31 October 2007

Stardust Review

Expectations are an interesting thing. One can frequently raise them, lower them, fail to have them surpassed, and have them smashed into little pieces. And I honestly wasn't expecting to have my expectations absolutely obliterated by Stardust; but seems that I had two sets of the damned things blown apart. Silly me, I suppose.

The film tells the story of a young man named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who is a shop-boy in the town of Wall - the namesake of which just so happens to be the border of a magical realm of Stormhold. Upon seeing a shooting star cascade into the land beyond the wall, Tristan makes a promise to local beauty Victoria (Sienna Miller) to retrieve the star in exchange for her hand in marriage. What Tristan doesn't know is that in Stormhold, stars are celestial beings who sit in the sky and watch the over the world; and the star he was looking out for would turn out to be the beautiful Yvaine (Claire Danes). But he's not the only one seeking the star - a trio of witches need her heart to acquire her youth; and thus the adventure begins.

The story, however, isn't the strongest aspect of the movie. In fact - apart from the vaguely decent concept and execution - the story is perhaps its weakest point, being wholly predictable from start to finish. It'd've been nice to have some kind of twist or turn (in fact, I could think of a way of doing it by simply deleting a single line of dialogue). Another problem is that the movie feels about 15 minutes too long, but it's incredibly difficult to point a finger at any given moment and say 'that could go'. No, it's more down to pacing than actual structure; there are a few moments that just need a trim in the editing department to make them bounce along faster. But honestly, these are minor problems at best, and they really didn't matter by the end of the story. I was having too much fun.

And that fun derives from two things. Firstly, the characters; there's a lot of them, and each is incredibly well fleshed out - from the actor playing them to their scripting, they're each memorable and funny in equal measures. Of particular note is Robert DeNiro's Captain Shakespeare - a man who puts on a tough veneer to hide a rather amusing secret; DeNiro playing it with tongue firmly planted in his cheek. Excellent, too, are the two protagonists; with Cox and Danes displaying some excellent chemistry, and the latter's RP British accent being more or less flawless. Then there's the gamut of British talent that turn up in quick-fire cameo roles - the most memorable of these being Ricky Gervais' Ferdy the Fence, who had me close to tears of laughter.

The second is the execution of the set-pieces; from a mass brawl on board Shakespeare's airship, to the swords'n'sorcery with a twist final showdown, it all tingles with a real sense of silliness and excitement. There are a couple of bum notes with regards to the special effects - including one that is almost heinous in its execution during the otherwise superb final battle - but on average they qualify as 'solid', and again, you should be having too much fun to notice them.

Basically, this is an old-school fairytale, full of fun, wonder and a healthy dollop of silliness; whilst being almost totally devoid of anything too serious or scary. A hugely enjoyable film if you're not looking for anything too heavy; and unless The Golden Compass proves otherwise, this could be the fantasy film of the year. Absolutely brilliant.

Ross' Rating: 8/10

27 October 2007

This! Is! Rome?

Okay, so I bought Rome a few weeks back, and I watched about 3/4 of it before I got sidetracked by Stargate Atlantis. But I've just finished it, and I have to say...wow. It was absolutely superb; the productions values were amazing, the acting (whilst occasionally spotty) was solid throughout and some of the battle sequences were amazingly well done. Can't wait to get my filthy paws on Season 2 for more blood, debauchery and philandering!

Still no internet - so that means the kind Indian supervisor lied to me; he didn't do anything to see that it was delivered earlier than the date they specified! Still, should have it on Monday, and I'm going to call Tiscali up and have at 'em; hopefully they'll issue some kind of discount. Would be good too have a few months free or something of that ilk. But the real kicker is that I will be able to post regularly come Monday! Which is great! Right? RIGHT?!?!?!

I currently have the flat to myself - Ryan's finally gone back to work (his words, not mine) after breaking his arm, and so I'm to have the place all to myself pretty much every weekend of our tenure. Which is...y'know...bracing. Pity we're not allowed to throw wild parties...and bigger pity I don't have a girlfriend...oh, the mischief that could ensue. Although, at this rate I'll probably be working at weekends, anyways; better money during those hours I'm told, and I'd rather have days off during the week...so that one could attempt to get things done! Like shopping without having to get elbows to the ribs or umbrella spokes in the eye. Yes...both those things happened on my visit to Tesco today; and did I receive apologies for them? Methinks not. Bastards.

Didn't manage to go to the cinema...might go tomorrow if money and time permit; and probably to go see Stardust. Eastern Promises is on its opening weekend, and that means loads of punters showing up; I prefer going when there are less people - it generally makes for a more relaxed trip! So! Stardust it is! Not now...but soon!

And now...seeing as Heroes has commenced it's second season, I'm off to re-visit it's first. Wish me luck!


24 October 2007

Of Raiders and Stargates.

Ah, the joys of Stargate: Atlantis; it has to be said, that show surprised me. My mate Nathaniel randomly selected it to watch; and he recommended it to me, and then presto: Ross has become a 'Gater' of sorts. It's just so brilliantly written - and honestly, I find it to be a much stronger draw than it's ex-sister show Stargate: SG1. The stories are more interesting and - Colonel O'Neill aside - I'm rather more fond of the characters. Anyways, I'm now half-way through season 3, and apparently this is rather timely, as by the time I've got internet, season 4 will be well under way.

Speaking of TV shows that are now well under way; both Heroes and Scrubs have started again. Have to say, I'm relishing watching them again. Both ended on cliff-hangers, and I can't wait to find out how they are resolved! JD can't kiss Elliot! Can he? And what the hell was Hiro thinking?!?!

I'm still unemployed; and it's not due to lack of trying. Seriously; apparently you need experience to be a fucking dish-washer in this town! Anyways; I'm confident that I'll have a job by the end of November...but then I was confident that I'd have a degree by age 22, and see where that's gotten me. Still, gotta stay positive, right?

My books coming along nicely - mostly because I've got very little else to do with my days. I'm more or less finished with the ret-con, and so Book 3 is rocketing ahead. Should be a good 'un! Remember, you can still have a gander at the first 12 chapters (and the prologue) here!

Hopefully going to see either Stardust or Eastern Promises over the next week; I'll definitely post a review for the one I finally decide on seeing, so do check in if you're enjoying my reviews!

And that's it for now. I bid you all good...eh...morning!

20 October 2007

Ratatouille Review

There's something truly and wonderfully magical about Pixar. No matter how fantastic their previous instalment was, you can bet your liver, kidneys and gall bladder that their next will at the very least equal it, if not surpass it. And with Ratatouille, you know they've proven the rule after the first ten minutes - of the actual feature, not the absolutely superb short, Lifted, that precedes it; which is worth the entry fee all by its onesies.

Story-wise, it delivers a swift and rather deft middle-finger to all the post-modern irony that's being chucked about in animation these days. Remy lives in the country-side, and dreams of becoming a big city chef; and despite astonishing senses of smell and taste, he's presented with a rather minor hitch - he's a rat, and thusly humans won't let him near a kitchen without attempting to exterminate him. That doesn't stop him from wistfully pining after celebrity chef Auguste Gusteau's creations on television. Eventually, he gets a little too bold for his britches, and gets his whole colony chased away to Paris; and in a series of rather unfortunate mishaps, Remy finds himself washed up below Gusteau's high-class restaurant. Cue his run-in with Linguine, a garbage-boy at Gusteau's restaurant; like Remy, he longs to be a chef, only he has none of the skill to do so. The two form an unlikely partnership, and start to wow critics across Paris.

It is, pure and simple, rather brilliant; unashamedly surreal, yet at the same time strangely plausible. And to boot, it's hilarious. From the slapstick antics of Remy controlling Linguine through his...eh...hair - 'this is strangely involuntary!' cries Linguine rather fretfully - to the fantastically choreographed set-pieces; if you don't choke out at least one laugh, you probably forgot to bring along your soul. There's a joy to it, a real sense of fun that a lot of the animated dross these days is lacking.

That's not to say there aren't any rather cranial jokes amidst the lunacy; though they aren't quite as thick and fast, they're still there. The poking fun at critics is both playful and poignant, without the mean-spiritedness that, say, Lady in the Water had; and the moments that have a stab at the French are exactly the same - 'We don't mean to be rude, but we're French!' being an inspired piece of scripting. There's also the superbly fleshed out characters, each one with a unique, and frequently hilarious backstory - including a sous chef who's served time, only no-one knows for sure as to why.

On the technical side - if you actually have time to notice such things whilst your sides are splitting - Pixar have once again produced something of a visual masterpiece. The world they've created is so rich, so full of detail and life, that sometimes I found myself honestly wondering if I wasn't looking at an actual photo of a Parisian corner restaurant, or rain-soaked canal banks. The food, too, looks actually edible; a huge amount of detail has been thrown at that particular aspect, and it really does shine. The end result of this is that it sucks you in - detail has a habit of doing that - and makes you really believe in the characters that populate this rather wonderful world. They've also concocted a clever way of putting across the sense of taste through celluloid; using music and rather colourful pieces of rather abstract animation to show the zings and tangs of cheese, wine and all kinds of other flavours. It's a wonderful idea, and superbly - yet sparingly - applied.

This is not to say, however, that it's all brilliant; my beefs with the movie are three-fold. First, and possibly of least overall consequence, is the visualisation of Paris; which is clearly tainted by the Hollywood view of the city. Everything is so clean, so wonderful, so idyllic; even the sewer below the restaurant has a certain quiet charm to it! But obviously, this is Bird trying to juxtapose Remy's lowly start against what he's aiming for, and thusly is forgivable.

The second, however, really isn't; and that is that outside the core trio of human characters and their pseudo-antagonist - Lou Romano's Linguine, Jeneane Garafolo's Collette, Ian Holm's head-chef Skinner and Peter O'Toole's Anton Ego respectively - the voice talent is rather flat; and given the richness of the lungs being lent to their other outings, this came as something of a disappointment.

The third, and probably my biggest problem, is the ending; if Pixar have ever made a film that called for something of a 'downer-but-we'll-still-be-okay' ending, this was it. Problem is, director/screenwriter Brad Bird somehow found need to douse it with a rather soppy water cannon. It's not a bad ending; I'm just saying a little bleakness, artfully applied might have made it a superior film.

Still, these things are hardly more than minor quibbles; I came out of the cinema with a grin on my face, and strange yearning for the ratatouille dish created at the end of the film. It's a film that's frequently funny, occasionally touching, and will plaster a smile across your face for a good long while afterwards.

Ross' Rating: 8

15 October 2007

I'm a bad person...

Yes, I shameless ripped off Halo 3's tagline. I'm not proud of it, but it certainly made you guys think twice about what the post was about, eh?

But seriously, I've been avoiding talking about Halo 3 for a while now; mainly because I'm such a rabid fan of the series that I could probably talk about it for about 3 hours and not get bored. Still, I shall get my Halo-related blogging out of the way prontisimo!

It's friggin' awesome!!!!!! I loved every minute of it!

There! I'm done! Now we can move onto other things!

I finally finished the final Harry Potter (yes, I'm a bad person for that too); and honestly, I think it was more of a last...splutter, than a last hurrah. Seriously, could she have thought of a less spectacular ending? It was so low key, that I actually wondered if I had a bad copy, and I was missing the final final chapter. But nope, my copy is a good'un; and thusly I was left with the rather soppy, annoyingly sentimental prologue to grapple with.

I've always had a problem with the Harry Potter novels. It's not that I think they're poorly written - although I do think that to call them brilliant is just plain wrong; Phillip Pullman writes brilliance, compared to him, Ms Rowling is about as talented as a lobotomised baboon. But they aren't bad either; they're just...there. No, my problem with her novels is that I do believe that she's lowered the standard of fantasy everywhere; it's her fault that utter morons like Christopher Paolini and GP Taylor ever got published; although their novels are of such inferior quality even to JK Rowling's that I honestly thought about tearing out my eyes after I read them.

Back on to Harry Potter; I dunno...it might just be because I was brought up with proper, High Fantasy; it might just be that I'm a pretentious git (probably the latter, but I'm past caring); I just don't find her novels that entertaining. Still, the rest of the world does; so it might be time to admit that I'm wrong. But I'd never do that!

What else? Oh yes - having finished The Deathly Hallows, I promptly retrieved my His Dark Materials from home, and plan on finishing Northern Lights before the film comes out in December. I have to say I'm looking forward to it, if only to see if Pullman's dense, thoughtful text actually translates properly to the big screen. Fingers crossed, eh?

That's about it for now. I'm finally tired after sleeping in until 2pm this afternoon - yes. I'm still jobless, but I've got tons of balls in the air, and hopefully one of them will get back to me with some good news. But for now, I play the waiting game.

Or rather, the sleeping game. G'night!

14 October 2007

The Kingdom Review

It's not every day that I'm stumped by a film...and the Kingdom managed to do it for all the wrong reasons. The plot was straightforward, the camera work - though shakey - was fine, the acting solid - I just simply didn't know what to make of it.

Okay, let's get plot details out the way: Terrorist detonate two bombs in a compound full of foreign oil workers in Saudi Arabia. The first to bring in the rescue teams, the second actually targeting those rescue teams. Thing is, an FBI agent is killed in that second explosion, and thus the FBI back home go into 'revenge' mode. Afraid that that's exactly what it'll be seen as, the higher-ups nix any FBI incursion into Saudi Arabia, but of course, they go ahead and risk it anyway. This puts them on the trail of Abu Hamza, a notorious bomb-maker, terrorist and generally unpleasant bloke. However, when their convoy is attacked, and another of their number kidnapped and tortured, they have to go and get him back.

The films inherent - and most obvious - problem is that it has absolutely no idea what it wants to be. It flits from being an action/drama, to being a political thriller, to a murder/mystery and then back again. The inherent problem with an ADD-suffering movie such as this is that, inevitably, that condition is transposed onto its audience. Thusly, you'll probably only be paying attention when the speakers are spitting gunshots at your ears, and thus will be confused as to just why your ears are being berated so.

Its a problem that doesn't lie with most of the composite parts. In fact, it almost certainly stems from the fact that there are two screenwriters, who appear to have totally different agendas. Most likely - though this is merely speculation on my part - Matthew Michael Carnahan scribed it as a political thriller. Then along comes Michael Mann to...well, 'action it up', so to speak. And thusly, imbue the film with the aforementioned attention disorder.

The thing is, there are some very good things about the film. First and foremost, the core performances - when you actually notice them going on - are rather good. Of particular note is Jennifer Garner. who - above the always excellent Chris Cooper and Jamie Foxx - shines as the damaged femme fatale, who's not just in it for the patriotism. Jason Bateman - king of the memorable movie bit part - actually manages to extend his acting chops to the full 110 minutes, and he's actually rather pleasant company for the duration.

Next, the action sequences - with Mauro Fiore's camera shaking like crazy, but still somehow retaining focus - are brilliantly concieved, and pulse-poundingly executed. Of particular note is the closing portion of the movie, which ditches the politics (well, I suppose FBI agents shooting muslims is political, but whatever...) completely and gets going on the balls to the walls action. It's an almost non-stop action sequence for the final 20-or-so minutes of the film, and it's edge of your seat stuff, from the initial highway shoot-out to a terrifying and brutal three-way brawl with Garner and a hog-tied Bateman on one side, and a rather large, aggresive Saudi on the other. It almost (repeat, almost) makes up for the unfocused first and second acts.

Ultimately, though, you still walk out feeling more than a tad unsatisfied. Perhaps you wanted intrigue...perhaps you wanted some kind of anti-**** (that's, The War Against Terror, by-the-by) commentary, but whatever you wanted from it, it doesn't really deliver it. Which is unfortunate, considering this film had plenty of potential to be an enjoyable autumn time-waster. See it if you've got nothing better to do, or have already seen the Bourne Ultimatum.

Ross' Rating:

Believe in a Hero

That's right, I do. James McFadden, that is.

Seriously, the guy is the biggest no-show for Everton ever. But when he pulls on that Scotland football shirt...the man is the Superman of football. There, I said it. There's mild mannered James McFadden of Everton, and he pulls on the cape and boots of Scotland...he becomes McGod of the Beautiful Game.

So yes, I went to the Scotland - Ukraine match yesterday. And I honestly have to say, it was the best game of football I've ever been to. The noise that Hampden made was...well, it was astonishing. And it's for a very important reason. Belief. Hope be damned, we don't need it any more. We need belief, and it's evident that we've got it. And the players picked up on it to; from the moment the fans belted out Flower of Scotland at the top of their voices, I knew it was going to be a special game. I did my very best to capture the noise, but you really had to be there to feel it:

The first goal came within four minutes of the last verse of the anthem, with Kenny Miller sliding home a beautifully weighted free-kick from McGod himself. Then, six minutes later, Barry Ferguson takes a quick free-kick, McFadden's there to tap it on to Lee McCulloch, who slots it past the Ukraine keeper with surgical precision! The Ukrainians hit back in the 24th minute, with Shevchenko slamming home - though I'm loathed to admit it - a wonderful cross. The game then quieted down for the remainder of the first half.

The second half was tainted by a series of poor refereeing decisions - both ways, including 3 strong penalty calls for us, and at least two of our fouls on their midfielders ignored - but in the 68th minute, magic happened. McGod finds himself in wide open space, and simply turns and drills the ball home with stunning accuracy. The crowd erupts, and the game is finished.

It really is a joy to see one of our teams performing at the very highest level, considering the lacklustre showing of the rugby team in the world cup. We've only got Georgia and Italy left now, with the former away, and the latter in Hampden. Ideally, we'll win both; but realistically, I only really want us to beat Georgia, and then draw with Italy. Then, brilliantly, we'll have knocked out either the world champions Italy, or the European champions France. Which, considering we're a country of a population of less than London, is no small feat.

Okay, that's my piss-poor sports reporting done for the week. Well, at least until wednesday, when I shall be hunting down a pub to watch the Georgia game.

I saw The Kingdom, and diligently wrote a review; and to be honest, I'm far prouder of this one than I am of the 3:10 to Yuma one. Mainly because it's the first not-that-great movie that I've seen for a while, and I got to lay into it a bit. Hope you enjoy it!

And that's it for now. If I don't get back, it means I've been crushed by a runaway semi manned by the Incredible Hulk. Either that or Tiscali have still failed to deliver my internet; though I'll leave that choice up to you!

10 October 2007

3:10 to Yuma Review

Ah, the joys of remakes. Inevitably they're either so different from the original that people will complain, or so bad that...well, people will...y'know...complain. It's rare for one to come along that is actually truly genuinely a great film standing all on its own; but 3:10 to Yuma just so happens to fit rather neatly into that category.

It starts as it means to go on - dead of night, and young William Evans (a wonderfully understated Logan Lerman) awakes to find his father's barn aflame; set upon by goons of a debt collector that the one-legged war veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale) can't possibly hope to repay. So when $1000 dollars is offered to the man who gets the infamous, but now captured outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) onto the 3:10 train from Contention to Yuma, Dan can do nothing but accept the job.

After a summer of ridiculously over-wrought, heavily contrived and non-sensical stories (a trend only recently and brilliantly broken by Bourne's latest outing), this wonderfully crafted piece of story-telling is a welcome change. The story stays simple; there're no huge twists, no gargantuan revelations. It's just a tale of two men who, despite their flaws, are able to change each other for the better. James Mangold - in a far cry from Walk the Line - has supreme clarity of vision; keeping the plot tightly focused and stampeding along at an ever-increasing pace.

So obviously, you'd imagine that the core performances would have to work, and work well. And that they do; Christian Bale is quietly intense, with all the grittiness that one might expect from a man shunned by the country he fought to protect. He's not out for the glory, he just wants to finally own the land he lives on. It's a wonderfully deep performance, with Mangold lingering on Bale's face as the world - and Ben Wade's crew - close in around him.

Crowe is, whilst equally good, almost a polar opposite. His Ben Wade is a man with no boundaries, no family and no real friends. To use the cliché, Crowe has been unleashed upon this character, and it is - quite simply - a joy to behold. From the introduction scene, which finds Wade blasting one of his comrades in the chest for the most minor of errors, to the viciously cold monolgues; this is perhaps one of Crowe's finest performances to date.

Of course, whilst the two leads are the focus, they'd not work without a backlog of fantastic support, and this arrives in droves. From Alan Tudyk's Doc Potter, to Peter Fonda's wounded and world-weary mercenary, it all comes together beautifully. Of particular note is the superb performance of 15-year-old Logan Lerman, whose William Evans is both innocent and angry, and holds his own in scenes with the both Crowe and Bale more than admirably.

Obviously, though, this is a Western. So we're going to need some action, and whilst it isn't exactly scarce, this is hardly Shoot-'Em-Up-esque. However, when they do come they are exciting and well shot; the final battle being of particular note not just for it's choreography, but also for the sheer brutality of its final moments, and the emotional oomph that it subsequently packs. Heart-pounding is an understatement, to say the very least.

All-in-all, this movie is, pure and simple, a superb addition to the Western genre. It's a true Autumn movie, not big enough for the summer months, not cheerful enough for Christmas; it's desires to be nothing more than a superb piece of understated, gritty story-telling. See it. You won't regret it.

Ross' Rating: 8

Back from the black...

Yes, it's October, and no, I haven't been living in a cave. Tiscali are proving to be rather useless in actual service delivery. Still, could be worse...

Great stuff is happening! Well, a singular event of such momentous proportion that I honestly felt the world shake. I cooked! That's right, folks; preparation of food for human consumption by means of heat. I did it, and it was awesome. Okay, so it wasn't the most complicated dish on the planet, I mean, 't'was only chilli con carne. But still, I was damn proud of it; it tasted great, and even Ryan - my flatmate - was impressed! Although time will tell as to its gut-busting probabilities; chances are I'll spend tomorrow in the john, but it was worth it, dammit!

Elsewhere - since my last post, I have finished 'Book 2' of my novel! The last chapter was highly symbolic, and I rather enjoyed writing it; not just for the fact that there was a wee bit of sex (oh yeah!), but also because incorporating that symbolism meant going back and reading bits of my novel, which - honestly - I enjoyed. So now it's on the home stretch - I've got 7 chapters fully planned out for Book 3, with the hopes of writing between 12 and 15 chapters in all. And then it shall be done, and the only obstacle remaining will be...well, getting the damn thing published. I'll have to get a job...*sigh*

Oh yes, and I was present for Scotland's rather unspectacular exit from the Rugby World Cup. The gossip: the Argentinians were constantly cheating, and getting away with it; the only real difference between the two teams was that they scored an illegitimate try - the man was offside, and thus was able to charge down a clearing kick, and some uncharacteristically poor play from Sean Lamont meant that he could touch down just to the left of the post. The score? 19-13; and we should've won. Still, all is gossip; we're out, and we actually did damn well for a team that wasn't expected to get past the group stages. So kudos to Frank Hadden and his boys, he's done us proud. Joel Jutge, on the other hand, is a tosser, pure and simple.

Saw 3:10 to Yuma. Enjoyed it. Reviewed it, although I'm not hugely proud of this particular review; I think I'm a little too positive. Still, it really was very good, and I recommend it to all (and indeed, any) of my readers!

And that's about it for now! Hopefully should have internet on thursday, and thusly I shall be postly more regularly after that!

I bid thee good eve!