Monday, September 29, 2008

Hot or Not?

This has been bugging me of late. I've seen it mentioned on several message boards and blogs that Sarah Palin is hot, often jokingly implying that this alone would get her votes despite the fact that she is woefully unqualified in virtually all other respects.

Erm, what? Has the hotness bar really fallen so low, or is there some kind of weird conspiracy to cement at least one 'positive' attribute with regard to this woman? Alright, she's fairly attractive, but why do so many people insist that she's hot? It does not compute!

(As an aside, Tina Fey is hot, despite the passing similarities between the two.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Urinal Etiquette

I find it rather disturbing to frequently witness grown men undoing their belts and pulling down their pants when doing their business at a urinal. Seriously, it's just disturbing. And yes, I'm fairly certain it's not because their equipment is that unwieldy.

I think some people didn't get the memo about the usefulness of zippers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Greatest Match Ever?

(Image from Wikipedia)

I finally got around to seeing the much talked about Wimbledon final between five time defending champion Roger Federer and third time (consecutive!) finalist Rafael Nadal. It has been hailed as one of the, if not the, greatest tennis matches ever played. I can't claim to have seen more than a mere handful of the great matches from tennis history so I'm not really qualified to comment on its relative merit, but as far as I'm concerned it is undeniably a classic. Right from the opening point the game is competitive, and the whole match is populated by lengthy rallies full of powerful and accurate groundstrokes.

It ended up being the longest men's final in Wimbledon history, justifying the pre-match hype where it was talked up as a historic confrontation by virtue of the caliber of the two players and the records that were at stake. Plus, it was seen as an unofficial battle for the crown of Number 1 player in the world and possibly an end to an era of tennis dominated by Federer. I'd say that in terms of being momentous and dramatic it is certainly the best match that I have ever seen; a true event match if ever there was one. But... but I'm not convinced that the tennis on display was the greatest ever.

Again, I may not be qualified to comment, but as a point of comparison I also recently watched the '93 Wimbledon final between Pete Sampras and Jim Courier. Now, this one isn't - as far as I'm aware - hailed as a classic, but the tennis was still exciting and varied. There were big serves, serve volleying aplenty, rallies, passing shots, drop shots, smashes, half vollies and even the occasional lob! Contrast this with the Nadal-Federer match, in which despite the excellent quality of play every point seemed to follow a very predictable pattern of hitting from the baseline. Five sets worth!

Don't get me wrong, it was a terrific match, and the quality of play was tremendous. I'm just a little sceptical about calling it the greatest match ever, at least in terms of the tennis that was played. The greatest match in terms of significance to the game and resultant drama, perhaps... I just think the media and commentators have a tendency to blow things out of proportion at any given opportunity, and it's a little early to name this one 'greatest ever'.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Planet Terror (2007)

(Image from IMP Awards)

Planet Terror (2007)

'Planet Terror' is director Robert Rodriguez's half of the 'Grindhouse' double bill, with the other half, 'Death Proof', being directed by Quentin Tarantino.

'Grindhouse' is meant to be a homage to the type of films shown as grindhouse features. From Wikipedia:
The film's name originates from the American term for theaters that played "all the exploitation genres: kung fu, horror, Giallo, sexploitation, the "good old boy" redneck car-chase movies, blaxploitation, spaghetti Westerns—all those risible genres that were released in the 70s." According to Rodriguez, "The posters were much better than the movies, but we're actually making something that lives up to the posters."

This film is certainly not as low budget as those it seeks to pay tribute to, but it's made to look like a trashy exploitation flick complete with dodgy effects and poor quality, degraded 'film' reels. The story is about a chemical weapon being unleashed on a small town that turns people into zombies. A small group of people band together to try and survive, while an elite military unit gets up to no good behind the scenes.

Rodriguez is right in that his film really does live up to the posters! I haven't actually watched any real grindhouse flicks, but I'm fairly certain that they are a lot crappier than the faux crappiness on display here. The film is outrageous - gory, over the top, and very funny, and the wacky atmosphere and artificially cheap looking visuals add to the film's entertainment value. It's a tad too long (though, I did watch the extended standalone version of the film), but still makes for a thrilling ride.

And although it's all meant to look cheap, the effects and production values are surprisingly impressive in their own kitschy way. There are some fun performances in there as well, especially from Naveen Andrews (Sayid from Lost!), Rose McGowan, and Michael (where has he been?) Biehn.

I'm not sure if I can really recommend 'Planet Terror' to a casual movie fan, as it's definitely out there and a little bit absurd. But if you can embrace its intentional cheapness, there's a lot of fun to be had.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

28 Days Later (2002)

(Image from IMP Awards)

28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's once unconventional take on the zombie genre was at the time of release fresh and invigorating - speedy zombies! Watching it again years later, however, it's clear that this one is not just a one trick pony - it's a little bit special and will endure for years to come.

Following a brief and rather shaky prologue the film proper begins mysteriously enough, with a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up in an abandoned hospital. He walks out and discovers a deserted London, a scenario that is revealed in hauntingly dramatic fashion. Most of the populace has fled, and he soon discovers why; the remainder have become the 'infected' - people who are essentially zombies - and have overrun Britain. After surviving his first harrowing encounter with the infected, Jim ends up with fellow survivors Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and Frank's daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Hearing transmissions from the military telling them that there is a safe haven in Manchester, they set out across the desolate landscape in Frank's car, braving the possibility of being attacked by the infected.

A simple yet interesting premise, and one that is extremely well executed. After the iffy prologue the subsequent first two acts of the film are superb. The sense of desolation is palpable and the isolation permeates nearly every scene. The scenario is made believable by being unremittingly bleak and hopeless. The zombies generate a genuine feeling of terror, and the film doesn't hold back when it comes to delivering shocks and gruesome gore either. The best part though is that despite the bleakness there are several moments that are poignant and joyful, such as the scene where our heroes raid a supermarket with the gleeful enthusiasm of participating in a shopping spree.

The characters are complex, fallible, and very vulnerable - basically, human. This impression is created in large part by the excellent performances from the four leads, who generate a convincing sense of camaraderie. The bemused and delicate looking Murphy makes for an atypical lead who guides us through the shock and horror of what has happened. The character also makes an incredible transformation towards the end, one that is actually quite over the top but which Murphy manages to pull off. Speaking of the end, the last act takes the film into interesting territory but I didn't find it to be as well executed as what came before. A whole new bunch of characters are introduced and the tone of the film becomes twisted and sinister, and also somewhat comical. The cast members who show up here, including Christopher Eccleston, are all very good in their roles, but it still feels a bit incongruous and jarring.

While the final act - which ironically is somehow more bizarre than the stuff with the zombies - is a slight let down in terms of execution, it doesn't drag the film down too much, and it does provide a compelling commentary on the fragility of society and the simplicity with which people can descend into barbarism. The psychological aspects of the film ring true, and are also a part of what make this better than your average zombie flick.

Boyle is a filmmaker who doesn't seem to be limited by genre, and '28 Days Later' demonstrates his versatility by being effective as both a character piece and an edgy post apocalyptic horror film. There's a haunting beauty in the hellish nightmare world he creates, and despite the annoying digital video look in the early scenes the film delivers some captivating visuals. Those early shots of a deserted London are iconic. The horror elements are also well done, with tense and suspenseful scenes leading in to explosive moments of action. And yes, even the incongruous comedy elements are quite funny! The zombies themselves aren't all that impressive visually but they make up for it with their wild and unsettling behaviour, charging at people with manic rage and impressive speed.

I can't finish this review without mentioning the very cool and distinctive soundtrack, which complements the film well.

Overall, it's a very good film that lets itself down towards the end but still makes a strong, lasting overall impression by being absorbing and thought provoking, and by featuring characters worth giving a damn about. Quite, quite unlike its risible sequel.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Checking the Time

It's been almost a month since my last post! Frak!

Sticking with the temporal theme of that opening sentence, I'm going to spend the rest of this post discussing my watch, which came into my possession just recently. I'm talking about the watch not because it's some ridiculously expensive timepiece that deserves a blog post dedicated to the fact that it adorns my wrist - it's a Casio with dual analogue and digital displays, and I think it's pretty cool - but because it's the first watch I've worn in nigh on half a decade.

The reason for this is fairly mundane - when my last watch (also a Casio, one that I had for over 11 years) broke, I decided that my mobile phone was sufficient for telling the time. During the last five years, whenever I needed to know what the time was I fished my mobile out from my pocket. Sounds inconvenient, but minor inconvenience is something you get used to pretty fast, plus I often found myself using oft unused alternative time sources like wall clocks, my computer's time display, and even other people's watches! After doing this for a while, I convinced myself that I'd never need another watch again.

This is not the first time I have been completely and utterly wrong (in truth, I've lost count!). My new watch was given to me as a gift, and I was initially quite sceptical about having it - after all, it was unnecessary! But after only a few hours of wearing the damned thing I realized how wrong I had been all those years. How the frak did I get by without a watch all that time? It's so easy; when you need to tell the time, you simply raise your arm a bit and glance downwards. Even a monkey can do it!

By now you may have gathered that I'm a fool at best, and perhaps even a retard. But folks, retarded or not I encourage you to relegate your cellphone to the status of call making device and let watches do your timekeeping for you! Even if wearing one means you end up silently cursing yourself every time your arm bumps into or grazes against something; routinely inspecting my watch for scratches seems to be my new weird idiosyncrasy!

A bizarre random post to end the blogging drought, one that promised to be about a watch but which ended up being about the act of wearing one (Christopher Walken was, sadly, unavailable). Hopefully the next post will be less nonsensical, and won't be such a long time coming!