Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Bob Hoskins

(Bob Hoskins : October 26, 1942 – April 29, 2014)

In many ways the passing of actors feels like the passing of friends, and be that a byproduct of media voyeurism or the nature of familiarity, the pangs of loss resonate in their wake. To call it grief would be an insult to those who knew the man behind the curtain, the genuinely bereaved, but the feeling of mourning can and will heavily hang in the hearts of many who did not, myself included. It is the nature of cinema that we hold characters and indeed actors too, close to our hearts, and while much can be attributed to writing, the face behind it, the voice and manner remain like a companion, guiding you onward. Few actors can promise to leave such a mark, and for most while their merits can be listed and their praises sung, their lamentation of loss remains academic and without the feelings or heart behind it. Bob Hoskins was not one of those actors, and any words that can be said of the man will be filled, I assure you with deepest sorrow.

Gruff often to the point of intimidation, Hoskins had the rare and masterful ability to humanize in sheer expression and tone. With an intimidating natural stance and gravelly voice, portraying care and warmth would seem to most a natural juxtaposition, but it seemed natural when applied to the man. From the bumbling but good hearted Smee from Hook to the charming Lou from Mermaids, there was a natural charisma to Hoskins that remained unique but ever warm. Perhaps an inner air of confidence coupled with the depth of his expression. I would of course be remiss if I didn't mention his performance as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Tough but seasoned with personal loss, his portrayal was impressive in it's own right, made more so by the ground breaking techniques and his ability to respond to them.

I know little of the man on a personal level, and the things I do have been garnered through interviews. A man of strong ideals and good will, that same warmth came easily to see, and reportedly was much a part of his character. I would like to believe so. What I do know is that the world is a sadder and colder place in his absence. I invite you all to take an hour or two to look over or discover for the first time, that warmth and kind candor that I for one will sorely miss from here onward.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Taking Some Nea Time

(An Announcement By Neamo)

 Well, this seems to be something of a recurrent theme, but once again in a moment of British weakness I feel I must apologize for the sporadic nature of my posts, and their spontaneity. The fact of the matter is I had started this blog under a false pretense, that I would have a near infinite pool of free time in order to post at my leisure. Without too in depth a back history, I had rendered myself in years past practically unemployable, and aside from a little dabbling in the murky and otherwise formless waters of volunteering I had nothing to occupy my time with. This blog came about as most good things do, in a conversation over films and reviews thereof. Now however, this week especially, I am finding time to be a far rarer commodity than I had banked upon. I've been secured in a potentially career changing placement. What does that mean? Well, for the purpose of this blog it means continued breaks, and that my somewhat regular updates, at least until I've stabilized in my new working environment will become somewhat irregular, as I shall have to cut down upon the posts. Fear not however as this is not me stopping, more an announcement that until I have settled, the reviews shall trickle rather than pour through. I hope that is acceptable. I can assure you that whenever a nugget of unused time creeps my way, I shall use it to try and entertain you, the viewers of my blog. So, with that out of the way, I shall post apologetically, and announce that my next review is to be of the movie Ghost Town.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Ripper Sweet

 (Ripper Street Review By Neamo)

The show reeks of quality I had thought lost to British productions. I don't mean that in an offensive manner, but the fact is British television by and large has stagnated and festered in the wake of it's rapidly moving American counterparts, and we've become accustomed to an air of accepted mediocrity in productions and values within. I could argue, rightly, that as a general whole it may be due to the budgetary constraints as England has a lesser purse and by the same means tighter drawstrings, but that often doesn't seem to be the case. There is something of a renaissance appearing within American television, where concepts are being pushed and boundaries of old are being bowled over, as seen by the success of the before unmarketable Game of Thrones, the dark drug addled depths of Breaking Bad or the deep postulations of True Detective. There's a revival of the small screen values that otherwise had been lambasted to the wayside as fit for queasy soap opera's and paltry dramatics, and it's exciting and vibrant. It's not an entire change, and for the most part those sloppy sitcoms and tired staples of television hold their heads high, but increasingly so, we're seeing shows appear that take risks. Playing with formula and paying for results, it's a bold and daring thing I have admired and expected fully to remain out of British grasp, but here I am, talking of a BBC production, a studio long since mired in it's own filth, in an astoundingly positive manner. The BBC have since cancelled this show of course.

  • Acting : The acting of Ripper Street is by far it's strongest suit. Boasting actors that have been lamented for their prior performances, it would take far too long to mention the episodic extra's that waft in from various productions, notably Game of Thrones. Instead I'll focus on the core cast. Matthew Macfadyen provides a believable and grounded detective inspector, playing the part of the haunted Edmund Reid with a finesse rarely seen. Curt without callousness, his sincere and stern demeanor perfectly portray the gentile of Victorian society, astute and knowledgeable but with a healthy dose of skepticism, wrapped neatly within the persona of a man damaged and emotionally crippled. His awkwardness at times lends itself beautifully to the character without making him an English stereotype. Jerome Flynn is a man I can't get enough of on television, from his early days in Soldier Solider to his rousing performance as Bronn in Game of Thrones, and in this show he portrays the reliable muscle that is the Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake. Strong, merciless with a brutal edge, he is also a large part of the comic relief with little about him providing the suave sophistication of the other two leads. The thug, but also the innocent, he remains unencumbered with the dark brooding and instead serves as the righteous force that otherwise helps ground the show. It would be unflattering to call him a Watson, as he seemingly wants no part of that life, more the layman that can be identified with, he provides the show's brutal moral core. The final addition to the team is the mystical American doctor played by Adam Rothenberg, a man by the name of Captain Homer Jackson. With aliases to boot and the troubled past of being a gun man but also a surgeon, he provides an often large centerpiece for strife, but also some of the most startling wisdom of any of the characters. Functioning much like a magical hobo, doling out life experience and knowledge disproportionate to his years, Homer Jackson appears to have knowledge about chemistry, smells and scents, geography, insect migration- If there is a subject, he has something profound and case aiding to add. It might seem like I'm being facetious, and if I'm honest I am a little, but his acting prowess allows the suspension of disbelief, keeping him relevant and fresh. Relatable and funny, he remains a suave if morally bankrupt character.

  •  Writing : The writing of this show is superb. While there are plot devices that I would otherwise disagree with, for instance, the uneasy introduction of John Merrick in the second season, the writing and the dialogue within remain faultless. Easy to watch and easy to listen to, it retains a Victorian candor without sounding false and forced, and each sentence or quip mingles pleasantly to the ear. The plot threads themselves each have impact with every episode adding to the background or changing the view of the characters episode for episode leading to a steady progression. There are no fillers here, and likewise it is not a show where events have no impact upon the characters. Instead through joyous writing, the likes of which I had long thought lost to the BBC with their love of Moffat and his dull scribblings, we see progression and change that ultimately leaves much to be questioned but little to be complained of. Detective Reid on surface appears fairly well held together, haunted by the loss of his child but with a fixed moral center and dedication toward justice. Over the course of two seasons we see this pillar of the community gradually slip into the darkness, with the ending of season two providing a moral ambiguity that frankly remains jarring. Showing that the best of us can crumble, it's but one of many clever devices employed by skillful writers. Writers now unemployed thanks to the BBC discontinuing the show. Thanks BBC.

  •  General Positives : The positives to this show are many. For one it is set after the Jack the ripper killings, an idea that otherwise hadn't been fronted as it was a time of fear, of public skepticism in the law and in others but also of utter darkness. Our detectives likewise were unable to catch the ripper and in ways see the fulfillment of their duty as a form of atonement. It's clever, and it provides alarming depth to a subject otherwise glossed over for the romanticized idea of the mysterious serial killer. I also like the tastefulness with which certain subjects are handled. This was an era where prostitution was common place and brothels held information for the good detectives. While we do see flesh, it pales in the light of other current shows, and remains ever tasteful. You won't see a dwarf fondling tits here for shock value. I also very much like the main theme, which evokes memories of Firefly. That was probably why it was cancelled in retrospect.

  •  Gripes : As mentioned earlier it is a little off setting that the resident surgeon seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of any subject presented, but I can't call that a genuine gripe as I admire that it defies stereotype. What do I mean by this? When you introduce an American gunslinger to an English Victorian, odds are fairly good that they will be written off as a toothless drunk, with barely a thought in their head. These are stereotypes long standing, and it's reversal actually provides an area of distinct fascination. I was not thrilled with the portrayal of John Merrick as I felt it unnecessary, but at the same time it provided nothing that was overtly offensive. You are starting to see my problem. I can list faults, but nothing sticks to mind as being wrong or out of place. I'm not sure whether it's a willingness to defend or a string of weak criticisms, but I can't tout them with real conviction. Well, in saying that, I suppose I could call upon one criticism. That being that a series of idiot executives cancelled it. Yes, that is my gripe.

So in summary, it's truly good television, the likes of which the BBC had never seen and now will never see again undoubtedly. I strongly advise you give it a try.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Basil The Great Mouse Retrospective

 (Basil The Great Mouse Detective Review By Neamo)

There are times when, in feeling lethargic and generally infirm, a man or woman craves something beyond the usual comforts of their daily drudge. I myself am one such man. Wallowing in ailments that set a deep craving within me for bed linen and comfort, I returned once more to Disney and cartoons of my childhood. Please take note, as is usually the case whenever I fall ill, that while the review's schedule might be effected, I shall do my best to maintain standards. I'm a people person.

Set in Victorian London, the owner of a local toy shop, Mr Flaversham is abducted by a villainous and faintly racially suspect bat by the name of Fidget, leaving his young daughter Olivia alone and destitute in his wake. Distraught, she seeks out the aid of Basil of baker street with the well meaning but portly Dawson guiding her. Convincing the detective to take up the case after a cold lead on his arch nemesis, the nefarious Ratigan, Basil and crew secure the services of their trained beagle Toby and ride the lovable steed onward as the game is afoot. Tracking Fidget to a human toy store, they find quickly that gears have been stripped and soldiers disrobed, but in their efforts to track the peg legged thief, lose track of Olivia who is kidnapped in turn. Turning to Basil's scientific prowess, they discern that the likely location of schemes is in fact a waterfront pub, and disguise in tow make their way inside in an attempt to infiltrate. Things of course don't exactly go to plan as the bumbling Dawson, becoming drugged, starts a bar fight that leads to a hasty escape. Pursuing Fidget into a sewer pipe, it becomes clear they have been trapped, and Basil's spirit is broken as Ratigan lauds it over them both before securing them to a deviously fashioned device in a move that is both James Bond villain and mouse trap. Realizing the queen is in peril and that they too are soon to be extinguished by a heinous rube goldberg machine of death, Basil foils the machine, saves the queen and has one of the most memorable final showdowns of any cartoon, all atop the tower of Big Ben. All in a days work for our Homes inspired hero.

So, where to begin? The plot of this crime caper might seem a little tired at first glance with the child seeking help from the genius detective to find her missing pater, but in fact it acts more as a love letter to classic Conan Doyle, with many borrowed tropes translated directly within. Though names are changed and much is alluded to, what we are looking at is a watered down Sherlock for children, and that can't be a bad thing. Likewise the pragmatic and magnanimous villain Ratigan seems a far departure from the haphazard villains of Disney culture. Sophisticated and debonair, he portrays himself as an idol of vanity itself, forcing his henchmen to quite literally sing his praises, lauding it over the ailing detective whilst also dispatching of any who would bring into question his standing by calling him a rat. He is a rat of course, but that isn't important. Did you hear a bell? In any case, this megalomaniac reflects well the self centric qualities of Moriarty, in a more lovable package as must be the case, and it certainly helps the film to flow. I could put it down to the voice acting, which was simply superb with his voice provided by Vincent Price, but I'm almost certain that it was too about clever writing. That air of class. That's what I think this film has that allows it to be distinct from other Disney films. We aren't talking of magic and wonders, nor are we talking of emaciated fashionistas and their love of all things gaudy, this is a film about political conquest and keen minds. It shouldn't by rights be as entertaining as it is, but it manages beautifully.

The animation is beautiful, but that's to be expected of a Disney production. I have since learned that it was in fact the saving grace of the company in a time when the Black Cauldron, a then under appreciated classic, had sank the collective budget of the animation department. In this sense, it saved the company and heralded the age of the Disney Renaissance, so it certainly has that going for it. I won't say it's the most beautiful animation I've ever seen, as I've certainly enjoyed the style of other films more so than this, but it has it's own unique charm in that classically undefinable but inherent Disney style. The musical scores weren't the strongest. With most either acting as background or featuring none of the principle cast the music is understated and at times entirely unfocused. The pub scene with Watson though requiring dancers felt over played as the song itself and the singer had no relevance to the film itself, and while it seemed poignant at the time and much like it would build, ultimately it served as little more than a red herring. The dancers could easily have been dancing to the sound of the piano alone, it looked much like an executive had asked for there to be more music for the sake of the audience rather than the film's cohesion.

What gripes do I have to pick with a childhood favorite? It's certainly a struggle, but I'll do my best. While the plot itself seems clever, at times much like the Holmes that had inspired it, the non specific elements of chemistry that lead to the conclusion often feels rushed with little explanation. We hear of soot dust connecting to lamps, of gummed paper and cheap alcohol, and indeed of the paper's origin and dousing in salt water. We hear of this, and as an adult it might be possible to put it together logically or follow, but not as a child. I don't speak for all children when I say this, so pay heed and take note, but for the most part children are stupid. No child is going to follow the path of the deductions in the same way no child would, or should, understand the comparison of bullet rifling that caused Basil anguish earlier in the film. While I praise the idea of a watered down Holmes for children, I feel the film asks for a lot in terms of keeping interest, and it begs the question, who was their real target audience? I was satiated as a child with the humor and cute aesthetic, so while I can now laud the tributes between film and book, they seem a little hollow coming from retrospect. It seems as if at times it attempted more to be clever than it did to appeal to it's audience, and while that isn't specifically a bad thing, it doesn't seem like a clever marketing move.

Overall, I love the film. It has something for everyone, and while children may not understand all it has to offer, it remains special for the reasons listed above.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Pacific Grim

 (Pacific Rim Review And Rant By Neamo)

Complimenting a film when it's good is a fine and noble thing to do. This is a film that inspires no such nobility in me, nor does it's director. Prepare yourselves, it's about to get bitter.

With the world in ruin after the emergence of Kaiju's, Cthulian horrors that if left to their own devices would make a straight and steady beeline for Japan, emerge one after the other from a rift beneath the ocean and wreathe international havoc upon any nation in their path. To combat this new threat, all of the nations of the world unite to produce the most stereotypical and impractical defense form this world has ever seen, mecha's, or to the blissfully ignorant of you, enormous humanoid robots piloted by the young and emotionally damaged. Created in order to manhandle the beasts without conventional bullets for fear of their toxin filled blood seeping into the ocean below, these hulking titans of advanced engineering are powered by on board nuclear reactors, and wade into battle with all the grace and durability of rock-em sock-em robots, a flaw not missed by detractors. When our would be hero, Raleigh Becket boards the ineptly named Gipsy Danger, with his brother who we'll refer to as meat, we see a world far changed from the golden age of hope and prosperity. We also see why. Requiring two pilots in order to balance the strain of the mecha, or jaeger's AI system, it lurches predictably forward, swinging it's fists like a pair of glorified pillows against the armed rapist of it's tentacled foe, and while trickery is engaged, meat is quickly cleaved free from his brother in a scene so predictable and vapid that it could have been penned in crayon. A ladle of angst and a hasty government closure later, we see Raleigh working as a new age navvy on an international coastal wall, soon to be rubble. Can things end here? Of course not. Re-opening the jaeger project, a government official drags Raleigh back into the chair, and finds him an Asian co-pilot who quickly becomes the female love interest of our traumatized hero. With a rebuilt Gipsy Danger ready to breach the shore and take on the abyssal horrors, a plot is devised to nuke the breach, something before untested, and while a smaller sub plot involving a scientist mentally linking himself to the Kaiju appears, it ultimately goes nowhere and panders to nothing. There is a side 'villain' in the aggressive Australian, who dies predictably in a moment of redemption, and ultimately Gipsy Danger must swan dive into the void riding a Kaiju, which it does before detonating it's nuclear reactor. Earth's victory is secured.

What's that? I skipped and skimmed through the plot? Well frankly, I had to. It's a complicated, boring and trite affair that climbs the footholds of classic anime like a drunk baby supported by a guide wire, and while it covers a lot of ground, none of it is new. It's a mess, frankly. Boring for the most part, particularly in the exploratory quest for a Kaiju brain which leads to a half assed Ron Pearlman experiment, the only real joy to be garnered from the spouting nonsense is in the fight scenes, and they themselves make little to no sense. With fists that damage little, these shambling hulks of steel have no agility in water, and the only effective weapon shown is a sword that snaps out at the literal last moment. It begs the question, why not just wield your fucking sword from the offset? Why indulge in this fetishistic foreplay with the minions of the under dark when you have a light saber at your disposal? Why in fact not make the machines to be run by the computers that so clearly bear the reticent bulk of their creation and have them be controlled remotely? If we want to go further, why the hell would we go with mecha's to begin with, in lieu of other more effective methods of disposal, such as a seething cloud of swarming drones? I asked this, and I must refer to an answer stated rather plainly by someone trying to defend the film and it's premise. 'Well, having giant robots fight giant monsters is pretty much the only way to have a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters.' That's it in a nutshell. That is why I am frankly disinterested in the plot and the premise, and it's a beautiful summation. This was never a film, and for all the plot points it attempts to tout and references to promote, this abortion of cinematic values holds no sway. This film in it's entirely is about Guillermo del Toro attempting to show all and sundry his sketchbook in an act of unintelligent, self serving hedonism that proclaims itself a love letter to something greater. It isn't, it's balderdash.

The acting of this film is difficult to gauge, mainly because there is little to be seen of it anywhere. As such I'm not going to talk of it. I can't find it. There is no believable raw emotion, and every actor who took part in this sham should feel utterly ashamed of themselves for such blatant fan service in the face of actual performance. Instead I'm going to talk of the CGI. The CGI is good, certainly. It wasn't the magnificent leap of engineering I had heard it touted to be, that mark lays firmly with Avatar which to this day remains the most visually impressive computer generated film, though sadly it too is woefully lacking in all other areas. It looks decent enough, the water looked much as water does, the mecha's looked a little like Michael Bay rejects and the monsters like rubbery children's drawings, but they were rendered well, so there's that. The sound track might as well have been non existent to me for the impact it had, and likewise all other assets of the film simply weren't memorable. I know these were things that existed, just as I know there were indeed actors of flesh and bone who drifted lazily on screen, but that is the extent of my care of the matter.

Guillermo Del Toro is a director of whom frankly you should expect more. Able to work well with a lesser budget, he has produced some of the most fascinating films I've ever seen, in their conception and production. I must admit, these are Spanish films that were made on virtual shoestrings, but they are good in of themselves, fantastic to watch and a treat of general magnificence, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth amongst them. While not all of his films are hits, he has the spark of brilliance in him, so to see him direct and write something like this is much akin to seeing a drunken Beethoven shit in his own piano, to raucous applause I'm horrified to say.

If I were given the chance to see this film again, I would choose not to. When I say I would rather be publicly castrated than have to endure it or it's smirking and self satisfied fans, I am not overstating. Watch Pan's Labyrinth or The Devil's Backbone instead.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Load For Chel Dorado

(The Road To El Dorado Review By Neamo)
While the title might imply that this review is a frothy mouthed tirade of cynicism and bitterness, I will assure you that this couldn't be further from the truth. I am if nothing else bitter, twisted and hypercritical of flaws wherever and whenever I find them, and few movies hold innate charm that can openly defy that bitterness. This however is one of those movies. Steeped in nostalgia, the bane of any real critique, this is a film that resonates with my childhood and provides layers of new enjoyment with each watch. While I could easily ramble on into a monolithic paragraph with little cohesion and less direction, I feel now is a perfect time to start the review.

We start our film with the principle cast, Miguel (Kenneth Branagh) and Tulio (Kevin Kline), a pair of bungling but well meaning con artists in a particularly nasty period of Spanish history who secure themselves a map of El Dorado with loaded dice. Hilarity and tribulations ensue as our dynamic duo are chased by guards, countrymen and bull alike onto the ship of the encroaching shadow of death that is Cortes. Imprisoned in the brig and without any real hope, save for a remarkably intelligent horse named Altivo, they disembark into the ocean in a row boat leaving the three stranded and starving on an endless plane of wet desolation. Fortune favors the inept however, and as they breach the sandy shores of salvation, Miguel quickly produces the map, much to Tulio's chagrin. Questing onward through unknown terrain, they bump into an otherwise hidden local, a thief called Chel (Rosie Perez) who unwittingly leads guards from the hidden city to our hapless duo, quickly bringing them to the city in a display of trust that Spain would never see again from any country of the new world. Introduced to the two city chieftains, the festively plump Tannabok and the living embodiment of the devil, Tzekel-Kan, our heroes through luck alone convince the city of their divinity and that they are gods. It is here the plot thickens as we see what starts as a planned heist evolve into a genuine care from our brotagonists. Miguel, euphoric with cultural ecstasy, channels the inner travel guide that had forever longed to peel free and helps to involve himself in the city's culture and heritage, whilst Tulio, immersed in the scheme with the aid of Chel, finds his own euphoria by immersing himself in the buxom female. That isn't a joke. Quickly however things go amiss. After a game of the world's most complicated form of basketball, Tzekel-Kan discovers they are mortals, and not the gods he had wished for in his religious fervor. Distraught but not outdone, he cracks open the peeling text of voodoo for beginners and after displaying a power that frankly should have left him ruling the city like a giant among ants, summons a giant stone jaguar. Now fighting over different goals and women problems, our team put their feelings aside to send Tzekel-Kan to Xibalba, a whirlpool outside of the city gates. Found by Cortes and leading him to the city, Tzekel-Kan looks set to have the last laugh, but in a final act of selflessness and a reparation of our fellowship, Miguel, Tulio, Chel and of course the ever present Altivo work together to foil the plan by sealing the entrance and forsaking the gold. A happy ending for all. Except for the villagers who probably sent parties into the jungle to forage for food, and who all now have Spanish Flu. A happy ending for all who count.

So, where to go from here? I've recapped the plot, and if I am to review it, I could only say I think it is perfection. Filled with witty references that still remain culturally relevant to this day, and in jokes made for parents that otherwise would not have been obvious to watching infants, the breadth of story explored in this film felt spectacular. I will admit, motivations seemed a little shallow, and if I wanted to stab at the heart of the piece I would say Chel was clearly using Tulio as a means to an ends and thus remained a gold digging harlot, but I won't. I don't like using the excuse 'it was made for children', as it implies inherent stupidity is acceptable. What I will say is the complex theme of a romantic story would have had little place in lieu of their core demographic, and also in the face of the light adventure itself. It would have served only to disrupt the ease and fluidity of the story, and that would have been a shame in of itself, so whether hooker or heroine, the plot should have remained the same. It's this freedom to interpret I think that allows for much of the comedic build, the misplaced kiss of Chel during a 'tender' moment with Tulio leaving many who have lost their purity screeching back in revelation, whilst the exploding cigars smoked during the festivities could clearly have been representing marijuana. These little gifts of good writing and careful planning pepper this film and leave it a true joy to behold, with exquisite repeat value. The dialogue too is snappy and well placed, and the general plot ideal opens the stage for raucous fun. More films should take note of this.

The voice acting in this film is superb, with Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh providing likable and reasoned performances, expected of veteran actors. Bringing comedic timing with vocals that feel unforced, they truly embody the characters they become. I could talk of other specific examples, but the matter of fact is that all of the vocal performances in this film are stunning in of themselves. If I am going to mention vocals however, I must take a moment to advise the soundtrack of this beautiful film. Elton John's original score is magnificent, and holds well against the test of time and changing tastes. Crisp, husky but at the same time filled with that magnanimous charm that many fans of the singer have come to expect, it never disappoints and remains an unwavering favorite, especially 'The Trail We Blaze' and 'Without Question' for yours truly. The animation too is sumptuous and stylish for it's time. I'm starting to get a little sugar rush from how much praise I'm glazing this movie with, so this may be a good time for me to summarize.

The Road to El Dorado is many things, and all of them good. It defies genre, age group and expectations by being a truly universally entertaining film, and is something everyone should experience at least once. Seriously, I'm not kidding. Yes, you. Right now. El Dorado.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

No Shit Sherlock

(Sherlock Critique By Neamo) 

Sherlock has been very difficult to review or critique, and it has taken the better part of a day and some in depth conversations for me to pinpoint why. While I will be the first to praise the virtues of the show and it's production, certain aspects have left me with an inner turmoil that has bled into writers block, and it may show in this summation of thoughts and feelings. I had not expected such difficulty concerning it, especially considering I have in the past professed adoration, but as is often the case, deeper reflection leads to unanswerable questions and rebuttals, and it is this untangled mass of emotional yarn that I shall attempt to pluck apart below. I am using bullet points, partly to help separate my musing rants from the general commotion of cumulative thought, and stop me veering too steeply into tangents otherwise better left unexplored.

  •  Acting : The acting of Sherlock is impeccable. With the ever likable but erstwhile sincere Martin Freeman providing a genuinely warm and distinct voice in Watson, it balances well to the sardonically misanthropic edge provided in Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock. I am told, though I haven't indulged myself, that the books are written in much the same manner, with Watson providing the grounding force to Holmes and his eccentricities, and while that would stunt the growth of ordinary characters, what we are rapidly introduced to is the notion that neither character is ordinary. There is an on screen chemistry between the two that I'm assured was written to give a deeper affection to their relationship, and while at times it can verge on the homoerotic, their bromance and the connection within gives the piece deeper meaning. Mark Gatiss too portrays a fine Mycroft, with the subtle nuances of Cumberbatch's performance reflected in his own though with far more reservation, and the rest of the ensemble cast perform well as aides to the central cast, Rupert Graves providing a likable and human Lestrade and Louise Brealey a muted but perfect performance as the queen of the friendzone. I would be remiss however if I did not take a moment to appreciate the staggering performance of Andrew Scott as James Moriarty. Bringing a wild eccentricity to it that had little been expected by critic and viewer alike, his on screen moments are as dauntingly electric as they are unnervingly sinister, stealing the scenes entirely from beneath the nose of the lead, a feat not easily accomplished.
  •  Writing : The writing of Sherlock isn't something I can shower it with universal acclaim for however. In a point that will ultimately tie in fully with one of my gripes, Sherlock is at it's best sporadic in approach to the quality, as I can easily discern season for season the weaker episodes, episodes that whilst serving and appeasing fans add nothing to the overall canon it attempts to build, and otherwise serve as gentle but meaningless filler. The episode for instance entitled 'The Blind Banker' clearly remained as an attempt to appease, with notes lifted from a Doyle story. Now, I understand fully that when playing with a well established franchise and attempting to bring it into the modern certain structures must be adhered to, but in many places things simply defy translation, and the faintly racist portrayal of the Asian syndicate, followed by the loose but otherwise camped plot and danger within speak volumes. Likewise 'The Hounds of the Baskerville' episode seemed forced, it's explanation and science sitting uneasily as it raised more questions in conclusion than it posed, and while I understand these are meant to build the idea of Holmes and his case repertoire, the open and shut mention of it left little but hollow feelings in it's wake. I'm not saying each episode should continue a thematic plot, or be linked to one central figure as life doesn't work that way, Moriarty couldn't have played a hand in 'Baskerville' anymore than he could have in the Jack the Ripper murders. What I am saying is if an episode begins and ends with no lasting change or effects, we are left in the territory of poor television. That isn't to say all of the writing is poor, the 'The Reichenbach Fall' is an example of both fantastic portrayal and excellent execution, leaving fans both hungry for more and puzzled, and while Season 3 by and large remains disappointing as a following act, this episode and the lead to it over the coarse of two seasons show fantastic skill that is difficult to argue in the face of. A little more consistency would be desirable.

  •  General Positives : You can see a pattern here, that I am discussing things I can heap joy upon in this review's forefront in order to save my criticism and bile for the latter, and this is represents the last vestige of compliments. The theme tune and musical score are both complementary and elegant, and certainly help to ease the passage of each episode. I also on another note enjoyed the internal mapping and graphing technique used to show us the unique but tangible analytical thoughts of our lead mastermind, as they skillfully both allow us an inner look but at the same time distance us with the dazzling array of genius, both making him relatable and alienating him at once. It's a skill that frankly leaves me a little jealous in my awe, but remains none the less an impressive piece of direction.

  • Gripes :  And here we enter the tangled mass of thoughts otherwise known as my negative thoughts. I spent much time questioning what I didn't like, and why this couldn't be an easy review, and there are several things I could mention to note certainly. I don't, for instance, like the fact that Sherlock has been shown to have total social ineptitude, but that he seems to have slept with most of the men that drift lazily past as Molly's love interests. It seems strange that a man who refuses to go out gets around so much, to be frank and rather blunt about it. Likewise I don't like the concessions made in writing for the fan base, Sherlock's monologue about his revival and indeed the 3rd season in it's entirety seeming more like a series of personally indulgent messages to it's fans than legitimate plot. I could talk of that, and more I'm sure, but my true gripe I feel lays with the fans, and with Steven Moffat. To those who don't know, I am not a fan of Moffat's writing. I've seen it in Dr Who and the influence brought there, and I remain unappreciative and resentful to his abuse of it's canon and auto fellating tropes. While that on the face has no tie to Sherlock, Moffat is credited as co-creator and one of the three writers, and I'm sure has brought something positive to the table, but what he has also brought is a legion of rabid fans, and it is the fans of Sherlock that I take offense to. Comprised of Cumberbitches, a collective of Benedict fetishists, New Whovians, an abhorrent growth of mock sci-fi fans who take themselves too seriously by far, and traditionalist Conan Doyle puritans, the fan base of Sherlock is both frightening and abhorrent. Loud, unintelligible at the best of times and unintelligent at the worst, they represent the worst aspects of a community and show little of it's virtues, and frankly make me like the finished product less by proxy.

So, what else can I say of the show? Not a lot if I'm honest. It's good, certainly worth watching and its performances are for the most part inspired, but for gods sake, stay away from the fan base.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

10 Anime Recommendations

(10 Anime Recommendations From Neamo)

Well, this took some writing! A top 10? Perhaps. I'll update it certainly if others replace it, but many find these sort of posts helpful, and I am eager to please. While this is in a top 10 format, and alludes to reviews I have yet to write, rest assured I shall at some point endeavor to comply, by hook or by crook. So, without any further adieu, let's begin.

Fist Of The North Star
 (Honorable Mention)
 While I am and remain a huge fan of the Fist Of The North Star and it's manga, I haven't watched the series in it's entirety, largely because it is a gargantuan series that has not dated well. It would certainly rank highly were it not for that, as I can't in good heart review something I have not completed. The manga is certainly worth investing time in.

(10th Place)
Kicking off a list that will almost certainly depreciate in value with any expanse of time, we have Kuroshitsuji in 10th place. I've got to admit, I'm not proud of this decision. I've spent considerable time picking through the various fruits that Anime TV Series have to offer, occasionally tossing aside the rotten in lieu of the ripe, and while there are some I have yet to indulge in and others that left me with a quandary of sorts, Kuroshitsuji kept returning to mind. With writing that in no way offers the best or most poignant delivery, Kuroshitsuji's faults are many and it's virtues are few, but the air of fun and sarcasm within hangs pendulous like a genital wart, and remains just as infectious and hard to remove. You might think that's not a compliment, but it is. The sheer fact of the matter is, Kuroshitsuji is guilty pleasure television, and if it clings to me, however virulently, it's done it's job admirably.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
(9th Place)
 In my 9th place, I have something a little different to offer you. Not a conventional anime by any means, it takes all of the stereotypes of bad animation and squeezes and pulps them into a hulking titan of a series. With muscles galore and innuendo afoot, this anime explores the fetishistic masculinity and homoerotic pandering of modern anime, breaking convention with a wit, style and flare all of it's own. To call it an anime parody of an anime is a little demeaning to it, for it too has it's own story which however trite served as a progenitor of sorts, and actually aided in the influence. With in jokes and references abound, and a flare for the grotesque, JoJo holds no punches on this list.

Card Captors
(8th Place)
For my 8th place I'm entering the realm of pure and total nostalgia, leaving trace emotions behind. While not a traditional pick in any sense of the word, Card Captors is one of the first real anime experiences of my young adult life, and in many ways served as the gateway that entrapped and enraptured me in the same vein. Seamlessly combining the cuteness of more traditional anime productions with a monster capture premise, it in many ways spurred a deep and unfortunate love for that particular genre. There are certainly points that detract, and I'm sure that in review I will be given chance to air them, but for this snippet? I think I'll let the happy memories flow.

Desert Punk
(7th Place)
Once in a while, you will be introduced to something unique, strange but ultimately rather satisfying. Something that in of itself defies every genre but adheres to none. My 7th place is that anime. Seamlessly integrating humor with an unnatural affinity for the strange, whimsical and genuinely awesome, this anime's entire selling point revolves around the humor and antics of it's primary character, the titular Desert Punk. The post apocalyptic world is fascinating, certainly, but it doesn't hold a candle to the genuine enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, molded into a rubber ball and covered in glitter that is our lead hero.

Shingeki No Kyojin
(6th Place)
That's right, in my number 6th place, we have an anime that frankly is either overtly adored or wrongly hated. Shingeki No Kyojin is one of the most divisive conversation starters I've ever raised with friends, and it's difficult even now for me to reason or rationalize why it separates opinion so starkly. I think it's problem lurks with the hipster movement, and peer pressure. It's fans are louder than many I've ever heard in praising it's virtues, and it's detractors are quick to try and stifle the noise. I care not a jot however, and shall have my say regardless. Written with the same brutal and nihilistic strokes as a love letter from George RR Martin, abandon all hope, ye who enter here.

Hellsing : Ultimate
(5th Place)
My 5th place will come as no shock to many, as Hellsing is in of itself a thrill ride that continues to give, but for those who aren't indoctrinated, Hellsing revolves around a vampire called Alucard defeating Nazi's and generally providing the voice of reason through untamed and calculated evil. "Wait!" I hear you cry, "He's evil but he fights Nazi's?" That's right kids, in a series that often explores what it means to be a protagonist or hero in of itself, Hellsing has no good side, only opposing monstrosities. Enigmatic, smooth and furiously menacing, Hellsing is a twisted joy with a style all of its own.

Fullmetal Alchemist : Brotherhood
(4th Place)
Fullmetal Alchemist represented a quandary to me, as my opinion of it is in constant flux. I admire it, certainly. I think it's my admiration for it that has allowed it to climb to 4th place, but beyond that I find it difficult to put my finger on. With gripping action, fantastic character portrayals and innovative story mechanics it should by rights be something I adore, and while I appreciate those qualities of it, I don't find myself enraptured within. Perhaps it will require another viewing, but in any such case, sheer quality alone has given it this place, regardless of personal opinion.

(3rd Place)
Monster is the finest psychological anime I've had the good grace to watch, and it takes the 3rd place with little question. Punchy and poignant, you are constantly on edge as the beautifully penned plot takes us from horror to horror, weaving history with fiction in a blend that leaves you confused and haunted by their mingling. Elegance, I believe is the word I'd use to describe this anime. It doesn't use magic, take us to mysterious worlds or rely on the deep vestiges of fan service, it simply is, and that makes it terrifying to me.

(2nd Place)
It would be in poor taste of me to advise an anime as my 2nd place, and immediately advise moving to the manga and film productions, but Berserk is not an ordinary anime. Forged in the fires of darkest passion, Berserk's story captivates, shocks and quite often disturbs with it's twists and horrifying turns, and while the anime is certainly worthy of this place, lack of finance ended it's run abruptly to leave most hungry for more. Twisted, dark and often uncomfortable, Berserk's seamless blend of horror, high fantasy and phenomenal brutality leave a lingering taste for the darkness it holds.

Cowboy Bebop
(1st Place)
If you've ever searched for perfection, you'll know that it's an effort in futility as it remains an intangible concept, wondrous but beyond the reach of our clumsy and mortal hands. Cowboy Bebop, frankly, is as good as it gets. Taking my 1st place without any trace of real competition, Cowboy Bebop is unarguably the best anime I've ever seen, and remains the standard I set precedent by. Some liken it to Firefly, I liken Firefly to it. With great animation, a breath taking storyline, diverse but well rounded characters that spring free from the screen and some of the best music of any production, this remains in of itself one of the true joys that never wavers. If that weren't enough, it actually sounds better with English voice acting, solidifying it's mythical unicorn like status. It is and shall forever be, barring unforeseen miracle, the best of the best.

As I've mentioned previously, this list may be subject to change with the constant influx of new anime. Whether you agree or not, all listed are certainly worth checking out.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lukewarm Bodies

 (Warm Bodies Review By Neamo)

In reference to yesterday and it's lack of update, I feel I must apologize. Without going into too great a detail I had been otherwise incapacitated by a bout of illness that had left me unprepared with fresh content to provide to you, the silent but vigilant viewers of my blog. It's an unfortunate but inevitable side effect of life, and one that I shall do my very best to prepare for with 'filler' content, reviews and the like I am able to shelve until needed in a moment of frailty. As such this review too is a little late, and once again I can only apologize for it's tardiness, but as self flagellation doesn't come naturally to me I shall proceed onward into brighter territory. Warm Bodies is a film I have fair to mixed views upon, and if I'm entirely honest it doesn't strike home as a traditional movie in of itself. Taking riffs from parodies of bygone era's over this generation's penchant for the sickly sweet and angst inspired drivel, this film serves as a mockery to the established fans of teenage angst and faux fantasy, and that is something I can firmly get behind.

Our film starts with our lead protagonist, a teenage heartthrob without a throbbing heart of his own, who quickly introduces us into the magical world of the macabre, and the social interactions of the freshly dead. Though the film doesn't really touch on decomposition, these nubile and otherwise preserved corpses are a far cry from the fetid remains that pop culture has led us to rightly believe they would be, all trace of stagnation replaced with a faint sheen of glitter, or a dab of well placed mascara. The only real sign of rot that we are introduced to is in the skinless husks lovingly named Boneys, zombies that have otherwise lost their way and in doing so have decided to ritualistically abandon their flesh. Fast, agile and menacing, it feels superficial for me to glibly inform you that in a film where zombies are our real protagonists, super zombies are the enemy, but that's essentially it in a nutshell. 'R', our protagonist of few words aside from his inner monologue informs us quickly that life for zombies normally revolves around finding a person and consuming their brain for the stimulating chemicals within. Consuming brains wherever possible, those bland lumps of human flesh allow the zombie to re-live the memories of their owner and remain a prized delicacy in a world of no sensation, so when our lead protagonist devours the brain of the boyfriend of our lead heroine, you can quickly see where the lines in the sand pool and gather. Kidnapping and protecting that delicious but beautiful morsel of his dreams, 'R' quickly begins to reveal a softer side, and beguiles and bewitches his happy go lucky captive with stories of the old world, trinkets, and delightful insights of how her boyfriend's brain tasted. I am not joking. Returning to the humans, Julie then proceeds to tell all and sundry of the virtue of the undead, and being the daughter of the human resistance commander is told in no uncertain terms to shut the fuck up in the same breaths. Distraught, it is only with 'R's reappearance that her heart is set to flutter once more, and after deciding to give her playful corpse a makeover brings him to meet the resistance leader. He see's through the sham immediately, and remains furious. Shit goes down, the humans go on the hunt, and the zombies aid the humans in killing Boneys, the 'REAL' threat. Unlike the delightful skull crunching companions. It is then found that with love and attention, zombies return to life once more, and that the entire war had been unnecessary, and the walls are broken down in an ending that makes Twilight seem gritty by comparison.

In that plot you can see why I do not truly consider it a film, it isn't one. The fact of the matter is, the acting performances are passable at best with John Malkovich providing a wafer thin patriarchal villain, Teresa Palmer also failing to shine as our lead actress. In the same way that Wall-E became more annoying with the introduction of creatures that could vocalize, this film too suffered from that same problem, far more preferable when confined to the realms of grunts. The best performances of this movie? Nicholas Hoult provided an unrealistic and decidedly angst ridden zombie that would have been unbearable were it not for the witty and gripping monologue, but Rob Corddry's performance as 'M' was a pure joy to behold. The classic bar buddy, if undead, his shambling and general listlessness added intrigue to the zombie father figure and mentor that I hadn't expected until this point, and I quickly found myself wishing for more scenes with him to appear.

The script was well written, plot aside. I've mentioned the inner monologue a few times now, if not in a repeated mantra, and I believe I must continue to do so in order to impress upon you that the film is worth watching if for nothing else but that. Witty, sharp and concise, the writing isn't flawless but it certainly takes japes and potshots at genres otherwise abandoned in a dark abyss, and I can't fault that. The scenery wasn't laudable, and I would imagine it reflected a shallower budget than intended, as too did the special effects. I remember little of the music.

If I'm entirely honest I can't without a heavy heart advise you watch this film. It's clever, and has some witty insight, but in that respect I do not consider it to be a film. If you are able to cleave away the storyline, and look at it objectively it's very amusing, but it certainly isn't perfect. I enjoyed it, but it's certainly not to everyone's taste.
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