This Week at the Movies, Yawn…

Okay.You can call me old, jaded, and down-right hard to impress, but… Looking at the selection of movies that IMDb is offering up on their homepage is pretty depressing.

Not to mention unimpressive.

First on the list of “Wait till you see this” is A Good Day to Die Hard. Now I will stand right up and say that, “Yes, I am a Bruce Willis fan-boy.” Since I first saw the guy in Moonlighting back in the day, I’ve been a devout fan. Hell, I even liked Hudson Hawk!

But Die Hard 5??

Come on!

Okay, it looks like we get to see the ever delectable, not to mention talented, Mary Elizabeth Winstead again as she reprises her role as John McClane‘s daughter. But seriously? What the hell is going on?

Is this Hollywoods answer to allegations of plagiarizing superior foreign films into homogenized and pasteurized remakes? It’s like the studios are saying, “See? We can do original films!”

Sorry guys, but another addition of an existing franchise aka sequel spawning series, is not original.  And can someone explain why “American as apple pie and three times as hard” John McClane is having to fight in Russia? Is it now in poor taste for him to fight terrorists in the USA? Or have we run out of cities that the great movie watching public care about?

Die Hard 4 aka Die Harder was the first time we got to see John as a father and ex-husband and (gasp) old guy. The film spent far too much time on the younger members of the cast and the “joke” of the “old guy” showing the youngsters how it was done pretty much got old after McClane took out the helicopter with a car.

I think we can assume (and yes, I know that makes an ass of u and me) that this latest version of McClane and family will be more of the same. My reaction? YAWN.

The second film being touted on page one is Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr’s latest offering as Tony Stark. The trailer looks interesting, but…was it all that long ago that we had Iron Man 2?  We won’t even mention Tony Stark’s appearance in Avengers Assemble. It’s another case of “let’s make more money while the audiences are still fresh from being impressed by the Avengers movie.

Okay, not quite as irritating as Die Hard 5, but it’s damn close.

Last on my list of yawn inducing movies is Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters. And yes, I know it’s not on the home page of IMDb but I had to list it. I had to!

I could easily waste about a thousand words on the myriad of things wrong with this film. But I won’t. what I will do is ask that you watch the trailer and see if you have the same reaction to it that I did.

Now I won’t mention the fact that this is supposedly taking place in The Brother’s Grimm country (which was another so-so film about “real” fairy tales and the destruction of them) and that the two main protagonists are both speaking in broad American accents (one naturally and one, not so naturally) and that the weapons they use don’t fit into the fairy tale time period.

I won’t even mention that this is yet another variation of the “bad-ass” good guy wasting a villain with the obligatory wisecrack by said good guy or his companion.

What I will say, is that the film seems to have been aimed for the young teen market. Yet, the trailer is recommended for mature audiences. What the fudge?

I might find all the over-the-top blood and gore and the other CG created effects entertaining if I were about 12 years old, 13 at a stretch. But now? Uh, that would be a no.

I like movies that are escapist in nature. I always have. But come on guys, let’s try a little harder next time.

All right?

War of the Dead (2007) (2008) (2011)

This American, Italian, and Lithuanian film almost didn’t make it to the public. Made in 2007, edited in 2008 and “dead-in-the-water” until 2011 due to financial difficulties, it’s a shame that with such a checkered past the film isn’t very good.

If you look at the timing of the film, it’s obvious that the producers were getting on the haunted/zombie/war train that had been started in  2001 (The Bunker), 2002 (Deathwatch), 2004 (R-Point), et al. Unfortunately because of delays and the above mentioned financial difficulties they missed the train completely.

Granted there doesn’t seem to be a “use-by” date for zombie films so they have, in a sense, caught the caboose of that particular train. They just didn’t do very well.

With a cast comprised of actors taken from BBC and ITV sitcoms, cop shows and sundry drama pieces all doing their best American accents and filled in with a Finnish strongman (Jouko Ahola)  and a Lithuanian heart throb (Mikko Leppilampi), the film doesn’t do anyone any favours and probably would have been better off if money had never been available for its distribution.

Admittedly I recognised the two main English actors, Andrew Tiernan who looked like he needed to attend a few weight watchers sessions, and Mark Wingett who I have always been a fan of (ever since I watched him portray D C Jim Carver on ITV’s The Bill). The film could have done with more Wingett and less Tiernan. Tiernan also seemed to be of the opinion that in order to sound convincingly American he had to liberally sprinkle his lines with G**damn’s and M*****f****rs. Expletives aside, his accent wavered from New York to New Jersey to just plain bad.

English actor Mark Wingett

Mikko Leppilampi who was the only actor who actually looked like he belonged in WWII is a real workhorse of an actor. He seems to have been working in Lithuanian films steadily since 2003. He has the sort of matinée idol looks that, I predict, will ensure he stays permanently employed in the industry. I think Hollywood needs to snap this fella up quick.

You may have noticed that I have not written one word about plot. That’s because there isn’t really a definitive plot.

 The film opens with a series of shots dealing with men walking through a tunnel. They are mown down by machine gun wielding Nazi’s. One soldier survives and is dragged kicking and screaming into a room with a huge stainless steel table. He is operated on and before you can say the Zed word he becomes a zombie.

The next thing you see is a screen full of text stating that a special American Elite Force helped the Finnish army in a highly specialized mission. The test is left up on the screen long enough for you to reach for the DVD’s remote, because you think the film has frozen.

We are then thrust into the film.

I am being a little unfair about the subject of plot, I know. But the film is one of those where the sound effects, the music and the dialogue have all been mixed by someone on drugs or with such good hearing that they could hear the actors mumble their lines over the too loud effects and mood music.

I will put hand on heart and admit that I have not watched the entire film. I had to stop when it got two-thirds of the way through. By that time most of the extra’s that comprised the Finnish and American soldiers were dead and Wingetts character was long gone.  The winner of the Strongman contest had been turned into a zombie and the direction of the film was going downhill faster than a go-cart on speed.

The only two redeeming factors of this film was the presence of English actor Mark Wingett and  Lithuanian actor Mikko Leppilampi. Wingett because he is a good actor and Mikko because he shows that he can do a lot more than MC the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eurovision Song Contest 2007 Presenter Mikko L...
Eurovision Song Contest 2007 Presenter Mikko Leppilampi at the semifinals on May 10, 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chernobyl Diaries (2012): Het (‘Nyet’) Спасибо (‘spah-see-bah’)

Written by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) who also adapted the story for the screen with Carey and Shane Van Dyke (sons of Dick Van Dyke) and directed by Bradley Parker (better known for visual effects) Chernobyl Diaries started off with signs of a promisingly good film.

Unfortunately this promise soon vanished when the film turned into a vapid repeat of the flavour of the moment, i.e. zombies or at the very least zombie-like creatures.

Following the theme of Urban Exploration aka Extreme Tourism, a group of twenty-somethings all get together for a slightly “less-than-legal” tour of Pripyat, the specially constructed town that was built for the Ukrainian workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant. In 1986 every man, woman and child was evacuated from Pripyat when one of the reactors at Chernobyl exploded.

The plot is as follows: A group of young adults, Chris (Jesse McCartney), his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley), and their mutual friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), are traveling across Europe. They stop in Kiev, Ukraine, to visit Chris’s brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), before heading on to Moscow where Chris intends to propose to Natalie. [courtesy of Wikipedia]

Paul talks Chris, Natalie and Amanda into going on a tour of Pripyat. Chris has some serious misgivings about this but he is outvoted by girlfriend Natalie and Amanda.

All four of them meet up with tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko) and they are joined by a Nordic girl and her Australian boyfriend. Uri has done the tour many times and he assures the holiday makers that it will be safe and that the radiation levels are acceptable. He also tells them that the maximum amount of time they will spend there will be two hours.

When the group arrive at the guarded entrance to Pripyat, the guards tell Uri that he cannot take his group in as there is some sort of maintenance going on and it isn’t safe. Paul is upset as he has pre-paid and Uri assures him that he knows of another way in and that the tour will proceed.

Taking the “back door” into the deserted city, the group eventually arrive and proceed with the tour. They are getting their money’s  worth until they find that their touring van has been damaged and they cannot get out. Uri goes to investigate, with Chris hot on his heels.

Paul chases after the both of them. Uri is taken by a something, Chris is horribly injured and Paul is freaked out. Thus begins the spiral down into mediocrity that is Chernobyl Diaries.

The best character in the film is Uri. Unfortunately he is not in the film long enough to save it. But as he is written and acted you can see the unease that he has with what he is doing. He fears and respects the off-limits area and he feels for the people who were caught up in the 1986 disaster.

At one point he even has tears in his eyes as he surveys the ruin that the city has become.

Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko)

Unfortunately Uri is the only character that is not a cardboard cut-out. The American group are all two dimensional and vapid. The Norwegian and Australian are very similar and none of them elicit any feelings of compassion by the viewer. Well at least not the two viewers who watched the film on Blu-ray last night.

What could have been a great film dealing with the issues of radiation poisoning and mutated animals and getting stranded in such a sad and desolate place and having to escape packs of wild starving dogs was instead turned into a “run-of-the-mill” creature feature.

The obligatory zombie like creatures were trotted out and used to “nom-nom” on the remaining tourists and nibble their numbers slowly down. Even after the final two survivors are “saved” (and oh boy, we didn’t see that coming did we *cue sarcasm*) their final moments are again clichéd and cheapened.

Following the formula of “stranger in a strange land” that is so popular when dealing with Slavic countries, Diaries overlooks the seriousness of the Chernobyl disaster and the after effects that the Ukraine suffered (not to mention how the catastrophe affected the rest of the  world).

The film does look good though. Filming in Serbia and Hungary and using a deserted Russian Air Force Base as their filming locations, apart from the occasional gaffe, seems to have worked very well.

What is interesting to note is that “legal” tours are actually allowed into the city of Pripyat.  Your tour guide will be a Ukrainian minister of government and it will set you back about $150 or £100 pounds.  Although, unlike the city’s appearance as depicted in the film, you will find inhabitants and workers still living there. Granted, not a lot, but there nonetheless. The radiation levels have lowered sufficiently for official tours to take place.

Perhaps if Oren Peli had gotten the green light for his film a decade earlier it would not only have been a “trendsetter” but it would have paved the way for Extreme Tourism.

My final verdict is this, watch it for Uri’s character and then turn the film off after Uri disappears. Or better yet, just wait for it to come on television.

Thirty Thousand Plus…Thanks WordPress!

WordPress
WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

I have said before that I’d started this blogging lark back in 2010 but did not really start blogging until 2011 in November. I moved over to WordPress at the very tail end of  May this year.

Since then my views have grown and grown. Today I’ve gone over the 30,000 view mark and I’m very pleased and excited. My follower count has also steadily grown since I moved to WP.

I now have over 132 (I don’t count the Publicize ones) as well as the few faithful over on Tumblr (20) and a very stubborn 7 who haven’t moved from Blogger when I left. (I suppose I should close the Blogger account, but I just can’t bring myself to do it)

Yesterday I had noticed that my “all-time views” number was rapidly approaching the 30,000 mark, but only in passing and it certainly did not fall in the category of getting noticed properly. To be brutally honest I don’t pay a lot of attention to how may views any particular post pulls in.

I stopped looking after I’d just joined WordPress and a review I’d done on Stake Land shot up to over a thousand views in one day. I have never figured out why or how. I do know that just after the  Stake Land review my figures dropped back to below what I deemed as normal.

What the above incident did was remind me of why I blogged. My goal was not to set the world on fire. I was not aiming for the stratosphere in my search for followers or views. I did not for one moment think I was going to be “discovered” via the internet and get offered a job writing professionally. (Although, wouldn’t that be a kick??)

No I blogged (and still do) because I wanted to get back into the habit of trying to write everyday. Something that real writers and not just wanna be writers already do. I also blogged because I wanted to put my “two penneth worth” out there, whether anyone else read it or not, I wanted it in black and white and available to be read.

My primary love in life is the written word, with movies  so close on written words heels that it stopped being a race long ago. I love acting (and would kill to get a chance to do it again) and all aspects of filmmaking. I do blog about these things, of course I do.

But…I also write about what I’ve just read or seen in the world of news. I have been writing down the funnier aspects of my life (saving some of the funnier and more poignant times for a book) and I write about things that irritate or provoke me.

Lately I’ve been writing about my health and my brush with the grim reaper not realising that the brush could have been a “one time good deal.”

Since I’ve been with WordPress I’ve been Freshly Pressed Urban Exploration: Off Limits Curiosity can Kill and I’ve met a whole slew of folks that are friendly, erudite, funny and kind. I’ve also met folks who love movies as much as I do and who also seem to have a lifetime love affair with the written word.

Look at that.

I’ve wandered off topic.

Sorry!

What I meant to say with this post was a simple, “Thanks.” 

Thank you to all the great folks who have taken the time to stop by and have a “look” and those who stayed that little bit longer to “like” a post or to comment.

To the folks to stayed even longer to “follow” I bow my head in humility and say, “I am not worthy, but one day, if I keep trying, I hope to be.”

The Other Boot Dropped…

English: A roper boot style cowboy boot. Note ...
English: A roper boot style cowboy boot. Note the square, short heel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I go to my “follow-on” appointment with the surgeon who saved my life. After a little small talk about how I was feeling and about how rude my works doctors were being, he cut to the chase.

He informed me that the operation I’d gone through was a bit more dramatic than I had initially thought. I think the figures he bandied about were 5 out of 6 folks don’t survive it, dying about 5 to 7 days after receiving it. The tear which had been made by the other surgeon to open up my slammed shut arteries was going to be a lifelong problem.

I was lucky, he said, the tear was “man-made” versus congenital (in other words being born with it) but, and it was a big but, it would need to be closely monitored for the rest of my life. The other “bombshell” was that I probably would not be able to continue in my current occupation.

The “fitness test from Hell” aka the bleep test would be too taxing in all probability but not deadly. The Control and Restraint (C&R) part of my job was out of the question, unless of course I didn’t mind dying while in the middle of restraining a prisoner.

All very sobering stuff.

I have said in other posts that I was still waiting for the other shoe (in my case cowboy boot) to fall. I have not had that sudden realization that I had come so close to death and that the effects of my surgery were going to be a lifelong monitoring process to see if I needed more surgery.

Oh, and on the issue of more surgery, only two hospitals in all of England do it. London or Papworth both could perform surgery to repair the tear, however, there’s a 20% chance of dying and a further 20% of becoming paralyzed. The good news is I don’t require it right now.

The bad news is that if the tear gets any bigger, I’ll need the surgery. It may be fine, but, if my blood pressure goes up (like it does during a C&R incident) I could have another, more fatal, heart attack and or it could cause the tear to get bigger. Of course the bigger the tear, the more likely the “iffy” surgery.

I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that the other boot just dropped.

I’ve been walking around and laughingly referring to the fact that I came “Awfully close to meeting the big guy” and that I was lucky that I didn’t have to.

I knew that it had been a close thing on the 30th of August. Two surgeries in one night, the last one an emergency one, counted as close in my book. My daughter said that they had explained to her just how close it was and I assumed I knew also.

A surgery clinic in Greenwich, London.
A surgery clinic in Greenwich, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not true. Like most other things in life, I had a “Mike” understanding of the facts. I’d heard “close” and “emergency surgery” and that it had been “touch and go for a while” and I’d put two and two together and come up with 4 and a half.

I will say that I was only marginally surprised at how close it really was. But I will admit to being stunned at the news that I’d have to keep this tear monitored for the rest of my life and that my current job could cause it to become fatal.

So the other boot has dropped with a thud and the plans I’d sort of been making have all been tossed out like so much used dishwater. My initial game plan of getting better and easing myself back into the old grind has been scrapped.

I know I have been thinking (very peripherally) about having to change my career, but that was not really an option, I thought.

Wrong.

So in the blink of an eye my life has been diverted from its present course. I’m now headed for yet another fresh start. I think I’ve broken some kind of a record.

Fresh Start number one was leaving and then divorcing my second wife (just under two years ago).

Fresh Start Number two was the accident at work and having to re-evaluate my life style.

Fresh Start Number three was the heart attack and the realization that my lifestyle was going to have to change further.

Fresh Start Number four was the discovery that my career wasn’t going to see me into retirement any longer.

Wow.

That’s gotta be some kind of record.

I suppose that deep down inside my reaction to this new information is mixed. One part of me is excited to think that I’ve got a chance now to write more and pursue a more creative type job. Another part of me is scared; a fresh start at 54 is a bit daunting. Yet another part want to tear my hair and rend my clothes in frustration.

Ultimately though regardless of how many different ways this latest bit of news has been received, I’ll just “get on with it.” I remember once, a boss that I had said that the main thing he liked about me was the fact that whether I liked a job or not, I just got on with it.

That’s what I am going to do now. Despite my windfall of fresh starts, I’ll just get on with it.

Boot hooks and a bootjack, often needed to get...
Boot hooks and a bootjack, often needed to get tall boots on and off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Grant’s Gone Series Book Number 5 and Counting

Michael Grant's Gone
Michael Grant’s Gone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wow.

That one little word says exactly how I feel about Michael Grant‘s series about a group of Southern California teens who are trapped in a Dionysian apocalyptic world by a giant bubble that has been created by a 5-year-old autistic demi-god.

I read the first book in the series in August of this year. I was immediately hooked on the characters, their story and the tiny surfing community of the fictional Perdido Beach where everyone over the age of fifteen suddenly disappears.

Perdido Beach is soon renamed the FAYZ by the remaining children who are broken into factions. The first two factions are the “Freaks” and the “Normals.” Further factions are broken down into the Sam Temple camp and his half-brother Caine Soren, as the names imply Sam is the good guy and Caine is not.

The other faction that affects all the kids beside the actual bubble itself is the Gaiaphage, an outer space virus that was getting a piggy-back ride from a meteor that crashed through the Perdido Beach nuclear power station.

The trials and tribulations of the stranded kids has run the gamut from carnivorous teeth sprouting worms to bugs that eat you from inside out.  Of course there is still the disappearing at fifteen hurdle to overcome, but both Sam and Caine have proven that you don’t have to “poof out” if you don’t want to.

The books in the series are as follows:

1. Gone

2. Hunger

3. Lies

4. Plague

5. Fear

6. Light

Light the sixth and final book in the series will not be out until April 2013. I, for one, cannot wait for the finale of this outstanding series.

The Gone series is classified as fiction for Young Adults or Teens. I am neither and I have been swept away by Grant’s world. Each book in the series has followed the character’s development, deaths and decisions.

I actually sat down and in a three-day “read-a-thon” plowed my way through Lies, Plague and Fear. It was only after I’d downloaded Fear and read it as an E-book that I realised my error. If I’d waited for the book to be available via the library, I could have save myself the agony of waiting for the last book to be published months away.

Michael Grant has shown us what Lord of the Flies could be in the 21st century. Both tales are of nuclear catastrophes and of the effects that it had on a group of ungoverned youths. Grant’s FAYZ bubble is an island by everything but name and the kids in it are facing similar struggles to the plane wreck survivors in Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The addition of “super powers” in some of the kids and the “joker in the deck” of Coates Academy full of rich kid juvenile delinquents just makes the playing field that much more colorful.

I would recommend this series full of unforgettable characters to anyone, young or old. The villains of the series are not cardboard cutouts and some, Drake Merwin aka Whiphand especially, are terrifying. By the end of Fear we’ve learned that outside the bubble the “real world” exists and that it is aware of the bubble and is trying to penetrate it.

I have read the odd review where they stated that the kids did not seem like “real” teenagers. I have one thing to say to that, but since this is a series aimed at young adults, I’ll restrict it to a G rating. What a crock! I work with teenagers everyday (well I did until my accident and then heart attack) and I can identify with Grants depiction of Sam, Astrid, Caine, Diana, heck all the kids in the FAYZ.

I have, so far, written two reviews about this series. The Gone  and Hunger reviews were written literally minutes after completing the book. This review took a bit longer as I sat and digested the enormity of what Michael Grant has achieved with his story of the FAYZ and all those in it and their families outside of it.

It also took a couple of days to get over the disappointment of realising that I won’t know the outcome of the characters until April of next year. The sign of any good author is the trait of being able to leave his readers wanting to hear more about his creation.

Grant has done that no question. I am a Michael Grant fan now and like a true fan I’ll be reading everything else by him that I can get my hands on. If for no other reason than it will make the waiting for the final book of Gone that little bit easier.

Too Much Introspection or Me, Me, Me

Epiphany!

It is not often that I can have an instant epiphany while reading a blog post. It is even less likely for me to have one when reading a Freshly Pressed post.

I had one this morning though.

I won’t mention the  post by name or even by subject. You may be able to guess by the general tone of my post. If you can, I can only apologise to the person who wrote it, this isn’t personal. It’s not even a criticism.

It’s just an epiphany.

We all write blogs for similar reasons and they run the gamut from practicing to write to reviews on film.

A lot of people though, use their blog as a sort of public diary. Their posts deal with introspective ideas, realizations, or perspectives. There are an awful lot of introspective blogs out there.

My blog, for instance, does quite a bit of introspective wool gathering and then goes on to air it, as they say, in public.

I try very hard though to keep it from being all about me and my introspective study of personal belly-button lint. I hope I’m able to walk the fine line between Zen-like self discovery and the public “whinging” and whining about my  poor pitiful life.

When I write a blog that isn’t dealing with my own lifelong fascination of cinema and the acting profession I try to write about things that have happened to me or those around me. Not in a news sense, but in a sense of “I learned something today, I’ll just pass it on in case someone is interested.” I also like to put in print things I’ve done or seen or tried for the same reason.

I even like to put up introspective pieces if I feel that someone might identify with the issue and if not find an answer at least be compelled to look for one. I much prefer to post a “reflective” piece though. If you look at the tags for this post you’ll see reflective is one of them.

I was a young adult in the days of the “I’m okay, you’re okay” generation. A couple of decades when a few enterprising authors made a fortune on self help, self actualization, self promotion and even self love books, courses, and public seminars.

I'm okay, you're... well, maybe not
I’m okay, you’re… well, maybe not (Photo credit: pdxjmorris)

Do I sound cynical? If you answer yes, then you my dear friend and neighbor have been paying attention.  I am indeed cynical. I’ve had 54 years of learning, that despite the teachings of  a few self help books, people primarily look out for number one first and foremost.

Society has moved on from the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days and has moved into the “me” generation. The me generation started in the 90’s (I might be wrong here, but I became aware of it in the 90’s) and this has been morphed into the “I’m special” generation.

Father George Carlin spoke eloquently about the Special generation.

*contains adult language*

Now Father George refers to the “self esteem movement” aka the “I’m okay, you’re okay” days. It’s so nice to be vindicated. I just thought I’d point that out.

I guess the point I’m struggling to make is this, I don’t care about how well you can navigate the social network system. If you have discovered what a lot of folks already know about Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (I know they’ve changed their logo, but I can’t replicate it nor do I care to try), Bebo, et al; great!

I’m pleased for you. I might even go on to say I’m proud of you. There are not many who have gone this long and not realised that the new improved social network system is just another way for those in control to keep an eye on the populace.

Actually, the above paragraph is a slight exaggeration. I like the social network system or the SNS as I like to call it. It’s helping to make the world a smaller place. It’s also proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that trolls do exist.

I’m guessing that the amount of introspection blogs on offer has an awful lot to do with the creation of the “special’ movement. I never experienced that movement. When I grew up the pressure was on to be better at something and, if at all possible, to be the best.

I was taught that if you tried your best, that sometimes you would be better at something and you might even be the best…for a while. It’s called competition people, it’s healthy and very non-introspective.

We need to have goals and sometimes the goal is to be a better nailer than George or Mildred and not over internalize it or even to write about it. I may be overthinking this whole epiphany thing and that’s okay. At least I’m not over introspecting it.

Hopefully.

Last Words (book)
Last Words (book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)