Tuesday 28 April 2009

A Brief Lull

Apologies for the recent dearth of reviews. The Imaginary Reviewer has an inner ear infection.

Normal service will be resumed once the room stops spinning.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Currently Showing

Whether you’re on a date, escaping enemy agents or just someone who enjoys chewing loudly to annoy other people, the cinema is a great place to spend a few hours. Here’s my rundown of the films you can see right now.

Initial Conditions stars Nicholas Cage as a professor of Chaos Theory in an unnamed university. When his parents are killed by a tornado in his home town, he travels to Asia with the aim of finding and killing the butterfly responsible for starting it. What he discovers is an insect/weather conspiracy of gigantic proportions. Initial Conditions is a silly film, but really utilises Cage’s sole facial expression (that of a confused man-child). Jet Li co-stars, with a great soundtrack from DJ Sweatpants.

Working Relationship is the latest romantic comedy from the writers of My Boyfriend is a Squid and Intercourse Office. It stars Matthew McConaughey as a terrible actor who is constantly typecast as the leading man in absolutely woeful romantic comedies. Sandra Bullock plays his agent, and while she struggles to find him work in the latest high-brow arthouse film, the two of them film love. This film made me vomit, and the product of this vomiting episode was nicer to look at that the tripe on the screen. Co-starring Kevin Smith as Silent Bob.

Big Birds Existential Adventure was reviewed last week.

The Fastest and the Furiousest sees Vin Diesel racing dragster cars along incredibly straight roads against other dragster drivers while being chased by the police and the mafia. Watch with awe as the action star manages to maintain a completely collinear route without losing his hard man image. Who will deploy their parachute brakes first? Co-starring Vanessa Hudgens and a big truck with enough room underneath it for a car to barely pass through.

Indiana Jones and the Ruined Childhood Memories is another big-budget action sequel which sees Harrison Ford don the fedora and whip for more cartoony fun. This time, while Indy is hunting for the makers of a substandard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel he uncovers a plot to bastardize all things that everyone once held dear. But who is behind it? The answer shocks Jones to his very core. Guest starring George Lucas as the evil mastermind.

Coming Soon:
The Even More Fastest and the Absolute Zenith of Furiousness
Saw VI: Saw Hard With a Vengeance
Tyler Perry’s Isn’t Eddie Murphy in this?
The Slow and the Calm
An Annoying Full-of-Himself Man Gets His Comeuppance with Excruciating but Hilarious Results: The Movie
The Even Faster than Before (Which is Saying Something Because Before it was as Fast as is Physically Possible) and the so Furious it Makes Something Really Angry Look Positively Sedate

Monday 20 April 2009

The Latest Bottled Water: Reviewed!

As the song goes, “There’s water, water of life/Jesus gives us water of life”. This is patently untrue, of course; Jesus doesn’t give us water, it comes from a tap. But sometimes it comes from a bottle, and more and more new brands of the essential liquid are going on sale. I decided to have a look with my tongue.

First off, Tip Top Tap Pop is a delightful new product from a micro-waterery near Guelph, in Canada. The bouquet reminds me of a damp morning in November, and the first taste on my tongue was a little fizzy, but that could be because I’d been licking batteries all morning. The initial flavours were asymptomatic yet coddling, with overbearing notions of parsnip on the underbite. This water was great.

Incidentally, when one is taste-testing water, what does one use to cleanse the palate? When tasting wine, we use water, so I figured I’d use wine, in a totally radical vice versa fashion.

Next up was the latest vintage from wollaC hydroyards. While not without gumption, this 2008 water lacks the visual acuity of previous vintages, possibly due to it being a poor year for aqueous minerality. I detected hints of margarine, camomile and temperance in this fair-to-middling beverage.

Dumptruck is being branded as the water for men on the go, with each bottle personally insulted by Chuck Norris. This water tasted like desperation and silt, though it does come in a handy handle-shaped bottle. Oh, and I think this water is the reason why it feels like I’ve been pissing razors for the last two days, even when I’m not actually urinating.

Triumph Supermarket Own-Brand Water tastes like water. Yawn!

I’m a big fan of the latest celebrity water, Ethereality by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Each mouthful of this drink was like flavourless nectar, an invisible cup of undetectable beauty. It tastes like all the yesterdays that could have been but never were, of kisses in the rain with nobody, of the sense of something really great that was here five minutes ago but disappeared and you missed it because you were chasing a hen around a car park. Wonderful.

The outright winner of my taste test fantasia was Fresh Wardrobe by Emperor Drinks. Sloshing this water in my mouth was like having twelve sylphs softly beating my torso with loofahs while a parliament of friendly owls sings my praises in notes too high for me to hear. I could detect elements of lemongrass, treacle and tin in this delightful liquid, while the aftertaste added hints of tree fort and longing. I’d recommend this bottled water for anyone with a soul.

Water comes from a tap/it was put there by a chap/in factory downtown/if I had my little way/I’d drink water every day/oh wait/I do/well, that’s quite splendid/gosh, that’s cheered me up/woman

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Film Review: Big Bird’s Existential Adventure

The latest big-budget children’s film from the Sesame Street team shows a definite change in style from previous movies, and also from the popular television series. Written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Michel Gondry, Big Bird’s Existential Adventure is a fun, multi-layered, philosophically rich movie for all the family to enjoy and discuss afterwards over coffee.

In the film, puppeteer Matt Kogel (played by Matt Vogel) undergoes a personality crisis after playing the character Big Bird on the Sesame Street set for an extended period of time. Even when out of costume he starts walking and talking like the Muppet, and his friends feel that he is forgetting where Matt ends and where Big Bird begins. After an incident in a shoe shop where he forces Tyra Banks (playing herself) to count every single item of footwear in there, the producers of Sesame Street make him go on a break in his home town, where his love of puppetry began.

It is initially difficult for Kogel to readjust to a place where he is no longer a man in a giant yellow bird costume, no longer forced to talk like a child while operating a comically long mouth with one hand. Here, he is simply Matt, and learns that for the people close to him, this is enough.

In the course of the film, the dichotomy of actor and role are explored, and with many of the characters in the film playing themselves, there is a lot of self-referential material. At the beginning of the film, we see that the line between part and player is blurred and vague, and the world of the Jim Henson Workshop seems to permeate into the real world, courtesy of Big Bird’s existential angst. But as the line between Kogel and Big Bird solidifies, the two worlds go back to their separate existences.

Kids will adore the metaphysical implications of this movie. Many of the children who were at the same screening as me came out discussing the relative merits of free-will and deterministic approaches to the self, and how they related to Big Bird/Matt’s quandary. This could indeed be the best philosophical children’s movie since Disney’s Hannah Montana and the Ontological Proof of the Existence of God.

As with most films aimed at kids these days, the adults are not forgotten, either. There are plenty of fart jokes and people falling off chairs to stop the parents from getting bored.

Of course, the film is not flawless, and many of the kids I talked to found some of the concluding scenes a little too simplistic. Kogel’s relationship with a childhood sweetheart is a little tacked-on and unnecessary. The cameo from latest Henson Workshop wunderkind as a puppeteer at a party is five minutes of nothing more than cynical advertising. And it’s possible to get a little disoriented by Gondry’s eclectic camera selection and off-centre framing.

But these are just small niggles in what is otherwise a fine example of existential children’s cinema, carrying on the great tradition that started with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Solipsists, moving through to 2003’s Spy Kids 4: Cartesian Dualism Duel.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Twilight: The Live Action Role Playing Game

Twilight is a series of books that are currently incredibly popular with teenage girls. The success of the books is a mystery to most adults, but some people put it down to the fact that the author, Stephanie Meyer, has all the literary ability of a thirteen year old, meaning that the readers find it easy to relate to her turgid prose. Indeed, Twilight is one of those rare instances when fan fiction and the book itself are of equal quality.

With a film raking in profits at the box office and several more on the way, the Twilight franchise is big-business, and the brand has seen many related spin offs, including a role-playing game, a breakfast cereal and a Broadway musical, entitled Fangs for the Music. A live action role playing game has also been developed, and I was invited to partake, so I partook.

Live action role playing (LARP) takes many of the elements of traditional RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons, and lets you act them out in the real world. This was my first experience with LARP, so I needed some pointers and advice. Luckily the organisers (Twi-Hard RPG Inc) are very helpful, and my lack of confidence wasn’t a problem. Interestingly, lacking confidence is a pretty common trait amongst LARPGers.

I was given the role of a young male vampire, and the mission assigned to me was to make one of the female human characters fall in love with me. I could do this by raising my levels of mystery, charm and swoonability in the course of the game. Given that all players start with equal scores in these categories, I figured I had a pretty good chance of doing this. But I was wrong.

Given the ratio of males to females in LARPGs is somewhat skewed, there seemed to be a lot of male vampires vying for the attention of relatively few human females. The organisers tried to persuade some male gamers to take the role of girl characters, but this was deemed ‘too embarrassing, even for LARPGers’. So there were many of us, all trying to win the affection of a slim number of wannabe Bellas.

Being a first-timer, I had a lot to learn, far more than my more experienced fellow vampires. As much of the role-play wooing involved standing beneath a window and looking threatening, there were a lot of calls to the police from suspicious onlookers. I did not escape in time when a patrol car came by, and while I was explaining my actions to the disbelieving cops, I was losing the opportunity to earn valuable charm points.

It’s possible to do battle with other participants, using dice, which increases various statistics of your character. This element, while faithful to the traditional role playing game, seemed rather out of place in a shadowy world of romantic supernatural liaisons, but I guess the only alternative would be physical combat, and that could lead to costly lawsuits.

My first battle with a fellow RPGer ended badly, when Douglas, a werewolf, rolled a six to my three, scoring a Deadly Blow and escaping with Mandy, a girl who was about to give me some mystery points. I was sidelined for ten minutes (for ‘recovery’) and got chatting to another player who had also just lost a battle. Malcolm told me that he liked playing the Twilight LARPG because it gave him an opportunity to pretend to be a hundred years old.

The rest of my time in the game was short lived. I was killed by a guy dressed as Wesley Snipes from the Blade movies, which was a bit surprising given that this was a totally different film, but rules are rules, and I was forced to watch the game from the outside. In the end, the game was won by a girl who managed to get friendly with twenty five different vampires and werewolves. Someone else did score higher, but she was caught having sex with one of the players in the bushes, and according to the rules this results in an automatic disqualification.

I wouldn’t recommend Twilight: The Live Action Role Playing Game, because it’s not a lot of fun. Fans of the books may enjoy it, but it tends to take place long after their bedtimes, so they’ll probably miss out. In the meantime, I’ve heard that LARPGers who want proper supernatural romance role-playing fun should wait for the TSN Anita Blake Adults Only Game.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Film Review: 12 Rounds

In 12 Rounds, WWE Wrestling superstar John Cena stars as Danny Fisher, a New Orleans cop whose girlfriend Molly (played by Avril Poisson) has been kidnapped by an Irish arms dealer who blames Fisher for the death of his own girlfriend one year previous. The kidnapper (Aiden Gillen) has set a series of challenges and trials for Fisher to overcome before he will return Molly; if the streetwise policeman fails any, his girlfriend will die.

The first thing that struck me about this film is the quality of Cena’s acting. This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, as professional wrestlers are paid to act for a living, selling punches and pain on a nightly basis. But with the exception of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, few wrestlers have managed to carry over a career in the ring to believable acting. Hulk Hogan and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin are two names who spring to mind here. Cena, on the other hand, conveys as much emotion with a single worried glance as Austin could muster in all of The Condemned. When faced with unfathomable odds, the actor really made us believe he was weary, afeared and yet passionate.

The film itself is a rip-roaring thrillride, taking us from despair to exhilaration in seconds. Each of the rounds in question had me on the edge of my seat, from stopping an out-of-control streetcar to the race around the city in a speeding fire truck. The stunts are all of the highest calibre, and the explosions and fight scenes rocked me to my core.

If I were to have one qualm with this film, it’s that it’s a little too long. Personally, I would have been satisfied with eight or nine rounds, rather than the full gamut of twelve, but still, a numb posterior is a small price to pay for such excitement.

The performances from all actors are excellent, with the aforementioned Cena obviously having control of the screen, but Gillen as the bad guy really does appear sinister and evil. It's without a doubt his best role since Queer as Folk. Supporting roles are also well-filled, and I don't recall a poor performance in the movie.

All in all, I would give 12 Rounds four stars out of five. It brings excitement, adventure and big bangs in equal measures, without condescending the viewer or looking down at him. And I can't wait to see Cena in more films; there is a danger that this acting talent will be typecast in action movies, so I'd like to see him try his hand at period drama.

12 Rounds, starring John Cena and Aiden Gillen is in Cinemas now. Check local listings for show times.