25 December 2008

Woo! Guitar Hero! And Christmas!

Yes, I has it. I'm horrendously bad at it, but I have it nonetheless. Christmas is awesome! Although I'm vaguely miffed at Activision for not selling any of the instruments seperate from the game. I've got the Guitar Pack, and nowhere on the internet can you acquire the drums as a seperate entity (except maybe some of the dodgy eBay knock-offs; eBay herself has no-one auctioning them off). Annoying, it is, yes!

Also got the new Prince of Persia, but I haven't had a crack at that just yet. Got loads of DVDs, including Wall-E (which I watched again, and it's just as magical as ever), Indy IV, 24 Redemption, Wanted and Kung Fu Panda. Yes, I'm a giant child, but every single one of those made me happy. Then there's the obligatory Masses of Chocolate™, and a few silly gifts from my dear M'ma and from Fee too - including some awesome 'expanding flannels' which are so pointless yet so cool!

Currently watching the 20th Anniversary Edition of ET on TV, which is great fun. It's the first time I've seen it, and most of the changes are fantastically subtle so as not to ruin the film. I don't see what the big brouhaha is about changing the guns to walkie talkies (it hardly changes the scene at all), so all in all I'm in favour of directors remastering their previous works. I mean, look what it did for Blade Runner.

Anyways, I hope any/everyone reading this has had a Merry Christmas and has gotten loads of cool presents! I'm away to watch the rest of ET, and maybe some Guitar Hero! Have fun, ladies!

21 December 2008

Oddness

So yeah...Twilight. Wasn't honestly expected to like it. But things can constantly surprise you, I suppose. That'll be huge, I think - if only for the fact that it's pre-existing fanbase will declare it the best film ever and go see it four or five times each. But then again, that's probably the only real reason that, say, Star Wars Episode III did well...because fans were so gobsmacked that the film was actually genuinely good that they had to go see it again just to be sure.

But yeah, there was something about it that I just really enjoyed - despite the slightly corny script and the occasionally awful special effects. The story was balls, but it was all about the execution - and the execution was really rather good.

Haven't done much else film-going-wise. Still have Inkheart, The Tale of Despereaux and The Day the Earth Stood Still to see. Then, of course, there's Australia out on Boxing Day, along with the slightly less anticipated Yes Man.

Nothing going on in the world of video games - and I do mean that in the very bowels of nothingness. There's simply no big games out until at the very least January, and that's pushing the meaning of 'big game' really rather hard. I'm currently contenting myself with Halo 3 and Gears 2 - both still great - but something new and interesting after the vileness that was Mirror's Edge would be appreciated. But alas, nothing is released this holiday season.

Anyways, am absolutely knackered, so apologies if little of this makes sense. I'm probably going to hit the hay now. So...g'night!

20 December 2008

Twilight Review


There's something curiously compelling about Twilight. Be it that it's a phenomenon of Harry Potter-like proportions that no-one except its fanbase has heard of, or that it managed to sneak into the bespectacled wizard's Christmas timeslot without Warner Brothers noticing. Perhaps, even, that what has been declared an overly sugary and relatively poorly written source novel could've produced such a tolerable film.

And tolerable it is - go in expecting an insufferable tween-fest of High School Musical proportions, and you're going to be pleasantly surprised. On the flip-side of the coin, however, if you go in expecting a blooded tale of epic vampire love with the drinking and copious spilling of the claret in the vein of Interview with a Vampire, you'll probably come out disappointed. This is most certainly the silver lining of this dark cloud of a genre, but an enjoyable skirting nonetheless.

The story goes that Bella Swan has moved to the small town of Forks in Washington to live with her father. She quickly makes a lot of friends at her new school, but is curiously shunned by a group of rather pale kids known only as 'the Cullens'. In particular, she notices that the one named Edward seems to have nothing but contempt for her - that is, until he saves her from being crushed by an out-of-control van. Turns out, the Cullens are a family of vampires sworn only to hunt animal blood. Over the next few weeks, Bella ingratiates herself into Edward's life, and the two fall helplessly in love with each other. Unfortunately, there are other vampires out there, and it would seem Bella is of a particularly delicious blood-type, so Edward must protect his newfound beloved.

Not exactly the most original of concepts is it? Take Romeo and Juliet, throw in vampires and a dash of dumbing down et voilà: the story of Twilight. But that's not what makes the film interesting - it's all in the execution. Catherine Hardwicke was perhaps the only person who could've possibly taken the helm on this one - the above sentence could've been changed to 'Take Thirteen, throw in vampires and remove the drugs et voilà: the story of Twilight'. Well...almost, but the heady scent of teenage rebellion still lingers, and Harwicke capitalises on it to the full - close camera work, 'almost' moments left right and centre, all build the sexual tension in the burgeoning relationship. It all culminates in a scene where there's a real sense of release, a visible retreating of the camera and a brief wash of saturation in the colour - it's the closest we're going to get to an on-screen orgasm in a 12A, but like I said: it's all in the execution.

A lot of this is down to the very readily apparent chemistry between Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattison. Stewart is darkly pretty and pouty as Bella, totally lost in her iPod and her own thoughts, although her constantly quivering lip may come off as just pathetic after a while. But the real discovery is Pattison, sculpting a performance of a romantic, Byronic hero from the block of wood that was Cedric Diggory in the Potter films. It's a fantastic turn, and he just about carries the whole movie on Edward's pale shoulders. The support is solid, too, with all of the Cullens putting in various degrees of charismatic as the 'vegetarian' vampires. The antagonists of the piece are suitably menacing, if lacking in any true sense of threat.

But some of the best scenes - well, two of them anyway - come between Pattision and Billy Burke as Bella's father, the initial, 'formal' introduction hilarious thanks to the presence of a breach-loading shotgun. Gimmicky, maybe, but it's wonderfully played out by both actors, and if neither has drawn from real-life experiences with parents and kids respectively, I'll declare myself a Dutchman.

Unfortunately, those are the only moments when the script truly shines. There're a couple of zingers here and there ('And so the lion fell in love with the lamb.' 'What a stupid lamb.' 'What a sick, masochistic lion!'), but just as many clunkers ('you're my own personal brand of heroin'; 'I'd rather die than stay away from you!'; the latter seemingly repeated about 12 times), though whether these are from the source or the brain children of adapter Melissa Rosenberg will remain - to me, at least - a mystery. The story, too, is disjointed at best and nonexistent at worst - more time is dedicated to the burgeoning 'true love' than the actual meat of the story. It's also curiously bloodless for a vampire movie - but this may well be to secure the PG-13/12A rating to get the fanbase into the cinema, so is almost forgivable.

But on the plus side, it never grates, even with a rather hefty 122-minute running time, and that's something of an achievement, considering how insufferable teenage-orientated romance usually is. If you're in possession of the XX chromosome and under the age of 17, this is probably going to be your film of the year. For the rest of us, it's solidly entertaining fare, but perhaps that little bit too fluffy to remain in our memory for long.

18 December 2008

7 Days 'Til Christmas!

Or Winter Present Giving Day, as we're calling it in these parts.

Not much going on, really. Was quite ill yesterday, and so took the day off work - threw up a couple of times too, which was lovely. Well...not really.

Managed to shut a bunch of gamers up today when - as one of them was smack-talking so loudly and obnoxiously - I told one to 'go kill his parents'. There was an eerie silence, then one of them said 'dude, that's not cool...'. Still won the game, but think I may have garnered some negative reputation for the one. Not that I'm fussed or anything...I thought it was rather amusing. This is what it was relating to, in case you guys hadn't heard.

I might as well stick my two cents down on that issue, too. I think it's appalling that they named the game in the case - does it add or subtract to the case? No. All it is is false negative publicity for Bungie's masterwork - because everyone with their brain strapped on the right way round will know that violent video games do not make violent people. The fact that this psychopath just so happen to kill over a video-game - and not, say money, drugs or anything is - is testament merely to his residency in the 'homicidal maniac' section of the population, and not for his being a gamer, regardless of which game he plays. Hope the kid rots in hell for basically handing the likes of Jack Johnson ammunition for their arguments, too.

But that's about all that's on my mind at the moment. Haven't seen anything since Changeling, so no reviews as of yet. Am trying to cook up one for Mirror's Edge, but it seems that I can't quite contain my hatred of that game...but I'll try.

That's it for now. Ciao!

14 December 2008

Changeling Review


Every so often, along comes a film that's so mesmerisingly powerful that any flaws that may or may not be present are immediately dismissible in favour of the overwhelming nature of the whole. Changeling is one of those movies - despite flaws that do occasionally rear their rather ugly heads, this is most certainly among the best films of the decade, if not longer than that. Interestingly, plenty of these types of films have been being produced by one man - Clint Eastwood.

Set during the 1920's and 30's in Los Angeles, Changeling charts the story of Christine Collins, who returns home to find that her son, Walter, has been kidnapped. After reporting the incident to the corrupt LAPD, 5 months pass with no news. Then suddenly, in a flurry of 'positive' press, a boy the LAPD claim is Walter is returned to Christine. Problem is, she's certain the boy isn't her son, and trying to convince the police of this fact proves more difficult than it should be.

It's a powerful, assured piece, masterfully directed by Eastwood. But equal kudos, too, go to his production design team, their immaculate recreation of early-20th century LA complimenting and enhancing the veteran director/actor's direction. To call it simplistic would be something of an insult, but there is a real simplicity the piece - he's not striving for deeper meaning with his visuals, because, since this is a true story, meaning can simply be derived from the script. The direction, instead, goes for a 'this is how it happened' approach, and Eastwood pulls it off magnificently.

There are several stand-out scenes, and to go over them in detail would be to spoil the film, but suffice to say that Eastwood successfully tugs - and occasionally full-on yanks - at your heart-strings. Leaving un-moved from this film is not an option. One execution scene in particular is the most disturbing and saddening since The Green Mile, the harrowing screams of the accused echoing around my skull for quite a while.

But perhaps most brilliantly, Eastwood coaxes out a performance from Angelina Jolie so fully-formed, so mesmerising, that Jolie herself seems slightly surprised by her newfound acting ability, her fawn-eyed portrayal of Christine occasionally bordering on annoying and perhaps too worthy, but never quite stepping into those realms. What it does do, however, is prove that Mrs Jolie-Pitt is far more than just a pretty face - she has the acting chops to hold her own in a Clint Eastwood movie.

But the wonderful thing is that she doesn't sideline any of the other players in the piece. John Malkovich is terrific as the preacher Gustav Briegleb, at first coming across as just another religious nut trying to forge a path to fame on the radio, but slowly evolving the character into the moral centre of the piece. Where the LAPD fails, he succeeds, and it's in part down to his faith, but also down in spades to the monumental foul-up on behalf of police.

Three other performances instantly come to mind - Jeffery Donovan as JJ Jones, all malicious spite and mistrust as he unloads his flawed logic on the helpless Christine; Colm Feore as the malevolent Chief of Police James E Davis, the fault of whom it is that the police has so delved into corruption; and finally Jason Butler Harner as the deranged Gordon Northcott, all shifty eyes and lip-licking madness.

The one thing wrong with the movie, however, is that it is perhaps a little bit too bloated. It has more endings that Return of the King - one so convincing that I was halfway out of my seat before I realised that there was still more coming - and it's very aware of the fact that it's Oscar-baiting fare. But honestly, it's forgivable given the artistry on display here.

At the end of the day, this is one of the very best movies to come out this year. It's fantastically written - a surprise, given the writer's strike - masterfully directed and features several stand-out peformances, some of which come from completely unexpected sources. Just make sure you bring a cushion.

4 December 2008

Body of Lies Review

There's been talk here and there on the Inter-super-highway-thing that Ridley Scott is something of an over-rated director - a director who is all style and no substance, and who struck critical gold with two fantastic scripts back in the late 70s/early 80s and has ridden the horse named Lucky since. There's good points on both sides of that particular little spat, but the problem with Body of Lies, unfortunately, is that Scott has succesfully managed to fuel neither side of the argument.

There's quite a lot going on in the movie, and in all honesty, the plot isn't particularly new or interesting. In fact, 'formulaic' would probably best describe it. This isn't exactly testing scribe William Monahan's abilities, but it's solid for what it is. Basically, Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a field agent working in the Middle East, specifically: Jordan. Under the watchful eye of his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe), he uncovers information about a major terrorist player named Al-Saleem, and eventually devises a plan that will bring Al-Saleem out into the open. Unfortunately, the plan itself skirts far too close to terrorism in and of itself, and Ferris' ties to his superiors, his Jordanian allies, and even a woman are tested to the extreme.

Despite being one of Crowe's best roles to date - his Ed Hoffman all cocky swagger, bold claims and fast talk - you can't help but feel that Crowe's presence is wholly unneeded at the script level. Do we really need to see him at home, taking his kids to school, telling his Missus that he's 'saving civilization'? It'd've perhaps been far more effective to have him as a faceless voice on the end of a phone, cropping up only sporadically, thus completely disconnecting Ferris from his homeland. It'd also make one scene where Ed turns up unexpectedly slightly more effective than it remains in the final cut.

The necessary fantastic performances are two-fold - first up is DiCaprio, topping his fantastic turn in The Departed. Perhaps the only nit that one might be able to pick is the fact that this is more or less the same character, merely evolved somewhat. But regardless, it shows DiCaprio's continued maturity as an actor, and one can expect nothing but great things from the man in the years to come. The other - perhaps surprisingly so - is Mark Strong as Jordanian intelligence chief Hani Salaam, his a dry, vigorous wit and an deceptively easy smile. Between this and Rocknrolla, it would seem Strong is on his way up the B-list and possibly even into the A before long.

The problem is that this is most certainly Ridley Scott in his 'director for hire' cap, instead of the one proudly branded 'auteur', clearly more focused on making a slick and good-looking final product instead of applying any cinematic heft to it. It's got some fantastic action sequences in it - an infiltration followed by an arresting car chase gets the adrenaline pumping - and whilst they are relatively thin on the ground, the film never feels boring or slow. It never, however, deems to address the war on terror in anything other than a factual way. There are no real conjectures, no hypotheses put forward, just a straightforward 'this is what happens' approach, and seeing as we've been regaled as of late with everything from TV documentaries to the likes of Lions for Lambs regarding the fracas in the middle east, it's nothing we don't know.

The real ace in Scott's Body of Lies deck, however, is towards the end of the film. I won't give away the details of how it precipitates, but you'll have to brace yourself for one of the most visceral and intense torture sequences in recent memory. Better than anything the torture porn genre has offered up...well...ever, this sequence literally had me wincing in my seat. Perhaps it's a cue for Scott to segue his way into the Saw franchise? Perhaps not.

At the end of the day, this is not Scott's most daring or challenging work. It does seem to rely too much on Scott's flashy direction and great central performances - no matter how unneccesary - to give it the crutches it needs to elevate itself from run-of-the-mill spy-flick. But elevate it they do, and this turns into a solid piece of winter entertainment - a thriller that genuinely thrills, and has enough good about it that the bog-standard stuff can be dusted off the shoulders of Sir Ridley's polo shirt.

1 December 2008

Sweet Zombie Computer!

Alternative Title Post: IT'S ALIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!!!

But yeah, my computer's back after the hard-drive decided to shit itself and die...which was fun. Thankfully I'm backed up for the most part, but have sent the old one to specialists to see if I can get the majority of my documents back.

So there we go. That was fun, no?

25 November 2008

Max Payne Review


It's a movie adapted from a video game.

...

...

Oh, you're still here? Right. Well, allow me to qualify. Max Payne is yet another in a long, long, long line of ridiculously disappointing game adaptations - but more so, considering the strength of the game that this one is based on. A film based on a game that borrowed heavily from the likes of John Woo and - the at-the-time new and fresh - The Matrix, it unfortunately suffers greatly from the facsimile effect - losing one hell of a lot of clarity in transmission.

On paper, it should've worked...

Director with at least decent action credentials and a tendency to treat 'adaptations' with the utmost care? Check - see the solidly entertaining Behind Enemy Lines and the remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix for what I mean.

Actor who vaguely fit the role? Check.

Segue of Mona Sax into the story? Check and...eh...another random check.

But unfortunately, nothing fits together particularly well. There are individual bits that work well, but it is infinitely inferior to the sum of its parts, and its part don't exactly add up to much.

For starters - and for once - the story makes the transition to the big screen almost intact. It goes that Max Payne is a cop who has his whole family murdered by junkies - high and almost invulnerable after consuming a drug called Valkyr - and he's out for revenge on those responsible. After the case dead ends, his partner happens upon a coincidental piece of evidence that ties a seemingly random murder to that of Max's wife, and that sets him on the trail of the Aesir corporation - a large, morally suspect pharmaceutical company. The story is solid and constantly promises to be interesting, but first-time scribe Beau Thorne simply can't capitalise on it properly.

But beyond that neo-noir aesthetic and some rather scathing zingers - both almost certainly thanks to the game's creative director Sam Lake's involvement - there's absolutely nothing to commend the script for. Most of the exposition is under-cooked, and complacency seems to have struck the character development ("His family got killed. Do we really need to develop him more?"). But not only is there absolutely no development of Payne throughout the movie, he genuinely comes across as completely empty, but in the bad way. There is one moment where he is actually properly characterised - a flashback sequence before his wife was murdered - but there's no link between that Max and the Max we have to endure for the majority of the film. The shoe-horning in of Mona as a more significant character is also half-arsed, and the addition of a sister character to try to make us invest emotionally in her is simply useless.

What's more, there's a total dearth of action, and considering that the game was heavily action-orientated, and it was touted as an action-thriller, this is something of a sucker punch that you can't really recover from. What's more, it doesn't even manage to work on a balls-out-action level, seeing as we're force-fed Thorne's half-baked exposition for a good hour before we get to see any action.

The really aggravating thing is that when the action does spill out, it's fantastic. Moore has a great eye for visuals - from an awesome tracking shot of a man seemingly committing suicide, only to be revealed to be him being dragged out by a Valkyrie (or perhaps vice versa), to a fantastically shot roof-top showdown, he really does quite a lot with such sparse opportunity. You get the feeling that had this been put in safer scripting hands, Moore could've done a lot more with it.

It's even more of a shame that - shoddy characterisation aside - Mark Wahlberg does actual throw in a decent portrayal of Payne, chewing his way through his lines with suitable grit and determination. Mila Kunis is surprisingly good as Mona Sax - she manages to pull of sexily dangerous, despite her pixie-like construction - and Beau Bridges, though pathetically cast in a the role of someone called 'B.B', pulls of his character with a decent amount of conviction.

In closing, Max Payne the Movie is very much a child of the writer's strike, because in the hands of a more capable writer – perhaps even if Sam Lake himself had taken over entirely - this may well have gone down a treat. As it stands, clumsy exposition and under-cooked characters, along with a total relative lack of satisfying violence make for a something that doesn’t even register on a guilty pleasure level. But importantly, it isn’t a step backwards for video-game adaps; it’s just disappointing that it so closely flirted with being a forward one.

24 November 2008

Hurray for [insert object here]!!!

Soooo...long time no update, huh? That's because honestly there hasn't been much going on. Well, I say that, but actually it's a lie. A sorry, pitiful attempt to find an excuse for being lazy. Which I am. Very much so. I'm not wearing trousers at the moment, I'm so lazy. But onward!

Played and finished Dead Space, and that was ridiculously disappointing. Considering how technically impressive it is - gorgeous graphics; responsive, intuitive controls; brilliant 'HUD' system - it's a massive let down how utterly average the game turns out to be. It's survival horror that is almost never scary, with a story so mired in cliche that even a 4-year-old could point at two or three movies that it rips off. Throw in an unbeatable baddy which you have to fight three times, along with a total lack of emotional stock in the character you play - he never speaks, he never tires...he might as well be robot for all I cared about him - and you end up with a game that is brilliant on paper, but boring and tedious in execution. Worth a rental if you're dying to play it or a fan of survival horrors, but not worthy of a permanent place in your collection - as it seems strangely insistent on, what with issuing massive 'replayability rewards' for completing it the first time. Hopefully a proper review will precipitate, but honestly I think I've said all I can say about it.

Finished Gears 2 on Insane, which brought with it an awesome sense of achievement. Big shout out to Ali B for ploughing through it with me on co-op! Now that's definitely not a game to be sniffed at, and if you own an Xbox, are over 18 and haven't bought it yet...what the hell is wrong with you? Seriously, go buy it. Single player is absolutely awesome, and the multiplayer - especially Horde mode - is great to play with friends.

Lots of movies out this week, and I haven't managed to get around to see any of them. Max Payne was the last thing I saw, and hopefully I'll be able to write a review of that shortly. But I'm definitely looking forward to several things this week - Body of Lies, Waltz with Bashir and Choke. I'm also strangely attracted to My Best Friend's Girl...make of that what you will, but I've sat in on it for a good five minutes, and it seems a slightly more refined comedy than the trailer lets on, so I might well go have a gander at that before the week is up. Have also seen parts of Waltz with Bashir, and that looks absolutely beautiful - it's getting loads of great reviews, so hopefully I'll be seeing that tomorrow!

Got Fallout 3 coming in the post, along with a whole succesion of movies that LoveFilm has allowed me access to. Most interestingly is a mini-series callled Tin Man, which looks totally weird and surreal and brilliant, but we shall have to see. Also found that they rent All Dogs Go to Heaven, and that swiftly got stuck on my list. I remember loving that film when I was little, and I want too see if it stands the test of time.

That's about it, really. Life trundles on, with or without me. How's that for some folksy wisdom?

20 November 2008

Zack and Miri Make a Porno Review


Kevin Smith has done Zack and Miri before. Not in the sense that he's made a film about two people desperate for cash making porn, but he has tried to make a feel-good comedy like this before. But as a fairly bad omen for Zack and Miri, Jersey Girl was a horrendous, disgustingly soppy affair, with almost nothing to redeem it. Fortunately, whilst this latest entry into his canon does retain some of the sentimentality, it also decides 'fuck the schmaltz' and throws in a healthy dollop of Smith's trademark filthy banter. And even though this isn't up there with the heights of Dogma or Clerks 2, it does have a foul-mouthed charm that's hard to deny.

Once again, the true star of the show is Smith's terrifically funny script. He's never been the flashiest of directors, and nowhere is it more evident than it is here - beyond the wonderfully grainy and deliberately slightly shoddy 'home video' moments, there's nothing of note to write home about. What does shine, however, is his cast's delivery of his script.

The role of Zack was written specifically for Seth Rogen, and it certainly fits him like a glove. There's simply no way that he could've been anything other than Rogen's trademarked tubby-but-loveable-loser, and Rogen is truly outstanding - as he is wont to be as of late. There's something remarkable about the man, because anyone who can say 'let's make a porno!' and actually manage to make it sound like a good plan deserves quite a few kudos. Zack comes - excuse the pun - off as a genuinely nice guy...in a Smith-ianly crude kind of way.

Elizabeth Banks is less strong in the role of Miri - the same wit is present, but only half the zest in the delivery. Perhaps she's better suited to the satire of W or the trademark comedy of Scrubs, but either way she isn't the best of fits here. She's not bad - there're simply better actresses for the role. But elsewhere there's some top notch performances going on. Craig Robinson is superb as the emmasculated producer Delaney, his trash talk subdued yet incredibly funny, and Jeff Anderson seems to be growing under Smith's direction, putting in what could be classed as a genuinely decent performance - as opposed to the stand-up-with-extra-people-in-it that was Clerks and Clerks 2. He actually feels like a character instead of just Jeff Anderson.

But it just has to be said again - the real spark is in the script, and whilst it does descend a little too far into the sentimentality barrel towards the end, there's more than enough hilarity ensuing - from the banter between Zack and Miri to the crude yet oh-so-funny set piece involving the other kind of sex - that you can actually forgive it this time, instead of Jersey Girl's leaving a sour taste in your mouth.

Truth be told, the only real way to judge a comedy movie is to count how many times you laugh out loud. That count'd be about 15 for me. Essential for any Smith fans, and perhaps as good a segue as you'll get for any newcomers. It's not Clerks 2, but then again...what is?

12 November 2008

The actual 100th post...

Seems I may have been a bit pre-emptive before. This is my 100th published post - the last '100th' post was all of my posts including written but not published ones. But they have been purged, and now my centenary emerges. Huzzah!

Sooo! Three movie reviews in pretty rapid succession! Not bad, though I do say so myself. Oh, and to explain the brand spanking new rating system....

Absolutely unmissable. Anyone can go into this movie and enjoy - at least, in my opinion they can.

Won't appeal to all tastes, but for the most part people will come out of this smiling. Excellent if not a masterpiece.

Has pretty broad appeal, but will almost certainly split audiences. Like Marmite, some will love it, others will hate it.

For fans only, be it of the director, genre, actor, screenwriter etc.; only the hardcore followers will get something out of this.

Abysmal. Even fans will be hard-pressed to enjoy this, not even on a guilty-pleasure level. Avoid like the plague.

That's pretty much it - so basically it's a recommendation factor instead of a rating of the movies 'quality', and it does have to be used in conjunction with reading the review...

Been playing Gears of War 2. Single-player was/is excellent, and am trying to get to grips with the multiplayer. Seems there's still a few issues to be ironed out when it comes to Xbox Live matchmaking, but playing Horde with mates is a huge amount of fun. Will hopefully post a review in the next couple of days.

That's about it...still plugging away, it would seem. You all have a good week out there!

10 November 2008

Pride and Glory Review

There is a phrase that more or less sums up Pride and Glory: "The box is my home - it was made for a reason, wasn't it?". Yes it was - it was put in place so you could poke at its boundaries, not stay firmly within its confines. Well, apparently Gavin O'Connor never heard of this 'boundary pushing' thing, and so he's very happy in his Cube, thank-you very much. But then again, we're not looking for a genre to be redefined - we're looking for some entertainment; and the unfortunate thing is that O'Connor's film works in small bursts scattered throughout its running time.

Pride and Glory is a so-called 'family-orientated' cop thriller, centring around the lives of brothers Ray and Francis Tierney (Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich respectively), as well as their brother-in-law Jimmy Egan (Colin Farrell). After a grisly shootout which involves the deaths of four NYPD officers, Ray is assigned to the investigation - and it transpires that Jimmy is somehow involved, becoming a dirty cop right under Francis' nose. Eventually, both Ray and Francis will have to choose between their loyalties - the NYPD, or family.

So at first glance, it does seem like it ticks all the boxes, doesn't it? But therein lies the problem. A bad movie can occasionally be commended for at least trying something new and interesting; but Pride and Glory is conversely condemned for taking absolutely no risks in its little niche. Which is a shame, because - ignoring the arse-numbingly unnecessary 155-minute running time - there's actually very little that's genuinely wrong with it.

Performance-wise, it could well be considered absolutely stellar. Ed Norton is on his best form since Fight Club with the terminally damaged Ray Tierney, the brother caught up in the whole thing and truly at his wits end; his transition from mere investigator to emotional participant is both convincing and moving. The not-top-billed Noah Emmerich is on fine form too - you might remember his performance as the "best friend" in The Truman Show, and this is yet another understated yet pitch perfect portrayal. Francis is a broken man - torn between paying attention to his precinct's officers and tending to his dying wife. There's an absolutely incredible moment of raw emotion from the man that is both unsettling and fascinating, but to go further is to spoil the plot. Colin Farrell - with a not-deserving-of-top-billing role - still puts in a decent performance, his Jimmy all heart and only cursory amounts of brains.

Whether or not these performances are down to the director or the quality of the actors playing them is a good question; but I'd put my money on the latter. There really is very little flair elsewhere, with O'Connor content to let the story drawl itself out - almost like it's being told by an elderly relative. There are some flashes of brilliance - a scene involving Farrell, an iron and a baby is a terrifying prospect; a one-man raid by Norton on a 6-storey-building is gratifyingly tense - but it's simply not concentrated enough to convince. But again, there's nothing bad about it...it's simply average. Perhaps O'Connor would've benefited from a superior editing department, because there is potential for there to be a decent film in here somewhere. But this 155-minute, flabby cut isn't it.

At the end of the day, Pride and Glory is quite a tricky film to review. It doesn't really have anything that should get you running from your houses and into the nearest cinema, but - on the flipside of the coin - I can honestly see no reason why you should avoid it like a particularly large, plague-infested rat. Try it...there's the off chance you might enjoy it.

7 November 2008

Eagle Eye Review

In an era of action movie-making dominated by the Bournes, reimagined Bonds and gritty, realistic superhero movies a lá Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it's something of a breath of fresh air when a film like Eagle Eye charges through like a clown with an AK-47 loaded with blanks - thrilling and entertaining, but ultimately forgettable except maybe as an aside in a pub conversation. Yes, I just likened a film to armed circus entertainment. Sue me.

The thing is that it's apparent from the get go that director DJ Caruso knows his movie is ridiculous, knows it to the roots of the trees the script was written on. But he knows he can do two things with it - first, blow a whole bunch of shit up with nary a backward glance, and second make some interesting characters that we care about enough to worry that they might be blown up with nary a backward glance - and these two things he pulls of admirably.

You've probably seen the trailers - it's one of those genuinely good ad campaigns that gives away the premise of the film, but doesn't actually give that much of the plot away. Is it cyber-terrorism? Is it an AI stalker? Is it just some nerds dicking about? Doesn't matter - what does matter is that Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBoeuf) has been 'activated', and now he's on the run from the FBI. Along the way he meets Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan), and the two have to work together to figure out what the hell is going on. In hot pursuit is Agent Thomas Morgan (Billy Bob Thornton), who's completely perplexed by the goings on, and unconvinced that they're doing it alone.

Sounds silly, and it is - but as I said, Caruso realises this from the get go and instead of focusing on his story, he instead propels the picture along at rocket-powered pace, barely stopping for air as the plot twists - each one more monumentally ridiculous than the last - rear their heads. The plot is a harking back to the days where story was peripheral to explosions, and it manages this beautifully, albeit with a slight techno-terrorism edge that – aside from having a white guy in office as of the 29th of January 2009 - more or less brings it bang up to date.

Caruso, it would seem, has a fantastic eye for action, and some of the set-pieces – preposterous though they may be – are excellently put together, with – bar one – a very physical edge to them.

Where it does fall down is where it does indeed stop for air, with a good half hour of the film’s hefty 118 minutes spent doing entirely peripheral exposition on characters outside of the main three. Exposition on Jerry, Rachel and Morgan is all well and good, but do we really need Rosario Dawson’s Agent Perez? Or Michael Chiklis’ under-fire Secretary of Defence? The answer is ‘no, not really’. Were it a trim 88 minutes, it would’ve been a superior film. As it stands, there’s still some flab that needed to be tightened out.

Which is a shame, because both Dawson – gorgeous as she is – and Chiklis are very fine actors, wasted in roles that needn’t be there for the film to work, and their performances seem to reflect this: the both of them phoning their performances is and holding their hands out for their paycheques.

On the flipside of that coin is LaBoeuf. The boy is trying his hardest, and whilst you can hardly credit him with a brilliant, nuanced performance – well, he’s better than the average bit of cardboard that populates most action movies. LaBoeuf has a genuinely likable quality to him, his presence giving some zest and anima to what could’ve otherwise been an all-too-dull picture. But perhaps the best thing is that Caruso never lets Jerry become a true action hero, his ‘action’ always being helped along by the primary antagonist. It’s a clever play on the usual riff off the ‘average Joe becomes gun-toting madman through deus ex machina’, because here there really is a God – or something – coming out of machines to help Jerry.

The remainder of the core trio seem to be having fun too – Billy Bob Thornton getting some of the choice lines and delivering them with his usual sly grin that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. Michelle Monaghan seems confident enough, but her performance has depth that the film is almost unworthy of, and it’s testament to the quality of the actress that this is the case.

It’s just such a shame that there’s a huge fall down on the story, with a highly unsatisfactory ending that does – for the third and final act – transcend into the realms of the surreal. To say that someone takes several bullets to the chest and lives is…well, it gives it away somewhat, and how the whole thing is tied together requires a real leap in logic that quite frankly I wasn’t prepared to accept. Then there’s the plane chase in the tunnel. Don’t ask.

But for what it is – a summer-type action thriller blockbuster – Eagle Eye is pretty good. Competently performed and stage, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you’re willing to switch your brain off, but this is certainly no masterpiece. Like my aforementioned clown, you’ll probably only bring it up when you’re drunk.

2 November 2008

100th Post!

Hurray! My centenary! Fun, huh? One hundred posts of utter madness. Madness is good. I like madness.

Wait...what was I talking about?

So yeah...Quantum of Solace not as good as you might hope. It's fine, y'know, and if it were an independant Bond movie then it'd work fine - the problem is that it does actually properly ride in on the train of Casino Royale. Not to say it's bad, right - just not as good as it could've been.

Finished Fable 2, and that had a rather underwhelming climax to it. New and interesting ways to beat bosses aside from smack smack, dodge dodge are good...but this was just ridiculous. In a movie, it'd've been fair enough - but in a game, I'd quite like a challenge please. Still, the overall experience was great, and the vast number of improvements they made over the first one are absolutely stuaggering. I went - as I usually do - the good guy, so next play through I'll get to be the bad girl. Plus there are three endings, so a third play through may well be in order. It was also great to see the likes of Stephen Fry and Zoe Wanamaker making voice appearances, oh yes it was.

Went back to the CoD5 beta, and it seems they've patched it. It's no better or worse, mind - they've just fixed a couple of the map glitches as far as I can tell. So Halo got loaded back up and I've been letting some carnage ensue. My current source of new games is LoveFilm, as it seems I'm gonna be a bit strapped for cash until the end of November, which is bloody annoying. And all because the cinema pay in bi-weekly sets, so I have to wait up to two weeks to get my pay for one bleeding week. I mean, I know that the net gain is the same, but getting paid weekly simply works better for me. Anyways, this way means that I spend an awfully long time in the red when I could just zip up to the black. C'est la vie, I suppose.

The great thing is that when December does roll around, I'll have two jobs, and then on my birthday in January, I get bumped up to the proper minimum wage - instead of the shitty, middle-bracket one that I'm in at the moment. £5.75 here I come!

Writing has, annoyingly, ground to a halt. No idea why, but this image sums me up nicely...

And that's about it, really. Lots of musings, little in the way of interesting stuff. Latas.

30 October 2008

Quantum of Solace Review

Is it unfair to judge a Bond film on the title music? Because if so, then I could well deliver a very harsh judgement upon Quantum of Solace. But I like to think I'm marginally more 'professional' than that, and despite the fact that it makes a poor impression of itself with the ridiculously overwrought title sequence - coupled with that music, of all things - it does at least attempt to redeem itself.

The story is a direct continuation of Casino Royale - Bond's got Mr White, the man he kneecapped at the end of the previous movie, in the trunk of his car and he manages to get him somewhere where he can be interrogated. The information discovered sets Bond on the trail of the mysterious organisation Quantum and the enigmatic Dominic Greene. Along the way, he joins forces with Camille, a mysterious and beautiful woman who's more than her first impressions might give away.

The story connection isn't the only thing from Casino Royale that this latest Bond movie takes advantage of - it also rides in on an absolutely incredible wave of hype thanks to Casino Royale's enormously successful reboot of the venerable franchise. But the problem is, no matter where you lay the blame - QoS not being good enough, CR being far too good - the fact of the matter is that after the high of Casino, Quantum simply fails to deliver...enough.

In all honesty, the problem is the director. Marc Forster simply isn't an action director, and if it isn't obvious in Quantum of Solace, then it's not obvious at all. Where most action movies have maybe a 60% 'hit rate' - that 'wow that was awesome' factor - QoS scores maybe 33%, with only 3 out of the many action beats bringing real satisfaction. The first, the pulse-pounding opening car chase, is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of vehicular carnage. It's not up there with the greatest car chases of all time, but judged on its own merits, it comes out shining. A rooftop chase through Siena, Italy was pretty difficult to screw up, and the supposed balletic climax that the trailer implied is neatly and enjoyably tossed out the window in favour of a far more amusing and interesting finish. Finally, there's a boat chase which, whilst borrowing heavily from the likes of Face/Off and Indiana Jones, still comes out the other end better for it.

Then there are the other, slightly less engaging ones, and this is where it becomes clear that Forster was riding his luck, and barely got away with it. One in particular is bizarrely intercut with a performance of Tosca for seemingly no reason. If there's dramatic significance to it, it's completely lost on me but even if it weren't, it distracts from what could otherwise be a wonderfully choreographed piece of action, and at the end of the day, that's what Bond movies are - action movies. The finale, too, is simply too pacily edited to keep up with what's going on - taking a page from the Peter Berg school of climax film-making by trying to stitch two entirely separate pieces of action together in one scene. Instead of making us care about both, it instead means that there's absolutely no focus, and thus when we should be caring about one, we’re instead wondering what’s going on in the other part.

It's particularly unfortunate that elsewhere, Forster's direction genuinely shines - because the drama portions are wonderfully staged. Daniel Craig delivers another broody and layered performance for Bond, wonderfully evolving the character to keep up with the progression of the story. Olga Kurylenko completely undermines her terrible performance in the abomination that was the Hitman movie adaptation to bring a tough and genuinely likeable Bond girl that is far more than just a pair of legs in a Little Black Dress. Judi Dench throws in a decent, albeit underused, performance as M, with the woman looking genuinely hard-pressed to deal with the political fallout that Bond's roguish actions produce.

Forster weaves all of the characters and the story together wonderful, and although it does suffer from ‘middle child’ trilogy, seeing as the producers announced plans to release Bond movies in connected triplets, the story is reasonably satisfying.This makes the bum notes in the action sequences all the more disappointing. Had he allowed someone competent in their own right to take charge of the second unit - as Danny Boyle did for 28 Weeks Later - then perhaps better action sequences could've been produced. As it stands, they're troughs in what could've otherwise been a really rather great movie.

At the end of the day, there's still enough here to like that you can't instantly dismiss Quantum of Solace, and if Casino Royale weren't the great film that it is, then this may well have made a better impression on me. However, as the franchise stands at the moment, the very first true Bond sequel adheres to the oft broken rule of sequels - the second one is always inferior.

Ross' Rating: 6/10

28 October 2008

Video Games Galore!

Plenty of video game stuff is dragged along with this post.

First off, there's The Force Unleashed. See my review for what I thought of that.

Next, Fable II - that's absolutely brilliant. I haven't finished it yet, so a review ain't appropriate - but so far, I'm really enjoying it. It's not too easy, nor too difficult. The story is vaguely interesting, but what's special is the huge amount of peripheral depth - with the most interesting thing being that they've separated the question from the gold-earning, which serves to get you stuck into the extra stuff. You can buy up real estate and businesses, do various medieval-esque jobs, and a whole host of other stuff that is actually pretty entertaining - and the genius thing is that most of the people I know have spent more time doing the peripheral stuff than they have pursuing the main story quest.

Firearms are a welcome addition, and Lionhead have added some amazingly entertaining animations to go with them that really suit the Fable universe. So definitely a recommendation from me there.

Far Cry 2 is the other game that I've tried as of late, and in all honesty, I was a little unimpressed. Contrary to the major criticism - that the getting between missions is boring and tedious - I actually think that the shooting gameplay is fundamentally flawed. Ten assault rifle rounds to kill a guy? Why is that? Haven't we moved on from the arcadey shooters of yesteryear? Haven't games like Call of Duty and such shown that gamers take to realism like fat kids to cakes? It's incredibly annoying, and considering how scarce ammo is, you'd think it'd go hand-in-hand with realism, but apparently not. Good things, though, were the propogating fire and the typically strong AI, as well as the free-roaming African setting. Haven't played enough of it to give an opinion of the story,but what I've done so far is pretty good fun. Might try nd get back into it after Fable II...

Job's going well - it's reasonably hard work, but it's also good fun, and I've managed to see the majority of Saw V. It's pretty poor, truth be told - nowhere near the heights of I and II, content to pad out the gaps in the story of III and IV instead of doing anything new and interesting with the franchise. No idea who's fault it is, but whatever...I won't be paying to see it.

That's about it. Latas.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Review


The Force Unleashed is a very perplexing game. There's so much that it has going for it, and yet at the same time there's a lot that - from any other developer - would be considered heinously bad game design. But seeing as it's LucasArts...apparently they can get away with it. Still, they've managed to produce a decently entertaining game that, whilst rife with problems, still has a thoroughly enjoyable core set of gameplay elements.

As you probably know, The Force Unleashed is a 3rd person action game that puts emphasis on hugely over-the-top Force powers being blasted about. It uses a couple of revolutionary technologies, and its story finally fills in the gap between Episode III and IV, which has been so closely guarded by all the creators of Star Wars.

The story itself is actually pretty good. It goes that you step into the shoes of Darth Vader's secret apprentice, who Vader abducted as a young child and trained to help him fight the Emperor. It's a bit of a startling revelation, in truth, but it fits surprisingly well into the Star Wars canon. What's more, it's highly cinematic, with some fantastic cutscenes (both standard and interactive) that are at the very least equal to anything that the prequel movies churned out, if not better. There's a huge amount of imagination being thrown at the CGI entries into the Star Wars saga at the moment, and the Force Unleashed is no different. The only problem with it is that it suffers the current generation trend of short and sweet stories, but don't hold that against it.

What's more, there isn't a single bad performance from the 'cast', from Battlestar Galactica's Sam Witwer in the lead role to the voices of the supporting roles, everyone throws in at the very least a decent performance, and this helps draw you in deeply to the story and connect with the characters, giving emotional gravitas to the final, chaotic battle which ends in a rather unexpected manner.

The core gameplay mechanic is, of course, the lightsaber battling and the Force abilities. They're all linked together with the combo system, and you can put together some ferocious combinations of lightsaber blows and Force lightning, push and grip. Later on you acquire the ability to chuck your lightsaber at opponents, as well as an ability that propels all the enemies around you away. When pitted against wave upon wave of basic enemies, this system allows you to plough through them with relative ease and - importantly - is an enormous amount of fun.

However, it falls down when the game tries to up the challenge, pitting you against tougher enemies that simply feel odd. In an attempt to counter-act this tidal wave of Force energy, the designers decided to give a lot of enemies the ability to survive many, many, many lightsaber strokes - and this goes against the whole mantra of the Apprentice being 'unleashed', as having to pound at a 'Stormtrooper Commander' for four or five lightsaber strokes when you should be able to take him down with a single one is just frustrating. There are so many other ways of making enemies more challenging, and yet LucasArts still made the decision to make them tougher where they really shouldn't have. A good half of the boss battles, too, feel unnecessarily difficult, especially towards the end of the game - with the games final couple being exercises in luck and trial-and-error rather than skill.

It also fails to expand the game outside the combat - the platforming elements feel tacked on and half-arsed, with a lot of them being badly laid out and poorly pointed towards. One particular moment - where you must take down a Star Destroyer using only the Force - is wrestled from iconic and pulse-pounding into a frustrating exercise in just trying to get through it without dying, simply with the addition of wave upon wave of TIE fighters coming after you and interrupting your attempts. Realistic? Sure. Fun and iconic? Not any more.

The level design, despite being absolutely gorgeous, is yet another black spot. It simply lacks the required logic to funnel you towards the next fight, and you'll find yourself backtracking and going in circles quite a lot. Which is a huge shame, because the level of detail involved is absolutely incredible, and had there been more thought put into the actual layout, it could've been one of the most beautiful games ever produced.

The new technologies are also hugely underused. Euphoria - the new AI tech that imbues character models with nervous systems and human-like reactions - feels completely peripheral. On my play-through, I only encountered a handful of moments where the Euphoria really shone through. The enemies simply don't have much chance to use their new-found abilities before the Apprentice cuts a swathe through them and they're dead. DMM - Digital Molecular Modelling for those who don't know - is also sorely in need of better use. Lightsabering through walls would've been nice, but as it stands there's very little in the way of destructible environments, and whilst the effects that are there are incredibly impressive, there's simply not enough of it included in the game for the amount of brouhaha that LucasArts made of it.

At the end of the day, The Force Unleashed is a trade-off game - you should go into it expecting both pulse-pounding action, and frustrating banality in equal measures. It's just about pushed into 'worth it' by the incredible and cinematic story. There's a lot to like about it, but the crap that you have to wade through to get to it prevents the game from achieving greatness.

Ross' Rating: 65%

17 October 2008

Call of Duty: World at War Beta Impressions

It's alright.

Really, that's all I've got to say about it. Getting a beta key was suspiciously easy, but I dived in and...it's alright. Okay, I should probably elaborate, shouldn't I?

In terms of gameplay, it handles in almost exactly the same manner as CoD4. But that's a big 'almost' I just stuck in there - a lot of it has been dialled back, for some reason. The sprinting feels weird now - the camera bob has been changed a little bit and it just feels off. Also, even though it's only in the beta stage, the footsteps are completely out of sync with the camera bobbing, and that seems like something rather fundamental to get wrong, even in a beta. To wit, the footsteps go 'clippyclipclippyclippyclipclap' where they should go 'clip clap clip clap clip clap'. It's rather disconcerting, to say the least.

The next thing to have changed is the melee attack - in CoD4 it felt visceral, there was a real lunge to it, and it just gave you a real sense of satisfaction when you knifed someone in the back. Not so in CoD5, the knife attack feels weak and pathetic, and has the most puny sound effect to accompany it that is too loud and at the same time not visceral enough. The lunge, too, has been done away with for a more standard, non-dynamic stab. It's just...unrewarding.

One thing that Treyarch did carry over from CoD4 is the weapon upgrade system, and the huge number of weapons available for unlocking. Unfortunately, none of the weapon upgrades feel appropriate - are we honestly expected to believe that ye average battlefield soldier in World War 2 were running around with 'aperture sights' strapped to their Thompson SMGs? Or indeed, a suppressor? Treyarch have maintained their run of being seemingly unable to understand how firearms work, particularly WW2 ones - see the pulling back of the slide of the M1911 in CoD3 every time the damn thing was pulled out. A system akin to Medal of Honor: Airborne's would've been far superior - that had realistic Thompson upgrades that eventually turned it into the 'traditional' Tommy Gun, and similar 'battlefield upgrades' for all the other weapons too. It was a decent system in an otherwise mediocre game, and yet CoD5 would've done well to take some cues from it. As it stands, it tries to copy and paste CoD4's system into a World War 2 setting, and it - in my opinion - just feels misplaced. Oh, and the pistols in the game have been made pathetically useless. No idea how they managed that.

The graphics seem to have taken a turn for the worse too, but then again that could well be downgrading it for beta purposes, so I'll hold my tongue on that until the actual release. There're also a couple of map glitches that are already being exploited (people 'hiding' under the terrain map and being able to shoot up, but remaining completely invisible to everyone to name one), but again, those'll be sorted in the release.

Okay, enough about ranting about the bad. Good things - the level design is good. Very good. Excellent, in fact. Nicely balanced levels, and they counter having CTF in non-symmetrical maps by having the teams switch side at 'half-time'. It slows the flow, sure, but also ensures no-one can say 'oh I hate this end of the map'. A fine idea.

The wide variety of weapons is welcome too - in the beta alone there's 10 weapons, and previews of about 25-odd that will be unlockable later. Allied and Axis weapons are available, with everything from the M1 Garand to the mental Russian PPSH make an appearance. Throwing aside the silly upgrades, they handle realistically - and, after CoD4, feel distinctly under-powered for obvious reasons - and have great sound design.

The 'War' gametype makes its return after being excluding from CoD4, and it's well implemented - it plays similar to the Warfare gametype in Unreal Tournament 3, in that there are capture points, but only one can be captured at any given point. There's a line of them, and you can either push forward or be pushed back along the line. First team to control all of the line wins. Damn good fun.

Also, the replacement for the Helicopter kill-streak reward is both genius and rather silly - dogs. It kinda makes sense, but in all honesty it doesn't feel nearly as lethal as the helicopter, seeing as you can just murder the dogs as they come at you, and they need two pounces to kill you. It'd be better if there was just one pounce and a quick-time event to save yourself before death. Oh yeah, they did that in CoD4.

That's about it, really. Does this count as a review? May as well tag it as such.

14 October 2008

Is it can be waffle time?

No, I couldn't think of a clever title for this post. Let's just get over that hump and move on.

I have a job! At a cinema! Hurray!! Dead chuffed about that - the interview was nerve-wracking to the extreme, and they asked the rather 'ARGH!!!' question of 'Why do you think you'd be good to work here?'. I reckon that's a really unfair question to ask for a job interview - surely it's up to the interviewer to decide that, instead of me telling them why? I kinda flapped my jaw without saying anything for a couple of seconds, then I just came up with something about my having relevant expeience and loving films. Think I mumbled...

But it doesn't seem to have made a difference! Hurray! I start on Saturday, and it's free cinema for the duration of my tenure! Which is fucking wicked, I tell thee. I mean, I was always happy to pay to go the cinema, all it did was limited how often I could go. Now, I have no limit, which kicks ass. So hopefully you guys - the two or three of you who regular check this place, anyways - can expect lots more movie reviews. Which is good!

Not much else happened on the movie front beside the movement towards the cinema - haven't been for a while, and I've been bogged down in watching Sex and the City (not my choice - apparently if Fee's going to watch Firefly, I have to watch SatC). It's not nearly as unbearable as I thought it would be - it's very well written, and the guys in it are really relatable, even if they aren't explained as well as the female characters (it's very much portrayed from a lady's perspective). I'm still never going to be convinced that the movie was necessary - I saw the final two episodes, and it ended without any plot strings hanging - but I suppose for completion's sake I'll have to watch it. So that's a good few hours of my life to while away. But then! It's onto Firefly, which'll hopefully kickstart some inspiration in my brain for my book!

Speaking of my book, I finally finished another chapter - which is fantastic news, as this was one of those transition chapters where you do have to fill in the gaps, but nothing really happens. I'm honestly find those the trickiest to write - I wish I could think of nifty little 'filler' chapters akin to the similar concept in TV series that have a self-contained little happening, but I honestly can never think of one appropriately brisk and relevant to the story. Hopefully on my 're-write' stint I can segue a few of those in. Still, my next chapter is very much a story chapter, so I shall hopefully be able to forge forward with that.

LoveFilm is slowly filling out the fringes of my film knowledge - I've got Saw IV to watch, along with The Orphanage to see if I'll still feel the same way the second time around (review's in the sidebar if you want to have a look). Also watched An Evening with Kevin Smith, which was excellent - and AEwKS2: Evening Harder is on it's way soon. Genius of a title, that.

Well, that's about it for today. Jeez, this post has a lot of tags. Apparently I'm very tangental today. Yay.

7 October 2008

Random Thoughts

Not much going on really - still can't afford to go to the cinema, so no new new movies have been seen. I have watched a couple of not-quite-so-new movies...

First up is Starship Troopers 3: Marauder...and it was...okay. I've seen the first and second ones - first good, second attrocious - and the third one more than makes up for the crimes of the second without actually being that good. It's solid sci-fi entertainment, but it doesn't reach the rather brilliantly over-the-topness of the original. What it does do is bring back the satirical overtones that the first one had and the second one ditched. The first - I think, but film analysis isn't exactly my strong point - satirises the kind of extreme patriotism found in the BNP and the so-called 'redneck' states in the US, and the concept of using propoganda as a tool to infuse said patriotism into its people during a time of war.

The third is slightly more on the nose, methinks...but it's there. Basically, it says 'nationalisation of religion is bad'. And that's it. Not exactly the brainiest of satires - and nowhere near as amusing as the original's - but at least it's present. Anyways, Starship Troopers 3 gets a solid 5 from me - entertaining dross and ultimately forgetable.

I also watched In Bruges - technically for the second time, but this time I actually paid attention and it had decent sound quality (yes, I may have downloaded it after I missed it in cinemas). It's an absolutely fabulous movie - full of black comedy, slightly over the top violence and some genuinely gorgeous camera work. The three core performances are brilliant too, with Colin Farrell shining as the hitman with the mortally wounded soul. Definitely an 8/10, maybe even a 9/10. Glad I bought it, really!

Still waiting on the cinema job - the lady who does the hiring had last week off, so hopefully I'll hear back from her within the next few days. Got another interview for working at a club as either a doorman or a ticket hander-outer.

That's about it...so...yeah. Latas!

30 September 2008

Righteous Kill Review

Righteous Kill is quite disappointing. Scratch that, it’s very disappointing. Billed as the second coming (together) of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro after Heat, it’s tagline reads ‘Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun’. But you’d be a fool to respect this water-pistol of a movie.

The story – such as there is one amid this disjointed mess that Russell Gerwitz has the gall to call a ‘script’ – goes that a man claiming his name is David Fisk (Robert De Niro), a.k.a ‘Turk’, is admitting to murdering 14 criminals who the justice system has let off easy. He’s recording his admission for whatever reason, and then it cues flashbacks to all the murders and the subsequent investigations into them, as well as the original indictments of the criminals that he and his partner – known only as ‘Rooster’ (Al Pacino) – have worked hard to construct. All isn’t as it seems, however, and when two tenacious detectives (Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo) cotton onto the fact that one of their own is offing these criminals, things start to go wrong.

As I pointed out, the first fall down is the script. It is, simply put, boring. There’s nothing to it – no interesting characters, poorly written dialogue and a ridiculously predictable twist. Considering this comes from the man who brought us Inside Man – a nuanced, perfectly weighted bank heist movie – the shoddiness of the script comes as something of a shock. Perhaps with Inside Man it was a great filmmaker making something special out of a relatively mediocre script; and turns out, Jon Avnet is no Spike Lee.

Indeed, Avnet couldn’t direct himself out of a cardboard box even if he tried. There is simply no order to the movie, no discipline in the structuring of it. It’s far, far, far too long, and the problem with twist movies that are far too long is that the chances of the audience guessing your twist are directly proportional to the length of your film. Handled delicately, this twist – though poorly conceived – could’ve actually been quite surprising, but as it stands, you can see it coming for a good half-an-hour before the director deems fit to reveal it to us, and that makes the reveal rather tedious.

Avnet, too, is responsible for the below par editing – I’m not usually a stickler for continuity errors, but here they’re so glaringly obvious that they simply can’t be ignored. editor should’ve been sacked for putting the film together in such an appallingly sloppy manner. That it’s Paul Hirsch, the man who edited Star Wars Episodes IV and V, comes as something of a shock.

But perhaps the biggest farce in all of this is that Robert De Niro was attracted to the script at all, and more annoying that he roped Al Pacino into the mix. De Niro simply seems to be coasting on the fact that he’s considered one of the greatest actors of our time, and if he keeps going on at this rate, he’ll have that title swiftly removed. His performance is stiff at best, and completely immobile at worst – there’s nothing going on in his characters head, and even his attempts to make the character brashly charismatic fall flat because he seems utterly unable to do anything with such a poorly developed role. It would seem to me that he’s an actor circling the drain – but all he needs is a rescue line in the form of a great director and a great script to give him one last hurrah.

Faring slightly better is Al Pacino, at least bringing some anima and zest to the otherwise one-dimensional, fawn-eyed Rooster. He also manages to develop some pleasing chemistry with Wahlberg and Leguizamo, the three wisecracking to each-other in perhaps the movies sole redeeming sequence – a stake-out where they try to catch Turk in the supposed act of his fourteenth murder. The latter two themselves do well, displaying an easy camaraderie that could seemingly only come from years working together. Elsewhere, the gorgeous Carla Gugino struggles with a character completely peripheral to the main story – ‘t’would seem she’s this film’s wonderbra bearer and little more. And good ol' Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson once agains proves that he should stick to talking over music in rhyming couplets - that's rapping for the layman - because acting is clearly not his forte.

But the film’s final – and fatal – mistake is to try to homage the final sequences of Heat. To explain myself fully would be to spoil the story for those of you still interested in going to see it, but suffice to say that instead of being an homage, it’s offensively derivative, to the point where I honestly considered storming out of the cinema. This is not the promised second coming – instead we are presented with a turgid, poorly paced police thriller with no surprises other than the indictment of a once great actor’s recent poor form. Avoid, unless you want to leave the theatre with a rather foul taste in your mouth.

Ross' Rating: 4/10

29 September 2008

Hooray!

Cinema tonight! Yay! Going to see Righteous Kill, and a review will almost certainly be posted either tonight or tomorrow, depending on how much I need it to stew in my brain. So look out for that, ladies!

Oooh, oooh! I also have gotten back into a major creative groove, and Raider's is now trotting along rather nicely. Which is brilliant, to say the least.

Anyballyhoo...latas!

26 September 2008

Ah the fresh country air...

Well, here I am in the country - with Sky+ HD and everything. Missing Fee slightly too much, but there you go.

My Dad's ridiculously ill - he was in Brazil last week and he managed to catch some kind of exotic strain of the common cold, so he's got absolutely no immunity to it. Chances are I'll catch it, but in the short term it means that our trip down to Manchester for Man Utd v Bolton may well have been nixed before it even began, which kinda sucks. I mean, I'm not hugely keen on the whole driving 4 hours to see 90 minutes of entertainment - but it's something I can do with my Dad, and supporting Man Utd is getting proportionately more interesting as I progressively get older.

Can't afford to go to the cinema for a while, which sucks the big one. I'd really like to see Tropic Thunder - it's been getting decent reviews all over, which is encouraging. Nowt much else on except Appaloosa, but that's only on in Gold Class at my local cinema, which is even more bleedin' expensive than going to the cinema normally. It's almost worth it, mind - lovely seats, your own side-table and air-conditioning in every screen. But it's only really for when I really want to see a film that I'll concede to going to see Gold Class stylee.

Saw Outpost - which was reasonably good. If you can set aside the complete lack of internal logic, it's actually quite enjoyable. It's got nothing on Neil Marshall's debut two works - Dog Soldiers and The Descent for the uninitiated - but it's decently shot and has a few genuinely tense moments. Ray Stevenson, too, is definitely proving that he's got the action and acting chops to pull off Frank Castle in the new Punisher movie. I mean, I like Tom Jane in the first one, but that whole film just lacked a certain spark that could've made it really good.

So that's it really...still looking for a job, which also sucks the big one. So I should probably go do that...

Latas!

19 September 2008

Home once again!

Sooo - that's us back from our trip. Bus journey back up was a significant improvement on the one down - I actually endeavoured to get up ever so often and stretch my back, which helped a lot. And now I'm sitting on my good old bed once again, watching 'That Gay Shepherd Movie' (also known as Brokeback Mountain - beautiful film, oh yes indeed), and wishing I was still down south. I know it sounds kind of pathetic, but whenever I visit my mum, it just reminds me of when I didn't have all these ridiculous 'real world' things to deal with. Job, bills, all that crap - not more than a year ago, I had none of those things to worry about...now...guh, it's still sinking in, shall we say. But I do be coping...I think...

Nowt much to be done at the moment - had a tearful reuinion with my Xbox, got a few games of Call of Duty in. That was good fun. Fee managed to get a job more or less as she walked back through the door - which made me bitter and gleeful in equal measures. Need a job - that's gone on the list of 'things to do'. Fee says she can get me a part-time gime Front of Housing the place she's now working at, but in all honesty, I'm still hoping for work at the cinema!

Speaking of cinema, no huge plans as of yet - might try and go see Pineapple Express at some point over the next week. Although it's getting decidedly under-whelming feedback from lots of places - so I am lowering my expectations appropriately. Hopefully I'll still find a way to enjoy it! Couple more releases that I'd quite like to see - Tropic Thunder and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - but that's about 3 out of 15 releases at the moment. Lots of cack out at the moment, it would seem. Then again, The Dark Knight's still on release, and RocknRolla was okay...so I suppose it's jumping the gun a bit to say that there's only cack out at the moment. But Disaster Movie is on release as well as something called Wild Child...yikes.

That's about it for now. Need sleep...or maybe a drink. Anyways, latas.

16 September 2008

Rocknrolla Review

There have been a lot of comebacks in the last year. Batman has suddenly – and rather inexplicably in the case of some fads – become ridiculously cool once again; Rambo proved that even if you gun down 236 Burmese militia, you can’t win the hearts of critics; and Indy showed that he still had a few cracks of the whip left in him. Is this Guy Ritchie joining the Caped Cruscader in the pantheon of great comebacks? Or is this the final straw after Swept Away and Revolver? Well, the answer is neither.

So what, exactly, is it? Yes, I can hear you from here. Well, it’s a step back, but he hasn’t crossed the finish line. Yet. It shows flashes of the brilliance that made Lock, Stock… and Snatch so very entertaining – multilayered story; sharp, blackly comic dialogue; interesting, well developed characters – and yet somehow isn’t nearly as good as them.

It cocks it up on two counts. First, the story – whilst indeed multilayered and interchanging – isn’t half as tight as it should be. There’re a couple of completely redundant story threads that could easily have been amalgamated into the others – I won’t give them away here, as they are pivotal in the story, but they should’ve been incorporated into the other threads, instead of having their own dedicated ones. It also suffers from the so-called ‘flabby opening’ syndrome; featuring none of the drive and focus that decorated his first two films, instead choosing to be rather broad and rather schizophrenic in which story threads it shows us and when.

The second is that fact that Ritchie is still sat under the delusion that allowed Revolver to start bubbling in his mental cauldron. It’s the delusion that he’s an arty film-maker – and whilst it’s starting to wear off, thanks to the lambasting that Revolver got, ‘t’would seem that a few dregs of it still held fast during the conception of Rocknrolla. It seems to aspire to a higher sense of purpose, that it means something, what with the musings on life, the universe and everything rolling from his characters lips. The only one that holds true is a particularly well written speech from the titular Rocknrolla, Johnny Quid, about the juxtapositional nature of a cigarette box, then comparing it to his present predicament. It’s the only piece of pretension that actually works, and it just goes to show that, in measured amounts, pretentiousness shouldn’t be a bad thing.

This isn’t, however, to say that the movie is unwatchable. Every character is well fleshed out, and performed competently at the very least. The only stand-out is Toby Kebbell’s Johnny Quid – Kebbell putting in a fiercely intelligent performance of a wise-cracking, emotional cripple that really is something of a proverbial diamond in the rough. The rest of the characters – whilst well written in and of themselves – are given precious little to do in the grand scheme of things, their minor antics all contributing to the over-arching plot, but seeming to lack any drive and purpose beyond ‘because it needs to be in the film’. There's a lot of potential here, but it's simply not capitalised on.

But, at about 45-minutes in, something magical happens - the focus suddenly kicks in, and the story tightens up. If ‘it’s about bloody time’ doesn’t roll across your thoughts, you probably weren’t paying attention. What follows is – to tentatively use the term – vintage Richie. All mockney quips, black comedy and ingenious plot turns. It’s also where some of the action kicks in, including an absolutely brilliant sequence involving One-Two (Gerard Butler doing his thang) Handsome Bob (Tom Hardy understating to the max) and Mumbles (Idris Elba) out-running some Russian mafiosos in a pulse-pounding sequence which involves some fantastic action and a huge dollop of Ritchie’s trademark humour that is particularly pleasing.

Ultimately, however, the movie neatly sums itself up just before the credits roll, claiming ‘Archie, Johnny and the Wild Bunch will be back in The Real RocknRolla'. If this isn’t a frank admission that Ritchie could’ve done better with such a rich cast playing such interesting characters, then I don’t know what is. So if Guy Ritchie himself admits it…well, it must be true. I’n’it?

Ross’ Rating: 6/10

13 September 2008

A quick pointer...

Just so you guys know, I've gone all Francis Ford Copolla on my review of Hellboy 2 and reduxed it - I just read it and knew I could do better...check out the changes if you dare!

Am still down south - will do a proper update tomorrow after a certain birthday party has happened!

8 September 2008

Brighton and Beyond!

Well, the trip down south is going well. Fee's met the parents (all three of them - mum, dad and step-mum), as well as my step-grandparents and my sister, and finally my step-brother and his ladyfriend. That was entertaining, to say the least. Went to Brighton on Saturday, that was good fun - despite the fact that it chucked it down with rain for the majority of the stay.

Although, of all the things we saw, the oddest was a dead bird bang in the middle of one of the Lanes. Not the fact that there was a dead bird per se; but that there was, right next to it, a tiny, neatly place origami crane. Grim practical joke? Someone paying homage? Or perhaps student art project? We'll never know. But here it is (be warned, it's pretty grim...click for a better look). Apparently it's grimly artistic, but I dunno...

But hey, new news! Lots of great films coming out in the next two or so months. I'm sure you're about as knowledgeable of these as I am, but I'll cite them anyways...because...y'know...it's fun.

Body of Lies is a new film with Leo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, with Ridley Scott in the directors chair. Has the potential to devolve into a generic, sweaty pot-boiler - but with Scott and Crowe thrown into the mix, could be absolutely incredible. Good old Russell is proving more and more diverse as time goes along, so I await with baited breath to see if I'm right.

Next up, we're into Western territory, with Appaloosa. I'm really quite excited about that - Westerns are my favourite genre of movie outside of fantasy and sci-fi (hence why I liked Firefly so much, I assume), and this one looks to be shaping up to be fantastic. Viggo Mortensen's in there, and Ed Harris is both directing and starring, so it'll be interesting to see if Harris has got the directing chops to go with his almost invariably fantastic performances.

Slightly more controversially, in the 'looking forward to' camp, is the Max Payne movie. I'm honestly of the opinion that it could well be the very first truly good video game adaptation. Mark Wahlberg, whilst not an instant fit, could well fill the angst-ridden shoes of Max, and whilst I was ridiculously sceptical at having Mila Kunis as Mona, from the trailer it looks like she's slotted perfectly into that particular wonderbra. But still, I do have to remain undecided about it - although with a rumoured $40 million at the director's disposal, along with decidedly brilliant source material, I've gone for optimistically undecided. And hopefully it'll inspire Remedy to get off their arses and get going on Max Payne 3 - if only to say 'no, this is how it's done, you cunts'.

There's others, but those're the major three that I care about. Seems Saw is getting a 5th outing - hurray for torture porn - and Frank Miller is directing a comic book movie: The Spirit. I'm not honestly enthused about either - the Spirit seems to me to be ridiculously weak source material, and from the trailer it looks completely over-directed. As for Saw...well, I think enough is enough - but Twisted Pictures clearly don't share my views.

Wow, that was a movies vent and a half, wasn't it? Next time I might even talk about Spore - which I bought on Friday. But I think I do need to play it for a while longer before commenting on it - but so far, so good.

That's it for now, ladies and gents. Hope you all had a great weekend. Ciao!!