Thursday, July 28, 2011

Captain America : The First Avenger

 It must be the fact that having seen African Cats yesterday I found myself actually liking Captain America more than I thought I would. It isn't fantastic but it is sure isn't bad either! In fact for me so far out of the CGI heavy super hero movies this year, Captain America is the best one yet. And that is saying something because it is super-cedes the solid X-Men. But for me the cast made this as it is a good one, and in all reality this is the movies key success.

 I think the key thing with Captain America : The First Avenger is that it kept the actors to the fore front. Sure CGI was used where necesary, but it didn't over power the human element as it has done all too often in all too many movies this year. It was one of the failings of the last Harry Potter movie which left me cold and unsatisfyied. Also it was great that Captain America actually wore a real uniform and not a CGI one which totally sucked in Green Lantern. No lego man look here!!

 As stated the cast is good. Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast and brings his age and experience to his role. He has the air of authority needed to play a colonel, and he is given some exellent lines to back up the role. When on screen the whole movie lifted in quality. Haley Atwell is an actress I have an immense amount of time for. She is a superbly trained actress, and yet for some reason she isn't getting enough roles in any type of film. For me she is one of the best ,and yet most under-utilised, actresses in the world today. I thought her excellent in the now forgotten and obscure, How About You?. And especially in the somewhat maligned 2008, Brideshead Revisited, where she was excellent. Her Brideshead role was perfect for her, and alot of her character is in her Captain America role. She's a fine, fine actress, and I want to see her landing better roles more frequently.

 Fortunately, whilst she is a stunner, she has more than just an eye-candy role here, which I breathed a sigh of relief over. She is far too good for that type of role, and I think her quality shone through. Again the real world person/actor shows how CGI needn't over shadow, let alone overpower, the all important human element. I cringed though somewhat at the Stark Industries element. I couldn't help but feel the spin off potential lurking under the surface! Of course we are to get The Avengers shortly, and hopefully it follows in the vein of Captain America in putting humans first before CGI. Hmmm...somehow I don't think it will happen though.

 The whole military angle of this movie was historical nonsense, and it took me sometime to get used to. But once I settled in my mind the fictional element I did like this movie. Like I say the human element came first and the movie was evenly spread between action and human scenes. I didn't feel bored at any stage over the two hours even though it was riddled with the usual Hollywood cliques. The only real critisim was the Wolverine feel of how the scrawny private was turned into muscle bound Captain America. To be sure that is how it was in the comic, but it is somewhat unfortunate that Wolverine imitated it. But really that is the only thing that leapt out at me that didn't quite work.

 Oh, maybe that at times the body of Captain America looked too long. I mean he didn't look tall, he looked long instead. I suppose putting a head onto another body CGI wise can give that effect, but at times it looked a bit weak and noticeable. But it only tended to be be when he was in his white t-shirt. Once in his uniform the effect vanished, and he looked his size, rather than a guy who'd been stretched out on a medieval 'rack'!!!

 Yep, it may come as a surprise to you, but I liked this!! It is by far the best CGI movie of the year simply because it didn't overpower everything else in its path. It was used where needed, and sparingly where not. I  think this is why this movie worked, becasue instead of CGI being the star, the actual character of Captain America was. And to my mind this is what a superhero movie is about...the actual character, and not the amount of explosions or other dazzling CGI effects that can possibly be fitted on screen for two hours. The cast is excellent which lifted the quality of the movie up a notch of where it could have been otherwise. I suppose this is why X-Men was also so solid, because it had a credible cast as well.

 Yeah, kudos where kudos deserved. Better than the very solid X-Men for me, and certainly it is because the actors where allowed to be exactly that, actors. It is the key element as to why I believe this the best superhero movie so far of 2011. I enjoyed it more than I expected as I really expected a dud!! Unfortuantely I'm sure a sequel will come along to spoil the good of the first!

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

And click here for background information on Captain America's creation as a comic book character:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cap's Back To Save The Modern World

Captain America vol. 1, March 1941.
 In lieu of my being behind in the number of films watched versus reviews written ( 8 in fact! ), I thought with Captain America being released here in NZ tomorrow I'd type up this article out of my local paper.

 In creating Captain America, the latest Marvel superhero to bound on to the big screen, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby relied on reality for their inspiration.

 " With Captain America, the villain came first. Jack and I read the newspapers and knew what was going on over in Europe. And there he was - Adolf Hitler, with his ridiculous moustache, high-pitched ranting and goose-stepping followers," Simon said. " He was the perfect bad guy, much better than anything we could have made up, so what we needed was to create his ultimate counterpart".

 And so was born Steve Rogers, a scrawny would-be soldier with a 4-F physique and the stalwart heart of a warrior, even if the army would not take him. The character who would one day become and Avenger and form a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe came to life in the pages of Captain America Comics in December 1940, giving Hitler a hard right hook and capturing the imagination of a nation waiting for war.

 " In [ my ] autobiography, I describe the way Jack and I developed our collaboration, often jumping around the room tossing ideas at each other, 'Let's do it this way!' and 'Let's take it that way!' and before we knew it, we had the entire first issue ready to show Martin Goodman at Timely Comics", Simon said. " We based Cap's sidekick [Bucky] on an old high school buddy of mine, and Martin loved it," he added.

 The character proved a popular hit - the first issue sold a million copies and put Timely comics solidly among news-stands favourites, a position held through the 1950's before it became Marvel in the 1960's. While not the comic book world's first patriotic superhero, Captain America quickly became the most popular, inspiring dozens of imitators, said Tom Brevoort, Marvel's senior vice-president of publishing.

 " This had a lot to do with the kinetic visual style that Simon and  Kirby employed on the strip - it was the most exciting looking comic book of its era, and set the tenor for all superhero art that came thereafter," Brevoort explained.

 Mark Evanier, a comics historian, said that it was Captain America's sales that helped put Timely - just one of a plethora of publishers - on a firm footing that enabled it to survive the shakedown that came after the war.

  Now, 71 years on, Rogers is still going strong in comic shops and now in theatres with Paramount's Captain America : The First Avenger. But it is not the first time the shield-slinging patriot has been on the big screen. In 1944, his adventures were made into a serial that was broadcast on TV in 1953. In 1990, there was also a low-budget film about the character.

 " He's absolutely a seminal bedrock character for the Marvel line," said Brevoort. " And he's a concept that anybody can understand. Even people who've never read a Captain America story before intuitively comprehend what he stands for, and no matter where you happen to sit on the political spectrum in this country, Captain America represents something to you. He's astonishingly universal."

 The last time Captain America drew national headlines was in 2007 when he was gunned down on the steps of a US courthouse after a prolonged battle over personal rights that pitted Marvel heroes against each other. Though the death did not stick - they seldom do in comics - the story line by Ed Brubaker pushed the character back into the national consciousness.

 " Cap is one of the great comic book icons, and as dangerous as the world is today - more than it was in the 1940's - we need him around more than ever to act as our moral compass," Simon said.

 What say you?? I laugh at the comment the world is more dangerous today than in the 1940's!!!! Crap!! A world war not dangerous??? That is pushing hero worship a bit too far!

African Cats

 In a cinematic world where CGI has run rampant it was an incredibly refreshing change to sit in a theatre and watch a movie with 'reality'. No Green Harry X-Men Potter here!! After African Cats I can categorically state 'reality' beats CGI hands down every time!! But that is not to say this isn't flawed because it has something of a childishness to it that is unfortunate considering the seriousness of its efforts to raise funds for African wildlife conservation.

 Samuel L. Jackson narrates African Cats and it isn't his finest performance I'm afraid. It isn't totally his fault as the script he was given was rather weak and for me was the only let down of an other wise wonderful wildlife film. It is nice to see Disney delve back into wildlife films as they were a studio which made them prodigiously many years ago. The problem here is that the film doesn't seem to know who its target audience is. The script is too child orientated to really satisfy adults, and yet the film is donating a set amount of revenue for African conservation groups, which if is the case, means surely getting bums on seats is the priority. Unfortunately the child like script isn't going to get adults in which means less revenue.

 What this film shows is that with wildlife films being a somewhat forgotten genre studios don't appear to know how to make them anymore. Disney once led the pack in making wildlife films and I was expecting more because of this. The cinematography is superb and can't be faulted but that script...grrrrrrr! The makers have tried to introduce a family face to lions and cheetahs but have over simplified things too much. It isn't a documentary, which is ok because you don't want the kids bored by it, but like animation there has to be an adult angle which this just doesn't have The script fails on both accounts.

 What African Cats shows is the consecutive lives of a lioness and her cub, and a cheetah and her five cubs. In all honesty there is nothing new or really original in this type of film, but in being seemingly child orientated, Disney have jumped on the 'mother's love' angle to show how the lioness and cheetah protect and nurse their cubs into adulthood. I liked the angle and premise, but it wasn't enough for me as an adult. Fortunately the cinematography is superb, and even though not a documentary per se I did learn a few things!

 Even after years of wildlife documentaries on television etc, I never knew cheetahs purred!! I kid you not as in one scene, with the mother cheetah and her five very young cubs, you can actually hear them purring like domesticated cats! I couldn't believe it! The thing I really noticed between lions and cheetahs was that cheetahs most closely resemble our household pets. They are more elegant than lions, and their every movement had me thinking of my own cat, whereas the lions didn't. Mind you lions are three times bigger than cheetahs so the elegance is over taken by bulk.

 The other thing which I never realised was that whilst cheetahs are the fastest land animal, they can only sustain their top speed for 30 seconds, and are then blown. But overall there are very facts about either big cats which was what I would liked to have more off. I think the 'mother's' love' angle for the kids could easily have  been melded into it more facts, etc, for the adults, and still worked for both parties. One amazing scene saw my jaw drop, and that involved a pride of lionesses drinking at a river, and quite literally standing up to the crocodiles. They weren't scared, and were right in the crocs faces, hissing and spitting like household cats! It was incredible that a small brained, cold blooded reptile, knew when it was time to back off! An amazing thing to watch and well worth the ticket price to see.

 Overall I really enjoyed African Cats. It is pure Disney heart warmer, and surprisingly it had very little blood, less than even your average television documentary. The cats are shown hunting and catching prey, but there is next to no bloodshed, as the film concentrates on that all important 'mother' angle. The camera work is spectacular and can't be faulted. I was amazed at how close the camera got, especially to the cheetah cubs, as the cheetah mother was very protective. Just watch her take on several male lions, three male cheetahs, and a host of hyenas!! She prevails and only lost two cubs to a pack of hyenas after the run in with the lions. Actually her three remaining cubs are involved in seeing off the three males cheetahs in one of the films most staggering scenes. Honestly they were three tiny things that hissed and spat liked a domestic cat and saw off three fully grown male cheetahs. Again a great scene and well worth that ticket price!

 For me the cheetahs were the highlight, probably because I saw so much of my own domesticated cat in them. The cubs when very young are exactly like a domesticated cats kittens to be almost indistinguishable. I suppose that is the appeal over the lions which always looked liked wild animals. But in saying that the lions rubbed against each other just like domesticated cats do to humans, but which the cheetahs didn't as such. It was funny as I watched this film in popped into my head why it was that the ancient Egyptians domesticated cats, and revered then so much. After watching the cheetahs in particular I can see why they became enchanted by the elegance, poise, and grace that a cat has.

 African Cats is a worthy watch even though too child driven. This is a flaw because the film is a fund raiser and surely aiming it at a limited audience is a a mistake. But that aside the camera work is superb, and after all the CGI this year it was absolutely refreshing to see real life action on screen. Believe me CGI may provide stunning visuals, but watch the cheetahs in this and tell me CGI can better them!! A heart warmer in the best Disney tradition ( 7/10. It would be more but the script is an unfortunate let down ).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Steve McQueen : Living On The Edge - Michael Munn

 The name Steve McQueen needs no introduction. Through the late 1960's, and into the early 1970's, his name symbolised 'cool' like no other and he became one the biggest movie stars of his era. But he was a man with demons who spent his life trying to run from himself and his past. Along the way became difficult to handle and yet against all the odds rose to the top of a profession he was seemingly ill-suited to be a part of.

 He rose to the top from the very literal bottom. Only Charles Bronson is acknowledged as having had a more difficult childhood, and both he and McQueen on the set of The Magnificent Seven used to sit alone and attempt to out-do one another with hard luck stories. James Coburn, who's views on McQueen are copiously used, states this was McQueen to a tee, as no matter how hard someone else had it he had it worse. But this was the root of McQueen's success as it bred in him from an early age the desire to be better than anyone else at anything he attempted in life. He just had to be the best.

 When you look at his life and his difficult nature you wonder how he came to be an actor. He can't be regarded as one of the greats, and it is difficult to gauge his abilities because everything about him screams, 'not an actor'!! He became an actor after driving in a get-away that went wrong, and one of his companions dying from a gun shot wound. The surviving hood said to McQueen he was too good for that type of racket and why not become an actor since he liked movies so much. McQueen was partial to Bogart/Cagney gangster movies, so that is what he did!

 He started out at a local drama theatre and within a year or so attained entrance to the method school of acting a certain Marlon Brando had previously attended. This is a key thing to look at in McQueen's career because entrance to this school was very prestigious and McQueen was one of only two accepted that year. He wasn't a model student but he did land theatre roles and had some success, which enabled him able to buy better quality motorbikes, his life long passion, ( by the time he died he owned 170!! ). His rise in Hollywood came not off his back as much as it did his marriage to Neile Adams who gained parts in Hollywood films well before he did.
 But being Neile Adam's husband saw him slowly enter Hollywood, and he got his start in television. Right from the start he was difficult, throwing his lack of stardom around before he had any!! His loner persona saw him unadjusted to team work, and he gave no end of troubles. This was a reputation that followed him until his death, and director Don Siegel said of him he wasn't the most difficult actor he worked with but was damn close! And here this biography comes into its own because Steve McQueen was a difficult personality, and whilst it may be easy to point out his faults, what comes through very clearly was that he was a very well liked man. He could be very charming, especially with woman, who he had no trouble with sexually,  but with his deep seated anger could turn on people very quickly.

 In essence he was his own worst enemy, and it is staggering that a man with his personality flaws ever became one of the biggest names in Hollywood. I read this biography flabbergasted that with his upbringing he still had an intense desire to succeed, and be number one. Sure he was difficult but he never forgot where he came from, and he did much for delinquent boys. He himself had spent time in an institution for young delinquents, and right throughout his career he went there to speak to the boys, and donate money. When in Taiwan he and his wife stumbled on a girls orphanage where some of the very youngest had been forced into prostitution. He donated $25,000 in aid, and to the end of his life kept in contact with the orphanage.

 He also wrote to youngsters in prison, but anonymously. It is startling that he kept most of his charity work secret as he wanted to keep his past quiet. No matter his flaws, and difficulties, Steve McQueen did an untold amount for young boys in trouble, and donated large amounts of his own money in an attempt to rehabilitate them. He is known to have said if it helps just one boy then it was all worth it.

 He was married three times as he was a constant philanderer. Neile Adams was his great love, and even though they divorced, remained life long friends. He was also very devoted to his children, and even though divorced, looked after them no end. Again his reputation, and outer skin hid a much deeper man than we realise. He had difficulty expressing himself, and hid behind a rough exterior. As stated he was actually a well liked man even though he could be difficult and un-predictable. His ultimate problem to was he was hyper-active, and probably suffered from ADD his whole life. He literally couldn't sit still, and he used copious amounts of cannabis, and later on cocaine and acid, to relax. This only led to his mood swings, and general mental health deteriorating even further.

 He died after marrying his third wife, a model almost thirty years his junior after Ali MacGraw divorced him for his womanising. He could never accept that a woman was no more than a play thing there to do his bidding, and certainly MacGraw's intellect wasn't going to mix well with McQueen's attitudes. He died of a cancer caused by breathing in asbestos dust, most likely from the brakes of the cars, and bikes he raced, and also from the flame proof facemasks of the era. He turned to Christianity two years before he died, and many believe he found peace in himself through spirituality. He certainly mellowed as he aged and before his death graciously made up with all those he had fallen out with over the years.

 For me Steve McQueen is the anti-thesis of an actor. He could act to be sure but he can never be rated as one of the greats. But without question he was one of the greatest movie stars ever, and I think there is a difference between an 'actor', and a 'movie star'. As an actor McQueen knew his limitations, and tried to take roles in which he felt he could be play himself. His great strength, and the fount of his 'cool', was in that he hated dialogue, and knew he could say more with body language than with words. Most agree his two best roles are The Great Escape, and Bullitt, because it is McQueen really being himself, in other words a character he could identify with. He also did a lot of research for his roles. He could be a real pain on set, and very un-professional, and yet he could put in an amazing amount of work into his performances.

 This is an exceptionally good biography. It perfectly balances out McQueen's strengths and weaknesses without character assassination or hero worship. When studying McQueen it is impossible to ignore his character as it was central to how he lived and dealt with those around him. He was selfish and an arsehole, without realising he was selfish and an arsehole. His generosity to friends, family, and those in need more than counter-balanced his up and down nature. He did have a hard upbringing, and became a loner who trusted very few people. But his flaws were exasperated by probable mental illness and drug use. But through it all he was never a bad guy, and most people who met him said he could be incredibly charming, and his philanthropy cannot be ignored.

 He kept people at a distance but that is all he knew how to do, and it spread into his acting career where he is the most unlikeliest movie star ever, but his incredible will and drive saw him succeed despite the odds, and for me that is what makes him so interesting. His intense drive even saw him obtain a red belt, one under black, training with Bruce lee. When he wanted to he could show self discipline!!

 Highly recommended. But it is a shame that it is riddled with spelling mistakes because it cheapens an other wise very fine biography of a man who you would think should never been an actor, let alone made a name for himself out of it. It is a very easy biography to read, and accessible to all without being too detailed, or overly simplistic. I'm sure all who read it will find it a fine biography, and Steven McQueen an interesting man to read about, whether a fan, or in just showing a general interest.

Click here for wikipedia's page on Steve McQueen for more on his filmography and family life. His background is looked at, as are other interesting facts, etc:

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Marlon Brando - Patricia Bosworth

'I've never had any respect for Hollywood. It stands for greed, avarice, phoniness, crassness...'

 'They start out out by seducing you, and then they end up pissing on you'.

Marlon Brando on Hollywood.

'..between them, these two films define the two poles of Brando's genius. The first is his greatest disguise performance, the second his most unsparing act of self-evaluation'.

Foster Hirsch on Brando's performances in The Godfather and Last tango in Paris..

 I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you who Marlon Brando was! Some say he was the greatest actor ever. I'm of the opinion only James Stewart was better, but both he and Brando were in a league of their own when you consider there was also Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, Paul Newman and a host of others on their coat tails. What Brando had ( along with Stewart ), was the gift of acting without looking like they were doing so. Paul Newman summed it up for me saying of Brando he made it all look so easy when he himself had to work extremely hard. And we all know Paul Newman was no bunny!

 This particular biography is the only Marlon Brando biography in my local library! There has been a wealth of Brando biographies over the years so it is disappointing when a concise biography like this is the only one on offer. I've never read a Brando biography before but with his fame being so great a lot about him can be picked up along the way. At 250 pages this is a very concise look at Brando and for a real layman a good starting point in reading of this legend. It can't be called definitive but most of the reviews I have read on it have been generally positive.

 To put how concise this is I managed to read it in roughly 4 hours. At first the writing style was somewhat amateurish and yet after a few chapters it improved markedly and became a very competent work. It is a biography for the masses, those who know of Brando and want something brief to read, and for those who want a starting point before moving on to more detailed, meticulous works. For the type of biography it is I think it works extremely well, but for more advanced Brando-ophiles it in all reality will be too basic for them.

 Well I'm not a Brando scholar and found much of interest in this biography. I  found out that with the fractured way in which I have accumulated my knowledge on Brando I was amazed at much I actually knew about him. But as always there is still much to learn! Firstly I never knew his mother was an alcoholic who eventually beat the disease and that he never got on with his father. In fact his early years were something of a blank to me and it was interesting to see that his later life was a result of his upbringing. His famous ad-libbing was more to do with childhood laziness than anything else as Brando was a lazy student at school and hence remained pretty much uneducated all his life.

 I found it hard to come to a conclusion on Brando's intellect. It appears he wasn't a big or wide reader, but this doesn't account for his famous disregard for script reading and memorising of lines. It was just pure laziness and yet he was such a brilliant ad-libber he could get away with it. Brilliant yes, but it made him extremely difficult to work with. He is also one of the first crop of actors from the 'method' school of acting. Probably no other actor has perfected the technique as Brando did. I think in A Streetcar named Desire and Last Tango in Paris we see Brando at his best with the technique. Many believe those two performances were from Brando's deepest recesses and come from his childhood.

 He was a sensitive person and yet a real pain as an actor. But not just as an actor because at one stage he directed a film, but he annoyed studio executives by taking too long shooting it whilst going well over budget. He never got to edit it properly and yet Karl Malden states he felt it could have been a real masterpiece. I  also never realised that he played Stanley Kowalski on stage before reprising the role on film. After 500 performances he stated he was tired of the emotional wrench of the role and was reluctant to do it again on film. He was something of a bastard to Jessica Tandy as Blanche Dubois and I was surprised to learn that after Brando gave up the stage role Anthony Quinn took over. ( Did you know Quinn was half Mexican and  half Irish?! I didn't! ).

 Interestingly Bosworth points out that after On The Waterfront Brando had hit the peek of his career .When you really analyse it she is right because the 1960's were a barren era from him until his mini resurrection with The Godfather and then Last Tango in Paris. Apocalypse Now is something of a dilemma because he was extremely over weight and constantly filmed hidden in shadows to hide it. He is only on screen for a short time and I don't think it vintage Brando even though the film itself is an absolute cinematic masterpiece. After that his career went into steep decline and never recovered. To be sure his sensitive nature didn't help him but nor did his private life. He constantly cheated on his wives and the divorces and battles over the children took up much of Brando's time and energies. Through the 1960's he took roles that paid the most to help pay his legal bills which accounts for the barrenness of the era from him.

 In all essence by the end of the 1960's Brando was finished in Hollywood. His unruly persona meant he was difficult to direct and even though still highly regarded the scripts started to dry up. The one thing is that even though he was difficult it must be remembered for all his greatest roles he put in an immense amount of research. For instance he worked on actual docks to get a feel for the type of men there and the work they done before shooting On the Waterfront, ( the role even saw him take boxing lessons ). He hung out with a gang for The Wild One. And he even had dinner with a real Mafia family for The Godfather!

  Even though his career was in the doldrums the script for the Godfather seemingly re-energised and he became extremely enthusiastic about the role. The rest is history and Brando had a mid-career peak with it and then Last Tango in Paris. But inexplicably he let it slip and he never achieved such heights again. He became something of a recluse and came out for money alone as his well known money grab in Superman testified to.

 With the brevity of this biography it is difficult for Bosworth to go too deeply into Brando's decline. Suffice to say I think his private life got too much for him. Interestingly Brando always hated publicity and shied away from it. He hated his loss of anonymity and his hatred of Hollywood was legendary. Even more interesting is that even though an actor he dismissed the profession saying, 'Acting is a bums life. It leads to perfect self-indulgence. You get paid for doing nothing and it adds up to nothing'. It makes you wonder why he ever became an actor, and even more so, why he stayed one if he felt that way!

 But that is one of the enigmatic things about Brando. He stuffed around at school and sort of ended up as an actor without really making a conscience choice of wanting to be one. His film roles of the 1950's were his real peak and yet his constant degrading of Hollywood saw him miss out on several Oscars. He was intentionally snubbed for A Streetcar Named Desire, and Zapata because of his constant Hollywood sniping. Who can honestly say politics doesn't have a say when awarding Oscars? But Brando done it to himself, yet he fortunately didn't make too much of it. His performances spoke volumes enough and he knew it.

 Brando's mumbling diction was legendary and it is interesting to note that he took the role of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar to prove to his critics he could speak and act in a more classical manner! Of course his performance was praised ( nominated for yet another 1950's Oscar! ), and even though he was infamous for not memorising lines he loved Shakespeare and could do the Bard extremely well. He was just lazy with lines and it must have been frustrating for directors to have to accommodate Brando and his use of cue cards, etc. He even famously had his lines written on his hand in The Godfather! Notoriously to in Last Tango in Paris the scene where Paul is kneeling next to his dead wife Brando is ad-libbing but also looking up at the walls for his lines which were up there on cards!!

  Unfortunately this biography was written several years before Brando died so it is incomplete. But I got enough from it and have a better picture in my mind about him. It has certainly whet my appetite to read the bigger and more meticulous biographies out there.  Brando even wrote an autobiography towards the end of his life to help pay for some astronomical legal fees!

 A concise biography and a good starting point for all reading abilities. It isn't definitive but no biography on man who lived for 80 years could possibly be! Marlon Brando is a legend and rightly so with his peak in the 1950's. He hit a lean patch but bounced back with a staggering two film reminder of the acting force he could still be in the early 1970's. But for all his greatness he was unruly, eccentric, and difficult to manage, which ultimately cast a cloud over his career, but never over his extraordinary abilities.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brando's The Best Of Brutal Mobsters

 This article came out of my local newspaper last night and I thought I'd post it here. Suffice to say I don't agree with every sentiment but will add a few of my own at the end. The article has no name attached so I have no idea who wrote it except that it came from AP. So read on!

 There has been no shortage of movies made about mobsters over the years. Their power and brazenness hold a fascination for Hollywood and filmgoers. One of the most infamous is James "Whitey" Bulger, the New England mob boss captured after 16 years as a fugitive, and who inspired Jack Nicholson's character in Martin Scorsese's 2006 Oscar winner, The Departed.

 He is our inspiration to take a look at five of the most formidable movie mobsters.

Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather ( 1972 ).

 Of course we have to start here, but what can we say that hasn't been said before? Brando's quietly intimidating performance in Francis Ford Coppola's trilogy as the aging patriarch of a crime family set the standard for portrayals of Mafia leaders.
 Al Pacino's Michael Corleone is also frightening, but Brando's shadow looms large over everything. He's been endlessly worshipped, quoted and parodied, and deservedly so. Brando's work is nothing short of iconic and it earned him and Academy Award for best actor, which he turned down as protest based on his objection to the depiction over the years of American Indians by Hollywood and television.
 See, the Academy made him an offer he could refuse. Ba-dum-bum.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas ( 1990 ).

 Scorsese was robbed. Dances With Wolves should never have won the best-picture Oscar over Goodfellas, which is one of the director's masterpieces. All his stylistic signatures are there : the fluid movement and the rock soundtrack, the colourful characters and the visceral violence.
 But at the centre of it all is Liotta, doing the best work of his career as a resourceful up-and-comer who rises to the top of the mob heap only to find he's in over his head. He's just as dangerous as he is boyishly handsome and charming - resourceful and clever but capable of volatility.

James Cagney in multiple roles.

The controversial grapefruit scene from The Public Enemy.
 Playing a tough guy was one of Cagney's strong suits, and that persona was indelibly on display in several classic gangster movies. In 1931's The Public Enemy he plays Tom Powers, a volatile Chicago gangster on the rise. In 1938's Angels With Dirty Faces he plays Rocky Sullivan, who grew up in a tough part of New York and returns as a career criminal, only to cross paths with the priest who was his childhood best friend.

  Michael Curtiz' film features plenty of stereotypes and a moral undercurrent, but Cagney is at his brash best and the performance earned him the first of his three Academy Award nominations for best actor.

Ben Kingsley as Don Logan in Sexy Beast ( 2001 ).

 Part of the allure of this performance is that it's so vastly different from the kind of quiet, dignified work we ordinarily associate with Kingsley. He's anti-Gandhi. he's just tremendous here, and the role earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. As a foul-mouthed, gun-toting, butt-kicking British thug, Kingsley is unpredictable and impossible to stop watching.

 His performance alone would make Sexy Beast worth seeing, but it punctuates a stylish noir thriller that's totally addictive.

William Hurt as Richie Cusack in A History of Violence ( 2005 ).

 Hurt earned a supporting - actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a passively threatening Philadelphia mob boss. He shows up towards the end of the movie and has only a single scene, one that's unlike any other in the film with its dark sense of humour.

 Parading around an ostentatious castle of a home, he plays the role with a mix of affection, menace, paranoia and regret, laying on the most charming guilt trip with just a touch of insanity. Even though he barely appears in director David Cronenberg's twisty thriller he nearly steals the whole movie.

 What say you??!

 I must admit I haven't seen Sexy Beast but the others I have. It is difficult to argue with Brando's performance being the best ever filmed. I was very lucky to see James Cagney's The Public Enemy on the big screen several years ago. It is more moralistic as it was made to show the American public the 'virus' of organized crime invading society at the time. It was a brutal movie for its day and Cagney was chilling.

 I dis-agree though that Dances With Wolves should never have won best picture. That is the whole point of awards and at least that year there was two great films vying off against one another. Of course other opinions will differ but for me Coster's epic masterpiece is one of the greatest films ever made, and whilst I love Godfellas I like Wolves more.

 Jack Nicholson's role in The Departed is mentioned and it is a pity it wasn't added as it was a superb performance which switched me onto him as I'd never really like him before.

Certainly an interesting article and food for thought!

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows : Part 2

 I must admit to being a Harry Potter fan. I love the novels and the movies have been alot of fun and generally of an equal quality. But for me the movies made a mistake with the cliff hanger ending of The Half blood Prince. I enjoyed the whole movie up to that point but that ending stuffed it all up as it made the whole thing feel like little more than a movie that joined its predecesor to The Deathly Hallows.

 If the Deathly Hallows was only one movie then that would have sat better with me but with it being split into two parts that cliff hanger end clanged badly. How can you have a cliff hanger with the very end two movies away?? Suffice to say I didn't feel the need to have two movies made from the one novel, and for me it was nothing more than a money grab. The Deathly Hallows Part 1 was the first movie of the franchise that I wasn't fussed on. I didn't really enjoy it and felt it was no more than another Harry Potter movie. The franchise had gained a creakiness which I think Part 2 confirmed.

 Firstly I can't really say I enjoyed Part 2. Unfortunately with the bombardment of CGI movies we have been subjected to lately this Harry Potter movie just got lost in the crowd, and to my jaded eyes it was nothing more than Transformers/ Green Lantern/ X-Men, all over again. Hollywood has got to wake up to the word 'VARIETY'. I would have viewed part 2 differently if I hadn't seen almost the same thing the week before. The plot and script are fine but visually the CGI to my eyes was just more of the same and to be honest I was BORED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!..the first time in ANY of the franchise's movies.

 If you think I'm kidding then watch the scene where Professor McGonagall re-animates the stone knight statues. Watch how they land on the court yard and tell me that that very idea wasn't lifted from how each scene started in Sucker Punch! There were several other CGI moments that looked familiar, and again Hollywood has got to start interspersing CGI movies with live movies without CGI ( ie. with actors alone!! ), so as to avoid the jadedness that I think is kiling movies like this. They are all starting to look alike!!

 And this was the shame of it as I really wanted to enjoy it and see the franchise out in style. But all I got was more of the same, and I come back to the issue of splitting the movie into two parts. It was un-necessary and the two movies felt too stretched out for my liking. The problem too as was always going to happen was the three main protagonists looked too old for their parts. I had real trouble buying into the boy wizard as he isn't a boy anymore! The character of Neville Longbottom was a joke as he has put in a real growth spurt since the last movie as to be utterly unconvincing. This was always going to happen and again two parts were a mistake because of this.

 So I suppose it is fortunate this is the last of the franchise because the actors are passed their credible ages for their roles. For me it wasn't the right way to see the franchise out by splitting the last movie, and the two parts of The Deathly Hallows have left me feeling unsatisfied both times. It is a pity as the money grab took precedent over making one last great movie. Instead it has been stretched out and with it I think some of the charm and pleasure that the preceeding movies all had is missing.

Unsatisfying, with the odour of lucre I'm afraid. The Deathly Hallows should never have been split into two parts as neither part is particularly good and a let down for the preceeding movies. For this fan it was a disappointing end to a wonderful franchise, and with it a decade long phenomenom.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Orson Welles - John Russell Taylor

 I recently watched Orson Welles' masterpiece Citizen Kane, ( of which I hope to review some time this century! ) and realised I knew literally nothing about him. How could this be so considering he created what is considered the greatest film ever made? I knew he created a stir with his War of the Worlds radio presentation in the 1930's but still that isn't much is it? So I though I'd put things to right and read up on the man.

 I'm not having a good year reading non-fiction, and have in fact read more fiction so far in 2011 than I have in the last five years combined. Suffice to say I didn't want to bog myself down in anything too detailed as I just spent a whole month plowing my way through a very meticulous, detailed 850 page of Alfred Hitchcock. So this book was just the ticket as it is only 128 pages long and can be read by an accomplished reader in less than three hours.

 So straight off if you are after a definitive work on Orson Welles then this is not it. It is what I would call an introduction. Books like this are a very good place to start if you want inital background information, or a light framework to build on, and upwards to more detailed works. I don't envisage myself ever reading another Welles biography and this one just scratched the quiet itch I had after Citizen Kane.

 Well in brevity I got what I expected from this book and learnt a few things along the way. Most notably that Welles, before he made Citizen Kane, wanted to turn Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness into a film. Like so many ideas and projects of his it never got of the ground but was later immortalised by Francis Ford Coppola as Apocalypse Now. Funnily enough though is that he had actually adapted the novel to radio. It is one theme that seemed to have run through Welles whole life was the amount of projects he started but never completed. He generally seemed to blame everyone else but himself for these failures but the fault I think generally lay within him.

 He certainly started out his career in a hurry and was looked on as a boy genius. After a somewhat up and down stage director/actor career he was invited to Hollywood to make films. He saw the possibilities film would give him and took the plunge. But amazingly after Citizen Kane he never scaled the heights again. One of the things that is often forgotten with Citizen Kane though is that it wasn't an instant success and only gathered its fame many years after its release. He reached this height at the young age of 25 and in a 1973 interview succinctly summed up his following career thus, ' I began at the top and have been making my way down ever since'.

 Orson Welles was an active man and was always busy but he has an uncanny knack of alienating those he needed. Taylor says he had a self destruct gene! Charlton Heston, an admirer of Welles as an actor stated, ' There's a kind of maverick streak in Orson....he just wants to work, but at the same time, there's something in him that drives him to alienate the people with the money'. This sums Welles up perfectly. He constantly had projects on the go but no funding so he had to find acting jobs in an effort to raise cash. It is interesting because even though no-one wanted him as a film maker he was always in demand as an actor! This even though he was notoriously difficult to direct as he tried to be the director as well!

 Welles is also famous for his radio programmes. He had a voice that could hold an audience enthralled and he continuously turned back to radio as a form of income. In later years he made most of his money making successful radio commercials, a somewhat sad, but somehow appropriate, acknowledgement of where he stood in the scheme of things. I dont' think Orson Welles was a bad guy or even overly egotistical. His problem was he tried to do too much at one time and hence did nothing. He did take too much credit for Citizen Kane, ignoring the input of Herman  J. Mankiewicz, but he isn't the only person to ever do that type of thing is he?! 

 The only other thing that leaped out at me was I ever realised he and Rita Haworth were married for a time, and that he was married four times. He certainly strayed, which didn't help his marriages, but again he wasn't alone in doing that. I think in such a short book one thing marks Orson Welles for me. That was that his heavy work load, and somewhat difficult persona, meant he never attained and prevailed to the heights his talents said he should have acquired. He had some successes, which were huge, but overall his was a career that I would sum up as unfulfilled.

 This is certainly not a definitive biography, but if you wish to read an introductory book on Orson Welles then this is a good place to start. A short and effective summary, no more.

Amazon has this with 4 1/2 stars from 5. And even though very short this type of brevity can be quite a demanding write, and I think John Russell Taylor has produced a good example of this type of concise biography.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Guns Of Navarone

 My god it would have to be at least thirty years since I last saw this classic! I can unequivocally say it is one of the films that as a boy inspired my life long interest in military history. Ah the memories because I remember all too well reading the 1957 Alastair MacLean novel it is based on as well as his other war novels, Force 10 From Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, and HMS Ulysses. Where would I have been without such novels, movies and a very heavy dose of Commando comics??!

 Alastair MacLean was still alive and writing when I was a boy in the early 1980's. He is probably less known to a younger generation but in his time he was probably the best thriller writer of his generation. Whilst his novels may now be dated somewhat his legacy to his chosen genres cannot be disputed. Unfortunately I knew I wouldn't be able to find the time to read the first Navarone novel before watching the DVD as I would have preferred to do. It too must be thirty years as well since I last read it so I borrowed a copy from my library of which I shall start on soon.

 Well after thirty years there was so much I had forgotten about this film. I always remember the model guns sitting in the cliffs though!! They are the whole point of the movie so that isn't surprising is it?! But everything else was all new me again which added to my nostalgia. The cast I knew and could name, and I had an added interest to re-visit this as I watched Gregory Peck with Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday last week. Certainly a fine performance and even though The Guns of Navarone has some serious flaws the acting is not one of them.

 The cast is superb and a good example of the  great names from the  1950's and early 60's. Peck, Quinn, Niven. Hawkins, and then heart throb James Darren ( to bring in the younger audience ), give this film a real edge. I found it hard to pick out an actor who stood out as they all had scenes that were their own. The one I liked the most was after the girl traitor is shot and Peck and Niven are left alone. In the space of a minute or so these two great actors both show why they are such legends.

 The film was a box office success and was nominated for six Oscars so it was seen as a film with quality. The acting is now its strength because visually it has dated. In 1961 this was a big budget blockbuster and a lot of money was spent on the special effects. Many of the scenes would be considered dangerous so mock ups were made in studios to replicate cliffs etc. They now look dated ( as one reviewer has said 'cring worthy' ), but it must be looked at through the eyes of the times. I think any film aficionado will appreciate the dated effects and view them as a piece of cinematic history.

 Instead of CGI in 1961 models were used. They are glaringly obvious but must have been fantastic in their day. The Star Wars film used models as well and the genesis of the method can be seen in Navarone. If you look carefully at the fortified town the guns are above the fore runner of CGI can be seen. It is animated and actually still effective as I have seen recent movies with CGI that was of the same quality. Also the party are attacked by a pair of Stukas. They are animated but surprisingly have dated well and looked really good, ( very reminiscent of the Stukas in Enemy at the Gates ). This must have been an incredibly expensive film to make in its day when you look at the amount of model work, animation, and hand built props that were created.

 The whole premise of the film is cobblers though! MacLean at the start of his novel says he likes writing war novels because they give the fictional writer great scope of story telling. But he stresses he hates war as he served in WW2 and believes it OK to write fictional war stories if they avoid glorifying it. Navarone is a fictional island as are the men trapped on Kheros. There was an Aegean Campaign and commando raids etc from the SBS ( Special Boat Service ). But in all reality the area was of secondary interest to the Germans who generally left it to the Italians to administer.
  Like many of the war films of the era the German equipment is actually American. The Greek Army was used for the Germans and hence their equipment too. I laughed at one stage as a bunch of Jerries jump into a truck with the name 'Dodge' on the tail board!! The tanks are American, and in fact for anyone with any military knowledge the whole film is military nonsense! I won't go into details but the film is 'high adventure' and reality is secondary to entertainment.

 All said and done though this is a good example of an early 1960's adventure movie. It has dated visually but for me I like that as it is a 'classic' and the quality of the cast compensates for the datedness. Militarily it is pure bollocks but still a great plot and story. Of course it is based on the novel by Alastair MacLean and his novels were the height of 'high adventure' for many decades. The film adaptation follows the novel fairly well with the only appreciable changes being in the characters. Added was a romantic sub-plot, and the identity of the traitor was changed. The two women were also not in the novel. The nationalities of some the men were also changed, ( for instance Peck's Mallory doesn't have his nationality mentioned, but in the novel he is a New Zealander ), but overall the book and movie are very similar.

 Still an influential film as it started the 'actioner' genre even within a war film. The cast is superb and has meant that this film hasn't slipped away into oblivion, because what made it an exciting film in its day now is severely dated. A younger generation may scoff at it but any serious cinema lover will appreciate it because of its enduring legacy to the genre and for the superb cast. After watching this I was reminded by the proverb,  'they don't make them like this anymore', and it is true because modern so called 'blockbusters' just cannot begin to replicate what a film like this represented sixty years ago. I really enjoyed my re-visit to this film, and oh the nostalgia! I think even for its obvious datedness you will enjoy it more if you have read Alastair MacLean's fine novel.

 Visually dated, but still a great example of a genuine 'blockbuster', and a piece of cinematic special effects history. ( MacLean wrote a sequel, the only one he did, titled Force 10 From Navarone. The film adaptation did not star the original cast and was a flop. Author Sam Llewellyn has also written several Navarone novels, so it is clear the impact the novel and film has had on popular culture).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

 ( We are fortunate this film was ever released because David Niven fell seriously ill during filming. He became ill from filming the scene where he is wiring the lift with explosives and is standing in water up to his waist. He nearly died and the whole project was in jeopardy. The producers came close to shutting it down and claiming the insurance, but fortunately Niven recovered and was able to finish filming ).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kungfu Panda 2

 Finally, finally, finally Kungfu Panda 2 has hit our shores! So it was with pleasure and anticipation that my hot little feet whipped me off to my local theatre! I have been looking forward to this since it was announced a sequel was in the offering as I just loved the first feature. Believe it or not opening night was only yesterday and yet I was alone in the theatre with only one other person!! I couldn't believe it as it was really eerie as my laughter bounced off of the walls.

 I may have been looking forward to this sequel but I was also worried somewhat. I really wondered how the first movie could be topped or if this second outing would even come close to the first quality wise. Well first off it in no way topped the first....not even close as it just didn't capture the the one thing the first had in abundance.........charm. The charm was missing and what I got was a rushed action heavy animated blitzkrieg instead. Sure it is a Kungfu movie but to me at times it looked no more than an animated version of last weeks Transformers movie...destruction and mayhem at the expense of the characters themselves. The building collapse of Transformers 3 is all but replicated here as well!

 The plot was fine but the script rushed head long into the fray which saw the moral inherent to all animated features become lost in the mayhem that followed. It was all rush rush rush and what was so wonderful about the first movie was sadly missing. I thought it might have been over familiarity with the characters, but I don't think so because whilst there is a story of self discovery for Po, the movie really is just an actioner with plenty of fights and explosions.

 But it isn't without its place because it still retained plenty of humour and I laughed out loud from start to finish! The animation was spot on and visually satisfying with plenty of sight gags to keep all happy. Problem is the one I keep coming back was too rushed and it felt as if the producers were trying to fit just far to much into its running time. It just left out too much of what made the first such a success and is little more than a wreck 'em, bash 'em, blow 'em up, slug fest. Bangs for bucks entertainment yes but at too much expense of what Kungfu Panda should be about. ( I was surprised that Del Toro was executive producer for this as I had heard nothing about his involvement and I didn't see his influence ).

 Overall I felt almost let down by this sequel. Sure it had plenty of laughs and was visually appealing but it gave up the wonderful feel of the first movie in becoming an animated action movie. The charm of the first was severely lacking and for me this is the key element of Kungfu Panda and its success.  A lot of fun yes, full of humour yes, full of plenty of great animated fights yes.....but missing that 'certain' spark of the first.  I enjoyed it and had a great time....but I didn't love it and believe me I LOVED the first one big time!

  Still worth seeing as you will get your moneys worth. But if like me you want to re-capture the charm and wonderful vibe of the first I think you will be very disappointed. If I had to give it a grade I would go 7/10, whereas the first was an unequivocal 10/10 for me. Unfortunately the producers have fallen into the trap of making a big loud movie that misses the 'awesomeness' of the first.

 Click on the month of February if you wish to read my review on the first Kungfu Panda as a comparison.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

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And here for the official site:

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Graduate





Ben to Elaine!!

'It's too late.'

'Not for me it isn't!'

Elaine to her mother, Mrs. Robinson.

You know the scene!!!!!!!

 ' And here's to you Mrs. Robinson....', how on earth can you go wrong with a film that starts with that song??! I have never been interested in watching The Graduate because I was never overly fussed on Dustin Hoffman. But after some recent films of his  I took the opportunity of renting this DVD from my local library and watching it last night.

 The AFI has the graduate at number 7 on its greatest films list. Straight away I will say that is far too high for it. When a true masterpiece such as Dr. Strangelove is down in the 20's, ( and for me the far superior film ) , it shows the flaws in the AFI's rankings. The Graduate is certainly a great film but I don't think it can rank as near one of the greatest ever made. In saying that I do still think it is top 100 material but more down between 50-100 ranking.

 The first thing that hit me about The Graduate is how it didn't feel or look like a 1967 film. The French Connection looked like an early 1970's film where as The Graduate, being three year older, looks far newer. I honestly thought it was a late 1970's film as it has dated extremely well compared to many other late 1960's films. Secondly it is a comedy drama and here it has dated as the laughs are there but haven't the impact in our modern world as they did 44 years ago. I still had a few chuckles but the riot it was in 1967 is no more.

The morality is also out of date as far as sex and marriage goes. Notice the scene where Hoffman, as Benjamin Braddock, is buying the wedding ring. As he is inside a young couple walk out of the store with a very young baby in the father's arms. The message is loud and clear and yet it has dated as I seriously doubt the younger generation of today would see the symbolism and message in it. It shows how much attitudes to sex, love, and marriage have changed.

 In its day the scenes where Mrs. Robinson has first undressed herself in front of Hoffman were explicit with the very blink your eyes and miss it flashes of her breasts. Today we get to see it all and that scene has an almost quaintness about it to our jaded eyes. It is amazing though when you watch the likes of this and then The French Connection which was made in 1971, because in The French Connection we see a very clear shot of a woman's bum, which shows how far along in the space of four years the level of acceptable nudity had traveled. Think also that Dirty Harry came out several months after The French Connection and had a very clear shot of a woman's breasts. So even within the space of a few years after its release The Graduate was somewhat dated.

 As a film The Graduate is possibly the one that really brought to the fore young sexual angst in a more realistic and probable way. Of course with loosening morality restrictions for film it was able to do so. But what is truly funny about The Graduate is the ages of the actors/actresses compared against the ages of their respective characters! For instance Hoffman was 30 and yet plays a 21 year old!! I actually thought he was in his early twenties as he doesn't look any where near thirty!!  Ann Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson is supposed to be 42 and is actually only 35, and yet looks far older than Hoffman. Fortunately the youthfulness of Hoffman's appearance works because if he didn't look 21 then the film wouldn't have worked. Also the very attractive Katherine Ross was actually 27 playing 19!

 All three of these actors were nominated for Oscars for their performances. The film was also nominated for four other Oscars with Mike Nichols winning Best Director. Like all films it is always interesting to look at who was initially wanted for the cast. Doris Day, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, and Patricia Neal all wanted, or were considered for the role of Mrs. Robinson. Robert Redford was wanted for Benjamin Bradford, and Gene Hackman for Mr. Robinson. Even without these names it still is a fine film though!

 Obviously Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock is the main protagonist and I must say a few words about him. His is a stellar performance and even though I had heard good things about it I was sceptical as I started watching last night. I'm now convinced!! Benjamin is a painful geek who I constantly felt like grabbing by the scruff of the neck and administering a good hard kick in the pants!! His initially reticence is painful and Hoffman plays it well. Kudos where deserved Dustin, because even at 30 you played a very convincing shy, sexually naive 21 year old!!

 One last thing and that must be about the church scene! It is certainly an iconic scene if not one of the MOST iconic ever filmed. I think it ranks up there with the cliff jump in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Reagan's head turning 360 in The Exorcist as one of the best and most recognisable scenes ever. It was of course famously parodied in Wayne's World which shows the impact it has had on the world of cinema.

 The Graduate is I believe a truly great film, but not top ten material. When you look at the films it is ranked with I'm afraid it isn't in quite that league. But it has its place as it is a piece of cinematic history for its quite explicit message for the times. The script is first class and the acting faultless, especially that of Hoffman as the shy reserved Benjamin Braddock. The score is fantastic and Simon and Garfield's song Mrs. Robinson must rank as one of the best ever put to a film. Dated yes, very much so, not visually as it has stood the test of time well, but in its treatment of our attitudes towards sex. This is where its historical value comes to the fore as it is a valuable look back at the changing attitudes towards sex, not only on the big screen, but in the world at large.

 Certainly recommended, and still a great film even with its dated sexual quaintness! I thoroughly enjoyed it and the church scene is a definite must see for any film aficionado.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And here for more:

And it even has an official website!