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August 22, 2007

Shock negative review of new Bourne film

The Bourne Ultimatum
2 out of 5 stars

The funny thing about the Bourne films is how hyped they are for such a forgettable franchise. (That, by the way, is the only funny thing.)

Reviews across the board are giving the new one, The Bourne Ultimatum, 4 out of 5 plus. And okay, it’s fairly gripping with some cool action set-pieces, but there’s very little more to it. I suppose the reason the series is so critically acclaimed is that is it’s not pretentious or flashy. It has the memory-loss gimmick and a smattering of murky intrigue but apart from that it’s balls-to-the-wall action. No hi-tech gadgetry, no glamorous locations, no witty repartee, no suave goodie, no wacky baddie.

Matt Damon acquits himself well as the unassuming killing machine and his antics provide all the entertainment. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a comedy fan but I’m finding it hard to remember a more humourless film. The only times I laughed were a part of a “Ha! Awesome” reaction to something brilliant Jason Bourne did. This happened frequently, happily, but in between you just had endless, frenetically-shot car chases, motorcycle chases, rooftop chases (once you’ve seen one Tangier window smashed by Bourne jumping through it, you’ve seen ‘em all) and fist fights.

When Bourne first appeared it was understated and worthy, which was probably refreshing for some – especially compared to the later Brosnan Bond films. Maybe Casino Royale has made me look on the Bourne in a new light – it offered what The Bourne Ultimatum does and so much more. Bourne kills a man in a toilet with his bare hands. We get that in Casino Royale along with a more intricate plot, better characters and even a bit of humour.

And why cast Albert Finney as a senior CIA type when you had Brian Cox in the last one and his character, a senior CIA type, shot himself? I got a bit confused.

Brian Cox

Albert Finney

Just me then.

July 12, 2007

Exclusive: the new Harry Potter film reviewed

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
1 out of 5 stars

Thanks to my contacts in the film industry, I wangled a ticket to a preview of the new Harry Potter film, due for general release today.

The latest instalment of Middle America’s most burnable series of children’s novels to be filmed is the highly anticipated Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix.

It pains me to report that the effort is yet another in a long line of sequel-based turkeys the poor movie-going public has had to endure this summer (cf. Pirates 3, Spiderman 3, Shrek 3).

The film follows young Potter, a new graduate of Hogwarts, attempting to make a life for himself in the Real World. Unfortunately for him, there is little demand for wizardry amongst the muggles and he finds himself working in Burger King.

The film follows the usual slacker film cliches: Harry and Ron (who, thank to some very implausible reasoning, ends up working at the very same branch as Harry) devise various gross tricks to play on their mean boss Mort Voldeburg, they dream of getting out of the dump, and halfway in Harry cops off with the new hottie in the scene that famously had to be shot 30 times at that rascal Daniel Radcliffe’s request.

Eventually, a pheonix turns up at the restaurant and orders a Rodeo Burger, an obsolete menu item involving onion rings and BBQ sauce. Rather than tell the ashy bird to pick again, pal, Harry decides to embark on a quest in order to deliver exceptional customer service.

No matter how few people are going to see the film as a result of this review, I could not possibly spoil the ending for you. But overall the film is pitiful. There really is no excuse for the blatant product placement, the corporate endorsement of the reviled McJob, the laziness of the script, and the rampant anti-semitism. Wait for the DVD.

March 31, 2007


While passing the time in London the other day (I was down for a job interview – well, an internship interview, to be exact) I found myself in Waterstones flicking through this month’s Arena. It had a feature on that zeitgeist favourite, guilty pleasures.

It’s an interesting phenomenon – liking something despite it not being (in the case of music) cool – and one which the London-centric media have attributed to the club night, Guilty Pleasures, which seems to be identical to the Skool Dayz phenomenon but with a little more originality (I imagine they wouldn’t play Don’t Stop Me Now, for example) and without the paedophilia connotations (i.e. grown men sharking grown women dressed as children). The night’s organisers have apparently done something noteworthy recently, which has merited several articles in the press (Arena’s and in yesterday’s Guardian).

I think it’s easy for people to confuse GPs with the so-bad-it’s-good phenomenon. But when I watch a film that’s SBIG I derive my pleasure through ironic amusement, by mocking its makers. In contrast my enjoyment of a guilty pleasure is malice-free. I may not get any kudos from my peers for it, but I genuinely appreciate the entertainment as it was intended. There’s no doubt a grey area though; do I like Razorlight because of Johnny Borrell’s shit lyrics, or his guileless bombast?

The thing with guilty pleasures is the fact that having them requires a certain degree of snobbery in the first place. For example, someone who likes the Twang and suffers no accompanying sense of shame is forbidden by logic from having any musical guilty pleasures.

The Arena article, which gave various examples of GPs, from female celebrities to everyday activities, was fairly spot-on with its criteria, though I disagreed with many of their selections. They certainly got Dire Straits, bacon fat and Katie Melua right though. I would have added Dan Brown books and, of course, reading men’s magazines in shops and not buying them.

In an attempt to get some comments, but at the risk of sounding like a local radio DJ: go on then, what are your guilty pleasures?

[sits back and waits for some wag to come up with “your mum”]

October 19, 2006

Texas: messing with it not advised

After Galveston I finally left the coast and ventured inland. As well as this being a quicker way to get to Los Angeles than via the Panama Canal, I was getting sick of the flatness of the scenery that the coast has to offer. In the north-east, I mainly had trees to look at from the Greyhound, so the swampy bayous of the South’s jagged coastline had made a nice change at first. But after a while I wanted mountains.

So I went up to Austin first. It turns out most of Texas is flat as well – you’ve got cattle pasture as far as the eye can see. Austin itself is kind of hilly. It’s not only the capital of Texas but the self-styled Live Music Capital of the World (this is where the SXSW festival happens every March) and lays claim to having the largest urban bat colony in the world. Home to the University of Texas, it also has a reputation as the liberal oasis within an in-your-face conservative state – t-shirts and bumper stickers carry the slogan “Keep Austin Weird”.

Apart from the State Capitol and the bats, Austin is basically a drinking destination. The hostel is a fair way out of downtown but in a nice spot by the Colorado River (confusingly, not the same one as what goes through the Grand Canyon). I fell in with a good bunch of fellow solo backpackers – including Jess, an Aussie who’d basically been stalking Mariah Carey on her US tour – we played board games as it poured down outside, then went drinking on E 6th Street (Austin’s answer to Bourbon Street, but less rank and with more late-night tattoo parlours for all those regrettable drunken decisions).

The journeys home after the drinking were the most interesting. All the bars closed at 2am so we got a late bus on Saturday night, which was full of uniformly stocky UT jocks all horsing around (as Holden Caulfield would have it) until someone flipped someone else the bird, it all kicked off and there was a massive brawl. I was at the other end but several innocent people – including a woman – were assaulted. It was crazy – you wouldn’t get that on the Doctor’s X12. After a while the bus stopped and the driver just called the police rather than intervene. The perpetrators disappeared, a ridiculous-looking bicycle cop turned up to check where they were, then we were on our way again. The remaining passengers – united by this brouhaha – reflected on what had happened. One guy said “wow, that really escalated”. Naturally I responded, “I killed a man with a trident”. How we laughed.

The next night the late bus wasn’t running (shame) so we got a taxi. The driver, who I took to be a bit of a good old boy, out of the blue offered us weed and lit up a marijuana cigarette (The Beach was right – they don’t put tobacco in them over here), saying “Welcome to Austin: home of the redneck stoner, the hippie cowboy.” Classic.

I could’ve stayed another night and actually seen some proper live music, but instead I went to San Antonio. On the Greyhound I met Chris from Bucks, whose gap year is currently two and a half years and counting. We went to the hostel (as out of the way as the Austin one) and seemed to be the only ones there so went to sample the nightlife in downtown. I ate probably the least healthy item so far on my trip – a chicken-fried steak (steak fried in breadcrumbs). This also brought my consecutive steak-based evening meal total to four. When in Rome…

Chris had been in San Antonio a couple of days earlier and had met a waitress so we arranged to meet up with her, especially since she said she was bringing a friend. It turned out Ellie’s friend was her fella. Ah well. We went to a couple of dive bars, played shuffleboard (like curling) with a bunch of Mexican-Americans and saw a band, who were probably better than anything in Austin. One of their songs was Folsom Prison Blues, which reminds me to apologise to any fellow Johnny Cash fans for not getting the Amtrak so I could recreate the line “that train keeps a-rolling down to San Antone”. Sorry.

It was getting late and our local friends insisted that they wouldn’t let us stay at a nasty hostel – we should crash at theirs and Ellie would drive us to the hostel the next day. Fair enough. So we went back to Robert’s house, declined to partake in certain illegal substances, watched some TV (I seem to recall It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, a twentysomething Curb… being pretty good) and turned in at 4am. When we got up, the only person around was Robert’s unimpressed housemate and Chris couldn’t contact Ellie, so we were stranded somewhere in San Antonio – the USA’s 7th biggest city. We ended up getting a taxi back to the hostel (with another larger than life cabbie, this one being a golf and, er, sex enthusiast).

Chris went to catch a plane, so I had the day to explore San Antonio with a stinking hangover, before I caught the overnight bus to El Paso. SA is a nice place – it’s full of sweet art deco/Mexican architecture, and has a riverwalk below street level, which is pleasant enough but gets you completely disorientated. It’s a bit more touristy than Austin because it has the Alamo there. The Alamo was basically the film Zulu with 200 largely Anglo Texan revolutionaries defending a mission against thousands of Mexican troops. Unlike Zulu the defenders lost but the place has become a symbol of heroism and Texan independence. The Alamo was where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie (pronounced Booie, of Bowie knife fame) were killed. My favourite factoid I learned there was the one about the Arkansas state legislature trying to ban the Bowie knife because knife fights were getting out of control; the debate got so heated that two congressmen actually had a knife fight right there on the house floor.

I’d had little over 24 hours in SA when it was time to get the overnight bus to El Paso. After ages trying to find somewhere cheap to eat after 7pm that wasn’t McDonalds, I got to the station with 45 minutes before the bus was due to leave. The queue for the tickets was long and the clowns who seemed to be working there, Ruben and Mike, were rarely at the desk and didn’t seem to have a clue. I finally got to the desk with 5 minutes to go, and Mike tells me that the bus already sold out ages ago. Shit. The next one was at 6am. Should I get a train? He gave me a ticket anyway (it’s free with my pass, after all) and suggested I check if there was room on the bus. There was. Phew.

Had a crap night’s sleep on the bus and arrived here in El Paso yesterday morning to see the sun rise over the Mexican border. The hostel let me check in at 9am, which gave me a day to cross over the Rio Grande into Ciudad Juarez. As you may know, I love all things Mexican, so I was excited to go back there for the day. However, Juarez is a dump. Being just over the border, it’s full of things you can’t get in the USA: cheap dentists, opticians and pharmacies, hookers and drugs. So I walked around for a bit, tried speaking Spanish, and ate a load of Mexican food.

El Paso isn’t so seedy and everyone here is Mexican too, so I prefer it. It has mountains, too! However, because it’s over 1000 metres above sea level and about as far from the sea as I’m going to get (I think) it’s also pretty chilly. I was the only person at the hostel for most of the day, so I thought it was going to be another Galveston, but I met folk at about 10 last night (just as I was ready to hit the old dusty trail) and we’re going up to the mountains in about an hour and a half.

Today’s recommendation
Not a travel thing really, but to kill time in San Antonio I went to the pictures and saw The Departed, which is awesome. I didn’t know anything about it before I went, apart from the fact Jack Nicholson, Leo Di Caprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg are in it, so I won’t spoil it much for you so it has the same effect. It’s got everything: violence, comedy, tragedy, excitement, a great cast (though Wahlberg steals the film) and more violence. Go, bear with it for the first 20 minutes, and you won’t be disappointed. Guaran-fucking-teed.

It’s the little differences
Texas is an interesting place – pick-up trucks, stetsons and ammo shops are everywhere, but today I want to talk about water. It’s one of these subconscious things I notice as I’m travelling around – how tapwater tastes in each place. Brooklyn set the bar high, Boston, Philly and DC had fairly rubbishy Leamingtonesque hard-water. Charleston’s was the best so far. Brunswick’s tasted and smelt of sulphur. Galveston’s was so bland it was almost sinister. Austin’s tastes of soil. Overall, US tapwater is drinkable but inconsistent, and if you want bottled water, it somehow costs about twice the price of the same volume of pop (or soda, if you will).

May 21, 2006

The Big Sleepover

Movie image
4 out of 5 stars

Don't you just hate it when you come up with a great idea for a film, only to find that someone's beaten you to it? It happened to me in February when I decided what film audiences needed was a mystery about a successful man whose life falls apart when someone who he wronged as a child starts taking revenge. Then I saw Hidden, and needless to say, for fear of being unoriginal I didn't take my idea any further.

A couple of months later, I decided I would write a contemporary film noir, and avoid parody by playing it completely straight, while at the same time getting laughs out of the witty dialogue. As if on cue, the film industry churns out exactly that, only – as far as I could see, given that it's set at an American highschool – better.

I was gutted, but naturally, as a fan of film noir, excited by this news, which is why I went to see Brick (for it is It) when it came out last weekend. The film's about Brendan (played by the kid out of Third Rock From The Sun) – the highschool loner who becomes an amateur private eye when his ex–girlfriend calls him in distress. His investigations are helped and hindered by femmes fatales, a nerdy informer, obnoxious goons and a drug dealer who lives with his mum; they take him to the highest echelons of his small Californian town's narcotics industry, and it all gets rather violent.

It's very daring to make a film like this, which transplants a genre defined by the 1930s and 40s into a modern setting so I give kudos to director Rian Johnson – grudgingly, as I'd have liked to take the glory for the feat myself some day. And for the most part it works. It's very entertaining. The dialogue is deliciously hardboiled and barely ever feels anachronistic. Brendan is very cool – the way he calmly puts his specs in their case whenever he senses a fistfight brewing, and his inspired method of dispatching a knifeman on his tail.

Two criticisms I've heard of it are the way the characters mumble so much and that the genre–typical plot is a bit obvious. I think these actually cancel each other out. I don't know what it is about the sound quality but I kept missing what they said. But this meant that it kept the plot complicated; if I could hear every line, maybe I wouldn't have had so many unanswered questions at the end.

The film is awesome but because they had to keep the whole noir atmosphere going some of it is a bit contrived. The good news is this lack of perfection means I haven't lost hope for my noir project.

May 04, 2006

When Sealife Attacks

This is the second film Noah Baumbach has written about marine biology, but unlike The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the role of the titular characters is small and merely symbolic. Dumb And Dumber's Jeff Daniels is surprisingly brilliant as a pompous academic, Bernard, whose writing career is in freefall, just as his wife Joan's is in the ascendant. This state of affairs, along with her affair, lead to an acrimonious divorce. Their sons, Walt and Frank, are stuck in the middle of it all and it is their plight on which the film focuses.

It is essentially a drama but it is very, very funny thanks to some great characterisation and performances. The humour is a lot like Life Aquatic, but the film is less surreal/quirky, so is probably more accessible. A highlight of this is Frank's bizarre erotic fixation with a magazine clipping of some indeterminate flesh. More realistic is the sub–plot of Walt's coming of age; his mishaps involving the opposite sex are spot–on. Unfortunately, my parents are happily married, so I can't comment on the accuracy of Baumbach's portrayal of divorce.

In addition to all that excellence, the fit Anna Paquin, of Rogue–out–of–X-Men fame, is in this as the object of both Bernard's and Walt's affections.

As it's an indie film and it's already been out for three weeks, chances are it's not on anywhere. But if you get the chance, go.

April 14, 2006

Wrote a film, I wrote a film

For the past few months I've been doing a screenwriting course (like the one featured in the motion picture Adaptation) and it finished last week. For it I had to write a short film, which I did. It's a black comedy which will delight young and old alike. If you wanna read, drop me a line.

I'm tempted to submit it for the The British Short Screenplay Competition, which is run by the National Film & TV School and Kaos Productions. But I'm a bit put off by the fee that you have to pay, and the release that you have to sign which says:

You acknowledge that the screenplay you are submitting may contain characters, concepts and other material similar to characters, concepts and other material which the judges of the competition or their companies or Kaos Films or their partners are currently developing/producing or are considering developing/producing.

which is another way of saying "you agree that we can steal your ideas if we think they're any good".

January 22, 2006

A Cock And Bull Story

On Friday night, I saw A Cock And Bull Story, the new comedy from Michael Winterbottom (who directs) and Steve Coogan (who stars), reunited at last after first bringing us the excellent 24 Hour Party People. To add an element of danger to the night's entertainment, we – myself and Aidan – didn't know whether we would be seeing said film, or Jarhead.

On the subject of one of the subjects of my last blog entry, I'll say my piece on Richard "that atheist dude" Dawkins's programme, The Root Of All Evil? which was on Channel 4 on Monday. It was very interesting. Dick's most important points were that religion is often an obstacle to scientific progress and we should question authority which is based on spurious but traditional teachings; and that being religious isn't the same as being moral.

But the big issue that many churchies have already taken up with him is the way he implies religion is the cause of wars, when in fact it was secular regimes in Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR that caused by far the most murder in the twentieth century, and that the Israel-Palestine and Northern Ireland conflicts are more about national/ethnic identity than theological differences. The God-botherers do have a point; Dawkins's militant atheism is a bit extreme – fundamentalist, even – but we can't throw the aborted foetus out with the bathwater.

The evil thing about religious fundamentalism is its ideological nature. It's the way Al-Qaeda and (to a slightly lesser extent) Christian evangelicals want everyone to think like them that causes the bloody conflict that gives religion the bad name Dawkins wants to demonstrate. I didn't agree with everything he said, but I thought it was a good thing that he was so fervent in his belief that anything that isn't scientifically proven is inherently evil. It was quite amusing. I feel like asking Dawkins if he thinks prison programmes which convert convicts to Christianity - and fully reform them - are evil. I imagine his response would be like George's in that episode of Seinfeld in which they pitch their show about nothing:

NBC President: So what's the show about?
George: What did you do today?
NBC President: Got up, came to work.
George: That's what the show's about.
Jerry: Maybe something funny happens on your way to work.
George: No! Nothing happens!

This in turn reminds me of Larry David's more recent creation Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first series of which I've been watching on DVD this week. I find it quite hit and miss. When it's good it's brilliant, but when it's not, I can't help wishing I was watching Seinfeld instead (the anti-Semites at the Paramount Comedy Channel having taken away its taxpayer-friendly primetime slot last month, the bastards).

But anyway, religion: if only everyone read J.S. Mill's On Liberty instead of their silly holy books, the world would be a much better place. Just ignore his ideas about sex, the crazy celibate.

As I was saying, it was either going to be ACABS or Jarhead. The former was only released that day, so we thought it might be sold out, and thanks to the Metro system, it was looking like we would miss the Tyneside's 8.30 kick-off. So the Odeon screening of Jarhead at 9.15 was our contingency plan. As it turned out we got in, and the auditorium wasn't very full at all. Strange, as Cock… (as I'm now going to abbreviate it to, mainly because it's funnier than the aforementioned bland acronym) had been getting loads of media coverage and pretty good reviews. And, judging by the clientele of Popolo, the trendy bar nearby in which we imbibed following the film, Newcastle is full of people who you'd expect to appreciate a night of post-modern cinema at the local arthouse, be they twattish posers or genuine film students. Incidentally, one of the best characters in the film wouldn't have looked out of place at Popolo. Jenny is a runner on the set of the Tristram Shandy film, who has blatantly just graduated from Warwick with a first in Film & Lit, really wants to be a film-maker and keeps going on about obscure French New Wave, to the bemusement of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. It's funny cos it's true.

But I'm getting ahead of myself; the film hasn't even started yet. It's a bit of a coincidence, actually. You see, Cock… is based on The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, a book described by Steve Coogan (in the film) as "post-modern before there was anything modern to be post about". It was also regarded as an unfilmable novel. Now, I haven't read the book, so I probably didn't appreciate the film as much as I would've, but Winterbottom makes much of its post-modern/unfilmable aspects and, in an homage to Sterne's rambling book, basically rambles with a fictionalised making-of film which intersperses the action of the book. Confused? I am at the moment, but it works on screen, amazingly. Now, I won't tell a lie – I'm digressing deliberately. As my stock impression of Ross Noble goes: "I'm clearly going off on a tangent!" This review is a bit of a cheeky homage to the film's cheeky pissing about with the structure, as you may have noticed. I'm guessing I'm not making a very good job – probably 2 stars.

Incidentally, I got my three-month assessment at work earlier in the day and, happily, my boss had nothing but good things to say about me on the form. However, I was disappointed by the lack of "Dan doesn’t always play by the rules – you might say he's a bit of a maverick – but by gum, does he get the job done."

And on the subject of unfilmable novels, the concept always seems to get bandied about when such novels are actually adapted. What's left then? Here's a challenge: film One Hundred Years Of Solitude. Mind, at the moment it feels like an unfinishable novel.

While Cock… is first and foremost a comedy and as such, is judged by the amount of laughs it gets (which is lower than you might reasonably expect), the making-of part is a stroke of genius on the level that Hamas regards Sharon's latest mishap. At first you think that it's an actual documentary until you realise Jeremy Northam is playing the director and it's basically a subtle Tapesque satire on the British film industry – and on a very self-deprecating Steve Coogan's ego/libido. For all the ongoing bickering between Coogan and Brydon about who the star of the film is, Brydon ultimately steals the show with his impressions of Coogan (i.e. Partridge) and Al Pacino. Other hilarious moments include Coogan's attempt at method acting when he puts a hot chestnut down his pants. You wonder if that was the only thing in the film that was real.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here – the film hasn't even started yet. Ah, fuck it: "So, is it any good?" I hear you asking after all this. Yeah. It is.

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