Monday, October 31, 2011

Diamonds Are Forever

 I have unfortunately missed the last three Bond films after Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This of course, as I wrote in a previous post, was due to watching the Rugby World Cup matches that overlapped with these films on a different channel. I wasn't worried at missing OHMSS as I watched and reviewed it quite recently. But it would have been nice to catch up with the last two films of Connery's first tenure as the world's most famous secret agent. 

 So here I am at the last official Bond film Sean Connery was to star in. He was asked to make the next film Let and Let Die but his response is the now famous 'never again'. Well we all know that he reneged on that statement and made the unofficial Bond film Never Say Never Again. It is nothing more than a Thunderball re-make, and as much as I like Connery this was not his finest hour in deciding to star in this. He is the quintessential Bond and yet by starring in this he sullied his name, along with the wonderful things he gave the world as James Bond. Even as a film Never Say Never Again is poor and thankfully Roger Moore's official Bond film Octopussy far out grossed its same year competitor.

 Now even though Sean Connery is considered the best Bond it doesn't mean he couldn't star in what is considered the franchise's worst film. For me personally I rate Diamonds of  Forever as my least favorite Bond. I don't rate it as bad, but as a Bond film it has major failings that make it feel more like a Bond film trying to be a Bond film. I think its major flaw is that the novel it is adapted from is based heavily in the US. Hence I get the impression with this being so the producers made the mistake of making the film US concentric. In other words they made it how an American would make a Bond film.

 But I do understand the thinking behind this and it wasn't the first time the producers had equated in the American market. Goldfinger when made was very much aimed at American audiences ( because as we all know America is the worlds biggest cinema market and success there equates to dollars ). This is important I know but where as Goldfinger was aimed at America it doesn't have the almost sell out feel that permeates Diamonds are Forever. For me this is its biggest problem. It just doesn't have any British feel to it and yet Bond is a wholly British creation. Previous to this the franchise had achieved the balancing act of making a British character and film accessible to all audiences world wide. But in trying to aim at one specifically the whole film fails.

 The other problem here is Sean Connery himself. As you all know Connery had retired from Bond after 1966's You Only Live twice. His replacement for OHMSS George Lazenby of course made the career killing decision not to take up his pro-offered seven film Bond contract. This left the franchise without a Bond. Connery was lured back after stipulating the then astronomical sum of US$2.9 million which made him the highest paid actor in the world. This was due to United Artists wanting him back. They put the hard word on Broccoli and co telling them money was no object just to get Connery back. Again it is interesting to see who was considered for Bond after Lazenby's departure. Batman's Adam West, Psycho's John Gavin and even Michael Gambon were all considered. But ultimately money lured Sean Connery back for his last official turn as 007.

 By now Connery was 41 but looked older. In fact he looked older at 41 than Roger Moore did at 45 when he took over the reigns in 1973 for Live and Let Die. And yet it was only four years since You Only Live Twice. But appearance aside Connery just doesn't feel as if he had slipped back into being Bond in Diamonds are Forever. Sure the ad-lib lines are there, the accent, etc, but something is just missing. I really do think that four year hiatus, along his feelings towards the role and  producers, comes through here. He may be playing James Bond but he just didn't become Bond again.

 This is of course the seventh Bond film to be based on an Ian Fleming novel. Published in 1956 it was Fleming's fourth Bond novel. But even though his fourth, and published three year after debut Casino Royale, it has palpably dated more so than its three predecessors. Well that was my impression when I read it recently. It isn't a bad story it just has not dated well as a novel. So if you have been reading my Bond reviews you'll know that I state the stronger Bond novels make for the stronger films. It may be no exaggeration then as to why Diamonds are Forever, with its other flaws, just doesn't work as a Bond film.

 So how different are the two. Well as in the other novel to film adaptations there are changes, both out of necessity, and to upbeat the films in the process. With the film the first half follows the novel markedly, except that in the novel the diamond smugglers are American gangsters, and not from Blofeld's organisation. But once the smuggling angle is over the film deviates from the novel only to return in the climatic scene where Bond dispatches Mr.Wint and Mr. Kidd on board the ship. But even though a dated novel and deviations the film has a feel of two halves to it. The first half feels like a routine diamond smuggling film and the second is more Bond like with the appearance of Blofeld, the moon buggy and the oil rig finale.

 So the script isn't as solid as previous Bond outings. The major problem is that Diamonds are Forever  looks like a Bond film, it has the Bond ad lib lines, it has Sean Connery, it has Guy Hamilton directing, it is based on an Ian Fleming novel, it has arch Bond enemy Ernst Blofeld, a climatic shoot out scene,  two Bond girls Tiffany Case and Plenty O'Toole ( whose 'tools' we see all too little of!! ). And yet with all the usual Bond ingredients Diamonds are Forever manages to be as close as it can get to being a non-Bond film! In fact it feels as if it was made by the same outfit who made the unofficial bond film Never Say Never Again. It just has that sort of feel to it.

 So in my usual indubitable style some behind the scenes stuff is of interest. Well I always think it is and is often quite useful in gauging a films final outcome. So why did Sean Connery return? Well in a At the time what he earned for this made him I believe the first ' million dollar ' actor. But he had an ulterior motive in asking for and receiving such an outrageous sum. Not only was studio United Artists to back two films of Connery's choice, but he used the fee to establish the Scottish International Education Trust, where Scottish actors could apply for funding without having to leave Scotland to further their careers. Quite a generous move to make on Connery's behalf.

  Other castings included Charles Gray who of course plays Bond arch villain and nemesis Ernst Blofeld. This even though he played Bond ally Henderson in 1967's You Only Live Twice!! Also David Bauer who appeared in the same film as an uncredited American Diplomat plays Morton Slumber in this turn. Jimmy Dean who plays Willard Whyte was actually employed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes and had concerns at playing a patische homage to his employer! Actresses considered for Tiffany Case included Raquel Welch, Jane Fonda, and Faye Dunaway. Jill St. Clair was initially offered the role of Plenty O'Toole, but landed the role after impressing Guy Hamilton during screen tests. Interestingly by this the seventh Bond film she was to be the first American Bond girl. Also the woman in the bikini, whose top Bond so unceremoniously whips off in the films opening scenes, was Denise Perrier, Miss world 1953!!

 Diamonds are Forever was the last Bond film to use either Spectre or Blofeld, both of which were elements not featured in Ian Fleming's novels. This was due to the long running legal batle by Kevin McClory who claimed that he, and not Fleming, created the organisation for the novel Thunderball. Blofeld is subsquently identified but never seen in 1981's For Your Eyes Only, as Eon's arrangement with Fleming's estate did not permit them to use McClory's works. Initially the plot was to involve a twin of Auric Goldfinger seeking revenge for his brother's death. But after Albert Broccoli had a dream where his friend Howard Hughes was replaced by an impostor the script was re-worked. Also the script eliminated entirely the villains of the novel, mobsters Jack and Seraffimo Spang. This of course was to accomodate Blofeld and his use of the diamonds in his satellite laser.

 The films finale was meant to be much more spectacular. Armed frogmen were to have jumped from helicopters and attached limpet mines to the legs of the oil rig. Blofeld was to escape in his mini-sub with Bond pursuing him hanging onto a weather balloon. The chase was to end in a salt mine where Blofeld was to fall to his death in a salt granulator. But this was discarded because permission to use a local salt mine was not granted and the sequence was found to be too long. Further problems involved the premature blowing of the explosives when only a handful of cameras were ready. So we see the somewhat flat predictable scene instead.

 As always the filming locations and what nots throw up some points of interest. Most of it was filmed in and around Los Angeles International Airport, Universal Studios and eight Las Vegas hotel rooms. Filming in Las Vegas used hotels used by Howard Hughes because of his friendship with Broccoli. This friendship helped when it came to keeping the Las Vegas streets clear when filming of the car chase occurred. One advantage of filming in the famed gambling town was that no extra lighting was needed due to the sheer volume of naturally occurring illumination from the neon lights! Funnily enough at one stage during the Vegas shooting Connery delayed a scene because he was collecting his winnings from a casino!

 Actor Kirk Douglas's home was used as that of Tiffany Case's. Actress Lana Wood, whose character Plenty O'Toole drowned in the pool, did actually have concrete blocks tied to her feet and filmed as if drowned. At one stage she got into difficulties and had to be pulled out of the pool! The exterior shots of the Slumber Mortuary were of a real Las Vegas crematorium. The interiors are a Pinewoods Studio mock up. Ford made an arrangement with Broccoli that their cars could be used, but only if Sean Connery drove the Mach 1 Mustang as a semi-endorsement.

 Within what is considered the worst of all 22 Bond films the car chase is considered its only real high point. The now famous alleyway scene where Bond tips the car on to two wheels was filmed in two locations. One in Las Vegas and the other on Universal's back lot. It took over three nights to film and lead to a goof. As the car enters the alley it is on its right tyres, as it leaves it is on its left ones!The moon buggy Bond escapes in was inspired by a real NASA vehicle but the producers didn't find it 'outrageous' enough so arms were added to flay about during Bond's escape. It was custom built by car maker Dean Jefferies and capable of highway speeds!

 Of course this was the second Bond film to have the title song sung by Shirley Bassey. Producer Harry Saltzman apparently hated it, but on the insistence of Broccoli it was kept in the film. Saltzman objected was to the lyrics and their sexual inneuendo. In fact the song's composer John Barry told Bassey to imagine she was singing about a penis! When released the film received mainly positive reactions, but many questioned its camp tone. Some found the moon buggy silly and the plot too complex. Jill St. Clair was criticised for being the least effective of all the Bond girls. Even Las Vegas wasn't found exotic enough for a Bond film! But this is unavoidable because the bulk of the novel is set there. More modern reactions rate the film as the worst of the Bond franchise with Mr. Wint and Kidd, along with Bambie and Thumper, as the first and second worst Bond villains respectively.

 So Diamonds are Forever is not a good Bond film. It was a financial success in 1971 but it hasn't stood the test of time well. It's major flaws are being too American in feel, and the script which makes the film one of two halves ( the first half a diamond smuggling film, and the second an attempt at a Bond film ). But even Sean Connery is one of the films drawbacks. He looks too old for the role and just hadn't slipped back into Bond mode for the film. For me it almost feels like a diamond smuggling film with Sean Connery in it. And this is ultimately what is wrong with it. It is a Bond film that looks and trys to be a Bond film,  but utterly fails to feel like a Bond film.

 I am a serious Bond aficianado and I hate to use the word 'worst' here personally. But when it comes to Bond films Diamonds are Forever is the one I would watch last. And yet in itself it isn't a bad film, it just isn't a good Bond film. IMDB has this with 6.7/10. I'd give it a 5/10 simply because I don't dislike it but don't rate it well as a Bond outing. This is maybe because it is adapted from one of Ian Fleming's less convincing novels, of which maybe rubbed off onto the film?

 In short the least memorable of the Bond franchise I'm afraid.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Omen : 666

 It is somewhat ironic that this 2006 re-make of The Omen played here on NZ telly just a few hours ago. Why? Well it seems as if the whole of northern hemisphere bloggers are all agog over Halloween!! And why do I find this amusing? Well many in the north of our planet do not realise that Halloween isn't celebrated way down here in the likes of NZ, Oz, South Africa etc. It isn't part of our heritage like it is up top.

 This is unusual considering these countries have a strong colonial past with the U.K. You'd think the first settlers down under would have brought Halloween with them and continued it. But no, Halloween isn't part of our social calender!!!! But with it just around the corner, and being aware of it, I suppose NZ telly had to play something, even in quiet acknowledgment. So from the myriad of horrors to choose from we were offered up this 2006 re-make of the 1976 Gregory Peck original.

 Well as many of you be know this was released on 6.6.06 to coincide with the Bible's number of the beast!! Believe it or not I saw one of the first screenings of it in the world! NZ is after all the first country to see the sun of the new day! My, this post is getting factual isn't it?! But anyway my local mainstream theatre had a one off 6.6.06 screening. I still have the ticket butt! Suffice to say early tickets sales sold out within hours in anticipation of this rare and momentous date/occasion!

 Pity though for all the hype, fun of the date, and tie in of the film, it turned out to be such a poor film. Even as re-makes goes it was poor. The original wasn't exactly a masterpiece even though now a semi-classic. Fortunately this 2006 version hasn't followed in the footsteps of the original and made two awful sequels!

 As far as horrors go the original Omen has dated considerably and would be hard pressed to produce any scares these days. Even in its day it wasn't an overly scary film. But the idea of Damien being the son of the devil was intriguing, and used before such as in the classic Rosemary's Baby. Admittedly it has been quite a number of years since I have seen the original. But as I watched its un-necessary, and inferior, re-make most of it came back to me. I like the premise and the story of the original, and it has its place in the horror genre. But its re-make should be consigned to the dust bin of cinematic history.

 As a re-make it couldn't even find a shred of originality. I mean the deaths of those who fathom out who Damien is are all but carbon copies of the original. And even as an updated horror film it produced the big fat zero in the fright stakes. Seriously, come on, if you are going to re-make a film isn't the idea to re-interpret, or at least freshen it up a bit? There is such scope with The Omen to have made a really scary, creepy, chilling, horror film. But alas, it was not to be, and all we got was this sad lame excuse of a so called horror flick.

 So in short the script was total rubbish. With so much scope to play with how could the mark have been missed so badly? It may be a re-make of a 1970's film with the world having moved on to the point of de-sensitivity in regards to what we see on screen, but this even felt like a 1970's film itself! It just had absolutely no updated feel to it all. Whilst not quite a scene for scene re-make like the dreadful Psycho attempt of several years ago it might as well have been. It is totally devoid of impact and is an ultimately pointless exercise.
 The cast? Well in such a dud they all felt like cardboard cut outs. Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien has no chill factor and looks no more than a spoilt kid who needs to put across your knee and have his arse tanned. Liev Schreiber is totally blank and going through the motions ( I read at the time he had a big on set sulk ). Gregory Peck he isn't!! At least Peck in a somewhat ordinary role from him looked as if he was trying. But Mia Farrow was actually quite reasonable as Damien's nanny. I laughed at this all too obvious, dumb, cheesy nod to Rosemary's Baby. Unfortunately it sort of sums up the whole film.

 Not surprisingly with the gimmick of its release date it broke box office records for a single day in the US. But it quickly fell off and it only made 4 times it US$25 million back worldwide. The original is still the highest earner of the series...and still by far the best film! Funnily enough it was the 12th highest grossing R rated film worldwide in 2006. But either way it under performed and it is not hard to figure out why. It is just poor. On release critics gave it generally negative to middling reviews, with most commenting on it being too similar to the original. ( which is my main criticism as well ). IMDB has this with a 5.4/10 rating. I'd be hard pressed to give it a 3/10. I can't actually believe I wasted my time and watched it!!!

 In a word mediocre. No.........CRAP.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Film Images And A Little Test...Give It A Go!!

 After my post of several days ago in which I attempted to find my top ten iconic film images I did some net surfing. What I found made me groan out loud! I found three images that I instantly knew should have been included. Suffice to say I will now do another post of a similar sort because there are just so any truly iconic film images to choose from.

 But what I thought I'd do here here is set a little test for you all instead of me posting a set of images and writing a piece on why I consider them iconic. None of the following five images is overly obscure. As film and telly watchers, poster buyers, magazine readers, music video watchers, etc, in other words uses of all manner of possible mediums, you will have at some stage come across these images. The first four may be in B&W but are instantly recognisable and very much a part of popular culture.

 So after each image I will ask the simple, quite obvious question! Go ahead because I'm sure all five images are known to you all regardless of where they came from.

 Just how legendary is this image!! Seriously even though you haven't seen the film itself it is still instantly recognisable in one form or another. And even though from a film that is now almost a century old it still projects the creepiness it did when released. An iconic image that modern horrors should take note of.

 So what is the name of the film?

 Another German image from an era when the they were the best film makers in the world. This film is now regarded as a masterpiece and one I personally consider one of the greatest ever made. From the film we have this classic, and don't silhouettes make for great images?! They are so simple and yet so effective. In fact at some stage I will do a ' name the silhouette ' post because there are so many great ones. This film also has another iconic image, but it is too obvious! A hint there!

So, name the film. And if you like, name the actor whose profile this is.

 I was very fortunate to see this classic American comedy several years at the NZ Film Festival. Again what an iconic image and one that has been printed on posters and generally entered popular culture. It has come to dominate everything else about the film. Without question from an era of great American slapstick comedies.

 Hence can you actually name the film itself? Again test your knowledge if you like. Who is the actor?

 Now seriously can any of you honestly tell me you have never seen this image?? It is truly iconic and has been used extensively in advertising parodies. I have seen it used in eye medication ads quite often....wonder why? Even American band The Smashing Pumpkins used the clip the image is from in one of their music videos! Again posters etc, etc, have seen this image immortalised on our collective memories.

 But what is the name of this silent era film? Test your knowledge if you like. What year is it from?

 Now for some colour! This image is a recognisable one as it is from one of the greatest films ever made ( even though I'm not overly fussed on it! ). Not only is it an iconic image it is an iconic character. Again posters have been printed and it has been parodied endlessly in advertisements. I have seen it well parodied in The Simpsons with Pierce Brosnan. Even recent film Moon used a character of similar ilk with Kevin Spacey in the role. Two hints!!

 So, name the film. If you can do that then you can of course name the creepy character!

 Leave your answers in the comments box, and I will answer them myself some time soon.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ten Iconic Film Images

 I decided to do this post on iconic film images after an un-named blog I visit directed me to another un-named blog. Once there an un-named blogger posted what they considered to be their top ten iconic film images. Well to be bluntly honest I wasn't impressed with what I saw. To me they were more favorites rather than well thought, reasoned images. Certainly none were what I could honestly call 'iconic'. Some were so obscure I didn't even  know them! So it got me to thinking. What would I consider my top ten iconic film images? Believe it or not it wasn't, as I quickly found out, an easy task. First of all I have my own particular favorites. But I wanted to be more definitive rather than make the mistake I thought this un-named blogger did.

 Now I'm not trying to be a presumptuous arsehole here but what I have come up with here are ten of what I consider genuinely iconic images. I've done so through a certain criteria. Firstly, and crucially, they must be instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of film watchers. To me an iconic image cannot be one from a film only a certain type of film goer has watched. Iconic isn't from some obscure film, from an obscure studio, from an obscure director, no matter how good the film may or may not be. Secondly it must have had an impact, not only in becoming seared on the cinematic world's collective world but to have also entered the realms of popular culture. That is what an icon is. Immediately identifiable to a wide range of people and accessible to all.

 Again I stress this is not a list of personal favorites. But suffice to say several are, but are included due their own merits and not on how I feel about them. There are several I had to discard for this reason because they don't fit within the criteria I laid down. For instance the cliff jump from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which is certainly iconic ( and a personal favorite, certainly  top three with me ), but one I had to leave out. But it would certainly rate very highly in the top best of lists if I had to go past only ten. Marlon Brando as Don Corleone is certainly an iconic image, but again against the ten I have selected not quite iconic enough.

 And here I must stress something else. It is not the scene itself that I'm concerned with but with the certain image a particular scene produced. For instance Ursula Andress was in many other bikini scenes in Dr. No besides the iconic one of her walking out of the surf. That scene alone is the iconic one over the others with her and ' that bikini '. Hopefully I have set the idea in your minds as to what I'm driving at. I'm sure we all have differing ideas. But after the disappointment of what I saw on that un-mentioned blog I thought I could come up with better. I hate to say it but this blogger quite clearly stressed that they considered their choices as ' the best '. I disagreed with what I saw.

So preamble over read on!!

1. Ursula Andress, Dr. No
 For me this is quite simply the most iconic film image ever! I reviewed 1961's Dr No recently and went into greater detail about this scene. Why is so iconic? Simply put it is so instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of film watchers. Think about it. How many people can honestly say that they can't name the actress or the film it is from? And that is the crux of it. Sean Connery may have been the star, and this a Bond film, but quite simply put Ursula Andress and 'that white bikini'  have stolen the show. Again think about it. Which image immediately springs to mind when you think of Dr. No? Exactly!! Andress' when she first walks out of the surf on Crab Key!! Parodied? Oh yes!! ( Even the Bond franchise knows the power of this image having parodied it with Halle Berry in Die Another Day  and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale ). Controversial in its day it is now truly iconic. And as we shall see several of these images, whilst controversial, came to define what iconic meant.

2. Marilyn Monroe, The Seven Year Itch
 Hmmm ( or is it mmmmm!! ) what is it with thighs and iconic images??!! Anyway this was a difficult choice to place in only second spot. Why?? Well unlike Andress in Dr. No it must be faced that many people, whilst instantly recognising Marilyn Monroe, may possibly be unable to name the film it is from. I mean personally I haven't seen The Seven Year Itch and yet I know the image. In fact I knew the image so well that I had to search around to find which Marilyn film it was from! The problem for the film itself is the image has over shadowed it somewhat. Again as we have already seen with Andress and Dr. No this isn't the only film to suffer this. So you see my point about Andress image being slightly more iconic just in sheer nameabilty as an actress and the film her scene is from. But seriously Marilyn's famous New York grate scene, more than any other, defines the word iconic. This has entered popular culture no end and the parodies have been endless. Even the recent Smurfs movie sees Smurfette doing her own ' grate ' scene!! And if that isn't enough this very dress, from this very scene, earlier this very year sold at auction for a staggering US$4.6 million!! Is that iconic enough for you? Compare that to the paltry US$64,000 for Andress' bikini of a few years back!

3. The shower scene, Psycho
 Again controversial for its depiction of other words...more thigh!!!!! Mmmmm thigh! Not that I mind even though most it is done by a body double and not Janet Leigh herself. But whilst the whole scene is famous beyond words its most enduring image is not of Janet Leigh, or her scream, but of the silhouetted knife wielding 'mother' of Norman Bates. But unlike Marilyn Monroe's image above I'm sure almost everyone can not only name the two actors, but also the film the scene is from, and probably just as likely, the fact they have seen Psycho. Maybe though its most enduring legacy is that this is the grandfather of the 'slasher' films. Wannabes like Jason,  Freddy and Michael all owe their existence to Norman Bates. But none, I repeat none, have even come close to Psycho. It is an undisputed masterpiece and in the AFI's top 100 greatest films. Yes this is an iconic image from what could quite possibly be the best known, most talked about scene, in cinematic history.

4. Burt Lancaster & Deborah Kerr, From Here To Eternity
 Mmmmmm even more thigh...and I ain't talking about Burt Lancaster's hairy pins!!!! Again just how iconic is this???? In all honesty after just three images I'm finding it difficult in how to keep finding plaudits!! But this image really doesn't need any does it? We all know the film and the actors. And like the previous iconic images it follows it has been parodied and imitated endlessly, but never beaten. Funnily enough when at the flicks seeing Real Steel the other day the trailer for the new Twilight film played. In it there was a scene that parodied this except in a waterfall. But its nod to Lancaster's and Kerr's scene is unmistakable. Again what an uproar this created in 1953. Even today it is still a seriously provocative scene. Iconic is quite simply the only word for it and has come to define the whole film. Like the previous three images, whose image defines their respective films, this is the one that instantly comes to mind when From Here to Eternity is mentioned.

5. Shirley Eaton, Goldfinger
 Unlike Ursula Andress the name Shirley Eaton is relatively obscure to most. This is unfortunate because she has left us with one of cinemas most enduringly recognisable images. One look and almost anyone can instantly name the film. As a Bond fan it is with delight that I include this image because it just shows the sheer enormity of the Bond phenomenon in that it has left two iconic images on our memories. Oh has thighs!!! Mmmmm smooth gold painted ones ( imagine my tongue hanging out Homer Simpson style!! ). The thing here is that the franchise itself knows the power and instant draw card of this image, and paid homage to in Quantum of Solace where the utterly yummy Gemma Arterton was covered in black paint. Of course her character ' just Fields ' was drowned in oil. I really liked this oil homage scene from a Bond film that was somewhat maligned even though it made 1/2 billion at the box office!! As to the image above, iconic? Absolutely. For me personally, superb, just superb.
6. The bike jump, The Great Escape
What no thighs? Bugger this just will not do!! But anyway again what is there to say? One look at the image says it all. Even though it is not Steve McQueen who done this iconic stunt it is his character in the film. McQueen is an iconic movie star and even though he is the flaw within an otherwise fine film this image is instantly recognisable. It is just so iconic on so many levels. As a stunt and as an image but also as a scene within a very good film. Unfortunately in many ways it has overshadowed the whole film and has come to define it. In our collective memories this image is the one that instantly comes to mind. This is the films major flaw and one I explored in great depth in my recent review. Iconic yes, but with an unfortunate undertone to it. ( This has got me to thinking of the top ten iconic film stunts of which this would be one ).

7. Slim Pickens, Dr .Strangelove
 Just how iconic can an image get??!! This is such an instantly recognisable image that certainly comes close, but doesn't quite define, Stanley Kubrick's 1964 masterpiece. I think Peter Seller's brilliant three pronged performance also are instantly thought of when this film is mentioned. And rightly so ( but even George C Scott's performance is masterful as the deranged general ). In such a great film it is a case of brilliant performances that are not overshadowed by the image it is most famous for. If anything when I look at it it conjures up the whole film with Slim Pickens' nuke ride. This was a film I was fortunate enough to see on the big screen three years ( I also saw A Clockwork Orange in the same theatre way back in 1991 ). I consider it Kubrick's best film and one that has left an image that has been parodied any number of times. Again how many don't know the image or the film? Iconic? You bet your sweet ass it is!!

8. Julie Andrews, The Sound Of Music
 Where are your thighs Julie?? Come on this iconic image-ville and female thighs are mandatory to iconicness....seemingly!!! Anyway I cannot ever, ever, ever tell you how much I abso-fucking-lutely hate this film!! Seriously this would be near on number one as the film I hate the most!! ( In fact I don't like musicals in general but I make an exception for the wonderful, delightful, masterful The Wizard of Oz ). I have come to this point because for soooo many Christmases in a row this played on NZ telly. This and Jaws would have to be the MOST heavily screened films on NZ telly over the years. Every bloody Christmas I had to endure Julie Andrews run up that god forsaken hill, spread her arms and warble out those hateful lines 'The hills are alive to the sound of music.' Honestly cutting my danglies of with a rusty razor blade holds more appeal than EVER sitting through that scene again!! No kidding, but when ever I see it I run screaming from the room with my hands over ears. I can be found later hiding under my bed as a quivering nervous wreck!!!!!!!! But The Sound of Music is undoubtedly a great film and I do acknowledge it as such. The image above again is incredibly iconic just because it is so instantly recognisable. But it goes a bit further than just being able to name the actress and film because there is 'that' ( arrrrgggggghhhhhhh ) song as well. Now if you don't mind I want to crawl under my bed for a while as I can hear it in my mind right now!! Nooooooooooooooooo!!

9. E.T
  Enough said. For you who lived through E.T and saw in it on the big screen in 1982 you will understand this image more than those who didn't. From a film with an unbelievable amount of heart this image is so iconic it has quite simply defined the 1980's as a decade. Anything to do with the 80's would be incomplete without this image. In 1982 E.T was more than a film, it was an event, and one of the few films that you lived through and experienced rather than just watched. The first three Star Wars films were very much like. And certainly the Bond films once had this as well.

10. George C. Scott, Patton
 Ah yes how can this not be called iconic?! That flag is huge and absolutely dwarfs George C. Scott who is in the second film to make this list! Of course the film is regarded as one of the greats and this scene, like the other 9 so far, has come to define it. When ever Patton is mentioned it is this flag scene and the speech that  come to mind. It is iconic because again the actor and the film are instantly recognisable to a wide cross section of people. What?? There is actually a whole film that follows this scene??!!!

 Well there it is, my top 10!! Believe me folks it wasn't as easy as you'd think to come up with just 10. Give it a go if you don't believe me. Like I stated these are not personal favorites but images I think truly iconic with an enduring legacy. One look at them says it all. And what must be remembered is that the images are not necessarily from great scenes. There are far greater cinematic scenes than some of those above which haven't produced an iconic image. But in saying that 6 out of the 10 are out of films on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. And as an example of how difficult this was I thought I throw in two more. They are examples of instantly identifiable images which ask the question, just great scene or iconic image as well?

Rob Scheider, Jaws
 Jaws. The name alone conjures up any number of images and feelings among us all. An iconic film with an iconic theme da dum da dum da dum in ever increasing tempo. You ALL know it.!! I think along with Psycho this would have to be one of the most watched and talked about films ever made. Its place in popular culture cannot be disputed and again it is on the AFI's top 100 greatest films list. Whether it is a great film or not is a moot point because it's place in our collective memories is permanently cemented. My iconic image from the film is the one where Rob Scheider's character turns around and sees the shark for the first time. Unfortunately I cannot find a shot of the precise moment but it is soooo identifiable. The image above is only seconds before it. The look on his face is priceless and we all know the immortal words he next splutters out to Robert Shaw ' You are going to need a bigger boat '. A true Mastercard moment and black humour at its finest.

Linda Blair, The Exorcist
 This seminal horror has several memorable scenes, from Reagan spider walking down the stairs ( a genuinely creepy sight ) to her levitating. But in a film with so many creepy moments the 360 head turn must rate as the best known, which has left an iconic image in the process. But again just how iconic is it and how great? Is it good enough to actually be called ' great' ? Possibly not becasue a whole wealth of people do not watch horror films so this would be unknown to them. And this is the point. But like so many images it is the one that is instantly talked about whenever the film is spoken off to those who have watched it ( conversely there are many who haven't seen the film and yet still know the scene ). I couldn't believe my eyes when I first saw it over twenty five years ago!! Even today it chills my blood and The Exorcist is an iconic film all by itself. Many have come and tried to take its crown but none have been able to capture the sheer atmosphere of evil and genuine creepiness of this great horror. Often imitated...but never, never beaten! The Exorcist is to horror films like Paranormal Activity and The Exorcism of Emily Rose etc what Psycho is to the abundance of ( way inferior ) slasher flicks.

So what say you?? What are your most iconic film images? Hopefully I have set a criteria and you get my point. Whilst I'm not asking you to agree with my choices I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from. A great scene does not necessarily equate to producing a great enduring image. I mean I couldn't think of one from great films such as Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. The Wizard of Oz has so many wonderful images it was impossible to pick one I could consider iconic. I mean most scenes included the yellow brick road and that alone couldn't be considered iconic.

 Seriously give this some thought because it isn't easy!!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Real Steel

 October is almost gone and I have posted only eight times!! I haven't watched such a barreness of films since well.....I was a teenager! The last film I watched was the mediocre Bond Diamonds are Forever last Saturday night. I have missed the previous two films ( Thunderball and You Only Live Twice ) because of watching the rugby world cup, which incidentally winds up tomorrow with NZ playing France in the final. But that aside trips to the cinema have been far and few between which is extremely rare for me. Just short of that awful stuff called money at the moment with niggling little commitments elsewhere. Yeah October has been a grim month film wise and I honestly cannot believe how few I've managed to watch!

 Now Real Steel wasn't on my radar as a trip to the cinema watch. With money so tight I've had to become pretty selective in what I see. Normally in flusher times I would probably see this. But the trailers didn't impress me and I thought it all looked somewhat cliched and aimed at a younger audience. But when I got a free ticket and it being Thursday I used it on this. Why?? Because for only the second time in two years there wasn't a new release at the main stream theatre!! I couldn't believe it as I really didn't want to see this! But it is still school holidays here so the theatre is cashing in on all the idle school kids coming in during the day.

 So reluctance aside, considering I wasn't paying a cent, off to the theatre little butt of mine did go! Fortunately it wasn't packed with younger school kids and I was surprised at having a relatively older audience with me. First thing is that The Avengers trailer played before hand and it gave nothing away. Honestly it was very short and for once a trailer didn't play half the bloody movie in its running time. It was just a taster and that is what a trailer should be. Just long enough to pique the interest. By doing so I believe it draws in an audience more than bombarding them with a long trailer. I mean Real Steel had a long trailer form which I drew my negative judgement from. If shorter it would have piqued me more and made me think ' I must see that. ' Anyway free ticket or not Real Steel turned out to be a movie that was better than I expected it to be.

 The trailers gave me the impression of unoriginality. Well it is that in regards to the bum father doing good by his abandoned kid. Been done before, and to death. So I got what I expected there. But fortunately whilst all the done to death cliched moments came out they didn't get too mushy and emotional...which can become an embarrassment. There were a few moments where I groaned and gritted my teeth but overall it didn't become too sentimental. In fact what impressed me most was the fact that the ending wasn't the usual feel good cliched one. OK it ended on a high but not as far as the underdog hero winning against all odds endings generally go. I liked this and found it commendable...but when you realise a sequel is already afoot you can maybe understand why!!

 So the premise is not exactly new. Interestingly as the opening credits rolled I saw that this is loosely based on a short story entitled Steel by Richard Matheson. For you not in the know he wrote the brilliant vampire novel I am Legend which was hideously butchered in the Will Smith adaptation. What I see here is the screen writers having taken Matheson's vision of futuristic robot boxing and fused into it an estranged father son relationship. It does work but again it has all been done before. I did find the script somewhat weak but oxymoronically Real Steel is a reasonably strong film. 

I had to add this because she has very yummy thighs!!
  So script and premise aside what is strong about this? Maybe it is because it is a movie that encompasses the entire audience. I mean an adult can take the kids along and enjoy it as much as they would. Its great strength is in the fact it doesn't alienate one sector of the audience over the other. In other words it works for all age groups. And in this type of movie I think that is quite rare and at times difficult to pull off. It is certainly at a level where adults could quite easily watch it without children present even though the target audience is the younger set. What Real Steel has done is what animation has been doing for years in making a user friendly product that is age resistant.

 The cast is competent without being spectacular and was made up of basically second ringers. I like Hugh Jackman though. He is one of the film industry's nice guys and keeps out of the celebrity limelight. He is almost purpose made for a movie like this even though he is an accomplished actor and can do far better. But this isn't a movie out for Oscar glory! So yeah the cast is competent within the given script and dialogue which was better than usual. In fact it was remarkably devoid of some the almost obligatory clunker lines than make you grimace and cringe in embarrassment movies like this throw up all too often.
 So human elements out of the way what about the robots?!! Well they are fantastic! By the looks of them the same technique that is used in the Transformers franchise has been used here. But I'd rather watch this than the last two from that neck of the woods any day! What I liked here is unlike the transformers the action isn't at a million miles an hour and the robots look more authentic. The humans and robots mix well on screen and look as if it is all real. I love the scene where Jackman's character first starts to teach Max's robot how to box. It is a good example of how well fused the robot imagery is fused with the live action of the actors. ( See the picture above ).

 Real Steel then is better than I expected. It certainly isn't great and has inherent flaws in regards to an unoriginal estranged father son premise. But fortunately it doesn't over do it. It is cliched but the ending makes up for this somewhat because it doesn't go all out on the cliches!! But it still has a lot of heart and is friendly to all age groups. While strictly speaking not an adult orientated film it has been well enough made that any adult can sit through it and enjoy it in the process. Not unmissable and certainly not a mandatory watch, but still worth it if you do catch it ( especially with a free ticket!! ). I'd give it 6/10.

 Click here for wikipedia's usual thorough and informative page:

 And here for more from IMDB:

Tintin Wins The Seal Of Approval

 This is an article from my local newspaper. As I'm sure most of you are aware Steven Spielberg has been in NZ using Peter Jackson's studio to make this Tintin adaptation. I have seen the trailer twice now in the last six weeks and if I do say so myself it looks impressive! It has been quite a while since Spielberg has made anything of note. I think he has been off the boil now for quite a number of years. Maybe Tintin and Warhorse ( whose trailer I saw today ) will see him back to true form. I must admit to be being seriously excited by the prospect of this. It has been in the works for years and it has finally, finally happened. The only other film coming on the horizon that has me as excited is the prospect of the next Bond film. Anyway enough of my ramblings to the article, as I'm sure that is what you came for!!

 Thundering typhoons! Steven Spielberg has won the seal of approval of Tintin's native land and that's no mean feat. In Tintin's home city of Brussels, movie journalists got a sneak preview of The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn this week, and knives were sharpened in case it turned out that some Hollywood mogul had barged in and desecrated perhaps Europe's greatest cartoon character ever.

 Have no fear. By the end of the film, the critics were as beguiled by it as Tintin's sidekick Captain Haddock by a bottle of whisky. " Bull's eye, " headlined the Dutch-speaking De Standaard newspaper. " A pure jewel " the Francophile Le Soir had on its front page, showing that the ever-bickering linguistic groups in this culturally divided nation had found a rare issue on which they could agree. Director Spielberg will attend the October 22 world premiere in person, knowing the critics have rolled out the red carpet.

 The Adventures of Tintin co-produced by Sir Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, aspires to become a Christmas blockbuster in the United states. But like the fearless young reporter that Tintin is, the movie seeks out the road less travelled to success. Instead of launching in the United states, it takes on the world first, counting on releases in Europe, Asia and the Middle east to create enough of a buzz among American fans for whom the magic word Tintin is often still an unknown quantity.

 In France, Le Figaro magazine has already called it " the most anticipated movie of  2011 ". The cartoon books have been translated into 70-plus languages from Chinese to Armenian, with English and Spanish thrown in, and sold in the tens of millions of copies. But only in Belgium has it been ingrained in the DNA of most youngsters since the 1950s. It has left cartoonist Herge, who died in 1983, as a national treasure.

 And from the movie's start, Spielberg makes a solemn bow to Belgium and the artist, setting the opening scene at a bric-a-brac market where Herge is a boardwalk artist drawing many of the real characters from his two dozen books. The roughly drawn sketches are the perfect transition to the movie's world of performance capture technology, in which digital renderings are made of performances by live actors, with computer imagery added to create a combination of live action layered with digital animation. " Did I capture something of the likeness, " the computerised Herge asks the model.

 The emphatic yes applies to Spielberg's scene-setting as well. Most amazing of all, the spirit of the yellowing pages with fading colours of old Tintin albums that so many Belgians have stocked in cellars and attics travels exceedingly well through time into 21st century bits and bytes. " The American has fully grasped the Herge grammar, " said Le Soir. Those Hollywood types recreated 1940s Belgium to such an extent that De Standaard critic wrote in admiration that " the sidewalks and facades of Brussels are recognisable ". Spielberg does stick fully to one line running through all the Tintin cartoons : the movie has no romantic interest.

 I have read two differing dates for its release here in NZ. Either I5th or 26th December. As I stated I'm looking forward to it. Maybe with the undoubted success this is going to be we may see the same technique used on that other brilliant European cartoon creation Asterisk!! Even though not yet released wikipedia has a page that is well worth a look at.

 Click here for a visit:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Three Musketeers 3-D

 3-D bah!! Yet another unavoidable dip into my wallet by the film studios of the world. Three bucks more over a 2-D film that offers just as much as the more vaunted 3-D cousin. And with that aside ( as you all know I'm not impressed in the slightest with this fade of 3-D ) I will get onto the movie itself. Which by the way didn't need to be made in 3-D and wasn't any the better or worse for it.

 When I first heard of a new musketeers adaptation I groaned in despair. In all the adaptations made over the years none have come close to Andre's Dumas' masterful 19th century novel. To you that have read it you know it is a narrative driven novel which is heavy on plot and intrigue. But what of the sword fights and dashing about heroically? Well to be the honest the novel is bereft of this. And this is where the film adaptations have all gone wrong.

Any action in the novel is referred to rather than played out. Sure there are a few sword fights and what not but as stated this is not the core of the novel. It is very much a story of plotting and intrigue within the French court. For me and many other purists the film adaptations have all been a let down. The intrigue is pushed aside in the pursuit of the novel's almost non existent 'action'. This really is annoying because Dumas' novel is a superb story and is begging for a decent film adaptation. Unfortunately, yet again, ( even in 3-D!!! ) this adaptation falls wide of the mark. Dreadfully so.

 First of all the trailer that played here gave no real indication of the plot. All it showed was a whole heap of CGI action with a wall of loud 'exciting' music being blasted out. At the time I wasn't impressed and thought ' yep, the usual desecration of Dumas '. My skepticism seemed to be confirmed from the very first scene. It opens in Venice ( was Venice even mentioned in the novel?? ) and is a full on CGI action set piece. But then lo and behold the second scene arrives and we see d'Artagnan departing from his parents with Buttercup the horse, ala the novel! In fact from here on the movie did follow the novel somewhat. Certainly anyone who has read it will see the story line of it transferred into this adaptation.

 But even so the movie deviates from the plot of Dumas to the point of absurdity. And this is my problem. Because whilst the Dumas plot is followed the adding in of certain elements whilst enjoyable, fun and spectacular, sort of nullified them. I want to bitch about them but for you who haven't seen it yet I won't give things away. Suffice to say the use of certain technology that wasn't invented in the 18th century is way from Dumas' vision, lets put it that way. When you see it you'll know what I mean.

 So we get a sort of hybrid. It is part period costume drama ( and the costumes are very good ) and part...well part 18th century sci-fi. To be honest I did enjoy the taking of Dumas' story and following it plot wise and then infusing some visual embellishments. It certainly made for quite an entertaining flick. But I couldn't quite escape the feeling that with the budget that obviously went into the costumes and the CGI Dumas' novel could easily have been adapted quite faithfully.

 Normally as many of you know I'm not a CGI fan. But the CGI in this is very, very good. The scenes of 18th century Paris and London are superb. Normally I find CGI unable to realistically replicate city scapes. Edinburgh in Burke and Hare is a good example, as is London in the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  But both cities here did look good. Sure there is plenty of other CGI usage but to be honest I've seen it all before and it didn't really stand out as such. It is funny because for once the CGI of the city scapes was better than the hand made props. In one Paris scene the houses are far to bright and garish. They look far too new and should have been much more drab and dirty in fitting with the period. Read your history and you will know that both Paris and London where not particularly clean cities at all.

 But that is my only criticism visually. The cast is a good one but I think Orlando Bloom and Christoph Waltz are becoming too type cast. I stated this some time ago about Waltz and someone shot me down saying it is early in his career. But he has been in a few films now and has played the baddie in all of them. How is that not type casting?? Bloom meanwhile seems to be stuck in this costume type film role. He may like it that way but one would think he would like to spread his wings a bit more. Even Mila Jovovich is somewhat type cast and her Resident Evil ways are here for all to see. She is involved in all sorts of action and bare her thighs moments right throughout, ala RE. I suppose when you see that Paul W. S. Anderson who directed several of the RE movies is in charge it is no surprise he utilises her in this way. Overall though the whole cast does a competent job without being spectacular.

 So then The Three Musketeers 3-D is just another re-interpretation of Dumas' novel. Sure it follows the basic plot of the novel but it adds in some historical implausibilities that completely defile this as a genuine musketeers movie. Even the bro-mance of the novel is killed and muted in this. I liked it though in a fun way and had a few chuckles. But with the money spent a more faithful adaptation could just as easily have been achieved. It isn't that bad and compared to other films of it type this year, with its strong plot from Dumas, this is a better than average movie. But only just!! I didn't think it as bad as many are saying though. IMDB has it with 5.9/10. I would have to agree because ultimately it is nothing more than a tune out way to spend several hours.

 One last word from a Dumas purist! I love the novel as do millions of others who have read it over the years. I cannot believe that a faithful adaptation has never been made. The novel is intrigue heavy and a great story. In many respect it is no different to a modern spy novel of which many can be slow paced and a bit dry. It annoys me that all the adaptations have got to take the story and play with the idea of the musketeers so much. The novel isn't an action novel at all even though there are a few scenes like that. In many respects since it is seemingly beyond any film maker to make a decent adaptation then maybe it should be adapted to television in a serial form. The English are brilliant at period costume dramas and I'm sure they could make a very faithful adaptation. Like so many we can only hope because even though this was a fun movie it is complete hogwash of one of literature's great novels.

 We purists will have to keep waiting I'm afraid!!

Click here for a synopsis and more: