Greetings from China! So far I’ve been here five days and, as predicted, blog-wise I’ve been less productive than could have been hoped. I’m here primarily for work purposes, but a lot of the time is set aside waiting for our China-based tool-makers to make some adjustments to some tooling, but it turns out that I’ve had plenty of work to be getting on with, so the stack of films I brought with me haven’t really garnered a whole lot of attention, and neither has the wad of notes from previously viewed movies. Instead I’ve been up late working, some days I haven’t actually left the hotel, and when I do it’s like walking out of a fridge and into an oven, because bloody hell is it hot here. Like unbearably hot. I went for a stroll today and sweated through my t-shirt in minutes. Plus I’m pretty terrified of getting lost here, as I the only Mandarin I know is “nǐ hǎo”, which means “hello”, so I can’t really rely on anyone to give me directions. Thus much of the local culture has passed me by, not that there’s a great deal to do around these parts anyway as it’s mostly factories, hotels, offices and the standard small shops that crop up around those locales. The company I’m visiting has taken me out a couple of times, and last night I ate about half my weight in lobster (actually crayfish I think, but they call them lobster here), which was delicious, but I feel with lobster the actual meat isn’t worth the hassle of getting to it, plus there was a TV playing throughout the meal showing the whole cooking process, starting with the carefree crustaceans merrily swimming and scrabbling their way around until they’re caught, cooked and served. I’m pretty sure in a steak restaurant they don’t show documentaries about cows whilst you eat, so that was a little off-putting. Still, tasted good though.
I have watched a few films since I’ve been here though, mostly in the background whilst getting on with other things, and I watched a few films before heading here, and some on the plane, so there’s plenty to talk about this week. I also made the mistake of finally starting to watch The Wire and bringing the first season with me (Aisha decided all the characters swear too much for her to watch past episode two), so almost every time I sit down to watch something I can’t resist another episode of that instead. Damn it’s good. More on that once I’ve finished the season. Oh, and the worst thing about being here, other than spending two weeks practically alone and with no-one to hold a full conversation with, is the internet restrictions. I’m amazed that WordPress is still operational, given that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and Blogspot are all out of action. The worst is Google, which takes out all it’s subsidiaries too, so no Google Maps, and no Gmail, not even on my phone. I use three Gmail accounts on a regular basis – all the organising I do for the LAMB and the Lambcast is on there – so this is getting unbearable. Plus, I missed this week’s Great British Bake Off! Anyway, here’s what I’ve watched in the past week:
A Bug’s Life (1998)
I’ve got an upcoming Lambcast recording on The Magnificent Seven and it’s origin and remakes, so whilst we’re not covering it on that show I thought I’d refresh myself with this very loose adaptation, that I also happen to love and which I feel is very under-rated amongst Pixar’s output, being the almost forgotten sophomore release between Toy Story and the sequel. I don’t know how many dozens of time I’ve seen this now (I remember seeing it in the cinema with my Dad, who promptly fell asleep) but there are so many great characters that every time I see it I pick a new favourite. This time? The picture Tuck and Roll, the pill bugs (we call them woodlice in the UK) that speak very little English but clown around all the time pestering everyone else. It alarmed me just how mch of the film I could quote, given how long it’ been since my last viewing, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this movie.
Choose Film 8/10
The Unbelievable Truth (1989)
I’m currently trying to work ouot why this is on the 1001 List. It’s not bad, it’s just not, well, it’s not really anything else either.
Lists: 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
Full review coming soon.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
China is a twelve-hour flight away from London, and the last time I came I watched four films heading out and five on the way back, but due to the schedule this time around I ended up doing a first and actually slept a considerable amount of the flight, so I only fitted three less-than-two-hour movies in, which is somewhat disappointing, but when a man’s gotta sleep, a man’s gotta sleep. 10 Cloverfield Lane is easily one of this year’s releases that I was most annoyed about missing, especially given I included it on my Top 5 Anticipated for the year on an earlier Lambcast we recorded hours after the trailer dropped from nowhere. This is a film best viewed knowing as little as possible, so I’ll be sparse with my mini review. It sees some kind of attack occur in the outside world, ensuing in our main character, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who I’ve been a fan of since Final Destination 3), being knocked out in a car accident, and awaking in a bunker with a couple of strangers, survivalist and conspiracy theorist Howard (John Godman) and kind, injured Emmet (John Galagher Jr.). I loved this movie, especially the more claustrophobic scenes between the three characters, and Goodman in particular is on phenomenal form. Were this less of a genre piece, and were it released a little later in the year then I’d have been expecting him to be at least part of the awards discussion, but it’ll probably be forgotten by nomination time, which is a shame. I also feel the title takes away some of the film’s enjoyment. If you’re familiar with Cloverfield, then the nature of the attack from which our survivors are hiding loses some of its mystery – we know something has happened, so the doubts some characters display put us in the position of knowing more than they do. This didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but it hindered it a little. Given how much connection there is (this could also have been called 12 The Mist Avenue or 63 Pacific Rim Boulevard) I feel disconnecting it entirely – like the original script planned – would have been beneficial, but perhaps would have garnered less excitement and anticipation for its release. Still it’s an interesting premise that only starts to lose its way a little towards the end, and up until that point it’s fantastic. A must-see.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Another film I’d been looking forward to, Keanu is the Key & Peele movie (co-written by Jordan Peele and Alex Rubens) that sees the duo picking and choosing from their sketch show personas and scenarios in this tale of two regular guys pretending to be ruthless drug-dealing assassins to save their new pet kitten. Whilst not being as funny all the way through as I had hoped, it’s still pretty great in places with, as usual, Peele being the more talented of the two, but Keegan-Michael Key bein overall funnier and more entertaining, especially as he essentially gets the comic relief sidekick role to Peele’s relative straight man. There were a few references to their sketch show – a bit of Liam Neesons here, some black-talking there – without using up all of their most popular skits (I’m pretty sure no-one said biiiiiiiiiitch) and some of the recurring jokes worked very well. Every time they referenced Geogre Michael’s song Faith my eyes rolled with a “What, again?” feeling, but then they’d proceed to use it in a new and increasingly hilarious way, proving me wrong to doubt. I got a little bored in the middle – in fact I paused it to have a nap – but it came together at the end.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Film 7/10
Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016)
When you’re visiting China and there’s a Kung Fu Panda movie on the plane, it would be wrong to not watch it, right? Of the franchise so far, I absolutely love the first one – it’s one of my favourite animated movies, and remains Dreamsworks’ best, in my opinion – and I’ve only seen part 2 once and didn’t think much of it at the time, though I’d happily given it a second go, and part three falls closer to the sequel than the original, ending up as my second favourite of the trilogy. It sees Po the panda (Jack Black) being tasked by Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to begin teaching his fellow fighters (Angelina Jolie’s Tigress, Seth Rogen’s Mantis, David Cross’ Crane, Lucy Liu’s Viper and Jackie Chan’s Monkey), whilst also dealing with the return of his biological father (Bryan Cranston), much to the displeasure of his adopted father Ping the goose (James Hong). Meanwhile, in the spirit world, the evil Kai (J. K. Simmons), an old acquaintance of Master Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), has been defeating and obtaining the chi of every dead master, so he can return to the mortal world and either ule it or destroy it, I can’t remember at this point. That’s part of the problem here, when compared to the previous films the villain’s motive seems vague and simply power-hungry – it’s the Marvel trap, really – but I still had a great time with it. Kai’s army of jade zombie animals (named “jombies” in the film) were fun, and there jerky animation style was interesting, plus the return of Master Oogway was welcome, as he is all kinds of awesome. The final fight was great, but I feel the franchise as a whole is still trying to top Tai Lung’s escape sequence from the first film, which I fear it may never do. Also at 92 minutes this felt a little short and rushed in places, especially within the panda village segments, and I was surprised when the climax arrived as the rest of the film had flown by.
Lists: 2016 Movies
Choose Film 7/10
The Rescuers (1977)
Kristen and Todd of the Walt Sent Me podcast have recently released a show on this and, having never seen it before, Todd suggested I might like it so I gave it a shot. I felt it was fine, but not exactly exemplary, and I don;t feel my life to have been much improved by having seen it. The notion of the Rescue Aid Society, a kind of international team of mice devoted to saving children in peril, was unusual, and I appreciated how the mice didn’t have super powers and weren’t really able to achieve anything mice-sized creatures wouldn’t be able to, but this felt like just another Disney movie that pales in comparison to the likes of 101 Dalmatians (which features a very similar villain). I liked playing “spot the recognisable Disney voice actor” though, with most of the cast apparently being shared with Robin Hood. As for the leads, Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca was good, but I felt Bob Newhart as Bernard brought along far too much of his own nervous, stuttering schtick to the character, making it impossible to differentiate between him and the character. I hear the sequelis terrible, so I’ve got no plans to watch it any time soon.
Choose Life 5/10
I’ve had Gamer, Neveldine & Taylor’s follow up to the often enjoyable Crank films, waitign for me to watch it for a while, mainly because the premise intrigued me. In the future, technology has been developed that can be injected into someone’s head, allowing them to be taken over and controlled by someone else, like a combination of Avatar and The Sims. In this world, people short on money give their bodies over for shifts and receive payment in return, but have no control in the process, so players sit at home and control them to have sex, make stupid poses, dress ridiculously and other inane stuff. Further developments occur and death row inmates are given the option to be controlle by players and pitted against each other in video-game-style arenas. If they survive 30 games, they earn their freedom. Our sort-of hero is Kable (Gerard Butler), one such prisoner who is only three games away from being the first ever person to be freed by the game. His “player” is Simon (Logan Lerman), a privileged kid who has found fame since Kable has become a fan favourite with the public. It turns out, his movie is really rather stupid. I wasn’t exactly expecting something plausible or even slightly clever, but a lot of this film is just plain dumb, especially how it ends. A great deal of the world is poorly defined whist attempting to over-explain a lot of the “science” behind it all. The one saving grace is the technology’s designer, Len Castle (Michael C. Hall), who is a scenery-eating, scene-stealing, over the top nutjob but is highly entertaining to watch. He even has a musical number. Some of the other supporting roles are interesting too – Terry Crews is a psychotic, neck-cracking rival to Kable, and Milo Ventimiglia essentially cameos as an insane but very driven controlled character known as Rick Rape. In terms of the film itself, the editing and visual style attempts to emulate the lag and grainy quality of some early online games, which turns out to be about as irritating as playing them today would be. Few shots last more than a second, within the “games” there’s a lot of shaky-cam and everything becomes more than a little unpleasant to watch.
Choose Life 3/10
Cool World (1992)
I really enjoy Who Framed Roger Rabbit? so I’ve always been intrigued by Ralph Bakshi’s grimy, sex-crazed response to it, but it turns out there’s good reason why this is rarely discussed as much as Roger is. Brad Pitt is Frank Harris, a soldier returning from World War II who, after his mother dies in a motorcycle accident, wakes up in Cool World, an animated land filled with cartoons referred to as “doodles”, where everyone thinks about sex all the time and there appears to be an epidemic of heavy objects and livestock perpetually falling from the sky. Some years later, graphic novelist and artist Jack Deebs (Gabriel Byrne), who is famous for creating said graphic novels, is released from prison having killed the man who was sleeping with his wife. At home, he too gets randomly sucked into Cool World, apparently at the behest of his most famous creation, seductress Holli Wood (Kim Basinger), whose only dream in life (initially) is to become “real” and have “real sex” because it would apparently feel far better than doodle sex. The only problem is Frank, who has remained in Cool World and become the primary detective, whose main mission it seems is to prevent any human-on-doodle sex. If I thought Gamer was ill-defined, Cool World proves even more so, with the plot playing out as though it is being made up as the writers went along, with many things occuring with absolutely no reason or logic, especially much of the climax. Also the mix of animation and live action footage is at times painful to watch, with characters and actors barely connecting with one another, despite this being released three years after Roger Rabbit. It’s not often I say Brad Pitt is terrible in a film, but here he’s awful, but Basinger does a fairly decent Jessica Rabbit impersonation. The whole result is disappointing, as it feels with a tighter script and a slightly less vulgar attitude this could have been something decent.
Choose Life 4/10
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The Naked Gun
Aim: Review 8 or 9 1001 List movies each month
Should be on: 73
On Track: No!
Aim: Review 1 “Bad” movie each month
Should be on: 9
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Aim: Review 1 “Blind Spot” movie each month
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Aim: Review 2 “Film-Makers” movies each month
Should be on: 18
On Track: No!