Joe’s Blog

Archive for April, 2008

28 Weeks Later (2007)

April 15, 2008 4:21 am

28 weeks later posterIt’s sometimes thoroughly depressing being a horror fan. Whilst I have an ever increasing stack of old movies still to watch, I still want to go and see balls-to-the-wall horror at my local megaplex (if I had one, but that’s another story).

Hollywood is still stuck in its seemingly endless remake-a-thon with Asian horror now being overtaken by remakes of ‘the classics’ (the term is used loosely to describe anything with any kind of fan base: Evil Dead, Driller Killer and (I shit you not) Cannibal Holocaust are all forthcoming). So when something truely scary, suprising and, godammit, entertaining as 28 Days Later comes along, you can’t help but think, maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Then the sequel comes out, and you realise the tunnel has a big metal grate over it and you’re stuck in the tunnel.

28 Days Later was one of the best films of 2002, by a long shot. The opening ten minutes are amongst the most visually stunning you will ever see; the characters were believable, the acting superb. You couldn’t help but think ‘what would I do in this situation?’.

28 Weeks Later by comparison feels just like what it is. An American financed sequel-cum-remake which forgets all the stuff that made the first film so good (bar the excellent soundtrack) and serves up a by-the-numbers extension of what we’ve already seen.

What worked first time, still works here. As the zombies, aren’t really zombies (they are humans infected by a virus which makes them crave human flesh), they pretty much resemble their ‘normal’ form and they run like fuck to get some of that tasty longpig.

Where it fails is in increasing the scope. Taking it’s cue from Romero’s Day of the Dead, London is slowly being repopulated in a military-run complex with lots of those lovely underground tunnels for exciting chases cut together so rapidly you haven’t got a flipping clue who’s been eaten until the next scene and you realise who isn’t there anymore.

The cliches are ladelled on like wedding cake icing: the ‘good’ soldier who refuses to shoot a child and his helicopter flying buddy who ultimately turns out to be a git; the whiney survivor who just whines and blubs; and the plucky heroine. Yes, thirty years on from Halloween, you still can’t have a horror movie without a plucky (preferable virginal) heroine who saves the day.

The band of heroes somehow manage to walk from Canary Wharf to Regents Park to Wembley Stadium (via Central London) in the space of a few hours, whilst avoiding ‘the infected’, the army and heavy bombing of the streets. You couldn’t make that journey in less than three hours on public transport, let alone walking with all that going on around you.

One thing of note is the casting of Robert Carlyle. Obviously he has a bit of marquee value, but really his role could have been played by anyone in their late 30s, and, sadly, his presence adds nothing.

It’s all so frustrating. We finally get a Brit horror movie that the American majors get behind and they fuck it up.

Sounds like Neil Marshall’s Doomsday is going the same way as well.

After recently seeing Haute Tension and Ils (Them) I’m starting to wonder if we’ve got to rely on the French for our movie scares from now on…

Friday Tunes: The Scaramanga Lounge

April 11, 2008 6:25 am

abigail header

A wierd thing happened a while back (about 1996 or so). Lounge Music became trendy. Everyone was suddenly declaring their undying love for all things Andy Wiiliams and such like.

I was annoyed because I’d always loved Lounge Music, even though i wasn’t entirely sure what it was. As a kid I always loved the music they used to play over Ceefax or the Test card (there are websites for this kind of thing if you so wish such as The Test card Circle).

 Anyhoo, Lounge is very hard to define. It can include jazz, funk, easy listening or rock, and in essence is a bit of a shit label.

I’ve got my own ideas of what constitutes Lounge, and that would include people like Syd Dale, who’s ubiquitous Penthouse Suite has become a kind of Lounge Anthem (it was the theme to Tarrant on TV, and Father Ted used it for Pat Mustard), Alan Hawkshaw (the Milk Tray advert) and Ray Davies (not that Ray Davies).

So I present here a few choice selections from my Lounge Collection. I’m sure I’ll dip into this particular fondue again soon…

Herbie Flint – Our Man Flint

Cal Tjander – Gimme Shelter

Big Boss Man – Sea Groove

Syd Dale – The Penthouse Suite

Return of the Jedi (1983)

1:13 am

jedi poster

“All Jedi had was a bunch of muppets”…

And so Kevin Smith summed up the feelings of a great many 20/30 somethings in his film Clerks. Back in the day when Star Wars meant three supremely entertaining films rather than George Lucas’ pension and a seemingly suicidal plan to destroy the happy childhood memories of millions of fans (he actually once said “They’re MY movies. I’ll do what I want to them.”), Jedi was considered the least of the original trilogy.

Sure it had good stuff (Jabba, speeder bikes), but it also has Ewoks, what many considered the first signs of cutesy, cuddly kids stuff that would riddle the ‘new’ trilogy like so many cancers.

I, too, shared these views until last night.

After a marathon Lego Star Wars session, Lady Scaramanaga and I decide to regress to childhood and bunged on the Jedi DVD (the original version, natch). It was the first time I’d watched it in at least ten years, and by the end I had completely changed my opinion of it.

The way I’d always looked on it you had Star Wars (rollicking, family entertainment), Empire (darker, slightly more grown up entertainment) and Jedi (the kids film). Well, let me ask you how many kids films feature the following:

– a ‘vile gangster’ who enjoys having women chained up, and when he gets bored of them he feeds them to a monster;

– a vicious battle between a native tribe and a batallion of soldiers with superior weaponry

– a father dying whilst rescuing his son from an evil old man who had earlier corrupted him.

 Doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs does it? Can’t imagine Pixar putting the finishes touches to that story anytime soon.

And that’s what I realised last night; Jedi is just as ‘dark’ (and I do hate that term hence the inverted commas) as Empire, maybe more so.

People really only percive Empire as dark because of Darth Vader’s revelation (which admittedly was quite a stunner for first time viewers), and because, again as Kevin Smith points out, it end’s on such a downer. Whilst I concede on the Vader idea, the ‘downer’ ending is really just the set up for Jedi. The studio knew they had a massive hit on their hands (unlike when Star Wars was released and they were ready to ditch the film at the first opportunity), so they HAD to have a downer ending, with a glimmer of hope, to get people to come back again.

This is common practice with successful franchises. Take Back to the Future. They had no idea how well that film was going to do. Robert Zemeckis has admitted they only tagged on the ending they did (with Doc Brown taking Marty into the future to sort his kids out) just for a bit of fun, one last gag. they never planned to make a sequel. (To side track a little… a little more… Zemecki and Bob Gale spent the best part of ten years writing BTTF, which is probably why it’s such a tight film; BTTF 2 and 3 were written together int he space of a couple of years, which is probably why they are such sprawling messes).

When BTTF 2 arrived thy knew they had a captive audience so could have an open ended sequel, knowing people would flock back for Part 3.

The same can be applied to The Matrix. Useless pieces of crap that the sequels were.

ANYWAY…

So, I think Jedi has had a rough ride. Bizarrely what I enjoyed as a kid I now found irritating. The openeing half hour in Jabba’s palace now grated so much I nearly skipped over it. abba himself is a marvellous creation, but hte sequence seemed more concerned with introducing as many new toys… sorry… bizarre characters as possible without advancing the story any further. And Lucas should forever hang his head in shame for the rather ignoble death of Boba Fett. Yes, Boba Fett, the coolest chacter in the entire Star Wars universe, dies following a hilarious mix up between a half blind Han Solo and a big stick. Guffaw! (I think Lucas realised the error of his ways by making the Fett dynasty so crucial in the ‘new’ trilogy, but the damage was already done).

Once the film kicks in proper it really ramps it up. The speeder bike chase on Endor is easily the best action sequence in the series. Using a combination of minatures, back projection and live action, you really get queasy watching those guys ducking and weaving through the huge forest.

The Ewoks may be cute, but they are bad-ass as well. Endor was originally going to be Kyyshak, planet of the Wookies. But of course that wouldn’t work. There is no way the Wookies would have stood by and let the Empire build their deflector shield base on their planet. The Ewoks HAVE to be small, timid creatures to have allowed it to happen. This also makes the fightback that much more exciting (and we even see some die, which Lucas probably wouldn’t do nowadays).

Of course, Lucas didn’t direct Jedi (or Empire for that matter). Richard Marquand was the chosen vessel for this one. He has a very short filmography after sadly dying in 1987. I’m not quite sure how he got the gig (maybe someone can enlighten me), as his previous work seemed to show no great desire to direct a huge space epic, and neither did his later films (of which Jagged Edge is easily the best; avoid The Legacy at all costs unless you have a crushing desire to see Roger Daltrey with his troat cut open).

Of course, Marquand was little more than a Lucasfilm employee, but he manages to squeeze some humility into the proceedings that had not appeared before, and never would again, one of which is my single favourite moment in all the films.

As the Emperor is laying into Luke with his jazz hands, we cut to a shot of Vader’s helmetted head, the laser’s reflected in his cold black viasge… and for a second we sense Vader might not be enjoying this very much. His mask is exactly the same, it’s not changed at all. he’s just looking down, as he’s probably down thousands of times as minnions and rebels died at his feet. But the addtion of the reflected lasers, and then a brief glance to the Emperor tell you everything you need to know about his tortured state of mind.

It’s a stunning moment, and one which most probably never notice, or even care about. But for me it’s a moment that redeems the film from it’s shortcomings.

It’s rare for me to sit and watch a film on a purely entertainment level. I’m always looking for clues to the off screen shenanigans, the hidden meanings, the symbolism. I’m so jaded and cynical that I can’t just sit and watch a film for what it is, entertainment. And last night, Jedi delivered that entertainment in a way that, say, five years ago, I would have openely laughed in your face and probably slapped you for suggesting that I would have absorbed it all like a sponge and not made sarky comments every five minutes.

I employ all of you Jedi haters (mainly the ones who say Revenge of the Sith is better… it’s not. It’s cack with a capital CACK), to have another go. Make sure it’s the non-fucked-about-with version though. It’s slightly cut-and-paste look is endering in a way CGI can and never will be. And you don’t get to see Hayden Christiensen either.

And, did you notice how I managed to talk about Jedi without once mentioning Carrie Fisher’s bikini…?

Friday Tunes: Underrated bands

April 4, 2008 4:32 am

Every friday, I’m going to take it upon myself to plonk some happy Friday tunes on here for your delectation, plus it also cheers me up a bit too.

Today I’ll give you some prime slices of two of the most underrated bands of all time.

 THE MONKEES

monkeesmonkees

Buy Monkees CD’s!

If anyone ever says to you, “Oh, The Monkees were a bit of a joke, weren’t they”, you know they are a fool and you should cease all contact with them immediately before stabbing them in the ears, cos they obviously don’t use them properly.

The Monkees have had a rough ride over the years. Yes, they were a manufactured band designed to cash in on The Beatles. So were most bands in the early to mid 60s.

They were completely aware of what they were, but that didn’t stop them wanting to break free of their shackles and go out on their own. As a guide a good Monkees song is one sung by Mickey Dolenz. Everyone knows ‘The Monkees Theme’ and ‘I’m a Believer’. They are great, classic pop tunes. But the Dolenz stuff seems to edging into slightly darker territory.

Things like ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and ‘Last train to Clarksville’ are amongst some of the some best tunes to come out of the 60s.

Check out these two lesser-known tunes and see what you think.

The Monkees – Words

The Monkees – Goin Down

XTC

xtc

Buy XTC CDs!

Quite simply one of the best bands Swindon EVER produced (and that’s some endorsement) XTC were never huge, but their legacy can still be heard 30 years on in bands like The Kaiser Chiefs and The Futureheads.

Blur were probably the first band to openly appreciate the influence (even getting Andy partridge to co-produce their best album Modern Life is Rubbish).

Many of their tunes sound like they could have come out in the last couple of years. Whether this means they still sound amazingly fresh, or because so many people have copied their style, I’m not sure. But the music is still corking!

You all know ‘Making Plans for Nigel’ and ‘Senses Working Overtime’, so here’s a couple you may not know.

XTC – Science Friction

XTC – No Thugs In Our House

XTC – The Mayor of Simpleton

Run, Fatboy, Run (2007)

1:12 am

Run fatboy RunYay! Just what the world needs. Another Brit Rom Com. As far as I can tell the only difference between Brit rom-coms and American ones, is we have more swearing in ours.

They still trade in nauseating characters you just want to punch, usually good performers dying a slow and painful death and a script from the RomCom-o-Matic 3000 in terms of plot development, character and situation.

 I’m not completely adverse to romantic comedy; just like ANY genre, if it’s good quality I’ll enjoy it. Annie Hall, for instance, is one of my favourite films ever, probably because it plays up the com rather than the rom (see also Groundhog Day, which is a slushy rom-com dressed up as a Bill Murray starring Twighlight Zone episode).

When Harry met Sally is another. Witty observations, career best performances from everyone and characters you care about.

What happened somewhere was ‘the formula’ got invented. I blame Richard Curtis (just like everyone else), but it wasn’t Four Weddings and a Funeral that did it, it was the long lost and never popular The Tall Guy. Watch that film again, and you’ll see that ‘the formula’ is just about there. Flawed bloke, enigmatic lady, ker-azy mates (including one who’s disabled), Rowan Atkinson cameo (nicely playing against type as an egotistical bastard…). The only element that differs from Curtis’ other more successful movies was the casting. Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson have superb chemistry (better than almost every other film of this ilk), but the imported star was the MALE lead, rather than the FEMALE lead.

This may explain the film’s failure, or it may be the thought of seeing Goldblum’s arse not long after seeing his balls in a jar in The Fly put people off. Who knows…

Anyway, this formula has been tried and tested with varying degrees of success, so now the Americans want a piece of our rom-com pie.

“But, wait…”, I hear you cry, “Run, Fatboy, Run is a Simon Pegg film. You know, him from Shaun of the Dead and Hott Fuzz, one of the few truly talented actor/writers currently working. How dare you slander his good name by declaring this film a Hollywood product!”

Well, sorry to break it to you, but despite the roster of Brit talent on the show, and being set in London (though not a recognisable London, but we’ll get abck to that), this has Hollywood product stamped through it like Blackpool rock.

Basically, the script as written, was set in New York, and sat on the shelf for a while. Then David Schwimmer and Simon Pegg became best buds working on Big Nothing (no, I didn’t bother with it either), and they came up with the idea of relocating it to London and getting all Pegg’s mates in it.

The plot, for what it’s worth, concerns Dennis (Pegg) ditching his bride (Thandie newton) at the altar, then five years later running a marathon to win her back, cos now she’s got a perfect new boyfriend (Hank Azaria). Paper thin doesn’t really do it justice.

It conforms to formula so much you half expect plot-point captions to appear on screen. Azaria is obviously a git because he’s successful, sensible, well spoken and works in ‘the City’. Pegg is obviously a nice bloke because he dumped his missus at the altar, has no ambition, is irresponsible, skint and hangs around with a lot of dodgy people (including the ACE Dylan Moran, of whom we don’t get enough).

Newton is given precisely dick all to do, you wonder if half way they just decided to replace her with a cardboard cut out just to see if anyone would notice.

And this is set in London, as I said. This is a London where ‘geezers’ hang around in lock ups playing cards, a crippled man can drag himself around town for twelve hours and no one beats him up or throws chips at him. A  London of boating lakes, a London where you can waltz through security at a City bank, and a London of comedy Asian landlords. Yes, it’s the 1970s.

And yet… and yet… against all my baser instincts, it kind of works.

OK, so Newton’s change of heart seems a little sudden (simply because Azaria trips Pegg, and calls her son a “little shit” after he tries to cripple him in an adjustable bed, sounds fair to me). And there’s no way I can forgive Simon day’s supposedly vicious gangster actually cheering when he loses a huge bet.

But, it all sort of falls into place. Maybe a bit too neatly, but neatly nonetheless.

This is most definately NOT what I want to see Pegg doing. He’s so far above this kind of material he’s levitating. And Moran is far too good a comedic actor to play ‘crap mate’ for the rest of his career (or get his bum out for comedic effect).

Run, Fatboy, Run is so slight the DVD nearly blew away in a small draught, but it’s entertaining with some good moments. It’s not ‘heartwaming’, ‘sweet’ or any of that cobblers though.

The Simpson’s Movie (2007)

April 3, 2008 4:47 am

simpsons posterEvery so often you get one of those bizarre twists of fate that would seem so utterly contrived if you explained them to someone, but genuinely happened. And no amount of pleading and begging will convince your friends otherwise.But I swear to God, a couple of weeks ago I had a Hank Azaria DVD double-bill. I know… bizarre… but it happened.There was the soon to be dissected RUN, FATBOY, RUN. But first let us turn our attentions to one of the most eagerly anticipated, overly-hyped, diabolically average movie of last year, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (I’m sure there’s an apostrophe in there somewhere, but since I’m not sure if it’s possessive or not, I’m just going to leave it out from here on in…).

I first saw the trailer for THE SIMPSONS MOVIE in about March last year, and it was exactly as I expected. It’s The Simpsons, but better drawn, more elaborate and with a bit of CGI chucked in cos it’s a MOVIE not a TV show. The trailer, usually the best way to entice someone to spend their cash on your monstrously over-expensive piece of tat, actually had the converse effect of making me NOT want to watch it. Looks like Fox’s marketing team dropped the ball on that one.


But I am but one. This is true. But I am one of those growing legions of fans who think ‘it ain’t as good as it used to be’. Which it clearly isn’t.An over reliance on self-serving special guests, wackiness and downright poor writing have contributed to making The Simpsons one of the saddest, and possibly longest, deaths ever seen on TV. But that’s the TV… we’re here to pick the bones of the MOVIE.
What do you want to know? Springfield gets puts under a huge bio-dome for a reason which I can’t remember; the Simpsons escape through a portal in some quicksand in their back garden (crazy!) and move to Alaska (wacky!). Marge decides the family have to go back to save Springfield (the same Springfield who lynched them out in the first place) and Homer saves the day by riding the Wall of Death inside the dome.

That’s pretty much it. This could conceivably been wrapped up inside an episode, but instead it drags on for (an admittedly brief) 75 minutes.

Watching it made me think of when you have sex with an ex. There’s a bit of anticipation, you think about all those things that made them so great when you met: how sexy they were, how funny they were, that thing they did where they… ahem… anyway. Then slowly you start to realise all the reasons you split up in the first place: the false wackiness, the incessant shouting and screaming and the way they now desperately want to be edgy and controversial like someone else who used to copy them (allegedly) but has now stolen their crown as top banana in the animated TV shows for grow ups stakes. Ok maybe the last one relates more The Simpsons, than to my ex.
Comparisons to South Park: The Movie are inevitable, but wrong. A better comparison can be made to Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story (that’s the Family Guy Movie for the uninitiated), a movie so cheap and poorly conceived they even take the piss out of it in the show.Somehow, I can’t see The Simpsons doing that. (At least, not now. Ten years ago maybe, but not now).
It’s so thoroughly depressing when you REALLY want to like something, but you just find yourself slumping further and further into your seat in embarrassment. It’s like watching a sick relative waste away; you want to end it but you also want them to get better and be their old self again. But that never happens…I think it’s a sorry sign that the best gag involves a nearly-out-of-frame reference to something that happened in the first series. Yes, 18 years ago.It’s not that it’s bad… well, OK, it is… but it’s also lazy, uninspired and maybe a little bit cynical. “Hey, we’re The Simpsons! We don’t HAVE to try anymore!”, that kind of thing. And no Sideshow Bob… for shame.

But what do I know? It’s currently sitting pretty with an average of 7.8 out if 10 on the ever-reliable imdb and 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. The second one genuinely surprised me.

The movie is good for watching when Sky One are showing the Ricky Gervais episode for the twelve thousandth time, but that’s about it.

 

So… um… a blog, eh? That’s exciting…

April 2, 2008 3:54 am

Yeah… finally got myself a blog and not quite sure what’s gonna happen here yet.

Probably, it will end up consisting of an easy-to-use gallery of all my B3ta crap, some sarcastc film reviews, and naive political ranting which will get me death threats from people who claim to know more than me, but really just disgaree with me.

 We’ll see… the journey begins here…