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

District 9 Review

Posted: December 8, 2009 in Review
Tags: , , , ,

District 9 Review

First-time feature director Neill Blomkamp takes a chance re-envisioning his own short film that caught the attention of producer Peter Jackson. Selfish wish fulfilment or inspired work of art?

The answer is very much in the latter camp waving flags, dancing around the fire and screaming aloud – District 9 is, quite simply, a goddamn masterpiece.

It begins so simply with a documentary explaining that in the 1980’s, an alien mothership suddenly appeared over Johannesburg and the aliens inside were allowed to live on Earth in a camp set up underneath the vessel, in the titular District 9. Flashforward to the present day and District 9 is a war-torn slum controlled by vile gangs, while Multi-National United (MNU) has assigned the optimistic young ladder climbing Wikus the duty of informing all the aliens that they are to be evicted to a new camp under stricter control. Whilst doing his job, Wikus is accidentally sprayed with a strange fluid that begins to change him and his entire world…

It’s here that complete credit must be given to actor Sharlto Copley. The entire film is built upon his earnest, convincing, moving portrait of a career man completely broken and his performance is, quite simply, flawless. Neill Blomkamp’s direction is also outstanding, allowing the maximum amount of human drama to bleed through where necessary and then totally ramping it up for the mind-blowingly impressive and spectacular all-out action pieces.

It’s essentially a film in three stages: the opening documentary effortlessly turns into a human drama/ horror in the manner of The Fly which then morphs into a war movie. What’s most impressive is that the whole thing is nothing less than believable, heartbreaking and compelling.

The CGI is flawless throughout – another stunning achievement for a film that cost a ‘mere’ $30 million to make. The aliens are distinctive and memorable and the ones you are supposed to follow are even coloured differently to stand out – take that, Transformers. It’s a powerful, moving slice of cinema with sympathetic heroes – both human and alien – and some of the most despicable villains to ever appear in sci-fi. Seriously, look in the dictionary under ‘bastard’ and you’ll see these guys.

If there are nits to pick then it is that the political message is as subtle as a punch in the genitals, the final action sequence is slightly too Hollywood given the stunning build-up and that the talking heads are distracting and unnecessary after the documentary footage has ended. That said, reviews are entirely opinions of individuals and this individual is too busy collecting his jaw before it gets caught up in his shoes to care for the complaints.

Epic cinema, epically told, with human drama more unflinchingly honest than most kitchen sink dramas and action that will make Michael Bay cry himself to sleep. If there’s any justice in the world, this will be considered as one of the best sci-fi films of the decade, if not one of the best films of the past ten years.

5 stars

2012 Review

When you know a film is directed by Roland Emmerich, you are pretty much guaranteed the following; shit exploding, stuff getting destroyed and a ton of CGI to accomplish this. 2012 is no exception.

When scientist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers that the world has less than one year left to live, panic ensues in the top ranks of government – what do they do for the people of earth when they know everything’s going to hell in a handbasket?

Meanwhile estranged ex-husband/ struggling-novelist-turned-chauffeur-for-Russian-boxer Jackson Curtis (John Cusack) is there in the middle of it, trying to save his family and get through the nightmare of the end of the world.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: out of the multitude of characters on screen here, the reason John Cusack and Chiwetel Ejiofor are the only two people mentioned above is because the entire film hinges on their performances. Ejiofor handles all the science/ political gobbledegook while Cusack gets all the meaty explosions and running away, and if we as an audience aren’t convinced by them, we aren’t going to believe it when the world ends.

Mercifully, the two stars are every bit as fantastic as you’d expect, and because of that you’ll wholly believe that the world is coming to an end and you’re happy going along with it.

Oh yes, shit explodes, stuff gets destroyed and tons of CGI is used and it’s some of the most incredible CGI used to date. Annoyingly, practically all of the money shots were blown in the trailer and the film itself plays its trump card in the very first disaster scene, but they’re genuinely astounding. The sight of a plane swooping through a collapsing California will have you gripping the edge of your seat far more than the other disaster parts of the movie, so it’s a shame that all the good stuff is wasted so early when the other parts are nowhere near as cool as that.

It’s a film that somehow manages to eclipse every other disaster movie ever made by rolling all of them together in one. Just when you think Emmerich has run out of spectacular things to throw at Cusack, he goes and throws him out of an aircraft in a Bentley, before turning the final thirty minutes into every seafaring disaster ever made.

It’s a big, dumb, loud, obnoxious, incredibly silly movie. But that’s exactly the target audience and you’ll sit there throughout with a big dumb grin on your face as you watch stupid shit happen to stupid people as Cusack and Ejiofor prove themselves to be brilliant actors in the face of impossible odds.

It might be the same as every other film Emmerich has ever made, but this is so big in scope, so massive in spectacle that he might have to retire after this. The disaster genre is now finished, people. Emmerich has taken on the masters at their own game and won. A big dumb grin of thanks.

4 stars

Poisoned

The blue lights dance before my eyes.
Hello, say they. Hello and welcome.
But where am I, say I to them, and what is this place?
You are in the centre of the universe, says one blue light.
We are dancing on a sun, says the other.
I stand up and look around at the mass of frozen orange fire. It’s big. It doesn’t feel warm.
Why am I here? I ask the blue lights as they dance above me.
This is where you go to die, say the blue lights, chuckling.
The sun flickers like a dim light, everything turns grey and cold and I can hear a woman shouting something but I can’t quite-
The sun glows ever brighter and more brilliant.
Am I dead? Say I to them.
The lights swoop and glow brighter as their dance grows more joyful. You are almost dead, say they. We’re just waiting for you to finally give up and come and join us.
What happens then? I ask.
The blue lights giggle but don’t respond. They each take one of my hands and together we begin flying out of the sun.
All around me is a vast, empty space. I can hear whispering in all directions but I can’t understand any of it. I can see stars, planets, shapes, galaxies, everything.
Would you like to stay here? Ask the blue lights as they pull me through this fantastic netherworld.
Suddenly the vast emptiness ahead parts like a torn curtain and all I can see is a cracked grey ceiling in a house and a moving shadow projected against it-
Where would you like to go? Asks one blue light.
We can take you anywhere, says the other.
We soar above the heavens and the stars and all the cosmos and all I can see is infinity.
My whole life plays before me like a film in just a few seconds.
The blue lights giggle and let go of me, entwining with each other and dancing again, twirling in all directions around me.
I float there in the void for a moment, weightless, suspended by nothing, breathing nothing, feeling nothing.
The whispering grows slightly louder, but I still can’t hear it.
Suddenly, a crash – I whirl around to see where it came from and catch a glimpse of steel glinting in the light-
It is gone and the blue lights dance in my face. Is it just my imagination or are they growing larger?
The blue fairies spin me around and flip me over and over, giggling all the while.
We’re going to have such fun, says one fairy.
We’re already having fun, says the other.
What are we going to do? Ask I of them.
We’re going to play and dance and have fun forever, giggles one fairy.
It’s always such fun, giggles the other.
The blue lights are now the size of a small child, still spinning me, still dancing.
The cold grey ceiling returns, a silhouette in my face, clutching something that glints in the light, saying something I can’t quite catch, long lair falling down onto my face-
But when I touch my face there’s nothing there.
The blue children shoot off ahead of me, into the distant suns. I try to fly after them but I can’t move.
I feel like I’m swimming in treacle.
I look around to see what’s holding me.
I look to my arm and see it lying stretched out ahead of me, on the cold grey floor, somebody kneeling on it, the steel thing glinting as it hovers above my arm and I can see my veins and arteries standing out under my skin, bright red as though infected-
A warm hand touches my shoulder and I turn to see a beautiful woman floating before me. Like the children, she too is blue and shines light and elegance.
She takes my hand and holds it to her heart.
Do you want to stay here with me? She asks.
I nod, speechless.
The light billows around her like a wedding dress.
We can be together forever, says she.
I nod again.
Hold me, says she.
I hold her.
I feel a pressure on my arm, I can feel all the nerves and veins inflamed and burning-
What’s wrong? She asks.
I shake my head.
Are you scared? She asks.
I nod.
Don’t be. Kiss me. We will always be together, says she.
She leans into me and strokes my face.
Her soft blue lips are only inches away from mine.
Her eyes close in peace.
I close mine.
‘Dawn,’ I murmur.
Thunder rumbles and the blue woman screams, winds billows and I’m deafened by the noise of rage.
I COULD HAVE LOVED YOU, she screams, becoming taller, grander, as big as the infinite canvas behind her.
She strikes forward like a snake and stabs my arm.

I’m screaming up at Dawn who kneels on my infected arm as she brings the bloodied knife up again-

YOU COULD HAVE HAD HAPPINESS AND EVERLASTING LOVE, screams the blue woman again.
She stabs me again in the arm.

There’s blood all over the floor and Dawn is screaming and crying and I’m screaming and crying and there’s a wedge carved out of my arm and I can only move two fingers and there’s black gunk mixed in with the blood pouring out of the infection-

YOU WILL NEVER KNOW HAPPINESS, bellows the woman as she flies towards me, face filled with hate and pain and she plunges straight into my arm.

Dawn hammers down the knife one final time and I’m not moving any more fingers on that hand ever again. The sounds stop once more and the world goes dark again.

The flame burns my arm and it hurts so bad I wake up screaming. She takes the flame away and kneels over my face again; blood, tears and sweat running freely down her face.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispers into my ear.
She leans down onto my chest and sobs until she can only breathe in great gulps.
I move my arm to pat her on the back and tell her it’s alright, it’s okay, we’ll be fine-
My arm ends just below the elbow. A blackened stump is all I have left now.
The veins are no longer burning or red.
She sobs into my chest until she falls asleep, laying on me.
I can hear the wind and the rain.
I’m alive.