Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Case for Mortal Gods

"In the style of 300" is not always a phrase that brings a huge amount of anticipation.  Sure, there will be lots of beautiful women, shirtless men, slow motion action scenes, and a fair amount of brutality and blood, but these are not always good things.

In the case of Immortals though, they are.  Well, its more that Immortals has a pretty impressive cast that can pull all of the above off.  I refused to see Clash of the Titans (on the big screen, so far) because I have no faith in Sam Worthington's abilities, but I knew very little of Henry Cavill, soon to be Superman, and so I was willing to give it a shot.

And my leap of faith was rewarded.  I have no idea how Cavill will pull off a Clark Kent (still a fan of how the strapping Brandon Routh stepped into Christopher Reeve's awkward shoes) as, playing Theseus, he was a buff, square jawed hero with a good heart but no other weakness.  But as solid a performer as he was, the real acting honours had to go elsewhere. 

The 3D effects (and 7.1 surround sound) might have been impressive, but that all paled into insignificance whenever the heavenly Freida Pinto, playing the oracle Phaedra, came on the screen.  Perhaps there were a couple of metres of gauze between her face and the camera, and any imperfections were digitally edited out, but this woman is absolutely stunning.  And only once was her divine botty on display - for all the skin and gore, this was definitely not like the TV series Spartacus.

Stephen Dorff was also along as the wisecracking Stavros, but he wasn't given a huge amount to do, so perhaps it was more my soft spot for him that elevated his efforts above Cavill in the acting stakes.  Oddly enough, the gods themselves were all pretty dull and lifeless, though John Hurt as the Old Man makes a very good storyteller, though he has been playing that role now for years, so he is well practiced.

No, the real star of the film was the resurgent Mickey Rourke as the mad King Hyperion.  His low growl and imposing physique made the King incredibly threatening but, impressively, remarkably engaging.  He was brutal, had a strict moral code (of his own), was unswerving in his belief, inspirational to his men, and felt like a mortal that could threaten the existence of the gods themselves.  His motivation for releasing the entrapped Titans and so that they might destroy the Olympians make complete sense (well, within the confines of the movie), and I was more than half hoping that he would end victorious - not because I disliked Theseus, more because Rourke (and I mean Rourke) was so cool. 

The film is definitely not perfect.  It drags an awful lot in places, mainly in some of the slow motion action scenes, and there is a fairly awful rousing speech by Theseus to the Hellenics that made me want to either hit the mute button or fast forward to the next scene.  Greek mythology is not treated with a huge amount of respect, which could offend the purists (I can't claim to be an expert, but I was able to overlook most of the liberties that I noticed).  The peacemakers are definitely not blessed in this film; and the war makers seem to have a pretty lazy way about them, allowing the enemy to run around pretty easily unless they are engaged in battle. 

But this was never going to be the cinematic equivalent of A Brief History of Time.  The film exists to provide action and look good, and it does all that and remains engaging thanks to the amazing cast.  Oddly enough, this may be a film I get later on DVD  - or perhaps BluRay, to really be able appreciate those visuals.

Verdict:  Immortals will never live eternally in the annals of movie greats, but it was a great 3D big sound epic.  Sure, the ending was on the cheesy side of naffness and really quite disappointing, and it was a tad on the slow side, but it hit several of my buttons, enough for me to really enjoy it.  7.5 bows and arrows from the Dungeons and Dragons 1980s cartoon series out of 10.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Case for Twihard 4: Twying Very Hard

I have an unhealthy fascination with the Twilight series, one that I have to categorise under "guilty pleasure" in my internal monologue of self justification.  Why else do I subject myself to these films when, every time, they end up being pretty bad?

But the series is coming to an end, and Breaking Dawn Part 1 starts to wrap things up, albeit very slowly and with lots of overwhelming yet underwhelming music.  Seriously, the soundtrack is incessant and all permeating and just when I thought I had got used to it, it got irritating again.  It takes talent to make a score quite that irksome.

Anyway, the actors:  Pattinson, Stewart and Lautner have come a long way from the first film, but only really Lautner seems to be looking to the future in this film, keeping his pecs and abs inside his tight tees rather than walking shirtless for most of the film, and trying to show Jacob as conflicted yet tender, kind yet aggressive. I say "try" as most of Lautner's acting seems to be done with his forehead, but to be honest, he is not given a huge amount of material to work with and what he is given is pretty dire.  Jacob is, as ever, the farthest point in the isoceles love triangle that is his relationship with Bella and Edward, and as such there is a bit of a struggle to try and keep his character relevant amongst all the Vampire love.

Because of course, the story focuses on Bella and Edward, and Pattinson and Stewart seem quite comfortable as being as sullen and staunchly mysterious (guess which is which) as ever.  I am not sure what the careers of these two actors will hold post Twilight, but they will be hard pressed to break those undead chains, I imagine.

This film is definitely for the girls, so there is an interminable wedding scene that is as completely lacking in romance and chemistry as the rent a crowd who magically appear (Bella has friends?  Or did they just invite the whole town over?) for this most intimate of occasions.  The film then turns into an unnecessarily extended travel video for Brazil as a wonderful honeymoon destination, before returning to the USA so that some actual action can take place.

For what happens in this film - and in the entire series - this webcomic explains everything, so yes spoiler alert if you click the link.

As for the movie... well, its long and designed to sell a blatantly manipulative soundtrack and very little else.  A few things do happen, though not many (to ensure it is a two part movie), there are some attempts at humour (I think), and everyone still loves Bella for reasons that continue to elude me.

Of course, I knew all this going in.  While the third movie had some fairly decent moments, this is a return to the "form" of the previous overwrought installments.  So I really shouldn't complain, although I am; and I really shouldn't be surprised, which I was not. 

No, I am really not the target audience for this type of movie, though the person sitting next to me, laughing uproariously at every mild attempt at humour and crying inconsolably with every false emotion, obviously had all her buttons pressed - except her self destruct button, which I was on occasion tempted to activate.

Verdict: Breaking Dawn Part 1 is everything I expected and feared, but it was better than the Hangover 2 which I also saw at the incredibly awesome Roxy Cinema. And I will of course have to go and see the final movie...  6 fang marks out of 10.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Case for an Ad or Two

This was inspired by a comment on 7 Days, as ever since then, I have been unable to look away whenever this ad is on the television.

I don't quite know how they did it, but Daikin have managed to make Dan Carter look like he is just saying "Matt Damon" over and over again, and even though he is a pretty good looking guy, that does not stop him looking very creepy hanging up on the wall and staring at people anywhere in the room.  Epic fail?  Of course, Carter is probably laughing all the way to the bank from his very warm home, but the ad puts me off ever having one of those in my house.

On the other hand, there are commercials out there that are so brilliant that I will actually rewind my PVR to watch them. 

I am listening and painting indeed...

Verdict: There are some pretty dire ads out there, but there are some that are truly brilliant too. 5 gherkins out of 5 when they get it right; part of an old unattractive gherkin when they get it well and truly wrong.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Case for Beginning Again

For a bit of a change from Readings fare, it was time to head back to the Paramount cinema to see one of the films back from wherever films go between the International Film Festival and general release.  Even though there wasn't a large crowd, this screening was held in the main theatre, allowing me to appreciate how many interesting films I had seen in that room (including Clerks, The Room, some Incredibly Strange Festival films for years ago) and noticing the fading carpet, the battered walls, and that the only truly comfortable seats in the room are towards the front of the cinema. 

The film, Beginners, has a pretty extraordinary cast.  Ewan McGregor puts on his best American accent as Oliver (I am not sure if it is just that I know that he is not American that I find his accent irritating, or if it actually is pretty dire), from whose perspective this story of loves is told, and Christopher Plummer camps it up as his Dad, Hal, though he does not start singing any Sound of Music numbers unfortunately.  Meanwhile, the luminous Melanie Laurent takes time out from killing Hitler on Inglorious Basterds to turning in a sweet and quirky turn as Oliver's love interest, Anna, and there is a intensely barmy performance by the wonderful Mary Page Keller as Hal's unfulfilled wife, Georgia.  And, though I am more a cat person, I was almost willing to rush out and buy a dog like Arthur when the film came to an end.

This is not a loud film.  Oliver is coming to terms with the death of his father, and the way his father's relationship with his mother has affected his own relationships with others.  As such, there are a lot of internal monologues, flashbacks, drawings and walks in the park.  His introspection attracts Anna (perhaps an advertisement for being a bit morose at parties), and their budding relationship causes Oliver to address his relationship fears.

While that romance is the main part of the story, there are the odd segues into the past.  The history of the gay movement gets a bit of a (pardon the pun) outing, as Hal's lifestyle changes on the death of his wife, and in snippets we follow the final five years of his life before he too passes.  Further back in time, a very young, floppy haired Oliver shows the life of his mother, in a marriage not necessarily loveless but distant, the absence of the father both emotionally and physically in complete contrast to Hal's life once his wife has passed away, and perhaps leading to Oliver's current relationship phobias.

There are chuckles, there are tears, there are moments.  It's all based on the experiences of the writer/director Mike Mills and the story has the low key, unsensational feel of something fairly true to life.  It also feels quite small, almost every scene in a small(ish) room or house, giving also lending to that personal quality.  And I still had no idea how Oliver actually made money from his chosen profession and thus what he did to survive, but that is not important right now.  The more important thing is the Ewan McGregor has great hair.

Verdict:  Not really as deep or heavy hitting as it may sound on paper, Beginners covers a lot of ground in a light, home-y way.  Its about new beginnings at any stage of one's life, and about opening up to those opportunities.  And its about 7 Bansky-style graffiti drawings out of 10.

PS: Vote MMP!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Case for Pink Cadillacs

When I walked into the R18-rated Drive, I was prepared for a bit of violence, some pretty hardcore scenes, lots of swearing.  However, I was not prepared to be instantly confronted with credits written in pink 16 Candles-style writing, nor a pretty overpowering soundtrack that itself would not be out of place in a 1980s film.  

Once the titles were over though, the film settled into something less disturbing - or at least, more in keeping with what I was expecting.  There is not a lot of dialogue in this film (though there do seem to be a fairly high proportion of Brits amongst the main cast), so the cast have to visually portray a lot of what their characters are meant to be.  Towering above everyone in monolithic monosyllabic menace is Ryan Gosling, stripping his face of most emotion and replacing it with beige wallpaper: inoffensive, yet with potential (the film's name and the rating give away where that potential will take him). 

The rest of the main cast are amazing as well.  Acting all elfin and sweet, Carey Mulligan is the love interest (I think the sultry curves of Christina Hendricks have to take the "hottest chick" stakes in this film, despite her fleeting yet highly memorable appearance) and is able to convey both a sense of fragility and another of strength despite not having a lot to say or do.  Bryan Cranston still seems to be Malcolm's Dad, though in this type of film, you know that kind of bumbling will not end well.  And Albert Brooks is a lot less nurturing than his Nemo's Dad days as a calculating and un-squeamish ex-movie director, though he gets quite a bit of dialogue to make his position on what happens quite clear.

The film is almost Tarantino in its violence and style, though it is obviously not his by the dearth of dialogue and the fairly monotonous soundtrack.  Nicolas Winding Refn seems to want to direct a moving painting of a movie, where the visual is everything, and he pretty much succeeds.  There is no complicated storyline or 23 car speed chases to get in the way of a straightforward story told well, if pretty much silently. 

About 30 minutes into the film, I was wondering why it had earned its R18 rating - and then that became abundantly clear.  There is some massive violence in there, in complete contrast to the raging calm with which the film kicks off.  Quite what this means, I will leave for those who go see the film to discover.

 Reactions to the film even in the little group that I was with were diverse: some hated the blasting, depressing soundtrack and were searching for a special appearance by Molly Ringwald; others were a bit stunned, needing a period of time to properly assess what they had just witnessed; and the third group (of which I was one) loved almost every aspect of it.  Not sure if I would really need (or want?) to see it again, but it was damned good nonetheless.

Verdict: Drive won't be for everyone - the age restriction will guarantee that.  It is a stylish film both denouncing and revelling in violence and revenge, the main characters not wanting to get mixed up with it, but when they do, they are in for a penny and in for a pound (of flesh).  Drive is also a fairly slow film, and wordlessness seems to equal attraction, though considering the physical state of the two leads, perhaps that is not so hard to believe.  And it is... pretty awesome.  4th gear out of 5.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Case for Thematic Appropriateness on TV - Part 1

The other day, I had a TV theme song running around my head.  Inspiration for a posting, I thought - the top 10 of the theme songs that actually had me anticipating the show that follows, even if the show doesn't always deserve it.  And so, for a countdown - though in reality, the position of any of these will change depending on how I feel on the day.

10.  The most guilty pleasure first: Growing Pains.  The show might have been awful but I can barely remember it at all, so perhaps it wasn't even that.  It wasn't even prime time viewing, if I recall.  But the theme song sticks with me (and yes, it was the one that inspired this) and indeed one of the few things I do recall is that they messed around with the theme a couple of times to hideous effect.  The "original" though remains the most... hypnotising?

9.  I have to say that, like the theme song, Fringe the show has slowly grown on me, getting bigger and more impressive as it goes along.  I always look forward to it:

8. Okay, the show may have jumped the shark a few series back, but there is no denying that the opening theme song of Top Gear just reeks of boyish energy, even if "boyishness" is more a case of attitude than age.

7. I have never actually completed watching every series, but I think I will have to just to see the opening theme song of the Sopranos again and again.  So brooding, so dark, so ominous.  So great:

6. The theme song of True Blood matches the crazy, sexy insanity that is the show, and I love them both:

5.  The 1980s is responsible for many things, some good, some bad.  One of the good ones was the opening credit sequence to Knight Rider, the link here given in the "original" German - as it always should have been:

4. Okay, the show is space hippie nonsense, but at least the theme from Space: 1999 keeps with that preposterous premise:

3.  It was, like, so 90s, but the My So Called Life opening theme still speaks to the angsty teenager buried under all my age.  And it occasionally makes me want to go out and wear a baggy plaid shirt or listen to some 60 Seconds to Mars...:

2. The Doctor Who theme song is itself timeless, but I think the best version is the one that graced the Peter Davison years, ditching some of the more ethereal aspects of earlier years and before it became overly orchestrated since the revamp:

1. But my favourite, even though I wasn't (and am not) the biggest fan of the show, has to be (as I have said before) the big, bombastic and adventurous theme to Stargate SG1.  Sure, it is probably cheating a bit, as it did come from the movie, but still, I love it (the only one that I could embed is below, but a better version for seasons 1-3 can be found at this link):

Verdict: I do love my telly, and awesome opening credits can add a huge amount of enjoyment to that experience.  But have I forgotten something?  Make sure to let me know!  Lots of notes in a song.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Case for Timing Issues

Okay, now there were several reasons why In Time was not high on my list of movies that I wanted to see, most of them beginning and ending with Justin Timberlake.  I have seen him play bit parts okay, but from experience his presence in a film has indicated that the film is not really worth my presence (like the disappointing Southland Tales).  However, with some hits under his belt (like The Social Network), I had thought that perhaps he had cast off those box office poison shackles and was ready to claim a career as a talented thespian.

But not with In Time.



No, his big emotional scene where he sits in the middle of a deserted street crying into the air with frustration and despair is akin to watching the revised Darth Vader screaming "Noooo" in any scene, so is a cringe worthy experience that had me looking away from the scene to hide my embarrassment (not that I needed to in a darkened cinema).

Okay, I am going to be brutal about this film.  Perhaps not as brutal as Kate Rodger, who gave this one star (after I had chosen to go see it; damn), but, unlike the highly expressive woman to my right who gasped at every G-rated shirtless scene and screamed with delight at every telegraphed shock, I did not think that this was one of the greatest films that I have ever seen.  Because I have seen a few.

The style is very retro futuristic, a future much like Gattaca, which is not surprising considering they share the same director in Andrew Niccol, but it is much less successful in its realisation, probably because it's just not as good.  The people of this unspecified future time are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, though the amount of time they have to enjoy that life is dependent on the economics of "time sharing".  All women have been further genetically enhanced to be able to run long distances at speed in unfeasibly tall high heeled shoes (definite Darwinism there).  However, this is a future with electric cars styled from the 1960s, and mobile phones and computers have likewise ceased to exist (it was the death of Steve Jobs, I tell you), and computers are barely seen and never heard.  The story follows people trying to get themselves, and others, more time to live, and the Big Evil Corporations who are trying to stop them.

I can't really blame the actors for how flat it all is.  Oh, okay, I can.  Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried are all big eyes and run around a lot (in high heels), but they aren't terribly engaging characters.  The villains are pretty bland too.  There is a bit of mumbo jumbo of the "for a few to live forever, many must die" variety, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense.  If they are they saying that there aren't resources enough for the population on the planet (a problem we currently have, no?), then that means our "hero" is fighting for the right for an environmental catastrophe; if it just about corporate greed, then there is actually no reason for the many to die and living forever is just seen as a status thing, which therefore makes the phrase pretty meaningless.

But then, the whole film is pretty vapid.  And, at around two hours, it is needlessly long to boot.  But, as mentioned, some of the audience thought this was the best thing since the digital watch (not the one imprinted in ones arm).  And Johnny Galecki got to cast off his Big Bang Theory inner geek and got a simply gorgeous wife in the form of Yaya DaCosta - no wonder he signed up for the film!

Verdict: In Time has the unfortunate side effect of draining two hours from your life, though you notice it as you tend to keep watching your wrist watch for its entire length.  No, that is too harsh: it was completely passable and instantly forgettable trash with delusions of depth.  Not a one star, but not much more.  Four years out of a decade.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Case for Lessons After RWC 2011 - Part 2

I have got to say, finding any photos of Jerome Kaino changing shirts during a Rugby World Cup match is even harder to find than ones for Richie McCaw, but I think I have managed it:

After the end of the cup though, it seems many other All Blacks are getting in on the shirtless act.  There is Victor Vito (who I also spotted at the gym tonight, though he was in his normal shirted form):

And there are Brad Thorn and Cory Jane:

Verdict: Tracking down non-SBW shirt changing images from the Rugby World Cup 2011 is a job for someone with more time and patience than me.  Many horse shoes out of good luck.