Archive for the ‘Films’ category

All Change

July 21, 2007

trans2.jpgNow, if I could just rally my senses, I might be able to fire off a quick opinion about Transformers. Mrs H and I are about to embark on a (possibly apocalyptic) visit to the Mamas and Papas shop in Craigleith, so time is of the essence.

It’s a bit weird going to the cinema in the middle of the night. For one thing, you tend to rub shoulders with those who look like they don’t usually see the light of day. And as would be expected for a movie such as the above, there was a delightful masculine skew in the audience demographic. There was, of course, the odd girlfriend / wife in evidence, but few looked as if they really wanted to be there. They were out of their depth, the poor things.

An amusing preface to the film, for me, was that my viewing companion was ejected at the very beginning. Apparently, when cinemas display posters of long-anticipated upcoming attractions, this is not to be interpreted as an invitation to help yourself to said posters. This my friend learned, to his cost. ‘Look but don’t touch’ would be my tip for any potentially light-fingered cinema-goers. 

So. The film. Truth be told, it fell just ever-so-slightly shy of what I was expecting, which is to say I found it a little disappointing. Of course, there were plenty of visual treats, but a lot of them felt a little bit familiar. Maybe I’m getting too old, but I find myself quite unable to make sense of overblown, hyperkinetic action scenes. Picture the scenario: you’ve got a gaggle of robots, each very large, ripping chunks out of each other within a small urban space. It sounds good on paper. But filmakers have this habit of filming such sequences in such a way that they’ll zoom right into the thick of the action, so that you feel like you’re right there. This is all very well, but it becomes hard to appreciate what’s actually happening. All you have is a vague impression of lots of metal flying in all directions, making lots of noise. Have you ever had to watch a video of a relative’s holiday? You know the sort of thing: camera all over the place, zoomed in up to the hilt and flitting from person to person in a manner more likely to induce nausea than a sense of coherent narrative? Well, Transformers was a bit like that in parts, and sometimes about as much fun.

I won’t spoil the plot for you, mostly because I am slightly hazy about it myself. I might have slept through a little bit in the middle. For example, I’d be grateful to know what became of John Turturro’s character. Did he just disappear, or did he meet some variety of grisly end while I was getting some shut-eye? The perils of late-night cinema, people. Suffice it to say that it involved robots (some good, some bad), a handful of humans, um, a box that did something or other, a pair of glasses. I think eBay was involved somehow. Probably best you see it for yourself really.

For me, it was no more than a notch above average. But perhaps repeated viewing would reveal more than (initially) meets the eye.

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Hallows Be Its Name

July 20, 2007

Greetings, brethren.

For a nigh-unimaginable number of people, it’s a very special day today. This day, the 20th of July 2007 AD has been dubbed ‘the last golden day of ignorance’. Everyone get ready. We are about to turn a page.

The page in question, of course, is the front cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh instalment in J. K. Rowling’s record-breaking series. I assume it’s a record-breaking series, although I am at a loss to cite the latest Guiness tome chapter and verse. Let’s take it as a given.

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You’ll have noticed that a degree of fuss has been made over these books. None of it by me, I might add. I’ve not read any of them myself. Which, some might argue, makes me a trifle underqualified to hold forth about them. I did see films one and two, though, which is something. The first one I loathed. But I thought I’d give the second one a go. The second one I loathed.

I found it difficult to get excited about the world’s favourite boy wizard. I am all but alone, it seems. In Britain, one in every forty households has pre-ordered a copy of Hallows. In Morningside, home of J. K. Rowling and veritable hotbed of Pottermania, it is one in every nineteen. Remember, of course, that these figures represent only those would-be readers who have chosen to receive their book in the post. It tells us nothing of the scores who will this evening be crowding into Waterstones to get their greedy little hands on a copy, nor of those more sensible folk who intend to pick up a copy over the next couple of weeks, just whenever they get the chance.

Everyone’s waxing lyrical about Harry Potter at the moment. Our new PM thinks that J. K. Rowling has ‘done more for literacy around the world than any single human being’. Even those responsible for medical audit at the John Radcliffe have entered into the spirit of things. They’ve published the finding that, on average, accidents involving children are far fewer on Harry Potter release dates than on other weekend dates. So they’re all for it, obviously.

I’ve been having a little sniff around all the conspiratorial Potter waffle on the internet. I’ve been particularly enjoying all the leak-anxiety that seems to be floating about. You see, when you’ve got all these books lying about waiting to be delivered, it’s all too tempting for people to take a quick peak. There are all sorts of stories about plot secrets from previous books being leaked prior to the release dates. But the message from the true fans is clear: ‘seriously, we’re almost there guys’. At least Potter fans have got each other to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Anyway, enough of this tosh. Suffice it to say I won’t be attending any Potter launch parties tonight. Largely because I’ll be enjoying the Transformers premiere down at the Ocean Terminal (which, coincidently, starts at the exact moment Hallows is officially released). Stick that in your cauldron and boil it.

Don’t worry. There’ll be a spoiler-laden review to follow shortly.

Big Brotha

June 23, 2007

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 ‘Afternoon, honkies.

Hope you’re all well today. I wonder whether you might help me to resolve a confusion that has arisen in my mind of late. It’s been festering for quite a while. Not quite keeping me up at night or anything, but festering nonetheless.

I’m sure you’re not watching Big Brother at the moment. I’m not either. I used to be quite into it, back in its fifth iteration, but the novelty (such as it still retained on the 5th time around the track) has now vanished entirely. There’s something about watching roomfuls of people shouting at the same time that just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Which is sad, in a way.

Anyway, just because I’m not tuning in anymore doesn’t mean that I won’t give my tuppence worth when events in the BB house leak over into the news. Which they did, you will recall. Said events happened some time ago now, but are as yet unaddressed ‘Logueswise.

Before we begin in earnest, an experiment. I’d like you to think of the most offensive word you can. Got it? Don’t tell me what it is. Probably best not to say it out loud at all, actually.

As you grew up, you’ll have noticed that swear-words are arranged in an unspoken hierarchy. To the chagrin of the devout, religious swear-words tend to be quite near the bottom. Scatalogical ones come next, followed by the sexual ones at the top of the heap. The structure of this hierarchy has always intrigued me. Give a group of people some swear-words, and they’ll usually rank them in a similar order of offensiveness (seriously, try it) but how did this ever come to pass? Who decides what’s offensive and what isn’t? Let’s think (as I’m sure we all do) about a certain enjoyable interpersonal activity. Why should one word for it be OK, whilst the use of another would lead to a swift ejection from any polite gathering?

The most offensive word I can think of is an anatomical reference. This anatomical portion, in itself, is not offensive (to me). Nor are the four letters that make up the word. I use them all the time. However, there is just something about seeing them altogether in the correct order that seems puts the wind up folks. Maybe that’s why people in Scunthorpe have a chip on their shoulder. When I was growing up, my friend told me that this word could never be broadcast on television, in any circumstances. I’m not sure where he was getting his information from, but it was clearly false.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. You’ll recall that a certain word passed the lips of art student and Big Brother contestant Emily Parr. The word was considered so offensive that not only did the addressees need to reflect upon the exchange into the wee hours, but poor old (racist?) Emily was booted out.

I think we all know the word I’m talking about here. That’s right. En eye gee gee ee argh.

Personally, I was surprised by the reaction that this utterance provoked. The sheer level of offence was staggering. I know that Big Brother has been known to turn a blind eye to the odd bit of racism in the past, and is obviously wanting to be seen as taking a firm stance now. But was all the furore justified? This is where I’m confused, and would welcome your thoughts. 

This word is everywhere. Watch Pulp Fiction. It is used by both black and white characters, to refer to both black and white characters. It is used to address people, and in conversation about people. I just choose this film as an example, as I’m sure there are loads of others. What about Amazing Grace? Can a word like this be used if it is being used in a historical context? I don’t see people campaigning for either film to be pulled from the shelves.

The same goes for music: isn’t this term common currency in certain genres such as rap? I was having a little look at The African American Registry, in which I found an interesting article about the history of this word. It talks about the increasing popularity of the word amongst young, urban black people, who use it as a pally way to greet each other (apparently). I seem to recall it popping up in a Michael Jackson song at some point in his extensive, accomplished canon. Is it OK for Michael to say it because he’s black? Of course, he’d be the first one to claim that it don’t matter if you’re black or white. Not if you’re thinking about being his baby, that is.

Let’s be clear: I don’t have very strong views about this. I have no particular urge to be allowed to use the word, in the same way that I don’t really wish to make regular use of words like quadragintesimal or galactophagist. They are of no use to me. But I do wonder:

If this word is so offensive, how can it be allowed to appear in films, music and books, but not on Big Brother? And does it stop being offensive when it is used by a black person to greet a black friend, or a white person to greet a white friend? If so, would it be OK for a white person to use it to greet a black friend? I wouldn’t mind if a black friend used it to address me, although I do not presume to speak for all those of paler complexion.

Sorry for the ramble. Best just not say it at all until we get all this sorted out.

More Zombies

June 5, 2007

still.jpg More film reviews, I think. Or rather, just the one. Shall we turn our attention to 28 Weeks Later? Yes, let’s. 

28 WL is the sequel to 28 Days Later. For those who haven’t seen either film, may I draw your attention to the plot keywords proffered by our friends at IMDB, just to give you a flavour?

The terms most pertinent to the plot of 28DL, apparently, are ‘Soft Drink’, ‘Zombie’, ‘Dress’, ‘London’, and ‘Vomiting’. Those phrases that lend themselves more to the sequel are ‘Torso Cut In Half’, ‘Shot To Death’, ‘Horror’, ‘Shot In The Chest’ and ‘Survival Horror’. Deary me.

The premise of both films is this: there’s a virus on the loose. If you catch it, it makes you extremely angry. In your anger, you will feel compelled to bring about the gory demise of those around you. And if, in the process, you manage to swap bodily fluids with someone, they catch the virus too, and will join you in your murderous rampage.

Oh, and once you’re infected, you’re seemingly safe from the unsavoury attentions of your zombie chums. In the midst of their gibbering fury, they’re still able to reliably distinguish their infected colleagues from the as-yet normal, and focus their blood-letting efforts squarely on the latter. So that’s super.

The real strength of these films is that they fly in the face of the standard zombie conventions. These critters have none of the lanquid perambulation we see in the early George Romero stuff (in theory, the zombies in Night of the Living Dead could be thwarted by walking briskly in the opposite direction). Nay, these ones are light of foot, red of eye, and tend to dribble a bit.

Memorable moments include the dramatic sweeping vistas of a deserted London (they’re all dead, you see). And I was rather taken with the vision of the Wembley pitch left untended for several months. It’s the little touches like this that make it stick in the mind somewhat.

For all of that, though, it’s perhaps a little bit too much like the first one. Albeit with an interesting conceit: semi-immunity. When Robert Carlyle leaves his wife in the care of the zombies in order to save himself, he never expects that he’ll see her again, alive and (sort of) well, and have to explain his selfish actions. Still, he gets his comeuppance.

I thought it was excellent, and will surely avail myself of the inevitable threequel. Without giving too much away, it’ll probably be subtitled.

Anyone For Thirds?

May 11, 2007

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At the risk of becoming overly slanted towards the cinematic, I wondered whether I might share some opinions about the recently released Spider-man 3?

Warning: Spoilers 

The latest Spidermanian installment sees plenty for our intrepid hero to do. Firstly, he needs to evade a thumping at the hands of one-time pal Harry. Harry’s still miffed because he thinks Spider-man offed his dad, and has borrowed some of Pop’s hardware in the hope of doing Spidey a mischief. Luckily for our hero, Harry gets a knock on the bonce in the process, and thus forgets his grudge against his arachnine chum. And then remembers it again. What a to-do.

Naturally, there are two other ne’er-do-wells eager to see an end to Spider-man. One is Flint Marko, a criminal with a heart of gold. In a stunning (i.e. stupid) bit of revisionist plotting, it turns out that he was the one that killed Uncle Ben. As he tries to evade the police, Marko stumbles into a conveniently placed, mysteriously al fresco particle physics facility, where he is somehow imbued with the ability to turn into a pile of sand at a moment’s notice. Rather a useless skill, you might have thought. But in the right hands, it’s deadly.

I have the same problems with the Sandman as I had with the T-1000. How do all the little bits know their place in the overall arrangement? And how does the person constituted by the little bits retain an appearance quite unlike that of the contituent parts? But we mustn’t grumble.

My pal Ross has a T-shirt just like the Sandman’s. He swears that any likeness of his garments to those favoured by comic-book super-villains is purely coincidental. I do not believe him, and have made him thus aware.

Anyway, let’s not forget the third (yes, the third) villain of the piece. This one’s an alien life form, which latches onto Spider-man and assumes the form of a black Spider-man costume. Peter Parker, far from questioning the origins of this new suit, decides it looks a little better than the red one, and adopts it as his crime-fighting garment of choice. The alien then tries to posses him. Much hilarity ensues.

In order to enjoy this franchise, one is always required to suspend belief. When watching this third helping, it helps to remind oneself that the first and second ones were just as daft. If you’re going to synthesise a miniature sun, for example, you don’t really need to go to the trouble of inventing biomechanical arms with which to do it. A couple of really long sticks would probably do.

I really enjoyed this film. That’s not quite the same as saying it was any good. But then again, it was one of those films that didn’t need to be any good in order for me to enjoy it. Expectation can cloud the critical faculties somewhat. I’m not sure whether this is a bad thing or a good thing. Certainly, a sizable proportion of reviewers have enthusiastically poo-pooed Spider-man 3, but I’m sure that for the 140 minute duration, I was happier than any of them.

Sunshine in Leith

May 2, 2007

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I had a very enjoyable cinematic experience last night. After work, I ambled down to Ocean Terminal in Leith to watch Sunshine, the new Danny Boyle sci-fi (yes, I know).

Warning: Spoilers 

To set the scene, a handful of boffins are blasted into space on a rather curious mission. Our sun, you see, has started to sputter a little bit, and looks to be in danger of going out. The aforementioned boffins need to detonate a bomb within our beloved star in order to get it going again. Quite a big bomb actually, the size of Manhattan. This is one situation in which a wee squirt of lighter fluid just won’t cut the mustard.

Here’s the rub, though. They’re on their way sunward when they pick up a distress signal from another ship charged with a similar mission, but presumed lost some seven years ago. Having never seen Alien, they decide that the best thing to do would be to pop on over in order to offer assistance. Sadly, their diversion means that they are now at a slightly different angle to the sun, and having forgotten to adjust their protective parasol accordingly, things start to get inhospitably warm. Fires start, things blow up.

They reach the other ship eventually, where they meet Captain Pinbacker, the lone survivor. Pinbacker is an object lesson in the perils of neglecting the SPF30, and a nutter to boot. Imagine a nude Freddy Krueger and you’re halfway there. He’s become a bit pro-extinction during his seven-year solitude, and doesn’t entirely agree that the sun should be reignited. He attempts to persuade our heroes to adopt his point of view, by killing them.

I thought this was a cracking film, if a bit barmy (especially towards the end). Lots of good moral conundrums too. When the crew realise that they have insufficient oxygen supplies to reach the sun, should they kill one of their number? The survival of the human race rather depends on the success of the mission, but what if no one volunteers to be martyred for the cause? Should they kill the chap who made the gaffe with the parasol? The predicament is sort of his fault, and he’s a bit suicidal anyway. 

(A very similar issue was raised in an interesting podcast I enjoyed on the way home. During an exchange at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, Richard Dawkins, in debate with Alister McGrath, was wondering (out loud) whether there might be some circumstances in which we might advocate torture. What if an atomic bomb had been set to detonate in one of the world’s major cities, and only the would-be bomber knew where it was? Would we be justified in reaching for the thumbscrews?)

Back to Sunshine. I found myself wondering: if this situation with the sun ever arises (which, we’re told, it eventually will) will people try to do anything about it, or just accept their fate? Would people want to see the continuation of their species above all else? Let’s face it: getting a suitably large bomb organised must be a bit of a palaver.

I accidently found myself on the Wikipedia entry for this film, which had an interesting breakdown of the certifications assigned in different countries. I was particularly taken with Finland, where it got a K13 rating (whatever that is.) This rating was assigned on the basis of the ‘science-fiction setting, peril, zombies and misfortune’. Now there’s a collection of factors liable to warp the purest of innocent minds.

Although, truth be told, I don’t actually remember any zombies…

Knowing Where We Stand

April 21, 2007

As part of my commitment to you, constant reader, I intend to recommend reading material from time to time. May I get straight down to it with my favourite novel of all time?

If you were to end up on a desert island, which five novels would you want to be there with you? I would go with Stephen King’s The Stand, and just use the other four to get a good fire going.

stand.jpgNot everyone likes The Stand. I seem to recall that I first read it after pinching a copy from Jamie (I think that he, in turn, pinched it from his mum). I recall that he thought so little of it that he didn’t want it back. Those who know him will know that this sort of generosity is quite out of character. There is also the tale (recounted by the author in the preface to the Complete and Uncut! edition) that a certain reviewer would pass his days standing in bookshops exhorting customers not to buy it.

Don’t be taken in by such nincompoopery. The Stand is brilliant. How else could it romp to victory as the 53rd most popular book of all time in the BBC Big Read? And to think I didn’t cast a single vote.

Comparisons have been made to Lord of the Rings, and to be sure, there are similarities between the two books. There are also differences: The Stand is interesting, and stuff happens.

The plot’s simple: an accident at a germ warfare facility results in the decimation of human race. A lucky few find themselves immune to plague, and try to rebuild a semblance of community in Colorado, under the watchful eye of devout centenarian Mother Abigail. But over in the West, the enigmatic Randall Flagg is also gathering his forces, probably with a view to ruling the world. So, it falls to the God fearin’ folk in the East to pop over and tell him to pack it in.

No doubt it’s an easy read, and some would dismiss it as ‘pop’. But I would argue that the accessibility of The Stand is one of its strengths. It trips along at a pleasant pace, but is over all too soon. Still, one can always read it again. It’s a shame it was never adapted for the cinema. I am still holding out hopes for a full-scale epic trilogy, rather than the somewhat toothless TV mini-series it eventually became.

I think I’ll read it again. Knowing my luck, the third time will reveal it as a load of old tosh, and these ebullient burblings will return to haunt me.

Oh well.