Category Archives: Films

Buff Review Show: Cesser De Voler Mes Rêves, Vous Naine

Or “Stop stealing my dreams, you dwarf”.

Anyway, preamble first. Unfortunately Bridesmaids was sold by the time I got to the front of the queue, so my sister and I froze our proverbials off in a showing of Transformers 3. A showing which might as well have taken place in Iceland, because it was a tad chilly to say the least. So I have to wait a little while to get to Bridesmaids, but Transformers review will be up for the weekend.

Here is a belated review request for a friend, who suggested I give this a watch and possibly review it!

La cité des enfants perdus (City of Lost Children)

Well where on Earth do I begin with this one? Our film begins with an unfortunate man named Krank, who cannot dream, and thus in his wisdom kidnaps orphans from “The City” to steal their dreams. He lives out in the middle of a mine-riddled, puce-green sea in what can only be described as an oilrig inspired by . With him is his high-pitched dwarf-wife, Mademoiselle Bismuth, his six cloned sons, who seemingly shared one brain at creation, and a talking brain in a tank whom is probably voiced the French Alan Rickman, whom also suffers from chronic headaches. Are you with me so far?

Good. Ron Perlman plays a simple, yet incredibly strong, former whale hunter turned circus performer named One. Krank’s men have taken his younger brother, Denree, who will be put into the dream-deprived scientist’s dream-machines. One must journey, with his sidekick, a young girl by the name of Miette, to the City of Lost Children- Krank’s domain. This is another one of Perlman’s stranger roles, and is a good twist on his old favourite of playing “the big guy”. I mean he is 6’4” and built like an orangutan dressed as a tank, but it is nice for him to vary it up a bit. He also speaks French throughout (what with this being a French film) although he more grunts it than speaks it, which is part of his character more than IANFPerlman’s inability to speak the language. In fact he does incredibly well, as I know he has spoken Spanish in another foreign film whose name has escaped me.

I am a fan of foreign films, so I knew what to expect going into this (somewhat). The settings and characters throughout are wonderfully surrealistic and generally bizarre. Along the way One and Miette come across some evil Siamese Twins (known as The Octopus), some assassin fleas led by an organ grinder, Krank’s army of “Cyclops” (more men who can only see with their strange steam punk monocle device) and a squad of wailing, suave French kids.

As with any film, in particular foreign film, the necessity to concentrate throughout (mostly on the subtitles) is ever present. This isn’t as dialogue-heavy as a lot of foreign films can be; Perlman’s dialogue is stunted and simplistic throughout as is befitting his character. He reminds me a lot of the character Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’, but perhaps a handful of brain cells smarter. In fact One is a real ‘Frankenstein’s Creature’. If you crossed Lenny with Terminator with Rupert the Bear I think you’d be in the right ballpark. It’s almost a shame you have to spend the entire film watching the bottom two inches of the screen, because there is a lot to be missed from the characters and the settings. This is a film that requires a second or third viewing. Failing that, viewers should be fluent in French.

The stories of our heroes, One and Miette, as well as the story and goings-on with Krank and co. on the oilrig, blend nicely as we progress through the odd fantasy-meets-steam-punk world created by famous French directing team Jean Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. The camera angles create a different look, compared to a lot of the films out in that era, but the editing is so smooth you barely notice the crossing of stories. I found much of it captivating, and at any opportunity I could get I would try and focus less on the text and more on the scenes set before me. To the film’s benefit, it uses very little CGI, especially during a period when the technology was in it’s very early days, and was being misused left, right and centre by many a film crew.

The true message behind City of Lost Children is this desire for a family. Krank has his scientifically formulated, mismatched family of clones and experiments, but it is not quite right. Then there is the touching story of One searching for his little brother, and the journey he and Miette embark upon. When the film focuses on this theme is when I find it at it’s most poignant. The fantasy thrills and quirky visuals are great, but there is never a case with this film of the style smothering the substance. It is also quite relieving that the film doesn’t turn into a fantasy version of Oliver, although the orphans are much reminiscent of Fagin’s and of kids from the classic book and musical. Every time you feel that there is something familiar about the film, we are treated to another zany location, or some curious piece of dialogue. Again, the balance struck here between the artistic and the necessary is in perfect equilibrium.

This is not a film everybody is likely to love. I had never heard of it until very recently, and am looking into finding a copy of Jean Pierre Jeunet’s debut film ‘Delicatessen’ to watch. It was his debut piece, and has received mixed reaction over the years, with some claiming it is one of the strongest directorial debuts on it’s kind. Now that sounds like something I need to see! But please enjoy ‘City of Lost Children’, as it is another one of those rare gems that crops up every so often. Just not very frequently in 1995!

Buff Review Show: Green Lantern = The Perfect Eerie Glow…

Okay, a little later than expected (forgive me for wanting sustanance after my gym session), but here it is, my review for the umpteenth Superhero movie of the summer.

Green Lantern

Well, another week, another Superhero movie. I feel like I should be getting a card stamped for every one I attend. Maybe after I’ve seen nine of them I can force someone else to go and see the tenth. I will give some credit to Green Lantern for being IANFdifferent to the rest of the Superhero films that we’ve seen so far this year. It is more kid friendly than Thor or X-Men: First Class, and has a far lighter tone than both of those films as well.

Ryan Reynolds is playing Ryan Reynolds doing an impression of someone pretending to be the lead male of the film, Hal Jordan, a test pilot with a penchant for being a womaniser, as well as one of those guys who you would get along with but secretly curse for his good looks and talent and oddly deeper-than-usual voice. Seriously, I don’t know if Reynolds was trying to channel Christian Bale from the newest Batman movies, in which Bale’s voice is so gravelly you could pebbledash a house with it. It sounded unnatural coming from Reynolds, and sometimes it slipped back into his normal, much higher, voice that we are used to from his comedy workings from the past fifteen years or so.

Anyway, the film opens with a big set up for future events, with Hal testing some big fighter jets with female co-star Blake Lively. Her father owns the company that produces these military jets and she is his next in line from all accounts. Blake manages to do better in this film than Natalie Portman does as her character in Thor, if only because at least Blake’s character, Carol Ferris, and Hal Jordan have known each other for some time, and have some chemistry built in already. Portman’s chemistry with Thor was barely one peg above the chemistry exhibited by herself and Hayden Christiensenn in Star Wars Attack of the Clone. But Blake Lively is the absolute antithesis or her ridiculous surname. She may not be useless but by lord is she blander than porridge oats mixed with dishwater.

It is shortly after the unsuccessful test flight, that Hal Jordan is chosen by a fallen and injured purple alien, known as a Green Lantern, to become his successor and protect this neck of the Milky Way with a fabulous suit and tacky ring. My problem is that the alien that crashed, having been attacked by the film’s main baddy-more on that in a moment- sent out his ring to find a successor. It takes barely five minutes to pick up on Hal, having seemed to be bored of searching for someone after the first couple of square miles of wasteland and rivers nearby. Hal’s subsequent training on the digitally created planet Oa, home of the Green Lantern Corps, the place where all the Lanterns from al the races of aliens across the universe live, is equally stunted, but there is no doubt in your mind that those five minutes of training would undoubtedly mean he would save everyone and win the day, despite being faced by space Kraken.

Yes it would appear Kraken are not restricted to pirate films these days. And just about everything is ten times cooler when you place the word “space” in front of it. Parallax, a former guardian for the Green Lanterns, who then turned to the dark side (or in this case, the yellow side) was sealed away many years ago because he wanted to use the bad, yellow power of fear as oppose to the good, green power of will. I wonder if there is some grey power for not giving a toss. Anyway, as it turns out the purple dude who crash landed on Earth was the guy who sealed Parallax away, and, actually, you know what, I can’t say Parallax without thinking it is some sort of rectum paralyzing drug to ease the problems of constipation… But it’s okay because we have another baddie in town…

Well sub-baddie. Parallax Lite, if you will. In fact he may as well have not been there at all. They could easily have done more setting up of the main baddie, more exploratory insights to the world of Oa, or Hal’s relationship with Carol. But this is a film which already feels like 75% set up for this film, and possibly more to come, which then just fizzles out towards the end. Peter Saarsgard gets a mention for his role as Hector Hemmond, a scientist who, it would seem, is meant to be the same age as Hal and Carol, but looks like he should be about 40-something. I don’t whether this lot all went to school together, but Blake Lively character looks ten years younger than Ryan Reynolds’ (as she is in real life), yet they were childhood friends/sweethearts-to-be, so am not entirely sure what’s going on there. Hemmond has some mildly villainous parts, but is soon screwed over by Parallax and just spends most of his time on screen screaming at anyone that so much as mentions the words “daddy issues”.

Finally, the 3D and CGI, as that’s what you obviously all care about in my reviews these days. I would put Oa just a point or two below Asgard from Thor, if purely because we don’t get to see nearly as much of Oa. The CGI Green Lantern suits looked fine and I wish the comic book fans would stop spewing out impossibly low scores for this film just because the costumes aren’t the same as the comics. I did my research (don’t know quite where I found the time) and, yes, Hal Jordan had a green, zip-up jump suit kind of deal, but he eventually had a suit made of the energy from the ring of power. Would we really have wanted to see Hal Jordan get undressed and redressed every time he wanted to get into his green trackie bottoms and top? Okay the mask looked a bit naff, and some of the effects overall seemed outdated, with the childishness of Spiderman 3 and the outdated quality of Spiderman 2. I couldn’t stop watching the back of Ryan Reynolds neck when he was in the suit, as it kept moving around like he was being consumed by a sheet of snot.

So, a recommendation for Green Lantern? Why not? Go for it. I enjoyed it more than Thor, it was a different tone to X-Men and will undoubtedly be forgotten about in a few weeks time when Captain America comes out. Oh, and stay ‘til the end of the credits. I foolishly forgot that no film can end these days without pulling this stunt, so sit tight and wait for the teaser for an inevitable sequel.

Title: Buff Review Show: Well I’ll Be Dammed (additional Beaver puns removed)

At time of writing, it has been approximately fifteen minutes since the end of The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster, whom also made her directorial debut in this film. I needed to get this review written up nice and sharpish, so without further ado, here is the review for one of the oddest, yet most heart-warming, pieces of cinema I’ve seen this year.

The Beaver

Well we might as well get the plot synopsis out of the way with first, as any of you who’ve not seen anything about this film prior to it’s release last Friday, will and are fully entitled to be slightly confused by the trailer and the film’s concept. In fact, if you take out the titular rodent in question (second largest rodent after the capybara no less, thank you Wikipedia for that IANFnugget of information), the film would play out as a very ordinary, incredibly familiar film that is simply acted better than your average 2.4 children destruction of a family affair.

Mel Gibson is Walter Browne, CEO of a failing toy company, the reigns of which were given to him by his dead father in place of anyone with any sort of competency. Walter has lost his way in life, and his already strained relationship with his wife Meredith, played by Foster, as well as a distanced connection with his two sons, Porter and Henry. Walter has severely lost his way in life, and is dealing with severe depression, which leads to a handful of failed suicide attempts within the first few minutes of the film (nothing too graphic, it was almost Laurel and Hardy in style). Prior to the failed attempt on his own life, Walter is dumping some of his personal belongings from the banged up car he is rattling around in, making room for necessities such as whiskey, scotch, bourbon, vodka and so forth. In the dumpster he comes across a (surprisingly clean looking) beaver hand puppet.

Flash-forward to post-shower-rail-related-comedy-moment, and Walter wakes up with the hand puppet attached to his hand (naturally), and finds it talking to him, or finds himself talking to himself through it, or, whatever, complete with a cockney-mockney accent. Actually, I would go as far as to say that the accent wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Eastenders, and gives Shane Richie a run for his money in terms of cheeky chappiness, but with a darker side. Think Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins, if every so often Bert would stop humming a tune while sweeping the chimneys and mutter something under his breath, before booting a nearby pigeon off the rooftop and onto unsuspecting children down below.

With the Beaver on-hand (someone find me a snare drum and a cymbal) Walter turns his life around, restoring himself in the eyes of his wife, co-workers and youngest son. Not so much with the eldest son, but he is too busy in a completely different film altogether which only tangentially links to the Mel Gibson side of the movie by proxy of being on the screen at the same time. It isn’t as jarring by the end of the film, and of course the message the film is trying to get across emanates throughout every character, major or minor, but it was almost a depressive teen movie being shown during a depressive adult movie. I guess I have to look at it as the father living through the Beaver, and his son living through other people (he does their homework and assignments and whatnot for good money.

The introduction of the Beaver to Walter’s family is, naturally, tentative at first, but they believe it is part of a psychological process prescribed by a doctor. Why they seem to believe this is beyond me, it’d be like prescribing daily doses of Bert and Ernie to combat the flu. What I fail to believe though is that none of his employees find it odd, and are all very accepting of their CEO existing through what is essentially a brown oven mitt with eyes and teeth. I tried to suspend my belief as best as possible, but in the end I just couldn’t accept that EVERYONE was okay with this, and that no one sent for the men in white coats and the biggest syringe of Valium (or animal tranquilizers) they could carry. I had the same problem with Foster’s character, it seemed she couldn’t grasp exactly what she had to do to try and help his husband through this. There is a scene about halfway through where Meredith and Walter are on an anniversary meal, and the entire film just flips on itself!

The second half of the film soon loses a lot of the light-heartedness that was present early on, and on a pivot goes from light to sinister. Make no mistake: this is a film about depression. This is not a look at family life in general, or the use of puppetry in the media, or a teenager boy-meets-girl flick. The last thirty minutes of The Beaver makes this fact very clear, and manages to overshadow any doubts and issues I had with the earlier parts of the film. Viewing Walter’s rapid decent and escalation through the side effects of depression, and the effect this has on his family and his health in general, was truly powerful and a real shock to me. The scores and plaudits this film has received have ridden, and indeed been amplified, by that third act.

With stunning performances from a varied cast, in age and in experience, ‘The Beaver’ is a real treat, but is a niche film for an incredibly niche market. Very few people will end up seeing this in cinemas, which is a shame, but I hope that this review will convince a few more of you to go and check it out. With it’s unique view on the topic of depression, and great blend of light comedy and dark, thought-provoking drama, this comes with a huge recommendation from me. It’s just such a shame it is being lost amongst Thor, Pirates and the huge selection of other big blockbusters.

Buff Review Show is Definitely A Four, Not a Five, Except On Fridays

One of my colleagues at work has been talking about this film non-stop since it came out. So as the DVD is out on Monday, here is my review for ‘I Am Number Four’, a supernatural “thriller” for the Twilight generation…

I Am Number Four

‘I Am Number Four’ is a strange title on the whole. Considering it is likely there will be sequels to this one, the mind boggles as to what they will call the next one and how they will number or otherwise label it. Both ‘I Am Number Four 2’ and ‘I Am Number Four The Second’ sound strange, IANFand even after watching the film it really seems impossible to work out where they want to go next with the naming and numbering malarkey.

Anyway, mathematical ramblings aside, the ‘Four’ in the title relates to the fourth alien, of nine, sent from a planet far away to Earth when the alien’s home-planet was destroyed many years ago. These nine gifted children, plus their warrior-bodyguards who are lessgifted, are scattered across the globe because… well we’re not really certain why. We know they had to flee their former planet, but what makes Earth so special? The weather is frequently terrible, nobody gets along, and everyone still seems oblivious to the presence of alien life-forms in the universe. However, the voyage to Earth is made and “The Nine” are sent into hiding, until the day they can… do something or other. Again the film really isn’t clear on this matter.

The film kicks off with the demise of number three, whom is attacked by a creature which can only be described as a cross between a grizzly bear and a flying squirrel on steroids. When the great beast isn’t mauling aliens it’s probably an entirely adorable space monster. Number Four, whom is enjoying a swim on the beaches of California, starts glowing and gets a burning sensation on his leg. We see a new scar appear in the shape of the talisman that belonged to Number Three, joining the scars from Numbers One and Two. This unfortunate occurrence forces him and his guardian to move from their beach-bum lifestyle to somewhere soggy and grey looking.

So after a particularly dodgy looking dye job that I cannot stop staring at for the entire film, Number Four and his warrior counterpart, masking as father and son, disappear and head for a new location to start a new life again. The usual rules of “stay hidden and remain inconspicuous” are meant to apply here, but are soon abandoned when he is wooed by the swooning maiden of the film.

The whole film is a little predictably structured: accompanying Number Four on his ventures are the gorgeous girl, the geeky sidekick whose Dad was somehow involved with the aliens and mysteriously disappeared a few years previously, the school jock who ticks every box on the “How To Be A School Jock For Dummies” checklist, and the femme fatale whose accent I cannot fathom out- she is either doing an irritating impression of an Australian accent throughout her time on screen, or she is just Australian.

I briefly mentioned the baddies earlier, and they really should deserve just a brief mention. They have this weird gruff, yet high pitched, voice, like if Joe Pasquale did the voices for the demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. IANF2Not to mention they look like roadies fresh off of the latest Marilyn Manson tour, right down to the big black boots, the weird fetish for facial tattoos and body mutations, and some rather fabulous black leather jackets which would make even the cast of The Matrix blush. None of them are ever particularly menacing, more bumbling at time when they repeatedly fail to capture the kids.

What this film lacks is a “head-baddie”, whom I presume they are saving for the aforementioned likely sequel ‘I am Number Four: 2 :Who is Number 5?’ And with this lack of a main baddie, we just have the goth-brigade and their pet flying bear beasts.

The special effects are well done, but it surprises me that they haven’t either made the film in 3D, or tacked it on in post-production, because this seems to be one of those rare occasions where the 3D would have worked quite well. All those flashing light pulses and laser beam weapons, not to mention the final set piece of the film, would have looked phenomenal in 3D, but alas, film producers will get it right one day.

‘I Am Number Phwoooaar’ is a little underwhelming and “tweeny” for my liking. It adopts the Twilight approach to things, although fortunately isn’t nearly as angsty as that series, all the better for it mind you. It has a somewhat more comic tone, which works much better. It’s far too polished and pristine and put-together, as if it came out a flatpack from Ikea and it is mostly there, but is missing a few nuts and bolts.

Nuts and bolts in this case referring to the missing bad guy, and a sense of purpose for why they are all here. We know that the baddies are here to kill the numbered aliens, but there is no real reason ever mentioned why, that I can remember, other than the fact that they don’t like them. They are mindless goons doing the bidding of some higher power, and in any other film the higher power would let the goons take centre stage for 75% of the film. Then, after a half dozen bumbling attempts at doing their job, the “big boss” will step up to the plate and try and do it himself. And if the “big boss” doesn’t make an appearance in I Am Number -insert-roman-numerals-here I will be highly suspicious of this franchise.

The whole thing comes across as an old Scooby Doo episode when the gang are attacked by measly, bumbling idiots for the first ten minutes, and then they all just go off for malt shakes and sandwich eating contests for the rest of the show.

‘I Am Number 5-6-7-8- My Rootin’-Scootin’ Baby is Driving me Ker-razy…’ just feels like part of something bigger, as oppose to being able to stand as a film on its own. I just hope that it does well enough at the Box Office, and doesn’t go the way of the Alex Rider or Eragon films, because I genuinely would like to see what happens next as it is an interesting premise, if just handled a little bit lazily. I just don’t think it is something I would ever consider to be a real DVD purchase, but I’ll await a sequel for some time in 2013.

Buff Review Show Sneaks the Mutants in through the Backdoor

Sounds like one or two dates I’ve had before now…

Anyway, here is my much-anticipated (I’m sure) X-Men: First Class review! Finally! It’s done! Stop emailing me! =P

X-Men: First Class

It’s reboot of the month time! *waves ceremonial flag*X-Men Okay so you know the formula right? Surely you must? Okay, well those who do go and put the kettle on while I spell things out for anybody else.

When a new franchise of films or games comes along, the following happens 104% of the time:

1st Title- is the new introduction to series/character/franchise, whether old or new.
2nd Title- normally follows on from the first, and can occasionally be the first part of a two-part movie spectacular when linked in with the 3rd title in the franchise. Also tends to be the strongest of the three.
3rd Title- used to tie up all the plot lines and stories of the 2nd title, if it is a direct sequel, or the trilogy as a whole, and otherwise tends to be both the longest and least successful of the three.

And while the “original” X-Men Trilogy (as I guess we now need to refer to them) doesn’t quite stick to the formula, with the proverbial jury being out on whether the third film was a brilliant piece of Superhero cinema or an overlong excuse for Hugh Jackman to flex his bits all over the screen again. The trilogy then lead onto the Wolverine: Origins movie, which was originally though to be the first in a new trilogy of “Origin” titles, but no now that has been buggered up, because despite it being pretty weak sauce anyway (did we not cover enough of Wolverine’s story in the original trilogy anyway?) it sold better than triple-breasted blow-up doll made of chocolate, as thus is likely to get it’s own sequel. So we’re giving a sequel to the spin-off. ‘Kay… Seems to me that’d be like giving “Elektra” a sequel.

So now this is the point in the franchise when the reboot kicks in, or a prequel title to set everything up from the beginning, again. Star Trek, Star Wars and the Prince of Persia games are among a huge list of franchises that have all done this, to relatively wide degrees of success. X-Men: First Class isn’t a reboot as such, although from what I’ve been told by everyone I know who is a fan of the films, the games, the comics, the Beast plushies and the Rogue bed spreads, this film messes around with the timeline of the actual X-Men universe from the films, but there are so many alternate X-Men universes at this point I think this is something we should stop worrying about.

X-Men: First Class is set primarily during the Cuban Missile Crisis of the late 1960s, but sets up the events of the film slightly earlier than that, from the concentration camps in Europe to the halls of Oxford University. The film is definitely a strange blend on the surface; three parts ‘Schindler’s List’ to two parts ‘Austin Powers’ with only a passing resemblance to the X-Me films we’ve come to know. Gone are Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey and most of the other X-Men we’ve ever met. This story, like the Origin movie set around Wolverine, focuses on the dynamic duo of Magneto and Professor X, or as they were known in their younger days, Erik and Charles, played by Fassbender and McAvoy respectively, whom I must say do excellent jobs and really are in keeping with the characters you already know and love. Also returning from the future is Mystique, or as she was once known, Raven, whom we’re introduced to as a child when she mistakenly tries to enter young Charles Xavier’s home to impersonate his dead mother. Whoops. She reverts to her true form, which apparently comes with a rubbery faux blue skin complete with seams and zips and her name written in the label, and the two become inseparable (look at that scene closely when the DVD comes out).

First Class takes us on the journey of how the two became friends, before they became bickering geriatrics in fabulous costumes. I find it strange that although the huge presences of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are clearly missing, they are not missed. The whole atmosphere is more muted than the previous films, but not in a boring way. With all the 60s glamour and music and lingo and bad clothing, the gap in brightly coloured costumes and hair-styles and powers seems to have been filled quite nicely, and no point ever seems to devoid of life, nor to overly exuberant. It is a strange equilibrium, but there is clear thought into how this film was going to look and feel, and the finished product displays this proudly through every scene.

I watched this film, positively enrapt, from start to finish wanting to leave the cinema so I could queue up and watch it again. This is as close to perfection, I feel, that any superhero genre movie has ever gotten, and might ever achieve. And for a reboot, that is no mean feat.

But before I affix a plethora of gold stars to First Class’s blazer, I must point out that his cap is askew and there is a scuff on his left boot. By this I mean there are one or two things that irk me ever so slightly, and both come right near the end of the film. Actually the first of which happens throughout the film a number of times, and this is the witty little jokes and asides the characters have that set up things that have happened (and will happen in their future), such as names, professions, hair styles and generally they’re just there as a no to the audience. Fine. When used in moderation I was okay with this. Then we get a deluge of them right towards the end, and several are repeated that we have already heard from one character or another, and you’re kind of left sitting there thinking “I know he is going to end up being bald as a coot, get on with this scene”.

The only other thing that annoyed me slightly was Charles losing his ability to walk. Oh come on this isn’t a spoiler, he’s been in a wheelchair most of his life, although, depending on your source, exactly when this takes place is up to some sort of roulette demon who picks and chooses paralysis dates like he’d chose the evening’s takeaway. That, however, isn’t my cause for annoyance. In the scene when the incident happens for Charles to become paralysed, in the wide shot, we see James McAvoy’s legs move. Okay, fine, it might have been a small error, but when you have made me lurch out of my seat at every moment, you better get the big details correct in the final scenes, because I was sitting so close to the edge of my seat I was practically perched upon the person two rows in front of me. And if I am willing to clamber over my fellow man to get a better look at a superhero movie, that really is all the review from me that you need folks!

Buff Review Show- Arabesque. Plié. Psychotic Episode? Bad Swan!

It’s amazing what two weeks of ballet at the age of 6 DOESN’T teach you…

Anyway, Black Swan has been out for a couple of weeks, and has kept me well occupied while I catch up on a few bits and pieces. So for those of you who haven’t seen it, or have been unsure of whether to get it on DVD, this review should help guide you in the right direction!

Black Swan

If you thought 127 Hours was an enthralling and visceral masterpiece than stick yourself in an adult nappy and prepare for the wetness to ensue as you sit down to watch Black Swan. If I had to sum it up in two simple words, excluding the two adjectives from the previous sentence, I word have to go with beautiful and nightmarish. This film will grab you by the proverbial bits form the first scene right the way to the last. Watching Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Nina, a ballerina whose desire to play the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, a role that commands her to be both the beautiful, pure White Swan, as well as her evil sister, The Black Swan, it is clear to see why she and the rest of the cast and crew from this film will be having to cart away their awards in wheelbarrows made of gold.

Director Darren Aronofsky, whom many of you will know from ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream’, to name but a couple of his masterpieces, manages to do what few other directors, if put in charge of this film, could do- blending together the lines between thrilling suspense, squeamish horror and character-led drama. This is one heck of a piece of cinema that is entirely of it’s own genre, as I and many other reviewers find it impossible to be classed as any one genre.

It is the bravado style of filmmaking that proves that Aronofsky’s other hits are not just flukes- this is a man who knows EXACTLY what he has to do, not only with the script-writers and actors, but everything from costume design to music to direction. The film is full of contrast, sometimes quite obvious, like the constant changing of black and white clothing between characters at key points in the film, but it is never overdone, and when it is at more subtle, glimpsing levels the film just gets more brilliant. I found this one hard to review not only because of the pretty serious content of the film, which doesn’t allow for a lot of laughs to be had on the reviewing end, but also because, well, what can I point out that is wrong with it?

Ok so the build up is slow to start, but from the first scene Nina is in we know something is up with her, something deep and hidden, and that is the whole point of not only this story, but how the story of Nina merges with the characters within Swan Lake she is trying to portray, both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Those who work with and around those who suffer from split personalities and psychosis problems will find this film getting very close and intimate with the subject. I will say that, for a while, I found the character of Nina to be a bit stuck, too overly naïve, and almost expressionless to begin with, which makes it hard to understand why she would be chosen to lead the ballet with, supposedly, better dancers around her.

I’ve spent the first few hours or so after viewing Black Swan trying to figure out in my mind if any other actress could have played the roles filled by Portman and Mila Kulis (That 70’s Show). And my answer: no. We’ve seen Portman play the delicate flower before now, who isn’t afraid to show a bit of skin and show a slightly raunchier side here and there, and Kulis is well established as the saucy, sassy, brash femme fatale with those incredibly hypnotic eyes. But could anyone else really have done justice to the characters?

This is probably one of the most subjective films that I have seen in long while, that has done the subjectivity well and isn’t just cloning ideas and concepts already done. We can all talk about ‘Fight Club’ and so forth till the cows come home, but this is a deeper level of psychosis and denial and sheer foreign nature of the human mind at it’s most raw and naked. At any point in the film it is difficult whether what we see before us is truly what is happening, or whether it is what Nina has crafted in her mind, or indeed what her mind has crafted for her to see. It’s certainly a film that keeps it’s watchers on their toes, and you certainly need to watch every stylised, saturated second of this film to fully appreciate it.

And you know what, as much as I enjoyed the mother-daughter relationship between Nina and her raging-nutcase of a mother, I have to say the content was strangely reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s ‘The Piano Teacher’ that it stuck out like a sore thumb covered in razor blades, but, at the end of the day, I do appreciate ‘Black Swan’. I’ve seen reviewers handing out well-deserved marks of 9 or 10 out of 10, but what interested me was a review I found giving the film only a score of 1. Despite me wanting to wrench out the reviewers fingers and seal them in a box for typing a review that misses the point of the film so hard it hurts even my eyes to read it, I can see, in a dark room, if I squint, a small point to his review.

The verging on pornographic, explicit sex scenes involving Portman and then later on Kulis as well, produced a few laughs in the screening I was in, but I think this was more of an unsure laughter than anything else. It’s a real precipice for the film before we lead into the final scenes, and I don’t believe it damages the film as much as my fellow reviewer seemed to believe it did. At the end of the day, these films are Oscar nominated for very good reasons, and if you’ve not seen ‘127 Hours’, ‘The King’s Speech’ or this, you really should firstly seal yourself in an oubliette for such a travesty, and while you’re in there why not watch ‘Black Swan’ on a portable DVD player and get ready for the ride.

Buff Review Show- All Headache, No Fun with Hangover Part II

Forgive me for not wanting to donate too much of my early demise into RSI-related Arthritis to The Hangover Part II, but I wouldn’t spend five minutes elaborating on this film in the same way I wouldn’t spend five minutes sniffing industrial strength paint remover: my brain is likely to shrink in size by about a quarter and the consequential headache just isn’t worth it.

So The Hangover, as I refuse to give it any sort of numbering. This is still The Hangover, and whether it is part two, volume deux, section zwei or even sub-section dos, it is still the same as it’s predecessor in every way possible.

Actually, one difference to the previous one is the feel for the characters to, now obviously appealing to the “ironic” crowd, to yell out “Oh no, it’s happened again” every five minutes as if they’re being sponsored to do so. And between every tedious repetition of that woeful line comes the equally tedious and desperate repetition of “What the hell happened last night?”, to which by the end of the film I was practically yelling “EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED LAST TIME YOU DOLT” to Bradley Cooper’s smug gurning face.

But let’s be real here. It’s a monkey instead of a tiger, it’s Thailand instead of Las Vegas, it’s Lady-Boy hookers as oppose to the regular kind and instead of free-loading champions of brains Alan, played by Zak Galifianakis, drugging them all with Ruffies like he did in the first film, this time it’s… oh wait it’s still him drugging them all, but this time it is muscle relaxers and ADHD meds so it’s totally different.

Oh come on, don’t look at me like that. Of course THAT was going to happen. How else do you think they were going to get them to do all the stupid stuff they did from the first film again? Actually for a short while I was almost convinced they had decided to do something differently, but no, why try for something different when we can retread the same square-inches of beaten track pretending everything is some great, fresh discovery like a dementia-suffering gold-fish in a jam jar.

I shan’t bother telling you what you already know about the film, if you were a fan of the first one you’ll have been waiting for this like sweaty fourteen year old girls waiting in Justin Bieber’s laundry hamper. When I reviewed Due Date last year, also starring Zak Galifianakis alongside Robert Downey Jnr, I mentioned that a lot of people unfairly dubbed that film “Hangover 1.5” ahead of this one. In all honesty I liked Due Date better than both the first Hangover and it’s sequel, which is closer to being Hangover 1.25 more than anything

The problem I find is that the character of Alan has now been seen in 3 films, as his presence in Due Date may as well have been a cameo as oppose to an entirely different entity. So now seeing him AGAIN a relatively short time after Due Date, the act seems stale. If they really want to do something different with the franchise, set it in a similar style Due Date, and try and get away from the pattern that has already been flogged like a dead horse in a Thai kitchen. Or failing that, just cut the series altogether, although with Box Office sales going through the roof there is little doubt in my mind that there will be a third film.

In fact I’ve come up with a hilarious little game you can play at home ahead of the next Hangover film. Using the following template, fill in the blanks and see if you can accurately guess what will occur in the 3rd film. Closest answer of anyone who even remembers this review once Hangover 3 comes out will get a box of chocolates and become President of the World. Here we go

“Well the boys are back, and this time, while on another Bachelor do in BLANK, the boys accidentally get drugged by Alan and wake up the next morning in BLANK, not aware of anything that had happened the night before. After yelling “Oh no, not again” for the umpteenth time, the boys empty their pockets and find a BLANK which is their only clue to help them in finding their lost BLANK. Along the way they meet a BLANK, several BLANK, and also run into BLANK Tyson, again.”

There we go. Copy it down form my blog, fill it in, and email it to Bradley Cooper because I’d hate for him to have to worry about plot ideas for the next part. In no particular order, my missing answers are a pig, a kayak, Bognor Regis, half a sandwich, white supremacists, Mike and the heir to the throne of Denmark.

Buff Review Show- Goes Canyoneering for a spot of Open-Air Surgery

With the DVD release imminent in most regions, it seems as good a time as any to post my review for 127 Hours, Danny’s Boyle’s Oscar hopeful hit from the award season just gone, starring James Franco. Plus a good friend of mine (and employer) @xeroxeroxero, from www.inretrospectpodcast.com (check out my affiliates for another link), just recently saw ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, another great Boyle film, so this goes out to Xero!

127 Hours

127 Hours is based off the book, which is based off the real-life experience, of Aron Ralston, an American mountain climber, outdoor enthusiast and now public speaker. He gained fame in May 2003 when, while canyoneering in Utah, he was forced to amputate his lower right arm with a dull knife in order to free himself after his arm became trapped by a boulder. The film is presented autobiographically of the events leading up to that incident, and the five and a bit days he spent trapped there, trying to keep himself alive and free himself, all the while losing in to the elements and the restraints of his body when put under the pressure and strain of the situation.

There is no sense in trying to hide what happens as many people know what happened to Rolston on that incident, but even if you don’t remember it from then you may have read his book, obviously titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” because presumably “Dude, Where’s My Right Arm? Oh Wait, it’s Trapped Under this Boulder!” wouldn’t fit on the front cover… Or indeed you would have read about this film recently because of all the fuss surrounding it coming up to Oscar season. Each year we all need a good autobiographical retelling of a recent American tale that is always equal measures touching and tragic and patriotic, see last year’s perpetrator The Blind Side, for which Sandra Bullock won the Oscar for. Deservedly, I have to say, as it is still a standout performance, but it is the story and the script itself that she worked with that did a lot of the work.

But this film deserves at least 90% of the hype it is trying to steal away from The King’s Speech, Colin Firth’s opportunity to win every award ever made it seems.  And while there are plenty of other films around vying for everyone attention, the problem is we haven’t seen the vast majority of those films nominated for awards- Black Swan is yet to be released along with True Grit and The Fighter, all of which are set to pick up several awards apiece.

So we have 127 Hours, out of the starting blocks a few weeks ahead of the competition but by no means was it rushed out. The film is polished to within an inch of its life, but that special kind of Hollywood polish that doesn’t glamorize and reduce the impact of the original incident. This is like taking a priceless Ming Vase and polishing it with gravel using a handful of wire wool and then transporting said vase in a box padded only with iron filings and faulty Swiss-army knives. And still the Ming Vase comes out looking just as good as before. And that’s what 127 Hours is- a priceless piece of cinema that is both fragile and incredible in equal measure but isn’t afraid to get itself dirty for the sake of staying true to it’s concept.

The story goes Aron Rolston, seasoned climber and extreme sports enthusiast, was hiking/climbing/swimming/flirting his way across Blue John Canyon, Utah in 2003 when the incident happened that caused him to be stuck in the canyon trying to free himself for 127 hours. What we are treated to in roughly an hour of just James Franco and his mind and his final thoughts, wishes and visions as he spends those five days crucially trying to reserve his water, recycle his own urine, try to free his arm and indeed use what little resources he has (a cheap knife, ropes and cords, lights, camera, rucksack, map etc) to try and Blue Peter his way out of harm’s way and live to climb another ravine.

James Franco really does bring the sense of desperation that Rolston must have gone through. You can’t even begin to relate what it must have been like, and the research that went into this must have been phenomenal. Everything from Rolston’s dehydrated visions to his final recordings to the messages he leaves scraped on the canyon wall, all of it delivered and shot brilliant under the direction of Danny Boyle. The film is beautifully crafted from start to end, despite the slightly eye-straining split-screen moments the film has here and there, particularly THOSE opening credits… But the journey James Franco takes us on as he accurately depicts Aron Rolston’s descent into near death and near madness is endearing and heart-pummelling throughout.

But a warning to all of you venturing to the cinema to go and see this film! It is visceral! With a capital V, and maybe underlined several times in permanent marker. This is visceral multiplied by grim with a quick dash of intense. The scene right near the end of Rolston’s entrapment in the canyon is frighteningly realistic and difficult to watch even for those of us with the most hardened stomachs. One guy collapsed behind me, (a tad over-dramatically, I mean there was really no need to collapse AND throw your popcorn at me, but whatever…) but there have been reports of people fainting from watching the film here and there. If you can sit through an average episode of Casualty and some of the milder scenes from something like Saw don’t give you the proverbial willies, you should be okay.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

At the end of the day, the film is brilliant and deserves the credit it is due, and Danny Boyle had better have made plenty of room in his cabinet because I think this film is going to give the King’s Speech a run for it’s money a bit, if Natalie Portman’s Black Swan doesn’t get in there first that is!

Buff Review Show: (Barely) LIVE on the Radio Today!

Sleep deprivation aside, I’m rather wonderful, thanks for asking.

Thursday’s mean one thing: Buff Review Show is LIVE today from 2pm till 4pm on Felixstowe Radio 107.5fm and via the web http://felixstoweradio.co.uk. Just follow the link and click the “Listen Live” button on the website.

Today’s live show will be featuring my reviews for:

Lady Gaga- “Born This Way” Review:

http://wp.me/p1zp2p-Z

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

http://wp.me/p1zp2p-H

As well as my yet-unpublished review of Robin Hobb’s fantasy novel “The Dragon Keeper”, which I shall publish after the show.

And the assorted features of my radio show include my Trailer of the Week; the Mailbag, in which I answer listener and reader’s questions; the Buff Entertainment News, featuring X Factor, Sony and Cannes Film Festival; The Buff Releases for the week, featuring everything coming out in the cinema, on DVD and for your games console or MP3 player, and finally the Last Gasp, my 30-second mini review that caps off the two hours of awesomeness that is Buff Review Show.

Hope you can all tune in, listen out for your opportunity to text in to the show, if not tweet and Facebook me while I am on the air. And if you haven’t noticed, there are some rather helpful little tabs along the top menu to link you right through to my Facebook page and Twitter feed.

See you all at 2pm!

Buff Review Show: It’th Thuch an Eye Thor (Bad Pun Alert)

Didn’t go and see Thor again in the end, but here is the review nonetheless for anyone wanting to catch it before it comes out of cinemas (probably another week or so for main stream cinemas, smaller ones maybe got it a little longer?).

And if you’re reading this and ever thought “Wouldn’t it be lovely if there was a simple was for me to subscribe to the Buff Review Show blog?” well now there is! Look to the left under the twitter feed and you will find a dead simple subscription button! As is the etiquette with Twitter, if you subscribe to me I will strive to subscribe back to your blog if you have one!

Anyway, enjoy the review (well, Marvel fans might not) and see you tomorrow!

Thor

So… Thor… Erm… Okay, I’m going to give my end summary at the start because there is no reason for me to pussy foot around the subject. Thor is nothing more than a placeholer for the big Avengers mash-up next year, and unfortunately also is stuck with being the runt of the Marvel pack this summer, with more time and money going into Captain America and the Xmen First Class films. I can’t and won’t sugar coat the situation, but from Marvel’s POV, I can’t see how putting out three films in as many months is healthy, especially when two of them are linking in to the grand Avengers plot they’ve spent more than five years setting up like a house of cards.

But I don’t think Thor is bad, certainly not bad enough to bring the entire Marvel house of cards crashing down around it’s feet, but it is purely a functional film in setting things up for what is to come, and for that reason forgets to enjoy itself and have fun. I’m pretty tolerant with films, but I found myself struck with crippling boredom about 30 minutes into the film. The film started and ended well, but meandered slowly through the middle portion.

The relationship between Natalie Portman, playing astro-physicist Jane, and titular character Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, doesn’t get started until the start of the second act of the film, about 30 minutes in, and is wrapped under twenty minutes from the end so Thor can go and save the day back home, and with a paltry four or five scenes together it just doesn’t give them enough time to get the chemistry going. And with Thor’s mismatched facial hair issues, I couldn’t stop gawping at his face trying to work out if the problem was his beard, his eyebrows or his face in general, but something was horribly off about it which is a shame for such a handsome chap.

The basic plot is that, having been banished to Earth from his home in Asgard by his father, Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, for being a petulant whelp. His brother is the Norse God version of Severus Snape and at any moment we don’t know if he is evil or just a tad mean at times. Anyway, Thor slams into Natalie Portman (lucky guy, I guess) and she changes him overnight from an arrogant God to a noble God in the space of an hour (one very long hour of film time) before he goes back to fix everything he’s broken. Nothing out of the ordinary throughout and close your eyes a bit and you’re almost experiencing Clash of the Titans, which is not a comparison I imagine this film desires.

Another thing that marred the overall look of the film is the 3D, which is poorly done if I am being generous and downright ruinous if I am going to be frank. A short way into the film I had a rather Scooby-Doo-esque moment where I dropped my 3D specs on the floor and had to crawl around like Velma patting down peoples legs and sticking my hands into varying gooey substances (which I deigned disgusting enough not to investigate as to their source or purpose) in the bid to find my glasses. After a while I gave up because I found that the scene that was playing out required no 3Ding at all. And indeed a lot of the film went on like this, I ended up purposely watching most of the film without the glasses and found very little difference. The film was also very dark, and not in the atmosphereic intended sort of way, just the dark undecipherable sort of way.

Even LOTR, the brownest film ever made, whose entire pallet of colours can be summarised as “Burnt Umber”, was able to distinguish between dark and light, most importantly during fight scenes and night scenes. But there was a whole scene, probably a good ten minutes long, and one of the few BIG set pieces in the film whatsoever, was nearly impossible to watch- between the 3D glasses taking everything a shade darker with their tinted lenses, the camera apparently attached to a flock of passing sea gulls chasing a loaf of bread attached to one of those remote controlled helicopters as oppose to any sort of proper rigging, and the dark colour palette at the time, just left me confused as to what I was watching. Dull coloured characters, whom are fighting blue/black creatures, set on an icy tundra-like wasteland, primarily grey and blue, all of which is set at night, AND THEN the added darkness of the lenses. Did nobody watch this and think “hmm, what’s this ten minute grey smear doing in my film?”

I think the casting is fine but the writing isn’t, and in the same way that Derek Jacobi’s minor role in Hereafter couldn’t save that movie (heck, even a tsunami wasn’t enough to help that pile of trash) then Anthony Hopkins playing Odin (the few times he was actually on screen) is not going to help if everything else is substandard. And don’t think, Marvel, that we didn’t notice the boom in the scene in the pet store half way through. What, was this film shot by gorillas during a banana famine?

Belligerent ancestors aside, I really cannot recommend Thor. It’s fine if you just want to stuff your face with popcorn for two hours, but an all-too-long 2nd act, bad cliché dialogue and sloppy use of 3D just prevent me and probably a lot of other viewers form enjoying it properly. My advice is to watch it in 2D or wait for the DVD to come out later this summer, but don’t feel like you’re missing anything in the whole “Avengers” mythos for what is coming next year. Marvel could have just made a leaflet, sent it to every person in the world with a mailbox, that just reads “This is Thor, he has a hammer, kind of an ass at times” with a big mugshot of Chris Hemsworth’s eyebrows vying for print space.

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