Thursday, 30 June 2011

174: Intermission...

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.




Wow, it's the end of June already! I really must have a word with The People In Charge about running the system in accelerated-mode; I'm not sure it's a great idea.

So if you look at the list on the right, you'll see I've blogged a lot this year. In fact, in six months, I've blogged as much as in than the previous three years put together. This was a conscious decision, made back in late December of 2010. Looking back over my posts for the year, I'd reviewed a few films, but only the ones I wanted to vent about one way or the other. Apart from that, it was just random observations and moaning (and who doesn't love blogs like that? I know I do).

So in order to boost my post-count and force myself to write a bit more, I extended the idea from December's movie post, and decided I'd rate and review every film I watch in 2011. Things I watch in the cinema are detailed in this here blog, whereas the ones I watch at home are listed (albeit more briefly), over in my Facebook Album. Well, I say 'review', it's pretty much just saying if I liked it, then comparing it to other films I've seen (I'll usually get a Star Wars comparison in there if I can), but I try to be as constructive as possible, so that's already different from most reviews I read.

By the end of January, it became clear to me that this was going to turn into a movie-review blog. As much as I enjoy spouting my ill-informed opinions on generic formulaic blockbusters, that's not just what I want this site to be. So the other 'it seemed good at the time' idea I had was to write regularly on a subject I know a lot about. That's the writers-rule, right? Write what you know. And what do I know? Star Wars.

So, a weekly post about Star Wars should be a great way to get me writing more, and more regularly. In fact, let's not stop there, let's do an A-Z of the Galaxy Far, Far Away; 26 weekly posts - that sets a start and an end to the project, and an order in which to post them. You know, thinking about it, because I'm a bit OCD, let's make each post exactly 1,000 words, yeah? That'll be good writing practice. I'll be honest, I tried doing 500-word posts, and you can't say anything in 500 words. Okay, I can't say anything in 500 words. Although I'm guessing you already know that.

A trip to Edinburgh and Newcastle also proved to be good inspiration earlier in the year, but it's easier to write when you're outside of your everyday environment.



Anyhow, back to the movies. A few stats for you at this half-way point...

• So far this year, I've been to the cinema 39 times, which accounts for 47% of my movie viewing, with an average score of 5/7* for those films.

• The movies I've watched at home have also averaged out at 5/7.

• The genre with the most overall viewings so far (home + cinema) has been Sci-Fi with 22 movies, and at the other end are Romance, Western and Fantasy with only 1 each. I've seen 8 3D movies this year, the average rating for which has been 5/7, and I've done two high-intensity viewing seasons

• And I'm on first-name conversational terms with two of the local cinema staff.


That's a quick snapshot of where we're at. I'd have watched more movies if the local Cineworld had spent less time showing Pirates of the Caribbean on three of their five screens. I don't expect them to be showing arthouse films, but I do expect them to put on the features they've been trailing for months. Priest and Hanna are just two of the films they've ignored this year. There's a longer rant about this, but here isn't the place.



So, if it's opinionated reviews of mainstream movies that you want, written by a guy who reads far too much into things**, you know where to come. July is upon us with its blistering heat, and I intend to spend it in a darkened room with overpriced coffee, trying to ignore idiots who can't leave their phones alone for two hours.
Bring on the summer.


* For the record, the marks-out-of-7 system comes from the two times I did a Seven Days, Seven Movies challenge last year, and it just kind of stuck. It's not just me being different for the sake of it. Well...

** Ask me about my Hot Fuzz theory sometime.



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

173: Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.


Transformers Dark of the Moon poster

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (3D) - Spoiler-free.
28 June 2011. Location: Cinema

Pre-amble: There was a reassuring number of men in their 20's and 30's at tonight's preview showing of Transformers. Given that I didn't hear any grumbling before, throughout or after the film, I think they were there for the right reason: to enjoy watching 40ft high robots knocking the shit out of each other.

I'm sure a lot of reviews are going to slate this film for the very reasons I love it. If you're wanting anything other than a Michael Bay film, don't watch it. If you're wanting anything other than a live-action cartoon which is essentially a 2h34m advert for toys, don't watch it. If you haven't thoroughly enjoyed the previous two movies based on a cartoon from the 1980's, but you're the kind of smart-arsed pedantic arsehole that will go and see it anyway, then complain about the lack of higher-message… DON'T WATCH IT.

I trust you know where I'm coming from. By the third installment in this series, you should know exactly what you're going to get, and it delivers in spades (although this is perhaps the film's Achilles Heel).

The Plot: The dark side of our moon is home to a crashed starship; the humans' first contact with the mechanical race known as the Transformers. On board this ship is the technology to create a teleportation device, which has the potential to allow the robots to travel back to their ravaged homeworld, or bring the inhabitants of Cybertron to us. Also on board the ship is the only being who knows how to operate this equipment, and the race is on to make sure the teleporter is used for good…


The Good: Almost everything. A funny script, featuring plenty of laugh-out-loud moments without cheapening the action. Jaw-dropping visuals (even the 3D is effective, which is becoming a rarity these days) and animation we've come to expect, paired with fantastic voice-work for the robots to create actual characters. Even new kid on the block Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley is a workable replacement for Megan Fox; although she hardly steals the show, that's more down to the creators of the film than her performance - and Ms Fox's contribution to the proceedings was debatable at best. Also on great form are John Malkovich and the ever-magnificent Ken Jeong, both bringing an intense humour. Also worth mentioning; established characters on both sides die in this movie. I know nothing's certain in this universe, but when you see the head come off and the eye-lights go out? Yeah.

Best robots? SHOCKWAVE! We've got Shockwave! [/geekout] We also get what almost amounts to character development for Megatron, and it's good, great to see the Autobots finally saying enough is enough and kicking-off.


The Bad: Michael Bay's usual culprits are here; crammed exposition, lens-flare, slo-mo explosions, lingering shots of the pretty lady etc, but given the circumstances, I'll classify those as comforting. It wouldn't be Transformers without them. There are also a couple of '…that wouldn't happen' moments, but then I remembered I was watching a film featuring 40ft high robots knocking the shit out of each other…
The only real issue I had was that the pace seems to slow to a crawl at the beginning of the Battle for Chicago. I mean, really slow. I know the audience needs a breather, but they're ready for the climactic endpiece at that point, and when that does arrive, it's still 40 minutes long. Keep the adrenaline up, cut the chaff. I don't mind a movie being two and a half hours, but it's a little uneven as it stands. Still, plenty of time for you to nip to the toilet, as you'll have finished that massive Coke by then.


The Ugly: Still no Dinobots. Still no return of Jazz as a Porsche 911. Come on, Bay, it's almost as if you haven't been reading my e-mails...


All in all: Flipping awesome. I don't care what the other critics will say, just enjoy this for what it is. A magnificent roller-coaster that you're not meant to examine too closely. This film will give you what you expect. You've only got to decide if you want to pay money for that. For me? Shit, yeah.

The Last Word: There's nothing at the end of the credits. I waited around so you don't have to ;D

6/7


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

172: Shadows of the Empire...

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.


Inspired by this, and something Adam West said on Forcebook this morning...


...because who doesn't look good in black?


You - Shall - Not - Fall to the dark si- ...oh.


ANAKIN SMASH!


Fortune and glory, kid. Oh, and your own Death Star.


Well, now you're just being silly...

^^ Click for bigger on each one. (1024x768, 136kb). Opens in new window.


Yeah. I know it's not new, but I wasn't going to let that stop me.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

This is for thumnail purposes. you shouldn't be seeing this.

Friday, 24 June 2011

171: Review - Bridesmaids

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.


Bridesmaids Poster

Bridesmaids
24 June 2011. Location: Cinema

Forget that trailer.

You know the one. You saw it back to back with The Hangover II trailer a few weeks ago. It was the embarrassing, 3 minute groanfest, which promised all the feministic subtlety of a drunk woman grimly singing 'I Will Survive' at a karaoke, and looked as if the only funny lines in the film would be coming from The Fat One™. It was the trailer that suggested the film had been crafted partly in Universal Studios' Friday afternoon meeting, and partly in a laboratory.

Hopefully, the person who cut that trailer is back to sweeping the floor now, because against all my expectations, this is a good film. And trust me, I've had two good reasons to have my expectations lowered this week.

Bridesmaids isn't without its faults; it's not a two hour movie. By which I mean, it is a two hour movie, but it shouldn't be. The pacing's all over the place here. It starts slowly, finds its groove, but then keeps getting stuck in the ruts of setpieces which are needlessly long (the plane sequence being a prime example). And with regards to the first twenty minutes of the film, the almost-complete lack of any background noise/music makes for an awkward pause after a few poorly delivered 'let's set the raucous tone of this sassy movie!' jokes.

But, as I say, it settles down nicely into a standard buddy-com. All credit to the writers who really have made the script and plot appeal to men and women alike (not that you'd guess that from the godawful trailer). Great performances from all the lead players, who manage to engage the audience nicely and fit the jigsaw well. I'm not entirely sure why Matt Lucas is in this movie (albeit sparingly), other than having someone slightly eccentric to flesh out a minor plot point. Oh, and regarding his 'sister'; audiences in the US may not be able to tell the difference between a British and Australian accent, but the rest of the world can, okay?

Speaking of accents, Chris O'Dowd plays his usual likeable curmudgeon character as Rhodes, a road-cop. What the hell was his accent doing in his first few scenes? Had the director told him to twang it up a little so he sounded like an Irish Cop who'd been in America for a few years? Because he drops it pretty sharpish after that. Also, when Kristen Wiig's Annie asks him how he can be a US Police Officer if he's not a US national, I'm not sure if her character* is ignoring the fact that the 'stereotypical' NY Cop had an Irish accent for many years, or ignoring the fact that people from outside the US can become citizens of the US (* and when I say 'her character', I mean 'the writers'). Maybe I'm just reading too much into that...



The Good: The cast. They make a potentially pedestrian film very watchable. The dress-fitting scene also amused me greatly, but that's because I have an infantile sense of humour. Melissa McCarthy does get all the best jokes, but that's not to put down the rest of the film too much.

The Bad: A few awkward moments when the jokes don't quite pan out as the writers had intended. Gaps are left for the audience to be laughing over before the next line comes in, but when an audience doesn't react like that, the whole thing just judders to a halt. Oh, and that scene near the start with the speeches and the microphones, and the trying to one-up each other goes on for about 3 minutes too long.

The Ugly: Did they actually go to Vegas for the bachelorette party? There's the overly-long plane scene, followed by an unplanned landing due to turbulence and the rest of the journey taking place on a bus, but we don't see anything of Las Vegas. They're just all back at home after that. Maybe it was cut to avoid comparisons with The Hangover (because lord knows, the trailer didn't suggest any of those…), or maybe I'd started to zone out after the 'oh look, I'm drunk/high/abusive on a plane… no, look at me… can you see me yet?' thing.

All in all: When it's on-form, it's absolutely on fire. In the dips in between? It's still watchable, given what's surrounding it. It's not going to win many awards, and you won't get much out of repeat viewings, but definitely worth a gander.

It's not quite worthy of a 6, but I don't give half-marks, so...
5/7

…did I mention that the trailer's shite?


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

170: P is for Pret-a-Porter

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

When it comes to t-shirt printing, it's best to go for a 100% cotton shirt. Polos are usually a polycotton mix, but t-shirts tend to be a bit itchy if you go for that. In 1978, there wasn't quite as much choice. If I recall correctly, a lot of them generated enough static electricity to power your house, as well as making you scratch the top layer of your skin off. This beauty had so little in the way of natural fibres, it was practically as un-earthly as the Death Star itself:

#StarWarsTshirtFriday, 1978 style.

I loved that t-shirt. It wasn't new when the photo was taken, hence the transfer on the front being fairly faded. Due to the industrial-fibre nature of the shirt itself, it wore extremely well. I have no idea where it lies now, but it's due to bio-degrade shortly after the destruction of the Earth. From what I gather, it was official merchandise, as opposed to the shedloads of knockoff stuff that was around at the time. It probably came from either Durham or Newcastle, as the majority of my SW merch did. Rather than print and distribute entire shirts, iron-on transfers were the modus operandi in the late 1970's. That said, it was quite normal to buy a printed shirt, but you know the transfer had been applied in the UK, once they'd hit the wholesalers and been snapped up by resellers who owned a t-shirt press.

As far as I recall, that was the only Star Wars t-shirt I had as a kid. I'm not giving you a tale-of-woe there, it's just a fact. It's an odd fact, considering how obsessed I've become with t-shirts in my adult life (I use that term loosely), but maybe that's part of it. As a child, I was spoiled rotten with toys, and clothes weren't something I really pestered my parents for. As a grown-up, I can have as many t-shirts as I like (and I have). I still spoil myself rotten with SW toys, but that's another blog entry.

There's something comfortably open-ended about collecting t-shirts. With the Kenner/Hasbro figures, or with soundtracks and DVDs, there'll only ever be a fixed amount released. With shirts, who knows how many there are? Even so far as the official ones, there have probably been thousands of different designs produced down the years. Even if you were only to collect Vader themed shirts, there's no way you'd be able to keep track of what's being released in different countries by the various licensees. I've got a few books on SW collecting, and even they only brush up against the subject. Convention-exclusives, and staff/crew shirts for the movies get mentioned, as well as noteable promo-items but not your domestic releases.

So it's quite nice to have an excuse to not be the rabid I-need-them-all type collector that so many of us SW fans are. To hunt-down and buy items based on their aesthetic merit, rather than the fact that "they're on sale". There's no way you're going to get all of them - there just isn't - so just sit back and enjoy the ride. If you see a shirt you like, go for it. I'm aware that to non-collectors, this viewpoint seems so normal it barely needs explaining, but trust me, George Lucas started something big when he put pictures of all the available figures on the cardbacks in 1978. The phrase "Collect them all!" was taken as an instruction, not a suggestion.

The starting point of OCD for millions.

You'd also think that having a good friend with a t-shirt printing shop, and a history in graphic design, I'd go nuts and have a new SW shirt for every day of the year. If anything, it's pushed me towards that aesthetic viewpoint. There are a lot of shirts that I see and don't buy, purely because I think 'I can do better than that myself'. Likewise, many ideas for shirts float through my head and don't seem cool enough to put on a shirt, probably because they've already been done.



Back in 1995, the design company I worked for moved from an industrial unit to a retail outlet. An actual shop, with the actual public coming in and out. One of the things we were promoting was personalised mousemats, as PCs in the home were gaining affordability and popularity. A guy came in and had three pictures of The X-Files made into separate mousemats. When he was asked why he was having three of an item you usually only need one of (in those days anyway), he replied: "I collect X-Files mousemats". A logical enough answer, you might think, but when the door's opened and you can have whatever you want, where do you stop? How many variations could you come up with before you regain sight of why you're collecting in the first place? So with that in mind, a fair percentage of my Star Wars shirts are customs, but they're because I was happy with the way the design looked on the shirt, not just "because I could".

If you've followed this blog for a while, or you know me from Twitter/Facebook, you'll know that last year I started a sporadic project; #StarWarsTshirtFriday. If you get a chance to wear a t-shirt on a Friday (dress-down day at work, pub on Friday night), and you have a SW shirt, wear it, and take a photo. It's that simple really. If you've got one or two SW shirts, it might not seem like much of a fuss. If you've got more than 20? Much fun to be had.

#StarWarsTshirtFriday!
Click on the image to go to the full Facebook album.

Which sort of bring me full circle, really. The photo at the start of the post was unearthed by my mum, going through the family archives. I'd hoped something like it existed, just because I remember having the shirt. I didn't get the chance to include it in #SWTSF, and now I can.

#FINALstarWarsTshirtFriday!
#StarWarsTshirtFriday has come back home.





DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

169: Review - Green Lantern (3D)

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Green Lantern movie poster

Green Lantern (3D)
20 Jun 2011. Location: Cinema

Although I didn't read any reviews before I saw this, I couldn't help but hear the general buzz about Green Lantern. Yeah. And in many ways, I'm glad I did, because it severely dropped my expectations for the film, which is probably why I was fairly entertained by it.

I blame Marvel. It seems that although there's a constant rumbling of disapproval from certain quarters, Marvel really have spoiled us over the last ten years or so. They've spoiled us to the point that superhero movies have become more sophisticated than their 1950's/60's comic book roots. Even the first Sam Raimi Spider-man movie seems dated by the standards of Thor and X-Men: First Class.

So when you pull a DC Comics story out of 1959, you tend to get a very generic origins movie. Very. Generic. I wouldn't call it awful, in fact I'd barely call it bad, but it's certainly in tried and tested waters. Stagnant, almost. It's probably going to be a bigger pull for the younger crowd (ie the under-10's) who are newer to this sort of thing. And obviously I understand why it needs to be the way it does, but DC can't seriously have sat around their board tables for 10 years and only have this to show? Even at their most cheesy, Marvel are at least on-par with this.

The whole thing just reeks of the hero's journey, but with no adaptation other than name-changes. If it'd been made ten years earlier, and had been a purely animated feature, it'd be easier to forgive the cardboard plot, script and characters. But it was made in 2011. Ah well.

Leaving that aside, I did find it entertaining, if not engaging. The 3D is used rather nicely (a rarity this year), and the effects are (for the most part) great looking, and the actors play their parts as well as can be expected. I particularly liked Tem Morrison; You can take the guy out of Jango Fett...

While we're on the subject of Star Wars, those guardian dudes reminded me of a mashup between Blue Yoda from the Marvel 'Empire' adaptation, and Shu Mai from 'Attack of the Clones'...

Blue Yoda / Shu Mai / Guardian?


All in all: It feels like a long movie, yet rushed at the same time. If you haven't seen any other superhero films ever, you'll probably enjoy this. Otherwise, there's absolutely nothing new here. But does there need to be..?

4/7

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

168: Review - Bad Teacher

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Bad Teacher poster

Bad Teacher
19 June 2011. Location: Cinema

Wow, I can't remember the last film I saw at the cinema that failed to engage me this completely. Even a movie as shite as Skyline managed to outrage me on some minor level, but Bad Teacher doesn't even accomplish that; it just makes me weary.

Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting an original sassy comedy, but I was expecting it to be at least average. Part of me wants to say that the movie could be better, but sadly I fear that it couldn't.

Cameron Diaz manages to be 'not quite' bad enough as the slacker teacher. Which is to say that as callous and superficial as her character acts, she never quite convinces. I don't mean that in a "oh, there's obviously good in her" kind of a way, just that it's badly done. There's clearly no way that such an apparently appalling teacher would get a job in any school (
according to the Wiki page, the school's meant to be in a poor area, and so presumably low down in the league tables. Although nothing in the film suggests this). So at the part of the film where she spots a money-making opportunity and buckles down to actually teach her kids, this sudden burst of efficiency and discipline is just as bewildering. Likewise, when she apparently undergoes the change in her moral standpoint (in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of realisation), it's just as unconvincing as the rest of her character arc.

I know that all sounds like I'm overanalysing, but that's only because there's so little substance to it. And this, in essence, is the problem I had with the film; It's 90 minutes of an overdone idea, poorly executed and with no real flair or commitment. Just about everyone in the movie is phoning in their performances, and I include the writers in that. At the end of the movie, I felt nothing for any of the characters. Not even resentment at having had my evening wasted. That's not how films are supposed to work.

The only bright points in the film are Jason Segel and Lucy Punch. Segel comes off as his usual likeable self, although his 'Russell the gym teacher' is chronically underdeveloped considering he's meant to be the only normal character in the film. Punch gets a bit more to work with and ends up as perhaps the only cast member who'll be proud to have this on their CV.

All in all: I'd like to say this film is awful, but it doesn't even try hard enough for that. It's more like a big, half-arsed mess that never made it past the first-draft.

Worst bit? The director, Jake Kasdan, is the son of Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter on Empire, Jedi, and Raiders. He can do better than this.
Anyone can do better than this.

2/7

2/7. Must try harder.

DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 17 June 2011

167: O is for Odeon

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.


On Friday 3rd June 1983, my mum picked me up from school in the car. I only lived a 15 minute walk away from school, and at age ten, used to walk it usually. Anyway, she picked me up and I had a change of clothes in the back of the car (I actually got changed in the back of a moving car, safety fans). We made the 25 minute drive over to Newcastle, and met my dad. He'd finished work early and reserved our places in a massive queue snaking down Pilgrim Street (because it's not at all annoying when people join someone in front of you when you've been standing there for two hours).

The Odeon, Newcastle. Photo ©Stagedoor. Click through for full version.
^^ The Odeon, Newcastle. Photo ©Stagedoor/Ian Grundy. Click through for full version.

We were queueing at the Odeon Cinema to see Return of the Jedi on its opening day*. I'd love to tell you about the atmosphere in the line that day, but I can't remember anything other than me being a model of barely restrained hyperactivity.

So, we got in, took our seats and prepared for the movie. Even as recently as 1983, there were short films (and/or cartoons) shown before films like a sort of support act. On that day it was an animated short called 'Dilemma', a fairly grim wordless piece about nuclear war. A sign of the times, I suppose. After that, the house lights went down, the cheering started up, and the Star Wars saga came to a glorious close (for the next sixteen years, anyway). A six-year ride, and good finally triumphed, the Emperor was revealed then destroyed, and oh, that's his sister.

The RotJ Storybook

I had the storybook of the film already, and at ten years old, wasn't able to resist the lure of spoilers. I knew what Yoda's role in the film was, and what his destiny would be. In the three years in between Empire and Jedi, I'd grown very attached to the little green fella (oh come on, who didn't?), and the thought of him not being around at the end of the film made me very emotional.

Now, bear in mind that E.T. had been released the year before, which I saw in the cinema and subsequentally cried like a girl (oh, seriously). I didn't want a repeat performance of that when a small wrinkly alien died (and actually died this time, not a close-call followed by a heartbraking goodbye like last year), so I formulated a plan; When the scene in Yoda's hut came on, when Luke Skywalker has come back to see his mentor, I'd go to the toilet, so that I didn't have to witness first hand what I knew was going to happen. I'd watch it in the future, of course, I just didn't want to see it this time.

So, Jabba was dead, the Millennium Falcon went one way, Luke's X-Wing went another, and I went to the toilet with barely any subtlety as the subdued tones of Dagobah filled the screen and I scrambled past a row of cinema patrons, my eyes at bursting point, rather than my bladder. I can't remember if I spent any time actually peeing, although I probably did anyway, but I left what I thought was the appropriate amount of time for the passing of a Jedi Master, and returned to the auditorium....

The second alien-death to make me cry in two years.

...yes, just in time to see the culmination of the scene between Luke and Yoda. Bunch of bloody arse. I made my way back to my seat (no use standing by the fire-exit crying), sat down between my mum and dad who probably worked out exactly what I'd been trying to do, and enjoyed the rest of the film. No, I genuinely, did enjoy it. Awesome. The rest is history.



What started this misty-eyed nostalgia trip is the Newcastle Odeon itself, which I saw the other week for the first time in about ten years.

Newcastle Odeon, 2011. My photo, this time.

Not derelict as such, but abandoned, certainly. The cinema transferred to new custom premises before those ten years (it was empty at the time but didn't seem quite as tragic then) because an old-fashioned two-screen cinema just can't compete in the multiplex market. The new Odeon is on the other side of town and is doing very well (as well as any cinema in today's market, anyway).

It's not just my memories that were forged in those auditoria, but those of how many others? What makes me sad isn't the relocation of the business, but that the building's not being used for anything. The Robins' Cinema in Durham is similar in that it's an old-school picture-house which closed down as it only had two screens (no nearby competition, though). But Robins' is now a Walkabout bar. I'm sure many theatre and cinema lovers are horrified at the prospect, but it's probably taking more money than a bingo-hall, and it's certainly better than an empty building. As long as it's being used, it's not just gathering dust and falling into disrepair.

Sadly, the Odeon isn't alone on Pilgrim Street. All along the west side of the road, shops, buildings, entire blocks have been boarded up and abandoned. Scaffolding sits on some, but there doesn't seem to be any sign of work taking place. A fire station, a bus station, an entire office-block. All waiting to be renovated and repopulated. If I recall correctly, the Odeon was used as a club briefly after the cinema relocated, but that was a long time ago. I'd dearly love to look around in there before it's either renovated or left to atrophy.
Now the empty frames overlook a street where the only things that stop are buses and the people waiting for them. Don't get me wrong, the rest of Newcastle is positively thriving, and is only a block away from the old cinema. But the bottom of Pilgrim Street is like the corner where elderly relatives sit at a children's party. Watching, remembering. And they have a lot to share if you'll go and talk to them for a while.

Standing on Pilgrim Street, looking down High Bridge, Newcastle.



* Online sources tell me it opened on Thurs 2nd, but I don't recall extended opening weekends back in those days. All I know is, it was definitely a Friday, and definitely the opening weekend.



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

166: Review - X-Men: First Class (WITH Spoilers!)

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.


X-Men: First Class poster

X-Men: First Class (SPOILERS!)
08 June 2011. Location: Cinema

^^ You read that bit, right? Contains spoilers? Good.


It appears that Marvel have forgotten they've made four other X-Men movies...
Let the bitching about inter-movie continuity commence...



Beastly Behaviour

I can handle Beast's transformation. In X3, Kelsey Grammer plays the older Hank 'Beast' McCoy, in his blue form. We don't see his transformation, and it's not needed as he's living openly among the humans, working for the Department of Mutant Affairs. But if you skip back to X2, there's a scene with a TV on in the background, featuring a human Hank McCoy.
The idea was that in X2, when Stryker manipulates Xavier into using Dark Cerebero, the shock-waves the machine blasts into the mutant community cause Hank's transformation into the blue form of Beast. This was scripted, but not shot; so the process (for the audience who were watching the films and reading the things on-screen), evidently took place between the two movies. No problem there.

In X-Men: First Class, we see the young genius Hank McCoy, with his superior intellect and crazy-feet. And we see him labouring for a solution that will cure the physical aspect of his mutation. As is to be expected, this formula actually accelerates the mutation, and he takes on his blue form.

So does he find a way to become human again before his appearance in X2? More than likely, yes, I reckon. It's conceivable that over the years, he continues his research, finding 'cures' that are either semi-permanent or flat-out temporary, and is frequently struggling a way to stabilise his appearance.

While it made me raise an eyebrow, I can explain it away to myself. It's not a big deal.



Set in Stone...

I can handle the shifting loyalties (and age, apparently) of Emma Stone. In 1962 in X-Men: First Class, she's sided with Sebastian Shaw, and later Magneto. While she doesn't appear to kill anyone on-screen, she's flying her colours, and it's pretty clear which side she's on. No problem there, she's a new character. Oh, hang on…

…Emma Stone is Kayla Silverfox's sister in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. She's the one that Stryker has been keeping captive on the island, and the one we see in the final act, helping the young mutants to escape. In Wolverine, her diamond-appearance is like the half-way-mark of the one in First Class; a kind of sparkly white iridescence, rather than the fully transparent version.

Anyway, apparently she switches sides between 1962 and 1979 (more on that later), as she's a wholly sympathetic character helping the kids to escape the nasty man.

But again, I'm fine with that. Incarceration under Stryker is likely to make her bond with the 'good' mutants, and she wasn't that evil to start with, just a little misguided. It's not a big deal.



Ageless Beauty…

So apparently there's been a bit of a shift in Moira McTaggert's character. I'm not here to compare the X-Men movies with the comics (they've rarely matched up, and often to their credit). But it is an established fact that Moira and Charles Xavier are firm friends. In X3, she's shown at Xavier's funeral, and again in the post-credits scene. Originally, Xavier and McTaggert are meant to be contemporaries, who work together during the formation of the X-Men. The idea is that she's the same age as Charles Xavier. In X3, she's played by Olivia Williams who, while she's not a teenager, can hardly be described as old. Certainly not the same age as Patrick Stewart. Still no matter...

…although in X-Men: First Class, her age is portrayed more accurately where Rose Byrne is closer in years to James McAvoy. If anything, they're doing it right in First Class, but X3 was only made in 2006. It's not like there's no-one around who can remember it. Maybe there's an anti-ageing thing I don't know about with Moira?

But you know what? She was an incidental character in X3, and a main character in First Class. Like Ms. Stone, it's the portrayal of the character that counts, not the appearance. It's not a big deal.



This is Spinal Trap...

Now generally speaking, the X-Men films have been careful not to name actual year-dates in the storyline. On-screen captions have said things like "in the near future", or "around 20 years ago". Which is fine. With the exception of mobile phones etc, it avoids dating the film too much. But two of the films in the series are set at a specific time.

The climactic battle at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is an alternate take on (or even exposé of) the Three Mile Island meltdown of 1979. The idea is that the viewer remembers the accident (if they're old enough), and is presented with a 'what really happened' scenario. Three Mile Island is mentioned by name in the film as the home of Stryker's research facility. XMO:Wolverine's set in the 1970's. There's a whacking great meltdown at the end. It's 1979, and not very ambiguous about it. Which is fine.

The main story-arc of X-Men: First Class is set at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We see Kennedy on the TV giving his address to the nation, and the missile crisis itself is integral to the plot of the film. It's 1962, and even less ambiguous about it. We get an on-screen caption at the start which says 1962. Which is also fine.

Still with me? Lovely. Now, you remember the bit at the end of XMO:Wolverine, where Logan helps the friendly Emma Frost break out the captive kids from Stryker's prison? Yeah, you remember, because young Cyclops is with them. Well unless I'm very much mistaken (and I'm not, because I only watched it a week ago), the kids are liberated when a helicopter lands to take them to Professor X's School for Gifted Youngsters. A kindly (and frankly creepy looking) Professor Charles Xavier steps from the chopper to welcome the mutants into his care. Professor X is walking in 1979.

You know where this is going now, don't you?

I understand why it makes narrative-sense to have Xavier's spine damaged and him be confined to a wheelchair in X-Men: First Class. Especially the way that Magneto is implicated in the incident; it sets up an excellent dynamic for their relationship in the later X-Men films. It also makes great sense from an audiences point of view, as at the end of the film, Xavier and Magneto are essentially young versions of what we see in X1. Erik's final "I prefer Magneto" is a little laboured (as is Charles' "next thing you know I'll be losing my hair"), but I appreciate the high civilian percentage of the audience who'll need that.

But do Marvel honestly expect me to believe that Charles Xavier found a way to repair his spine over the next 17 years, then had a massively ironic accident that reversed the process and left him back the wheelchair he thought he'd escaped?

Even in the Marvel-verse that seems unfeasible. To lose one spine is unfortunate. To lose two, looks like carelessness.



Maybe it's a reboot, I thought to myself? In all honesty, I sat through (and enjoyed) Batman Begins, not realising it wasn't jiving with the previous four films until about half way through. I hadn't read that is was a fresh start. I'm not that huge on Batman, what can I tell ya?
But although there are definite pointers towards keeping X-Men: First Class in line with the other movies, what if Marvel had decided that this is the definitive history of Charles and Erik?

No, apparently not.
comicbookmovie.com": "will X-Men First Class use the same timeline and be 'an official, in-continuity prequel'?"
Director, Matthew Vaughn: "Yeah, I would say absolutely so"

Hmmm.
Please bear in mind I'm not comparing the movie to any comics-history. I'm not even comparing it to the first X-Men film from 2000. I'm comparing it to its predecessor from two years ago. It doesn't 'spoil' the film, and I'm not outraged about it (really, I'm not). I just think it's sloppy, and comes hot on the heels of the Wolverine/Sabertooth conundrum from the last film.



Even taking the above into account, this is still an awesome film. Wall to wall entertainment and beautifully made.

6/7


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

165: The Source of my Frustration

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

I'm currently drinking coffee out of a plain white cardboard cup, with a plain black plastic lid, and a plain brown cardboard holder. Which is to say, I'm not advertising for the man.

Starbucks. This isn't my picture. I'm not doing this. Click the pic for the source page.
( ^^ Not my picture. Click on it to see the source page ^^)

This is because of a choice I made around twenty minutes ago (although sticking it to the man wasn't on my agenda). Awake way too early for a Saturday and at London St. Pancras, I was trying to decide where to get a coffee. I've got a half-full Caffe Nero loyalty card on me, but I couldn't see one of those. The choices within my line of sight were a) Starbucks, and b) Sourced.

The former is a multi-national corporation that a lot of people seem to take issue with. Although to be fair, there have to be more people that don't take issue with them, otherwise they wouldn't have such a profitable business. I frequently hear people grumbling about the mega-corp, although I never seem to catch what's so bad about them. There aren't babies in their coffee, are there? They don't, like, get orphans to pick the beans or some such thing? I'm not being facetious (well…), I honestly don't know what the deal is. As much as I love coffee, I'm certainly no expert, and as chance would have it, I've never been to Starbucks. There's no agenda behind that, it's just the way things have played out. Anyway, I've still never been there. I went for the other option.

This was a deli/bakery/coffee shop called Sourced. A delightful mishmash of ethically sourced and fair-trade goods, with a (no doubt carefully constructed) rustic layout to the open store to give it that continental-market feel. The young lady that served me was very polite and quite cheery (in fact, cheery to the point that when she spoke to other staff members in her regular voice, you're left in no doubt as to how false the cheeriness was). The coffee wasn't too badly priced for central London, and tastes pretty good. I wouldn't call it large, though. Even though I could see it was the biggest of the cup sizes they hold. And while I don't expect the guy actually making the coffee to do so with a skip and a whistle, it'd be nice if he put a bit of effort into it. It seems to have escaped his attention that the establishment he works for is in a train station. His customers, generally, are on their way somewhere. They haven't casually strolled into St Pancras station for a leisurely coffee, and to see his disinterested face…

Anyway, this business of Evil Corporation vs Ethical Co-Operative wasn't what made me choose David over Goliath. The queue was shorter. I think I fucking know why, now. Had Sourced been the only option, you wouldn't be reading this blog entry. But, as so often in life, it's the things we don't do that we end up regretting.

My need for frightening amounts of caffeine outweighs any liberal sensibilities I may have. At least the people working in Starbucks realise they're there to make coffee. They don't have to like it, they just have to get on and grind the beans to wake me up. The next time I'm faced with the choice (and barring the presence of a Caffe Nero), I'll give Starbucks a go. Then you'll probably be reading me moaning about how they managed to muff up a large white Americano with an extra shot.

Damn, I've finished my coffee.
See? I told you this would happen.


DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 10 June 2011

164: N is for Nelvana

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

In 1978, when the Star Wars Holiday Special aired, there was a 10 minute animated segment featuring the main SW characters, and introducing Boba Fett. As I may have mentioned before, it was the best part of the whole thing.



This short cartoon was produced by a Canadian company named Nelvana, who were subsequentally commissioned to produce animation for the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series in 1985. Best of all, Anthony Daniels returned to voice C-3PO, as only he can.



I remember where I was when I first saw Droids: In the living room. This isn't particularly outstanding in itself as it was being broadcast on television. But I remember the house we were living in at the time. The curtains were drawn, and I was anticipating the return of Star Wars (we didn't have a video back then, and the only exposure I got to actual SW was when it was shown on TV). I knew it was an animated series and I knew that C-3PO and R2-D2 were in it, and that was all (look, we didn't have the internet in 1985. You had to rely on listings in the Radio Times and innacurate word-of-mouth). By 1985, Return of the Jedi was only two years out of the gate, but I'd drifted away from SW a little. Not so much 'no new content', as 'no prospect of new content'. As of RotJ, the saga was over. The bad guys were dead, and the good guys' work was done. What more was there to tell? Although I'd read some of the Marvel comics, I didn't find them nearly as inspiring as the movies.

So, Schofield/Parkin/Crane (delete as applicable) did his thing and Droids began. I didn't really get it.

• Artoo and Threepio. Check.
• Desert planet. Check.
• Distinguishable bad-guy. Check.
• ...light slapstick? Check.
• ...some dude using a lightsaber who isn't a Jedi, let alone Luke? Check.
• Where are the other characters I know? Pass.
• Why isn't this as cool as Ulysses 31? Pass.
• Come to think of it, why isn't this as cool as Star Wars? Pass.

I watched the rest of the series as it aired, but my heart wasn't really in it. There was something too lighthearted about it for it so be Star Wars.



So how come a discerning kid who wasn't that interested, became an even more discerning adult (I use that term loosely), who's borderline-obsessed with it?

my Droids VHS collection. Top row: UK releases, then US ones. Bottom row: Australian, Italian and German.

Well, I think the important thing to remember is; Droids isn't a Star Wars cartoon. It's a cartoon set in the Star Wars universe. That may sound like semantics, but I assure you, it's a massive difference.

I'm now at the age where I love old-school cartoons (Transformers, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, Ulysses 31, Space Sentinels), but mainly out of a sense of nostalgia. When you watch them as an adult, they're pretty much rubbish, yet cool at the same time. Once you get over the awkward-bar, they're great fun. The same applies to Droids. Once you accept it for what it is, it's not only on-par with other animations of the time, it's also got the background of Star Wars to give it a little more body.

Now generally speaking, Droids doesn't get a great deal of credit these days, due to the 'childish' nature of the show. It's set "15 years prior to A New Hope", which is the time when R2-D2 and C-3PO were ostensibly in the care of Captain Antilles on the Tantive IV. Since the Prequel Trilogy's completion, we know this is still possible, but it means that the droids were lost to him at one point, only to find their way back (this is the GFFA, bigger coincidences have happened). Even so, a lot of SW fans don't place the Droids adventures as canon, as the exaggerated events in the cartoon often couldn't have happened in 'real space', and for many people there's just not the SW-connection (as on the checklist above).

But not only did Droids feature a sizeable number of cameo appearances by Original Trilogy characters, it also paved the way for references we'd see in the Prequel Trilogy (largely thanks to sound-guru Ben Burtt having written some of the episodes, and the same man's influence on the PT).

OT referencs in Droids

Droids contains direct references to Boba Fett, IG-88, the Max Rebo Band and Stormtroopers. While Vader isn't named, the Empire and the Emperor are.

What's more notable is the number of ideas that occurred in Droids that would be used later in the Prequel Trilogy, and the Expanded Universe.

Remote Probe droids, similar to the ones in TPM.

• In A Race To The Finish, our heroes take part in The Boonta Race, which was later morphed into The Boonta Eve Podrace for TPM.

Bi-lingual alien sports commentators, similar to the podrace in TPM.

• In The Roon Games, the droids take part in an Olympic-type sporting event, commentated upon by a pair of aliens who bear a striking similarity to the twin commentators of TPM's podrace.

It's just easier to run a diner when you've got four arms...

• In The Lost Prince, we see a burly four-armed diner owner, a forerunner of Dexter Jettster from AotC.

There was also a whole slew of merchandising for Droids at the time. Whereas many cartoons were created purely as a vehicle for selling toys (*ahem*, Transformers), it's fair to say that the figures, books, videos etc of Droids existed because of the marketing legacy of Star Wars. It's still a fairly cynical ploy, of course, but less than most.



The Droids series continued in comic-book form via Dark Horse, and a DVD was released in 2004 featuring two of the four story 'cycles'. 14 episodes were made, but only 13 have ever seen the home video market.

For those who accuse Lucasfilm of being cash-hungry marketers; can you tell me where my deluxe Droids box set is, please? Featuring the original SWHS cartoon, retrospective featurettes on the making-of, Steve Sansweet on merchandising, and commentaries from Ben Burtt and Anthony Daniels on the episodes?

...you can't? Oh, maybe that's because there hasn't been one yet.

Hmmmf. I should be working for Lucasfilm, me.




DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

163: With A Degree of Certainty

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting to my friend Melissa in the pub, and the conversation moved on to the old 'six degrees of separation' game and its most common form, with the actor Kevin Bacon being the end-leap.

Since Melissa already has a celebrity-'in' as she met Stephen Fry last year, we thought we'd try and link her to Kevin Bacon. I'd said that it's nowhere near as difficult as people make out, and in many cases, it's actually harder to do it in six connections than it is in less. Now although she has one of those fancy 'new' telephones with the internets on it, the fact remains that we were drinking in a pub and it's not the ideal environment to do research, so I couldn't really illustrate this.

I'll be honest, I forgot about it for a bit, but I've done it now. Normally I'd hyperlink all of the actors, actresses and movies below; but due to the quantity involved, you can look them up yourselves if you don't believe me. The IMDB will tell you everything you need to know.

What you will need: A little patience and the IMDB. That's it.



Six degrees of separation:

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry starred as the voice of the Cheshire Cat in 'Alice in Wonderland', along with Johnny Depp.
• Johnny Depp was in 'The Tourist' with Angelina Jolie.
• Angelina Jolie was in 2004's 'Taking Lives', with Kiefer Sutherland.
• Kiefer Sutherland starred in 'The Lost Boys', with Jason Patrick.
• Jason Patrick was in the 1996 film 'Sleepers' with Kevin Bacon.



Actually, six is way too easy. Let's do it in five...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry made an appearance in 2007's 'St. Trinians', alongside Rupert Everett.
• Rupert Everett voiced Prince Charming in the Shrek films, also starring Cameron Diaz.
• Cameron Diaz was in 1995's 'The Last Supper', alongside Bill Paxton.
• Bill Paxton starred in 'Apollo 13' with Kevin Bacon.



What's that? One example of each set of links is ridiculous and proves nothing?
You'd like me to do four different connections in four steps?

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry performed for a long time with his comedy partner Hugh Laurie.
• Hugh Laurie appeared in the 2008 movie 'Street Kings', with Forest Whitaker.
• Forest Whitaker was in the 2007 movie 'The Air I Breathe' with Kevin Bacon.

or...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry played various roles in Blackadder, alongside Rowan Atkinson.
• Rowan Atkinson had a part in 'Love, Actually', as did January Jones.
• January Jones stars in 'X-Men: First Class', alongside Kevin Bacon.

or...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry was in 'Blackadder', which was partly written by Richard Curtis.
• Richard Curtis was also the writer of 'Notting Hill', starring Julia Roberts.
• Julia Roberts appeared in 1990's 'Flatliners', with Kevin Bacon.

or...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry provided voice-work for 'Alice in Wonderland', as did Crispin Glover.
• Recycled footage of Crispin Glover was used in 'Back To the Future II', which also starred Elizabeth Shue.
• Elizabeth Shue starred in 2000's 'Hollowman' with Kevin Bacon.



I know what you're thinking. Three connections in three steps would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry was the voice of the book in 2005's 'Hitchhikers' adaptation, starring Sam Rockwell.
• Sam Rockwell played in 2008's 'Frost/Nixon', as did Kevin Bacon.

or...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry was in 2010's 'Alice in Wonderland', which also starred Michael Sheen.
• Michael Sheen was in 2008's 'Frost/Nixon', alongside Kevin Bacon.

or...

• Melissa met Stephen Fry last year in Oxford.
• Stephen Fry provided voice-work for the game 'Fable III', as did Nicholas Hoult.
• Nicholas Hoult plays Beast in 'X-Men: First Class', alongside Kevin Bacon.




...And that, Melissa, is as far as I got. To connect you in two steps would require a direct link between Fry and Bacon.
And other than the obvious puns about breakfast, I can't find any, sorry.

Maybe you should commission a sitcom starring them both, in which they play mis-matched flatmates?
Actually, that'd probably work if we can get Sean Bean on board too...

Fry, Bacon and Bean starts on BBC3 this Autumn...


Anyway, Melissa; you're very, very welcome.



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Friday, 3 June 2011

162: M is for Microscopic Lifeforms

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

...Or Midichlorians to you and me. Yes, the M word. Between 1977 and 1999, The Force was a mysterious thing, almost religious in its ambiguity, unable to be explained in the physical universe. We knew little-to nothing about the Jedi Order, the lineage of the Skywalker family, or how/why The Force manifested itself in some people and not in others.

'Tick in the appropriate box for a boy or a girl...'

The door was opened a little with The Phantom Menace in '99. We saw the Jedi Council, a monastic organisation in that they have a dedicated place of study/meditation and a policy of non-attachment. The knock-on effect of this policy means that, generally speaking, the Jedi don't marry or populate. The most obvious exception to this, of course, is Anakin Skywalker, who did both of those things. It almost goes without saying that Anakin didn't go down the 'usual' path, but it at least proves (as if we didn't know already) that when Force-sensitive beings have children, there's a strong chance that they too will share the same connection (bear in mind, Luke Skywalker had a talent, but his sister Leia's powers were far weaker).

'If you think the hand's good, you should see what your old man's got fitted...'

So, if they're not having children, where do baby Jedi* come from? Well, you've got to figure they've been 'chosen' by The Force, which brings us back to the mystical aspect. As if The Force is a higher, collective consciousness, able to reach into the physical realm to try and maintain the order of the galaxy. There's certainly an element of that suggestion throughout the films, which only increases in the prequel trilogy, with mention of 'the will of The Force', 'the living Force' and 'the unifying Force'. So, when the Jedi arrive at the house of a non-Force-sensitive couple, to test their child and determine suitability for a life at The Temple, how do they go about it? How do they measure the potential of the infant (or adult for that matter)? Do they sit around for a couple of years and wait for the little one to start moving cups about? Think of it another way, when you take your son or daughter to Clarks' for their first pair of shoes, does the assistant look at their feet for a minute and say "Oh, that looks like a size 2 to me. Yep, size 2."? Of course they don't, they use measuring equipment.

That's where Midichlorians come in.

On Tatooine, Qui-Gon Jinn meets a boy that he can sense in The Force as being potentially powerful. But depending on the sensitivity of the tester, surely this power will be interpreted as different each time? Qui-Gon takes a sample of Anakin's blood and runs a test, discovering that he has a high Midichlorian-count. The higher the count, the more potential the subject has for training in The Force. Every living organism has some Midichlorians, but a certain level is needed for Force-sensitivity. Anakin Skywalker has loads of Midichlorians, and this was determined in under a minute of screen-time.

Takin' a swab from little Anni.

People didn't like Midichlorians. People thought that Midichlorians robbed The Force of it's mystical nature. I've even heard it said that pre-1999, the films had suggested that anyone could become a Jedi by skill and training alone, and that Midichlorians changed the game so that 'you have to be born with it to be able to join the club'. After all, the Original Trilogy doesn't suggest otherwise. Mind you, going from the OT, in order to be a Force-user, maybe you had to have at least one red-headed parent. The films don't suggest otherwise there, either. Along with other (if anything, more justifyable) aspects, Midichlorians have been viewed as part of the downhill-slide of Star Wars.

'It's either Midichlorians or Mumps, I can't tell...'

Now, thinking 'in-universe', do you really believe that in a society such as the one depicted in the GFFA, where all manner of intelligent alien life-forms, plasma-beam weapons, and faster-than-light travel are commonplace, that not one person has brought up at the Friday-meeting: "You know the Jedi? You know how they can do things that the rest of us can't? And you know how we can't explain that yet? Do you think there must be something different somewhere in them? Even if it's just at a cellular-level? If you don't mind, I'm going to spend the next week analysing the blood samples of Jedi and non-Jedi."

...so we can replace three limbs and build in a life support system, but we can't tell what blood-type he is?

It stands to reason that if there is a difference, society would have found it. After all, the Jedi have been a presence in the GFFA for at least 4,000 years (that's when the earliest expanded-universe material is set). Think what humans have achieved in a couple of hundred years. Think what we've learned. Think what we'll know in 3,800 years if we make it that far. If there was a group of people who could bend spoons with their minds, it wouldn't take us long (even now) to determine if there was something different in their biological make-up.

So that explains the presence of Midichlorians, but what about the implication? Well, read above. It makes no difference to your personal interpretation of The Force at all. It's like saying the mystery of aeroplanes has been ruined because someone's explained to you what type of fuel is in the tank. The reason that Jedi exist in the first place, the reason that some are more powerful than others, the way that Jedi are born to non-Jedi parents, becoming one with The Force, the netherworld that Qui-Gon discovers and that Obi-Wan, Yoda and somehow Anakin learn to transcend to... none of those things are explained by the presence of Midichlorians.

...and yet no-one questions the magical properties of Bacta, do they?

Naysayers: Your mystery is intact, nothing has changed. If anything, the implication that Darth Sidious' master Darth Plagueis had manipulated The Force to impregnate Shmi Skywalker? That should be setting your alarm-bells ringing...


*I'm only going to say this once. The plural of Jedi is Jedi. Like sheep, fish, deer, etc. It pisses me off no end when people say "Jedis". Not once in seven films is the plural referred to in this way. *seethes*



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• Photos and videos appearing in this blog post are for informational and reference purposes only, and no ownership of copyright is claimed or implied by me. The intellectual and physical copyright of such material belongs to its creators and owners.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organizations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

161: Review - X-Men: First Class (spoiler-free)

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.


X-Men: First Class poster

X-Men: First Class (Spoiler Free)
01 June 2011. Location: Cinema

Rose Byrne and January Jones? Marvel, you're spoiling me! Go on, then.

Matthew (Kick Ass, Layer Cake) Vaughn is at the helm for the fifth X-Men movie, and as usual, it's on the grittier side of comic book adaptations. The movie opens with a very faithful reshoot of the beginning of 2000's X-Men, set in a Nazi concentration camp as a young Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents, kickstarting his super-powers. After that, we quickly skip through the formative years of Erik and his future-partner/nemesis Charles Xavier, and on to a fairly lengthy series of introductions to the rest of the cast.

Speaking of the cast, once you get past the fact that Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy neither look, sound nor act like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, they do an excellent job in their portrayals, as does almost* everyone else on-screen.

The Good: With the exceptions of what's listed below, everything about this film falls into the good category. Great acting, great script, effects, score, camera work. They've even addressed a couple of continuity spikes rather nicely, and if I'm not very much mistaken, Rebecca Romijn (Mystique from the first three X-Men movies) has a fleeting cameo appearance, although she doesn't seem to be credited for it. Speaking of cameos, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine makes a brief appearance during the recruiting sequence, and his three-word scene made me guffaw out loud. Maybe cover the young ones' ears, though? First time I've heard that in a 12A cert movie.

The Bad: * I'm not feeling the love for the very young Xavier and Mystique, played by Laurence Belcher and Morgan Lily, respectively. They're not awful, but child acting is rarely on-par, and X-Men: First Class is no exception. Young Magneto is spot-on, but his storyline has a little more drama than Xavier, so he has more to work with. Also worth mentioning, although not necessarily bad, Charles Xavier seems to turn into Austin Powers when he chats up women (and he does chat them up).

The Ugly: Continuity issues, I'm afraid. I won't go into them here, but after I've watched the film again in a few days, I'll do a second-pass review all about them.

All in all: Excellent work all round. Considering it's the fifth movie in the franchise, it's also an excellent place to start for those who haven't seen any (perhaps arguably better that way, anyway?). If you like your heroes to be a bit philosophical, and have a sense of humour without being silly, this movie is for you.

No cameo by Stan Lee in this one, and no bonus-scene after the credits. I'll take the second one if it means having the first ;)

6/7



DISCLAIMERS:
• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.
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