Tuesday, May 16th, 2023
LJ closed Tuesday 16th May, 2023 | 8:31 pm

Comment, that ye may be judged!
mood | cheerful

118 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Friday, May 7th, 2010
Beginning a scanslation project! Friday 7th May, 2010 | 2:07 am
Based on doujinshi for Psychic Force. Great for practicing my Japanese!

Do check out my first release:


| Skewer me with your wit!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010
Anime impressions are moving. New Blogspot site: First post - Gulliver Sunday 4th Apr, 2010 | 8:16 pm
All future reviews and impressions of anime and other animated features will be posted on my new blogspot here: http://adziu.blogspot.com/

Today's first review is Gulliver's Travels Beyond the Moon, a film crucial in the early career of Miyazaki Hayao of Studio Ghibli fame.

I will also be gradually be putting all past reviews up on that page, so a few hundred more entries will eventually make their way over there.

If you have a blogspot or go there a lot, please do bookmark me there, for I would love to discuss anything you might find interesting with you!
mood | bouncy

| Skewer me with your wit!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009
Tuesday 5th May, 2009 | 10:39 pm
This makes me happy!

mood | geeky

| Skewer me with your wit!

Thursday, July 26th, 2007
Thursday 26th Jul, 2007 | 2:06 am

Right, here we go. I’m sure you’re all expecting this, but it’s time to rant about Harry Potter.

Major spoilersCollapse )
mood | aggravated

12 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Monday, July 16th, 2007
Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World’s End Monday 16th Jul, 2007 | 11:26 pm

I didn’t really expect to like PotCIII. The first one was a great introduction to some classic characters, but the second was deeply flawed, lacking focus or any real sense of purpose and being too quick to produce bizarre new plot elements, and since the two sequels were filmed at the same time, I expected a similar sense of dissatisfaction. But I was pleasantly surprised by how consistently entertaining and even daring At World’s End was. The fact that Keira Knightley is the finest lily of all the emaciated gardens of Hollywood doesn’t hurt either.

Picking up where the second film left off, Elizabeth Swan and Will Turner have teamed up with old antagonist Captain Barbosa and the mysterious voodoo woman to rescue Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’ locker. Davy Jones himself, meanwhile, has teamed up with the wicked and pompous English navy-types, who intend to crush the pirates once and for all. If there’s a weak point in the film, it’s that the real stakes never seem material enough to work – we get the impression that if our heroes lose, the pirates will be exterminated, but the threat never seems really palpable, nor, despite a stark opening scene, do the bad guys seem to have the means to actually do it, but in the end, when cannons are firing at one another from across a maelstrom and principle characters are fighting on the mainmast, such details don’t seem really important. There’s enough plot to hang the scenes off, and that works here. The whole section with Chow Yun Fat seems like a means to an end, an artificial little add-on that stems from a want to include oriental aesthetics rather than any real necessity of plot. A better central story may have made for a better film and a bigger payoff at the end, but what we did get was in no way unsatisfactory.

This franchise is about spectacle, after all. There may be some macabre moments, but mostly everything’s light and superficial, and if ghost pirates were hard to take seriously in the first film, fish-men in the second and third are harder still. There are plenty of comic relief characters and funny animals, and of course that classic performance from Johnny Depp, and this film benefits from a fun little cameo from Keith Richards, the man on whom Depp based his addlebrained, swaggering character. For my money, though, the most entertaining player was Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbosa; he may not have the sex appeal or silliness of Sparrow, but seeing a great actor like Rush doing his arrrr-that-it-be pirate voice and gurning furiously, yet carrying real gravitas when it was required, meant that he stole the show. He was a better baddie than Bill Nighy ever could be with his prosthetics and silly Scottish accent, but as an ally and rival for Sparrow, he easily steals the show. Johnny Depp, meanwhile, gets some very interesting hallucinogenic/schizophrenic scenes that through their length, striking imagery and bizarreness feel very out-of-place in a Hollywood blockbuster, and which I’m sure some audiences will find baffling, but I loved. It felt just a little bit edgy and absurdist, yet because they were in Jack’s head, worked fine. On the other hand, when the humour became absurdist and two soldiers guarding Davy Jones’ chest get distracted by their own pythonesque argument, it seemed incongruous and didn’t work – there needs to be a sense of realism even amongst ghost monkeys and shark-men for believability to be maintained.

That’s not to say limits of plausibility cannot be stretched. There’re some great exaggerated moments, like when we first glimpse a pirate stronghold and discover that it is entirely made out of shipwrecked vessels, piled up high into the sky, and it looks like something out of One Piece. When the council of Pirate Lords meet, they’re all so strikingly impressive to look out that it makes you smile, even if none of them really do anything. Everything looks fantastical, from the impeccable costumes to the perfectly-realised sets, and the whole thing just looks like it was superb fun to make.

I feared for the franchise after the second film, but was satisfied by the second film. Will there be a fourth? Well, it’s not impossible, that’s for sure. In fact, it’s probably already in the works.

Left the cinema buzzing with silly pirate stories of my own I’d love to tell.
mood | amused

| Skewer me with your wit!

Saturday, July 14th, 2007
Saturday 14th Jul, 2007 | 2:11 am

Yup yup. All my boxed have been ticked. Serious anime? Seirei no Moribito will suffice! Something dumb and over-the-top that makes me laugh? Gurren Lagann, thank you very much. And now something that’s extremely cute and very silly indeed? Step forward, Moetan, with yet another adorable Tamura Yukari performance!

Seriously, that woman is a great seiyuu. In fact, I’m inspired to compile a list:

Tom’s Favourite Seiyuu – in no particular order

Tamura Yukari – Akazukin (Otogi Jushi Akazukin), Misha (PitaTen) and Sakura (Da Capo) lend supreme moé credentials, but then she also voices taciturn Mai (Kanon), brazen Midori (Mai-HiME) and polite Tenten (Naruto).

Tanaka Rie from fluting ‘Chii’ in Chobits to giggling ominously as Suigintou in Rozen Maiden, from going off the rails as Tomoe in Mai-Otome to being the down-to-earth straight girl Yomi in Azumanga Daioh, she always makes a mark on any show she’s in.

Kugimiya Rie – her characters all tend to be sweet and young, even when they’re a huge suit of armour (Al in Hagane no Renkinjutsushi), especially her boys (like Kouta from Midori no Hibi), but occasionally she’ll be a tomboy (Karin from Bleach) or a petulant/tsundere girly-girl (Koboshi from PitaTen, Bell from MÄR, Shana from Shakugan no Shana), and occasionally out of nowhere comes this fascinating spacey voice, which she gives to Hotaru in Gakuen Alice and the stately Touko from Maria-Sama ga Miteru. Quite odd to think that she can do such elegant voices then switch to the outrageously hyperactive Rizel from Rizelmine or Sabato from Dokoro-chan. Sabato is exceptional because she’s the only Kugimiya Rie character I’ve encountered that I didn’t find adorable.

Paku Romi – the other Elric brother. You can’t mistake that voice she uses for boys, which sounds like she’s smoked a few too many, and which doesn’t vary much, be it Ed from Hagane no Renkinjutsushi, Natsume from Gakuen Alice or Hitsugaya from Bleach. But hearing her female voices – Temari in Naruto, Karim in Jyu-oh-sei, the rocking Nana from Nana, it really sounds like two different people. She may not have the versatility of others in this list, but she definitely knows how to make a line sound cool.

Takeuchi Junko – the familiar voice of Naruto. A distinctive voice, certainly, but given that she’s had so many huge roles, it’s remarkable how she puts in little differences for each. Gon in HunterXHunter, for example, sounds so much younger and more sweetly naïve than Naruto, and Dieter in Monster may sound like Naruto, but there’s an expressiveness there that’s quite different from Naruto’s bravado. Her mere presence makes an anime seem more significant – like Kakurenbo. Still can’t imagine her as Zidane from FFIX, though.

Hayashibara Megumi – the first seiyuu I ever knew by name. Rei Ayanami from Eva made her something of an idol, but she was the female Ranma, she was Lina Inverse, she was Pyoko from Di Gi Charat. A real pillar.

Noto Mamiko – principally for Nina in Monster and Shimako in Maria-sama, though she also has prominent roles in Negima and My-HiME. Her voice sounds like warm honey.

Ishida Akira  - let’s have the men now. This guy gets all the cool roles, and makes them all sound different. Nagi in Mai-HiME and Gaara in Naruto, Kaworu in Eva and Naoji in Meine Leibe, and then he turns it all on his head to become the embodiment of goofiness and social maladjustment as Kucchi in Genshiken.

Yamaguchi Kappei – the other half of Ranma. How does someone who does probably the best comic performance in anime history as Usopp in One Piece also make you take him totally seriously as L in Death Note or Hugh in Kiba, while at the same time taking leading roles in Inuyasha and Meitantei Conan? Incredible. Oh, and he’s in the Japanese version of South Park, too. Wonder what that sounds like…

And finally…Wakamoto Norio. Onsokumaru. Chiyo-chichi. ‘Nuff said.

mood | energetic

| Skewer me with your wit!

Friday, March 23rd, 2007
Film Impressions: United 93 Friday 23rd Mar, 2007 | 8:44 pm

It must be said, even before watching this film, I was wondering about the moral questions surrounding its inception. A movie about 9/11, focusing on the passengers who were on the one plane that crashed before reaching its intended target, as well as the chaos in various air control rooms as the disaster unfoled, must of course raise some questions of propriety. Is it appropriate to make a movie about human suffering when it's so fresh in the memory? The film-makers paid for a memorial, but surely they still made money in the box offices - from very real stories of death; should that be countenanced? Would the film turn out to be a flag-waving piece of propaganda, and thus cheap?

Fortunately, the film is, I think, everything it could have been. It wasn't wrong to have a dramaticic retelling of the event when it had already been extensively covered in the media, when there was already another docudramas extant (Flight 23, The Flight that Fought Back) and when, frankly, there is a huge audience. One only baulks because there are so many people whose feelings are still raw, whereas a film about the Holocaust, for example, seems more acceptible because of the soft filter of time. But the film treats the subject with due respect, and perhaps the only objectionable element is how artistic licence was used to make a German passenger seem to be the only one preaching non-resistence - reportedly because of the man's widow refusing to cooperate with the filmmaking process.

The chaos in the air control rooms makes it more understandable why more couldn't have been done during the emergency, with the sheer number of planes to track, problems with radar and various channels of authority needing to be gone through, but is still as critical as it needs to be. It actually opens with the terrorists and humanises them, showing their fear, their weakness, yet their courage too - despite the horrifying actions they are undertaking. Using the scraps of evidence available, it reconstructs what happened, and to my relief, shows the passengers who fought back were no more heroic than those who died on the other planes - they were in a privileged position of knowing that the planes were going to be crashed into structures, that they were not going to be taken to an airport safely for ransom, that it didn't matter if the man with the bomb detonated it, given that they were all going to die anyway. The terrorists made the mistake of striking too early and giving the passengers time to fight back, and it is both poignantly uplifting that they did, and saved a national monument and no doubt many lives, and crushingly devastating at the same time, for they most likely came so close to saving themselves.

The real details are what moved me - to be reminded how debilitating inertia in a plane can be when it moves, to hear real calls that were made by real people who thought they were going to die, and who were right.

Reality is terrifying in a way fiction never can be. But it is also the additional emotions inspired by such a piece as this that stop it being a piece of light entertainment, and allow it a significance that 'A film about 9/11' cannot encapsulate. I'm glad this film was made, and I'm glad I saw it - whether or not my money went into the pockets of its makers.
mood | Saddened

1 wild stab | Skewer me with your wit!

Friday, February 23rd, 2007
Film Impressions: The Number 23 Friday 23rd Feb, 2007 | 10:08 pm
So I am 23 years old. My flat is number 23. I was born in 1983 – ((9x8)/3)-1=23. Okay, you can see now how it’s possible to stretch the concept, but it was fun going to see this film today, on the 23rd, taking the 113 bus, and freaking out my fellow cinemagoers with some quick mental arithmetic on just about every number that we glimpsed. Being a fan of conspiracy theories and the silliness of Discordianism, I’ve come across the Law of Fives before, and realised that if you allow 2 and 3 AND subtract them to get 1, it’s very easy to play about with just about any numbers and get 23 somehow or other. It’s a great concept for hooking people in – but is that enough to make a good film?

Remaking a German thriller, Joel Schumacher has directed a fun and well-made little movie, with Jim Carrey doing well in a serious role, as has increasingly been his focus of late. Walter Sparrow comes across a book with a character strangely similar to himself, in which everything seems to relate to the number 23. Walter soon begins finding the number everywhere he looks, and when the protagonist of the book becomes a murderer, he begins to fear he will follow suit.

The movie starts sensibly, but it soon becomes obvious how playful it is. The book’s scenario is shot in a gloriously stylised way, rather Sin City-esque, and watching that effect seep into the ‘real world’ element of the story is a pleasure. You soon realise that this isn’t so much a thriller as an homage to the detective genre, with buried secrets, snooping and little clues to follow. In the end, there are a few things that are hard to swallow – didn’t the convict know more than he let on? Why did the publisher of the book do that when they traced him? And magical dogs are never going to be part of a really believable film. But Carrey acts well, the film is well-directed (except for some ill-chosen slushy strings at a climactic moment) and the story is enjoyable, the scenario memorable and the presentation good fun. A little less cerebral than perhaps it could have been, but certainly recommended for an evening’s viewing.  

mood | cheerful

| Skewer me with your wit!

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007
Saturday 3rd Feb, 2007 | 3:32 pm
6 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Sunday, December 17th, 2006
Film impressions: School of Rock Sunday 17th Dec, 2006 | 4:58 pm

This seems to be a film that more people heard about than actually saw. It wasn’t exactly a smash hit, but everyone seems to at least know the premise: Jack Black goes to a school full of prim, privileged kids and makes a rock band out of them. Perhaps this is thanks in part to the success of the Rock School reality TV shows. In preparation for Black’s new vehicle for his rock band, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, I thought I’d watch this on the train. And it was a bit of fun, but there were some missed opportunities.

As an unashamed rock fan, I got a thrill out of seeing a rock geek who likes many of the same bands as I do (though he is far more single-minded about it) – just as I did in High Fidelity – and from hearing the classic tunes played either on a stereo or on guitar, from Led Zep’s Immigrant Song to Sabbath’s Iron Man. It wasn’t that funny, and Jack Black’s conniptions could only amuse so far, but it was charming, silly, affirming fun.

But there was one scene that showed how much more it could have been: at the auditions for the battle of the bands, the preteen drummer goes missing, having wandered off with one of the bands. Black’s character starts panicking. He’s in a position of responsibility and this kid has gone missing, his head full of ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ rock hedonism. Black finds him in a van playing cards with some band (a cameo I didn’t get?). He hauls the boy out and gives him a real dressing down. This is a pivotal moment in the script – at last we see the absurdity of being told to kick back against authority by an authority figure, no matter how idiosyncratic. We see that the man who’s lived his life in pursuit of the freedom of rock is now given responsibility and has to become what he so vociferously condemns, a spoiler of fun.

And then…it’s left like that. We have the expected but highly unlikely scenario of parents who feel their kids have been corrupted and abducted being won over by the power of ROCK, and a nice uplifting AC/DC song for the finale, but the only tantalising questions the whole film asked are left not only unanswered (can there be an answer?) but broached, acknowledged, then ignored. One irritating little frustration in an otherwise fun, superficial and spirited little movie.
mood | cheerful

2 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Thursday, December 14th, 2006
Film impressions: Raging Bull Thursday 14th Dec, 2006 | 12:28 am
Raging Bull reminded me that sometimes, for a great film, you don’t need a great story. You just need great performances, a convincing setting and a story that works well enough maintain interest. This is, after all, a biopic, about one-time middleweight boxing champion of the world Jake La Motta and his self-destructive personal life. Between brutal and extremely powerful recreations of boxing matches are scenes of La Motta and sometimes worrying about his boxing career with manager, his brother Joey, but mostly letting his Othello-esque jealousy take control of him and making him abusive not only to her but to everyone close to him. It’s here that we see why Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are so highly-esteemed as actors; in mostly improvised scenes, they are totally believable and while La Motta’s behaviour is totally reprehensible, his behaviour is totally recognisable for that sort of hyper-masculine person, and even if you can’t possibly agree with him, you at least understand why he is acting as he does. Much has been made of De Niro’s weight gain for the last parts of the movie, and it’s remarkable how his efforts make it that much easier to believe that this is the same man in a very different chapter of his life, washed up and yet still trying to rely on the charm he once had.

Martin Scorsese shoots the film in gritty black-and-white, which often feels somewhat gimmicky, especially in films set in the era of black-and-white television, but here you can understand the decision if only for the boxing matches. Much like black-and-white photography, in black-and-white filmmaking the eye is drawn to details, the stark contrasts of black eyes, hair, blood and the white of Caucasian skin, lights, boxing rings. Ironically, by removing film a step from reality, it draws attention to the visceral things that make us register them in a more immediate way. Or perhaps I’m just trying to rationalise what is a very subconscious reaction.

A powerful film. Not one I would say needed to be watched again and again, nor one I would say would captivate everyone’s attention, but one that, like all the best biopics, shows you a human being you understand and sympathise with, no matter how disgusting.
mood | impressed

| Skewer me with your wit!

Tuesday, December 12th, 2006
Game impressions: Final Fantasy IX Tuesday 12th Dec, 2006 | 2:01 am

You can clearly see what Square were thinking. ‘Hey, the last game didn’t work so well because we made it too real, too futuristic, too dull. Let’s do something playful. Let’s go back to our roots.' And thank goodness for that. I haven’t played FFX yet, but FFVIII definitely made me want a break from trying to be realistic and the attempt to have mature storylines.

Thus, FFIX’s world is a slightly silly one. There are rat-people and weird puffy glutton creatures and dwarfs and moogles and best of all, someone went, ‘Hey, you know those black mages we’ve always had? Why don’t we make one a main character?’ Stroke of genius.

And the gameplay got more fun, too. Thank goodness that dreadful magic-drawing system disappeared, and while I always liked the complex, highly customisable materia system from FFVII, it’s fun to see the job classes make a return post-Final Fantasy Tactics, and having each character be capable of a different set of skills kept things interesting, though meant I had some characters I never used at all. Four in a party is better than three as well – though I still prefer Suikoden’s six for turn-based combat!

Shame about the card game. Having an element of chance involved (badly explained) made the games really much too unpredictable, luck being more important than skill.

Characters are a plus here. Having a playful world meant that the characters can be nicely exaggerated. Thankfully, for the first time in a while, a Final Fantasy game got an interesting protagonist in Zidane. Even though he was a smug bastard and I didn’t like him, and even though under his cool clothes and nice hair he looked kinda like Leonardo DiCaprio with dwarfism, I still cared about his exploits – even though I was mostly hoping he’d get a good sharp shock that would make him a nicer person that never really came. I liked Vivi’s (bibi-kun…geddit, Japanese fans?) stuttering, stumbling shyness, and Steiner’s bumbling ineptitude, and Eiko’s genki hyperactivity, but the other playable characters were left a bit underdeveloped, even our heroine. Wilful, boyish (even facially!) Garnet could have been interesting, but kinda faded into the background after her strong introduction. And I wish I’d known that her name change was gonna be permanent. I expected it to be only for a few scenes, and I thought naming her after a dagger was daft, so I called her ‘Mipsy’ – and she was stuck like that until disc three! Despite being constant tanks in my party, Freya and Amarant got only a token nod in story terms, which was a shame, and Quina was even acknowledged as a bit of a joke in the script.

These characters made the plot enjoyable, even when it got a bit ropey. The opening quests were good, but towards the end it just became typical FF overwrought guff, and badly suffered for having (a) no decent bad guys (Brahe was a perfect chuubossu (mid-boss), but Kuja was just uninteresting and silly-looking) and (b) no cool-factor. (FFVII had Sephiroth, Vincent and the Turks. FFIX has Amarant, who just grunts like a teenager and has a funny-shaped head.) The overall impression of story was a nice basis, some good characters, but then a lack of ideas towards the end making things drag on and on while trying to be clever with a daft story about souls. It was cute and funny – the scenes with the love letter could have been from a very likeable anime – but when it tried to be epic it fell short.

And the translators should have been shot. Localising does NOT mean giving character accents that would make the Pythons say, ‘Tone it down a little, please…’ and slipping in Star Wars quotes. I DID laugh at, ‘No cloud, no squall will keep us apart’, though.

Overall, while it cannot replace FFVII’s place in my heart (entrenched there partially because when you’re 12 you accept faults more easily, I know), this was a lot of fun, a game I didn’t long to finish like FFVIII, and a charming experiment done well. My only real complaint was that it was too easy, and after about 50 minutes’ hard levelling, bosses fall like flies, and even the hidden bosses weren’t nearly the challenge that the Weapons were in FFVII. What WAS Ozma, anyway??
mood | accomplished

3 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006
Film impression: El Laberinto del Fauno/Labyrinth of the Faun/Pan’s Labyrinth Wednesday 29th Nov, 2006 | 3:03 pm

When I went to see Hellboy, there were certain flights of fancy that made me wonder what director Guillermo del Toro would do if he didn’t have to adhere to a pre-existing comic book story, attempting to appeal to Hollywood’s conception of cool. With Pan’s Labyrinth, which he wrote as well as directed, I had my answer, and happily, I got to see what I feel was the best film I’ve seen on the big screen this year.

The story starts out in time-honoured fashion. Ofelia, a girl who likes fairy tales despite being a little old for them goes with her mother to a new home in the country, where she comes across an ancient labyrinth. A fairy leads her to Pan, a faun who tells her that she is a princess of a magical kingdom, and all she needs to do is complete three tasks to prove her worth. That could be the start of any of a million clichéd stories in the Narnia vein. But Ofelia’s wicked stepfather, a captain chasing down Communist rebels in a post-civil war Spain, executes some poachers with such brutal realism that you realise why the film has a 15 certificate…and slowly, you realise that this isn’t a fairy story about a girl having adventures, but a stark war film, and what happens to Ofelia is but a counterpoint, a commentary on a brutal reality. The fantasy sequences turn out not to be all fairies and prettiness, but difficult and gruelling, and the Alice in Wonderland dress Ofelia is given by her mother has to be left behind while she goes crawling under trees, getting covered in mud. Indeed, towards the end some interesting games are played with what is real and what Ofelia has simply fantasised.

The film is superbly acted, the young lead always believable and never annoying, her pregnant mother and the female servant who seems to understand her best are in their turns powerful, vulnerable and likeable, and the master of acting under prosthetics, Doug Jones, has not one but two unforgettable characters here, surprisingly speaking what sounded like excellent Spanish as Pan and also appearing as the Pale Man, who was simply awesome – way, way more scary than anything in Silent Hill, or just about any other horror movie I can think of. And then there was Ofelia’s step-father, Vidal, who could so easily have been totally two-dimensional, with his predilection for torture, his mistreatment of Ofelia and his desire to live on through his child, but with nothing more than a somewhat unoriginal memento to humanise him, somehow Sergi Lopez makes him a believable character (for a fascist captain) and even a sympathetic one.

It’s a real triumph of filmmaking. The costumes, the contrast in cinematography between the quests and the realism of living on a farm in the forties, where water must be drawn from wells and cows must be milked, the set design and the music are all as good as anything in top Hollywood productions, with only CG lagging slightly. It’s also the first time I’ve felt really impressed by a film’s sound production; the way that the wooden creaks of Pan’s body echo the squeak of leather that accompanies Vidal’s movement when he is in uniform is superb.

And while the plot is more functional than original, the way expectations are subverted really works delightfully in the context. The very best thing I took from the film was a subtle critique on your typical quest-type story: Ofelia begins to obey Pan and his magic book blindly, but once she is reminded that fauns are not to be trusted, she starts to question, to doubt, to make her own choices. It is her innocent sense of right and wrong that ultimately informs her decisions, but I think it’s a shame that a lot of people will most likely see the movie and not come out of it realising after the final scenes, as well as those with the doctor, that the message of the fantasy sequences, truly connecting the two storylines, is that if you simply obey without questioning, you are taking steps down the road to fascist totalitarianism.

And how many fantasy tales have messages like that?
mood | most impressed

11 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Sunday, November 5th, 2006
Film review: Borat Sunday 5th Nov, 2006 | 8:10 pm

I confess being very surprised how successful Borat has been. When I first encountered the publicity for the film, I thought that it would have an impact comparable to Sasha Baron-Cohen’s other film, Ali G Indahouse, that it would play to a niche audience and then quietly disappear. But while apparently it’s not playing too well in American theatres (unsurprising given that the American mindset is the target of much of the satire), it’s received rave reviews (Rottentomatoes’ reviews are 96% positive) and it’s being lauded in more than one place as ‘The funniest film of all time’.

So I was a little disappointed to find the movie good, but not great. It’s funny, and I’m glad I saw it, but I wouldn’t want to see it again. It has some great laughs, but it’s not up there with the Monty Python films or that other great mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap.

The film opens in a village in Kazakhstan whose dilapidation is cartoonish, and its inhabitants more so. Borat, a television personality in his country (though who watches televisions when there’s still one telephone per village?), shows us around his hometown. Here is the village rapist, and here is Borat’s sister, who has won an award for being the country’s number four prostitute. If you’re going to get the joke, you will have got it by now. Anyone who still thinks Borat is a real Kazakh and finds their own prejudices confirmed by this movie is unlikely to ever understand satire – or reason. Interestingly, this segment also contains several direct references to Borat-like Internet celebrity Mahir (first meme I ever saw!), who I’ve always thought at least partially inspired the character, even though apparently Baron-Cohen has been developing him since long before Mahir’s page was hacked.

Borat goes to America in an attempt to edify his compatriots on what makes a country great, but when he sees Pamela Anderson on Baywatch, he decides he’s going to marry her and sets off to find the busty superstar. This is the totality of the plot, which is really a vehicle for getting the Borat character to meet various people, both formally and informally, and this is what Sasha Baron-Cohen does best. He’s not great at thinking up jokes (when Borat appeared on Letterman, every single funny line was taken directly from the film) but what he’s great at is interviewing people in character, be it as Ali G, Borat or Bruno, and letting the interviewee’s prejudices show themselves. I thought that the real disappointment of the film was that there wasn’t more of this. I loved watching people getting wound up in their own prejudice on The Eleven O’Clock Show, or Ali G’s own series, but here interviews I think are going to be great showcases of what Baron-Cohen can really do, such as the ones with a group of feminists or an eminent black politician are wasted on artificially linking to pre-filmed set-pieces; they could have been interviews with anyone. Even the horribly prejudiced rednecks and frat-boys whose opinions really make the liberally-minded viewer wince don’t really need Borat to lead them to say what they say. There’s nothing of the surprise of extracting something unexpected or of using the Borat character to show hidden prejudices that make Baron-Cohen’s TV work so special here: all the prejudice is either on the surface anyway or hidden too obviously to be satisfying when revealed, as in the posh Southern dinner party.

However, there are some riotous set-pieces, like the ones at the rodeo or in a hotel. Some of the parts that seem unstaged clearly are not, but you don’t realise until after the shock of what just happened has hit you.

The funniest film I’ve seen in a long time, certainly, but not the funniest film ever by a long, long way, and also, by a similar distance, far from the best work Sasha Baron-Cohen has ever done.
mood | giggly

| Skewer me with your wit!

Friday, September 29th, 2006
Book Review: Seeker Friday 29th Sep, 2006 | 3:00 pm
His Slaves of the Mastery remains my favourite kids’ book written in the last twenty years, so it was with some excitement I started to read William Nicholson’s Seeker. However, it turned out to be quite a disappointment.

I’m coming quite late to the fantasy-with-an-eastern-flavour market, and Nicholson seems to be dipping his feet in those waters. A community of monks with mysterious superpowers called the Nomana live on an island, going around the world doing good works. Only they’re not very good at it, because a huge empire exists nearby where they imprison people on petty charges or simply abduct them in order to throw them off the top of a cliff as a sacrifice to their Sun god, a ritual performed every single day. Seeker is a boy of 16 whose brother is one of these Noma monks, but he is destined to become a scholar, because that is what his father wants. Secretly, though, he yearns to join the Nomana. After hearing a mysterious plot-driving voice, he goes into the monks’ inner sanctum and witnesses his brother being brainwashed, then overhears the monks talking about a secret weapon in the nearby empire that will destroy the island. When his brother is cast out and he is rejected as a novice, he joins two other rejected youths – the sarcastic, incredibly irritating Silvertongued silver-tongued girl who can see auras, Morning Star, and the fun but unoriginal Wildman, whose transformation from murdering, psychotic...well, Wildman to sensitive individual happens far too quickly to be believable – and sets off to find his cast-out brother and the secret weapon.

Not a bad set-up. Trouble is, it’s such a mess! Too much happens too quickly, and the climax is a deeply unsatisfying shambles. The characters are dulls I didn’t care for one of them except perhaps everyman Seeker. The world we’re introduced to is very flawed (what, the Noma don’t care about this evil empire of murderers until they’re threatened? Okay, I can just about swallow that, with monks wanting to keep themselves to themselves, but if it’s as easy for the empire to be brought down as it obviously was, why hasn’t it been done before by dozens of others?). Plot strands just get abandoned – Nicholson seems to have a complex about kids having to conform in schools, given Seeker’s story and The Wind Singer’s opening, but the concept never really gets tied up – just conveniently dismissed at the end. Various reprehensible things are seemingly condoned (also a problem I had with Firesong), from a girl making a vulnerable woman love her as a daughter and then totally destroying her psychologically, merely because she’s a product of her deluded society and thus wicked enough to suffer, to a woman abandoning her husband and child because she’s a bit of a manic depressive and hears voices. The driving antagonistic force of mysterious unseen psychic figures is lazy, and when the ending comes and you realise that the whole conclusion would have happened in much the same way with or without the story we followed, it’s annoying. For Nicholson to THEN have the audacity to try and engineer a meaningless twist in which it was all orchestrated and the kids were being protected despite all of them being in a position where no-one could have stopped them dying more than once (one of them actually got abducted) was extremely irksome.

Peculiar, though, that there was no romantic spark whatsoever between the lead female and the boys, but the two of them were often found to be huddling together in the cold, throwing themselves into one another’s arms, one being described as ‘beautiful’ and the other as ‘babyfaced’…almost like he knows the fantasy audience well!

Not to say it wasn’t a good page-turner or an enjoyable read. It was fun in places, but as a story, poor. I don’t particularly feel like reading book two, but then, I felt that way after The Wind Singer, too…so I probably will.
mood | indifferent

| Skewer me with your wit!

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
Tuesday 26th Sep, 2006 | 1:51 pm
Ahahahah! This is funny.

I'll never complain about the English dub of Naruto again (okay, I will, but less), when the poor Germans have to deal with this!
| Skewer me with your wit!

Friday, September 15th, 2006
Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller Friday 15th Sep, 2006 | 3:15 pm
Joseph Heller wasn’t the first to write in a comic fashion about war. From Aristophanes through Voltaire and to the films of Stanley Kubrick, comedy has always been mixed with the tragedy and the glorious exaltations of patriotism’s finest hours – when men are killing pro patria. I was raised on Blackadder goes Forth and later became infatuated by Wilfred Owen, who of course longed to emulate the acerbic wit that Siegfried Sassoon poured into his anti-war poems. But I don’t think that I’ve ever laughed so much AND been so impressed on a serious level as I was by Catch-22.

Yossarian is an American bombardier in the Second World War, who is very dissatisfied with the fact that people he doesn’t know keep trying to kill him, and that thanks to the bureaucrats running the war, it looks like he’ll never get sent home. Everyone around him seems to be a madman, and most of them keep telling him he’s the crazy one.

I loved the style of Heller’s composition. I loved how a chapter can turn on a sentence and a tangent you thought was unimportant leads you in a totally different direction. I love that we come to understand the quirks and idiosyncrasies of just about everyone mentioned in the book. And I especially love that just when you’re growing used to the humour, he’ll hit you with something so real and so devastating that you’ll never forget it. Some will probably hate the meandering nature of the prose, and I must admit I probably enjoyed it more reading a few chapters a day than I would trying to tackle the whole thing at once.

I think I saw in Yossarian what many seem to see in Holden Caulfield – a figure that is unpredictable, often doing strange and inexplicable things, yet who has an everyman quality, a mindset that can be easily understood, and whose occasional outbursts of irrational behaviour can be understood in the context. I feel I would behave much like Yossarian in his position (without all the fondling, bien sûr), and that made his quirky character all the more fascinating.

And I think I have seldom laughed so loud or so often at a book. Not all the jokes quite hit the spot – I could have done without the drawn-out capitalism satire of Milo Enterprises that just stretched believability that little bit too far, and the hapless CIA men just seemed too unimaginative and obvious for the joke to work – but so many of them were just inspired, be the absurd situations (‘T.S.Eliot!’) or perfectly apposite character traits (I still smile at how spot-on Cathcart’s ‘Feather in the cap’ vs ‘Black eye’ fixation really was). They made the book really, genuinely enjoyable.

Funny and moving, comfortable and shocking, a book built up of opposites. I couldn’t recommend it more.
mood | cheerful

| Skewer me with your wit!

Thursday, August 24th, 2006
Movie Review: The Filth and the Fury Thursday 24th Aug, 2006 | 11:45 pm
Julien Temple’s first documentary about The Sex Pistols, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, often gets criticised for its bias towards Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s version of events and for the fact that it didn’t include John Lydon’s input at all. The Filth and the Fury was much better-received, giving all the band members as well as McLaren time to tell their own stories. If anything, it’s biased more towards Lydon’s point of view – or at least, he makes more convincing arguments in his inimical sneering style.

The film sets the scene of lower-class life in the UK in the 70s, showing a grim world of repression, boredom and grime, then charts The Sex Pistols’ rise to infamy, feuds and eventual break-up, interspersing interviews and live clips (though I’m thinking not live sound recordings, most of the time) with clips of Richard III (to whom Lydon compared himself) as played by Olivier, animation of the band, archive footage and various British comics playing the clown. It gives the film an interesting disjointed and unpredictable feel, and with the band members all interviewed in silhouette, there’s a sense of strangeness, of individuality, as though the Pistols were part of a world no-one else can ever really know, but they lived it utterly and completely. Which is very true.

I really admire Johnny Rotten. I find it hard to see why people would idolise Sid Vicious. Why girls want to have sex with him – that I can see, but to idolise him? Strange. But to see Rotten perform, even in old clips, is something special. The intensity he has, the way he can just freeze, staring with this look of accusation and dominance in his eyes. His sneering, powerful and instantly recognisable voice. His intelligence. The fact that he is a person like anyone else, with real emotions and real regrets. The way he knows that punk was about non-conformity and that the development of a look, a uniform, a pigeon-hole, ruined the whole thing. I don’t quite understand why he wanted to reform the band for a nice big commercial tour, but hey – he wanted to. And doing what you will, as for Crowley, as for the Romantics, as for the Epicureans, was part of the essence of punk. What more do you need?

I’m not saying I understand him. I’m not saying I understand punk, especially not the Pistols’ punk. But I enjoy it. And I do what I want, and if I don’t look like the rest of the punks, that’s fine by me. I’m happy being middle-classed, affluent, articulate, liberal in a mild, ineffective way and many other things that I’m sure are the antithesis of the punk movement. But until I start pretending to be something I’m not, I don’t think I’ll earn the scorn of Mr Lydon. And it’s not like that’s a guideline for life, anyway.

The film was compelling viewing and a must for any fan. Even non-fans would likely enjoy the classic rock and roll story told here, though probably less than the absorbing Sid and Nancy, simply because of the nature of the respective media.

I have to say, though, even though I like Roger Ebert’s film reviews very much, he wrote one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen by ANYONE for this film. He’s MET these people in person. He was going to write a film for them. And he thinks Sid Vicious was the frontman, gets song titles wrong, thinks a contemporary London councillor would use the word ‘guys’ and misunderstands entirely the relationship between this band and their fans? Tsk.
mood | thoughtful

2 wild stabs | Skewer me with your wit!

Monday, August 14th, 2006
Review: Superman Returns Monday 14th Aug, 2006 | 12:54 am

Okay, yes, the film really looks great. It really feels like a real sequel to the Superman films of my childhood, rather than the cheap imitation some franchise updates end up being. Shame the story was so very dull.

The cast all looked good and played the parts well. Kevin Spacey even made a few unusual acting decisions, as the trailer was keen to push, which made for an interesting watch. Routh’s transition between Clarke and Superman was note-perfect, and he really does remind one of Christopher Reeve. The look of the piece was nicely consistent with the originals. I thought perhaps they were going to make things more physically realistic, but no, anything and anyone Superman lifts still seems to get support braces shoved through their entire length and be able to resist gravity, which has its charm. Special effects were stunning to watch, especially on the iMax screen. The few 3-D scenes weren’t great – things too often looked like they were in a pop-up book, quick cuts ended up making everything blurry and (perhaps it’s my eyes) anything that came too close to the foreground ended up ghosting – but the sheer scale of the iMax screen really enhanced the experience. Technically, it was a great production.

The trouble was that the story was such guff. That’s why I never liked Superman. He’s so powerful that you can’t hurt him without kryptonite, so they have to focus on romance. So here, we have Lex Luthor hatching an extremely rubbish plot to use technology from Superman’s home planet in order to raise a new continent from the seabed, which will plunge most of North America under water. Why? Well, real estate is valuable, y’know. Coincidentally at exactly the same time, Superman returns from his journey to see whether his planet has REALLY been blown up, and discovers Lois Lane is now married and has a child. And is unusually cold to Clarke and brutal to Superman. But does Lois still love him? Will she betray her wife? Will Superman be caught as he flies around being a dodgy stalker, using his super-hearing and x-ray vision to spy on Lois? Who’s the father of that child REALLY?

Yeah. Uninspiring stuff. The most exciting action pieces are when a shockwave causes carnage in Metropolis, and when a boat is teetering on a newly-risen plinth of rock (also the best scene 3D-wise). But this was balanced by endless solemn scenes of superficial angst and a lot of dud scenes of Luthor’s Paris Hilton-inspired girlfriend having pangs of conscience when she finds out her boyfriend is going to kill millions. The ending is very disappointing, on a much smaller scale than expected, and when it started to drag on with a totally unnecessary ‘Is Superman Dead???’ plot and the small boy behind me loudly informed his father, ‘Daddy, I REALLY want to go home now’, I couldn’t help but sympathise.

And as for the romance…it got some warm chuckles from me, but in the end was formulaic and left me indifferent.

I’ll leave you with this:

mood | good

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