angelophile: (Kitty/Rogue Dancing)

So, The Pet Shop Boys. It's daunting to think that they've been going 30 years or so now. And one thing they've always been renowned for the theatricality of their live shows.

Last night they played the BIC, my local venue, to a packed house. And to say they didn't disappoint is an understatement.

I had slight trepidation when I booked the tickets. I'd seen footage of their show at the Glastonbury festival and thought they looked and rounded a bit tired.

However, last night's gig demonstrated the opposite was true. Neil Tennant might be packing a few extra pounds around the belly which made his ludicrously tight trousers all the more comical, but they delivered an amazing fresh and vibrant performance.

The main strength? Well, apart from the deadpan ironical humor that's always been part of the Pet Shop Boys' mythos coming through, they resisted the main temptation of gigging bands when they have a new album to promote - push the new tracks at the expense of the hits the audience has come to hear.

Last night the Boys did the opposite. A few new tracks were interspersed with the classics, but the main thrust of the show was playing hit after hit and classic tune after classic tune. From the opening Heart through to the closing West End Girls, they hammered almost every great tune from their decades in the business, be it Always on My Mind, What Have I Done To Deserve This (with a great tribute to the late Dusty Springfield), a barnstorming It's A Sin, complete with confetti cannons, Suburbia, Kings Cross, Being Boring, Jealousy, New York City Boy, Go West, Love etc, Two Divided By Zero, even a Coldplay cover slipped in, mixed with Domino Dancing and many medleys of classic tunes.

The staging was equally brilliant. Employing a stage covered in stackable white cubes, which alternately become video walls, dance platforms, or makeshift set pieces and barriers for performers to escape for costume changes. The duo were ably supported by four dancers (including a twins) who did and amazing job of filling the space with some amazing costume changes and the cube motif continuing as all the performers went through much of the show in box themed costumes, with boxes on their heads that looked both hilariously daft and amazingly stylized - a balance that the Pet Shop Boys have always deftly managed. The genuinely brilliant sense of design offset by the fact that it might be brilliant but it's also totally ridiculous too. It was one of those gigs where it was impossible to keep the smile off your face. And certainly when Chris abruptly stepped out from behind his bank of keyboards to do a brief dance routine. Or when the Boys entered with boxes on their heads to perform the first number. Brilliantly daft.

This all combined to create an amazing party atmosphere for the gig. I'd definitely rank it up there as one of the best live experiences of my life (although not quite up there with Madness and the day we made tower blocks dance).

angelophile: (Death's Head - Alien chums)

Just back from seeing Predators. No, not a Roman Polanski bio-pic, (topical!), but a sequel to the classic 80s sci-fi action movie.

So, what of Predators? What can I say? It's derivative, cliched, predictable and corny.

It's also probably the best sequel Hollywood's produced in the last ten years.

Find out why under the cut. )
angelophile: (Doctor Who - Thumbs Up)

And so, it's over. Not with a whimper, but a bang. A big one, in fact. And since it'll be impossible to discuss the last two episodes of this series of Doctor Who without spoiling my colonial cousins, time to take it under the cut.

Read more... )

angelophile: (Yellow Submarine Glove)
The more I see of mainstream comics currently, the more inclined I am to dive into creator-owned projects. The Image panel at Bristol did a lot to open my eyes to creator-owned - a lot of it down to the sheer enthusiasm of the creators on the panel for the work they're doing - Charlie Adlard on Waking Dead, Ian Churchill on Marineman, Kieron Gillen on Phonogram and so on. That enthusiasm rubs off, but also disillusionment with the direction of most mainstream titles pushes me further and further into digging out more creator-owned material.

Take, for example, Jeff Parker and Steve Lieber's Underground. An example where I didn't so much hunt out creator-owned material as have it recommended to me by my local comic store guy. Who is a man of taste and whose opinion I'm starting to put more faith in. I'll certainly follow his recommendations more closely, because Underground is a great read.

The main, female protagonist is park ranger Wesley Fischer, who is committed to protecting the natural environment of a local cave. Here she comes into conflict with some of the townsfolk in the local community, who believe that the best thing for the town would be developing the caves for tourism, despite the damage it would cause.

It's an interesting set up and well handled. You feel sympathy for Wesley's concerned about the impact tourism would have on the ancient cave system, but also with the members of the township who are desperate for the influx of cash tourism would bring.

So, strong characterisation that quickly backs up the action story that unfolds as Wesley and her potential love interest and fellow park ranger Seth are trapped in the cave in a deadly game of subterranean cat and mouse unfolds. What I especially like is that Wesley clearly is the lead and Seth is cast in the role traditionally reserved for female protagonists - he's the pretty one who needs rescuing. The fact that Seth's also a POC means that the book effectively ticks a lot of the boxes that I look for in books these days - strong, diverse characters and a variety in the representations of women and minorities.

The story, as well, is a corker and the tension is quickly ramped up in set pieces and atmospheric underground locations, helped by Lieber's expressive art style and the great work of colourist Ron Chan who mixes the bright colours of the outdoor locations with the desaturated darkness in the cave wonderfully. The story itself is straightforward, even simple, but Parker's dialogue sparkles and brings the situations and characters to life. The dialogue feels natural and realistic, which, in an "action" book is a tough one to pull off.

A great little book, then, and a perfect example of when creator-owned projects succeed - Parker and Lieber's love of the project is clear on the page. I hope that it gets optioned for the movie treatment, because it has great potential to be a real nailbiter.

Image have made the first issue available in its entirety, in black and white as opposed to the final release in colour, here.
angelophile: (Dalek - To Victory)

When it was announced that Richard Curtis, creator of Blackadder, The Vicar of Dibley, writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually and Notting Hill, would be writing an episode of Doctor Who I was hopefully optimistic. At least, I thought, it should be funny.

And this week's episode, in which the Doctor and Amy meet Vincent Van Gogh, doesn't disappoint on that level, playing up on Matt Smith's comedy timing beautifully.

But it's more than that. Much more. This episode was a showcase episode - intelligent, complex, getting some stunning performances from its stars, beautifully shot, touching, thought provoking, even heartbreaking...

Not just the episode of the Matt Smith era so far, but very possibly the episode of the entire nu-Who run.

Slightly more spoilerish thoughts beneath the cut. )
angelophile: (Doctor Who - V for Victory)

And tonight we got the episode of the series. Written, surprisingly, not by The Grand Moff, but by Simon Nye - creator of Men Behaving Badly and numerous other not-as-good sitcoms. However, it seemed like Nye had learned a few tricks from Moffat and crafted an episode that stands out so far as this series' Girl in the Fireplace.

Slightly more spoilery stuff after the cut. )
angelophile: (Doctor Who - V for Victory)

Ah, vampires. They're all the rage now, aren't they? And since Nu-Who's tackled werewolves, ghosts, witches and zombies (wait, maybe that was just Christopher Eccleston), it was only a matter of time before everyone's favourite blood suckers turned up. Of course, the Doctor's encountered vampires before, most recently in the Seventh Doctor's era story The Curse of Fenric, which was pretty much pure awesome on a stick (WWII setting, Russian spies, Norse mythology, ancient vampires, Nicholas Parsons), so it was interesting to see where they went with this one. Apart from Venice, obviously.

Spoilers beneath the cut. )
angelophile: (Dalek - Special Weapons Dalek)

The Weeping Angels returned last week, leaving us with a cliffhangery cliffhanger. This episode Amy's miniskirt got some prominent screentime. Don't blink.

The spoilery review under the cut. )
angelophile: (Iron Man - Why has the rum gone)

Was working this morning, but found time this afternoon to go and catch Iron Man 2. Now, I'm not a worshiper of the original, although I think, as superhero movies go, it's up there. Reviews of the sequel haven't been kind, so my expectations weren't high. I will, say, however, that the movie was a lot more fun than my moderate expectations would have led me to believe.

A vaguely spoiler-free review under the cut. )
angelophile: (Iron Man - Why has the rum gone)

Was working this morning, but found time this afternoon to go and catch Iron Man 2. Now, I'm not a worshiper of the original, although I think, as superhero movies go, it's up there. Reviews of the sequel haven't been kind, so my expectations weren't high. I will, say, however, that the movie was a lot more fun than my moderate expectations would have led me to believe.

A vaguely spoiler-free review under the cut. )
angelophile: (Weeping Angel)

Doctor Who time, and the much hyped return of the Weeping Angels. They've been nu-Who's creepiest new villains and appeared in one of the finest Doctor Who episodes, despite the Doctor himself barely appearing. And the idea of villains whose main power is quantum uncertainty is wonderfully surreal. But it was hard to see how they could successfully bring back the Angels without them being a shadow or reflection of the former story.

What I should have remembered is to trust the Grand Moff.

Read more... )
angelophile: (Withnail & I - Marwood Newspaper)

I decided, on a whim, to go to the cinema after work tonight. (Okay, it wasn't entirely a whim. I'd had to pay or car parking and decided to make the most of it.) I was contemplating going to see Kick Ass, despite myself, but for some bizarre reason there was only one showing today, in the middle of the day. So I would up going to see Ricky Gervais and Steve Merchant's Cemetery Junction instead.

I have to admit, it's not a movie I'd intended to see. I think The Office and Extras are wonderful, but it's become very clear that Ricky Gervais is a one trick pony as a performer and the sight of him on the film poster in white shirt and leather jacket, trying to look all John Travolta in Grease was enough to turn me off.

However, the poster's completely misleading. Gervais is in it, but in a minor role as the father of the central character and certainly nothing like the poster portrays him as. He's rather miscast and, as usual, plays himself and is a little too sharp and snappy to convincingly portray his part of an ignorant factory worker.

However, that aside, what's the movie about?

It's the Summer of 1973 in small town England and Freddie (the impossibly handsome Christian Cooke) is just starting his new job selling life insurance for self-made, cut-throat businessman Ralph Fiennes. He still hangs out with his lifetime friends - Bruce (the impossibly handsome Tom Hughes), who's the leather jacket wearing James Dean wannabe who's out every night, chasing women, getting into fights and generally rebelling without cause, and Snork, named after the Banana Splits character and every bit as farcical and idiotic.

At which point Freddie discovers his new boss' daughter is childhood sweetheart Julie (the impossibly beautiful Felicity Jones) and she opens his eyes to the small town existence, making him reevaluate his life and friendships and yaddah yaddah yaddah. In other words, pretty much every small town, coming of age story in the history of cinema. With everyone young and startlingly attractive.

And that's the main problem with the movie. It's nicely performed by an appealing cast, is rich in period atmosphere, has some occasional decent dialogue, but it's very pedestrian, very safe and very much a case of "been there, done that" in place of any of the discomfort or originality you'd expect from Merchant and Gervais. It's far too easy to predict from the first how the individual's stories will be resolved and the movie doesn't confound any expectations. And, in addition, is an almost laugh-free zone. The bits that are meant to be funny are rendered bland by poor comic timing as they're dragged down by the sedate pace of the rest of the movie or, in the case of satirizing and pricking attitudes of the day, such as Freddie's family's casual racism, it's done lazily and badly. An episode of Love Thy Neighbour has as much to say about racism in Britain in the 1970s as this movie. Gervais is no Alf Garnett.

And then there's the idea that the Reading suburb the trio of friends is stuck in is somewhere they'd be desperate to escape from, but instead of being all grimy factories and colourless offices, they appear to have chosen to film it in an attractive village setting, all thatched cottages and village greens.

The colourful and attractive setting only detracts from occasional moments of genuine pathos, such as the gut-wrenching look on an insurance salesman’s face as he retires after 42 years and is presented with a cheap cut-glass fruit bowl and a horribly inappropriate and dismissive speech from Ralph Fiennes's boss from hell. More such unexpected bitterness and a genuine feeling of these being places and people the central characters would be desperate to escape from would have strengthened the film, as opposed to dippy Snork’s Baldrick schtick. It's all a bit too nice and the darker characteristics of Julie's slimy fiance and father and genuinely gritty and oppressive surroundings and home lives for the central characters would have made the desire to escape have seemed understandable. As it is, the characters don't really seem to have as much to complain about as they seem to think they do.

All this said, there are moments to enjoy and the whole film is inoffensive and even enjoyable. The climax is genuinely warm and life-affirming and there's some striking cinematography and some impeccable production design work. The movie looks great, sounds great and is attractively and charismatically performed by its cast of relative unknowns. It's not a bad movie, by any means, but coming from the stable it's from, it all just seems to be rather toothless.

angelophile: (That's Twisted)

The second outing for Matt Smith's Doctor and already he's demonstrating he's able to step into the shoes of the character as quickly as David Tennant did, neatly nudging the memory of the previous Doctor aside in the process.

What the episode also felt like was a step back towards old-school Doctor Who, notably having a feel of the Peter Davison era about it, and a blend of the sublime and the ridiculous.

It's also, sadly, I think the weakest episode Stephen Moffat's written for Doctor Who. Now, that's not necessarily damning the episode, since a Moffat episode is a cut above the norm in any case.

So, beneath the cut lie spoilers.

Read more... )
angelophile: (Producers Bialystock Horrified)

I know what you've all been thinking. "Where can I find insightful and cutting reviews of the Star Wars prequels as told by the bastard love-child of Steven Wright and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs?" I know, we've all been there. Well, a while ago RedLetterMedia's review of The Phantom Menace popped up. (And the Avatar review, come to think of it.)

Now the review of Attack of the Clones has finally appeared. ("The worst thing ever made by a human. Except for the bagpipes.") It's in nine parts, so it kinda weighs in almost as long as the movie itself, is nearly as offensive, but it's also sharp as hell and a damn sight more entertaining. If you're a twisted bastard like me, anyway.

Anyway, I'd watch The Phantom Menace review first, personally, but the new Attack of the Clones review's below:

ETA: The vid's been re-embedded after the first part of the review was pulled after a copyright claim by the Cartoon Network. Boo, hiss.

angelophile: (Spike Thumbs Up)

I'm fashionably late to the party, but here's my thoughts on the first episode of the new Doctor Who series:


Now, somewhere more coherently and spoilery under the cut.

Read more... )
angelophile: (Shaun - Nice cup of tea)

Had a day with family yesterday and wound up watching Up with my niece. I think, for me, it epitomizes why I dislike hearing too much hype before seeing a movie. Up was hailed as a masterpiece, the best Pixar movie, beautiful, funny, touching etc etc to the point where I could only be disappointed with it.

I suspect my expectations were knocked by the movie not being quite what I'd expected. I was expecting the story of an old man and a young boy floating off in a house propelled by balloons and meeting various people on their travels. Well, I got that, but not in quite the way I imagined as most of the time Up was tethered to one location.

I also suspect my expectations were skewed by the first 15 minutes, which were wonderful in every way - brilliant, beautiful and touching and also a demonstration on how economy of visuals and words can still tell a story - in this case a complete life story. You definitely do need to have the tissues out for that one. And it was so beautifully handled, anything that followed had to be a comedown.

Sadly, there were stretches after that where I felt a little bored and which seemed to fall flat. My major issue, however, was the introduction of a villain into a story that would have benefitted from being more about the terrific characters of curmudgeonly Carl and cute-as-a-button Russell than traditional swashbuckling heroics.

Pixar have yet to do a bad movie and Up certainly wasn't anywhere near, but I couldn't help be disappointed. Stretches of sheer brilliance, but not the strength of narrative that I felt Ratatouille had. It just wasn't the "road movie with balloons" I was expecting and not quite as magical to me as reviews would have led me to believe.

Zombieland, on the other hand, which I watched yesterday as well, didn't disappoint. Perhaps because my expectations for the movie weren't impossibly high. Entertainingly ridiculous, it's a post-apocalyptic zom-com, which starts with a gross-out, slow-mo credit sequence which sets the scene for what's to come. Jesse Eisenberg is the wimpish, shut-in, "Michael Cera wasn't available" hero of the piece, with his obsessive rules for survival, teaming up with twinkie obsessed, scenery-chewing, snakeskin cowboy Woody Harrelson ("I'm in the ass-kicking business – and business is gooooood!")

After meeting up with con-artists sisters Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, the plot kicks in and it's a standard, but infectiously ridiculous road movie from there on in. There's something about the enthusiasm of the cast, especially the crazed Harrelson, which rubs off on you. The pacing's all over the place and the plot like Swiss cheese, the sheer randomness of it all, especially what should be considered one of the funniest cameos ever committed to film, keeps it fun. The performances and the one-liners that regularly pepper the script are the highlight, making the movie far sharper than the National Lampoon's Zombie Apocalypse tone I was half-expecting. There's even time for real character moments amid the over-the-top personalities and daftness.

It's a movie where the enthusiasm is as infectious as one of those zombie's nibbles.
angelophile: (Leon Oldman)

Faced with the choice of watching Watchmen, Gran Torino or Valkyrie round at my sister's last night, I decided to plump for Gran Torino. It was a tough call, but in the end, despite what I'd heard about the racism in Gran Torino, it won out over watching anything by Alan Moore (not a fan) or starring cultist Tom Cruise as a German.

Gran Torino's the story of Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), one of the few remaining Caucasians left in a Detroit neighborhood filled with gang violence. As a decorated Korean War veteran, he's the quintessential grumpy old man. A recent widower, he hates his family (perhaps justifiably), he hates his life, he even seems to hate himself. He's a curmudgeonly old bastard, his face set into a permanent scowl as he spits out racist slurs against his neighbors. But over time he forms a relationship with the Hmong family that's moved in next door.

What I'd heard about the movie was true - excellently produced and directed, nicely performed, it's hard to look past the inherent racism in the movie. It clearly has good intentions, but pretty much every character is a stereotype - in the case of the white characters, the lack of development's only mildly distracting. But when the movie's meant to be about confronting racism, having most of the non-white characters as either violent gang members or submissive Asians grateful for the assistance of the benevolent white man doesn't really cut it.

I'll give the movie credit for its apparent good intentions, but it's a privileged view of racism with the same old trope of the white man having to ride into town to save other cultures from themselves. And best not get started on the other tropes within - as usual terrible things happen to supporting characters, a female character in particular, but the only focus is on how it affects Clint Eastwood's character and reactions.

It's not all bad - I did find myself enjoying Clint Eastwood's central performance, despite his being close to being a parody of himself - chewing, scowling, spitting and growling through the movie - and the racial slurs he constantly spits throughout the movie making me uncomfortable. But it's hard not to warm to him when, with echoes of Dirty Harry, he confronts a gang harassing his young neighbor with the line "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fucked with? That's me." And the character arc, which climaxes in a confrontation that, again echoes Clint's Man With No Name past and then turns it on its head, is compelling. And I kinda love him for getting a "GET OFF MY LAWN!" line in there. However, despite being touted as a "deep" character, Walt's just another stereotype in the movie and it's no stretch for Eastwood hammily playing a badass old bastard.

Bee Vang and Ahney Her gamely do their best with their roles as the young Hmong characters Eastwood eventually takes under his wing, both doing their best with rather slight character sketches and impressing. I personally thought Ahney Her was the best thing about the movie, bringing much humour and warmth to her role and it irritated me to see her character put on the sacrificial altar to feed the white man's angst. Both the actors newcomers to the scene, but the unprofessionalism of their performances makes them feel all the more natural.

Other actors don't fare so well - if fact, a couple of bit part actors are so bad as to take you out of the movie - but I did warm to Christopher Carley as the "27 year old virgin" Father Janovich, suitably out of his depth as the neighborhood priest trying to get through to Walt.

The movie definitely works best in its lighter moments, particularly the two-handers between Eastwood and Her, and the central conceit, which appears to be "what if Dirty Harry retired to a Detroit 'burb?" is an attractive one, but it butts up against the real core theme uncomfortably. One one hand, the sterotypes work when you're aiming for black comedy - and there are moments of that in the movie, usually of the "I can't believe he just said that" variety. They work a lot less well when trying to talk seriously about racism. It's awkward and often clumsy, but I don't know, even in a movie that fails on many levels, Eastwood is always compelling and watchable.

angelophile: (Death's Head - Just Business)

Picked up my stack of comics for the last few weeks and in the pile was the final issue of S.W.O.R.D. It lived up to expectations and left me sad to see this great little series go.

Originally slated as an ongoing, this series saw cancellation after only five issues. In fact, according to writer Kieron Gillen, it was pretty much cancelled even before anyone had read a single page of the series, based on pre-orders from retailers alone. My comic store guy said, when we talked about it today, "Maybe Marvel will learn that they're just putting too much out." A slightly odd attitude, but I can sympathize with retailers who have to lay down cash for stock - if it's an obscure project, it's not really a huge surprise that they pass. I know my store only got the title in based on myself and one other regular asking for it to be stocked.

A shame, because the five issues we did get of S.W.O.R.D. were almost ridiculously fun. As a total fanboy, there's an element of "you had me at Death's Head" about it, but there was way more than just a snarky, 30ft tall, business obsessed mechanoid bounty hunter freelance peacekeeping agent to enjoy.

Thankfully Kieron Gillen had planned for cancellation, because what we fo get is a great little safe-contained arc in which Beast and his girlfriend Xenophiliac Experimentation Partner Abigail Brand (from Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-men run) seek to save the world from imminent alien invasion, while Norman Osborn appoints Henry Peter Gyrich as co-head of S.W.O.R.D., leading to his making the decision to extradite every alien immigrant from the planet.

It's an impressive feat that Gillen manages to run these two storylines, along with subplots about Brand's half-brother, the aforementioned mechanoid, build up Beast and Brand's relationship, introduce a new character, UNIT, who's akin to a robotic Hannibal Lecter and also put the spotlight on Lockheed in the space of five issues. It's a harp back to "proper" comic book pacing. Each issue works as an individual chapter and also a part of a whole. In the days where decompression can still be a killer for momentum, I applaud Gillen for packing so much in. And he also deserves credit for making the whole series what's sorely lacking in modern comics - fun. The scripts are witty, action packed and light in the best possible way, proving that you don't need tragic character deaths and awfulness to make a comic work. You can do it with light-hearted and quirky humour, fun characters, heroic situations, a touch of romance and witty banter between the two leads and, yes, a giant mechanoid bounty hunter with a snarky wit.

Steven Sanders has come under a lot of flack for his depiction of Beast in his art. I can't really say I'm a fan of the look myself, although finding out he made him rather longer in the snout in tribute to the Red Dragon from Bone did soften my views. But, given the fact the character's not had anything like a consistent look since he was catified in Morrison's New X-men, I can't say I found the look particularly distracting. Especially not when I found the rest of the art attractive, light and clean and very suitable for the style of the book.

I do find it depressing that this - a comic that's in almost every way fun, enjoyable and readable - is killed quickly, while (to my tastes) morally repugnant books like Cry for Justice leap of the shelves. But I shouldn't complain too much, I guess. At the end of the day I got a five issue series I enjoyed immensely and had great fun with. I doubt many readers of Cry for Justice and the ilk can claim the same.

Either way, I can heartily recommend picking this title up in trade form, when it surfaces. I hope it will find its niche there and Kieron Gillen's demonstrated that he deserves a big title at Marvel and isn't just suited to indie stuff like Phonogram. Maybe his brief run on Thor will help with that.

At least runs like this remind me there's still fun stuff out there. Hoorah! (If only briefly.)

angelophile: (Leon Oldman)

I like the many layers of Moon. Are they literally talking about the moon, or is the title a veiled reference to Sam Rockwell's buttocks? The answer may surprise you!


To be honest, Moon is a tough movie to review. Not because it's bad, in any way, but because it's hard to talk about the movie without giving away major plot points. So, trying to be as vague as possible...

In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays astronaut Sam Bell, living in isolation in a base on the far side of the moon. Sam's nearing the end of a three-year contract to watch the base's automated systems as they mine for a newly discovered form of green energy harvested from moon rock. His only company is the base's AI, Gerty, voiced by Kevin Spacey, and the occasional recorded message from his wife and young daughter on Earth - his only human contact since the live satellite link was lost. With two weeks left to go before he returns home, Sam's mental state's deteriorating and starts to have disturbing hallucinations. But are they really symptoms of cabin fever or isn't he as alone as he's always believed?

With last year's Star Trek seeing a return to the big screen sci-fi, Moon also marks a return - not to the flashy, explosive sci-fi, but the quieter, more cerebral works like The Man Who Fell To Earth (not surprising, perhaps, considering it was directed by David Bowie's son), Blade Runner or Silent Running. The basic setup's not anything we haven't seen before - but the movie takes jumble of familiar elements and magics up something original. It certainly echoes Kubrick - both The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey - with a slow build which increases the skin-crawling tension and Gerty echoing HAL in more than one way - Spacey's emotionless delivery making the robot genuinely creepy and the emoticons that serve as Gerty's way of expressing him(its)self sinister rather than endearing. But it's no doppelgänger.

That's part of the movie's greatest success - it doesn't try to be all shiny otherworldliness, but familiar - the lived-in details of the moonbase, from furry dice in the endearingly clunky moon rover, the run down, industrial stylings, baked beans for breakfast, the alarm clock that wakes Sam to the strains of Chesney Hawkes each morning - all of these things make the exotic familiar. It's a theme that runs over into the characterisation too - Sam's an everyman, finding little, human ways to make his isolation more bearable.

The fact that Rockwell wasn't Oscar nominated is a matter of disappointment to me - the Academy clearly more distracted by the rich visuals of Avatar rather than a real, human performance. Rockwell carries the movie as, for most intents and purposes, the only human on-screen, delivering an affecting and credible portrayal of the loner yearning for home, with later plot developments allowing him to show different facets to the character. It's a deeply affecting one-man show and Rockwell puts a human face to the hefty themes of memory, alienation, identity and what makes a person.

It's a refreshing blast of old-school, sci-fi, at once familiar, but original, held together by a brilliant performance by Sam Rockwell, doing amazing things with its limited $5m budget and looking fantastic with its mundane, utterly convincing industrial stylings. It promises great things to come from Zowie Bowie, or rather, Duncan Jones, as he now goes by.

Oh, and bonus points for the blink-and-you-miss-it cameo by Matt Berry.

angelophile: (Hancock Meh)

Last night I settled down to watch the Coen Brothers' latest flick - A Serious Man is being touted as their most "personal" film, with its vision of a suburban Jewish community in Minnesota in the late sixties. Physics teacher Larry Gopnik teaches Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, declaring that "we can never know what's going on." That's rather how I felt throughout this movie as, after an apparently unconnected preface set in a Polish shtetl and played in subtitled Yiddish about what may or may not be a dybbuk, we entered Larry's life, where his home life immediately starts to fall apart - his wife plans to leave him for another man; someone has maligned him in anonymous messages to his school's tenure committee; a Korean student is trying to bribe him; his brother's set up permanent residence in his bathroom and his kids are too self-absorbed to care about anything but pot, TV and a nose job. And then things just start to get worse...

The trouble is, the Coens have definitely lost their heart. Burn After Reading was directionless, cynical, even smug, with no sympathetic core - in Fargo or The Big Lebowski, the characters might be losers, but they're sympathetic losers nonetheless. In their recent movies, the Coens have continued to demonstrate they're masters at the art of film making, but they're producing empty movies with empty characters - there's no emotional core to hold onto.

The central character here is not a lovable schmuck, he's just a passive schmuck, dumped on by life at every turn and, apparently, doing nothing to address it. The best scene in the movie is a meandering parable, at the end of which the central character is left wondering what the point of it was. Which was my reaction at the end of the movie. I imagine that was the Coen's intent, but there's so little to enjoy in the process, so few moments of humanity, it's all so deeply unsentimental and forgiving. There's a hole in the middle of the movie where the empathy should be.

There's also plenty to admire in Roger Deakins's camerawork, Carter Burwell's score and the Coens' editing, the smartness of the script and the performances of all the cast, but the lack of humanity both of and towards the characters makes this a bleak experience. I left too detached to care what happens to anyone, not even the central character, who never developed a character of his own. He just barely reacts and occasionally has a mild bout of controlled hysteria. It's telling that the one single scene in the movie which had an ounce of humanity or sentiment ends with a character getting shot in the back of the head. It feels nasty and pointlessly vindictive, like intellectual torture porn.

And the end of the day, it just felt like the Coens spent a lot of time thinking about their movie making craft from a technical and intellectual standpoint and satirizing their upbringing by littering the movie with nearly hateful racial (if not racist) stereotypes, but very little thinking about whether the audience would enjoy the experience as much as they did. Reception's been positive from critics, though, so maybe I'm wrong. But, you know, this one just sailed on past me and the only emotion I felt was frustration.

angelophile: (Juno - Kraken)

I managed to catch Up in the Air, the new movie from Juno and Thank You For Smoking director Jason Reitman a little early. The screenplay, also by Reitman and based (loosely) on Walter Kirn's novel, deals with Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) a man who has the rather soul-crushing job of jetting around the country firing people - a troubleshooter for companies who don't want blood on their own hands.

Bingham's frequent flyer miles are put in jeopardy when a young new addition to his company, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) develops a method of video conferencing to lay people off. Bingham is forced to educate Natalie why the personal touch is irreplacable - ironically as he relishes his life of impersonality.

Reitman's yet to make a bad movie and Up in the Air is no exception. It lacks the black comedy that the similarly fast-talking central character had in Thank You For Smoking, but Clooney's character is from a similar mold as Nick Naylor or Juno - they're all characters who would be easy to dislike. But as the movie progresses, the frailty of Bingham's existance is exposed and the pathos comes into play.

It's not, however, an easy movie to watch. Clooney doesn't play his generic affable rogue character for laughs, but instead delivers a performance that's much more layered than his gurning on recent Coen brothers efforts like Burn After Reading. He's sympathetic, but broken and as the movie progresses, Clooney's performance, and the script, take on a more thought-provoking turn. He's equally matched by Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga as the other central characters and a host of supporting actors, such as Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Melanie Lynskey, Sam Elliott, Amy Morton, Danny McBride and Zach Galifianakis ensure that the acting is top notch throughout.

What the movie lacks, somewhat surprisingly, is the black comedy of Juno or Thank You for Smoking - this is an altogether sadder and more poetic piece than either. There's moments of comedy and some neat one-liners, but they're fewer and further apart, particularly as events unfold later in the movie - it's a more downbeat and thought-provoking story. The atmosphere reminds me more of the loneliness of Lost in Translation than the snappy dialogue of Reitman's previous movies, and that's by no way a bad thing.

Technically, writing, directing and performance-wise this may well be Reitman's best movie to date - those turned off by Juno's glib, somewhat unnaturally dialogue will find a movie that has its groundings firmly in reality, but reality isn't always a happy or perfect place.

Intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully directed and performed, this is a movie to see, if not necessarily for entertainment purposes. It's not "fun", but it's certainly a movie that has gravitas, human emotion and is deserving of the multiple award nominations it's received. Highly recommended.

angelophile: (Buffy We're English)

Just back from seeing Sherlock Holmes. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It was an enjoyable romp, in some ways pleasingly true to Arthur Conan Doyle's creations. In other ways, not, but they did pick up on elements in the script that pleased me.

To be fair to the movie, it clearly sets out from the first to reinvent Holmes and Watson for modern sensibilities, with lots of action, fight sequences and typical questionable geography, but it appears to relish how daft it all is, rather than turning a blind eye to it, so Guy Richie and the crew must be given credit for that. It's undoubtedly a spiritual sequel to Young Sherlock Holmes rather than fitting in with the standard Holmes mold.

Credit to Jude Law, though. I've never rated him, much, but thanks to a nice script which plays up on his Watson's status as a decorated Afghan soldier, retired on the grounds of a leg injury, handy with a pistol or a cane, usually exasperated at Holmes and utterly capable, he gives a performance that's much more true to the books than previous bumbling incarnations.

Robert Downey Jr can't act in anything but a pleasing manner, but, although the script served the character of Holmes well, I wouldn't in any way consider his take a definitive version. He's a lovely line in wild eyed mania, but he seemed constantly surprised by himself and circumstances, rather than the rock-hard self-belief, arrogance and unflappable nature of Holmes as he's portrayed in the novels and has been previously. Jeremy Brett is hard to top, as he poured his heard into creating the definitive and faithful performance as Holmes and it's hard not to compare Downey Jr to him. There's a clear winner in the battle for the best Holmes there, but Downey Jr's an actor I could watch acting out the phone book and still enjoy, so there was plenty to enjoy.

Rachel McAdams makes a rather limp Irene Adler, though, turned into a washed out femme fatale who's more like a "femme little bit naughty". Lacking the bite I was hoping for, there. And the main villain, is, frankly, as dull as dishwater rather than genuinely creepy or scary, but you can't have everything.

The lest said about the plot, too, the better, really. Less a solvable mystery and more wild inventions and an excuse for a number of action set pieces. It had the advantage of doing so shamelessly and the swashbuckling was all rather infectious rather than offensive. Was it Holmes-esque? Not really, but it was all rather fun.

The best thing about the movie was the look: all grainy and grimy London backstreets and docks, handled more sympathetically than the usual American take on any period British based movie. It looked the part, at least, despite the usual desire to have things unfold at every major London landmark for the virtual tourists out there.

It's not a classic movie and certainly not classic Holmes, but it is rather fun for all that.

angelophile: (Rosencrantz Guildenstern Namebadge)
Following on from Imperium, Lustrum is the second novel in a trilogy apparently planned by Robert Harris. Like the first novel, it's a fictionalized account of the fascinating life of the Roman senator Cicero, self-styled Father of Rome and the forerunner of modern politics and one of the most gifted and powerful politicians at a time when Julius Caesar was hell-bent on turning Rome from democracy to dictatorship.

It's said that history is always written from the point of view of the winners and Caesar is usually one of those most glorified. What makes this so fascinating is that it's written from the perspective of those who opposed him, who fought for the Republic. Caesar, here, is not a sympathetic character, but shown as a political mastermind, cold-blooded would-be dictator, ruthless in his pursuit of power.

But it's Cicero who is the central figure, although it is his constant clashes with Caesar and his allies that form the heart of this novel. While Imperium dealt with Cicero's unexpected rise to power, from humble beginnings to voice of the people, this novel deals with both his successes and his failures. Cicero nearly single-handedly saved the Roman empire from armed rebellion and civil war, but made powerful enemies in the process.

Unlike many novels set in Rome, however, this does not deal with the military victories, nor the lusty excesses, except in passing, but deals more in politics and legal drama. It's a success of Harris' focus that he deals with the affairs of the senate and the people and avoids sensationalism, instead bringing the well-known persona to life with deft, human touches and an eye for character rather than dealing in archetypes. Once again the book is written from the viewpoint of Cicero's slave Tiro, inventor of shorthand, and it's that voice that allows the great and the famous to be brought down to human levels - for example, his first, and main recollection of Mark Antony is his terrible acne.

Unlike his recent political thrill The Ghost, Harris once again triumphs by returning to historical events rather than attempting to be contemporary. The life of Cicero is a fascinating one and it's made even more fascinating by Harris' prose, lifting details and dialogue from Cicero's surviving writings, but also imbuing the semi-mythical figures with much humanity as they weave their political webs.

angelophile: (Paranoia at 11)
I've recently grown to be obsessed with The Thick of It, Armando Iannucci's razor sharp political comedy, which can be, perhaps, best described for colonials as like The West Wing meets The Office. Armando Iannucci's been on the scene for a number of years, behind the brilliant news spoof The Day Today, I'm Alan Partridge, Knowing Me, Knowing You, producing The Mary Whitehouse Experience and more. In The Loop is ostensibly the big screen version of The Thick of It, with a few American characters thrown in, although, in actual fact, while the cast return for the big screen version, they play different characters, with the exception of Peter Capaldi, still in the same role as the monstrous spin doctor Malcolm Tucker.

However, a polish on the British cast aside, the trick is expanding the bumbling incompetence and ruthless back-stabbing of The Thick of It from Whitehall to include Washington and adding the over-arching plot of the lead-up to a proposed war. It's hardly a stretch to see where the writers got their inspiration - one of the standing jokes is that the group proposing war are officially known as the "Future Planning Committee".

The satire's savage, whether it's in the form of ineffectual ‘meat puppet’ British minister Simon Foster, (brilliantly played by Tom Hollander) triggering an international crisis with a poorly chosen choice of phrase and desperately trying to please both advocates for war and peace and coming off as a bungling incompetent whatever he does, or Malcolm Tucker struggling to come to terms with the fact that he might be top dog in London, but in Washington he's just another number in the meat grinder. The stand-off with James Gandolfini as a Pentagon General is one of the highlights of the movie.

Capaldi is, of course, the pulse of the film - an expletive and vitriol spitting, relentless monster - but Hollander provides as much of the comedy, clearly out of his depth throughout and ineptly assisted by his PA Toby (Chris Addison), while the US cast includes Mimi Kennedy and Anna Chlumsky in addition to Galdolfini and they make the most of the satire they're given, especially in their dealings with Enzo Cilenti, the ambitious, and youthful, aide.

So, if you like your satire subtle, razor sharp and aren't offended by cuss words, and plenty of them, this is the movie for you. In fact, let's not mince words here, this movie is probably the best political satire we're likely to see after Doctor Strangelove. Strong praise indeed.

angelophile: (Katie Cook - Beast - Yay books!)
And so the door closes on the Potterverse and my series of reviews on them, as I finish the last in the series.

Firstly, the book doesn't disappoint in many ways. It's as readable as the rest of the series, more so than some, the pace picks up considerably and builds to a climax that, while not flawless, is generally satisfying and certainly not disappointing. But the book's definitely not without flaws and as such is representative of the series as a whole.

The major issue is, as expected, another problem with pacing. It's once again horribly uneven. The book's action packed, wonderfully so, but suffers simply because, after two books of barely any developments, suddenly there's masses to pack into the final volume. As usual, there's the problems of drawn out chapters filled with unnecessary exposition or stumbling around one forest or another killing any pace, but then the action sequences kick in and it's all hunkydory again. But by trying to pack not one, but two quests into the final volume - both for the Horcruxes and the hitherto unmentioned Deathly Hallows - along with trying to build in an ultimately satisfying ending, it's too much for one book to contain. No wonder the movie makers decided to split things over two films. Trying to pack both quests into one book seemed a step too far - as I said in the last review, the quest for the Horcruxes deserved a novel of its own and shuffling around the previous two volumes could easily have solved that issue.

More spoilery stuff under the cut. )

July 2013


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