NEVER GETS OUT OF ORBIT

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First came Bound and then there was The Matrix. The Wachowski Brothers had made a splash in modern Hollywood. But then we had The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions, two horribly messy sequels which squandered the brilliance of the first film. Speed Racer was a garish love letter to the original material and Cloud Atlas was bloated and self-important. So now we have Jupiter Ascending, the Wachowksi siblings’  latest effort. It was supposed to come out last year but it was pulled from the schedule and put back to this year. Milan Kunis plays Jupiter Jones, a girl seemingly of Russian descent who discovers that her lineage is far more impressive than she first thought and she is part of an intergalactic royal family. She gets embroiled in a war to stop the tyrant in the family from taking control. Jupiter Ascending is intended as a grand sci fi epic with many of tropes that they entail and it is a frustrating film. Channing Tatum plays Caine Wise, the genetically engineered warrior whose role is to protect Jupiter Jones, and he looks the part. Kunis is decent enough but there isn’t really much here to work with anyway. Eddie Redmayne plays tyrant Balem Abrasax while Sean Bean is fellow warrior Stinger Apini. Redmayne makes for a suitably entertaining pantomime villain and Bean does what he always does. But while there are some visually interesting ideas on screen here, the CGI is muddled, making many of the battles hard to follow, the script is awful and the film suffers from the worst excesses of the Wachowskis’ past efforts. Restraint is not a word that comes to mind when watching it and there is just too much of everything thrown at the wall here. Like Star Wars directed by Liberace or The Fifth Element with the brakes taken off, Jupiter Ascending is a cliched, muddled and annoying mess of a film. It is as if the Wachowskis have forgotten how to rein themselves in and perhaps what could have been an intriguing sci fi movie is just another bloated monstrosity…

NOT AN INTERSTELLAR EFFORT

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SPOILER WARNING

Very few films warrant long running times. Epics like Lawrence of Arabia or The Godfather justify breaking the two-hour mark. Director Christopher Nolan seems to have made a career out of very long films but he has managed thanks to the commercial success of the three Batman films to put himself in an envied position in modern Hollywood. Interstellar is a film that has been eagerly awaited, looking like an intelligent sci fi film with an impressive cast and the sort of visual flourishes that Nolan has become associated with. The world has been hit by a terrible disaster, wiping out the crops and obliterating technology. Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former engineer who has turned his hand to farming. His life changes when he encounters Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a scientist with a plan to save Earth by sending a team in a rocket through a wormhole to find a new planet for us to colonise. But of course, nothing is what it seems and Cooper discovers that the professor’s plan has some major flaws. Anne Hathaway plays Brand’s daughter Amelia, who accompanies Cooper on the mission. Interstellar is a fairly ambitious film and some of it looks stunning. The cinematography by Hoyt Van Hoytema is spectacular and Nathan Crowley’s production design, with its nods to classics like 2001 and Alien, is superb but there are some serious problems with Interstellar. Clocking in at just shy of three hours, the film drags in several places and what begins as an intriguing concept becomes quite tiresome in places. It would have been a better film if it had a tighter running time. The other problem, which is arguably a more major one, is that the plot is filled with holes and you get a mcguffin that is foreshadowed but just doesn’t really make any sense. Just like Inception, or perhaps more so, Nolan and his brother love the idea they have created here but they don’t really know how to wrap it all up. McConaughey is very good here, Caine is wasted and Hathaway is bland and annoying. It does have its moments but these mostly occur in the first half of the film. John Lithgow appears but is also wasted because he disappears early on in the film. There is also a sizeable Matt Damon cameo in the film. The brothers have set up an interesting premise about a world riven by a blight but the cause is not explained satisfactorily for the viewers. Interstellar feels like a three hour EC or Twilight Zone story with a poorly executed pay off. It will be interesting to see just how well it does. Nolan is a talented director but here he has been given too much freedom and so we end up with a film that wants to be groundbreaking and seminal but is just a very frustrating failure. A shame really…

ARTFULLY DONE

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Hyperluminal_coverTitan Books have been a part of British comics for decades now and at one point, they were best known as bringing DC’s output to the UK. When Titan lost that DC content, it wasn’t certain how they would continue. But the company has reinvented itself, generated new comic content and also bringing out an increasing line of Art Of books. The two latest titles are The Art of Jim Burns: Hyperluminal and The Art of Greg Spalenka: Visions From The Mind’s Eye. Both books are lavish hardcovers but the two artists couldn’t be more different in terms of their style. The Art of Jim Burns takes a look at the impressive career of British science fiction genius Burns, whose work has graced book covers by the likes of sci fi and fantasy giants like George R R Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Joe Haldeman and Robert Silverberg, to name but a few. The book has a commentary running through it, which does help to contextualise Burns’ work and gives the readers an idea of which point in his career we are talking about. Reproduction here is magnificent and it really shows off just what a master of science fiction art Burns is, able to create new worlds of imagination with his  brush strokes. His work on fantasy covers is slightly less accomplished as he seems to be a little less comfortable in the fantasy world. But this is a very minor quibble. Burns is a uniquely talented artist and it is great to see a book that celebrates that…

Greg Spalenka is a very different artist indeed to Burns. He is an American illustrator who is more in the painterly traditions of the Old Masters, the Pre-Raphaelites and also the hordes of talented 20th century American illustrators and artists. His work follows the lineage of the Wyeths, Dean Cornwell and the British Victorian painters. The Art  of Greg Spalenka shows off the versatility of this man, who is as comfortable drawing Mike Tyson as he is working on Narnia film The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. There is a beautiful elegant simplicity to Spalenka’s work and this format, a slightly oversized hardcover, does do his magnificent paintings full justice. There is a little commentary here but perhaps the work speaks for itself a little more here. The design here manages to reflect Spalenka’s approach as an artist and it does give you a feel of the way he works.

So while I am reviewing both books together, I am in no way comparing the works of the two artists. They are both exceptional practitioners in their own fields and both of these books are welcome additions to the library of anyone who is an aficionado of modern illustrative art…

STELLAR EFFORT?

SPOILER WARNING

2014 has already seen three Marvel movies: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Amazing Spider-man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past. To this we can now add Guardians of The Galaxy. When it was announced a few years ago, it did seem a very strange choice to transfer onto the big screen. An obscure series featuring earth man Peter Quill (Starlord) and his team of aliens including talking animal Rocket Raccoon and sentient tree Groot, character recognition was pretty nonexistent. But it has been promoted as a comedy and so GoTG (as it shall be known from now on to save on characters) was never going to be quite the same beast as many of its Marvel stablemates. Basically, Quill (Chris Pratt) is kidnapped by alien buccaneers led by Yondu (Michael (The Walking Dead) Rooker) as a kid. We jump forward to Quill as a young man, calling himself Star Lord, who has become an intergalactic ne’er do well and he finds himself up against scary Kree warrior Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace (The Hobbit, Pushing Daisies), the son of huge chinned Thanos (voiced by John Brolin) when he manages to acquire a globe of incredible power. Quill is assisted by by the gorgeous Gamora (Zoe (Star Trek) Saldana), psychopath Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista), walking tree Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper).GoTG is obviously aimed at a younger audience than something like The Winter Soldier or Days of Future Past which explains the presence of Rocket Raccoon but the eighties nostalgia here (explained by a mix tape from Quill’s late mother) will strike no chords with younger viewers and the visage of Ronan may even terrify a younger audience. The film is fun, looks fantastic and Pratt is very good as Quill but the script is fairly forgettable and Rocket Raccoon, while no Jar Jar Binks, doesn’t really work for an adult audience. The inevitable 3D lends little to proceedings. It has been compared with Star Wars and perhaps that is a valid comparison. Director James Gunn has made a decent job here. It doesn’t matter what I say here because a sequel for the film has apparently been greenlit. Guardians of The Galaxy is a very enjoyable but fairly unmemorable summer blockbuster with some impressive effects. Fun while you’re watching it but you are hard-pressed to remember what you even saw a few days later. It is still better than Amazing Spider-man 2…