Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Smoking is bad m'kay

What is it with the government atm? They try to force through a deeply unpopular bit of anti-terror legislation and get humiliated; then they start to backtrack when trying to push through deeply unpopular school reform. Yet no matter how many ppl scream at them to ban smoking fully in pubs and clubs, they just turn the other cheek.

From MPs to Doctors to independent reports to public opinion polls... they are all saying the same thing. The current plan for banning smoking is a joke and will not work. Now is the time to be tough and to take smoking by the balls. Ban it completely in all pubs, clubs etc. It's the only solution.

Ireland did it... why can't we?

Review of the movie year 2005

Last year I completely forgot to do my top 5 movies of the year. I think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would probably have won, but I've slept many times since then so I've probably forgotten most of the movies I saw.

I sat down the other day to write down all the movies I've seen this year and was pleasantly surprised to find that my UGC Cineworld Unlimited Card is still worth the money.

Despite the constant supply of sequels and remakes I actually found a lot more enjoyment in the cinema in 2005. While I have endless debates about how Hollywood is imploding there are still enough good films coming out of the big studios to keep me entertained. 4 out of 5 of my top films this year are from Hollywood, though I would argue that only one of them is totally mainstream. While I would like to think that the works of Frank Miller or Joss Whedon are mainstream, the truth is, that they aren't.

But I digress.

Out of the 30 or so films I saw for the first time this year I didn't have too much difficulty choosing a top 5. Despite late challenges from the likes of King Kong, my top 5 this year had all booked their places by mid-August.

Top 5

5) The Aviator
The most 'Hollywood' of all my selections, it was way back in January when I saw this Scorcese/DiCaprio opus about the early life of Howard Hughes. If you like biopics, then you should love this film because it is done superbly. I make no apologies for being a fan of DiCaprios work and here he gives one of his most powerful post-Titanic performances.

4) Sin City
Oh if only all comic book screen-adaptaions were like this. Three stories, all shot in digitally rendered blacks, whites and yellows. This one is a comic book geeks wet-dream and leaves me in no doubt that Robert Rodriguez is one of the most talented directors on the planet. Hell if he can make Josh Hartnett look and act cool, then he can do anything. Some guy called Tarantino did a small directing cameo too.

3) Batman Begins
For years and years I laboured under the impression that Tim Burtons Batman was a truly superb opening to the dark knights world. I was wrong. Christopher Nolan brings Batman into the 21st Century with a movie that delves deeper into the psyche of Bruce Wayne than any before it. The only thing that could top it now, was if Nolan agreed to make a movie adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.

2) Downfall
Adolf Hitler with feelings. Downfall portrays depserate people in truly desperate times. That many of these people are responsible for some of the worst atrocities known to man make it all the more poignant. "It is quite simply, the most important movie to ever come out of Germany and possibly the most significant war movie ever made."

1) Serenity
Was there ever any doubt? It almost feels wrong to call Serenity a Hollywood movie, but it is. A movie so great I paid hundreds of pounds to take my girlfriend to Edinburgh for the World Premiere. Joss Whedon is a fantastic writer, and proves his raw talent as a movie director too with a film that crosses the rigid boundaries of science fiction into comedy and drama. If you have only a day to live, spend it watching this movie, over and over again!

Best of the rest

Put simply, the movies that when joined with the top 5, would nearly make a top 10!

King Kong
Peter Jacksons post Lord of the Rings labour of love so nearly made my top 5. It was a superb movie. If you can ignore the fact that the film is just a tad (30 minutes) too long you should love it.

The Brothers Grimm
Poor Terry Gilliam. The audiences really don't seem to appreciate him. But hey, you keep making 'em, I'll keep watchin 'em. Superb fantasy comedy mixing more fairytales than I would have thought possible, and teaching us all the real reason why you shouldn't go into the dark woods.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Oh how many more adaptations will this one get? How about a play on broadway? Despite initial fears that this would be awful, I was really impressed with this latest interpretation of the Douglas Adams story.

It seems like an age since I saw this movie but it really did strike a cord. Superb movie about the seedier side of relationships with strong performances from Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen.

Special mentions

Errr, the movies that while they wouldn't have made the top 10, still deserve a mention for quite random reasons (i.e. I wanted to mentioned them some how and this was the only way I could think of doing it).

Superb puppet movie fantasy. Rather than try to avoid the fact that all the characters have strings, the director makes them an integral part of the movie. I don't really know what else to say, except that it was absolutely fantastic.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This was the year that Tim Burton proved that you could remake a still superb movie and do it well enough to not get lynched. Aside from some sickly moments, this adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is worth a thousand Harry Potters

Harry Potter 4
Which brings me nicely onto the final special mention. I've never really got into the Potter hype. I found the early books a little too childish for my liking and ditto with the movies. The third movie in particular had me wincing in pain as the director felt it necessary to explain every little plot point for the little ones in row L. Then along came Mike Newell and with him a crew that has produced the first truly accessible Harry Potter movie. It offers something for the kids (although young ones should stay away) while not insulting the intelligence of those in the audience over 12! I was genuinely impressed with it and very happy to see that Newell had done what was needed and cut large sections of utter dross from the book.

The Turkeys

The movies that quite simply wouldn't make it into my top 5, even if the films in the top 5, best of the rest and special mentions did not exist.

Fantastic Four
OK, was it really that bad? Well, yeah actually. It is symptomatic of the problems with all these movie adaptations of comics. The bad guy was dull, the conclusion contrived, the heros boring (except The Thing who was pretty cool). And don't get me started on FlameBoy... aka, most annoying man on the planet ever, whose jokes were only beaten for crapness by the leads in the turkey below.

The Legend of Zorro
OK, forgetting for a second that I think Catherine Zeta Jones is the most annoying actress ever to grace the screen (maybe her and FlameBoy above should get together for a Gigli style flop), I still hoped that Antonio Banderas could make Zorro watchable. Alas, the result was an awful comedy action reminiscent of the worst parts of Romancing the Stone. Banderas looked old, very old. And as for the jokes? OH MY GOD... they were worse than I could ever have imagined.

Not worth the Hype

These are the movies that I quite simply had to mention because even though they didn't get in the top 5, nearly top 10, special mentions or turkeys, they involved people or franchises that I just had to mention even though I shouldn't because all it leads to is me ranting about the problems I have with the said people and franchises.

Said people and franchises include, but are not limited too:

  • a) Steven Spielberg
  • b) Star Wars
  • c) Tom Cruise
  • d) Both a) & c)
Can anyone guess what's coming next?

Star Wars: Episode 3
Despite my previous positive review of Ep3 it still doesn't mean that this film deserves the massive attention it receives. In the end Ep3 appeased me after the true horror of Ep2, but even at it's best it was still a long way off the magic of the original trilogy. Lucas is a hack and despite a thoroughly enjoyable final hour of Ep3, should never be allowed to go within 50 miles of a movie set ever again.

War of the Worlds
Yet another film of thirds. The first third was ok, the third... er third was awful... the middle third was superb. But one good middle section does not a great film make. I just don't get Spielberg. He has made some films I love, so I am not beyond praising the guy. But he just seems to have found a formula for endings that are so unoriginal I am thinking of leaving his next movie 10 minutes early!

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong

It's hard to believe how far Peter Jackson has come. Only a few years ago he was a little known director of some classic cult movies. Now, he is one of the most successful directors of his generation and following Lord of the Rings it was only fitting that he be given the chance to remake the movie that first got him interested in the business.

For a remake Kong is VERY true to the original. In many ways the movie is an expansion on the classic story, delving deeper into some of the characters while exploring Skull Island far more than was ever possible in 1933.

For those not in the know Kong follows the adventure of film-maker Carl Denham (Black) as he recklessly sails into the unknown in search of a mysterious island on which to shoot his make or break movie. Joining Denham on the appropriately named tramp steamer, the Venture, are talented writer Jack Driscoll (Brody), B-movie film icon Bruce Baxter (Chandler) and unknown actress Ann Darrow (Watts).

In a very bold move, Jackson chooses to dispense with the action for the first hour, instead expanding on the growing relationship between Darrow and Driscoll. While in theory this is a good idea, in practice it does make the first hour seem laboured. However, we all know what is coming and when it does, oh boy!

It must be love

Despite being pounded by high sees and jagged rocks, Denham takes his filming party ashore, driven only by a desire for fame and fortune. Of course, he is in well over his head and even as his friends begin to lose theirs he remains on a determined course. I have to say that Jack Black is superb as Denham. He is the bad guy of movie, yet it's impossible to hate him. He's just an opportunist who does not see what Darrow sees.

Now entrenched on the island, we finally get our first glimpse of Kong. And he is beautiful. Having snatched Darrow, the adventure can really begin. The crew of the Venture join forces with the film crew to rescue the young actress, although it could be argued that Denham is still far more interested in shooting his picture than performing heroics. What follows is over an hour of tense jungle horror as the team are picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome fashion.

While dinosaurs and other monsters take care of the Venture crew, Ann Darrow begins to strike up a relationship with the big ape. This is where Kong is truly magnificent. Watching the growing bond between them only makes what is to come all the more heart-wrenching. Which of course is the idea! Like all good movie relationships the two also find time for a lovers tiff, before Kong proves his position as ultimate king of the jungle by kicking some serious T-Rex ass and rescuing Darrow from certain a certain munching.

Kong takes on T-Rex

However, this ain't no happy love story and as such it couldn't be called King Kong without that ending. Jackson remodeled New York to look exactly how it would in 1933 and the attention to detail is stunning. Like the original, it is hard not to feel something for the poor doomed 'beast' as he scales the highest point in New York just to keep Darrow 'safe'. Ironically, I actually found his capture on the island more heart-wrenching than the finale, perhaps because it was the moment that the King truly died in my eyes.

All in all It is a fantastic film to watch and I would recommend it to just about anyone, although perhaps not little children.

On the downside though, the film is overly long. At over 3 hours it is billed as an epic but in truth it is relatively light on material. While Jackson had stated he wanted to give the characters more depth, he seems to ignore most of the human characters once they reach the island. The hard work spent building up the Darrow and Driscoll relationship just disappears during the 90 minutes on Skull Island.

Perhaps the most grating thing though, was the way Jackson builds up Jimmy the cabin boy (Bell) before casting him aside without a mention. Despite my usual hatred for plucky, youthful characters with a lot to learn, Jimmy is actually a superb addition to the story. Having been given an extraordinary amount of screen time, on par with that of Denham and Driscoll, his character is dropped the moment they've escaped the island. Of course, you could argue that as he's a member of the Venture crew there is no need for him to appear in the final acts. While that is certainly true of the other crew members (including Captain Englehorn), Jackson has invested considerable time in Jimmy and it seems wasteful that this buildup is predominately for nothing. It may not bother everyone, but for me (and Holly) it felt like a very sloppy piece of scriptwriting.

As I mentioned earlier, the film does feel too long and I think this is down to Jackson wanting to ensure he did so many classic scenes justice. Unfortunately, some of the scenes are just OTT. Don't get me wrong, the drama and suspense on the island are fantastic, but at times it felt like some of the more extravagant scenes were put in for the sake of showing how cool the guys at WETA are. A good example of this is the giant creepy crawly scene - resurrected from the original movie - that sees some of the remaining survivors being picked off by various giant leeches, spiders, and all manner of bugs. The funny thing is, that this is a superb set piece, but by now I had actually begun to get a little bored of watching the 'red shirts' die. They had already been trampled by a dino stampede, chased by Raptors and mashed by Kong himself. It just felt like overkill for me, despite being a loverly shot piece.

My final gripe is one I didn't expect. First let me say that the special effects of Kong himself are truly remarkable. Every scene with him in is gorgeous and the WETA peeps have done a stunning job. That aside, it surprised me that some of the none Kong CGI elements were quite poor in places. To be fair, some of the scenes are very complex and it may be a case of them being a bridge too far for current CGI techniques. The stampede is a good example of this which, while tremendously intense, just looked too clean and 'fake'. However, the biggest issues were, by todays high standards, relatively simple pieces of CGI. In particular, many of the scenes involving the CGI lifeboats were awful and reminded me of the poor fx in parts of Narnia.

To be honest I came out with the same feeling that I have had after seeing the recent Star Wars movies; that an over-reliance on green-screening is not always a good thing. Merging CGI with traditional techniques can produce far more fluid films, a la Jacksons previous epic Lord of the Rings.

Phew... okay, for those still with me, let me just apologise for perhaps focusing too much on the negative elements in the film. If I could re-iterate... IT IS A GREAT FILM. It's just not the best of the year.

King Kong: 8/10
In summary, a stunning, if flawed, fantasy epic that again illustrates that remakes can work. However for all it's flaws nothing can change the utter beauty of King Kong himself. Every scene he is in is superb, from the poignant to the tragic to the horrifically violent. Empire recently stated that if the Academy had any balls they'd give Serkis an Oscar for best actor. For once, I agree with them.

Directed by Peter Jackson

Naomi Watts .... Ann Darrow
Jack Black .... Carl Denham
Adrien Brody .... Jack Driscoll
Andy Serkis .... King Kong/Lumpy the Cook
Jamie Bell .... Jimmy
Kyle Chandler .... Bruce Baxter
Thomas Kretschmann .... Captain Englehorn

Thursday, December 15, 2005

BSG: Pegasus

The final episode before the mid-season break sees homage being paid to the classic show, in a big way.

Believed lost in the initial Cylon attack, the Galactica comes face to face with the brand-spanking new Battlestar Pegasus, commanded by Admiral Helena Cain (played superbly by Star Treks Michelle Forbes).

Michelle Forbes as Cain

While initially jubilant at the thought of a fully manned, fully armed battlestar joining the fleet, things soon take a turn for the worst as Cain initiates sweeping changes; transferring key crew members to the Pegasus. Events are complicated yet further when an incident involving Helo and Tyrol leaves a Pegasus crew member dead.

After a short break from serious hostilities, the tension is definitely back. Having Cain as a woman (in the original show the character was played by the late Lloyd Bridges) is a masterstroke as it only heightens the tension between the old warhorse (Adama) and his superior.

Again, Ron Moore and David Eick push the boundaries of mainstream sci-fi by highlighting some harrowing events on board pegasus. The sight of a Cylon prisoner, battered and motionless, after suffering months of physical and emotional abuse, is quite shocking and gives Tricia Helfer (Number Six) and James Callis (Baltar) a chance to break from the mould we have seen them in over the previous 18 months. Although only short scenes, they include some of the best performances by both actors.

A brutally tortured Number Six

If I have a criticism, it is that the story feels rushed. While things are brought to a head by a serious turn of events, Adamas crucial choice at the end of the ep, does seem hasty. I've since discovered that the 45 minute ep was originally shot as a 90 minute TV-movie and as such, vast sections have been cut out. Rumours persist that the full-length ep may find its way onto the DVD release.

In summary, a classic cliffhanger that deals with some pretty heavy issues. Sometimes it really is hard to believe Ron Moore once worked on Star Trek.

Pegasus: 9/10

4 years detention and no questions

OK. So would someone explain the point of arresting suspected terrorists and then holding them under house arrest for 4 years without questioning them?

Maybe it truly is a case of see no evil, hear no evil!

And don't get me started on CIA torture flights around the World.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BSG: The Final Cut & Flight of the Phoenix

More rushed reviews of BSG eps.

The Final Cut
After the long story-arc previously, I found it refreshing to see a relatively standalone story. A journalist, who has been nothing but stinging in her reports on Galactica is invited on board by Adama to shoot a documentary about everyday life onboard the only surviving Battlestar.

The episode gives us a rare glimpse into the lives of the people on board Galactica. It's shot in a traditional docu-drama way and while some might find the plot a little 'cheesy', I found it a welcome relief from the usual depressing tone.

That's not to say there isn't any drama. What with Sharon being rushed from her purpose built cell with a near miscarriage; two cylon raiders attacking the fleet; oh and the small matter of one crewman wanting Tigh dead! The glowing final cut may feel like military propaganda, but it is explained away with a final twist about the journalist.

In summary, not a bad ep. It offers some much needed humour and gives us a chance to catch breath before the next onslaught from the Cylons.

The Final Cut: 7.5/10

Flight of the Phoenix
A common point made by fellow fans of Galactica is "are the makers keeping count of the many ships lost etc?". In a slight piss-take out of Star Trek Voyager*, this ep sees Tyrol turning his skills onto a project to create a new Viper out of spare parts. After several months of fighting losing battles, Galactica is now very low on fighter craft with no hope of a re-supply.

It's a morale boosting episode more than anything, that slowly sees everyones skepticism turn around. In war, people need to have something to believe in. Building a new fighter becomes that thing to believe in.

Meanwhile, a virus left over from a previous cylon attack begins putting the lives of Galacticas crew at risk. Adama again has to turn to the captive Cylon, Sharon in order to save the ship.

Another fun episode, which means that the depression must surely be due to return in the next ep. It is a strong performance from Aaron Douglas (Tyrol), whose obsession with building a new Viper captures the hearts and minds of everyone on board Galactica.

Flight of the Phoenix: 7.5/10

* On Voyager, no matter how many shuttles Chakotay crashed into planets, they always seemed to have a few spare!

BSG: The Farm, Home pts 1 & 2

Given my crapness when it comes to updating my blog I figured I'd better catchup with my BSG reviews. Season 2 has almost finished its mid-season break, so if I don't do this now, it ain't ever gonna happen.

The Farm
The Farm is the final ep dealing with the trials of Starbuck & Helo on Caprica. The previous ep saw the introduction of a resistance cell, which quite frankly left a lot to be desired. Having joined forces with the gung-ho cell Starbuck is injured and wakes to find herself in a Caprican hospital being tended by a mysterious doctor.

Naturally, things aren't what they seem as we begin to learn that the Cylons are impregnating human women in 'farms' all across the colonies. This plot point isn't a bad concept, but it struggles to keep any cohesion (a bit like this blog), as too much has to happen in a very small space of time. Perhaps if the writers had given this plot a few eps to develop it would have seemed a little more interesting.

Again, the more interesting action is going on within the rag-tag fleet. Adama has finally emerged from his coma to find the fleet in disarray. Roslin and Lee Adama have fled Galactica in an effort to form a splinter group. Their aim? To return to Kobol in order to find their way to Earth. This is actually a pretty gripping storyline as it again illustrates the role religion can play in society. Roslin has now emerged from her role as a weak President into that of a spiritual leader, and her support is far greater than ever before.

The episode is probably the weakest of the season so far. The titular plot is very contrived, mainly due to it being rushed far too much. The interest levels are kept going only by the return of Adama and the rise of Roslin as a religious icon.

The Farm: 5.5/10

Home parts 1 & 2
As the title suggests, this two part ep deals with the re-unification of the characters trapped on Caprica with the two splintered fleets. It brings to an end a nine ep story arc that began with the previous seasons cliffhanger 'Kobols Last Gleaming'.

A still recovering Adama, takes stock of what went wrong while Tigh was in command. Rather than allow the divisions to grow, he chooses to take the fleet back to Kobol in an effort to find Roslin (and his son, Lee). Meanwhile, Starbuck returns to the fleet with Helo and a pregnant Sharon. As expected, some pretty serious tension ensues.

While I do feel that this story-arc has been a couple of episodes too long, the conclusion does not fail to deliver. Adama is a proud man, but he is never more than slightly willing to move on without the third of the fleet lost to Roslin. The eventual discovery of the Tomb of Athena does not offer easy to follow directions to Earth, thus ensuring the show lasts a little longer than 2 seasons!

Some very good performances from Almos (Adama), Park (Sharon) and McDonnell (Roslin) ensure a gritty finale to the very depressing (albeit entertaining) story-arc.

Home part 1: 7/10
Home part 2: 7.5/10