Archive for the 'review' Category

03
Sep
09

Reviewspeak

The whole world can (and does) write reviews now… me included obviously. I don’t take a whole lot of style points into consideration when I write these posts. For the most part, I just try to organize my nonsense into the most readable format I can. There are certain cliches, common mistakes, and crutches that drive me absolutely crazy in reviews and articles though.

List them? I shall.

“Addicting”. Okay. I understand that there is a huge debate in the grammar world (the grammar world!?) about this one. As far as I’m concerned, when you’re using it as an adjective, you should use “addictive”… and somehow in the last 10 years “addicting” has snuck into its place. “Addicting” can be used as a transitive verb if someone is addicting someone to something, but that something (noun) cannot BE addicting. There has been discussion on this, but if addicting can be used this way, then what is the point of addictive as a word? Use “addictive”, or else I’ll be addicting you to those ever so addictive cigarettes.

“Dripping with theme”. This is one primarily from the board game world…. and I hate it. Is this the only way we have to say that something has pretty pictures and a sense of atmosphere and story? Why is it always dripping? Why doesn’t it drip with OTHER things… and why don’t other things drip with theme? It’s a phrase that has been absolutely worn out.

“The acting was bad/good” (with no reference to specific actors or scenes). People seem to just throw this one in to bolster their positive or negative statements about a movie. Of course, a review should mention acting if possible, but it should mention what is good/bad about it and why. For some reason people have no problem doing this with other aspects of a movie, but people writing about acting rarely back it up with examples … or even real judgements.

“For fans only.” I may be guilty of this one… but off the top of my head I’m not completely sure. The reason this one bugs me is it is completely condescending towards both specific fans and fans in general. It has that “Oh people with taste don’t enjoy this, but you’re a fan of the previous ones so your stupid mind will love it” feel to it. This one can work in a well explained review, but most of the time people just tack it on the end for some reason, perhaps to save themselves from fan responses.

ANY reference to The Emperor’s New Clothes. This one always pops up when a reviewer wants to go against the stream and point out that everyone is foolish and wrong. I’m really tired of this one. The story is a classic, sure… but you don’t need to invoke it every time there’s hype that you disagree with.

Hmm… looking back at these I realize that some of them are way more common than others. I also realized that I probably read way too many reviews… what can I say, it’s addictIVE.

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20
Aug
09

District 9 – A mineshaft review

Okay okay.. so I took a break from the mineshaft for about 8 posts. I was falling behind on my backlog of posts and I got lazy… I do apologize, but now I’m back on track! So, my return to the mineshaft will be met with a District 9 review!

Warning : This review contains spoilers worse than the portrayal of Nigerians in this movie.

Now, District 9 is a solid movie. Due to so many summer movies completely sucking, it may still be one of the top summer movies of the year. I found it quite an entertaining “ride”, as critics say. I wasn’t really going to go after it until I saw that public opinion on this movie is COMPLETELY out of control and I feel like it’s my duty to pop up and point a thing or two out.

Good things?

The Special Effects are excellent… and I rarely say that. I’m more inclined to appreciate the special effects in something like Terminator 2 or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the CG effects in this movie are pretty excellent. When you consider that this movie has a small fraction of the budget of most effect heavy movies, it gets even more impressive.

The guy who plays Wickus does a great job. In fact, Wickus is a pretty good character all around. He’s a bit of an ass… and a bit stupid at times, but he’s somehow sympathetic. He’s one of the more interesting action stars in recent memory.

The bad? Oh here we go…

The documentary style filming at the beginning of the film is really interesting, which is probably why it was awkwardly dropped after 15 minutes. I thought this part of the film was really cool and did a great job of “world building” and making the concept behind the film seem really convincing. It also did a great job of building tension when some of the interviews imply things that are about to unfold. Then all of a sudden in the middle of the documentary style filming, we are shown shots from other angles that obviously couldn’t be filmed by news crews or film makers. It’s completely jarring. Imagine The Blair Witch Project, but every now and then they cut away to a helicopter shot to show the witch’s position relative to the campers.

Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Diary Of the Dead, [rec], and Cloverfield, but documentaries carry with them inherent questions about who is filming them, why, and what their agenda consists of. This movie pays no attention to any of that. In fact, we don’t even get to see the documentary style cameras in the wide shots. Eventually they drop the style completely and go for a traditional hollywood film. Which brings me in to my next point.

It’s TOTALLY a traditional hollywood film. Don’t buy all the marketing about how it’s a first time director and how it’s completely different from anything you’ve ever seen. This movie reaches a point around the middle where it’s everything you’ve ever seen. It becomes any sort of “government project gone wrong” movie… following in the footsteps of The Incredible Hulk, or X-Men Origins : Wolverine. It becomes completely predictable, and extremely cliched. Sure, it tries to snap back into the artsy documentary stuff at the end, but the bulk of this movie is a big dumb action movie. There’s nothing wrong with a big dumb action movie, but this film seems to revel in its action and gore while pretending to be subtle. Once again, master of the transition… this leads me right in…

The “clever social commentary” makes George Romero look subtle. I was worried going in that there would be too much preachy social commentary and too little attention to story. I found the commentary that was there was completely obvious… and it didn’t seem to go into much depth. I think maybe the movie is afraid to delve into the issues it wants to present. When the action really picks up, the movie abandons its ambitions for satire altogether. This movie will not generate intriguing debate about Africa afterwards, you will be talking about the alien battlemech instead.

The “villain” soldier guy sucked balls. Okay this is a minor complaint, but still. The best this movie has to throw in Wickus’ way is this bald soldier guy who only seems to be the bad guy because he miraculously survives every scene he’s in. Over the course of the film we see Wickus take down huge amounts of soldiers. The idea that this one guy could pose any threat to him is a bit of a stretch.

Overall, this movie is a very small film that collided with a very big film. It’s no surprise that the big film won, leaving bits of small film blood left all over the screen, suggesting that there once was more there.

I’ll end this review on that quippy note. District 9 fans, I urge you to disagree with me and write a comment or two. 🙂

29
Jan
09

Prestigious problems.

I figure now that Christopher Nolan is being loved by everyone, this is a good chance to tear down one of his most respected films : The Prestige. This post has rooms full of drowned spoilers.

I’ve written about magic on this blog a fair bit. I want to make it clear that none of my issues with this film have anything to do with the way it portrays magic. It portrays magicians as assholes, but they often are. It portrays people with bird acts as particularly cruel… but eh, artistic license. That isn’t my problem.

I refer you to to my “twisted post” where I ramble on and on about how a movie with clever twists alone does not make it a good movie. This movie hinges not only on the twists working, but also on a sense of mystery. It begins like a mystery novel too… with a criminal investigation. With facts that describe an impossible thing.

Throughout the film, Nolan goes way out of his way to show us over and over again that “magic” is not real and that all the deception is these two clever sleight of hand artists. He shows us the bird. He shows us how the bullet catch works. We learn all about trick knots. Michael Caine’s character exists as a sort of magic consultant to explain things to the audience and the two men. Again, this is not a critique of the exposure at all, but the film does set up the first half so that everything is not only explainable, but explained.

At a certain point in the film you are asked to believe that a lightning shooting device can clone a human being. This obviously goes against the “let’s explain everything set up” from earlier in the film, but maybe that was the point. Maybe it was all about luring the audience in only to punch them in the face with a science fiction plot they can’t explain. It’s a little unfair… it’s kind of like resolving a Sherlock Holmes mystery by saying “ghosts did it”, but maybe that’s what they were going for.

What bothers me is that there was no attempt at all to sell the science fiction premise of a device that clones things with lightning. That concept doesn’t even exist in ANY science fiction I’ve heard of. They bring Tesla into the goddamn film, and he has nothing to say on the subject. The movie revels in fictional explanations of real things, but it can’t even give us a fictional explanation of a fictional thing.

I don’t know why suspension of disbelief doesn’t go to hell for everyone at this point in the movie. This movie is structured to destroy suspension of disbelief. You need to take a huuuuge leap in order to make it to the ever so clever conclusion. I’m not even down on this film because it doesn’t make sense on this particular point. I’m down on this film because it contradicts itself so badly before and after the magical lightning device is introduced.

As of now, The Prestige is number 83 on the IMDB top 250 … and I sorta get it. It’s a good story about a rivalry and obsession.. which is always a good thing. It’s well acted and I did enjoy it when watching it. However, I could not get past this… maybe someone can rush to this film’s defense ?

18
Dec
08

You are legend? Really?

Oook this one has been brewing for a while. The recent (third!) adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic book I Am Legend came out last year starring Will Smith. I was absolutely amazed at the reviews and reception that this movie got. Gear up kiddies, it’s time for a film review.

Let’s start with the positive. Like everyone else did, I thought that the shots of an empty New York city were cool. I even thought the initial concept behind the way the disease was released was a pretty cool science fiction idea. Some of the scares were quite well handled. Will Smith did a good job as the somewhat tortured protagonist…. yeah this is a short paragraph.

The negatives begin with the monsters themselves. For some stupid reason, they decided to CG all of the vampires/zombies/infecteds. I don’t know how people can bitch about how King Kong looked in Peter Jackson’s Kong, or how every human looked in the recent Beowulf movie, and NOT complain about the monsters in this movie. It makes sense to CG a gigantic fucking ape. People with pointy teeth and blood on ’em? We can find those! They looked awful. Fans of the movie can’t even defend that. If they just used the 28 Days Later approach and threw some weird eyes and makeup around, it would have worked much better. 

I’ll skip over the poorly handled psychological deterioration of Will Smith’s character and jump to the ending. Wow. Okay, first a little background info. The original story by Matheson, although it was about vampires, created the zombie genre as we know it. It’s what made Romero make Night of the Living Dead. It’s extremely influential. I won’t spoil the ending, but much like many other science fiction and horror short stories, the ending has a surprise that is absolutely key. In fact, the fucking TITLE doesn’t even make sense without it.

This current adaptation completely did away with the ending and put in a heroic ending where Neville dies valiantly and takes an army of the monsters with him. Again, I have no idea why people weren’t upset by this. I want you to realize that this isn’t your usual fanboy accuracy bitching. This is on the level with changing the ending of War of the Worlds so that the aliens are stopped by Godzilla. It’s like changing the ending to Lord of the Rings so that the one ring is stolen at the last second by the elves, who promise to use it for good. Or changing Beowulf so that he sleeps with Grendel’s mother and then… oh wait, those fuckers did that. Seriously though, in terms of classic influential genre fiction, I Am Legend is up there and I’m surprised more weren’t outraged by this.

I don’t get to really do the usual “remakes suck” dance though. The other two adaptations of I Am Legend weren’t exactly spot on either. They both have some strengths and weaknesses, but they’re both horrendously dated and cheesy now. I don’t really get to point to a better version this time, other than the original story. I like to end these blog posts with some sort of positive recommendation…

So go read it.

11
Dec
08

HBO – Historical Bullshit’s On

Okay… I feel like I throw up disclaimers quite a bit, but let me do just one. Let me preface this by saying I enjoy HBO. I really do. I think The Wire was criminally underrated. They do great things for stand ups. I’m really psyched about the Game of Thrones series finally getting made.

Buuuuut…

For some reason I can’t force myself to get into Deadwood or Rome. For Deadwood I tried for two seasons. For Rome I tried for half a season. I find that these shows are AMAZINGLY well produced. They’re really accurate, I’m sure. I bet that’s how they really dressed and how they really spoke…. but is that enough to make it worthwhile?

I find these shows really cool to look at and to just kind of … marvel at the production of it, but I find that they very rarely have anything cool going on in the story that pulls me in. In Rome, if you know even a little history (and I’m not exactly a history buff), you pretty much know where it’s headed. Perhaps you wanna stick around for the spectacle of it. I never find myself diving for the next DVD to watch the next one.

I know considerably less about the history of Deadwood, but I have the same problem with getting into it. The language of the show is really cool at first, but it gets more and more indecipherable as the show continues. The actual story in Deadwood goes absolutely nowhere as well, and that’s coming from a fan of The Wire. At least in that show each season has a beginning, middle, and end. Deadwood just kinda meanders. So-and-so buys a horse from this old dude. This guy starts working for so-and-so. At any given point there are several plotlines running at once, and none of them really carry any tension with them.

The thing is, all these criticisms could be pointed at The Wire as well, but for some reason I find The Wire really compelling by comparison. It’s still really slowly paced and you still really need to be paying attention at all times, but it knows how to pay off at the right time and when to rob you of the payoff that you want. The Wire also has the same emphasis on accuracy, but there’s a really good original story in there as well.

Like I said, if you’re a fan of the era for any of these, the spectacle alone will take you for the ride. Huge historical nerds are going to really like seeing the naked slave boy because OMG THE SLAVE BOYS WERE ACTUALLY NAKED. HBO snobs like to say that the shows are too sophisticated and intelligent for mainstream audiences. I think that historical accuracy alone is not enough to bring in viewers.

The Wire still absolutely rules though.

08
Dec
08

A Tale of Two Sisters

I don’t normally spring for the Asian horror flicks. I think some of them are extremely creepy and effective, but most of them are just a little bit too similar to one another. I’m going to recommend one though. My all time favorite Asian horror film is A Tale of Two Sisters.

If you’ve seen it, you probably know it kicks ass. If you haven’t, see it now. I suppose I should elaborate just a tad. 

This movie works both as a horror film and as a drama. It has some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in the genre. The cinematography is really outstanding too. I don’t want to outwardly spoil anything in it for you, but I will be treading ever so slightly into spoiler territory. I won’t ruin any surprises for you, but if you want a truly pure experience, just run and watch it now.

One of the reasons the film really works for me is that it allows for every incident of a “ghostly vision” be interpreted as either a real ghost, or as more of a metaphorical ghost, a manifestation of guilt. I don’t mean that it tries to be arty and pretentious with it. I’m saying that the scenes that do have some supernatural element to them make sense in terms of the characters that are experiencing them. They don’t have good looking people and stock characters that are there just so that they can die, each scary scene is carefully thought out.

Hopefully the people who don’t mind a little spoiler info are gone here. I wrote in “a twisted post” about movies that have twist endings and that artificially inflating people’s view of them. This movie has some twists and surprises for sure. These are not thrown in to make you watch the movie twice, they all make a certain kind of sense.

Like so many of these movies where you see clue after clue and then it “all comes together”, you are eventually shown in a flashback the entire story that fills in all the blanks. I may have made that sound disappointing. It isn’t. By the end of the film, you aren’t left with a sense of fear of whatever might appear in your room when you are trying to go to sleep, you’re left with a kind of crushing sadness. Pay attention to the last few moments. They’re some of the most beautiful and sad moments ever in a horror film.

I’ve tried to sell it as a drama and well written film with ghosts in it, but let’s talk about the scares and creepy stuff. There aren’t wall to wall scares in this film. The creepy scenes that are there will petrify you. Like I said, they won’t continue to haunt you afterwards … although a few lines and images might stay with you. “There was a girl under the sink” springs to mind.

I hear they’re doing a remake. I think you can say that phrase for almost any horror film that was halfway good. I implore you, if you can handle any type of subtitles, and any degree of horror film, check this out. I recommend this even for the non horror fans (apparently a bunch of you wordpressers are up on your Alice Munro knowledge and something tells me there isn’t a huge crossover audience). 

Check this movie out. If you disagree, you can follow me around like a ghost.

04
Dec
08

Alice Munblows.

Oooh we’re gonna get a little literary with the redding mineshaft today. Bullet Hell fanatics need not apply here. I try to avoid the phony outrage and anger that so many internet postings have, but this one absolutely makes my blood boil for some reason

I’m so sick of watching Alice Munro come of age. I’ve read one collection of short stories, and one novel… they both did exactly the same thing. In fact, the novel was arguably a connection of short stories. One reviewer said that these stories function as “puzzle pieces” that let us figure out the main character as a whole. I prefer to see it as disjointed stories that take advantage of the fact that she doesn’t have to actually create a consistent plot, eventually tying up with an ending that pretty much says “and then I wrote a bunch of stories”.

One thing that I bring up probably a bit too much when I discuss literature is the importance of a strong conclusion. Alice Munro redefines meandering. We follow a character through a loose series of events that only take us to the fact that she realizes her life is made up of a loose series of events! 

I don’t understand the praise this woman gets as a writer either. I find myself zoning in and out while reading her work.  Her writing is amazingly plain. There is no sense of hidden beauty or truth behind her mundane nonsense.  There’s no humor, no emotion, and no tension. I never identify with the characters, and I never have a stake in the outcome because of the aforementioned ending problems. The story never moves anywhere. Within a few minutes after an Alice Munro story, I find I’m left with nothing to sink my teeth into. 

I think the fact that she’s Canadian is the only reason why I’ve had to be exposed to so much of her work. I’ll go so far as to say that she is celebrated only because of the fact that she’s a female Canadian writer during a literary movement that celebrated female Canadian writers. There are many other writers that do the coming of age story much better than Munro. There are many other female Canadian writers that absolutely destroy her as well.

Munro relies on some pretty hacky material as well. Innocent but vaguely sexual childhood experiences. Involvement with an alluring academic in her teenaged years that of course condescends to her and doesn’t treat her like an equal. A brief stint at a church before deciding that a truly spiritual person makes their own faith. She always ends up single, but happily so… a little more bitter, a little wiser, and ready to take on life at the end of it.

I think much like Munro’s writing… this post lacks closure. But hey, I wrote it… so … yeah….