Thursday, 22 December 2011

On 22.12.11 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
Hello, blog. Sorry I’ve been away. University happened. I was busy.

Here’s what I’ve learned over my first term:

1. York is wonderful*. It’s a really nice place. Lovely architecture, lots of ducks and a nice market. There’s a variety of cultural events for intelligent/pretentious folk such as myself. I enjoyed the Aesthetica short film festival (where I met the writer and director of Cleaning Up, an excellent comedic thriller starring Mark Gatiss) and the Railway Museum (which some friends and I visited on my birthday, in true crazy student style).

2. York is disgusting.
I don’t like showering in hard water; Lancashire’s softer approach to H2O makes my hair feel so much nicer. Strange blue dirt keeps appearing all over my room. And some of the nightlife opportunities are of very questionable hygiene. I think one floor surface in particular may have given me AIDS.

3. My degree is great.
Everything about it is impressive. The Department of Theatre, Film and Television’s new £24 million building, having lectures in a cinema, the mix of theoretical and practical study, the experienced teaching staff (especially the uniquely charming science fiction author Philip Palmer, whose disregard for the actual course structure and the concept of pacing I shall miss in next term's seminars. Here's a favourite quote from him: "Define dogging. (to rest of class) I know what it is, I just want to hear him say it." It made sense in context), the guest lectures (particularly Pop Idol creator Alan Boyd and his anecdote about taking a lion into the offices of FOX). Alles Wunderbar.

4. My degree is unimportant.
My timetable’s generally on the verge of overflowing, yet a significant proportion of this is unrelated to my degree. I’m an active member (Assistant Production Director, in fact – Ass Prod for short) of the student TV station, am co-writing a comedy sketch show episode with my old double act, Apple and Grape, and am still persevering in my ongoing struggle to learn German. I’m quite proud of being called the “busiest person on the planet” by a third year student. Plus, I’ve even tried my hand at this little thing called “socialising”…

5. Students are cool.
I’ve made lots of new friends, which is nice. They even made me cake, which is very nice.

6. Students are shits.
Shut the fuck up out there, I'm trying to sleep. Clean up after yourself in the fucking kitchen. There are indeed advantages to living in a small family.

7. I’m a good film nerd. Well, I’m working on it, and the classic films shown as part of my degree are helping. I’ve developed a particular love for 1950s science fiction B-movies. Having watched The Day the Earth Stood Still and written an essay on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I was looking forward to a screening of Forbidden Planet (supporting a lecture about adaptation). It was even better than I’d imagined and I can officially deem it the most fantastic film ever. It's 1950s sci-fi crossed with The Tempest, Leslie Nielsen and a tiger. Not forgetting the subconscious invincible gorilla. Amazing.

8. I’m a bad film nerd.
I haven’t really had time to go to the actual proper cinema that much and appear to have missed out on several of the season’s biggest releases. Cue panic when the Film Pilgrim, for whom I still write (and have been neglecting almost as much as this blog) ask me for my top ten films of the year. I’ll post a link to what I scraped together when it’s up.

9. I’ll take any excuse to neglect my blog.
Especially if it’s “I’m really busy being at university”. Sorry. There’ll be at least one more post over the Christmas/New Year period and maybe I’ll even attempt to do one or two when I’m back in York.

10. Merry Christmas!
What’s that? That’s not a thing I’ve learned? Don’t be such a Scrooge.

*11. I use the word 'wonderful' too much these days. I shall try to phase in a few more instances of 'fantastic', 'brilliant', 'fabelhaft' etc.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

With a marvel of scheduling so perfect that either proves that I am on the BBC's radar or is a total coincidence, series six of Doctor Who finished this week, the last weekend before I jet off to York for my university adventures. Steven Moffat's second series finale, The Wedding of River Song, closed off the second half of the split series by answering some questions and posing others for episodes to come. As I haven't written about Who on here since June's A Good Man Goes to War, let me take you on a trip through time (the last six weeks, to be precise) as I discuss what I will insist on calling series 6B.

After 6A's dramatic cliffhanger, 6B kicked off with the Doctor returning to Amy and Rory to report that "actually, I can't find your daughter" in a post-cliffhanger about-face reminiscent of Amy's "actually, I'm not pregnant" in Day of the Moon. But, like when it turned out that Amy was indeed sort of pregnant, the Doctor did indeed sort of find Melody. Then she shot the TARDIS and then they went to Germany and then Hitler shot her and then she regenerated into River Song and then the Numbskulls dicked around with time a bit. Typically madcap and complex Moffat fare. While there was some nice development of the series arc and the relationships between the main characters, Let's Kill Hitler was, like Moffat's previous episode, severely flawed - it made the classic mistake of "not enough Hitler". The Indiana Jones-esque mocking of the Führer was one of the highlights of the episode - "Rory, take Hitler and put him in that cupboard" – but, by focusing entirely on the unique family unit the Doc’s got going on, the episode didn’t make good enough use of its setting, which seemed to become arbitrary after the first fifteen minutes. Other than that, Let’s Kill Hitler was an enjoyable and imaginative re-entry point for the series, with an effective emotional element.

In between the Moff's major episodes came a series of four standalone stories. Mark Gatiss' Night Terrors, a spooky, atmospheric and emotional tale, was his best episode yet. The story of the Doctor and co. making a house call to help a cowardly little child who banishes all of his fears into his bedroom cupboard was reminiscent of 2006’s Fear Her, except at the opposite end of the quality spectrum to that abominable pile of cack. It was also a visually very nice episode - who knew that a grotty, impoverished council flat block could look so stylish? One of the highlights was when the TARDIS materialised and was reflected in a puddle - beautiful shot composition from director Richard Clark (incidentally, the highlight of Fear Her (i.e. the only good bit) was also the TARDIS materialisation, a comedic moment where the Doctor nearly walks into a wall). There were only two downsides to Night Terrors. Firstly, I would have liked a bit more explanation as to how the kid was making people disappear. His powers were a bit too extraordinary and mysterious for my disbelief suspension circuits to function. Secondly, I didn't much care for the awkward "don't forget the story arc - the Doctor's going to die!" shot of the computer monitor at the end. It was like The Curse of the Black Spot - plastering on the same cliffhanger as the previous week as if that makes it part of an ongoing story.

Next came Tom MacRae’s The Girl Who Waited, which was among the best, if not the absolute best, of series 6. With Amy trapped in an alternate time stream on an alien quarantine facility, this episode, effectively minimalist in terms of cast and set design, explored one of the potential dangers of life as the Doctor’s companion. It had inspired sci-fi elements bolstering an emotional and intelligent story, and particularly excellent performances from Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Plus, Rory did look nice in those glasses.

Describable as “The Shining, in space, with a minotaur”, Toby Whithouse’s The God Complex was good, though not as good as the previous two weeks. The guest characters trapped in a mysterious hotel with the TARDIS crew were nicely developed and the minotaur was cool (nice to see a “man in a suit” villain instead of CGI; same applies for that scarily realistic gorilla). However, the resolution to the plot, revolving around the Doctor making Amy lose her faith in him by getting her surname wrong, thus killing the minotaur, was a bit of a mess. This episode also saw Amy and Rory being abruptly kicked out of the TARDIS, never to return again (except for the next two episodes, and probably the Christmas special and next series). This final scene was poignant and well acted. Bye bye Ponds! Despite all of its weaknesses, the one defining moment of The God Complex was the one line of dialogue that is undoubtedly the funniest line of the series - "look at the detail on that cheese plant!" I’m not sure why, but that one gets me every time.

Gareth Roberts’ Closing Time, reuniting the Doctor with Craig from last year’s The Lodger, was another great, albeit flawed, episode. The wonderful chemistry between Matt Smith and James Corden, as the Time Lord and the stressed father from Colchester encountered the Cybermen in a department store, led to a plethora of funny moments. The fight with the Cybermat in particular was one of the best comedy sci-fi fights I've seen in a long time, with a perfect mix of slapstick and danger. It’s a shame that the later showdown with the Cybermen was nowhere near as good. Craig blowing up the Cybermen “with love” was the third plot out of the previous four to be resolved by the concentrated application of emotion, which to me was the point at which this annoying trend became unacceptable. The episode ended with the Doctor, Stetson donned and blue envelopes gathered, heading off to face his death, while his assassin River Song was being forced into a certain spacesuit…

And that brings us to the finale. While The Wedding of River Song has divided opinions, I personally loved it. With the Doctor finally having to face his execution by the shores of Lake Silencio, so many cool moments were packed into just 45 minutes - Long hair Doctor (better than short hair Doctor)! Churchill! Eye patches! Future Viking alien! Rory dressed as Naked Snake! A robot with an Irish accent controlled by a man with a Scottish accent! Silurian! Stetson! Dickens (I bet acclaimed star of stage and screen Simon Callow was thrilled when he got the script for his big Who return)! Egypt! Dorium’s head! A train! Yes, all of this, lots more, and many emotional moments for the Doctor, yet the episode never seemed badly paced or rushed. I did predict the resolution to the mystery of the Doctor’s death (including the description of the Teselecta in the "PREVIOUSLY" montage gave it away), but I don't care, because it made sense and didn't rely on using emotion to blow stuff up. A very cleverly written and ambitious finale, with a variety of memorably striking imagery, The Wedding of River Song was an exciting thrill ride and a perfect development of the relationship between River and the Doctor.

I think that’s all the episodes reviewed. Oh, hang on, there was that mini one written by some lucky kids in the last ever Doctor Who Confidential. It was shit, obviously, but the kids must have been happy to see their script come to life. Bring back Doctor Who Confidential!

All things considered, I like Steven Moffat’s style of Doctor Who more than his predecessor Russell T Davies’. The continually developing mysteries keep the viewer guessing even after the series has ended and the imaginative storylines are effectively developing the character of the Doctor, played with a fantastically alien quality by Matt Smith. I also like how both of Moffat's finales have managed to have an impressive sense of scale, both in terms of the threat to the universe and of personal effect on the heroes, while not relying on RTD's trope of "another Dalek invasion, with more Daleks than last year". As I said about the Cybermen in A Good Man Goes to War, I like how Moffat is giving all the major factions of the Whoniverse occasional appearances, like the Dalek in The Wedding of River Song, which make them feel more like connected parts of a complete mythos. One problem with series six’s arc was that the placement of the standalones, as brilliant as many of them were, sometimes felt a bit awkward; in 6A, the TARDIS crew gave up on looking for the child in America, the mystery they had originally been investigating, to go off and “have some adventures”, while in 6B, the Ponds seemed for a while to forget that they have a child somewhere. In this respect, series five had more of a consistently balanced story arc than this year. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see where Doctor Who goes next. As much as I like the Ponds, I think their story has been drawn to a close and would like to see a new companion or two next year. Not that they can’t appear every once in a while, like their time travelling daughter, whom we’ll also undoubtedly see again. I just hope the Stetson returns. Stetsons, like Doctor Who, are cool.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

This long summer is nearly at an end and I'm well into preparing for moving to university, having been to both Ikea and Musbury Fabrics. Sufficient kitchenware and bedding is thoroughly in my possession. However, while many of my peers seem to have already started their university adventures, York's term begins peculiarly late, so I've been spending my time productively by watching films and then writing about them. Here are some pieces I've done for The Film Pilgrim.

City of God Blu-Ray Review

A truthful study of crime with an unpredictable, thrilling plot, post-modern stylings and a bit of seventies rocking, City of God is like The Wire crossed with Pulp Fiction and a bit of Saturday Night Fever, in Brazil. Not to be missed.

The English Patient Blu-Ray Review

Overly long and overly sentimental, but held together by a few very strong performances, a complex and engaging plot and expertly poetic filmmaking.

The Aviator Blu-Ray Review

This touching, tragic and stylish biopic is both a masterful, meticulously detailed tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood and an intelligent exploration of a deeply troubled psyche – not forgetting a worthy addition to any film collection.

That was three Blu-Ray reviews done in one week! I deserve a biscuit for that (as well as the free Blu-Rays).

Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within Review

Far from easy watching, but is an expertly made portrayal of a society plagued by corruption as well as a thrilling, uncompromisingly gritty action experience and a recommended watch for anyone interested in world cinema.

I braved the Manchester riots to watch this film, you know. They made us exit the cinema via the secret Nandos service corridor.

On the off-chance that anyone reading this subscribes to Media Magazine, I have an article based on my EPQ essay "How did the Americanfilm industry respond to the Iraq war?" published in the online supplement to the September edition, although I'm not sure if it's up yet. I've definitely been paid, so it's all good, and I can call myself a professional film critic.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Even compared to the entire run of its sister show, Doctor Who, Torchwood has been less than consistent. What started out as Russell T Davies' panic attack over not being allowed to put explicit gay sex into every episode of Who, thus creating an "adult" version that was less mature in themes than Sooty & Co. (the episode about a cloud of gas feeding on orgasms has been hard to forget for all the wrong reasons) turned into something actually quite good with 2009's five-part Children of Earth. The BBC obviously tried to recreate this actually-quite-good-ness with this year's Miracle Day, a ten-part series made in conjunction with US network Starz. Despite no-one in the UK having heard of Starz, this meant a bigger budget and a bigger scale. Because a bigger scale means it has to be better, right? (They also needed the bigger budget to fund John Barrowman's botox - he needs to not age for continuity purposes.)

The concept: one day, nobody dies. The next day, nobody dies. And the next. And the next. World population: a large, ever increasing number. As we're reminded at the start of every episode. This is bad, by the way.

Of course, the CIA, even with agents Rex Matheson (Mekhi Phifer) and Esther Drummond (Alexa Havins), are not going to be able to deal with this situation on their own. There are mysterious forces at work here. While The Doctor and UNIT are conveniently busy (respectively, family troubles and wondering why they haven't been invited back since Planet of the Dead), Captain Jack Harkness (Barrowman) returns from his showtunes tour of the galaxy, pops over to Wales, finds Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles), blows up a helicopter, and there you have it; Torchwood are back together. Yay.

So, big concept, eh? The consequences of the Miracle were explored well, from the resulting financial meltdown to the problems of over-population and what to do with people who would normally be dead. The main problem with the series was the stretching of the plot over ten episodes - while I love the use of long form to tell slow-burning stories in many American series (have I ever mentioned that I like The Wire? Also, Treme, Dexter, Mad Men. Boardwalk Empire isn't bad), by episode two of Miracle Day it became apparent that maybe the writers had been a bit too ambitious. While the Torchwood team's investigations carried on at whatever pace was convenient, the episodes were padded out by the sub-plot of the week. Some potentially interesting and cool elements were introduced - the cult of "the soulless" vigilling their way around in silly masks, a hitman in a black suit and sunglasses, a hateful Sarah Palin-alike politician, and Ghostbuster himself Ernie Hudson as some sort of important executive man in a suit. Yet each of these plot elements appeared in one episode only. Yes, they wasted a Ghostbuster. The plot was quite a bit of a mess.

One sub-plot that was reasonably well developed was that of Oswald Danes. While my thoughts upon finding out that one of the new characters would be a convicted paedophile were along the lines of "Wow, Rusty must be getting near the end of his 'Things to put in Torchwood just because I couldn't put them in Doctor Who' list," the manipulative Danes was unique and strangely fun to watch. His attempted redemption led to a rather unusual cultural apotheosis, yet all he really wanted was death. And a prostitute. The fact that he was played by the wonderful Bill Pullman, on suitably sleazy form, made this character darkly believable and interesting.

Another highlight came in episode seven, almost entirely composed of a flashback to 1927. Jack visited 20s New York City and did exactly what anyone in their right media-saturated mind would want to do on a visit to 20s NYC - became involved in a smuggling ring and had an illicit gay affair with an Italian immigrant. He also got tortured a hell of a lot, perhaps one of the less desirable aspects of his trip, and encountered the only alien in the series, slotting in a nice reference to Who/Torchwood's mature spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures. It's always good to see more of Jack's past and this was a touching, tragic and deeply enjoyable love story, despite, typically for the series arc, being only very slightly relevant to the rest of the story.

Aside from these sub-plots, the main story did have its highlights. The opening episode was exciting, setting up the global events and the introduction of the main characters in an efficient manner. The middle section, where the truth behind the government's "overflow camps" was discovered, was tense and full of shocking twists. The development of Gwen's relationship with her family, as her father's heart attack lent a personal slant to the crisis for the heroine, as well as with Jack, was also a very well-implemented element, making the scenes where Gwen was ordered to betray Jack in order to protect her family particularly emotional. The conclusion was suitably dramatic and pulled the major plot strands together nicely, if a bit rushed, due to time being wasted on the hundreds of minor plot strands, and reliant on the kind of "science" we've come to expect from Russell T Davies. Miracle Day's variety of settings helped a lot, giving the show an impressively epic cinematic style - the climax in Shanghai and Buenos Aires would have lost a lot of its dramatic impact had the Blessing tunneled from Splott to Swansea.

Overall, Miracle Day was certainly an exciting and enjoyable series of Torchwood, with some solid exploration of the issues brought up by the Miracle as well as pleasing development of the main characters and a cinematic visual style. However, its messy plot structure and less developed sub characters render it inferior to the perfect political thriller that was Children of Earth.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

30 Minutes or Less, Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to his 2009 zom-com Zombieland, reunites the American director with star Jesse Eisenberg. ZuckerEisenberg plays Nick, a lazy pizza delivery boy unhappy with his job who often struggles to meet the company promise of pizza delivery in 30 minutes or less (fitting with the theme of speed, let's say ≤30Mins). Unsurprisingly, his situation only worsens when Nick finds himself kidnapped, wakes up with a bomb strapped to his chest and is given ten hours to rob a bank before it detonates.

Centreing on the comedic rapport between not one, but two double acts - Nick and his friend Chet (Aziz Ansari) and dim criminals (diminals?) Dwayne and Travis (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson), the film doesn't get off to a fantastic start. The majority of the first act is made up of juvenile humour - you know the sort, people arguing over whose sister they've slept with, crude euphemisms for penises, et cetera - and fails to be funny. However, once the bomb vest is strapped on and the plot starts to move, ≤30Mins becomes punctuated by many actually very hilarious moments. The jokes come fast and many hit the right chords, obviously aimed at the typical 21st century nerd - topics for humour include the internet, 3D films, a very clever use of a laser pen and even a joke about "that's what she said" 'jokes'. Combining this with the fast pace of the direction, Fleischer clearly knows his youthful target audience and it pays off, giving the film a contemporary yet intelligent and unpatronising style.

The cast are, in general, one of the major downsides of ≤30Mins. The majority of the cast, particularly Ansari and McBride, are more than a bit wooden in terms of conveying any form of realistic emotional character. I also don't like Ansari's shirt. On the other hand, there were never going to be any Academy Awards for Best Actor going to this kind of light-hearted comedy and this is not a major problem if the jokes are to your tastes. In contrast to his co-stars, however, Eisenberg shines in his first screen role since getting nominated for that aforementioned Oscar with The Social Network. Hollywood's go-to guy for young nerds shows that he can pull off the role of a comic hero effectively, giving Nick the right mix of laziness and energy, cleverness and pitiability, and a little bit of comedic pathos to boot.

≤30Mins is an enjoyably energetic little comedy that doesn't push any boundaries and is far from the greatest comedy you'll ever see, but, especially if modern geek culture is your kind of thing, is worth watching for the sporadic laugh out loud, roll on floor laughing, laughing your fucking arse off moments. I only literally carried out the first of those three actions, but that's quite funny enough.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

On 18.8.11 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nicolas Cage can't act. Some of his films (Matchstick Men) have a sharp enough plot to make the manic overacting sort of watchable. Some (Face/Off, The Wicker Man, Season of the Witch - OK, maybe most of his films) are just plain awful. This video sums up his "acting" style nicely. It is for this reason that my family refuse to watch Nicolas Cage films and for this reason that I made Leaving Las Vegas into tonight's late night viewing. After all, I remember hearing somewhere that it's one of his least bad films, whatever that accounts for.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find out that Nicolas Cage can act. No, really.

Cage plays alcoholic screenwriter Ben, who, having been fired from his job, burns his possessions and his memories (perhaps the film's saddest element is the burning photograph of Ben with wife and son, never to be mentioned again) and heads to Vegas, intending to drink himself to death. There he meets prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) and falls in love, in a tragically doomed manner befitting such a screw-up.

With its noticably low budget, Leaving Las Vegas hinges on the performances - so it's a good job that Cage, though he sometimes resorts to his typical über-crazed mannerisms (such as an early dance around a supermarket (sorry, grocery store) buying a trolley-full of booze), actually, in a good number of scenes, acts. It came as a shock, but his portrayal of an everyday man brought to the edge of despair, not by a ridiculous plot to steal his body parts in order to frame him for the murder of the president, but by his own personal vices, rarely without a bottle in his hand, is totally believable and, honestly, excellent.

Though Cage is not alone in being surprisingly good - Shue also gives a remarkably nuanced performance as the prostitute looking for comfort, lost in an urban hell, deluding herself that she is happy. It's such a shame that her career has gone nowhere since. I mean, Piranha 3D, really? Someone give this woman a job!

With the most depressing sex scene in existence, Leaving Las Vegas is a bleak modern tragedy, lit by the ominous neon glow of Vegas, eating away at souls and at wallets. Yet it is utterly compelling in its relentless and unforgiving tale of dependency, on alcohol and, for Ben and Sera, on each other.

Nicolas Cage can act. Crikey.

Check back here for "Michael Bay can direct", "Katie Price can put a sentence together", and "David Cameron can associate with the common man".

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Continuing this summer's trend of unimaginatively obvious titles, there was good reason for my expectations for Cowboys and Aliens to be low, especially considering the forgettable, characterless action of director Jon Favreau's Iron Man films. Yet, as my screening approached, I did find myself optimistic - the merging of the two genres combined with the promising cast does give Favreau's science-fiction Western a fun appeal.

Jake Lonergan, a former outlaw and a gruff loner (the character names are almost as subtle as the film title), strolls into the dusty town of Absolution in true Western style. Not long after, alien spaceships attack the town and abduct residents, in true science fiction style, leading Jake to join the remaining townspeople in a quest to save their friends and, in true American style, shoot lots of things.

Cowboys and Aliens is at its best at the beginning, when Jake is becoming acquainted with the town of Absolution and its inhabitants, before dipping in excitement in the middle, as the tracking of the aliens perhaps goes on a bit too long, but peaks again at the exciting, if highly predictable, final battle sequences. The story can, as one would expect, be boiled down simply to "cowboys versus aliens, bang bang, yee-haw," but does, in fact, have quite a bit more depth. Many of the residents of Absolution are given their own memorable traits and sub-plots and everything is held together by a wonderful cast. While Daniel Craig pulls off the "silent, manly figure with a criminal past" role in a manner to rival John Wayne, Harrison Ford does his thing as Colonel Dolarhyde, an ex-military man who takes charge of the ragtag band of alien hunters. I like Harrison Ford when he's given the right role, and while this is far from his best, he certainly makes the character his own and does his Harrison Ford thing as only Harrison Ford can. Meanwhile, Olivia Wilde excels as a powerful and mysterious woman who joins the group, while the ever-reliable Sam Rockwell adds a bit of comic relief as a barkeeper inexperienced in battle yet determined to save his wife. Paul Dano (the young chap whose milkshake is drunk in There Will Be Blood) is also notable as Dolarhyde's cocky son, who arrogantly terrorises the townspeople but is repeatedly taken on and casually pwned (as the kids would say) by Lonergan, to hilarious effect.

All of these characters' characteristics and corresponding sub-plots are weaved together well, as are the two genres. Science fiction and Western conventions are mixed in a unique and effective manner (much more effective than that other sci-fi Western, Wild Wild West, which was not a good film, to put it lightly) - many, if not all, of the tropes expected from either of these genres are present. Consequently, Cowboys and Aliens does ramp up the clichés in places, but this is just what is needed in such a film, and, in fact, I think it could have been taken further. I'd have liked more of an influence from classic Westerns in the cinematography for example - it is filmed in a manner quite average for a summer blockbuster movie and, at times, I wished it were more expressive - some Sergio Leone-style sweeping vistas and extreme close-ups during showdowns could have been added to great effect.

With a talented cast and its plots and genres weaved together competently, Cowboys and Aliens is certainly worth watching, though by sticking to conventional Hollywood techniques and having too predictable a plot, is prevented from approaching its true potential.

(Video review coming soon)

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I'm not far from being nearly half way through my ridiculously long summer holiday. The summer of doing lots of things, as my plans would tell you. Have I done lots of things? Yes! I've seen the sights (a bear being bullied by otters), I've lived the dream (baked a blackcurrant cake with my homegrown blackcurrants), I've hung out with the world's rich and famous (briefly met Anjli Mohindra off The Sarah Jane Adventures, Times columnist Caitlin Moran, and, as shown, Darth Vader), I've had my lows (a brief sink into existential despair, failing my driving test again), but I've had my highs (mostly caffeine highs - staying up late with a cup of tea and a DVD of a Coen brothers film).

Plans for the rest of summer - fix broken things, more books, more films, actually win at driving for once, go to Manchester Pride, avoid crowds and shit music as much as possible, go on holiday, enjoy wandering around a big boat for a week, make sure I'm prepared for uni, keep on rockin'.

Anyway, here are some links to articles I've done for various websites that aren't this one:

Film's 5 Most Horrible Bosses

It’s one thing to not let your employees have the day off over Christmas, but when those employees involve Kermit the Frog, that’s just despicable.
To tie in with the release of comedy Horrible Bosses, which is good. Also, my review here.Link

Manchester Comic Con report with Anjli Mohindra Q&A

The expo filled up quickly and, despite my usual annoyance with crowds, a plethora of fantastic costumes and free hugs gave the convention centre a fun and frivolous atmosphere.

For a The Sarah Jane Adventures fansite, hence some of the article being related to The Sarah Jane Adventures. Now edited to be less offensive to Craig Charles!

Sucker Punch DVD Review

Sucker Punch manages to become something that may not be one’s first thought upon hearing of a film containing giant samurai, German steampunk zombies, dragons and robots – boring. Zack Snyder is a hyperactive child, with a plethora of visual ideas but no attention span to do anything interesting with them.

Somehow, I got away with a triple Jon Hamm pun in this one.

Super 8 video review:

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Video review coming soon, when I've got the video editing machine working.

The new science-fiction adventure from J.J. Abrams, director of the recent Star Trek reboot and creator of Lost, Super 8 is an homage to the 1970s and 80s films of Steven Spielberg – ET, Jaws, Close Encounters, that kind of thing – and with Mr Spielberg himself producing, many of his tropes are notable – the 70s small town US setting, the child characters, the monster, the lovably cheesy emotional undertone.

Super 8 follows a group of kids who are producing an amateur zombie movie on Super 8 film (hence the title) when a train crashes quite dramatically rather close to them. After that, a series of mysterious incidents plague the town – power cuts, missing sheriffs, cars bouncing, dogs running away, the usual. Young Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), still coping with the grief from his mother’s death in an unfortunate industrial accident, struggles to manage his loyalties between his friends, love interest Alice (Elle Fanning) and his father Jackson (Kyle Chandler), a police deputy determined to get to the heart of the curious goings-on. It’s quite clear to the viewer that the sinister Air Force types hanging around have been transporting some kind of alien and are trying to cover up their mess and there isn’t really much depth to the predictably evil Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich), but this element of the plot adds an extra layer of threat, enigma and, importantly, cheese.

This aside, Abrams really shows off his storytelling skill. The simple but enthralling storyline has emotional and dark undertones in its exploration of Joe’s grief for his mother. Unlike many contemporary sci-fi rubbish, Super 8 doesn’t overdo the action or CGI but makes the exciting adventure part of a strong and meaningful character drama. With intelligently framed shots, Super 8 is visually impressive in a way that reminds one of the Spielberg films it is inspired by without resorting to the kind of postmodern referencing that could draw the viewer away from the drama.

Another typical Spielbergian element that Super 8 picks up on is that it has a good sense of humour; the interaction between the young characters, including overweight Charles (Riley Griffiths) and explosives-obsessed Cary (Ryan Lee) leads to several funny and memorable lines – “Excuse me, can I have another order of fries? Because my friend here is fat.” This is helped by a young cast who portray their roles with energy, emotion and realism. Praise must especially be given to Courtney and Fanning, who is a lot less annoying than her sister was in War of the Worlds. The character of Joe’s father is also well developed, although I did keep wishing he was played by Dominic West – not only because West is a much better actor than Chandler but also because the character reminded me of McNulty. But that’s probably just me, linking everything I see to The Wire. Chandler’s probably not bad if you’re unaffected by Wire-itis.

Overall, Super 8 is no classic, but a solid Spielbergian homage with no major flaws to rant about. It’s one of the most accomplished and all-round entertaining films of the summer.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Tree of Life is the latest film from Terence Malick, director of Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World. This being his fifth film since 1973, Malick is a very sporadic director, if artistic – his films have been said to be about a search for identity and spiritual presence.

This statement is heavily reflected in The Tree of Life, especially in the characters of a couple played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain as they deal with the grief following the death of one of their three sons. The film also features Sean Penn as one of the other sons, Jack, grown up and an architect in a contemporary cityscape. Jack stands around moodily reminiscing to his childhood. This childhood takes up the largest portion of the film, with young Jack (Hunter McCracken) struggling between two contrasting methods of parenting – his father (Pitt) is strict and controlling while his mother (Chastain) is more liberal and empathetic – the consequences of which are reflected in Penn’s discontent with the world.

All the leads, including Pitt and particularly Penn, give excellent performances. With the dialogue sparse, the bulk of the acting is in the non-verbal expressions, which they all manage in a brilliantly nuanced manner.

Even child actor Hunter McCracken is good – but with a name like that, I wouldn’t expect him to be in arty films like The Tree of Life. I hope to see this when he’s old enough to be an action hero.

But this family’s story is not all, of course. The narrative leaps around a lot, showing the Big Bang, the formation of planets and even dinosaurs. There’s an injured dinosaur and then another dinosaur comes along and nearly kills it but then doesn’t, which may or may not represent something along the lines of the birth of human kindness in the universe. It’s all linked together by the themes of life and spirituality and is all visually poetic, beautifully shot and deep, with meaning behind everything. I did really like the spacey universe sections. The dinosaur section, on the other hand, I felt was entirely pointless and didn’t add enough to the film, having no narrative connection to the main story of the family.

While a lot of the film is excellent, I did feel that it’s too long overall and at times becomes overindulgent and, dare I say it, boring. (Don’t give me any of that “Ooh, you just don’t get it, you uncultured swine” business – Le Quattro Volte was one of my favourite films of the year so far, and that was about the everyday lives of a goat and a tree. So there.)

There’s also a bit near the end where Penn’s Jack goes to what is probably meant to represent Heaven (though I find it funnier to interpret it as “Sean Penn’s acid trip”) and all the characters, dead and alive, are happily reunited and prance around hugging for what must be at least ten minutes. I wasn’t sure whether to throw up or have a nap.

The Tree of Life will be loved by some and hated by some. I’m in the middle, more inclined towards the loving side. It’s definitely not for Jurassic Park fans who’ve heard that it has dinosaurs in, but if you’re interested in the artistic side of film, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Review in video format for lazy illiterates:

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

My last video review was immensely popular and at least two people have asked for more, so I shall give the people what they demand. If you don't want to hear my voice, I've done a more in-depth written version on The Film Pilgrim - my first review for the site, as part of a pair of two reviews with my fellow critic who had the opposite opinion. I'll make sure to disagree with people more often in the future. The video was actually recorded before writing this time, so it's not as scripted and wooden.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently acquired, at excellent value, a box set of seven Coen brothers films. Perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that I hadn't actually seen five of these. I do, however, very much like the Coens' distinct style and these five were on (or have retrospectively been added to) my "films to watch" list. The first I watched was The Big Lebowski.

In this classic Coen comedy with a considerable cult following, Jeff Bridges plays Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, an umemployed slacker who spends his spare time doing the usual - bowling, driving around, the occasional acid flashback. El Duderino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing), initially mistaken for a millionaire who shares his name and angered when mysterious thugs urinate on his favourite rug, is drawn into a Chandler-esque mystery when "The Big Lebowski" employs him to courier the money for his kidnapped wife's ransom.

Placing this slacker character into the detective role for such a plot structure, with His Dudeness solving the mystery though rarely putting in any effort, lends the film a wonderfully unique sense of humour with a plethora of quotable lines (hey, half of this review is made up of quotes), mixed with a light-hearted criticism of American values. This is exemplified by the supporting characters, most notably John Goodman's Walter, a Vietnam vet who specialises in reminding people that he is a Vietnam vet. John Goodman has the perfect face for playing an aggressive, racist Vietnam vet, don't you think? It's the large squareness.It's evident that the Coens wrote all the roles well with the particular actors in mind, even for seemingly minor characters: Steve Buscemi's dim Donny, John Turturros's sex offender bowling supremo Jesus and Phillip Seymour Hoffman's sycophantic butler Brandt are all iconic and memorable. As for Sam Elliott's stranger - his voice adds a unique cool to the narration. Whoever he is.

With the Coen brothers' typical combination of rich visuals with wry, ironic humour, The Big Lebowski is a cool and fun yet surprisingly meaningful comedy. I could write many pages about how it portrays the idea of what it means to be a hero and criticises American society.

Fuck it, let's go bowling.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

On 9.7.11 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
As I mentioned two posts ago, I have a list of books and films to work through over the summer. I recently crossed Heat off the film section of the list, which, as I mentioned one post ago, I quite liked. See, there is an order to all this! Or, as Lyotard would call it, a metanarrative. Damn, I need to be more postmodern. Maybe I should go off on more tangents about complex theoretical concepts. Or I could be self-referential and reference the fact that I'm writing a blog in my blog.

Anyway, in order to accelerate my motion through this list, I recently went shopping. I bought several books and, accidentally (brain said "no thanks", mouth said "yes"), a HMV reward card. I also saw a Coen Brothers seven-film box set for £12, but didn't buy it for reasons I couldn't comprehend. Later, I regretted the madness of turning down such great value. Tormented over many sleepless nights by my own failure to carpe diem, I wondered whether the same box set was available on eBay. It was, for £11.24.
My mind is now at rest.

Out of my new collection of books, the first I read was 1984, George Orwell's famous dystopian vision of the future (which is now the past, but was the future in the more distant past) which serves as a stark warning against the dangers of a totalitarian government. My verdict: doubleplusgood.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

On 6.7.11 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    1 comment
I’ve just watched Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat. Why have I not watched Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat before? It's excellent.

Al Pacino plays Vincent Hanna, an LA cop on the trail of a gang of thieves led by Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley. But Hanna’s not without his own troubles, as his devotion to his work stretches his third marriage to breaking point, while his stepdaughter, who would grow up to be the Natalie Portman we know and love, is depressed due to being neglected by her real father. Meanwhile, McCauley falls for a woman he meets in a bar and is betrayed by a money launderer, one of his gang has a marriage as troubled as Hanna’s, another develops a taste for murdering prostitutes, and a man goes to work in a café (or should that be diner?) but his boss is strict. Yes, it’s detailed, but it’s long, and is one of those films that deserves to be long, as every subplot has depth and excitement, with them all coming together to create a masterful piece of storytelling.

Heat features two great actors at their best (anyone who’s had to sit through a Fockers film should watch this to be reminded what De Niro’s capable of). The chemistry between the two leads is marvellous in the few scenes they share, including the famous café scene where they share their troubles and loneliness with each other. The follow-up to this in the final scene, which I won’t spoil, is meaningful and touching. There really is more to these characters than cops and robbers.

This is by far director Michael Mann’s best film and Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is amazing, from the exciting action scenes to the simple beauty of the best scene of a car driving down an LA highway that can possibly ever exist.

Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat is now one of my favourite films ever.

(The best thing about running one's own blog is that one doesn't get in trouble for filing a review sixteen years late.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

On 28.6.11 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    No comments
My A-level exams are over. Yet again, I am a free man. I have three whole months to spend however I like. Despite having failed in my numerous attempts to get a summer job, I am determined to spend this time as productively as possible. As of yet, there is no concrete plan as to how I will approach this challenge, but, as well as working through the list of books and films that I should have read and watched but haven’t (beginning with Once Upon A Time in the West, which is on Film4 tonight), there is a reasonable chance that my writings here will become more frequent.

As a little experiment, I’ve also decided to adapt my Bridesmaids review into a video version. So, if you enjoyed my previous review so much that you want to experience it again, this time with the addition of ridiculous facial movements that I didn’t realise I was making at the time, this is your lucky day:

As I mention in the video, there may be more such videos to come. We’ll see how nice the YouTube comments are.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Since I’m now a respected film critic, I get to go to free preview screenings, for free, before the films are actually released. Isn’t that nice? My first such free screening was to Bridesmaids, a comedy directed by Paul Feig and written by Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo. It was free. There were also free postcards on the chairs (don’t tell anyone, but I took two). Since someone else seems to have got an even more advance screening and has reviewed Bridesmaids for The Film Pilgrim before me (yet they were nice enough to give me free tickets anyway), I’ll enlighten my blog with my opinions.

Life isn’t going too well for Annie (Wiig): her bakery’s gone bankrupt, her on-off boyfriend (Jon Hamm) cares only about sex and, when she takes the role of maid of honour at her best friend Lilian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding, she finds out that Lilian’s other best friend Helen (Rose Byrne) is richer, prettier and happier than her.

The script is often witty and there are plenty of funny moments throughout, playing on Annie’s frustration with life and her jealousy of her fellow bridesmaid. At times, the comedy is the style of “gross-out” humour that would be expected of a film such as The Hangover and, if this is to your taste, is done rather well. One scene in particular involving extreme food poisoning and extremely expensive clothing plumbed the crude depths of toilet humour yet caused many eruptions of laughter from the audience – personally I found this entertaining enough to keep my attention, though far from the peak of comedic endeavour. A major problem is that, at over two hours, these jokes are spread out over too long a time. I mean, really, who has that many pre-wedding parties? Oh, alright, who am I kidding, I’ve never had experience in being a bridesmaid and have no idea how these things work. But, for what it’s worth, I have been to a wedding and know that they can drag on a bit – as can this film.

Kristen Wiig holds the lead role well, presenting her character as flawed yet likable (probably more so to those more familiar with her everyday problems than I am). Although the way Annie develops is predictable, the audience can easily relate to her and share in her happiness at the times when things go well (or when she manages to one-up her rival Helen). The characters of the supporting bridesmaids, from the obese Megan (Melissa McCarthy) to the naïve Becca (Ellie Kemper) are all developed to a good depth, with distinct, sometimes funny, personalities, though none of the performances particularly shine.

There is a downside to this: ever noticed how the women in male-centric comedies tend to be bland stereotypes? This works in reverse here: the men of the piece are somewhat underdeveloped. Which is a shame, as Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, one of my favourite actors, is given too little screen time as Annie’s disgracefully sexist and self-centred lover Ted. The best actor in the film, handsome Hamm steals the three scenes he is in (one of which features him wearing clothes), but really needed a meatier role. One could say that the Hamm was undercooked. Ahem. Moving on, Annie is offered hope of a personal life better than the occasional “adult sleepover” with Ted (despite being Jon Hamm, he really is a dick) by Chris O’ Dowd, in the kind of role Hugh Grant would excel in if he were Irish and less posh. O’Dowd’s adorably dorky traffic cop is kind-hearted yet obsessive about his job - one of the funniest scenes comes when Annie deliberately breaks an increasingly dangerous series of road rules in order to get his attention. Familiar to viewers of Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, I found O’Dowd’s performance at times lacking emotional impact, but, overall, he is a promising talent in the world of comedy.

A lot of the praise for this film has come from the prominence of its female characters. As the first film to attempt this style of humour with a mainly female cast, Bridesmaids has been called the female equivalent of The Hangover. In this respect, the only other recent comedies to follow a group of women in a similar manner are the awful Sex and the City and its awful-er sequel, a film as offensive as walking into a Bar Mitzvah dressed as Hitler and with characters as likable as a paedophilic form of cancer, which makes Bridesmaids, in comparison, an excellent female-centric comedy. However, in a world of equality where we no longer care about the gender boundaries (and me being the idealist I am, my final opinion will be based in this world), Bridesmaids is no more than the average, conventional gross-out comedy. Though at times funny, the plot is predictable and Bridesmaids, while entertaining, is nothing to get too excited about.

One last aside: it’s nice how preview screenings don’t have twenty minutes of trailers. They only have one Odeon Digital promotional animation showing off the impressively high definition graphics accompanied by the slogan “Perfect picture, every time.” Or, on this occasion, they have a black screen accompanied by this slogan, followed by a cinema employee apologising because the Odeon Digital projector’s broken, followed four minutes later by the clip in its full form. Perfect picture. Every time. This was one of the funniest moments of the screening.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

On 5.6.11 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments
Doctor Who hit its mid-season finale this weekend, which is a perfect opportunity for me to continue my series of reviews. Not that the other episodes weren't worthy of my opinions, I've been busy. Yes, that excuse again. Let's have a quick summary of the series, if you insist:

After a good start with the American-set two-parter, the series hit a bit of a slump with the painfully awful The Curse of the Black Spot. OK, Hugh Bonneville's pirate captain was badass and the explorations of the pirate characters worked, but the attempt to sci-fi-ify the pirate genre with a shit Siren that travels through dimensions using the mysterious portals we know as reflections was cringe-inducingly terrible (taking a creature from real-world mythology and making them into a space medical officer - what a bad idea). Neil Gaiman's The Doctor's Wife made up for this with a sexy TARDIS, sexy corridors and Michael Sheen, followed by the cleverly plotted, atmospheric, Blade Runner-esque The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. The cliffhanger to these episodes was brilliant - while hinted at perfectly, I honestly did not see it coming and love how it solved some mysteries satisfyingly while setting up new ones. And this brings us to the mid-season finale, A Good Man Goes to War.

With Amy kidnapped and in labour, the Doctor and Rory set about building up a group of allies to infiltrate a Galactic Empire-style military base. This badass crew (sorry if you have things to do) allowed for some cool moments - I did like the welsh medic Sontaran (taking a creature from Doctor Who mythology and making them into a space medical officer - what a cool idea), the big fat blue man and the lesbian Victorian Silurian. However, I think the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach damaged the pacing and logic of the episode at times. What happened to the pirates after their 3 second appearance? Why did they take the small child off his life support and bring him into a battle with an army over 3000 years more advanced than his time? Why use the Spitfires when the pirates and the Judoon have spaceships? Why wasn't Captain Jack in the Doctor's army (this would have been the perfect opportunity for a Jack appearance)? Why didn't the Judoon do more?

Even the Cybermen made a small appearance, with Rory popping in on a Cybership to shout at them dramatically while the Doctor blew up the rest of their Cyberlegion. I did like this scene; it was visually very nice and shiny and Moffat's usage of the Cybermen in this way makes all the elements of the Whoniverse more connected - they're a continuing presence who don't just show up when they want to fail to take over Earth again. On second thoughts, this is the Doctor's second mass murder this series. He really should stop that, it's a bit out of character. (Ironically, Vastra later says "Demon's Run is ours without a drop of blood spilled". The Doc didn't tell her about this bit then.)

While all of these returning characters were appreciated, one new character I liked was the soldier Lorna Bucket. Having met the Doctor as a child, Lorna had joined the big space army (to use its technical name) in order to meet him again. When the army plotted to kill the Doctor, Lorna turned against them to help him. The scene where the Doctor pretended to remember who she was was particularly emotional and tragic, while her culture's usage of the term "Doctor" to mean "warrior" shined a new light on the Doctor in an uncomfortably dark way. (Bugger off, scientists, it's metaphorical.)

The scenes with Amy's baby were done well; they added a good amount of emotion and, through the Doctor's interaction with it, humour. The baby turning out to be Flesh mirrored last week's twist but not in a way that seemed repetitive; this was an unexpected turn which showed the fallibility of the Doctor while setting up plot development for the next half of the series and linking back to the events in America.

Of course, this being a Steven Moffat script, there were further complications to come. River Song vortex manipulated her way in while nobody was looking to deliver the final twist. The revelation of her identity as Amy and Rory's time-child, while cleverly hinted at, didn't have the same level of impact as last week's cliffhanger, I felt. Her entrance didn't seem to fit the story; it was just tacked on at the end for dramatic impact. I'm undecided on whether I like the truth about her identity or not, but it's certainly original and has a lot of dramatic potential and I'm interested to see where this is taken.

Admittedly, I did see the Melody Pond/River Song thing coming as soon as the baby's name was shown. But the usage of Lorna Bucket's forest language cloth and the link to the TARDIS's prophecy was very clever and added a redeeming feature to the rather ill-fitting revelation.

Despite this, there are a range of mysteries still surrounding River and fans will for some time continue to debate whom she killed in order to be sent to the universe's worst guarded prison (seriously, it took Boadie longer to escape from the young offenders' institution in The Wire and the main message of that show was how shit the 21st century authorities are, these are meant to be the 52nd century elite). Also, the mystery of the Doctor's death by astronaut remains to be solved - I admire how Moffat is stretching these mysteries across long periods of time (in terms of the episode schedule as well as the in-universe time); it adds tension as the viewers wonder what will happen next and beats RTD's "plot arc" style of mentioning Torchwood a lot in random situations.

The main actors all put in good performances; Matt Smith mixed the eccentric with the emotion perfectly while Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill managed well the variety of emotions expected from a couple going through an... unconventional stage in their relationship. Rory's anger as he searched for his lost wife was rousing and affecting while Amy's screams as her baby melted were particularly chilling. Frances Barber as the villainous Kovarian was perhaps a bit too pantomime; maybe this will be resolved through further exploration of her character in future episodes.

A Good Man Goes to War had a lot of interesting plot development and some visually impressive moments, but the adventurous feel and distinct set pieces of the previous finale were lacking. Despite a lot of cool moments, I found it overall a tad underwhelming, but am still looking forward to the Doctor's return in autumn.

Speaking of which, the next episode has Hitler! Hooray, Nazis are fun villains! (I'm allowed to say that, aren't I? If not, watch Raiders and The Last Crusade again and you may change your mind.) I hope they get Bruno Ganz. Or Quentin Tarantino as guest director and it's Inglourious Basterds with added time travel.

So it's farewell to the TARDIS crew for now until we see them in autumn. I'm off to play these free video games from PSN (and revise for my A levels, of course).