Men In Black III

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsSequels and remakes seem to be all the rage right now. Will Smith’s obviously in need of a new swimming pool given this sequel to a 14 year-old original and a third Bad Boys instalment also on the horizon.

Men In Black III

“Is there anybody here who is not an alien?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Bad alien guy escapes and starts changing the timeline. Enter “J” and a ton of gadgets and effects

See it if you like: the original, and silly time travel films which raise more questions than they answer

Ah – sequels, adaptations, remakes and reboots. The seeming life blood of Hollywood these days. MiB3 is yet another in this string, and a good ten years since the disappointing sequel to the original. The good news, though, is that 3 does what 2 didn’t – adds in a new twist.

The original sequel (is that a weird phrase?) was very much the first film all over again, but with bigger aliens. What we have here, though, are new ideas and a very entertaining back-story which actually develops the characters. The humour, however, is lacking at the start and some of the laughs are very forced. Partly this is due to predictability, and partly as some of the lines just aren’t funny.

After the half-way mark, roughly, things pick up. The pace increases, the laughs come more readily and the action is actually quite tense. The effects are, as ever, superb. Tons of different aliens, but some excellent set pieces as well.

Don’t bother paying extra for 3D though. I say this all the time as it’s an expensive, pointless novelty. I’d reckon there’s maybe a minute of footage in the entire movie with enough “depth” to make 3D worthwhile. I guess it’s up to you if you think this is worth paying more for.

I’ll try not to give away any more than is in the trailer (some of the scenes from which, incidentally, aren’t in the final cut). A nasty bad guy alien called Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from a prison on the Moon. He sets out to get revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) by wiping him from history. Only Agent J (Smith) remembers history as it was before the change was made and seeks out a time travel device to go back and fix things.

Josh Brolin is excellent as the younger, slightly less miserable Agent K. Just by the voice alone, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a younger Jones. What made K interesting in the first two films was how morose he was. The main focus of this third instalment is why. And the answer is a superb one which really helps wrap the trilogy up.

Any complaints I have are minor and two of them involve a lot of spoilers. The other is the gross under-use of K’s relationship with “O” (Emma Thompson in the modern day, Alice Eve in the past). Things are hinted at, and it’s obvious there’s something there… but so little that it makes virtually no difference to the plot. In other words, it may as well not have been brought up in the first place. It’s hard to tell if it’s just a red herring or a side-story that was left to wither. A shame either way.

The important thing is that both Gillian and I enjoyed it. Not just a third outing for the same story, but a good tale in its own right.

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Tragedy (Bee Gees Tribute) – Glasgow O2 ABC2

Tragedy
Tragedy (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[full set of gig pics available on Flickr]

Just to clarify, this isn’t the punk band with the same name that come up if you search on last.fm. Tragedy are a comedy tribute to the Bee Gees (and other music of the era) who infuse the disco-busting moves with the power of pure metal!

Now, let’s be honest. The 70s sucked. Disco was a huge decade-long joke that some people don’t seem to have managed to get over. However, there was some genuine talent there and some good beats. The songs weren’t bad… it’s just their setting that was wrong. Throw away the bit where people took it seriously, strap on some guitars, ramp up the distortion and you’ve got Tragedy.

Looking at their web page this week, shortly after the death of Bee Gee Robin Gibb, and you’ll see that they’re genuine fans of the original artists. Not just “we like the music and it would be fun to do it differently”, but knowledgeable and appreciative of the talent involved in a huge performing and songwriting career. Their live performance does everything to affirm this opinion, at no point taking the piss out of the music’s original artists. Instead, it’s done with a huge wagging tongue placed firmly in a glitter-coated cheek.

Ann came through from Edinburgh for the gig, and we missed both opening acts due to the early doors and the need for food. The ABC and Garage are bad for this (their one downside, they’re otherwise both excellent venues) as they host student nights during the week so curfew is usually 10pm. Just for the record, we had a very nice Indian at the Rawalpindi just over the road. Well worth popping in if you like a good curry, and they even make it the way you want it.

Tragedy
Tragedy (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

We made it to the venue a couple of minutes before the band came on, and settled in at the front of the 70-80 strong crowd. The last time they played the UK was four years ago opening for the Wildhearts. I guess their crowd size has grown slightly, though they deserve more. Mind, all bands start somewhere – look at Hayseed Dixie as a prime example.

Blasting through a ninety-minute set, the band cunningly changed their name on several occasions in a bid to cover artists other than the Bee Gees. We had Donna Bummer and Black Abba-th, amongst others. Spandex was stretched, glitter flung over the crowd, guitars licked and drums pounded. Let’s face it, everyone knew every song. Even in the form played on the night, they’re instantly recognisable classics.

Audience participation was pretty much mandatory, and Ann (amongst others) ended up on stage towards the end along with some poor sod who was handed a guitar… while the band sneaked off stage to the bar.

Simply put, they’re fun. Just what a gig should be. Not just seeing a band in person, or hearing your songs played a bit louder than you can manage at home. Entertaining, over the top, silly, outrageous and fun.

There are still a few dates left on the tour. Go and see them. I doubt they’ll be expensive (Glasgow was only £9 on the door), and you get your moneys-worth. Their first album, We Rock Sweet Balls And Can Do No Wrong, is only a fiver at the merch stall as well. Definitely worth picking up!

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The Raid / Dark Shadows

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsOnce again courtesy of a lovely grandmother, we managed to escape for a couple of hours cinema time. Two films coincided well timewise so we decided to cram them in.

The Raid: Redemption

“YYYAAAAAHHHHH!!!!”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Who cares?

See it if you like: Lots and lots of lovely bloody violence

OK, so there is a plot. 20 Indonesian police storm a block of flats under the control of a drug baron and experience far more resistance than they anticipated… and no way out.

However, the plot’s wrapped up in some of the most intense and bloody violence I’ve seen in a film of this ilk. Imagine something like Die Hard meets Hostel starring Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa. Only it’s not them who are in it, it’s a bunch of incredibly talented Indonesian martial artists and actors.

Unusually, from my point of view anyway, the director (and writer) Gareth Evans is Welsh. How he ended up making this film on the other side of the world is beyond me, but I’m glad he did. It’s dark, gritty, bloody, edge-of-the seat action magnificence. At times right after some of the combat scenes I – with no exaggeration –  found myself wanting to applaud. I settled, for the most part, with cackling with sadistic glee.

I’m glad to see that reviews have been overwhelmingly positive for The Raid, and it’s great to see a moderately low-budget Indonesian film with subtitles getting a wide release across the UK. Certainly Momentum Pictures are doing a better job than Revolver Entertainment are with their farcical plans for Iron Sky… Just a heads-up there for other indie film companies!

Iko Uwais and the rest of the cast will be pretty much unknown in the UK, I would expect. After The Raid, I hope they go on to be better recognised and with luck we might see some more of their work. Simply breathtaking athleticism, top notch make-up and effects, a taught script and a pace that pauses for breath only fleetingly over its course.

If you like action films then this is without a doubt the 2012 definition of “must see”.

Dark Shadows

“Welcome home, Barnabas Collins.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: spurned witch turns her eye candy into a vampire and buries him for 196 years. He awakes in the 1970’s…

See it if you like: quirky comedy horrors with excellent effects and cheesy humour

I was aware of the old TV show when I heard of this film, but as far as I know it’s never been released in the UK. I gather the original was a lot darker than this update, but having nothing to compare it with I can only comment on what I thought of the 2012 version.

Tim Burton is known for his weirdness – and also for casting Johnny Depp. Both are present here, Depp taking the lead role of involuntary vampire Barnabas Collins. Cursed for breaking the heart of Angelique (Eva Green), he escapes from buried imprisonment in 1972 and finds his mansion home in disrepair, populated by what little remains of his descended family.

Discovering that Angelique is also immortal and currently head honcho in the town, he vows to bring her down and revive his family’s fortunes.

Most of the laughs in this film come from Barnabas’ unfamiliarity with the world he is living in and his unwanted attraction to his nemesis. There is a dollop of erotic humour, but the majority is just nice and silly with a small amount of slapstick thrown in for giggles.

Visually, it’s a treat with some lovely effects, costumes and sets. The acting’s as good as you would expect from the cast, and the story’s OK if a little “by the numbers” and over-long by about 15 minutes.

Enough laughs to keep most people going, though I gather the reviews are not overly favourable. A shame as it’s simply just a good, fun movie.

 

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Avenue Q

Avenue Q program- Front
Avenue Q program- Front (Photo credit: yumiang)

Just for something a little different, we decided on a trip to see the highly-recommended Avenue Q show at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. I’d originally seen posters up for it in London some years ago and happened to catch an advert recently detailing the performances up here.

For those who’s not heard of it, Avenue Q is an adult version of Sesame Street. It comes complete with fuzzy characters, monsters and songs. Thing is, Sesame Street didn’t have songs about homosexuality, porn and one night stands. Or if it did, I missed them.

Subject matter aside, this is a great production. The cast are, simply, fantastic. Not a missed line of dialogue or bum note the entire performance, and all this while operating the puppets.

It is an unusual sight to see the puppeteers on-stage alongside their furry acting pals. Rather than hiding behind walls, the cast run around in dark grey jeans and shirts moving and voicing the puppets. Clever positioning often allows one cast member to play two on-stage characters at once – one they’re controlling and one that another cast member is manipulating.

I did notice that the puppeteers also acted out their puppets’ parts – that is, as well as the voices they made facial expressions and so forth that matched the character’s mood. I don’t know if this is something they’re “supposed” to do, or if it just makes it easier to control the puppet realistically but it’s something to watch!

There are some very humorous moments, and the sound in the King’s was spot on. Often at theatres the sound just doesn’t work for less traditional musicals and the words in songs can be lost. Not so here, which is ideal as I’d say 75%+ of the story and jokes are in the songs.

I’ll be honest – I didn’t think it was as good as I’d been led to believe. The humour certainly kept me amused for the 2 1/4-ish hours running time, but I’d not say my ribs were aching by the time I left. Maybe on another night. On the other hand, I certainly wasn’t disappointed and time didn’t drag.

I reckon there will still be a few tickets left for this week’s performances in Glasgow and if you have the time and cash (and a gutter-level sense of humour) then there are worse ways to spend an evening!

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Safe

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsAfter a day recovering from the Ben Nevis hike and ripping the spare bathroom apart, we decided to head to the cinema for a bit of mental relaxation. Cue some silly fighty action:

Safe

“What did you do, kid?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Seen Mercury Rising? It’s that with more violence

See it if you like: Statham fodder

The trailers for this looked OK, although it was immediately apparent it wasn’t an original plot. Mei (Catherine Chan) is a gifted child growing up in China. Her ability to memorise numbers is discovered by the Triad (I’m guessing – they’re never named as such) who decide that she’d be better suited in their working environment. So they kidnap her.

Jump to the US and we are introduced to the Russian Mafia, a host of corrupt cops, more nasty Chinese and our hero Luke Wright (Jason Statham). Statham pisses off the Russians so they make his life rather difficult, he’s been ostracised by the cops and he’s living on the streets. As luck would have it, though, he lands in a plum position at just the right time to get them both back. And the Chinese while he’s at it.

Acting as guardian to a runaway Mei, he kicks ass, shoots people, knifes a few, breaks some arms, jumps out of windows, drives insanely… hell, you know how action films go.

The thing is, this one has a plot. OK, it may be one stolen from an old Bruce Willis film but they’ve dusted it off well. After a brief flash of violence at the start, the film actually takes a while to get going as it works on the story. Once it kicks in, though, it kicks in hard.

The fight scenes are typically brutal, and Statham seems to be working more and more random objects into these sequences. It’s hard not to get the feeling that he’s trying to be a be-stubbled Jackie Chan at times.

Despite the short breaks for breath-catching, it flies along though never reaching the breakneck pace of the utterly mental Shoot ‘Em Up. It’s not a short movie, but it never seems to drag.

If you don’t mind your action films failing to keep count of the number bullets in the clip, this is one to catch.

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