(500) Days of Summer - Film Review

 

 
A young man named Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who designs greeting cards falls in love with Summer (Zooey Deschanel) a new woman working in his office. Their relationship, including the breakup, is told in a non-linear fashion with a counter appearing onscreen to show what particular days in their relationship we are viewing. At first Summer seems to only want to be friends but then still quickly changes her mind commences a relationship with Tom. They regularly toy with question of whether they are friends or whether they are actually a couple. Gradually, we see the way in which their relationship has worn down Tom and contributed to his bitterness, his attempt to win her back and his eventual realisation on love.

This offbeat comedy, released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the same distributor as Juno, echoes Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in the way that it plays with structure in showing the breakdown of a relationship. This is the first film of Marc Webb, who previously worked with music videos. Through its voice over, alternative soundtrack and visual flair like split screens and sketch drawings, the film is high self-conscious about itself as a 'post-Juno' indie film, while also mimicking the likes of Garden State too. Rather than grounding the film entirely in a sense of realism like Juno though, the film jarringly tries to combine a realistic depiction of a relationship with more exaggerated moments. A prologue detailing how Summer's presence alone was able to raise the revenue of an ice-cream parlour, or a conversation in the bed of an IKEA store about how Summer is not looking for an entirely serious relationship, seem particularly unfitting. With a greater sense of restraint and deeper insights, this would have been a more emotionally rewarding film.

Given its non-linear structure, it is surprising how simple the majority of the film is in its representation of a failed relationship. Two of the most visually elaborate moments of the picture highlight this simplicity. After Tom sleeps with Summer, he awakes the next morning full of swagger and begins dancing with people in the street, as an animated bird and a marching band appear on screen. Though funny, this sequence is never used as a platform to extend upon what the relationship is providing for Tom beyond the current happiness we are seeing. Late in the film when Tom has split with Summer, he still attends her party and the film divides itself into a split screen showing how the party briefly plays out on both what he expected to happen and what the reality is. Though again this is a visually clever idea, it plays to the most basic of emotions onscreen, adding little depth or discussion to the failure of the relationship itself. Similarly, sex throughout the film is either highly trivialised or shied away from entirely. Although in one scene Tom and Summer watch a pornographic film together and then try to mimic the same shower sex, there is little attempt to examine tougher issues, like the way that sex is used to sustain even the most unlikely relationships. Only by the end of the film do the most intellectual points, like a discussion of whether relationships come from fate or are coincidental, begin to surface.

Despite a certainly air of smugness about much of the film's humour, the occasional echo of real life is actually very funny to see onscreen: a moment where Tom and his friends examine the exact words that Summer said to greet him and then conclude that if she said hey then she is a lesbian, is a real gem. The film is most truthful in moments like these and had it focussed more on how pedantic people are in examining relationships it may have been even funnier. A great deal of the humour is also derived from the non-linear structure of the film, showing the conflict of emotions for Levitt's character as he moves in and out of his relationship. In one sequence he happily walks into the lift at his office but quickly the film fast forwards with the onscreen day counter and Tom comes out of the same lift looking like a complete mess. Levitt is very good in having to move between such a variety of emotions. Yet given the film is dominated by Tom's perspective, it is unfortunate that Summer herself becomes a less interesting character. Though early on we learn that her parents' divorce left her not wanting a relationship and that she sporadically moves from being interested and thoroughly uninterested in Tom, her character feels quite hollow with little attempt to examine who she really is and why she is so unsure. She is a rather beautiful but less interesting figure of the film.

Although one can appreciate (500) Days of Summer for attempting something different with the romantic comedy genre, this is still a rather disappointing and shallow film. Despite its elaborate structure, the film seems to have a very minimal number of new and interesting insights into the failures of a modern day relationship, beyond the see-saw of emotions that it produces for someone. The film has a number of surprising visual tricks, but if the same creativity had been placed into the screenplay it would have made for a much more memorable film. There are still laughs to be found though and Levitt remains a standout, just don't expect any long-term fulfilment.

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Classic Review #1: F.E.A.R

F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon) is a First Person Shooter that places you into the shoes of a super soldier with amazing reflexes.  You are tasked with investigating paranormal activities, and your first assignment is to track down a madman named Paxton Fittel, who has unleashed an army of clone soldiers. As your investigation for Fittel grows you begin to experience strange hallucinations and imaginings, in particular that of a small Asian girl named Alma, who carves a wave of destruction in her path.  It becomes apparent that you are somehow more closely tied to the case than you would have initially expected.

The core game play of FEAR is a composition of intense fire fights, with arguably the best combat and enemy AI seen in the FPS genre. As you exchange fire you are able to hear enemy soldiers communicating with one another and assessing the situation. They will make startlingly accurate remarks, such as how many soldiers you have killed or indicate that they need reinforcements. Your opponents are also able to effectively navigate around the environment by smashing through windows, taking cover, sneaking around to flank you or sometimes even creating cover by tipping over objects. The game is also aided immeasurably by some excellent weapons ballistics, giving your guns a suitably punchy and powerful feeling, as well as some very flashy gunshot effects, like decals that carve holes in walls, and bullets that ripple through the air as you move in slow motion. You can carry up to three weapons at a time, such as a pistol, a shotgun, an assault rifle, a pulse rifle and a bazooka. You also have several inventory items like hand grenades and mines.

Unfortunately, the excellent combat system reveals how mediocre the rest of FEAR is. The game is infuriatingly marred by lacklustre level design and recycled environments. You will travel through the corridors of decayed buildings, to sewerage tunnels, a laboratory and an office building, frequently blasting enemies and pushing buttons to open doors. It is a shame that this lazy and unimaginative level design also undermines the terrific AI in some ways too. Unlike Half-Life 2, the game is not daring enough in the ways it throws enemies at you. Rather you will frequently attack guards when they are patrolling or waiting behind cover for you. Only occasionally will they have some more interesting scripting, like rappelling and smashing down through glass. The AI – 90% of which consists of the exact same soldiers throughout - could have been utilised a lot better, in so many more exciting ways.

The game attempts to diversify its level design by having the player climb through vents or smashing through gratings and floorboards. Yet with such a flat context – that is a purposeful narrative that illustrates thoroughly why you are in these environments – many of these moments lose their impact and feeling strangely unengaging. Not enough effort was placed into the fiction of the game. Lazily, Monolith obligated to tell much of their story through text on a load screen, and therefore the narrative feels like an afterthought. For a game that demands to be taken seriously, like a cinematic action horror movie, it is surprising how little there is to the plot and context of situations beyond “search the building for Fittel”. There are sometimes message on answering machines, but many of this are superficial and not worth listening to.  Perhaps the main weakness of the narrative though is the lack of a main protagonist. In a bid to capture the same immersion as the Half-Life games, FEAR casts you as a silent protagonist, who we also never see. The problem with this is that – unlike Half-Life – you are not surrounded by thorough NPC’s who fill the void of the protagonist’s personality, and you also don’t have the appropriate amount of context for the games narrative. It detracts heavily from ideas and moments in the story that should be emotional, but are now cathartic. There is not a great deal of FPS with excellent stories. Regardless though, if FEAR wants to mimic storytelling elements from films like The Ring, then it should be critiqued in how successful its portrayal and replication of this is.

FEAR is a very easy game as well, and that is a disastrous combination with repetitive game play. A game can be easy but it can sustain its engagement through having a variety of challenges. There is so little variation in FEAR’s game play beyond shooting and pushing buttons that it quickly becomes stale. Playing the game on the second hardest difficulty will give you very few problems, especially since you are given ridiculous quantities of health, ammo and armour. The biggest mistake is giving the player the option to store up to ten health packs, which can be used at any time instantly during combat. It makes battles against even the toughest opponents too easy. The developers might as well have put a regenerative health system in.  At least visually the game is fairly consistent and looks very sharp, especially so with Full Screen AA. The decals and muzzle flashes and all the gun effects look outstanding. Though despite how sharp it looks the game still insists on taking you through some very ugly environments like the sewerage tunnels. It is a shame that the visuals are largely wasted in making everything a shade of brown.

One of the selling points of FEAR and its main attempt to mix up the game play is through its depiction of Japanese-influenced horror elements. There is a creepy atmosphere here and a few moments of tension, but you quickly become familiar the games tricks, like smearing the walls in blood. It is also tiring how discreetly the game divides its horror sections and action moments, to the point where you can pinpoint when the horror bits are coming up and going to happen. More thought should have gone into where these horror moments arise. It is also very strange to be walking through a warehouse and then having these hallucinations, seeing them end and then go right back to walking through the warehouse as if nothing has happened. It feels too disjointed, unlike a game such as Max Payne, which purposefully implemented its nightmare moments at separate moments from the action.  

There is no doubt that Monolith is going to be a talented development studio in the future. Yet their insistence to make games like FEAR and Condemned, with such repetitive and monotonous game play is concerning, as is their lack of respect and dedication for the cinematic stories they would like to tell. FEAR has terrific combat and AI but it is wasted in a game that represents both how far and how little the genre has evolved since the days of Quake.

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Vicky Christina Barcelona - Film Review

VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA

Directed by: Woody Allen

A young woman named Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and her best friend Christina (Scarlet Johansen) stay with a relative in Barcelona together. One evening at dinner the women are approached by a Spanish artist named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who invites them to his home in the city of Oviedo. Vicky is highly skeptical of the man’s forwardness, but Christina is immediately taken by the man’s charm. Both the women eventually take up Antonio’s offer and stay with him. They are gradually won over by his and his knowledge of Spain as well as the culture that they have rarely experienced in their lives. 

Amongst the recent surge of stoner comedies and grotesque toilet humour, director Woody Allen has made a light and old-fashioned romantic-comedy for adults. Given that given that many of Allen’s previous films have covered similar territory Vicky Christina Barcelona does not say anything new or deep. Yet it is still a light and fun film with a simple message. There is a definite notion of exploring the alternative and throughout the film culture is thoroughly amplified through the beautiful photography of the Spanish countryside and the discussion of both art and photography. Disappointingly, although many have labeled the film as a comedy, there are not as many consistently hilarious moments or funny lines of dialogue as some might expect. Rather, the engagement of the film is held by its cast, most of which is impressive.

 The way both women are introduced in such a contrasting way is both funny and clever. Scarlett Johansson is radiant as Christina. Yet strangely the script doesn’t provide her with more scenes to allow her to consistently portray her character as impulsive and daring. It is a shame that Johansson wasn’t given a more interesting character. She needed more to do in the film. Rebecca Hall is a lot more consistent in her characterisation as the reluctant Vicky, and through her voice she acutely displays her reluctance and tentative nature. Vicky’s engagement to a dull American yuppie, who frequently calls her babe, also creates drama and dilemmas for her, and makes her scenes in the film more interesting and entertaining. Javier Bardem – who improvised numerous parts of his dialogue – has removed memories of his psychotic and wholly iconic character from No Country For Old Men. He is again convincing as the intelligent, kind and charming Antonio. While Penelope Cruz – who also improvised some of her Spanish lines with Bardem - has a lot of fun with her role as Antonio’s crazy and dangerous ex-wife, but she does not come into the film till later on and only has relatively a small role.

The film suffers from a very intrusive and overly used voice over, explaining scenes that are unfolding right before the audience. Sometimes it gives a small detail that we wouldn’t have known otherwise, but most of the time it’s just annoying and unnecessary. Why a writer and director with the experience of Allen would use this is a mystery. Also, towards the end of the film there are certain moments that just don’t ring true and seem too easy for the characters to accept and partake in. It as though the film wanted to reach for much darker territory. It is difficult to elaborate on without spoiling the plot of the film.

Vicky Christina Barcelona is a very light film. There is a great deal of fun to be had with some of the characters and the decisions and choices they are faced with. It’s just not as hilarious enough to be regarded as a comedy and probably too light and familiar in its examination of love and relationships to be anything entirely memorable. Fans of Woody Allen may have to wait a little longer for a complete return to form for the director, but this film could well be a step in the right direction.

3/5

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - Film Review.

A woman who is on her deathbed in hospital asks her daughter to read to her a diary she has held for many years of her life. The diary details the life of Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt), who was born after the end of the First World War in New Orleans. Given that he was born old and looked horribly deformed, he was abandoned on the doorsteps of a nursing home by his father and his mother died in childbirth. Amongst the elderly residents Benjamin is raised in the home by an African American woman named Queenie (Taraji P. Henson). He also meets a range of colourful fairytale-like characters throughout the adventures and episodes of his life. One of the most significant relationships Benjamin develops is with a ballet dancer, Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who met Benjamin in her youth. Their relationship develops late in the film as he finds her living in New York, as she grows older, but he becomes gradually younger.

Despite being based on a short story written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1921, it is difficult to view The Curious Case of Benjamin Button without reminiscing films like Forrest Gump and Big Fish. Each of these films presented a fable-like story of an innocent character whose journey through life is filled with unusual and sometimes dangerous adventures, which allowed them to reflect on their existence in the world, as they met a range of unusual characters, most importantly a woman who forms a significant and emotional part of their lives. While Forrest Gump relegated itself to both satire and sentimentality, Benjamin Button, despite an air of familiarity (the screenplay was written by Eric Roth who also composed the script for Forrest Gump), is a much intelligent and complex variant on the fantasy genre, because of the questions its raises about age, time and death.

Unlike Forrest Gump and Big Fish though, there is considerably less time is spent with many of the strange oddball characters that Benjamin meets in his life. Those that Button meets are fun – like a brittle English woman in a hotel, a tugboat sailor covered in tattoos, or a small Blackman who lived in a zoo - but they are never as defined or as particularly well known as in those previous two films. Yet this is precisely the point and one of the key themes in the film, that nature and the unpredictable course of life will always ensure that people can come and go from one’s life and have significant or little impact or who they become.

These notions are further emphasised by a number of anecdotes and red herring’s throughout the film, like the man who insists he has been struck by lightning seven times. With each recollection of this, the film cuts to grainy, silent footage where we see him struck by lightning. While indeed humorous, perhaps this is a more significant amplification and reinforcement of the theme of nature and time and the way that it can interfere with one’s life. No matter what one chooses to do or who they meet, or where they go, there are always going to be factors that are out of our control and will impact on one’s life. These anecdotes and the way they construct the ideas of time and age reinforce the fairytale-like qualities of the film and contribute a brand of sweetness that allows it to be both fun to watch and also academic in the questions it raises.

The centrepiece of the film is a very strong performance by Brad Pitt, who is aided immeasurably by excellent makeup to play both the elderly Benjamin and the younger man too. As he grows younger it becomes a more still performance, one that isn’t particularly showy, but one that is just very likeable. His narration – despite its familiarity – is poignant throughout the film and really captures the feel that we are being read a story – perhaps a compliment to Fitzgerald’s short story. Tilda Swinton has a fairly brief role as a brittle Englishman in Russia, while Blanchett has a much larger part as the older Daisy – but both women are very competent in their roles, looking eerily similar at times.

The final third of the film gives much more time to Blanchett’s character and the relationship between herself and Button. As they move into their duplex together and talk about having a child the fairytale fable elements of the rest of the film seem very distant, as though the film is almost grounded in a brand of realism at last. It is this final third of the film that really feels overlong and tends at times though.

At approximately 160 minutes you really begin to feel the time. Yet it is still a very beautiful film to watch though, as director David Fincher has crafted a film that is very handsomely made, with particular care being placed in the art direction and set designs – the tug boat scenes are particularly impressive. There are familiar elements with the film and it is imperfect, but there are so things to enjoy about it and much to question that remains a very watchable and likeable film to enjoy. 

4/5.

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Twilight Film Review.

Based on Stephanie Meyer’s vampire novel, Twilight centres on Bella Swan (Kirsten Stewart), a young teenage girl who has had to move back to a town called Forks, following her parents’ separation. She attends a new school and is quickly engaged by another student named Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He is very cold towards her and seemingly aggressive with his hard stares. When Edward saves Bella from a car accident she becomes determined – much to his distress – to find out who he is. She remains unafraid of him and eventually they form a unique relationship.

Twilight seems like a fitting continuation of director Catherine Hardwicke’s career. Two of her previous films were Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown, which were also movies about young teenagers. Fortunately for fans of the vampire novel, Hardwicke has done a considerable job in her adaptation, showing high fidelity to Stephanie Meyer’s novel. Many of the scenes between the novel and the film are the same and some of the dialogue has been kept intact too. The film was shot in both California and Washington and as a result the town of Forks looks both suitably damp and dark throughout. Details such as this – as well as the consistent characterisation of many side personalities from the novel – will please fans with Hardwicke’s faithfulness and respect to the source material. As a visualisation of Meyer’s work the film provides an atmosphere and an poignancy at times only possible in this medium.

Kirsten Stewart and Robert Pattinson are quite competent as Bella and Edward, without ever being brilliant. Stewart is seemingly fragile and occasionally clumsy, as Bella should be. One may suggest that Bella’s engagement with Edward is a result of her cold relationship with her father and the absence of her mother. She needs someone to love her, no matter who or what they might be. Pattinson is not quite as charming as one would imagine Edward to be though. Instead he plays him as rather weird, awkward and angrier in the early scenes. His staring is somewhat silly but at the same it’s almost intentionally comical. At least the film is absent of Meyer’s tiring and repetitive attempts to place Edward on a pedestal because of his looks. Much has been made of the supposed poor acting by other critics. Regardless of what one might think though, there is no denying that they are both very beautiful and in their likeness they look very well suited together. There is a real sweetness and tender poignancy offered by the beautiful leads that wasn’t as effective in the novel.

Some have also criticised the film for the relationship being too sudden and too spontaneous. Yet to understand and be immersed in their passion it is advisable to read the novel the first. There is more description of Edwards hunger and thirst as a vampire and his frustration at not being able to ignore Bella’s interest. In this regard, both the novel and the film act as companion pieces, allowing you to see perspectives and different interpretations of this same story.

Both the film and the novel have their own strengths and weaknesses because of their mediums. The structure of the story seems to be paced more effectively in the film though and less naive. Almost half of the novel is devoted to Bella guessing about what Edward is, when we obviously know he is a vampire. In the film however, this is accelerated to move to move to the crux of the story. There is also a much more visceral and action packed climax than what the novel offers - which will certainly please fans - and a lovely moment where Edward gracefully plays the piano.

Cynics may detest the seemingly clichéd premise and simple love story. Granted some of it may seem slightly silly – the doctor looks far too young and good looking - but it’s all purely fictional and it is a film aimed particularly at those who loved the novel. They will be very pleased with the way in which Hardwicke has visualised many of the key moments from the novel and provided them with both poignancy and romanticism.

3.5/5.

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Jeff and Wall-E!

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Well its been a while since I've done a blog or anything on the Bomb but after watching Wall-E the other night I discovered a scary comparison!!
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The Dark Knight Film Review

The Dark Knight


Directed By: Christopher Nolan.


When a new District Attorney – Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) - launches a campaign against the criminals of Gotham City, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), sees this as an opportunity to resign as Batman. His love Rachel Dawes, who is dating Dent, will only be with Bruce the day that Gotham does not need Batman. A new villain though, The Joker (Heath Ledger), a man of violence, manipulation and trickery, begins to hold the city and its citizens as hostages. The Dark Knight is needed once more.


Director Christoper Nolan, who co-wrote the film with his brother, has crafted perhaps the very best of all the s uperhero films. The Dark Knight is an visceral, mature and intense picture, aided by dazzling stunts and special effects, and a superb cast, led by both Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger.


The hype surrounding Ledgers performance in particular, has been justified. The transformation of his appearance, with the thick white makeup shrouding his face and his matted, blonde hair, renders him unrecognisable. Yet it also the efforts of his own altered voice that provide his character with a creepy and almost childish tone that makes him wholly repelling and at the same time completely watchable. It is a rare performance that makes you forget about the actor playing the part and immerses the audience into the character. Bale, while in a far less showy performance, is solid once more as the sometimes arrogant and always assured Bruce Wayne. He again manages to provide a strong figure for his alter ego Batman in the action sequences.


While true to the comic books, with many references and inspirations from the pages, the film ventures deeper as a thriller with political undertones as well. The Joker is referred to as a terrorist through the film and there are chilling moments like that where he tortures his victims on a video tape, or as firefights scramble across the wreckage of a building, that we are reminded that this is most definitely a post-September 11 film. The real fear The Joker generates is perhaps not just in his appearance or his violent nature, but in the way the film has been grounded as a realistic thriller in a society we recognise. He is human and his ability to do what he does in the world makes him scary.


Nolan handles the action sequences perhaps more confidently than in Batman Begins, which was plagued somewhat by a troublesome handheld camera. While some scenes remain chaotic here, they are not overly so, and both the booming sound effects, editing and thunderous score provide the picture with tension and drama. The film is often at its most intense though in the build up to the action scenes, where we are just waiting for something to happen. It is an achievement for director Nolan to have captured the fear of a city and its citizens like few have done before.


Though at 150 minutes it almost exhausting for the audience to keep up with this degree of intensity. The film is indeed overlong but it is still never dull. Those willing to dismiss this as yet another superhero film or immature because it is based on a comic book, are set to be shocked by the quality of Nolan's direction of chaos and the ability of his actors to present characters that are, like much of the film, compelling and true to their source.

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Captains Log: Day 1

On this historic day, whichever day it is my fragile ol' mind is fleeting and I often forget - I have colonised from Gamespot onto the uhh the uhh....what the devil is this place called? Ahhh yes Giantbomb. Well lets hope it doesn't exactly live up to thats name and that there is indeed some buried treasure and no one bashing Bioshock. One of those is highly unlikely..I'll let you decide!

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