Thursday, 5 July 2012

At the crossroads

Changes to this blog.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Blade Runner plus 30


The BBC looks at the 30th anniversay of Blade Runner and examines how well its vision of the future has stood the test of time.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Victor Spinetti (1933-2012)



Actor and raconteur Victor Spinetti has passed on after a brief bout with cancer.  Generally remembered for his appearances in A Hard Day's Night and Help, I shall always remember him as the Duke d'Escargot.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows continues to ask that burning question, what would it be like if Guy Ritchie made a Sherlock Holmes film?  It's the eve of Dr Watson's wedding and Sherlock Holmes is closing in on Professor Moriarty, who is bent on a nefarious plan to plunge the world into war.  Not surprisingly, this results in Watson getting scooped up against his will into the fray and off our heroes go on a cross-continent chase to foil the arch villain.

Like any sequel, Shadows suffers from want of the novelty that marked the first film, but Ritchie makes some wise choices here, such as toning down the steampunk feel of the first and playing up the buddy-picture aspect.  Ritchie is always careful to keep nodding to the Conan Doyle books, though anyone expecting the Byronic, cerebral Holmes from the pages of the Strand won't find him here.  Instead, we are strictly in odd couple territory.

Ritchie also hits the restart button very hard by killing off Rachel McAdams early on and replacing her with Noomi Rapace as the female lead.  Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law are comfortable in their roles and Jared Harris does a credible Moriarity, though he never gives Lionel Atwell a run for his money.

The only real problem is all the digital rubbish.  Do we really need to fly down gun barrels to see bullets and shells ignite?  Must every action sequence cut to slow motion?  Must the entire film be in a bluish colour palette that makes it look like a very detailed comic book?

Fun, though forgettable, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is more a film to be caught on cable than sought on DVD.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Mad doctors and bug-eyed monsters


Modern Mechanix looks at the relationship between scientists and Hollywood during the Golden Age.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Who killed John Carter?


I re-watched John Carter on the new DVD release and I'm more convinced than ever that this film didn't die at the box office on its merits; it was sabotaged by Disney.  It's pretty common to love a film the first time you see it and discover that a repeat viewing reveals just how bad it really is, but with John Carter, I didn't have that experience.  I still contend that it was an excellent adaptation of A Princess of Mars that did justice to the source material, took the non-fan audience into full consideration and came out with a feature that was loads of fun and never had me looking at my watch.

The question is, why did it do so bad at the box office?  There may be other factors, but the main one, I suspect is, sabotage.

I'm not the first one to say this.  In fact, there's an excellent open letter to Disney that covers this written back in March.  Really, I can't do much more than echo and elaborate on what the author said.  It struck me as odd how little publicity was given to John Carter in the past year and what there was proved horrible.  The publicity stills looked cheap and dull like something out of a Syfy feature.  The trailer was so badly put together that fans re-edited it to better effect.

Then, as the opening approached, it went from odd to suspicious.  Where were the interviews?  The cynical little marketing bits on the cable channels or on Youtube?  No paperback editions of the Barsoom series with stills from the film on the cover?  No special edition hardbacks with the same?  No viral campaigns?  No posters?  No toys?  No Happy Meals?  No "fan art" that started popping up at just the right time?  No saturation coverage on Disney-owned outlets?  Odd.

Then the smell factor kicked in when I saw what little was out there.  Posters that made no sense.  Standies in the cinema featuring white apes that gave no clue as to what the film was.  Efectively, there was nothing out there.

Then, as the open letter pointed out, Disney was very keen on declaring it a flop as soon as possible.  All this while wailing about how much money they'd lost–including $100 million in advertising.  As the open letter pointed out, who did the publicity?  The characters from Entourage?

Then last Thursday, the final piece fell into place.  I saw the DVD cover that looked like something off of a Chinese pirate version.  More than that, I saw the lone special feature; a making-of video obviously made by the filmmakers that showed them as passionate, creative, high-powered Hollywood types who really wanted to deliver.  I also saw the concept art (where was this before the release?) and crews dedication to doing right by Burroughs.

My verdict?  I'm not enough of a Hollywood insider to point fingers, but from the outward signs, I must conclude that someone high up in Disney had it in for this film or someone behind it and did everything he could to ensure its failure.  Someone not only starved it of the oxygen of publicity; he poisoned it with bad publicity.  When else has a studio ever come out and said "Our film is crap.  Stay away."?

John Carter was murdered.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)

Following an "invitation" left on Earth thousands of years ago, a team of scientists backed by an aging businessman travel to another star system to meet the aliens who created man, only to find much more than they'd bargained for.

I hate being disappointed by a film.  I love seeing a film that I thought would be good and was, I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a film I knew would be bad and was, and I delight in seeing a film I thought would be bad and wasn't.  What I dislike is watching a film that I thought would be good and it proves to be like a beautiful sandwich where the meat turns out to be tough and dry.

So it is with director Ridley Scott's big-budget return to science fiction/horror, Prometheus.  I was really looking forward to this one.  I loved Alien and Blade Runner and from the advertising campaign it looked like this was Scott going back to his roots.  The poster was intriguing, the trailer was genuinely harrowing and the David 8 viral advert was brilliant.

Let's start with the positive.  This is a beautiful film that makes Avatar look like the 3D animation feature that it really was.  Scott has a tremendous visual imagination and he knows how to get his ideas up on the screen.    He also knows how to get the best out of his editor and cinematographer.  Prometheus is a joy to look at, the action sequences are clear and well choreographed, the framing is spot on and the editing leaves the audience with a crisp story that cranks along at just the right speed.  I must also say the costume and set design that echoes Alien without seeming like a pastiche.  It all works.

Then there is the cast.  With the exception of Logan Marshall-Green and Guy Pearce, who are woefully miscast as a driven scientist and insane, aged tycoon respectively, the actors do a remarkable job.  Micheal Fassbender as David gives a performance that deserves a Best Actor Oscar (The early scenes of David alone on the spaceship are beautiful and compelling) and Noomi Rapace as the visionary archaeologist steps into the obligatory Action Girl role nicely.  Unfortunately, their roles are so badly written that they don't give justice to their performances.

 It's a shame that the end product is a dry turkey sandwich.  The whole premise behind the film is ill conceived and goes downhill from there.  Scott wanted to deal with big issues: Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  What is our relationship with our creator?   That's all very deep, but when man's creator turns out to be giant teddy bear aliens, all that goes out the airlock and we're left with much more prosaic questions, like how to get the squid monster out of the girl's belly.  At least Kubrick had the sense to make his aliens suitably mysterious and omnipotent.  Worse, the scriptwriters, who include one of the idiots behind Lost, fall into Lost's conundrum fallback and refuse to provide any answers to any questions large or small.

Sorry, but, like Lost, that's a cheat.  If you're going to raise questions about the meaning of life, then either provide an answer and take your lumps or have something interesting to say.  Don't just tease the audience as a prelude to taking the money and running.  That's not writing, that's a con game.  A con game built on cod theology at that.  If you hated Lost, you'll loathe this film.  If you liked Alien, you'll wonder what on Earth allowed this lot near the concept.

The writing is also lazy.  I could never figure out how Ridley Scott doing a space adventure could cause Guillermo del Toro to announce that he was abandoning his production of At the Mountains of Madness.  Having seen Prometheus, I now know why.  This film is Mountains in space.  It's the same story with the same beats and even the same outcome right down to the shoggoths.  However, what Lovecraft had to say about the origins of life on Earth, man's place in the universe and the beings who allegedly created us was a worm that worked overtime on the imagination and made you sleep with the lights on.  Prometheus invokes a powerful "so what?" reaction and makes you wish that Doctor Who (preferably Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker) would show up in the Tardis to get the story back on track.

The script doesn't even hold together.  It's riddled with basic mistakes such as characters not even showing basic curiosity, doing things for no reason other than it's in the script, and leaps of logic that would put the old Batman television series to shame.  How, for example, does a pictograph showing a man pointing at a constellation justify the conclusion that man was created by space aliens?  "Because that's what I choose to believe" doesn't cut it on any level of reasoning.

And this isn't an isolated example.  It's the standard operating mode of the writers.

Then there's the characters.  Scott's truck drivers in space idea was brilliant–in 1979.  It really set up the story to have a ship full of people who had no training for such a job investigating an alien spaceship.  It explained their vulnerability and heightened our sense of their peril.  It doesn't work in 2012.  These are supposed to be a ship of trained professionals who are going on a well-financed mission where they have a fairly good idea of what they'll be up against.  Instead, we get a load of emotional retards who yell and moan and complain in that infuriating naturalistic acting style that is as far from natural as it's possible to get.  The idea is old and it's played out.  Can't we, for a change, go back to the approach in The Thing From Another World or 1970's BBC sci fi and have grown ups who know what they're doing coming up against the menace?  How much more refreshing if the archaeologist, the corporate ice woman and the ship's captain had propelled the story with the dynamic of three competent, head-strong individuals who each want to approach the problem their own way and refuse to yield to the other two. That is a film I'd see.  I don't want to see a two neurotic women with daddy issues and a detached captain who doesn't care until the script tells him to care.

And don't get me started on Scott's recycling of the same old "procreation is horrible" idea that should have died with Freud.

This is a film where people do things that make no sense, like killing time having sex while shipmates are trapped in an alien temple being eaten by horrors or showing no curiosity when someone stumbles into a room half naked, covered in blood with a huge, freshly-stapled surgical wound in her abdomen.  Wouldn't this rate at least a "What the heck happened to you?"  And when your robot starts punching alien buttons that no one knows the purpose of, you might want to ask him in no uncertain terms what the **** he's doing instead of shrugging your shoulders in a naturalistic fashion.

It's a pity that the old studio system is dead.  I'd have loved to be able to look forward to the day when Scott's beautiful images could be pilfered by a better film as stock footage, but that spaceship has sailed.