Monday, 26 April 2010

Slick Swiss Sci-Fi


‘‘What happens to those who find out they’re living in a simulation ?’’

An intelligent and highly engrossing Sci-Fi movie from Switzerland, with visual and audible working parts analogous to a fine Swiss time piece.

The future of planet Earth seems destined to the desolate dusts of oblivion. A plague of epidemic proportions has swept the globe and all forms of life are dying. The once green and prosperous world is now barren and bleak. Mankind has reached out to the stars and vast space stations orbit the Earth, as well as farther reaching planets. The technology to use light speed now exists in this future time, along with the ability to safely use cryogenics to suspend life on long destinations.

Orbiting planet Earth is a space station the size of Manhattan, its vitality lighting up the dense darkness of space like New York city at night time. This Metropolis is where the remnants of mankind’s majority now exist. There is still sickness and disease but thanks to the global governmental system there is a perfect life to strive for on the perfect world of Rhea.

Blade runner (1982) like giant screens fill the minds of the populace with hope of a better life. Work for the system and commit to the cause and the reward may be a place in the Shangri-La that is Rhea. But, at what cost and to what end ?.

Doctor Laura Portmann (Anna-Katharina Schwabroh) signs up on a four year contract as a medic aboard a cargo ship. Her dream is to acquire passage to join her sister Laura, and her son and daughter, at their picturesque homestead on Rhea. Along with a minimal crew Laura is designated a cryogenic split shift with the rest of the ships compliment, their destination deep space Station 42.

Like any government this future one is targeted by militant factions looking to bring them down. The space lanes and cargo traffic have been hit often with what is broadcast as terror attacks, and acts of major sabotage. The leader of the activist group is Klaus Bruckner, deemed an infamous terrorist and enemy of the people. For the protection of outgoing cargo transportation sky marshals are designated to the teams. Aboard Laura’s ship is assigned Samuel Decker (Martin Rapold). His authority over rides even the captain of the vessel in time of threat to the ship and crew.

The cargo ship is transporting material to build a new space station, and part of the crews daily routine is to carry out routine diagnostic checks, to maintain optimum efficiency in arriving at their destination in good time. Three years and eight months into the journey Laura Portmann’s shift is underway, and an unanticipated turn of events begins to play out.

Laura goes about her daily routine carrying out the necessary checks and procedures, interspersed with a regular fitness routine and occasional message relays to her sister. Her video diary is to share her thoughts with her niece and nephew, living in the perfect haven of Rhea with their mother, Laura’s sister. The delay in response takes weeks, but is still very much welcomed as a distraction from the cold dankness of the huge space sarcophagus she is travelling within. One day, however, a message she sends is responded to literally moments later. How can this possibly be !?.

As the days go by Laura’s solitary shift gives her cause to explore the ship a little deeper than before. An unusual patter of clanking sounds leads her to a high security restricted area. She feels ill at ease, and even more so when she believes that she sees movement through the thick glass window panel of the heavy duty steel restraining door. The captain of the ship and the sky marshal are pulled out of cryogenic suspension, and together the three of them investigate beyond the door. It is the main entrance to the cargo compartment, where what is being transported is stored. The climate control temperature beyond the door is well below freezing !. Due to the size of the bay the three of them are designated by the captain to split into three, in order to each take equal portion of the nine sectors to investigate. Portmann raises concern that all of them should stay together. Her concerns are merited moments later as she witness the free fall decent of her captain dropping to the ground a multitude of metres below her. He is dead upon impact. His condition verified back in the medical lab by Laura as she verifies his cause of death from fractured skull and multiple fractures to the spine. What she also discovers during the autopsy is that the captain has an artificial eye !.

Upon removal she connects the eye to her computer and is able to reconstruct the last few moments of what the captain saw before his tragic fall. What is displayed upon the screen is sight of a containment area that reads Biohazard !.

Investigation of the cargo by Portmann, Decker, and two other members of the now fully awakened crew, Vespucci and Prokoff, reveal that rather than construction materials the transported cargo on board is actually humans !. Doctor Portmann insists that one of the containers is taken back to the ships medical lab for further investigation. Against the judgement of the once second in command and now newly self appointed Captain, Anna Lindberg, Laura pulls the occupant out of artificial suspension. What she awakens is a young girl, and what she discovers is that this innocent child is hooked up to a computerised highway. A world of tranquillity, completely opposite to the dark void environment that humanity is existing in. Could it be that this young girl and the mass multitude of fellow cryogenically entombed people are all part of a linked hub. A community of the persistently sleeping, yet consciously aware in a state far removed from reality !?.

The now in charge designated captain Lindberg does her own investigating and discovers that whilst everyone else was confined to the assigned configuration of their cryogenic chamber rota, it seems that sky marshal Samuel Decker has been freely coming and going during the entirety of the ships durational undertaking. She confronts him and accuses him of sabotage. He is placed under arrest and forced back into cryogenic sleep for the remainder of the journey. Before he is hauled off he tells Portmann that they are not headed for Station 42, but in fact are bound for Rhea !.

Soon after Laura asks auxiliary crew member Miyuki Yoshida to use her expertise with computers to do a search of the ships logistics. She reveals that they are indeed not destined for Station 42 at all. More alarmingly she confirms that a ships pre-destined flight path cannot be altered once it is computed into its binary coding, therefore their flight plan has not been changed during the journey. Wherever they are destined is not what they were informed of at the outset !.

A short time later one of the crew turns up dead, and Decker is once again free from his cryogenic containment. There must be someone else on board the ship !.

The look and feel of this relatively low budget production is exemplary. Hollywood blockbusters afforded this attention to detail at likely twenty to thirty times the cost would be proud of the outcome. The effects are actually cleverly kept at a minimal, but when deployed are exceptional. The majority of the film centres around the Cargo ship and its occupants. The handful of characters helps keep things taught, as all of them are to a degree suspicious of the other. The central roles are that of Doctor Laura Portmann and space marshall Samuel Decker. As the movie progresses Deccker’s true purpose for being aboard the transportation ship unravels. Portmann is striving for the dream that all of humanity is seeking, a perfect life upon Rhea. The government is feeding the surviving populace a dream, something to strive for, but also manipulating the truth. In a true global ongoing plight to keep balance, even in this future time, the message seems to be that man has learned little from his past failures.

Planet Earth is described as being completely bereft of being able to support life, yet an under lying factor of hope plays out throughout the movie. Is Earth’s re-colonization now more of an economical downturn for a thriving government than an ethical priority to re-establish a birthright ?. Is the creation of a fantastical environment this futures addiction, no better than drugs ?. This then is indeed a thought provoking Science Fiction movie bordering on future science fact. Eerily enigmatic in its allure and cerebrally stimulating in its demure transience between reality and pseudo actuality.

Come the finale Laura holds the key to unlocking the true ecosystem structure of Rhea, and its blinding beauty holds the future of humanity within its diffident dystopia.

Seek Cargo out wherever you can, be it at a film festival or late night showing at a small town cinema venue, but if you can do see it on the big screen. To be cinematically enveloped by true sound and vision is the very best way to experience this tremendous slice of succulent Sci-Fi nourishment.

Movie Rating: 7/10
Review: Paul Cooke
Cargo (2009)
Director Ivan Engler & Ralph Etter
With Martin Rapold, Anna-Katharina Schwabroh,
Michael Finger,Claude-Oliver Rudolph,
Regula Grauwiller, Yangzom Brauen,
Maria Boettner, Pierre Semmier,
Gilles Tschudi & Noa Strupler

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Room At The Asylum For ...

6 Guns

‘‘I don’t need to learn how to draw, I need to learn how to kill a man’’

The Asylum sign up the descendents of Dick Van Dyke’s family tree for a Fun Western. One that is far from being a ‘B’ movie bashers pretty shitty bang bang feature, to be mocked like grand daddy Dick’s Cockney accent from Mary Poppins (1964), but rather a good old fashioned styled Fifties / Sixties cowboy flick.
A tranquil opening, featuring retired sharp shooter sheriff Will Stevens and his young wife Selina (Sage Mears) along with their two sons, turns violent when five horsemen ride up to their humble homestead. Wanted criminal Lee Horn has come calling, bringing with him four gunmen also with a price on their heads. Horn has a grudge against the former sheriff, as Will Stevens killed his father in the act of doing his duty. Revenge for the death of his father is what Horn seeks, and on this day he sets about his vengeance with cold hearted prejudice. Shooting the unarmed Will several times, he is left clinging to life with his final vision being the callous killing of his two sons, and the multiple raping of his wife at the hands of Horn and his obedient henchmen.
Revenge for the death of his father is what Horn seeks, and on this day he sets about his vengeance with cold hearted prejudice. Shooting the unarmed Will several times, he is left clinging to life with his final vision being the callous killing of his two sons, and the multiple raping of his wife at the hands of Horn and his obedient henchmen. His despicable deed of retribution fulfilled Lee Horn departs with a smirk of satisfaction upon his face. He leaves behind two of his men to finish off with Will’s wife Selina, ordering them to kill her when done. A guilt ridden conscience within the designated killer sidekick leaves him firing a shot wide of his intended target, the sound signalling to Horn that his business is closed, oblivious to the fact that Selina is left alive !.
Several days on a highly skilled bounty hunter rides into the town of Brisbee. Frank Allison (Barry Van Dyke) has a saddle side pouch full of most wanted posters, and amongst them are those of Lee Horn and his gang. Allison helps out a forlorn and drunken Selina, taunted in the main through street by a couple of unsympathetic goofballs, as she stumbles into town for her weekly supplies of food and drink. She is a woman alone and spending her days of sorrow looking at the bottom of a bottle.
Frank strolls on into sheriff Barr’s (Greg Evigan) jail house to announce his arrival in town, and to say howdy to the man he has known for a while. Sheriff Barr is pleased to see him, stating as he always does that things are a lot quieter when Frank Allison is around. Frank makes it known that he is aware that Horn and his men have been seen in the region. Before the conversation can continue Selina makes an entrance and pleads with Frank to teach her how to shoot a gun. Frank is respectful but declines, advising Selina to clean herself up.
The following day Selina turns up in town again and pays Frank a visit at the saloon where he has taken a room. She has started the day free from the booze, and is smartly attired to show her intent to a man that gave her good advice. Selina is intent on learning how to use a fire arm, and pursues Frank Allison to show her how. A day or so ride from Brisbee Lee Horn and his men are stopped by a small posse headed up by deputies. The encounter is brief as Horn out draws and out manoeuvres the lawmen. As well as taking their lives he learns of the wellbeing of Selina Stevens and is not at all happy. Rather than head off across the border to evade further lawful persecution he and his four cohorts set trail back to Brisbee, to finish the job and kill Selina.
Time and lack of experience is against Selina, but with the hands on tutelage of a highly skilled bounty hunter in Frank Allison, and the bitter fortitude of a resilient woman, she picks up a gun and takes head how to use it.
Frank develops a healthy respect for Selina and with his guidance she quickly learns the basics. With such an impossibly short period of time to master the gun Selina must more readily rely upon her focused anger, in order to strike back at those responsible for the cold blooded murder of her family. When the time comes to face up to her demons, Selina’s finger on the trigger does not falter.
The Asylum’s foray into the western genre is a sound enough effort. The look and texture of the film has that old burned brown photographic texture to it, reminiscent of the time period it is based within. All the players do well with their characters, in particularly Barry Van Dyke who has perfectly captured the grizzled look of a seasoned professional gunman. His performance as Frank Allison is very evocative of the Sergio Leone school of cowboy, sparing in his use of words, yet delivering intent with the look in his eyes. Selina and Frank are inherently total opposites, her natural instinct to be a loving wife and caring mother, whereas Frank is a lone wandering figure never far from trouble. Their conflicting backgrounds bring them together with the common goal of standing up for what is right. This then sets the scene for the movie that may well be described as ‘Little House On The Payback Prairie’. To enjoy 6 Guns is to accept it as a well intentioned TV movie, harkening back to a time when cowboys and home television were all the ‘Range’. Undertake the journey to conclusion and the ending will not disappoint. Lee Horn and his men get what is duly coming to them, but at what final cost to Selina and Frank !?.
This may not be on your Most Wanted list but for just a few dollars its worth a shot at renting, and definitely wont leave you saddle sore when it hits the television circuit.

Movie Rating: 5/10

Review Paul Cooke / Source US NTSC DVD

6 Guns (2010)
Director Shane Van Dyke
With Sage Mears, Barry Van Dyke,
Geoff Meed, Anya Benton, Greg Evigan,
Jason Ellefson & Valerie K. Garcia

Monday, 5 April 2010

Woo Woo Woo ... WOO


Combined with the first part of this Epic motion picture event Red Cliff II more than carries its own weight in comparison. Indeed there is no need to compare the two. The entire picture is around four and a half hours in duration, shown in its intended vision. This would make for a superb weeks viewing on Television split over five nights. Without question though this is the very best way to enjoy Red Cliff. The complete and uncensored version of Director John Woo's greatest achievement on this scale, viewed in all its glory in High Definition Blu-ray.

Sure the film is split over two Blu-ray discs, but there is no escaping this in order to deliver up the entire movie at its most glorious. Perfect picture and sound, no compromising, and perfectly left at a conclusion point at the end of part one. Viewed back to back over the course of two evenings viewing is ideal to fully appreciate the magnificence of this period piece spectacular.

Red Cliff II picks up after the astounding battles of part one, initially enveloping its viewer into the mind set of both waring factions. The intelligence gathered by a spy in the camp of Prime Minister Cao Cao, and the deception of once friends, now on opposite sides at war. All of the strategic nous of Zhuge Liang (portrayed supremely by the quite excellent Takeshi Kaneshiro) and the defining leadership of Zhou Yu (Tony Leung), combined for the allies, conjoins the Action together in perfect harmony. Outnumbered by hundreds of thousands of men the allies not only have to overcome their obvious disadvantage, but also deploy ingenious ways of attaining ammunition to continue their stand against adversity. Zhuge Liang's composure under great pressure, carried out with an uplifting charm, is quite brilliant. When the allies realise that their supply of essential arrows is no where near what is required for the final battle ahead the method of acquiring one hundred thousand more is ingenious.

Honour, loyalty, brotherhood and fight to the death for the righteous cause bleeds throughout, along with the multitude of soldiers in battle. There is blood spillage aplenty, along with more limbs shorn just as was witnessed in Red Cliff part one. The almost super human expertise and honed abilities, imbued with the strength and agility of the outstanding generals of both armies, delivers moments of supreme blood letting and delirious fight sequences. To witness an impassioned leader lead his troops into battle, cutting a swathe before him is like unleashing a tornado against a hundred men knowing that the hundred will fall.
Prime Minister Cao Cao has the overwhelming advantage of soldiers but his weakness is the love of a woman. The woman in question just so happens to be the wife of his nemesis Zhou Yu. The beautiful Chiling Lin plays Zhou Yu's great love Xiao Qiao, in her first big screen role.
Xiao Qiao is not just a pretty trinket to adorn the background setting of the movie. The impressive location scenery delivers on that score unchallenged by any. As impassioned of her land and people as her husband she chooses to act with her own guile in assisting the cause. As the great final battle comes, she is within the camp of Prime Minister Cao Cao. Love and war go hand in hand !.

The conclusive battle in no way disappoints, in fact it is the defining point of excellence that the movies journey has undertaken to arrive at this finality. Pretty much the last hour of the film is all out breathtaking Action. The sheer grandeur and enormous scale of endeavour to pull this magnitude off is unimaginable. John Woo, and all involved have delivered an Epic of modern time that will stand out for generations to come as the likes of El Cid (1961), Ben Hur (1958) and Spartacus (1960) have done.
Absolutely Excellent involvement by all concerned, from cast to crew to special effects, locations, sound and most definitely Director John Woo. Without question Red Cliff is a major motion picture event Epic of our time. Recommended on every level of experience, edification and pure expansive entertainment.


Director John Woo
Featuring: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Jun Hu, Shido Nakamura, Chiling Lin, Yong You, Dawei Tong, Yong Hou, Jia Song, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Jinsheng Zang, Shan Zhang, Hui Wang, Gang Xie, Chao Guo, and a cast of thousands of Extras

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Woo Woo Woo

John Woo's RED CLIFF

Forget the condensed International version, this is the real deal. John Woo's Incredible portrayal of an almighty battle, taken from the Three Kingdoms period set in 220 - 280 AD.

The sheer scale and eye melting lavishness of this Epic piece of Chinese cinema is so very, very Impressive !.

This then is the magnificent Chinese Blu-ray DVD, available as an All Region release and most definitely the preferred option to go for. The International version is available in both the United States and the UK in a condensed version, playing at both cinemas and now available on DVD. John Woo's Full and Fabulous vision of a legendary tale of courage, honour and strategy on the battle ground is most definitely best appreciated, and fully envisioned as it should be, in its un-condensed circa four hour version. Red Cliff is attainable via the Chinese International retailers in a two DVD release format. The preferred version to go for is the highly recommended Blu-ray discs. Both Parts One and Two are available to purchase.

With a cast list of highly accomplished stars from Asia, John Woo has returned to his home heritage roots and delivered a slice of Cinema that he built his reputation upon. Having tasted the Hollywood gloss, and had ridiculous amounts of money thrown at him to film Westernised Action flicks, bordering on the pretty darned good at best, Woo returns home to hit the Excellent highs of his golden era of film making at last.

The talent of John Woo is undoubted, but unrestrained by the money mongering producers outside of his home country, here John Woo is unshackled and free to serve a platter of pure unadulterated Action cinema at its very finest.

Red Cliff is without question a stunning piece of world cinema at its finest. The depth of characterisation is wondrous and brings back fond memories of the deliriously entertaining The Water Margin series from the Seventies. Comradely, heroism and brotherhood all intertwined for the common purpose of good overcoming evil. This is what Director John Woo excels at, along with his expansive vision for Action set pieces. Here he has a canvas so vast that even the great epics delivered by the mighty Shaw Brothers are excelled for sheer dynamic depth and expansiveness. Red Cliff is without question a modern day, old school styled instant cinematic Classic.

This is just Part One !!! ... looking so very much forward to nestling back in a comfortable armchair, lights out and sound turned up for the heavens to hear, to further the experience with Red Cliff Part Two, also in stunning Blu-ray. Picking up on where Part One finished, after an Epic encounter upon land, showcasing an astonishing battle of tactical tenacity. The re-enactment of battle formation scenes and intricate traps, with loss of limbs and life aplenty on display is just staggering.
Just enough time then to draw breath at the conclusion of Part One, to prepare for the onslaught of the tyrannical despot Cao Cao, Prime Minister of the Han Dynasty, and his army of eight hundred thousand men arriving by sea upon a mighty fleet of ships, at the port of Red Cliff. It has been quite a while since the phrase To Be Continued has been so anxiously anticipated on the back of an Epic first part as this. Fabulous stuff.

Highly Recommended.

RED CLIFF (2008/2009)

Director John Woo
Featuring: Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Fengyi Zhang, Chen Chang, Jun Hu, Shido Nakamura, Chiling Lin, Yong You, Dawei Tong, Yong Hou, Jia Song, Ba Sen Zha Bu, Jinsheng Zang, Shan Zhang, Hui Wang, Gang Xie, Chao Guo, and a cast of thousands of Extras