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bob the moo

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Looks great and has lots of ideas but shows no interest in doing anything with them as it chases a plot that doesn't work, 28 July 2014

When a film is badly received, it is the norm that the critics tend to pile onto it, confident that they are not alone and knowing that they will not stand out as being wrong if everyone is kicking the film to bits – plus it is a lot more fun to write a scathing review than it is to write about an average film (which most films critics must see are). As a result of this I am always wary of a film that gets a total mauling in the press because usually there is an element of 'pile on' about it, and the truth may not be that bad. Of course I don't hunt such films out because there is an element of truth to it, but I will not let such reviews put me off if I get the chance.

I got the chance with Transcendence as it arrived on DVD and ended up seeing it. The first thing to say is that unsurprisingly the film looks great. The director may not have served as cinematographer on this film, but his influence is clear as we have lots of great shots including plenty of overdone ones. The second thing to note is that this is a topical film that is full of ideas and talking points – plenty of material that you could mull over late at night as to where things start and end, how far should we go down certain paths, what prices are worth paying, and how would AI really behave if it really existed. All of these things are interesting and all of them have to some point stimulated great sci-fi writing in other projects. Unfortunately in the case of Transcendence it doesn't seem to have any grasp of what it is trying to do or how to do it.

As a result of this the ideas get thrown at the viewer almost without care; ones that don't pan out are lost in the edit while other ones remain but are never actually allowed to be ideas – they remain only plot points. This reduces the value of the film because one never feels like it is thinking or encouraging the viewer to thing – instead we end up chasing a plot that starts out interesting but gradually makes less and less sense (even in its own internal logic). Ideas are replaced by more and more plot until none of it really matters or works; characters come and go; motivations and alliances change without a comment and things just happen because that is what is now happening – it really doesn't matter to the film if it makes sense or if you understand or not and, long before the end, the viewer doesn't care either.

In the lead Johnny Depp guarantees nobody will ever offer him work as one of those virtual video guides in museums. His performance is poor and he seems to be unsure of what he is doing. Hall does better, mainly because she has clearer emotional leads in the material, but also because she is the main actor in terms of screen time, so she has to do well. Bettany starts well but then gets lost in the plot while others barely show up, look bored or both – Murphy and Freeman both look like they are reluctantly doing a favor for someone while Hauser, Berkeley, Collins and others are all hardly used.

Transcendence looks too good and is too expensive to be a really awful film on the whole; but it is in no way a good one. The film starts with seemingly lots of relevance and ideas, but it never really gets into any of the points, preferring instead to chase a plot down a rabbit hole whether it makes sense or not. The result is a film that offers a lot but delivers nothing – even the beautiful visual presentation ends up feeling hollow and fake since it is hiding so little substance. According to IMDb, Transcendence was Pfister's first film as director, and Paglen's first credit as writer – it shows.

Noah (2014)
Fragments of a better film put as a whole but none of them able to sustain or lift the final product, 28 July 2014

I was very much on the sidelines but even I noticed some back and forwards over the film Noah. Some seemed furious that it was not in line with Biblical teaching while others seemed to take glee in the religious objections to the film; for me I don't really have a dog in that fight so the fuss did not interest me and the film didn't seem like something I wanted to pay £10 a seat to go and see. That said, I was curious to watch it because I found it hard to believe that Darren Aronofsky would churn out a blockbuster without something of interest in it.

The film wastes no time with adding flesh to the basic bones of the story and, if you're looking to get upset by the presence of fallen angel rock monsters, then the film serves them up to you right at the front. I guess if you came to see a bible story then this may upset you since the bible does not mention these creatures, but for me coming to a film, I really don't care what characters it creates or devices it uses as long as they work. From here we find Noah living with his family separate from men, tending to a nature that the others exploit – again an environmental message of stewardship that (oddly) upset those that proclaim the bible as the truth. As per the story, the message comes of the destruction of man and Noah along with his family and rock monsters, get to building an ark for the animals which will be saved to repopulate the world. It is quite the story and, if you are honest, were it not for the fact that it is lifted from the bible, it is a story that would pretty much get laughed out of any pitch meeting.

So it is to the film's credit that, although it is inherently senseless, it makes a decent fist of telling it. Given the resources available, it does this primarily by throwing effects and scale at the viewer. This works to a point and it is a pretty good looking film with some particularly memorable scenes. The main thing for me that offered interest was that the central character of Noah is essentially a religious extremist who is dooming a world of men to death because of something god told him. The film disappoint though because it doesn't do enough with this. It plays it straight and sets it up and there are points where you are not sure who is the "good guy" here since Tubal-cain is really just trying to survive death, likewise the obsession of Noah of ending man's time on Earth and only leaving animals. It doesn't work though because it doesn't go harder on this and instead of drawing us into the madness of his obsession and the terrible things he therefore stands by and watches, the film actually feels plodding and not entirely sure of itself throughout these aspects. On the other side of this, the film never throws itself into the "epic effects blockbuster" camp either and, while noisy and large, the action sequences don't really work either.

It doesn't feel like an Aronofsky film; it doesn't feel like there was much here to challenge or to be explored – or rather it does feel like there is, but the film doesn't go for it. The cast play it straight and professionally but not always to the film's benefit. Crowe in particular is a straight bat and even when he is acting in extreme ways, you feel like he maybe doesn't "get it" since earnestness is his consistent approach throughout. Connelly and Watson are both more expressive and I guess the idea was that their performances would be our way to experience the darker side of Noah's steadfastness. Winstone gives out a good series of gowls when called upon but again his weaknesses are more to do with the film not exploring his character and Noah better (to be fair though, I am so sick of his floating head on the TV encouraging me to gamble with mockney geezerisms that I wasn't keen to be stuck with him again here).

Noah is not an awful film mainly because it is basically lots of fragments of better films put together. So the spectacle is good at times but never goes for it, while the character piece is hinted at but not given over to in a way that really works. Everyone plays it down the middle of these and there is not too much of interest beyond the moment – which is a shame for a film so long and filled with such talent.

Hits the nail on the head in some ways but the sitcom format doesn't work well and too much is not fleshed out, 28 July 2014

I think it was the mid-90's when I first watched the film King of Comedy, and I remember being taken aback by how, some 10 years prior, the film seemed to have perfectly satirized the world of the celebrity and those famous for little else than seeking out fame regardless of their talent. Watching Nathan Barely for the first time, I have the same benefit of hindsight since it is almost a decade since this show screened on Channel 4 for the handful of people that actually watched it (and the even smaller group that stayed with it). I remember hearing about it at the time, but it seemed very London-specific with its characters and world and it didn't appeal to me.

Watching it now, too much of it is instantly recognizable as manifested in the world we currently call hipsters; a culture where some talent exists but too many are trend-following yaysayers about anything that is seen as cool. Also looking back, it is hardly surprising that it is so brutally harsh on these characters since the show was written by Charlie Brooker – one not known for holding back. And harsh it is as it portrays almost everyone as talentless and clueless but yet supremely confident or numbly stupefied to the whole thing – even those "normal" characters get no grace as they are shown up for their complacency and/or complicity in the whole thing. As an attack on a subculture it doesn't miss its target very often and it is depressing how so much of what it shows has gone on to become almost the norm (wanky art, cruel prank shows, obsessions with trends and being "in", slang terms).

Unfortunately for the show the frame in which this material is put is not as strong as it needed to be. As a sitcom, the series tries to have some structure and indeed we get narrative devices mostly from the characters of Dan and Claire, needing money and/or work and then around this basic structure other things happen. This isn't terrible but for sure it is not as strong as it needed to be for a weekly 6-part comedy and without a real structure or development, it is easy to think that the points it is making are not only the same ones it made at the start but also being made the same way.

The cast go with whatever is asked of them, even if sometimes it is pretty straightforward. Burns doesn't hold anything back and he is indeed a tremendous waste of space with his hollow insecure character and lack of consideration for others around him – he plays it very well throughout. Barratt is also very good as he is the straight man in the cast but at the same time he isn't allowed to just be on the outside. Keelan does what she can with a non-character; she herself is good but the character is not. The supporting cast is (with hindsight) quite incredible as it includes Whishaw, Fielding, Cumberbatch, Sosanya, Eldon and many other faces and names you'll know. Everyone does well with what they have to do, but as before, they are not always rewarding with something that is going somewhere.

It is a show that is worth a watch for what it does very well, but it does have weaknesses in the structure and lack of development and narrative, and these do rather leave the impression that it is doing the same thing in the same way for the duration of the season.

Season 1: Moments of greatness mixed with moments of puerile silliness; the style doesn't always suit the vehicle, 28 July 2014

For someone old enough to know the rallying cry of "what's on the end of the stick, Vic?" and to have loved the show from which it came, I do appreciate the humor of Vic & Bob and have enjoyed it in many formats down the years. With that in mine I must admit that House of Fools has some issues that they have not been able to overcome, even if generally they had enough of their comedy about the show to make it quite funny and worth watching for fans (although probably not anyone else).

The sitcom provides a frame for them to do their thing but, while this worked with a panel show, it feels a bit too restrictive in how it is structured – requiring a narrative flow that is not always easy to setup and serve. For sure I can understand why some would look at this sitcom and turn it off, because it is far from what one would normally expect – and not all of that distance is a good thing. The humor is roundly silly as well; the duo always walk a fine line with this – and they generally have succeeded in the past to stay the right side of the silly line, keeping it surreal rather than stupid for the sake of it but in House of Fools it perhaps is not as consistent as it could have been. One of the things dragging it to the wrong side of the line is that so much of it is really crude. Some of this works but too much of it is poorly done and does feel like grown men laughing at naughtiness like they were children. Conversely though some of it is great stuff and is wildly imaginative and well done – the issue is that the mix doesn't work so the good stuff doesn't totally draw you in since the rest pushes away.

The characters are a mix. Vic and Bob themselves are pretty funny, with both playing their roles well. Berry is always welcome even if he is doing his usual stuff. Robinson's Julie is reasonably good in terms of character, while in terms of performance she is up for whatever is asked of her. Skinner is the same and it is not his fault that Bosh feels like a poor man's Uncle Peter; meanwhile Simonsen's Erik is amusing enough even if his one joke doesn't get funnier with repetition in the way that some other jokes do.

You do need to be a fan to get into this show, but the success of Vic and Bob in the past shows they have plenty of those. For me it had many things about it that really worked well, but too often it went to the wrong side of absurd and ended up feeling silly for the sake of it – particularly the cruder material which is generally not particularly funny either. I read there will be a second season and I do hope it can take what works and reduce what does not.

Weaknesses in plotting are mostly reduced by the atmosphere and style of delivery and the three strong performances of the leads, 28 July 2014

Positive word of mouth and the impressive cast list drew to this film and, being honest, I knew nothing about it other than it had names I trusted to give performances in it and it was supposed to be okay; you may believe me or not, but I did not even know that the film revolved around a shooting that comes within the first few minutes (I tend to listen/read reviews only after I have seen a film if I can). This level of ignorance greatly helped my enjoyment of the film because, as others have said, one of the good things about it is that it twists and turns into places that you may not expect even if you know the basic pitch (forgive the pun).

The film has a very nice build to it and because of this it engages and pulls you along even if, being honest, a lot of the narrative devices don't work. I enjoyed it a lot while watching it but on reflection I was surprised by how many things about the plot didn't seem to be backed up with anything or make sense – coincidence or fortunate timing also seemed to be relied on far too often for my liking. It engages with how it moves forward, but there is a lot less substance and cohesion here than the positive critical reception would have you believe. But yet I still enjoyed it.

Part of the reason for this is that the plot not only moves forward but it does so with a very good sense of style. Okay it borrows heavily from John Carpenter and seems to have taken some confidence from the success of electro-scored Drive, but it works and the music, cinematography and sense of humidity all create a great atmosphere of tension and violence that serves it well. Having three very strong performances in the lead roles also helps. Hall is solid in the core of the film and he works well with a grizzled Shepard and a turn from Don Johnson that gets the mix of humor just right so it works but never detracts from the darker mood. Beyond these three the characters and performances are perhaps not as good (and look beyond male characters and you'll find even less here) but these three do a lot of good in the film.

It does rely on style and grit more than I would like, but it does it very effectively because the plot holes and convenient writing devices didn't really bother me while I was in the film. Afterwards though, even some thought starts to generate more questions than answers, and while the plot twists and turns are enjoyable and engaging, too few of them really ring true as I would have liked. The strong style, atmosphere and casting of the film all help to cover up for this to make it an enjoyably tough film, but it is not without its weaknesses.

S4: Lines up the subjects but does little to nothing with them in another in a series of disappointing seasons, 26 July 2014

Although it was not perfect, the first season of Boondocks came with a lot of bite and indeed won a Peabody award for one of its episodes. The second season didn't live up to that and the third season was a silly affair which showed no interest in being satirical and was practically just a sitcom without edge. I returned for the fourth season just out of curiosity – I have enjoyed the characters and the potential since the days when Okayplayer used to run the strips on their front page, so although I had low expectations, I still came to try it.

Although it is noticeably shorter than the other seasons, it must be said that the season does at least appear to offer satire and topical relevance. So in this shorter season we have subjects such as: the black hair industry; Chris Brown's inability to shock people out of liking him; celebrity culture; slavery; technology; drone strikes; political correctness, and shows that reference Breaking Bad and the film Her. None of this means that the season will be good because of these, but aside from one or two episodes, the majority are at least based on something that could be interesting or challenging. And in a way this makes this season more frustrating than the third, because with the latter you never felt the show was even interested in such things, but in this fourth season it does seem to know it should be built on issues but at the same it seems to have no clue how to do it.

The plots are roundly silly and lacking in substance; if such devices as a slavery theme park, male prostitution and other nonsense were used as a means to an end (that end being social comment or satire) then fine, but they are not. The Chris Brown episode is the only one that even gets close to this, and even this one is pretty basic. For the rest of the season the topics get nothing done with them of any note and I never really felt like anyone was trying to engage me, challenge me or make any sort of intelligent comment. Instead we get mostly Granddad-driven story lines, fight sequences and silliness; all of which would be fine if they were not the only thing on offer. I don't mind if the show goes away from its roots, but it needs to do something better if it does this – not replace satire with nothing of value.

The writing is therefore pretty poor but luckily only once or twice it is just simply in bad taste. This does occur in the final episode of the season, which starts out appearing to be a clever discussion about political correctness but, as with other episodes, ends up just being silly. In this episode however there are several jokes where a homosexual characters phrases sentences badly to suggest that he wants to have sex with Riley – it is a joke made several times and it is a very strange piece of innuendo. Having grown up on Carry On films, I'm not adverse to a bit of smutty word play, but doing so to equate homosexuality with paedophilia seemed a matter of poor judgment.

The animation remains of a high standard but outside of that this season was disappointing, and in a way more-so than the previous two disappointing seasons. By lining up many episodes with good subjects for satire and comment, the season teases us with the potential for it to return to its roots in the strips and in the first season, so it additionally stings when it doesn't do anything of the sort. Another poor season in a show which is now defined by them.

Fun due to awkward nervous energy even though it needed a bit more sharpness and punch in there, 24 July 2014

A young couple, Rob and Anna, have been together for a while and are trying out different things to spice up their sex life. When Anna's friend Holly comes around for dinner one evening, Anna is quick to offer condolences about recently being dumped by her boyfriend, only to find that Holly has been rebounding from this with sex with multiple partners. This news puts an idea into Anna's head – that Holly, Rob and her should have a friendly, no-strings-attached threesome.

With such a broad concept and a rather crude opening, I had assumed that the majority of the film would be rather obvious in its nature, so perhaps I enjoyed it more than it really merited simply because I enjoyed the fresh feel of the awkwardness throughout. The whole threesome thing was always going to be a disaster but in this short it is one that unfolds before anything happens as nervous excitement and flirty discussion gives way to the cold hard fact that this is going to happen and that the reality is not going to be chilled and fun as the idea. The build-up and the realism hitting are both nicely done but ultimately the comedy comes down to two moments of awkwardness, the first of which is really well done and supports the second. The film really needed some more on top of that though because, although it is a fun little short, it doesn't have enough sharpness and consistency in the writing; a few more good moments would have helped and, while the ending is nicely funny in its awkwardness, it isn't really as strong an ending as one would have liked.

Dinner with Holly is worth a look for its fun and awkward energy, but it is a few more good moments short of being something really good.

"Hunted" (2012)
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S1: At its best it is still a roundly average show with little to recommend – and it isn't at its best often enough, 20 July 2014

Within the first few minutes of this show we have established that our sexy lead female role has a spy love interest and is pregnant with his child although he doesn't know this yet. She arranges to meet to tell him this after a job, but she is betrayed and, presumably, killed. From this basic setup you could probably scribble down some things that you presume will come back later and you'd probably be right. Anyway, jump to one year later and our pouty spy Sam is still alive and training in the woods for her return. Despite working in a professional full of secrets, betrayal and death, her employers allow Sam to stroll back into the job on the basis that they cannot do without her (although have managed to do so for a year). No sooner has she easily got inside that organisation then she follows that up by getting inside the house of her client's target – the Turners.

From here the show tries to keep things moving with the usual story lines of moles, betrayal, sacrifice and so on, but it never really manages to sell any of it. The main problem is the writing since it always seems to take the line of least resistance and yet does so without conviction – I mean the plot twists and turns of 24 were hardly the most convincing, but that show threw itself into them and went for entertainment value. Hunted on the other hand seems unsure of what it is doing and ends up being some sort of awkward drama built on weak foundations. It isn't terrible by any means, it just feels so incredibly routine and lacking in spark; so unlikely plot developments abound (in particular the final episode, which is quite silly it how it resolves itself) but throughout there is so much that doesn't really do much more than fill time.

Dialogue is regularly clunky and our characters change to suit whatever the story needs them to be or do; my personal favourite is Sam's inability to learn that if you have a gun then you don't really need to push it directly into the chest of someone else because that introduces the risk of being disarmed – which happens several episodes in a row to her, because the writer needs it to. The performances don't have too much to play with and they reflect the material by hanging around in a murky world between serious drama and silly spy action – they all try for darkness but they are trying without much help. George pouts like her life depends on it but she has no character to work with and never rings true; she is a decent presence and does reasonable well considering, but not that well. Malahide enjoys himself with an obvious villain but Moore never works out who he is. The others do okay, although that is just what is asked of them, the only one that riled me was Akinnuoye-Agbaje who is a much better presence than material given him with the office-bound and slighty bored character with a family subplot that goes nowhere.

The first season ends with the potential for the show to continue but aside from the narrative allowing this, there is little else that would justify this. The material was no good and felt like it was always a case of "good enough"; the performances suffered because of this and the whole thing seems unconvincing and with shoddy writing throughout. As a background distraction maybe it has its merits but otherwise it was roundly average with almost nothing to really recommend it for.

Season 3: On very good deconstructing form throughout, 20 July 2014

I think we make it a few seconds into the third season of this show when Stewart Lee first breaks out of his routine (it seems) and starts to deconstruct his show, himself and his audience. Specifically it is a section in Lee Mack's book that does it, but it really doesn't matter what is the first because it is a style that Lee fans will know is the norm and one that he can do very well. Other examples of course include the frequent framing scenes where he appears to be in some sort of therapy with Chris Morris where they break down him as a comedian.

There is a lot of this type of stuff but, although some will accuse him of being arch or smug, I thought it worked very well with material with more of a structure and theme, to provide a frame that holds the shows together but also makes the internal analysis stuff work better for it. With these aspects working together I found the season consistently satisfying; I won't pretend that everything landed as well as everything else, but generally the shows were very funny and built on good topics, with some being out and out comment (Paul Nuttal of UKIP) while others are more abstract as standup (a phone conversation regarding businesses names to be connected to the places they operate – it works much better than I just made it sound. The writing is very strong here and even when him lingering on a bit is part of the joke, it never feels like he spent too long on anything.

It also helps that Lee is a very good actor; maybe it is genuine but even if there is an element of truth to it, he still does a great job of delivering reflection, anger, disgust and sadness – all of which makes the material funnier because it adds to his approach of deconstructing things as he goes rather than doing straight jokes. He may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I am not sure why, since this third season is a very strong example of how good he can be and how well his specific approach can work – there is a lot of intelligence and laughs in what he does here and it is a season well worth seeing in a series that is a great example of how good Lee is.

LGFUAD (2010)
Pushes the contrast too far and seems to deliberately challenge the audience, but still works due to the good base of the bored teen, 20 July 2014

A bored teenager in her room is, like, hanging out and eating pizza and talks about how great it would be to be a ghost and just hang out and be wild all the time, while also describing some things her and her friends get up to at the minute.

There is a nice base of the familiar here; no matter where you are in the world probably American films and TV have introduced you to the teenager "and I was all like 'no way', but Katy was like 'yeah' and then we did this and that etc" – it is a caricature that I am sure is based in truth and also speaks to the rather bored suburban teenager. This is useful here because this is where we're constantly anchored no matter where the short film itself goes. This sense of boredom becomes one of being jaded and unimpressed by anything and it again speaks to a generation a lot more exposed to things and aware of things that perhaps I was at that age – but yet also bored by much of it and a little jaded.

The film seems to deliberately push this, giving the viewer lots of things to be annoyed by in terms of the excess of the content, the detail of sexual activity and so on; I personally thought it overdid it and I assume the goal was to starkly contrast with the teenager narrating. The animation is good though, lots of clever touches and startling images but yet presented in an accessible and vibrant way. It has a real energy to it in some regards but yet the narration keeps us rooted in just how unremarkable it all is. The contrast is overdone and I think the film at times seems to be deliberately winding up the viewer with extremes of content, but at its core it does work and engaged in the juxtaposition.


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