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BFI Days Of Fear & Wonder Sci-Fi Season – Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)

fut1Borag Thungg puny mortals, given that I haven’t crafted a full review for a couple of weeks a thrill power injection was sorely needed for the blog, and I was electrified with inspiration on Tuesday nights inaugural event of the BFI’s intergalactic Days Of Fear & Wonder Science Fiction film season. I can’t imagine a more apt way to blast off proceedings than with this exhaustive, hilarious and rousing documentary on one of Britain’s most stalwart science fiction achievements, a celebration of a still pulsing phenomenon with Future Shock! The Story Of 2000AD, Launched in 1977 and still going strong almost four decades later the publication was a rites of passage for many, incubating quiet seeds of insubordination in its  impressionable audience, with a punk scrawled ethos stretched across a SF anthology veneer which instructed you to never trust authority, to always champion the underdog, and to not be ashamed to revel  in mindless, excessive and occasionally creative violence. I was thoroughly obsessed with the comic back in my youth and brought it religiously like a true Squaxx dek Thargo, before moving on to the more serious Marvel and DC material which then were warming up to tackle more adult themed and cerebral fare, a fundamental turning epoch in the storytelling form which the documentary examines with a quietly brilliant insight. Essentially that whole renaissance of the art form from kids comics to ‘graphic novels’ was culled from the paddock of 2000AD’s writers and artists, which in turn the documentary asserts secured the bedrock of the modern movie blockbuster – it amuses me no end that the day this film received its premiere was the same prog that this was announced.

fut2The structure is that of most great documentaries, let the subjects do the talking with as little interference or steering as possible, intercut with animated stills from the comic to illustrate the subject and psychos under discussion. From a fanboy perspective it was just scrotnig to finally see artbot legends like Carlos Ezquerra and Brian Bolland in the flesh so to speak, alongside stalwart thrill power purveyors such as Alan Grant, John Wagner, Kevin O’Neil, Dave Gibbons, Bryan Talbot, Steve Yeowell and some of the newer crew whom I’m afraid I’m not familiar with. From the writers pod they managed to secure Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison and Pete Milligan, so of course conspicuous by his absence is the medium’s titan Alan Moore who was approached but unsurprisingly declined to appear, although his legacy and aura hangs heavy over the production like a tarnished wizards cowl. The real star of the show however is the Mighty Tharg* himself Pat Mills, the editor-in-chief and original creator of the comic, a foul-mouthed left-wing proto anarchist firebrand whose expletive laden tirades are the stuff of legend – there’s more than little of a cloned Malcolm McLaren in him when seen in the flesh. Moving from the early conception of the comics ultra-violent precursor Action (now this is amusing, I distinctly remember reading, and being dazzled by Hook-Jaw and Dredger) comics the path is an exhaustive trawl through the past thirty-five years of subversive SF, from the golden age of the 1980’s to the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s, all the way through to the current lone warrior in the newsagent which is the last remaining comic book series since the obliterating impact of the internet and other non-fiction distractions.

fut3Full blaster marks to the documentarian Paul Goodwin and his tenacious producers Helen Mullane and Sean Hogan for marching in step with the comics unconventional and mischevious spirit, by tackling head-butt on some of the controversies of the publications exalted history. The shameful and absolutely pathetic treatment of the creators by the parent company come under scrutiny (no intellectual rights to the characters they visually and verbally created, enduring terrible pay and sneering conditions) and the documentary is far from hagiography, dwelling for an appropriate period on the so-called dark ages of the 1990’s when 2000AD really plumped the depths of stupidity with ‘satire’ such as the Space Girls- eurrgghh. They also address the total lack of female writers or artists on the publication, a situation which has only changed very recently  and which they are now actively trying to address, although some independent, central female characters did arise in the comic such as Judge Anderson and Halo Jones – more on very her shortly. Historically it was very much a boys club with carefully demarcated gender publications imprinted in the entire industry, so its encouraging to see how that situation is gradually evolving. Most fascinating for me was the concerted effort that DC comics made in the late 1980’s to poach the best writers and artists over to the newly conceived Vertigo ‘adult’ comic imprint  – Karen Berger gets a fair amount of facetime in the documentary – with Gaiman and Morrison being quite open about their career aspirations.  Given how shoddily they were treated by 2000AD’s corporate  puppet masters you really can’t blame them for jumping ship and the Atlantic to be paid properly, treated like artists and as they say ‘have the opportunity to mess about with iconic characters in both the Marvel and DC multiverse’ – what comic fan wouldn’t jump at that chance?

fut4In terms of nerd credentials there is a fantastic moment in the piece when Gaiman reveals that he eventually convinced his friend Alan Moore to talk him through the rest of the outline he had for the beloved Halo Jones character. She is something of a trailblazing female character in a comic book milieu of chisel jawed heroes and damsels in distress, with fans often speculating on how her journey to continue to ‘get out’ might fare. Well, after  a mere two hours of the eldritch wordsmith leading him through the six book arc that Moore had imagined Gaiman says he sat in stunned silence, tears streaming down his face. In terms of specific characters most of the attention of course is lavished on the iconic Judge Dredd (and a lot of love for the iconic Apocalypse War story arc which I’d argue is amongst the best the genre has ever offered) but both Strontium Dog and Minty’s personal favourite Nemesis: The Warlock also get their moments to shine, linking those series with the wider cultural and social concerns of Apartheid, intolerance, racism and uthoritarianism that plagued that most selfish of decades. Finally, me and my friends often speculate on why this strip never exploited its rich and diverse characters in other media (the abortion of the first Dredd  film none withstanding), suffice to say that Tinseltown did come a knocking and their tactics and practices are widely exposed in the documentary which makes for some quite angry viewing.

fut5The post screening Q&A was a spirited affair with most of the questions directed to Pat Mills as you’d imagine, the highlight was when he shared a hilarious anecdote about the intercine media cannibalism that occurs when a certain character or strip gets the attention of the Hollywood intelligentsia. Mills had created a character called ‘Accident Man’, a hitman who cleverly concealed his crimes by framing the deaths into bizarre yet plausible accidents. When an American studio executive discussed the character options for such a creation he explained that ‘Hey, hitmen aren’t cool anymore so it would be better to make him an insurance agent?, ‘You’ve got to be fucking kidding me right?’ Mills retorts, ‘ No, insurance agents are pretty cool in the States’ the grexnix responds. The producers revealed that they assembled a lot more footage covering other 2000AD characters they know have fevered fanbases, but they had to omit the material for time, so I guess you can expect a horde of Slaine, Robo-Hunter and ABC Warriors extras on the zarjaz DVD. Overall this is a terrific documentary both for pure nostalgia and as a detailed investigation into one of our emeralds isles most quietly influential post-war publications it’s also well crafted, exhaustive and thoroughly entertaining. Personally I’d put the comic up on the same plateau as H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke in terms of our contribution to Science Fiction media, as its modest shadow stretches long across the contemporary media landscape, with the glut of superhero, horror and fantasy product infecting all forms of media.  Already the second phase of the BFI handbook has teleported down to Minty prime so I must select my battles for phase two of operations in December, fret not as I’m just keeping in tone with the season and looking to the future with a wistful eye, we have plenty of material planned for November including the second Kubrick of the year o my brothers – real horrorshow;

*A quick aside, Tharg is mentioned and all of the old school creators in unison yell that ‘oh Jesus that was the worst thing we did, I fucking hated writing that twat….’

The Other Side Of The Year….

This has been rumoured and muttered about or many years now but finally it seems we cinephiles can rejoice, for Orson Welles final, unfinished film will miraculously be seen in theatres next year. Lest we forget, even Welles butchered and mangled films can have their astounding moments;

What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Extended Trailer

Well, when I say trailer I should say first six minutes of this well received horror-comedy, a notoriously difficult hybrid genre to successfully stake. I’m mostly posting this to distract myself from the Interstellar reviews which are littering spiral galaxies of spoliers across the social media multiverse, I’m heroically resisting the urge and not reading a damn thing but the general consensus seems to be very positive. Anyway, here’s this which might make you giggle;

St. Vincent, Roundhouse London

So I went to see St. Vincent last night – no not the film the band – and very good they were too. For those musically minded here’s the set list, and here is a similar gig from the same tour which should give you a flavour of proceedings;

A Keanu Odyssey….

Always gets a little slow around here, when we’re in the initial furious pangs of a technically detailed new assignment. Nevertheless the movie world cares not a jot for Minty’s inhibited abilities, as a small clutch of recent trailers have materialised this week which deserve our undivided attention. Firstly, the bleeding obvious;

This film is going to make an outrageous, civilisation shattering epoch of money. Looks like fun and curiously a natural clean visual connection to the original film (Same DP as Guardians Of The Galaxy eh? Hmmm), Ultron was one of favourite villains when I was a mere transistor so I’m looking forward to seeing the indestructible one finally rendered on-screen. It also kinda amuses me that there was lots of eye rolling and mutterings of ‘who cares?’ when DC unveiled their cinematic universe recently, then this drops and everyone loses their marvellous fucking marbles. Now then, I always love a ‘sleeper’, a film which wasn’t necessarily on many people’s radar which somehow obliterates its modest expectations, and can even catapult a waning star back into the firmament;

The reports I’ve been hearing on this are extraordinary, absolutely outrageous schlock which would make Shane Black blush, and other ‘this is like action film x on methamphetamines’ asides. Normally I would be off to see this highly regarded little monster this weekend but I’m entertaining guests, I’ll give it a lurk next weekend which is actually Halloween isn’t it? Seems apt. Finally something a little more classy, as I know the publicist whom is leading the campaign for this re-release I thought it best to honor her wishes and let you gaze beyond the infinite in 21st century digital delight;

The Toast Of Croydon……

Now that’s what I call synchronisfuckingnation, as we stroll out of the London Film Festival on Sunday, into my third day job assignment of the year down in deepest South London – welcome. OK, OK, once you’ve stopped chuckling at my fortune with such salubrious surroundings I at least had perhaps the most entertaining induction today, two hours of calmly and carefully being advised of the specific protocols, projects and procedures, followed by three hours with the woman I’m replacing who insisted I forgot everything I’d just heard as our mutual colleague was (and I quote) ‘a fucking idiot’ – welcome to local government. The entire day reminded me of the US comedy series Parks & Recreation which I gave a second chance after a lacklustre BBC4 outing a few years ago, and I’m glad I did as the slow burn of the characters and local government milieu are finally paying dividends. I’ve still not seen a filibuster of this quality but believe me, those evening cabinet boards battles can get pretty darn racy;

So I just wanted to wade into a recent controversy of Paul Schrader’s latest debacle, as once again it seems the final film has been taken from him and edited into a completely different picture, leading to the rather unusual occurrence of star Nic Cage, director and executive producer Winding-Refn distancing themselves from the final product and shrieking of artistic interference. Here’s the trailer, what do you think?

Yeah, didn’t exactly quite get my blood pumping and I love Paul Schrader, although after the diminish returns of his recent movies there has been some dark mutterings in certain corners of the interest that there is ‘no smoke without fire’ and maybe his cuts really were very bad and required such unprecedented interference – we should see in a few months. I’ll be damned if I can find that clip from Iron Man III about ‘the toast of Croydon’ but here we are……and yes this made me giggle.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Nine

And that’s a wrap, I thought about attending the final gala press screening of Fury but c’mon, 9.00am on a Sunday is bloody pushing it for a film being released next Wednesday, not to mention the picture doesn’t particularly appeal to me. So lets mop up a few other films I caught before we take a breather of precisely two days before the BFI Days Of  Fear & Wonder begins with my first Southbank Screening – no rest for the wicked indeed;

Have you researched your Latvian slasher movies recently? It’s a miniscule genre with a body count of one, as this is the first ever made. Alas, it was exceptionally unmemorable, and even its austerity theme of the evil oligargs deserving their cruel despatch it lacks any spark of originality or indeed, dread.

Whilst I didn’t see the Festival Surprise Film which they always keep shrouded in immense secrecy I was pleased to see it was Birdman, a project which has been steadily soaring to the lofty peak of expectations. The enormous praise has been unanimous from other festival showings, and although I’ve read some intriguing elements of the film production and construction I’ll keep them quiet for now. The London critics were just as impressed as the TiFF and Venice contingent, so I’m really looking forward to this now.

Restoration is always a pleasure at a festival, alas I missed The Tales Of Hoffman (which truth be told is not one of my favourite Powell & Pressburgers) so I went in a rather different direction with this Chinese Wuxia classic. Like many of my generation I grew watching all the Bruce Lee pictures (The Big Boss, Fists Of Fury, Game Of Death) and some of the early Jackie Chan’s (Snake In The Eagles Shadow, Drunken Master), but generally speaking 1960’s martial art remain something of a blind spot. Review here, and here are my warblings on The Tribe.

My final picture was Jamie Marks Is Dead, which immediately put me in the mind of the 1980’s teen alienation classic Rivers Edge. Although it suffers in comparison his was good though, a little creepy, and again a palpable sense of isolation which seems to be a recurring theme. So that’s that for another year, for the final tally The Tribe, Foxcatcher, Whiplash, Spring and The Duke of Burgundy were the highlights. So now its time to take to the stars, and the good news we have a mission clearance for all eight of the tickets I initially applied for so prepeare for hyperspace etc….

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Eight

Another thing I enjoy about film festivals is the detection of trends. Sometines, certainly not all the time but sometimes when you see a cluster of material some common manifesto can emerge, either through themes, through technology or sometimes a hybrid of both, across a number of movies. The presence and potential of such cultural readings of cinema caused a little storm in a tea-cup earlier in the year when a number of commentators began to read movies such as Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes as metaphors for Israeli & Palestine, or a concealed plea for gun control, a contention that the esteemed film scholar David Bordwell firmly dismissed here. I’m not going to get into that wider question here of cinema as reflection of wider society – not enough space, not enough time – but seeing another American mentor / mentee picture within 24 hrs of Whiplash with similarly powerful character driven performances obsessed with the pursuit of perfection, well, it does make you think;

What is strange about this film and which doesn’t penetrate through the trailer is just how exhausted it is, it’s an American mediation on class and privilege with a clear commentary on our wonderful era of austerity despite occurring twenty-five years ago, of the arrogance of the elite and how all the material and influence in the world can still leave you deeply and irrevocably fucked up. Steve Carrell will definitely get an Oscar nod and it is a fine performance, but I think Ruffalo and Tatum are equally as strong.

I’ll tell you what, as the lights dimmed on this one and the Annapurna corporate logo shuffled into view I knew we were in safe hands, as again they display that their hands-off, sign the cheques and let the creatives get on and make the film they want approach continues to pay artistic dividends, next up from their stable is the trifiling matter of Inherent Vice...erm Sausage Party? So we’re coming to the end of my coverage now, I’ve got a little wrap up to construct over the weekend and that’ll be it for this year….

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Seven

Now this is what I’m talking about, a full day of film festival fun, two movies (it would have been three but Xavier Dolan’s Mommy was ‘sold out’ by the time I got there) and another press conference, all cantering around this jazzy little number;

Fantastic movie, pure and simple. Incredible, committed performances, evasion of the expected mentor/pupil genre traps (the film has a Sundance rather than say a Warner Spotlight vibe) and a narrative which fulfils its emotional waypoints. Just to join the choir on stating the bleedin’ obvious but J.K. Simmons is 100% an absolute lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and he was quite the charmer at the post screening press conference over at the Mayfair Hotel;

So just about enough time to wolf down a sandwich before tearing the pavement up back to Shaftsbury Avenue for the second screening of the day, Greg Araki’s hard edged fairy tale White Bird In A Blizzard;

This was an unexpected treat, I’m glad I took a risk as other options were on the menu. It’s no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but as a well baked blend of Douglas Sirk and John Hughes it works as a coming-of-age tale within an eerie mystery.  After her turn in The Descendants and a reasonable anchor in the mediocre Divergent franchise Shailene Woodley is going from strength to strength, and if nothing else the film has a period specific soundtrack – 1988 to 1991 – which seems to have been directly culled from I and my mates playlists of that period; The Jesus & Mary Chain, Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, The Cure, Depeche Mode and most esoterically This Mortal Coil. Twice.

BFI London Film Festival 2014 – Day Six

Whilst I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invite to the Industry Seminar on the Southbank featuring none other than mega-media mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg on Day Six I had other plans, there was just no way I was going to risk missing one of the most provocative and fascinating films of the year;

Ok, here we go. I think by now we all know I’m something of a specialist of challenging and outre cinema, of material destined to turn stomachs and cause appropriate offensive in lesser gnarled spirits, but my god although I’d heard this was a ‘tough’ watch I wasn’t expecting such a hardcore experience. I’m not kidding but this film actually shook me up as it is very much in the vein of Irresversible, A Serbian Film, or god help us all Marley & Me. It certainly ‘earns’ its violence, is not for a single nanosecond exploitative and is a remarkable piece of cinema, I just never, never want to see The Tribe again. Here is a complete change of tack, not even remotely related to the LFF, which will hopefully distract us from the darkness;

Reviews have been a little ‘meh’ from a very selective North American run, I just like the attention to detail with the production design which makes it look like fun., hopefully in a Galaxy Quest kinda way. I will say however that I caught a film at the LFF (review incoming) which has Liv Tyler playing a middle aged mom, and boy did that make me feel old. When did she get into that casting bracket? So finally for today although I have been thwarted from attending festival events such as Q&A’s and Masterclasses this year, another casualty of some unfortunate schedule clashes, the LFF have hosted some intriguing seminars such as this;

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