It’s Showtime – The Running Man

29 03 2017

Have you ever considered appearing in a Game Show? Like many kids of the 1990’s, I used to dream of appearing in shows like Gladiators, The Crystal Maze, Virtually Impossible, and the biggest one of them all; Fun House. As time went on it became obvious that me appearing in any kind of Gameshow was probably not going to happen, but I kept some tiny day dreams for shows like Cross-Fire, Raven, Bamzooki, Jungle Run and of course Robot Wars (which given its return to TV has got me thinking about it once more). While I may not have been a contestant, many people have as is the point of game shows, many of them striving to achieve the grand prize of money, a holiday or maybe a boat. Win or lose though, many of them should be thankful that they were not competing for the right to stay alive.

Released in 1987 by TriStar Pictures and directed by Paul Michael Glaser; The Running Man is a Dystopian Action Thriller based on the book of the same name written by Stephen King (under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) where a wrongly convicted man is forced to compete in a gladiatorial style TV game show known as The Running Man. The film is set in America between 2017 and 2019, where after a worldwide economic collapse; the country has become a police state and the government soothes the population with the airing of game shows where convicted criminals have to fight for the right to stay alive with a chance of being pardoned by the state.

Former cop Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is wrongly convicted for the mass shooting of civilians at a food riot after he refuses to follow an order to kill the civilians in the first place, and is now dubbed the Butcher of Bakersfield. He along with a few other inmates including William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) escape from a labour camp, with Ben going to his brother’s apartment to hide out only to discover that it is now occupied by Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso); a composer for ICS who are the broadcaster of The Running Man. Taking Amber as a hostage, Ben intends to leave the country for Hawaii, but while at the Airport, Amber informs the authorities and Richards is captured. Taken to ICS, Richards meets the host and producer of The Running Man; Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) who tries to persuade Ben into competing in the show. When he refuses, Killian threatens to enter Laughlin and Weiss instead; upon learning this Richards agrees to take part.

The next day the show begins with people all over America and from different backgrounds tuning in to watch. Backstage, Amber; who is working on the show that night discovers some evidence that some of the news made about Richards maybe untrue and goes in search to find out more. As the show begins and Richards is introduced, Killian reveals that he has entered Weiss and Laughlin into the show anyway. Richards threatens to return for Killian, before he and his other inmate pals are sent on their way through large tunnels on strange rocket powered sledges. The Idea of the Running Man is that the contestants are forced to run through a large area of urban wasteland while being chased by an elite team of Killer Stalkers; if they survive, they are pardoned for their crimes. The Audience though love all this brutality and cannot wait for the first stalker to be introduced; that stalker being a very large hockey player dressed character called Sub Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka). The three runners are penned into Sub Zero’s own specially designed area and are toyed with endlessly until Richards uses a barbed wire fence to strangle him, killing him in the process, the first time that has happened in the history of the show. With the audience in shock, the three runners use this advantage to get away. While in the game zone, Laughlin and Weiss use this opportunity to find the network’s uplink for the benefit of the resistance. Amber meanwhile has been caught, and is forced to enter the Running Man also; she arrives just before two more stalkers enter the game zone in the form of chainsaw wielding Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch) and arc electricity user Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth). Buzzsaw fatally wounds Laughlin, while Weiss is shocked to death by Dynamo. Richards kills Buzzsaw with his own chainsaw, but spares the life of Dynamo after his electric suit stops working. Richards agrees to carry out Laughlin’s last request of getting the uplink node information to the resistance within the game zone. Off camera; Killian sends a message to Ben offering him a job as a stalker, but he refuses, and Killian sends out the next stalker; the flamethrower wielding Fireball (Jim Brown). In the studio and outside however, the audience starts cheering for Richards given his unstoppable killing streak. While being chased around by Fireball; Amber discovers the decaying bodies of the supposed winners of the last series of the show, discovering that their victory was faked. Richards then kills Fireball by blowing him up.

Running out of options (and stalkers), Killian asks the help of retired and champion stalker Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). Freedom however refuses as he does not like the way the show has become compared to what it was like when he used to do it. Using body doubles, Killian fakes the death of both Richards and Amber by the hands of Captain Freedom. Ben and Amber meanwhile are still in the game zone and have been found by the resistance and their leader Mic (Mick Fleetwood) and learn of their faked deaths. Using the transmitter info acquired by Weiss earlier, the resistance launches a two-pronged attack on ICS. First they show footage of what really happened at the Bakersfield riot and present details that Killian has been lying to the audience for a very long time. Then resistance fighters led by Ben and Amber break into the studio fighting the guards. Amber succeeds in killing Dynamo while Ben confronts Killian. Killian’s bodyguard Sven (Sven-Ole Thorsen) shows up, but decides not to fight Richards as he has had enough of his boss and walks off. Killian tries to convince Richards that he was only doing what the audience were asking for; saying that they love reality TV and televised violence. Richards decides to give the audience what he thinks they really want and sends Killian off in one of the rocket powered sledges down the same tunnel that Richards went down. Killian crashes into a sign on the way out bearing his image and dies, while Richards and Amber leave the studio sharing a kiss on their way out.

One thing that stands out about The Running Man is that while it may not be the first among discussed films of the same genre, or even not as frequently mentioned as other Arnold Schwarzenegger films of note; it is still a very entertaining and enjoyable film. While maybe not Schwarzenegger’s best film or performance, this does not distract from how enjoyable the experience this film delivers. The Running Man is one of those films that is guaranteed to entertain an audience whether it be a seasoned viewer, or even those who are watching it for the first time. Saying that though is pretty simple, as explaining why is even harder. While I could immediately jump on saying that the film has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about it, I think that could be considered cheating. From an action point of view, The Running Man delivers plenty of it. It does what any quality action film does, which is always having something going on, and never too slow. It has lots of running around, plenty of fights, death, explosions while also allowing the use of drama to give those scenes purpose. It’s swift and uneasy, but does not lose sight from its main plot or setting. It’s very basic levels of action uses its scene and scenario to ramp it up and create more meaning, providing the audience with a continued reason to watch. The film’s setting, while not being fully represented, still presents an idea of what it is like to live in a dystopian America, really representing the lives of rich and poor, but also presenting an idea of how a police state could soothe tensions within the populace to keep it under a better form of control than with strong levels of violence. One thing though that probably helps a lot in its film making is how that while you are watching a film; you are also an audience member of this TV Gameshow. The Running Man is presented like many classic American game shows with the charismatic host and big budget effects, to produce the best show they can. In the case of The Running Man the show has its charismatic and popular host; it has music, dancers, merchandise as well as a reality TV effect to it which always grabs an audience. Another thing in the shows profile is how it incorporates what Pro Wrestling was like around the time of the film’s release with a cavalcade of wrestling gimmicks. While said gimmicks are pretty much non-existent to a point these days, back then it was all the range, and with the show’s Stalkers; while they are blood thirsty killers, they are taking on personas with a detailed and strong gimmick. This combination of reality TV and Pro Wrestling along with everything else makes The Running Man Gameshow the kind of show people could actually get into to, even nowadays as it’s a perfect formula conjured up from some of television’s most popular programming. While you are indeed watching a film, you are still watching a Gameshow as presented in the fictional scenario. With the films level of action, small but basic plot, and unique presentation style; creates a very entertaining and enjoyable film. That does not mean though that everything is plain sailing, or perfect.

The Running Man is actually a very small film; not necessarily in length, more in the form of detail. There is a lot going on in the background and a very strong setting is implied, but not delved into. The film says that America is a dystopian police state, but the only evidence of that is a strong police force that could be considered more as security rather than peace keepers. There are a lot of city scenes, some showing a more privileged sector, and that of a down trodden and poor area too, but there are only two scene shots of this, one on a small street area, and the other on the outskirts with the city in the background, but it does not suggest police state, just city and slums; like many a large city. We are told there is a resistance movement but because we have no grounding as to how bad this police state is, there is no real building of reasoning as to why a basic resistance movement is required or needed. That’s the major problem with this film’s setting; that while we are told this stuff, there is no visual evidence to back it up with, other than some scenes with police forces casually walking around. The only thing we have is this TV Show, and that too causes a major plot problem in that supposedly bringing down the TV Station is all that matters. The resistance works hard to bring down a game show and TV channel; but if you are living in a police state where the political elites have control, why would bringing down a TV channel solve the problem? It’s a big foot hole in the plot, because the more you watch it, the more you want to tell everyone that it really doesn’t matter, it does not really solve much, if anything; it’s just going to get worse from here on out. So the ending is a bit unhooked. It’s a real shame really, because the city from a visual perspective looks really good.

On the perspective that the producers of the film could not see into the future, the film’s game show does not lend itself to the current modern-day culture that we live in. One thing that stands out with the film’s selection of stalkers is how they are designed not necessarily around practicality, but more around gimmicks and personas of pro wrestling at the time of the film’s release. In that respect when looked at now it could suggest that the film may not have aged well, but this is only in one short way. Yes the Stalkers do look a bit ridiculous now, but back then would have looked pretty impressive, and in honesty, they are not all that bad. This however brings me quite neatly into another of the films major issues, which is that the cast on the whole is a bit shoddy. The stalker gimmicks are nicely made and it’s easy to see where the ideas came from and what the film’s producers were hoping to achieve, but there aren’t many standouts. Dynamo for instance comes packed with a costume which even back then would have probably looked ridiculous with the glowing hair and light up costume, it looks dire. Buzzsaw does not really do much other than show off his teeth, and Sub Zero is rather wasted given that Professor Toru Tanaka is actually a pretty cool big guy actor when given an actual chance to show off. In reality it makes Tanaka’s performance in an episode of the A-Team far more career prestigious than in a big action film starring Schwarzenegger. In the end it does come down to Captain Freedom and Fireball, which in itself is rather sad. For the most part, both characters; while given major credited parts find themselves on the side-lines until necessary. Fireball’s introduction is rather late on, but has a much stronger stalker part than the others. His entrance and intro is one of the film’s best looking and most enjoyable scenes, plus he helps shed some light on the malpractices of the show. Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom has a similar part as he is played as mainly the retired veteran of the sport who has great memories and respect for what he used to do and how he did it. His passion for the sport shows off well as he does not like the new wave gimmicks and probably would want to take on Richards if it was left to him and not Killian. Much like Fireball, he is a late intro and is only really referenced up to this point, but his veterancy and style portrays a really interesting character that creates an on-screen identity before he even becomes relevant. Both Brown and Ventura give good performances but it’s only worth between 10 and 15 minutes of the entire film; they both deserved well more.

The rest of the cast is pretty much near hit and misses with very few of the headliners actually standing out. I don’t really get much of a feeling for Mick Fleetwood’s character, nor Weiss, and while Amber’s character does improve towards the end of the film, it just feels rather late. There is some interesting cast minors such as Killian’s assistant Brenda (Karen Leigh Hopkins), The Running Man’s director Tony (Kurt Fuller) and of course Sven who sadly could have had more of a part. From there though we do get some cool characters; Laughlin for instance has great on set chemistry between himself and Richards. If it was not the case of these two needing to work together, he could be a really good nemesis for Schwarzenegger, but in this case what we have is a strong ally for Richards. While he does meet a gruesome end at the end thanks to Buzzsaw, he does produce one of the film’s most powerful and poignant moments backed up with that killer soundtrack. It is an interesting but good casting as it’s one that could have worked either way, be it friend or foe. Richard Dawson is an inspired casting for the part of the cold and ruthless game show host. Given his background and history of Gameshow hosting, it comes more naturally to him, as he looks and feels like a game show host, no matter what the context. He is able to draw popularity to himself through a natural form of charisma, but on top of that he is also able to play a character, one who enjoys a level of ruthlessness that comes with the power and joy of presentation and production control, one that also makes himself believe that whatever he is doing is not necessarily selfish, but right. It is an incredible part and one played by a naturally talented persona that produces a real sense of reality to a very fictional product. Arnold Schwarzenegger for me is someone whose career I have known about but have seen him in very few roles. I have seen most of the Terminator’s, Batman and Robin and Kindergarten Cop, and it’s hard not to think of the large brutish character we have come to expect from said roles. He is a big muscle guy, but it’s hard to see him in other light especially with him playing very archetypal roles. This however does allow me to see another side to him. Yes, he is the muscle-bound hero, but there is more to him here. There is compassion to his friends, love (in the end) for him and Amber but also a sense of belief between right and wrong given his introduction and background. While the film makes use of his well-known line from The Terminator (just 3 years earlier), there are more lines to come, including a very daft form of spoken humour when it comes to the stalker deaths. While he does have a very physical role to play, he shows and does more than that, and in the process allows audiences who have only seen one real side of him to see more of what is quite a cool and diverse actor when provided with a chance.

The Running man does have some interesting and nice effects to it, all be it though come mostly down to some nicely designed and created set pieces such as the tunnels and the main stage of the game show itself. The jumpsuits (I had to at some point didn’t I) are not too putting off; yes they look weird, sort of like how Arnie would look if he was asked to play Wolverine in the iconic spandex (I really don’t think bright banana yellow is his colour), but altogether look ok in different colours. It’s not the best effects of the film but more than most is definitely not the worst. But it’s not really the films effects where I want to look at; more the film’s incredible soundtrack. The Running Man’s soundtrack (composed by Harold Faltermeyer) on the whole sounds very futuristic, but also very low; not sad but grimmer, helping to construct the idea of a dystopian future. It has a lot in common I think to Escape From New York with powerful and hard-hitting keyboards with a sense of fast and light rock. There are four pieces though I would like to make particular mention of; the start of the show, Laughlin’s death, the broadcast attack and the end credits. Mick’s Broadcast attack features this very light siren like sound to begin with which appears rather irrelevant, but quickly builds to include other sounds. It is a pretty light track until the fast repeating drums come in. Before this, they feature the Running Man’s general theme, something which can be heard throughout the film; but once those drums come in, a different piece comes to the stage. It actually breaks the tension and grim sounds of the previous pieces of music and allows a lighter sense of hope as an attack comes its way. It’s in no way optimistic or celebrating, but it gives a lighter more hopeful energy which suggests change in the film’s plot. It’s still dark, low and tense and continues to produce, but it’s a different vision of what once was and is now to come.

A good film plot, as many people will tell you is about change; change from one thing into something else. The Running Man is a film which features a small but dramatic change, the change of a country from one that is cut in half by class, to one united by a common goal, the same could be said for the change in Richards, as he goes from a criminal, to that of a free man. While the broadcast theme suggests change and hope, the end credits (Restless Heart by John Parr), actually present one, as it’s a theme that is much lighter. Gone are the low-toned sounds of a despotic regime raining down on its citizens, in comes the sound of willful change and hope as we see a nation now with hope for a change in attitude, even if it is very much only suggested. It’s a nice light theme for the film to end on in general and has a nice beginning to it, which really helps provide that breath of fresh as it all comes to an end, all the excitement and adrenaline is now over, so remember to breathe.

The ICS Theme for the game show itself is actually pretty light and does not feel as hard-hitting as a game show’s introduction should be. It does not feel catchy or memorable, just light; but mix it in with the dancers, and a different perspective is revealed, that of less a game show, more of an event, and one that requires and deserves a level of build up to get the audience going before the main event begins. It’s a similar idea I think to when in The Hunger Games there is that 1 minute countdown to the bloodbath, the calm before the Storm, but held in a slightly more glorious way as this time the whole nation is backing it, and because it’s the kind of show which gives audience participation, there has to be that level of joy for them too as the show begins. One track in The Running Man that is not joyous is that of when Laughlin dies. The Running Man’s general musical theme is this sort of keyboard based riff which can be heard in several parts of the film, more of an atmospheric track than anything else, but when Laughlin dies it is played a lot heavier. It’s the loss of a good strong friend and his message for Richards, one which Richards agrees too, but also from belief that Richards should have died not Laughlin. It is a pretty funky track and sound, but especially more so at this point when the notes are pretty much being slammed by the soloist. It is a game of life and death, but becomes more real at this point, and the soundtrack goes out of its way to use this point as the most poignant reminder of this, creating the film’s and film’s soundtrack’s best and most memorable moment.

The Running Man critically is a very hard one to judge. Yes it has its issues ranging from a mainly makeshift cast, to a setting and theme which is not really delved into enough to really provide scope. On the other hand though it delivers an incredible soundtrack, some wonderfully designed set pieces, some interesting moments, but on the whole a lot of very enjoyable moments of action. As a dystopian thriller, it definitely does not hold a lot of ground and there are far better ones out there than this. But as a dystopian action film; this is one of the best. While I still prefer the Hunger Games and Battle Royale; I would happily put this up a good level. It has something that every action film fan would enjoy while also using a unique perspective to create something that is truly unique in cinema. Trust me on this when I say that this is a truly enjoyable film; I mean it, give it a go.

GENEPOOL (The poster is a bit off-putting).





I’m Paid To Catch Crooks, Not Get Them Elected – Welcome To The Punch

28 12 2016

Welcome to the Punch (Momentum Pictures - 2013)

If I were to ask you to compare the ways of life in both the UK and in the USA, you could probably come up with a big hefty list, but I could easily bet a substantial sum of money that one of the first things you would note is that in America, ordinary people are allowed to carry a Gun. It is embedded in the constitution of said country that ‘ordinary’ people are allowed to bear arms, so it comes as no surprise to the rest of us that there are a lot of shootings in America…which eventually (of course) lead to major Massacre’s more than once a year; but what do you expect from a country that has such a relaxed attitude to the distribution of deadly weaponry! In the UK we have a stricter form of gun control by only allowing certain people to have access to such weapons where as in America such a tight control of guns is factually impossible due to the large numbers of people (or more specifically gun nutters) who think easy access to guns is actually a ‘good thing’ (even though it’s probably due to this form of idealism that is causing most of the problems). I am not saying that everything is plain sailing in the UK though when it comes to gun access as they can still be attained for criminal purposes; but for this reason the UK does have its police divisions which are specially trained to use Firearms if such a time is needed (but even so this does not stop Daily Mail readers (probably) believing that our police officers should be packing – there is no pleasing some people is there).

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Released in 2013 by Momentum Pictures and directed by Eran Creevy; Welcome to the Punch is a British Action Cop Thriller about a Policeman who ends up teaming with a noted Gangster he has a score to settle with after uncovering a deadly conspiracy within the British Police Force. The film’s script is noted for being voted third on the 2010 Brit List of the best un-produced film scripts.

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One night in London around Canary Wharf, a heist is pulled off by a team of crooks led by Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) who escape on Motorcycles. In hot pursuit is Detective Inspector Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) who defies orders by chasing after them unarmed, only to be shot in the leg by Sternwood. 3 years later, Sternwood’s son Ruan (Elyes Gabel) is arrested at a London Airport after a failed heist and is in a critical condition in Hospital. Max still works for the police force, but is held in low regard by his Chief Inspector; Nathan Bartnick (Daniel Mays) due to his actions and everyday has to remove water from his shot leg. He teams up with Detective Sergeant Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough) in trying to convict former army man Dean Warns (Johnny Harris), but who is let off the hook after a witness changes their statement. When news reaches Max regarding Sternwood’s son, he sees this as a chance to get revenge.

After a failed attempt to capture him, Sternwood arrives in the UK to take care of his son and asks for help from old friend Roy Edwards (Peter Mullan). With a recent spate of shootings in London, Commander Thomas Geiger (David Morrissey) is campaigning for his officers to be given better equipment in dealing with crime and sees this whole Sternwood resurgence as a way to score points in his favour. He allows Max and Sarah to take command of surveillance at an open hospital where Ruan Sternwood is being treated, hoping that Jacob Sternwood might take the bait. Things end badly however, as Max’s determination results in a gun being shoved in a civilian’s face, Ruan later dies in Hospital. Jacob Sternwood meanwhile undertakes his own investigation into what happened to his son, and lays a trap at a local Hotel where Nathan and another policeman; Harvey Crown (Jason Flemyng) take the bait, and after a small gun fight Harvey gets killed. Sarah meanwhile finds evidence regarding to a containment delivery on the river Thames. When she arrives she finds a container filled with weapons, but before she can escape she is killed by Dean Warns.

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With Commander Geiger’s blessing, Max is sent out to bring down Sternwood once and for all, and a lead on Nathan takes him to a small club, where Max runs into Sternwood, but before he can kill him, both men are ambushed by Warns and Bartnick. Bartnick is killed in the resulting fight, with Sternwood saving Max and escaping in a van. Sternwood orders Max to take him to his son in the Morgue, but while there they run into Detective Juka Ogadowa (Daniel Kaluuya) who tells Max that he is wanted for Sarah’s murder. Sternwood and Max manage to escape and go to Dean Warns’s Nan’s house where they use his Nan (Ruth Sheen) to get him to take them to the containment yard where the container full of guns are. While there, they also trap and capture Commander Geiger who informs them that he set up the means for the recent spate of gun crime in the Capital and helped to ship in the guns, so that when the correct political party took over, he could supply officers with the equipment they needed to protect themselves better. At that moment, armed men sent by Geiger’s PR Jane (Natasha Little) attack the yard, but Max and Sternwood are able to defeat them, killing both Warns and Geiger in the process. With the police on their way to the scene, Max considers shooting Sternwood, but lets him go, and is arrested on the spot as Sternwood flees the scene.

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Welcome to the Punch is a very interesting film, but one that I would not usually concern myself with watching. Yes there are a lot of independent British gangster based films that are produced year in year out but most of these don’t really grab my attention. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it was a very good trailer and was sort of suckered in with the line that stated that one of the executive producers was Ridley Scott (I know); but the trailer still grabbed me enough to keep it in mind. I eventually got round to going to the cinema to see it and was absolutely blown away by it. While not necessarily the best film of 2013 (my 4th favourite overall), it was a film that while released early on, was one that remained in my mind and would not let go of.

James McAvoy

Welcome to the Punch is not really a gangster film, nor is it a knuckle dusting, all guns blazing shooter movie, what it is, is a solid British Police/Cop film. What do I mean by this? Well, it is a crime film with elements of gangster films but is not one in search of blood lust. What we have is a decent detective who has had his pride shot after an incident wanting some form of restitution. Due to his past failings though he is held in low esteem by his superiors and is sort of made a joke of and as such has fallen on hard times in his personal life. Meanwhile, the super criminal who has pulled off a heist which he can safely retire on, is forced to return to his home country when his son is in danger. This means he has returned, and the detective sees this as an opportunity to settle a score with him plus return into the good books with others. While all this is coming to a head however, the incidents surrounding this turn of events begin to unravel and a much darker conspiracy comes to the fold which means that the two great enemies will have to leave it for later as there is something they both need to settle first and need each other to pull it off. What we have here basically (or as basic as I can get it) is a big action packed detective story with a boiling vendetta ready to erupt engulfing the entire city with it, but still comes with that murder mystery formula that works so well along with the big explanation as to what has exactly been going on and the real crooks revealed, but in the end succumbs to a very tragic end for the hero. It’s like a great crime novel, something that if it wasn’t McAvoy and Strong, could well be Harry Bosch (have not read a single novel, but my researched understanding suggests that he would fit the bill).

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To back up its story, Welcome to the Punch comes with a small but still powerful cast of actors and actresses who deliver some amazing characters in the process, seemingly suggesting that without the actors, the characters would just not have worked. The film does of course have it’s one timers of interest who deliver little such as Ruan, Karen Edwards (Dannielle Brent) and Harvey Crown, to more included characters who still have a little but not a lot such as Juka and Jane, but all of these really go far to enhance the film’s story and setting (not to forget the city of London itself, especially when you listen to the wise words of Luther creator Neil Cross who sums up London’s character status better than anyone else), but the film’s small cast enables these varied roles to really stand out and warrant such a pedigree of acting. I do find Johnny Harris’s role a ,little clichéd in the form that he is a bruiser with little social life and has to engage a lot of heavy breathing, I just couldn’t see why he could not be more like Mike in Breaking Bad or even Buck in Far Cry 3, real characters with a unique personality but are still hitmen to a cause; however his insertion as a gun for hire really allows himself to develop a characteristic which suggests a real hitman, less an armed thug with little allowance to talk. The character of Nathan Bartnick is as unpleasant as the early morning traffic jam on a rainy day, but I suppose that’s the point. He does not come across as pleasant, but given that he is the first end level boss of the film, you can’t really introduce him as a nice man, more of a feeder into something bigger, and let a more major character present himself favorably in the eyes of the audience only to flip at the last-minute.

David Morrissey’s character is that of someone you could confuse of being a mayor if it was not explained that he is actually a police man. He is introduced really well and works hard to present himself as being a supportive influence on Max and who comes across well with the audience as a result. He is a strong leader with a lot of hope and a big heart, really showing that he sees the best in people. All that turns around in a trice however as he is revealed to be the big bad instigator of the film’s events, less a leader, more of a manipulator, whose long career has provided an insight into the criminal underworld, and one he knows how to manipulate to get his wish. His heart is in the right place, and is not looking for a position of power, not a megalomaniac, more a lunatic who thinks that with enough prodding he can get the best outcome. It’s a real shock turn of events that leaves you reeling, as for the great majority of the film; he is one of the good guys. Peter Mullan is an inspired casting choice as his veterancy on the British independent scene means he can slip into a variety of persona’s and can come across anyway he likes. For instance, in this he is introduced as something of an old gangster and a possible mentor to Sternwood, however he comes across as something of a respected member of the community with a lot of power under his belt, and while he is on the initial bad side, he does prove his worth and becomes a trusted ally to all those who side with him. He maybe a retired gangster, but he still comes with a real whack of a punch while still allowing a real sense of sanity to creep in on those around him.

Mark Strong

The way that a crime lord is presented can seem very samey at times, which is why it’s nice that in this case we have someone a lot different. Jacob Sternwood is a criminal who has earned a great deal of respect from his peers and is a real tactician in the execution of a crime, his attitude to what he does though comes across as less a scheming villain, more someone looking for the opportunity to get away and be set up for life. He is suggested of being a hard worker, someone who if he was not a criminal would more than likely be real working class hero whose hard work pays off in dividends. He is a criminal though, but in the same style as what I have suggested, he is a criminal hero of sorts and is just looking for enough to live a nice relaxed life. This is strongly suggested more when his son gets into trouble, as he cares greatly for him, even more so to re-enter harm’s way to check up on him and pursue a vendetta on his behalf. Into this we have the rookie detective sent to bring him down; someone who took it too far and is now forever paying the cost for it, and has a low self-esteem due to his past behavior. He does have a strong support network around him, but his determination to get back onto the good track of life means that he does not really see it until it is too late, and as things spiral more out of control for him, he really begins to understand that there is no real way out for him, and sadly, that’s what does happen. Though while Max does go all out to prevent total Chaos, it ends tragically for him, creating a deep uncertain future that there is no coming back from. James McAvoy and Mark Strong work well off each other, as McAvoy still presents that young but experienced character with deep forgotten hopes and repressed memories, while Mark Strong presents that real strong determination but one that makes him human; not machine nor monster; together creating two very relatable characters.

James McAvoy and Mark Strong

More than anything about this film, the real highlight has to be Sarah Hawks played by the incredible Andrea Riseborough. I could not get enough of her character. She is not an assistant to Max, nor is a running partner in learning, but someone who deeply cares for him and is making it a personal mission to find a way to bring the real Max back. In many scenes she surpasses Max and you really begin to feel for her, and can see a lot of hope and future for her, thinking that she will be the big hero (or at least should have been the lead character). She presents incredible energy in a tough world, not delivering charisma or charm but more a sultry aggression, one that is fighting to be let out, but continues to maintain a level of professionalism. It strikes me though, that with a film about the police and crime, that none of them can spot the real crime in progress, that of the death of Riseborough’s character. It still annoys me to this day that Riseborough’s character was killed off as I simply wanted more of her in this film. She is more what McAvoy should have been than he plays, so why could they not have killed him in a shock twist and allowed her to take over from him. She was incredibly enjoyable and whose death is the real crime of this story.

Andrea Riseborough and James McAvoy

Welcome to the Punch does not carry a heavy burden of Special Effects, but does come with some terrifically choreographed gun fight scenes including some nicely, all be it brutally realistic scenes of the use of injection needles in James McAvoy’s leg, plus a whole heap of excellently devised shooting matches and even a pretty good bike car chase scene in a surprisingly quiet late night Canary Wharf. Any other scenes of adrenaline pumping action really come down to the human level of chases scenes on foot, plus the raw primal instincts of the cast as they deliver very realistic characters, all who appear to be on the edge of mental breakdowns in such a stressful world (come to think of it, the bike chase scene in the underground tunnels does sort of make me think of the opening scene in Blade: The Series). The film’s soundtrack meanwhile (composed by Harry Escott) is a very varied selection of tracks that that range from small low key pieces, to high-octane shouts, all dependent on the scene in hand. For the most part the film relies mostly on a sophisticated level of silence as the characters are talking and only brings in the noise as the time for talking comes to a close. Even when the music is needed, it decides to play tracks that suggest more a moment of thought rather than a moment of action; not necessarily a bad thing, just very different. Scenes that carry a piece of note include the opening heist, Max’s Flat, the attack on Sternwood’s Icelandic villa, the near kiss, the early container, post Sarah’s death, nightclub shootout, the Morgue and the Credits (not forgetting the wonderful piece of music from the film’s trailer, no idea what it is sadly).

Welcome to the Punch is a very satisfying crime thriller. It is a film that is at a good length and carries enough mystery, but not too much to heavy interlace with the scenes of action so as not to confuse itself nor the audience. It is a film with a good sophistication of action sequences, while also presenting a prolific cast of characters and delivering a deep sense of emotion. Yes, it does have its down parts (such as DS Hawks’s Death!) but it also has a lot to make up for that (except DS Hawks’s Death!) and carries on to create a brutally realistic film with a tragic un-turn-around-able ending that makes you question what the future holds and if the villains actually got away with it or not. At the same time though it does go on to question real world ideas such as gun control, the arming of British Police officers; and also delves deep into some of the deepest levels of corruption that we may never see in some of our most trusted institutions. Altogether, I think it is a rather superb film that does something very different to those around it, creating a rather unique if but small experience for all those willing to give it a shot.

GENEPOOL (Happy New Year).





I’m Asking You, Just One More MINUTE! – Armageddon

23 03 2016

Armageddon (Touchstone Pictures - 1998)

Throughout the pages of history, there have always been beliefs as to how the world might end. Many of these beliefs come down to religious or cultural beliefs, while there is also the more popular forms of the world ending ranging from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to historical suggestions such as a meteorite similar to the one believed to have killed the dinosaurs, to ones presented in media forms of recent years suggesting anything from Giant Monsters to freak levels of nature to calendar’s. The thing is, unless founded by a religious belief (like I am), there is no telling what will end the world as we know it, but thanks to many movies over the last 20 years or so, at least we have found a way to entertain these ideas by producing many films that go on to suggest ways as to how it will happen.

Released in 1998 by Touchstone Pictures, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay; Armageddon is an action/disaster movie depicting a possible end to planet Earth by throwing a massive pebble at it. Funnily enough, Armageddon was not the only film to be released in 1998 depicting the end of the world by a giant meteorite, as Deep Impact was released only 2 and half months before Armageddon, but Armageddon fared much better at the box office even surpassing Saving Private Ryan to become the highest grossing film of 1998.

A3

During a routine space mission, a space shuttle crew are attacked by a group of rogue meteors. The meteors rain down on New York causing city-wide damage. Under further investigation, NASA discovers that a rogue meteorite is heading to earth. The Meteorite dubbed a World Killer is so big that no matter where it lands will destroy all life on Earth. NASA director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) and Dr. Ronald Quincy (Jason Isaacs) come up with a plan to blow up the meteorite from the inside. On an oil rig, Oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), considered the best of his profession is busy dealing with his mini protégé A. J. (Ben Affleck) who he finds having a fling with his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler). Harry is asked to go to NASA with his Daughter where they discover what is going on, he is asked to go to the Meteorite with a crew, and drill inside to drop a nuclear bomb in it. Unwilling to go with untrained NASA drillers, Harry demands that he takes his own un-trained astronaut crew of drillers. These include Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Chick (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), Oscar (Owen Wilson), Max (Ken Hudson Campbell), Noonan (Clarke Heathcliff Brolly) and A. J.

Harry’s team is put through the ringer by NASA under the guidance of NASA Pilot Watts (Jessica Steen) and Colonel Sharpe (William Fichtner). It’s an uphill battle of wills as between NASA crews and General Kimsey (Keith David) against the oil drilling crew. While on Base, A. J. and Grace’s relationship heats up; rather annoying Harry in the process. As time goes by, the crews get into shape for the flight, but not before time. With just a few days left to go, a rogue projectile from the Meteorite crashes into the South Asia Sea, killing thousands. With the truth out, NASA prepare to launch. The plan is to send up 2 crews in highly modified shuttles, Harry leading the Shuttle Freedom, and A. J. leading the Shuttle Independence. The crews launch and dock with a Russian satellite to refuel, meeting Russian Cosmonaut Lev (Peter Stormare). The refuelling operation goes haywire, with the two vehicles departing as the station explodes, with Lev joining the crew of Independence. The two shuttles, having slingshot around the moon, converge behind the meteorite, however the Independence crash lands with most of the crew dying except for A. J., Bear and Lev. Freedom lands successfully, but miles off course however.

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The Freedom crew begin drilling into the meteorite but already encounter problems as the surface is made out of iron, and the machine is being run by a badly designed drilling program. Harry confronts Sharpe, but their exchange is seen by everyone at NASA who begins to worry that they might fail. Kimsey is ordered by the President (Stanley Anderson) to override the system and to detonate the nuclear weapons even though the hole has not been drilled yet. Truman orders his men to stop Kimsey, but it’s met with unsuccessful results. With the bomb ticking, Harry convinces Sharpe to turn off the weapon. Drilling recommences and gets off to a good start, however Rockhound having gone insane causes yet more problems that lead to the drilling operation failing, meaning that the team has failed overall. In the nick of time, A. J. and his team, having drove the Armadillo drilling vehicle from their crash site to the Freedom drilling site arrive and get back to work. With less than 2 hours remaining, the teams manage to drill the hole.

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With 30 minutes remaining, the team are attacked by a meteor storm, which causes detonation problems for the bomb. The team draws straws to decide who stays on the meteorite to detonate the bomb, with A. J. drawing the short straw. When he goes outside however, Harry pushes him back on the shuttle, taking up the job of staying to detonate the bomb. Harry makes a final tearful farewell to his daughter and says how proud he is of her and his crew, especially A. J. with less than 5 minutes remaining, the Shuttle has problems launching off the Meteorite, but thanks to some quick bodging from Lev, manages to take off. With less than 1 minute to go, Harry slips up, but manages to detonate the bomb with only seconds remaining. The Meteorite explodes into two pieces, which fly and miss earth by miles with the crew back on Earth being hailed as heroes.

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Upon thinking of how Armageddon stands out on its own compared to other Disaster films of its kind, it’s really hard to start off. Compared to many other disaster movies of its kind such as the aforementioned Deep Impact, it seems nearly the same. Meteorite comes towards earth, and people go out to destroy it, sounds very similar doesn’t it? Well yes, and it is easier to compare the film to Deep Impact in comparison to the load of straight to DVD releases from companies like The Asylum and many other, cheap knock offs of films like this which attempt to do the same thing. However, Armageddon stands out more. Yes, it is a story of a Meteorite coming to Earth. Yes it will Destroy Earth if it gets here. Yes a Space Agency of particular mention send out a team to destroy it before it gets here. It all sounds like same formula used over and over again, however in the meantime, Armageddon does something different. Usually with science fiction films like this, there is great need for scientists and specialists in astrophysics to do the job, but it’s the case here, that the people asked to do the job instead are blue-collar working class men. People who aren’t geniuses at school, but people who know what good solid hard work is and how well it pays off when done well and right. These guys are not your average heroes, but from their way of life are people to look up to. Armageddon therefore does 2 sort of things at the same time to stand out more. One, it takes real people, real underdogs and puts them in a terrifying situation which they are not trained for to use their craft to save the world. And two, it takes space travel, out of the hands of the experts who started and hogged it for their own needs, and gives it back into the hands of those who on any other occasion would never go up in a shuttle, but provides them with the ultimate dream. It sets up the ground work quite well, and maintains that while the Earth is coming to an end, these working class heroes need to be trained up. It doesn’t ignore the issue; it keeps it in mind to prepare those who are going to solve the issue to be able to do it. It’s sort of like The Hunger Games, the training up of contestants to fight in a horrific battle, but doesn’t automatically start there, first they have to train.

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However this is a film; and films are never that simple. This is a full powered, 2+ hour film, and they are not going to fill it with an easy fix. So, things are added to spice up the plot. You have an unapproved relationship taking off; you have the animosity between the trained NASA crews who believe hiring the crew is a mistake, while the crew more sort of admire them, but don’t respect the treatment. Things then just get worse. From this I have this sort of belief as to how Michael Bay makes these films, and it all stems from this film: the idea that things just keep getting worse. This does not really spark until the crews finally go into space, where the space station blows up, one shuttle crashes, the drilling equipment has problems, a platoon of soldiers try to take over the operation in a mindless act, the equipment fails, a storm happens which causes problems for more equipment, someone then has to stay behind to blow up the bomb, and then the shuttle doesn’t take off. It makes everything that happened in the first hour seem easy in comparison. But all of these things, are directed in such a magnificent way that they cause real feelings to the Death of characters, the mindless act of a country leader thinking he owns the world into jeopardising the mission, trying to dig a hole in space (which turns out to be quite suspenseful), to both launching off a rock and then detonating a bomb in space with only seconds left. This film’s synopsis, setting and direction is done with such fluidity that there is always something going on that grabs you by the throat and pulls you ever closer to the screen as the film reaches its ever building climax, even if it’s still 30 minutes away.

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Armageddon’s stellar cast of characters carry a lot of the film’s tension and motion too, it’s not just down to the directors action/disaster talent. Some of these though are rather hit and miss. Now I don’t want to necessarily compare the works/talent of Michael Bay with that of Roland Emmerich, that fight will require some real thought. No, all I meant was how much difference there is in the choice of acting talent as to who gets bigger roles than others. With Armageddon though, there is a lot of room for comedy given its early premise and into this fold we do get some comedy acting from people like Owen Wilson delivering some punchy one liners, Michael Clarke Duncan being a real softy despite his size, Ken Hudson Campbell showing how hard he is despite being more of a big teddy bear, and Steve Buscemi being rather daft in a sexual innuendo way. These guys do serve the film’s wit and comedy section while also providing time to show off a more serious and poignant side, however, despite being pretty good at the end, I feel Michael Clarke Duncan could have delivered more early on. Wilson and Campbell I thought were more like comedy fillers, but Duncan was only briefly shown early on, and doesn’t really show much throughout this film until the Shuttle crashes, which think is a shame because he was pretty good in my opinion. But this is a very serious situation, and to this end we need people who are deadpan serious and in no way funny; which we do. This is what I meant when I mentioned Emmerich above.

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Disaster movies carry a lot of characters because big disasters affect a lot of people; and while the big stars get the big roles, you also get lesser known actors (or at least of the time) who become stars in their own right, despite that here they fill rather small roles. For starters there is someone like Quincy played by Jason Isaacs. A competent scientist who for most of the film acts like a bumbling fool, but given a shot gives off his own small but still powerful performance not as an expert or fool, but as a very serious and intelligent specialist. We then have Jessica Sheen as Jennifer Watts. Watts acts like a trainer before doing a more pilot role later in the film. She shares very little dialogue compared to those around her, however she is a very strong and likeable character. She is very serious about her job and works hard, but she is not bullish like Sharp or Kimsey, she is rather likeable on the whole suggesting a nice person deep down if it wasn’t for her job. Keith David meanwhile plays something of a secondary antagonist as Kimsey, someone who doesn’t believe in the plan and wants to be as bullish as possible. He talks like a man without a conscious and thinks the way he talks and acts, in the process becoming someone who is very unlikable. This comfortably leads onto Sharp. Sharp is something of a side antagonist until the later parts of the film. Much like Kimsey he is rather bullish and believes he can do anything by himself and his own techniques. He is rather miserable to watch as he feels more like a hindrance than a help, but deep down he has genuine worry and feelings towards the mission, and it’s not simply through being a grunt that he acts this way, but from his own personal worry. In the third act he comes out as a really likeable character as he comes to trust those around him instead of trusting just himself. Even in the last few moments, he worry’s but has more faith in someone who began as his enemy.

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Armageddon does also carry a lot of tertiary characters who only get a few fleeting appearances, but who’s acting in their self is still pretty good fun to watch. You have people like the NASA flight director (Chris Ellis), the bloke at the end saying “1 Minute” as he watches the meteorite coming ever closer to earth (unfortunately could not find out what he is actually called), then there is people genuinely on the mission and more upfront with the cast like Noonan, and the NASA communications guy (Matt Malloy). To this we get someone like Lev. Lev is more of a comedy character but with a serious bite. He is more human than anyone else in the film and serves as both light relief and a human connection to the audience creating terrific moments such as how an ordinary person would react up in space, and how too they would fix a busted space shuttle.

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I don’t really know what to think about Willis in this film. He lays a working class hero and is obviously a man to respect, it’s just he seems not to be in the depth of his more action based roles. Here he plays something specialist and organiser, but still with the vocal range of an action star. He definitely carries that level of respect the role carries, and also the commanding presence, but for me just doesn’t feel like it works, or at least stand out enough. He does of course make the final stand and ultimate sacrifice, but I just don’t know what to really say about him (sorry Bruce). Billy Bob Thornton stands out a little more as he is both a very respectful guy and is something like Bruce’s equal in an opposite way of life. He however carries something of a burden on his shoulders, as he is a man who has worked hard to get where he is, but at the same time regrets the direction he has taken, and so feels the need to work harder to prove that his chosen direction is as worth it, but more for him than anything else. As a role, he was one to look out for and enjoy, not necessarily a man of action, but more a man with a brain to bring it. Ben Affleck is in a similar situation to Willis I think. He stands out as being more of a rogue or maverick, to Willis’s tough but serious and professional way. But much like Willis, I just don’t find that he stands out all that greatly to be enjoyed fully. It’s probably more the dynamics and confrontations between the two that really make both parts work and the earlier situations between the two are really funny. However, it’s more of a father son relationship story, with the Son seeking guidance and acceptance from the father who considers him something of a disappointment, but then grows to liken him, and accepts as well as love him, and the same the other way round, with the son, showing a higher level of faith in the dad upon his acceptance. Liv Tyler meanwhile plays a more adult based role compared to the two people flanking her. She plays a more professional, more knowledgeable based role to that of Willis, while also having a rebellious youthful side to allow her to fall for Affleck. Her moods change quite a bit though. Sometimes she can be very feisty, and angry, while others are very emotional. It’s hard therefore to recognise what age she is supposed to be playing as she seems to get younger and older consistently in different scenes throughout. This constant change can be quite annoying as you see someone’s character change; however her emotions and strength are what really make her.

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For me however, the film’s best character is that of Chick played by Will Patton. I have seen Patton in a variety of TV shows, but for me, this is his best performance. He plays something of a sidekick and loyal worker/companion to Willis throughout, and would be fair to say would probably even die for him. Patton though has a different backstory compared to everyone else. He has a major gambling addiction which has completely separated him from his wife, to whom he feels eternally guilty, and still loves and cares for as well as his son. Out of everyone, he receives the higher redemption, doing something which gives him a second chance at his family. He delivers strength, he delivers wit, he delivers emotion, he carries more than anyone in this film and has some of the film’s best lines, including the high-powered one which I used for this review’s title. A fantastic actor and an incredible performance.

Will Patton

Like many science fiction disaster movies that have come before and after; Armageddon boasts an incredible level of special effects. Effects ranging from the Meteorite, shots in space, explosions, the lot. There’s not much that can be said much than that, given the level of reality that the film is set in and the low-level of need for space based science fiction. Well, if you are going to have scenes on the ground you may as well use real stuff. However, for the lack of special effects other than the use of space, Armageddon does great work in all forms of its effects, and in particular creates one of the best pieces of movie magic in the history of cinema. Space based movies have been made before of course, however not many of these films have really shown the launch of a space ship. The only one previous I can think of is Apollo 11, and that Launch is pretty cool, but what Armageddon does has not been done before or since. The space program has always been seen as something special and exciting, and the space shuttle’s none-the-less. The point of this film is that ordinary blue-collar working class hero types go into space to save the world, but right now they are on the ground, so eventually, they will need to actually go into space, and so, to mark this moment, the film goes all out to capture the moment, to capture the feeling, to capture the excitement of both being there, watching it, and being in the space shuttle. Using great levels of effects that are either models or real shuttles, combined with camera cuts or repositioning’s it makes the launch themselves something proud to behold. But then, the launch is not enough, the ships then need to actually get into space. This is the moment when the shuttle’s become CGI models, but made with such great detail that they look near copies of the models used during the actual take-off moment. But it’s not just the special effects; Music plays a great detail in the scene. It begins with a sort of operatic vocal back track and a tune of awe and wonder, slow, like the initial launch. This then cuts just as it builds to go slow again just to show the significance of the opening launch. The music then builds one more time into a very patriotic, and heart wrenching guitar solo that just takes over from the start. It really does make you feel emotional, because you are witnessing a great moment here, one that is really hard to explain if you have not seen it before. Then as the tone changes from the launch to the flight, the guitar and mixers take over to produce less a slow operatic performance, to something more modern, but still delivering power. It sounds less like a wonder, and more like a mission. It still drives the tension and worry, but still packs in a level of action and power that on the one hand still brings a near tear to your eye, while also just enjoying the spectacle of a space shuttle launching. The Space Shuttle program may be over, but it has given us one pure moment of Movie Magic that will be cherished for decades to come.

The rest of the soundtrack (composed by Trevor Rabin) delivers quite well too. Yes while the film is known for the inclusion of the Aerosmith song I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, I think it is over used a little bit. I like Aerosmith, but this is not a favourite of mine, although that could be me preferring more a form of heavy rock than melody. There is another track of theirs in this film that I do like and does sort of prove the above point, but it’s nice to see Aerosmith in film form either way. Their song sort of provides a backbone however to most of the films melodious moments. My joy with the soundtrack (other than the above mentioned launch scene) though comes in the form of the films way of delivering a scene in the right way, by building huge levels of tension in strong tense scenes. The one that stands out is the last scene where the final few seconds tick by, and Harry Stamper tries to reach for the bomb detonator with very little time left. Yes there are other good pieces of soundtrack, including the scene at the Armadillo Testing area, the recruitment scene (which also happens to be another piece by Aerosmith), and the inclusion of the ZZ Top song La Grange; but simply picking up the score is hard to do, and can only be achieved through the really memorable moments, and this is one of those scenes.

Armageddon is a power packed Disaster movie that really works hard to put you in the situation and works hard to make it apply to you as much as possible. It delivers a realistic and believable setting for an end of the world scenario, and works really closely to the time limit to make it as tense and as action packed as possible. It features scenes of beauty and scenes that you will not be able or want to forget. It provides a cast of minor’s, majors and absolute stand outs and comes with effects and sound to boot. While maybe not likely to win awards despite being more popular at the cinema than those that do, Armageddon is in no way bad, rubbish or pants. It is an incredibly enjoyable film that packs a consistent punch that will have you gagging for more and more while also hoping for a breath of fresh air. Armageddon is as powerful as the name suggests and deserves a spot in the Disaster Movie Hall of Fame (if one exists?) as much as its peers and contemporaries.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – Prey

13 01 2016

Prey (Michael Crichton - 2002)

Title: Prey

Author: Michael Crichton

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 0007796420

I remember back in the early 2000’s first hearing about Nanobots. It was the very early 2000’s and Robot Wars and its spin-off Techno Games were at their height, and I even collected the magazine Real Robots. There was no better time to be a fan of robots, and I was one, it was great. Well; my dad was looking through the newspaper and showed me the article on Nanobots, and the only thing I really knew about them was how small they were. Sometime later, about a couple of years I think, I remember watching and seeing something on Have I Got News For You about Nanobots and how such a thing would be a threat to society as Nanobots could reshape an Atom into anything theoretically, but at the moment only really Grey Goo…or something like that. Since then Nanobots are something which has come up every now and then, but surprisingly not in a very big way, or from what I have seen. Yes, they have had appearances in Video Games, TV, Movies and Books; but have somewhat never really stood out among the pack, and whose appearance since the mid-noughties sort of disappeared. I just find it odd that in the technology driven world of today, the subject of Nanobots doesn’t come up all that often. Put the subject of Nanobots in the right hands however, and you can easily end up with something very realistic, very terrifying and very believable.

Originally released in 2002 by Harper Collins; Prey is a Techno-thriller written by bestselling author Michael Crichton, whose previous works include The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Jurassic Park, Airframe and Next. Much like many of Crichton’s works, Prey is a very science driven book that deals with the themes and ideas of it subject matter, backed up with tons of research and planning to not only produce a stunning piece of fiction, but also create the suggestion that such things are possible and are happening right now.

Unlike previous works of Crichton that I have read, Prey is told in the first person, whereas books like Jurassic Park and Micro are both third person. Prey follows the seven-day story of computer scientist Jack. He has been made redundant and is now working as a full-time father, looking after his children at home. His wife meanwhile is the Vice President of Xymos; a company based somewhere out in the Nevada Desert. Jack is beginning to find his wife rather hard to live with as she is starting to have a go at him for spending more time with their kids than she is. Meanwhile his family have started talking about strange men coming around the house. While all this is going on, out in the desert at the plant where his wife works, Jack is called in to help out when a swarm of Nanoparticles gets loose and every attempt to recover and destroy them has failed. As things begin to ramp up, Jack begins to learn the horrifying truths about both the Swarm and those around him, and soon is fighting for both his, and possibly humanities survival.

Prey deals with the subject of Nanobots, but not in the grey goo form. No, this story deals with the idea of using the latest technological discoveries to create new technologies and devices to better help mankind, and then what happens when such technology breaks loose from its programming and sets about becoming the new alpha predators. Prey is very different to the past experience I have had with Crichton. Just like Prey; Jurassic Park and Micro were very much about advancements in science and technology and what people will go to, to maintain control when they begin to lose it. Both of those books were focussed on a biological form of science, whereas Prey focusses more on the technological side than the biological side of scientific advancement. There is a lot more talk in this book about computer science than any form of biological standing. While it is certainly different in that aspect, much like Park still though, it goes into how easy it is to lose that control, but don’t think of that as some kind of Crichton Cliché, because the book does more than that. It starts out from the sane and believable world of a pressuring family life, to the in-depth loss of control in a hectic situation, to the near insane ending that just jumps off leaps and bounds until there is practically no-where else to go.

Prey is a big book, and follows the story of just one person, remaining entirely in first person all the way through. For a protagonist, Jack is a really connectable person. He starts off the book shopping for table placemats, and just grows from there. Much like his other books, the narrative is split into about three or four sections, each one highlighting a certain point. These get quicker as it goes along, but to begin with it’s just the story of a man who has lost his job and is trying to look after his family the best way he possibly can. As the early story develops, the issues between him and his wife grow, and you are brought into something of a domestic conspiracy as the book’s first bit builds to a crescendo that brings our hero into the real situation. This sets-up our hero and gives him something to live for and worry about while he’s away. Soon after though, he gets involved with the runaway swarm. Why is he brought into it? Because, ironically he has something to do with their creation in the first place. As a computer scientist; he worked on a program which becomes the main basis for the nanoparticle swarm. To begin with he tries to understand it best he can, but with issues all around him from several people it leads to him going from a consultant to a man of reasoning and action, but is then restricted on all sides, not just from the abilities of the Swarm, but the people he is working with. Eventually it leads him into the discovery of several horrible truths that lead to the action packed conclusion; along with some trademark Crichton clearing up of the facts, just to cover all the ground bases.

Prey is a really terrific read. I managed to obtain a copy of this in a book bundle from The Works for £5 (which included Next and Micro, although I already had Micro). It came at an interesting point for me as I was struggling with my current reads at the time, plus the obtaining of Prey got me all excited as to wanting to read another Michael Crichton book. I started with this one out of the two I hadn’t read in the bundle because this one had an essay at the front, and reading the point of view of Crichton in such a well written form as to the themes and ideas of the technology that inspired the book, is a great way to begin reading a book. Prey has been something of a breath of fresh air to me, as it is something very different to most other books I read all last year. Out of all the books (about 4 at the time) that I was reading, Prey was the book I most looked forward to reading a bit more of. It is a hard thing to describe, but the enjoyment I received from reading this book was unlike anything I have read in quite a while. Prey has a lot of personal issues and a background that is very easy to understand. It puts you in the situation that Jack is going through with impeccable description. It puts you in scenes from personal issues, to heightened moments of action. It also takes you on a journey of discovery and unleashes moments of mystery that make you want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

My feelings aside, Prey is a wonderful read. It has all the hallmarks of a Michael Crichton science fiction novel, while also delivering a constant punch of twists and turns as the book builds to its epic conclusion. While the book and its technology could be seen as a bit dated now, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. It makes the ideas of Nanobots a very serious and terrifying prospect, and one that should not be taken lightly to this day. It is very much a story of today, a world covered in people with electronic gadgets from iPod‘s and iPhone’s to Kindle‘s and even technology in devices that weren’t computerized before (like coffee machines). While it is not necessarily a story about the rise of neither machines nor computers, it is still a story about a serious threat; one that could easily lead from something found in our world today, and make humanity – not technology – obsolete.

GENEPOOL





Deadpool Trailer

12 08 2015

Deadpool Comic-Con

Last week a trailer was released for the upcoming X-Men spin-off movie: Deadpool. It was not the first time I actually saw that trailer as I did see a trailer from Comic-Con shown many weeks ago which was filmed by someone with a personal hand-held video camera, or more likely phone. I was a bit annoyed at the time as I didn’t think it was all that fair for lots of news coverage to be made around a movie trailer no-one else would see for several weeks. I did see some of that trailer though, and couldn’t wait for both the movie and a proper trailer release. Well now there is a proper trailer release, so now I can take a much better look at it.

Deadpool Car

I am no stranger to the character of Deadpool. I have known about him for over 10 years now after I first saw him in my copy of  X-Men: The Ultimate Guide book, but back then I did not know all that much about him. It was not really until maybe 2008 that I began to learn more about him thanks to the Wolverine and Deadpool comic series published by Panini Comics. I didn’t read or buy it, but the name sort of began to stick more. My first real sighting of him was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I knew he was going to be in it, but despite not reading a single comic with him in it, I knew that wasn’t Deadpool. The Deadpool movie though has been talked about since despite no real progress until last year. My interest in the film was a bit low, until about a year or 2 ago when I found a video of a man dressed as Deadpool gate-crashing the announcement of the Deadpool Video Game. After that, about year ago now, I found more videos from that including Deadpool walking around the Comic-Con convention centre area.

And the numerous videos of him visiting  HQ.

These little videos though made me that little more excited when the announcement of the Deadpool Movie came nearly a year ago now. Well the film’s trailer is here, so let’s have a look.

The trailer begins by looking into the life of Wade Wilson who is dying of severe levels of Cancer and volunteers for a procedure to cure him of it. Things then begin to take a twist as somebody suggests he could become a super hero, to which main star Ryan Reynolds makes a little joke about him being in the Green Lantern movie. It shows him going through the procedure before it changes angle completely to show a man in a red and black costume who loves to hurt people. It pretty much continues from there on with Deadpool himself appearing with the movie title card at the end talking to the audience, or breaking the fourth wall as its known (much like the character does in the comics).

Colossus

I really do like this trailer. It’s funny and has Ryan Reynolds appearing in a similar role to his appearance in Blade: Trinity (but mostly in a verbal sense rather than action). It contains a lot of dramatic and emotional elements plus lashings of action and fighting sequences that make me think of The Raid and The Raid 2, particularly the car fight scene from 2.

The suit looks terrific, and much like all X-Men films since appears to ignore what happened in Origins. The trailer also includes the appearance of X-Men Legend Colossus. I quite like that too, as while he is not to be played by Daniel Cudmore in this film, I think that throughout the X-Men film series, Colossus has been a very underrated and underused character, and it’s nice to see that he will be in this film, in what capacity is unknown (at least to me) at this time. And above all else, it’s actually Deadpool in this film. From the way he talks, to the way he fights, and even a brief glimpse of his powers. But the best thing of all, the trailer; everything in it and about it just looks so violent, awesome, loud and outrageous, makes it one of the most stand out cinema trailers to date and could make Deadpool one of the most stand out films of 2016. It combines comedy with extreme levels of violence. It just looks absolutely Fantastic. Expect it to be a 15 rated film in the UK when it gets released early next year.

Deadpool (20th Century Fox - 2016)

GENEPOOL








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