25 December 2008

Woo! Guitar Hero! And Christmas!

Whaddya think? 
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

Whaddya think? 
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

Whaddya think? 

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 voilĂ : 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 voilĂ : 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!

Whaddya think? 
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

Whaddya think? 

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

Whaddya think? 
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!

Whaddya think? 
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?