Sunday, 4 December 2011

Join the spectrum

In order to get more fully involved in my collaborative effort, Spectrum, I will be making that site my first port of call for film reviews and thoughts from now on. You Killed the Car will still be updated, but will usually pay host to reviews for films that one of my cohorts may have already called dibs on back over at Spectrum.

I'm not sure how many regular readers I have these days as I know things have dropped off the past few months. However, if you're still around and enjoy my work, PLEASE do come and have a gander at Spectrum. I've got reviews for Hugo and The Awakening up, whilst pal Nick has his own take on Tintin, as well as We Need to Talk About Kevin, Take Shelter and David Lynch's new album Crazy Clown Time. My top 10 films for 2011 will be discussed with Nick's choices on the site, offering something a bit different to the usual linear listing. It should be good, so come and check it out!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn review

The best thing about Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was its opening credits. In them, familiar (or else soon to be) silhouettes conduct a shadow play, darting in and out between highly stylised, colour blocked scenery to a silent drama. In the space of a few short minutes, our mute Tintin discovers a murder victim or two, jostles with a thief, and then chases said criminal across land sea and air in a display of plucky heroism. Fast paced, fun, economic storytelling. Exactly what the rest of the film isn’t.

It’s not exactly asking for much, contextually, to expect Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn to be the next Indiana Jones. Like that killer adventure franchise before it, the Hollywood debut of Tintin follows the coupling of (former) imagination factory Spielberg with a much lauded director famous for his work in epic genre cinema, taking on a world thoroughly indebted to the early 20th century’s love of globe-trotting adventurers. Oh, and this time round, three of England’s biggest names in TV and cinema today happen to have co-scripted the thing, and one of those writers happens to be responsible for the recent injection of intelligence into the revived Doctor Who. Another one is famous for his hyper-kinetic storytelling in films such as Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. So no, it’s not exactly asking for much is it?

Perhaps Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was always setting itself up for a pratfall, given how loudly it declared its backstage kudos, parading it about to all and sundry. Certainly, it acts like it’s going to deliver on those promises in the aforementioned credit sequence. And then the film proper starts, and it all gently unravels – slowly and steadily – before your eyes. Tintin, as the do-gooder to end all do-gooders, needs a world filled to the brim with charm and heart-stopping adventure to offset his at times plank-like demeanour, and in the comics, Herge of course got this right – those books are loved for a reason. But in the process of translating this world to the screen, one can’t but feel that WETA and Spielberg got a bit too enamoured with their (admittedly fantastic) CGI work and forgot that the devil is in certain other, more filmic, details along the way.

(Such is life in the wireframe world)

Racking in at a weighty 106 minutes, what follows is a rather bland adventure in which Tintin (Jamie Bell) tracks down the secret of the Unicorn Man’O’War, racing against the somewhat irritating villain Sakharine (Daniel Craig, doing his best to channel a snarky school teacher) and forging a lifelong friendship with the alcoholic Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) along the way  - picking up something of a heart for the film in doing so (there is a reason all of the TV promos are emphasising Haddock’s lines rather than Tintin’s. And this is a series where the moderate blandness of the protagonist is supposed to be endearing). The film seems to lurch from technically accomplished if emotionally uninvolving set piece to set piece, occasionally offering glimpses of real charm (Snowy, Haddock, Tintin when he’s able to get his shit together) that are swiftly undercut by utter frustration (Pegg and Frost’s Thompson and Thomson specifically). It all plays out a bit like a balloon having the wind let out – loud and proud to begin with, before dissolving into a half hearted whimper of final cold air at that last, critical moment.

It’s a bloody shame as the cards were laid out for something beautiful here, and at times, the film feels like it might still achieve this Platonic ideal, allowing you to walk away feeling fleetingly entertained if not actually impressed. Unfortunately, all this really does is confirm two things for me (assuming Jackson’s involvement was notable):

a)      Spielberg is irredeemable.
b)      Jackson wants you to fall asleep in the cinema. I fucking told you all, so I did.

Tintin ain’t bad. Like its titular hero, it’s colourless and inoffensive. For Tintin, that’s fine – it’s the world around him that fills in the details. For his film, however, it means the final product is a little cold. You expect more. And you’re right to. Given the talent involved, the unremarkableness of the final product is unforgivable.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

That there is Spectrum!

Spectrum is a new collaborative blog, between myself and a number of friends. It will cover film, music, TV, literature, original creative writing and art, and anything else that comes to mind. It is shiny and new and exciting, with Nick Pierce heading the way on filmic content with a cracking review of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

You Killed the Car will remain my first port of call for any film-related thoughts and opinions, but if you're interested in a wider pool of writing, have a look-in at Spectrum. Over the next couple of weeks, we're hoping to get the ball really rolling with something cool, so t'would be grand if you'd come along with us!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Happy Birthday YKTC!

Happy birthday dear blog, happy birthday to you.

Still awfully quiet I know. But two things are set to change that:

1) A landfill's worth of books dedicated to new teachers trying to piece together a life outside of work.

2) A Spectrum of varied content waiting in the wings to be offered to you and more!

See you soon, hopefully with a lovely surprise!

(Also, the spectre of YKTC past lives on, in the form of a Neil Blompkamp Retrospective Redux! Over here at Dreaming Genius )

Sunday, 25 September 2011

A Surprise Guest Appearance from the Missing Author

I am currently three weeks into a job in teaching, and am neck high in work-related stuff, so, as you've guessed, the blog's semi-hiatus is once again full on. Sorry guys, I'll try and keep things ticking over when I can, but that might not be for awhile yet.

In other news, Tony Nunes and Dreaming Genius blog have very kindly included me in their initiative and cross-posted June's Joystick Cinema essay. Please do check out the rest of their blog, as it spans all sorts ranging from music to film to literature. It's a cracker.

Also, I'm in print! Why not buy issue 2 of New Empress Magazine if you like what I have to say, or want to read the (far greater) words of others who say what you and I like to hear.

I'm going back in my hole now. Bye.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Case Against 'The Lord of the Rings'

Following on from the previous post, courtesy of Rob Keeling, here is my response to the LOTR trilogy. Those of you who agreed with Rob might not as keen on what I have to say...

I’m well aware that I’m fighting on the losing side when it comes to picking a brawl against Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series (2001-2003), going against a formidable force made up of everything from the casual movie watcher to the die-hard fantasy fan, all of whom will no doubt vouch for the sheer power of the films – the audience who really felt the magic of the series. Like a lost orphan cat wondering the streets however, I am not amongst them. No, I prowl around the phenomenon, occasionally popping up to nibble at some little scrap before moving on, detached from the core proceedings, perhaps scratching my back against a dying Orc’s armour plating as I do so. Maybe playing with a trinket hanging from an Elf’s head dress while the fate of the world is decided in a New Zealand forest. If I’m really lucky I get to eat a wee crumb of Lembas bread Samwise carelessly dropped on his way up to Mordor, but that’s really a rare opportunity. It’s a hard life. The point is, I’m not totally engaged, and I’m not too sure I have a solid reason beyond personal taste (or seeming lack of?). I would genuinely rather watch Footloose again. Maybe even She’s the Man. Nevertheless, over the next few paragraphs, I’m going to try and offer up my opinion on why the Lord of the Rings films just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, possibly relying / deflecting on to King Kong (2005) more than is really necessary along the way.

I was about eleven when I first found out a Lord of the Rings series was being made. I’d read The Hobbit and had been informed on a vague synopsis of the epic sequel by a friend at school – the idea that Bilbo’s little old invisibility ring was actually the One Ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them seemed pretty awesome to little old me. It certainly sounded a lot edgier than The Hobbit, which, though fun, had some seriously anodyne moments. Surely an epic full of battles would offer nothing of that sort though, right? So we fast-orward another year or so, and it’s time to go see The Fellowship of the Ring with the folks, a film that was going toe-to-toe with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in my mind as the ultimate Christmas movie of 2001 EVER. Needless to say, Fellowship did of course win hands down (even then, Daniel Radcliffe’s closing lines of “but Hagrid, we’re not allowed to use magic outside of Hogwarts” sounded like a hostage reading from the kidnapper’s cue card for ransom).  

is still my favourite of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and is a film I could happily watch again and again. From the opening prologue on the War of the Rings up until that final cliffhanger with the Fellowship already divided (I distinctly remember a kid at school vehemently complaining that the film had been released unfinished to anyone who applauded it in the playground), its seat of your pants stuff. What that guy at school said is in fact rather ironic, as to my mind Fellowship actually feels to be the most complete of the three films that make up the trilogy – it’s probably the only one you can watch and enjoy as a self contained unit if you so choose, having as it does an accomplished narrative arc that carries a sense of immediate progression that comes to a conclusion of a sort in the wake of the Uruk-hai attack at Parth Galen and Boromir’s death. This is no doubt largely a result of the “road-trip” set up that characterises the film; Frodo and gang travel across the landscape of Middle Earth, forming a growing unit of warriors along the way and having distinct, episodic adventures along the way (Bree, Rivendell, the Mines of Moria etc). All the while, the group are pursued by the Ringwraiths, a formidable lot who are set up to be a constant, nagging presence throughout the trilogy...and then they’re not, replaced instead by the Uruk-Hai, who in turn sort of stop mattering so much after they’ve dusted off Boromir. Indeed, when the Nazgul King finally shows up in Return of the King, his overdue arrival is a bit lame – like, 80s puppeteer fantasy level lame. But I’m getting ahead of myself – plenty of space to gripe on that movie a bit later...

A year later, Frodo’s adventures continued with The Two Towers, and the problems with the trilogy began to crack through the polished veneer. With our Fellowship split up, the story now spreads itself between three core threads; Frodo and Samwise taking the ring to Mordor, Aragorn and co. heading to the Saxon settlement of Rohan to gather support and...Merry and Pippin sort of flouncing around trying not to get caught and generally acting as filler material. Well, can’t have it all I guess. But wait! After the initial intrigue of King Theoden’s possession by Wormtongue, it all seems to start descending into making the necessary on-screen moves to get everyone prepped up for the Battle of Helm’s Deep etc, acceptable in that the battle is a rather fitting way to end the film, but after the watertight, relatively compressed storytelling of Fellowship, that sense of urgency that the former ended on just isn’t quite there any more, no matter how hard Jackson and gang try and fake it. This wouldn’t be so bad usually – the midpoints of most stories, epic or not, rely upon a sort of spring-cleaning and manoeuvring before the endgame may take place, but then Return of the King happens...

The day I saw Return of the King in the cinema was the day I realised how similar to an isolation cell a screening room can be. Promises of a return to the succinctly loaded narration of the first film are offered in the pre-credits sequence providing the origin of Gollum with flare, but then it all goes Two Towers 2: Electric Boogaloo by just becoming a random mess of disparate battles and tying-up-of-threads for three hours. It doesn’t matter if you’re Jackson, Bay, or whoever, just because actions scenes are good doesn’t mean that piling them up one on top of another makes good storytelling. Somewhere along the way, what we’re invested in begins to get lost in the background (please don’t kill me this is just my personal opinion). Return of the King is in fact the only film in the trilogy I’ve been unable to watch the whole way through beyond my first encounter; when we first bought the DVD, just looking at it made me feel cold, tired, and in need of a good lie down with some Whitney Houston ballads playing in the background to calm me down. Return of the King, for me, highlights everything that’s wrong with the trilogy as a whole, and indeed my major gripes with Peter Jackson’s career post-gore-fest-Brain-Dead days. On the surface, everything’s there for a major blockbuster; action, adventure, and a strong cast of performers doing a sturdy job. But underneath it all, there’s an odd lack of soul and a gnawing sense of tedium that I swear everyone just pretends they can’t feel because “goodness me haven’t WETA done a great job!” (And they really have – if nothing else, the trilogy provided us with a special effects house so accomplished that it’s only topped by ILM). It’s there in 2005’s King Kong too, a remake that somehow managed to play out the length of the original 1933 classic twice without offering a whole lot more depth in doing so. Jackson’s Kong is absolutely interminable, and I feel awful for saying that because I can feel the love put into the painstaking recreation of the era, but it’s bloody boring, even if it does contain a barely-fictionalised version of Orson Welles (if he’d happened to find a giant gorilla...). Things rack up similarly for Return of the King; I can see the technical achievement, but for me there’s nothing beyond it.

“But what about the Extended Editions, Tom? Maybe they’ll show you the light!” I hear you cry! And for a time, I entertained that notion too. I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Extended Editions for the first time, however, and I am sorry to say that it merely exacerbated my condition rather than curing it. Seeing a meatier Fellowship was an absolute delight, a lengthier Two Towers felt a bit like a TV mini-series plodding along to make the necessary episode limit, and – guess what – I didn’t even make it the whole way through Return, opting instead for a nap / morphine. The additions of the scenes merely highlight the lack of real structure in the latter two films, the final film particularly seemingly just drifting along to its conclusion by way of battle after battle. I have heard that it is a popular activity to watch all three of the Extended cuts in a marathon, a process that equates to 682 minutes of viewing time – or, 11 hours, 22 minutes. In that time, a whole day has been lost. Here are a number of other activities that may have been carried out instead in the same time:
  • ·         A Godfather trilogy marathon
  • ·         A day trip to somewhere you’ve never been before - perhaps a spa visit.
  • ·         Eleven hour long baths. Eleven. With time to quickly dry off between each one.
  • ·         Running up and down the stairs one thousand, three hundred and sixty four times. Think of all the calories burned.
  • ·         You could have finally got through on that customer services call that kept putting you on hold.
  • ·         682 issues of Hello! Magazine (assuming you take your time with each issue)
The possibilities beyond even those mouth-watering delights are near endless. At least to me. Given the above tirade, it might strike you as more than a little bit odd that I’m actually looking forward to The Hobbit. Hopefully the simpler story will catch me onboard. Plus, a dragon voiced by ol’ Benedict – the stuff dreams are made of right there. For those of you versed in videogames however, part of me feels like I’m just letting myself in for another Halo style disappointment (yes, Halo fanboys, I don’t care for your stinkin’ franchise either you precious little bunch of sniffling noses. I’m a Sonic the Hedgehog man, shitty games be damned!). We must wait and see, secure at least in the knowledge that Guillermo del Toro’s “thorns for Thorin!” type designs didn’t make the cut, and hopeful that the brisk pacing of Fellowship will return once again. I know I won’t have won anyone over with my rant, and have probably made a lot of enemies, but I can’t be the only soul who secretly thinks The Lord of the Rings films are a bit boring, right? Please, if you’re out there, contact me. I’m cold and alone.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Case for 'The Lord of the Rings'

 This post comes from fellow cinephile, blogger, and New Empress writer Rob Keeling. Seeing that we had divergent opinions on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the pair of us have made our arguments clear for you to concur or condemn. Rob's proLOTR article lies below. Have a gander over at his blog Cinema Paradiso to read more of his thoughts on film. My...less enthusiastic response to Jackson's epic series can be found there also.

Before I wax lyrical about Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy I feel I must first make a confession. *Deep breath* I didn’t absolutely hate either the Matrix sequels or the first two Pirates of the Caribbean ones. They are undeniably deeply flawed films and are never going to trouble any of my ‘best-of’ lists, but I still found myself able to watch and enjoy them. I mention this because it emphasises an important point that I should make clear at the outset....I am a sucker for a trilogy. 

To be honest, even if I had absolutely detested the first of these much maligned follow ups, I wouldn’t have been able to avoid the last one as I need the cinematic closure.  Predictably, my love of trilogies dates right back to an early obsession with Back to the Future, Star Wars and Indiana Jones (these last two can definitely be classed as trilogies by the way, lets not sully their good name by classing the latter day cash-ins as anything but that). The intricate plots and captivating action of these three trilogies was only amplified by their expansion to three solid movies. Obviously these classic films work just fine on their own as stand alone outings, but put together, they are arguably greater than the sum of their parts. They become a much broader story which allows you to develop an even greater attachment to the central characters. 

“What does this have to do with Lord of the Rings?” I hear you cry. Well, put simply, since Star Wars came along and changed the face of popular cinema, I would argue that no other trilogy has so capably created a fantasy world in which the viewer can truly submerge themselves.  That, to me, is a large part of what the appeal of Lord of the Rings is; a full fledged cinematic world which is so complete and comprehensive in its attention to detail, undeniably in part thanks to its gargantuan runtime, that you can’t help but get lost in it. It is escapism at its finest. 

Even without my pre-existing love of a good trilogy, I would still argue that great credit is due to Peter Jackson for all three of the LOTR movies, as each one is highly entertaining in its own right. Jackson was the driving force behind the entire Rings saga, championing it with various studios who couldn’t grasp the Aussie’s grand vision. Turning my attention to each individual film for a moment, I’d say that Fellowship is a very strong start and definitely the most family friendly of the three. Even this is not without its darker moments though. The Nazgul’s relentless stalking of Frodo and the Fellowship’s fierce battle with the orcs in the Mines of Moria particularly stands out. The bond of the Fellowship grows rapidly on their perilous journey and very soon the great strength and importance of Aragorn becomes clear to see. 

The Two Towers is my personal favourite, if for no other reason than the battle of Helms Deep which remains one of the few unequivocal successes of large scale CGI. That battle is, to use a technical term, the balls. Every time I watch it, when the rain starts to pour and the Uruk-Hai begin to march towards the keep’s walls, I settle down into my chair and prepare for the exhilaration that is to come. It never disappoints. But this is however the film where Sam and FrodoOsgiliath, Aragorn’s first rendezvous with the ghost army and Frodo’s run-in with Shelob all stand out in my mind.

The whole trilogy is packed with memorable moments and Jackson proves himself especially adept at handling the large scale set piece. That first opening swoop over the ancient battle on the slopes of Mount Doom never fails to impress. He also keeps the dialogue and acting just the right side of cheesy and, while there is undoubtedly the odd cringe worthy line, most of them delivered by Orlando Bloom, and the odd cheesy moment of faintly homo-erotic melodrama, all of them delivered by Sam and Frodo, there are far more hits than misses. Viggo Mortensen and Ian Mckellan are spot on as Aragorn and Gandalf and, despite being landed with some of the schmaltzier moments, Elijah Wood and Sean Astin do sterling work as Frodo and Sam.

The vast crew that helped make the sets, costumes and CGI shots so seamlessly authentic also deserve high praise. On a film franchise this vast and far reaching, it could so easily have crumpled under its own ambition and got the seemingly simple things wrong. Luckily however, sets such as the picturesque village of Hobbiton and the bustling narrow streets of Minus Tirith are both impeccably designed. It’s this great attention to detail that makes the films so easy to just sit back and enjoy without noticing the join where obvious sets and props were used.

Cinema on such an epic scale has very rarely been attempted since the days of David Lean and Cecil B. De Mille and has even more rarely been achieved successfully. Whilst ‘epicness’ (this may well be a word I just made up) alone is not enough to make a trilogy great, it can certainly work in its favour when handled right. They may not be the most intricately plotted movies or the ones with the punchiest dialogue, but the three Lord of the Rings films work together superbly as a whole and offer the viewer an immersive cinematic experience that few others can truly offer. I may be a sucker for a trilogy, but this is one that truly raises the bar and can rightfully stake a claim as a landmark piece of cinema.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Because I'm Crap...

...and failed to keep on top of this blog for the past month, here is a quick breakdown of the films I saw in the cinema with a succinct review:

The Tree of Life: 

Cheers for another cracking look at human duality Malick, but the Christian overtones are overly toned.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

Radcliffe can act! And they managed to tie everything up after all, and pretty well too! Always wear a cardigan to battle.

Hobo with a Shotgun

What I think: Comedy of the year. What my friend thinks: "You are a sick bastard, how is that school bus scene amusing? Bloody hell, what's wrong with you?"

So a good month!

"Diamonds are Forever"? It's a load of paste

This is the latest in a series of monthly pieces on the James Bond franchise, as part of The Incredible Suit's  Blogalongabond. For more info, check out here, and here. For my prior entries, click here.

If there’s one thing that can be gathered from the seventh Bond film, and the final in Connery’s run as the character, Diamonds are Forever, it’s that the Sixties are well and truly over. And it seems that the Classic James Bond - the one that, for all his sexism and bullying, moved through films with that certain charm (at its peak in Goldfinger) – went with it. In light of what is to come in the rest of the decade and beyond, it was a move I anticipated, but not quite so soon. Full of tacky glamour, cabaret camp and too many portly men, Diamonds are Forever is the definitive death knell for a 007 that would struggle to be resurrected in each successive incarnation post-Moore.

It’s hard to get a bearing on Diamonds are Forever with regard to its place in the Bond canon without the taint of its utter shiteness getting all over everything. This film is bad. Seriously bad. I’m quickly establishing that a rough barometer for the overall quality of a given Bond film lies in its pre-credits sequence, and boy, does this film ensure you’ve got its measure right off the bat. Never exactly subtle in its action photography, the franchise here finds its awkward cutting reaching new, B-movie like heights as Bond throws about Blofeld’s subordinates before seemingly reaching the big man himself (now played by Charles Gray – something that caused me a lot of confusion when watching You Only Live Twice) and nonchalantly dusting him off. Mate, didn’t he just kill your wife or something? But of course, we’re quickly reminded that this is Connery-Bond again, the tentative footsteps and sense of transformation that was so self-conscious in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being firmly trampled over by the well-worn boot of the OG himself, now carrying a few too many pounds and generally looking like Lazenby’s more human Bond should have stuck around after all.

Call me precious toward OHMSS , but Diamonds are Forever really felt like a conscious attempt to shit all over its predecessor whilst also making clear that Bond could fit in a post-1968 world, so long as he was given a little re-jigging. The effect is a really bad case of whiplash, as we’re sort of jerked around between three incarnations of Bond without finding any real comfort zone – what follows firmly pre-empts Moore era Bond, and whilst I never thought I’d say this, in this feature he is sorely missed. Moore’s Bond speaks to this 70s inflected cinema in a way that Connery, established as he is in Bond films that so carefully mimicked Hitchcockian thriller early on, can’t, and so James Bond comes to feel displaced against a film that swaps Russian agents on a night train with two camp American hit men who look like they just got pulled from a late night game show. It’s Meanwhile, the franchise soars into new levels of daftness with a diamond trail that makes little to no sense (“oh shit you killed a man, no worries the next diamond drop was an undertake'rs conveniently placed near the airport anyway, and they're fully expecting a dead body to cremate that's also chock-full of diamonds”), along with a mid-point car chase that makes sure to offer its own opinion on the American moon landings as it plays out (it was at this point my brain caved in and I began to gnaw at the DVD).

In short, it’s all very boring and stupid, made even worse by the fact that OHMSS really did seem to be offering something of an evolution to a stagnating franchise. Diamonds are Forever does try to steer things into a different direction, but it does so jerkily, displacing its hero as it does so. Can Bond survive the 70s, or will Moore’s Bond be a new creature? Given that Live and Let Die starts the trend of cashing in on hot genre cinema, I’m not so sure on the former...

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Wayan Bros' tear up indie comedy-drama!

Well, no. But surprisingly enough, if they did it would probably look a lot like this (which is, to my knowledge, not a tongue-in-cheek feature at all).

Sunday, 10 July 2011

'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Review

If nothing else, The Transformers movie franchise has been a successful conduit for the product at large. Essentially eking out a slow death outside of the collectors market, the robots in disguise were given a major lifeline in the form Michael Bay’s 2007 commercial, if not critical, hit. Now, the series has seen not only two cinematic sequels, but two successful animated series’, a series of videogames, mugs, jugs, lunchboxes, and, of course, more toy lines than you can shake a stick at. So in many ways, Mark Kermode’s recent statement that the films were nothing more than an industrial point extends far beyond the concerns of commercial 3D moviemaking. For better or for worse, post-2007 Transformers is a major example of the power in merchandising – in branding. So there’s a sort of terrible logic behind the acceptance that the films can be utter tripe – bums will get on seats, kids will be enraptured, and product will be sold. It’s a fairly standard trick, but it didn’t work quite so well the first time round. The original, fairly ill-known Transformers: the Movie, the true cinematic debut of the franchise, was, at its release in 1986, essentially just a way to kill off all the old toys onscreen so that new ones could be introduced and advertised in a rip off Star Wars storyline. Now largely forgotten, it’s the stuff of convention goers and neckbeards. And yet it’s interesting to note that something so unashamedly superficial, a piece of fluff from some 80s kid’s childhood, holds more charm than this, the third instalment of one seriously lucrative movie trilogy. Dark of the Moon manages to correct some of the problems of its predecessor, the sorry abortion that was Revenge of the Fallen, but it’s like taking the gherkin out of your Big Mac; the immediate, stinging offense is removed, but the reality is you’re still ingesting a pile of shit.

Dark of the Moon, at least, begins with a semblance of entertaining filmmaking. The film’s plot spins out from a fun opening sequence, wherein it is revealed that the first lunar landing was a front for a mission to investigate a crashed object on the dark side of the moon; the Ark, an Autobot spacecraft that holds the key to deciding the war between those paragons of freedom and their nefarious enemies, the Decepticons (rendered, as always, with as little depth or screen time as may be allowed). It transpires that this key is the Space Bridge – a mass teleportation device whose components Optimus Prime (Petter Cullen) and gang will race to track down with the aid of the Ark’s pilot, the imaginatively named Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). There’s a nice sense of logic to the opening sequence, with its splicing of real and fictional footage, that we know the film will quickly shun once manchild hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBouf) takes centre stage, now armed with a new girlfriend Carly – or rather, that pair of buttocks and BJ lips. It’s good to see that, from her first moments on screen, Bay’s objectification of the female body has shown no signs of abating, in this instance intensifying in that there is no doubt over whether or not Rosie Huntington-Whiteley can actually act (she can't). But then, this wouldn’t be a Transformers film if we didn’t get to cringe at awkward close-ups of women, spinning cameras to suggest a “heady, romantic scene”, or schizophrenic switches in tone, devoid of rhyme or reason.

From here on out, all the usual gang are present and accounted for, going about their business with the occasional pop up from (the presumably work-starved pairing of) John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Admittedly, the first hour is as entertaining as such a mix allows, recalling the stronger parts of the unduly demonised 2007 feature, but half way through, any semblance of sense in the plot is swiftly thrown out, and Bay indulges in an HOUR LONG action sequence that will numb your butt and rot your brain. Every so often, something cool will happen, but it’s a bit like watching someone play a videogame; you might occasionally have some sort of detached interest in a particular visual effect, but by and large you’re in the passenger seat buddy, and don’t you know it. By the end of the film, I was willing someone to die, and I didn’t really care who, so long as it brought things to a close. However, there is an odd sort of relief when it’s all said and done, the knowledge that, as bad as it may have been, the experience could have been worse; swinging robot testicles are thankfully absent, and whilst Bay clearly can’t help but throw in a few racial stereotypes, those awful ghetto twins from Revenge of the Fallen apparently got dusted off by some superior Decepticon between the two films. Therein lies the rub with Dark of the Moon; where its predecessor was an offensively bad excuse of a film, the latest (and hopefully last) outing for the Bay-formers was largely just bland, bland, and a little more bland. Apparently there were some cool 3D effects in there too, but I think my brain had melted too much to register them by the time they showed up in force. Or maybe 3D is just a complete fucking gimmick and by the 2 hour 30 mark your eyes are too used to the whole malarkey to really notice anyway. But hey, what do I know! I’m not the one helming what will no doubt turn out to be this summer’s biggest blockbuster outside of Harry Potter...

(happy 100th post!)

Saturday, 2 July 2011

'Scenes from the Suburbs' Review

Those of you who’ve been reading for awhile and have (extremely) good memories might remember that I’m a bit of an Arcade Fire fan. “A bit” meaning I walked around chanting “Neighbourhood #1” like some sort of mantra for a solid week at the tender, impressionable, po-faced age of 15. Those same people might also remember that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Spike Jonze. So it was a happy day when I found out last year that those two forces would combine in the 30 minute short film, Scenes from the Suburbs. It’s been a long wait, but the finished product has finally been made available through festivals and – briefly – MUBI, and I’ve given it a gander. Puzzling, sincere, with the same touch of over the top seriousness that colours much of the band’s work, it lives up to its role as “that Arcade Fire film” whilst also containing some indelible Jonze touches.

The movie focuses on a summer in the life of Kyle and his friends in a small suburb, though particularly the intense friendship he shares with his best one Winter. In true Win Butler fashion, we are told that “this is the summer Winter cut his hair.” This is the somewhat ridiculous cue that shit is about to get real, and what follows dances on the line between arresting and absurd without ever firmly crossing over; amidst all of the nostalgia for a teen life past, with its heady dramas and fearful curiosity for what lies beyond the horizon, the powerlessness of teen life is literalized in that these American suburbs are actually warring states. To move away is to throw your allegiance to your former life away forever. It’s an interesting conceit on the surface, but once you prod it a little, it threatens to give way. Thankfully the film offers it as a backdrop that colours the breakdown between Kyle and Winter without pushing it too far; despite all its embellishments this is the classic tale of how painful the transition from boy to man can be, and the thirty minutes convey this effectively. Kyle is a particularly likeable protagonist, and the film’s presentation of the teenagers feels real without the current vogue for gritty “raw teen” life (thanks Skins!) polluting things up.

This is aided through Jonze’s distinct personality, the whimsy of his prior work transforming into the darker sincerity that characterised Where the Wild Things Are, though in this instance the small town lifestyle carries with it the same 80s cinema resonance that Super 8 is currently trading in on (why is that period so endlessly fascinating?). Between this and last year’s I’m Here, Jonze is on a winning streak with the short films, and I hope it continues for awhile longer; Jackass is fun and all, but I mean...come on. Fans of Arcade Fire will love this film regardless; the music from ‘The Suburbs’ album bleeds in and out as required and is largely a welcome, unobtrusive presence, its melancholic tones finding focused expression in the storyline. For everyone else, this is a solid enough piece of short cinema, something that’s always worth championing.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

"This Never Happened to the Other Fellow"

This is the latest in a series of monthly pieces on the James Bond franchise, as part of The Incredible Suit's  Blogalongabond. For more info, check out here, and here. For my prior entries, click here.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service opens in a manner that seems somewhat restrained in light of the increasing bombast of the past five films. Events begin with M and Q querying the whereabouts of an AWOL Bond, a Bond who, it turns out, is trailing a rather melancholy young woman as she drives to the beach. A Bond who saves this woman from herself as she bounds into the arms of the sea. A Bond who engages in a rough and ready brawl, without too much of the superman about him, all the while his features obscured or rendered distant, the camera teasing us before the damsel flees without thanks. This veiled Bond is already so different the laws of the series are bending around him also, leading to the over the top meta-comment, “this never happened to the other fellow,” before the opening credits role, recapping scenes from the past five films – none of which show a certain Sean Connery. And so it is that, slap-bang in the middle of the so-called “Blofeld Trilogy”, the 007 franchise has its first major identity crisis in the form of George Lazenby.

In an odd way, the timing of this first shift in the series comes at a rather fortuitous time in the series’ narrative, presenting as it does a new side of Bond never before seen in the movies. For, on the one hand, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a fairly standard Bond tale; Bond continues to track down the elusive head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavros Blofeld, uncovering his latest scheme to get rich quick or kill loads trying, complete with an exotic hideaway, dodgy foreign heavies (hi Rosa Klebb – I mean Irma Bunt!) and shots of a well oiled bald head. On the other hand, however, and far more memorable, is the story of a formidable, if troubled, young woman who penetrates Bond’s cool composure and leaves him vulnerable to love, and eventually, marriage. If any woman was to break Bond, it would be Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, the headstrong daughter of crime-lord Marc-Ange Draco. Like Bond, she is impulsive and dangerous – though it no doubt helps that she carries the stunning looks of Diana Rigg; if there was ever a Bond girl to fall for, it is she.

Lazenby’s Bond is more of a straight man than Connery’s; he packs the charm, the smarts, and the strength, but he doesn’t have that edge of calculated aggression that marked Connery’s take on the character, and as such his slightly more earnest rendition of Bond gels far better with the lover’s tragedy at work in this film in a way that I struggle to see Connery working with quite so well. Everything in the film, from the narrative, through the meta references to the past films, and the re-arranged score, conspires to suggest that we’ve entered a transition phase; that Bond has moved on. The result of course, is that OHMSS has become something of an anomaly in the Bond canon; Connery returned one more time to the EON productions with Diamonds Are Forever, before Moore took over the reins and the series became something else entirely in order to stay relevant in the more liberal 70s. Lazenby will forever been known as “the weaker Bond” as a result of this, and I feel it’s an unfair judgement – in this instance, the shift in Bond is something of an evolution rather than a reboot, presenting a facet to the character that complements what came before.

It help that OHMSS is, regardless of its own marked individualities, a stand-up Bond film within the series’ general formula. Shirking gadgets and clumsy plot turns in favour of something streamlined and focused, characters are allowed to breathe a little more; even the device of Blofeld is allowed to become an actual character in the hands of Telly Savalas, wiping the floor with the dodgy remains of Emilio Largo and – dare I say it – the “iconic” take of the character in the form of Pleasance. With consistent pacing throughout, OHMSS feels like a refreshing new direction in the series, one it unfortunately didn’t follow. As it stands, OHMSS offers the first, highly compressed, example of the more general identity crisis of the series as a whole – a sort of shoe in that people unfairly forget. If more Bond films had followed in the steps planted here, perhaps things might have turned out a little differently later on.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Joystick Cinema; appendix

Following last week's article on videogames, I had a discussion with a friend over whether or not the term 'A to B' successfully conveys what I'm trying to say. He argued more that such an image pushes the idea of a linear narrative, a hangover from other art forms that games could, and should, shirk off, and I agree with him. Linear narratives are of course fine, but I suppose it forms a more general idea of how videogames allow one to work through an experience, be it linear narrative or free-form. This point is well illustrated by an online game he linked to me, which really helps elaborate what we're both arguing and so I thought I'd include it on the blog. I won't say much about it, just check it out and have a play around with it. Some of the results are pretty fantastic, and it's a pretty succinct example of how the direct control of a single scenario can be re-interpreted ad nauseum, and how figuring out how to tease out new narratives becomes a game in itself.

(A few people have trouble getting past the start screen, as the game doesn't specify what to do next. Just press 'enter' and the scenario should begin!)

Monday, 13 June 2011

X-Men: First Class Review

The fact that I’m only uploading my review of X-Men: First Class this evening, despite watching it last Friday, will no doubt imply a lot of things that are largely correct. Mildly entertaining viewing that ultimately proves to be largely forgettable beyond a daft aftertaste, this latest foray into world of the oppressed mutants takes two steps forward and one back. Matthew Vaughn’s chapter in the bloated X-Men landscape continually offers new, interesting takes on the franchise - only to then firmly deflate them through inadequate plotting, an inability to really focus on anything enough to give it gravitas, and truly poor post-production considerations.

Much of this is a result of the film’s attempt to tell two stories that could each fulfil a two hour film in themselves; on the one hand, we have the formation of the original X-Men, class of 1962; Havok (Lucas Till), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Darwin (Edi Gathegi), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz), all led by a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) as part of a sub-CIA plan to stop the terrorist plot of fascist mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). Sebastian Shaw however happened to be present twenty years earlier, acting as a scientist in the Nazi concentration camp where a young Magneto first manifested his powers, and thus we come to the second plot, and the one that the film is clearly more interested in telling; the origin of Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Yes, that’s right, seven years after being originally announced, Singer’s original plans for an X-Men Origins: Magneto have come about, but in a very dilute, subordinate manner. For the duration of the plot, as these two threads culminate in a mission to stop Shaw from seeing through the Cuban Missile Crisis and creating a land fit only for mutants, the friendship of Xavier and Magneto is established and rushed through alongside the insertion of a team to justify the film’s new title.

The resulting storyline thus attempts to accomplish too much for its own good; one minute we’re dealing with Magneto’s vendetta against all of those who killed his family in the camp, the next we’re being pulled by bungee cord back to Xavier’s attempts to establish peace between humans and mutants through negotiating with the disparate sides. What was clearly supposed to be a subtle nod to the fact that the mutant crisis figures as a metaphor for discrimination at large then becomes a rather po-faced first class in ethics and morality, cardboard cut-out bigots polluting the film to either shout out “but what about us normal people?” or “Mutant and proud!” Both of those lines are from the film, and the exploration of the tension between species doesn’t extend much beyond that (and the obvious “you fight what you become” thread with Magneto’s defence of fascism with facism). This wouldn’t be a problem if the film wasn’t clearly trying so hard to elevate the film beyond comic-book adventure and try and have some message of how backward people (especially in the ‘60s – you sexist lot you!) can be.

What makes this all the more annoying is that, when the Shaw/X-Men conflict is stripped away, the focus on Xavier and Magneto has some serious potential, and it’s clear that the filmmakers knew this too; everything feels tacked on in comparison to the attention paid to McAvoy’s and Fassbender’s fine acting. Fassbender’s Magneto particularly is the one figure who comes out of this whole affair feeling like a full-blooded, interesting character, and it’s a damn shame they didn’t just make Origins: Magneto with him and McAvoy after all. The ultimate shallowness of the film’s shuffling comes to be mirrored in its lacklustre scoring and sound editing – by the final moments of the film, with Magneto’s dilemma between good and evil reaching its peak as the X-Men around him fight for peace, the score jarringly alternates between its overly bombastic heroic theme and emphatically surly “amoral” score in a manner that almost becomes comic. Ultimately though the laughs come from the Super-Marionette air combat between Banshee and Angel, complete with barely visible wires. Seriously, if your film’s being rushed through post-production, work your script around it.

This review has focussed largely on First Class’s negatives, and there are admittedly some good points beyond the nascent Magneto plotline; Jennifer Lawrence proves to be a sympathetic Mystique even if her character arc mirrors the general binary approach to development that plagues the film as a whole, and Bacon is suitably sleazy as the mentalist Shaw. But all these things get capped by the crap surrounding them; the plot shifts, the poor implementation of special effects, and that classic pitfall of all team movies; pointless characters. Why is January Jones here? And when will she learn how to act? Ultimately, X-Men: First Class is neither terrible nor particularly good – it just exists, lodged somewhere between the original film and The Last Stand (Origins: Wolverine continues to reside happily within its role as crap-fest absolute). If you fancy some inoffensive fluff that doesn’t totally condescend to their audience or hold them in utter contempt, Bay-style, this is it. Just don’t believe all the hype; this is in no way a repeat performance of X2.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Joystick Cinema

It isn’t exactly groundbreaking news that Roger Ebert is a pretty outspoken kind of guy, and sometimes his opinions can be more than a little controversial. Whilst I personally agree with him wholeheartedly on the state of contemporary 3D cinema as just the latest in distracting gimmickry, his argument last year that video games cannot be labelled as art seemed to offer a rather outdated model as to why this was the case. Essentially, video games merely consist of moving from objective A to B he says, an exercise in skill and repetition that cannot allow for a full bodied narrative in the way that good cinema might – it’s too distracting, too distanced, too encumbered by its own mechanics. You might initially respond as I did, thinking “huh, maybe in Super Mario Bros. twenty five years ago – but what about Grand Theft Auto, or Monkey Island, Shadow of the Colossus etc., etc.” But, in a way he seemingly didn’t realise, Ebert’s right; videogames are essentially about a direct manipulation of events along a delineated pattern, no matter how “open world” or falsely “free choice” it may advertise itself as. There is a path, or a series of paths that lead from a start-point to an end-point, already pre-determined, that one must move through by playing the game (I am exclusively talking about single-player narrative gaming here, or else multiplayer gaming strongly rooted in a thematic campaign. Competitive gaming that sells itself on skill over a personal experience, as in the cases of Street Fighter or Dance Dance Revolution, is largely a separate breed). But why should this stop videogames from being labelled as “art”?

The root of the problem lies, I believe, in Ebert’s implicit comparison of the idea of a video game to that of a film, and whilst the pair have similarities, there are fundamental differences that many people – not merely Ebert, but even those who argue for the validity of video games – seem only vaguely aware of. This sense of difference is realised in how often ardent gamers clamour for their favourite videogames to be adapted into film, as if this will somehow justify their appreciation of the medium’s highlights to a wider, non-gaming audience. To look at some of the most recent videogame adaptations, such as Max Payne and Hitman, is to see that the results always fall flat, pleasing no one; the resultant work seems to treat its subject matter with a level of condescension, as if it’s above the material. It only fuels the general idea that video games are the stuff of silly stories and childish fantasy play, and whilst there’s plenty of this, the best games step beyond such matter, but not necessarily on an obvious plot-level. For those of you who’ve played Hitman, consider, can that game ever really translate to screen? I don’t think so – at least, not without it becoming something rather distinct from the appeal of the original material.

This is because the best narrative video games today aren’t trying to just simply tell a story bound up in the process of moving from A to B, but the exercise of moving from A to B is instead one that leads into an immediate, intensely vicarious experiencing of an atmosphere in a way that not even film can achieve; as corny as it sounds, when you play a game like Limbo or Shadow of the Colossus – chosen because of just how minimalistic their approach to story-telling is in favour of “objectivised play” – you are soaking up an atmosphere that is just as worthy of attention, and as well realised, as that in a good film, a good book, or good music. It’s merely going about it in its own way. The opening minutes of Limbo are included below to try and illustrate the entrance into a highly atmospheric world....

....but really the only way to fully understand what I’m arguing is to go ahead and play the game; to just watch it defeats the whole point. The narrative structure becomes entwined in the reward/ punishment scheme of gaming as something the player works through to offer a sense of achievement and consequence. Every time, say, the boy dies gruesomely in Limbo, you are directly responsible, and those who were immersed in the work felt suitably disturbed by this situation on a level that extended beyond watching a nameless boy die tragically in a film. As similar as it may be to the death of a beloved character in a film or a novel, there’s just something slightly more penetrative that comes from the more pronouncedly vicarious nature of the game world.

Further, I believe this is a large part as to why the open world games produced by Rockstar, such as LA Noire, Red Dead Redemption and the Grand Theft Auto series are just so successful. Their scripted narrative heavily emulates the classic features of, alternately, film noir, spaghetti westerns and modern crime, and when you stop to consider any of them they have moments that, homage or not, are founded upon rather derivative plot turns. Vice City, arguably the best of the GTA games, is by and large a retread of Scarface with a bit of Miami Vice thrown in for good measure. The reason why it works is essentially the same as that of the more easily identifiable “ambient” currents of the likes of Limbo – the well-realised open world environment links with a highly temporal pop culture to strongly emulate a zeitgeist that, in playing, one experiences more directly and is thus more involved in. It’s more than just the tension of a good gaming sequence, though that is part of it (such sequences can exist outside of narrative gaming, as illustrated in the competitive games referenced earlier). All the points together allow for a sort of washing-over through a more total immersion.

Like cinema, video games are an impure medium, reliant as they are on the coupling of audio and visual – and with so many games being so derivative of filmic trends, it’s not hard to see why people compare them in what I think are the wrong ways. Video games shouldn’t be made into films, what’s the rush to do so? You’re merely stripping away that direct involvement that makes video gaming so unique in the first place as a story-telling medium or “art.” Daft plot or no, Metal Gear Solid, in its later iterations, is undoubtedly encumbered by its growing obsession with cinematic cut-scenes in lieu of extended game-play, and at its core, it’s thus no different to any other cinematic adaptation of a medium that, in being so reliant on “frame” narratives that allow for immersion and ambience, can’t carry into a more densely plotted two hour feature. There’s nothing wrong with that, it should be embraced. Objective hunting may be what stops video games from being films, but it’s what makes the best of them great. I for one hope studio suits never make an adaptation of Limbo; I’ll work from point A to B all by myself, thank you very much.

17/06/11 - APPENDIX (AISLE)

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Something's cookin'

I've got something a bit different simmering away, which will hopefully be delivered within the next few days. I'm finally making good on the promise I made back at Christmas regarding Roger Ebert's stance on video games - but wait, don't worry! Films are directly involved too!

Phew. Anyway, to whet your appetite, soak up this footage from last year's indie hit Limbo. Or better yet, go ahead and play it - it's pretty integral to my argument.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

'Apocalypse Now' Review

As part of its 40th anniversary, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now, has had its restored (though not Redux) cut released nationwide. Having somehow criminally avoided the film for the past twenty one years of my life, despite owning both versions on DVD, this cinematic re-release was my first experience of Captain Willard’s trek into the heart of darkness. And boy am I glad. A classic example of New Hollywood cinema, swiftly swooping in as one of my all-time favourite films with ease, Apocalypse Now is as delirious, exhausting, and mesmerising as the war its beleaguered soldiers live through.

The film focuses on special operations vet Captain Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen) as he begins what will turn out to be his final mission in ‘Nam, despite his dependency on front-line life and quiet relish in the strife of battle. He must travel up the Nung River into Cambodia to find the rogue factor, Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a decorated soldier and member of the Green Berets who has seemingly gone insane. What follows is a sprawling two and a half hour journey into the black heart of the Vietnam War, as Willard’s Patrol Boat Erebus and its ragtag crew (Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Frederic Forrest and a young Laurence Fishburne) experience firsthand the varying ways people submit to the violent world of the jungle and its ways. Robert Duvall’s Bill Kilgore provides a source of blackly comic insanity through his love of surfboards, napalm, and Wagner, that steadily gets stripped down further and further into the jungle; self preservation and the sound of gunfire coalesce into a heady mix that results in the final, total disconnect of Kurtz from the supposed reality of the war surrounding him.

Apocalypse Now really succeeds in evoking the haunting, ambivalent quality of the war; at once repulsive and terribly attractive on a primal level, as the whole thing plays out as a slow-burning fever; from the outset, Willard’s perspective as narrator seems somewhat less than grounded, with Sheen’s turn being one of a number of strong performances across the film as a whole. His Willard is quietly strong even as he clearly frays along at the edges, with the steady transformation of the likes of Sam Bottom’s Lance offering a taste of what will finally come to be found in the bloody temple of Kurtz; the final pit-stop of a New Hollywood bad trip that could only be complete with the addition of Dennis Hopper’s court jester Photojournalist. By the time we reach Cambodia, and these characters (and their actors) have been allowed to fully realise their delirium, the film has – quite ably – undergone a total shift in tone.

This is strongly aided by the masterful cinematography of Vittorio Storaro, creating spectacular vistas of violence interspersed with the natural, haunting beauty of the jungle when quiet. When paired with the adept editing throughout, the film is a total visual feast, only then to be aided with a suitably eerie electronic score that comes to bow down to the pleasures of carnival of war in peak moments like ‘Do Lung.’ And then of course there is The Doors, fittingly appropriate for a film so feverish and free.

This is the war film to lord over all war films since; there is no didacticism, there are no heroes, there is no worthy kernel. There is only the power of war to reduce the human soul to horrible, dark places of violence and hallucination that are nevertheless utterly engrossing to watch, and seemingly as horrifically engrossing to experience. Coppola’s work is a masterpiece; a feather in a cap already brimming. If, like me, you’ve gone this long without seeing it, see it now. And see it in the cinema, on the front row, with the speakers blasting “Ride of the Valkyries” straight at your face.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011


Many thanks to Best for Film, who have graciously decided to title me as one of the runners up in their Hollywood Haiku competition, in lieu of my 2001: A Space Odyssey haiku. Cheers guys! I appreciate it a lot.

If you're new here and have arrived via Best for Film, the sections listed on the right under The...Special Collection are a good place to start. From there, just browse away to whatever takes your fancy!

Exams are over, my haiku earned me some promotion, and the weather is great. Today is a good day.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

By the way...

...the addition of the latest Blogalongabond entry signals that (for all intents and purposes) 'You Killed the Car' has returned to its state of former "glory". With the majority of exams out of the way, it's time to return to over-reading films and telling you all about it!

But if you'd rather me just write haiku poems, let me know. Those were fun.

"We're back"

You Only Live Twice: Tales of the Expected

This is the latest in a series of monthly pieces on the James Bond franchise, as part of The Incredible Suit's  Blogalongabond. For more info, check out here, and here. For my prior entries, click here.

It seems I was somewhat premature in equating Bond with Thunderbirds last month, following the intrepid agent’s nonsensical street-cross by way of jetpack in his fourth adventure, Thunderball. With its actual volcanic lairs, space-race storyline and an autogyro called “Little Nellie” (I think I had a Ninja Turtles toy that looked very similar as a young ‘un), You Only Live Twice doesn’t seem to be bucking the trend for the growing element of outlandish in Bond, but embracing it at an exponential rate. When I first started taking part in Blogalongabond – particularly upon again watching From Russia with Love and Goldfinger for the first time in a decade – I was surprised at just how grounded the first few Bond films were in regards to its dealings with international espionage, being closer to the recent series reboot Casino Royale than I had believed. The only surprise now is at how quickly the series has shifted into the realm of comic book fantasy and Saturday morning cartoon villains (not that Dr. No was exactly nuanced, but still) – this film opens with a space shuttle being devoured by a giant space bullet that can open its front like a claw, setting the tone for what is to come.

This most fantastic of Bond movies so far concerns itself with the abduction of both Russian and American spacecraft by a mysterious force located somewhere in Japan (hint: it’s SPECTRE). Bond is sent in to discover the location of the missing craft, the reasons why they are being stolen, and ultimately put a stop to the whole affair. Along the way, he engages in the usual mix of women, car chases, and guns, whilst mixing things up a bit by (in a somewhat uncomfortable sequence) masquerading as a stereotypical Japanese male with tanned skin and glued on eyebrows. It’s the usual Connery-era stuff taken up by ten in a possible attempt to make up for the bum-numbing, incomprehensible mess that was Thunderball.

If Goldfinger cemented the core ideal of Connery-Bond that has seemingly anchored the series ever since, later iterations struggling with dated concepts whilst still attempting to hold true to this watermark, it is because of its heightened sense of danger and embracing of the utterly improbable that You Only Live Twice is, in turn, the stereotypical Bond-piece that one may find spoofed everywhere from Austin Powers to The Venture Bros. And yet Roald Dahl’s screenplay seems itself to happily engage in a knowing mimicry and exceeding of what has come before, consciously highlighting its adherence to the Bond formula. The series’ penchant for simplistic, racist presentations of its exotic enemies continues through its depiction of sleazy-looking Russian envoys, sardonically claiming that “the world knows we are a peace-loving nation” to the Americans accusing them of sabotaging their plans in space, all but twirling a waxed moustache in the process (despite not being the villains at all).

Meanwhile, Bond’s ability to nab any woman is shown to exceed all previous expectations, bedding not one, two, but four women over the course of the film. Whilst Dahl’s screenplay plays with this side of Bond, it does so in a way that acknowledges an established formula in a somewhat cynical way, showing up the series rather than elevating it. Bond amusingly has a strop when his decoy wife wont sleep with him, staying awake whilst sulkily fanning himself in the heat (she does of course fall for him in the end – Bond can’t be seen to fail in his conquests). Elsewhere, the arbitrary nature of many of Bond’s conquests is made explicit in the form of SPECTRE agent No.11, who in the middle of torturing a captured Bond, becomes stricken with lust for him. Overpowered by his charms, she seemingly does a 180 and aids in his escape, only to reveal it was all a convoluted plot to kill him in a staged plane crash. Because SPECTRE likes to make things as expensive and ultimately inadequate as possible it seems.

Despite really revealing the series’ major flaws in these moments, You Only Live Twice is for much of its course a rather snappy affair with some smart moments wedged between all the silly metal slides into Japan’s most well hidden hide-out and portable electromagnets. The two sequences in Osato Chemicals recall the more charged moments of the first three movies that are unfortunately forgotten completely once Bond sets his sights on Blofeld’s volcanic headquarters, but the film’s clear affinity for Japanese culture throughout its length keeps things interesting and reveals a rare handling of things with a sense of sincerity. Dahl’s exercise in showily amplifying the expected conventions in the Connery-Bond films couldn’t be complete without a final shot of Bond on another lifeboat with his girl – only to end up straddling a naval submarine. Next time – Bond does a complete U-turn and seems to genuinely fall for a woman. Shocker! 007’s wearing a kilt, but it’s not Connery underneath the tartan! Gasp! Will On Her Majesty’s Secret Service reverse the series’ descent into cliché? Come back next month to find out.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Hollywood Haikus - 2001: A Space Odyssey

From birth into death,
The void stares back; monolith.
When will we transcend?

This is an entry for the Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now

Hollywood Haikus - Ghostbusters

Ready to believe,
When there’s a dog in your fridge,
And marshmellows frown

This is an entry for the Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Birthing of the Boomerang Generation

Just have time for another quick update; New Empress Magazine have just uploaded my article on the Boomerang Generation, in relation to the ol' cinema, on their blog. Check it, I even remembered to drop the capitals from funny ha ha!

Oh and to make this post have more substance than just being a shameless plug, here's a pictorial representation of the article:

Exams are destroying my brain, yes.