25 Apr 2013

Oblivion


I talk a lot on this blog about the failure of new and innovative stories to make it to our cinemas. Often the studios rely on sequels, remakes, and now the re-release of previously successful movies in 3D to release as a secure return on their investment.

But this is not always the case. Talented writers and directors are out there trying to bring  new stories to us. New books, short stories, graphic novels and old stories previously thought to be too difficult to film are being made.  Unfortunately though, they do seem to be the minority.

Thus when something fresh comes along it is important to investigate. I don't know anyone that had seen Oblivion or knew anything about it. I suspect there is a lot of reservation because Tom Cruise is in the title role. I don't have the hate on for Tom as other people do, which makes this choice a bit easier.

Synopsis:

It is 2077 and Earth went to war with an alien race known only as the 'Scavengers'. The Scavengers travel through space like locusts stripping worlds of all their resources before moving on.  Earth won the war against the scavengers, but at great cost. The Scavengers destroyed the moon, and that caused global devastation. Earth was ruined. Humanity is deserting Earth and making a new home on Titon.
Jack (Tom Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) are part of the final clean up crew. They run maintenance for the robotic drones who hunt out the remaining scavengers.  Soon it will be time for Jack and Victoria to leave Earth forever and join the colonists. But as their mission comes to a close, Jack questions leaving his home.



The easiest way to describe  Oblivion  is as a triumphant return of science fiction.  Prometheus, Ghosts of Mars, Tron Legacy, Aliens versus Predator are examples of bloody nails in sci fi fans dreams for decent stories to be made. Fans of science fiction films like me who drag their partners to sci fi films like these in the hope of seeing a gdecent movie, can find ourselves apologising and promising that not all sci fi films are arse.

Don't get me wrong Oblivion probably won't win any Oscars, but it was really enjoayble.  The story is interesting and like any good science fiction story it raises a couple of questions about our humanity. It was nicely paced and director Joseph Kosinski has certainly redeemed himself after Tron Legacy. There is a degree of cheese, but not enough to ruin the film.

The cast is small , but they are all do a solid job. I thought Tom Cruise was fine, he played his role, and didn't annoy me or my friends. Morgan Freeman as always stole the show.  Andrea Riseborough, who you may know from  Brighton Rock  probably gave the strongest performance as Cruises partner and lover Victoria.

We have all seen depictions of the Earth, and particularly the US after an apocalypse. But Oblivion some how manages makes the terrain of post war Earth seem new and interesting. And Oblivion also has some gentle nods to 2001:A Space Odyssey. The style of the base, the drones, even Jack's exercise machine are all reminiscent of Kubrick's classic. I found these little touches to be entertaining and added a nice touch to the film.

Oblivion isn't going to be the stand out movie of the year, but it is entertaining and fun. It is certainly a solid endorsement that the science fiction genre is alive and well.

Seven Monkeys from me
 

23 Apr 2013

The Croods


I like animated films. I like the stories they tell and the way they can tell them. Over time animated films have gone beyond simple shorts to poignant and clever layered narratives for both children and the parents that are inevitably escorting them to the movies.  Wall-E, the Lion King and Up are a long way from Donald and Mickey.

Pixar changed the game with Toy Story and every year they push the boundaries to bring us better and better films. But, as I have noted before, their competitors are sometimes dismissed for the simple fact that they are not Pixar.  I dislike this trend.  I think that you can dislike a film for not being as good for various reasons, but not instantly dismiss it because it is made by Dream Works.  Dreamworks animation have made some really great movies; Monsters versus Aliens, Shrek, How to Train your Dragon, Wallace and Grommet/ Curse of the Were-rabbit, Madagascar, and ANTZ.

Just kidding Antz was an abomination.

With any film, animated or not, it should be judged on its merits or lack thereof.  With that being said let us look at The Croods.

Synopsis

The Croods are a family of Neanderthals who live in an insanely dangerous world filled with colourful and peculiar creatures.   All their neighbours and friends have been methodically killed off by disease or giant Owl-tiger attack.  Grug (Nicolas Cage) is the father of the tiny clan, and is determined to keep his family safe.  His rules are simple, anything new is dangerous. Eep (Emma Stone) feels constricted by his rules and fear of the new. She wants to explore and discover new things. But Grug keeps them securely in their cave.  But after an earthquake destroys their home the family have no choice but to leave their valley and explore out into the world. 

Firstly the Dreamworks artists have had a field day with the stylised prehistoric world of the Croods. Instead of recreating another Ice-Age movie, they have made a crazy world of land whales, flying piranha birds and flying turtles, and all in a vivid palate of colours. While I Imagine some palaeontologists having conniptions over the various creatures the croods encounter, I found it fun.

The story revolves around Eep's struggle for independence from her father Grug. This is complicated by the introduction of Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a Cro-Magnon traveller who challenges Grugs authority with his superior intellect and survival skills.  Grug has always been the one to protect his family, but Guy is a better provider and survivor than Grug.

The story isn’t new, but it isn’t trite either. The Croods' search for a new home reflects the figurative and literal journey of Grug and Eep as they travel beyond into uncharted territory.

The small cast were great; Belt (Chris Sanders) was my firm favourite. And those who dislike Mr Cage, for being, well Nicholas Cage, may find his role as Grug still enjoyable. Ryan Reynolds plays the affable and inventive Guy, Cloris Leachman plays Gran, the indomitable mother Of Ugga, who is played by  Catherine Keener, who is Grug's wife. Clark Duke and Randy Thom play Thunk, and Sandy, Grugs and Uggas youngest children respectively.

I went in hoping to be entertained and I was. I saw the Croods in 2d as usual, but it is shown in 3D if that is your thing. I recommend a trip to the movies to see The Croods, especially if you need a film for the school holidays. It is bright, colourful, and most of all entertaining.

 

Six monkeys from me.

15 Apr 2013

Wedding blog: venues


At a certain point in wedding planning you hit an impasse until a venue can be confirmed.  Guest lists, food, wine, music, table settings, food, wine, amenities that are available, logistics for visiting guests and  the ceremony and of course most important the food and wine budget.  

My girl had found three venues for us to look at yesterday, there were four, but after further consideration it would have been safer, and classier to have it in a barn, or a bordello or a foxhole in Syria.  
So we gathered the bridal party, myself and took a trip over the hill into homeland of my girl. I say her homeland, it was where she was born, but I suspect her spiritual homeland would be one of the great style and art capitals of the world; New York, London, Paris, , Rome or Edinburgh.   
Once there we met up with the mother and father of the bride who provided a lovely lunch and fortification and we all left to visit the first venue.

To protect all concerned I will not be naming names of the venues or the people we spoke to.

Venue number one

It was a spectacular day in the Wairarapa and it was a pleasant start to our itinerary to have the sun out as we drove through the New Zealand countryside.  To get to Venue one we had to travel down this twisty turny drive along a metal road to arrive at a sun drenched vineyard and orchard. ‘Hello’ I thought ‘this is a bit of us’.   
We rounded a bend to see a large modern building that looked very nice. We parked and disembarked and we were met by the woman that ran the venue. I shall call her Mrs Bucket, pronounced ‘Bouquet.’
Now I understand that the wedding is all about the bride, it is her day and all that, but given I am paying for half of it, and it is my wedding to that she could have least humoured me with some eye contact! But no she spent the time name dropping and talking to everyone but me.  Fine I thought so be it.  I knew that my girl isn’t going to make a decision without me being comfortable with it so I will just see where this goes.

It went to a garage.  
Not an actual garage you understand, there weren’t any cars in it. But it was one of those Lockwood prefab sorts of things. Half of it had been turned into a marquee, and the other part was an entry/bar/kitchen area. 
I guess the theme was “rustic” inside. I would call it cramped. It had wooden beams   added on in a complicated bid to stun and capture the overly tall.  
I was completely underwhelmed and to be honest simply stopped listening to Mrs Bucket.  To be fair it is a summer venue, and outside was wicked with trees, and gardens, and I can imagine those trees looking fantastic with lights all through them. But we are having a winter wedding so everything that was wonderful about the venue would be lost.  Also we want candles and that plastic marquee sheeting would probably catch fire and then we would all die of consumption.  
The girls thought it was cold, and while it is autumn, it was still very warm outside. This boded ill for the ladies.

So venue one was out.

Venue two

After being fortified with a wine we visited the second venue.  We were met by a lovely lady whom I will call ‘Shelly’  because she spells cheers, as  cheerz.
Yes I am confusing the actress with the character.
The second venue was a practical and shall I say aesthetically functionary. But Shelly was friendly, professional and obviously experienced. She answered our questions and had information available. She listened to us and had answers.  While there was a limited aesthetic to the venue, it was as the chief bridesmaid put it “a blank canvas”.  We had the freedom to make the venue what we wanted it to be.  Also this venue had many logistical advantages.  
The downside was that while they said BYO, they didn’t mean it. I had come up with the idea of supplying the wine ourselves.  I belong to many wine clubs and mailing lists and they have great deals on quality wines. $25-$10 if you buy a case.  I thought that we could save $$ and our guests would have great wines to try. But at $10 a corkage per bottle it seemed pointless.  But this concession was certainly not a deal breaker.

Venue two was a definite maybe.

Venue number three.

Much happier we descended on the third venue. As we walked up the drive to this amazing estate, I was blown away by the architecture and the sheer beauty of the building. It was awesome. As we went inside I felt like I was in Downton Abby. Rich dark wood, chandeliers wonderful. It was everything I thought my girl  wanted. I then started to wonder the banks to rob vs. likelihood of getting caught   before the wedding.  
We sat down with the couple, let’s call them the Royals, that ran the venue and they talked us through what they offer. Instantly we hit problems.  My lady asked when she could come and set up the venue, and was basically told that she couldn’t.

Also no BYO, they are a licenced venue and there wines are very competitive at $30 a bottle.  Now I am not sure who they think they are competing with? But this is not a race I think I can afford to enter.  As they discussed various catering options I stared Mr Royal in the eye and silently did some maths.

$30 a bottle, most of my friends enjoy a couple, and it’s a wedding, so 30 x 3 carry that by the guests = eleventy million dollars! 
Then Mr Royal said that they do not encourage excessive drinking. That’s good, I thought as I think I can only afford one glass of wine between two guests. Then we asked about music. We are just going to have an ipod. Good gracious no, the venue is best suited for live music. They know this lovely singer, she is a treat and they use her all the time. No one dances to music on an ipod.  I wanted to ask “Does she know any Coldplay? How is she at Of Monsters and Men then?” but I was on my best behaviour as I didn’t want to ruin our chances with the venue.


We then had a tour of the venue and we left.
My girl then confessed that she thought it was ok, but she was worried that she would lose control over her wedding, and have to concede too much. She was really unhappy. But if I really liked it then we have the venue there.
And that right there ladies and gentlemen sums up the woman I am going to marry. Despite her concerns, and worries and basically unhappiness with the venue and its operators she would agree to it if my heart was set on it.

Now it was potentially the perfect aesthetic choice for us, however if we were offer Versailles at a reasonable rate and she was unhappy I wouldn’t take it.  (even though it would have probably had cheaper wine).Concessions have to be made, sure, but we have to be happy, she has to be happy. If my girl wanted a reception involving kegs in a barn I’d say yes, if that made her happy. (Thankfully she is exceptionally stylish.)  My bride to be wants to be her own wedding planner, she wants to plan and create her wedding. I am exceptionally lucky that she genuinely respects my opinion and insists on any decision being a joint one.  Venue three would not make her happy so they are off the island.
For me when the Royals said, oh we would have to have this singer, and they would do the table decorations, I was nodding but in my mind I was just dismissing them. Our wedding, our choices. Don’t like that then we shall take our sixpence somewhere else.

As you can surmise we went with option two.  And that done, the wedding locomotive is off again!

Toot toot! And bye-ee.

12 Apr 2013

Billy Bunter rides again


Last Saturday I was awoken at the ludicrous hour of 7 Am in the morning. Then in my bleary sleepy state presented with a Banana. I had either had a fantastic night out with the lads and had woken up in the Monkey enclosure at Wellington Zoo, or I was going running.
What the fraggle!
Wembley hated running too
 
I am embarking on an exciting new life with a wonderful woman, and as part of this excitement I have decided to get back in shape. I could bore you with tales of athleticism past, but unless you were a professional sportsperson who really cares about how far you could run at high school or what social rugby team you used to play in. No-one.
But suffice to say my body was a little more carrot shaped back when I was younger,  around circa 1623 AD I think. Now I am more, well stout.
I am not he who stole all the pies, but I am perhaps a member of a successful Pie gang. Pastry McCoy has a nice ring to it.
 
But a new life, a new family, a new home, a healthier lifestyle and the opportunity to walk up stairs without making a noise like a randy moose.
My girl likes running. I can’t explain why she enjoys it.  Running for me seemed quite pointless.  Unless you are being chased, or are chasing someone (or a delicious pie), it seems a stupid thing to do.  So when friends of mine suggested to my lovely lady they belong to this running club, no one was more surprised than I, when I volunteered to join up with them.
Yes lardy lardison, from the clan MacPastry, from the isle of gourmand has decided to take up running.
Madness.
Back to last Saturday, we arrived at lower Hutt to be presented with a mixed bag of runners. Some too fit to be fair, and others who seemed  more at my pace.
The atmosphere was jolly, except within a metre of me, as I had suddenly become an  75 year old hater from 1947. There was muttering and swearing and that was just getting out of the car. But there was an introduction,  and then we were off to run five k’s.
At first it was a closed in herd of runners, but pretty swiftly the gazelle like athletes were off to beat their last time with the same determination I have with enjoying a delicious raspberry slice.  Then the herd broke up into a steady stream of runners.  I took it easy trying to pace myself. I am not one of life’s marathon runners, more of a cheetah. A cheetah designed to sprint into bakeries and pubs and cinemas and indulge in deliciousness.
yum
 
And I guess that is why I am running
Right so running, running, and more running.  Wow I am doing awesome.
“Right how much have we run?” I asked
“There are markers spray painted on the track.” My beloved panted.
I kept an eye out as we trotted along.  Around halfway there I was looking ahead to see if we could see the first runners returning to the start when I saw the marker. 1KM.
What? Sure I have run elevenity million billion miles by now. ONE MILLION!  But no, while my lardy arse thought I was running a marathon, apparently I hadn’t even made it to the shops yet.
I made it to two k’s before I had to stop to walk. I got my breath and trotted on again. This continued, stop, start, walk, run.  Except the walking got longer and longer, and the runs got briefer. 
I have to say there were some very nice people on the run.  One woman was very encouraging, and there was a an older chap who gave me advice and wanted me to run with him . But by that stage I knew I would only hold him back.
I managed to give it one final push to the finish line so I actually ran over it, I say run, more like a determined stagger. There was a photographer cheerfully taking a picture of my misery. I weighed up whether I had sufficient energy to punch him right in the zoom lens, but thought it would be bad form not to finish on my very first try.
So I did it.  I will not disgrace myself by telling you my time, or where I finished. The organisers were very encouraging, and my friends and girl were very supportive. I was an ungracious irritable troll.
Five kilometres seems like a long way, but is it? Are we so soft as a culture that we can’t make five k’s without some sort of attack.
I am not built for running, I do not like running. I will never like running, it is rubbish. However I do need to get fit.  So this Saturday you will find me shivering and muttering.  I will remember my iPod, and I will do it again to the sound of Protobot and the Ruts.
I hope to eventually get the level of health where I can run the track and still beat some smirking sports paparazzi to death with his 35-105 zoom lens.  Or be a good weight for my wedding.
Sigh the things we do.
P.S.
Running sucks!

10 Apr 2013

Hitchcock



Alfred Hitchcock was a masterful director, being a highly intelligent, and a rather complex person he also had a wonderful insight into the human psyche. He created some of the great thrillers of the last century ( it looks peculiar when I write last century doesn’t it?); The Birds, North by Northwest, 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Vertigo and of course Psycho.

Mr Hitchcock is the inspiration, and the hero of writers, directors, critics and lovers of good film. He is revered in the film community as a man that changed the way films were made technically and artistically. As such to many he is sacred, and I think that is why this film has received so many mixed reviews.  Psycho redefined the horror genre and a film about the making of it will get a great deal of scrutiny from film historians, critics, and fans alike.


Before I provide a synopsis I would like to make a quick comment. I have noticed that some reviewers and writers refer to Alfred Hitchcock as ‘Hitch’. This was his nickname to his friends, and family etc., and it seems very presumptuous and disrespectful to me.  If you didn’t know him personally then I am not sure what right you have to be that familiar when you talk about him. 


That done here is a synopsis.

1959 Hollywood and Alfred Hitchcock ( Anthony Hopkins) has just released the highly successful  North by North-west, and at the premiere a news reporter asks if he should retire? Bothered by the thought he decides that he needs a new and exciting project, and he chooses to purchase the option for the Robert Bloch novel Pyscho. The book is inspired on the real life adventures of the murderer Ed Gein.  The project hits a rough patch with the studio and censors alike.  Work pressures are brought home affect his relationship with his wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) who is seeking a project of her own. And one is offered by an old admirer  Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).


I cannot say anymore without giving away spoilers so ensue shower hijinx.

Much has been written about Alfred Hitchcock, and his films. This film is loosely based on, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, written byStephen Rebello.  I say loosely because this film isn’t really about the making of Psycho at all. Psycho  is a brilliant piece of murderous film that was well marketed and was the genesis of the slasher horror film. But that isn’t what this film is mainly about. And this is the problem for most people.

I think what people expected was a historical drama, probably along the lines of  Lincoln where the steely eyed genius sits like a Tsar watching his movie unfold like a sixties bond villain. A film that is a vehicle of praise for Alfred Hitchcock’s work and abilities, but in fact what they got was a love story.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his long suffering wife Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, Jessica Biel as Vera Miles and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins, and Toni Collette as Peggy Robertson.Hopkins is in a fat suit for the entire film, but carries it well. And as you can imagine with such an ensemble cast the performances are very good.  But these are not just characters; they are real people, figures from film history. They need to be more than good performances they need to be faithful performances. I am sorry to say that I cannot tell you if they are or not. They appear to be though.


The film is about a married couple, and humanizes Hitchcock in a way which appears to be highly uncomfortable for many.  While I know that the film takes several liberties with the truth behind the making of Psycho, it does seem to portray one simple truth which is that they loved each other. I suspect most people, even now have at least heard of Alfred Hitchcock, but outside cinema circles few know about his wife, and lifelong collaborator Alma Reville.

I have been quite conflicted over this film, it deliberately plays a bit fast and loose with the historical events of the making of  Psycho, one being the peculiar omission of Patricia Hitchcock, the daughter of Alfred and Alma. But you could also argue that it isn’t much of a film without drama, and conflict? I have read more critics and reviews than I normally do before writing a post about a movie,  due to my conflicting feelings about Hitchcock.  One biographer slated the movie because of the tension portrayed between Alfred and Alma. They were happily married. He is of course a more renown authority on Alfred Hitchcock than I, however it doesn’t seem all that plausible that such a successful marriage that lasted such a long time didn’t have its ups and downs.

Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock were married for over fifty years and were by all accounts devoted to each other. She shunned the lime light, but was also an integral part of any project he was part of. Alma Reville was his assistant director when they made films in England in the 20’s, and was a highly intelligent woman.

After much deliberation with my cinematic conscience I have decided to let myself like this movie. Why when it is not historically accurate?Isn’t that hypocrisy? Probably, but then I am an unrepentant hypocrite.  Ask my long suffering partner.

This is film is in many ways a dramatic work of fiction based on real people, during a tiny, but integral part of cinematic history. But one thing is true; these crazy kids were devoted to each other.  And that is what the film reflects. The relationship between Alma Reville and Alfred Hitchcock.

You may or may not agree, but here is a clip of Alfred Hitchcock received his lifetime achievement award.




While it meddles with history, I think the making of  Psycho is actually the subplot, and the relationship is in fact  the main narrative of this film.  I have no idea whether Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this film, and I suspect that Alma may not have been fond of the idea of her marriage being the plot of a major motion picture. But I think it portrays them as a loving couple whose relationship should acknowledged along with their cinematic achievements. It was funny and entertaining, and I really wish I had seen this film with my fiancĂ© after I had proposed to her.

Seven and a half suspenseful monkeys from me

5 Apr 2013

Roger Ebert



Roger Ebert
Film critic, and gentleman

June 18, 1942 - April 4, 2013

RIP

3 Apr 2013

Believe it or not.....



I am not one for conspiracy theories to be honest.  I am ok with the moon landing, I don’t think fluoride is a pacification drug so that big brother can control us, I do not believe that the Bavarian illuminati live under the world and send their Templar spies to control world governments through the Rothschild banking system.  And I do not believe that that the liberal left is trying to turn the children of the western world gay. 

However I did hear a rather interesting theory today that I want to explore.
We are all probably aware of the sabre rattling going on in North Korea. To summarise Lil’ Kim has cancelled the 1953 armistice between North and South Korea that ended the Korean War.  Apparently the UN says that that North Korea cannot unilaterally dissolve the armistice.

But North Korea has said that it has entered “a state of war” and will enter an all out war with South Korea and the USA.  Lil Kim deciding that his previous threats of “a state of a just a tiny war” did not give him the military credentials he needs to solidify his support in the Kingdom of North Korea. And you can argue what you will, but North Korea is basically a feudal country, it just has different titles to cover this up. 
 
I would like to say this is a joke photo, however it isn't.
The more informed and reasonable amongst us would say that these empty threats are just the political maneuvering of a young leader proving to the North Korean generals and leaders(or nobility) that he has the gumption to lead their paradise into this millennium. 

But what if there is a more sinister agenda? 

North Korea ended the armistice around the 11th of March.  This is one week after the movie remake Red Dawn  was released on DVD. 


Coincidence?  I think not. 
The film did not do well at the US box office so the studio will be desperate to recoup the cash. But what if they are so desperate that they have cut a deal with Lil’ Kim to help promote the DVD release?

Lil’ Kim’s father “big daddy Kim” was a massive fan of movies even to the extent that he allegedly kidnapped a South Korean star and her husband a  film director to make epic movies for him.   Also there is a long standing tradition of evil dictators loving movies; Stalin was a massive fan of Hollywood. And I understand Pol Pot loved the works of Woody Allen.  So it would not be a surprise if Lil’ Kim, who was brought up in the west followed in this tradition.  


And it makes sense if you consider how delusional the propaganda machine in The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, otherwise known as Kimtopia, is. 

For example Big daddy first picked up a golf club in 1994, at North Korea's only golf course, and shot a 38-under par round that included no fewer than 11 holes in one. Satisfied with his performance, he immediately declared his retirement from the sport.”

If the Kimtopian people believe this, then they would be entirely behind a film where using North Korean superior technology, the beloved leader and his mighty army conquer the USA. 
Lil' Kim signing the deal with Holywood. A general stands by hoping for a speaking part.

Maybe Li’l Kim has surreptitiously invested in the film on the basis that it is a propaganda film for his military might, and not a dire remake of an 80’s propaganda film about the evils of communism.  

The irony is staggering!

Anyway it is just a theory and I am sure that all involved would deny it. 

But of course they would wouldn’t they…..