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).