Monday, 19 July 2010

A tale of two Predators

Once upon a time, there was a young and upcoming filmmaker by the name of Robert Rodriguez who, flush from the success of his no-budget Spanish-language debut and its subsequent sequel/re-make, was asked by the Twentieth Century Fox studio to write a follow-up to the original Predator film, keeping with the jungle premise from the first one. The young director’s films had a real vim and vigour about them and what they lacked in a cohesive plot, they more than made up for with their real sense of fun and excitement.

The great and powerful Austrian giant Arnold Schwarzenegger (star of the original film) decided against being in the next one, and so the script was resigned to a shelf where it sat for many, many years, only to be dusted off by the young filmmaker, who was now a fully-fledged big-name director. He agreed to have it re-written and produced the film himself through his own company, for the all powerful Fox studio.

And they all lived happily ever after……… except they didn’t.

Although handing the directing chores over to one of his loyal servants, the film had none of the quirkiness or imagination which characterised the director’s own work. What had been assembled instead was a ‘Mcfilm’ which the faraway land of Hollywood was becoming increasingly good at churning out. There was no actual real human interaction or dialogue spoken between the actors - all they did was spout exposition back and forth for the film’s duration (one of them even resorting to the age-old cliché of showing a picture of his cute kids to his comrades, before succumbing to the alien).

Some fans of the original decided to come out and support the new film anyway, regardless to how bad it was. Most, having seen District 9 the previous summer, knew that you could still make an exciting genre picture with a relatively low budget and not have to resort to making an uninspired retread of the original (with the added bonus of having three extra Predators!)

Some couldn’t give a shit if the film did or didn’t stand up to the original, a film which they had enjoyed as children – they just want to be entertained for 90 minutes.

The end.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Death Row Cinema Show

Reading the story of a inmate on death row who asked to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as his final request immediately made me think of what I would pick in that situation. Would I go for a film or film series with a long running time to prolong the inevitable, or would I opt for quality over quantity instead, or try for both?

The Lord of the Rings films actually seem like a reasonable choice and I would put in a cheeky request to have the director’s cut versions, which would bump the total viewing time up to another hour or two. I would probably be in the mood for some big Hollywood fantasy storytelling and these films would be perfect escapism, ideal I would have thought for someone in this awful situation. There are two problems here however. Due to Return of the King having a multitude of false ending, I can imagine the annoyance at constantly preparing myself to be collected from my cell, only to then be presented with another ten minute corny sequence of Samwise Gamgee or some other Hobbit, getting it on with, and marrying his female conquest back at the Shire. Also, due to the catharsis brought on by watching all three films together and the emotional send-off Frodo receives at the final, proper ending, I would be a right mess when the priest rocked up.

The Decalogue (Dekalog), consisting of ten one-hour films, each of which represents one of the Ten Commandments, would give me the time and intellectual nourishment I may require.  Created by the late Polish film-maker Krzysztof Kieślowski (for the uninitiated, Pulp Fiction beat his film, Three Colours Red, to the Palme d'Or in Cannes), it would be a long haul, but I would be watching a true master at work. The potentially big obstacle here would be in the form of the fifth part (re-titled A Short Film About Killing for theatrical release). It centres on a young man who murders a taxi driver and is eventually executed. This alone would be too much, but with another five to get though before permanent lights out, those hours could prove excruciating.

The Shawshank Redemption, a firm favourite amongst men of all social standing, is probably a little too obvious, plus the last thing you would want to see on death row (and indeed prison) would be an escape to freedom, complete with a nice boat in a sunny climate and Morgan Freeman for permanent company.

Ultimately, I think I would have to go the safe route and pick the original Star Wars trilogy (or if they wanted to save time and money on my execution, I could watched Jar-Jar and co. too which would probably spur me on to take my own life). One of my earliest memories was a trip to the cinema to see A New Hope and as my life would end after seeing the rebels defeat the evil empire and party down at Endor in Return of the Jedi, there would be a nice symmetry here.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Goonies Strikes Back to the Future

Three perennial childhood favourites, The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future and The Goonies, are celebrating anniversaries this summer (Empire is 30 while the others are both 25).

When did I get so old?

It’s hard to imagine any big summer popcorn films of recent years (with the exception of Star Trek and The Dark Knight perhaps) still being celebrated in a couple of decade’s time. It’s interesting that a film like The Goonies still has legs even though it’s essentially a dippy little kid’s film. Its popularity lies in the fact that it has heart and a real sense of wonderment - something the Spielberg-produced stuff of that era strived for and mostly delivered, and something which is very much missing from films nowadays. I still have much fondness for The Goonies (having actually gone to see it for my 9th birthday), but there’s one scene at the end that I always had real trouble with. I’m sure Chunk’s father would have taken serious issue with the prospect of having mental man-mountain Sloth become a permanent member of the family. I know you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief at the movies, but even he would have put his foot down at the merest hint of becoming a surrogate daddy to that.

“No...I am your father!” Empire has perhaps the most perfect three-act structure in any sci-fi film ever and, alongside Dill whipping out a wiener in The Crying Game, it concludes with the greatest twist/reveal of all time. In fact, it’s stuffed with so many amazing scenes you almost wish in hindsight that Lucas would had squirreled some away to distribute around the later instalments. For a film brimming with wondrous moments, my favourite still remains the introduction of Yoda. The scenes on his home planet really are the stuff of movie magic. Not only do you completely buy this little muppet as a living, breathing character, but you also believe that this now shrivelled, rather sad-looking creature in front of you was once an all powerful Jedi Master (until, devastatingly, Attack Of the Clones needlessly and unimaginatively filled in the blanks).

Having won a VHS copy of Back to the Future in the national press when it was first released on rental, I was the envy of everyone at school and was even able to use this prized possession as leverage in gaining more ‘friends’ at the time. It’s easy to see why it was (and still is) loved by so many. Another entry from Stevie’s talent-nurturing, hit-making Amblin (where is the modern day equivalent?!), this is near perfect Hollywood film-making – from the tight, extremely well-constructed script to the faultless pacing and fun performances. Even after all those years, director Robert Zemeckis has yet to surpass this in terms of purely joyous entertainment.

I have to say, these films seem like genuine anomalies now. I suppose all we can hope for is that after the abysmal line-up of summer films so far this year - and with the web coverage and love these classics have been receiving - Hollywood will take note of its past achievements during this season and try to deliver something to their quality again.

Oh dear. Did I just write that last paragraph? You’ll have to forgive me - early senility can also be a by-product of growing older.