Sunday, 27 April 2014

Review: Hannah and Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) is one of Woody Allen's most famous and praised films as far as I tell - Siskel and Ebert certainly praised it in their review. It seems to be up there with Manhattan and Annie Hall, which I guess isn't surprising since the script won an award. 

Nonetheless, I have to say that this film didn't really grab me. Perhaps its tiredness on my part - and I know I am tired - but still it just seemed, well a bit boring. 

This doesn't mean the film isn't well done, or didn't have its moments. There's a brilliant shot of the sisters round a table, with the camera roting round their faces in close-up as they speak, and a great scene where Micky (aka Allen) appears to have gone out and bought Catholicism along with a loaf of bread and a jar of mayo. I also thought they were some brilliant lines and jokes in it, some really excellent ones, as well a couple of rather thoughtful monologues on life and death. This is also the first film I've seen Carrie Fisher act in where she isn't dating Hans Solo. And I'm going to have check this up, but did Frasier get their one line interludes idea from this film?

Despite all these points though the whole film felt a little tepid. Maybe its because I was expecting slightly more romance, sexiness or energy, and this is more of an analysis of mature relationships, of the complex and messy muddle human hearts can get themselves into. 

But I'm skipping ahead a bit, the films basically follows two stories. One centres around Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters, but mostly about her sister Lea (Barbara Hershey) and her husband Elliot, who is love with her. Over the course of the film he admits these feelings to Lea but this only creates emotional complications, as Elliot (Michael Caine) seems unable to leave Hannah. Meanwhile, Hannah's hypochondriac ex-husband Micky (surprise, Woody Allen), goes on a journey of trying to understand life and death after his doctors become concerned about a slightly deaf ear, that at worst, may indicate a brain tumour. 

This second story line, though it created some funny scenes and some profound thoughts, I personally thought was a little wearying. I know the topic of life and death is a favourite of Allen's - or rather death particularly - but montages of Micky being tested and then him agonising was just a bit much for me this time. 

This might have been better if the second story was more upbeat, but instead everywhere characters seemed to be mentally wringing their hands. Elliot in particular, though not an intentionally mean character, was so indecisive and somewhat selfish I'd had enough of him by the end - kudos to Michael Caine for proving his flexibility as an actor though. 

The film ends happily enough, and the last line is a corker, but personally this is not one of my favourite Allen films. Again this might merely because I've seen quite a few now and recurring traits of Allen's films are starting to simply bore me - or maybe I might want another of his films and really like it, like I did with A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982). Maybe in a week or so, I'll think back and change my mind - like I did with Hot Fuzz (2007) and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). It was only hindsight and thinking about the scenes again that I realised I really rather liked them, or in Hot Fuzz's case, found it really rather awesome. 

In summary

The popular Hannah and Her Sisters is a solid piece of Woody Allen cinema, with a cast of wonderful actors, including familiar faces and some excellent appearances by Carrie Fisher and Michael Caine, and some fantastic quick jokes. On the whole though I personally found it rather underwhelming, and its rather serious and contemplative tone a little dull. 

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Five of My Favourite: Male Nerds and Geeks from TV

Well, here's my extra post, I'm doing a review this weekend. I thought I'd continue with another fun post, and since I've done the my top five female geeks and nerds, I thought I'd do my five of my favourite guys too. 

Please note as usual, that the list is in no particular order.

1] Sheldon Cooper - The Big Bang Theory

A theoretical physicist, a science-fiction geek and a gamer to boot, Sheldon is probably one of the most famous nerds on television at the moment. 

I have heard that some people in the nerd/geek community do not like the Big Bang Theory because it essential mocks nerds, and though I love the show, I can see what they mean sometimes. The other male characters can seem a little embarrassed about nerdiness, especially with their girlfriends, except for Sheldon. He doesn't apologise for being nerd - or anything really, but that's beside the point. In fact he is often surprised, and pitiful, that more people don't know or care about sci-fi and science - and I personally think that's one of the things that makes him so cool. 

2] Kowalski - The Penguins of Madagascar

You've probably all seen or heard of the four penguins from the Madagascar films who act like they're a special forces unit. Well the characters were so popular they got their own spin-off series - and it is fantastic. 

Kowalski is the genius inventor, scientist and general Q of the team - and probably my favourite character. Known for inventing incredible contraptions, he has a touch of the mad scientist about him. It should also be noted that despite understanding physics and once owning a Higgs Boson - he can't actually read. However, he is a penguin and unlike some other television scientists he can fight and is always involved in missions. 

3] Pete Lattimer - Warehouse 13

Pete Latimer is the goofy, often childish partner of Myka at the Warehouse. He is also a comic-book geek and has collected almost every issue of The Iron Shadow, who his favourite superhero - we even see him wear a Iron Shadow T-shirt. 

4] Dr Rodney McKay - Stargate Atlantis

A physicist and  engineer who has worked with stargates, he is the Head Scientist on Atlantis. He's also the guy who normally ends up solving the team's big problem, whether that's fixing a machine or finding a way to escape a volcano in a spaceship. Hints throughout the series suggest he is also Star Trek and Batman fan. 

5] The Doctor - Doctor Who

I have to admit I was unsure about putting the Doctor on this list, unlike the others who are sort of just ordinary but very intelligent or passionate people, he is an alien. His people are more science based and inherently smarter than us. Then again this list includes a penguin so, I say no criteria applies. 

The Doctor of course has a vast knowledge of science, from astrology to engineering to physics and a myriad of other subjects. I guess he also seems to embody other traits I associate with geeks and nerds - passion for technical stuff, the fact his superpower is his intelligence, the fact he can often be goofy or speak in a load jargon. The Doctor is almost all knowing but also all round brilliant.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Five of My Favourite: Female Nerds and Geeks from TV

Okay, so last weekend I only managed two reviews after promising three - I can be excused for watching Game of Thrones? - so I'll be writing an extra post sometime over the next week. In the meantime, I thought I'd have a change of pace and a little fun since its the holidays, and do a list this week.

So, today's list is the my top five female nerds and geeks, in no particular order.

Note - on definitions of nerd and geek. I personally consider these positive terms, with nerd applying to people with interests and expertise in scientific areas, and geek to anyone who is very passionate about a particular subject. However, these are just my personal definitions - you may find others online or in a dictionary.

1] Myka Bering - Warehouse 13

Myka is not only super smart, with a great eye for details, but definitely a book nerd. She grew up reading H G Wells and many other classics in the bookshop run by her parents, and her ability to quote Shakespeare has even saved lives. 

[2] Col./Doctor Sam Carter - Stargate SG1

Though she's already turned up on one of my previous top five lists, I couldn't help but include her here. An astrophysicist and engineer, with an obvious passion for science, she is an expert in alien technology and the cleverest member of SG1. 

3] Claudia Donovan - Warehouse 13

A cool technical nerd, Claudia has amazing computer skills, allowing to hack into a system and find anything she wants. Something of an inventor too, she has been known to create several useful gadgets for use in the Warehouse, including an holographic projector and a periscope for Artie. She also gets pretty cranky when she ends up stuck in the forest with no good Internet signal whilst on assignment. 

4] Lisa Simpson - The Simspons

Perhaps one of the most famous nerds/geeks on television, Lisa is years ahead of her classmates. A member of MENSA, she has been interested in astronomy, helped Doctor Nick give her father a heart bypass and in one episode pretended to be a boy so she could learn maths in a more traditional way, after her school was serparated into girls and boys.

5] Doctor Amy Farrah Fowler - The Big Bang Theory

Again another one from my female scientists list. Amy, though not into science-fiction or comics like Sheldon Cooper, is a neurologist with a passion for medieval literature and playing the harp. Probably the smartest out of the Big Bang Theory girls, she seems to have a good knowledge of physics as well as biology.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review: The Hunger Games

It's taken me a long time to sit down and watch this film, two years in fact. Strangely enough I was working in a cinema at the time of its release and remember selling tickets to a crowd of people, and one  girl in particular with a mocking jay face-painted on her cheek. Perhaps it was this hype that put me off it a little - like how raving about a show and nagging a friend to watch it sometimes puts them off more? Either way I was in no rush to it see it. 

Nonetheless, today I am reviewing The Hunger Games (2012) the first in a trilogy based on a bestselling series of books, which I've never read. So I'm just judging the movie as it is on screen here. 

The Hunger Games, as many will know, is set in a sort of alternative future world where after an uprising, the Capitol of the country devises an annual televised game where pairs of teens from each district must battle to the death. When Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) sister is chosen as tribute, she volunteers to take her place, and must try and win the Hunger Games to survive.

First of all, I have to admire this film for taking its subject matter seriously and treating its with audience intelligence.  In the battle and death scenes it manages to hit a good balance between showing the brutality and cruelty of the games, whilst still being sensitive to its young audience - for example it gives us the realities of bloody wounds but generally refrains from using blood in death scenes. 

I'm also impressed to see that the film and the actors never tip into melodrama. For example, when Katniss thinks fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) might be dead, her distress feels real but not over the top. I understand why Jennifer Lawrence was given so much praise for the role,as she is excellent. Though the character is mainly stony faced, she can subtly convey Katniss's confusion or fear, and when it comes to very emotional moments she gives a performance that feels genuine and raw.

This is demonstrated best during a scene where a certain tribute dies, leaving Katniss distraught. Actually, the death scene was done well, again with sensitivity and an emphasis on the loss - and yes, it did make me cry. 

Outside of the actual games I was surprised by the emphasis on the tributes promoting themselves to get sponsors - people who'd send them possibly life-saving packages during the games. Though I knew Hunger Games was something of a satire on reality television, I had not realised how much so.  The focus on PR and selling themselves as something special seems to echo the media and celebrity culture today. Whilst the moment when each tribute is interviewed on a chat show, each one gorgeously dressed, feels so familiar. Though it becomes really creepy if you actually stop and think about what's going to happen to these kids after the glamour stops. 

The look of the future world is a pretty typical one, with its great gaps between rich and poor. The people of the Capitol seem to reflect their obviously frivolous and cold nature through their bright and decadent, but basically ugly, clothes and homes. Honestly, next to these guys Marie Antoinette's outfits would look subtle and chic, the whole place seems to be populated by casually dressed Lady GaGa's. 

Which finally brings us to the politic side of the Hunger Games. Obviously the Games are used to keep the districts in check and at the same time, keep them pacified - but still felt like I hadn't got the whole picture. However, since the film is mainly focused on the protagonist's point of view, I think this is fair enough. Katniss is after all only a pawn throughout the movie. She battles against the Games and its expectations, but she does not have the perspective yet to see beyond that - or the time to be honest, as it is a survival contest. I'm sure that in the next film Catching Fire, the bigger picture is revealed and tackled - and with such a smart, determined and yet resolutely compassionate character like Katniss, the people in charge are going to have a fight on their hands. 

In summary
A solid film, that hits the right tone and treats its subject matter and audience with intelligence and respect. The cast all give genuine performances, especially Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Donald Sutherland - who does an excellent understated turn as President Snow. 

However though I appreciate the film's achievement, and think films like Divergent (2014) have a tough act to follow -  I must say I personally did not fall in love it. It isn't say, in my top twenty films. Still, I am rather intrigued to see how the story, and Peeta and Katniss's relationship, develops in the next films. So, who knows I might become a Hunger Games fan yet.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Well, its been a busy two weeks, and one relaxing week of holiday, but I'm finally back and blogging. To make up for the missed weeks I'm going to review three films this weekend, starting with the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

An animated CGI film for children based on the book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and a sequel to the film of the same name, Cloudy is a roller coaster of colour, energy and puns that barely stands still for a second. 

It opens with a brief recap of the previous films events, explaining how wannabe inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) created a machine that turned water into food, which started making food weather, and then got out of control and had to be stopped. This brings us up to the present, a few minutes after Flint has succeed in saving his home island from the food weather. On top of the world Flint and his friends - Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), Brent (Andy Samberg), Manny (Benjamin Bratt), Earl (Terry Crews), his Dad (James Caan) and pet monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) - agree to set up a lab together now that everything is over. However, Flint's hero Chester V (Will Forte), a food bar inventor cleverly introduced during the recap, turns up and offers to clean up all the food leftovers on the island and hire Flint. With his white beard and sleek company Live Corp, that keeps releasing updated food bars, Chester V seems to echo the late Steve Jobs and the Apple corporation - though I don't if that's intentional.

Several months later however, it seems Chester's people are running into problems on the island -  giant, cheeseburger spider problems. Chester tells Flint he must return to the island, track down the machine and shut it down - before cheeseburger monsters learn to swim and attack the Statue of Liberty. A task Flint willing accepts. Of course all is not as it seems. Chester actually thinks Flint is a dispensable chump, and has a more sinister agenda for finding the machine.

I really enjoyed this film. It's a wonderfully colourful, and the world of the food island looks amazing, especially the candy rock mountain full of glowing crystals. Meanwhile the food creatures are really creative - shrimpanzees, potato hippopotami, peanut butter and jelly fish! Some of the creatures are also really, really cute - the marshmallows and a strawberry called Berry in particular look adorable. 

I think the design of the characters is great too - particularly Flint with his mad hair, and limbs that flail around wildly - watch him type, his fingers don't actually press the keys. Chester is also a fantastic creation, almost the opposite of Flint in his gentle, smooth movements.  

Most of all though, this film has incredible energy. The characters and the story can move very quickly, and there's always something happening on screen - its like the film is having a sugar rush. 

Now, personally I can't decide whether this is good or bad. On the one hand this energy makes it stand out. Other animated films like Tangled or Flushed Away have nowhere this much speed to them. On the other hand, I felt like it needed to slow down a tad, as it seemed to barely stop to breathe, and that some scenes perhaps should've been a bit slower or quieter - like the end scene on the fishing boat. 

Then again I am an adult, and honestly I think this film is more for kids. That's not a bad thing, in fact I think its nice to see a kid's film that doesn't seem to be trying to hard to appeal to adults. However, Cloudy perhaps does not have the same level of subtlety and maturity that say Monster's University (2013) or Toy Story 3 (2010) had to them. It's core message in the end is pretty straight forward, and its protagonist, is  also very childlike, making him more relatable to youngsters.

This does not mean adults cannot enjoy it enough. As I have said, it's incredible to look at, has a cast of genuine, likable characters and a playfulness to it you can't help but appreciate. And it has Neil Patrick Harris voicing a monkey - who doesn't want to see that? Whilst Gravity Falls fans will be thrilled to hear Kristen Schaal, the voice of Mabel, playing genius ape Barb. 

In summary
A creative, fast-paced film with a lot of heart. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 succeeds not just as a sequel but as fun film for both kids and adults. A recommended purchase for children this half-term.