. In reading some of the debate on Deckard, one point stood out - what if Deckard is a Replicant with Gaff's memories? It certainly explains some things. And even though that deflates the navel gazing on such things as a human falling in love with a Replicant, it does adds a slew of new thoughts - do androids experience love the same as we do? What exactly is it that makes a human a human? Is this film told from the Replicant's perspective? And so on.

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    Fight Club
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.09.19
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 1999
    Written by: Jim Uhls
    Directed by: David Fincher


    This film is through and through David Fincher - it takes you to dark places with plenty of things to say in well shot and composed scenes, and leaves you pondering the questions it asks. About us.

    The film is basically a rejection of consumerism and the search for a much more fulfilling value system. But that tells you nothing about the film nor the journey it takes you on. Almost 20 years on, the film is still quite topical, and it has a certain timelessness that gives the impression that it could have been released yesterday (only the scene with the magnet in the video rental shop isn't instantly understandable anymore). Even though the protagonists' solutions aren't the best ones to the topics it raises, the film still deserves praise for exploring them and, at the very least, bringing them back to public conciousness.

    The film is, simply put, enthralling. I've seen it multiple times, and each time I've noticed something new or interpret things differently. It remains fresh, and the cynicism and parodying of consumerism is still as biting as it was when the film was released.

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    Ghostbusters (2016)
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.15
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2016
    Written by: Katie Dippold, Paul Feig
    Directed by: Paul Feig


    The good: I found the Ghostbusters team continually improving and evolving their tactics and 'arsenal' interesting. I also like that the film wasn't a straight remake of the original, but more like a re-imaging based on the concepts from the original (ie: the human instigator of the spiritual action: in the original, he's long-since deceased, whereas he's alive and/or kicking ( ;) ) in this one). As it wasn't a straight redo, I was pleasantly surprised whenever the movie did not turn out how I anticipated the scenes would, based on the original.

    The bad: the movie seemed to have odd pacing, with the pacing in some scenes feeling jarringly out of place. Also, what was lacking was the slowly building foreboding and impending sense of doom from the original. I also didn't like how they rendered the ghosts - maybe I'm old school and prefer practical effects rotoscoped onto live action plates and the ensuing visual degradation from that? The neon-blue haloed ghosts were just too clearly rendered for my taste. Maybe its something that's needed for the 3D version of the movie, and the CG has to be crystal clear to get the 3D effect or something.

    It's reminded me of something vital about movie making that the team behind this one appears to have forgotten: nothing is as powerful as the viewer's imagination. Give me semi-obscured ghosts cloaked in the shadows that we never get a clear view of. Now that's scary!

    In conclusion: I laughed. It was good escapist fun. Do we need much more than that in a comedy? I wouldn't mind seeing more of these characters in a sequel, but at the time of writing, I don't think its worthy of adding to my DVD collection.

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    GoldenEye
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2011.03.22
    (revised 2016.09.25)
    Rating: 3.0 stars
    Release date: 1995
    Written by: Jeffrey Caine, Bruce Feirstein (Uncredited: Michael France, Kevin Wade)
    Directed by: Martin Campbell


    This was the first Bond film that I saw in a theatre. Despite that and a few nostalgic memories from when I first saw it, the movie still grabs hold of me and keeps me enthralled (I guess that means that "The Living Daylights" isn't of the same calibre?).

    There are oodles of good reasons to see this movie: the plot and pacing are well set out (some say that the film lags in the middle somewhat, but I say that it builds character), and the motivations of the bad guys are readily understandable and, dare I say it, realistic? Pierce Brosnan brings a lot to the role that has been missing in the last few actors to portray the character - sure, he may not be as ruthless as Sean Connery's Bond, but there's a definite coldness and world-weariness in his Bond.

    The highlight of this film (and what generally makes or breaks these kinds of movies) are, of course, the bad guys. The leader is genuinely ruthless, and there is a lot of unspoken daggers-fired-from-the-eyes between Alec (Sean Bean) and James. His underlings take the cake - each one is developed, and they are invested with a number of memorable characteristics. Of course, the ending that focuses in on the final duel between Alec and James has a lot of emotion in the battle, and its one of the better finales for a Bond film. Less is more, eh?

    Eric Serra's music is also a striking departure from what's gone before, and come since. Some people have lamented it, but I like it in its own right. In the context of watching the Bond series back-to-back, it's refreshingly unique, and is a great way to underline that this Bond is different from the preceding Bonds.

    Highly recommended. Probably my 2nd favourite Bond film (3rd as of 2014).

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    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.26
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2012
    Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
    Directed by: Peter Jackson


    When I first saw the movie, it had been years since I watched the Lord Of The Rings (LotR) trilogy, and decades after reading the novel. It felt like they had done right by what I could remember from the book, and the parts that played toward fleshing out the background and origin of the events in the LotR series were wonderful and fascinating additions.

    However, after reading the book and rewatching the LotR saga, this movie lost a bit of its luster. It also started to drag a bit in some parts; namely the scenes that were added to embellish and expand the book into a 3-part movie (which, oddly, were some of the parts I found to be the most fascinating when I first saw it!). Nevertheless, the movie is nicely filled with character (and world) introductions, sword and sorcery action, and most importantly: character growth. Gollum steals the show when he appears, but Martin Freeman truly embodies Bilbo Baggins.

    It's a shame that the balance wasn't maintained in the two sequels to this film. One of the main strengths of the novel is the characterization, and that is sorely missing in this film's two sequels. Obviously, with so many dwarfs, the production team had to focus on a few of them, and give the rest just enough for the casual viewer to differentiate between them - and they succeeded in that in this movie. They also introduce a powerful antagonist in the form of Azog, and the fuel that his story arc provides to the movie is one of the better additions to this first chapter of the film adaptation (though, as he's present in the LotR appendixes, rewriting his role might be a better way to think about it).

    It dawned on me after rewatching the LotR trilogy that this film echoes the plot of LoTR: Fellowship Of The Ring. Alas, it also quickly came to mind that this film is no where near as epic as that one, nor does it have nearly as well developed characters or a plot through line. That said, the character aspect is understandable, as that's something that comes directly from the source material. Nevertheless, it is an excellent addition to the LotR saga, and if you enjoyed the LotR trilogy, you'll definitely get a kick out of this movie.

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    Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.09.05
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2013
    Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
    Directed by: Peter Jackson


    I was disappointed by this movie the first time I saw it. Subsequent viewings have abated that disappointment somewhat, but some aspects in it still come up short.

    My initial viewing was right after rereading the novel. Suffice to say, I was surprised at the additions to the first movie (a lot of which were resolved when I read the indexes at the end of Return Of The King), and the creative 'interpretations' (as spectacular as the giants-made-of-rock were on first viewing, when I see them now, I can't help but smile and shake my head at their ridiculousness).

    Going into this second movie, I knew a few things - the novel was about halfway over, and there was an excellent opportunity coming up right away to reintroduce all of the main characters - specifically the manner that the book reintroduces all of the characters as they enter Beorn's house. I was flabbergasted that the movie not only missed such a great opportunity, but practically neglects to develop and expand upon the dwarfs during its running time! Yes, there are many of them (perhaps too many to effectively juggle in a movie - justifying the decision to leave some of them in Esgaroth/Lake Town as the rest go up Erebor/the Lonely Mountain), but I strongly feel that they take precedent over the secondary characters. Characters that this movie takes the time to introduce and expand upon - some of whom are not even in the book! That's not to say that those new characters are bad additions, as they do allow for some character development in the main dwarf party. Alas, by the end of the movie, the plight of the dwarfs, and a lot of my sympathy for them, had been replaced with concern for the residents of Esgaroth.

    The other disappointment was that despite the dwarfs being on a multi-month quest, they are still breathlessly running everywhere in this film! I didn't like that, as instead of taking the time to develop scenes and the setting, they race right through them. Also, despite the dwarfs being mythical creatures with legendary powers, having them run up Erebor was just one step too far into the unrealistic for me.

    Nevertheless, the movie does have decent pacing, and I don't think any scene overstayed its welcome. The conclusion of the movie is also breathtakingly epic, and in the process, develops the interior of the Kingdom Under The Mountain - something that the book never really gets around to doing. Nevertheless, I found myself shouting, "they ended it there?!", when the film concludes - in part because of the cliffhanger, but also because at that point, the book is pretty much finished, with only 3 chapters remaining for the sequel...

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    Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.09.21
    Rating: 1.5 stars
    Release date: 2014
    Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
    Directed by: Peter Jackson


    I was disappointed by this film. It is, in a word, boring. The film is basically a sword battle on an epic scale, but because it completely overdoes that at the expense of reintroducing, let alone developing the characters, I found myself not caring about what happened to any of them. Well, except for Bard - but even that ended up being a bit too saccharine and predictable for my taste.

    Thorin was completely unrecognizable - yes, he's bewitched by the gold-madness that befalls those who become King Under The Mountain; but the subtler way that was introduced in Desolation Of Smaug was much more effective. And what about the other dwarfs? Aside from moping around the caverns or building stoneworks in inhumanly short time frames... it was a missed opportunity to further explore Erebor (the Lonely Mountain) at the same time as showing us sides of the dwarfs that aren't necessarily present in the book.

    The new bits that flesh out the greater Middle Earth saga are a mixed bunch - some are interesting, but others are more distracting then they are entertaining (where did the goats come from that Thorin used to race up the side of the mountain during the battle?) The battle between the White Council and Sauron (the Necromancer) was also, oddly, out of step with those kinds of battles in the preceding films - they had been presented more or less as a battle of wills. The change to a hectic sword fight between corporeal and non-corporeal foes was jarring, and makes the relatively slower-paced sword fights that come later all the more monotonous.

    Nevertheless, the highlights of the film are Smaug's all too brief appearance at the beginning, the fortress at Gundabad, and Bilbo's return to the Shire at the end. The later is, sadly, the only time the film truly comes alive. But it is a joy to behold Hobbiton once more, Bilbo's troubles with his estranged relatives, and hear the immortal line, "put that pouf down!".

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    Interstellar
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.05.15
    Rating: 4 stars
    Release date: 2008
    Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan


    The mark of a great movie is that it engages you on all levels, stays with you long after you've finished watching it, and starts to influence your later actions. This movie does that.

    I went into this movie with trepidation - it was billed as a science fiction film on par with "2001: A Space Odyssey", that saw the creation of not one, but two (!) scientific papers, and was generally panned by the Internet movie-going public. Suffice to say, my expectations were more than surpassed by this movie.

    It had me firing on all mental cylinders - and that was before they even launched into space! The way the film introduces the setting and characters benefits the rest of the film immensely. By the time the title journey begins, we've got an extremely solid foundation for why they must make the journey, the stakes involved, and most importantly, an emotional bedrock underlying it all.

    That emotional bedrock, and the character growth and choices stemming from it, have made this film truly unforgettable. I've seen many films, and forgotten just as many of the characters that populate those films. The ones in this film have stayed with me. So, too, have their sentiments and advice. Perhaps my perspective as an expat parent has made the emotions in this film that much more poignant for me than to the usual young adult moviegoers.

    One of the things I really liked about this film is its depiction of near-future space travel. Perhaps more than the broad strokes of space travel (if I'm getting dizzy briefly looking out the windows of their spinning spaceship, what about the astronauts in the film?), it was the small touches that really got me (what is the most fascinating music for an astronaut on an interstellar journey? The answer is surprisingly akin to what an expat listens to in their adoptive country!).

    Perhaps as an expat parent, this film talked to me much more than it does to others. Nevertheless, it is another bold step forward by Christopher Nolan, and by focusing as much on the inner, mental challenges as much as the external, physical ones, he has succeeded in creating another thought provoking, great movie. Recommended.

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    Iron Man
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.05.15
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2008
    Written by: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway
    Directed by: Jon Favreau


    This film is quite topical, and if you overlook the title character's ability to seemingly invent and produce all manner of new technologies at the drop of a hat, it is a surprisingly non super-powered superhero movie!

    The film has a lot of fun characterizations, and is quickly paced. Although it introduces some dark places and topics, it sadly doesn't really delve into their depths like a great movie does - preferring to keep the truly nasty stuff at arms length and off screen, and not really searching for any real solutions.

    That said, I did like the non-traditional take on a superhero by having Iron Man a) not living in a big, skyscraper filled city, and b) rescuing truly helpless people in a war torn central Asian country from the real bad guys of our age: terrorist thugs.

    Sadly, despite that sequence being followed by an extremely well-choreographed sequence of Iron Man vs. fighter jets, I didn't like how the movie portrayed the global situation in that war-torn country as "America: the world's police". What about the United Nations peace keepers? Let alone the Americans making a token nod to the local authorities that they are taking military action in their sovereign territory?

    Nevertheless, the highlight of this movie has to be the A-list actors. They bring a lot to their respective portrayals of the characters, elevating this movie above the standard comic-book movie. However, ultimately, that is all that this movie amounts to - it doesn't engage the viewer much beyond the visceral spectacle of it all.

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    James Bond Films
  • Dr. No
  • From Russia With Love
  • Goldfinger
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Casion Royale (1967)
  • On Her Majesties Secret Service
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Live And Let Die
  • The Man With A Golden Gun
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Moonraker
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Never Say Never Again
  • Octopussy
  • Never Say Never Again
  • A View To A Kill
  • The Living Daylights
  • Licence To Kill
  • Goldeneye
  • Tomorrow Never Dies
  • The World Is Not Enough
  • Die Another Day
  • Casino Royale
  • Quantum Of Solace
  • Skyfall
  • Spectre
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    Last Action Hero
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.07.21
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 1993
    Written by: Shane Black, David Arnott, William Goldman (uncredited)
    Directed by: John McTiernan


    This movie is a guilty pleasure for me. It has a lot of things going for it: Arnold at his prime as Jack Slater - concurrently one of his more developed characters and also a parody of his other roles, John McTiernan's directing, and writing (or rewriting) by Shane Black. Alas, the film never quite comes together. When I first saw it, I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but summed up its problems as: the kid constantly reminds us that this is only a movie (or a movie within a movie). I'm sticking with that appraisal.

    It's a shame, as Austin O'Brien's Danny Madigan (the kid) provides some of the funnier observations about the action movies that this one is parodying. As the film takes itself seriously, its humour is also genuinely funnier than the other parody movies released in the same era that try too hard to be funny. Last Action Hero also has some really good action sequences - probably because they go completely over the top.

    The movie could've been a lot more, too. For example having Arnold's Jack Slater team up with the 'real' Arnold to defeat the bad guys. Which begs the question - what would happen to the fictional Jack if the actor who portrays him is killed? Despite that missed opportunity, this movie is loaded with great music, and has quite a few blink-and-you-miss-it performances. My favourite would have to be Ian McKellen as Death.

    The movie isn't quite action and not quite comedy, but is full of wonderful little scenes and insightful dialogue on both (action) movies and the reality of being a movie hero. The film has aged very well, and despite repeated viewings (and the aforementioned kid ruining the suspension of disbelief every so often), it is still highly engaging.

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    The Martian
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.11.07
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2015
    Written by: Drew Goddard
    Directed by: Ridley Scott


    This movie left me with a lot to think about. It's one of the more realistic space movies to come out in recent years, and although it is aimed at the layman, it trusts in the intelligence of the audience. Alas, the film doesn't probe very deeply into many issues - aside from the political side of operating a space agency - which is why I'm rating it lower than "Interstellar"; a film that deeply probed the feelings of separation and loneliness that go hand in hand with space travel. But, to this film's credit, it does depict the title character struggling to master his emotions - which is a very important part of being an astronaut.

    Even though I found the juxtaposition of disco music a bit jarring at times, it does feed into the narrative of Matt Damon's Mark Watney making the most of the things he finds himself surrounded with - not to mention subtly pointing out how music can be used to fight off loneliness. It is also one of the steady sources of the humour that is sprinkled about this film. That humour making the title character a lot more relatable, and one of the film's highlights.

    The film is a bit too light on science-fact for my tastes (I'm a fan of Discovery and National Geographic space documentaries). Though, I admit that I'd probably also get worn out by that level of discourse well within the 2 hour running time of this film. I was challenged by the film in certain parts, and although it had a foregone conclusion, with this type of film its not so much the destination but the journey that is important. And above all else, aside from cheating a bit at the beginning to set up the scenario, the film never jumps the rails with unrealistic developments such as aliens, the supernatural, or an improbable number of 'accidents'!

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    The Mask Of Zorro
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.05.15
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 1998
    Written by: John Eskow, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
    Directed by: Martin Campbell


    The Mask Of Zorro is a surprisingly engaging film. It has an excellent blend of interesting and well depicted characters, fast paced action, and many other hallmarks of Martin Campbell's films. Namely character growth and development, excellent visual design, and well defined villains and henchmen - the nameless henchmen were all distinct enough that I always knew who I was looking at.

    The revenge stories of the old and new Zorros provides a great motivation for the heroes, as well as putting them into deliciously conflicted situations as the movie progresses. Most importantly, it keeps the plot clear and un-muddled for the viewer. It also puts an interesting spin on the title of the movie - the mask being greater than any one man, and is as much a curse as it is a blessing (I'm sure you could come up with other interpretations as well).

    Perhaps the greatest thing about the movie is the villains. They are just the right blend of classic movie villain badness, and are the kind that you love to hate. An interesting dimension to them is that their class (or lack of it) plays a role in their actions, as well as how they treat those around and under them. It's not exactly subtle, but it is easy to overlook.

    The other remarkable thing about this movie is James Horner's music. It adds quite a bit to the movie, without being intrusive That said, I did find myself meditating on the music at points in the movie. One could argue that that mental distraction kept me from over analyzing the film. Which works in this movie's favour, as its more on the breezy side than serious side of action films.

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    Men In Black
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.09.19
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 1997
    Written by: Ed Solomon
    Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld


    This movie is still funny after numerous viewings - and a lot of the credit for that is simply because the film doesn't try to be funny. The deadpan delivery by Tommy Lee Jones and the wet-behind-the-ears reactions to that by Will Smith are both good fun and instantly relatable. Layered on top of that is Vincent D'onofrio's over-the-top performance as Edgar the Bug. I swear he had more fun performing the antagonist than we have watching it!

    The film has many other attributes, not the least of which is that it is full of many other excellent actors at the top of their game. However, the writing on this film cannot be overstated - it gets the right notes giving us a sci-fi thriller and a comedy, with poignant character arcs, too. It's also commendable that the movie avoids the temptation to overdo things, and remains grounded in its premise.

    This film isn't great science fiction. Nevertheless, for a film that sets out to be a great diversion for an hour or two, I really liked how it quietly asks the viewer to not take the world around us at face value.

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    Men In Black II
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.09.25
    Rating: 0.5 stars
    Release date: 2002
    Written by: Robert Gordon, Barry Fanaro
    Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld


    In a word, this movie is gratuitous. Where the first movie showed restraint and focused on the characters, film is not. Perhaps the most disappointed aspect of the film is how disrespectful it is to the characters and the basic premise of the series - among other things, the Men In Black organization is portrayed as being inept, Agent K's happy ending is effectively reset without an afterthought on the emotional ramifications, and Scrad/Charlie just disappear three-quarters of the way through the movie!

    There are a lot of visual and practical effects in the movie and, sadly, many of the jokes are tied to that. Special effects do not make for good humour - as good humour stems from spontaneity (or at least the feeling of it), and special effects require a lot of forethought.

    That's not to say that the film is completely without merit - it is great to see some old and new comedic actors again, even if they aren't used effectively or are based on one-joke characters from the first film. Also, the movie comes alive during the scenes with Tony Shalhoub - his comic skills are so great that they transcend the special effects associated with his character. Perhaps that scene alone is worth the price of admission?

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    Men In Black 3
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.10.03
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 2012
    Written by: Etan Cohen
    Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld


    I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I went in expecting disappointment from another gratuitous sip from the MiB well, and came out having not only been entertained, but challenged.

    This film goes back to what made the first MIB film great, and stays firmly planted in that premise without losing sight of who the characters are, what they can (or can't do), and the scope and limitations of the Men In Black organization. Highlights of the film are a return of the series' quiet insistence that we shouldn't take the world that we know at face value, and the poignancy in the relationship between the main characters - this movie goes a long way into explaining the hows and whys of the two protagonists. The casting of Josh Brolin as young Agent K is spot on.

    The inclusion of the Griffin character is also sublime - on the one hand, he maintains the role of the wise elder character when the story necessitates that Agent K (who usually occupies that role) cannot be, and on the other hand, is the personification of the all-knowing and all-seeing writer. Genius!

    Probably the only disappointment in the film is that Rip Torn's Agent Zed doesn't appear.

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    The Mummy
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.05.01
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 1999
    Written by: Stephen Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, Kevin Jarre
    Directed by: Stephen Sommers


    A low rent Indiana Jones. Although the CG effects haven't held up, the charisma and chemistry between the actors has - and the comedic timing is spot on. The good guys are all uniquely memorable and fun, and the bad guys are all deliciously bad in their own ways. And this film makes sure that they get their just desserts in the end - some of them even getting it more then once!

    This movie plays fast and loose with history, culture and language. It's probably best to not watch this one with a critical mind, to unplug, and just go with the flow. If so, you may find yourself pleasantly distracted from the daily grind for a few hours.

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    Predators
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.01
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2010
    Written by: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch, Robert Rodriguez
    Directed by: Nimród Antal


    The film is better than Predator 2, but not as good as the first movie.

    Perhaps the film's greatest flaw is that there wasn't anyone relatable among the main characters - only the Russian commando comes close. (I have no problem with Adrien Brody playing the anti-hero. That was refreshing, and he played the opportunistic tendencies of the character just right). I especially didn't like the doctor's out-of-character switch near the end of the movie. It came as totally arbitrary, with no warning signs (if he was such an opportunistic monster, why didn't he opportunize on the situation better?) Personally, given how out of place he felt among the other warriors and criminals, I would have found it much more enjoyable if it turned out that he was working with the Predators to keep their injured prey alive just a bit longer to maximize the hunt, or something along those lines.

    Nevertheless, I liked the basic concept of the movie - very nightmarish -, and the second Predator race was a nice addition to the mythology - in a way it kind of explains why very few Predators have come to the Earth. Now, as tempting as a direct sequel or prequel set on the hunting planet would be, I'm much more interested in a film that explores the Predators who secretly abduct people from the Earth. How do they get away with it and how do they overcome their drive to bring back skin and bone remains as trophies?

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    The Prestige
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.10.27
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 2006
    Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
    Directed by: Christopher Nolan


    Magic, revenge, murder. Those are the things the movie deals with, but it's really about obsessions - and the lengths people will go toward them, and the costs they pay in doing so. And one nice thing about this film is that it stays with you long after leaving the theatre, thinking and reflecting on its themes.

    Like the other good Nolan films, this one gets better on repeat viewings. On the one hand, it helps make a bit more sense of the non-linear storytelling, but on the other hand, its wonderful discovering the hints and clues about the two protagonists - and the film has a lot of them sprinkled through its narrative, if you're paying attention. And speaking of the protagonists, it is remarkable that they are neither portrayed as good nor evil. Amoral at best.

    One of the highlights of the film is the magic, and how so-called magicians perform their illusions. Naturally, it evolves into illusions and experiments that use electricity - something that still has magical properties for many people even in this day and age. Above all else, this film is a good mystery (or illusion, in the sense that the movie defines it as such), and even if you missed the clues (or caught them), the reveal at the end is still shockingly cathartic.

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    Rush Hour
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.01
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 1998
    Written by: Ross LaManna
    Directed by: Brett Ratner


    The film hasn't dated, and the humour is still quite fresh.

    A lot of the fun comes from Jackie Chan's earnestness at overcoming the language barrier and culture shock (something painfully familiar to me), and Chris Tucker's slight insecurity (referred to as acting nervousnesses in the featurettes accompanying Rush Hour 2) is actually quite beneficial: he's obnoxious, but when coupled with the acting nerves, it feels like he's using the obnoxiousness to compensate for his inexperience or his deficiencies, as well as the lack of respect from his colleagues. It's a shame that that (especially the last one) wasn't carried over in 2.

    The main villain in this movie was quite good, and memorable. I also found it thought provoking how they set up the film as China and the USA (heroes) vs. the UK (villain leader). Lastly, the use of Mandarin over Cantonese was quite interesting - I'm by no means familiar in either, but I know enough to have noticed that by and large almost all the official consulate scenes and scenes with the daughter had Mandarin, and I only noticed Cantonese in one scene (the street food seller in LA spoking with Jackie Chan). In those regards, the film was quite progressive.

    One think I noted was that Hong Kong was surprisingly familiar to me after living in Asia for more than 10 years (and despite never having been there!). On the other hand, the LA scenes were nostalgic, but oddly foreign!

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    Rush Hour 2
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.01
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2001
    Written by: Jeff Nathanson
    Directed by: Brett Ratner


    The film felt like a retread, and it felt quite tired.

    Alas, there wasn't a decent villain. We did get three, but who's who? Why didn't they make the circumstances around the main bad guy clearer so he provides a clear focus through to the end of the movie? Ultimately, all three were either not threatening enough, or not developed enough.

    Both actors were more confident in themselves compared to the first movie (Jackie Chan's English and Chris Tucker's acting), but that tended to throw water on the comedy, or make things even more obnoxious. Alas, they didn't incorporate the LAPD's lack of respect for Chris Tucker's Detective Carter, which was a vein of humour mined to great effect in the first movie.

    On the plus side, the jokes either in Chinese or that took place in Hong Kong are still fresh, and are some of the funniest in the movie. It's a shame that the production team didn't take more advantage of the 'Chris'-out-of-water in HK before shuttling the action back to the USA.

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    Spectre
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.12.21
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2015
    Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
    Directed by: Sam Mendes


    The third best of Daniel Craig's Bond films. But that doesn't say much, as the other two are in a dramatically superior league, and the less said about the fourth the better. Nevertheless, this film is one of, if not the best looking of the Bond films. Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography is breathtaking at times. And that 4 minute no-cut shot at the very beginning of the film? Wow!

    One of the things I really liked is that the film had a memory of Craig's previous Bond films. Though, I didn't like how that messes with head cannon. Due to this film incorporating elements from those films into its story, I can no longer cognitively ignore the disastrous Quantum Of Solace. Though I take Blofeld's claim that he's the mastermind behind Bond's suffering with a grain of salt - it's just a claim and not the reality. Otherwise it gets too weird with Spectre being the bigger and more secret organization behind the big and secret Quantum organization (here's a thought - Quantum became Spectre when Blofeld took over!).

    Incidentally, it felt that Christoph Waltz was underused in the film. Going in, I was hoping for another over-the-top performance like the one he gave in Inglorious Basterds or Django Unchained, but I've grown to like his quieter interpretation of Blofeld. Speaking of that, I was also surprised by how subtle the film is; it is covered with clues that paint an interesting subtext to the film. I also really liked that the film didn't telegraph the plot or some of Bond's bigger emotional moments (note the writing on the VHS tape), instead trusting on the intelligence of the viewers to put some things together.

    That said, its probably better to consider this to be a film about Blofeld's origins more than anything else. Ultimately, it doesn't match the dramatic developments in Casino Royale and Skyfall, but were we expecting that? We haven't had good Bond movies back to back since A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights (though you could say that that was the time that the 'Bond Movie Curse' switched from the odd to the even numbered ones). Nevertheless, it's a treat to get another dose Sam Mendes take on Bond.

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    Spider-Man
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.12.18
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2002
    Written by: David Koepp, Scott Rosenberg, Alvin Sargent, James Cameron
    Directed by: Sam Raimi


    If ever there is a movie with the right casting, this is it. Tobey Maguire gets the right notes with this one, and we truly feel his character's joys and sorrows. Although Peter Parker is the protagonist in this film, it is the pantheon of supporting characters that really make it a success. Even Willem Dafoe is excellent as the antagonist - when he's allowed to act outside of the Green Goblin alter ego, that is. That suit, and his manic portrayal of the villain is the weakest point of this film. Thankfully, the movie isn't made or broken by that.

    Sam Raimi's Spider-man is, at its heart, a tragedy. This film doesn't gloss over Peter Parker's pains; they are after all, what defines Spider-man. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle implication that the title character's loss of his parents and adoption by his aunt and uncle at a young age, plays into his willingness to risk life and limb to help strangers. It's a testament to how well the character was developed in the comics.

    I really liked the depiction of the transformation of Peter Parker from nerd to hero. It is especially satisfying to see him pummel the school bully. The film also depicts Peter's and Mary Jane's struggles to find their way in the world after graduating - a smart choice that elevates this film into something greater than a summer blockbuster. And despite some unrealistic CG, it is great fun seeing Spider-Man come to grips with his new powers - a journey that is ongoing at the conclusion of the film. And what an ending. Not a cliffhanger, but close enough.

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    Star Wars II: Attack Of The Clones
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.12.18
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2002
    Written by: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales
    Directed by: George Lucas


    In many ways, I consider this the best of the prequel series. Mainly because the plot -once it gets going- keeps building and building to a visceral climax that, despite some missteps on the way, has some genuine concern for the fate of the protagonists. Overall, the prequel films suffers from having boring Droid opponents that the protagonists have to hack their way through - something that quickly gets repetitive. The new termite aliens in this film, though an improvement over the Droids, are mostly bland and impotent, though they do get interesting in the arena sequence.

    That said, I was painfully aware of how uneven the film is during a recent rewatch. There are stretches in the beginning that are... boring. In short, there's too much exposition. I also disagreed with the boneheaded portrayed of the Jedi. But never-mind that, the most aggravating part was how the script turned them into a pseudo-religious organization that demands its members be celibate. No wonder members are leaving the organization and turning to the dark side. And what happened to the implications of the 'knight' part of their name from the original series?

    That said, the last third of the film is still quite enjoyable, and the acting improves considerably - especially after Count Dooku starts appearing on screen. And that battle between the Clone Troopers and the Droid army? That alone is worth the price of admission. I'm glad I was able to see that in all its glory in an IMAX theatre.

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    Star Wars Clone Wars Vol. 1 (2003)
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2017.01.23
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2003-2004
    Written by: various
    Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky


    This TV series makes a great addition to the overall Star Wars series, filling-in some of the blanks about the Clone Wars, in an easily digestible format. The story picks up after the end of Eps. 2, and due to the format (3 minute long episodes released weekly), the writing boils things down to the bare essentials. The 'acting' isn't exactly subtle (it's a cartoon. For kids), but it conveys the key points, without all the exposition and politics that bog down the prequel movies. In short - it's fun, and it succeeds!

    On top of the introduction of quite a few memorable villains, and an exploration of the activities of the (elite) Clone Troopers, we also get to see the development of Jedi and Sith apprentices, and one of the more memorable light sabre duels in the entire prequel trilogy story arc - there is genuine tension in this one.

    I'm not a big fan of the character designs, but the animation is extremely fluid, and some of the vistas and battles they create are astoundingly complex. The visual design is top notch. It leaves me with asking - how could they do so much and get so much right, with so little?

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    Star Wars III: Revenge Of The Sith
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.12.31
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2005
    Written by: George Lucas
    Directed by: George Lucas


    A great double feature. The first hour is the conclusion of the Clone Wars TV series (the great little one that aired from 2003 to 2005), and then you get a movie about the transition from what we've seen in the prequel series to what appears at the beginning of the original trilogy.

    The movie is anticlimactic, and because of that, it seems to drag on at times. There were also some bizarre choices made in characterization, especially during the opening sequence (well, third of the movie), to the point that I was left feeling that some of the actions were out of character (E.g.: R2 burning Battle Droids alive) or adding nothing to the film. The acting is wooden at times, and some of the dialogue is inane - after repeated viewings it has even grown aggravating.

    That said, pretty much any scene with Ian McDiarmid in it is operating at a higher level (although they should have continued to use the stunt double in the light sabre fight between his Palpatine's and Samuel L. Jackson's Mace Windu). McDiarmid gets some of the best dialogue in the film, and is one of the highlights of the film. The rest of the movie isn't all bad. In fact, its darker tone is refreshing compared to its predecessors, and it is neat seeing the seeds for the original trilogy starting to bloom during the film's coda.

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    Star Wars: The Force Awakens
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.07.21
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2015
    Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
    Directed by: J. J. Abrams


    The good: the acting. The emotions and interactions between the characters felt truly genuine. After watching this, the prequel trilogy just paled. Adam Driver hits the right notes and created an interesting villain and, most importantly, someone who is highly unpredictable.

    The bad: although the movie is great on first viewing, once you realize how similar a story it is telling to the first Star Wars movie, it looses a lot of its luster. The first half of the movie was the most interesting for me - giving us new visuals and situations. On rewatching it, the back half of the film has developed a kind of "been there done that" feel. Also, I found the lack of "traditional" Star Wars aliens odd. I don't mind new alien races being introduced, but the lack of existing ones became a distracting thought in scenes that should have had a few more familiar "faces".

    The ugly: the movie has a giant flaw in its story - who is the Republic? Why do the bad guys feel that it is necessary to destroy multiple planets in one shot to 'destroy' the Republic - which we were given the impression in the preceding movies spans the galaxy? Yes, it's an action movie, but the complete lack of information on something so vital to the plot was... jaw droppingly astounding.

    ... and then there is the star-sucking big space gun. From a scientific perspective, it just doesn't work. From a visual spectacle perspective, I get why they wanted to do it the way they did it. However, the only way I can wrap my head around the sequence were the bad guys shoot at multiple planets and characters on another witness the attack as it happens, is if those weren't planets, but moons around a gas giant that's hidden just off screen. And even that's stretching it a bit too far! For a movie that has so much working in its favour, that sequence is something that jarringly boots my suspension of believe in the movie out the window - something that the George Lucas prequel films never did.

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    S.W.A.T.
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.25
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2003
    Written by: David Ayer, David McKenna
    Directed by: Clark Johnson


    A great ensemble buddy movie for when you want some escapist fun. Highlights of the film are the characters and their interactions, and the relatively realistic action. Not to mention that the film has great energy, and is fun.

    I found the live broadcast (and subsequent rebroadcasts) of the villain's "get me out of jail for 100 million dollars" speech to be unrealistic. Don't journalists in this film have the moral decency to not make things worse? Or is it that the writers have a poor opinion of the moral balance in the average LA resident?

    That said, without that does of unrealism in an action movie that strives to be realistic, there wouldn't be a back end to the film, and we wouldn't get to see the our heroes exercising creativity in doing their thing. Nor the thrill that comes from the unpredictability of potentially anybody on the streets jumping out at them with guns blazing.

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    Terminator 2: Judgement Day
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.07.28
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 1991
    Written by: Written: James Cameron, William Wisher
    Directed by: James Cameron


    One of the better actions movies, and possibly the best sequel ever. The film shows the ongoing harm and effects of the events in the first movie. Most importantly, the movie is about something deeper than the spectacle of the action and special effects. The film is skillfully constructed, and is genuinely thought provoking. The film has aged well, and is hardly dated at all (namely the video game parlour - remember those?). A couple of decades on, its intensity still brings chills.

    On a recent rewatch of its direct sequel, Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, it occurred to me that John Connor is the moral center of this film. Which is striking, because usually it is the youth in a movie that go wayward, and the experienced elders are the ones that provide the moral leadership to get them back on track. Edward Furlong got the portrayal down just right, and his performance goes a long way in showing how John Connor ends up becoming a great leader in the future.

    Of the versions of this film that I've seen, the extended cut that includes the subplot depicting the reseting of the Terminator's CPU chip is the better version. That story arc has two scenes that transform this film into something sublime. The first one, where the heroes remove the chip from the inside of the Terminator's head, has got to be one of the better choreographed scenes in film. Despite knowing how it was made (5 actors, 1 animatronic, and mirrored sets to portray the 3 principals in a single shot), it's still mind boggling that they pulled it off without any visual effects! The other scene is between John and Sarah Connor, and is not only about the immediate fate of their Terminator protector, but also depicts John displaying a surprising level of maturity, and his first steps on the road to becoming a great leader. Recommended.

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    Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.25
    Rating: 2 stars
    Release date: 2003
    Written by: Written: John Brancato, Michael Ferris
    Directed by: Jonathan Mostow


    The first time I saw this movie, I went in thinking that it would be a serious movie, like its predecessors. Big mistake, and I was extremely disappointed by this movie! After watching Terminator Salvation, my opinion on T3 improved considerably, and it dawned on me that this is a comedy. And it works!

    The best way to approach this movie is to turn off your critical thinking, just go with the flow, and unplug from the world for a while. In some ways, the movie is a satire on the previous two films. Almost, but not quite.

    The movie has a couple of drawbacks - the first is that it doesn't obey the rules set out by the first movie regarding time travel and its restrictions on bringing hi-tech weapons into the past (it works a bit better if you approach the film as a parody). The second one is is the John Conner character - his portrayal is quite different from the one in T2 - almost like they are different characters. The differences aren't only because of the different actors or directors; it's mainly the difference in the role the writers gave to the character in the plot.

    Which leads into the genius of the Terminator series - if you consider this movie to be occurring in a different parallel timeline than the first two movies (that's even IF those two are the same one!), then things start to make a lot more sense. Each 'version' of John Connor has experiences that build upon his incarnation in the preceding parallel timeline, and the events in that preceding timeline shape the events in this one (Eg: Kyle Reese has slightly different parents, neatly explaining the change in John Conner's actors, erm, appearance in each movie). Of course, you could use that as an excuse to excise any offending movies from the Terminator series, too, to preserve your head-canon!

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    Terminator Genisys
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2017.01.23
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2015
    Written by: Written: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
    Directed by: Alan Taylor


    I approached this movie not as a hard science-fiction actioner, like the original and T2, but as an action-heavy comedy, like T3 - and for that, I was pleasantly surprised. Although the film doesn't leave one with as many deep thoughts as the original did, it does revisit the basic themes of the first two films. One of the better choices the filmakers made was to return the future war with the robots back to a fallible AI trying to mimic humans with slightly goofy, but still threatening humanoid automatons, and unwieldy large war machines - redeeming the series from the nightmarish, oppressive version presented in Terminator Salvation.

    The film goes back to the roots of the series, both literally and figuratively. Highlights in the early parts of the film are revisiting iconic scenes in the first movie (even remaking many of the key shots), with a couple of twists - namely the T-1000, the villain of the second movie, showing up in them! On top of that, the film continually defied expectations on how the scenes would turn out.

    And then we get the highlight of the film - they actually start dealing with using time as a weapon - to the extent that I could see the hints of a temporal chess match developing. Ultimately, I wish that they could have gone a bit further in exploring that, but I can appreciate the limits that they set for themselves (this is an action movie, and Arnold spewing scientific jargon is, well... they made the right call in the script). Nevertheless, through it, I found the contrast in real-world technology between the 80's and the 2010's startling. Oh, for simpler times!

    The film has some memorable sequences, with equally memorable scenery chewing. Most of the film is just as relentless, if not more so, than the better entries in the series; but as the characters aren't as developed or as sympathetic, there isn't as much tension in it. Nevertheless, if you check your expectations at the door, this film is an entertaining diversion that puts its own spin on key events in the series, while taking it in a new direction. The only drawback was that the T-1000 didn't feel anywhere near as threatening as it was in T2. Odd, as they got it right with the 80's T-800.

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    Tropic Thunder
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.08.26
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 2008
    Written by: Ben Stiller, Justin Theroux
    Directed by: Ben Stiller


    Although some of the humour has rubbed off after multiple viewings, the movie is still quite sharp and insightful. This is currently my favourite comedy - though satire is probably a better way to describe the movie. This movie is chock-a-block full of wonderful comedic surprises, and is one of those rare movies with some instantly memorable one liners, and an actual point that is presented in a way that trusts the intelligence of the viewer.

    The biggest drawback to the film is the over-the-top gore (followed by some of the gross-out humour) - which makes the R rating well deserved. Alas, I won't be able to share it with my son for a few more years due to that.

    Nevertheless, it is well worth a rewatch or two, as some things are funnier when you fully understand their context.

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    X-Men
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.04
    Rating: 2.5 stars
    Release date: 2000
    Written by: Tom DeSanto, Bryan Singer
    Directed by: Bryan Singer


    I think the most interesting aspect of this film is the subtext - what are they using the conflict between the government and mutants to really talk about? I like that they left that nebulous and undefined.

    The movie moves along at a steady pace, taking the time to introduce characters and situations. Perhaps that's also the film's weakness? It doesn't really ramp up the pace as it steadily builds to the climax.

    All the actors got their performances pitch perfect - though Halle Barry's storm has one of the weirdest and oddest quips when she finally puts down one of the villains.

    Nevertheless, I like this movie for its complexity - there are villains, but in their own ways, their actions are all stemming from a morally justifiable position to protect their kind. And that lack of clear cut right vs. wrong makes this movie a challenging one if you meditate on some of the issues it presents.

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    X2
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.04
    Rating: 3.5 stars
    Release date: 2003
    Written by: Bryan Singer, Zak Penn, David Hayter
    Directed by: Bryan Singer


    Until X-Men: First Class, I considered this to be the best film in the X-Men series. Building on the characters and situations developed in the first film, this one not only turns up the pacing heat, but also adds a new layer of complexity - Stryker and his overt attempts to wipe out all mutants.

    Continuing the trend from the first movie, this film also gives each character something to do, and the action develops from the characters' actions (not dictating them, as in lesser movies). The film also embellishes on the subtext in the first movie - this time exploring how medical science has been used to treat things that are not a sickness.

    The highlight of the movie has to be Michael Reid McKay's Mutant 143 - he is both extremely tragic, underscoring one of the central themes of the movie, while being extremely scary. All without uttering a single line and only by using facial expressions!

    However, one thing that I felt was lost was that Ian McKellen's Magneto loses some of his moral ambiguity from the first film. In the first film, he came across as morally misguided - doing bad things for the greater good. In this film, he appears to have lost any moral pretext in his actions - doing bad things for his own goals.

    Nevertheless, it is a superior entry in the superhero film genre - in that it is about something greater than the sum of its parts.

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    X-Men: Last Stand
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.04.12
    Rating: 1 star
    Release date: 2006
    Written by: Simon Kinberg, Zak Penn
    Directed by: Brett Ratner


    I found this movie tedious, and highly repetitive of the preceding movies in the X-men series. The worst thing about it was that the subtext present in the first two movies is completely gone. Yes, it pays lip service to it, but the soul of the preceding two movies is missing from this one. Leaving the viewer with nothing to contemplate. So, I ended up spending part of the time trying to figure out where in Vancouver and Victoria (my hometown!) they filmed the movie - that's how disengaging it was.

    There were times when I felt that they should have spent more time developing a character, or playing off of the on-screen events, but it appeared like the writers were all too eager to kill off some characters and shuttle the story along to the next big thing. Alas, a payoff to that quick pacing never materialized, and in some cases (particular Professor X) it felt like the characters were doing things completely out of character.

    Speaking of characters, there were way too many introduced, and the majority of them were developed only to the point of being defined by their powers (he shoots spikes, she has tattoos. They must be evil).

    This film is another one that we can add to the dustbin of movies that were rushed through production and ended up becoming a stinky mess.

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    X-Men: First Class
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.05.01
    Rating: 4 stars
    Release date: 2011
    Written by: Sheldon Turner, Bryan Singer
    Directed by: Matthew Vaughn


    Now this is the superhero movie I've been waiting for! Not only does it provide wonderful characterizations, character growth, 'good' bad guys, and a plot about the end of the world... it also revisits one of the pivotal events of recent history, remembers that there's a whole world beyond the borders of the usual country these movies are set in, AND challenges the actors (and by extension, the audience) with dialogue in many different languages! (German, French, Spanish, Russian... did I miss any?)

    I was extremely surprised with Michael Fassbender's performance. Even more impressive than the multitude of languages he speaks, is the range of genuine emotions his Magneto manifests. And then there's the actor who played the villain of the film, Sebastian Shaw. No spoilers on who he is here (as discovering it was part of the fun), but the actor plays it pitch perfect - and as the bad guys tend to make or break these kinds of films, he definitely makes this film.

    And then there are the moral quandaries that are the heart of the X-men films. This movie has it in spades, and you can see the subtext from the first two movies in the series alive and healthy in this movie. And X-men: First Class ups the ante by adding a dash of anti-sexism in the form of a reminder of how far Western society has evolved. It makes me re-appreciate how broad the X-men's underlining theme of acceptance is.

    No film is perfect, but in general, the things that I didn't like actually worked in the film's favour for me. I also would've preferred if they had used USSR instead of Russia; being the proper name of the country at the time the film takes place, but I understand why they didn't.

    This film checked all my movie going boxes. Even Henry Jackman's score was entertaining in its own right. Recommended.


    PS in writing this review, it struck me that the title of the movie itself could be a pun!

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    The Wolverine
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.11.21
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2013
    Written by: Mark Bomback, Scott Frank
    Directed by: James Mangold


    After 2009's 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', I was not looking forward to this. Suffice to say, this film surprised me. It is extremely well composed, with the action growing organically out of the story, and most importantly, the pacing taking its time to tell the story correctly.

    Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is its examination of what it means to be invulnerable, and by extension, immortal. The story develops genuine care for the outcome of the title character and the other protagonists, and even though the climactic showdown is a bit of a cheesy CG slug fest, it has some genuine story developments, and paves the wave for one of Wolverine's most important scenes in the X-Men film series.

    Something that I really liked about this film is that the production staff did an admirable job of depicting modern Japan. This is most visible in the in-between scenes with the leads interacting with the locals. Which, of course, makes the contrast with the depiction of the heavily armed guards, Yakuza, ninja, and filial piety that all reek of the comic book interpretation of the Western mythological interpretation of Japan, all the more chuckle (or groan) inducing. Nevertheless... some commentators have complained about Svetlana Khodchenkova's 'stiff' portrayal of Viper. I found that a realistic presentation of Western foreigners in Japan: trying to adopt the social conventions of the host country, but never quite sure of the correct behaviour in a situation. Kudos to the production staff for getting that into the film.

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    X-Men: Days Of Future Past
    Review by: Aaron Sketchley
    Reviewed on: 2016.11.27
    Rating: 3 stars
    Release date: 2014
    Written by: Simon Kinberg
    Directed by: Bryan Singer


    The film was extremely well composed - getting the right balance between plot, pacing, and character. It was also great revisiting the central themes that make the X-Men film series so much more compelling and relevant than its Avengers' based cousin. And it cheered me to see the 'classic' actors back in their roles.

    However, this film isn't as good as 'First Class'. Yes, it has to juggle a lot more plot and characters, but perhaps because of that, it loses that thing that comes from having a clearer story with clearly defined motivations for the characters. The darker tone was kind of refreshingly different, but I generally dislike films about impossible odds - that's what real life's for. The way that they end up beating those odds was also something that got me howling "paradox" in Doc Brown's voice, before I stopped trying to figure it all out.

    That said, I really liked the 70's setting and the incorporation of real world events into the story. With the future segments being an ultimate 'what if', the past is the heart of this film, where they really dig into the central themes of the X-Men film series. I am also always blown away when an actor makes the effort to learn a foreign language for a role. In this film, we have Jennifer Lawrence speaking not one, but two, AND switching seamlessly between the two mid-conversation!

    The thing that most disappointed me in the film was that at the end they press a reset button. Although it renders the events of X3 moot, it also brushes a lot of the other good stuff from the intervening movies under the rug, too (well, the stuff that happens after the events in the 70's in this movie, never mind the paradox, thank you). Nevertheless, the story is intriguing in its own right, and I really liked the performances (Peter Dinklage's Bolivar Trask was just wow. I'm not sure if they wrote the role specifically for him, but casting him adds volumes to the character, and begs some questions on the nature of mutation - making me wonder what this movie is really commenting on). I just wished that the 'classic' lineup from the earlier films in the series got a little bit more face time in.

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    © Aaron Sketchley