Saturday, December 31, 2011

Another Year at the Pictures

Film 2011

The end of the calendar year has always been a time of reflection, looking back at faults of the year past and formulating resolutions to improve the year to come or gathering low-rent celebs to provide sound bites covering any topic that can have a top 100 and involve TV clips. Anal types prefer to catalogue the experiences of the year, and being a shut-in fond of lists I'm providing my very own top films of 2011 to add to the millions of screen inches clogging the Internet.

This year I have seen 49 films at the cinema. This sounds a lot but based on previous years it's a bit low, less than one a week after all. Despite having a Cineworld pass my cinema visiting is in the decline - these days most cinema tickets in London are £10+ so if you want to see films at least once a week and not spend over £500 a year then Cineworld is your only option at just over £215 a year for a West End pass.
Even taking into account the Trocadero and Haymarket cinemas with about 10 screens between them, there are often a number of decent releases that aren't on in the chain, but that's not the reason I finally cancelled the subscription. In one recent screening a mouse or rat was fighting it's way into and/or out of a plastic bag, and then two films later they forgot to turn the lights down for the first five minutes of the film. Not something mentioned when they wheeled out Ray Winstone to growl on about how he loves going to the cinema for the experience. Still, shoddy cinema going experiences can't stop good films being good. Let's celebrate!

Cedar Rapids

Director Miguel Arteta had somewhat of a cult hit with 2000's Chuck and Buck, Jennifer Aniston vehicle The Good Girl is reportedly decent but his last, Youth in Revolt, wasn't an out and out success. Cedar Rapids however is an excellent entry into the comedy ranks, managing to be a warm and funny high school comedy that happens to be about middle aged insurance salesman at a hotel conference. The action is fairly predictable in a good way, recognised character types and situations are turned on their heads in this setting and renewed with the help of a snappy script and some great turns by the extended cast, John C. Reilly unsurprisingly brilliant as an obnoxious lout on the insurance scene, and Anne Heche shining with a great nose for comedy. Cedar Rapids, like Mamet's State and Main, brings about the feeling of a middle America that isn't all small town hicks suspiciously threatening rich yuppie kids but still has bite behind its warmth.

The Fighter

I've liked David O. Russell since his debut Spanking the Monkey, and Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees showed that he had a wider range than skewed family indie dramas, but I didn't expect something as fully formed as the Fighter to emerge.
Whilst a large part of it's success is down to Whalberg and Bale fully inhabiting their characters in this true-life tale of a boxer held back by his junky brother, Russell vividly recreates the world of Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1980s as Dicky Ecklund is followed around by an HBO TV crew while he trains his brother Micky Ward and flakes out on crack.
Boxing films are generally hard to ruin, naturally focusing tightly on a few characters with close knit ties and incorporating cinematic action sequences. The Fighter is no different, instead managing to spend more time on the familial problems of its leads without getting that movie of the week feeling. The whole cast, from Bale and Whalberg in their physically demanding roles, through Amy Adams and the cast playing Micky and Dicky's extended family, feel like real people and make this film more like the documentary within it rather than a dramatisation of the events years later. A career high for all involved.

Black Swan

Aranofsky has always been great, whether financially successful or not, and Black Swan continues an unbroken run of hits that make self destruction compelling viewing.
Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers in a role that reminded me of Haneke's Piano Teacher - a professional artist still living with and stifled by her mother in adulthood. Nina (ballerina) is terrified at her abilities potentially lacking and her chance at the starring role in Swan Lake being ruined. Star director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) thinks her perfect as the swan princess but not passionate enough to play the Black Swan, and trains her hard to break through.
New York in winter is a large part of the film in much the same way as it was in Pi, the bleak hues in the urban settings emphasising the claustrophobia felt by Nina in a city bursting with so many millions as she starts to lose her grip on reality.
Aranofksy seems to be the master of psychological breakdown and at times Black Swan strays into the body horror of early Cronenberg. Urban alienation at its best.

13 Assassins

I've often written of Takashi Miike as one of my favourite directors, but he's rarely been what you could call mainstream. Miike's (latest) addition to latter day Japanese period action/drama films is still very much a niche but a much wider niche than some of his well over 70 films fall into.
A dodgy lord threatens the future of 1840s Japan itself with his psychotic, dishonourable behaviour, and his subjects conspire against him, building a squad of 13 samurai to work together and assassinate the insane warlord. There are a number of scenes of skewed Miike humour involving death and disfigurement, and po-faced discussions between the stoic samurai, but his assassins are purely heroic, cutting swathes through the sadist's henchmen.
The ending sequence is a massive set-piece involving a booby trapped village that impresses due to its scale, and despite the actors struggling to stand out in such a large primary cast Yusuke Iseya manages to impress as the hunter Kiga who professes immense strength and endurance despite a childish, monkey-ish demeanour, smashing the bad guys with blunt instruments.

The Guard

John Michael McDonagh's (brother of In Bruge's Martin McDonagh) debut is a big surprise, hugely enjoyable and darkly comic with a brilliant script brought to life by Brendan Gleeson.
The plot: A dodgy Irish Garda in the West of Ireland gets involved in an FBI investigation into drug smuggling.
Whilst this setting has endless potential to get bogged down in the swamp of stereotype, the sensibility of biting wit and cheeky knowingness keeps the film fresh at every turn.
The supporting cast is excellent, with Liam Cunningham and Mark Strong providing some memorable scenes, along with Don Cheadle as Gleeson's unlikely buddy in a loose buddy cop scenario. Oh, and there are beautiful, bleak landscapes for the breaks in between actors firing off witticisms at each other.

The Tree Of Life

I often find myself thinking that Terrence Malick is an overly ponderous director, feted by those who are afraid of not 'getting' something that's supposedly great and heaping unwarranted praise on overblown fluff. Then I remember watching Badlands for the first time, and being slowly and quietly blown away.
Tree of Life is almost purposely obtuse, a non-linear narrative mainly featuring segments of a 1950s American family's life, including Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt as mother and father of two young boys. There is heavy use of voice-over and numerous shots of the boys in nature, playing in the yard or in woods and streams. There is also a sequence which sees the creation of he universe, of the earth and of dinosaurs on our young planet.
I can't pretend to have fully understood the whole film, its meditations on existence as a choice between grace and nature embodied in the parents, but as dense as it is Tree of Life will reward repeat viewing.

Kill List

This film was another of 2011's crop that seemingly came out of nowhere. In part a study of a family strained by the livelihoods of the parents - father Jay (Nail Maskell) is an ex-soldier turned hitman and still haunted by a previous job gone wrong, mother Shel (MyAnna Buring) is also ex-forces and the pair now try and live a normal family life with their son in the suburbs. To make some more cash Jay's partner Gal (Michael Smiley) comes calling with a job offer. The film then turns into a dark thriller as Jay finds himself losing control when taking out the men on their list, Gal trying in vain to keep their jobs clean as Jay takes it personally with some sickening violence.
For the third act the film goes haywire, descending into pagan horror and madness.
It's unlikely you'll have seen anything quite like it.

Animal Kingdom

Writer-director Ben Michod's directorial debut is startling in its power and authenticity.
The story of a 17 year old boy having to deal with his criminal family after his mum dies of an overdose and he moves in with his gran and uncles, Animal Kingdom manages to be quiet and poetic in its slow build of tension as the return of one particular sociopathic uncle starts to unravel the family.
James Frecheville impresses as 17 year old J, presenting a tall, non-communicative teen, blank faced and further introverted when faced with his family troubles, but it's Ben Mendelsohn who stands out as eldest uncle Pope, quietly scary despite his age and size compared to the other men.
One of the things that stays with me is the lighting, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw doing for Melbourne what Brick did for Los Angeles and providing an underlying mood for the film as J's life crumbles. Guy Pearce and his moustache show up in a key role as the policeman trying to take down the family using J, but the film doesn't need star cameos to shine.
In a word: sublime.


Director James Wan kicked off the Saw quagmire, admittedly with a fairly decent serial killer B movie which probably wasn't aiming to churn out the first production line of gorenography.
Insidious happily takes a different tack, concentrating on fear and chills rather than violence and blood as well as a fair bit of gonzo oddness.
It's a classic haunted house tale with possession, astral projection, ghost hunters and classic empty corners and open doors to heighten tension and is one of the scariest films I've seen in a long time, benefiting from a certain unpredictability aided by one of the children put into a coma early on.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne also help to elevate the film from its roots, playing completely straight, distraught at the bumping in the night that follows them from house to house, even the veteran Lin Shaye dials down the gurning that she usually reels out for her many comedy parts.
In terms of recent horror Insidious is up there with Drag Me To Hell, not the classic of the Orphanage but a firm second tier.


Paddy Considine's directorial debut is a blistering examination of anger and pain.
Peter Mullan manages to top an already brilliant career with a performance of honed frustration and rage aimed at himself but directed at anyone in the vicinity, often with tragic results.
An unwanted chance at redemption comes when Peter's Joseph meets Olivia Colman's Hannah, a Christian charity shop worker with serious problems of her own. If Eddie Marsan turns up you've got a high chance of bad times.
Joseph's Midlands council estate setting is pretty bleak, but his character isn't as one note as kitchen-sink drama wannabes might portray, aware of his problems and failings and simply accepting that he's not a nice person, a stark way of dealing with issues that few stories tell without using simplistic binary morals.

Special mentions

Films that didn't quite make my top ten but nevertheless stood out include Melancholia, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, Take Shelter, Blue Valentine, Submarine, State Of Emergency and Drive.

Worst film of 2011

David Gordon Green made a startling debut with George Washington in 2000, a visually poetic coming of age tale in run down North Carolina. Whilst his subsequent output hasn't matched that film's grace, his second-to-last, Pineapple Express, was a brilliant homage to 70s stoner comedies and 80s buddy action movies, filtering the present day through the feel of those decades to create something familiar and yet fresh, despite borrowing heavily from the Apatow mould.

My first impressions of his latest film, Your Highness, were good, the trailer making the film seem like an irreverent take on sword and sorcery fables with a bit of modern swearing and stoner and dick jokes thrown in, reuniting James Franco and Danny McBride along with other Apatow regulars in order to swash buckles with knowing winks and foul mouths.
And yet after sitting down to the film proper, I find myself wondering when the comedy would begin. Joke after joke was rolled out to no effect, I could see the workings and what they were trying to do, but it just wasn't funny, not once. I waited in vain for things to pick up, hoping maybe it was just a false start, but it just carried on in the same vein. Maybe halfway through, up to the point when Natalie Portman's character appears, I couldn't take it any more and had to walk, the first and only time I have left a cinema before the film has ended.
Maybe it did turn a corner once Portman appeared, but I can't see it happening. A shame.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011



Now that the dust has settled, as it were, it’s strange to see that Revolver is worlds away from the epic disaster that the media world labelled it as on its release back in 2005. With the hit Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels launching not only Guy Ritchie’s career but also a swathe of Brit gangster flicks and dovetailing with the rise of lad’s mag subculture, Ritchie was prime for a backlash.

The first glimpse of Statham has me thinking that his wig is impressive, it’s odd seeing him with hair and it looks relatively natural. A closer look shortly afterward reveals that his moustache doesn’t give off the same vibe.

There are strange little moments, Statham asking “can I go?” like a child sitting in a hospital gown talking to a nurse; shouting his friend’s name after he’s been shot, more like a mantra than in grief or surprise; “smart as a pair of little boy’s shoes”; a nice little moment where three groups have their tensions rising, intercutting between each despite different time frames; a lovely little animated sequence of the film as a heist plays out; Statham hit by a car in slo-mo straight through the windshield, only for the sequence to reverse all while he delivers a voice over about fate and motive; the final talking head segments of psychologists explaining how the only real enemy we have is our own ego.
Sometimes in criticism ‘interesting’ is a dirty word, but that is what Revolver is, and while it might not quite work it is worlds away from the glossy, empty, cockney gangster bollocks that people evidently prefer. The question is, did Guy Ritchie’s ego instigate Revolver or not?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Raindance Festival 2011

Thoughts on the fest:

Whilst the Apollo is plush and it's nice to be able to see things there without selling a kidney, the festival seems a lot more heavily centered on the industry than the London film fest a couple of weeks later, and when I say industry I mean an ocean of droning, braying media types studded with the odd actor, director and producer. It's unusual in a film festival that I feel an urge to flee the screen as soon as the films is over, after all, I've heard my fair share of odd Q&A sessions at the LFF; it's pretty much just an objection to the people in general.

But to the films themselves:

A Thousand Kisses Deep:

Starts slowly and seems to stumble, looking like an ill thought-through indie that should have died in a twilight spot of a TV schedule, it quickly picks up as it centres around the unquiet life of Mia played by Venus and Attack the Block's Jodie Whittaker, dealing with the impact of a man on her life and thanks to a time-travelling lift, trying to fix the problem's of the past.
Skirting past the risk of mawkish whimsy, the film ably lays out the idea that the root of problems aren't always what they first seem and it could be a lot harder to change the outcome of things than you think. Her mistakes are embodied in the slack-eyed, reptilian menace of jazz loser Ludwig played well by Dougray Scott who succeeds in conjuring a man simultaneously charming and vile.
The denouement is satisfyingly unexpected without being an overtly twisty/turny thriller, indeed the whole film is largely confined to the one apartment building and jazz bar and a small set of characters.
The film has secured distribution and it would be worth checking out once its released

An Act of Godfrey

To script a whole film in rhyming couplets is certainly ambitious, and while there's an inevitably twee, 'luvvie' aspect to the proceedings it’s given a little more weight with the backdrop of a range of characters staying at a hotel while a conference on selling strategies goes ahead. A varied and decent cast evidently enjoy mugging along, there’s a convoluted back story which comes together quite well and lots of neat, clever little touches to the script (though maybe not as clever as it thinks it is).


It might be a tad unfair, but after This Is England it's hard to watch a film about a boy getting in too deep with some unsavoury nationalist types with any large degree of optimism of it being as good. In this case our protagonist is a quiet maths genius who has made an unwise friend in a stereotypical bomber jacket and bovver boots skinhead, also seemingly something of a maths whizz. As they spend more time together he gets more and more deeply involved, until things turn violent and he ends up leading the neo nazi gang. Meanwhile we also see things from the police perspective, chiefly involving the corruption and bribery involved in the dealings with skinheads, rival gangsters and gypsy Roma.
Apart from references to the 90s Balkan conflict and the ongoing racial tensions, there's little to set this apart from any other tale set in Europe, until the ending sequence which basically suggests that some people are always going to be evil, there's not much we can do about it and they need to be managed. It's a weird conclusion seeing as there's little that's gone before to distinguish this story from so many others (involvement with the far right stems from an estrangement from family, peer pressure from friends, wanting to impress a girl etc.), but despite this point of difference there's nothing new to add here.


Alarm bells rang at the start when it purported to be a film delivered to the Metropolitan police and various media outlets, such claims to reality fall apart quite quickly when your actors act like actors.
The opening sequence is of people viewed from POV cameras entering a derelict building and finding people in a grim and bloody mess in a dark sealed room, and in retrospect this glimpse into the future is necessary as starting the film chronologically would see a large proportion of the audience walking out early on.
So a trio of film makers set about filming three people locked in a room for 48 hours, each of whom represent a manifestation of the Id, Ego or Superego. The majority of the film follows the three subjects in the room - an introvert, extrovert and a drunk, via wall mounted and hand-held cameras in chronological order, interspersed with sequences filmed from their interviews and the film makers discussing them/the set-up, running through intros etc.
In the room, things go bad as they realise they're not getting out after 48 hours, and the three descend into violence, rape and murder, as you would fully expect would happen, apart from the fact you wouldn’t.
The problem is not the weak idea, but that this is all done in such a cack-handed way that it struggles to hold the attention.

State of Emergency

This is a lot more like a 'regular' film. Mostly linear, with the well worn story of some sort of man made accident resulting in people becoming infected/undead, getting red eyes and rushing about dispensing violence on the unaffected. A small country town, an every man, a small group of survivors holed up in a defensible building, trying radios and TVs for information, being forced to venture out into danger for supplies - there are a lot of elements that have become genre staples over the years, and yet State of Emergency has a quiet confidence to it that places it apart from dozens of also-ran indie zombie efforts.
Concerning itself more with the relationships and thoughts of the survivors, State of Emergency has numerous moments of quiet and calm as they wait out the crisis, and even the infected are calmer here then elsewhere in the genre, mainly seen quietly standing about or slowly wandering in fields, only succumbing to the usual running and snarling once unaffected humans are spotted.
Beautifully shot, there are a number of moments that make use of the mostly rural setting with vivid colouring even at night, though locations are few the film makes the most of what it does have. My pick of the festival.

Thursday, October 06, 2011



Like a 70s film set in the 80s, the music on the soundtrack almost made me gag. Despite this, I vastly enjoyed the slick, easy going surface of this beautifully shot thriller.

Playing something like a slow burn drama for the first two thirds, Gosling, despite his relative youth and slight build, is just about probable as the strong and silent archetype that has been around since the inter-war years of the last century. A man with talent and charm, he is quick to catch the eye of a pretty neighbour whose husband is currently inside. His gentlemanly behaviour gives an innocence to their relationship so that when the husband returns and Gosling's nameless driver steps back and helps in his way to keep the family together, it doesn't seem out of place.
After these moments and the seedy LA underworld asserts itself, we find ourselves more in Refn territory. Whilst hardly close to the visceral grit of the Pusher films or Valhalla Rising, there are moments of ugly violence from which the camera doesn't shy away, and even when guns are involved there is a proximity that brings urgency to these sequences, of the consequences of gunshots, stab wounds and savage beatings.
Like the best of the genre, Drive has an admirable supporting cast who breathe life into the periphery, including Ron Perlman as an arrogant Jewish gangster operating for the mob out of a pizza restaurant, and his business partner and ex-movie producer played by Albert Brooks. Carey Mulligan is as good as ever, and with an inevitably less meaty part she works well at conveying the connection and emotions that pass between her and the driver, a relationship acknowledged with looks rather than words. Brooks has few credits for things I've seen besides his voice roles, but he did play Tom the square in Taxi Driver, a film I was reminded of now and again watching Drive. As a loner character Gosling's hero is too pleasant to be God's Lonely Man, but there is an element of psychosis pushing him forward which gives the film's title a double meaning. The film's opening sequences too, bring to mind the taxi scenes, tightly shot from within the front seat of the vehicle, though in Drive the whole screen seems tight, emphasising the driver's focus and control over the surroundings as he negotiates the central nervous system of Los Angeles' roadways.

Aside from the violence, Drive marks a swerve away from the likes of Valhalla Rising, which very much brooded on landscape, memory and purpose  whilst here the story is all, with nothing else to say besides a man changing his ways to accommodate newfound love, and stumbling because it wasn't part of the plan, and because of his inflexibility. Here, though, there is little of the introspective grief at a different life lost, of plans gone awry. Instead there is acceptance.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

All the Statham, all the time


This is a great bubblegum thriller with Chris Evans well cast as the beachboy himbo Ryan, suddenly thrust into responsibility as he races around LA trying to help Kim Basinger’s kidnapped Jessica. She’s in a room with a bust phone but managed to get it working enough to dial a random number - Ryan’s. As he slowly realises that she is genuine and not some crank calling nutso, he goes to increasing extremes to try and save her and her family.

Statham is the lead kidnapper and does a decent job of being the main bad guy without dialling up the evilness element too much. To be fair it’s not a far cry from most of the roles he plays, only this time he’s hurting good people instead of bad. He does a much better job than many others placed in a role where he’s identified as crooked from the off, not hamming it up or trying to act overly twisted. Shame that he attempts to do an American accent.
It has a fairly starry cast - alongside Evans and Statham, Basinger is excellent as the women pushed to desperate acts, Jessica Biel pops up in a couple of scenes as Ryan’s ex, William H Macy steals the show as the cop nearing retirement in not quite the usual way, and there is a lovely turn by Rick Hoffman as a prissy lawyer who has his car jacked twice.

The movie zips along at a breathless pace as Ryan is forced to speed across the city in an effort to help Jessica escape. The tension exceeds on the whole as while a happy ending is a pretty safe bet it’s not a certainty that you won’t lose someone along the way. Evans is charming in the lead and helps the audience to keep up with a guy who spends a lot of time on the phone in a car, but it really is Macy’s movie.
As he says towards the end, “It’s a day spa you fuck!”.


In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege tale

 So, Uwe Boll. He was universally panned in the eyes of gamers as his career as a film director seemed to hinge on taking a video game property and churning out crappy adaptations to make a quick buck. Starting with House of the Dead in 2003, then Alone in the Dark, BloodRayne, Dungeon Siege, Postal and Far Cry followed, with two sequels appearing for BloodRayne (USP: she’s a sexy vampire who kills nazis) and one for the Dungeon Siege adaptation.

The first Dungeon Siege film kept the video game name as a subtitle, preferring to go by the generic In the Name of the King, a title that could have been a gritty, made-for-TV British thriller set in Georgian England if made in the 80s, instead this 2007 production took a lot from the fantasy genre resurrected by Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations. We may know of the likes of Dungeons and Dragons which popped up to ride the bandwagon, but ITNOTK seems to come late in the day, 6 years after the Fellowship first started their journey to Mordor.

The film is unsurprisingly poor, cack dialogue that nothing can save despite a pretty starry cast, generic settings that try and evoke the sweep and vision that Jackson created without his visual flair or budget, and an empty plot which basically involves a naughty mage forming an army of Krugs (Orcs) to take over the Kingdom and generally be evil. The motive he gives is that his new reign will redefine madness as power.
Statham plays the lead, called Farmer, who inexplicably is a complete badass without any military background in the usual ‘ex-special forces but now leading a quiet life’ cop-out. His lack of surprise at his ability to hold his own against a small army of rampaging Krug is odd, and his abilities are later explained by his being the King’s long-lost son.
So if the story is the pits, you’d probably just be hoping for some decent imagery or set-pieces to keep the film rolling, but no.
And yes, you read it correctly, Statham is called Farmer. Because he is a farmer, and the character believes that what you do defines you. If it wasn’t for the inexplicable ninjas that are the king’s personal guard (yes, LOTR with ninjas and it’s not good), or the tree women who swing about on vines and evidently decided that having pointy ears was a step too far, calling the hero Farmer would be one of the worst elements of the film, even more so than the cheap, crappy suits and masks that the actors playing the Krug wear.

So, that cast. It’s really hard to explain what happened here, was everyone blackmailed? Uwe Boll hardly had a glowing track record at this point and game properties were hardly prestige projects - about the only success was Tomb Raider 6 years previously, and ITNOTK was a few too many years late to ride on the association of the LOTR films.
Still, alongside your Statham, Boll managed to acquire Leelee Sobieski (almost successfully acts like she’s in a different, better film), John Rhys-Davies (evidently did not make enough from the Indy and LOTR films to avoid saying yes to the likes of this), Ron Perlman (seems to just like working), Claire Forlani, Burt Reynolds who just seems tired here, Ray Liotta who at the very least is enjoying himself hamming it up big style, but seems oddly out of place, and Matthew Lillard who is way too successful portraying the extremely irritating and treacherous King’s nephew.

 There are good points. The CGI used by Rhys-Davies’ magus when he disintegrates into mist to move through walls is quite good, and Liotta is almost worth watching in a sub-Nicolas Cage gurning competition way, but the film is ultimately as boring and pointless as Will Sanderson’s rubbish Legolas wig.

Thankfully this might be the worst I’d yet to see on Statham’s list.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Statham We Trust

The Mechanic (spoilers, though if you really care you are a fool)

      Statham is not happy being near steps. Or decking.

A bad man is driven home by some goons. His goons are mean to poor people on the way. At home he goes for a swim. His many guards do not see Jason Statham in the pool. Statham kills the bad man, then escapes. Statham gets angry at CLOTHES. Statham pays for sleeping men to look after his boat with LIQOR.
Statham meets a sexy young lady who is happy to see him scowl when he arrives at some 30s style speakeasy bar. Statham has sex with her looking ANGRY. Statham has NEVER told her his name.
Statham meets a friend, his only friend Donald Sutherland, in a cheap diner. Statham looks angry at the very IDEA of diners. Statham’s boss sends him a message that next he needs to kill his friend. Statham looks angry. His friend sends him a private jet so he can tell him to kill his friend in person. Statham looks angry. Statham kills his friend. Statham meets his friend’s wayward son at the otherwise deserted funeral. The son looks like a fool compared to the MANLY Statham.
The son is played by Ben Foster. Ben Foster looks like the older brother of Screech from Saved by the Bell. They did not NEED to cast Ben Foster in this role to make Statham look manly. Statham would look manly next to THE ROCK.
Although Statham is a hard man, he does feel SOME guilt for killing his friend. This is because he is COMPLEX.
The son acts stupid because of what he thinks happened to his dad. Statham killed him to make it look like carjackers. Statham stops the son from making a big mistake. The son wants Statham to teach him how to be within SNIFFING distance of his manliness.
Statham makes the son look after an emasculating dog.
Statham KILLS a man because he doesn’t like his slovenly appearance, and makes it look like a porn related ACCIDENT.
Statham sets up the son on his first hit because he looks like queer bait. The son doesn’t follow orders about how to take out his mark. The son DOES NOT know best.
Statham does. The son wins but only after a bad beating. Statham obviously only keeps him around begrudgingly, because he is COMPLEX.
Statham and the son climb a skyscraper to plan a fat man’s death. The fat man is a baddie because he doesn’t tell jokes. He may have also killed an innocent girl and greedily built a new age empire whilst being a junky, but mainly he’s bad because he’s FAT and NOT FUNNY.
After the fat man and MANY of his henchmen are dead, Statham finds out the boss LIED about his friend.
After dispatching a double-crosser on an empty BUS, Statham kills other, lesser hard men who have killed his LIQOR DRINKING BOAT MINDER. The son does a good job of taking out similar bad guys at Statham’s house. The boss means to kill them!
The son realises who killed his dad. Statham tells him “There is no peace”.
Statham goes after the boss. The boss says “He’s in the building get me the fuck out of here!”.
The boss leaves his building in a convoy but is not safe, as Statham and the son have big guns, a bus and a garbage truck.
Statham wins.
BUT. The son enacts revenge. listens to his music. Drives his car. Can Statham have lost. NO.

On July 28th, 2011, Funny or Die posted a video of a spoof charity appeal for Netflix users featuring a man in tears at the prospect of not being able to watch all of Statham’s films in which he portrays a hitman. This was also the day I happened to choose to watch the Mechanic.

As action film’s go, it’s average. As Statham’s films go, it’s average, achieving neither the kinetic thrills of the Transporter series nor the sheer lunacy of the Crank films. It’s an also-ran and it’s hard to see how it ascended from it’s straight-to-retail/rental feel to a cinema release, but then maybe that’s because Statham’s the MAN.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Munchies made to make your mouth indifferent


The chocolate isn’t particularly spectacular, a standard milk chocolate that doesn’t have the taste and texture of that used in Cadbury’s Wispa, said to be made in Ireland from a different recipe from that produced in the UK. The caramel inside again offers little to stand out from other fillings found in Cadbury’s Caramel, for example, or those found in Quality Street. The biscuit ball centre is an insufficient size to have a significant impact on the overall experience, unlike the serious biscuit-based chocolates such as Twix or Penguin.
The individual topless pyramids do have an aesthetically pleasing aspect, but there isn’t enough of a difference here from, say Rolos.

So why are Munchies consistently one of the most expensive mainstream chocolate confections? With no luxury element, no special ingredients or packaging (just the paper sleeve and inner metallic paper lining) and no excuse of using Fairtrade ingredients (as the Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar now does), it seems a mystery why Nestle seem to seek to position this product ahead of the pack.

Munchies were originally made in 1957 by the Rowntree Mackintosh company, who were then taken over by Nestle in 1988.

There is a facebook page dealing with this very topic. I am not one of the 21 (as of 22.05.2011) members.

I emailed Nestle customer services about the pricing policy, here’s what they said:

                                002893671A                  23 May 2011

Dear Mr Taylor

Thank you very much for your email.

In answer to your enquiry, our recommended resale price for Munchies is generally around 67p. We can only recommend a resale price as the retailers are free to charge whatever they think is appropriate for the product.

Thank you once again for taking the time and trouble to contact us. Your comments have been carefully noted.

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Not really a help.
Any key in the ingredients to explain the expense?
Milk chocolate is made from: Sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed milk powder, cocoa mass, lactose and proteins from whey, whey powder, butterfat, emulsifier (soya lecithin), natural vanilla flavouring), Caramel from: Glucose-fructose syrup, sweetened condensed skimmed milk, vegetable fat, sugar, salt, Biscuit from: Wheat flour, sugar, vegetable fat, cocoa butter, dried whole milk, cocoa mass, whey powder, barley malt extract, lactose, raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate), salt, emulsifier (soya lecithin).

So no, then. Pretty standard stuff, no gold leaf, no ground blood diamonds.

I love the nutrition information though, "Per 1/2 tube 133 calories" because you would just eat half the tube and then carefully wrap the rest up for another day. No.

Oh well, it'll always be a mystery but that last sampling hasn't persuaded me to make the small economic leap for potential confection satisfaction.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

After the block-busting success of the first Modern Warfare iteration of the Call of Duty franchise, and fourth in the series, a direct sequel was inevitable. The first three games were successful takes on the World War 2 first person shooters that had gained popularity since the Medal of Honour games arrived on the Playstation, but Modern Warfare saw the series leave history behind to plump for a ‘near future’ take on conflict.
Rather than attempting to capture the feel of present day warfare, CoD 4 opted for a globe trotting action-fest which split missions between different military forces and perspectives (mixing mainly ground-based first person segments with aircraft fire support via grainy camera footage, for example). In its desire to deliver the big thrills it even included the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, albeit in a mainly scripted form.

This forced perspective is used fairly liberally in the follow up, with a couple of key sequences seeing your avatar fairly helpless and forced to observe the action with little chance for input, allowing the developers to keep you locked in on the narrative rather than wander off and look at the sky while something important happens.
Despite the mainly linear nature of the game and the use of inter-mission briefings to push along the distinctly 80s plot the message is still a little garbled with little background before you’re suddenly in the shoes of a CIA mole in a Russian terrorist’s gang, following as they gun down dozens of civilians in a Moscow airport.
The outrage sparks a war between Russia and the US, allowing the game to flit between the efforts of ground troops trying to reclaim heartland USA and special forces trying to hunt down the terrorist behind it all in clearly defined locations - a Rio favela, an oil rig, snow-bound military base, forest compound etc.

Whilst the plot wouldn’t look out of place in one of the more ambitious actioners fronted by the likes of Seagal or Van Damme in their heyday, the game offers undeniably exhilarating action as you often find yourself scrambling between cover, a near-overwhelming enemy force crawling out of the woodwork and taking out members of your AI controlled team. On the higher difficulty settings the intensity is almost too much, forcing you all too frequently to dive behind walls as the screen goes blurry and blood-smeared in the preferred way of announcing imminent death since games achieved the visual fidelity to do away with health bars.

On normal difficulty the campaign can be breezed through within a day of solid gaming, but aside from the challenge of going back to find the in-level collectables (intel), there is also a series of one-off ‘special ops’ missions which utilise certain play styles (stealth and sniping, riding a snow-mobile, defusing bombs against the clock) and have more of a score attack feel as they tempt you to go back for short bursts of action and beat you previous performance.

What has made the series a success, however, is the combination of hardware ownership and broadband access at the time of release that gave enough consumers the option of taking the game online in order to shoot friends and strangers in the face. I’ve no doubt that it’s a very polished aspect but not having played online for about three years (partly due to a stint of poor net access and partly due to the many late nights with Halo 3 and the like) I wouldn’t know.

Without this element CoD: Modern Warfare 2 is a highly polished shooter which offers up enough of a challenge to keep FPS fans happy, fairly decent AI and varied levels which manage to disguise the open corridors with some gorgeous artwork. It stands up well in a crowded market, but as a single player experience it’s not special enough to compete with the likes of the innovative Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath or the daddy of single player FPS’s, Half Life 2.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

 I love Short Circuit.

I'm not sure why I always thought that Dr. Pepper would have a peppery taste, probably the name and the ad campaigns that try and persuade people to give it a try, as if it's the leper of the fizzy drink world. 

Dr Pepper Zero
This smells a lot like cherry cola, but not much of a head compared to diet Coke.
Fruity taste, not a hint of a pepper's heat or sweetness. Less harsh than cherry Coke (not so much of that artificial flavouring) so a nice alternative in the fizzy pop world. From the ad tagline “What’s the worst that could happen?” you would expect a taste a little more divisive than vague fruitiness.

Diet Dr Pepper Cherry

Barely has more than a hint of a cherry odour beyond the normal Dr Pepper fruitiness, but the one different ingredient from the usual cola additives, ‘Red 40’, probably contributes to the reddish tinge to the usual dark caramel brown and a strong, dark pink colour to the bubbles (while they last).
The smell once in a glass is no stronger, the cherry having less of the artificial feel found in cherry Coke.
I can barely detect more of a cherry flavour than the general ‘fruity’ flavour that Dr Pepper has as standard, so what this is giving the Pepper devotee I have no idea. Shiny can?

Dr Pepper Diet Cherry Vanilla

The cherry smell is lighter than the non-vanilla version, so barely there. Red 40 is still present so the red tinged bubbles are still in effect in the intial froth build.
Rather than the vanilla adding anything to the mix, instead all tastes - fruit, cherry, vanilla, seem to cancel each other out and the drink seems like sparkling water with a vague, undefinable aftertaste. Very poor.

Dr. Pepper makes for a nice, fruity alternative to that sweet cola tang I seem to be vaguely addicted to, better than the straighter tastes of your Fantas and Sprites, and with less of an artificial hit than Cherry Coke. Nowhere near a diet vanilla coke beater though, that so called 'vanilla' cherry Dr. Pepper is a massive let down.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Drown your spirits


Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer has a stout, impressive looking bottle, trying to emulate the kind of vessel associated with real ale.

On first crack there is a light, spicy aroma of ginger, the head is very impressive and the  amber tint neither too cloudy nor too clear - the substance is there but it’s not all sediment. On tasting, however, the beverage is deceptively light. Crisp and benefitting from being chilled, the ginger taste itself is very mild, even if it does linger, and the bubbles aren’t really in evident. The drink is a very easy one, and it’s a wonder that there was any need for the invention of alcopops at all if this were an available alternative. With none of the bitingly sweet tones of the chemically enhanced likes of WKD and Smirnoff Ice, this feels like a much more preferable choice for those who prefer their alcohol to be sweet rather than bitter, even though the ingredients do point to the use of sulphites, sugar and sweeteners. Much is made of the elephant trademark dating back to 1801 and the emblazoned statement in ‘original’ ginger beer, but the ingredients are unlikely to set this far from the alcopop crowd. Still, this is ahead in taste and I would recommend for those who are after a refreshing brew with a light kick (4%).

Diet Pepsi Wild Cherry

On cracking there’s only the faintest hint of cherry, certainly not the sweet tang of cherry drop boiled sweets I’d associate with flavoured cola. The high fizz factor of a diet cola is present and correct, but the large head soon gives way to a tamer brew with that familiar brown-hued darkness to the liquid. With the drink loose in a pint glass the cherry aroma is no stronger than from the can; the first taste isn’t 100% smooth, but there certainly isn’t that acidic hit you’d get from a badly made artificial flavour. As with the odour, the taste is light, supplying an edge to the usual diet pepsi taste, doing the job of adding highlights without overwhelming the original. This is something I could get used to, if it were a standard addition to most shops’ pop lockers.

The ingredients feature the usual suspects with only calcium disodium an unfamiliar addition. Crucially the can states ‘contains no juice’ in order to cover themselves against people assuming that the use of ‘wild’ and ‘with other natural flavours’ goes hand in hand with organic or the drink being good for you.

Guarana Antarctica

Subtitled O Original Do Brasil, so I’m assuming that this is Portuguese and it’s a Brazilian drink with guarana as a chief ingredient. Guarana was marketed in the 90s, before Red Bull achieved fame, as a natural stimulant, appearing in drinks and chewing gum with promises of alertness. I tried the gum but don’t remember it having any particular effect

That ingredient list is dense as hell.

On cracking the can there’s a quick citric whiff, but this weakens quickly. The fizz on pouring is moderate, with a small head that subsides almost immediately. The colour isn’t that appealing, piss yellow in keeping with energy drinks but slightly less radioactive looking than red bull.
The odour in a glass is less citrus and more sugary, hinting at syrupy thickness. IT goes down smooth though, the sugar not leaving an unpleasant coating and a taste somewhat like muted lime. This does taste more natural than your average buzz beverage.


Made by the coca cola company, this beverage smells a bit like diet coke on first cracking the can, it looks like diet coke after you first pour, and it also tastes like diet coke, albeit with an unpleasantly metallic/soily aftertaste. I remember Tab clear being basically a way of having clear cola, but I can’t see the point in Tab at all.

Diet A&W root beer

On the crack you get a strong whiff of liquorice, very reminiscent of dental mouthwash. Whilst the gloop looks like your standard cola in the glass that medicinal taste is overpowering, with only a hint akin to sweet caramel from the ‘aged vanilla’ underneath.
Not something I’d like to sample again, definitely a stronger taste than the naturally brewed root beer I’ve tried before.