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Monday, December 29th, 2008
3:08 pm - The Ruins

mujubius
The Ruins

It starts so tokenistically - a bunch of silly young pretty tourists go somewhere they shouldn't, and shit goes down. Yet there is so much more going on in The Ruins than a cursory glance would indicate.

The titular ruins are a single Mayan pyramid that a group of mixed nationality tourists head towards. It's off the beaten track, in no known guidebooks but a chance encounter with a pleasant German backpacker whose brother is an archaeologist leads a core group of four Americans, the German and his Greek friend to the pyramid, where they are swiftly confronted by locals speaking a dialect none of them can understand. For reasons that are not immediately obvious, the tourists are all shepherded onto the pyramid and blocked off from leaving by the threat of death. With only a day's worth of water, practically no food, and tension simmering between the group things swiftly degenerate. To make matters worse, the ancient Mayans abandoned the pyramid for a reason...

The thing that impressed me the quickest about the film was the easy way it introduced the audience to the group dynamics. Like a thousand other horror movies before, the core group of Americans are all white, all pretty, and all presumably wealthy middle class types. Yet in just a few minutes we got a handle on how they feel about each other - the girls' friendship, the guys' relationships to the girls and subsequently by association to each other... the movie was efficient at showing what a group of travellers are like, with all the amicable surface level relationships that disguise the fact that it's a friendship of convenience, of people from similar backgrounds in an unfamiliar place. When things degenerate on the pyramid, there is a logical progression that flows naturally from the relationships established at the backpackers resort at the beginning of the movie.

The horror - what comes to hunt them - is foreshadowed well, and whilst you'll figure it out early and easily, I won't spoil the reveal. For all that you might see it coming, the film dealt with it extremely well and intelligently, giving the tourists the clues to the situation they're in. While the audience can make the connection between disparate evidence, the characters don't necessarily have access to the same points of view, and so when they figure out what's going on it all makes sense.

Most of the movie occurs in bright daylight (the film was shot on the Gold Coast hinterland - nice Mexican Gum Trees!) which in the hands of clumsy filmmakers would be its undoing. The film as I said though is handled well, and the horror comes shining through even in the harsh light of day. The gore effects are all handled prosthetically (which I infinitely prefer to computer animated gore which retains a slightly unrealistic sheen in all occurances I've seen of it) which lends gravitas and horror to both the viewer and the performer - you can see the actor's responding very realistically to every cut, ever wound, every nasty bump.

The film does have a few missteps - for all my praise of a logical character development, there are a few moments where the film leapt well away from the confines of logic and did something inexplicable. There are some animated sequences of the threat as well that are just jarring - the film is at its best rooted in practical effects, and would have been better staying with them alone.

At the end of the day though, the performances are all credible (which is a cut above for the genre, sad to say), the practical effects are superb, the script is well composed and thought out, and the production design is simply phenomenal. Being that somewhere between 80 and 90 % of the film takes place on a single pyramid, it has to be might compelling - and the filmmakers do it, they make it compelling. Single location films rely on the location almost being as much of a character as the performers within it - and The Ruins succeeds in marrying performance to location. A sophisticated piece of horror filmmaking. And Ben Stiller of all people got it off the ground!

8/10

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Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008
11:06 pm - CJ7 *Spoilers*

mujubius
The main child character in this film is named "Dicky". I can think of no more apt name. Well, "animal torturing fuckhead" also springs to mind. Possibly "immoral little shit", or "wailing ungrateful heinous wanker". As CJ7 is a children's film though, "Dicky" is as risque as would be allowed I suppose.

Dicky is the major problem with this film. He's supposed to be the window to a magical experience, but he becomes so damned unsympathetic that the film can actually go as far as killing his father without you feeling any particular pity for him.

CJ7 is an alien who is found by a poor man in a rubbish tip. He mistakes it for a toy, and gives it to his son. The film starts with all the right moves - father and son trying to get by, father slaving on worksites for minimum wage to put his son through a private school and offer him more chances in life... we're positioned from the get go to root for these underdogs. Dicky is completely sympathetic at first. And then...

... and then, the film pulls a dream sequence on us where the kid is horrible to everyone using a wide range of devices given to him by CJ7. We of course don't know it's a dream sequence until later. Upon waking up the kid, having been empowered, assumes he can make it all a reality. He then makes the very cute alien CJ7 fight a rabid dog, beats it when it produces no magical items, attempts to drown him in a toilet, and finally throws him in a garbage bin. He yells, rants, raves, and is generally an incredibly unlikeable prick. The film tries to pull a reverse maneuver and have him realise the error of his ways, but it's a lackluster effort and by that time you've lost all connection with him.

This is a Stephen Chow film, and I'm a big fan of his. Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle are hands down some of the funniest, most liberating and enjoyable cinema experiences I've had in the last few years. I really wanted this film to work - Stephen Chow bringing some of that joy and fun to a children's film should have been dynamite. Instead, he made a horrible misstep with his main character that interfered with the enjoyment of the entire film.

Which is all the more a shame when you consider his performance as Dicky's poor father Ti. I loved Chow's performance in this movie, he was the right mixture of determined and helpless - the kind of character that sucks you in as a viewer and has you desperately hoping for things to work out in their favour. CJ7 as a character is great as well, despite its animation being somewhat primitive by today's standards.

A lot of people will maintain the reason I've failed to engage with this film is an inability to connect with the different cultural viewpoint - however I would disagree. The tonal shifts and attempts to renege the mistakes at the film's core are symptomatic of shoddy filmmaking, not different cultural viewpoints. I watch a fair bit of foreign cinema, and I don't think I'm ignorant of the different perspectives between eastern and western film.

In the end, CJ7 just failed for me - it had an ambiguous ending, a horrible central character, inconsistencies of tone, and just generally sloppy filmmaking. I hope Stephen Chow goes back to fantastical kung-fu misadventures for his next film, because no discerning child will buy into what he's done here. Especially if their parents are members of PETA.

4/10

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10:37 pm - A Bittersweet Life *Spoilers*

mujubius
I used to be all about Japanese film, but recently I've turned to Korea for my fix of Asian cinema. The film I watched most recently was the amazing A Bittersweet Life.

The film is a classy noir tale following gangster Sun Woo, a brutally efficient enforcer for Mr Kang. When Mr Kang asks Sun Woo to spy on his young girlfriend while he is away, Sun Woo is forced into a difficult situation - he sympathises with the young woman, and instead of calling his boss when he discovers the girl having an affair, he lets her go. Naturally Kang discovers the deception and deals with the betrayal harshly.

South Korean cinema seems to have a lot to say about revenge, and this film certainly fits that mold. Mr Kang's reaction is horribly over the top - he punishes Sun Woo with incredible severity. The scenes depicting this punishment are some of the most powerful I've watched this year. The terse, simple conversations between the two men are symptomatic of the confusingly wasteful situation. Sun Woo's betrayal is a betrayal of confidence, but as fellow mob bosses express to Mr Kang, he is overreacting in the worst possible way to a man who has served not just loyally but well for seven years. Sun Woo is beaten, buried alive and forced to dig himself out of a mud pit in the driving rain, and ultimately must justify himself to Kang over the phone. Kang not just demands, but needs to know the reasons for Sun Woo's betrayal - and ultimately his demands push Sun Woo too far. Believe me when I say that his escape from Kang's men and his avoidance of his fate is exhilarating cinema. The running time lets you know that he's going to make it, but the film certainly strings you along for the journey.

Sun Woo and Kang mirror one another in their urgency to understand the other - Kang's demands to understand why Sun Woo let the girl go, and Sun Woo's demands to know why Kang is so determined to destroy him. They destroy each other in their ruthless obsession, and the spiral towards the end takes in so many side characters that the final bloodbath is almost a relief to resolve all those conflicts.

I enjoyed this film as it explored the obsessions of men with revenge - if a woman was the catalyst for the conflict, she certainly wasn't the cause. The actions scenes are suburbly choreographed, the acting is great, and the story is sophisticated, albeit guilty of a belaboured ending. As a character study it was a joy - Sun Woo is a complex creation without ever getting bogged down in exposition or tedious rationalisations. The final scene shows him alone in the restaurant that he manages as a front for the illegal activities of Mr Kang. We've seen him in previous scenes a picture of absolute control and composure, eating immaculate desserts and drinking perfect espressos. In this final scene though, a flashback, he examines his reflection in the window before breaking composure to smile broadly and to start shadow boxing with himself. It sums up the man perfectly, a guy who can respond to adrenalin, who can thrive and succeed in chaos despite his absolute control over everything... as an occasional director myself, I love beats like this that represent a character better than any dialogue could manage.

8.5/10

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Monday, November 24th, 2008
11:31 pm - Smart People and Teeth Reviews (Spoilers)

mujubius
Smart People

Smart People is a nice film that stars some very talented performers who carry a script that at times dangerously lacks insight. It deals with a cynical, bitter and cranky English Professor (Dennis Quade) who injures his head in an accident of his own making, thus leading him to hospital where he meets a pretty doctor (Sarah Jessica Parker) and decides to attempt to date her. Due to his injuries he can't drive for six months, leading to his ne'er do well adopted brother (Thomas Haden Church) to move in completely unbidden and act as his chauffeur.

If you've seen the trailers for this film and thought "this comedy doesn't look like it would be funny" then you'd be right - the marketing tried to package it as a comedy, but it's really part of that quirky-character-study-set-to-indie-folk-music genre that's kicking around everywhere right now. It isn't nearly as self-indulgent as Wes Anderson's "slow-zoom-centre-framed-close-up-montage" style (see The Royal Tenanbaums to understand what I'm talking about and get swiftly sick of it) though, and because it chooses to stay with the characters and portray them as humans more than many of its genre-mates, Smart People fares better than most of them.

Ellen Page plays a character that is fascinating - I like to think of her as repressed Republican Juno, as both Juno and her character in this film are strange kinds of mirrors for one another. Her relationship with the ne'er do well uncle is the best and most interesting part of this film, and it's bravely performed by the pair. I wonder honestly if the Uncle was originally an adopted son when the script was written, or he was conveniently made a non-blood relative to make certain plot developments slightly less... uncomfortable.

In any event, this is nicely made, but a little tamer than it should have been, with a few too many loose ends to be completely effective. Good performances make up for a largely bland script.

6/10

Teeth

Teeth was a very effective film for me - it played on fears of sexuality and gender very well, bringing some wonderful Freudian psycho-imagery and channeling a lot of Classical cultural fears. The film is about a girl who has a toothed vagina. She's part of a Christian Youth Movement, a collective expression of chastity. When a seemingly nice boy tries to force himself on the girl however, her vagina takes matters into its own... errr.. teeth. Thus begins a peculiar but very clever tale of empowerment and awakening sexuality.

I watch a lot of films that are filled with lots of inadvertent phallic imagery (go see Troy for some of the most blatant "Cock" imagery you'll ever see). This film therefore delighted me for its use of cunnic imagery. Narrow caves, hollow tree trunks... nature and the female genitalia, all utilised in the cinematography very deliberately.

If I had a complaint to make about the film it's that sometimes it's too obvious. The explanation of fear of a toothed vagina, and its cultural history starts subtle before becoming a voiceover that beats you in the face with the point. The characters can be complex, but at times drift into blatant stereotype territory. The Chaste Christians are sometimes well drawn characters, and other times sexually frustrated kids who only let themselves watch G-Rated Disney Musicals for fear of seeing too much heavy petting in the PG-Rated films. The men in the film are all bastards - each of them is revealed to be somewhat reprehensible (besides the Father interestingly).

The one character that isn't a stereotype however is the central heroine, the carrier of the vagina dentata. She's beautifully played, and even when the script makes a few sudden leaps in logic and motivation, she carries the film forward. It's a bold performance, and for many reasons it's a brave one.

The film makes a wonderful statement too about the inconsistencies of sexual representations in media. The students at school have full diagrams of the penis in their textbooks, it being perfectly okay to see male genitalia. The picture of the vagina though, is covered by an massive obstructive sticker. It seems like high farce, particularly as the Christians try to justify the validity of it to the class - the farce dissipates however, when you start to think about contemporary gender representations and nudity in media. The film plays on this idea in the most fantastic way - it lets you see cocks. Cocks bitten off and left dripping in pools of blood, bleeding stumps of cocks, lumps of penis flesh being eaten by dogs. You will see much violence enacted upon the male sex organ. What you will not ever see is a vagina. The film plays coy with the toothed vagina, a horror invention that the fans at home probably want to see more than anything. Instead, the film plays to convention and only lets you see the penises. Bitten off. It's a subtle message represented in a rather... how shall we say... vigorous manner.

The film will not play well with everyone. As someone who has studied classical theatre and culture though, and recognises the historical significance of vagina dentata and the innate fear that men have of sex, I enjoyed it. I think it was a well-drawn, and innovative idea that has broken from the traditional boundaries of the horror film (you all know what I'm talking about - big masculine figures that hunt down young girls and penetrate them with their large phallic knives) to tell a different kind of horror with a different direction. It's not perfect in execution but goddamn if it isn't important for what it attempted.

8/10.

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Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
9:45 pm - Quantum of Solace Review *spoilers*

mujubius
Last night I had the good fortune to see the Brisbane premiere of the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace. I am an ENORMOUS Bond fan - I spent an inordinate amount of money on the complete box collection, I've watched all the films (even the non-canon ones) several times, and I can tell you all the significant villains and femme fatales of the series. I've been watching Bond films, and when we talk of our great "fandoms", well Bond was one of my earliest - I've been watching the series since I was a little boy. Bond has a bigger place in my psyche than the fucking Star Wars trilogy does!

So Quantum of Solace is awesome, and I loved the shit out of it. It picks up directly from Casino Royale but manages to abandon some of the angst. Bond is cavalier about life because he has learnt to be cold - and with this film, he's discovering that coldness. Ironic that he has to become more fucked up to become more engaging.

Anyway, the film has Bond chasing down La Chiffre's mysterious organisation from the previous film. He's still a very angry, determined man, but he's learning to be more flexible, and to take pleasure where he can. This means elaborate martinis, expensive motels on the government's dollar, and casual sex. Everything that we like Bond for. His desire to get revenge for Vesper's death in the last film though is still a principle driving force.

The action scenes are incredible this time around - the opening car chase picks up right in the middle of the action and is incredibly visceral - I cringed as an enemy car went head-on into a truck. The opening gun barrel view intro has been removed from the start of the film, so when the car chase commences, it catches you off guard. I was unhappy with this move - that iconic stride across the screen with the whirl around always gets my blood pumping with every new Bond release, and missing out on it here made me shattered. However, the film made up for it by the end - something I'll discuss shortly.

The opening titles were great, as Bond-like as you could hope. The theme song "Another Way to Die" grated on my nerves when I anxiously downloaded the mp3 after its announcement - but it works in the film surprisingly well. The thing with it is that as a song I like it, but as a Bond theme it didn't work for me - and I know how dangerous it is to never let things change, but c'mon... after Madonna took the James Bond theme and fucked it with razor sharp blades until it bled and wept and burst all over the eardrums of the world, can you blame me for being dubious about attempts to contemporise the classic style of Bond themes? Jack White can be very fucking funky though, and Alicia Keys has the vocal chops to be able to pull off a big number. They combine fairly well.

The action scenes retain their punch throughout, and they have the grand style you'd expect of a Bond movie. The second major action sequence is a foot chase, and just like the parkour scene from Casino Royale we see Bond's ingenuity - he's athletic, but its his damn resourcefulness and ability to think on his feet that keeps him a step ahead of the enemy. It's a top scene.

By the end credits we've traversed three continents, witnessed mass destruction in almost every popular form of transport (boat, plane, bike, car, truck...), watched fist and axe fights, seen the murderous powers of broken glass, and saved south american peasants from drought. Seriously.

It's Bond, it's fucking good. I recommend it, it's fun - it's no From Russia With Love, but it does live up to the bar set by Casino Royale, and adds a little of the over-the-topness that has made Bond films beloved by the masses.

Oh, and that gun-barrel view I was talking about? It pops up at the very end of the film, like a statement of intent. We've dealt with the origin story. We've dealt with the angst. And when James Bond returns as the credits predictably tell us he will - it will be Bond as we know him. I can hardly wait.

8/10.

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Tuesday, July 1st, 2008
11:29 am - Red Sun

mujubius
You've got to love a western epic that combines the late great Charles Bronson and Japanese national treasure Toshiru Mifune. A western featuring a samurai is a unique proposition, particularly for the time this movie was made.

Yet here it is, Red Sun, a samurai starring spaghetti western. Charles Bronson is part of a gang of thieves who hold up a train that happens to be transporting the Japanese Ambassador to Washington, along with his samurai guards. Bronson is betrayed by his partner, and narrowly escapes death. His partner also makes off with an ancestral sword, intended as a gift to the US President and kills one of the samurai guards while he's at it.

Thus commences a reluctant teamup between Toshiru, the remaining samurai, and Charles, the cowboy who wants revenge - and his share of the stolen gold. The power balance between the pair is fascinating, first belonging to Toshiru, then shifting as Charles regains his guns and the duo step further into the murky territory that he knows so well. Toshiru's character is surprisingly complex, as the plotline starts out drawing him with western cliches of Japanese culture. As the movie progresses though, we see his pride, his desperation to recapture the nobility that is being stripped from his caste back home, and the fervent hope that he can do his ancestors proud when opportunities to live up to his heritage are being taken away in the new era.

Bronson's character is a familiar rogue, the kind of likeable villain that we've seen in a hundred other westerns. The familiar cliches are in place, the friendly whorehouse, the wide vistas, the road journey across the west. There are so many cliched cultural depictions across this movie, from the commanche Indians to the Mexicans, to everyone in between that for all the uniqueness of the samurai angle, the movie never really strays from its roots, never becomes unfamiliar.

The final scenes of the group caught in a brutal attack by the Commanches in a field of long, overgrown tangled grass are brilliant, an action sequence that borrows heavily from the Kurosawa school - an obvious choice when your movie features Kurosawa's favourite actor. The ending is well played though obvious if you've ever watched any Japanese cinema, or many of the westerns that borrow from Japanese tradition (e.g. The Magnificent Seven, a remake of The Seven Samurai).

I highly recommend this film, though if you can't stand genre flicks like Spaghetti Westerns than you probably won't get much from this.

7/10

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Sunday, June 22nd, 2008
10:15 pm - Assassin's Creed and Puzzle Quest

mujubius
Assassin's Creed was awesome, but riddled with some flaws. The repetition started getting on my nerved after a while, but that didn't change the pure exhilaration of free-running across all the ancient cities. There were precious few flag-relays amongst the myriad missions you needed to complete through the game which was disappointing - it was nice having an excuse to run helter-skelter across the rooftops barely in control. The time-limited assassination missions were okay, but nowhere near as fun as the flag chasing. The storyline has quite justifiably frustrated a lot of players over time, as it ends more like a prologue than a full-fledged tale of its own. I would like some of the future storyline to have been explored, as the storyline of Altair in the past did not quite satisfy - Altair failed to emote, and so his hubris resulting in a fall from grace, and relearning humility did not effect me like I hoped it would. Perhaps a better voice actor and some facial animations would have helped - I'm all for mysterious men in hoods, but I'd like a little more detail when I'm supposed to care about them. In any event, it was a very fun game and one that I will probably return to some other day just for that joyous free-running.

8/10.

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is crack. Pure, brilliant crack. Made by an Australian studio which gives it extra cred in my book. Puzzle Quest is a fusion of puzzle gameplay where you must match three or more of the same type of gem (a la Bejewelled), and an RPG where you must make your avatar powerful enough to face the evil villain that threatens to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!! It is a peculiar matching that works brilliantly. The storyline is surprisingly complex, with interesting political consequences for your actions, and very dark stories at the end of the game. Its virtues have been expounded everywhere, from games press to Penny Arcade, and for good reason - this is the kind of game that scratches your itch for casual gaming whilst giving you some meaty RPG goodness. The version I played was the Nintendo DS version, but the game is available on pretty much every game system out there. Grab it from Xbox Live, on the PC, on the DS, or on the PS3. HIGHLY recommended!

9/10.

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Saturday, June 14th, 2008
3:35 pm - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull *Spoilerfific Review*

mujubius
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull... hmmm... what to say... well, let's start with the bad. I have three very major problems with the movie.

1. Okay, I'm going to put it out there. Shia La Beouf is shit. I don't like him. I liked him for precisely the length of one film - Holes. He had the advantage of one of the best youth theatre scripts out there for that one though. Shia was the worst thing about Indy IV at every moment. He was the thing that stopped me from accepting several of the scenes. Spielberg's slightly unhealthy obsession with the young man has seen him placed central to some set-pieces that would have done better without him.

Seriously - it was about the point where he was swinging through the trees like Tarzan, following a crowd of friendly monkeys that I thought "wow, I hope this little runt falls off and is devoured by flesh-eating ants". He made me angry, and the movie would have benefited greatly from less of his presence.

Oh - and the convenient plot devices utilised to make him more useful were pathetic as well. "Oh, I dropped out of school cos I'm a rebel but stayed just long enough to become awesome at fencing so now I can be in a big setpiece battle with Cate Blanchett before having a swing across some of the most conveniently places CGI vines of all time!" I'm sorry, but what? I bought him riding the motorbike, I bought him being a greaser, but it was about the point they left America that I stopped buying into the character and thought "Spielberg and Lucas, there's gotta be cheaper ways to make love to a young man".

And when that little bitch picked up the hat at the end, and Spielberg played that little moment where he started to put the hat on, as though taking on the mantle... I nearly vomited into my shoes and held my breath. Had he put it on his head and walked out wearing it, I would have sworn very loudly and angrily into the theatre. Thankfully, Indy reclaimed it. But it was very close for a moment there.

2. There was too much CGI. WAAAAAAAYYYY too much. This movie needed more practical effects. The thing with CGI is it looks glossed, not quite real, even at its best. That is why nothing ever feels very dangerous in CGI. The big car chase through the jungle was exhilarating, until the effects became too obvious, then it was just pantomime in front of a green-screen. The big fist fights between Indy and thug number one... well, it made me sad that the CGI surroundings took away the tension in their fight. I remember when Indy had the fist fight on top of the plane with the big Nazi in Raiders, and it was awesome because it was nasty - you could feel the punches. The fist fights here, I was never in doubt about the good guys' victory - and this in the film with an ageing hero where his mortality should have been even more emphasised! It did give a few iconic moments... the image of Indy standing in front of the mushroom cloud burned itself into my brain... but those moments were two few to really appreciate.

3. Finally... Aliens? The mystical artifact was an alien? This film felt like it was supposed to be named Indiana Jones and the Tardis of Doom. "Were they from outer-space?" "No, they were inter-dimensional beings - from the spaces between spaces." More like "was this exposition wank?" "No, it was friction-burn with wank - from the space tugging too much between wanks." Indiana has always encountered mystical artifacts from mythology and legend. The Ark, the Grail, the Shankhara stones... and to bring him back they used goddamn aliens??????? In the end, it sounded like a Dr Who and Indy crossover. This story belonged in fan-fiction, not on the screen. And that is far from a compliment.

I'm more indignant about this than maybe I should be, but I can't help it, it's made me annoyed! I used to want to be Indy, I very nearly studied History at Uni and worked towards becoming an Archaeologist all because of a life-long love of a hat and a whip (and making it up as I go). I've always loved the booby traps, the mysticism, the sense of lost civilisations and peoples. I was thrilled that Indy IV was going to South America, and was hoping for something exciting. INSTEAD they skimmed over the cool stuff to run with the silly stuff. Sigh.

Of course, all this implies that I hated it when I didn't. I actually enjoyed myself. Harrison Ford still has it, making the character all that I expected. Karen Allen was as sparky as I was hoping she would be, and seeing Indiana and Marianne back together again was great! Ray Winstone was ace (he always is) as was John Hurt (who also always is). SOME of the setpieces were very thrilling like the motorbike chase, and walking into the lost valley for the first time... and some of the character touches were also nice - shitty little Shia throwing a snake to Indy to use as a rope for instance was fantastic.

In the end, it was still a crowd-pleasing spectacle that referenced many of the right things, but was too in love with modern devices to really succeed as a return to the hey-day of the series. An objective score would be 6/10, but as I'm far from objective, and a lot of the nostalgia just worked for me I'm giving it...

7/10.

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Sunday, May 25th, 2008
10:17 pm - Iron Man

mujubius
As always any review I write is well behind the eight-ball. Iron Man came out about two or three weeks ago, and I saw it in its first weekend. By now, most of you have already seen it. Nevertheless, I thought I would spill my guts on how I found the film, to join the masses of opinions already opined.

Iron Man is good. Like really good. Like I am somewhat flabbergasted at how well they've translated a character that I've never really liked so well to the screen.

Robert Downey Jr is Tony Stark - he is note perfect in projecting the character and through good humour and a commendably nuanced performance makes you care a great deal about the titular superhero. His journey from arrogant genius to prisoner of war to fallible hero determined to do right however he can hits every button. Like the comic superhero, he's a work in progress - his armour is constantly evolving, he's an engineer experimenting and refining his designs all the time. He's such a boy at times - like in the very conclusion - but he is still a wonderful hero.

The supporting cast are all phenomenal also, particularly Jeff Bridges as the villainous Obadiah. Yet the man to be commended most is Jon Favreau for the direction. He has captured the essence of Iron Man beautifully, and told an origin story as it should be told. His nods to comic fans (War Machine and S.H.I.E.L.D references in particular) made my day.

Between Downey Jr and Favreau we have the best comic film to have come out in the last couple of years. Add to it the very potent message of arms broking being a dangerous practice, and you have a summer blockbuster that has the audacity to make a point. See this film. If you've avoided watching most comic book films, this is the one to go to.

9/10

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Sunday, March 30th, 2008
12:21 am - The Aristocrats and Pride of Baghdad

mujubius
The Aristocrats

Okay, so I watched this two years ago. Nevertheless, I rewatched it today and was reminded how great this documentary is!

If you have no idea about this doco, let me fill you in. The Aristocrats is the greatest comedy in-joke of the century - it's been around since vaudevillian days, and it is the joke that comedians tell to other comedians, the kind of joke that isn't made for an audience. Comedians like Chevy Chase would hold parties where comedians would get loaded and take it in turns telling this joke.

The joke goes: "A man walks into a producer's office, and says "have I got the show for you!" The producer goes "okay, let's see it.""

From there, the comedian will improvise the most disgusting things possible. The joke is traditionally told as a "family act" as the man brings his family in with him. Everything from bestiality, to incest, to shit and piss and vomit and cum and blood - the comedian riffs, like a jazz improvisation with the joke, doing their best to reach new heights of filth and depravity. The comedian will go on for as long as they like (some apocryphal counts talk of 90 minute long Aristocrats jokes) till they finally reach the end of the 'act'. At this point, we return to the regular structure of the joke.

"The producer says "wow, that was some act. What do you guys call yourselves?" And the man says "the Aristocrats".

That's it. That's the joke. It's an unfulfilling punchline, and it's not the kind of joke that works with an audience - at least not one that isn't familiar with the concept. But as an exercise in the primal carnality of human behaviour, of vulgarity of language and concept pushed to its utter limit, this is the greatest joke of all time.

The documentary interviews over a hundred comedians, talking about the joke - and gets a large number of them telling it. We're not talking unknown comedians either - we're talking George Carlin, Bob Saget, Billy Connelly, Robin Williams, Drew Carey, Whoopi Goldberg, Jon Stewart, Eric Idle... it's an impressive list, and nearly all of them let slip a few words you don't always hear from their mouth.

As a documentary it fails - the filming is sloppy and the structure is lacking. But as an insight into the nature of comedy and the amazing ability of the format to push boundaries unforeseen - it is exceptional. This was one of the best films I saw the year it came out - it was a shame that I forgot about it when I was writing my top ten list of the time, as it clearly deserved to be on it. I'll settle instead for giving it its due now. Do you yourself a favour and go and see it immediately - you'll laugh and you'll laugh and you'll laugh. Or you'll be too offended to make it through. For me though - I've been making up my own tellings of it all over again. Anyone want to have an Aristocrats party?

9/10.

Pride of Baghdad

I'll keep this short. Pride of Baghdad is the best graphic novel I've read in... well, a while. It is one of the best Graphic Novels I've ever read for that matter. Every possible note is hit right in this simple, but very deep tale of a group of lions who escape from a zoo when it is bombed in the US attack of Iraq. It is based on a true story - a group of lions were sited and inadvertently shot by a group of US soldiers in Baghdad.

It serves as an allegory for the invasion, but never in a laboured way - it's a family tale, and a tale of wondrous beauty and complexity and nobility and... god, a thousand superlatives.

The artwork is wondrous, colourful and vibrant and rich - the style is very picturebook like, with a rawness - the pencil lines are there, and the various elements are scribbled in, rather than the smooth lines of a superhero comic. It is still possibly one of the best drawn graphic novels I've seen, in addition to the fantastic writing.

This Graphic Novel deserves every single one of its many awards. Read it as soon as you get the chance.

10/10

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Monday, March 17th, 2008
9:09 pm - Movie Bonanza

nathophilia
I've just recovered from a back operation and a botched wisdom tooth extraction, which would stop most mortal men but luckily for you turds that hang around the cesspit (I made a toilet joke, someone send me to the pun-itentiary, because things can only go downhill from here) your intrepid , ever irrepressible nathophilia has not been idle in that three week period.

Oh no, I have watched a veritable extravaganza of films and will vomit back the verdict on these cinematic mater/disasterpieces in bite sized gobbets. So without further adieu, ready, aim, fire.

Hot Fuzz: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wrights follow up film from Shaun of the Dead is a hilarious yet creepy horror comedy. Mix the Wicker Man, Police Academy and a splash of buddy cop films and you have a film that succeeds where Shaun failed. The horror is effective and the humour is spot on. 9/10

Rambo: In my opinion this movie is equal to if not better than First Blood. Filmed so it looks like a grainy 80's action film Rambo is a stark, brutal and uncompromising film which says a lot about the human soul and has a none too subtle political subtext attached to it. 8.5/10

Knocked Up: I wasn't expecting to like this one but sharp writing and believable performances from the Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl made this film a definite font runner for best comedy of the year for me. 8.5/10

30 Days of Night: Captured the look of the comic book but not the feel. Poor casting let this film down more than anything. Plus where is fucking John Ikos!? Above average vampire film. 7/10

Enemy Mine: Dodgy sci-fi film with Louis Gossett Jr (as an asexual alien WTF!?) and Dennis Quaid. I liked the themes about tolerance and friendship but not enough to give this film more than 5/10.

1408: John Cusack stays in a haunted hotel room and does an excellent job portraying a regular guy losing his shit. Thumbs up to Cusack for not having one of those "Don't do that. What are you fucking retarded?" moments that happen in 99% of all horror films and also to the director for doing a great job of building a cool haunted hotel room without needing to have the room be in and of itself lethal. Thumbs down for the shitty looking ghosts (although they were in it for about 5 seconds). 7/10

Vacancy: A surprisingly enjoyable little thriller in the vein of classic Hitchcock. Works by being short and playing on suspense. Luke Wilson's everyman charm also works a treat, those Wilson's are eminently watchable even if the film sucks, honestly they are like cinematic lube. Everything goes down easier with a Wilson. Fortunately this film was good. 7.5/10

Sweeney Todd: A crackingly good musical. Definitely not for kids. Top marks for Johnny Depp's vocal performance and as always his acting is great. Also credit due to Helena Bonham Carter playing the conflicted character well and also for being a complete hottie in my books. Burton you lucky dog. 8/10

The Condemned: A mean spirited, hypocritical and hollow film. No redeeming value whatsoever. It's films like this that make me ashamed to have eyes. WWE turkey slapping us with a "Tuning into violent television and voyeuristically enjoying it is bad mmmk" message is completely illogical. 0/10 and if I thought giving it a negative score was of any worth I would. I felt dirty for having watched this film.

The Assassination of Jesse James: A bleak, slow burning western. A lot of brooding and talking but when the violence comes the intensity of the film rams it home. Good work from Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Rockwell give this film the pathos needed to succeed as a compelling character study. 9/10

In the Valley of Elah: Gave me No Country for Old Men flashbacks by using most of the same actors. That aside it was quite a poignant little film about the devastating impact of war on the psyche of young soldiers and the relationship between a father and son. Tommy Lee Jones is stellar as the father determined to find answers about what happened to his son. Jones is in his element doing what he does best, playing world weary yet tough old men ill at ease with a world that is moving beyond their firmly held beliefs and values. Susan Sarandon and Ashley Judd provide solid support. 8/10

Beowulf: Excellent voice acting and fantastic visuals however the plot deviation from the original is unnecessary and adds little to the film. Given certain casting choices it actually makes reinforces some stereotypes/cliches and is a little insulting to men and women everywhere. Nice and bloody though. 7.5/10

Idiocracy: A so so comedy from Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge. Good premise let down by poor execution. Stars Luke Wilson so is still easy to watch though. 6/10

Rise of the Footsoldier: Decent british gangster film. Based on a true story it lacks the humour of Lock Stock or Snatch but makes up for it with gritty nastiness and some solid acting. The bit involving the missing heroin is excellent. 7.5/10

Black Snake Moan: Quirky drama about redemption starring Samuel L Jackson and Christina Ricci. I really enjoyed this film for some reason though i'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly why. I just really liked the characters and the way their relationships developed. 8/10

Stardust: Does Neil Gaiman ever do a thing wrong? 9/10

Eastern Promises: The film that a History of Violence should have been. Full of ambiguity, change and menace Eastern Promises is an impressive film. Also features a wickedly brutal fight scene. 9/10

Legend: Classic and it features Tom Cruise before he became a complete loon. Also features Big Red as the villain so bonus points. 7/10

Loose change: Interesting conspiracy theory "doco" about September 11. Not too sure about the actual evidence behind it but its food for thought and wouldn't be surprising if it was true but maybe I just think that because i've read way too much Watchmen.

Well thats pretty much a wrap. I'd say in summary i've watched a shitload of good movies and have been fortunate enough to only watch one or two bad ones and at least one of those featured a Wilson thus easing the pain significantly.

Catch you on the flipside,

Nathophilia signing off.

PS - A quick plug for my Words of a Sane Man in an Insane World blog. Search for username nathophilia on livejournal to check out my other blog. It's pretty much humorous perspectives on current events, my stand up in written form. I update pretty regularly and with luck would like to collate the material into a book once there is enough there. Have a look and hopefully a laugh and feel free to leave comments or criticisms. I double posted one or two of the non film related posts I put on the Cesspool over there as well so don't be shocked if you see something you've read before, although I have tried to keep it to a minimum and the two will be very separate moving forward.

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2:46 pm - Miscellanea...

mujubius
Vantage Point Review

Vantage Point was a good film that could have been phenomenal until it jumped the shark. Taking the same conceit as Kurosawa's Rashomon, this film told the story of the same event from several different persepctives. Eventually however, all these perspectives intertwined into one narrative in a cliffhanger style that made it more like an episode of 24 than anything.

The film shows a Presidential assassination at a peace summit in Salamanca, Spain. The shooting is coupled with a bombing immediately after. We are shown the event in the first instance from the inside of a newscast van, and it is a wonderfully tense introduction to the thriller. From here we follow the perspectives of a secret service agent (one who has formerly saved the president and is back on the job with a few jitters - *cough*inthelineoffire*cough*), a duped Spanish cop, an American tourist (played with surprising vulnerability by Forest Whitaker), the President himself, and eventually the terrorist point of view. It is shot with deliberate skill, and builds a lot of atmosphere as we progress through the different viewpoints. However, it is in the final act that all semblance of sense is lost. Our secret service agent becomes an invincible superman in a car chase that seems to take place on the same three streets over and over again. The filming gets so shaky here that I'm convinced they were just driving around the block constantly. Our invincible secret service agent strides through near death experience after near death experience, shaking off damage like the Terminator. It's a shame that this thriller, which managed to start with such a tightly woven plot just spirals out of credibility like this. But for the horrible ending (complete with a homoerotic gush of "I've got you Mr President" that was accompanied with such pure loving calf eyes the audience spontaneously exploded into laughter) this could have been a great film. As it stands, it was just okay.

6.5/10.

Conan - Xbox 360

Short review this one. Conan is, plain and simple, a God of War clone. It uses a similar sense of style, they've fashioned the character into a misogynist demi-god of sorts, the score is nearly identical... and half naked women get you bonus points.

The difference between the two games is that God of War does it all in context - the brilliant storytelling and sense of character make every moment a central part of the experience. In Conan, there is no such context.

I am a devotee of Robert Howard's character, I've read his stories since I was 10. I read the comics. I watched the movies. I watched the animated series. I am ridiculously steeped in Conan lore. So when I tell you that this game is constructed by people who know nothing about the character, believe me when I tell you that. Whoever designed and wrote this game just jotted down a few character notes and checked out a couple of Frazetta paintings. Such a shame. The gameplay is a passable hack and slash, but nothing exceptional enough for you to care.

5.5/10.

Stephanie Meyer - Twilight

Don't ask me why I read this. Don't ask me why I thought it would be a bit of a laugh to read bad vampire porn - the newest tactic to create a whole new generation of Mills and Boon tragics. Twilight may just be the book to make you lose faith in the youth of today, and in the internet community in general.

LEt me make this review quick. This book is shit.

Now let me make it long.

Twilight couldn't be much more derivitive if it tried. There's not much more it could have ripped off without expanding its running time - and that's a whole lot of dead trees sacrificed at the altar of really fucking poor writing. Did you like Buffy and Angel's romance? Would you like to read it as written by virginal emo kids? Like to read Anne Rice through the same filter? This has everything you've ever hated about vampire fiction and amps it up to eleven.

Seriously - this is a book where vampires are such beautiful, magical creatures that they don't die in sunlight - they fucking glitter in it. As I read the turgid prose that described these wonderful "alabaster god-like creatures" glittering in the sunlight - all I could think of was those anime moments where an effeminate pretty boy smiles a big vacuous smile while lots of sparkle flutter around him.

Of course, that's because I have a sense of humour. Sadly, there's no humour in this book. The closest we get to it is the Mary-Sue main character is very clumsy and falls over a lot. And even that is written tragically and overbearingly - "alas, alack, I had fallen again. Spiralling to the ground, striking it with force and crying out in pain. I was cursed - the world was so uneven and unstable. Nothing could be upright again." Oh, and the metaphors do get as shit as that. At least when the silly bitch is falling over she's got something to cry about though. Once she starts dating the insipid vampire cunt known as Edward it's all over. Then everytime she falls, he's there to catch her. And each time he catches her there's at least two pages dedicated to how awesomely awesome he feels.

By awesome I mean cold, unmoving, like a statue. In fact, she describes his statue like qualities so often I've started to wonder if the hideous trite narrator couldn't just build a boyfriend out of plaster of paris and a ceramic vagina. I'd say a ceramic cock, but that would be implying the author wrote the character with any understanding of gender at all. Edward is a pathetic teenage girl who talks in Anne Rice cliches which is what pisses me off. He's a prissy bitch with flowery vocabulary. He's the single goth girl at the library.

Certainly a plaster boyfriend would be less condescending, less hideously overbearing. Meyer makes the depth of emotion between the two characters so elaborate that all the sighing homebody tragics who fantasise about this shit miss something fundamental - he's an arse to her. He is a hideous, horrible guy who knows how much older he is and treats her like a little girl. Fine if they were friends, but apparently he wants to bone her. Hmmm.

And for fuck sake, how much neck nuzzling can you take? His cold, unresponsive statue like lips running over the girl's neck all the fucking time because if they make out he'll lose control and decide to eat her instead. So she stays still, apparently paralysed by his amazing scent (you know, that's how a skunk stays out of danger - are vampires really appealing skunks? With glitter?) while he "brushes his lips across the nape of her neck". Judging by the effect it has on the character and the way that fans gush about it online, I figured it must be an amazing thing. So I tried it - just brushing my lips across my girlfriend's neck for a few minutes. She was sick of it in less than one. Guess what ladies? IT'S NOT ROMANTIC, IT'S MILDLY CREEPY!!! Of course, my lips are warm and human. They are not alabaster and cold. So for any of those girls at home who want to imagine what a relationship is like - Sniggle up with a shop dummy for three hours and run a set of dentures over your neck for twenty minutes at a time while you smell some mind dulling drugs. Maybe a mild dose of chloroform with lavendar.

Oh, and final point. Edward is dating Bella, the main character, because she smells like food. And not just food - but really goddamn good food. In fact, I think the two of them are together on the basis of smell alone.

I hope Bella gets especially emo in future books, whines more about her appearance and how Edward shouldn't love her. Then she can cut off her fucking nose, because that is the only way to end the relationship. Then Edward can eat the nose, and realise that she tastes the way she is: full of shit. Then some badass Native American werewolves can run in at the end and start fucking everyone up. As quickly as they can before they start sniffing the air and deciding that they've no longer got penises and that they're mildly aroused by the Venus de Milo.

I hope you never write again Stephanie Meyer. Take your money and run, and go and become something useful like a janitor, so that your children grow up knowing that life is about contributing meaningfully, not cashing in on mediocrity.

2/10. The two points are for 1) succesfully creating tension when, about 400 pages into the book something other than "Wow, I'm angsting. Wow, my neck sure is brushed by your lips a lot" happens. It's not much tension, but it's there. The other mark is for interesting parental figures. Shame that Bella interacts with them poorly (and is apparently more prescient and knowledgeable than them despite being an emo 16 year old with a plaster fetish).

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Friday, February 15th, 2008
2:46 pm - Top Ten TV Shows of 2007

mujubius
This is pretty much the last list I have, unless I do a few random lists - most likely those lists would appear on my regular journal at mujubius. In summary of everything though, 07 was a great year - I am looking forward to 08, a year where my disposable income will be greatly reduced, but my free time greatly increased. There's a discrepancy there, but we'll manage! Oh, and with regards to this list - it was a good year for Australian TV for me. I don't think any Australian shows have ever featured on this list before, so it's very exciting to have a year where they pop up twice in the main ten and twice in the honourable mentions!

10. Californication

This show surprised me - I found myself quite enjoying it in spite of myself. It should have been something that I would hate - the pretentious ponderings of a Bill Hicks pose-a-like whom the world believes is the literary equivelant of Ghandi yet we never see anything resembling great insight. The reason I ended up liking it is that it was a soap opera that punched the right buttons. It wasn't a controversial new show or whatever the press releases said - it was a soapie. A good one at that. David Duchovny's main character was a likeable rogue if you put aside his constant badgering of his ex. The side characters were great with well drawn relationship structures that captured honest human interaction alongside LA chic-coolness. There was a lot of gratuitous fucking and titty which was about as controversial as it ever got - and I don't find titty or the subject of fucking to be particularly controversial, so I had no problem with it (beyond the extreme tacked on nature of some of the scenes - clearly they thought the show would fall apart without the token boob or six). It made my Monday nights enjoyable.

9. The Henry Rollins Show

Yeah, I'm a complete Henry fanboy, I freely admit it. I think the man is inspiring, hilarious and formidable. He's a fascinating speaker, and the kind of personality I aspire to be (minus the workaholic part - which is why I WILL FAIL!!!! hehe). His TV show is fantastic - a chat show with relevant, interesting guests from the world of comedy, arts and music who discuss important things. Henry knows and is known by so many people which is why this show succeeds - as a host interviewing people, he lacks subtlety and doesn't draw information out of them like a skillful interviewer, instead blasting in head first. Yet for the manifesto of the show it works - it is a dirt cheap talk show filmed in a basement with political music acts. It was an internet phenomenon, now on DVD. Great viewing.

8. The Chasers War on Everything

The Chaser team don't do satire - they do outright assault. Their approach to pranks is funny, but their approach to mainstream media backlash is funnier. The Chaser were always entertaining this year not just in their show - but in the headlines. APEC was probably the summit (pun totally intended) of their achievement list. My favourite part of the show though remains their ceaseless taunting of the various Aussie current affairs programs. I've made fun of them for years, but the Chaser guys do it much better! This show is not just funny - but necessary. It can be hit and miss at times, but it is more important that irreverent parody and bubble bursting sit at the forefront of media than to be perfect every time.

7. The Office

I hated the American series in its first season - however, as time has gone on and the show has found its own identity it has transformed into a sophisticated, hilarious comedy of its own. Steve Carrel is no match for Ricky Gervais but he doesn't need to be - in the American one the supporting cast have stepped up in a major way to carry this show from one man showcase into ensemble territory. The show is all the better for having found its own identity, and is quite frankly the funniest show on television.

6. Lost

Lost is a troublesome show - it gives you some of the most riveting television available anywhere before opting into weeks of bollocksy episodes with dull, trite flashbacks and no interesting revelations. Season three dipped its head dramatically for a while there - but then it came back with a vengeance at the end of the series, giving some amazing episodes building up to the conclusion. The news is that the makers have set an ending point and shortened all the future seasons - and that is extremely good news. With a purpose and less season length to wallow in Lost could be the greatest show on television.

5. Sideshow

This Paul McDermott hosted variety hour filled with standup comedy, music, circus and burlesque was stunning. Just as much miss as hit it was nevertheless a bold attempt to bring something different to Australian television. Filled with some of the blackest wit and vulgar acts (a next-to-nude cabaret dancer playing Marie Antoinette humping the shit out of a cake comes to mind) right alongside sublime performances (the tributes to the Go Betweens, Tripod and Paul joining forces for some serious and beautiful singing, Tim Minchin seriously contesting for the award of funniest man in Australia) Sideshow was never dull. It might not always have worked (some of the magic acts dragged, the Threatening Bears weren't actually that funny, and eventually the shock value of lifting car batteries off the ground with your nipples wears off) but it was always compelling, and a fantastically entertaining ADULT variety hour. In a world where Rove can get away with his neutered pathetic guise of comedy, Sideshow was necessary and brilliant. Shame it didn't last.

4. Battlestar Galactica

This show has not failed me yet. Season three continued humanity's exodus in space with great style - more important statements to make on contemporary politics and the state of the world - more brilliant action - and more shocking revelations. BG is close to the best show on television, and knowing that it will end after Season Four has only made it all the more compelling as we all wait to see how this amazing saga concludes.

3. Heroes

This is a slow-burning show that is fantastically rewarding for loyal sequential viewing. You can't help but be drawn in to the world of these wonderfully realised characters. Each episode guides perfectly to the next, controlling the central mystery and storyline tighter than any other show on television. In terms of writing and overall vision, this is a tour de force. None of the mysteries felt protracted in this show unlike Lost - we were given information without endless cock-teasing and each revelation was incredibly satisfying. Heroes is a masterclass in how to structure a long-running tv show, and one that I hope many other shows learn from.

2. Dr Who

Dr Who is more than a TV show - it is an institution. David Tennant's Doctor is wonderfully played - and never more so than here in Series Three (of the revamped series). Where season one and two were about the relationship between the Doctor and Rose, Season Three is all about the Doctor. We are told the story of a companion as well, the wonderful Martha - but really, the dynamic between the Doctor and Rose had built to a point where he no longer felt alone. In Season Three he is once more the sole survivor of his race. Did I say sole survivor? I mean almost sole survivor... for there is of course the lurking menace of the Master, hiding himself at the end of time itself. The Doctor Who mythos was serviced well all throughout Season Three, with a particularly amazing three episode run - episodes 8 through 10 - making up some of the best television ever seen anywhere. Heartbreaking, terrifying, genuine... those episodes need to be experienced by ANYONE that enjoys television. The conclusion of the series strained credibility somewhat, but still managed to be uplifting and wholly appropriate.

1. The Mighty Boosh

Never has a television show managed to play so perfectly off my aesthetic. Surreal and absurdist with elements of pantomime, classic comedy elements and a clever sense of pop-culture dissection, The Mighty Boosh is not only the funniest show on TV but the cleverest. It is centred on Howard Moon and Vince Noir, chic characters that are eminently quotable with some of the most sublime repartee I've ever seen. Season Two is where the series excels for me, with episodes like "Nana-Geddon" where an apocalyptic grandmother comes to life to knit people to death, and "Old Greg" where an androgynous moustachioed Rick James impersonation from under the sea tries to marry unwary men, offering them Baileys and the spirit of funk. And its Mangina. The Boosh might be completely absurd, but it is always underpinned with a sense of story - and with genuinely likeable characters. It's impossible not to get caught up in Vince's relentless optimism, and Howard's pathetic obsessions. Naboo is hilarious as the pint-size shaman with his familiar Bollo, the Gorilla. Just about everything is perfectly structured in this show and then... it gets musical. Then its even more amazing. Once you're introduced to Crimping, you'll forever want to do it. Easily the Number One show of the year.

Honourable Mentions:

The Librarians

I hope we never again see someone try to revive the interminably long sitcoms of Australian past - Hey Dad and its ilk have never risen here again for a good reason - because the perpetually inane and drawn out nature of the American sitcom can kill and destroy good characters and good premises as quickly as bad writing. Britain have the right format - six episodes, nice narrative arcs. That's why Australia was able to produce two amazing series this year - because we weren't interminably dragged through increasingly ludicrous ideas that get farmed out in order to keep a show running. The Librarians was a brilliant mish-mash of Arrested Development, The Office and a few other shows with great characters and a brilliant blending of observational comedy with farce and the odd poo joke. The six episodes this series played over were great, very funny and well written. It's on DVD now for cheapish - you should check it out!

Supernatural

Supernatural was capable of moments of brilliance, with some of the best character driven humour I've seen in television. It's also a little guilty of posing, and trying to hard - funny moments get pushed a bit too much, jokes end up being reiterated unnecessarily. Nevertheless, the overarching storyline has been VERY satisfying, with a bigger picture that makes it easier to forgive the odd dud epsiode. Supernatural is both a success and a victim of its very attractive lead stars. Some people tune in just for the perv factor. Others tune out because they can't stand pretty people (or shows that do their best to accentuate the prettiness of said people). If you're tuning out for the latter reason - put aside your issues and rest assured that the show is worth watching.

Summer Heights High

This was the sleeper hit of the year - everywhere I go, kids quote lines from this show at me. People do random Jonah and Ja'mie impersonations. And everyone who finds out I am studying to become a drama teacher wants to know if I'll be the next Mr G... the series, for anyone who missed it was a mockumentary about life in an Australian High School, with the three main characters played by Chris Lilley. He is chameleonic in his roles - hilarious, yet so adept at capturing the nuances of the characters he creates. The thing that stopped this show from being in the Top Ten is that it verges a little too close to documentary rather than mockumentary. Everyone who saw this show was marvelling at how it captured school so accurately. I definitely noticed it. But its observations were often made in the name of verisimilitude rather than entertainment. In the end, stronger scriptwriting was what the series needed - but Chris Lilley's performances were spot on the whole way, and the bit parts around him were all amazingly true to life.

Babylon 5

I've only watched the first five episodes of this series, yet I like what I've seen a lot. The first thing you notice about a sci-fi series is its look. Babylon 5 looks incredible in its animated scenes - I can hardly believe how its CGI hasn't aged like every other show from the era that used it. The aliens, and the aesthetics of the sets however are definitely aged. The show defeats these weaknesses by having some of the best scriptwriting I've seen on television. The scripts are so strong that they nearly distract from teh people who are acting them - you're more interested in the quality of the words than the onscreen action which is singularly unique in television. Of course, it is far better to have a show that blends script and action - but it makes for an interesting contrast. Almost theatrical, it barely feels like television. I cna't wait to watch more.

Stargate SG-1

I watched a couple of seasons of Stargate SG-1 this year - it's a fun show that has a VERY longterm vision of the galactic conflict with enemies the Ga-ould. A few more interesting revelations and more time spent on the overarching story would have made me happier rather than the very 'planet of the week' format most of what I saw had adopted. It still has some of the warmest characters in sci-fi, and is a great comfort show - though not a challenging one.

30 Rock

I need to see more of this show, simply because it's the funniest one I've watched in ages. Tina Fey is brilliant, Alec Baldwin has impeccable dry wit - it's a fantastic ensemble comedy.

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Thursday, February 14th, 2008
9:15 am - Nathophilia's Top 10 Lists for 2007

nathophilia
I've been so inspired by Mujubius' Top 10 Lists that i've decided to put together some of my own. No doubt you will see some similarities in some of our choices but also hopefully some differences and perhaps different perspectives on WHY we liked certain things. These are in no particular order since putting things in order is an entirely different task. Also I went with top 10 comic books as opposed to books as I don't get a lot of time to read novels anymore, and although I have read a few novels I don't think any of them have topped any of the comics i've been reading

Top 10 movies

300
THIS IS SPARTA!! Zack Snyder's film actually improved upon Frank Miller's comic (a rare thing on a regular occasion, even more rare when you're talking about a write of the calibre of Frank Miller. Heavily stylised, full of excellent performances (and abs!) and loaded with awesome bits from start to finish. I have a scientific theory which proves 300 is the greatest film of all time. Watch 300 with one or more friends and whenever someone says "awesome!, cool!, that was totally sweet!" or any similar expression/derivation thereof then everyone does a shot. By the end of the opening credits you should be completely intoxicated, within the first 10 minutes of the film you should have severe alcohol poisoning, 30 minutes you will need your stomach pumped, halfway through you should be dead and if you make it through the whole film then you are SPARTAN !....I love science.

Pan's Labryinth

Guillermo Del Toro's dark fairytale is by turns beautiful, violent, frightening, wonderous and tragic. Del Toro suspends our disbelief with excellent characterisation and an innocence in his directing that sucks us into his fairytale world. In some ways I think this is a more accurate interpretation of Alice in Wonderland than the Disney classic. Top marks to the actors portraying Ofelia, Pan and Captain Vidal (apparently the guy had previously only done comedies, you definitely wouldn't pick it!) as they really help extract a strong emotional response from the audience.

A Bittersweet Life
One of the best Korean gangster films I have seen, up there with the gritty Chingu. In some ways it is a typical "loyal gangster has a crisis of conscience over pretty girl and shit goes south" scenario but it is handled with such style and class that you soon quickly forget about the cliches and enjoy the ride. Also features the best use of a mobile phone ever. Looking forward to Lee Byung-Hun's hollywood debut as Storm Shadow in the upcoming GI Joe film.

Oldboy
Not much to say here that Mujubius hasn't said. This film is brutal and uncompromising and Choi Min Sik's method acting in this film goes to show why in my opinion he is one of korea's best actors.

Children of Men

Another brutal and uncompromising film. The bleakness and gritty realism (in a sci-fi film?) remind me of Saving Private Ryan. Also it features Clive Owen who has to be the coolest most cynical sonofabitch on the planet. If you could bottle Clive Owen's awesomeness (totally a technical term there) and sell it you'd be a billionaire.

Planet Terror

Recently covered in my post on Grindhouse. Schlock rocking zombie fun from Rodriguez. Bonus points for the excellent use and understanding of the grindhouse style. Like junk food for the soul.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Not sure if this sneaks into 2007 or not but this was in my opinion far superior to Tommy Lee Jones' latest film No Country for Old Men, which I enjoyed immensely but thought it got sloppy at the tail end. I enjoy stories of the bonds of friendship, honour and rugged determination and I don't think those kind of films get made enough anymore. Three Burials is a quiet, intense and slow burning film (much like Lee Jones' cowboy in this film) and is definitely a film that will make you contemplate where that quiet sense of honour and loyalty has gone to in this over commercialised world.

Shoot em Up

Another Clive Owen flick but this one is all about witty one liners and schlocky homage to 80's action films. Grim, mysterious protagonist Owen must protect a baby from angry mobsters led by a deranged Paul Giamatti. Throw in a lactating hooker and some of the best shootouts captured on film this is big, dumb yet self aware fun.

Headbanger: a Metalheads Journey

Yeah this is a doco but its nice to see someone finally try to put together a documentary that explores the subculture in some depth. At points I fell it gets too caught up in "interview the star" mode and forgets to answer the questions it sets out to ask but overall an entertaining watch amd i'll be looking forward to Sam Dunn's next doco "Global Metal".

Zodiac
David Fincher returns with another film about a serial killer, but unlike "Se7en" Zodiac is about the murders committed by the Zodiac killer....or more to the point its about the effect the murders have on several characters who are tied to the case a newspaper cartoonist, a hot shot reporter and the cop assigned to the case. The murders really play a backseat here to the actual emotional and psychological impact caused by each characters obsession with the Zodiac murders. It's a long and slow burning film but proves to be a rewarding watch.

Top 10 Albums

Funeral - From These Wounds
The best doom album released in 2006/07. Funeral is both uplifting and the ultimate expression of despair. Frode Forsmo's strong and noble vocals lend a kind of eagle-soaring beauty to the album. This album just makes you want to cry.

Melechesh - Emissaries
Mesopotamian black/thrash. Individual, inventive and byzantine. This album whirls like a dervish and there is nothing straightforward about it. Worth the price for album opener "return of the Nemesis" alone.

Primordial - To the Nameless Dead
Soaring gaelic metal which will fill you with pride for your nation and a lust for battle. Primordial conjure up images of warriors standing atop a wind and rain battered hill ready to run towards death and glory, yet the lyrics far from being historical irish tales are located within the modern sphere and explore the concept of nationhood from a sociological perspective, rather than the typical racist/nationalistic perspective often put forward by some black metal bands. Alan Nemtheanga's distinctive vocals have improved over the years and he delivers his finest performance on this record.

Swallow the Sun - Hope
The second best doom album of 2007. Finland's Swallow the Sun are probably one of the more accessible doom bands and fans of Opeth will more than likely find lots to like about their sound. But whether you are an Opeth fan or not Swallow the Sun create some stirring and captivating melodic doom. Guest appearances from Katatonia's Jonas Renske and Amorphis' Tommy Joutsen don't hurt proceedings either.

Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance
Another solid Katatonia album. Doesn't top Viva Emptiness in my opinion but it does up the heaviness quotient. Stand out track is "In the White".

Deathspell Omega - Fas-Ite, in Ignem Aeternum
The second part proper of Deathspell Omega's trilogy about God, Satan and mans relationship between the two. Deathspell Omega is black metal, but not in the way you normally understand it. The album is layered and is possibly the first prog-black metal album, that isn't of the fruity variety churned out by Arcturus, Borknagar et al (I like those bands but the emphasis with them tends to be more on the prog side). This album requires headphones and repeated listens to pick up all the intricacies contained within.

Suffocation - Suffocation

The king's of brutal death metal see in 2007 with a stunning return to form. Suffocation's self titled record is an absolute lesson in punishing brutality, everyone else is on notice as of now. Subsequently Suffocation are the best live band I have ever seen.

Arkhon Infaustus - Orthodoxyn

French black/death sadists climb out of the gutter and get cosmological on us. Arkhon Infaustus are now happy to savour decadence and and depravity like a fine wine rather than subject us to a barrage of filthy imagery as per previous efforts. True disciples of DeSade, Arkhon Infaustus are just one of the many interesting bands coming out of France. Honourable mentions also go to Blut Aus Nord, Antaeus, Glorior Belli, Merrimack and Vorkreist.

Rotting Christ - Theogonia
A return back to the Rotting Christ sound after the slight departure that was Sanctus Diavolus, Theogonia is a bombastic, epic ride through tales of Greek mythology. This album is the perfect album to put on when playing God of War. it's great to see one of my favourite bands improving upon their already winning (and consistent) formula.

Immolation - Shadows in the Light
Another one of my favourite death metal bands. Immolation are always consistent and have their highly individual sound down to an art. Drummer Steve Shalaty gets to show off his skills a little more than he did on the previous album "Harnessing Ruin". Ross Dolan's Dr Claw vocals are menacing and completely decipherable, which is rare in death metal and also help to add to the eerie impact of the music and its good to see that he hasn't pitched up as time has gone on (which happens a lot to metal singers due to vocal strain).

Top 10 Comics

The top 10 comics were a tricky one since a lot of comics are a continuous storyline but if i'm continuing to follow them then they must be good. A lot of these won't be a surprise to anyone who knows me and I have covered most of them in previous posts.

The Walking Dead
This book is like ice. Highly addictive, intense and you just can't get enough of it. To highlight how good this book is one of my non comic reading friends borrowed it out of boredom, read all of it and is craving the next. He then passed it on to another non comic reading friend who is also hooked! Powerful human drama...with zombies.

Fables
Bill Willingham re-imagines fairy tale characters and by doing so creates one of the most engaging comic series in recent times. Touches on modern issues such as refugees, the cost of war and politics.

The Goon
Ginger Meggs meets Tales from the Crypt. Hilarious, quirky and featuring some of the best oddball characters ever. A thug and his friends protect their town from zombies and other supernatural threats.

Identity Crisis
DC comics meets Law and Order. A thoroughly engaging whodunnit murder mystery. This story unearths the dirty laundry of the DC universe and leads into the issues that arise in Infinite Crisis. This is far superior though and Brad Meltzer writes an emotionally gripping story that brings new elements to major characters and also brings in minor characters and makes you care for them more in the space of five minutes than you ever had previously. Plus Mr Miracle is in it and he is supremely awesome (curse you DC and your Death of the New Gods storyline. If you kill Mr. Miracle you will wish you had his escape artist powers to get away from me.)

The Punisher

Brutal, violent neo-noir that would make Tarantino blush. Forget the wooden excuse for a movie. This book does the Punisher right. two parts vigilante, one part Mr Blonde from Resevoir Dogs.

Runaways
A good simple coming of age story about a group of teens who discover their parents are supervillains. They decide to become heroes and defeat their parents and the threats they have unleashed, meanwhile growing up and dealing with the complex issues that all teenagers face. The superhero used as a metaphor for growing up is handled well and Brian K Vaughn's dialogue is both believable and endearing (Vaughn has since departed the series and has been replaced by Joss Whedon, another excellent dialogue writer - see his Uncanny X-Men series for proof). A good break from the gritty titles currently filling the shelves.

Astro City
A superhero book, but not as you know it. Kurt Busiek tells tales of heroics in Astro City (the first actual mappable city in comic books as far as I know, check wikipedia for the map) but from many different viewpoints. We get to see stories told from the perspective of everyday citizens, villains trying to go straight as well as tales about how heroes hang up their boots, hold down a dayjob and other seemingly mundane tales which often prove far more interesting than your typical hero stories.

Civil War
A solidly written event from Marvel that has split the Marvel universe and is very much current thanks to events like "the war on terror" and the Patriot Act in the US. Also led to the *SPOILER* death of Captain America and the public unmasking of Spiderman. it will be interesting to see what directions this divided universe goes in over the coming year. Civil War is notable for being of a consistently high quality with nary a dud issue to be found, something which other "events" need to take note of.

DMZ
Trainee cameraman becomes unwitting war correspondent and the voice of reason in a bitterly divided USA. Definitely check this one out especially if you liked films like Children of Men.

Doom Patrol
Technically an old series, but the re-release of Grant Morrison's run on this absurdist superhero title in trade paperback is a timely reminder of what makes Doom Patrol and Grant Morrison so good. Morrison draws inspiration from art, music, philosophy and pop culture to create a mind boggling thrill ride that often drags the team of Misfits that are the Doom Patrol along for the ride, without them understanding entirely just what the hell is going on.

Top 10 Video Games

Call of Duty 4
Best war game EVER! Tightly written single player, awesome AI and even more awesome multiplayer make this a must buy. Everything awesome you ever wanted to do with firearms, explosives and military hardware is in this game. If there is one game you must play on PS3 its COD4 aka Crack of Duty.

Elder Scrolls Oblivion
The Lord of the Rings of RPG's. Epic, open world gameplay and hundreds of hours worth of things to do Oblivion is the king. The voice acting is a bit stodgy (Orc's with US accents? All of about 10 voice actors for 1000's of NPC's? WTF?!) but given the scope of the game it is easily forgiven. Bethesda are working on Fallout 3 next!!!!!!!!! It will use the Oblivion engine and the anticipation i'm feeling means that there is a constant trail of drool behind me.

Fallout, Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics
Old games but the Fallout series is one of the best of all time. My PS3 has been gathering dust thanks to these games. Fallout started the legacy of greatness, Fallout 2 improved upon it (bar the awful amount of bugs..grr) and fallout Tactics was a welcome spin off and while not an improvement upon the formula brings a totally new element to the game and improves upon the combat engine.

Resistance: Fall of Man
Along with Motorstorm Resistance was the best PS3 launch title. The market is being flooded with a glut of First Person Shooters, which isn't a good thing and it takes something special to stand out. Resistance didn't quite wow me but it had excellent gun design and good multiplayer. One thing that got me though was the lack of interactivity with the environments, most noticeable when I stood on a see saw and it didn't move. I think that's pretty unacceptable for a next gen system, especially when interactive environments were around back in the day of 3D realms shooters such as Blood, Duke Nukem 3d and Shadow Warrior. That said I look forward to seeing where this series goes and i'm sure that they will improve upon the original and possibly make more unique FPS than what is currently available.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
Action RPG fun with all your favourite Marvel superheroes/villains. If you've played X-Men Legends 1 or 2 then you know the deal.

Guitar Hero 1 and 2
Rocking good fun and one of the main reasons for keeping my PS2 (although due to a drunken rock move on New Years one of my guitars is in pieces). Haven't played 3 yet but it looks a little gimmicky and i'm looking forward to Rock Band a lot more. Guitar hero 4 needs to up the ante.

Warhawk
Multiplayer 3rd person shooter, also one of the first full next gen games available for download from the playstation store. Cartoony in style ala Team Fortress 2, Warhawk is a well balanced team shooter. There is always a counter to every situation and just because you are in a jet doesn't mean you are invincible and ground troops can't give you a beating. I'm waiting to download the Omega Dawn expansion.

Well those are my picks for 2007. Hope you enjoyed the read. Feel free to weigh in with your comments and criticisms, hell I may even respond.

current mood: depressed

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Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
8:51 am - Top Ten Books of 2007

mujubius
Not many lists left to go! 2007 was a very good year for me reading wise - I absorbed heaps of books, more than my usual effort. It was an excellent year for Sci-Fi and fantasy - made easier by my discovery of certain books years after they'd been written...

10. High Rise - J.G. Ballard

Ballard is an intense writer, one that believes in the primality of humanity - that it would take very little to make us let go of civilisation and return to crude ways of life, sexuality and conflict. High Rise is about a brand new tenement building in London that is really a self-contained community - it has it's own mall halfway up the building, has 3000 inhabitants and the only way a person even needs to make contact with the outside world is if they work. Slowly, the universe of the building pervades everything - the status conflicts between higher and lower floors - the affairs - the maintenance issues... people don't even notice life outside any more as their faculty to reason and see a bigger picture degenerates. As services like plumbing, water, food, and garbage disposal break down people begin to degenerate faster and faster as garbage and human waste litters the halls and parties erupt with increasing virulence and intensity. Elevators are fought over and society changes to adapt to this strange self-contained world... There's a lot to say about the basic impulses of a human in this book, and though it is told from a very male point of view it is still completely compelling. A believable microcosm of society sliding backwards.

9. 1984 - George Orwell

Here's one most of you will have read already - another classic I've only picked up late in life. Orwell paints his dystopian future with enough detail to make it both a piece of science fiction and a compelling commentary on the world today. His showcase of 'Newspeak' is brilliant - as someone who has been neck deep in corporate culture for the last three years, I can appreciate the brilliant black humour. It's difficult to describe just how clever 1984 is in identifying elements of media and politics that are quite possibly eternal, then taking them and exaggerating them to the greatest effect. 1984 is a wonderful, amazing book of depth, horror and humour.

8. The Last Days: The Apocryphon of Joe Panther - Andrew Masterson

See my original review. This is an interestingly cinematic book - after seeing a few interesting films this year I think it could be converted quite interestingly to the screen. Worth a look, albeit a little vulgar and disturbing at times (but then, I guess the best books often are!!!).

7. I am Legend - Richard Matheson

This is a book of nihilism, of a man continuing to live in a world that has beaten him again and again - yet somehow not broken him. Not quite. Not yet. It is fascinating as a character portrait - the last man on earth, struggling to defeat a plague of creatures that he can never completely defeat, but he can fight to his last breath. This book has an ending that throws everything you think you know on its head. The movie successfully ditched that ending in favour of one of the worst cinematic conclusions in recent history (seriously, even if I didn't know how the book ended I would have thought it was crap!). Forget the film and read the book. It is darker, more challenging - but far more rewarding.

6. American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is my favourite writer at the moment. American Gods was an amazing accomplishment, a sumptuous feast of words and characters. Gaiman has a wry, storyteller voice in his words - the simplest of sentences can seem like an aside, a personal comment. None of his books feel like filler. The very concept of this book is brilliant - America is a land of immigrants, of a thousand different old cultures who bring with them their own superstitions and beliefs - and Gods. As time goes by, hundreds if not thousands of old Gods are left wandering America - with the threat of new Gods arising... the book is epic, yet intimate, and a wonderful yarn. It is a rare book that is somehow contemporary yet timeless.

5. Carter Beats the Devil - Glen David Gold

Within twelve months I encountered three fantastic tales of Magicians in the Victorian era. The Prestige, the Illusionist, and this book. Of the three, Carter was the warmest and most downright likeable character. The book is the story of Carter and his life - along with a Presidential conspiracy and some real magic on the way. It was a pleasant, elegant novel that wrapped me up and entertained me the entire way.

4. Lolita - Vladimir Nobokov

I can't think of much more to say than what I already said in my original review.

3. The Locus Awards: 30 Years Of The Best Fantasy & Science Fiction - edited by by C N Brown and J Strahan

This book of short stories contained some absolutely amazing works of short fiction. This is the kind of book that sits on your shelf to be read and reread over and over again. An amazing accomplishment, one that couldn't be reviewed in the short paragraphs I limit myself to here. Put simply though - if you have even a passing occasional interest in sci-fi or fantasy, get this book. Some of these stories are life-changing.

2. Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

This book is remarkably well-written - Susanna Clarke's love of language is obvious as she makes fantastically eloquent, engaging and elegant prose. The story is top-notch - the rivalry and desperate comeradery of the titular characters driving the action forward. This is somewhere between Neil Gaiman, Tolkien and Jane Austen with a twist of Oscar Wilde. It is incredibly witty, magical, and literary. In fact, this book is a masterclass on how to write intelligently yet entertainingly. It is a painstakingly detailed book as well, exhibited in the way it bulges over with footnotes and ideas aside from just the main story. Indeed, some of the footnotes function as beautiful vignettes and short stories unto themselves. This was a shoo-in for book of the year for quite a while until...

1. Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

I've already established my fondness for Gaiman. Yet he excelled beyond belief in this book. Anansi Boys utilises the same concept as American Gods - but turns away from the grand canvas of that story, and focusses on a family unit. It also turns up the wit to 11, making this easily one of the most funny books I've read in ages. Where I find it excels over things like Terry Pratchett's humourism is that it has a palpable sense of danger - there's a dark side to the novel and its presence really shows in comparison to other humourist writing where the threat level never feels real. Anansi Boys is a story about storytelling, about finding your place in the world... hell, it's about a lot of things, and all of them worth reading about. Go get it.

Honourables:

The Zombie Survival Guide - Max Brooks

More for novelty than anything - it's not exactly an entertaining book in that it doesn't tell much of a story. It's deadly serious in its approach which is kind of distracting. This is a manual on how to survive a zombie attack. Nothing is tongue in cheek. And while it is well thought out (and I have to be honest, the issue of "how would I survive a zombie apocalypse" is something I've dedicated a lot of my own thought to) it really suffers from its straight faced encyclopaedic approach.

The Barbie Murders - John Varley

A book of short stories from a well-regarded sci-fi author. The Barbie Murders is an interesting story, but the one I liked best was Bagatelle. This was a book full of excellent stories and characters.

Ringworld - Larry Niven

Excellent premise, annoying characters - yet that is my biggest complaint about most written sci-fi. Niven's universe is fascinating and compelling, and his ideas are great.

Blockbuster: or, How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer - Tom Shone

A book of anecdotes, not even resembling a real history - but they're good anecdotes, and make for excellent reading.

Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

It's beautifully written, and a compelling character portrait - it captures perfectly that sense of abandonment, loneliness and disenfranchisement that we all feel at some point in our life. I think I would have appreciated it more if I'd found it ten years ago though. It is still a brilliant book though, and well worth your time.

Temeraire - Naomi Novik

Dragons, ships, and wot-ho proper British Navy in an alternate version of the Napoleanic wars. Temeraire is wildly entertaining and incredibly cinematic. I can see why Peter Jackson snapped up the film options for these books. Novik is a great new talent.

Enders Game - Orson Scott Card

This was an amazing story with very real children. It created a dynamic amongst the characters you could believe in with scenes of incredible tenseness - and let's face it, it was a sci-fi version of a boy's adventures at school! There are very complex themes at work here, particularly with the ending - though I was quite happy to ignore them after the power of everything that came before. Christ, imagine if Harry Potter had made a special school for gifted students as interesting as Enders Game has!!!

The Dunwich Horror - H.P Lovecraft

A rich, dark story that shows just what horror should and can be. Incredibly literary while still being pulpy enough to enjoy, Lovecraft builds the dread for the horrors out of time by using disgust and terror at the things humans will do to each other. The creatures he summons are never as frightening as the people that summon them.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

This was a satisfying conclusion to the series - heavily flawed, though it did do great service to the long time readers. It had some of the most incredible set pieces of the series (hell, the action scenes seemed to have been written with the film in mind!) but also some of the most unforgivable filler of the whole series (just how long do you guys want to sit on your arse in the woods baby-fighting each other?). The Deathly Hallows were an interesting, albeit unforeshadowed device that would have worked better if they'd been a part of the series from the beginning (like the VERY beginning, Book One). Altogether though, Rowling accomplished an incredible task - she managed to wrap up threads and story arcs on pretty much everything. Fanboys and girls have never had so much to talk about (and so much speculation quashed - sorry Harry/Hermione shippers!). I am in the group of people who thought the epilogue was shit by the way - it didn't even fit with the rest of the book it was so out of place. But apparently it was the first thing she wrote of the whole series, and she wanted it included. Bah - self-indulgence and sentimentality. Always do what's best for the story, not's best for your sooky sense of nostalgia. Dammit.

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Monday, February 11th, 2008
10:24 am - Grindhouse - Slave to the grind or just a grind?

nathophilia
I’m sure by now everyone knows all about the Rodriguez/Tarantino dual
effort Grindhouse and the controversy surrounding it. Originally envisaged
as a double feature, due to its failure at the US Box Office it had
(intentionally) missing footage reinserted and was split and marketed as
two separate films Planet Terror (Rodriguez) and Death Proof (Tarantino).

Grindhouse in its entirety was supposed to be an homage to 70’s
grindhouse films. Grindhouse cinema was basically a low budget,
exploitation film genre probably best known characterised by the films
of Russ Meyer (Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill etc). The film was meant to
mimic a B-Movie double feature played in a dodgy cinema complete with
trailers, missing footage and wear and tear on the film grain.

So how does it fare post split? In this post I will be examining the two
films individually as well as discussing what impact splitting the films
had on the overall effect and finally offering some thoughts on what
went wrong.

First cab off the rank is the Robert Rodriguez Zombie-fest Planet
Terror. What can I say about this film other than it captures the spirit
of grindhouse cinema perfectly. Chock full of ridiculousness, gore,
explosions and hot chicks Planet Terror walks the walk and talks the
talk. The plot revolves around a chemical weapon creating an outbreak of
zombies and that’s all you need to know. All the leads do their thing
brilliantly - Freddy Rodriguez plays the mysterious tough guy with a
nice amount of dark humour and intensity, Rose McGowan plays the tough
chick with sass, Josh Brolin rocks face (question, when doesn’t Josh
Brolin rock face?), and Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews and Quentin
Tarantino (special mention to Tarantino for his hilarious performance,
who’d have thought the man could do comedy?) acquit themselves well.
Heads explode, things get blown up and general ridiculousness abounds.

PS – The trailer for Machete (featuring the almighty Danny Trejo),
definitely deserves to be made into a film. In my opinion it would end
up being the greatest action movie never made in the 80’s.

Tarantino’s Death Proof however is a different story. It is an oddly
paced mess which delivers two awesome moments but languishes in a weird
lull for the rest of the film. My rule of thumb is if a film seems to be
dragging on than its rubbish and this film dragged on and there is
little present to recommend it to anyone. Long and short of the film is
Kurt Russell plays a psychotic stunt driver who enjoys murdering
gorgeous women with his “death proof” car. This film features one of the
best car chases and one of the best car accidents I have seen in any
film as well as super fine girls (including the supreme Rosario Dawson)
and the godly Kurt Russell but if all that isn’t enough to make me like
a film than something is very wrong.

The problem with this film is every bit in between, the set up to these
two moments (which play like two episodes of a series really) is the
girls sitting in a bar hanging out and talking and in the second
“episode” going on a road trip. They just spend forever making general
chit chat, which while naturalistic is neither, exciting or endearing.
You almost want them to die so that they will shut up and the story can
progress. Kurt Russell’s character Stuntman Mike is a great idea for a
character but they end up making him too weird and not psychotic enough.
Russell exudes tough and menacing but this is somewhat wasted and he
ends up being weird and sooky to the detriment of the films effect.

Basically this film tries to tap into the spirit of Faster Pussycat
Kill! Kill! But combines it with Tarantino’s arty, naturalistic style in
a haphazard and sterile way. The end result is kind of like trying to
weld a metal arm onto an icecream. There is almost no chance it will
work and if it does it just doesn’t look right.

So what has splitting up the film done? Obviously the films were split to make some more money after a poor box office turnout in the states but what effect does it have on the film? Well if Death Proof was a better film it would have ruined the z-grade double bill effect they were going for. The trailers are a great idea and the technique used in both films really create a believable atmosphere however as has been made mention of a number of times Tarantino lets the side down with his half thereby making the split a good thing as it is now possible to skip Death Proof.

As to my thoughts on what went wrong it's not going to be any big surprise given the rest of this article but much of the blame lands squarely on Death Proof. The concept of Grindhouse is absolutely solid but noone wants to sit in a movie theatre for three hours when at least half of that time is spent waiting for something to happen. Tarantino should have taken a leaf out of Russ Meyers book and thrown in boobs, violence, sex, drugs, rock and roll and a dark sense of humour and then I 100% guarantee you Grindhouse would have worked. People will spend three hours in a cinema, films are in general getting longer. Hell people loved the Lord of the Rings films and they were a trilogy of three hour films about people walking!

Anyway to make a long story short I thoroughly recommend Planet Terror and only recommend Death Proof if you want to skip to the two awesome bits in the movie (both featuring Kurt Russell natch!) or want to get a feel for what went wrong with Grindhouse, Tarantino and rules of pacing in films. I'm sure Quentin will recover and get back to releasing quality films, he is an excellent director but misses the mark with this one.

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10:04 am - The Coast Guard

nathophilia
A belated New Year and Australia Day to all here at the Cesspool. 2007 was
an abortion of a year fuelled by death, near-death, depression, murder and
failed relationships so I am definitely looking forward to 2008 being a
drastic improvement.

Continuing where we last left off, I watched Kim Ki Duk’s film The Coast
Guard and I can’t say that I got into the groove with this one but it
did have some moments which saved it from being a waste of time.

First of all the concept for the film is strong, it focuses on a group
of South Korean soldiers guarding a section of the coast against the
North. The protagonist/antagonist of the film is a young soldier who is
eager for conflict and wants desperately to shoot a spy in order to win
glory and adulation.

The complication comes when he shoots a local youth, traumatising his
girlfriend (they were using the restricted zone as a makeout spot). He
is acquitted of any wrongdoing and treated as a hero but the impact of
what he has done starts to fracture his mind and leads him to ever
increasingly psychotic behaviour.

The problem with the Coast Guard is that what is quite a serious subject
comes off unintentionally funny, usually due to bad acting by the lead
of the film. There is also somewhat of an issue with the last part of
the film as it is hard to believe that an over eager, yet bumbling young
man becomes a highly trained weapon of destruction just because he
starts losing it. It just isn’t possible to suspend ones disbelief to
the detriment of the film.

On a positive note the mundane nature of life on the base is portrayed
well. The soldiers are bored and guarding against a threat that is
although real, somewhat imagined as both North and South Korea have been
sitting in a constant state of “alert but not alarmed” for years. Very
little in the way of actual conflict ever takes place and this is
reflected well in the film. The soldiers are bored and most of the
intruders in the no go zone are bored youths and tourists too young to
have been alive when the Korean War took place.

While the Coast Guard is ultimately a disappointing effort from Kim at
its core it makes a comment about the nature of the changing perception
of the Korean situation within the South and the potential negative
impacts of getting a group of excitable, testosterone driven young men
to guard against a threat that is largely benign. The onset of boredom
and the inflated sense of heroics that is thrust upon them can
inevitably only end up in tragedy.

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Friday, February 8th, 2008
5:58 pm - Top Ten Movies of 2007

mujubius
Woo-hoo! Another list sorted! Maybe we'll get them all done before February finishes!

10. Perfume: Story of a Murderer

You could guess from the title - Perfume is the story of a murderer. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is a unique monster, a man who can smell the most incredible things. His nose is more powerfulthan anyone else's and he becomes obsessed with cataloguing the scents of the world - capturing the sublime essences that are transitive and make him despair for their loss. He has no conscience, and possibly no soul but for his appreciation of his strongest sense. He is a man without any scent of his own, making him a strange kind of beast. Perfume is a beautiful film with fine performances from some unexpected stars - Alan Rickman and Dustin Hoffman both perform great parts in the film. Ben Whishaw was the surprise of the movie though, performing the monster Grenouille with amazing acuity. The film's biggest star though is its cinematography. The film is obsessed with scent and smell, and as we cannot smell what is on film, we have to be cued visually and tricked into understanding the sublime nature of a sense we can't package like vision. I can only imagine how challenging this must have been, but the film succeeds beyond all imagination and is almost a sensory overload. If the story starts to stretch credibility towards the end and move further into fantasy territory, it never fails you with the visuals. This movie makes poo covered streets look beautiful. It all plays out like a grim fairytale in pre-Revolution Paris. And like a fairytale it has a suitably macabre ending. It never fails to capture your imagination however.

9. The Fountain

The Fountain is one of the most amazing meditations on love and obsession I've ever seen. It is a beautiful movie with interlocking narratives of past, present and future - but also of fiction and meta-fiction and reality. It twists your expectations dozens of times over and delivers heartbreakingly real performances from Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. It was a miracle the movie was made at all - but thank goodness it was. There were complaints from people who couldn't follow the story - which I found surprising as the only thing I had any "trouble" with ("trouble" being defined as finding myself in deep thought about the many interpretations the moment could have, which is hardly trouble at all and should be rebranded as "fascination") was the very ending, when the three seperate narratives of the man and his wife in the present day, the conquistador and his Queen in the 16th century, and the man floating in the bubble with the giant tree in space all blended together to tie everything into the same story. If the ultimate conclusion is somewhat esoteric however, it doesn't change the beauty, honesty and compassion that pervades the rest of this film. When people try to tell me genre film and sci-fi is irrelevent and not worthwhile - this is the kind of film I want to make them watch. To sweeten the deal, it was filmed with great love and attention, and every scene is colour-drenched and gorgeous.

8. 300

"This... is... a Review!!!!" Yeah, sorry about that, the "This is...!!" jokes got old about two minutes after the film came out. 300 is one of those films that wins for style over substance, for the amazing ability to exist for no other reason than to look amazing and invoke whispers of "Cooooooooooolllll" from awe-stricken teens. Hell, I'm in my mid 20's and it still got quite a few "Coooooooooollll"s from me too! 300 is a film about men in leather undies wielding long hard spears, speaking in impossibly masculine one-liners, battling evil slightly androgynous giants. The movie is hyper-stylistically shot, the period design made for awesomeness not accuracy and every single nipple is erect at all times, as though a constant state of readiness pervades all, no moment is so dull as to allow the nipples to flatten into their default state. It makes me wonder what it was like before each scene - did everyone have to pinch their nipples erect before the director called "action"? Was there someone brought in specially to do it for them? And would that person put such an experience on their resume? Regardless of that, the movie is an adrenalin packed exercise in aesthetic. You won't find a deep story or plot here, just stacks of slow motion fights, perfectly sculpted torsos doing battle, and the odd extra boob to poorly disguise the rampant homoeroticism just in case some of the crowd is uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Really, if I hadn't wanted to talk about nipples, I could have just summed up this whole review with that earlier word - "cooooooooooolllll!"

7. The Host

This is the first of two Korean films in this list. The Host is a unique movie - a giant monster horror comedy family drama - genre bending in every conceivable way. Oh, and it comes with a strong political message. What excites me about Korean, and for that matter most foreign cinema is that they are not as culturally entrenched in form and structure as we are with our films. OUr genres determine the outcomes. You can't have a comedy where everyone dies, or a drama where every character is outrageous and over the top. The Host starts as a family comedy farce that suddenly turns into an exciting giant monster movie, that becomes a drama that becomes a thriller that becomes a political thriller that becomes a tragedy. The statements made about the US within the region are strong and pull no punches. It is all shot in vivid, colourful detail, making more use of the colour palette then you'd expect for this kind of film. The Host is not only a brilliantly entertaining film, but it constantly defies your expectations and surprises you.

6. Knocked Up

Knocked Up surprised me for a multitude of reasons. It surprised me because underneath the vulgarity it was a character driven comedy, not just a long series of gross jokes. It surprised me because it captured something of the essence of relationships today and particularly the nature of men today (as referenced in this interesting article). It showed accurately to me the disenfranchisement and lack of maturity in the average male in his 20's. Seth Rogan made his loveable loser character work however improbably with Katherine Heigl's gorgeous driven better half because their goals and motivations - and most importantly, their compromises - were believable. It's a film that is mostly told from a guy's POV, leading to occassional critiques of the film as sexist. Yet I consider it significant that while it shows the "man-children" in their native habitat and represents it as good fun, the major male characters are actually forced to confront the fact that their lifestyle cannot last forever, and that needing to grow up does not mean needing to give up. For me, Pete and Debbie's relationship is more interesting than Ben and Alison's. Pete in particular is interesting because he is trying to be the responsible adult, but he is also a young man still - like all young men, he needs time to himself and time to indulge his childishness - his games of fantasy baseball and slipping away to watch movies by himself - they're his form of escapism, where he can lose the responsibilities of his life. But he is so narcissistic in his needs, he forgets that his wife needs that time as well. For the relationship study alone, for watching men have to grow up and take responsibity for their lives and the people who depend on them - this is top notch humour with a real life punch.

5. Stardust

This is my unashamed schmoopy side speaking here. I adore this film for a multitude of reasons. It is the closest thing to a successor to The Princess Bride as I've seen - an irreverent fairytale that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a lovely romance that makes me smile like a big dork. It has all the wit you'd expect from a Neil Gaiman story (albeit an adapted screenplay by a different writer). It is jsut such pure entertainment and joy that I find it's infectious. I really liked it when I saw it at the cinema, but then afterwards it grew and grew in my mind till I found myself desperate to see it again. Now I have it on DVD, and sure enough it is as great as I was building it to be. A beautiful movie that I love to death, and don't particularly care if the rest of you don't.

4. No Country for Old Men

This film was poetry and violence all at once. It had such a beautiful elegance that it was always captivating, even in its quietest moments. The film is about three men - Llewellyn Moss, the hunter who finds a field full of dead drug dealers and a suitcase full of cash. He takes the cash, knowing full well that doing so means trouble. There's Anton Chigurh, the assassin sent to find the cash. I guarantee you will not see anyone scarier in a movie this year (with the possible exception of Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth. But then, he is scary for very different reasons). Then there's Ed Tom Bell, the weary ageing sheriff who is watching the old ways completely shift and change in front of him. The film is a reflection on age, self-destruction, and the inability to escape your own nature. Ed's inability to adapt to a new world yet complete inability to just stop and retire - Llewellyn's inability to just give up the money and run - and Chigurh's inability to find mercy or compassion, even when there are easier ways out, even when his choices aren't even relevant anymore. This whole film seems to be a meditation on inevitability. It also serves as a tense, exciting thriller - the spare action scenes amp up the tension better than any action movie has for years. The lack of a score through the entire film was also a contributing factor to the film - things just happen without fanfare or musical cues. It makes every violent moment stand out all the more. The most criticised thing I've seen about this film is people complaining there is no real conclusion - the movie kind of just ends, there is no showdown between the three men - what in a different movie would have been the climactic moments of the film happen off screen. Yet as another I read of this film said, if you are complaining about there being no showdown - then you've missed the point of this film. The best performances I've seen all year were in this film by all three leading men - they really were that good. This is a brilliant movie and everyone should see it.

3. Oldboy

Oldboy is shocking because it is relentless. It is quintessentially Korean, the kind of story that you owon't ever see told in Western cinema. A man is abducted and locked away for 20 years in a single room, with nothing but a television to interact with. He teaches himself to fight by imitating the scenes on the television and beating himself against the walls, hardening himself. His speech changes into the strange combination of archetype and cliche that television produce. He swears vengeance on his captors. Then one day, he is let out... what happens from there is a darkly humerous, yet wholly terrifying visceral journey through one man's journey for vengeance. This isn't some kind of Kung Fu movie where revenge is honourable - revenge is something that has consequences, and we learn that the main character isn't the only person with grudges to settle... the revelations this film threw at me were genuinely horrifying, and I watched in complete shock as the film pushed through to its conclusion. This is NOT a happy ending, let me assure you of that much folks - it's dark and wrong. Yet it's wholly appropriate in a strange way. The violent scenes in this movie will make some of you squirm, but this amazing meditation on the nature of revenge told via a dark, twisted narrative has to be experienced to be understood. See it if you can, but know that it is extreme, and not for the faint of heart.

2. Pan's Labyrinth

Guillermo Del Toro's beautiful adult fairytale is sumptuously shot, evocatively told, and plays on all of your senses, evoking a sense of awe with every powerful moment. Though it is a tale of Ofelia, a small child it is NOT a children's movie - when her vicious military stepfather beats a peasant to death with the blunt end of a bottle in cold merciless fashion you straight away click on to the fact that this is a movie for adults. The movie is an effective period piece, evoking Spain in the civil war perfectly. It is also a well-drawn character portrait of several different people. The blending of such harsh reality with such eloquent, evocative, gorgeous fantasy is what elevates this film though - proof positive that genre isn't a dirty word. The scenes blend nightmare and fey perfectly. They challenge the viewer to see the cruel world through the eyes of an innocent child. They steal your breath and break your heart. This film packs the biggest emotional punch of the year. The spaniards have had a good year as the next entry also proves!

1. Children of Men

Alfonso Cuaron's subtly-sci-fi thriller can be appreciated on many levels. The first thing that sticks out is the incredible attention to detail. This dystopian future society, where humans have lost the ability to reproduce is brilliantly realised and evoked not by convoluted exposition, but by the background, the things that aren't in the centre of the frame. Most sci-fi is bogged down with it's own weight, but Children of Men crafts a world by showing you characters in it. The second thing that comes across is the gentle wit - the pathos and sadness of this world doomed to end. Humanity breathing its last gasps - but taking time to wryly commentate on it. If the world were ending around me I know I would be trying to make jokes too, however hollow they rang. The tension comes third - when hope is offered in the form of a mother and child, the first child born in 20 years - the race to get her and the child to safety is on. The world is falling apart around them however, and the desperation to get the baby out of harm's way becomes increasingly difficult. Finally, there is the amazing technical accomplishment. With enormously long single take shots eating into large portions of the film, you can't help but marvel at the amazing production design and choreography that allows hundreds of extras, live special effects, stunts and the performances of the leads take place simultaneously, in shots that continue for as long as fifteen minutes. This is brave, audacious filmmaking, forcing the audience to follow with the action and never have the veneer of film cuts and artifice to hide behind. Children of Men is the best film of 2007 without a doubt in my mind.


Honourable Mentions

The Protector

Tony Jaa is one of the world's most incredible athletes who believes in doing movies made in his home country of Thailand that speak of its cultural heritage. He is a master of Muay Thai, but also of dance and would be a formidable Parkour exponent. Ong Bak, his breakthrough film saw some of the most incredible action ever caught on screen - his incredible abilities making it one of the best movies of that year, despite it being badly shot and soundtracked poorly. The Protector is shot much better and more capably, and again draws attention to a Thai issue - that of dwindling elephant numbers and the brutes who abduct them. In this film, Jaa plays a traditional descendent of the line of men who raised and tended elephants for the King, who would learn Muay Thai and martial arts to do battle at the elephant's feet so that they could protect the elephants while the were ridden into battle. What I LOVE about this movie is that 80% of it takes place in Australia - and every Australian who isn't a random bystander is a bad guy. Everywhere you go an evil Australian guy is there waiting to get his arse kicked. I love other cultural perspectives! The action scenes in this movie are predictable incredible - Kudos must especially go to the four minute long single take ascent through a motel, kicking Aussie arse all the way. I watched a special feature on the DVD just about that scene, and saw all the work going into each take. It's an incredible achievement. The movie wasn't quite good enough for the Top Ten - it has a tendency to not bother with plot, having characters do things for no reason to go from action scene to action scene. Still - how many other movies can you watch over 30 men have their arms systematically broken and see a baby elephant get tossed across a room by a very large, burly Aussie bloke?

Beowulf

Incredible animation is what most people remember about this movie. What I took away from it was a fascinating epic tale that dealt with the hubris of great men. It wasn't the kind of movie that will change your world, but it still looked amazing from the technical standpoint - AND it worked as a piece of dramatic fiction. A worthy adaptation of the original poem as well, though there are certainly plenty of liberties taken in filling the gaps of the story.

Blades of Glory

It didn't have the pathos and real life connections of Knocked Up, but Blades of Glory was probably funnier. Will Ferrel is fantastic when he's on form (hit and miss otherwise) and in this movie he's fantastic, playing exactly the kind of character that tickles my funny-bone. Jon Heder is also fantastic as the slightly effeminite offsider. What I love in this film about two men iceskating together is it never takes the easy jokes - this could have been one shitty gay joke after another, but rather than exploit it for homophobic humour it draws the campness and the inherent absurdity out through action. By not taking the obvious jokes, this movie is elevated into high farce. When they climactically skate to Queen's theme from 'Flash Gordon', you know instantly that the filmmakers understand the joke. There are so many fantastic one liners spawned in this movie. It's hilarious.

Death at a Funeral

Death at a Funeral was a wonderful British film, the kind of movie that could have been a great stageplay as well. It's a traditional drawing room comedy that steps into the much naughtier present day. It's a movie of fantastic supporting parts, a true ensemble cast that bring their characters to life. It hung around like a bad smell at my local cinema for months and months and months, demonstrating the kind of crossover appeal that few films get. A fantastic comedy.

Blood Diamond

A good film if a heavy handed one, anchored by brilliant performances and characters that make it easier to forgive some of the story. Blood Diamond has a good premise and message to make. Unfortunately, it also wants to talk about every bad thing in Africa at the moment. Everything it raises is a good point that deserves to be made - but all of it compressed into one film turns it into a road journey across Africa with long disconnected segments from the overarching story. In my original review of this film I described the ending of the film as a "babysitter's club" ending, and I kind of stand by that. A major character's death is turned into a saccharine, silly moment instead of having the impact it could of, and the whole "teaching the evil white man a lesson" finish was uplifiting I guess, but false hope - the end titles proceed to hammer home the message that things are still shithouse. I think the movie could have expressed this just as powerfully as placards personally - and indeed, after all that came before I think it should have. I don't think I've seen many movies where I think they're morally obliged to have an unhappy ending, but this is one of them. Edward Zwick is a sentimental filmmaker - and a preachy one. Too many action scenes and flashing neon signs saying "NOw Look at THIS terirble thing!" undid the overall feel of the film. Nevertheless, as I said - the message is important, the performances are still fantastic, and as an adventure with a message this is a great film.

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger than Fiction proved that Will Ferrel can do a convincing straight man role. He is completely believable in this film of meta-theatricality. This was a sweet movie with a very clever and well executed premise. Emma Thompson is absolutely brilliant, and I'm a little bit in love with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Dustin Hoffman plays an hilarious part in this film and does it admirably, even if he isn't as compelling as the female support cast. The film is about a man who starts hearing a voice narrate his life. Every action he takes, there is a new narration. Then, abruptly, his death is foreshadowed. Terrified, he tries to work out whether this is real, whether he is real, and how he can save his own life. It's a lovely film that aspires for the same heights as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and comes very close if not quite there.

Sunshine

It's been a good year for SciFi. This was an excellent addition to the genre that blew me away visually, taking interesting risks with camera work and esoteric visual choices. It jumps the shark in plot towards the end, heading a bit too close to 'Event Horizon' territory, but prior to that is a tense, character driven film. Yet another example of why genre filmmaking is capable of brilliance.

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3:19 pm - Cloverfield Review

mujubius
Cloverfield is the motion-sickness inducing stomach churner currently out at cinemas. Before I go too far, let me lay this on the table - if you get motion sick - DON'T GO. If shaky scenes in movies give you even a little bit of a headache - DON'T GO. In fact, don't even bother reading the rest of this review because it might pique your interest and make you ignore the previous advice. If you get ill watching people play video games, don't go. If The Blair Witch Project made you ill, don't go.

Opinion on this film seems to see-saw between the impressed and the violently ill. Having watched people need to leave the cinema while the film was on, and having my own girlfriend spend 65% of it watching the floor because she already felt sick and this was making it worse, I can see how the film is so polarising. It's a question of style, and if you can adapt to the constant motion then chances are you'll find a film to love here. I fortunately could adapt and found a film that is less centred on narrative, and more on and experiential piece.

Most of you have probably heard the constant superlative "Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla" thrown around like rice at a wedding.
It is an apt phrase - the film deals with a giant monster attack on New York, and all the action is captured POV from the handicam carried by a partygoer. It is this device that attracts the most discussion, for all the reasons I listed above.

What I immediately felt and loved about this film is it is so damn contemporary. It is a film that hits the zeitgeist and the world of today without ever once resorting to strange fashion choices or terrible slang - it is contemporary because of the way people react to the crisis, and the way it is played to the world. Disaster strikes, and everyone is on their mobile phone. CNN is playing broadcasts of the news. People are filming and photographing on their cells and cameras. Never once is anyone pointing this out, or making it a big deal - it is simply part of the detail in the film. It plays out like you could watch the whole thing on YouTube as well. It feels contemporary and modern and refreshing.

This style and detail makes it particularly relevant in the so called "Post 9-11 World". 9-11 was signifcant not just for the event, but the way that a media rich western society captured every second of it - cameras were rolling for both planes into the towers, photographs were taken, footage came from in the streets as people watched gigantic structures fall around them. In many ways, it was the fact that the world was able to live the horror of enormous buildings toppling around them that made 9-11 such an horrific event all over the world. Every day disaster strikes all over the world - suicide bombers, genocidal acts, children fighting children - yet 9-11 sparked such ferocity throughout the world because we were made to live through it. In a world (a western world at least) obsessed with media and media consumption, 9-11 was the ultimate horror story - a disaster that we all experienced first person. *

Cloverfield learnt from that, and its aesthetic is very true to life that way (insofar as a giant monster movie can be). This is an account of survivors - of little people watching giant buildings and monuments to the supposed endurance of America get toppled and destroyed. This is about seeing terrible things in the distance on the next street corner as much as right in front you. Cloverfield channels 9-11 in telling a story of survivors in a distaster zone.

Characters that you get to know are killed with little fanfare, like in a real disaster zone - and their companions have to either give up or carry on. There's never really time to mourn. Cloverfield is relentless from the time the attack begins. Everyone is forced on the move. People die and no one can stop to say goodbye. This relentless pace makes the quieter moments in the film possibly the most absorbing. My two favourite moments in the film are quieter ones, when the camera actually stops moving. **

The characters are a little hit and miss for me, and the party at the beginning to try and get to know them ends up feeling a little drawn out. Hud, the character who ends up with the camera is frustrating - a slightly creepy goofball that gets on your nerves. Rob and Jason, the two brothers work well - Jason in particular I liked. Rob is… well, a bit of a douchebag as played at the party. His sudden need to save his former roommate/love of his life Beth is definitely contrived - but it serves well enough to get the party of survivors walking through the city. Lily, Jason's girlfriend is also a well drawn character. Moreso than Beth in fact, who I thought was more McGuffin than character. Marlena is also underserved, being little more than someone for Hud to want to paw all over. Thankfully she never reciprocates.

The effects in this movie blow me away - not because I've never seen better - simply because of the way they integrate into the hand-held filming so perfectly. Most effects movies have very structured camera choices to showcase the effects fully. Cloverfield's chaotic camera makes the effects seem all the more amazing. The monster is a bit goofy looking, but still evokes the necessary amount of awe and terror. His little insect/children/things that scuttle around are great however - I like that they're deadly in their own way, though not how the creatures in Aliens et al are. They're the kind of menace that a solid plank of wood can chase away, but they're face and slippery, and good at finding you in the dark.

Storyline wise there are a few things that chafe. The continual contrivances that just happen to put this group of people at ground zero are difficult to believe - not so much it ruins the movie, but it does leave you with a sense that everything that happens is a little… convenient. Their journey to rescue a single girl manages to cover every significant angle and event of the entire New York destruction. I have also heard complaints that the movie never attempts to explain what actually happened, where the monster was from etc. For me though, the movie was enhanced by that choice, deciding to focus on how ordinary people react to an extraordinary event. I wasn't put off by the unanswered questions of the film's conclusion, I was pleased by it.

And that camera - always in motion, always turbulent. I think that's why I didn't like Hud much in the end - that prick really couldn't film. Any moron can hold the camera steadier than him. A ten year old could film better. He shakes and moves and swoops the camera all the goddamn time - I don't just mean in the "running in terror" moments, but in quiet conversations between other people he swings that thing around maniacally. Yet at sudden moments, he inexplicably does work out how to hold the camera still for a second before suddenly forgetting and swinging it around pointlessly again. As a filmmaker, the cinematography choices between motion and stillness became distracting at times. More consistency would have been nice - either he gets better or he doesn't. Either he's shit or he's okay. When you make the camera tied to a character, it should always be consistent with the character - it can't change for the convenience of the film.

Cloverfield is a visceral, enjoyable experience from start to finish. It's short, it's powerful, and it connects you with the characters more than you expect. It's a genre film that's really about humans in a disaster zone, and it plays all the better for it.

8/10.



* Imagine if access to phones, digital capturing devices, video cameras and general media were the same in all countries. Would we be as willingly complacent about the war in Iraq and similar things if we were exposed to all this first person footage straight from the memory cards of the Everyman? Journalism evokes little more than cynicism, but real accounts from real people are hard to ignore. If the disgusting murders and attacks in Burma were being covered the same way 9-11 was covered - would the world stand for it?



** *SPOILER (MAYBE)* The first is after Jason has died, and all his friends are hiding out in a Subway station while conflict and chaos continues on the street. His brother is torn up but determined to try and save his love interest somehow. But then, his mother calls on the cellphone - she's seen the terrible action on the news, and wants to check up on her boys. Instant connectivity, even in a battlefield… it's a terrible moment and brings a crushing sense of pathos to the audience. My second favourite moment that really took advantage of the format was when they finally find Beth (the previously mentioned love interest) and she is impaled on a piece of metal. Hud (the camera operator) puts down the camera and helps them to lift her off it. The camera sits where it has been left, and we see only the feet of the characters, as they try to lift the imapled woman off the metal rod. *END SPOILERS*

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Thursday, February 7th, 2008
7:34 pm - Top Ten Music for 2007

mujubius
Hey folks, I've been taking forever this year to get these done - here at last though is my Top Ten Music for 07.

Top Ten Albums

10. Melechesh - Emissaries

Brutal, Messopotamian metal - this album was a slab of brilliant phrygian melody and goddamn neckbreaking riffery.

9. Dark Moor - Tarot

As gloriously over the top as you could hope for, Spain's Dark Moor delivered a damn fun album. Each song is dedicated to a different card from the Tarot deck. My personal highlight is the gloriously cheesy "The Moon" - which is pretty much Beethoven's 5th and Moonlight Sonata meshed together and converted into a metal song. The production values are top notch in this album, with everything so smooth and polished it practically reflects the light.

8. Katatonia - The Great Cold Distance

Katatonia were one of my big finds of 07 (yes, I know they've been around for about 20 years. I'm slow, sue me). As melancholy as a room full of chocolate lovers at a broccoli convention, this album is also beautiful. Jonas Renkse is an amazing singer whose voice floats in and out of the music, sometimes commanding your attention, sometimes sinking into the churning mass of guitars. He conveys great fragility over the powerful rhythms.

7. Kamelot - Ghost Opera

Roy Khan has a voice made for musicals. He is destined I think to play the Phantom of the Opera one day. One of the many reasons I like Kamelot is the theatricality of their music - it may be disguised as symphonic/power/progressive metal, but with a little stripping down and rearranging, I think it would be perfect for the stage. With Ghost Opera the band seem to embrace that more than ever - with the opening string onslaught to set the mood it's like being led into an overture. When songs like "Love you to death" and "Anthemn of Life" make their entrance, you can again see the characters on the stage singing to one another. This is a top album that doesn't have the amazing standout moments of their previous album Black Halo, but probably has more cohesion and functions better as an album.

6. Within Temptation - The Heart of Everything

You know, I'm coming to like Sharon Van Adel better than all the female lead singers of all the symphonic female fronted bands I listen to (quite a few as it transpires). She's picking up more range as the band's albums progress. What I am impressed by is how much more the band themselves are picking up. Their symphonic arrangements in previous albums were truly awe inspiring, but a closer listen revealed always just how boring the guitars and drums were. With The Heart of Everything, the band seem to come into their own a little more. It's still Sharon and the orchestra's show, but the album is made much more powerful by asking the other band members to step up. This is one of the only albums where none of the songs felt like filler.

5. My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

Go on, laugh at me. I don't care. This is a celebration of camp rock operas as played by poe-faced emo-rockers. Musically and structurally it's a love note to Queen and Cabaret, while keeping itself firmly ensconced in traditional punk rock. From the opening track The End where ethereal fingerclicks, ghostly falsetto harmonies and wailing chorus'd vocals all feature to Liza Minelli's appearance in Mama, this is an album that sounds like it's a big, gloriously camp rock and roll joke, the kind that Freddy Mercury could pull and we'd love him for it.

The joke is of course that the band are deadly serious. This isn't meant to be camp, and it isn't tongue in cheek. If there is one truly disappointing fact about this album it is that it takes itself too seriously. Yet in spite of Gerard Way's posturing, the album is still infectious and when the songs get caught up in the excellent music it's easy to set aside the often pretentious and self-righteous lyrics and just enjoy the moment.

This album kept me singing along while I was driving all over the countryside, and while MCR as an entity might be somewhat shameful to like, I don't think that their image prevents appreciation of what is a good album.

4. Muse - Black Holes and Revelations

My appreciation of this album was immeasurably helped by seeing them live - Muse have a strong presence on stage, an awesome light show, and a lead singer/guitarist/pianist who might look like a skinny rodent offstage, but cavorts across the stage like a rock god - and pulls off the closest thing I've seen to it in years.

The album is quintessentially Muse, the way the textures are uitilised, the way the music is evoked. That being said, this is the most stylistically diverse of all their albums, bouncing across moods, rhythms and genres brilliantly. The poppy hooks of Starlight, the sexy bassiness of Supermassive Blackhole, the powerful balladeering of Invincible, the latin-esque sounds of City of Delusion, the grandiose orchestrations of Hoodoo... and of course the epic space western sounds of Knights of Cydonia (more on that later).

This is an album that is often otherworldly, sung with such elegant fragility and woven to provide a surprisingly complex tapestry. It's sometimes eclectic, but always compelling.

3. Dresden Dolls - Yes, Virginia

The Dresden Dolls are the "punk cabaret" - the swaggering alternative rebels of the burlesque stage. Their music is simple - piano and drums, with the occasional acoustic guitar. They're a two piece act with a whole lot of friends to bring to all of their shows, and their pure theatricality is divine.

The songs are songs of heartache, of sexual adventure and misadventure - they push the vulgar into the sublime. You're confronted with simple stories of girls who can't escape their dependancies; of self-pleasure and the rush of guilt and loneliness that accompanies the raw power of the moment; of the pain and awkwardness and absurd beaurocracy of having a sex change; of backyard abortion clinics and many others. The tales are often dark and seedy and sexy and sung like a theatre ditty. Yes Virginia is a compulsory purchase for everyone.

2. Therion - Gothic Kabbalah

The concept album of the year easily - Therion have eclipsed their former albums with this one in my opinion. It has a smaller vocal cast, but a very competent one, and they evoke the strangeness and epic history of cultures dead long before our own. I love this album as it has a little of what I like about Ayreon in it, but it carves its own path as a darker, and at times more powerful album. Certainly a more epic one. Thundering crescendos, operatic singing, and amazing light and dark contrasts make this album one of my highest recommendations. Nobody can evoke the ghosts of ancient civilisations like Therion.

1. The Butterfly Effect - Imago

The Butterfly Effect are my favourite Australian band. It helps I've seen them half a dozen times now and they do a great live show. What I love about them though is what I love about bands like Tool and Muse and others - their ability to build textures. At no point listening to Imago do you ever get dazzled by the technical prowess of the band - but as each layer builds, each ambient processed effect is introduced - you're taken on a journey that has a beginning, a middle, and a real climax. The amazing vocals are what carry the journey and what a casual listener would notice first and foremost, but rest assured it is the music that lends the atmosphere that makes the vocals so effective.

Imago has moments of sublime beauty (most of the album) and moments of rocky angst (the early singles that made it to Triple J). It isn't as diverse or as complex as Muse's album earlier - but it's this comparative simplicity that makes me so damn fond of the album. It's a beautiful album, a singalong classic and a joy to listen to.

Honourables:

Meatloaf - Bat out of Hell

I've listened to this album a shitload this year, and it remains one of the most passionate, exciting rock operas in existence. It's a poor pun to say that Meatloaf sings with "guts" - but it is an apt phrase when so much gusto and feeling is thrown into every verse. A brilliant album.

Jeff Martin - Live in Brisbane

This is a live recording of the very concert I went to - and while the CD doesn't quite capture the incredible magic of being there, it does succeed in helping me relive all the amazing moments that made it one of my favourite concerts ever.

Devin Townsend - Ziltoid the Omniscient

Devin Townsend is a character that draws attention to his work just by being himself. His talent however is abundant. This is a character he created as a boy and has now turned into a riotous, bizarre heavy metal concept album, full of absurdist jokes and weird spacey storylines. For the light storyline though, the music is still as crushing and intense as anything Devin has ever done. This album is fun and intense in equal measures.


Top Ten Songs:

10. Nightwish - Amaranth

Nightwish's first single from their new album with new lead singer Annette Olzen is great - a real power ballad that captures a lot of what Nightwish was about, while still coming across as relatively new - very like Within Temptation, their primary competition for the very epic. Considering Within Temptation started as the imitators, I'm unsure what to make of the development - still, this song and all of Dark Passion Play are great, and I appreciate them triply since seeing the band live.

9. The Dresden Dolls - Mandy Goes to Med School

Stonking bassy cabaret that lyrically might be about backyard abortion clinics. It's not as frightening as that makes it sound - point of fact it's pretty damn fantastic. The Dresden Dolls are back alley theatre and I love them for it.

8. Within Temptation - The Cross

This song has a chorus that gets me every time. Within Temptation keep getting better and better, and this song is proof.

7. Dream Theater - Dark Eternal Night

The first song I heard off Systematic Chaos - it is a great tune, with stacks of fantastic hooks and the masterful musicianship you expect from an act like DT. It now also boasts the claim of having the coolest video clip when synched onstage with the band playing live. Defeating monsters with the power of rock - OH YEAH!!!

6. Therion - Trul/Tuna 1613

A tie between these two songs. Tuna 1613 is an awesome song, galloping and grandiose. Awesome riffery, addictive hooks - from a purely guitar point of view this song would win, but everything else works within it as well. Trul meanwhile is a bit more of a ballad - more folk-metal, with a celtic edge to it. Another top song, and they follow one another on the album making it a double act to be remembered.

5. Gotye - Heart's a Mess

Gotye is why I love the world today - he proves that incredible art can be made anywhere, without millions of dollars, just merely taking advantage of jumps in technology and distribution. This guy has crafted the most incredible tunes, all in his bedroom. Heart's a Mess was a perennial favourite on Triple J, but I won't hold that against it. It's a beautiful, quirky and melancholy pop/electronica/percussion based piece that should be listened to again and again.

4. Meatloaf - Paradise by the Dashboard Light

My dream woman is the kind of person that would spontaneously duet this song with me. Paradise by the Dashboard Light is the naughty Grease, fits right into Cry Baby. It's a mischievous rock opera in a single song, and it's a glorious tribute to teen hormones, sex drive and nostalgia. Are there better songs out there? Hmmmm... let me sleep on it.

3. Kansas - Carry on my Wayward Son

Thanks to Supernatural, I've been flung this song a billion times. Not that I mind at all, it's a fantastic piece of prog rock with a wonderful melancholy refrain that frequently breaks down to fast guitar solos, prog riffery and keyboard warbling. Having listened to a fair bit of Kansas this year, I think it's safe to say they never hit the heights of this song ever again.

2. Muse - Knights of Cydonia

Triple J's hottest 100 made this song Number One - the first Number One that has deserved it in a LONG time! Muse's epic sci-fi prog rock western packs atmospherics, virtuosity, epic-ness and one of the best riffs in years into one song. It has all the great qualities of rock - characters struggling against the odds, obscure metaphor making, and goddamn awesome guitars that are heavy in some moments, and echo like a Morricone soundtrack in others. Knights of Cydonia also has what I think might be my favourite music video of all time. Go now. Search it on YouTube. By the time the Unicorn arrives, you'll know you're watching something very special.

1. Jonathon Coulton - Still Alive

How could it be anything other than this unabashedly chirpy pop ditty that closes the game of the year, Portal? Filled with sweet lyrics, sugary singing, but blacker than black humour it's the perfect blend of nerdy material and great but simple music. It's the kind of song that creeps inadvertently into people's souls - just try singing the opening lines and see who the people are that stop in recognition and grin. It's the most talked about hidden gem on the internet today, and part of its beauty is that it is built on contextual knowledge of its source. It evokes a stimulating experience that produced universal good will and excitement amongst an entire community. Still Alive is a glorious tribute to the altar of pop culture, and goddamn if it isn't the song that can guarantee cheer me up.

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