Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Millarworld: The Proving Ground for Superheroes

With Spider-Man recently finding his way back home to the MCU (well joint custody at least between Marvel Studios and Sony), talk has turned to who will play Spider-Man in the upcoming film Captain America: Civil War in which the character has a pivotal moment in the comic written by Mark Millar.

One of the names mentioned has been Taron Egerton who recently starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn which is also based on a comic book series by Mark Millar.

If they do go with the character of Peter Parker for the latest reboot of Everyone's favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man (rather than Miles Morales) then Egerton stands a very good chance of landing the role.

It's not just because he is British. Lots of America's top superheroes have been played by Brits (Batman = Christian Bale, Spider-Man = Andrew Garfield, Superman = Henry Cavill).

It is actually due to an interesting trivia fact that proves that Mark Millar comic book adaptations are the proving ground for future Marvel and D.C. Heroes.

Example 1) Wanted (2008)

Millar's first comic to be adapted for the big screen was Wanted which starred James McAvoy in the lead role of Wesley.
McAvoy would go on to play Professor Charles Xavier in X Men: First Class and X Men: Days Of Future Past.

What people might not remember is that Chris Pratt aka Star Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy played Wesley's friend in the film...

Which led to this incredible moment where Professor X knocked out Peter Quill with a keyboard!

Example 2) Kick-Ass (2010)

The first Kick-Ass film was directed by Matthew Vaughn (who would also go on to direct McAvoy in X Men: First Class) and starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Dave Liewiski and Evan Peters as his friend Todd.

In a very strange coincidence, both actors would later be cast as the same comic book character.
Evan Peters would play Pietr Maximoff aka Quicksilver in X Men: Days Of Future Past and Aaron Taylor-Johnson would play Quicksilver aka Pietr Maximoff in the upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Taron Egerton should keep his webbed fingers crossed because starring in a Mark Millar based comic book adaptation directed by Matthew Vaughn can lead to great things as a quick look through his back catalogue further exemplifies.

Vaughn's 2007 film Stardust starred then unknowns Charlie Cox and Henry Cavill...

Who would go on to play Daredevil and the Man Of Steel himself Superman.

And let's not even get into Vaughn's directorial debut Layer Cake which featured Tom Hardy aka Bane in a small role but is even more bizarre for featuring a scene where James Bond steals Q's girlfriend!

If comic book movies operated in the same terms as Scottish Football, Marvel and D.C. would be due Millar and Vaughn several large Bosman-style payouts for scooping up the young talent nurtured by them on previous projects.

It would be fair to say that based on the evidence they have that adamantium touch when it comes to spotting superhero potential.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Top 21 Horror Films since 2000

Following the release of the 5 star It Follows, the best horror film of 2015 and destined to be a cult classic, I've decided to look back and pick the 21 best horror films of the last 15 years.
I was initially going to limit it to 15 films (i.e. the best horror film of each year) however 2012 proved a particularly strong year so upped the limit to 21 films.

The list contains 9 American, 5 British, 3 Japanese, 2 Spanish, 1 Australian and 1 Swedish film.

Interesting to see how my tastes have varied across the years going from an Asian Extreme vibe through body horror to European then a resurgence of UK/US horrors, in particular those that pay homage or deconstruct the genre.

2014 - The Babadook

Heed my advice. Just take a look. You'll be thrilled and scared by The Babadook.

2013 - Maniac

Elijah Wood butchers the memory of Frodo and stuffs the remains into a bin in this first person horror which draws the audience into the mindset of a killer and makes them complicit in his gory actions.

2012 - Sinister

Ethan Hawke delivers a great performance as a writer who may or may not be driven crazy as he investigates a series of brutal killings for a book he is writing. "Lawn Work" provides the biggest jump scare since the bus moment in The Orphanage.

2011 - Kill List

A film that descends into a darker and darker place as it goes on and prompted me to exclaim "What. The F*ck?" when it ended.

2010 - Black Swan

An Oscar-winning horror film? Indeed it is, certainly from my perspective. This is a "Were-Swan" horror with echoes of Polanski as a ballet dancer is driven to the edge of madness as she struggles to cope with the pressures of the dual roles in Swan Lake.

2009 - Let The Right One In

Devoid of sparkle, this was the perfect antidote to Twilight and one of the best vampire movies in years, along with being an incredible love story.

2008 - The Orphanage

A brilliant old-fashioned ghost story that, like The Babadook, explores the darker side of maternal loss.

2007 - [*REC]

Before Paranormal Activity caused every horror film to be filmed from a found footage perspective, this Spanish horror breathed life into a sub-genre that hadn't really been exploited since The Blair Witch Project in 1999.

2006 - Slither

This is body horror at it's most body orientated and most horrific (as well as its funniest). James Gunn created some of the most revolting scenes committed to film since David Cronenberg's Eighties heyday.

2005 - The Descent

It would have made this list for that "Night Vision" camera jump scene alone but it is a tense, gripping horror in two halves with claustrophobic cave crawling scenes at the beginning before giving way to a traditional horror once the group discover they are not alone in the caves. Also receives bonus points for having an all-female cast.

2004 - Saw

It gave a jump start to the body horror genre, and prompted several sequels which all tried to outdo the previous entry by coming up with even more inventive traps to kill people, but the first Saw remains a great horror that genuinely surprised me with the twist at the end.

2003 - Ju On: The Grudge

2002 - 28 Days Later

The film that reinvented the zombie genre... even though it is not technically a zombie movie. It have given the world fast moving zombies... even if they were just people infected with a rage virus but even more terrifying than that were the scenes of deserted London.

2001 - Audition

I first saw this film late one night on Channel 4 and thought I was watching a Japanese romance until the moment when the bag moved. Then there is the final segment which I won't spoil here but suffice to say I can never here the phrase "kitty kitty kitty" in the same way again!

2000 - Ringu

Going full circle (hah) from It Follows, Ringu is the earliest film on the list and also centres on a curse that must be passed on in fear of death. It was one pf those films that came to me through word of mouth, introduced me to Asia Extreme films and one of the first horror films since The Shining to truly frighten me and make me scared to turn on my VCR!

The Best Of The Rest

Berberian Sound Studio
The Cabin In The Woods
Paranormal Activity
The Woman In Black

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Glasgow Film Festival: Closing Gala - Force Majeure

The 2015 Glasgow Film Festival drew to a close this evening with their Gala film premiere of the Oscar-nominated Swedish film Force Majeure.

Described by Festival Co-Director Allan Gardner as "Bergman on skis", this is a darkly comic story that sees a family nearly torn apart due to the actions (or inactions) of the father during a crisis.

While on a skiing holiday in France, a family witness an avalanche. As it rolls towards them, the dad makes a run for it while the mother protects the children.

No one is hurt but the damage is done as the relationship between Tomas and Ebba begins to crack and fracture when Tomas is unwilling to admit that he ran away.

It becomes a battle of the sexes with a rich vein of black humour running through its heart as family arguments broaden out to bring in friends and they are forced to pick sides.

For a while, it looked like the film was snowballing towards a bleak ambiguous ending with no real resolution (because let's face it, sometimes an argument is never really finished. How many times has something you've done in the past been brought up against you?) but the optimists out there will see potential for redemption.

It is a film that is guaranteed to generate debate/discussion/arguments on leaving the screen as to what you would do or what you think others would do in that situation.

Snow joking around, Force Majeure is a darkly comic force to be reckoned with.

4 stars

Saturday, 28 February 2015

It Follows - review

Now and again, a horror film comes along with a central concept that is so simple yet so devilishly brilliant that you'll be kicking yourself for not thinking of it first.

In It Follows sexually promiscuous teenagers are stalked by a mysterious figure who slowly walks towards them. They can run, they can hide but it will always find them and like the curse in Ringu the only way to get rid of it is to pass it on to someone else through sexual intercourse.

That's right, It Follows not only refers to the 'It' that follows the victims to their deaths but also it can refer to the world's most persistent STD that not amount of pills or creams will be able to treat!

The modus operandi of the film's monster is one of the best in recent years, arguably the best since the Weeping Angels in the Blink episode of Doctor Who.

The film's tagline is "It doesn't feel. It doesn't think. It doesn't give up." and reminded me of Kyle Reese's warning in The Terminator: "Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."

The way that 'It' slowly and silently stalks its prey (along with a retro synth score that has also featured to great effect in recent horrors like Maniac, The Guest and Cold In July) brings to mind the infamous 'The Shape' aka Michael Myers in John Carpenter's seminal Halloween.

Not only that but the leafy suburban setting of the film is reminiscent of Haddonfield and Carpenter's horror was one of the first to look at the correlation between sex and death, with those who indulged in pre-marital relations being punished for it by being brutally murdered.

Indeed following on from last year's excellent The Guest, Maika Monroe is in a prime position to become this generation's "Scream Queen".

Writer-Director David Robert Mitchell has crafted a movie that not only delivers a message but also plenty of scares, and in a bold move he is not afraid to set many of its most unsettling scenes outside in broad daylight. The entire film has a calm, assured execution and direction that hints at a bright future in the horror genre

Just like the figure that stalks the protagonists, It Follows will haunt you for many days after you see it, unable to shake off this horror masterpiece.

5 stars

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Glasgow Film Festival - Opening Gala: While We're Young

The 2015 Glasgow Film Festival kicked off in style last night... well, the type of style that includes pork pie hats and skinny jeans because the film chosen to open proceedings was While We're Young by Noah Baumbach.

A couple in their forties (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) are growing restless and treading water. Stiller's character is still working on a documentary project he started ten years ago. Unable (or unwilling to have children) they are losing touch with their friends who are having kids, etc.
When they meet a young hipster couple at one of Stiller's lectures, they embrace their "joie de vivre" spirit and start embracing the "hipster" lifestyle but it starts to put hitherto unknown pressures on their work and relationship.

Baumbach's last film Frances Ha was centred around a group of New York hipsters and alienated a lot of viewers who just didn't particularly like or understand this "scene" and there was some initial hesitance going into this film that it would be more of the same.

However, Baumbach's screenplay is very much written from the point of view of the older characters and therefore whilst it paints an alluring picture to convince you that a world of homemade ice cream, street cookouts, pork pie hats and hip hop dance classes would appeal to a couple going through a mid-life crisis, it is not afraid to call the hipsters on the "oh aren't we cool, we use a typewriter" bullshit.

As the gloss starts to fade on their newfound "lifestyle" and friends (Adam Driver plays his role well coming across as appealing yet also a bit of a douche), Josh rallies against it. Bemoaning the fact that there are bands ironically named after adverts he saw as a kid. Or having a massive vinyl collection because it looks good in the oversized loft apartment where for Josh it was essential as a young guy as it was the only way to listen to music.

Stiller's Josh is from a generation of documentary filmmaker, inspired by his father-in-law (a nice cameo by Charles Grodin), where truth is paramount. Adam Driver's Jamie is of the generation where truth is "nice and all" but not if it gets in the way of telling a good story.

The first two thirds of the film are very funny, with a slight Nathan Barley-feel to its critique of a culture (amplified by great performances from Stiller and Watts as the fish out of water) but once an actual "plot" comes in and Stiller tries to expose his protege Jamie (who has now exceeded Josh's success) as a fraud, it feels rather weak and underwhelming.

Indeed, Josh's final rant and speech comes across as anti-climatic yet perhaps this is the point. The world is changing and people have to accept that and embrace the change... although they themselves do not have to change and instead be comfortable in their own skin.

After all, I myself am 34 years old and own a few trilbies but found myself agreeing with the viewpoint of the 44 year olds.

Perhaps Huey Lewis and the News were right and it IS hip to be square these days.

3 stars

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Fifty Shades Of Grey - review

For many film reviewers, going to see Fifty Shades Of Grey this weekend was the very epitome of an S&M experience.
Entering into seeing something that could cause them great physical pain with the knowledge that it could also give them great pleasure by giving it a merciless beating afterwards, or even worse... actually enjoying the film!

Fifty Shades Of Grey is sadly not a romantic comedy about a man who falls in love with a girl who works at a DIY store and helps him pick out the right colour to redecorate his red room with.

It is actually based on the unbelievably successful piece of cliterature by E.L. James and sees a young girl become infatuated with a man who wants her to become his "submissive" and enter into a world of pain and pleasure.

Watching the film you would not be surprised to learn that the book started off life as a piece of Twilight fan fiction. The signs are all there; virginal brunette girl who falls for a cold, distant but really, really ridiculously good looking guy with a secret lifestyle. Walks in the Washington State forests. Dialogue that sounds like it was written by a 12 year old girl.

Yes, the book might have been incredibly popular but people were not buying it because it was the next great piece of literature. It wasn't even the next Harry Potter or the next Dan Brown novel. They were buying this for the sex scenes.

So while Kelly Marcel could try and mount a campaign for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar next year for excising all the awful "inner goddess" monologuing and producing something which is not a complete train wreck out of such a poorly written source, unfortunately the terrible dialogue remains. A loud guffaw emitted from the audience when Christian Grey's response to what makes him the way he is was "I'm fifty shades of fucked up!". I have to admit that I rolled my eyes at that line. Is Christian going to put me over his knee and punish me for that too?

However like I said, the audience for this movie are not going for the dialogue and performances they are there for the sex (even to the point that some of the audience in my screening were taking pictures of the scenes on their smartphones!),

So how do the sex scenes come across? Is it worth all the fuss?

No, not really.

After taking ages teasing the audience, when they finally get around to having sex it is nothing more erotic than a scene from 90's soft core series The Red Shoe Diaries. After that two spend what seems like forever working out exactly what sort of punishment and reward goes into the submissive's contract (a situation the actors are surely familiar with as they will be having their multi-picture clauses invoked on Monday when the box office figures are in) it is time to visit the Red Room... and nothing good has ever happened to a woman who goes in there, just ask Laura Palmer.

Despite the genuinely impressive cinematography throughout the whole movie (nothing less should be expected from Seamus McGarvey who has also shot the likes of Atonement and Anna Karenina) the actual sex scenes are full of sex but are never sexy. At one point Dornan handcuffs Johnson from the ceiling like a piece of meat that had me thinking the last time I saw a scene like that it was in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The character of Christian Grey does have a lot of intrigue and potential (sadly not explored here but undoubtably in the sequels as to why he is the way he is, what happened to the previous submissives, etc) and part of me wishes Christian Bale had played the part of Grey as if he were reprising his role of Patrick Bateman because the two characters seem to have a LOT of sinister common ground. The scenes where he talks to Ana while she is asleep, you can imagine him casually saying "I like to dissect girls. Do you know I'm utterly insane?" because he does so many sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours.

Sadly in the end, by Hollywood standards and being unfamiliar with the book, the film finishes on a rather abrupt and slightly laughable conclusion (given the subject matter) but is clearly designed to leave audiences begging for more. After all who hasn't experienced a time when an exciting and racy engagement has been halted by a sudden and unsatisfying climax?

2 stars

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ext. New York City - Superhero City

One of the reasons I have been not as frequent in my blog posts this year is that I have started work on a new writing project called "Ext. New York City - Discover The Reel New York City On Location".
In 2009 I visited New York for the first time and fell in love with the city and have visited it every year since. However I think I had fallen in love with the Big Apple even before I had ever walked along the streets of Manhattan thanks to the movies.
As a huge fan of the movies and of the city, I am currently writing a travel guide that will cater and appeal to film fans looking to visit and discover more about the locations made famous in the movies.
I am under no illusions here and fully expect to self publish the book on a digital format but who knows, there might just be a publisher out there for this type of book.
In the meantime I will work away with an aim of completing it this year... perhaps making one more trip back to the Big Apple to get a few more pictures before then.
However I wanted to post a little preview of what I'm doing and so therefore here is a little taste of what is to come in the form of a sample chapter looking at the Superhero genre in NYC.
Hope you like it.

As witnessed in the chapter on apocalyptic New York, the Big Apple can often find itself under threat and holding out for a hero.

Thankfully in the realm of comic books and their big screen adaptations, there are many superheroes that call New York City home and will fight to defend it including your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man and Brooklyn's very own Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

The headquarters of Marvel Comics has always been based in NYC and many of their characters also live within the five boroughs.

Part of the comics and characters enduring appeal was that even though these characters were mutants or beings with fantastical powers, they were grounded in a reality that was familiar to the readers and seeing them interact with real-life places and situations helped to increase their relatability and popularity.

You have Peter Parker residing in Queens, Daredevil patrolling the streets of Hell's Kitchen and the Fantastic Four live and work in the fictional Baxter Buiilding that appears in the Manhattan skyline.

So when it comes to adapting these stories to the big screen, the producers are lucky in that a large proportion of the location scouting, production design and even storyboarding has already been provided for them by the comic book artists. Although these are not always set in stone as the key word is adaptations, with the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sadly not opting to recreate the infamous cover of issue 122 come the finale.

Even DC Comics, who created fictional cities for thier most famous heroes Batman and Superman, have used the backlot that is New York City when it came to bringing Metroplois to life in Richard Donner's Superman and elements of Gotham in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.

The current boom in comic book movies really took off with the success of Spider-Man in May 2002, becoming the first film to take over $100 million at the US box office on its opening weekend.

Part of this may be down to the fact that following the events of 9/11, America and New York in particular was in desperate need of a hero and they found one in the form of a costumed superhero from their very own backyard.

For the last twelve years Earth's mightiest heroes have defended its greatest city before coming full circle and culminating in the Battle Of New York in The Avengers, which became the first film to take over $200 million in its first weekend.

It is fair to say that the city and its inhabitants are characters in their own right which adds to the stakes of the adventures e.g. the New Yorkers on the bridge in Spider-Man who defiantly shout to the Green Goblin that "you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us" or the NYPD who move people to safety in The Avengers at the behest of the embodiment of the American Dream Captain America during their battle with the Chitauri.

Although in the comics and movies, superheroes have not always gained the approval of the authorities or certain editors of The Daily Bugle, they have been welcomed with open arms by the people of New York and the same goes for comic book fans with lots for them to do in the Big Apple.

Every October, the city plays host to the New York Comic Con (www.newyorkcomiccon.com), held at the Javits Convention Center. It welcomes 120,000 visitors every year over a four day period making it the largest event of its type outside of San Diego.

Recommended comic book stores include the original Midtown Comics near Times Square (200 W 40th St & 7th Avenue) and St. Marks Comics (11 St Marks Place between 2nd & 3rd Avenue).

For those looking to walk in the footsteps of their favourite superheroes, then Celebrity Planet's Superhero Walking Tour is highly recommended. Running every Fri/Sat/Sun at 2.00, it lasts 90 minutes and will take you on fun, fact-filled guide through some of Midtown's iconic locations. (www.celebrityplanet.com/newyork/the-superhero-tour-of-new-york.html). Cost - $35.

Superman (1978)

The Daily Planet - New York Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenue)

The interior lobby and exterior of the building would play the part of the offices of The Daily Planet newspaper where Superman would work undercover as Clark Kent and first meet Lois Lane.

Spider-Man (2002)

The Daily Bugle - Flatiron Building (175 5th Avenue)

In Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spider-Man films, the famous Flatiron building is the home of The Daily Bugle where Peter Parker sells his candid photos of Spidey to his most vocal naysayer, editor J. Jonah Jameson.

The Avengers (2012)

The Battle For New York - Grand Central Station/Pershing Square/Park Avenue

When Loki opens a portal above Stark Tower (digitally replacing the Metlife building above Grand Central Station) and unleashes the Chitauri army upon Manhattan, the Avengers predominantly battle them in the area surrounding the station which includes Pershing Square and Park Avenue.