July 31st, 2014
I’m going to become quite unpopular among my friends, I suspect, when I say that I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy very much at all.
I didn’t *hate* it — it had an excellent cast, the effects work was as good as you’d expect, and there were a few good lines of dialogue (I was the only one in the cinema who laughed at the John Stamos line, as the only people who know about him in Britain are Beach Boys fans — and indeed there has just been a massive amount of drama about Stamos among Beach Boys fandom, which made me laugh a little harder than I otherwise would). Sometimes it’s a bit too knowing about the pop culture tropes it makes fun of (this is definitely a post-TV Tropes script), but it occasionally does interesting things (there’s one neat little twist when a very, very, obvious third act reveal straight from Screenwriting 101 *doesn’t* turn out to be true).
It also actually had some scenes with colours that aren’t orange or bluish-grey — not many, but a few. This is increasingly rare in the cinema these days, and is to be applauded. I’m sure I even saw a glimpse of yellow at one point.
But one of the reasons Marvel’s films have been so successful is that they have been *superhero* films. This one isn’t
May 31st, 2014
The Wind Rises – Hayao Miyazaki, 2013
Before we start, a warning: this is probably not a fun night at the movies for your eight-year-old, unless said child is prematurely obsessed with flat-head screws. I mention this not out of a new-found commitment to providing consumer advice but because my friend Adam was frustrated by the apparent inability of movie reviewers to clarify this matter for him.
Studio Ghibili’s long standing trust in the ability of children to stay interested in quiet moments and make sense of the senseless is admirable, but The Wind Rises seems to have been made in a different spirit from, say, Howl’s Moving Castle (which combined frantic scene-shifting with portraits of stark devastation to great effect) or Princess Mononoke (which grew slowly, steadily monstrous in front of the patient viewer).
This film is realised with the lush, painterly attention to detail that characterises Hayao Miyazaki’s other movies, but this is definitely a film of and about our world. Its magic is not of the kind likely to intrigue a child into attentiveness: its wonders are the result of late night meetings as much as they are the product of dreams, and even its most hard won miracles taste of ashes.
May 7th, 2014
Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie, brought to you by the power vested in me by the great state of Wyoming
While I will surprise approximately no one by saying that the action in this movie was nowhere near as inventive and exciting as the violence that gives The Raid 2 its reason to exist, this movie still confounded my expectations by impressing me more with competence than raw thrillpower.
March 12th, 2014
Ah, let’s indulge in some time travel shall we? Let’s go all the way back to September 2009, when Sean Collins had this to say about Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds:
It is, in other words, a deliberate assault on the facts surrounding the deaths of millions and millions of people, including the systematic genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust… It’s morally monstrous and its practitioners are moral monsters.
Oh, wait, shit. That’s not quite right. That’s what Sean C. had to say about Nazi-sympathizing turd-monger Pat Buchanan. Sorry everyone, but problems like this tend to occur when you start to mess around with history, you know?
In order to find what Sean actually thought of Inglourious Basterds we have to go back even further, to August 2009 no less! It was a kinder time, a gentler time, a time where a man could read an essay on the cathartic, history rupturing violence of Tarantino’s latest picture without any danger of stumbling onto this long winded response.
Here’s what Sean actually said about the film:
…Inglourious Basterds may be the punkest movie I’ve seen in I can’t even think how long. Maybe ever. It’s about nothing less than the power of art to destroy evil. It’s about how important it is to love film more than the likes of Hitler hate life. It’s about how movie violence, art violence, art designed as a FUCK YOU, can help you deal with the violence that so terrified Chamberlain’s cohorts and to which Hitler and his cohorts were so indifferent. It’s Woody Guthrie’s “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” guitar slogan made literal. It’s a lingering closeup on the bloodlust-saturated eyes of Eli Roth, the beautiful Jewish torture-porn poster boy and enemy of good taste, as he empties a machine gun into the bodies of members of the Third Reich. And it’s a total fucking fantasy. Yet that’s what makes it so vital.
April 15th, 2013
Spring Breakers, dir. Michael Bay, 2013
You might think that it would be impossible for Bay to top his Transformers trilogy, that those merciless tributes to the twin glories of steel and flesh represented the purest distillation of his art. On the other hand, you might not think that he could get any lower than that seemingly never-ending explosion in a cliché factory.
Whichever side of the divide you found yourself on, Spring Breakers renders your opinion obsolete. This movie is Fear and Loathing to the Transformers trilogy’s hyper-modern war movie (with Florida standing in for Las Vegas just as Vietnam blurs into Iraq). It’s the Saints Row to The Dark of the Moon’s Call of Duty. The adventures of Optimus Prime and co might have fleetingly simulated what the disorienting frenzy of 21st Century warfare would look like if it was fought on American soil, but Spring Breakers is the real deal – the story of four girls fighting the war at home with nothing but day-glo bikinis and raw fantasy. 
Oh, yeah, and did I mention guns?
Because – *SPOILERS* – guns are important too.
April 4th, 2013
OR: last year I went to the movies and all I got was a sense of temporal displacement!
DREDD, dir. Peter Travis, 2012
This relatively low-budget attempt to graft a late seventies vision of the future onto the present day doesn’t quite come off seamlessly – the opening drone-cam riot shots would be much more convincing without the sci-fi data overlay – but the grim lack of distance between these three (equally imaginary?) time zones ensure that this bolted-together aesthetic is effective rather than ridiculous in the end. A lot of the credit here has to go to Karl Urban, who sets the tone of the movie by somehow managing to play the perma-frowning Dredd with a straight face:
Like Urban’s Joe Dredd, DREDD (the movie) treats exposition as little more than a series of snappy situation updates, necessary only because they point the way from one dynamic lesson in pain compliance to another. The result is a lean, efficient action films that you suspect the Judge himself would approve of. The rules are established in the opening scene and are ruthlessly enforced throughout: you get a quick report of the location and nature of the crime in progress (the irradiated ruins of a future America; whatever takes your fancy) then whooosh, before you can say “hot shot” the situation has been resolved with the maximum amount of acceptable violence.
Because hey, when you fuck up, he’s got to fuck you up, right?
There are obvious affinities here – with Robocop, say, or with your Carpenter movie of choice – but these reference points never threaten to overwhelm the movie. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s almost/alternate score Drokk is far more heavily indebted to Carpenter’s work, for example, and while the soundtrack that plays out in its place is less immediately striking it’s also perhaps better suited to DREDD’s relentless utilitarian drive. The aesthetics of past, present and future might me all jumbled up here, but there’s no time for reverence in this movie – everything is judged by how well it performs in its specific moment in the field.
Still, I’d be remiss in my duties as a reviewer if I didn’t point out that there are certain plot similarities to Batman Incorporated vol 2, #6, and while I don’t know how Peter Travis and Alex Garland were able to travel through in time in order to rip that script off, I’m glad that they did all the same - this is a joke about the seemingly manditory you comparisons with The Raid, you can tell it’s a good gag because I feel the need to flag it up like this. Since we’re all pals here I’ll assume that we can all agree that the similarities between DREDD and The Raid are worth talking about – in the same way that its resonances with this Moebius strip are worth talking about – but that simply saying “The Raid” is in no way the end of the conversation. There are many different ingredients in DREDD, and the end result might have familial similarities with various other movies, but it’s overwhelming flavour is still undeniably that of “Judge Dredd”.
As my good pal (the devil)Andre Whickey has pointed out, there are several different types of Judge Dredd story, and this is a great example of one of them - Judge Dredd as straight action story. While this means that DREDD can’t touch 2012′s Day of Chaos story (for example) for either political complexity or gonzo fanboy thrillpower, it does mean that this is Judge Dredd at its most insidious, a compelling story of good guys vs. bad guys that doubles as a cheap, spooky reminder of the fact that authoritarianism can always be made to look both necessary and cool using the right tools:
May 1st, 2012
What is it Bubba? Whaddya want?
Firstly though, The Beast debuts his homework, ‘The Review Song’. And a jolly good job he does of it too. Don’t listen to Gary Lactus. He’s a giant idiot.
Then, they discuss the really important issues of the day: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye and Hulk. And then the Hulk again.
Rather churlishly they refuse to talk about comics, so amped up are they by this modern innovation of moving pictures! The cads! Suffice to say Lactus spent the week diseasing his already syphilis-ravaged mind with AVX-related stuff and more Owls, while the Beast ignored the new releases instead opting for Kurtzman & Co’s Frontline Combat. Both of these topics will be returned to at a later date.
So sit back…no further back than that…till you’re pretty much lying down. That’s it, like that. Okay so sit back and soak up the sound of two semi-retarded man-children discuss the most important cultural item of the last 2,000 years…
March 1st, 2012
This photo is from what I think was the last ever photocall the Monkees did, on what I think was Davy Jones’ last visit to his hometown of Manchester. I was about three feet away at the time.
At the show that night, Davy Jones made a joke that he made every night of that tour – “I used to be a heartthrob, now I’m a coronary”.
October 20th, 2011
Zom and I have talked many times in many articles about the fact that our mother used to work as a TV producer and how the company she worked for was, like so many production companies in the late seventies, situated in Soho. It was an old, thin building with an editing suite in the basement and her office at the top – a scary environment, full of weird adults. — —— used to hang out, drug addled, in the second floor editing suite where my brother and I were once offered cocaine by his pal and the in-house director/company director’s personal rent boy – needless to say, the offices of –TV was no place for children.
It was also haunted.
We were told how, in the old days, the building used to be a brothel, as if our child brains knew what to do with that information. This was a world even more adult than the one currently occupying the tiny, narrow spot in a cranny of central London where the production company had its base. All we knew was it must have been the site of enormous, incomprehensible grown up suffering. Our mother sensed a woman who would not leave, deranged, dressed in red. The presence was particularly strong on the third floor, but above it, in Mum’s office, the atmosphere would clear again. She never made herself felt up there. Just a few feet away and you were safe. When we had to stay late and the building emptied, my brother and I would shut the door between Mum’s office and the stairwell that led down to where the woman waited and sift through the video cassettes, any stray thoughts of ghostly, bloodied women washed away on the tide of Carry on England’s canned laughter or by the boisterous playground jostle of Rhubarb and Custard’s theme music.
Speaking to my Mum about it now, she doesn’t remember the red woman, and I have to admit it could have all got a bit confused in my pre-teen head. The point is, though, my Mum was always going on about ghosts. There was her first flat where her disbelieving housemates got a terrible, poltergeist style awakening one evening when the lights began flashing on and off of their own accord, doors opened with no one behind them and one girl accidentally sat on whatever it was, its arms furling around her, all of which saw the lot of them barricaded in one of the bedrooms when, one day, Mum, vindicated, returned from work. Then there was her boss’s house, the aforementioned director, where plates skidded across tables, books were found strewn over the floor of supposedly tidy rooms and where my mother’s bedside received frequent nocturnal visitations from disturbed, hostile entities silently demanding she leave and never return. Finally there was our family home in ——- and the old lady who would come to Mum in times of extreme sadness or stress in order to comfort her. My Mum’s always been haunted it seems. It’s like the Sixth Sense or something.
And we all know how that turned out.
The elephant in the corner of all these spooky fireside tales is somewhat less thrilling I’m afraid. Astute readers will already realise there’s a common element to all of this, the thing quite possibly causing it all, my mother herself. To say my mum had a happy time of it in 80s would be pushing it. She had a good job doing creative, rewarding work, but she was overworked, often stuck in that fucking edit suite for nights on end with no break, only to see her producer credit given to the rent boy. She was in a relationship with the same man who gave him the credit too. A highly abusive relationship. When she finally returned to our East Sussex home, often around midnight or later, sleep deprived, frazzled and terrified for her two boys because her boss/lover had decided, on a whim, to fire her that day, or some such everyday evil shit like that, she was a nightmare. Like her mother before her, my Mum was frequently a volatile mess, and, as much as i love her, and i do, i have to admit I spent a good part of my childhood genuinely frightened of her. It’s easy now to see that the ghosts in question were probably just her own pain, or, in the case of the old woman, its antidote, displaced into the places she inhabited.