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March 26, 2007

Film Review: 300

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2 out of 5 stars

Another Sunday evening, another trip to the Skydome for the Third Floor Film Circle. This is the second recent adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel, following 2005’s Sin City. It already resides in the imdb top 250 films. It relates the story of the battle of Thermoplyae in 480BC, in which Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler, Phantom of the Opera), and 300 of his men fight to the last man against the million-strong Persian army of Xerxes.

It’s beautifully shot, and very stylised. The slow motion battle cinematography is excellent and captures painfully gory battle-related moments very well. It can’t however mask the fact that this film is essentially one set-piece battle that would last 30 minutes in any other film, stretched to breaking point. The film is less than 2 hours long yet seemed far far longer than that. People were audibly bored in the audience.

It also falls between three stools; it can’t decide whether it wants to be Gladiator, Troy, or Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers. It echoes all three, yet doesn’t come near any of them (and given how appalling Troy was, that’s saying something). The central plot device of men backed into narrow chasm while hopelessly outnumbered is much better done as the battle of Helm’s Deep in LOTR:TT, and Zulu for that matter. And the build up to the battle itself is very poorly done. The use of dream-like sequences in wheat fields and political corruption in the senate is lifted straight from Gladiator. The wizened, leprous old priests at the beginning bear more than a passing resemblance to Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. And the deformed Spartan ‘traitor’....Gollum anyone? And the giant “no-we-didn’t-steal-them-from-Mordor-honest-guv” elephants…

And then there’s the dialogue. Portentous, ominous, grandiose. David ‘Faramir’ Wenham, as the narrator is the principal culprit. However Leonidas is not innocent either. Either being verbose, or shouting lots. There’s a touch of the Flash Gordon in there somewhere, from the very camp Xerxes, to the Persian Immortal warriors; separated at birth from Flash Gordon’s Klytus. Xerxes might be very tall and have more bling than gangsta rapper. But scary? No.

One of our number says I’m being unduly harsh, that it’s not worth trying to over analyse and think about movies like this. But this is a film stretched far beyond the material available. It might be pretty to look at, but there’s not much there otherwise. Lots of the iconography of the film has been shamelessly stolen from done better elsewhere in better films. This was a bit of a let down. Top 250 films of all time? Pffft!

Verdict: big miss.

March 11, 2007

DVD Review: King Kong

3 out of 5 stars

So, following the massive success of the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, here’s what Peter Jackson did next. All $207 million of it. And to be honest I ended up on the fast-forward button.

In a nutshell, filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) hires struggling vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) for his new film, setting sail for Skull Island. Darrow is then captured by locals and offered as a sacrifice to the eponymous ape which is then recaptured and brought to New York, where he predictably runs amok.

While the film looked great, too much of it was eerily similar what we’d seen in the Lord of the Rings; the walls of Skull Island looked like Mordor, the locals could interchangeably stand in as orcs, the jungle was Fangorn Forest and so on. It just seemed, for want of a better word, lazy. And despite the fact the film was released 12 years after Jurassic Park, the CG dinosaurs were nowhere near as convincing. The escapade on Skull Island itself is the principal problem; it’s far too long. Like other films we know the ending to, such as [shudders] Titanic, we know what the denouement is and would like to be taken there in a prompt and orderly fashion.

It’s a shame, because the acting is quite good; Watts performs the role of Darrow well, and Black is always engaging. If I could give it 2-and-a-half stars I could, but 3 will have to do.

PS: On a pedantic note, how many chemists do you know that can throw 2.5 L winchesters of chloroform (density 1.49 times that of water) great distances…?

Arcade Fire: Neon Bible

3 out of 5 stars

This is the follow up to Arcade Fire’s debut album, Funeral (2005). The critics on Newsnight Review came to verbal blows two weeks ago, producing amounts of pompous bluster even this viewer thought impossible on that particular programme.

Whereas in Funeral the atmosphere was sombre (inevitable given the subject material) yet somehow uplifting at the same time, Neon Bible has an ominous, portentous tone from the opening Black Mirror. Perhaps it’s a little bit too wrapped up in the politics and fears of the moment, but there are still 5 or 6 outstanding tracks on it. Sadly, 3 or 4 are far from outstanding (including the truly dismal title track) which is in contrast to the first album.

That said, it’s probably the only album you’ll ever own that has a church organ on it; to very great effect in Intervention (a wall of noise) but less so in the last track, My Body Is A Cage which is basically House of The Rising Sun

I can’t give it 3-and-a-half stars, so I’ll stick to 3. Too many duff tracks for 4 stars.
Download: Black Mirror, Intervention, Ocean of Noise, No Cars Go

November 21, 2006

Life is full of firsts

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Casino Royale
4 out of 5 stars

Yes, that’s right. I paid to watch a Bond film for the first time in my life. I’d just got so fed up of the high-camp and ridiculous quippery, reaching its apotheosis (or is that nadir?) in Roger Moore, appalling one-line jokes, femmes fatale with silly names, and the batty turns by Q in his various guises as the mad English boffin. Seemingly, the filmmakers had got fed up with it too.

In effect, what happens here to Bond is what to happened Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan in 2002’s The Sum Of All Fears, i.e. a trip back to his early, younger days. And the effect is better, as Daniel Craig (perhaps best known for the stellar BBC drama Our Friends In The North) has considerably more acting ability than Ben Affleck showed in the latter film

It’s interesting to see Bond minus most of the gadgets (no invisible cars here), and the film does lean on the Bourne Identity/Supremacy quite a bit, but given how good those two films were that’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s probably fair to say the success of those two films gave this franchise a much needed kick in the pants. Most of the staple Bond-isms that are taken for granted are neatly set up… a crying shame what happens to his car, but such is the life of an international MI6 agent.

The main villain, Le Chiffre, is vaguely creepy for a change (Die Another Day and Tomorrow Never Dies anyone?), and there’s an excellent turn from Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. Good support too from the always waspish Judi Dench as M, Giancarlo Giannini (Hannibal) and Jeffrey Wright (The Manchurian Candidate, Syriana). The only grumble is that at 144 minutes it’s probably 15 minutes too long. But that’s a minor complaint.

Well worth seeing

November 09, 2006

Yet another music review

3 out of 5 stars

This album is a collection of the best bits from five separate internet-only releases, Super D, Sunny 16, Speed Graphic, The Bens and the 2005 iTunes cover of Dr. Dre’s [censored] ain’t [censored]. It seems to be a theme of Folds’ record company that two studio albums can’t follow one another and must be interspersed with live performance/oddity albums.

Several tracks are remastered, and to be honest, some of it doesn’t work, particularly the new version of Songs of Love (to the Father Ted theme tune, the old one was much better), and some of the shiny bells and whistles on There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You are there for the sake of it.

On the plus side, the aforementioned Dr. Dre cover is quite something, along with the cover of Get Your Hands Off My Woman by The Darkness. In addition, Rent A Cop does remind you of a former Scott group member in a new life in law enforcement…

October 07, 2006

Bad Film of the Week

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Green Street (2005)
1 out of 5 stars

It’s a dangerous business, Mr. Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Into rubbish films about football hooligans. Given my DVD collection stretches to about 150 films, I should have blogged some more about films before now. I am proud to say I don’t own this film. But the benefits of Sky Movies through being home for the weekend offer the chance to catch up on some new films.

I’d often been staggered in bookshops how much of the ‘hoolie-lit’ genre there was- there’s a whole shelf of it in Ottakar’s in the middle of Coventry. It’s a profitable line to be in apparently. And so it’s inevitably inevitable some of them will make it to the big screen.

So in a nutshell: Harvard student (Elijah Wood) takes the rap for his roommate’s drug taking. He’s expelled and moves to London (where his sister lives). Except his sister is married to the (now retired) head of a crew of West Ham football hooligans. Younger brother of said crew-head takes Wood to matches and he is sucked into a world of hooliganism.

Where to begin? Well, firstly in 16 years of regular match-attendance I have seen 2 instances of crowd trouble in that time. Yet the filmmakers would have you believe crowd trouble is commonplace and all the hoolies go to games. They don’t. Football grounds are crawling with police and CCTV. Burberry-clad chav hoolie-wannabees go to games.

The film was riddled with ridiculous errors. One trip to a match shows West Ham playing some team or other. One member of the crew dressses up in a steward’s jacket and walks over to the away support, taunting them “dirty northern [expletive deleted]”. The team they are playing? Gillingham. Yes, that well known Northern team. They get on a train to Manchester. A Great Western Train! They parade down the street singing their songs in full view of the local plod!

We are supposed to believe that one ruck on the way home instantly converts Wood to the ways of violence. Eventually West Ham are drawn against Millwall in the quarter-final of the FA Cup. There is betrayal, wives walking out and redemption, all with a hooligan related theme. It’s risible. With a capital R. The film gets 1 star solely for random-English-TVpeople-spotting potential

I feel sorry for Elijah Wood. It must be hard for him, at the age of 25 knowing he’ll never be in a film anywhere near as successful (either critically or at the box office) as The Lord Of The Rings for the rest of his life. He has obviously decided to take on ‘interesting’ scripts in a bid to get a bit of serious acting credibility. This one isn’t interesting. It’s a reeking, steaming pile of horse manure 10 feet high.

This Is More Like It

4 out of 5 stars

And from a tale of woe in a follow up to a hit 2004 album, here’s something to gladden the heart. I suppose when following up a 4-million selling hit album such as 2004’s Hot Fuss the temptation would be to go for more of the same.

Not so for The Killers. Instead, there’s a much grander, stadium scale to the music on offer, from the already released single When You Were Young to other standout tracks including the U2-esque Bling (Confession of a King) and Read My Mind and others including Sam’s Town, This River Is Wild and Why Do I Keep Counting? to the quite bizarre (in a gaudy, end-of-the-pier sort of way) Bones

It’s different to Hot Fuss. But that’s no bad thing.

The Morning After…

1 out of 5 stars

...Up All Night a.k.a. “After The Lord Mayor’s Show”

Razorlight’s debut album Up All Night was so well received that the second, eponymous album was hotly anticipated and was described by Q Magazine as “the best guitar-based album since Definitely Maybe”. I’m not a prolific buyer of albums but as I liked the first offering, and given the first track on the second album In The Morning was (I thought) up to the standard I would hopefully bag me another good addition to the collection.

How spectacularly wrong can you be? I have tried to give it a chance, but that’s 134 minutes of my life I’m not getting back. The other 9 tracks could only be described as flaccid, transparent guff, including America, a paean to anyone American to buy it. Last week they promoted this album on Parkinson. On Parkinson. Sharing the bill with Dame Edna Everage and Trinny + Susannah. You’d give those three a wide berth. Give this album the same wide berth. Download In The Morning and save yourself 10 quid.

December 13, 2005

You've probably noticed….

….that there have been precious few football-related blogs on here of late (there was however one describing heroic deeds of cat-like sporting derring-do). That's because I can no longer accept that flogging up North on a train at 40 quid a go is value for money, especially when the footballing fare on offer is usually so prosaic.

I've been looking at other ways to entertain myself when i'm not chained to the Schlenk line. The trip to the ice-hockey in October was one such evening which has lead me to see the error of my football watching ways. However an even more clear-cut lesson was administered last night.

Last night, dear reader, I attended the first gig/concert of my life last night. At nearly 28 years of age this is, i think, quite late in life, but you're never to old to try new things. So off I popped to the NIA in Birmingham to see Ben Folds in concert. So a brief history lesson is probably appropriate.

Ben Folds was the founder member of the three-membered Ben Folds Five, formed in the early 1990's in North Carolina. Branded as 'rock music for sissies', their main claim to fame was their lack of a lead guitar, instead being Folds on piano/vocals, with Robert Sledge (bass/backing vocals) and Darren Jessee (drums/backing vocals). They played together till 2000ish whereupon after 3 albums they split up to pursue other projects. Folds subsequently released 2001's Rockin' The Suburbs in which he played piano, bass AND drums, before reverting to piano only in 2005's Songs For Silverman. I had been introduced to the music by former labmate (hello Ken!) who had myself and another lab mate scour record shops in Chicago and New York in 2001 for the eponymous "Ben Folds Five" album

So to last night. Having got to New Street completely unscathed by Virgin Trains, a 15 minute walk through the Frankfurt Market and Christmas lights got me feeling at least a little festive. After arriving at the NIA and deciding that i wouldn't partake in refreshment due to the exorbitant prices I took my seat in the upper tier (i'm too old to stand up now). At 7.30 the support act came on (I have no idea who they were, they weren't introduced, nor did they introduce themselves) and proceded to give 30 minutes worth of punk/rock. The first two songs were quite good, but it seemed like another 8 identical ones followed. From what I could gather they "were really nervous" but needed to work on their rapport with the crowd. The style of music just seemed a little incongruous with what was to follow.

So after the inevitable delay as the stagehands rearranged the place, the main event began. He kicked off with "Best Imitation of Myself" and "Zak and Sara" at which point he revealed that his drummer was ill with food poisoning and so this was largely (the bass player made a cameo appearance) going to be a one man show. And what a show!

He restarted with a couple of bloody good songs I'm ashamed to admit i don't own- "All U Can Eat"and "There's Always Someone Cooler Than You" from the EP Super 16 (one of three that preceded Songs For Silverman, big Christmas present hint) before "Still Fighting It". At was at around this point a technical fault with the piano meant Ben had to show the crowd just what a showman he was by entertaining the crowd with a bit of funk on the bass, and a bit of drumming, which was followed by a bit of impromptu stand-up comedy and some juggling.

Eventually the piano was fixed and he could launch into "Philosophy" (one of my favourites). After this he launched into one top notch song after another including (in no particular order, i can't remember it) "One Down" (from 2002's Ben Folds Live), "Landed", "You To Thank", "Kate", "Gracie", "Jesusland", "Carrying Cathy", a cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" (pardon my french), "The Last Polka", "Army" (I was in the trumpet section for the intrumental solo, shame on the people round me for not joining in, miserable sods!), "Brick", "The Ascent of Stan" and a quite brilliant piano-only version of "Rockin The Suburbs" before finishing with "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces".

He wasn't finished with that of course and for the encore more audience participation was required for "Underground" and "Not The Same". After conducting the last bit of the sing-a-long stood atop the aforementioned piano he left the stage to thunderous, prolonged, and bloody well-deserved applause from the 1500–2000ish crowd.

There's nothing better than watching someone who is among the best in the world at what they do doing it to the very top of their ability. He played for the best part of 2 hours without a break- hammering out 22 songs with the audience clamouring for many many others- I would have liked "Narcolepsy" and "Eddie Walker" as well but that's just me trying very very very hard to find fault and failing miserably

So back to value for money. The Swindon v. Bradford football match cost me the thick end of 80 quid to get there, get in and so on. Last night was less than 30. What was better value? Go figure!

December 02, 2005

A Word on Little Britain


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