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Windows Phone 7 | One Year Later

Selling Out

About a year ago, I sold out as part of the Windows Phone 7 Telstra Review Team. I was really curious about the WP7, which was getting a lot of buzz and certainly looked very different from most smart phones on the market. The deal I made myself at the time was to use the Windows Phone ((For those curious, it was a HTC Mozart)) exclusively for a week, so I could write a fair and honest review. I broke that deal on the second day. The Windows Phone, though very pretty, was just too frustrating and unfinished to use. So instead I carried two phones for a week. I tried as much as possible to use the Windows Phone, but for most things – listening to music and podcasts, posting to Twitter, checking the bus timetable – the iPhone was just so much easier an experience.

At the time, all the Windows Phone blogs and rumour sites were saying “Just wait til January” and “Mango will save us all!”. Mango, or Windows Phone 7.5, was supposed to be bringing cut and paste, multitasking, and a slew of other features to that would bring Windows Phone up to date with iPhone. It didn’t actually drop til September, and by then my lil Mozart was long gone. But I was still really curious, did Mango really fix all the issues I had with the WP7? Was good ol’ Microsoft back in the game?

Mango Cometh

So when a lovely friend offered to lend me a review unit ((this time a HTC Trophy)) running Mango I jumped at the chance. The hardware looked identical to the phone I played with last year, but that’s not what I was interested in, and that’s not what this review is about. It’s all about the software. So, looking back on my review last year, lets see what they’ve improved.

Everything

First, to do this properly, I set myself the same challenge of a week using the Windows Phone and nothing else. This time it was easy. The only thing I really missed was over the air podcast downloading with Instacast or Pocketcasts. Everything else was at least doable this time round.

 The OS

The greatest improvement to Windows Phone 7 was the operating system itself. The pretty was back, but this time it was a hell of a lot more stable. The phone didn’t crash once in the week I used it. Cut and Paste is there, and its actually a little faster than in iPhone. Or at least it feels that way. Mail has a unified inbox, which helps with Tile management (more on that later) and the Mail app itself it gorgeous, and I think superior to iOS’ Mail. The Font Heavy Metro UI just makes email look pretty, and i guess its understandable. Microsoft made its empire on the back of Exchange and Office, and with WP7 it feels like the rest of the UI was designed to make email look good. The Calendar App now supports multiple calendars and sub or delegate calendars,which is handy, but will still only show the next upcoming appointment on the lockscreen. In a way, I kind of like that though. WP7 seems all about cutting down the options and distractions. Sometimes that gets annoying, but here it really works. IE for WP7 was a solid browsing experience. Websites loaded quickly, bookmarks (sorry, favourites) we’re easy to access and pages could be pinned to the homescreen. There were a few annoying little glitches though. WP7 still doesn’t save drafts in SMS, so if you’re half way through an SMS and get distracted, you’ll lose the SMS when you reopen the app. Bing Maps is still quite ugly compared to Google Maps, and I stand by the description of it looking like “varicose veins on a pale, chubby leg.”  There’s also no way of using the WP7 as a 3G modem, or at least I couldn’t find it. There’s also no real multitasking to speak of. Sure, there’s no real multitasking on iOS either, but the facsimile of it is good enough. With WP7, you’re thankful the homescreen is just so pretty, because you see it all the time. EDIT: Thanks to the Nick’s comment below, there is a way of fast-app switching between the last few open apps, by pressing and holding the back button, you get a sexy little app switcher screen:

 

Most annoying, there is still no goddamn way of taking a goddamn screenshot on the goddamn phone. I can understand Android leaving this feature out, them phones is ugly, but WP7? How do they expect people to review the phone, or post screen shots on twitter, or whatever? I realise this is a very small market or use case to cater to, but its the most important market, the social media douchebag. Get on it Microsoft. What is cool is that Microsoft have a full screen demo you can play with right now on your iPhone or Android. I found it looking for screenshots for this post.

The Tiles

The most well know feature of WP7 is its tiled homescreen, possibly because its so different to iPhone and Android. I still really like the idea, and how some tiles can be “live” (showing moving images of friends for instance on the “People” Tile) but it’s still just not that great in practice. I still had the issue of trying to find the one tile I needed amongst a sea of similar coloured tiles.  The size of the tiles means the default home screen (before scrolling down) can only hold 8 applications to iPhone’s 20 ((more if you use folders)). And the 8 applications become 6 or 7 if you include Calendar or Photos, which for some reason are the size of two tiles each. Making app finding harder is the fact there is only one homescreen available. To use WP7 effectively I’d suggest having only 16 apps on the home screen, 8 at the top, then 8 if you scroll down. Any more than that and the homescreen will  scroll with no clear snapping point in either direction, making finding apps in the middle of your list a chore. Of course, there is still the back up homescreen, the long list of apps you havent “pinned” to the start, but thats not much better. Its still just one long list of apps, only smaller. I’m sure WP8 will bring multiple homescreens, so you can organise into Daily Apps, Camera apps, Social apps, etc, but until then, i found myself booting one app off the homescreen before adding anything new. Perhaps this is the WP7 “forced simplicity” idea at work again, and for many users it won’t be a big deal, but for the app obsessed, its a bit of a drag.

My biggest complaint, one I bothered to photograph, is the colours of the tiles. I know I just finished complaining about similar coloured tiles making finding things harder, but it does make the homescreen prettier. And until we, the end user, can change the colour of an individual tile, I don’t see why developers are allowed to. It’s such an odd complaint, I know, but in an interface so obviously governed by a strict HIG, to allow any old app to be any old colour is really bizarre. Some apps seem kind, and will change colour to match the theme you’re using, but most simply ignore your colour theme completely.  And Microsoft makes this decision acceptable by making their Xbox app lime green, and pinned to the start of the homescreen by default, regardless of the theme you choose. I know it sounds small, but in an interface where 7 out of 8 apps are blue but one stays green, mocking you, just to spite you,  it really drives you insane, as the following re-enactment shows. Here we have a beautiful homescreen of calm azure tiles, with 6 built in WP7 apps and the official Twitter app.

 

In the next shot, I replace the Twitter App with the Seesmic App. Note how the built in apps stay blue, but Seesmic stares back, mocking me, in defiant cherry red. The devil’s red.

Of course, the only rational reaction at this point is to reject the app and all it’s works, or to give in to temptation and force the app to rule your theme.

 Umberto Eco wrote a famous essay that the Mac experience was quite a catholic experience of “we know whats best for you, so stick to our rules and you’ll make it to heaven”, where as the Windows PC world was far more protestant, it allowed for “free interpretation” of the rules. The point is, WP7 is trying to be the Catholic experience, but to stretch the analogy too far, its only a Catholic experience for the end users, but its letting the clergy do whatever it wants, and that’s not the Catholic church I’m familiar with.. Ok, i’ll stop now.

3rd Party Apps

Despite all the above complaints, Mango is a damn fine OS. It’s beautiful, intuitive and fast, and in many ways a joy to use. What lets WP7 down the most, especially as an iPhone user, is the quality of the 3rd Party Apps. In my original review, I complained about how many third party apps I used daily did not yet exist for WP7. Most of those apps exist now, (Tripview for example) or have equivalent apps (the store is now full of Google Reader Apps). But there are still some notable exceptions. Dropbox is missing,  Instapaper will probably never be ported.  Stranger still, there’s still no official Skype app, despite Microsoft buying them back in May. And while the Apple App Store remains the biggest game in town, developers will always go there first. Every week a new iOS app like Discovr comes along that has been assembled with such thought, care and style, I’m constantly amazed. I can’t see Android or WP7 closing that gap any time soon. But what was really surprising was how awful the official Twitter app was ((all unofficial Twitter Apps were just as bad)). It still refreshed every time it was launched, meaning it never kept your spot in the timeline or a draft saved. It always threw you up to the top of your twitter stream, it would load each section (timeline, then replies, then messages) painfully slowly, and always from scratch. For a twitter app to work, it needs to be something you can open and close quickly, not giving it to much thought. It has to be disposable. WP7 made you work for twitter. I guess its a limitation of no multitasking, but I still think the experience could be improved. I just don’t get it, because, like people who need to take screen shots, twitter people are the most vocal, annoying people on the web (face it, we are) so you really need to please us first. And there really is no need for the Twitter App to be crap, many others aren’t. Facebook for WP7 is better than it’s iPhone equivalent. It’s still a native app, not just a border around a web page as the iOS App has become. Foursquare is brilliant, its functions have been moved around and re-emphasised to work best in the Metro UI, and  again, it may just be better than the iPhone version. But I spend most time on my phone bouncing between a Twitter app, a browser, and a Google Reader app. Nextgen Reader was fine, IE as mentioned above was fine, Twitter was awful.

Syncing to A Mac

The Windows Phone Connector for Mac hasn’t really changed much in a year, although it is now downloaded from the Mac App Store, so there’s that. It’s still a big, dumb interface that just sits on top of iTunes, but at least now you can select a little more granularly- choosing only “the last 3 unplayed podcasts” for instance. A year ago, it was all or nothing.

A familiar, clunky, but workable interface

Buying from the Windows Phone Marketplace (via a browser) is pretty slick though. Apps are immediately downloaded to the phone, which Android did first, and iOS does now, but its still cool, ok? I didn’t try the Zune Subscription Music Store, which sounds both incredibly cool and quite painful.

TL;DR

From a standing start, Windows Phone has become an polished, fully featured, beautiful platform in just one and a half releases. Mango really did bring the Windows Phone up to about iOS 3 in most areas, and in specific apps like Mail, I think they may have even leapfrogged iOS ((I have no idea how WP7 compares to Android, but if anyone wants to lend me one running Ice Cream Sandwich, I’ll happily give it a go )). And they’ve got the time and money to keep building from there. What is really letting WP7 down now, apart from a few little OS niggles that I’m sure will be addressed, is the lack of interesting 3rd Party apps. I have no idea what Microsoft need to do to lure iOS and Android developers (developers, developers) to their platform, but then need to do it now.

Windows Phone 7 Review

A few days ago i recorded a one hour chat with fellow social reviewers @smperris and @TheMonkeyBoy – you can listen to it here. But i realise (my girlfriend told me to write this) a lot of people don’t have the time to dedicate an hour listening to our thoughts, so here’s my final thoughts on the latest phone from Redmond. All of this will be on the test.

Hardware.

The Mozart is a nice enough phone. Feels better (softer?) in the hand than the iPhone 4 and a better build quality than the HTC Desire. I hope the next iPhone takes some inspiration here and goes back to the rounded edges of the 3G/s with the aluminium of the first gen Jesus. The screen is a high res, high gloss beautiful touch screen. The screen is as responsive as Jebus, let down (at this stage) by the bugginess of the software.

Network

Considering every wanker with a twitter account (myself included) has complained about call dropouts and slow data on the Vodafone and Optus network, bemoaned the 24 month contracts they signed, and told the world they’d switch to Telstra as soon as their contract was over,  its should be no surprise that Telstra has a kickarse network. Yes, it is kickarse. No, it is not perfect, but its the best we’ve got. I had no dropouts on the phone, although I still couldn’t get data in some of the deeper crevasses of the UNSW campus.

Software

The software is a very polished 1.0 product, but still very much a 1.0 – The already iconic home screen is very pretty, but some fucntionality is lost from the big blocky icons. To compare this screenshot stolen from another blog : ((the most frustrating thing about the phone for me the last two weeks was not being able to take screenshots on the phone. Note to Microsoft, screenshots make reviews helpful.))

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The Windows Phone 7 can only have 8 applications available for immediate launch on the home screen. The iPhone, by comparison, has space for 20 apps of the home screen. Making this worse is certain apps (like Pictures in this example) or Calendar for me, take up two whole squares, leaving just 7 apps to access on the home screen. Worse still, each email account takes up its own app square, so in my configuration ((a screenshot would be so handy right now)) the 4 of my 7 homescreen apps are taking up by email and calendar, leaving just 3 spaces for SMS, Phone, and Twitter. Another disadvantage of the UI is switching between homescreens. On iPhone, a swipe to the left reveals another 20 apps that are easily accesible (more with folders). But the Windows phone UI is not divided into “homescreens”, it’s one long list of apps. So a swipe down in this case scrolls indefinetly, it doesn’t swipe then stop at the next 7 apps. This makes finding and sort apps even harder. And thats before taking in to account every fucking icon looks the same. Big blue squares.

Unified UI

But the phone has some beautiful features too. It appears there are some strict UI guidelines for developing apps for Wp7, which make the experience as a whole feel much nice than the ‘anything goes’ feel of Android. It even looks sexier than Apple’s offering at first (perhaps i’ve just become sick of the same old interface after four years) but within a few days i found myself tired of an interface built around sexy fonts and typography with no obvious buttons to click. But if you may get a kick out of it.

Apps

Not surprisingly, 3rd party apps for WP7 are not even close to the polish of iPhone apps. Very few 3rd Party Android apps match the polish of the iPhone and they’ve had far more experience copying the tastemakers at Cupertino. But wp7 apps have a better chance of becoming polished quicker, as the style guides have already been set, developers can now just focus on function. The best apps on the phone are the Office suite. It makes sense, Office is Microsoft’s strongest brand, and creating the ‘best Office integration’ on a phone should be Microsoft’s killer app. On the other end of the Microsoft stable is Xbox. The name and colours of Xbox are all over the phone, but really, its just another folder on the homescreen to store games. The Xbox live experience app is mainly pointless, it only allows you to play with your Xbox avatar and see your points. Anyone claiming that changing the clothes of your Xbox avatar on your phone is somehow a ‘game changer’ and ‘immersive gaming experience’ has spent too long reading the marketing material. The main problem with apps for the WP7 is the lack of apps we’ve all become trained to use on a daily basis on phones like Android and iPhone. There is no Evernote, Dropbox, (decent) twitter app, Instapaper, Simplenote, Tripview, MetroMelbourne, etc, etc. The Bing Maps App looks muted and washed out compared to Google Maps on Android and iPhone. The App Store itself is pretty annoying too. Like every other part of the UI, its all font no buttons. Every day the background changes to whatever app is recommended by the store, making the interface even harder to navigate, and purely based on the small amount of users, there are very few reviews or ratings on apps to help decided what is decent and what is not. The Browser, IE 6 Mobile apparently, is good enough, rendering full page sites fast with the standard zoom and click you’d expect on a modern smartphone not made by RIM. (( Interestingly, its the iPhone optimised sites that seem to trip up the browser. A screenshot could be really handy here, too. ))

Wait for January

So my final thoughts would be, don’t buy the Windows Phone 7. Yet. I’m throwing my wp7 into a drawer where it will sit, waiting for the rumoured January update that will supposedly bring the software up to the feature set of the iPhone 4.0. I wouldn’t be surprised if the rumour is true, Microsoft were able to get a very solid 1.0 out the door remarkably quickly after ditching their awful Windows 6 system. They have the money and resources to throw everything at the mobile market, and they must realise they need to – as iPhone solidifies itself as the Mac of the phone world and Android is quickly becoming the Microsoft. So stay tuned. iPhone’s quality is still miles ahead of the competition, Android’s growth seems unstoppable, and now Microsoft has woken up and stumbled in to the market demanding its share. The phone market over the next twelve months is going to be fascinating to watch. In a world without iPhone, the Windows Phone 7 may well be the best phone on the market. But then again, in a world without iPhone, Microsoft would probably think Windows for Palm was good enough.

Inception Review (Spoiler Free)

The following review is designed to be as vague and spoiler-free as possible.

From Christopher Nolan, the “do no wrong” director of The Dark Knight and darling of internet film fan sites comes Inception, Hollywood’s last great hope for the summer blockbuster season. Nolan himself is probably the biggest name of the project, his star outshining leading man Leonardo DiCaprio. The rest of the cast is made of indie stars Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Cillian Murphy, with Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite thrown in for good measure. The message is clear from the casting alone, this is not your Knight and Day blockbuster fare.

Inception follows DiCaprio’s Cobb, internationally renown thief, who invades the dreams of his victims in order to steal secrets from them. He’s hired by a shady mulitinational billionaire boss for ‘one last job’, to enter the dream of another billionaire and plant an idea in his head. Planting an idea, or Inception, is the ‘cross the streams’ of dream invasion apparently, but Cobb takes the job anyway, as it may just allow him to clear his name and return home. These little cliches are perhaps used to ground an otherwise very confusing film.

To further complicate things, Cobb has to deal with his dead wife constantly invading the dreams, or is it memories, he’s creating. Or something.

To be honest, the plot isn’t all that important. This is a classic heist movie, one part set up, one part execution of the heist. The first half of the film is devoted to training Ellen Page’s Ariadne, the young architect brought on by Cobb to build the dreamscape of the heist. Inception take almost an hour and a half training Ariadne, setting up the final caper and explaining the rules of the dreamscape it will take place in. It should be boring, constant exposition and explanation is the cardinal sin of movie making, but it all moves along at such a cracking pace and with such visual flair you really don’t have time to notice.

The disappointment is the final dreamscapes are not nearly as inventive as these training dreams. After watching whole cities crumble into the sea and streets of Paris fold over onto themselves, the heist itself, for all its space time trickery, is really just a series of action sequences. The ripple effect that links the various layers of dreams together is impressive, but at least for me there was no real sense of tension. You kind of get the feeling that the heist had been written and rewritten by Nolan so many times that all the pieces would have to eventually fall into place. He wouldn’t allow anything else.

It’s no surprise from the trailer that the further DiCaprio, Page and Co enter this world the more we’re left wondering where reality ends and dreams begin. Is it all just a dream in the end? Does any of it make sense? To be honest i have no idea. I’d say that will only become clear after a third or fourth screening. I can say i was riveted from the first to the final frame.

With The Dark Knight, Nolan brought a level of psychological terror and philosophical pondering to the superhero genre, a genre not exactly known for such adult themes. Here he brings the same level of sophistication to alternate reality Science fiction films like Total Recall and the to the ‘bullet time’ conventions of The Matrix. That he manages to pull it off is remarkable.

Its not the achievement of The Dark Knight, its not even as good as that other summer blockbuster Toy Story 3, but like Avatar it is a wholly original work by a master film maker, and as such should be seen in a cinema. Nolan’s vision, flawed as it may be here, deserves the biggest screen possible, and the box office needs to reward Hollywood for allowing Nolan the artistic freedom to dream.

Our iPad Adventure Has Made the News (Review To Come!)

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While I was away Anthony was updating Mactalk (almost) daily on our adventures, so if you want to read the full story go there, but if you’d like a summary of the trip, Renai Lemay has a general overview of the trip, and an excellent follow up article. We’re also in the Herald Sun! As for the review, i crashed out some time around 8pm and woke up at 2am, but i’ve been playing with the iPad ever since. I’ve tested about 100 apps and Mac utilities to get stuff on the iPad, so I’ll post as soon as i can form sentences.Spoiler: Fuck the iPad is Awesome.

Payneful

This was always going to be a difficult review. I’ve previously mentioned my reservations about this adaptation and watching the film was aware that I ran the risk of being too harsh if it didn’t meet my pre-conceived notion of what a Max Payne film should be. With that in mind I’ll try to separate the game-specific stuff from the film itself.Let’s start with some background. Max Payne was a first person shooter on the PC back in 2001 made by the Finnish game studio Remedy. It’s sequel was released in 2003 and surprisingly was almost as good as the original. At the time of it’s release Max Payne was pretty ground breaking, most noticeably for its gameplay elements such as bullet time, but more important was the rich noir-inspired story and arresting graphic novel design elements displayed throughout cut scenes and story sequences. It was an adult game that looked at addiction, psychosis, lust, and revenge.

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The first game started with Max as a beat cop coming home to find his wife and infant daughter murdered by junkies. After burying his loved ones Max transfers to the DEA to focus on his new obsession – finding the people responsible for the murder of his family. 3 years later we come back to Max who’s now deep undercover with a local Mafia family who oversee the distribution of the drug Valkyr, the same drug the junkies were high on. The game progresses with Max being framed for the murder of a cop, and running from both the police and the Mafia as he seeks revenge before being captured or killed.

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The film starts with a similar opening: Max’s family is murdered as laid out in the game, but rather than following the story-line already defined 7 years ago, we cut to scenes inside a police station where random cops provide nothing but exposition and bad one-liners. We move to a very matrix scene in a train station where Max is jumped by junkies. Instead of the highly stylised bullet time effects we expect we’re treated to a by-the-numbers face off scene highlighting what a bad-arse Max is. There’s also real push to highlight the supernatural, Norse mythology elements which begin effecting the addicts (which is more than a little out of place).Irritation swiftly arises: Max doesn’t smoke or drink, he doesn’t narrate, and he sure as hell isn’t bat-shit crazy. The hooks we have grown to know and love about the character have been removed, leaving little more than a standard rogue cop in a story sporting thoroughly uninteresting characters. You will know who the big bad is as soon as he’s introduced, you will get a metric fuck-tonne of exposition as the movie plods along, and you will be left with the impression that nobody involved in shooting, writing, or acting in this film has played the fucking game.Visually and stylistically (excepting some of the VFX work) the film fails too; Director John Moore doesn’t reference the stunning film noir genre that the video game managed to capture – you won’t see any Vertigo, Blue Velvet, or Singing Detective here. If anything it often looks more like a tele movie than film, just because you don’t have a pile of cash to play with doesn’t mean you need to have small ideas. Sound design is often interesting but derivative, and it’s noticeable that the production borrows heavily but artlessly from better work. There’s quite a lot of Constantine in here, a bit of The Matrix, some of the previously mentioned Seven, a fleeting attempt at some Sin City, and even a little bit of Gladiator. The screenplay is terrible (Beau Thorne, I know this was your first screenplay but by fuck I hope it’s your last) with bad dialogue and inconsistencies throughout, and most of all it’s not Max Payne in anything but name.Still on the visual side I do need to mention SPIN, the VFX house who did the effects work on the film, and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX Producer Ken Wallace. Given the budget of the movie (around $35 Mil all up) they really did some stellar work.  The VFX sequences of the film are the only time I felt like somebody had paid attention to the game – well done guys.We’re left with a terrible film which should never have been made, It’s tedious to watch and fails not only as an action film but also as a game adaptation.1.5 stars.

Bangkok Dangerous: Review

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Two directors remaking their own film for a foreign audience? Yeah winner. Nic Cage is the next Steven Seagal; an aging action star with a fetish for Asian culture and eastern philosophy making terrible films, starring himself.So Nic is Joe – a hitman who flies to Bangkok with 4 targets to assassinate for a local gangster. Upon arriving he hires a street urchin named Kong to run errands, the intention being to dispose of Kong when Joe is finished with the killing. In a stunning twist Kong discovers Joe’s real reason for being in Thailand, and rather than turning him in asks to be trained as an assassin. Joe takes Kong under his wing and meets a local deaf-mute woman who strangely enough becomes his love interest, melting his hardened heart.What you end up with is a really tedious and boring film: Cage simply can’t act his way out of a paper bag, and at 99 minutes the film feels like half could have been removed without effecting the story. There’s really not much that happens, far from being Bangkok Dangerous the movie is far more … Bangkok Bland. The biggest issue with the film is that there’s nothing new here, it’s the same story we’ve seen hundreds of times before and as a result there’s simply no tension. We know how the film will play out: we know that Joe will be smitten by a local lady, we know that the wise-cracking street urchin will become Joe’s side kick (who despite being trained as an assassin doesn’t actually kill anyone), and we know that Joe will seek redemption in the final act. It’s an exercise in cliche and painting-by-numbers, really not worth your time.Oh, and his hair is just terrible!1.5 stars

Baby Nuggets.

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You know sometimes I get it wrong. Every so often the movie I thought I’d thoroughly hate turns out to be something a little special; much like my experience of The Matrix – any film starring Nananu was bound to be bad and yet I left the cinema gushing excitedly to friends and lining up to watch it again. Occasionally a film comes along which despite your low expectations causes you to sit up and get swept away by its insight and cutting political acuity. Babylon A.D. proves that even in the post-apocalyptic, post-nuclear, European future a turd-burger still tastes like shit.To be fair the director of the film did lament that Fox had cut it to ribbons, and that the story had been reduced to “pure violence and stupidity”. It’s more than obvious that this was in fact the case: there are large portions of the story which are simply missing, plot holes materialise before your eyes, and the pacing of the film jars and chatters as the locations jump and switch. The horrendous editing in itself was something of a travesty, yet shouldn’t stand alone to shoulder the blame. If anything it could almost be applauded for attempting to mask some of the oh-so-painful dialogue, poor direction, uninspired cinematography, dreadful screenplay, and below-average acting talent. That Kassovitz developed the film for 5 years and co-wrote the screenplay lands many of the problems with the film squarely at his feet. Yes, it was terribly edited but there’s a lingering suspicion that this bun may have been in the oven a little too long.The film opens in a future war ravaged Russian slum where Czech extras make their acting debuts with almost more onscreen presence than the stars. Riddick Toorop’s entrance is accompanied by an obnoxious gangsta rap score; a wonderful musical choice for a film full of white guys, snow, white guys, Russia, and white guys. Heavy Christian themes, random parkour, unexplained fighter drones which blow up when shot by a hand gun twice, arduous and ridiculous snowmobile sequences (everyone in full exposure gear so you can’t tell who’s who – then dubbing their voices over the top), and a Coke Zero branded aeroplane … The list of aberrations is long and continues.  No Mr. Mathieu Kassovitz, stop interjecting. You made this, the fucktards at Fox who funded the project probably made it worse, but they didn’t reshoot sequences on your behalf.I’m actually glad the rumoured 2.5 hour European release never eventuated, it meant less time invested in a painful, rushed, nonsensical film.1 star.

Eagle Eye

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Shia LaBeouf is in absolutely everything at the moment, and his latest release is D.J. Caruso’s action/thriller/science fiction-esque Eagle Eye. LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, who along with Rachel Holloman (the delicious Michelle Monaghan) are contacted by a mysterious woman who begins to dictate their actions via mobile phone.Caruso has previously directed LaBeouf in the commercially successful Disturbia, and Michael Chiklis in several episodes of The Shield. The director has obviously paid a lot of attention to the action elements of the film, which Eagle Eye has in spades. Verbs like “relentless”, “explosive”, and “non-stop” might be appropriate to use in describing the pacing of the film with the characters leaping from precarious positions to dire situations as they’re manipulated by the woman on the phone. Caruso certainly didn’t want even the most ADD afflicted members of his audience to get bored on this outing, and the screen lights up frequently with explosions, obviously over-cranked car chases, and plenty of gun play.Eagle Eye had the potential to be a paranoia-inducing look at the state of surveillance technology and fear following the September 11 incident, and its implications on self determination, privacy, and the FBI’s Magic Lantern and Omnibus initiatives. There were some indications early on the film was heading that way, but in reality these were just used to set up the main premise of the film which swiftly dropped all shreds of believability.By far the most annoying aspects of the film are the way patriotism and terrorism are rammed down our throats as the motivators of every action. That plot elements are telegraphed so far ahead, the Bourne-syndrome editing (where by the audience is given the impression of frantic activity by not being able to track what’s happening on screen), the obvious plot holes, and the terrible ending to the film only serve to make Caruso seem a little closer to Michael Bay 2.0.Billy Bob Thornton plays a respectable Agent Thomas Morgan and Rosario Dawson is lacklustre as Agent Zoe Perez. LaBeouf and Monaghan really only need to run around and yell at each other for most of their onscreen time, and feel a little wasted and disconnected as a result. The film generally looks good apart from some of the previously mentioned over-cranked sequences which looks like video, and a couple of suspect comps. It’s entertaining but was a missed opportunity.2.5 stars

Yaks and Yetis and Dragons, oh my!

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor brings the series back to the silver screen with a new mummy that isn’t, 3 bouncing yetis, and an airsick vomiting Yak. Yeah it sounds great.Jet. Fucking. Li. At one time his name would have been enough for me to go watch anything and grin like fiend right the way through. That was before the Westernisation of Jet and his progression from Danny the Dog, to Fearless, then The Forbidden Kingdom, and now The Mummy.It turns out that Jet Li is actually a pretty god-damn average actor, but still better than Statham and not so wooden.My biggest bone of contention with The Mummy is that it felt like the film makers just didn’t give a  fuck about what they were putting on screen. A key actor has been replaced, Brendan Fraser’s Australian son looks more like his brother – (probably because there’s only 13 years between them), and there are seemingly random additions to the plot, probably because they couldn’t think of anything else to progress the story (“I know, suddenly Yetis!” “Yeah, on Springs!” “Oh and now he’s a dragon!”).It’s a B grade movie with far too much budget, if Brendan Fraser didn’t take himself so seriously it could be passed off as parody. Instead it almost seemed like a self-promotion piece, lacking any of the charisma from the earlier films. Directed by Rob Cohen of The Fast and the Furious, the film is tedious and never gives the audience a reason to become anxious – something that should be pretty important in a monster film. Instead this is designed to be fluffy family-friendly comedy/action film and even on that level it fails: it’s not funny, you don’t care what happens to the characters, and really you’re just waiting for it to all be over so you can go home and floss the popcorn out of your teeth.Not as bad as Hellboy but it certainly tries to come close.2 stars.