Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#This is the End....#

I've been writing this blog with varying degrees of competence and focus since 2006.  As you can see, I haven't really paid much attention to it recently and I can't see that changing.

So in the immortal words of Douglas Adams - So long and thanks for all the fish

Monday, August 29, 2011

Short Review of Limitless

The pretty one from the A-Team and the Hangover films is a ubiquitous presence in modern cinema.  Most outside the movie industry are not aware that a highly secretive contract was arranged in 2008 that requires Bradley Cooper to be given first refusal on all roles offered to all actors in Hollywood.  Rumours that a snappily-dressed man with red horns was acting as his agent have been strenuously denied.  Interestingly, this deal also includes all roles offered to female actors as Cooper is so very pretty that he can easily pass for a woman.  He recently turned down the lead female role in One Day which led to the second-choice Anne Hathaway getting the nod.
All of which brings us to Limitless; a movie with a very important message.  Ready kids? DRUGS ARE BAD.  Especially when they make you handsome, clever, popular, talented, powerful and rich.  The film's macguffin is an experimental  drug that apparently enables a person to access the 90% of the brain that they don't currently use.  Which is nonsense of course, there is no way we only use 10% of our brains, with the notable exception of Jedward who only use 8% between them.

Limitless is an entertaining ride, despite the rather ludicrous opening idea that Bradley Cooper is a useless loser; giving him straggly hair and dressing him drably doesn't change the fact he still looks like a movie star.  There are some interesting visual flourishes (one particular fight sequence seems to have taken several cues from the magnificent hammer fight scene in Park Chan-wook's Oldboy) but the over-reliance on tired tropes like evil Russian gangsters and machiavellian businessmen is disappointing.  Robert De Niro delivers his best performance for some time and Cooper has an undeniable charisma and likable presence in the lead role.  However, there is something of a mixed message at work here.  Limitless does go out of it's way to show the physical and mental downside of drug use but Cooper's character finishes the film revelling in the exceptional abilities that he only achieved through abusing the miracle drug in the first place.

Limitless further cements Bradley Cooper as the New Tom Cruise(tm) and the world can look forward to his starring turn in Eat Pray Love 2: The Nourishing stepping into the Julia Roberts role.

Rating   ***

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bright Club Manchester

Last night I had the privilege of being compere at Bright Club Manchester for the following clever bods:  
  • Jon Pearson talking about  the Mind of God
  • The Right side of the Bright Club Mind Hannah Mosley thinking about tattoos.
  • Carrie Mosley speaking about Mind over Matter and firewalking.
  • Engineer Kevin Brohan on reverse engineering the human brain and creepy tool-using crows.
  • Stand up Conor Aylward on being a therapy survivor.  See more of him here.
  • And music from Hayley Fay and Sarah from the band Hook.
 The next Bright Club Manchester is BCM9:Crossover at Nexus Art Cafe on 20th October.  Then on 27th of October BCM10: The Big One will be at the Deaf Institute as part of Manchester Science Festival 2011.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Short Reviews of Source Code & Battle:Los Angeles

Battle:Los Angeles (2011)
A truly horrendous film.  It's a slice of badly written, poorly executed jingoistic nonsense that pitches Aaron Eckhart's squad of marines against an alien invasion in the ruins of Los Angeles.  The dialogue is painful (the last line of the film is supposed to be heroic but "We already had breakfast sir" is an epic fail) and the characters are little more than stereotypical cyphers - inexperienced lieutenant, haunted long-serving NCO, innocent country boy private,  tough and sassy latino female soldier.  Eckhart is a much better actor than this film deserves and he does at least have the grace to look embarrassed.  He should probably fire his agent after getting him this gig.
Rating:  *

Source Code (2011)
Duncan Jones sidled on the scene in 2009 with the downbeat sci-fi masterpiece Moon.  If that was Jones' 2001, Source Code is his Groundhog Day/Terminator mash-up.  Jake Gyllenhaal plays Colter Stevens, a soldier with a mission to find a bomb hidden on a passenger train.  So far so Steven Seagal.  However, the twist is that Stevens is from the near future and through the magic of the eponymous MacGuffin is inhabiting the body and the last eight minutes of one of the train's passengers over and over again.  The director marshals a uniformly excellent supporting cast but this is Gyllenhaal's film.  Source Code is an exciting and cerebral thriller that is only slightly spoiled by the Spielberg-esque gooey ending.
Rating ****

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Short Review of Rise of the Planet of the Apes 2011

Oh hello blog.  Long time no see.

The Planet of the Apes films perfectly illustrate the movie law of diminishing returns.  The first film is an undoubted and much referenced classic, but it's sequels became increasingly ridiculous until the unnecessary Tim Burton reboot in 2001 put what seemed like the final nail in the simian coffin.  Slinking in to the cinema with the somewhat unwieldy title Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Rupert Wyatt's second feature after prison-set modern classic The Escapist answers a question not many of us were asking.  How did the apes take over in the first place ?  And possibly, how long till Andy Serkis gets an Oscar for one of his motion-capture performances?
A plank of wood masquerading as James Franco stars as a scientist RECKLESSLY CUTTING CORNERS to try and save his father from a slow decline into Alzheimers.  The film meanders gradually until Franco's super-intelligent chimpanzee Caesar has become fully grown and morphs into a stunningly motion-captured Andy Serkis creation.  From this point on, the film becomes a genuinely exciting and intriguing experience as Caesar continues to grow more intelligent and increasingly aware of his fundamental difference to everyone he meets.  Wyatt bravely allows Serkis/Caesar to hold centre stage and his journey from surrogate child to 'King of Apes' is funny, moving and on one notable occasion when Caesar tricks a stupid and cruel jock to come closer with a disturbingly human gesture, remarkably creepy.  The film builds to a spectacular and exciting conclusion with an utterly thrilling assault on the Golden Gate Bridge by an army of liberated apes.

It would not be a surprise if this film leads to more Planet of the Apes films, if that is the case one can only hope that they continue the good work of this flawed but surprisingly high quality entry into the Apes canon.

Rating  ****

Sunday, May 08, 2011

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Ten. Y to Z

Welcome to the tenth and final part of my entirely subjective and drawn out reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Nine.

Y is for Yam
 Ewan McGregor chose to mix his noughties Alec Guiness impressons in the Star Wars prequels with the odd appearance in far more subtle fayre. In 2003 he took the role of mysterious drifter Joe in Young Adam, a bleak and downbeat film that showcased his considerable acting chops. The elder statesman of the Coppolla clan shyly offered up his odd but striking meditation on time and love Youth Without Youth (07) to somewhat mixed critical reception. While Francis Ford makes some bold choices and the source material throws up some fascinating possibilites, the film was terminally dull. Also in 2007 Russell Crowe and Christian Bale (the intensity levels on set could probably have powered Michigan for a month) starred in a remake of classic 1957 western 3:10 to Yuma. Bale was especially good in the role of disabled rancher Dan Evans and Crowe clearly revelled in the chance to play a proper bad guy. Erstwhile comedy cult leader Danny Wallace spent an extended period of time saying 'Yes' to everything and recorded the ensuing shenanigans in a book. Hollywood couldn't resist such a quirky concept and proceeded to turn it into big, shiny, sugary Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man (08). Surprisingly, it turned out to be a rather sweet and genuinely amusing tale helped significantly by a tuned-down Carrey and a luminously quirky Zooey Deschanel.

Z is for Zoetrope
Ben Stiller lit up 2001 as a really really ridiculously good looking male model in the comic tale Zoolander. Featuring Owen Wilson as a fellow dopey supermodel and a magnificently silly turn from Will Ferrell as the dastardly Mugatu, Zoolander was riotously entertaining. From the ridiculous to the sublime with Takeshi Kitano's 2003 epic Zatoichi which was based on a series of 26 classic Japanese TV and film dramas (imagine Inspector Morse crossed with Robin Hood - with samurai swords). The film unashamedly plunders elements from the great Japanese directors of the past and is as equally comfortable with comedy slapstick as with blood spurting violence as it follows the adventures of a blind swordsman committed to helping the poor and weak.  Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (06) is a leftfield choice as the vast majority of football films are dire (When Saturday Comes, Escape to Victory, Goal, There's Only One Jimmy Grimble are best avoided). However, Portrait focuses it's attention entirely on Zinedine Zidane's performance in real time in a single game for Real Madrid as captured by 17 different cameras. With a soundtrack provided by Scottish musical wizards Mogwai, the film stands as the perfect record of the man's peerless talent and penchant for self destructive on-field misbehaviour.  David Fincher has made a career out of showing the dark and often horrifying results of men's obsessions in films like Seven and Fight Club. In Zodiac (06) he explores the effect of Robert Graysmith's (an excellent Jake Gyllenhal) obsession with cracking the unsolved Zodiac killings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Fincher expertly marshals a stellar cast and delivers a slow-burning masterpiece of modern cinema.
And that's the end.  Begun back in the mists of January 2010 it has been over a year in the writing; the 9/10ths Full of Penguins review of cinema in the Noughties is finished.  It's spectacularly arbitrary and almost completely useless.  I've enjoyed every minute of doing it and rediscovered some great movies (and some terrible ones) along the way.

Friday, April 22, 2011

# A Soundtrack for Life#

Stepping away from my customary movie fixation, I was tempted to follow Manchester blog luminary Benjamin Judge's example and partake of the the following meme/game thingymabob.  Now according to him (and he should know) all the cool people did this about two years ago, which means now is my time!

Follow these instructions - if you don't God and/or the Tooth Fairy will know and look disapprovingly down upon you.
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool…because you’re not!
7. Stick the soundtrack on your mp3 player and listen away during the day.

Here is my list - go and feast on the wealth of links.  Why not listen to something you've never heard before?  I dare you...

What It Should Be
Opening Credits:
Waking Up:
First Day At School:
Falling in Love:
(Yes – that's right)
Fight Song:
Breaking Up:
Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely 
(Distressingly perfect choice)
(see what I mean)
Life’s OK:
Getting Back Together:
Birth of Child:
(You know, from the VW advert...)
Final Battle:
Funeral Song:
(I promise this is totally random!)
End Credits:
Bon Voyage – Never Coming Back
(Honest! I'm not cheating)