Friday, 27 August 2010

The Expendables...

It's interesting that the reviews for this flick have been so split, and that the reviewers who didn't like it also didn't like Rambo. I on the other hand absolutely loved Rambo - proper, old school (with modern techniques) balls-out hardcore action ... like the dictionary definition of "bad ass" made into a movie.

Now along comes The Expendables, and as it said explicitly on the tin, this is an old school throwback to 1980s action cinema - but, yep, with modern techniques and a modern pace. Think along the lines of Cobra, Red Heat, and Commando - but remove the cheesiness, and ante up the action by a hundred and there you are.

It's all about big dudes, big personalities, big muscles, big guns and even bigger explosions - and the big finish to this movie certainly delivers on all of those to exhausting lengths (in a seriously enjoyable way). Many of the classic 80s action flicks - the movies that served action icons of the era so well - had a simple plot, and it's no different here. If you want a complex, conflicted and troubled arse kicker, look elsewhere - the spiffing Bourne trilogy, or Daniel Craig's James Bond are there and waiting ... The Expendables is just about being awesome.

Jason Bourne et al are, if I dare to stagger into a mangled comparison, akin to Nirvana. They delivered a hard edged sound but with the lyrics exploring the deep, dark depths of Cobain's troubled mind and life. The Expendables (and Rambo, for that matter), is akin to AC/DC ... catchy rock riffs with thunderstruck raspy lyrics. AC/DC are bad ass - and The Expendables is bad ass.

Some of the big names might be somewhat sidelined, some might say, but they all tear up the screen with their big-time presences. Stallone (an 80/90s action icon) and Statham (a 00/10's action icon) are the leads here, and they have a nice rapport going throughout. It's a rapport which infiltrates the whole movie - a nice, unobtrusive mix of humour amidst the exploding buildings, flying bullets, and splattering gore.

Speaking of which, there is some pretty obvious CGI gore littered throughout the movie. It's properly good fun, no doubt, but certain shots could have used a bit more work to blend the CG-claret more smoothly into the existing picture. That said, the action and cutting are so fast-paced you won't have time to linger - and thankfully the shaky-cam doesn't run roughshod over the proceedings. Again the movie strikes a nice balance - between understanding and seeing all the cool action stuff, and giving the audience a suitably rough ride for the duration.

Like with Rambo, I eagerly await this flick on home video release. I had a properly fun time, with a grin from ear-to-ear, and I do hope the DVD/BR release is jam-packed with equally arse kicking extras. The protagonist's souls may be tortured, but they don't whine about it, they blow something up instead. It's classic action with a modern sense of showmanship ... and I can't help but think that at least some of those complaining about the movie have completely and utterly missed the entire point of the movie.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Flavours of the Month: August 2010...

A bit earlier this month, and I'm trying out a new style of doing this monthly blog post.


Blade Runner - finishing off that 5-disc DVD box set.

Everybody Loves Raymond - repeats during lunch time.

Creature Comforts - repeats recorded from late night ITV2.

Friday 13th: Parts 2, 3 and 4 - what with it being a Friday 13th, they showed several of the films from the franchise. I'd forgotten how relatively tame the second movie was, with its really brief moments of violence, I finally got to see the third movie in its full 2.35:1 original aspect ratio (rather than the grainy Pan & Scan 4:3 VHS I've been used to), and to round things off I got to see the uncut version of the fourth movie.


Alan Wake OST by Petri Alanko - the perfect compliment to thinking about the game a lot (and giving the prequel short film Bright Falls another viewing).

The Black Angels "Passover" - linked to Alan Wake with the opening track "Young Men Dead", I've really gotten into this 'rock dirge' album.


I finally got around to, and finished, reading "Driven to Distraction" by Jeremy Clarkson. As is customary at Christmas, any self-respecting Top Gear fanatic will end up with one or more books written by one or more of the presenters. "Distraction" was an epic tome; a weighty hardback too large for comfortable reading ... but once I got back into the style of Clarkson's aritcles I enjoyed it as I always do.

I've been getting some good prep work done on "Allen Bridge" - my next script - but there's plenty left to think about. Speaking of scripts, "Summer Road" was finished off and posted off to the BBC Writersroom.

Finally there's been a lot of summer time painting and decorating going on (a task I'm good at, but find utterly mind-numbing), as well as some rather late (or rather early) spring cleaning - I've been digging through my chock-full cupboard, weeding out junk for recycling and items for charity shops. On top of all that my entertainment centre in the corner of my room has changed significantly. My trusty 21 inch Samsung CRT has been replaced with a 24 inch Goodmans HDTV ... my Naiko VHS player has been swapped-out for a 12 year old Sony monster chock-full of bells and whistles ... and to cap it all off the hand-me-down DVD player that had been gradually going on the fritz has been replaced by a Samsung Blu-Ray player. I've even got a new cable for my Xbox360 so I can game in HD.

It was the announcement - after three years of waiting - of the home video release of the theatrical version of Grindhouse that pushed me over the edge. The 2-disc DVD has no new extras, whereas the Blu-Ray has all the existing ones and a whole shedload of new content ... and as a huge Grindhouse fan, it was the straw that broke the camel's back - I had gotten utterly fed up of home video releases of movies I was most looking forward to buying getting shafted on DVD in favour of Blu-Ray. Some other examples would be Cop Out, Kick Ass, and Iron Man 2. I'm an extra features whore (especially for making ofs, particularly if they're feature length), and so that Grindhouse announcement was the last straw and more than three hundred quid later, here I am!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Pentuple Bill Mini Musings: August 2010...

I'd only seen this once before - when I was about 12 - and while it has aged, horribly so at times, it's still an interesting concept. I couldn't help but think as I watched it "I wonder what a modern day remake of this would be like" as there's a lot of ideas that could be wrestled with in an even more in depth manner, with modern techniques, that are somewhat skimmed over or technically limited in the original movie.

The third act is a bit weak, it doesn't strive to fully investigate the subject matter, and it hasn't aged spectacularly well, but I still dig it for what it's worth. However, an intelligent remake that delivered heavily on the ideas as much as technically impressive action, would be something worthwhile. I guess we'll possibly find out in 2012.

Good Will Hunting:
It's another one of those movies where you don't see it until years later (13 years later in this instance), but you're all-too-aware of the numerous parodies and famous lines ("How do you like them apples?"). It was on TV the other day and I figured why not? The script is impressively researched, the 'Boston feel' is convincing, and the characters are interesting and complex ... no wonder it got so much praise.

Final Destination 3:
The first movie was quite good and memorable to boot, even if it did come out in the wake of Scream when horror had become a bit of a smart arse instead of a convincing genre. The second movie upped the ante on deliciously intricate death sequences, and that's really what the whole series is about. However in 2006 when 'Final Destination ... on a roller coaster' presented itself I wasn't interested, but four years later here we are. The deaths aren't intricate or as inventive as the previous movies, and the ending makes you wonder "was there any point in bothering?" but it has some moments.

The fourth movie is on Sky Movies soon so I'll check that out, but I'm not holding out much hope for the franchise now, especially with the abysmal titling of the fifth movie - "5inal Destination" ... so, what, "Five-in-al Destination"? Hmmm...

Revenge of the Nerds:
Old school 80s comedy - with Ted McGinley (who I know from Married With Children) and James Cromwell in it no less. Relatively tame and slow paced by today's standards, and not especially 'jam-packed' with ideas, it does speak of its time and no doubt if I was of the right age when it was new I would have absolutely loved it, but I'm just a bit too young to really see the attraction in this movie - not that I particularly disliked it, I was just a decade late to the party.

Still, I now 'get' the references to it in shows such as Family Guy and Robot Chicken.

Much has been made of this being "the £45 zombie film" ... perhaps, but with an awful lot of favours, people, contacts and free work thrown into the mix. It could do with being about 20 minutes shorter and a little more focused and organised in its plotting, but overall I was quite impressed by it.

The film is, it has to be said, let down by the visual presentation - but then again that was part of the charm of it that so enraptured the slow-to-pay-attention mainstream media - but its real strength comes in numerous scenes that are well observed and/or pack an emotional punch. There is a subtlety to the film in the way big emotional situations are played out with little-or-no dialogue and instead with merely looks, careful framing, and an eye for explosive detail - the little visual cues that convey an essay's worth in a moment.

Certain sequences go on too long (such as a battle in a house with a hoard of the undead, and the dangers of someone's cellar), and the camerawork can be annoyingly shaky and dark at times ... but for every niggle or slight downside, there's a fantastic little idea thrown into the mix.

Working well with its low budget station, the zombie apocalypse playing out frequently as nothing but gunshots in the distance and a few newspaper headlines is a great way to sell a lot with very little. The film's full of these things and that makes it stand out. It's a great indie zombie flick, which really takes the subject matter seriously and deals with it in a mostly subtle manner - and what's more, on a few occasions it successfully struck an emotional wallop.

In a way it's a shame that so much attention has been given to the "£45" angle - although I can fully understand it, and condone it, as a marketing and attention-acquiring gimmick - but it does hide the real quality going on beneath the very low budget outer shell. It'll be interesting and exciting, to say the least, to see what the Director can do with a bit of money at his disposal.

Knight and Day...

I wasn't in the slightest bit fussed about this movie. I knew nothing of it until long after it had wrapped, and then I only knew very little - especially as the 'pre-buzz' focussed entirely on Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz being in it. "Not interested", said I.

Then they appeared on Top Gear (which made for an entertaining edition of Star In A Reasonably Priced Car) and they showed a clip of one of the action sequences and that got me a little bit interested. Then the following day (I think when we'd gone to see The A-Team) they showed the trailer and it looked good from an action stand point.

Such was Knight and Day - a dose of action comedy that was affable enough throughout to not put you off (unlike all that "omfg it's Cruise and Diaz!" pre-buzz nonsense). The action was our real reason in going to see it and it delivered in that respect with some spiffing set pieces (the highway battle being a high point). The rest is all fair enough but not particularly dazzling or memorable. If you're into Cruise and/or Diaz then that'd be a plus for you to check it out (I'm neither here nor there about them), but all-in-all it was a decent distraction for a Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't all that and a bag of crisps either.

Friday, 20 August 2010

My laptop: 2002-2010...

It's all change technology wise in my bedroom at the moment. My trusty CRT television is being put out to pasture, I've bought a new HD LCD TV and the half-working DVD player has been replaced with a Blu-Ray player.

There's also been a lot of tidying up going on, and in the flow of putting things out to charity bags and clearing the decks a bit, I circled round to my old laptop.

It was my very first computer that was just for me and I got it for going off to university in 2002. It served me very well throughout my degree, enduring constant use easily exceeding what would be considered "normal". One time it was connected to the internet and running constantly for a month before I had to restart it for some reason. I've often said that it has probably had a decade's use (and more, most likely) in half that time. Day-and-night, night-and-day it would run throughout my three years at uni and it did a handsome job of coping with the workload - not to mention spam and viruses.

In those days I was quite hap-hazard about such things, and as such the laptop had to be returned to factory settings more than once before I learned my lesson. However when it came time to install a new version of a well-known anti-virus software everything went arse-up ... back to factory settings, still no dice ... off to the shop and it was fixed, technically speaking, but it was never the same again and would always require a desk fan to keep it cool and finally it took to randomly freezing, crashing, failing to start up and so on.

Eventually I stored it away and it stayed there for three years until this recent bout of very-late-(or very early)-spring-cleaning took hold.

Being that laptops don't have normal hard drives however, destroying the data on it was a most unpleasant chore ... and incredibly messy. It's torn to shreds and sitting in parts in bags and boxes ready to be recycled - so at the very least most of its materials will go on to be used again in some other configuration.

It's weird to attach such ceremony, such as this blog post, to an inanimate machine, but like they always say on Top Gear about cars, when you've spent enough time with a machine you feel like there's a rapport there. You understand it's foibles and you know how to solve certain problems and you know how to treat it right. My laptop's even got a sticker on it from the time I went to see HIM perform on campus and Cathedral were the supporting act. As we left the venue a couple of the band members from Cathedral were handing out free stickers and we congratulated them on their show ... you always have a list of little memories just like that ... and with the passing of time, and old tech moving aside for new stuff, you get into that Blade Runner realm of tears in rain.

So having to go into the garage today and tear it apart to destroy the data held inside it was like having to point the shotgun at Old Yeller and pulling the trigger.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

"Allen Bridge" script planning a-go-go...

It's been an absolute hive of activity when it comes to my next script "Allen Bridge" - a drama/mystery - as I spent all afternoon yesterday furiously scribbling down ideas for entire scenes and a whole backstory to the titular town.

It really is a case of the muse working her magic - the inspiration is coming thick and fast - so much so that when I thought I'd finished I returned to my notebook not once, but twice, to scribble in yet more ideas that suddenly sprung to mind. It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle is forming of its own accord inside my head and I'm just trying to keep up with the thought process that seems to be beyond traditional thought ... that sounds kind of weird, I'm sure, but that's how inspiration works I guess.

As for "Summer Road", I'm currently working on the covering letter to go along with the script to the BBC Writersroom. It's amazing how tricky it can be to really get everything you want to say into one sheet of A4, and without talking about the specific plot or characters directly (so sayeth the Writersroom website).

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The A-Team...

As a big fan of the original television show, when I first heard that an up-to-date movie adaptation was in the works, I wasn't exactly stoked. "How will they screw this up?" I wondered, what with there being so many slapdash remakes, re-imaginings and whatever you fancy, that haven't been up to snuff - or that have simply relieved themselves all over the source material.

Then the first snippets of information - notably, the cast list. Hannibal - check - Liam Neeson is generally awesome, but he was doubly-so in the kick arse action flick Taken, so I knew that was a good choice. Face - check - Bradley Cooper wasn't a particular name of note until The Hangover came along and he was good in that, and I could see him portraying the womanising charm of Templeton quite well, so that was another good choice.

Next up Murdock - check - I'd only seen Sharlto Copley in District 9, which was a great film, and I knew Copley would be able to bring out Murdock's lunacy. Afterall, he'd managed to turn a farty, pencil-neck bureaucrat into an arse kicking, metamorphosing hero in District 9. The only sticking point was Rampage Jackson, the UFC Fighter, as B.A. Baracus - hmmm - it was going to be a hard role to fill anyway, what with Mr. T being so iconic in the role.

Then the first footage came out, and then trailers, and still Rampage Jackson as Baracus was a sticking point for me - and others - his preview clips just weren't convincing, and it was starting to shape up as a properly fun time except for his involvement.

Then came the incessant advertising that was drawn out over months and months and months. It was cheeky enough that we in the UK were almost the last country in the world to get our mits on it, a full month after its native America got their teeth into it, but the endless trailers and Orange tie-in adverts in the cinema were just mind-numbing. A couple of viewings of the trailer is all I'd need as an average cinema-goer, so why on earth with the saturation?! It was an absolute relief to finally watch the actual movie, I can tell you!

Ah yes, the movie itself, thankfully it turned out as a good, solid fun time - Rampage Jackson included. Turns out in the context of the entire movie, and the other cast members, he was a good choice to bring Baracus into the 21st century. What relief indeed. The filmmakers might say "we told you so", but to be honest this sort of turn around is rare ... annoyingly your initial reactions are confirmed once you've stumped up your cash and endured the onslaught of car and vodka adverts (an odd sandwich of advertising, wouldn't you think?)

Adaptation wise, it's good. The transfer from Vietnam to Iraq is seemless, and the pre-amble showing how the team came together works well to introduce us all (franchise fans and newcomers alike) to the new breed of A-Team. Although more of the famous van would have been nice, but considering the plot it's understandable that it's not on screen for all that long. The filmmakers have done a good job of weaving in various nods and winks to the original show, while not being precious or cheesy or disrespectful about it - a nice balance is struck pretty much throughout, and like The Losers from a couple of months ago, this is a good slab of action movie fun and I look forward to seeing it again on DVD ... most of all so I can see the post-credits sequence featuring the original Face and Murdock.

When we went to see it in the cinema they put the big lights on part-way through the credits, which suggests that there's nothing more to see, so finding out there was another scene for the hardcore fans out there was most annoying. I'll just have to catch it on DVD - speaking of which, I hope we get a proper DVD release, not some half-arsed near-vanilla bit of old cobblers with sod all extras ... that's what happened to Kick Ass, a movie I really enjoyed, but which got a rubbish DVD and a solid Blu-Ray - and not being on the Blu-Ray bandwagon (can't afford it, plus the TV and surround to make it a worthwhile experience ... plus I don't like being bullied into a new format, nor do I like a DVD being half-arsed when I was ready and waiting to put down good money on it - well done movie studios, you lost yourself some money by screwing the DVD majority over on your releases!)

Anyway, rant over ... The A-Team was a welcome jolt of action movie fun and here's hoping the DVD is a quality release.

Triple Bill Mini Musings: One Pish, Two Good...

Year One:
I'm really quite glad I didn't waste money on this in the cinema. It didn't look funny from the trailers, and it certainly wasn't funny (bar one decent gag every fifteen minutes, pretty much) in its full form. Considering that this came from comedy icon Harold Ramis, the sheer dullness of Year One was most perplexing. Jack Black was on autopilot and Michael Cera was just annoying ... thankfully Ramis put in a decent cameo, and Oliver Platt was a hedonistic high point in an otherwise naff venture.

The Deal:
I'd never heard of it until it came onto Sky Movies recently. I saw that William H. Macy was in it, and that it was a "Hollywood satire", so that was interesting enough. It's not riotously funny, but it's far from bland - it was actually quite enjoyably silly. You're pulled along for the fun little ride, much like Macy's semi-suicidal filmmaker pulls Meg Ryan's stuck-up producer into his whirlwind world of blagging a way through. Worth a watch.

Red Heat:
I've always gotten Red Heat and Raw Deal mixed up until recently when they both turned up on ITV-4 ... note to them, by the way, stop showing 2.35:1 movies in cropped 16x9! Just stop it! ... and now I know how to distinguish them. Raw Deal is the cheesy, pretty rubbish load of old nonsense about an American cop (Arnie), and Red Heat is the arse-kicking proper action flick about a Russian cop (Arnie). While Raw Deal was an example of a movie being a bad representation of 80s action flicks, Red Heat is the exact opposite. Good action, good script, and good direction ... I do wonder why it's taken me all these years to finally get around to seeing it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Back to the 80s (2010)...

This was a project that was similar in many ways to Hereford's Got Talent (2010). Not only did it also take place the Hereford Courtyard Theatre, but it was also a single camera project - and being single camera, it means you have to be keep as focussed as possible on the camerawork as it's basically going to be two 80 minute takes cut together in the edit.

I've done a few of these sort of demanding shooting gigs now, and they do have their limitations (you are rarely afforded the ideal position from which to film, low light, some audio issues, and you have to treat it like one big take throughout - unless you're working on a two-man-two-camera team), but despite the challenge it is always quite rewarding to do. The only thing that actually bothered me was having to compress the quality of the video to fit onto a DVD - the drop in quality isn't overtly apparent, but was necessary due to the length of the edit, which was 138 minutes!

Back to the 80s was an epic musical set in the American 1980s as performed by the Year 6 pupils of three local primary schools - Year 6 being the final year of primary school; Year 7 being the first year of high school. Like with HGT, the project allowed me to have a good play around when it came to the opening and closing titles, the central conceit being to use various fonts from 80s TV and film (e.g. Blade Runner, Back to the Future, The Terminator, and Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles).

All in all it was a fun (if somewhat limiting) project to do (which came to me at the last minute - on the day of, in fact) and it's a good way to strike a balance between not being overly intrusive into the performance (visually speaking), and maintaining the audible sense of audience participation that those who partook would naturally want to re-experience.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Hendecuple Bill Mini Musings: Catching Up...

Dial M For Murder:
A Hitchcock classic I'd heard about for a long time, for which I found the opening twenty minutes crushingly dull (I feared it was going to be another Marnie, which I found dreadfully dull to be honest) until the main thrust of the film gets underway - then it became a tense and tricksy affair to remember.

I've had it hanging around for literally years and I finally got around to watching it. A "sedate pace" is an understatement ... and while the melodrama of 'widower looking for love' was surprisingly interesting, it does go on for far too long, and the infamous torture scene is relatively brief, but inventive and memorable. When the melodrama subsides and the creeping sense of 'something isn't quite right about this girl and her past' begins to ratchet up, Miike does a great job in drawing out the suspense and quiet air of intimidation. The lengthy melodrama stuff does go beyond 'arty' and into 'get on with it already' territory though - twenty minutes less of that and the film would have felt better balanced.

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs:
Simon Pegg and three insanely cute baby T-Rexes steal the whole show. Straight forward family fare that really looks the part and actually looks very nice in 2D, even though it was clearly designed with its 3D theatrical release in mind.

Violent theatricality writ large within and about the mind of Britain's most violent and notorious prison inmate. At times it feels like a modern spin on A Clockwork Orange, and other times it feels a bit uncomfortable to watch - like it's glorifying rather than examining this figure - but however you take it, Hardy is absolutely on top form as the titular criminal - no wonder he ended up in this year's Inception.

Midnight Run:
These days the action would be ballsier and the comedy would be far less subtle, but The Adam and Joe Show had it right when they sang "proving he could swear a lot, but also make you smile" in their song Bobby DeNiro. A proper slab of 80s action comedy.

Run! Bitch Run!
Properly low budget indie rape & revenger which homages/rips off (depending on your outlook) The Last House on the Left and, most of all, I Spit On Your Grave - both of which are much better movies, but this stab at grindhouse grot has a bizarre charm to it. It's bad, but the good kind of bad - and you have to respect a genre flick with such a great trailer.

The House of the Devil:
Not an awful lot happens for the majority of the movie, but it's the careful camerawork, style and generally '80s horror flick' vibe that pulls you through - plus Noonan plays 'pleasantly creepy' better than anyone else. It would have been nice if the final act ordeal had been more drawn out though - I thought back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when Sally Hardesty was trapped inside the cannibal's house - the ordeal just went on and on and we really began to empathise with the character. However, in House of the Devil, that portion is over too soon for us to really get sucked into it all ... but even still, I really enjoyed this flick. You've got to be in the right mindset for a slow burn 80s style devil worshipping movie, but it is a nice reminder of how horror can also be done. Much has been made of it being "the anti-Saw-or-Hostel", but I've never liked such a dismissive stance taken to such movies. I like Hostel (1 and 2) for what they are, and there's a time and a place for them ... same goes for the Saw series, or specifically the first and third movies (two is a bit naff, while four and five are the same-old-schtick but with an impenetrable script ... and I haven't seen part six yet).

There's a time and a place for every kind of horror, and The House of the Devil is a great slice of retro suspense.

Raw Deal:
Cheesy, a bit naff, kind of rough around the edges, and with a plot rendered pointless by some decent action set pieces, it's a movie that I can now say I've seen ... but I won't be seeing it again.

A Bug's Life:
I'm a big fan of Pixar, but I'd never seen this one - so, twelve years after it was released, I had a look. Quite fun and still quite good looking, I've seen it and that's probably enough for me - just like how I've seen Cars, and Ratatouille, but wouldn't be fussed about seeing them again. For me it's just not in the same league as the brilliant WALL.E or the superb Toy Story series (still yet to see the third one, mind).

The Ipcress File:
Classic Caine. It's a bit softcore by today's standards, but the true feel of a British film with its memorable score and quality cinematography was a nice treat. A note to BBC2 (and other such channels) - stop cropping 2.35:1 movies to 16x9 - if Sky Movies can show films in their proper, true and intended aspect ratios, then so can you - stop treating people like morons, and stop pandering to morons who are angered by black bars on their telly screens. Show the whole picture for goodness sake!

The Colour of Money:
Not as ballsy (excuse the pun) as typical Scorsese flicks, it is more of a character piece with Newman picking up where he left off with The Hustler (a great film that I first saw years and years ago in high school). The script is a bit annoying when it comes to Cruise's young up-and-comer - he seemingly learns nothing from Fast Eddie as a matter of routine, which really does inspire your eyes to roll, but all the fancy pool playing and Newman's portrayal of past-his-prime Fast Eddie makes it an interesting watch. Although I must admit I got twenty minutes into it several years ago and just gave up, but I stuck with it this time.