Monday, December 14, 2009

Shallow Life

A friend of mine is in love with rock singer Lauren Harris. He has actually spent quite a bit of time with her, so that's not as shallow and pathetic as most peoples' celebrity crushes (hello 'Twilight' fans). Another friend of mine attended a metal festival with me this past Summer, where she played, and so the subject of his childish infatuation came up. When I told him about the guy who loved her and how excited he'd been when I'd told him she had reportedly posed and interviewed for English lads' rag FHM he said "actually, I have that!", claiming to have bought it on a whim and promising to hand it over to be sent to the other guy.

It's now six months later and while digging through his stuff in preparation for moving home he found it and dutifully passed it on.

I can honestly say I have never "read" a magazine like FHM, and frankly I can't really understand the people who do with any regularity, but since this one has, temporarily at least, found its way into my possession, I had a flick through. Guys, if you want to look at photos of semi-naked or naked women, grow up and buy porn, otherwise grow the balls necessary to develop an interest even slightly off the mainstream and buy the specialist magazine for that.

Magazines like FHM are the glossy print equivalent of combination home electronics. Combi VHS/DVD players, men's grooming devices that claim to be able to cut every hair on your body closer than a wet shave, washer-driers, that kind of thing. Vacuum cleaners that make the tea. Several functions in one unit and no good at any of them. They make a terrible brew and leave the dirt on the floor. Everyone who just thought "like my wife/husband", no. Just no.

Most of it, when not concerned with glamorous photos of young celebrity women in their underwear, seems to be novelty stories aimed at the kind of people who think Seth Rogen movies are the height of sophisticated comedy. Or pages of trendy products no one has any use for, but buys anyway just in case all the other readers did the same thing. On this score the issue in question had one page each on: glow-in-the-dark shoes, desks, shoulder bags - seriously - sleeping bags, phones, and over-priced skincare products.

Nothing goes in to any depth whatsoever. There are token efforts at cars, technology, music, sport, interviews with E-list celebrities (including a surprisingly bulky Steve Guttenburg), computer games, films, and the usual top 10 this, that or the other nonsense. Almost all with more pictures than words on every page and more innuendo than an Alan Carr show. And just to prove it really is a magazine for Men, they seem to be doing a monthly sexual position tip, complete with diagrams. Classy.

There are even dinner recipes, pages on clothes, and diet plans (don't be so lazy and eat less unhealthy food, were the revelations revealed on those ten pages, by the way).

The particularly shocking hypocrisy of it all is, these are all the things women's glossy magazines are ridiculed for. Everything in here could be in a women's mag, except maybe the bits on computer games and cars.. Just like women's mags there isn't a single shred of value in anything printed within its pages. And there wasn't even a free gift on the cover!

And none of that "feminine side" insecurity drivel, please. There is no "feminine side". The things men consider or do that deem them to be "in touch with their feminine side" are nothing of the kind. They're just being nice, normal people. Note that last word there: people. It's just common sense half the time. Knowing which colours go together when picking paint for the lounge is not being in touch with the "feminine side". It just means they aren't entirely stupid and isn't even remotely linked to being male or female. Do stop stereotyping everything.

Diet, clothes, skincare products and so forth, despite macho bravado, are as necessary for men as they are for women. They're also as obvious. A £4 magazine is not necessary to tell us these things. And if you're really stuck, use the internet for free. Glossy magazines like this have become a multi-million pound industry because scores of people are stupid enough to buy them. They don't even have to try anymore. Just get a different celebrity of the opposite sex to pose on the front cover and they'll meet their copy quota for the month. The rest is dumbed-down, half-hearted and badly written; aimed at the simplest audience.

And then once a year they fill the whole thing with under-dressed celebrities (usually soap opera stars or pop singers - so readers can feel they're lusting after someone that's at least close to their league) and don't have to put the effort into the other stuff. Although for all the worth of the other stuff, they might just as well do this in every issue.

There is one plus point on their side though. At least they only do it once a month. Tabloid newspapers pull the same trick every day.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Seb Hunter - How To Be A Better Person

Atlantic Books

The basic upshot of Seb Hunter's latest project was to spend two years volunteering for various organisations in his local area in an effort to better himself as a person, or rather to answer the question "does volunteering make you a better person?"

The resultant book is essentially a diary of these two years, detailing the various jobs and tasks he undertook, the people he worked with, and people he helped, with short conclusions from time to time on whether or not each job really did make him feel like a better person.

Hunter's semi-autobiographical humourist approach is consistently easy to read and his tone is always warm and friendly. He describes infuriating situations not with venom and malice but in the manner of an old friend reminiscing the ridiculous, or a dinner party guest relating a story for comedic effect. It's easy to relate if not to his exact situations, then to the people he encountered as many of them are either the kinds of people we've all encountered (embittered Oxfam shop worker Gladys in particular), or can imagine from Hunter's descriptions, and would probably see ourselves behaving in the same ways he did towards them.

Some of the entries are clearly chosen more for their comedy merits than their contribution to his story, but at no point do you get the feeling he's undertaken this whole charade simply to produce a funny book, even if that is in fact what he did, to offer a cynical view. He never lets go of the serious aspect to his adventures in favour of a cheap laugh, adding a level of sincerity that a lot of humour writing lacks.

While writing this book it's clear many afterthoughts struck Hunter, which he dispenses via footnotes so as not to disrupt the sense of "now" in the main narrative, which works well and in actual fact there's almost as much humour in these short asides as there is in the text. The thought of these might seem irritating on the surface, and when one or two of the footnotes take up half a page to themselves, they can be, but most of them are single, sharp sentences that often show more of Hunter's cynical side than the paragraphs they're attached to.

'How To Be A Better Person' is not hilarious. Instances of laughing out loud are likely to be rare, if they occur at all, but it is amusing more or less all the way through, and while it probably isn't going to inspire many people to spend a Summer behind the counter at Oxfam, it may provide some food for thought on the whole volunteering thing and what good the various avenues of volunteering actually do for people in need.

“ easy to relate ”

First Hardback Publication Date: N/A
First Paperback Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Pages: 304
Language(s): English

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DVD: George Carlin - It's Bad For Ya

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Directed by Rocco Urbisci
Written by George Carlin
Starring George Carlin

A year behind the US with this release, this is George Carlin's final HBO comedy special before his death at the age of 71 in 2008; his 14th HBO special in total, which is currently the record for a comedian. And, remarkably, it's only the second of his stand-up DVDs to get a commercial release in the UK, the other one being 'Complaints And Grievances' from 2001 (not released until 2003). 2005's 'Life Is Worth Losing' will finally be released in February 2010.

On his final tour Carlin delivered a typically vitriolic tirade tackling topics like death, children, old age and parents, and the original show was nominated for an Emmy. After release the CD equivalent won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album. How much his death contributed to this would probably be a valid question, but compared to most comedians' output, this is amongst the best. Against the formidable measuring stick of Carlin's own output however, it isn't his best.

Easily the funniest section is his closing rant about rights, where every one of his observations is on the nail when some of his previous ones in this show, like some of the ones about children, aren't. In some instances he is intentionally making silly arguments (like saying babies are ugly because their heads are too big), but some are just a little off the mark.

Other particularly funny segments are his observations on boring conversations, professional parents, swearing on the bible, and "the self-esteem movement", mostly concluded by the phrase which gave the show its name "It's all bulls**t folks and it's bad for ya."

If you're a Carlin fan, get this. We have precious little of his material available in this country and this is a good example of his work. The filming, sound and picture quality is of course first class as you'd expect for a show recorded as recently as March 2008, and George was still as sharp as ever, even at 70.

Hopefully this, February's release, and the two forthcoming books, will at some point be followed up by the 'All My Stuff' box set, which contains all 12 HBO specials from 1977's 'George Carlin At USC' through to 'Life Is Worth Losing' (the 1997 special was a kind of "best of" and isn't included).

“ a typically vitriolic tirade ”

Special Features: Too Hip for the Room* Carlin on December 17, 2007: Selections from the Archive of American Television s 3-hour interview with George Carlin /
Carlin on The Jackie Gleason Show - January 25, 1969

DVD Release Date: October 26, 2009
Studio: HBO
Feature Running Time: 69 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): Blu-Ray / CD

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hate Crew Deathroll

While I enjoy having a good stab at someone who deserves it, this time I'm not going to. I'm going to let the below say it all. This priceless work of literary genius is all over the internet at the moment, and I'm not being sarcastic, this is the classiest response to a celebrity's slow and public mental deterioration I've ever read. It comes from some anonymous members of director Michael Bay's crew on the second movie in the 'Transformers' franchise, 'Revenge of The Fallen', and it's directed at female co-star Megan Fox. Behold.

This is an open letter to all Michael Bay fans. We are three crew members that have worked with Michael for the past ten years. Last week we read the terrible article with inflammatory, truly trashing quotes by the Ms. Fox about Michael Bay. This letter is to set a few things straight.

Yes, Megan has great eyes, a tight stomach we spray with glycerin, and an awful silly Marilyn Monroe tattoo plastered on her arm that we cover up to keep the moms happy.

Michael found this shy, inexperienced girl, plucked her out of total obscurity thus giving her the biggest shot of any young actresses' life. He told everyone around to just trust him on his choice. He granted her the starring role in Transformers, a franchise that forever changed her life; she became one of the most googled and oogled women on earth. She was famous! She was the next Angelina Jolie, hooray! Wait a minute, two of us worked with Angelina – second thought – she's no Angelina. You see, Angelia is a professional.

We know this quite intimately because we've had the tedious experience of working with the dumb-as-a-rock Megan Fox on both Transformers movies. We've spent a total of 12 months on set making these two movies.

We are in different departments; we can't give our names because sadly doing so in Hollywood could lead to being banished from future Paramount work. One of us touches Megan's panties, the other has the often shitty job of pulling Ms. Sourpants out of her trailer, while another is near the Panaflex camera that helps to memorialize the valley girl on film.

Megan has the press fooled. When we read those magazines we wish we worked with that woman. Megan knows how to work her smile for the press. Those writers should try being on set for two movies, sadly she never smiles. The cast, crew and director make Transformers a really fun and energetic set. We've traveled around the world together, so we have never understood why Megan was always such the grump of the set?

When facing the press, Megan is the queen of talking trailer trash and posing like a porn star. And yes we've had the unbearable time of watching her try to act on set, and yes, it's very cringe-able. So maybe, being a porn star in the future might be a good career option. But make-up beware, she has a paragraph tattooed to her backside (probably due her rotten childhood) — easily another 45 minutes in the chair!

So when the three of us caught wind of Ms Fox, pontificating yet again in some publication (like she actually has something interesting to say) blabbing her trash mouth about a director whom we three have grown to really like. She compared working with Michael, to “working with Hitler”. We actually don't think she knows who Hitler is by the way. But we wondered how she doesn't realize what a disgusting, fully uneducated comment this was? Well, here let's get some facts straight.

Say what you want about Michael – yes at times he can be hard, but he's also fun, and he challenges everyone for a reason – he simply wants people to bring their ‘A' game. He comes very prepared, knows exactly what he wants, involves the crew and expects everyone to follow through with his or her best, and that includes the actors. He's one of the hardest working directors out there.

He gets the best from his crews, many of whom have worked with him for 15 years. And yes, he's loyal, one of the few directors we've encountered who lowered his fee by millions to keep Transformers in the United States and California, so he could work with his own crew.

Megan says that Transformers was an unsafe set? Come on Megan, we know it is a bit more strenuous then the playground at the trailer park, but you don't insult one of the very best stunt and physical effects teams in the business! Not one person got hurt!

And who is the real Megan Fox? She is very different than the academy nominee and winning actors we've all worked around. She's as about ungracious a person as you can ever fathom. She shows little interest in the crew members around her. We work to make her look good in every way, but she's absolutely never appreciative of anyone's hard work. Never a thank you. All the crewmembers have stopped saying hi to Ms. Princess because she never says hello back. It gets tiring. Many think she just really hates the process of being an actress.

Megan has been late to the sets many times. She goes through the motions that make her exude this sense of misery. We've heard the A.D's piped over the radio that Megan won't walk from her trailer until John Turturro walks first! John's done seventy-five movies and she's made two!

Never expect Megan to attend any of the 15 or so crew parties like all the other actors have. And then there's the classless night she blew off The Royal Prince of Jordan who made a special dinner for all the actors. She doesn't know that one of the grips' daughters wanted to visit their daddy's work to meet Megan, but he wouldn't let them come because he told them “she is not nice."

The press certainly doesn't know her most famous line. On our first day in Egypt, the Egyptian government wouldn't let us shoot because of a permit problem as the actors got ready in make up at the Four Seasons Hotel. Michael tried to make the best of it; he wanted to take the cast and crew on a private tour of the famous Giza pyramids. God hold us witness, Megan said, "I can't believe Michael is fucking forcing us to go to the fucking pyramids!" I guess this is the “Hitler guy” she is referring to.

So this is the Megan Fox you don't get to see. Maybe she will learn, but we figure if she can sling insults, then she can take them too. Megan really is a thankless, classless, graceless, and shall we say unfriendly bitch. It's sad how fame can twist people, and even sadder that young girls look up to her. If only they knew who they're really looking up to.

But ‘fame' is fleeting. We, being behind the scenes, seen em' come and go. Hopefully Michael will have Megatron squish her character in the first ten minutes of Transformers 3. We can tell you that will make the crew happy!

-Loyal Transformers Crew

Simply magnificent.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thieving From The House of God

I use a movie rating community called Criticker to rate all the movies I've seen and thereby get recommendations for movies I haven't seen based on what people who like the same ones as me think. This is similar in principle to the rating of films on sites like movie oracle IMdB, but with fewer additional features beyond rating and recommendation based on those ratings.

I've just watched the original 1974 'The Taking of Pelham One Two Three' starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw which has recently been remade with John Travolta and Denzel Washington. So I logged in to rate both versions as I saw the new one at the cinema a month or so ago but wanted to wait until I'd watched the original before I gave it a fair score. For those interested I gave the 1974 version 55/100 and the new one 70/100 (yes, a sequel that's better than the original) and after doing so I had a quick browse through the ratings other users have given the new one (which doesn't take that long; Criticker has far fewer users than IMdB).

What I stumbled across amongst the baseless figures (most users, myself included, rarely comment on why they have given the rating they have) is a comment from a user who is very clearly a Christian. He rated it very highly, giving it 94/100, and obviously enjoyed it, calling it "an excellent, suspensful thriller", which is perfectly accurate, but went on to say "with a strong Christian, redemptive worldview, but it is marred by a whole lot of strong foul language and some intense, very strong depicted violence where people are shot multiple times".

It doesn't have a particularly religious view at all, so this is way off the mark, but in particular, it is not a very violent movie. Many movies, intending to shock or excite, are very over-the-top with their violent depictions, but this is not one of them. It is simply realistic, showing a small number of people getting shot in desperate situations involving armed criminals. It happens every day (at least in America) and regardless of whether or not it's right or wrong (clearly wrong), it's true, and the movie has made no attempt to portray otherwise.

Reading the other reviews (9) this user has written reveals every one to have been labelled "extreme caution", including candyfloss romantic comedy 'The Proposal' for its "sexual innuendo, some near nude scenes and a mixed pagan worldview with positive references to pagan beliefs" (while still giving it 65/100) and comically 'The Stoning of Soraya M.' about an innocent wife being stoned to death in Iran, which he generalises as "what occurs all too often in some Islamic countries" while handing out a 94 rating.

And herein lies the real problem (or one of them) with fundamentalist Christians. They think everything and everyone must follow their way of thinking at all times or be damned. So, besides being an incredibly hypocritical individual who watches these thoroughly un-Christian movies under the pretence of doing so to warn others, putting himself at risk so they don't have to so to speak, like that makes a difference, he genuinely pretends to believe that every movie made should portray Christian beliefs, while rating movies that very clearly don't quite highly.

This is a guy who clearly enjoys his films, but apparently shouldn't, and so hides behind the reviews, like the writers of ridiculous websites like Kids In Mind (blatant liars who review movies with R/18 certificates pretending to be warning parents about showing these movies to their children) and Christianity Today Movies (the movie reviewing arm of Christianity Today, a Christian publication who don't want everything to conform because then they'd have nothing to bitch about), so that he can pretend he's watching them with good intentions in mind.

What is it you all think movie certificates are for? We all know they're probably too low for the content (i.e. movies rated 12A are generally too violent for a 12 year old, accompanied by a parent or not), but seriously, when you watch a movie rated 18 or R, do you honestly think some of them might conform to all of the Christian values? Do you really expect to ever be able to tell any of your readers that a film rated 18 can be watched without the slightest bit of caution? If you do, you're as delusional as the alien conspiracy theorist with the tin foil hat. But you don't do you? You know full well every highly rated movie is as likely to offend fundamentalist believers as a Catholic priest at a boarding school, but you watch anyway because you LIKE IT. Then you write your report so everyone thinks you've done it for their benefit.

The reality, it is my indescribable pleasure to inform you, is that you are no better/worse than everyone else who watches these movies and enjoys them. If it turns out watching them really is a sin and all the viewers are going to Hell, that's going to include you. You watched it and loved it. You are as culpable as everyone else. Stop pretending otherwise. You are the guy who shoots the gun then goes around telling everyone "I shot the gun, it killed someone, so be warned, guns are dangerous", before going off to test the next model.

And to the writers on the Christian movie reviewing websites who think absolutely everything in every movie is a metaphor for something from the bible, or for something entirely non-Christian in an attempt to cover their tracks: no, it isn't. Everything really isn't about you. Get over yourselves.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's A Wonderful Lie

In one of the most spectacularly pathetic pieces of music journalism I've seen in a long time, which given the average quality of the field is quite hard to achieve, London-based music blog Gigwise (a meaningless collection of unrevealing articles and reviews about artists everyone already know inside out) have issued their list of the top 50 Worst Albums of The Decade, topped by the UK's favourite media targets Katie Price and Peter Andre.

Of course almost all "best ever in the World" style lists compiled by any mainstream media are nonsense, usually headed by whoever is currently getting the most public attention at the time, but when you're talking about the best, having the most popular at the top, although perhaps not entirely accurate, is reasonably easy to justify on the basis that their popularity must be due in no small part to their talent.

So by the same token, it stands to reason that in the majority of cases, the least popular bands must be making the worst music? Apparently not the case as Gigwise go ahead and name 50 high-profile and wildly popular artists in their list, including Nickelback, Kaiser Chiefs, Oasis, James Blunt, Hard-Fi, Queen and Razorlight.

While some might readily agree that any or all of the artists on the list are not worth the adulation they normally receive, or that the specifically named records are not their respective best works, it seems ridiculous to claim that all 50 are worse albums than the hordes of no-talent nobodies and copycats who have tried and failed to "make it" several times over.

This list is a carefully constructed ploy to achieve two specific but closely related aims. Firstly, to garner attention by claiming genuinely widely-liked records and artists are misconceived and in reality poor; trying to suggest they are a worthy musical voice and know better than everyone else. And secondly to incite the kind of petty bickering regularly present in the comments section of most blog-based websites. To make statements so contentious that readers can't resist commenting, unwittingly clocking up the hit counter.

Right up there with estate agents advertising properties they've already sold, chain stores putting products they never had in stock in the first place in their flagship sale sections, and magazines putting the most talked-about faces on their front covers, this was a deliberate attempt to haul in the punters, and flies in the face of true journalism with such offensive disregard that it makes Rupert Murdoch look like 'X-Files' daredevil truth-finder Fox Mulder.

This would normally be where Gigwise are told they should be ashamed of themselves, but it's their total lack of shame that allowed the publication of this farce to begin with.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

DVD: Mark Steel - Viva La Revolution

Brian Productions

Directed by Cal Barton
Written by Mark Steel
Starring Mark Steel

Recorded at the Black Heath Halls on his 'Viva La Revolution' tour, comedian Mark Steel's first live DVD, based on his book of the same name, focuses predominantly on the French Revolution, a period of time Mark believes is one of the most significant in World history.

So his aim was to guide the audience through the main events of the revolution, picking up on the humour of the things the main participants said and did at the time while being historically accurate at the same time. In reality he relates all of the main events to England. Not in the historic sense, just parallels that can be drawn with the way people behaved then, and society now, mostly by making jokes about working class English people (his mock accents are very good) trying the same thing.

So in actual fact most of the jokes ended up being about things like British public transport, posh people, racism and teenagers, and mostly not about the French Revolution at all. Mark has two of the things which make the funniest comedians as appealing as they are. A working class background and intelligence. This means that during these tangents his social observations are astute and very funny. And like some of his peers he carries a certain amount of well-directed anger towards certain subjects and factions of society which makes his mini-rages all the more funny.

His approach was probably the best he could have taken. Let's be honest, if he'd spent two hours purely talking about the French Revolution, most audiences would likely have lost interest pretty quickly. By spinning off into short spells of UK-derision he keeps people interested and amused long enough to fit everything to his historical reminiscence.

On the extras front there is another 13 minutes of outakes from the show (generally where his tangents got too far away from the subject at hand), a half-hour chat with Jeremy Hardy on a park bench (fairly amusing, but really just two comics sharing annecdotes) and extracts from the Mark Steel Lectures series, in which there's very little humour, more a historical documentary.

Whether or not this show is quite what it claims on the tin, or as sharp as his writing can be, it is still a very funny (and at two hours, good value) show and Mark's delivery is the right mix of low and high brow to appeal to everyone.

“ social observations are astute and very funny ”

Special Features: Two Men On A Bench (with Jeremy Hardy) / Viva La Revolution Outakes / Extracts From The Lectures

DVD Release Date: September 29, 2009
Studio: Brian Productions
Feature Running Time: 112 mins
Special Features Running Time: 58 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): None

Saturday, May 30, 2009

DVD: My Name Is Bruce

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Directed by Bruce Campbell
Written by Mark Verheiden
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ellen Sandweiss, Dan Hicks, Ben L. McCain, James J. Peck

Bruce Campbell has made a career out of being Bruce Campbell. So it's only fair he makes a film about himself. Although it may perhaps be considered an egotistical move on one hand, Bruce spends near enough the entire film mocking himself, his career path, and his movies.

The general storyline of 'My Name Is Bruce' revolves around a small town named Gold Lick which befalls the wrath of the Chinese God of War following the reckless behaviour of a group of teenagers. A much used, and here intentionally mimicked, horror B-movie device. One of the teenagers is an avid fan of Bruce Campbell and his movies, and convinces the town that Campbell can be their only saviour, kidnapping him to be such.

What this movie is essentially aiming at is a tongue-in-cheek take-off of not just Campbell's own movies, but action/horror movies in general, with intentionally-ham-fisted performances, less-than-serious dialogue and a script for Campbell that only Campbell could write. But it's not for Bruce's fans only, although being one does help.

Indeed if approached with the expectation that anything low-budget or corny is meant to be that way, the performances of most involved can be recognised and the good turns that they are. Campbell is obviously perfect playing his movie self, and has written a script to match the general behaviour of the characters he's known for, while Ted Raimi (acting brother of Sam Raimi, director of the 'Evil Dead' trilogy, Campbell's most notable films) appears in three ridiculous but highly amusing roles as Campbell's agent, Wing the aging Chinaman and the handyman responsible for adjusting the population count on Gold Lick's town sign.

The movie plays out mostly as viewers would expect, with Campbell filling the majority of his scenes with over-confident one-liners and the monster involved picking off several bit-part characters and extras until the final showdown. There's a small amount of faux-moral here and there, but it's mostly a well-executed exercise in self-derision for the purposes of humour.

Campbell really doesn't make enough movies anymore, and several references to his generally good performances in otherwise bad productions are both true, and hint that Campbell truly recognises his place.

“ a well-executed exercise in self-derision ”

Special Features: Commentary with Bruce Campbell / Heart of Dorkness - The Making of 'My Name is Bruce' / Awkward Moments with Kif / Bruce on... / Kif's Corner – The Making of Real Fake Posters / 'Cavealien 2' Trailer / Beyond Inside the Cave: The Making of 'Cavealien 2' / Poster art gallery / Prop gallery / Photo gallery / The Hard Truth News From Hollywood – The REAL Bruce Campbell / Love Birds / Trailer / Easter Eggs

Release Date: February 13, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2009
Studio: Dark Horse Entertainment
Feature Running Time: 81 mins
Special Features Running Time: 147 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Other Format(s): Blu-Ray

DVD: Triangle

Manga Home Entertainment

Directed by Johnny To, Hark Tsui, Ringo Lam
Written by Sharon Chong, Kin-Yee Au, Tin-Shing Yip, Kenny Kan, Nai-Hoi Yau
Starring Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Kelly Lin, Ka Tung Lam

All of the hype surrounding 'Triangle' has nothing to do with the actual quality of the film or its storyline, but instead the coming together of three of Hong Kong's biggest and most respected action directors Ringo Lam, Johnny To and Hark Tsui, famously responsible for films like 'City On Fire', 'Election' and 'Once Upon A Time In China' respectively.

That kind of hype can often be an indicator that the movie itself isn't up to much, and in this case that was true. The idea was that each director would get 30 minutes of the 90-minute movie each, but the story itself was so disjointed anyway, that really had no effect at all, good or bad.

No aspect of the story moved with any real pace and the acting was, for the most part, the kind of ham-fisted overacting Hong Kong cinema is, sometimes unfairly, mocked for in the West. This is particular true of the segments where the main protagonists, a trio of friends who are trying to retrieve a buried treasure, are on the run from the various people after them; slapstick gags left, right and centre.

Given the reputation attached to the three big-name directors working on this movie, it was a disappointingly boring effort with very few saving graces. The basic story was weak, the acting poor and the pace inadequate. A shame, in a sense, because the three segments idea could have been a good one.

“ ham-fisted overacting ”

Release Date: August 29, 2008
DVD Release Date: October 20, 2008
Studio: Media Asia Films
Feature Running Time: 95 mins
Certificate: 12
Language(s): Cantonese, English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Tim Vine - So I Said To This Bloke

Starz Home Entertainment

Directed by Steve Kemsley
Written by Tim Vine
Starring Tim Vine

Tim Vine's entire stand-up routine is one-liners and puns and he brings a completely new set of them to his second live DVD. It's literally non-stop puns, many fuelled by cheap props, split up by the occasional song. Unfortunately for Tim, despite having been in the game a lot longer, this kind of comedy is rather overshadowed by the strangely popular Jimmy Carr at the moment, but the capacity crowd at London's Bloomsbury Theatre for this recording does show that he still has a substantial following.

Vine's puns range from the genuinely sublime to the simply moronic (the "pen behind the ear" segment was both stupid and far too long). The major problem is the distribution between these two extremes is not even (or to use the correct terminology, 'normal'). He is admittedly better with the one-line jokes. Most of the ones that go on any longer than that end up being very disappointing; usually either blatantly obvious or simply weak.

But the main problem with his one-liners, aside from many of them just not being very good, is that they are completely unlinked. If he could have woven several of them together into a story of some kind this could have been and absolute riot. As it is this ends up being like watching someone read out Christmas cracker jokes for an hour. He actually makes several gags about the quality of his own show, which is a tell-tale sign that he knows where the problems are and is trying to pre-empt any criticism.

On top of all of this Vine makes the biggest mistake a comedian can make; he finds his own jokes far too funny, even to the point where he pauses for too long with a slightly goofy look on his face after some jokes to make sure everyone's laughing along with him.

On the extras, there are plenty of them, and none of them are funny. Well, that's not quite true, an outtake from the main show where Tim's dad Guy gets on stage to tell the first joke he told Tim as a child is quite good and should probably have been left in the show. The rest, particularly the over-long sketch featuring Tim slapsticking his way through several sports, are terrible.

Even for fans of this style of comedy, I don't really see how this can be considered a good example. So many of the jokes are simply not funny, and the composition of the act borders on amateurish. While Vine is a perfectly charismatic and likeable performer that just isn't enough to save what is otherwise a surprisingly disjointed show.

“ like watching someone read out Christmas cracker jokes ”

Special Features: 'Tim's Dad Tells A Joke' / 'Family Holiday On The Piano' / 'Paranamasiac' / 'Parade of Sport' / 'Jukebox Pop Video' / 'Flag Hippo In Love' / Deleted Scenes / Tim's Panto Snapshot / Tim Vine In Conversation

DVD Release Date: October 27, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 64 mins
Special Features Running Time: 56 mins
Certificate: PG
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Everyone's Hero

Starz Home Entertainment

Directed by Christopher Reeve, Dan St. Pierre, Colin Brady
Written by Robert Kurtz (screenplay), Jeff Hand (screenplay), Howard Jones (story)
Starring William H. Macy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jake T. Austin, Robin Williams, Rob Reiner, Brian Dennehy

The core subject matter of 'Everyone's Hero' somewhat precluded it from both recognition and popularity in the UK and Europe, meaning until now it was only available in the US, and only saw cinematic release there as well. That subject matter is baseball, a sport only played in North America and of very little interest elsewhere.

So, despite an all-star cast of internationally popular actors including William H. Macy, Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Reiner and an uncredited Robin Williams, plus fleeting appearances by Forrest Whittaker, Robert Wagner and Richard Kind, it has taken two years to finally see DVD release here. The film began life under the directorial eye of 'Superman' legend Christopher Reeve, who died of a heart attack in 2004, and it would be another two years before Colin Brady and Dan St. Pierre would complete the movie with Reeve's wife Dana, amongst others, serving as Executive Producer. Dana also died, from lung cancer, in 2006 and the movie is dedicated to both her and Christopher.

A CGi animation in the style of Gil Kenan's 'Monster House', released in the same year, 'Everyone's Hero' revolves around Yankee Irving, a New York Yankees fan who idolises star player George 'Babe' Ruth. Ahead of the World Series against Napoleon Cross' (Williams) Chicago, Ruth's famous bat Darlin' (Goldberg) is stolen by Chicago pitcher Lefty Maginnis (Macy) and Yankee sets off across America to get the bat back and return it to Ruth in time for the final, deciding game of the Series, with the help of Screwy (Reiner), a talking foul ball.

Definitely one for the kids, the idea of a talking ball and a talking bat is probably enough to put most adults off (it certainly strikes as an unexpected turn of silliness), and while there are a few well-timed one-liners, mostly from Reiner, the majority of the humour is centred around the mishaps which befall Macy's Maginnis (usually getting hit by things or falling over).

The animation is smooth, if a little cartoon-like and unrealistic, but since the movie is squarely aimed at children, that's not much of an issue, and the script is pretty stock children's adventure stuff, with a slightly predictable ending, but this is all from the point of view of an adult watching the movie with other adults and no target-audience-children. It has all of the necessary, if somewhat standard, elements of an enjoyable children's movie, so while it doesn't set itself apart from the rest of the field, it does fit in without causing offense.

And finally a small point of trivia: additional children's voices were provided by Tyler James Williams, now most famous for playing a young Chris Rock in 'Everybody Hates Chris'.

“ Definitely one for the kids ”

Release Date: September 15, 2006 (USA)
DVD Release Date: August 4, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 88 mins
Certificate: U
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

Friday, May 29, 2009

DVD: Strait-Jacket

Manga Entertainment

Directed by Shinji Ushiro
Written by Ichirö Sakaki (novel)
Starring Steven Blum (English), Lara Jill Miller (English), Bridget Hoffman (English), Shinichiro Miki (Japanese), Kei Shindou (Japanese), Ai Maeda (Japanese), Crispin Freeman (English), Akira Sasanuma (Japanese)

Originally a three-episode series 'Strait Jacket' revolves around a society that has incorporated the use of magic into everyday life. The side-effect for those with the ability to use magic is that, through over-use, they turn from humans to demons, killing indiscriminantly. An agency to control the use of magic, and an elite force of "scorcerists", work to battle and destroy demons, while a terrorist group stages attacks by creating them.

The story had a lot of potential, but ends up being rather tiresome. Although only 85 minutes long the story doesn't move along at a rate you would expect something that short to have. For at least the first 40 minutes or so nothing much happens. A demon appears, main subject and rogue scorcerist Leiot (not Rayotte) Steinberg dispatches it in an unorthodox way, stepping on the toes of the legal scorcerists in the process, throws a couple of one-liners at lead female character Nerin Simmons, and disappears into the night with largely unexplained sidekick Kapelteta Fernandez. This happens three or four times before any advancement in the story is made.

And when the plot twists come they are contrived and feel very predictable. Without wishing to spoil the story for wouldbe viewers, there's a corrupt official, a guy wronged as a child who goes a little off the rails when he finds out the truth and a shady side to Steinberg's past etc. etc.

It is also somewhat disappointing that, after all these years of dubbing manga for the Western market, the English side of the studios are getting no better at English dubbing. Or scripts - in particular here the Nerin Simmons script, voiced by Bridget Hoffman, is awful. Alex Von David, previously responsible for English scripts on 'Mars Daybreak', 'Lucky Star' and 'Rozen Maiden', is to blame, although his scripting for other characters, particularly Leiot Steinberg (Steven Blum), is excellent.

There was potential here, and while not revolutionary, the animation was strong enough not to let it down. Unfortunately the under-developed story and contrived characters don't give it much chance at all.

“ ends up being rather tiresome ”

Release Date: November 25, 2007 (Japan)
DVD Release Date: October 27, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 80 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English / Japanese
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Brooklyn Rules

Icon Home Entertainment

Directed by Michael Corrente
Written by Terence Winter
Starring Alec Baldwin, Freddie Prinze Jr., Scott Caan, Mena Suvari, Jerry Ferrara

Although the initial feel of 'Brooklyn Rules' is a seemingly derivative teenager-caught-up-in-the-mob tale, the intended message is a much more wholesome one (without being too "rom-com" about it) with very little emphasis on graphic violence (only one truly violent scene, and nothing much is shown) and greater weight put on character definition and the bond of friendship.

Indeed 'Brooklyn Rules' is a story of childhood friends much more than it is a gangster movie, but with enough grit that it's not going to end up being Sunday afternoon TV fodder. What makes the movie so enjoyable is the flawless and often very funny constant banter between the trio of fast-talking friends at the heart of the story played by Freddie Prinze Jr. (who needn't have gone so heavy on the cliché Brooklyn accent), Scott Caan and the ever-so-Sean-Astin Jerry Ferrara. Mena Suvari doesn't have much to do but Alec Baldwin is near-perfect in his role as wise guy Caesar, doing an excellent job of making the viewer see the good side of his character.

The movie received some heavy criticism upon its cinematic release in the US for trying too hard to be like other famous mob movies. To be honest, a point was missed here. This movie isn't trying to be a mob movie. It's set in the classic New York mob era, and certainly the story has a lot of mob elements which drive it on, but these are just the background to the main story about the three friends. The causes of most of their problems, and the events in the film, could have been set against any backdrop where one of the trio starts to get involved in crime. This could have been set around a modern-day criminal gang in any major US city and it wouldn't have altered the movie in the slightest, aside from some of the period-specific dialogue and clothing etc.

'Brooklyn Rules' doesn't revolutionise anything. Very little about the movie is markedly different to what already exists, but the story is good, the acting is strong and the motif clear. If approached with an open mind viewers should find themselves caring enough about the characters to be suitably affected by some of the key events while watching, and although the ending feels ever-so-slightly rushed, it's a satisfying if untaxing viewing experience.

“ very funny constant banter ”

Release Date: May 18, 2007 (USA)
DVD Release Date: August 11, 2008
Studio: Southpaw Entertainment
Feature Running Time: 95 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): None