Thursday, May 24, 2007

The End Of Telly

Waaahhh!!! No more telly! The telly's gone! Last week marked the end of funny telly, with the latest seasons of '30 Rock', 'Scrubs' and 'The Office' finishing. No more Dr Spaceman, J.D or Dwight for aaaages!
As if this wasn't bad enough, this week heralded the death toll on the latest seasons of 3 of telly's best serious offerings. Oh, telly, what have we done to offend you so? That said, they were a mixed bag (caution: if you haven't seen them yet then SPOILERS follow so come back when you've watched them).


Arrrghhh! Veronica, you frustrate me so! After 2 excellent first seasons this new one was so bitterly disappointing, with all too brief flashes of the show we used to love. In an effort to boast flagging ratings the showrunners stripped away everything that made V-Mars great, turning it into an OC-alike teen show cliche. Gone was the edginess, Veronica's outsider feistiness and Logan's borderline psychotic traits. This year, with no explanation whatsoever, Veronica was nice and popular, Logan was a 100% doe-eyed pussy and (most importantly) HALF the lead cast weren't even in OVER HALF the episodes!

And these measures didn't work, as the once-great show has now been cancelled. However, sometimes the luxury of not caring due to being cancelled can breed greatness, and that certainly seems to have been the case for the 2-hour finale. Gritty, dark and challenging, the writers seemed to be having fun with the character, and she actually was the character again. Logan went nutso again, with one of the best exiting lines for a character in any final episode I've ever seen. And - hooray - all the lead cast were involved! For most of this season I've not been too fussed, but after this finale I've been left yet again hankering for more Veronica. Bye bye, Miss Mars, a great send-off that you truly deserved.


Now this one threw me. It's been a great year for serious telly, with Battlestar Galactica and Lost really producing the goods. But Heroes was the one show that, week after week, consistently upped the ante and stunned me with how much better every episode was. Plus, after months of build-up, we'd been promised this epic encounter between Peter and Sylar, the struggle to save millions of lives and characters descending into darkness.

What did we get? Possibly the most disappointing series finale I've ever seen. I first watched it at Stephen, and Si-Man rightly commented that no finale would satisfy what we expected. But I've seen it again since, and it's just horrible. Taut storytelling became diabolical pacing, interesting character arcs became sentimental schmaltz of the highest order, twists became the biggest cliches you can imagine.

Wost of all, the climactic battle betwixt Peter and Sylar amounted to little more than 2 mins of a street fistfight, while all the other characters we've invested months in (most of whom have a superpower) sit around and basically do fuck all. And either the producers had blown their budget by this point or just decided they didn't really need good special effects in their season finale. Oh yes, and an end coda that ripped off Evil Dead 2. I can't remember ever feeling quite so cheated by a telly as I did with this, and on this evidence I'm seriously considering skipping the next season.


Pay attention, Heroes, this is how you do a finale! Season 3 has been an absolutely stellar year for Lost, planting itself firmly back on track and easily beasting the first series that everyone raved about before realising it was a telly show they'd have to think about. But my god, they delivered an absolute mindfuck of an ending here, one that tied up many loose ends and fundamentally changed the show forever.

I really can't describe how utterly incredible, not to mention ballsy, this finale was without giving anything away. So go watch it, as they somehow managed to simultaneously tie-up everything that had gone before, leave questions for the future, and totally fuck up everything you thought you knew about the show. And kudos must go in spades to the writers and cast for actually taking the time to craft well-rounded characters in a mainstream show. It would have been so easy to keep bringing back Smokezilla for cheap thrills, but the team decided to focus on the people in the show. And that's rare in American telly. Matthew Fox in particular deserves special mention, as he's always been good on the show but here delivered one of the best, most heart-wrenching performances I've ever seen.

No more telly... waaaahhh!!!! (although 'Entourage', 'The Wire' and 'The Riches' await me...)

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Gay Messiah Is Coming!

(also Rufus gig on Thursday! Woo-haaa!)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Face Full Of Violence

My critiquing fingertips have been getting itchy lately, all too eager to share their opinions far and wide on the interweb. And so it is, as they gear up to cast their scornful eye, that I bring you a new installment of Ian's Useless Movie Reviews! This time...


A little back story to how this film came about is not crucial, but certainly helps your enjoyment of it. A few year's back Director Joe Carnahan was flavour of the month after his first film 'Narc' (a gritty little espionage tale) wowed critics and caught Hollywood's eye. None more so than a certain Mr Tom Cruise, who immediately recruited Carnahan to write and direct the upcoming Mission Impossible 3. What followed was 2 years of creative differences and development hell, prompting a pissed-off Carnahan to quit the project and make the coolest, nastiest and fun movie he could find as quickly as possible. Basically, he'd had enough and wanted to have a laugh, to make a pure guilty pleasure. 'Smokin' Aces' is essentially a big fuck-you to Tom Cruise!

The plot, such as it is, follows several teams of hit men (or "fatality facilitators") as they compete to get to a single target, a slimy Vegas magician who's about to rat out a mob boss to the feds. At the same time, these same feds start getting wind of the hits and race to protect their prize prisoner. Basically, it's Cannonball Run meets True Romance and that, my friends, makes it all kinds of awesome! An out-and-out coolfest, with all the dials turned up to 11. The actual story is McGuffin of the highest order, but that's not the point. Who needs plot when you've got neo-Nazis with chainsaws, or a 10-year old fruitloop kid threatening to nun-chuck an injured man's balls off!

Once this baby kicks off, it's all systems go until the finish line and it really doesn't give a shit if you can keep up! The hit men is where the fun really lies though, with about as big a bunch of fucked-up nutters you could hope for. The afore-mentioned neo-Nazis, 3 dumb bail-bondsmen lead by a hilariously mustachioed Ben Affleck, a cool as cucumber Alicia Keys (who's surprisingly good), a silent creeporama who's a master of disguise, and an overly charming psycho who chews his own fingers off to avoid detection.

These guys are ledge! Scary, funny and the absolute glue in a film that would live or die on how entertaining it's villains are. And that's the masterstroke here. You're not supposed to root for the man they're trying to kill, as he's a complete and utter shit (played to greasy perfection by the awesome Jeremy Piven, the best actor no one's heard of). He deserves to fucking die as he's just so... ickk! So, pick ya favourite assassin and hope they get there first. The closest thing 'Smokin' Aces' has to a protagonist is Ryan Reynolds and Ray Liotta (both excellent) as the feds trying to stop this shit going down, but it's pretty obvious from the start they'll either die or be too late, otherwise they'd just get in the way of the fun!

And I haven't even mentioned the amazing gallery of cameos Carnahan's thrown into the mix yet. Remember Jason Bateman from The Hogan Family and Arrested Development? Bet you never thought you'd see him as a scrawny, lingerie-wearing lawyer! Or Curtis Armstrong, the 80's screwball from Revenge of the Nerds and Better Off Dead? I'd have put money on the fact he'd never be cast as a sensitive, smart agent, and yet here he is, all emotional and... well, acting! Best of all though, is a nigh-on unrecognisable Matthew Fox as a mulleted and 'tached hotel manager (you'll find his scene particularly bonkers if you've been following the current season of Lost).

The final shoot-off in the hotel is a blast of over-the-top, gratuitously violent and simply barmy action. And then the film does something a little unexpected; it actually ties its stoopid storyline into a satisfying and well-rounded conclusion. Hang on! That wasn't supposed to happen! I had abandoned the plot long ago, and was thoroughly enjoying this attack on my senses, only to be given a good ending? Stone the crows!

All in all, I think I may have overused the word 'cool' in this review, but that really is the best way to sum up 'Smokin Aces'. Like True Romance before it, or Pulp Fiction, or Sin City, it's just cool! I'm not a massive fan of the action film genre, meaning I won't watch any old pap that has guns in it. For me, if an action film's gonna work it either needs heart (The Bourne Supremacy, Spider-Man), or balls (Die Hard, Aliens). This defintely falls into the latter catagory with an almighty ker-thunk! Best of all, if this is what Joe Carnahan can make as nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to being screwed over, I can't wait to see what he'll come up with next.

Fuck you, Tom Cruise!

4.6 Crabs out of 5

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Damn You, Fishsticks

So, jaunts and hi-jinks all over the place lately! Where to begin? Probably the beginning, that'd be good. Sunday saw Alphino head off to Poole Park to take part in an awesome-sounding open-air concert. Except we didn't. Well, we did go there, and were all ready to play... until we saw it. What was promised to be a 17-tonne, open-sided lorry on which to perform was actually best described as a run-down ice cream van with a hatch! What was promised to be 2 aluminium towers with speakers and sponsorship banners was actually what looked like stepladders with a single finger-painted piece of cloth! What was promised to be a crowd of 1000 people was actually a children's playground and noisier-than-hades bouncy castles/burger vans. So after a quick shoofty, we bailed. Unprofessional? Hmmm, maybe, but if we'd not been, say, LIED TO then we'd never have to put ourselves in that position.

Monday night saw Alphino head off for Miche's Monkey Bash. I should point out that this was nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, as it was a night to raise funds for equipment to study Spider-Monkeys in Ecuador. Nerves were tense, and tensions were nervous due to these reasons:

-Will all the bands show up on time?
-Will the sound guy, who has been over payed, ever show up?
-Will any members of the public show up?

This event lived or died on audience attendance, as for a charity gig it would actually end up costing the organisers money if there weren't enough bums through the door. So, with all the sound stuff finally in place, a strange thing happened. People started arriving. And they didn't stop! By about an hour or so in, the place was packed! It was nerve-racking for us (Alphino) as due to Sunday's fiasco this would be our first live gig in over a year. Add to that we were playing with a full band, who we'd only rehearsed with once (and never all at the same time), so we had no idea how it was going to go.

Luckily though, it was mega, and great fun. The night ended up covering all costs and making a tidy profit for the cause at hand. So, if you came down, or gave your time to play the night, a massive thank-you for being skill! And yes -- oh, yes -- DJ Jazzy Jon & The Fresh Crabb WILL return!

On a side note, the week was rounded off nicely with the arrival of many great comic books, including possibly the best one ever written. 'My Monkey's Name Is Jennifer' is just too hard to describe, but it's a comedy that features an insane, violent monkey who's obsessed with maiming humans, and also has zombies and pirates in it! (for legal reasons I should point out the above image is by the book's creator Ken Knudtsen). 'Tricked' is fantastic also, and well worth checking out if you like character stories (plus the writer Alex Robinson was nice enough to email me when I wrote to say how much I liked it).