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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