Archive for August, 2009

Breaking News

An evil all consuming entity has taken over the universe.

I am not talking about the plot for a new Star Wars Movie but the sad news that Disney the worlds largest media company has paid a reported $4billion for Marvel. For this they get control of the comic book publisher and the movie studio but more importantly the so called Marvel Universe and the 5000 characters that inhabit it. I am sure Disney’s intentions are relatively honourable and they have no plans beyond making money but this could prove to be a very sad day for comic books and the movies based on them. We will have to wait and see!

RIP Marvel.


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I was listening to Jason Isaacs on the radio yesterday, he was a guest on Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews program.  He mentioned taking his kids to see Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in 3D.  He complained that they do not make small glasses for kids.  I had never considered this but now he mentions it I think he has a point.  So many of these films are aimed at kids, they really should make the glasses more suitable.  While they are at it they should do something about making them more user friendly for people who wear glasses like me! Real D glasses

This got me thinking about the need for 3D and at the moment I really struggle to see it as anything other than a gimmick.  There are people who say it is the next step in the evolution of the motion picture following synchronised sound and Technicolor.  Others will tell you that it helps fight piracy.  There are many other theories positive and cynical whatever you believe I think we are going to reach a tipping point where 3D will fail or thrive and that tipping point will be “Avatar”.  avatar

If this film works the floodgates will open and we will be inundated with 3D films and the medium may overshadow the artistic content for a time the way CGI has done in recent years.  If it fails 3D will disappear back into obscurity again.  Whatever happens we will reach a point when the new technology is paid for and they have to stop charging extra for 3D films.

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It is often suggested that Star Wars changed cinema forever, it certainly changed Sci-Fi cinema. Below are some of the best pre Star Wars Sci-Fi movies:

metropolisMetropolis (1927) The oldest film on the list Metropolis still looks impressive more than eighty years later and has the privilege of being the only film in this list that is in my video/DVD collection. The dystopian future has been a favourite of Sci-Fi filmmakers ever since.

The Day the Earth Stood StillThe Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) Like many great early Sci-Fi this film has been remade but this original is far superior. With post war America overrun with cold war paranoia the film has a none to subtle message warning against the dangers of the cold war and the nuclear arms race that it was fuelling.

War of the WorldsWar of the Worlds (1953) Based on a HG Wells story, by the time this original film version of War of the Worlds made it to film it had become another cautionary tale about the cold war. It was preceded by Orson Welles infamous radio play and followed by an epic album and a Spielberg remake.

Invasion of the Body SnatchersInvasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Like most great early Sci-Fi this film has been remade. Post war America was overrun with cold war paranoia. Is this sounding familiar? Again the message isn’t subtle but it’s a great film.

Forbidden PlanetForbidden Planet (1956) If you are going to steal an idea you may as well steal a good one and that’s what Forbidden Planet does, taking its basic story from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The special effects were state of the art and that really is Leslie “Don’t call me Shirley” Nielsen. Take a look at the cast list Robby the Robot is credited as playing “Himself”.

2001 A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) less a film and more a giant metaphor exploring the meaning of life from the origins of humanity to the present day and beyond. Absolutely compelling viewing but anyone who tells you they fully understand what is going on is a geniuses or a liar. It is also a rarity in the list a film that has not been remade, who would dare?

Planet of the ApesPlanet of the Apes (1968) Guess what this one was remade too! An astronaut is stranded on a planet ruled by intelligent apes and humans are little more than slaves. The screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame and ends with what is possible the genres greatest twist. Forget “No [Luke] I am your farther” this is the big one!

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange (1971) Another dystopian near future or just an alternative 1970s Britain? Based on an Anthony Burgess novel it could be a satire on the culture of the day or a grim vision of the near future, I would rather believe it is a testament to the human spirit.

SolyarisSolyaris (1972) The story of a space mission that may just have found intelligent life. The 2002 Steven Soderberg remake was a little tedious but the original still makes for compelling viewing.

Silent RunningSilent Running (1972) The story of a spaceship containing the earths last forests until they are one day able to return to earth. Another cautionary tale.

  • Other recommended viewing:
  • Them (1954)
  • The Thing from Another World (1951)
  • It came from outer space (1953)
  • Barbarella (1968)
  • The Andromeda Strain (1971)
  • The Omega Man (1971)
  • Dark Star (1974)
  • Rollerball (1975)
  • A Boy and his Dog (1975)
  • Logan’s Run (1976)

Coming Soon – Look out for my best post Star Wars Sci-Fi films.

Update.  While researching for the post star wars film I realised I had missed:

 Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Francois Truffaut’s brilliant adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel about a book-burning dystopian future.

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Inglourious Basterds

The review of this film in Empire finishes by saying: With a confidence typical of its director, the last line of Inglourious Basterds is. “This might just be my masterpiece.” While that may not be true, this is an often dazzling movie that sees QT back on exhilarating form.

Whilst I agree the film has too many issues to be a true masterpiece there is enough going on to prove (to me) that we haven’t seen the best of Tarantino yet. Reservoir Dogs was a brilliant début, Pulp Fiction is a confident and first rate five star film (and my favourite of his films to date), Jackie Brown is his most accomplished and grownup film, Kill Bill and Death Proof demonstrate a new direction that although inferior to the earlier films are the first steps on a new path. Tarantino has always borrowed from other films and fused the elements together to create his own vision but this process appears to be getting more and more pronounced as he goes on. I truly believe that one day all these things will come together and create a seamless and sublime (but not subtle) masterpiece that will surpass all his past glories.


Now back to those Basterds.  Anyone expecting an all action film will be disappointed, this movie is classic dialogue led Tarantino. Split into distinct chapters the first, subtitled “Once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” consists mainly of a conversation between “The Jew Hunter” Col. Hans Landa (Chistoph Waltz) and a diary farmer suspected of hiding a Jewish family. The scene demonstrates a point I think the director is trying to make. There have been a lot of films, Valkyrie for example that loses some of their impact because the main (German in this case) characters speak English with their own accents when German would have made for a better film. In Inglourious Basterds it isn’t enough for all the main characters to speak most of their lines in their own language, it is emphasized by a wonderfully cheesy and contrived moment when Col. Landa asks the farmer if he minds talking in English as he has limited French. The subject comes up again in a laugh out loud scene when Brad Pitts Lt. Aldo Raine attempts to impersonate an Italian with (very) limited Italian and his own stong Tennessee accent. In an earlier scene a British agents German accent is questioned making you immediately wonder why this doesn’t happen more often in films. This is so much more than a joke or piss take at the expense of other films. It rips to the core of Hollywood attitudes and even to those of English speaking people (mainly British and American). I doubt that it will cause film makers to rethink the use of languages in films or make more film goers watch subtitled films.  It is however a point that should have been made long ago and in true Tarantino style he doesn’t make it in an interview but he uses his own medium, cinema.  It isn’t subtle but it is certainly clever, far more so than it is likely to be given credit for. 

Tarantino has described the film as a spaghetti-western set in Nazi Occupied France. Although the themes of revenge and betrayal are present the film offers so much more. The filming style of each chapter is subtly but noticeably different. It is as if we jump between German, French and various styles of Hollywood films. There are also references to the Leni Riefenstahl mountain movies and Joseph Goebbel’s role as head of Nazi Propaganda. Add all this to the film related final chapter (I won’t give it away) this is a film about the power of cinema and film.  Again it isn’t subtle but Tarantio has proved he has something to say.  The historical inaccuracies are also an interesting subject.  Films particularly Hollywood have for years subscribed to the idiom “don’t let the facts interfere with a good story”.  Not only is the outrageously bold ending no more a liberty than any other historical inaccuracy such as films like U-571 and Saving Private Ryan but it is also a beacon to the issue.  A talking point like this holds a mirror up to cinema that will create something that will be talked about for years.  So in conclusion we have a film that is both a war film and a satire on war films, a drama, a comedy and a spaghetti western but most importantly it is a movie for people who love movies. 

inglourious basterds poster

So the big question, is it any good? Simply it is brilliant. Once you get over the fact that it is a fantasy (not a great stretch in a film that starts “Once upon a time”) you are free to enjoy the film as a beautifully shot, intelligently conceived and superbly acted. It is no wonder the Daily Mail hates it. They just don’t get it!

For a great interview with QT take a look at this by Kim Morgan.

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The Good, the Bad, the Weird is set in Manchuria during the Japanese occupation.  The story revolves around a map that may or may not be a treasure map.  The map is sent by an official to China in the hands of one of his agents.  At the same time he sends a ruthless outlaw killer (presumably the Bad of the title) to steal the map back thus getting paid but retaining the valuable map.  This leads to the first set piece of the film.  A brilliantly executed and beautifully shot train robbery that is part western part Mad Max.  The situation is complicated by a petty thief and outlaw (The Weird) who is already robbing the train and a bounty hunter (The Good) who is after them.  As you can tell it borrows some plot as well as some of the title of Sergio Leone’s classic western. 

The Good the Bad and the Weird 

We then get various fights in border towns and chases across deserts with further characters joining in including rival gangs of outlaws and the Japanese army.  The film does lose its way in places and the plot that manages to be both thin and convoluted at the same time.  This problem is overcome to some extent by almost none stop action and great photography.  The action scenes are well constructed and perfectly executed and the desert photography borrows from classic Hollywood westerns.  This is interesting because the action, violence comedy do owe more to “spaghetti” Westerns than classic Hollywood.  The success of the film is aided by fantastic costumes that manage to blend oriental with the old west.  The music is also great and has an Ennio Morricone vibe to at times it reinforcing western theme.

This is the type of film that will divided opinion as it is so unusual but if you like Spaghetti Westerns and Korean Epics you will probably enjoy it, I certainly did.  I have put it in my list of “DVD Gems” as I just caught up with it on DVD although it did get a small UK cinema releases earlier this year.

A note on the cast and crew.

The film is directed by Ji-woon Kim who has previously made the great horror thriller A Tale of Two Sisters (that was very badly remade recently) and the solid gangster movie A Bittersweet Life

Fans of Korean cinema will know Kang-ho Song (Yoon Tae-goo/The Weird) from The Host, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Shiri: Woo-sung Jung (Park Do-won/The Good) from The Warrior:  Byung-hun Lee (Park Chang-yi / The Bad) from A Bittersweet Life.  He is also in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. 

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If you have seen the James Bond films but not read the books they are based on you may not be aware of Ian Flemings last great Bond Storyline.

 The man with the golden gun

Towards the end of You Only Live Twice we see a more lethal Bond.  Whilst living in Japan he learns various new fighting skills as well as finding an inner calm through Yoga.  He is living in a fishing community with the beautiful Kissy Suzuki.  It is at this time he kills his nemesis Blofeld who was responsible for the death of Bonds wife Tracey.  On escaping Blofeld’s castle, Bond suffers a head injury and is left with amnesia.  He lives for a time in the fishing village with Kissy who keeps his identity from him.  Move on to The Man With the Golden Gun.  A year has passed and bond is still missing presumed dead until he retunes to London and attempts to kill M.  It transpires that trying to piece together his past Bond ended up in the Soviet Union where he was brainwashed and “programmed” to kill M.  Obviously both these novels have been made into films but without the brainwashing/assignation storylines.  The question is would the producers dare to do it and would the audience accept it?

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Michael Winner is a bit of a joke these days, best know for his TV commercials but he actually did make a few decent films like Death Wish.  A forgotten gem also staring Charles Bronson is The Mechanic from 1972.  Set in LA and Naples the film is really well photographed and makes great use of its locations.  The action is well choreographed and without the benefit of modern technology like CGI it is more low-key but more believable.  A lot of the action scenes use medium and long cutaways giving a better view of what is going on than a lot of modern films that depend on ultra close ups distorting what is going on.

Charles Bronson The Mechanic

Bronson plays Arthur Bishop a hitman, he is methodical and meticulous about what he does.  For reasons that are alluded to but never completely explained (I wont ruin the plot by saying more) he takes on an apprentice Steve McKenna (Jan Michael Vincent).  The pair work well together but it soon becomes clear that Steve has his own agenda.  While Bronson plays Bishop as emotionally vacant, Vincent’s Mckenna is more narcissistic and lacks any remorse or empathy; he comes across as a sociopath.  Both actors give strong understated performances that are perfect for the film.

Don’t get me wrong this film isn’t a masterpiece but it is an enjoyable thriller that is very much of the era it was made.  Anyone who is disappointed by this summers blockbusters should take a look at how things where done nearly forty years ago.  The film is worth seeing just for the ending, it is brilliantly executed and is perfect for the film.

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With the sequel to the brilliant Spanish zombie movie [•REC] in production at the moment I thought I would take a look at the different types of zombie film.  George A Romero’s Zombie’s were the reanimated dead, before that the origin of the myth is most likely Haitian Voodoo, more recently zombies have been created by man made viruses.  As I see it these are the three key sub genres in the genre of zombie movies.  Here are a couple of key films in each:

Zombie Masters and Voodoo Rituals

White Zombie (1932): Béla (Dracula) Lugosi plays a Voodoo master who is employed by plantation owner Charles Beaumont in order to lure the woman he loves Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) away from her fiancé Neil Parker (John Harron).  Lugosi’s character known only as ‘Murder’ turns Madeleine into a zombie using magic and the power of his mind.  Things never go to plan when you employ an evil Voodoo master and it soon transpires he has his own plans for Madeleine.

 White Zombie

I walked with a Zombie (1943): Director Jacques Tourneur is probably best know for the brilliant original version of Cat People from 1942, he followed it up a year later with I walked with a Zombie an eerie and atmospheric mystery thriller that is dreamlike and often poetic in its approach to the genre.  It is the story of a Canadian nurse, Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) who is sent to a small West Indian island to tend for a young comatose woman.  She soon uncovers the voodoo that is practiced on the island.


The Walking Dead

Night Of The Living Dead (1968):  Zombie movies had died off (terrible pun intended!) until George A Romero reinvented, revolutionized and reanimated (the bad puns just keep coming, sorry) the genre.  Romero’s ultra low budget movie is about a widespread outbreak of flesh eating zombies.  The reason the film works so well is that it is more claustrophobic and personal; it does this by concentrating on a small group of survivors.  Using TV and radio broadcasts to show what is going on away from their personal struggle it is as if we are one on them, only seeing what they see of the outside world.  But the film is far more important than that because it set the rules for the modern zombie.  They are literally the walking dead, they have little brain activity and “live” on instinct, their only aim to feed in turn creating more of their number as the victims die and are reanimated as zombies.  The un-dead are slow moving and shuffle along making it seemingly easy to escape an aspect of their character that has caused much derision more recently.  The film was in its day considered to contain graphic violence; this manifests itself more as gore than actual violence, something that found its way into other horror sub genres in the subsequent twenty years.

night of the living dead

Dawn Of The Dead (1978): Moving on from the Vietnam references of the first film the second and best of Romero’s ‘Dead’ series is at times a satire about consumerism making full use of its shopping mall setting.  The movie follows all the same rules as the first film including one that seems to exist to this day, the best was to destroy a zombie is severe trauma to the head.  Whether it be a cricket bat (Shaun of the Dead) or a bullet (most modern zombie movies).  The idea of shutting oneself away from the problems of the outside world has relevance outside the plot as do so many of the other themes explored like race, greed and selfishness.  Some of the themes explored in each of the five films in the series so far have direct correlations to the time they were made.  This second film made in the late 70’s has more of a sense of hope and optimism than the first and most recent of the series.


Man Made Virus

28 Days Later (2002): Created by virus the zombies are fast angry and violent.  They are compelled as much by rage as any need to feed.  Directed my Danny Boyle and written by author Alex Garland in Their second collaboration.  It was garlands first story written directly for the screen and is a brilliant piece of filmmaking that has that combines action, horror, drama and thriller but retains the personal story of the Romero films.  It spawned the inferior but not bad sequel 28 Weeks Later and a third film, the imaginatively titled 28 Months later is rumoured to be in the early stages of development.  Will there be a 28 Years later?  The photography is notably different to a Hollywood film giving it a real feel of something that little bit different.  Scenes of a deserted London are haunting and brilliantly executed.

Resident Evil (2002): Made and released around the same time as 28 Days later. Resident Evil is based on the popular video game series of the same name.  The film has been dismissed as similar to other video game spin-offs like Tomb Rader, although not as good as the other films I have mentioned it still as some merit within the genre.  Playing out as more of an action film it follows one main character throughout Alice (Milla Jovovich) in the way that a computer game does.  Using Amnesia as a plot device an element of mystery is included.  The cleverest thing about the film is that the narrative is a collection of set pieces that end abruptly and move on to the next when a goal is achieved, much like in a video game.  The zombies are similar in to those in 28 Days later, they where created by a man made virus and exhibit more strength and speed than seen in traditional zombie films, an element essential for the action.  The film has had two sequels Apocalypse and Extinction a fourth film Afterlife has been suggested.

resident evil

Three different types of zombie movie, for a completely different spin on the genre see Versus(2000).  For zombies that can run but are otherwise follow the Romero rules see the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.  I have heard the demonic possession of The Evil Dead trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992)  described as zombies but haven’t included them here, if they are zombie films or not is debatable but I think they deserve their own article, I am sure to give it to them one day! One final film to look out for Night of the Comet (1984).  This is an 80’s teen/horror/comedy that works well as a parody of the cheesier side of low budget horror.  It doesn’t have anything new or original to say and won’t change the world but it is good fun.  For me Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days later represent the pinnacles of the genre, as well as being great films in their own right they are also seminal in their influence of other films.  It will be interesting to see which type of zombie makes it to the big screen in years to come.  Looking at the current trend for romanticised vampire movies and the possible re-emergence of werewolf movies zombies could take a backseat for a time.  But them that isn’t a problem as zombie movies are best when they are low budget and independent.

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Unfortunately not an official announcement but an article on the Empire magazine blog by Nev Pierce.  With films like Point Break and the underrated Strange Days as well as the forthcoming (in the UK, finally) The Hurt Locker Kathryn Bigelow certainly has the action and thriller credentials to direct a Bond film.

Kathryn Bigelow

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The French Scarface?


Based on the life of Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine: Killer Instinct has been accused celebrating, glorying and glamorizing his life of crime. He robbed banks, killed people (best guess 39) and escaped from prison (more than once). Putting all that aside this is a really good film. Vincent Cassel is brilliant in the lead role, at times he even makes the character sympathetic and likable. Directed by Jean-Fancois Richet best known for the 2005 remake of Assault on Precinct 13 the film has a real epic feel to it that reminiscent of some of the best Hollywood crime/gangster films. Concentrating on the main character the film is more Scarface than the Godfather. The supporting cast also does a great job: Gerard Depardieu as the local crime boss and Elena Anaya as Mesrine’s wife but the real star turn comes from the brilliant Cecile De France (best known for Switchblade Romance) as Mesrine’s lover/soul mate/accomplice. The only real criticism is the film is a little rushed, cutting scenes short and jumping forward works well as a devise to help cover eleven years in just under two hours but it is done a few to many times and leaves you wanting more. This is a tiny problem in a really engrossing film especially considering the best thing about it, there is still more to come. In the style of Kill Bill and Che this film is too big for one film, part two Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is released on august 28 (selected UK cinemas).

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