What’s that, the Cruiser has been spotted in a non-franchise picture? Will wonders never cease? Anywho, this could be fun, its tangent to the Cocaine Cowboys story already has me interested;
Heh, that Japanese poster on the left made me chuckle when I first saw it so I thought I’d share. So, we finally push confidently off into blockbuster season yet again dear friends, although this arguably has already left the starting blocks with the latest instalment of Fast And The Furious franchise whose continual success remains a total mystery to the Menagerie*. The original Guardians is among my favourites of the magnificent Marvel movie multiverse, for a number of clear and concise reasons. Firstly I loved the freedom they had with the oddball characters who weren’t enmeshed in nervous studio executive intellectual property / branding cages, I was beguiled by the scintillating Jack Kirbyseque cosmic backdrops and Gunn’s impish sense of humour, and I just loved the fresh approach to the MCU which was becoming encumbered by the intrinsic weight of cross referencing demands and the emergence of new superhero clichés – origin story chains and reboots, final act villain plots that involved orbital beam doomsday weapon countdowns, mainstream, unchallenging three act tedium, tired and template CGI chicanery. Among this environment Guardians emerged as a lovely, freshly minted bubble-gum sensation of unadulterated blockbuster exuberance which didn’t treat the audience like imbecilic, dollar spawning gnats. Accordingly when Gunn and the same team were announced for the inevitable sequel I was on board for another adventure throughout the further intergalactic reaches of Stan Lee’s starflung cerebellum.
Whilst I left the first movie with a beaming, rictus stamp of appreciation on my face the second time around elicited more of an agreeable grin, as although some of the vitality of meeting these characters for the first time has waned this is still another agreeable, colourful romp which plays to Marvels usual formula – we’ll come back to that. The gang of rogues are in the midst of a mission, headed by interstellar kidnapping victim Starlord (Chris Pratt), disgruntled green-hued assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), socially boisterous tattoo ogre Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), sarcastic vermin ordinance specialist Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and infant elemental spirit Groot (Vin Diesel) whom after sacrificing himself in the last picture now has reached the inquisitive fledgling phase of his bizarre photosynthesis lifecycle. As the film opens in a tour de force credits sequence the mercenaries best an inter-dimensional threat at the behest of an arrogant gold hued species known as the Sovereign. After their business relationship sours a frantic escape leads Starlord into the path of a powerful entity known as Ego (Kurt Russell), both sporting a remarkable genetic alignment which makes you wonder if the CGI boffins didn’t conduct some secret pixel presdigination. The encounter of his father – no, this is not a spoiler its in the trailer and occurs in roughly the first 15 minutes of the film – leads him on a revelatory path to unearth his true patronage and destiny. We’ll leave it there for now, also returning to the fray are Michael Rooker as Starlords former slave-master Yondu and Karen Gillan as the vengeance fuelled Nebula, while new characters emerge in the form of a surprising appearance from Sly as some high ranking Ravager which I was not expecting, and Andorian antenna alike empath Mantis (Pom Klementieff) whom with Drax’s assistance provides much of the films instinctive wit.
What is firmly back on the agenda is the prismatic panorama of a vast multiverse teeming with a vast array of exotic flora and fauna, I think this is the first 3D projection I’ve seen this year and it was easy to get lost in the celestial visual landscape of distant exploding supernova and associated astrological flotsam and jetsam. The fun quotient is high with a cluster of dizzying set-pieces falling on just the right side of spatial comprehension, with the banter and gags landing with a carpet bombed 60% or so accuracy. There’s maybe a few to many plots nuzzling for attention alongside Starlord’s investigation into his celestial history. This is always the screenwriters bane when it comes to team movies, the hunger to give all four of the other Guardians some sort of character activity and growth, especially since unlike most other franchise threads all the main denizens here are fun and amusing to hang-out with. Groot, like the first film probably wins in these terms with the cuteness quotient turned to 11, but the producers have fully committed to an ensemble piece, perhaps at the expense of giving us much in the way of the wider Marvel cosmology of characters and artefacts.
After the soaring first act I think it is fair to say that the plot weaves and wanes a little, adopting an autopilot trajectory as the team is split across two planets for hereditary excavations and an encounter with the bounty hunting Reavers. These threads and a few mysteries are solved are intertwined for a largely satisfying and visually dexterous finale, even if they do resort to the clichéd bomb countdown pulse-quickener against a foe who might just a little too abstract and elusive for visual representation – hopefully you’ll understand what I’m driving it when you see the film. The soundtrack choice, so important for the charm of the original really didn’t work for me this time around but that’s a subjective criticism depending on your musical taste, I think it will need a diagnostic overhaul for Episode III which Gunn has already confirmed his hyphenate writer-director return. Naturally there’s a smattering of references and cameos – the first big-screen appearance of a voyeuristic specialist of the multiverse had me chuckling in fanboy delight – but virtually zero reference to the overall Infinity Stone strand which seems like an oversight. Still, that didn’t prevent the executives from cramming a half dozen credit stings which is getting slightly ridiculous now. Overall this is a fine continuation of the MCU which keeps matters on an even keel rather than blasting into new territory, an instalment which nearly equals but never eclipses the exhilaration of the first adventure, another pleasing elixir of prismatic CGI chimera, schmaltzy comradeship, risqué in-universe banter and dexterous action sequences from the Marvel laboratory where the formula boffins continue to insist that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;
* Not really, I know exactly what the success of that franchise is – big, ridiculous yet memorable action set piece engineering, four-quadrant attuned, multi-racial casting, and a pummelling global marketing campaign which emphasizes the action over the verbal….
Oh dear. I’m on the record as being a fan of the Cruiser, and I was aware this was in the works, I think as part of that whole effort of Universal to exploit their intellectual property of those classic monsters. Looks like they’ve fallen at the first hurdle as this looks…..poor;
Apparently, even old horror movies must now be transformed into blockbuster action CGI fests, because that approach worked so well for Van Helsing didn’t it? Idiots….
Despite the horrors of the real world this week we appear to be hurtiling into a golden period of screen SF, I’ve just got back from catching Arrival with my brain still scrambled by its brilliance, only to see this hacked onto my feeds;
Looking pretty magnificent, isn’t it? Closest we’ll every get to a Neuromancer translation, and as a Depeche Mode fan the deployment of that Enjoy The Silence cover made me grin like a over-amphetimised pleasure-bot. I also like the look of Passengers which could be compelling on just the space opera visuals front, and Luc Besson’s latest also looks worth a cinema visit, despite his recent transgressions. Damn, I’m trying to think of some pun on the whole ‘the future’s not bright, the future’s orange’ motto but that just reminds me of the US results and my ecstatic mood has just been blasted out of hyperspace…..
I wouldn’t normally post these annoying blipverts but someone has been wise enough to connect them together, and I think this looks quite…intriguing;
Prolific, isn’t he, that Ben Wheatley fella, and early reports out of Toronto sound positive for his latest carnage strewn charade, this time with Oscar winning actresses;
Chances are, if you’re of the same generation as me who grew up in the 1980’s then when it comes to your formative cinema heroic idol you have two titans to choose from – Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Both are swashbuckling, cheeky, self-confident rogues with an eye for the ladies, nesting within a rather indiscriminate and suspect moral codex. Solo of course was not averse to cold-bloodingly murdering a rival in a crowded bar, with plenty of witnesses and damn the consequences – what’s that? No, LALALA I can’t hear you. The other is less bloodthirsty but equally ruthless, effortlessly dispatching hordes of heinous henchmen and gormless goons as he prances across the world stage, obliterating numerous priceless archaeological sites in order to glean the glory of the international adventuring community. The other connection of course is Harrison Ford, one of the most beloved and popular Movie Stars that emerged with the rise of the blockbuster era, a more slightly more humane and relatable idol than the cartoon caricatures of Ahnoldt or Stallone whom men and women of whatever orientation would like to emulate or fuck. Being the contrarian that I always equate Ford as Deckard, but that didn’t stop me being enticed to take in a pulse-pounding double bill at the BFI, as one of the more gruelling grimoires of their celestial Spielberg season – all four Indy movies, back to back, from midday to midnight. It’s been a long running Menagerie ambition to cover Raiders Of The Lost Ark as a key post-war American film, and I assessed that I could commit to two films in the franchise and then bow out gracefully, having already seen the following instalments on the silver screen – Crusade during its initial theatrical run in 1989, and Skull way back in an already historic 2008. Suffice to say I will deny controversy and assert that this first film in this incredibly popular series remains the pulsating pinnacle, a clear bridge between Hollywood old and new, with a captivating cartography which remains the template of major action adventure releases to this day.
So we’re back in the cinematic realms of wide-eyed, beguiled characters staring off-screen to some scintillating marvel, as the camera slowly tracks in to an enraptured close-up as the John William’s score crescendos in the background. This was Spielberg’s first official collaboration with his old friend George Lucas, he sandwiched between the intergalactic successes of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, when during a well deserved vacation they came up with a character cloned from the Republic Serial avatars of their cinema-going youth. Both men were struck with the archetype of an indestructible, lantern-jawed fortune hunter whom defies certain death at every turn of their globe-trotting adventures, through a combination of athletic pugilism, chaotic chutzpah and ingenious improvisation, a hark back to a simpler media time before those pesky adult themes and ambivalent shadings crept into the American cinema of the 1970’s. Raiders was a smash, the biggest film of the year which ushered in one of the most recognizable and beloved franchises of the modern era, a stalwart of Bank Holiday TV and big screen revivals which still generates feverish speculation on any new instalment to conclude this phase of this character. Although I’m guessing that you can predict and mumble through every scene and story-beat the films remains as entertaining and energetic as it ever has, unlike some of its brethren which do look geriatric compared to today’s CGI catastrophes. The first thing that struck me was the sheer pace and design of the film, opening with a now iconic set-piece to establish the tone, followed by a long and talky exposition scene – we need to get this MacGuffin in order to prevent the antagonists from taking over the world – before setting out on a metronome sequence that oscillates between character beats and actions sequences, all the way through to it’s strangely inanimate finale. Well, I say inanimate but I mean that in a protagonist sense, but we’ll come back to that…….
It’s the combination of spectacle and spectator that has carried it through the years, the sheer energy and drive coupled with Ford’s charismatic exhaustion which has reverberated over thirty-five years of entertainment. Indy arrives as a fully formed hero as if we’ve seen him in numerous tales beforehand (which in a sense we have of course, in archetype) whom undergoes precisely zero development or learning throughout his globe-trotting trials and adventure. However he isn’t a dyed in the wool American screen Übermensch of the era as screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan has given Indy some human frailties, his fear of snakes may seem trivial but in fact becomes a clever plot point to provide some humanist empathy, and Ford’s constant expressions of surprise, bewilderment and exasperated exhaustion all add to a human figure prospering through extraordinary circumstances, lightening the tone with a zephyrous comedic tilt. This time around I just thought it a little weird that for a man so driven with the thirst for knowledge and the protection of sacred ancient treasures Indy was not exactly averse to utterly demolishing numerous ancient dwellings and site of spectacular archaeological interest, but I guess a two-hour, $80 million translation of Time Team might not have had the same universal appeal. At least he does get to do some intellectual detective work, a quality which seems sorely absent from the latter instalments, giving a chance to slow the pace down a little and reveal in a little mystical adventure and wonder, a natural fit with Spielberg’s cinematic raison d’être. Alongside Ford the films secret weapon is Karen Allen, a spirited damsel in distress to be sure which is a shame given that her initial, memorable introduction, but she remains a major character throughout the movie with occasional shards of her own agency, constantly striving to extricate herself from her circumstances, and isn’t afraid to give Indy a smack in the chops when he deserves it.
Although this was a digital print, another factor which teased my antipathy it was one of those transfers which has been carefully balanced to align modern clarity with ancient grain, retaining a period visual sheen which seems a perfect marriage to the 1980’s imagining the 19330’s source material. Now I suppose you’d like some of the trivia, huh? Well, I haven’t bothered to do any research and I’m sure given the fanbase that plenty of excavations of the film’s production have made to a forensic detail, but I do recall that Klaus Kinski was first offered the creepy Tott henchman role, and the prospect of seeing that psychopath screaming through a Spielberg production could have been quite a historic treat. Tom Selleck was a major TV star during the production and he was first in line for the fedora, and if I recall correctly there was some apprehension that Ford could be typecast given his explosive fame as a certain Correlian scoundrel, but he won the part and the rest, as they say, is history. Some of the matte and compositing work has naturally dated but not to any major disruptive degree, what really pops on the big screen is the astounding stunt work, knowing that this was all conducted for real really makes you nervously grip your seat-arm, despite sitting through the film numerous times. This wouldn’t be the Menagerie without some tenuous Kubrick link, so I’ll just report that it was during the filming of the Well Of Souls sequence for Raiders that Steve met and made friends with Stan who was shooting his horror masterpiece on an adjoining Elstree stage, shortly before his Overlook Hotel stage burnt to the ground in suspicious circumstances, necessitating an expensive and exacting reconstruction which pushed his production back for weeks. I also had to chuckle at the film’s most glaring logical failure, when in the immediate pre-climax scene Indy cautiously boards a diving submarine, followed by one of those cartographic montages which details its re-emergence on the a remote Aegean island many hundreds of miles hence. So how, exactly, did our hero manage to hold his breath for what, three or four days in the churning chaos of the South Atlantic?
Another point that is buried beneath the films pyrotechnics is an odd secular dichotomy. At one point the great Denholm Elliott, Indy’s sober academic colleague ominously warns of the perils of toying with forces beyond our feeble comprehension, as the biblical power of the Lost Ark is more dangerous that mortal imagination. Indy replies that it’s all mystical mumbo-jumbo, and he’s only in it to rescue a treasured artifact so it can be properly be preserved and examined. During that memorable climax that induced a thousand hours of adolescent nightmares there seems to be a change of faith in our hero, as he instruct Marion to close her eyes in a last-minute conversion to the holy vengeance of these terrifying, devastating djinn. Raiders is an umbilical link from ancient to modern as it connects the silver screen idols of yesteryear, the Errol Flynn’s and Douglas Fairbanks’s to the more modern action hero, still much far more charismatic and charming than the current crop of identikit french-cropped robots. Oddly, I don’t own any of the films in the franchise but I grew up them on constant rotation, I guess they’re on TV so much I never feel the pressing urge to fire up Temple Of Doom or The Last Crusade, but they never fail to make a couple of hours fly by in a throughly entertaining fashion. I will resignedly go and see the BFG despite the middling reviews because hey, it’s Spielberg, and my tradition of following certain influential entities must be maintained to retain some long cherished traditions. His latest films haven’t exactly set the box office alight, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone waiting in the wings to inherit his mantle as we move toward more augmented reality for our leisure pursuits. I’m clearly getting older and older as it’s taken me a few days to divulge why various social media streams have been so choked with Pokémon related paraphernalia, until I understood that this new game heralds a definitive new charge into virtual interaction while Minority Report’s predictions seem increasingly medieval, maybe that glum assessment of cinema being an increasingly marginalised experience are all too true. But we’re not quite riding off into the triumphantly John Williams scored sunset just yet, as the next stop on our journey will take us to the mysterious Indian jungle for one of Steve’s rare ‘dark’ movies….
Catchphrases can be funny things. They are an indicator of whether a film has made an indelible cultural mark, as just uttering a line conjures in the mind of the beholder the movie in all its affable glory – ‘I’ll be back‘, ‘I made him an offer he can’t refuse‘, ‘Phone Home’, ‘Nobody’s perfect’. As soon as the silents became talkies certain lines of dialogue encapsulated the film and its squawking star persona, from Garbo’s insistence of ‘vanting to be alone’ to Frankenstein shrieking ‘It’s alive’. Heck even when a bastardisation of the actual line enters the vernacular the remnants still resonate – ‘Play it again, Sam’ – the omission or addition of a single word echoing in ignorance throughout the ages. Sometimes, mischievous filmmakers take these tropes and playfully mock their prevalence, the cinematic equivalent of having your cake and eating it, simultaneously poking fun at the cliché while also flirting with their affection – after all ’it’s all in the reflexes’. This bring us to the wonder that is Big Trouble In Little China, a film which amusingly mocks the 1980’s fish-out-of-water action paradigm, while also predicting Hollywood’s assimilation of Oriental action and martial arts cinema by at least a decade. With his career suffering a flat-line after the fiscal flop of The Thing John Carpenter hesitantly moved toward the centre with safer projects, line-assembling the Stephen King adaption Christine (probably the least discussed of all his golden era films), and inverting the alien as outsider threat with Starman which can dismissively described as E.T. with adults. Out of the rising sun came his next project, reuniting with the Mifune to his Kurosawa Kurt Russell, their fourth collaboration which hardly reversed his barren box-office boon, barely recouping 50% of its then medium weighted budget.
Astoundingly this was not the first time I’ve seen Big Trouble at the cinema, as it may make you smirk to learn that I actually dragged two friends to see this on its general release back in 1986, and while both heretics dismissed the film as ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb’ I was of course enthralled, so who’s laughing now Darren Jiggins and Stuart Townsend? Well? Despite being widely dismissed during the 1990’s the film (alongside They Live) has been reassessed in the internet age, coalescing into a dedicated cult audience perhaps more attuned to cultural and genre meldings of an elixir of dumb-ass action movie, slapstick comedy, gravity defying wuxia acrobatics and mild San Francisco focused Orientalism. Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is a macho lunkhead trucker who is unluckily drawn into a kidnapping plot when his friend Wang (Dennis Dun) new mail order Chinese bride is abducted by a cadre of black garbed goons at the airport. Unfortunately it turns out that his new bride is destined to fulfil an ancient prophecy, the power to invigorate ancient sorcerer Lo-Pan (a cackling James Hong) with a reinvigorating immortality, through a rather unfortunate bought of human sacrifice. With plucky investigative reporter Gracie (Kim Cattral) also embroiled in the imbroglio the stage is set for an agile adventure secreted behind the façade of reality, where deep in the bowels of San Francisco ancient powers battle mystical forces from beyond the mysterious orient……
Structurally Big Trouble In Little China is hardly a prototype of a new seething action cinema, but it was something of a trailblazer in bringing some of the mystical martial arts momentum to a less adventurous, silo separated Westernized audience – that’s what I think caused the film to fail thirty years ago. For the truly faithful we’ve always appreciated its odd mélange of styles and influences, it’s just so much dumb yet genuinely amusing fun, never taking its characters seriously but investing enough inciting mysticism and physics shredding choreography into the action sequences and internecine character banter. No doubt some could read the film slightly distastefully in 2016 with some broad archetypes of the inscrutable immigrant on display, but it’s not like it’s as immediately offensive as Mickey Rooney in Breakfast At Tiffany’s or Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles or anything, and the real hero is the dexterous Wang while Jack blunders around like a drunken oaf, intoxicated on a cheap combination of Sangria laced Sambucca. The style is comic book stylistics before the medium really began to gain traction over all blockbuster product, moving fast enough to obscure any narrative nuance, dazzling the audience with some cool stunt and editing work which papers over a rather perfunctory plot. Some of the special effects are a little on the dated side and the creature and prosthetics designs inelegantly express their 30 years, but when you get to my venerable age of cult movie fandom that’s part of the fun, the tactile, physical SFX as part of the films tensile temperature as the haircuts, costumes, or wider cultural references. If you want to really get into some of the minutiae then I’ve heard that the primary influence was Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain which inspired the revolutionary wire work, both films barely containing characters who ricochet around the sets like Percocet powered pinballs, while Jack generally asks a lot of questions;
That’s as good a montage as you’re likely to get, and this wouldn’t be a Menagerie review of a John Carpenter film if we didn’t single out the synth pulsing score for a little love now would it? It’s a more playful and flippant choral mix than you’d normally expect from the usual sonic slithering, with regular collaborator Alan Howarth providing his usual, instructive support– I’m already getting excited for October. Visually you may identify the masterful eyes of Dean Cundey at work, one of the industries most respected artisans when it comes to disguising and melding live and SFX elements. After perfecting his art in the likes of Escape From New York and The Thing Spielberg selected him to lens a modest little picture called Jurassic Park just a trio of years later. Coincidently just this week I finally saw the notorious exploitation classic The Witch Who Came From The Sea and can you guess who photographed that? He crops up as interview subject in a few short DVD extras.
Before the arrival of Jackie Chan, before John Woo, before Ang Lee but after Bruce Lee, Hollywood of the late 1980’s was struggling for new hooks to hang its genre templates upon, casting their net wide to co-opt foreign genre successes which they could then mould into their classical narrative templates – a bit of romance with no actual sex, a three act structure complete with inciting incident and equilibrium restoring climax, some misguided yet not entirely stringent distrust of foreign customs and clients. Rumours persist that the film was rushed into production as some effort to slipstream in the success of Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child, or maybe the whole interest in the orient as source material was just another of those zephyous passing studio executive fads. There is rather odd underlying philosophy lurking in the corner of these pictures, Carpenter does seem fascinated with the possibility of forces behind the fabric of reality, of the potential of permeable barriers between dimensions, personified in the sage-alike Obi Wan character Egg Shen (Victor Wong) which bleeds nicely into his next picture Prince Of Darkness and the final scream of his apocalypse trilogy In The Mouth Of Madness. I remember his enunciation of these interests during a fondly remembered BBC transmission called Horror Café, a late night discussion panel where he was joined by such gruesome luminaries as Clive Barker, Roger Corman and Ramsay Campbell, a rediscovery which I stumbled across like a menacing tree root in a fog shrouded graveyard, and you can exorcise it here.
Somehow the boisterous boffins at the Prince Charles have sourced a wonderful, pristine 70mm print which hung on the screen like an animated lìzhóu, the colours and combat popping like a delicious dish of sizzling szechuan chicken. Big Trouble isn’t the greatest action film ever made, it’s certainly not the most dazzling martial arts film ever made, but it is a confection of tightly coiled fun, unabashedly goofy and playful, and Russell’s perfectly calibrated performance goes a long way in maintaining that deliriously devoted cult audience as yet another personification of Carpenters cynical, wisecracking anti-heroes. There is evidently something in the water as after the January Kubrick season and this Carpenter programme what is coming up at the Prince Charles in May? Oh, only a blinking Michael Mann season which means I can finally see Menagerie favorite Thief and perhaps The Keep on the big screen, you’d think I’d brought shares in them or sold my soul to some sort of slithering celluloid cacodemon. But we’re not done with Mr. Carpenter just yet, as to infiltrate the bank holiday we must worship at a very special triple bill, which means I can finally get those tachyons pulsing and revisit the year one….nine….nine…..
So lets get this out the way then. No, I don’t wish to sound dismissive, I quite like the Bourne movies (especially Ultimatum), I just kinda feel that the stories has been told in the trilogy so there’s not much traction in going back to this uber-spy. The trailer suggests this will be proficient enough, but all that Las Vegas stuff feels like its been compromised from another franchise;
One of the unsurprising successes of last years genre festival circuit, the faintly insane looking Hardcore Henry finally gets a full trailer – is that Tim Roth and Ewan McGregor I spy? Well, the unique POV approach isn’t actually that unique, and I fear the mechanism might get a bit tired fifteen, twenty minutes into a 90 minute picture, but for now this looks pretty mental, so I’ll give it a watch;
Speaking of over the top adolescent quivering violence, todays burning question is does one go and see Deadpool? The comparisons to Kick-Ass, a film I pretty much loathed are not inviting, but wasn’t Sunday invented for cackling along to bone shattering violence?