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May 16, 2010

Ridley Scott's Robin Hood: Wasted Opportunity

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Robin Hood (2010)
2 out of 5 stars

I'm a fan of Ridley Scott. He's both a great and a terrible director, as much in terms of his choices of what to direct as how to direct. He's got one of the most varied careers I've seen ranging from great and interesting sci-fi (Alien) to exciting action (Gladiator) to absolutely atrocious (G I Jane). He's also a clever director. Over the last few years he's tackled some important issues, events and mythologies. To his credit, he tries to expand beyond the usual Hollywood tripe-history and cram cultural, religious and social context into a mytho-historical framework. He never really succeeds in entirety but at least he tries. And even where his films aren't great, they're usually enjoyable. Black Hawk Down was not a great movie. It was clumsy, overtly pro-American and almost racist in its disregard of the killing of hundreds (or thousands) of Somalis, while focusing on the poignant deaths of the American few. But it was a good waste of time. Kingdom of Heaven improved the formula with some great performances (and some muddled and terrible, thank you Orlando Bloom) and an attempt to at least analyse beyond the usual black and white simple expositions.

Something prevalent throughout his career is the feeling that he's made his films under an immense production burden and that he often takes compromises. cf Kindom of Heaven with Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut (or Blade Runner et al). It really is no different here. Robin Hood belongs to nearly everyone's repertoire of favourite myths and fairy tales. It revolves around the perfect and very nearly plausible protagonist of Robin Hood; an aristocrat who is utterly selfless, who loses his wealth and is reduced to a life of subsistence. It's not the perfect story of class-warfare but it is a wonderful dream. And it's been realised as some equally-wonderful movies. Who can forget Errol Flynn's performance in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Disney's even made a version with some lovable characters.


So Ridley Scott's made a version. And he tries ever so hard. And the result sees him stumbling over the elements as he pieces them together. The result is a horrible mish-mash. Russell Crowe is completely miscast and his attempts at effecting an English accent are annoyingly distracting. The first few minutes we hear him he's leaping from a Yorkshire accent to something of a bit more Geordie flavour. A BBC Radio 4 presenter suggested it might have sounded somewhat Irish, prompting a humourless walkout by Crowe (see video/embed) Cate Blanchett as Maid Marion is something we could have almost done without. OK, we get it. You like strong female leads. We like strong female leads. Weaver is wonderful in Alien and though G I Jane is an awful movie, we appreciate the sentiment. But Marion in this film almost destroys the historical cohesion. One minute she's ploughing a field with the peasants, the next she's saving their lives with her drawn sword and then she's riding into battle with a group of children. Is he saying something about the Children's Crusade? Is he nodding to Blanchett's ElizabethI don't know. It's just unlikely, distracting and needlessly lengthening what is already a lengthy story. It also continually attacks any hint of plausibility. 

Even the comic relief is somewhat off. Robin Hood's merry men (in this case  Scarlett, Little John and A'Dayle) hail from Wales, Scotland and Ireland! A United Kingdom? Of course not. Any Welshman out there care to tell me when the Welsh felt happy serving in an English army? Not sure it would have been in the 13th Century. Friar Tuck is out on the sidelines desperate for a little bit of filmtime but relegated to some minor light-hearted bee stings.

Don't get me started on the script. 'Every Englishman's home is his castle'. Really Ridley? Really? Punning on the word 'night'? A million History and English Literature students everywhere  facepalm in unison.

What about the context of the film? Like everything else it's a muddle. Saxon 'Robin Longstride' takes the role of Saxon-sympathising Robin of Loxley when he's killed returning King Richard the Beerheart's crown from France. Deep breath. He then falls in love with Maid Marion who swoons over him while 'Sir Godfrey' is busy rampaging throughout the country to turn the northern barons against the newly-crowned and duplicitous King John in preparation for a French invasion spearheaded at Dover. It's up to Robin to foment English patriotism to rally the people around not so much the King as the country in order to ensure that King John signs the Magna Carta which is more-or-less framed as being the equivalent of the constituion of the United States. It really wasn't, Ridley. I presume this is something thrown in to make sure Americans pay attention for the last half of the movie, but I could be wrong.

So why is it a wasted opportunity? Because it ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. Great cast? Check. Huge budget?  Check. Amazing locations? Check. Great plot/screenplay? Ooh er.

PS - major piece of transition missing just before the end of the film. See if you can spot it! 

I really wanted to like this film. I convinced my friends to come watch it with me, stupidly picking it over the acclaimed Four Lions as our weekend cinematic foray. I came out more disappointed than the other two. I can only hope that if another is made, it's with a much, much better script.  

December 23, 2009

Review: James Cameron's 'Avatar'

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About four months ago I was invited to watch a long preview of James Cameron's hugely expensive'Avatar'</a>. I predicted it would be 'Pocahontas in Space'. I continued:

Civilised-but-crippled (just physically?) white man gets out of his depth in an alien world, has his life saved by a native woman (with a strange accent!), slowly assimilates into their culture and way of living managing inexplicably to better the natives at their own way of life before, for some reason, the white civilised culture (with token ethnic characters) tries to 'save' or attempts to eradicate the native population.  

It turns out I was exactly right. If you're looking for a highly-original plot, Avatar's not the film for you. But then Cameron's speciality isn't really originality; it's the ability to take a cliche and make it fun, exciting and interesting. And I have to admit that I was misguided in my expectations. I thought the film would be terrible. I was wrong. It's an awesome cliched monster of a film that is best enjoyed in a cinema with a big screen.

So what is it really all about? A former marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), gets roped into working with the 'Avatar Program' on an alien world ('Pandora' - what will happen when we open up this box I wonder!). The program's a corporate-bought scientific exploration into the planet's native flora, fauna and 'indigenous'. Sully's role? To replace his brother (and save the company money regrowing an 'Avatar') and to use his marine expertise to safeguard the science crews. He also has another mission: to spy on the indigenes to find a way to remove them from their central home-place; a giant tree called 'the Mother Tree'. In this he's enlisted by a hard-ass Patton-type character, Colonol Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Mr Big Corporate Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). 

Nothing original here. Cold-hearted Sully, uncaring cog in the colonial machine lives with the indigenes for a while and 'goes native'. He realises how awesome their way of life is and does all he can to protect it. He bests the natives at their own game and becomes a demi-God/chieftain in the process. We've seen it all before: Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai etc. 

The dialogue is not great and at times it's pretty atrocious. The actors manage to lift the film above its hideous script and the awkwardness sometimes becomes more convincing when delivered by any of the 'Na'vi' or Sam Worthington. Subtlety isn't really present in this film's themes. The indigenes are more in tune with the environment than the colonisers who view them as savages? Well I never! I have expected the characters to burst into 'Colors of the Wind'. There are even some Ferngully-esque bulldozers romping around. 

The CG, however, is top-notch - monumental even. But then again what did we expect from a Cameron film? He's gone beyond the CG and created an entire eco-system. Although the Biological Internet and hair connections aren't very convincing, he's at least consistent. Most of the animals have six legs, suggesting a common ancestry. The flora is lush and varied.

This is not really a film - it's a spectacle. I doubt it would be as interesting on the small screen (yes, even in HD on our large HD Televisions). It needs a large, clear screen, a set of 3D glasses and a throbbing sound from high-quality speakers. You don't want to over-analyse it; just enjoy the ride. Go watch it while it's still available!

Rating: 7/10 

NB - I would have rated this film more highly had it had something resembling decent dialogue. As it stands it's really good fun but not much more. It should make an excellent game but, apparently, the tie-in they've licensed is predictably terrible (tie-in curse). Perhaps an MMORPG will some day be in the works?

July 16, 2008

Iron Man

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Iron Man
5 out of 5 stars

I was never really a fan of the comic. When I had the time, money and interest for comics, it was mostly spent on X-Men, Spiderman and the occasional Superman or Hulk comic. I did watch "Marvel Action Hour" on Saturday or Sunday mornings (or whenever it was scheduled), which featured an Iron Man cartoon. It was the better of the three cartoons shown (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four), despite (or perhaps because of) all the camp on display.

But then I saw the trailer. And it just oozed cool. And stereotypical Arabs. I just had to see it. And it made for the perfect pre-exam treat. So I went and watched and loved it.

It's not without its flaws but even those are (unintentionally?) hilarious. Big Bearded Arab Henchman actually speaks Arabic, albeit with an accent that suggests he was born in the US/Britain. Effeminate Villainous Arab (or Indian? A bit of an Art Malik-alike) Baldy is so wildly over the top that you've simply got to laugh. "Oh Tooony Starrk, I want your Wiponz, you will make them forr me or I will torture your friend with coal". No Crimson Jihad bollocks. Verdict: Probably not racist.

The plot is the usual cliched Superhero movie fare: Man finds/invents powers, encounters horrible death/accident/tragedy and after a training/inventing/fun montage uses those powers for good against an impossibly evil/insane supervillain.

But here's where Iron Man gets it right. It uses that cliched framework and fleshes it out with wonderful, self-referencing, wry humour and characters you'll love.

The action is spot on. Iron Man actually feels like a hero. The science behind everything is ludicrous and the director/screenwriter just picks up on that and goes with the flow, throwing in a witty, sarcastic computer (Paul Bettany) into the mix.

I don't want to get too much into the plot details, because there are some "twists" which you should be able to see right from the beginning, especially if you get the "Ten Rings" reference. Go watch the movie, definitely one of the better ones of the Summer and it puts The Incredible Hulk to shame.

Oh and if you have the patience, sit through the near-infinite credit sequence* for a nice post-movie fanboy minute.

*Speaking of which, I was sure as soon as I saw the second trailer (above) that the riff at the end was from the Black Sabbath Song Iron Man (right) which tried as far as possible to distance itself from a certain comic book character to avoid potential lawsuits. I didn't see the song credited, though a variation of it (without the nonsensical lyrics) is used. The riff does fit perfectly though.

May 28, 2008

What was everyone complaining about?

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Most film geeks have been anticipating a possible Indiana Jones film for years. I gave up hope quite some time ago, because Ford wasn't getting any younger and actors are as mortal as the rest of us. Let's be honest with ourselves: Ford is Indiana Jones.

When I heard the news that the film was in actual production, I was excited. Everyone was. Then I heard the title. Oh dear George. Clearly a crap title, particularly when it coincided quite unfortunately with Damien Hurst's rubbish project "For The Love Of God" (*Groan*). I expected special effects galore and perhaps an appearance from Jar-Jar or one of the Ewoks. 

Luckily, Stephen Spielberg seems to have retained some control and prevented it from being turned into a CG Crapfest. You can tell where George's personality is trying to break through - CG gophers among other things - but for the most part, the same old gritty stuntwork, models etc. appear to have been used. And the film is all the better for it.

It is, at its  heart, simply an Indiana Jones film. It is packed full of decent action, fun, cliches and everything you want from a decent action film. The ending is atrocious but still exciting. It is better than The Temple of Doom (KA-LI-MAAAA!). Filled with various archeological and mythological tidbits and a compliment of decent actors. I was looking forward to Blanchett's performance but her Russian-accent English annoyed the hell out of me skipping from typical Hollywood Russian (See Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker) to an odd British English accent. Ah well, the film loves the camp I guess. 

And we get camp galore at the appearance of Shia Lebeouf. They clearly tried to emulate Brando but came off with a bit of a YMCA moment. The character would probably try to limply stab you if you questioned his sexuality, but you know there's a little bit of the old manloving waiting to break free. Shia is still great. One of the better actors of this generation and I can't imagine a different actor being able to pull off the role.

The "Twists" are obvious. The general plot structure is recycled from the other three (but let's face it, that's what we bloody wanted). Ford is in amazing shape for 65. George Lucas gets his Star Wars moment in the final two minutes. Stephen Spielberg (and possibly Lucas) may or may not continue to pursue his weird Alien fetish he now seems to have in every other film. Either way, if you leave your geeky reservations at the door, everyone has a good time. 

March 26, 2008

10,000 reasons not to watch this movie

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10,000 B.C.
1 out of 5 stars

While listing those 10,000 reasons would probably be more interesting than watching this film, I've already wasted enough time watching this expensive tripe.

This is yet another miss from Emmerich responsible for some decent stupid films (Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow) and some terrible movies (Godzilla and The Patriot). This film is in its own terrible category. Which is a shame, because it did have potential.

Like many of you, I love alternate theories about the origins of man. I don't buy into them, but they are interesting. And this movie has tried to combine a whole group of them.

Ancient Egyptians might be aliens (visitors from the sky)? Check.

Ancient Egyptians perhaps descended from survivors of an advanced sunken city (ie Atlantis)? Check. 

Human civilisation began (a little) earlier than expected? Check.

The pyramids and the Sphinx built by this advanced race using the help of slaves and hundreds of wooly mammoths and led by some giant sheet-covered white man? Erm....

I don't know how they managed to do it. I have no idea what the budget was (the internet is curiously silent on the matter) but it was clearly large and it seems to have gone entirely in to the CG.

The plot is complete rubbish despite being framed on pretty much the same basic plot points as Apocalypto aside from certain hints to interesting roots (ie the above listed theories). In fact it often borders on the racist with a white European 'chosen one' leading other black tribes to defeat the evil but advanced giant white man. 

The acting varies from atrocious to mediocre. The lead is uninspiring and clearly had trouble working with a desperately stupid accent. Everyone else looks embarrassed to be there (and so they should). A completely unnecessary 'wise woman' is both unnecessary and terrible.

If you want to go see some reasonable CG mammals, then you might be interested in watching snippets of this. Your best bet would be nipping off to the Natural History Museum for a few hours. If you desperately wanted to watch a bad film, then there are plenty that I can recommend that won't have you wanting to scratch your eyes out. Start with Big Trouble In Little China. 

Don't watch this film. 

January 07, 2008

I Could Have Been A Much Better Film

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I Am Legend
3 out of 5 stars

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, it was intriguing, if a little cliched. Lone man haunted by screaming monster in the dark. The announcement of the name of the movie made me cringe: "I Am Legend". It seemed so very Hollywood and was an immediate turn off. In my ignorance, I did not know of the 1950s novel bearing the same name that apparently inspired this film (although I have watched The Omega Man). But it starred Will Smith and as I'd already watched what was worth watching at the cinema (and what was not worth watching) I thought I'd give it a try.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first half hour of the film. I thought Will Smith was perfect. The scenery was perfect. The dog was perfect. The fear and loneliness created a wonderful atmosphere in the film. The suspense continued right until we first meet the CG beasties: the infected. 

I Am Legend teaches two lessons on the use of CG in a film:

1) When used properly it can enhance the film and increase immersion (CG New York)

2) When used improperly it can completely ruin the mood (the infected)

I don't want to 'ruin' the plot for you, so I won't go into specifics. The infected were poorly-done. The latter half of the film is full of little niggling plot holes that make one wonder if the film was forced into such an edit by the producers (in fact the film could have done with an extra half an hour or so). You'll find yourself wishing that the film fulfilled its potential instead of wasting one of Will Smith's better performances in years. 

If you've got 90 minutes to spare, it's worth a watch. It's better than The Golden Compass. Drop a star if you don't much like Will Smith or powerful performances. 

Movie Highlight: "Don't go in there Sam!"

December 21, 2007

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

*It should be noted that this film is due for release in 2008. I was invited to a test screening and so so the film may yet be improved.

Simon Pegg is one of Britain's better film actors at the moment. Shaun of the Dead? Fantastic. Hot Fuzz? Brilliant. But these films also had decent, funny scripts and gave Pegg a lot to play around with. Along comes the big Nike advert that was Run, Fatboy, Run , and there was disappointment. OK, it was amusing. But it felt like originality and comedy were sacrificed on the altar of the American Movie Audience. I think How To Lose Friends And Alienate People (let's call it HTLF from now on shall we?) is yet another attempt to penetrate the American market. And, while funny, it is both flat and cliched.

Simon Pegg is average, Megan Fox is beautiful but rubbish, Jeff Bridges needs work  and, thankfully, Kirsten Dunst and Gillian Anderson are much better than expected.

The plot is basic: young(ish) hack working for the  English equivalent of the National Enquirer is noticed by a boss of the equivalent of Vogue Magazine and is offered a job. The crude and lewd Simon Young is about to enter the strict, corporate, dog-eat-dog world of the American Magazine. His lazy, misogynistic (and apparently stupid) character is paired up with his antithesis: Alison (Dunst) a clever woman writing a novel on the side while she makes her way in the business. 

Can Simon Young convince her that he's more than just a dirty idiot? Can his integrity survivive? Will he ever get it on with Bob the Transsexual?  

All the usual cliches are present. The only "originality" seems to be manifested in the heavy use of cocain and penises. Not a great film, but worth a watch if you're bored. I hope Pegg's next film is better. 

August 18, 2007

Rush Hour 3

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Rush Hour 3
2 out of 5 stars

2007 has been a great year for enjoyable movies and unexpected treats. Die Hard 4.0 was a lot better than expected as was The Simpsons Movie which proved to be far more than a desperate cash-in after years of bad scripting, lazy voice-acting and declining ratings. Michael Bay managed to avoid stumbling over his cliches with The Transformers and Spiderman 3 was a much better trilogy conclusion than X-Men 3. To top it all off, we can still look forward to The Bourne Ultimatum and Disturbia. Good times, good times.

But what of Rush Hour 3? Well the Rush Hour series was never brilliant but the first two movies were good comedy fun. They were the only decent English Jackie Chan films - Tuxedo anyone? How about Shanghai Noon? Bleh. - and, of course, they featured Chris Tucker. It's a great shame that he has decided not to do more movies, apparently preferring stand-up comedy to acting. Then again, from the plethora of outtakes we can see that he's not exactly one for getting lines spot-on first-time around. It must be painful repeating the same gag ad infinitum.

Is Rush Hour 3 as enjoyable as its two predecessors? No. It's not nearly as good a film as Rush Hour 2 nor is it as good as the first. The plot is terrible, as is the acting in parts. I can almost feel Jackie Chan's embarrassment at having to take at least some of the film seriously. There are quite a few tired gags squeezed for all they're worth and it's quite clear that much of the funnier stuff was toned down to get a money-making rating. Without Chris Tucker and a few well-scripted turns, it would just about make a passable straight-to-dvd release. If you can't spot the baddie in the first few minutes you'll have to reconsider whether a degree is the best thing for you.

Jackie Chan is clearly aging. You'll recognise all of the old chair-rolling, table-flipping kung fu comedy and feel that it's no longer as good as it once was and Jackie agrees. The schtick's certainly not as good as it was in his Hong Kong heydays. Chris Tucker's getting on a bit too. You can't call him fat, but he's definitely a lot rounder in the face. And, somehow, it makes him seem less funny.

If you're desperate to watch something in the cinema after all of the Summer's great films, then you might enjoy this if you were a fan of the other two. It's probably best to wait 'til it crops up on terrestrial TV and spend your money buying Rush Hour 2 on the internet instead.  

As much as I like Tucker & Chan, here's what they had to say in a promotional interview:

.Q: What made you finally decide to do "Rush Hour 3"?

CHRIS: The script had to really work, and I wanted it to be believable.

Q: Is it true you hate doing "Rush Hour" films?

JACKIE: Not hate.  I hate the American system.  I didn't understand how Americans do films or why they like films: dialogue five days, action one day.  But after the first one did so well, I decided to make "Rush Hour 2" for the money and "Rush Hour 3" was for the audience. 

And Another:

.Jackie Chan: I just do the basic, basic things with the things around me, table, chair, same thing actually. Nothing really special. I think the audience right now just sees, "Wow, Jackie still can do something, eh?" Not like the old days, "Wow, look at the amazing stunts. Amazing movements. So quick!" Now they say, "Wow, Jackie still can move." It’s a different thought.

January 16, 2007

Curse of the Golden Flower

I went to see this film on Christmas Eve with an old schoolfriend and my girlfriend in Oriental Plaza (Wangfujing, Beijing) Cinema.

 The director, Zhang Yimou, has been responsible for some of the biggest global Chinese hits in recent memory: Hero (英雄) and House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏).  He's carved out his directorial niche in the shape of Historical Fantasy Epics and his films have developed several standard features: 

  •  A strong, all-star cast.
  •  Excellent use of colour themes.
  •  Artistic blend of dialogue and martial arts (武侠).
  •  A mix of fantasy and history.
  •  Subtle (and not-so-subtle) and often topical undercurrents.
  •  A tragic ending.

And Curse of the Golden Flower fills this template. Before I went to see the film I'd heard that it'd received negative reviews and, upon hearing that Jay Chow (周杰伦 - a famous Taiwanese singer) and Chou Yun-Fat  (周润发 - quite famous globally, having starred in several HK/Chinese and American films), I feared that this would be a case of huge sums of money thrown at big stars to phone in a dire performance. Having seen the film, I can now say that I was pleasantly surprised.

 The first thing to be said is that this movie has the biggest budget in Chinese Film History. And it shows. The film is replete with stunning sets and intricate detail. The costumes are varied, rich and ooze quality. Zhang Yimou went so far as to forget about historical context and just go all out on the scenery. Almost the entire film is set in what appears to be the Forbidden City. Now as any History student who's taken Dr. Gerritsen's fantastic The Dragon's Ascent course (Is it still running?) will know, "The Forbidden City": was not constructed (at huge expense)Forbidden City until the reign of the Second Emperor of the Ming Dynasy, 永乐皇帝 The Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the famous treasure fleet under the direction of the Muslim Eunuch Zheng He. Having missed the first couple of minutes of the movie, I no doubt missed some form of written contextualisation. However I do remember that 辽 (as in the 辽朝 Liao Dynasty) was mentioned several times which sets it either in the later 唐 Tang period or the Five Dynasties Ten Kingdoms period. Either way, there is no way that such a massive construction was built during or just after the later tang period. But who cares about history? The film's scenery feels Imperial and, therefore, while it's not realistic (and at times feels like an advert for one of China's famous glass sculpture companies), it does look gorgeous.

 Zhang Yimou shows his continued mastery of colour and contrast in this film. In Hero we had the Qin's black-coated troops facing off against members of other Kingdoms decked in various colours. In House of Flying Daggers we saw rich colours in both the costumes and scenery (if I remember correctly Zhang Yimou even went to film in Russia in order to find the right colours for his leaves). Here we have the contrast between black and gold. I'm not going to go in-depth on this because the use of colour is quite integral to the development of the plot, but I found it a colour-filled luscious screen-banquet. 

 With regards to the themes of the movie, there is much to talk about but, alas, many of the themes are marked by plot twists and I don't really want to give much away. There do, however, seem to be Confucian undercurrents (in terms of familial and monarchical values). You can interpret the movie as presenting an argument against pre-marital sex and Zhang Yimou seems to ZYM Boobiesrevel in the sexual aspect of the film. While that argument can be read from the film, it's replete with all sorts of boob action. Nearly every woman in the film is packed into a tight corset, driving their breasts up to their chins. My girlfriend spent half of the movie yelling "Gosh, look at her boobs." In fact some Chinese have changed the name of the film from 满城尽带黄金甲 (The Entire City is Covered with Golden Armour) to 满城尽爆黄金奶 (The Entire City is Filled with Bursting Golden Boobies). I can only assume that Zhang YiMou's doing this in order to appeal more to the western market or that he's just relishing the chance to 有一腿 ("have a leg" - essentially means to have an affair) with as many actresses as possible.

Yodafat The acting was strong, despite my expectations. Jay Chow had a bit of a Keanu Reeves effect. He mumbled a lot and was mostly expressionless, but I feel that this fit well with his character and the more I saw of him, the more well-suited he appeared to be for the role. Similarly, imagining Chow Yun-Fat as an Emperor, I was filled with preemptive disappointment. But on watching the film, he surprised me. He fulfilled the role of a complete bastard with glee and turned out to be very impressive, although my girlfriend kept making me guffaw every time she'd nudge me and point out "SEE! When he sits down he looks like Yoda!". Gong Li was good, but there's something about her that rubs me the wrong way. I just don't really like her, despite her beauty.

 The Plot has been fiercely criticised for being weak and unintelligible. But I found it to be easy to follow and very interesting. Some of the plot "twists" were obvious and you could see them coming a mile away, but others were both shocking and exciting. Zhang Yimou managed to inject a sense of humour into the film ("LAUNCH!" --- "CATCH!") and he resisted the temptation to create a series of martial-arts fights and pitched battles. In fact there is a very well-balanced mix of intrigue, dialogue and fight scenes. We have some murders, a (practise duel) between father and son (right at the beginning - it's not a spoiler!)   and a full on pitched battle and the battle scene was a beautiful cascade of colour. 

So if you put aside your disbelief and allow yourself to be immersed in the Palace intrigue of the film, then you'll find it very enjoyable. If you're just after one mindless-yet-cool battle scene after another, then this isn't the film for you. 




  • Jay Chow (周杰伦) was also the lead singer for the film's soundtrack. You can find the film's official song here: "黄金甲":
  •  Gong Li failed to attend the film's premier. At the premier Chow Yun-fat mentioned that she'd often made fun of/criticised his Mandarin. He then publically lashed back at her saying words to the effect of "I'd like to see her star in a Cantonese film and see how well she manages to speak Cantonese".
  • Director Zhang YiMou once visited Warwick University and held a talk at the Warwick Arts Centre (either 2003 or 2004)

November 30, 2006

Borat Review


I don’t really know anyone of our generation in Britain who hasn’t appreciated at least one of Cohen’s various sketch characters, be it Ali G or Borat. I’ve always enjoyed Borat as a character and when I heard the character would be developed within the framework of an entire movie, I was excited and, at the same time, weary because all too often what works for a few minutes might not be able to stretch for 76 minutes.

And that’s both the problem and the genius of Borat; it’s basically an extended series of the same TV sketch format crammed into a terrible framing mechanism.

At first it souds promising. Borat goes to the US to make a documentary to take back home to his native Kazakhstan. But the whole Pamela subplot turns into a convenient and central plot device. I really disliked the entire thread of that part of the plot and it leads to a fair few crappy jokes (when he finds out that Pamela isn’t a virgin he gets all teary-eyed… despite his sister being “number four Prostitute in all Kazakhstan!”) but also leads to one of the best pieces of slapstick in the movie:

Borat 1
Yes that is a hairy, obese, hobbit of a man masturbating

So if we forgive Cohen for the framing and sit down and enjoy the sketches, it becomes a good film, if at times a little hit and miss. You’ve got the homosexual humour (“You mean man putting rubber fist up my anus was homosexual?”), the Anti-Semitic Humour (“These rats are very clever”), the black humour, the redneck humour – pretty much every form of prejudice is lampooned, and quite successfully, by Cohen.

It has to be said there are some moments in the film which feel completely staged and therefore lose their impact somewhat. Because what we want to see is genuine reaction from folks to the difference of Borat. One typical example is the aside in a house owned by a Yarmulke-wearing Jewish man and his good-natured wife. It gives us a couple of laughs but just feels false. But then, just a minute after that we see Cohen in a gun shop.

What is the best gun to defend from a Jew?

I would recommend either a 9mm or a 45.

Now that’s fantastic. And he delivers this kind of genuine reaction again and again. My favourite moment in the film was with the feminists.

“Listen pussycat, smile a bit.” Wonderful. Add to that the early scenes in New York (“Yeah you kiss me and I’ll pop you in the fuckin’ balls.”) Who doesn’t love New Yorkers?! A hilarious driving lesson followed by a great scene with a car salesmen and then with a weatherman make for some hilarious viewing.

The movie dips towards the end as it focuses on the Pamela-chasing plot and we see more examples of the staged scenes. During the fight with his producer, the two of them end up naked in a crowded conference room and appear to get arrested. Well how about those visas? Not sure how he would have gotten away with that if it was a case of ad libbing gone mental. The same goes for the scene with Pamela Anderson where he chases her around a bookstore before getting apprehended by police. It just niggles at the mind and that’s not the kind of mental reaction I wanted from the movie, which managed to fill parts of its potential.

So it’s definitely worth a night out and paying money for. Don’t expect to be overwhelmed by the plot and don’t expect the humour to be of a uniform quality. But do expect to enjoy it. Especially as a smug Brit marvelling at his (or her) transatlantic cousins.

November 26, 2006

CSI: Miami and Hollywood Realism

(This rant concerns CSI Miami 5×08 . Don’t read if you’re desperate to not know what happens in that episode)

I happen to like CSI Miami. I think it’s better than CSI Las Vegas and, thankfully, not generally as cheesy. It’s always stretched plausibility, by fielding these CSI agents in generally-dangerous situations, sometimes having them apprehend and shoot criminals. You’ve got to expect a little bit of stretching reality – it makes for more excitement. So I put my disbelief aside and enjoy the show, particularly Horatio’s constant posturing and repositioning of Sunglasses. Drama, drama, drama.

Until this latest episode of CSI Miami which plunges to the Hollywood depths of Realism in celluloid. Think Bravehear was a criminal in that respect? How about The Patriot? (OK, any historical film iinvolving Mel Gibson).

Basically we have a situation where the forensic scientists have unravelled a terrorist plot to blow up a nuclear power plant. Here’s how it plays out:


OK this hasn’t quite got anything to do with the episode. It just struck me that Horatio’s constant posturin reminded me of Paula Abdul. shudders


See the text in the image.


See, the cops are there. No FBI or DHS. Good ol’ fashioned Miami Police. With handguns… against a truck full of explosives. Lead by Horatio Cane… With a sniper rifle. Yes… seriously. A Forensic Scientist… With a sniper rifle. Fantastic.


Oh what’s this? A conveniently place flammable gas tank in the front of the truck… CARRYING THE HUGE PAYLOAD OF EXPLOSIVES. These terrorists are clever enough to almost get away with a plot to bomb a nuclear power plant, but are somehow stupid enough to put a “Please shoot this” sign on the truck. Wonderful.


He takes the shot. On a moving target. And hits it. He’s a forensic scientist. With a sniper rifle. Shooting at a moving truck. ARGH


The truck explodes and, defying the laws of physics, stays exactly in place. Yes, the truck exploded as though it weren’t moving at around 70 m/p/h at the time of explosion. It exploded almost as though it were standing still. Which it most likely was. But making a huge, mobile explosive device like that explode about 20 metres away from you means that if it’s travelling in a straight line, there’s a good chance that some of the material will collide with your roadblock.


Woman clearly not wearing bulletproof vest, gets shot.

Horatio is an uber-sniping FORENSIC SCIENTIST (with a hunchback)

January 09, 2006

Another Great work from Finkelstein

5 out of 5 stars

It seems that Norman Finkelstein has really found his niche since writing The Holocaust Industry. He has become the formost rebutter of Pro-Israeli works, carving his way as one of the leaders of the generation following the Two Greats (who supported the fundamental right of the Palestinians to determination and who have fought tirelessly against extreme Zionist propaganda for years): Noam Chomsky and Edward Said.

This work follows in a series which rebut specific works or the works in general of certain authors. For example, Image and Reality , The Goldhagen Effect

In Beyond Chutzpah he goes on to effectively combat Alan Dershowitz, a fairly famous American lawyer, who came out last year with his mundane piece - seemingly lifted wholesale from various Pro-Israel websites, such as, the ADL, masada2000 and, as Finkelstein goes into in great detail, Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial - The Case For Israel.

He doesn't just cover The Case For Israel but also uses Dershovitz's previous works such as Letters to a young lawyer and Chutzpah (which is where Beyond seems to borrow its title), often to damning effect.

Anyone familiar with Finkelstein's post-Industry works, will feel immediately comfortable with his continued style. Once again, he thoroughly examines the scholarship behind Dershowitz's claims, such as:

1) The Palestinians were "Recent" immigrants from other Arabic countries.
2) The European settlers had made "the desert bloom".
3) Nearly every Palestinian killed in second Intifada was either a terrorist or killed by Palestinians, while nearly all Jewish Israelis killed were women and children.
4) Israel doesn't use torture and in fact has banned torture! (etc.)

In every case, he examines D's sources, shows why they were lacking, often humiliating D in the process, for example, showing how one of his sources was a link to a high-school chronology, and another was a link to a Sony website for a movie when referencing a historical fact. He also makes – and then proceeds to back-up – a very serious claim; Dershowitz is a Plagiarist. His appendices at the book of the book, replete with tables and even highlighted scanned images, prove to be damning evidence.

In addition to his book, he has consistently updated his website with debates with Dershowitz: .

Indeed one of the most humourous moments in the book is in the transcript of an exchange between F and D which essentially follows:

Finkelstein: On you use the phrase "Orwellian turnspeak".

Dershowitz: Yes I do.

F: And on you use the phrase "Orwell's turnspeak".

D: Yes I do.

F: Mr. Dershowitz… Turnspeak was a phrase invented by Peters... Orwell used the term Newspeak

D: Um…

F: Mr. Dershowitz… do you even know who George Orwell is?

D: Ah… Um… Hmmm..


Gotta love it.

Go out, read the book, read his website. Nothing beats a scholar trouncing spurious scholarship.

As a final note, it would have been the cherry if Finkelstein had addressed his claim about Israel returning territory gained in a defensive war in 1967. There is a persistent claim that Egypt had attacked Israel first in 1967, a claim which has filtered into the American consciousness and has cropped up in, for example, The West Wing Season 6 where one of the characters says something to the effect of "Israel doesn't have any faith in UN Peacekeepers since they allowed Egypt to invade in 1967". Whether or not you argue that '67 was a JUST war, is a whole different thing. But it cannot be argued that it was a defensive war, no matter how much some would like to believe.

January 08, 2006

Harry Potter and the Nonsensical Movie

Let me start this by saying that I enjoyed the previous three Harry Potter movies which were thoroughly cogent and self-contained pieces of celluloid. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not a standalone movie and the Director fudges up the editing job so badly, half the audience (the people who never read the books) will be sitting in their seats wondering what in the hell is happening.

Spoiler Alert

It certainly doesn't help that the best of the young actors in the film are the Weasley Twins and Cedric… it doesn't help that the former don't get enough screen time whilst the latter sort of dies, probably precluding him from subsequent roles… goddamnit.

So what does the director get wrong?

1) His editing process: My problem with this is probably best summed up in this pic from Maddox's The Best Page in the Universe :

I'm not going to bother going through a scene-by-scene summary but you'll often find yourself lost amid the insane scene-jumping that goes on in the film. Go watch it and you'll see what I mean.

2) Dumbledore: Richard Harris was absolutely perfect for the role of Dumbledore in the first two films. It's a shame that death sort of robbed him of his ability to act, but his replacement, Michael Gambon – one of Britain's best actors – is clearly not well-cast. He has not been able to achieve the same perfect combination of stern headmaster, old mentor, good-humoured, intelligent friend and a sort of mischievous father figure for Harry who has the classic wink wink nudge nudge part of British culture down to a T.

Gambon isn't even able to create the same commanding presence that Harris was able to create. When aiming for Gravitas, he seems to be filled with a murderous rage. When aiming for anger, he randomly descends into an Irish accent. Please, as much as I admire Gambon, find someone to replace him!

3) Harry, Ron and Hermione: ARGH. It seems that their combined acting ability has deteriorated over the course of the four films.

Harry Potter: The actor's idea of adding fear, anger, love, hate, suffering etc. to any scene is just to breathe heavily. For about half the film he appeared to be imitating an asthamatic in desperate need of a ventilator.

Ron Weasley: Faux Cockney Whinger. "Oh 'Arry. I'm not going to turn out gay. But I'm pissed off coz you did something without telling me… and when we get married in the future and I'm in the house doing the washing-up all weekend and you're out drinking with your mates, I'll be the same whiny bitch I am now."

Hermione: Really, really overdoes the Posh Public schoolgirl bit. To the point where I just want to beat her with Harry's broomstick.

And what does the director get right?

1) Cedric and the Weasley twins: as previously mentioned these three are among the only young actors with lines who could actually act. And I'm not just saying that because I used to go to the same school as Rob.

2) Some great adult actors: I don't have to trott out the names but Snape, Draco Malfoy etc. – Keep bringing in those excellent British actors!

3) Some of the special effects are in the right place – I thought the underwater scene was pretty good, as was the dragon chase scene (where continuity allowed).

4) It's set a low bar for The Order of the Phoenix to fly over. (Ouch!)

So in the end, a seriously flawed film, but one which is enjoyable when vaguely contiguous. It was disappointing that I had to go to read the book in order to understand the movie. Probably a lot more enjoyable for fans.

January 02, 2006

King Kong: Not a great film, but Jackson is an advertising genius.

King Kong
2 out of 5 stars

I had high hopes for this film which is most likely why I'm so disappointed with it. The film probably deserves three stars but the CG in the film clearly wasn't finished in some areas (the Brachiosaurus stampede, some of the early shots of Kong) which, for a very visual film, is a let down. These visual failures clearly indicate strict time constraints which also leads me to believe that the editing process, even the filming process, was probably rushed through to completion. So damn the executives, because I think that if Jackson had time to work on cleaning up some of the dialogue, reshooting some of the scenes etc. then Jackson would have achieved his dream of reimagining the iconic masterpiece.

Now, before I get onto the meat of the review I want to elaborate on what I meant by the title's comment.

Jackson has been advertising this film since before he even knew he'd be able to do it. He mentioned it in practically every magazine spread/interview or TV Spot he's been in since the finish of The Return of the King Shoot. So the name's been floating about in the minds of millions who've since come to idolise the director for his treatment of the trilogy since 2002/2003.

Come 2004 we have the first real reports of the shoot for King Kong. Again repeating the old "Peter Jackson's been wanting to do it since he picked up a camera" stuff. Well, if he can do for something he has loved since childhood what he did for The Lord of the Rings, then it's got to be his Magnum Opus, right?


Yeah well, we think it will be. Especially when 2005 comes in. Magazines such as Empire and Total Film are fed "scoops". For each interview, each article, each feature they publish about King Kong, they get huge cooperation from the King Kong Krew (groan – Sorry I'm from the Mortal Kombat generation ;). So Empire gets staff on set, exclusive magazine cover designs, etc, etc. There have been countless examples of this. Jackson and Co. were greasing up the writers with exclusives and cooperation and it really pays off.

So even before the film is released, it's getting rave previews. "The set was amazing… the actors are great… oscars galore… Jackson's lost weight". My grim poetry aside, I was expecting something great. Jack Black – a great actor (except when he's the leading man – I don't know why he doesn't get great scripts – Shallow Hal and School of Rock? /puke). Adrian Brody has something special (I don't think I've been often moved as much as I was with his line in the Pianist – "I'm Cold."). Naomi Watts is one of my favourite contemporary actresses. She's beautiful and convincing. Combine this with THE Director of The Lord of the Rings, WETA (who are now rivalling Lucasfilm and Pixar in terms of special Effects) and you'll surely have a great film, right?



So the film comes out and we're hit with the usual advertising bonanza, but with the sleeker Jackson stamp (so an impressive website, some more magazine cover designs, courtesy Weta) along with another Jackson initiative in the pre-release form of his production diaries. Damn this man is good.

And what do the press do? They lap it up.

You've got the usual newspaper fluff:

The Sun: This is the best film ever released (since we last said that). 10/10
The News of the World: King Kong – BEST FILM EVER! – 10/10
The Daily Mail: Not quite sure what film I've reviewing but it was amazing. – 10/10
The Sunday Sport: You can see Naomi Watts's boobies in 21 Grams and Mulholland Drive – 5/5

The Guardian: Peter Jackson somehow manages to juxtapose the subtle Beauty and the Harsh Beast. Inspiring. 5/5
The Independent: Peter Jackson heralds a return to Directors who can make thoughtful movies. Those who focus on character development and not boobies and guns. Pure genius.

And then we have the Movie Magazines in the UK. These people are paid to review movies for a living yet they generally sit in awe and climb over each other to lavish praise on Jackson and his film. I can generally paraphrase what most of them come up with like this:

*"Jackson focuses on character development, which endlessly enriches the film."

*"The original film was only 2 hours long, but Jackson manages to hike it up to 12 hours with his great character development. Still, his fast pace makes it seem like it's only 20 minutes long! Please give us more!"

*"Jackson is a dude!"

*"Peter Jackson, please have my babies!"


So I think now's the time for my brief (:P) review:


What did Jackson get right?

*The natives of the island: The natives were genuinely scary and the scene was filled with tension. They were introduced appropriately, though they somehow disappeared after they went to rescue Naomi from Kong.

*Kong's "Fight Scenes": The Triple-Rex Takedown was a fantastic affair and wonderfully detailed. It was exciting and didn't stay its welcome.

*Kong: The Ape himself was often amazingly detailed. From the lighting on the hair to his behaviour to his scars to his emotions. Jackson managed to make his CG Beast outshine the other actors. Weta also did a fantastic job in keeping Kong to scale in nearly every occasion I could see. (Anyone remember King Kong being about a quarter of the size of he Empire State building in the original? ;))

*The "Ice-Skating": This, combined with the Empire State Building finale really made the movie. Kong somehow managed to elicit more sympathy from the audience than any of the other actors (excepting, of course, the ever-great Naomi Watts).

What did Jackson get wrong?

*He lost some of his artistic integrity. He should have fought for a delayed release in order to get things finished. By the looks of it, he didn't. And that reflects badly on him as a director (especially one who should have been able to wield some kind of power).

*Kong: The intial surprise of seeing Kong was not at the beauty of the character but wondering if it was stolen from the Rise of the Robots Snes Game. It has absolutely no texture and I could have probably done better with 3d Studio Max on my PC. No excuse for failing to make the initial impact of Kong as great as possible. To make the moment we see him a disappointment really ruins the 2 year build-up. Once again – no excuse.

*Character Development: I generally love character development. Recent examples, at least within TV series, are Prison Break. Every character is multi-dimensional. Unfortunately this is not so with King Kong. Most of the actors with lines seem to have 0 acting talent. And those who I know have talent, seem to have been robbed of it by the script.There's not point having character development if the actors are so bad that you want to shoot them. Isn't that right Billy Elliot?

*Andy Sirkis: The guy is a legend. He really makes the film with his realistic interpretation of Kong… But at the same time his chef character is just pure crap. The guy is a great voice actor. He's a great puppet-master (for lack of a better description). But for God's sake, don't give him any kind of a walk-on part, especially with lines. Robert Williams's Popeye Schtick was far superior.

That's about it from the top of my head. Watch the film… but don't get your expectations too high. And if you take your girlfriend, make sure you put her to sleep until about half-way through the movie… otherwise she'll dump you. And if you have a wife… she'll divorce you. And take half your possessions. And demand alimony. And then laugh at you when she's driving around in your car with her new boyfriend who's asking your kids to call him "daddy".

Bear that in mind before watching this film.

And Jackson – do better next time, please, please, please!


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