Saturday, 24 May 2014

10 Superhero Movie Recommendations

(10 Superhero Movie Recommendations From Neamo)

Before you begin reading this top 10, I must impress upon you that I am not a comic book aficionado. I have little to no interest in the sweat drenched pandering of Marvel and it's vague attempts to keep a fifty year old gravy train on the rails, and I won't be quoting source material or advising films based on fan service. In this sense, those of you looking for the Avengers to top this list should stop reading now as aside from a rant it has no place here. Instead, I've picked a collection of superhero films I genuinely enjoy, and while they are in places off brand, I don't feel that detracts from their value.

The Incredibles
(Honorable Mention)
A classically underrated film that deserves at least an honorable mention. Often overlooked in place of the larger Pixar productions, it's only with the announcement of a sequel in the works that people seem to be glancing back fondly, but for me this was already a fond favorite. Snappy dialogue, a warm heart and a great voice cast lend themselves easily to a film that by rights should have garnered more praise. I haven't included it in the running as I'm trying to keep it to the realms of live action, but I had to give it a mention. Please, watch this film.

(10th Place)
Venturing quickly into the realms of controversial choices, we arrive at my 10th place, Hellboy. Unconventional at best, the brooding anti-hero lives in a world of ingrained corruption, elder gods and monsters called forth by the Nazi mystics of yore, our hero being one such creature. With beautiful creature designs, a perfectly cast Ron Pearlman and a taste for witty repartee, this film would be higher on the list if it didn't suffer from pacing problems and a total lack of anything resembling romantic chemistry. A decent offering, though I would advise you avoid it's sequel.

Mystery Men
(9th Place)
My 9th place goes to the eclectic and dysfunctional troop known only as The Mystery Men. I shall go on record as saying I'm not a fan of Ben Stiller, and while he gives a passable performance as the lead main, his brand and branch of comedy remains firmly beyond my grasp. The supporting cast however provide the backbone to this, from the bumbling Hank Azaria to the ever intriguing Geoffrey Rush, who steals the show as the unquestionably alluring Casanova Frankenstein. Over the top, wildly exuberant and often flamboyantly awful, this film knows what it is, and revels in it. A beautiful if at times caustic lampoon of a bygone era of superhero iconography.

The Shadow
(8th Place)
This was a tricky film for me to place, as while it remains unrelentingly cheesy it also delivers a stylish neo-noir take that the genre til that point had seen precious little of. Dark and brooding, our hero appears more villain than vigilante, and the sobriety of his performance lays in stark contrast with the gaudy guile of his exaggerated foe. While the acting is nothing I can really adorn with any form of praise, the film's feel and direction at least help to smooth over the rough edges. Could it have been better? Certainly, but is it worth my 8th place? Without question.

The Rocketeer
(7th Place)
Taking place during the second world war, The Rocketeer is an unusual 7th place I'll grant you, but it's no less valid. During a time of innovation and wartime madness, a stolen jet pack falls into the hands of a man soon to be hunted by Nazi's who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. It sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well in a peculiar mixture of Iron Man and Indiana Jones, that is exactly what this film is. With a well cast adversary played by Timothy Dalton, a great plot and a generally relaxed and casual attitude to the genre, the real detractor would be the now extremely dated special effects. With that in mind, brace yourselves for a good time, albeit an ugly one.
(6th Place)
Hugh Jackman and Wolverine for me have become interchangeable. I'm not entirely sure I can give it a higher compliment. In my 6th place comes the debut act of a franchise that rose to acclaim, fell to utter disgrace and over the past two iterations has attempted to rise from the ashes like Jean Grey. With a star studded cast featuring the esteemed Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, it's casting remains a true joy to behold. In saying that, the film also sports some of the worst script writing Hally Berry's agents have ever approved (And that's saying something. Seriously.) and while it's hark to the era of spandex is rightly lambasted, it's iconic visuals and performances ease any literary tension. A strong superhero movie that deserves respect, regardless of it's faults, sequels and spin offs.
Iron Man
(5th Place)
Robert Downey Jr is a man of many talents, but for the larger part of his career he was known more for his excessive whore mongering and alcoholism than the acting prowess shown in later years, and much as is the case, life imitates art. My 5th place goes to Iron Man, the film that forced people to give a shit about the Avengers. With great action sequences, a plethora of pop culture references and beautiful special effects, this film was always going to be a contender for one of the higher places. Let down perhaps by a characteristically shoddy end fight, this is a fun romp through a middle aged actors era of hedonism.
The Crow
(4th Place)
And now for something a little more bitter sweet. Brandon Lee was set for stardom, and as my listing this in 4th place will reflect, the man could act. With a vibrant air of the goth culture and it's own rather unique spin on the idea of revenge, The Crow is a film that mixes the excessive flamboyance of camp villainy and pun filled dialogue with a far grittier feel. There are no leotard clad superhero's here to clear the streets or happy endings to bring resolution, just a spirit hungry to avenge his love. While at times the imagery can be a little over the top, the film itself remains a good watch, and a sad reminder of the lead actor's talent, who was accidentally killed on set.

(3rd Place) 
Blade remains the benchmark when all else fades to prove definitively that even in the face of Anne Rice's dreary erotic novella's and Stephenie Meyer's abominations, vampires are cool. Our fanged hero, called the day walker due to his penchant for a sunlit stroll, is a halfbreed and dukes it out with the legions of the undead using a samurai sword and a bag full of sass. The special effects haven't dated well admittedly, but they serve only as garnish to the main course, Wesley Snipes in a trench coat. A 3rd place that will never go out of style.

(2nd Place)
In 2nd place I have Watchmen, a film that keeps a close tie in my heart for first. An easy summation of this movie would be that a psychopath, a warmonger, a genius, a nerd and his girlfriend walk into a bar, and God doesn't care. With a plot that's far too convoluted, and in the same stance too good for me to pick apart in a paragraph, our band of heroes are dysfunctional relics from an era of beloved vigilantes. Lacking real super powers, they were discarded when a man through a horrifying experiment attained super powers, and effectively became a god. I'm not overstating. In the face of that, the film revolves around struggles and loathe in the presence of genuine divinity, and a god who is feeling ennui in the presence of mankind. Wonderful, but depressing.

The Dark Knight
(1st Place)
It had to appear on the list at some point. In 1st place comes the performance, quite literally of a lifetime. That seems like a cold and callous remark of my point, and I apologize if it came over with anything but loving respect, but Heath Ledger's role in the Dark Knight soars above anything else in this film. Crazed and maddened to the point of brilliance, unfortunately if rumors are to be believed it's this same mindset that caused the premature passing of a man who clearly had much more to offer. Does it matter that Christian Bale sounds like he's gargling with a mouth full of marbles? No, as this isn't his film. It seems like ardent flattery, and perhaps it is, but this movie is all about the Joker, and that's exactly as it should be. The rest of the film was okay too.

That's it. It's been a long post and it's been difficult to write, but I'm as happy with it as I can be. Why didn't I include other Marvel recent releases? Well, the Spider-man franchise while entertaining enough hasn't produced an offering I feel I can get fully behind. Thor and Captain America aren't so much film franchises at this point as they are explaining why we should give a shit about Iron Man's friends, and are notably of a lesser quality. Oh, and the Avengers is an over rated cluster fuck. I hope you find this list helpful.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Tedious Town

(Ghost Town Review By Neamo)

I'm sure that greater minds than my own have looked over this film and found a wealth of things to talk of. Perhaps some intangible subtlety otherwise missed or a hidden nugget of delight sitting within plain sight. I'm sure of that, and while I'm pleased that someone undoubtedly will find something good to say of this film, I am not that man. Like the visual delights of the color white, the vibrant flavor of tofu or the scintillating read that is the phone book, this film will stand the test of time as being one of those truly bland experiences.

Following the adventures of a constipated English dentist, we see a premise for the worlds most unlikable man fall like stepping stones leading us across a dreary pool. Unloved and unloving, Bertram Pinkus played by Ricky Gervais, aside from earning the award for the worst name in history, falls foul of a rogue colonoscopy, and dies on the table from a reaction to the general anesthetic. Revived minutes later, Bert can to his chagrin now see ghosts, and is roped into the recently deceased machinations of Frank played by a rather slimy Greg Kinnear. Agreeing to aid in Frank's plans of alienating his wife from her potential new love interest, Bert ultimately begins to fall for the maligned Gwen portrayed by Téa Leoni. Worming his way into her affections, Bert ultimately slithers into a corner he can't back out of when he has to explain knowledge of the deceased, and the two abruptly part ways. After a brief reunion, he dies, is revived once more and the two bond over the idea of Egyptian corpses. Oh, and for a few minutes Bert helps the resident spooks of New York, Sixth Sense style. A happy event for all.

The truth is, when all is said and done I'm left overwhelmingly unenthused by the entire sensation. That doesn't connote that it was bad in of itself, although it certainly remains drab and lackluster, but it leaves me with a great void or chasm of things to discuss. This isn't so much a movie as it is an amalgamation of poor ghost fiction that allows Ricky Gervais to front his mainstay as the most annoying man in the world, and while everyone enjoys a good bastard now and again, the laughs don't support the screenplay. It's possible I've been desensitized to that particular brand of comedy, it's also possible that I lack a sense of humor, but for the life of me I can't understand how it's been branded as a funny film. With little to no comedic timing and a wealth of awkwardness in it's stead, each gag either overplays or falls tragically short, aiding only in the feeling of general ineptitude. The romance that sparks between Gervais and Leoni feels forced and without any on screen chemistry, and ultimately the film just fizzles to an anticlimax. Any other plot cohesion falls flat in the face of his Scrooge like emotional rebirth, and while I can see many would compare this to Scrooge, I would argue that Ebenezer was inherently interesting and this wasn't.

The acting of this film was fairly mediocre. I feel that might come across negatively, and while that isn't my intent it remains the best statement of pooled talent within. Greg Kinnear remains a friendly face and soothing voice, despite his dysfunctional and sleazy portrayal of a shameless womanizer. Perhaps it stands only in contrast to the other lead, but he remains an identifiable source of comfort in a film otherwise destitute of easy viewing. Téa Leoni in slightly less favorable tones portrays a woman who, while beautiful, is just weird enough that you could conceive a world where Ricky Gervais stands a chance. I'm not overstating it, that is the point of her entire character development as an Egyptologist. Ricky Gervais is Ricky Gervais. The sentence ends as it begins and reveals all whilst saying nothing. With harks back to obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety and perhaps a knowing nod to autistic tendencies, the accrued sum of his portrayal stands alone- as a portrayal of Ricky Gervais. If it weren't for the laughable special effects and rare humanizing moments delivered with the tender subtlety of a muggers fist, I would swear blindly that he had no idea he was being filmed.

Of gripes I have few. It was tired, yes, and it was dull, but I've mentioned those things at length throughout. The only other things I could truly pick apart were the laughable attempts at redemption by Gervais in which he solves the problems of a handful of spooks. Throughout the entire film he had been haunted by ghosts asking for his aid, and in a three minute montage he solved their earthly woes, allowing them to pass on. It felt cheap and insulting, frankly, like a writer attempting to plug a literary hole.

In summation, Ghost Town lingers only as a pale emulation other movies. Tedious, humorless and generally unmentionable, it's a film that will be forgotten in moments, as well it should be. Don't watch Ghost Town, watch Ghost.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Books Grief

(The Book Thief Review By Neamo)

I'd like to start with an explanation as to why I'm reviewing this film rather than the promised critique of Ghost Town. If I'm entirely honest, I felt it might be insensitive on my part to review a film entitled such just after writing a memorial for an actor I held in high esteem. It might seem overtly cautious, but it's simply a mark of my own respect. As such I'll complete that review at another time, and lead on with my take on The Book Thief in it's stead.

Opening in the pale of winter, our narrator, Death, takes us on a whimsical and light hearted journey into the depths of Nazi Germany in order to tell us in tones of drawl nostalgia of a member of the Hitler youth he became enraptured with. Liesel, played by Sophie Nélisse, is a girl of communist parents who serves as our titular protagonist, the book thief, and lives alongside the jovial Hans played by Geoffrey Rush and the staunch Rosa portrayed by Emily Watson. Encouraging Liesel to come out of her shell by teaching the girl how to read, Hans ultimately feeds a literary fire within the impressionable Liesel, who in warming to the magic of the snow draped swastika's takes it upon herself to fuel her passion where-ever available. Befriending an Aryan sprint racer with a penchant for black face, Liesel's foster family pay an old debt in taking a Jewish refugee into their house, and life goes on as it may with the sickly but carefree fellow. As time passes, ultimately her friend Max is forced to leave in the increasing pressure of house searches, and Hans too is drafted into war, and while I would like to tell you the crux of this story is of how Liesel steals books, it isn't. It's a bomb. I'm not joking. In a segment that breaks through all traditional story telling rapture of five minutes, a bomb falls on their house killing all but Liesel. Liesel, momentarily filled with despair and ennui, is delighted to find a book after walking past her perfectly preserved friends and family, shrouded by their ruined homes of rubble and splintered timber. Cutting forward, Liesel meets up with Max once more who strides in looking decidedly more debonair than is to have been expected, and it's all finished with a happy and heart warming monologue from the Grim Reaper. It's a family film.

I'm more than a little conflicted in reviewing the plot of this film. I have been assured that the book this originated from portrays the story with the depth this seems to yearn for, but as I haven't read the book I shall have to take those words at face value. Feeling much like a thing of grandeur pulped down for the sake of being concise, the film consistently brings red herrings into the foray in order to build tension, only to let them wane and fade away. Max and his introduction? Merely a footnote. The book given to Liesel, inscribed with Hebrew? A momentary flutter of the imagination. Even the principle act of stealing books builds to nothing as no repercussion save brief scolding amounts of it, and it leaves a man feeling dour. I'm certain these thematic elements were better placed and more deeply drawn within the pages of the original book, but on film it feels like random tangents designed to fill space until the ending act. When the film is entitled the book thief, and aside from a love of literature it has no deep bearing on the plot, one can be forgiven for feeling decidedly misanthropic about the entire affair. The film instead showed a girl's coming of age and development within Nazi Germany, nothing more and nothing less.

The ending of the film is perhaps my largest gripe, and it's also the source of my inner struggle. It's garbage. I know I'll piss off some of the story's more ardent fans who will applaud that it keeps true to character, and shows that death may come for any at a moment's notice. I'm not denying that, nor am I denying the validity considering it's setting. The reason this ending is garbage is entirely involved in it's set up and aftermath. The bomb wipes out the town, and abandoning all reason now that those countless plot devices and mechanisms built carefully from before are now lain to waste, we are left back at square one. That would be fairly bad, but I could live with her clambering from the wreckage and perhaps the ending scene there. Instead after a moment or two of grief we are treated to a sickly sweet reunion and monologue finish in the expanse of five minutes. I felt cheated. Deservedly so. I had felt the tension of the prior moments, and felt eager for the plot to build and gather pace, but it didn't. It simply ended, after an event that was by all other measures an act of deus ex machina. I'm flabbergasted that this was the agreed screenplay, and while the ride til this point had been faintly enjoyable, I quickly regretted investing any time in it.

To talk of the acting, it is for the most part masterfully executed. While I didn't attach to Liesel's dry and rather listless performance as the most ignorant girl on Earth, it wasn't wholly unbelievable. To speak of the girl as an actress however feels to be too much of a kindness, and I would instead compare her to a talking prop. Overtly harsh? Possibly, but she truly gave the weakest performance of the principle cast, and she was the lead protagonist. Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson's performances in turn however were things of beauty, as beneath the kindness both seem tired and drawn. In each scene a haunted expression lurks beneath a down trodden smile, or a furtive glance to each tender gesture that otherwise betrays a prior history only hinted at on screen, and it adds true character depth. Ben Schnetzer gives a fair performance as the sickly Max, and although the plot remains a little contrived over the issue, he remained a presence. Nico Liersch gave one of if not the best performances of the film however as Rudy. Proving that children can act in the wake of the lauded but lackluster lead performance, Nico's character remains one of the films true moral centers, and assists in the immersion of the viewer. Oh, and where would I be if I didn't mention Death? Voiced by the legendary Roger Allam, it's a voice that I both instantly recognized and held favor to. A good casting decision.

The music and mise en scene are appropriate to the era. I can't say I was blown away by the setting, but it was a snow capped village in Nazi Germany, and it was never going to be a festival of light and sound. For the large part the music evaded me, save for the juxtaposition of one beautifully shot scene where a choir of the Nazi Youth are singing soft and lilting tones to the cut overture of the Kristallnacht and the horrors therein. I also noted the original German national anthem being sung at the burning of books, which while entirely appropriate became quickly drawn out. It was as it was.

I can't recommend this film with an open heart or ease. For the most part it's fairly unoffensive and actually provides very decent performances from it's leads. It's set well, and the ride though infuriating can provide some satisfaction. It ends however not with a bang, but a whimper. I'd suggest Schindler's List if you are looking for something of that time period that actually provides depth. Or perhaps The Boy In The Striped Pajamas. Watch something else.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins

(Bob Hoskins : October 26, 1942 – April 29, 2014)

In many ways the passing of actors feels like the passing of friends, and be that a byproduct of media voyeurism or the nature of familiarity, the pangs of loss resonate in their wake. To call it grief would be an insult to those who knew the man behind the curtain, the genuinely bereaved, but the feeling of mourning can and will heavily hang in the hearts of many who did not, myself included. It is the nature of cinema that we hold characters and indeed actors too, close to our hearts, and while much can be attributed to writing, the face behind it, the voice and manner remain like a companion, guiding you onward. Few actors can promise to leave such a mark, and for most while their merits can be listed and their praises sung, their lamentation of loss remains academic and without the feelings or heart behind it. Bob Hoskins was not one of those actors, and any words that can be said of the man will be filled, I assure you with deepest sorrow.

Gruff often to the point of intimidation, Hoskins had the rare and masterful ability to humanize in sheer expression and tone. With an intimidating natural stance and gravelly voice, portraying care and warmth would seem to most a natural juxtaposition, but it seemed natural when applied to the man. From the bumbling but good hearted Smee from Hook to the charming Lou from Mermaids, there was a natural charisma to Hoskins that remained unique but ever warm. Perhaps an inner air of confidence coupled with the depth of his expression. I would of course be remiss if I didn't mention his performance as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Tough but seasoned with personal loss, his portrayal was impressive in it's own right, made more so by the ground breaking techniques and his ability to respond to them.

I know little of the man on a personal level, and the things I do have been garnered through interviews. A man of strong ideals and good will, that same warmth came easily to see, and reportedly was much a part of his character. I would like to believe so. What I do know is that the world is a sadder and colder place in his absence. I invite you all to take an hour or two to look over or discover for the first time, that warmth and kind candor that I for one will sorely miss from here onward.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Taking Some Nea Time

(An Announcement By Neamo)

 Well, this seems to be something of a recurrent theme, but once again in a moment of British weakness I feel I must apologize for the sporadic nature of my posts, and their spontaneity. The fact of the matter is I had started this blog under a false pretense, that I would have a near infinite pool of free time in order to post at my leisure. Without too in depth a back history, I had rendered myself in years past practically unemployable, and aside from a little dabbling in the murky and otherwise formless waters of volunteering I had nothing to occupy my time with. This blog came about as most good things do, in a conversation over films and reviews thereof. Now however, this week especially, I am finding time to be a far rarer commodity than I had banked upon. I've been secured in a potentially career changing placement. What does that mean? Well, for the purpose of this blog it means continued breaks, and that my somewhat regular updates, at least until I've stabilized in my new working environment will become somewhat irregular, as I shall have to cut down upon the posts. Fear not however as this is not me stopping, more an announcement that until I have settled, the reviews shall trickle rather than pour through. I hope that is acceptable. I can assure you that whenever a nugget of unused time creeps my way, I shall use it to try and entertain you, the viewers of my blog. So, with that out of the way, I shall post apologetically, and announce that my next review is to be of the movie Ghost Town.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Ripper Sweet

 (Ripper Street Review By Neamo)

The show reeks of quality I had thought lost to British productions. I don't mean that in an offensive manner, but the fact is British television by and large has stagnated and festered in the wake of it's rapidly moving American counterparts, and we've become accustomed to an air of accepted mediocrity in productions and values within. I could argue, rightly, that as a general whole it may be due to the budgetary constraints as England has a lesser purse and by the same means tighter drawstrings, but that often doesn't seem to be the case. There is something of a renaissance appearing within American television, where concepts are being pushed and boundaries of old are being bowled over, as seen by the success of the before unmarketable Game of Thrones, the dark drug addled depths of Breaking Bad or the deep postulations of True Detective. There's a revival of the small screen values that otherwise had been lambasted to the wayside as fit for queasy soap opera's and paltry dramatics, and it's exciting and vibrant. It's not an entire change, and for the most part those sloppy sitcoms and tired staples of television hold their heads high, but increasingly so, we're seeing shows appear that take risks. Playing with formula and paying for results, it's a bold and daring thing I have admired and expected fully to remain out of British grasp, but here I am, talking of a BBC production, a studio long since mired in it's own filth, in an astoundingly positive manner. The BBC have since cancelled this show of course.

  • Acting : The acting of Ripper Street is by far it's strongest suit. Boasting actors that have been lamented for their prior performances, it would take far too long to mention the episodic extra's that waft in from various productions, notably Game of Thrones. Instead I'll focus on the core cast. Matthew Macfadyen provides a believable and grounded detective inspector, playing the part of the haunted Edmund Reid with a finesse rarely seen. Curt without callousness, his sincere and stern demeanor perfectly portray the gentile of Victorian society, astute and knowledgeable but with a healthy dose of skepticism, wrapped neatly within the persona of a man damaged and emotionally crippled. His awkwardness at times lends itself beautifully to the character without making him an English stereotype. Jerome Flynn is a man I can't get enough of on television, from his early days in Soldier Solider to his rousing performance as Bronn in Game of Thrones, and in this show he portrays the reliable muscle that is the Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake. Strong, merciless with a brutal edge, he is also a large part of the comic relief with little about him providing the suave sophistication of the other two leads. The thug, but also the innocent, he remains unencumbered with the dark brooding and instead serves as the righteous force that otherwise helps ground the show. It would be unflattering to call him a Watson, as he seemingly wants no part of that life, more the layman that can be identified with, he provides the show's brutal moral core. The final addition to the team is the mystical American doctor played by Adam Rothenberg, a man by the name of Captain Homer Jackson. With aliases to boot and the troubled past of being a gun man but also a surgeon, he provides an often large centerpiece for strife, but also some of the most startling wisdom of any of the characters. Functioning much like a magical hobo, doling out life experience and knowledge disproportionate to his years, Homer Jackson appears to have knowledge about chemistry, smells and scents, geography, insect migration- If there is a subject, he has something profound and case aiding to add. It might seem like I'm being facetious, and if I'm honest I am a little, but his acting prowess allows the suspension of disbelief, keeping him relevant and fresh. Relatable and funny, he remains a suave if morally bankrupt character.

  •  Writing : The writing of this show is superb. While there are plot devices that I would otherwise disagree with, for instance, the uneasy introduction of John Merrick in the second season, the writing and the dialogue within remain faultless. Easy to watch and easy to listen to, it retains a Victorian candor without sounding false and forced, and each sentence or quip mingles pleasantly to the ear. The plot threads themselves each have impact with every episode adding to the background or changing the view of the characters episode for episode leading to a steady progression. There are no fillers here, and likewise it is not a show where events have no impact upon the characters. Instead through joyous writing, the likes of which I had long thought lost to the BBC with their love of Moffat and his dull scribblings, we see progression and change that ultimately leaves much to be questioned but little to be complained of. Detective Reid on surface appears fairly well held together, haunted by the loss of his child but with a fixed moral center and dedication toward justice. Over the course of two seasons we see this pillar of the community gradually slip into the darkness, with the ending of season two providing a moral ambiguity that frankly remains jarring. Showing that the best of us can crumble, it's but one of many clever devices employed by skillful writers. Writers now unemployed thanks to the BBC discontinuing the show. Thanks BBC.

  •  General Positives : The positives to this show are many. For one it is set after the Jack the ripper killings, an idea that otherwise hadn't been fronted as it was a time of fear, of public skepticism in the law and in others but also of utter darkness. Our detectives likewise were unable to catch the ripper and in ways see the fulfillment of their duty as a form of atonement. It's clever, and it provides alarming depth to a subject otherwise glossed over for the romanticized idea of the mysterious serial killer. I also like the tastefulness with which certain subjects are handled. This was an era where prostitution was common place and brothels held information for the good detectives. While we do see flesh, it pales in the light of other current shows, and remains ever tasteful. You won't see a dwarf fondling tits here for shock value. I also very much like the main theme, which evokes memories of Firefly. That was probably why it was cancelled in retrospect.

  •  Gripes : As mentioned earlier it is a little off setting that the resident surgeon seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of any subject presented, but I can't call that a genuine gripe as I admire that it defies stereotype. What do I mean by this? When you introduce an American gunslinger to an English Victorian, odds are fairly good that they will be written off as a toothless drunk, with barely a thought in their head. These are stereotypes long standing, and it's reversal actually provides an area of distinct fascination. I was not thrilled with the portrayal of John Merrick as I felt it unnecessary, but at the same time it provided nothing that was overtly offensive. You are starting to see my problem. I can list faults, but nothing sticks to mind as being wrong or out of place. I'm not sure whether it's a willingness to defend or a string of weak criticisms, but I can't tout them with real conviction. Well, in saying that, I suppose I could call upon one criticism. That being that a series of idiot executives cancelled it. Yes, that is my gripe.

So in summary, it's truly good television, the likes of which the BBC had never seen and now will never see again undoubtedly. I strongly advise you give it a try.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Basil The Great Mouse Retrospective

 (Basil The Great Mouse Detective Review By Neamo)

There are times when, in feeling lethargic and generally infirm, a man or woman craves something beyond the usual comforts of their daily drudge. I myself am one such man. Wallowing in ailments that set a deep craving within me for bed linen and comfort, I returned once more to Disney and cartoons of my childhood. Please take note, as is usually the case whenever I fall ill, that while the review's schedule might be effected, I shall do my best to maintain standards. I'm a people person.

Set in Victorian London, the owner of a local toy shop, Mr Flaversham is abducted by a villainous and faintly racially suspect bat by the name of Fidget, leaving his young daughter Olivia alone and destitute in his wake. Distraught, she seeks out the aid of Basil of baker street with the well meaning but portly Dawson guiding her. Convincing the detective to take up the case after a cold lead on his arch nemesis, the nefarious Ratigan, Basil and crew secure the services of their trained beagle Toby and ride the lovable steed onward as the game is afoot. Tracking Fidget to a human toy store, they find quickly that gears have been stripped and soldiers disrobed, but in their efforts to track the peg legged thief, lose track of Olivia who is kidnapped in turn. Turning to Basil's scientific prowess, they discern that the likely location of schemes is in fact a waterfront pub, and disguise in tow make their way inside in an attempt to infiltrate. Things of course don't exactly go to plan as the bumbling Dawson, becoming drugged, starts a bar fight that leads to a hasty escape. Pursuing Fidget into a sewer pipe, it becomes clear they have been trapped, and Basil's spirit is broken as Ratigan lauds it over them both before securing them to a deviously fashioned device in a move that is both James Bond villain and mouse trap. Realizing the queen is in peril and that they too are soon to be extinguished by a heinous rube goldberg machine of death, Basil foils the machine, saves the queen and has one of the most memorable final showdowns of any cartoon, all atop the tower of Big Ben. All in a days work for our Homes inspired hero.

So, where to begin? The plot of this crime caper might seem a little tired at first glance with the child seeking help from the genius detective to find her missing pater, but in fact it acts more as a love letter to classic Conan Doyle, with many borrowed tropes translated directly within. Though names are changed and much is alluded to, what we are looking at is a watered down Sherlock for children, and that can't be a bad thing. Likewise the pragmatic and magnanimous villain Ratigan seems a far departure from the haphazard villains of Disney culture. Sophisticated and debonair, he portrays himself as an idol of vanity itself, forcing his henchmen to quite literally sing his praises, lauding it over the ailing detective whilst also dispatching of any who would bring into question his standing by calling him a rat. He is a rat of course, but that isn't important. Did you hear a bell? In any case, this megalomaniac reflects well the self centric qualities of Moriarty, in a more lovable package as must be the case, and it certainly helps the film to flow. I could put it down to the voice acting, which was simply superb with his voice provided by Vincent Price, but I'm almost certain that it was too about clever writing. That air of class. That's what I think this film has that allows it to be distinct from other Disney films. We aren't talking of magic and wonders, nor are we talking of emaciated fashionistas and their love of all things gaudy, this is a film about political conquest and keen minds. It shouldn't by rights be as entertaining as it is, but it manages beautifully.

The animation is beautiful, but that's to be expected of a Disney production. I have since learned that it was in fact the saving grace of the company in a time when the Black Cauldron, a then under appreciated classic, had sank the collective budget of the animation department. In this sense, it saved the company and heralded the age of the Disney Renaissance, so it certainly has that going for it. I won't say it's the most beautiful animation I've ever seen, as I've certainly enjoyed the style of other films more so than this, but it has it's own unique charm in that classically undefinable but inherent Disney style. The musical scores weren't the strongest. With most either acting as background or featuring none of the principle cast the music is understated and at times entirely unfocused. The pub scene with Watson though requiring dancers felt over played as the song itself and the singer had no relevance to the film itself, and while it seemed poignant at the time and much like it would build, ultimately it served as little more than a red herring. The dancers could easily have been dancing to the sound of the piano alone, it looked much like an executive had asked for there to be more music for the sake of the audience rather than the film's cohesion.

What gripes do I have to pick with a childhood favorite? It's certainly a struggle, but I'll do my best. While the plot itself seems clever, at times much like the Holmes that had inspired it, the non specific elements of chemistry that lead to the conclusion often feels rushed with little explanation. We hear of soot dust connecting to lamps, of gummed paper and cheap alcohol, and indeed of the paper's origin and dousing in salt water. We hear of this, and as an adult it might be possible to put it together logically or follow, but not as a child. I don't speak for all children when I say this, so pay heed and take note, but for the most part children are stupid. No child is going to follow the path of the deductions in the same way no child would, or should, understand the comparison of bullet rifling that caused Basil anguish earlier in the film. While I praise the idea of a watered down Holmes for children, I feel the film asks for a lot in terms of keeping interest, and it begs the question, who was their real target audience? I was satiated as a child with the humor and cute aesthetic, so while I can now laud the tributes between film and book, they seem a little hollow coming from retrospect. It seems as if at times it attempted more to be clever than it did to appeal to it's audience, and while that isn't specifically a bad thing, it doesn't seem like a clever marketing move.

Overall, I love the film. It has something for everyone, and while children may not understand all it has to offer, it remains special for the reasons listed above.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Pacific Grim

 (Pacific Rim Review And Rant By Neamo)

Complimenting a film when it's good is a fine and noble thing to do. This is a film that inspires no such nobility in me, nor does it's director. Prepare yourselves, it's about to get bitter.

With the world in ruin after the emergence of Kaiju's, Cthulian horrors that if left to their own devices would make a straight and steady beeline for Japan, emerge one after the other from a rift beneath the ocean and wreathe international havoc upon any nation in their path. To combat this new threat, all of the nations of the world unite to produce the most stereotypical and impractical defense form this world has ever seen, mecha's, or to the blissfully ignorant of you, enormous humanoid robots piloted by the young and emotionally damaged. Created in order to manhandle the beasts without conventional bullets for fear of their toxin filled blood seeping into the ocean below, these hulking titans of advanced engineering are powered by on board nuclear reactors, and wade into battle with all the grace and durability of rock-em sock-em robots, a flaw not missed by detractors. When our would be hero, Raleigh Becket boards the ineptly named Gipsy Danger, with his brother who we'll refer to as meat, we see a world far changed from the golden age of hope and prosperity. We also see why. Requiring two pilots in order to balance the strain of the mecha, or jaeger's AI system, it lurches predictably forward, swinging it's fists like a pair of glorified pillows against the armed rapist of it's tentacled foe, and while trickery is engaged, meat is quickly cleaved free from his brother in a scene so predictable and vapid that it could have been penned in crayon. A ladle of angst and a hasty government closure later, we see Raleigh working as a new age navvy on an international coastal wall, soon to be rubble. Can things end here? Of course not. Re-opening the jaeger project, a government official drags Raleigh back into the chair, and finds him an Asian co-pilot who quickly becomes the female love interest of our traumatized hero. With a rebuilt Gipsy Danger ready to breach the shore and take on the abyssal horrors, a plot is devised to nuke the breach, something before untested, and while a smaller sub plot involving a scientist mentally linking himself to the Kaiju appears, it ultimately goes nowhere and panders to nothing. There is a side 'villain' in the aggressive Australian, who dies predictably in a moment of redemption, and ultimately Gipsy Danger must swan dive into the void riding a Kaiju, which it does before detonating it's nuclear reactor. Earth's victory is secured.

What's that? I skipped and skimmed through the plot? Well frankly, I had to. It's a complicated, boring and trite affair that climbs the footholds of classic anime like a drunk baby supported by a guide wire, and while it covers a lot of ground, none of it is new. It's a mess, frankly. Boring for the most part, particularly in the exploratory quest for a Kaiju brain which leads to a half assed Ron Pearlman experiment, the only real joy to be garnered from the spouting nonsense is in the fight scenes, and they themselves make little to no sense. With fists that damage little, these shambling hulks of steel have no agility in water, and the only effective weapon shown is a sword that snaps out at the literal last moment. It begs the question, why not just wield your fucking sword from the offset? Why indulge in this fetishistic foreplay with the minions of the under dark when you have a light saber at your disposal? Why in fact not make the machines to be run by the computers that so clearly bear the reticent bulk of their creation and have them be controlled remotely? If we want to go further, why the hell would we go with mecha's to begin with, in lieu of other more effective methods of disposal, such as a seething cloud of swarming drones? I asked this, and I must refer to an answer stated rather plainly by someone trying to defend the film and it's premise. 'Well, having giant robots fight giant monsters is pretty much the only way to have a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.' That's it in a nutshell. That is why I am frankly disinterested in the plot and the premise, and it's a beautiful summation. This was never a film, and for all the plot points it attempts to tout and references to promote, this abortion of cinematic values holds no sway. This film in it's entirely is about Guillermo del Toro attempting to show all and sundry his sketchbook in an act of unintelligent, self serving hedonism that proclaims itself a love letter to something greater. It isn't, it's balderdash.

The acting of this film is difficult to gauge, mainly because there is little to be seen of it anywhere. As such I'm not going to talk of it. I can't find it. There is no believable raw emotion, and every actor who took part in this sham should feel utterly ashamed of themselves for such blatant fan service in the face of actual performance. Instead I'm going to talk of the CGI. The CGI is good, certainly. It wasn't the magnificent leap of engineering I had heard it touted to be, that mark lays firmly with Avatar which to this day remains the most visually impressive computer generated film, though sadly it too is woefully lacking in all other areas. It looks decent enough, the water looked much as water does, the mecha's looked a little like Michael Bay rejects and the monsters like rubbery children's drawings, but they were rendered well, so there's that. The sound track might as well have been non existent to me for the impact it had, and likewise all other assets of the film simply weren't memorable. I know these were things that existed, just as I know there were indeed actors of flesh and bone who drifted lazily on screen, but that is the extent of my care of the matter.

Guillermo Del Toro is a director of whom frankly you should expect more. Able to work well with a lesser budget, he has produced some of the most fascinating films I've ever seen, in their conception and production. I must admit, these are Spanish films that were made on virtual shoestrings, but they are good in of themselves, fantastic to watch and a treat of general magnificence, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth amongst them. While not all of his films are hits, he has the spark of brilliance in him, so to see him direct and write something like this is much akin to seeing a drunken Beethoven shit in his own piano, to raucous applause I'm horrified to say.

If I were given the chance to see this film again, I would choose not to. When I say I would rather be publicly castrated than have to endure it or it's smirking and self satisfied fans, I am not overstating. Watch Pan's Labyrinth or The Devil's Backbone instead.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Load For Chel Dorado

(The Road To El Dorado Review By Neamo)
While the title might imply that this review is a frothy mouthed tirade of cynicism and bitterness, I will assure you that this couldn't be further from the truth. I am if nothing else bitter, twisted and hypercritical of flaws wherever and whenever I find them, and few movies hold innate charm that can openly defy that bitterness. This however is one of those movies. Steeped in nostalgia, the bane of any real critique, this is a film that resonates with my childhood and provides layers of new enjoyment with each watch. While I could easily ramble on into a monolithic paragraph with little cohesion and less direction, I feel now is a perfect time to start the review.

We start our film with the principle cast, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline), a pair of bungling but well meaning con artists in a particularly nasty period of Spanish history who secure themselves a map of El Dorado with loaded dice. Hilarity and tribulations ensue as our dynamic duo are chased by guards, countrymen and bull alike onto the ship of the encroaching shadow of death that is Cortes. Imprisoned in the brig and without any real hope, save for a remarkably intelligent horse named Altivo, they disembark into the ocean in a row boat leaving the three stranded and starving on an endless plane of wet desolation. Fortune favors the inept however, and as they breach the sandy shores of salvation, Miguel quickly produces the map, much to Tulio's chagrin. Questing onward through unknown terrain, they bump into an otherwise hidden local, a thief called Chel (Rosie Perez) who unwittingly leads guards from the hidden city to our hapless duo, quickly bringing them to the city in a display of trust that Spain would never see again from any country of the new world. Introduced to the two city chieftains, the festively plump Tannabok and the living embodiment of the devil, Tzekel-Kan, our heroes through luck alone convince the city of their divinity and that they are gods. It is here the plot thickens as we see what starts as a planned heist evolve into a genuine care from our brotagonists. Miguel, euphoric with cultural ecstasy, channels the inner travel guide that had forever longed to peel free and helps to involve himself in the city's culture and heritage, whilst Tulio, immersed in the scheme with the aid of Chel, finds his own euphoria by immersing himself in the buxom female. That isn't a joke. Quickly however things go amiss. After a game of the world's most complicated form of basketball, Tzekel-Kan discovers they are mortals, and not the gods he had wished for in his religious fervor. Distraught but not outdone, he cracks open the peeling text of voodoo for beginners and after displaying a power that frankly should have left him ruling the city like a giant among ants, summons a giant stone jaguar. Now fighting over different goals and women problems, our team put their feelings aside to send Tzekel-Kan to Xibalba, a whirlpool outside of the city gates. Found by Cortes and leading him to the city, Tzekel-Kan looks set to have the last laugh, but in a final act of selflessness and a reparation of our fellowship, Miguel, Tulio, Chel and of course the ever present Altivo work together to foil the plan by sealing the entrance and forsaking the gold. A happy ending for all. Except for the villagers who probably sent parties into the jungle to forage for food, and who all now have Spanish Flu. A happy ending for all who count.

So, where to go from here? I've recapped the plot, and if I am to review it, I could only say I think it is perfection. Filled with witty references that still remain culturally relevant to this day, and in jokes made for parents that otherwise would not have been obvious to watching infants, the breadth of story explored in this film felt spectacular. I will admit, motivations seemed a little shallow, and if I wanted to stab at the heart of the piece I would say Chel was clearly using Tulio as a means to an ends and thus remained a gold digging harlot, but I won't. I don't like using the excuse 'it was made for children', as it implies inherent stupidity is acceptable. What I will say is the complex theme of a romantic story would have had little place in lieu of their core demographic, and also in the face of the light adventure itself. It would have served only to disrupt the ease and fluidity of the story, and that would have been a shame in of itself, so whether hooker or heroine, the plot should have remained the same. It's this freedom to interpret I think that allows for much of the comedic build, the misplaced kiss of Chel during a 'tender' moment with Tulio leaving many who have lost their purity screeching back in revelation, whilst the exploding cigars smoked during the festivities could clearly have been representing marijuana. These little gifts of good writing and careful planning pepper this film and leave it a true joy to behold, with exquisite repeat value. The dialogue too is snappy and well placed, and the general plot ideal opens the stage for raucous fun. More films should take note of this.

The voice acting in this film is superb, with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh providing likable and reasoned performances, expected of veteran actors. Bringing comedic timing with vocals that feel unforced, they truly embody the characters they become. I could talk of other specific examples, but the matter of fact is that all of the vocal performances in this film are stunning in of themselves. If I am going to mention vocals however, I must take a moment to advise the soundtrack of this beautiful film. Elton John's original score is magnificent, and holds well against the test of time and changing tastes. Crisp, husky but at the same time filled with that magnanimous charm that many fans of the singer have come to expect, it never disappoints and remains an unwavering favorite, especially 'The Trail We Blaze' and 'Without Question' for yours truly. The animation too is sumptuous and stylish for it's time. I'm starting to get a little sugar rush from how much praise I'm glazing this movie with, so this may be a good time for me to summarize.

The Road to El Dorado is many things, and all of them good. It defies genre, age group and expectations by being a truly universally entertaining film, and is something everyone should experience at least once. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Yes, you. Right now. El Dorado.
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