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May 24, 2007

Spidey

Title:
Spiderman 3
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

The main problem with Holywood sequels is that they try to top off what has been done before. Thus, Spiderman 3 could be dubbed bigger, better, with this time not one, not two, but three villains. Quite ambitious to bring the Sandman, Venom and Goblin mark II in one single movie.
And, to be honest, it doesn’t work. Well, that is, at the beginning: too much time is spent on the Sandman’s background, without quite convincing us; and Spidey/Pete’s bliss is borderline boring. You see a new Spiderman, full of pride, which is quite a leap from the one we had seen in the first two parts.
However, this all serves a purpose, and builds up to what can be named a masterpiece. For this movie revolves around one central theme, as did the previous two; but more subtly, and with a more general scope than before. What Spidey 3 is about, ultimately, is not exploring the dark side of the superhero – because that cannot work – it is about forgiveness. And it is seen from every possible angle: forget but not forgive, at the beginning – which clearly leaves some guilt in the “culprit”; Aunt May’s “forgive yourself first”; revenge; forgiveness that brings peace of mind; rejected forgiveness… I don’t think there’s any other way to tackle the issue; and yet it does not feel hackneyed in the film; on the contrary, thanks to the long and slow-paced beginning, it just feels right.
So we’re ready to forgive some awkward scenes (such as the French maître d’), and to focus on the amazing performances given by the lead cast: Tobey Maguire is, as ever, very good – even when he becomes the baddie; Kirsten Dunst is annoying but only when she’s supposed to be, and, for this once, does not give a flat, boring pretty-face act; and finally, Harry is just great! Suspension of disbelief works in every single scene he’s in; and that was important in order to make a farfetched twist quite believable. The supporting cast is quite good as well, especially the arrogant Eddie.
So, yeah, the storylines from the previous two movies are dramatically altered (who killed whom?), and yeah it’s overcrowded with villains – but it is all for the best, and iit works!

Spiderman 3 will be shown next term in the Student Cinema – worth the 2 or 3 quid!


May 21, 2007

An ideal break from revisions: Notes on a scandal

Title:
Notes on a scandal
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

It’s time, it would seem, for another review. The very good Notes on a Scandal was on last night at the Student Cinema; and will be shown again tomorrow tuesday (21st May) at 7.30pm. In the following review, I will give out bits of the plot; but since it is not an action/suspense-led movie, they are not spoiling much.
The film is, basically, about Cate Blanchett, playing a young arts teacher, falling in love with one of her 15-year-old pupils, as seen by Judi Dench, who plays an old, upper-lip teacher believing she loves Blanchett. One could see three acts in the film: the beginning of a friendship; Dench discovers the scandal and decides to use it to her personal benefit; and the end of lies. Just like on-stage drama; which would probably suit the story a bit better.
However, all the boxes are ticked: it is an interesting, nice story; the casting couldn’t have been more accurate, at least for the leading two ladies: a manipulative, old shrew Judi Dench (the best actress in British cinema); and a young naive/candid Cate Blanchett. The story editing works perfectly, the pacing is right and conveys the feelings of the cast; directing and photography are (just) ok, and the music is awesome, even though it suffers from what I now shall call the Murray Gold syndrome: it is so good that post-producers decide to put it in the film just a tad too loud.
So, with no apparent flaw, surely, this would deserve a five star? Well, no. The story is, ultimately, about lies; and whilst the film manages to show bourgeois happiness is just a facade, it fails to go far enough in denouncing Judi’s lies – lies to herself, especially about her love and friendship with Blanchett. Hers is the quest for power over other people, and the delusion of having it, but not love. The same is true about Blanchett, who lies to herself about the state of her marriage, etc. And I resent Notes on a Scandal a bit for not focusing on this, just a tad more than it did.
Still, an all-around enjoyable film (yes, like every film that is on at the student cinema: Epic Movie was a fragment of your imagination and was never ever shown in L3!); and it also deserves praise for being only 97 minutes long, which is rather a counter-trend in post-Lord of the Rings overlong/overstretched cinema.
An ideal break from revisions!


May 20, 2007

Travis' latest album

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

Travis are back, after a three-year hiatus, with a fourth album, The boy with no name. It is definitely more pop than rock, this time – and marks quite a change from 12 memories. The boy with no name draws upon all the positive sides from the previous albums (some instrumentals remind of Quicksand; Selfish Jean belongs definitely more to Good Feeling than any other album, and My Eyes rings a bit like Fear. And the pop bits are from The Invisible Band, and remind especially of Side.
So, it should be a masterpiece. And yet the magic doesn’t work – granted, some pieces are just awesome – especially My eyes – but all these songs are just – well – sung. They do not convey any feeling, where the whole of The invisible band was transmitting a general feeling of hope, The man who sadness and insecurity, Good feeling buoyant happiness, and 12 Memories anger. And not conveying any feeling makes The Boy with no name achieve only a three stars. Interestingly enough, the video to the first single, Closer, happens in a supermarket – and that’s basically what some of the songs are: supermarket music, lacking energy and originality.
Pity, because we all know that Travis is able to do so much better!
So – yes – individually, there are some great songs: My eyes, One night, and Selfish Jean. But as a whole, the new album is a disappointment.


May 19, 2007

The Perfume (the movie)

Title:
The Perfume
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

The Perfume – the movie – was, at its very core, ambitious, this for many reasons. Most obviously, it is extraordinarily difficult to transpose the olfactory sense, which is at the very centre of Süskind’s novel, onto a media that is mostly graphical. Secondly, the book itself is a masterpiece and has some wonderful descriptions, which, again, inevitably would fail to be rendered on a screen. Also, the leading part (almost the only part) is that of a twisted soul, but one which has charisma and appeal: casting had to be really fitting for this role. So – quite a challenge!
It would have been easy to focus on how obsession drives Jean-Baptiste crazy- though that would have departed slightly from the book. Too easy, probably – and studies about obsession-driven people are abundant in nowadays’ cinema (The Prestige is an exampe of them, and a very good one); so this path was not chosen. Being factual is, also, not an option- because the olfactory sense is the most subjective of our senses. The film is avoiding all these clichés and focus on one (maybe the main) aspect of the book – that, ultimately, Jean-Baptiste is some sort of Devil. Which is more obvious when you think of it – hints are plotting the whole book and film, for instance Jean-Baptste’s last name, Grenouille (frog, a creature associated with the Devil as far as I can remember). Whilst this becomes progressively obvious in the book, the same is not true of the movie – and one can easily mistake such references for random elements of the script: the word weird came quite a lot when I discussed about some scenes with friends. But – think about it – the deaths that occur to Jean-Baptiste’s carers right after he leaves (malediction element), deception, crime/murder, obsession with perfection – somehow trying to better God – and, more interestingly, the orgy scene towards the end of the film – symbolising lust. Now, this scene – which is gratuitous if you don’t have the Devil interpretation in mind – is quite controversial. It leads to quite a lot of giggling from the audience, but still is pivotal for the whole film: this is the culmination of Grenouille as the Devil, with him finally deceiving everyone into lust; but also entailing the central notion of Redemption : the first tears in Jean-Baptiste’s eyes, and the acceptance of death through the arms of the father as final redemptory act. Every symbol is there, even the cross. Now, as far as I recall, there is no orgy in the book, so this scene was added. And it is a stroke of genius. For once, story alterations actually add depth to a story, instead of, say, just adding a plotline (as the Aragorn/Arwen relationship in The Lord of The Rings). The very last scene keeps on adding some depth to the fallen angel ongoing theme: as the voiceover says, all that mattered was for Jean-Baptiste to be loved.
So the adaptation is, overall, genius. There are, however, still some defaults: the story being, ultimately, centred on Jean-Baptiste, so much time should not be spent on showing that the perfumer’s business was derelict, no matter how famous the actor is. Why do producers feel they have to use famous actors? Cameo is perfectly fine as far as I’m concerned! Also, one may say that, because of this focus on the Devil side of things, the story becomes very linear, and lacks transversal dimension. Which is true, but it somehow works in this particular film! Graphically, it is superb, except from the first couple of scenes: in order to show the olfactory sense at work, the director flashes evocative pictures. Quite fortunately, he quite rapidly gives up on that – fortunately, because the movie is about smells, which you, intrinsically, cannot show. The help comes from the amazing performance of the lead actor. He manages to pull off a tormented, yet disgusting and touching performance, as well as makes us see him smell. Suspension of disbelief is really easy (well, until the orgy scene) and that is moainly thanks to him. From the orgy scene onwards, he switches to allegory mode, which – again – works perfectly well!
But the film is not all good: there are a few minor issues. The voiceover is the one that I have most difficulties with: it is clearly a wrong choice when all you’re doing is following Jean-Baptiste around. It is, really, a lazy choice. But it gets worse: it would have been fine to have some voiceover; however, to have it speak like someone telling a children’s tale just doesn’t work. Because the story is so adult, and the tale mode does not work when you’re talking about the Devil. The other thing i hold against the Perfume is the music. Except for the one bit before Jean-Baptiste’s final murder (which is, by all my standards, brilliant), the music is unoriginal at best.
But this is all I can find to say against the film. Did it achieve what it had set out to do? Only partially – it fails to show as clearly as the book that Jean-Baptiste is an incarnation of the Devil, which makes it a failure for, say, half the audience- I personally did not like it that much the first time I saw it! So to all of you my dear readers, this film deserves a strong four. Go watch it again, or buy the DVD, because it is worth it!


42.

Title:
Doctor Who
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

42. Now that’s what I call a filler. The plot itself is very simple, almost hackneyed in Doctor Who; and… well… it’s a quickie that works well because of some nice ideas: a living Sun, Martha separated from the Doctor and realising she is about to die gave a quite interesting twist to the Smith & Jones relationship. I could go on. The nice thing about this episode (and, quite frankly, what saves it) is that it is nicely wrapped up. There are, practically, no loose ends – well, there’s always the couple of odd scientific nonsenses. I personally quite enjoyed the voice that counted the time left before impac. As in Smith & Jones (magnetic overload”), one is left to wonder why this message is implemented in the ship. But, what is more fun – it takes the voice over one second to say the remaining time; and yet you see it ticking of (and saying) the seconds! Another good (?) thing iis that, this time, when the Doctor nearly died, I actually considered a regeneration (probably because he mentioned it); and yet his salvation was more realistic than the near deaths we were getting used to over the past couple of episodes! So thumbs up to the production team for managing to pull off a nice little story. I am also excited by the fact that they’re already wrapping up for the finale… ooh elections I can’t wait!
Oh, one more thing: Murray Gold, your music is superb – but please tone it down a bit… Ta! :-)
A weak four out of five, then, and because it’s Doctor Who!


May 07, 2007

Dreamgirls

Movie image
Title:
Dreamgirls
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars
_Dreamgirls_ is on tomorrow at the Student Cinema. I watched it last night – and the word that comes to mind is uneven.
Weirdly enough, it’s not even a matter of “the actors are good, but the photography is not, or the writing”. No. Every role there is in movie-production is uneven in this movie.
  1. Let’s start with the story – the movie opens on a concert, sort of the début of the Dreamgirls, a trio of singing girls; and it moves on following them to their final concert (how original!). In the middle of this comes the ransom of glory, and the evolution of relationships within the diva-becoming trio and with the manager (a flirtatious man…). Without giving away more of the “plot” – at one point the movie splits between two storylines, one concerning Effie, one concerning the other Dreamgirls. The latter is, well, poorly done – hackneyed if you wish. If you want to watch a movie about the consequences of power and business-music, watch Ray. If you want to see flirt between artists, and the consequences of drugs, watch Walk the line – both of which are excellent films. The only original aspect of this storyline is that it tackles the influence on music itself of business-led music.
    The Effie storyline, however, is far more touching – and well done. And at least you can follow the change in her personality. Mind you, it is quite a simple storyline, but it is also original as it focuses on the What happens after?
  2. Cast. Every performance was uneven, generally getting better towards the end of the movie. Beyonce was particularly appalling in her moments, but also very good at times. She was, in my opinion, a controversial casting choice, considering her own history within Destiny’s Child – which echoes a bit in the film. There is an exception to those uneven performances:
    Dreamgirls won the Oscar for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role”, for Jennifer Hudson as Effie. And it was deserved – her acting was simply fabulous all the way through, and she has a great voice. Only for her, it is a movie worth watching.
  3. Photography and directing. Well. Again, uneven. There are some bits which are overdone, some that feel just fine. What they got approximately right, though, is the changing of times. Well. Approximately: you can feel a scene is in the nineties/eighties/seventies/sixties but at times they chose a scene that was reminding of the wrong period… The editing cut, however, was wrong for the middle one hour of the film. I’ll come back to it in my conclusion.
  4. Music. Now when I watched it – in the beginning of the movie, I thought “what a fantastic music!” And it is true for most of the movie. Some songs are poor, though – but nothing quite as wrong as Beauty school drop-out from Grease. So yeah, if you can’t watch the film tomorrow, at least get by any (legal) means of your choosing, the soundtrack.

The main problem of this film, is that it doesn’t belong in the drama category but still tries. It is as though the director was undecided whether he wanted to make a documentary, a TV soap, a musical, or a movie. It feels like a documentary most of the time – but just lacks the narration. It feels like a soap at times, but this never lasts. And this is not just down to the director – the acting goes on accordingly, and so does the music (!)

Conclusion? Dreamgirls is a nice movie, worth watching – at least for the music and for Jennifer Hudson’s performance; but not a masterpiece. It helped me spend a not-too-bad evening last night (see previous entry) but not enough to keep me off drinking a bit afterwards.

Upcoming movies at WSC:
  • Apocalypto on thursday
  • The Last King of Scotland on friday 6.30 and 9.30
  • Rocky Balboa on sunday and tuesday
  • Epic Movie on thursday
  • The Perfume on friday 6.30 and 9.30

May 05, 2007

The Gatiss Experiment

Title:
Doctor Who
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars
Yes! Another Doctor Who review! This could well become a weekly habit… were it not for the Beebs and the Eurovision: no Doctor Who next week! I don’t know yet how I am going to cope… Careful for spoilers now!
Back to this week’s episode, The Lazarus Experiment – well after last week’s huge disappointment (see previous entry), I must say I was very pleased with tonight’s. We’re back to Good Who, for the following reasons:
  • A consistent plot in its mainframe, despite some minor issues (which I wouldn’t be able to name. The only thing I thought was – why does the Doctor have to lock the door, the monster doesn’t have hands to open it and will have to cut his way through anyway!)
  • Hints at the old series. I loved the reverse polarisation bit. Sooo Pertwee!
  • Nice pacing. I didn’t think they’d manage that, since the starting point of the story (the experiment itself) was quite big; so I thought the end would just be overstretched. Which it was not – intelligent script editing allowed to plant the seeds for the final scene.
  • It fits nicely within the entire new series, with Martha becoming a regular companion in a clever way (I loved the opening scene)
  • Talking about human nature. I loved that scene where the Doctor said it was within the human nature to die; and Lazarus answering it was within it to seek to avoid death. Can anyone see an ongoing theme in the series there?
  • The Doctor did not die in this episode! (yay! He’s not becoming Kenny)
  • Murray Gold at his best. Great music tonight!
However, it’s not all nice and clean. There is a couple of points that could have been bettered:
  • Stop bloody using the sonic screwdriver for anything. In this episode, it has fulfilled its original function (tampering with doors & locks), been used as a tracking device, and as a hacking system. Nice “function 54” line though :-)
  • Martha’s mother. Now we all had fears that the family would become a Tyler bis – which fortunately it is not. The characters that were kept that day were interesting; but the acting was not great on Martha’s mother’s side…
  • Gatiss’s (or Lazarus’) assistant was a tad too clichéd. Money-freak! Which made her role a bit hollow – and I don’t blame that on the actress.
  • Whatever happened to subtlety in Doctor Who??? What happened to the Bad Wolf ark? Stop hammering Mr. Saxon into our heads. Talking of whom, there’s a nice fanmade (I think) website here

Still. Overall an excellent story, brilliantly realised :-) Can’t wait till next week – oh bugger that’s true, the Beebs schedule is just wrong, erm, can’t wait till next bloody fortnight! I can say, I’m excited about the new trailer. Nice treat from the production team, available on the show’s website.


April 29, 2007

Evolution of Doctor Who

Title:
Doctor Who
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Right. Yesterday, Evolution of the Daleks was on BBC One. And it’s the first new Doctor Who – hang on, actually, it’s t he first Doctor Who! – I actually disliked. Whatever happened to the clever writing? It is almost as bad as the DJ’s character in Revelation of the Daleks! The bad thing is, it had so much potential, after a brilliant first part (Daleks in Manhattan aka Sec’s in the City), and it simply ruined it. (careful, spoilers may follow… though, I doubt you can actually have this episode any more spoilt than it already was!)
Where do I start? The minor things first (even though they are already quite bad) – how believable is the episode? I’ve read on the forums of Outpost Gallifrey good comments about how the DNA was mistreated all along (concerning this, the shape of Dalek DNA is quite funny!) and not even in a consistent way. He also pointed out the gamma ray supposed to hit New York suddenly, conveniently turned into lightning. As he said, it is still remotely acceptable to change real science; but if you do so, be bloody consistent! Even less believable, Martha’s defense plan: building up this metal construction to electrocute the pigmen. Fair enough, she may have been lucky and lightning strike at the exact right time, but how could she know that before undertaking the task (and wasting people’s strengths)? Also, I’m bloody tired of seeing the Doctor dead and – oh, no, hang on, he wasn’t dead! Wait for it, soon Martha’ll give him some meaningful mouth-to-mouth (fret RTD’s plans!)
Then there was what I resent most about the whole episode – the wasting of an excellent idea, that of the evolved Dalek having good feelings. Admittedly, the way he came to these is far from realistic (especially considering which human was chosen for the hybridation) – BUT once this mistake was made, what harm was there in exploring it for a bit longer? And make Sec’s plan succeed. And have a new deviant strain of Daleks who, still being somewhat ruthless conquerors, are humane? We could even make them meet pure Daleks (with the danger of running into absurd competition, cf. Resurrection of the Daleks) – SO MUCH POTENTIAL! Wasted. And how? By the Cult of Skaro not behaving in a Dalek way, plotting in secrecy against Sec. How un-Dalek-like! A better solution, if RTD had decided not to go with the good Dalek idea, would have been to make Sec double-cross the Doctor and make him help them take over the world. This would have had the advantage of showing a tormented David Tennant – and he’d be pretty good at it!!! Both solutions would have earned the episode its title, but here it was more of an evolutionary deadend! (talking of which, the BBC book Only human is one of the best new books…)
On more positive notes, the acting got a bit better as compared to last week’s (but still not up to Gridlock standards for the supporting cast); Martha’s relationship with the Doctor gets seen from a slightly different angle (good before a Modern Times Earth episode). So, good for that!
I’m not even mentioning the CGI from this episode – nothing can top Gridlock!

However, I can’t bring myself to give a low rating to a Doctor Who review, so I’ll complete this entry with quick mention of the best series start so far!
  • Smith & Jones – see previous entry, very good!
  • The Shakespeare code – I was a bit disappointed, but that’s because I had so big expectations! My main issue with this episode is that it is definitely a fantasy episode desperately trying to be Sci Fi – because that’s what Doctor Who is! But it is clever writing, I loved the quote bits, and (oooh spoiler!) Elisabeth in the end!
  • Gridlockawesome really. Only The Girl in the Fireplace is better, so far. And that’s because it’s in France (grins). No, seriously, good writing, editing, awesome music and CGI. My only disappointment here are the Face of Boe’s prophecy (too expectable) and the Macra (which were a tiny bit useless).
  • Daleks in Manhattan Now that’s what I call a Doctor Who episode! I’m usually not too fond of Dalek episodes, but this one clearly exceeds expectations. Interesting plot (but why pigs?), going back to educational stuff (Hooverville!), overall good sci-fi with potential. Cf. my rant about the second part…

Well, let’s hope next week’s The Lazarus experiment is better! Though I have my doubts, considering Martha’s family seems to be back.


April 06, 2007

Smith & Jones

Title:
Doctor Who
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Doctor Who is back.

And he’s back with a bang. A loud one with that – in terms of advertisment throughout the media, RT making two collector covers, Starburst, SFX and other magazines making it their front page. So what’s up with John Smith and Martha Jones?
Well lots of potential. That’s the one thing we get from David Tennant’s new sidekick. She is very different from Rose – she won’t follow the Doctor blindly, despite loving him. She is humane, clever, and her family is too big. Martha Jones is, in my opinion, an improvement on Rose Tyler (let alone Donna!) because she will show initiative. Let’s wait and see what happens next!

Spoilers may follow!

Concerning the season-opener itself – one word: awesome. The tie trick can only be described as brilliant – it reminds us of Tennant’s Doctor weirdness and energy from the very first moment we see him – there is no mourning Rose there and you’re left to wonder why until the end. Having an episode on the Moon? Only lets us think that there’ll be more alien episodes, so a good thing.
Judoon? Brilliant – now that’s something that was left unexplored by the new series: sheer amorality as opposed to immorality. For they are doing their work, not looking any further. Intergalactical police, they are not purely evil, they have rules. Plasmavores? well… I still have to watch The Curse of Fenric to compare with other Doctor Who vampires (getting there!) but the straw was silly! The rest was OK, though.
It gave away a lot about Martha, which is what it was supposed to do. My favourite bit is the closing of the eyes. And she remembered the Doctor had two hearts when CPRing. Clever girl!
And the references to Rose – oh great! “Run”, the compensation…
Finally, David Tennant is better than ever (I didn’t think it possible!)

So yay! to Doctor Who’s new season – I cannot wait till The Shakespeare Code


300

Title:
300
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Most of you must have seen posters for 300, the new adaptation from graphic novels by Frank Miller. The latter is most famously known for Sin City, which apparently was co-produced by the producer of 300. So – same people, same result? Hardly so.
Both movies have things in common – the uberuse (?) of special effects, violence and blood, and a somewhat clichéd American hero, doing things no matter what with brute force. They are both original works, standing out from whatever you can see in cinemas.
But 300 is different. It is not about bestiality/crime/revenge. It is about defending the people of Sparta. Oh yes, in case you didn’t know, it is held in ancient Greece. It tells of the heroic battle between 300 men from Sparta and millions of Persians come to conquer Greece. And that’s it. One big battle, with a plot that, in conventional movies, would barely hold 30 minutes. But here it is, holding for just under two hours. And tell you what? You don’t get bored.
Some critics I have read (surely the Coventry Observer is not the best reference, but hey) complain about graphical attacks, and the director using every CGI effect he can find. This is, I think, unfair. Graphical effects are present throughout the movie, and make it original – make it beautiful and enjoyable. At times you wonder whether it’s a painting from the Renaissance (ok, I exaggerate, but you get the point). It is pushing the reality towards the myth (and truly it is a myth), and filming it accordingly.
Six-packs seem to much? Well, it’s mythological, heroes are perfect, traitors are ugly, semigods have weird attributes…
So well done to the director for making this a consistent movie.
But, folks, if you don’t like battle scenes, don’t go to 300, because that’s what it is!


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