Joe’s Blog

Archive for October, 2012

The Wicker Tree (2010)

October 30, 2012 1:29 am

Wicker Tree

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

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

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

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

Brokeback Molehill

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

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

This is nowhere near as sexy as it looks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy Another Day – Bond Product Placement Part 2

October 26, 2012 12:03 pm

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

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

Goldeneye (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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

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

What the hell is that!!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World is Not Enough (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

Die Another Day (2001)

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

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

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

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

Casino Royale (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quantum of Solace (2008)

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

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

Skyfall (2012)

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SoldFinger – Bond Product Placement Part 1

October 24, 2012 7:25 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Dr No (1962)

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

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

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

 

From Russia With Love (1963)

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

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

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

Goldfinger (1964)

Nuff said.

Thunderball (1965)

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

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

Olympus supplied a prototype for the film.

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

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

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

 

Moonraker (1979)

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

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

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

The amazing Seiko Deux Ex Machina.

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

billboard after

another until one sees off a bad guy

Ho ho ho.

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

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

 

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

Speaking of which…

 

A View to a Kill (1985)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Living Daylights (1987)

Well, lookey what we got here:

By the way, I think this is bloody awful.

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

Licence To Kill (1989)

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

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

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

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

Whereas this is fine…

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

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

Arachnoquake (2012)

October 19, 2012 2:43 am

Arachnoquake poster

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

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

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

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

Shit, a spider!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yes, that includes me.

Sliver (1993)

October 12, 2012 7:51 am

Sliver poster

Erotic cabaret

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

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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

 

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

That’s  it.

“You like to watch, don’t you?”

Nah, not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Navy Seals (1990)

October 10, 2012 2:12 am

Navy Seals

Stu-stu-stu-Studio Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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