Monday, 27 September 2010

I am LAMB #712

Just a quick post to celebrate my blog being featured over at the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs).

It's a great directory, where readers can find new film-related blogs that interest them (with over 700 you're really spoilt for choice), and bloggers can interact with each other and be part of a community. So, if you haven't already, head on over there and take a look! My page can be found here:

And if this is your first visit to my blog after finding it on the LAMB - welcome! Feel free to browse my movie wares and leave a comment if you feel the urge.

Finally, I shall leave you with this rather adorable picture of a lamb (all of us movie bloggers look this cute, you know):

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Review: Next (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) directs this action sci-fi film, which follows the story of a man named Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage). Cris is a magician with a show in Las Vegas under his stage name, Frank Cadillac. He has a special ability to be able to see two minutes into his future, which means he is never surprised by what’s coming up and he can always keep one step ahead. This comes in handy when an armed robber tries to steal from the casino where Cris has been gambling (although it’s not really gambling if you know the outcome already). Cris disarms him but is then chased by the casino’s security, who believe the gun to be his. This is an exciting start to the film, as we see him constantly outwitting the men and coolly escaping right from under their nose.
It is then revealed to us that the FBI is also hunting for Cris. They need him to help them stop a European terrorist group who plan to detonate a nuclear bomb. Their team is headed by Julianne Moore’s character, Callie, who seems very uptight and stressed throughout the film. She puts a lot of faith in Cris’s abilities, which conflicts slightly with her stern, level-headed character. It doesn’t seem likely that she would have believed someone could see the future. Also, it isn’t explained how the FBI came to learn of his power or why they believe it to be genuine – they just do. It’s unclear what they expect him to be able to do, unless the bomb is going to explode next to him in the next two minutes, he’s pretty much useless anyway. It often seems as though they would have been better off spending their time finding intelligence about the terrorists instead of relying on a magician to help them.

Another plotline in the film follows Cris searching for a woman (Liz, played by Jessica Biel) he saw, a lot further into the future than he can normally see. They finally meet, and after many failed attempts to have a conversation with her (all of which are alternative futures for Cris, paths he could have taken but didn’t) he finds that getting punched in the face is the quickest way to a girl’s heart. He discovers that while he is with Liz his ability is increased.

The European terrorist group are vastly under-written, with unclear motives, and they seem very stereotypical. This is a shame for the German actor who plays their leader, Thomas Kretschmann, who has had supporting roles in Resident Evil: Apocalypse, King Kong and Wanted.

Next is an often frustrating film to watch. In a number of scenes you realise what has just occurred didn’t actually happen, and you are taken back to an earlier point in the film and made to start over from there. These moments of premonition could have been filmed better, as they are intended to be interesting and innovative, yet they make you feel cheated. Showing these flashes of an alternative future is out of the ordinary for a film, but if an audience doesn’t know whether what they are watching is the real thing or not, they will quickly become detached and isolated from the main character they are supposed to be relating to. I think the ending of the film probably annoyed a lot of viewers too. It was clearly meant to be a clever idea but felt a bit of a sell out.

Although the film showed a lot of promise at the start, and the scenes in which he utilises his power (for example, his escape from the FBI mid-way through) are impressive, its two main components (his two minute visions and the threat of the bomb) don’t fit together well. Ultimately, it is a reasonable action film with an appealing added extra, but it leaves you feeling a bit dissatisfied, and the early promise isn’t entirely fulfilled.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #9

I'm in need of a good laugh this week, so I thought I'd turn to some of my favourite comedians to provide the screenshot.  

Shot from the Screen: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Screenshot: King Arthur battling the Black Knight

Shot from the Scene: The Black Knight refuses to stand aside for King Arthur to pass and so, reluctantly, Arthur has a sword fight with him. After literally disarming the Knight, Arthur believes the battle to be won. But the Black Knight claims "It's just a flesh wound!" and starts kicking him instead. When Arthur chops both his legs off too, the Knight then offers to "call it a draw".  John Cleese is wonderful as the manic and persistent Black Knight and Graham Chapman's reasonable King Arthur becomes more frustrated and despairing as the scene progresses. Just one of many brilliant moments in a really funny film full of memorable scenes

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Short Story / Movie comparison: Paycheck (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

I found Philip K. Dick’s short story Paycheck far more subtle and fascinating than the film. There are a number of differences. I will list a few examples. Jennings has only 7 items compared to 20; a code key, a ticket stub, a parcel receipt, a length of fine wire, half a poker chip, a green strip of cloth and a bus token. Out of those, only the code key and the bus token appear in the film. He refers to them as “trinkets” and describes them as his “pocketful of miracles, from someone who knew the future!”

In the film Jennings was a rich man after completing many jobs and memory wipes. In the story, no other jobs are mentioned and this is seemingly his first assignment. It lasts 2 years compared to the movies 3.

The character of Rachel has been invented for the film. In the short story there is a female character called Kelly who is a receptionist for the company. Jennings does turn to Kelly for help but she is not a love interest. I quite like the idea of Rachel, a woman he fell in love with while working for Rethrick but then forgets about when his memory is wiped. It also gives her a different motivation for wanting to help him and provides him with an ally he can trust.

In the story, Jennings tries to find Rethrick’s Plant, gain evidence of what he has been working on and blackmail him into letting him co-run the company. He has no safe place to go because the Security Police are after him and this is his only option. In the film he goes back to destroy what he helped to create because it has negative consequences for mankind and the police try to help him. But in the story it is the Government and the Security Police who are the bad guys, with their almost unlimited power and hold over the people, and Rethrick’s construction company are revolutionaries, trying to change the way things are.

The short story is more subtle and less flashy than the film. It has more sci-fi elements and is a lot more thought-provoking. The film takes the premise and tries to stretch it into an action film, adding in car chases and fight scenes. This unfortunately results in it detracting from the more interesting and provocative aspects of the story. If explored fully, these (and a vision of the future more akin to something like Blade Runner) would have resulted in a much more rewarding movie experience.

Review: Paycheck (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Paycheck follows the character of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck), a reverse engineer who carries out work for companies who want to copy and improve upon their rival’s technology. To maintain confidentiality, Jennings must have his memory wiped after each job is complete. These assignments usually last a couple of months at a time, after which he is given a big paycheck. Jennings’ life seems rosy until he meets with Rethrick, billionaire head of the Allcom company. Rethrick offers him an 8 figure sum for 3 years of his life, a paycheck too tempting to turn down.

Whatever you do, don't press the delete key

After the 3 years are up, Jennings goes to collect his payment, only to be told that he forfeited it and instead sent an envelope containing a number of (what appear to be) useless items . A ring, hairspray, matches, a crossword, a bus ticket, etc. It is only when he is arrested and interrogated by the police that he realises he can use some of these items to escape. Finding himself hunted by both the police and Rethrick’s men, he uses the random objects to stay one step ahead of them as he tries to work out what the job was that he did for Allcom.

This film has an interesting sci-fi premise but instead of taking the route of a thought-provoking, intelligent movie it decides to venture down the path of action and chase scenes. At times these feel weak and unimaginative, as if director John Woo has a checklist of things to include and tries to fit them in even if they don’t work well. It’s a far cry from my favourite of his films, Hard Target. At least he manages to include a few bits of slow-motion and a dove – motifs which instantly identify it as a John Woo movie.

Ben Affleck isn’t very convincing playing a brilliant engineer and I couldn’t help thinking that Uma Thurman’s character Rachel was Poison Ivy Mark II as a biologist with her room full of plants. Although, the fact that she is the love interest he has forgotten about after 3 years together is an interesting added element. She cares for him and thus provides a valuable ally, while he tries to remember her and falls in love with her all over again. Paul Giamatti was enjoyable as Jennings’ only friend, Aaron Eckhart plays evil billionaire Rethrick and the rest of the cast is rounded out with Joe Morton (Miles Dyson from Terminator 2) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter).

For a movie that is based on a Philip K. Dick short story, it doesn’t have quite the same effect as other adaptations such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. In Paycheck the world seems strangely present-day for the most part. Maybe this was a choice made by the filmmakers in order to make it easier to relate to. But ultimately there are certain aspects that just don’t seem to gel. In the future, there are machines that can wipe your memory, but 3D holograms are new and exciting, and they also still use ordinary guns and BMW motorbikes (nice product placement by the way). It’s not the mind-blowing vision of the future that I think they could have made if they’d have followed the source material more closely and gone for a more subtle but effective approach.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #8

This week, strange happenings are afoot...who you gonna call?

Shot from the Screen: Ghostbusters

Screenshot: The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man walking through New York City

Shot from the Scene: The evil Gozer tells the Ghostbusters that whatever they think of next will be the form that he destroys the world with. They desperately try to clear their minds and not think of anything. But Ray says something "just popped in there"...what could it be? Moments later the huge figure of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man crashes through the streets towards the apartment building. "Well, there's something you don't see every day" remarks Venkman

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The British update: Rickman | Sheen | Molina

Alan Rickman will continue in his role as Severus Snape in the final two installments of Harry Potter, ‘The Deathly Hallows’ Parts 1 and 2. Next month, to mark National Poetry Day here in the UK, he will star alongside Emma Thompson in The Song of Lunch. A dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s poem, it tells the story of a book editor who meets his former love for lunch after 15 years apart. After this he is due to star in The Villa Golitsyn, adapted from the novel by Piers Paul Read. Unfortunately, further details about cast and plot are unavailable, although the book is described as an “intelligent and gripping thriller of treason and sexual intrigue in the south of France”.

Michael Sheen will be appearing in Disney’s TRON: Legacy (a sequel to the 80s film) hitting cinemas in December, alongside Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde. Next year he will head up Jesus Henry Christ, with Toni Collette. This film tells the story of a boy conceived in a petri-dish who, at the age of ten, tries to find his biological father. Next he will be starring in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, with a cast that includes Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Kathy Bates. He will then be reprising his role in the Twilight Saga, in Breaking Dawn - Part 2. Also on the cards, although these are only rumours at the moment, is a part in The Codfather, a film about a group of friends in Wales who smuggle millions of pounds worth of drugs hidden in cod. I hope these rumours are true because at the moment the varied cast includes Val Kilmer, Steve Coogan, Oded Fehr, Nick Frost and Julie Walters, amongst others.

Alfred Molina has five upcoming films with one-word titles. First up is Carmel, a film about art forgery in California with Hayden Panettiere, Josh Hutcherson, Billy Boyd and Lauren Bacall. Then there’s the animated film Rango, with a voice cast including Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Ray Winstone and Timothy Olyphant. This film is about a chameleon that wants to be a swashbuckling hero. He has a part in next year’s thriller Abduction, alongside Taylor Lautner, Jason Isaacs, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver and the film Vivaldi, which also stars Neve Campbell and Gerard Depardieu. Finally there is Poe, a biography of Edgar Allan Poe which incorporates five of his tales. Sounds like an interesting one, although there isn’t much more information available at present, apart from the casting of Dianne Wiest alongside him in the ‘Black Cat’ part of the story.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Book / Movie comparison: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

There are a lot of aspects of Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ that are missing from Blade Runner. Even from the first page of the novel, we read about two things that aren’t present in the movie: the Penfield mood organ and Deckard’s wife, Iran. The mood organ has different settings that regulate a person’s emotions and makes them feel a certain way. It is programmed by dialing the corresponding number of the required setting, for example, 888 is “the desire to watch TV, no matter what’s on it”. People are becoming emotionless, like androids (known as ‘replicants’ in the film). They need things to cling to in order for them to feel alive. Along with Buster Friendly (a talk show host everyone watches on TV), the empathy boxes and Mercerism (a religion where people join together to collectively experience the suffering of the mystical figure, Wilbur Mercer), the mood organs provide this.

The omission of Deckard’s wife, along with Roy’s, Iran, means that both of these characters are free to be with other women in the film. Rachael is made to be more of a love interest than the femme fatale of the novel who pushes his goat off the roof, and Pris is a lot friendlier with Roy.

Speaking of goats, the book places a lot more emphasis on animals, both real and electric. This is evident from the change of title when it was adapted for the cinema. There is a longing for real animals, a rarity since the ‘World War Terminus’ which left the Earth covered with a layer of contaminated dust, destroying most animal life on the planet. Animals are seen as status symbols as they are extremely expensive, and those who cannot afford them buy electric ones instead, almost as realistic but not a proper substitute. Deckard’s motivation in the novel for retiring the androids is to get enough money to buy a real sheep to keep on the roof of his apartment and make his wife happy. In Blade Runner he has quit his job but is blackmailed into returning because he’s seen as the only one who can do it.

The almost deserted San Francisco of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? relocates to Los Angeles and is over-populated with people of all cultures. J. R. Isidore becomes J. F. Sebastian, and rather than driving a truck for a false-animal repair firm, he is a genetic designer. In the novel he is a ‘chickenhead’, someone who has been contaminated by the dust. In the film he has a disease that accelerates his aging, giving him something in common with the replicants who also have a limited life-span.

Philip K. Dick’s androids were emotionless beings, heartless and selfish. They were considered to be less than human and were ultimately dispatched with quite easily by Deckard. In comparison, Ridley Scott’s replicants were superhuman. They were more intelligent, stronger, faster and considered superior to humans. They were a lot harder to retire and had the capacity to develop feelings and emotions. Some become “more human than human”: the motto of the corporation that created them.
The movie and the novel are clearly separate works of art. While Blade Runner is not a wholly faithful adaptation, it is still an exceptional film: a thought-provoking vision of the future dealing with themes of existentialism and what it means to be human. In this way, the book and the film perfectly complement each other. The film is a visual feast but is somewhat lacking in narrative, the book provides rich detail and many extra interesting aspects about the dystopian future world. When you experience both, you feel like you have a complete view of the story.

Review: Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

(Note: this review is based on The Final Cut and contains SPOILERS)

Ridley Scott’s dark, dystopian film set in a future Los Angeles is a visual masterpiece. The rain-drenched city with its towering skyscrapers reaching up to the clouds of smog overhead, contrast with the bright neon lights and huge, colourful advertising screens. There is an over-populated, claustrophobic feel on the ground, with a strong Asian influence resulting from a blending of cultures. Every scene is mostly shadow, with minimal light used to highlight the key areas of interest, and smoke drifting and twirling atmospherically. The beguiling soundtrack by Vangelis complements the action perfectly.

Our main focus here is Rick Deckard (a moody Harrison Ford), the ‘Blade Runner’ of the title. He was a bounty hunter who tracked down replicants (artificial humans) and ‘retired’ (some would say ‘killed’) them. He quit his job but is called back into action to stop a group of Nexus-6 replicants that mutinied, killed their captors and escaped to Earth. These replicants are used as slaves on distant planets for a variety of jobs: combat, heavy lifting, some even for pleasure. They attempted to infiltrate the Tyrell Corporation (a genetic development company which created them) in order to find a way to extend their limited 4-year life span and two of them got “fried”. Four replicants remain and it is up to Deckard to find them.

During a visit to the huge, pyramid-shaped Tyrell building, Deckard meets another replicant named Rachael (Sean Young). As she had been implanted with memories, she believed she was human, until Deckard carried out the Voight-Kampff test on her and confirmed otherwise. A series of questions designed to elicit an emotional response are asked, and subjects are judged on their answers and physical reactions. New types of replicants such as the Nexus-6 are becoming harder to detect because of these fake memories and the capability to develop emotions.

After two of the replicants, Leon and Zhora, are retired (one by Rachael, who saves his life), Deckard is left with a hard challenge: Pris (Daryl Hannah), and the one seen as their leader, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer giving his best performance). He has been told by his boss that he must also retire Rachael but he cannot do so because he has fallen in love with her. Pris and Roy have found shelter with J. F. Sebastian, a genetic designer who works for Tyrell. He has a disease which accelerates his aging process and as a result is not allowed to emigrate off-world as many of the population have. He takes a shine to Pris and sympathising with their plight, agrees to help Roy meet his maker, Tyrell. The “prodigal son” returns home and Roy demands a longer life. Tyrell explains that this isn’t possible: "The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy." Angry and frustrated, Roy kills Tyrell and then Sebastian.

She was about to shout "Boo!" and make him jump a mile
Meanwhile, Deckard makes his way to Sebastian’s apartment where Pris is waiting. She blends in with the toys that Sebastian made as his friends. After a close call, he shoots her with his laser gun, ‘killing’ her. Now only Roy remains, but he will be Deckard’s greatest trial. The huge dilapidated apartment building where he stalks the last replicant is rundown and abandoned. Water drips down the walls as he moves silently and alone. We see his laser gun fill the whole screen, just as Roy’s arm bursts through the wall and grabs him. After having his fingers broken, Deckard escapes his grasp. He realises that he may have met his match this time. Inside the building it switches between near darkness and bright, searching spotlights from the hovercraft outside. Roy howls like a wolf, signifying that the hunter has become the hunted. Deckard’s job may have been to find and retire the replicants but now he is fleeing for his life.

Deckard climbs up through the ceiling, outside, and onto the roof. Thunder booms, lights flash, and there is the sound of bells tolling...but for whom? Roy appears and Deckard attempts a leap across to the next building. He misses and is left to hang uselessly from the edge. Roy, realising that his own time has come, catches his arm and saves him. He sets him down safely on the rooftop and gives a beautiful final speech about all the things he has witnessed in his short time, all the memories that will now be forgotten. "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those...moments will be lost in rain. die."

Deckard is victorious, but we don’t feel like celebrating. The final confrontation is atypical of most good guy/bad guy fights in action movies. For one thing, Deckard would have lost if it weren’t for a final display of humanity from the replicant. In the end, we are made to sympathise with Roy. He was used as a slave and was just trying to escape his fate, in another story he may well have been the hero.

In the final scene, Deckard leaves with Rachael, the words of a colleague echoing around him “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?” This film questions what it means to be alive. The defining trait of the replicant used to be that it was emotionless. Yet many humans act selfishly and without emotion, and these replicants had feelings and showed compassion. The lines between man and machine become very blurry by the end, with some questioning whether the cold, reluctant bounty hunter is a replicant himself.

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