james debate
james debate

Tuesday 29 September 2009

I was fortunate enough to see the big new show at London's Royal Academy of Arts last week before it opened to the public, Anish Kapoor.

anish kapoor

Artist and Royal Academician Anish Kapoor has always been known for his unconventional work. His new exhibition explores fragility and altered perception, performance art and tactile pleasure. It's lighthearted and in places just plain silly.

Highlights include a yellow wall that looks flat at first glance, but upon getting closer you see that it in fact has a deep void sinking into the wall. It's a wonderful optical illusion that leads quite handsomely into his room of mirrors, which include some very imaginative designs, for example, one round mirror on the wall actually makes you look like you're moving further away as you walk closer, others show enlarged crystal clear images of you, whilst distorting your surroundings in a clever way of shifting focus.

But without a doubt the weirdest installations, and the ones that will be the main talking points among art patrons are his wax playthings. The entirety of one room is dedicated to a large (and phallic) catapult that shoots giant pellets of wax into the wall, building up over time on the wall and floor.

As if that was not enough, an entire three rooms has been set aside and fitted with a train track, on which a massive 40 ton red wax train moves slowly up and down, sloughing off layers of wax every time it passes through the archways that divide each room. The piles of rough wax strewn across the floor has a certain physicality to it that's almost irresistible not to touch.

But ultimately, it's not just enough to look at pretty, shiny objects and oddball constructions of wax, one has to wonder what the actual meaning behind any of this is. And at times, one gets the impression that here is an artist obsessed with pretentious spectacles, with only the flimsiest of subtext.

Saturday 26 September 2009

song of the week: "Into the Clouds" by "The Sound of Arrows"

thing that makes me happy today: This artist's GLORIOUS depiction of the "City of the Future".

pic of the day:
amateur gynaecologistIN:
Dinosaur Shaped Buildings
Anish Kapoor

Boat Shaped Buildings
Jeff Koons

Thursday 24 September 2009

Written by Brannon Braga, David Goyer, Robert Sawyer (Novel)
Starring Joseph Fiennes, John Cho
Broadcast date 24th September 2009
Running time 44 minutes

flash forward pilot review

For anyone even vaguely tuned in to the latest happenings in entertainment, there's been one new television show above all others that people are talking about. FlashForward is that show. Brought to you by David Goyer, the guy who co-wrote the Nolan Batman films and Brannon Braga, who gave us Star Trek Voyager (and some of the Next Generation), this new show adapts Robert Sawyer's novel of the same name.

The plot follows a group of seemingly unconnected individuals as they attempt to unravel the mystery behind a cataclysmic event that sees everyone around the entire world suddenly fall unconscious and experience visions of 6 months in the future for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. It's a fairly awesome premise, but arguably one that will be a little bit difficult to keep going past one season.

As I mentioned, there is a HUGE buzz about this show. With Lost entering it's final season this year, ABC, and indeed the WORLD, needs a successor worthy of stepping into its footsteps, and many are now hoping that FlashForward will be the answer. If only this blatant "piggy backing on Lost's success" wasn't so obvious.

In the years since Lost began, we have seen numerous copycats, most of which have failed miserably after one season or so. Making a show like Lost, clearly, is not as easy as it seems. Most writers seem to make the mistake that the compelling part of Lost is the endless stream of mystery and intrigue, cue a string of similar shows that just present seemingly incomprehensible mysteries without really telling you very much. But this is why most of these shows fail, the real meat and potatoes of Lost is the character, the wonderful, nuanced, deep characters, and most shows miss that.

FlashForward, clearly, doesn't reach that level just yet, but being that it's only one episode in I think we can give it time to expand. Remember that Fringe took a while to really get into the swing of things as well.

But the problem with this pilot is not simply that the characters have no depth, I'm sure they do, it's just that the writers have tried to cram far too much plot into one episode. Think back to season 1 of Lost and how slowly the show eased itself into our lives, working on the characters above the actual mythology of the show. This pilot episode is so worried about being able to fit all the important exposition into the first two hours that it largely sidesteps the characters. By the end of the first two hours, all the characters essentially know what happened, and yet we know only superficial details about the characters. It's all a bit of a clumsy jumble, which is a shame because the content is so good.

But despite this, this was still an excellent 2 hours of television. The plot shows serious promise and the characters are all well thought out and well acted. It is good to see Joseph Fiennes back, and kicking ass, and I'm looking forward to seeing Dominic Monaghan (Charlie on Lost) make his appearance in the coming episodes.

This one has earned a place in my regular television rotation, and i'm excited to see where it heads.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Developed by Harmonix
Genre Rhythm
Platform Xbox360, PS3, Wii
Release date(s) Out Now

The greatest band of all time get their own dedicated guitar game.

beatles rock band

Beatlemania has officially returned. This year, not only do the fab four get their own video game, but a remake of Yellow Submarine the movie has recently been announced.

Apple Corps has finally begun to relinquish it's vice like grip on all things Beatles and allow the people to enjoy their brilliance across all forms of media. As soon as this possibility was announced, there ensued a heated bidding war for the licensing rights between the waning Guitar Hero and Rockband. Rockband won, and in retrospect it looks like it may be a match made in heaven.

At it's core, this game is a love letter to the fans. The entire career of the Beatles is painstakingly recreated from their early days in Liverpool to Shea Stadium, Ed Sullivan, and eventually the roof of Apple Corps studio. Each band member's likeness is recreated and lovingly animated, and even their instruments are authentic.

Story mode sees you play through their career, including a massive stretch of songs inside the Apple Corps studio. Now clearly half the story mode being played in the same setting would be boring, so in a stroke of genius, Harmonix came up with the idea of 'dreamscapes'. Now when you start playing a song in the studio, the set starts to melt away into one of these 'dreamscapes', wonderful fantasies that are custom designed for each song and feature really stunning and imaginative imagery unlike anything you've ever seen in a music game, or games from most other genres for that matter. Examples include a beautiful sunny hill top in 'Here comes the Sun', an under the sea dreamland in 'Octopus Garden' and the band in their Magical Mystery Tour animal forms (one of the trippiest things I've ever seen).

Each set begins with an introductory cutscene featuring real audio from the actual event, and each song begins with real audio recordings of the Beatles members warming up and chatting beforehand. It's all incredibly authentic and thoroughly detailed. On top of this, gamers can unlock photos and videos of the fab four back in their heyday. It's all pretty awesome if you're a Beatles fan.

There is also a challenge mode, which involves playing through a set list, getting 5 stars on every song without a break between songs, which adds extra depth to the game. Beating this on a lower difficulty is pretty easy and unlocks more photos for you, but try it on expert and weep.

That being said, the game never gets as difficult as Guitar Hero on the hardest difficulties, or even much of Rockband 2. Staying true to form, Harmonix don't try to 'manufacture' difficulty by making songs more difficult than they actually are, something Guitar Hero might like to try some day. As a result, the songs will be easier, but far more accurate.

A second now to talk about the instruments. The Paul McCartney Bass that comes with full bundle is by far the sweetest plastic guitar ever made. Sadly it plays mostly like crap, as do the rest of the instruments. Rockband may be a better game than Guitar Hero, but when it comes to instruments, Harmonix are sadly lacking.

Lastly, the DLC. Right now one can download All you Need is Love from the online store, with more albums on the way. Supposedly we will be able to play most of the Beatles catalogue in this game eventually, presumably aside from certain songs with very little guitar, like Hey Jude.

At the end of the day your decision is simple. If you don't like the Beatles then don't bother with this. If you do, then brilliant you're going to love this. Ultimately this is the most complete Beatles experience there is, and what you get is a package that is simply oozing with 60s style Beatlemania and love.

The Music
Loving attention to detail
Tons of extra Beatles goodies

Waiting for more DLC
Annoying instruments
The first unlockables seem to be the best ones

Saturday 19 September 2009

Until now, the heated health care reform debate has been a bit of a non starter. The House Tri-Committee have proposed a bill, which has already been 'passed' in principle, but unfortunately the Republicans, and conservative Democrats in the senate, refuse to endorse it, and yet have not submitted any proposal of their own so far, and thus very few developments have been made.

But now the Senate Finance Committee has finalised the details of their own bill, described as a 'more centrist' and moderate bill with more conservative backing. But how good is this bill actually? And how does it compare to the House bill?

health care can't wait

Public Option vs. Nonprofit Cooperatives

The new bill, submitted by Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) costs around $850 Billion, and drops the much discussed public option. Instead, it calls for the creation of nonprofit health cooperatives, which are basically organisations that go about providing cheap health insurance, or in some cases, private plans at cheaper prices.

On the surface, the difference between this and the Public Option, which will essentially be a government funded insurance company, is little, but there are key differences.

The Public Option is essentially a government funded health insurance firm, which will offer cheap health insurance to Americans. The difference is that with the Public Option, the government can set mandates, for example forcing prices to stay at a low, fixed rate.

Now, for many this seems to be a positive thing. Keeping Public Option prices low will create competition against the private insurance firms and force them to keep their prices low and competitive. So while the Cooperatives are useful tools for providing insurance for the uninsured, the Public Option will do the same job, but with the added bonus of keeping private insurance prices low, reducing premiums for the rest of us and potentially saving billions of dollars.

This sounds like a good thing, but there are a lot of people who worry that this might amount to a government takeover of healthcare. While there is nothing in the bill itself that forces people to switch to the Public plan, as long as they are already insured, a lot of people wonder if this might just be the first step towards an entirely public healthcare system.

These concerns would appear to be groundless, however. Just look at education, where public and private institutions seem to coexist happily, and indeed the most successful universities are privately owned. Similarly look at the delivery companies, where the Postal Service coexists with the likes of DHL and UPS. Heck, just look at the healthcare systems of every other developed nation in the world, where public healthcare has not led to the downfall of the private sector. And remember these are countries with actual public healthcare, not just public insurance, a much lesser intrusion on the private sector.

No, the real concern here is that this inevitably means that less money will be flowing into the healthcare industry. The Insurance companies will have smaller profits, and doctors will be earning less, so it is no surprise to see many people connected to these industries opposing any Public Option.

But in the end, cooperatives will do at least half the job that is required, giving insurance to the uninsured. What it won't do, then, is reign in the absurdly escalating insurance costs that are bankrupting the nation.

Preventing Escalation of Insurance Premiums

As mentioned, the Public Option can do this simply by mandate, and by introducing competition into the industry. The new Senate bill will attempt to make up for this loss by introducing billions of new fees on insurance companies.

On top of this, the bill will impose restrictions on what insurance companies can consider a 'pre existing condition' and prevent caps and limits on coverage. Again these are things that would indirectly be enforced by the creation of a government controlled Public Option which can set its own rules.

Ultimately It feels as though this bill is finding different way to phrase essentially the same reform package. Instead of a big scary government plan that will do everything that is required, they're going to bring in lots of different reforms to try to accomplish the same trick, but with less government control, because clearly this economic crisis has shown us that we can trust money hungry corporations much more than nonprofit government initiatives.

The natural instinct for most people is to go with the option with less government, but that's because they haven't looked at the finer detail of the Baucus bill.


The House Tri-Committee bill with the Public Option has been shown to be deficit neutral by the Congressional Budget Office, costing about a trillion dollars, paying for the majority of the package through spending reductions in things like Medicare and by ways and means.

The Baucus bill costs a bit less, $850 billion, but will pay for the majority through tax increases. You see, the key differences with this bill is that Baucus wants to win over conservative voters by removing words like 'government' and by paying for the reform out of the pocket of everyday Americans, and less from the pockets of insurance companies.

But in the end, both of these are budget neutral, since the Public Option will lead to increased revenue.


Other than this, these bills have pretty much the exact same idea on reducing malpractice costs, on restricting coverage only to people with proof of citizenship, thereby preventing illegals from signing up (though this guy clearly missed that bit) and both are leaving abortion laws untouched, acquiescing to local state laws on the matter.


There's really nothing at all that you gain from this Baucus bill. Both are budget neutral, both will give similar levels of coverage, and both will lead to a short term reduction in healthcare costs. The only (theoretical) benefit is that conservatives will get on board, being that it involves smaller government.

The problem is that cooperatives don't have as much power as a public option will have to keep the industry under control, and the increased volume of legislation involved in the Baucus bill presents greater opportunity for loop holes and wastage. The end result of this is that while short term improvements are assured, in ten years time we will likely just find ourselves right back where we are now. All things being considered, it can not be denied that the Public Option is the best long term bet, especially in terms of cost.

The problem with this house bill, and why it has taken so long to pass is all politics, and pretty much nothing to do with economics or healthcare. You have to remember that this Public Option is already a watered down compromise from what progressives really want, a truly universal, single payer healthcare system.

But Republicans simply will not vote on any reform bill. It will be to their advantage if they can point back and say that nothing useful got done during the Democrat's time in charge, no one will remember that it was their fault, they'll just look at the results (yes as usual the Republican strategy is to bank on the stupidity of Americans, you should be used to that by now).

Similarly conservative Democrats are shying away from the bill now because of all the hubbub that is being generated in their states. It's not because they actually believe any of the bullshit the Republicans are saying, it's because they want to get reelected next year above all else and are being careful not to alienate their constituents.

In retrospect, it probably would have been better for the Democrats to initially come out with the most liberal plan imaginable, so that they could a few months later 'compromise' to what we have on the table now. This way the conservatives could vote in favor and not lose face, which is exactly what Baucus is hoping for now with this new Senate bill.

But even this new Baucus bill has not got one single vote of support from Republicans. I think by now it must surely be abundantly clear to all Democrats that what I said earlier is true, that no Republican will ever vote for any reform, no matter how good it is or how much it falls in line with their ideology.

So instead, they must be hoping that the new Baucus bill will entice enough blue dog Democrats to vote for it. But frankly, without any Republican votes, without Kennedy's vote, without the votes of certain "Democrats" like Lieberman, I don't think there's much chance of even this bill passing the Senate, and it's becoming clearer and clearer that Obama should just do what Democrats have been urging for weeks, push the House bill through with a slim majority and to hell with the conservatives.

At the end of the day, they can bitch and moan all they like but they did the exact same thing for 8 years, and when it comes time for the election, it will look better for the Democrats if a good bill gets passed with no Republican support than if a bad one gets passed with it.

Signs are already showing economic improvement, despite the Republican opposition to the stimulus. Now let's pull the same trick with healthcare and frankly they won't have a leg to stand on in the future.

song of the week: "After Hours" by "We Are Scientists"

thing that makes me happy today: As if we needed any more reason to love our President.

pic of the day:
maths geekIN:
World of Illusion

Castle of Illusion
Pret a Manger
Had a budgie but it died

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Produced by Peter Jackson
Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Robert Hobbs
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 112 minutes

Peter Jackson produces this picture from debut writer director Neill Blomkamp, based on a film he made in college Alive in Joburg, and the cast doesn't have one recognisable name among it, with the star Sharlto Copley also making his feature film debut. Doesn't sound like blockbuster stuff no? Wrong. Warning, there will be spoilers.

district 9

In what has surely got to be one of the best marketing campaigns of all time, the minds behind District 9 have managed to pull off the difficult task of building a large amount of hype, whilst telling us next to nothing about the actual film's plot. No doubt you've seen these signs all over the place recently, all part of a genius viral campaign.

So what I did know going into the film was that this was based off, as I mentioned before, Blomkamp's short film which told the story of an oppressed group of alien survivors (dubbed 'prawns' by the meanie humans) who are ostracised and crammed into apartheid style concentration camps. Clear parallels are to be drawn with real life humanitarian disasters that inspired some of Blomkamp's earlier works, being a South African native.

How Blomkamp and this project came to be in the first place makes for an interesting story. Peter Jackson, who at the time was working on his film adaption to mega hit video game Halo, was so impressed with the short films Blomkamp had done that he picked him to direct Halo. Naturally the studio was not so thrilled with such a big project being handed to a first time director with no experience, and the project was pretty much killed. So instead, Jackson produced Blomkamp's big screen debut District 9, and let's just say nobody's doubting him now.

A derelict alien spaceship comes to a stand still in the skies above Johannesburg, South Africa, and after weeks of silence the military goes in to find the remnants of a dying alien race. Being the kind people that we are we bring them down onto our planet and build a special settlement for them to live and recover in. But of course real people aren't like this. Real people are xenophobic and greedy and exploitative, and the real genius of this film is acknowledging that.

This District 9 that we stick them in is little more than a ghetto. Shady Government organisations oppress the aliens to gain access to their technology, crime lords set up shop within District 9 to trade with the 'simple' aliens and accomplish the exact same thing. It all has a depressingly frank and brutal grit and realism to it that frankly you don't see in other examples of the genre.

The result is a science fiction movie unlike one you've ever seen before. Unnervingly real, in both the writing and the aesthetics. Indeed particular note must go to the amazing CGI work that's been done here, blending seamlessly with the world around and the human actors. Compare this to the majority of other sci-fi films that boast budgets three times as much as this and look like crap by comparison.

It's truly remarkable, and in a summer where the likes of Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2 grossed hundreds of millions, this film serves as an important reminder of why you can and should demand more from your summer movies.

However, what I didn't expect was the second half of the film, where inspector Wikus, played very ably with an unlikable panache by Sharlto Copley, teams up with one of the aliens, and the film almost takes a buddy movie turn, complete with some spectacular set pieces.

Nonetheless, the spotlight rests squarely on Blomkamp, who had made a dream debut in cinema, and I think it's safe to say, can pretty much walk his way into any job he pleases now.

The annual coming of a new edition of the iconic Fifa series of video games is about as inevitable as flu season and Mike Dean fucking up. I approached this year's demo build warily after last year, where long term readers of mine will recall that I was blown away by the Fifa 09 demo, but then underwhelmed by the final product which, in many ways, seemed to take a step back somehow. Nonetheless, here are my impressions.

fifa 10

From the off, there's not a whole lot that stands out as different. Indeed this is the entire 'theme' for this year, "refinement" rathe than "revolution". This of course is usually just something lazy developers say when they can't come up with anything to do, and it's no different this time.

Much has been said about the new 360 degree player movement, but frankly it's barely noticeable. Players still fall into the same clunky 'on rails' animations when on the ball, which makes the whole concept somewhat redundant. Speaking of which, this was a major problem with both of the last two Fifa games which now still hasn't been fixed, so you can look forward to another year of the 'first touch' button, about as useful as a dancing monkey, knocking balls hopelessly out for a throw in when you really just want to move in a straight line.

This is my major gripe with the whole demo in fact, that many of the issues with past games have not been remedied. The teammate AI is still atrocious as well, with defenders moving into absolutely absurd positions and attackers perpetually in unnecessary offside positions.

Another concern is that the opponent AI (on the hardest difficulty anyway) seem unusually negative. Even when I'm playing against Barcelona they basically just pack their penalty area full of players and pass it around the back. In this respect PES remains lightyears ahead of Fifa.

So what is good? The physics seems to be handled a bit better this year, which allows for a much better passing game, as well as the scoring of more unique and interesting goals.

And of course the game really looks the business, with full licenses and likenesses as usual. Player ratings and team tactics seemed a little more up to date than is customary for Fifa games.

The game also seems to actually make use of player stats more than in previous games. Quick and strong players can actually run through defences now if timed right. Similarly I can actually feel a difference in playing against Barcelona as opposed to Chicago Fire, whereas last year playing against Man United or Wigan seemed pretty much the same.

Among the things I have not been able to try out yet, the new manager mode looks good, as do the adjustments they've made to be a pro. Hopefully they've ironed out a few of the absurdities of last year's be a pro mode. Why we're still limited to 5 seasons, however, is still a complete mystery.

One more thing I've noticed. Occasionally the computer will get a throw in, and you'll mark the guy he's probably going to aim for, and then computer will literally just wait and not throw it in until you've moved your marker away from his player. Seriously, i've left it there for minutes and he does nothing. It's bizarre and stupid, let's hope that gets fixed.

Absurd referee decisions occasionally (ie frequently) the ref seems to get flummoxed by complex rules like offside and advantage. For example picture this: I pass the ball, just afterwards I get fouled, but the ref plays advantage, the player I've passed to is offside as it turns out, but instead of pulling back play to give me the free kick, the free kick is awarded against me for the offside. Sigh.

Saturday 12 September 2009

song of the week: "After Hours" by "We Are Scientists"

thing that makes me happy today: Republican congressman Joe Wilson's (aka the douchebag who interrupted Obama like a petty child) opponent Rob Miller raising over three quarters of a million dollars in 1 day following Wilson's major gaffe.

pic of the day:
District 9
New iPod Nano

Old iPod Nano

Thursday 10 September 2009

Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 153 minutes

Tarantino's latest sees a band of Jewish American soldiers during World War 2 with a mission to hunt down and kill as many Nazi's as possible.

inglourious basterds

Quentin Tarantino is a bit like marmite, you either love him or hate him. With his unique film making style which draws upon everything from martial arts films to spaghetti westerns, one can't deny the technical prowess and unrivalled attention to detail of this self appointed King of the film geeks. And yet, he has always had his critics.

Now he releases Inglourious Basterds, a film that Tarantino has spent more than a decade working on. This is the film that he describes as his masterpiece, the best film he has ever made, the ultimate Tarantino movie, and it is ultimately fitting that the film ends on the line "you know this might just be my masterpiece".

But this clearly self referential conceit describes a notion that is made all too evident throughout the film, and one comes away with the distinct feeling that this is a film that means a lot more to its writer than it does to its audience. Make no mistake, with excessive gore, dark humor, and reams of dialogue that borders on self indulgent, this is Tarantino in his element. But this is not his greatest film, and if you didn't like Tarantino before, you won't like him now.

First of all I feel it's necessary to clear things up for anyone who goes to this film expecting a 'world war 2' film. I don't think it would be adequate simply to say that Inglourious Basterds is 'historically inaccurate', as I'm sure you've read in other reviews. This gives the impression that this movie is 'inaccurate' in the sense of manipulating small details as pretty much all action films do, but this is just not the case. No, this film is 'inaccurate' in the sense that it takes the history books and sets them on fire. Not giving too much away, but it completely rewrites the ending of the war in such an unexpectedly bold and audacious fashion. It's sort of a 'what if' movie, more than an actual world war 2 film. This is absolutely fine though, I didn't go to Watchmen expecting historical accuracy and I didn't with this film either, and neither should you.

It is also important to clear up the nature of this film. Most of you will, as I did, go see this film expecting a 'dirty dozen' type of movie, with a 'rough around the edges' group of badass men on a mission. You'll be expecting this because it's exactly what most critics and previews of the movie have been telling us. But as you should have noticed by now, most film writers are a bunch of miserable cretins who couldn't conjure up an original thought between them if their careers depended on it (which quite clearly it does not).

In reality the aforementioned 'basterds' only get a small amount of screen time, and Brad Pitt himself is only on screen in three out of the film's five chapters. Instead, much of the time is spent following the story of Shosanna Dreyfus, played with a sufficient mix of sensitivity and menace by Mélanie Laurent, as she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime to avenge the murder of her Jewish family at the hands of the Nazis.

Indeed, the film seems somewhat unfocused and as rough around the edges as the Basterds troupe it depicts.

On the one hand you will have gargantuan twenty minute long scenes featuring nothing but dialogue as in the first chapter "Once Upon a Time... in Nazi Occupied France" and the third chapter "German Night in Paris". Now these are actually some of my favorite scenes in the movie, allowing Tarantino to build the kind of suspense that he is known for through long rafts of verbose, but witty dialogue. As with much of Tarantino's work, the extent of the dialogue occasionally borders on 'too much', on being self indulgent rather than actually relevant.

But more than this, the problem is that it contrasts so starkly with much of the rest of the film, featuring a quickfire series of relatively short scenes, which afford little time to actually get to know the characters and learn to care about them. So while the dialogue heavy scenes might be fantastic pieces of cinema in their own right, they're relatively meaningless without a stronger foundation. The strange thing is, that while its clear that the film should have spent more time with the Basterds in the early stages of the film, it's impossible to look at the whole and pick out any scenes that should have been cut in order to make time for this.

The problem then, seems to be that this 'magnum opus' that Tarantino has been working on for his entire career, is simply to ambitious, too mammoth a body of work to fit into a single film. Watching this film, one gets the strong impression that what we are looking at is a severely cut rendition of what Tarantino must have originally wrote, and this comes across pretty clearly on screen. And it is to the detriment of the final product that we aren't given enough build up of the character and plot to really enjoy some of the finely written scenes later in the movie. Perhaps it might have worked better split into two 'volumes' like the Kill Bill saga.

That being said, one still can't help but enjoy the film for what it is; a highly enjoyable, if brainless, affair. A lack of 'completeness' to the film only slightly undercuts some scenes of expert poise and class that are bound to leave a smile on everyone's faces.

More to the point, the performances are generally excellent. Brad Pitt is typically excellent, playing gruff badass Aldo Raine with a fantastically thick Tennessee accent. Pitt shows once again how versatile an actor he can be, and it's amazing now to think that anyone could ever have seen him as 'just another pretty boy' actor.

But it is Christoph Waltz who steals the show here. Waltz plays Nazi Commander Hans Landa and gives one of those career defining performances that will almost certainly earn himself an Oscar nomination next year. Waltz plays the roll in ways that no Nazi, or any other character for that matter, has ever been played, ironic, mannered, intelligent and abundantly evil. It is charming and chilling, unique and unforgettable performance, and certainly the most impressive of the year so far. Waltz simply steals the scene whenever he appears.

Ultimately this is an extremely enjoyable film and one that deserves at least one viewing. It may not convert those who have already dismissed Tarantino, but for any true cinephiles there will be much to love here.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow
Starring Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 136 minutes

Seth Rogen plays a struggling young comedian who meets his idol, a well known comedian played who has been diagnosed with a terminal case of leukemia, played by Adam Sandler.

funny people

In recent years, Judd Apatow has become the hottest thing in comedy. Hit movies such as Knocked Up and the underrated Superbad have made him the go to guy for the biggest and best comedy stars.

Now he's back with his new movie Funny People, which continues his proud tradition of coming up with really bad titles for decent films. And that's exactly what this film is, decent, without fulfilling its potential. Allow me to elaborate.

Now at first I was very hesitant going to see this movie. First of all the trailer looks awful, it makes the film out to be some crappy formulaic comedy. This is not a new phenomenon in Hollywood. The sad thing is that there are more idiots in the world than smart people, a lot more, and there are numerous films and tv shows that have trailers that have clearly been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, despite the film actually being half decent. Sad, but true.

The fact that this stars Adam Sandler of all people doesn't do much to allay my fears. He's the type of actor I loved back when I was 13 or so and Happy Gilmore was comedy gold to me (actually it's still kinda funny), but frankly he is just not good, and not especially funny for someone who's past his teen years.

But man was I in for a surprise. Not only is Sandler good, he is very good. He plays a famous comedian who is diagnosed with Leukemia, and serves as a parable of how lonely it can be at the top. It's all very well written stuff and seems to be a perfect fit for Sandler.

He is ably joined by co-star Seth Rogen, now firmly right at the top of the comedy A-list. Seth Rogen plays a struggling comedian who meets his idol and is offered a job. Rogen plays the same type of relatable nice guy that he has done in pretty much all his films, and though it is a part that he plays well, one can't help but think it would be nice to see him do something a bit different for a change. I guess an overweight Jewish guy with curly hair can't really do much more. And I should know, I used to be one!

In the end though, people go to a comedy to be entertained. And while this movie is funny, it's not the same kind of brainless humor one has come to expect from Apatow's films. This is much smarter, and for the first half of the film you're sure that you're in for something a bit special, a bit different. One suspects that maybe this is Apatow reaching maturity.

Unfortunately he sort of loses the plot towards the end of the film where the story devolves into far more clichéd stuff; the traditional chasing of a loved one at the airport, the brawl outside the party, suddenly we're in very familiar territory. That's not to say that it's bad, it's just that a film that looked for a while like it was on its way towards being a classic ends up being a more typical crowd pleasing comedy, and it's a shame.

Nevertheless, make no mistake that this is a cut above most films of the genre. It is regrettable that most people who might actually be looking for a more cerebral laugh will be put off by the shamelessly dumbed down marketing put forward by the studio, and as such this film is likely to remain underrated for the most part. But for those of you who do go to see it, you will find one of the better comedies of the year so far, and just a half hour short of being one of the better comedies in a longer while.

For anyone going to this film expecting a Superbad or 40 Year Old Virgin laugh out loud, but fairly broad comedy, you will go home disappointed. This is, for the most part, much smarter stuff from Apatow with a very toned down Sandler giving the acting performance of his life.

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