Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Case for Tronnage

My first 3D movie at the Embassy (still the greatest cinema in the Universe that I have visited) was the sequel to the 1980s techno-dud movie Tron. The house of mouse decided, evidently many years later, that the concept of the original film was deserving of another outing, especially in this electronically enlightened age where computer generated imagery and an improved third dimension in film can add so much more.

Hence, Tron: Legacy. Visually, this film is amazing, with the outfits, the light cycles and blocky ships from the original updated with noughties sensibilities. Jeff Bridges (as Kevin Flynn) is digitised and his "youthful" doubles are either great (in that they look "young") or crap (in that they look fake) depending on your point of view - and I am definitely in the latter camp, though even I have to admit that, besides the face, the movements are captured pretty well. The 3D really kicks the visuals up a notch, coming into play when the film enters the cyber realm, though by the end of the film the 3D receptors in my brain had kind of "switched off" so I wasn't really aware that it was on (or not) at all.

Story wise.... Let's not mince words: it's rubbish. Rubbing salt into that gaping wound: it's slow. When the action bits get underway, no matter how ponderous they might be (and there are a few "let's take this slow to show the wow factor" scenes), they are at least impressive. However, while the visuals may be three dimensional, the characters can barely scrape up one. Sam Flynn, son of Kevin and this movie's "gamer", spends most of the first quarter of the film talking to himself (and there are no Hamlet-like profundities that come out, it has to be said). When he finally meets Kevin, in one of those Scrubs like moments, the internal monologue gets passed between them and its up to Kevin to say anything of interest, not that he really does.

I was lulled into a false sense of promise early on when the normally excellent Cillian Murphy showed up at an ENCOM board meeting, and I began to think that there might be a "real world" side story. But these hopes were not fulfilled and the whole scene was just wasted. Michael Sheen shows up at some point too, and while he can be a great actor, he was set to "annoying" this time around and I was wishing for his electronic execution within 30 seconds of his apparition. And Bruce Boxleitner, as the original movie's hero Alan Bradley, also comes back and is also "youthfully rendered", though the use of his youngified self is nowhere near as jarring, as it is used discretely and mercifully sparingly.

But back to the main film... nah, there's not much point. I can't say that the film is unsatisfying, mainly as at the end of the 2 and a bit hour running time, my senses were so deadened by the lack of emotion or interest in the storyline or the soundtrack that I barely felt anything at all.

But the 3D was pretty cool - and the Embassy cinema is always awesome.

Verdict: Tron: Legacy builds on top of what its predecessor achieved, but in 2 dimensional space, you don't really notice anything going "upwards", so it's all a bit of wasted effort really. Conceptually cool, it is like watching a screensaver at a techno dance club. But not even the pot wafting around the place I had dinner was able to make the experience a real trip. 3 light cycles out of 10.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Case for Wrapping Things Up 2010

Apart from one movie Judgement, this will be my final Blogspot for 2010.

Strange to think that yet another year has gone by, and already some of the events that defined 2010 seem, to my mind, to be ancient history. There were earthquakes, oil spills, Paul Henry, mining accidents with endings both happy and sad, visitations and departures. Closer to home, there were passings, new arrivals and multiple bumps signifying arrivals yet to come. Some things are under constant change while some other things always seem to be until they are no longer.

However, for the nation of New Zealand, 2010 was just a prelude in some ways, as 2011 will - if the hype is to be believed - define us as the Rugby nation. Rexona, Addidas, Powerade, Air New Zealand and a whole host of other international mega-corporations are trading on the Kiwi-ness and patriotic pride of the upcoming tournament to flog their wares, knowing how there is a lot of national pride riding on the boys in black and a second, home soil Rugby World Cup victory.

I have commented (and judged of course) the inanity of the build up and the tie ins, but then, on the odd occasions when I set down my gavel, removed my robes and left the Judge's bench and head out fro
m the cyberverse into what passes for reality, I realise that I am definitely in the minority with these critical views.

Rugby is the social glue, the secular religion that binds the majority of New Zealanders together. There are other threads, like the Anti-Nuclear Policy, pavlovae and jandals that tie those less sportively inclined to Godzone, but I don't think anyone can deny that there is nothing that rouses and binds and motivates Kiwis into a cohesive force like a major All Blacks sporting fixture.

So, from a social perspective, 2011 will be an interesting year to be a Kiwi. Of course, there is a huge amount riding on this from a monetary perspective, like the potential for increased tourism, the months-long planetary media coverage, and of course the associated world wide marketing opportunities. But what will also be on show, for both the international audience and for the population at home, will be a lot about what makes Kiwis tick, about what makes a New Zealander. Will we be gracious in victory, or stoic in defeat? Will we be welcoming to all comers, or unstoppingly patriotic? Will we get a public holiday should the All Blacks win the hallowed cup (please, please, please! we lose both Waitangi and ANZAC days as public holidays - again - in 2011!), or will we just rearrange the educational timetable of our "most valuable resource" children to make bus transit times a little easier for ticket holders? And what impact will the bigger, broader issues have on this nation when it will most likely be more focussed on what happens in one or two open air Rugby Cathedrals around the country?

Yes, 2011 will be very different in style and substance to 2010. And it isn't very far away now at all...
Verdict: 2010 is coming to an end after what seems only a brief stay. But, without doubt, 2011 will be bigger and brighter, and decidedly rugby ball shaped. How to rate it though, seeing it has yet to occur? Let's go for a preliminary rating of 12 out of 15, and see how things go...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Case for Treading Lightly

As Harry Potter reaches episode 7.1, the third movie (of the 4th book) of the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader comes to the big screen, in glorious 3D, though I couldn't be bothered with that and so went to the still fairly well attended "flat" version. And flat really is a good word to describe the film.

I was a huge fan of TheLion, the Witch and Wardrobe when I was younger (many moons ago), but never really got into the rest in the series, and this story kind of exemplifies why. The whole idea of Narnia is that, as the kids get older, they can't go back again, and time works differently in Narnia than in the "normal world. But all this means you have a continually changing set of characters and actors, and as the books outside of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe don't really develop characters as interesting as the Pevensies, as character development gives way to the moral of the stories.

Luckily, in this story, we still have Lucy (Georgie Henley) on board, and, as she was in the other films, she continues to be one of the best things about this series, and gets a few chances to stand out in the pretty dismal plot. Skandar Keynes as Edmund continues to have the coolest real name of any of the actors and still shows huge potential. Any scene he shares with the image of Tilda Swinton's menacingly fragile Ice Queen is suitably and wonderfully intense, but his character is otherwise burdened with an obvious and poorly realised storyline. And Ben Barnes, as King (formerly known as Prince) Caspian, continues to have fantastic hair... and he does that very well.

But the story... It could be the source material, but really the script does not do anyone any favours. I had to laugh out loud (in a bad, mocking way), when a man in a village offers to accompany the explorers to find his missing wife, and when his daughter pleads with him to stay, he turns to her and says, "Go stay with your aunt" - which is a) "great" parenting advice, and, b) I would have thought, from the Pevensies' perspective, something a bit too close to their own experience and thus something that they might have desired to put a stop to. Unfortunately, there were quite a few plain groan-worthy scenes, like any of those involving conflict ("Me jealous! Oh wait. Now me not") or bonding ("Love you mate") between Edmund and Caspian, as these were all dealt with so quickly and so apparently haphazardly that there was never really any chance for any emotion to build. And some of the dialogue itself was just.... Well, in a raging storm, all the protagonists have bad dreams, and rather than blame them on the lack of food or sleep or the tempest raging around them, the most logical explanation is (of course) magic. When everyone knows these things are always caused by aliens.

Of course, I seemed to be one of the only ones looking at the film through disappointed eyes (apologies to my companion for my odd sarcastic remark). A person near me with a huge bucket of popcorn and who I thought sounded like a non native English speaker seemed to find the whole thing riotously amusing and entertaiing, so perhaps I just didn't get it, or I wasn't fully appreciating it in the film's original German. It was made even obvious that I am not the target demographic when [spoiler alert] Edmund's biggest fear came to life, as I found myself hoping beyond hope for the StayPuft Marshmallow Man, (rather than the rather disturbing reality. What had he been reading? He has a rather sick imagination...), which betrayed my ever advancing age.

A big bum note is of course Aslan, once an interesting-ish character in the first movie, and now an omnipotent intervener and miracle problem solver who nonetheless allows formless evil to grow and spread (it is so much more boring than when the White Queen was evil incarnate) and lets people outside those he considers his chosen few die. Allusions to his existence in "our" world don't help his cause, nor help settle my stomach.

Verdict: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader looks spectacular, but suffers from a lack of imagination in the interpretation ofthe source material. There's only so much some fairly decent actors can do with such stilted dialogue and episodic story development, and for me, what they do is not enough to make a good movie. 5 careful footfalls out of 10.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Case for Anti Craze PCness

Many moons ago, I mentioned a nauseating and slow airline safety commercial that Air New Zealand had put together to tie in with the Rugby World Cup in 2011 (a year which is about 3 weeks away as I write this). Of course, as I have no taste nor patriotism whatsoever, it appears that this has been a wildly successful cross-promotional opportunity and has been a big hit with travellers.

However, despite it being on air up in the air for 4 months, the powers that be have determined that it needs to be tweaked, all because of a kiss denied.

The offending (offensive?) scene has Richard Kahui declining the request of a male flight attendant, Will Coxhead, to supply him with a peck on the cheek. It's a scene made with good humour, with Kahui not too concerned with having a guy "hitting" on him (well, within the confines of the ad - perhaps this should come with a "do not try this at home" warnings), and Coxhead fine with having his request rebuffed by the All Black.

Three things stand out for me about this:

1) Given the obvious good humour between the two participants in the scene, would anyone really be offended by this? What is there really to be offended about? The fact it shows an All Black, stereotypically a man's man but in the most heterosexual way possible, being not only tolerant but respectful to a man who finds him attractive (one assumes)? The fact a gay man feels comfortable enough to make such a request of one of New Zealand's sporting heroes without the fear of any negative reprisals besides a "no"? While in general the advertisement may leave me writhing in pain due to its incredible tedium and obvious "marketing", even I have to admit it was all made in good fun.

2) I am not sure when the complaint was lodged, but surely such a decision comes a little bit late? Four months after this has been shown on hundreds of flights within the country and on YouTube throughout the world, I would have thought it would be a bit pointless for a bit of editing now.

3) Would the powers that be have allowed the scene to be shot with the All Black kissing the attendant, whether said hypothetical All Black be gay or not? The humour in the scene comes from the fact that such an act would seem to be unlikely, so as such, and while it does so with humour, the scene does not surprise and instead sticks with stereotype.

Verdict: The Air New Zealand safety advertisement maintains the manliness of the All Blacks through the lack of physical contact, while softening the image of the men in the black jerseys themselves through the light hearted spirit displayed by the two people involved. It's shame that those making the advertisement didn't have the courage to really push boundaries (though that might have damaged the brand), but it is worse that there are some people out there who see this scene as something discriminatory when, in reality, it is something that people on both sides of the puckered lip fence could really learn from: how to deal with an unwanted advance; and how to accept rejection without resorting to bunnycide. 2 steps back out of 3 steps forward.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Case for Charity at Christmas

I find stories lie the Pledge to Give Away Fortunes article on Stuff fascinating. What is it actually saying?

"I, a very wealthy person, pledge to give away my money. But not a pledge in any formal way, like a written will or anything legal. And I will only give it away when I die or otherwise have no further use for it. Unless I decide that I DO have a use for it, in which case, my pledge is not binding anyway. And I never said I would give all of it away either".

I suppose I should not be so cynical, as really, it is quite a generous on their part, considering the millions, if not billions, of dollars that will go to worthy causes, to fund worthy things and help lots of lives.

But the cynic in me can't help itself from raising an eyebrow and saying, "Yeah, but look what their unfulfilled pledge for the future is delivering for them now". A lot of the people mentioned stand to gain quite a richly from the public relations boost such gestures tend to generate:

- Mark Zuckerberg's image as an arrogant d!ck, thanks to the afore-judged movie The Social Network and his own annoying personality, may be changed somewhat. As a billionaire only in his mid twenties, he has quite a few decades to go before he really needs to even think about coughing over any money - though in the meantime, he may continue to solve the world's ills by bringing people together electronically.

- George Lucas is both loved and hated, as the man who brought the original "holy" trilogy of Star Wars to the big screen and then caused the suffering of untold millions by inflicting his unholy prequels on the public. And then, to rub salt in the wounds, he butchered the originals in his Tinkered Trilogy so that Han Solo did not fire first so that... well, who can say, besides the fact it's stupid? Considering the amount of flak he has received for these outrages, perhaps he is not offering this for publicity reasons, as the Beard obviously has pretty thick skin underneath all his facial hair and may not really care what others think.

- Ted Turner... didn't he colourise Casablanca and give it a happy ending? I might be thinking of the Clamp Cable Network, now I think about it.

Verdict: Why (oh why) is it so hard to take these things at face value, or appreciate them for what they appear to be? Again, the cynic in me pipes up, "these people didn't get to where they are by being altruistic". But maybe, just maybe. On a scale of nice gestures, with a 1 being a single-fingered salute and a 10 being a kiss with tongue, lets go for an uncynical 7.5.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Case for the Scarlet Woman

After a pretty awesome trailer and a few good reviews, I had fairly high expectations heading into
Easy A. But my expectations dropped rapidly when three previews before the film were for films that insulted my intelligence and gave me an inkling of the taste of non-companion members of the audience: one for another Focker film (NOOOOO); another for a film so bland that I have already forgotten it; and the final was one of those “no need to see the film” trailers for a terrible “wild boy meets sobering girl mixed with disease of the week” films called Love and other Drugs that left me almost nauseous.

Easy A reassured me that I had not just wasted my entry fee and was actually going to see a film I might enjoy. The first hints were there with the very inventive credits, and then when the delicious Amy Stone (as Olive) wandered into view with her deep, world weary voice, and delivering dialogue so sharp it almost drew blood, I knew I could relax a bit.

Story synopsis: Olive embarks on a career as a “socialator” for those wanting to improve their reputations at school. She embraces her scarlet letter, but finds a downside when the fantasy of her hook ups begins to negatively impact on her life and real relationships. (Did that sound enough like a magazine “story wrap”? Wonder if I could make a living out of it).

The actors are all amazing, and its all done very well, so it’s up to the story to provide the occasional slip ups: Olive’s family starts off as improbably funny and then just becomes improbable (the less said about the random son, the better); there seems to be serious problems in sticking to an “age” for Olive and her peers all the way through the film, as they are either so young that what she does is shocking (though physically they mostly all look in their 20s), or else they are at a school which exists in some parallel universe where teenagers don’t have $ex or participate in scandalous gossip; and the ending of the film comes so quickly and is resolved to tritely as to be almost an insult to the movie which it is meant to complete.

That said, the film is amazingly written, with enough references to 80s movies to make me feel almost young for a few minutes (and then the “this was the song I made out to when I was about 10” scene came up and I instantly felt aged about 50 years), the dialogue contains enough recurring themes to make those paying attention laugh loudly, and it stays away from serious swearing and nudity in favour of mild to medium language with no clothesless scenes whatsoever.

I did fear for the movie-worldliness of the other cinema-goers when a very obvious “twist” was met with loud screams of surprise by the audience. At the time, I did hope that this was a sarcastic ejaculation, but the lack of obvious irony in the exclamations of surprise led me to believe that, really, these people had not seen this coming, and that, possibly, they would be left comatose should they watch any thriller/mystery not based on an Enid Blyton book.

Easy A makes the creation of a good movie all look so effortless, though the odd missteps along the way show that it’s hard work to sustain “goodness” for a whole film. Emma Stone is a ridiculously beautiful and talented individual (one of the best things about Zombieland too) and it’s great that her profile will be enhanced by this film. It’s a shame about the end of the film, though. 20 scarlet letters out of 26.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Case for Bad Medicine

I am beginning a tradition of going to see a concert at the end of each year, and I think I can claim “tradition” now that I have attended my third.

Bon Jovi came to Wellington after heading down to Christchurch a few years ago, and they could not have chosen a better day to come and experience the glories of Wellington on a good day. Even Mr Bon Jovi himself remarked that the weather had surprised him – in a good way.

With an army of loud, screaming women dedicating themselves to worshiping the hands (and other assorted body parts) of the lead singer behind me, and one of those unbelievably entertaining guys who lose themselves totally to the music and dance and sing as if no one is watching, and of course my own companions, the crowd at the event was amazing. Even one strange guy who broke on to the field and did a bit of break dancing didn’t really dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. The warm up act… warmed up. And then the main act came out.

Bon Jovi are rock legends, but I have to admit that I was never the biggest fan beyond their bigger hits. I therefore felt a bit lost when the whole crowd went wild as the band played some of their more obscure (to me anyway) hits, but I knew a fair few and it has to be said that there is nothing quite like standing in a crowded stadium screaming out for people to lay their hands on them. Some people, particularly in my row, seemed to be unable to fully appreciate the music without a constant supply of food and alcohol and the resulting trips to the bathroom, one woman holding the record for asking us to move about 16 times, closely followed by a man sitting next to me with about 10 different asking occasions.
None of which really detracted from the music.

I was a bit far away from the stage to notice any Fergie-like wardrobe malfunctions or follow the band members without the aid of the giant screenshow, but the music permeated every pore. Quick side steps into Roy Orbison territory and a Richie Sambora-sung number mixed things up from a straight “Bon Jovi Greatest Hits” collection. I think I may be going slightly de
af though, as whenever Jon Bon Jovi addressed the crowd to introduce the members of the band or pay tribute to the Pike River Miners, I could barely make out a word he said. I wanted to blame the sound system for distorting everything somewhat, but no one else seemed so afflicted. Luckily for me, none of the group’s hits are sung at low volume, so there was no trouble when it came to understanding what was going on in You Give Love a Bad Name.

It was a bit of a let down to almost be forced into an obligatory “encore” where you knew exactly what they were going to play as two of their biggest hits had been noticeably absent from their play list. I would like to say I would be interested to be at one concert where the band wanted to be called back to perform again but the crowd was happy to let them go, but I won’t say that as it might actually come true. At any rate, the disappointment I felt at the blatant manipulation couldn’t diminish the impact and enjoyment of the final two songs. And then they were gone.

There were no attempts by members of the crowd to attempt songs we had just heard as we all filed out of the stadium (unlike at the Police concert, where it became obvious most people didn’t really know a lot of the words), but there was definitely a sense of seeing a great concert – and that summer was actually here.

Verdict: I really enjoyed Bon Jovi, but I have to say it comes a way down my list, below the Police concert of a few years ago. The concert was full of great songs, great people, great performers and a great night, but it was missing a certain magic that truly made it memorable. 3.5 Blazes of Glory out of 5.