Ced Yuen

Tech and film writer. More timelord than journalist, I've been told.

300: Rise of an Empire – review

In 2007, the first adaptation of Frank Miller’s historically liberal graphic novel struck a chord. Suddenly, toga parties made a comeback. Rugby teams the world over began trading 300 quotes over European stag nights. Everyone likes a good underdog story, and the idea of three hundred (unfeasibly hard) men holding off a million certainly ticked that box. Then there was the rampant homoeroticism and stylised presentation, which made it equally hilarious and epic. 300: Rise Of An Empire tries, and partially succeeds, to replicate the same formula. Textbook sequel syndrome. But curiously, this isn’t really a sequel.

A Most Wanted Man / Grand Piano

There are two kinds of spy: the fun ones, and the realistic ones. Fun Spy gets sexy ladies and gadgets and kung fu. Realistic Spy is an alcoholic chain-smoker with guilt and paranoia. The latter is much more interesting to watch, particularly when it’s the late Phillip Seymour Hoffmann in his last leading role. The setting is Hamburg, the city where 9/11 was planned. A refugee turns up to collect an inheritance, and he may or may not be a terrorist. That’s what Hoffmann’s German spymaster has to work out before the Americans do. There are a few familiar turns. Secret information exchanges and meetings in anonymous places. Naturally, the spymaster is a workaholic with no life outside of playing Guess the Terrorist.

Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For – film review

Bullets, booze and broads: that’s what you’ll find in Sin City, where it’s always midnight and everyone has a hand in something dirty. It’s been nearly ten years, but things around here don’t change. If you liked it the first time, welcome back. You’ll feel right at home. If you didn’t? Well, better get out before you’re swallowed up and spat out like a bad aftertaste. For the uninitiated, Sin City is a series of graphic novels, now twice adapted into motion pictures with pounding basslines, moaning saxophones and husky voiceovers.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Released in 1920, Das Cabinet Des Dr Caligari was one of the original horror films, and it’s nothing like the ones you see today. There are no cheap scare tactics for starters. No jumpy supernatural nonsense, and no gratuitous gore. The horror lies in the telling of a surreal yarn, in which a creepy doctor arrives in a nice town with his pet sleepwalker. The place soon becomes less nice. It’s a weird tale, made all the more unsettling by the German Expressionist style, which is defined by radically stylised set design with jagged outlines and odd proportions. The experience is disorientating, and still effective after nearly a century.

The Lego Movie – review

How on Earth do you make a compelling movie about toys? Many have tried and failed embarrassingly, with the likes of Transformers and Battleship failing to convey any sense of childish glee. The Lego Movie differs by making no excuses. Lego is about interchangeable bricks and figurines. The film embraces the spirit and runs wild with it. The result? An unexpected gem. This is one of the most creative and original pieces of animation since Toy Story, even if it looks more than a little childish.

Robocop

The premise is mostly the same: a policeman (‘cop’) is severely injured, then made into a machine (‘robo’) by an evil organisation. It’s a chance to bash the corporate world, which in 1987 was done with flair and biting satire. There’s a lot less subtlety now, with the remake gunning instead for the straight-up political angle. It’s less effective. Where this version succeeds is in its boldness. It doesn’t slavishly repeat the original. There are a few references for the scrutinising fans, but mostly this remake dares to chart its own course. Alex Murphy is no longer a machine regaining his humanity: he’s now man coping with robotic bits.

Gravity – Blu-ray review

When it comes to the story, it’s thinner than a wafer on a diet. Gravity invests so much in keeping your buttocks clenched that there’s little room for character development or deeper narratives. George Clooney has little to do but be his usual charming self. He doesn’t get much in the way of context, and serves as a source of irrelevant (but funny) remarks. Sandra Bullock gets a meatier role as the panicky novice who gets to fret and despair. There’s a vague attempt to introduce a back story...

Skyfall – Blu-ray review

After a certain age, franchises seem to feel the need for self-mockery. The last instalments of Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible both demonstrate this when their heroes hilariously misjudge a stunt. Now it’s 007’s turn, fluffing a motorbike jump at the beginning of Skyfall. There are also enough jabs at age throughout the film to suggest that this will be Bond’s last hurrah. The spy goes on, however, defiantly adjusting his cufflink after landing on a moving train. He’s not giving up that easily.

Cinema Review: Avengers Assembled (2012)

The Avengers is a concept that has sold comic books for decades, but it was always considered ‘unfilmable’. What works on paper is not guaranteed to work on film. And so, Marvel carefully developed its characters over five interlinked films before throwing them together. It was ambitious and unprecedented, but it worked: Avengers Assemble is a triumph. Loki (a wonderfully evil Tom Hiddleston) invades Earth with an army of aliens, and the Avengers have to stop them. It is the same heroes-versus-Armageddon plot that we’ve seen a thousand times. But the real story lies in the characters: a group of volatile, isolated individuals.

Cinema Review: Carnage (2011)

One boy hits another with a stick. Their parents bicker about it in a New York flat. The Longstreets (Jodie Foster and John C Reilly) in the blue corner; the Cowans (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) in the red. That’s it. The story is disarmingly straightforward, bordering on mundane. But this being a Polanski effort, it’s not quite as ordinary as it seems. “I believe in the God of Carnage,” growls Waltz. He tries, but not too hard, to hold back the Hans Landa.

Film Review: Pirates Of The Caribbean - On Stranger Tides (2011)

On paper, this film should have worked. It features the legendary Blackbeard. There are mermaids and zombies. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are nowhere to be seen, leaving more room for Depp and Rush to antagonise each other. Despite all of this, the experience is surprisingly boring. One of the film’s biggest problems is that it mistakes action for entertainment. Swords are unsheathed every few minutes, which leads to a gratuitous amount of swashbuckling. All of it is chaotic - none of it is memorable. There is never a sense of purpose or consequence, so there is never any tension. Boredom should never be an appropriate response to a swordfight and yet, in Pirates 4, it is inevitable.

Film School 101: Where Movies Come From

It all started with a question - do all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground when it gallops? Yes, thought Leland Stanford, a former Governor of California. But this question bugged him. He wanted to prove his answer, so he sought the help Eadweard Muybridge, a talented photographer. Muybridge proved him correct using a system of 24 cameras, placed along a track parallel to a horse’s path. The result was a series of photos, each taken in sequence at one thousandth of a second. As you can see above. This was chronophotography, and it was the link between the still photography of the time, and the cinematography of the future. All they had that day was a line of still photos, but this was how cinema came into the world - as a science experiment.
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