Monday, 29 April 2013

Blame The Government.

Those of you who have been around this blog a while will remember Documentary Day, in which Catfish and Exit Through The Gift Shop were reviewed. However, these films could both possibly somewhat staged and scripted. Today's film is of the same genre, but does what the documentary film was invented to do: explore and educate. Left wing enthusiast, Michael Moore, takes us on a journey into 9/11 and the Iraq War. This is Fahrenheit 9/11 .

Moore: A professional film maker.

What really happened with 9/11 and the following war in the Middle East?  Moore explores the truth behind the Bin Laden family, the fact that they had connections with the US Government, as did a lot of Saudis. He looks into the hypocrisy of politicians who will happily ask their citizens to push kids into the army, but would never consider sending their own kin. He points out how much holiday time George Bush took compared to how much he worked. This is not a conspiracy film saying that 9/11 was an inside job, this is a criticism of the government's complete and utter dedication to their own greed and longing. Of course, as with any documentary, we only see one side of the story. This happens to be a very bias perspective in Moore's case, with stock footage of George Bush stumbling over words and questions, heartfelt interviews with victims of the war, and, naturally, some gore from the war zone to add a real punch. Take everything with a pinch of salt.

A flag to love America? Or to mourn it?

The film, on it's entertainment merits, however, is completely engaging. Moore is never condescending to his viewers but is to the big bad government men. His stunts are always good fun, whether it is watching him yell out to Bush, or reading the Patriot Act through the speakers on an ice cream van, or even getting senators to sign their kids up for the army, he keeps his tone light whenever he is in the camera's sights. All of his mockery is justified by research and points he has already made and this will always bring a viewer to his see life his way. Clearly Moore is smart, and the government is not - the way the viewer may be conditioned by the way the film is put together. Do not suspend your disbelief, but listen with an open mind. Be swayed to a view point, do not get dragged.

Overall, an entertaining and educational documentary. It was the first documentary to be top of the US Box Office, so it seems to appeal to everyone. Enjoy it, but don't let it control you. (Also not for the weak hearted. There is a (hardly visible) beheading and a lot of war injuries. I was cringing and flinching and I have a strong stomach. This is real.)

Best Bit? Moore trying to encourage senators to sign their kids up for the army was particularly entertaining.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cats And Dogs: Phil's Favourite Disney Film

Disney have made a lot of animated features over the years, Tangled being the 50th. But for me, the 27th of those holds a special importance. I almost jumped for joy when I came home to find it on Sky Disney last night. It is a film that this humble blogger watched relentlessly as a young lad and still finds it to be the Disney film he most connects with. Allow me, if you will, to tell you why you should love Oliver & Company and
why it means so much to me.

If you are not aware of Oliver & Company and have not seen it, let me quickly inform you of what it is about. It is Disney's adaptation of the famous tale of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. A young cat, voiced by Joseph Lawrence, is left in a box on the street with several other kittens with a sign saying they need a new home. Oliver is the only kitten to not get chosen and is left on his own in New York City in the rain. He starts trying to live independently and comes across a dog known as Dodger (Billy Joel) who takes him under his paw. Dodger brings the cat back to his gang of dogs, Rita, Francis, Tito, and Einstein, and their master Fagin, and they begin to break him into the crew. On the first job, the unnamed cat gets stuck in a limo in which a young girl, Jenny, promises to take care of him. She names him Oliver and they become the best of friends, much to Jenny's dog, Georgette's, displeasure. Fagin wants the cat to help him get money that he desperately needs to save his life, but will Jenny's love for Oliver change everything?

And with that, their friendship was cemented.

So why do I love this film? Aside from watching it a hundred times in my early youth (it was one of the only videos my Grandmother owned) and the psychological reasoning that goes with association to good memories, there is firstly one very simple reason: it looks and sounds fantastic. Oliver & Company is classic 2D animation at some of its finest. You can see, particularly on Francis, the sketch lines on the characters and this, combined with the painted opening credits, creates an ambience of home made film; the idea that love and dedication went into making the movie rather than money, which is important considering that Fagin is a character that has no money, but still shows how happy one an be with love (in his case, his love for his dogs). But what really makes Oliver & Company is the songs. If you have a moment, they can all be listened to right here. 'Why Should I Worry', a story of being care free and happy with what you have got, sung beautifully and powerfully by Joel. 'Good Company' one of the most adorable songs in any film ever, in which Jenny sings about her friendship with Oliver. 'Once Upon A Time In New York City', a beautiful and slightly heartbreaking introduction into Oliver's world performed wonderfully by Huey Lewis and the News. These songs are light and catchy but each hold a strong message individually. The same cannot be said for 'Perfect Isn't Easy', but that is always intended to demonstrate a character that the audience are not meant to particularly like.

I am not attracted to a cartoon dog I am not attracted to a cartoon dog
I am not attracted to a cartoon dog I am not attracted to a cartoon dog

But pretty animation and jamming songs are not really enough to make a film last in your heart, so what does it for Oliver & Company? For me, it is the message. Look at Oliver. He is a kid, lost in a city he does not understand. Everyone around him is bigger and scarier. All his friends, his brothers and sisters, have gone. They've left for caring homes and loving families. Oliver has nothing. But he does not give up. He fights for food and then when Dodger appears and steals his food, he fights to get it back. When huge mean Rottweilers attack Fagin's gang, Oliver fights back. When Oliver is in danger, the gang risk everything and go after him. When Jenny is in danger, the gang risk everything and go after her. When the gang are in danger, Fagin risks everything and goes after them. When Fagin's life is in danger because he cannot pay loan shark/ mob boss, Sykes, and his only way to get money is to ransom Oliver, he sacrifices that only chance at saving his life to make Jenny happy. The gang of outcasts stay together. Friendship prevails. It may come as a surprise to some of you, it may not, that I was short of friends as a youngster. I was an outcast. I did not like football or sports, I preferred to stand up against my bullies rather than roll over for them, if my friends were being bullied, I'd do what I could to help them. It led to me getting in fights where I did not fight back. I saw a lot of myself in Oliver, and that gave me hope.

Oliver had his ups and downs but in the end, friendship made it all worthwhile. The baddies, the bullies, come to an (extremely brutal) end. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of my readers have felt isolated and alienated in their days. That they have felt overwhelmed or lost. That they have been against bigger and stronger opinions and felt hopeless. Oliver & Company is the Disney film that creates a host of characters that emulate these feelings but also shows them fighting it. If a kitten can fight off a Rottweiler, why can't I fight off a bully? If a gang of outcast dogs can take down a mob boss, why can't I finish my assignment? No matter what your issues you have to overcome, take a lesson from Oliver and Fagin's gang. Nothing is impossible so stay strong. Stay powerful. I mean, Why Should We Worry?

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cults In Space

So yesterday we looked at Pitch Black, the tense, claustrophobic introduction to the life of Riddick. Today we look at the next step in his life; the universe-exploring adventures that followed the end events of Pitch Black. Expect it to be bigger and, well, not as good. This is The Chronicles Of Riddick.

Things happen. That is a basic summary of Chronicles Of Riddick. In a bit more detail, Riddick (Vin Diesel) is on the run from a bounty looming over his head. He takes out a mercenary ship captained by Toombs (Nick Chinlund) and, upon stealing the ship, flies to Helion Prime, where the bounty originated, and is reunited with Imam (Keith David). Then a deadly race of, well, super religious cult-type people called Necromongers invade the planet and plan on converting everyone to their religion. Riddick refuses and escapes the Lord Marshal (Colm Feore) and Purifier's (Linus Roache) plan to find out more about his past (which is all handily revealed throughout the film by a prophecy spirit type thing...). Riddick escapes but, conveniently, is caught Toombs who takes him off to a prison-planet called Crematoria where, super conveniently, Jack (Alexa Davalos) (now called Kyra) is incarcerated. The Necromongers try to track Riddick with the help, or hinderance, of the Air Elemental, Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), whilst Vaako and Dame Vaako (Karl Urban and Thandie Newton respectively) make a plan, for some reason, to kill the Lord Marshal. I think. There was probably a reason for that but it was lost in and amongst all the other confusing nonsense. There is a cult that do not really like Riddick... That's about it.

Riddick's brief stint as Santa didn't work out.

It is hard to know where to start with Chronicles of Riddick... Vin Diesel is reprising his role as Riddick, and keeps the same cool, cockiness that he originally portrayed, but loses the creepy. A lot of the issues with the film come from difficulty following what is going on. There is too much happening to fully appreciate anyone's performance individually. No one performs poorly, but nothing shines either. The plot, as one may have guessed, is overly complex, with six or seven plot lines entwining, but not enough time is spend on anything. Who is the prophecy fairy person? How do some people seem to be able to suddenly stop being brainwashed? Why do the Vaakos want to kill the Lord Marshal? Something about Vaako becoming Lord Marshal himself, it seems. There are a lot of questions that have answers, but they are buried somewhere beneath all of the rubbish piled on top. Everything that made Pitch Black excellent was forgotten in Chronicles of Riddick; the tension, the fear, the suspense, the well written dialogue, the basic plot. It was all gone.

For an intergalactic army, the Necromongers are pretty Medieval.

Not to say the film has nothing going for it. From a purely aethstetic point of view, the action is captivating, and the scenery is beautiful. It is just a disappointment that the context around the visually effective moments is lost in the confusing plot. Perhaps a suitable way to watch Chronicles of Riddick is with the mute function of your television put to good use. Everything really is bigger, but in no way better.

A short review for you all. Let us live in hope that Riddick (2013) will learn from Chronicles mistakes and Pitch Black's merits.

Best Bit? Watching Kyra and Riddick play who is the best killer is the simply the most enjoyable moment of the film. Mindless action that needs no explanation.

Thursday, 4 April 2013


So the world got a little bit excited when this trailer was released. 23 seconds of video have made people crawl out of their holes, pull on some goggles, and see the light again. Why? They've been waiting nine years for those 23 seconds. Later on this year, we will see the full feature, but for now, lets take a step back in time and see where this all started. This is Pitch Black.

Somewhere, out in space, the transport vessel, Hunter-Gratzner, is carrying 40 passengers suspended animation. One of these passengers is Riddick (Vin Diesel), an escaped convict and murderer who is being moved back to a slam. Away from humankind or even daylight. The ship is travelling in a ghost lane with no stops, and as a voice over from Riddick points out, that leaves a lot of time for something to go wrong. Incidentally, something goes wrong. The captain dies leaving the docking pilot, Carolyn Fry (Radha Mitchell) and navigator, Greg Owens (Simon Burke), to land the ship safely on an unknown planet. As the ship hurtles towards the ground, Fry starts ejecting parts of the ship to lose weight. At the last moment, she tries to jettison the passangers, but Owens stops her. The ship crashes leaving 11 survivors: Riddick's guard, William J. Johns (Cole Hauser), holy man Abu "Imam" al-Walid (Keith David) and three young men he is escorting on hajj, antiques dealer Paris P. Ogilvie (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), stowaway teenager Jack (Rhianna Griffith), settlers John 'Zeke' Ezekiel (John Moore) and his partner Sharon 'Shazza' Montgomery (Claudia Black), Fry, and Riddick. Riddick escapes and the crew become extremely concerned about him s but, along with difficulty breathing, a lack of water, and three suns blazing down on them, Riddick might be the least of their worries. Especially when it seems they are not alone on the planet and the darkness is approaching.

 Face-off... err... Face/hammerhead off? 
Some people believe that everybody is born for a reason. There should be no doubt that Vin Diesel was born to play Riddick. A perfect balance of creepy and cocky that solidifies his persona as a stone cold killer. He steals the show and, apart form a brief voice over, he doesn't even talk for the first half an hour. But in that time, we see him escape twice, get caught twice, and fashion a knife out of bone in order to, what appears to be, minor hairdressing. Hmmm. His performance, alongside the will-do-anything-to-survive attitudes of Burke as Hauser as Johna and Mitchell as Fry, really creates the atmosphere of the film when the low budget-ness of everything can sometimes jar. At the start we are introduced to all the survivors just through looks but all of the actors develop their characters individually and create a wonderful ensemble performance that leaves you to decide who you like and who you would like to see die. Fantastic performances all round, but, again, it is Vin Diesel who steals the show. No wonder he got two sequels named after his character.

And next on Literal TV: Stars In Their Eyes

Pitch Black is a wonderfully cut together film. Speedy editing that captures the true essence of the movie as it develops. The first half is played almost like a sci-fi horror with Riddick appearing in the background of shots or being inter-spliced with shots of what is going on elsewhere with the survivors. The second act is more steadily paced with building suspense and tension as the darkness closes in on the characters. Not only this, but the writing keeps the character development believable and understandable, something that can get lost with big budget sci-fi thrillers. Issues rise with the 'pitch black' landscape often being reasonably well lit, but as irritating as it may be for the film pedants among you, it does not take away from the merits of the film. Wonderfully filmed otherwise; the small but bright lights beautifully penetrate the dark surroundings in the latter half of the film, a delightful, and somewhat creepy contrast, from the exciting and bright first half. 

A truly enjoyable sci-fi that contains drama, thrills, creeps, and appeals to every instinct in the human body. Vin Diesel in his perfect role (though I still await a Time Splitters: Future Perfect film with him as Cortez) and a deeply satisfying plot with some great lines. ('You said it was clear!' 'I said it looked clear.' 'How does it look now?' '... Looks clear.') A thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Best Bit? The lighting, suspense, and general action in Riddick and Johns' fight is a particular highlight of the film.

Watch this spot for a review on the sequel: 'The Chronicles of Riddick.'

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Being Paul Giamatti

After being bought for £3 in an HMV sale and me having never heard of it, today's film is an adventure of sorts. One of the first films I have ever bought without any form of knowledge of it. I suppose you could call it 'going in blind'. The DVD box covered with stars intrigued me and, with change jingling in my pocket, begging to be spent, I gave in and here it is. This is Cold Souls.

Paul Giamatti, playing himself, feels like he has a lot of weight, not on his shoulders, but on his soul. He is rehearsing for Chekov's play, Vanya, and he the emotional depth of the play is taking its toll on him. Fortunately for Paul, his agent may have found a solution - a company that allows you to remove your soul and store it safely. Naturally, Giamatti jumps onto this idea and has his soul removed from his body to put into storage until after the play. Once he pushes past the fact that his soul looks a little like a chickpea, he attempts to carry on with his life but he finds his acting and marriage affected by his new soulless-ness. He opts to rent the soul of a Russian poet, which does wonders for his acting, however, it comes with a price. He begins to see aspects of the borrowed soul's previous owner's life and he becomes filled with sorrow and decides he wants his own soul back. One small issue: It is St. Petersburg. With the help of Nina (Dina Korzun), a Russian soul trafficker, he goes on a quest to get his soul back.

Giamatti also visits the hospital for his fear of goggles.

At its core, Cold Souls is a one man show. Unlike the similarly meta Being John Malkovich, which has four main characters, Cold Souls sole focus of the film is Giamatti's adventures in, what can only be described as, discovering himself. And he nails it. Having to play, essentially, three different characters but still remain himself the entire time can surely not be an easy task and yet Giamatti makes it look effortless. Perhaps it is all a documentary and he did have his soul removed. That's how convincing his portrayal of, well, himself is. His supporting cast are exactly that - supporting. This is Giamatti's time to shine. This isn't to say there's any issue in the supporting cast; they all bring something to the film, be it comedy or more touching, heartfelt emotions.

Giamatti and a psychologist review George Bush's brain.
An interesting, and somewhat philosophical, look at the nature of humanity and a commentary on a mid-life crisis. It explores the idea of being happy with what you have and all of this whilst being hilarious. More than just a comedy, Cold Souls is touching and artistic but, sadly, drags in the second act. The comedy seeps away and everything becomes a bit too serious. It is a film that seems unsure of what it is, perhaps reflecting its plot a little too much. By starting as a strong comedy and turning into a drama, Cold Souls creates a sort of ambivalence towards its genre; moving from one to the other too jarringly, focused only on the story it wants to tell. As we all know, how you go about telling a story is half of the challenge. But do not be put off, the first half is excellent, the second half is touching and beautiful, if not jarring.

A fun film that brings inspiration from Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and Being John Malkovich, as well as the episode of The Simpsons were Bart sells his soul. Fans of any or all of the above should enjoy. A solidly acted film even if there are issues in the way in which it is presented.

Best Bit? Some of the earliest moments of the film are priceless, though the time in which Paul Giamatti has no soul takes the biscuit. Possibly offensive, but very funny.