Thursday 18 September 2008

Boo!

Hi there to anybody that might be reading this. This blog used to be somewhere I would post film, dvd, cd and concert reviews but I got a little bit tired of all that and kind of retired. I haven't posted in ages so I thought I'd throw up a couple of things I've written over the last few weeks...so here they are. If you read them I hope you like them but if you don't that's grand too. Take care.

Horizon


I came upon a throng of faces pointed at the sky
Many sets of plate sized eyes staring way up high,
I had to take a few steps back to understand their dread
The hospital looked back at us, a girl perched upon its' head,
A tiny, simple, plain white gown were all the clothes she wore
Her dark hair, teased by silent breeze, reached nearly to the floor,
Tiny arms hung by her side masked by the strangest things
They looked to me, for all the world, to be two cardboard wings,
I looked around and saw some people on their mobile phones
Some others now were running round but I had turned to stone,
I waited and no words would come, not even just a token,
I just couldn't bear to watch her fall and see her body broken,
Panicked calls hung in the air but didn't reach her ears
That heavy air was syrup thick with everybody's fears,
She stood there looking down on us, a poker players' face
The hospital beneath her feet, above her only space,
Please God don't jump, don't take your step, my arms could never hold you
Just come back down, take off your wings and nobody will scold you,
I catch my breath as all at once she's one with gravity
She's falling, falling, falling fast, she's falling right towards me,
Without a thought my arms shoot out and I look into her eyes
Bright and calm they look right back as she's falling from the skies,
I'll be so very good from here on in if her life can continue
I brace myself, my muscles tighten, I stretch my every sinew,
Looking up, I steel myself expecting a disaster
There is no sound, nobody blinks, she's falling ever faster,
Then it happened, I can't explain, her cardboard wings stretched out
And off she soared into the dusk and glided softly south,
Her tiny, simple, plain white gown fluttered in the breeze
Her long dark hair just like a cape followed past her knees,
She did not speak, made not a sound, just flew towards the horizon
She was the only thing, for oh so long, that we could keep our eyes on,
Then she was gone and I looked down, to see my arms before me,
Waiting still to catch the girl who had glided out to sea.

Rose Tinted Binoculars


A time ago when I would run the grass would barely bend,
The laws of physics and myself were not considered friends.

I would fly along at such a pace my shadow would surrender,
Before a letter was even sent I could return to sender.

I could jump from any crazy height and land without a mark,
I could tumble down most any hill, make a fire from a spark.

My hands would very rarely rest upon my handlebars,
The road was but a playground for weaving through the cars.

From our secret lair we could watch the world and never once be seen.
If dirt was steel I was a magnet with not an inch left clean.

Ghost stories made the short walk home last a thousand years,
A multitude of hidden things to fertilise my fears.

I made a fairly decent dent into the sugar mountain,
And quenched my neverending thrist with a sticky fizzy fountain.

Trees were climbed and blood was spilled and bees were caught in jars,
And our hearts came tumbling from our mouths as we lay and watched the stars.

Feather


It seems that would I fall on my back I would fall through the earth,
As if it were sky,
The dirt and rock and metal would be just wind to me,
Pressing my clothes against my skin,
Stretching my skin taught.
My eyes would be carelessly closed,
Sound would be somewhere else, dull and distant.
And I would be waiting and waiting,
Waiting,
To be caught.

Fifty Years


This is a poem from a good few years ago, it's kind of a fairy tale really. My wife asked me to put it up - as if I needed to give people another reason to ridicule me! Anyway here it is in all it's corniness...


Hundreds of millions of people find love,
But I see so much more here, bestowed from above.
Seeing them sit there, together, alone,
Something between them, so long carved in stone.

I asked him one day, was it always the same?
He smiled and said nothing but his eyes spelled her name.

The effect that they have upon others is strong,
Seeing something so sacred gives strength to go on.
But this passes them by being blindly content,
Each engulfed in the other, each kiss an event.

So after five decades of wishes fulfilled
He slipped his worn hand into hers and was still.
His last thought was spoken and will live long in my head,
Here, to his wife is the last thing he said…

“You are the half that makes me whole,
You are my life, you are my soul,
So as I lay me down to sleep
I pray to God my soul to keep”.

The life left his body and passed through the room
And sailed towards the sky like a ghostly balloon.
She lasted mere minutes before leaving us too
And they sailed up together, a life to renew.

We know where they went to, so good and so fair,
And heaven burned brighter for having them there.

Principia Street


Every so often Martha would glance out the kitchen window into the yard. She had told Chris he was not to stray from the garden and while she would like to rely upon his sweet acceptance, she had seen how easily a six-year-olds’ head could be turned. He had asked for another ten minutes in the garden and Martha wondered if she had given in too easily this time. She knew that he was looking forward to seeing his Dad turn into the driveway and she suspected he was hoping he might be allowed to beep the horn a time or two. Most of all she knew that he was a six-year-old boy who simply didn’t want his day to end.
She opened the window, “Easy now Chris, don’t bounce the ball too close to the gate”. “I’m not Mam! Anyway there are no cars around so I can get it if it goes out”, Chris replied in a tone designed to reassure. Martha smiled.

Eight doors down on the same street a young girl was still desperately struggling to come to terms with a bombshell that had been dropped three days before. She knew that there was only one person in the whole world that she could talk to about it but she also knew that that person would probably never want to be around her again. If only things could just go back to the way they had been before her world caved in. Eve figured herself to be a fairly normal sixteen-year-old girl from a fairly normal family. She couldn’t have been more wrong. She knew many people but only considered three or four of them to be true friends. As a group she felt that nothing could break them. Of the group she was closest to Alison who lived directly across the road. They appeared in each other’s earliest memories and knew everything about each other. Well, nearly everything.

One would finish the others sentences, they had similar tastes in everything from music to boys and even seemed to think the same way. So many times one would be about to phone the other when the phone would ring. So many times they would meet half way between their houses, each on the way to knock into the other. They were even born on the same day, the same year. People often said they looked similar, asked if they were sisters or even twins. Three days ago they would have giggled and said no. Eve had recently discovered that the reason Alison’s father left was because he wasn’t her father at all. Sixteen years before, Alison’s family had just moved to the street and had held a party in their house for the neighbours. Eve’s mother and father went along and over the course of the night had quite a bit to drink. Somehow Eve’s father had some drunken time alone with Alison’s mother that night and Alison was conceived. When Eve’s parents came home they made love themselves before falling asleep and Eve was conceived. Three days ago Eve found out that herself and Alison were half sisters, half twins even. She was horrified and ashamed and ran screaming from the house straight across the road to Alison, to see if she knew. She didn’t.

“Ten more minutes Mam.” “Now Chris you promised you would come in good as gold after the first ten minutes” said Martha through the window. He didn’t respond, he just pretended not to hear and kept on bouncing his ball. Martha shook her head. “Okay Chris, you can stay out until I’m finished washing these dishes, just a few more minutes”. He heard this time. “Thanks Mam!” Too easy she thought, definitely too easy.

All at once it happened, or rather all at once nothing happened. Everything stopped, everything simply stopped. Dan stretched to answer his phone and suddenly found he couldn’t move his hand any closer to the receiver. His first thought was that he was having a stroke or some sort of seizure but after ten minutes of listening to the phone ringing and seeing his paralysed hand mere inches from it he understood that this was something else entirely. Dan’s girlfriend Chelsea was upstairs having a shower when everything stopped but the water. After an hour the hot water ran out and cold poured down but she did not shiver. As the condensation evaporated on the shower door she saw her reflection - a mannequin with frightened eyes.

Philip was halfway up the stairs to a plane when it happened. After all his initial panic and anger and fear he decided that he was a lot luckier than the people whose planes were already in flight. Many hours later as each plane dropped from the sky he began to wonder if in fact they were the lucky ones.

Jane was making a horrible face for her chuckling father when her mother walked into the living room. “Stop that right now Jane”, said Sorcha, “right now!” Jane took her fingers from the corners of her mouth and removed her thumb from her nose. Sorcha couldn’t believe she was getting encouragement from her father. He knew she was worried Jane was becoming too much of a tomboy. “What harm can it do?” he asked as Jane made another face. Sorcha was surprised just how much she sounded like her own mother when she said, “If the wind changes you’ll stay like that.”

Lenny and Marv were driving nowhere in particular in Lenny’s new car. “I still can’t believe I got this for only a grand with the trade in”, said Lenny. “I can”, smirked Marv. “Shut it man or I won’t take off the sticker”. There was a sticker running across the top of the windshield that said “Dave” over the driver and “The One” over the passenger. At the moment Marv was The One and was less than thrilled about it.
“Hey let’s swing down Principia Street”, Lenny said, changing the subject. “You only want to head down to see Eve you horndog. I can’t believe you like her, did you see the jumper she wore at Christmas time? It was the kind of thing you’d put on a down syndrome kid to make them look a bit Christmassy”. “Give it up about that jumper Marv, Christ that was months ago, she seems nice to me and anyway I’m not in the form for your nonsense. I’m running on no cylinders here”, said Lenny. Down Principia Street they went when suddenly Lenny found that he could not move his hands to steer, nor move his feet to break.

Locking his bike to the railing Frank heard the bouncing of a ball and looked across to see a small boy. At the same time the boy looked up, lost control of the ball and watched wincing as it came off his foot and bounced out the gate. Frank wandered over and scooped it up. “Ready to catch it?” he shouted. The boy smiled, gave a thumbs-up and the ball was airborne. Martha watched Chris catch it at the second attempt but smiled only with her eyes because her mouth had stopped working. She sensed the atmosphere all around her change. She could still hear and could still see but her body was rigid as if dipped in cement. Outside she saw Chris and yearned to call to him but could not. Chris still had the ball in his outstretched arms and the man who threw him the ball was stood off balance in the middle of the road. The first thing that occurred to Martha is that she had had some sort of mental breakdown. She waited to blink with the expectation of seeing that the world around her had caught up on itself as her eyes reopened, but even though her eyes soon become dry she did not blink. She tried to call, to hum even, but could not. She could see that the man in the road had fear in his eyes.

Eve was thinking about Alison when it happened, she was remembering the last time they had been together. They were walking past the graveyard when Leonard and Marvin waved over and said hello. She had known them because they worked at the local mechanics where her Father would get his car serviced. Leonard’s smile always seemed to be a little wider when he caught her eye and she was flattered by the attention. Alison noticed too and seemed to delight in it even more than Eve. Alison was always better around boys than she was. Eve was thinking about how strange life was going to be if Alison had meant the things she said that day. Then she found she couldn’t get off her bed.

Just across the street Alison also lay on her bed. Also thinking. Her Mother had confirmed everything Eve had said. She explained it in even more detail thinking that it would help when really Alison just wanted to know nothing about it, nothing at all. In a matter of minutes her humdrum life had become a soap opera and she didn’t know how to react. She wanted to ring her Father but didn’t, wanted to smack her Mother but couldn’t. Her Mother told her it had been a mistake, a mistake that she had paid for across sixteen years of being a single mother. That didn’t help Alison though, in fact she couldn’t think of one thing that might loosen the knot in her stomach or stop the train running through her head. All of a sudden the only thought in her mind was to find a way to move off the bed.

Lenny and Marv sat in terrified silence as they moved down Principia Street towards a man standing motionless in the middle of the road. Lenny knew that if he could just turn the wheel a fraction he was still far enough away to miss the man but his arms had turned to steel. He could only wait. Frank heard the car approach and wondered if he might smash like glass when it hit him. As he lay on the ground a few seconds later he slipped into unconsciousness knowing he was still in one piece.

A day passed. Twenty-four hours. An ocean of seconds dripped by. Martha remained looking out her kitchen window. Her son Chris still held his ball above his head. The man who threw it was now on the side of the road having been hit by a car. Martha had thought he was dead but although she couldn’t be sure she thought he was awake now. One of his feet was askew and there was a wet stain on the front of his trousers but she was pretty sure he was awake. She thought he was lucky because some other cars had passed by soon after he was hit and if he had landed on the road they would have crushed him. She was glad she did not have to watch that happen. She heard the cars crash in the distance and wondered what had become of the drivers. Each time a car passed she felt sick with worry in case it was her Husband. She wondered where he was now. Most of all she thought of Chris, she thought of her fear and how it was only surpassed by her helplessness. What must he be thinking? She had prepared him for all the obstacles and miniature traumas a six-year-old might face but how could she have prepared him for this? She wondered if this was the end of the world. She felt so overcome by her questions that it was quite an effort to ward off the hysteria that she felt was sneaking up on her.

Eve and Alison had had a surreal three days. Their two worlds had been torn asunder and then without warning the world seemed to have stopped turning altogether. Alison could see her bedside clock out of the corner of her eye and knew that she had been trapped on her bed for twenty-seven hours now. She had a restlessness that burned and the tornado of her mind had subsided by now to be a gentle breeze. She knew something strange was happening from the commotion she heard out her bedroom window. That the commotion only lasted a few minutes and was followed by almost a vacuum of silence told her that she was not the only one suffering. So many thoughts had entered her mind and even though she had not searched for anything she ended up finding something very important. She needed to talk to Eve. She was the only one who she could talk to about this, about anything. She had always wanted a sister.

About the same time no more than sixty yards away that exact same thought passed through Eve’s mind.

Martha was pretty sure she was crying inside. Her legs were screaming and her back and shoulders had probably turned to dust by now. In a strange way the pain was a relief from the feelings she had while she looked at Chris. He was her only son though herself and her husband had been trying for years to have another child. Three miscarriages and some heartbreaking complications later it seemed as if nature had decided that Chris was to be an only child. Then two months ago Martha missed her period. She had never been as regular as some of her friends and to miss a period was not too unusual for her. This time however, she sensed there was something different and this sense was borne out by the five glorious pregnancy tests she took. The doctor confirmed what she had already known and told her to take it very easy in the early stages as there was a good chance she might miscarry again. She had decided not to tell her husband until the dangerous time had passed. Colin was destroyed with the last miscarriage and she didn’t want to see him all broken up inside again. Just over three months had passed and Martha had begun to show a little. She had decided that last night was the night she would tell him. She wondered again where Colin was now and felt her heart tear with the bittersweet image of his face as her words sank in. To see his face again… And to tell Chris! Oh to see his little eyes widen and his smile grow to a thousand miles.

Martha wasn’t sure if there was a God but she begged him to end it, she pleaded to him to wake the world again. Even if he could just let her rush out to Chris and take him in her arms and then freeze the world again. She could almost feel her body reach for Chris, across the divide of their garden. She could nearly feel herself glide across to him fuelled purely by the strength of her will, the strength of her love.

Over twenty-eight hours had passed when Martha’s finger moved.

And Chris dropped his ball.

Dan’s phone stopped ringing.

Chelsea saw her reflection slump to the shower tray floor.

Eve and Alison got off their beds.

Philip fell into the arms of the person on the step beneath him on the planes’ stairs.

Frank and Lenny and Marv screamed.

Jane’s face changed back.

And above Colin’s car the traffic light turned green.

Sunday 25 May 2008

Game Review – The Bourne Conspiracy


Publisher – Sierra Entertainment

Platform – Xbox 360

First there were the novels, then there were the movies and now we have the first game based around the character Jason Bourne. Often games based on movies are a half-hearted cash in released to coincide with the movies’ launch. But in this case there is no new Bourne movie and this game is not specifically based on any of three Bourne movies. Rather, it contains elements from them all and also delves into Jason Bourne’s past to fill in some of the blanks in his back-story.

The game is split into various different styles that are particular to the Bourne movies. The periods of relentless frenetic action are captured in missions set against the clock. Accomplishing a task before something happens is typical of the way panic is created in the game player. There are problems with this however because it can be easy to get stuck repeating the same section over and over again. This is frustrating in itself but the load times are peculiarly long and after a while there is a temptation to throw the controller at the television. Also, during these frantic action sequences there are occasional cinematic pauses where a button press, or series of button presses, must be executed. This is a bit of a throw back to the Dragons Lair or Space Ace days and seems a little cheap on a next generation console. Also, the time allowed for these button presses is quite short and it’s annoying having done well in a mission to lose to a button press.

The action is all from a third person perspective similar to Army Of Two or Kane And Lynch. It might have been a good idea to have the frantic sections of the game in first person as a lot of quick turning is needed and the camera work does not move quickly enough sometimes. However, third person is perfect for the sections that represent the more stealth-orientated side of the movies. So much of these sections comprise of gun fights where taking cover behind walls, crates etc. is vital to Bourne’s survival. These are sections where patience is rewarded much like the shootouts in Gears Of War and are probably the most impressive part of The Bourne Conspiracy.

Of course in the movies we often see Bourne effortlessly escaping from dozens of police cars in intense adrenaline fuelled chases. These are also featured in the game and are as exciting as you could hope for. They look the part and are filled with spectacular set pieces. The only problem is that these set pieces are cut scenes triggered yet again by a couple of button presses. In fact this is the main problem with The Bourne Conspiracy, all the best bits are out of the gamers’ control. The best fight animations, the rolls, slides and jumps and the driving stunts are all things you have no control over and while they are spectacular without them the game is fairly standard. The fighting is based around three buttons, one for a light attack, one for a heavy attack and one for a finishing move. There seem to be dozens of moves but they are randomly generated depending on what button is pressed. So there is a lot of button mashing but little thought required. This is definitely not a sophisticated beat ‘em up. Also, the game is far too linear with no possibility of exploration or route variation.

The Bourne Conspiracy is a valiant attempt to immerse the player into Bourne’s world but concentrates far too much on being cinematic. The story is strong and it uses the Unreal 3 engine so it looks well but this could have something grander. As it is, it’s decent entertainment while it lasts but the sequel, if there is one, could be something special.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Game Review - Everybody's Golf 2


Publisher - Sony
Platform - PSP

It all began in 1997 with the below-the-radar release of the original Everybody's Golf on the Playstation. Through word of mouth it slowly became a minor classic among golfers and non-golfers alike. Traditionally Sony has concentrated on more adult orientated games aiming for realism whereas Nintendo has favoured cute, sunny and cheerful. Everybody's Golf was sweet and charming and resolutely not a golf sim - a game that would probably have felt more at home at Nintendo. However what began as a trickle is now a stream as the seventh game in the Sony series (the second on the PSP) is released.

Everybody's Golf has become a gentle and low-key phenomenon over the last 11 years. The first release on the PSP in 2004 was one of the launch titles for the budding handheld and was the launch title I was still playing long after the others had lost their lustre. Its' charming innocence and infectious feel good factor kept you smiling during game play but what kept you coming back for more and more (and more) were the precise and realistic physics.

Everybody's Golf 2 continues in the same vein with that perfect game engine purring away beneath the even more luscious and colourful visuals. What separates this from the other sims around is that there seems to be nothing at all to learn, everything is absolutely instinctive and intuitive. Within minutes of playing your first round you will find yourself changing clubs, adjusting your approach to counteract the wind and applying some backspin to make sure the ball sits nicely on the green. Everything just makes sense and unlike other golf sims the instruction book is practically redundant.

This time around there are more courses, more players and more costumes to unlock. The cartoonish characters are animated as flawlessly as usual and the intelligent camera follows the ball with its usual panache as it arcs across the course. The just-one-more-game feeling is palpable; in fact even writing this review is an annoying interruption in my quest to increase my characters' power and technique! There are so many things to keep you coming back for more, unlocking more courses and more characters to play versus matches against, to try and beat your best drive, longest putt and best score. Even seeing your character's loyalty rating increase each time you choose them is strangely addictive. Landing on concrete paths or railway tracks gives your drive an extra 20 yards and the resulting pleasure in hitting these is probably a little sad for a 32 year old.

All the usual multiplayer modes are there and the minigolf game appears once again. A nine-hole tournament can be completed in about 20 minutes but even if you have only a minute to spare you can play a sneaky hole or two. Suffice to say I was a big fan of the series already and Everybody's Golf 2 has only reinforced my affection further. A cornier man than I would probably say that Everybody's Golf 2 is a hole in one but I will just say that this is good, this is really good.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Movie Saga – Indiana Jones


Raiders Of The Lost Ark - 1981
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey, Wolf Kahler and Denholm Elliot.

The Temple Of Doom - 1984
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri, Roshan Seth and Philip Stone.

The Last Crusade - 1989
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliot, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover and River Phoenix.

The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull – 2008
Director – Steven Spielberg
Cast – Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent.

The hat, the whip, the swash, the buckle…that’s right, Indy is back. With the upcoming release of his forth adventure now is a good time to cast an eye back over the esteemed archaeologist’s career thus far.

It all really began in 1973 when the alchemic imagination of George Lucas produced The Adventures Of Indiana Smith. Lucas, a huge fan of the Saturday matinees of his childhood, decided to pay tribute to these serials in the best way he knew how – he would make his own. Of course taking on a project like this is not something that can be done alone so he mentioned it to a friend of his, one Steven Spielberg. In 1973 Spielberg had made a ripple in Hollywood waters with Duel and was two years away from making a tidal wave with its’ spiritual sequel, Jaws. And so these most fertile of imaginations batted ideas between them, sculpting and honing everything from character to plot until Raiders Of The Lost Ark was realised. Indiana was named after Lucas’ dog while his surname was changed from Smith to Jones at Spielberg’s prodding and so one of the most iconic characters in cinema history was born. So, who to play him?

By the time of casting some years had slipped by during which Lucas had gone ahead and made the first and second parts of his Star Wars space opera trilogy. As a result of Spielberg and Lucas’ popularity explosion they could take their pick of leading men to don the hat and whip but settled on the up and coming Tom Selleck, star of the hit TV show Magnum PI. Spielberg’s initial choice had been Harrison Ford but he had already starred in three of Lucas’ films and Lucas was wary of becoming too attached to one actor. Fate ended up conspiring against Lucas however as just before filming was due to commence CBS decided not to release Selleck from his Magnum PI contract. Three weeks before shooting began Ford was offered the part and the jigsaw was complete.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark is set in 1936 around the eminent archaeologist and college lecturer Indiana Jones and his quest to find the Ark Of The Convenant before the Nazis. The Ark is a chest built to hold the pieces of the actual Ten Commandments. In bible lore the Ark is said to envelope any army that holds it in invincibility so it would be pretty handy for the Nazis. Nostalgia abounds and there are many playful winks at Lucas’ Saturday matinees but Raiders stands on it’s own two feet. It has become a film beloved by those of us who were children then, marvelling at the action and laughing as Indy made another quip while he should have been quivering. Apart from Ford’s droll and charisma drenched performance we had the sparky and sparkling Karen Allen as and old flame and the daughter of Indiana’s old mentor. There were Denholm Elliot’s dignity and whimsy as museum curator Marcus Brody and Paul Freeman as the smooth talking rival archaeologist René Belloq. Across the whole trilogy there is no one enemy but many and they are either Nazis or men working for the Nazis. The swastika and all it stands for is really what Indiana is fighting. Spielberg would eventually make his masterpiece with Schindler’s List but it was with Indiana Jones he first tackled the Nazis.

Some of cinema’s most memorable scenes are in Raiders. The scene when the Nazis are melted while viewing the spirits released from the Ark was about as gory as children’s films were allowed to be at that time. The fight underneath the airplane between Indy and the pilot ends with the pilot being diced by the blades of the propeller and was viewed by most of us through the latticework of our fingers. Watching this scene now though it is surprising to see that Spielberg used Hitchcock’s technique of not showing anything other than the blood spattering, in this case not down the shower tray but across the cockpit window. The sound effects and our imaginations did the rest. Of course there is possibly the most casual dual of all time too, where a master swordsman approaches Indy spectacularly wielding a razor sharp sword only to be casually shot by a preoccupied Indy. One of the most affectionately remembered scenes is of course the very last shot of the film, when we see the Ark being housed in a box and stored in a seemingly infinite warehouse full of an infinite amount of identical boxes.

Following its’ success a sequel to Raiders Of The Lost Ark was inevitable and in 1984 The Temple Of Doom arrived. Spielberg and Lucas’ romantic nature can occasionally lead them into slightly corny territory and this is what frequently happened in Indy’s second adventure. Actually a prequel to Raiders this instalment is set a year before in 1935 and revolves around Indy trying to retrieve kidnapped children and a sacred stone from a dastardly cult. The romantic interest here is nightclub singer Wilhelmina “Willie” Scott who is played by Kate Capshaw. Surely the most annoying character in the whole trilogy she spends every moment on screen either whining, preening or screaming. Steven Spielberg obviously saw something he liked because he later married her but she contributes hugely to Temple Of Doom being the weakest of the trilogy. Once again a dog was used for inspiration when it came to finding Willie’s name and this time it was Spielberg’s cocker spaniel that was the dog of choice. If screenwriter Willard Huyck was feeling left out he need not have worried as Indy’s young accomplice Short Round was named after his dog.
The most visually arresting scene in The Temple Of Doom was Indy, Willie and Short Round’s escape from the cult’s palace in a mine car. The track through the mine would have contravened a fair few safety regulations as it happened to be put together just like a roller coaster but while it was probably hair raising for the miners each day it provided an exhilarating escape for Indy. Surprisingly the special effects do not stand up as well as the effects in Raiders. Perhaps technology had not yet caught up to Lucas and Spielberg’s ambition in time to fully realise the larger set pieces and stunts in The Temple Of Doom.

Five years later The Last Crusade was released and surprisingly proved to rival Raiders as the strongest of the series. It’s premise is the quest for the Holy Grail, the chalice used by Jesus at his last supper and then by Joseph to catch Jesus’ blood as he hung from the cross. This time round more time was spent in developing the characters, in particular Indy himself. As a young man we see how Indy, played by the late River Phoenix, gets the scar on his chin, comes to gain proficiency with a whip and where he gets his hat. We are introduced to his father Professor Henry Jones who is played by Sean Connery and displays all of his son’s drive, wit and sense of adventure. Alison Doody plays Dr. Elsa Schneider, an Austrian professor who, while working for the Nazis, seduces both of the Jones’.

Legend has it that anyone that drinks from the Holy Grail receives immortality and when a new clue emerges as to its’ whereabouts another race against the Nazis begins. Initially it is Jones Senior in his obsession with the Grail who attempts to find it but when he is captured it is left to his son to rescue him and prevent the Grail from landing in Nazi hands. As usual there is action in abundance and booby traps galore and the appearance of Connery ensures double the amount of quips, asides and verbal sparring. The father son relationship is interesting and explains a lot about Indy’s personality. In fact the quest for the Holy Grail seems to be a metaphor for a son’s everlasting quest for his father’s approval.

The Last Crusade was released nearly twenty years ago and here we are, mere weeks from the proof that it was not in fact the last crusade after all. On the 22nd of May The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, Indy’s fourth adventure, is released. Can Spielberg recapture the innocence of his earlier work, can Lucas relinquish his special effects obsession and can they, between the two of them successfully breathe life back into Indy once again?

There has been an almost unheard of blanket of secret draped over The Crystal Skull since Harrison Ford was finally persuaded to root out his whip once more. Very little is known about the plot and everyone involved in the production of the film signed a confidentiality agreement so unusually for a Hollywood blockbuster on the 22nd of May there will be surprises. The small fragments we do know are that the film is set in 1957 so like the actor that plays him Indy has aged 19 years. The Nazis are no longer his enemies and their place has been taken by The Soviet Union who battle Indy for the mysterious crystal skull across America, Central America and South America.

Harrison Ford is now 64 years of age and in order to prepare for his return as Indy he spent three hours a day in the gym and followed a strict high protein fish and vegetable diet. Once again he performs many of his own stunts and has said himself that he feels the film confronts the fear of aging head on which is something he feels is important to address in modern America. He insisted on not dying his hair and wants to present a positive attitude to aging to the cinema going public. This time around Ford is joined by an established and experienced cast including Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent. Unfortunately The Crystal Skull will not feature the late Denholm Elliot or the retired Sean Connery but thankfully Karen Allen has been persuaded to come out of retirement to play Marion Ravenwood once again. Shia LaBeouf is a young actor that Spielberg rates very highly and he will feature heavily as Indy’s sidekick, Mutt Williams.

Over the years Indy’s influence has spread far and wide and there have been Indiana Jones video games, a TV series, t-shirts, lunchboxes and even an Indiana Jones Disneyland ride based on his mine car escape. Maybe a more accurate gauge of the influence is the amount of imitations that he has spawned over the years. On film there has been, among others, King Solomon’s Mines, The Jewel Of The Nile, The Mummy, National Treasure and Sahara. In the realm of computer games there have been Pitfall, Rick Dangerous, Tomb Raider and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Without Indy none of these would exist.

Nearly thirty years have passed since Raiders Of The Lost Ark and going to the cinema is no longer the event it once was. Instead of being led into the quasi-regal splendour of the Ambassador or the stately Savoy nowadays children are taken to the nearest charmless multiplex to see any one of a dozen charmless blockbusters. The inspiration for Indy was the old school and now Indy is old school himself and so, the question has to be asked, is there still room for Indiana Jones? On opening night, on May the 22nd, when the lights go down, when the first notes in John Williams’ seminal score echo through a cinema for the first time in just under two decades and when all of a sudden a million hairs stand to attention on hundreds of necks we will surely have our answer.

Friday 2 May 2008

Movie Review – Paranoid Park


Director – Gus Van Sant

Cast – Gabe Nevins, Taylor Momsen, Scott Patrick Green, Jake Miller, Lauren McKinney and Daniel Liu.

Paranoid Park is eighty minutes long and of this roughly ten minutes are filled with grainy slow motion skateboarding set to atmospheric/pretentious spoken word French ambient music. That's more than ten percent of the film.

The other sixty-odd minutes centre on Alex, an androgynous adolescent who solemnly wrestles with day-to-day teenage life. Beneath his disaffected exterior many teenage problems bubble such as his parents divorce, his skateboarding limitations and the lack of feeling he has for his girlfriend. However none of these troubles can compete with the fact that he has recently accidentally killed a security guard at a train yard near a skate park. When a detective comes to his school asking the skaters questions Alex gets nervous. And that's about it really. There really is nothing else to the plot.

Mala Noche, Gus Van Sant's debut, featured amateurs in the lead roles and now, strangely, he has come full circle. Having proved himself in Hollywood he has now once again entrusted his vision to amateurs. The stilted delivery and innate awkwardness both resonate and grate at the same time. Putting his film in the hands of untrained teenagers, while occasionally providing the hoped-for authenticity, backfires overall.

Music plays a very strong part in the film, from country to hip hop, from classical to ambient - constantly setting the tone symbiotically with the visuals. It is regularly our only insight into guessing at the feelings of the characters, as the script is so anaemic.

I sat down with high hopes but unfortunately this is simply not interesting enough, the plot is so thin it barely exists and I had to fight to keep my mind from wandering as the minutes lurched by. There are some beautiful looking scenes, the camera mimicking a storm is a highlight, but these are not enough to save Paranoid Park.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Movie Review - Mala Noche


Director – Gus Van Sant
Cast - Tim Streeter, Doug Cooeyate and Ray Monge

After many years making short films Gus Van Sant took his first step into features with Mala Noche. This was 23 years ago and while showing signs of age and it's $25,000 budget it is still identifiably a Van Sant film.

The story is based upon a portion of Walt Curtis' autobiography. Lonesome and unappreciated Walt finds himself becoming increasingly fixated upon one of two young men who have drifted in from Mexico. This is about all the story that there is as Van Sant, typically, expands more energy examining the unrequited desire between Walt and his drifter. Van Sant enthusiasts will observe the many buds here that bloom in his later work in particular the tender pain of an obsession not returned (My Own Private Idaho) and his portrait of the American underbelly (Drugstore Cowboy). The scenes where there is no plot development and where few words are spoken show that even in his early work Van Sant is never in any hurry and is much more interested in mood and tone and character.

Scenes fade in and out and we are left wondering what may have happened just before we arrived and what may have happened after the scene has faded. Maybe this is a conscious thing to empathise with the life of the drifters, maybe it's a device to highlight life's constant flow or maybe simply a way of creating atmosphere.

This is very definitely an indie film, an ode to a marginalized strand of society and quite obviously from the heart. Whether it is entertaining is questionable and while it is less than 80 minutes in total it somehow manages to feel longer. The rawness of the production and the poor performances do not always make this enjoyable viewing but this will definitely appeal to Van Sent completists.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

CD Review – My Brightest Diamond – A Thousand Sharks Teeth


Shara Worden has a solid musical pedigree being a former member of Sufjan Steven's touring band, a student of Opera and the daughter of a National Accordion Champion (!). Her debut album as My Brightest Diamond was released in 2006 and purveyed a fairly conventional rock/indie sound. The follow up, A Thousand Sharks Teeth, is the other side of the same coin.

As a child Worden was exposed to a range of musical styles such as gospel, jazz and classical as well as contemporary rock and pop and on first listen A Thousand Sharks Teeth feels original. However, after a while it's clear who Shara Worden's influences are. Her vocal has elements of Beth Gibbons' detached chill and Bjork's stop-start intonation and her operatic power gives many of the songs added drama.

Lead single Inside A Boy is the perfect example of when all of these ingredients blend together perfectly. It's brooding and epic and shimmers with confidence. Another highlight is the devastating To Pluto's Moon that seems to be going nowhere before suddenly seven minutes have passed and you are back on earth.

There are a few slow burners so just when you think you've got it all figured out another song blooms and the album is renewed. It's all very serious though and it is a pity Worden is not a little more playful once in a while. Perhaps she could follow Sufjan Steven's example in that it is possible to make an artistic statement while still having fun now and then.

Some of the slower tracks are short on melody and the kind of thing you might expect to hear at parties you are not cool enough to be invited to. All in all this is impressive stuff and it will be interesting to see My Brightest Diamond's next step.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Concert Review - Wallis Bird


Venue - Crawdaddy
Date - 17th of April 2008

Setlist - See below

Sometime last year I was trawling through the music channels on telly and caught the last minute of a song and found myself completely transfixed. I had no idea who the singer was but I spent the next couple of days watching that same channel until the video was played again. I discovered it was Wallis Bird and the song was The Circle. Seconds later I was on the net, my fingers punching the keys as fast as they could but finding out very little other than that the release of her debut album was imminent and that she was Irish! For the next few weeks I spent a large amount of time in the "B" section of The Secret Book And Record Store, Rhythm Records and Comet Records in the hope of finding a promo copy of the album. Eventually I was rewarded with what turned out to be my favourite release of 2007, Wallis Bird's Spoons.

So I was absolutely counting the seconds to her appearance in Crawdaddy, the intimate Harcourt Street venue. Crawdaddy is without doubt the best venue in Dublin at the moment. I would guess it holds no more than 250 at a squeeze and the sound is consistently perfect. My expectations were probably unfairly high for this gig and yet as I floated out afterwards I knew they had not just been met but blown away. Like finding a light switch after a lifetime in the dark, Bird was instantly incredibly luminescent. From the moment she bounded onto the stage I knew there was nowhere else in the world I would have rather been. The cute 6 ft 8 was the opener and proved Wallis was in fine voice. Then she played one of her trump cards early with uplifting, foot stomping, smile inducing Counting To Sleep and we were on our way. For nearly two hours Crawdaddy was leaking sunshine and creaking as it struggled to contain the pure concentrated joy.

Wallis seemed to be an antenna picking up the soul of Etta James, the rawness of Janis Joplin and the spider web delicacy of Dusty Springfield while still retaining her own originality and essence. Apart from her stunning vocal prowess she is a whirling dervish on stage, conducting a storm of her own creation from the eye of it. Totally at ease and totally in love with each moment it seems as though she is only barely able to contain her passion. This passion is displayed in jumps, stomps and head shaking all topped off with the most contagious smile.

Wallis Bird is an artist who deserves to be loved, cherished and protected from the machinations of the music industry. This is someone whose sheer devotion to her trade will ensure she is here to stay. Grab the album as soon as you can and if you get a chance to see her live go along and you will be smiling for a week afterwards. This is the beginning of what should be a beautiful adventure.

Setlist
6 ft 8
Counting To Sleep
Slow Down
Country Bumpkin
Your Daddy Is A Liar
You Are Mine
Your Morning Dream
Moodsets
The Circle
Blossoms In The Street
Just Keep Going
All For You

Game Review - Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops Plus


Publisher - Konami
Platform - PSP

Solid Snake, the central figure in the Metal Gear Solid series has been appearing on our consoles for a decade now. Since 1998 we have seen the series become a benchmark for graphically superior, inventive, stealth based gameplay. This latest addition to the series follows on from last years Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops but to call it a sequel would not be entirely correct. It is more of an expansion or an upgrade with the focus more on online gameplay. It is a similar release to the Substance or Subsistence expansions on the PS2.

Last years original was another fine accomplishment by creator/designer/living legend Hideo Kojima that fleshed out the Solid Snake saga even further. It concentrated on the single player experience and was very well received by the massive Metal Gear fan base. As well as the fully realised single player game there was an excellent multiplayer angle too where you would choose a squad and use them to challenge others online. Unfortunately this latest release removes the single player adventure altogether and replaces it with a new mode called "Infinity Mission". Infinity Mission is merely a succession of randomly chosen maps in which the player must locate an advance point so they can move on to the next. It is squad based so before a mission a squad must be selected and prepared for battle. Then during the mission the player can switch between squad members and also gain new squad members by kidnapping enemy soldiers.

The typical Metal Gear Solid gameplay is intact but without any story to drive it it becomes boring and repetitive almost instantly. If you have played the first game and are expecting another chapter in the story you will be extremely disappointed. If you did not play the first game you will be confused and disappointed. So it's disappointment all round. The menu system is more complicated than it needs to be and even the simplest of actions require many button presses. The look of the game has not changed but as the levels are not part of a developing story they remain very similar to each other and have a basic box-like finish.

The online experience is as enjoyable as it was before with the usual deathmatch and target shooting modes. But all in all this seems to be a cynical cash in on last years Portable Ops. It's a shame to see a series that was once a standard bearer for originality releasing something so bland and hopefully this is not a sign of things to come. I guess we will find out with the next instalment in the series.

In the meantime if you were a fan of last years release there is nothing new here. If you do not own either game then the original Portable Ops is the one to buy and as a result of this new release it will probably be cheaper now too. Maybe some good has come of Portable Ops Plus after all!

....If anyone would like a promo copy of Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops Plus on the PSP drop me an email with your name and address at denehan@gmail.com. First one gets it!....

Thursday 27 March 2008

Interview - Eric Johnson aka Flash Gordon


Eric Johnson - actor, part time super hero and all round nice guy takes time out to chat about his new series Flash Gordon, now showing on Sci-Fi.

This interview was postponed earlier in the day till further notice. I thought this would be a good thing as my voice was a little shredded (sore throat) and I hoped by the time of the rescheduled interview it would be back to it’s operatic best. I came home, plonked myself into bed and went asleep only to be woken in the depths of night by the phone. I would guess that Eric Johnson was a teensy bit startled by the incoherent Rod Stewart/Gollum who picked up at the other end. I apologised and tried to explain that I had been asleep for hours and would just need a couple of seconds to get set. “What time is it there?” he asked. It was only 11.00pm. Bad start.

After the interview I reclined, bit the end off a cigar and pressed play on my Dictaphone only to discover that the all I had recorded was electrical interference from the mobile phone. So I sat down to transform what was in my tiny mind into written words before the letters began to dribble slowly out my ears. What a pro.

Me – Hi Eric, thanks a million for taking the time to have a quick chat.

Eric Johnson – Not a problem.

Me – I guess the first thing to figure out is how you got to this point, was acting something you always aspired to or something you just fell into?

EJ – It was something I really enjoyed doing from an early age. I always loved being the centre of attention, my mother tells me that that was the case even before I could walk. So I guess acting was a natural step for me to take. In school there were small plays and I had great fun doing those so from about 9 years of age I knew I wanted to act for a living.

Me – You must be a very driven person to decide what course you want your life to take at 9 and to follow it through….

EJ – Well I wouldn’t say that (laughs) but it has worked out well. I really do feel like the luckiest guy on earth.

Me – Looking back, was there any defining moment where you felt, this is it, this is for me?

EJ – When I was 14 I was in Legends Of The Fall with some amazing actors (Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Elliot from E.T. etc) and I realised during that time that this was about the most fun you could have while getting paid!

Me – How did you get the role of Flash?

EJ – I read the script and loved it and so I went and read for the part. As I was walking out the door afterwards I said to myself, “this is for me, I have got this one” and thankfully I was right. Usually I say that to myself but nothing comes of it! (Laughs).

Me – So I guess I have to ask if you are a fan of the comics or Flash's previous appearances on the big or small screen?

EJ – Absolutely, the opportunity to play such an iconic character was too good to miss out on. As soon as I read the script I saw that it wasn’t taking itself too seriously while Flash still had that innate sense of goodness. There are a lot of heroes now that seem a little angry or conflicted but Flash always seemed to have a kind of purity about him and that was very appealing to me.

Me – I mentioned to my parents that I would be chatting to Flash Gordon and they told me about Buster Crabbe, the original Flash Gordon. Did you have to do much research and if so, did you go back as far as Buster?

EJ – Hehe I did, Buster was probably the most perfect Flash Gordon. He was an Olympic athlete and also had that sense of inner goodness but I also loved the 1980’s film. I don’t think there was a 12-year-old boy out there who didn’t want to be Flash Gordon around that time. The Queen soundtrack alone was fantastic!

Me – Obviously the film had a huge budget at the time. Has the budget constraints of a budding TV series had any impact on the direction of the show? Was the decision to set it here on earth as opposed to the planet Mongo down to the budget?

EJ – I don’t think so, of course we were working on a tight enough budget but I think the idea of a mad scientist living in suburbia and building a spaceship in his garage is very appealing. Space travel is quite a difficult thing to do obviously but the chance of someone finding a wormhole and travelling through it to another planet with life upon it is interesting. The fact that inhabitants from Mongo can also come to earth through this wormhole is another area we examined.

Me – You mentioned Buster Crabbe being an Olympic athlete and of course Flash is so named because of his speed and sporting ability. Were you a sports star growing up or are your old school friends going to be ringing you up in disbelieve when they see the show?

EJ – Well, I was on the various teams but I must say that I wasn’t particularly good. I made up the numbers I guess and I would expect some ribbing from old friends. In saying that I really enjoy the running around and the action on the show.

In (the TV series) Smallville I played the high school quarterback and this would have been what I would have wished for back in high school but in reality I was just happy to be on the team.

Me – The show seems to have a tongue in cheek comedic style with plenty of action thrown in. What would you say you prefer doing, action or comedy?

EJ – Wow that’s a tough one, I mean I really love the comedy aspect and that was one of the things that most appealed to me when I read the script. Then again the action side was something I thoroughly enjoyed so I don’t think I’m going to be able to choose. Actually no, I think I’ll say comedy because I can still do that when I get too old for the action!

Me – Have you felt the series develop as filming progressed? I noticed the chemistry improve the longer the show went on, is this something that was obvious on set?

EJ – Definitely, Flash was unusual in that after we filmed the pilot we went straight into filming the show proper so were able to build on what we had quickly. This was helped enormously by the director Rick Rosenthal and while there were bumps in the earlier episodes I believe that as the series progresses these were ironed out. The chemistry between the cast was genuine; I can honestly say it was the best time filming I’ve ever had. We put in a pretty big shift across the eight months of shooting and I had an hour-long commute to the set in the morning and in the evening too. In the beginning I was amazed at how high the spirits were but I was sure the novelty would wear off a couple of months in but it never did. It really was the most enjoyable thing I’ve ever worked on.

Me – Well thanks a million for giving up your time Eric, I know you’ve probably got another thousand of these to get through.

EJ – No problem Steve, it was great to talk to you. Take care.

Saturday 22 March 2008

Movie Review - DiG!

Director - Ondi Timoner.

Cast - The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

DiG! is a documentary chronicling the journeys of two bands, The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. For a whopping seven years the bands every move was recorded. Obviously the filmmakers became part of the scenery as they were allowed to capture some fairly heavy stuff on camera. DiG! was screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and walked off with the Grand Jury Documentary Prize. It is easy to see why.

The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre have a plan and that grand plan is to start a musical revolution. Well, that's not strictly true, The Brian Jonestown Massacre's lead singer, multi-instrumentalist, egomaniac and just plain maniac, Anton Newcombe, has decided a revolution is required.

It all begins as a friendship between the two bands. There is a mutual admiration between lead singers Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe. In fact Taylor-Taylor, who also narrates, often seems to admire Newcombe even when things begin to sour between them. And sour they do. Newcombe does not envisage “selling out” as being part of him becoming the saviour of the decaying music world. When The Dandy Warhols begin to enjoy some mainstream success venom begins to flow through him and from him. Jealousy, combined with his ego and a dash of drug addiction sees not just the end of a friendship, but also the implosion of The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

While watching this documentary only a fool would bet on both bands staying the course and still making music today but both are still recording. For fans of either band this is an absolute must-see though for music fans in general it is essential viewing. It is true that the music industry can be cruel but sometimes fate and luck can have too much of an influence and looking at this car crash unfold it is rather moving to see the inevitable failure of the more talented musician. Then again, Anton Newcombe’s talent never stood a chance against his tsunami-like ego.

Trawling through over 2000 hours of footage must have been painstaking multiplied by tedium squared but it has resulted in a wide eyed examination of friendships broken, drug addiction, the quest for fame, on stage and off stage fighting. There is enough puss and vinegar here with which to paint your front room. DiG! deserves its' exclamation mark.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Game Review – Pro Evolution Soccer 2008


Publisher – Konami.
Platform – PSP.

In its’ many guises over the last fourteen years Pro Evolution Soccer has been the purists’ choice - the most valiant attempt at translating the nuances and subtleties of the beautiful game onto our consoles. Where FIFA and others were more interested in gimmicky effects and high scores PES focused on realism, awareness and intelligence. Goals were scored in other games but were earned in PES. Over the last few years the others have caught up by catching on and mimicking the approach taken by PES. The latest in the PES series suddenly has some work to do to stay ahead of the game.

All the regular features are present and correct. In fact the PSP version is the only version other than the PS2 one that has the World Tour mode. This new mode is actually a welcome addition to the regular cups, training exercises and Master League. It puts you in charge of a club or national team and gives you a task or mission to complete – such as having to win from a goal down or winning by a set number of goals etc. The gameplay is identical to the PS2 version in practically every respect.

The small differences are enforced due to the lack of the two shoulder buttons but this does not take away too much from the experience. Holding down the right shoulder button still makes the player run more quickly but with a double tap the player executes a step-over instead of increasing his pace even further. The one thing that the PS2 can never compete with is of course the portability of the PSP and the idea of playing PES on the plane, train or automobile is delicious! The ability to compete against other human challengers is an option but essentially this is a single player experience.

Unfortunately PES 2008 is not a great step forward from its’ predecessor. In fact it could be argued that it’s actually a backwards step as it seems to have lost a little bit of fluidity and smoothness. Scoring is not as intuitive as it has been in the past and even having taken a first touch and steadying the player his shot is liable to end up in the crowd instead of the net. Unlike the PS2 game this version suffers from slowdown that, while infrequent is disappointing. Overall though, while this PES engine needs to be stripped down and rebuilt it is still about the best fun you can legally have on a bus.

Movie Review - Never Back Down


Director - Jeff Wadlow.

Cast - Sean Farris, Amber Heard, Djimon Hounsou, Cam Gigandet, Wyatt Smith and Leslie Hope.

I remember when my Dad came home with our first video recorder and plonked the gigantic black box beneath the television. There was that all too rare hush of expectation as Ferris Bueller's Day Off began and there was not a word was spoken until the credits rolled an hour and a half later. So began a relentless series of trips to Video Mania in a quest to quench our VHS appetites. Over the course of that summer we chomped through what felt like hundreds of movies and hidden among them were two that were watched more than once - Karate Kid and No Retreat, No Surrender. Never Back Down is a throwback to those halcyon days and borrows heavily from their respective plots.

Jake Tyler feels lost; he has no outlet for the anger within him. He feels responsible for the death of his father who died having wrapped himself around a tree while drink driving. Jake was beside him in the passenger seat and survived. He channels this rage into his high school football but football alone can't contain it and he constantly finds himself ending up in fights. As a result of this he is expelled from school after school and is in a downward spiral. His mother can't relate to him and the absence of a father figure is keenly felt. His younger brother Charlie is a tennis prodigy and his talent wins him a scholarship to a respected tennis school in Orlando. And so the Tyler's move from Iowa to Orlando in search of stability and new beginnings.

The move does not go well initially. Jake's classmates are from the upper echelons of society and have never known hard times. Jake feels even more alienated than before. His brother finds that the tennis competition is far stronger in his new tennis school and is no longer a big fish in a small pond. Their mother Margot is again left to pick up the pieces. Jake's solution is take part in organised but illegal fights, a kind of teen Fight Club. His aggression is no longer enough to see him win through as the other fighters fight using a Mixed Martial Arts style. In order to compete and gain the respect of his peers he joins a dojo where the sensei Roquoa (Djimon Hounsou slumming it) takes him under his wing and hones not just his body but also his mind.

Of course this is old ground we're walking over so the real question is if there is anything fresh Never Back Down can offer. The answer is a resounding not really. The production values are very high and it has a music video type of feel to it that fits well. The two leads are fine though Sean Farris is like a young Tom Cruise and Amber Heard an even younger Scarlett Johansen, which is quite disconcerting. Tyler's rival, both in combat and romance, is Ryan McCarthy who is played well by Cam Gigandet. Unfortunately the fight scenes are not as spectacular as they could or should have been. A Mixed Martial Arts style is used which favours a lot of grappling and wrestling so the flow is constantly interrupted. The fight choreography is not inventive at all and bores quickly. Even the final fight that has been simmering throughout the whole film is a let down, which is a shame.

All in all Never Back Down is somewhat of a wasted opportunity. Then again if I'd watched it that Video Mania summer many years ago I might have loved it.

Friday 14 March 2008

Movie Review - The Game Plan


Director - Andy Fickman.
Cast - Dwayne Johnson, Madison Pettis, Kyra Sedgwick, Roselyn Sánchez and Morris Chestnut.

The star quarterback for the fictional Boston Rebels’ American football team finds his testosterone filled world turned upside down by the arrival of an 8 year-old daughter he never knew existed. Knowing this much alone should be enough for anyone to not only predict every inch of this story but to also determine whether it's the kind of thing that floats their boat. One other thing, in case there is any doubt about the outcome, this is a Disney production.

The star quarterback in question, Joe Kingman, is played by wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. His daughter Peyton is played by new cutie on the block Madison Pettis. If Joe was a sensitive, well-rounded and empathetic man this film would be ten minutes long so it's no surprise to find that Joe is a stereotypical jock. He is at his peak, famous, very rich and very single. He is a man's man with no responsibilities and his life is just the way he wants it to be. How can he possibly fit his newfound daughter into his world? Well, he simply has no choice so cue "hilarious" fish out of water shenanigans resulting in Joe finding his heart as well as his daughter.

While everything is amazingly predictable somehow it's still half watchable. Pettis grates after a while and gets a little too much screen time but Kyra Sedgwick convinces as the Joe's impenetrable agent with not even the tiniest maternal bone in her body. In the central role The Rock manages to endear himself with his charm and genuine charisma. Although an actual rock would probably pull off the tender emotional scenes with a little more conviction. Still, not since “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s cult classic “They Live” has a wrestler shown as much acting potential.

There has been a deluge of merely adequate family movies over the last few years particularly from Disney. This is another one to add to that list even though it does feature the splendidly named Morris Chestnut.

Movie Review - Hitman


Director - Xavier Gens.
Cast - Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Robert Knepper and Olga Kurylenko.

Hitman started life as a video game and was popular enough to spawn three sequels with another due for release next year. With a large and devoted fan base a film adaptation was inevitable. The success of video game adaptations is patchy at best but the Hitman games are quite cinematic and so I was hopeful the movie would deliver on the video game’s promise.

In the lead role as anti-hero Agent 47 we find the perfectly cast Timothy Olyphant who we last saw as John McClain's foe in Die Hard 4.0. As we saw from that performance he is more than capable of inhabiting a controlled, detached and emotionally stunted character. The film opens with a brief overview of how Agent 47 came to be as we see a succession of young boys being turned into soulless killing machines. We then move to the present day where we find Agent 47 surprising his pursuer Mike Whittier, in his study. After a brief exchange we rewind to three months earlier where Whittier, an Interpol agent played by Dougray Scott, is inching ever closer to his big prize, the ghost-like Agent 47.

There is a plot involving the Russian president and his body doubles and a quasi-romantic relationship with Nika Boronina who is played by Ukrainian actress and upcoming Bond girl Olga Kurylenko. The plot is merely a vehicle to carry the set pieces and the relationship between Agent 47 and Nika is where the humorous moments in the movie are found. The set pieces are not as bombastic as other Hollywood blockbusters but are impressive in more subtle ways. There is a delicacy and efficiency in how Agent 47 operates which is amplified by the stylistic way in which the movie is shot. The camera swoops in and out quickly and some of the shots are framed beautifully, particularly in the train station. It is no surprise to find Luc Besson's name associated with Hitman albeit only as a producer.

The action moves along in a bit of hurry so concentration is important. The dynamic between Agent 47 and the two Interpol agents is strained however, mainly due to the absolutely awful performances of Dougray Scott and his sidekick Robert Knepper. They are creakingly wooden though their cause is not helped with their characters being written in such a ham fisted way. The classical score is elegant and lends the movie a maturity not often found in action thrillers, let alone video game adaptations. There is nothing to dislike about Hitman but there is nothing to really fall in love with either. That said, I found myself disappointed when the credits began to roll.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Movie Review – Meet The Spartans

Director – Jason Friedberg.
Cast – Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Ken Davitan, Kevin Sorbo, Diedrich Bader, Method Man and Nicole Parker.

Meet The Spartans is a parody of 300. There you go. At this point you might expect me to say that if you liked Epic Movie, Date Movie or the Scary Movie’s you will like this. But I can’t and I won’t. Nobody could possibly like Meet The Spartans. Even if you are obsessed with Epic Movie, have Date Movie posters for wallpaper and can recite every word of the Scary Movie’s you could not possibly like Meet The Spartans. There should be sponsored Meet The Spartans-a-thons and even then I can’t imagine the charities making much money. This is a BAD movie, maybe the worst movie.

Meet The Spartans stars such Z listers as Carmen Electra, Kevin Sorbo and Method Man and quite surprisingly our hero Leonidas is played by Sean Maguire. If that name sounds familiar you might remember him from Eastenders in the mid nineties. How he has ended up here is a mystery but one thing is for sure, his agent must absolutely hate him. The plot, which of course is the same as 300, is actually incidental to the main purpose of the movie which is to shoe horn into the running time as many contemporary and pop culture references as possible. It seems that the purpose of these references is not to be at all comedic but merely to be identifiable.

The cheap attempts at humour are blood boilingly grating and each “joke” is rehashed throughout the movie many times. The whole thing is tired, old, stunningly lazy and horribly unfunny. Passion Of The Christ is a laugh riot compared to this. My favourite genre is comedy and I find that even in the poorest of comedies there are still some laugh-out-loud moments but not here. Even Run, Fat Boy Run seems Oscar Wilde-esque compared to this.

I couldn’t laugh once. I couldn’t even laugh at it. Famine is funnier than Meet The Spartans and the best thing about is it’s running time of 74 minutes.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Movie Review – The Condemned


Director – Scott Wiper.
Cast – Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Rick Goldman, Robert Mammone and Madeline West.

This is former WWE wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s first lead role after a small supporting role in Adam Sandler’s Mean Machine remake, The Longest Yard. We find Steve, as Jack Conrad, sitting on death row in a sweaty El Salvador prison as a result of the American military disowning him while he was caught doing their dirty work. Luckily enough for Conrad billionaire businessman Ian Breckel, played by Robert Mammone, has a bright idea that could give him a second chance.

Breckel has the notion that throwing ten death row convicts onto an uninhabited island and then freeing the last one standing would be jolly good entertainment. He has cameras in every tree and bush so he can film the action and transmit it across the internet uncensored and as it happens. In order to prevent the convicts seeing out their days in hammocks drinking coconut milk he has strapped some plastic explosive to their legs that will detonate after thirty hours. So it’s kill or be killed. His rationale is that these convicts are bad eggs and were going to die anyway so by giving one of them a chance to live he is actually the good guy.

So that’s it, suffice to say Conrad is the hero, Vinnie Jones’ Ewan McStarley is the bad guy and the rest just make up the numbers. There is a little spice thrown into the mix by the fact that two of the convicts are females but that does not make them any less capable of violence. For extra bonus spice one of the females is married to one of the males. It’s a powder keg of moral dilemmas!

The violence is relentless and surprisingly uninventive given the potential scope on the island for traps and home made weaponry. There is a very basic look to the whole thing too, the island is probably very picturesque but we never get the chance to find out. Having seen Steve Austin going through the occasional wrestling monologue over the years I was surprised at how little dialogue is thrown his way here. He always seemed to have some charisma and it seems odd that he is not given the chance to convey that charisma in his first starring role. As usual Vinnie Jones is Vinnie Jones gurning and snarling his way through some cheesy bad-guy-speak. It’s hard to believe that scrawny Vinnie has even half a chance against any of these six and a half foot man mountains but, just like in his Hollywood career, he gets by on his wits alone.

The Condemned bombed both in its’ cinema and DVD release in America. This could be partly because there is nothing here that we haven’t seen before and the whole thing is played out completely straight laced. There is not even the teensiest weensiest bit of humour or irony here. Even a raised eyebrow would have helped! Still, if you are looking for a mundane action thriller that doesn’t star Steven Segal this might fit the bill.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Movie Review – Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds In 3D


Director – Bruce Hendricks.
Cast – Miley Cyrus, Jonas Brothers, Kenny Ortega and Billy Ray Cyrus.

If you were wondering what rock juggernaut would be following U2 down the 3-D concert road you might be in for a little surprise. Hannah Montana is a reasonably popular television character here but in America she is idolised by squillions of pre-teen and teenage girls. With this in mind Disney have produced this concert film compiling the best bits from her performance in Utah and splicing them with behind-the-scenes footage.

The TV show revolves around an ordinary teenage girl called Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) who’s alter ego is a world famous pop megastar called Hannah Montana. In order to live a normal life she keeps Hannah Montana a closely guarded secret from all but her most trusted friends. As her mother died some years before she is raised by her father played by real-life-dad Billy Ray Cyrus!?! That’s right, he’s back - although he never really left our achy breaky hearts. Being a Disney production Hannah is a Britney or Christina type singer but without the sleaze. Of course the songs are saccharin sweet, horribly catchy and backed up with some decidedly wholesome choreography.

Since Hannah Montana’s emergence Miley Cyrus herself has, confusingly enough, launched her own solo career. In June 2007, a double album was released with the first disk being Miley singing in character as Hannah Montana and the second disk being Miley singing as, well, Miley. As a result this concert film features them both and we see Miley’s transformation into Hannah for the first time. In the behind-the-scenes footage Miley comes across as a pleasant and rounded person and she can sing although it’s in that schooled way typical of American pop. The 3-D is not as dazzling as U23D but creates a depth that helps take away the feeling that you are watching a concert in a cinema.

This is light entertainment in zero gravity. Even the running time is light, clocking in at only 74 minutes but that makes it all the easier to be a cool mam or dad.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

CD Review – Simple Plan


In Quebec in Canada in 1995 some friends came together and formed a band called Reset. Four years later the band evolved into Simple Plan and three years after that in 2002 they released their debut album, the classily titled “No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls”. The success of this album led to two more, the latest of which being this self titled release.

For fans of the first two albums this picks up where they have left off ploughing their now familiar furrow of pop rock. For the uninitiated Simple Plan sound like a Canadian McFly or The Fray-light and believe me, that is light. Pierre Bouvier has that typical inoffensive middle-American “rock” voice that is impossible to pick out from the crowd. His delivery is bland and ensures that the hairs on the back of your neck remain seated. Unfortunately for Simple Plan the standout track on the album is the opener, “When I’m Gone”. It begins with a reggae flavoured keyboard before a pleasant thumping drum arrives and soon your head is nodding its’ answer. So far, so good. Then track two, “Take My Hand”, comes and goes – strike one. Unfortunately strikes two and three arrive straight after and it’s hard not to give up there and then.

However, there are some surprises to be found across the rest of the eleven angst heavy songs. Apart from the ballad “I Can’t Wait Forever” (my toes may never uncurl) there are some half decent soft rock moments. It’s very definitely background music but that’s okay, sometimes the background needs a little music. I can imagine a lot of these songs in a teen romance/coming of age movie. There is nothing complicated here, it’s all very standard but at least there is a slight attempt at individuality with the synths weaving in and out of the guitar sound. The lyrics are the kind of thing you might find on the back of any 14 year-olds’ copybook. “Hey oh let’s go it’s going down tonight. Hey oh let’s go we’re gonna do it ‘til we die. Cause I’ve got no reason to apologise. That’s my generation, don’t need to say I’m sorry.” - this was written by band members now nearing 30 years of age.

In saying that, at least they do write their own songs, play their own instruments and produce some moderately catchy pop rock. If you have a 13 year-old daughter and you want to be a cool parent, buy her this.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Movie Review – Ex Drummer


Director – Koen Mortier.
Cast – Dries Van Hegen, Norman Baert, Gunter Lamoot, Sam Louwyck, François Beukelaers and Bernadette Damman.

An author looking for new ideas finds them handed to him on a plate when three self-proclaimed handicapped musicians knock on his door. They have read somewhere that the author professed to have an aptitude for playing the drums. They believe that they can piggy back on his fame and elevate themselves, even for a short time, out of their miserable existences. The singer has a slight speech impediment, the bass player has a stiff arm and the guitarist is a little deaf. Their real handicap is the fact that they are degenerates with anger the only emotion they express.

In order to generate more fodder for his novel the author sets about manipulating his new band mates to sink to even more turgid depths. As a result we are presented with 100 long minutes brimming with violent multiple rapes, graphic un-simulated sex scenes, senseless unprovoked extreme violence, countless murders and even child death through the ingestion of faeces. Not to mention many, many litres of vomit and blood. This is a film that is trying desperately to shock, to become a talking point, to celebrate the grotesque. The first scene is played in reverse and bodes well for some clever camera work and interesting ideas. However, while there are plenty more moments of camera trickery it becomes clear quickly, very quickly that this is a case of style over substance. The fact that the lead singer spends his time at home walking on the ceiling is never explained and seems to be just a gimmick.

The band is a punk band and some may argue that this film is an examination of that lifestyle. I would suggest however that the punk angle is a just a tool to excuse what pans out. The script is utterly baffling, there are very few scenes where it is clear what exactly is being talked about. There is a lot of cod surrealism from the author and this grates after a while. Perhaps the director was trying to caricature punk life. It’s impossible to tell as the film is such a failure in transmitting what, if anything, he is try to say.

It’s difficult to find anything worthwhile here but Gunter Lamoot as the bass player does seem to give his character a little more believability, a little more realness - though only a little. I am sure this film would wish to be considered shocking and explicit. In many ways it is but mainly it is simply dull and dreary.