Friday, December 31, 2010

Top Ten Films of 2010 Part One: Twelve to Six

As movies have gently taken over the majority of this blog in 2010 I have decided to eschew my customary wider-ranging annual review with a look at the ten (ish) best and ten worst movies released this year.

12 (I did say ten-ish) Centurion
Neil Marshall took a break from films set in caves or films where Sean Pertwee suffers an agonising death to tell the story of the fate of the Ninth Legion. While by no means perfect, Centurion has a good cast, impressive visuals and Marshall's customary willingness to put his characters through painful and gory demises.

11 Splice
Or the heartwarming tale of two impossibly attractive scientists who splice human and animal DNA to create a curiously androgynous MONSTER called Dren. Directed by Vincenzo Natali who gave us the first Cube movie, Splice is a thinly veiled updating of the Frankenstein myth. However, this fairly disturbing (as the film nears its conclusion there are two unpleasant and unnerving sequences involving Dren and her 'parents') and stylish sci-fi horror effectively taps into very basic human fears. What happens when our children grow up (and turn into MONSTERS) and what are those pesky scientists REALLY up to.

10 Edge of Darkness
Lets not tiptoe around the elephant in the room. Mel Gibson is a massive arse; a sexist, racist, violent arse. However, removing the arse-elephant from the room, the best thing about this rather formulaic conspiracy/revenge story is a storming central performance from Mel Gibson. Director Martin Campbell does this type of film well and the supporting cast, particularly Ray Winstone and Danny Huston do some sterling work. But it really is Gibson's film, a reminder of why he's famous in the first place.

9 Shutter Island
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the first of his two labyrinthine explorations of the human psyche released in 2010. While Inception took the science fiction route, Shutter Island is a psychological horror as Leo descends into the madness of a high security mental asylum. Scorsese really goes to town with the visual flourishes and the supporting cast was probably the best of any film released this year.

8 Monsters
It's not really about the GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS. Its a road movie/romance thing - with GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS. Read my review of Monsters on the excellent Screen 150 website

7 Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
The best Christmas film of the last 5 years is a full-length prequel to director Jalmari Helander's superb short films Rare Exports Inc and Rare Exports: The Official Safety Instructions. They explore the Finnish myth of a Santa more likely to eat small children than give them presents. The shorts are definitely not for children full-stop and A Christmas Tale is certainly not suitable for young children or people who expect their Christmas films to be twee, syrupy nonsense. However, this darkly funny grown-up fairy tale is a proper festive treat - read my review on Screen 150.
6 Kick Ass
Written by Jonathan Ross' wife and the producer of Mean Machine (Vinnie Jones' prison soccer film) and Swept Away (starring Madonna - candidate for worst movie ever made), Kick Ass struggled to get studio backing. However, Matthew Vaughn wisely refused to tone down the violence of the comic book on which the film is based and financed it himself. What he delivered is a gloriously foul-mouthed and violent take on the superhero story. The fight scenes were brilliant, the villain (the ever-excellent Mark Strong) was properly villainous, Nicholas Cage wasn't rubbish and the Daily Mail were incensed.

Tune in for Part 2 where I will reveal my top five plus the ten worst films of 2010 will be dispatched in 3 withering words each.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Short Review of Rare Exports

I hate Christmas films. They are almost without exception twee, syrupy nonsense drenched in false seasonal bonhomie. However, from time to time a dark gem sneaks down the chimney

Rare Exports from Finnish director Jalmari Helander is just such a beast. It acts as a prequel to two of his early short films exploring the myth of the original Santa Claus. This dark creature has little in common with the modern cuddly Santa more likely to eat a child than offer gifts. A team of miners unearth Santa and release it's horde of sinister bearded helpers. What ensues is what you'd imagine the cinematic offspring of Santa Claus the Movie and The Thing to look like.

While some of the effects are a bit ropey and the ending a tad anti-climactic, the concept and it's execution make for a deliciously dark grown up Del Toro-esque fairy tale.

Rating ****

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Short Review of Monsters

Apparently we've been invaded by GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS. However, because its mainly in Mexico nobody really seems to care. America builds a massive wall to keep out the GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS.

But none of that is important, what really matters is the delicate exploration of the start of a beautiful relationship. Against a backdrop of GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS. A grouchy and cynical photographer is ordered to escort his boss' pretty daughter back to the safety of American soil. What ensues is a genuinely touching road-trip romance beautifully shot by writer, director, cinematographer and bedroom FX whiz Gareth Edwards. Despite the periodic intervention of GIANT OCTOPUS ALIENS don't see this film expecting Independence Day style pitched battles. This odd but rather wonderful film is the world's first romantic monster movie (don't talk to me about King Kong you sick puppies) henceforth to be known as the rom-mon genre.

Rating ****

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Short Review of Resident Evil: Afterlife

Review of Resident Evil Afterlife 2D

(Or Stretching Thin Concept to Silliness)

This film is the first I’ve watched in Sparkling High Definition™

The film starts with weary protagonist Alice (played with exquisite boredom by Milla Jovovich) breaking into the bad guy’s zombie-free lair. She kicks ass – then dies. But it’s OK, she’s actually lots of clones – who kick ass and then die.

When all the clones are dead she stows away on Evil Mastermind’s planeycopter (stunning in Sparkling High Definition™). While she makes a Stallonesque quip, Mastermind injects her with something that makes her turn human (keep up). They then crash in Sparkling High Definition™ into a mountain.

Despite being human now (?) Alice inexplicably survives this inferno looking lightly singed.

Alice then flies around in Sparkling High Definition™, lands on top of a prison, fights zombies in the prison then visits Mastermind’s seagoing lair. She kicks ass, Mastermind escapes in planeycopter, then he dies.

Rating:  **

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Seven. S to T

Welcome to Part Seven of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Six. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

S is for Squirrels
Possibly the weirdest film I saw in the early noughties came from Hong Kong; it was the utterly scattershot and visually brilliant Shaolin Soccer (01). The same year saw a Japanese animation take the world by storm. Spirited Away from anime genius Hayao Miyazaki won the Oscar for best animation (the only non-english animation to do so), became one of the highest grossing films of all time and opened the world of anime to a whole new audience. 2002 brought us two very contrasting sci-fi films. First of all, George Clooney starred in Steven Soderbergh's stately remake of 1972 Russian meditation on life and death Solaris. Then the dire Star Trek 10: Nemesis nailed the franchise's movie coffin firmly shut until 2009's JJ Abrams reboot Star Trek raised it from the dead. The law of diminishing returns as applied to movie quality was admirably illustrated as the Spiderman Trilogy (02, 04 and 07) went from good to mediocre to utterly appalling over three films. The Station Agent (03) was the perfect example of a movie in which very little happens yet still manages to be utterly enthralling. The story of a isolated man who inherits a disused rail station office is beautifully played by a great cast, especially Peter Dinklage in the lead role.

Edgar Wright and the Spaced crew introduced us to a new genre of film in 2004 with the rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead. Paul Giamatti got a rare lead role in the merlot hating Sideways (04) but was unfortunately totally upstaged by the similarly underrated Thomas Haden Church. 2005 saw two much loved franchises sign off from cinema land. George Lucas brought his turgid Star Wars prequels to a welcome end with the slightly-better-than-the-others Return of the Sith. The other was the much lower profile but far superior Serenity. Based on Buffy creator Joss Whedon's short lived sci-fi series Firefly, Serenity was everything the new Star Wars movies should have been. Sadly, most people ignored it at the cinema and only a strong DVD showing has saved it from oblivion. Danny Boyle proved his extraordinary range by delivering the incredibly beautiful Sunshine(07) and the delightful Slumdog Millionaire (08).

T is for Tumeric
Edward Norton isn't a man known for a lack of intensity. In 2002 he starred in Spike Lee's captivating 25th Hour about a man spending one last day with his friends before starting a lengthy spell in jail. In the same year, the Lord of the Rings trilogy reached it's high point with the epic Two Towers. Danny Boyle (see above comment on range) brought zombie movies kicking and screaming (literally) into the noughties in 2002 with the rage fueled 28 Days Later. Juan Carlos Fresnadilo then turned things more spectacular for the 2007 sequel 28 Weeks Later. The novel approach for taking out a field of zombies with a helicopter deserves particular mention.

The most extraordinary film of 2003 was the docu-drama Touching the Void. Combining footage of actors and talking head contributions from the two climbers involved the film told a story so incredible you could be forgiven for thinking it was made up. Joe Simpson's crawl off Siula Grande with a broken leg is still regarded as one of the most amazing mountaineering stories. While we're on the topic of mountains, Tommy Lee Jones is famous for being the third craggiest man alive today. In 2005 he directed and acted in a film almost as craggy as himself, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. It was a western of sparse beauty and Jones also managed to coax a superb acting turn out of himself.

Tune in for Part Eight - U to V soon

Friday, September 24, 2010

Manchester Blog-Meetery

Do you live in Manchester?

If yes, go to the next question...

Do you blog?

If your answer is yes, why not come along to Manchester's premier (only?) semi regular Blogmeet.

It's being held at Umbro's design studio on Dale Street which is just along from Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester City Centre.

All Manchester bloggers are welcome.  Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages will be consumed, some people will 'network' and some people will come for the friends. Everyone, I'm sure, will enjoy a natter and most people won't have read each other's blogs.

Newcomers are welcome (I certainly hope so - as I am one).  Click here for more information and to RSVP.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What is a Pope to do?

 Bless him.  Look at the frail old man waving to the crowd.  Awwww - it's good that he's allowed to come out and play every now and then.

There has been lots of hand wringing about an overly secularist media attacking the Pope and his visit to Britain.  And while the fact that his visit gives pleasure and spiritual support to UK Catholics is not in doubt for a moment the actions of the Vatican party are not immune to critcism.

Even before the Pope had arrived, aide Canon Walter Kaspar had caused controversy by declaring that the UK is like the Third World.  The Vatican then compounded the offence of this admittedly off-hand and flippant comment by suggesting that he was referrring to the multi-cultural nature of modern Britain.  The blatantly racist undertones of the defence of Kaspar seem to have gone almost completely unremarked upon in the media.

But never mind, everyone has to deal with a dodgy assistant from time to time (no doubt Benedict has an admirably arcane method of wholly inadequate punishment to hand when he gets back to Rome), let's hear from the man himself.  In a speech in Edinburgh today he appeared to liken 'aggressive forms of secularism' to the ideologies of Nazi Germany.  I'm aware that the media has taken a couple of lines of his address out of the overall context but the the fact is he should have known that juxtaposing the alleged secularism of modern multi-cultural Britain with the atrocities of Nazi Germany was bound to be controversial. 

Considering that some of the pillars of Catholic dogma (it's views on sexuality, contraception and women ministers for example) are quite reactionary, it's ironic in the extreme to compare modern atheists to Nazis - even obliquely.

As a Christian (admittedly at the more liberal end of Anglicanism) I am getting increasingly tired of religious figures attacking those airing atheistic or secularist views.  People are entitled to whatever beliefs they choose to hold, whether they be religious or not.  If you are secure in your religious beliefs, you have no need to fear the opinions of those without any.  However it seems that those at the more fundamentalist extremes of an ideology are more nervous and intolerant of differing philosophies.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Six. P to R

Welcome to Part Six of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Five. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

P is for Pomegranate
All the way back in the dim and distant early noughties Vin Diesel was being touted as the next Sly/Arnie/Bruce style big action star. Looking back over the troughs of Babylon AD and The Pacifier (avoid) its hard to believe, but his performance in the hugely underrated and exciting Pitch Black (00) show why the comparisons were made. John Hillcoat is a director very few people have heard of, which is a shame as he made a savagely brilliant Australian 'Western' in 2005's The Proposition. Nick Cave provided the sounds and the excellent screenplay while Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone caught the eye in a starry cast for such a relatively little known film. 2006 saw a pair of superb 'P' films slink through the back door into the multiplexes like a recalcitrant teen after curfew. Christopher Nolan of Batception fame delivered possibly his worst film (that is of course relative as his worst is significantly better than 72.8% of Hollywood's best) with an intriguing tale of warring Victorian stage magicians in The Prestige. While Nolan was making a film about fake magic Guillermo del Toro brought us a story of real magic and at the same time created one of the greatest films of the last twenty-five years in the matchless Pan's Labyrinth. Two worlds collide as the adopted daughter of a cruel military officer in fascist 1940s Spain discovers a world of fairies, fauns and monsters. Make no mistake though, Pan's Labyrinth is definitely not for children with its shocking violence and genuinely unnerving sequences. However, it is astoundingly beautiful to watch, while the creature design is nothing short of genius.

Q is for Quills
Unsurprisingly, there were relatively few decent films beginning with Q over the last decade so I have to be a little creative. 2000 brought us the third best Star Trek film ( for the record - 1st is Star Trek 2: Wrath of KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN and 2nd is the rebooted JJ Abrams Star Trek) which ironically wasn't a Star Trek film at all. Galaxy Quest was a glorious spoof that captured the spirit of the Trek phenomenon better than most of the films and most of the recent series too. Alan Rickman's pissed off Alexander Dane/Dr Lazarus is exactly how I imagine Leonard Nimoy/Michael Dorn must feel most of the time. James Bournd returned for his second outing as the all new 'gritty' British super-spy in Quantum of Solace (08).
Despite being inferior to Casino Royale it was still three thousand times better than The World is Not Enough. Now that we're all used to gritty Bond I wonder sometimes if Timothy Dalton ever gets cheesed off at his Bond treatment. .REC (07) was an inspired zombies-in-an-apartment-block film which had one drawback for the moron world - it wasn't in English. So Hollywood released (within a YEAR!) a shot-for-shot remake in English called Quarantine which surprised everyone by not being dreadful. The Spanish version was definitely better though.

R is for Relativism
Talking of zombies, the last ten years have been riddled with zombie movies some of which have been excellent (28 Days Later) some of which have been awful (Flight of the Living Dead). A consistent contributee to the genre has been the Resident Evil franchise which started averagely with Resident Evil in 2002 and deflated gradually but entertainingly through RE: Apocalypse (04) and RE: Extinction (07). While we're on the topic of deflating gradually the Lord of the Rings trilogy came to a spectacular yet curiously underwhelming close with Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003. Despite being endowed with at least four endings too many, it was still sad to see the end of the journey. Pixar like a challenge - bugs, monsters, superheroes, undersea environments, talking toys or talking cars - anything is worth telling a story with. 2007's Ratatouille told the story of a rat who dreams of being a gourmet chef in Paris. Huh? Sounds like a crazy idea for a film, but Pixar created an absolute delight of a movie - funny, moving and sweet without being syrupy. Très Bien. At the completely opposite end of the scale The Reader (08) is the uncompromising tale of a young German man who has an affair with an older woman who he finds out in later life may be a Nazi war criminal. Kate Winslet gives a searing performance as Hanna Schmitz and deservedly won a hatful of awards. Sadly it was also the last film worked on by Anthony Mingella and Sydney Pollack who both died before it was released.

Tune in for Part Seven - S to T soon.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Attack of the Zombie Ants and other stories.

Is there anything that does not sound cooler when the word zombie is added?

Take the following factoid - Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is a parasitic fungus found in some forests that infects ants in order to spread itself to other plants and trees. 

Not that thrilling eh?  Now, describe the actions of old Ophio as controlling an army of zombie ants and suddenly we're talking something much more exciting.  The zombie factor of this admirably macabre story is upped in the terminal phase of this infection when the Carpenter ants do appear to lose control and latch themselves with a death grip to tree leaves in order to pass on the fungus.

This got me thinking about other things enlivened by a dash of the Undead.  Rated in Brains out of 5

"A hypothetical being that is indistinguishable from a normal human being except that it lacks conscious experience. When poked with a sharp object it does not feel any pain. While it behaves exactly as if it does feel pain (it may recoil from the stimulus, or tell us that it is in intense pain), it does not actually have the experience of pain as a putative 'normal' person does.  The notion of a philosophical zombie is mainly a thought experiment used in arguments (often called zombie arguments) in the philosophy of mind, particularly arguments against forms of physicalism, such as materialism and behaviorism."

Check out the book trailer for the sequel to Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith's masterpiece

Saturday, July 24, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Five. M to O

Welcome to Part Five of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Four. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

M is for Millstone
The first half of the Noughties seemed heavily weighted with films beginning with M. The decade began back to front with Christopher Nolan's reverse masterpiece Memento. Pixar made us a little less afraid of the monsters in our closet in Monsters Inc. (01). It was also notable Billy Crystal's last decent contribution to movies. In 2002 Steven Spielberg just about avoided ruining the otherwise brilliant Minority Report with a stupid mawkish ending (it really should have ended two or three minutes earlier). However, he did much better with Munich (05) coaxing a potent performance from Eric Bana in the lead role. The Noughties seemed awash with sequels and threequels that really should have been just one stronger film. The two Matrix follow-ups, Reloaded & Revolutions (03), illustrated this better than most. While both had some stunning set pieces they also had far too much fluff such as the cringeworthy underground rave scene and overly long ramblings of the Architect. In 2003 and 2004 Clint Eastwood showed just how good he is behind the camera with Mystic River and Million Dollar Baby helping us forgive his involvement in Space Cowboys. Just before he bulked up to play the rebooted Batman in 2005 Christian Bale lost 60 pounds to play the tormented insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist. I've never been able to look at a game of hangman the same since...

N is for Niggles
In 2006 I unlocked the hitherto impossible scientific dream of slowing time while watching Terrence Malick's dreadful The New World. It's 90% people walking through grass looking pained, 5% noble savage cliche, 3% Pocahontas and 2% Dancing with Wolves. Despite a running time of 135 minutes, it genuinely felt like watching a five hour epic. Ray Liotta has recently become a parody of himself in several truly appalling movie and TV appearances (including Hannah Montana!) while coasting lazily through them all. However, 2002 saw his last great performance in the dark and ethically muddy Narc. Along with most of the world I lauded Jared Hess for his second directorial effort Napoleon Dynamite (04). However, in hindsight this was a mistake as I now find the film irritating and sloppy. In 2005 I took a risk and paid to see a film at the cinema about which I knew nothing at all. That film turned out to be the brilliant and bonkers Russian epic Night Watch which has since become one of my top five films. Telling the story of a supernatural cold war between the forces of good and evil, Night Watch packed in more verve and creativity than a dozen 'Hollywood' blockbusters. The best movie beginning with N in the decade (and one of the best films hands down) was the peerless No Country for Old Men (07). It was the Coen Brothers at the top of their game and especially in the scene between Chigurh and the gas station owner which is a masterpiece of humour, threat and sparse wordplay.

O is for Orangutan
As we finish N with the Coen Brothers, so we also begin O. George Clooney simultaneously played up to his pretty boy image while also putting it permanently behind him in the wonderful O Brother Where Art Thou (00). As mentioned back in February in Part Three of this series Robin Williams plays creepy very well. His portrayal of the lonely and disturbed Seymour Parrish was almost unwatchably unsettling in 2002's One Hour Photo. Despite Quentin Tarentino's output declining in quality he still has an eye for a good thing and has taken to promoting films by talented directors from all over the world. One of the first was the brutal and beautiful Old Boy(03) by Chan-wook Park which had live octupi, hammer related dental action and a twist gut-wrenching enough to leave the viewer feeling physically sick. 2003 also saw Kevin Costner spearhead the periodic attempt to make westerns popular again by directing and starring in Open Range. Sadly he was unsuccessful in that goal, although he did succeed in creating a classic character-driven Western that is all the better for its over-familiar plot devices. While we're on the subject of old school movies, 2007's The Orphanage combined chills without excessive blood spills in a story driven haunted house tale that lingers in the mind long after the film has finished.

Tune in for Part Six - P to R soon.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Bumper Movie Log

Wall Street ****
Knowing *
The Secret of Moonacre ***
Daybreakers ***
A Serious Man *****
Alien 3 (Director's Cut) ***
The White Ribbon *****
Life of Brian ****
2012 **
Air Force One **
Star Runners **
Raiders of the Lost Ark *****
Star Trek ****
Cloverfield ***
Temple of Doom ****
Shutter **
The Reader *****
Demolition Man **
My Name is Bruce **
Drag Me to Hell ****
Rogue **
Body of Lies ****
Up *****
Sherlock Holmes ****
Valhalla Rising ****
Eraser **
Solomon Kane ***
Monsters & Aliens ***
Pandorum **
The Fourth Kind **
Robin Hood ***
The Objective ***
Moon *****
Alice in Wonderland ***

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Four. J to L

Welcome to Part Four of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic exploits. Click here to see Parts One to Three. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

J is for Jigsaw Puzzles
Weirdly, there seemed to be a paucity of decent movies beginning with J during the Noughties. There was plenty of dross - Jackass 1-3 , Johnny English, Jersey Girl anyone? Thought not. 2001 saw Steven Spielberg returning to improbable science and large teeth with the third in the Jurassic Park series. The dinosaurs were bigger, Sam Neill was back and William H Macy (yay!) made the best of a terrible moustache. In 2005 the war movie got all confusing and two-sided in Sam Mendes' film version of Anthony Swofford's biographical account of the Gulf War Jarhead. I really wanted to like it but despite stunning cinematography it seemed to lack something important. According to women's magazine everywhere, late 2007 belonged to Diablo Cody and her all-conquering Juno. Apparently, the world was astonished that a woman who used to be a stripper was capable of stringing a few words together in a screenplay. As it happens, that screenplay turned out to be rather good and combined with excellent performances made Juno a worthy entrant into the movies of the noughties.

K is for Kaleidoscope
Looking back from the dizzying heights of Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes, it's hard to believe that Robert Downey Junior's stock used to be so low. Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) in 2000 began the revival in many ways. It was ludicrously entertaining particularly when Val Kilmer's immensely camp Gay Perry is on screen. Tarentino split one film into two with Kill Bill Vols 1 & 2 (03 & 04)with stylish and verbose yet curiously empty results. In 2004 Stephen Chow made us laugh and whistle appreciatively at his utterly bonkers Kung Fu Hustle in which the fight scenes were astonishing, the visuals spectacular and spirit of the movie completely insane. The cartoonish chase scenes especially were reminiscent of Looney Tunes but fitted perfectly into the Hong Kong lunacy. The king of the modern epic returned to the history trough with Kingdom of Heaven (05). Ridley Scott shot the Crusade story with his customary gorgeousness but it did lack a convincing hero (Orlando Bloom - really?) and is much better in it's longer Director's Cut version. The other king to return in 2005 was Kong in Peter Jackson's punishingly lengthy retooling of King Kong. While at least an hour too long it was still a magical movie experience (Kong fighting Tyrannosaurs!!).

L is for Lemons

The Coppola clan found a new star in Sofia and her bittersweet tale of a pair of lonely Americans in Lost in Translation (2003). Bill Murray as the down-at-heel actor and an idealised Tokyo were the two standouts in a touching and funny story. In 2004 the talented Anderson (Wes as opposed to Paul WS) brought us the almost too whimsical Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, also tempting a stellar turn from a be-whiskered Bill Murray. Continuing the theme of comics turning in good dramatic performances, Steve Carell showed us that he was capable of more than shouting and falling over in the surprisingly dark yet affecting Little Miss Sunshine (06). The same year saw three movies tackle some of the darker periods in world history in the Last King of Scotland, The Lives of Others and Letters from Iwo Jima. Ulrich Mühe and Forest Whitaker turned in contrasting Oscar worthy turns as a Stasi operative and Idi Amin respectively. Clint Eastwood also drew a marvellous performance from Ken Watanabe in the stronger of his two Pacific war movies. The end of the decade saw possibly the best horror movie of the whole ten years and certainly the best film of 2009 in Let the Right One In. Ignore the upcoming US remake and revel in the unique vampire movie premise and unsettling atmosphere of the Swedish original. It couldn't be further away from the teenage nonsense of the Twilight series which makes it a Good Thing.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What Would Jesus Vote? Probably not Tory...

As the zero hour approaches I have been thinking very hard about the election and who to cast my lot in with. For the first time, I have been very open about who I am planning to vote for and this has led to some very interesting and some very depressing conversations.
I personally think that this election is the most exciting I have ever experienced with a mainstream party I feel I have some ideological common ground with finally being worth voting for. The Liberal Democrats have a chance to effect genuine change. However, this has put me at odds with many of my fellow Christians. Many Christians are continuing to hold the belief that only the Conservatives have their best interests at heart.

This is not surprising as the automaton David Cameron (not all celebrity endorsements are good by the way - Simon Cowell and this guy? Oh dear) and his cronies talk about family values, marriage and crime in a way to make right wingers go weak at the knees. However, Christians should be considering the wider picture. Even a cursory glance at Jesus' teachings show that he was far more concerned with justice and with challenging hypocrisy than he was with sexual ethics or marriage (although he did have things to say there).

Therefore, the question we should be asking as Christians is - which party or outcome will lead to a more just and fair society? The Conservatives will definitely not lead our country to a fairer or more just path. For a taste of what Cameron's Britain will be like read this horrifying article on the Tories' flagship council in London. The cuts and ideology of the Tories will leave more and more of us on the scrapheap, it will not create jobs or stimulate the economy, it will not create more equality.

Ignore the propaganda that tells us a hung Parliament and a coalition will be dire for the economy. Germany still has the strongest economy in Europe and they have had coalition governments for years. Electoral reform that gives more weight to our votes and therefore increases our politician's accountability is essential. The Conservatives have openly said they will not pursue electoral reform that will make it harder for them to remain in power. In fact, Cameron's plan to reduce the number of MPs and redraw constituency boundaries will give him the opportunity to make the current system even worse.

I am not a fan of Labour, but even they are a better bet than the Tories. Barring a miracle the Lib Dems cannot win outright, but a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats is possibly the only way we can move forward as a society. The Conservatives will take us backwards and leave the most vulnerable without even basic safety nets.

So who would Jesus vote for?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Why I Won't Sign Westminster 2010 & Why You Should Read it Carefully Before You Sign

Now that Ol' Gordy has formalised what we've all known for months and set a date for the General Election we can expect nothing but political madness for the next month or so. Until recently all I have been worrying about is who to vote for. Do I stick with the status quo and vote Labour? Do I risk the all-new, shiny, fluffy, friendly Tories? Or will I be wondering if my bum looks big in the Lib Dems? Do I don my fairtrade yak hair shirt and vote Green again?

However, now things aren't that simple. The Westminster 2010: Declaration of Christian Conscience has muddied the waters. Apparently, what I should do is vote for the candidate who will do the most to ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience’.
35 Christian leaders ranging from the well known (Ex Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey) to the completely obscure (Jonathan Oloyede or Dennis Wrigley anyone?) have released a document of conscience that they are encouraging Christians of all denominations to sign.

On the surface, this isn't a bad idea at all. The segments about core historical beliefs, support of the poor and a commitment to social justice are all aims that we can all applaud. However, once you start to read the document itself in more detail there are some problematic areas.

Take the section on Marriage (follow the link for the full text). I realise that as a Christian at the more liberal end of the scale I know that my views on marriage are not necessarily those articulated in the declaration. However, the following sentence has disturbing and contradictory implications.

"We call on government to honour, promote and protect marriage and we refuse to submit to any edict forcing us to equate any other form of sexual partnership with marriage"

So unless 'marriage' is what the declaration says it is, Christians should refuse to submit to other interpretations? Even if those interpretations are legal? Like, for example, same sex civil partnerships. We don't have to agree with our nation's laws, but we do need to obey them, particularly if they do not lead us to do anything immoral. Simply accepting other viewpoints does not equate to an immoral act. This statement on marriage is even worse when juxtaposed with one from the section on Conscience.

"We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities."

What about the freedom of people who disagree with evangelical Christian teaching? Is it referring merely to religious freedoms and conscience or is it referring to all freedoms and the conscience of all people? What about the freedom of those who believe its OK for two people of the same sex to get married? Will it uphold their freedom of conscience too?

Many Christians that I know have already signed the declaration, but I'm struggling to understand the ultimate purpose of the document. It's mildly militant language reflects the partisan rhetoric of the US Christian right and is directly influenced by the recent Manhattan Declaration. However, the UK doesn't have a political party gunning for the Christian vote like the US Republicans. In the end, it seems like a high-concept equivalent of a Facebook campaign/group. And like those campaigns, it does not represent the views of all those that it claims to.

Franklyn ***
Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull **
tHE Spiderwick Chronicles ****
Gran Torino ****
Let the Right One In *****
Titan AE ***
Hellboy 2 ****
In The Loop *****
Alien 3 **
Forgetting Sarah Marshall **
City of Ember ***
Jaws *****
Three Kings ***
Revolution **
Dead Snow ***

Monday, April 05, 2010

Church leader makes sense. Media spins it every which way but loose.

I have a confession to make. I'm not proud of it. It's one of my dirty little secrets.

I'm an Anglican. There I said it, it's out in the open now. I feel much better.

The Anglican Church has been trying to tear itself apart over the last 10 years in a self-destructive streak a mile wide. The man charged with trying to lead this unruly worldwide band of Christians that encompasses fanatical evangelicals to fervent liberals is Archbishop Rowan Williams.His Easter message is one of the few occasions when the media will actually listen to something he's saying. (Although his admirably frank comments about the Catholic abuse scandal got some attention). This year he chose to devote part of his sermon to the 'persecution' of Christians. He asserted that "wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness" combined with a "well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians" should not be mistaken for persecution.

Quite right too. Christians in Britain are not at risk of violence or imprisonment simply because of their faith. A quick look at Amnesty International's website shows that there are many people round the world who face actual threats to their freedom and safety. Set against the genuine suffering that many face elsewhere, the hand-wringing of the evangelical right as personified by Westminster 2010 is tasteless in the extreme.

However, one of the most interesting elements of this story is how it has been covered by the news media. Contrast these two headlines for the same story:

Rowan Williams condemns 'overheated language' used to describe Christian suffering
. The Guardian

Hallelujah! Archbishop speaks up for Christians: This bias against us must stop, says Dr Rowan Williams.
The Daily Mail

Now, the Guardian headline underplays the overall context of the sermon. However, the Daily Mail seems completely oblivious to the irony of using exactly the type of overheated language that Williams is criticising. But it isn't the Mail's irony that I have a problem with. Rather, it is their ongoing attempt to fanaticise issues in a way that is very reminiscent of the hysterical partisan language used by the US media.

The 'shining' example is the use of people like Peter Hitchens (a cut price Glenn Beck if you can imagine such a thing) to spout petty, spiteful and narrow-minded opinion pieces. It pains me to do this, but read this article about Rowan Williams in which Hitchens brands him
'Nice, furry, mild and useless'. Williams is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he has many qualities lost on the partisan extremists. He is intelligent, reasoned and diplomatic. This of course, is abhorrent to the likes of Hitchens who exist simply to provoke fury. This they accomplish as they push more and more of us out of the centre and towards the extremes of Right and Left.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Carol Cameron's Mouthpiece Vorderman


Obviously, I spent last night feeling sorry for myself while snuffling pathetically into a handkerchief. I could tell I was ill because I stumbled across Question Time and didn't switch channels. Now, I like the idea of Question Time, but the recent trend for always having 'celebrities' on the panel usually annoys me so much I can't watch.The celebrities in question last night were writer and professional grump Will Self (who I actually have a lot of time for) and ex-Countdown number mistress Carol Vorderman.

Vorderman has recently become more closely identified with the Conservative Party and currently chairs the Tories maths taskforce. However, it wasn't till last night that she showed her true colours so obviously. She was an unashamed Cameron mouthpiece and actually seemed to out-Tory the Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson. That in itself isn't a problem - we live in a free country, she's entitled to her views and to present them in whatever forum she sees fit.

However, last night she presented herself as a petty, bigoted, small-minded, Daily Mail-ist, shrill, hectoring, right-wing busybody. She seemed to be continually reading from notes as if she was unsure of what she really thinks and kept trying to railroad the discussions so she could trot out her 'populist' pre-written soundbites. David Dimbleby seemed particularly cross about her constant hijacking of the agenda and her penchant for shouting over the other panelists.

I found her snivelling pandering to cheap right-wing thinking so frustrating that several horrifying mucas explosions ensued as I hurled impotent invective at the screen. Her attempts to portray herself as some sort of UK Sarah Palin (a US ex-politician who feigns colossal stupidity to appeal to lowest common denominator populism. See my previous thoughts on her here) are unbecoming for someone who has made a career out of being intelligent.

The perfect example of this followed a question from the audience regarding the public's right to know about Bulger killer Jon Venables' recent return to prison. She spouted a soundbite from her notes about the public having a right to know and that knowing Venables' misdemeanour would somehow help the family of Jamie Bulger. Clearly, she hoped that this would strike a chord with the audience and garner an approving round of applause. As it turned out, there was only a smattering of claps and Will Self quite rightly challenged her on this and asked her how it would help. As her crib cards clearly didn't contain any relevant pearls of wisdom she babbled like a reactionary moron instead.

Self then went on to pose possibly the best question of the night. Why is it that we consider young children who commit awful crimes much much worse than adults who commit the same sort of crime? Watch the following video from the BBC website. Pay attention to Vorderman's expression in the middle of Will Self's statement. At that moment, I would have happily dunked the woman in a vat of my own flu-related mucus.

The Invasion **
Kung Fu Panda ****
Doctor Strange ***
Flags of our Fathers ****
Ghost Town *
The Ninth Gate *
Resident Evil: Extinction **
Sherlock Holmes ****
Little Miss Sunshine *****
Avatar 3D (Imax) ***
The Mist (2008) ****
The Day the Earth Stood Still **
Frost/Nixon ****
Predator 2 **
Charlie Wilson's War ****
Trekkies ***
This last one was downright weird. But very compelling

Monday, February 15, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Three. G to I

Welcome to Part Three of my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic expoits. Click here to see Parts One & Two. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

G is for Guinea Pig
G got off to a good start in 2000 with Ridley Scott's epic Gladiator. We were definitely entertained, but the legion of inferior cash-ins on the sword'n'sandal revival were underwhelming (Alexander or Troy anyone? Thought not). In 2001 Robert Altman visited Gosford Park to explore the class system with a great ensenmble cast and a Cluedo setup.
Is there anything that George Clooney can do wrong when it comes the movies? He's a movie star, an accomplished actor and on the evidence of Good Night & Good Luck (2005) an excellent director. One of the most unsettling and extraordinary films of 2005 was Werner Herzog's documentary following the life of utterly bonkers self-styled wildlife champion Timothy Treadwell. Grizzly Man showcases Herzog at his very best, he shows Treadwell warts and all yet never judges leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

H is for Hod

2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon opened the door for Zhang Yimou to dazzle our eyes with his wushu antics. 2002's Hero used a Rashomon setup, gorgeous visuals and spectacular fight scenes to tell the story of a would be assassin. House of Flying Daggers (2004) was an equally beautiful, if slightly inferior tale. Also in 2004, Guillermo del Toro finally brought one of his most beloved characters to the screen. Mike Mignola's Hellboy as portrayed as by Ron Perlman was a reassuringly blue collar hero in a very enjoyable film. However, it wasn't till 2008 that del Toro truly did Hellboy justice. Hellboy 2:The Golden Army was a stunning spectacle dripping with creativity and fun. The Troll Market and the death of the elemental are among the best scenes of the decade. Two much loved books were brought to life in Howl's Moving Castle (2004) and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Hotel Rwanda (2004) and The Hurt Locker (2009) approached two very different conflicts in two very different ways. The Spaced collective brought us 2007's Hot Fuzz which had style and laughs in spades and concluded with an epic punch up between James Bond and Tim from Spaced in a model village. Priceless.I is for Igloo
Robin Williams is superb and creepy as the main protagonist in Christopher Nolan's Alaskan set Insomnia (2002). Also notable as Al Pacino's last decent performance in a movie. In 2004, Pixar wowed us yet again with their first film featuring people (albeit super-people) - The Incredibles. In 2006 we were treated to not one, but two period dramas about stage magicians. The Illusionist saw Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti starring in the superior of the two. Robert Downey Jr continued his movie rehabilitation in the ridiculously fun Iron Man (2008). Indiana Jones came out of retirement and looked for a crystal skull, however all he reminded us of was how good he used to be. The man behind some of the best swearing on the small screen took his character to the movies in 2009. Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker ate up all the scenery and most of his co-stars as the awesomely foul-mouthed spin doctor in In the Loop. 2009 was also notable for the last screen appearance of Heath Ledger in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fear Travolta's massive weapon

OK - simple maths:

John Travolta with comedy beard+big gun+terrifically bad tagline = must see.

"Two Agents. One City. No Merci"

See what they did there? That's clever that is...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dance Fever

We've had Strictly Come Dancing, So You Think You Can Dance, Dancing on Ice, Got to Dance and the barrel-scraping Dancing on Wheels. Now that this moment of zeitgeist has been well and truly wrung out, what we really need is a needle sharp satire of the whole dance show phenomenon.

Sky 1 has leapt manfully into the breach with the wonderfully ironic Pineapple Dance Studios. Watch this hilarious trailer featuring just about every dance related cliche imaginable.

Wait.... Talk amongst yourselves for a minute.....
For the love of all that is holy - its not a spoof.

Or is it?

A quick google check would suggest that Pineapple is actually a real dance studio and this programme is not a satirical skewering of TV's obsession with all forms of feet twirling nonsense.

I need to lie down for a while.

Monday, February 08, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part Two. D to F

Welcome back to my entirely subjective reflection on a decade in cinematic expoits. Click here to see Part Two. Please do chip in with any obvious omissions or disagreements.

D is for Daffodil
Richard Kelly is a unusual director who makes unusual and on occasion totally incomprehensible movies. He kicked the decade off with the wonderfully weird Donnie Darko in 2001 which was notable for it's combination of twisted time travel/teenage angst and great performances particularly Patrick Swayze's dodgy motivational speaker. Robin Williams is guilty of many cinematic crimes, however, he did redeem himself slightly by taking on some very dark straight roles in the Noughties. One of which was the underrated black comedy Death to Smoochy in 2002. Horror slunk into the Ds in the genuinely terrifying The Descent(2006) and the surprisingly decent remake of Dawn of the Dead in 04. While we're on the topic of horror in 2004, Bruno Ganz gave a stunning performance in Downfall's portrayal of Hitler's last days. Forget the zombies, Ganz's Hitler was a genuine human monster, flipping between kindly old man and raving hateful killer. 2006 saw Da Vinci Code madness sweep the globe. Sadly, the movie of the hopeless book was possibly the most ludicrously boring film of the decade. On the upside, Martin Scorsese finally won his richly deserved Oscar with The Departed. Science fiction boggled our eyes and brains with the gravelly Dark Knight (2008) and the gooey District 9 (2009) rounding the decade off quite nicely.

E is for Elephant
In 2000 Julia Roberts showed that she could still act quite well thank you very much as the crusading Erin Brockovich. The following year, two very contrasting war movies jostled for space in the multiplexes. The achingly British Enigma provided a who's who of UK actors while Enemy at the Gates featured a brilliantly tense duel between two top WW2 snipers in the ruins of Eastern Europe. In 2004 we fell hopelessly in love with Kate Winslet after her marvellous performance in the really quite weird Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If our politicians had listened to the impassioned voices behind Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room in 2005, perhaps we may have avoided sinking into the financial catastrophes we currently wallow in. Viggo Mortensen made us forget the noblility of Aragorn as the brutal Russian mob enforcer in David Cronenbourg's savage Eastern Promises (2007). Speaking of brutal, Brian Cox took time out from playing crooked CIA agents to make the criminally underviewed prison break drama The Escapist in 2008. Watch out for the twist, its a real kick in the guts...

F is for Flan
It's hard to remember now, but before 2001 the best adaptation of JRR Tolkien's works was an odd and unfinished Ralph Bakshi cartoon from 1978. It's easy to forget how much of a risk New Line took in giving Peter Jackson (best known for very gory low budget horror movies) millions of dollars and a free creative hand. Luckily for them (and us) Jackson created something rather special and it all started 2001 with The Fellowship of the Ring. In 2003 Pixar continued their unfeasibly long hot streak and took the story of a lost fish and made us all laugh like drains and cry like babies in Finding Nemo. Forget pesky things like facts, documentary maker Michael Moore knows exactly how to pitch righteous rage. Fahrenheit 9/11 released in 2004 savaged George Bush and the policies that led to the Iraq war. While Bush won the next election many people think that Fahrenheit 9/11 helped start laying the groundworks for Barack Obama's massive landslide victory in 2008. On an altogether lower key note, Johnny Depp cast aside his eye patch and pirate swagger to play JM Barrie in the beautifully crafted Finding Neverland (2004). And finally, the award for most confusing and bizarre mainstream film of the decade goes to Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (2006). Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz searched for the Tree of Life and mused on death, life, religion, time and many other things in a gorgeously shot piece of sci-fi.

Tune in soon for G to I!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Resolution, Resolution, Resolution

I'm not a great believer in New Year's Resolutions as a rule. This is mainly because I am terrible at keeping them and generally end up failing miserably. I then end up feeling very negative and down about it, which sort of negates their purpose.As 2009 drew to its inevitable end, I had a few conversations with a colleague at work where I was chastised for being a miserable git. This was done in a jocular way and was highly amusing at the time. However, on reflection he had a good point and I have resolved in 2010 to try and rectify this and make more of an effort to be somewhat more sociable. To avoid the type of navel-gazing introspection that is so tedious in the blogosphere, I won't tell you a sob story about how difficult I find social situations or any bilge like that. My biggest problem is that I'm lazy...

Therefore, I have made one simple resolution. Its not to lose weight (although I could stand to do that) or join a gym or take up Tai Chi. It is to be less grouchy and be more sociable!

Avatar ****
Where the Wild Things Are *****
Dead Set *****
Black Sheep ***
The Bourne Ultimatum *****

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

9/10ths Full of Movies Part One. A to C

As we move bright-tailed and bushy-eyed into a shiny new decade it seems the right time to reflect on the past ten years in movie land. This is a subjective and incomplete list, so please point out any glaring omissions or mistakes as you see them...

A is for Apples
Long before Christian Bale gargled gravel for the Batman reboot he shocked and astonished us in the stylish and disturbing American Psycho in 2000. Will Smith demonstrated he could actually act in Ali and the elfin Audrey Tatou entranced us with the gallic quirkiness of Amelie in 2001. Two jokes ambled through 2004, the first being the genuinely funny Anchorman (a film Will Ferrell has been living off ever since). The second was Alien vs Predator; a film so dreadful that even Lance Henriksen had the grace to look embarrassed. David Cronenberg's A History of Violence helped legions of Viggo Mortensen fans to forgive him for making the hapless Hidalgo. The end of the decade saw the Coen Brothers cement their reputation as the best filmmaking brothers EVER with A Serious Man. On a slightly more bombastic note, James Cameron made minds boggle with the sheer beauty and technical prowess of Avatar. A film so stunningly gorgeous in 3D that we forgave it's Dances with Wolves' plot and one-dimensional character work.

B is for Barges
B made a blistering start to the Noughties when Battle Royale showed us one way to deal with pesky hoodies in 2000. James Bond was left quaking in his over-shined shoes by Jason Bourne as the Bourne Identity (2002), the Bourne Supremacy (2004) and the Bourne Ultimatum (2007) bucked the normal trilogy trend by getting better with each instalment. Bowling for Columbine spent 2002 reminding us why Michael Moore is famous while monster movies got an insane gallic polish with the unique Brotherhood of the Wolf (period monster movie with a fung-fu American-Indian). Elvis got a makeover too with the now ageing rocker battling a ancient evil mummy in his old people's home in Bubba Ho-Tep. 2003 stands proud as it produced the only Christmas film I have ever really liked in the deliciously rude Bad Santa. Batman finally shook off the horrific memories of Batman Forever (Nipples. Really?!!) with Christopher Nolan's 2005 reboot Batman Begins. The same year saw Brokeback Mountain confirm Ang Lee as possibly the oddest director at work in the decade (seriously, look at the range of movies he makes). Frank Langella creeped us out while Richard Kelly messed with our minds in 2009's The Box.

C is for Cauliflower
In 2000 Mel Gibson took time out from being a complete arse to lend his dulcet tones to Chicken Run. If Nick Park only makes one film every five years, then thank heaven they are as good as this. The climactic action scene in the pie machine is utterly thrilling (and I'm not joking). Ang Lee (see comments above) introduced us to the delights of wushu in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 2002's film honours were stolen by the searing Brazilian masterpiece City of God and in 2003 William H Macy finally got to headline a movie in the criminally underrated The Cooler. Keanu Reeves showed us that Neo really was as good as he was going to get in 2004's Constantine and Bond, James Bond finally gave in and turned to the Bourne-side in 2006 in Casino Royale (or Bond Begins). Finally, the indisputed master of stop-motion Henry Selick finally got the recognition he deserved with the creepy 3D goodness of Coraline.

Tune in soon for the next penguin-baiting installment...