Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Orville ★★★★☆

Seth Macfarlane’s take on Star Trek is sometimes more faithful than the real thing. It’s a great premise on paper, and the show works well despite a few flaws that are easily pushed to the side if you’re a fan of the genre. Having watched The Orville and Star Trek: Discovery in tandem, it was difficult to tell which paid more attention when replicating the original series.

The former relies on comedy and sci-fi tropes, while the latter is more of a modern take on the series as a whole. The “Next Generation” era is widely seen as the best of the bunch, and The Orville stays true to form by focusing on the exploits of the man in charge. Macfarlane’s Captain Mercer is set to take command of his first vessel, although he’s not entirely sure why he was selected in the first place. The Planetary Union is under threat of war, and his ship is designed as an exploration vessel first and foremost.

Problems on the titular ship soon arise when his ex-wife Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki) is assigned as his first officer, with the situation made worse because of their acrimonious breakup. Mercer decides to enlist the help of his best friend Lt. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes) to fly the ship and keep him sane, while getting to know the various species that make up his crew. Despite being a comedy vehicle first and foremost, there’s a strong emphasis on sci-fi and exploration, with aliens that often wouldn’t look out of place on a B-movie set. 

It looks a lot better than your average Sci-Fi special, and the sets are also worth discussing in-depth. The bridge is bright and clean, and it’s obvious that a lot of time and attention was paid to ensure that nothing looks cheap or out of place. Each of the alien crewmen has their own foibles that take a while to get used to. There’s the Xelayan chief of security Lieutenant Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) who hides ridiculous strength in a tiny package, or a science and engineering officer who happens to be a non-biological lifeform that views humans as a vastly inferior species.

While similar in some respects, The Orville does take steps to ask different questions than TNG. Like what if Data hated humans? Or, how does a ship of flawed individuals manage to function in comparison to the best and brightest in the galaxy? Moral dilemmas abound for the hapless captain and his inept crew, and they do slowly begin to learn from their experiences as the season progresses. For all his bluster and awkwardness, Mercer is a good captain who wants the best for his crew and gets the job done despite their obvious limitations.

Luckily, Mercer manages to snag Chief Medical Officer Claire Finn (Penny Johnson Jerald) for the team, and she’s always on hand to give advice to her fledgeling captain. (While spurning the constant advances of an anthropomorphic blob that refuses to get the message.) Macfarlane can’t help but play himself, leading to obvious comparisons to his previous work. He tells jokes knowingly, and there’s a notable lack of sincerity at times, despite his effort. He doesn’t stop to wink at the camera, but if you’ve seen him in A Million Ways to Die in the West, you’ll know what to expect in terms of performance.

Unlike the majority of his back catalog, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much mainstream attention for The Orville. Nonetheless, it’s a fun show that is sure to improve in future, with season two on the horizon in January 2019. 

James Millin-Ashmore

The Orville at CeX

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Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Mission Impossible: Fallout ★★★★★

We’re now onto the sixth film in the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, a series of films that do what many others don’t, by continuously being great without becoming stale and repetitive. Tom Cruise is back again as Ethan Hunt, in ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’, carrying on the plot of ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’.

‘Rogue Nation’, where Hunt tries to prove the existence of The Syndicate to the CIA, ends with supreme leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) being taken into custody. Now Lane features again (albeit now in prison) as Hunt, IMF agent, tries to stop the sale of three deadly plutonium cores to the Apostles, another terrorist group made up of the Syndicate remains, which will be used as weapons.  Unfortunately for Hunt, he is made to join forces with Agent Walker (Henry Cavill), a Special Operatives Division operative, after choosing to save fellow teammate Luther (Ving Rhames) over nabbing the plutonium in a previous mission.

From the very start, the film is fast-paced and action-packed. It’s an action film, of course, but I do find they can start to get repetitive once in a while, with their obligatory car chases and running over rooftop scenes that the writers can’t seem to avoid (I blame the ‘Bourne’ franchise). ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ does actually contain both of these and more, but does them in an exciting way that doesn’t feel like a repeat of all those before them, and even adds a high octane helicopter chase in the second half that’s so tense at points I found myself gripping the sofa. 

The stunts are excellent as well, which we’ve all come to expect by now for any film with Tom Cruise in. What I can’t understand is how they always manage to one-up the previous film with something even more insane than before – I thought they couldn’t possibly beat the bike chase and the opera scene from ‘Rogue Nation’, yet somehow the film team does. There are some good fight scenes too, from a music-less struggle in a public bathroom to a gripping display at the very climax of the film as time is running out.

Aside from the action, the plot is also pretty good – predictable in the first half, but complex and interesting enough in the second half to make up for it – and it’s well paced throughout. Acting shines again, with Simon Pegg providing some hilarious lines again as (Benji Dunn), and great chemistry between the team. Cavill adds a different dynamic as well, forcing Ethan to cooperate with someone he really doesn’t gel with.

You have to give the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise a bit of leeway when it comes to realism, but the far-fetched plots are one of the elements that makes it so exciting (and the whole point is that the missions are perceived as impossible, of course). I’d say that ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’ is one of my favourites in the franchise now though – it’s full of energy, and without a single dull moment in the entire film. It’s headed in a slightly different direction than normal, but both fans of the older films and newcomers will appreciate what really is a well-directed and entertaining instalment. 

Hannah Read

Mission Impossible Fallout at CeX

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