Sunday, December 24, 2006

DJ Santa on the wheels of steel

I don't watch telly any more.

I haven't really watched telly in about a year, not conventional telly that you turn on and absorb.
These past months I've been picking and choosing, taking in morsels of programming like flotsam and jetsam, thanks to the TV-on-demand service I get from my internet peoples.
It's down to this that I get to see stuff I might otherwise have missed, like the excellent State of Play, watching the first episode to see what it was like and then ending up watching every episode back-to-back until four in the morning.

Just tonight I caught Born Equal, an excellent ensemble drama dealing with the highs and lows of life in London, from City boy to down-and-out, every word and performance ringing true. But damn is it depressing.
A world of bleak hopelessness and washed-out colour, all of the characters are trapped no matter what their circumstances.
All the locations are recognisable whilst staying away from postcard London, the grime and the drab straight out of reality.

It was a little anticlimatic, then, to have a teaser after the credits rolled telling us that Dracula is back, and he's a buffoon - clicky for duh
Marc Warren? Cuh.
I mean, I don't really care about how the legend of Robin hood gets portrayed, but where will it all end?

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The aforementioned TV-on-demand thing is how I keep up to date with Torchwood, never having watched it at the same time as your common or garden viewer.
The second to last episode was unbelievably awful, based around a corny voice-overing dead moron like some twisted sci-fi Starter for Ten, almost vaporising the very idea of entertainment for good.
Then in the last episode they bring out a mostly well-written and acted episode of genuine warmth and free of the 'adult timeslot' bombast of some of the other shows (apart from a bit of sex, which in this case is wrapped in a love story), completely throwing the quality curve of the show, peaks and troughs like the ocean floor.
A fairly unoriginal tale of people from the 50s getting stuck here and how they cope offers only a few glaring "isn't it funny how things change?" and instead goes for the feelings, looking at how people deal with being lost and alone and doing it in a much more successful way than, say, that one with Mel Gibson.
A new angle comes from Captain Jack, ideas of loneliness and immortality - again nothing new but thankfully well handled.
Along with the recent episode dealing with ex-Torchwood member and incredible criminal mastermind this episode is an example of what could have been, had the show not become bogged down in the need for an alien that kills through sex and the "terrifying" stilted movement of a half-cyberwoman who happens to look a lot like the iconic Metropolis Maria-bot. But crap.

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You can take the horror director out of the genre, but you can't take the genre out of the director.
This can be shown time and again, as the creators of little indie gore-fests become recognised for their flair and vision and are recruited to helm the studios' latest blockbuster franchise.
Sam Raimi went from the Evil Dead to the international 12A hit Spiderman series, but his roots show through in the octopus arms sequence in number 2, a horror scene to its very pores.
Peter Jackson started out on Bad Taste and the spectacular gunge fest that is Brain Dead, so it's little surprise that his uber-epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy featured a fair few fang-tastic moments, the death of Boromir springing to mind.

Guillermo Del Toro, on the other hand, has never really left horror.
Starting out on his quirky Mexican vampire flick Cronos, Del Toro went on to a typical piece of Hollywood horror fluff, Mimic, which he managed to raise above the average premise (the old chestnut of man-meddling-with-nature) into something halfway decent.
Then entering franchiseland proper, he got to hold the reins on Blade 2 which again, despite being a bit of throwaway action/horror, showed quite a bit of flair hither and thither especially with the hideous new vampire strain unleashed on Blade.
At this point Del Toro felt a little chafed by the restraints of the studios that led to the glass ceiling of above-average films, and produced the Spanish Civli War ghost story The Devil's Backbone, proving that Cronos was not a fluke by filming a picture of remarkable tension in the Old Dark House vein.
After flexing his cinematic muscles, Del Toro returned to Lalaland to take on a new comicbook franchise, Hellboy, whose supernatural origins perfectly suited his genre leanings. Hellboy is one of the better of the recent rash of comicbook adaptations, managing to juggle character development alongside the spectacle as well as bringing the sumptious art of Mike Mignola to life, which for some reason makes me wish it had been Del Toro at the helm of the dire League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

His most recent film, Pan's Labyrinth, comes before the Hellboy sequel and is another marriage of horror and the Spanish Civil War. I'm going to assume you've seen it so spoiler alert.
This time around the fantastical elements of the film do not sit as well with those of the 'real world' of the civil war. With little integration it is easy to believe that the stranger moments of fantasy are all in our heroine Carmen's head, which may help to explain the brutal violence which often is a part of the reality. With the ultra-fascist captain Vidal such an evil baddie, the threat of the fantasy characters is lessened, and the case for the fantasy being just that is strengthened all the more due to the unbearable nature of reality.
Having said this, Pan is still a decent film with some strong ideas and lovely images, not to mention cringeworthy violence and body-horror; the bottling still remaining lodged in the mind, so to speak, with the spectacle of Vidal stitching his own face shut seeming tame in comparison. The fantasy world is suitably earthy, scenes of Carmen squirming in the mud of the bowels of a tree and Pan seemingly hewn from rock and bark himself, the images here all have an edge to them down to the fairies that begin as Del Toro's trademark insectoids. The fantasy of the Labyrinth is a foreboding place but is still preferable to a world where the adults are all mad and no-one listens to little Carmen.
One niggle I can't get over, though, is when Carmen sets off to retrieve the knife and is warned not to touch the food. Of course she can't resist a grape and escapes in the nick of time, but it was maddening to see the rubbish temptation get the most of her. Yes, she'd gone wihtout supper, but she had been warned in no uncertain terms and then had seen the horrible post-liposuction beast at the table, followed by the numerous paintings of it chasing and eating babies. After all this and the fairies desperately warning her, she goes for a grape. So, she's too hungry to be scared, which is bollocks as she's the type of girl to sneak to the kitchen, but even accepting that she doesn't go hog-out and grab a side of beef or handful cake, but risks her neck for a couple of fat grapes. Pah!
Worse than this, perhaps, is the underlying message of the film - to avoid fascism, not take orders blindly but to think for yourself, as pointed out by the couragoeus doctor and Pan himself. This is fair enough, but crazily for a film which unashamedly supports the rebels in the Civil War and their struggle for socialism against the ruthless fascists, the dream end for Carmen is that of the princess of the underworld, ruling her subjects as a monarch.
Unfortunately Pan fares better on the spectacle rather than the content, but is undoubtedly worth watching.


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Latest publications include contributions to the Sci fi London anime reviews for November and December and the Big Boss Platinum Edition review for hkcinema. Have a look!

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Being a regular reader, you will of course remember my incoherent rant about Hollywood remakes a few months back. With a heavy heart I point you in the direction of the Hitcher trailer, from the producers of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Amityville Horror remakes indeed!
Replacing the more or less everyday looking actors from the original with a bimbo and himbo, and the otherwordly menace of Rutger "Guiness" Hauer with the pie and chips grimace of Sean "Give Blood with 02 in Somerfields" Bean, it can only hope to scale the giddy heights of bearable. God help us all.
Makes the new Die Hard trailer look like a project of breathtaking invention.

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You may have seen the advert "Christmas designed by Debenhams" in amongst all the other desperate, screaming snippets urging you to part with cash. Featuring a younger, hipper santa, what once may have sounded like a good idea has turned into some bizarre sub-Aphex Twin clay-faced nightmare. Run Away!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I build myself an effigy

November has been the month for my American Trilogy, three different perspectives on America all presented in the medium of film:

Rampage is a documentary made by George Gittoes.
Gittoes has been a war photographer for decades and made his first documentary, A Soundtrack to War in 2004. It looked at the music listened to by the American army troops in Iraq, and Rampage leads directly on from that by examining the lives of the Lovett brothers in Miami.
Elliot Lovett was one of the standout soldiers in the first documentary; a wannabe rapper who was little fazed by the violence in Iraq due to his upbringing in the Brown Sub low rises of Miami.
Rampage follows Elliot home to meet his brothers Marcus, Alton and Denzell, their family and friends and to see what life is really like in the ghettos of the USA.

Rampage throws up a lot of conflict. Not just in the situation faced by its subjects, stuck in the rut of gang violence and poverty, but within the issues raised in the film.

On the one hand it is crushingly depressing to see so many people seemingly chained into the vicious circle of ‘urban’ culture, of macho posturing and the urgency of seeking a quick, dangerous buck over any planning. It is astounding how everyone in the neighbourhood seems so accepting, let alone resigned, to the horrifically violent culture that they live in; granma Lovett looking on with fondness as her grandson Marcus tells everyone just how he would torture and murder anyone that messed with his family. Here the conflict comes from condemning the eagerness to violence, but is it hypocritical to judge when Marcus and his neighbours are all under constant danger of death? Marcus himself is assassinated by a teen hitman during the course of the documentary, punctuating the different situation they all face. It’s one thing to criticise the reverence for violence in the ghetto culture, but from a position of relative safety it is hard to dictate how to live.

The area is more dangerous than Iraq, with the local professor of criminology estimating that 1 in 8 young men die violent deaths before their 23rd birthday, which the wounds of the majority of the Lovett brothers’ friends attest to.

On the other hand you have Gittoes, who breaks with documentary tradition and steps in to try and get Denzell, the youngest Lovett, a record deal in New York and a life out of the Brown Sub.
Denzell is turned down by all the record company men as he is told that he is too young to rap about what he is living everyday, as if the horrific reality of gangland life is only fantasy.
But then you have the problem of Denzell’s rap: why would he want to continue reliving such a hell? Why would he want to dwell on the violence and petty squabbles for dubious respect? The fact that Denzell should be able to rap about the drug deals and murders that he has witnessed first hand doesn’t address how are his stories any different to the endless run of MCs year after year telling you how their skill with a mic is only surpassed by their skill with a 9?
It’s a weird paradox, the hope that the promotion and glorification of the stereotypical gangsta lifestyle will help Denzell and his family to stop living it.

Then you have that subjective element of Gittoes getting involved with his subjects. It seems that becoming the focus of filming may have made the Lovetts a target for rival gangbangers and guilt for his role in the death of Marcus spurs Gittoes into doing his utmost to help out Denzell. Would Marcus still be alive? Would Denzell have received as much exposure?
Again, it’s easy to blame those stuck in the projects for sticking to the self-fulfilling prophecy of a violent thug life, but without having to live it perhaps it isn’t fair to judge.

After years of gangsta rap culture played out through music and movies it is easy to see it as fantasy, clich├ęs so recognisable as to be easily dismissed as fiction, but the look on Denzell’s face during his brother’s funeral brings you back to reality with a crash.

Rampage is potent stuff and serves as a reminder that even if the mess in Iraq gets to a point peaceful enough so the GIs can go home, there are old war zones still festering in the heart of America, but there are no media campaigns to end these wars.

Not having learnt the wonderful ability of posting videos within the page as if altering the very fabric of existence, I furnish you with a link to the Rampage trailer: Depress mouse button once pointer icon has alighted 'pon these words

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Whilst on the subject of questionable reality, I found Borat quite an odd film.
A weird mixture of the usual skits lifted straight from the TV shows where Mr. Cohen has one of his characters perplex ‘real people’, and bizarre scripted moments hanging around a mutant plot, it is sometimes hard to work out where the reality ends and the fiction begins.
All of the moments that seem to involve unscripted people tend to be straight lifts from Borat or Ali G sketches, and whilst it is alarming to receive the apparently genuine thoughts of honest-to-goodness Aymericans, the addition of fiction into the mix only dulls the impact. It’s easy to believe that people were paid to say they wanted gays killed, or that people only acted so astoundingly confrontational in New York to further the film, rather than being filmed unawares. And if the shock element of watching people believe that the character of Borat is a real person or revealing their hidden controversial thoughts has been dulled, then Borat the movie has to rely on comedy for a backup

The film does have it’s moments, but I’ve never been one for the ‘cringe’ school of comedy so it’s enjoyable but there’s little in the way of belly-laughs outside the more bizarre moments and now-familiar bad taste gags.

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The third film I’ve seen is a slightly less chaotic portrayal of the United States.

Little Children is a film of depths.
Deceptively smooth, it plays out like this year’s American Beauty, depicting the ennui and desperate yearnings of American suburbia, far removed from the turbulence of Rampage.

With a steady pace and flattering photography, it could be forgiven for appearing staid, but it crackles with the energy of the characters who seek a metaphorical escape from surburban restraint.
Of course, these themes have been covered as intensely as the OJ trial by French and Spanish cinema for decades, but American cinema rarely affords itself the opportunity to suggest that adultery may not be such a sin and that paedophiles may have lives beyond the monstrous.

Kate Winslet continues her taste for getting nekkid and is used to taking less-than flattering roles, here playing a bookish and alienated housewife, but here role is brave for the portrayal of a mother who seems less than enamoured with her little miracle. It’s a move virtually unheard of outside the horror genre, but brings some welcome authenticity to the film.
In a less challenging but still comparatively rare role, Patrick Wilson plays a house husband, a man not defined by his career (or lack of) and with little interest in passing the bar exam he keeps failing.

Both characters share a distance from their other halves, finding a bond with each other in their afternoons together with their children, a bond which soon develops.
All the while a flasher of kiddies has been released from prison and someone has been fly posting the neighbourhood with warnings.
The character is both monster and human, Jackie Earle Haley presenting a suitably pale and wizened figure, with a self-awareness of his less than normal tastes (Jane Adams playing one unfortunate on the receiving end, continuing a bad run of things from Happiness). But he also has a world outside his desires, a factor usually ignored in most cinematic portrayals.

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I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is notable for having Lamb play over the ending credits, a feat matched by last week’s episode of Torchwood which again was a strangely pleasing mix of interesting ideas and slightly clumsy execution.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Astral bodies collide

Torchwood is a telly programme.
A Doctor Who spin-off aimed at the more 'adult' audience, it has swears, sexy and killings in it.
It is a strange creation, something of a Frankenstein's monster, part cringeworthy cliche and low-budget British naivete, part interesting little show with a bunch of slightly-less-than stereotypical characters.
Including the Lumpen Maws of Torchwood.

I don't mean any slight to the no doubt wonderful people that portray Gwen and Owen, but they do seem made for each other (as is the suggestion of the current storyline, did I forget to say spoiler? Pah) - literally when taking into consideration the matching, almost prehensile catfish-like oral cavities that they both sport.
Maybe it's some CGI thing.

It really is an odd show. I do have affection for it and enjoy watching it, but some of the ideas are fifth-hand sci-fi narratives or obvious horror staples such as last Fridays "crazy backwoods cannibals" which went so far as to use the 30-year old "heavy-breathing murderer POV". It did manage to cultivate a bit of tension out of it, but it was bit tragic to have a Scooby Doo reveal showing us that the Welsh Father Jack was behind it all, licking his lips in that way they must teach you during the part of the acting course entitled "How to play a deranged psychopath". Welcome to quotation country.

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I have suddenly been distracted by the part of buffalo 66 I never got to before - lots of topless ladies in a strip club before a Taxi-Driveresque moment made remarkable only by the 'moving still' shots. I think I've (almost) watched the film at least three times, so it seems odd that I never made it this far. It's probably because Vincent Gallo near repulses me with his uncanny and incessant portrayal of the same twitchy, arrogant prick character.
buffalo 66 does feature a lot of nice shots, staging and direction doing a lot with the bland, small town America blah, but Vincent's Billy character is nothing but irritating, coming across like a neurotic Tarantino who never got his shot at the big time, and no amount of winky cameos (Mickey Rourke, Jan-Michel Vincent etc.) can redeem it. I can see where the critical acclaim has come from, but for me the film is empty and the character seems all too real.
That is Vincent Gallo.

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And it was on Film Four that I came across buffalo 66 again. Now Film Four is 'free' I can watch it whenever I like. But whenever I can watch it, there's something I've already seen, or is arse. I remember back when it was first rolled out, it was a tantalising opportunity for world cinema and indy features, but now it's just Pulp Fiction over and over. Not really, but it's very disappointing. Maybe I can't complain because it's free. Oh but I can.
Dumbing down.
War Games? Happy Gilmore? Volcano? Trading Places? Regardless of the quality, the channel is packed with the kind of thing that wouldn't look out of place on an ITV Saturday line-up, yet they have the gall to have that guy doing the voice-over with his slightly 'edgy' voice, like John Simm used to do so often. Edgy like the Hallmark channel.


Wow, it's all grumbles tonight!

STAY LUCKY!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I am the king of Kongolia!

I just have a scant missive to convey at this juncture.
Reviews are ready for your reading pleasure covering the wonderful Host and the less than such Ring Girls.
Click The Host
Click Ring Girls

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For once there is a generous abundance of moving picture goodness available, I have yet to sample Prestige, Borat or Casino Royale and Jackass 2, Tenacious D and Pan's Labyrinth are all drawing near. So little time, so little time.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Nothing like spring

I've started contributing to www.sci-fi-london.com, which is nice.
Their take on sci-fi is broad, so lots of genre pictures, and the site came about as a web home for the London Sci-fi Film Festival which always has screenings worth catching. Now it's a repository for news, reviews and interviews, if you read my review then check out the home page to find interviews with Christopher Nolan, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine gabbing about the Prestige.

Click to read my Puritan review.

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Vestiges

Foley art (?) -– I believe that's the term for the creation of sound effects, is crazy in French Cinema.
Every little sound seems to be amplified as if the characters now have special werewolf hearing. Whilst the rustle of clothing or pad of bare feet bring important detail to a scene, in French films the mix seems to be ratcheted pretty high in favour of the effects.

Also -– French cinema seems more fixated on class than British. Everyone is either an underclass, hand-to-mouth type as in La Haine or Read My Lips, or they are so upper middle class that the day-to-day details of food and shelter are neither here nor there, leaving ample opportunity to analyse tortured souls and hearts.

But my, French cinema can be deliciously good.
The Page Turner is a good example. Ostensibly a film about pitiful middle class anxiety, it is full of strong, subtle performances and biting moments not without a little ambiguity.
A revenge film at heart, it works well at not succumbing to the cliches and has a pleasingly definite end point where many other directors would be tempted to meander on for another fruitless half hour or so.

If you can get past the initially stifling middle class milieu of featureless clothes and the ubiquitous country house then you'’ll find a true gem.

Lovely jubbly, as they say in Paris.

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Death Note started life in a Japanese manga strip, became very popular and spawned two live action movies and a currently running anime series. Judging by the fuss surrounding it, it may well become the next crossover hit to come to the West, following in the footsteps of Naruto and Bleach.

In some other dimension, the Death Gods live. One of them is tired of their bored existence, and drops a Death Note to earth.
The Death Note allows the owner to kill anyone they like, provided they know thier face and name, and that they write their name in the book. After writing the name in the book, they have 40 seconds to write a cause of death, otherwise the victim will perish from a heart attack. Should they write a cause of death, they then have 6 minutes and 40 seconds to embellish the details of this demise.
These conditions are from memory, but in effect it results in an interesting little morality play.
The person to find the death note is a boy in high school, top of his class, who on finding that the book is genuine sets about a carefully planned campaign of killing of criminals.
In time, the police notice the connections of dozens of convicts and suspects keeling over and begin a manhunt for the one dubbed 'Kira' by the media. The advantages of the Death Note mean it's nigh on impossible for the police to even know where to start, and that's where a mysterious figure known only as 'L' steps in, a world reknowned master detective who works via a similarly anonymous middle man.
It's at this point that the series becomes a game of cat and mouse, as Kira and L both try and use their considerable cunning to reveal the other's identity.

Death Note is a decent show based on an interesting premise, so I hope the plotting stays tight rather than degenerating into the vagueness of 100+ shows like Bleach and Naruto.
Thankfully as it is based on thought more than action this is unlikely to happen.

Just remember that you heard it here first. Probably.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A smithering of lyme

A little self-promotion on the eve of Bonfire Night as my review of Kekexili has made the front page. Read it here.

Please check out the links to the right, nice things are there and the unexplained ones are blogs, We Can Rebuild Him is particularly new so be gentle.

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Last week I took it upon myself to go see one the 50 surprise screening that took place due to the London Film Fest. Every year they put on a film that is a surprise until the curtains open on the night, and every year (as far as I've heard) it is a fairly high-profile English language release.
Seeing films in general appeals to me, so the prospect of a surprise new film lights a little flame in me, and this year I had a much better chance getting tickets as the thing usually sells out before the tickets go public.

So Sunday night I made my way to Hampstead, to the very poncey but comfy Everyman to get my surprise.
I knew it would be in English, and that it would be something due out within the next couple of months. The giddy anticipation!
Anthony Minghella, the writer and director of some stuff walked out to the front, made a little speech about the BFI and how it wanted to bring film to the people and suchandsuch, and told us that even he didn't know what the film was going to be.
Of he went, the lights dimmed, the curtains drew back and the projector whirred into life.

Starter for Ten.

Starter for Ten.

Starter for fucking Ten.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a shit film. It's not even bad. What it is, though, is the dictionary definition of predictable.
All the genre staples of a coming of age film are there, taking in student life, a bit of comedy, a bit of romance. You can see everything coming from such a long way off it's like star gazing.
The acting is solid for the most part, the dialogue is okay despite the fact that you already know the gist before delivery and the mid-80s period detail is spot on, although this is rubbed in a little too hard when you have a new pop song on the soundtrack every 16 seconds so they can presumably release two volumes of the soundtrack.
It ambles along quite genially and you never really wish it ill will, but I personally rolled my eyes throughout when it became clear that they'd not tried anything new. It's a textbook case of the successful British film, shuffling along a well-worn path with a zombie-like gait, offering up the cozy and expected and no doubt it will be showered with undeserving praise as it reaps the dollars from the Americans cooing at the quaint English people and their shambling bashfulness.
If it weren't for the likes of Shane Meadows, Pawel Pawlikowski and the Pegg/Wright team I might be more accepting of the turgid beigeness of a lot of Brit flicks, but I know that it doesn't have to be that way.

Such is life.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A snape, a knave, a jackalope

There is a palpable difference in the light in London. The weak, dishwater rays that seem too timid for the shadows often make the city feel worse than it is, and whilst there is night there is never dark in the outdoors, a thin layer of orange sodium burning everywhere like an abandoned level of hell, fires smouldering.
It's only through travel that you realise that it's not like this everywhere, my eyes now only accustomed to a narrow range of light.

Night time oranges and daytime greys are the colours that define London.

The grime and the botch-job DIY of this city that has mutated over hundreds of years is perfectly captured in Children of Men.
It's a London instantly recognisable and yet different, as if fast-tracked down one particularly nasty future alley.
In its science fiction it is credible, all performances solid and robust and a storyline that's depressingly believable enough.

But it is the direction that makes the film, the way it is told and what you see. The details that are revealed rather than explained, the over-the-shoulder viewpoint in some scenes making you feel that you are literally part of the story.
It's this inclusion that lends the film its weight, and led to me fighting back the tears for the first time in a long time because of a film.

Some criticisms of the film I've read are the lack of explanation, but it is key to the way the film unfolds. Especially in a sci-fi setting, it's incredibly jarring to have everything explained to you in such a way that all the people living in the world aren't used to it themselves. Exposition is a tricky task, and in Children of Men the problem is handled admirably. Do not listen to these people and their complaints, for they are wrong and they inflate the ranks of the damned.

I'm not going to go into any more detail, just know that you have to see it, and see it soon. You may not thank me as it if nothing else is fully deserving of the term harrowing, but you will have seen the best film this year.

London seems to be a good place for dystopian futures, it seems.

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Back in happy land, I hope you took the opportunity to see brand new South Park. Whilst the second conspiracy episode of this half-season wasn't as good, the last two have excelled, Cartman regaining some authorataih and Satan holding a party on Earth.
Watch niiicce and Biggie Smalls...Biggie Smalls...Biggie Smalls!.

Still don't believe me? Vote or die

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Say hello to Brown Food

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Bleary

Eight on a Saturday morning is when you aim to be digging up roads, no? I don't have double-glazing, so they may as well be digging up my floorboards.
Joy and rapture!

Luckily this little video cheered me up a bit : click it
Otherwise I would be thunderous and murderous and stuff.

Last week I saw Snakes on a Plane. It was an average movie, a little predictable, a little amusing, so just as well that it cost me £1.50 at the Prince Charles. See the film was okay, but that wasn't the only performance I was party to.

A little man, very reminiscent of the gentleman above, was sitting in front of me. The warning signs came before the film started, with the man leaving his seat for the lobby, returning to one a row or two behind me before ending up back in front of me, in time for the screening to begin. Then joy of joys, I discovered that he was A Whacko.
Whenever anything mildly exciting happened on screen, this man would jump around in his seat, sling his arm up over his head, let out little yelps or scratch the back of his head in an uncomfortably vigorous manner. It all culminated when he peaked in his excitement and ended up actually talking to a character in the film, warning them of impending snake.
Luckily I was watching Snakes on a Plane so it wasn't deeply involving or remotely complicated, but I don't think it's too much to ask for for my fellow film goers to sit down and shut the fuck up. I'm not in America, I don't want whooping and hollering with my movie.

It kind of makes a mockery of that ad they show nowadays, trying to get you to avoid pirate DVDs and visit the cinema instead because of the experience, when that experience involves suffering the bovine populace mindlessly thwarting your simple desire to enjoy a film.
Cinemas that now charge more than the film will cost to own, double the usual price for drinks and snacks, people turning up about 15 minutes into the movie (and about half an hour after the advertised show times - what the fuck are these people thinking? If they don't want to see it why go at all?!), people deciding that the best place to meet up with friends and catch up is where others want to watch a film, the repetition for months on end of the same run of boring, offensive adverts (the mayfly doesn't use his day of life to the max, it is his lifetime, his perception will be totally different), cinemas insisting on allocating seats when the show is less than half full, and the aforementioned human jackanapes who see fit to inflict their social maladjustments on the long-suffering public.

Why can't the adverts be as good as this - clicky? Or this - clickclick? I'd rather see those a dozen times than another horrific attempt at selling cars.

To counterbalance the unfortunate cinematic experiences, one week at my new job and I feel like I belong there.
Which is nice.

To close, two decent links to arty images - clouds and amazing paper artwork.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Isaac Hayes never bought me a drink

Click this link to see the new South Park episode, beginning the second half of season ten.
You should do this because South Park is fantastic and the best Western animation of the past couple of decades.
Feral crudity mixed with razor-sharp and last-minute cultural observations, it's a crime that they stopped releasing the DVDs in the UK from season 4.

Then look at this picture:

It's an image from the upcoming 'next gen' iteration of the video game series Rampage. For those with a less than impressive versing in videogame history, Rampage was a game which allowed the player to adopt the persona of a person who for some reason mutated into an animal of Godzilla proportions so that you could then destroy buildings, eat people and knock police choppers out of the sky. Hailing from the mid-80s, it was a fairly basic 8bit game which was confined to a solitary screen - the newest version published by Midway will no doubt offer more freedom, better graphics and hopefully more in-depth gameplay.
It will also offer a wider choice of creatures to control, though as you can see from the screenshot above one of the characters seems to be a massive penis.

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Going back to the last entry, I wanted to add a bit more on the stylistic side of Fahrenheit 9/11.
Unsurprisingly it deals with the WTC tragedy of 2001 as part of the film, but I found it was dealt with with a surprising amount of subtlety. With all the related news items, documentaries and films that mention or focus on the event, the money shot of a plane strike inevitably features, but this film takes a different tack.
Using footage filmed at the scene, all we see are the reactions of people on the ground, dozens of people in shock, all looking to the sky as if sharing a mass religious experience. It's a touching choice that adds beauty to the documentary, and it's hard to decide if it is despite or because of the inclusion of shots of paper from the towers swirling in the air in a more affecting but obviously uncontrived version of the American Beauty 'bag scene'.

-

Lots of the recent past has been about 'work'. I did an overnight shift for the first and hopefully last time last week, and it was a less than pleasant experience. Working from 8pm to 7 am, the night itself was okay, that mostly depends on the company, but it was the aftermath that did me.
Once again the reality of the idea of 'getting old' has hit me, as I remember the weekends a decade ago of partying through the night with little ill effect, severely contrasting with this week taking me two full days to try and feel normal again. And they were days off so heaven knows how I would have coped if I had to work too.
And then yesterday I left my old job after 9 years, finally having something else to go to in a week.
It's odd how panicky I don't feel, how I've almost completely accepted the situation in a no-skin-off-my-nose fashion. Of course it may be different next Sunday, but at the moment all I'm dreading is the commute of a 'normal' Monday-Friday 9-5.

I had a thing last night to say goodbye, and it was fantastic so thanks to everyone who made it.

Rounding off I'm going to link all my reviews to date as it's not obvious at first glance which are mine on the www.hkcinema.co.uk site, see how I think of you all?

Agitator, As Tears Go By, The Bodyguard, Bride With White Hair, Crying Fist, Gojoe, Hapkido, Hiruko the Goblin, The Little Norse Prince, My Kung Fu 12 Kicks, My Neighbours the Yamadas, Peace Hotel, Secret of Shaolin Poles, Seoul Raiders, She Shoots Straight, Silver, Sky Blue, Warrior King, Whisper of the Heart

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The frustration of impotence

So I've just watched Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.
I'd originally put off seeing it when it was first released, partly out of the feeling of preaching to the converted (which, it has just occurred to me, makes no sense as a phrase. Preaching to the converted is the norm in most religions...), and partly out of a wariness brought about by the sustained dissection of Bowling for Columbine.
There were various accusations pertaining to the parts that seem to be insinuated or fabricated as opposed to documented, and I accepted these as the film as a whole got the message across and well - that the USA has a disproportional rate of gun related violence, guns are readily available and that the mainstream media scaremongers.

But in the run up to the release of Fahrenheit (after the post-Disney suppression) I'd read a lot about how the film suffered even more from events that were insinuated or just made up, so I gave it a miss. And I really shouldn't have.
There really isn't any actual content that is in dispute. The way the film is edited creates obvious bias, it's true, and whilst no documentary can be truly objective I don't think Moore ever set out to pretend this. And like I said, none of the facts can be disputed - they can be argued against just as I can argue that you're not really reading this, but you are.
It is a fact that the 2001 US election was fixed, that Al Gore was the elected president of the USA. Sure, elections are rigged the world over, but rarely do they impact so deeply into the lives of people outside the respective countries.
It's a fact that the Bush family has a long business history with the oil industry and the Bin Laden family, and that Bush and his administration have personally gained from their foreign policy decisions. It is a fact that they knew there were no WMDs in Iraq and that Iraq did not pose a threat to its neighbours at that time. And so on, and on and on.

And whilst we can ruminate on what could have been, that Clinton was often little better in his little Democratic blip in the last 25 years and that there's every possibility that Gore could have turned out as a spineless, money-grabbing war monger, but this brings me to the other documentary I saw two weeks back. An Inconvenient Truth.

It shows evidence that Gore has actually dedicated at least a small amount of time in at least the last 3 decades into thinking about the state of this planet that we all have to share, which seems a huge amount more than Bush has managed. Again, an Inconvenient Truth can be accused of preaching to the converted. But again the facts are undeniable. Our actions are having a direct and massive effect, changing the climate of our planet and everything we've come to take for granted.
It's not some risk like smoking, where you have the possibility of smoking every day of your life and living to 90 without dying of anything smoking related.
Climate change is happening now, the temperature of Earth is rising now, the weather systems have already been affected and even if we all stop contributing to global warming today, completely, the temperature will still keep rising for some decades.
This isn't something that we can ignore, that we can hope goes away, pretend isn't happening. Everybody needs to act now, and the film does a fantastic job getting it across, from what's happening and how, what will happen if we do nothing and what we can do to change.
And like Gore says, it doesn't require a massive effort on our part, we don't have to stop being the ipod generation, it just takes little steps, lots of little steps that all add up.
Click to visit the site and do at least one thing to help yourself

I really hate sounding like some git trying to get people to join a cause, but this is ridiculous, it's not something we can ignore, it's not homelessness, vivisection, extinction, it's going to affect the whole planet and everyone on it. True, many of us will be dead before it gets stupendously bad, so why worry?
Just look at the site and change your lightbulb to an energy saving one. And put a jumper on now it's getting cold, you don't need the heating just yet.

But...
despite all the talk of Gore et al, saying that denial usually leads straight to despair - once you accept there's something wrong you feel powerless even though you're not - I still do feel that impotence.
Is it any wonder that I feel a sense of powerlessness when in my adult life I've seen the President of the US get in power despite losing the election, and my own country going to war despite hundreds of thousands of people actually taking to the streets, not just tutting and moaning but getting up, going out and trying to show that this particular thing is unacceptable. So what can we do to make a difference? I guess we just have to take a little step for ourselves, and hope that everyone else joins in.
So this is my bit to try and get other people to join in - just do something, change that frigging lightbulb, I know you can afford it and if you really can't then tell me and I'll get you one for Christmas.

And we're STILL in fucking Iraq! It's obscene!
The war that was "won" years ago is now worse than ever, and not only that but some reports suggest that incidents of torture are worse than under Saddam (clicky).
So, there were no WMDs, Iraqis are worse off, US and UK soldiers are dying every week not to mention the men and women left crippled and having to deal with out labyrinthine disability benefit system, poor fuckers.

Yeah, so to stop this degenerating into a rant, get yourself a fucking energy saving lightbulb and dig those jumpers out of the wardrobe.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Little Man

Sad as it may be, I'm not about to reveal my thoughts on the recent film Little Man.

You've seen the Indiana Jones films, yes? Of course.
So, what happened to the children after they were rescued from the Temple of Doom?
Youtube video-click me

Saturday, September 16, 2006

She was worth a stare. She was trouble.

When I find myself still up and active at the 4am threshold I begin to think that I may as well just stay up into the next day, as it'd be a shame to wake so late and waste it. But then I remember that I'm 28 now and not eighteen anymore, when staying up was a sport, a conquest, a badge of achievement.
I've had cause to write my age down a couple of times in the last week and more than once I've written '23'. Of course I tell myself that it's an automatic D.O.B. thing but of course, I really wish I was still 23.

I feel in such a whirl now, I'm unanchored. Usually the future is filled with plans but it's so tenuous to me at the moment, I feel a need to pin it all down. My future.

I'd thought of so many things to write about off and on, but put it off as it was so late. Now it's gone four the time seems less relevant, but none of the ideas come back to me, and all I have is a vague blur of unease.

I finished reading Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep last week never having read Chandler before. Absolutely amazing use of words and language, setting scenes and writing dialogue, it felt like a discovery. Every description a delight, each interaction to be savoured.

And today I continued my dip into the waters of Blaxploitation with Cleopatra Jones. I've enjoyed Truck Turner and Foxy Brown, I was bamboozled by the astructural Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song and I've seen the parody I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, but Cleopatra was definitely a weird one.
A curious mixture of amateurish and half decent acting, shooting and set-pieces, it easily had its fair share of enjoyable performances and bizarro moments. A mincing English butler, a weird lank-haired pre-punk apparently English goon, muppet-faced Huggy Bear actor Antonio Fargas doing a decent job as a top level pusher and Shelley Winters hamming her heart out as the nutso Miss Big with lesbian tendencies all join a number of crappy fight scenes and one not-half-bad car chase, all propping up the usual "tough independent black woman takes on the inner city pushers and the corrupt Man" except in this case the woman is a government agent with a classy Corvette, concealed machine guns and the ability to stop the drug trade at its source.
A weird little film but with plenty of touches to make it worth watching.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Love action

I did have a brief break from animation this week when I saw Harsh Times (good), but then I went and watched loads of fresh, hot anime as it's starting to clog my hard drive...


Black Lagoon is one of my favourite series from the current anime season, but unfortunately it's ended its 12 episode run.
Based on a group of smugglers I the seas of Southeast Asia, it follows Dutch, Revy, Benny and Rock as they deal with neo-nazis, triads, mercenaries the Russian mafia and a dangerous Colombian maid.
Full of nonchalant glimpses into the underworld and intense bursts of violence, whilst BL can'’t help glorify it also looks at the other side, that of regret and emptiness felt by those who lead these lives, Revy at once being the shit-kicking no-nonsense crack-shot and a woman with a horrible past that has helped fashion a cold hearted murderer.
We see through Rock'’s eyes; he was an everyday Tokyo salaryman until he was abandoned after a dodgy smuggling mission went wrong and he decided to throw in his lot with the Lagoon Company on their ship, the Black Lagoon.
In her uniform of tiny cut-off jeans and a midriff-baring tank top, you could be forgiven that Revy was designed to appeal to the typical male audience, but while she does technically tick the right boxes appearance wise it's hard to argue that there are artless aims at titillation when you see how scary her character is, how she has got to the point where human life means little and is easily dispatched if it makes the job easier.
Mostly it's a gung ho actioner but there is a little meat to be had on its bones.

But as every anime must come to an end, new anime will come to fill the gap.

A new series that has just started airing is called Flag. I would give a plot outline, but instead I'll quote from the Wikipedia one as I'm too tired to do a decent job. I did get almost 8 hours sleep last night, but this luxury has made me even more tired. Less woozy, more tired.

"Saeko Shirasu is a 25 year wartime front-line photo-journalist who became a celebrity after taking a picture of civilians raising a makeshift UN flag in war-torn Uddiyana. The image then became an instant symbol for peace. However, just before the peace agreement is achieved, the flag was stolen by an armed extremist group in order to obstruct the truce. The UN peacekeepers decide to send in secretly a SDC (pronounced as Seedac - Special Development Command) unit to retrieve the flag. Because of her connection with the "Flag" photo, Saeko Shirasu was offered the job of following the SDAC unit as frontline journalist. The SDC unit is equipped with a HAVWC (pronounced as Harvick - High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier) Mecha robot tank."

The story is told through the viewfinder, so we seeShirasu lining up shots and the resultant still image, movies shot on video and via digital cameras and clips of websites and streaming movies, so it's safe to say that the presentation is unique, adding an extra dimension to the act of watching, experiencing a story second hand.
Whilst the focus would be on the perspective of a photojournalist, we also have that mecha element which is always popular in anime. Here, though, in just two episodes we glimpse hints of the psychological toll of piloting hardware that is so efficient in 'neautralising' the enemy.
It's pleasing to have another 'grown-up' anime with protagonists out of their teens, and even if it ends up as a glorified robot suit tale. There is certainly potential to develop into an engaging show, so I'll be keeping an eye out.

My only quibble would be that the innovative perspective and mostly successful CG integration shows up the basic character design even more, which err on the side of realism but still descend into physical caricatures that don't seem to suit the tone of the show.

As for Night Head Genesis, it is duuuuuuull.

-

I went for a check-up at the dentist on Thursday and was happy to learn that my teeth are okay. It was pretty alarming to hear that "8 is fully erupted" until I realised that meant my wisdom tooth has come out properly. Yay.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Elliptical fantasies

Sometimes I find myself getting my existential fear on about the fragility of consciousness.
That our identity, the very essence of our being, is tied up in memory and inextricably linked to our spongey brains.

You don't need to look far for evidence of how easy it is to alter consciousness - any number of drugs including the over-the-counter caffeine and alcohol, along with the cheap and easy option of sleep deprivation, all provide a skewed perception of the world, and therefore change the nature of our interaction with it.

The way we process information and choose to react to it also contribute to our perception of reality - is it a world to be embraced? To be feared? Is it mundane and lifeless or are there sparks around every corner?
Essentially you can boil it down to the hoary old nature/nurture debate when considering what most influences our own dealings with external reality, but it is undeniable that nature - in the form of altered brain chemistry be it with coffee, LSD or a smack in the head - provides a significant potential for perceptual changes.

Today I find myself skirting around pools of this fear thanks to my current psychological instability, brought on mainly via sleep deprivation and the resultant ingestion of caffeine. A wooziness in my world that isn't always there, strange thought processes that I can't seem to finish. I keep waking up in the middle of the night seemingly in the middle of some complicated challenge; I think on Sunday night it had something to do with plastic cards...

In addition to my abnormal mental state is the heightened awareness of the issues - watching A Scanner Darkly was an adequate kick-start, but then last night I went to see Mind Game, a recent Japanese Animated film (and thus extending my Animated Weekend). The plot, such as it is, sees four protagonists stuck in a whale but is relatively unimportant.
It is about ambition and possibilities, about creativity and invention. A breakneck ride that reminded me of the hysterically fast-paced anime Dead Leaves, though with less scatalogical humour and far more ingenuity.
A burst of art styles, it's hard to pin down and certainly doesn't conform to any traditional narrative structures, it's hard to explain and in this state I'm not going to attempt to.

Still, this morning I went to see Thunderball, which reminded me of how charismatic Connery can be. An altogether different sort of film and signifying the end of the current animated cycle, I wonder if this and the possibility of catching up on a bit of sleep will bring me back to more normal perception?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cowed

Last night I spent about an hour typing up my thoughts on the film Renaissance as part of a big post about the animated films I've seen recently. I was very pleased with it, it had big words and everything, but when I decided to upload an image of the film at the end it crashed my browser and all was lost. So I went to bed.
Trying again today, attempting to upload pics still crashes the browser, so I give up. I am disheartened. Shall I bother to try and remember what I wrote, start afresh or just do something completely different? Technology can be so disheartening sometimes.

I went to see some films in the last few days. All of these films were animated rather than live action. I saw Renaissance on Thursday. It's a joint UK/France/Luxembourg co-production, and I think there's a French dub as well as the English one that's been released in Blighty.
Renaissance is a dystopian sci-fi police thriller. There have been many similarly themed films, and this is not one of the better ones. The futuristic touches of the evil corporation, the advanced technology and the look of 2054 Paris seem like disjointed impact moments, they shout "look at this!" rather than forming a logical and cohesive future world. And much of the spectacle on offer comes from ideas recycled from many of the other films in this genre anyway, so it all seems a bit ho-hum. The plot only takes a slight departure from the norm, involving a bit of immortality intrigue with it's progeria research conspiracies, but the telling is all so very predictable and there is little here to distinguish it from a bazillion other dystopia flicks.
The main selling point is the visual style, as not only is it fully CGI it also uses a different style, going for a blocky monochrome rather than the usual attempts at photo-realism in a way which no doubt sounded like a perfect fit for the hard-boiled noir element of the film. It's a shame, then, that these visuals don't really elevate the film.
I'm sure a number of viewers haven't before seen particular video game cut scenes that have used this style for years, and indeed the sales for Capcom's Killer 7 in this country (which uses the same visual technique throughout) can't have been very high, but even without the benefit of having seen these already I found I was never fully immersed into the story as the harsh blocks of black and white allow for no grey and throughout the film it feels unfinished, as if there is depth and texture waiting to be added. Shadow no longer becomes a mask of fear, threatening possible menace, but instead offers up a pitch black void in which nothing seems to exist.

In any case, even if the visuals worked the story itself is a little too ho-hum to rise above average. This is not a bad film, don't get me wrong, it doesn't plumb the depths of Casshern's style-over-substance roadkill with a nice coat, but it just isn't anything special, and in the dystopian science fiction genre there is so much competition that it's not good enough to offer little more than a nice smile.
On reflection I think it suffers from similar problems as Final Fantasy:Spirits Within and Sky Blue - trying so hard to produce something with state-of-the-art visuals but not paying as much attention to ther story, Renaissance will be found lacking as the visual bar is raised.

I'd like to put in a picture here, but instead I'll just have to link you to some on the official site. Updated link to trailer: 04.09.13

On Friday I saw A Scanner Darkly. I've been a fan of Philip K Dick's writing for a few years now, so I'd already read the book it's based on, Scanner being the latest in a long line of adaptations including Bladerunner, Screamers, Total Recall, Minority Report, Impostor and Paycheck.
As adaptations go this is very faithful, and does a great job of presenting the world of the druggy, a mixture of bullshitting fun and paranoia. Keanu Reeves is Bob Arctor, an undercover agent trying to infiltrate the drug underworld and find the source of a potent and highly addictive substance named 'D'. The film follows him as he deals with his dual identities, his addict housemates and the distance of his sort-of girlfriend and dealer, Donna.
Dick is a master of the whole dystopia theme, and does Paranoia like no-one. With a fully-formed story, it's left to the actors and director Richard Linklater to bring the film to cinematic life, so happily they've all done a great job.
Keanu's spaced-out and distant delivery perfectly fits a character who is confused about his own identity and increasingly about the world in general thanks to his D habit, woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr. and Rory Cochrane are all note-perfect as Arctor's friends, having substance addled conversations and getting The Fear, particularly Cochrane as the twitchy Freck and Downey's Barris is excellent as the deluded yet self-styled expert on many subjects.
Linklater brings the animation to the table, using the Rotoscoping technique that he first utilised to create Waking Life, covering the live action shots in a layer of paint and allowing for the animation to be simultaneously life-like and yet seamlessly introduce the more bizarre elements such as the D hallucinations or the sci-fi elements such as the scramble-suit. The scramble suit is a device that agents wear so that they cannot be identified by anyone when reporting in to the Sheriff's department, as a method of limiting damage from the endemic corruption within the police force. It works by projecting the images of millions of people of multiple ages, races and sexes and altering the voice, and it is this scramble suit that first presents problems for Arctor as he is assigned, as Agent 'Fred', to investigate Arctor, worsening his identity crisis.

As well as the spot-on acting, interesting story and the inevitable conspiracy that is unfolding underneath, the Rotoscoped visuals produce beautiful shots throughout the film.
Where A Scanner Darkly differs from Renaissance can be seen in how the visual style completely fits the story and feel of the film, and the futuristic elements of surveillance tech and the scramble suits and such are totally integrated into the world, they are part of it and not just special effects to marvel at.
A Scanner Darkly is an accomplished film and a faithful adaptation, something worth seeking out.

Then Friday night I went over to the NFT to see a couple of short films as part of their mini-anime season.
First up was Yonna in the Solitary Fortress, a 34 minute 3D CGI effort created by Kengo Takeuchi.
Yonna and her brother Stan both have special powers or something, which has made them outcasts. Stan has moved them to a remote castle to keep to themselves. The Imperial government want to make use of Yonna's powers and so send a young agent to retrieve her, but Stan isn't happy at the intrusion and another devious Imperial agent, Piggott, is already on the scene.
Kengo Takeuchi used to be an animator for the Square Enix Final Fantasy games and it shows. The visual style looks just like a Final Fantasy cut-scene, the plot is weak and the character designs are uninspired. While it is an impressive acheivement for one person to produce, it doesn't stop Yonna being plain boring.

Luckily for the audience then that Negadon : the Monster form Mars was up next. Also a 3D CGI short (of 25 minutes) that took the creator Jun Awazu over two years to make, it is an affectionate homage to the Japanese monster movies of the 60s and 70s.
After making a mess of the Earth, mankind sets about terraforming Mars. A cocoon-like structure is found and brought back, but the ship crash lands and the cocoon hatches, unleashing the levitating crustacean-ish monster Negadon, who sets about on a rampage in Tokyo.
Luckily for Earth the scientist Ryuichi Narasaki began a robot programme years previously. He stopped work a decade ago when his daughter was killed in a robot-related accident, but with the threat of Negadon Ryuichi decides it is finally time to take his giant robot creation for a walk.

Negadon is fantastic, at once knowingly cheesy when aping the style of the old monster movies, it also has a great deal of respect for them and this shines through in the painstakingly detailed look of the film. The future as seen from the 50s is faithfully represented in everything from spaceships to computers, and the CGI work is so good that Negadon looks just like a model from a 70s Godzilla flick. In one scene we see a frog which is so realistic that it's breathtaking, only for the colours to bleed out and take on a sepia tone as the legend "ten years ago" informs us of a flashback.
The film was apparently worked on ten hours a day for two years by Awazu using off-the-shelf computer programmes, and it is an astounding achievement, managing to be funny without descending into parody and providing a neat little self-contained story that completely fits with the old-school sci-fi feel.
I'm not sure if Negadon has been picked up for distribution here but it is currently available on DVD in the US and includes Awazu's two previous student short films.
You can see the trailer on this site.

And that was my weekend of animated tomfoolery.

Update! (04.09.13) That trailer link no longer works but you can go and watch Negadon on Youtube here. (Part one of three)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Jesus Is Magic Is Magic

I've just watched "Tell them who you are", a documentary about the Oscar winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler (imdb entry) made by his son, Mark Wexler.
I admit that I'm not all that knowledgeable about cinematographers, I recognise a few names and consciously recognise fewer styles so it's no surprise I didn't immediately click. He worked on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Limbo, the fantastic John Sayle's picture.
Where I had heard his name before was from directing the 1976 documentary "Underground", about the Weather Underground Organisation, a radical Left Wing activist group who bombed a number of targets in protest of the US government.
When I initially read about the Weathermen I was surprised at how I hadn't come across their existence before, it was as if violent dissent didn't happen in the US outside protests until the Unabomber and Timothey McVeigh. But that's another story.

Haskell Waxler is quite a character, confident to the point of seeming arrogance, and at first it would seem that the film would focus on his career in movies. It becomes a different beast when Haskell implores his son to make the film about the person, not the career, and we gain an insight into the relationship between Mark and his father, and that of fathers and sons in general.
At once full of glitz with the appearances of dozens of high profile actors and film-makers, the film is down to earth with Haskell's continual reminders of the illusion of cinema - how the angles and editing are all affecting how we are shown the story, and he is anxious of the image that the film will portray. This reminder helps pull you out of the film and think about its construction, the aims which Mark as the creator imbues in it and the fact that its flow is artificial - the events are not merely unfolding in front of the camera while the cameraman passively records it.
It's a very interesting picture and I highly recommend it. Brought a tear to my eye, I can tell ya.


So why is Jesus Magic? Because Sarah Silverman says so.
Jesus Is Magic is a mix of filmed sketches and stand up show, all showcasing Sarah as Funny.
She is funny, it is funny. You may have seen her as the irritated girlfriend in School of Rock or from her version of the Aristocrats, but possibly as "Raving Bitch" in The Way Of The Gun.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Night Head Genesis

New anime shows regularly appear in Japan with the frequency of regular TV series here in the West.
Shows can cover a broad range of subjects for a number of different audiences, but predominantly shows are produced for the young.
Night Head Genesis is one such show, aimed at the Shonen or male teen audience.

A sci-fi show, NHG sets up with an introduction about our brains. We don't use 70% of it, you see, and this is where human beings keep all their special powers. And these special powers are called Night Head Genesis, apparently, as if the name was put up in a competition and won by a 15 year old.
Stupid name aside, NHG takes itself seriously, rigidly sticking to its bleak outlook without recourse to comic relief or the fantasy of tight lycra.

Naoto and Naoya are brothers who seem to have developed psychic powers. Naoto manipulates objects (though destructively, with little control) when agitated with telekinesis, whilst his younger sibling Naoya reads minds via touch. Through brief flashbacks we see how these powers have caused trouble, and how their parents resort to sending them away (at ages 10 and 8?) to what I assume is a government facility 'out in the woods' to look after and study them.
The bleakness of the show manifests in the method of their move from home - the parents drug their children's' melon juice, but Naoto wakes in the car before leaving and terrifies his tearful mother by blowing out the street lamp when he realises what's happening, then being gassed before he can do more damage.

Waking up in their new home, Naoto is angry, taking it out on the canteen of scientists and then the director of the facility, before running off with Naoya into the forest. Before long they reach trees bound with rope, and find themselves trapped by a mysterious forcefield. After a scientist brings them food and asks them to return 'home', the fear she can't help show makes the brothers realise they aren't meant for the outside world.

Flash forward 15 years and we meet Shouko, a strange schoolgirl who we gather predicts the future thanks to her life-saving advice to a friend about canceling a trip that would have involved a road accident. Shouko entrusts a notebook of strange writing to her friend, saying that Elder Misaki (who we glimpse as an animal perch in a Snow White manner) has gone, so now the brothers are free. We then see the brothers, now young men, in the woods once more only this time there is no barrier. They drive away, but after a flat tyre Naoya persuades Naoto to visit a diner, thus ending episode 1. The episode 2 preview, called "Contact", points to things going a bit badly when the brothers are back in public.

NHG seems far too formulaic to go anywhere, the main characters-the brothers-are woefully underdeveloped, sticking with the stock stereotypes of the elder brother trying to be strong whilst the younger is more timid, traits that also fit in with their respective powers.
Strange powers developing in the young and treated as dangerous is such an old idea that it's odd they haven't given an inkling of invention in this episode, but I suppose the target audience of pre-teen boys is less demanding.
There are a number of confusing moments, such as why are the boys left free to walk about the facility if they're dangerous enough to be there in the first place and where did the car come from let alone the question of how they know how to drive it.

On top of these little niggles is the opening scene, where we see the boys in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, including a sequence of a nuclear-like explosion, which when added to the mention that the boys have been told that they will unleash "minus energy" if they go into the world and that Shouko seems gravely worried about the situation, seems at odds with the fact that Shouko tells her friend that she will live a long and happy life married with kids. A scenario in stark contrast with the possible destruction of a city of 60 million people, but there you go.

At the end of the day Night Head Genesis doesn't seem to offer anything out of the ordinary or more interesting than the many other psychic-power themed anime films and shows, with Akira doing the confusion, isolation and frustration better decades ago, and Elfen Lied handling it with more OTT panache as recently as a couple of years back.
Of course in later episodes NHG may offer hidden depths and there are obviously the hints at a wider plot, but with this first episode there is little incentive to see it through.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I went to college but all they found were rats in my head


How do we remember our past? Do we see it as it was or relative to how we are now? It's inevitably tainted by the experiences we've since had, and the way our lives now are, so the past is truly a foreign country.
Smells and songs trigger memories for us, give us flashbacks. But do we recall scenes or feelings?
The way a summer day felt back in the mid-80s, in the attic with the dust streaming in the sunlight and the radio struggling up the stairs, on a lazy Sunday afternoon back when I had the time to be bored. Is it what I did or the ambience that I remember?

It's these feelings that come back to us, these are our recollections whilst the facts are another type of memory altogether. I remember getting a 'B' for my Psychology A-level-I remember what the building looked like and the weather and chatting outside with friends I no longer see, but I don't remember the paper, the questions. The facts are separate and have been whittled down to the grade.

Where does the past go and why is it that bits of it get stuck somewhere inside us and bits of it drop out or decay? Every moment is the past, once you have the time to think about it. Every fleeting second watching us age. We yearn for unpleasant or arduous experiences to fly by, but the fun never lasts, always over before we know it and soon we are 20, 30, 70.
Time certainly appears to pass more quickly as I get older, perhaps because of the growing realisation that the time really is finite - then it drips through the cracks.

Is anyone ever satisfied at what they do with their time? Whenever I enjoy what I'm doing, I get a gnawing at the back of my mind, an anxiety about how this enjoyment is only temporary and will be replaced with other, less appealing engagements. And then it's never as enjoyable. Which is a right pain in the arse.

Still, you gotta laugh, eh?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Shiny

If you pay any attention to adverts then you will have noticed that Film Four is now free. The satellite/digital channel run by Channel Four and stuffed with movies.
When it was originally launched it was touted as a specialist channel, somewhere to go for alternative films, classics and world cinema, so it's odd that the majority of films that gain a mention in their current hyperdrive are more geared toward the mainstream.
I can't complain about having access to a film channel for free (seeing as I get digi-telly bundled with my broadband) but I hope that they don't stray toward the more obvious side of alternative in order to placate the providers of advertising revenue. Lost In Translation is hardly undiscovered.
Pah.

Anyhoo, seeing as I own the DVDs for the opening night's line up, I neglected trying out this wonderful source of free flicks until today. When I saw Topaz.
Not known as one of Hitchcock's classics, this is presumably due to the fact that where his other films might instill fear, excitement or tension, Topaz dishes out generous helpings of boredom.
Pushing uncomfortably close to two and a half hours, Topaz succeeds in making the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis a ho-hum occurence. The main characters struggle to gain anything more than a periphery hold on your attention, which can partly be attributed to the actors treating the grave political machinations with all the seriousness of stomach cramps.
I didn't like it.
Where I said "generous helpings", I don't wish to imply that Topaz reaches previously unheard of levels of boredom, or in any way drags itself out of the humdrum chains it is mired in, rather it is merely dull and unexceptionally so. The kind of film that plays on a sunny sunday afternoon and fails to hold your attention.

In summary, I'm glad it was free, three cheers to Film Four.

Higurashi, or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, is an anime show currently airing in Japan. A boy moves to a small village with his family, and becomes involved in a curse which sees people die every year after a religious festival. Beginning as a cutesy tale of a young boy moving to town and making friends with lots of cute and chirpy girls, it quickly descends into a mire of psychological horror and gore, with a complex time-shifting plot that possibly implicates the whole village into a conspiracy involving human sacrifice. Higurashi is something to look out for, assuming it gets licensed and released over here, that is.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Segmented eyes

It being summer, as you may have noticed recently, the time came again as it does every year for the ants to bulk up and grow wings.
Yes, that scourge of the skies, the flying ant, saw fit to pop above ground a couple of days back and infest the outdoors in the way only it knows how.

I freely admit that I am not the biggest fan of the insect kingdom, I don't seek to destroy them at any given moment and am content to remove them from my immediate living space. Most species I don't have a problem with and merely seek to avoid a situation wherein they might explore my flesh, although I do have a soft spot in my heart for moths, in that I fear them and their hideous, paper-wing ways, flying at my face in their desperate attempts to reach the moon, or whatever it is they do.
Even moths I avoid smushing and try and trap them to chuck them outside, after all they smear across surfaces like creatures of sand and dirt rather than blood, and it's never a pleasant thing to see.
But the flying ant is a signal to head indoors and close the windows. No other insect seems to manage the same complete lack of co-ordination, with what amounts to no sense of direction or of any surroundings at all, blindy flying into any nearby obstruction in a way most other airborne invertabrates seem to avoid.
Were this heinous offence not sufficient grounds for damnation already, the flying ant flaunts its hideously bloated body upon the eyes of all, in a way no insect should this close to the arctic.
Truly these creatures are worthy of the term "beasts".


If you like flying ants, feel free to comment detailing the rationale behind your filthy perversion, along with relevant past traumatic experiences that may have led to this incorrect thinking, so we can protect our children.

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You may have seen ads for Coke Zero recently. I'm told there are TV campaigns though I haven't seen tham myself. Could they be as corny as theone of the singing woman handing out Cokes? Chances are high. I have seen the printg ads, and the ads on the sides of buses, and this afternoon a colleague arrived with two crates of 150ml "fun" size cans to share out, no doubt as part of the avaricious media barrage. Opinions were divided by those who liked it and were surprised, and those who thought it vile. Those who liked it did so as it tasted more like Coke than Diet Coke, which it truly does, but seeing as that taste is of rusty metal death I don't understand the approval. Needless to say, I did drink a couple, but in my defence I ran out of 'mineral' water and my workplace stopped supplying water coolers months ago, leaving us with the tepid and slightly sinister tasting tap water.
Anyway, remember that you heard it here first, or would have done if you did. It's looking to be more of a success than Tab Clear at least. Avoid it!

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It's late so I'm off to play a bit of Gun before bed. Games update is that I'm only missing Black from my 'to get' list, though I am keeping an eye out for a cheap Tomb Raider. The new one.
Gun is like GTA, but in the Wild West, except much, much smaller. It's good fun while it lasts though, so off I go to shoot people in the head, but it's okay because they are bandits and varmints, and I am true of heart.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Let's go over this one more time

The art of cinema is now over one hundred years old, providing entertainment for generations of people all over the world.
After all this time, are we really running out of ideas?

It is often said that there are only so many stories to tell, and these are just regurgitated over and over again in different fashions. True enough, boy meets girl has been covered, but this doesn't stop people trying to tell their own version, just as you don't give up living your life simply because it's not totally unique - other people get up and go to work, meet friends, watch TV, share a fascination of early thirteenth century Hungarian pottery, for example.

But the idea of a limited number of basic story structures does little to excuse the insipid occurrence of the re-make.
There are economical reasons to support the re-make, simply being that if an idea was successful before then it can be again, but rarely do people consider the opinion that if you remake a pre-existing success, the inevitable comparisons are going to be that much harsher. By all means re-do flops or interesting films that didn't quite gel, but deciding to cover old ground rather than create something new just seems lazy and stupid.
A case could possibly be made for the director-as-artist, seeking to honour their favourite works like recording artists doing a cover, but a film is so much more of a collaborative effort and involves so much more work than recording a song that this idea smacks of selfishness and again a lack of creativity.

To give an idea of the prevalence of this epidemic, this is a smattering of re-makes made in less than ten years:

Assault on Precinct 13, Adventure of Greyfriars Bobby, Amityvill Horror, The Haunting, Phantom of the Opera, When a Stranger Calls, Taxi, Godzilla, King Kong, Stepford Wives, Ghost Ship, Anna and the King, Pink Panther, Ladykillers, Longest Yard, War of the Worlds, Around the World in 80 Days, Moulin Rouge, Psycho, Omen, Time Machine, Oliver Twist, Italian Job, Dawn of the Dead, Manchurian Candidate, Freaky Friday, Ring, Ring 2, Grudge, Dark Water, Bourne Identity, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fun With Dick and Jane, Alfie, House of Wax, The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Poseidon Adventure, Flight of the Phoenix.

This has always been an issue in Hollywood, but it does seem that more recently the remakes have been escalating in number like a disgusting self-replicating alien slime. With the Wicker Man on the way and remakes of Oldboy and Infernal Affairs planned, it would seem like the problem isn't going away.
Often the impetus appears to be that film makers see a film and wish they made it, so rather than try harder to make their own decent films they just decide to put their own spin on what they liked.
Often the reruns of Hollywood fare will be of films made decades ago so that there is sufficient distance, temporally as well as stylistically, so that the remake doesn't feel completely redundant. But more recently the success in the West of the East Asian film industry has led to remakes of films that have barely made it into the cinema, often in an insidious attempt to Americanise the films for a broader Western audience rather than the smaller audiences that are prepared to put up with subtitles.

Bah.

In more bad film news, I continued my sideline interest in director's cuts, extended versions and such today.
Bladerunner is arguably the most famous to be treated with differing versions, and with the advent of DVD it has been increasingly popular to provide one or more alternate versions of movies, everything from painstakingly restored classics such as The Wild Bunch to the "Extended cut by design" releases of current comedy and horror pics exploiting the home market with promises of "the version not seen in cinemas".

It is always interesting for fans to see what could have been, whether in these cuts or from deleted scenes, and it was with this mood that I watched the Daredevil director's cut. I'd seen it before and thought it a bit crap, but this version was a big improvement, developing the characters and fleshing out the storyline, almost making it a good film. Still not great, but the newer cut is a noticeable improvement.

So how is this more bad film news? Today I watched the extended cut of Underworld. I didn't notice any extensions, apart from a brief snip of Scott Speedman's Michael telling Beckinsale's Selene how his wife died.
I did notice it was still crap. To be fair I remember quite liking it when I first saw it, but what I probably liked was seeing Kate Beckinsale in skintight leather.
No, I did like that.
And I liked Bill Nighy as the elder vampire Viktor. Nice bit of hamming and not taking himself seriously.
But the film itself is one in a long line of the "bullet-time copycats", films that feature a large part of slo-mo combat and a stylised 'dark' mood, most recently rearing up as Ultraviolet and Aeon Flux.
A lot of effort has been spent on creating the style and mood of Underworld, but it still manages to be anonymous and homogenised, similar to dozens of such films with a neo-gothic feel.
The story does have a smidge of potential, but like Aliens vs. Predator this doesn't automatically make for a good film.
Selene is meant to be a battle-hardened killer of werewolves who out of nowhere gets doubts and falls for some guy seemingly based on nothing but him being a but hunky and having floppy hair. It's meant to be set in 'Europe' but may as well be in an alternate-America, with nothing indicating any sense of place. Said floppy hair Scott Speedman is crap, his character has little to do but it's still crap. The double-crossing Kraven is played by a low-rent Travolta and is also crap, in fact the only other lights aside from Bill Nighy are the bloke who used to be in Desmond's and Michael Sheen.

Gah, I can only shudder at the thought of what Underworld Evolution is like, but I still have that morbid curiosity about it.
Oh, and Len Wiseman, the director of (only) Underworlds 1&2 is the guy who married Kate Beckinsale soon after she split with Michael Sheen. They all worked together in Underworld 2. Ouch. And Wiseman is in talks to direct Die Hard 4.
Great.

Ah, I've just changed the settings so that anyone can leave a comment. So if you wanted to laugh at my eyepatch without having to go through the annoying registering thing, now you can. In text. Like hahahahahahhahaaha!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Who are you?

ID cards.
Do you know what they're for? It seems that the Identity Cards Act was passed on the 30th March. I remember it being blocked at the House of Lords a number of times, but it finally slimed through.
Despite all of the reasons why the Lords sought to block it, the New Labour government has been particularly enthusiastic about getting this off the ground. Why?

The prevention of terrorism angle remains unproven, with no evidence to justify that this massive operation will make any difference whatsoever. The fact that the most recent terrorist activities in this country were carried out by English and Irish people begs the question as to how being able to check their identity will make the slightest difference. All assertions of the ID card system being introduced to combat terrorism are empty and meaningless.

In terms of dealing with illegal immigration, it is shockingly obvious that the vast majority of people seeking to enter this country whether legally or illegally will not be using British identity documents in the first place, so it is irrelevant how secure or not these proposed cards are in terms of checking these people's identity.

Identity benefit fraud costs an estimated £20-50 million (government source). This figure does seem a large amount of our taxes being lost, but when factoring in the huge (and still estimated) cost of implementing the ID card system, the money saved would not pay off the system used to save it for years, and that is assuming that the ID card system remains fraud proof. The government's own Department of Work and Pensions site puts total benefit fraud at £0.9 billion or £1.5 billion a year, depending on whether you look at their main page or FAQ page, so it's obvious that identity fraud is only a small part anyway.

Identity fraud in total is said to cost the UK £1.7 billion a year and affected 135,000 people last year, a 500% increase since 1999 (Home Office source again). This is an alarming trend, but given a minute to think about it you can take into account that the rise in internet usage in the same period and corresponding rise in internet-related scams (such as e-mail 'phishing' for bank details) are unlikely to be affected by owning an ID card. What is missing in these scare-stories is a proportion of this personal fraud that would have been preventable by owning an ID card (similar to the proportion of benefit fraud we can gain from the figures above - a maximum of £50 million out of a minimum of £900 million in benefit fraud)
The government site does say that the ID card will make you safer online because you can use the card and PIN to verify your details. So, if it all relies on a PIN how is it any safer than the current system of passwords and PINs?

A number of the reasons why this is all a bad idea are listed on the anti-ID card sites, such as No2ID, and along with all the opposition in the Lords, even the London Assembly has passed a motion against ID cards.

Even without an ID card, the government is still pushing ahead to get your details on the National Identity Scheme in a manner of centralising information that has been found to increase the rate of identity fraud in the USA and Australia (source). The card will be the main means to gain access to any services paid for by our taxes, and any errors that happen will effectively cut us off, meaning those not in a position to rely on private pension and healthcare will have serious problems.
The IT systems run by the government and the biometric detail system are both shown to be unreliable meaning the instance of mistakes leading to fines, imprisonment and loss of access will affect thousands if not tens of thousands.

The government has not even attempted to show that this is a cost-effective alternative to solutions to the problems that this scheme is supposed to deal with. At a cost running to at least £5.5 billion in a decade (financial times story) this is an immense bill that we will all have to stump up for, with little guarantee of results at the end, apart from inevitable misery for some of us when we are the victims of bugs in the system.

By far the best site I've seen so far is that of the London School of Economics, collecting its investigations into the issue here.

Now, if it's not going to prevent terrorism, stop benefit fraud, stop illegal immigration (whether that is a problem or not) or stop identity theft with any success, why is the government willing to splash out on close to £6 billion of our taxes?
Who runs the industries providing the biometric technology and all the relevant information technology needed to back up the National Identity Register?
Well, here is a link to the companies that the government has already paid over £20 million (a years worth of the low end estimate of identity related benefit fraud losses) on planning and trials for their nefarious scheme.
Here's a list of companies interested according to Corporate Watch. The Office of Government Commerce took the lion's share of over £12 million in its "Provision of advice and support on benefits management and other commercial issues", of which a hefty chunk went to PA Consulting.
PAConsulting have worked for the Home Office before, advising awarding Capita a contract with the Criminal Records Bureau (which used to be part of the same office with the passport agency. Capita went way over budget and under target despite PAConsulting giving the thumbs up.

One way to avoid the ID scheme for now, would be to renew your passport, as urged by No2ID and the Liberal Democrats who these days seem more like the Labour Party than the Labour Party.
On the one hand renewing your passport will set you back over £50, a bit annoying if it doesn't need to be renewed yet.
On the other, if you don't renew it before September (?) then when you do need to you will have to pay at least £93 for the new version of the passport anyway and may have go through an interview in order to prove your identity.

"The National Identity Register - All Your Eggs In One Basket"