Saturday, 22 August 2009

Avatar Day was a red letter day

There it was then. The full 20 minutes of footage in all its glory, on the big IMAX screen, in 3D. The trailer for Avatar hit the net yesterday, and the backlash is already in full swing! A lot of "its not photorealistic enough" and "looks like an Xbox game" (clearly not gamers), but how many of 'em got to the cinema to check out the real deal? The future has been on its way for 14 years, so now is the time to ask, are we there yet?

We open with the self same footage I saw just last week, which remains as equally impressive on the jumbo screen as it did previously, and larger. But then, oh glory of glories, the new stuff. First up is Mr Worthington helping himself into the mind melding sarcophagus while verbally sparring with Sigourney Weaver – they don’t seem to be getting on too well, could it be his cocky, brash machismo is rubbing her up the wrong way? Or perhaps the right way? Anyway, he’s in the tank, so let's see some Dileep Rao playing minority report with his snazzy Apple notepad, as the link between marine and Na’vi is established- we need to go first person for this. Wooshing lightshow, then bam, out of focus doctors are staring into the lens. This scene is glimpsed in the trailer, and is amazing. Worthington is immediately having the time of his life. He can feel his legs and is up and wobbling about the place, to the dismay of the medics who just want him to touch his thumb to his fingers. “This is great” he grins. And it looks it too. The creature is there in the room, while the medics, dwarfed by the blue giant, scurry around him. Remarkable.

Next up we’re in the jungle at night, Worthington is wrestling with an alien dog creature and is losing. Out of the dark leaps a semi naked Na’vi, firing arrow into the dog in midair. She takes out the rest of the pack in graceful, deadly movements, and the remainder retreat into the darkness whimpering as she snarls after them. She extinguishes Worthington’s torch with a curse, what a numpty, lighting a fire brand in a hostile jungle, and goes about putting one of the injured dog creatures out of it's misery. As he retrieves his torch from the pool, Worthington realises he has flawless night vision, and that the jungle is lit up all around him in gorgeous neon. Very pretty. Very alien.

Next, the scene directly following – Worthington and Zoe Saldana (for it is she) have their first tiff. He is trying to thank her for saving him. She is super pissed off at him for getting in trouble in the first place and needing her to kill the animals she did. Then why did you save me? “You have a strong heart – you have no fear”. Hmm first sign of sloppy romance (of course) or also an allusion to the fact that he’s a marine working a body that’s not his and he doesn’t really give two hoots if his face gets bitten off by space dogs? Regardless, the faces on the two protagonists are simply amazing, expressions and nuances so spot on, so detailed, they are looking more and more realistic.

Cut to the final scene. Worthington now seems to be part of a Na’vi tribe as Zoe is there, and there’s a bunch of other males there too. They are inching along a high precipice of a cliff face, and as the round the corner we see.. a flock of dragons basking on the rocks! Freaking big sabre toothed dragon things, all laid out on the cliff face, nesting like something out of Planet Earth, the leathery looking creatures squawk and roar, flapping away as the Na’vi approach. We learn they mean to capture these creatures, and that they use them as transport. Zoe has been teaching Worthington the tricks of the trade; he must make a bond between himself and the lizard to tame it. He approaches one that looks game, and prepares for the catch. One of the male Na’vi is mocking – “The moron's going to die” - ooh, 3D subtitles. The creature snaps at our boy, he dodges and leaps on its back, wrestling with it for control, but is thrown, nearly taking a spill off the impossibly high cliff as the nasty looking male jock roars with laughter. What a douche. Undeterred, Worthy leaps back up and then onto the back of the creature, this time pinning its head. We see the "bond" is literal – he grabs a tendril from the back of the creatures head, and his own pony tail, and holds the ends together – we see silvery nerve endings intertwine between them and they fuse together – the dragon going wide eyed and docile in a moment. Next they’re off, the first flight "seals the bond". The first flight is actually a bit of a nightmare, as the creature dive-bombs and tumbles through the air, the camera swooping after them in stomach lurching arcs. Worthy cant get the hang of flying, the creature smacking into the cliff face and falling several hundred feet, screechily protesting all the way – until he shouts “shut up and fly straight” and it simply does - he thinks it, it does it, then it's plain sailing all the way, and a chance to take in the beautiful panoramic landscape.

And then we’re into the wrap up reel. This followed the style of the trailer but there were a few more shots in there that are not, including an indescribably cool shot of falling debris – perhaps one of those floating mountains being destroyed and falling to earth? - and lots more of the epic action from the trailer, which we didnt get a sniff of in the proper footage. Boo.

Lets be clear, what I saw was astonishing. I’ve read an awful lot of hating on the nets today, mostly aimed at the trailer, and I honestly can’t understand it - just what were people expecting from a sci fi movie about aliens on another world? Ok, so you can tell the Na'vi are CGI, but only some of the time! In closeup especially, they are breathtakingly convincing, and at the very least, represent the pinnacle of computer generated characterisation. I thought the trailer alone looked great – impeccably gorgeous landscapes, again undoubtedly the most advanced CG ever seen, anywhere (FACT) but to see the world and characters in 3D, and on the big screen was something else. What these wizards have c
reated is so rich and so gorgeous that I simply need to see this movie now. The imagination on display was astonishing and so well realised and incredibly immersive that claims about it being a watermark in cinema are probably spot on - bearing in mind JC certainly hasn't shown his full hand yet, the game is set to be well and truly changed. It seems in some camps expectation had been set so high, the reality has come as a bit of a downer. But it really shouldn't have as this is the closest anyone's come to fashioning another world onscreen, and the reaction may be more to do with the realisation it's going to be a movie about blue skinned aliens in a jungle. Some people are never satisfied.

The technology has been the focus since we heard about it, but watching the footage it became clear that what Cameron has been quoted as saying about the tech being advanced enough to “wave its own wand and make itself disappear” is totally true – all the CG and 3D will play second fiddle to the story and characters. The Avatars, despite being 8ft tall and blue, were completely believable, and the range of expression on their oddly feline faces was amazing– by the second viewing (did I mention I went twice?!) they didn’t look CG at all, but rather like familiar faces, each unique and remarkable. Imagine sitting through a whole film. We’re going to love these things.

But this is just me. Could you get tickets? Were you a part of Avatar day? What did you think? Revolutionary or Thundercats meets Ferngully?

If you need to see the trailer.. here it is!

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Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Review: District 9

District 9, like any good piece of cinema, will mean different things to different people. To some, it may offer a frank social commentary on the nature of bigotry and exclusionism. To others, the theme of exploitative capitalism taking advantage of the most vulnerable societal groups for financial gain may ring truest. To others still, this is a film about big focken ray guns exploding soldiers, aliens pulling peoples heads off and enormous robotic mechanoids tearing the place up. What it is in fact, lies somewhere in the narrow spaces between these closely related themes, and despite clearly being influenced by several movies and video games before it, District 9 is a film that feels wholly original and thrillingly ballsy. An unusual premise, an offbeat leading man, a unique presentation, all blend together to deliver a bona-fide instant sci-fi classic, and one of the best films of the year.

Exposition is the bane of a film with a concept. Here it is dealt with neatly, most of the first act viewing in a documentary style, we are treated to news clips and snippets of interviews with locals and experts, recapping the last 30 years of this alternate history. It is 2010, and a massive alien spaceship hangs over the city of Johannesburg, where it has hung motionless and inactive for 28 years. The aliens it carried were found to be helpless and malnourished, mysteriously unable to take control of their ship. A field hospital established directly below the ship to tend to the sick creatures has in 28 years evolved into a slum. The aliens are now a part of the community, but untrusted, unwanted and a burden on the human societies around them. Derisively nicknamed prawns, the creatures are insectoid with a certain seafoody quality to their faces and speak with a whirr of clicking and glottal stops, subtitled for our benefit. They are second class citizens, feeding on the waste of the humans, excluded from society and exploited by the Nigerian gangs set to profit from their helplessness. For with them, the aliens brought technology. They have a plethora of futuristic guns and weapons which rather than using to enslave humanity, they trade with their exploiters for cans of catfood, an irresistible delicacy. The catch is, no humans can use the tech, as it operates on a biological level with the aliens, and only they are able to make it work.

All of this is covered in the first 10 minutes, and serves to create a setting that is utterly authentic in every detail, and a premise that is totally believable. And yet for a film with such big ideas, it remains very much a story about characters and heroes. Our unlikely candidate is Wikus Van De Merwe, a bureaucrat for MNU, the private company that has been appointed custodians of the aliens and District 9. He is, in the early scenes, more akin to Steve Carrel’s version of David Brent. He relishes the attention lavished on him by the documentary crew filming him, wisecracking and mugging for the camera, as he prepares to execute the operation to serve notice on the million strong residents of District 9, that they are being evicted and moved to District 10, out of sight and mind of Jo'burg. He and his private army, MNU ominously being the world's largest private arms manufacturer, roll in to District 9 to get a million alien signatures to legalise the controversial movement of these refugees. It’s not a difficult leap to read the allegorical theme at work here, as the uncomprehending alien, living in his ramshackle hut, is presented with the eviction notice by the cheerful, patronising Wikus, encouraging him to sign here please, knowing full well he is committing the alien to what he later confesses is little more than a concentration camp. The operation is unsurprisingly met with resistance which at times slides out of control, and many aliens are gunned down. At this point however, most viewers will be on board with Wikus. The aliens are after all bottom feeding prawns. Worthless and legion, we feel little sympathy for their plight.

The film is quick to turn the tables on us and our reluctant hero however as during the search of one of the many “residences” for weapons and contraband, Wikus stumbles across an innocuous vial of liquid we, moments before, saw some of the aliens carefully cultivating from salvaged alien technology. The unfortunate Wikus is sprayed by this liquid, which sets in motion an unprecedented change in his demeanour and outlook, and he quickly learns to see things from the alien’s perspective. His journey takes him from top dog at MNU to their most wanted fugitive, and he finds himself on the wrong end of the human/alien relationship, learning the hard way the extent of the human’s exploitation of the prawns. Suddenly the most valuable biological resource on the planet, Wikus manages to escape the monstrous clutches of MNU and with nowhere to turn takes refuge in District 9. Here he strikes up an uneasy alliance with one of the aliens from earlier who was, it emerges, gathering the mysterious liquid for a much bigger purpose, and it becomes clear that getting it back from MNU is the key to both their futures.

The Wikus character, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, is unique in film history and his performance is, in short, a revelation and will no doubt achieve him cult status. He starts the film as the office pest, irritating and unsympathetic to the plight of the aliens, yet by the final act he is an action hero and alien champion. His priorities evolve as much as he himself does during the course of the movie, his overriding motivation suddenly on his love for his wife which he pursues ruthlessly, assisting the alien cause where their needs overlap with his own. His plight is fairly harrowing, and he is really put though the grinder by both MNU and the scary Nigerian gangster kingpin, who has his own equally disturbing reasons for wanting a piece of him. By the end however, his understanding of the bigger picture means he is selflessly fighting in the alien corner sacrificing himself and his happiness for their cause, which to you and I, means Mech walkers, taking on hordes of heavily armed mercenaries, with enormous alien guns. Oh yes, did I mention the final act is an orgy of violence and gunplay? This might seem out of place given the lofty notions being explored in the first half of the film, but is in fact perfectly suited to what is after all, a pure sci-fi movie at heart. Several unfortunate marines and gangsters experience the zappy end of the alien technology with pleasingly messy results, and be sure to keep an eye out for the appearance of Half Life’s gravity gun, brilliantly used to kill a man with a flying pig. Genius.

The effects generally throughout District 9 are nothing short of amazing. The massive mothership hangs nonchalantly in the background of many shots as though it has always been there. The aliens themselves are fascinating to watch, being completely rendered in CG, they are especially effective in close up, and throughout the course of the film, we become quite attached to two particular alien characters, thanks
largely to their amazing portrayal – they move from being the insectoid drone Wikus initially presents them as, to intelligent and emotional individuals that you will feel more concern for than most of the human characters. And as mentioned, when the action hots up, Blomkamp doesn’t hold back, with some of the most thrilling action sequences to grace the screen all year.

It’s not without it’s unanswered questions mind, but these only serve to deepen the mystery rather than undermine it. The origin of the alien ship for example is never fully explored, nor why they are unable to help themselves more than they do - a brief reference to their being "the workers" and therefore more docile and compliant explains away the alien's less than proactive demeanour. Also, the lack of any kind of international intervention in the affairs of District 9 is arguably conspicuous in it’s absence, and one can’t help shake the feeling that such a camp would be surrounded by 20 foot steel walls, with slightly fewer civilian humans living in it selling cat food to the aliens.

To even be considering flaws like this however, is simply testament the realism the film achieves in its portrayal of the situation. District 9 is a bold sci-fi movie, unique in its vision and presentation, and full of such a mixed bag of ideas and themes, you simply cannot tear your eyes off the screen. The way it segues from docu-drama to action romp is masterful, and the achievement of the film as a whole is nothing short of remarkable; at once thought provoking, amusing, vomit inducing, emotionally wrenching and pulse-racingly exciting, District 9 is a strong contender for film of the year. It happily draws on elements from sci-fi history like Alien Nation, The Fly and Half life, but goes on to blend them in a truly unique and refreshing way.
Thank the lord Peter Jackson recognised the brilliance of what Blomkamp et al were aiming for, as without him, District 9 might have been perceived as too risky or offbeat to be a success, and ended up on some production office shelf. As it is, it ranks as one of the best sci fi flicks ever, and is a definite must see.

Treehouse Rating


Focken amazing

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Monday, 17 August 2009

Avatar Impressions: seven minutes of heaven

So, the climactic highlight of day two of Empire magazine’s Movie-con was seven all too brief minutes of James Cameron’s Avatar, a piece of film history in the making I have dreamed of seeing for years. This was a portion, or little under half, of what was shown at Comic-con. Bit of a bummer, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers, and considering “Avatar day” and the reveal of the full bevy of footage, is some mere four days away, beggars can’t be impatient little whiners either.

So what the hell did we see, and does it as promised, beckon a new dawn of cinema into our lives? Needless to say, spoilers (of sorts - for purists anyway) follow. The clips were introduced by Cameron himself (oncsreen), but we couldn't hear what he was saying for the blood pounding in our ears..

The first clip shown is a military briefing. Pure Cameron, he’s made a movie with marines – first good sign. These weren't the ruffnecks of Aliens though, all told they looked like quite a clean cut, nerdy bunch, nary a tatoo or disdainful sneer in sight - a crack team of librarians. The 3D is fairly immersive, bearing in mind this wasn’t even on an IMAX screen, good depth to everything and all is nice and sharp with no blurry overlap like I’ve seen in other 3D films. Is this just because I’m sitting directly in the centre of the row, or to do with the strangely heavy, 3D glasses I’m wearing? Who knows. These suckers were not the usual run of the mill glasses that get dished out at RealD movies though, boasting an IR sensor on the front that I've since learned allowed each lens to react to the light from the screen, darkening or brightening, ensuring the correct image is shown to the correct eye. The company that makes them are here if you're interested - Cameron approved 3D Tech.

But I digress, so we’re in the military briefing as Sam Worthington rolls in to the back of the crowd in his wheelchair. The scarred chief of security Stephen Lang is barking at the new recruits, a nasty looking four finger/claw rake across his head – definitely a beastie injury – explaining how outside, on Pandora, everything they encounter will try to kill them. “You may want to consider a trip to hell for some R&R after a tour on Pandora.” Oh dear. He explains his job is to keep them alive, but he quickly manages their expectations with the comforting rider that he won’t be successful with everybody. Oh very dear.

Cut to the action. We’re in a jungle. A lush, luminous alien jungle, and a massive rhino creature with a hammerhead shark appendage is roaring and smashing the vegetation up. Worthington’s avatar is the focus of it’s attention – a blue skinned, feline faced creature. This is what it’s all been about, in the moments when we see the avatar closely, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at. It’s clearly CG, but with an incredible detail and texture to it. The skin on it’s face somehow looked more skin like than the regular CG effort. It’s face contorts and twists with fear and doubt as the Rhino thing continues it’s rampage. Others are nearby, Sigourney Weaver’s avatar is offering advice, explaining that he mustn’t shoot the angry creature, or run away. "what should I do, dance with it?". More of them are watching in terror, each unique, one with strangely expressive eyes set far apart on its face. The rhino thing gets really feisty, so Worthington does too, charging right back at the massive beast, waving his blue arms. It works, the creature is freaked, it stops its charge and displays itself like a peacock with frilly neck flaps and a big roar. Looks very cool. Worthington is encouraged, but we see behind him another threat has emerged, a shiny black, panther like creature, with a predator-like, flapping toothy face, and probably bad breath. The rhino clocks it, and turns tail. Worthington thinks it’s reacting to him – “That’s right, bitch!” he hollers imaginatively. Of course, the panther makes itself known, leaping over Worthington to see off the rhino, who has run back to it’s pack – yes there are several of them off through the undergrowth, before turning it’s attention back to Worthington. It’s sleek and muscular, black and smooth, like a cougar from some heavy metal nightmare. He asks of Sigourney, should he run from this one? The answer is equivocal; yes, run! He runs.

Cue a breathless and thrilling chase through the undergrowth which blurs by, all the while the sinewy black panther-thing snapping at his heels. It is fast and powerful, and very convincing in it’s movements, as is Worthington’s avatar, who leaps and pegs it through the forest, stumbling blindly to get away. He takes refuge under the roots of a large tree, the creature smashes and snaps at them, splinters and debris flying everywhere. Worthington finally tries to shoot the thing, his gun emitting meaty old school gunfire with nice tracer fire. No pew pew lasers here. It’s all to no avail though, as the creature fluidly whips it’s head into the burrow, snatches the gun right out of his hands. Oh bums. He makes a break for it, but the thing is on him in an instant, as he falls to the ground towards the lens, the thing is leaping in a glorious slow mo onto him, slathering jaws open wide – and the footage ends. We all start shouting. That was never seven minutes! Apparently it was.

So they show it again! - much to my delight, but sadly no additional footage was forthcoming, damn them. The whole thing was very impressive, but too damn short to really get a bead on. The CG was without a doubt, extraordinary – detailed and with realism not seen before, and we emerged unsure as to how much of the rain forest was also CG – probably all of it on reflection. I emerged itching to see the Avatar itself again in closeup, as the few brief still shots of their unusual faces had been the highlight – the emotion mo-cap was amazing in the brief snatches we saw of it, with extremely realistic expressions that differed totally from something like say, Beowulf, in that it didn’t really look animated. Hard to pinpoint how that was happening to be honest, could it be Cameron really has broken some kind of uncanny valley barrier by blending the mocap with 3D? The clip also raised a few plot questions. Like, my understanding was that the avatar's were necessary because humans couldn't set foot on Pandora, on account of it being so hostile. But why then are some of the wet eared recruits in the briefing going to die? Surely if your avatar gets eaten, you just pop out of your control pod, and fire up a new one? Or is it a Matrix dealie situation, where the body cannot live without the mind? Or do only a select few get to use the avatars, while everyone else has to take their chances in the jungle? Curiouser and curiouser..

Anyway, Avatar day is fast approaching, so we’ll soon get to see the full 14 minutes of footage, on the IMAX screen, just as God, sorry, Cameron intended. Stay tuned for a blow by blow write up on that badboy too, or better yet, get yourself to a screening for a glimpse of the future of cinema so we can compare notes.

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Sunday, 16 August 2009

Empire Movie Con: Day 2 Roundup

Well that’s that then. The movie con is done and dusted having completed a second day of fabulous movie related morsels. A big thank you to the Empire crew for laying on such a great weekend and for all the goodies and pressies – (a George Lucas in Stormtrooper disguise action figure for everyone? You guy’s rule!!). We saw more trailers, more footage, more stars and more movies. A screening of the terrific Adventureland proudly topped off the morning, while a very hard quiz dominated the early afternoon. Before and after those events though, day two went like this..

Iron Man 2

We started with a bang with a short but sweet look at Iron Man 2 introduced by the president of Marvel comics, and another appearance from the man himself, Robert Downey Jr, who was only slightly less animated than yesterday after no doubt partying all night with supermodels as is no doubt such a megastar’s wont to do.

We see Tony Stark enjoying some breakfast in suit, but sans helmet, reclining in the hole of a giant donut above a cafĂ© – “Sir - I'm gonna have to ask you to exit the Donut” shouts Samuel L Jackson – oh yes; Nick Fury. We move to their chat inside – says Stark, “just so I’m clear, should I look at the eyepatch, or your eye?”.

We move to a courtroom, Stark is very publicly duelling with a board of US Senator’s who are demanding he hand over his weapon to the US government, which he flatly refuses in no uncertain terms, denying his device can be accurately described as a weapon, no, it’s a hi-tech prosthesis. His attitude causes uproarious laughter from the onlooking public and reduces the Senator (Gary Shandling) to shouting obscenities. Very funny.

Next up, Don Cheadle (oh silly Terrence Howard) is buying futuristic guns in an aircraft hangar from Sam Rockwell. “I’ll take them. Which one? All of them.” Durr. Cut to a very large Iron man destroying everything in several directions at once. Sweet.

We also see the leaked teaser trailer you may have recently glimpsed, its still hanging around somewhere, but nowhere safe enough to link to. In it we see Iron man actually in action, swooping down on a city-scape, all while dodging fire and incoming rockets. Again, sweeet. We also see Mickey Rourke hammering together his own arc power source, and laughing maniacally whilst approaching a prostrate Stark with double electric whips a-crackin’! What’s going on here then? Tony seems to be wearing a leather biker suit with Stark on it? Has Rourke gate crashed a race? Who knows, but it looked awesome.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow & Mark Boal show up to talk us though the Hurt Locker, which follows a bomb disposal team on their dangerous day job in the Iraqi conflict. We see a good chunk of footage as a massive car bomb is discovered in a busy area. Tension runs high as Jeremy Renner tries to figure out how it’s wired as the rest of the team cover him. It’s tense enough just watching the bomb disposal side of things, he sheds his heavy protective gear early on – “There’s enough explosive to blow us all to Jesus – if I’m gonna die, I wanna die comfortable” - but the whole site is a massive open space, and as the guys scan the buildings and keep spotting more and more apparent civilians watching the scene, filming the events unfold on camcorders, and watching them get more and more twitchy, there was a crushing sense of impending tragedy as you knew they were going to start killing people. Not this time luckily, as the bomb is defused, and no one starts shooting the townsfolk. You get the feeling things don’t always go so well in the Hurt Locker, so named after the slang for precisely when things do go wrong.

Bigelow and Boal took some questions on the film, Boal himself wrote the script after spending time with a real such unit in Iraq, giving a uniquely authentic edge to the whole thing which really came across. The film looks great, but it was a pretty heavy subject for a Sunday afternoon, so we were all quite relieved to move onto some more trailers.

Odds n Sods 2

More bits n bobs from various companies, some I’d seen before some not. There was the trailer for The Road which still looks great, but where's the new footage? Next, a cryptic trailer for Paranormal Activity, the new Blair Witch projectalike, where a couple film the spooky happenings in their house – the trailer was mostly comprised of quotes telling how scary the film is – I guess it’s not one you can show a lot of footage for, but what was there looked promising. There was a trailer for Pandorum (yawn) and also Richard Kelly's latest, The Box which looked great – a creepy and disfigured Frank Langella presents Cameron Diaz with a mysterious box with a button inside – press it, and somewhere in the world, someone you don’t know will die. You also get a big suitcase of money. Hrmm, intriguing no? It looked to have a definite whiff of The Game about it, all conspiracy and distrust and shady goings on; definitely sign me up.

There was also a bizarre excerpt from upcoming Miyazaki treat Ponyo. I could describe it for you, but honestly, it was pretty bonkers. Tiny fishy people things were involved, and many actual fish turned golden and then into waves, while the head fishy person thing turned into a proper little person and ran along the sea to the astonishment of a local warship. Ment-Al. But typically gorgeous.

Oh yes, there was also Kate Beckinsale in White out which was a little too dull for me to recall much about. Sorry about that. She was in the shower at one point, I remember that much. We also got a nice clip from Exam presented by director Stuart Hazeldine, who spoke very frankly about his experiences as a script Doctor in the Hollywood studio system - apparently, it sucks. The film looks okay, but the footage wasn't giving much away. How much drama can you really wring out of 8 people locked in a room? Probably loads..

Bunny and the Bull also looked great - from the madmen who brought us Garth Merengies dark place and the Mighty Boosh, this is a road trip movie set in an agoraphobic's flat. Unashamedly Gondry-esque, this has some very funny people in it, and the clips we saw certainly were certainly full of visual flair, if not belly laughs.

Twilight – New Moon returned to the joy of the 6 people who wanted more. This time we see one of the girls (which one? Honestly no idea) running about an Italian city in the midst of a religious festival (everyone spookily wearing red monk robes) just in time (maybe, as the clip teasingly ended) to reach Robert Pattinson who looks to be attempting to commit suicide by sunlight? More hilarity from the Twilight team – Pattinson did, of course, remove his shirt as he was about to step out of the doorway. Those guys, they know how to get the laughs I’ll give ‘em that.

The Thiiird Dimensiooonn

A big portion of the afternoon was all in glorious 3D by way of some very chunky 3D glasses – mostly Disney flicks, and some little known sci-fi movie no one had heard of. Ahem.

There was a very sizeable reel of footage from A Christmas Carol, the Dickensian tale being given a Zemeckesian makeover a la Polar Express. Jim Carrey looks amazing, but not at all like Jim Carrey, as Ebeneezer Scrooge – we see him humbugging a very Colin Firthesque version of Colin Firth, and being terrorised by the ghost of his former partner. Very impressive CG and 3D, this looked really tasty.

There were trailers for Alice in Wonderland, and Toystory 3, both available on the net, nothing new here, but they were in 3D too and looked great for it. Which isn't quite strong enough to convey how hot the Tron Legacy trailer looked in 3D and on the big screen. Liquid neon sliding across my eyes looked good enough to eat. Bring me Tron!!

We also got a nice excerpt from UP! which still looks just gorgeous, and made me want to see it all the more – here the old man and boy were escaping from a pack of vicious dogs in a cave up a mountain aided by their talking dog and a big bird. Naturally. Dammit why isn’t this out in the UK yet?! Do want.

Then of course, we moved onto other things, which I think deserve to be mentioned in their own post. Which will be up shortly. Oh my yes.

And so that was that, all in all another awesome day, shame it’s all over now. Did I even mention the screening of Wonderland and the film quiz? No? Well, Wonderland was great, another review to write, while the quiz I could have done without tbh, there wasn’t even a picture round.. what the hell, we were in a cinema?! Still, many people won some fabulous prizes. Not me though, I er, lost my pen.

That aside though, props to the Empire crew for an awesome weekend, we saw some amazing stuff and now I’m nicely clued up on what looks good for the next few months. Also that I want to see District 9 again very soon, and need to blow off work for the next 3 months and get in line at an Imax cinema.

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Empire Movie Con: Day 1 Roundup

Just got back from a fantastic day on the south bank at Empire’s Moviecon II which I was lucky enough to attend (thanks Bro!). The lineup was pretty sketchy until the very last moment, but they came good and delivered some corking material. A plethora of new footage and trailers, and a super secret screening of (yes!) District 9! (review to follow!). But for now, here’s a brief roundup of what went down..

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus

Terry Gilliam showed up to talk to us about The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and much against his personal wishes, showed us some clips – Lily Cole smoking fags and flirting with her boyfriend on the back of the Parnassus carnival caravan as it trolls through town, a bemasked Heath Ledger enticing the bemused shoppers of what looked like Covent Garden to enter his Imaginarium, and a stunning long shot of the vast elephantine temple glimpsed in the trailer. Gilliam is hilarious as ever - when asked by an earnest young audience member of his recommendations on how to get into the film industry, his reply came back; the problem is there are too many movies, if I have to scrape and beg to get money out of a studio, why should you be successful?

Kickass is appropriately named

Some awesome, awesome footage from Kickass - the movie of the ultra violent comic book. A super-suited and winged idiot leaps off a sky scraper to his abrupt and sticky death, followed by some witty banter between Aaron Johnson and his pals discussing why, with all the comic book fans in the world no one has ever actually tried dressing up and fighting crime. Next up, Nicholas Cage hilariously training the tiny Chloe Moretz by shooting her in the chest – Good call baby doll! Then to a fairly disturbing/funny sequence where Johnson takes on some local thugs in his green jumpsuit, which ends with horribly realistic results. And finally an extended sequence where the maniac midget Hit Girl saves Johnson from a sticky situation with some hardass gangstas by butchering everyone in the room along with the most explicit language you’ll ever hear from a 12 year old. Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Jason Flemyng turned up to talk about the experience and their favourite superheroes – for the record, Red mist (Mintz Plasses character) and Wolverine! All of the footage looked amazing - this is going to be huuge!

Sherlock Holmes - meh. Oh wait there's RDJ, woo I love Sherlock Holmes!!

We saw a smidgeon of new footage – an extended trailer that didn’t add much to my anticipation for this one. But we all had to go berserk when Robert Downey Jr and Guy Ritchie unexpectedly swanned in, RDJ in particular soaking up the admiration with unbridled glee. Ok, maybe I’m a little excited for this one after all. Damn celebrities.

Twilight - New moon: A comedy

Twilight fans rejoice, although I’m not sure there were any in the house – we saw some unintentionally hilarious footage which got a big laugh – probably not the reaction the film makers were looking for – as Taylor Lautner whipped off his shirt to tend to a hurt Ashley Greene to reveal his perfectly chiseled six pack. Fucking funny.

Harry Brown - Michael Caine is mad as hell..

Some superb footage of this thriller starring Sir Michael Caine – an old London geezer who has had enough of the local scumbags and decides to go all Charles Bronson on them. We started with an impressive sequence filmed on a mobile phone where the thugs initiate a new member and inadvertently murder a woman from the back of their bike, before getting crushed by a truck. Disturbingly authentic.

Then, there followed a nice long sequence where Harry tries to buy a gun from two of the creepiest criminals in London – an amazing performance from Sean Harris, who appeared on stage with the supremely eloquent director Daniel Barber. This was a pretty hardcore scene – Harris is scarred and tattooed and fairly out of his mind, unconscious crack whore sprawled on the sofa, a rainforest of weed in the next room – he is a bundle of drug induced nerves and you want to scratch yourself just watching him. Needless to say, Harry Brown doesn’t let ‘em off easy, and finally delivers a tasty monologue to the bullet riddled Harris.

Odds n' Sods

There was more besides, too much for me to recall at such an hour. Trailers and clips from Astroboy (disappointingly bland- and the clips just kept on coming!) British horror flick Triangle (out of contextually impenetrable) the new Nightmare on Elmstreet (promisingly creepy), Jonah Hex (that face looks a bit sore) Taking Woodstock (muddy) and Sorority Row (balls). Cirque de Freak looked very silly with some bizarre casting of John C Reilly as the vampire, while Saw VI wasted everyones time and Daybreakers looked great - imagine a world where everyone is a vampire, and the human minority are farmed for blood! Equilibrium meets vampires indeed.

There was also some extended footage of the Lovely Bones introduced by Peter Jackson (by recorded video sadly), which continues to look hauntingly gorgeous, as does Spike Jonze's dreamlike Where the Wild things are, in which the massive furry creatures romped about the place building a fantastical castle. Amazing.

Altogether, an awesome day of movies and freebies and swag. District 9 made the day – such a buzz when the words “Peter Jackson Presents” appeared onscreen and the crowd went wild. And we have a whole day 2 to look forward to, in which Avatar footage is confirmed. Woo! Expect a full report here soon!

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

Review: GI Joe: The rise of the Cobra

Chances are, your hopes for a great cinema experience walking into GI Joe will be pretty low. You’d have to be bizarrely optimistic or ludicrously deluded to expect anything other than 90 minutes of absurd whizz-bangery of an extended toy advert. Which is precisely what you get, and as such it feels a little unfair to review this as a “film”. True it meets many of the criteria; actors, a script (of sorts) and presumably it took a fair bit of work to make all those pixels move about in the way they did. But GI Joe is so lacking in anything resembling coherence or characters, that “film” really is generous. No this is a toy advert. The most banal and violent toy advert you’ll ever see. And it's a blast.

For no reason at all, we open in a 17th century French castle, where a naughty Scot is being put in a red hot metal mask for selling arms to the both warring sides. The naughty Scot is the forbear of the possibly even naughtier Scot and former Dr Who, Christopher Eccleston, who could formerly boast an unblemished record for securing discerning thespianic choices. Skip to the "near future" and the naughty Mcullen is yet to be identified as naughty and is somehow selling devastating nano-warheads to Nato, capable of eating their way through cities, reducing them to piles of green dust. Everyone acts surprised when the these are intercepted on delivery by a futuristic flying saucer of destruction, apparently helmed by a sassy brunette in tight leather trousers. Sienna Miller is of course the ex girlfriend of the grunt-with-a-heart in charge of the mission to protect the warheads, Channing Tatum - Duke, along with his best bud who just wants to be a pilot, Marlon Wayans. Just when all seems lost and the seductively deadly Miller is making off with the shiny green nerf rockets of death, out of the sky drops GI Joe, hurrah. No longer a mere American action figure, Joe has expanded into a multi national team of meatheads and skill archetypes, who quickly chase off those nasty evil and well funded but certainly not working for Eccleston types. There’s the beefy English black guy – Mr Eko himself Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who likes big guns and has large arms. There’s a sassy red head in Rachel Nichols who likes crossbows and maths, and there’s the mute ninja Snake eyes, played by several stuntmen probably. Also knocking about is a Moroccan Lost extra who of course likes gadgets. Sadly they don’t really have a dashing all American front man, so they quickly agree to take Duke on board the most secretive and hi tech military outfit in the world because well, he asked. Might as well let Wayans in for good measure. Before you can say, “hang on”, we’re under the pyramids looking at an unfeasibly hi tech HQ where the newbies get trained to perfection in 2 hours, which is surprisingly easily infiltrated by Miller and even more nasty anti heroes, including a very unpleasant Arnold Vosloo, master of disguise, who whistles a distinctive tune (keep an eye on him, I have a feeling that might be important later) and the deadly but confusingly white wearing Japanese killer Byung Hun Lee. Before you can say “no really, give me a sec..” we're tearing through the streets of Paris in the accelerator suits (what do they accelerate? YOU stupid) smashing stuff up and trying to prevent the Eiffel tower from being eaten by nanites. They don’t. But they do smash lots of stuff up, with infectiously silly gusto.

I could describe the “plot” blow by blow, but it’s tiring me out just thinking about it. There is no downtime in this film, because there’s simply a void surrounding the action. Its like dead air on a radio station, when the action turns off, there is nothing to see, the characters are ciphers, the dialogue risible at best. The solution? Don’t turn the action off! So where there should be a quiet moment of reflection, where one might insert say, a character or an emotion, there is instead, a flashback to a fight! Why express an emotion with words or images when you can do it with a good punch up? The best example is the running ninja grudge match between our heroic mute weirdly cyborgy helmeted Snake eyes, and the evil Storm Shadow. Aside from turning the world upside down by having the good guy wear black, and the bad guy wear white (arg my mind!) we quickly learn that these two are brothers! I think the line was “hello again brother”. They fight. But then we’re treated to the flashback of their childhood rivalry, in the most violent child fight I’ve ever seen committed to film. And there ain't a whole lotta them in the first place.

Anyway the plot itself continues to smash along like a powersuited Joe. The ridiculously evil evil evil masterminds of Eccleston and his mad mad mad mad monocled and Darth Vader masked (really) scientist buddy, “The Doctor” (how ironic) who pulls off an amazing impression of Noel Fielding doing an impression of an evil scientist, put their mad mad mad evil evil plot into motion - in addition to threatening the planet with their nano nukes, they're cooking up something much more terrifying; a sequel. Meanwhile Duke wrestles with his past and that he’s still very much hot for Sienna’s smashing rack; why has she turned so evil and hell bent on the end of the world all of a sudden anyway, after all she was but a simple blonde girl, quick to laugh and fond of ponies? Needless to say, baddies turn out to be not as bad as they might seem, while goodies also turn out to not be not all they seem at all, and everyone is generally amazed at all of the revelations unfolding. Then they fight. The climax, if a deafening tumult of noise and banging can be said to have one, is an underwater sub fight that is very Star Wars, where hordes of whizzy subs pew pew at each other, while inside the ninjas fight like
Jedi on dramatically high up lightning wreathed towers, and in the skies deadly warheads are chased down by sleek futuristic jets, and everyone generally gets a dramatic little job to do which we can nip back and forth from until we feel a bit sick. In fact, the whole thing is pure Star Wars. And Just like the galaxy far away, there was little chance of the baddies coming up trumps. They do manage to set themselves up nicely for their Empire strikes back though, as by the end, the titular Cobra is fully risen, and all the action figures are nicely in place for a new throwdown, probably in 3D this time.

You have probably taken from the above that I thought Gi Joe to be the silliest film I have ever seen and that I didn’t much care for it. And you’d be right, it is the silliest film I have ever seen, but as I said before, if you go in expecting a film, you’re in the wrong screen buddy, and in fact I rather enjoyed it. This pap is shamelessly daft. It’s tongue is so far up in its cheek it’s drooling on itself. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not cleverly written, it’s not knowingly being stupid in a clever way, but it’s so charmingly dumb, so brainlessly goofy, that it’s hard to criticise it. There are no bad performances, the action is brain meltingly relentless and everything slides by so carelessly that you just have to go with it. One could question why what should be a kids film, for it is they who will get the most out of it, needs to be so violent. Heads are frequently removed, knives and arrows puncture eyes and chests, and a helluva lotta people get shot. But then again, kids love that stuff, and it probably guarantees more toy sales.

So no, I didn’t hate GI Joe. Unlike other brainless action films (I’m looking at you Transformers) this didn’t get up my nose. The silliness was so silly, it managed to reach some kind of critical mass of silliness that actually worked to transform nonsense into smiles. Between the ludicrousness of what you’re seeing and the banality of the script there somehow lies a via media of entertainment, and you simply cant help but laugh. So if you find yourself stuck for something to do for a couple of hours, you might as well check it out, it can’t hurt right? Just don’t expect anything to make sense or to get attached to any characters, and you may find you emerge with a slightly lower IQ and the desire to blow something up.

Treehouse Rating


Stupidly entertaining

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