Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Dark Knight has Risen

Batman, The Dark Knight of Gotham is here for this third and final outing under the direction of Christopher Nolan. The wait was long, punctuated by the usually glossy hype that surrounds a movie of this calibre. With the first two instalments of Nolan’s Batman trilogy being heralded as being among the greatest movies of all time, the pressure was certainly on the British director to deliver a fitting end to such an amazing saga, a trifecta of intellectual depth, superb action and astounding technical achievement. Thankfully Nolan delivered all, in spades.

Uniquely, The Dark Knight Rises is as much a sequel to Batman Begins as it is to The Dark Knight before it with a multitude of threads in this intricate celluloid tapestry being woven together in one spectacular whole. Here Bruce Wayne must now face his mortality in a way that he hadn’t faced it before and must regain the physical and spiritual connection with Gotham City he possessed before his fall from grace. This fall of course itself a lie borne by his greatest ally Jim Gordon, but not for much longer. Now a haggard and limping social recluse, Wayne has all but forgotten the Batman as Gotham has achieved an almost Utopian level of lawfulness. However a new threat seeks to raise an army to wrest control of the city to a truly nefarious end. The Dark Knight Rises explores many themes but chief among them is that “anyone can be Batman” something that has been cemented throughout the trilogy.

Christian Bale’s performance is as good as he’s been giving throughout the series which sadly means he hasn’t evolved a great deal himself. This is a pity as The Fighter proved what an incredible actor he can be. Bale was outdone once again by Gary Oldman who portrayed a much older Gordon now wrestling with his conscience at the terrible burden of lies he bore. Joseph Gordon Levitt shone as Blake, a streetwise cop whom Gordon makes a detective and to whom he transfers much of the footwork he’s unable to do himself. Anne Hathaway, initially regarded as a strange choice for Catwoman, without even so much as a purr made us all but forget Michelle Pfeiffer’s shiny PVC catsuit from Batman Returns. In fact she nailed it so delectably perfectly that there have been numerous calls for her to take her character into her own movie [undoubtedly to fare better than Halle Berry’s misguided crime against film]. Tom Hardy bulked up for his role as the imposing Bane, the menacing anarchist. Despite sometimes being somewhat difficult to understand he lent a powerful performance to the legendary “Knightfall” saga Batman villain, “the man who broke the bat”.

Supporting them, another Inception alumni, Marion Collitard whom I genuinely dislike as an actress, yet wasn’t too put off from her admittedly ‘above standard’ performance here. Matthew Modine, another actor I care quite little for portrays Foley, Gotham’s chief of Detectives and while his character is not one we should be impressed with, I have to say kudos for Modine for a great interpretation. Returning for his final time, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Batman’s answer to “Q” from James Bond, lending credence to the oft asked “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” and provides The Dark Knight with his most impressive vehicle yet, The Bat. However it was Michael Caine who really stepped it up this time around as Alfred and delivered something no less than Oscar-worthy proving that unlike some of the latest efforts from peers Anthony Hopkins and Ben Kingsley it is Caine that truly deserves to be called a “Sir”.

While sadly due to the London Olympics, I was denied a comfortable chance at witnessing Rises in Imax, but it was easy to spot at which points Nolan chose to switch to the extraordinary format adding to the immersion of the world he created as he did with Inception before it. There was some extraordinary CGI work done for a movie that while fantastical, is fused with the modern reality. The camera glided over Gotham and the scale of the troubled city was clearly established, albeit with some reality bending CGI [those exploded bridges aren’t really that long according to Constance]. 

To aid in the crafting of Gotham and to aid in a cohesion of design quality, Nathan Crowley returned from the previous two movies to lend his production design talents transforming Pittsburgh into a modern and realistic Gotham City. While he had collaborated with the excellent James Newton Howard for the previous instalments, Hans Zimmer was left to his own devices for the final instalment and it shows. Unleashed and solo, Zimmer has a tendency to go off the musical rails and while an excellent score in its own right, it lacks a cohesion that Newton Howard obviously brought to the fore.

It’s often the case in Hollywood where the third movie of a franchise isn’t as good as the others but this movie series has had the benefit of the same production value and creative team for all of them and it shows that there was no creative expense spared for the grand finale of this spectacular saga. If I was to level any criticism at it, I would have to say that it did indeed run a little too long at 165 mins, The Dark Knight had it right at about 150 mins, still epic but that quarter of an hour can make all the difference and there's a few bits that could have been shaved from the middle. It may hold true that when compared with the others in other ways, that Rises is not the best of the three but when you’re talking about movies that are as close in quality as these three Batman movies then it is still a sublime manifestation of an extraordinary creative effort made whole and produced a true genre-defining movie that transcends everything one hoped.

Final Verdict: Stay away from this if you don’t like epic movies over 2.5 hours long and want your super-heroes to ever seem real, because this is what this movie actually does.

Colonel Creedon Rating: *****

Sunday, August 26, 2012

RIP Neil Armstrong 1930-2012

There are important men, great men and then there are men who define history for the rest of man. On July 20th 1969 NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong became one such man when he set foot on the moon. His "one small step" is considered by many to be the most notable event in human history.

Godspeed on your final journey Neil... ...and thank you.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Stomper takes command

Following his senate confirmation last week  the new UNETIDA/UNPASID Director Lt. General "Stomper" Santorno took command at a ceremony at UNHQ on Monday morning. It was attended by members of the UNSC, The UN High Commissioners for Paranormal and Extra-Terrestrial Affairs and multi-national officers serving with both UNETIDA and UNPASID.

Henderson [R] presenting the UNETIDA flag to Santorno [L]
Rear Admiral "Smokestack" Henderson who had been serving as Acting UNETIDA Director, presented the general with the his organisations command flag. Colonel "Tucker" Reid UNPASID's Director of Training as the most senior remaining UNPASID officer after a series of unfortunate events last month, also presented Santorno with the UNPASID command flag, a symbolic gesture that will see the general unite both directorates.

In his first speech to the assembled UNETIDA and UNPASID personnel, Santorno assured that despite what his appointment represents, it was his mandate that the missions and operations of each unit would be given the same attention that they have always deserved. The general offered that while there will be some change, he hopes that the directorates can make those changes work for the better to ensure the ultimate success of "keeping the world safe from things it's not ready to believe in".

Santorno praised the work of Air Vice Marshal "Albatross" Davenport III in strengthening UNETIDA and upgrading the policies and technology while he served as director. The general had also words of praise for Rear Admiral "Smokestack" Henderson whom he said had to take command of the directorate during a difficult time during it's scrutiny. Santorno said he had asked Henderson to remain with UNETIDA/UNPASID in a senior leadership role, an offer the admiral has accepted along with a nomination for his second star from POTUS.

Santorno said that he was deeply upset by the events that decimated the UNPASID leadership, but was especially saddened by the passing of Major General "Skullcrusher" Shaw whom he considered a close personal friend. He said that Shaw had shown tremendous devotion to the UNPASID mandate and promised to do his best to bring the same level of zeal to the counter-paranormal cause. He also vowed to use all the resources at his disposal to investigate the events that lead to Shaw's death and the death and disappearance of other senior officers.

Santorno closed by telling the assembled personnel that he, and the senior staff would be meeting with the UNSC on Wednesday 22nd of August to finalise the appointments of a fully integrated unified command staff and begin discussions for a permanent amalgamation of UNETIDA and UNPASID as it is clearly the best way forward for both. "For now" he concluded "It's business as usual."

"No more Tony Scott movies. Tragic day" - Ron Howard

I awoke Monday morning to find a shocking message on my phone from Mr. V, telling me that one of my top five favourite motion picture directors Tony Scott was dead. I was devastated as this was both awful news and completely unexpected.

Scott was born in England in 1944 the younger of three brothers, Frank Scott died of cancer in 1980 and his surviving sibling is acclaimed director Ridley Scott. Tony followed in Ridley's footsteps with regards to his education and initially wanted to become a painter, but the success of his brother making TV commercials made him change his mind and he joined Ridley's outfit.

Scott made a commercial for Saab in the early 80's which showed one of the high performance cars racing a fighter jet. This caught the eye of famous producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer who convinced a reluctant Scott to direct their little fighter plane movie. Top Gun went on to gross $176m cementing the producing careers of Simpson and Bruckheimer, making a star of Tom Cruise and catapulting Scott to the A-List of Hollywood action directors.

Scott directed the Beverly Hills Cop sequel for Simpson and Bruckheimer which became one of 1987's highest grossing movies. In 1990 he directed the big-budget successful racing movie Days of Thunder working with Simpson, Bruckheimer and Cruise again and gave the scoring job to German composer Hans Zimmer who had begun to make a name for himself as well. A year later Scott saved the ailing career of Bruce Willis after his Hudson Hawk disaster by directing him in The Last Boyscout, a personal favourite of mine, written by Shane Lethal Weapon Black.

In 1993 Scott directed what many regard as his crowning achievement. It is to say the least one of the most memorable movies of the 90's and furthered the career of it's quirky writer Quentin Tarentino perhaps more than it did Scott's. The $13m True Romance featured a star-studded cast including Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, James Gandolini, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Tom Sizemore, Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer and another score by Hans Zimmer. While a critical success, the movie was a box office failure at the time.

Before the end of the decade Scott directed both of what I think are is best movies. Again for Bruckheimer and Simpson, Scott directed the supremely talented Denzel Washington and the legendary Gene Hackman at the very top of their game in one of my favourite movies period - Crimson Tide. The submarine thriller was acclaimed as a war-movie with a difference as it excited intellect as well as a lust for action. It was nominated for 3 Academy awards for editing and it's score won a Grammy for Hans Zimmer.

Scott re-teamed with Jerry Bruckheimer [producing solo now following the death of Don Simpson] and working again with Gene Hackman, directed the sublime spy-action-thriller Enemy of The State with Will Smith. Here he began working with Hans Zimmer's protégé Harry Gregson-Williams who continued to score all subsequent movies of the director's career. Despite portraying the efficiency and technology of US government intelligence to science-fiction proportions, nonetheless Enemy of The State was a thrilling and exciting chase movie that was a box-office success.

At the turn of the century Scott's career took a turn that I wasn't overtly happy with. 2001's Spy Game is the last of his movies that I added to my optical disc collection. I would describe it as a little more realistic spy movie than Enemy of the State but despite good performances from Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, it's overall not as exciting as his previous offerings. The decision to not make any effort to either age [or youth] the characters over the course of the 16-year span of the plot is one that vexes me to this day.

2004's Man on Fire was also a well produced revenge thriller with an exceptional performance from Denzel Washington, but I felt that the pacing of the movie overall was more than a little off and not all the bad guys were killed at the end, but Washington's character was. Despite changing Tarantino's bleak ending to a happy one for True Romance, Scott chose not to do that here, using the book's non-Hollywood ending and ultimately failing.

Scott choose to adapt two true stories into movies before the untimely end of his career. The first was the 2005 unconventional biopic on the life of Domino Harvey, the English born daughter of actor Lawrence Harvey who became a bounty hunter in L.A. Starring Kiera Knightly, the movie was both critically and commercially unsuccessful. I would regard it as "unmemorable". The other movie was Unstoppable, loosely based on the CSX 8888 incident in Ohio in 2001. Once again starring Denzel Washington as an almost retired railroad engineer, this time paired with a cocky rookie Chris Pine who have to do their best to stop a runaway train. This movie would be a commercial success in 2010 and the last movie Scott would direct.

Scott's other movies included: The Hunger ['83], the thriller Revenge with Kevin Costner in 1990 and The Fan a sports-themed psychological thriller with Robert DeNiro and Wesley Snipes ['96]. Scott also directed Déjà Vu, a misjudged science-fiction movie again with Denzel and produced by Bruckheimer and the 2009 remake of the 1974 movie The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Scott had become a prolific producer and executive producer in his late career mainly for television but for many movies, especially his own and those of his brother. Among such projects were Man on Fire, Domino, The Company, The Taking of Pelham 123, Numb3rs, the 2010 The A-Team movie, The Pillars of the Earth, Unstoppable, The Grey and Prometheus. He had over a dozen projects in different stages of pre/post production including Top Gun 2!

Scott was nominated for 5 Emmys winning one along with the other producers of The Gathering Storm in 2002 and was awarded the Michael Bacon Award at the BAFTAs in 1995.

I must admit to being somewhat angry. I cannot condone suicide as a course of action in this case. At the time I write, it has not yet been established if a rumoured diagnosis of terminal, inoperable brain cancer was the cause of Scott's decision to jump off Vincent Thomas Bridge over Los Angeles Harbor at lunchtime on Sunday. However illness or not, his apparent "decision" shows a clear disregard for those he has left behind especially his 12 year old twin boys who must now grow up with this social stigma.That said, if I can respect the acting talents of such reprehensible individuals as Mel Gibson and Tom Sizemore, I can most certainly respect the work of Tony Scott although I may not be able to respect the man. 

I read in an obituary on Fox News that Ridley Scott later directed "more and bigger hits than his brother and earned a level of critical respect never achieved by Tony Scott. "Gladiator" won the best-picture Academy Award for 2000 and earned Ridley Scott one of his three best-director nominations; Tony Scott never was in the running for an Oscar, and critics often slammed his movies for emphasizing style over substance." - and that's why I liked him. Why is that a bad thing critics?

While those facts can't be disputed I would argue that Tony's quality of work is more consistent than his brother's. Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator [I don't like Alien] may all be superior movies to any of Tony's but that's really about it. Ridley's G.I.Jane and Black Rain are as good as anything his brother has done but when Ridley screws up critically or commercially he does so in earnest and more royally then Tony ever did. Kingdom of Heaven, Matchstick Men, Robin Hood, A Good Year and don't get me started on Prometheus...

I enjoyed Tony Scott's movies for his adhesion to a frenetic but not nauseating camera style which seemed to focus on the depth of action rather than just the surface. His kinetic, choppy editing is very different from Michael Bay's but I like it for similar reasons. I also like the fact that most of my favourite movies of his end in a shootout and that's pretty much how I know my life will end, I only hope it's as dramatic.

Goodbye Tony

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Operation Watchtower Aug 7th 1942

If they didn't know beforehand, every Marine leaving boot today knows about The Battle of Guadalcanal. It was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan and a defining campaign in Marine Corps history that began on this day 70 years ago.

The Island of Tulagi, with smaller neighbours Gavutu and Tanambogo were assaulted by some 3000 Marines who met fierce resistance from the Japanese occupiers who were outnumbered more than 3 to 1. In 48 hours 122 Marines there were killed but the Japanese lost over 800 men.

1st Marine Division commander Major General Alexander Vandegrift landed ashore Guadalcanal at 09:10, August 7th 1942 with 11,000 of his men and while he met with less resistance he was quick to capture a small unfinished Japanese airfield at Lunga point. This became known as Henderson Field, the focus of months of fighting in the campaign as the Japanese made several failed attempts to retake it.

In December 1942, the Japanese abandoned efforts to retake Guadalcanal and evacuated their remaining forces by 7 February 1943 in the face of an offensive by the U.S. Army's XIV Corps, conceding the island to the Allies.

Today I salute the 60,000 allied troops who landed in the course of the campaign of which 7100 lost their lives, as well as the bravery of their 36,200 opponents of whom some 31,000 were killed fighting with honour.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Santorno tapped as new UNETIDA/UNPASID Director

After an emergency UNSC meeting on Tuesday evening, SECDEF Panetta was asked appoint a 3-star officer to take command of UNETIDA and UNPASID which would for the time being be operating with a single command staff. Yesterday morning, after meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the SECDEF submitted a list of names of viable candidates to POTUS. It was a short list, a list of one - Major General "Stomper" Santorno, U.S. Army [Ret.].

Major General "Stomper" Santorno, U.S. Army [Ret.] as Director of UNPASID in 2006

General Santorno was chosen for his extensive history with both UNPASID and UNETIDA. In 1982 Captain Santorno's special operations team had an encounter with what was described by Santorno in his report as "not alive, but not dead". Later in 1987 as an operations officer with 1st SFOD-D [Delta Force], Major Santorno was awarded the Silver Star for rescuing his unit from what he later discovered were extra-terrestrials. Due to his experience and the fact he had been exposed to both vicious undead and a belligerent extra-terrestrial force, and lived, he was recruited into UNPASID to bolster their special operations group and where he supervised training and survival methods.

Maj. Santorno returned to 1st SFOD-D for the invasion of Panama in 1989. After serving in the Gulf War in 1991 he requested to return to UNPASID who gladly accepted. Briefly, Lt. Col. Santorno was assigned as the Deputy Special Operations Commander for UNPASID until he was asked to serve as the military advisor to the UN High Commissioner for Paranormal Affairs until 1993. 

Lt. Colonel Santorno lent his considerable expertise, this time to UNETIDA as he served as the agency's Deputy Special Operations Commander until 1995 when he was promoted to colonel and was elevated to UNPASID's Special Operations Commander. In 1997 Col. Santorno shifted sideways to command UNETIDA's special operations before receiving his first star and assignment as UNETIDA's Director of Operations in 2000.

From 2002 to 2003, Brigadier General Santorno served as UNETIDA's Chief of Staff until an untimely command reshuffle during which the french Deputy Director of UNPASID was called into service with NATO and Santorno replaced him. Upon promotion to major general, Santorno was made director of UNPASID a post in which he served with distinction until his retirement from the Army in 2007.

Rather than depopulate the fish of North American rivers or buy a boat, Santorno spent his "retirement" as the Extra-Terrestrial and Paranormal Activity Advisor to the National Security Council of the Bush administration. Since 2009 he has been serving as both an Extra-Terrestrial and Paranormal Security Advisor to the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in times of need.

Major General Santorno's awards include: the Army Distinguished Service Medal, The Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star [with two oak leaf clusters], The Defense Superior Service Medal [with two oak leaf clusters], the Legion of Merit [with two oak leaf clusters], the Bronze Star [with combat distinguishing device and two oak leaf clusters], the Purple Heart [with oak leaf cluster], United Nations Special Service medal [with 4 bronze stars], Combat Infantryman's Badge, Master Parachutist and Military Freefall Parachutist badges, and both the Special Forces and Ranger tabs.

General Santorno's reinstatement to active duty is rare but not unheard of. In 2003 SecDef Rumsfeld recalled the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, General Schoomaker out of retirement after three years to serve as the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army until 2007.

General Santorno is known for making allusions to the fact that he's related to Jimmy "No Fingers" Santorno a Mafia crime boss known for having no fingers and punishing those who crossed him with the same fate. The general is apparently not above threatening diplomats with "an introduction to cousin Jimmy". It should be noted that neither Army CID or the FBI have ever reported evidence to support the generals claim. 

President Obama's nomination for Santorno's assignment to UNETIDA/UNPASID and promotion to lieutenant general requires confirmation from the U.S. Senate. This is something that the SecDef and JCOS feel would only be a formality or they would not have forwarded his name.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

UNSC Emergency Session deals with UNPASID crisis

An emergency session of the UNSC took place last evening to discuss the UNPASID command crisis. In light of the fact that all senior flag or general officers assigned to UNPASID are now dead, missing or in military custody, it was proposed by the UN Military Staff Committee that UNETIDA command should assume control of UNPASID operations.

This decision was facilitated by the fact that traditionally, UNETIDA and UNPASID operations have often overlapped due to public ignorance of what constitutes a paranormal occurrence or an extra- terrestrial encounter. As both organisations remain highly secretive about such events it’s likely this relationship can be taken advantage of to soothe the current crisis. In fact, according to analysts, UNETIDA also have a superior mis-information model that could be used to shield the public against supernatural and paranormal threats such as those against the [according to one delegate] "idiots who are digging up vampires graves in Bulgaria."

It was raised that while the tragic incidents "appear" to be accidental, the unprecedented coincidence of the events could not go without reference to the fact that they seem to have occurred immediately before the Special Investigation Committee finally published the report the began last October. It was also motioned that UNETIDA itself was also subject to the report but had no similar incidents.

Investigation Committee Chairperson Anna Scherzer of the Swiss Financial Markets Authority informed the Council that she had been authorised by Internal Oversight Services to reveal an abridged report to allay the fears against UNETIDA. During the meeting, the members of the Investigation Committee revealed some parts of the report they were responsible for compiling.

Rear Admiral Oliver Braithwaite III CBE, of the UK's Defence Intelligence revealed that UNPASID was involved in severe misappropriation of UN member funds taken from classified projects and funnelled into either projects which were cancelled by the council and in other cases, into the personal finances of UNPASID command staff. There was absolutely no evidence of any such activity within UNETIDA.

Deputy Director Sergei Sitnikov, of the Russian Federation's Federal Security Bureau outlined a great disparity between the amount of UNPASID weapons, equipment and supplies ordered and delivered when compared with those in use or decommissioned. UNETIDA had no such disparity despite a number of "unusual" requisitions from Acting Intelligence Director Colonel "Whopper" Creedon to aid in "home defence."

Most disturbingly, Cardinal Antoine Pascal, of the Roman Catholic Church led an investigative team to Peru to investigate the site of an incident which in 2010, UNPASID reported to the UNSC as a "training accident." The french cardinal reported that he discovered it was in fact a cover up after elite team of military chaplains, trained as “combat exorcists”, went rogue and summoned an ancient demon at a site that UNPASID subsequently napalmed into oblivion destroying several populated villages and scores of wildlife.

In defence of UNETIDA, Professor Wai Chen, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed that UNETIDA projects, while in almost all cases came in over budget, nevertheless have had a 96% success rate and their continued proliferation of alien technology can only benefit mankind.

Lt. General Andrew G. Kelly [USAF Ret.], a former NASA Astronaut, revealed that a number of UNETIDA operations over the past decade have resulted in the tragic death of some 2850 known military personnel, 1222 civilian casualties and have caused almost US$2.8Bn in associate collateral property/infrastructure damage internationally. However General Kelly deemed that these were unavoidable losses and only marginally outside acceptable limits when projected figures are analysed.

In final summary Mrs. Scherzer said she could see no reason at this time why the Military Staff Committee's recommendation should not be upheld and UNETIDA should not only to return to normal operations but is “more than capable of assuming control of UNPASID on a temporary basis if not permanent.”

After deliberations, the UNSC, based on the Committee’s assessment, agreed that they will wait until the complete report is published before making any permanent appointments or decisions but instructed UNETIDA to assume full operational control over UNPASID effective immediately for the time being. However a 3/2 vote was delivered to immediately request the Pentagon to assign a temporary OF-8 to assume military command of the organisations in light of the increased force size and responsibility that came with such a merge.