Tag Archives: film

Patrick McGoohan & Ricardo Montalban RIP

Losing Patrick McGoohan today was bad enough, but then it was announced that Ricardo Montalban has died as well. This is indeed a sad day.

For politicos, McGoohan is probably the greater loss because of his highly political (and radical – not just of its time but of all time) subversion of the secret agent genre The Prisoner. It emerges that this is now being remade into a film (courtesy of the makers of the new film, you can watch the original series online gratis) – something which rivals the Watchmen film in terms of making me feel ambivalent. McGoohan’s aim of The Prisoner was to be entirely subversive – essentially an act of trashing his own brand (which after Danger Man was very valuable indeed). How subversive can a remake be? The Wicker Man anyone?

Compared to The Prisoner, Fantasy Island (which is also currently being remade by – ack! – Eddie Murphy!) seems very tame indeed. I’ve never seen it, nor do I particularly intend to catch up for lost time.

For me, Montalban is to be lauded for one role only: the eponymous chracter is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – arguably the greatest Trek film. Montalban’s performance was brilliant – as hammy as Shatner, to be sure – but both sinister and sympathetic at the same time. The film is remembered for two main scenes: Spock dies at the end (you didn’t know? Sorry!) and Khan and Kirk’s chat-off in the middle. Known in particular for Shatner’s completely over the top screaming, Montalban’s performance is a pitch perfect counterpoint and utterly chilling.

Growing up in the early 1980s, both McGoohan and Montalban were thus major punctuation points in my growing up. ITV reshowed The Prisoner in the early eighties to great fanfare while Star Trek was omnipresent. I doff my cap to you both, gentlemen.

Nine wishes for 2009 #7: The Watchmen Movie to not suck (spoilers/guesses)

God, all my wishes are getting pretty forlorn, aren’t they? I’ve written about the upcoming Watchmen film fairly recently. What I will add is that I spent the early hours of Sunday morning watching the various promos and video diaries that the production team have been pumping out on the internet about it. The portents are not great, I’m afraid to report.

Two of them give me particular pause for concern, the first possibly unreasonably. This film is about how kewl the Owlship is going to be. If I were a fourteen year old, and this was a Batman film, I would be excited. As it stands, the Owlship is a very minor part of the Watchmen aesthetic: it gives the second Nite-Owl a gimmick (a gimmick almost wholly ripped off from Blue Beetle, unsurprisingly) and gets the characters from A to B. It’s an egg-shaped thing with windows – what’s to get excited about (okay, I’ll admit it – I got ridiculously excited about the Batmobile in the 1989 film. There. Happy now?)?

But to be fair, this film is probably little more than the production team bigging up their contribution. Good for them. Up the workers I say. No, what really worries me is this film about the Silk Spectre. Leave aside the sexed up costume for a minute – I can live with that (although I’ve never understood this longstanding comic book movie tradition of turning superhero costumes into fetish wear). What really worries me is hearing Zack Snyder and the actress Malin Akerman describe the character as some kind of feminist icon. She “kicks ass” – she’s “awesome.” She even represents, ahem, “woman power“.

In the comic, Laurie is actually quite a passive character. She goes along with what her mother wants, then goes along with what Doctor Manhattan wants. Admittedly, she does convince Manhattan to save the world but she doesn’t do it through the power of her womanly fists but through, er, talking. Almost none of the fighting you see in the film clips actually happen in the comic.

Now, I have nothing wrong with strong female characters (although this interpretation does seem to be more of a strong male character in a woman’s body) and I understand that they have to up the action ante for the film. But the overall tone I keep hearing on these promo clips is that the interpretation that Zack Snyder is going for is rather reminiscent of all those dreadful post-Watchmen comics of the late eighties and early nineties.

You remember? When everything went grim, gritty and “realistic”? When Rob Liefield was the hottest artist on the planet (shivers)? The Dark Knight Returns shares responsibility for that particularly shallow period of comic book creativity, but a selective reading of Watchmen is also to blame. The watershed moment was Rorschach winning the Eagle Award for “Character Most Worthy of Own Title.” Yes, what the comics reading public wanted was a strip about a completely insane, psychopathic character which was parodying Steve Ditko‘s Ayn Rand obsessions. Just as a lot of comic readers think that Judge Dredd is an advertisement for zero tolerance summary justice, a lot of the freaks considered Rorschach, The Comedian et al to be heroes.

The Watchmen is about a bunch of misfits who ultimately fail to make a difference. They don’t save the world – in fact they make it a more dangerous place. At lot of people looked at all the pretty pictures and failed to notice that in the late eighties. My current fear is that Zack Snyder was one of them.

On the plus side, the Japanese trailer for the film does look a lot more interesting (I like the JFK appearance – including the revelation of the true assassin), even if the scenes in the “situation room” do look a bit like a camped up version of Dr Strangelove. There may be hope yet.

Why does any of this matter? Well, to be quite honest it doesn’t really. It’s just that while I think I would have preferred it if they hadn’t tried making this particular classic into a film, I’m going to spend my money watching it anyway so it might as well not be a soul-destroying three hours of my life.

Ultimately all I really wish for is that it ends up being no worse than the film version of V for Vendetta, which I have a sneaking affection for. The fact that they took such liberties with V is, in my view, a selling point. I think they got close to the heart of the story (even if they did cop out at the end) in the way that I fear Watchmen won’t.

Justice is in Our DNA

A new Judge Dredd film has been given the go-ahead. The potentially good news is that it is to be produced by DNA Films, the UK outfit behind 28 Weeks Later and Sunshine. io9.com have seen fit to justfy an entirely unsubstantiated rumour that Danny Boyle will direct. Harry Knowles wants Judge Death in it. Personally, I’m still waiting to see if these rumours prove more substantive than the ones about 6 years ago about two Dredd films being filmed back-to-back.

Do I actually want another Judge Dredd film? The first one was a pretty good example of the 90s mindset of taking a comic, ramming it into a Hollywood-approved mould and throwing it back into our faces. It is one of a handful of comic book films that weren’t merely lame, not merely critical and audience flops but seemed calculated to annoy fans of the original works (the other two standout examples being From Hell and LXG).

Since then of course, a whole new generation of comic adaptations have arisen which have, to greater or lesser degrees of success, have been directed by quality film makers who loved – but were not slaves to – the source material. Sam Raimi on the first two Spider-Man films, Brian Singer on the first two X-Men films, Chris Nolan on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The outlook looks a lot better than it did in 1995, at the very least.

But Dredd isn’t your average comic strip. It isn’t a superhero comic and the main character doesn’t have much in the way of introspective, cinegenic angst. He isn’t just “dark” – he spends much of the time being the bad guy (a fact which the 1995 film completely ignored). And it is a satire which takes no prisoners. Turning all that into a film will be a big task.

I’m not sure they can pull it off, but for what it’s worth, here are my tips for making a good Dredd film:

1. Cast Ron Perlman in the lead. He’s the right age, has the right demeanour and – crucially – has the right chin. To say that he risks typecasting after Hellboy is redundant: Perlman was typecast 20 years ago. You won’t find a better Dredd, period. Don’t bother making it unless he’s doing it.

2. Don’t have Judge Death in it. Sorry Harry, but you are wrong. Judge Dredd is, at its heart, a comic strip about future crime. Death would make it into a horror film. Now, a Judge Death film might be good (just think: Hellraiser-meets-Terminator – with jokes!), but it wouldn’t be a Judge Dredd film.

3. Have a strong sympathetic character in conflict with Dredd. Or, to stop beating around the bush, do a Chopper film. Chopper was one of the most popular characters in the first decade of Dredd for a good reason: the audience could identify with him. Making the film about, say, a Supersurf-style illegal race would not only make for some great action scenes, but it would perfectly capture what the Dredd strip is about.

4. Don’t make it about The Judges – this was what I hated the most about the 1995 film: the way they turned the Judges into a quasi-religious order with only the best of intentions. The fallible humans presented in Origins were a vast improvement, but even that sort of strip would be extranneous. We want a film about a future cop, not another political space opera.

5. Other things to avoid: space, other Mega Cities, the Cursed Earth… in short, anything that takes the film away from the essence of the Dredd strip. It is too much detail that will turn it into a soggy mess (like the last film in fact).

6. Two fingers to Rob Schneider! In order to exorcise the demons of the last film, there needs to be some of reference to Rob Schneider and his lamentable film career. How about having a block in his name flattened at some point. Or maybe at some point Dredd could arrest a male prostitute called R. Schneider. The possibilities are endless… the more offensive the better.

Futurbama

Related to my previous post, I was a little disappointed by this article, which promised so much yet failed to deliver.

The last time the Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, Gillian Anderson wore pants. There were two Star Trek series at once, which promoted women and minorities and looked at the dark side of the Federation. Cyberpunk reigned supreme. The future was a shiny place — but with dread lurking just beneath its polish. Now that the Democrats have finally scored another grand slam, are we going to see the return of sunny-but-questioning science fiction?

The main thing it lacks is a contrast between sci-fi under Bush with sci-fi under Clinton.

First of all, let’s be clear that Star Trek: The Next Generation was a product of the Reagan/Bush Snr years: there were only one-and-a-half seasons under Clinton; its optimism was entirely driven by the ending of the Cold War. DS9 and Voyager are authentically Clintonian and they took the franchise down a much darker path than their predeccessor. TNG’s two greatest contribution to Star Trek were the rich development of Klingon culture and, of course, the Borg. The former was a rather more optimistic look at Middle Eastern culture than would ever have emerged post-9/11 while the Borg is of course influenced by communism (although these days, anxieties about assimilation of the individual would no doubt be presumed to be anxieties about Islam).

DS9 and Voyager by contrast gave us ideas about living in a divided society. Both Bajoran and Human societies have their culture wars. The Bajorans are also “good” arabs (Bajor = Kuwait/Saudi Arabia) while the Cardassians are the mean old Syrian/Iranians. Meanwhile, with the humans, Trek was able to explore what was increasingly becoming a divided USA, the Maquis being all but cheerleaders for Ruby Ridge and Waco. You could easily imagine B’Elanna Torres blowing up the Oklahoma Federal Building.

How does all this contrast with Star Trek in the Bush Jnr era? I’m not the first to observe that Enterprise was the Bush Doctrine in Space. Captain Archer even resembles Dubya. In the first series they seemed to stumble from one major diplomatic incident to the next. The Xindi were as transparent an analogue of Al Qaeda as you are ever likely to get. As for the fourth season… well, I couldn’t tell you because I had given up by that point.

The main difference between Clintonian sci-fi and Bushian sci-fi is that the latter is far more miserablist. Dare I say that doesn’t necessarily make it bad? In Buffy we had a superhero learning that life was hard, while in Angel we had a vampire discovering that superheroics is equally complicated. Both have in spades something which all too often Star Trek lacked: drama. The reboot of Battlestar Galactica may be darker than the original, but it is far superior.

And while in the post-9/11 world we may have lacked the spectacle of Independence Day, we still have hope. Children of Men is about as dark a film as you can get outside of Schindler’s List, but its ending is far more emotionally uplifting than any 90s cheesefest managed to deliver. As I wrote in my Watchmen post below, entropy is a key theme in 90s sci-fi, but there is always some measure of hope, and that leads to a pretty mighty payoff when it is made to work well. Think the ending of Sunshine or the flashes of hopefulness during the darker points in Spider-Man (1 & 2 – the less said about 3 the better, sadly).

How will this change under Obama? Well, the io9 article cited above already points to the new Star Trek film and its return to a 60s ethic. But the transition film, thinking about it, may yet end up being The Dark Knight. Characteristically Bushian in its darkness, the film is riddled appeals to hope and optimism. In a year characterised by elections, one of its key motifs (borrowed from The Long Halloween) is the election slogan “I believe in Harvey Dent” – Obama might have used that one. There surely can be no doubt that this theme about how the hopes and dreams of the people can be embodied in a single good man (even if it is a blond, white man rather than a dark-haired, mixed race man) was tapping into the same undercurrent that Obama’s campaign was also taking advantage of. It ends with not only The Joker defeated, but The Batman recognising the best thing he can do is disappear. The time of madness is at an end.

So, we can probably expect a period of greater optimism in our science fiction. Let’s hope they don’t get too carried away however and shut down their critical faculties. Bush may not have done much for world stability, but he’s been a gift for sci-fi.

Pulling off The Watchmen (SPOILERS)

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the upcoming Watchmen film and comic book films for ages. Having just read the first chapter of Dave Gibbons’ memoir of his experiences drawing the comic, Watching the Watchmen, I’ve finally decided to put finger to keyboard.

For a lot of us avid comic book fans, especially those of us who were weaned on Alan Moore’s work in the 80s, this is an extremely anxious period for us. We have experienced the utter awfulness of From Hell and League of Gentlemen. Then we had V for Vendetta, a film that was actually not bad and which swayed between being an almost scene-for-scene reproduction of the comic and a bastard hybridisation with The Matrix. Yet it has made its mark in some quite surprising ways, inspiring the whole Anonymous movement and cropping up here and there in the popular media. It has made its mark.

Factor number two is Zack Snyder. A hitherto hack-resembling director who committed the heinous crime of having his zombies run in his remake of Dawn of the Dead (sidenote: Simon Pegg has now started his Slow Zombie movement, presumably akin to Slow Food), he went on to direct the ridiculous 300. Like the other Frank Miller adaptation Sin City, this was a very close adaptation of the comic original. Also like Sin City, I found bits of it cringingly embarrassing. Unlike Sin City however, I did get the impression that both director and actors were enjoying themselves slightly subverting the material. Or did I just imagine this? I’m genuinely undecided as to whether all the scenes of Spartans cavorting with one another were done with a wink to the audience or with the same level of hyper-heterosexuality of the writer-artist’s original that just happened to come across as camp as a row of tents.

The key question for Watchmen therefore is there more to Zack Snyder than meets the eye? Is he capable of viewing the source material with a critical eye or will we just get another soulless carbon copy like Sin City?

Another factor is The Dark Knight. The Nolan Brothers (I have yet to figure out their relationship with the Nolan Sisters) have made what for me is the best ever “superhero” film, but they did this not by simply adapting an original work but by mashing up some of Batman’s greatest hits, specifically Year One, The Long Halloween and Killing Joke, while the ending serves as a kind of prologue to The Dark Knight Returns*. Alongside Lord of the Rings, it functions as a rebuke to the received wisdom that a comic book adaptation has to be a literal translation of the source material (sidenote: another slight challenge The Dark Knight represents to Watchmen is that fact that the former film has borrowed the latter comic’s idea of using scarring to represent The Joker/The Comedian’s grin). I can’t pretend that the apparently less literal Paul Greengrass version, with its apparently more overtly political edge, sounded fascinating. Is there a danger in sticking rigidly to the source material that it will end up being a period piece about the 80s?

It was interesting rereading the original over the summer. For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, nuclear holocaust was something we grew up with. Although I didn’t see it at the time, I remember the buzz in the playground when the BBC showed Threads. I remember the horror of When the Wind Blows, a book which still holds enough power over me that I haven’t read it from cover to cover or watched the film. And then there were the more allegorical expressions of nuclear-anxiety such as the BBC’s adaptation of the Day of the Triffids and Survivors. It was this undercurrent in popular imagination that Watchmen was feeding into (even its contemporary, The Dark Knight Returns, revolved around a nuclear explosion and views Superman as having an influence on foreign policy in a very similar way to how Alan Moore regards Doctor Manhattan).

Modern anxieties are somewhat different. In place of a fear of apocalypse we have this more generalised angst about entropy, the death of hope and a nostalgic longing. Those themes, ironically, are picked up in Watchmen, but as the features of a world changed by the existance of a superhuman in it. In Watchmen, the US has had 18 years with Nixon in the White House. In 2008, we’ve had the best part of 28 years with a Bush in the White House. Watchmen offered a vision of a world similar to our own with dashes of unimaginable high technology thrown in, being treated as normal. Imagine how someone from 1985 would imagine today’s world of iPhones and Facebook (sidenote: it is interesting how wrong Alan Moore got it in this respect: the presence of a walking fusion bomb in the government’s pocket like Doctor Manhattan would more likely revolutionise communications technology than it would transportation, although he was probably more on the money when in comes to how fabrics technology would transform fashion). In short, what Watchmen shows us is very representative of the world we have today. That’s a real problem for a film maker approaching the book like it was a period piece. And with that rapscallion Barack Obama going and getting himself elected on a wave of hope and no doubt still in his honeymoon period by the time the film comes out in June 2009, it may be that Snyder finds the Zeitgeist has moved on.

What’s more, the ending of Watchmen – a big explosion in central Manhattan killing thousands of innocent bystanders (sound familiar?) – was supposed to sort out the world’s problems. We now have empirical evidence to show the world doesn’t work like that, but then we don’t live in a world of two opposing Super-Powers any more (two Super-Powers which, in the comic, are duking it out over a little-known country called Afghanistan; how times have changed!). Perhaps the world was that simple back then. Either way, it makes the ending of the comic come across as unbearably naive to these jaded eyes, although in fairness the ambiguous ending with the New Frontiersman editors possibly about to unearch Rorschach’s journal might end up undoing all that. There is simply no way Snyder can get away with not changing the ending without looking like an idiot.

In short, time has not withered Watchmen, but the world has moved on. A slavish adaptation won’t reflect that, and that will be potentially lethal to the whole project. We have just a few months to find out.

* I have to say, I do hope that the Batman threequel ends up being an adaptation, of sorts, of The Dark Knight Returns. It looks to me as if all the foundations have been set, with the main character walking off into self-imposed exile. What better way to kick off the third film, by fast forwarding fifteen years?

I also note they were extremely careful not to show Barbara Gordon’s face in the second film. Set for a return as Batgirl/a female Robin perhaps? Of course, in my dream, it would include the iconic imagery of the Frank Miller original – the horseride into town, the titanic struggle with Superman – but those may be a little too fannish for polite company. Still, they kept the iconic moments of Year One in the first film, so why not?

Film poll results – and an idea (DVD swapping?)

Thanks to everyone who voted to advise me of what film I should watch. The results were as follows:

[poll id=”4″]

I already own copies of Apocalypse Now and Chinatown so I will ensure they both get viewed very soon. There is a seperate issue about whether I should watch the Redux version of the former (has come highly recommended but I’m still sore about the fact that it was released a month after I bought the original version on DVD).

Joe Otten suggested that I take out a LoveFilm subscription instead of buying DVDs. My problem with that is that I often go weeks without watching a film on DVD at all and I’m not convinced these subscription services suit me. But it did remind me of an idea I had a couple of months ago that I keep meaning to explore further: that of organising a DVD swap shop.

The rules would be simple.

1. Go to pub with shopping bag full of DVDs that I have no intention of ever watching again.
2. Meet other people with shopping bags full of DVDs that they have no intention of ever watching again.
3. Swap DVDs – no money may exchange hands (as it is no fun and possibly taxable, etc.) although bartering with drinks and pub snacks may be acceptable.
4. Get pissed with fellow swappers. Much merriment to be had by all.

Is this a goer? Would anyone reading this be up for a London event like this? Or would people just end up trying to swap all their rubbish films for good stuff and the whole thing would fall down pretty quickly. Would it be simpler all round just to skip to 4 and be done with it?

I don’t know. Any thoughts?

What film should I watch?

Empire Magazine has published its Top 500 all time greatest films. Some surprises, and there are inevitable problems with popular polls purporting to list timeless classics – The Dark Knight is ranked surprisingly highly for example. But as with all of these polls, I thought I’d go down the list and see which films I haven’t seen.

I actually do quite well, having seen 41 out of the top 50 and 69 of the top 100 (I gave up after that), but there are some embarrassing gaps in my film knowledge. The problem is time – I can only see so many films at a time.

So, I thought I’d see what the readers here think. My latest poll is a list of the ten most highly ranked films that I haven’t seen. Your job is to tell me which one I should watch ASAP. I will then do so (hopefully you will select one of the three already sitting on my shelf). For extra homework, I’d like you to explain your choice in the comments below.

That is all. Thank you.

Make it Happen for the laydeez

One of the less remarked upon aspects of Nick Clegg’s “Make it Happen” campaign is the deliberate attempt to appeal to a younger female demographic as part of the initiative:

Rumours that Cleggy will be doing a burlesque striptease as part of his speech this autumn, or that the title of the party’s final manifesto will be “Flashdance” are, however, entirely specious.

KAPOW! Batman grows UP!

Holy censorship Batman! The Villainous Passportiser is attacking us again with “Do You Know Who I Am” press release gun.

Apparently, people have been shocked to discover that the new Batman film isn’t for kiddies. A year’s worth of advertising centering around the horrifically disfigured villain, plus the fact that it is a sequel to the already dark Batman Begins, wasn’t enough of a clue.

Vaz has a brilliant line in logic here:

“The BBFC should realise there are scenes of gratuitous violence in The Dark Knight to which I would certainly not take my 11-year-old daughter”, said Mr Vaz. “It should be a 15 classification.”

No one is forcing you to take your 11-year-old daughter to see anything Keith! Instead of insisting that every film gets reclassified to your exact specifications, why not simply exercise some parental judgement? If you are incapable of that, then what the hell are you doing chairing a Parliamentary committee? Hmm? HMMM??!!

The ratings system has always been a bit kablooey at around the ages of 11 to 17. The 12 rating (of which IIRC, the 1989 Batman film was the first to have that rating) was widely abused simply because it was impossible to enforce. The main problem was that parents would insist on taking younger children to 12-rated films. Having responded to public pressure then, the BBFC are now getting harranged from the other direction.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that The Dark Knight has dark themes and violence in it. The last film was pretty dark as well and The Dark Knight Returns, Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum have been on the bookshelves for 20 years now. It isn’t even as ambiguous as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Lazy parents who refuse to take responsibility for their own research don’t have any excuse in my view, and giving Keith Vaz the opportunity to jump on yet another bandwagon is simply unforgiveable.