Friday, February 21, 2003

And what's more, the soundtrack is amazing...

Go and see "Moonlight Mile", the latest film from Brad Silberling. You might have to seek it out, whether this be at your nearest edge-of-city multiplex, or in your most convenient arthouse screen, but you'll be glad that you did - It's in my top ten for 2003 after a single viewing.

A review will follow. And it will be glowing.

I've had such html drama this morning that I had to change the template again.

Trust me when I say that I'm never touching my tags again.

Until the next time that I have a bright idea, that is.


Contrary to the recieved wisdom,“Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is settling down nicely, as it enters its seventh, and in all probability, final season.

After some moderately shaky, expositionary initial salvos, last night’s episode, “Him”, offered lots of excellent chuckles, the odd sniffle, and more jaw-dropping coolness than an entire season of “Charmed” (Your author pauses to duck Wu Ping-esque, Monkey-style martial arts flailing from the righteous K.) could ever aspire to.

That it recalled a slightly more sophisticated, higher-budgeted variation on “Buffy”s early episodic high school horror allegories is no bad thing, as this was what attracted me to Joss (the chosen one) Whedon’s series and original movie screenplay in the first place. Some casual viewers might be nursing a sense presently that Team Mutant Enemy are, creatively speaking, treading a shallow stretch of water and recently content merely in sending Dawn Summers back to daintily retrace the steps made by her Slayer sibling some seven years ago.

Consider the evidence:

Sunnydale High School? Recently returned from a fiery, Buffy-led dispatch effort at the end of season three, now boasting a Xander-built, spanking-new faculty, an influx of troubled teens to populate it, Buffy on site as a student counsellor, and a new principal (The fantastic D.B. Woodside, doing elegantly subtle, funny work) running the whole shebang.

Classic horror staples, dusted down and given a fresh lick of next-gen prosthetics? Sir, yes SIR! We’ve seen, to date, zombie-like ghouls in the season premiere, a featured player’s return to active duty recalling the plot of season one’s “Invisible Girl” (replete with Xander in-joke for the fans) and a welcome parade, at the end of episode one, of every season’s Big Bad to date (well, kind of...).

An overreaching, seriously powerful Season Big Bad, multi-tasking to deliver the hurt on Sunnydale and fixing to have the run of the planet by busting out of its Hellmouth lock-down? Present and correct.

This show is, such folks have declared, singularly on the way out and reduced to living on past glories to sustain it through a prolonged journey to syndicated heaven. They are, of course, entirely wrong in their assessment and you should feel absolutely free to laugh heartily at them and perhaps point ferociously at the same time.

To the episode, then? ”Him” told the laugh-out loud amusing tale of a High School football star’s enchanting way with the Scooby Gang’s female constituents, as our heroines lost hearts and minds to the Boy Band-looking hunk-about-school R.J., whose magically-endowed Letterman jacket had been passed down from father to son and romantically ensnared otherwise oblivious young women for the last thirty years or so.

As written by new kid on the Mutant Enemy block, Drew Z. Greenberg, ”Him” raced along in high comic gear, succeeding mostly by casting our usually self-aware heroines in new light, as their sound minds and quick wit momentarily took a vacation, leading them to commit bizarre, out-of-character acts in order the prove their devotion to the entirely mediocre pile of adolescent testosterone royally stringing them along.

If, like me, you enjoy Team Buffy’s frequent episodic attempts to explore the internal lives of our her heroes, normally explored via the tried-and-tested narrative device of having them behave way out of kilter (a proud tradition with roots in season two’s “When She Was Bad” and “Halloween”, and stretching as far as the more recent “Tabula Rasa” and “Once More With Feeling”), you’ll almost certainly get a kick out of this guffaw-inducing tale of young love gone barking mad.

And if the writing and direction don’t grab you, some fantastic ensemble playing from Sarah Michelle Gellar, Michelle Trachtenberg, Alyson Hannigan and Emma Caulfield should easily divert your attentions. It’s no exaggeration to describe ”Him” as a keeper (my personal highlight was an inspired ”Charlie’s Angels” sight gag). On this evidence, the mighty Joss and co.
certainly haven’t lost their love of inspired romantic farce and skewed situation comedy, and the episodes this season are only going to get better - or so the Spoiler Vixen (TM) tells me....


Thursday, February 20, 2003

My Bloginality is ISFP!!! (With due props to Kymberlie and her Neurotic Fishbowl blog, which pointed me in the direction of another online personality test: I keep taking them in the vain hope that I might one day discover that I actually have one).

Oddly enough, I consider myself a sucker for pop psychology, even if I rarely believe a word of it. In a former life, I served hard time studying psychology in a fine further education establishment and very swiftly realised that it's an industry built on bluster, bullshines and general wallet-fleecing hooey. And yes, that is my considered, medical opinion.

F.Y.I., the ISFP part of the equation is supposed to indicate that I'm artistic, nurturing and that I can exhibit generally positive personality traits, which is flattering, if nothing else.

Potential employers take note - By all accounts, even people who've never met me and live thousands of miles away think that I'm ace and that you really should hire me...

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Further to my promise yesterday, I am happy to present my considered analysis of “Final Destination 2", which provided me with some delightfully morbid, wonderfully sick chuckles on Tuesday evening.

Director David Ellis’ film is the belated sequel to “X-Files” refugees Morgan and Wong’s minor masterpiece,“Final Destination”, which related the unfortunate, modern gothic tale of fate-beset student Devon Sawa, whose pre-flight premonition prompts his friends and a teacher to disembark from a plane bound for France, mere moments before the flight in question explodes after take-off, rudely cheating the grand designs of the Grim Reaper himself, who is none too happy about unwanted interference by meddling kids.

Cue a series of hysterically-contrived, Grand Guignol death sequences, evidently conceived of by unapologetic fans of early-eighties stalk-and-slash flicks, and spiced with the kind of pitch-dark gallows wit which permits shocked laughter, as delivery of the escalating body count becomes ever more inventive and surreal: survivors of the original flick will sagely concur as I cite the demise of Kristen Cloke’s character, Val Lewton as evidence of this argument.

To the sequel, then, which is proudly boasts 90 minutes of appallingly bad acting, outrageously stupid scripting and absurdly over-the-top gore, which betrays the original film’s genre smarts almost entirely. That said, it’s still a hoot if you love going to horror flicks to have the bejesus shocked out of you every ten minutes, and live to scream in unified disbelief with your fellow punters at the jaw-dropping stuff happening up on screen.

This time around, A.N. Other bland student gal cheats Death of his desired victims by evading a freeway pile-up intended to claim her and a handful of royally-screwed stereotypes stranded with her on the off-ramp, who watch the whole thing happen anyway and kill a different batch of poor sods in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If that precis doesn’t make much sense, please don’t worry too much, as this sequel is less about pursuing credible plotting and depicting plausible characters than it is an exercise in employing a frugal budget, and lots of technical ingenuity, to adeptly slice-and-dice a fresh-faced cast of cutely unmemorable Canadian actors. If you haven’t gotten the message yet, allow me to assure you that “Final Destination 2" is self-consciously entertaining, scream-inducing Trash with a capital T.

The stunts are fantastic (The opening car wreck is horrifyingly rendered), gore during the death sequences is quite astonishing given this film’s 15-certificate and the whole thing belts along at a gleefully visceral pace. Dear reader? At times, even a hardened horror fan like your reviewer couldn’t believe what he was seeing, or what the wise denizens of Curzon Street were seeing fit to certify nowadays. Did I sleep late recently and miss a memo announcing Dario Argento’s long-overdue appointment as head of the British Board of Film Classification?

The verdict? This is a movie to see promptly, if your dark heart yearns vulgar gore, cheap scares and positively evil pop culture chuckles: “Final Destination 2" may well be the first picture in cinematic record which punishes a clueless teen for the fatal transgression of wearing a Limp Bizkit t-shirt.

Evidently, Death has an excellent record collection, if nothing else.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I’m trying something new today, and I just hope that it works. What’s new for me, of course, usually proves to be old news for most people, but I’m still excited about the possibilities presented by the way that I’ve composed this edition of First Season today.

As ever, I’m going to chuck a link your way and this one is for the intriguing and eye-grabbing poster image for the forthcoming, James Cameron-directed Imax 3-D epic, “Ghosts of the Abyss”, which you’ll find on the main page of the ever readable Harry Knowles' web barn.

Harry’s spies have done him proud once again, and furnished him with a preview image which really promises a great deal. Ignoring the superficial similarity to the one-sheet for last year’s horror misfire, “Ghost Ship”, this is a prime example of a movie poster which makes me hope that the film actually delivers and makes the jump to actually playing at my nearest Imax theatre (you don’t want to get me started on the drawn-out unlikelihood of the Imax version of “Attack of the Clones” ever screening across the Atlantic).

The prospect of seeing a Cameron flick on a cinema screen the size of my old neighbourhood, and with an anti-socially loud speaker array so large as to induce melting of the cerebellum is too fine and rewarding a notion to countenance, frankly. Thus, I must reluctantly put it to one side and hope that this film, Discovery’s recent Cameron-helmed and presented Bismarck special, and the abrupt cancellation of his “Dark Angel” tv series means that he’s ready to suit up, power on and direct another, honest-to-Betsy, proper movie.

“Battle Angel Alita -The Movie”, anyone?

I was foolish enough to promise a review of “Punch-Drunk Love” yesterday and realise now that I was far too rash to deliver on my word. Try back here tomorrow and you might just find that previously-trailed goodie freshly plucked from my subconscious, a sober appreciation of a movie probably best seen whilst considerably drunk (“Final Destination 2"), and a DVD review of John Woo’s WW2 epic“Windtalkers”.

See you in 24.

Monday, February 17, 2003

As Blogger has just eaten my lovingly reasoned deconstruction of Disney's outstandingly disappointing "Treasure Planet" - A full-length animation apparently made to try and get fourteen year-old skatepunks and nu-metallheads back into Team Mickey's embrace, which fails so completely that it steals your very breath away - I present a vastly shortened version of the same, because I'm too irritated to try and reconstruct the whole thing.

1) "Treasure Planet" probably isn't faithful enough for Robert Louis Stevenson-philes, or exciting and fast-paced enough for the under-represented and potentially lucrative animation audience of teenagers that directors Ron Clements and John Musker seem to be chasing after full-pelt. The received wisdom has it that young teens don't go and see Disney's animated features because they just lack that all-important sense of anti-conformist cool which sells so many products to kids these days. Turning Jim Hawkins into a reasonably well-mannered, smartly-hairstyled, jetboarding, any-rough-edges-removed Tony Hawk clone isn't going to solve this fairly serious problem.

2) The voice cast, whilst well chosen and quite personable, lacks a central star name to grab the attention, leading one to the belief that this production may be suffering from a serious case of "second-tier release" syndrome: This movie certainly can't claim to be as star-driven as one of Disney's Pixar features. Whilst David Hyde-Pierce and Emma Thompson managed to hold my attention through the seemingly endless two hours of this animated non-event, I don't think that many of the kids attending this screening were at all involved in the lacklustre characters and laughter-free dialogue that the voice cast wrestled so nobly with.

3) The SF setting is bizarrely compromised by the need to reference Louis Stevenson's maritime hardware and period details, leading to a hotch-potch of spaceports, ocean-going pirate ships hurtling across the void and scientific ananchronisms that boggle even my tech-unfriendly noggin. Barnacles on the side of space-faring vessels? People travelling the stars in ships which lack any kind of atmosphere protection? Travellers in these ships blithely using black holes as launching apparatus to escape the detritus of a violent planetary collapse? Did I fall asleep and wake up in an animated reprise of "Lost In Space" or something? God only knows that I'm no scientist, and I could give a fig for exact technology if the story whips along at a swift enough lick, but this is madness, surely?

4) The sparse use of rock songs, by erstwhile Goo Goo Dolls frontman and soundtrack stalwart, John Rzeznick,is fine and entirely well-suited to the quiet angst and yearning for adventure which serve to propel the Jim Hawkins character in this version on his pan-galactic quest, but there should have been more of them. And frankly, Disney still owe me for the karmic suffering induced by the Phil Collins/"Tarzan" farrago. How irritatingly typical of the latter-day House of Mouse to hire somebody half-decent to write songs for one of their movies and then not include many of his contributions in the end result. And to allow James Newton Howard to turn in another, remarkably unmemorable score.

5) The po-faced morality that turns off most viewers is sadly present and correct here. The truth of the matter is that the young Jim Hawkins depticted in this adaptation would not be agonising about whether his jetboarding larks are going to get him into trouble with the law and heading towards repeat offendersville. In point of fact, Jim would have probably be better off staying home, pursuing the anti-social dimwittedness and duly scoring his own skate shoe line, a lucrative "Jackass"-style tv show and cravenly plastering his photogenic mug all over a best-selling series of PS2 video games.

Here's the truth. Though this flick disappoints on many levels, I still love Disney ("Atlantis" and "Lilo and Stitch" were fantastic, entertaining movies) and I'm no doubt still going to end up buying it in March on region one DVD, because I love the movies that this Studio has delivered over the years. You, luckily for yourself, are not me and don't need to waste your money, time and remaining Chi in hoping that Disney's feature animation division get their act together and make another defining movie along the lines of "The Lion King" or "Aladdin".

All being well, I'll be posting more later today on Disney's latest animation, "Treasure Planet", by which time I hope to have gotten past the profound sense of disappointment that it induced, and I'll be trying to describe P.T. Anderson's extraordinary, genuinely breathtaking romantic comedy, "Punch-Drunk Love",, which will achieve something amazing and make you a born-again fan of Adam Sandler.

Come on, if that little precis doesn't make you want to log back and read on, nothing will.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I promised reviews and as a man of my word, I intend to deliver.

"Daredevil" is a lot better than you're expecting it to be. The groundswell of opinion which I've heard to date relating to this Mark Steven Johnson-directed movie seems mostly dispassionate, with an odd, fanboy-generated swing towards outright negativity. I'm here to tell you that such concerns are not justified by the occasionally spectacular and consistantly entertaining end result - "Daredevil" is a genuinely exciting and worthwhile flick, and perhaps the best comic book adaptation since "X-Men".

Ben Affleck is, despite what you might have heard, the right man for the job. Not only does he look the part, and carry off the heroics with aplomb, he delivers a solidly convincing and engaging portrayal of one of the more psychologically complex comic book heroes - blind lawyer turned nocturnal defender of New York's Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil (the man without fear)'s origin is not wholly the stuff of convenient spider-bites or a mutated birth 'gift' forcing issues and prompting a career in costumed crime-busting. This is a superhero who bleeds, pops painkillers and battles an ongoing depression when he's not hurtling around the city at a pace which would make Spidey pause for breath. If you need another pop-culture reference point, try to think of Daredevil as the Rolling Stones to Spider-Man's John, Paul, George and Ringo.

As a good mate of Kevin Smith, the movie director and occasional actor who has a lucrative and successful funny book-scripting side gig, Affleck has written the foreword to his buddy's collected "Daredevil" story run and has done so as an honest-to-god fan, rather than a moonlighting, geek cred-seeking Hollywood A-lister. His framing voiceover is a bit overdone, but it's easy to live with and that's about all the criticism I have to lay at Benny A's door.

The villains are cool, too, with Colin Farrell doing his level best to heist the entire picture as the Irish-accented homicidal hitman, Bullseye, who can kill with any object and never misses (as morbidly original as his talent is, I missed the scene where Bullseye attempted to rub out the double-D with a handy, yet potentially lethal pack of 3-ply tissues, or a rolled-up and deadly copy of "Vanity Fair" magazine). He's so eye-catching OTT, in fact, that the movie's nominal lead bad guy, the man mountain crime boss Kingpin barely figures at all. Though well-cast and delivering a strong and unusually understated performance in this genre of movie, Duncan just doesn't get that much to do. It's quite a brave choice to give a superhero movie such a credible, almost realistic antagonist, but it means in practice that many viewers just won't register the former "Green Mile" star's good work here.

And, suffice is to say that "Alias" fans will not be disappointed by Jennifer Garner's role as Elektra - I can already sense the lusty fan-fiction archives cranking up and heading into overdrive. She's feisty, undeniably gorgeous, is predictably great in her action scenes (which are a step up in intensity from the stuff she does every week as Sydney Bristow on her TV show) and has a palpable romantic chemistry with her leading man, which is very nice change: You're really going to dig the first meeting between Elektra and Matt Murdock in the kid's playground - it's all first date flirtation meets acrobatic wire-fu combat workout.

Director Johnson gets just about every note right in this movie, going quite some way towards defying the critics of his past work - he's directed the John Irving-suggested "Simon Birch" (loosely adapted from Irving's novel, "A Prayer for Owen Meany") and scripted the two "Grumpy Old Men" movies - none of which immeadiately suggest that he's going to be able to deliver a comic book movie with anything like aplomb. It's to his credit that there are very few false moments in this movie, save for a cringe-inducing break-up phone call that Murdock recieves at the beginning of the movie, an intrusive, misplaced Nu-Metal soundtrack and the slightly cliched relationship between the young Matt and his boxer dad, and far more moments when this picture soars and delivers a sense of the heroic, pulse-racing storytelling and all-consuming thrills that I've derived from the current "Daredevil" writer, Brian Michael Bendis' exemplary work.

Some of you reading this unapologetically enthusiastic review will not want to consider going to see this movie, being unable to get past the comic book origins of the piece, and having your reservations about plonking down a fiver or so to see Ben Affleck, who enjoys an unenviable, and mostly unjustified reputation as a hammy, wooden actor. To the latter criticism, I suggest that you pop down to the video store and rent out a copy of "Chasing Amy" or "Boiler Room". You can thereafter leave your apologies on the tagboard to the right of this post. As regards the former cavaet, I will have to request that you put your reservations aside and spare a couple of hours to enjoy this movie - As mainstream Hollywood action-adventure goes, it's resolutely fantastic fare and would, in a fair world, be under consideration for next year's "Best Adapted Screenplay" category at the Academy Awards. It really is that faithful and successful in delivering the best and most important elements of its source material.

If it helps, the trailer for "The Matrix Reloaded" plays beforehand...

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