Thursday, 30 September 2010

Flavours of the Month: September 2010...


Mafia 2 - for a sandbox game it's pretty restrictive, and the plot isn't all that original (but was it ever supposed to be anything but a loving homage to The Godfather et al?), but I had a lot of fun with it regardless. The setting is involving, there is a lot of appropriate humour throughout, and the collectibles are a nice touch.

Robot Chicken: Season 4 - great as always, but the incessant Obama-love-in littered throughout some of the extras (which were shot on election day) is eye-rollingly blunt and self-congratulatory (something which is annoying regardless of politics).

The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut (Blu-Ray) - the only changes are utterly pointless 'comic book transitions', which provide no worthwhile information, nor do they make the movie make more sense. Fortunately they're not that common, and only the last two are genuinely intrusive. The flick's still cool though, and it looks good on Blu.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Blu-Ray) - being an utter whore for making of documentaries, I finally got to see the story of Fincher's sentimental yarn (the UK didn't get a 2-disc DVD, and the R1 was decidedly over the piffling UK import limit).

Sweeney Todd (Blu-Ray) - having recently been in Edinburgh, where I visited The Dungeon, I found all the featurettes concerning the myth and the possible reality to be quite fascinating (especially as Sawney Bean was connected to the creation of the Todd myth - Bean being one of the segments at the Edinburgh Dungeon).

Dead Rising 2 - as enjoyable and as frustrating as the original game, but with some nice additions, the best obviously being the weapon combo mechanic. Using Gems and a Flashlight to make a light sabre is my personal favourite way of dispatching the undead hoardes around Fortune City.


The Black Angels - "Passover"
Rammstein - "Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da"


Holiday - straddling the end of August and the beginning of September, I had great time doing all the touristy things. Seeing some events at the Festival before it ended, doing The Dungeon, the Castle, a bus tour, visiting North Berwick for a real nostalgic trip, and everything else was a very welcome and enjoyable change of pace.

Decorating Room - I've been avoiding this for years, and my room was last done ten years ago, but with me out of the house I had a 60 Minute Makeover pulled on me (but not literally).

Chuck Palahniuk - "Tell-All"

Double Bill Mini-Cine-Musings: The Other Guys in Town...

The Other Guys:
Solidly funny and entertaining throughout, it was far more engaging than Kevin Smith's unfortunately underwhelming (if only he'd written the script) Cop Out from earlier in the year. Wahlberg continues to prove he's at his best working in an ensemble with an impressive sense of downtrodden comedic timing, and for an action comedy there's actually some very decent action set pieces throughout. There's a lot of praise heaped on Talladega Nights, but personally found this an easier flick to enjoy over the aforementioned flick which was, to me, a bit too indulgent and which felt - at times - like an alternate-takes reel.

The Town:
I don't understand the Ben Affleck hate that's out there with some people, but once again he's proven himself to be a more-than-competent director with this authentically Boston-set crime thriller. You know how the major pieces of the puzzle are going to slot together in advance, but certain pieces are less easy to predict. The action sequences (essentially one heist per act) are genuinely tense and well constructed, and it was an easier watch than Affleck's other Boston-bound directorial effort Gone Baby Gone. Now though it would be good to see Affleck tackle a subject that has nothing to do with Boston - he does the Boston thing very well and very authentically - but it'd be good to see him explore some different turf with his next outing.

Double Bill Mini Musings: 500 Days of 9...

(500) Days of Summer:
Genuinely witty with a skewed view on the romcom formula - but to reduce it to being a 'romcom anything' (be it "alternate" or "anti") would be too simplistic and somewhat unfitting. The story clearly feels real (indeed it was based closely on the experiences of the writer), Levitt and Deschaniel both bring an air of indie cred and truthfulness to the two protagonists ... and it's just a really enjoyable watch.

Almost immediately this feels over-cooked, while simultaneously feeling decidedly undercooked. We're thrown into this post-war world of desolation populated solely by marauding machines and figures that look a fair bit like Sackboy from Little Big Planet, but we have little to grasp onto before we're thrown into one action set piece after another. The slight running time doesn't feel that way, we don't have enough understanding of the whys and wherefores of the world from the outset and throughout, and while it is very impressive visually it really does feel lacking. While I haven't seen the original short it was based upon, this most certainly feels like an overstretched short with little added to really give some purpose and connection to the elongated content. A shame really as it looked very impressive from initial teaser images and trailers.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Octuple Bill Mini Musings: September 2010 #2...

Compared to the likes of other real-life-serial-killer movie biopics (of sorts), such as the superior Dahmer (starring Jeremy Renner) and Ed Gein (starring Steve Railsback), this isn't much cop ... nor when compared to the likes of more lurid films such as The Hillside Strangler (the one the guy from all those terrible Asylum movies) or Ted Bundy (which Tom Savini worked on). However, when compared to the bizarre, confusing and even dull Rampage: The Hillside Strangler Murders, and Ed Gein: Butcher of Plainfield - in which Kane "Jason" Hodder (a large, intimidating dude) plays the slight, quiet and odd farmer who inspired Psycho's Norman Bates - Gacy stands taller. Not by an awful lot though. The pace is unsure, the plot is confusing and while the first four titles I mentioned all give a far better sense of time, escalation and motivation, Gacy isn't strong in any of those fields.

The Blues Brothers:
I remember a friend loaned me his VHS copy back in high school - more from his recommendation than from my own interest - and I gave up on it pretty quickly. Then again my interest in film was far more limited in those days, and my movie-viewing stamina was surprisingly all over the place (I'd often watch movies in 10-20 minute chunks and have several on the go at once, skipping from one to another). Anyway, I wouldn't have appreciated it in my high school days, but now I recognise why it's considered a bit of a classic. It's absolutely bat-shit crazy, and the epic scenes of destruction are all the more impressive as there's not a sliver of CGI to be seen - being that it wasn't invented yet. It's utterly barmy - in the good way.

17 Again:
I didn't really intend on watching this movie a while ago, but ended up seeing several portions, so figured I'd just watch the whole thing. I have zero interest in High School Musical and all that, but I can understand why this Zac Efron guy is so popular. He's a talented dude and has a real screen persona that's interesting to watch - even in this fairly paint-by-numbers flick. You know exactly how this movie is going to play out, but it's just a bit of fun. It's a cheeseburger of a movie really ... but yeah, it'll be interesting to see if Efron takes up more challenging roles.

Black Mama White Mama:
Inspired by the documentary American Grindhouse, I got myself into a bit of a blaxploitation/Pam Grier flick kick ... although BMWM is really a women-in-chains/prison movie, not a blaxploitation/soul flick. It's properly good grindhouse though - but it does lose its momentum by the third act. If you like your grindhouse cinema though, it's definitely worthwhile - Pam Grier, nudity-galore, Sid Haig as a cowboy pimp, outrageous side characters, oddball scenes ("eight ... three and a half") and shot in the Phillipines.

It could have used a little more of Pam Grier toting a shotgun and bringing her brand of justice to the scum of the streets, but again it's properly good grindhouse fun - and Sid Haig's in it as well.

Foxy Brown:
It starts off a little bit unsure, but it really finds its feet in the second act and then goes out with a strong finish (including Grier driving a prop plane - owned by Sid Haig's bit part drug trafficker - through a bad guy!) - yep, you guessed it, properly good grindhouse fun.

The Boston Strangler:
Never mind 24, the use of split-screen is something to behold. Not an awful lot to say about it, but over-the-piece, it gets a thumbs up.

The Longest Day:
Saving Private Ryan really dunked you head first into what it might feel like to be one of those brave men storming the beaches during the Normandy landings, but this true epic really coveys the sheer sense of scale to the operation that turned the whole war around. Not only that, but the tension on the side of the Allies, and the cocksure predictions of the Axis, is writ large. It's an honest-to-God epic - no wonder if had three directors (one each for the American, British and German portions ... but I wonder who directed the French parts?) Beautifully shot, large scale, it doesn't ignore the big players who didn't happen to be Americans (the French and Germans characters wisely speak in their own language to boot) and surprisingly for a film that's just shy of three hours long - it doesn't drag.

Some of the knowing pontificating about the nature of war and the importance of the invasion are a bit 'too movie', but equally, verbalising the fact that the Brits (and as an extension, the French) had been slogging their guts out and really struggling through for years before the Americans got involved, is a welcome dose of fact that's so often ignored with more recent WW2 movies - a criticism that can most certainly be levelled at Saving Private Ryan, despite its highly commendable way of presenting warfare on film in an entirely new, involving and radical way.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Dead Genesis - watch the opening scene now!

Follow this link to see the first scene from new indie zombie flick Dead Genesis.

PLEASE NOTE - the clip contains scenes of strong violence and gore, and scenarios that some may find disturbing (this is a zombie horror flick after all).

I've been following the progress of this flick since Reese announced it over on HPOTD and it looks like properly good stuff. Well done to Reese and the whole DG team!



Triple Bill Mini-Cine-Musings: Scott, Cyrus and a Schmuck...

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World...

It's hardly surprising that Scott Pilgrim didn't fare so well at the Box Office. The film is so insanely niche that it most likely confused and alienated vast swathes of the audience, and let's be honest, some people are getting a bit tired of Michael Cera's style - he really needs to mix up his movie roles a bit too.

Ideally you'll be under 30 and will have read the graphic novels, but you should enjoy yourself with just one of those ... but at least knowing a bit about the franchise might be a good idea as even though the movie takes its time to establish the world around us, there's an awful lot to cram into the 112 minute running time (essentially six volumes worth of content).

It's enjoyably brash and colourful and the whole 'hipster' thing is - as a style of living - mostly not annoying, and Edgar Wright's typically whip-pow look is well at home with this content.

Scott Pilgrim is a hard thing to sell though, and it's tricky to write about. Naturally I'll be getting the home video release and the six volumes of the graphic novel are on the list for Santa this year, so yeah ... niche. Very niche ... but enjoyably daft and hip and nerdy.

Dinner For Schmucks...

I'm not entirely sure why this has received such a drubbing in many reviews, because aside from the opening fifteen minutes where it's nothing but joke-free plot establishing, the rest of the movie (pretty much from where Steve Carrel's idiot turns up) is a bloody good laugh.

It's not deep and it's not going to be a comedy that really lasts to become a classic, but it's just a barrel of fun.


I never saw the trailer, and went into it thinking along the lines of 'Jonah Hill a la Superbad and Funny People' and 'John C. Reilly a la Talladega Nights and Step Brothers' ... however, it's neither. Belonging to a subgenre of indie fare apparently dubbed "mumblecore", it carries few chuckles. You won't be laughing out loud any time soon, but it's actually something very different than what I had in my head. It's all awkward silences and twitchy zooms, nothing is broad or obvious and then ending comes to you unfinished and suddenly.

It's a strange flick ... I kind of liked it, but I also kind of didn't. I would have rather seen it on Sky Movies than stumping up more than six quid at the cinema for it though.

Octuple Bill Mini Musings: August/September 2010...

I'm a big fan of Pixar (even if I didn't care for Cars or Ratatouille), but it's taken me a while to get around to this. The first half an hour is flawless, and yes, minute 10 is utterly, utterly heart breaking and it establishes a thread that runs throughout the rest of the movie ... but the second and third acts are a bit of a mixed bag. It's beautiful looking like all Pixar movies, there's a great sense of physical humour like all Pixar movies, and there's a real heart to it all - also like all Pixar movies.

But there's just something missing from the central threat portion of the script. Everything works nicely (frequently fantastically), but I wasn't as impressed by it as I was with WALL.E - and as impressed as I'm sure I will be when I finally see Toy Story 3.

It's weird how many comedies from the 80s were really about the key performers than a range of gags, and being that it's only rated 12 it's all quite gentle stuff ... and really it's not very interesting. The only reason to watch it is Bill Murry doing what he does best (although it's an earlier performance and he's not fully off-the-leash here) ... and that "Are You Ready for the Summer" song (butchered by a bunch of tone-deaf children) is like rusty nails scraped down the side of a chalk board.

Pirahna 2: The Spawning:
I've still not seen the first movie, and I've not seen the recent Aja remake yet (but I will at some point), but this sequel to the Dante original was on and being that it was James Cameron's first flick I was intrigued. Bloody nora it's dull, and it barely makes a lick of sense ... clearly more a career move than anything else, and who's to blame Cameron? The dude went on to make hugely successful classic after hugely successful classic.

American Grindhouse:
A documentary all about grindhouse cinema from the days of Edison all the way to the present day. There's far more to the genre than what you might initially think, so if you've got an interest in this type of cinematic treat, this doc is well worth a look for a great overview.

The Final Destination:
I recently saw the third movie for the first time and while it was a bit naff, the death sequences were still decent and enough of the characters were still likeable and switched-on enough to bother watching. This fourth film in the franchise has neither. The characters are painfully dull, moronic, unsympathetic and switched-off, and the plot's no better. It hits enough standard beats to vaguely hold itself together but it's dull as ditch water and offers absolutely nothing new to the franchise. Nothing advances from the other three, so it's yet another group of people trying to figure out what's going on (while the viewer has known since the first bloody movie!) until one-by-one they've all been bumped off by an oddly more-hands-on-than-is-appropriate-to-the-franchise-gimmick that is Death. Avoid it. Just avoid the hell out of it.

Churchill: The Hollywood Years:
There's been a lot of talk about the end of the UK Film Council recently (from both sides), but this dreadfully dull and ill-considered and torturous 90 minutes of goodness-knows-what is a great example of how not to make a British movie. Like The Final Destination, avoid the hell out of this crap.

Fast & Furious:
Aside from a couple of genuinely tense action sequences, it's really quite boring. The first movie was what it was and it did it well. I never bothered with the second or third movies and this fourth entry may be the best of the three sequels, but it's just a load of old cobblers. This record played well, once, many years ago and that was that. It's time in the spotlight was brief, yet it keeps lumbering on far beyond it's one-movie prime.

The Mechanik:
Dolph Lundgren. That's the only reason to watch this relatively cheap Euro-actioner. The plot is simple, but kind of simple in a boring way, unlike simple in a good way - such as with The Expendables - and the editing is all over the place, it really does prove to be a confusing distraction throughout. Moments are missed, the choice of shots isn't ruthlessly efficient enough, there are too many 'driving/walking around looking pensive' moments weighing down the whole movie and it doesn't make much sense either. Light on action and light on substance, the only reason to see it is the star himself - hopefully he's learning from these entries as he makes each new film he directs too as he's clearly an intelligent and passionate dude, but yeah, this flick isn't much cop.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Technology - great when it works...

...utterly infuriating when it doesn't.

My work PC - my Quad Core, which wasn't bloody cheap either - has never been right since the day I got it, and it's been fussy in waves. Sometimes it's been a real git and other times it has worked just fine (and more than once it has appeared to be fixed), but it seems to have really gone off the deep end now and is essentially a very expensive paper weight right now.

"Fury" is how I'd describe my response, as well as the phrase "most inconvenient" (to be polite).

For anyone interested, the spec of the rig is as follows:

Windows XP

nForce 780i

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300

3gb (a 4th gb card was installed in January 2009 when it was thought that the RAM, or balance thereof, might be causing the freeze-ups ... but this didn't solve anything)

nVidia GTX 260 (896mb)

2x 250gb

1000w PSU
Arctic Cooling Freezer Xtreme

Hopefully I can find someone who knows their stuff about Quad Cores to fix this, once-and-for-all, ASAP ... because right now it's a ruddy piss-take.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Scotland holiday 2010...

I recently had my first holiday in years, and so I returned to my motherland of Scotland.

I took the train up (a five hour journey), and while I'm not prone to claustrophobia, after five hours on a sodding train I was desperate to get off it. I passed the time with podcasts on my MP3 player, but there are still things that irritate even when you're zoning out with a series of podcasts.

I specifically got my tickets in the "quiet zone" coach, but unsurprisingly plenty of people (a number who didn't have reserved seats either) were busy on their phones - ring tones and conversations of an equally inane nature were indulged in. The entire point of the quiet coach is that you're not supposed to be on the ruddy phone - who wants to listen to your stupid, boring conversation anyway? Especially when you're speaking so loud I can hear you over SModcast in my earphones (I made sure I could still hear the train, so as not to disturb anyone else with my music and podcasts). What's more - don't bring children into the "quiet zone" - please, just don't.

Then you've got people who eat smelly food, refuse to stay in their seats (so they can have a conversation with someone elsewhere, thus shoving their arse in some other passenger's face), and generally fail to adhere to the rule of not irritating me (and others) senseless. It might sound harsh, but I seek to not irritate others, so why shouldn't everyone else seek to be more considerate of those around them - and in the "quiet zone" coach of all places! However, being that we're all British, nobody complained out loud.

What's more, if you're going to get a window seat - look out the flippin' window - don't sit there reading a book. I was stuck with aisle seats and would have rather liked to have spent five hours staring out at the country passing by, rather than being stuck looking at everyone else, getting bashed with baggage, and having arses come entirely too close to my person. If you have a window seat, you should be looking out the window, not reading a book.

Moving on from the torturous boredom and irritation that is modern day train travel, the holiday itself was great fun. Aside from a smidge of drizzle on Saturday night, it was pretty much blue skies and sun the whole time - a perfect way to experience Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh during the closing days of the festival.

I saw Jason Byrne at the Assembly Hall (excellent), a couple of fringe acts on the streets, the final Best of the Fest show in the gardens (hosted by Carl Donnelly, and featuring a singing act - I forget the name - comedian Simon Evans, comedian/card trickster The Card Ninja, and improv musical comedy group Baby Wants Candy - it was properly good fun) ... then it was a bus tour of the city, a tour around the gardens and Rhod Gilbert at the rather swish EICC (also excellent).

We also checked out the seaside town of North Berwick, which I'd visited numerous times throughout my life and hadn't been to for years. We toured the beaches, harbour, Seabird Centre, and the town itself and it was a brilliant day for it too. Ideal weather for a nostalgic time.

Naturally we also did the Edinburgh Castle, and you really need the whole afternoon to do it - such as we did - it's just so chock full of stuff to see, and the views over the city are worth the admission price alone. We even had a look into Saint Giles Cathedral on the way back.

Moving on ... many years ago when I was in primary school, we almost did the York Dungeon on a school trip - but it was deemed too scary for us kids - and so I've always wanted to check one of these out, and so we did the Edinburgh Dungeon. It was tip-top, I really enjoyed it - even if it did freak me out a couple of times (the parts where all the lights go out and the surround sound kicks in are just perfect) - and I even went on the Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom at the end ... which for me, being that I'm terrified of heights, was a real thrill but one I felt safe enough in doing. The actors portraying various parts throughout the tour were all tip-top too, and it was all a really good time - a mixture of gross-out and suspenseful horror. Highly recommended - the Sawney Bean, Burke & Hare, and Mary King sections being particular highlights.

Finally we tackled the Edinburgh Zoo - where seemingly everywhere you go is up a steep hill - but we got to see plenty of animals after some initially shy exhibits. Highlights included - a bunch of chimps going batshit crazy at each other over some faux-pas on the Budongo Trail, two Sumatran Tigers (one of which was lording it over us stood in a tree), a Leopard that was chilling out right by the glass, two highly energetic and playful Indian One-Horned Rhinos, the affable colony of Penguins, and the monkey house where Capuchins were having a great old time.

It was certainly a jam packed schedule, and I've rarely (if ever) done so much walking about in all my life (no wonder I dropped 4 lbs over the week) ... then it was the train home, and well, you know what that was like ... but an absolutely gorgeous cheese-and-meatball panini at a service station relieved my travel stress in an instant.

Oh and I even got to see a couple of movies - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Dinner For Schmucks - which I'll blog about later.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Where have I been?

In Scotland on my first proper holiday in years, that's where.

I'll blog about it in-full later on, but there's a picture of me sat atop Edinburgh Castle looking out over the city and beyond.