Time for another of Evan’s video toy reviews. I’m not sure what accent he puts on when he’s doing these, but it’s certainly not his usual one. They say that the camera adds 10 pounds, but in his case it also appears that the camera add a private school education. I wonder if that’s why all the people on TV sound like they went to Oxford or Cambridge university (oh wait – that’s because all the people on TV did go to Oxford or Cambridge university).
Anyhow, many thanks to the nice people at Bandai for sending us a Poké Ball Twister Figure for us to take a look at. It’s been quite a hit with the big man, as usually he has a lot of trouble operating spinning top type toys as they can be a bit fiddly – but he took to this one like a duck to water.
As you can see by the video however, Evan is a bit disappointed by the fact that the Poké Ball can’t magically spin every other random toy or bit of rubbish that he crams in there. see if you can work on that guys.
According to Bandai Poké Ball Twister Figures are RRP £9.99 and are suitable for ages 4+ and available now from Argos, TRU, Tesco, Smyths, Entertainer, Toymaster and other good toy stores, and I see no reason to disbelieve them.
The Borrower series of books by Mary Norton were always a favourite of mine as a child. Recently I’ve had the opportunity to watch two movies based on the books – The Borrowers (1997) staring John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, and Mark Williams which I saw streaming on Picturebox, and also Arrietty (2010) which is a Japanese animated film Studio Ghibli which was showing in cinemas a few weeks ago.
Of the two movies Arrietty was by far the best. As with all the Studio Ghibli movies that I’ve seen so far, watching it was as much akin to a spiritual experience as a piece of entertainment. It was just so bloody beautifully drawn and animated. The storyline was much more faithful to the original source material too.
The characters of Arrietty were crafted just as expertly as the artwork was. I especially enjoyed the Borrower family – the feisty, brave, and intelligent Arrietty and her parents Pod and Homily. The film makers were able to capture a wonderful sort of sad claustrophobia to their lives as the sole Borrower family left in a big old house, unsure if there were any more of their kind anywhere else in the world.
I saw Arrietty alongside Amy and Evan, and they were as entranced by the film as I was. They both even commented on how wonderful the artwork was, which isn’t usually very high on the list of priorities for seven and four year olds.
I can’t recommend this movie highly enough, and that view is echoed over on Rotten Tomatoes where it currently has. a 100% fresh rating. Unfortunately it’s gone from the cinemas in the UK now, although in the USA it hasn’t been released yet (it’s coming out on the 17th of February 2012). Looking at Amazon however it looks like the DVD and Blu-ray will be out in November.
After seeing Arrietty Amy and Evan were hungry for some more Borrower action. Over the summer holidays Picturebox has been showcasing a lot of kids movies, the 1997 movie The Borrowers being one of them. So last night we sat down and gave it a whirl.
There is nothing actually wrong with The Borrowers. It’s a perfectly serviceable Hollywood kids movie with some good special effects for the time. It is very interestingly set in a sort of blended world of times and cultures which is never referenced or explained, but sits in the background. The TV’s are old style and black and white but have remote controls, the cars are 50′s style but there are mobile phones, and due to the 50/50 mixture of American and English actors you’re never actually sure which country the movie is set in. This mish-mash of worlds is very innocent and sweet, and I found it charming.
Also charming were the sets and props. One of the best thing about the Borrowers is the way they use everyday household items to their own purposes. Unfortunately for this film however is that I’ve recently seen Arrietty – and while The Borowers handles the concept well, Arrietty handled it superbly.
But it was the general plot and tone of The Borrowers that really let it down. It replaced the subtlety and beauty of Arrietty with bawdiness and Home alone style slapstick. Which is OK in itself, but as I say – I’ve been spoilt.
The Borrowers is an OK kids movie, and one that most adults will be able to find some enjoyment in. However Arrietty is a stunningly beautiful work of art that children will appreciate just as much as adults do. No contest really.
Picturebox is a an online service that streams movies to your PC, Mac, iPad (and even a Samsung Internet-connected smart TV, whatever the hell that is). They asked me if I’d like to test out their service for a year and review some of their movies on the blog. Usually picturebox costs £4.99 a month for access to a regularly rotating range of 28 movies. However I get it free, because I’m ace.
Actually, I very much enjoy the theatre and have done since my late teens. I used to be a rather regular attender and have yet to see a professional production I have not enjoyed (although must admit, there are a fair few armature ones that I’ve regretted showing up for). Since the kids were born my theatre consumption has reduced somewhat, but I still manage to get out and see the occasional play.
We received the tickets to see Avenue Q for Christmas from my parents-in-law. I’m not generally the biggest fan of musicals, but this one has been on my to-see list for a number of years, ever since I stumbled across the soundtrack in 2005 in fact. I’m not sure how they knew this, but they did. So thank you Archie and Jeanette.
For those who haven’t heard of it before, Avenue Q is quite hard to explain without doing it a disservice. It’s basically a coming of age story, social satire, and Seasame Street homage all combined into one. Half the characters are human, and the other half muppets operated by puppeteers (who are fully in view at all times). Oh, and one of the characters is Gary Coleman (not the real Gary Coleman of course – he’s dead).
In many ways Avenue Q is similar to South Park – in that it uses a medium traditionally reserved for children (in this case puppetry rather than animation) in order to make highly insightful points about normally socially taboo subjects. Avenue Q has a lot more heart than South Park however, which actually makes the social truths and breaking of taboos even more palatable to the audience.
Just a quick look at some of the songs in the show gives you an inclination of what’s going on here:
It Sucks To Be Me
If You Were Gay
Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist
The Internet is for Porn
And it’s all very very funny stuff. Very funny.
And the underlying message of the show is a very important one too, and it’s one that’s not often portrayed: Sometimes peoples dreams come true, but sometimes they don’t either. We’re not all the special unique individuals that kids TV told us we , and there is no one in this world who doesn’t hold a smidgen of emptiness within their sense of self somewhere. The best thing is just to roll up your sleeves and get on with it.
I’m a big proponent of that point of view, both personally and professionally. And don’t see it as a negative thing – just as a part of being human. Avenue Q is brave enough to carry that message and I applaud them for it. And even better, they do so in a bloody hilarious way.
My only criticism of the show is that the second half is slightly weaker than the first. But that’s only an issue because the first half is so damn strong.
So that’s two extremely enthusiastic thumbs up. I saw it at the Bradford Alhambra, where it’s going to be until next week. You’ll have to google where it goes after that if you fancy catching it (which you should).
Recently on the Midmoclub Podcast I mentioned that out of the dozens of superhero movies coming out this year I was looking forward to X-Men First Class the least. I said that the characters didn’t inspire me, I was unhappy with the inconsistancy of the X-Men in Marvels universe, and nothing I’d seen in the trailers for the movie had made me excited about it.
Well it’s time to eat my words. X-Men First Class was bloody awesome.
First of all, the characters were absolutely spot on. Michael Fassbender was fantastically intense as Magneto and James McAvoy suitably pompous as Professor Xavier. Like Jeff I had a few problems reconciling the movies version of Mystique with the character that appeared in the earlier films, but to be honest I much preferred this one and I make a point of fastidiously ignoring X-Men 3 anyway. The only person I found to be a bit dull was Emma Frost – but I’ve never really got her character anyway. She always seems to be wearing far too little clothes.
There were enough explosions in the film to keep me happy, but this film was far more than a mindless action flick. I very much enjoyed how they intertwined the plot with the real life events of the Cuban missile crisis; and the regular X-Men themes of prejudice and genocide reverberated throughout the movie and provided thinking material long after the closing credits had rolled.
There were some very amusing moments too, not least the fantastic cameo which was almost worth the price of admission itself.
Ian mentioned over on twitter that people had been talking about the movie as being comparable to Nolan’s Batman films. While I certainly wouldn’t go that far, I do understand where they are coming from. X-Men First Class is a superhero movie that works on both a popcorn and a cerebral level, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
I’m not sure if this video is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube, but it’s certainly the funniest one I’ve seen this year. Keep with it, it’s fantastic:
I’ve been spending quite a bit of time playing games over the past couple of weeks. My biggest passion has been Halo: Reach which, like all the other Halo games, is absolutely bloody awesome. Reach doesn’t have quite as sophisticated a storyline as Halos 1, 2, and 3, but that doesn’t particularly bother me. In fact I quite liked the ‘go here, shoot that, then go there and shoot this’ structure of the storyline. There is also a cumulative feeling of desperation and the odds stacking against you which ends in a rather bleak ending which I initially felt jarred, but on reflection was pretty much spot on.
Halo: Reach gets a hearty five out of five for me, and joins the rather sparse ranks of games that have held my attention all the way through to their completion.
Now I’ve finished Halo: Reach I’m moving on to Dragon Age: Origins – a game recommended to me by both my friend Craig and Kasey and Melanie over at the Fantasy Movie Podcast.
Rather foolishly I loaded it into the Xbox at 11:00pm last night, and only shifted from the front of the TV at 3:30am when Kerry came downstairs to see where the hell I was.
Ironically though I’m still not sure if I like it. There seems to be an awful lot of pointless unrealistic blood being splattered around all over the place which is more laughable than gruesome, and I’m struggling to work out how much I should be trying to control the various characters in my group.
The storyline is engaging however and I’m more than willing to keep going with it for a while yet until I make up my mind.
The other game I’ve been playing an awful lot of recently is Lego Batman on the Wii. I actually got this when it came out back in 2008 and have completed the majority of it. It’s had a bit of a resurgence in our house however as Evan and I have started playing it together,
And you know what? For a nearly five year old he’s not half bad. He’s not quite grasped the concept of the puzzles yet, but he can run, jump and throw a batarang with the best of them and is pretty handy in a fight against the penguins goons. We’ve made our way through all the hero missions now, and are onto the villains. Evan even gets into character with a damn fine Clayface impression.
I’d never really considered the possibility of console games providing a real father/child bonding experience, but that’s undoubtedly what’s happening and it’s fantastic. Amy’s also started showing enthusiasm too which is great.
So that’s our current gaming activities, what are yours?
Recently I was approached by PictureBox, an online service that streams movies to your PC, Mac, iPad (and even a Samsung Internet-connected smart TV, whatever the hell that is). They asked me if I’d like to test out their service for a year and review some of their movies on the blog.
I said yes, obviously.
I’ve said it before, but services like Picturebox are the future. For £4.99 a month you get access to a range of 28 movies. Every week they replace 7 of the available titles with 7 new ones, so there is a steady rotation of fresh movies to watch.
In an ideal world of course I personally would like a few more movies to choose from – like every single one that’s ever been made. But that level of service is not going to happen any time soon (although I remain convinced it will eventually) so £5 for a pretty well rounded section of movies is pretty good. You can check out what’s currently showing on their site here.
The quality of the streaming is pretty damn impressive too. I have my Mac Mini hooked up to my TV so I can watch stuff on the big screen – and there’s been absolutely no discernible difference in picture or sound from regular TV that I can see. And there was no juddering as the streaming caught up either. Technology has come a long way baby.
So for my inaugural venture into reviewing for PictureBox I thought I’d go all highbrow. I’m reviewing the SpongeBob Squarepants Movie.
We’ve never really watched SpongeBob here at Hughes towers. I’ve been aware of it of course, and know a fair few adults who love it more than their kids do. And as we all know, I’m not a man who shies away from a good cartoon.
My first impression was that SpongeBob obviously owes quite a lot to the Ren and Stimpy school of animation, but to be fair so do many modern cartoons. And far better to copy the post modern anarchic humor of Ren and Stimpy than the humdrum low production values of Hanna-Barbera. However Spongebob isn’t quite as dark or perverse as Ren and Stimpy, which is just fine with me.
The movie’s story, such as it is, concerns itself with SpongeBob and his friend Patrick’s efforts to recover King Neptune’s crown. It’s a perfectly serviceable plot, and even has a nice little message at the end of it about being yourself. However it’s not really the main strength of the movie – that lies in the deliciously silly set pieces scattered throughout the film.
My very favorite moment is the point when they use David Hasselhoff as a speedboat. Unfortunately I can’t find a video for it, so you’ll just have to take my word for it – It’s bloody genius. In fact I was giggling to myself throughout all the movie, and so was Kerry beside me.
My one criticism is that it did go on a fair bit, and I did begin to get a little tired of it towards the end. I suspect that the character suits 20 minute cartoons far better than feature length movies. But the director managed to hang onto the audiences interest by his fingernails and rounded it all off nicely.
So I admit it, I’m a SpongeBob convert. I may be late to the party, and all the cool kids have moved on somewhere else – but at least I turned up.
Like many people I’ve been steadily moving away from consuming broadcast TV and radio. Instead I get my entertainment through dvd box sets and podcasts. I love the fact that I have the opportunity to select my own evenings programming rather than being forced to swallow whatever lowest common denominator bear baiting is being churned out by the networks.
There are some disadvantages to this however. While over all the quality of my viewing/listening has vastly improved, being completely in control of my own personal programming schedule does mean that my beam of focus has become very narrow. . At the moment I’ve sort of penned myself into a little bubble of geeky culture. I listen to geeky podcasts, watch geeky TV shows, and read geeky blogs.
This isn’t a problem in itself, and my proclivities have always leant that way anyway. But I am a little sad that because I rarely consume any broadcasted media I longer accidentally stumble across unexpected hidden gems outside my field of interest.
In particular I feel I’m missing out on documentaries. One of the beauties of Radio 4 is that if you leave it on in the background you sometimes encounter a documentary that, while you’d never actually pick out of a listings guide as being of interest, ends up capturing your imagination and proving fascinating. A similar phenomenon exists with BBC 4.
Last night I tried to rectify that and inject some factual programming into my cultural life. Granted, on the face of it it was geeky factual programming, but you have to build up slow on these things.
King of Kong is a documentary film that premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It follows Steve Wiebe as he tries to take the world high score record for the classic arcade game Donkey Kong from reigning champion Billy Mitchell.
Now that synopsis makes the film sound both dull and incredibly nerdy – but trust me, it isn’t. It is as moving, exciting, hilarious, and ultimately uplifting as any Hollywood scripted movie out there. And has masses of cross appeal. This film has something for everybody in it – from your 8 year old son to your 80 year old grandma.
I can honestly say I’ve never been as engaged and invested with any documentary as much as I was with King of Kong. In fact, I struggle to think of many conventional movies that have engaged me as much. It was just awesome.
The ultimate strength of the film is the everyman underdog nature of challenger Steve Wiebe and the apparent despicable awfulness of his opponent Billy Mitchell. I say despicable as this is a documentary, not real life, and the power to shape the narrative and audience sympathies lay firmly at the feet of the director and editor rather than the subjects. Never-the-less, by the end of this movie you’ll want to punch this guy in the nuts:
I really can’t emphasise enough how much you should watch this film. Just do it – you’ll not regret it.
I finally found somewhere where Thor was playing in 2D at a reasonable time. This wasn’t my usual cinema – Huddersfield Odeon, who in their wisdom didn’t have a single showing other than overpriced 3D. For shame Huddersfield Odeon, for shame.
Anyway, I went to Showcase cinema in Leeds and have now got one of their discount membership cards (which let me get in for £4.50 – bonus!) so that’ll teach them. No doubt the CEO of Odeon is furiously hauling their employees over the coals as I type.
I was quite disappointed. Not because it’s a bad film – it certainly isn’t. But all the positive reviews I’d been reading had given me high expectations and unfortunately the movie didn’t meet them.
First the good – Chris Hemsworth was bloody awesome as Thor. He was incredibly charismatic and absolutely perfect for the role. And he was so good looking that when he took his shirt off even I felt stirrings in my ovaries.
The supporting cast was great too, aside from the guy playing the swashbuckler Fandral who looked like he had his beard superglued on his face (I demand authenticity in my beards). This film was the first one I’ve ever seen Natalie Portman in that I’ve found her attractive. I also liked the fact they had a Nordic actor in the mix – Stellan Skarsgard, who I’m very ashamed to admit I knew previously as “that one that’s not famous from Mamma Mia”.
There was nothing wrong with the plot of the movie either.
Now look, I’m aware that this isn’t the movies fault, but I’ve never really been happy with mythical superheros like Thor and Hercules. I just don’t feel they fit. And this prejudice marred the film for me.
I loved the fish out of water stuff set on earth, but the Asgard sections left me cold. The CGI didn’t help either to be honest – the Frostgiants and the architecture of Asgard looked more like a video game cut scene to me rather than a movie. Perhaps I should have seen it in 3D after all (ha!).
I’m basically having trouble reconciling the Thor film as being in the same universe as the Iron Man, Hulk, and upcoming Captain America movies. Those three stories are based in “science” and Thor is based in magic. Yes, yes I know that the point is that its actually technology advanced to a point that it just looks like magic to us – but there is still the whole nine realms thing and tree of life and whatever. It just all feels crowbarred in.
I knew that I had these problems with Thor when it was first announced, but I allowed the hype to nudge that out of my mind. But it’s just something that when I actually sat down and watched the film I couldn’t get past.
Don’t get me wrong, I still liked the movie and think it’s well worth watching. I just wished I went in with lower expectations, as I would have enjoyed it more.
I went to the cinema to see Fast Five yesterday (or Fast and Furious 5: Rio Heist as I think it’s known in the US).
It’s a completely ridiculous movie. It has massive gaping plot holes, completely unnecessary supporting characters, and some action sequences which were so ludicrous that they made my brain hurt.
I bloody loved it.
I had intended to make a day of it and remain at the cinema to see Thor too, but there was only one inconveniently timed showing of the movie in 2D and I flat out refuse to pay the extra to see it in 3D.
This morning Simon Pegg, the patron saint of all geeks, tweeted:
New Harry Potter trailer is absolutely cracking. Shame it’s in 3D though. So doesn’t need it. Talk about gilding the Lily (Potter).
Marketing types worry that if a film isn’t in 3D it will appear somehow old fashioned and so cinema continues to die of a corporate tumor.
It’s like some kid has discovered some old gizmo in the attic and decided to flog it to his mates like it’s new. It’s not new, it’s old.
I think Simon is being a little too generous. 3D isn’t about marketing people worrying about seeming old fashioned, it’s about the movie studios trying to squeeze as much money as humanly possible from the consumers.
And they are idiots. Because it’s completely the wrong way to go about things. Media should be getting cheaper, not more expensive. Because if it doesn’t then the people who produce it are going to find themselves in rather deep trouble.
Pirating is a problem, and is morally wrong. But its fast becoming one of those offences that no one really considers to be a “real” crime. The best way to deter pirating is not by draconian and privacy invading legislation, but by reducing prices. People no longer are willing to pay £40 for a box set of Mad Men if they can get it from Pirate Bay for free. But they’re probably willing to pay a fiver.
And people aren’t stupid either. They know that selling digital downloads costs the producers a hell of a lot less than distributing physical copies. So the fact that online outlets are trying to sell things at the same price as you can get them in the shops just makes people pissed off (I’m looking at you Apple and Amazon).
If you want to beat piracy you are going to have to do it by
Reducing prices in the short term and then
Moving to a system where no one actually buys their media any more, they just buy the right to access it from an online cloud system.
I’d gladly pay £30 a month to be able to watch what I want whenever I want. But I’m becoming increasingly less willing to pay my £30 to Sky TV in order to watch whatever lowest common denominator shit they feel like putting in front of me and my family.
So, going back to the original point, 3D movies are just the industry’s desperate effort to try and claw back some of the money they are losing. But the reason they are losing it is because they are not reacting quickly enough to shifts in society. They are using 20th century technology to try and combat 21st century problems. And people are going to get bored with it very soon.
Do you know anyone out there who actually thinks 3D is a good thing? Aside from maybe Avatar, has there been a single film where you can honestly say that it’s improved your viewing pleasure by the 30% extra you had to pay for it? I’m genuinely interested – is there anyone out there aside from the movie executives, TV manufactures, and cinema operators who feels 3D is the way of the future?
Kerry’s taken Amy and Evan to Spain this week and so I’ve got the entire house to myself for six days.
Their absence has only confirmed what I already knew – my life is uncountably more rich and wonderful with them in it than without them. However despite me missing them I must admit it is quite nice to have a bit of time to myself.
So I’ve taken advantage of a house without kids and settled down to watch a veritable marathon of cartoons. Hey, that’s just the way I roll.
Over the past decade or so both DC and Marvel have managed to get a real grip on their respective properties. They’ve realised that by putting out high quality TV and movies they’re able to grow and expand their audience rather than just patronise and pay lip service to their existing consumers with substandard slop.
Over the past few days I’ve made my way through the first season of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon show. And let me tell you, it’s bloody fantastic. The characters are well rounded and have distinct personalities. The story lines are well paced, accessible, and actually quite sophisticated. And the animation, action, and cinematography are absolutely first rate. In short: it’s good stuff.
It’s all designed to help pave the way for the upcoming Avengers film of course. But hell, I don’t care. Marvel can pump out as much cynical marketing ploys as they want as long as they are this high quality. Hell, the portrayal of the Hulk and Wasp are worth the price of admission alone.
And Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is aimed at kids. You should see what can be done with superhero animation aimed at adults.
The Batman: Under the Red Hood animated movie owes as much to Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight movie as it does to the Batman Animated Adventures (although they were damn fine too).
Dark, gritty, and not afraid to show murder and blood, Batman: Under the Red Hood deals with one of my favorite topics in the Batman mythos – the relationship between Batman and Robin and what happens when the Boy Wonder grows up?
I suspect the majority of those who watch Batman: Under the Red Hood will be aware of the difference between Jason Todd and Dick Grayson, but that knowledge doesn’t distract at all from the freshness of the storyline.
Of particular merit is the performance of Neil Patrick Harris (yes, Doogie Howser himself) as Nightwing. I’ve always loved that character (in the Batman mythos anyhow, not so much in Teen Titans) and NPH plays him exactly the way I’ve always imagined him.
I really can’t emphasise my enjoyment of this film enough, and now I’m really looking forward to checking out some of the other animated movies recently put out by DC.