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And so the Star Trek movie franchise trundles on with the 10th instalment and 4th for the Next Generation cast; Nemesis. I wasn’t really expecting too much from the movie having read quite a fair few negative reviews but what the hey! If you’re paying £10 a month for a UGC Unlimited card, you might as well use it! And it turned out to be quite a good choice. Perhaps it was because my expectations were rock-bottom or perhaps I was in a very forgiving mood, but I have to admit to rather enjoying the film. Utterly unremarkable in almost every way it still manages to entertain, in a very superficial way, providing a few thrills, a smattering of laughs and a couple of bangs for your buck. Having said that the story, smacking of post 9/11 resonances, is as slight as the come, looking like it had probably been dreamt up by a couple of assistant Star Trek writers in their coffee break and is in reality no more than a TV episode, stretched against it’s will into a 2 hour movie. I got the impression it had something to do with a revolt in the senate of the Romulan Empire, led by the Remulian, Shinzon (Tom Hardy). Well I say Remulian, however there must be a reason that Shinzon doesn’t share the bulldog chewing a wasp look of his contemporaries but rather sports a vaguely familiar big nose and bald bonce? Mustn’t there? Travelling thru the galaxy to deliver the newly-weds Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Deanna Troy (Marina Sirtis) to their honeymoon destination, Captian Jean Luc-Picard (Patrick Stewart) is ordered to divert Enterprise to Romulus. You see, the Romulians, long time cold war enemies of the Federation have signalled that they wish to forge closer ties and as Captain Picard is in the area it’s decided he’s the man to for the job. And so it comes to pass that the crew of Enterprise come face to very familiar face with Shinzon, who has a remarkable story to tell them. He indicates that he is looking for peace to exist between the Romulan Empire and the Galactic Federation. However it soon becomes apparent that Things Aren’t What They Seem ™ and it’s soon time to save the world again. As I said, plotting isn’t this movies strong point. Many of the characters and plot points seem to ultimately have virtually no relevance by the beginning of the movies rather thrilling, post 9/11 inspired, climax. Rather, the movie works as a triumph of style over substance. It has a couple of good set pieces executed with a knowing nod at their own ridiculousness. In the Remulians, the writers have come up with good looking and interesting baddies. They look like the stewards at the Goth branch of the Rubber Fetishists Society, all creaky cat suits and a ton of pledge polish. The main Remulian, Shinzon is extremely well played by the relative unknown Tom Hardy. He has a striking appearance and his performance managed to imbue his character with the necessary charm and ambiguity to make to work. Altho occasionally slipping into a slightly camp voice, he still managed to convince. The strongest point of Generations has always been Patrick Stewart as Picard, and so it continues in Nemesis. Hs presence has always lent the proceedings the necessary class and gravitas that keeps the potential silliness of the whole affair solidly grounded. He puts in another solid performance that worked especially well in the scenes where he shares with Tim Hardy. Like a fine French wine he seems to get better (or at least no worse!) with age. I mean the guy hardly seems to have aged since Generations started. Pity the same can’t be said about the rest of the cast. They have a little bit to go before they start looking as ridiculous as the original cast, however not far. Worst of all is Jonathan Fraikes as Riker. I recall he was a wee slip of a lad when Generations started now he looks like he approaching th e size were he’ll start generating his own gravitational field. I’d reckon that the Generation crew have no more than one movie left in them. Anyways, you will see better movies this year, much better movies, but, aside from the gripes about plotting, the movie still has enough going for it to pass a couple of hours on a cold February night. The movie has a 12A rating, for reasons which escape me. No language, the usual Star Trek sci-fi violence, a little bit of sex ( I know! Sex in Star Trek).
You know if I’m gonna remember the Cinema of 2002 for one thing (and I’m gonna remember it for more than one thing; the cracking return to form for Star Wars, the breath-taking journey of Lord of the Rings, the return of intelligent block-busters e.g. Spiderman), but if I was gonna remember it for one thing it would be over-profundity of excessively breathless proclamations that seemed to proliferate the posters and advertising features of even the dumbest, crassest movies, as minor movie journos fell over themselves to push their over-wrought hyperbole on an unsuspecting public. Ever thing was the greatest this and the funniest that, you’d have thought that Hollywood had re-discovered the Art of Movie making. (this is going some-where). And our very own James Bond fell foul of this trend. Firstly he was dismissed as redundant by a new breed of hero (no not Howard the Duck) but xXx “Better than Bond” we were told. I saw the movie, I didn’t think so: different – yes, better - subjective. Then Bond fought back with “Die Another Day” – the “Best Bond Ever” we were told. Mmmh, “Best Bond Ever” ? Well perhaps the best Bond released in the past six months but definitely not the Best ever, not even Pierce’s best – that’s “Tomorrow Never Dies” by a mile. So not the best, not even one of the better one’s, a few moments don’t make up for what is a rather average outing for Bond. Now on his 20th official outing, Bond now 40 years old, which is ancient in cinema years, has been giving a shot in the arm (of viagra it would appear) as we get a sexier, harder, grittier Bond than usual. On a mission to North Korea to thwart a major arms deal, Bond is captured and abandoned by his employers. Imprisoned and tortured by his captors, Bond undergoes all manner of inhumane treatments thru the opening credits. His suffer ings tho are nothing to that suffered by the cinema audience as Madonna warbles her way thru easily the worst Bond theme ever. Finally released in exchange for a North Korean prisoner, Bond finds that he is deemed redundant by his boss M (Dame Judy Dench). Deciding that a) he had clearily been set-up in North Korea and b) he doesn’t give a toss what M thinks anyway, Bond, echoing the earlier “Licence to Kill” goes all renegade, setting out on a personal mission to discover the identity of his betrayor. Arriving in Cuba via Hong Kong he encounters he encounters the beautiful and sexy Jinx (Hallie Berry) who may or may not be all she seems to be and uncovers a clue pointing to the possible involvement of self publicising billionaire Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens), who may or may not be the baddie. His contact with Graves gets him an invite to an Ice Palace in Iceland where Graves intends to reveal his latest “philanthropic” gift to the world. And then things really start to hot up… “Die Another Day” is unmistakably a Bond movie. All the elements are there: the girls, the gadgets, the exotic locations, the bad guys and the “only got 24 hours to save the world” urgency. However the whole thing, for me, didn’t quite blend together. Individual scenes were fairly excellent; a ferocious sword fight between Bond and Graves sticks out in that respect. And it was good to see that they finally allowed Bond to have a proper sh8g. However this being Bond 20, the writers have decided to make almost a Bond anoraks wet dream of a movie by including loads of references to scenes, themes and gadgets from various movies. And there was a certain amount of fun to be had in trying to place the incident or gadget to its original source but less attention seems to have been spent on actually developing the plot, which is very unoriginal and unsubstantial. I thought there wasn̵ 7;t enough location hopping and the bad guy, in the guise of Toby Stephens was possibly the worst Bond villain ever. To my mind he was as threatening as a sharpened glass of Pimms. I mean he made Hugh Grant look dark and dangerous. If there’s one thing Bond needs, it’s a good villain and in that respect “Die..” just didn’t cut it. Talking of performances, Pierce continues to show that he is the best Bond since Connery. The role fits him as neatly and classily as Bond’s Saville Row tailored suits and he continues to bring back the balls to the role lost after the emasculating performances of Roger Moore. Hope he sticks around for a couple more. Halle Berry makes an immediate entry as one of the Best Bond girls ever. Classy, sexy and stunning beautiful, she certainly holds the attention when that’s required of her. What didn’t quite convince was when she was required to do a bit more. Like Michelle Yeo from “Tomorrow Never Dies” she is expect to kick some serious butt. This I found less convincing as she can’t run very well nor hold a gun straight. But as my old granny always said “who needs to fire a magnum when you’re carrying a couple of enormous bazookas”. John Cleese excels in his new role of “Q”, promoted after the sad death of Desmond Llewelyn. His barely disguised contempt for Bond made for the funniest scene in the movie. The movie has a “12a” rating. Bit of sex, but no body parts. Sexual innuendo. Usual Bond violence. Oh and as a foot-note, I had to laugh to myself as I left the cinema. There was a poster advertising “The Transporter”. The quote on the poster – “The movie that xXx wishes it was!”. Funny old game. Happy New 2003!
What a thoroughly down right nasty little movie this is. From the trailer, and a good trailer it is, you might be forgiving for thinking that this is the scariest thing since slashed bread, the various media quotes backing this up. However; James King of Radio 1 do you actually watch the movies you review? The movie gets it’s set up over and done with in obscene haste as we learn that 5 people have responded to an advert on the internet to appear in a “Big Brother” style 24 hour live web cast from a remote house somewhere in the American snowy wildernesses. The prize: $1 million. The catch: if any one of them leaves then nobody wins the prize. The movie then fast forwards several months and we watch as the deadline looms and strange things start happening in the house. A food parcel arrives containing only bricks, another is full of champagne and a gun. Strange noises come from the attic and a mysterious stranger appears. Are the various unsettling elements just the company attempting to freak the housemates into leaving so they don’t have to pay the prize money or are there darker forces at work? Whichever it is, Ill guarantee you’ll have given up caring a long time before the utterly preposterous and nasty answer. The movie clearly thinks it is far cleverer than it actually is. Whilst the premise is good and the look of the movie, altho borrowing more than little from the Blair Witch Project, is for the most part very effect, it has no clear idea of its purpose. The early attempts at building a creepy, unsettling atmosphere are dumb-assed and clichéd to the extreme. Sudden loud noises turn out to be a cellar door banging in the wind, mysterious noises from the attic turn out to be a bird flapping around in an upstairs room. My god, Universal were doing this in horror movies in the 1930’s. Once this all fails the movie turns to internal conflict within the group which is laugh ably handled before resorting to out and out shock tactics in a twist which if it wasn’t so thoroughly nasty and sick would have had me laughing at it’s utter absurdity. Nah, I can barely think of one thing to recommend about this movie. The plot is all over the place and has holes in that make “Dungeons & Dragons” seem like the work of a coherent genius. The acting is nothing special. And that conclusion! Stupid, pointless, illogical, sick and nasty. Scroll down to the bottom of the review if you want to know what it is, at least then you wont have to go to the bother of watching the movie. Sorry I can't be objected on this one, I thoroughly hated it. Definitely one to be avoided at all costs. The movie has an “18” certificate. Sex, violence, language and nastiness. PLOT SPOILER They have been recruited to be murdered in a web snuff movie to be broadcast live to rich, sick punters. The good looking blonde guy is in on it and actually carries out the killings. The killings don’t actually start until they’ve been in the house for a good few months. Why? Logic says kill them as soon as you have them to maximise profit. The killings are nasty and stupid. I’d imagine it’s impossible to swing an axe at a sitting person and take of their head in one clean slice. Still in the general nasty crapness of it all, does it matter. Oh, the bad guys win, everybody in the house dies, the last shot of the movie is of the pretty blonde girl slowly bleeding to death as she squirms on the tiled floor of a large storeroom. Sick. No doubt it’s defenders will claim it is merely holding up a mirror to society, and saying, hey this stuff could happen. There is a lot of nasty stuff out there in the world and on the web, we are merely reflecting that. I say fair enough, however I choose not to look at that stuff, and certainly ch oose not to pay to see it, which is what the makers of this movie made me do (okay they didn’t coz the tickets were free from Stellascreen but you get my point). The movie as it is presented can’t be taken as an intelligent critic of the new digital age, it is exploitation of the cheapest kind and in making the movie, altho all a work of fiction, they are little better than the people who peddle the dark side of life for real.
Regular readers of “Empire” magazine will know that this movie has had their staff writers creaming their kecks all summer long, all based on...a poster. And admittedly what a poster it is. London engulfed in a fiery inferno as an a battle of Apocalyptic proportions takes place in the sky between dragons and apache attack helicopters. Man its just so damned crazy it could work. Hum well…… The movie starts in more or less current day London, a young boy, Quinn visits his mother in an underground construction site, part of the extension of the Jubilee line just as the workers uncover something very ancient, very scarey and very pissed. Fast forward 20-odd years, a montage of destruction and we are in a castle in Northumberland?( well I guess all movies have to be set somewhere). The Earth is a scorched wasteland having been torched by millions of dragons (for it was such a beast that was unleashed in the London Underground), the human population has been decimated and disparate groups of survivors eke the best existence they can. Our Northumbrian band are lead by Quinn, who has grown up to become Christian Bale. Daily life is a struggle to merely exist against the dragons. Until one day, an armoured patrol pulls up at their castle lead by Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) “Only one thing worse than dragons…Americans!” Observes one member of Quinns gang. The Americans bring with them their can do philosophy and demonstrate that existing is not enough, it is possible to fight back against the nasty Dragon menace. And so a plan is put in place which could either lead to the destruction of the dragon race or the destruction of them all… Now on paper this should be my sort of movie. Forgot all the Art House pretensions and standing in the Filmhouse bar during the Edinburgh International Film House trying to spot the movie stars ( I saw one- turned out he was in “LA Confi dential” and “Pearl Harbor”), a movie about dragons and the end of the world suits me down to the ground. But this just didn’t do it for me at all. It was clunky, and slow, boring and uninspired. The writers too obviously suffered from a very common problem in that they had a great (if crazy) idea for a movie that could have, should have worked but they didn’t have the ability to make a decent enough movie to hang around the story. The characters to a man (and woman) were unsympathetic and I couldn’t give a damn whether they lived or fried. The action was little and far between. One scene of aerial dragon fishing just about got the juices flowing but that was about it. And for there being millions of dragons around, they were a bit few and far between on the screen. Although when they did appear, despite the old obvious CG problems they were quite well conceived, medieval but grounded in believable biological fact. Star Wars fans note, it’ll be worth renting the video for a small but very nice take on The Empire Strikes Back. But apart from that all I can say it was better than “Dungeons & Dragons”. On general release now. Certifcate “12”. Fantasy dragon style violence, bit of fist on fist fighting, no strong language, no sex.
Being a teenage boy can be an unnerving experience at the best of times. You know, your body changes, hair appears in unfamiliar places and you start issuing sticky fluids. However for weedy, geeky Peter Parker (Tobey MacGuire) these changes are all the more surprising and alarming as he develops a buffed body overnight, grows barbed hairs on the tips of his fingers which allow him to climb walls and he can shoot a sticky web-like substance from glands in his wrists. Peter is the spectacle wearing, unpopular, anonymous geek of his year at school. Living with his aunt and uncle on the residential fringes of NYC, he is interested in science and photography and the quite literally girl next door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), he is bullied, ignored and ostracised by his class mates in equal measure, his only real friend is Harry Osborn (James Franco), who feels equally excluded from the class altho for very different reasons; his father is the multi-millionaire industrialist John Osborn (Willem Dafoe) head of the troubled Oscorp Corporation which is locked in fierce competition with a rival corporation for a lucrative defence contract. On a class trip to Colombia University, Peter is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider. After enduring a night of strange and terrifying dreams, he wakes up to find that he has under gone certain changes. D’ya need me to spell them out; he has turned into Spider-Man! Initially viewing his new found powers as a bit of a novelty and a way to make some money to impress Mary Jane, tragic circumstances intervene that send Peter down a more noble path and into the sights of fearsome newspaper proprietor J Jonah Jameson ( a scene stealing J K Simmons) who is not about to let the truth stand in the way of a good story and his circulation figures. Meanwhile another strange besuited figure, by the name of The Green Goblin is terrorising NYC and it seems only Spider-Man can save the day, altho his super powers cannot save him from attack in a very personal way… It’s been 40 years since Spider-man first appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics and he has endured as one of their most popular characters. The reason for this is clear. Its because the character of Peter Parker is one that most people who have ever been a teenage boy can relate to. For every popular good-looking, get-the-girl jock, there are at least 2 dozen put-down, ignored geeks who drifted through school in an air of almost total anonymity. And yet, unlike, say, Superman, even in his super-hero persona, he isn’t necessarily any more liked; he is labelled a criminal by the newspapers, chased by the police and altho his actions are always executed with the best intentions they are often misinterpreted as the complete opposite. This, along with rooting Peter in a very modest very familiar non super-hero life makes for a very empathetic character. By keeping it “real” we can identify with and relate to the character even if he can run straight up the sides of buildings! And thankfully, unlike other attempts at bringing Spider-Man to life, script-writer David Koepp and director Sam Raimi have preserved this vulnerable, mis-understood and sympathetic side of the character to create a movie for all it’s super-hero antics that is human, real and moving. There is a great deal of talking and emotional entanglement and sharing the moment stuff with a central love story that actually works (see Attack of the Clones on how it is NOT done) which inevitably slow the pace but which never drag or bore. But wait a minute, isn’t this a super-hero movie, where the action? Well it’s there and altho perhaps not as much as die-hard thrill seekers would want, what there is is fantastically executed: exciting, thrilling, frenetically paced and all with, at times, breath-taking CGI. Rather than just being an endless blur of noise and movement, there has been a bit of thought put into the action sequences to really engage those thrill muscles. The only slight let-down is a rather dull and muted final, final showdown between Spidey and The Green Goblin but by that point I was more than satisfied anyway. Talking of CGI, it was as I said, at times, breath-takingly good. However as seems to be the standard case these days there was some that was more than a little dodgy. If film-makers are going to insist (and I’m sure they are) in using more and more full character CGI, they are gonna have to crack the problem of movement. At times the CGI Spider-Man was totally obvious, looking more like something from a sub-standard PS1 game than the central character in a $100m+ movie. But the CGI was used to good effect to recreate the visceral thrill of following the web-slinger as we sung thru the canyons of NYC. Ironically, tho the most stunning shot of the whole movie involving a first person view of a low swinging arc from the top of a Manhattan skyscrapers down to street level and back up seems to be have been done in the “real world”. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it sure as hell didn’t look CG to me. Look out for it, however they done it it’s a fantastically involving shot. The performances are never less than adequate. Tobey MacGuire is more normally to be seen in more worthy, meatier movies and I was perhaps expecting a more intense performance from him. I thought he was a little bit stinted as Peter, more so than the character required, however he was very likeable, an essential part of the character. Kirsten Dunst was ok, I think she was hired more for her indie credentials than anything else, she is very pleasant, if a little other-worldly, looking girl. Willem Defoe does what he does best and dominated every scene that he is in. Battling the different sides of this character, he does manage to keep the performance on the right side of laughable for most, but not all, of the time. But you would think that by 2002 maniacal laughter would have been outlawed in a major motion picture. The biggest performance problem and definitely the biggest flaw in the movie is the perverse decision to give The Green Goblin a fixed mask. Now if you don’t know who is in the suit I want spoil it for you, but it is an actor who has one of the most expressive faces in the business. One glance could stop a charging bull elephant in it tracks. Yet he is concealed behind a fixed mask which altho intended to be scary is a fluffy kitten next to what this man can pull off. Bad bad decision. And if we are talking negative, and we are, Danny Elfmans score is very anonymous. The opening title track is very dramatic, very Hitchcockian but not at all memorable. Yet this proves to be the highlight of the score. I can’t actually recall any of the music played during the rest of the movie. Yet these two quibbles aside, this is still an excellent movie. A near perfect blend of humour, pathos, emotion and thrills, this is the essence of Summer Blockbuster. I loved every minute of it. Damn it all, by the final Tribute to American Heroes scene I was ready to punch the air and chant “USA USA”. Well, almost…but not quite. The movie has a “12” certificate with a specific warning about strong fantasy violence. If there was any language it was mild. No sex. As the warning says strong fantasy violence, a little blood, no gore. For my money the “PG” rated “Fellowship of the Rings” was more violent. On general release from 14 June 2002.
George Lucas is responsible, in movie terms at least, for the greatest revelation AND the most crushing disappointment of my life. Sitting in the Odeon Cinema in Edinburgh, 1977 and realising in that seminal moment as an Imperial Battle Cruiser flew over my head that the movies would never be the same again ranks in my book as one of those moments, along with your first job, the loss of sexual innocence and the death of a close family member that lives with you forever. You could say I was hooked. So in 1999, 16 years after the end of the original trilogy, my anticipation at the release of the first of the fabled prequel trilogy was great, enough to convince me to fly to New York to see it prior to its UK release. And that’s where George kicked me square in the head as I sat in stunned silence at the travesty that was unfolding before my eyes. In hindsight I realise that “The Phantom Menace” is not as bad a movie as it was made out to be, it does contain some of the greatest Star wars moments ever committed to film, however it was not and never will be the movie that the fans were expecting. No matter though, as a true believer, I waited and hoped… I knew… that Episode II would be better, much better. However once bitten and all that, it niggled at the back of my mind. It could happen again, George could deliver of us a movie below our expectations. And so it was with a great sense of excitement and a due sense of foreboding that I approached the UGC cinema in Edinburgh. And thank the Maker, there was nothing to worry about because “Attack of the Clones” is a stunning movie. It is the movie that every Star Wars fan must have been dreaming of. Although he defended Eps I to the hilt, George has obviously taken on board the criticism levelled at it and so Eps II it much more mature, with loads of plot driven by the characters, some very dark moments indeed and acti ons scenes that’ll have you wetting your seat in excitement. And the sense of fun that pervaded the first trilogy is back. There are loads of verbal, visual and musical references to the previous movies and hints a plenty to the possible events of Eps III. And most importantly the role of Jar Jar Binks (yup messsa back!) has been side-lined to a minor secondary character, where he should have always been. However, in a probable 2 finger gesture to his critics, Mr Binks plays probably the most pivotal role in Star Wars history. Which I think is fantastic! The events of the movie take place 10 years after Eps I. Several thousand star systems have announced their intentions to split from the Republic. This crisis has caused great debate in the Senate and there is a growing support in the Senate for the creation of a Grand Army of the Republic to counter the perceived threat from these separatists. As a leading voice in opposing the creation of this army, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), the former Queen of Naboo returns to Coruscant to attend the debate. However her life comes under threat and at the request of the Grand Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), the Jedi Council offer the young Senator the protection of two of their Jedi Knights, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his arrogant young padiwan apprentice Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Finally getting a lead which may reveal the identity of the Senator’s attacker, Obi-Wan sets of the distant planet of Kamino where he makes a startling discovery. Meanwhile Anakin and Padme return to Naboo where the feelings that they have kept bottled for these past 10 years begin to resurface. Denied the right to love and relationships by the Jedi code, Anakin allows his emotions to control him to the point where when destiny delivers him a devastating personal blow, his journey to the Dark Side has well and truly began… Gone are the juvenile mug gings and japes of the previous movie; the plot of Eps II is satisfyingly dense and meaty and it dares, whether through design or accident, to not fully explain itself. I don’t know if the details where just left out or if we are expected to fill in the blanks, it certainly left tons of food for thought for Eps III and, as we all know ultimately how the story pans out, the implications for what you see in Eps II are actually quite dark, perverse and profound (in the context of Star Wars at least!). Not that the kids have been forgotten, there are the usual array of corny jokes, slap stick humour and weird and wonderful creatures to amuse them (and the adults). The creature design here is again a million miles away from Eps I, the creatures here are more robust, believable and in one certain design they have managed to creature a species that is quite hypnotically beautiful in it’s other worldly strangeness. The performances are up to the use Star Wars standard. i.e. ropey. Hayden Christensen as Anakin can tend to be more whiny teenager than future Dark Lord of the Sith, however he can on the necessary occasions turn on the menace enough to convince me that his journey to the Dark Side has begun. Obi-Wan has loosened up a lot and Ewan has a lot of fun with the character. He is more arrogant, pompous with an edge. When Obi-Wan goes to the bar for a drink, you know that it isn’t his first. The tortured accent is still there but I’m growing to love it. Natalie Portman as Amidala, now playing a grown woman rather than a teenage girl, gets to turn on the sex with a hard edge. She definitely gives Leia a run for her money and introduces nipples (covered) for the first time in the Star Wars saga. Of the other performances the stand out is from Christopher Lee as the mysterious Count Dooku, managing to bring a dark menace edged with ambiguity. Samuel L Jackson’s role is greatly expanded to a great benefit to the movie . He could have done with much more screen time but he’s on long enough to convince you that he is the meanest MF Jedi Knight in the Universe. C-3PO and R2-D2 finally get their double act together and to great effect. 3PO takes back his comic role from Jar Jar Binks and it all works brilliantly, well he had to laughing out loud! But by a mile the greatest performance in the whole movie is Yoda. Gone is the rather awkward puppet, Yoda here is completely CG. Stunning state of the art CG. There are a couple of occasion were the CG is a little obvious but for the most part ILM have succeed in creating a totally convincing real breathing CG character. Watch the little fellow go, he had me skirming with delight in my seat. And talking of ILM, the effects. There is hardly a shot that doesn’t contain any sort of CG effect and they are of an outstanding standard. From creating the Mega-Manhattan style sky-lines of Coruscant, through innovative creature design to the final mega-battle, the effects leave you gasping for breath. That final battle is just about the most thrilling, visceral action scene I have ever seen. Brutal, frenetic, beautiful and completely otherworldly it left me stunned. “Attack of the Clones” is a Star Wars fans total wet dream, but does it work as a movie for non-fans? Well I can’t really answer that, certainly if you hate Star Wars or if you haven’t seen any of the other movies it will certainly not have as great an appeal. All I can say is that the two friends I dragged along with me both really enjoyed the movie and said they would give it 4 out of 5. Enough writing this is keeping me out of the cinema. Certainly a movie I will be seeing a few times more; a stunning return to form, not as good as “Empire” but better than “TPM” and “Jedi” (Star Wars, the original, A New Hope if you must, is beyond judgement) it still leaves you in no doubt that Eps III will be even better. The movie has a “PG” certificate, which is a first for the usual “U” certificated SW movies. Some violence, including beheadings!! No swearing, no sex except Natalie Portman looking v.sexy. Interesting point of note, according to IMDB, the UK release had a one second cut made to it to remove a shot of Jango Fett head butting Obi-Wan to secure the “PG” rating. Go see it. May the Force…ach you know the rest
What?” I said “I said, d’ya fancy going to see the remake of “The Count of Monte Cristo”?”, she replied. “ A remake of “The Count of Monte Cristo” how redundant is that? A story which, according to IMDB.com, has been made into a cinematic movie 13 times, 3 TV movies and 4 series. I’d say the last thing the world needs is yet another version. What on earth makes you think I’d ever go and see this movie?” A winning argument I thought. “Well, I have two free tickets courtesy of our friends at thefilmfactory.co.uk.” And so it was that I found myself making the trek to the Edinburgh UCI and I have to say I’m very glad I did, because it turns out the movie is not half bad at all, in fact I have to admit to rather enjoying it. Based on the book by Alexander Dumas, this is the one that isn’t about the imprisoned King of France (that’s “The Man in the Iron Mask, I get them mixed up everytime). Set during the earlier part of 19th Century France, it is the story of two life-long friends from very different backgrounds; the naïve, trusting but kind-hearted Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) the son of a clerk and the vain, jealous, gadabout ,son of a Count, Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce). Working on board a ship, they are required to make landfall on the Island of Elba, where the naïve Dantes accepts an errand from a very historical character. This ultimately, through a combination of personal jealousy and political expediency, lands him a life-times worth of imprisonment in the dreaded Chateua d’If. Here Edmond falls into despair and desolation, his only human contact is the annual beating he receives from the warden to mark the anniversary of his incarceration. After many years though, fate delivers of him, Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), who enlists Edmonds help in his escape plans, whilst providing him the educati on, the weapon skills, and ultimately the financial means to allow Edmond to carry out the revenge he has planned for those who betrayed and abandoned him. If only he can escape… As you have gathered I wasn’t expecting too much from this movie, and I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. An utterly unapologetically old-fashioned story, with little pandering to modern audiences, which was both one of it strongest and weakest points. It gets down to telling a great story and telling it well. I was vaguely aware of the story but having never read the book or seen any of the myriad versions which had gone before I wasn’t fully up to speed with all the details. I was surprised by how dark the story was at times, there was perhaps a little pandering to the meally mouthed liberal brigade and there was perhaps more excitement derived from the lead up and anticipation of the revenge rather than the actual delivery but it was utterly satisfying all the same. The performances of the two leads couldn’t be more different from each other and both have minor problems, not enough to ruin the picture but enough to annoy slightly. I have never seen Jim Caviezel in anything before and found him a little flat and lifeless. He sparks a little more in the latter stages of the movie as Edmonds naivety gives way to thoughts of revenge but he was still a little dry. And I found his accent constantly reminded me of Uri Geller. Guy Pearce gives a performance with more jambon than a bouchers slab, that at times threatens to spill over into pure pantomime and derail the whole movie. But for the most part he just manages to stay on this side of believable and delivers a thoroughly boo-able baddie, whose downfall you just can’t wait to see. Biggest fault with the movie? Well for all its swashbuckling credentials, there wasn’t nearly enough sword play for my liking. The threat of a big sword fight is always there a nd when it finally comes it disappoints. I’m afraid after “Crouching Tiger “ and “The Phantom Menace” audiences demand a little bit more thought, attention and excitement. No matter though, it is still a very enjoyable, great-looking, telling of a great story which keeps itself moving along nicely and certainly doesn’t seem anywhere near it’s 2hour+ length. The movie has a “PG” certificate. One use of mild swear word that I can recall. Fighting with blades, some mildly brutal violence. Very brief, very chaste scene of love
Hugh Grant, eh? Not everybodys cup of tea is he. Most people I know seem to have a loathe/hate relationship with him. Me, I think he’s ok, I wouldn’t want to have his kids or anything but he’s tolerable and I quite liked his performance in “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, a change from his usual soppy drip. And he continues his transformation from floppy hair bumbling git with his role in “About a Boy”, based on the book by Nick Hornby, and written and directed by the “American Pie” boys, Chris and Paul Weitz Based on the standard Nick Hornby plot template, emotionally stunted man finds love, Hugh Grant plays Will Freeman, a guy who need not do a days work in his life so spends his day in his stunningly cool bachelor pad with all his wonderful boys toys, driving his Audi TT around the streets of London and working his way through meaningless relationship after meaningless relationship, and, get this, the movie presents all this as A BAD THING and all the time I was thinking, jammy sod! Will’s predatory antics reach a new low when he thinks he has found the perfect short term low maintenance relationship…with single moms. So off he trots to the local single parent support group with his imaginary son and emotional problems in tow. And his plan seems to be working to perfection until a complication arises in the shape of Marcus (Nicholas Hoult) a strange boy with a depressive suicidal mom (Toni Collette). Initially wary of each other, Will and Marcus realise that they can attempt to use the other for their own mutual advantage, however the fractured dynamic of their relationship eventually develops into a friendship neither expected. Mills and Boon. That’s what I kept thinking. It a post-modern Mills & Boon story feeling like it was written by woman who is writing like a man writing in a way to appeal to woman. Well at least that’s how it c ame across to me. Sure we have the superficial vener of the cool of Hugh Grant’s character but essentially it is a role reversal of the typical shallow female wish-fulfilment movie. Not that I didn’t enjoy it, it was superficially entertaining. It passed the time pleasantly enough but it was utterly unmemorable, the popcorn in my teeth hung around longer than any thought of the movie. And strangely enough the much vaunted Badly Drawn Boy soundtrack perfectly mirrored the movie in this way. Nice whilst it's on, memory of a goldfish once it has stopped. As for the comedy, I didn’t find myself laughing once. I grinned a little and had a couple of bigger smiles but nothing that every threatened to become even a chuckle. I guess the reason I didn’t find it that funny is that a some part of the humour is based around Toni Collette’s character, a suicidal depressive. So if you find people suffering from the mental illness of depression very funny, you’ll be in for a laugh-fest, the rest of us might find it leaves a rather unpleasant taste in the mouth (no not the popcorn again). And what about Hugh? Well he’s got rid of the floppy hair and pink shirt look and sports a rather natty crop and some very nice togs. And as for his actual performance, I thought it was rather good. Will is not a completely straightforward character and Hugh handles the moments of morally ambiguity with some flair. I did have a huge problem with the boy playing Marcus. He can’t act. Sorry, but his performance has one of those identi-kit stage school jobs. Flat, stunted, awkward. I’d guess he only got the gig because he looks so strange, which of course is very useful shorthand (read lazy) for the outsider nature of his character. Ach well, at least I had Rachel Weisz to occasionally ogle at to pass the time. The movie has a “12” certificate. Strong language but not much. Don& #8217;t recall any sex or violence.
Now I’ve got to admit a bit of a soft spot for the original “Blade”. Made at a time when horror movies were full of self-referential, post modern irony, “Blade” dared to be a straight-forward action/horror flick, made with bags of style and skill, producing a slick sexy gore-fest, with innovative effects and stunning set-pieces which subsequent movies made a nod to: “The Matrix” & “The Phantom Menace” being two that spring too mind. So of course I was greatly looking forward to the sequel, “Blade II” funnily enough. I know I have a really bad habit of hyping up a movie in my own mind only to be disappointed and I did try to restrain myself over this one but I had read a few good reviews so was expecting something getting on for as good as the original. Oh and by god did I not get it. The idea behind the movie was quite a good one but the movie made from it didn’t match up to it’s promise. It was a brain-numbing, head hurting rush of badly filmed fight sequences coiled around a plot hammered thin to the pound of transparency, bereft of any attempt at tension, development or credibility. The main part of the plot concerns the Vampire Nation recruiting Blade to assist them in their battle against a new mutated vampire bred, The Reapers, who live of other Vampires. They threaten to spread like a virus ultimately threatening the existence of man-kind so Blade reluctantly agrees to lead a motley bunch of Vampire hard nuts, The Bloodgang. They had originally been trained to take-out Blade so you can imagine there are a few tensions within the group dynamic. And Blade and the Bloodgang set out to hunt and destroy the Reapers and their leader, Nomak. Cue lots of fighting and things not being quite what they first appear. Now I’ve got to admit, I didn’t hate the movie, I did kinda get a few aimless thrills from it, enough to give it three stars. But compared to the original (heck even judged as a stand alone product) it does disappoint a little. I guess it’s biggest problem is the whole look and execution of the movie. The original gave a real sense of the Vampire world existing as a shadow on the dark edges of the human world. This grounded it into a reality which gave the movie more of an unsettling edge. “Blade II” seems to inhabit another time and place, supposively Prague but it is a dark moribund almost medieval world, which is populated almost entirely by vampires and everybody has bad skin. Then The Bloodgang come on with their Cyber-punk outfits, looking rather like they’d failed the audition for “Alien: Resurrection” and poor old Ron Perlham looking like he wished he had failed the audition for “Alien:Resurrection”. The action scenes, and there were many and sustained, were ham-fisted. More and longer doesn’t make better. A well-crafted action scene should be almost like a dance; beautiful, fluid, but also witty and hard. The scenes in “Blade II” just seemed to go on and on. And it didn’t held that for some of the more intricate moves they relied on some very obvious CGI, which move completely unconvincing and gave the whole thing the feel of a PS game, and a very sub-standard one at that. When I find myself yawning when two characters are on screen kicking-ass I know something is wrong. I was also completely unconvinced by the bad guys. There were a few to choose from but the one being punted in the media is Nomak, the leader of the Reapers. Famously played by Luke “My Brother Was the Good Looking One” Goss, he just completely failed to cut the ice as the Scourge of the Vampire and Human Race. Nothing that a good moisturise and a couple of Strepsils wouldn’t fix anyway. Anyway I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture by now. But as I said I did kinda enjoy it, so what was good? Well some of the gore was quite well done altho I did get heartily sick of seeing a vampire burn up in a firey inferno for the umpteenth time. And I thought the creature design was very innovative, especially The Reapers altho clearly ripped off from “The Predator”. And it was aimlessly entertaining in an undemanding way and Wesley Snipes as always was pretty great. Oh and the soundtrack was excellent, far and away the best thing about the movie. The movie has an “18” certificate. Strong language including the “c” word. Tons of violence and gore.
Now to look at my profile you could be forgiven for thinking that I spend half my life at the movies, and then spend the other half writing about them on dooyoo! Well it might surprise you to learn that I have another interest: Money! The procurement, retention and expansion thereof. It’s all thanks to my thrifty mother. Of course being a canny Scot, the Art of Thrift comes as second nature to me. However from a very early age my mother instilled in me the benefit of a disciplined approach to saving. No matter how little you earn, you should always, but always, put something away. I practiced this from childhood when some of my Christmas and birthday money would go into an account with the Edinburgh Savings Bank, right through my working career. Well that was until a couple of years when I moved from being a saver to a spender, big time! Shocked at my new found frivolousness I decided to get back into the savings habit, and after a bit of looking around I found Scottish Widows Bank. WHO ARE THEY? Scottish Widows is probably fairly well known to us all through their TV and press adverts currently featuring Amanda Lamb as the black-cloaked Widow, who is “looking good for your money”. Scottish Widows itself was set-up in Edinburgh in 1815 to assist the Scottish orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars and has since grown to become one of Britain’s largest Pension Life and Investment providers. Scottish Widows Bank (hence forth referred to as SWB) was set up in 1995. Scottish Widows was taken over by Lloyds-TSB Group in 1999, although SWB continues to operate as a separate business from the Lloyds-TSB branch network, offering it’s own products. Based in Edinburgh, SWB offers a telephone and/or postal banking service. This Edinburgh office of SWB is the only one that they have, there are no regional offices or branches. The bank is open from 8am until 9pm, Monday to Friday. There is no weekend service. WHAT DO THEY OFFER? Well I’m happy to say that their product range is refreshingly simple. Rather than offer a bewildering array of different products which become obsolete within 6 months, SWB only offer 2 savings account plus a Mini-cash ISA, all of which do exactly what it says on the tin. INSTANT TRANSFER ACCOUNT – Instant Access to your funds. & 60 DAY ACCOUNT – 60 Days notice required for withdrawals Pays a slighlty higher rate of interest. Other than the above the accounts are identical. The key features of the accounts are: Can be operated over the telephone or by post Minimum opening balance and transaction value of £100 Regular monthly contributions can be made, minimum of £25 per month Interest can be paid monthly, quarterly, half-annually or annually Statement based Competitive rates of interest Only intended for savings, no direct debits or standing orders permitted No 3rd party deposits permitted, which means you can have your salary paid into the account, for example. MINI CASH ISA – CAT standard ISA savings account ISA (Individual Savings Account) is the government approved tax-free savings scheme. In a Mini Cash ISA, you are permitted to deposit a total of £3000 in any one tax year. You can only deposit into one Mini Cash ISA per year. Other than that the terms and conditions are similar to those above except: Minimum opening balance and transaction value of £25 Regular monthly contributions can be made, minimum of £10 per month INTEREST Well here’s a bit that’s gonna date pretty soon! The interest rates on the accounts are tiered, the more you pay in the higher the rate of interest you get. Also, SWB are currently offering a bonus to new customers of an additional 0.5% above the standard customer rate for the first 6 months the account is open. So in a Instant Transfer with a balance between £100 - £9999 a new customer will get 4.15%gross (rate for 6 months) the standard customer rate is 3.65%gross. The same band on the 60 day Account pays 4.20gross/3.70%gross. All rates and tier bands are on the web-site (see below) A FEW WORDS ON POSTAL/TELEPHONE BANKING These accounts are intended purely for saving, they do not offer any of the additional services that you expect from your High Street bank such as cash card, cheque book, standing orders, direct debits, foreign facilities, cheque clearance etc. All you can do is make deposits and withdrawals and even then in a restricted fashion. When you open the account you must give SWB details of your existing High Street current account. Your new SWB account operates in conjunction with this account. If you wish to make any withdrawals the funds are sent via the bank clearing system to your nominated account. You cannot request a cheque and you cannot have the funds paid to a 3rd party. Similarly with deposits, these can only be made either by a cheque drawn on your nominated account or by SWB can transfer the funds via the banking system using a direct debit. You cannot pay in funds or cheques from a third party, such as dividend mandates or refund cheques from your electricity supplier. These conditions do seem a bit restrictive but I found that once I got used to them there was no problem in operating the account. Which brings me on to… OLDREEKIE AT SWB I opened my account about 9 months ago and have been mostly happy with the account and the service. After I first heard about the account, I gave SWB a phone and they sent me out an information pack and an application form. The form was perfectly straight-forward to fill in and a couple of days after I retur ned it with my cheque to open the account I received a pack welcoming me SWB and details on how to operate the account. I did experience one problem during my early use of the account however that was down to me not having fully read the account information pack which was sent to me, resulting in me attempting to deposit a 3rd party cheque to the account. I was pretty annoyed at the time however the person I spoke to at SWB was very helpful and fully explained the reason behind the rule (money laundering regulations) which I fully accepted. Since then I have had no problems…until recently! The quality of the telephone service has deteriorated greatly in the past few months. From getting through within about 30 seconds at the most I have found myself having to hang on for up to 5 minutes at times to get through, which isn’t very reassuring for a telephone bank. I have been assured tho each time I mention this that steps are being taken to improve the telephone service (new staff, more training, etc) and for the time being I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And I must admit that when I called last Friday (8th March) to do a bit of last minute research for this op, once I got passed the automated answering service, my call was picked up right away. Overall, apart from the recent deterioration in call answering times I can’t really fault the service I’ve had and I’m happy with the interest rate I’m receiving. It’s not the best on the market but it’s good and according to The Sunday Times weekend best buys, the account has paid a consistently competitive rate over the past 3 years. CONTACT INFO Telephone: 0845 845 0829 Web-site: www.scottishwidows.co.uk Postal: 67 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 5ZE And finally thanks to the very helpful Lesley at SWB for answering all my research questions on Friday!
As I stood at the bus stop I could see the eager young thing approach me, yellow bucket in hand and a smile that suggested that she hadn’t yet had life spit her in full in the face: “Would you like to Help the Aged?” she chirped. I moved forward as the bus approached the stop, my mum waving from the front seat: “I already am, I’m taking her to the pictures” And so it was on yet another cold Edinburgh day that I found myself with me old mum going to the UCI cinema to see “Charlotte Gray”. Based on the book of the same name by Sebastian Foulkes, it stars the very lovely Cate Blanchett as our eponymous hero, a very proper gal from the East Coast of Scotland with a passion for France. Travelling by train, she is approached by a Chap from the Ministry, initially under the pretence of inviting her to a book launch. However our Chap has ulterior motives for inviting our Charlotte as he feels she may be suitable for SOE-style operations under-cover in France. Initially reluctant, circumstances intervene in her personal life and for wholly selfish reasons she accepts the offer. It’s not long before she is parachuting in Vichy France (the supposedly unoccupied Southern part of France which in reality was run by traitors and Nazi collaborators). Gifted with a simple task to break her in, things don’t quite go according to plan and in her panic, Charlotte compromises her cover. The leader of the local resistance, the Communist Julian Lavade played by Bill Crudup, arranges an enhanced cover for Charlotte which sees her working as house maid for his father, Levade (Michael Gambon) and surrogated mother for two displaced children, whilst all the time attempting to pursue the own selfish agenda, that being the real reason she is in France in the first place… And so it potters aimlessly on and we win the war. What is worse, making a bad m ovie or an indifferent one? I think making an indifferent movie is the much greater crime. A bad movie probably didn’t have much going for it in the first place, but an indifferent movie, such as ”Charlotte Gray” had the potential to do much more but fails to engage, enthral or entertain it’s audience. The main problem with the movie is that its heart is cold and dead. It’s not that we don’t care about the characters, we do, but the movie clearly doesn’t. A key scene, which should have been an unbearably heart-wrenching moment is handled so clumsily that rather than feeling the over-whelming pity that I’d guess any moviemaker would have gone for, I was left feeling confused. The characters on screen seemed to have little regard for the fate of their loved ones, so should we? And was exactly was that fate. Well it was obvious wasn’t it? but then again…Ok David Lynch can get away with the ambiguity of the obvious but for a mainstream movie like “Charlotte Gray” it isn’t good. The movie does present some intriguing issues, however it fails it fully develop them. It’s as if the scriptwriter has seen the words but failed to understand them. I thought the issue of Charlotte’s motivation was under-used. I mean she is in France during war-time for her own selfish reasons, like a spoilt brat, yet whilst it certainly kept coming back into the story it wasn’t really addressed as an issue worth discussing. Indeed the whole point of her being in France is soon forgotten as she ends up being nothing more than a glorified housewife for a great deal of the movie ( a woman’s role in war-time: kitchen sink or anti-tank gun, discuss). The movie also has some interesting things to say on the way the British view of it’s Allies in the French resistance was influenced by their political leanings. It may or may not have been true but it was an intriguing concept al luded to and then forgotten. Anyway I don’t want to dwell on the negative aspects of the movie, it does have some good points. The cinematography is excellent, especially fine moments at the beginning and end where the screen fills with fields of lavender and throughout the movie. And of course, Cate Blanchett puts in a fine performance as Charlotte. She perhaps looks a little too other-worldly and ethereal for the part but no matter, she is always watchable. And her East Coast accent is very good. Avoiding the posh Edinburgh that Dame Maggie Smith used in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and “Harry Potter” she has got the soft burr off to a tee. Billy Crudup, whom I last saw in “Almost Famous” was very good as the Communist Lavade and Michael Gambon was Michael Gambon. An OK but indifferent movie, wait until it’s on TV. The movie has a “15” certificate”. Very occasional use of the “F” word, a brief scene of violence, soft focus scene of a sexual nature. Out now.
Jack the Ripper was not a nice man. History tells us that during a brief reign of terror on 1888, he murdered and butchered 5 prostitutes in the Whitechapel area of London. Terrible crimes I’m sure you’ll agree, however his final and perhaps greatest crime (not to belittle the terrible fates of those poor women) was not to get caught or leave any understanding of his motives, thus giving birth to whole industry, theorising on his identity and his motives. An anonymous mad man with sharp knife? Nah doesn’t sell any books. Make it the gay lover of the President of the United States and we could be on to something! (NB – that is not the plot of this movie!) And so it was that the Hughes Brothers, Albert and Allan came to make a movie of the Jack the Ripper story, based on the graphic novel by Allan Moore and Eddie Campbell, which comes with another not entirely original hypothesis although with a few interesting embellishments. The scariest shadow cast over the events in the movie is not that of the Jack but is that of Oliver…Olive Stone. “From Hell” is the Ripper story retold as conspiracy theory. Various theories over the years have fingered everyone in the upper echelons of Victorian society, all the way to the top but here the theory is woven into a web of intrigue, duplicity and deceit that would have Mr Stone wetting his pants. All that was missing was the grassy knoll. Here’s the plot… It’s London , it’s Whitechapel, it’s 1888, it’s NOT Crackerjack. Far from it. Whitechapel is a Victorian Sodom and Gomorrah; the streets team with filth, drunks, villains, prostitutes and all manner of darkness and debauchery. We visit upon a group of six prostitutes, including Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), who have formed themselves into a loose collective in an effort to protect themselves from a local small time crook who is running a prostitute protection racket. Amongst the general squalor and unpleasantness of their lives, there is a glimmer of hope for one of them, who has taken up with a kindly refined gentleman to the extent of marriage and the production of a bouncy baby. However one day the girl and the baby are forcibly taken from their lodgings and before you can say Jack the Ripper, the remaining friends start turning up dead and horribly mutilated. On the scene of the crime comes Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp), an opium addicted policeman who claims to have visions of the murders but who also does a nice line in Absinthe and poison cocktails (for his own consumption). As Abberline investigates, the bodies continue to turn up with more horrific mutilations, however in the midst of all the gore and intrigue he finds that he is developing feelings for Mary Kelly. Can Abberline crack the case and save his girl or is Mary destined to end up looking like a butchers slab? Well Mary Kelly is involved in a brutal mauling early on in the movie; that of the English language. Heather Graham, who plays Mary, may be fine as a rolling skating porn star but here she fails to produce the money shot. Mary is supposed to be from the South Coast of Eire but Heather Graham’s accent is better travelled than Michael Palin, Around the World in 80 Days? She manages it in 120 minutes. It starts as a vague East London accent, hints at Irish, before going into an Australian/New Zealand hybrid, at one point slipping into a perfect Nicole Kidman. And so it continues, with a bit of an American twang thrown in for good measure. However by this point I was finding myself being extremely distracted by hair, a beautiful burnt chestnut colour, but a colour that is only available from Clairol. And she was just too good looking to be convincing as a some one who lived that life. A terrible terrible piece of mis-casting. Johnny Depp fairs a little better. It’s one of those flawed and fractured characte rs that he loves to play and as always he does a great job of conveying the complexes of this damaged but ultimately honourable man. However again he looks too darn pretty and physically unblemished to be the man that he is playing, I’m thinking some one like Sean Bean might have been more appropriate. His accent also seemed terribly out of place. He goes for a David Bowie/Gary Oldman hybrid which he pulls off perfectly but again just didn’t seem right for the part. Robbie Coltrane, as Abberline’s side-kick Sergeant Godley, does his usual convivial Scotsman routine. Other parts are taken by Ian Holms. Sir William Gull the Surgeon Royal and Ian Richardson as Police Inspector Sir Charles Warren. As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the heart of this movie is the conspiracy theory. On the surface the theory is quite well realised and perhaps slightly plausible, however under closer scrutiny it turns out to be utterly ridiculous. As for trying create any tension with the who-dunnit/thriller story, that also fails. It is pretty obvious who the two main suspects are from very early on, and it’s pretty easy to guess the identity of Jack before the movie is even half-way through. The only thing that lifted the movie out of the ordinary for me was the some excellent cinematography, which helped to create an oppressive, ominous atmosphere and the superb recreation of the squalid streets of London’s East End, built on a sound stage in Prague. Together they help to bring to life a vision that lends a double meaning to the films title. Unfortunately these very occasional flashes of excellence can’t save a rather flat, un-thrilling, slightly silly movie which drags on for too long. Movie has an “18” certificate. Blood and gore and guts and violence. Strong language including the “C” word. Scenes of a sexual nature. Nudity.
Well after endless proclamations and countless protestations to the contrary, I eventual succumbed to the endless hype-battering and went to see “HP and the Philosophisers Stone”. In my defence I did have a couple of UCI vouchers that were on the verge of expiration and I wasn’t allowed to use them to go see LoTR again so Harry Potter it was. I can’t exactly remember the moment when I joined the Harry Potter backlash although it was before any notion of a film was mentioned. By all rights I should be on more friendly towards the boy, both of us having been gestated and giving birth to in Gods Own city, Edinburgh (admittedly HP was conceived on a train in England somewhere. My parents have never discussed with me the circumstances of my own conception but I’m guessing Edinburgh). I think the ill feeling began around the time the third or fourth book came out and it was featured endlessly on every news bulletin. as loads of frightenly self assured children explained in impossibly posh voices how HP was such an important element in their 11 year old lives. And so the hype began. By the time we got to the announcement that a movie was to be made the hype had began to take on a life of it’s own developing into an uncontrollable multi-headed hydra and by the time the movie came out it had taken on an omnipotence that would make even God’s head spin. I was reminded of all this as I settled into my seat and attempted to hide my shame at my weakness in a mega bucket of popcorn. And so (at last) to the movie). Well I must admit I enjoyed it, it was a good movie. Not a great movie, not a classic but an enjoyable movie all the same. I especially enjoyed the early scenes of little orphan Harry’s life in the “care” of his truly appalling auntie and uncle Petunia and Vernon Dursley (Fiona Shaw and the always excellent Richard Griffiths) and his obnoxious cousin Dudley. The DursleyR 17;s, although living in a comfy suburban semi, put Harry through a life of almost Victorian-style servitude. He has to sleep under the stairs, and wait on the every need of his relatives. His relatives are truly appalling people, like characters dragged from a Roald Dahl book, full of bitter, bilious disdain for poor old Harry. However Harry is rescued from this life on his 11th birthday as you see, Harry is actually a great wizard ( I guess you probably knew that). His parents were not killed in a motor accident when he was a little baby, as his relatives have been telling him all these years. They were actually murdered by the evil Wizard Voldemort, an attack which Harry only just managed to survive and which left him with a lighting shaped scare on his fore-head and a fabled reputation within the wizardly world as “The Boy Who Survived an Attack By Voldemort” (my quotations and capitals). So after a brief period of stalling by his relatives Harry is whisked off to Hogwarts School Of Magic & Wizardry (I may have got the title a bit wrong) to begin the induction into his life as a Great Wizard. At school, which is staffed a glittering array of English Thesps, he gets into all sorts of jolly wheezes and scrapes, makes some spiffing new friends and demonstrating why he has earned a reputation as a great wizard before finally having to face Voldemort again. The plot of the movie (and the book? I don’t know I haven’t read it) is as inconsequential as Hibs defence on a wet Saturday in Easter Road. I know as the first part of a series it has the responsibility for introducing and establishing the characters and situations however I think our reward for sitting through 2½ hours of movie should be more than 20 minutes seemingly randomly tacked on at the end to justify “The Philosophers Stone” part of the title. The greater part of the movie is spent attempting to dazzle and amuse us with it’s clevern ess and greatness, which is all well and good but as it doesn’t actually take us anywhere in terms of story then it does become a bit tiresome after awhile. One piece of showing off though that I could excuse was the Quidditch match ( a sort of ultra fast paced game of Hockey played in 3 dimensions on broomsticks). As useful to the plot as a window box on a submarine, I still thought it was a masterfully executed thrilling piece of fun. Sure the environment and the equipment surrounding the Quidditch play area were very obviously CGI however the way the players moved within the space was excellently done. They swooped, banked, and chased each other like a gang of swallows on speed with the camera swooping, banking and chasing them around at the same break neck speed. Made the Pod Race in “The Phantom Menace” look like and egg-n-spoon affair. Sadly this proved to be the highlight in terms of both thrills and effects. There are some very ropey effects indeed however HP’s troll does put the cave troll from LoTR to shame a little. The area where the movie really lets itself down though is in the acting. Yes I know they are only kids and perhaps we have all been dazzled once to often by the Uber-kid Haley Joel Osment (who I’m convinced is actually some form of android anyway) but the children’s performances ranged from mediocre at best to down right appalling. Poor old Daniel Radcliffe has been coming in for a lot of stick for his portrayal of Harry and some unkind people has suggested that he only got the part because he looks like the drawing of HP on the cover of the books. Not me mind you I wouldn’t say that. His performance isn’t bad it’s just kind of anonymous, as if it wasn’t there. The two best performances from the kids are from Tom Felton as the bleach-blond rotter Draco Malfoy and ( I don’t believe I’m saying this) Emma Watson as one of Harry’s bf’s, Hermione Granger. She does start of as one of those snot nosed ultra self assured kids that I mentioned at the start of the op, which was a bit annoying, however you realise later that this was just a very obvious yet effective actorly device as she is the only character to really show any sort of development during the movie. For the most part, the adults in the movie play second fiddle to the kids. Robbie Coltrane as the giant Hagrid, gatekeeper to Hogwarts, stomps of with all the best lines. The rest of the cast, assembled from the great and the good of British actors put in little more than cameos appearances; never mind the quality feel the credibility. Zoë Wanamaker famously complained that she only got paid £187,000 (or there abouts). Well as her character Madam Hooch is only on screen for about 4 minutes I think she got a damn good deal. Alan Rickman, with a black bottle job, blacker than a black steers toocus on a dark moonless night, does his usual smarmy ham act as Professor Snape (I like smarmy ham by the way). I was a little confused by his role as I had believed his character to be something which the movie suggested he maybe wasn’t. Perhaps there was a little bit of the Episode 1’s going on there, enlightenment welcome. And if Dame Maggie Smith does that b****y Jean Brodie one more time I think she should be shot. So in the end harmless, aimless fun, if a little over long and lacking in plot, that is very clearly, despite some gratuitous swearing, a kids movie, in the same way that LoTR is not a kids movie. The movie has a “PG” certificate. Some mild and completely unnecessary swear words. The ending may frighten smaller kids (it scared the bejezus out of me!)
Ah the sweet carefree-ness of childhood, remember? The days were full of fun and hope and sun. Life was good and nothing could convince you otherwise… Until bedtime, you knew all sorts of unspeakable and unseen horrors awaited. Would your mother believe you when you told her that the reason you were screaming your head off was because there was a huge monster with saucer eyes and giant fangs in the wardrobe or there was a slimy horror with 20 tentacles lurking under your bed, you knew it was there because you could here it whispering in the dark that it was going to grab your leg as soon as you got out of bed and she still wouldn’t believe you. Well we now have the proof, as if it was needed, that we were right all along in the shape of the brilliant new CGI animated feature from Disney and Pixar Studios, “Monsters Inc”. It’s all kinda obvious when you have the evidence presented to you but you see, there is this hidden city called Monstropolis where all the monsters live. The monsters have created a clean, safe form of power by harvesting the screams of the children they scare. The screams are captured by a dedicated band of employees at Monsters Inc (motto: We Scare Because We Care tm). However Monsters Inc is running into difficulties as it is becoming harder and harder to scare the more sophisticated kids of today and as a result Monstropolis is facing a power shortage. The heroes of our story James P “Sulley” Sullivan, a huge hairy behorned blue and lilac monster (voiced by John Goodman) and his roomie, co-worker and best mate Mike Wazowski, basically an eye-ball with legs and a NYC attitude (voiced by Billy Crystal) are Monsters Inc top scare team, Sulley providing the frights and Mike bottling the screams. Sulley is top of the scare charts and fast on his way to breaking the company record. However life as a kiddie scarer isn’t all a bed of roses as Sulleys achievements are vi ewed with not a little envy by his nearest rival Randall Boggs, a slimey, treacherous Chamelli-monster who has two beady eyes on the company record. However the biggest threat to Sulley comes from the kids themselves for it is well know that kids are poisonous to monsters, one touch could be deadly and even the whiff of a sock is enough to attract the attentions of the boys in yellow, the CDA (Child Detection Agency) who have a fairly extreme and brutal decontamination program. Returning to the scare-floor late one night Sulley finds that Randall, in an attempt to break the record, has been putting in a little bit of unauthorised scaring and has unwittingly unleashed a deadly force on Monstropolis, in the shape of a 4 year old girl!!! Well perhaps the little moppet isn’t quite as deadly as they had all been led to believe… This is an absolutely fantastic movie, just about everything about it works: a very clever central idea, a funny and intelligent script, a big chunk of cutesyness and CGI animation of a stunning quality. I found myself laughing, giggling and literally squealing with delight (not a usual reaction from me, I must admit) throughout this movie. The humour ranges from out and out slap-stick to more subtle little touches such as monsters buying their fruit and veg from a gross-ery (my hyphen), the pedesration crossing saying “Stalk/ Don’t Stalk” and, cleverest of all, calling a restaurant “Harryhausen’s” after the King of the monster flick, Ray Harryhausen. They even manage to solve the mystery of the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti. And refreshingly I didn’t detect the merest whiff of a fart gag, or heavily disguised sexual innuendo which should please long suffering parents of more sophisticated and worldly children. The movie scores high on the cutesy-o-meter, mostly through the doe eyed little girl, Boo. Although some stone-hearted viewers may find it all a little much, and certainly it does tend a little towards mawkishness at times, I’d defy anyone not to have a huge stupid grin on their face at the scene where Sulley and Mike are attempting to smuggle Boo back into the Monsters Inc factory, see it you’ll know what I mean. And better pack those hankies for the ending. As I said the CGI is stunning. All the monsters have a very real quality about them, not realistic as that’s clearly not the aim of the makers but they have substance. The greatest achievement has to be Sulley. CGI has tended to struggle with fur and hair. The problem was cracked in “Final Fantasy” but the animation of Sulleys fur take us into the next stage of the art. I believe there are something like 2 million independently moving hairs on his coat. I can only imagine the logistics in achieving something that must be mind-blowing but the effect is breath-taking; apart from the obvious CGI eyes, Sulley shows very few signs of having been created in a computer. There are loads of little nice touches but hey, modern audiences demand thrills and sceptical and we get it with a frenetic chase through the Monster Inc closet door storage facility. Think the train chase from “The Wrong Trousers” in 3 dimensions and you’re on the way there. An excellent all-round movie, great laughs, a few thrills, a couple of tears and enough monsters, colour, noise and movement to keep the kids happy. The movie has a “U” certificate. Absolutely nothing to offend. Oh and make sure you get to the cinema in plenty time or else you’ll miss the animated short “For the Birds” which precedes the main feature: short, sweet and oh so funny. And don’t leave at the end or else you’ll miss the excellent “out-takes” which run during the credits.
Hey, ever seen the movie about the grizzled street-wise cop, partnered with the wet-behind-the-ears rookie? Yeh I thought as much, two dozen times at least. And if you go and see “Training Day” you can add another to the list. Although as grizzled cop/rookie cop movies go it’s actually not at all bad and at least attempts to inject a little bit of originality into the formula. The movie’s USP is that all the action takes place during the course of one day, the day in question being the first day of our rookie cop, Jake (played by Ethan Hawke), service with the LAPD Narcotics squad. Jake, fresh out of police college and full of ambition, good intentions and the belief that he can make a difference is partnered up with Alonzo (Denziel Washington playing for an Oscar), a morally ambiguous officer with strong convictions and unconventional methods. He doesn’t bother with police stations, he meets people in coffee shops; his office is his (very sexy) car. Under the cover of plain clothes, Alonzo sets about introducing Jake to the ways of the street, the sights, the smells, the attitude, the willingness to not always play things by the book, the knowledge that will keep Jake alive and send him home to his wife each night. This introduction takes up the first hour of the two hour running time as Alonzo pushes the boundaries of legality with his policing methods, convincing Jake that his steps over the line are only intended to serve the public good, challenging Jake’s view of what it right and wrong, to see what Jake is prepared to do in the line of duty and whether he will be suitable as a member of Alonzo’s team. Jake allows, what is it? his ambition? his naivety? to convince him of Alonzo’s basic decency, however events take a turn which find Jake asking some very fundamental questions about himself. And all this crammed into his first day on the Narcs squad. You can imagine that the concept of cramming the plot into a single day went down a storm at the pitch for the movie, however in practise it proves to be over ambitious and becomes a bit of an albatross around its neck, forcing the story to jump through hoops to keep itself going and ultimately the whole enterprise turns on accepting a coincidence of such an improbable magnitude that any credibility the movie has managed to muster is shattered. Perhaps with a better writer the movie might have been able to live up to it’s rarefied concept however David Ayer is definitely batting beyond his abilities. If he had forgotten the concept and gone for credibility he could have come up with an unremarkable but solid piece of entertainment. As it stands, the movie is flawed but still manages to entertain in a superficial way. However with a 122 minute running time it is too long to sustain interest. I'd guess it could have done with a 15-20 minute crop. The two main leads put in excellent performances for the most part. Denziel Washington has been tipped for an Oscar nomination however I don’t think he quite manages a winning performance. Certainly in the first half of the movie he is amazing; charismatic, visceral and ambiguous. As he sets about explaining and demonstrating his rule of the street, not only does he beguile Ethan Hawke, I found myself mesmerised as well. So convincing and pervasive are his arguments after Jake yet again challenges his methods that you find yourself as Jake clearly does, believing that what he has done is wrong yet somehow right at the same time. Denziel sustains this confusion/ambiguity perfectly for the first half of the movie, but as events move on and as our understanding of the character develops, he is unable to maintain the character and the performance slips into cliché and pastiche. And it must have been around this time that I noticed his teeth. Denziel’s character seems to be an upper plate which is a couple of sizes too big for his mouth, not quite on a par with the one sported by John Cleese in “Rat Race” but in the same ball park. And they where much whiter than his bottom teeth. Very strange and not a little distracting. Ethan Hawke on the other hand hasn’t been handed the opportunity for an Oscar worthy performance and is therefore able to maintain his performance on a credible level for the whole movie. Movie has an “18” certificate which I think is a bit excessive. I didn’t think there was anything that justified anything higher than a “15” rating. Anyways, there is strong language. Occasional violence. Brief female nudity. Some scenes of drug use. On general UK release from 1st February 2002.