Showing posts from March, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon reviewed

Loosely based on the children’s book by Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon is the new animated film from DreamWorks Animation, the only studio that has continually given Disney-Pixar a run for their money in terms of producing popular, critically acclaimed CGI-entertainment for the whole family.

DreamWorks films however, tend to be known more for their frenetic energy, pop culture references and overstuffed voice casts as opposed to prioritising appealing, identifiable characters, and crafting a memorable, strong story. These are areas where Pixar excels. I’m pleased to report though that How to Train Your Dragon, like DreamWorks’ 2008 release, Kung Fu Panda, is an animated film more in line with the Pixar tradition.

Wackiness is almost completely absent in How to Train Your Dragon, which is a sincere, surprisingly serious tale about a wimpy young loner called Hiccup (voiced by Tropic Thunder and Fanboys’ Jay Baruchel) who is tired of being shunned by his village of dragon-slayin…

Trailer Tuesday: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

If the trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World isn't the hyper-geekiest, Generation-Y, "WTF?!" thing I've ever seen, I don't know what is. It starts off like a thousand other hipster indie romantic comedies before veering into full blown comic book, anime and video game stylisation. I can honestly say that if you hate any of those 3 entertainment mediums, you should stay far, far away from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World because you will just not understand or appreciate it.

For the record, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on a cult, cartoony-looking comic book series by Bryan Lee O'Malley (which I'm sad to say I haven't read). Like the comic, the film follows the exact same storyline: charming 23 year old slacker and bass guitarist Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), who has had some relationship trouble in the past, finally meets the girl of his dreams, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The only problem is that if Scott wants to be with Ramona, he …

Movies, movies and more movies

I can't say it was an unproductive weekend. Although saucy fantasy fiction writing unfortunately took a backseat, I got some blogging done, as well as some work on my continuing big freelance job and even got the latest Girlz 'N' Games comic sketched, inked and coloured - just in time for online debut later this week.

In terms of pop culture though, this past week was all about film. In fact, in 6 days I made 3 trips to the cinema. Along with the movies on the big screen though I also watched 2 DVDs.

Doomsday is in essence a post-apocalyptic action movie. However, it is also one of the most bizarre genre mash-ups you will ever experience. This British film (starring Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell) starts off like 28 Weeks Later, then becomes Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome before transforming into, I dunno, Excalibur, before a little more Mad Max - this time The Road Warrior. Doomsday is also the most gory movie I have seen since Wrong Turn 2 Unrated, and that'…

How to Train your Hurt Locker... Movies released today, SA!

Six new films open in South Africa today. One of these is the Academy Award-nominated Leo Tolstoy biopic The Last Station (70% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). Another two are B-grade, borderline straight-to-DVD action thrillers - Armored (43% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and The Tournament (unreviewed).

That then leaves my top 2 movie picks for the weekend.

1) How to Train Your Dragon: There's no doubt that this CGI-animated family from DreamWorks Animation is going to be the big hit at the South African (and American) box office this weekend. It's releasing just as local schools close for the Easter break after all.

How to Train Your Dragon, however, is not just any mediocre animated film benefiting from excellent release timing. The film, loosely based on the children's book of the same name by Cressida Cowell, is currently sitting with a stunning 94% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I've blogged before about How to Train Your Dragon, which centres on Hiccup, the son of a viking…

Shutter Island reviewed

Shutter Island is the new period-set psychological thriller from celebrated filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The film is something of a departure for the director, who is typically associated with gritty, contemporary crime dramas; not a genre that is considered to be quite lowbrow and popularist, stuffed as it is with straight-to-DVD entries. In all honesty, Scorses’s distinctive cinematic touches seem to be absent from Shutter Island, which definitely feels like his most commercial film since 1991’s Cape Fear. However, as a recent example of an auteur experimenting with genre conventions, Shutter Island is more gratifying than Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which, although different in what it is attempting, is similarly hit-and-miss.

Based on the bestselling novel by Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island is set in 1954 and centres on a highly agitated US marshall, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio), who, along with his reticent new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), is summoned to a unique m…

Pop culture catch-up

Right, it turns out that I actually haven't done one of these pop culture consumption posts in a few weeks now. This Monday was a public holiday in South Africa so I was taking a much-needed break from work and blogging (in case you were wondering where I was), and the weekend before, my usual Sunday evening writing time was taken up by a Kelly Clarkson concert.


Anyway, it turns that I owe you guys a number of film reviews. Apart from still having to write my review for The Road, in the past few weeks I've also seen vampire sci-fi flick Daybreakers and Leonardo DiCaprio-Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island. Full length reviews will of course be appearing here soon, but both films don't quite fully capitalise on their potential. Daybreakers is easily one of the best vampire movies made in recent years, but it seems to get emotionally distilled by trying to be too much for too many people. Shutter Island, meanwhile, seems to meander for a good portion of …

Trailer Tuesday: Tron Legacy

There are very few fantasy/sci-fi films from the Eighties that I haven't seen. Embarrassingly though, one of the movies that always managed to slip under my radar, and which has maintained one of the fondest fan followings over the years, is the highly geek-chic Tron.

Released in 1982, Tron centred on a computer programmer and video game developer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who, while working at software company ENCOM, has his ideas stolen by a fellow employee, and ends up running an arcade after being fired. In attempting to rectify this injustice, Flynn discovers a far more disturbing truth - namely that the computer system at ENCOM, called the Master Control Program (MCP), has become self-aware and has intentions of seizing military and government networks to optimize their efficiency. Zapped by a laser, Flynn ends up inside the computer mainframe, in a stylish neon-lit digital world, where programmes resemble their human creators. Flynn is then faced with the challenge of fight…

Movies released today, South Africa

It's a bit of a dud weekend at local cinemas, considering it's a 3-day weekend. There are only 3 new releases and none have really piqued my interest.

My pick of the week therefore is the only new movie I would even consider paying to see at the cinema, and that's The Blind Side. The only thing remotely interesting about this crowd pleasing sports/family drama is that it won Sandra Bullock a best Actress Academy Award just a few weeks ago. Otherwise, the film looks like pleasant, if utterly conventional, stuff.

Based on a true story, The Blind Story centres on homeless black teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) who is taken in by a wealthy white suburban family, headed by feisty matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock). With the Tuohys' love and support, Michael - an athletically gifted gentle giant - finds his self-worth and becomes a much sought after football player.

The Blind Side is 70% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, having been elevated to such a high rating by near univer…

Kelly Clarkson – All I Ever Wanted World Tour (Durban concert review)

I’m not an Idols fan. Whether it’s the local version or delayed screenings of the American import, I’m just tired of the concept. I don’t even get a kick anymore out of the first round of auditions, where the usual manipulative sob stories are counterbalanced by laughably appalling singers who are either curiously ignorant of their complete lack of talent, or, more likely (in South Africa at least) there just to mess around.

(Above: SA Idols winner Jason Hartman in easy-listening rock action as the intro act to Kelly Clarkson during the South African leg of her world tour. I admit I only knew 1 of Hartman's songs...)

Then there’s the fact that so many Idols just seem to have vanished into obscurity after releasing one piece of utterly superficial (or skanky) bubblegum pop, in keeping with the terms of their contract. Those winners who have gone on to thrive have wrestled for creative control, veering away from the safe and label-controlled, to write their own music and sing in a sty…

Girlz 'N' Games webcomic #63: Alice in D&D Land

This Girlz 'N' Games comic was mostly born from my desire to do some drawing based on Tim Burton's just released Alice in Wonderland film (my movie review here). However the strip did ultimately end up having a geeky focus, even if this time the gaming being discussed is tabletop pen-and-paper role-playing as opposed to good old electronic video games.

Speaking of video games, initially I had sat trying to apply the World of WarCraft template to the Alice film world - just as I had done with my recent Avatar centred strip. However, apart from Alice changing her reputation to acquire an impressive ground mount (the Bandersnatch) and getting her hands on an Legendary weapon (the Vorpal Sword), the 2 fantasy universes just didn't match up comfortably.

However, I then began pondering the Alice movie and the filmmakers' strange decision to rename Wonderland "Underland." It took only a little tweaking of that name to arrive at D&D Land, referencing the Big D…

Trailer Tuesday: The Crazies

I'm a sucker for horror films where ordinary law abiding citizens transform into unstoppable monsters, forcing their former friends and loved ones to dispatch them in all sorts of creative, bloody ways. Hell, I even sat through the disappointing 30 Days of Night hoping for some seat-squirming thrills. So count me very excited about The Crazies.

Looking like a juicy mix of Outbreak and 28 Days Later, The Crazies centres on the pleasant little Middle America town of Ogden Marsh. It's a picture perfect place to live... until a man brings a loaded shotgun to a children's baseball game, and, a short while later, a well-liked family man burns his wife and son to death in their home. Soon it becomes apparent that something is turning the inhabitants of Ogden Marsh into deranged killers. The military quarantines the town, and the sheriff (Timothy Olyphant), his pregnant wife (Radha Mitchell), a medical centre worker (Danielle Panabaker), and the sheriff's deputy (Joe Anderson) …

The Princess and the Frog reviewed

The usual blogging schedule is going to be a bit topsy-turvy this week. My weekend report-back, or, rather, the review of a Kelly Clarkson concert I attended last night (until late) will only be up in the second half of this week. Today, in its place then, is a film review I’ve been meaning to write for ages.

Traditional hand-drawn animation at the movies has, for all intents and purposes, been dead for the past 6 or so years. While CGI-animated films grew massively in popularity in the 15 years since Toy Story’s 1995 release, their old school cousins seem to fade, both in terms of critical acclaim and box office takings. The Western public turned their back on a storytelling medium that felt stale, and pretty soon the Hollywood studios with animation departments were announcing that they would only be making computer animated movies in future.

However, while every studio can make a CGI-animated film, and each has enjoyed some variable degree of success, Walt Disney remains thee name in…

Movies released today, South Africa

Something like 7 new films open in South Africa today, including the new Robert "Twilight" Pattinson romantic drama Remember Me, which is 50% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. My picks for the weekend, however, are the following:

1) Shutter Island - My must-see of the weekend is this twisty psychological thriller, which comes from director supremo Martin Scorsese of all people, and reteams him for the 4th time in a row (following Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed) with leading man Leonardo DiCaprio.

I've blogged before about Shutter Island (and you can watch the trailer there), but basically what you need to know is that the film is based on the bestselling novel by Dennis Lehane, and centres on 2 US Marshalls in the 1950s who are summoned to remote island mental asylum for the criminally insane. One of the patients (Emily Mortimer) has vanished from her locked cell, and as Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) starts investigating, he finds himself entangled in a bizarre mystery th…

Road to Jordan: Part 3 – Shopping & scoffing

Well, I should have been writing about the Aswan portion of our On the Go tour by now, but Part 2 ended up being so long – and no doubt difficult to digest – that I decided to save a few miscellaneous, but important, comments about touring Egypt for another blog entry.

This blog entry.


Shopping is one of the hardest things in Egypt. I’m not talking about going into a little supermarket to buy some water and a packet of chips. That’s as simple and straightforward as it is at home. However, when it’s time to do some of the typical tourist shopping for assorted knick knacks and memorabilia, that’s where the problems arise. You see, Egypt is a haggling society. If an item doesn’t have a price sticker, its price isn’t fixed. It’s up for negotiation. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, or you don’t know a reasonable price for items, you’re likely to be ripped off… badly.

Let’s pause for a moment, and briefly consider a typical tourist-store owner exchange (after the initial cliché…