Saturday, 11 November 2017

Robot Wars Episode 3 Recap

The third episode of the metal-mashing, chrome-clashing, steel-smashing show has just hit our screens.  But no further preamble:

LET THE WARS BEGINS

Group battle 1 Bucky the Robot vs Tracktion vs Rapid

Bucky the Robot was a curious machine.  Described as a biter, it had a doubled-sided axe blade that could swing from side to side.  They had an even more curious mascot.  Tracktion was the youngest team in the competition, controlled by a group of school children aged 12 and 13.  Their robot ran on caterpillar tracks and was armed with a crusher.

Finally, we had Rapid, which cost £25,000 to build.  It was armed with a flipper and their team captain who ran a development company and was prepared to hire anyone who could beat them.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

This battle began slowly with the various robots dancing around each other.  And then the Fog of War was activated and things changed very quickly.  Tracktion became confused and was toppled by the arena spikes.  Rapid took this opportunity to fling them from the arena.

The Traction team took their defeat with grace, which was nice to see.  Sometimes children cry when their machines are beaten, but not this time. 

Meanwhile, I think Rapid lost a lot of power after flipping out Tracktion.  They hoisted plenty of opportunities to flip Bucky, when they did get flips in, they were powerful.  There were times when Bucky was wedged against the arena wall or were flipped into Matilda.  Whatever way you look at it, Bucky was definitely on the defensive and they lost on a judge's decision.  Rapid were the winners.

Group Battle 2 Apex vs Vulture vs Terrorhurtz

Apex had the biggest bar spinner in the competition at 39KG.  They were facing Vulture who had a vertical spinning disc and were competing to prove you didn't need to be an engineer to win Robot Wars.  I guess they're forgetting that Apollo was holiday camp performers, but never mind.  Their final opponent is veteran of the original series: Terrorhurtz.

Terrorhurtz came 4th in the 6th wars and has won subsequent, untelevised competitions.  They are armed with a double-headed axe.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

The Apex team used to be the Foxic team aka one of the worse robots to ever perform.  It should then come as no surprise to learn that just after one hit, their mighty weapon broke down.  Knowing they were in trouble, they activated the Fog of War to no great effect.  Meanwhile, Terrorhurtz were having their own private war with Vulture.

A war that Terrorhurtz dominated.  They chopped and sliced into Vulture.  And once they had a grip, they didn't let go, Terrorhurtz tactically held Vulture over the arena flame pit, leading to their weapon and drive system.  This was great control by John Reid in the Terrorhurtz team.

After this, Terrorhurtz turned their attention to the toothless Apex.  It wasn't long before Apex were immobilised too.  Terrorhurtz were through to round two.

Robot Redemption 1 Apex vs Tracktion

Time for the first loser's melee to see which robot will join Terrorhurtz and Rapid in the next round.  Courtesy of the Vulture team, Tracktion began this fight with a pushing wedge, designed to deflect Apex's spinning bar, which as we quickly learnt was too powerful for its own good.

Apex got in some good hits on Tracktion, beefore their spinning bar hit the ground and came flying off.  A 40kg piece of metal was sent flying across the arena, shattering a pane of bulletproof carbonate, designed to protect the audience.

The fight was stopped for safety reasons, but Tracktion were the clear winners.

Robot Redemption 2 Vulture vs Bucky the Robot

This was a close-fought battle.  Vulture didn't have the best control, repeatedly driving onto the floor flipper.

They then drove into Bucky's grasp who pushed them into Dead Metal and then Vulture's weapon broke down.  Knowing they were on the ropes, Vulture depressed the pit button, but then bad driving saw Bucky being toppled by the arena spikes.  They couldn't self-right and their Robot Wars journey ended there.  But Vulture were through to the next round.

Round 2 Battle 1 Tracktion vs Rapid

If ever there was a battle, which epitomised "Blink you'll miss it," it was this fight.

Rapid knew that their CO2, compressed gas used to fire their flipper, was leaking, so they needed to get this fight over quickly.

And that's what they did.  One drive, one flip and Tracktion were thrown from the arena.  This all happened in six seconds, making it the shortest fight ever.

Round 2 Battle 2 Terrorhurtz vs Vulture

While Vulture's spinning disc spun at 6000RPM, Terrorhurtz was armoured with high-angled steel and polycarbonate designed to absorb kinetic energy.  This meant that Vulture didn't stand a chance.  Terrorhurtz just battered them.  They took out their armour, their armour and the wheels, and eventually the robot itself.

Vulture was so badly damaged, they couldn't compete in the playoff, against Tracktion.  This meant that Tracktion won by default and were automatically through to the ten robot free for all to decide the sixth finalist.  They join Apollo, Sabretooth, Big Nipper and Eruption.

Final battle Rapid vs Terrorhurtz

Time for the main event.  This was a great, close-fought match.  Rapid started the stronger, using the arena tactically.  They repeatedly pushed Terrorhurtz onto the floor flipper and into the house robots.

This was clever thinking by the Rapid team, especially, as I didn't think their flipper was up to top form.  But the Rapid team quickly proved me wrong by almost flipping Terrorhurtz out.

Terrorhurtz recovered to damage Rapid's armour, but then they were flipped again, and then pushed onto the floor flipper, before finally being flipped out of the arena.  But we'll see Terrorhurtz again in the Robot Rumble.

Meanwhile, Rapid joins Behemoth and Carbide in the final.

Dim the lights,
cue your applause,
Rapid is our third finalist
on Robot Wars

Rush Review

Number 119 on the top 1000 films of all time is the high-octane biopic Rush.

Rush tells the story of two Formula 1 drivers in the 1970s: the British James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth= and the Austrian Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) Their intense rivalry with one another and their rises and subsequent falls from fame are explored.

For me, the biggest problem with this film is that I am just not interested in Formula One or motor car racing.  This was a similar issue I had with boxing films Rocky and Raging Bull, and it isn´t a criticism of the films as such, but rather my perception of them.  As can be expected from a film about Formula One, there was a lot of racing in Rush, which I just didn´t find interesting.

Another problem was with the characters of Niki Lauda and James Hunt.  I know that the producers took a lot of dramatic licence, especially with the supposed rivalry between Lauda and Hunt, which was nothing more than a friendly rivalry in real life, but neither character was very likeable.  Both of them were arrogant in their own ways.  Hunt was a hedonistic, free-spirited playboy womaniser, evidenced by his whirlwind romances with Nurse Gemma (Natalie Dormer) and his wife, Suzy Miller (Olivia Wilde)

As an aside, I think that neither of these relationships were portrayed very well.  Both of them were rushed and both characters disappeared as suddenly as they appeared.

But back to the main event, Niki Lauda was very much the opposite of James Hunt.  He was calculating, demanding, cold and didn't care at all what anybody thought of him.  yet he was still quite unlikeable.  Between him and James Hunt, it was difficult to find a character to root for.

Having said all this, Rush was definitely better than other car-racing films like the Fast and the Furious franchise.  And I think this was because it was about more than just cars.  While I might not have liked either, director, Ron Howard, did well to make both Lauda and Hunt sympathetic.

After Lauder is in a horrific car crash, which results in him receiving third degree burns to over 80% of his body, he decides to return to Formula One.  In a following press conference, a probe asks whether Lauder's burns has negatively affected his marriage.  Lauder quite rightly tells the reporter to fuck off, before storming out.  Later, Hunt privately confronts the reporter and beats him up.

While the latter incident was fabricated, this was a great way to demonstrate how both characters are flawed humans.

Although the content of the film wasnÂșt for me, Rush was still an enjoyable watch.  It had great camerawork and empathetic characters, even if it did play with the truth a little.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Robot Wars Series 3 Episode 2 Review

Episode two of the metal-mashing, chrome-clashing, steel-smashing show has just aired, so let's review it.

LET THE WARS BEGIN

Gabriel 2 (Macebot) Vs Carbide (Spinning hammer) vs Big Nipper (crusher)

You may remember Gabriel from the first series.  They are what is known as a thwackabot.  At the end of a long stick is a mace, which they can use to smash into other robots.  They also have an entanglement weapon, consisting of nylon ropes, which are designed to mess with spinners.  Hitherto, entanglement weapons have always been banned, but this series is a series of firsts.

But the most curious aspect of Gabriel 2 is its massive wheels.  The entire robot is made from high-density polyethylene plastic, which is designed to absorb the kinetic energy generated from spinner bots.

And Gabriel 2 needed everything to beat Carbide who is the reigning champion of the series.  Carbide is quite possibly one of the most powerful spinner bots, which the wars have ever seen.  Armed with a horizontal spinning hammer, they have turned countless robots into scrap metal.

Rounding out the trio is Big Nipper who has competed before, but to no great success.  They were armed with a vertical spinning disc.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

Gabriel 2 was a ponderous machine.  The massive wheels made it quite clumsy and its mace was largely ineffective, as was its entanglement weapon.  Gabriel were then slammed into the Arena release button, which sent the house robots on the loose. Shunt slammed into them.

Meanwhile, Carbide shredded away into Gabriel's wheels.  They buckled them and tore off the tired treads, but the damage was mainly cosmetic.  The polyethylene plastic did a good a job, absorbing a lot of the damage.  Considering Carbide is the current champion, you think they would have breezed through this, but they did struggle.

Although they did plenty of damage to Gabriel, they couldn't deliver the killing blow.  And then Carbide lost part of their wheel.  The fight went to the judges in the end who awarded it to Carbide.  All credit to Gabriel here.  They survived 3 minutes with one of the most powerful robots in the wars.

Oh, you're probably wondering where Big Nipper was in all this.  They were nowhere.  Complete non-entities.  They were immobilised quickly.

Eruption Vs Aftershock Vs Crackers N Smash

Eruption were runners-up last year.  They are armed with one of the most powerful flippers since Chaos 2.  Their first opponent was Aftershock who were also finalists last year who were armed with a 2400rpm spinning disc.  This means that this heat had 3 finalists within it, which I found a bit odd.  I'd've expected them to had a finalist in every heat.

But anyway, the final competitor was Crackers N Smash, a clusterbot: with one robot being armed with a lifter and the other a spinning drum.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

As Craig Charles used to say "controversy reigns on Robot Wars."

Aftershock quickly proved why they were finalists last year.  Their vicious flywheel slammed into Crackers and buckled away their lifter, pushing them onto the floor flipper.  As the flipper came back down, it hit Aftershock's flywheel, ripping away some of the metal.

Usually, when the arena is damaged like this, the battle is paused while the damage is repaired.  Thinking that this was going to happen, Aftershock powered down, allowing Eruption to sneak up behind them and spectacularly flip them out of the arena.  They then flipped both clusterbots out too. 

Eruption were the clear winners, but the Aftershock team were a little resentful that the battle wasn't paused.

Robot Redemption 1 Gabriel 2 Vs Aftershock

Time for the first loser's melee. 

To prepare for this fight, Gabriel 2 attached more nylon rope to their mace, in the hope of entangling Aftershock's flywheel.

While this was a good tactic, it didn't work.  Aftershock slammed into Gabriel, sending it flying through the air.  Unlike their fight against Carbide, Gabriel could only take so much damage.  They were soon immobilised and then Sir Killalot chopped off their mace.

Aftershock had won the first Robot Redemption.

Robot Redemption 2: Big Nipper Vs Crackers N Smash

Time for perhaps Big Nipper's best fight. 

Just like how Gabriel attached an entanglement weapon, Crackers did the same.  This was about as useful as bringing a wooden robot into the arena.  Big Nipper slammed into Crackers and broke off the entanglement weapons.  They then drove Crackers into the CPZ and under Sir Killalot.

Sir Killalot is near enough 600kg, while Crackers is under 100kg, so as you can imagine, Crackers didn't fare too well from this.

But they fared better than their brother: Smash.  Big Nipper hit Smash with their flywheel with so much force, they sent Smash flying into the arena light rigging, before crashing down outside the arena.

Big Nipper were the worthy winners.

Round 2 Carbide Vs Aftershock

This was a great fight.  We've already seen the potency of both spinners.  Aftershock began on top.  They bashed into Carbide and the sparks flew.  Sensing some kind of weakness, Aftershock carried on attacking, sending Carbide flying through their.  Their vertical flywheel came into contact with Carbide's spinning hammer, which is where things went around for Aftershock.

This last attack disabled Aftershock's spinner.  The tables being turned, Carbide went on the attack and quickly immobilised Aftershock.

Round 2 Eruption Vs Big Nipper

Eruption started the stronger and were generally the more impressive robot throughout.  They flipped Big Nipper over who were slow to self-right.  Eruption took advantage of this by continually flipping them.

This isn't to say that their control was always the best, but they were far more aggressive than Big Nipper.  Eruption actually flipped Big Nipper into the tyre button releasing the thoroughly ineffective Fog of War.  I still think this is a stupid modification.  It is useless.

Anyway, Eruption continued flipping Big Nipper around the arena and in the dying seconds of the fight, they got the final flip in.  Eruption won by a judge's decision and were through to the heat final.

Playoff: Big Nipper Vs Aftershock

In the grand final, there will be an all vs all battle between the ten 2nd and 3rd robots of the series: with the winner going through to the grand final.

Apollo and Sabretooth have already qualified, but let's see who will join them.

This was a fight between two powerful spinning vertical discs.  They smashed into each other richocheting away.  Big Nipper got the second attack in, slamming into Aftershock's vulnerable underbelly.

Aftershock quickly recovered, but Big Nipper got in two more controlled hits, upending Aftershock.  Big Nipper were the winners.

Grand final: Eruption Vs Carbide

Time for a grudge match.  Carbide beat Eruption last year to become grand champions.  Can Eruption get their revenge this time?

Unfortunately not.  From the start, it was obvious that Carbide were the more powerful machine.  They slammed into Eruption repeatedly not allowing them to get any flips in.  Eruption were sluggish without and just couldn't recover.

One powerful hit took out their wheels and another immobilised them.  The grand finalists Carbide have made it through to another final.  But maybe Eruption or even Big Nipper could be joining them.  Who knows?

Dim the lights
Cue the applause
Carbide is our second finalist
on Robot Wars

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Robot Wars Series 3 Episode 1 Review

Series 3 of the metal-mashing, chrome-clashing, steel-smashing show Robot Wars is back on our television screens.

A lot of it is the same: Dara O'Briain and Angela Scanlon are still presenting and there are the same four house robots: Shunt, Matilda, Dead Metal and Sir Killalot.  But the format has changed.

The heats within the first two series began with two four-way battles, the two winners of each battle then progressed to a round-robin mini league.  This has now been changed in favour of a two threeway battles with the winner of each automatically progressing to the next round.

The losers then fight each other in a Robot Redemption or Loser's Melee with the winners of each progressing to the next round.  In short the league format has been replaced with a more straightforward knockout championship.

I prefer this as it is more in the style of the old series and has a bigger emphasis on the killing potential of each machine, rather than how well engineered they are.

And the Robot Wars arena has now been upgraded.  There is the now cheesily named "Fog of War," where for ten seconds the arena fills with fog.

But that's enough talking.  LET THE WARS BEGIN!

Behemoth Vs Donald Thump Vs Sabretooth

The first heat saw the return of Behemoth- a six-wheeled machine armed with a lifting scoop.  While they were regular competitors in the original series, they always fared badly, only once making it out of the heats.

Last series, team captain, Anthony Pritchard, became a viral sensation after he stormed out of the studios upon losing to Gabriel.  Will he keep his cool this time?

Their first opponent was the satirical robot Donald Thump, armed with fake hair and a spinner bar.  Rounding out the trio is Sabretooth, which is armed with a spinning drum.  Similar to Behemoth, they are veterans of Robot Wars, but have never had great success.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

This battle began slowly with each robot sizing each other up.  Then Sabretooth went on the attack, charging into Behemoth and knocking it over.  While Behemoth was recovering, Donald Thump smashed into Sabretooth damaged Sabretooth with their spinning hammer.  But shortly after, they inexplicably broke down.

By this time, Behemoth had gotten back to their wheels.  Bad driving sent them onto the floor flipper, but then they went back on the attack.  Both behemoth and Sabretooth charged into one another; the impact of which immobilised both machines.  However, the judges picked Behemoth as the overall winner, with Donald Thump and Sabretooth going into the loser's melee.

Apollo Vs Apocalypse Vs the Swarm

Apollo is already a legend.  Armed with their flipper, they won the first series and were finalists in the second.  I dare say they were favourites in this heat.  But it's a long road to the final and to get there, they first have to beat Apocalypse and the Swarm.

Apocalypse was a robot, which looked like Splinter -  a competitor in the original series.  Apocalypse was armed with an axe and grabbing arms.

Finally, we have the cluster bot, the Swarm.  Any eagle-eyed viewers, may have noticed that the Swarm was captained by Ian Watts, driver of the ferocious robot of old: Bigger Brother.  Bigger Brother was teamed by Ian's children: Joe and Ellie and I do wonder where they are now.

Anyway, the Swarm was a curious machine.  It was four smaller robots each armed with different weapons: an anti-spinner, a flipper, a spinning hammer and a wedge.  The idea for the four robots to surround and overwhelm the enemy.

3...2...1...ACTIVATE

Apocalypse started badly with its axe breaking down.  Apollo took full advantage of this by launching it through the air.  From here, the axebot pondered around, not doing anything.

Apollo then turned its ferocious flipper to the Swarm.  While the clusterbots were a creative concept, they were too small to be of any threat.  Being so lightweight, Apollo was able to flip them all around the arena.  Only the clusterbot with the spinning hammer was any good, but not strong enough to fight off Apollo who dominated this fight and were worthy winners.

Robot Redemption 1: Apocalypse Vs Sabretooth

Time for the first of the new losers' melees.  This battle saw the first use of the Fog of War, which was unimpressive to say the least.  Other than the arena filling with fog for ten seconds, nothing happened.

The fight itself was more interesting.  Apocalypse started strong, going on the attack and chopping down with its axe.  True, they missed a lot of the time but this was a big improvement on their first battle.

But just when it looked like Sabretooth were down for the count, they were just lulling me into a false sense of security.  In the dying seconds of the fight, they slammed Apocalypse into the wall, immobilising it.  A nice comeback by Sabretooth.

Robot Redemption 2:

Donald Thump Vs the Swarm

This was perhaps the Swarm's best fight.  While Donald Thump's spinning hammer wasn't working, the Swarm's was.  The clusterbot armed with the spinning hammer was lethal and tore away Donald Thump's armour.  The rest of the Swarm did very little and i can't help, but think Ian Watts should have made a full-sized spinner robot, rather than four small clusterbots.  But considering that they decisively won this fight, who knows?

Round Two: Apollo vs Sabretooth

Having been drawn against an ex-champion, Sabretooth were always going to be up against it.

ANd they were battered.  Apollo flipped them around the arena and never allowed them the chance to get their spinning drum into play.

Sabretooth manged to set the house robots on the loose, but this backfired, when the house robots attacked them.  Sabretooth then lost in style by being the first robot to be flipped out of the arena this series.

Round 2 Behemoth Vs The Swarm

While The Swarm performed well against Donald Thump,t hey were unable to repeat this success here.  Behemoth was too well-armoured to be damaged by the spinning bot, which as we already know is the only robot with any potency.

As for the other clusterbots, Behemoth flipped them around the arena, they broke down or were torched over the flamepit.  Behemoth were the clear winners.

The playoff: The Swarm vs Sabretooth

Time for a new addition to this series.  The grand final will be fought between six robots: the five heat winners and one wildcard robot.

The wildcard will be picked out of the ten robots who placed 2nd and 3rd in the heats.  All ten of these robots will fight in one massive battle until only one remains.

Personally, I can't wait to see this.  It sounds like it will be absolute mayhem and certainly bigger than anything the old series ever attempted.  Secondly, in the first two series, the judges picked a wildcard option, I think that this new method is much more in the fighting spirit of the contest.

3...2...1 ACTIVATE

Although it wasn't an entirely smooth run, Sabretooth battered the clusterbots.  As we've seen time and time again, the Swarm is just too lightweight to be of any threat.

Even the spinnerbot was no match for Sabretooth's spinning drum.  The flipperbot quickly ran  out of the gas, and as for the other two, I can't remember them doing anything at all.

But like Is aid, Sabretooth made mistakes too.  Bad driving sent them onto the floor flipper and Shunt, but they were the overall winners and we will be seeing them again.  We also got to see the arena malfunction.  In the middle of the arena are spikes designed to stab upwards and topple machines.  However, in this fight, they pocked with so much force, they fully flew out of the arena, crashing down.

Heat final Apollo Vs Behemoth

This was a great fight, which could have gone either way.  Apollo started strongly, charging into Behemoth and flipping them over.  Behemoth quickly recovered, but were then shoved into the CPZ.

And this was where I think Apollo got a bit cocky.  They let their guard down, allowing Behemoth to flip them over and go on the attack.  It was Apollo who was running away and Behemoth who was doing the chasing.  And then with a great drive, Behemoth drove Apollo into the pit of oblivion, which as Craig Charles would say was a "real turn-up for the books." After twenty years of defeat after defeat, Behemoth finally made it out of the heats.  And good fort hem.

They took full advantage of Apollo's cockiness.  But maybe we'll see a grudge match if Apollo wins the wildcard place.

Cue the lights,
scream your applause,
Behemoth is our first finalist
on Robot Wars

On The Waterfront Review

Number 118 on the top 1000 films of all time is the film that earnt Marlon Brando his first oscar: On the Waterfront.

The decade is the 1950's.  The location: New Jersey.  The New Jersey docks are rife with corruption and greed.  And to make matters worse, the labour union leaders are also corrupt and in league with the local mob.  When one longshoreman dies in an apparent suicide, the local priest Father Barry (Karl Madden) calls on the workers to stand against the mob, rather than playing deaf and dumb.  Yet the one man that could do something: Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is perfectly content with staying silent.

What I most enjoyed about this crime drama was how the mob wasn't romanticised.  In mob thrillers like Goodfellas and The Godfather, which earned Brando his second oscar, the Mafia is romanticised.  And it shouldn't be.  In On the Waterfront, they are obviously villains.  Led by Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) they extort the dockworkers and kill anyone who stands in their way.

And then of course you get Marlon Brando who's the best part of this film.  He very much follows the character arc of a reluctant hero.  He begins unwillingly, but gradually becomes more heroic.  Yet he is also an empathetic hero.  We learn that he is bitter, due to an iconic speech, where he claims that he "coulda been a contender." Having once been a promising boxer, he threw a fight and his career, to help his brother win a bet.  Ever since then, his confidence has been shaken and it was great to see it be restored.  By the film's conclusion, he inspires the other dockworkers into action, and the image of them walking away from the screaming Johnny Friendly was a powerful one.

Ultimately, this was a good film.  Brando definitely deserved his oscar and there was a nice range of different characters.  And of course, it carries the important message of standing up to anything.  This film is definitely a contender for one of the greatest for all time.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Raging Bull review

Number 117 on the top 1000 films of all time is Raging Bull.  This film is considered Martin Scorsesee's Magnum Opus and earnt Robert De Niro the best acting oscar. 

Raging Bull tells the story of the rise and fall of boxer Jake La Motta. (Robert De Niro) Based on the real La Motta's autobiography, it focusses on the relationships he has with his brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci) wife Vicky (Cathy Moriaty) and mafiosi Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent) and Tommy Como (Nicholas Colasanto.)

This is not the only boxing film I've seen.  I have also seen Rocky, but I much preferred Raging Bull.  This is because Raging bull had less of a focus on boxing and more of a focus on Jake La Motta who is a far more interesting character than Rocky Balboa, although De Niro mumbles just as much as Stallone does.  Raging Bull only has about fifteen minutes of boxing within it.  The rest of the film is dedicated to La Motta's interactions with his friends and family.  And we see how these relationships crumble, as La Motta allows his temper and paranoia to get the better of him.

He is constantly paranoid that his wife is cheating on him, going so far as to accuse her of sleeping with Joey.  This paranoia develops into a full-grown rage, as La Motta beats Joey in front of his family.  La Motta is an anti-hero of sorts who struggles deeply with his demons and seeing these struggles play out made for entertaining watching.  Upon watching, Raging Bull, the real Jake La Motta apologised to his wife for being so bad.  She corrected him, saying he was much worse.

Another way this film differs from Rocky (and this was intentional on Scorsesee's part) is how Raging Bull is in black and white.  He did this to distinguish it from Rocky, but also because the colour of the boxing gloves was throwing off the rest of he film.  And this was a great stylistic choice, adding in character and mood.

And lastly, a few words should go to Cathy Moriaty, Joe Pesci and Frank Vincent.  of course, De Niro, Pesci and Vincent are all in Scorsesee's mob thriller Goodfellas, but Pesci and Vincent are great in their own respective roles.  Pesci was convincing as La Motta's conflicted brother Joey and Vincent was great as mobster Salvy Batts.  Unfortunately, Frank Vincent died recently.  This saddened me particularly, as not only is he in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, but he also had a starring role in the Sopranos.  He is a formidable actor who shouldn't be forgotten.

It is said De Niro relaunched Scorsesee's career by convincing him to direct this film.  Thank God he did.  If he hadn't, he might not have made great films like Goodfellas, The Departed and The Wolf of Wall Street.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

It review

2017 saw the release of the latest adaptation of Stephen King's It.  Having read the goliath text and seen the 1990 mini series, I was keen to watch this remake.

Every twenty-year years, children go missing in Derry, Maine.  After George Denbrough, little brother to William 'Bill' Denborough (Jaeden Lieberher) goes missing, Bill vows to find out why.  He and his friends Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor) Beverly Marsh, (Sophia Lillis) Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer) Stan Uris (Wyatt Osleff) and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) soon find out that they are up against a supernatural entity known as It or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.  To stop children from going missing, they have to kill Pennywise.  They also have to defeat neighbourhood bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton.)

The book It is 135 pages long (far longer than it needs to be) and to adapt it all, you would need to go down the Peter Jackson route of making three, three-hour films.  Thankfully, Andy Muschietti, only adapted the most relevant parts of the book.  This meant that Pennywise's back story of being an eternal, interdimensional alien was removed, as it would have been too confusing.

This allowed more time to be spent on the children, all of which were great.  All of the child actors gave brilliant performances.  Finn Wolfhard had great comic timing, as he rolled out increasingly vulgar jokes and one-liners.  At times, he had the whole cinema in stitches.  Meanwhile, Sophia Lillis helped to give the film some much needed heart.  In the book, as the only girl in the group, it is implied that all of the boys like her in one way or another.  This idea was dropped in favour of a love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben, with the latter being left out in the cold.  This is a struggle known by pre-teens worldwide and Jeremy Ray Taylor played it with humility and grace.  It was sad to watch.

Unfortunately, some characters received less development than others.  I'm speaking about the least developed character: Mike Hanlon.  In the book, he has the most interesting and tragic backstory, least of all because he's the only black member of the group.  Because of his skin colour, he and his family are subject to racist abuse, which lacking in the film.  Although, in today's overly-sensitive climate, it might have been difficult to depict this without offending anyone.

Yet even Henry had some backstory which helped to fill in his character.  We find out that his father is an abusive drunk, and while it doesn't make Henry likeable, we at least understand why he is a bully.

Pennywise the Clown was played by Ben Skarsgard.  In the 1990 adaptation, Tim Curry played It and his performance was lauded.  I think this was because of how he looked like a real clown who had just escaped from the circus.  Whereas I think that Skarsgard's Pennywise looked too obviously like an evil villain.  This isn't to say that Skarsgard didn't give a great performance, but I'd've preferred to see him actually dressed up as real clown.

A common criticism I read about on IMDB was the film's overreliance on CGI and jumpscares.  In terms of the jumpscares, they mostly didn't get me and didn't particularly bother me.  I say, mostly, as because I've read the book and seen the 1990 film, I saw a lot of the scares coming.  But there were a few moments that did scare me.  Pennywise capturing Beverly after she had just attacked her abusive, predatory father was one.  Another is one of the film's few examples of them using special effects over visual effects.

When Pennywise is making Mike Hanlon seeing his fears, he makes him burnt hands reaching out from behind a locked door.  This was a terrifying moment that sent a chill down my spine.  It's scarier if you know the backstory too.  In the book, Mike's family are in a club called the Black Spot, which is largely populated by black people, as a result it's a target for white hate.  A white supremacist group lock everyone inside and then burn it down.  Mike is one of the few survivors.  This is so scary, because of how it is people that cause it, not an alien.

A final example is the visual effect of seeing the dead children float around the pillar of junk at the film's climax.

Another criticism I saw was that the film was rushed and I would agree with this.  While being an hour longer than its 1990 counterpart, a lot of It felt quite squished together.  The narrative doesn't kick off until about forty minutes into the film.  Hitherto, we were just learning about the seven children, and as I've said before, too much time was spent on some and not on others.

And to dispel another common criticism, the reason why the children's parents seem so absent, is that they have been enchanted by Pennywise.  Only the children can see him.

All in all, i think this was a great adaptation.  It was scary and the performances were great.  I can't wait for the second part.  Have you seen it? Let me know what you think in the comments below.  We all float down here.  You'll float too.