Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Warcraft (AKA Warcraft: The Beginning)
Dir: Duncan Jones
2016
****
Goblins, Dragons and Knights has never really been my thing. When I was a kid I was into Space, Astronauts and Dinosaurs, I loved sci-fi and didn't really go in for Lord of the Ring type stories. I certainly never got into the World of Warcraft but I always felt a little envious of the kids who did get into it. I was always a bit of a nerd as a kid (and even more so as an adult) but World of Warcraft was always seen as the limit. That's when nerdism goes too far I thought, and yet, those kids who were into it were part of a group, they lived it and were totally enveloped by it. I'm always envious of other people’s passion, it doesn't matter what their passion is but to be so absorbed and stimulated by that one thing is something that I've always wanted. However, I wanted a girlfriend more and didn't want to get beaten up by the bigger boys at school, so I kept well away from Warcraft. Until now. I have limited knowledge of the actual story behind Warcraft but I understand the basics and I imagine there would be many stories you could tell. Initial reviews of the film had me believe that the film was clichéd and predictable but I couldn't disagree more. I found the trailer to be refreshingly misleading in fact, as I didn't see any of the plot twists coming and I was entertained throughout. Some of the CGI wasn't great, mostly the internal background stuff but the creatures and everything else was outstanding. The editing was painfully jumpy at first, again during the internal scenes, but it soon became the epic it promised to be. I thought the story was quite refreshing considering it had Orcs, Knights and Kings, the script was far from what you'd expect from the genre, as were the characters. It wasn't a simple Men vs Orcs battle that one would expect either, the story is layered and so are the characters. There is a certain level of subtle humour throughout as well which I particularly enjoyed and I would hazard a guess that Duncan Jones was a fan of Army of Darkness and Monty Python's Holy Grail. I think casting a lesser-known group of actors was a good idea, all do a great job and I can see many of them earning success for the franchise, and I believe this really is the start of something good. The film is left in the balance and I wanted to know what happens next immediately. It's a great start to a series that I think has legs. Duncan Jones is clearly the sort of creative force you want when making this kind of film and he does it justice. It's not just a colour by numbers adaptation of a board game, it's got everything you could possibly want from an epic of this genre and more. I was pleasantly surprised and rather impressed.

Friday, 27 May 2016

A Hologram for the King
Dir: Tom Tykwer
2016
****
Tom Tykwer's adaptation of Dave Egger's novel A Hologram for the King is a somewhat perplexing affair, which is in my opinion, the best way of going about it. A Hologram for the King deals with confusion, panic, regret and frustration without focusing on a particular group or section of society, if anything, it is focused on everyone, as at one time or another, one of these emotions will effect you, more often than not, completely unnecessarily. The story doesn't make a whole lot of sense, it's about confusion after all, so actually it makes a lot of sense. Life is ridiculous at times and Tykwer has visualized this perfectly. I love the film's total irreverence to formula, what may come across as clumsiness is actually rather refreshing, indeed, it is refreshingly awkward to watch and yet I didn't leave the cinema scratching my head or being puzzled as to what the film was all about. Tom Hanks clearly gets it and gives an outstanding performance accordingly. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it's a rather surreal journey of conflicting ideas that actually makes perfect sense. Great films make you look at yourselves, I've never been to Saudi Arabia, I know nothing about holograms (other than that they are very cool) and I've never had to sack a factory of workers but I have complete empathy with Tom Hanks' character. The film flickers between comedy, tragedy, drama and romance quite smoothly, even though each genre feels as unexpected and misplaced as the last. A hell of a lot happens in very little time but that said, nothing feels rushed, complex or simplistic. It is a complete contrast to the last film I watched (Hector and the Search for Happiness) which was a tiresome exploration of a similar issue. A Hologram for the King never preaches, there is no real message to be had, just an example of an everyday occurrence. One mans trip to the chemist is another man's journey into the desert to sell a King futuristic communication devices, it's the abnormal everyday, a surreal journey into the ordinary. A beautiful contradiction meets the spectacular ordinary, I found it to be strangely comforting and consistently engrossing, which I find to be quite typical of a Tom Tykwer film.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Top 10 - Nerd films

I should probably confirm what I mean when I refer to a film as being a 'nerd film'.

Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and maybe even Ghostbusters are probably the sort of thing most people would initially think of when they think of the term nerd. They'd be right in most cases but that isn't what this list is about, nor is it about films that feature nerds such as Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's, Weird Science or Napoleon Dynamite for instance. This list is a celebration of real nerds and their passions/obsessions. Anyone can be a nerd, the subject you are 'nerdy' about doesn't really matter (although it's generally about the obscure), it's about being creative with it. Certain subjects that don't generally appeal to the masses, capture the imagination of a few, very unique and rather special members of society, one that I'm proud to be a member of. This is my list of favorite films, featuring some of the world's greatest nerd ventures, nerd heroes and 'archaeologists of low brow pleasure'.

10. Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

9. Comic Book: The Movie

8. Doc of the Dead

7. With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story

6. Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

5. Future ShockThe Story of 2000 AD

4. Elstree 1976

3. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

2. Atari: Game Over

1. Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector


*Notable exceptions
Anvil: The Story of Anvil - For the Punk/Rock nerd
Computer Chess - Appreciated and well executed, if only it was real...
The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? - For the Superhero/Superman nerd
Marwencol - Uplifting story of obsession as a form of therapy.
Muscle Shoals - Ends as a bit of an ego piece by Dave Grohl but an interesting look at technical nerdism in sound and music.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Hector and the Search for Happiness
Dir: Peter Chelsom
2014
**
It doesn't really matter who you are, how wealthy you are or how hard you work, after a while of doing the same thing over a long period of time, you will want to get away, do something different and pause for thought. It's completely natural. However, it is extremely hard to sympathize, and indeed, even understand the reasons why Hector, a successful and wealthy psychiatrist who is well respected, has a beautiful home in one of the most desirable places on the planet and a loving relationship with a beautiful women, would feel the need to go to the other side of the planet to work out what happy is. Rich and successful people can feel unfulfilled and indeed the poorest of people can be among the happiest in the world, this is understood, it is just that in Francois Lelord's book and Peter Chelsom's film, Hector is a poor vehicle in which to deliver this message. The book is full of advice such as 'Take more holidays in the sun", which is good advice but will make those of us who can't afford regular trips abroad, quite the opposite of happy. This is essentially the films problem. Simon Pegg's Hector is a messy character, completely juxtaposed and never believable. If you don't like Simon Pegg (and I do) you are essentially screwed. Hector's journey is the most convoluted and contrived piece of writing I've seen for a long time as he is kidnapped and beaten one minute and laughing and joking the next. He's intelligent but naive, clumsy but regimental, organised and chaotic, you could argue that this is art imitating life but it really isn't, it's cheap script-writing. The ideology sounds nice but it is never realistic, it is frustratingly shallow and incredibly patronizing. Still, it looks like Simon Pegg had a fun time and we all like Simon Pegg so that's okay. Cheating doesn't count if there's no penetration after all. It's so over the top and ridiculous it should have been a musical, maybe with slightly less schmaltz, a little bit more thinking and a lot more of the fantasy element that runs through the story they could have come up with something special, although that film has already been made, twice in fact, once in 1947 and then again in 2013. It was called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty both times.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Love Is Strange
Dir: Ira Sachs
2014
*****
Ira Sachs' romantic drama Love Is Strange is one of the sweetest films of 2014. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina play Ben and George, a loving couple who decide to marry after being together for 39 years. Soon after the marriage, George, a member of the church who works as a music teacher in a local catholic school, is sacked from his job. His sexuality and relationship with Ben had never been an issue with the school before but governing bodies decide that he can no longer work there, now that he is married to a man. With Ben being a little older and now retired, money suddenly becomes an issue and they are forced out of the New York apartment they have shared together for many years. They ask friends to rally round and help them with temporary accommodation but due to a lack of space, they are both separated. Ben stays with his nephew, his wife and their young son Joey whom he ends up sharing a bunk-bed with. His nephew's wife (Marisa Tomei) works at home as a writer and fast becomes irritated with Ben's habits. Meanwhile George is having the opposite problem. He is sleeping on the couch of their former neighbours, two gay cops, who like to party loud and frequently. The pair miss each other’s company greatly and meet up as much as they can and console each other while ultimately feeling unwanted, just months after their wedding and feeling tremendously loved by everyone. It's a beautifully subtle look at commitment and love in the face of adversity. Most films that deal with civil rights issues and homophobia tend to be all high-drama, with shocking conclusions, violence etc. Love Is Strange is quite the opposite and isn't that sort of film but is, in a way, far more effective. Losing an income is a devastating reality for many people and to be dismissed from a job unfairly and due to discrimination is appalling, but it happens. Love is Strange isn't directly about that though, it's about the bigger picture. It looks at friends, family and attitude and it looks at two men in love, not just as an excuse to make a statement but for what they are, two very normal people in love. Their issue isn't necessarily connected to their sexuality either. Ben and George are gay men but they are also old men, gentle men and somewhat naive men. They're not painted as victims but they are a good example of a broken system. Most importantly, they are a beautiful example of a loving relationship and how beautiful that is no matter who or what you are. The performances from Lithgow and Molina are breathtakingly real and are my favourite of 2014. It's the perfect love story, unfortunately real life isn't as perfect and just when you want the film to go all Hollywood and go all happy, Ira Sachs, to his credit, reminds you that real life has a way of getting in the way of all that. Watch with a huge box of tissues to hand.

Monday, 23 May 2016

WΔZ (W-delta-Z, AKA The Killing Gene)
Dir: Tom Shankland
2007
**
Tom Shankland's 2007 film WΔZ, or W-delta-Z, is basically a modern serial killer thriller with a nonsensical sudo-scientific idea attached for gimmick. From the beginning, I hated the film's direction. I hate wobbly cameras at the best of times but this took the style to another level. It's like the camera operator was wearing acme spring boots or was bouncing on a moving trampoline of something. A moving camera is supposed to give the film a raw and realistic feel but that is far from the case here, it actually makes it look like they are trying to distract the viewer from an uninteresting set and shoddy acting. I'm a big Stellan Skarsgard fan but his gruff talking, tough detective is a tired character, he does it justice but it's something we've all seen far too much already. No one else gives a performance worth mentioning, although it has to be said, the performance and the character who is revealed to be the killer is nothing short of dreadful on both counts. I still can't see Paul Kaye in a serious role either, I like him but then I think of all the good actors he has made fun of over the years as Dennis Pennis and wonder what he is doing there? I've heard many comments that WΔZ is an intelligent alternative to films such as Saw but I disagree. WΔZ wishes it had the same budget as Saw did. The torture scenes seem to be toned down purely because of the limited budget and not out of some kind of superior stance. People have also commented that the film was good, the title was not but I would argue that the title is the film. It is utterly unconvincing, from story, to performance, to conclusion. You cannot compare WΔZ to films such as the original Saw or Se7en, it is nowhere near being in the same league. Predictable, generic, formulaic and worst of all, forgettable.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Crimson Peak
Dir: Guillermo del Toro
2015
****
Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro going back to his roots and doing what he does best, a good old fashioned creepy thriller/horror, although as good as it is, it's not his best within the genre. However, del Toro has set a rather high standard, one that very few have matched, but then I'm not sure you can better such a uniquely beautiful film such as Pan's Labyrinth (or indeed compare it to anything else) and I'll always have such a soft-spot for Cronos, so I wonder if he really could do anything better in my opinion? I guess it doesn't really matter though as his films are consistently good, even Blade II is brilliant and sequels to hit comic adaptations aren't ever supposed to any good.
 Crimson Peak is a deliciously dark and Gothic-looking haunted house horror. There is far more to it then just ghosts and ghouls though and it's pretty much cliche-free, with no endless scene of our protagonist walking about in the dark encountering such false-scares such as the camera suddenly panning to another other cast member slightly out of shot or a cat, complete with blood-curdling meow, jumping out from behind a curtain, that's never been del Toro's style. What we do get is a gorgeous looking supernatural adventure, full of creepy suspense, character development (hurrah) and clever writing, that is somehow bursting with vivid colour and pitch-black at the same time. It's the sort of thing people expect from Tim Burton still, even though del Toro's been doing it better for quite some time now. Mia Wasikowska is good but personally, I think casting her is a little lazy. She has that constantly inquisitive looking face that is perfect for the role but it also limits her somewhat. Tom Hiddleston plays his part well, even though I didn't like his character's change in direction. I think Jessica Chastain is the big surprise here, not because I don't think she's any good, far from it, she's always good, it's just I've never seen her in this type of role before and she masters it in an effortless manner. My only real criticism is the CGI. Most of the time it's great but there are a few plastic looking ghosts floating about that really didn't have the scary impact they were created for. It also gets a bit stabby towards the end. Apart from that I really enjoyed it and I haven't enjoyed a haunted house film for ages.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse
Dir: Bryan Singer
2016
**
Matthew Vaughn's rather sleek and sexy X-Men:First Class almost seemed to come out of nowhere in 2011, with little hype in the grand scheme of things and with rather heavy anticipation. It was a huge hit, Vaughn got the style down perfectly, it was new but it also alluded towards the classic X-Men era of the 60s. X-Men fans and those new to the franchise were equally happy. Producer Bryan Singer took notice. Singer had made quite an impact with the original X-Men in 2000 and it is fair to say he gave the superhero/comic book genre the kick up it's bum it needed and made everyone else up their game. X-Men2 was even better and broadened the X-Men universe considerably, it was now a major franchise. However, soon after X2's success, Singer was given an offer he couldn't refuse. X-Men was his baby but when he was offered directional duties on the new Superman reboot, Superman Returns, he knew he'd have to hand it all over to someone else. Unfortunately that someone was Brett Ratner. X-Men: The Last Stand isn't bad but it is nowhere as good as the previous two films. Superman Returns on the other hand was abysmal. The franchise had to be rebooted, hard given that quite a few people had died in the last installment, so a prequel really was the only way. Singer decided to come back with a bang, he missed the last of the original films and the first of the new and decided to draw a line in the only way he could, he made a sequel to both films within one film. Not only did it work, it worked beautifully. X-Men: Days of Future Past  was very clever and went a long way in sorting out all the annoying continuity issues and bringing the franchise around full circle and starting afresh. It was a set up for the series to go forth and prosper. Unfortunately, its first step is somewhat of a stumble. For starters, the intro-scene is horrible. The audience is forcibly flushed head-first through a u-bend of nasty CGI and dodgy effects showing 'stuff that has happened' in the last few thousand odd years, skipping most of it, focusing on the Mona Lisa, the Nazis and then straight on to the the 1980s because  nothing much happened in the last 4000 years really. And why did it fast-forward to the early 80s? It's like the last scene of the last film never happened. Also, the cast have not aged twenty years, the original film only came out five years ago but somehow we're supposed to believe most of the cast, who are mostly in their twenties, are actually in their early forties. Michael Fassbinder's Magnito is supposedly in his early fifties, but looks every bit the thirty-eight year old that he was while filming. All that aside, there isn't even anything that suggests it is the 80s. First Class dripped 60's chic, Apocalypse features one 80's song, an arcade machine and Michael Jackson's jacket from thriller. The characters all seem rather different to. The new X-Men are given next to no development and it seems that Singer is so confident he's covered all the time-line continuity issues, he's forgotten the basics. Characters suddenly forget they've ever met one another, when it really wasn't that long ago they had been fighting either each other or alongside one another. These are forgivable niggles I suppose, what isn't forgivable however is the dreadful CGI. Some of the special effects are among the best I've but some are probably some of the worst, even by straight to video, bargain bin, cheap sci-fi horror standards. It is, at times, a bit Batman Forever looking. The costumes look like they're made out of plastic and the sets are very average looking. There is no striking scene by which most big blockbuster films are remembered for, in fact, it looks like a combination of all the previous film mixed up in one but out of laziness rather than as a clever acknowledgment. It's as if the intelligence/originality budget was all spent on the last film. Apocalypse, or En Sabah Nur, is the worst super-villain in years (maybe even on par with BvS's Doomsday), I'm a big Oscar Isaac fan but is his first big stinker, although I don't really blame him but rather how his character was written. An all powerful mutant hell-bent on the destroying the world and killing everyone in it should be scary, but he isn't, not in the slightest. Half the cast look like they don't want to be there, as if franchise fatigue has really kicked in and to be fair, most of the cast could do better. It's a good few steps back from the previous films, indeed, a carbon copy of the least impressive installments. In one particular scene, whereby some younger X-Men are seen leaving a showing of Return of the Jedi, a comment is made that 'The third film of the trilogy is always the worst', with The Last Stand clearly being the intended focus of the joke. The Last Stand is a masterpiece compared to Apocalypse, with Apocalypse lifting most of The Last Stand for all of its best bits. Apocalypse's few highlights are copies of scenes from previous films, sure each member of the X-Men have their own limited powers but how they are used specifically can be traced to either one of the films in the series. The big happy surprise isn't even a particularly big surprise. It's the sort of clunky mess of a superhero film you'd expect from the genre before Singer's original X-Man paved the way. Talk about slamming on the breaks and going full reverse.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Welcome to Leith
Dir: Michael Beach Nichols, Christopher K. Walker
2015
****
Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker's terrifying film Welcome to Leith documents the arrival of the notorious white supremacist Craig Cobb to a small town in North Dakota. Leith is about as small as small town gets. With a population of just 24 including young children, even the town's mayor admits that he wasn't even sure what a white supremacist was until he was informed of who Craig Cobb really was. Cobb had bought a house in Leith for just $500. He then bought as many cheap plots as he could get his hands on and encouraged many of his white supremacist, Neo-Nazi and Nationalist friends to come and join him with the overall idea that they could take over the town, establishing an all-white community. His 'racial holy war', 'Creativity religion' and Nazi rhetoric is as bizarre as it is terrifying. It is clear in the documentary that while the people of Leith don't entirely understand their situation they do know that Cobb is a dangerous man to have as a neighbour. Many people rallied round the people of Leith and people's disgust was heard loud and clear, the only problem was that Cobb was entitled to live where he wanted by law. There are times in Welcome to Leith where it seemed that Cobb and friends were the victims, persecuted for their beliefs by their fellow townsfolk. This where the rather passive documentary gets interesting. Cobb clearly relished being the victim as it only helped him get his message across. When he is seen to be walking around the town with a loaded weapon and charged accordingly, it is unfortunately the innocence of the townsfolk that let him go free. After being charged with aggressive behaviour, it was the feeling of threat felt by the locals that should have seen him locked up, unfortunately, some of the proud residence, not being the brightest of people, claimed that they 'Weren't scared of no one' and he was let off with a plea bargain. Walker and Nichols managed to infiltrate the town rather effectively, with both sides of the conflict co-operating with the filming. One of the more interesting and frightening lessons learned in the film was that even though there are regular incidents every year involving white-lead hate crimes by Neo-Nazi groups (some of which have involved multiple murders), since 9/11, all government funding and bureau investigations are concentrated on Islamic fundamental groups and all investigations into white supremacist hate groups has stopped. The effective anti-climactic conclusion is a chilling reminder that this problem hasn't gone away and doesn't look like it will for quite some time.
Zombie Strippers
Dir: Jay Lee
2008
*
It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Zombie Strippers isn't an award-winning masterpiece. It isn't even a very good horror film. It's not even an enjoyably trashy b-movie, it's just horrible. The acting is as bad as you'd expect, if not worse, the story is fairly basic (and rather stupid) and worst of all, it doesn't keep to the very strict rules of what constitutes as a Zombie and what a Zombie is capable of. Zombies can't talk, let alone pole-dance. I'm all for pushing the boundaries and expanding the possibilities of the genre but putting tits on the undead isn't clever, scary or sexy. Gore fans will enjoy some of the effects but they are mostly done with cheap-looking CGI, tits fans will be satisfied I suppose but personally I like my boobs without blood on them. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't understand the reasoning behind titillation and gore in horror films. Rules of the slasher state that if you partake in sex (and drugs and general wrong doing) at the beginning of the movie then you will be killed off by the end but this has become something of a necrophiliacs dream come true of recent years. Zombies are great, boobs are great but Zombies with boobs is not great. The idea has been explored before in other, actually much better terrible horror films. The best example of the idea done right is in From Dusk Till Dawn, whereby vampire strippers lure customers in with promise of sex before being drained of their blood. I'm all for a bit of fun but the pole dancing takes over almost half of the film. Zombie Strippers' only saving grace is the over the top performance from Robert Englund who, even at his worst, is nothing short of brilliant.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Hunger GamesMockingjay – Part 2
Dir: Francis Lawrence
2015
**
After watching the final part of the The Hunger Games it is abundantly clear that there was no reason to split Mockingjay into two parts. Harry Potter started it, maybe due to the length of Deathly Hallows it was granted, Twilight followed suit unnecessarily and The Hunger Games should have learnt from their mistake. The cash in paid off or course, people wanted to see the conclusion but interestingly The Hunger GamesMockingjay – Part 2 had the smallest cinema takings of all the four Hunger Games films. Much like with the Twilight series, The Hunger Games suffered from having way too much filler and not enough action. I'm not knocking the drama or the idea and I'm not saying it should have been explosion after explosion but many of the scenes between the action sequences were very long and very boring. A punchy script would have helped but I'm afraid there wasn't even a hint of one in either of the four films. I've said my piece regarding the story's theme and my dislike for 'Young adult' literature in my reviews of the previous films and while I thought the conclusion was quite powerful, it wasn't given the treatment it really deserved so a twist that should have had quite the impact turned out to be a huge anti-climax. I've not read the books (and nor am I interested in doing so) but I almost felt like I had, it was that predictable. I think there could be something inherently clever about the story but what little interest I had was diminished by a painfully slow pace, a whispering script and a shockingly familiarity to other, much better films. I sure it wasn't easy trying to piece together a film after the sad and unexpected death of one of the main characters, the brilliant and sorely missed Philip Seymour Hoffman. Some of these scenes really don't fit, hard to avoid but still, I think they could have done better and it is sad that such a great actor has a lazy, cash-hungry mega-franchise installment as their swansong.
Metallica Through the Never
Dir: Nimród Antal
2013
**
Metallica's 2013 film Through the Never is an odd mix of music video and concert footage. The concert footage is supposed to take place in one night but it is in fact footage shot over two, first in Vancouver and then in Edmonton, during their 2012 tour. Between songs we follow the silent and somewhat surreal quest of the bands runner who is sent out to fetch a bag that 'has something the band wants in it' from a truck that has run out of petrol somewhere on route to the stadium. The runner, played by Dane DeHaan, first gets hit by a car and then suddenly finds himself in the middle of a riot. He then sets himself on fire, fights people and then takes on a cyber-punk knight on horseback, all because he really really likes Metallica presumably. The interweaving video changes according to what track is playing and eagle-eyed fans of the band will enjoy spotting the many song references scattered along the way. It's beautifully shot and is just the sort of thing you'd expect from a rock video. The concert footage is also very impressive, although I'm not a big fan of these huge middle of the stadium open-plan stages the band do have a special way of filling a stage. What it really comes down to it though is whether or not you like Metallica? I'm not a huge fan but I don't hate them, I caught them at a festival a few years back and I enjoyed watching them for a while before I went to go see another band. I can't deny they rock. So it's a great shame then that after creating something that I'm sure is irresistible to fans that they would then stage a fake on stage accident to conjure a sense of false drama. It's a bit gimmicky for a band as prestigious and respected as they are. I asked myself whether I would have liked it if it was my favourite band on stage, if they had created the same concept, and while I think it could be pretty cool, they're just not that kind of band and if I'm being honest I'd much rather go see them live or watch a standard recording of one of their gigs.
Carry On Dick
Dir: Gerald Thomas
1974
**
Carry On Dick, the 26th in the Carry On series, represented the end of an era as it was the last time Sid James (who had stared in nineteen Carry On films), Hattie Jacques (who had stared in fourteen Carry on films) and Barbara Windsor (who had stared in nine Carry on films) would appear in the franchise. It also represented the beginning of the end as the quality of humour took somewhat of a nosedive and the double entendres were far more obvious and rather lazy in comparison to the earlier films. Carry On Dick was also to be scriptwriter Talbot Rothwell's last Carry On. He is probably best remembered for the line "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in for me!" from Carry On Cleo (although he actually borrowed it from Denis Norden and Frank Muir) but in later Carry On films the lines got a little bit more racy on Gerald Thomas and Peter Rogers' orders to try and 'sex up' the series and compete with the popularity of soft-core sex comedies of the time, something that never really worked for the much loved franchise. The 'Dick' jokes become a little tiresome fairly early on and many of the cast members look tired and unwell, indeed, a few of them, including leading man Sid James, were sadly only a few years away from their graves. Kenneth Williams and Jack Douglas never really worked together as pair on screen, Carry On Dick being a mere echo of some of the great double-acts of the previous incarnations. It was sad to see the decline of such a well-loved series.

Monday, 16 May 2016

The Angry Birds Movie
Dir: Clay Kaytis, Fergal Reilly
2016
**
It seems that for the last thirty years or so, if anything is even vaguely successful, no matter what it is, if it has made a lot of money, a movie will be made of it. Computer games have been adapted into movies far less successfully than movies have been adapted into games in the past and I'm afraid the Angry Birds have upheld this time-honoured tradition. For those living in a cave for the last seven years, Angry Birds is a computer game available for download on smart-phones and tablets. It involves pulling birds on a giant catapult and firing them into structures. The aim of the game is to kill several green pigs that sit within these structures because said pigs have stolen the bird’s eggs. Why the pigs have stolen the eggs, why the pigs are green and why the birds explode/drop exploding eggs/enlarge/separate themselves into three/reverse is never explained, and nor would anyone expect it to be. It’s a game that is played while waiting, commuting to work or excreting (at home or at work). Colourful and zany games sell better than ones that look dull, it doesn’t take a behavioural scientist to work that one out, it is simple, catchy and very playable. I’ve completed the game several times, each time I do I wipe my score and play again, it’s timeless much like Tetris, but with far more variety. It has sold a lot of merchandise and its fifteen minutes seems to have been extended somewhat, so a film was inevitable. The big question is, how do you make a story out of such a simple but bizarre game? For my money Rovio and Sony didn’t pick their best story, in fact, I think it was most likely their first and only idea. By giving the game a structured story they really do wander into a misguided minefield of what could be seen as quite a sinister look at immigration, racism and social uprising based on mistrust and a lack of faith in leadership. Of course that would be taking it all too seriously, Rovio and Sony have already made that mistake but the overall message isn’t great and is somewhat of an oversight. There are a couple of funny moments that hit the spot but these are few and far between. To be honest, this film gave me a real headache. It’s all a little too much, a little haphazard with far too much going on at one time. They almost get the characters right but the whole idea is as contentious as it gets. It’s too adult for kids and too childish for adults. My favourite character in the film (The Mighty Eagle – played by Peter Dinklage) isn’t even in the game and I think I like him best because he is clearly a copy of Scuttle (The Little Mermaid) and a Jim Henson creation. The voice work is fine (Sean Penn’s ‘input’ did make me chuckle) and the animation is good but seeing the two kids sat in front of me in the cinema, asking their mum if they could play on her phone instead of watching the film said it all. She was playing Candy Crush.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Adjust Your TrackingThe Untold Story of the VHS Collector
Dir: Dan M. Kinem, Levi Peretic
2013
*****
There is something quite glorious about Adjust Your TrackingThe Untold Story of the VHS Collector even though I don't think there is anything glorious about VHS tapes. I do get it though, as up until a couple of years ago I still had a collection of around 2000 tapes myself. I treasured these tapes but once DVDs became more affordable I, like most people, simply updated my collection. I actually collected way more DVDs than VHS but have got rid of most of these too, keeping only the rare and special films. I have a new rule now that I only watch films once as there are so many I want to watch and I now only collect comics because they go up in value, although it seems certain VHS tapes are now worth something. I still buy CDs though for the same reason as many of the VHS collectors featured in the documentary, and that is because there is something enormously satisfying about cataloguing, organizing and simply admiring one's own collection. That and because I like the artwork. It's a collector thing and it's a nerd thing. One collector refers to himself and his kind as 'archaeologists of low brow pleasure', as teams of VHS enthusiasts scour car boot sales, house clearances and old rental stores that are going out of business for a rare horror, bizarre porno or underground cult classic. The films aren't generally all that good, the reason most of them never made it to DVD, but it's not just about the stories but the artwork and the titles. I remember visiting my local rental store as a child and looking up at the amazing artwork of the horror films. I swore I would go back to the store on my 18th birthday and rent the lot but by that point many had disappeared. These guys felt the same way but unlike me, they went out and found those lost gems and formed an obsession. Some buy the same film several times over just because the artwork is slightly different on different releases and if you have 'Something something 1 & 2, then you really need to have something something 3-9 to complete the collection, even if you have no interest in the films themselves.  It's really not a new phenomenon, Vinyl collectors have been doing the same for years, as have comic, stamp and all sorts of collectors. It's all based on nostalgia and quality. That's where VHS is slightly different. Vinyl fans will argue that the audio quality is better than CD or MP3. Comic collectors have to have comics that are in perfect condition and stamp collectors like stamps that have slight imperfections as it makes them rare, therefore more collectible/valuable. VHS collectors like the imperfections of VHS tapes for what they are, they like the pause lines, the fizzing at the top and bottom of the screen and the general poor quality. They see character in it sure but it all stems purely from nostalgia. There is something rather poetic about that. It's not about the money either as these vast collection will only appeal to a select few who probably already have said collections anyway. The nearest comparison I can think of is classic game collectors but again, there is far more to that than just one technology. One of my favourite things about Dan M. Kinem and Levi Peretic's loving tribute is that it is filmed on low quality VHS cameras. It's very much for the fans and everyone else is welcome to join in should they want but I would argue that when a documentary is this good the subject matter really isn't important, it is the enthusiasm that is infectious and fascinating and what makes the film a success. Nerds rule!