Sunday, May 31, 2009

Star Trek

Apologies for taking so long to get round to writing this one up, having caught up with it a couple of weeks ago now. Even then I was a bit worried that it had been overhyped, but you know what, all the hype is pretty much well-deserved. This is one hell of a reboot of a franchise that had long become too tired and, heck, old. Having transmuted from Kirk and co into the somewhat po-faced Next Generation crew, it's great fun to be back with the original bunch, looking all young and sexy and stuff.

Of course, from a mathematical perspective, things get interesting even before the movie starts. Some are counting this as Star Trek XI, which means that finally we have an odd-numbered Trek movie which is actually any good, after such snooze-fests as Star Trek I: The Slow-Motion Picture and Star Trek V: the one they never should have let Shatner direct. Just goes to show that you shouldn't be too quick to think you've seen a mathematical pattern or rule.

Even better, the moive gets bonus points for including a bit of real maths, in the form of a Proper Maths Question, for when we drop in on Spock as a young 'un, he's in the middle of a Vulcan school lesson, and is busy being asked the formula for the volume of a sphere. Good to see that these Vulcans clearly take education seriously - no formula sheet for these bad boys! (I'll leave more detailed discussion on Vulcan educational techniques for another time, but let's just say that I can think of quite a few teachers who'll like the approach seen here, where the pupils are in individual pods while the teachers are, presumably, off drinking tea. Green tea, I suppose.)

Kudos too to the cast, who offer a mix of close imitations of the original (whatsisname from Heroes as Spock is a given, but Karl Urban is uncanny as Bones too) and modern re-interpretations (see Uhura, Sulu and Chekov). Kirk is deservedly in a class of his own, though Chris Pine perhaps wisely decides not to try to outchew both scenery and dialogue the way only old tubby Shatner could. And mention too of course for Simon Pegg, who's decided to go for Scotty as a sort of Billy Connolly in space. Which is fine for cheap laughs, but surely it's wrong not to have him shouting "the engines canna tak it, Cap'n" at least once.

Monday, May 18, 2009

State of Play

Apologies for not blogging for a while... life, eh? Anyhoo, leaving aside a Werner Herzog documentary on the Antartic called, um, Encounters at the End of the World or something like that (more of which later, if I get round to it), I finally caught up with State of Play the other week.

As any fule no, this is a remake of the BBC TV series of the same name, broadcast back in 2003. This time round the events are set in the US political (and newspaper) world, rather than the UK - and, some would say crucially, the film-makers manifestly do not have the luxury of six 57 minute episodes within which to tell the tale of political intrigue and derring-do.

And to be fair, they manage this well. Russell Crowe is very watchable as the intrepid newshound, and whilst Ben Affleck is as wooden as ever, the fact that he is playing a politician (possibly corrupt) sort of makes the mahogany varnish somewhat appropriate. Rachel McAdams also impresses as the young newshound trailing along in the wake of ol' Maximus Crowe-ius, and it's a nice bit of updating to make her a blogger with the newspaper. In fact the only person who doesn't really acquit themselves is - whodathunkit? - none other than Dame Helen Mirren, in the role of the newspaper editor. Maybe it's because Bill Nighy was so gobsmackingly wonderful in the original, or maybe it's just because the part is underwritten, but either way she really doesn't shine here.

So, to sum up: a very watchable, they-don't-make-'em-enough-like-this-anymore thriller which doesn't insult its audience or rely too much on car crashes, explosions and CGI jiggery-pokery. And I should add that it'll be all the more enjoyable if you haven't seen the original series.

How's the maths?
Well, it's nice that a major plot point revolves around a very precise amount of money, and why it should be that a particular character has knowledge of this, but that's hardly enough to get me shouting "you see, maths matters, dammit!" whilst leaping out of my seat and punching the air. Though to be fair, I have yet to do this at any film.

More interestingly, perhaps: how's your maths? Let's see... one cinema ticket to State of Play the movie (running time 127 minutes) costs, well, let's say £6, shall we? And one DVD of State of Play the TV series (running time 342 minutes) can currently be had for a fiver from Fopp. So, which is the better value?

Not much of a question, is it?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Coraline (3-D)

An interesting film this, based on Neil Gaman's novel of the same name. Admittedly it's not the movie I actually headed out to see, but seeing as State of Play was sold out, I opted to don the old 3-D Gregory Pecks and give it a go.

Overall, I'm impressed, but I have to say I more admired the movie than enjoyed it. Visually it has Tim Burton written all over it, though it turns out that it was directed by Henry Selick, who I think is a one-time collaborator of old Timbo. (Musically it sounds very Danny Elfman-ish too, but again it's not.) So, all in all, the weirdness and creepiness factor is comfortably cranked up all the way to eleven. And I have to say, this is a pretty darn scary movie in parts, so I'd be careful before I dragged too young a child along to it (well, unless they'd forgotten to do their homework) lest they be scared witless.

But, but, but... there's just too much of a lack of overall warmth for the main characters, I feel.

Still, the 3-D stuff is impressive.

How's the maths?
Well, as far as I can see, Coraline doesn't even go to school, so how the heck am I meant to know?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

In the Loop

Lordy, and I thought The Wire had bad language...!

For those not in the know, In The Loop is a sort of continuation, in film, of the BBC4 comedy series In The Thick of It, which is in turn a sort of update of the great comedy series Yes (Prime) Minister, but with added swearing. In particular, we have Peter Capaldi reprising his role of government fixer Malcolm Tucker, a man supposedly inspired by Alastair Campbell. And this time the subject would seem to be war in the Middle East (though Iraq is never mentioned by name), and whether or not the UK is going to back US military intervention.

I confess I had high hopes for this, as it's been very well reviewed. And for the most part those hopes have been met. I laughed out loud quite a few times, and I really cannot express fully enough quite how virtuoso (and funny) the swearing is. The only trouble is you'll come out of the cinema wanting to eff and blind at the first person you meet, which can't really be A Good Thing. And leading on from this, can I register here my astonishment that the film is only a 15 rating? I know that bad language alone isn't enough to get the good people of the BBFC reaching for their 18 certificate, but blimey, there really isn't a swear word left unflung here, including one starting with "c", which I confess I thought was more suited for the 18 territory. But hey, what do I know? So whilst I'm happy to endorse this movie, I'd caution teachers against reaching for this to put into the DVD player come the last week of June. You know who you are...

Kudos in particular here to the other Scottish actor, Paul Higgins, who has a fairly minor role as an even worse violent, foul mouthed government fixer and is so outrageously funny and scary that you automatically wish he was a Depute Head Teacher in your school. Or maybe that's just me...

How's the maths?
Och. Slim pickings here yet again. I mean, there's a vote in the UN at one point, which made me think maybe we were in for a bit of percentage work, but no. Then again, maybe this is entirely true to life: since when did politicians know anything about maths anyway?