Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Torn Up Inside

This is simply hilarious! I saw British comedian David Armand as the character Johann Lippowitz performing his "interpretive dance" for Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" a few years ago while it was doing the internet rounds. But this is longer, updated and even better than the original! Just watch. I can say no more!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

5 Questions, 1 Chance

Some of my contacts on Flickr have started doing this "5 Questions" thing on their photostreams, and I've joined in. It's certainly not a game invented in Flickr. Variations of it have existed in Live Journal, MySpace and, although I haven't seen it myself, I'd have to assume Bebo as well.

The premise is simple. You get to ask me up to 5 questions on anything you like, and I'll answer them honestly. One of the ideas of this is that it's supposed to be anonymous when I post the answers, so the questions are PMed to me over Flickr. Obviously I'll know who asked what, but I won't reveal the identity in the answers.

So go on. Get over to my Flickr page and PM me those questions. This is it, your only chance. Ask that burning question, or just find out about my thoughts on a subject are (like I don't voice them enough! It's by far my most annoying aspect)! But remember, PMs make them anonymous, but they also allow a level of screening on my part! You're not getting any blackmail worthy information out of me!

Of course, I also encourage those of you brave enough to try it out to join in! Sure, there's a slim risk involved, but if you promise to be honest, it can be incredibly refreshing. I'm looking forward to some of the questions thrown at me, though so far, the majority are toy related! Heh. They know me too well.

Edit: Wow! I just ran a spell-check. I spelled "anonymous" right first time! Go me! This is an achievement. My spelling can be awful.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Nutshell Reviews: Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix

Stop! In case you haven't read it, I've put up a post on the rest of the Harry Potter books and movies, so read that one first and then come back.

The Order of the Phoenix had a lot going for it before the opening credits even rolled. I knew the cast were back, and I liked them. I was very happy with the edit done to the last book on translation into a movie and I had confidence that the same might be done to this one. And I had read an interview with the director of this and the upcoming sixth movie due in 2008, and he is a huge fan of Bill Nighy, so I liked him too.

Fiennes was once again astoundingly good was He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and looks dashing in a tux! The Wesley twins, played with style and conviction by James and Oliver Phelps once again seemed to steal any scene they appeared in, even if neither ever open his mouth! My favourite character in the book, Sirius Black was wonderfully portrayed once more by the equally wonderful Gary Oldman, and new addition Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge can only be described as the written words on the page given life and committed to film! She was incredible. While we're here, the rest of the cast were wonderful too, without a single weak link. I must give a big congratulations to Irish actress Evanna Lynch who played Luna Lovegood. As a character I had forgotten completely about from the book, she was memorably played by the young talent in her first role in anything ever! That's what happens with open auditions!

Moving on from the cast, the music was great! So too were the special effects. Clean, vibrant CGI made the big moments a joy to watch. The scenes of Dumbledores Army (pictured to the left) practicing in their private hide-away made for great character moments, as well as awesome special effects. Broomstick flying along the Thames sent shivers down my back, and the final showdown between Voldemort and Dumbledore was spectacular eye candy.

So the movie was great, right?

Wrong.

Everything I hated about the novel was in the movie. Harry spent most of his time whinging and whining, acting more like a spoilt brat than the shy, reluctant character he was previously. Communication between characters was worse than on the Lost island! If people were just upfront with Harry almost everything could have been avoided! Worst of all is Dumbledore, who distances himself from Harry to "protect him", but that very act causes Harry to run head first into the Death-Eaters trap!! The prophesy everyone is after, either to hear or protect tells us a fact that we have known since book one, page one! Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot!! This is worse than a poorly written DnD plot!

And the "important character" death! Arg! When I got to that bit in the novel I threw the book away I was so frustrated! It was random, stupid and pointless, and done to a character that had itself proclaimed in that very book how useless it felt! Due to the possibly spoilery nature of the following paragraph, I'm writing it in white, so if you want to read it, just click around here, then, keeping the left button pressed, move the mouse down to highlight the paragraph, revealing the hidden text (it's better done than the blasted prophesy was!). Yes, I know most of my readers were aware of how this works, but I'm erring on the side of caution here!

The killed off character is of course, Sirius Black. Now while I admit bias on the previously mentioned fact of him being my favourite character in the series, it was obvious that Rowling had no more use for him. After his book, Prisoner of Azkaban, he only ever appeared to throw out a piece of advice to Harry or be a sounding board for Harrys frustrations. His purpose was done. His last act was to let Dumbledore use his house for their base. And then he suffers a ridiculous death. Hit by a knock-back spell that would hardly have bruised him in any other situation, he stumbles, stumbles back into a mysterious veil with mysterious voices of the dead. Could this veil be a not-to-subtle reference to the "veil of death"?!? Oh god. Yes. What a stupid way to remove a character, just so she could announce an "important character" (yeah, right.) death in the newest novel. Awful. The movie actually makes it even worse, as the scene where Sirius laments his uselessness doesn't have 400 pages of fluff to make you forget it before he meets his demise. Instead, he tells Harry how useless he is and a few minutes later, *poof* he's dead. Didn't see that one coming, did ya?!?

The Order of the Phoenix was the book that turned me off the whole Harry Potter franchise. While I was never one of the "queue for the midnight launch" kind of fans, I read and enjoyed the novels. Until Order. It was ridiculously long, padded out with more fluff than ever before. I've mentioned the flaws just a bit ago, so I don't need to here... but I will anyway, cause they were terrible and should be emphasised! Whiny Harry, useless prophesy, unhelpful secrecy and pointless death. And the movie has them all. In fact, by successfully exorcising the fluff, the bad points just get crammed together, one running into the next!

The Half-Blood Prince is the first of the novels I have yet to read, and most likely will not have by the time the movie adaptation comes out. But where Order put me off the books, the movie hasn't entirely put me off the movies. Sure, I'm not going to be preordering tickets, and I might grab a matinee to save on the entry price, but if the effects and acting are as strong and enjoyable to watch as they were in this one, it'll be worth seeing once.

But only once.

And I still won't read the damned book.

Nutshell Reviews: The Harry Potter Series

Before I post my Nutshell Review of Harry Potter & The Order Of The Phoenix, I suppose it's worth noting how I felt about the previous movies, especially as this is the fifth in the series. Likewise, I'll mention how the books hold up as I go along, just so we're all on the same page.

Philosophers Stone, or Sorcerers Stone in the US, was a good movie that set everything off. The actors were all well chosen, and the story held together on the big screen. This was great, as the book is a little weak, with a few parts reading very amateurish. Not that I'm complaining about that. It was JK Rowlings first, and she did a damn sight better that I could ever have done!

Chamber of Secrets was a great movie that I felt really surpassed the novel. The younger actors had a better feel for their roles, the teachers were flawless and it was done by almost the entire same crew as the first movie, resulting in a superior execution. I felt the whole Tom Riddle plot was handled far better on screen, or maybe it was just condensed enough to be faster and more enjoyable. I remember reading the novel and being bitterly annoyed that Voldemort was once again shoe-horned in as the big-bad, without actually ever appearing again! Somehow, viewing the movie made that less of an issue.

Prisoner of Azkaban is by far and away my favourite novel. The series took a turn for the darker, the twists and turns of the plot made it a far more enjoyable read, and the characters were really coming together. The Dementors were a cool idea, and the thoughts of a whole prison of them was chillingly frightening. But the movie fell very flat. It was too short, with loads of the book left out, as well as many important explanations in particular, the connection between the Marauders Map and James, Sirius, Remus and Peter, and a clear explanation of their childhood connection. Anyone who read the book knew what was going on, but there were many left scratching their heads. There was little excuse for this as well, as the runtime of 141 minutes was the shortest of the series to that point, and it felt it too. Finally, while the Dementors were well done, after watching the Ringwraiths in Lord of the Rings not too long before, they really could have been done much darker. I do however realise that this is at heart a kids movie, so that's a point I'll just have to accept and move on.

Goblet of Fire proves to be my favourite movie, while being the book that drove me crazy. It was so huge and full of fluff side plots that simply padded out the page count that I was glad to see the movie cut everything down. Focusing solely on the Triwizard Tournament, the movie was fast paced, lead by a confident and capable cast for both students and teachers, with a strong plot that honored the source material. The special effects were once again an improvement on the previous instalments, and the action was blisteringly paced throughout. Back up to a runtime of over 2 and a half hours (157 minutes to be accurate), I sat patiently enjoying the story until Lord Voldemorts triumphant return! And boy, was it worth the wait. Ralph Fiennes was an excellant choice, and the make-up was incredible. Walking out of the cinema I could hardly wait for the next installment, and more of Fiennes Voldemort that it would hold.

And with that all done, on to the new movie!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Claim Sole Credit

Purely on the basis that my blog is the only place I've seen it complained about, I'm taking all the credit for this one! What am I talking about now? Read on.

Not too long ago I posted about the pilot of Burn Notice, my summer viewing for 2007 (along with the second season of quirky mad science based series, Eureka). In it, I lamented the physical pain and suffering the pilot induced in me any time Michael Westens ex-girlfriend Fiona appeared on screen. Her voice was unbearable!

Well, thanks entirely to the work of this very blog, I no longer suffer! As of the second episode, Fiona speaks like a human! Her first appearance in this episode had Michael question the new accent, to which Fiona replied, "Well, I'm in Miami now. I can't very well be talkin' like a friggin' leprechaun, now can I!"

Woo-hoo! No crappy Oirish! And the show gets infinitely better! Well, a bit better anyway. It was great to begin with. All that small change really means is that Fionas scenes are just as enjoyable as the rest! Feel free to use the comments section to shower me with praise and worship.

Sure, she's still an ex-IRA girl, but they don't make much of an issue of it. I'm guessing it's just their excuse for having her good with guns and gadgets.

While I'm back on the topic of Burn Notice, let me point you to Micheal Westens Ask A Spy Video Tips, fun little weekly extras for the series. Less enjoyable, but still kinda interesting to browse across is Fionas Blog! There are lots more on the main site, so check it out if you get the chance. I'm a big fan of the Sams Stash area of the site, even if it is bandwidth heavy, and I can't figure out a single item match up, even after years of point'n'click adventuring.

Use
"box" with "melon". No. Use "knife" with "melon". No. Use "knife" with "box". No. Use "melon" with "lightbulb that I can't even see, but I can still click on because this is a stupid game!". Oh great. That worked. Now what do I do with a melon with a lightbulb screwed into it?!?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Nutshell Reviews: Die Hard 4.0

Ha!Take that Americans! And you too Canada! 4.0! We get the better title! After suffering the indignity of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (because not enough of us would understand who Lois and Clark were apparently! "Yes. Hmmm. Didn't they blaze a trail across America during it's "wild years"?"). Now we get the last laugh! While you only get LFDH. (Live Free Or Die Hard, the American title has been abbreviated to LFDH, pronounced "laughed" by people unhappy with the overly patriotic title. Yeah. That gag totally works better in the spoken word, but I'm not running a video blog here, now am I?!?) However, we both lose out to the French (how often does one get to say that!), with their awesome title of Die Hard 4.0: Return to Hell!

Anyway, apart from the title, is it any good?

Is it what?!? It's freakin awesome! Here's how it breaks down:

Opening credits, plot, gun action, driving action, hacking action, driving action, explosions action, plot, fight action, explosions action, gratuitous geeky humour, plot, ninja action, gun action, driving action, flying action, explosions action, gun action, catchphrase, closing credits.

Yup. That's pretty much it. Come on. It's Die Hard. What did you expect? And it's amazing! After so many years, Willis just drops right back into the role! It's like he never left. The humour is sharp as always, and this outing is chock-full of references to the earlier three, from lift shaft explosions, broken glass, an agent named Johnson, walkie-talkie conversations with the bad-guy, and that (surely by now) trademarked vest, this has it all!

The supporting cast are great. McClanes daughter is strong willed and resourceful, like her father and his unexpected tag-along proves the perfect counterweight to McClanes all-hero actions. The bad-guys are a little dry, it must be said. They don't do much apart from die (there really must be a 1-800-henchman hotline for these guys!), although one of them sure did act as though he knew it was all a movie, and he was the villain. Also, the pilot of the F-35 that makes an appearance not only knew he was in a movie, but knew he was the good guy too, allowing him to manipulate the laws of probability and skills to pull of some insane and crazy stuff. Pity the silly git didn't read the script closer and shoot the right guy while he was at it!

The stunts are excellent, and the effects are stunning. Some of the tricks they pulled off, by whatever means they used, are just inspired! McClanes uncanny ability to get out of any situation is used to hilarious effect, and I'm sure I must have annoyed some of the more gentile cinema-goers with my laughter at some of the more crazy methods he utilises.

So is it worth seeing? Oh hells yeah! Go see it today! It's roaringly funny, heart-stoppingly exhilarating, and adrenaline pumpingly fast paced (Yay for made-up verbs!).

I'll be adding this one to my Die Hard collection on DVD release as well!

Nutshell Reviews: Burn Notice

Some of you may remember that I wrote a brief post about a new series with Bruce Campbell in it called Burn Notice that was starting up. What? You haven't read that one? It's two posts down! Go read it now. I'll wait...

...

...

Ok. Back? Did you read it? Good.

So you know the basic idea. CIA guy get fired, but worse, he gets blacklisted. Funds frozen, no chance of getting a job anywhere and stuck in Florida with his mom, what's a guy to do. This one turns MacGyver P.I.

You see, this Westen guy is good with his head, and uses it over brute strength any day he can. So he builds gadgets, rigs up listening devices, points out flaws on bullet proof doors (the surrounding walls are plasterboard... well, they are in this one!) and yes, uses duct tape to... to... well, do stuff. Very MacGyver. He also uses a gun and has no fear about killing people if the need arises, but usually such an act would be bad for his current business. So not entirely like MacGyver then!

He doesn't know why he's been given a Burn Notice, so there's one story arc right off. Cult movie god Bruce plays an old friend, and a good one too, while another contact he makes use of is ex-girlfriend, Fiona. Fiona makes me want to claw my ears off with a rusty spoon. You see, she's Irish. Actually, no. She Oirish. And ex-IRA. Oh god! Oh god it hurts. The less time this girl gets on screen for the season the better. Thankfully, Westen doesn't trust her much, so most of the buddy stuff is with Bruce's character, Sam Axe. Yay!

The writings good, there are some nice gimmicks and they're not afraid of copying, or plagiarising from other popular series. Best of all, they're not afraid of admitting it either! About halfway in my girlfriend Claire commented that this show was very like "Like MacGyver, but with more violence" and within minutes he's praising the glory of duct tape while setting something up himself! Oh how we laughed! No really. We did. I had to go back cause we missed 30 seconds of the show from it! Oh! And Westons mom is played by one half of Cagney and Lacey! I love that show!

Acting is good, the main guy is fun to watch (and a bit of a hunk for you lady viewers!), Bruce is great, and the plots are strong. Ok. Plot. I've only seen the one episode so far.

Recommend it? Sure. Give it a go. But keep the remote in your hand. Any time Fiona shows up (she looks like this), hit mute and bring up the subtitles. As soon as she's gone, back to the audio track! A simple task to make the show completely fun to watch. Even without that, it's good. Just... oh... her voice!

Now as amber (hi amber!) pointed out in the comments of that preview post, "That guy wasn't as spy-ish as I hoped", and she's right, but now that we know that the show is going for a more gadgetty feel, I'm happy to go with it. Some day we'll get a proper full on spy show, and we'll all be happy viewers, taking detailed notes for our future career in the secret-trading business necessitated by the post-apocalyptic zombie-filled nightmare world of the future we'll all be living in. Until then, this is a blast!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Nutshell Reviews: Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer

Ok, so I've always said I wanted to write more reviews or similar stuff on this site. I say it time and again, but I rarely get a chance to sit down and follow through with my promises. This is the compromise, nutshell reviews! Due to the late hour most of these get written, there may be grammatical errors present. Also, these nutshell reviews are open to editing and alteration at a later date, possibly even extension, if I feel I forgot something.

First up, Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer.

I loved the first movie that was made for this franchise, so going in the door, I knew I was going to be pleased. I'm a sucker for big flashy super hero movies, and this one filled all those categories!

The characters as as fun as the first time, with Ben and Johnny once more stealing the show! The writers obviously spotted this in the first one too, because they gave the two of them far more screen time in the sequel, and upped the crazy antics they get up to. There are a few nice nods for fans of the comics, and even Stan Lee gets an extra special cameo for this one. The Silver Surfer is incredible, looking, moving and even sounding perfect! The reflections on his body are incredibly well done. Every action seems throughout and meaningful, and he truly comes across looking as though he has the power of a comic god inside him, and every movement he does is affected by that. That, and his voice resonates with strength and determination. And Doom! I loved Julian McMahon in the first and he's even better here! He pulls of the screaming, plotting, sneering Doom with joy, clearly relishing the part. I loved seeing things begin to work out for him during the movie. He just seemed so happy, I wanted to hug him and tell him "Keep enjoying it! Cause in the third act, they're gonna kick your ass!"

The script is strong, and the dialogue is lively and fast paced. Johnny's banter in particular is well written, and executed wonderfully by Chris Evans. The action gets going early, and once it does, the movie is well paced, with nice moments of quietness between the action scenes, lending themselves to great character development. The action is top notch, and visually spectacular. And there is loads of it, another lesson learned from the rather action-light first outing. While we're on the lessons here, they certainly get around the world in the new movie. In the first, all we had was the lab and New York. Sure, we had the space station and the mountain hospital, but nothing much happened there... well... nothing actiony! I realise they got their powers on the station! London, Russia, New York and China all turn up as places to have a good fight in the sequel. As well as that we see Japan, Egypt and more as the Surfer circles the globe a few times!

Finally, Galactus. I'm not gonna ruin it. I loved what they did, others didn't. Lots of neat references, lots of subtle hints. At least this version looked like he really could consume a planet, without the need for nanomachines!

So is it a good movie? If you liked the first one, you'll probably love this. Even if you weren't all that impressed with the first movie, this still has hope. It is faster, there is more action, and the Surfer is cool, but I can't really recommend it to you.

I loved it. It'll be in my DVD collection on release!