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Live from Culpeper, Virginia, it’s the 86th Academy Awards (liveblog)

Life is good. Oscars may be.

Life is good. Oscars may be.

There’s a snow storm coming, but inside there is beer and the Oscars. We can only hope for an entertaining night, full of probably not that many surprises, but surprising non-surprises.

[All times are in Pacific Time, all Thai food is in my belly.]

4:44pm – Chiwetel Ejiofor is the coolest African-American guy who is not African-American in the world.

4:46pm – Who are all these Oscar interns and why am I none of them?

4:47pm – Thank god U2 are here. I thought for a moment I couldn’t play the bitter annoyed Irish card all night.

4:51pm – Alfonso Cuarón, his O looks small because you can’t put an accent on a normal O.

4:54pm – Russell Brand Jesus is wearing a white tux. Good for him/her.

4:56pm – Tyson Beckford looks like he has been PhotoShopped to life.

4:59pm – Bradley Cooper: too handsome to like, too charming to hate. He’s the Switzerland of people.

5:01pm – Good lord look how much Mrs. Hill looks like wee Jonah!

5:02pm – Lupita Nyong’o in white. Seems she takes her memes to heart.

5:05pm – Wow, a homeless man in a tux! And oh no it’s Bill Murray.

5:06pm – The Oscar coverage is making fun of people tweeting the Oscars… this sketch is going nowhere good fast.

5:09pm – That Jimmy Kimmel sketch was drenched in classism, and lightly sprinkled in not good comedy.

5:13pm – It’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith! No, not Brad and Angelina (nor Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard), it’s Will and Jada Pinkett!

5:15pm – Nobody doesn’t quite wear a goatee quite like Jeremy Renner.

5:16pm –

“The person I went into as filming this movie is not the person I came out of this movie as.” – Sandra Bullock says, referring to her paycheck.

5:23pm – Take a deep breath everyone, we are now in the theatre!

5:30pm – It’s the Oscars. Champagne please! Also Ellen.

5:31pm – Weak start for Ellen. Pick it up pick it up pick it up!

5:33pm – I hope the real Captain Phillips and the real Philomena make out at the after party.

5:35pm – Some savage material from Ellen DeGeneres here. It could be more biting than actually funny.

5:37pm – Jennifer Lawrence getting a ribbing for falling on her face. Ellen managing to get off her own with this bit.

5:39pm – Ellen has gone for the penis joke!

5:40pm – Crap, if 12 Years a Slave doesn’t win, we are ALL racists!

5:42pm – If Best Supporting Actor goes where I think it’s going, it’s gonna be a very predictable night.

5:43pm – Jared Leto wins! He played Rayon, now he’s wearing spray-on.

5:44pm – Leto tells the story of his mother instead of thanking people he worked with. Ungrateful prick!

5:46pm – Ellen DeGeneres makes a live-tweeting joke. So contemporary.

5:48pm – Jim Carrey is recovering this sketch… just about.

5:50pm – About 70% of those animated films were made after the year 2000. An absolute embarrassment from the Academy there.

5:51pm – Will Ferrell is performing a happy song in blackface. How is this appropriate?

5:53pm – In fairness, the choreography here is pretty delightful.

5:57pm – What’s with the wall of roses?

5:58pm – Naomi Watts and Sam Jackson throwing out some tech awards. First up: costume design.

5:59pm – Gatsby wins! This spells ill American Hustle. Ironically the costume designer’s dress is awful.

6:00pm – Now… Dallas Buyers Makeup.

6:02pm – Shouldn’t Matthew McConaughey be home watching True Detective?

6:03pm – Harrison Ford is out. Of. It.

6:05pm – Channing Tatum is here to show us those damned students again. But I wanna be one of them!

6:11pm – Hahaha remember Ed TV.

6:12pm – Best Animated Short goes to Mr. Hublot. I did not see it. My friend said it was awful. Now I don’t know what to think!

6:13pm – Aw, nervous French guy is nervous.

6:15pm – Frozen or The Wind Rises or I go home.

6:16pm – Hooray for Frozen! Plus it burst a billion today! All the money and success. Disney’s first animated feature Oscar.

6:17pm – Sally Fields!

6:19pm – Look at all these famous films! They’re so famous! Yay! Fame!

6:20pm – Did Peter O’Toole just light up the Will Smith?

6:21pm – And the gravity award for best gravity in a gravity-themed film goes to… Gravity!

6:24pm – Zac Efron presents Karen O. She will now sing a lovely song that will slow down the entire night to a crawl.

6:30pm – Kate Hudson, absent from Kate Hudson’s life for some years, looks rather well presenting the short film awards.

6:31pm – Helium, assumedly the antithesis to Gravity, wins Best Short Film.

6:34pm – Best Documentary Short goes to The Lady in Number 6. The subject of which like just died the other day. What terrible terrible timing.

6:36pm – Not enjoying Ellen’s aisle shtick. Not at all.

6:37pm – Best Documentary Feature goes to 20 Feet From Stardom. I did not see it, but The Act of Killing was surely robbed.

6:39pm – There is a singsong going on on stage right now. It’s the Oscars, why isn’t this happening always?

6:40pm – Kevin Spacey cannot shake his Frank Underwood accent.

6:41pm – Lifetime awards to Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin and Angelina Jolie. Which coincidently enough is the dream cast to play me in the movie of my life.

6:49pm – Ewan McJared Leto and Viola Davis presenting Best Foreign Language Film.

6:50pm – Paolo Sorrentino wins the Oscar for Il Divo! But also I guess for The Great Beauty.

6:51pm – Oh, so that’s what Tyler Perry looks like.

6:54pm – Brad Pitt is here. He is going to do something important I wager.

6:55pm – Oh nope he’s just presenting U2. Never mind.

6:56pm – I can’t deal with ordinary U2.

6:58pm – In fairness, Bono can still kinda bring it. I guess.

7:03pm – Not retweeting Ellen’s tweet out of principle.

7:04pm – WHERE’S WALLACE?!? Oh, he’s at the Oscars…

7:06pm – It’s Thor and Charlize Thoron!

7:07pm – Sound Mixing goes to Gravity. Which is ironic because there’s no sound in space.

7:10pm – Sound Editing. Gravity. Called it. So there you go.

7:12pm – Christoph Waltz is here to present the decider for the rest of the night; Best Supporting Actress.

7:14pm – Cheers for Lupita Nyong’o! That makes tonight a rollover, in exactly the right direction.

7:16pm – A beautiful, passionate and tear-flecked speech from Nyong’o. Bravo bravo and bravo.

7:21pm – Ellen ordered in pizzas. They have Coca-Cola logos on them. This is not OK.

7:22pm – Remember when the Oscars did music numbers and was an actual show?

7:24pm – Wooo! Archives!

7:26pm – Amy Adams and Bill Murray. I would read that slash fiction.

7:27pm – Harold Ramis! We miss him.

7:28pm – Gravity wins Best Cinematography. But it already won this award for Best Special Effects…

7:29pm – Anna Kendrick and Gabourey Sidibe, announce the nominations for Editing.

7:31pm – Gravity wins again. Another tech award for the pile. Not convinced it deserved that one either…

7:33pm – Whoopi Goldberg presents a Wizard of Oz retrospective, in Wicked Witch footwear.

7:35pm – It’s Pink! In red! Those things clash!

7:36pm – I associate Pink Floyd with The Wizard of Oz, not Pink…

7:38pm – Remember when they made films like The Wizard of Oz… not like Oz: The Great and the Powerful?

7:42pm – Ellen is dressed as Gilda. I guess this is OK.

7:44pm – Jennifer Garner and Sherlock Khan present Best Production Design. Gatsby?

7:45pm – Gatsby gets it again! Can American Hustle win anything?

7:46pm – Everyone who didn’t design the Oscar stage tonight deserves Best Production Design.

7:47pm – A tribute to superhero movies. Otherwise known as the box office.

7:54pm – Glenn Close presents the sad bit.

7:58pm – Not Jim Kelly! Paul Walker! Peter O’Toole! Richard Griffiths! Joan Fontaine! Harold Ramis! Philip Seymour Hoffman! (and no Alain Resnais)

7:59pm – Bette Midler sings ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’. Everyone everywhere is crying and sad and crying sad.

8:05pm – The Oscars crashed Twitter. Hopefully that’s not the best thing that happens at the Oscars tonight.

8:06pm – Goldie Hawn is talking 12 Years a Slave. I have never thought of one without the other.

8:08pm – John Travolta present Idina Menzel singing ‘Let it Go’.

8:09pm – Well now they know.

8:11pm – Menzel kills it. The audience has to stand because they did for U2.

8:13pm – Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel are getting their groove on on stage. Or at least he is.

8:15pm – Steven Price wins for Gravity’s score. Certainly one of Gravity’s most deserved awards.

8:17pm – ‘Let It Go’! let it go! I can’t because it deserved to win!

8:18pm – OH MY GOD THOSE TWO ARE SO ADORABLE!!!

8:22pm – Are the Oscars over yet?

8:23pm – Ellen is passing a hat around the audience to raise some money. Hopefully to go towards some better bits.

8:23pm – De Niro. Cruz. Writing awards. Coming this summer.

8:25pm – Best Adapted Screenplay goes to 12 Years a Slave. Good job.

8:26pm – “All the praise goes to Solomon Northup; those are his words.”

8:27pm – Best Original Screenplay goes to Spike Jonze for Her! Great stuff. Very emotionally honest and mature writing.

8:32pm – Angelina Jolie helps Sidney Poitier to the stage. A superb ovation for him. Nomination for Best Director pending…

8:34pm – Alfonso Cuarón wins Best Director, for best handling of a film that should have been awful.

8:37pm – A fine speech by Cuarón, and an important moment for Hispanic filmmakers overall.

8:41pm – Daniel Day-Lincoln is here to present Best Actress. Also Best Handsome. For him.

8:43pm – Terrible clip to show off why Sandra Bullock is even nominated in the first place.

8:44pm – Cate Blanchett wins which was expected why I am even mentioning this?

8:45pm – “Random and subjective” – Cate Blanchett on the Best Actress Oscar. Good for her.

8:47pm – No thanks for Woody Allen…?

8:48pm – Jennifer Lawrence is here to present lust. Lust to all. Lust.

8:51pm – Matthew McConaughey wins the Oscar for Best Career Comeback Fuck All Y’All Alright Alright Alright.

8:53pm – Matthew McConaughey thanks his mama, and… Charlie Laughton? Sure, why not?!

8:55pm – Best Picture Make Go Now. Shut up Ellen. Shut up Will Smith.

8:56pm – Best Picture goes to the animation to present best picture.

8:57pm – Actually 12 Years a Slave. So deserved. So gloriously deserved.

8:58pm – BRAD PITT ENDED SLAVERY!

8:59pm – Steve McQueen gets his say. Nervous, emotional, but he says what he must, focusing on the powerful women in his life. Wonderful.

9:00pm – A final call to end slavery around the world, and a leap. A leap for joy from Steve McQueen. True Oscar magic.

And that was the Oscars 2014. An enjoyable night, although low on spectacle, but the awards went mostly to the right people. And now to not think about next year’s show for a very, very long time…

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The 81st Academy Awards – Live!

Good evening and welcome to my coverage of this year’s Academy Awards, live from Hollywood, California. Well, not the coverage, the Oscars. It may feel now like it’s going to be a predictable evening ahead, but who knows what the night will bring.

For the sake of clarity all posts will be submitted in Pacific Standard Time, which should help me tricking my brain into not thinking it’s 4am.

Enjoy!

5.57pm – Almost ready to go. The stars are prancing their ways down the red carpet. I’ll avoid commenting on the fashion, that’s not quite my style, but I may make the odd comment here or there. Have I any last minute predictions? Well, I hope Winslet finally wins, and I am certainly backing Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. Other than that, let’s just hope Wall·E takes Best Original Screenplay. Here we go…

5.10pm – Bored waiting, here’s some clothes commentary: Sarah Jessica Parker seems to think this is the Princess Awards. She’s dressed like a 6-year-old girl on Hallowe’en. But Marisa Tomei is totally working whatever the hell kind of dress that is. And Kate looks gorgeous as ever. And while Taraji P Henson and Viola Davis have no chance of winning anything, it’s nice to see them dressing to the occasion. I see Angelina Jolie has gone for 1950s super-slut. Good for her.

5.13pm – Have they started yet? I’m sleepy.

5.23pm – Somewhere in Hell is a room waiting for me, in which there is always the promise of something entertaining, but instead I have to watch Sky Movies’ introduction… and it never ends.

5.26pm – I’m going to have to throw Best Actor to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. While I think Sean Penn is a great actor, I really dislike him as a person. I must admit however that Rourke’s performance comes down largely to such a wonderfully scripted character. Still, Rourke to win.

5.32pm – Live from the Kodak Theatre – it’s sleep deprivation!

5.33pm – I hope that’s fake crystal, there’s a recession on, or something.

5.33pm – Good evening Hugh.

5.34pm – Australia jokes. Solid start.

5.37pm – Super-cheap musical number? Good stuff so far. Oh dear, poor Anne Hathaway.

5.38pm – Hang on, I suspect she knew that was coming…

5.40pm – “I’m Wolveriiiiiiiiine!” Great end to a fun opening number, and some good old-fashioned whoring out for free advertising!

5.43pm – There’s something rather charming about Jackman’s interaction with the audience. He may not be a comedian but he has a lot of personality.

5.44pm – Oh dear, was there a giant curtain malfunction there? Seriously, WTF?

5.45pm – Hey look, some famous Best Supporting Actresses. This had better be going somewhere.

5.46pm – Doubt still hasn’t come out on this side of the Atlantic. I can’t help but feel very in the dark here.

5.48pm – Sweet, nun jokes. As for Taraji P Henson, am I the only one who thinks Tilda Swinton should be up there (well she is, but I mean nominated) for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

5.49pm – Hooray for Penelope Cruz, looking a tad swan-like. Her squeaky lisping voice is a delight for the first award. A predictable start though, we may not get many big surprises tonight.

5.52pm – “Art is a universal language.” Well said. Not too soppy at all that.

5.54pm – Steve Martin and Tina Fey appear with at least one great gag. Here comes Best Original Screenplay. Go… Wall·E!

5.56pm – “No-one wants to hear about our religion.” Scientology, take that!

5.58pm – Milk it is. I guess I’ll allow it.

6.00pm – A touching speech to the gay community of America. Too bad it was said in a tiny liberal bubble.

6.02pm – Adapted Screenplay: does Benjamin Button even count as adapted? It has barely a thing in common with the original story. The first award for Slumdog, perhaps?

6.03pm – Yup. I think the night is pretty much spelled out now.

6.06pm – Jack Black bets on Pixar! Priceless. The animation yearbook – this should show why Wall·E must win over Kung Fu Panda.

6.08pm – Wall·E wins it! How gloriously wonderful!

6.12pm – It always bothers me that the short animations are so hard to come across. No carrot for Presto. La Maison en Petits Cubes wins. I did love Presto, but I didn’t see this so I can’t judge this – it looks pretty. Ha! Japanese robot humour! Domo arigato yourself, good sir!

6.16pm – Huh, backstage for the design awards. How very strange these Oscars are.

6.17pm – I predict a series of wins for Button here, though I’ll happily be proved wrong.

6.18pm – I was right so far. A deserved win for a very pretty film.

6.20pm – Craig and Parker are going to do all of these, no wonder they’re expecting to get through these so fast this year.

6.21pm – Ah, The Duchess. Fancy that.

6.23pm – I could think of more adjectives for Keira Knightley than just “classy”.

6.24pm – Button beats Hellboy and Dark Knight to make-up. Maybe a cleverer usage of make-up, but not necessarily more impressive since you can’t see where much of the make-up ends and digital effects begin.

6.26pm – Amanda Seyfried, so pretty. And that guy from Twilight. I never saw that film, because I’m not an angsty teenaged girl.

6.29pm – Romance. I’m kind of enjoying these genre mash-ups. Another moment for Wall·E to steal the show!

6.31pm – Cinematography. This has to be one for Slumdog. Hmmm, do we give credit for beard-related comedy? Not funny so far. Bad Stiller. Bad.

6.33pm – This is agonising. Is he parodying Joaquin Phoenix? Or is he just here to annoy me?

6.36pm – Predictable. This is really gearing up for a three-way race between Slumdog, Milk and Button for the big wins. “I’ll try to thank people more.” There’s a good rule to live by. What moral Oscars these are.

6.40pm – Is Jessica Biel lecturing me on technology history?

6.44pm – Oh wow, a Pineapple Express-themed comedy montage! And they’re laughing at the Holocaust movie! And calling Stellan Skarsgård Irish!

6.46pm – That was very trippy. What an odd trio these guys make. Did I see any short films this year? Isn’t one of them Irish?

6.48pm – Nothing worse than when the winning film is unpronounceable.

6.52pm – And we’re back! What will Hugh do now? Oooh, the musical is back he says – I think I see where this is going. I think The Reader would make a good one.

6.53pm – Jackman and Beyoncé do Fred Astaire. This is getting strange… do I like this?

6.57pm – Ok, High School Musical kids and fascist Mamma Mia marching. This has stopped working. And now it’s over.

6.59pm – My crush on Amanda Seyfried seems to know no end. Oh Baz Luhrmann, do you hear old musicals in your head at all times?

7.01pm – Who will be our Best Supporting Actors from Oscar Past?

7.03pm – Does Ledger deserve it? Probably. Has he a chance of not getting it? Not a fucking chance in hell.

7.04pm – Why is Philip Seymour Hoffman dressed like Ghost Dog?

7.06pm – Cuba Gooding Jr: “Brothers need to work.” Nice job retelling the joke to the comedian.

7.08pm – If Ledger doesn’t win there will be riots in the street.

7.09pm – Here come the Ledgers. Tissues at the ready…

7.10pm – A touching speech by a nervous non-professional.

7.11pm – And straight into documentary. I have shamefully seen none of the nominees this year yet.

7.13pm – I am torn between backing the legend that is Herzog, or Man On Wire, which covers a subject that is so fascinating and one-of-a-kind.

7.14pm – Did Bill Maher just make a Heath Ledger joke? And then pimp his movie?

7.15pm – It’s Man On Wire. Well done! And here sprints Phillipe Petit! Hooray for the crazy Frenchman.

7.16pm – YES! Magic and a hilarious insult to the Oscar itself! Balancing acts have never been so much fun. Maher’s right, that deserved an extra Oscar all of its own – just to balance it again!

7.18pm – Seriously, where does one get to see a Documentary Short Subject? I mean, honestly!

7.23pm – Now the post-production run. Might be some surprises here.

7.25pm – Oh dear. Here comes some serious grinning…

7.26pm – Ah Will Smith, trying to justify his career. I have no idea what will win Visual Effects. Button?

7.27pm – Yes it is. A technical treat that film was. I just hope its wins stop here.

7.29pm – Smith trips up over his words while delivering Sound Editing. How ironic. Wall·E or The Dark Knight?

7.30pm – The latter. Good job. Would have been happy with either. Never did think Wanted would get a nomination!

7.31pm – Ah Sound Mixing, the award not even those nominated for it understand.

7.32pm – An unexpected tech award for Slumdog. Great to see (hear).

7.33pm – My God Danny Boyle looks happy!

7.34pm – Editing is far too big a deal to be slumped in at the end of these tech awards. Gotta be Slumdog!

7.35pm – It had to be, there’s more energy in that film’s editing than there is the entirety of Benjamin Button.

7.42pm – Jerry Lewis wins the Jean Hersholt Award. This could be amusing… or maybe not.

7.45pm – A standing ovation. The man looks fighting fit for 82. Maybe even more so than Eddie Murphy.

7.47pm – I’m not complaining, but why exactly is Heidi Klum there? I mean, wow, but still. Why not just scatter Victoria’s Secret’s finest all throughout the crowd?

7.50pm – Here come the music awards. Surely two more for Slumdog Millionaire.

7.51pm – God, could the Defiance score be any more desperate to be Schindler’s List?

7.52pm – Now that I hear it alone, there are some instruments in the Wall·E soundtrack that I’ve never even heard of before. But the Slumdog music is beautiful also.

7.55pm – Had to be Slumdog, one more to take back to India. Well, England. Now a fight to the death with Wall·E for best song! But the little robot is outnumbered two to one.

7.56pm – “MUSIC.” “LONG.” Who is this woman?

8.oopm – Wow, mixing the songs together… it actually works! I don’t care who wins, these three are all great. Though I gues I’d give it to Slumdog.

8.02pm – Well-deserved for Slumdog, though I can’t help but feel sorry for little WallE left without any more Oscars. It deserved so many. “Choose love” reminds me of a Danny Boyle movie I once saw…

8.05pm – Liam Neeson and Freida Pinto. Hot stuff.

8.07pm – Departures eh? I know nothing of it. Look forward to hearing more though. And the Academy laughs racistly at the winner’s lack of English. Oh dear…

8.11pm – Queen Latifah introduces the sad part with a song. Wait for the sound that comes when they show Paul Newman. Sigh.

8.16pm – Yeah, that was sad. Always is. Nice to look back, though it wouldn’t have hurt to allow some dialogue out.

8.19pm – Oh dear, two seperate dresses crashed into each other at high speeds and made what Reese Witherspoon is wearing. Best director time. As predictable as we expect or will there be a split this year?

8.20pm – Danny Boyle! Good show. He’s been grinning about this win for hours now. Now he can start sulking. And hopping apparently.

8.21pm – Boyle compliments the show’s stagecraft. Nice that someone said it. Aw, Boyle’s kids are delighted.

8.23pm – Mumbai – “you dwarf even the sky.” Wonderful!

8.25pm – We’re in the thick of it now. Here come some famous actresses, most of them found out of work nowadays no doubt.

8.26pm – Damn. Sophia Loren. Just damn. What age is she now? Give the award to her.

8.27pm – Did Anne Hathaway just get a “don’t worry, you don’t have a chance” pat on the back from Shirley MacLaine?

8.28pm – Kate’s tearing up and she hasn’t even won yet…

8.29pm – So… does someone want to tell me who Melissa Leo is?

8.32pm – WINSLET WINS IT! Here she comes. I think I know what’s coming now.

8.33pm – “It’s not a shampoo bottle now!” One of the nicest lines of the night. She’s holding herself together rather well so far. Her dad whistles. Impressively loudly.

8.35pm – An excellent speech – all her critics can shut it. Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack get their deserves. But did she just slam Meryl Streep?

8.36pm – And now the old actors, who will it be…?

8.37pm – Wow, a great selection! No Day Lewis this year. Odd that. Man, imagine the film you could make with those five!

8.39pm – Seriously: Douglas, Kinglsey, Hopkins, Brody and De Niro. Amazing. And now Sean Penn’s sexuality has been questioned. Brilliant!

8.42pm – Might be a big toss up here between Penn’s Milk and Rourke’s “bleech blonde battered bruiser”. Tense stuff here.

8.44pm – And Penn takes it! Maybe the only big surprise tonight. Milk is back in the running. Voted for “commic, homo-loving sons of guns”! Good stuff.

8.47pm – A call for equal rights. A powerful end to his speech. Or is it… there’s more… final praise for Mickey Rourke. How nice. Shame he has no Oscar though.

8.48pm – Steven Spielberg is here to tell us we’re inspired. Thank goodness for him, or we’d never know. Any chance of Slumdog not winning this?

8.53pm – Wow, a terrific night for Slumdog, pretty much a clean sweep! Great to see a deserving work do so well.

8.54pm – Everybody on the stage now. Hee hee, look how cute the kids are!

8.57pm – Well that’s almost it. Now they show us clips from next year’s films? Bullshit! That’s just free advertising, and totally making next year’s show biased before it begins. Bad Hollywood. Bad.

9.04pm – Eugh, a nasty way to end what was otherwise a surprisingly pleasant show. Well, that’s it for this year. It’s been one hell of a night, if only in terms of Slumdog‘s success and my sugar intake. Thank you for staying with me, and now to bed…

Goodnight!

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Kung Fu Panda – Review

There is no doubt I was dreading this. I have been a huge critic of Dreamworks’ digitally animated production since Shrek, and it’s hard not to see why. By in large they have been confused disasters.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a Pixar purist. I have loved every film of theirs I have seen (admittedly I have evaded A Bug’s Life and Cars). But I resent how Pixar has decimated Disney’s animation studios. Similarly I resent how Dreamworks have repeatedly produced hackneyed digitalisations of airport bookshop children’s stories with added pop-culture tripe and successfully sold them to the masses.

The resounding death knell, as far as I could see it, was in Madagascar, when Ben Stiller’s New York lion builds a faux Statue of Liberty on the beach to remind him of his lost home. This subsequently burns down, and he collapses in front of the rubble and à la Charlton Heston screams “you blew it up… darn you! Darn you all to heck!”

Wait the fuck – Darn? Heck? That’s an awful lot of censorship for a children’s film. And a reference to a film that children won’t likely have seen. So who is the joke for? If it’s for the beleaguered adults forced to sit and watch with their accompanied child, then the removal of “bad language” only serves to be outrageously condescending. And why would one even need to make a pop-culture reference to Planet of the Apes in a film that appears to have a solid plot structure (fish out of water zoo animals fend off the wild)? It boggles, and insults, the mind.

So yes, Dreamworks = shit. We’ve established that. But their latest film, which I have managed to resist mentioning for some 300 words, is actually moderately charming. In fact, it might even be deemed somewhat charming.

Kung Fu Panda is a film that if we took too seriously we would bemoan the lack of Chinese voice-actors and storm out of the cinema in a pseudo-political protest. But why bother? This film shows enough sensitivity to the land from which its story sort of derives (references to actual forms of kung fu, mahjong, various types of dishes etc) to be deemed well researched, for a kids’ film.

There is even some maturity in the script, most notably the cleverness of the film’s MacGuffin and the means by which the villain is defeated. There are also no references to popular culture (films, TV, music or forms of speech) bar occasionally toying with Jack Black’s traditional film personality, which is perfectly acceptable (and in fact leads to one of the film’s funniest sequences). Obnoxious use of modern music (most notable in the progressively disastrous Shrek series) is completely avoided until the closing credits, when ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ plays – and by then they’ve earned the right to it.

The story is fun if simple. Po, a Jack Black panda, is a food-loving panda who works with his father, a duck (amusingly never explained) who owns a noodle bar. His dream is to be a kung fu artist, and is accidentally given the chance when chosen in an apparent accident by Master Oogyay, the local mystic, and wittily a tortoise. The seemingly random choice (it is insisted by Oogway there are no accidents) outrages his disciple Master Shifu who has five excellent students, Monkey, Mantis, Viper, Crane and Tigress, all more suitable than Po, who is without training. But when the evil Tai Lung, a Siberian tiger, escapes from prison (in a rather exciting manner), it is Po who must train and face him.

The plot has few diversions from the basic “chosen one must find his path” tale, but there are clever things to be found. Po is not told to diet, as his equivalent in another film – instead he learns to master his desire for food into a martial art. While Tigress is utterly offended at not being the chosen disciple, the other four animal characters reveal themselves to be far more understanding. Tai Lung is not only undone by his own hubris, he is sat upon by it.

The gags come at regular intervals, mainly from Po, though many also from Shifu, who is voiced by Dustin Hoffman; clearly having the most fun he’s had since he played Captain Hook. Angelina Jolie, as in Shark Tale (let us never speak of it again), is utterly wasted as Tigress. As an actress, Jolie requires her face and body to carry her characters, as a voice alone she is nothing. Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu add Chinese-(ish)-ness to Monkey and Viper, while David Cross gets one terrifically awkward scene as Crane, typical of his Arrested Development persona. James Hong makes up for his turn in the vile Balls of Fury, where he managed to both offend the Chinese and the blind in equal measures, in a pleasant turn as Po’s father.

The film’s greatest problem is that it never lives up to its opening five minutes, which set the scene too well, as Po dreams of being a great warrior, entirely illustrated in traditional Chinese forms. The gorgeous drawings, combined with the music and Black’s comic narration (the word awesome has not been used so effectively since Wayne’s World) make for an introduction to film that alas is not followed up on.

This is nothing to rush out to, but it shows a step in the right direction for Katzenberg and co. who have for once managed to deflect my wrath with a smile or two. It would be nice to see people try and animate humans again, but for now a panda will more than suffice.

3/5

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Wanted – Review

There’s nothing like good unclean cinematic fun some times, and Wanted has that in spades. In fact it violently beats you over the head with those spades of fun and then shoots you in the face with a joy bullet from around a corner.

Directed by Russia’s leading action director, Kazakh Timur Bekmambetov, making his Hollywood debut after the visually fascinating though overly complex Night Watch and Day Watch. What those two films certainly had was a truly unpretentious sense of style, an awareness that what was being made was meant to be first-and-foremost fun, art second (or maybe third of fourth, who knows?).

Based loosely on the comics by Mark Millar, Wanted is the tale of an office slave destined to be an ultra-assassin due to his very absent father’s blood. The cowardly and socially disconnected Wesley Gibson, played by increasingly popular Scot James McAvoy, believes that the first flutterings of his natural talents are no more than health issues and anxiety attacks, unaware that his high blood pressure can trigger an adrenaline rush with the potential to make him half Neo from The Matrix, half Crank.

He is swiftly indoctrinated into the ways of the Fraternity, a guild of super assassins with high pain thresholds, knife mastery and the ability to curve the trajectories of bullets – it makes more sense if you try not to think about it. Wesley is trained as one of them and quickly becomes an elite assassin, and is thus sent to kill the man who betrayed the Fraternity and killed his father. But is all as simple as it seems?

Well who cares?! We know better than to analyse the plot of a film whose central construct is an all-powerful loom (yes, a loom. That kind of loom) that requests the deaths of the guilty in English, despite having been built in Eastern Europe circa 900.

This is just a madcap thrill-ride par excellence that manages to be more fun than any of the superhero movies or Will Ferrell comedies of the past few years. Eighteenth century pistols get fired as men jump across buildings. A car flips through the air, crashes into a bus (which falls over on its side), and then drives off the side of it. Rats squeak inquisitively before exploding. There is no sense, there is only violent comedy.

And violent it is. Audiences having forgotten gore due to PG-13 Die Hard films and having been desensitised to it by torture porn may have forgotten just how fun an action film is when stupidly gory things happen (and in colour – I’m looking at you Sin City). But this is old school 1989-style violence, not suitable for children, only suitable to adults with a dark sense of humour. If you don’t find something funny about using a man’s shot out eye cavity as a targeting reticule (allowing his body to double as a human shield), then get you to another film.

The action sequences are truly superb, particularly the first car chase and a battle onboard a train that has undoubtedly the highest death toll of innocent bystanders since 9/11 made it no longer ok for Hollywood films to kill off civilians. The final action spectacle, which amounts to a good 15 minutes or so, is everything that popular oddity Equilibrium wanted from its action scenes and more; lots of running and jumping, weapons get reloaded at speed, stolen, turned upside down. This film will be a bestseller on DVD as every male between 15 and 35 will need a copy to accompany spontaneous beer nights.

Speaking of male interests, Angelina Jolie does look rather scrumptious here as assassin Fox (it’s all in the name). For an actress with an Oscar happily stashed under her belt it is strange how it is action films that she always seems to excel in. Here she brings that same S&M style lust for fun that she brought to her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton. A brief glimpse of her ass as she emerges from a bath (actually hers or a body double’s? Who cares, it’s lovely), reminds one of the days that were before The Matrix revealed it was possible to have a good action film without a flashing of nipples.

One thing that makes Wanted quite special is Morgan Freeman’s performance as Sloan, the Fraternity’s commander-in-chief. Mysterious and slightly mischievous, he delivers absurd lines of dialogue such as “curve the bullet” and “shoot the wings off the flies” with so much conviction that you momentarily accept that these are perfectly logical requests. Indeed, he says the word “mother-fucker” with more potency than Samuel L Jackson has ever managed.

Supporting players are only modestly effective. Chris Pratt is a good choice as Wesley’s uber-obnoxious yuppie best friend. Terence Stamp does his best Malcolm McDowell impression but it only partially pays off. Thomas Kretschmann, the captain from King Kong, once again plays a character we would like to learn more about but don’t. Konstantin Khabensky, whose sole function it seems is to foreshadow, appears to have been included because he’s mates with the director, whether it works or not.

As for McAvoy, though an atypical action star and uttering a questionable American accent, manages to play both beaten-down loser and unstoppable havoc-monger believably in the same two-hour period.

This is good preposterous fun from start to finish, and is in fact cleverer than most other recent action films. As a comic adaptation it has a tendency to over-rely on tedious narration, though not quite like a Frank Miller story. Leaving your brain at the door will help you to ignore the ludicrous physics on display (the final action scene, as a friend put it, would require the use of an elephant gun and a very small black hole) and just enjoy a laugh-out-loud romp.

At the very least, Wanted features the finest use of an ergonomic keyboard anyone will ever likely find. Although I still say it’s not a very good title.

4/5

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