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Luther: Season 1, episode 1 (2010)

Luther 2010 Idris Elba

What a tense start for Luther: season 1, episode 1 (2010) by Neil Cross. It’s the melodrama of a chase through darkest London. . . the music is going full pelt. DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), our hero, corners the suspect in a derelict building. This is Henry Madson (Anton Saunders) a suspected paedophile. He’s going to fall unless our hero pulls him up so, under pressure, he confesses to hiding the little girl in an area hidden behind a false wall in the living room of his home. Luther makes the call. DCI Ian Reed (Steve Mackintosh) finds and revives the girl. Unfortunately, Madson falls but doesn’t die. Sorry that may be the wrong way round. Madson falls but unfortunately doesn’t die. Seven months later, he’s still in a coma. There are no witnesses so, after an inquiry exonerates him, our hero is allowed to resume his duties by DSU Rose Teller (Saskia Reeves). This despite the warnings of her boss DCSU Russell Cornish (Matthew Marsh). So there you have it. The man’s a loose canon, physically violent but ruthlessly intelligent, obsessed with the need to solve crimes and bring wrongdoers to justice. To celebrate his reinstatement, he’s teamed with DS Justin Ripley (Warren Brown). It seems the stupid boy has been begging to work with Luther for months: hero worship for a paedophile disabler.

 Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and John Luther (Idris Elba)

Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and John Luther (Idris Elba)

To show the pace of crime in the bustling heart of the Metropolis, the moment Luther is returned to duty, the police are called to a home invasion by Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson). She’s the daughter. Both parents and the dog have been shot dead. It was her father’s birthday. Her mother had taken sleeping pills and was lying down in her separate bedroom. The front door was left unlocked so someone was watching the house and entered when Alice popped out to the shops. The daughter was a prodigy who went to Oxbridge when she was thirteen. She’s now a research scientist. She hated her parents for pushing her, but that doesn’t mean she killed her parents. Luther is convinced she did, but there’s no evidence she did, just an absence of evidence she did not. She can’t be charged and leaves the police station with a smile on her lips.

After being separated from her while on suspension, Luther calls his wife, Zoe Luther (Indira Varna). She claims to be pleased he’s been cleared and is back at work. Except she’s having an affair with Mark North (Paul McGann). Why not tell him earlier? It’s cruel to keep lying. When he comes round and she gives him the bad news, he breaks the door in anger. The first day back at work and now dumped by his wife. All the challenge of a new case and now disappointment. So as insights in his character go, this is weird. What was it about their relationship that Luther felt he couldn’t stay with his wife while on suspension? Was he so self-absorbed he couldn’t be good company? Why did he feel his wife couldn’t help him stay positive? Put like this, it’s hardly surprising she found someone else to love while this streak of misery was in abeyance. It’s like his life stopped when he couldn’t be a policeman and he could only go back to his old life when when he was reinstated. His self-image was out of joint. He was a good cop with a beautiful wife. When he couldn’t be a cop, he couldn’t be with his wife. Hmmm. Not the right view of love or relationships, is it?

Zoe Luther (Indira Varna)

Zoe Luther (Indira Varna)

Our Alice makes a thorough Google search of the Luther family. Because she’s a narcissist, she needs to impress Luther. She’s committed the perfect crime. How is she to deal with people who upset or annoy her? So Luther sets out to annoy her in the hope she’ll do something rash. In response, Alice puts fear into Zoe and there’s no evidence again.

Luther speculates Alice hid the gun in the dog. The gun being plastic would melt when the dog was cremated. To prove it to himself, he breaks into her flat and steals the urn. When he looks inside, he sees gun fragments in the ashes. They are not evidence because he acquired them illegally and there’s no way any of the fragments would show evidence she handled the completed gun. He throws the urn into the river but keeps some of the gun parts. He threatens that he’ll frame someone else for the murder so she will be forgotten. To show he’s accepted his wife has ended the relationship in favour of another man, he goes round, fights with the new man and gets escorted to a police station. Alice celebrates another day of not being arrested by going to visit the hospital where Madson is in a coma. It’s a fun time for everyone except the viewers. I have the sense this is a potboiler, patched together out of stock characters and situations.

I’m not at all sure I find the prospect of a marriage between the Luthers even remotely credible. She’s a high-powered lawyer. He’s bright but essentially a thug with poor self-control. Given the hyper style of all the behaviour we’ve seen, I don’t believe he could have wooed and married this woman. Even if he did manage to stay together emotionally long enough to marry her, the moment he began investigating serious cases, he would have alienated her. I can’t even begin to see why she would stay with him. Given he’s weird, it seems the series is being set up with Alice as his Moriarty. When he doesn’t have a hot case, he’s going to be obsessing about how to catch her. It’s time for birds of a feather to do a bit of flocking. Overall I’m suspending judgement. There are some signs of interest in the banter between Luther and Alice. It may become more watchable. Only time will tell. As an aside, the novel based on these characters is far better.

For a review of the prequel novel, see Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross.

For reviews of other episodes in the television series, see:
Luther: Season 1, episode 2 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 3 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 4 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 5 (2010)
Luther: Season 1, episode 6 (2010)
Luther: Season 2, episode 1 (2011)
Luther: Season 2, episode 2 (2011).

Pacific Rim (2013)

July 18, 2013 4 comments

Pacific Rim 2013

Pacific Rim (2013) reminds us that alien invasions can come from different directions. Conventionally, the pesky beasts load themselves into star ships and fly here. This gives us some time to prepare as our telescopes pick up these large unidentified objects heading in our direction. But, of course, the more advanced aliens can open wormholes and fly between two points in space just by pressing Go. This takes Earth’s defences by surprise and, with such formidable technology to call on, they beat us without waiting to collect the $200 for pressing Go. This film takes the wormhole idea one step further and has an interdimensional door opening in the middle of the Pacific. But instead of the aliens coming through personally, they send through Kaiju, rather large dinosaurs somewhat akin to Godzilla and similar Japanese favorites. They can be beaten using conventional weaponry, but it takes time and while they are being slowly shot to pieces, they do an enormous amount of damage. This seems to be an incredibly stupid way of trying to take over a planet. These aliens have the technology to clone ever larger beasts with great fighting skills. Wy can’t they reverse this process and develop tiny creatures called bacteria or a virus which can be unleashed to kill us all without them having to break sweat (assuming the aliens perspire as opposed to randomly seeping ichor)? From the human perspective, we have a single entry point so submarines with nuclear torpedoes could wait there and kill the beasts as their heads emerge. Polluting the sea is a small price to pay if it saves lives.

At this point, it’s perhaps relevant to mention director Guillermo del Toro’s interest in H P Lovecraft. Cthulu lives and dreams in a city deep under the South Pacific. It’s called R’lyeh. Notice the hero of this film is called Raleigh. We may therefore speculate this is the minions of the Elder Gods softening up Earth before Cthulu wakes up and the other Mythos beings arrive. Appropriately, evidence emerges suggesting the aliens tried this before with the original dinosaurs, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite the right mix and they died out before they could clear out the indigenous lifeforms. Now we’ve had several centuries polluting the place, the atmosphere is just right for the larger scale dinosaurs to return. This time the aliens’ monsters will clear off the vermin, i.e. us, leaving the aliens a great planet to call home.

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi as the winning team

Charlie Hunnam and Rinko Kikuchi as the winning team

Knowing conventional weapons will not keep us safe for long, Earth comes together and builds giant robots called Jaegers. The timing of this is interesting. While these monsters are popping up out of the ocean, we can develop the technology and build these robots in a few months. Yeh, right (sarcasm intended). One person interfaces are not strong enough to control these machines. It needs two minds working together. Brothers Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) and Yancy Becket (Diego Klattenhoff), were never star athletes but they were compatible when slaved together to drive the robotic Jaegers. Two-person teams like them become rock stars. They beat the Kaiju. Life begins to go back to normal. Then a Category 3 Kaiju appears and the game swings back in the aliens’ favour. The brothers are beaten and, while connected, Yancy is killed. This leaves Raleigh psychologically damaged. The Kaiju are adapted and start to win more frequently. The ranks of the Jaeger are thinned. As is required in films like this, Earth’s politicians decide to build walls around the biggest cities. Hilariously, the elite retreat three-hundred miles inland and leave the rest of the plebs in these more exposed places. Not that this will save the leaders-from-behind, of course. But the elite can delude themselves they will live longer than the masses. The remnants of the Jaeger team are sent to Hong Kong with funding for only eight months. Led by Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), they turn themselves into a last chance defence of the city, prepared to take on all-comers. The rest of the cities hide behind walls. Unfortunately with nothing between the monsters and each wall, the beasts can just hit it until it comes down. Raleigh Becket is recalled to the front line and teamed up with Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). As a pilot, Pentecost rescued her from a Kaiju attack and raised her as his daughter. Now he’s holding her back until the plot requires him to make the adoptive parental sacrifice. The new partnership has to build trust. After an initial misfire, it’s obvious they will be winners. With Idris Elba to do the recycling of the Shakespearean trope, it’s once more into the breach dear friends as, on St Crispian’s Day, the heroes set off to cancel the apocalypse.

OK, so what’s right about this film? Well, some of the CGI is very impressive. There’s a nice attention to detail and a real attempt to give a sense of the mass and momentum of both the monsters and the robots. Unfortunately, that’s all I can say is good. Staying with the CGI for a moment, almost all the scenes are at night and many of the battles are partially obscured by rain or sea water lashed up into the air. I have an interminable list of everything wrong with what we see. Frankly, translating this idea from the far superior anime forerunners like Neon Genesis Evangelion is a robot too far. It’s a problem of perception. When you see these vast machines as anime, it’s easy to suspend disbelief. You don’t have to relate them to real-world physics or metalurgy. You can just sit back and watch the inspirational story of heroism unfold. But the more realistic you make the robots, the more questions you have to answer. Like just what metals go into the manufacture of these machines? And why do they not get bent out of shape or dented every time a Kaiju taps them with a claw? Yes, they get damaged (eventually), but they get thrown all over the place, crash through buildings and even get dropped from a great height. But they just get up, dust themselves down and start fighting again. And they are all atomic powered? What’s the risk of having them fight inside a city? Even if they don’t blow up, damage could spread radioactive fuel and leave the area uninhabitable. No, wait. They fight in the sea so leaks of the fuel just kill all the fish we eat. And how can a couple of helicopters can pick one robot up and drop it into the shallow sea without breaking it? And why is the seabed always flat when the robots go into battle? And later they are like submarines that can swim down to the bottom of the Pacific without the pressure crushing them? And is that supposed to be an oil tanker being carried as a weapon by one of the robots? I don’t think so!

Idris Elba as Henry V

Idris Elba as Henry V

Integral to the plot is Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) not quite named for his appetites, who harvests everything useful from the fallen Kaiju. Killing the beasts is good business for him and the Asian men who pay vast amounts of money for Kaiju parts as aphrodisiacs. Initially the scientist double act is there for light relief. Meet Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) the let-me-talk-to-its-brain guy and Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) the math wonk. But later they prove essential. As to the technology on display, the drift or neural bridge is quite an interesting idea. Two minds slaved together — think left and right brain — to control the robot. The question, of course, is how the minds stay focused on the job in hand and avoid becoming immersed in memories or other primal urges. Now back to the scientists. If a human was to mind-meld with a Kaiju, that would be a two-way link — not that the aliens would need to know much about us. In this, the baby Kaiju is an amusing touch with two scientists sharing the load to get the inside dope.

This leaves me disappointed. It might have been possible to craft a good story on this theme of monsters vs. robots, but it certainly didn’t appear on the screen. At 130 minutes, the whole thing just takes too long with the human interaction not strong enough to fill in between the set-piece battles. I suspect even the fanboys are going to find Pacific Rim heavy going.

Prometheus (2012)

June 8, 2012 1 comment

The first step in this review must address the elephant in the room. Prometheus (2012) is intended as one of this year’s major blockbusters, but it’s not a prequel to Alien (1979). It’s a separate science fiction film set in the same fictional universe some thirty years before before the events we see in Alien. Indeed, if my memory is not wholly at fault, the planet we see in this film is not the same planet visited by the Nostromo. Ridley Scott has done well with Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to avoid this being a simple origin film. The opening scenes set on Earth reveal the central theme. In essence, it proposes that to create life, one must first destroy life. The science of a race that can construct a craft capable of flying between the stars can easily plant seeds in the oceans of Earth without having to kill one of the crew (assuming, of course, that the being we see die is actually one of the crew rather than a being specially constructed for the purpose — it appears to be a different kind of spaceship from the craft we saw in Alien and later see in this film. The intention of showing us this death is to reinforce the centrality of mortality. In all nature, there’s a cycle of life as the newly born first grow under the care of their parents, then take the first steps to an independent existence. This will usually involve mating and producing the next generation. At some point, the original parents die and, through this death, the children positively achieve independence. There’s no-one with the right or power to tell them what to do. While they have the health and strength, they guide their own young until death passes on the mantle of leadership to the next generation. So, in a way, the theme is almost oedipal in asserting the death of at least one parent is necessary for the next generation to accept responsibility for its own future.

Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender before the problems become apparent

 

In human terms, any child of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) would be waiting for him to die so that ownership and control of the corporation could pass. Similarly, David (Michael Fassbender), a robot created by Peter Weyland, would not have any wishes or desires of its own unless its creator dies or otherwise stops giving it mandatory instructions. Perhaps, at a metaphorical level, that’s why Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) has to die immediately after Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discovers she’s apparently pregnant. If we scale this up to the human race, we may not truly be able to achieve independence and realise whatever represents our true potential unless our “creators” are dead.

 

At this point, we need to refer back to the title of the film because, self-evidently, Prometheus doesn’t seem to fit into this theme. Except, of course, it does. In the myth, Prometheus steals a vital piece of knowledge from the Gods. It’s the difference in the level of knowledge and understanding that gives Gods their power and demonstrates their superiority over humanity. For this theft, he’s punished. So the question you have to ask is what motive underpins this expedition. In an altruistic world, the intention would probably be pure scientific research. They are going simply to see what’s there. Elizabeth Shaw herself has a more religious view of the quest for knowledge. Yes, she’s a scientist, but she also believes in the right of the children to meet, if not confront, their Creator. She believes we will be proved worthy by accepting our Creator’s invitation to visit. Peter Weyland, the man funding the expedition, will have a different agenda. For him, there’s only one thing it would be worth stealing from the gods. Indeed, he would pay any amount of money and endure any hardship to make his dream real. That it would disturb the balance of nature is not something that will deflect his ambition. Not for him the desire to bring back technology for the benefit of humanity. He’s rather more selfish. Perhaps, like the original Prometheus, he deserves to be punished.

Charlize Theron struggling to assert her authority

 

So let’s put a little flesh on the bones. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) is the quiet man of steady purpose. He sees it as his job to get everyone safely home subject to the wishes of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) who’s the representative of the Weyland Corporation and nominally in charge of the expedition. There’s steady friction between Meredith and David because the robot is working through the programming given by Peter Weyland before leaving Earth. When there’s conflict, David shuts her out of the loop. As in the original Alien, the robot is the pivotal catalyst by independently investigating what the crew finds after landing, i.e. before it can engage in the theft required by Peter Weyland, it must first find the relevant technology. This means active exploration and experimentation. There’s a further difference. In the original Alien series, the hero is clearly Sigourney Weaver’s character because she will stop at nothing to protect the Earth from infection. The true measure of the heroism is her willingness to sacrifice her life. Our new hero played by Noomi Rapace must survive. Yes, this is the first in what’s intended as a new series to fill out the general background detail to this fictional universe. That means she cannot have quite the same qualities of heroism as Sigourney Weaver. She obviously knows what has to be done and can tell others what to do, but there must be at least one other hero in the right mould and prepared to act.

Idris Elba keeping a watchful eye on events as they occur

 

So does Prometheus work? The answer is a measured yes, although there’s one feature which is absurd. No matter how good the local anaesthetics of the time, no human body could possibly come through that surgical procedure and then run around normally for the remainder of the film. In justification, all we can say is that it’s necessary for the final sequence to work out. As another aside, the body at the end is left in the wrong place. This may confirm my recollection that this is a different planet and, therefore, the crew of the Nostromo finds a different ship with another alien in the command chair. But putting the problems to one side, the general flow of the narrative is compulsively strong. It takes its time to explain what’s happening and for the crew to exchange ideas. The creatures slowly returning to life in their underground storage facility are sufficiently different to create a whole new sense of excitement except one result of human interaction is the ultimately hack cliché and so a waste of a crew member who could have been disposed of in a more creative way.

The good ship Prometheus on the ground

 

Ridley Scott uses the big screen well to create a sense of wonder as the Prometheus enters the planet’s atmosphere and explores. He also manages the ensemble cast well with everyone turning in quality performances. While many of the cast are cannon fodder, it’s good to see the director taking time with accents and attitudes to distinguish the individuals from the crowd. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are excellent with Charlize Theron and Idris Elba allowed a reasonable amount of screen time to establish themselves. Logan Marshall-Green is a bit pallid and Guy Pearce submerged under prosthetics which reduces the opportunity to act. The only thing that stops this from being a great film is the lack of reaction to events. When the crew is in danger or circumstances require painful decisions, you don’t see the crew taking a moment to express relief they survived or telling themselves the decisions were necessary, if not actually right. Stuff happens and then more stuff happens. This leaves the level of characterisation at a rather primitive level. That said, I enjoyed Prometheus and sincerely hope at least one more film can be made to develop the theme.

 

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