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    Pandorum (2009)

    I heard a number of people suggesting that this film was underrated, so I decided to give it a go. Certainly the genre of space-horror is highly appealing to me: The "Alien" films, "Event Horizon", "Jason X", "Hellraiser IV: Bloodline", arguably "Cube", and I even quite like the "Doom" movie. Even if it wasn't perfect there seemed to be little doubt that I would find much to enjoy here.

    Initially my instincts seemed correct. There's a sci-fi mystery unfolding in a spaceship where the crew seem to have woken up from 'hypersleep' to discover the ship overrun by monsters. I found things pretty compelling to begin with.

    Unfortunately when the true situation gets revealed towards the end, it turns out to be less of a slow reveal and more of a sudden information-dump. And while I'm sure the intention was that the audience would feel the force of the reveal like a ton of bricks and would be sitting in stunned amazement at the genius of the writers, I was instead scratching my head at how a fun little sci-fi film had now mutated into this misshapen travesty.

    What seemed simple and fun at the half way mark becomes completely convoluted and stupid by the end. For all the criticism that can be aimed at Paul WS Anderson's career, it's remarkable that his debut film holds such a high standard in a genre where so many other filmmakers could provide only mediocre content or even devastating failures like this.

    Pandorum has a variety of wonderful poster art and the final film simply does not live up to any of it. This is a genre with plenty of scope for creativity, but little is found in this particular film.


    Cool artwork, but nothing to do with the film...

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    Robocop (2014)

    The remake of Robocop had a lot of detractors long before it was even close to its release. Leaked reports that characters in the film would mock the original Robocop outfit were often cited. For the record, while something akin to that does occur, the outfit being derided seems to be a version of the original suit with big red and blue police lights which appear on the shoulder pads - so it's not really a swipe at the original Robocop suit.

    I was personally pretty excited about the Robocop reboot at the beginning of the year because they brought on Jose Padilha to direct. The interesting thing about this choice is because Padilha was already known for his movies about military police, authoritarian control, corruption in the system, and crime running wild. Sounding familiar? Yet far from being about a sci-fi setting, Padilha's films were firmly grounded in the real life situation of Brazil.

    Oddly enough, the biggest problem with the Robocop reboot perhaps comes from its even-handedness. The original Robocop was intentionally over-the-top for satirical purposes. And that's not to say that the new Robocop has no sense of satire, but it's more common method is to give sly references to the real world rather than to exaggerate modern traits into absurd extremes. Even Samuel L. Jackson's right wing media mogul character is never any more ridiculous than our current Fox News presenters. He has a clearly biased agenda, but the problem with him seems to be more that he doesn't listen to the opposition rather than that his position is wrong.

    I'd heard some suggest that actor playing the protagonist is too bland. That is not fair. He's not charismatic, but he is totally believeable in the role and I cannot help but feel that part of the problem is, not only the way the part is written, but also the role of Robocop in the film. Robocop is often very much a puppet of the corporation, at the mercy of the technology which surrounds and forms him. So while Michael Keaton (the company guy) and Gary Oldman (the scientist) get to make the real decisions, much of Joel Kinnaman's actions as the Robocop seem predictable based on his particular situation at the time.

    I was able to go along with a lot during this film and I had a good time. There's none of the humour from the original movie, but there are some interesting explorations of the themes. Gary Oldman is the real protagonist here and he does a great job with the role. There's not really much of a climactic ending though and this really ends up being more of a selection of bits rather than a consistent story.

    The effects are cool, but it must also be noted that this is more of an ideas film than an action film. But then, that's another reason why I like it. I enjoyed the way the film seemed to be putting forward an intelligent sci-fi film rather than a soulless spectacle.


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    Idiocracy (2006)

    Moderately funny in places.

    What, you want more? Well the basic gist is the classist eugenicist view stretching back at least as far as the Victorian era, that because less academic and cultured families are producing the majority of the children, the human race can only possibly go down the intellectual toilet as a result. To demonstrate this idea, a man in a cryogenics experiment gone wrong finds himself in a future where he is suddenly the smartest man on the planet.

    The result is that much of the humour is supposed to come from characters who can mainly only grunt at one another. Considering how "Idiocracy" seems to look down on society for being too dumb, this isn't a terribly intelligent film.

    There are admittedly a few points where the satire works quite well. After suggesting that they water their crops with water rather than Gatorade (well basically that's what it is), there is an outcry because practically every person in a country is a stakeholder in Gatorade and so the decision causes enormous negative economic consequences.

    Considering the recent economic recession, it was interesting to see the film highlight how countries are often more beholden to economics than to common sense sometimes.

    But overall this is a fairly typically bland American comedy, ironically catering to the lowest common denominator even as it mocks them.


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    Naturally it's pretty hard to read those little signs in the picture above. Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield held those cards in front of their faces when the paparazzi were photographing them.

    Emma Stone's card reads:

    Good morning! We were eating and saw a group of guys with cameras outside. And so we thought, let’s try this again. We don’t need the attention, but these wonderful organizations do.

    The card then finishes with an arrow pointing to Andrew Garfield's card. His card reads:

    (and don’t forget:)

    Here’s to the stuff that matters. Have a great day!

    Isn't that cool? Larger images of the individual cards are under the cut....

    (Via Filmdrunk)

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    The Hidden (1987)

    A very dated 80s sci-fi action film about an alien that causes havoc by stealing cars and murdering anyone who stands in his way.

    Kyle MacLachlan, who was Altreides in the movie "Dune", plays the FBI agent who is investigating. However he may be more than he seems, claiming early on to be able to read minds.

    The film never seems quite sure whether it wants aliens to seem wholly other or whether they want a cartoonish world where aliens live just like us. I could just about accept an alien having a wife, not least since we are never expected to think marriages work the exact same way on other planets. However, when two aliens are talking together in English about the alien detective being in the intergalactic police force and working with a partner, I found my suspension of disbelief was sorely tested.

    Another problem I had was when our central baddie possesses the body of a stripper. The alien had previously been aggressively heterosexual, yet as a stripper about the only thing which seemed to change was sexuality. As a stripper the alien feels rather more one-note than before and the very decision that, of all women, it should be possessing a stripper seems a bit dodgy. It's also pretty strange when the alien-possessed stripper seems to be discovering her breasts straight after having sex with a guy. Wouldn't those have been kind of obvious prior to that point?

    Still the central characters are cool and the film is generally pretty fun. Also there's a pretty cool early appearance from Danny Trejo (though blink and you'll miss it).

    What's perhaps most frustrating about the "The Hidden" is the number of points where it seemed to suggest more interesting ideas and then entirely fail to explore them or even, in some cases, actively undermining those ideas. On the one hand the film seemed to pose a more darker almost Lovecraftian tale where human systems are undermined by a far greater power than their own. Yet on the other hand, there was clear influence from the fluffy "Close Encounters" glowy-aliens aesthetic, whereby we need not worry since the most powerful aliens are pretty nice really.

    At one point I thought the alien detective was actually considering giving up the chase entirely. At that point I was briefly quite impressed by the direction the film had taken. But unfortunately this isn't that sort of film. It's silly nonsense and in spite of a few hints at something better still to come, this ends up being fairly predictable. I didn't hate it, but it was missing something. Without that 'something' the film remained pretty bland.


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    Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

    Unlike with Tom Cruise's last big sci-fi film "Oblivion" there don't appear to be quite so many people fuming about "Edge of Tomorrow" simply because Tom Cruise earns money from it. Of course, the reason for getting upset about Tom Cruise's enormous paychecks has not changed. He is still one of the main financiers of the Church of Scientology including its paramilitary wing, Sea Org, which was recently found to run forced child labour camps. Members of Sea Org experience sleep deprivation, food deprivation, coerced abortions and are all expected to sign billion year contracts. (Yes, that's right, they are committed to Sea Org not only in this life, but in the hereafter too.) All this is still happening and Tom Cruise's enormous paycheck still funds it.

    All that being said, "Edge of Tomorrow" is a product of more than just Tom Cruise. There's the director, the writers, the rest of the cast, the costume designers, the make-up team, and so in. And let us not forget the visual effects artists who are often horribly underpaid even when their projects are award-winning and colossal box-office successes (i.e. "Life of Pi"). So I'll now stop talking about the horrible consequences of how Tom Cruise spends his wages and get down to the film itself....

    The basic premise of "Edge of Tomorrow" (adapted from the novel "All You Need Is Kill") is that a soldier (played by Tom Cruise) involved in a war defending the Earth from aliens suddenly discovers that he has the power to relive the same day over and over again. A much-lauded hero in the battle against the aliens (played by Emily Blunt) is the only one who will believe our protagonist when he explains that time is repeating on him.

    The obvious comparison here is with the awesome Bill Murray comedy "Groundhog Day". I must admit, I was very pleased to discover that "Edge of Tomorrow" is not essentially sci-fi Groundhog Day with the comedy removed. "Edge of Tomorrow" is actually very funny. Our protagonist Tom Cruise begins the film as an absolute coward and so it is much to the audience's amusement when we see him character dying again and again in a variety of inventive ways (always only to wake up at the same point in time, ready for a repeat of his less than pleasant first meeting with Bill Paxton's Sergeant character). There are plenty of moments where I found myself bursting out laughting.

    I really enjoyed "Oblivion" and some elements that I liked are still here. As has already been noted, this is a film which recycles some elements from other films. I'd also note that, like "Oblivion", this is yet another film where Tom Cruise doesn't have that annoying smugness that is found in some of his earlier films (perhaps most notably in the role of Ethan Hunt in the Mission Impossible movies). Still, apart from the wonderful soundtrack music, this exceeds "Oblivion" in pretty much every way.

    For example, side-characters. In "Oblivion" the resistance movement felt a little under-explored being a mass of essentially inter-changeable characters (with even Morgan Freeman seeming a little 2-dimensional in spite of his gravitas). In "Edge of Tomorrow" even the least important characters feel like there is a full distinctive personality behind their characters. Everyone feels like a real person leading a real life.

    The aliens have a rather cool design. Some have claimed that they appear like a disease. I'm not sure about that, but they certainly have a very unearthly way of moving. I don't know that they are better than the incredible drones in "Oblivion", but there's a similar inventiveness to them. Still, much of the story involves avoiding the aliens and so the creativity in "Edge of Tomorrow" revolves around organising the careful day-repetition sequences, often hinting to us what must have happened on other repeated days which we haven't seen. Any spectacular set-pieces tend to be tied closely to that particular point in the story, rather than being shown for their own sake.

    In the end, I think this is perhaps less like "Oblivion" and perhaps more like "Looper". Whatever you felt about any of these films, there seems to be a growing tendency for intelligent action sci-fi. As a sci-fi fan first and foremost, I think this is a good trend. We possibly have Christopher Nolan to thank for keeping this trend going with films like "The Prestige" and "Inception". Sadly, I doubt the planned Star Wars films will take much from this trend.

    "Edge of Tomorrow" is laugh-out loud funny, exciting, emotional, visually impressive, intricately choreographed with well-formed characters. Believe the hype.


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    American Hustle (2013)
    I'd heard reports that this seemed a bit like a Scorcese film. "Goodfellas" was often referenced. And it's true, it is like that sort of Scorsese film.

    Now I've got a confession to make. I don't like Scorcese films. At least, not any of the ones from that era. I don't get the appeal of "Goodfellas" and I thought Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone's characters were pretty evenly obnoxious in "Casino". There's this dreary superficiality to those films which simply does not appeal to me.

    Now sadly, "American Hustle" has a very similar style, making it a very obvious tribute to a film I didn't like. There's a slightly lighter tone to "American Hustle" which, to be frank, was something of a relief. But there's another problem. There are three fantastic central performances here. Christian Bale as the veteran confidence trickster, Jennifer Lawrence as his beautiful but needy and enormously manipulative wife, and Jeremy Renner as a politician looking to expand his work for the community if he could only get a few more funds. Renner's performance is so great here that it's confusing why he is so flat as Hawkeye. (I'm inclined to suggest that Hawkeye is just a bland character in general no matter who you get on board to play him.)

    Jennifer Lawrence gives perhaps her best performance ever. It's not a particularly big role but she completely owns it and rather steals the show. That being said, we also have an appearance from Robert De Niro here and he deserves full credit for his ability to walk into a scene in the middle of a film like this and instantly appear indomitable

    The two central performances which don't really seem quite able to keep up are those from Bradley Cooper and Amy Adams. Don't get me wrong, they aren't bad actors and Amy Adams is clearly acting her little heart out. But the director insists on making these two characters the centre-point and it's not clear to me as a viewer why this should be. They aren't more central to the story and they certainly aren't as interesting as the other central characters. So why is my attention constantly directed in their direction?

    There are also issues with the way the story is set up too. Our opening scene is right slap bang in the middle of the story so that later scenes can help to explain how we got to that point. The result? Well not only does the movie slow right down after that opening scene, but things are made rather duller because we already know what is going to happen. Hey, do you reckon that Bale and Adams might join Cooper in some kind of confidence trickster scheme? Oh wait a minute, we already know they will because of the opening scene. So much for suspense....

    But the problems with the opening are nothing by comparison to the problems with the ending. You know those shameless confidence tricksters we were following at the start? The ones who've been spending the entire film lying through their teeth? Well they have a change of heart towards the end which would almost make you think the Hays Code was still in force. Look, if you want your characters to experience some kind of 'redemption' that's fine, but it has to be earnt.

    "American Hustle" is a mixed bag and overall it's a bit of a mess. I feel like I gave "Silver Linings Playbook" a bit too much benefit of the doubt regarding its messiness, but at least the main focus was on Jennifer Lawrence's great performance there rather than leaving her in the background (only for her to steal the show anyway). I wouldn't say that this was a poor imitation of Scorsese because I didn't really like the Scorsese films it is based on, but I would say that it has a very poor sense of its own identity and ends up trying to juggle more balls than it can handle.

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    Come And See (1985)

    A Russian film from the 80s about World War II. It's not as propaganda-ry as you might expect. I hear (though I haven't checked) that the director's first movie was a comedy satirising Khrushchev, which ought to have been destroyed forever considering the Soviet track record, but Khrushchev found it so funny he prevented that from happening. Weird eh?

    So our main character is a young boy keen to join the partisans. Right from the start there's a lot of swearing from his younger friend as they dig up a rifle.

    Events progress pretty slowly, though there's a neat 80s soundtrack which put me in mind of movies from Cronenberg and Carpenter. It was quite an intense atmosphere, even if there weren't really many consistent characters including the Mary-Sue protagonist.

    It's a pretty long film and having watched over two thirds of the runtime, the long plodding pacing made me disinclined to carry on. The one thing at that stage which still felt worth my time was the explosions. When the Nazis start dropping bombs, it looks like they actually dropped genuine World War II bombs. The explosions are enormous and the audience sees several trees felled by the bombardment. Why use special effects when you can just imitate the real thing, eh? :S

    I wasn't expecting a film like this to contain a 'manic pixie dream girl', yet Glasha most certainly fits the bill. She's a female character who turns up randomly in a whole group of male soldiers. She puts down the main character, yet becomes his best friend. She randomly talks poetically about how she wants children. She's an outsider to the events of the film to some extent and yet she is not enough of a real person to ground the film, always remaining a side-feature to the ever-more-traumatised central male protagonist. We have no real explanation (so far at least) as to why Glasha is so quirky and when I returned to finish the final 40 minutes of the film she was no longer anywhere to be seen.

    Before I stopped watching the first time around, Glasha had joined a bunch of nameless village women in mourning the people in the village who were slaughtered by the Nazis. Glasha has no connection with the town and no time is spent explaining to anyone who she is (and what explanation she gives to the protagonist seem inconsistent). Having joined a group of women I guess that's her narrative arc over with.

    Meanwhile the villagers would decide to cut the protagonist's hair to use it on a Nazi-scarecrow. This seemed like an odd thing for them to do, particularly when he'd only just discovered that his family are dead. Yeah, he's got soft hair. Nice compliment. But could you let him mourn a bit before you start using his hair to decorate your little art piece, eh?

    Anyway, in the second half I finally discovered what the fuss was all about. Once they've dumped the scarecrow somewhere, the protagonist and his friend decide to nick a cow for the partisans. It's a scene which shows even more that the partisans aren't ultimately a terribly nice, disciplined or mature group. This point is pretty consistent through the film. The cow ends up dying in a stream of bullets, in yet another scene where the director clearly felt authenticity was worth more than special effects. (Animals were definitely harmed in the making of this film.)

    The final sequence which comes next is pretty much the raison d'etre for the entire film. It's a scene akin to the holocaust and that's not so surprising seeing as the invasion of Russia was intentionally run as an extermination of communists. It's suggested here that the Nazis saw the spread of communism as an indictment of the race which adopted that ideology. An inferior ideology indicating an inferior people?

    Anyway, the depiction is certainly shocking and artistic. But my goodness, it's a long time coming. There are no real characters, there's not really a story, but there's a fantastic showpiece towards the end which makes this a very interesting cinematic curiosity. It has to be noted that when I stopped the film 100 minutes in, I felt the whole thing was a massive waste of time and my opinion drastically changed due to the final 46 minutes of the film. My advice? Skip the first 100 minutes. You miss practically nothing.


    The depiction of women amongst the Nazis isn't great either. There's a random female Nazi shown in the background while the atrocities are being committed. Why is she shown at all? Why is she completely detached from the scene? Was she even present while the rest of the scene was being filmed? Who knows...

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    Outland (1981)

    Apparently this is a remake of High Noon. I have as yet to see that particular western film because pretty much every western I've seen has Clint Eastwood in it. Why see Outland before High Noon? Well, partly because I'm a big sci-fi fan and partly because I actually saw "Outland" before many many years ago and I cannot remember a thing about it.

    I actually remembered it being slower paced than this and I didn't grasp at the time quite what the role of Sean Connery was supposed to be in the mining colony. He's a police marshall, but normally you can expect the police to request backup if the job turns out to be too much for just one individual to handle. While naturally this is paralleling the trope of the single gunslinger taking the law into their own hands, there is at least some sense that it might make sense in the context (Though I still think Sean Connery's character gives away too much to his main suspect too quickly. Not great at keeping secrets it seems.)

    Another thing I remember confusing me before was the people exploding. It's the whole question of what happens to a human being when exposed to the vacuum of space, without any kind of atmospheric pressure. I've heard that "Even Horizon" has a rather more accurate (and certainly more convincing) demonstration of this. But Outland's response is that people in zero atmosphere will explode. The plot even requires it, because if they had sufficient remains to analyse there wouldn't be the same level of mystery. (Considering modern forensics, this is seeming more far-fetched than ever.)

    Moving the renegade cop-on-the-edge trope into outer space seems to be a pretty cool idea, since the inevitable claustrophobia of a space station helps to increase the tension. While I never get the impression that I'd be particularly fond of Sean Connery in real life, he always has a strong presence on screen. However, while Connery plays the typical stoic protagonist, my favourite character was that of Dr. Lazarus played enthusiastically by Frances Sternhagen with all the cynicism and sarcasm the role required. She really embodies the heart of this cold and sinister setting.

    I should note that, while this film takes its time, it has a fair bit of action too. Sean Connery gets to pursue and occasionally get into some violent tussles with runaway suspects.

    One thing though. Sean Connery is Scottish, the woman playing his wife is English and yet their son is most definitely American with that especially whiny kind of accent that it's hard to ignore. Why is that? (Seriously, it's not because of the kid's acting talent...)

    This isn't the most plot heavy film, but it's well-acted, it's got interesting characters and I think putting it in space gives it a distinct atmosphere.


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    I decided to rewatch a number of superhero films to check whether they held up. The results were somewhat surprising.

    Spawn (1997)

    Spawn is always a superhero I've really wanted to like, but the story isn't the most impressive. (To be frank, I don't think it's handled all that well in the original comic either.)

    The thing about "Spawn" has always been the 'look' of him. An assassin awakes to discover that he is a kind of zombie having made a deal with a demon. Part of the deal is that he has a suit with special powers. The intention being that he will come to lead hell's army in the apocalypse.

    John Leguizamo is practically unrecognisable as the Violator, a blue comic-relief demon who mocks Spawn while he comes to terms with his new role. Leguizamo is also practically inaudible with the croaky voice he puts on and the fast-paced, badly written lines he is expected to deliver. (The bit where his demon-character reveals its name is particularly daft.)

    The effects are mostly pretty good, particularly for the time. Though it has to be noted that most of the work has gone into Spawn's cape. The cape constantly moves in all sorts of directions (and they've sensibly made it so that Spawn's cape generally only comes out when he has something important to do with it).

    Michael Jai White is pretty damn cool as the central superhero Spawn. He ensures that even while the story is plodding along and the villains are failing to be terribly compelling, we still care about him as a protagonist. When he's running away we want him to get away. When he's in a fight we want him to win. He's an interesting character with very little to actually do, but I cannot fault the central performance.

    The most ridiculous thing in the film is Martin Sheen's character. Sheen plays Jason Wynn, the boss of Al Simmons who double-crossed him, causing him to die and become Spawn. He is somehow convinced that he should get a device attached to his heart so that if he is ever killed it will activate a weapon of mass destruction. The idea being that no one would ever want to kill him if he does this. (The possibility of accidental death is not mentioned.) It's such an enormously contrived and stupid decision and it becomes so important at the end of the film that it becomes quite unforgiveable.

    I enjoyed some of the action sequences and some of the effects work. There's clear indications that with a bit of inspiration someone could make a really good "Spawn" movie. It'd be nice if they could still use Michael Jai White in the role because he proves he can really pull off the character well. But this particular film is little more than a curiosity.


    Blade II (2002)

    Guillermo Del Toro's sequel to the original Wesley Snipes half-vampire superhero movie contains some fantastic monster effects ideas. The big feature being the brand new albino vampires who feed on normal vampires. The really interesting feature is the way their lower jaw splits in half and their tongues latch on to their victims. It's a very cool visual, reminiscent of Giger's Alien.

    While I'd always known this film wasn't perfect I was quite surprised this time around to discover that I was actually getting bored half way through.

    There are some very good elements here. Ron Perlman is very cool as one of the team originally trained to kill the half-vampire Blade. He has a bit of a complex when he finds he has to team up with Blade instead in order to take down the new breed of vampire. Kris Kristoffersen is pretty good fun as Blade's side-kick. Still, as great as Norman Reedus might be in "The Walking Dead" taking down zombies with his bow and arrow, he's really annoying in "Blade II".

    I think the big problem here is that no amount of pretty visuals or well-presented action scenes can really make up for David S. Goyer's appalling script. The characters are flat and the twists and turns of the plot are lazy. Particularly sad is the way Leonor Varela's role as the female vampire Nyssa is written in such a one-note fashion even when the actress puts so much effort into her performance.

    "Blade II" had some good ideas and some nice visuals. The monster-design of the new breed of vampires is excellent. However, in the end this is all just practice for Guillermo Del Toro's far superior "Hellboy" films (where interestingly Guillermo Del Toro wrote the screenplay himself).

    I knew that "Blade II" had a disappointing ending, but I'd forgotten that it had a boring middle, along with a pretty underwhelming beginning. This is the kind of lame superhero movie that we have, thankfully, long since left behind.


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    I've got 12 trailers to share with you all. So let's get started....

    1. The Book Of Life

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date: 24 October 2014

    I was convinced that this was a Pixar film, but apparently not. It's being produced by Guillermo Del Toro and it's an animated love story based on the Mexican 'Day of the Dead'. It looks like a lot of fun. :)

    2. What We Do In The Shadows

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    No UK release date yet
    Germany release date: 30 October 2014

    Taika Waititi who directed the awesome "Eagle vs Shark" and several early episodes of "Flight of the Conchords", reunites with the hilarious Jermaine Clement for this comedy mockumentary about a group of vampires living together. It looks brilliant. The bits where they are trying to get 'invited in' to clubs is pretty awesome.

    3. Life After Beth

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date:
    3 October 2014

    Aubrey Plaza didn't impress me much with "Safety Not Guaranteed", but heck it wasn't her performance that was wrong there. Here she plays Beth, a girl trying to keep up her relationship with a boy even though she's now a zombie. (Hopefully I'll enjoy this more than "Warm Bodies". The zombie romance idea is cool, but I think it still has untapped potential.) I'm very happy to see that unlike in "Safety Not Guaranteed" where Aubrey Plaza's character is entranced by her love interest's awful guitar music, here we clearly see her shouting "You wrote this for me? This song sucks!" :)

    Oh, and Dane DeHaan is playing the boyfriend. YAY!

    4. Witching And Bitching

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    No UK release date yet (or possibly ever)
    Spain release date: 27 September 2013

    Alex de la Iglesia has made two films which do not ever appear to have been released in the UK: "The Day of the Beast" (1995) and "The Last Circus" (2010). Both of these look like intriguing and utterly crazy films. Now we have this utterly off-the-hook trailer for "Witching and Bitching". It could either be brilliant or awful and I feel like I desperately need to find out witch! ;)

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    I've got 12 trailers to post. (First 4 here) So here's another 4 of them.

    5. Foxcatcher

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date: 9 January 2015
    (In case that's unclear, that means it'll probably be out in December 2014 in the US to make it a prominent title in the Oscar season. *checks US release date* - November in the US. Same difference.)
    Channing Tatum has come a long way. There was an earlier trailer which I found a bit bizarre, but here we really get the sense of how disturbing this will be. There's some strange power games and some questioning of the motives of the characters. Steve Carrell is playing a distinctly non-comedic role for a change as a creepy trainer and Channing Tatum is playing a self-destructive professional wrestler. (Olympic wrestling, not that WWE stuff.) Apparently this is all based on a true story. It looks like this could be really cool. This is from the director of "Capote" and, while I'm not big on sports, this looks a lot more interesting than his last film "Moneyball".

    6. The Drop

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date:
    14 November 2014
    Crime thriller with Tom Hardy and seemingly one of the last movies to feature the late James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano from "The Sopranos" tv series). It's not entirely clear that this will be brilliant from the trailer. I'm mainly going by the cast. Still, this looks worth keeping an eye on.

    7. The Protector 2

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date (straight to DVD under the title "Warrior King 2"): 1 September (2014)
    The martial artist Tony Jaa (from "Ong Bak") reunites with the excellent martial arts director
    Prachya Pinkaew (director of "Chocolate", "The Protector" and "Ong Bak") and it looks absolutely crazy. The great thing about Prachya Pinkaew is how he handles the spectacle. There was a lot of praise for "The Raid" the other year and I was really confused because I was bored for much of the film. There's a difference between showing exceptional martial arts work on screen and making it visually interesting to an audience who do not practice martial arts. I'm sure that for martial arts fans, the action in "The Raid" was incredible, but for me it felt repetitive and lacking in spectacle. Prachya Pinkaew's films are crammed full of exciting settings, interesting props all with exciting camera angles. The choreography must be a nightmare to put together, but the end product is so worth it.

    The Ghastly Love of Johnny X

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date: 7 November 2012 (at a film festival - No cinema or DVD release dates as of yet...)
    The first actor to appear on screen in Kevin McCarthy (from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "UHF") so that instantly made me happy, but I must admit that he's the only actor I recognise here. Still, the trailer looks utterly crazy and I cannot help but be intrigued. A black and white sci-fi musical comedy, seemingly set in the 50s. Bizarre, but it just looks like so much fun!

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    Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

    I felt a strong desire to rewatch this crazy film about alien homicidal clowns. It's a bit Looney Tunes, but in a really creepy way. There's one scene where on the one hand an alien killer clown is holding an enormous hammer behind his back and yet on the other hand he's encouraging a small child to come to him so he can kill her.

    Rather than going into detail about the varied homicidal methods the clowns use, I should instead probably just mention a few of the more repeated aspects and leave the variety of clever effects a surprise. But believe me, there are some very varied ideas here.

    The basic gist is that these are aliens that happen to look like clowns, have guns that fire popcorn, capture people in balloons, and turn their victims into candyfloss. Oh, and their spaceship looks like a funfair tent.

    On first watch I was rather annoyed by the non-clown characters, but this time I found them a great deal more appealing. For some reason I also enjoyed the effects work more this time around. The acting isn't great and this is still a very silly film, but as silly low-budget films go it's pretty awesome.

    The director is STILL planning on releasing "Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D" and (apart from the 3D part) I think it could be pretty cool seeing what they can do with the advances in special effects.


    Killer Klowns is a film I'd seen already, so I'm just going to tag this other film on the end. It's a bit of an awkward one to try to label as sci-fi, but I think it's justified. Let's see...

    Society (1989)

    Sci-fi isn't entirely about whether the events are happening in the future. It's also about using speculative ideas to say something about the world in which we live. It's all about "what if".

    "Society" certainly isn't obviously a sci-fi film. A boy feels alienated from his family and has a strong sense that he doesn't fit in. His parents have lofty ideals for him to live up to, but seem disappointed with his choices. They are also disappointed with his best friend.

    On the other hand, his sister seems to be far more accepted, though he feels alienated from her too. The love-hate relationship between them seems to come out as more of an repulsion-attraction relationship. He seems to be dealing with the idea that his sister is a beautiful girl, but also with odd hints that she may be some kind of monster.

    While I don't want to give away too much about what is coming, I think it is important to note that this is a Cronenberg-style body-horror film. Our protagonist's revulsion regarding his family is represented by suggestions that his family might actually be monsters of some description: Distortions of humanity.

    Bizarrely, there's also a left-wing political message here too (and no, not a preachy "Elysium" style message - not that there's anything wrong with that). The protagonist's family is clearly rich and they reject his friend for being "the wrong sort". There's a sense of class alienation going along with the confusions of puberty.

    The plot really kicks off when his sister's ex-boyfriend explains that he planted a bug in the house and plays our protagonist what appears to be the recording of an incestual orgy. Our protagonist had always suspected something strange was happening in his family, but in discussions with his therapist he'd always been assured that it was his own neuroses colouring his vision. He immediately goes to his therapist with the evidence - but things aren't entirely as they seem.

    "Society" is twisted, creepy, but also quirky and funny. The finale feels more like a case of the movie taking things as far as it can go rather than a sensible ending to a story. However, the twisted effects work and the somewhat Lovecraftian horror that greets us in that final act make the film entirely unforgettable. While a little meandering in places, this is a film which hits hard and made a real impact on me as a viewer. Awesome.


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    The final four trailers. I have had two entries before this.
    Part 1 here.
    Part 2 here.

    9. The Signal

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    No UK release date yet.
    Germany release date: 10 July 2014
    This looks very much to me like a kind of live action version of Akira, only exploring the concepts in its own unique way rather than trying to recreate Akira's rather distinctive visuals. I'd say that "Chronicle" did something like that already, but this has the aspect of the government taking in the troubled boy and trying (unsuccessfully from the looks of things) to treat him.

    The director has mainly done cinematography work prior to this, but the presence of Lawrence Fishburne in a morally ambiguous mentor role does a great deal to give this trailer a strong appeal.

    10. Dracula Untold

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    UK release date: 3 October 2014
    Yeah, okay this looks utterly ridiculous, but somehow the trailer really got me intrigued. Somehow Dracula is being put forward as the good guy, which seems strange. But the idea of getting to see Dracula be this guy who gains incredible supernatural powers and then uses them in battle. I mean, wow, that's pretty cool.

    It's a visually spectacular action trailer and the director isn't Michael Bay. That's certainly a good start. ;)

    11. V/H/S Viral (V/H/S 3)

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    No UK release date yet.
    US release date 21 November 2014
    After VHS ended up being a moderate curiosity, the sequel turned out to be a distinct step-up from the first instalment. With the film series gaining greater levels of respect, it seems like there's every possibility that this third entry may have a better budget and even greater levels of creativity.... Or it could be a massive disappointment. Who knows? But the trailer still looks pretty cool, even though the first half is just showing scenes from the first two instalments.

    12. The Green Inferno

    (video link)
    (imdb link)
    Essentially Eli Roth's tribute to "Cannibal Holocaust". A group of naive protesters who want to save the rainforest end up crashing, only to be discovered by tribe of cannibals. I like the theme idea here. You may care about nature, but don't expect nature to care about you.

    I know Eli Roth produces mixed reactions, but it's odd really seeing as he seems to have only directed four full length films - including this one. I've not seen "Cabin Fever" yet and I've only seen the first of the two Eli Roth-directed "Hostel" films. Nevertheless, I enjoyed "Hostel" a lot and was very happily surprised by it. It looks like "The Green Inferno" will have the same theme of naive flawed characters who find themselves led like lambs to the slaughter.

    I'm not sure why it's a selling point that the tribe in the movie have never been filmed before, though I suppose it rather cooler than just picking a bunch of random ethnic minority actors and getting them to act like cannibals. Promoting the as-yet-unfilmed tribe in the promotional material makes very clear that the tribe are acting and that the tribal community presumably didn't feel at all demeaned by their roles. I know the themes of this film may be racially problematic, but in the end it all depends on whether there is a decent exploration of a theme by the end of the film. For what it's worth I thought the theme in "Hostel" turned out to be surprisingly clever in the final act, almost certainly inspiring Tarantino's rewrite of history in the third act of "Inglourious Basterds". But as when judging any movie's promotional material, we always have only a limited impression of the final product and we'll just have to wait and see.

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    Killer Joe (2011)

    I actually first watched this several months ago, but I could not really work out what I thought of it first time around. The acting is great, with Matthew McConaughey dominating in the role of the eponymous Joe. This was released around a similar sort of time as "Magic Mike" forming the beginning of what the actor himself refers to as a McConnaisance (leading to his Oscar earlier this year).

    Emile Hirsh, who irritated the hell out of me in his holier-than-thou role as the protagonist of "Into The Wild", is pretty great here as the desperate figure who proposes hiring Joe in the first place. Thomas Haden Church provides a comical edge to the film, making very clear how out of depth the lead characters are, even while he tries to act as the voice of reason.

    The premise is that a poor family with a relative who is likely to be killed for his enormous debts decide to solve their problems through murdering a relative for the insurance money. To ensure the murder does not lead to them being sent to prison, they hire "Killer Joe", a police officer who commits murder professionally as a sideline. This persona seems fairly implausible, but that's part of the mystery that accompanies the character. How could a police officer be making money off professional hits? Our protagonists don't know, but they just have to accept it. They are out of their depth and there's a Greek tragic inevitability that comes along with that.

    Much of the film revolves around Killer Joe's relationship with Dottie, a mentally disabled girl who nevertheless makes sharp observations. Joe pursues Dottie, perhaps because he sees his strangeness reflected in her, or perhaps because she is not afraid of him. In any case, the strange connection between them is the centrepoint of the film.

    Where I find myself conflicted on "Killer Joe" is the ending. It's not even that I think the ending ruins the film. I just find it hard to understand. On every poster you will see an image of fried chicken and Joe insists on a particular act being performed with the fried chicken in a very disturbing scene and it's rather confusing what the purpose of the scene is supposed to be. Perhaps even less appealing is how suddenly the film ends, but there's something very intriguing about "Killer Joe" as a film, giving it a remarkable level of re-watchability. Perhaps the enigmatic bizarre ending helps with that?


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    For those who missed the first two instalments...

    Part one is here!

    Part two here!

    It's been a long time coming and oddly enough because I needed to rewatch "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" before finishing. Now that is a little strange seeing as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" was the one film I was sure I loved when I started this, but after seeing John Hughes other films and hating so many of them, it felt tainted somehow. Still, I gave it another watch. I cannot say I was enormously into it this time around, but "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is still good.

    John Hughes' debut movie "Sixteen Candles" on the other hand....

    Sixteen Candles (1984)

    Ugh, I did not want to write this review.

    Basically I was given the impression that John Hughes career was better in the beginning and then became cheesier and more about people being hit in the end in slapstick towards the end. So I worked backwards through his films so I could finish on a high note.

    Well that backfired spectacularly. The previous film I checked out was the legedary John Hughes film "The Breakfast Club". I was surprised to find myself hating practically everyone else, particularly the 'hero' of the film, who decides early on to propose a gang-rape.

    So imagine my surprise when I discovered that "Sixteen Candles" is even worse.

    Anthony Michael Hall who was absolutely great in "Weird Science" and probably the most sympathetic character in "Breakfast Club", this time plays an obnoxious pick-up artist. Now that's sort of okay, because clearly we're supposed to think he's obnoxious and pathetic. Except that he is later given a passed-out girl to molest, is pressured to drive her home while drunk and takes her to his friends house so they can provide photographic proof that he had sex with her. After all that, it seems that the film expects us to find him a sympathetic character because, just like the girl, he cannot remember their evening in the morning.

    BTW Caroline (above) is played by Haviland Morris who was Marla in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch". Watch that instead.

    Meanwhile there's another guy who actually encourages Anthony Michael Hall to have sex with the passed-out drunk girl in the first place. He boasts that he could easily have his way with passed-out drunk girls, but the only girl who he wants is the protagonist. So he suggests that Anthony Michael Hall take his ex-girlfriend away and have his way with her. This is passed off as romantic.

    The protagonist is played by Molly Ringwald and she's extremely flat in the lead role. John Cusack is in the film, but as a fairly inexpressive background character. Joan Cusack's screen presence is clear from the moment she appears, but unfortunately she's also a background character and her role is to be funny because she's disabled. No really. No gags, no subversion of norms. She's wearing a head brace and has trouble eating food at a party. End of joke. Ugh!

    Oh and it gets worse. There's a racist stereotype character called Long Duk Dong. He's an exchange student from China who is staying with Molly Ringwald's grandparents. This is clearly utter nonsense. Exchange students would normally be staying with someone their own age to help them learn the language. Not with someone's grandparents in their 60s. And a bizarre gong sound is added whenever Long Duk Dong's name is uttered. And as with Joan Cusack's role, the joke seems to be simply that he is Chinese. This comedy really is aiming at the lowest common denominator. The Utah-born actor (who knows no Chinese), Gedde Watanabe, was also in the Weird Al Yancovich movie "UHF" and it's clear that he has a lot of comic talent. Sure, even in that, the racial stereotyping was awkward, but his jokes often didn't even rely on him belonging to an ethnic group and he was actually involved in genuinely funny gags. But here in "Sixteen Candles" his scenes are just painful.

    About the only character that I really liked was the horrible younger brother. Sure, he's a completely obnoxious character, but at least he felt like a real person and at least he wasn't being given some kind of flawed redemption arc. Then again, perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised. He'd already been Oscar nominated for his performance in "Kramer vs Kramer" five years earlier. Pity he wasn't the main star really.

    A film involving his character going around being obnoxious to everybody would probably have been a lot more entertaining.


    Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)

    When the John Hughes' retrospective was going down hill, I purposefully left Ferris Bueller's Day Off til the end. Unlike "Weird Science" I'd rewatched it relatively recently and I had still felt very positive towards it.

    Sadly, the context of a John Hughes' retrospective rather dampened my excitement this time around. Hughes' filmography features a category of unpleasant protagonists:

    - The 'hero' in "Breakfast Club" makes a rape threat to the lead actress (before he ends the film walking arm-in-arm with her) and is generally unpleasant towards everyone.
    - The selfish businessman played by Steve Martin is technically the protagonist in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and even John Candy's blundering slob co-character doesn't feel enormously sympathetic, especially given that his defining characteristic is that he is stalking Steve Martin.
    - Kevin Bacon's character in "She's Having A Baby" is in a marriage which just simply doesn't appear to be working. He and his wife simply do not seem to have chemistry with one another and Bacon's ego is just way too easy to bruise.
    - Oddly Jim Belushi's character in "Curly Sue" is a shameless confidence trickster who is guilty of neglecting the needs of a young child. Yet, his character still ended up seeming more endearing than most of the protagonists above.

    Perhaps it's notable that the best of the John Hughes movies don't feature morally abhorrent protagonists:
    - "Weird Science" has the premise of boys who create a woman with their computer. That sounds horrendous, but when they have created her they are actually fairly gentlemanly. Their obnoxious side is simply that they only see women is something unattainable to be leered at from afar and this is something the movie needs to actively address. Their flaws are directly linked to their immaturity, lack of experience and lack of confidence, and when you take that into account, they aren't actually horrifying characters at all. (They also don't threaten to rape anyone, don't throw insults around at people for the hell of it, don't stalk anyone and don't try to stick with a relationship which clearly isn't working even though they are constantly fantasising about someone else. By John Hughes' standards they are angelic.)
    - "Uncle Buck" is brought in to babysit children under extreme circumstances even though he is clearly completely unsuitable for the role of child-carer. The film cheats quite a bit on this, with the protagonist's level of patheticness seemingly altering rapidly when the plot demands it. However, the point is that the protagonist always has his heart in the right place and is never actively abhorrent.
    - Okay, so actually "Sixteen Candles" struck me as one of the worst films in John Hughes' filmography and I'd argue that I'd rather it was following one of the characters who was completely unabashedly amoral. Part of the problem is the dire acting from the protagonist, but the biggest issues are all related to those character surrounding the protagonist. Anthony Michael Hall's unnamed "Geek" character has sex with an unconsious girl who, when awake, thinks he's actually her boyfriend (so he's a rapist basically). He also takes his 'conquest' to his friends (including John Cusack in what must be a career-low) so they can help him get photographic proof. There's also the racist stereotype character and the "laugh at her disability" character (Joan Cusack's career low). Finally (and this REALLY shocked me) the protagonist ends up with her dream boy, who has sent his old girlfriend off to be date raped (see above) and who brags that he can have sex with unconsious women all the time. Ugh. Just ugh. But yeah, the protagonist's biggest sin is that she's boring, so that's another exception to the rule I guess.

    So, this is a review of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", so we better discuss the protagonist here: Ferris Bueller. It should be noted that Ferris Bueller is not a nice guy. He starts off manipulating his parents into letting him stay home and then immediately goes on to manipulate his friend (who may possibly be a hyperchondriac) to help him. Now, I'm not saying that this isn't effective comedy. It is. Ferris Bueller, in spite of being a bit of a prick, is admittedly funny. A great deal is owed to Matthew Broderick for milking as much comedy about of the role as is humanly possible. Similar praise must go to Alan Ruck who plays Ferris's friend Cameron.

    What is rather less funny is ANY of the scenes involving the 'evil teacher'. (Thankfully this time the teacher isn't threatening to punch anyone, like in "The Breakfast Club". He's more just an uber-bureaucrat.) He's just not funny. It's like the Ferris Bueller scenes weren't slapsticky enough, so Hughes felt the need to throw it all into the scenes with this guy. The final scene with the teacher getting onto a schoolbus has always fallen flat for me, but it never occurred to me before that this is a point where finally all the humour has to come from this teacher character, the plot surrounding Ferris Bueller having completely come to an end.

    I was also made more awkward this time by the scenes where Ferris Bueller's girlfriend character, Sloane (who is always decidedly in the background by comparison to the two male protagonists) starts basically seducing Cameron. Ferris is always a larger-than-life figure and so Cameron is really the character that audience members are expected to identify, so what is happening with this scene is this strange kind of male-fantasy. In this, admittedly relatively tame, fantasy the female character finds him so endearing that she's prepared to validate him perving on her because she likes the idea of being able to boost his confidence with women by acting as a kind of surrogate girlfriend for him to 'try out'. I don't know, perhaps there are people like this out there after all, but I'm sceptical.

    Then again, I may be being slightly harsh here. Sure, these aren't real people and it's all fictional, but there is at least enough to these characters that I can discuss them logically. There's a sense that Cameron might actually be a more viable boyfriend for Sloane than Ferris. While Ferris is being a larger than life figure doing his own thing, Cameron would actually be completely focussed on her. It's a relationship dynamic not dissimilar to that in "Watchmen" between Dan, Sally and Dr. Manhattan.

    There's one last thing I found a little dodgy and mainly because I've now seen "The Breakfast Club". Charlie Sheen turns up as a drug addict who charms Ferris' sister. The problem is he starts out being pretty rude to her, she is rightly offended, and then after a short break we find that she is necking with him and infatuated with him to the point of giggling. What happened in this gap? We simply don't know. And what originally would have seemed like a kind of movie magic, now strikes me as rather problematic. In "The Breakfast Club" we don't cut away so that the magic can happen offscreen and I was decidedly unconvinced by the pairing. Then again, Charlie Sheen's character isn't anything like so rude as Judd Nelson's character in "The Breakfast Club" and he doesn't suggest that anyone rape her, which is a plus. But this is just one more scene where my new familiarity with John Hughes other films made this harder to enjoy


    "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is still a lot of fun with some great central performances which really make it work. However, it's not exactly a laugh a minute and thinking about it a bit more deeply, the story isn't really as sweet as it seemed the first time around. I think it is a legitimate question whether Cameron would be better off without Ferris, but I don't think John Hughes intends it to be quite as ambiguous as I'm finding it. Not least since this time around I cannot help but feel the answer is a big fat "Yes!" But with less effective casting I would not love Ferris Bueller at all and there would be no ambiguity in the matter. Matthew Broderick is able to be charismatic and charming enough to avoid Ferris coming across as a complete jerk and that is why Ferris does not belong in the catalogue of horrible John-Hughes-movie protagonists.


    What an ungrateful frikkin' brat...

    John Hughes Retrospective Ranking

    1. Weird Science   A+
    2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off   B+
    3. Uncle Buck   C+
    4. Curly Sue   C-
    5. She's Having A Baby   D+
    6. The Breakfast Club   E-
    7. Planes, Trains And Automobiles   U+
    8. Sixteen Candles   U+

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    Stand by Me (1986)
    This adaptation of a story by Stephen King is centred around a remarkably effective performance by Wil Wheaton. So it confuses me that I only know Wil Wheaton as that dull character in "Star Trek: TNG" who never seemed to appear in any of the movies and a few cameos in the tv series "The Big Bang Theory".

    As is the case more often than not prior to the arrival of the "24" series, Kiefer Sutherland isn't that great here. Then again, he is playing a cartoonishly evil figure which was probably always going to be a hard sell in what is otherwise a pretty down to earth believable story.

    The four main children give great performances and really sell us on the scenario and there's a lot of really good light-hearted humour. Even though the lead character is a Mary Sue figure (a boy who needs to believe in himself if he's going to become a successful writer when he grows up, so a pretty clear stand-in for Stephen King) I still found myself really drawn into his character.

    Some of the scenes where the boys are expected to cry are pretty low points for the acting here, but it's nothing that couldn't be forgiven if the story pays off. The real problem is that the ending isn't powerful to warrant all the pathos. When you think back to the events of the film, nothing really mattered all that much. Towards the beginning of the film the question is considered "why don't we just go to the police?" and I find myself asking at the end "couldn't they have just gone to the police?" Okay sure, it's all about friends bonding in a difficult situation, but I felt the actual main storyline was anti-climactic even if the friends bonding was heart-warming and fun.

    This film was alright, but I found the ending was a let down.

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    Frances Ha (2012)

    Anyone familiar with the tv series "Girls" will find a lot of similarities in the scatty lead character and the sweet yet embarrassing socially-awkward humour. (Also anyone uncomfortable with the nudity in "Girls" will probably find themselves a lot more at ease with this movie.)

    "Frances Ha" is an excellent comedy about young professionals living in New York. Our protagonist is a dancer who is, unsurprisingly for someone living in New York, finding it hard to make ends meet.

    In the opening scenes we are introduced in a sort of montage to two characters who are the absolute best of friends. Frances even describes them as being like a lesbian couple who don't have sex any more. Very early in the film our protagonist basically dumps her boyfriend because he suggests she live with him rather than her bff.

    I found myself consistently amused and often laughing out loud. The protagonist is a quirky yet believable and a realistically flawed figure. Admittedly the ending is a bit of "well haven't we been through so much *sigh*" kind of an ending, but the rest of the film is funny enough and has enough emotional depth to warrant it. (And heck, what did I expect? A big wedding like the end of a Jane Austen adaptation?)


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    Leviathan (1989)

    I hadn't heard many strong recommendations for Leviathan and many seemed to dismiss it as an Alien rip-off. But a few seemed to speak of it fondly.

    The big selling point here is Peter Weller. He was awesome as Robocop. Even in the flawed post-apocalyptic killer robot film "Screamers" Weller's central performance kept me remarkably engaged.

    Meg Foster also appears here doing her Evil Lyn thing as the company boss. She has.this delicious coldness to her performance which made "Masters of the Universe" such a favourite growing up.

    And let's not forget the appearance of Ghostbuster Ernie Hudson.

    This is a very engaging cast. Even though we are following a large deep sea drilling group, we can recognise and keep up with every member of that team.

    The story owes as much to "The Thing" as to "Alien". Except with less pointless running down corridors than "Alien" and arguably less interchangeable characters than "The Thing". And while the effects are relatively cheap they are effective.

    I had a great time with this film and frankly when done as well as this who cares if its similar to other films? In fact, there's a vampire theme here. The fear is not simply of being attacked but of being transformed.

    Great characters and exciting pacing means that I'd rather watch this than Alien any day.


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    A quick lesson in the philosophy of language.

    The big name in philosophy of language is Ludwig Wittgenstein. His insights into language have had implications into pretty much every philosophical field, because whatever the philosophy problem someone is going to need to describe it.

    He described the typical understanding of language as the Augustinian view, but it might be more helpful to describe it as the dictionary view. This view is that every word must have a specific corresponding definition, like a dictionary might suggest. On this basis we could form an entire language purely through 'ostensive definitions'. That is, by pointing to things and naming them.

    Of course when we use language, pointing and naming will never be enough. For one, what about connective words such as: and, but, as, then? Also the following scenario makes even clearer how poor a tool ostensive definitions are for establishing a language.

    The example from Wittgenstein himself is pointing to two nuts. If I point to them and say an unknown word like 'shapistus' what might this strange word mean? Certainly it might mean 'nuts' but it might just as easily mean 'brown' or 'two' or 'food' or perhaps it might even be a question like 'what is this?' Using a word when pointing is not sufficient to establish meaning.

    So what does establish meaning? How does language attain meaning? Well Wittgenstein has a phrase which sums it up neatly: 'Meaning is use'.

    When we learn a language, pointing to objects might well be helpful, but there's a context involved. And it is the context which enables us to recognise more complex grammar. Language is always fulfilling a role in a social context. Wittgenstein refers to the role of language in a particular context as a 'language game'.

    That's why I am left completely perplexed when someone starts discussing football even when I recognise the words being used. I am not familiar with the language game. On the other hand when I discuss movies with friends, some other friends can find it tough to keep up because they don't fully understand the rules of this language game.

    It seems that even the languages of isolated communities can be learnt by outsiders through living with them in a social setting. Once again, Wittgenstein has a term for this. He claims that we are able to share common concepts with isolated tribespeople because we are the same 'forms of life'. We have similar needs to them and necessity is the mother of invention. Under such contexts, language inevitably develops to handle those needs.

    But if social context is required for language, does that mean we cannot develop a language living on our own? Well technically we can use our pre-existing language and just replace the words, but from scratch? No, we need a community to develop a language. Without a social context, there is no right or wrong way to use a word. On your own you can switch the meanings of words as often as you like and there is no situation where you might fail to convey the meaning to yourself. A language needs correct and incorrect ways of being expressed. A phrase is incorrect when it fails to convey its meaning and that requires more than one language speaker.

    (Okay so you actually need to be familiar with Wittgenstein's philosophy to know why I put this image here.)

    So why did I write this short introduction to the philosophy of language?

    I did it because I had an issue with the use of language in the recent movie "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes". It's not exactly a major criticism, but the discussion could do with these details being understood first.

    Basic gist? The apes now all speak in pigeon English and that annoys me.....

    Sometimes pigeon english is entirely appropriate. Ahhh Grimlock, my favourite Transformer, but the way he talks is just daft. Thankfully the development of Dinobot language isn't an important part of the Transformer universe...

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