Sunday, 27 September 2009

District 9

I have a recurring nightmare where my teeth fall out. This is part of the reason why half an hour into District 9 I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. By the end I was satisfied it was one of the best sci-fi movies I've ever seen.

An alien ship arrives over Johannesburg and the aliens, after failing to intermix with the human population, are relocated to a slum - District 9. Twenty years later they are to be evicted again. Shockingly, the execution of the plan doesn't go exactly to script.

For maximum enjoyment, I recommend seeing this movie with only this information.

District 9 was created on a somewhat low budget but you wouldn't know that by looking at the special effects which blend seemlessly into their environment. The ship is a wonder to behold, the aliens look great even close up, the deaths are spectacularly gory and the weapons have been designed and created with as much care and attention you'd expect to see from a games developer.

It's not just the effects that shine. The story has emotion, drama, thrills, adventure, horror (plenty), scares and even the odd sick laugh. Throw in a few FUCK YES moments and you've got a great. You end up feeling for characters you didn't give a second thought to and the traditional roles of good guys and bad are pretty much fluid. Your assumptions and predictions are happily blown out of the water.

The man in charge of the aliens' (named only colloquially as Prawns) relocation to District 10 is Wikus Van De Merwe, a pencil pusher from MNU. Played fantastically by Sharlto Copley, he's not your traditional protagonist. He's a bureaucrat and a geek but like the best heroes he is transformed (and then some) by the exhillarating if harrowing finale. It's with Wikus that we spend our time and

As surface level entertainment District 9 is golden but if you like your movies a little more thought-provoking of course, the real life parallels are there if you want to take them but aren't shoved in your face to any irritating degree.

The worst thing about the movie was the trailer for New Moon I was forced to endure before it started. Other than that I understand some people don't like jerky handheld camera movements though I have no problem with them myself. The documentary style in which some of the movie is shot in can take a bit of getting used to though it does settle in later.

It is immense fun expecting a quality if run of the mill sci-fi horror and getting something much more. I think District 9 has rocketed alongside some of the greats - Alien and Cloverfield spring immediately to mind. It's a crying shame the Halo movie collapsed as Neill Blomkamp, who was keyed to direct, did such a fantastic job on this gem. I look forward to his next work.

I just hope there are no more teeth moments. I can watch someone explode just fine. Just not the teeth. Please, not the teeth.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen - Too Much Too Fast.

There are plenty of reasons to see Transformers 2, and they're all pretty shallow. Giant fighting robots, explosions aplenty, the unfathomable hotness of Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox shamelessly draped over a motorcycle. Hey, it worked on me. I thoroughly enjoyed the mindless fun of the first movie and was looking forward to more. Well, there were certainly more robots...

At this point I like to summarise the plot of the film. I'll give it a go, but the fact that I can't really remember it should tell you something about Revenge of the Fallen. Since the first movie Optimus Prime and growing gang of Autobots are helping the US keep Decepticon visits on the DL. A plot device falls out of Sam Witwicky's (Shia LeBeouf) jacket and information gets downloaded into his brain regarding the location of 'the matrix', a device that will activate another device and... destroy the planet? I forget. The Autobots must protect Sam and his loved ones (plus comic relief college roomate) from the Decepticons, who want the device. Explosive metal clanking hilarity ensues!

The plot of Transformers 2 is far too convulted to make much sense. When a film is two and half hours long and still doesn't manage to explain the story adequately, there's something wrong. The plot's in there somewhere but it's drowning in a sea of too many robots, pointless college comedy and unnecessary subplotts. Seriously, I don't care if Sam says 'I love you', just explain to me why there's a bearded Decepticon hatching eggs in space. Too much to ask?

There are some highlights - Bumblebee still makes me sad that you can't hug robots, the giant hybrid Decepticon is pretty badass (but too easily defeated), and all the returning characters are welcomed (especially the delightfully weird Agent Simmons played by John Tuturro). It's funny in places, and the fights are kickass, but where the film falls is its clutter. The Cylonesque Decepticon was just stupid, and most of the Sam's college excursion felt like it wanted to run away from home and make its own movie.

Revenge of the Fallen is great mindless fun, and if you like your mindless:fun ratio favouring the mindless part, you'll have yourself a whale of a time.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Torchwood: Children of Earth - How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

This review contains specific spoilers. You have been warned.

This week Captain Jack and (smaller) team returned for a new (shorter) series. This is where the shrinkage stops, because this five part story, Children of Earth, was otherwise pretty damn big. Torchwood are swiftly thrown into a conspiracy after an alien incident forty odd years ago comes back to bite Britain on the ass. Jack, Gwen and Ianto, with the happy addition of Rhys must go on the run from the goverment and save the world from bastard aliens, the 456, who want Earth's children. FOR THEIR JUICES!

Reducing the normal twelve episodes to five was a strange move but it's clearly done the trick as no time is wasted moving the story along. From Day One to Day Five, the pace is relentless. That's not to say there isn't the odd moment or two for Ianto to come out to his sister, Gwen to discover she's preggers and Jack to meet his plot-convienient family. These moments add human touches to the story and details that the fans love.

From series one, Torchwood has been looking for its voice and I don't think it's come closer than this. Dark, funny, scary, shocking, emotional - Children of Earth seems to be everything Torchwood has wanted to be since the beginning. It may have achieved each of these things sporadically throughout series one and two but CoE is multi-tasking, and doing it with style. Russel's baby has grown up.

They really play with Jack's immortality, blowing him up from the inside out, having him reconstitute in painfully graphic fashion, and burying him in concrete, and that's just in the first two episodes. It's clear the writing team had sick fun plotting it all.

Besides Jack's ordeal(s) there are plenty more genuinely shocking moments to be had. The horrific moral decisions made by the world leaders - Sacrificing children to a fate worse than death? I'm not a huge fan of kids but even I know that's a bit of a faux pas - and of course, the most unexpected death of Ianto Jones. A beautiful, heart-wrenching scene and a bold move. Three of five main characters killed in two series? It's difficult to see Torchwood continue after the events of Children of Earth.

And that's the problem. It's all fun and games to start with, but by Day Five there are few smiles to be had. The day is saved in the most depressing way possible, Frobisher (brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi), Jack's grandson and Clement McDonald (Paul Copley) die in agony, Ianto is dead and Jack's a broken man. I can't help but think there's no coming back from this. If there is, it won't be the same, and if there isn't, Jesus, what a horrible way to end a show.

I'm a writer, I know good work, and Children of Earth was a great piece of work. I'd love to leave it at that, but the trouble is I'm a fangirl too and my heart is broken. Torchwood died on the 10th of July. It was a painful, brilliant, heroic, devastating death that I wasn't prepared for. Torchwood wasn't supposed to toy with me like this. It wasn't supposed to be this good! And while I loved it, I'm not sure I liked it. Hey, I'm a fangirl. I don't have to make sense to you.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Hangover - Won't Give You A Headache

I normally don't leave the comfort of my home for anything less than free booze or a film that involves robots or lasers in some way - Transformers 2's got my name all over it, as has the restraining order Shia LeBeouf made me sign, but I digress - so what tempted me to fork out a tenner (damn you, London prices) to see The Hangover? Was it Bradley Cooper's fine ass? Well, partly, yes, I've been rewatching Alias and I don't have a boyfriend. But more importantly, upon seeing the advert, I laughed, and it really is as simple as that.

The story isn't difficult to grasp. Three friends, Phil, Stu and Alan (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis), join groom-to-be Doug (Doug Billings) for a stag do in the Mecca of all party-goers, Las Vegas. The Morning After sees three of the guys waking up with no memory of the epic night, and no sign of the groom. They set off to find their friend by travelling across Sin City working out exactly what they got up to.

It's a well known set-up, and if it weren't so well-executed, it would have been out on DVD sooner than you can say 'Underworld sequels'. Luckily, it happens to be a very tight, slick production.

The good mix of characters - the womaniser, the doormat and the weirdo - is a key part of the film's success, well-cast and well-played with the help a sharp script. Tag-along Alan's one liners are a highlight, constantly floating between hilariously creepy and strangely touching.

The film is geniuinely funny on a level that looks down on teen 'lol omfg he's ingesting semen/doing a fat chick/masturbating' comedies, but doesn't pretend to be high brow either. It feels like we haven't seen this precise level of comedy for ages, though it might just be me dismissing contenders due to lack of explosions.

One or two questions go unanswered, but the end is satisfying enough. Definitely a mates movie, you'll probably want to go out on the town straight after viewing. All in all, for a film without any robots or lasers, it's pretty good.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Star Trek - Going Boldly

The Trek franchise may have lost its spark somewhere in amongst the miriad of diminishing returns, but prepare to put all that behind you. JJ Abrams' brave new reinvention has not only reignited the spark, it's also burning damn hot, and I'm not just talking about the cast.

Bringing iconic characters from a legendary and ground-breaking series back to life was not something to be taken lightly, but JJ Abrams, cult god, took the helm and was clearly the right man for the job. Taking the original show back to its roots, Star Trek tells the story of how Kirk and the rest of the classic crew first came to be together, with a twist I won't spoil.

With inspired casting everywhere you look, each introduction will put a huge smile on your face. Chris Pine doesn't impersonate the Shatner - how could you? - he brings his own take on the role and it's spot on. Everything is there: the rebellion, the smirk, the playfulness and yes, the womanising! And at some point during the film, you'll realise you really missed that guy.

The star of the show, however, is Zachary Quinto and it's not just because he makes my thighs tingle. Playing both Spock's human and Vulcan sides with equal skill, Quinto nails the role in such a way it's as if he were born for it. The casting perfection doesn't end there. Karl Urban is somehow more Bones than Bones and Zoe Saldana brings fire to the role of Uhura as she's made more of an integral part of the crew (and given a relationship that made me exclaim 'oh my!'). Even Simon Pegg blew my doubts out of the water and gave a great performance as Scotty.

You'll feel as if you're watching history being made as the film unfolds, and you are in more ways than one. Thanks to time-jumping bad guy Nero (Eric Bana), and JJ Abrams crack team of writers, by the end of the movie the Trek franchise has been updated, refreshed and restarted. It's a new beginning and it isn't a slap in the face to fans - it's a more like a hug and handshake.

Honourable mentions also have to go to the faultless special effects, cinematography, soundtrack and score! I want to shake the hand of the man who decided to put the Beastie Boys in a Star Trek movie. Fuck yeah.