Tuesday, 31 May 2011

OH YEAH

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.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The last great Mickey-take

Well it seems I'm one of four people in the known universe who didn't particularly enjoy Thor. By way of extending a branch out to you all, can't we all just get along and enjoy the last non-Pixar Disney short that was any good???

Exams are looming ever closer - sorry guys, I really thought I'd have time to do more than just plug youtube vids but apparently not. Just three more weeks!

Sunday, 1 May 2011

'Thor' Review

The Marvel Studios Avengers titles seem to exist within their own continuum; following their own rules of self-referencing and protracted advertising, they increasingly seem to function less as solitary films and more as (expensive) prologues to next year’s sink-or-swim main event, Whedon’s Avengers. Kenneth Branagh’s take on Thor is thus doubly hampered from its outset in that not only does it have to try and shoe horn in as much SHIELD fluff as possible, but also has to define its lesser known, more esoteric hero in the space of two hours – all whilst providing an actual dramatic plot. Unfortunately, it largely fails. Clunky, boring, and oddly soulless, Thor may not be as disappointing as last year’s Iron Man 2, but its moments of promise – largely a result of the game attempts at personality from Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) – aren’t enough to carry the whole thing along for its length.

Unlike Spider-man, Iron Man, or even Captain America-Man, Thor isn’t exactly well known outside of the comic’s core audience. Of all the mainstream Marvel titles, it’s the one most heavily inflected by artist-creator Jack Kirby’s fascination with the metaphysical and psychedelic, a mish-mash of Norse fantasy and heavy sci-fi spectacle. The last time this more trippy side of the Marvel universe was put on screen, we had Fantastic Four, and we all saw how that worked out – rather than say “fuck it” and go all out with the weird and fantastic, it sort of apologised by hamming up the “human”/ Lowest Common Denominator aspects to homogenise the whole thing. It didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now; Thor finds itself divided between the demands of cosmic Asgard and its limp, humorous core on Earth. Thor is an arrogant God of Thunder who takes for granted he’ll one day replace Allfather Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as king of Asgard, whilst quiet brother Loki watches from the sidelines, always the voice of reason against Thor’s might. One day Thor takes it upon himself to wreak vengeance on some headstrong Frost Giants attempting to topple Asgard, and his impetuous nature subsequently gets him banished to earth. Hi-jinks ensue as Thor grapples with modern day New Mexico and its alien ways whilst he attempts to make his way back to Asgard before his fears of a Frost Giant takeover become reality.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t really focus on the whole “Natalie Portman plot” that the trailer promises so much of its because, well, the trailer’s basically it, but with greater efficiency. Much of Thor’s quest to find humility actually resides around him flitting about spicing up the life of cardboard cut out Jane Foster, a character who begins and ends at being an astrophysicist, and thus continues Portman’s frankly amazing ability to pick shit rolls post-Black Swan. Kat Dennings is redundant as the annoying “quirky” sidekick with Stellan Skarsgard’s character being too focussed on rallying against the reality of Asgard. And what a fantastically realised reality it is; despite what other reviewers have said, the sequences in Asgard are easily the most promising of the film – Kirby’s whimsy and grandeur have been captured with largely great success; the Bifrost rainbow bridge joining worlds is a particularly well visualised element. Unfortunately, because of the stripping of Asgard for much of the film, the majority of the dialogue when there is incredibly clunky as struggles with the weight of the heavy, blatant tracts of exposition it carries. Where none of the secondary characters get to become actual characters on earth because they’re too busy filling stereotypes, the characters in Asgard are stifled because they’re too busy explaining everything going on around them; “We have to go to see the Frost Giants! You’re coming too because you’re my best friend and remember that time we destroyed the snarling Glipterfurggens of Hickledeimm – my wasn’t that great - ADVENTURE!” It leaves everything feeling a bit empty.

As stated above, Hemsworth and Hiddleston valiantly work with the material they’re given and seem to be having a lot of fun in doing so; Hemsworth ensures that the alien-on-earth shtick does remain largely amusing for its run, whilst holding a firm presence when required for the action sequences. He’s the leading action hero everyone tries to pretend Sam Worthington is when he’s not growing branches. Hiddleston is grand, and along with him being the single greatest element of Archipelago, I look forward to seeing what he next brings to the table. Also of note, bizarrely enough, is the film’s really great sound editing – the cosmic power and weight of the Asgardian weapons comes across in a powerful, organic way that leaves the buzz-whir of most contemporary blockbusters in the dust. It’s just a shame that, conversely, all of Branagh’s camera men seem to have had their heads permanently tilted forty degrees from the vertical; slanted shots are dynamic for a time, but when the bulk of the film is made up of them, we’re just getting a bit lazy aren’t we?

I really wanted to like Thor, and as a result I’ve probably been a lot more disappointed than those who went in expecting something as dopey as Iron Man 2. Thor has its moments of charm that film lacks, as well as eschewing the latter’s quiet smugness. That said, it’s not a strong enough film to stand alone and is only really worth watching if you’re the kind of guy that gets excited seeing Jeremy Renner’s extended cameo or waiting around for the inevitable post-credits sequence. In the land of comic books, filler issues and exposition pieces are par for the course when building up to the grand crossover at the end of the road, and that’s fair enough. But comic books only cost a couple of quid a pop, and certainly don’t cost $150 million to make. Marvel needs to realise that the business model for comics does not carry over to the Hollywood blockbuster. It’s nice to know the Avengers won’t waste most of its time setting the scene, but the price we pay for an understanding of what will be going on is some really mediocre cinema. It’s hard to tell which is better.