Tag Archive: review


Spacewalk in the park.

Spacewalk in the park.

G R A V I T Y

★★★★☆

Released: June 2013
Certificate: 12A
Director: Alfonso Cuarón

[THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS]

We’ve finally reached the point where CG looks real. Peter Jackson’s studio claimed we had reached that level 12 years ago during production of the  Lord of the Rings trilogy, but technology has moved on significantly and the odd cartoonish bit we all pretend not to see would not now be forgiven.

Gravity could not have been produced on the same scale until now, and the effect is genuinely awesome to behold. Spiraling and spinning, moving sickeningly from every conceivable angle over alarming distances, the viewer becomes immersed in space.

Every now and then it would shift – in manic computer game style – to the astronaut’s perspective which added to the feeling of sheer terror.

The effects take centre stage, and that’s just as well.

The story is secondary but simple –  Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) goes on her first mission into space to fix a radio (or something), the shuttle is hit by debris and she must make it back to earth alone.

George Clooney plays the experienced brave, doomed, smart-alecky mission Lieutenant Matt Kowalski and most of the dialogue is between these two characters.

Their relationship and the script are rather disappointingly obvious. The by-the-numbers writing comes close to ruining the experience in that it’s neither boring enough to be the speech of dull space people nor interesting enough to engage us. Every anecdote or comment is called back later on almost by rote to remind us we’re watching someone’s composition.

“Hope I get to break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record.”

“Looks like I’ll have to break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record another time.”

“At appears as though I’ll break Anatoly Solovyev’s spacewalk record after all.”

As is often the case, the use of mega-famous actors  means that the viewer may end up empathizing less than they could have with unknowns. Much of this reviewer’s time was spent thinking ‘SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE-SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE-SANDRA-BULLOCK-IN-SPACE’ which meant I couldn’t really take her seriously.

But that’s my own bias.

Gravity is an extraordinary film despite it’s shortcomings and definitely worth the price of admission for the effects alone. However, like space, there’s very little weight to anything here.

Read more film reviews – HERE

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Floptajoe’s Top 10 Superhero Films

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I realised recently that I’ve seen almost every superhero film ever created. Not unique by any means, but enough of a pretext for an indulgent SKY/E4 style countdown of things I like.

Why should anyone be interested in my opinion? No reason whatsoever.

The problem with superhero films is that the protagonist always survives and it’s a challenge to create any real tension. Bond and Die Hard films suffer from this also, so a stand-out film needs to either subvert the genre or  include a compelling human character and put them in mortal danger.

Looking to court controversy at every turn, I was disappointed to find my list was dominated by Batman films. None of them made No.1 spot though. Special mention for Watchmen which had excellent ideas used by other, better films.

The inclusion of two animated movies is the only real break from the obvious, beginning with:

10. Megamind

Was surprised to have enjoyed this film as much as I did. Will Ferrell’s voice is annoying for the first 10 mins, but the story quickly departs from the norm and explores something new.

9. X-Men: First Class

The first three X-Men films were almost unwatchable, too many dull characters with no screen time to flesh them out. Amazing powers utilized unimaginatively. First Class took a look at other films around at the time and went darker.

8. Batman Begins

An excellent film let down by a 20 minute finale watching steam travel through a pipe towards the ‘Central Hub’.

7. Thor

Quite high on the list, one of the more complicated origin stories put together with a good plot setting up Avengers Assemble nicely. Kenneth Branagh directs Anthony Hopkins as Odin, that alone gets it into the top 10.

6. Batman

Tim Burton’s gothic take on Batman ages remarkably well. Not sure about the Prince soundtrack.

5. The Incredibles

There are a lot people out there who don’t seem to care for this film, presumably because it’s animated. It’s original take on the public’s reaction to superheroes combines with an outstanding realisation of their capabilities to make it one of the very best out there. If anything, the fact that it’s animated meant they could accomplish a lot more.

4. Iron Man

It’s funny, without being annoying. It looks great and the story is excellent even if the finale is a bit underwhelming. Iron Man 2 was dreadful.

3. The Dark Knight

This is probably the most gripping of all the films on this list. The Joker is capable of anything and the viewer is on edge throughout. Still not sure why Batman had to take the blame for Dent’s crimes, they should have blamed Joker. And why would ‘The Dent Act’ be repealed if he turned out he had committed crimes ?

2. The Dark Knight Rises

I hated this film when I first saw it. Thought it entirely unbelievable, the characters don’t react as you’d expect them to and everyone kept pausing to make speeches. On second viewing, I realised it’s a superhero film even though it acts as if it isn’t. It should be enjoyed for what it is, great dramatic cinema!

1. Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble is exactly what I was waiting for, it’s what X-Men should have been and better. With the groundwork done through the previous Marvel films, it could focus on bringing together all the characters in a backs-to-the-wall struggle to save earth. Joss Whedon does an extraordinary job managing the personalities with wit and sensitivity before unleashing them in an epic clash on the streets of New York City. It beats Batman to top place because the child in me wants to see people thrown 20 yards into a wall by a punch.

This film is just that little bit more super.

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The Trilogy to begin all Trilogies.

The Trilogy to begin all Trilogies.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Released: December 2012
Certificate: 12A
Director: Peter Jackson

 

The Hobbit trilogy has been a long time coming. Numerous delays in production meant we’ve had to wait 9 years since Return of the King, yet strangely it still feels too early to launch back into Tolkien’s world.

The film itself is almost exactly what you might expect. It contains more humour than it’s (future?) predecessors and Martin Freeman is an excellent, likeable Bilbo Baggins. The Dwarves are a welcome addition to the screen as their race had only one representative in LOTR but the rest of the film is basically a light-hearted remake of The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Howard Shore score is the same, the CG is the same, the characters are largely the same, and the story (for this part at least) is identical. Suddenly, as our heroes stop to have an interminable chat with the elves, I feel the need to escape. Having devoted almost 9 hours to the original trilogy, it dawns on me that we’re all going to be trapped in this unsatisfying 3 year cycle of films and probably will again when someone buys the rights to The Silmarillion.

One issue with the original trilogy was Jackson’s propensity to linger on certain (often elvish) parts of the story and gloss over more compelling parts of the books. The Hobbit travels at a more brisk pace and appears to take itself less seriously. It would be churlish to complain about similarities as there are bound to be some. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether they are prepared to retread old ground in order to rejoin this world.

The Hobbit is more of a childrens book as is reflected in the cartoonishness of the action, yet there are surprisingly graphic scenes midst the capers which seem out of place and are actually more resonant as a result. As is usually the case with prequels, some of the tension is deflated by our knowing the fate of our heroes but it doesn’t interfere with what is a hugely enjoyable journey. Jackson brings the story to life in a faultless, assured manner and leaves the audience wanting more. Shame we must wait a year to get it.

It makes financial sense to release the films over 3 years, but it’s awfully frustrating for the viewer. There is something to be said for waiting until 2014 and watching them all at once.

Can someone remind me to do that next time?

 

 

 

Football Manager

I was addicted to it like it was cocaine. I didn’t come out of my house. My friends would ring up and I’d ignore their calls. They’d knock at my door and I’d say I was really ill just so I could play my game and have no interruptions. I’d miss days of college to play that damn game.”

– Rapper Plan B

Sports Interactive’s Football Manager for the uninitiated is a PC game which simulates the world of football and allows you to become a manager within it. The franchise has sold over 7 million copies since 2004.

You buy/sell players, pester your board for funding, insult other managers and gradually build your team into your own capable outfit (provided the board doesn’t sack you first).

An ordinary person (generally a man) will sit down and stare at this spreadsheet of indecipherable numbers and emerge weeks later to find he’s missed work and his wife has left him. For this reason, the game has been allegedly cited in numerous divorce cases in the UK.

The game (formerly Championship Manager) is at it’s simplest, a massive database of all the worlds’ players and teams. Each of the 400,000 plus players have been scouted and rated by Sports Interactive own scouts, the expectations of your clubs board will be based on the real life expectations of your club.

In fact, Everton FC have signed a deal with Sports Interactive for full and exclusive access to the Football Manager database to give them the edge in finding talented youngsters.

Studio Director and creator Miles Jacobson was delighted: “We’ve known for a while that teams use the game to research certain players, whether to buy or to check out the opposition, but this formal recognition by a premiership team is fantastic and we are sure it will prove a fruitful one for the Everton FC.”

There is a social aspect to this game. Players feel compelled to tell each other about their solo adventures. They’ll laugh about the player they have fallen out with or boast about the league they won regardless of whether the other person is interested, almost as if recounting a dream.

One courageous manager submitted his Football Manager CV to Middlesbrough Chairman Steve Gibson in 2006. He was graciously rejected.

Researching this article I spoke with Daire, a theology graduate who had once famously worn a suit for a Football Manager cup final in his bedroom. He began listing objects he’d broken while playing the game:

Anything within reach really: Mugs, plates, lots of computer mice, a keyboard…actually I remember how I broke my keyboard!”

He then began on a story that chilled my very soul:

I had just been sacked by the board at Middlesbrough after an indifferent spell and the only job available at the time was Ross County in one of the lower Scottish leagues. I signed for them and proceeded to gradually get them promoted through the divisions.

After many [game] years, we reached the Scottish Premier league and then qualified for the Champions league.

A few seasons after that, Ross County met Barcelona in the final and were losing 2-1 going into the second half. Heroically, we brought it back to 2-2, and were soon winning 3-2 with seven minutes to go when suddenly all the lights went off and the screen went blank.

A fuse had blown in the house. Not only that, but when the power came back on it sent a surge through the old PC. It never worked again, I lost that file and never finished that game.”

To those who have never played, this may seem absurd, but that Champions League final was the culmination of perhaps 300 hours of gameplay for Daire.

It was common for players of Football Manager to break the game disks ahead of important exams or to give them to a friend for safekeeping. Now there is no need for disks at all and the game sits there on your hard drive tempting you.

The game is proud of it’s ‘addictiveness’, and when it’s loaded up it shows the amount of time you have played divided into hours, days and weeks.

Since 2004, the game greets you with a message which alters depending on that time, messages from, ‘Turning your underwear inside out saves on washing’ to ‘your relationship has now expired’

Although not formally recognised, some organisations have been set up to treat those who feel they have an unhealthy dependence on games. Online Gamers Anonymous treats it as an addiction like any other, even going so far as to produce a 12-step program to aid recovery.

Singer Robbie Williams, no stranger to addiction himself, has also struggled with a dependence on Football Manager, tweeting:

Got addicted to Football Manager AGAIN. They warned Ayda (his girlfriend Ayda Field) what would happen but I don’t think she was quite prepared for what was to come. Been on it day and night and the other day I decided to snap the disc because it all got too much. However, two days later I re-ordered it on Amazon.”

Founder of Gaming Addiction.net, Jerry Banfield battled games addiction along with alcohol abuse while working as a state police officer.

Jerry played video games while he drank ‘because drinking alone was inherently boring’ and his alcohol addiction became intertwined with his gaming.

However Football Manager creator Miles Jacobson rejects the idea that these games can be addictive.

“The game is not addictive, ‘addictive’ is an incredibly strong word, which tends to be used for things that are physically addictive.

We’re purely making an entertainment product,” he said. “People who play the game a lot play it because they really enjoy it; it’s an escape for people.

Everyone should enjoy the game responsibly, as they should enjoy everything responsibly.”

Doctor Will Meek of Vancouver agrees, stating:

This type of behavior is an impulse control disorder like pathological gambling not an “addiction” per se.”

This ‘addictiveness’ or ‘impulse control disorder’ is something that certain games boast about. The rise of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMO) such as Everquest or Warcraft over the last 10 years has drawn most of the flack on this issue.

These MMO’s have brought worrying reports of players dying after playing for 3 days straight or horrific cases of child neglect as both parents pursue tasks in a virtual realm.

It’s a disturbing new level of immersion that, for now Football Manager cannot compete with.

Further reading: Football Manager Stole My Life by Iain Macintosh and others is published by Back Stage Press and will be released later this year.

Snowtown (2011)

Snowtown – Not a barrel of laughs

Released: November 20 2011

Certificate 18

Director Justin Kurzel

One important point to note from the beginning is that this film, despite its title, is not a throwaway seasonal romp in the tradition of Elf or Jingle All the Way.

I stress this as I myself entered the cinema without the first notion of what it was about. I arrived armed with a hangover, peanut M&M’s and the potential to see good in people. I left with my hangover and M&M’s intact.

Snowtown is the gruesome true story of the ‘Bodies in Barrels’ Murders set near Adelaide during the late 90s and depicts the development of John Justin Bunting into Australia’s most infamous serial killer.

In his first feature length film, writer/director Justin Kurzel tells the story through the eyes of Jamie Vlassakis, a troubled youth from a disadvantaged background who, it soon emerges, is the victim of abuse. The neighbourhood shudders with suspicion and fear amid stories of paedophiles running amok. Soon Bunting emerges as their charismatic saviour, somebody willing to take a stand against evil.

Softly spoken and wearing an almost comical bushy beard, the people soon warm to Bunting and he begins to gradually exert his influence over Jamie’s family and friends. His character becomes more forceful as the film progresses and he ceases his intimidation tactics to begin a campaign of torture and murder.

Kurzel is not afraid to linger on these scenes, taking the brutality to graphic heights and almost punishes the audience for taking the time to see his film. He takes the same unhurried approach throughout and this – combined with the atmospheric score – leads to a gripping sense of foreboding.

Snowtown is probably the most thrilling, least enjoyable film we’ll see this year. If you’re into graphic filial rape or kangaroo carcasses, this is for you. If you are looking for lowbrow Christmas fun, do some basic research and avoid seasonal films rated 18.

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