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Archive for March, 2013

The big movie news earlier this month was the Kickstarter fundraiser campaign to get a Veronica Mars movie made. The aim was to raise $2million, if successful Warner Bros agreed to distribute the movie. Reaching its goal in just ten hours it became the most successful Kickstarter film project to date.

As neither a fanboy or detractor Veronica Mars, I can look at it subjectively. I have seen a handful (I’m guessing around 10) of the 64 episodes of the TV show so kind of know what its about. I liked what I saw but not so much so as to make me want to hunt out the other episodes. For those who know even less than me, the show revolves around high school, then college student Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) who moonlights as a private investigator.veronica mars Kristen Bell

Getting the green light is only the start, now they need to make the movie. That starts with a script, that in turn starts with an idea. That idea needs to be a great one for the show to make the transition form the small screen. The two mediums are very different and to succeed a balance has to be found the way Joss Whedon did with Serenity based on the TV show Firefly. The TV show was made up of individual episodes with an overriding story arc/back story. The film version created one larger story centred on the larger story. It also worked equally as well for fans of the show and people with n prior knowledge. Can this work for Veronica Mars? The TV took the “case of the week” format but was elevated by an overarching story. So the same could work. The only problem, it has been six years since the show was cancelled and its star Kristen Bell is now 32. It is possible to engineer a storyline where the character is still in collage, if not she will have to be in a profession that does not ruin the dynamic of the show. It would easy to make her a Cop or private investigator, but would that work? The story will also need a suitable mystery.Veronica Mars cast

Then we have the issue of the audience. With an audience of around 2.5million on its original American release and around 50,000 in the UK, it is far from having a readymade audience. Although a fans favourite Kristen Bell is far from “A list” and isn’t going to open a movie. This is why a great story that will gain positive reviews and word of mouth is possibly the only way the film can be successful. It would be a shame to go to all this effort for the movie to of straight to DVD and never see the inside of a cinema.

What Next?

What next for the Kickstarter concept? The internet is awash with suggestions of show fans would like to see revived. Pushing Daisies and Firefly seem to be the two that keep coming up. Personally I favour a different Nathan Fillion show, Drive. Made by FOX and lasting for just six episodes and also featuring a young and relatively unknown Emma Stone. Based around a cross country road race, the show offered nothing new or original but was good fun and could work well as a 100 minute movie.Drive

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Ryan always titles his Blind Spot Series “Blindsided by ….” I have copied him this month because I really was blindsided by my choice this month. Of course I had heard of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and was aware that it is considered to be one of Jane Fonda’s best performances, however to my shame I knew nothing about it. I didn’t who what it was about, who was in it other than Fonda or that Sydney Pollack directed it. And that is why it wasn’t on my Blind Side list. For reasons that will become clear, I had to write about it.They Shoot Horses Don't They jane fonda

For those as ignorant as me about the movie here is a little background. Based on a novel of the same name written by Horace McCoy and published in 1935. The story centres around a dance marathon held in the faded and tattered La Monica Ballroom on the Santa Monica Pier during the depression. Drawing from his own experiences, McCoy had worked as a bouncer on the same pier at several dance marathons (There is a bad horses mouth pun in there somewhere) . A film was very nearly made in 1952 when Norman Lloyd purchased the rights with the intention of collaborating with Charlie Chaplin on an adaptation. They intended to cast Marilyn Monroe and Chaplin’s son Sydney. The film didn’t get off the ground as Chaplin didn’t return from England where he was promoting Limelight after his re-entry permit was revoked.

Susannah York They Shoot Horses Don't They

Amazingly it was the first significant movie directed by Sydney Pollack who had made a handful of movies but had mainly worked in TV. A lot of the strength of the film comes in the way Pollack’s capturing the faded glamour of the surroundings and the broken desperation of the characters. James (Bruce Dern) and his pregnant wife Ruby (Bonnie Bedelia) are there as much for the three square meals a day as they are for the $1,500 prize money; aspiring actors Alice (Susannah York) and Joel (Robert Fields) are looking for fame, aging sailor Harry Kline (Red Buttons) is trying to prove he isn’t too old; but it is Gloria (Jane Fonda) and Robert Syverton (Michael Sarrazin) who capture the desperation of the depression. As I watch these desperate kids clinging onto some kind of existence I can’t help thinking of a few lines from the Bruce Springsteen song Racing in the Streets “Some guys they just give up living, And start dying little by little piece by piece” and “Some guys they do it for the money, Other guys do it cause they don’t know what else they can do”. The movie and the contest within it are held together by Master of Ceremonies Rocky (Gig Young) who isn’t much better off emotionally than the contestants that he is happy to exploit. concentrating on the disparate and desperate characters grounds the movie in existentialism as much as any road movie or melodrama. This is what elevates it beyond mere drama as it asks questions of both it audience and its characters. The philosophical angle isn’t subtle, but the way it is handled isn’t heavy-handed either.

They Shoot Horses Don't TheyMichael Sarrazin

Nominated for nine Oscars including: Best Director (Sydney Pollack), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jane Fonda), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Gig Young), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Susannah York) winning just one, Gig Young for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. It also picked up a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress, Susannah York. It is however Jane Fonda who stands out at a time when she was making the move from movie star to serious actress. We see the unraveling of a smart and sassy but cynical and damaged woman before our eyes. As with all great performances, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

They Shoot Horses Don't They red buttons

In an interesting twist on conventions of film making you soon realise that what appear to be flashbacks are actually flashforwards, indicating but not explaining what will happen at the end of the movie. I’m sure nobody watching the movie expects a happy ending, the grim beauty of what we get is a tragic and shocking conclusion with no hope or liberation just all encompassing futility, the fact that we see it coming doesn’t stop a sense of a rug being pulled from under us. The other depression era classic The Grapes of Wrath ends on a note of hope and defiance with Tom Joad’s “I’ll be all around in the dark……” speech and his declaration of a search for to social justice, we get none of that here. As a portrait of the depression it is truly bleak, what makes it great is that it was relevant in 1969 when it was made three decades after it was set and it remains relevant today another three decades on. “Yowzza”!

Gig Young  They Shoot Horses Gig Young

You can find the other blind spot entries for the month HERE.

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Groovers Video VaultFor the first time in what seems like ages I have had time to sit down and watch a movie at home. I thought I would combine it with a long overdue entry into my “Groovers Video Vault” series. If you scroll down you will see my last article where I suggested Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Bond movie, and furthermore she should make it a dumb action movie. One of the commenter’s suggested “Bigelow just doesn’t work well in that area. She’s tried it several times before and ultimately failed with most of it” he goes on to suggest that the closest she came was Point Break but suggested that it was “just decent, nothing great”. I’m glad to report that I stand by my original assessment that not only does Bigelow do dumb action, but she does the best dumb action. Point Break, is dumb but it the best made and most fun dumb ever, in other words, it is great.point break

On his first day in the LA field office, rookie FBI Agent and former star college quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is partnered with veteran maverick agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). The pair are hunting a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents (they were masks of former Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson during robberies) who have robbed thirty banks in three years without the authorities coming close to catching them. Following Pappas’ theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers Utah goes undercover finding a way in through troubled surfer girl Tyler (Lori Petty).

Point break utah and tyler

 

There is a moment that comes to all surfers when they wipe-out and as they surface a big wave crashes down on them with such ferocity that they are pushed back under water. The power of the wave counters the bodies natural buoyancy and they don’t know witch way is up. I’m glad to report when this happened to me, I worked it out and came found my way to the surface before running out of air. This is the situation Utah finds himself in and it is this central relationship between his character and Bodie (Patrick Swayze) the leader of the Ex-Presidents that forms the heart of Point Break. This relationship is far more important than his interactions with Pappas and Tyler or even the relationships between the members of the Ex-Presidents. The overriding theme of the movie is Utah getting too deep and too close to Bodie to be blinded to his guilt, but look deeper and you will see from early on that it is Bodhi that sees something in Utah that he is attracted to something in his character. The only character who sees this is Tyler. Point-Break Utah and Bodhi

As you would expect of a Kathryn Bigelow it has a Visual Style that sets it apart from other movies of the genre. This is helped by the locations used, forgoing recognisable LA imagery and sticking with coastal  towns making it that little bit different to the norm. Littered with quotable lines and fun references it actually has a far better script than it is ever given credit for. The casting is perfected Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer and Charlie Sheen were all considered for Johnny Utah, but Keanu Reeves totally nails it, as Ben Harp (John C. McGinley) describes the character as “a real blue flame special – Young, dumb and full of come” as much as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it is the movie that galvanised Reeves’ image. As an action star famed for doing his own stunts Patrick Swayze was the perfect choice for Bodhi. He takes it a stage further giving depth to the character and having the crazed look in his eyes that few actors (Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson?) can pull off. Gary Busey, himself the star of one of the greatest surf movies ever, manages to provide both gravitas and comic reliefpoint break gary busey

But all this is secondary, it’s the action that the movie is all about. The surf photography is good as is the skydiving. The best scene, and one that has been imitated may times happens back on terra firma. The foot chase through back streets (and peoples houses) is perfectly executed and comes as a surprise when you are expecting a car chase. Equally well handled is the raid on the other gangs house and the bank robberies. It is also worth remembering that all the action is integral to the plot of the movie, this gives it a stable grounding that helps us invest in the action the same way we do in the characters.point break the Ex Presidents

As fun now as it was when I saw it two decades ago, action movies don’t come much better than this. For those that see Point Break as a guilty pleasure, come out and declare your love for it, you may just find you are not alone. Those who haven’t seen it, take a look, it is a true classic of the genre.

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I have written about possible Bond directors on a couple of occasions, but now Sam Mendes has ruled himself out of “Bond 24” it’s a good time to bring the subject up again. While there are lots of names doing the rounds, there is only one that stands out for me: Kathryn Bigelow. There is however a problem, it isn’t what you may think, it isn’t her sex, its her nationality! Born in San Carlos, California, she is too American. Yes that’s right, no director from the home of cinema has ever helmed a movie from cinemas most iconic franchise. The closest was Irvin Kershner, who made Never Say Never Again, but this was not part of the Bond, EON franchise.Kathryn Bigelow

If the producers can overcome fifty years of history and hire Bigelow they need to insist she brings Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal with her. They also need to dispense with the intelligence of Mendes, the grit of Marc Forster and the slick of Martin Campbell and produce a simple, dirty and possibly even dumb action movie. Having celebrated the 50 year milestone with gusto and splendour it would be impossible to top it, it would be foolish to try. I am not suggesting Bond becomes a purely action based franchise, but this is the time to make a one-off 90 minute genre movie.Bond

The plot possibilities are endless but a few thoughts on where they should go: stick with the minimal use gadgets, scale back the plot to something simple and personal, keep Moneypenny and M’s role to a minimum. Two possible outlines that would work in the spirit of the character and in line with some of the stories from Ian Flemings novels would involve Bond on his way home from a mission, shown in the obligatory pre credit sequence where he is either, A: distracted by something he sees happening and decides to investigate or B: is called to the aid of a friend who needs Bonds help. A setting for the film is obvious, America. Bond hasn’t spent any significant screen time “stateside” since Licence to Kill in 1989.James Bond Action Movie

I fear none of this will happen, as the filmmakers will fall into the usual trap of trying to make a bigger and bolder movie than what went before. Only time will tell, the one hope, they did listen to me once (in my dreams).

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Have you seen the trailer for the new Jason Statham movie Parker? Does it look familiar, do you think you have seen it somewhere before? If the answer to the second question is yes, there is a good reason, you probably have seen it before! This isn’t the first time the story has been filmed. Based on the pulp noir crime novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake (using the pseudonym Richard Stark), the plot revolves around a criminal named Parker who is betrayed and left for dead by his partner and wife, who are having an affair. Parker survives and goes on (to quote The Bride from Kill Bill) “roaring rampage of revenge”. The character went on to appear in 24 and novels and has been adapted into several movies. The new movie is the first time he has gone by his original name, Parker having previously been called: Porter, Walker, Gou Fei, Earl Macklin, McClain and Stone.

The most famous and best of the movies is Point Blank (1967) directed by John Boorman and starring Lee Marvin and Angie Dickinson. With a dreamlike unrealism the movie is very much of its era from the late 60’s. essentially a noir thriller it is a product of New Hollywood with elements of neo-noir and French New Wave influences. Often a harsh and brutal film it completely revolves around its star Lee Marvin in a towering performance.

point blank

Based on the novel of the same name, The Outfit (1973) is a different story staring the Parker character (there were 24 books in total) directed by John Flynn and starring Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker and Robert Ryan. A more routine and straightforward movie than Point Blank but also well worth a look.The Outfit

Loosely based on the same source novel as Point Blank, Full Contact (1992) (original title: Xia dao Gao Fei) is a Hong Kong action movie directed by Ringo Lam and starring Chow Yun-fat. A by the numbers action movie but with the grit and flair you would expect from Ringo Lam. I haven’t seen the movie for a very long time but seem to remember enjoying it.Full Contact

Released in 1999 before Mel Gibson’s well published problems Payback is a stripped down and violent but more light hearted version of the story. Directed by first time director Brian Helgeland who is better known as a screenwriter. Gibson is having a great time in the lead and is well supported by Maria Bello, William Devane, Lucy Liu and Kris Kristofferson. Not a patch on Point Blank but great fun.payback

A little research tells me the character also appeared in four other films I haven’t seen: Made in U.S.A (1966) a French film directed by Jean-Luc Godard and unofficially based on the novel The Jugger. Mise à sac (1967) (also known as Pillaged and Midnight Raid) also a French film, directed by Alain Cavalier and based on the novel The Score. The Split (1968) directed by Gordon Flemyng starred Jim Brown and based on the novel The Seventh. British film Slayground (1983) is based on the novel of the same name, directed by Terry Bedford and starring Peter Coyote.The Split

Parker was released in America at the end of January and is due out her in the UK later this month. Unsurprisingly, reviews are reserved but relatively positive, Jason Statham is after all, a reliable if predicable action star. Obviously I will reserve judgment until I have seen the movie, but fear they have made one vital mistake. At just two minutes shy of two hours, it is clearly going to be too long. Point Blank is 92minutes, Full Contact 96 min and most notably, the cinema release of Payback was 100 minutes but the director’s cut (take note Peter Jackson) is 90 minutes.

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Sep: A Polish police/serial killer movie. Enjoyable but dated and unoriginal.Sep

Hyde Park on Hudson: Telling the story of the love affair between FDR Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (a distant cousin) set against the backdrop of the historic visit of the King and Queen. A great cast do the best they can with an uninspired script.Hyde Park on Hudson

Hitchcock: The story of the making of Psycho centring on the relashionship between Alfred Hitchcock and wife and collaborator Alma Reville. Helen Mirren is fantastic Anthony Hopkins isn’t !Hitchcock

Lincoln: In the last days of the American Civil War and the last days of his life, American president Abraham Lincoln fights to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (the abolition of slavery) passed by the House of Representatives. 150 minutes of old men arguing over politics makes for a surprisingly enjoyable and riveting movie, not to mention Daniel Day-Lewis’ sensational lead performance.Lincoln

Flight: Hailed as a hero after crash-landing a plane and saving the passengers, its soon revealed that an airline pilot has drug and alcohol problems. The plane crash is brilliantly shot but the success of the film rests on Denzel Washington’s sensational performance.flight

Beautiful Creatures: A supernatural love story based on a young adult novel. An attempt to cash in the gap left by Twilight, it is funnier and more cynical that Twilight but a little too knowing. Not terrible but also not that memorable. Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons are clearly having great fun with their parts.Beautiful Creatures

Bullet to the Head: A hitman and a cop team up to seek revenge and justice respectively. It offers nothing that hasn’t been seen many times before but is still fun in a dumb and predictable way. Stallone gets away with playing an action star despite his age.Bullet to the Head

A Good Day to Die Hard: Bruce Willis is back as John McClane for a fifth time. Unfortunately he, and everyone else involved has forgotten what made the original movie great.A Good Day to Die Hard

Warm Bodies: A zombie love story with echoes of Romeo and Juliet. A great concept with a likeable young cast and just enough comedy.Warm Bodies

Amour: The story of an octogenarian couples struggle after one of them suffers a stroke. With and Oscar, two more nominations and universal praise it is possibly Michael Haneke’s most accessible movie.Amour

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: A good concept, with decent production design and a strong cast. Sadly it has a terrible script and lacklustre direction.Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

Amour would have been in contention for movie of the month, but I saw it in a one-off screening after its (very limited) UK release. Lincoln is a better film, but my movie of the month id the one I am most looking forward to seeing again, The movie of the month is:Warm Bodies poster

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