Saturday, May 31, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Despite my protestations about being too tired after an hard day's work, I was forced out of the house kicking and screaming last Friday to watch X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Despite everything that X-Men has done for the comic book sub-genre, I have never really been a huge fan. X-Men is similar in a way to Spider-Man in that it seems that no-one can agree exactly how the story should go.

While the original trilogy provided a nice linear storyline (even though it was getting a little tired towards the end), we were then forced to consume two Wolverine specific movies and, of course, 2011's prequel First Class. Days of Future Past is a sequel to both the latter and the original trilogy.

Of course, being in two different timelines is always going to be difficult to explain, but fortunately Days of Future Past has more than a little comic book magic on its side.

Following the events in the original trilogy, humanoid robots known as Sentinals are gradually exterminating the X-Men, who have only been able to survive due to the introduction of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). Kitty can project a person's consciousness back in time to pre-warn the group about an impending attack. Due to being a fan favourite his regenerative abilities, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to just after the events of First Class where he must put a stop to the fighting by preventing the original creation of the Sentinals by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). Simple.

I feel I ought to commend the writers for doing very good job of unifying the storylines, even though the plot now does tend to negate the events of the two Wolverine movies. The best way to look at Days of Future Past is as a film that enables the X-Men franchise to move on without the old guard of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen (even though there is still a possibility for them to return at a later date).

What bothers me is that nobody wants to move on without Hugh Jackman. Sure, he's a great actor and Wolverine is a great kick-ass character, but X-Men should be able to survive without its main character. That's the point of X-Men - there are plenty of great characters, so it is a shame that the franchise is still relying on Wolverine to sell it.

... and that brings me nicely to the point of this. Other than the "old guard" (Magneto, Xavier, Storm etc), can you name any of the other X-Men characters? Sure, there's Kitty Pryde, but I mentioned her. Then there's the guy with foresight, the one that can turn into ice, the one that can turn into fire and the one that can turn into metal. Oh, and of course Beast (Nicholas Hoult). Even Quicksilver's (Evan Peters) character development was hugely disappointing, especially as he looked like one who could actually put some life into the series. In fact, he was the only one to rival Hugh Jackman in turns of screen presence.

Despite that, Days of Future Past still provided some decent entertainment - it just didn't raise my expectations for the future of the franchise.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ad Break

So, this came through the post this morning from a good friend so I decided to publish it:


Greetings,

My name is Far Far Away and I join you today from a new tavern in a bid to promote the upcoming release of Tales from Far Far Away. I am especially grateful to the landlord for hosting this guest post - especially when there was a thrilling piece on streams and rivers scheduled.

A few months ago I was involved in a conversation about two gentlemen who claimed they had visited a circular world. They alleged they were able to travel all the way around in a matter of hours by flying of all methods! I heartily laughed along with them before slowly inching my way to the safety of the door.

Regardless, their imagination made me think that there should be plenty of entertainment to be gotten from real life. I wrote to the inhabitants of my world asking them to send me stories of their daily lives. Many of them wrote back and, after many months of compiling the letters into chronological order, I have been able to form several short stories.

I will be releasing these letters every Monday and Friday, starting from 2 June, 2014 and would be eternally grateful if you could join me in my tavern on release day to celebrate the start of the first of these stories.

Speak soon, dear friend.

Yours,

Far Far Away.


Tales from Far Far Away is a parody of popular fairy tales written from the perspective of the main characters and taking the form of many letters all written in some truly dreadful handwriting. Your fond childhood memories of popular folklore will be erased when you enter a world of poisoned apples, hapless heroes and drunken horses, with the occasional nod towards pop culture. The first letter is due for release on 2 June, 2014 and a new letter will be released every Monday and Friday thereafter.

You can see the blog at tfffa.blogspot.com.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

217 - The Idiots (1998)

Interestingly enough, I've had this review partially written since before my last hiatus. I never really had a huge desire to post it because I wasn't really sure what to say about The Idiots other than that it is a very bizarre film. Regardless, here are my thoughts.

In my life away from film, I've moved into my house and am starting the home cinema transformation [edit: now basically complete]. Now that I've converted my entire collection to a digital library, I'm able to watch films on the move. So, during my bi-weekly trips to watch football I take along my tablet on the train.

One such film I watched on the way back from London was The Idiots. Let me begin by saying that you do not want to watch The Idiots in a public place (you may not want to at all, but we'll get to that later). It is about a group of perfectly normal people pretending to be mentally retarded in order to see how society reacts to their behaviour.

Firstly, there's Stoffer - the leader. He is clearly the most active and the most daring of the group, but also appears to be the one with the least to lose. The rest of his colleagues have loved ones they care about, but are happy to abandon them in order to live by the excitement that Stoffer brings them. Finally, there is the newest recruit, Karen, who wants to be integrated to not only satisfy her curiosity but to fulfil an unknown void in her otherwise meaningless life.

There are many disturbing scenes that make for uneasy watching and, if you watch this with anyone other than those who "understand", you may feel more than a little embarrassed. Oh yes, there's one scene thata gangbang with the group in character that leaves very little to the imagination, and left me wanting to get off the train at every station for fear of being lynched.

Because of the film's topic, it makes it very difficult to review in any sense other than its moral or ethical outlook. Sure, the acting is perfectly fine but in the scheme of things the acting is completely irrelevant. This is a film you will either enjoy because of its social commentary on the relationship between cult movements, their leaders and their followers, or hate because of its avant-garde content.

Film critic Mark Kermode was notoriously thrown out of Cannes in 2002 after shouting "Il est merde [it is shit]" during the screening of The Idiots. He later claimed he was just sick of Cannes as it was an "exercise in ritual humiliation" where reviewers gather to tell their readers there is a cultural party going on that no-one else has been invited to. I fully understand.

I defy anyone to tell me that they enjoyed The Idiots and, for this reason alone, I refuse to award a single star. I can understand people appreciating it, but only in an artistic sense. But like it? I don't think so.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Frozen (2013)

As part of an exchange agreement, in which I've persuaded the girlfriend to watch Gravity (although, frankly, she shouldn't need persuasion), I was made to watch Frozen, Disney's 53rd animated classic.

To be honest, I don't mind. I set myself another challenge recently, which was to legally acquire every single Disney animated classic for less than £5 ($8.40) each. I don't know about other regions, but in the UK, Disney films are some of the most expensive around.

As a result, I've been catching up on some of the little known classics such as Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros. However, after managing to avoid Frozen at the cinema, I was cornered at the weekend after the girlfriend bought the DVD (yes, for more than £5!).

Unlike Disney's Mexican tales above, Frozen is neither an obscure or a little-known tale, loosely based as it is upon Hans Christian Anderson's 1844 fairy tale The Snow Queen (Danish: Snedronningen). Like most Disney stories it has been excessively dumbed down for the younger audience and, unsurprisingly, features a number of musical numbers.

In the original plot, the Snow Queen is only really a minor character mostly just referred to by the protagonists. It is a young boy called Kai who is taken by the Snow Queen and is under an enchantment to forget about his best friend, Gerda.

In Frozen, the characters of the Snow Queen and Kai have been combined in Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel) who suffers from an inherited curse which causes her to freeze things during certain emotional times. Gerda has been replaced by Elsa's younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell) who teams up with a split out of the original reindeer character, Bae, into ice cutter Kristoff (Jonathon Groff) and his reindeer Sven.

Although Disney has become renowned for its princesses, I would go so far as to say that Frozen is their most refreshingly feminine film to date. Hans Christian Anderson's tale split the male/female roles equally, so for Disney to use male characters solely for comic relief (or, as the film's main antagonists), it shows that they are understanding their key audience of children and ladies over the generally begrudging fathers who were dragged to the cinema with their families.

This approach is in direct contrast with their attempts to ambush gamers and, primarily, men with 2012's film, and the 52nd animated classic, Wreck-It Ralph. That's not to say that men won't enjoy Frozen; there is plenty of comic relief in the form of snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) and a periphery of minor characters who help in splitting the story up and this will only aid the male appeal.

However, it wasn't the feminism that was getting all of the plaudits. Disney is back to its best with the music, and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Let It Go. In truth, I can't remember any of the songs in Wreck-It Ralph or Tangled, but have been silently humming Do You Want To Build A Snowman while writing this review... in May. Unfortuantely, one if the other songs I keep humming is We Are Cutting Ice, from the Honest Trailers parody.

Regardless, a parody only enhances the reputation of a film and, I'll say this quietly in case the girlfriend is listening and expects me to watch animated classic 54 (Big Hero 6)... I rather enjoyed it.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Editor's Cut

After posting my review for Gravity on Saturday, it then dawned on me that I haven't published anything on here since October. Frankly, that's just atrocious, and I can only apologise.

I even missed the A-Z Challenge this year, which is a shame. Fortunately, I haven't been so busy as to miss all of the wonderful postings by everyone else so for those that participated in, and completed, the challenge, congratulations!

Sadly, I don't really have an excuse for my lack of activity. I have been snowed under with numerous developments at work, which just leaves me wanting to come home and relax. More often than not, I'll watch a film, but I've been less conscious of watching the 5-star 500. It doesn't help that the next one to watch is Inland Empire, a 3-hour marathon by one of my least favourite directors.

We (the girlfriend and I) have also spent a lot of time catching up on some truly amazing TV series that are out and about at the moment. Like most people, Game of Thrones is our firm favourite. We haven't been able to watch season four yet as we don't have Sky, because I don't believe in giving everyone's favourite media mogul (Rupert Murdoch) any money.

So, until season 4 is released on home video next year, we had to find something else to watch and at the weekend we started watching The Walking Dead. Three episodes in we're already both hooked.

As well as these, we've gotten ourselves hooked on YouTube. Most of our viewing revolves around comedy and film, and our personal favourite channels are CinemaSins, who give 'sins' to films based on minute details they didn't like, and ScreenJunkies who do Honest Trailers (voiced by Jon Bailey), skipping the marketing malarkey and exposing films for what they really are.

The lack of reviews here doesn't mean that I have stopped writing, or even blogging for that matter! I am about 10% through my first fully fledged novel which I am very excited about. I have roughly written the rest of the plot down, but as any aspiring authors know, it is putting the meat on the bones that is the most difficult part.

In addition, I also spent a good few months last year writing parodies of fairy tales for my own amusement. These parodies take the form of letters from the main characters to the narrator, giving a unique insight into the old stories. Initially, this was for my own pleasure but as I just kept writing, it later dawned on me that the blogging format is ideal for this style of writing.

So, after much procrastination, I started a new blog - Tales from Far Far Away. From June, my aim is to release one of the letters every Monday and Friday to ensure that a regular supply of posts is kept up. At the moment I have plenty of material scheduled, but once that is used up the regular posting schedule should help me to get back into blogging and hopefully a few more reviews will be added here too!

If you could kick-start the following on the new blog, I would be eternally grateful. There is nothing more fulfilling in blogging that knowing you are writing to a captive audience. Heck, if you are really keen there are even links on that blog to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts that I have set up to get the word out there (these are not the same as on this blog!).

Finally, just a quick word on my home cinema progress! I know a few of you were keen to know when it was finished. Well, I have effectively bought all of my kit and I am very pleased with my set up. I will go through it in a little more detail in a later post, but I can tell you that for all of the kit to allow me to play 3D blu-rays on a 90" screen in 5.1 surround sound I have only spent around £2,000 which, in the UK at least, is exceptionally low.

Thanks for sticking with me over the past year or so. Hopefully it won't be too long before I strike back... with a vengeance!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gravity (2013)

For much of last year I was excited for the release of Gravity. When previewers started to go berserk for Alfonso Cuarón's 7-time Oscar winner, I knew it was the must-see film of the year. But, there was just one hitch, the girlfriend wasn't keen.

Fortunately, I was rescued at the ninth hour by a work colleague and was still able to see the masterpiece in its cinematic 3D glory. I picked up the Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago and after watching it again this morning, I remembered why I absolutely loved it.

It isn't the storyline which makes Gravity. In this department it is simpler than Bambi. Two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) become stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed by rogue satellite debris. The film simply observes their struggle to make it back to earth from a sometimes-too-real third or first person perspective. Cuarón ensures you remember that in space, no-one hears you scream.

The film could easily have been called Stranded or Lost in Space. It is with great credit to Cuarón that he named it after the one thing that we all take for granted but find ourselves lost when it is completely absent. Without gravity, humanity, regardless of how well qualified, is just aimlessly floating around, lost without mother nature.

Despite the fact that neither you nor I are astronauts, it is a piece of cake to get straight into the mindset of the protagonists. As Bullock unscrews a bolt and discards it through inexperience ("it would have just fallen on the floor") it would have been completely lost without the experience of Clooney on his last space walk. Even the start of the film, with the earth inverted in the background, makes you realise that everything you know needs to be discarded before watching the film.

The symbolism is by far the most remarkable aspect of Gravity - even ahead of the 90% of the film which comprises solely of special effects. On more than one occasion, Cuarón slows down the pace to reflect on humanity's infancy in space and takes a look back at our evolution from sea dwelling bacteria to naive space explorers.

If you haven't seen Gravity then you should. Make it your film to watch in 2014. Rest assured, the girlfriend will be educated soon.