Aug. 4th, 2014 09:18 pm
davidn: (Jam)
Whitney was feeling down tonight, so we put on Sharknado and I feel slightly stupider for having done so. Here are our thoughts as the spectacle went on.

We open on a shot of sharks being whirled up into a tornado. This film doesn't mess about.

Something is happening on a boat near Mexico, but the sound is so bad I can't hear what they're saying. I doubt it matters.

A shark landed on deck and ate Hapless Crewmember 1 by sucking him in like a pointy-toothed Kirby.

Asian man is shot in the leg and gets nabbed by a shark, then the captain is eaten as well. That's that all over.

These underwater graphics are terrible. I think they just filmed Ecco the Dolphin on the Megadrive.

Opening credits. Tara Reid's in this. Always the hallmark of a quality piece of cinema.

The rest of the opening credits consist mostly of tits (either the nice kind or the kind meaning a smug tanned surfing bastard)

There's a sexy woman with a clear shark bite scar serving drinks at the bar, clearly to become one of our main characters.

They've got the news on, which is shouting about a freak hurricane. The elegance of the exposition here is remarkable.

Two of our surf dude characters go through a bizarre Power Rangers suiting up sequence and are posing and bantering "sexily".

This really is just fucking rubbish.

How can you not see the sharks right there?

These people are obviously going to be dead in twenty minutes.

Finally! Scary music has started as have the shark attacks.

Compared to the automatic woodchipper demonstration from before, this one is taking a while to eat her.

Time for Baywatch woman to spring into action, just as soon as she takes her top off.

Someone was just bowled over the handrail of the stairs down to the beach by the tidal wave of boobs coming the other way.

Now they're in the bar again - everyone is surprisingly calm considering about ten people on the nearby beach have just been fricasseed.

One of them is meant to look like he's lost his leg but he's just got it buried in the sand.

Sharknado is promoting the truth about global warming - let it happen, be eaten by flying sharks.

Oh, at last they've decided to close the bar.

Shark enfenestration! Easily pool-cued by sexy woman while facing into one of those big fans they use in power metal videos.

Everyone grabs a gun from somewhere or other, or failing that, a barstool.

Barstool has come to the rescue already! Much better than just waving a gun around - some shooting is necessary.

Are you going to feed it that oxygen tank and then explode it? Of course you are.

Ferris wheel has escaped! Apparently with the aid of Box2D physics. Didn't this happen in Professor Layton?

Run LEFT or RIGHT, you idiots! Don't just run forwards away from it! Oh, too late.

None of these late brick buildings would exist in California.

Pointless montage of driving through the flooding city with guitar music.

Sharks have surrounded the car, and so has footage clearly copy and pasted from a random weather documentary.

"It's just a little water! Is California afraid of the rain?" You will be dead almost immediately.

Told you so.

"It's like Old Faithful!" "We're going to need faith to get through that." The writer accidentally left this placeholder line in.

Red thick splatter across the windscreen - apparently one shark spilled his ketchup.

"Help me get my dog out the car!" I think he's safer in there, lady.

Apparently this car was made before they invented safety glass?

Barstool man's dead. Nobody seems to care.

We've reached the house now, after running away from some bad CGI water.

The storm drains are popping out sharks like potato guns. That shoot sharks.

Clay shark shooting!

Twat with quiffed hair: "Sharks flooding the streets, are you kidding me? [Opens the window]". Have you learned nothing?!

Now dead, obviously.

The men go down into the water to fight a shark that is alternately badly rendered and plastic, while the women scream from the stairs

After remembering she had a shotgun, barwoman pumps about fifty shells into it without reloading. Shark is painted red.

"We gotta get out of here quick". No kidding - why's it taken you that long to realize this?

How much blood did Colin have in him? The entire bottom floor is about five feet deep in red water.

Driving away - the house, and only that one house, has just imploded and fallen down for no apparent reason.

This might be the single stupidest thing that I've ever witnessed.

Here's the news again on a mobile. Yes, there are sharks around, we get it.

"National weather service has issued a warning". Oh, thanks. Even the characters know that this is a bit late.

I love that the driving scenes were obviously filmed in a small car wash while someone rocked the car a bit manually.

Now to save a bus full of schoolchildren! From the Department of Putting it On a Bit Thick.

Why is it suddenly not raining any more? And why does he keep a full kit of rappelling gear in his car?

What's Action Man planning to do once he gets down to this bus, anyway?

"Need a lift?" You absolute raging twat.

Are they going to show every schoolchild being airlifted in realtime like this? Because it'll make a pretty boring film.

You, bus driver, are going to be killed by obvious plot devices.

"Is this going to be strong enough to hold me?" "I don't know." Where did you get that gear from? Ask for a refund.

I don't think that was even bluescreen - that was just a painting of the city skyline.

Oh dear god, we're only halfway through. I'm not sure I can survive any more.

Oh no, the rope's fraying!

I'm no marine biologist, but I don't think sharks can climb ropes with their teeth.

I think the screenwriters just forgot about the rope fraying.

Notably still not raining.

Oh, here comes the wind. Along with the pieces of the Hollywood sign.

Dodging left and right to avoid huge bits of letters flying at them over the bridge. It looks like a room from Knightmare.

Even the bus driver is surprised he's survived this long.

"My father always told me Hollywood would kill me." Squish. Again, no characters are surprised at all.

Noise from the top of the car... "What was that?!" It was a shark unconvincingly chewing through metal!

Some panic later, the shotgun is remembered and deployed once again.

Oh, the car's not working any more because it's full of water.

So it exploded.

I think I might shortly die laughing.

The female characters talk to each other about our main character. But then I'm not expecting the most positive women out of this wreck.

Here's another news bulletin! This time it's just a device for the corner shop man to blame the government.

After a sort of Pimp My Ride montage, they seem to have stolen a Hummer, the only time driving one of those things is justifiable.

They blazed through a junction and are now outrunning the police for no reason at all. They seem to think they're in Grand Theft Auto.

These chase clips are stitched together with no regard for matching weather conditions or even whether it's day or night outside.

Apparently they've stopped at the aviation school to find his son Matt, I haven't really been paying attention.

There is a vortex effect from Doctor Who approaching over the nearby buildings.

Break into hideout: "Is there a Matt here? Guys, I found Matt!" And several other people!! Who are immaterial.

Banging noise from the roof. One of them walks towards the skylight to investigate. You have died of stupidity.

"What's the safest way to get out of here?" When you're in the middle of a tornado... a helicopter, apparently.

Locked surplus store: "How do we get in?" While holding a shotgun.

Apparently a laser-precision shotgun that can make the doorknob fall off without touching the rest of the door.

They're running around picking up chainsaws and propane like a serial killer Christmas.

I have doubts about whether this "dropping bombs into a tornado" plan is scientifically plausible.

Sudden attempt at an emotional moment! Daughter: "You. You're my problem."

Oh dear god, this is the most voluminious outpouring of wank since Doug Winger last updated his VCL account.

Comparing scars. "I got this falling off a slide when I was 2!" I hardly think that compares to a shark bit on the leg.

"They took my grandfather... I hate sharks!" My eyes are watering.

They're now flying a helicopter into a tornado full of sharks.

Why didn't you get the bombs out of the fiddly crate before taking off, you pair of giant dipsticks?

Would it not have been a good idea to go over how to detonate these before starting?

A small bottle marked "propane" but which apparently contained a small nuclear device just dissipated a tornado.

There has just been a flurry of stupidity so intense I was unable to record it.

Shark bisected lengthways in mid-air with a chainsaw, someone impaled on a totally unnecessary spike on the front of the car.

Action Man shoots one gun repeatedly into the air, then lowers two of them in the next shot.

That man's arm was meant to have come off, but you could see it stuffed down the front of his shirt.

Sharks in the old folks' home pool - get your Zimmer frames into top gear!

I don't think water explodes like that.

"Let's get away from the windows!" Bald retiree, you are the first sensible person to have appeared in this film.

"What's that up there?" "That's my son!" "You must be so proud." "Not really, he accepted doing this film."

Oh, our heroine has just fallen out of the helicopter and been eaten by a shark in mid-air. That's unfortunate.

The helicopter suddenly remembers to be affected by wind.

It's landed safely, but run away quickly - it's probably going to explode anyway.

A shark just smashed into the pavement and left a shark-shaped dent like in Road Runner.

Our hero is unafraid of unconvincing CGI!

Fortunately the Hummer has a turbo button like Super Mario Kart and can be set to jump forward into the non-tornado automatically.

It's raining sharks. Hallelujah, it's raining sharks.

Er, how did he run back to the city that quickly?

Oh dear god, the audio desynchronized and then he thought he was in Devil May Cry and jumped chainsaw-first into a shark.

I don't think that sharks are just hollow tubes with teeth at one end.

Now he's chainsawing his way out from the inside of the shark in some weird aquatic rebirth sequence.

Oh... piss off, it just happened to be the shark with our heroine inside it. And somehow he didn't chainsaw her in half too?

The storm is over and there is peace once more, along with presumably a really big seafood buffet.

That was a film so mindbogglingly awful it defies description, belief and indeed reality.

How the hell did this come into existence? Is it like those Youtube videos where five year olds write the script and it's acted by adults?

Or maybe it's the American way of doing something like Darkplace and I hadn't realized?
davidn: (rant)
I accidentally found a trailer on Youtube for an upcoming film that seems to be something of a reworking of Falling Down - this is quite a unique case where I'm not sure if I find something funny or really disturbing.

When I first saw this I was really unsure about it, as some recent conversations had made me worried that some people may view it as a sort of worst-case documentary on the future of my life. Though - as it seems to cover the vast majority of what I've written about over the last five years and a couple of the things that Charlie Brooker has also made us aware of - it's something of a comfort that America is at least aware that some aspects of its culture can be somewhat vexing. (The film appears to stay apolitical - which is just as well, because once you get into that sphere, things become sort of pitiable instead.)

Of course, it wouldn't be right not to acknowledge the irony that this imagined solution to the problem is also quite so distinctly American.
davidn: (savior)
I'd forgotten that I was going to talk about the film that we saw on Christmas day - it was the new Tintin, starring Billy Elliot and Gollum. As you might expect, several hundred instances of previous experience had made me feel more than wary about seeing a Spielberg update of something that I love, but in the end I really enjoyed it.

It did feel odd at first. The way that Tintin constantly talked to himself was distracting until I remembered that that was exactly how he talked in the comic, and when just attempting to describe it, the artwork style sounds very strange - the film takes the proportions of the characters as they were in the comic (which you may remember as very human, until you really think hard about them compared to what humans actually look like) and apply them to realistically-textured faces. But they've managed to defy the odds and make these half-human hybrids seem very natural and not at all like Pixeloo's rendition of Homer Simpson over on the left - you can recognize each character instantly without them breaking the look of the film world.

"The Adventures of Tintin" is an appropriate title, as it seems to be a collection of most of the books stuck together - primarily the Secret of the Unicorn series in its storyline, but there are references to the other books everywhere. They even managed to work in elements from the moon story, with whisky becoming weightless as a plane dives, and book titles are constantly alluded to (such as in a prominent statue of a crab with golden claws).

It must be said that the reviews I saw that complained that this film was "relentless" were certainly right - working with computer-generated graphics allows the film to set up absolutely massive set-pieces without much of a pause in between them, culminating in a sort of shipping crane conkers battle. The ludicrous level to which the action sequences escalate give it the impression of an Indiana Jones film as directed by Nick Park - when I saw Die Hard 4 with Timothy the Oliphaunt I mentioned that every action film had to top the last one, and that it was going to be difficult to beat driving an eighteen-wheel truck on nine wheels around a collapsing freeway ramp, while on fire, pursued by a Harrier jumpjet. This one has a go with the following:

  • Racing down a mountain to catch a falcon
  • Going straight through buildings as they rapidly crumble
  • With a wall of water close behind after accidentally shooting a rocket launcher at the dam
  • Pursued by a tank
  • Which has driven through a hotel and is carrying the entire three-storey facade along with it as it advances
  • Hurtling down a washing line
  • While clinging to a rapidly disintegrating motorbike

But the silliness works in animation - the whole thing really works as an adaptation, and... I really don't say this often, so enjoy it while you can, but this felt like a great interpretation and a wonderful way to introduce this world to people who through no fault of their own grew up in the wrong place to experience it.

There's a video that someone called andylyth put together of the audio from the film trailer, set to clips from the 90s cartoon version - and I hadn't realized just how faithful they'd been to it until I saw that, with it almost being possible to make a shot-by-shot reconstruction. Now I really want to get the books out of the library again... and for them to do another film with Professor Calculus in it.
davidn: (Jam)
I'm afraid I've got some bad news, boys. Undeterred by their track record over the last fifty years or so, some Americans have decided to wheel out their world-renowned powers of adapting British television again and are doing a version of Top Gear that's to be broadcast on The History Channel for some reason.

There have been rumours about this for a long time, but having not heard about it for a while, I thought some sensible person involved with the project had gone "No, let's just leave it alone - clearly the British do everything much better, so let's start showing the UK version in its entirety rather than the edited-down cut-up version that we fob them off with just now.". But after a period of silence, a trailer for an adaptation starring some people you've never heard of, some jeans and two dazzling chequered shirts has emerged - you're welcome to draw your own conclusions.

I found out about this thanks to a preview that we saw in the cinema, where we had actually gone to see Red. I hadn't ever heard of the graphic novel that it was based on, but it's basically about a group of balding men and HM the Queen on the run from the CIA - they come after Bruce Willis, forgetting that he's Bruce Willis and can beat everyone up easily with bad Photoshop powers on his side.

It wasn't quite as hilarious as I had been expecting from the concept - the highlight comes somewhere in the middle where there's a nicely impossible part involving batting grenades back to the thrower with a rifle and shooting a rocket in mid-air, but it's still worth watching to see Helen Mirren with a Gatling gun.
davidn: (prince)
It's only been twenty years since the release of the first game, but Prince of Persia finally got itself a film. It seems that every time a game-to-film adaptation is released, it looks like it's going to be the one to break through the swamp of their mediocrity, and with Jordan Mechner being involved in this one, I once again had high hopes.

As shown by the title, the game is mostly based on the first game of the second trilogy, in a version of Persia from an alternate reality where most people are suspiciously white and everyone learned to speak English at Oxford. But exactly like that game, it's happy to ignore everything that came before it and just make up its own story instead. This particular greasy-haired Prince is introduced twice - once as an orphan who impresses the King for some reason by having the courage to belt one of his guards with an apple, and then fifteen years later when attacking a holy city in an undercover mission that's presented like Ocean's Eleven. During this raid, somebody is told to guard a mysterious dagger with his life and transport it somewhere safe, then immediately loses it when he is horse-jacked by the Prince, and the plot continues mostly familiarly from there.

The game's running jumping climbing elements all feature prominently without being... obviously pointed out too much, and other elements from the games are there as well such as in the Last Crusade-style temple and Mr Whippyswords near the end, a boss in all but name. Throughout all this, it isn't afraid to have fun with itself, but there are a couple of missed opportunities where you expect more dialogue but a scene instead just... ends pointlessly. There are also moments in between the loads of fighting when it suddenly decides that it does want you to take it seriously after all, and it falls a bit flat trying to do so. It's a warning sign that there were a few laughs when they weren't expected - a couple in places where someone says something threatening and the crowds around them then all go "Oooooooooh" like a fight's about to start in the playground, and in particular, any scene where the two main characters were hovering around each other about to kiss provoked much hilarity. There's also a character who runs an ostrich racetrack and talks about government conspiracies and taxes in parallel to modern America - something that unfortunately just reminded me of the massive anachronism that was the way that Maid Marian was presented.

I really liked the effects that were put into the time rewinding, and was rather disappointed that it wasn't used more - perhaps they were afraid to make it too central so as not to overuse it. A while ago, when I happened to see Nicolas Cage frowning around on Next on television, I said that if Prince of Persia handled its time rewinding like that I'd be very happy - and it sort of did, but I wasn't expecting it to take my suggestion quite so literally and end in almost exactly the same way as well. Though I was prepared to accept it this time because it didn't feel quite as much of a cop-out.

There's a much-anticipated milestone in game-to-film conversions, when someone will eventually make a really good one and they'll suddenly be seen as potential legitimate films in their own right rather than coming out under a sort of cursed cloud from the start. Even though I was hoping once again, I've got to admit that this isn't it. But it's another incremental improvement, and one that might at least nose its way into the middle of "all right" territory.
davidn: (savior)
We went to see Iron Man 2 this weekend. It takes itself less seriously than the first, and that's really saying something.

The film opens with Tony opening the Stark Expo as Iron Man - in contrast to his anti-weapons character development from the first film, he's now decided (rather fairly) that saving the world in a flying suit of armor amounts to a license to be an even bigger smug show-off than ever before, and in between the festivities we're treated to a scene of him laughing off a panel of elderly senators who are trying to acquire the Iron Man suit as a weapon. During his introduction, someone from the crowd audibly shouts "Blow something up!" and the entire rest of the film from this point forward might as well be a direct response to this suggestion.

Trouble starts when a grumpy Russian man who used to work with Tony's dad (who is Mickey Rourke, with make-up amounting to just not showering for a while and having his face beaten a bit with a kettle) turns up when Tony is unexpectedly taking part in the Monaco Grand Prix - just because he can - and shears some cars in half with a pair of arc-reactor-powered electro-whips. At this point I couldn't help but imagine how Murray Walker would have reacted (if you don't know him, just read this next bit with your hair on fire) - "Villeneuve! Is! Looking! Good as he heads into the last straight, and OHHH! His car's just fallen in half and allowed Michael Schumacher to cling on to his 637-point lead."

Once Iron Man saves the day, rival weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer tangoes his way into the storyline. Like a lot of people in these films he's about thirty years younger than I remember (though James Rhodes has by this point regenerated into Don Cheadle), and he thinks that getting a Russian who's clearly unhappy with everything the country stands for to build America's new miracle defence system is an idea that can't possibly go wrong. He promptly arranges to bust him out of prison with the aid of a bomb disguised as a potato in the best of Allo Allo traditions, and I think that you can just guess how it goes from there.

It was good to see a couple of other things from the cartoon version that I grew up watching making an appearance, such as the new version of the pop-up suit briefcase. It's particularly nice that Samuel L Jackson also appears as Nick Fury (with the line "I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the doughnut", possibly the highlight of his career), because I remember that Nick Fury in the comics said that if he were a fictional comic book character and they were going to make a film of him, he would indeed want to be played by Samuel L Jackson.

And having Iron Man and Warmachine fighting together at the end was another highlight, but the scene seemed very brief. In fact, because the film is such a Guy Fawkes festival of non-stop exploding throughout, that climactic battle doesn't really feel all that climactic (I was expecting at least one more round of the plot-action cycle) and the entire thing feels like the middle of the film. But it's a really good middle to be extended for two hours.

I should also pass on [ profile] stubbleupdate's recommendation to stay after the credits.
davidn: (Jam)
"Based on the book by Roald Dahl"? I suppose it could conceivably be, if you count reading the book, then eating 18 Creme Eggs before bed and typing the resultant nightmare up into screenplay format. Once again the Americans have confidently brought out their world-renowned adaptation talents to produce a version of Roald Dahl's book which makes Mr. Fox not so much "Fantastic" as "Yuppie Twat".

To be clear about this, an unmodified Fantastic Mr. Fox would never have worked as a film. So this doesn't really raise questions as to why so much was bolted on around the base storyline, as to why someone thought up the whole amalgamation at all. The anthropomorphization of the cast feels natural enough, and I thought I would be a fan of the characters and of the style of animation, but there's something weirdly uncomfortable that I felt about the whole film - all the charming details on the fur and clothing of the models manage to afford them the sum total of absolutely no soul whatsoever.

I didn't find the Hugo's House of Horrors-like undecided nationality of the film as strange as you would expect - the animals talk in American accents, but the setting is British and the farmers talk in English accents - it seems that everyone in this country qualifies as a potential villain here even if they're from Cornwall. Instead, what I found most unusual throughout the film was that characters both human and animal swear by using the word "cuss" in place of absolutely any expletive, as in "cussed up" and "complete clustercuss". And, as demonstrated, it sounds really weird. I think that I can only name Red Dwarf as an example of something that successfully invented a swear word, with the famous "smeg" - instead, this film brought back haunting memories of one-man mental asylum/game magazine Digitiser.

I really don't know what to say about it - the whole thing felt like a disjointed set of scenes from a dream (something assisted by the way that the film seems to be divided into "chapters" with titles displayed every five minutes or so before the plot starts up) - in fact, even though I think I could appreciate the unapologetic oddness of it by the time it was over, all I could remember in the end was that horribly grating whistle-click thing that he does. Smeghead.
davidn: (Jam)
As part of my education in 80s live-action Disney films that I missed growing up, we watched Cool Runnings, the film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team, yesterday. I had to have the subtitles turned on. Perhaps I was just overly tired.

I thought I'd never seen any of it before, but there was one scene that I suddenly realized that I'd seen a fragment of on TV when I was very young - the part where they're doing their first practice run with the high-pitched screaming (so much so that I had remembered it as a woman's voice) followed by the crash in the tunnel. Does anyone else get this, isolated memories of things like that that suddenly make sense when you recognize them years later? It happened to me when I first saw Goldfinger all the way through as well, with the vault door and the flippy-counter bomb - I had been in the living room when my dad and uncle were watching that when I was about four.
davidn: (Jam)
Going to the cinema always seems awfully expensive to me here, after the £3 to get into the New Picture House that I was used to in St Andrews. Being married to a children's book designer has affected my complete lack of knowledge of popular culture very little, but for this weekend we went to see a film based on a book that's apparently quite popular, and when you do that you're also paying for the privilege of sitting next to a family standing in the aisle having a general meeting about where to sit for the first ten minutes of the film.

I've had a brief summary of what the immensely-titled Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief book was like from Whitney, and the general feeling seems to be that the film bravely takes out everything that makes the original book clever and not Harry Potter. It stars Percy Jackson, a mid-teenage nitwit with ADHD (you can tell because he frequently mentions it - the disease that causes sufferers of it to bore everyone to death with their problems) - over the first half hour he learns that he's actually the son of Poseidon by being Arthur Dented along to a camp somewhere out in the woods for similarly gifted people and being mentored by Chiron, played by at least the front half of Pierce Brosnan. His dyslexia is explained by the fact that his brain is actually wired to read ancient Greek, and the film shows this by the letters of any ancient Greek text on-screen rearranging themselves into English as if the language was actually just an anagram purposely made up to irritate people.

The story, as explained to Percy by centaur Pierce Brosnan, revolves around a missing lightning bolt belonging to Zeus (Amr: Zoose), played by Sean Bean, giving the film the mood of a pension-drawing Goldeneye with added beards. Those two still aren't the greatest surprise, though - when the fiery Hades appeared after capturing Percy's mother in the early stages of the film, I knew I recognized his strangely non-threatening voice, but it wasn't until he reverted to his human form that I realized that he was played by Steve Coogan. Last year I said that Liam Neeson had to be the most miscast person ever, and the record's already been broken - he seems to have been becoming popular in America fifteen years after being known in Britain, dissociating him from his previous existence somewhat. At least it's remarked in the film that nobody thought that Hades would look like that, and I certainly wouldn't have expected him to look like Alan Partridge either. Steve Coogan.

Anyway, soon after all that, Percy is given a pen that turns into a sword (perhaps it really is mightier after all) and a sort of Inspector Gadget telescopic shield and the RPG quest plot starts up, with the merry band of three heroes having to retrieve three special pearls which are in various places around the United States for reasons that are not explained, before getting into Hades to confront the final boss (Steve Coogan). Typically for adventures like this, to give some sense of urgency, Europe is treated as disposable, somewhere to show bad things happening before Zeus's approaching stormclouds affect anywhere that's considered important. During the course of the story, from a sort of garden centre of death to Tennessee to a Las Vegas casino and finally finding the entrance to Hades behind the Hollywood sign, various Greek myths are played out in a trendier setting, such as killing a Medusa by relying on sight only through the reflection on the back of an iPhone.

It's honestly difficult not to sound like I'm just making all this up as I go along, but it doesn't really take itself seriously (how could it?) and a lot of it was quite funny. It's always going to be compared to Harry Potter and the like, but it has the courtesy to at least be enjoyably ridiculous.

Steve Coogan!


Jan. 2nd, 2010 09:05 am
davidn: (rabbit)
From the very first time I saw the previews for Avatar where I didn't know the details of the storyline, I was intrigued because it seemed like it was going to be a lot like Albion. After finally getting to see it and looking at the storyline and setting standing on their own rather than latching on to a game from my past that I've artificially connected to it, I can now say that it's a lot like Albion. The setting is almost entirely identical as of halfway through the game - humans land on a planet rich in rare resources but which is inconveniently populated by another intelligent species of tall cat-people. There is, of course, the fairly important whole idea of the avatars, which obviously isn't done in the game, but the whole style of the two of them share a lot of similarities, including ones I wasn't even expecting when the film started, like the glow of life in the plants of the forest and the idea of having a way to tie bodies together and hear their spirits, though in Avatar this seems to be part of the hair rather than the forehead. Even the first lines are spent talking about the main character's dreams of floating in cryogenic sleep.

The film looks... wondrous. I was trying to think of words to describe it and that just about does it - I can certainly see why it's being called the mark of the next generation of CGI as Jurassic Park was before it, and I really haven't seen anything come close to this level before. You can easily forget that so much of the film is computer-generated - it's sort of like what the Final Fantasy film set out to do, except it works. The details of the creatures and plants on Albion Pandora are all incredible, with so much detail on the various species, their eyes, the alien way they move or beat their multiple wings, everything. The scenery is also wonderful, a feeling shared by the main character when he is first in the avatar body, able to walk around unaided and to see the reactions of the plants as he touches them. Throughout the first half of the film, you're treated to gorgeous sweeping shots of all of this as the group of characters spends their time running through the jungle and climbing up through something that looks like a rendered Derek Riggs album cover to the inexplicably floating islands, complete with Civ 4 music in the background. For the first hour it would be entirely appropriate to say that it invents a new film genre of alien planet tourism.

Then, just as you've absolutely fallen in love with it, in a remarkably familiar move, you are treated to a sequence of destruction that is easily the most difficult and horrifying scene to watch since Bambi's mother died when you were four, and which would be entirely appropriate as a Turing test to confirm that you have a soul. Again it's made all the more intense by the quality of the CGI - the facial expressions of the terrified and dying Iskai Navi during the firestorm are distressingly realistic and humanlike. This also sets you up to despise the unbelievably ruthless colonel who looks like Bryan Fury and proves just about as indestructible. It's telling that during the giant battle scene, by comparison, you don't feel one scrap of empathy for the people who are being lanced clean through by arrows or thrown out of their helicopters of weirdness. Because we're humans, and we can only ugly and despoil. Thanks a lot, James Cameron.

It has a running time of roughly eight hours but it really doesn't feel like it takes a long time, and that must be a good sign. It should also be mentioned that it's quite an impressive feat to have made a film that consists mostly of blue cat-people who don't tend to wear any... clothing, and yet not have it come off as fanservicey in any sort of way. However, perhaps this is because it's too late for me - maybe, in a few years' time, a load of new people on Furaffinity will be thinking back to going to see this film when they were 12 and realizing that this must have been where it all started going wrong.

Rather like Albion, in fact.
davidn: (Jam)
All right, I can't cry at the end of a Disney film, this is ridiculous, I'm 25. But I came close when the second star appeared - I thought that Disney couldn't kill anyone. I was expecting it to be an easily reversible Disney death well past the moment when you think that all chance of survival is lost.

We went to see The Princess and the Frog yesterday, in a date attempt where the place we were going for lunch was closed and the cinema opened late. As it's the first Disney film in a long time to return to the old hand-drawn style, it had a very nostalgic feeling to it - I felt like I was back in primary school on our yearly Christmas trip to the cinema (not least because we were surrounded by children who didn't know when to shut up and were kicking the backs of the seats). There's a charm to drawn artwork that is only very rarely replicated in the more recent rendered animated films - it isn't a complete reset like other recent throwback Mega Man 9, for example, because there are lighting and particle effects that weren't there in the 90s, but the 2D and 3D artwork blend together well.

The psychedelic song dream sequences are also back, one of them done in a period jazz style that I'd really like to impress you by knowing the name of - none of them struck me as instant classics, but it's strange to now be at the age where I can appreciate the vocal performances and everything rather than sitting back and wondering when this song's going to end. They haven't hit on a Beauty and the Beast in their first return to the old style, but perhaps a decent Rescuers Down Under instead. (Well, I liked it.)

I was also surprised at how un-Disney the villain death was - for that reason and the spoilered part above, it almost felt more like Don Bluth at the end. Well, nothing's like him, but it was perhaps very slightly less soft then you'd expect Disney to be.

Because TV Tropes will ruin your life, I also found myself recognizing and being able to name facets as they appeared. It's terrible.
davidn: (prince)
Game-based films have never exactly been the pinnacle of culture, perhaps because the two formats are so deceptively different from each other. Most of the ones that have come out in the past have suffered from trying to cram in too many very disparate ideas for the sake of the fans, being too far removed from the original game and almost unrecognizable apart from name-dropping, or being made by Uwe Boll.

But Whitney showed me the trailer for the 2010 Prince of Persia film yesterday and even though I wasn't really daring to hope for anything I've got to say it's looking... surprisingly good. (I have to make the concession that I also said this about the Silent Hill film before I saw it.) The 1991 Prince of Persia was a cinematic game before anyone even knew what "cinematic" meant, so it's nice to see that after nearly twenty years it's finally getting a film of its own. This one is, of course, based on the only loosely thematically related Sands of Time trilogy, but both the game this is based on and the film itself have had Jordan Mechner on board as the writer, and based on previous experience he seems to be one of the people with the increasingly rare talent of being able to make things that aren't crap.

From watching the trailer, it actually looks like it has a good try at staying close to the look and feel of the game without trying to stuff the whole thing as-is into a film format, and without even Matrixing it up as much as might be tempting for something so based on time manipulation. Some of the supposed Persians are suspiciously pale and/or English, but that's not really anything new compared to the original.

Yes, it's not going to have a vast impact on the cultural film landscape, but it looks like fun in a Pirates of the Carribean kind of way - I'm going to be looking forward to seeing this.

Now watch me be as wrong about the film as I was about the game.
davidn: (Jam)
I think it was [ profile] yemminie who introduced me to the mad genius of Hayao Miyazaki when she encouraged us to go to see Spirited Away when it was released in Britain about four years after everywhere else. This weekend, when staying with friends in New York, we went out to see his latest film, originally called Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea but shortened to just Ponyo for less verbose countries.

I was very surprised from the start, as I knew nothing about the film before watching it, and the titular character turned out to be an unnatural human-fish-Pacman ghost chimera (and only one of the characters seems remotely unsettled that it has a human head). But Miyazaki seems to be able to make anything look good - it's very nice to see a drawn film at all again, and the style is wonderful as always. The charm is turned on from the moment she's first seen along with her tidal wave of squeaking Ponyo-babies.

Though I'm at a bit of a loss to explain what happens in it - do you remember at the end of Howl's Moving Castle when a lot of things suddenly happened without any explanation at all (presumably to cram the leftover bits from the book in)? This is a bit like that, except that's the whole film. There's a sort of environmental theme around it, with her causing a storm that raises the sea level by drawing the moon closer and deciding to grow arms and legs to be a human after a boy on a nearby island rescues her from a jar and feeds her some ham, and they're both constantly pursued by her father, who wants to destroy all humans but only wants to save them and restore the balance of nature as well... it was made in Japan. That's about all you need to know.

Speaking of her father, Liam Neeson deserves an award category to himself this year for Most Miscast Person - I don't think anything will ever beat the time when Rik Mayall was given the title role in Merlin in this department, but when Fujimoto is wandering around his undersea lab like a Sideshow Bob-haired James Bond villain muttering to himself for extended periods of time, the voice just doesn't fit. It's impossible to reconcile the character with the voice when the heroes are being pursued by giant grinning wave-fish summoned by Daniel from Love Actually, even if he almost fits the favourite villain mould in this country geographically. In fact he almost sounds like he's trying to be Christopher Lloyd in places - who on reflection would be a lot more appropriate. He's certainly got the hair for it.

The Totoro-like theme song that plays at the end is also worth a mention - it's weird enough originally, but if you don't speak Japanese, the Americans have obligingly wrecked it, as this is their foremost national talent. I hadn't actually thought it was possible to fit that much autotune into three minutes before.
davidn: (bald)
It's strange to have an important yearly date suddenly added to your life. The second half of November wasn't very special to me until recently, when it became - in a tradition rather different from how the rest of the country celebrates it - a day of eating potatoes and eggs for breakfast, going to see a film, playing a board game and then having far too much seafood soup and apple pie afterwards. (I have guiltily skipped the further tradition of going out to get a Christmas tree today, on the surface because of being ill due to last night but in reality in favour of having a bit of much-needed peace and quiet instead.)

We usually wake up to the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, which consists of a heap of giant odd-shaped balloons and floats going through New York, with some Broadway casts, singers and awful boybands that I've never heard of performing the second-worst guitar miming in the world. Rick Astley was also there for some reason, looking as bewildered as everyone else at his accidental comeback.

After seeing James Bond's comeback two years ago, the film this year was Quantum of Solace, which made in all honesty rather a disappointingly non-existent effort to tie the film in with the original title and therefore make it really mean anything. In taking away the sort of camp factor that the films had - which I know wasn't intended in Ian Fleming's original works, but it became what you went to see a Bond film for - it feels rather more like the Bourne films, and shares the sort of incomprehensible style of fight scenes. Is it my brain that's just getting slower, or can anyone understand what's going on in these at all? They're all filmed very close up with an average take length of about a pico-second, and after a couple of moments I can hardly tell who's who any more. And between those the chases, like those in the first of the Daniel Craig era, are via jumping and swinging around rooftops like so many Princes of Persia. The first one ends (after a vertical shot of bursting through a glass roof that's nothing short of spectacular) on a pile of scaffolding and stretched ropes that reminded me all too much of a giant game of Ker-Plunk.

The structure of them is still quite similar to the old ones, though, even if the tone has changed. They're more believable, though the general cyclical structure of action/plot-advancement scenes is still intact, leading up to a final confrontation at the big enemy's base, which this time isn't a space station or underwater research lab but a power station at a dam that looks rather like The Crystal Maze.

The experience would have been rather better if we didn't have the Coughers' Union to our right and the National Board of Annoying People behind us, one of whom stood on my elbow - but it's still better than it's going to be when I'm inevitably roped into seeing Twilight.

I also want to mention that Whitney performed the impressive feat of winning Trivial Pursuit against her entire family and me this year. That's something that's never happened before.
davidn: (Jam)
We went to see Wanted today. I've really no idea what to say about it. It's insane. Usually when we go to see films I gather a few thoughts together while watching them and then totally forget to write them out, but this deserves some mention. It's... terrible, but makes absolutely no apology for its level of madness, and I don't think I've laughed quite so much at a film since Van Helsing.

On the surface the plot involves a pathetic office worker who becomes an assassin, but you'd be hard pressed to remember because most of the time is spent wondering what just happened. There was a time when absolutely everything tried to copy the style of The Matrix, and this revives that, but exaggerates it beyond any reasonable proportions. In a way rather like Devil May Cry, you get the feeling it's fully aware how stupid it's got to be to get attention, and every scene in it has a strange dream-like quality in that you get the sense that it just can't happen. It's impossible to run so fast out of the fiftieth floor of a building that you make it all the way to the tower on the other side of the road while shooting three bullets in mid-air, one of which goes round a corner. It's even more impossible to flip a car over another by ramming a third car at it head-on, braking with one while accelerating with the other, and then to shoot someone through the sunroof of the target car while you're upside down. And you absolutely cannot hit somebody squarely in the back of a head with a giant sniper rifle across about a mile and a half of city, en route going straight through a can of Red Bull and a doughnut. But all these events take place in the film and are treated as perfectly plausible.

The rare occasions where someone isn't being punched in the face or blown up manage to test the limits of plausibility as well. The storyline of the film involves the wimpy protagonist being introduced into a secret society of weavers who have their headquarters in something resembling Fort Boyard, and who assassinate targets based on a binary code written out microscopically by (I promise you) the Loom of Fate. At least the plot point later on is a surprise (there's only the one).

You would think after all that there's no chance a film could be anything other than an action parody, but it's rather worrying that it's difficult to tell whether it's taking itself seriously or not. The awful emo-metal shoot-em-up section near the end stands out above all the rest of it as lacking a hint of irony. And that comes just before a crucial scene that relies on your ability to suspend disbelief that a bullet can be fired in such a way that it travels in a 360 degree circle.

This week on Mythbusters...
davidn: (Default)
As I've always maintained, one of the best parts about being married is that suddenly it becomes acceptable to watch cartoon films again. And now that Disney and Pixar seem to be getting on with each other again after their own divorce a few years ago, the two of them seem to be coming out with some amazing things recently. Whitney and I went to see the irritatingly-named WALL-E yesterday night.

Unfortunately it's rather difficult to describe this film without spoiling it massively because as seems to be the fashion recently, everything I've seen in trailers for it is very misleading and doesn't give away any of the actual story. So I have to just summarize it in general. The central character is a tragic-looking waste disposal robot, and the majority of the other characters are robotic as well. This, combined with the way that there is very little dialogue (there are a couple of words exchanged about half an hour in, and nothing resembling human speech until quite a while after that) makes it all the more surprising that everything in the film has so much character to it, in their movements, mannerisms and their BBC Micro-like speech. Even finding out the names of some of the characters is really quite a big moment - in particular the curved white robot that was clearly built by Apple.

So I don't care if you're 25 - see it anyway, and just tell everyone that you're going to see it for its animation (which is naturally spectacular). As harmless as the film is to have earned a U rating (I am still uncomfortable about using the term "G-rating"), the theme of it is very dark at times, with at least one scene that's a frankly horrifying look at what consumerism would have evolved in to in the film's setting. And even though it's on the surface a children's film, it's as clever as you could hope, with a number of in-jokes and references to popular culture - one of the best ones comes when the titular character is obviously unable to classify a spork.

Speaking of U-rated films, I hadn't been to one in ages and they always show you trailers that you never see otherwise. Apparently we're now feeding our children with these horrifying aberrations. And I thought chihuahuas were a bit frightening anyway.
davidn: (savior)
We went to see the Iron Man film yesterday, and it was all sorts of fantastic. Iron Man was always my favourite of the Marvel characters, and the film manages to effortlessly fit most of the storyline of which I was aware into a modern-day setting, including the capture in the Middle East (history currently repeating itself helps with that bit), the building of the three stages of Iron Man's armor, even a slight hint that James Rhodes would eventually become Warmachine. And it didn't take itself too seriously, either - Tony Stark, despite his silly Roy Khan-alike beard and the way his dialogue at the start of the film might as well consist entirely of "I AM A TWAT", becomes a superhero not by accident but largely because the idea is rather fantastic, and manages to blow things up without having a midlife crisis about it.

Little references to the earlier Iron Man incarnations, including the one I mentioned above, were present throughout, including a couple of places where the original theme tune was played, and a couple of sequences very much like the titles for the later cartoon series. The revelation of where the name SHIELD came from got a collective "Ohhh!" from the audience I was with. And special public thanks to [ profile] stubbleupdate for telling me to stay past the end credits - without spoiling anything, I had forgotten that there was a rumour that he was going to appear until that happened, so I wasn't disappointed by his apparent absence and was even more surprised when he turned up.

I was also impressed that they fit Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" into it. I remember all the way back in about 2001 when I was on the Iron Maiden message boards, someone said they'd heard of a possible Iron Man film and said how great it would be if they had that song in it. And the replies were along the lines that it would, but they were Hollywood and the song didn't actually have anything to do with Marvel's Iron Man, so it was spectacularly unlikely. So it was nice that they did it anyway.
davidn: (Default)
Whitney's family have very strict and unbendable traditions for Thanksgiving (the day that the British give thanks that several boats pushed off and gave the rest of them some more room). It begins with a potato and egg breakfast, followed by a film, then a board game, then a traditional dinner of... seafood stew. Because they're vegetarians, you see.

This year, after altogether far too much debate about the subject because there really weren't any good Thanksgiving films out this year (whatever a good Thanksgiving film is), we went to see Hitman. Now, it's true that I share my dad's taste for really stupid films (Independence Day, Van Helsing, Mortal Kombat, and so on) but I genuinely think that the reviews for this film have been rather harsh. I would actually go so far as to say that it's the best game to film conversion so far, although let's be honest, competition in this field is not fierce. And I haven't played the game for more than about ten minutes over at Craig's when we were in sixth year of school, so I don't really know anything.

I had only been aware of Timothy the Oliphaunt since Die Hard 4, in which he was rubbish. But here he somehow works, because much like Roger Moore he is only capable of one expression - that of mild annoyance - and that translates rather well into being totally emotionless. The plot involves Scottish Bloke, English Bloke and Russian Bloke attempting to find Agent 47 as he performs various hits, but beyond that is not incredibly coherent. And it's not as if he would be very difficult to trace. "Tall. Bald. Barcode on head." It's true that the film is just one gunfight after another, but you couldn't expect any more, really.

The board games came out next, and in a variation on the traditional theme, they were both DVD-video games (something that I hadn't seen since the likes of Atmosfear about fifteen years ago). These were Scene-It and Jeopardy.

On a technical level, I was quite impressed with the Jeopardy game. It uses three infra-red "buzzer" units which communicate via IR to a large battery powered "game unit" that doesn't appear to contain anything at all, which passes on signals to the DVD player via an IR transmitter that is velcroed to the DVD player's IR receiver. Understand that? Keep going, it gets better. I'm not certain of the memory on DVD systems - I had thought that they were just flowchart-style menus with very little room for actual variables, but this keeps score and keeps track of subjects chosen from a six-by-six grid throughout the game.

However, where it falls down is how they've chosen to ask the questions. The only quiz game that did it competently was Trivial Pursuit on the Commodore 64, which was brave enough to rely entirely on the judgement of the other players to decide whether you'd got a question right or not, which was perfect - otherwise you're working with parsing hundreds of multiple possibilities and deciding whether a misspelling is close enough. This goes for having multiple-choice answers - and while that's not disastrous in itself, the possible answers they've chosen make even the difficult questions extremely easy. For example:
This composer wrote Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. What is...
a) Mozart
b) Beans
c) An abdominal muscle

Osiris was the Egyptian god of this.
a) The afterlife
b) Biscuits
c) Hairdos
So the best way to win the game became the "Stab furiously at the buzzer until it recognizes you" tactic, followed by ticking the obvious answer. Although there were a few bombs in it where you were supposed to know the height of a dam in Kazakhstan or the like. The other disadvantage to this game is that when we opened the DVD player drawer it was no longer there, and said player is now out on the table with the disc presumably lodged in its innards until someone can find whatever star-shaped tool is needed to unpick the insane star-shaped screws on the sides.

Scene-It is actually much better - it has a far simpler DVD system than Jeopardy did (and I'm glad I've got that out the way, because it's an incredibly awkward word to spell), relying on just a menu to select different categories from, from which questions are chosen at random. And the correctness of an answer is decided by the other players, with tie-breaker questions also provided. It's a quiz about films, which I don't really know much about (see opinion of Hitman, above) but has enough observation-type questions to make sure that pretty much everyone has a chance.

Then there's the meal in which everyone eats far too much, then bed, followed by tree-hunting the next day. I may write something about that, but seeing as I'll be on another six-hour flight within twelve hours my capacity for writing entertainingly is not fantastic.
davidn: (prince)
Whitney and I went to see the fourth Die Hard film last weekend. It's called "Live Free or Die Hard", but the title seems to mean absolutely nothing apart from being a way to tie it in to the Independence Day weekend. It is, however, slightly better than the situation they would have found themselves in if the third film had stayed with the title "Die Hardest", as they'd have to have called it "Die Even Harder than the Last Time We Made A Die Hard Film". Anyway. I imagine that Britain doesn't get it for about the next three years, so these are my thoughts.

The plot about illegal transfer of funds over the Internet seemed unusual at first, but thinking about it further, it's a natural progression of the series - the Die Hard villains have always been cyber-criminals. Hans's group were in the building at the time, Cardboard Cut-Out German Baddie #2 used the radio waves and Simon did it over the phone network while simultaneously stealing half the gold from underneath New York, but the principle was the same. The scope of the films has always increased, from a building to an airport to a whole city, and this time, the entire country is used as a weapon by the hackers - from diverting traffic two ways down a tunnel then turning the lights off, to channelling half the natural gas in the country to one refinery in their attempts to get John McClane. Which he naturally survives with only a slight nosebleed.

By the way, for the first time in a Die Hard film, the villains are not German - they're led by an American and include disposable henchmen from every nationality that they don't really like at the moment. I'm fairly certain that he had mismatched eye colours, too, which is a trend for characters that is getting well overused now (although it could have been just the way that, as another current trend dictates, the film was shot in almost complete darkness for a large part of its running time).

Naturally, a lot of the film centres around computers, and every single one in the film uses the mysterious movie-OS that no computer in the entire world looks like (nobody in the film or TV industry has ever got past this, the only exception that comes to mind at the moment being the computer that actually looks like a computer in The Manchurian Candidate). More worrying was the inability of the people who wrote it to spell either "algorthim" or "faild".

But you don't watch the film for that, you watch it to see Bruce Willis running around and alternately shooting at people and blowing things up. I have to wonder how screen writers come up with new fight scenes for action films. Each new idea becomes even more far-fetched than the last, and the possible highlight of this one is a fist/gun fight inside a van while it's nose-down halfway up a lift shaft. And at the end, the manic over-the-topness of the previous film is recreated and exaggerated further than ever before. It's difficult to imagine how anyone is going to beat John McClane driving an eighteen-wheel truck on nine wheels, around a collapsing freeway ramp, while on fire, pursued by a Harrier jumpjet.

Somehow, though, something about it didn't quite sit right - it's nowhere near as far removed from the rest of its own series as, say, Terminator 3, but it doesn't feel like the older films somehow. I think quite a lot of this is because it's the only Die Hard to not take place in near-realtime - 1 and 2 were pretty much continuous narrative, Die Hard 3 took place over the course of one day apart from the scene at the end, but in this one, there are gaps of up to half a day while the characters transport themselves from one enormous set-piece to the next. The cleverness and inventiveness of the other three seem to have replaced with making things as gigantically impressive as possible.

Overall, "With a Vengeance" remains the best Die Hard film, but having said that, I think "Die Harder" is still the worst. Considering the usual track record for adding on to an existing classic series, that's a pretty respectable result.


Apr. 14th, 2007 11:48 pm
davidn: (Jam)
Happy Feet is the most disturbing film that I've ever seen. When Whitney and I put it in the DVD player this evening we were expecting a family film about tap-dancing penguins. Instead, we were treated to an uncomfortably sexual musical with overtones of religious persecution, narrated by Robin Williams doing an impression of Barry White. Featuring tap-dancing Hispanic penguins. And it was written by someone called George Killer! That tells you all you need to know.

And no matter how emotive an episode of Doctor Who may try to be, I just can't take anything seriously when it has Dougal Maguire as an anthropomorphic cat.

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