A teen flick that’s actually good and something completely different

When the inflight entertainment guide quoted Empire magazine as saying Easy A was the best teen comedy since Clueless, I decided that it was a low risk proposition to spend some of my 10 hour flight putting that claim to the test.

At first I was sceptical but after I caught myself laughing-out-loud during an early scene, I was hooked. An updated telling of The Scarlet Letter, it is a tongue-in-cheek and self-referential demonstration of how issues of image, the human need to belong, and hypocrisy within small communities (whether they be the old English village or the modern high school) remain timeless. It is not as ground-breaking as Clueless simply because Californian high school culture has been “done”, but it is nice to see an intelligent and (a bit too) clever central protagonist bringing a higher tone of humour to the genre.

In contrast Scott Pilgrim v The World feels like a teen flick but technically is not one (we are told the eponymous lead is 22 years of age). This was similarly highly billed as “witty, dazzling and highly original”, and it is certainly different but only going to make sense if you understand video game culture. The plot line is familiar: boy meets girl and must win her heart by overcoming his rivals and/or succeed at some task or competition. The twist is that the usual real-life scenarios are instead portrayed allegorically as a series of video game levels. It is agreeable watching, although sadly it is never explained what the central characters actually have in common to make their relationship plausible. But then many video game purists claim that storyline should be secondary to gameplay—entertainment—anyway, and it certainly has that.

The Aeroplane Film Review: The A-Team

The problem with remakes, especially of nostalgically remembered classics, is that they often over-play the ingredients of the classic to the point where they dominate the modern version and the cake as a whole does not taste good. I recently caught an episode of the original TV series and it was preposterous—helicopter gun fights over an LA suburb resolved with the bad guys crashing into a cliff but somehow crawling intact from the burning wreckage—surely Hollywood would take this as a licence to produce the worst kind of implausible nonsense that is present in every big explosion action film?

Surprisingly they did not. The modern version retains but updates the humour and of course the action is thoroughly modern. It’s still ridiculous but entertainingly so, and actually more plausible than many straight-action capers and Liam Neeson is on wicked form as Hannibal. My only disappointment was the rousing theme tune made only a single appearance, but perhaps that was a fair price for them not overplaying the nostalgia.

Elizabethtown & “Thank You for Smoking”

Having been disappointed with much of Hollywood’s recent output, I was recently pleasantly surprised to view two very enjoyable comedies.

Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and the delectable Kirsten Dunst, was a unconventional romantic comedy, in the vein of the excellent Garden State. The humour was quirky and slightly surreal—for example, the traditional scene where boy and girl are shown having a fun day together (set to music of course) takes place in a cemetery… There are a couple of bad scenes: Kirsten Dunst’s character thankfully has a complete personality transplant between her initial scene and the rest of the film, and there is a bizarre sequence near the end involving a wake which makes no sense at all, but overall it’s funny.

Another film which I entirely missed when it came to the cinema but provided some very enjoyable entertainment on a recent plane journey is Thank You for Smoking. Black satire at its best; watch it.

The Digital (TV) Revolution

When the video recorder failed to record the soundtrack to last week’s Doctor Who it was the excuseomen I needed to splash out on a digital video recorder.

Single tuner models are now under a £100, but I think the ability to watch and record different programmes is pretty much essential for a TV recorder, so I spent the additional £25 on the twin tuner Fusion FVRT145 from Argos.

This model had favourable coverage on various websites, and overall I’m very happy with it. The interface is not going to win any awards, but unlike many no-name Freeview boxes, it’s responsive and does the job. The 80GB hard drive seems to allow for plenty of programmes to be recorded, and picture quality is acceptable using “LP” compression, although it can be a little “blocky” with “EP” compression. Recordings can be recompressed after they have been made, although it is not possible to perform any form of editing such as to trim the start or end of a recording. The first time I tried to view some digital channels, the tuner seemed to take a while to unscramble the picture which was a little odd, but it has worked fine since.

The 14-day TV guide is downloaded every night at 3am so you do have to leave the box on 24/7—and it’s got a fan which might annoy some people wishing to sleep in the same room—but the guide make recording programmes a doddle. The only feature that is really missing is the ability to schedule repeat recordings: a TiVo-owning friend enjoys the ability to issue instructions such as “record all new episodes of Doctor Who” while this box lacks even the ability to record for an hour every Saturday night at 7pm1.

uh-oh

After happily using the box for 2-3 weeks, one morning I awoke to discover that overnight all our stored programmes had been wiped. Half an hour of web-surfing later it seems that this is not uncommon for this model of recorder, but apparently can only occur if signal quality drops below 65% while recording in compressed mode. I’ll be recording in SP-mode only in the future.

Aside on Freeview

Despite the loss of our stored programmes, overall I am really pleased with my new gadget, and I think the main reason for that is Freeview. I don’t think there’s very much on TV worth watching, and when we had a standalone Freeview box, I still couldn’t find anything to watch when I wanted to veg out. But with this box, a quick flick through the programme guide reveals a plethora of delightful repeats of quality programmes such as Jeeves & Wooster and Due South on various digital-only channels. None at convenient times of course, but with a DVR suddenly all are available at a time of my choosing. Even on the traditional channels, recording is so effortless that I find myself recording programmes which sound interesting on the off-chance I may watch them if I just want to switch out my brain for half an hour… With FilmFour becoming free-to-air in July, a Freeview-enabled Digital Video Recorder ought to be an essential item for every living room.

  1. Although this feature might be of limited use given the volatility of British TV scheduling, especially during a sport-laden summer season! [back]

More Doctor Who

In case the new episodes just aren’t enough, there are three BBC Doctor Who “webcasts” from 2003 available on the Doctor Who website.

The remake of the late, great, Douglas Adams’ episode Shada is excellent—and set in Cambridge! The first webcast to be made, Death Comes to Time does not seem to be available although I don’t think that is any loss as I was not terribly impressed by it, but there appear to be two others which I don’t remember watching.

Narnia, and Hugh Laurie as an American

Very quickly:

  • I saw an advert for the new film of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” on TV last night. No idea whether it will be a good adaptation or not, but the visuals were compellingly gorgeous.
  • I watched an Episode of “House” which stars Hugh Laurie as a maverick but brilliant Doctor. Good drama, and witty caustic one-liners reminded me of the West Wing, and Laurie was as excellent as ever—with a flawless American accent—but a few too many gruesome close-ups of surgery will probably put me off tuning-in too often.

Crusade (The “Babylon 5” spin-off)

Despite being a huge fan of the brilliant TV series Babylon 5 I had, for a variety of reasons, missed seeing the short-lived spin-off, “Crusade”. Fortunately I was recently able to borrow the DVDs from a friend and so far have watched the first three episodes.

Except they’re not the first three episodes. The Lurker’s Guide lists two different episodes as 2&3, and while episoide 2 (as aired) gives you the uneasy feeling that you’ve missed something, the third episode is so totally completely, totally and utterly out of place, it seems unsurprising that the programme failed to win any ratings. The Lurker’s Guide seems to suggest that the programme was not cancelled specifically due to poor ratings but due to disagreements between the station execs and the Executive Producer, but the whole story—new work by creator of cult-hit has episodes shown out-of-order and subsequent cancellation—is eerily familiar to the story of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” which was the subject of a recent film review on this blog.

Anyway, this would explain why I haven’t particularly enjoyed what I have watched so far, which is a shame as the storylines have been novel, the universe in which it is set rich and diverse, and there is potential for some good characterisation. Unfortunately there are also some pretty big things wrong with it: the opening credits are so cheesy I have to fast forward through them, the music is badly inappropriate and in places just bad (it sounds too modern—didn’t they realise that all the best sci-fi has classical music for a reason?) and some of the CGI looks just too cartoon-y to be plausible (but I find this is a flaw with many recent productions, Star Wars III was a big offender in this regard too; Battlestar Galactica’s grittier “look” is more realistic looking which makes it much easier to believe).

At least with the Lurker’s Guide to hand, watching the chapters of the story unfold in the correct order will hopefully allow me to look past the flaws and enjoy things a lot better.

Serenity

There are two sorts of people in the world: those who believe Joss Whedon is a genius and those who are wrong. – Connie Ogle in the Miama Herald, Friday 30th September 2005.

I am a firm believer in Joss Whedon being a genius, and so I was eager to see “Serenity”, the movie spin-off the cult-hit (but short-lived) TV series, Firefly.

For fans of the TV series, the film finally answers all those questions that were left unanswered by its cancellation and the subtle witty touches and powerful, thoughtful dialogue is as present on the big screen as on the small. Unfortunately witty touches and powerful dialogue aren’t enough to keep a viewer’s interest for a whole 2 hours and Serenity fails to really make the transition from TV to film. Joss Whedon has created some intriguing and realistic characters but the pace required to drive forward a single two-hour story leaves little room for the slow growth and development that make his TV programmes so addictive.

It’s not a bad film — certainly one of the most original concepts to be released this year (are they really so desperate they’re making a film about Doom?!) — but the story isn’t grand and epic enough to grip the attention for two hours, and the character development feels rushed, a year’s worth of incremental growth shoe-horned into a single storyline. I enjoyed it, as will everyone else who has watched the TV series, but sadly I don’t think it will appeal to people who aren’t familiar with Firefly.

TARDIS spotted in Monmouth

Since I’m spending so much time thesis-writing at the moment, sadly Dr. Who is currently the highlight of my week. :-/

This week’s storyline was excellent — classic Dr. Who — and the exterior of the undertaker’s house was very recognisably filmed in Agincourt Square, Monmouth, where I went to school. What a pity the current Doctor is so stupid he had to be saved by Charles Dickens… 🙁

I’m also not convinced by the sans-cliffhanger-ending format. I can understand the BBC wanting to move away from the old format of stringing storylines out for three or four 30 minute episodes, but they could have retained the spirit of the cliffhanger by ending each episode with a cliffhanger that begins the next storyline: each episode already has a preview for the following week anyway.

Oh well, now all I have to do is find some way of sneaking away from next Saturday’s family party for 45 mins to watch it. 😉

21st Century Doctor Who

I’m sure there are plenty of Dr. Who fans out there posting detailed dissections of tonight’s first new episode, so I shall limit myself to just two comments:

  1. In the trailers and promo pics, Christopher Eccleston looked very dull — his image lacked the flamboyant insanity of his predecessors. However, in motion, he is fantastic — just slightly insane enough you really do wonder what he will do/say next.
  2. The interior of the TARDIS is too dark. It used to look like a science lab and be really bright — the whole point being that it was the one place you knew the Doctor and his companions were safe because there were no shadows for monsters to leap out from.

Anyway, I’m definitely looking forward to next week’s. 🙂

Bridget Jones Diary: Edge of Reason

Despite having, against my will, actually quite enjoyed the first Bridget Jones film, based on the trailer, and given the usual problems of sequels, I approached this film with some trepidation.

Things did not start well, with possibly the longest and most interminably dull set of adverts I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to sit through in the cinema — most of them seemed to be for perfume and they were a triumph of the school of self-congratulatory style over substance. The trailers were rather excellent though: House of Flying Daggers looks very cool and it was the first time I’ve seen the Episode III teaser-trailer on the big screen.

So, onto the main event itself. Overall it reminded me more of Love Actually than the first Bridget Jones film, a sort of collection of playful jibes at, and parodies of, relationship-stereotypes and experiences with which we are all familiar, rendering the rather unoriginal plot thankfully irrelevant. The expected cringe-inducing scenes were short and, due to the zippy-pace, rapidly forgotten, and the only really irritating character you found yourself wishing would hurry up and get off screen was Bridget herself. The supporting cast and characters of this film were the real gems, whilst poor Bridget was just far too over-the-top and clichéd to be plausible, and after a while, even funny.

So overall certainly not a disagreeable experience, but I shall not be disappointed if I never see Miss Jones on the big screen again — the rest of them are very welcome to come back any time though.

Recent Cinema Trips: The Stepford Wives and King Arthur

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Stepford Wives and was very pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be very good. The humour is sharp and satirical and it’s very nicely filmed although as usual with a Hollywood film a fair amount of suspension of disbelief is required. The only major disappointment is the very final scene which is just so ghastly in its twee-ness that you leave the cinema feeling ever so slightly let down, the irony being that the ending is as fantastical as the town of Stepford itself….

King Arthur is quite a different film — very traditional Hollywood swash-buckling action. Good fun, but as with other “historical” Hollywood films you get the feeling that they found some average action-film script and then the Marketing people decided to change the names and location to match the “Arthur” legends to make people a bit more inclined to go and see it. I certainly agree with Stephen though, Guinevere is worth the ticket price alone.