Archive for July, 2010

“Ever Since I Was A Little Boy, People Have Been Listening To My Reviewing Voice…”

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 movie that starred Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne (confusingly pronounced Du-frayne rather than Du-Fres-Nay), who you’d recognise as a Public News Anchor in Anchorman (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Burgundy!), the POTUS in Austin Powers 2 and a crazed civilian in the 2005 crapfest War Of The Worlds. It also starred Morgan Freeman, who you’d recognise from just about any movie past this point where they needed a truly awesome voice to do narration, but he’s also starred as Lucius Fox in the Dark Knight saga of recent years, God in the [INSERT NAME HERE] Almighty films and the narrator for the aforementioned crapfest, War Of The Worlds. This is the movie that pretty much started his narrating career, with just one or two small scale roles before it.

The film also stars, in a semi-minor role, Clancy Brown (the voice of Mr. Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants, Neo Cortex from Crash Bandicoot and Highlander villain, The Kurgan) in an excellent portrayal as the very harsh prison guard who administers beatings. I half expected him to be the main villain as, “I TOOK HIS HEAD, AND RAPED HIS WOMAN BEFORE HIS BLOOD WAS EVEN COLD!”*

The movie revolves around an innocent man who is arrested for the murder of his wife and her lover and follows the lives of him and his fellow prisoners. In the end, he is locked up for a total of 19 years. The movie does a very good job of showing how it’s very hard for an ex-con to be rehabilitated into society after being out of it for so long. The scenes that show the librarian and one of the other cons trying to cope with life after release are very well done. In particular, if you thought the main character’s stay was a long time, you should see how long the librarian was in there. Care to hazard a guess?

Turns out he was in there more than 50 years. Bear in mind the film takes place from 1947 to 1966 and you’ll get some idea of just how much the world changed since he was locked up. This also applies to Freeman’s character, who is locked away for 40 years (and doesn’t seem to look it). It’s never even said what he was locked up for.

The directing work was well done, with the prison shots sufficiently darkened to give the right sort of atmosphere. Some of the shots (specifically, the long shot of Freeman walking towards a large oak tree) near the very end of the movie reminded me rather bizarrely of the covers of 19th century pulp fiction books, with explorers going through Darkest Africa.

The film is a very clever piece of work; it gets you interested in the story, keeps you watching and arguably gives you the closest thing to a sympathetic murderer protagonist that I have ever seen in a movie. It only fails that bit for two reasons, which are a) that Robbins’ character is completely innocent and b) that Morgan Freeman’s character is more of a supporting player than a protagonist. Comes very close though. And any film that does that even almost successfully is worth watching in my book.

*It’s Clancy Brown. Of course I’m going to use a Highlander quote.

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Look! It’s That Mitchell And Webb…Look…

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

That Mitchell & Webb Look is a BBC Two sketch show starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. The show in question is consistently excellent and has just started airing the fourth series, which has some of the funniest gags yet. I’ve included my three favourites from the first episode here. Links to all three are included.

Being a grammar nazi myself, the last five minutes of the show contains my favourite sketch. The basic premise is that Mitchell runs a company and fires people for grammar mistakes (the famous ‘specific/Pacific’ confusion makes an appearance here), but not quite in the way you’d expect…

It’s almost, but not quite, topped by this episode’s edition of the line crossing ‘Get Me Hennimore!’ sketch (a parody of 70’s sitcoms, featuring a perpetually scared Webb as Hennimore), which makes a return from previous series. It’s one of those sketches where you can see the gag coming as the sketch develops (as tends to be the tradition with all Hennimore sketches) but it is still funny when the payoff comes.

My last sketch choice is a new one (probably exclusive to the episode) about scientists working in the Garniér laboratory. It is a lot funnier than it sounds from that brief description.

Overall, I’d say that the new series is definitely worth watching if it keeps up this standard of quality throughout the run. Superb stuff.

You’ll Want To Snort This Powder Again And Again*…

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Powder is a 1995 film about what would happen if someone with the powers of a God walked among the citizens of a small western American town. It feels weird to break this guy down in terms of a superpowered being (to give you some idea of what he’s like), but if I had to, I’d say he’s basically Magneto with the intelligence of Reed Richards.

I must admit that when I heard the name, I thought it was going to be one of those Brit-Pics along the lines of Pure (average flick, featured Keira Knightley in an early appearance). I was pleasantly surprised. The name of the film comes from the fact that for his albino complexion, the main character of the film is nicknamed ‘Powder’. His actual name is Jeremy Reed.

The powers he has came about because of a lightning strike that hit his mother when she was up the duff with him. Said lightning strike happened to look like she was being beamed up during one of the Trek crews’ jaunts to the 20th century, but that’s neither here nor there. She died in hospital but he survived to develop the highest intelligence on the planet, is telepathic and possesses a permanent electromagnetic charge. As anyone who is quite intelligent knows, it can single you out as a target for hostility and aggression. The film concentrates on showing how he copes with all of the above.

Two faces that I recognise from elsewhere are Jeff Goldblum as the high school physics teacher who recognises Powder’s amazing potential (it would’ve been nice to reference his character in Jurassic Park somehow, but then we can’t have everything) and the time travelling mother of Doc. Emmett Brown’s children, Mary Steenburgen. Both characters are used well here, and both follow his journey to realise just how bad people are(which is nothing new; people have been writing ‘humans are dicks’ stories since time immemmorial) and are present at the end.

As the film goes on, you find yourself sympathising with the protagonist and thinking of the other characters as dickweeds, which was the intention of the writer.This is one of the better films that I have seen, with powerful writing and direction serving the story well. The film reminds me of the 1963 novel, “The Man Who Fell To Earth”, apart from the fact that the protagonist of that work is an alien. Both have remarkable intellects, and could use what they know to change the world. Only in this movie the plot goes a different way with it, showing the others’ hostility to him rather than what he does (since he doesn’t actually have any otherworldly knowledge to use).

However, you should probably not show this film to impressionable children, since they could interpret the film’s message as ‘Lightning gives you a super intellect and lets you become Magneto!’ While this is always a fine message for a film to have, it’s not one that you want whippersnappers to pick up. Anyone else, however, would be picking up an excellent film, and one that I truly recommend.

*Wait, what?

Long And Pointless; Just Like Me…

Friday, July 9th, 2010

As a book lover, I buy several books a month (perhaps more than I should), and some of those books have recently been Wordsworth Classics. Wordsworth Classics are a range of books published because they believe classics should be inexpensive and accessible to all (read: public domain books are cheap to publish as they aren’t copyrighted; therefore, no royalties). While I admire the essential idea behind the range (cheap classical works is definitely something I can get behind), putting an overly long introduction into them is not something I admire. At a stroke, they have both drawn in and repelled their target audience (students and the casual readers) by making them unfathomable to all but the academically-minded.

I wouldn’t mind the introduction (it is true that you can always skip past it) but if you read the text above it, it says that due to spoilers and such, it’s better to come back to the introduction after you’ve read the book. Thereby negating the point of having an introduction in the first place! They’re always filled with jargon and pointless text. In the spirit of writing pointless and verbose introductions to things, I decided to do one of my own for each of the editions that I acquire.

A Long And Pointlessly Verbose Introduction To The Picture Of Dorian Gray In The Style Of An Oxbridge Professor Nobody Has Ever Heard Of.

Chapter One (oh fuck, when even the introduction has chapters, you know it’s going to be boring)

When Mr. Oscar ‘Genius’ Wilde sat down to pen his famous work, he probably didn’t know it was going to send him to the depths of the deepest dark pits of despair when it was used in his trial to prove that he was a homosexual, which was a crime at that time, don’t you know? Of course, unlike this introduction, his work, The Picture, Of Dorian Gray did not contain multiple crimes, (don’t you know) against the common comma. This could possibly be what sets it apart as a literary masterpiece (adjusts glasses condescendingly), or it could be the simple combination of a timeless theme with a then-current social setting. The Picture Of Dorian Gray is a tale about a man who is led astray and wishes that he could stay young and able to live a life of desire and of not caring what others think. (I’d follow that lifestyle myself, but I don’t think the fellows in the faculty would appreciate it too much.) To this end, the young man in question wishes that a commissioned painting of himself would age instead of him. And so, as if by magic, it does! Oh, the humanity! Readers of Rowling’s Index Of Uniquely Famous Individuals will note that Wilde was a homosexual! This kind of thing wouldn’t have been tolerated back in my day, don’t you know. I mean, an author, writing, a book? That sort of thing should be left to the professors.

And So On For Thirty Two Fucking Pages.

Further Reading:

More Pretentious Twaddle, by Scott Adrian Johannes Sebastian Varnham

Rowling’s Index Of Uniquely Famous Individuals, by John Smith, P.C.G.

The Picture Of Dorian Gray, This Book, Right Here, Turn The Page.

Scott A. Varnham

Master At The Royal Society College Of Pretentious Bastards, P.H.D, M.D, L.O.L

Rocky VII: Rocky Vs. The Review…

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Rocky is a mid 70’s (34 years old at this point) film that served as a star vehicle for everyone’s favourite mumbler, Sylvester Stallone. It follows the story of a Brooklynite/Pennsylvanian boxer who is chosen as a contender for the big time, which puts him in the ring against the heavyweight champion of the world, Muhammad Ali/Apollo Creed/Obligatory Black Guy. He is determined to either win or go the distance (stay upright for all fifteen rounds). Rather surprisingly, he loses the match in the first film but goes the distance.

He gets chosen for the big time due to Creed (/Black Guy) liking his nickname. Said nickname is the Italian Stallion, which makes him sound like a horse* or a Marlon Brando-like porn star (“I’ll give you a cum-shot you can’t refuse.”**).

When you think of the Rocky franchise, you don’t give it much credit for being clever, you just think of a clichéd boxing movie franchise where Stallone beats some guy up (to the series theme Gonna Fly Now), runs up some steps and wins every time. This, I feel, is a problem shared by his later Rambo films. Whereas the first was an interesting look at how veterans cope after Vietnam and highlighted the plight of those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the sequels just concentrated on showcasing Stallone as an action hero and just showed him kicking ass.I saw Rambo 1 (good), 2 and 4. After 2 (I watched them in a weird order) I didn’t even bother with 3.

The first instalment focuses more on characters and the relationships between them, such as the girl (called Adrian. And she’s a girl. Really.) that Rocky spends the film chatting up, as well as the relationships with his trainer and his best friend as well as his mob boss. The big fight itself takes up less than ten minutes of screentime, leaving the rest of the one hour and forty six minutes to focus on the character interactions. It works pretty well and is easily a contender for best Stallone movie I’ve seen (I realise that’s like saying ‘Which one’s better, ‘Highlander or Daddy Day Care***’ but you get the idea). Viewers who are only familiar with Sylvester Stallone through his later works may be pleasantly surprised by his breakthrough role, which is surprisingly well done considering the low budget and actor-written script they had to work with. It also focuses on one man living out the American Dream. Seriously, if you had to show someone what The American Dream meant, this is the form you’d express it in.

*Somewhat fitting; horses can’t talk properly either.

**I’m ashamed of myself sometimes, but not enough to take out that line.

***Rationale for choosing those two movies: one is shit and the other is awesome.

How Telly Has Aged Part 1…

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

This is the first in a hopefully regular series, where I watch old television shows to see how well they’ve aged.

The first programme that I will be looking at is The Young Ones, the early 80’s effort from stand up comics Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson and Nigel Planer. And Christopher Ryan, whom eagle-eyed viewers (known here as ‘IMDB’) will have noticed played the role of two different Sontarans in the recent series of New Who. Ryan was the only one of the group who wasn’t a stand-up comedian, which shows as his character isn’t really involved with the slapstick comedy of the other three, acting more as a straight man and making occasional witty puns and comments to camera. Tellingly, he was the only member of the main group not to be involved in their later follow-up ‘Filthy, Rich and Catflap’. The characters were named Rick, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike.

The essential concept of the show is three friends (and Neil) living together in a flat as students. Of course, they’re largely students in name only, as they are rarely seen studying and never seen attending university. It is also mental. They frequently diverged from the action to include little bits from puppets of various household objects (including a Glaswegian hamster).

If you were introducing someone to this series, the best episode to do it with would be the second series premiere, ‘Bambi’. It gets the characters and the concept across to viewers easily and it has some of their best work on the train journey and during the challenge. It also features appearances from the very young Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. This episode establishes, among other things, that they can teleport and that Motorhead’s Ace Of Spades is good music if you need to go somewhere fast. (To get a bigger budget, they got the show classed as ‘Variety’ by hiring bands to give performances in show, which is an example of how it’s aged badly if you don’t like 80’s music.)

Some parts of the series have aged worse than others, such as the near-constant references to Thatcher and the appearances of Alexei Sayle as their landlord, who regularly turns to the studio audience and starts basically doing stand-up.  These bits have dated because they are often about communism and how Thatcher is bad, etc. Topical references do not help if you want to make a show timeless, since it is in the nature of all things to change. I doubt they set out to create a timeless classic though. The non-political humour is very surreal, and this stuff tends to have aged better, as violence and strange stuff seems to never stop being funny. For one example of their random humour, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mn1Y7nhB16U

I think that tells you all you need to know about this show, and it has possibly stood the test of time more than some other shows (I caught an episode of Fawlty Towers recently and thought it had aged terribly).

A Doctor Double Bill…**

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The time has come for me to review the last episode of Doctor Who, Series Fnarg. As an added bonus (yay), I will be talking about the first instalment of The Adventure Games, the BBC’s first serious attempt at a game for quite some time.

This episode involves quite a lot of dicking around with time. Some of the fan guesses about what would happen during the episode were proven right, some were proven oh so wrong. Unusually for Doctor Who, there is quite a bit of dicking around with time but it’s justified by the sheer epicitude of what’s going on. There are numerous funny moments in the episode (pretty much anything involving the fez or the museum time stuff comes to mind) which occasionally clash with some dark, dark moments for a bit of black comedy.

In my opinion, the whole episode was classic Who fare, with a lot of talk on human values and lots of moments that keep the tension going from scene to scene. There weren’t any bits that dragged and you weren’t wanting the episode to be over with already. The ending didn’t feel like they’d written themselves into a corner like with previous series finales (the Stolen Earth with its rotating screaming Daleks comes to mind) and it was probably the best series finale to date (it was certainly epic enough).

I was going to write a small bit about the Doctor Who Adventure Game, City Of The Daleks but there was a bit of a problem with it…it didn’t work properly. Much like the Weeping Angels, it could access your eyes through your computer screen (as is normal for a game) and the other similarity is the source of the problem. Clearly it must be quantum locked, because it didn’t work if I was looking at it! I could hear the music fine (one instance where the speed of sound exceeded that of the speed of light) but the vast majority of the playing time was spent on a loading screen* or clunky looking cutscenes.

I gave up after a while and resorted to TV Tropes for a plot summary. Seems to be standard post-apocalyptic fare, which makes sense considering the scenario, I suppose. Basically, the plot of the game is: The Doctor and Amy go to 1963 (to check out John Lennon) and find the place in ruins, due to a Dalek invasion. Aspects of the plot seem to be similar to the First Doctor serial The Dalek Invasion Of Earth.

I think you should give it a try and see if you have better luck, but be warned – it comes to 330MB to download it, and if it doesn’t work that’s a hefty file size. Oh, and fans of the original series Cybermen (the Mondas Cybermen, but then you didn’t need me to tell you that) will be happy to know that if you can download it and get it working, the second Adventure Game features them as the villains. It’s called Blood Of The Cybermen and it’s available to download now.

*I tried to use the Konami code to make it work properly. It didn’t work, unfortunately.

** Actually, due to time travel, it’d be more like a treble-bill. If not more.