Film #73: Despicable Me (2010)

despicable-medirected by: Chris Renaud & Pierre Coffin
length: 95 minutes
language: English
watched on: 23 December 2012

I quickly realised on the plane that all the interesting movies were basically in the family section, and thus I ended up watching Despicable Me, a movie I’d missed when it came out in the cinemas a few years ago. It was alright; the expected fare from a kids’ movie, to be honest. Rather simplistic but with the odd joke thrown in for adults.

The central premise is that the main character Gru is in the villainous (and ridiculous) business of stealing landmarks, gets outdone by an upstart, and decides to try and steal the moon, with the help of some orphan girls (for some contrived reason that I’ve forgotten) who steal his heart. This works out into quite a sweet story and actually works alright in the end, as they realise that they quite like each other.

As a character, despite his “evil” intentions and being surrounded by stereotypically evil things, Gru doesn’t seem to be that bad a guy. He’s surrounded by countless minions, who are weird yellow aliens, and yet seems to know all of them personally by name, suggesting that he’s actually not a bad employer. But he was voiced by Steve Carell, who for some reason did a ridiculous Russian accent. In 2010? I thought we were past that. Or are we lampooning old habits now? I facepalmed a little bit when I realised his assistant had a London accent. Oh come on.

The girl characters are fun, if predictable, and I enjoyed how they all went to the funfair together and realised that they’re all quite alike. I didn’t like the portrayal of their orphanage, though. It was some kind of ridiculous, draconian institution headed by a caricature of Miss Trunchbull who locks girls in a tiny box at the slightest infraction. I just think that in real life orphanages probably aren’t as bad as that, and it’s a bit disrespectful to kids that do live in those environments to imply that they are.

Funnier than I expected, anyway.

Film #72: The Bourne Legacy (2012)

the_bourne_legacy_630director: Tony Gilroy
language: English
length: 135 minutes
watched on: 23 December 2012

This was the first movie I watched on the flight back to the UK in December. It’s in the Bourne series, but seeing as it doesn’t contain Jason Bourne, the title is very much a legacy title, no pun intended. The connection remains in a few mentions of characters, and the movie seems to take place concurrently with the most recent Bourne film.

It’s a cathartic action movie, taking us on a world tour with a resourceful main character who’s a top-secret assassin for the CIA, who are desperately trying to cover their tracks by getting rid of all their assassins, basically. They seem to keep control of their agents through drugs – some kind of virus that was never fully explained in the movie but was alluded to many times. When the main character doesn’t get his dose, he starts getting withdrawal symptoms, and he has to go, attractive lab technician under his arm, to the Philippines.

I quite enjoyed watching the movie, but it lasts for too long and because it’s ostensibly part of a series, it doesn’t quite stand alone and many of the plot points aren’t properly expounded upon. One thing that stood out to me as implausible was motorcycling up a set of stairs during a car chase, although that’s nitpicking, really. The ending was also very unsatisfying, but fits the mould of the other Bourne movies. So, I’m not sure whether to recommend it. There are better things to spend your time watching.

Film #71: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.director: Peter Jackson
language: English, Sindarin, Black Speech
length: 169 minutes (2 hours 49 minutes)
watched on: 18 December 2012

The Hobbit has always been one of my favourite books. I’m not so much of a fan of Lord of the Rings, if I’m honest, because Tolkien’s prose gets a bit thick after only a short while and it can be difficult to read, but The Hobbit was written for children, and I read it as a child and very much enjoyed it. So of course I had to go to see this movie.

I think perhaps the first thing to mention about the movie is that I’m terribly disappointed at the decision to split it into three. It’s an increasingly annoying trend recently – they also did it for Harry Potter and Twilight – and here I can’t seem to find a justification other than that they wanted to make another Lord of the Rings style trilogy out of the Hobbit. Peter Jackson made a kind of weak justification when he said that The Hobbit’s basic structure already contains multiple climaxes. OK, that sort of almost makes sense, but the advertised subtitle for the second movie is “The Desolation of Smaug”… and after that, what even is there? I think Bilbo’s journey home only encompasses at most two chapters.

But anyway, just about as bad is the decision to make the film 3 hours long. More than two hours just to get to Gollum’s scene (easily the best in the movie) is a bit much, to be honest. Jackson managed this by using the appendices from The Return of the King, so it’s all “canon” material, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useful or interesting to have it in the movie. One exception I might make to that would be the council in Rivendell where Galadriel and Saruman appear to warn Gandalf of what’s to come – for me this fit well with the movie, but the stuff involving the other wizard, Radagast, on the way to Rivendell, could easily have been excised, and the time spent in Hobbiton could easily have been cut in half without affecting the story.

I did think it was a good film in general, though, besides the unnecessary extra stuff. Other places where the narrative suffers are exactly the same places as where the narrative suffers in the book: for one thing, a huge surplus of dwarf characters, who mostly don’t get enough character development to justify their existence beyond being an inconvenience to Bilbo. For another, the mother of all dei ex machinis at the end of the film (the middle of the book) when the eagles come.

Good things in the movie include the goblins (the king was excellently animated, but surprised me with his eloquence), the orcs speaking lines of Black Speech, plus basically any scene that was lifted as-is straight out of the book, such as the troll scene.

Gollum was, as I mentioned, the best part, as we get to see some fine acting from Serkis – particularly the exact point at which Gollum realises his own mistake and suddenly is no longer master of his domain. Again, his scene was lifted straight from the book, so it flows much better than those parts that were added later by Tolkien in the appendices.

I think I want to recommend this movie, but with major caveats, of course. It’s not the movie I think it could have been, but I’m certainly glad it exists now.

Game #19: Shatter (2010)

standard_Shatter_04director: Andy Satterthwaite
length: ten “worlds” of about ten levels each
finished on: 25 Nov

I bought this game in a humble bundle a while back, but I only started playing it again this November after I got a table in my bedroom, and actually had the computer at an appropriate height for me to use it.

The game is at its heart a Breakout clone, but it has a couple of important differences, mainly that you can indirectly control the path of the ball while it’s flying via the “suck” and “pull” functions. Thus it usually takes less time to get that final brick on a level, and Shatter is a lot more fast-paced than a classic Breakout clone. It also has 3D graphics, giving it a different overall look, and later on, the bricks are not static.

This is reflected in its music, perhaps the best part of the game. It also has a very high tempo, and by using synthesized instruments, gives the game an old-time arcade feel.

Also adding to the arcade feel is the presence of limited lives, and the periodic boss fights which appear at the end of each “world”, which I thought were a great way to spice up a Breakout clone. Scores can rank into the millions quite easily.

In terms of Breakout clones, it’s very innovative in these ways and more – as well as the boss fights, which very obviously test the format’s limits, and the suck/pull function that I haven’t seen elsewhere, you aren’t constrained in your ability to use multiball (although I’m not very good at this) and you get plenty of powerups, including one where the game goes into bullet-time and your paddle shoots destructive shards across the screen (resulting in a quick death for more than one boss). In terms of Breakout clones, it’s just about the only one I’ve been able to enjoy, too, because classic Breakout gets boring for me very quickly. That plus the excellent soundtrack makes this a wholehearted recommendation.