Red Dawn 1984: Pseudo what pack?
John Milius wasn’t born; he punched himself out of his mother’s womb – probably prematurely, and on a battlefield – and was immediately bathed in deer’s blood to forever share the wild spirit of the forest creatures. Similarly, John Milius the writer doesn’t just ‘write'; he smelts iron and forges the molten ore into words with his manly fists, which he then drags through the wilds and punches into live bears. The bloody pelts of which are then sometimes made into films…films like Red Dawn.
I missed Red Dawn when it did the playground discussion rounds as a kid. Instead I watched Patrick Swayze in Steel Dawn, which was quite enough films starring Patrick Swayze with ‘Dawn’ in the title, thankyouverymuch. It’s a shame really; while watching Red Dawn on Netflix it struck me that Red Dawn would probably have bypassed every other region of my ten-year old brain and deeply embedded itself in the part that distributes random positive adjectives. There it would probably have been labelled ‘ace’, ‘skill’, ‘mint’, ‘fresh’ or ‘awesome’. And it would have probably stayed there for some time, reaching ‘best film of all time’ status before losing its place to Renegade or Robot Jox.
On a base level Red Dawn is like an incredibly violent episode of The A-Team that lasts for two hours and features children as the heroes. This is evident from the opening: a group of commie parachutists surround a high school, shoot the teacher and then proceed to blow up loads of cars. A group of pseudo-Brat Packers escape to the mountains, but not before stocking up on the essential items you’d normally find at a motorway service station: knives, arrows, bullets, rifles and cans of Sprite.
It’s not long before the John Milius hallmarks creep in. The boys hunt a deer with their rifles. The novice hunter is blooded by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen (uh-oh), who tell him that drinking the deer’s blood allows you to take on its spirit and that doing so changes you forever. In typical Milius fashion – and as is no doubt the case when Charlie Sheen introduces someone to a new substance – the boy does actually change and you’re not sure if his new violent demeanour is down to the dehumanising effects of war or the deer spirit actually having its revenge by making him act like a tool.
Milius’ renowned obsession with Theodore Roosevelt also gets an airing: the statue outside the school bears a quote from the former president and the National Park from where ‘the Wolverines’ fuck shit up is also the site where Teddy planted loads of trees*. Rooselvelt was a progressive cowboy, combining intellect with a love of guns (apparently these aren’t mutually exclusive – despite what years of watching bottom shelf actioners has taught me). His mantra: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ is perfectly met in John Milius: a right-winger firmly ensconced in the arts.
It’s this contrast that makes Milius the go-to guy for films that possess more masculinity than Chuck Norris’ favourite tipple (a mixture of whisky and dragon semen for the interested). It’s also this contrast that rears its head in Red Dawn. Despite the invading army possessing the motivation and personality of a Manimal villain for the most part, the naughty Cuban general takes time to open up his heart and pine for his lost love. This isn’t uncommon in Milius’ work; he’s forever contrasting the tolls of war with affairs of the heart: Kurtz’s letters home in Apocalypse Now, Conan the Barbarian pining for his deceased lass by burning her body and looking a bit confused.
Without the Milius hallmarks Red Dawn would be exactly like what my ten year old self would have taken from it: a violent A-Team film. With them it becomes sombre, dark and expansive – whilst also being an undeniably bat-shit piece of entertaining propaganda that wears its right-wing heart proudly on its sleeve. You can say what you want about John Milius – and I expect many already have – but he’s sure-footed, unique and puts his stamp all over his projects, which means Red Dawn leaves an impression and, despite its politics, isn’t the brainless forgettable fodder I was expecting.
Red Dawn 20??: Plot, villains and sets added in post
If its pre-release is anything to go by, I suspect the remake of Red Dawn will fulfil the brainless remit. Originally set for release in 2010, it replaces Russians and Cubans with invading Chinese. Unfortunately, producers thought better of alienating one of the world’s largest economies and so changed the origin of the invaders to North Korea in post-production – presumably because all Asians look the same.
Since then there was a slight chance of the western world befriending North Korea, which must have made the producers fairly nervous. And then the Russian government started acting like dicks again, which probably made them question whether audiences could tell the difference between ‘Choreans’ and ‘Chussians’. But, if his love of food, polyester and weapons is any indication, Kim Jong-un seems like a chip off the old tyranical block, so they can probably rest assured in their second choice of villain. Not that it matters as the chance of seeing the Red Dawn remake seem about as plausible as Russians actually invading the United States. Until then the default Red Dawn is a dated but compelling tale from a time when Hollywood was either braver or more naive. Either way, it’s a worthy watch.
*The Roosevelt duality is illustrated further with a Russian translation that incorrectly states that the site is where Roosevelt slayed thousands of Indians in battle. This example also serves to make the Russian’s look incredibly stupid, which is a win-win for Milius.
Cole Phelps: super-cop and part-time tour guide.
Despite learning some interesting facts about life in 1940s Los Angeles, such as no men were ever murdered, and most murder suspects had tiny feet, the meat of Rockstar games’ police-em-up, LA NOIRE is in its interrogation scenes. A bit like how the first 30 minutes of the A-Team were contrived to lock them in a garage with some watermelons and a combine harvester, each section in LA NOIRE is designed to get you in a darkened room with a semi-recognisable actor.
There’s not much to be said for the rest of it; the virtual recreation of LA makes for a glossy and beautiful locale to explore, but it’s really something of an empty shell (there’s probably an interesting point to be explored here, but it requires someone on a higher rung of the intellectual ladder to make it, so unless they drop something, I’ll move on). In fact the world on display is so lifeless that it only really serves to undermine the steps LA NOIRE takes in presenting itself as serious adult entertainment.
For example, Detective Cole Phelp’s leisure time appears to involve stealing cars and taking himself on a sightseeing tour of the city – earning ‘Detective Points’ for driving past notable landmarks. Similarly, a frantic chase after a suspect can often result in quite a large fine if you happen to run over several innocent citizens. Non-player character lines are repeated to such an extent that it feels like you’re in a virtual recreation of Groundhog Day, as opposed to Chinatown.
It’s clear that the interrogations are where the developers put most of their resources, something that’s all but confirmed by the pre-release hype. And while the facial animations are undeniably impressive, the biggest disappointment is in the performances themselves – which is perhaps a backhanded compliment to the strides LA NOIRE takes to bring itself in-line with cinematic entertainment. The problem is that the competent performances take a back seat to the game mechanic, which requires pantomime levels of subtlety and nuance to enable the player to ‘read’ the characters.
Take a look…
You’re engaged in an interrogation with someone who was in the pilot of Lost but found more success in the series Heroes, before it became crap. You’re listening to what he has to say but, like most people in LA NOIRE, he’s already run away from you, his tiny feet propelling him down narrow alleys like a plaid-clad gazelle. You check your notebook for contradictory evidence and then he pulls this shit on you…
Now, is he telling the truth? Judging from his expression you think ‘probably’, but the next question prompts this expression…
For some reason you suspect he’s lying but where’s the evidence, Detective? Time for another question…
BAM! You have the evidence that the game requires you to use. Welcome to jail, ‘scheisse-vogel’.
It’s not a complete game breaker but the facial animations are about as subtle as a hippo driving a flaming steamroller into a fireworks factory. As mentioned, it may be to the game’s credit that the biggest flaws are more to do with the direction of its performances than any kind of game mechanic (the repetitive ‘wash, rinse repeat’ detective work may be a flaw, but perhaps that’s what police work is actually like?) but it’s disappointing to find out you’re engaging in an experience that’s more like Brian DePalma’s take on The Black Dahlia than Curtis Hanson’s adaptation of LA Confidential. The earlier Heavy Rain may have been more like a top-shelf erotic thriller, but it took bolder steps and the pay-off was a game and narrative that was infinitely more engaging and surprising.
It’s possible for games to tell more mature and engaging stories without the need to slavishly follow a template established by other media. Red Dead Redemption is a pretty good example: it told an engaging tale while embracing the fact it was a videogame and did so without hampering the players’ ability to plough their own furrow. Perhaps if LA NOIRE didn’t run away from its true nature – like a TV actor sprinting down a back alley – we would have seen something truly special. It’s a surprising step backwards from Rockstar games, so let’s hope the recently announced GTA V take two-steps forward. Their track record should be more than enough to keep virtual notebooks in pockets.
If you needed any more proof that the economy is well and truly fucked in this country then consider the fact that I recently bought brand new and sealed copies of Hellraiser 1,2 and 3 for £3. I’ve been mustering every ounce of my maths education: pretending the DVDs were eggs, harnessing the thoughts of a dead Greek person (probably not the best people to advise on sums TBF – what happened, Greeks?) but I still can’t get it to add up to something that might live in the same neighbourhood as ‘sense’. So while we sit back and let people with more expensive educations roll up their shirts, as if they’re going to dig up money from the ground, I’ve decided to invest my time in a Hellraiserthon.
Like my Deathwishathon – or a really inappropriate charity event – the Hellraiserthon will consist of me exploring the films in a saga, analysing their differences and wasting a few hours of my life.
Hellraiser is still a damn good film. Perhaps even a masterpiece if you’re into horror and/or bondage. It revolves around a small puzzle box called the Lament Configuration (according to Wikipedia, I don’t think it has a name in the film). This box is basically like a more evil Rubik’s Cube, but one that seems piss-easy to do. Certainly harder than the Rubik’s Magic my sister bought me for Christmas one year. And if it weren’t for the fact that fishhooks come out of the Lament Configuration and rip you to pieces, it would certainly make a more age-appropriate gift for a 10 year old.
It’s safe to say that if they did make the Lament Configuration as hard as a Rubik’s Magic we’d have a very boring film – unless the lead was a pubescent nerd. Anyway, the ‘reward’ for accomplishing the puzzle isn’t a smiling Norris Mcwhirter and a certificate, it’s the aforementioned fishhooks and a welcome to hell from a bunch of bondage clad torturers called the Cenobites. The design of the Cenobites is pretty striking, and a testament to the enduring power of practical effects. There’s the iconic Pinhead, who has pins nails in his head, a women who appears to have tried to swallow an egg-whisk, one who has chattering teeth and another who looks a bit like the drummer from ASH.
The Cenobites are essentially hell’s police, but their job appears quite easy: basically just arresting people who complete the puzzle. If a policeman’s job were to arrest people who handcuff themselves then you have some idea of the ease in which Cenobites go about their occupation. What’s more astounding is it takes four of the buggers to bring someone in. Clearly, hell, like Cash 4 Gold and Poundland, is recession proof.
What’s interesting about Hellraiser is that the Cenobites aren’t the villains in the traditional sense; they were used for the marketing and their presence is felt throughout the film but the real villain is ‘Uncle Frank’. Frank’s a bit of a wrong ‘un. With his stubble and a pirate’s earring he’s a bit like a perpetual Gap-year student, which kinds of explains why they kept him off the poster. People would probably be expecting Hangover 2 style hi-jinks in Thailand instead of a nasty kitchen sink drama about families, love, lust and gateways to hell. Anyway, Frank ends up getting his shit ruined by completing the box and then we cut to several months later when his brother shows up with his wife (a former flame of Frank’s) and daughter.
Frank’s brother is played by Andrew Robinson, who’s better known for playing the memorably bat-shit ‘Scorpio’ in Dirty Harry. It’s a neat piece of casting, because when you see Andrew Robinson as a paternal sweetheart, you know the villain must be a complete mentaloid. We don’t really get that from Frank in his human form, but it’s ably conveyed when he reappears as a skinless murderer sucking the life out of people’s necks so he can escape from hell. It’s amazing how that can transform a performance.
Hellraiser is set almost entirely within the confines of a semi in a nameless location that is either a London suburb, or a London suburb pretending to be America. It’s never quite clear. I think it’s America but then when an English person meets another English person they don’t comment on it. Probably because one person is about to bash the other over the head with a hammer before they get their skin ripped off, so a conversation about postcodes would seem a little redundant. I suppose suspension of disbelief is paramount in a film about a skinless man returning from hell while evading a bailiff dressed in bondage clothes with nails sticking out of his head.
It’s a testament to Clive Barker’s skills that despite a few student film flourishes (sequences of a not very convincing actress walking along a lonely harbour) and a strange sense of location, the film maintains a heavy atmosphere of dread. Despite being lumped in with a bunch of Garth Marenghi’s in the 80s, Barker is a genuinely original voice in horror – and Hellraiser is stronger for his unique approach. I’ve always liked horror films that are anchored in normality. And Hellraiser, with its kitchen sink style drama, is exactly that. It’s a bit like a messed up Ken Loach film in some regards.
Less strong are the rules of the box and the Cenobites. Since the Lament Configuration is apparently hundreds of years old, it makes sense that the instructions have vanished. Frank buys it from an old man in the orient at the beginning and it’s clear that it’s lacking the original packaging. Basically, it appears that by opening the box you’re inviting the Cenobites to drag you to hell, where they will spend a lifetime torturing you. This appears to the case, unless you make them a deal, which the heroine, Kirsty, does. It seems strange that, after banging on about how great it is to be tortured, they’d understand someone’s reluctance to enjoy what appears to be the best experience ever. But still, they accept Kirsty’s offer of bringing them her Uncle Frank if they let her live.
They then decide to change the rules anyway – because, they like, can. But it doesn’t matter because by that time, Kirsty has managed to change the box into a weapon that makes the Cenobites vanish – though not before they’ve had their way with Frank. Let’s fact it, he had it coming.
Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Pinhead’s return is kind of a textbook sequel: it expands the mythology, offers a few reveals about the characters’ origins and offers a bit more gore. It’s set in the most logical location for any horror sequel: a hospital for the insane. One of the problems with horror sequels of this ilk is you’ve already seen the villains, you know the hero/heroine isn’t making it up but you still have to wait for them to convince the new characters that they’re telling the truth. Unfortunately they normally learn the hard way, and Hellraiser 2 is no exception.
The skinless returnee from hell this time is magnificently evil Clare Higgins as Julia’s Kirsty’s evil stepmother. I say she’s magnificently evil, she’s probably very nice in real life. Though she is a little overly convincing as a hell-bound harridan, so she may be a total cow. She teams up with cuntish doctor, Kenneth Cranham (again, in the film) to repeat the steps of Hellraiser one. I mean, that’s probably a good idea, right? Incorrect. It turns out that it’s actually a terrible idea. The Cenobites return once again – though, still unclear about the rules, they decide to ignore the girl who opened the box and instead let everyone come to hell to check it out.
The hell in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 looks a little bit like a Laser Quest, with lots of dark corridors and spooky sound effects. It’s here that the film falters a little bit. Clearly deciding that people won’t be scared by the same Cenobites as the first film they turn Kenneth Cranham into one. After deciding what to do to him, they decide to wrap his face in cheese-wire, have snakes come out of his hands, kit him out in the now de-rigeur bondage wear and, for extra effect, attach a giant slug to his head. To confound matters further they reveal that the Cenobites are more like hell’s Community Support officers – as they just kind of stand around, teasing Kirsty. Then they run into the Kenneth Cranham-abite and get their shits ruined.
Despite being slightly predictable – well, as predictable as anything featuring Kenneth Cranham wrapped in cheese-wire with snakes coming out of his hands can be – Hellraiser 2 is pretty good. It clearly helps to have some classically trained actors add a little bit of gravitas to proceedings and, despite some fairly ropey plotting, it’s perfectly serviceable and doesn’t ruin part one by association. It’s worth noting, however, that the ending is equally baffling but also quite cool.
Hellraiser 3: Hell on Earth
Unfortunately, part three goes off the rails somewhat by catering to what someone’s perception of a horror film fan is: basically, a giant douche-hole with piercings and leather. This manifests itself on-screen through alpha-prick and owner of the world’s least appealing nightclub, J.P. Monroe. Monroe buys a giant pillar featuring Pinhead’s head because it would look mega-awesome in his club. And there’s absolutely no way this could go wrong…Unfortunately, it does go wrong and before you know it he’s sacrificing floozies to Pinhead, who’s even more unreasonable this time. I suppose unemployment will do that to you.
Hellraiser 3 is also clearly set in the US and looks a lot glossier. It also features a different protagonist: a fairly unflappable TV reporter. The other actors don’t appear to be actors at all, so shoddy are their performances. There’s a cameraman with a giant moustache and long hair who I thought may have been a famous musician using his status to secure a role – a bit like Mick Jagger in Freejack – but I think he’s just a legitimately bad actor with a big moustache and long hair. He probably also hates Sam Elliot.
Like most threequels (not sure if that’s a word) Hellraiser 3 then decides to turn everyone, including non-acting cameraman with moustache, into a Cenobite. It’s a bit like X-Men 3 where everyone is a mutant but this is only manifested through an ability to jump really high, it basically reduces the potency of the Cenobites and makes things a bit daft. It’s a testament to the first film that despite the unlikely chain of events, you don’t dwell on the fact that it’s a bit silly. Also, Hellraiser 3 features a heavy rock crossover with Motorhead and several other hard rockers providing aural accompaniment, which is never good for a horror film’s credibility. This is often known as ‘Dokken’s Axiom’.
I didn’t manage to secure the others but was a little surprised to see the adventures of Pinhead continued across another six installments. I seem to recall part four took place in space and can only assume the others involved a trip to college and/or a stag do in Vegas.
It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Tom Cruise, dangling bravely off the Burj Dubai, trying to convince you that he is, in many ways, the living embodiment of Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible films. Then something like Act of Valor comes along and messes with his thetan levels.
For those who are unaware – and I was one of them until I watched the trailer – Act of Valor is a film made with real life Navy Seals. You would have thought that a militaristic action thriller would have been high on the agenda, so props to the filmmakers for opting to remake sexually diverse comedy Shortbus. Just kidding, Navy Seals…please don’t kill me.
In many ways Acts of Valor has been a long time coming: Steven Soderbergh has been dipping his toes in the world of experimental films for a few years, making low-key indie curios with an assortment of non-actors. But now he’s crossing the streams using people famed for not acting, like ‘MMA superstar’ (it says here) Gina Carano and Channing Tatum to make an action film with proper actors.
Obviously, Soderbergh’s newie is a far more attractive proposition then what basically looks like a 90-minute recruitment video for how awesome it is to travel the world killing things. Then again, at least Act of Valor is being honest: Battle LA turned out to be no more than a crass and stupid ad for the marines – despite promising to show the real-life consequences of an attack from the universe’s most strategically inept aliens. So there’s not a lot to be upset about here…unless you’re Tom Cruise. If I were playing the lead villain in MI5, I’d start to get a little worried.
Prepare for jingasms, the trailer for Act of Valor follows…
Gun: model’s own. Silencer and bald man holding flag sold seperately.
You can already hear the gears start grinding on the new James Bond film. Not because they’ve already announced the product tie-ins that will see Bond travel the world flogging luxury goods like a lethal Apprentice candidate (or genuine candidate Christopher Farrell), or from the procession of Euro lovelies who are pored over to assess their worth of being violated by 007 before being shuffled off by a villain with a surplus appendage. No, the real reason you know a Bond film is coming is because of the inevitable controversy surrounding its name.
Bond names are strange; I can’t think of one other film series that has such a diverse collection of titles yet are all distinctively part of the same set. Well, aside from Steven Seagal’s oeuvre, but they’re all fairly plodding and workmanlike: Under Siege, Marked For Death, Out For Lunch etc. Bond titles are slightly more aspirational and elegant. You wouldn’t find a Bond film called ‘The Spy Wot Has Sex’, or ‘The Psycho With 3 Tits’. Which makes the rumoured title of ‘Skyfall’ a little baffling. Now I understand by even entertaining the notion that this is the genuine title I’m part of the problem, but I just accepted some sponsorship to add a footer to my Danny Dyer article and I’m in the process of burying my shame with words. Hey, you’re lucky, this article could quite easily have been about my recent trip to see The Lion King in 3D.
While the confidence placed in Bond’s recent change of direction is laudable – at least before they revealed they were copying the Bourne films – their stab at names is a little less rewarding. Sure, Casino Royale is an obvious winner but only because its name was typed by Ian Fleming’s sexist nubs. But much like the film itself, ‘Quantum of Solace’ is something of a jumbled mess, offering the illusion of style without any substance to make it more meaningful. Basically, it’s like someone using long words to mask the fact they’re talking absolute balls. In contrast ‘Skyfall’ is a little more welcome; it’s snappier and doesn’t try too hard to impress – unless it’s throwing jabs at the Murdoch empire. But I miss the showboating of the old Bond film titles. Think of ‘Goldfinger’, or ‘From Russia With Love’, they revelled in their largesse while perfectly capturing the tone of their adventures.
Anyway, I’ve decided to attempt a few Bond film titles to see if it can really be that hard to sum up the legacy and heritage of the world’s most famous spy, whilst bringing him into a world where it costs over £20 for two adults and a child to watch a film about singing lions in 3D. I think I’ve been fairly successful, even if I say so my damn self.
Not just the name of the world’s most prestigious sponge-based biscuit. ‘Ladyfingers’ gets and added frisson from the fact that Bond often squires ladies. The fact that said Ladies often have fingers is fairly incidental (then again, so were ‘The’ and ‘With’ in The Man With The Golden Gun). It’s a provocative and posh title and would add an extra frisson if the action were set in a French bakery, or involved trifle in some way.
The Universe Will Probably Do
Over ambition is a recurring theme with Bond villains. In fact, most of them would probably do just fine if they were content to downsize their ambitions somewhat. For example, why ask for the world’s gold when you could probably obtain a private island with a fixer-upper volcano base for a far smaller sum – especially in this age of economic austerity? Bond film titles should reflect the age in which they were made, and The Universe Will Probably Do does exactly that. However, it also suggests that the villain is still a tad over-ambitious, so will probably still get fed to his pet ocelots.
On Her Majesty
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this one, save to say I’d quite like to see a self-contained action film, starring the world’s most famous spy, taking place entirely on HRH. It would be like Die Hard on a Queen.
A Taste of Swan
For many, Bond films are a gateway into another realm of existence – a bit like shopping at Waitrose, or eating unprocessed meat. Perhaps the most exotic of Bond’s activities is his proclivity for eating stuff you’ve never heard of – let alone had wedged into a Gregg’s pasty. Obviously the most exotic, yet resolutely British, foodstuff is swan. Few, save for David Cameron and the Windsors, know what this elegant beast tastes like. In fairness, it’s probably like posh chicken but suspension of disbelief is all-important with James Bond so let’s say it also tastes like wealth and excitement.
OK, I’m now spent – feel free to submit your own suggestions while we wait for the real title.
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.”
(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!!!
So yeah, this will probably happen.
That Rise of the Planet of the Apes is the thinking man’s summer blockbuster should come as no surprise to those who’ve followed the simian saga so far. Each film in the storied franchise contains plenty of thought provoking sentiment that you wouldn’t normally find in a generic blockbuster. It seems you can get away with metaphorical murder as long as your film stars apes in polyester suits.
Along with downbeat endings and chimpanzees that look strangely like Christian Bale, one of the hallmarks of the Apes series is a strain of deep-running social commentary that makes them strangely prescient in regard to real-world events. Well, either that or the films are recycling what’s gone before and history is condemned to continually repeat itself. For the sake of this post I’m going to assume it’s the former – despite naturally being of the glass-is-half-full disposition.
Anyway, here are four real world events, as predicted by the Planet of the Apes saga – even the not very good one by Tim Burton.
The Intelligent Design debate
Planet of the Apes takes a hypothetical large pole and uses it to skewer organised religion, taking particular care to smite the idea of creationism. Despite excavating evidence to the contrary, the apes in the first film believe they are the first race to gain enlightenment and they’ll go to any length to maintain that belief, including hindering their scientists and using fear to keep their people in line. Which adds an extra layer of cynicism and real-world relevance.
Unlike the film, there doesn’t seem to be a begrudging live and let live arrangement in real life. Though on the bright side, that also means we don’t have to wander the desert in a loincloth until we realise that we’re all completely fucked. I think the encyclopedia entry for ‘Small Mercies’ may need a new example.
Katie and Peter: The Final Chapter
A couple of talking chimps feted by sophisticated society for their lack of pretension and ignorance of social norms are eventually ostracised, when the true nature of their existence is revealed and people get a little bit bored of their earthy ways. Yes, the story of Peter Andre and Jordan’s financially incentivised romantic coupling is truly a film script come to life. In this case, the film is Escape from the Planet of the Apes. And just like real-life, this state of affairs becomes even more sinister when the well-heeled realise these actions could inspire the less intelligent of their race to do the same. This is further compounded when it’s discovered they’re breeding.
But that’s where reality and fiction diverge; The Only Way is Essex and the continued awareness of the existence of Peter Andrew attests that the real chimps’ ending isn’t half as bad as their fictional counterparts. As the unwritten rule of the Apes film dictates, it ends less happily for Zira and Cornelius. Sob. But as depressing as this cinematic ending is, it’s arguably not as miserable as watching ITV 2.
The Arab Spring
A dispossessed class, forced into mindless servitude, unite to overthrow their privileged masters. Despite an equal level of synthetic clothing, the plot of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes doesn’t bear much resemblance to the recent London Riots – as the lack of basmati rice and stolen plasma screens attest. But it does bear more than a passing muster to the momentous Arab Spring revolution in the Middle East. Having been inspired by the radical actions of an individual, the dispossessed literally go ape-shit in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, rebelling against those who’ve enslaved them in a bloody coup that appears to take place in Milton Keynes.
Unfortunately there’s no third act in real life, so while the rebellion in ‘Conquest’ takes about 20 minutes, in real life we have the bloody actions of oppressors met with some stern words from the UN. I’m no mathematician but I suspect the percentage of this shit happening on Charlton Heston’s watch is about -100%.
George W. Bush’s presidency
The Sit Down of the Ape
The prescient potency of the Planet of the Apes series cannot be denied. Even Tim Burton’s otherwise inept remake contained an element of foresight, ending as it did with a chimp reclining on a seat of power in Washington DC the very same year George W Bush took office. And while this ending was contrived and confusing, at least it only lasted a couple of minutes. The real life Commander and chimp’s term lasted for 8 shitting years.
The Planet of the Apes remake ended on a downer, mainly because it was so pants. Though all hope is not lost because the new film is very good indeed. So let’s make the most of it while we can as, according to ape lore, we have psychic humans with melted faces, the further intellectual decline of the human race, enslavement by smarter apes and a nuclear apocalypse to look forward to. That should make for some interesting reality TV.
Eschewing the trend of getting hip young stars and writing stuff all over their faces (see also: The Social Network, Thor, The Adjustment Bureau, Hangover 2), Cage and Kidman’s big screen adaptation of the popular outdoor clothing brand harks back to the days when star-power sold a film. Unfortunately it doesn’t hark back to the days before Photoshop.
‘WHEN TERROR IS AT YOUR DOORSTEP YOU CAN RUN OR YOU CAN FIGHT’. Strangely, Kidman and Cage appear to be doing neither; they seem to be hunkered down, looking bemused in a dusty storage room – which may actually be a not-too-subtle comment on their respective careers. Ouch. Then again, they both possess strange waxy visages, so maybe it’s a film about trespassers in Madame Tussauds – a bit like a ‘Night at the Museum Nights’. Either way, the poster for the new Joel Schumacher film is not very good. And yet the world keeps turning…
A film poster should capture the essence of the film it’s promoting. Some may tell you that that The Smurfs movie is one of the worst film posters of 2011 but, by featuring a bunch of small blue creatures acting like imbeciles, it’s simply fulfilling its remit of appealing to kids while acting as a red flag to adults. Job done.
Our next entry however subscribes to the kitchen sink aesthetic of ‘throw whatever you can at the screen and see what sticks’. It seems someone took that literally, as amongst helicopters, broken glass and guns they’ve actually got the wolf-boy from Twilight and stuck him to a building – albeit one that violates numerous laws of both planning and science.
If the Abduction poster succeeds in its remit then said remit is clearly: ‘a little bit of Inception, a little bit of Bourne and a lot of crap.’
3. Straw Dogs
The tagline’ EVERYONE HAS A BREAKING POINT’ will be familiar to anyone who remembers a time when films weren’t remade at five-year intervals, and posters didn’t contain the word ‘Facebook’. Straw Dogs 2011’s emulation of the original poster is bound to bring fans of the original just that little bit closer to theirs – though it does suggest a knowing awareness that the actual film will probably lack.
Strangely, Alexander Skarsgard’s face is only reflected in the broken part of the glasses, which suggests that he’s actually emerging from James Marsden’s eye-socket and not actually facing him at all. Perhaps Straw Dogs 2011 is going for a change of tack. Or maybe the film, like the poster, is unimaginative nonsense.
4 and 5. X-Men: First Class
Most people are aware that the ‘face-writing’ trend started with the poster for The Social Network. And while that visual trend gave birth to a host of imitators, they still maintained some level of stylistic appeal. The flip side of that coin, however, is ‘face-violation’ – as evidenced by the Straw Dogs poster and initiated by two of the worst film posters of all time*.
X-Men First Class is one of my favourite films of the year; it’s amusing, relentlessly entertaining and exciting. Yet the printed marketing for First Class was uniformly poor, reaching its nadir with the now-infamous Facebook posters that can never be unseen.
I couldn’t really decide which was the worst, but as Professor X has no feeling below the waist, he’s probably resolutely unaware of James McAvoy’s face violating his nether regions. No such luck for Magneto, who suffers the indignity of a young Master of Magnetism’s face playing havoc with his flies.
It’s worth pointing out the ‘x-cellent’ (yeah, I went there) Total Film magazine covers that promoted the film, as they certainly ‘got it’ more than the film’s marketing department. I also suspect they may have influenced the equally charming retro posters for Captain America.
* Despite currently being billions of years from extinction – or ‘1’ if you believe Roland Emmerich – I’m fairly sure the human-race will not suffer many film posters as bad as these.
“I’ll be home for tea later mum.”
The following contains heavy spoilers for all Lethal Weapon films – even the ones that haven’t been made yet.
I’ve been thinking a lot about villains recently. It’s hardly surprising, really. If it’s not megalomaniacal Australian billionaires and their goldfish brained kids, it’s Norwegian dickheads in neoprene. You can’t even bury your head in fiction and hope to escape the tide of evil. Well you probably could, but not if the beach was made up of the Lethal Weapon films.
The Lethal Weapon films do villains brilliantly. So much so, in fact, that when experienced as a back-to-back 8-hour odyssey, amongst seeing Danny Glover’s character age from 55 to 126 like one of those BBC stop-motion nature documentaries, and Gibson becoming less and less mental as his mullet retracts into his bug-eyed bonce* you realise that the films are a microcosm of cinematic evil-doing, containing every hallmark of villainy, both real and fictitious.
To make myself feel better about watching loads of Lethal Weapon films – and despite the fact I also gleaned some valuable secondary information (such as the average of retirement from the LAPD is ‘Never’) – I’ve decided to share my information in this important thesis. Now before I go too far I should also explain that examples of villainy from part 3 are, like the film itself, only there to make the numbers up, and/or point out how to do villainy wrong. Indeed, ‘Jack Travis’ as a villain is absolute arse-candle.
Anyway, for someone who probably can’t get to sleep’s pleasure, here are the key components of villainy, as evidenced by the Lethal Weapon saga…
This one’s something of a no-brainer. Of course they’re greedy: every single one of them. However, since we’re dealing with the Lethal Weapon saga and not Tarkovsky’s The Mirror, it’s entirely possible that some fans are currently enjoying a Road to Damascus moment. Enjoy it boys, it’s going to continue for a few miles yet.
Snarky digressions aside, if the ruthless pursuit of money suggests low moral fibre then what does the existence of Lethal Weapon 3 suggest? It didn’t offer anything that we hadn’t seen before (save for a crap villain – looking at you Jack Travis). It’s entirely possible that Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are genuinely evil, or kind of stupid. I think I’ve just blown my own mind. Read the next bit and I’ll catch up with you later…
No one is more widely familiar to US audiences as a ‘wrong-un’ than someone who can’t even speak the President’s American. This is most keenly displayed in ‘Weapon 2′ where all the knob-heads speak Afrikaans, including, memorably, Joss Ackland who finally fulfils his career-long ambition for the world’s most ridiculous pronunciation of ‘immunity’.
An early scene features our heroes – and most of the LAPD – listening to the villains converse over the radio with complete bafflement. What language is that…alien? No, my friends, that language is evil.
Strange accents take a break until part 4 where they come back with both guns blazing. Weapon 4 deals with Chinese triads and faintly ridiculous accents. Early on a Chinese family turn-up but before they can be shot/impaled with surfboards they reveal themselves to be sympathetic victims of the real-villain: a walking oriental caracature called Uncle Benny.
With his long eyebrows, buckteeth and hilarious inability to pronounce his ‘Rs’, Uncle Benny is possibly the least well-drawn portrayal of an oriental since John Wayne played Genghis Khan. And like most funny speaking characters in the Weapon series – and pretty much everyone else – he gets a well-deserved presentation ceremony for his own arse.
Oriental realism, Lethal Weapon style.
Odd fashion choices
Not a raison-d’être as such, more of a troubling indicator of villainy. It seems evil people are too preoccupied with wrongdoing to think about their accoutrements, or their distorted view runs to their choice of apparel. Either way, the most evil people normally look pretty fucking stupid.
Perhaps the best example of this is in Weapon 2. By walking round with what appears to be greased evil on the top of his melon, Pieter Vorstedt clearly exudes villainy. However, by revealing that he killed Mel Gibson’s wife – and therefore is the source of his mental anguish, not to mention his ‘Weapon-ness’ – he is quite possibly the most evil character in the series.
Note: If you followed this hallmark to a tee you may be confused when watching the Lethal Weapon series in the present day – especially when you see Mel Gibson’s sunglasses and hair. May I remind you that he is not evil – at least in the films.
This complements an already apparent streak of evil, like a rotten cherry on top of a mouldy cake. Gary Busey’s Mr Joshua is clearly insane, but what makes him much more memorable – aside from being Gary Busey and therefore one of the most incredible lunatics to breathe air – is the fact that he appears to enjoy receiving pain.
Similarly Joss ‘e-muhn-a-tee’ Ackland’s greasy diplomat’s evil accoutrement is a ‘rape-glare’ that he points at Patsy Kensit, suggesting a fairly extreme set of horizontal interests. He also seems to walk around with his passport in his hand and, of course, there’s the aforementioned verbal inflection.
For perspective, Weapon 3’s villain Jack Travis enjoys attending ice hockey games…and probably playing on his computer and reading. Man, fuck Jack Travis.
Evil is a combination of many things. Someone who’s is purely motivated by financial gain isn’t necessarily evil, just a bit of a dick. Likewise, someone who dresses like a bit of knob may not be a poorly-styled embodiment of evil. But when you combine each aspect, and round it off with ‘a thing’, you’re left with someone who probably deserves to get beaten half to death on a retiring policeman’s lawn.
* If there are any scientists out there who have explored the relationship between mullets and mental illness I would be most grateful for a copy of your findings.
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