Tag Archives: DVD reviews

Time for topical trivia

Preface.

I’ve been coming here quite a bit, but mainly to see who’s been reading what and then either editing the formatting of old entries or deleting the entry because it should’ve been posted on Facebook because it was topical and trivial.

It is with this in mind that I’ve been dithering over this entry because it will be topical and trivial.


Holiday in Chengdu.

I meant to write something about the holiday in Chengdu much sooner because I knew that much of what happened would quickly fade from my mind.

The weather was generally grey and dry, which was in contrast to the heavy rain and flooding from which Sichuan had been suffering. There was one nice day when we saw blue sky and sunshine, and it started raining again on the day of my departure.

Global CentreLinda and I went to see the Global Centre (环球中心), the largest building in the world, which is on the south side of Chengdu (get off on the second-to-last stop on line 1 of the Metro). The building is vast, and also vastly un­finished. There were some shops, but like Raffle’s last year, so many premises were unoccupied, and the cinema was still being built. The artificial beach was also unfinished. But it seems to be standard practice in China to open some building long before it’s actually finished.

The picture above was taken with my new camera, which I bought because I knew I’d be going to the Global Centre and didn’t want to rely on the paltry camera on my phone. The new camera is a Sony HX 200, which is something like the great grandson (possibly great-great grandson) of my old camera. The only problem is that I can’t get pictures off it at the moment. I accidentally gave Linda the USB cable instead of the USB cable for her Walkman. It’ll have to wait till I’m at school before I can get the right cable back.

We mostly pottered around. Went out to Raffle’s a couple of times; went to the computer centre next door because Linda needs a new computer; went shopping for sunglasses from the camping shops on the other side of the road; and bought a new pair of sandals to wear inside so that I can wear the old ones outside.

I did notice an odd trend, though. One day when we were on the bus, I saw that some girl had gauze pads on her knees, and when she alighted, it was done very awkwardly. I then saw at least two more girls with sores on their knees as well.

I can only guess that this is a result of them tripping over in their stripper shoes. When we were in the Global Centre, I saw a girl with pea-stick legs clinging to her grandma on the escalator for fear of toppling over.


Merlin, the whole thing.

I’ve had a small pile of DVDs sitting on my bed for months, but because I mostly listen to music these days, I don’t bother watching them. I did, though, plough through the entirety of Merlin after I got back from Chengdu.

The story is roughly based on Arthurian legend, but in this version, Uther is mostly alive and fierce opponent of magic. Merlin is Arthur’s servant, and Gwenevere is the blacksmith’s daughter. Morgana, Arthur’s half sister, camps it up as an evil Goth chick with Helena Bonham Carter’s insane hair.

The tone of the series changed over time from being fairly light to being much darker. Evil Morgana was joined by evil Queen Gwenevere, and there was a cameo from the ghost of evil Uther.

The relationships between the characters also fluctuated. It seemed odd that Merlin and various other underlings were quite familiar with Arthur, addressing him by name. In a later episode, the writer seems to have decided that Arthur should be addressed formally throughout, and then in subsequent episodes, there was a mixture of formal and familiar.1

In the end there was a battle at Camlann where Merlin in the guise of Emrys hurled bolts of lightning at the Saxons. Mordred, who had gone over to Morgana’s side after Arthur had hanged his fanatical girlfriend, mortally wounded the king, but was killed himself.

Merlin tried to get Arthur to the Isle of the Blessed, but the series had already been axed, which meant that Arthur would never make it in time to be healed. He did remain alive just long enough for Merlin to inform him that he was a wizard.

The series ended without ever fulfilling the prophecy which the dragon (voiced by John Hurt) kept mentioning, viz. Arthur will unite the kingdoms of Britain to establish Albion.


The weather. I just had to mention it, didn’t I?

Last year the finally two weeks of July were clear, hot and sunny. This year we’ve had less clear and sunny, but more hot. I cannot recall the last time the high wasn’t 37°, and yesterday, it was 39°.

While the weather in Britain has been “scorchio”, it can’t really compare with the searing temperatures which we’ve been “enjoying”.

Is this going to last into August or, like last year, is some ruddy great typhoon going to slam into us?


The new chair.

I got back from Chengdu determined to do something about going to Ikea here. I had learnt a thing or two since my first failed attempt to get there.

The 328, which is really the bus for Metro, only runs from 6.40pm and would only reach Ikea in time for the place to close. The correct stop was the first one on the far side of 县前街, although I was beginning to have my doubts until I saw the Ikea bus going in the opposite direction and turn right onto 县前街. In other words, it doesn’t even go past the Far Eastern.

But the bus did eventually arrive and I travelled all the way to Ikea (about 10km, I estimate) for ¥2. Since it was a weekday, the bus was lightly populated, and Ikea was also quiet, which is in marked contrast to either in Chengdu.

I found the chair I wanted (the Markus) and arranged for it to be delivered to me the next day, which it was after some sort of hiccup. I think the deliverymen possibly went to the wrong building.

Anyway, it’s nice to have a decent chair to sit on, one which I can lean back when I want to watch something.


Speaking of watching something…

I watched Warm Bodies last night. Basically, girl meets zombie and he turns into a real boy. It’s a bit Pinocchio and a bit ugly duckling.

I assume that there’s a message here, but the question is what the zombies and skeletons (extreme zombies) represent exactly. Some sort of underclass in the US? The proletariat is not entirely irredeemable?

If you’ll forgive the irony of such a comment, the film had promise, but never quite seemed to come to life.


When in Rome?

I’ve been keeping half an eye on the GlaxoSmithKlein case, wondering exactly what is going on. Whenever some foreign company gets criticised for dubious practices, I suspect that it’s the Chinese people running the show here who are responsible. In this case, it appears to be the foreigners who are at fault and yet I also suspect that they were just doing what everyone else does here. (Long-term readers, if there are any such, may recall advertisements for “Brain Boost” at the school in Benniu, which were passed off as safety warnings.)

Why aren’t Chinese pharmaceutical companies being targeted? Why a foreign company? One suggestion I’ve seen is that this has something to do with the previous emperor’s relatives.


When red songs become the blues.

Bo Xilai is finally going to be tried. This provoked some rather robotic pro-government tweets on Weibo. As for the trial itself, I assume the outcome has already been decided. I suspect Bo will survive to spend the rest of his days in the same comfy prison as his wife.

I assume that the decision about his fate has already been made, and that the rest of the trial will be stage-managed.


Georgie Pordgie. Pordgy?

The new future king of England has been born and has been named George Alexander Louis.

At a rough guess, I think I will’ve been long dead by the time he’s king. If QEII lives to be 100, Charles won’t be king before he’s about 80, which means that William may not be king much before he’s 50, and by the time George VII gets his go on the big chair, most of the century will probably be over. I might just live long enough to learn who George’s successor will be.

Notes.

  1. This has me wondering how Dark Age underlings addressed their superiors before Celtic Britain became Englalond. We see Arthur through the lens of how we see the Middle Ages when the servants would not, presumably, have dared to address their masters by name and English got saddled with that ridiculous and artificial Continental custom of tu vs. vous.
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Downton Abbey, Series 3

Lord Grantham, financial wizard.

One of the things I did in New Zealand was watch the third series of Downton Abbey, although I never got round to watching the Christmas special.

Matthew and Mary finally get married, though not after some ridiculous last-minute drama between them.

Edith finally got to the altar only for her aged and partially disabled beau to leave her at the altar, but she ended up writing a newspaper column and taking a fancy to the editor, whose insane wife cannot grant him a divorce.

Sibyl had her baby, and then died because of the incompetence of the Harley Street specialist who her parents had brought in. That led to questions about her husband and the baby’s religion. He was assimilated to the family, but the baby, also called Sibyl, was baptised as a Catholic, much to the horror of Lord Grantham and his mother.

Meanwhile, Lord Grantham had invested all of his money in a dead cert in Canada. “Bye bye, money,” said Lord Grantham’s solicitor. What was the earl to do? “Hello, money,” said Matthew. “Well, not ‘hello money’ because you’ve come from my other fiancée’s dead father, and I’ve got annoyingly large scruples. Also, I’m not going to read this letter which will chase my scruples away.” Fortunately, Mary did read the letter, and all was well, although it made Matthew part-owner of Downton.

Below stairs, Bates finally got out of prison after sufficient evidence came to light, which cast doubt on the original conviction. Thomas almost got nobbled after O’Brien sabotaged his gaydar. Daisy fancied Alfred, Alfred fancied the new kitchen maid, the new kitchen maid fancied the new footman. Daisy did get promoted, but had an even better offer from her father-in-law. Mrs Hughes bought an electric toaster.

Matthew’s mother took to saving fallen women and encountered Ethel, who had been on manoeuvres with an infantry captain during World War I and got pregnant. She relinquished her son to his grandparents, but eventually found a job which allowed her to be near him.

The series ended without any major cliffhangers and was comparatively free of some of the more idiotic story lines of the previous two series.

Out with that broom again

The Incredible Hulk.

He’s wet, he’s weedy, and you don’t want to make him angry. But what sort of film would this be if Bruce Banner didn’t turn into a huge, raging, green-skinned monster as the ultimate expression of nerd rage? Who could possibly provoke the inner beast?

Step forward the American military, who has their own version – huger, raging-er, greener-skinned.

There’s a big fight. The Hulk wins. The end.


Halo 4: Forward unto Dawn.

It’s another day at the academy filled with the usual stuff which you’ve seen in every other American film with military academies and cadets. That’s most of the film until some nameless alien enemy spoils the party, but only about half an hour before the end of the film.

The sword-wielding alien is about to skewer some cadets.

“The end of the film is nigh,” says the alien. The audience feels a wave of pleasure wash over them.

“Not if I have anything to do with it. Take that!” The audience’s buttocks collectively tighten.

“Sir, you have done me to death.” [Dies.]

“Who are you?” says Cadet Lasky.

“Call me Master Chief.”

“Great! Could you whip something up for me? Running away from the aliens has made me really hungry.”

“That’s chief, not chef.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Just for that, I’m going to rescue you, but not your love interest.”

And off they go with Master Chief making snacks of the aliens as they head off to be rescued – mostly rescued.

My first thought as I was watching this was Starship Troopers, but it had none of that film’s redeeming features. [Such as…? –ed.] It was really just the usual bunch of clichés about such a setting.

Obviously military intelligence was asleep at the wheel because the aliens managed to invade and conquer the planet in minutes. Yet someone must’ve known because there’s Master Chief turning up just in the nick of time to rescue a few cadets. The aliens must’ve driven there in Veyrons while he thought he’d trundle along in his 2CV.

My recommendation: go play the game and avoid the time lost watching this.

Bicycle boys

Premium Rush

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays the part of a cycle courier in New York who ends up with a delivery which a heavily indebted policeman wants so that he pay off what he owes; but the ticket belongs to some girl with a dodgy Chinese accent who is trying to smuggle her son into the States. Thus it’s all right for US immigration laws to be flouted.

Levitt rides around New York trying to evade pursuit. He is, of course, caught by the villain, but outsmarts and out-rides him (in spite of all his ribs being broken).

It’s the way the story is woven together which raises Premium Rush a little (but just a little). In one scene Levitt passes the villain before his identity has been revealed. Later, the scene is repeated, but the villain is now familiar.

From a wholly different perspective, the film is about idiots on bicycles who seem out to get themselves killed by riding like deranged maniacs. I couldn’t help but wince at the cartoon crashes, which would’ve inflicted a great deal more damage than “Oof!”

A beer-and-crisps movie. (And why is “movie” getting red-lined?)

The Christmas film review

An ancient tradition since this very moment.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter has Abe whacking vampires, and ultimately leading the northern states to victory in the American Civil War against armies of the undead from the south, who have been feeding off their slaves.

After Lincoln’s mother is killed by a vampire, Jack Barts, he vows to have his revenge, but on his first attempt to kill Barts, he encounters Henry Sturges, who trains him to kill vampires and then sends him to the town of Springfield where Lincoln takes out the undead and eventually gets Barts.

Life goes on and Lincoln goes into politics to become the president of the United States. In the Civil War, the north finds itself fighting armies of vampires to which there is only one solution: silver. A train carrying a shipment of silver is intercepted by a force of blood-sucking fiends who discover too late that it’s a decoy and the real shipment has been ferried along the underground railway.

Lincoln kills Adam, the leader of the southern forces, with a silver watch, and his wife kills Adam’s sidekick, Vadoma, with her dead son’s toy silver sword fired from a gun. Lock and load, Mrs Lincoln.

The film ends with Lincoln going off for a night at the theatre before cutting to the present day where Henry Sturges is sitting beside another man in a bar who has love or revenge on his mind.

Unlike the film about Abraham Lincoln the zombie killer, this one actually had production values because it obviously had a budget of more than £10.50.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter did not try to take itself too seriously, but nor did it head off in the opposite direction, which films of this nature are so likely to do.

If anything, it was a little boring at times when my attention drifted away from my DVD player to my computer screen. I can recall Lincoln in Springfield and eventually killing Barts, and then suddenly he was president, but the details in between were lost. The scene on the train could’ve been resolved more quickly. I think I prefer Adam’s demise to have been short and sharp rather than some prolonged punch-up. Vadoma’s death was like an appendix in a weak parallel to Adam’s.

Lincoln scooped some peas onto his fork. He paused for a moment and looking at his wife said, “I wonder what happened to Vadoma.”

“Oh, her,” said Mrs Lincoln. “I whacked her sorry, bitch ass.” She fingered the silver sword hanging on the chain around her neck.

“Ah.” He paused. “Excellent peas, by the way.”

I’m not sure what the message was. Were the vampires meant to represent American bankers, for example? Was this simply a piece of wish fulfilment?

Overall, the film is all right, but get someone else to pay for a ticket to see it or buy you the DVD; or just wait for it to be shown on the telly.

So what’s next for President Lincoln? Abraham Lincoln, Bane of Werewolves?

Sherlock

“Are we gay yet?”
I was surprised to go into the DVD shop near Blue a few days ago and find that Sherlock, which only finished in the UK a few weeks ago, was already here. Only a very short series, but I hope that it might be extended on further outings.
This is Sherlock Holmes set in the 21st century, although it took no manipulation of Conan Doyle’s original story for Watson to have been in Afghanistan, which is a little depressing because that was written 120 years ago. Anyway, Holmes is a consulting detective, and rather insufferable as he waltzes through life analysing everyone on the basis of what he can observe about them.
The first story, A Study in Scarlet, is now A Study in Pink (copyright reasons? No one knows what colour scarlet is any longer?), and the next story involved the Chinese Triads, and a certain amount of nonsense about China. Moriarty was introduced in the final story. He turned out to be the gay version of Graham Norton. In fact, if Graham Norton was ten or fifteen years younger, he would probably have been cast as Moriarty.
I don’t know what plans the Beeb has for Sherlock, but I hope it’ll be a longer run next time. More, please.

History according to anime

Halo Legends.
I’ve never played Halo and having never owned an xbox nor intending to, I never will, but I spotted Halo Legends in the DVD shop and made it a curiosity buy. It’s a series of short anime pieces set in the Halo universe. The first two illustrate the history behind the story and most of the others are stand-alone episodes. There’s one comic story in which the accident-prone Spartan 1337 must face some Covenant monster with some help of some of the locals.
Halo Legends will probably mean more to players of the game than to drive-by viewers like me.

On the blade, Arthur could see some letters

“Product of more than one country.”

Merlin was one of those curiosity DVDs which I’ve seen several times, but have never felt inclined to buy. It’s another version of Arthurian legend which makes Merlin Arthur’s servant, Arthur merely the crown prince, and Uther Pendragon a king who hates magic. Guinevere is now the blacksmith’s daughter and servant to Morgana, who is the king’s ward. Mordred is no longer Arthur’s nephew, but a druid. In a nod to the Anglo-American tone of the programme, Dark Age Britain is an egalitarian place where servants are quite familiar with their masters, though not familiar enough for Arthur to be able to admit publically that he fancies Guinevere (usually called Gwen; another Anglo-Americanism). In fact, you could translate the whole thing to an American high school. 

The only two familiar faces among the cast are Anthony Head as the tyrannical Uther, and Richard Wilson as the court physician, Gaius, who spends a lot of time in some of the earlier episodes exhorting the genius of science. The familiar name is John Hurt, who is the voice of the dragon which Uther has imprisoned beneath Camelot. The rest of the cast seem to have a lot of fun playing their parts. Arthur is a pompous ass who knows when to do the right thing even although it might mean defying his father’s wishes. Merlin would like to be himself, but can’t. Morgana also has magical powers, but these were never really developed in the course of the first two series, and she got to turn evil instead. Guinevere wishes that Arthur could be more open about his feelings for her, although her own don’t stop her from giving him a piece of her mind. 

There’s plenty of religion, but this is the New Age Dark Ages, which means druids and the Old Religion. Of Christianity, there’s not a trace, but across the land there’d no doubt be scores of younger viewers asking, “What’s Christianity?” to which their parents would reply, “The druids, I think. Why don’t you look it up on wikipedia?”


The Rise of the Iron Moon.

This is the third volume in Stephen Hunt’s series about the world of Jackals and the least engaging of them. In this episode, the Army of Shadows sweeps all opposition before it and only a desperate mission to the planet of Kaliban to find the Great Sage can save the planet from annihilation. Molly Templar and Oliver are back for a time along with Commodore Black and Aliquot Coppertracks. The new hero is Purity Drake who is also Black’s daughter and who is instrumental in defeating the Army of the Shadows and their vampire-like masters.

I assume that the book is a satire on consumerism or bankers or both. I also assume that Hunt knew the Bandits of the Marsh probably wouldn’t mean anything to most of his readers because they’re unfamiliar with the classic Chinese novel The Water Margin (aka Outlaws of the Marsh). Whatever Hunt’s sources were for this book, they’re outside of my knowledge by and large. The gun that’s used to shoot the party to Kaliban was no doubt inspired by From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne. The Army of Shadows sounds like something from horror fiction rather than sci-fi or fantasy, but I can’t think of any immediate antecedents.

I’ve been trying to think why this volume is less entertaining than the others. Is it because the basic plot is the same as the previous two novels in which Jackals is threatened with utter destruction but for someone with miraculous powers who is able to counteract the threat? Is it because Hunt does waffle on somewhat? Is it because, as one review observed, his characters don’t have much depth? Commodore Black would probably make a much more interesting protagonist than Molly or Oliver or Purity because he has more experience and mystery about him, and because he doesn’t have super-powers. Perhaps that’s where these novels are at their weakest because they’re about superheroes who, conveniently, have just the right super-power.

Appendix

While doing a little research on From the Earth to the Moon on wikipedia, I stumbled across the following:

Barbicane appears in Kevin J. Anderson‘s novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic History of a Dark Genius as an Ottoman official whose chief rival, Robur, designs a number of innovative weapons to counteract him, including an attempt to launch a three-man mission to the Moon.

Robur is the scientist from Quatérshift whom Cornelius Fortune rescues in The Kingdom beyond the Waves. Thus I find that the character seems to have been taken from another novel by Jules Verne, Robur the Conqueror. Very League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, methinks. In fact, I then found that Robur also appears in that series.

The Mystery of the Missing Sock

[20.08.14. I’ve deleted the tale of the sock, which had somehow ended up in the leg of my trousers, and have shifted the remains of the post to a more relevant category.]

Rome.

I finished watching the second series of Rome last night. This one followed on from the assassination of Julius Caesar to the civil war between Octavian and Mark Antony. I thought the programme might at least get Cleopatra’s suicide right. There were no asps copping a sneaky feel. Besides, you have to provoke snakes to get them to bite sufficiently for them to be lethal. Unless the snake in question is something seriously venomous, it’s probably going to lash out and run. [Have you done with the nerd moment? –ed.]

Did the money run out? Apart from Octavian provoking Mark Antony into going to war, the rest of the conflict was absent and the end seemed rather abrupt. We saw the aftermath of the Battle of Actium, and that was it. I assume the budget didn’t extend to a couple of CGI fleets lobbing Greek fire at each other; or Octavian ordering the signal “England expects every man to do his duty” to be raised; or Cleopatra saying, “Does my bum look big in this galley?”

I assume that this is the last series of Rome. It ended on the rather improbable note that Caesarion survived and was taken under Titus Pullo’s wing. After this, we’re getting into I, Claudius territory.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Do panic.

I could’ve bought The Hitchhiker’s Guide probably the week after it was released, but I usually avoid the early DVDs because they’ll be cinema taped and the sound track will be a bunch of barf.

I’d already heard that The Guide wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed, which was partly why I delayed buying it for this long. I enjoyed the first book, but the subsequent volumes got progressively worse. The TV series was cheap and cheerful, as you’d expect out of the BBC. The radio series was boring, I thought.

The film follows in the great tradition of the TV series. It looked cheap. Most of the budget probably went on John Malkovich’s brief appearance and a couple of special effects. But I thought the Vogons looked much better. Ah how prosthetic make up has advanced in 25 years.

I spotted the original Marvin the Paranoid Android well before we got a clear shot of him. The new-look Marvin just looked odd with it’s big, bulbous head and slouching body. The original Arthur Dent also put in a cameo as a computer warning system.

Rewatchability rating: 0