Browsing all articles from September, 2011


Digital warlock: George Lucas (clothes added in post)

What really bugged me about the original release of Return of the Jedi were the doors to Jabba’s palace. I was only 5 when I saw this version and I remember someone on my row shouting ‘BULLSHIT!” very loudly when they saw the reverse of the doors after R2D2 and C3PO walk in. He then started crying and vomiting loudly. The whole of Cannon Cinemas smelt like Parma Violets and stomach acid. From that moment on, the audience was lost; if they couldn’t believe the exterior doors to Jabba’s lavish palace were that size then they’d hardly believe in a Rancor beast, would they? I felt in some ways that I lost my innocence that day, my childhood cruelly molested by Uncle George and his silly doors.

Lucas attempted to repair my childhood when he made the doors slightly larger in the third iteration of the special edition. Sure, I’d believe you could fit a smaller skiff through these doors but the onset of adulthood had left me with a cold and cynical nature. I didn’t really want to believe you could fit a smaller skiff through – let alone the full-girth of the Master’s sail barge with those pig-men stood on top. Yeah, I was dead inside. But thank the maker for the fifth pass on Blu-Ray. George has made the doors massive and I now look back on the film with a warm fuzzy glow. You could fit anything through those bastards. ANYTHING. It also emphasises the impressiveness of Jabba before you even meet him for the second time, because nothing says don’t fuck with the owner like ‘my doors is bigger than yours.’ Holla!


Original release: The search for doors


Third special edition: door-ish


Blu-Ray: BAM! Doors.

More subtle alterations are done later on in the new release of the film: When Luke is electrocuted by the Emperor, after revealing to Darth Vader that he is his son (OMG SPOILZ!), I always thought it daft of Darth Vader to just stand there. People probably have their own ideas about what was going on; I like to think that maybe Vader didn’t see anything, because he was wearing a giant bucket on his head and because it’s later revealed that he’s about 170, so his eyes are probably fucked. Anyway, like Yoda says, “doubt leads to arguments, arguments lead to fights, fights lead to nuff probz”, so it’s only right for George Lucas to come back and stick his dick in the metaphorical mashed-potato, by adding a subtle audio enhancement that you probably won’t even notice, unless you’re really paying attention. Check-it:

In case you missed it

Your ears aren’t lying, he says ‘NOOOOOOOOOO’. It’s a neat addition and also ties the old films in with the original trilogy of Episodes I-III. There are so many people wearing stuff on their heads in the entire saga of seven films* that it can be confusing knowing who’s who. When Darth Vader shouts “NOOOOOOOOOO” in Episode VI it’s a neat tie-in to when that guy with the long hair in part 3 wakes up and can’t get the black bucket off his head and is all like “NOOOOOOOOOOOO” before walking into things and knocking them over. Ha ha. This is just great synergy from George Lucas, or as I like to call it: ‘cinemargy’.

* 1-6 + Episode 7: The Caravan of Courage, or ‘Campervan of Crap’ as it was sometimes known – despite being the second best entry to feature Ewoks. Maybe Uncle George should take a pass at that using his new maxim: “If it don’t blink, it don’t think.”


Everyone hates Ryan.

The following contains spoilers for Saving Private Ryan and World War II.

It’s funny how a film takes on a new dimension over the passage of time. Take Saving Private Ryan, for example. Ostensibly, ‘Ryan’ was a chance for Steven Spielberg to explore the nature of conflict and themes of guilt and regret on a broad canvas, while the viewer reflects on what a bunch of cock war is. But in the intervening years, the viewer learns not only to mourn the senseless loss of life during the most widespread war in history, but also begins to wonder just what happened to the young men who didn’t return from Europe to be welcomed by a hit trilogy of spy thrillers.

Saving Private Ryan is like a yearbook of late 90s acting talent. There’s Vin Diesel and the guy from Battlefield Earth – not to mention those blokes who were sometimes on Friends. And one by one, through the course of the film, they perish on their quest to rescue Matt Damon, who, it doesn’t need to be said, has had a pretty stellar career since 1998. Sadly this wasn’t the case for Spielberg’s expendables, who’ve been kind of sidelined in the intervening years.

Perhaps if the actors had realised that real-life would mirror the events of Saving Private Ryan they would have improvised a scene where they escape France on snowboards, but not before Vin Diesel smashes all the light bulbs and leaves Private Ryan to be eaten by aliens in the muddy streets of Ramelle. After all, ‘The Deez’ is supposed to be a filmmaker of some note – at least according to his website – while Edward Burns originally caused a stir with his directing and Tom Hanks has won one or two awards for acting. But alas, as each cast member meets his fate in Private Ryan, his career goes tits skyward*.

Anyway, enough of my yapping, I’m now going to examine the wilderness years of the Private Ryan crew.


Tom Sizemore

If publicity were the career apex of an actor, then Tom Sizemore would straddle Hollywood like an inebriated colossus. In the 90s, if you were looking for someone to play a heavy with more than two-dimensions, you’d look for Sizemore. Following a string of solid supporting turns in Heat and Natural Born Killers – not to mention his admirably unconventional turn as a lead in The Relic, which is notable, considering the film concerned a statue that came to life and ate people, it looked like ‘The Size’ (as he was probably never known – least of all after his sex-tape) had carved out a successful niche playing goons with substance on-screen, and substance abuse issues off.

The afore-mentioned sex-tape was probably the low-point of Sgt. Horvath’s career, or it could be ‘Slumber Party Slaughter’, I don’t know; I haven’t seen it. But I’m going to take a guess and suggest that if it doesn’t feature a wasted Tom dressed in cycling shorts attempting to throw a football with more success than he finds summoning his mucky ‘man-pride’, it’s probably a couple of rungs up on the ladder of career respectability. The good news is that Mr. Sizemore is now holding down a steady job on the remake of Hawaii Five-O, so perhaps a filmic resurgence isn’t out of the question.


Vin Diesel

‘The Deez’ seemed to come out of nowhere with a string of good roles, including Private Ryan, The Iron Giant, Pitch Black and that funny video where he break-dances. Diesel seized the mantle of Generation Y’s go-to action star with roles in extended nu-metal music videos like Fast and the Furious and XXX. Unfortunately, Diesel’s Achilles’ heel appears to be a reach that exceeds his grasp – in this case the desire to be treated as a serious thesp, and not just a deep voice with muscles.

While he could have happily ploughed a furrow of sequels and anaemic action roles, ‘The Dieselator’ decided to stretch his talents and re-brand himself as a proper actor. This is either admirable or completely misguided, I don’t know – but he wouldn’t be the first, as evidenced by the ‘Oscar’ Stallone’s probably not very happy to talk about. Anyway, the dark years of The Pacifier appear to be behind him now and he’s gradually accepting the fact that people only really want to see him denying Paul Walker’s amorous advances while driving cars and scowling…or break-dancing.


Barry Pepper

Tom Sizemore may have lived through his real-life Abel Ferrera film with booze, drugs and hookers, but Barry Pepper’s the cast-member I feel most sorry for. Not only did he appear in the series of painfully elongated war clichés that was We Were Soldiers Once, but after surviving that nightmare he was then door-stepped by John Travolta, offering a free copy of Dianetics by L Ron Hubbard and a starring role in a film that was going to be better than Star Wars, because it was based on true events. Or something.

There are no suggestions for the existence of Battlefield Earth. Clearly, Travolta must have some epic powers of mind-control to convince people that investing millions of dollars in a sci-fi film that featured him matching his giant face with the body of a 9-foot tall alien rasta-goth was a good idea. Maybe there’s something in that Scientology stuff after all? Might be worth a try. Anyway, Pepper also survived this episode and has made something of a comeback, winning an award for his role in The Kennedys and appearing in True Grit. The only caveat appears to be a contractual requirement to have really bad teeth.


Giovanni Ribisi

I once thought Giovanni Ribisi a good actor. Then I re-watched the film and discovered completely new things about it the second time round. And then I realized it was a completely different film, just the same performance by Giovanni Ribisi. And then I started to worry about Giovanni Ribisi. Did he even know he was in a film? Maybe he’s actually like that in real-life.

The best thing I can say for the wilderness years of Giovanni Ribisi is that I no longer felt I had to worry about Giovanni Ribisi’s well-being. And then I watched Avatar, and saw visual spectacles I’d never seen before, like aliens shoving their hair up dragons’ orifices. And then Giovanni Ribisi showed up being all Giovanni Ribisi-like and I started to think that maybe I had seen this before, which is either an indictment of the well-trodden path James Cameron’s story walks, or Giovanni Ribisi and his Giovanni Ribisi-ness.

The others

There’s not much to say about the others; I don’t know much about Edward Burns, but I suspect that’s because he appears to play Edward Burns in every Kate Hudson film that doesn’t feature Matthew McConaughey or Owen Wilson. Anyway, his character doesn’t die, so escaped ‘the Curse of Ryan’.

Adam Goldberg appears to be the go-to guy when producers are looking for a hotheaded motor mouth, which veers from the mighty Zodiac to TV’s Medium.

I was genuinely surprised to find out that the guy who played the bookish Upham recently appeared as redneck sociopath Dickie Bennet in the second series of Justified. Anyway, as good as he was in that role (and he really was), Upham survived the film, so is also excluded.

In conclusion

The main star of Spielberg’s films is usually the man himself. His films are littered with actors who’ve been massive by proxy one minute and then vanished into the cinematic ether the next. So with that in mind, Matt Damon’s success is probably down to talent, luck and shrewd decisions – not the fact that he survived Saving Private Ryan (I know, right?). But, regardless, I bet at least one of the above examples still think he’s something of a spawny bastard.

* Tom Hanks is exempt from this rule – he’s survived much worse (as Joe Versus the Volcano and Bonfire of the Vanities will attest).


The acceptable face of violent decapitation.

The existence and commercial acceptance of Portal 2, Heavy Rain and LA Noire suggests that we’re entering a brave new world of electronic storytelling, where journeys amuse, surprise and delight in equal measure, and our decisions are informed by morality and characterised by more shades of grey than the lost episode of 24 that featured Kilroy airing his scrotum during an alien invasion in the centre of Manchester.

LA Noire’s acceptance to the Tribeca Film Festival may have had the faint whiff of PR tokenism, but it also shows that the lines between both art forms are likely to converge over the next few years, with cinema embracing the young upstart to prove its future offers far more than plastic glasses and blue cat-aliens, and games returning the favour to gain more artistic legitimacy. And then there’s Mortal Kombat, happy to sit at the back of the class and throw rubbers at the smart kids’ heads while they’re busy earning respect for our hobby.

Though Mortal Kombat is no stranger to experimentation; it’s nearly 20 years old and has spent a large part of its teens trying new things that both failed and were ultimately fairly embarrassing. But hey, we’ve all been there. And if your teenage failures were witnessed by millions of adolescents – the demographic most likely to not let you forget – you’d probably be a little bit angry too. So Mortal Kombat 2011 aims to rewrite the rules, not by refining a system of combat that was never the most sophisticated in the first place, but by embracing its coarse charms, smashing your face in with ‘kontent’ and spelling things inkorrectly.

By pitting the kind of generic martial artists you’d normally find generously distributed on the bottom shelves of a video shop against the kind of creatures you’d find on Napoleon Dynamite’s schoolbook, Mortal Kombat was obviously a product of its time. But the new iteration’s greatest strength is resisting the urge to forego its fantasy elements in pursuit of realism. So you won’t find Goro working as a bus driver, or Kano played by Danny Dyer. Instead it offers a compendium of violent brutes, robot ninjas, scantily clad ladies and ugly people with four-arms beating the crap out of each other in two-dimensions. And it does so wonderfully.

As unlikely as it may sound for a fighting game, the story mode is Mortal Kombat’s most compelling element, condensing the narrative of the first 3 games into an enjoyably ridiculous soap opera that intersects every violent bout with wilfully cheesy dialogue and ridiculous plot twists. In fact the levels of treachery and backstabbing surrounding the tournament are so ridiculous that Mortal Kombat’s story mode is arguably a more accurate FIFA game than FIFA ever could be, with Shao Khan and Shang Tsung filling the roles of Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner, respectively. And of course there’s Goro, who’s like a more socially advanced Wayne Rooney.

The Mortal Kombat story mode is generously long. In fact by the time you’ve finished, you’d be forgiven for not wanting to spend another second ripping people’s heads off and vomiting down their necks. Not that I found the fatalaties all that compelling – my fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be and the graphical fidelity on display actually made me feel quite bad about performing them. But anyway, that’s Mortal Kombat in a nutshell: a wealth of riches wrapped up in a deceptively simple outer-casing – a bit like an aggressive Karl Pilkington. And even if you don’t move beyond the basic arcade mode, you’ll still find a suitably authentic Mortal Kombat experience that’s been lovingly updated to please those who remember ‘ABACABB’ and the yoof of today, who probably recognise the aforementioned collection of letters as the correct way to recite the alphabet.

Alongside arcade and story, there’s a Challenge Tower, which consists of 300 tasks, including needlework and pet grooming. Just kidding, of course it involves ripping people’s arms off before the timer runs out and shooting zombies with missiles, that kind of stuff. Each challenge unlocks ‘Koins’, (natch), which can be redeemed in the Krypt (also natch) for fatalaties, violent pictures and new togs for your Kombatants (um, yeah).

Despite the detail involved you still get the impression that game play was at the forefront of this reinvention – and they’ve actually gone for a ‘less is more’ approach. So there are no swords, side-steps or superheroes. Though if you’re really desperate for a multimedia crossover then one of the world’s most famous deceased child molesters is available for download (don’t get your hopes up, Ready 2 Rumble fans). Combat is meaty and immensely satisfying and the moves of yore are updated and replicated perfectly – alongside some new additions like Super Meters, which seem to be de-rigueur for the modern fighter.

There’s not a lot to complain about with the new iteration of Mortal Kombat. Sure, it’s cheesy, and stupid, but after years spent in denial it has finally realised that these are the things that made it great in the first place – and it’s now embracing them with all four arms. It’s never going to be a brain surgeon, or a nobel-prize winner, but it would make a fine plumber. And there’s no shame in that.

(I originally wrote this review when I saw Piranha 3D at the cinema. After waking from my coma I totally forgot about it, much like the film itself. Anyway, in the absence of a new article this week here are my thoughts on Alex Aja’s Piranha 3D from the heady days of 2010. In short: it wasn’t very good, but don’t worry, at least Takers is out next week!)


Piranha 3D: a film about killer fish and tits that’s more gory than a heroic bloodshed retelling of The Passion of The Christ, and contains more severed man members than you might expect find in Michael Barrymore’s pool filter – if you believe everything you read in the News of the World, natch.

If you were such a purveyor of quality journalism then you may be wondering what more there could be, beyond gore, tits and fish – not just in the film, perhaps even in real life. And while you could be accused of having criminally low standards, you wouldn’t exactly be wrong.

But is it wrong to expect internal logic and character development from something that prides itself on showing little more than fish and tits in 3D? The part of my brain that tries to get me to acknowledge the existence of Chris Moyles would say ‘probably’ (if it understood the question), but I disagree.

The original Piranha was from the Roger Corman school of filmmaking. While the quality of some of Rog’s directorial output could be questioned, at least from a traditional critical viewpoint (though I remain convinced time will reveal the true genius of She Gods of Shark Reef) his ability to spot talent remains without equal. Corman’s movies were where the aspiring A-list could cut their teeth working on B-level productions. So while you could expect little of these productions beyond a snappy title and often hilariously misleading poster, you’d often be pleasantly surprised with some of the artistry on display. And these directors would be justly rewarded with careers making better films with bigger budgets.

Unfortunately those times seem to be over; the best today’s director can expect is to get hired by a studio to remake the B movies of yesteryear or turn a boardgame/cartoon/cracker joke into a filmic franchise. So while people bemoan the absence of another Coppola or Scorsese they fail to realise that he might be out there right now, making Yogi Bear in 3D, hoping to earn enough juice to remake Slugs for Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes, before inevitably descending into a creative abyss fuelled by self-loathing and friendship with Brett Ratner.

Alexandre Aja’s career seems to revolve around making well-directed horror films with a nod to whatever’s popular at the time. So Switchblade Romance, a taut efficient slasher for the most part, ends with a ridiculous trope from the 90s cinema that, thankfully, seems to have been banished to the M Night Shymalan landfill of bad ideas. The Hills Have Eyes was one of the better horror remakes, but a remake all the same. I didn’t see Mirrors but as it was made in 2008 I’m going to assume it featured Kiefer Sutherland going mental after his iPhone 3G wouldn’t stop playing Leona Lewis. Or something.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say that perhaps the only way to survive when you have a degree of intelligence but keep getting fed scripts like Yahtzee 3D, or whatever’s supposedly hot at the moment, is to embrace the ridiculousness of it. In which case a lack of the key components that normally gauge a film’s quality: character development, plot and narrative logic, become the film’s strengths. That would explain the appearance of Oscar winners Elisabeth Shue, and Richard Dreyfuss and, to a lesser-extent, Oscar watcher, Jerry O’Connell. I suppose it’s like the Emperor’s New Clothes, but the emperor knows he doesn’t have any clothes, and everyone else knows it too, but it’s OK because they don’t have any clothes either, and nobody cares because there are tits and cock-eating fish everywhere…in 3D!!!