Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Review: Films part 3: Good

Part three of my round up of the year. Parts one and two can be found here and here.

I've seen a bunch of good films this year. Here they are. They're not the all conquering kings of the landscape, but they were all very entertaining, and if you bought them for me on BluRay, I would not have to feign gratitude.

The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon's life is being manipulated! By men with hats! And there's a girl he fancies. But has that been manipulated too?

A snappy, clever film with a great lead performance from Damon, who is slowly proving himself to be one of the most capable and interesting stars of his generation. The central conceit, which lives somewhere between conspiracy thriller and pure sci-fi, is confident enough to never feel the need to explain itself. It's basically an exciting romp with some great ideas behind it, and plenty of neat visual moments. And some ace hats.

Captain America

Remember when you came out from seeing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Remember how angry you were? All the action-adventure of the original Jones films reduced to CGI nonsense and lame plotting and some monkeys? Well, Captain America is here to make things better. This is an unapologetically straightforward romp through a universe both cartoonish and believable. It's the same world Dr. Jones used to inhabit - authentically grimy and real, with characters who live and breathe, yet populated by fantastic and implausible events that swing just around the edge of "Oh come on!" before landing gracefully on the side of "Yeah! Go on then!"

If you've seen the trailer you've seen the plot: weedy wannabe soldier gets genetically enhanced to go fight the bad guys. Explosions ensue. There are some terrific set pieces, well choreographed and with a smart visual eye: bombs destined for the USA's major cities have the names of said cities printed on them in huge, Wile E Coyote print, while Hugo Weaving's villain, the Red Skull, feels like a real guy, albeit one you would vomit on.

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two

Last Christmas I was bought the Harry Potter books and I read them all for the first time. I was surprised how good they were, and found myself most absorbed, often forgetting to eat, bathe or, in extreme cases, go to the shops for more alcohol and porn. Thus, when I emerged from the final book, bearded and semi-feral, I was more than ready for the cinematic release of HP7.2. This time I had an advantage that had eluded me during the other instalments: I knew what on earth was going on.

I'm sure the various screenwriters and directors did their best to condense the massive amounts of story in the books into commercial films, and given the limitations of the form, I think they did pretty well. But it must be said, watching some of the films without the benefit of reading the source material did often leave me going, "What? Who? What? Whyyyyyy?" The culmination of this came at the end of The Half Blood Prince when Hans Gruber from Die Hard swoops his cloak around him and reveals that yes, he is the eponymous Prince! And everyone just sort of looks at him, and he looks at them, and it's all a bit uncomfortable, and then everyone walks off to have their tea. And I sat in my seat going, "Whuuurrrrr...?"

Anyway, I knew what was going on this time, and it was very good, and the battles were quite thrilling. I still haven't got a clue, though, what all that business with the wands is about, at the end. You know, when Harry fights the evil nazi from Schindler's List and somehow their wands do a thing, and that means everything explodes in a way that pleases the heroes, and annoys Ralph Fiennes. I've re-read that bit in the book lots of times, and had people try to explain it to me, and there's even a bit in the film where Ron and Hermione go to Harry and say "So what was all that stuff with the wands?" because they don't understand either, and Harry tries to explain. But I still don't really get it.

Liked the film though.

Tree of Life

This was very beautiful, and dreamy, and had dinosaurs in it. It was probably too long, and I was very hungry by the end, but I felt like I was having an experience, even though I'm not entirely sure what it was.

Super 8

A deliberate attempt to recreate ealry 80s Spielbergian wonder, which, for the most part succeeds. Good performances from the kids and a palpable sense of time and place make this a beautiful two hours. In fact, it may deserve a higher place than I'm giving it, but two things stop it being perfect:

a) While not wanting to spoil the ending, it does seem to me that if none of the main characters had done any of the things they did, and had instead just sat and played Connect Four, then the plot would have worked out almost exactly the same as it did when they ran around screaming and having adventures.

b) There were two annoying bastards down at the front of the cinema wittering away and playing on ther phones through the first twenty minutes or so. I kept hoping they would stop, but they didn't, and I became near homicidal with irritation. Ultimately I was consumed with anger and stormed down to the front to be all Yorkshire and cross on them. To my pleasure, they did as I asked and shut the fuck up. However, I was by this point unable to regain my child like sense of wonder.

There are more, but I feel I have gone on somewhat, so here, briefly, are the other films I enjoyed quite a bit:


Special pill makes man brilliant at everything. Man is, however, still a man, so does his best to cock things up. Starring the ghost of Robert DeNiro's charm.


Young men in 21st Century Britain go on holiday and say 'clunge' a lot, as funny TV show charges onto cinema screen and defies expectations by being just as good. For my thoughts on it, see this post.

Made in Dagenham

Girls in 1960s Britain are told they are rubbish. Girls swear a lot, and win the right to be Prime Minister and host daytime TV chat shows.

Another Year

Old people in 21st Century Britain have tea and uncomfortable conversations for a whole year.


Young man in 1970s Britain become thuggish due to a) social pressure and b) him being a bit of a cock. Then gets less thuggish. Then gets more thuggish again. Then has a fight with Jesus. Then is nearly eaten by lions. Possibly.

Attack the Block

Young people in 21st Century Britain fight aliens, in the 'hood.

See you next time for the best films of the year. Bring snacks.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Review: Films part 2: ones that were OK.

Christmas inches ever closer, like a timid kitten, or a glacier, or death. And with it comes a thing of spectral wonder: part two of my indispensible guide to how good some things were compared to some other things in 2011.

In part one (found here) I told Clint Eastwood's Hereafter to go and sit in a corner and have a long, hard think about what it had done. Part two's films are not as rubbish as that utter waste of space, and should you spend your time with one of them you'll probably go, "Hmm. Yeah. That was OK." But that's all you'll think. You won't buy a cool T-Shirt featuring iconic images from the film, or be compelled to re-enact key scenes with your friends, or force a future romantic partner to watch it as part of a complicated series of tests to see if she is worthy of your time.

Here are the films that, this year, were merely 'OK'.


Liam Neeson runs around, wondering who he is and getting increasingly cross when no-one will tell him. He thinks he is Liam Neeson, obviously, but then he has a car accident, and then everyone says "No - you're not Liam Neeson. This other guy is." Except they don't call him Liam Neeson, they call him whatever the character is called. I can't remember what the character is called, and neither can I be bothered to check on IMDB. If you care so much, you go check. It doesn't matter, though, because the only thing we care about is that this is Liam Neeson, and we all really enjoyed watching him in Taken, killing everyone in France, and we're hoping this will be similar.

Anyway, so, Liam Neeson isn't Liam Neeson. There's this other guy doing Liam Neeson's job and going out with Liam Neeson's wife, and generally pretending to be Liam Neeson even though he isn't Liam Neeson, he's this other guy. So Real Liam Neeson gets all cross, and does some top level shouting and hitting things, and it's all quite exciting, and has a pretty clever plot. Although everyone but me says they worked out what was going on really quickly, which means either a) I'm thick or b) they're a bunch of liars.

Cowboys and Aliens

What's up with Harrison Ford? In the 80s he was the single coolest thing in cinema, inhabiting Han Solo, Rick Deckard, John Book and Indiana Jones. He made every boy want to run around shooting stormtroopers, or fighting nazis, or chasing replicants, or erecting a large barn with some Amish people in a symbolic act of communal strength. He was great at playing action heroes, imbuing each role with wry, intelligent humour and real film star presence. And then... nothing. A bunch of insipid romantic leads that failed to turn him into Cary Grant and instead left him looking like someone's grouchy dad who has wandered on screen by mistake.

Don't get me wrong, Ford's contribution to the films of my childhood earns him love and respect forever, no matter what he does in future. But it's just really annoying to see him now, seemingly unable to enjoy playing at pretend like he used to. Did you see that horrible 'Red Carpet' interview they kept showing in the run up to Cowboys and Aliens? Ford stares at the interviewer, clearly wishing he was somewhere else having a sandwich or patting a horse or something, and says nonsense like, "It's a really interesting... entertainment... there's a lot of... action..." Really Han Solo? Is that what it will be? An interesting entertainment? That's not even a bloody sentence!  You can type that shit, Harrison, but you can't say it.

Despite Ford's ungrammatical assertions, The film is not that interesting, and only sporadically entertaining. Some aliens come to steal some gold, and some cowboys shoot at them with guns for a bit, and there's a lot of noise. It's kind of enjoyable, but takes itself far too seriously for such a daft premise, and thus ends up leaving you feeling a bit 'meh.' It should have either gone Evil Dead 2 bonkers, which would have been silly and fun, or headed the other way and been Robocop hard-as-nails, with gore and nudity and unbelievable violence. As it is, it's just... alright.

Fright Night

3D is good for one thing, I have decided. It is good for little fiery cinders, floating around in the air after a vampire explodes. When it comes to depicting the frazzled aftermath of a staking, 3D is your man, creating beautiful, fascinating visuals that really help you understand what it might be like to stand in the middle of a cloud of ashes that used to be an evil bloodsucker from hell.

But that's it, for 3D. The rest of the time it is a massive distraction that utterly takes the viewer out of the story and, frankly looks crap. Ironic, given all the wittering about how immersive 3D is, that the overall effect is to distance the spectator from the image, making it far less real.

Fright Night actually has a lot going for it, not least a couple of great performances from David Tennant and Colin Farrell. Tennant basically does Doctor Who with swearing, and is clearly having a lot of fun, and Farrell makes an enjoyable, mean bastard of a vampire. The effects are pretty good and there are some decent set pieces - most memorably the tense escape-from-the-vampire-house sequence and a nice Near Dark-esque final showdown.

Its main problem is one of pace. The basic premise - what if you had a vampire living next door - is thrown away too quickly and the film reels about trying to find a coherent direction for the second half. The level of threat posed by Farrell's vampire seems to change depending on the requirements of the plot, and the motivations of everyone involved never quite feel right.

That said, it was a decent watch, and given the choice between watching it again and walking up a really steep hill, I'd probably do the first one.

Love and Other Drugs

The good: it has lots of nudity in it. Hurrah! And I laughed about four times.

The bad: it has literally no idea what kind of a film it is. Light hearted Rom-com? Serious issues film? Apatow style slapstick comedy? Tragic exploration of love against the odds? It has a stab at all of these, and scores a few laughs along the way, but ultimately leaves you unsure as to what it was trying to achieve.

Still. Nudity, eh?

Tower Heist

Or, as it is called in Northern Ireland, "Tour Haste". This is very nearly a good film, and I had a lot of fun watching it. Eddie Murphy is quite entertaining, and there's a nice ensemble of actors getting together to perform the titular robbery. We have some 80s style over-the-top set pieces and a strong central premise. But it's too long by about half and hour and, also like a lot of 80s films, it doesn't fully commit to being a comedy, playing its thrills as serious action-movie stuff. Hard to pull off, and not something which really works here. And absolutely no nudity.

So there you are. Watch these films if you want. They will entertain you a bit.

Wonder if that's the sort of quote that gets you put on posters?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Review of the year: Films

Merry Nearly Christmas!

As the twinkly, frosty, multi-coloured joy of Christmas shimmers into view all around us, I'm sure the question that burns most brightly in your mind is this:

"What were Rob's favourite films, television programmes and books of the year? I need to know, so I can pass on the wisdom to future generations, so they might build on this knowledge, and grow in their appreciation of intelligence and beauty, and never again wage meaningless war, or make another film like Marley and Me."

Well, worry not. Over the next few days I will be entertaining you with my (correct) opinions on the cultural output of the year, and you will come to understand why I am right and why your ideas are half formed, ill considered and ultimately pointless.

We'll start with films.

For various reasons, I've not seen as many films this year as I did last (88 as opposed to 128, though I may pick up a few points over the holidays). Part of this is down to an increased love of television, with much more of my screen time being devoted to wolfing down seasons of brilliant TV shows like The Sopranos, 30 Rock and The Fades (more on them in future). Part of it is probably due to an increased love of sleep.

Anyways. For the next few days, here's a selection of what stood out for me. I think a few of them are actually from last year, but I only got to see them this year, and it's my list, so they count, so just get off my case! Today: the bad.

The Bad

Just one film in this section.


Yes, Clint Eastwood, that's right. I'm calling you out on this dreadfully muddled, irrelevant waste of my time. I don't care if you're a skilled actor, versatile director and, even past your 70s, still a better fighter than me. Hereafter is officially rubbish.

It starts well enough. There's a very impressive recreation of a tsunami devastating a costal town, which gave a kind of terrifying baptism to my new surround sound system and made me feel like maybe I was actually going to die along with all the people on screen. A woman is dragged under the waves, and has a beautifully shot near-death experience, all shimmery weirdness and seismic shifts in the sound picture. It is powerful and impressive and makes you think "Hey - this is going to be an exciting, involving movie!"

In this thought, you are incorrect.

What follows is a narrative mess that takes two hours to go absolutely nowhere. Three unconnected stories wander about for a bit, mumbling about death and stuff, and then randomly meet at the end, for no apparent reason, and then everyone goes, "Oh." Then there are some credits, and the realisation that you could have watched five episodes of 30 Rock instead, and then anger.

I don't mind a film being a bit obscure and oblique... there's plenty of joy to be had in a suspended chord, left hanging and unresolved in the air. But that has to feel deliberate, and has to be part of an actual structure of some kind: lack of resolution only has impact if you were expecting resolution in the first place. In Hereafter, I never really understood why anything was happening, or why we were meant to care. So Matt Damon is doing a cooking class... and he's maybe a psychic, but doesn't want to be... and then there's a boy in London whose brother died and he's all sad... and then the woman who nearly died in the tsunami... is a bit morose and wandery... No, sorry. I don't care.

So, you see, you're wiser already. You now know not to watch Hereafter, so I've saved you two hours.

Unless you've watched it already, in which case I've helped you realise that you were correct to have been bored to tears by its wandery nonsense-ness.

Unless you liked it, in which case... hello Mr Eastwood. Please don't fight me.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

More Ranting About Liars

You know television? That magic stream of colourful shiny joy that burbles away happily in the corner of your living room? It's good isn't it? With all its stories, and cool images, and places and people we would never otherwise see?

Well, no, shut your mouth, actually, because you're wrong. It's not wonderful, apparently. It's a horribly, naughty invention and what's worse it's a big fat liar. Don't believe me? Well it must be so, because it says so in newspapers, actually. Reliable, trustworthy, definitely-never-told-a-lie newpapers. They don't like television's propensity for making things up, and by God they're going to say so.

That's right. In the middle of the biggest series of revelations about press journalism ever, where every day unearths fresh evils committed in the name of the printed word, the papers themselves are going nuts; casting around like trapped, naughty school kids, shouting, as loudly as they can "Look at what he's doing miss!" Their problem this week is the BBC series Frozen Earth. Apparently this programme , which explores the wonders of the natural world with passion, techical brilliance and a keen intelligence, contains sequences which are not 100% raw, unedited chunks of blistering reality.

The sequence in question contains some polar bears nursing their newborn cubs. The programme integrated footage of the bears' natural habitat - the snowy wastes of the Arctic - with specially shot scenes of the bears themselves in what was essentially a studio set made up to look like a cave. Various papers, The Mirror, The Telegraph and - sigh - The Mail included, were incensed by this terrible, shameful lie. How could the BBC deceive us like this? The bastards! Don't we deserve integrity from this organisation? Isn't this just another example of the LIES told us by nasty, stupid television? Do bears even exist? How can we possibly be sure about anything ever again?

For. Fuck's. Sake.

Where to start unpicking this self satisfied, hysterical bullshit. Ok, here's my favourite bit.

Do you know how the papers discovered this horrible lie? How they saw through the lies and deception and valiantly unearthed the truth?

It was on the BBC's website.

As part of the behind the scenes information on the programme.

The BBC told you it was fabricated, you dicks. What you are doing isn't journalism. It's a sort of extra thick plagiarism, where you use information you have stolen to attack the person you stole it from. It's like when that dick Richard - an ex-tenant of mine -  stole a chequebook from one of my friends and used the cheques to pay me his rent. Incomprehensibly stupid!

Also. Documentaries aren't pure, unvarnished actuality. Ever. How could they possibly be? They are shaped, selective, edited fragments of life, presented in narrative form for our pleasure and education. Attacking them for being 'constructed' is like attacking a shelf for not being a tree. More than that, it is to utterly misunderstand the nature of 'truth'.

Telling the truth isn't just representing literally what happens. That's a kind of truth, I suppose, but a fairly weak one. That's the kind of truth that lies in the gutter, sticks its camera up a woman's skirt and shouts 'Wow! I can see knickers!' Yes, that's what happened. But it isn't telling us anything about women, or pants, or the propensity of women to show us their pants. It might be saying something about how you're a pathetic paparazzi with no sense of how to behave as a human being, but that's probably not what you meant, is it?

Truth can - indeed should - be something better, and deeper. The truth of a Polar bear mothering its young is a thing in itself. It happens. It's not like Attenborough mocked up a scene where the mother bear engaged in violent, explosive battle with Pinhead from Hellraiser, firing lasers from her eyes and shouting "I invented the kettle!" He simply found a way of showing us something real, and true, but which we have little chance of actually seeing in its natural environment.

And that's all we can ever do - partially represent truth through imperfect means. I'm pretty sure Attenborough's mock up of the mother bear/cubs scene is close to the truth, and surely better than watching the results of an attempt to film the real thing, which would probably look like:

a) a blurry white thing near some smaller white blobs in a blizzard of white stuff.

b) nothing happening at all, for hours

c) a sound recordist being eaten by an enraged bear.

Finally, 'the press'. Where the hell do you get off wittering about truth and lies? A vast proportion of your entire business is founded upon making shit up and hoping no-one notices. Literally, completely inventing things that never happened, and saying they did. And not so you could tell us something about the wider world we live in, but rather so you could make the world smaller, playing on people's instincts to bully, villify and sneer util our minds are so shrunk that we don't know how else to think. And then when you get caught out, you print the tiniest retraction, hidden away in the depths of the paper, saying 'Sorry - we just thought it would be funny to tell complete lies about someone.' You horrible, shallow, hypocritical dickheads.

Dear BBC. Please do not apologise for this. In fact just stop apologising. Next time some bleaty, whiny tabloid starts jumping up and down, pointing and you and squealing like a demented pig, just do this. Pause what you're doing, glance unhurriedly in its direction and say, with the utmost contempt, "Your opinion... is worthless." And get back to what you were doing. Which was probably something worthwhile, beautiful and good.

Also, I'd quite like another series of the Fades please. That was good. Make more of that.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Strike Clarkson dead!


So anyway, I saw this clip on youtube of Jeremy Clarkson - the laddish drivy man who amuses us all by driving somewhere stupid every Christmas and filming himself breaking down.  He's talking about Wednesday's public sector strikes.

Copyright BBC1.

Unbelievably, he appears to be calling for the execution of people who went on strike last Wednesday! On national television! Actually advocating murder! Unbelievable. This man is a monster, and should be fired. Or, better yet, killed. Yes, killed. In front of *his* family. That would show him. And them. And everyone who ever dares to...

Oh, hang on.

Turns out, if you do even the slightest bit of research into this whatsoever, that there's more to what he said. Turns out he didn't just rock up to the One Show, plonk himself down on a sofa and shout "Kill the strikers!" before bouncing up again and driving away in a reasonably priced car. Turns out it was part of a longer peice, where Clarkson both praised the strike and then, claiming that the BBC had to give balanced views, gave an exaggerated, jokey counterpoint.

Now, it's obvious from looking at what he said that he probably isn't a big fan of the strikers. The pro-strike jokes were about him being able to drive his car fast down empty streets, whereas the anti-strike joke was rather more enthusiastic. But they were still jokes, and they don't actually amount to anything. And, most importantly, he's allowed to have an opinion, and he's allowed to make a joke.

The huge amount of panic and anger in the face of Clarkson's joke makes me ashamed to be British / human / a biped. Unions are calling for his sacking, otherwise intelligent people are demonsing him... everywhere you look someone is pointing at that 15 second clip and going "OHMYGODTHATMANISA M O N S T E R!" But look, intelligent people, look...

1. You've just watched a 15 second clip. Out of context. And you are basing your opinion on that. Or, worse, you have watched it all and chosen to focus on that 15 seconds to make your point. And your point is "I don't like Clarkson." Which is a fair enough point on its own - he does seem to be a variety of stupid things - but it's not a political point, and there are better ways of making it.

2. Your anger at him is distracting you, me, and everyone from the place our real anger should be focused: the government. This strike was about a set of terrible decisions and ideologies that have been put in place by a bunch of millionaires. Millionaires who think that everyone will be fine as long as they are rich, and since everyone they know is rich, everyone will be fine. They are using a financial crisis to push through ruinous policies that will widen the gap between the super-rich and the poor to unbelievable proportions. They deserve our anger, and our condemnation, and we should not be wasting our time with Clarkson.

3. The people I have met at protests have been good humoured, intelligent and warmly compassionate. This kind of cold, snarky bleating misrepresents them completely. Stop it.

So there. I've defended Clarkson. Sort of. Sorry. I defended Bernard Manning for a bit, once. I'm sure I'll get over it.