After Earth (2013)

After Earth (2013)

Some actors and directors are just so friggin’ bankable. You put them in front / behind the camera and you KNOW you’re going to make big money. Why? Because they have a rabid fan base and you know they’re going to deliver one hell of a memorable film. And if they don’t? Well, you know it’s going to be a fun ride nevertheless. But this isn’t a hard and fast rule; sometimes things go wrong. Normally I’d be one to say that Samuel L. Jackson is in great movies, and they’re generally enjoyable, so combining that with a Sin City esque noir backdrop should work… but you’ve seen The Spirit right? That’s only off the top of my head, and there are a ton of examples of such missteps. So, what about Big Willy, Will Smith? He’s had hit after hit for years now – they really have gone BOOM and SHOOK SHOOK THE ROOM. From the “lows”: (but stupidly successful) wikke-wikke Wild Wild West, to the highs: essentially every other film he’s put his name to, Will Smith has been one of, if not the, most bankable actors internationally. So how does After Earth fair? Are we Gettin’ Jiggy With It? Are we Just Cruisin’? Or is it time to call the Men In Black to cart him away?

After Earth (2013)

Ok, I think I’m about all out of shoe-horning in Will Smith song titles into sentences, but you get the point. The guy’s a legend. After Earth sees him re-teamed with his son, Jaden Smith (seemingly he’s lost his mother’s name in there), in a “future sci-fi epic” wherein Will and Jaden crash land on Earth years after its been abandoned to pursue a life elsewhere in the universe. The aim? To retrieve a beacon that’s some way away so they can get off the planet… and that’s it. That’s the entire premise. Oh, did I mention that Will Smith basically sits down for 2/3 of the film too? I didn’t? Does that add to the excitement for you?

As you can probably tell, I wasn’t enamoured with After Earth. It’s quite honestly one of the dullest movies I’ve seen in recent memory; mercifully it’s kept at a 100 minute run time, as I couldn’t endure any more. This is NOT a Will Smith movie. You will see no humour, you will see no wit. Sure, we’ve seen Will play the serious roles before (Ali, Seven Pounds etc.), but this role is just dry and one dimensional: an elite solider who can “ghost” and avoid aliens owing to his lack of fear (oh yeah, there’s aliens, but they’re not exciting) – he’s also devoid of character. Also, as I mentioned, he spends the vast majority of his time sat down because of a leg injury. There’s very little demanded of Will Smith here, which is a shame as we all know what a talent he is. So, what of Jaden? Well, it’s essentially a Jaden Smith film featuring Will Smith. The trouble? The plot.

Get used to this scene...

Get used to this scene…

The film consists of Jaden Smith just running around a forest avoiding CGI animals. Not crazy, alien animals, no. Mainly baboons and bizarrely man-hungry eagles. And also cutting himself on bushes. This is is. This is your film. Following Jaden in a lycra suit that occasionally changes colour. I wish I was simplifying the movie for you, but I’m really not; it’s simply that dull. The scripting is weak, the plotting is dull and the action is scant on the ground. All with Will Smith uttering some monotonous spiel about fear and danger every five minutes. THEN, when you do finally have the alien section… well, it fails to up the excitement at all. Dull.

After Earth (2013)

This brings me to my next point… the director. We finally see the return of M. Night Shyamalan here. The guy that ruled the world with The Sixth Sense, Signs and Unbreakable, before commencing a steady decrease in quality that eventually led to The Last Airbender. So, we see his return, but you couldn’t tell. Having him here seems like a mercenary move to try and bolster some interest in the movie. It has none of his flair and crucially none of his twists. I don’t want this. If he’s going to come back I want him to hit hard with a “classic” Shyamalan, or at least try and attain those same heights again. I don’t want this formulaic, plot-dry attempt at a sci-fi epic. It’s not welcome!

Does After Earth have anything going for it then? Erm… I couldn’t actually tell you. There’s nothing in my mind that I thought “ooo good concept, just poor execution”. It’s just a poor concept with a fantastic lead actor that then proceeds to not use him in the slightest. It perplexes me. Thankfully, Will Smith has an arsenal of films lined up for the next two years, so he’s obviously going to redeem himself for this “blip”, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I’m not really sure why he took the project, considering he’s a guy that can pick and choose roles nowadays. Let’s be fair… it’s not like he needs the money.

So… to sum up this film with another song? Just The Two Of Us. It pretty much epitomises this movie, as there’s very little else to talk about. In fact, you could argue that you don’t really need to mention Will, as he doesn’t serve that much of a purpose here either. Maybe After Earth just needed a catchy Will Smith song to sell it actually? With some “huh”, “yeah” and “jiggy” in the chorus. That’d have had me dancing down the aisles, as opposed to walking out and fearing giant eagles that are CLEARLY man hungry predators on Earth…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

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Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion. It’s such a startlingly powerful sounding word isn’t it? But what image does it conjure up in your head? Think about it. For some, it’ll be the true definition of the word: the state of being unaware of what’s happening around you – to be oblivious, you might say. Others may take it as something akin to an abyss – an impenetrable mire, from which nothing can escape. Others still may actually conjure up images of a video game from several years ago starring some demons, portals and wizards. It’s amazing what imagery can be conjured up from a single word! But which of these descriptions actually sums up Oblivion, the latest Tom Cruise-manned vehicle? Does it carry the word well, or is it too destined to just fade into oblivion?

Oblivion... looks kinda icy!

Oblivion… looks kinda icy!

Quite a lofty introduction to a film review, don’t you think? But how well does the title describe the film? Well, Oblivion is the first of two big movies this season to talk about a post-apocalyptic Earth that’s being revisited for some reason or another (the other being Will Smith‘s After Earth). This time around, we’re told that an alien race appeared and destroyed our moon. This threw the whole world into disarray and caused a cataclysmic meltdown of society. But the aliens weren’t done there… no no, they then landed on Earth and tried to take over. They failed, but the Earth is a husk, grossly damaged by the subsequent use of nuclear bombs. Now, some years later in 2077, we follow Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) – an engineer who’s tasked with repairing security drones down on the surface of Earth. These drones are there to protect various other large vessels that are draining the Earth dry in order to generate power to be shipped off to Titan – one of Saturn’s moons… but things get a little weird for Jack, as he starts to remember some facts that were erased long ago…

Simply put, the film has a rich back story and a great lore. You can’t fault director / writer Joseph Kosinski for really thinking about his world! It goes without saying that the film looks absolutely incredible too. Kosinski‘s view of the future is bleak, but totally mesmerising. I wouldn’t quite say I was as hypnotised as I was with the visual splendour of some of Spring Breakers‘ scenes earlier in the week, but nevertheless it looked great. Even better in iMAX if you have the option for that too. So far, so good…

Oblivion (2013)

But what of the acting? Well, once again – it’s solid work. The core cast, which includes the aforementioned Tom Cruise, plus his co-guardian Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the mysterious Beech (Morgan Freeman) and the newly-salvaged Julia (Olga Kurylenko) are all perfectly comfortable in their roles. It was nice to actually see Freeman in a role that’s not as typical as usual – he’s not playing the kind, older guy that helps out the hero of the film. Thank you! If anything it reminds me more of his role in Wanted – a film I’m not particularly keen on, but that’s what came up in my mind. As for Riseborough and Kurylenko? Solid performances, but I can’t say that their roles really sold their acting skills all that much. Tom Cruise however, is once again on great form doing exactly what Tom Cruise does. If you don’t like the guy’s acting, you probably won’t enjoy Oblivion, but if you do – you’re getting what you’d get in any modern era Cruise film… Once again, so far, so good – the film doesn’t spiral into an abyss yet.

But it does come a bit closer to that hole… You see, the film makers have made a great deal of fuss over the winding plot, replete with its twists and turns. The trouble with this is that I expect the twists to be a) semi-logical, and b) unexpected. I’d say the film has two, perhaps three big twists, which I’m of course not going to spoil here. But one of them is hinted at if you have even a basic grasp of planetary facts. Now, let’s not pigeon-hole me here – The Phage is not a physicist, an astronomer or anything even remotely close. I just seem to absorb random facts that I’ve heard over the years, a bit like Bradley Cooper‘s character in Limitless. This is one of those times where I instantly recall something about the moon of Titan, which doesn’t really stack up with the rest of the above narrative. If anyone’s curious as to what that is – drop a comment below and I’ll use my Cooper-esque recollection abilities for you.

Oblivion (2013)

That’s not all I have to say about these twists either. If you recall, in Side Effects I took umbrage with the fact that the main twist of that thriller was so out of left field that it seemed like the writers had somehow cheated you out of a proper plot. Well, we’re going back into the field on the left in Oblivion too. Whilst I’d already guessed what the “big” twist was, some of the minor ones were totally bonkers and got more and more surreal as they progressed, right up until the very end of the film. In fact, the end just made me feel a bit cold to it all… You’ll see what I mean. Damn, this is a hard movie to review without spoiling anything whatsoever! But I’m determined to not do it, lest I feel your wrath. Let’s just say that some of the twists once again made me think of Wanted… but for the wrong reasons.

Having said all that, Oblivion is a solid slice of sci-fi and is set in a beautiful world. It deserves praise for that alone. It’s just that I sensed the film was a bit too drawn out at points and down-right daft at others. Sure, this is sci-fi – I should expect some ludicrous ideas and premises because it’s the future. Hell, the guy has a pulse rifle and flies around in a cool looking jet whilst living in an apartment in the sky. I can buy all that. I just wasn’t sold on some of the other plot details. Whereas some seemed too obvious, I was just oblivious to why they were included (see what I did there?).

So, which of the definitions does Oblivion live up to? It’s certainly not destined to be thrown into an abyss, that’s for sure. It’s a solid film that deserves to be seen… but it also does seem a bit too “video game” like for my tastes. No, it didn’t feature any demons or wizards, but it did seem somewhat familiar, as most games do. You almost get the feeling that Oblivion is a Frankenstein sci-fi that welds together various other film plots to suit its own means. But if you’re oblivious to some of those other films then the film will be a lot more appealing. OK, I’ll stop using words beginning “oblivio…” now… Ob(li)viously, as it’s the end.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Thirteen of the Best for 2013

Gaze into the Phage's Ball...

Gaze into the Phage’s Ball…

Happy New Year one and all! We’ve all managed to survive the armageddon and hopefully survived the welcoming in of 2013 last night. So now you have just one question on your lips about the year ahead right? What are the best films of 2013! No? You’re telling me you want to know if you’ll get that promotion / girl / boy / revenge? Well, I’m afraid I’m just going to answer the query about some of the biggest films to come in 2013. Last week we had a retrospective look back at 2012 with the 1st Annual Phagee Awards and now, like Janus – the namesake of January, we’re going to look forward to what’s to come. So I’ve picked thirteen films for 2013 that should be on your radar. Whilst I hope they’re all going to be hits… I can guarantee they’ll be an interesting watch, for better – or worse.

1) 14th February: A Good Day To Die Hard

2013 Die Hard 5

Yes, Bruce Willis will once again be donning a dirty vest and reprising his role as the unluckiest man in the world: John McClane. We cannot wait for this film. Film Phage are massive fans of the others in the franchise, so we’re eager to see what happens in the fifth. Sure, Die Hard 4 can’t hold a candle to Die Hard: With A Vengeance, but it was still great fun and we’re hoping for more of the same. The only worry? Having John McClane Jr. (aka Jack McClane, aka Jai Courtney) running around with him. Whilst we’re sure Courtney will do an admirable job… we still wish it was Tom Hardy in that role. We can dream right?

2) 27th March: Trance

2013 Trance

This one’s coming in low and hard, because I don’t think many people even know that Danny Boyle‘s latest film will be hitting cinemas in the Spring. This is the guy that brought you Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours to name but four of his eclectic movies. Whilst he’s not released too many details, we know it has James McAvoy at its lead and deals with art, ripping off gangsters and hypnosis, which leads to a reality-bending story where you don’t know what’s real from what’s resulting from the trance. It all sounds ludicrously trippy and we’re looking forward to having our minds warped.

3) 12th April: Oblivion

2013 Oblivion

Whilst nerdy gamers worldwide may be rejoicing in the premise of a live action retelling of the Oblivion video game, that’s not the case. No, this is a post-apocalyptic film starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. Whilst Cruise has been known to produce a dud once every so often, he’s a pretty bankable actor and only commits to promising films. This film puts Cruise as an engineer who returns to a war-ravaged Earth (we’ve been at war with aliens) and discovers a secret that turns the whole war on its head. Sure, Cruise has dabbled with aliens in the less-than-well-received War of the Worlds, but we’re excited by this. It has great potential.

4) 26th April: Iron Man 3

2013 Iron Man 3

Don’t tell me you couldn’t see this making my list? We’re massive Marvel fans at Film Phage and can’t wait for Robert Downey Jr. to don the red and yellow suit once more. Whilst it’s great to have Sir Ben Kingsley as a menacing Mandarin, we’re also very curious about Guy Pearce‘s role. If it’s true to the Extremis comic-book storyline then his character should have a nice meaty role. Pearce has impressed us in 2012 with his slimey performance in Lawless and we couldn’t help but like him in Lockout too. This could potentially be Downey Jr.‘s last outing as Iron Man in his own dedicated film, so we’re hoping that if it is – he goes out with a bang! We also get this a week before the US… which makes it even better.

5) 24th May: The Hangover Part III

2013 Hangover Part 3

The Hangover was a breath of fresh air for the comedy film world. It was rude, bombastic and totally absurd… it was great. So when Part II reared its head in 2011… well, we were all a bit disappointed. It was near enough a copy-and-paste of its predecessor. However, The Hangover Part III is promising to turn the concept on its head, with the guys (Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms) coming to the aid of Zach Galifianakis‘ Alan. At least, that’s what the rumours are indicating… we’ll see for sure come May.

6) 7th June: After Earth

2013 After Earth

When Will Smith releases a film, the world raises its head and takes notice. He, like Cruise, has released some dud movies, but he’s another incredibly bankable actor and generally has a fantastic number of releases under his belt. In After Earth we see him reunited on-screen with his son Jaden Smith, which is great… but isn’t the reason we’re excited about this. The film also marks the return of M. Night Shyamalan to the director’s chair some 3 years after the disaster that was The Last Airbender. All we really know is that it sees Big Willy crash land on a planet that’s not been inhabited by humans for 1000 years. We just hope that “the twist” isn’t that he’s time travelled and this IS Earth… A bit like Planet of the Apes, but without the damn dirty apes.

7) 14th June: Man of Steel

2013 Man of Steel

Although Batman’s done and dusted, Christopher Nolan‘s dabbling with the DC superheroes isn’t over. With Zack Snyder in the director’s chair, and Nolan as producer, we see the return of Superman. Whilst the trailers have been suitably vague, we’re excited to see what they’ll do with this franchise. Could it be the next Green Lantern, or will he be the new Dark Knight… or a Light Knight. With laser eyes, who can fly… and spin the world backwards. How they manage to ground such a ludicrously powerful hero will be interesting. Because as we know, all Hollywood cares about nowadays is making heroes “gritty” and “realistic”. We’ve high hopes for Henry Cavill though – he certainly looks the part, and with the main villain touted as Zod (another superpowered guy), we’re expecting fireworks.

8) 21st June: World War Z

2013 World War Z

This could be fantastic… but it could also be awful… This film worries us and excites us in equal measures. I’m a massive fan of Max Brooks’ original book by the same name. It’s utterly fantastic. But the Brad Pitt-led film deviates heavily from the concept of the book (an oral retelling of a war against a plague that turns people into zombies – told by the survivors). Instead, this film opts to follow Pitt -who works for the UN, during an onslaught in Pittsburgh. The trailer looks a bit of a mess, with the zombies somehow forming a tidal wave – they move like a liquid. An odd choice. I’d rather we saw the runners from 28 Days Later… but we’ll see how this turns out. We’re curious, to say the least.

9) 12th July: Monsters University

2013 Monsters University

Finally we get the follow up to 2001’s Monsters Inc., which is one of my favourite animated movies. We’re hoping that Monsters University goes beyond what was done back then and creates a truly funny and imaginative film. The original gang is back, so we can look forward to seeing Sully (John Goodman) and Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) in their University of Fear days. We know that they weren’t necessarily friends back then, so it’ll be an interesting plot. Let’s just hope the sequel / prequel is at least as good as the original so that it doesn’t sully (ha – that’s his name!) what was a great original film.

10) 26th July: The Wolverine

2013 The Wolverine

The most popular X-Man reappears on-screen this year – once again courtesy of Hugh Jackman. This one should be interesting. Apparently it’s going to skip over X-Men Origins: Wolverine and actually pick up from where X-Men: The Last Stand left off. Very interesting. Incidentally, it’s set in Japan and sees Logan coping with his losses and dealing with his life. Naturally, he’s going to have to pop those claws too to deal with some samurais. We’re also intrigued to see whether this somehow links in with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which should feature Wolverine quite prominently. Hugh Jackman‘s signed on for it, so we shall see…

11) 20th September: Elysium

2013 Elysium

This is probably our most anticipated film on the list. Why? Because we’re seeing Neil Blomkamp returning as the writer and director. Who’s he? Only the guy behind District 9 – one of our favourite films. We’re still waiting on District 10 though – get on it Neil – we want to know what happened to Wikus! Why else should this be great? 1) the actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley, 2) the story: rich folks live on a spacecraft, poor folks live on the wrecked Earth… and Matt Damon‘s going to equalise it! We’re very, very excited.

12) ??th October: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

2013 Sin City 2 A Dame To Kill For

2005’s Sin City was a beautiful piece of cinema. In every sense. It was pulpy, gritty and looked sublime. It was Robert Rodriguez at his best, adapting a great Max Miller story. Can he do it twice? Well we’ve got a hell of a lot of the cast back for events that are set just before the original film. That means Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Michael Madsen, Clive Owen etc. It’s a shame Bruce Willis doesn’t figure in this story, as his character was great. But hey – if we’ve got more of Mickey Rourke‘s Marv back up there smashing things, then we’re happy. It also features some bizarre cameos… Lady Gaga anyone?

13) 30th October: Thor: The Dark World

2013 Thor The Dark World

Rounding out our list of the thirteen most anticipated films is everyone’s favourite Norse God: Thor. Yes, Chris Hemsworth will be back at his ripped best and fighting a new evil… one that isn’t just Tom Hiddleston‘s Loki again! Hurrah! This time we’ll see him squaring off against Christopher Eccleston‘s Malekith in what should be a refreshing new angle – not all God vs. God again, or Thor landing on Earth in the middle of nowhere doing his best impression of Crocodile Dundee… minus “y’call that a knife?” routine. Oh, and again… UK beats the US release by one week. We may have lost the battle for Wreck-It Ralph, but we’ve not lost the war yet my friends.

And that’s it – just a selection of thirteen of our picks of films to watch in 2013. We’ve not even touched on the new Fast & The Furious movie, which again has Dwayne Johnson in it, so it should be pretty good. Then there’s Gangster Squad, the eventual release of Wreck-It Ralph, and Spielberg‘s Robopocalypse. But hey – it’s thirteen films for 2013… I’ll do more films next year. Probably fourteen. If the world doesn’t end this year either.