Saturday, 31 August 2013

Ten things you probably never knew about the woman behind Disney's The Little Mermaid*

*Seven confirmed by the woman herself. 

1: The eponymous demi-fish was voiced by Jodi Benson. 

2: Jodi landed the job after working on the Broadway musical Smile with Howard Ashman and Marvin Hamlisch. 

3: It was her first voice over job. She created a reel- to-reel audition, and 18 months later got the call that her tape had been selected. 

4: Unlike many animated films where the dialogue is recorded in isolation by individual actors, TLM was approached more like a Broadway musical. 
The cast spent the first day together reading through the script, then recorded together for the first day. 

5: Jodi recorded her dialogue in 14 days... over two-and-a-half years. 

6: Ms Benson was also the voice of Barbie in the Toy Story films. 

7: She spent her first day on Toy Story 2 playing with a box of Barbies with director John Lasseter.

8: Now in her fifties, Jodi lives in Atlanta and is a home school mum to her two children, aged 12 and 14. They travel on weekends for concerts and appearances. 

9: She has never been to Disneyland Paris. 

10: According to Box Office Mojo, it grossed $111,543,479 (£71,980,000) in the US and $99,800,000 (£64,393,000) in the rest of the world. 

The Little Mermaid is out on Blu-Ray from September 2. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Martin Luther King

Despite some shockingly awful coverage from the BBC, Barack Obama' historic speech on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech was the stuff of TV gold.
Enough waffle. Here's a shot of the Washington MLK memorial i took in the summer of 2012.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Under the Dome - episode two - review

So episode two. Any good?
Good like Dallas and Neighbours and guilty pleasures. Not good like 24 and Game of Thrones. 

Not great then?
Some of the dialogue was laughably bad, but its a great premise so worth tolerating. 

Who is the worst character?
The obsessed youth keeping his ex locked up in an underground shelter. Barking mad. 

A bit like Kim Bauer's ordeal in 24?
Yes. A lot like that. Only less convincing. 

Who’s the most likeable?
Has to be Barbie. Like a cross between First Blood Rambo and Chris Pine in Unstoppable. 

Any connection with episode one and two?
Yet another cop died from a chest wound. 

Most unbelievable scene?
That a youth didn't know what a sieve was. 

Most unintentionally funny scene?
A chain of neighbours passing buckets of water to put out a house fire. The final throwers were awful shots. And the fact Barbie was thanked for his quick thinking and seemingly ingenious plan. (Are all the locals idiots?)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Elysium - The Review

I love good sci-fi movies that are credible and about something. Trouble is most are hampered by stupid scripts, sly winks to camera or bizarre logic twists that let the side down.
For me Elysium is about as good as none-sequel, none comic/game sci-fi epics get these days.
Edgy, epic, rarely dull and stunning to look at.
However, 20 minutes in I wished heroic Max (Matt Damon) would get a break - and not just his arm from a cop droid.
A blue collar worker in a sweaty, decrepit LA, he proved gripping and believable from the word go.

Aside from that injury (for expressing a sense of humour in front of the authorities), he got a lethal dose of radiation and had an exo skeleton bolted onto his body.
By the time Robo Matt appeared I breathed a slight sigh of relief, but knew his ordeal was far from over.

Desperate to reach the eponymous space station and complete a ’vital cerebral info download’ mission, the long suffering Max clashed with psycho South African Kruger (a scenery-chewing Sharlto Copley) and his army of goons, endorsed by one of Elysium’s big cheeses, Delacourt (Jodie Foster).

It's a crying shame that design genius Syd Mead, Richard Taylor and the brilliant Weta crew created a stunning future world, yet Foster’s badly dubbed voice let the side down.
Spaghetti Westerns have had more verbal credibility.

In a pre-screening blog, I’d mentioned I wanted to see something special, and it was. I was even moved a couple of times, partly because the concept of a device that could cure cancer was so desirable, and the scene when medical shuttles are launched to help the sick on Earth left me a tad emotional.
Imagine a world where the ill got the attention they needed, and not just based on their bank balance. A glorious dream.

Elysium is not perfect by any means. Too many slow motion shots; Frey, Alice Braga’s nurse, was compelling, but whenever she repeated the name ’Max’ it grated, and the shaky cam shots were annoying.

But these are small niggles.
Elysium had a broad canvas to fill and did such an admirable job I was left craving another hour, or immediate sequel.
Even the score was great (aside from the Lisa Gerrard/Gladiator/The Insider-style wailing) and kept me in my seat for most of the closing credits.

Okay, the space ring idea is nothing new in sci-fi, having been explored countless times, from Larry Niven’s Ringworld series to the hit game saga Halo (which seems to have dominated my life for the past decade).
However, rarely has it looked so good on the big screen.

The fact writer/director Neill Blomkamp was going to make a movie version of Halo is apparent in several scenes, but in many ways I'm glad that never saw the light of day.
Game adaptations are nearly always disappointing; better to forge something relatively new and create a fresh universe worthy of revisiting than a pale imitation of a button-bashing saga.
Personally I wished the next chapter was already available, with or without Matt.
Elysium is one world well worth returning to.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa - The Review

It's a bold move these days making a movie just for a UK audience. However, The Inbetweeners proved a good TV spin off can generate pots of cash, so little wonder Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa was given a green light. 

Okay, the target audience is not thrill-seeking teens but middle aged fans of 90s sitcoms. Not the most lucrative demographic. 

Thankfully Partridge is often very funny and more satisfying than The World’s End. 

Wisely eschewing the ’sitcom star on holiday’ cliche that befell so many feature length big screen versions, APAP is amazingly small scale. 
Setting any movie in a provincial radio station looks like commercial suicide, and though there is a brief roadshow element in the third act, this is modest even for a TV show, let alone a film that costs around a tenner to watch. 

But while the canvas may be A6 rather than A0, the richness of the comedy paint is thick like oil. 
So many humourous canvases are too large and use watered down gags, so little wonder they fail; This is 40 being a prime example. 

Do you gain anything watching on the big screen compared to the pending DVD?
Well the audience laughing for one thing. After that, not really. 
Glad I saw it at the cinema, but the acid test is how well it will work on DVD/Blu Ray. 
And the moment a detrousered Alan tries to explain his condition to a copper is comedy gold. 

2 Guns - The Review

Knowing nothing about 2 Guns, the new movie starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, I had no idea if it would be a thriller, drama or comedy. 
It's essentially all three, and for the most part is a lot of fun. 

It opens with criminals Robert Trench (Denzel) and Michael Stigman (Wahlberg) robbing a bank across from a doughnut shop. 

Thrown into the mix are drug lord Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos),  glam love interest Deb Rees (Paula Patton), Naval officer Harold Quince (James Marsden), and the villainous Earl (Bill Paxton). 

What unfolds during the overlong running time is double crosses galore, characters revealing their true identity, Mexican standoffs, and a lot of hilarious banter between the two leads. 
That's when you can understand what Mark Wahlberg is saying.
His dialogue is so quick fire you can barely make it out, but like Denzel he has charisma in abundance. 

Paula Patton lends much needed female sex appeal; Edward James Olmos is reliably creased and weather beaten, while it ticks over at a fair pace.
There were far too many twists and turns, but while the overly complex plot was instantly forgettable, what lingers is the dynamic between the leads. 

A sequel (hopefully with a tighter plot) wouldn't be such an horrendous prospect. 

Denzel Washington -Robert "Bobby" Trench
Mark Wahlberg - Michael "Stig" Stigman
Paula Patton - Deb Rees
Bill Paxton - Earl
Fred Ward - Admiral Tuwey
James Marsden - Harold "Harvey" Quince
Edward James Olmos - Papi Greco
Robert John Burke - Jessup
Doris Morgado - Daisi

Kick Ass 2 - The Review

I enjoyed the original Kick Ass three years ago, and the prospect of a sequel was welcome at the time.
However, I wondered if writer/director Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman would be on board for the follow up.
The good news is they are in a producing capacity, while writer/director Jeff Wadlow is obviously channelling the manic intensity that made the original so refreshing.
In fact the lack of pretense and sombreness that dominated films such as The Wolverine and The Dark Knight Rises makes this a welcome breath of fresh air.

Aaron Taylor Johnson and Chloe Grace Moretz are once more fantastic as the eponymous hero (Dave Lizewski) and Hit Girl (Mindy Macready) respectively.

Alas, student by day, viral Internet vigilante in a scuba suit by night, Dave seems to have learned little from the original movie; he still gets hit a lot by generic villains. 
Meanwhile, Hit Girl is still a whirling dervish of energy, and foul language. And like an arch criminal, steals the movie both as the lethal purple assassin and as the confused teen trying to adapt in a world of ’plastics’ at high school. 

Christopher Mintz Plasse attempts to bring a view fresh licks to his role as a villain, but once more comes across as just annoying and spoiled. Okay, that is the point, but I wish he'd shown a little more depth. 

Then there is Jim Carrey as the head of the vigilantes who slots into Nicolas Cage's role from film one as the patriarch character - a God-fearing, gun-hating, dog-wielding anti hero, who also takes an early bath half way through the movie.

I can understand Carrey's reluctance to promote the movie after the Sandy Hook massacre. At times Kick Ass 2 does seem to glorify violence, but this is comic book carnage, and the over-the-top tone is no different to the original film. 

For the most part, Kick Ass 2 is a lot of fun; violent, foul-mouthed, hedonistic fun reminiscent of Ben Stiller’s effort Mystery Men... with a lot more blood. 
Colourful, subversive and a little unhinged. 

In a film market dominated by superhero flicks, it's good to see Brit movies poking fun at the genre. 
It also proves you don't need to spend $100m to make a great superhero movie. 
At $28m, this was far more enjoyable than snoozefest Green Lantern, or Chris Nolan's impressive but overblown offerings The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel. 

Star-spotters should look out for reliable British supporting actors Stephen Mackintosh and (Alan Partridge's love interest) Monica Dolan as the costumed vigilantes ’Remembering Tommy’, a duo looking for their missing son, and Andy (Dead Set) Nyman as barely recognisable villain The Tumor. 

It's not perfect by any means. Some ropey special effects during a truck chase let the side down, but unlike some bigger budget comic book efforts which tend to follow the same formula of ’explain hero origins; villain executes deadly plan, face-off against boss monster’, this is mostly an engaging, adrenalised mix of Mean Girls and Watchmen. 

The plot sees Dave Lizewski/Kick-Ass join a team of fellow vigilantes called Justice Forever, while falling for sexy team member (with perfect abs) Night-Bitch (Lindy Booth). 
Meanwhile, at the behest of her guardian, Mindy Macready retires her Hit-Girl alter ego, and spoiled gangster's son Chris D'Amico becomes the world's first super-villain (this time sporting an Oedipal moniker instead of his original Red Mist).  

Seeking vengeance for the death of his dad, Chris recruits his own gang, including androgynous ’Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV mode’ antagonist Mother Russia (Olga Kurkulina). 

No super villain would be complete without an evil lair, in this case boasting a Damien Hirst-style shark in a tank, which forms the backdrop for the showdown. 

The first two acts are pretty engaging, but things tend to drag on too long, so by the third chunk you are ready to go way before the closing credits roll.

Kick Ass 3 is inevitable, and bound to centre on an adult Mindy and Dave. 
Not such a bad prospect. If those two don't eventually get together, there is no justice in the movies, comic book or otherwise. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Lone Ranger - The Review

By the time The Lone Ranger arrived on British screens, critics had practically written off this multi-million dollar Western.
The fact it cost so much money to make, and had not done incredible box office figures left many thinking this was the Western version of John Carter, a.k.a. a massive financial disaster.
However, the good news is TLR is a lot of fun - eventually.

The first act certainly isn't one of those feel good cinematic experiences.
Using The Princess Bride narrative technique (an old gentleman narrates his life story to a young listener), Ranger unfolds at a langorous pace.

Hammering the point home that this is the last of the Texas Rangers, we see how the eponymous hero gets to wear that mask, and ride that horse.
Naturally the buddy dynamic between TLR and sidekick Tonto forms the backbone of the movie.
Johnny Depp was the key figure instrumental in getting this film made, so little wonder he steals the show.

His Tonto is wonderfully enigmatic, but there is at least a reason for his eccentricity.
In fact there's a reason just about everyone does what they do in this film.
Sometimes we don't need to know everything about a character to be fascinated by them. Much of the mystique in a film like this stems from not knowing why the Injun sidekick has a dead bird on his head.

If there's a problem with the movie it's the fact the first two acts take ages generating a head of steam for the finale, like the locomotives which feature so heavily throughout.
Yes characters need to be established, and bad guys need to carry out disturbing acts so we root for the protagonist.

However, the sight of Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) eating the heart of a key character is one of those moments where I think (the aptly named) Gore Verbinski went too far.
Okay, so you don't actually see a knife entering flesh, or see Cavendish eat the heart, but I can only imagine the psychological trauma that might cause younger viewers.

Then again, such gross out moments are what makes kids talk about movies. I doubt anyone would have gone to see Alien if it weren't for the chest burster moment; the buzz at school in 1979 was better than any viral marketing campaign.

So yes, it may be a little dubious in the graphic department, but that said, The Lone Ranger is a lot of fun once it gets going.

The epic vistas of Monument Valley, favoured by John Ford in his classic Westerns, are a fantastic sight on the big screen.

And it's good to see subtle reference to Jodorowsky's classic cult Western El Topo, especially in a Disney film.

This is perhaps Gore's best film since the original Pirates of the Caribbean 10 years ago, and while Armie Hammer playing second fiddle to Depp is a nice touch, it didn't need such a long running time or the army of extras. A leaner story with half the cast would have been just as effective.

On the plus side, Luther's Ruth Wilson is a magnetic screen presence, even if her generic heroine is just another damsel in distress.
It's an old fashioned epic with some brave licks on a well worn genre. Just a shame it takes so long to tell a slender story.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Guardians of the Galaxy

What on Earth is Full Tilt?
Interesting turn of phrase. It's Marvel’s megabucks new fantasy adventure with Karen Gillan.

So, a bit like Dr Who then?
Not quite. She's bald.

Who else is in it?
Glenn Close, Zoe Saldana and apparently Vin Diesel’s voice.

Will it be any good?
Obviously too early to tell. Disney bosses are hoping it does Avengers-style box office numbers to make up for epic Lone Ranger misfire. They also hope it's nothing like John Carter. Another misfire.

Who's directing it?
James Gunn.

He directed fun, icky B movie Slither a few years ago and comic book inspired Super.

Is he any good?
If you like fun epic B movies.

So, Full Tilt. Interesting title.
We’ll be honest. It's not actually called that.

Really? What's the real title?
Guardians of the Galaxy.

Okay. So Marvel banked millions on a movie few have any interest in?
Yes and no.
The original Guardians of the Galaxy first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 back in January 1969.

So those are the characters we see in the movie?
Major Vance Astro, Martinex T'Naga, Captain Charlie-27, and Yondu Udonta?

No. This is based on a revamped version from a few years ago, though we imagine there will be the odd in joke for fans of the original.

So why make a film now?
Avengers proved that space fantasy puts bums on seats in the Marvel universe. And there's less expectation. If it fails, Marvel may blame a lack of audience recognition in the brand and press on with another safe Spider-Man movie after Amazing Spider-Man 2, before rebooting that again.

Will GoG be connected to Avengers?
Yes. Zoe Saldana's character is apparently related to Thanos.

That purple alien in the closing credits of Joss Whedon's movie that some of the fan boys and girls pretended they knew but didn't.

Why are exotic looking people running across the Millennium Bridge?
We guess its because they're on the run from bad guys.

Not because they're fans of that Harry Potter movie featuring the same bridge?
No. Though maybe they are. We don't know what they watch on their planet.

Will Galaxy chocolate feature in the movie?
We doubt it.

Will a clip be featured in one of those ’cookies’ I sit through the endless credits for.
Most definitely.

Possibly Thor: The Dark World or Captain America: Winter Soldier.

Is this the film with a Raccoon character in it?

Sounds a bit daft doesn't it?
Hey, it's a comic book movie. You know, for kids.

Yes, but even so. Is it aimed at five-year-olds?
No. Though we imagine they want to see it.

Can we expect a load more ’out there’ Marvel movies?
Possibly. Now that Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor and Cap have proved bankable commodities, Marvel are taking a few risks with lesser known material.

So things like classic comics Doctor Strange and a Silver Surfer movie?
We can but hope.

And a proper Fantastic Four film?
Hopefully. That's being rebooted now.

And Howard the Duck?
Don't hold your breath.

Who plays who?
Chris Pratt: Peter Quill/Star-Lord.
Zoe Saldana: Gamora, adopted daughter of Thanos.
Dave Bautista: Drax the Destroyer.
Lee Pace: Ronan the Accuser.
Michael Rooker: Yondu.
Karen Gillan: Nebula.
Djimon Hounsou:Korath.
Benicio del Toro: The Collector.
John C. Reilly: Rhomann Dey.
Glenn Close: Nova Prime.

Now I know all this, will The Big Bang Theory make lots of hip cross references?
Doubtful. Unless Guardians was a DC Comic.

Can I see a clip?
Sure, go here:


August 11, 2013, Millennium Bridge London.
If you liked the sight of Millennium Bridge under attack from Dementors, then watch and Marvel as lots of worried folks run across it for their 2014 blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy.
No sign of a bald Karen Gillan alas.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Could Pixar Remake The Jungle Book?

This month one of Disney's best loved animated features is released on Blu-ray.

Their beautifully crafted take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book has been a family favourite since the late 1960s.

Helmed by Wolfgang Reitherman, it featured vocal work by his son Bruce; the great Phil Harris as lovable sidekick Baloo, and a superb supporting cast, including George Sanders and Louis Prima.

It's hard to imagine a world in which foot-tappers the Bear Necessities, and I Want to Be Like You did not exist.
Feeling down? Pop those tracks on and you'll be better in no time.

I last saw TJB on the big screen 20 years ago, and despite the odd dated reference, it still seemed like that timeless classic I enjoyed as a kid.

Two years after that 1993 screening, the original Toy Story was released, the first computer-generated animated feature which ushered in a new era for movies.

These days every cartoon feature seems to be CG. The gimmick of seeing rounded, realistic animated figures on the big screen is now just commonplace, so more important than ever is capturing that dynamic which made the original Disney films so enjoyable.

So, would Disney/Pixar ever consider remaking The Jungle Book featuring the original voices?

Some might see it as sacrilege to even consider it, but Walt was always a pioneer, pushing the envelope to re-tell old tales for a new generation.

“Well every movie is absolutely unique,” explains Bruce Reitherman, aka the voice of Mowgli. “Pixar demonstrate there’s nothing about the computer that limits you from making tremendously entertaining and effective films using that computer medium.”

Naturally Bruce is still a huge fan of the human touch with ink, paint and brush, describing hand-drawn animation as “a unique and wonderful legacy of the 20th century”.

Since the Disney company was founded decades ago, it’s been on the cutting edge of technology.
The Black Hole (a flawed but personal favourite) and Tron pioneered CGI more than 30 years ago. They have either spawned a sequels or a pending revamp, so why not remake one of their best loved films for a new generation using the very tools Walt’s company helped promote?

It's hard to imagine a remake without the use of those original fantastic voices and songs, but in an age when computer-generated animation is so high spec, would they want to give it that high gloss sheen more associated with The Incredibles and Wreck-It Ralph?

I think the brain has a hard time going from flat animation to the rounded, computer-generated version; either one or the other, as The Simpsons proved years ago when a CG Homer entered a 3-D world. Though it was a fun experiment, some fans seemed to prefer the original cel animation.

Even if every shot was faithfully recreated in computers, would a CG version of The Jungle Book really manage to capture the classic original's spirit?

It’s a different genre and audience admittedly, but Gus van Sant's almost shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho in the 1990s was a damp squib, proving a copy of a classic loses something in translation.

The same could be true of cel to CGI animation.
Bruce, who also worked with his dad on assorted animated Winnie the Pooh films (he was the voice of Christopher Robin), has spent two decades making wildlife films for companies including the BBC.
He thinks Walt would have embraced CGI ’toons.

“That’s really the thing that drives the studio (Disney) forward and keeps them alive and fresh; making a similar kind of product that’s unique to the time it was made in and has this timeless quality.”

If a CGI Jungle Book were made, a generation with no expectations of the original would probably embrace it with open arms. After all, it's purists who grew up with the original movie that might have a problem, not the newcomers.

Bruce is on the money when he says, “The attitude of the Disney studio is keep pushing the thing forward; keep adopting the newest, greatest stuff.”

He’s well aware that the origins of Disney were in a time when feature animation did not exist: “You had to invent it, or at least perfect it to the point where people would watch it, so that pioneering spirit is something that still drives the studio and I’m happy for it,” he explains.

These days Bruce divides his time between conserving wild and agricultural land in Santa Barbara, California; offering advice as a wildlife biology consultant on various endangered species and bird surveys, and also does “a bit of architectural photography”.
However, for millions he will always be the voice of that ’man cub’ who taught us all about the Bear Necessities of entertainment, and life: great characters, a good story, and the occasional foot-tapping dance routine/musical number thrown in for good measure.

Today's filmmakers could do worse than take notes as they watch one of the last, best films Walt oversaw. It's a masterclass in entertainment, and personally i think it could only be enhanced by a Pixar revamp.

The Jungle Book is released on Blu-ray in the UK on August 5.