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!