Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bourne Ultimatum

I felt I'd done enough work in the office over the weekend to justify an evening off at the local multiplex (this coming weekend three of us are off for a weekend in Dublin - woo hoo!) So I went to see The Bourne Ultimatum.

It's ALMOST as good as everybody's saying it is.

But God, I wish someone would buy director Paul Greengrass a tripod! This is one film you're better off waiting for on shiny disc. On the big screen it's a real 'roller coaster' movie alright - 'roller coaster' as in making you want to throw up because of the endless camera lurches and camera shake while zoomed in on extreme close-up using ridiculously long lenses. Lazy 'on the hoof' film-making may be acceptable in docu-drama films like the director's previous film United 93, but on a big budget movie like this it just struck me as lazy, selfish and, frankly, incompetent.

What with this and the ridiculous 'let's bleach all the colour out of colour movies' fad that's sweeping most of the other big Hollywood movies (thankfully Bourne Ultimatum doesn't resort to that particular stupidity) I can see film historians looking back at the films we're making today and wondering what the hell directors were thinking, and why they had such disregard for their paying public!

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Things have been quiet on this blog since I started work in Limerick, and are likely to remain so for a while yet. I've now changed flat and escaped the 'rip off landlord from hell' and am sharing a company flat with a mate from work, but there's still no internet connectivity other than at work. Even though I've been in the office on the alternate weekends when I've not flown home to London (where I am now, as I type this), blogging hasn't exactly been at the top of the ever-expanding 'To Do' list.

Officially the Ireland contract ends in 3 weeks, and already a couple of colleagues have jumped ship by declining renewal offers (including my flat mate/unofficial chauffeur - yikes!). Aer Lingus have also announced in the last fortnight that they're stopping flights between Heathrow and Shannon. This is a real blow to the whole area, with the long term survival of my favourite airport - quiet and with free Wi-fi, what's not to like?! - now looking very much in doubt. Rumours are that the treasured Aer Lingus flights won't stop until December or January and I'm hoping it's the latter given the way I'm expecting things to pad out.

So far as the 'it was always going to be tough' project goes things are in pretty bad shape: specs are still being argued over and when they arrive are thin. The real work has barely started and there's no sign of half-decent talent in the few CVs we manage to get hold of. But I hate giving up on something when I think there's still a chance, even if a slim one, of success, and it looks like I'm now extended to the middle of October, and realistically probably beyond that through the end of the year if I want to be. I can't say I 'want' to be, but leaving early would just seem like a waste of the time already spent on the project.

All of which means that ShinyDiscs.com probably won't see the light of day until 2008 now. So much for the plan to have evenings and weekends free with nothing else to do but get that fully developed!

I've been back in London this weekend on my regular fortnightly trip but, with so much to do ready for work next week, have had no time to go and see The Bourne Ultimatum, as hoped for (maybe next weekend in Limerick?). I have managed to watch a single, solitary film on DVD: Fracture featuring 'Sir' Anthony Hopkins and young up-and-coming actor Ryan Gosling. It's pretty far-fetched in places, but enjoyable for all that. Hopkins plays a character who kills his wife after discovering she's having an affair, and confesses to the crime, only to retract and seem to have committed the perfect crime when young, arrogant, up-and-coming lawyer Gosling is put on the case for prosecution. Two excellent actors duelling with each other lift the rather mundane script and hokey scenarios used to help the 'perfect' crime be committed, making this well worth a rental, if not an outright purchase.

It's three weeks before my next trip home - and that's on a Monday because I'm working the preceding weekend in lieu of having 3 days back home - two of them to attend the Microsoft MIX 07 conference which is a cut-down version of the event that took place in Las Vegas earlier this year. All of which means things will be pretty quiet here on my blogs over the next month.

As usual I'm ferrying a whole bunch of DVDs over with me to Limerick, but the chances of me getting to see them, never mind review them are looking increasingly slim. In the last fortnight I've actually managed to watch just two (Breaking and Entering and Tunes of Glory - both excellent! :))

On the plus side, in case this post sounds a bit gloomy, I'm still enjoying the work and the people (but concerned that two of the people I get on with the best are moving on come September 7th). I'm learning new stuff which is always good, althought at times frustrating (three phrases: 'Infragistics', 'overly complex' and 'bug ridden' come to mind!). As for Ireland itself - I've not had chance to see much other than the endless rain and black clouds on my trips between 'home' and work, but am hoping to get a weekend to explore before the contract ends. Earlier this week I went to a superb fish restaurant in the small hamlet of Bunratty when GCS, the agency who placed me, took a couple of us out for a slap-up meal, so it's not ALL work and no play!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Breach of Protocol

I wonder how cinema's are going to survive long term beyond the 'Blockbuster of the Week' release schedule that the film companies seem to have imposed on them.

This year has seen release dates for the shiny disc versions of films getting even closer to the theatrical release date, such that there's little incentive for anyone to venture to the latest multiplex when you know that a few weeks later you can have a screening of the film that's free of wailing children, ringing mobile phones, grubby popcorn-strewn carpets and endless natter and slurping noises. And with West End cinema ticket prices being what they are, waiting a few weeks is not just cheaper, but adds extra value too. When was the last time you got a personal commentary from the director, or behind the scenes glimpses at your local fleapit?

I'm glad I'm not in the cinema business!

This weekend I got to see two highly rated American films that don't officially get released here until later this month. To be honest I'd rather have been out enjoying the sun but we live in a world where paying £25 surcharge for 'Saturday delivery' means sitting in a flat for three days waiting for something that's never going to arrive, but at least gives you the opportunity to watch some shiny discs!

Disturbia is a film that's already made its way into HD-DVD owner's hands, even before its British release (cinema's are running trailers for it now so presumably it's due here soon) and today (a Bank Holiday in Ireland, which is why I'm still in London) I watched Breach which hits the cinemas on August 31st.

Breach HD-DVD

It may be that the British release has been purposefully delayed to avoid clashing with The Good Shepherd (Robert de Niro's similarly themed piece about the CIA which was released earlier this year), but such delaying tactics have proven time and time again to be a disaster in financial terms for the makers, so one has to wonder what the distributors are playing at. Hollywood only has itself to blame of course - it seems obsessed with finding a subject and then launching rival films on that subject at the same time.

Capote, a film about Truman Capote and his writing of the book 'In Cold Blood' may have won all the oscars and ticket sales, but it was Infamous, released a few months later that was the better film. It had bigger stars too, yet inexplicably, despite showing at film festivals BEFORE its rival, it arrived in cinema's so late after Capote that nobody wanted to go and see it. This is hardly surprising - who wants to pay money to go and see something they think they've already seen?!

Something similar seems to have happened with The Illusionist, a period film about a feuding magician that premiered at festivals before The Prestige but was then left languishing on shelves for so long that The Prestige, by much more hip directore Christopher Nolan, stole all its thunder. When distributors did finally get around to releasing the wretched thing what few reviews did appear were of the 'Oh look another film about magicians. How many do we need?' variety which doomed sales, even on shiny disc. Which is a shame, as it's a rather good movie.

I have a horrid feeling that Breach may suffer a similar fate, despite names like Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillippe and Laura Linney being cast as the leads. Spy movies need to be full of action set pieces to survive, and I can see the 'Oh dear. They've tried to copy The Good Shepherd' reviews when the film finally limps onto British screens already! Which would be a shame because although Breach has a lot in common with that longer offering (this time based on the real life spy caught by the FBI rather than the world of the CIA), particular in its almost monochromatic look, I think Breach has more tension and intrigue and, as such, is the more mainstream movie of the two.

Those of us who've bought into the new high-definition formats can rejoice at the opportunity to see films in high definition, with a host of extra's, before the cinema-going public I guess. But part of me wonders what this subtle shift in release strategies by the different film companies means for the long-term survival of the local fleapit.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Blockbuster Catchup

Last weekend saw the double-whammy that was The Simpsons movie and Transformers hitting the multiplexes, and I ventured to the Limerick Omniplex, intending to catch the first, but finding it sold out and so having to make do with the second instead.

I'm too old to have got caught up with the whole Transformers cartoon series/toy mania that hit the 80s generation, but the movie magazines had given the film the thumbs up as a brain-dead popcorn blockbuster movie so I figured it was worth giving it a ago. What I hadn't realised was that the broadsheets had taken a distinctly different view, and if you want to hear a hilarous, long rant about why the film is so awful, awful, awful download Mark Kermode's Film Review podcast for Five Live from the BBC. It's even better than his long Pirates of the Caribbean rants!

So what did I think?

I think both sides have valid points. Personally I'm glad I got to see the film on the big screen. It has the most impressive visual effects I think I've ever seen in a movie, and Lord knows there are a lot of them because the film is so damned long. There's not a bad bit of CGI to be found, and the massive budget is all up there on screen.

The trouble is that director Michael Bay is not a man with any kind of subtlety. The plot is thin, the dialog truly appalling (when, that is, you can actually hear it over the loud crashing bombastic noise that permeates the entire film) and the editing style is so frenetic, with far too much hand-held blurred 'action', that most of the time it's impossible to make out what the hell's going on.

What you ultimately get is two hours 20 minutes of visual and aural assault, that leaves you exiting the cinema suffering from sensory overload. But for all that I was glad I caught the film on the big screen. It may be a big, dumb, stupid juggernaut of a movie, but it KNOWS it's a big, dumb, stupid juggernaut of a movie, and ultimately what saves it is a lot of knowing, if somewhat cheesy at times, self-deprecation and humour, and an outstanding acting performance from the young male lead Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf impressed in A Guide to Recognising Your Saints (a better movie than the critics had lead me to expect, released on DVD a few weeks ago and well worth a look if you can cope with the street language and occasional outbreaks of violence) and Disturbia, an excellent Hitchcock-inspired thriller which hits British cinema's in a few weeks time (but is already available on import on an excellent region-free HD-DVD),

Transformers hasn't converted me to being a Michael Bay fan - the man just has no class and doesn't seem to realise that films need peaks and troughs if the peaks are to truly seem like peaks. Transformers itself is pure tosh. But it's quite enjoyable tosh and well worth catching on the big screen if you think your eyes and ears can stand the visual assault and aural battering.

The Simpsons film isn't really aimed at me. Truth is I don't mind the TV cartoon show, but don't understand the global obsession with the series. If I'm bored and can catch an episode I'll watch it, but it's not the sort of TV I'd make a point of tuning into on a regular basis.

The film starts with an 'Itchy and Skratchy' cartoon which is interrupted by Homer Simpson standing up in the cinema to protest about having paid money to see something that he could get for free on TV, and unfortunately that's how I felt about the film. It's not cinematic in any way. At barely over 80 minutes it's just an extended version of a TV episode. I don't understand the point of making the film - other than to extort a lot of money out of gullible fans. It's just not a film that needed to be made.

Personally, I expect a 'comedy' movie playing to a packed audience of fans to raise more than just two or three titters, as was the case at the viewing I saw. I went with a colleague from work who's a big fan, but who had to admit he'd found it slightly disappointing. The only real laugh for me came from baby Lisa's first spoken word, which many will miss because it appears towards the end of the credits when many will have left the cinema. Marge tells Homer that Lisa has just spoken her first word and excitedly Homer asks what it was. Marge coaxes the child to repeat itself and out comes the gargled word 'Sequel'. Alas I have a horrid feeling that it will prove all too prophetic, with the profits on this extended TV episode having proved to be so vast within days of opening. This is one film that's worth a DVD rental if you're a fan, but not something you need to pay money for at the cinema.

Last night, being back in London for a weekend, I went with Miss Deadline to see the new Harry Potter film at the BFI Imax, the main reason for going being that the last 20 minutes are in 3D.

The film itself was, for me, by far the best in the franchise. I haven't liked any of the other films - far too messy with incompehensible plot points for those that haven't read the books, continuity errors galore, and too slavish a devotion to following the books instead of giving us a coherent cinematic experience. This time round I felt everything came together, and Imelda Staunton gave (another) performance of a lifetime. Even Daniel Radcliffe, who hadn't really proved to me he could act - despite the rave reviews for his stage debut in Equus all the play required him to do was shout a lot and flash his bits - gives far and away his best screen performance to date. And of course Gary Oldman is as effortlessly brilliant as ever. I thought the film was (again!) too long, but otherwise had no real complaints.

As for the 3D - well it was slightly disappointing if I'm honest. Before the film we got a set of 3D trailers that were absolutely fantastic. Potter, by way of contrast, was a bit of a smudgy mess - as if the 3D had been generated by some sort of post-processing of something shot in 2D rather than actually having been filmed with 3D cameras. To be sure there are some nice 3D moments, but too often one was adjusting one's eyes and thinking 'That's not real' or 'Why are the flesh and blood characters so flat and two-dimensional, even though they're in a 3D space'. The 3D version (sold out for several days in advance - I'd booked my tickets a few weeks ago) is certainly worth a look if you're a fan - and the IMAX screen and sound system are absolutely superb and well worth a visit anyway - but I felt that Superman Returns did a far better job with its 3D sequences when I'd seen it at the same cinema last year.