Monday, 19 December 2016

Sequel or replica(nt)?

Today turned into a pretty big deal for me. Not because it's my last week at work before the Christmas break, or that I'm feeling guilty for not having seen Rogue One yet. No, it's because today is the day that the Blade Runner 2049 trailer was shown.

I have mixed fixed feelings on this. I love Blade Runner as a stand-alone movie (ignoring the fact that there are about 5 different versions) and wish that film companies would just leave great one-off films alone. Blade Runner also treated its audience as adults and didn't deign to explain every plot device (it just had Gaff wandering around being brilliantly cryptic). On the other hand, the sequel could be great and it could be a wonderful example of where a sequel does complete justice to, and even betters, the original (see Toy Story 2).

So what did I think? Well, to be honest the trailer didn't show an awful lot (which is sort of how trailers should work). The tone felt right, the music and voice-over helped massively, and old man Deckard added the same sort of nostalgia that old man Solo added to The Force Awakens. Ryan Gosling will probably be pretty good too, but at this point it's hard to tell.

The most overriding feeling I had was just how empty the scenes in the trailer appeared to be. So far it has none of the built up chaos of the original and, dare I say it, it looks too clean. I always think back to the design of Sebastian's hotel room as a marker for the design ethos of Blade Runner. A jumble of new tech and degraded antiques, a collision of two completely different worlds. I think there's something deeper here too, we aren't too far away from the year 2049 so the idea of setting a future tale here could be fraught with danger. We live in such a combination of the contemporary and the future that often it's easier to imagine how the far future looks than the one that's coming round the corner.

I won't exactly quote William Gibson on this one but I'm pretty sure he mentioned that we are pretty much all living a science fiction life nowadays, which makes it harder for him to separate current day from future state. If you've read any of his recent books set in the modern day you'll understand this.

Insert Dick joke here.

And I suppose there is a danger of taking on the mantle of something that is widely considered to be one of the finest movies in it's genre. As a medium films have sunk themselves into our consciousness, whether it be quotes from Star Wars, the theme from Jaws, or people saying hello to their little friends. Blade Runner is no exception. We took the kids to a pantomime at the weekend, a performance of Dick Whittington full of jokes that were squarely aimed at the adults, and lo and behold, halfway through the character of King Rat started a soliloquy. "I've seen things you people couldn't possibly imagine..." Well, I almost fell off my chair. I never thought I'd hear that one in a regional theatre production at Christmas!

So this film has huge boots to fill. I hope it manages it. I am rooting for this one, in fact I am desperate for it to prove me wrong and deliver on all fronts. I just hope Gaff doesn't turn up and explain the paper unicorn.

Monday, 12 December 2016

I am Spartacus!

So far 2016 may well be remembered as a bad year. Not just for Brexit and Trump, but also for the amount of highly regarded famous faces that have slipped their mortal coil. This may well have something to do with a generation of greats that influenced film and music all going together as they reach a similar age, or it could just be bad luck, or someone's idea of a joke (I'm looking beyond the clouds on this last point).  Whatever it is, 2016 has generally been considered to be a year that sucked.

But there is a ray of sunshine which I had to write about. It turns out that Kirk Douglas has just hit the fantastic age of 100. Someone told me the other day and I'm not proud to admit that my first reaction was "I thought he was dead!" Based on this years hit list it's not too much of a stretch, but there he is still full of his old swagger. One of the truly great actors from the golden age of Hollywood is still with us.

I'm not going to pick his films apart (do a quick Google search and you'll realise just how many he's done) but I am going to mention a few that have really left their mark on me. I've written in previous blogs that I had a fair old diet of classic films growing up, and Kirk and his dimpled chin played a pivotal part in it. So here goes, helped by a small pre-Christmas bottle of beer these are my 3 favourites:

Nordic style, Brooklyn accents.

The Vikings was the first of his films that I remember seeing. I think I was off school with a cold and watched it on telly in the afternoon. This is classic 50's Hollywood: Tony Curtis (with beard) and Kirk Douglas play play a pair of Vikings who are great mates, then hate each other, then become great mates again. Kirk loses an eye (obviously making no comparisons with Odin there at all) and has grand adventures. At no point do either actor make any concessions to a nordic accent. That's not how films used to work, so prepare yourself for Tony and Kirk making no attempt to lose theirs as they battles across the seas, and do derring do in little more than leather skirts.

The big one.
Spartacus. It's the biggie. We all know the last scene ("I'm Spartacus") but it's easy to forget just how good a film this is. And it's a whopper. Three and a half hours of full-on, cinematic, big-budget, epic scale, old school, Hollywood historical action. With a heart. The story is gripping, the cinematography is dazzling, and it doesn't let up at all. Tony Curtis turns up in this one too ("Do you prefer snails, or Oysters") but nothing can take away from Kirk. He is the definition of a film star in this movie.

This definitely doesn't look like a buff Cary Grant.

Greatest war movie ever?
This one is down to Channel 4. Towards the end of my teenage years Paths of Glory was screened as part of a season on Stanley Kubrick and it quickly became a firm favourite. One of the greatest war movies ever made in my opinion. Certainly one of the best anti-war movies. I'd rate this alongside All Quiet on the Western Front (the original, not the remake that starred John-Boy Walton) as one of the most moving anti-war films I've ever seen. Kirk delivers a performance that is unlike almost anything else I'd seen him in up to that point. One full of pathos, rage, frustration which is ultimately doomed. They (whoever "they" are) should screen this in schools as part of the curriculum, it's mesmerising. And, because I have to have some link to Bladerunner, it also stars Joe Turkel who played Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Ridley Scott classic.

That's it. There are plenty more great Kirk movies (Tough Guys, Saturn 3 and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea all spring to mind) and I'd recommend watching a few to remind yourself how good an actor he was.

Congratulations Kirk, I raise my small bottle of cheap French lager to you!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Now I have a blog... ho, ho, ho.

Christmas films!

Don't act surprised it's December. If, like me, you were seriously annoyed when the shops started selling mince pies in October then the fact that I've waited this long to talk about festive films should be something of a Godsend.

It's that time of year when everyone I work with has the annual debate of what's the best Christmas film ever. The current vogue is to say Die Hard, because it's set at Christmas and, er, because, well, um, aah.... sod it. Die Hard is the best Christmas film ever. Sorry. That's it. Blog over. End of discussion. It's just not Christmas until I've watched Hans Gruber fall off the Nakatomi Building.

This is as Christmassy as I get.
But there are other films too (really, there are!). So I thought I'd give an insight into my family's favourite Christmas movies. After all, the kids aren't old enough to watch Die Hard. Yet.

Christmas Story.

If anyone in America is reading this then you should be with me already. Chances are that my UK friends will have a slim to none knowledge of this one. I was given a copy of this some years ago and apparently it's something of a classic across the pond. It's the story of a young lad who just wants a toy rifle for Christmas (don't we all), set in the 1950's and full of classic Americana it's a great film. And one I only really started to love when I had my own family.

Muppet Christmas Carol.

The kids aren't old enough to watch Scrooged just yet so this makes the list. Rachel has just told me she's never seen it so this will be on the telly for her benefit within the month. Why's it so good? Pretty obvious really: The Muppets, Michael Caine, and the classic Christmas Carol story. I'm pretty sure this is the most faithful adaptation of the book too (maybe).

It's a Wonderful Life.

Cliche! I know, this is like saying Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made (which it is) but this is a bone-fide, hands down, Christmas classic. I'm not going to lie to you here, we're all friends, I am crying like a baby by the end of this one. It is such a heartwarmingly great movie, there is nothing wrong with it (unless you count the lack of terrorists and sub-machine guns).


Will Ferrell. Dressed as an Elf. I've got nothing else to say here.

Home Alone.

Despite how the rest of his career turned out, this is a fantastic film starring MacCauley Culkin. It's got everything you need in a Christmas movie (except terrorists and sub-machine guns): laughs, tears,   Joe Pesci, slapstick comedy, stupid parents, a scary old man, John Candy, violence, pranks and a tarantula. Better than all of the sequels combined, this is the film that my kids laugh the loudest at.

Naturally there are other great Christmas films that my kids will have to wait a bit longer to watch. I'm not sure they're old enough for Trading Places, Gremlins, Bad Santa, Scrooged, or The Nightmare Before Christmas just yet.

Nor are they ever going to be ready for the "really not a classic, not even remotely" Santa With Muscles starring Hulk Hogan.

I'm just going to leave this here.

Monday, 28 November 2016

In sequels no-one can hear you scream

The late 1970's and early 1980's were a boom time for science fiction. There were loads of inventive, clever, brilliantly made movies that inspired a generation. There was also a load of old crap, but let's bypass the likes of Battle Beyond the Stars for now and forge on with the good ones.

Alien and The Terminator are two of the greats, and they inspired sequels which are just as good (some would argue better). When it comes to the pub quiz question of which films actually managed to have great sequels these two are right up there (along with The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather 2 and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay).

So, where Alien was the haunted house in space, Aliens was a war movie (on a side note, Predator is about Vietnam. Super elite soldiers getting picked off by an unseen enemy in the jungle you say?). Whereas The Terminator was a low budget sci-fi chase movie with a soundtrack straight out of a John Carpenter film, The Terminator 2 was a big budget, effects driven juggernaught with pathos and heart.

Still scares the crap out of me!
Just stop.

So what's the problem here? So far so good right? No reason for not liking them?

Well, not quite. At what point should film companies just stop? Nothing that's been released in either films subsequent sequels have come close to matching the first two films in the respective franchises. They are reheats at best, attempts to provide something new just shows how good the originals were, and the dearth of ideas that have followed.

Alien 3 is probably the best of the bunch. Cursed by production hell, providing David Fincher with no chance of putting his vision on screen, it's one of my favourite "almost great" movies. It's so bleak it hurts.

Alien Resurrection? Some good ideas but the wrong directors. Gallic dark comedy is not the place where this franchise needed to head. And again we were stuck with people running round a spaceship being chased by the eponymous xenomorph. And the new alien hybrid at the end? It reminded me of a white dog poo (you don't them anymore) that had melted in the sun.

I'm going to lump all the Terminator movies into one bucket here. How many times can you try and add extra explanations about the future apocalypse? Not one of these movies has added anything of significance to the franchise. There is absolutely nothing going on. Remember when you watched Arnie walk into Tech Noir? Or when the T-1000 turned into liquid metal? Or the very first time you heard "I'll be back" without a hint of postmodern irony? Compared to this, what have the sequels done?

Strobing lights? Must be the 80's.
Can't out run a spaceship.

And then there's the crossover movies. Say hello to Alien versus Predator. I might be on my own here but I cannot stand these movies. It's not that they are bad (but they are), it's got more to do with the idea that to make a great movie you should crash two completely separate franchises together. And yes, I am well aware of the alien skull in Predator 2, and the comic books, and the novels that happened before the films happened. But it doesn't make it better.

Prometheus? Again, it's just a reworking of Alien with bells and a budget. Ridley Scott seemed so determined to make a film that wasn't Alien that he ended up filling it full of things..... from Alien! I mean come on Ridders! If you're going to have a scientist peer over a strange alien pot you may as well go the whole hog and put the fucking face hugger in it. I wish you had, it would have been much better than the dross I had to sit through. And Charleze Theron can't work out how to run to the side of a massive falling spaceship? Lucky she's the cleverest person in the film then. At least there's not a sequel. Oh, hang on.

And this is where I become a complete hypocrite. I would love to see a new Alien or Terminator movie that can stand alongside the originals. It would be phenomenal to see that level of film-making return to the series. They are such amazing movies that have stood the test of time, and this is the issue. The franchises are trading on former glories, and have been for at least twenty years. They will continue to make money because of people like me, people who really really want them to be great, and will end up disappointed and holding out for the next one.

Ultimately though, I'd rather the originals and their immediate sequels just got rereleased at the cinema. I'm lucky to have seen the Alien Director's Cut in an actual cinema, and I was there on the day of release for The Terminator 2. And both blew me away. they are masterworks of film-making. Maybe the production companies would be better off saving their money and re-issuing the first four films from time to time. At least then we could remember them in all their glory.

Put these two in the next Alien film. It'd be an improvement.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Rainy day movies

Today sunny Nottingham wasn't so sunny. After making it home from work the family had dinner and we had a chat about what films we'd watch if we were stuck indoors in a downpour.

The rules were simple, we had to choose a film each and then all agree on a family film.

So here it is, the top 5 Murray household movies for days of deluge.

1. Megan's choice - Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Honestly, this one may be on the list because we watched it yesterday. I think that's why Megan chose it. Why does Megan like it so much? Because it's got Munchy-kins in it. Her words, not mine. She's probably got a point, it's hard not to like the orange-faced little fella's. And they sing and dance which is always good.

For me, it's topped off by a wonderful performance by Gene Wilder as a funny, charming, naive, innocent Mr Wonka. It was the first film I ever saw him in and despite all his other roles it's the one that I have the fondest memories of. Fortunately so does my little girl.

Posse up mo-fo.
2. Jacob's choice - Star Wars, The Clone Wars.

Well it was either Star Wars or Harry Potter, and despite The Prisoner of Azkaban almost making it to the list The Clone Wars just edged it. I think its got more to do with lightsabers, spaceship chases and cloning facilities than the actual plot, direction or decent acting, but when you're seven these things seem to count for something.

As for me, it's not the best Star Wars film but it has some good set-pieces. I particularly enjoy Obi Wan versus Jango Fett in a rain-lashed Camino. This probably has something to do with Obi Wan being one of my favourite characters, and Jango (not to be confused with Django, though that would be amazing) almost filling the Boba Fett void.

Bring it on hippy, I'm a Maori.

3. Rachel's choice - The Bourne Trilogy.

First off, yes I know she's picked three films rather than one. I'm not going to win this argument if I want to survive in this house. "They're all great" is what she's now telling me. Great plot, cracking action, better than Bond (not Casino Royale though, apparantly that one's a bit good too).

If Rachel's ever in the house with nothing to do (which isn't often as we have children) it's a fair bet that one of the Bourne films will find its way onto the DVD player. And yes, we still watch DVD's in this house.

Bourne whups Celeborn.

4. My choice - The Fellowship of the Ring.

Three and a half hours of Middle-earth. Yep, that'll do nicely. It truly comes into its own if the kids are out, I have a pint, and no-one tries to contact me. All three films are great but it's the Fellowship that really stands out. It's so good you don't mind Orlando Bloom being in it, which is pretty much the best reason I can think of for a movie to be great.

It ticks off a list of things I love in films: Great story? Check. Fantastic cinematography? Check. Great acting? Check? Monsters? Check. Tiny people? Check. Sean Bean's contractually obligated death? Check check checkity check.

Also worth pointing out that as I write this that Rachel has told me that any of The Lord of The Rings movies would get on the list (she's a keeper that one!).

"Didn't see that coming". Said no-one. Ever.
5. The family film - Labyrinth.

Hands down winner of the family film. Bowie's best moment on screen. The role that Jennifer Connelly will never surpass. Ludo, possibly rivalling Chewbacca for best hairy monster ever. The bog of eternal stench. Hoggle. The Escher room. Magical crystal ball skills. That Goblin wheel of death. The hag in the rubbish dump. Dance magic dance. The Goblins!

There's too much to go at with this one. Some films just stand alone, and having watched it as a child I really hoped it would hold up to modern viewing. And it does, in spades. The kids loved it pretty much right from the start. At some point I'll get them onto The Dark Crystal and Return To Oz, but for now Labyrinth is the go to film for this family.

It'd be great to hear what your rainy day favourites are too. Drop me a line or leave a comment!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Trailer trash

Okay, be warned, this blog contains up to date, in the moment, examples of films. For one week only this is a blog that's not just my recollections of my formative years. Well, there will be some of that too.

In the past week there have been trailers for two films that have been popping up in my social media feeds an awful lot: Luc Besson's Valerian (not just "Valerian" mind, "Luc Besson's Valerian". He's an auteur don't you know) and the live action remake of the classic anime Ghost in the Shell.

I'll have a bit of a word on both a bit further down but it got me to thinking about trailers and their purpose. As far as I understood it, a trailer was just what the name implied: a brief promotion for an upcoming movie that would whet the palette and get audiences giddy with anticipation. When I was a nipper these where the fillers before the main cinematic event that got you to spend your money on the next film at the movie theatre. And they still are. But something's changed.

Even Broken Arrow looked good.

They've got longer. And longer. And blow me if they haven't started turning into a summary of pretty much the entire movie. What happened to 30 seconds of trailer which didn't explain everything? Trailers used to be so brief that they even made Broken Arrow (with John Travolta and Christian Slater kids) look like Citizen Kane. And now there are trailers for the trailers. I'm sure they must work, because otherwise people wouldn't keep making them. But they seem to have lost the plot a bit.

Naturally I blame a combination of social media and a desire for people to want to know everything right now. But then I'm getting older and grumpier as has been previously demonstrated in other blogs. My case in point for how trailers can be used as a fantastic piece of marketing without giving the game away is those that were made for the original version of Independence Day (the one where a PC virus saved mankind if you remember). There was a 6 month(ish) campaign of teasers that went out before every big movie that year, each building up the tension without giving much away. It created an astonishing amount of hype and when we saw the final movie it was still a complete thrill (though it hasn't aged well!).

Too much leg
For me, trailers today aren't what they purport to be. But then I think their purpose has changed. There is a bigger industry around generating hype in order to guarantee box office. For me, it can mean that some films lose a bit of the lustre as the surprises can become lessened due to over exposure of pre-release information. And it can also be potentially debilitating to people's ability to judge a movie on its own merits rather than making massive generalisations based on scant information.

What do you mean Dom?

Well, I'll tell you.

Shit-storm in a tea cup.

A few months ago the first trailer aired of the live action version of Ghost in the Shell. This is quite a big deal. It's a big film based on a well established and well loved anime. And there was a relative shit-storm when it first hit. Most focussing on the casting of Scarlett Johansson in the lead role and the fact that the film had replaced Japanese characters with white counterparts. I get this. I completely understand the frustration one has when something that you love in its original form is taken on and changed for a different audience (especially when it takes an entire culture and displaces it to appease a mass market). But remember, this is not a new thing, Hollywood has been doing this for years. They want to leverage global sales of movies and if that means taking advantage of big cultural hits and remaking them for a wider audience they will do that (and the people they buy the rights off let them, don't forget that). Because, as the name of this blog suggests: no-one likes subtitles right? Well, that's what some people think.

Anyway, after a lot of bitching and whining a new trailer appeared the other day. A full length version. And guess what? People stopped throwing their crap at the wall and started saying things like "it actually looks pretty good", "Scarlett Johansson looks like she's well cast for the role", "Fucking hell, is that Tricky in there"? And lo, internet insanity was calmed as people realised they were getting het-up over a minimal amount of information.

And Beat Takeshi's in it so calm the fuck down people, this is going to be fine. And yes, I have forgiven him for appearing in Johnny Mnemonic.

He's an auteur actually.

And while I'm on it, I'm actually looking forward to Luc Besson's Valerian. I want this film to be great. He hasn't made anything of real beauty since The Fifth Element. Here is a director who has massively lost his mojo and spent more time producing than directing. I love his film's so much I did a dissertation on how La Femme Nikita was essentially a cinematic version of Freud's oedipal complex (buy me a pint and I'll tell you about it). Please be good!

You see, teaser trailers bloody well work! The bastards!

Monday, 7 November 2016

Monday night movies

In recent weeks I have turned the wrong side of forty (there was much rejoicing, the odd choir of angels, and a few more grey hairs) which naturally got me thinking to the old days.

As mentioned in a previous post I watched quite a variety of films as a lad. I feel pretty well learned in the classic Ealing comedies, David Lean, historical epics and Harold Lloyd (there'll be more on him in the future). But it was when I hit my teenage years that the power of film to open up my eyes really struck home.

Back in the day BBC2 went through a prolonged period of putting on a movie at 9pm every Monday night. I'm not sure if there was ever a particular remit they were working towards but what I remember is an awful lot of American movies from the early to mid Eighties. In particular, there seemed to be plenty of road movies, and films that became some of my all-time favourites with actors whose careers I would follow for the rest of my life (or at least this far).

It was at this point that I decided that I would never be as cool as Andrew McCarthy or John Cusack. To be fair, I was never going to be as cool as the milky bar kid either, but these American actors seemed effortless in their casualness.

I'll start with John Cusack. Even today I'll search him out in films even though his last great movie was High Fidelity, and possibly a supporting part in Con Air. His turn in Say Anything was brilliantly judged, and for me the scene with the ghetto blaster is about as iconic as an American indie movie can get. And then there was The Sure Thing, not a great film by any means but it certainly spoke to my teenage desire to get out of a small town and go on a journey.

Say something. Anything.
As for Andrew McCarthy, well he seemed destined to be one of the actors who never quite made it as big as I wanted him to be. Sure, he was the lead in Mannequin, but it was his role in the movie Class that made me sort of want to be him. Which is pretty good going when you're up against the de facto young idol that was Rob Lowe. He managed to be cool (see above, that's quite an important attribute for a teenage boy to aspire to) and at the same time clever and just a touch vulnerable. It turns out that he rarely acts anymore which is a real shame. But then maybe that's a good thing. I never got to see his awkward acting phase which may have happened if he'd carried on (yes Nicolas Cage, I am looking at you).

But both of these pale in comparison to Kevin Costner. For those of you too young to remember, Kevin Costner was once the hottest property in Hollywood. I know right?! Hard to believe. Anyone my age or above would do well to remember this. Yes, there was Waterworld and The Postman, but there was also Dances With Wolves, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, The Untouchables, No Way Out, JFK, the list actually goes on. If there's an American sports film being made and he's not in it, it's not going to be any good (that's pretty much a cast iron fact. Go watch Tin Cup and Draft Day and you'll see how good he is).

Before all of this happened he made a film called Fandango which is one of the greatest road movies ever made (another Dom Fact right there). It's directed by Kevin Reynolds who also directed Waterworld, and is one of Kev's first movies. This is not an attempt to be a Costner hipster, I really did love this movie years ago. So much so that my other half got me an import copy on DVD for my birthday some years ago, and it may be one of my most cherished possessions (very sad, very true). In the movie he plays the leader of a college group called The Groovers, and he is the epitome of cool wearing a pair of broken sunglasses, and spending most of the movie wandering round in his beaten up graduation tuxedo. The group are searching for Dom, which is possibly the original reason I loved this movie, and journey across America in a beaten up old car to find him. Hilarity ensues, but this isn't going to turn into a film review so you'll have to see it for yourself.

Not a very good film poster.
So what's my point here? BBC2 introduced me to a whole new world of films and actors which are still with me today. With the proliferation of channels available there doesn't seem to be the same focus from channels about curating specific slots for movies anymore which feels like a shame. I also remember that 6pm on BBC2 was always the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan series for what felt like most of my early life. With all the channels available seemingly full of repeats of soap operas and reality TV, there seems a void of culture which classic films could easily fill.

But then, maybe I'm just getting old and cranky. Ah, the good old days. Bear with me while I don my rose-tinted glasses and gaze fondly into the past. Enjoy!

Monday, 31 October 2016

Walken on sunshine

First of all, apologies for the radio silence, I went on holiday to sunny Menorca for a couple of weeks and have only recently returned. Don't worry, this won't turn into a holiday blog, although I have currently lost my big plan of what I was going to write about over the next few months so this is an emergency blog post.

And when I say "big plan", what I mean is the scrap of paper that had loads of ideas scribbled in biro. So this one is off the cuff (even more so than usual), and it concerns one of my all-time favourite actors: Christopher Walken.

The eyes have it.
Why Walken?

I can't remember the first time Walken came into my world, but what I do know is that I can't recall a time when I wasn't aware of him. I would have been far too young to watch any of his films as a child, even in the days before age classification came into force (or, the gold old days as they are commonly referred to). I can tell you this though, once you've looked into that man's eyes, and heard his voice, you're hooked.

He has a stare very few actors can match, it's like looking into two glaciers that have been detached from the mainland as the first touches of global warming set them free. Sure, De Niro does a great tough guy stare, but Walked has a strange mirth behind it. As if he knows a joke that he's not going to share with you, but knows you would find really funny.

Annie Hall! I just remembered, the first movie I saw Walken in was Annie Hall. He played the younger brother of Diane Keaton and did the most fantastic detached estrangement: "Sometimes, when I'm driving alone at night, I see the headlights coming down the road and wonder what it would be like just to drive into them", or words to that effect.

And the voice. God, I wish I could impersonate Walken. I would genuinely die a happy man. If it was a toss up between walking my daughter down the aisle or getting a spot on Walken, well, I can't say that I'd side with my fatherly duties. But this holiday (it's not a holiday blog, I promise) I got so close, and even managed to get my kids to try. We visited a town called Mao, where my son almost stepped on a dead mouse, which then saw us all stretching the word "Mao" to "mouse" and it's the closest I've ever got to going full-Walken. You're trying it now aren't you? I cannot describe the joy I had listening to my kids impersonating Walken.

Still looks harder than you.
The films.

Walken is definitely one of the few actors who transcends his roles. There's no point trying to ask him to impersonate someone, he's just who is he is. And he's so good at it that the films work around him. I've compiled a list of my favourite Walken films, I imagine you've watched some of them, and they all mean different things to me (in no specific order):

The Deer Hunter (harrowing)
The King of New York (proper gangster)
The Dead Zone (just chilling)
View To a Kill (best Bond villain ever)
Heavens Gate (best death scene in a burning cabin, being shot by cowboys whilst holding a table ever)

The cameos

Yes, he's done a couple of cameos that everyone loves (Pulp Fiction and True Romance) but there's a stand-out performance that seems to have gone under the radar and I feel it my duty to bring it to everyone's attention. Many years ago my friend Jim and I went to the cinema to watch the family film Mouse-Hunt. It's a pretty good movie in an old-fashioned slapstick kind of way. We were the only people there who didn't have kids (we were students, so we naturally went to the midday showing) and for some time it would be fair to say that people wondered what we were doing there. That is until the mouse hunter turned up. Imagine that Walken's character from The Deer Hunter stayed alive (sorry for the spoiler) and took up a profession hunting mice. That's what you end up with. I'll be honest, I think the genius of this cameo was lost on the majority of the audience, save for Jim and myself. If you haven't seen it, make sure you do. If you've got kids it's one of the few Walken movies you can watch with them, and you will find yourself trying to say "you've gotta get inside. The mind. of the. Mao-use".
Mouse Hunt Walken

Hopefully by next week I'll find my list of actual blog content. In the meantime I'd love to know what your favourite Walken movies are.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Book him Dommo.

A month in and I thought I should show a bit of leg. Just a bit, after all I've got to keep you coming back.

I recently moved house and as I packed (and then unpacked) all of the family stuff I found a couple of books that reminded me of some of the things that got me interested in films and film making in the first place.

I've always enjoyed films, I can't quite put a date on when I realised that I liked them but they've always been there. I can clearly remember watching Star Wars for the first time. I can recall with absolute clarity watching the opening of Akira with my jaw on the floor. And I have fond memories of watching Zulu and Bridge on the River Kwai with my father when he made one of his infrequent visits.

In fact, despite there not being half as much opportunity to watch films back then as there is now (in the dark days before the interweb, streaming and Netflix) I think I watched an awful lot, and a large variety of genres. From my no doubt rose tinted perspective television showed an awful lot of old movies at decent times (I have 6pm on BBC2 on a Monday evening lodged in my brain for some reason). So I grew up watching loads of old movies and, without really understanding it at the time, learning an awful lot about film history.

So, as I said at the top, I've always been interested in films. And it was when I did a bit on unpacking that I found a few books that I've kept hold of, which I can see now are milestones in my understanding of the movies.

Film-making on a budget.

The best film-making book I've ever read. That's a Dom fact.
I was told about the film El Mariachi by a friend of a friend. So I went on a mission to find it. It was a proper low budget classic and I eventually managed to track a copy down on VHS. It was one of the most inspiring movies I've ever seen as it completely stripped away all of the illusions that film-making was complex, expensive and hard to do. Along with Peter Jackson and Shane Meadows' early films, it was this that made me want to have a go myself. I managed to find a copy of the film diary too which rapidly became my go to book for film-making. When I was in my first year at university I made a terrible movie called "Karate Cops". Thankfully the tapes have been lost in time but this book was my bible, I think it was in my student bag for the best part of three years and it's definitely one of my most read books.

How Europe made Hollywood great.

It's got Robocop on the cover. That should be enough for anyone.

This is probably the first "proper" book I read about film history and, to an extent, film theory. As mentioned further up I grew up watching a lot of old movies and this book used a lot of films I'd seen to talk about the relationship between European film-making and the growth of Hollywood, particularly in the post-war years. There's a great deal that binds both together, especially when you consider that the Film Noir movement was massively driven by directors who had fled Europe at the onset of the rise of Hitler. This highlights the struggle countries have to keep hold of their own culture in the face of globalisation and mass markets, whilst at the same time acknowledging that they both feed each other. This was No Logo before I read No Logo.

The big one.

Best. Movie. Ever.
So I like Blade Runner. Quite a lot. Which one's my favourite? Probably the Final Cut, closely followed by the Director's Cut. Why do I like it? Without sounding too pretentious it's because this is the closest example of where film meets art. Yep, that was still pretentious! Sod it, I'm not going to be able to get across all the where's and why-fors of why this film means so much to me. I bought this book when I was at university and it answered every question I ever had about Blade Runner. All of them. Even the replicant thing. It's a fantastic combination of behind the scenes documentation, timeline of the film, warts and all struggles of production and retrospective. It is still a book that I can read and be surprised at the content. I've read a lot on Blade Runner and this book is by far the best (in my opinion).

It's also worth noting that I bought this as a US import copy from a back alley film shop in Stoke on Trent in 1997. Eat that hipsters!

Monday, 3 October 2016

We could be heroes... just for one film

There's a lot of science fiction and superhero movies about right now. It's like they've always been there, creeping around the edge of cinema and suddenly we're surrounded by them. Like some sort of slow zombie invasion I find myself in the midst of a slew of films which are threatening to overwhelm me.

I'm not sure when this all happened but now that I've noticed it I see it everywhere. Almost every sci-fi/superhero movie seems to be part of a franchise. It's the cinematic equivalent of the modern fantasy novel: why write one book when we could have a trilogy (or more).

I get the reasons this happens, I'm not naive. If you make one good film it follows that people will pay for another. It's not new, Rocky and Rambo ploughed this furrow for years (as did the Herbie movies, and probably many others before that). But it seems as if this is now a default for film-making. Almost as if the franchise is thought up before the movie.

That's not to say franchises are terrible, but they seem to be treated as a magic bullet for cinema irrespective of the quality. Done well and they can create fantastic stories and characters. The Avengers series is probably the shining example of a studio pretty much nailing the franchise. Great characters, played by actors who fit the roles, in a series of engaging stories that build to a bigger narrative. Yes, there are a couple of clunky stand-alone movies (Iron Man 2 & 3 spring to mind) but they work to build a body of work greater than the sum of its parts.

But then there's the other side (or the "DC problem" as I like to refer to it). There's no plan evident with these movies, it feels like film-making by committee. Put aside Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and you're not left with a hell of a lot. The reinventions of Batman and Superman have managed to make two of the greatest superheroes of all time dull. And that's a pretty hard thing to do.

Part of the issue I personally find with DC is that once you get past Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman the rest of the heroes aren't a particularly big draw (I've probably insulted some comic book fans at this point who will tell me that Green Lantern is the greatest of all the superheroes don'tchaknow). But now DC are locked into trying to build a franchise to rival Marvel. Which, from my perspective, may not be the best idea.

And with these two I understand why. Sales of comic books hit a massive downturn some years ago and Marvel had the foresight to get into films quick smart as they knew that this would provide a brand new revenue stream, attract new audiences, and allow them to tell their stories to a wider audience. It is a completely sound business plan, but ultimately it feels as if the big franchises are squeezing out the one-off movies.

I loved Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a great movie, brilliantly cast and plotted. It was a breath of fresh air to the superhero genre. And then I heard it was film number one in a potential series. And thematically part of the Marvel superhero universe which means one day Starlord may share screen time with Tony Stark. I cannot express my disapointment. Just let me have one movie that's not part of a bigger story arc. Just give me a one-off that won't be sullied by however many duller sequels. Let's allow a movie to live long in the memory and be remembered with love and affection rather than how I remember The Matrix.

There is no sequel.

Ah, The Matrix. I remember seeing that in the cinema for the first time and, insert expletive here, it blew me away. An unbelievable example of the power of cinema to combine storytelling and technology to stunning effect. The first time you saw the lobby scene? I guarantee you won't forget that. Absolutely astonishing.

But what do I remember now? The flaccid sequels, the horrible feelings I had when the words "prophecy", "chosen one" and "council" were used. They tried to turn a fantastic sci-fi movie into a killer franchise and ended up killing all the love that the original had.

The playground of ideas.

Science fiction, and that includes superhero movies, should be the playground of ideas. A place where you can do anything. With the amount of movies that are interlinked and franchised it seems to me that this is becoming a more limiting than liberating factor. More and more, films have to work alongside established canon or overly explain why things have been reinvented. I want fresh ideas when I watch these types of films. It's why I loved Kick-Ass (the first one), and Super, and Moon, and Oblivion.

I would love to see more great one-off movies full of ideas rather than just the next in an ongoing story arc that has been defined by audience share before a camera has even started filming.

*And yes, I know the symbol in the picture would better suit Superman, but I prefer drawing Batman.

Monday, 26 September 2016

I've got a good feeling about this

Well it had to happen. Not a month in and I've decided to write a Star Wars article. Clearly I'll do anything for increased blog traffic.

It really comes down to this: a couple of years ago in a conversation far far away there were mutterings of discontent (nay disgust) when it was announced that Disney were buying the rights to Star Wars. The evil empire had won. They were going to take all that was good and whole in the world and destroy it. They'd be taking a spectacular piece of modern mythology and dumb it down, merchandise it to kids, rip out its heart and soul, and generally do bad things.

Which would be terrible because George Lucas had guarded the sanctity of this wonderfully built universe so admirably. He'd done a stellar job so far, hadn't he.

Hadn't he?

Well no, he hadn't. My initial reaction to Disney getting Star Wars was "well they can't do a worse job can they?" Finally someone was going to take control of Star Wars off the old jedi and inject some much needed quality into it. I'm not going to get on the Phantom Menace soapbox (not yet at any rate) but the signs were there.

Anyone who grew up loving Star Wars holds it very dearly in their hearts. I can remember watching it round my friends Paul and Matt's house when it was on telly and being totally blown away. I remember the Return of the Jedi sticker book I had in primary school, and redrawing Luke's fight on the skiff near the Saarlac Pith until I got the picture just right. I scoured junk shops and flea markets with my mate Ned to get hold of anything Star Wars related and we spent all our pocket money on Star Wars figures.

But we should have seen it coming. We put up with the Ewoks because we were kids and didn't know any better. We even watched Caravan of Courage hoping for it to be good. We were patient with George constantly trying to re-edit and update the films using the latest CGI. We laughed off the song and dance number from Return of the Jedi. We turned a blind eye to Greedo shooting first. But then the new films came out.

And we wanted them to be good. Oh how much we wanted them to be great. But they weren't. And this has nothing to do with destroying my childhood (you should see my previous post for my views on that) but everything to do with the fact that Star Wars dumbed itself down massively. The comedy was crass, the acting abysmal, and it became little more than 1950's America in space.

And then came Disney.

Yes, Disney have some questionable ways of doing business and I think their legal department probably have a well deserved reputation. But they know how to make movies and build franchises. There was never any danger of Mickey Mouse turning up in a Star Wars film (I'm more worried that some people actually believed this would happen).

But do you think Disney would have allowed Jar Jar Binks an inch of celluloid? Sorry, it's hard not to drop the J-bomb but it looks like Disney has the nous to really do a great job with Star Wars. And they are playing it pretty well so far. The Force Awakens opened without a Disney logo in sight and they absolutely nailed the look and feel that made the first films so popular. Yes, they played to the fans, but that was absolutely the right thing to do in the circumstances. The excitement around Rogue One looks pretty stellar too.

And they seem to have brought balance to the films, it's a grown-up universe that treats its audience in a mature way that kids will find thrilling. It doesn't look like there's any danger of hard edged sic-fi being put alongside dopey "Roger Roger" droids.

I can't wait for the next movie. So while you wait for that to turn up in cinemas, here's a picture of Mickey killing Jar Jar!

Monday, 19 September 2016

I ain't afraid of no trolls.

I'll be honest, I'm coming to this whole debate a little late, but you never know, it may add a bit of perspective.

The recent arguments about the new Ghostbusters movie really riled me on a variety of levels. It all started when a friend of mine said "I can't believe they're remaking Ghostbusters. They're going to ruin my childhood. And it's got women in it. It'll be awful".

My first thought was along the lines of "well don't watch it then". This seemed a pretty sensible solution to me, as when faced with things I don't like I try and make a conscious choice about what my reaction will be and whether I want to spend my time engaging with it or not. But it was when I started thinking about the specifics of the above statement that I started getting really annoyed. And guess what, I'm going to tell you why.

"I can't believe they're remaking Ghostbusters"

Well I can. Sorry about this, but remakes/reboots/reinterpretations is what Hollywood is all about. And it has been for years. It's not a new thing. They've been remaking foreign language movies for ages (because, you know, no-one likes subtitles), and they've done the same with countless others. And don't even start me on franchise reboots, there's a whole other blog post on that one.

And another thing, there's never been a decent remake in film history. Ever. Period. Apart from John Carpenter's The Thing. Or The Magnificent Seven (with Yul Brynner, I haven't seen the new one yet). Or The Fly. Or even The Departed. But apart from them, there's no evidence that a remake is a good idea. Nope, none at all.

"They're going to ruin my childhood"

In the wise words of a good friend of mine: "man up princess". Tough luck. you're not a child anymore. You're a forty year old man (or thereabouts). Yes, I am a firm believer that your early experiences shape your character and worldview, but no-one's taking that away from you as far as I can tell. Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd were great in the original Ghostbusters, and now, in the face of the remake being in the world, that's still the case. No-one has come round your house and wiped the original from your memory, or stamped on your DVD's. And more to the point, there is a generation that will get to see a modern, whizz-bang interpretation of that movie for the first time which may shape their childhood in the same way yours did all those years ago.

"And it's got women in it"

Yep, this is the big one. Girls. In a film. That originally had boys in it. You just can't do that. Well you know what, you really can. I, and many of my friends, come from a pretty privileged position: that of white, male, middle-class. Most things in the world are shaped to our world-view and we should maybe realise just how lucky we are to have been born that way. We got the sweet end of the deal when you take a moment to look around the world. Oppression, racism, sexism, most forms of "ism" have barely touched us. And this has really struck me since becoming a father to a daughter, there is a huge imbalance in gender equality in movies. I'd recommend anyone to read up on Laura Mulvey's "The Male Gaze" and then consider how cinema has approached women in film.

I want my daughter to grow up watching movies that puts positive female roles front and centre. And just as importantly, I want films to be full of great characters that are well thought out, richly portrayed and meaningful irrespective of gender, race or anything else. I have been appalled to see the base level of abuse online just because Ghostbusters dared to have female leads. And don't start me on trolls. The fact that we even have a collective name for this bunch of socially clueless bullies (because that's what they are) is worrying enough. At what point does a person think that abuse on social media (or anything else) is ever justifiable? It's deplorable.

I grew up in a mostly female house (mother, sisters, great aunt) so maybe I have a different view on this but the idea that there is a feminist agenda taking over Hollywood is laughable. And even it was true, maybe it's about time. We men have had it all to ourselves for the best part of a century. I'm with George Miller on this one, there's nothing wrong with putting strong female characters in films (I'll resist the urge to try and quote him, but i think we're on the same page in this instance).

"It'll be awful"

Yep, it may be. And you know what? That's okay. You'll always have the original. And you never know, not everyone may share your view. But suck it up next time you're about to rant on a film, the person you're talking to may disagree with you. And that's okay too. There's nothing wrong with disagreeing, it's just how we go about it.

Hey, here's a doodle!

Monday, 12 September 2016

This is it...

Well this is it. I've decided to start a blog.

This is a place for me to write about something I love, and have loved, for most of my life: 


It's worth being clear here too, my plan isn't to write up the minute film reviews about the latest blockbuster or indie gem, it's to have a place where I can write about all the things I love (and hate) about movies. It'll be varied, some of it may be opinionated, but all of it will mean something to me. You could probably make some inference about psychology and where films fit into both my view of myself and the world, but mostly it'll be me writing about things that interest me. Hopefully they'll interest you too.

There's a few things that I should come clean about first (just so you know what you're letting yourself in for):

  • I have loads of favourite movies (there are many, and they change in order depending on my whims). 
  • I love all sorts of genres, I'm as happy talking about action movies as I am about art-house.
  • I studied film theory and history years ago so am writing this under the belief that I know what I'm talking about (have no fear, after a couple of posts you'll realise I'm winging it).

Here's what you can expect from this blog:

  • The plan is to post new content every Monday.
  • Sometimes I may get carried away and write more than one post a week.
  • I'm not planning on writing massive essays, so you should be able to read them in the time it takes to drink a coffee.
  • I'd love to know what you think, but I'd like you to keep your comments friendly. 
  • If you're lucky I may draw a cartoon to go with a blog post (it certainly beats being sued for using someone else's imagery).

So why the blog title?

There are friends of mine who don't watch films with subtitles, and it's a phrase I hear quite a lot. For me, language isn't a barrier to watching films. In fact, quite the opposite. Film has a visual language all of its own, and a well made film can take you on a journey no matter the country of origin. I'd like to share some of my thoughts on this, and other issues, with whoever is interested.

Anyway, that's it for my first post. I'll be back next week (Monday, as promised) to dazzle you with some stunning writing.