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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.


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…

Die Another Day (2002)

May 25, 2012 7:02 am

Die Another Day poster

With all the 2012 shenanigans going on this year and Britain being the focus of the world for everyone (except us miserable Brits who are refusing to get caught up in the swirl of Union Jack clad mayhem we are being subjected to) it seems only fitting that the greatest living fictional Brit is also celebrating a jubilee this year. Yes, it’s 50 years since everyone’s favourite right-wing, gun-toting psychopath killed his first bad guy on screen, for Queen and country. And probably cos he quite enjoys killing people a bit too much.

The release this week of the first Skyfall trailer seems to have made everyone forget how dreadful Quantum of Solace was and focus instead on how the series has been rejuvenated by the casting of Daniel Craig, and the darker, more sombre tone. Sadly, ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of Bond’s first on-screen shag, things were a little different.

Pierce Brosnan was being wildly credited with reviving the sexist, misogynist dinosaur for a new audience. Out were Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow, Timothy Dalton’s obvious disdain for a role beneath his abilities, and Sean Connery’s wigs. In came a confident swagger, better supporting actors and bigger action. And after three hugely successful films of variable quality it was decided for the big 4-0, they would go for broke on a thoroughly schizophrenic adventure which would combine a tough revenge thriller, of a kind hard core Fleming fans wanted, and high octane thrills for the mass audience.

What we got was Moonraker 2.

It’s been a long time since I last saw Die Another Day. I caught some of it on ITV a few months back and turned it off as soon as the first ad break appeared (I think it was before the opening titles), so I came back to it having largely forgotten huge chunks of it. But it was just as dreadful as I remembered it being.

If you can’t remember Die Another Day, you’re very lucky. So I’ll refresh your brain. It’s the one with the invisible car. Yes, that got through the committee script process: an invisible car. That pretty much sets the tone for everything else in the film.

Halle Berry plays another ‘female Bond’ who is as talented, resourceful and dangerous as him, but still needs to be rescued four times throughout the film. Toby Stephens is the sneering villain (and a wonderful sneer it is too) called Gustav despite the fact he’s supposed to be from Argentina (but isn’t really). Rosamund Pike is the far more attractive, and more interesting secondary female, and is consequently given little to do. She may be a spy, or she may be working for Gustav. She changes her mind everytime the plot starts to sag.

Bond is banged up in North Korea after killing a General. He’s busted within seconds of landing his helicopter despite pretending to be someone else. This is not the last time you’ll think “Actually, Bond is a bit of shit spy”.

14 months of torture later (over which plays Madonna’s entry for the ‘Worst Bond Theme Ever’ competition. It’s not clear if that’s part of the torture.), he’s still wisecracking with the father of the general he killed, but finds himself traded for the henchman Zao, a character so dull they have to imbed diamonds in his face to make him appear more interesting. MI6 think Bond has cracked and is leaking secrets, so naturally, they let him escape from a high security boat in Hong Kong harbour, so he can find out what’s really going on.

Much tedium ensues as Bond goes to Cuba, shags Halle Berry, blows some stuff up, has a sword fight with Gustav (one of the better scenes in the film, despite Madonna’s contractually obligated pointless cameo) before the villain invites him to Iceland for the demonstration of his diamond encrusted space laser. You know, just like the one Blofeld had in Diamonds are Forever.

Cyril Sneer

Once we get to Iceland things go from bad to worse. We meet ANOTHER henchman called… dear, lord… Mr Kil (sic).  There’s also a weasley electronics nerd who talks like Peter Lorre, who’s designing a Robocop style suit for Gustav to control his space laser.

The villain’s lair will here be played by a palace made entirely of ice (nice idea, based on a real hotel in Scandeweigia somewhere), which of course will have to be destroyed. Nice twist is that the villain blows it up himself in an attempt to drown Halle Berry. Odd this, as she’s trapped in a room made of ice that’s melting. Surely, it can’t be that hard to escape from? And why not just blast her directly with your space laser, instead of s-l-o-w-l-y melting the building?

Meanwhile Bond is trying to escape bad guys (by running away, like a girl) by stealing Gustav’s ice riding thing (it looks like a canoe with skis), and ends up ice surfing into the worst CGI ever seen in a $150 million movie.

Horace Goes Skiing

Bond then remembers he hasn’t driven his new car yet, so goes back to the ice palace and takes on Zao, who himself has a souped-up, gadget-laden motor. Nice, if pointless, idea, but it results in one of the dullest car chases in the series since they just keep blowing each other’s missiles up. It’s a shame, as the logistics for staging the sequence of a car chase on a frozen lake, were huge. Sadly, most of the good work is lost thanks to Tony Scott and Michael Bay editor, Christian Wagner. Ooh, sped up then slowed down car chases… exciting. The sequence does feature one of the series best ever moments though, when Bond uses the ejector seat to flip his car the right way up after being hit by a rocket.

Then there’s a ridiculous climax as our heroes stowaway on a big plane, while Gustav space lasers the demilitarised zone between the Koreas, so the North can invade the South. People get sucked out of the plane, obviously and Halle Berry calls Rosamund Pike a bitch. Which isn’t very nice.

And then we get that bloody awful Madonna theme song in an even worse, bloody awful remix version.

END. Thank god.

There’s so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to start. The Moore-isms are back with a vengeance, but Brosnan just doesn’t convince, and comes across as a sleazy old man (particularly his continual advances to the excellent Pike who was, literally, half his age). The scene where he flirts with Hale Berry on their first meeting, is frankly the worst dialogue that has ever appeared in a Bond movie (with the possible exception of Moore’s ad-libbed “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks” to his Indian contact in Octopussy).

And Berry, is no better, possibly even worse. It’s hard to imagine this is the same woman who won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball when she was making this. Every line she delivers tumbles from her gob, with her tongue visibly in her cheek. It’s like she knows it’s complete crap, but at least she’s having fun making it. I think it’s a good example of why Bond movies are normally better with lesser known, better actors, than with BIG NAME stars (with the exception Christopher Walken). Did anyone really go to see Die Another Day just because Halle Berry was in it? Come to think of it, has anyone EVER gone to see a film just because Halle Berry was in it? They certainly didn’t go and see Catwoman. Miaow.

"How do you know I'm good?", asked Halle. "You're not, love", replied the audience

Stephens has fun as Gustav.  Many criticised his rather broad performance, and sneer, but as he’s created a new personality for himself, he clearly says he based it on Bond. It justifies all the perceived awfulness, as he’s just being Brosnan as a bad guy.

Judi Dench is her usual flawless self, facing off against an angry Bond AND Mr Blond (Michael Madsen was considered for a recurring character but it never happened. Sadly, she doesn’t slap Bond down when he snaps “Let me get on with my job”, which in the earlier films she most certainly would have.

And Rosamund Pike is excellent, considering this was her first film. She desperately tries to make Miranda Frost an interesting character, despite the script. And her contempt for Bond is as marvelous as Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball.

A gratuitous picture of Rosamund Pike

It’s just an absolute mess. It’s like one of the major studios, with big American producers, had decided to make a rival Bond movie and got everything wrong (just like Casino Royale ’67 and Never Say Never Again). Poor CGI is tossed around, unforgivable in a series which has always prided itself on real stunts, and high quality craftsmanship in its model work. Even in this day and age, for some reason, Bond movies have never been able to master back projection. Some of the shots are as bad as the legendary Jaws on a cable car from Moonraker, which did feature real stuntmen hanging off a cable car on Sugar Loaf mountain WITHOUT a safety cable. I doubt very much a stuntmen went anywhere a glacier for the ice-surfing scene.

The dialogue is so pun heavy it starts to resemble a Carry On film, or worse, a Confessions film. None of the characters are particularly interesting, they are all just archetypes: female Bond, villainous turncoat, villain, henchman, mad doctor, cannon fodder, singer who wants to be in the film…

The excuses for its overindulgence were that it was supposed to be a celebration: 40 years, obviously, but also it was the 20th (official) film. So the film is peppered with references to all the other films in the series, some obvious, some more cryptic. What this does though, is lift you out of the film, and kills any momentum or tension it may have generated. How can you stay involved with something that every 5 minutes is nudging you going “Look, did you see that? Look it’s the jetpack from Thunderball. Look it’s the Union jack parachute. look Gustav nearly said ‘Diamonds are Forever’, but then didn’t. Aren’t we so clever?”

No, you’re not clever. You’re annoying. It feels at times like one of those awful Dr Who specials for Children in Need. I expect Terry Wogan to appear throwing a metal rimmed hat, or Graham Norton to menace Brosnan with a metal arm. Actually, either of those would have been preferable to Bond fighting Mr Kil surrounded by killer lasers (still, with the fricking lasers?).

You can make a case for several Bond movies being the worst in the series, but they all have something to redeem them. Except this one.

Die Another Day was the last DVD to leave its cellophane straight jacket in my DVD box set. I suspect when the Bluray box arrives, it will remain there forever.

 

 

Ants! (aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor) (1977)

May 22, 2012 2:30 am

It’s funny the things that scare kids. As a nipper growing up in the halcyon days of the video nasty I was privy to all manner of eye gouging, limb severing and demonic possession you could shake a bloody stump at. Yet I very rarely had nightmares watching the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters or the Evil Dead. My nightmares were much more mundane, caused by the faceless man in Sapphire and Steel, Julian Glover ripping his face off to reveal his true alien identity in Dr Who, and, most terrifying of all, The Incredible Hulk. Whilst kids the country over would propel themselves behind the sofa at the mere cry of “Exterminate”, I was cowering behind cushions hoping no one was going to upset that nice Dr Banner this week. At least I would get the warning of Bill Bixby’s green contact lenses.

One set of films did give me the willies, but probably because the threat seemed a tad more real and immediate than that posed by the Caribbean undead or hockey masked psychos: revenge of nature movies.

Whilst they had been a staple of cinema for decades, the 70s brought a whole slew of them, mainly thanks to the success of Jaws. All manner of cuddly (and not so cuddly) critters were wheeled out as the next big threat to humanity. Whilst cinema generally went big (Grizzly, Orca, the wonderful Alligator, um… The Giant Spider Invasion), US TV wanted in on the act too.

Their budgets obviously wouldn’t stretch to ocean filming, or expensive locations for exotic wild animals. So their threats were generally more mundane.

Enter Guerdon Trueblood, a TV movie veteran who managed to turn out FOUR creepy crawly based creature features in a year: The Savage Bees (and a sequel Terror Out of the Sky), Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo and Ants! (aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor).

These seemed to play every week on UK TV in my youth, and I loved them all, even though they would all give me sleepless nights (and ruin sunny days, particularly the day I fell in an ants nest, convinced they were going to eat me alive).

It’s interesting how these stand up pretty well today (and compared to the mega-budgeted The Swarm, The Savage Bees is Oscar-worthy) … except Ants.

An ant yesterday

A group of TV regulars (Robert Foxworth, Barry van Dyke, Suzanne Somers) and out of work B-movie plodders (Bernie Casey, Lynda Day George) find themselves trapped in a hotel, beseiged by killer ants, driven psycho nuts by pesticides.

George runs the titular Lakewood Manor with her wheelchair bound mother (30’s screen legend, Myrna Loy). She’s also having it away with gruff Foxworth, foreman of the building site next door. He’s rather perturbed when two of his men end up in hospital, one later dying, after being buried in a hole. But they didn’t suffocate as expected. Instead they suffered severe nerve trauma, probably as the result of a venomous toxin.

(I should point out here, the film has a slapdash attitude to the difference between venom and poison, using both terms with gay abandon, even from the gob of a so-called expert who talks about poisonous ants, as opposed to venomous ants.)

This 'expert' doesn't know the difference between venom and poison

Of course the hotel is ..er… half full of soap opera characters, and mute extras. There’s the sleazy businessman, and his mistress, who want to buy the hotel and turn it into a casino; there’s the single mum and her irritating son; and there’s a teenage runaway who falls for the pool attendant/desk clerk/handyman (he basically does everything).

The first half of the film very tediously takes us through all these interweaving ‘stories’, occasionally cutting to the hotel kitchen, to show the ants very very slowly making their way up the sink, whilst a jolly fat chef endlessly mixes something in a bowl.

The kid gets in next, and to be fair, it was an accident waiting to happen, what with him scrabbling around in the bins in just his swimming trunks. It’s amazing the ants got him before he severed his achilles tendon on a broken bottle. His leap into the pool (to cries of “Help, he can’t swim!”) to try and rid himself of the ants, is of course witnessed by our hero, Foxworth, who happens to be there snogging the missus. Taking charge, and ordering around the lifeguard, even though he doesn’t actually work there, he starts to wonder what’s going on.

When Bad Movies Attack!

He and buddy Bernie Casey go to investigate the hole where his men were hospitalised. Within a few seconds, Casey is spasming and swatting imaginary ants from his trousers.

At the same time, jolly chef has been got. Serves him right really for wearing open toed sandals in a food preparation area. Strangely, the health inspector isn’t bothered by that, and instead closes the hotel on the grounds that the kitchen must be infected with a virus. Obviously.

This is kick up the arse the film needs.

The extras have all been evacuated, but before our top billed stars can leave, they find themselves trapped by now a horde of ants which are slowly… very slowly, making their way inside!

Yes, this is the half way point. So you can probably guess just how tedious the build up to this has been. Thankfully the second half is so deliriously wacky and unintentionally hilarious you can almost forgive the first turgid 45 minutes.

A real actor arrives, in the shape of Brian Dennehy as a fire chief who shouts a lot and has a magic hi vis jacket which appears and disappears at regular intervals.

Brian Dennehy calls his agent

For some reason each attempt to rescue the remaining stars is only used to rescue one of them. A fire ladder is used for one, but then the truck drives away, happily honking his horn as he goes, with no explanation of why he left. A helicopter is utilised until they realise the updraft is spreading the ants all over the crowd of gawping extras who have now surrounded the hotel.

But the true highlight comes when just three survivors are left. It’s going to take half an hour to get some protective hazmat suits to them, but the ants are closing in fast. Well, not exactly fast, but … slow. Their best bet is not to move. And not breath on the ants.

This results in… well see for yourself. Any description would not do this scene the bad movie justice it deserves.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, mainly because I’m not entirely sure what happens. It’s not entirely clear if they manage to defeat the ants or not.

At the end of the day Ants is a cheap, knock-off TV movie. Thanks mainly to the interesting low-rent cast, it’s more watchable than the dreadful Empire of the Ants, and more accommodating than the widely praised, but desperately dull, Phase 4. It’ll pass the time on a wet sunday afternoon, but really it’s only recommended if you want to see Barry van Dyke fall into a digger, a naked woman covered in Ants, or you’re a Brian Dennehy completist (hey, you never know, they could exist).

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?

Mongolian Death Worm (2010)

January 13, 2012 3:28 am
Mongolian Death Worm
NOT Tremors 5… no… it’s not

It’s currently a great time to be a fan of exploitation trash. Or perhaps not. Ever since MegaShark v Giant Octopus a couple of years back, the world of zero-budget straight-to-video movie making (and I use that phrase in the loosest possible sense) has decided that the best way to make a quick buck is to replicate the formula of that near-legendary exercise in camp escapism. The only problem is none of the people involved in making these films has any talent whatsoever, so the only reason to watch them is for ‘oh-so-ironic’ kitsch entertainment. Sometimes even that isn’t enough to maintain the interest. Whereas the entertainment value of the Roger Corman-produced Sharktopus is increased through the consumption of alcohol, in the case of Mongolian Death Worm, that self-same alcohol will probably result in an early night.

Things start the way these things always start, with a caption explaining that the action is not in fact taking place in what suspiciously like somewhere in the American desert, but is in fact somewhere mildly exotic. In this case we are ‘in’ Mongolia.

At an oil refinery, there’s some digging going on. Only it becomes apparent from the exchange of sneers and threats that this digging is not strictly legal. We’re not told why, but it’s clear we are being introduced to a villain, Patrick, and a reluctant sidekick. We know he’s reluctant because he looks a bit ethnic and speaks of ‘his people’. He’s dead before the credits are finished, eaten by a huge CGI worm which looks suspiciously like a Graboid from Tremors.

The next 20 odd minutes are taken up introducing the bulk of the cast. Daniel is a scoundrel treasure hunter, on the run from some nasty treasure hunters who resemble Mexican bandits. He is played, in a rare moment of genius, by Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Young Indiana Jones in the TV series. Sadly the years have not been kind, and he now resembles a five foot version of comedian Doug Stanhope (EVERYONE in this film is taller than him). He’s looking for Genghis Khan’s treasure. Through a couple of plot contrivances he ends up giving a lift to a couple of doctors who are helping out a village (actually a port-a-kabin with corrugated iron stuck to the side) where everyone is ill. They are blaming the illness on “the worms!”, but of course the doctors think this is nonsense. They are people of science, and not stupid characters in a monster movie. One of the doctors is a cowardly wimp. The other (Alicia) is a hot-pant wearing, independent woman who doesn’t like Daniel because he’s arrogant and selfish. This is a plot point I’ve never seen before so I was intrigued to see how their relationship would turn out…

There’s also a Mongolian sheriff, who drives a rather swish 4×4 with Sheriff written on the side. In English. He also wears a cowboy hat, but sadly not a tin star.

The next hour is pure padding. Our heroes are captured by the bandits before the worms eat them. Bad guy Patrick is interrupted by the arrival of his boss and resorts to Terry and June levels of farce to prevent him from finding out what he’s up to. The sick villagers sweat and say ‘The Worms!” a lot. And every time you think “I haven’t seen those darned worms for a bit”, they’ll be a gratuitous scene of a character you’ve never seen stopping their car and getting eaten.

Eventually, the third act arrives. Patrick and his new reluctant sidekick launch a fake alert at the oil plant to evacuate it, so they can start removing things in tea chests. What could it possibly be?

The sick villagers are getting worse, and so is the plotting, as Daniel and Alicia decide to visit that nearby oil refinery and see if they can get some medical supplies. Finding it abandoned they decide to go and loot it anyway. But, wouldn’t you know it, Patrick nefarious drilling has been attracting the worms, and the plant is now overrun with them. It seems they were actually put on this earth to guard Genghis Khan’s treasure, and they are a bit peeved about having to actually do some work after all these years. They are also advancing, much slower than in the rest of the film, on the tin hut hospital!

So, we’re set for our climax. I’m not going to go into detail, not because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just because it’s not really worth it. I’m sure if you’ve got this far, you can work out what our heroes will do with an oil refinery filled with killer worms. No? Need another clue? OK, there’s these three rotary handles to shut down the place. But if you turn them the other way they could blow up the refinery. So don’t turn them the other way. Careful now…

Even for a cheap-arse piece of exploitation this really is a chore. Terrible acting, awful dialogue, absolutely zero directorial flair. It just limps from unspectacular set-piece to uninspired set-piece, via clichéd dialogue and plot contrivances that were old hat in the silent era, topped off with a dose of the shoddiest CGI since Pierce Brosnan went ice surfing. The worms themselves look like animated transfers; they don’t seem to cast shadows, they have hardly any texture, and bear such a close resemblance to the Graboids, you’d think if Tremors had been made in the CGI era they were actually using the same animation.

To be fair, that paragraph could easily describe Transformers 3, so at least Mongolian Death Worm is honest in its own craptacular way. But it makes one sin too many: it’s dull.

After the initial set up, you don’t care about anyone in the film, so you just want to see the worms eat people. To be fair, they do at regular intervals (you can set your watch by it), but when the scenes arrive, they are so poorly rendered, and also quite quickly over, that you’re soon back watching Daniel and Alicia flirting, or Patrick ordering the natives around.

I know this isn’t supposed to be high art, but there must come a point in the production process when someone says “Look, guys, this is really a bit shit” or have we finally reached the stage where film makers (like their TV counterparts) have so much contempt for its audience that it will literally release anything now? If so I fear the next Sci-Fi, sorry SyFy Movie Special will be MegaCrocShark vs. Mongolian DinoOctoWormapus.

Xanadu (1980)

May 13, 2011 6:57 am

Xanadu

One of the downsides to being a fan of bad movies is that sometimes a movie has such a dizzyingly, mythically bad  reputation that watching it can only lead to disappointment that it doesn’t match up to your expectations. In recent years I’ve been let down by Mommie Dearest, Exorcist 2 and even Showgirls. None of these films, in my mind, reach the fridge-stinking fromage odour generated by, say, Rentadick (a completely laugh-free ‘comedy’ written by John Cleese I recently watched the first 40 minutes of before the thought of slinging the TV out the window made me turn it off). I guess most people just prefer to watch Hollywood crash and burn.

I had this fear for a short time whilst watching Xanadu recently. I needn’t have worried. Everything you’ve heard about how bad Xanadu is is true. And then some.

Plot-wise it’s as flimsy as one of the dresses the dancers wear: Young guy meets old guy… they open a roller disco. That’s pretty much it. Whilst this opens up endless possibilities for comedy, bizarrely that’s one avenue the makers decide not to go down. Instead they chuck in a ‘muse’ storyline, where young guy is guided by said muse, who, it turns out, also helped the old guy out back in the 40’s.

What should have been a bog standard, fad-chasing low budget piece of exploitation somehow ended up as a mega-bucks Hollywood production starring the then hottest female actress/singer, probably the greatest Hollywood hoofer there ever was, a soundtrack by one of the biggest band of the day (if that day had been a few years earlier) and a guy with the looks and acting ability of Joe Dallesandro without the redeeming feature of a crotch you stick on a Rolling Stones cover.

In actuality Sonny is played by a plank of wood called Michael Beck who had made a bit of a splash as the lead in The Warriors.  Whilst in that film, a large ensemble cast seemed to paper over his acting deficiencies, here is is completely overshadowed by just about everyone, including a mural.

It all begins blandly, but not exactly appallingly, as we are introduced to Sonny, who recreates album covers for marketing materials. He had a dream to strike out as an artist but has gone crawling back to the day job with his tail between his legs. When we first meet him he is sketching a woman who looks suspiciously like Olivia Neutron-Bomb. Appalled by this he tears it up and chucks it out the window. The shredded paper appears to ‘awaken’ a mural of eight women. They dance about a bit in dresses designed to show off their pants as much as possible (including one who appears to be wearing a flesh coloured body stocking that gives her the appearance of the kind of anatomy you only see on Barbie dolls and Action Man) .

These ladies all shoot off into the stratosphere, except Ms Neutron-Bomb (Kira), who hangs about Venice Beach on her roller skates, ending up on an album cover that Sonny is replicating, and then leading him into an ‘hilarious’ chase sequence where he steals a bike and ends up crashing into the sea. This will not be the comedy highlight thankfully.

During this sequence we are also introduced to Danny McBride (Gene Kelly, exuding more effortless charm and charisma than the whole cast do in the entire film). he’s a self-confessed ‘beach bum’ who turns out to have been a Glen Miller-style big band leader in the ’40s. He’s got bags of cash he doesn’t know what to do with, so of course he decides he wants to open a club with this strange young man he just met on the beach.

They decide to site it in an abandoned wrestling auditorium (!) where Sonny had his first proper meeting with Kira. Although neither knows it (or at least it’s not clear in the film that they know) Kira was also Danny’s muse in his big band days…

It’s here that banality takes a rather special turn into downright crazy-apeshit bonkers, as we enter Truly Horrific Sequence #1: Danny and Sonny both have their own ideas about what the club should like. Danny wants an old-style jazz club; Sonny wants a truly bizarre … thing… that seems to combine the worst aspects of disco, punk, new wave and rejects from Kenny Everett’s Hot Gossip dance troupe. Here we get a startlingly bad ‘mash up’ of jazz and nasty synth pop (the band are played by California punks, The Tubes). What this sequence achieves in terms of how the club will look isn’t entirely clear, as the final result looks like neither. But we’ll come back to that.

segueway

Sadly, this won’t be the last time we see this lot

 Truly Horrific Sequence #2: and the point where I nearly turned off, just because I couldn’t believe what they were putting Gene Kelly through. He’s given a makeover. But this is no ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ kooky sequence. To the tune of ELO’s ‘All Over the World’ (though the choreography seems to have been blocked for a completely different tune, if any tune at all) Gene is subjected to some of the worst outfits seen in cinema history, has the indignity of emerging from a dressing room whose curtains are made to look like a pair of women’s legs, and those bloody dancers are back, prancing around on trolleys and shelving units, wearing Adam Ant cast-offs. For some reason a dancer is made up to look like a spider and emits a tiger roar.

Gene kelly and legs akimbo

Gene Kelly’s audition for Legs Akimbo did not go well

After this, you wonder just how bad things can get from here. Trust me, they save the best until last: Truly Horrific Sequence #3 is the club’s opening. I’m not going to describe it, because, quite frankly, I don’t think you’d believe me. All I’ll say is it features a 15 minute medley of song and dance; Kira changes outfits just by sheer will; Danny disappears and reappears; and Sonny continues to look confused and on the verge of tears.

Michael and ONJ

This is the most acting that Michael Beck does

And then it ends. I swear the ending is one of the most arbitrary since Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It literally just ends.

It’s not hard to work out what’s wrong with Xanadu. For a start it’s a film about a roller disco that doesn’t feature a roller disco until the last 15 minutes. It’s a musical in which the lead actor doesn’t sing (his one number, a duet from Neutron-Bomb, is dubbed by (the horror!) Cliff Richard.

Stylistically it’s all over the shop: in trying to straddle itself between old-time musicals (of the kind Kelly helped create and dominate) and a trendy ‘new-wave’ look, it comes across just hideously contrived. It probably looked dated before it was even released.

From a technical point of view you have wonder what was going on behind the scenes too. You have probably the cinema’s most accomplished dancer, and yet his sequences are directed and edited in such a way that most of the time you can’t see his feet! (The duet with Kira early on demonstrates this best; it also looks like it was edited with a sledgehammer) How he manages to still put in a decent performance playing opposite the charisma vacuum that is Michael Beck, should have earned him an Oscar nomination at least.

Gene and ONJ

Gene is doing some amazing tap-dancing here…
you just can’t see it

Oddly, Neutron-Bomb comes out of it pretty well. Her songs are bland without being unpleasant, she obviously has a good voice, and her slightly detached acting style actually helps the character.

The rest of the soundtrack is good too (the Cliff duet being the exception). The title song is rightly a camp classic now, and ELO fans are treated to some of their best work. Whether they all fit the film is a matter of conjecture. OK, they don’t. At all.

Depending on how you approach it, Xanadu is either a complete sensory ambush, or perfect post-pub entertainment. To modern, cynical eyes such as mine, it’s one of those films where you sit there slack-jawed going “what were they thinking?”. I haven’t even mentioned the ‘out of nowhere’ cartoon sequence, the scene where Kira pleads her ‘parents’ not to take her away from Sonny (a sequence which looks like an effects test for Tron), the fact that opening night of the club, the place seems to have more paid-for dancers than customer, and Kira’s astonishing exit which looks like she’s farted her way into the stratosphere.

Variety magazine famously labelled it ‘Xana-don’t’. That’s a bit harsh. It does need to be seen by everyone. Just once though. Not three times like I did to write this.

Fact: Xanadu was produced by Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon, who would latter make Die Hard

Fact: Xanadu was Gene Kelly’s last film, though most people have the decency not to mention that

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.