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Thursday, 31 August 2006
DEAL OR NO DEAL Noel Edmonds' hit game-show Deal Or No Deal returned this week (was it ever away?) It's a very odd show, one that veers wildly from very compulsive to just plain tedious. If you're not aware of DOND, let me explain the simple premise...
There are 22 identical boxes, each one containing a sum of money ranging from 1p to £250,000. A contestant is chosen and has to basically open some boxes in each round, eliminating that sum of money from play, although they can never open their box until the end. Periodically, a Banker will ring Noel Edmonds to offer the contestant a deal to stop playing and walk away, for fear their box contains the jackpot.
The key factor is that if a player is brave (or foolhardy?) enough to continue, they could be left with the £100,000 box and the £250,000 box, so the Banker's offer will be somewhere in between (probably £180,000?) Well, that's the dream scenario, anyway. More often than not, players are offered something in the region of £20,000 mid-game, they choose to go on, and end up with sub-£10,000.
It's a simple game, really, but that's its beauty. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is essentially a pub quiz with progressively larger sums of money. What DOND does to keep boredom at bay shift the emphasis onto the players. The people. It's something Noel is very good at. Noel gets a lot of criticism, particularly after Noel's House Party crashed-and-burned in the late-90s (people forget how fantastic NHP was in its heyday). So over the weeks we "get to know" all the players' personalities, share in the show's daft gimmicks (a lucky hat Noel sometimes wears, pointless hand-holding for luck, etc), the admittedly fun Banker-Noel-Player phone conversations, the legendary hotel where all the players hang out together over the weeks/months they're on the show, and everything else. The British version puts the emphasis on the people, unlike foreign versions. Most countries play the game deadly straight... and are still rating successes, but more and more of them are taking a leaf out of the UK version and making it lighter and people-orientated.
The American version is particularly notable for its HUGE sums of money ($1m jackpot), use of braindead models to hold the suitcases (boxes aren't glamorous enough?) and the usual US game-show silliness. Trust me, you'll be grateful we have Noel treating the show with his tongue-in-cheek humour.
Of course, DOND does have its flaws. No matter what they say, you can quite easily just watch the last 10 minutes and save yourself a lot of guff. In terms of the game, you don't really miss all that much, only on rare occassions when something startling happens early on. And, because it's on 6 days a week, the format does become extremely tiresome after awhile (I think it started in October 2005, and by March 2006 I know people who had become bored rigid by it).
One annoyance is that the game is essentially luck-based, yet the L-word is rarely mentioned... it's all "positive thinking", "game play", "tactics" and "systems". Hmmm. There is certaining decision-making and gambling involved, but Noel does seem to go out of his way to make it appear that the player has some kind of huge influence on things...
Anyway, Deal Or No Deal is back on Channel 4 in the afternoons, and it's still an enjoyable watch in small doses. Occasionally there's a really interesting game (usually when someone wins big, goes away with 1p, or throws the game away by getting too greedy). But, it's on its second season, and I don't think DOND has the kind of longevity Millionaire has shown.
The moment some flukey chancer wins the £250,000... just watch those ratings slide...
Fans of comic-book scribe Alan Moore will be eagerly awaiting the full release of Lost Girls, his latest opus that weaves a pornographic tale of sexual awakening... starring Peter Pan's Wendy Darling, The Wizard Of Oz's Dorothy and Alice In Wonderland's eponymous heroine.
Lost Girls is set in Austria, 1913, where the three girls (now adults) meet together and discuss their sexual lives. Their tales typically put a controversial slant on the characters' original source material (Peter Pan is a male prostitute, Wonderland's Red Queen is a sexual dominant, and Dorothy masturbates whilst caught up in a tornado).
As you can no doubt tell, it's another fascinating story from Moore, who always manages to take potentially awful premises and spin them into gold. Lost Girls is clearly doing a similar trick to League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (using classic literary characters in a fresh context), and doesn't hold back on the pornographic nature of the content.
Anyway, there's a short review up here for you to have a look at. I haven't read the book myself, but Moore has rarely disappointed me, so this will hopefully be another brave and engrossing read...
Tuesday, 29 August 2006
A famous UK movie magazine has a "25 Years Of Indy" feature in their current issue, celebrating Steven Spielberg's classic Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The front cover has Harrison Ford in his iconic regalia; four-day stubble, hat, jacket, whip... It got me thinking.
Indiana Jones 4 is slowly grinding its way into production after numerous false starts. I swear that movie must be rivalling Alien 3 for the number of drafts and script rewrites it's endured! Anyway, my point is that if Indiana Jones 4 gets off the ground, Harrison Ford will be returning to the role in his 60s!
He's an old hero. It will be interesting to see how different Indy is in the new film, but also weird to see a character you still imagine in his prime, now being so weathered by age.
Of course, aging is a constant of life. We all get old and eventually die. But movie actors have a sort of longevity because their work will outlive them. You don't think of Marlon Brando as an overweight old man, you think of him as The Godfather.
It's a blessing and a curse. Actors are constantly reminded that they're getting older, while the rest of us are blissfully unaware until the dreaded home videos and photo albums are brought up every year. Maybe this is why so many actors get plastic surgery?
Anyway... it's becoming something of a trend that aging Hollywood stars are attempting to resurrect their careers at a late age. Arnold Schwarzenegger sucked in his stomach, wore a bulky leather jacket, and was filmed from flattering angles under special lighting for Terminator 3. Sylvester Stallone is about to release the sixth Rocky film (and a fourth Rambo film is planned), but at least both plots will reference the aging of the character.
Bruce Willis has successfully aged onscreen and generally kept his action man status. Die Hard 4 is just round the corner, too. Jackie Chan is still going strong (but is rumoured to be taking it slower in recent years), but Jet Li is said to have retired from martial arts.
The strange thing is that foreign movie stars don't care so much about getting old. It's natural and expected that youthful action stars will evolve into mentors and grizzled veterans. The roles will adapt to their age, but they never lose their personalities and always command respect from the next generation.
I like to think this view will become the norm for Western audiences. Michael Douglas has recently ruled out a return to roles similar to his Jack Colton role in Romancing The Stone or Basic Instinct, but the likes of Paul Newman still exude the class and charm they always had.
So I can't wait for Indiana Jones 4. Harrison Ford may be older now... but so what? If Indy was a real person, he'd get older like the rest of us, and he'd still be chasing archaeological relics. He'd just avoid those gruelling punch-ups and perhaps not put quite as much wrist-flick into his whip...
Thursday, 24 August 2006
TOM CRUISE - OUT OF CONTROL?
So, Tom Cruise has been dropped by Paramount after his unusual activities in the public eye this year (such as leaping around on Oprah Winfrey's sofa). Hmmm. I might be in the minority here, but I think Paramount have overreacted a tad. They argue that the poor performance of Mission: Impossible 3 stemmed from the fact the public have begun to perceive Cruise in a bad light. Mmmm, well okay. I can sort of see where they're coming from...
When you hear the words "Tom Cruise" you don't think "Top Gun, Nicole Kidman, nice guy" anymore... you think "Katie Holmes, Scientology, Oprah's sofa".
But M:I-3 still did very well and made money (the DVD release will only add to this!), and it's the best of the three movies. So are Paramount justified in exiling him from their movies because it didn't do as well as they expected? If so, why hasn't Peter Jackson been banished from Universal because of King Kong so-called under-performance? Madness.
Okay, I'll admit that Cruise's behaviour has been a little bizarre this year, although (in pure terms) all he's done is marry someone he loved, convert them to his religion, and fathered a child. People do that all the time!!
Scientology is certainly a weird faith, and one I'm personally very sceptical about, and 100% certain it's a load of mumbo-jumbo. But Cruise has every right to believe whatever he wants. He hasn't harmed anyone. I don't buy the idea that he's "controlling" Katie Holmes or "brainwashing" her to such a Machiavellian degree. She's probably a bit naïve and so in love she's willing to go along with the Scientology aspect of his life.
Again, these things happen all the time in millions of peoples' lives every day. One day Katie Holmes might just up sticks and leave him to it, who knows. It's their business.
The only thing I personally can't condone is Cruse extolling Scientology's views on psychology -– with particular regard to Brooke Shields' personal life. If Cruise doesn't believe in psychology because of Scientology's teachings, fine... but he was wrong to start preaching it as some sort of "evil".
But, beyond that... the Oprah incident was cringe-making but actually quite funny and showed Cruise wasn't afraid to show his feelings. Surely it made him appear more human? We all act like idiots sometimes, particular when we're head-over-heels in love.
So why Paramount have cut him off remains a mystery to me. Maybe they know more than they're letting him on, but that's just speculation. Based on the evidence, Cruise could certainly do with getting a better publicist (interestingly, he fired his long-time PR rep about the same time he started acting "strangely" in public). Coincidence? Probably not. I think Cruise has been extremely well-handled and managed for years, but now he's been exposed.
My problem is... he's been exposed as a bit of a wacky guy with strange beliefs, who loves someone intensely. We forget that those he works with always have nothing but praise for him, and he spends (famously) hours with his fans at his movie premieres. I still think he's a nice guy. I'll never know for sure, but I'd be very surprised if it was revealed he was some sinister creep deserving of such treatment from a movie studio he's made MILLIONS of dollars for over the decades.
Wednesday, 23 August 2006
3-D TELEVISION It exists, folks. We may not have flying cars or entire meals in pill form, but we have 3-dimensional television. I'm not joking.
Okay, here comes the science bit... the most popular technique to create 3-D imagery at the moment uses software processing to pass high-definition video streams through a converter chip, that creates 8 stereo views on-the-fly. When a filter is applied to project each of the eight views in a slightly different direction on an LCD monitor, the human eye picks up the different scenes and composites them into a coherent three-dimensional view.
Voila, your brain essentially translates a 3-D image for you! Without the need for those silly 3-D specs!
Well, actually, there is some debate about how this technology is being overly-hyped. It's not quite at the level of what you'd expect 3-D television to look like, but it's very, very close. They're already selling 3-D computer monitors here and Philips have announced a 3-D TV for 2008.
So this isn’t a pipe dream. 3-D TV and movies is definitely on the way to the consumer, a movement gaining a lot of momentum in Hollywood -– mainly from the passionate James Cameron. "We're on the cusp of a stereo renaissance," said the Titanic director. "I'm doing all my films in stereo from now on, and just waiting for the display technology to catch up, both at the theater and the consumer level."
George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez are also supporters of the technology, with 7-minutes of Star Wars Episode IV already converted to 3-D as a test!
Oh yes, that's another remarkable thing about this technology... old 2-D images can be converted into 3-D! Jurassic Park, Laurence Of Arabia, Saving Private Ryan, Lord Of The Rings, Independence Day, Superman, The Matrix... imagine them in 3-D! Well, actually there is debate about how great this 3-D conversion actually is... with many people speculating that converted 2-D images won't be as great as footage specifically filmed for 3-D display using the latest cameras.
But there are exciting times ahead, that's for sure. I'm sure HDTV will eventually claw its way into peoples' homes, but 3-D pictures will be the next true revolution –- something so totally amazing and "futuristic" that it's worthy of an expensive upgrade to all your home theatre kit.
In the San Fernando Valley there is a company called Deep Light who are working on this technology to produce 3-D images that can even project different things to different people in the same room! Basically, if you had 8 people watching one of their 3-D screens (from 8 different angles; sat, crouched, standing, etc), each person can be watching something totally different! Of course, sound would be an issue... but I suppose if they each had earphones, it would be okay!
In Japan, Sony has already sold 3 million 3-D mobile phones, and has also released a laptop that can toggle between 2-D and 3-D images!
Amazingly, if you have an X-BOX 360, that console already has built-in support for 3-D video games! The Halo 2 video game has also been programmed in 3-D, too! And don't worry, Playstation 3 is also compatible with 3-D.
Plus, when 3-D becomes a standard display method for TV, cinemas and monitors, imagine how the Internet will evolve! You could broadcast 3-D images around the world, and send 3-D photos to all your friends... the level and quality of interaction would be unparalleled.
Phew. I need to sit down now. I'm sure you can grasp how amazing this will all be, but it will be very expensive for quite a few years. Those humble monitors are all in the $3,000 category, while the televisions will probably retail for £12,000. But, they'll come down in price... these things always do...
It's over. Finally. For another year. Well, six months if you include Celebrity Big Brother. Actually, I've always had a fondness for Big Brother. I thought the first series was genuinely remarkable television: the concept of strangers cooped up together under 24-hr TV surveillance was something often proposed in the media (in fiction, The Truman Show took it to an extreme a few years earlier.)
It was always assumed by British TV bosses that such a TV show would be fundamentally boring, however. Just watching people live together sounded like a recipe for the worst television viewing ever. But BB proved it could work. Of course, BB's premise itself meant the drama could be continually nudged along with tasks, etc, but the real highlight of BB1 came from "Nasty" Nick Bateman. I still consider him one of the greatest BB housemates -– a true "villain" caught cheating and exposed to the nation on live TV (well, webcam in those early days). Fantastic stuff.
BB2 was just as successful, helped no end by the fervour for the show's return. I think they cast the show much better in the second year, and the whole "BB overlord" aspect became more fun and interesting.
BB3 was a bit mixed bag looking back, but still a lot of fun thanks to the twists introduced (remember Rich House/Poor House?) Of course, BB3 is most notable for introducing the world to Jade Goody. Love her or hate her, she's perhaps the quintessential BB housemate and easily the most successful since leaving the house. I think this was also the series where BB became more skewed in favour of pure entertainment and the likes of BB spin-off show Big Brother's Little Brother capitalized on that fact.
Now, BB4... oh dear. What a shambles. Incredibly poor casting meant a house full of nice but boring people, typified by Scottish winner Cameron Stout. There were a few highlights (the BB crossover with Africa, Jon Tickle's witticisms), but that was about it.
Endemol must have gotten scared by the BB4 trashing, so BB5 seemed to have more outrageous characters. As with most BB's, the "outrageous" people soon calmed down quite a bit, and BB5 was quite enjoyable for Victor's faux tough guy act, and Michelle Bass' bunny-boiler routine. BB6 was a bit weird, wasn't it? The Secret Housemates idea was interesting, but nothing much really stood out beyond Kinga's antics with a wine bottle! Gross. There were lots of absolutely bizarre people in the house, but their combined antics just deadened the "reality" for me.
And so to BB7. Pete won ("W*NKER") which is a result I was really against. He just annoyed the hell out of me for weeks on end, and now get £100,000. Humph. I don't want to come across as unsympathetic to those with Tourettes Syndrome, but it just irked me that whenever he was clearly on camera his "wild and crazy" routine would escalate. They say it was because of nerves, but it just came across as false to me.
Beyond Pete, BB7 was almost a car wreck on several occasions. We had multiple walk-outs very early on, meaning more housemates were brought in quite early in the run. Then a housemate was "evicted" to a House-Next-Door, where she met new housemates who would eventually enter into the main house (well, all but one...) Then a Golden Ticket winner moved into the house! Then a housemate, who was evicted weeks earlier, was voted back into the house!
It was all very, very contrived stuff. The producers were clearly scrambling to keep things interesting when faced with the diminishing housemates and long stretches of boredom (13 weeks is too long for BB!) Plus, the classic BB problem of the public voting out the INTERESTING housemates, and leaving us with the dregs raised its ugly head again (although, to be fair, this year's finalists -– all SIX of them – were a better mix than expected).
Anyway, we all know Celebrity Big Brother has been better than normal BB for a few years now anyway, so roll on January!
Now, onto X-Factor!
Monday, 21 August 2006
INTERNET OF INTEREST #7 Phew! It's been an exhausting week for me, and things probably won't get back to normal for a few weeks yet, but in the meantime I thought you'd like some more suggestions of where to web-surf to next...
The Decline Of The Blockbuster: Studios are apparently moving away from the big-budget blockbuster after recent movie goliaths failed to exceed expectations... so what's going on?
The End Of Cinemas? Another downbeat article presenting us with the view that one day the communal cinema experience will be gone, as downloads take hold...
Top 10 Snake Movies: To celebrate the release of Snakes On A Plane, IGN list the best of serpent cinema...
Movie Trailer Artistry: The humble movie trailer has never been so popular, thanks to the internet. Now movie fans can download trailers for upcoming movies on the day of their release, and the trailers themselves are becoming ever more sophisticated and appreciated. This is a nice little article about what goes into making them.
Don’t you just hate disappointment? It's not a great emotion in any situation, including movies. There's something frustrating about sequels that squander an original's potential (well, in your opinion, anyway -– there will always be people who defend the likes of Batman Forever).
But I've already discussed bad sequels in a previous post, so we'll ignore the widespread disappointment surrounding Alien 3, The Ring 2, Matrix Reloaded, and their brethren. We all know that sequels are half-expected to be disappointing (on some level). No, I'm more interested today in disappointing original movies; films that were hyped for months and ultimately arrived as damp squibs. First on my list is...
Godzilla(1998). This is included mainly because it had a perfect publicity campaign. The trailers and general atmosphere surrounding the release was brilliant. "From the creators of Independence Day"... "Size Does Matter", etc. But when the movie arrived we just got some obscured graphics (occasionally awesome, often video-gamey), and a frankly woeful script populated by weak generic characters. I had no problems with Zilla's redesign, like many fans of the Japanese original did, but the movie just didn't lived up to the hype.
Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow (2004). This oddity also fits into the disappointing category very well. It should have been a sumptuous old-fashioned Flash Gordon-alike, but just became a tedious curiosity piece. The 100% green-screen effect distanced me, although Sin City later proved it could be used well. There is some imagination and cool designs to be found here, but it's all a bit of a laughable mess.
Van Helsing (2004). Again, I remember the excellent trailers had me pumped for this. What could go wrong? X-Men's Hugh Jackman. Frankenstein's Monster. The Wolf Man. Dracula. They even threw in Mr Hyde as a cameo! But it was a multi-million dollar monster movie from the director of The Mummy that proved the "less is more" mantra is always correct. It was all just too, too much. An overstuffed, noisy, brainless exercise in boredom.
Kingdom Of Heaven (2005); the director of Gladiator returns to the genre he resurrected, miscasts the lead, tip-toes around the controversy of the Crusades and make a beautiful but empty epic that outstays it welcome after an hour. Oh, and don't cast Orlando Bloom as an Alpha Male until atleast 2015.
Fantastic Four (2005). This should have been a refreshing, fun, superhero sci-fi comedy action spectacle. Instead it was a group of disparate actors thrown into an undernourished script without the budget to do the premise proud. The major disappointment was the mistreatment of lead villain Dr Doom (no longer a genius dictator, now a smarmy billionaire playboy). Michael Chiklis (Thing) and Chris Evans (Johnny) provided the only respite from total disappointment, but when you consider how epic and entertaining this movie should have been... it makes you cry. Spider-Man has Evil Dead's Sam Raimi. Hulk had Ang Lee. Batman gets Christopher Nolan. Superman gets Bryan Singer. Fantastic Four gets... Barber Shop's Tim Story. Bleurghhh. Oh, the injustice.
Scary Movie (2000); I've been a fan of spoofs forever (Airplane! is still my fave comedy), so the prospect of a new spoof tackling the horror genre had me excited. Coming after Leslie Nielsen's increasingly desperate attempts to find a hit post-Naked Gun, I was hopeful this new film would take the genre into the 00s on a high. I was wrong. Big time. Very unfunny. I think it all fell apart for me when a severed head continued talking after being decapitated (too surreal, too obvious). People forget that spoofs work best when they take their reality seriously. They don't just parody current movie hits incessantly – something the sequels haven’t learned.
Planet Of The Apes (2001); who would have thought Tim Burton would create such a weak remake. Kudos to the make-up department (their Oscar snub remains, for me, the greatest Academy injustice of recent times), and I actually found the "twist" ending quite fun. But, God, why cast Mark Wahlberg in the Charlton Heston role? I hold him responsible. He's totally miscast and monosyllabic. The story sadly meandered, although the new premise was sound enough. A fun failure, but still disappointing coming from Burton.
Underworld(2003). Vampires versus werewolves shouldn't have been so... underwhelming. This is a prime example of a movie armed only with a video-game's storyline and Kate Beckinsale in a PVC cat-suit. This sort of film can be great fun if you're in the mood, but Underworld disappointed by failing to let its premise take flight.
The Princess Bride (1987). Okay, I chuckle at the occasional gag in this ("ROUS", "inconceivable", "You killed my father... prepare to die!", etc) but I still think Princess Bride is a poor fantasy comedy on most levels. It feels cheap to me, and isn't nearly as hilarious as people claim. There's the seed of a great idea buried in here somewhere, but I always find the movie incredibly boring for long stretches (the opening bedtime story scene, moving into the "Buttercup" story always sends me to straight to sleep). Sorry.
Hulk(2003). Again, publicity and trailers built plenty of hype and interest for this, but the film took itself too seriously. It sounds strange, but Hulk just tried too hard to be taken seriously. I appreciated what Ang Lee tried to do, and some of the effects were wonderful, but it just wasn't the movie we'd been primed for all those months beforehand. And, therefore, it disappointed.
I'm sure there are hundreds of other disappointing movies, but these are the one that leaped to mind for me. Most are quite recent films, but I'm sure there are lots of supposed "classics" that didn't strike a chord when you saw them. Feel free to tell me yours below!
News arrived today that Morgan Creek are hoping to get a third Ace Ventura movie off the ground, without Jim Carrey in the lead. The film's premise has Ace's son continuing the family pet detective agency. Feel free to scream. We've already suffered a Carrey-less sequel (Son Of The Mask, hideous) and even a prequel (Dumb & Dumberer, unfunny), with bothing proving to be box office duds... so why anyone thinks audiences want to see Jim Carrey sequels without Jim Carrey in them is beyond me...
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) was Carrey's breakout role, and perhaps his most iconic performance. Up until then Carrey had been a supporting actor in dozens of 80s movies and had found cult success on US sketch show In Living Color. Ace catapulted him to superstardom. I remember watching the trailer to Ace Ventura and immediately sensing the birth of a new comedy legend... such a unique and brave performance. The movie itself is sloppy and has that low-budget feel, but it doesn't matter whenever Carrey's onscreen. He's a magnetic and electric performer, and quite clearly having so much fun it's infectious.
1994 proved to be a Golden Year for Carrey. Hot on the heels of Ace Ventura he starred in The Mask, a superhero comedy that is perhaps my favourite Carrey movie. Here he got to show a more measured performance as bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss, before exploding into a slicker Ace-like character thanks to a magical mask (complete with then-groundbreaking visual effects.) It's a brilliant film, most memorable for Carrey's performance and the effects, although the excellent cartoon/superhero/gangster feel deserves plaudits. Oh, and Cameron Diaz has never been sexier.
Again in 1994, Carrey completed his triple-whammy with Dumb & Dumber, the Farrelly Brothers' movie debut and the film that spearheaded the 90s resurgence of gross-out comedy. Carrey was more restrained physically and also proved he could share the limelight with a comedy partner (Jeff Daniels) and wasn't the screen-hog Ace Ventura and The Mask might suggest.
In a year Carrey had become the most successful comedian on the planet, a triumphant success that brought him a high-profile role in the next Batman movie. In Batman Forever (1995) he played criminal mastermind The Riddler, a role that fit snugly, although he was effectively just playing Ace Ventura in a green leotard.
It was around this time that I began to suspect Carrey to be a one-trick pony, and the release of Ace Ventura When Nature Calls (1995) seemed to prove this. I remember hating this movie, particularly as it signalled the end of Carrey's golden run of movies. He no longer had the Midas Touch. The bigger budget of Ace 2 just meant a lazy rehash of catchphrases strung around a turgid plot. There are a few sequences that raise a smile (spear hit, the rhino "birth") but it's mostly a terrible waste.
The Cable Guy (1996) showed us the darker side of Carrey's comedy, with him playing a lisping cable repairman who forms an unhealthy friendship with Matthew Broderick. Directed by Ben Stiller, the film was a massive flop on release, but it's a significant film in Carrey's career. It probably taught him humility, and in subsequent years it has grown in stature to become a cult favourite.
In 1997 Carrey attempted to get back on track by re-teaming with his Ace Ventura director Tom Shadyac for Liar, Liar; a high-concept comedy about a lawyer who finds himself magically compelled to always tell the truth. I enjoyed this movie a great deal, although the premise took centre stage over Carrey's antics in my opinion. It's obvious the script was reworked to shoehorn in some characteristic Carrey pratfalls, but it just about survives this retooling.
But it was with The Truman Show in 1998 that Carrey finally proved he was capable of more than just mugging to camera and falling over. This is an utterly brilliant film and one that prophesized the millennial birth of reality TV shows like Big Brother. Superb in almost every way, it's the best film Carrey's ever been in. End of story.
For me, Carrey seemed to get lost for the next few years. With new credibility, his next serious film Simon Birch went completely unnoticed, and Man On The Moon (1999) was similarly unsuccessful. I've never seen Man On The Moon for two reasons; one, a bio-pic of a comedian I didn't t know didn't sound appealing; and two, I actually know someone who went to see this and walked out half-way through! I'm sure Carrey did a great job of impersonating Andy Kaufmann, but this didn't grab me in any way...
Perhaps sensing fan disappointment (starved of "classic Carrey" since 1995), he re-teamed with the Farrelly Brothers for Me, Myself & Irene (2000). But what should have been a hilarious bad taste comedy ended up being fitfully amusing but ultimately laborious. Again, there are some good moments, but I found the film far too OTT for my taste and Carrey's "Hank" alter-ego was actually quite weak.
The same year, Carrey donned full body make-up to play The Grinch in How The Grinch Stole Christmas. For non-US audiences, the appeal of this Dr Seuss story isn't quite so recognised, so I remember this movie being ignored somewhat. Carrey certainly gave a good performance, but his first pure kids film didn't make much of an impression on me.
It was quite a hectic time for Carrey, as the underwhelming run reached its nadir with The Majestic–- a Kafka-esque drama that is probably Carrey's biggest failure (just not as famously unsuccessful as Cable Guy). Fortunately, Carrey made an unofficial "comeback" with Bruce Almighty (2003), another high-concept comedy about a reporter who is given God's powers. As with Liar, Liar, the fantastic premise was the real star, and Carrey's more wilder antics were kept in check most of the time, but this is essentially a good, fun movie.
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) possibly contains Carrey's best serious performance, although Truman fans might contest this. Whatever your view, Carrey is still very good as a spurned lover who discovers his girlfriend is having him erased from her memory. It was another high-concept film, but Carrey was well-suited to the role.
As if it find balance, Carrey also filmed Lemony Snicket's A Series OfUnfortunate Events the same year. It was another children's comedy (with a smattering of darkness for adults) like The Grinch, which probably alienated fans of Ace and Dumb & Dumber, but it was still nice to see Carrey back on form (even if only a few moments hit the spot for me.)
His latest film, 2005's Fun With Dick & Jane, I have yet to see, so I can't comment. But the premise of married couple becoming criminals didn’t interest me, and the reviews were poor to middling.
Carrey's next projects are; The Number 23, about a man who finds a book that seems to recount his own life; and Used Guys, a comedy set in a future world ruled by women, where two "pleasure clones" (Carrey and Ben Stiller) escape to try and find the mythical Mantopia.
Both new projects sound good, but it's clear the outrageous physical comedy and face-pulling comedythat typified Jim Carrey in the 90s now seem to be gone. It's a shame, because I think Carrey's at his funniest when he's in "the zone" and able to sink his teeth into a larger-than-life role that demands an energetic performance. He's clearly a talented serious actor, and undoubtedly wants to give more complex performances (even in comedy) but... I hope age isn't the factor here and the 44-year-old feels compelled to grab a movie by the scruff of its neck like his did way back in 1994 with his pet detective...
And, oh yeah, don't make Ace Ventura 3 without Jim Carrey you silly, silly, silly people...
Monday, 14 August 2006
I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU, MR BOND...
Firstly, apologies for the scarceness of posts recently, but it's not always possible to post something every day as I'm sure you understand. Anyway, I'm back today to share a wonderful interview with Daniel Craig about the upcoming James Bond adventure Casino Royale.
I've always loved Bond, as I'm sure most of the population do. The movies are both a gift and a curse to the filmmaker's, though. Bond has a pedigree and classic status that no other espionage movie can touch. Bond dominates the genre. Unfortunately, this also means the franchise risks becoming stale (you could argue it regularly does, until it's "rested" and rebranded for a new generation).
The last major shake-up was for Pierce Brosnan's debut in 1995 with Goldeneye. Timothy Dalton's brooding incarnation wasn't a hit with audiences, so Brosnan was brought in to reinvigorate the franchise for a post-Cold War audience. It worked brilliantly, under the direction of Martin Campbell, and Brosnan became many peoples favourite Bond actor. His subsequent movies were enjoyable fluff, but rarely captured the feeling of Connery or Moore's heydays. A great Bond in mediocre movies.
Now, just over 10 years later, Campbell is back to relaunch Bond again... this time with Daniel Craig in the 007 role. Craig's casting has been controversial amongst fans (just tale a look at Craignotbond.com), but this dislike has been primarily driven because he has a harsher look and doesn't fit the classic Bond mould. Craig's actual performances in Road To Perdition, Layer Cake, Sylvia and Munich should be proof enough that he's capable of combining the required suaveness with a savage edge. Personally, I think Craig will prove to be a real saviour for Bond. The recent trailer looked excellent, and any fan should be salivating at seeing one of author Ian Fleming's original novels brought to life for the hero's 21st outing.
Craig certainly has a lot to prove, but I think he's the man for the job. This recent interview with Esquire magazine certainly proves illuminating...
Wednesday, 9 August 2006
To HD, or not to HD, that is the question...
For what it's worth, I thought I'd share my thoughts on the HD "revolution" currently taking around the world. Firstly, let's consider the world of TV in the UK...
HD (High-Definition) pictures are now available to Sky subscribers with Sky HD, and high-def channels are planned from the BBC. I don't have Sky (I'm with NTL cable) so I'm very unlikely to buy one of their mega-expensive Sky+ boxes and pay their ridiculous subscription costs. Anyway, what Sky don't advertise clearly enough is that you need a HD-Ready TV to display the crisper HD images, and I have no intention of buying a HD TV. My 32" Toshiba widescreen has served me well for the past 5 years, and the picture quality from NTL is far superior to normal Sky Digital, in my opinion...
So, when my trusty Toshiba TV packs up I'll certainly look at "future-proofing" by getting a HD-Ready set, and by that time a decent 42" HD screen should be down to the £1000 mark. Hopefully. I'm certainly impressed by HD pictures –- you can catch me staring at the HD display in my local Sony Centre most weeks -– but not enough to make me rush out and invest in all the gear.
Of course, the HD revolution won't be led by TV channels transmitting in HD anyway. It will take quite a few years for HD TV to be commonplace (we're still struggling to get the nation 100% behind normal digital TV!) No, the format will undoubtedly be spearheaded by HD discs.
There are two competing formats for HD discs: HD-DVD and Sony's Blu-Ray DVD. Long time readers of DMDB will remember my handy comparison guide here. HD discs are yet to hit the UK marketplace, but when they do... I don’t think I'll be making the switch. Not yet, anyway.
Again, this is mainly because I don't have a HD TV, so a player of any format just won't output its HD picture. But, hypothetically, if I had a HD TV set I would certainly hold off buying a HD-player until the "format war" is won. I still back HD-DVD personally, but we'll see.
If a dual-player is released that plays both formats (for a reasonable price; sub-£300), I'd certainly get one if it could play multi-region discs. I won't be getting a Playstation 3 (Blu-Ray enabled), or X-BOX 360 (with its HD-DVD player add-on), mainly because they won't be multi-region, but also because I don't really play many video games these days...
So that's where I stand: very impressed by the technology, but not financially able to justify the expenditure -– an estimated £1500 for a TV, then £400 for a player. That's nearly £2000 just to see crisper images on a TV! I paid £1500 for a widescreen TV and DVD player back in 2000, but that was justified because of the quantum leap in quality from analogue 4:3 TV and VHS tapes.
I'm just not willing to pay those prices again a mere 6 years later for a technology only moderately superior. Sorry...
Tuesday, 8 August 2006
INTERNET OF INTEREST #6 Some more amusing and interesting stories from the world of entertainment:
Lost Season 3: the mysterious island returns to US screens on October 4, with production now started on the show's third season. Without spoiling the plot for Channel 4 viewers, I personally really enjoyed season 2. It wobbled slightly after the brilliant start (the "tailies" were never as interesting as they should have been), but once Henry Gale turns up the season was pure bliss. Roll on season 3!
Brando's House Demolished: screen legend Marlon Brando's house is being demolished by another cinema icon – Jack Nicholson. Read more here. The End Of Old Media: there's no denying that the internet is becoming increasingly innovative and exciting. With the advent of YouTube and suchlike, the net is now eating up a lot of peoples' leisure time, but will it eventually replace TV, radio and print entirely...? Star Wars Lost Scenes: three scenes deleted from the original Star Wars, and unavailable on DVD, for your viewing pleasure... 50 Greatest Movie Endings: A great selection of brilliant closing moments from films.
Transformers was a quintessential 80s experience for many people, but it was a fad that passed me by to be honest. I remember the toys and the cartoon series, but I never got particularly excited by them. I think it had something to do with the "transforming" being quite difficult to achieve with any degree of speed and efficiency. I was all fingers and thumbs, so a robot transforming into a helicopter just resulted in snapped roto-blades and ill-fitting segments.
The cartoon series was preferable to me, but the most memorable thing was the groovy music and cool voices. I don't remember being interested in the individual characters or the plots. That said, next year's movie adaptation by Michael Bay (Armageddon) should be very cool indeed. A live-action Transformersfilm by the King Of Explosions himself will undoubtedly be a summer 2007 highlight, no matter how infantile the plot or poor the acting. The fact is... giant transforming robots fighting each other will look awesome on the big-screen. If Bay can actually ensure a decent story and credible performances amidst all the mayhem, Transformers should be a blast...
The first footage from the movie has been released here; including our first look at some Transformer animatics (at the very end, look closely...)
Thursday, 3 August 2006
SAXONDALE - Episode 7 - TV REVIEW Series 1. 31 Jul 06. BBC 2, 10:00 pm WRITERS: Steve Coogan & Neil Maclennon DIRECTOR: Matt Lipsey CAST: Steve Coogan (Tommy Saxondale), Ruth Jones (Magz), Rasmus Hardiker (Raymond), Morwenna Banks (Vicky), Liza Tarbuck (Jenny), James Bachman (Therapist), David Cann (Male Dinner Guest) & Janette Legge (Female Dinner Guest)
Saxondale leaves our screens on a middling note, typified by the stark "unbalancing act" of its comedy/drama. This episode is possibly the unfunniest of the series, but it's also the most human and strangely beguiling...
Tommy's life is given stark focus after an embarrassing drunken dinner date with Magz and another couple. His behaviour upsets Magz enough to visit her parents and consider their future together. Her departure leaves Tommy noticing omens about his future without her. A simple pest control job to clean the home of a dead man (who was also a fan of old-school rock, yet unable to summon the will to peel potatoes anymore) reminds Tommy of his own likely descent into loneliness without Magz.
However, romance with a supposed soul mate (Liza Tarbuck, in grungy chick mode) lures Tommy into considering a brighter future with a lover more on his level. But, knowing he's in his autumnal years, which destiny awaits him?
As you can tell, the finale of series 1 is quite a revealing and intriguing piece of gentle comedy. The emphasis is on the characters, the plot is thankfully more fulfilling than usual, but this all comes at the expense of huge laughs. Ring any bells?
Saxondale has proven itself to be a mixed bag in its debut series. I think Coogan remains one of Britain's best comedy actors (the closest thing we have to a new Peter Sellers), and his writing alongside Neil Maclennon is always intricate and witty. The problem facing Saxondale is that it has a fun premise and enjoyable characters, but doesn't go for the comedy jugular often enough, and fatally has its lead overshadow everyone else -– a trick that works with comedy monsters like Alan Partridge, but not with more measured characters like Tommy.
Rasmus Hardiker and Ruth Jones are still begging for comedy meat like starving dogs, with Coogan just tossing them the odd bone to chew on. It's a shame, as Hardiker and Jones both to admirable work with such sparse material and underwritten roles; essentially elevating their archetypes into believable people.
Interestingly, Morwenna Banks is the only character who regularly steals the limelight from Coogan. Her spiteful secretary is undoubtedly designed to be a periodic shot in the arm for the show, always appearing to fling insults and abuse at Tommy through a doe-eyed cod-sympathy act. She's a great creation, but it's a shame she isn't indicative of how the rest of the cast are treated.
Episode 7 does have a proper plot; a component usually missing from Saxondale. The stories have never been particularly interesting in the show, more often designed as functional reasons for Tommy to get into particular situations, or shed a glimmer of light on his character. I certainly hope the same care and attention shown to the characterisations is given to plotting next time.
Yes, next time. I wholeheartedly believe Saxondale is worthy of another series. There hasn't really been a total stinker in these 7 episodes, just vague disappointment in the overall show. With tighter plots, more generous writing for the cast, and more jokes aimed squarely at the funny bone, and Saxondale could evolve into the show is deserves to be.
I certainly await the Mustang's return...
Wednesday, 2 August 2006
"DOOM" UNRATED SPECIAL EDITION (2005) – DVD REVIEW REGION 2. PICTURE: 2.34:1 (WIDESCREEN) AUDIO: DD 5.1 DIRECTOR: Andrzej Bartkowiak WRITERS: Dave Callaham & Wesley Strick CAST: The Rock (Sarge), Karl Urban (Reaper), Rosamund Pike (Dr Grimm), Ben Daniels (Goat), Raz Adoti (Duke), Deobia Oparei (Destroyer), more...
If imitation is indeed a form of flattery, then James Cameron must be in a permanent blush. In 1986, Aliensset the benchmark for sci-fi horrors involving testosterone-fuelled grunts hunting down alien creatures in confined spaces with high-tech weaponry. Cameron practically made this set-up its own sub-genre!
7 years later in 1993, Doom became a video game phenomenon; a First Person Shooter that paved the way for dozens of imitators, like Quake and Unreal Tournament. A movie adaptation had been mooted since Mortal Kombat (1995).
Now, 12 years after Doom spearheaded a gaming revolution, the movie belated appears starring professional macho men The Rock (Walking Tall) and Karl Urban (Lord Of The Rings). The plot is disappointingly similar to the countless Aliens rip-offs and modern zombie movies, with a research station on Mars becoming infested with marauding creatures, and a ragtag group of Marines, led by The Rock's "Sarge", being tasked to eliminate the threat.
If you're adapting a video game into a movie, you already have inherent problems to overcome; the fact remains that watching a faithful game writ large is nowhere near as fun as playing said game. Games are only adapted because studios know there's an inbuilt audience for the product, and most game's premises are increasingly cinematic (i.e. they steal ideas from the movies). As such there's a vicious circle going on, as even a faithful Doom movie would merely be a pale imitation of Aliens...
However, Doom isn't even particularly faithful to its source anyway. Another gripe with adaptations is that the writers obviously want to put their own spin on the concept. Nobody really wants to see an exact duplicate of the game on the big-screen (except diehard purists) because you may as well just play the game. That said; Doom does excise story elements that were integral to the game's success –- primarily the origin of the creatures has been changed from Hell to a laboratory. They're not demons; they're genetic aberrations from an experiment that went wrong. Sigh...
I suppose they thought a Hell-based plot wasn't plausible enough (snigger), but by shifting the emphasis onto genetics, Doom disappoints the hardcore gamers, loses its one faintly original pulp sci-fi component, and becomes not only a pale imitation of the classic Aliens, but also the poor cousin of Resident Evil!
The Rock is undoubtedly a charismatic man who should be this generation's Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he just can't seem to find the iconic role to catapult him to stardom. Doom marks a low-point even for him, as Sarge is a paper thin creation that could have been dumb fun, but winds up being exasperating and clichéd. He needs his own Terminator, fast.
Karl Urban grunted through Lord Of The Rings in a forgettable beefcake role, but proved to be quite a cool villain in The Bourne Supremacy, so it's frustrating that his character in Doom is underwritten and implausible. As John "Reaper" Grimm (all the cast have silly names) he's actually the only character with anything approaching a back-story and personality, but that's faint praise...
Rosamund Pike is, quite simply, atrocious in this. Pike is hardly an acclaimed actress anyway, famous mainly for a supporting role in Bond adventure Die Another Day, but you can usually rely on British actors to elevate material like this. But Pike is totally miscast as Dr Grimm, spending half the movie looking perplexed and locked into the same vacant expression. She quite clearly can't take any of this seriously, so why should we?
The supporting cast are your typical amalgam of weirdo's (Ben Daniels' self-mutilating Goat), one-note grunts (Raz Adoti's Duke), the teen newcomer (Al Weaver's The Kid), etc. All of them are just meat for the killing, with only Dexter Fletcher's wheelchair-bound Pinky proving to be a memorable presence.
Of course, with a movie like Doom you don’t expect much in the way of plot dynamics and character relationships. At its core level, Doom should provide kinetic action, gore and quips aplenty. Unfortunately, it barely succeeds on even those moderate terms. The special effects are shrouded in darkness (to hide their shoddiness you soon realize -– no idea what they spent the $70 million on!) and the editing during the attacks is so bad you can't really grasp what's happening, or to whom most of the time!
The production design successfully apes Doom 3, even throwing in a few direct links for fans (most notably the presence of the BFG -- a phallic gun filmed as the ultimate penis as The Rock strolls around it). It's a well-judged moment of silly gun eroticism that quickly evaporates when said gun is only fired a few times in the entire film, and never kills anything!
Even stupid teens with little time for plot and characterisation will likely be disappointed. The game's premise is bastardized, the variety of creatures sorely limited, and the weaponry nowhere near as eclectic as the games, resulting in a formulaic mess of a film with faint traces of the game sprinkled here and there.
There is one sequence toward the end of the movie when the action shifts to the real-time POV of a lead character, effectively transforming the movie into a photo-realistic version of the game. It's here that the film's budget seems to have been spent; the monsters are better realized, the iconic chainsaw appears, as does the Pinky "demon", and there's a sense of vibrancy and dark humour that was missing everywhere else. It's an oasis in a desert of a bad movie, and even then it just made me want to play the game and turn this soulless enterprise off.
To summarise, Doom fails because it's a decade too late, doesn't adhere to the game's mythology to please the core audience of fans, and lacks the requisite scares and laughs that general audiences demand from such trashy films. The truth is, while Doom the game was cutting edge in 1993, the 2005 movie arrives amidst a slew of doppelgangers with their own ominous prologues, macho soldiers, secret labs and zombies. It's all been done to death already...
I'm not a snob about movies; even "bad" movies can entertain on their own terms as cinematic junk-food, but Doom just fails to recapture even a fraction of what made the games such a hit... and for that it can't be forgiven...
Doom is released as an Unrated Edition DVD, which means 13 extra minutes of "goodness" sprinkled here and there. The disc comes in a keep case with one of those pointless cardboard slip-cases. A pet peeve of mine.
The menu screens are that familiar use of futuristic displays, seen countless times on similar DVDs, although the opening shot of Mars is quite cool.
PICTURE: The 2.34:1 anamorphic picture isn't particularly good. The movie is totally filmed in darkness or dull metallic rooms, and the blacks are blurry, with the image lacking punch. Detail levels are okay, and there are no artefacts, but there are noticeable smears and ghosting sometimes.
SOUND: The best aspect of the movie is definitely its sound mix. The DD5.1 audio puts the emphasis on the rear speakers and sub-woofer, with sound almost constantly pumping out from the rears. A nice level of bass is omnipresent and proves quite effective.
The disc's menu screens are your typical futuristic menus seen countless of times in hundreds of similar titles. A little disappointing, but the load times are good. To make up for it, there are some pretty decent featurettes on this release, most of them more entertaining than the actual movie...
Basic Training Featurette: a look at how the cast were put through their paces with military training by a Special Forces veteran. Very entertaining, particularly when the effects of a blank round on a styrofoam head is revealed...
Rock Formation: an mediocre look at the make-up required to transform The Rock into a half-demonic creature. Occassionally interesting, but hardly earth-shattering.
Master Monster Makers: this featurette overstays its welcome, but it's quite an enjoyable look at how the movie's creatures were designed and performed. It's worth noting how little CGI was used, but it's a shame the film's cinematography was so poor that half the work was obscured by darkness...
First Person Shooter Sequence: by far the film's best moment, it's enlightening to see that this 5-minute sequence was actually directed by a Second Unit and took weeks to complete. It's certainly good work, and the sequence is included for viewing.
Doom Nation: a 15-min featurette about the Doom video games themselves, packed with interviews and clips of the iconic Doom, its sequel Doom II and the quantum leap that was Doom 3. Interesting to see the parallels between game and film, but this is a little tiresome...
Game On: only diehard gamers will enjoy this -- a series of tips and tricks for playing Doom 3.
Rounding out the disc are trailers for Serenity and Jarhead. But not Doom itself! Anyway, overerall this isn't a terrible release, with the image quality not impressing me. On the plus side, the sound mix was good and some of the extra features are quite diverting.
Tuesday, 1 August 2006
MIND THE GAP...
The movie generation gap is widening for me. I'm 27. I was born in 1979. For me, every movie made in the 80's isn't "old-fashioned", just not at technically proficient. But it's worrying how many people I know (born in the mid-80s to early-90s) have such a strange perception of movies from the 70s and 80s... A great example presented itself only yesterday. A friend born in 1987 was telling me how much he'd enjoyed Superman Returns, but when I mentioned it's a sort of sequel to Superman II he seemed a little confused. I reminded him of the seminal Richard Donner film from 1978 with Christopher Reeve, and its fondly remembered sequel... but he had only a vague inkling that these movies existed! What?! My Superman DVD was quickly fired up and he was treated to the whooshing 3D credits and opening Krypton prologue with Marlon Brando... and a quizzical look filled his face. He just wasn't sure he could really watch a Superman movie with "cruddy effects".
I know, I know... anyone who gauges their enjoyment of a movie based on its technical merits has their priorities wrong. I turned the DVD off and suggested he watch it some other time, but made sure to whet his appetite by hyping up the brilliant story and acting (the superb Reeve is timeless). I'm sure he'll enjoy them, he's not a phillistine, and perhaps then he'll also see Superman Returns in a new light. I hope so.
But isn't it strange that someone not exposed to very much 80s films has a psychological distance to that film era? Mind you, if I'm honest, it's the same for me too. Films made before 1980 have to be either classics (2001: A Space Odyssey) or recommendations for me to watch them (The French Connection) –- I don't consciously just decide to watch an average film from the 50s and 60s, yet there are plenty of "average" 80s films that hold special places in my heart.
The generation gap is becoming apparent to me as a I approach my 30th birthday. I'm feeling a little old now... how can youngsters not have seen Superman? Are we going to soon be living in a world of teenagers who daren't watch Ghostbusters because of the "fake" ghost effects, or Back To The Future because they don't zip around in time enough, or get chased by prehistoric animals? Hmmm.
To end on a positive note, a 7-year-old I know is completely hooked on Star Wars, including the orginal 70s/80s instalments. It's undoubtedly because his dad is similarly fanatical about them, so perhaps the answer is that all parents must do their duty and ensure their kids are immersed in the modern classics before its too late and they start claiming Independence Day kicks the ass out of Close Encounters...