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Guardians of The Galaxy – The Movie

August 5, 2014 1 comment

When the Guardians of The Galaxy movie was announced, I was quite hesistant; as I’ve said before I’m a fan1 of both the old school and re-imagined comics. My mantra for the new movie can be best summarised as “Please, please don’t be rubbish”.

Went to see the huge summer block-buster as part of the treats myself and my lovely other half gave ourselves for our paper wedding anniversary. Because ‘cinema tickets’ totally counts as paper.

It is a very good movie. The right mix of action, humour, cool looking aliens and cheese. I adore space opera and I was in a very happy place. I suspect everyone will rave about Rocket and Groot (as well they should) but I really want to see Drax get his own movie3.

I must admit I made a little happy sound when they got to certain key intergalactic locations, both for the pun and because one particular hive of scum and villainy is really cool. I do hope we see more of it (and it’s traditional caretaker) in more movies.

Slightly disappointed that the cameo at the end didn’t hint at any greater arc plot (at least I hope it doesn’t), but apart from that, I am a very, very happy geek.


1: As a kid, comic books came in bundles. You could get a big pile of them for pocket money from a shop near the docks. Rom The Spaceknight, Guardians of The Galaxy and Doctor Strange were all mis-matched treasures in the that bundle.

2: That mantra will start again in the run-up to the Doctor Strange movie, if it ever happens.

3: Namely one based on his own mini-series. He picks up a plucky kid called Cammi along the way and it works on the page. As a friend pointed out, a “Hound & Arya” style movie with Drax and Cammi sounds like fun.

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Categories: Movies

Mr Banks versus The Grumpy

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment

More and more these days, it seems every Hollywood movie that comes out immediately hits a wall of criticism for simply existing, often weeks before anyone has actually seen the thing. The movie that’s currently enjoying this sort of attention is Saving Mr Banks, a star studded retelling of the production Mary Poppins, focusing on media mogul Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and the creator of the Mary Poppins and children’s author, PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson).

Predictably, it’s already drawn criticism that the film doesn’t focus on Traver’s back story enough; she was an interesting person with a rich and full life, and the movie focuses on a narrow band of her experience. Those looking to fling mud also point out that Disney have made a movie about their founder that paints him in a positive light, which is an odd criticism when you consider it; why would a light-hearted feature about the creation of a classic children’s movie overfill it’s plate with the darker side of the human condition? Critics seem keen to dig out their grudges against Hollywood and Disney and particular, and whine at length at about how unfairly the material has been treated.

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

Partially, this post is an excuse to stick this image on my blog

This approach both confuses and amuses me. Because if I wanted to be educated and informed, I’d pick up several books on the matter, perhaps seek out a few documentaries. Movies like this are meant to entertain first and foremost1. Being critical of this sort of movie whilst failing to acknowledge it’s validity as a source material is to fundamentally miss the point.2. A word to the wise; simply ranting about how a dramatisation isn’t as historical accurate as you want it to be is one of those things people do to appear deep and clever, but typically reveals them to be pedantic, shallow and rather mean instead.

Disney can be relied on to entertain; that’s their job and they’ve gotten better and better at it over the years. If you’re expecting Disney to teach you the real and true history behind some of its classic works, then that’s either naïve or you’re deliberately looking for things to be snarky about.

Let’s be honest, most of us had not even thought about Travers until this film came out. The movie is almost fifty years old, so many of saw the film on telly when we were too small to consider who made the film or what its origins are. It’s a familiar thing that has always been there, so it’s likely that you’ve taken its existence for granted. That fact alone makes Saving Mr Banks something I want to see, I would hazard a guess that those who already knew about Traver’s life are now vastly outnumbered by those who have gone out and educated themselves as a result of this recent exposure.


1: Put it this way, you are as likely to learn real Scottish history from Highlander as you are from Braveheart.

2 : I call this the Daniel Day Lewis effect. To my knowledge, Lewis has never appeared in a movie based on history that didn’t take total liberties with the source material.

Categories: Geek, Movies, Rants

Lord of the Flies, with cheese

November 9, 2013 Leave a comment

A well placed, witty yet dismissive one-liner can be the bane of any fandom, as anyone who’s a fan of Babylon 51 can attest when the someone quotes Spaced at them for the hundredth time.

So I fully expect that with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the dull and unoriginal will trot out the tired old joke about Suzanne Collins’ hit series that “The Hunger Games is Battle Royale with Cheese”. I promise I won’t hunt those people down and beat them with a Pulp Fiction DVD2. There’s a lot to get annoyed by this gag though; let’s break it down.

It was funny a couple of years ago, but only a little bit funny. A dry gag on a boring day, though one with a hint of malice to it. Unlike a meme, it hasn’t evolved into anything more amusing. It’s also a terrible comparison. Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel is much more of a thriller, filled with direct commentary on turn of the century Japanese attitudes to youth , whereas Suzanne Collins novel is much broader in scale, owing more to 1984 than anything else. Both deal with the turbulent emotions of the young, and share a similar idea. But saying one comes from the other is a little like saying Star Trek and Star Wars are copies of each other, because they feature conflict in space.

What people are really doing is trying to claim that The Hunger Games copied the Battle Royale, and that the latter is somehow superior to it’s clone. If you’d seen both movies, or (gosh) bothered to read both books, this would strike you as obvious bollocks. They’re trying to claim kudos for identifying one work as some how better than the other, without examining either.That irritates my internal critic, because both books (and their movies) are worth your time, just in different ways.3

The ‘joke’ teller is pulling the old trick of saying “Hey, I was into this when it was obscure”, which at the very least is gauche, if not out and out false. Surely, if you’re a fan of this sort of dystopian fiction, you’d be talking about William Goulding? It also puts the boot into Young Adult fiction. For some odd reason people lump the The Hunger Games in with The Twilight Series4, because they’re aimed at the young. There’s a dash of snobbery here; a sort of ‘how dare young people enjoy dystopian fiction’ going on, which is out of order when you stop and think about it.

1: If everyone who memorised the line from Spaced had actually watched Severed Dreams or The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, well they’d probably still take the piss, but in a less boring way.

2: Though if I did, I’d leave the DVD in the DVD player first.

3: The Battle Royale translation into English is a bit tricksy and a bit dry; try the manga instead. The Hunger Games is a better read though, it really is.

4: A rant for another day, but I do frown on those who rip into Twilight fans, because I remember what it was like to be young and into something everyone thought was rubbish.

Categories: Books, Movies

Guardians of the Galaxy

July 13, 2012 1 comment

With the success of The Avengers, it was perhaps inevitable that Marvel would attempt to make another super-hero team movie. Rather than playing it safe and going for another team that may be familiar to some, it’s possible that Marvel have gone for the full on weirdness that is 1 The Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians have been through two major iterations; the original 70’s/80’s team was delightful chunk of science fiction madness that had only the barest of connection with the mainstream Marvel universe. Set in a far future, the team roster featured super-strong soldiers from high gravity worlds, noble savages, crystalline beings (with hyper-intelligence) and the mandatory ‘man from the past’; Vance Astro. (Who was a cross between Captain America and Buck Rogers.). It was good, clean schlocky fun, but barely fitted with the rest of the Marvel range, being a lovely bit of space fantasy amid a range of gritty, street level hero books. The fanbase drifted away over time, and got itself cancelled in the mid-nineties alongside many other Marvel comic books that didn’t quite fit2.

Rocket Racoon; striking the balance between comic relief and diminutive badass. Somehow, it works, but that’s Marvel comics for you

Then, in 2008, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning came along and re-launched the Guardians of the Galaxy off the back of epic space opera series, Annihilation3. Abnett and Lanning upped the tone of series from space opera romance to cinematic science-fiction. Alien invasions, insidious memes and cosmic conspiracies are the focus of the reboot, and because it’s Abnett, we get some great character interactions. The line up of the team is utterly different; we have Rocket Racoon (an Earth mammal with a rocket launcher), Kroot (a talking, super-strong, regenerating tree-person), Quasar (Marvel’s more likeable version of the Green Lantern) and Starlord, (an experienced soldier who punches far above his weight, a sort of space Batman.) Just as weird as the original, but with the sort of punch modern audiences expect, and much more like The Avengers in Space than the original line-up. It’s a credit to Abnett and Lanning’s skill that these heroes are quite so charming. The new guys keep the romance of the old book whilst keeping it interesting and fun.

Is Guardians of The Galaxy going to do well as a movie? I have no idea. If the movie going audience is willing to buy into super heroes with a sci-fi twist, then probably, but it’s going to take one hell of a good script and a director who can juggle the weird with genuine character drama. I hope they pull it off though, it could be deeply awesome.


1: The Fantastic Four would be the obvious choice, especially as the first two attempts where tosh, mostly because it failed to sell the viewer on the idea of a super hero family. The FF movies aren’t that bad, it’s just that The Incredibles got there first, and did it better.
2: Another example would be The Defenders, who were a hodge podge of heroes you may have heard of; Doctor Strange, Namor, The Hulk and others, especially as it’s a handy way of introducing minor heroes. Sadly The Defenders are bit crap; it’s actually part of their ‘thing’; other super hero teams don’t take them seriously. Sadly, this also meant that neither did comic book buyers. Despite this, they’re fondly remembered.
3: I raved about that series here, but in summary; big space war, things went boom.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Movies

Prometheus

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Fear is one of the greatest challenges that art faces; trying to communicate fear is a difficult task, and fear in and of itself can restrict and strangle an artist in such a way that their work comes out warped. One could cheerfully argue that Hollywood, with its urge to ensure that each and every movie it produces is a blockbuster, is plagued by fear. Fear is also hard to use in art; truly scary movies are rare, and the true spine-chillers are always memorable.

I bring this up because this is the main problem with the movie Prometheus. What starts out as a great film about the nature of man and gods is plagued by having to be part of a legacy of scary movies. By attempting to place itself in the Alien1 mythology, it also attempts to emulate parts of that franchise that fans will enjoy. I have no idea why, but I suspect it’s easier to make a movie if you can strongly link it to other successes.

Looks gorgeous, great acting, great idea. If only they had the guts to make it not part of a franchise and go with the promise it gives in the first minutes of the movie.

Sadly, this ruins the feature. It fails to use fear to entertain, and fear of being a failure means the production was attached to something it never needed to be part of. Which is a shame, as the first 40 minutes of Prometheus are near-perfect. Atmosphere is established early on, and a good, old-fashioned tale about mans place amongst the stars is begun2. The sets are gorgeous, the actors are superb, the characters, though plain, seem up to the task of carrying the story and the whole thing looks fantastic. Anyone who grew up with a H. R. Giger poster on their wall will find a lot to love here.

And then, for no good reason, it descends into gore-splatter, knee jerk horror. I am loathe to give out spoilers (so I won’t), but there is one scene which is so trope filled, so cliché ridden that I simply turned off, and it made me feel like I was watching two movies stitched together. I expect Ridley Scott to handle his characters much better than this, and though it’s not as bad as other scenes in the same franchise 3, it brings the movie to a nadir it never quite recovers from.

Throw in a truly dire, CGI heavy scene towards the end and we are left with no surprises and a broken promise. Prometheus should have brought fire to the fearful movie moguls of Hollywood, banishing concerns about clever movies. Instead, it fails, and becomes just another movie about monsters in space.


1: Various people, including the movies producers, have stated that it’s not a prequel to Alien, and they’re right; that would be Alien Versus Predator. The problem is that the movie is hampered by its ties to franchise.
2: One could talk a great deal of horse-hockey about wounds in the side of Promethean giants, the nature of god and all the rest of it. Indeed, this sort of deep examination of the movie is valid, and probably what the director wanted. It’s just that because the last half of the movie is so dire, I cease to care about the clever subtext – make the movie not a pile of pants first, then add in the things that will keep Film Studies teachers in a job for the next 20 years.
3: If you’ve seen Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem you know what I mean.

Categories: Movies, Rants, Reviews

The Avengers – movie phenomena of the year

April 30, 2012 2 comments

Apparently, if I hadn’t gone to see the The Avengers 1 this weekend, the geek police would have turned up at my door and taken away my geek card and nerd privileges. Or something. It’s mostly pointless to pretend to review what is rapidly turning out to not only the box office smash of the year, but the younger generations equivalent of Star Wars. 2

Go see it, if not to prevent people from endlessly telling you to go and see it. If you’re a comic-book fan you’ll emit little squeals of nerdy delight, if you like big budget hero movies, you’ll love it. The rest of you will find the performances engaging, the wit sharp, the heroes pretty and the plot doing its best to not get in the way of the fun.

More interestingly, the The Avengers shows that the super-hero movie has finally reached the point where it can not only emulate the more intricate elements of the comic book format, it can excel it. Namely, the idea that you can set multiple stories in the same place. This isn’t particularly news, recurring characters have been a feature of films in the past, but this is the first time that the concept of a shared world, spread across multiple movies, has taken centre stage.

Avengers. Assembling. Never seen in Ikea.

Audiences have proven that they can ‘buy into’ a coherent world and setting, in this case the Marvel Universe. Remember, The Avengers is not just set in the same world that the Thor, Captain America and Iron Man movies were set in, it also (technically), exists in the same place that Ghost Rider and Blade exist. In theory, any of these characters could turn up in a movie with each other, and though it’s unlikely that Marvel will produce a romantic comedy featuring Spider Man’s Flash Thompson and Patty ‘Hellcat’ Walker3, it’s more possible than it was last year. Moreover, other franchises will now try the same trick. I expect to see Batman taking on Superman sometime soon. 4

The other thing it means is that comic-book geeks are now mainstream. But then they always were; The Avengers (and their corporate rivals, The Justice League) are modern versions of god-like pantheons, a repetition of the stories of heroism that we’ve been telling in different ways since we could tell stories. It’s just this time, when we tell, they are explosions.


1: Apparently it’s actually “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble”, presumably to distance it from the 1998 movie “The Avengers” that completely misunderstood the classic TV series of the same name. Personally, I’ve always found comparing the British Avengers (a super-spy TV show with incredibly weird moments) with the American Avengers (a super-hero comic book with incredibly weird moments) a nice study in the differences of cultures. Also, the British Avengers actually have stuff they want to avenge, but that’s a different rant.

2: My generation’s Star Wars was Empire Strikes Back. Pity today’s adolescents, their big Hollywood movie was The Phantom Menace.

3: Patsy Walker is an interesting example of the weird adaptability of the Marvel Universe. She began life as a character in ‘teen romance’ comics, and was eventually re-imagined as Hellcat, a kick ass crime-fighter in tight spandex. Imagine if you will, a version of Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan suddenly becomes a deadly assassin, beats up Tom Hanks and then goes on to save the world from shape shifting alien monsters. I’d watch that movie.

4: Of course, a lot of TV is connected to other TV. At least according to the Tommy Westphall Hypothesis, which isn’t the name of a rock band, it’s an odd little idea that much of American TV is a child’s dream.

Categories: Comic Books, Geek, Movies Tags:

John Carter

March 19, 2012 3 comments

Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom series were, for me, part of growing up. A bunch of weirdly fantastic, metaphysically strange adventure stories where a relatively two-dimensional1 dude is thrust into a world of princesses, monsters, mystics and double dealing. And all of this takes place on Mars.

So, being the sort of chap that I am, I was pretty excited by Disney’s John Carter2, and having come in with low expectations3, enjoyed it immensely. It’s pretty flawed; a lot of the charm from the original novels has gone in order to update it to modern tastes, but at its heart, the feature stays with the essence of original books; Mars is huge, strange and filled with the profoundly weird and exotic.

Brought to you by the man who invented Tarzan.

The four-armed, green skinned Tharks, on which much of the original story revolves, are interesting and likeable. The martian princess4, who is essentially the central character, is interesting and engaging. Sadly, the actress cast for the role is pretty rather than strange-looking, but the performance is powerful and the character is strong and independent, as it should be.

As for John Carter himself? Meh. He’s eye candy and carries the story forward the way he’s supposed to, by being a proxy for the viewer. This is a true fantasy movie, and the books that inspired it have been huge influence on more familar films; elements of the Barsoom books can be found in big chunks of American Fantasy and Sci-Fi stories from Superman to Flash Gordon, from Star Trek to Star Wars.

Does John Carter does its legacy justice? Yes, just about. The sad fact is that by making a movie that would appeal to a larger market, they’ve cut away the true strangeness of the original work (which is just under a 100-years old), and we are left with a movie that fails to excite the average non-geek and merely teases the truly nerdy amongst it with a vision of what was almost great.

Also, the White Apes looked brilliant.


1: Lot’s of pulp-action heroes are relatively simply drawn. Critics pan the Twilight novels for a rather flat female lead whilst conveniently forgetting the vast army of near-perfect male heroes in all sorts of fiction aimed for boys. Flat can be fun, if the rest of the world is vivid and interesting.

2: Much has been made of the fact that the movie is not called John Carter of Mars. Thing is, that would also be misleading, as the movie is broadly based on the first Barsoom book, Princess of Mars.

3: It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t the first time the book has been adapted. Asylum got there first.

4: Hey, this is a Disney movie? With a princess? I demand that Dejah Thoris be added to the list of Disney Princesses. With any luck, she’ll team up with Mulan and kick the arses of the rest of them, drilling some self-reliance, confidence and self respect into Ariel, Belle and the rest.

Categories: Geek, Movies