Archive for December, 2009

The old boy’s unemployment has seen him completing a hell of a lot of games. It’s good for something, I guess.

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Up Review

There’s no easy way to say this: with their latest film, animation gods Pixar are unashamedly going straight for your heart. They intend to reduce you to a blubbering wreck and there’s nothing you can do about it. Pixar have your soul in their hand and they know it.

Even that opening statement can’t prepare you for what lies within the deceptive colours, cutesy animals and warm humour of Up. This is straight up, hard-nosed, blunt force trauma adult drama. Don’t bother taking the kids to see it – they won’t get it. Sure, they’ll love the brightly coloured animals and the silly voices and visual gags, but they won’t get it. Up is a film that has more layers than wedding cakes, and is as deep, rich and fulfilling as eating said cake. By yourself. In secret. At someone else’s wedding.

Aging widower Carl Fredrickson (Edward Asner) wants to be left alone to spend his remaining years in the house he and his wife built. When that house is threatened by a city development, he decides to follow his lifelong dream of heading to Paradise Falls and fall in the footsteps of legendary explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Along the way, he picks up do-gooder Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai), squawking bird Kevin and dopey dog Dug (Bob Peterson).

If that premise sounds a little bizarre, you must be forgetting that this is a Pixar film and bizarre ideas are their bread and butter. This is a buddy movie, a road trip about a chalk-and-cheese odd couple pairing of a grumpy old man and a hyperactive, intense, talkative child. The unique combination of these two forces bring the laughs on thick and fast, which, combined with the movie’s underlying darkness of bittersweet emotion, means that jokes that would normally bring on a small giggle become rip-snorting belly laughs.

It’s a hysterical film that dares to have a real emotional heart at its core. Every character (even the dialogue-free Kevin) is completely three-dimensional, each with their own history, complex motivations and desires, all of which are explained so easily and freely that in the hands of poorer writers it would weigh the film down with an audible clunk. Not so in the talented hands of Pixar.

A statement earlier on claimed that kids wouldn’t understand the beauty of Up. There’s no doubting that they’ll enjoy the humour or the action or even the partnership of the two protagonists. The thing they won’t understand is aimed squarely at adults: the power of dreams. With this latest cinematic masterpiece, Pixar are daring to do the impossible – to encourage adults that there is still hope in the hopeless, joy in the joyless and that even life itself is an adventure. There is no difference between a child pretending cracks in the pavement are canyons and an old man saving up for that holiday of a lifetime. Everything happens if you want it to; you just have to dare to dream for it.

With this expert demonstration in storytelling, humour, animation and genuine love, Pixar have managed something truly unique: a film open to absolutely anybody with a working heart. In doing so, they’ve done something utterly astounding – they’ve bettered themselves. It seemed unthinkable, but they’ve done it. This is the best they’ve ever been, a playful sermon on life by masters on top of their game who want to encourage others to join them at the loftiest of heights. If they continue this trend, critics across the world will have to find a new way of rating films. But what else were you expecting?

5 stars

New Light

We sit in the broken house, the last remains of our warm fire dwindling to nothingness. The grey light of dawn breathes gently over the morning air and outside the morning fog begins to lift over the smashed houses that we’ve been hiding in for the past few days.
We’ve washed ourselves clean in the many downpours that threatened to drown the buildings. We’ve clothed ourselves in whatever we could acquire from the wardrobes and cupboards of the homeowners. In spite of everything, I feel at least vaguely refreshed.
Dawn hasn’t been the same since I found her. I wasn’t expecting her to be the same girl – happy, smiley, faintly flirtatious and bubbling. After all, this is a different world now. The animals we once raised as our friends and allies have become bloodthirsty killers, demented murderers one and all. She’s been attacked and had all her worldly possessions destroyed. On top of that, she’s managed to cut off my infected hand and cauterise the wound. It’s not surprising she’s changed.
It’s the look in her eyes that scares me the most. The light that once shone behind them is dimmed and dulled, like a light bulb that has lost its power. She is quieter, like she’s always deep in thought. I don’t know if there’s any way I can shake her out of this funk.
‘We need to go,’ I say, my breath fogging.
‘Where?’ Dawn asks. She sounds like she’s given up already and the sound of it terrifies me.
‘We should go to the coast. Maybe we can get a boat out of here,’ I reply.
She shrugs. ‘What if there are Pokémon there?’ Her voice cracks slightly as she says the word ‘Pokémon’. Christ, I need her to be strong right now. I don’t have the energy for all of this.
‘We’ll get past them,’ I say, trying to sound as determined as possible, as though we could put up an actual fight, instead of my real plan, which involved lots of hiding.
I stand up slowly, fearing that I should fall down and lose all her confidence.
It has begun to drizzle softly. I take a couple of coats the homeowners left behind in the chaos of the first night and put one on. I throw the other at Dawn’s feet and collect the backpack of supplies we’ve assembled from the remnants of the houses.
‘Come on,’ I say as I walk out into the morning light and look up at the rising fog.
Far away, a dim rainbow hangs in the morning air. I smile grimly, knowing that it’s hovering in the direction I’m planning to go. Pots of gold…
Dawn puts a hand on my shoulder, shaking me out of my thoughts. I turn to meet her.
We look at each other, two figures shrouded in morning mist, light rain flecks covering our clothes.
She drops her gaze and says nothing. There’s nothing to say. I smile at her as warmly as I can and take her hand.
We set off, heading west to the port city of Canalave. There must be a way to escape this nightmare…

What’s Up?

Posted: December 12, 2009 in Musings
Tags: , ,

I just thought I’d take up a blog post to tell you what’s going on. The daily reviewing has been a pretty good success – on a hits level as well as a personal one – and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. As you can probably tell from that self-congratulatory sentence, it’s not going to last. It will finish early next week and then we’ll be back to some kind of normal schedule.

I’m going to try and keep up with writing reviews and ideally I’d like to post more than just three times a week. I’ve got the comics on Wednesday (shit, I need to do some more of those, I totally forgot this week!) and the unfolding horror story on Sundays (although what the hell that is or where it’s going is anybody’s guess).

With Heroes finishing for the year [Thank God – Adam’s soul] and very few big movies on the horizon, I’m going to start looking for other TV shows to review. Maybe Flashforward or Stargate Universe, although I really do need to finish Atlantis before I get on with that.

I also want to mention (and whore myself out completely) that I’m now writing for Alltern8.com on the side. I’ve posted up a few things there that have appeared here previously – the Harry Brown review, the first game rant – but now there are a few others I wanted to mention to anyone interested. Firstly, two reviews of games that won’t be appearing here (Need for Speed: Nitro and Hasbro’s Family Game Night) and the other game rants are all going in the blogs on that site. So if you’re wondering why I’m not doing game rants anymore, it’s because they’re going up somewhere else.

Also, the New Moon review went down very well. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed at the reception here, but over on Movie-Moron it’s the most popular thing I’ve yet written, and some of the responses are so funny they absolutely need to be printed out and framed.

Anyway, that’s all from me right now. Stay classy, San Diego.

Harry Brown Review

‘In Northern Ireland they were fighting for a cause. For them, this is just… entertainment.’

Harry Brown is a man who knows the difference between violence and anarchy and he is going to ensure that every single person who watches this compelling British thriller understands that too. Don’t be confused by the appearance of the lovable Michael Caine: this film is a horrible beauty, a deadly rose – wonderful to look at but poisonous to the touch.

Aging former Marine Harry Brown (Caine) knows his time is running out. He’s slowly pissing away his remaining days trapped on a horrible council estate, visiting his dying wife in the hospital and playing chess at the pub with Leonard (David Bradley). Unfortunately, the violent thugs that rule the estate see to it that the few remaining things he loves come to a brief and bloody end, and once you back an animal into a corner, expect to get bitten.

Caine’s performance is as legendary as you expect. At once human, believable, sympathetic, deranged and hard as nails, he’s someone you can root for, but you’ll feel terrible about wanting him to murder his way across a chav’s wet dream. If he wasn’t so easy to support, this would be the Daily Mail’s idea of cinema heaven.

The other actors in the film are equally excellent. Emily Mortimer’s Detective Inspector Frampton is an excellent bleeding heart, a woman of logic and passion in a world of irrationality and hatred. Iain Glen’s Superintendent Childs is slightly underused – seemingly representing the smug, preening face of a system that simply isn’t working and won’t admit it, but not quite coming across in the limit screen time given. Ten points to brilliantly hateful (and hate-filled) Ben Drew as masterful villain Noel Winters, a pawn who believes himself to be a king.

Writer Gary Young has done a remarkable job with each of the characters. While Harry is distinctive and likable, his villains are truly remarkable, arrogant, cocky, loathsome, detestable, yet equally damaged and broken, each with their own unique issue that’s made them the way they are. He doesn’t ask you to feel bad for them, only to understand their situation and appreciate what has pushed them down this path.

It’s a film so realistic it might have been directed by Ken Loach, instead of first-time feature helmer Daniel Barber. The estate is so familiar, so alien, so infested with problems that it could be a documentary. The film presents compelling evidence for the reasons society is crumbling as easily as it and delights in never pointing the fingers at individuals, instead letting the blame fall equally across all people.

The kids on the estate are just as much victims as Harry Brown – bored, useless, uneducated, trapped, full of hate and with nothing to do with all that pent-up aggression save ride motorbikes in parks and shoot at passers-by. You’ll hate them as easily as you do in real life, but you’ll at least get a small insight into the reasons behind this. Without motivation to do anything constructive, without guidance, without love or any real friendship, the only thing left to do is work for the equally vile adults that created the situation as a means to make a quick buck.

If there is a criticism that can be levelled at the film, it’s that the excellent build up and the social commentary feel too much like they are just fodder for the (admittedly good, if simple) story. At one point it seems like the film is about to stop informing you how the circumstances for these broken characters came about and instead will preach about how we, as a community, can heal our shattered souls. Instead it simply travels down the conventional route of all revenge thrillers: murder everyone. There is no hope. The system doesn’t work and the only way to fix our problems is to kill them off the face of the earth. That said, it is admirable how the film never manages to lunge in the ludicrous – even when it seems that it could turn into a Van Damme ‘man against the mob’ movie, it resists temptation. At its heart, this is a very personal, very English, story of vendetta and hatred, of a man with nothing to do with his life returning to the one skill he locked away in a box under his bed. By the end you’ll be asking which is worse: the thugs for their empty lives full of hate, Harry Brown for his remorseless vengeance, or yourself for so desperately wanting his revenge to be carried out.

It’s a powerful, compelling human drama; easily worthy of comparison to Caine’s other peerless revenge thriller Get Carter, but be warned – it will leave a very sour taste in the mouth.

4 stars

411 – The Fifth Stage

So this is it. This is the last episode of Heroes for the year. And, if the current pacing is anything to go on, it’s got to be a massive ‘up’ episode, right? It’s got to go out with a bang, leave the audience wanting more, right?

FUCK YOU.

NOTHING HAPPENS. NOTHING IS RESOLVED. Everything is left completely open and up in the air. This is nothing like the last three Volumes, where the story was neatly resolved and tied up before the break, forcing viewers to really want to know what happens.

This time around, Samuel sends a Multiplier around to Bennett’s, where the old man is busy wooing Lauren, to steal a file. This is not resolved.

Sylar tracks down Peter for the FINAL CATACLYSMIC SHOWDOWN. Except we’re cheated out of it for the THIRD time as wonder boy Petrelli has taken the Haitian’s power and what could have been a brilliant climax is instead dropped down to a shitty fistfight. Nathan finally dies (or does he? PLEASE KRING GIVE US MORE NATHAN AND SYLAR BEING THE SAME PERSON) but Sylar gets away. This is not resolved.

The main bulk is given to Claire’s slow, painful and tedious tour of Samuel’s carnival, where she finally, after an ENTIRE EPISODE of wandering around and discussing things with Gretchen, decides to join them. This is left hanging.

Nothing is resolved. What happened to Parkman? What happened to Ando and Kimiko? What happened to Mohinder? What happened to Hiro? What happened to Emma? Kring doesn’t seem to care anymore.

Once Heroes was a magnificent show that entertained millions with incredible special effects, a cracking storyline and some top characters. Now it’s a piece of shit that delights in smearing faeces all over its viewers and cackles while it’s doing it.

If this is how the show chooses to end, not with a bang, but with a whimper, then it doesn’t deserve to come back next year and continue abusing its audience. It’s done. It’s come, it’s gone, it’s soared, it’s hit rock bottom, and now it’s over. Goodbye, all that promise.

1 star

Jennifer’s Body Review

There are three things that are completely unwelcome in horror films: voiceover narration, a rawkin’ soundtrack and witty teen dialogue. There are three things this film has in abundance: voiceover narration, a rawkin’ soundtrack and witty teen dialogue.

Coming off the back of the critically acclaimed Juno, a witty teen story about a witty teen with buckets of witty teen dialogue (are you seeing a trend here?), scriptwriter Diablo Cody has set about crafting a teen horror to prove her range of writing prowess. In addition, Megan Fox wants to prove herself as more than just the atypical sexy female lead in shitty movies. What a shame she’s chosen to play an atypical sexy female lead in a shitty movie.

The town of Devil’s Kettle is rocked to its core when a fire burns down their only bar and kills everyone inside. But it’s only a diversion – travelling band Low Shoulder started the fire in order to snare virgin Jennifer (Fox) and sacrifice her to the devil. Unfortunately for the town, Jennifer is not a virgin (no, duh?) and a succubus takes over her body, forcing her to feast on the flesh of boys to stay young and pretty. This means it’s all up to her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried – Lily Kane in Veronica Mars, the greatest TV show of all time) to send the bitch back to hell before her own boyfriend falls under the demon’s sexual spell.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Jennifer’s Body is complete and utter bullshit. It’s hard to pick out a single point for any kind of praise, so it’s probably best just to say that the dialogue – when not doing its best to halt the tension – is pretty good. You see, the issue with dialogue in horror films is because suspense is wordless. That slow skin-crawling feeling of fear and dread is not caused by watching teens be witty at each other and speak in such self-referential terms your parents will get confused. The defining moments of any horror film you can think of will, nine times out of ten, be purely visual in nature. Therefore a film that attempts to crowd practically every scene with dialogue in place of genuine tension will be shooting itself in the foot.

The CGI is atrocious, the acting is awful (with the exception of Amanda Seyfried), the story is abysmal, the horror is absent and the only reason anyone would seriously watch this is because Megan Fox’s character is a slutty nymphomaniac who plays tonsil tennis with Needy. It’s such a pathetic attempt to try and lure dumb teenage boys and their dads into seeing a shitty film that it’s genuinely insulting. It’s like the filmmakers actually loathe their audience.

If that’s not enough to put you off watching Jennifer’s Body then you may need your head examined. But you can’t say you weren’t warned – after all, it’s a movie as dumb and easily manipulated as Megan Fox’s own fan base.

1 star