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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Doctor Who: Racist, Homophobic, Misogynist?

I wasn't going to comment at all about the numerous reviews and blog posts doing the rounds at the moment which, after Let's Kill Hitler aired on Saturday 27th August, have swept through Who's recent past to find anything they can to wrap around a stick and beat the show with. "Fans" of the show have inferred that the show is racist, misogynistic and homophobic. I've read 4 separate reviewers declare themselves outraged that the only black character in the episode was to die just 15 minutes in. Several have blown up about the use of gay or lesbian characters "as tokens" and one even went so far as to say that the show has become "a straight, white guy bending the laws of time and space in order to get another straight, white guy laid" - I'm not ashamed to say I laughed outright when I read that.

So I thought I'd have a little rant of my own, in the show's defence. Though, it doesn't need me to defend it because almost every word these people have written is sourced from misquoted lines from the show, out-of-context situational reporting and a blatant and recognisable hope that the people who will read their stuff have never watched the show, therefore swallowing every twisted, spiteful word without question. I begin with...

Doctor Who Is Racist

I'm not even going to mention in detail the fact that since it returned in 2005 Doctor Who has seen two black companions and a plethora of characters, good and bad, of ethnic origin. I'll stick only to the issues people seem to have with Mels in LKH. 

She jumps into the Doctor's life as (says one blogger) a stereotype - a hypersexual, gun-toting criminal. Since this character IS Melody Pond/River Song then I almost can't complain about the description. What better way to describe River than as a hypersexual, gun-toting criminal? However, if River's character was a gentle, sheepish woman with asthma then, no doubt, so would have been Mels' character, to a degree. Race has NOTHING to do with the characterisation of someone who can change their entire appearance, race not being a limiting factor.

People also have a problem that she dies 15 minutes in... Again, a black stereotype, right? "The black guy always dies first!" and all that? Well, if you're citing this as something that happens then YOU'RE the racist. Night Of The Living Dead, Alien, etc etc etc. This is only an issue if your narrow mind finds it so. But agian, I'm getting ahead of myself. Mels HAD to die when she did because that's how the story goes! River is born from her, and learns to be the River we know and love. It was hard to do in the 45 minutes allowed, let alone any time shorter than that thanks to giving Mels more screen time. I suppose these people think along the lines of "aw, poor black actress, she's just got a part on telly - well done on that! - and now they're killing her immediately! Why don't you give her a chance, eh? She's black! She needs the screen time!" Racists, all. It's a "give 'em a chance" attitude that is in itself completely prejudiced. A character is a character - race is not an issue at all. Next up...

Doctor Who Is Homophobic

Once again, I'll use a specific example pulled from the review/blog posts of those who seem so outraged. I'm not mentioning any names or posting links because it's not worth the risk of kicking of a witch hunt or even contributing to one - this is MY rant. 

One blogger states that a further example of Moffat's homophobia is "the inclusion of a gay couple in [AGMGTW] who don't need names, preferring to call themselves "That Gay Married Couple" - Um, no. They are referred to as "The Thin Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines", not because they are gay or married but because - fairly - it's unlikely there will be another couple of men who can be described this way anywhere on the Asteroid. It's not homophobia, it's humour. They could just as well have been a male and female, called "The Fat Thin Black White Married Anglican Marines" but, no doubt, then there would be a cry of "Racist!" or even a "oh Lord, ANOTHER straight couple - sigh". Doctor Who has done a lot of good in bringing homosexuality and queer characterisation into mainstream. Kids who watch Who don't have to ask what "gay" means anymore - it's simply two men or two women who love each other. No problem! Now ask the "football kids" what "gay!" is and they'll likely say "it's an insult you shout at others". 

Nope. I welcome the mention and inclusion of gay characters and situations in Who. It's a good thing. Hopefully, an informed younger society will mean less and less aggression and prejudice in the future! And lastly...

Doctor Who Is Misogynist 

One line in last week's Doctor Who seems to have got a few people bleating about Rory and Amy's recent wedding having stripped her of the strength she used to show. That line was "But what do I think?!", clearly the words of nothing but a little woman who needs all the help she can get from her big, strong man. Hmmm...

Now, this line comes in reply to the following exchange:

Rory: Sonic it [the Antibody]!
Amy: How do I use it?
Rory: Just point and think!
Amy: But what do I think?!

And apparently this means that she has lost her ballsy character and is now asking her husband to do all the thinking for her. WHAT!? Are you telling me that, in the same situation, male or female, you wouldn't ask the very same thing!? I know I would! What the hell DO you think when trying to battle robot killers with an alien gadget?! The same review that raises this unforgivably pathetic point also says that Amy - throughout the series - has been "killed and put in a box through no agency of her own, resurrected and married off through no agency of her own, impregnated through no agency of her own, replaced by a synthetic clone through no agency of her own, had a baby through no agency of her own, somehow raised the baby inadvertently through no agency of her own, and spent “Let’s Kill Hitler” as a robot duplicate and/or helpless mess, looking to Rory to replace agency of her own, of which she has none. Amy’s so firmly construed as Rory’s property that the Doctor actually asks Rory for “permission to hug” her in moments of emotional crisis."

Because of course, marriage is rape, right? And a running joke that comes from the insecurities of the "big strong husband" this poster takes such offence at is now a sinister and harmful pointer to all young men to "take control of their woman!". Some people really are spiteful bastards.

What do I think is to blame for this overly nasty analysis? Well, it's just that. The fact that these reviews are disguising themselves as academic texts analysing the show instead of the feedback of a fan/viewer. People take this show far too seriously and forget that they're meant to be having fun while watching. And if that fun stops, if the show fails to entertain anymore, turn it off! There's nobody holding a gun to your head! This is my pet hate among viewers of this show: it's easier to keep watching and criticise than it is to stop watching and risk missing something good. People love this show far too much. 

The show isn't sexist, misogynist, racist, homophobic or anything else. It's purely a big, loud, flashy comedy fantasy sci fi drama something-or-other which features a thousand-year-old alien in a stolen police box travelling time and space in search of adventures. It's a bit of fun. It's clever, usually. It's entertaining, usually. It's FUN! There's nothing malicious or nasty in it. You can't judge this show by standard views of race, gender, sexuality or morals. I strongly believe, as many do, that race, gender and sexuality are not barriers or even issues - but just "aspects" no different to eye colour, hair colour etc. It would be lovely if the world could see things this way. An actor is an actor, regardless of race or sexual orientation. And what better show than Doctor Who to treat each and every character as just that - a character. I love Doctor Who. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Let's Kill Hitler

Okay! Now that I've seen the episode I can comment properly. And oh boy do I have comment! We've all just watched the opener to the Autumn run of Doctor Who Series Six; Let's Kill Hitler and, as far as I can tell, the majority of us loved it! I did. It's amazing. My second favourite story of the Moffat/Smith run.

From the second the Doctor is dragged back into their lives, via a pretty awesome "Crop Circle" method of contact, Amy and Rory's lives are once again thrown upside down. And this time, they have another friend with them in the shape of Mels, who grew up with them.

And "shape" is really the right word to use! After she hi-jacks the TARDIS and forces the Doctor toward Nazi Germany ("You've got a time machine, I've got a gun; let's kill Hitler!") she's hit by a stray bullet and regenerates into River bloody Song! Too fast? Well, a little recap then: Melody Pond, Amy and Rory's daughter, IS River Song as revealed at the end of A Good Man Goes To War. The kid they chased about the warehouse in The Impossible Astronaut - the one who regenerates at the end of Day of the Moon - is also River/Melody. So, at some point a regenerated Melody makes her way to a sleepy little village just outside Gloucestershire and befriends her parents. They grow up together, sharing tales of the Doctor and his wonderful machine. 

So, when Amy and Rory get together (he's definitely not gay) and marry, have a "big bang" in the TARDIS on their wedding night and spawn baby Melody, who is whisked off by Kovarian and ends up - somehow - in 1960s USA, we find ourselves back at the start.

Let's Kill Hitler really wasn't about Hitler at all - he spend most of the episode nursing a broken nose in a book cupboard. And quite rightly so! This one was ALL River's. So, Mels regenerates into River and River meets the Doctor for the very first time -and thanks to a brainwashing she's received from the Silence (a religious order, not a race, don't you know?) she's on a mission to kill the Doctor. Which she does. With a kiss. Naughty. And off she trots into 1930s Berlin for a bit of fun and a change of clothes.

On the surface this episode is a romp. It's a big, action-packed, explosive romp. It's very, very funny - it actually has some of the best lines since Moffat took the controls, most of them from Rory - and although it is emotional at times it's handled in such a way as to not be mawkish or OTT.

But under the surface this could be the most important story in the "River Song Saga" - without us even getting a chance to think about it Moffat clears up some of the biggest questions posed this year and last: Who/What are the Silence? Why will they fall? Who is River? How does she meet the Doctor? What sort of weapon does Kovarian want her to be and how will she make her into it? Is River the girl? Will Amy and Rory get to know their daughter as a child or see her grow up? How come River can die in the Library if she's part Time Lord? The list goes on... and the answers are here!

We also get questions raised, though, such as what is the First Question, "hiding in plain sight"? And just WHY does Kovarian want the Doctor dead? These, too - no doubt - will be answered in good time. 

Throw in a murderous robot filled with miniature people and a heap of conveniently filed information on this year's story arc, some Nazis and enough nods to River's past/future (depending on which time line we're looking at, her's or the Doctor's) and some "mild peril" for the Doctor and you have one hell of an adventure. LKH ties up the River story well, for now - we have a beginning now, at least. It also throws us all into a brand new run of time travel fun with the best TARDIS team the show has seen since its 2005 return, in my opinion. And, as always, I'm already getting impatient about seeing next week's offering.

All in all Let's Kill Hitler delivers. It fixes the cliffhanger of the last episode, it sets the trail to follow for the Autumn and it brings us one step closer to finding out what really happened at Lake Silencio. Let's Kill Hitler. It. Is. Brilliant! So, Six weeks to go, doesn't seem long does it? It'll soon pass us by. Is it next Saturday yet?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

I Like Torchwood Because...

Yup, I like it. And the reason I like it is because I know what it is. I know what to expect from it. I know what it's all about. Torchwood is, more than anything else, a bit of fluff to lose yourself in for an hour. It's not wonderful, heart-thumping drama, it's not laugh out loud comedy, it's not even all that good, usually. But it is something that could be described as "escapist rubbish" in a good way.

Torchwood: Miracle Day has been on for 6 weeks in the UK now. 7 weeks in the USA (are you still upset about that? Boo hoo!); it's only a ten-part series and it seems that, so far, nothing has really happened. 

Episode 7 sheds a little more light on the whole situation regarding "The Miracle" or "The Blessing" as it was called in Italy in the 1990s, according to Winston Zedmore. But nothing really progresses. But still, it feels as though the plot is thundering along - it's not! If I was expecting high drama and a rip-roaringly exciting storyline I'd be sorely disappointed. As it is, expecting snappy if cheesy lines, a bit of bumming and enough action to keep my brain busy for an hour, I seem to have forgiven this unforgivable sin. And so what? If you don't like it, don't watch it. The sensible among you - knowing you don't like it - have already stopped tuning in and I respect that! 

There are others out there, however, who are scouring the internet for NEXT WEEK'S episode (airing in the US this week) in order to sneer and criticise. And if that's what you want to do then, sure, do that. I'll do this: turn off my brain, enjoy the explosions, Oswald Danes, Kissinger and Gwen. I'll smile when there's a Doctor Who reference and save my "fanboy" worrying for next Saturday.

I like Torchwood. I always have, I think I always will. And I like it because it's a slice of rubbish that never takes itself too seriously. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Doctor Who Returns

We've waited long enough, don't you think? We all watched the Doctor tearing away in search of Melody Pond/River Song at the end of 'A Good Man Goes To War' and it's almost time to see where he's ended up. Of course, we all KNOW where he's ended up (or will end up) - in Berlin in 1938.

So, sure. Episode 8 is called 'Let's Kill Hitler' but what else are we to expect in the weeks to come? Well... More River Song, for starters. It seems this is her series. And there are other familiar faces - friendly and not so friendly - popping up along the way, including Craig Owens, Winston Churchill, Young Amelia Pond - together with a Young Rory Williams, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, Silence, our Astronaut buddy, etc. There is even word of an appearance by the Daleks, despite most people's (including the media's) stupid decision to believe Moffat when he said he was resting them.

And then there's the new; creepy toys, murderous robots, killer mythical beasts in cosy-yet-confusing hotels (shifting rooms and endless winding corridors - a labyrinth, if you will). And a brand new coat. There's lots to look forward to - hopefully including a decent and satisfying conclusion to the... um... countless story threads that have all been running since - basically - the start of Series Five. I have enough faith in Steven Moffat and the rest of the production crew to deliver an ending that will not only answer (most of) the questions that are as yet unanswered, but also to ask a couple more to keep us going forward. I think this is a good thing. Others think otherwise. But, whatever happens, Doctor Who is back! And that'll do me!

We have only one week to wait. One week today (and at 7.20pm, thankfully, for all those "boo hoo any time before 7pm will result in ZERO viewers" lot among you) the Doctor gets back in his box and brings us with him on his search for Melody Pond. I've got my torch, I've got my sweets, I've got a map of the universe, I'm ready. Are you?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Let's Kill Hitler! ☨

Right. Before I begin I must apologise for the lack of detail in this post. Let's Kill Hitler - the opening episode to Doctor Who Series 6, part two - is the sort of episode which would suffer from the reveal of "moments" or "events"... And there are plenty of great "moments" in this one!* 

One more thing I can tell you is that this one asks as many questions as it answers*, something that we've come to expect from Mr Moffat's writing. And the story kicks off in amazing style, with Amy and Rory "calling" the Doctor back to Earth to check on the progress he's making (or maybe not making?) in his search for baby Melody (who is, you'll remember, River Song as well as Amy and Rory's daughter). The episode sees the Doctor bumping into Adolf Hitler in 1938 and so begins a rip-roaring adventure full of twists and turns as well as the odd touching moment too*. 

I wish I could tell you more but I cannot. I am sorry. But we only have 11 days to wait until the TARDIS crashes into our living rooms once more and you can be sure* that it will be another wonderful six weeks of breathtaking drama, heartbreak and ALIENS! Oh, and we might just find out what that "Astronaut by the lake" stuff was all about...

Doctor Who returns to BBC1 on Saturday 27th August. I'll be watching. You know you will too!

☨ I have not seen this episode.
* ...I should imagine.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

SUBMARINE - A Coming Of Age Story Unlike Any Other

I've just watched Richard Ayoade's directorial début, 'Submarine' - based on Joe Dunthorne's novel. I wanted to see it at the cinema but never got the chance in the end. Now I regret not making time to go. Because 'Submarine' is wonderful on every single level. It is, essentially, a coming of age story set in Swansea, following the life of 15-year-old Oliver Tate as he a) tries to win the heart of his oddball crush Jordana Bevan and b) stop his mother embarking on a passionate affair with her "first love" who has recently become their neighbour.

But 'Submarine' is so much more. It felt different to most films I've ever seen before - there's a style to it that is as much "Cinéma Vérité" as is it "Surrealism". For such a small (in scale, but certainly not in emotive reach) story the whole thing feels so much bigger. I think, mostly, this is because there is not a single performance that misses the mark. 

Most of this blog will likely be about the cast, direction and music because, really, it's these things that make the film so utterly enthralling, not the story itself. So let's look first at our point-of-relation: Oliver Tate is played by Being Human's Craig Roberts, a performance that blew me away. His unique way of almost not acting at all - the way he throws lines away, in dialogue, yet paints every line of narration with wit, heart and intelligence (and a little pretension) just grabs you and refuses to let go; a slice of the life of a character you simply cannot help but relate to in a big, big way. Maybe it's because I'm also a bit of a dick when it comes to Who I Really Am, but it felt as though the character spoke just to me. Roberts is amazing. Completely amazing.

Outstanding also is Yasmin Paige's Jordana Bevan; a guarded, odd girl with a skin complaint and a penchant for petty arson and emotional torture. It's a long way from her character in The Sarah Jane Adventures, where the most expected of her was to be a bit of a tomboy while running away from a fella in a green fat-suit. 

She is definitely One To Watch - a future superstar for sure. She IS Jordana. Not once did I think "Maria said fuck!" In fact, the characters are so real that not even the sight of "him off Gavin and Stacey" and "her off Gavin and Stacey", or even "him off that thing" could drag me out of my total immersion in the film. Every single performance, ever single bit of casting, every line, action, shot, montage, beat and fade are perfect. The entire picture would be perfect if it was just a little longer - but that's just me being greedy (it's a good 90 minutes long as it is). 

There's nothing I can offer to explain why this film is so good or even why I personally enjoyed it so much. I think there's just a feel to it that makes it seem as though the film has its arms wrapped around you. My words as the credits rolled were "that's definitely one for my 'Rainy Afternoon' list". God, I'm making no sense. 

 Okay. I'll start again and I'll be brief: This is a love story, or sorts, with a real "back the underdog" through-line. It's full of incredible performances, beautiful moments of real emotion and it leaves you with a sort of nice-sad feeling. Like when it rains.

Oh, I give up. It's indescribably beautiful, directed in such a way as to make it feel as though you've just watched a piece of art rather than just another coming of age story. And the score is heartbreaking. Alex Turner (of Arctic Monkeys fame) has created the best fit possible for the film in his music. The OST is currently playing on repeat in my flat and, I should think, will do so for some time. It comes as a package; a brilliant film (the word 'movie' seems crass in this instance) with a perfect cast and an outstanding soundtrack. It really is a film that must be experienced - I would highly recommend you do so.

And I hate this post. It says nothing of the humour (funny), the script (cracking), the locations (gorgeous) or the emotion (massive) which this movie has throughout. It's almost the opposite of a Feel Good Film, although it's not really Sad either. I really can't find words to describe it effectively, so I'll use just one - Lovely.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

It seems you can’t have a ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie without a shed-load of “homage” being paid to the original movie adaptation of the classic sci fi novel of ‘63 by Pierre Boulle (a great read if you haven’t already). And quite right too! From classic lines, to reuse of names, to nods to the “original’s big twist”, ‘Planet of the Apes’ (1968) is a wonderful movie, worthy of constant reference.

And the latest reboot of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise, by Rupert Wyatt is no different. Or rather, it is different. Remember Tim Burton’s car-crash remake a decade ago? No, I know you don’t WANT to remember, but you do, right? Good. Wyatt’s origin story is the antidote to that steaming heap – indeed; it is the only movie worthy of a “Something of the Planet of the Apes” style title since ‘Escape from...’ in 1971. Set in present day San Francisco (or the very, very near future – I’m not sure it is every stated outright) it sees James Franco’s scientist (hero-man) attempting to create a cure for that staple of “Make Animals Smart In The Movies” disease, Alzheimer’s – and then testing it on apes...

Okay, yes. It sounds like the sort of setup we could all knock out in an afternoon (yet, it works well) but stay with me... Inheriting his test-subject-mother’s man-given intelligence, now-orphaned chimpanzee Caesar is smuggled home from the lab (to avoid termination – but careful, spoilers) to live with Franco and his Alzheimer’s suffering dad, played by John Lithgow. And so begins a movie that has more heart and intelligence than all the previous ‘Planet of the Apes’ movies altogether, in my opinion.

The title and the theatrical trailer both go a long way to “spoiling” the plot of the movie and the setting negates the whole “Big Twist” aspect of the ending of the original 68 film but this movie isn’t about one man’s struggle against a race of aggressive, oppressive, planet-stealing primates. Quite the opposite, in fact. Only the coldest hearts among you could cheer on the humans over Caesar (ape-hero) in this film...

Ah, yes. Caesar: an entirely CGI character, brought to life using cutting-edge motion capture technology and “played” with expertly nuanced emotion by the King of Physical Performance, Andy Serkis. We follow him on a journey from confused “pet” to imprisoned animal to leader of the revolution (I don’t think that’s a spoiler. If you didn’t get this much from the trailers then you’re stupid) – and it’s a journey that is not only very enjoyable, emotional and at time frightening, but is taken by the most human character in the whole movie. Ironic, really, when you think he’s an ape (and a computer generated one at that).

This movie will have its critics. There are some clunky lines of dialogue and the “villains” feel as though they were written in minutes. Also, you’ll need to switch your brain off, or force yourself to remember that Caesar has near-human intelligence (I wrote it on my hand in the end: “he’s a clever monkey!”) in order to stop yourself emitting a sceptical “WHAAA?!” at some of the Ape’s more... creative... actions. But overall, this is about as good an origin tale as this franchise could ever have. It’s a nice, clean two-hours with enough action to keep the dads clapping and enough emotion and heart (lots of this, in fact, and never mawkish) to hold someone looking for more than just Man vs. Ape again. Oh, and Draco Malfoy’s in it.

By all accounts, this actually is the beginning of a planned “new run of Ape movies” from Director, Wyatt. And if this one is anything to go by then we really are looking at a genuinely acceptable remake of the series! I trust this man/ I love the originals but I trust him to not piss over them. I trust him to shape them to suite a more cynical audience. I trust him to show progression and development of the Ape characters that was missing entirely in Burton’s 2001 turkey (the big gorilla ape is stupid and superstitious, the “main baddie” is growly and nasty, the others don’t do much at all). I can’t wait for a sequel – something I’ve not felt since The Dark Knight.

The movie is great. It isn’t perfect, but then it’s about Apes taking over the world (or beginning to, anyway), and that’s a plot that needs to be played carefully. It likely won’t win any (major) Oscars, though the Ape Effects are simply breathtaking, so there will be praise for that, no doubt. Overall, it’s a strong, linear story told from the point of view of both man and ape and it does something that many movies of recent years do not: it sets out to be unashamedly brave. There are parts of the movie as long as 40 minutes where you’ll hardly see a human being, where there is hardly a word spoken, though – thanks to unbelievable visual effects and Serkis’ perfect performance – never, ever allows you to get bored or restless.

Seeing ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ excited me so much that I just had to seek out my old Planet of the Apes DVDs and give the old ones another re-watch. For this urging alone the movie is worth seeing. Luckily, it stands up on its own merits, too. And the nerdier among you may be repeating one particular line over and over for a week. I know I have. Watch it and you’ll know exactly which line I mean; and it’s nothing to do with “Damn Dirty Apes”.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Rise of the Planet of the Apes is in cinemas now!

The next bit is a bit spoilery. 
So if you don’t want to know the (sort of) ending of the movie (no specifics), stop reading NOW!


So! The Planet of the Apes has risen! The fight begins. Where next? Well, here’s what I want from Apes 2:

Caesar and his small band of super-intelligent apes are living peacefully in the forests they claimed as their home in the end of the first movie; but the humans want revenge over the deaths they conceded in the Battle On The Bridge. So, our now-free and peaceful Apes have to defend themselves using whatever they have – namely spears, stealth and a combination of agile strength and brains. A war begins (only a small one to begin with) while the virus spreads among the humans (decimating their population) and more clever monkeys are born. Seeing that they will have to defend themselves to survive – since the humans will never stop their attacks – they decide that “if it’s a fight they want then it’s a fight they’ll get”. Humanity is stupid and can’t see that their numbers are dropping, because of the virus, and the Apes’ numbers growing, thanks to clever monkeys 'getting it on'... The second movie ends with a small pocket of nasty-bastard humans pitting themselves against, and losing to, an ever-growing army of smart, tactical apes who just want to be left alone. Regrettably, The Battle Begins...

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I have a Goldfish

So, yeah. I thought - since my dog sadly died last weekend - that I'd "scale down" my pet-ambitions somewhat and get myself something to keep me company.

I chose a fish called Phil, who now lives on my table (in a bowl). He's not the friendliest of fish, as you can see, with his miserable face. He doesn't like me very much either, preferring to eat his food when all is quiet than rush to the surface as soon as he's fed. 

In fact, whenever I turn my back he seems to be eating, but rushes back to his castle when I get close. Maybe he's had a "difficult past" in his homeland of Singapore. Whatever the reason, he's characteristically grumpy and his "fish face" scowl is comical. I thought I'd share him with you, anyway. Everyone, this is Phil. Phil, this is everyone! :)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Rango Is Awesome

I didn't fancy Rango when it hit cinemas. I'm not one for CGI animated features usually, they're all a bit samey. The Toy Story movies are okay, but once you've noticed how sickly sentimental they are they become annoying. Same with movies like Wall-E... Animated movies tend to be kids films with adult bits. Rango is different. Rango, in my opinion, is a movie made for adults that kids can also enjoy. It's basically what I've been waiting for. A clever, self-aware underdog story with enough 'wit' to keep the 'heart' quiet.

There are so many little things I want to mention, things that made me laugh out loud (something I rarely ever do, let alone at an animated feature) but first I suppose I should give a bit of an outline...

The animation style is clever; it makes you forget you're watching a "cartoon" at all. Maybe it's the sheer believability of the characters (despite being Western stereotypes at base) that slip the fact that this isn't real past you in a cloud of laughter and dust.  

The character acting in this is amazing. Johnny Depp is perfect as the wannabe someone Rango, a domestic pet Chameleon lost in the dry desert and thrown into a situation he simply isn't prepared for. Isla Fisher voices eccentric love interest Beans, another lizard whose father definitely didn't fall down a mine shaft while drunk. But it's some of the other, less prominent characters that shine out among the cacti. The Native American Crow is amazing and Abigail Breslin's "Priscilla" is adorable and straight out of True Grit. 

As well as a nice little plot (there's increasingly less water in the desert, whatever shall we do?) - which involved Wild West staples such as gunfights, bank robberies and corrupt town officials, the long list of believable and lovable characters and the always cheeky and boundary-pushing jokes that will have adults chuckling and kids putting their hands over their mouths in shock, there are some wonderful nods to other western movies (and one perfect moment that will have Depp fans giggling, a short crossover between this movie and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas) that are just waiting for you to find!

There's a killer cast (Bill Nighy's Rattlesnake Jake is horrible fun), including Ray Winstone, Alfred Molina, Harry Dean Stanton, Ned Beatty and a haunting cameo by Deadwood star Timothy Olyphant. Not a single voice sounds miscast or out of place. And the music is infectious! All in all, there's very little I have to say about this movie that is in any way negative. I loved it. Simple as that.

I watched this late at night while tired. I laughed throughout. I watched it again this afternoon and laughed again. I think I'll watch it for a third time in a little while. There's bugger all on telly and even if there was, this would probably still be better. I said on Twitter last night that this was the best animated feature I'd seen in a decade. That may be my enthusiasm running away with me, but even now I can't think of a contender to the title. It's not perfect, but it's lovely. It's honest, clever, cheeky and never, ever takes itself too seriously. You won't cry in the end of this one, like in Toy Story 3, but then I sometimes want to leave the theatre smiling. I wish I'd seen this in the cinema as that's exactly what I would have done.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Good Cap, Bad Cap?

Last night I watched Captain America: The First Avenger. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't quite this. I knew I'd enjoy the movie, even if it was shit, but I didn't think it would grab me in such a way as it did!

I read Cap for years and I've learned to get past the cheesiness of his character - All-American, Super-Duper-Soldier with a Heart of Gold and a Shield of Vibranium. I was happy to see the movie allow enough tongue-in-cheek wartime pomp for us to see that the characters take themselves less seriously than we take them. A musical interlude (sort of) is one of the highlights of the movie, when Cap is promoting War Bonds. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

...Where does it all begin? Well... There are some blokes pulling Cap's shield out of the ice, then we're in the 40s and Steve Rogers is an enthusiastic weed with no hope of joining the army on account of his asthma and other ailments. But during a visit to an exhibition by genius Howard Stark (Iron Man's daddy, played brilliantly by Mamma Mia's Dominic Cooper) he gets recruited by the good guys to enter into a Super Soldier program and get all muscly and cool. 

So Cap is born! I'm not going into the plot details; it's a genesis story and a pretty good one, actually. It's also very much Act One of a much larger story. If you're a Marvel fan you'll know where this is all heading. If you're not, you won't care.

All your favourite Cap characters are there; shining are the aforementioned Howard Stark, Hayley Atwell as kick-ass love interest and all-round plum-voiced-sauce-pot Peggy Carter and Doctor Who's very own Dream Lord Toby Jones as Dr Arnim Zola, a Nazi biochemist. There's also "Cinema's Mr Bad" Hugo Weaving as the bit-too-cartoon-like villain, The Red Skull himself, Johann Schmidt. The movie is packed with some pretty great action sequences and, although it's thin on ACTUAL plot of any substance (it's very much Goodies vs Baddies), it's a very enjoyable script too; there are some really great moments that made me laugh out loud. 

But what's best about this movie is how fresh it all feels. We're used to getting comic book movie after comic book movie recently - leading up to you know what - but this one feels different. It's set in the 40s, it's got a weedy main character (under all that muscle) and it's "where it'll all begin". Captain America really is the First Avenger. Sure, Iron Man has all the hi-tech stuff but Cap has a tough shield and determination (and super strength, sort of...). What impressed me most was how well the basis of the character transferred to the big screen. And the casting is perfect. Chris Evans (not that one) is perfect as Steve Rogers and although he is underused (in my opinion) Neal McDonough is amazing as Dum Dum Dugan.

Okay. It's probably not going to win any Oscars, but Captain America: The First Avenger is a lot of fun. If you don't mind your fun with Uncle Sam's fist up your arse, that is... It's VERY American. Even the scenes set in London seem to be set in America really. It's a bit "Yeehaaawww!" sometimes, but that's okay! It's an American character with "America" in his name. THE American superhero. My favourite superhero. And a bloody good effort at making one of my favourite superhero movies. I can't wait to see all our guys together on-screen; I've not seen Thor yet, so I might have a look at that later on. Somehow. If you like your films loud and shooty then this is definitely the one for you. A great, great effort. Lots of fun!