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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.

 

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…

Movie Marketing Overkill

April 20, 2012 2:57 am

This is how I feel

I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book entitled “Hit and Run“. It tells the story of how two extremely good salesman (one of whom was also a hairdresser dating a top Hollywood star and singer) managed to wrangle themselves top producer jobs in Hollywood, ultimately ending up running a studio themselves and spending lots of other people’s money. Best thing about it is that it’s all true. The two men in question, Jon Peters (the hairdresser, and Babara Streisand bedmate) and Peter Guber may not be household names outside of the Hollywood family, but for a decade and more they ‘produced’ (or rather had their names attached to) a string of hit movies including Rainman, Witches of Eastwick, Flashdance and The Color Purple.

It’s all fascinating reading, discovering how two men with very little knowledge of the film industry ended up such big players. One reason was they were great packagers of movies. they would schmooze the talent hard to get the perfect combination of story, stars and director. After the film was made they would work their magic once again to sell the hell out of it (if they thought it was worth it).

(Kevin Smith provides a wonderful anecdote about Jon Peters from his time working on the aborted Tim Burton/Nicolas cage version of Superman.)

It’s this selling angle which was fresh in my mind this week when reading about two of their most famous films, one successful, one famously less so: Batman and Last Action Hero. The way these films were handled contrasts starkly to the big sell of today’s blockbusters and despite their reputations, the industry could still learn a thing or two from their methods.

Fast forward to 2012. The huge Hollywood summer is upon us, with the imminent arrival of Marvel Avengers Assemble next week. It’s a one-way trip to CGI, explodo-vision until August. Even the most casual of moviegoer cannot be unaware of the big hitters this year due to the studios relentless marketing blitz.

Barely a day goes by without a new teaser trailer, new photos, new clever virals…

Two films in particular, the aforementioned Avengers and the Alien prequel, Prometheus, have been taking pre-release marketing to entirely new levels. But they are not alone.

The Total Recall remake released a teaser trailer for its teaser trailer. That’s right a trailer, for a trailer. Of course, it worked. In our new networked age, the trailer trailer had a million hits in about 4 nanoseconds. And this probably demonstrates better than anything the way modern movie marketing works. Steven Spielberg once said of Jaws “the public can smell it faster than we can sell it”. That was certainly the case in 1975, when even the concept of adverts on TV was considered unthinkable for a big budget movie.

Now, ‘they’ sell it so relentlessly, the public can’t smell anything else. But when does it reach critical mass, and the audience says “actually, I’m a bit sick of this now, and the film isn’t even out for another month”?

That’s what happened 19 years ago (holy crap!) when Last Action Hero came out. For a year before its release, Columbia spent vast amounts of money convincing the world that it was “The Big Ticket for ’93”. They even went as far as paying a cool $500,000 to advertise it on a later aborted space shuttle launch. Utterly ridiculous, but the story made all the papers around the world. The problem was, it was months before the film’s release. By the time the film saw the light of day, the public was more taken by a little film about dinosuars that had a marketing budget tiny in comparison.

Not learning the error of their ways, Columbia tried the same trick a few years later, with another supposed flop, Godzilla. The first teaser trailer arrived a full year before release, and they paid for a year long hoarding on a prominent site on an LA freeway. Again, the public got bored before the film even came out.

But in 1989, Guber and Peters got it spot on, with Batman. It’s strange that Tim Burton’s film is often credited (or blamed) like Jaws and Star Wars before it, of creating the mega-marketing we see today. But looking back, it was a clear case of the public hyping it. Batman’s marketing consisted of a hastily prepared (and pretty dreadful) Superbowl teaser trailer, and that wonderful, iconic poster. That was it. Two pieces of marketing material. Everything else (the toys, t-shirts, board games etc) came later. As with Jaws and (initially) Star Wars, it was the hucksters and grey market brigade that were making all the money.

in 2012, the same ideas are being used again. So far there are two Dark Knight Rises trailers, and two fantastic posters. That’s it.

The Marvel Avengers Assemble campaign has perhaps been the most heavily marketed film of all time, when you consider the campaign started back in 2008, with the release of Iron Man. That’s four years of continual marketing for a single film, a campaign which itself has included 5 seperate films. The marketing cost for one movie runs into the billions.

So we see how, probably, the two biggest films of the year, have taken wildly different marketing angles. Both will be massive hits, so does it matter?

It’s difficult to judge on these two examples. Prometheus is another matter.

Even as a prequel to a pre-sold concept, it’s going to be hard selling an R-rated (probably, hopefully) sci-fi art thriller in a summer jammed to the cape with superhero extravaganzas. So they are selling the shit out of it. Every drip feed of info is portrayed as life-changing news. This week saw the release of a spoof advert for the Weyland Corp android. And very good it is too. But the marketing seems to want to play it both ways. It wants to batter you senseless with teases and glimpses, without actually telling you much about the film. It’s a nice idea, but only time will tell how successful it will prove to be.

And lost in this sea is another big budget superhero movie, that’s practially been forgotten about. The Amazing Spiderman, is the latest saga to get the requisite Hollywood reboot treatment. It too has launched a huge marketing effort, but isn’t getting anywhere near the coverage of its rivals. Is the summer curse of Columbia coming back to haunt them?

Or is the public now more savvy at smelling a soulless studio product faster than the studio can sell it?

Remakes Rant Redux Re-Envisioned and Remade

April 1, 2011 7:48 am

remake header 2

A couple of years ago I wrote a barely read piece on here about how Hollywood’s relentless remaking of 70s and 80s horror movies was reaching terminal velocity, with seemingly no original ideas left, and the remakes themselves offering nothing of any worth.

Two years on, nothing has changed, and if anything, things are about to get much, much worse.

A few weeks back the internet nearly exploded with the news that after years of legal wrangling, Warner Bros had finally acquired the remake/sequel/prequel/whatever rights to Blade Runner. “Oh, you nawty Hollywood!” the internet cried “Now, you’re just going to go and ruin it”. Well done, internet, you’ve finally realised that Hollywood doesn’t give a monkey’s what you think.

These days, all Hollywood cares about is opening weekend. What was three days, more generally stretches to five days (with ‘special advance previews’). here is where a film will make about 60-70% of it’s total box office. Yep… one weekend.

Hollywood long ago gave up worrying about whether a film was worth making. These the only question is “Will it make it’s money back in three days?”. If the answer is yes, you get a green light.

Of course there are exceptions to this (Inception being the obvious one, but the Chris Nolan/Batman factor managed to get bums on seats that wouldn’t normally go to see an existential thriller…whatever that is) but 99% of Hollywood product is simply thereto fill gaps in the schedule and make a quick buck, as quickly as possible.

This, I assume, is how films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and (god help us) Last House on the Left got the remake green light.  (Incidentally, I found the remake of Last House on the Left to be even sleazier, probably due to its higher budget and the fact it was Hollywood product rather than a low budget indie film.) They would be modestly budgeted and would earn their keep in the first weekend before poor word of mouth could creep out and ruin it for everyone.

Hollywood isn’t entirely to blame, of course. Modern (young) audiences seem to be averse to anything old. Your average teenager seems to see the name Last House on the Left and thinks “I’ve heard of that, it’s supposed to be gross. But rather than rent the original for a couple of quid, I’ll spend a tenner and go and see a new version which is bound to be grosser”. I don’t understand this logic.

Which brings me to the disturbing events of this week. There were three remake announcements this week. THREE! First the truly shocking news that Miss Marple is to be ‘re-imagined’ as a hot 30-something played by Jennifer Garner (negating the point of Miss Marple is that she’s supposed to be old, and therefore people assume she’s a doddery old gran who will never foil their plan).

Once we’d got over that low blow, Hollywood followed up with it’s swift left hook: Suspiria. Yep, Dario Argento’s timeless classic is to be remade by the guy who made Pineapple Express! (I’m not going to hold that pretty dreadful film against him, as most critics on its release expressed surprise at him taking the job as his earlier work had him down as a talented director. I haven’t seen them so can’t comment. Pineapple Express is a ridiculous stoner action-comedy.)

Suspiria, isn’t my favourite Argento film, but it is a wonderful piece of art. And I think that’s important to note: it’s not a horror film in the usual sense. Yes,  there’s blood, there’s  murder, there’s a group of teenage girls. It doesn’t really have a plot, and the ‘horror’ element of it comes directly from the director and his talent. It’s undoubtedly the work of someone who understands horror. What it’s NOT is the sort of film a group of kids will go and watch for a laugh on a saturday night.

The same goes for Driller Killer. Despite its title, it’s not a slasher film. It’s a film about an artist having a mental breakdown. And it’s being remade by Michael Bay’s mob, Platinum Dunes, who have already destroyed TCM, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.

So, what are these going to end up like? I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that Suspiria is going to be sold to the Twilight crowd. It is, after all, a story about teenage girls at a ballet school which is a front for a coven. Those Twilight fans are going to be a bit older by the time it sees the light of day, and with those books exhausted, they are going to be looking for something else that ‘speaks to them’. No doubt, they will introduce some hunky hero into the mix, and the witches will be played by those slightly older  actresses (think Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore) rather than the awful looking hags from Argento’s film. It might also be a PG-13/12/15 rating.

Driller Killer, no doubt, will go the grubby torture porn route. The original focuses entirely on the title character, Reno. There’s no way the remake will do this. It will introduce a group of annoying teenagers to be menaced. In the original we know hardly anything about most of the victims. The first, a tramp, is only introduced seconds before he’s killed. It doesn’t matter who these people are because the film is about the killer. This will not happen in today’s marketplace. The film will be budgeted too highly for that happen.

If I’m wrong, then fine, I’ll hold my hands up. As I said in my original rant, taking a general swipe at ALL remakes will trip you up when people mention The Thing, The Fly or The Maltese Falcon. And when they are released I will assess them as objectively as possible.

But I will state now, I will not be paying to see them (I’ll wait for LoveFilm or SKY), because I don’t want to contribute to the box office/DVD sales, and thus justify their existence. And this is the only way this will stop.

 

Jade Goody: Cause celebrity

March 23, 2009 3:10 am

The news yesterday of the death of Jade Goody had a rather numbing effect on me. every TV and radio channel was running regular ‘reports’ on it, and the fact it had been so long in coming made it feel like a relief from the past couple of months media bombardment. Of course the worse is yet to come.

Whilst I have no strong feelings either way on whether I ‘like(d)’ Goody or not, I have found myself recently defending her from those who have chosen her illness as an opportunity to have cheap cracks and make crushing judgements on the poor woman. Normally, these people are the same people who always say how they hate reality TV, don’t read tabloids and despise our modern obsession with celebrity. In other words, people who have no idea what they are talking about.

I won’t bore you all with Jade’s tragic life (that’s what Wikipedia is for), but needless to say, it was the kind of upbringing that regularly finds a slot in the top ten paperbacks in Tesco.

What makes Goody such a fascinating character (and let’s be fair, most people can only relate to the Goody character rather than the person), is the way her adult life has existed solely in the media spotlight. From her first appearance on Big Brother, through fame and fortune, Celebrity Big Brother, the descent into hell, attempted atonement on the Indian Big Brother, and the final lazarus like ascent back into the nation’s heart in her final months.

This is the stuff Media Studies courses are based. Is Jade the first media-created celebrity? Probably not, but she’s certainly one of the most interesting cases you could study.

Looking back over archived materials today, it’s revealing how she herself has been treated to vilely by the very same media who today are very quick to criticse the public for their reaction to her. There’s much mention of ‘Kill the Pig’ placards, the record number of complaints about her ‘racist’ behaviour, and how her top-selling perfume (it really was the third most popular celebrity fragrance at one point) was withdrawn after sales plummeted. Yes, the public turned on her.

But, there’s very little about how much the media played into this, if not instigated it. One comment that HAS been mentioned a lot is Dominick Diamond’s comment about how Jade was ‘a slapper with the face of a pig’. This comment appeared in the Daily Star, a paper with the kind of readership who prefer not to wank over pictures of a slightly tubby girl, but would be more than happy to sleep with them after ten pints on a Friday night. How else does a girl acquire the ‘slapper’ label?

This lovely front page was brought to my attention this morning:

jade PFP

(cheers to Waz4444 @ B3ta.com)

This was, of course, the ‘Shilpa Shetty’ incident, where ugly, fat, working class Goody was branded a dirty racist and constantly attacked poor, defenceless, pretty, well-off Shilpa Shetty. This entered the public conciousness so much that for a while the prefix “Reality TV racist” appeared before Jade’s name.

Find me a clip where Jade says something racist. I dare you. Because I know you can’t. The nearest you’ll find is Goody calling her popadom. Given the ‘street talk’ colloqiolisms that infest the ‘standard’ BB, this is small fry. The worst offender in the race row was, unsurprisingly, the one who is now doing very nicely thank you very much… pretty, large breasted Danielle Lloyd. After her fifteen minutes of infamy, she was soon back standing in her knickers for Zoo and Nuts, and has recently been promoting domestic abuse and doing stuff for Comic Relief (interesting, since most people who participate in Comic Relief are, you know, Comics).

The race-row was never about race. Had Shetty been a white actress, the outcome would have been exactly the same. Goody always had a problem with her because she thought Shetty was a lazy, stuck up cow, who was far to used to having flunkies catering to her every whim and couldn’t deal with ‘normal’ people (ie working class). Guess what? I thought exactly the same thing. Oh shit, I’m a racist too!

Shetty was portrayed as a victim, and yes, there was an element of ganging-up going on here. But there’s a common mantra that comes out every time BB is on: if they can’t handle it they shouldn’t go in there in the first place… no one forced them. Fair point.

The media liked to portray Shetty as the Queen of Bollywood. She was their Julia Roberts. We’re constantly told that Bollywood is more successful than Hollywood, so surely getting the Indian Julia Roberts into the house was a major deal. Hey, maybe they could get Julia herself next time. FAT FUCKING CHANCE!

It was spin… far from being the Indian Julia Roberts, Shetty was more like the Indian Sharon Stone. If Shetty was so big and successful, what the hell was she doing appearing in a TV show with an 80s TV star, a long forgotten 70’s pop singer, and the brother of a very famous pop singer? She was just as desperate to save her career as everyone else in there… including Jade.

But, i’ve gone off the rails a bit here.

The next week, I guarantee someone will say to you that “thank christ that’s all over, I never liked her anyway”. And whilst I’m sure once the funeral is out of the way, the spin will turn back against her. The broadsheets and columnists will be respectful for about a week, before the claws come out again and we get lots of “Why are we mourning this woman who was famous for nothing?” type affairs.

What these people forget is that for a HUGE amount of the population, Jade gave them someone they could root for, someone to believe in, because she was just like them. If she can do it, why can’t I?

And yes, you can argue that this has led to our ‘fame hungry’ culture we have now. But, guess what, the media are complicit in that too. If they weren’t they wouldn’t, seemingly, devote half their airtime and column inches to talking about Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor.

Because if anyone’s going to miss Jade, apart from her poor family, it’s the media.

Remakes rant…

February 13, 2009 8:13 am

F13 header

Hooray! It’s Friday the 13th and that can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s the most pointless horror remake since… er… the last one, as Friday the 13th Redux hits screens to a chorus of shrugs from anyone over the age of 15.

This particular remake has irked me more than I thought it would. Whilst Rob Zombie’s ‘re-imagining’ of Halloween was completely futile, at least he cast Malcolm McDowell as Loomis (as fine a stand-in for Donald Pleasance as you could wish for), and at least Zombie knows his horror movies, even if I don’t particularly like what he does.

Friday the 13th Redux, by comparison, is pure studio money-grabbing bullshit. We know this because Paramount Pictures are having a piece of the pie. For those who don’t know, the studio giant sold most of its interest in Jason Vorhees following the less-than-stellar box office for F13 Part 8: Jason Takes Vancouver… sorry, Manhattan.

But when a ‘re-envisioning’ (where do they get these fucked up phrases from?) was mooted, suddenly Paramount want back in. And history shows us the studios only touch this kind of kind if they think there’s a fast buck in it.

Saying you hate remakes it a dangerous business. Some smartarse will always point out several brilliant films that you like that are remakes. I have fallen into this trap many times as John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time faves. Factor in Cronenberg’s The Fly, Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (or for that matter North By NorthWest) and the list starts to look quite formidable. Christ, even the Bogart version of The Maltese Falcon was a remake.

So I think the issue isn’t remakes, per se, more the motives behind them. If a craftsman like Carpenter or Hitchcock takes on a project, they are doing it because they love the project and want to do justice to it (we’ll here ignore the Cohen Brothers’ Ladykillers, or Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man… please god, let me ignore that).

But what’s happening now is, seemingly, every horror film of the 70s and early 80s is being dredged up and handed over to anyone who’s directed a music video.

Did the world really need a new version of Prom Night? They completly re-wrote the plot, so why call it Prom Night? (The same observation could be made of The Italian Job, a fairly entertaining film in its own right, so why saddle it with a title garaunteed to make any right thinking Brit want to kick Paramount Pictures in the teeth?)

Black Christmas was particularly irksome. Barely known outside horror circles, this 1974 classic was probably as important in the conception of the slasher film as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. The remake rewrote the story… but kept, almost shot-for-shot, the trademark murder scenes!

What most of the recent remakes seem to get wrong is in understanding what made these films popular in the first place. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not popular because of it’s gore (because their wasn’t any), it was popular because of it’s mood. The remake, whilst as grim, had none of the icky feeling of the original. It substituted atmosphere for severed limbs… a bit like the ill-fated original sequel (if that makes sense…!).

And that’s another thing. We’re now at the stage where we have competeing franchises of the same thing! Night of the Living Dead was always George Romero’s baby. Now his own sequels have to compete with sequels of the remake, which was released a decade before the current invasion of orror remakes. We had the confusing, for the average movie-goer, situation a few years back where within the space of a couple of weeks there was Land of the Dead (Romero’s official fourth ‘Dead’ film), the Dawn of the Dead remake and the wonderful Shaun of the Dead, which many Americans before its release, dismissed as a cheap knock off spoof of the Dawn of the Dead remake. A spoof of a remake… what fresh lunacy is this? Well, that’s happening too thanks to those ‘hilarious’ “Movie” movies (Epic Movie, Superhero Movie etc which I’m not even going to link to as I don’t want to give them anymore oxygen than they have already).

And so to Friday the 13th Redux, at last.

I’m going to assume if you’ve got this far that you’ve seen at least one F13 film (and if you only see one, make it part 2 or 4, and save yourself a lot of hassle), so I’ll probably be in full spoiler mode.

Friday the 13th Redux features Jason as the killer, he has a hockey mask, and he’s a grown man. None of these things happen in F13. The writers claim to have condensed the stories of the first three films (they have stories?) into a new re-imagining of the series. They haven’t. They’ve written a fucking sequel, that changes the origin story.

What’s wrong with making a sequel? Why not make this F13 part 12? Probably because that would sound ridiculous.

Well, guess what? Remaking F13 and changing the story is even more fucking ridiculous!

Think this is bad enough.

Rumours abound about The Evil Dead (which could lead to competing franchises again), The Thing, Driller Killer, Suspiria (please god no) and even Cannibal Holocaust(!).

All of these will be dreadful and worse than the original (except possibly Driller Killer which is extremely dull).

Baftas 2009

February 9, 2009 7:44 am

If there’s one thing the British Film Industry is fantastic at, it’s toadying up to Hollywood. There’s very few actors writers or directors, who won’t bugger off to Los Angeles at the first sniff of blockbuster supporting role, or the chance to have their dream project re-shaped beyond all recognition to fit a demographic whilst pocketing a huge wodge (I make an exception for craftspeople because they are paid a fraction of the cost of ‘the talent’ and by necessity have to go where the money is).

And last night saw the annual celebration of our ‘special relationship': The Baftas.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Baftas. Years ago I despised its insularity and refusal to recognise popular film, unless it was British. Now I despise it’s willingness to suck up to Hollywood’s great and good in an attempt to feel important, which, quite frankly, it isn’t. It’s a rather sad exercise in pretending it’s part of the Hollywood machine, whilst desperately trying to retain it’s own identity. And as a result it ends up falling between two stools and looking rather foolish.

Until a few years back the Baftas were a little bit awkward. It operated very strict rules regarding which films could qualify, insisting on a ‘proper’ release and a cut off point of release of December 31st.

This led to the, seemingly, embarrassing situation where Oscar would be awarding those films released in the month or two before the awards, whilst Bafta would invariably be bestowing honours on last years Oscar winners (or in the case of Silence of the Lambs, next years)

This made it very difficult for Bafta to attract top (Hollywood) stars, as they would be there promoting films that were anything up to a year old, and therefore, in business terms, no longer worthy of their attention.

In addition to this, the Baftas were usually scheduled a week or two AFTER the Oscars. Again, the stars, by this point would consider their ‘press-the-flesh duties finished until the awards season started up again in November. The point of attending award ceremonies is to get your face out there, promote the film and maybe take home a paperweight. By the time Bafta came around the films they were promoting were all but done at the box office, and they had no other awards to promote themselves for.

This led to a very bizarre ceremony a few years back, where Bafta hosted TWO shows simultaneously, one in London, for British winners, and one in LA for those American stars who deemed London unworthy of their time. It was dreadful.

The decision in 2000 to shift it forward in the calendar resulted in more Hollywood stars shipping over in a desperate bid to market themselves while the Oscar voting was still ongoing. It also, rather more controversially, set in motion a change in Bafta rules which led to the rather embarrassing situation last night, where all the Best Film nominees had only been released in the past five weeks.

But wait! Bafta rules state, to be eligible a film must have been released in the previous calendar year? I quote from Bafta’s website “Films that open between 1 January and 6 February 2009 inclusive may be ‘qualified’ by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Thursday 18 December 2008.”

So, the best film of 2008, is actually one which had one screening late in the year, but was only released to the public in 2009. This is ONLY there so that Bafta can be seen to be honouring the same films as its American counterpart, and to attract Hollywood A-listers who may be in town promoting their Oscar-baiting wares (this year, for instance, Brad Pitt was in town promoting Benjamin Button, which had been on release for a whole THREE DAYS before the ceremony at which it walked off with three awards, but was nowhere to be seen when the nominations were announced).

Quite simply, it makes us look ridiculous. The Oscars have always been ridiculous (as most award ceremonies are) because it’s never really been about the ‘Best’ movies or the ‘best’ performances. It’s always been about politics, public feeling (how else do you explain the feel-good Chicago taking home Best Picture at the first post 9-11 awards?) and celebrating itself.

The Baftas have become nothing more than yet another Oscar barometer, alongside the Golden Globes, and the various Screen Guilds seemingly in every major city in the USA.

No other international film awards chase Hollywood acceptance as much as we do.

Maybe the case for the defence is we need American dollars at Pinewood/Shepperton (bestowed an award last night) to keep out industry going. But the French and Germans don’t have the facilities and craftspeople that we do (sor so we are constantly told) but their film industries are very healthy, and in fact actively repel American colonialism in their cinemas (there’s an interesting article here, which argues that this is a bad thing, but it’s a fascinating read).

Bafta needs to grow some balls, frankly. It needs to reinstate the 31st December deadline, and insist on a minimum number of screens to qualify as a ‘release'; it needs to stop trying to anticipate what Uncle Oscar is going to do, and give awards to those it genuinely believes to be worthy winners; but by the same token it needs to be less back-slappingly pleased with itself. If it wants to reward British films, then make it a British films only awards, but if it wants to be seen as a fair and open awards, it needs to stop simply aping the Americans at their own game.

If Brad Pitt doesn’t want to come, then fuck him. What’s the point anyway? You only want him there because the BBC will give up the lucrative rights if there isn’t enough stars. And what do you do when they stars are there? You ask Sharon Stone and Goldie Hawn to give out awards!

Oscar Nominations 2009

January 23, 2009 3:17 am

oscar

 It must be January,because the cinemas are filled with ‘worthy’ films. Biopics of people who made the front page, once, in 1976; real life stories that normally end up in TV movies on Channel 5 on a wet Tuesday afternoon; actors ‘playing against type'; and Will Bloody Smith in a bloody black bloody suit looking at me all smug and mysterious.

Yes, Oscar season arrives with all the attendant banality that goes with it, namely, the films.

Until a few years back, I loved the Oscars. It was something about all that glamour, shininess and the fact you had to stay up all night to watch it. Legends would be honoured, and occassionally get overlooked in favour of saying ‘well done’ to a rookie (Fact: Martin Scorcese lost out on Best Director Oscars TWICE to actors directing their first films, Robert Redford and Kevin Costner… think on).

But now, rather than being a celebration of the best Hollywood (and occassionaly Britain; those damn foreigners can have their own category) has to offer, it is now just a love-in for all those heartfelt dramas, true-life tales, and costume epics that appear in the last two months of the year.

Of this years Best Picture nominations, only two, Slumdog Millionaire and The Reader, were on release in Britain at the time the nominations were announce, and they both came out this month. Of the others, Milk and Frost/Nixon are both out today, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button isn’t out until February.

“Aaaah”, I hear you exclaim, “But this is for films released in America last year”.

Indeed. To qualify for the Oscars, a film needs only a ‘limited’ release in 2008. As FOUR of the five films did. Only The Curious Case of Benjamin Button had a full release. A limited release can consist of just ONE public showing normally either in New York or LA. So at the time of the nominations probably about 200 people have seen each of the nominated films. Hardly worthy of best film of the year, is it?

Another aspect of the process is the use of ‘screeners’. These used to be specially arranged screenings of films for voters, who, as they all work in the industry, are normally two busy to have a spare evening to go to the cinema. Or they just can’t be arsed to see a pretty actress wearing shock-horror prosthetics.

These days, the ‘screener’ has been superseeded by free DVDs and (it wouldn’t surprise me) downloads. So the people voting haven’t even made the effort to actually go and watch the films. The films come to them.

Now, call me picky, but surely if a film is any good people will WANT to see it, rather than be COERCED into seeing it? (This is the point where I remember that good films do get overlooked… but it doesn’t fit my argument so I’m going to ignore it)

I remember years ago, when MOVIES got nominated. You remember ‘movies’? Films that are entertaining and take you away from the real world for a couple of hours?

Just going back a couple of decades, consider that these films got nominated for Best Picture: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fatal Attraction (!), The Fugitive, The Full Monty.

You can argue the toss about their individual merits, but at least they were films that were wildly popular and to this day are still loved. (if you’re interested they were beaten by: Annie Hall, Chariots of Fire, The Last Emperor, Unforgiven and Titanic…)

Titanic and Lord of the Rings are probably the only populist winners in the past thirty years. And both were wrong.Titanic is a superb spectacle wrapped inside a dreary costume drama, and LOTR: The Return of the King (the final part, the one that actually won the Oscar) was the worst of the three films.

Some classic films never even got nominated. Off the top of head there’s Seven and Heat which both qualified for the 1996 awards. Then there’s groundbreakers like The Matrix. Yes, now it’s become a bit of a cliched dud of a series, but the original film was like nothing that had been seen before. I remember reading an interview with William Friedkin saying he thought it should have won the Oscar for Best Picture. It wasn’t even nominated (and he should know having won for French Connection and being nominated for The Exorcist.. The Exorcist! Can you imagine a horror movie getting a Best Picture nomination these days, even if they DID make decent ones?)

At the end of the day, I shall not be popping Pro-plus with Red Bull chasers to watch it this year. There is no point.

I haven’t seen any of the main contenders, and frankly, bar Frost/Nixon, I couldn’t give a toss about any of them either. So how can I get excited about it?

I’d like to see Robert Downey Jnr win in Best Supporting Actor for Tropic Thunder, but that’s had heath Ledger’s name engraved on it since last March; I’d like In Bruges to win Best Original Screenplay just because it contains so much swearing, I’d love to know what clip they’re going show.

But, for the record, here’s what I think will happen:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Danny Boyle

Best Actor: Frank Langella

Best Actress: Kate Winslet (finally)

Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

Supporting Actress: Not a fucking scooby since Marisa Tomei is the only one I’ve heard of, and she’s already got one

Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Original Screenplay: Happy-Go-Lucky

There… you don’t need to watch it now, either.

The Dull Hunter

January 19, 2009 4:18 am

dull films header

 “You know, most of these movies that win
a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand them…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books.
Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that’s a movie. Rio Bravo, that’s a movie.
And Coming Home in a Body Bag, that was a fuckin’ movie.”

Clarence in True Romance

 I thought on Clarence’s diatribe this past week as I had two experiences with those films that you are ‘suppossed’ to like but you actually find quite dull. When you explain to people that you don’t ‘get’ these films they launch into great pre-prepared speeches about ‘substance’, ‘subtext’ and ‘submarines’ (if you’re discussing Das Boot).

Now I like my fair share of movies that people wouldn’t be seen dead even looking up on their EPGs, but generally these are films that most right-thinking people don’t even know exist.

The films I’m talking about here, are those that are lauded by critica, film-makers and people with pointy beards you see nursing a coffee for four hours in the BFI coffee shop. (It is a rule that you only ever buy one coffee in there, and maybe a muffin to share, no matter how long you may be there for.)

Instance number one occurred on Wednesday, when a friend was very excited about seeing Blade Runner at the IMAX. This sounds like a great idea. Blade Runner is one of the most visually stunning films ever made, so seeing it projected on the moon-sized IMAX screen would surely be a sight to behold.

Then I remembered that Blade Runner is also very, very dull.

It’s a film I submit myself to about once a year, determined that this time I will ‘watch it properly’ and come to realise why it is so enthusiastically supported by just about everyone. I normally make it to Sean Young’s ‘replicant test’ before I’m asleep.

Only twice have I managed the whole thing: once as a wide-eyed 14 year old, keen to behold this cinematic masterpiece; and again when the Director’s Cut was released in 1992. I preferred the original, which is a kin to saying not only did I rape your disabled grandmother, but I really, really enjoyed it. In fact I might do it again this week.

This movie just makes people go insane. I would be tempted to put it down to sci-fi geekery, and Blade Runner attracts more of these conspiratorial types than most. In fact on finishing this, I fully expect to recieve death threats, be accussed of being an FBI stooge trying to dismantle the world economy and have my inbox stuffed with cryptic l33t speak which will leave me no closer to caring whether Harrison Ford is a robot or not. For the record I think he is, but I think there are far more important things to worry about. Like should I cut my toenails or give them another couple of days.

The group of friends I was with on Wednesday were stunned when I proclaimed myself less than a fan.

“It looks great”, I said, “and if there’s a DVD option to watch it with the just the soundtrack, I would love that. But I just find it incredibly dull.”

“Well, I can see what you’re saying , but you’re wrong.”

This from a friend, who I’d assumed was normal. No discussion, no exchange of ideas. I’m wrong.

But then he tripped himself up.

“Yeah, the story’s not great, but it’s about the visuals and the mood.”

Which sort of proved my point for me. Thanks mate.

The case for the prosecution next presents Exhibit #B: Vertigo.

One of the most celebrated thrillers of all time, held up as an example of Hitchcock’s genius, and regularly voted one of the greatest films of all time… it’s also incredibly dull.

Now I love Hitch. Without a doubt probably the finest film directors that has ever graced the planet. Rear Window, North by Northwest and Frenzy are three of my all-time favourites. So it really pains me to say that I find one of his films so tedious that I find myself wishing it would finish so I could watch something better, like Chucklevision. Or the testcard.

If you’ve never seen Vertigo I should warn you that what follows may spoil the film for you. But then if you ever had any intention of watching it, and haven’t by now, then you probably couldn’t care less anyway.

James Stewart is a detective who’s had to retire from the force because he suffers from vertigo (dum dum dum!). A college friend he hasn’t spoken to for years wants him to follow his wife who he thinks is possessed (!). Stewart and the wife fall in love, but she plummets to her death from a bell tower in a nunnery (!).

A year later, Stewart falls for a woman who reminds him of the dead wife, and starts an obsessive desire to mould her in the wife’s image. Wouldn’t you know it, it is in fact the same woman! She wasn’t actually the bloke’s wife at all. She was a in fact apaid to pretend she was bloke’s wife, while bloke knocked off the real wife. And she didn’t plummet to her death, it was a very unconvincing dummy. But since Stewart was paralysed with fear halfway up the bell tower he was a bit pre-occupied to notice (though quite how the nuns who rush to the body fail to notice is never explained).

It all ends with a happy confession and the imposter falling to her death from the same bell tower (why do they keep letting him take women up there?) when she mistakes a nun for a ghost. Easy mistake to make I suppose.

This takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, but feels like double that.

Vertigo was a bit of a flop at the time of its release, and I can understand why. Aside from its intermniable running time, Stewart is very unlikable. In fact, in the scenes where he is making over Kim Novak v2.0, far from being a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ montage, it could in fact be scored quite easily with some of the more disturbing Mr Bungle or Nick Cave tracks. Stewart is downright violent in his desire to dress his new girlfriend exactly the same way as his dead ex.

But that’s not why I dislike the film (seeing someone like cuddly James Stewart playing an absolute bastard is always something of a joy). It’s the fact that it’s so loudly shouted from the rooftops that this is a classic is what really grates.

And the excuses given leave me cold too.

It was revolutionary. By this I assume the vertigo-vision shots. Yes, very clever, well done. They take up at most 10 seconds of the running time.

Jimmy’s dream sequence. Yes, done much better in Spellbound.

It’s Hitch’s most personal film. Yeeeeesss… Hitch had a thing for icy blondes. I would never have guessed that from watching his other films. Tippi Hedren had such an easy ride The Birds and Marnie, didn’t she.

And, as with Blade Runner, these feel like excuses and apologies rather than reasons.  It’s the old ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ line. If I find a film boring then saying “oh, but check out that shot in the bell tower” isn’t going to convince me otherwise. A brief 2 seconds of genius do not make up for the other 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds being among the most disappointing of Hitch’s ouvre.

Vertigo is a film that has gained acclaim over the years, rather than achieving it instantly. Other films have done this in the past few decades, many of which are among my faves like Peeping Tom and The Wicker Man. Not to mention Hitch’s Frenzy.

But these films don’t need excuses made for them. Watching them is enough to realise that they are great films that were cruelly ignored, or worse, when they were released.

With Vertigo, there is this constant explanation for why it’s so highly regarded. This shouldn’t be neccessary. A film should live or die by itself.

As I said, Peeping Tom may have been ‘saved’ by people like Martin Scorcese, but he didn’t write long essays about why it’s so wonderful. he simply helped get it rereleased so people could judge for themselves.

If I want to know about Hitch’s OCD, or his obsession with blondes, I’ll read a book about it. If I want to watch an entertaining thriller I’ll watch Rear Window.

I should say, I’m not completely innocent of the whole ‘how can you not love this film’ scam. The thing is, the film’s I endorse, are not those that end up on the BFI list, or in Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies of all Time.

Two of my favourite directors, the Davids Cronenberg and Lynch, regularly make films that leave audiences aghast in disbelief. For me, the difference is, films like Videodrome, Eraserhead, and more recently, Mulholland Drive, may be uncomfortable, obtuse viewing, but they are rarely, if ever, dull. (On finishing Mulholland Drive, Lady Scaramanga, no slave to dull films, turned to me and said “I really enjoyed that, but I’ve no idea why!”)

Anyone who has seen Eraserhead will never forget that experience. They may not have a clue what’s going, or what the whole thing’s is about, but it will be burned into your brain.

I can’t even remember if James Stewart already had vertigo, or if he developed it as a result of seeing the plod fall off the roof.

Everyone has their favourite films. And everyone has their favourite films when they are trying to impress someone. Don’t bother. Have the nerve to stand by your conviction and demand to be entertained rather than have your beard stroked.

 And I never even got started on The Deer Hunter