Joe’s Blog

John Carter (2012)

January 14, 2013 4:40 am

John-Carter-Poster

Most movie bloggers would have spent December totting up their top 10 films of the year. Because I only go to the cinema about once a month, I never feel I see enough new films to warrant such a list, so I spend December reading those top 10 lists. There are also the occasional BOTTOM 10 lists. Really, these are the ones I like to read, especially when the same names kept cropping up : That’s My Boy, Battleship, Alex Cross, all potential future entries for the House of Trash.

I was very surprised to see that John Carter didn’t feature very much though. Most famously, Mark Kermode DID include it in his ‘worst of’ list, at number 2. Yes, Mark Kermode, who sees more films in a month than I see in a year, thought John Carter was the second worst film he saw in 2012. That’s worse than Pirahna 3DD? Worse than W.E.? Worse than Jack and Jill even!?

Kermode clearly has an issue here that goes deeper than the quality of the movie (others have postulated what that might be) but sadly a critic as influential as Kermode has the power to perpetuate the myth that John Carter is dreadful, and probably put people off giving it a go. Don’t forget this is a man who constantly tells the public that they were wrong about Howard the Duck and Heaven’s Gate. Well, Mr Kermode, you are wrong about John Carter.

john carter 1

Get your ass to Mars!

Let’s be straight here, John Carter is no masterpiece. Far from it.

I’m no scholar on the original stories, but I’m aware that last year was the centenary of he first printed appearance of the Confederate soldier transported to Barsoom (that’s Mars to me and you). The film has been in development, on and off,  since 1931, when Warner Brothers’ Bob Clampett attempted to make it as the first full length animated film. In the intervening years, not only was that ambition thwarted by a certain Mr Disney, but the continuing adventures of Carter have been systematically strip-mined by authors and film-makers for everything from Flash Gordon, through Star Wars to Avatar, and everything inbetween.

Sadly, this rather left John Carter on a hiding to nothing. It’s a highly regarded piece of literature that sci-fi fans have been lobbying to be filmed for decades. It’s also such a highly regarded piece of literature that if filmed sympathetically (as the fans would demand) it would result in a film that looked like an Asylum rip-off of every sci-fi film of the past 30 years, but with a bigger budget. Somehow Andrew Stanton (Pixar whizz working on his first live-action film) manages to avoid this, but ultimately makes a film which is enjoyable, but was clearly never going to have the wide appeal needed to justify its budget.

When it’s good, it’s very good. The advantage of having an animation director like Stanton working on a piece like this, is that he knows how to work with CGI. It’s easy to forget how much of a live action film is now added in post-production, so having someone as comfortable behind a desk as bossing 1000 extras is vital these days. For once, a CGI heavy fantasy movie doesn’t feel like your watching someone else play a computer game. The cast are all game, and clearly having fun. My one exception is Carter himself. Taylor Kitsch certainly looks the part, but there was something about his voice that grated, coming over far too much like a Californian beach bum, than a Southern Civil War veteran (a fact not helped by some distinctly 21st century action hero dialogue “Easy. Nice monster dog.”)

john carter 3

 I used to bullseye womprats with my T16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters.

What hinders the piece is an almost impenetrable plot. It could be argued that that is a fault of the source, which may be the case, I don’t know. But is it really any more impenetrable than Star Wars or Flash Gordon? Yes, every character has a made-up name, there are made-up races, beings, planet names… oh god, how confusing to our poor youth audiences. The best thing to do is to keep it simple. There’s this one race of humanoids who have a massive killer weapon, with which they intend to wipe out another race of humanoids (the last left on the planet). Caught in the middle is an independent race of 15 foot tall creatures, who really want to keep themselves to themselves and who end up capturing Mr Carter. That’s it, seen it before, will see it again, it’s really no more complicated than that.

So what else lets it down? Well, that’s pretty much it. A slightly confusing, and, for newcomers, derivative plot. You know what else has a confusing, derivative plot? Almost every big budget summer blockbuster that made more money than John Carter.

John Carter was an almighty failure, but it’s no fault of the film itself. The marketing was poor, certainly. Look at that poster at the top. If you’re a teenager with a tenner burning a hole in his pocket on a Saturday afternoon, are you going to see a film with THAT poster (and also one with a prominent Disney logo, the kiss of death for teenagers trying to look hard) or are you going to see Comic Book Heroes 3: The Re-imagining of the Reboot or Smashing Robot Battle 6: Dark of the Arse Crack?

The name change caused quite some controversy, with many passing the buck for the decision, but ultimately everyone agreeing that the change was due to the fact that John Carter of Mars doesn’t become John Carter of Mars until the end of the film. Until then, he is just John Carter. OK… but surely since it’s actually based on the book Princess of Mars, shouldn’t if have been called Princess of Mars? Oh, that would have been too confusing (and we all know how much sci-fi films with female leads bomb, right studio execs?). Rumours of Disney still smarting from Mars Needs Moms was suggested as another reason for getting Mars out of the title (stuff like this actually happens, so even if that’s not true you can believe it is). Incidentally Mars Needs Moms lost a hell of a lot more money than John Carter, but that’s been quietly swept under the carpet by the studio and film writers no doubt worried about being invited to the next Disney junket.

john carter 2

Flash… ah-ah!

Let’s get some perspective here: John Carter was never going to be the biggest film of the year. It should never have been green-lit with the budget it did, which would require it to be one of the biggest 5 earners of the year to ultimately break even. Did anyone really think this would compete with Avengers, Batman, Bond, Spiderman, Hobbit, Hunger Games and the interminable Twiglet. Not a chance.

They could reasonably have expected it to do better than Wrath of the Titans, or Journey 2 The Mysterious Island, both dreadfully reviewed sequels to two of the more dreadfully reviewed films of recent years.

But then, the box office only tells half the story. We are constantly baffled by the fact that Transformers movies can make a billion dollars whilst being utterly cack, and assume the ticket buying public are, rightly, morons. So should we be surprised by the fact that a reasonably well-made film, made by people with a genuine affection for the material, rather than hacks who want to sell toys, utterly fails? We already know the audience is made up of morons because they made Transformers 1, 2 and 3 huge hits. So why, when a film flops do we blame the film, rather than the audience for not getting it?

Good films often do badly at the box office, and stinkers often hit the jackpot. No one really knows which way it’s going to go. Many have suggested John Carter could have made more money with a big name star (Tom Cruise was attached for a while in the 90s). But who? Audiences are much more fickle with their stars nowadays, so it’s particularly tricky when your film takes two and a half years to make. Your flavour-of-the-month star could taste very stale by release date: Well, Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost currently sits over $70million in the red, Halle Berry’s Catwoman is still trying to claw back around $50m, not to mention all the countless Eddie Murphy ‘comedies’ clogging up the bargain bins in Tesco. Tom Cruise is hardly the draw he once was, his biggest successes now coming from established brands (Mission Impossible, Jack Reacher) rather than his more personal projects (Valkyrie, the tedious Knight and Day).

The only thing that would have saved John Carter at the box office would have been audiences giving it a chance. But with everyone shouting in their ear about how dreadful it is, why should they?

If you’re still not sure whether you want to give it a chance, the best advice I can give is this: do you like the 1980 Flash Gordon movie? That’s ridiculously camp, over the top, overblown and with a bland central hero. John Carter is the that kind of film, and possibly the highest praise I can give it, is that, like Flash Gordon, it will find an appreciative audience in  years to come.


Demonoid: Messenger of Death (1981)

January 5, 2013 12:11 pm

Demonoid poster

Do you know what’s rubbish? Crawling hand movies. Yes, there are good films which use the idea of a severed, crawling hand as an idea for a part of its story, but films which are centred solely on such a device are, to a man, dreadful.

So, Demonoid was quite a surprise. Mainly because I didn’t know it was a crawling hand movie. Let alone a cheesy, if enjoyable one.

I’d seen the trailer a few years back and was fully expecting some demon/zombie/possession type thing, with Stuart Whitman filling in for the obligatory priest character/savant who was mandatory for horror films from The Exorcist onwards, and Samantha Eggar as the unfortunate victim of whatever was going on. This turns out to be the case, except the eponymous demon turns out to be a pesky, possessive severed hand.

Handy Andy is first seen in an obviously tacked-on prologue (when the producers realised the film didn’t feature any tits), where a lady in a white smock kicks seven shades of the proverbial out of some guys who appear to be wearing some filthy second-hand KKK outfits. They eventually overcome her, tearing the smock open in the process, chain her to a wall and chop her left hand off. A Pazuzu-like demon appears to a crescendo of storm sound effects records and drawn on lightening bolts. The hand tries to do a runner, but is caught, and encased in a metal box, which it perfectly fits.

demonoid3

This is not the greatest crawling hand movie in the world…

this is just a tribute.

We’re given no indication where or when this happening, but it’s clearly some time in the past. We are most definitely thrust back into the present day, in Mexico, thanks to an abundance of bad 70’s fashions and wah-wah music.

Jennifer Baines (Eggar) is in town to meet her husband, who is trying to get his crew of underpaid local miners back to work, because they’re scared of rumours of a curse on the mine. Eggar takes it upon herself to investigate, and within 20 seconds has found a hitherto undiscovered cave just by leaning on the wall and dislodging some polystyrene rocks. In the cave the happy couple found the encased hand. So pleased with their discovery are the couple that they get drunk, and Mr Baines decides to let the hand out and promptly falls asleep, leaving the hand to touch up his wife. He tries to stop it, whereupon the hand possesses his own left hand, leaving him only with a handful of dust. He then blows up the mine, killing a bunch of his miners, and goes on the lam.

Through a series of badly edited transitions we follow Mr Baines’ exciting adventures in Vegas, before leading to the hand possessing a cop, a doctor and eventually Whitman’s priest (who Mrs Baines enlists to help her find her missing husband).

This all sounds very silly, and to be honest, it is. What saves it are game performances from Eggar and Whitman (spouting a frankly ludicrous Irish accent) and some fairly effective hand effects. Given the age and budget of the film, these are far creepier and effective than the far bigger budgeted (and dreadfully dull) The Hand.

demonoid 1

This should come in handy

The main problem with crawling hand movies, unlike say slashers or ghost stories, is the inherent suspension of disbelief required by an audience. Most of us would find the idea of a nutter with a machete or spooky noises and apparitions scary. But the idea of a severed hand being able to move, and even think, needs such a leap of faith from an audience that it’s almost impossible. I’m sure the audiences of the 20’s would have been spooked by The Hands of Orlac, and even the 40’s viewers of The Beast with 5 Fingers may have been insufficiently cynical to take the concept at face value. But even by the 60’s the countless appearances of the abnormal appendage would become laughable (Amicus films used the trope countless times in their portmanteau movies, before giving (probably) the same prop a film of its own with And Now the Screaming Starts, a film much more memorable for a truly gruelling (though not explicit) rape scene, and the wardrobe department’s heroic attempts to retain Stephanie Beecham’s heaving bosom.

Demonoid, despite its many flaws, is head and shoulders above almost all the post-war crawling hand flicks. It is fully aware of its ludicrous premise and makes no attempt to hide the fact. Any film which contains the line “You either cut off my hand, or I’m gonna kill you” is surely not taking itself too seriously. Eggar and Whitman are game for just about anything, as their filmographies demonstrate, and are perfectly good as playing frightened, concerned, baffled and surprised when confronted with a rubber fist. Let’s not forget Whitman has already dealt with a plague of giant killer rabbits, whilst Eggar produced murderous dwarves from egg sacs growing in her lady area. These guys can take on a simple low-budget, Mexican shot crawling hand movie in their sleep.

Add in some good, if infrequent, gore and a wonderfully cheesy car chase (with music surely lifted from a 70’s TV cop show library) and you’ve got a sadly very rare gem.

Sadly, Demonoid is unavailable anywhere on DVD. It is available through the internet but I’m not telling you where. Try eBay.


There is a moment in Giles Coren’s new column so vile, sexist and sad that it made me feel physically sick.

November 12, 2012 4:08 am

“What’s wrong with being sexy?”

 

This piece contains a lot of spoilers regarding Skyfall, which, for once with a Bond film, may actually affect your enjoyment of the film.

This could be the last blog post I ever make, as it may upset a powerful group of people. A VERY powerful group of people. These guys make The Illuminati look like a suburban book group. You may not even realise they exist; or rather you may not realise that people you know are actually involved with this organisation.

I’m referring to the Twitter Cabal, a group of writers, broadcasters and TV personalities who have decided they are in charge. And woe betide anyone who stands in their way of world domination. And heaven forefend that you should choose to criticise something they have created. These people have 100s of 1000s of willing followers who hang on their every word, and will release the hounds on anyone who doesn’t fawn over them kissing their anointed feet.

So, I do not take lightly the fact that I am going to criticise one of them. Luckily it’s one of the more disagreeable, talent-less of the bunch, and not one of the ones whose work I actually like, even if their ‘circle the wagons’ behaviour online drives me up the wall.

Unbelievably, it’s taken me over a week to discover that Giles Coren, restaurant critic of The Times, wrote a piece for the paper in his other, ranty column, about how Skyfall was a piece of sexist, misogynistic crap, and one scene had made him feel physically sick. The poor lamb. You’d think someone who eats rich, expensive food for a living would have a stronger stomach.

The Times refused to publish the piece, citing the fact that the paper was top-heavy with Bond pieces that weekend, so Coren instead published it on his food writer wife’s blog under the heading “The piece they tried to ban!” It’s here.

Now, the first thing I noticed reading this is that Coren is a dreadful film critic. I’ve never read any of his restaurant reviews, but I’ve seen enough of him on TV to suspect that they are filled with innuendo, sarcasm and smug “aren’t I clever” puns. He does it here too. Making reference to Jimmy Savile while suggesting Bond raped someone is a nasty, cheap attempt at being controversial.

The other thing that strikes me as odd is that Coren clearly knows nothing about James Bond, and the article is riddles with factual inaccuracies. Columnists and journalists writing about Bond is inevitable when a new film comes out as it fills columns and gets hits on websites. But it’s stunningly depressing how few of them fail to do even a modicum of research before doing so. It’s like some distant childhood memories of Sunday afternoon viewings will be enough for them to earn their fee that week.

I think Coren’s piece is, in every way, naive, confused and ill-conceived, and maybe says more about his mental state, than that of the filmmakers. (Interesting point: He never ONCE points the finger directly at the writers; is there some writers’ code he needs to abide by?)

His main issue seems to be that killing women in films is sexist. I’m not sure I understand this. Surely if killing women is sexist, then killing men is sexist too? He takes issue with the fact that Severin, the villain’s girl, is shot dead by the villain, who also murders M. He doesn’t have a problem with the villain also killing six people in an explosion (some of whom could have been female), that his actions lead to the deaths of at least two undercover agents or that he shoots several policemen and other assorted, unidentified characters when he storms a House of Commons committee (again, some of these may have been female). He also turns a blind eye to Bond throwing someone from a skyscraper window, allows a man to be eaten by a komodo dragon and kills a large number of faceless henchmen. These guys are treated so badly they don’t even get character names. How’s THAT for sexism?

Every point that Coren makes can be explained in narrative terms, he just can’t be bothered to pay attention to them or, more likely, ignores them because they don’t fit his argument.

And, to be honest, Coren isn’t the best person to take the moral high ground about anything really. This is a man who told a woman who had the nerve to say his column about his kids was boring on twitter to “go f**k yourself, you barren old hag.” He once made a joke about having sex with, then burning, then eating a 12 year old child. He also used an offensive term to describe Poles, and accused them of burning Jews at Easter for a laugh. Or presented a movie show on Channel Five which featured a section called “Sleazy Kid” who reviewed films purely on how much gratuitous nudity there was.

And let’s not forget that Coren works for that great bastion of equality, News International, who think it’s absolutely fine to have a pair of naked breasts in one of their “family newspapers” every single day.

Is this really someone that should be declaring that a scene in a movie, part of a series which has always had a modicum of sexism inherent in it, made him feel ill?

In short: Bond doesn’t rape Severin. It’s a tad dodgy, granted, but she does  invite him onto her boat (not a hotel, as Coren states) but to suggest that she shows no sexual interest in Bond is massively naive. EVERY woman in Bond movies shows a sexual interest in Bond (except M, obviously, because she’s his mum). They don’t have to say “Wow, that’s a mouthful” while rolling her tongue round her gob like Halle Berry does in Die Another Day to get the impression that she wants to sleep with Bond. Is that sexist? Well, look at this way, does Jason Vorhees express a desire to kill a teenager before he does it? Does Superman express a desire to fly before he flies? You don’t have to explicitly suggest everything in a film before it happens. That’s called film-making.

Apparently Bond sleeping with someone “because he’s bored” is “totally out of keeping” with Daniel Craig’s Bond. You didn’t see Quantum of Sloace then, Giles, where Bond sleeps with Gemma Arterton because he’s bored.

He then goes on to describe Severin’s death scene (an extremely tense William Tell pastiche designed to show how ruthless the villain is, and how Bond still has a modicum of human spirit in him) is “disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn”. Now I’ve seen a LOT of “disgusting, exploitative, 1970s-style death-porn”, but none of them were as coy and well-directed as this scene. In some cases,  I wish they had been. There’s no blood (bar a dribble on Severin’s face prior to the shooting) or focus on the injury. It’s all about character and mood. Bond’s flippant comment (which others have criticised) is of course a distraction technique designed to give him the upper hand over the bad guys (he’s had a gun to his head throughout the whole scene so contrary to what Coren asserts, he couldn’t have saved the girl and killed the bad girls first).

Coren is also “ashamed to be a man” because M is killed and replaced by a man, that Bond shags a woman who is then killed, and because a woman who resisted Bond ends up as his secretary (oops). Of course, M dies a noble death rather than be ‘retired’ by a faceless committee, surely a much more fitting tribute to Ms Dench. Point 2 happens in EVERY SINGLE bloody Bond film, as well as numerous other action movie franchises (how many Batman conquests end up on a slab?). And then finally, the ultimate indignity, Coren cares so much about Moneypenny, and her place as a woman in a male-dominated world, that he can’t even get her job description right! (She’s M’s secretary, as everyone else in the whole bloody world knows. If you think being the personal assistant to one of the most powerful people in the country is a shit job for a woman to do, then maybe you think she’d be better off working in the canteen or something.

I can only assume Coren is not a Bond fan. Otherwise, I’m sure he would be equally sickened by the sight of Bond raping a lesbian, to turn her to the side of  “good and righteous” (explicit in the novel that good and righteous means sexually AND morally). Or the sight of Bond abusing a teenage virgin’s spiritual beliefs to deflower her. Let alone all the endless arse-slapping that went on in his previous incarnations.

It seems Coren is not alone in thinking that the Craig era has ushered in a new level of anti-women attitudes to the Bond movies (I myself have noticed that in his three films only one of his female sexual partners does not end up dead by the end of the film), but then ignore the fact that the female characters are much better written now (perhaps with the exception of Strawberry Fields in Quantum of Solace) and have much more emotional impact on Bond and the movies than they ever have before.

Obviously, not everyone is going to agree on everything, but the level of enthusiasm for Skyfall is astonishing for a big budget action movie, more akin to the kind of reverence accorded to this year’s Sight and Sound Greatest Film of all Time winner, Vertigo. Now THERE’S a misogynist film, made by one of the greatest misogynist film makers ever. Here’s a film where women are treated appallingly for two hours, by a director with a history of treating women appallingly. Where was the outcry over that? Surely, if you want to have a contrary opinion, have it over something that really matters, rather than a silly, car chase and explosion film. Critics of Bond movies almost always refer them to them as ‘silly’, as if this somehow absolves them of having to do any actual critical evaluation of them. To accuse something like Vertigo of being misogynistic would involve them having to do some research, and take on the might of film critics who love them, and would have them for breakfast with a few quotes from Cahiers du Cinema.

Which probably suggests Coren should stick to what he knows: being smug and self-satisfied while scoffing expensive food.

 

The Wicker Tree (2010)

October 30, 2012 1:29 am

Wicker Tree

Some films (mainly horror films) are described as ‘cursed’. It’s quite easy to acquire the reputation (a death here, a fire on set there), and producers are loathe to disassociate themselves from the claims, as it can prove fruitful at the box office. In the end no film which makes as much money as The Exorcist or The Omen can truly be described as cursed.

One film that can possibly lay claim to being cursed is The Wicker Man. It’s not cursed in the sense that strange happenings befell the making, but based more on what happened to it afterwards. Abandoned by a distributor who didn’t realise the kind of film they were getting, they removed almost half an hour from the negative which, allegedly, ended up in landfill under the M3; the remnants of the original wicker man were accidentally burned to the ground; it was the subject of a legendarily bad Hollywood remake; and now the final insult, a 40-years-in-the-making sequel, which gets everything so wrong, I found myself longing for Nicolas Cage in his bear suit to come running over the hills shrieking “How’d it get burned? How’d it get burned?”.

I take no pleasure in running down a low budget British film, particularly one which has been a labour of love for writer-director Robin Hardy for so long. But, it’s just so awful, I can’t NOT lay into it.

Things begin badly, as we meet our protagonists, a pair of dim, born-again, god-fearing, apple-pie scoffing, abstinent yanks (a female singer and a cowboy (!)) who for some reason have decided to go to Scotchland to spread the good word to those heathen Jocks who have forgotten about God. Sadly we don’t see them getting chased by pitbulls and shirt-less fat dole-scum on a rough Glasgow estate. Instead they rock up on a rather nice looking street, where everyone very politely shakes their head and mimes the word “no”, before a Lord of the Manor says to come to his place for a bit so they can experience their village’s May Day celebrations, and, hey, maybe take part too.

Brokeback Molehill

The village of Tassock is no Summerisle. It’s a modern-ish village, on the Scottish-English border, rather than an isolated, Hebridean island. It’s even got its own nuclear power station owned by the Lord Morrison. he even describes himself as being like Monty Burns from The Simpsons. But it seems whilst the power station may keep the economy of the village running smoothly, but it’s also responsible for making all the men infertile, so Morrison has persuaded them that the May Day celebrations every year are a chance for them to find a man (“a laddie”) who can reinvigorate the juices and get all the women pregnant again. This mainly involves one woman, Lolly, sleeping with EVERY SINGLE man who comes to town.

How will she manage this with chaste, loyal Steve from the good ol’ US of A. yes, ma’am? Well, she manages it quite easily by standing in a freezing river with her tits out.

This is nowhere near as sexy as it looks

Beth, the singer, meanwhile, is having her own doubts, after being reminded of her trailer trash image past (a hilarious pop video shows her in a bar dancing with two hideous men; it looks more like the opening scene of a porn movie than a pop video) and being asked awkward questions about the rapture by Lady Morrison (“Do you think it’s right that innocent babies and children should die?” “Well, if that’s what it says in the bible!” is her wide-eyed and thick response, before shifting in her seat like she’s got an itchy bumhole).

All this stuff takes up an hour of screen time: glances are exchanged; dresses are stitched; dancing is…er danced. It’s all very ominous and a sense of foreboding hangs in the air. Except, that is, if you’ve seen The Wicker Man, where all this stuff creeps up on you and gets under your skin. Here, it sits in your lap, tugging at your sleeve.

Apparently, Hardy meant this to be a black comedy. Well, he says that NOW. The religious intolerance of Howey (a sympathetic figure despite his bigotry) in the original is replaced by cardboard cutout caricatures of that specifically American breed of Christian fundamentalism. You know the gruesome twosome are not far from waving ‘God Hates Fags’ placards or firebombing abortion clinics. How can they be when they think it’s right for children to die because “that’s what the bible says”?

But, they are so cliched, and so appallingly portrayed by the actors, that they generate no sympathy whatsoever. You just want to see them die. And die horribly.

The villagers aren’t much better. Lord Morrison is, of course, revealed to be a huge hypocrite, using the villagers faith in Celtic mythology to… well, I’m not quite sure. There is a scene when he discusses their stupidity in blindly following his lead, but I don’t think we find out why he’s doing it. But then again, he may just be doing it for giggles, because this lot are a right bunch of idiots. They are not odd-looking with a hint of menace. These are just freaks, at least the ones we meet are. The budget only stretches to us getting to know about four people, but come the climax, there’s a whole hillside full of them, mostly wandering around in g-strings and painted faces.

Considering how monumentally cheap it all looks, I was astonished to find this cost almost $8 million. It’s difficult to know where that money went.

It certainly didn’t go on the cast which includes “Man Who Provides Russian Voices for Call of Duty Videogames”,  “Her That Was In Eastenders For A  Bit” and assorted Casualty and The Bill bit players.

A hilarious sign of the cost cutting occurs early on when one of Beth’s singing performances in a church is greeted by a library sound effect of a vast hall of applauding noise, but it’s accompanied by a shot of just five people in evening wear clapping.

One sequence, the best in the film, briefly gives us a glimpse of some spending, when Steve is pursued across some lovely Scottish landscapes, in the “Laddie Hunt”, a kind of human fox hunt. It’s reasonably exciting, and well-shot. Sadly it’s short-lived.

As a final indignity, the film ropes in Lord Summerisle himself, Christopher Lee, for a pointless, though no doubt box-office friendly, flashback cameo as Lord Morrison’s dead dad. He is not playing Lord Summerisle.

Sir Should-Not-Be-Appearing-In-This-Film

And what of The Wicker Tree itself? Well, your guess is as good as mine. We’re led to believe it is to be the centre-piece of the May Day celebration. It’s prepped for burning, presumably, a sacrifice of some sort. But other fates await the un-dynnamic duo of Americans, so who is it for?

The Wicker Tree burns, while Beth tries to work out why

Hardy has been keen to point out that The Wicker Tree is not meant to be taken as a remake, or even a sequel. So why call it The Wicker Tree then? You can’t give the film that title and then not expect them to make comparisons to it. It’s like the Hollywood remakes who claim “No, it’s not a remake, it’s a new story taking ideas from the original”. Well don’t give it the same name then!!! (The Thing, I’m looking at you…) If it’s not meant to be a sequel, then it should have stuck with one of its rejected titles. I quite like Cowboys for Christ. That at least would have primed the audience for a black comedy rather than The Wicker Tree, which primes them for a bloody sequel, and a film in a similar vein.

The Wicker Tree is appalling film-making on almost every level. In some ways it does more damage to The Wicker Man than Neil LaBute’s remake, because it was made by Robin Hardy. Had it been made by anyone else, it could have been dismissed as a money-grabbing, soul-less attempt to milk ‘the Wicker brand’. As it stands, it’s a sad, desperate attempt to recapture the magic of a wonderful piece of cinema, and it finally succumbs to the Wicker Man Curse.

Buy Another Day – Bond Product Placement Part 2

October 26, 2012 12:03 pm

After six years off the big screen, Bond returned in 1995, with a new face. For once the producers employed an actor who actually fulfilled the character as written by Fleming: a smug, self-satisfied, arrogant bastard. Who better to embody these qualities than a man most-famous for portraying a useless spy on TV, and a variety of even more useless spies in a series of god-awful TV movies with titles like Death Train and Detonator? Yes, Pierce Brosnan finally took on, what he believed to be, his god given right to don the famous tux and kill some Russians.

With the series off-screen for so long, the producers were, justifiably, worried that public may not exactly welcome his return with open arms. So to hedge their bets a bit they decided to let product placement carry the burden for over half the budget. Smart move, even if it led to some frankly embarrassing moments in the film.

Goldeneye (1995)

The watch, of course, was a given. Sadly, the Bond-saving gadget this time was a laser, an idea already used over a decade before in the rogue Bond movie Never Say Never Again.

The Omega Seamaster would become Bond’s watch of choice from here on in.

Also on display was vast swathes of IBM computers, mainly in boxes, the ludicrous sight of Robbie Coltrane not quite placing a bottle of Smirnoff correctly on a table to see the label, and twisting the bottle round, Parker Pens and finally discovering where megalomaniacs acquire all their techno-kit from.

Need a giant screen for your satellite death-ray targeting system? Give Pioneer a call!

But the big one this time around saw the return of the gadget-laden Bond car: Sean had the Aston Martin, Roger had the Lotus, Pierce had the.. um… BMW? The media were not exactly thrilled with this turn of events, and descended into their best xenophobic rhetoric to condemn Bond as a traitor for abandoning British cars in favour of a foreign make. And a German one at that!

And it wasn’t exactly gadget-laden either. Oh, we were TOLD it was gadget-laden, and Bond warns Joe Don Baker not to touch any buttons (ho-ho), but we never actually see it in action. We get a glimpse in Q’s workshop (cue ads for BT, British Airways, IBM and Parker), and then we get a clunky advert for the thing two-thirds of the way through the film, as Bond drives it through a lovely bit of Caribbean landscape. No car chase, no rockets, nothing.

This was because the deal was done with BMW, but the car wasn’t ready. So the sponsor was now dictating script changes to the producers!

Even so, BMW would have a much bigger impact in the next film, featuring not one, but TWO huge sequences designed to show off their wares.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

The dullest, if not the worst, of Brosnan’s tenure returned product placement to the delirious lows of Moonraker. This time around he would have a new toy though. Just as the 60’s had brought the sight of Bond fiddling with a wrist watch, the 90’s would give Bond his next ubiquitous (and highly sought by marketeers) gizmo: the mobile phone. And like most of the important things in Bond’s life he was whipping it out at every available opportunity. Christ, he even gets it out when he’s having sex!

You may think your iPhone is bleeding edge, but this chunky, pre-Sony, Ericsson would easily have it in a fight. If only because it’s so bloody huge. And apps? Pah, where we’re going we don’t need apps. What we need is a fingerprint scanner, a spikey looking laser, disabling thing and the remote control for Bond’s new car. And what beauty did BMW furnish Bond with this time?

What the hell is that!!?

At the time of the film’s release, that legend of journalism Jeremy Clarkson had a few things to say about this “beautiful new car” (as Q describes it, whilst dressed as an AVIS car rental rep for no reason other than AVIS paid a large sum of money). Clarkson knows a thing or two about Bond cars, and is the owner of the Aston that Brosnan drove at the start of Goldeneye, so I think his opinion is relevent.

“It’s the car of choice for German cement salesmen… The only extraordinary thing about it is that Bond would choose to drive it.”

Wise words. To be fair, it does provide us with a cracking car chase through a multi-storey car park (Brent Cross shopping centre, fact fans!), whilst Bond controls it with the phone from the back seat. Though one wonders who came up with the idea of the BMW badge featuring so prominently in the chase, and actually housing a gadget (a cable cutter, one of those gadgets that only serves one purpose, and luckily is exactly what Bond needs to get out of a scrape).

The BMW badge features heavily later in the film too, as he and his latest shag run away from the bad guys. But how to escape? “Car, get a car!” shouts Wai Lin. “No, bike, bike, bike. It’s quicker!” sells Brosnan. Luckily there’s a row of lovely motorbikes in a row in front of them. They check for keys. Who’d be stupid enough to leave their keys in a shiny new motorbike? That’s right, the BMW owner…

Yeah, we’ll have our new motorbike in a Bond movie, and give the impression that all our customers are absent-minded morons who leave their keys lying about. Well done, BMW.

Finally, I don’t know what kind of bonus Brosnan was on from Omega, but he really goes above and beyond to flog the watches this time. Even when he’s having the shit kicked out of him by a henchman who has taken his boss’ death personally (I never understood this in Bond movies), he still manages to the plug in.

The World is Not Enough (1999)

The product placement in The World is Not Enough was a bit more subtle than the previous Brosnan adventures. He still flashes the damn watch every chance he gets, but at least this time you’re not having brand names paraded in front of shots.

oh… well at least Brosnan isn’t shoving desirable gadgets in your face.

Seriously, Motorola? When the world and his dog was taking the humble mobile phone to its heart, you thought there was still a market among Bond fans for walkie-talkies? They were actually flogging these in Currys with the slogan “as featured in the new Bond movie”!

However, you may not know that Calvin Klein supplied the glasses that Bond wears in the pre-credits, and the X-Ray specs he later adopts for no good reason. Like I said, it was a bit more subtle this time.

The producers once again supply BMW with a fine advert for their new car, but the relationship seems to have soured a tad as this time (despite the badge on the steering wheel providing Bond with his missile controller) the car proves next to useless and gets royally done over by a buzz-saw wielding helicopter.

Die Another Day (2001)

This useless piece of crap warrants no more attention on my blog than that I’ve already given it.

I’ll just mention that the $70 odd million the producers acquired from desperate companies was then a record for one film. The guilty parties included the usual suspects of Omega, British Airways and Aston Martin (or strictly speaking, Ford, as they now owned the company, along with Jaguar, which also featured), but also Tiffanys, Pringle sweaters (!), Heineken (well, well, well), Swarovski and Armani.

Bond makes another error of judgement that upset the tabloids, by drinking Finlandia, instead of Smirnoff vodka (you’d think they would be pleased he wasn’t funding the Russian economy).

The least said about this tatty old dross the better, so here’s a picture of Rosamund Pike.

Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig’s debut may have been a back-to-basics attempt to drag the series kicking and screaming back down to earth, but in terms of selling products it was pretty much business as usual. But with a twist.

In the intervening years between Die Another Day and Casino Royale, the studio to which the movies had always been tied, MGM/UA, found itself in dire straights. It was eventually rescued (ie bought) by the mammoth Sony Corporation, who already owned Columbia Pictures as their film division.

Whilst the Bond producers still operated pretty much as independent producers within the system (in the same way as George Lucas did for the Star Wars films at Fox) it did mean a certain leeway had to made in terms of which products could be promoted by the films. Or rather those that couldn’t.

What this Sony meant was that if Bond Sony is seen using a mobile phone, it must be a Sony phone.

If Bond Sony is fiddling Sony on a laptop Sony it Sony must be a Sony laptop…

There were minor exceptions. Namely, the bad guys most definitely did NOT use Sony products. When Bond steals the phone of the scabby, crane jumping, parkour-loving bomber, his phone looks like a 10 year out of date Nokia, with the name scratched off. Because that’s what bad guys use. They wouldn’t dream of having the latest technology to stay ahead of the secret services around the world who may be tracking them. Nah, this thing’s alright. I can make calls, send texts. What else do I need, guv?

As you can see, the bloody watch is back. And this time Omega even get their name mentioned onscreen! Positively shocking.

The film also features perhaps the most obvious car advert in the series, as Bond cruises around the Bahamas in a natty little Ford Mondeo (yep, we’re back in cement salesman territory), whilst fiddling with his bloody Sony mobile phone.

Honestly, he spends so much time playing with the phone, they should have just put a gun in it and be done. Bond may have finally found something he loves more than himself.

The controversial offender this time was another of those “Bond abandons a true friend’ deals, as he brushed off British Airways, and went with brash, bold Virgin Atlantic. Part of the deal was that shameless self-promoter, and walking beard, Richard Branson went and snagged himself a cameo in the film.

It may be a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, but once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it on future viewings, and completely ruins a pretty tense scene. It also led to BA removing the offending frames from all versions of the film shown on its planes. Oooh, handbags.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Things continued in the same vein for Kumquat of Slice of Cake, with Ford and Sony the most prominent again. Omega watches went one better this time, though, getting their product on the bloody poster!

I hope Craig has the same bonus structure in his contract as the boy Brosnan.

Skyfall (2012)

And that brings us bang up to date, and where we came in.

So, were the stories true? Does Bond really swap sipping vodka martinis for quaffing pints of Euro-piss, cooking lager, as EVERY news story said he would.

No.

Someone drinks a beer. It’s a little incongruous, but given what the character has been through, at that point a beer seems like, um, small beer. It certainly doesn’t ruin a scene like Branson’s beard, a series of billboards or having a walkie-talkie shoved in your face.

(EDIT: On second viewing, I must admit I made a mistake. Bond does drink a beer. He also drinks whiskey, brandy and tequila, so it’s a bit much to criticise him for having a beer. It should be noted, he quite clearly covers the label of the bottle so you can’t see it clearly, and the scene is clearly not compromised by the bottle’s presence or I would have noticed it first time around.)

But it does generate copy for news media desperate for punters to read THEIR Bond stories, rather than anyone elses. Just like I’m doing now.

It’s easy to forget that when the news media criticise Bond, as they always do, for selling out and taking the corporate shilling in order to provide the most popular film series in the world, that they also benefit. Film magazine editors will find any reason to put Bond on the cover because they know there’s enough mugs like me who will buy it for that very reason. And the newspapers know this too. A Bond story (even better, a Bond exclusive) will generate reams of copy of that there interweb as fans ponder the possibility of Benedict Cumberbatch being the next villain, or whether Sam Mendes really did say “I loved it, but never again”. Why do you think every single TV channel has some kind of Bond special whenever a new film comes around?

It’s the kind of love/ hate relationship that the media has with football too. They criticise clubs and players for being greedy, selling out the fans to corporate sponsers. But when saturday comes around, or the bi-annual bunfight that is the transfer window, suddenly football is the greatest thing in the world, because it fills columns, shifts units, gets web hits.

Bond is a commodity, and has been ever since Sean Connery sparked up his first Morland in 1962. It’s a business. And if the background deals that help the business to keep on churning sometimes impinge on the  final product, it’s hardly the end of the world is it?

If anything they are simply continuing what Fleming did in the books. Bond, as a character, has a certain lifestyle which readers (and latterly viewers) want to aspire to. If the producers suddenly decided to have a scene where Bond fills his car with shopping from Tesco, or actually swaps his cocktail for a pint of mild, we may have to talk again. But until that day, I’m quite happy for the films to try and sell me stuff I can’t afford.

SoldFinger – Bond Product Placement Part 1

October 24, 2012 7:25 am

The release of a new Bond movie movie inevitably leads to a slew of useless column-inch-filling ‘news’ stories, and TV puff pieces. This is understandable, as it pulls in viewers and site hits to your organisation. Fair enough. It’s just so annoying that 99% of them are utter bobbins.

This week, there’s been a story about Stoke Park hotel (where Goldfinger’s golf game was filmed) accidentally sending a snarky email to a couple who wanted to marry there, saying they didn’t think they were the “right sort of people” to pay a huge sum of money for the privilege of marrying there. Interesting story, until you realise this happened in April. So either the couple took six months to decide they wanted to go to the papers, or, and more likely, the newspaper in question sat on the story until it became topical, like when a new Bond movie is about to be released.

But by far, the most irritating story of the past month (and one which astonishingly refuses to die) relates to the excessive product placement in the new film, Skyfall. More specifically, it regards a tie-in with Heineken lager. Dear lord! I heard just this morning, that the piss-weak cooking lager have paid $40 million to feature their product in the film, and Bond HAS to have a pint of the fizzy shit.

This story first appeared a month ago, and drew “outrage” from fans. Allegedly.

What it actually drew was pretend outrage from the media. The fans all shrugged their shoulders and said “but there’s always been product placement in the films”. Less importantly, some people were outraged, but would normally preface their response with something like “I stopped watching Bond films years ago, BUT…” and would then proclaim their outrage that a film series they no longer care about will feature a glass of Heineken, somewhere, in a film they are not even going to watch.

These people are morons. As are the outraged journalists (let’s not forget newspapers and TV shows NEVER take the advertising bung and slip products into news stories (advertorials) or TV shows). Most of the journos who write Bond-related stories are not film fans, let alone Bond fans, and stories are routinely riddled with the kind of errors that a very quick trip to imdb would rectify. So, sod ‘em, they are not worth wasting time on here.

But for those who may be genuinely outraged at Bond sipping a beer in Skyfall, let’s not forget this isn’t the first time Del Boy Bond has stuffed his pockets in the name of art and commerce.

 Dr No (1962)

Journos… have a look at this picture and tell me what you see?

Is that a big, BIG stack of beer in boxes? I think it might be.

History (or rather Google) does not recall what “Gennsone and Gedeges” was. Perhaps it was another tie-in that fell through at the last minute. Or a genuine Jamaican hookey cigarette maker.

 

From Russia With Love (1963)

Not the best, or most effective piece of product placement in the history of cinema, but the kind of brazenness that only Broccoli and Saltzman could display, certainly at the time.

‘Call Me Bwana’ was another film the showman pair were producing at the same time. So what better way to promote it than to have a great big bloody advert for it in the middle of another film.

Not really an effective, or profitable, piece of product placement, but a genius piece of marketing.

Goldfinger (1964)

Nuff said.

Thunderball (1965)

With a massive increase of technology and toys for Bond to play with (cos he’s a bit of a shit spy with just his fists and a gun), came more opportunities for companies to flog their tat at a captive audience.

The main toy this time was an underwater camera. Chances are you’ve probably got a camera in your phone that could photos on the sun, but back in the day the idea of a camera that could (in Q’s words) take photos in the dark with an infrared lens was astonishing.

Olympus supplied a prototype for the film.

He would also get the first of what would become a mainstay of the franchise: a watch.

This one is not as fondly remembered as its successors, but it’s important because it’s the first. The watch would normally prove pivotal at some point in the film, as it usually contained a vital gadget which would help Bond, but which had not actually been introduced to the audience beforehand (this happened twice in the Moore years in Live and Let Die and Moonraker) but which afforded an excellent close up of the brand name which would then be replicated in their advertising.

… and things carried on pretty much in this vein through the series until Bond hit the mother lode in 1979.

 

Moonraker (1979)

The list of product placement in the end credits of Moonraker is longer than the list of stunt people. Here are some of the lowlights.

The 7-Up sign also gets a tasty close-up when Jaws’ cable car crashes through it. What’s so awful about that is that the building that collapses is a model, so some poor sod in Derek Meddings’ special effects department had to make a scale model of an advert. Disgraceful.

Two for one, as Bond searches his shag accidentally on purpose leaves a drawer open in her hotel room. Interestingly, Air France also had prominent appearances, that rare example of competing companies appearing in the same film (have you ever seen Pepsi and Coke in the same film?).

The amazing Seiko Deux Ex Machina.

But the absolute pits of this absolute pits of a film is a ludicrous sequence (which makes no sense narratively) where Bond and GoodBlow are kidnapped by paramedics and carried away in an ambulance. As Bond makes his escape (leaving the woman at the mercy of the kidnappers, the bastard), we keep cutting to external shots of the ambulance passing one

billboard after

another until one sees off a bad guy

Ho ho ho.

This was actually the film that taught me what product placement was. Thanks dad.

And since this is supposed to be in Brazil, shouldn’t these ads all be in Portuguese?

 

Bizarrely, Moonraker doesn’t feature the Lotus Esprit which had proved so popular in the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me. It would reappear in For Your Eyes Only, where it promptly blows up.

Speaking of which…

 

A View to a Kill (1985)

Roger Moore’s long overdue swansong features some of the more bizarre product placement.

God knows how much Renault paid to furnish Bond with a car for his jaunt around Paris, but surely it wasn’t worth the indignity of seeing your product being driven by a stereotypical humourless cabbie, and then smashed to pieces, rather too easily, by Bond.

All this scene needed was a man in a cafe saying “Nicole?” as Bond sped past. If that ad campaign existed five years earlier.

Rather more bizarre, and a sign of the desperate measures the producers were resorting to to get the products on screen, was the idea that a spirit manufacturer would be happy to see a psychotic villain using their product as a molotov cocktail.

In the film, Chris Walken tilts the bottle so you can see the label more clearly.

There’s also Bond’s lock pick hidden in a Sharper Image store card! Well at least we now know where he gets his gadgets from when Q isn’t around.

The Living Daylights (1987)

Well, lookey what we got here:

By the way, I think this is bloody awful.

The scene in the film, where Bond meets his content at a cafe in a fairground, is filled to bursting with Carlsberg logos, and his mate is quaffing a pint. It’s horrible. It also doesn’t affect the film, as it ends with a truly shocking moment. You remember THAT bit, not the horrible, crow-barred product placement.

Licence To Kill (1989)

This may well be my favourite bit of product placement in a Bond film ever.

It’s a clunky bit of product placement (because as any Bond nerd knows, Bond would never lower himself to smoke an American cigarette), but it’s a bit neat.

And best of all, it resulted in a government health warning being added to the end credits of the film! Yes, it’s fine that this psycho can go around the world murdering people, drinking too much, having unprotected sex and driving like a lunatic. But, dear lord, he shouldn’t smoke!

Apparently, it was judged (by whom, I’m not sure) that the sight of Bond using a gadget encased in a cigarette packet would lead kids to fags.

Whereas this is fine…

Right I’m off for a quick hand blended Morland.

When I return I’ll look at now New Bond (TM) in the 1990s and beyond would take product placement into the stratosphere…

Arachnoquake (2012)

October 19, 2012 2:43 am

Arachnoquake poster

Watching Arachnoquake made me realise there are bad movies and there are bad movies. Which you prefer is your own decision. I love a bad movie that manages to be entertaining, normally for all the wrong reasons. Watching a dull, insulting bad movie (like say Ishtar) can be an infuriating experience.  Arachnoquake bored me to death and I really wanted to like it. The title and premise are bulletproof: earthquake unleashes prehistoric giant spiders. You can’t lose. Unless you are making a SyFy original movie.

Spider movies are such a winner I’m surprised there isn’t a new one every month. Everyone is, at the very least, a bit unnerved by the sight the site of the hairy, spindly bastards scuttling everywhere, mummifying small creatures and eating their sex victims. They are just insane. make them giant sized and, well, I’m too terrified to finish that sentence.

Arachnoquake doesn’t do one scary thing for 90 minutes. It also fails to feature one good line of dialogue, one performance that comes anywhere near the dictionary definition of ‘acting’, and contains the worst CGI I have ever seen. Ever.

They make their first mistake very early, and it’s a doozy. We get our first glimpse of our monsters for this evening. Yes, prehistoric killer, fire-breathing, spiders that will grow to building-sized proportions… what could such horrors possibly look like?

Shit, a spider!

Shit! A Spider!… I mean, a shit spider

What the hell is that supposed to be? It looks more like a crab than a spider. They’re supposed to be white, but in most shots they look pink; they don’t have a hair on them (too expensive to render in CGI); and, as it customary with low budget CGI, they don’t cast shadows.

This first one is seen bursting out of the back of some redneck who’s been bitten. He backs away from the thing which is the size of a toy car, like it’s about to bit his head off, instead of just treading on it. He ends up dead in a hole. The idiot.

We are in New Orleans for the main action (obviously filmed way, way off the beaten track, and very early in the morning, for the most part) where we meet tour guide Paul and his bus full of tourists. (Paul is played by an actor called Bug, I’m not making this up. C Thomas Howell was clearly unavailable due his killer bee movie schedule, so they got he actor who looks most like him).

On another bus we find a girls school baseball team. The bus is driven by their coach, played by the only recognisable name in the cast (sadly, he is unrecognisable in the flesh, of which there is plenty)… Ladies and Gentlemen I give you, John Connor.

Now, under normal circumstances, the man who led the human resistance against the rise of the machines would be the perfect person to lead a human resistance against the rise of the CGI spiders. Sadly, here, Mr Furlong is not the hero. He doesn’t even get top billing (or an ‘and’ credit for that matter). He’s just another struggling actor, just like the rest of the non-descript cast.

The spiders seem to arbitrarily change size depending on the situation until eventually we find the Queen on her web between two skyscrapers. Incidentally, the film makes no attempt to explain whether the spiders are web based or not (early on they don’t appear to be, then for the purposes of moving the plot along a bit, they start spinning webs). Also, as far as I’m aware,  spiders don’t have queens, since they are solitary rather than hive-based… god, I’m questioning the logic of this piece of shit. That’s how shit this thing is. I actually gave up on the plot and started pondering useless crap like this.

I’m just so tired of seeing these useless movies. Budgetary restraints should not be a barrier to good film-making. I’ve no idea what this cost, but I imagine it was probably between 1 or 2 million. Lots of decent horror films are made for that price range every year. It’s very simple: if you have a low budget write a script that you can film for that budget; don’t just employ actors who look like the characters in the script, employ actors who can ACT like the characters in the script; don’t employ fallen former “name” actors, as they will have open contempt for the material and make no attempt to give a good performance.

If SyFy isn’t even going to try to make decent monster movies, then don’t flipping bother. Years ago, they used to show old AIP and Corman movies. Yeah, they were tacky, low-budget crap too, but they were entertaining. They were made by people who cared about what they were making (they had to, because if the film didn’t make it’s money back, they probably wouldn’t make another) or were at least enthusastic enough to think it would be a stepping stone to greater things. The director of Arachnoquake has made far too many of these shit-flicks to give the impression that he is anything other than a hack, who is happy to take money from the suits at SyFy who for some reason seem to be happy with the turds he lays on their schedules twice-yearly.

Sadly, until people stop watching them, he’ll carry on laying them.

And, yes, that includes me.

Sliver (1993)

October 12, 2012 7:51 am

Sliver poster

Erotic cabaret

Ah, the halcyon days of the early-to mid 90s, when the erotic thriller was king. OK, it never was ‘king’ exactly, but it’s a fact that Basic Instinct was the 4th biggest money maker of 1992, and suddenly every studio had to have a piece of the action. Preferably starring Sharon Stone, as all the other A-list actresses were a little iffy about getting their norks out.

Basic Instinct was, and probably always will be, the best erotic thriller Hollywood has ever produced. The combination of Joe Eszterhas’ script and director Paul Verhoeven was golden, taking the good stuff from Jagged Edge, and combining it with a sardonic wit and eye for cold detail that had made Verhoeven’s sci-fi flicks such massive hits. If you have issues with Basic Instinct‘s politics, you’re clearly taking it too seriously. I was always amazed at the gay community’s outrage at its portrayal of lesbians, as the film itself is so OTT camp, you’d think it would have gone down a storm, like the later Showgirls did (a film with far more gender political problems).

So the re-teaming of Mr Eszterhas and Ms Stone (by now sharing a bed, much to the surprise of Mrs Eszterhas) should have been a winner. But something went seriously wrong here, and we end up with a grubby, humourless water balloon of a film that, budget aside, isn’t far removed from the likes of Shannon Tweed epics like Indecent Behaviour or Illicit Dreams, films which at least don’t bother pretending they are not ripping off Basic Instinct.

With Sliver you get the explosive combination of a hot star, the most successful screenwriter of all time, an egomaniacal producer making his first film for a decade following his involvement in a cocaine deal and murder, a rising co-star (personally picked by Stone who then decided she hated him), whose bubble was about to burst sooner than anyone could have imagined, and a relatively hot director, fresh off a hit, but still easy to push around.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

For the uninitiated the plot is roughly this: Stone is Carly, a book editor, who moves into a swanky New York apartment block and immediately becomes an object of desire for creepy Billy Baldwin, and sleazy Tom Berenger. There’s another old man but he dies pretty quickly, and another woman (the rather lovely, but talent free Polly Walker) who may be a model or a prostitute. Someone has wired the whole block with cameras and mics and is watching everything. People keep dying, but who is the murderer?

That’s  it.

“You like to watch, don’t you?”

Nah, not really.

That would struggle to stretch over an hour let alone the ten minutes short of two we are subjected to here. The first half is dedicated to Carly moving in, being watched, having a party, being watched, being wooed by Billy and harassed by Tom. Martin Landau bobs up for two whole scenes as Carly’s boss, and adds nothing of any importance beyond pointing to a lamp.

This all builds towards what most people who bought a ticket for this mess wanted to see: Sharon Stone in the buff. And sad to report but Sliver‘s sex scenes are probably the least erotic ever filmed (and also for a while put me off ever listening to ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ forever). If you get the chance to see it in high-def though, you will spot Stone’s sweaty pits, and Billy’s extremely hairy bum hole.

Eventually after a couple more deaths (one of which briefly reminds you of the excesses of the Italian gialli that this so aspires to be) the killer is revealed, the audience shrugs and says “that doesn’t really make any sense” and it ends.

This may be the result of post-production tinkering. Not an unusual thing in Hollywood, but in the case of Sliver the messing about not only changed the identity of the killer but restructured he whole film. Message boards are filled with people saying that the original cut is actually worse but makes more sense. I am currently trying to track his down because I’m not sure how worse it could be.

The main issue here, of course, is changing the ending. A thriller (or at least a well-written thriller) would surely work backwards from the reveal, setting up the situations, dialogue, actions of characters, even their facial expressions, so that when an audience knows the outcome they don’t feel cheated. A good writer and director will hide all the clues in plain sight to at least give the audience a chance. In the case of Sliver almost everything that happens ends up being arbitrary as essentially the killer was decided on the flip of a coin, and new dialogue was added to explain it away. And the film still has ten minutes to go!

“How much longer does this shit go on for?”

Stone has probably never looked more gorgeous than she does here, but for the whole film she just looks bored. Billy, never the most charismatic of the Baldwins, is absolutely dreadful. With his floppy fringe, trendy t-shirt perpetually tucked into his white jeans and a crappy leather jacket he looks every part the sex offender. Tom Berenger seems to be the only one who realises this is all guff and just goes along for the ride. Berenger is an actor I feel has never had the breaks he deserves, and the film noticeably perks up when he’s onscreen.

Eszterhas’ script (based on an Ira Levin novel) is appalling, possibly the worst thing he’d written until An Alan Smithee Film. Where Basic Instinct was camply offensive, Sliver‘s dialogue is just vulgar. References to vibrators, anal sex and impotence may be commonplace between women (at least if Sex and the City is to be believed) but here they just add an unnecessarily sleazy gloss to an already tawdry film about a voyeuristic woman-killer.

If you like sleazy gloss, this may appeal. I like sleazy gloss and I found it dull, uninvolving, infuriating, a chore. It takes itself far too seriously and then comes up with an infantile denouement; along with one of the worst last lines in movie history (which Eszterhas has always denied writing).

It’s not Basic Instinct 2. In 1993, this was considered a bad thing. Now that sounds like a recommendation. It’s not.

NB. A brilliant comparison between the theatrical cut and the workprint can be found at Movie censorship

 

Navy Seals (1990)

October 10, 2012 2:12 am

Navy Seals

Stu-stu-stu-Studio Line

Even as a teenager, Navy Seals always had a whiff of fromage about it. Something about pairing a Oliver Stone’s favourite BratPacker (on an astonishing career turnaround following Platoon and Wall Street), with a man who only appears in good films when James Cameron is behind the camera. They posed on the video cover brandishing plastic-looking machine guns, looking like a pair of hair gel models in a photoshoot for The Face.

It certainly didn’t have the same allure to a young lad as say Commando or even a Chuck Norris punch-a-thon. In fact it looked a bit crap. Maybe because it is.

What was clearly designed to do for the Navy what Top Gun did for the Air Force, Navy Seals can’t even fluffs every opportunity to ape that films success. Swap volleyball for golf; substitute flying really fast jets with inflatable dinghys; change Kelly McGillis for Joanne Whalley.

Hicks from Aliens leads a crew of Seals round the world looking for a cardboard cut-out forrin villain who has acquired some stinger missiles. Or a bomb. Or something. It’s not important. They’re chasing a bad guy ‘raghead’ (as the film so politely refers to everyone from the Middle East), who’s name I forget as for most of the film he’s just a black and white photo occasionally flashed in front of us.

What IS important is that Charlie Sheen plays a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent member of the crew. He’s professional, thorough, and always follows orders. Oh, no wait… that’s right, he’s a free-spirit, a hot-head, a joker who lives for the rush of the job. A “Maverick” , if you will.

Within the first 20 minutes we get all the character info we need. See Charlie leap from a moving car off a bridge, for a laugh! Gasp as he steals a bike, catches up with a tow truck that has taken his sports car away, and drives said car off the back of the tow truck into oncoming traffic! Guffaw as Sheen’s hot-headedness jeopardises a routine mission and allows the bad guy to escape because he fancied killing a few more ‘ragheads’.

Hicks plays Sheen’s best friend, but he’s also Sheen’s boss. Ooh, tension.  Also tagging along for the ride is one of Dirty Dozen-style, Guys-on-a-mission-movie collective of rag-tag ‘characters’. Except they forgot to give them any character. We’ve got Bill Paxton, wasted, but carrying the same wonderful moustache he sported in True Lies; President Palmer from 24 (who’s supposed to be getting married… uh-oh!); the lunkhead from Roxanne; the anti-semite from Porkys; and another piece of cardboard who’s only purpose seems to be to translate the gibbering rantings of the forrin villains.

That pretty much is all you need to know. What little plot there is, consists of Hicks trying to find out where the bad guy is by wining and dining Whalley’s investigative journalist (who’s also fighting off the affections of Sheen, who only wants her because Hicks has her. Great mate that he is). It seems odd that in the opening action scene, Hicks tells a rescued hostage “You don’t have to thank us because we don’t exist”, as if the Seals are some covert, secret organisation. Yet just 15 minutes later, he’s taking a journalist round their training centre (and having his men fire machine guns at her for a laugh).

The boys go off on various missions, to various ‘shit-holes’, always coming back empty handed because the film still has some time to go. And then some. For a stupid 80s actioner, this is a ridiculously tedious two hours. Decades pass between the action, and when it does arrive, it’s appallingly directed and edited. You have little idea what’s going on, and can only differentiate the good guys from the bad guys because the bad guys all have beards.

Lewis Teague was one of those directors whose career was finished as soon as Big Ben struck midnight on 31st December 1989. A good director given the right material (the excellent Alligator, Cujo, the cheesy but fun Wedlock), he somehow found himself directing The Jewel of the Nile, and found himself tagged an action director from then on, but never with the budget or talent that he had there.

Navy Seals could have easily been a Chuck Norris-starring Cannon Group film, yet despite having a bigger budget than those, it comes off as cheap and dull. Call of Duty fans may enjoy the final assault on the bad guy, but for the most part it offers little in the way of entertainment beyond a few jaw-dropping bad lines of dialogue, and who wants to sit through two hours of tripe just to hear Charlie Sheen say “You gotta stick it out there and not be afraid to get it cut off, that’s what I always say.”

Sweeney! (1977)

September 13, 2012 5:39 am

 

Sweeney poster

“Shut it!”

 Yay, it’s remake time again! And now that Hollywood has exhausted itself of horror remakes (for the time being), us Brits have decided the best way to boost our own film economy is to trawl the nostalgia files for saleable product. This week’s offering is Nick Love’s film version of the classic 70’s cop show The Sweeney. I won’t be paying to see it, but no doubt it will turn what was an edgy, brilliantly scripted, acted and directed much-loved TV show into another of Love’s Essex-boy-wet-dream tales of “pwopa nawty” folks up to no good, only this time they may have to sympathise with the police. Can’t see that going down with his core demographic.

But, of course, this isn’t the first time the dipsomaniacal duo of Regan and Carter have hit the big screen.  Back in the dark and dingy 70’s pretty much any successful TV was considered fair game for a cinematic outing, so it was inevitable that the biggest cop show on TV would arrive at your local pit with a screech of tyres, a bottle of scotch, and hitting sticks at the ready. Twice.

The first outing, Sweeney! (love the exclamation mark, like a bad west end musical version), arrived in 1977, and a rollicking good ride it is.

Given a slightly larger budget, the film has a slightly larger scope, with our heroes finding themselves involved in a conspiracy at the heart of government, which is leaving a trail of dead bodies for the police to clean up, starting with a high class prostitute played by Oxo mum, Lynda Bellingham. She worked for an extremely dodgy PR man (played by Barry Foster with an even dodgier American accent), who has ingratiated himself into the inner sanctum of Energy Minister Ian Bannen.

Regan and Carter find themselves bashing heads with Special Branch and the Secret Service along the way, though their TV guv’nor Haskins is sorely missed.

Compared to most other TV-to-film adaptations, Sweeney! works as both a continuation of the style of the TV series, and as a standalone film. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise given that the show was filmed on location, on 16mm, and brought an action-orientated style that was the norm for cinema, but rare on TV in those days.

The major difference here is the violence. The Sweeney always got up the nose of Mary Whitehouse and her ilk, for its realism in the fighting stakes, but here it’s taken to a new level. Whilst not particularly gory (at least not by today’s standards), there a few shockingly brutal scenes, mostly involving machine guns fired at close range. One poor sod is shown with bullets embedded in his face, like a reject Cenobite. Another unfortunate is machine gunned to death from behind just as seems they are about to escape the bad guys. A bobby on the beat also meets his end JFK style.

Nudity is far more prominent than would have been allowed at the time, particularly in the opening few scenes, again thanks to the slightly more lax attitude employed by the cinema at the time.

While some have criticised the film for allowing the boys to get mixed up in a caper than would be far too big for the Squad to deal with, it is at least believable how Regan gets embroiled in it (and really this is Regan’s show; Carter is little more than a supporting character here). The dead prostitute was the ‘girlfriend’ of one of Regan’s snouts, who’s convinced she was murdered rather than the official verdict of suicide. Before he realises it, Regan is up to his neck in dead bodies, and he could be next.

The machinations of the plot can get a bit grating a times, when you wish they’d cut back to the Squad taking on a gang of villains, but by the end it all pays off with a rewarding, if rather abrupt, payoff.

The cast are first class. Any fan of the show will know what they are gonna get with John Thaw and Dennis Waterman. I’m no Waterman fan, but his chemistry with Thaw is absolute gold.

Ian Bannen’s oily MP is note perfect. I was particularly impressed with the political impartiality of the character. Outwardly, he gives the impression of a stereotypical Conservative, but there are hints he could be Labour (mentions of unions, his close relationship with a Liberal magazine editor, played by Colin “The British Are Coming!” Welland). By never revealing, and to be honest it matters not, it shrouds him in mystery, and you’re never entirely sure how much he knows about the conspiracy, and what his part in it actually is.

Foster, accent apart, is on top form as the 70’s answer to Malcolm Tucker, Bannen’s Mr Fixit, with motives of his own and an endless supply of high class tarts, and low rent hitmen at his disposal.

The biggest surprise, for me at least, was former coffee-salesman Diane Keen as another of Foster’s girls. She manages to portray a intriguing mix of street-smart independence and wide-eyed innocence, whilst having herself pimped out to Arab oil sheiks, being water boarded by Regan, or wearing one of Carter’s dodgy 70’s dressing gowns.

(Speaking of fashion, it’s a treat for fans of beige shirts, kipper ties and parkas. The sight of John Thaw dishing out exposition, standing in a 70’s bathroom wearing only a flasher mac is a priceless moment in movie history.)

It’s a rarity for a big screen adaptation to be good, let alone true to the spirit of its origins, but Sweeney! manages both.

The sequel, Sweeney 2, almost succeeds as much (many prefer it), but I felt the decision to take the boys out of London and drop them in Malta for a large portion of the film was a mistake. It feels even more violent than its predecessor, and is still worth watching, but it plays more like an extended version of an episode from the TV series.

Right, I better put me trousers on, and have me dinner.