Sunday, 25 January 2015

Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

This week dear readers, I headed out to my local cinema and saw Birdman, which is what I'm going to be discussing today, shockingly enough. As far as introductions go, I am aware that it is a bit dry, but immediately after seeing Birdman I went on to consume copious amounts of alcohol, although the two events are not related, so everything about me is a bit dry today.

I literally have nothing to say.
So, in a sentence, Birdman depicts the story of a washed up actor (Riggan Thompson, played by Michael Keaton), who once played an iconic superhero, battling his ego and attempting to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of his Broadway play.
I still have nothing to say. All I'm thinking about it what I'll make for dinner once I've
written this review.
I feel like Birdman is going to be a bit of a marmite film: a lot of people are going to really enjoy it and a lot of people are really going to dislike it. Personally, I really enjoyed it. The main cast is incredibly strong and every single member receives a moment (or more) to shine. Keaton leads the ensemble with a performance that, without question, is made all the more interesting given his own experience as a former A-list superhero actor. Emma Stone is raw and real as Riggan’s daughter-turned-PA Sam, fresh out of rehab and keen to explain to her previously absent father his overwhelming hypocrisy regarding his (semi-obsessive) desire to remain current and still relevant in this world, but will openly mock Twitter and makes no effort to hide his hatred of Facebook. Edward Norton is Mike Shiner, an arrogant creep of a movie actor called in at the last moment to help boost ticket sales, whilst Riggan is still blinded by Shiners incredible acting skills and it has not yet dawned on him that hiring this intense method actor might not be in his best interest. 

Birdman Movie Michael Keaton Edward Norton Birdman Review
Maybe I'll make pasta bake.
 I must also give a shout out to the supporting ladies of Birdman as well; Andrea Riseborough as Laura and Naomi Watts as Lesly, the two leading ladies in "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love", Riggans Broadway debut, Amy Ryan as the ex-wife Sylvia and Lindsey Duncan as the venomous theatre critic Tabitha all did fantastic jobs, though their roles were fleeting. Brief mention to Zach Galifranakis, who at first was unrecognisable (at least to me anyway) as the down to earth, voice of reason, best friend and lawyer Jake. Since my only exposure to Galifranakis as an actor is through the Hangover franchise, it was refreshing to see him as ... well, anything other than that character.

Birdman Movie Review
Maybe I'll just buy a pizza.
The difference between Birdman and probably (I'm saying probably because who am I to definitively say all the other films when I haven't seen them all, and because y'all will prove me wrong, smartasses.) all of the other films that are out right is that Inarritu has created the sensation that you are watching (the majority of) a two-hour film shot all in one take. Through impossibly long, intricately choreographed tracking shots, the camera swoops through narrow corridors, up and down tight stairways and into crowded streets. It comes in close for quiet conversations and soars between skyscrapers for magical-realism flights of fancy. Although we have seen the long-take trick before, perhaps most notably in Hitchcock’s 1948 chamber thriller Rope, which masked five of its 10 cuts by slinking in close to its cast, it doesn't make it any less impressive to watch. I thought it was interesting as well because the film is set around this play that Riggan is trying to get on its feet, and in theatre there are no cuts or anything. A film about a play made to look like the same medium of the theatre? What are words. Also worth mentioning is the  percussive and propulsive score from Antonio Sanchez, heavy on drums and cymbals, which maintains a jazzy, edgy vibe throughout, and when it really gets going, makes you go, "Oh Shit." as shit undoubtedly proceeds to go down.

Maybe a baked potato, who knows? My life is filled with endless possibilities.
There is a meta-ness to the whole film, which it manages to pull of nicely without being too content in its own cleverness. Firstly we have Keaton, who starred in Tim Burton’s two mega-grossing Batman films then quit the franchise on principle, an actor who supposedly peaked twenty years ago whilst playing a superhero, as Riggan, an actor who peaked twenty years ago whilst playing a superhero. Secondly we have Norton, an actor who has come into Birdman with the baggage of being difficult and demanding over the years, playing Mike Shiner, a difficult and demanding actor. You get the point.

Ooh, or maybe curry.
To wrap things up, I'll leave you this: Birdman is a joy to watch, both for the technicality of the film making and for the performances drawn from the actors. It is funny, occasionally heartbreaking and a little bit of a mind fuck. Well worth some of your hard earned cash I reckon. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Barakamon: The Many Faces of Naru

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 poster

This is my first time talking about an anime series, so I'm not particularly comfortable with the whole critique thing here. There's a lot of cultural motifs and references that I simply don't get because this isn't exactly my field; so instead of talking about Barakamon critically I'm just going to bombard you with pictures of Naru, the single most wonderful and adorable character ever to come out of anything ever and you should watch this show just to marvel at her and omg she's so amazing. *inhale*

Readers, I present to you Naru from Barakamon:

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru seishu

Look at that thing! If you could personify the "squeee" noise people make at adorable puppies, this is the creature you would inevitably create. The guy holding her up is Seishu "Sensei" Handa, the main character of this adaptation of the 2009 manga series. A master calligrapher gone stale, Handa gets sent off to Goto Island by his father to cool off after blowing up at a museum curator at an exhibition. His trip exposes him to the myriad beauties of the island along with it's colourfully mental inhabitants; but no-one quite has an effect on him like Naru does.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru car seishu hospital

Annoying as hell and filled to the brim with wild abandon, Naru is the complete antithesis to Handa's stony, defeatist demeanour; but the two are inadvertently brought together by their mutual loneliness and a desire for someone to look to in times of need. Yes, that sounds exactly as tear-jerkingly heart warming as it is, and no, you will not be spared. What I especially love though is that although this is a prime setup for lots of feelsy music and monologues about how their lives have been changed forever by each other (we'll call this technique "Disneying"), they never do that. It's almost agonising how little the two acknowledge how much they mean to each other and that just makes it all the more lovely.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 beach ocean naru hina
"We're just bobbing along, bobbing along..."

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 graves naru miwa seishu fireworks

I think it's safe to say that the rest of the supporting cast is pretty much perfect as well. The island's inhabitants have a spot on mix of quirkiness and genuine humanity that is very difficult to balance, particularly in a cartoon.

Yes, there's a few absolute caricatures (one stand-out being Miwa's terrifying dad), but on a whole you'll love everybody. From Naru's best friend Hina [top, in the rubber ring] who cries at everything especially when she's happy, and the two middle schoolers Tama and Miwa [bottom, holding the sparklers] who use Handa's house as their den and mercilessly torment him for fun, to the shopkeeper's adorable dog and the chain smoking headmaster of the school who spends all of his time fishing; there's not one person you won't find yourself gushing over eventually.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru vine seishu

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina kimono gif

The episodes are, at a merciful 20 minutes (I couldn't handle much more cute in one go), very snappy and full of energy; usually starting with Handa struggling to find inspiration before being whisked off by the kids to go do something stupid or distracting himself with a mundane task that ends up taking all day. I'll put it this way: it's no explosive robot battles or 20-story tall flesh giants, and that makes it a wonderful breath of fresh air after you've hit a bit of a sensory overload with other anime.

By forgoing battles and unnecessary flashy effects, Barakamon spends its time lazing around on the beach getting to know the islanders and, with the help of some great writing, its interest comes from simply getting a glimpse into the normal lives of normal people who incidentally all happen to be utterly crazy.

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru chopped onions blood seishu

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru serious face

The more relaxed overall pace of the show also gives it the time to mess around with a lot of genre tropes (ie. the aforementioned over-the-top effects and such) to create some really funny and original moments. The animation helps, stretching itself around a joke with remarkable fluidity; be it by turning the characters into adorable chibi versions of themselves or giving Naru the most disturbing serious face I've ever seen (see above).

They even managed to play with censorship laws to make two relatively innocent moments seem much more adult than they meant to, with hilarious effect. The bowl Naru's holding up there is meant to be a bowl of onions Handa cut himself preparing and bled all over, but the addition of the fuzzy blocks makes the potential contents of the bowl appear a whole lot more sinister. Then there's the incident with the sea slug:

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina sea slug ejaculate
You shouldn't laugh but...
All in all, I've not laughed, giggled, wept or cheered along with a show this much in a long time. And what's more it gave me yet another wonderful insight into a culture that has me thoroughly captivated. I'd watch Japanese people pee if- wait, that's already a thing and no thank you. Ahem.

I canny wait for series 2!

Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru hina crying seishu
Neither can they, the wee scones.
And if you're ever worried that you don't have enough of a heart, do yourself a favour and let Barakamon grow you a new one. Till next time, Ben out.
Barakamon series 1 anime tv 2014 naru festival smile

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler (A Book Review by Someone Who Can't Review Books)

Hello one and all! Today, I am attempting to dip my toes into the world of book reviewing by taking on my recently finished copy of Yes Please by the one and only Amy Poehler.

I was going to teach you how to make these delicious parcels of deliciousness:

It's what's on the inside that counts guys. And on
the inside is a warm hug of tastiness.
But then I forgot to take any pictures in the process of making them and then I ate them all, soooooo yeah.

You are everything I aspire to be.
I first picked up Amy's Yes Please whilst I was waiting in a Waterstones' Costa Cafe for a friend - I didn't have enough time to go back to my flat, but I certainly had a fair bit of time to kill. I had been aware that Amy's (yes, I am going for first name basis because we are there, so deal with it) book had very recently just come out, and I did have every intention of reading it - although maybe in a few months/year when it had been re-released in paperback and going for £2 in Fopp. However, I made the rookie mistake of picking it up to read whilst I waited, got three pages in, laughed out loud five times and knew I was going to have to shell out full price for it, because there was no way I was leaving Waterstones without that book in my bag.

Amy Poehler Parks and Recreation
Context Schmontext
Initially I was worried I might not understand much of her book - I'm familiar but not overly familiar with her work. I am aware of her through Tina Fey (whose book Bossypants I need to read), I am aware of her on SNL and her show Parks and Recreation, the latter of which I haven't actually watched, but fully intend to. Thankfully my worries were unfounded as, despite her references towards these various shows she has worked on, she gives enough context surrounding whatever experience she is discussing to set the scene without me feeling like I'm missing out on vital information just because I haven't seen an episode she is talking about.

I wish I could pull of those kind of beanie hats, but I can't. I just can't.
Yes Please is a book which I like to refer to as as a 'non-book'. It doesn't adhere to a specific structure, it jumps about space and time like no-one's business and is not a literary thinker. You'll be able to tear through it pretty easily. Not that there's anything wrong with that! Sometimes you need to just put down War and Peace and enjoy a funny book by a funny person. She gets personal - she talks lovingly of her children, of her parents, her childhood and of her job - but not too personal, as the only mention of her recent divorce with Will Arnett is brief and non-specific. She writes about some unpleasantness she has encountered, like the long process of being able to accept that she did something wrong; she was an asshole and it's time to admit it. She also speaks of her inability to sleep, but as far as discomfort goes, that's about as uncomfortable it gets. Not that one can blame her for perhaps not wanting to fill a book with her darkest times, but it does get a little, "Okay, your life is (seemingly) perfect, we get it." at times. But that's a minor nit-pick on my part.

Is there any look you can't do?
If you are a fan of her work, or just of comedy as a whole, you're in for a treat. Poehler writes a lot about her time at SNL and on Parks and Recreation, even dishing out little biographies for her Parks and Rec colleagues (Favourite time on set, What you might not know, Favourite thing about them etc). Various famous names pop up for guest slots, even a chapter written by Seth Meyers!

I'm going to wrap things up there guys because:
A) I don't want to give away any more of the book, you should really just go read it.
B) Reviewing books is hard and clearly something I need way more practise at.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Top 5 "Oo, That Might Not Be Shit" Movies of 2015

Happy New Year everybodily! I hope all of you had a lovely Christmas and spent much time and money getting cataclysmically hammered, as is tradition. Let's all hope 2015 is an amazingly awesome year full of joy and other such sappy guff what like that.

back to the future 3 III jules verne train
And flying time trains; just like Back to the Future III promised!
I'm a creature of habit; I can't help it. I get up in the morning, put the kettle on, feed the captives, clean my teeth. I like routine. That means when I do something that has the potential to be a yearly occurrence, I'll likely take that opportunity. As such, in a follow-up to 2014's of the same ilk, I've gathered together a bunch of films coming out in 2015 that I'm penning into my diary as possible sources of enjoyment or, after the outcome of some of the items on last year's list, the least disappointment. Seeing as I'm already a week late on this post, let's not hesitate any further. Here we go!

5. Wild (Release: 16th January)

reese witherspoon wild poster 2015 film

I'll let you in on a secret: I pick all of the films for this list by going onto the "Coming Soon" section of IMDb and scrolling through the whole year. It gives me a general outline of some of the stuff I might be interested in, but sadly there's a lot that'll be announced later in the year or that's simply been omitted that I won't spot as a result. As such, don't consider this list a definitive account of everything I want to see: it's the taster board of the year to come. Despite that, I think I've still found five movies coming out this year (in the UK, anyhoo) that look genuinely interesting either as a result of unique story, the presence of a director/actor who's recent work I've enjoyed, lots of those squiggly award logos at the beginning of the trailer, or any mixture of the former.

cannes film festival palme d'or award logo
The Palme d'Or: The PornHub logo of wanky cinema.
So the first new release of the year that has piqued my interest stars Reese Witherspoon (who looks way different to what I remember her like in Legally Blonde a mere...14...years...oh god, I feel old) in Wild, the new film by Jean-Marc Vallee, director of Dallas Buyers Club (where we got the unique pleasure of watching Jared Leto dress as a woman and slowly die). Technically this came out last year, but it's global commercial release ain't till 16th January, so as far as us common Joes are concerned it just got released.

This movie looks pretty standard as far as a plot of a "true story" film goes: someone suffers a horrific ordeal and decides to go on a life-altering journey to re-find themselves; cue personal struggle and uplifting montages. What makes me a little more interested in this one than any other coming out this year is the pairing of writer and director.

george lucas
I've not been so excited about writer/director duos since this guy started doing both. Oh, wait...
Dallas Buyers Club was pretty darn good, and any person in their right mind would be buzzing to see what Vallee was up to next; but the addition of Nick Hornby (writer of the novels-cum-movies High Fidelity and About a Boy) as the writer gives me high hopes for how good this movie is going to be at really getting you to care about its characters. Many a heart string shalt be plucked when this one comes out, methinks, and I don't doubt I'll be one of them.

4. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (Release: 20th February)

kumiko the treasure hunter film 2015 poster
I see me some squiggly award logos!
This one's been making the rounds of film festivals all over the shop in the past year and won't be seeing a proper release until next month, but I want it NOW. Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter looks absolutely fascinating. It follows a Japanese woman who mistakes a copy of the Coen brothers film Fargo for a treasure map and decides to go find the bag of money buried in the snow in the movie.

peter stormare headshot
Little does she know that they actually dug it back up and fed it to Peter Stormare as his payment.
I love Fargo. That would be enough for me to want to see this film. But the fact that it's both an independent movie and has all like Japan stuff in it just makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. This movie is designed to ensnare hipstery wankers like me, and I'm totally cool with that.

The trailer and synopsis give very little away about what's actually going to happen to the titular Kumiko (played by Rinko Kikuchi; Pacific Rim's Mako) whilst on her journey, but it does a stellar job of building a foreboding and unwelcoming atmosphere. I have a feeling this movie ain't gonna be the cheeriest romp ever.
rinko kikuchi kumiko the treasure hunter
And not one giant robot to be found.
Understated, ponderous and oozing with potential; even if it doesn't blow my mind I have a feeling Kumiko will at least be memorable.

3. Chappie (Release: 6th March)

chappie film 2015 neil blomkamp

After Elysium turned out to be a bit of a wet fart of a movie (albeit a fun one), Neil Blomkamp looks to have got his awesome District 9 momentum back with his new film about a humanoid CGI mo-cap creature that is unfairly ostracised by the human community: Chappie. The difference here is that it's a robot instead of an alien.

district 9 2009 neil blomkamp film robot gun exploding man gif
Your mind right now.
Voiced and mo-capped by the beloved Shartlo Copley (the main guy in District 9 or, alternatively, the mental one in The A-Team), Chappie looks like the most adorable mix of Robocop and Number 5 ever imagined and the film appears to approach similar questions to those movies too. What if we were to start relying on robots in our armies and police forces and what if a robot were to develop the ability to feel?

chappie 2015 film trailer giant robot hugh jackman neil blomkamp
And, of course: "How much can we rip off the design of the ED-209?"
Just from the two trailers currently released at time of publishing it looks like we're in for the full shabang of Blomkamp staples: civil unrest, shady government organisations, military forces that can't be trusted, thinly veiled metaphors for racial discrimination. In short: this movie is going to rock the balls off that awful monster in that one Transformers film; which, incidentally, also appears to be the only robo-sci-fi Chappie doesn't seem to have lovingly taken themes and inspiration from. It feels like the greatest Frankenstein's creature of Robocop, Short Curcuit, Ghost in the Shell and iRobot (the book, not the film. Ew.) ever created.

And just to top it off, we're going to get to watch Hugh Jackman finally fight the robots he trained to box years ago. Score!

Here's the link to the second, very different, trailer.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (Release: 15th May)

mad max fury road 2015 film poster
This poster actually smells of gasoline and burned flesh. HOW?!
I didn't like the original Mad Max. By my modern, desensitised standards it felt dull and rather lifeless for an Australian apocalyptic action film that was exceptionally over-hyped to me. Never watched the third one, but Road Warrior was pretty good. Anyhoo, there's a new one coming out this year, Mad Max: Fury Road, and boy does it look sweeeeeet. 

mad max fury road 2015 film car chase pole vaulting
By order of the Court of Awesome, henceforth all films shall be required to contain desert car pole-vaulting.
Despite obviously being a Mad Max movie, Fury Road somehow managed to also channel the same sense of psychotic abandon and danger that I last felt while playing Borderlands; a game which is about an entire planet of maniacal murderers driving about in stupid cars and beheading each other. A planet. That's like six Australias or some shit. Also they've replaced that terrifying anti-semitic guy with the muscle-bound Adonis that is Tom Hardy; hoorays all round for that casting choice.

mad max fury road film tom hardy 2015
Ladies, start your engines. *vroom*
Explosions. Stupid car chases. Sexy people causing both of the former. Cool setting and costuming. Sure, it's not going to be a ground-breaking piece of art; but if all goes well, we might just see the live action 18-rated version of that bit in The Lego Movie when Emmet uses his own head as a spare tyre. That's good enough for me.

The lego movie 2014 emmet head wheel gif
Add crunching neck sound effects at your own discretion.
For me, the real clincher will be how much of the stunts are physical effects and how much they choose to magic up with a compyater. It shouldn't matter, but it does. Here's the trailer:

1. Inside Out (Release: 24th July)

inside out film 2015 pixar poster disney

How could I not put this on my list? A new Pixar film written and directed by the guy who did Up? Sign over my first born son, cause I'll be going to see Inside Out enough times to have to sell him into slavery the moment he comes out.

adorable baby holding foot
"Sure, he's cute, but can he build a pyramid?"
Now I'll admit, the story following the adventures of the feelings that live inside the head of a human being certainly isn't that original. Two times come to mind in particular: firstly, one of the best Beano strips ever; The Numskulls; something which I do not take kindly to being imitated so brashly. More worryingly though is the second example: this animation by Walt Disney made back in 1943 called Reason and Emotion. It was Academy Award nominated short about the battle between emotion and reason and how being at all emotional is very wrong and that we should obey our superiors for the sake of the war effort to stop the highly emotional Hitler. Also, just so you know, women can't be trusted because they're too emotional and whatnot.
walt disney racist sexist cartoon 1943 reason and emotion
It really is a terrible cartoon.
Of course we've come a long way since those days, but the fact that a major studio would decide to make a film that so closely resembles a part of their past that they really shouldn't be proud of is still somewhat worrying. That and the advert does seem to stray a little too closely into the tired and frankly offensive gender stereotypes I thought we'd started to grow out of. Either way, the ad does appear to show the kind of humour and meaty characterisation that we've come to expect from Pixar, so if anyone could handle this kind of hot potato it'd be them.

disney pixar inside out film joy disgust anger fear sadness 2015
They're so ruddy adorable!
If you liked Up, then do yourself a favour and pencil this one in. And don't be afraid to demand your money back if your shoes ain't squelching with tears by the end; I'm expecting no less.

Honorable Mention - Pixels (Release: 14th August)

pixels film 2015 adam sandler chris columbus
Why would someone make such an awesome poster for such a guaranteed awful film?
I'm sorry to finish on a downer, but I need to mention this film, simply for the soul-crushing disappointment I feel every time I hear something new about it. The first time I head about Pixels was when the absolutely epic poster art started to circulate, and I was all like "Woah!" and "This'll be so awesome!" and stuff. A movie directed by Chris Columbus and based on a wonderfully imaginative short all about video game characters wrecking shit in the real world? And it has Peter Dinklage in it? How could it possibly go wro-

adam sandler massive turd on a stick anal prolapse fistula smegma cancerous remains gif
Yup. Written by the genius minds behind such classics of modern cinema as Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy (films so loathsome I've omitted even italicising them or linking to their IMDb pages) and starring the anal prolapse that was in the former films, Adam "Really-Does-Deserve-All-The-Hate-He-Gets" Sandler, Pixels is going to be a disaster. Turns out the story is an ever so original tale of aliens mistaking old video games as a declaration of war and inexplicably deciding to attack the Earth with said game icons, leaving the fate of the planet in the hands of a ragtag bunch of gamers. That is the most mind-numbingly unoriginal plot I have ever heard.

futurama alien invasion space invaders gif
Also, Futurama totally already aced it.
This movie could have been great. It could have been another Scott Pilgrim or Wreck-It Ralph (both good enough to get two links to their IMDb pages). An ode to the glory of gaming that doesn't just use it as a shorthand for pulling in geek money. But alas; it is being made by some of the most consistently awful film makers of our generation. And Chris Columbus for some reason. A moment of silence, if you please, for a great film that will never be.

Any movies you'd like to see this year? Let us know!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Let's Cook! Curry with Rhona

Hello there! I hope you all had a smashing time ringing in the bells, I sure did!

Anyway, today's post, dear readers, comes to you in video form! As part of my new years resolutions (ew, I know), I've decided to endeavour to make more projects outside of university. Just for my own enjoyment - take the time to experiment with my camera and play with the editing software I bought a while back which I haven't had a chance to use until now. So do bear with me folks (I know I ask you guys to do that a lot), as I try to become a less shitty film maker.

Bask in the glory of my tiny, tiny kitchen.
So I present to you a video which, if you wanted to follow along with, you can have a delicious curry in no time!

Reflections, post-filming.
1. Filming by yourself is hard.
2. Filming whilst cooking is very hard. Things burn.
3. What should have been a fifteen minute curry turned into an hour and a half. Filming is long.
4. I don't tend to edit my films in university, so it'll be fun trying to get better at editing, as I am aware it is not my forte.
5. I really enjoyed myself, like, it was a lot of fun! Looking forward to doing more!

Till next week!