Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Case for Going Back to Titanic

Okay, some of the lines are hideous and deservedly have been mocked.  The "Are you ready to go back to Titanic?" one is quite bad (considering it's a trip through memory lane rather than a physical return), and of course there is the "I'm king of the world!" one, which could be forgiven if said in the right context, but the scene itself was mainly just floating around DiCaprio rather than showing the realm over which he claimed dominion, so it seemed a little... presumptuous rather than understandable.

But really, I was going to see Titanic 3D for reasons other than the story.


I think this is the third time that I have seen Titanic on the big screen.  If I recall correctly (though it was around 14 years ago now) my second viewing was at the un-refurbished Embassy cinema, where the group I was part of was told off by a shrill harpy questioning whether we were going to talk through the entire film even though the commercials before the film (yes the "pre show programme", not even the trailers before the film) had barely begun.  We were stunned into silence by the timing and fervour of the woman, though I ended up seething through the film at the apparent injustice.  But I digress.

The point is, having seen it before a couple of times (and a few times on TV as well, though not all the way through), I knew what I was in for.  The story is... well, a love story.  It is a bit overwrought, and well known, so I don't need to recount everything that happens here.  Suffice to say that the "bracketing" story with the old Rose proves that the character has aged into a complete b1tch, while main tale follows the young and very $exually mature Rose (the stunning Kate Winslet, who has the best part in the whole movie) meeting her lower class lover Jack (youthful and floppy haired Leonardo DiCaprio), while her impossibly boorish finance (played with much gusto, an invisible twirling moustache and a huge amount of scenery chewing by Billy Zane) gives her (and the audience) every reason to detest him.  All this is, of course, set against the back drop of the sinking of the steamship Titanic in one of the most impressive special effects movies ever.

And the special effects, especially the 3D transfer, are amazing.  Swooping and diving and swirling around the ship, there is an extra level of opulence and grandeur in the incredible reconstruction of the stairwells, dining rooms, parlours and other sets, and an extra sense of terror and loss as the ship sinks and settles on the bottom of the ocean.  It is a bit strange that we get the 3D effect on scenes where people are looking at TV screens (which should be 2D, if you know what I mean), but the 3D is applied with the same lavish attention to detail and love of the subject that obviously went into the making of the film in the 1990s.  Sure, some of the computer generated people move in a completely unconvincing way, but they did at the time as well; and this film (for me) is not really about the people anyway.

There was the odd moment of panic: I cringed when the theme song played a bit too long, but thankfully Celine's impressive yet soulless voice did not come on until the very end, at which stage we were able to flee before she could work herself up to hurricane force howling; the very, very steamy love scene in the automobile and the hand sliding down the condensation soaked windscreen seemed torn from a movie with an altogether different rating (whereas the "James Cameron draws Kate Winslet" scene, wonderfully mocked by Billy Crystal, was still pretty classy); and I was almost wanting to slap the highly emotional crew aboard the Russian diving ship who looked like they would require therapy after the old bat gave her hours-long story when (I presume) all they really wanted to know was the location of the Heart of the Ocean, which she never told them anyway. 

However, those moments were short lived, knowing as I did how things would work out, and looking forward, albeit in a fairly morbid way, to the panic and sensation and action as the Unsinkable Titanic slowly but surely sank. 

The film was still around three hours long, and (for the most part) enjoyable throughout.  Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates are always a pleasure to watch, and the rest of the cast filled their roles totally adequately, and then the 3D took over and kept my attention riveted to the screen.  Titanic was definitely worth paying the 3D price to see, and remains a classic movie, even with its flaws.

Verdict:  I enjoyed Titanic the first time I saw it (second time too) and that joy has not changed.  It is still not in my list as one of the greatest movies that I have ever seen, but visually it is still superb, and in 3D, it is breathtaking.  7 icebergs out of 10.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Case for Something Fishy in the Yemen

Normally, a light rom com like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is not really something that I would choose to see.  And it has to be said that I kind of didn't: this was a fundraising film and, in that spirit, I was happy enough to toddle along and see it.  I mean, it stars Emily Blunt, Ewan MacGregor (with his real accent, for a change, I believe) and Kristen Scott Thomas, so there were three good reasons to at least give it a go.

And a go I gave it, though about fifteen minutes in, I began to feel a little uncomfortable.  I wasn't entirely sure why to begin with.  The giant e-mail script and over-emotional reading thereof that dominated the screen for the first few scenes was annoying, but they eventually got over that and moved more into human interactivity.  But that unease continued.

And then it struck me why: all these people (besides Emily Blunt's character) were horrible to each other.  And I mean, mean.  Not in a friendly mocking kind of way, but in ways that indicated that they loathed most of the people they met every day.  

Alfred (MacGregor) has issues with his (rather unlikeable) workmates, though in the scheme of things, he does not come out looking much better (well, until a painful "pickup" scene which is just embarrassing to watch in its execution and predictability).  Outside of work, the relationship between Alfred and his wife could possibly be seen as amusingly dysfunctional, but the film tries to make the problem mainly "hers" (to keep Alfred's exterior grumpy but maintain that he has a heart of gold underneath) that, well, its not. 

Meanwhile, Blunt and her character with the multi-barrelled surname is lumbered with a glittering career, obscene amounts of intelligence and talent, loads of money, extreme beauty and style, a three week romance with her "soul mate", and a complete absence of any other sort of friend anywhere on the face of the earth (perhaps not so surprising now that I come to list her pros). 

As for Scott Thomas... well, her character is a Patsy Stone (beehive and all) government PR harpy with a family, and her whole character is a one note cow (actually, there are a few scenes with her family which do paint another dimension to her otherwise shallow stereotype).  She is obviously having a bit of fun playing a randy ball breaker, but not all of that translates into fun for the audience (well, me).

As to the story... well, its based on a true story apparently, but I am not really sure where the "true" ends and the "based" begins.  A wealthy Sheik decides to bring salmon to the Yemen so he can fish, a passion that he has picked up while staying at his beautiful lakeside mansion in the UK.  Alfred is the expert who begrudgingly tries to make this happen, and Blunt's character is the connection between them. 

There are attempts at depth: pointing out the incredible disparity between the wealth of the Sheik and the poverty of his people and the "folly" of this project in light of that difference; and of course the UK's ongoing military engagements in Afghanistan.  But while these may be in the background the whole time as the film's "conflicts", they are kept very much at bay to allow the characters to take centre stage.

I won't relate any more of the story as I don't want to totally ruin it, though I am pretty sure that some could deduce the whole plot from what I have already written.  Suffice to say that the more romantic in the audience (not me) liked it immensely, while I almost vomited when the worst of the cliches were rounded up and shoved in my unimpressed face.  I did smile once or twice, but I can't say I really loved it.

Verdict: I have to give it a bit of slack for having such wonderful actors in a fairly pleasant film, but Salmon Fishing in the Yemen did a whole lot of not much for me.  As much as the film makes the idea of introducing salmon sound preposterous, it's actually the unconvincing love stories and superficial handling of the conflicts in the film are the hardest things to take.  However, while the film insults me without rewarding me with explosions, I will still have to give it a 6 out of 10, just for Emily.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Case for the Shipping News

Did you like Transformers 2?

It's a pretty good indication that, if you liked that movie, then you will love Battleship.  Actually, I would go as far to say that Battleship is actually better than that Transfomers movie, but I hesitate to do so because of one little detail: the movie is rubbish.

Transformers was too, of course.  It had: a sultry, fake tanned and skimpily clad siren draped seductively over a hard piece of machinery; big mechanical monstrosities that make huge amount of noise and move in the most impractical and almost illogical ways; and a cast of 1 and 2 dimensional human characters that almost got in the way of the plot and occasionally said things that were meant to be profound.  I think there was meant to be a love story and some attempt at emotional depth as well.

And Battleship has all of that.  Super hot Brooklyn Decker in her Baywatch outfit hovering over the trembling form of Taylor Kitsch who had all the red blooded males in the room pulling their hair out to be in his position; aliens and their unearthly machines that were incredibly technologically advanced in many areas but they had yet to discover gloves; and Rhianna, Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd, and the highly irritating fake American accent of Liam Neeson in flimsy supporting roles. 

And on the plus side, it had more fighting, and more explosions.  Lots more explosions.

We saw the movie in the Titan XC cinema of Readings, and while it was probably not worth the extra cost, the 7.1 surround sound certainly put us in the thick of the missiles and explosions and all sorts of nastiness that the film threw at us. 

Around the highly enjoyable fighting comes the love story (yawn), the rebel makes good story (yawn), the not good enough to marry my daughter story (super yawn), the death of important friend-slash-family member story (yawn, wait WOW, oh damn, back to yawn), while all through it the nerds are very nerdy and the heroes are very heroic.

Without giving too much away, the way the board game upon which this film is based is worked in is actually quite well done (well, unless you stop to think about it, in which case it is actually really stupid); and the final Battleship scene is booms galore though, again, how it all comes about and what they actually do makes no sense and is a whole wheel of cheese.  But somehow, the two plus hours running time does not seem to drag.

So it's a pretty hard film to classify in that there is no disputing the movie itself, in terms of storyline and characters and logic and a whole lot of other measures of taste (though they are keen to keep the G-rating so all swearing is cut after the first consonant), is terrible.  But it is a lot of fun, keeps the cast relatively small and caters to all tastes in what ones considers the "good looking", and, as mentioned several times before, has lots of things blowing up.  And that's got to count for something.  I am just not quite sure what.

Verdict:  Battleship is as bad as they say and also one of those films that, when seen big and loud, almost has to be enjoyed.  I will give it 6 cannons out of 10, but if you want a mindless action flick and have zero expectations, then make sure to go and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Case for the Parrot and Shihad

I have to admit in advance that I am not the biggest Shihad fan.  An iconic Kiwi band they might be, but their music is a bit... harder than I usually go for.  But, nonetheless, there are a few of their songs that resonate within me, and it turned out there were quite a few more that I knew that I had anticipated.

 The venue for this gig was the Station Village in Petone, and it turned out to be an open air affair, with the stage sheltered by a tent erected between the two bars that form a small, slightly uneven enclosure.  I had initially thought that the concert might have been conducted in one of the function rooms, but was relieved to discover that we would not be squashed together, and the weather was kind enough to provide clear skies and a (almost too) cool breeze to keep things fresh.

The queue to get in moved along apace, most attendees clad in a black t-shirt emblazoned with the name of their favourite heavy metal band, or of Shihad itself.  I had bought tickets online only the day before, but a big blackboard out the front of the venue proclaimed that this was a sold out session. However, I met a person inside who had come without the joy of his girlfriend and, intoxicated before the band even came on stage perhaps depressed by his girlfriendless predicament, he bemoaned the fact he hadn't had the presence of mind (or perhaps absence of mind) to think of scalping the ticket on the way in.

We arrived fashionably late and so heard only the tail end of the one man band who did a fairly good job of getting the crowd ready for the main event.  A few radio hits filled the musical gap in between the live acts, until finally our musical palate was cleansed by the deep voice of Johnny Cash walking the country line before the main event commenced.

And the band played.  The theme of this concert was the best of each album, starting at the beginning of Shihad's back catalogue and coming, two or three songs at a time, to their most recent releases.  The first few tracks were very heavy in their metal content, but as the years flew by, the songs mellowed (somewhat) and became (to me) a bit more recognisable. 

Sure, some of the die hard Shihad "purists" may have left after those first few thrash songs, but I chose to think that they had actually stayed behind and were instead in a constant cycle of going to the bar, picking a beer, going back into the crowd, quickly finishing the beer, and then repeating themselves for the rest of the night.  Well, that was the impression I got when I saw the same people emerge again and again from the crowd to head off to procure an alcoholic beverage - but then, this was a Hutt concert.

Jon Toogood was having a blast fronting the band, or so he yelled loudly and with an f-bomb in almost every utterance.  At one point, he disappeared from the stage and materialised amongst the audience, a woman next to him filming his every angle with her cell phone and barely managing to hold herself back from reaching out to stroke his buttocks.  The crowd went wild with this magical trickery, and we all kept a beady eye on him as he made his way back to the main stage, where the crew had taken the opportunity to change the backdrop whilst the lead singer was away.
A tribute song to Jon's f****n parents and the arrival of the police signalled the impending end of the musical experience, my chronometer telling me that the local residents were going to give Shihad until 11pm to finish up.  That being the case, there were no encores or rowdy after parties.  Instead, the band finished up their last song, quickly wrapped up the night, and then it was time to leave.

The end of the music was a relief in a way.  Not because I disliked the music, far from it: I had thoroughly enjoyed it and, near the back, the sound level was actually really pleasant, being loud enough to make meaningful conversation close to impossible but not so loud as to cause brain haemorrhaging. 

No, my relief came in that the young lady who danced with all the grace and poise of a wounded kangaroo on crack would finally stop bumping into me (and every other male in her vicinity) as she stumbled ungracefully in what she claimed was to the beat of the music.  She was actually a pretty attractive and probably illegally young lady, and she was obviously very friendly even if a rather slappish kind of way - though probably, when sober, she was a bit less so.

At any rate, battered body aside, the bruising did not detract from the spectacle in the slightest.  Shihad put on an amazing concert, and it was great to attend a friendly, open and unpretentious concert, though still very polished and professionally staged.  I am not going to say that I had a road to Shihad conversion or anything, as I was not really tempted to get their album (well, a little), but it was a great night out and I would gladly do it again - with steel capped shoes to ward off uncontrolled gogo dancers...

Verdict:  Shihad brought their A game and hopefully had as much fun as the audience did.  The small venue and minimal effects made the whole event a lot more intimate (and the booze very accessible), but that did not detract from the incredible professionalism of the musicians and the staging.  And parking was great too.  7.5 pacifiers out of 10.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Case for Being Piratical

How can anyone turn up an Aardman movie?  The group that brought the world Wallace and Grommit are a smart shade of bonkers, and their movies are amusing if not necessarily hilarious.

With a fairly intriguing preview, The Pirates: Band of Misfits looked like it would be a great watch.  And, to cut to the chase, it was.

Part of the fun was guessing which prominent British thespian plays who.  I spotted who the first mate was, and I had read that Captain Pirate was voiced by... that guy, but Queen Victoria seemed eerily familiar throughout even though I never guessed who vocalised her.

There is plenty to amuse: from a cast of stereotypical Pirate crew members (the Curvaceous Pirate with the bright orange beard was my favourite); to Charles Darwin (voiced by a Doctor!) and all his ruminations about how his attempts at scientific discovery would never make him a hit with the ladies; to an injoke that completely tickled my funny bone, a form where Pirates had to rate their various attributes with the scale of booming voice from timid all the way up to the heights of Brian Blessed - and low and behold, the almighty lungs of Mr Blessed were let loose in a small role later on.  Oh, how I smiled.  And then of course, my companion noted that there was good use of a Flight of the Conchords song as well - I was not as quick on that uptake, unfortunately.


The story... well, I am trying not to give too much away, as there's not much to it.  This film is for kids after all.  But there are lots of moments and quips for adults as well, all G rated and family-oriented of course. 

At times, the film does drag a little - not because it's a long movie (its just over an  hour and a half), but just because it has to go through some fairly slow motions to get some of the life lessons and learnings across.  But once the adventure gets off land and on to the high seas, things are very much a roller coaster ride (to mix my metaphors).

Due to the way things were arranged at the movie theatres, I had to go and see this in a 3D screening, and unfortunately, despite the glorious animation, the third dimension added nothing to anything.  Staying for the end credits, we saw there were about 7 people of the crew of hundreds involved in the 3D transfer, so perhaps that explained how completely underwhelming that experience was.  But no matter - as I could forget the sill Readings glasses on my nose, I could enjoy the more intellectual delights that this sort of movie provided.

Verdict: The Pirates is a huge amount of fun, with lots of silliness and more serious sorts of humour to keep everyone entertained, for the most part anyway.  But play "guess the voice actor" for each of the characters and see how many you get right.  And then realise how many, like JP for me, you just completely miss...  7 peg legs out of 10.