Zack and Miri Make a Porno

You don’t have to have watched any porn to enjoy Zack and Miri, but it certainly helps.  If you needed evidence that Kevin Smith can make just about anything in life both funny and heart-warming at the same time, then this movie is it.  Zack and Miri are best friends and have been since school.  They share an appartment because neither of them can afford it on their own, and they complement each other.  It’s clear to everyone viewing that they should be in love, married and enjoying life together but because they’ve been friends for so long, they don’t see anything other than that when they look at each other.

A trip to a high school re-union where Zack meets a male porn star, a few missed bills and having their power and water cut off force Zack and Miri to a rather weird solution to raise cash – they should film a porno and distribute it to their ex-high school companions.  They gather a few friends and employ a few more colourful individuals and set about making their movie.  Needless to say, it doesn’t go to plan, but eventually they get under way and the moment arrives where Zack and Miri have to do it. I’ll leave the content there, you’ll have to watch and find out what happens.

If you’d seen any Kevin Smith films and then saw Zack and Miri without knowing Kevin wrote it, you’d probably be able to spot it anyway.  His trademark dialog is strewn throughout although it’s slightly more refined than it was in say, Clerks II.  This is probably because it’s not two guys mouthing off to each other for a change, however it doesn’t detract from the humour in that dialog and there’s plenty to laugh about.  The situations are funny without being too twee, all the characters are amusing if a little flat and the story isn’t quite as straightforward as I’d expected.  There’s one laugh-out-loud and cry-for-days moment which made us both laugh so hard it hurt, and plenty of good relaxed funny moments.  While the ending certainly won’t come as a surprise, the journey is worthwhile and interesting.

Zack and Miri do indeed make a porno, and learn an awful lot about themselves, each other and the business in the process.

Bulletproof Monk

I bought this movie an age ago, and then I read a review saying it was pure tripe.  So it sat on the shelf for a long old while in the ‘to watch’ section.  However, the universe works in karmic ways and while a friend was visiting, we asked her what she wanted to watch and she picked this.  It turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It’s a pretty straight forward buddy movie, an Asian monk protecting an ancient scroll, a young American martial arts movie loving kid and the love interest.  The monk takes the kid under his wing (even if the kid doesn’t know it), prophecies are fulfilled and the world is saved.

There are some above-average action sequences, some sassy dialog, some tin-pot wisdom and a couple of scenes which make you glad you watched.  There are some frustrations as well, the villain introduces some over complex technology near the end to explain away one minor plot issue that could have been countered in more simple and pleasing ways and bits of the final battle leave a sour taste in the mouth for their paint-by-numbers feel.  Overall though it satisfies the comedy action glands and presses some of the right buttons.  Certainly no more than 5/10 but it’s a solid 5.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Simon Pegg is a funny man.  He’s a comic.  He conveys humour with his face, his stance, his voice, his very presence and it’s a good job because without him, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People would have been a very average movie.  With him, it’s on the better than average side of funny.  Pegg plays an entertainment journalist given the chance to move to America and join a world famous magazine, there he meets the stars, forges a career, screws plenty of things up and falls in love.  It’s a straight by the book romantic comedy with a few decently amusing scenes that Pegg carries pretty much throughout.

I didn’t find Kirsten very comfortable in her role at all, and the rest of the cast has hardly enough screen time to make any kind of impression.

No where near the quality of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz or even Run Fatboy, Run, but still worth a giggle.

The Mutant Chronicles

Mutant Chronicles has Ron Perlman in it, so it has to be good right?  Actually it’s got Thomas Jane, Sean Pertwee, John Malkovich and Steve Toussaint, as well as Ron Perlman.  All I knew before renting this on DVD was that I’d seen one trailer which looked half decent, it has Ron Perlman in it and it’s called Mutant Chronicles, it was enough for me!  The film tells the story of a future earth, where four corporations who run the place war constantly for possession of the remaining resources.  It’s got a steampunk edge, and the start shows us the ongoing war, heavy on the World War I trench warfare imagery.  We get a brief introduction to a few characters and a voice over from Ron.  Eons ago a machine was sent to earth, with the sole purpose of subverting humans and turning them into killer mutants.  Inevitably, the war breaks the seal behind which the machine was locked by an order of priests (Ron being the head guy now), and all hell breaks loose in an already hell-ravaged world.  The corporations evacuate to Mars and Ron is left looking for a bunch of soldiers to help him shut down the machine and save those people left behind.  He finally puts his band of heroes together, from all corners of the world, and they head out to save what’s left of earth.

Visually the movie is great, it looks to me like it’s shot using the same technology as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but the shots are put together better and the technology isn’t so apparent.  The steampunk look and feel works really well and the opening moments in the trenches are suitably depressing and set the scene well.  The story arc is predictable, but the actors manage to keep us interested and there are a few interesting moments in the dialog.  The action scenes are ok, although some of the actors look a little uncomfortable it has to be said.  Anna Walton looked both great and terrible in equal measure which is a real shame, since her character had a chance at having the most depth.  Overall the writing doesn’t give any of the characters much depth, and it certainly betrays the roleplaying game background material.  Despite that, the movie was entertaining enough, and managed to avoid being entirely cheesy.

What I think really let it down overall was the pacing and editing.  The introduction was just too long and didn’t offer any character depth, the middle section in which the band of heroes is put together and descend into the catacombs is just too short, some of the heroes die within the first moments of setting out, with barely a line of dialog.  The end is ok, but feels bloated compared to the introduction.  There are odd threads which feel like they’re part of a greater movie but don’t really fit in.  Near the end we see Jane ‘saving’ Pertwee’s character, who is taken captive at the start of the film.  But where has he been?  The section where he saves him is either wasted space, or an excuse to keep Jane alive during an encounter which sees many of the heroes die.  Pertwee brings his character to life more than anyone else in the movie and it was a shame to see him used to little throughout.

Generally Mutant Chronicles is ok, but could have been much better.  I wonder if the best movie is on the cutting room floor or still on the storyboards, and maybe a more confident director would have delivered a more cohesive action adventure.

Movie Night!

We rented four more movies this evening, Kung Fu Panda (Blu-Ray), Mutant Chronicles (DVD), Rocknrolla (Blu-Ray) and Wall-E (DVD).  Spur of the moment decision to head out and get some movies from Blockbuster, otherwise I was at risk of moping around all night and doing nothing.  We’ve watched Mutant Chronicles and Kung Fu Panda, and we’ll probably watch the other two over the weekend sometime.  I’ll post individual reviews of the movies (despite the fact that they’ve been out ages so no one cares).  I felt Kung Fu Panda was lacking another act in the second half, and Grete feels the same.   We could really have done with Panda and the other Five teaming up and either doing some training or some fighting, at least working together and building some kind of friendship, it felt a bit hollow without that.  Mutant Chronicles is silly fun.

PS3 / Blu-Ray

I did quite a bit of standby and call out (and a little overtime) in November and December and due to various timings, all my claims got stacked up and paid in February.  Which was good news because I needed to pay off the dental work on the visa card and think about organising the rest of it.  But it also meant we had a little spare cash, and that was added in to the reduction of my mortgage by £100 and not having to pay council tax this month.  So I decided to do my bit to end the recession by spending and not saving ((this is my regular behaviour as well, but during a recession I have an excuse)).

After wavering a lot recently about Blu-Ray, and deciding not to get a PS3 when I finally did go for Blu-Ray but to get a dedicated player, I did a complete about-face this morning.  Playstation 3 bought from Tesco (proof that supermarket points schemes work, price was roughly the same as other places, but we get points at Tesco that we can buy food with when the vouchers come through).  I also bought the Matrix Blu-Ray set (needed something to watch on it), and we got LittleBigPlanet free with the PS3.

Got it all home, disconnected the optical audio from the Sky+ box and plugged it into the Playstation ((so, no more surround sound from Sky+, which I think we’ve used about twice since we got the surround sound system)), and it was all up and running.  The PS3 did some updates (two, I think), and LittleBigPlanet tried to do some, but it got a big confusing, and then finally worked.

We watched bits of the Matrix and were awed by the clarity and the colour and the detail.  I also put our original DVD Matrix in and tried it with and without the PS3 upscaling.  I even took some photo’s to try and show people how clear Blu-Ray is, because I can’t find any good examples online.  While I was looking at the photo’s I noticed the Matrix Blu-Ray pictures were a totally different colour to the DVD.  Seriously, much more blue and green.  I was a little worried, was that normal?

Then I played LittleBigPlanet for an hour or so – looks like it might be fun.  Between levels the screen goes fully white though and after that hour I was getting a headache.

We eventually settled on watching the Matrix tonight to really see how good Blu-Ray was, and to try and convince myself the colours were okay.

And then I remembered – our TV sets preferences on a per-input basis, so the HDMI2 channel we were watching the PS3 through was set to all the defaults.  Those defaults include Backlight set to 100, Contrast and Colour are also pretty high.  On my regular setup I run Backlight set to 20 (yes, 1/5th of the default) and Contrast and Colour differently.  In fact, I don’t use any of the TV defaults.  I set them through a lot of playing around when we first got the TV and again recently using a THX calibration section of the Star Wars DVD’s, so I’m pretty happy with how they look, and they don’t give us headaches.

Setting those values on HDMI2 has left us with a much kinder Blu-Ray image and none of the retina burning sensation that the defaults give you.  Also, some searching online showed that the 2004 DVD for The Matrix (and also the Blu-Ray print) have a different colour setup compared to the original DVD release which is the one we own.  So, those two things together make me much happier, the on-screen image is now less obviously different, and where it is different I know it’s because the print is different this time around.

If you were ever wondering, can upscaling DVD players really give you Blu-Ray quality images – the answer is no.  Maybe with newer DVD’s that were created with upscaling in mind they may come closer, but comparing the original Matrix release and the Blu-Ray release is like comparing the granularity of gravel and sand.

Really pleased with it.  Also glad I bought surround sound first, rather than Blu-Ray.

Stripes – Special Edition

We watched Stripes at the weekend, one of the cheap DVD’s we bought recently.  Sure I’ve seen it before, but it’s a classic and I wanted my own copy.  While the box just says Stripes, the DVD itself has Stripes Special Edition printed on it, and sure enough, it’s got some stuff I’ve never seen before.

Since I haven’t seen this in the cinema, I can’t really tell if the extra stuff is what they normally cut from the TV version or if it was stuff that really never made it into the theatrical release.  Either way, it was interesting, but didn’t really add a whole lot to the movie.

This is a classic Bill Murray / Harold Ramis / Ivan Reitman film, detailing the story of a pair of near-dropouts who join the army.  Hilarity ensues as they stumble their way through basic training, form tight bonds with thier fellow servicemen and become deep friends of their drill sergeant (kind of).  It’s really a film of two halves, once they complete their basic training the film turns into a kind of spies-like-us pre-cursor and our heroes need to head into enemy territory to save their comrades.

It’s enjoyable, although I think it has lost its edge a little over time.  Worth owning on DVD, worth seeing if you’ve never seen it before, and definately worth seeing if you wonder where the Police Acadamy series of films drew their inspiration.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah MarshallNormally I avoid romantic comedies, not because they’re stupid or dumb or only for girls, but because I find too many of them predicated on confusion and misunderstanding.  I really don’t enjoy those as the basis for a story, sure they’re present in most stories, just about all comedies and plenty of life experiences, but when they are the sole basis for a story about relationships I get annoyed.

I think it’s lazy film making to write a story of boy and girl meet, boy makes assumptions about girl, relationship develops, truth emerges, boy and girl split up for stupid reasons, comedy ensues, boy and girl work it out and get back together.  Because I find the parts of movies where two people are mistaken about some basic truth and that confusion causes conflict between them annoying, I really don’t cope well when the entire movie is built around it, and I’ve seen too many romantic comedies built on that exact foundation.  Yeh sure it’s a generalisation, sometimes I laugh at comedies built on confusion and I can deal with it, but when there are so many movies to watch I don’t usually take the risk.

Then a friend of ours said I had to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall because it was just awesome and amazing.  I’d already been pondering how unfair my movie watching preferences were for Grete – do we want action with guns or action with swords tonight (or teen comedies from 1985).  On top of that, I caught the last third of Knocked Up a while back and laughed pretty hard, so I promised Grete I’d watch more comedy with her.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall seemed like a good place to start.

First and foremost, this is not a romantic comedy based on confusion or misunderstanding, there’s one tiny moment where we thought it was about to descend into that and then gloriously it didn’t (it turned into a bit of a blow job joke instead).   Sure, we have the standard ‘thing goes wrong and we have to stop being together’ moment and then the ‘we realise we’re being stupid and get back together’ section, but they feel natural and organic and amusing.

At the outset our main man is dumped by his long term and famous TV star girl friend (one Sarah Marshall) and the film centres on his attempts to pick himself up and forget her.  It’s a small cast and I’m a huge fan of small casts, and the dialogue is sharp and interesting.  While the overall story arc is actually pretty obvious the twists and turns are interesting and there’s a couple of sweet moments I wasn’t expecting.

Despite my reservations, I quite liked Russel Brand.  The rest of the cast was pretty good and I especially liked Mila Kunis.  Kristen Bell was the weakest of the crew I felt (Sarah Marshall), but it may be because of the role and how Sarah has to be portrayed.

I have to say it wasn’t as outrageously funny as I’d been led to believe, and while I certainly laughed out loud a few times, it was more of a general smirk and chuckle kind of film for me.

Despite that minor quibble, it was an enjoyable film, with some truly touching moments next to some truly funny scenes, and I was left feeling pretty happy by the end.  Note, there are a couple of scenes of full frontal male nudity, so make sure you’re not eating or drinking anything you might not be able to get out of the carpet if you’re easily surprised.

Weird Science

Imagine the year is 1985, Ronald Reagan is starting his second term of office in the US, Coca Cola release New Coke, Live Aid raises £150 million, the Amiga personal computer is launched by Commodore, the NES is released in America, Calvin and Hobbes debuts in 35 news papers and Windows 1.0 is released by Microsoft.

In that year, two nerds steal enough computing power to turn a toy doll into Lisa, spawn a generation of ever hopeful adolescent teens and give a generation of young men a set of images they’ll never forget.

Weird Science is a nerds-come-good comedy written and directed by John Hughes and released in 1985.  Clearly I’ve seen it before, many times, but it’s been a little while since I last saw it and I really wanted to own  copy.  We bought it on DVD recently and watched it last night and I thought I’d let you know how it stood up.  The answer surprisingly is pretty well.  It’s funny, entertaining and charming in its own way.  It’s a teen movie with teen themes and teen quality over-acting.  It’s oddly innocent compared to similar movies of the last five years, but despite that it still manages to be reasonably current (nerds being bullied is a perennial theme I guess).  Watching it these days it’s entirely clear it was filmed in the 80’s, because the hair and shoulder pads probably needed trailers of their own.  It didn’t have the long periods of belly laughing that maybe current comedies can evoke, but it’s entirely possible that’s because I’ve seen it so often.  We certainly did laugh and it certainly entertained us for the entire running time.

At the time it was probably considered terribly risqué, these days next to American Pie and Road Trip it’s totally tame, but the comedy is still there, the story interesting, the pace good and there are some truly funny moments.  Well worth watching again if you’ve not seen it for a long time, and I would encourage anyone who’s never seen it before to give it a go.