25 September 2009

Woo - and indeed - hoo.

I has my internets back! Yay!

Saw that some cunts decided to troll my blog. Glad to see that the only attention I can gather is from some idiot bored in their living room. But some of us, right, have Analytics, right? And, well, some of us can tell exactly how long each visitor stayed on each page. Guess what? No visitors on the day of those comments actually stayed long enough to read the review! Hurray! Next time, arse-monkeys, try actually reading it before calling it shit. Not that I care that you think it's shit, but at least read it first, yeah?

Anyways, onto happier things. The new flat is marvelous - a little bigger than the old one, although there's less storage space overall, I fear. Especially considering my computer is currently perched more-or-less on a windowsill. But it's not exactly unstable, and the windows don't leak, which is a bonus. It's got gas, importantly, and it's in a really nice part of town, which is good. More or less the same part of town as the old one, really...but yeah, it's a good'un!

Played and completed Halo 3: ODST, and it was rather incredibly good. A very natural extension of Halo 3, and the various changes to the gameplay due to your being in an ODST's shoes and not a Spartan's are interesting, and more importantly, they're much, much tighter than Halo 3. The vehicle controls in particular have been very much improved. There're a few curious ommissions (no Xbox Live Matchmaking for Firefight? No Battle Rifle?), but overall it's yet another fantastic addition to the Halo canon, and very much a good sign that Bungie's creative reservoir has not yet been entirely tapped.

There's a big furore about the fact that it's very similar to Halo 3 in gameplay...and considering it began life as an expansion pack, I don't understand the need. Plus, being an ODST does feel different to being a Spartan - not being able to jump as high is taking some getting used to, as is having your face filled with grunt arse instead of just stepping over it, seeing as the camera now sits lower. Can't throw grenades as far either. But what do I know, eh? I've only played and enjoyed every single iteration of the Halo franchise...

That's about it really. Have a good one, people!

21 September 2009

District 9 Review

Back in 2005, you may or may not know that an attempt was made to greenlight a movie based on the video-game Halo. Peter Jackson signed on to produce the project, with Alex Garland initially taking reins on the script for its first draft, with subsequent drafts and polishes handed in by DB Weiss and Josh Olsen. Finally, and somewhat riskily, Jackson went with a young South African director – with Halo to be his feature-length debut – named Neill Blomkamp. The decision to hire him was based on a 6-minute short film that Blomkamp directed called Alive in Joburg. All set to go, they were missing one crucial component – money. Jackson had some, but to fund something on the scale of the Halo movie would require American studio backing – and that proved far too elusive. So they’re sitting there, all the elements of a sci-fi movie in place, except for the massive budget. The only logical thing to do, really, is...well, make a sci-fi movie. So goes the genesis of District 9.

Based on the aforementioned short film – search YouTube for it, you’ll find it - the plot revolves around a fictional alien landing that occurred in 1982 over the city of Johannesburg at the height of the apartheid government’s power. Neither an invasion force nor a first contact emissary, they seem to share more in common with worker ants than anything else, and these particular aliens had no queen to guide them. So they were herded into the area just below their ship – designated District 9 - in an effort to keep them separated from the population at large whilst they figured out what to do with them. But inevitably, crime and corruption filters into D9 and this – coupled with the ever-increasing number of prawns roaming D9’s streets, and their tendency to tear human heads from their respective spines – spurs the government to hire a large, private military contractor called Multinational United to move the aliens from District 9 to the newly founded District 10. Which just so happens to be little more than a concentration camp, 240 kilometres away from the nearest population centre. At the forefront of the effort is Wikus van de Merwe (to pronounce, replace W’s with V’s) an MNU employee charged with serving eviction noties to the aliens. When Wikus accidentally tangles with one of the smarter, more active prawns, he’s catapulted to the front of the wrong side of a violent neo-apartheid.

Sounds high concept, and it is. But the first thing that’ll strike is how – like all good sci-fi – it is incredibly relevant. Not just on the surface either, with the direct comparisons between South Africa’s own White/Black apartheid, but also as a commentary on racism to as a far back as the Holocaust. Van de Merwe is us, on the front line of it all, at first an antagonistic, sadistic and ignorant character, cackling with glee as prawn eggs ‘pop like popcorn’ after being bathed with a flamethrower. But despite shady and selfish motives, he eventually ends up switching sides, fighting side by side with aliens as he witnessess the poverty and corruption inflicted on District 9 by both MNU and the Nigerian Gangs who control it. To go alongside the apartheid allegory, there’s also a moral tale to be told, about the evils of allowing corporations to act like their word is law, especially when all they’re out for is a profit.

Of course, if the message of a film is sound – and Distrcit 9’s surely is – you can still toss it all away in the execution. But despite this being his debut feature, Blomkamp delivers to us a supremely assured film. A combination of both mockumentary and more cinematic footage, he charges it with a relentless pace both raises the heart-rate and glosses over the small but significant number of plot holes that gape in the script. He's also got a terricically dark sense of humour that is weaved into the film beautifully - from characters quipping about crapping themselves, to the gloriously over-the-top ways that the aliens' weapons dispatch foes, you'll frequently find yourself with a rather wide grin on your face,.

And it's all complemented by flawless special effects, Blomkamp evokes a gorgeously gritty and bleak image of Ghetto-ised Johannesburg – all filthy piles of rubbish and roughly built shacks, juxtaposed against the multi-national corporate HQ’s filling the skyline behind it. The aliens, whilst not the most believable effect you’ll ever see, are still intricately detailed and – more importantly – seamlessly integrated, both with the kinetic camera work and with the actors. Their expressive faces, as well as the performance capture technique, allow for a huge amount of empathy to be generated with them, and the sympathetic treatment of one alien in particular rivals the emotional oomph of any film you care to mention and then some.

Other details stand out too – the sound design, from the guttural clicks of the aliens’ native tongue to the pounding of machine guns, it’s all intensely believable, and whilst sound might not seem like the most important thing in a image-based medium, here it makes the film come alive. In every scene, you hear everything – chitinous exoskeleton scraping together, footsteps dragging through sand, robotic powered armour tumbling to the ground – and it all sounds magnificent.

The design of the alien weaponry and equipment is another stand-out, with the background behind the aliens and their technology not only being ingeniously conceived, but alos beautifully realised, with their organic/mechanical hybrid technology having a really squishy feel to it.

Kudos are also due to the actors – all relatively unknown South Africans down to the last man – who deal with both the weighty message and the relative whimsy of battling using alien weaponry rather admirably. Sharlto Copley does a great job with Wikus, despite the tablua rasa nature of the character. It is through his eyes that we witness what happens, and he does exactly what any of us would do in such a manner that it transcends the South African setting and simply becomes real for the 112 minutes that you’ll be in his company. David James is magnificently menacing as Kobus Venter, continuing the trend of villains with upside-down faces (that’s beards and shaved heads for those not keeping up) and throwing in a healthy dollop of sadism, just to keep it interesting. Those’re the only two performances you’ll notice­, however the rest of the cast also do a great job of keeping the film grounded firmly in reality, from Vanessa Heywood as Wikus’ panicking wife to Louis Menaar as his over-bearing, MNU-running father-in-law.

If there is one complaint that can be levelled at District 9 – and there really is only one once you’ve gotten your head around the plot holes that will inevitably flood back to you after the credits roll – is that occasionally, and particularly during the first 25 minutes, there is no clear line between the mockumentary footage and the cinematic. Out of nowhere, a character in the scene will start talking to the cameraman. In others you’ll wonder why no-one seems to give two hoots about him. This may seem like a strange criticism given what I’ve said so far – but it’s akin to falling asleep whilst watching the news, and waking up half-way through Independence Day. Disorientating is the word of choice.

But it turns out that I’m not one to be fazed by one solitary, minor quibble that only really occurred to me after I watched the film. This is a proper slice of sci-fi – pulse-poundingly exciting, politically charged, and frequently, darkly funny, this is a cut above the rest of this summer’s cinematic entertainment. Blomkamp’s debut is so close to a masterpiece you can taste it – here’s to the difficult second album.

1 September 2009

Take heart, brothers. It draws to a close.

So! As promised, an update! It's a big one, I warn you...

First up on the big list of stuff to see was Rhod Gilbert, and for those of you who aren't familiar, he's a rather funny ranting Welshman who's made a swathe of succesful Fringe shows over the last few years, as well as being a radio DJ and a frequent participant in the many panel shows that grace the UK's screens. So, y'know, expectations were high, given that this was an extra show thrown on due to high demand, and that every single one his shows sold every single one of their tickets.

His show was absolute magic, with him not losing my attention for a single moment. From rants about some of the more mental of his fans, to the inception of his show, it's all seamless integrated with banter with the audience and some inventive mimes. He practically bounds from one side of the stage to the other, and only ever breaks pace once when the fighter jets for the Tatoo fly overhead. A superlative comedy performance indeed.

Next up was an extra show of The Mark Watson Edit which, on the surface at least, claims to be an amalgamation of the best parts of his previous three fringe shows. This too was an additional show to those previously scheduled, and though the ticket was £14, it was well worth it. Completely against what was advertised, Watson instead decides to just talk for an hour, engaging with the audience to such a such a degree that we're able to stage a practical joke on one of our fellow viewers - a girl named Banana, of all things - whereby he pretends to tell a climatic story ending with 'but at the end of the day, it turned out the kangoroo wasn't really there!'. It's marred somewhat by a man in the audience passing out, but he didn't break a sweat, doing his very best to keep the audience calm as there're worries of heart attacks being thrown around. A good show with a slightly disappointing ending - you can do worse.

Had to cool off for a few days after that - Mark Watson was on Tuesday, and we didn't go see anything until the Saturday the 29th. That was Brendon Burns, and by god did he kill. A regularly scheduled show called 'Comedy Good Yeah Silly Side Cunt' was certainly one of the highlights of the festival, with him musing on everything from racism to the nature of advertising. Of course, it was in his own foul-mouthed, earthy manner, but each to their own. A highlight was his note on racist chavs who complain that immigrants are taking all their jobs. His retort? 'If there are jobs that I'm stealing off you, you need to raise your game, you fucking spastic'. Genius.

Russell Kane was on Sunday, and by Steve, he was hilarious. An absolute riot, his comedy a combination of high-brow observation and low-brow delivery. He's tackling big issues - his major theme this year is the 'dressages' that we put ourselves through out of habit, from the ritual of greeting eachother to the methods of Essex girls pulling in clubs, it's all covered here, and I can genuinely see why he's so competitive for the if.comedy award - the man is fiercely intelligent, and yet is over-looked every year despite sell-out shows and rave reviews.

On Monday, I went to see Bec Hill in If You Read This My Cape Fell Off. Bec's a relatively good festival friend of mine, and I kinda really only went along because I did feel obliged to see it since she was a friend! But I was geniunely surprised at just how good it was. She's brilliant on-stage, infusing everything with a boundless, optimistic energy that is almost immediately infectious. Her show revolves around wanting to be a super-hero even though we're meant to have grown out of it. She gives us a few basic steps, and expends around each one with a relevant and usually hilarious story that fills out the background to her decided what the step was. Type her name into YouTube to get a vibe of her humour - it's geniuenly brilliant.

Then, yesterday, there was my last day at the Fringe. This involved finishing work at 5pm and then heading over to Gilded Balloon to go see Sirqus Alfons' Eurotrash, which was absolutely mental. Google it, seriously. It's a mind-fuck of physical comedy, musical comedy and multimedia performance, and is more or less critic-proof. After that, a 'mind-reader' called Phillip Escoffey, which was interesting, but once we had dissected it together, we had all more or less figured out that all of it was staged.

The final flourish, though, was the Last Late 'n' Live. That was absolutely magic - despite the fact that Tom Stade got boo-ed off the stage, Adam Hills, Axis of Awesome and Sirqus Alfons. A brilliant end to a relatively sedate festival for me - last year I was out and about all day getting very little sleep and drinking perhaps a smidge too much. This year, a grand total of 3 nights out were had, two of which sucked ass royally. But anyways, I can hardly complain - got to see some excellent comedy over the course of the month, and got a few funky little videos out of it. I do apologise for not doing a fourth and final 'Walk Down the Mile', but the place was just so crowded that it just became a mass of backs and noise.

Will do an update of non-festival related stuff later - depends on whether I actually get Batman: Arkham Asylum or not. We shall see!

Until then, adieu!