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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [DVD] [2014]
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Andrew Garfield
Price: £6.99

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing Spider-Ham 2, 24 April 2014
*Mild Spoilers Ahead*

The Amazing Spider-Man was a movie that had a difficult birth, with rumours circulating of last minute re-editing, lopped plotlines, and general studio interference. Despite this, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Sally Fields and co made the movie work (despite its flaws) by inhabiting their characters and really selling it. Garfield and Stone in particular sizzled on screen, and both could have easily been drawn by the pen of John Romita Sr himself.

But they can't save the sequel. New writers Orci and Kurtzman seem to be working from the Joel Schumacher/Batman Forever school of superhero sequels, with Electro's character arc being particularly similar to the story of the Riddler in Batman Forever (crossed with Arnie's Mr Freeze and a dash of Dr Manhattan thrown in for good measure). As well as the CGI over-the-top Rhino cameo, we have the Green Goblin (looking like a combination of Raimi's Goblin and a character from a 1980s fantasy flick) and Electro fighting for screen time; we have a completely unnecessary spy arc dealing with Peter's parents; we have a ghost that keeps popping up to glare at Parker; we have a relationship that needs room to breathe before Gwen gets to her 'refrigerator'.

The 'Gwen arc' is a delicate and difficult story to translate to screen. The subtle balancing act required to make the events that occur more than just a plot device is sorely lacking from a movie written by the scribes of the Transformers movies. Indeed, Attack of the Clones-esque dialogue is chewed over by the actors in between quick-fire improvisational sections that are reminiscent of Downey Jr in Iron Man 2, and for me, it fell flat, with Stacy's eye-rolling graduation speech signposting her future, Peter's stalking of his ex coming across as really creepy, and a 'will they wont they' fake out that ends with Stacy falling three times before the inevitable resolution. And I didn't realise that spider-webs had mcroscopic hands that opened longingly at the end of them...

And yet, some of the scenes with Peter in the suit are very good, and are perhaps the most faithful translation yet of Spider-Man's wise cracking ways. The opening scene involving a heist and Paul Giamatti were fantastic (as was Peter falling asleep stuck to the roof of his garage after a series of slapstick antics with his webs). But overall, for me, there were too many villains, nonsensical plotting, terrible dialogue, and a girlfriend now resolutely in the fridge, to make me want to see anymore. This may have passed muster as an acceptable superhero effort a decade ago, but with Captain America 2 and The Avengers raising the bar so significantly and showing that these films don't have to be so clunky, this was disappointing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2014 9:02 PM BST


Scooby-Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon (DVD + UV Copy) [2013]
Scooby-Doo: Mask of the Blue Falcon (DVD + UV Copy) [2013]
Dvd ~ Michael Goguen
Price: £3.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For The Adults: Painless, 30 Mar 2013
If you're wondering if your child will love this movie, then the answer is most probably yes, especially if they're a Scooby Doo fan. The real question is, will you love this movie? You, the long suffering but well meaning parent, looking to enrich your child's imagination, but at the same time worried that you will have to suffer through a movie more Snow Dogs than The Incredibles?

The Scooby Doo DTV movies are something of a mixed bag: they often don't have the cleverness/post-modern zaniness of Mystery Incorporated, but on the plus side, they don't have the gang going through 'teenage-relationship soap-operatics' like their edgier T.V. counterpart. I find it hard to sit through some of the earlier movies ( for example, Scooby-Doo: Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase, Scooby-Doo: Scooby-Doo and the Samurai Sword, or Scooby-Doo: Pirates Ahoy; in fairness, my daughter has loved all these movies), although I most recently enjoyed Scooby Abracadabra-Doo for it's gorgeous art direction which punched well above its 'straight to DVD' weight.

And so to Mask of the Blue Falcon, a movie literally dripping with 'nudge nudge/wink winks' to the geekier parents out there. The Scooby Gang visit a thinly veiled San Diego Comic Con to find the original, semi-retired, Blue Falcon, an Adam West-esque actor out of work and desperately trying to sell autographs, whilst a new, grittier Blue Falcon movie is being promoted by a Tom Cruise a-like actor. (The 're-booted' Frank Miller-esque Blue Falcon comes across like Christian Bale's Batman ramped up to 11.) Naturally, the original Blue Falcon becomes prime suspect when an evil Mr Hyde starts tearing up the convention, and in the process of doing so, allows the film-makers to touch on the eccentricities of the convention floor, homage John Romita's 'Spider-man no more' cover with Scooby dumping his cosplay costume in the bin, and poke fun at the shallowness of the Hollywood cultural machine.

And so, the movie is clever, but it never quite shakes off the DTV vibe. Partly I wonder if this is to do with the mandate of following the Scooby 'formula', probably laid down by the studio (certainly, Mystery Incorporated feels fresher). Or Perhaps it's because the usual Scooby Doo story beats have to be stretched out to feature length, as opposed to being wrapped up in 30 minutes. In any case, the nods to the nerd-parents out there certainly were engaging, if not enthralling.

But I probably expect too much. The production team know what is required of them by Warner Bros, and still manage to shoehorn in a lot of clever little quirks, enough to make this painless. And, excusing the terrible voice for Scooby (seriously, there has to be a better actor out there more able to emulate the classic Scooby 'voice'), this movie, whilst not being genuinely innovative, is certainly far above the lowest, eyeball gnawing, pits of hell that many "kids' movies" seem to exist in. Finally, there are plenty of relevant extras, including three episodes of the 'classic' cartoon (with Scrappy Doo *shudder*).

And your son or daughter will probably love it regardless!


Universal Soldier Day Of Reckoning [DVD]
Universal Soldier Day Of Reckoning [DVD]
Dvd ~ Scott Adkins
Price: £2.90

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bonkers, 3 Feb 2013
This movie is truly bonkers. I don't really know how Hyams sold the concept of this to the studio execbots: "yeah, Universal Soldier 4 is going to be a pastiche of loads of common sci-fi tropes -- like clones, body regeneration, implanted memories -- that I'm going to mix in with Kubrickian slomo camera shots, Lynchian psychodrama, and loads of Apocalypse Now. We'll have Van Damme ape Brando's Kurtz and have him walk around a lot mumbling and looking miserable, and not fighting, and Scott Adkins driving around a lot looking miserable, and not fighting, and some random big dude with a beard who fights everything. But when it gets violent I'm going to push the violence as far as I can, and try and offend everyone with my opening sequence. It'll be great, I'm telling ya."

In all seriousness, this is not a movie for everyone, but I quite frankly loved it. Hyams really does let his imagination run wild on this one, and cheerfully cribs from loads of other directors and movies, but he never seemed to get the memo that this is the fourth in a series of increasingly minor action roles that no one -- save for the odd action junkie fondly remembering movies from his or her childhood/youth -- cares about any more, and tries hard to make this movie anything but your conventional DTV B-movie with ageing action stars.

Day of reckoning is crass, extremely violent, uneven, and low budget, but it should also be commended for being ambitious, and shot through with passion and creative vision. It is absolutely not a movie for everyone -- if you want a safer trip up action-memory-lane stick with The Expendables 2 -- but if you fancy a detour of the beaten path, and are willing to forgive the flaws the flaws that are a consequence of the directorial ambition, then by all means give this a shot.

Just remember that the film is absolutely bonkers.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2013 1:45 AM GMT


Ninja
Ninja
by John Man
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.54

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only a Ninja Can Stop A Ninja, 19 Jan 2013
This review is from: Ninja (Hardcover)
Straddling the line between historical excavation and travel writing, John Man's book Ninja is initially beguiling, in sections intriguing, but also a little frustrating in its attempts to weave a cohesive narrative around the historical Ninja and its exoticised Western counterpart. Because the actual historical records surrounding Ninjitsu are seemingly thin on the ground, originating around the 14th to 16th century, Man opens his book by considering several 'Ninja-like' escapades from early Japanese history, then seguing into an analysis of the actual historical Ninjas, before closing on the actions of the 'Ninja-like' spy schools in the early 20th century and the 'Ninja-like' actions of Hiroo Onoda, a WWII Japanese intelligence officer who carried out asymmetric warfare in the Philippines until the 1970s. Man's thesis is that the history of Ninjitsu is obscured by the modern 'myth' of the Ninja, and this historical Japanese faction embodied an ethos for survival, warfare, and a life philosophy that is missed by the cultural tropes enshrined in pop interpretations such as Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (characters that get something of a short shrift in the book).

Having bought a book ostensibly about the real historical Ninjas, I found the initial 'scene-setting' of the embryonic Ninjas of Japan's past to be quite interesting, but some of the later chapters set after the demise of the historical Ninja seem to me to be linked only by the author's assessment of what might or might not count as the inheritors of the mantle of true 'Ninjitsu' (certainly, Hiroo Onoda's discovery in the Philippino mountains by a college dropout hippy who was looking for him, a panda, and The Abominable Snowman seems most un-Ninja like, to my undoubtedly biased western eyes). In addition, the latter chapters spend some time discussing the Western cultural tropes of Ninjitsu as popularised by the Bond movie You Only Live Twice [DVD] [1967], but do a rather haphazard job, completely missing out the role that studios like Cannon films had in cementing the Ninja myth in the pop culture of the 1980s (indeed American Ninja [DVD] has a character loosely based on Hiroo Onoda). I appreciate that Man wasn't focusing on these cultural myths exclusively, but a book purporting to tell the story of a 1000 years of the Shadow Warriors missed out a large part of why Western readers may be interested in the book in the first place: because of the (hundreds of) Ninja movies of the 1980s.

Finally, the modern Japanese claimants of the Ninja mantle, including Masaaki Hatsumi (and his master Toshitsugu Takamatsu) appear and disappear over a few pages, and whilst it seems uncontroversial to assert that their claims to authenticity are disputed, it would have been good to have spent some time with the Bujinkan Organisation and explored the appeal of their brand of Ninjitsu to their followers. (The post-modern cynic in me wondered if the only thing separating the historical stories of the past and the alleged fairy tales of Takamatsu was a large period of time, or put another way, it is easier to check the accuracy of the more up-to-date accounts of the adherents of Togakure-Ryu than it is to verify the historical veracity of the manuscripts of 500 years ago.)

Ultimately this book is not a PhD thesis or a martial art manual; it is book that means to entertain as well as inform, and Man largely succeeds on this front. In the end though, I suspect that the historical Ninja has remained mostly invisible to scholars and authors like Man, requiring them to infer their shapes in the shadows.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 3, 2013 3:07 PM BST


Super [DVD] [2010]
Super [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Rainn Wilson
Offered by Wowudo
Price: £4.40

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent entry into the burgeoning 'loser becomes superhero' mini-genre, 7 Aug 2011
This review is from: Super [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
Whilst this movie has been compared to Mark Millar's Kick-Ass, it doesn't have a lot in common with it, bearing more coincidental similarity to the excellent Special and Defendor (the similarities being coincidental because James Gunn has been nursing this pet project for around a decade, since around the time he and his brother were involved with the similarly excellent The Specials-- indeed the only similar film that pre-dates Gunn's script is the oft-forgotten Hero at Large). Whilst Kick Ass purported to ask the question 'what would happen if someone really tried to be a superhero?', it instead started as a spoof on Raimi's Spider-Man movies, before morphing into fairly standard super-hero power-fantasy, albeit spiced up with the addition of a 13-year-old potty-mouthed assassin that chewed up the scenery and stole the movie.

Super also has it's deranged female sidekick, but Ellen Page's unhinged take on 'Boltie' compliments the outstanding Rainn Wilson --who plays the Crimson Bolt-- without completely stealing the show (probably due to the fact that both lead characters are borderline personality-disorder types with psychotic issues). Indeed the ensemble cast are excellent, with Gunn roping in Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Gregg Henry, and Michael Rooker, to flesh out a very low budget movie.

It's lack of a big budget is actually a bonus and helps set the really underground vibe of the movie (and the tone is set right from the animated credits, perhaps the most fun I have ever had with a credit sequence). While this movie might seem like it's interested in asking all those post-Watchmen deconstruction questions about what 'real superheroes' would be like, Gunn doesn't play it like this at all. In fact, this movie feels more like a really twisted ritalin-powered fairytale, and at points reminded me of the sort of excrutiatingly cringing humor of The Foot Fist Way crossed with Taxi Driver. Super clips along at a fast pace and is punctuated by brutal violence, but its tongue remains firmly in its cheek as cartoon 'pows' overlay a fair chunk of the carnage (a la the 1960s Adam West Batman). Gunn even manages to hint at a bit of character development for the main characters in amongst the carnage without turning the movie into a saccharine-sweet hollywood morality tale, (and he wedges in a bit of a religious subtext as well).

All in all, if you like bubblegum-pop gonzo movies that burst at the seams with ideas, and aren't put off by the occasional explosion of extreme brutality, then Super is highly recommended.


Philosophy (Palgrave Foundations Series)
Philosophy (Palgrave Foundations Series)
by Bryan Greetham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.28

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the best undergraduate philosophy text book I have used, 25 April 2011
Studying philosophy is a lot like learning a language; until you get the basics down, it is often hard to figure out what is going on. Greetham does an excellent job of navigating a path between the esoteric debates of contemporary professional philosophers, and the more populist approaches of the burgeoning 'pop-philosophy' genre. His writing is clear and concise, without being patronizing or attempting to be 'hip', and whilst this book does have its more technical moments, it also makes a real effort to explain some fiendishly opaque debates in straightforward language.

It is also massive in scope, and Greetham makes an effort to include discussions of both analytical and continental strands of philosophy. Reading this book, I sometimes disagreed with his arguments surrounding certain facets of continental philosophy, but I think specialists in any area would find nits to pick in his analysis of their cherished subjects (certainly his section on Philosophy of Mind could hardly be called contemporary, but then, if you want 'up-to-date', buy a topic-specific overview); the fact that he gets so much right is a staggering achievement, considering how diverse and complicated philosophy is. [It is, after all, the quintessential subject for nitpickers.] A wonderful book then, and one I recommend to my first year undergraduate students alongside The Pig That Wants to be Eaten.


UFC Ultimate Fighting Championship - The Ultimate Fighter - Series 1 [DVD]
UFC Ultimate Fighting Championship - The Ultimate Fighter - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ultimate Fighting Championship
Offered by GoldAntEnt
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Pamper Your Inner Caveman..., 2 Mar 2011
In 2005, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was in a sorry state. Sold off by SEG due to collapsing pay-per-view revenues, the new owners Zuffa [fronted by controversial president Dana White] were struggling, and ended up fronting ten million of their own money to produce this show for US Cable channel, Spike TV. The rest, as they say, is history, and [aided by a monster of a fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar towards the end of the show], turned MMA into the fastest growing sport since NASCAR.

So this is the show that saved mainstream MMA, and it really is car-crash television of the finest vintage, a sort of cross between Big Brother and Fight Club, with contestants alternating between alpha-male scenery chewing, trash-talking, whinging, crying, and fighting in the octagon. Into the house enter a variety of fighters of varying proficiency and stamina, and stand-out characters include the requisite nutters [yoga-practicing borderline-psychotic Diego Sanchez; emotional wreck and general stirrer Chris Leben; the smug Josh Koscheck; the charming but loopy Forrest Griffin, a man who goes the entire season sporting a nasty compound fracture in his forearm that juts out under his skin], through the most laid-back cage fighter of all time [Stephan Bonnar], a few whingers [mainly Bobby Southworth: a moan and a bully] and on to the cannon fodder who look like deer in headlights [most predominantly Jason Thacker, a man who permanently looks like he's about to have his lunch money stolen from him, and is solely famous for having his bed urinated on by another contestant].

The format of the show isn't perfect- weirdly, a recurrent theme is dividing up the fighters into two teams, presumably to encourage tribal loyalty [and therefore conflict for the cameras], but one that doesn't make a lot of sense when one team loses a lot of fighters over successive weeks, and so is given fighters from the other team. In addition, it's a few episodes before anyone actually fights, as the first few eliminations are via team challenges [in retrospect, the weaker individuals who are punted would have been pummelled by their peers in the octagon, and so perhaps there was an element of logic to this approach]. I'm also a little suspicious of the editing, as [like MTV's 'The Real World'], it's heavily tweaked to construct a narrative, and I'm still in two minds as to whether or not one contestant was the thief that the show made him out to be [I would say probably, but I still have my nagging doubts]. Finally, given the substantial injury rate of this sport, there is a high turn-over of individuals who are put out the show but then return when other contestants are injured.

These points are quibbles: this is a show that gets its hooks in, and due to the unpredictable nature of the bouts [a stray hook, knee, or elbow can end a fight that had been going heavily in favour of the other contestant], doesn't let go. It has a soap opera cast, some blistering fights, and is 'high stakes' for all the players involved. Engrossing stuff.


The Art of Drew Struzan
The Art of Drew Struzan
by Drew Struzan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part 'Labour of Love'; Part Epitaph, 23 Jan 2011
This is a beautiful book that does not exhaustively detail every piece of work Struzan has ever done, but rather provides a selective walkthrough of the artist's career, with his own commentary. Like many creative types working in Hollywood who have gone 'on record' to talk about the frustrations they have faced (like, for example William Goldman, and Julia Phillips) Struzan's career evolved into an ever-increasing farce involving nameless suits decreeing 'art'-direction that eventually burnt the artist out (they even went so far as to have another nameless artist paint something over a portion of his work without telling him). One feels a frustration at the depressing homogenisation, conservative attitudes, and the dearth of creativity involved in the (post) modern Hollywood machine, although it does provide the reader with a fascinating insight into Struzan's creative process as he provides multiple sketches and differing takes whilst trying to prevent 'too many cooks' from spoiling things. Indeed, his sketches are awe-inducing in their own right, and I often wished he'd painted an alternative poster from some of his preliminaries, rather than the sketch the studio selected (I think specifically of his Revenge of the Sith poster). This book is not definitive- some of my favourite Strew posters were from the cinema re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy in the 1990s which do not appear, but for both the artist interested in Struzan's process, through to the film-fan nostalgic for the posters that adorned the films of their youth, this is a splendid purchase, and takes pride of place on my shelf alongside the similarly beautiful Adam Hughes and Alex Ross coffee-table books.


Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
by Oliver Burkeman
Edition: Paperback

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Walks the line between healthy scepticism and self-congratulatory smugness, 16 Jan 2011
This book is culled from a series of Guardian newspaper columns, and represent one newspaper hack's attempts to use self-help materials to better his life. As such, it could easily have been an excuse for a truly British middle-class whinge, based on one of those mish-mash columns of semi-coherent ramblings that really tells us nothing at all, and that seems to exist between the gardening section and Sudoku in the pages of UK newspapers' weekend sections with the sole purpose of making the reader feeling slightly soiled and withered.

Thankfully, Oliver Burkeman keeps the cheap-shots largely in check, and whilst there is a little of the "woe is me that I sojourn in a national newspaper office and write for one of the biggest publications in the world, but I really am a disorganised slob", it soon becomes very clear that the author is genuinely interested in scrutinising this material and sifting for insights. His prose is quite informal and breezy, but he does a fine job of praising the authors that he feels are not snake-oil salesman (and so Cal Newport and David Allen emerge relatively unscathed), whereas others who seem to promise the earth receive something of a dressing down (Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins both come in for some criticism).

I think this brings up an important point- if, like me, you have been influenced by various self-help gurus over the years it might be easy to get defensive if your particular favourite life-coach or guru comes in for some flak from Burkeman, but it is important to realise that he is not the 'Richard Dawkins' of self-help scepticism and he isn't trying to debunk the whole field, although he does appeal substantially to contemporary sociological/psychological research (in this, he often parallels the equally interesting 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot). Consequently, this is a useful book for for the self-help aficionado looking to contextualise their own thinking, and also for the individual new to a field that even the most diehard self-help consumer must admit has its share of charlatans.

On a final note, I really like the design of this book by Keenan, complete with its faux-dust-jacket, and it is a nicely put together book to browse and read.


Introducing Postmodernism: A Graphic Guide
Introducing Postmodernism: A Graphic Guide
by Richard Appignanesi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Starts wonderfully, then straps itself into a rocketship and takes off towards planet 'indulgent', 25 Nov 2010
This book has a lot going for it, especially in this new 'compact' format with the Marilyn Monroe cover. It's nice to read a text when you can practically feel the enthusiasm of the creative team infuse every page, and this is clearly a labour of love. Nonetheless, it seems that the intoxicating enthusiasm that the author and artist have for their subject has meant that they have attempted far too much- this not only covers the history of Post-Modernism, but semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, to name but a few areas. In doing so, this book tends to homogenise a vast array of thinkers: I'm a bit uncomfortable with the labeling of Foucault as post-modern (although I recognise I am in the minority) as his themes of the body, biopolitics, the history of sexuality, and surveillance seem to be a different catalogue of themes from meta-narratives, simulacrum, reproduction, and double-coding. This is not to say that Post-Structuralism and Post-Modernism are not linked, but I would rather have spent more time in this book with the Frankfurt School, Jameson, Habermas, Lyotard, Baudrillard and Bauman and really teased out more of their academic projects. For those completely new to the subject, many seem to prefer Teach Yourself Postmodernism (TY Philosophy). For those mystified by Lacan, Kristeva, the structuralists, the post-structuralists, and so forth, I would recommend Terry Eagleton's astonishingly good Literary Theory: An Introduction. In this particular series of books, I preferred Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide (Introducing...), although the art is not as good: for those new to the field, these books are so cheap that it might be worth your time buying both. As it stands, this is an enjoyable -if slightly impenetrable- graphic guide that perhaps is better 'dipped into' than read cover-to-cover. If you're at University and doing a class that touches on these difficult thinkers then you could do a lot worse than this as an introduction to an often tricky subject.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2014 12:35 PM BST


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