Mad Hot Ballroom

I didn’t want to like this movie. Fifteen minutes in and I had made up my mind that this was just Spellbound meets The School Around the Corner by way of Come Dancing and I was too old and too cynical to be taken in by such a cheap ploy.

But then, around the thirty minute mark, something remarkable happened. These kids stopped being precocious little brats and started becoming likeable creatures. Watching Cyrus’ reaction to the results of the initial competition sealed the deal for me. Believe me when I say that we need to watch this kid closely because he is wise beyond his 10 years and almost certainly an evil genius in the making (the director says that when she first met him and discussed her movie with him, he asked if she had secured a production deal yet).

Against my will, I had become emotionally invested in these kids. Their different personalities began to shine through and, by the time of the dancing final, I felt like I was joinging their teachers on the emotional rollercoaster they were riding. And the swell of pride I began to feel watching the kids put in some amazing performances was almost embarassing. It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.

Funny without lacking sincerity, sentimental without being po-faced. In spite of myself, I ended up liking this movie.



King Kong

I’m a total sucker for theme parks. When I was fifteen, my family went on holiday to Florida, home of a thousand theme parks, and I made sure we saw every single one of them. But the thing I love about theme parks isn’t so much the rides themselves but the atmosphere created around each ride. For example, when you’re queuing for the ‘Jaws’ ride in Universal, the queue takes you through Quint’s boathouse. This is a perfectly realised model of the boathouse from the movie, with hundreds of incidental details dotted around the to help convince you that you are actually in a movie.

Also in Universal Studios is a ride loosely based on Dino De Laurentiis’ unsuccessful 1976 remake of King Kong. The audience rides in a cable car around New York being terrorised by the giant monkey, in a series of spectacular set-pieces. Kong appears, shakes the car and yells a bit, and scares the audience. But it’s starting to show its age now, and the animatronics can’t really fool today’s more effects-savvy audience. If you listen carefully, you can hear the hydrolics and steam motors driving every inch of your experience throughout the ride.

Ubisoft’s game of Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a worthy replacement for Universal’s aging King Kong ride.

Following the ‘classic’ Kong story, the game also uses a series of cinematic set-pieces to drive the action forward. These range from rafting downstream while being terrorised by the natives of Skull Island to battling dinosaurs in the middle of a brontosaurus stampede. And when these succeed, they are marvellous, memorable pieces of gaming. One of the most spectacular moments comes when the action shifts – one minute the player is controlling Jack, who has no choice but to run from the larger beasts on Skull Island (a luger and a spear will not trouble a T-Rex). The next minute, the player controls Kong, who can swat these monsters away in a tremendous show of power.

The story is mostly told by the bits in between the set-pieces. Through some fantastic voice-acting by the cast of the movie, we are presented with personalities that are as three-dimensional as their graphical representations.

But it’s in the atmosphere the game creates that it really succeeds. The island, dense with terrifying creatures, feels like an actual living, breathing place. There are hundreds of incidental details littering the environment to heighten the player’s experience and convince them they’re in a movie. Or on a ride. This is also helped by the lack of a heads-up-display – there’s no bar to tell you how much health your character has, or how many bullets are in his gun. This is all done through brilliantly-implemented visual and aural clues. There’s a wonderful moment in the 4 minute clip of King Kong movie where you get to see Skull Island from Kong’s Mountain. And I thought “Y’know, from this angle, this place is beautiful. Down there, it’s horrific”, as if I’d actually been there.

And this atmosphere isn’t confined to within the game itself. Along the way, you unlock ‘extras’ within the game. These mainly consist of ‘galleries’ of WETA artwork for the movie. But instead of presenting these as flat image files, we get to experience them as though we were walking through an exhibit in a museum. And this is so perfectly (yet simply) realised that you can almost smell the dust in the air.

There’s a lot to praise about this game, which is made even more stunning by the fact that it takes roughly 10 hours of average playing to complete. Now, there’s a whole other post about value for money with games you can finish over the course of a weekend. But for this one, I’ll just say yes, it is definitely worth it.

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Mario Kart DS and Clearwire

I picked up a copy of Mario Kart for the DS over the weekend and have been having a great time ploughing through the 50cc and 100cc tournaments. How quickly my muscle memory has returned! Even cuter is the inclusion of some ‘retro’ tracks – courses I haven’t played since my SNES packed it in almost 10 years ago.

One of the major draws of Mario Kart DS is the wireless multiplayer option. Mario Kart has always been about the multiplayer, and the idea of being able to race against people around the world (as well as DS-toting friends) is almost too much to handle. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get connected to the Nintendo Wifi service from home. Or I do get a connection, but it drops while searching for other players.

I’ve run a few checks on the traffic and it doesn’t seem to have a problem on my network. Now, I’ve heard rumours of Clearwire blocking a lot of stuff, mainly P2P and VoIP things, so this could be the problem. Anyone had any problems with Clearwire blocking stuff?

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

My girlfriend tells me that the reason she rarely wants to go to the cinema any more is because she’s become disillusioned with movies. This comes from sitting through the near-endless amount of dirge on show this summer. And you don’t register a domain like “low brow culture dot com” without being a fan of dirge, so I’m almost certainly to blame.

Apart from being extremely entertaining, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang assures us that there are people working in Hollywood with a genuine love for what they do. Shane Black has done an incredible job of creating something that will appeal to everyone: guns and car chases for the people that like that kind of thing, genuinely sharp and witty dialogue and a complex plot for the people who like that kind of thing.

And lots of beautiful people for the people who don’t like either of those things (including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance by the girl every guy I know has a crush on, Shannyn Sossamon).

My vote for film of the year.

Further reading:
Shane Black is a terrific screenwriter. For examples of this, you should check out his screenplays for Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight. But the piece of resistance is his screenplay for The Last Boy Scout, which contains the following:


Cory and Jimmy are engaged in very hot sex.
This is not a love scene; this is a sex scene.
Sigh. I'm not even going to attempt to write this
quote-unquote "steamy" scene here, for several good
A)   The things that I find steamy are none of your damn
     business, Jack, in addition to which --
B)   The two actors involved will no doubt have wonderful,
     highly athletic ideas which manage to elude most
     fat-assed writers anyhow, and finally --
C)   My mother reads this shit.   So there.
(P.S.: I think we lost her back at the Jacuzzi blowjob