Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Tron Legacy


Tron, when it arrived on the scene in 1982 was a groundbreaking picture. Whilst it didn’t perform particularly well at the box office, it was the first step on the road to CGI in cinemas, which for better or for worse, is now highly common place in the world of cinema. Tron was indeed influential and now in 2010 the long awaited sequel has finally arrived.

Directed by Joseph Kosinski And starring Garrett Hedlund and Jeff Bridges, Tron Legacy picks up on the story twenty years on and delivers a visually stunning and entertaining next gen style reimagining of what proceeded before.

The plot is rather by the numbers and follows an establishment, action, development, action, finale set-up, action, finale kind of structure; in short there’s quite an emphasis on action. Despite being relatively standard action movie fare as far as a plot is concerned – especially considering the narrative will normally take a back seat in a film like this, usually to the detriment of the film as a whole (stand up please Transformers and Michael Bay) – the writers have done a good job to balance the quality of the two well without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. True, it is not a perfect film as far as story goes, and there are a few cheese ball lines thrown into the dialogue too, but what is on offer is compelling and engaging enough.

The story is relatively easy to explain, simply imagine the Third Reich but set in the Matrix and run by an evil Jeff Bridges-alike, who’s fond of gladiatorial/arcade style combat. Sam Flynn, the son of Bridges’ character from Tron, enters the grid believing he’s been contacted by his long lost father who disappeared in 1989, (into the grid as it would happen) however, there is deception afoot. It is then up to Sam to save the grid and the programmes inhabiting it from Clu, a rogue computer clone of Bridges (who has been given a CGI makeover to look 20 years younger although looks slightly too shiny to be an accurate copy of the man).

Of course what Tron Legacy is all about is visuals and big splashy CGI scenes, that’s what the original did well and that is precisely what the “son of Tron” does too. There are amazing moments of excitement when Sam takes part in a light cycle race, which will have fans of the original juddering with glee, and the world is eye-poppingly glorious to behold.

The casting is decent enough, if a little vanilla at times. Bridges does a good enough reprisal of his original character Kevin Flynn. Garrett Hedlund plays his son and flips between whooping and hollering during the action scenes, to whispering in a low toned growl for the rest. Playing the female lead is Olivia Wilde, who is ok if unspectacular. Still all credit to the filmmakers for not needlessly bolting on romantic subplot to a character that doesn’t need it - a rare show of restraint from Hollywood.

A real dishonourable mention however, goes to the usually excellent Michael Sheen, who plays the dazzlingly annoying Castor, who gnashes his teeth through the beautifully digitised scenery in blazing display of buffoonery whilst dressed as a Ziggy Stardust-alike. Maybe he needs to find another character based on a real live person to play (and no! Bowie doesn’t count in this instance)?

The soundtrack of the film deserves the highest praise though. The soundtrack by Daft Punk is nothing short of breath taking and mixes the right level of orchestral music with ‘bingy bongy’ sounding 80s techno.

Tron Legacy overall is a solid enough sequel and is definitely a 7 star movie. It’s by no means a movie of the year but it is good all round entertainment and is undemanding without just being dumb and loud.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shows that will make you want to punch a teenager

“The children are our future” so the saying goes. Kids and teens have been pretty hard done by over the years; be it from the fear spread by media such as Reefer Madness in the 1930s, any teenage rebellion movie in the 1950s, or more recently, Waterloo Road. Indeed, on-screen portrayals of adolescents are often just hate-inducing.

It is troubling to find that such a grim world view of the big and small screen can have an influence on a persons perception of the tykes, to the point where you feel vindicated to trip-up the next pubescent chap or chappette that you see in the street. It’s not fair or nice and you can’t help but feel manipulated by a cackling writer somewhere, who is idly writing another gormless, unsympathetic teen character into a script somewhere.


Here are a few current TV programmes that will turn you into a bitterly vengeful teen-hater:

The Season:

One of the BBC’s latest attempts at ‘getting down with the kids’, can be found on BBC Switch (a kind of CBBC for teenagers). It is a type of docu-drama series set in a ski-town somewhere in the European Alps and is very similar to other real-life documentaries like The Hills or Laguna Beach, but this time it’s full of British kids on their gap year (or should I say “gap yah”).

Now the first thing to make clear is that these kids are bastards! They are just horrible examples of humanity, being all spikey haired, perpetually grinning and beanie hat-wearing in the case of the boys and pretty, dim and “random!” exclaiming in the case of the ladies. If there was ever a reason to cause an avalanche to bury a town, then this is it.

You will recognise many of these strutting pricks from your first year at university, or lurching around your local shopping center. You know the type: the people that wear shorts and sandals despite it being winter and that seem to hang around in a cluster of six or so of their type, with a self satisfied smirk on their big fuzzy faces.

Skins:

I think I have said enough on this blog as to why Skins is a horrible, horrible TV show (despite being frustratingly compelling sometimes) full of the sort of kids that somehow have decided warehouses are the coolest places on earth. They also have casual access to drugs that most kids could have only dreamed of getting their hands on. If you want to know more about the people you see on Skins this video should explain them better.

Hollyoaks:

This programme has issues. That isn’t a criticism, more of a matter of fact, as a majority of the programme’s plotlines seems to revolve around whatever the latest vogue issue affecting young people is. Whether it be drug addiction, teenage pregnancy or STI’s, Hollyoaks seems to have them with alarming regularity. It does beg the question why parents living in the village don’t pull their children out of Hollyoaks Comprehensive, as it would seem to have the highest teenage preganancy rate in Europe, not mention a high fatality rate…

Getting back to the teens in question, they couldn’t be a more dislikeable group of rebellious bellends. They whine, they fuck each other and generally ruin their lives and all without much in the way of normal common sense, which most real teenagers actually do have most of the time. They always seem to be written as lowest common denominator types; so teen girls that aspire to be glamour models, get pregnant or get addicted to smack etc. Then on the other hand you have the boys that want to smash everything and/or fuck everything. Sure this happens in the real world but not every day in the same village necessarily. Or does it?

Doctors:

Another soap opera that gives real teenagers absolutely no hope of being taken seriously. I get the impression that the writers see teens as a malleable source for plot devices.

Most teens on this programme are self righteous, mentally unstable and just make you want to smash your head through the TV screen in some kind of vain attempt to reach into the show and throttle them into silence. One of the loathsome teen portrayals in this show are weirdo outsider characters. These can be found doing odd things like befriending paper clips, or becoming convinced that they are communicating with an alien called Thanziel. To contrast with this you also get the occasional fully fledged teen revolutionary, complete with a shaky political agenda, like freeing all the stray dogs infected with rabies at an animal testing lab. Either that or you are delivered a feminist fighting to ban umbrellas because they restrict women, or something equally as trite.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give The Marketers Time And There Won’t Be A Town Without A Flashmob-Style Advertisment By 2030



Flashmobbing has become a fad of late and it is easy to see why; the spontaneous, silly actions are quite funny. Flashmobbing is nothing new either, considering the term was first used back in 2003, I even remember there was a Flashmob society at my university (I heard they once ran into Cardiff town centre for a spontaneous water balloon fight before scarpering).

The fun and hilarity is being hijacked by the marketers now however, as T-Mobile continues to ramp up it’s televisual, ‘feelgood’ public transport sing-a-long ad campaign. The phone company has made a few adverts set around public areas already, normally involving a mass group of people singing or dancing, whilst the camera occasionally pans to shots of smiling onlookers clutching their phones and texting with glee. It’s easy to see how this is effective marketing in that sense.

The latest offering however, has actually perturbed me a little more than the others. It is set in the Heathrow Terminal 5 international arrivals area and this time “fun” is compulsory for all citizens and people entering the UK, as the singers are targeting (random or non-random it’s hard to tell) strangers and in some cases giving them a bit of a fright.

Sometimes happiness is genuinely infectious but this example just looks terrifying. Picture the scene if you will: You’ve spent 12 hours on a long haul flight, you’re tired and just faced the twin joys of immigration (lord only knows how someone who has been given a cavity search is going to feel at this point) and baggage claim, then you faced with a surprising onslaught of wide-eyed, smirking singing dancing people, who then start jostling you to join in, as well as making you smile as your on camera. That’s right people you are on TV, right now, no chance to prepare yourself, no time cover up those bags under your eyes or hide the fact that you’ve got obviously messed up hair from trying to sleep on your flight. Also don’t show your lack of enthusiasm at taking part in the charade, as you will be outed as the scrooge you are, and we all know the public doesn’t like a scrooge… If you don’t play along you might get voted out of life by a telephone poll, that I’m sure is now expected in most spheres of life by the roaring masses.

I am now genuinely afraid of using public transport for fear of being set upon. Terrorism doesn’t scare me nor does the idea of a crash but the thought of people singing and dancing hovering around me does make me quite scared. Judging from the comments about the adverts I think I might be in the minority, as many people actually would rather like this to happen to them. I expect this could lead to a lot more flashmob-like events of this nature but nationwide or even further afield. Other marketers surely are going to look at the success of this and want a piece of the action.

We might end up with all our public transport injected with fungeneered bullshit such as this, to brighten up our country’s image and to make the public happier (not to mention sell a few phones). It’ll be fun, it’ll be just like North Korea.

Do you fancy being set upon, when worn out, by an awkward bunch of smiling singing bastards, or do you think you are going to start walking round with a tazer more often? Let me know…

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cartoon Characters On Facebook = Child Abuse Awareness? The Power Of A Meme

Social networking has seen some interesting fads over the years. Whether it be the recent #iamspartacus trend on Twitter or people sending round those dodgy emails proclaiming a virus is going to eat your computer unless you spread the word to your friends, people love following a cause online.

I have found myself a bit confused by the recent trend on Facebook of changing a profile picture to that of a favourite childhood cartoon character, all in the name of some vague raising of awareness.

The message being spread at the moment on the site claims:

‎"Change your Facebook profile picture to a cartoon character from your childhood and invite your friends to do the same, for the NSPCC. Until Monday (December 6th), there should be no human faces on Facebook, but an invasion of memories. This is a campaign to stop violence against children."

Ok fair enough, a good cause indeed and a form of affirmative action is following, fine. But how does this help children exactly?

I really am surprised that people aren’t being more discerning and my real problem is that this attempt at affirmative action is actually quite hollow. How is this doing good? Are the kids being beaten by their parents going to look at Facebook, see beloved characters on profiles, and have their tears of distress change to tears of joy by knowing that someone was rooting for them but is planned to do nothing to physically help? I very much doubt it. The question remains, what is this going to do for the kids?

My personal take is that it has gone so far now that people are blindly following to almost keep up appearances and appear to be behind a good cause, when they really might not take any real steps to help with this issue. Sure a few people that started it might be sincere but I fear that now a mass game of follow-the-leader is taking place.

I don’t mean to be cynical but I don’t see how changing ones profile picture to Snagglepus or Stoppit and Tidyup is going to do anything except allow the person posting the photo to have a bit of a laugh with their friends about how outrageous or nostalgic his/her picture is. Do people actually know why they are taking part in this, or do plan to give money to charity? I’m not so sure. 

Do you think this will lead to positive change or do you think the whole thing is a hollow gesture?