Category Archives: Films

What happened at MCM

Last weekend was the super busy London MCM Comic Con. For those who’ve never been it’s a massive event at the Excel Centre in London with tens and tens of thousands of people in attendance. I’m always amazed at how many people attend and again it was slightly overwhelming to walk through the vast crowds, many of who were dressed in cosplay. I’ll be honest, I didn’t recognise about 50% of the cosplay because many of them were from anime, computer games I don’t play (you can tell how old I am because I still call them computer games!), comics and other things I’ve probably never even heard of. Even so it was amazing to see the time and effort that people had put into their costumes. I saw several women with fairy-like wings that moved independently with some sort of motor. Very clever and creative.

Both Marvel and DC had a presence at the show this year. Marvel had taken over a whole section and had lots of cool things you could do, as well as see, including some costumes from the Thor Ragnarok film and forthcoming Black Panther film. There were also some cool statues of Captain America, Spider-man, Iron Man and the Hulk.

When not mooching around the show trying not to buy everything I went to a couple of talks and was delighted and charmed by Hayley Atwell. She was funny, warm and spoke about her time on the Marvel films and Agent Carter with great affection. It was wonderful to hear about how her relationship with various actors, such as Chris Evans, had developed over time as they’ve now worked together in the same universe on several films.

I was also on a few writing panels during the weekend alongside other science fiction and fantasy authors. Below are a few photos from our panels ,as well as Ed Cox attempting to get everyone to put on a serious author face. Without a doubt the funniest panel during the weekend was one moderated by RJ Barker. The audience, and everyone  on the panel, had no clue what was about to hit them and it was hilarious. Ben Aaronovitch was in tears several times and Guy Adams had a few funny rants.

The weekend was a lot of fun. I got to spent time with some old friends, met a few faces and came home exhausted but happy. I must thank Travis from MCM for inviting me back again and maybe I’ll see you at the next event, which is the one day Sledge-Lit festival in Derby on Saturday 25th November.

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A review of 2016

This is going to be a best of the best post for me for 2016 covering TV and films.  Not the best ever. Not everything I’ve seen, or read or done, just some of the highlights.

Books

Bloodmage Stephen AryanBook round up first. So this year book 2 (Bloodmage) and book 3 (Chaosmage) were published. And it’s just over a year now since Battlemage was published. So that’s it. The first trilogy, the Age of Darkness, is done. To me it feels like Battlemage was published a long, long time ago, but that just because I’ve been working on it for a few years behind the scenes.

Looking ahead, the first book in the new Age of Dread trilogy will be coming out next October. Seems like a long way away, here in December. It will be here before I know it and I have a lot of writing to do before then.

Films

Captain America Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War – or Avengers 3 as it could easily be called because it had just about everyone in it, apart from Thor and Hulk. But Chris Hemsworth did a funny Thor video about what he’d been up to and why he wasn’t asked to join the fight. Anyway even without them the film was excellent. It was a top 5 Marvel films for me and maybea  top 3 although I need to rewatch it a couple of times before making that call, as currently The Winter Soldier is in the top spot. First outing for Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther too and he was incredible, so I’m really looking forward to his solo film.

Dr StrangeDr Strange – It was weird, and different, and yes, Strange, and it made magic in the real world a bit more understandable and relatable. Also kind of familiar, for me at least, what with all the wizards and stuff. But this could easily have been a weird outlier of a film that didn’t connect to the others, but Cumberbatch made it fun and engaging and the rest of the cast were fantastic, from Benedict Wong to Chewitol Ejiofor to the entrancing Tilda Swinton.

Deadpool – I didn’t see this at the cinema. I’m not a fan of the character in the comics and think it’s one note that’s only amusing for 5 minutes. However, after some serious persuasion I finally watched the film on DVD. And then I proceeded to laugh all the way through from start to finish. It was the antithesis of superhero movies in so many ways. There were so many jokes I’m positive I missed lots of them, but the fact that it was a really amusing film was what completely surprised me. I can see why it was such a big hit as it made fun of so many things and bless Ryan Reynolds for having a sense of humour and broad shoulders, as he took the piss out of himself a lot.

CreedCreed – This film was released in November 2015 in the USA but here in jolly old England we didn’t get it until February 2016 for some reason. An oddity in modern cinema when the gap between America and the UK is normally a couple of days and sometimes we get the film first. Anyway, that aside, this film was a gem. I never wanted another in the Rocky franchise after the perfect end that was Rocky Balboa, and yet this film works. I’m a huge fan of the Rocky franchise, and if you don’t know already I co-host a podcast where we talk about action movies once a month (Bags of Action – on iTunes). I was amazed by the film and it quickly entered the top 3 films in the franchise for me. A new film for a new generation with a new hero that also respects everything that came before.

Honourable mentions – 10 Cloverfield Lane, Suicide Squad, The Magnificent 7.

Turkeys – Star Trek Beyond. I like the new Trek films. Love the cast. Very excited by them. Even with all of the flaws in Star Trek Into Darkness, this was the worst of the new Trek films. It was Star Trek: Kirk Too Fast Too Furious on a bike. It was action and effects over substance and character. A few funny character bits do not make a good Trek film. 10 minutes of good stuff in a 2 hour film is crap. Star Trek should make me feel something and normally it does. Whether that’s the TV shows or the Shatner films or the Next Gen films. I came away from this film feeling nothing at all. It was a hollow waste of so many talented actors. Another turkey was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Yawnsville. Utter toilet. Again, great actors, huge waste of time and money.

Television

The Flash Season 2The Flash and Supergirl – These two shows are the best of the CW DC comics TV shows. They’re funny, quirky, don’t take themselves too seriously, inventive, they make me laugh, they give lots of nods to the comic book fans like me, and they’re uplifting and entertaining. Arrow and Legends are good, but not as good.

Daredevil season 2 – For me Daredevil is still the best of the Marvel Netflix shows. Luke Cage was good, but a bit too long at times, but even with some niggles this season, DD was amazing. From Elektra to the Punisher to Stick to Karen Page. Wow. How Deborah Ann Woll hasn’t received an award for her performance in this show I’ll never know. She’s mesmerising and a breath of fresh air. Also she’s a new face for me, as I didn’t watch Tru Blood, so I’m not thinking of her from that show. I’ve already rewatched most of this season again. It has that rewatch factor that the others don’t.

WestworldWestworld – no spoilers here, but this show was disturbing and worrying and very dark. It also bears rewatching now that I’ve come to the end of it and some things have been revealed. There are various mysteries in the show which they explain but a second run through will see if it all holds together now that I know what I’m looking for. Overall a great new TV show.

Marco Polo season 2 – Sadly the news just broke that this was the last season as Netflix cancelled it. I’m very saddened by this news as this show was fantastic. Amazing international cast of actors, filmed in glorious locations around the world and a fascinating fictionalised glimpse of a period in history in Mongolia and the court of Kublai Khan. Well, at least there are 2 seasons, and a special one off about a much loved character on the show. If you’ve not seen it, I would recommend watching it but take your time as it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see any more of it in the future.

Stranger ThingsHonourable mentions – iZombie season 2, dark and twisty and weird. Stranger Things – an amazing and clever and weird and glorious homage to the 1980s. Loved it. Can’t wait for more next year.

This year we’ve had a complete glut of amazing films and TV shows in particular and next year looks to be no different. There are so many amazing things to look forward to I’m both keen to hold on to the few remaining days of 2016 as I don’t like to wish my time away, but I’m also desperate to watch some of the upcoming things like Defenders on Netflix, Iron Fist, Punisher, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Star Wars Episode 8, Thor 3, the new Star Trek TV show and so much more.

What were some of your favourite TV shows and films from this year?

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Suicide Squad Review

This review has spoilers, small and large. You were warned.

I’m writing this a few hours after having seen the film, so that it is still fresh, but I’m probably not going to post it for a while. This is so that I can come back to it and add anything I’ve missed in my haste.

My last three cinema trips have been to see Tarzan, Star Trek Beyond and then Suicide Squad. Much to my surprise I would have to say that I enjoyed SS the most out of the three.

The film isn’t perfect but overall it’s a lot of fun. I’m a lifelong DC comics fan so I know this comic and I know the characters. Visually the film is stunning, it’s epic in scope, the colour tone is perfect and how all of the characters look is amazing.

Some of the characters get a lot more screen time than others, but that is to be expected in a film with such a large cast. That is probably one of its main weaknesses. I think all of the characters are interesting, and done well by the actors, but some of them had so little screen time they felt superfluous at times. They were there to fill out the numbers and look cool, but didn’t do a lot.

Will Smith was great as Deadshot. I was afraid the film would become a vehicle for Will Smith and he would takeover, but this was an ensemble film. He brought heart to the character and made you sympathise with him, despite what he’s done.

Margot Robbie. Utterly amazing in the role. She stole every scene. She was mesmerising and this might sound weird to say, but I forgot it was Margot Robbie. In every film with Tom Cruise, I can see Tom Cruise playing a character. The best actors, in my opinion, disappear into the role so you forget you’re watching them. Tom Hanks is perfect at doing this because he is kind of an everyman in terms of his looks (sorry, Tom!), not that he’ll ever read this. Robbie was Harley, body and soul. She was just enough over the top without it being a caricature. She had lots to do in the film and she was great.

Jay Hernandez was Diablo and there again, a cracking performance. You really felt for this horrible, tattooed, vicious gang-banger, who has gone from a life of crime and violence to one where he’s almost a pacifist and doesn’t want to hurt anyone else with his gift, or curse. There were some great scenes, and oddly, hints at other bits we’ve seen in the trailers that were cut from the final film. Nevertheless, lots of good stuff.

The others, hmm. Captain Boomerang brought some comedy, had some great one liners, was pretty clear cut and you knew what you were getting. He had one very interesting line of dialogue that I won’t spoil, but it showed he’s a bit more astute than the loud idiot he seems to be. Katana was fine and the actress was great, but she didn’t have a lot to do. Same with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who played Killer Croc. You might know him as Mr Eko from Lost and other stuff, but here he was unrecognisable with all the prosthetics and big teeth. The character of Waylon Jones is one worth exploring, but there was so little for AAA to do. He stood around a lot, looked mean, had a couple of lines (when I could understand  him through the big teeth) and smiled a lot. I think they just ran out of time.  You could have lost Katana, trimmed the love story with Flagg and June a bit and given more screen time to AA and Hernandez as Diablo.

Viola Davis as Amanda Waller was fantastic. She embodied the utterly terrifying, ruthless and relentless Wall. This is someone without superpowers who had faced down the Batman and got him to back off. In some ways she is far worse than all of the Squad put together and we see this in the film. The creator of the character, John Ostrander, gave his view of the film and the character over on his column over at Comic Mix.

Ok, so I’ve touched on some of the good, here’s the bad. As I’ve said the film has too many people on it, so some of them stand around to fill the screen and don’t do a lot. Jared Leto’s Joker is different, which is good, but it is so over the top it’s almost a parody of someone playing the Joker. I should be terrified every time the Joker comes into a room. People should freak out and freeze like deer in the headlights as he is utterly unpredictable and he scares even the most hardcore criminal. They tried to do this, but personally I wasn’t that convinced by his performance.

The film also suffered from a bit of the dumbed-down idiot syndrome. There was a fair bit of repetition, hammering the point home, then getting a drill and driving it even further into your skull. We know that they are bad guys. They tell you and show you, with an intro on each at the start and their crimes, then later  Will Smith’s character says things like ‘We’re the bad guys’, well, duh! We (the audience) know and everyone other character in the room in the scene knows, so who was his character talking to?

Early in the film it is implied what happened to Diablo’s family and the aftermath was shown, then they revisited it and showed us more detail, and then they still had a character ask the question about what happened and another answer it. Really. They went that far at times. It’s like using a sledgehammer to drive a tack into a wall to put up a picture. We get it!!!!

They also had some characters spout some lines simply because they sounded cool, and didn’t really add anything. Like Harley stealing a handbag and saying ‘We’re bad guys, it’s what we do’. A fun aside, an amusing bit, but incredibly dumb dialogue. Or Deadshot toasts everyone in a bar and says ‘To Honour Among Thieves’ and Katana objects, saying she is not a thief. This is true, but then again Deadshot, Diablo, Crock and Harley are also not thieves. The only thief is Captain Boomerang. The rest are assassins, murderers and sociopaths.

So, I know the director, and others in the past, have said the theatre release is their cut, however, I hope there is a director’s cut of this film. I’d like more of the small moments that have been hinted at and shown in the trailers. The action is great and all of that, but to really make us care about the characters, it would be great to see more of their interplay and bonding.

Overall, it was a fun film and I had a fun time at the cinema, far more fun than my previous two trips. I felt something for the characters, I cared about their well being and I would be interested in seeing them in another outing in the future. From the way the box office is looking, it might happen too in a few years time.

 

 

 

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Robocop (2014)

I didn’t go and see this film at the cinema as I had no desire to see yet another remake, so I waited for it to come out on DVD. The film isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, and as far as remakes go, it was much better than the abysmal Total Recall. Spoilers ahead by the way.

The story is the same as the original, more or less, but the focus of the story is quite different. Alex Murphy is still severely injured in the line of duty as a cop, rebuilt by OCP and put back on the streets as Robocop. In the 2014 film the world has not completely gone to hell in a hand basket, and Detroit is not as grimy and seedy as the 1987 version, but there is still lots of crime and disorder. In the remake OCP have been sending their robotic troops all over the world to police danger zones, including the Middle East where we see what happens when things go wrong via a reporter and her crew observing the action.

Almost every country, apart from the USA, has passed a law allowing robots to support the police and armed forces. Pointing out this gaping hole in American logic is part of Samuel L. Jackson’s role as Pat Novak, who does his thing, spouting off loudly and with great vigour. I think SLJ is a fantastic actor, and I like seeing him shout at someone on screen, but after a while it was a bit tiring in this film. As was having his character explain things, point out things the audience already know or can intuit. Part of his character’s role is a mockery and a mirror for the media, so him telling people him what to feel and think is very ironic and all of that, but it’s still him ranting a lot. Still tiring. Also the film ended on a total whimper which left me feeling totally flat and with no desire to ever see it again.

The main shift in the story away from the 1987 original is that it focuses more on Gary Oldman’s character, the robotics expert who is wrangling with serving the greater good versus keeping his masters at OCP happy. His robotic prosthetics have helped injured servicemen and women, as well as amputees regain their mobility, and even play the guitar in one scene intended to win over the audience to Oldman’s character. But OCP want more from him. They need to make more money and increase their profits. So much for the greater good and healing people. Capitalism is king.

In order to convince Americans that robots are safe, OCP need something that has a heart and emotions and is not just an unfeeling robot, which leads to Robocop and Alex Murphy. Jackie Earle Haley’s character continually mocks Alex calling him Tin Man, referencing the Wizard of Oz and his search for a heart. Har har har. It was nice to see his character get a comeuppance in the end, but again there was a lot of hitting the audience over the head with stuff, telling them what to feel. This is the bit where you should cry at the man playing the guitar. This is the bit where you’re supposed to dislike this character because he’s being mean to Murphy. There’s very little trust in the audience and a lot of leading the audience around by the nose.

The real moral quandary for Oldman’s character comes when Murphy is feeling too much, getting too emotional about his own murder, and he stops doing as he is told like a good robot. So he cuts into Murphy’s brain to stop him feeling and increases his meds to keep him calm and a sort of lifeless, in other words a robot. Murphy is made less emotional and when he’s in action shooting bad guys, he thinks he is in control and making decisions, but actually it’s his programming that has taken over. So he has the illusion of free will. As expected it all backfires at some point and Murphy becomes himself again and less of an emotional zombie. This was an interesting point to explore, but it started to feel more like the film had little to do with Murphy at all, and that his story was secondary to all of the other points I’ve mentioned.

Towards the end of the film the focus shifts back to Murphy and the inevitable happens. He regains control and gets a form of justice. While a direct remake would have been horrible and pointless, I don’t think that this version brought anything new to the franchise. The exploration of free will and identity could have been fascinating, in a totally different film, one not focused around a central figure that people expect to see in action shooting bad guys for the majority of the film.

It was definitely a mixed bag for me, almost two separate films in one. It’s not one I would watch again, whereas I would happily go back to the original as I cared about Murphy and his fate.

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Man of Steel

I’ve held off writing a post about this, mostly because I wanted to get some distance from the film, so I could write about it with some perspective. In the end I managed to say everything I wanted to on the latest episode of the Comic Book Outsiders podcast I co-host with Scott Grandison. We’re now putting out episodes as and when we feel the need, although we used to be fortnightly. So if you’ve only just heard about this now for the first time, there are 5 years of podcasts on iTunes to get through. I’ll wait here until you’re finished.

I ended up speaking about the film it a fairly calm and mostly wounded manner, although I did have a good rant about some fans reactions to the recent Doctor Who casting news. So if you’ve not seen Man of Steel or don’t want to know who the new Doctor is, then I’d skip those bits.

Looking ahead to Man of Steel 2, or whatever they end up calling it, I remain nervous and anxious. I’m worried because the same director looks set to sit in the chair, and I sincerely hope all of those involved in making the big decisions about the new film listen to the genuine concerns that have been raised. Not the fanboy moans about the shield being the wrong shape, or Jimmy being Jenny, or a thousand other tiny things that don’t actually matter. I mean the big things. The contradictions. Clark apparently not caring about the wanton destruction he inflicts upon humanity in one breath and then doing something totally against character to save a single family. The big stuff, the character issues that sit at the very heart of the character and the message he stands for. It may not be what Siegel and Shuster intended when they created Superman, but that is what he has come to mean over the last seventy years. Hope, caring for your fellow man, that every life counts, that there is good in every person and that we can be great as a people in time.

Dark and gritty and humourless doesn’t work for Superman. He’s the light, Batman is the shadow. They work so well together, sometimes, because they are so different. He wants to bring Batman into the light, he wants Batman to believe more in humanity and the belief that there is good in every one. Naive, perhaps. Inspiring, absolutely. Batman experienced first hand as a boy the evil and desperation that lurks in the hearts of men. He doesn’t always see the best in them. That’s one of the many differences between them. Right now, in the new Superman film world, they’re both different shades of grey.

Casting wise for Batman, I hope they go for someone older, with an edge. Like John Hamm, or Josh Brolin, not someone who is young dandy with a chiselled jaw. We need acting chops, we need gravitas, not dreamy eyes and great abs. Time will tell if they listen at all and who they cast, but rather than being excited, as I am by the prospect of more Avengers films, I’m just worried and nervous, which isn’t a good thing.

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Remakes

In general I’m not a fan of remakes. I understand why they exist, the in-built audience and familiarity with a franchise or character, but my main issue is there are thousands of new ideas out there crying to be developed. Sadly, some amazing ideas will never reach a large audience, because the risk of adapting something that is completely unknown, from a creator no one has heard of before, is too great a  risk for some. Not all, but some.
Sometimes, remakes take the original material and they bring something new to the table. They update it for a modern audience and realise simply reshooting the material with new actors and better special effects isn’t good enough. That’s a point I’ll come back to. Some remakes have really impressed me and despite being initially wary they won me over, such as the new Battlestar Galactica. In my opinion the remake was better than the original 1980s TV show, which I am old enough to remember from the first time around. I always thought it was cheesy, but it was made for that period and the modern version took the original material and did something new. What followed, Caprica, was pretty dull in my opinion, but the new Blood and Chrome web mini thing, looks like a return to form. Shame it didn’t turn into a new TV series.

So, sometimes, remakes do work and are worth pursuing for characters or franchises. Look at the new Christopher Nolan Batman films for example. In my opinion they’re the best of the bunch, and now we have a new Man of Steel, Superman film waiting in the wings. Time will tell if it equals or surpasses the Christopher Reeve films.

All of which brings me around to two remakes I’ve watched in the last month. The Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall. With ASM it brought Spider-Man back to the screen only a few years after Toby Maguire hung up his costume. Sony made lots of money from the first three films and, regardless of what I think about their varying quality, they were obviously keen to keep milking that old spider shaped cash cow. So ASM came out in 2012 with Andrew Garfield in the blue and red spandex suit. Ok, let’s start with the good. Garfield, for me, was a much better Peter Parker than Maguire. He was gangly, quiet, and a nerdy genius, which is what Peter is supposed to be. At times Garfield’s Peter did seem a little bit too confident at school and more of a skater-boy than a true outsider, but Peter is meant to be an ordinary kid and, in general, I was convinced. Martin Sheen and Sally Field were brilliant, but then they always are in everything. They felt like a real family with secrets and there were some great set pieces, fights and the CGI was good. Now the bad. It was an origin story. Again. Seven year old children are not idiots. They’ve probably been watching Spider-Man for years via cartoons, playing Spider-Man on video games, and (hopefully) reading the comics. So five years later, they’re just old enough to go and see the 12 rated film in 2012. If you ask anyone on the street, who is Spider-Man?, most of them will be able to tell you something. It’s the same with Superman or Batman. They’re international icons. So who, exactly, was this remake for? The best part of the previous Raimi films was that in the credits for the second film, I think, they recapped the whole of the first film, including Spider-Man’s origin. It took maybe five minutes while names roll past, boom, done, on with the action. So why, why, why, do yet another remake?

At times during ASM I found myself doing something else, flicking through my ipad or phone, because it wasn’t holding my attention as I knew what was going to happen. I’d seen it all before and so had the audience. It did well at the box office, but, not as well as the first Raimi Spider-Man film, or the second, or even the third film! There were some interesting new additions to the film this time, minor plot points, but apart from switching Green Goblin for The Lizard, it was more or less the same film. They’ll do another one, and this time, maybe, just maybe, it will be interesting because it’s not yet another origin story.

One other thing on ASM before I move on, and to me it’s a huge thing and is a major spoiler for the film, so look away now if you don’t want to know. The fundamental foundation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is, with great power comes great responsibility. He had the power to stop the thief and he didn’t, and because of that someone else paid the price. On that occasion it was his Uncle Ben who stood up and said no. Peter makes a promise and is determined to do the right thing. So, at the very end of the new Spider-Man film, Captain Stacy is dying, he knows who Peter really is and what he’s done. He asks Peter to make him a promise to keep his distance from Gwen, because anyone in his orbit is in danger. He’s going to make enemies as Spider-Man and they will try to find his weak points and exploit them. Villain puts girl in peril, hero shows up to save her, they fight, and sometimes the girl dies in the process.

On his deathbed, Stacy makes Peter promise and he agrees. Peter keeps his distance, Gwen is hurt at first, but then works it out and sort of understands. Then, right at the very end of the film, Peter changes his mind. He breaks his promise to her dead father, he breaks his word and decides, ah, sod it, he’s never going to know and I know best, and I want to be with Gwen and he can’t stop me. What a load of bullshit. Utter, utter bullshit. That goes against everything. He may as well just let certain criminals go because he can’t be bothered to catch them. I mean, why not? If making a promise to a dying man means nothing to him, if his word means so little, if he is that bloody selfish, why not? This completely undermined the film for me and it undid all of the goodwill they’d built up. So, in ASM2, Gwen will no doubt get into trouble with the next villain and she may die, and then they can bring on Mary Jane from the wings for the end of ASM2 and she is the love interest for ASM3. Utter crap. I didn’t see ASM at the cinema and won’t be rushing out to see ASM2 either.

Total Recall. Ugh. I admit, the original film isn’t the best film ever and despite the fact that I haven’t read the source material, I’m confident in saying the Arnie film deviates a great deal. However, it was charming, interesting, exciting, different and a great deal of fun. This remake was built on a crap premise to distance it from the whole Mars thing. All of the action was set on grimy Blade Runner-esque Earth in a post apocalyptic world where people take a lift from the British colony to Australia for work. That’s right, they commute, through the centre of the earth on a lift to the other side of the world.

Ignoring that, and putting to one side the updated CGI and special effects, the modern actors who are people I (normally) enjoy watching, I’m struggling to find anything original this film brought to the table. In general the film was just dull and really didn’t hold my interest. This wasn’t a shot for shot remake, but there was nothing we hadn’t seen before. The duplicitous wife, Melina coming to rescue him, the fight to find out who he really is, then rejecting that and deciding to side with the rebels. Fighting for a good cause, and for some reason, destroying the lift that connects the two sides of the planet. It was just really boring. It has been a long time (relatively) since the original Arnie film, and there were some nods in there for older viewers, the women with three breasts, the woman in yellow going on vacation for two weeks at the scanner, and probably some others I didn’t spot as I was doing two other things while watching this at home. It made it’s money back at the box office and some profit on top, so the film makers are not complaining too much, but it wasn’t the runaway juggernaut at the box office they were hoping for by trading on the name.

This, more so than ASM, was an example of where a remake was, for me, completely pointless. If they’d tried to do something new and taken the story in a very different direction, but had held onto the central premise of buying memories for recreation to become a spy, or fighter pilot or whatever, then I might be more enthusiastic. At least, even if it didn’t work, they had tried to do something new and fresh. This was just lazy at its core. I’m off to read something original, novels seem to be the best place for new stories.

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Dredd

dreddI absolutely refused to see this film at the cinema when it came out because to begin with it was only available in 3D. In general I’m not a supporter of 3D films. It’s not new technology and in my opinion it’s rarely needed. If the film is relying on 3D to bolster ticket sales, then that’s worrying. Leading with 3D as Dredd did, on all of the posters, was also worrying. I don’t think Dredd needed 3D, I think it was a big enough character, big enough name, big enough world to get by without it. Anyway, after a few weeks, cinemas started releasing it in glorious Two Dee, but only late at night in my local area and not very often. Did this ultimately hurt it at the box office? I think so. Also I believe the 3D was retro-fitted and it was not all shot in 3D, so that was an extra cost that the film didn’t need. After the last Dredd film with Stallone, which I’ll come back to later, people old enough to remember it were wary. 2000AD fans were extremely nervous and some members of Joe Q Public might have gone to see something else instead of paying an extra couple of pounds to see what, in their minds, was yet another comic book film. At the moment the new Dredd has made 35 million at the box office worldwide on a 50m budget. My opinion aside, something didn’t work as well as it should.

Before watching this film I read a fair bit about it, had watched a couple of trailers and was very excited. I was also very pleased to hear Karl Urban, the NZ hunk, last seen by me in Star Trek as Bones, say he would not be taking off the helmet. It was one of many gripes about the Stallone film. We’re not supposed to know what Dredd looks like. He’s faceless and it’s his will and unrelenting appetite for justice and his name that inspires fear. To me he’s a more extreme version of Batman in a dystopian future where killing criminals is something he does on a daily basis and doesn’t feel any regret. So, having done my homework and knowing a reasonable amount about the character and the world, I sat down last night to watch.

Overall I was pretty impressed by the film. I thought it was engaging, exciting and I came away wanting more. Urban was excellent as Dredd. He was grim, had a great chin and scowl, his voice was rough without it being Batman rough, and his depiction of Dredd’s unbreakable faith in justice and law and order was great. I’ve never seen Olivia Thirlby in anything before but I thought she did a really good job as the rookie Anderson. She was tough, but she also brought a naive and slightly child-like quality to her performance as someone on the cusp of fully embracing the law and all that comes with it. Such as carrying out lethal judgments on people on the spot. While Dredd may never hesitate, she shows how much he has already lost because she was emotional and she cared, even about those who were trying to wipe her out moments earlier. Bit of a spoiler, but there was also a moment where Anderson scans Dredd with her telepathic powers and she picks up on his emotional state, someone full of rage, and she hints at something else under the surface. I’d kind of like to know what it was, but I also think you’re not supposed to know. It’s like finding out what he looks like under the helmet. Sometimes you don’t need to know every little detail about a character.

On reflection I can see why this film didn’t deliver a record weekend at the box office and make everyone go back a second time. To me it felt very much like ‘A Day in the Life of Judge Dredd’. It was just another day, just another crime. At the start of the film the rookie picks a target and they go out and take care of it. That’s it. She could just have easily picked a different one and the film would have been a bit different, but not hugely. Given the post apocalyptic world, given the futuristic setting, given the larger than life character, I think people were expecting a story on a grander scale, more like a Prometheus or a Star Wars.

The story was enjoyable, but it was everyday for Dredd. It wasn’t one tiny crime that was actually part of a much larger conspiracy which he investigated and that led into a plot to destroy the whole of Megacity One. It was a story about a drug dealer trying to flood the city with her product, protect her home and industry by getting rid of two nosey but determined Judges. For all that was wrong with the Stallone Dredd film, and there was a lot which I won’t detail, the core of the story was much bigger. The elimination of naturally born judges and birth of a new race of genetically created and severely unbalanced Judges all based on the DNA of Rico, who wanted to change the whole of Megacity.

There were explosions and lots of gunplay in both films, and mercifully the light touches of humour were black in Dredd 3D and there was no comedy sidekick this time, but the scale of the threat was pretty small. What epitomised it for me is when Anderson looks out across the city and we can see several other Megablocks with their own names in neon down the sides and you realise this is just one story, in one Megablock, in a giant city that stretches from Boston to Washington DC.

I know several other people have compared Dredd to The Raid, and have said the latter is a better film. I’ve not seen it so can’t compare, but part of me thinks they shouldn’t be comparable movies. As I said, I did enjoy Dredd, but it felt like a very small story in a giant setting. It’s like getting out a massive piece of paper and then only drawing in one of the corners. I know what comic book fans and experts on all things 2000AD might say, but the film is something divorced from the comic. It should true to the heart of the source but it should also be different and epic. Yes, you absolutely can have small and personal films on the big screen, but they don’t feature a big bloke in a helmet with a giant gun on the poster. Dredd at the cinema should be a grander story, told on a grander scale. I would love to see another Dredd film more along those lines, but unless Dredd does really well on DVD and blu-ray, I don’t think we’ll see another one for at least another17 years or so. Overall definitely worth seeing, and it’s a great action film, but I would suggest you go with the right expectations and then you won’t be disappointed.

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A New New Hope

I could be referring to the recent news about the American election, a result which gives me hope for the future, but I’m actually referencing the news about George Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney for the small sum of $4.05 billion. Disney have already announced that they are going to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015 and they will make more films after that.

As an reasonably old person, to me Star Wars means Luke and Han Solo. It means puppet Yoda and puppet Jabba. It means the Death Star and model space ships. It doesn’t mean Qui-Gon, Darth Maul and dare I say it, Jar Jar. I have very mixed opinions about the prequel films, but on the whole I was extremely disappointed by them. The problems with Star Wars have never been the same as the issues that I have with Star Trek. For example in Trek, an alien can be a human with a bit of plastic stuck to the bridge of their nose and that’s it. Not all of the aliens are like that, and some of the most interesting ones in Trek are those who have been fleshed out over many years, Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians etc. Star Wars has always featured dozens of weird looking races, big and small, feathered and scaled, bug eyed and brightly coloured. The technology is diverse and endlessly fascinating. The worlds we glimpse in the movies are varied and there is so much imagination you couldn’t help being curious. The films went on to spawn so many novels, comics and animated projects over the years, which just shows what a big universe it is and how much fun people have spending time in it.

For me, the problems with the prequel films are the way in which the story was told. The actual story itself, the fall of Anakin from cheeky lad in the desert slum to surly apprentice, to uber-overlord of evil in the black mask, is a great story. It’s a tale of loss and falling into shadow. The journey from hero to villain, one that has been told many times before, and long before Breaking Bad did it.

So, I’m very hopeful and positive about Episode VII and beyond, because if VII doesn’t work and the story is not told very well, and the director is poor, that’s fine. Put it down to experience, get someone else in and try it again for the next one. Look at the Batman franchise over the years, or more recently the X-Men film franchise.

The reigns of the story and the universe are no longer in the hands of one man. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of George Lucas for many reasons, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and all of his charitable work that doesn’t get mentioned as much. I also respect him enormously for saying he is going to give away his money from the sale of Star Wars to charity. He’s a remarkably creative man, but there are other people out there who are better at telling stories. Before, it was his world, his characters, his universe, and he could do whatever he wanted. He could tell the story he wanted in his own way. But we’re moving beyond that now.

So even though in the past I let myself get excited over the prequels, only to have my hopes dashed, I’m going to do it again, keep my fingers crossed, and stay positive about the new films and new direction of the Star Wars universe. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that someone manages to persuade Mark Hamill to make a brief cameo as an older Luke. It would be very brilliant to see him in the role of older sage that Obi-Wan played to his character as a boy. Here’s hoping.

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I Know Kung Fu

Earlier this week I was one of the hosts on a new podcast I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Bags of Action. I love action movies, so every month a group of people get together and talk about an action movie and then everyone gives it a score. In the first episode we talked about Blind Fury and in the second episode we discussed the 2011 film, Haywire, which stars Gina Carano in the lead. You can find Bags of Action of iTunes if you want to listen, but in short we had a number of issues with the film. However, we all agreed that Gina Carano was the best thing in it.

What came out of that discussion, and a couple of other places, was that with the runaway success of The Expendables and its sequel, and they have already announced plans to make a third Expendables film with Nicolas Cage coming on board, who would you cast in an all female equivalent of The Expendables?

Below are a list of names which are either suggestions from Kim Curran, who I chatted to about this over Twitter, or my own ideas. With each new Expendables film they’ve increased the number of stars in the cast, so let’s pretend there is no limit to how many we could have. So who would you cast in such a film and why?

Gina Carano – We all agreed on Bags of Action that she was amazing in Haywire. You knew that she was doing most (if not all) of her own stunts and every fight scene was her and not someone else. You completely believed that her character Mallory was someone who was very capable of looking after themselves in any situation. No doubt it comes from her own physicality, because of her MMA background and even her time on American Gladiators. Cheesy as the TV show might be, as was the British equivalent, all of the gladiators were fit and athletic people.

Cynthia Rothrock – She is a veteran of dozens of martial arts films and undoubtedly would fill the Sly Stallone role in The Expendables, perhaps pairing up with Gina Carano, as Sly pairs with The Stathem. Although she officially retired from action movies, many of her contemporaries (Norris, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme) have recently returned to major action roles after many years away. So perhaps someone could persuade her to come back if such a film were ever made.

Linda Hamilton – Unashamedly I’m a big fan of the Beauty and Beast TV series from the late 1980s starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman. It was must see TV for me growing up, and I then saw her next in The Terminator. It was only after seeing her in T2 that I had to completely reassess my view of her as an actress. Gone was the gentle, softly spoken, curvy, kind and caring person and in it’s place was this tough, stringy, cigarette smoking, gun-toting, driven and determined soldier. I like T2, despite being very silly in places, but if you look at her role in T2 in isolation, it’s powerful, disturbing and believable as someone who has been locked up because of her delusions about killer robots from the future.

Sigourney Weaver – There’s not much I have to write about her really other than Alien franchise. She’s done it all. She is an incredibly talented actress who has played a wide variety of characters and continues to do so (I’m really looking forward to seeing her in Red Lights), but never was she more terrifying than Ellen Ripley.

Milla Jovovich – Again, I only need to write two words – Resident Evil. I’ve actually never seen any of those films as they don’t appeal, but after seeing her in other films, such as Joan of Ark and The Fifth Element, she should definitely be in the film in an action role.

Ali Larter – This is one of my choices and there again she started off with a couple of roles where she was often running and screaming in front of the camera (Final Destination) but since then she’s portrayed a wider variety of characters. From Resident Evil, to international fame in Heroes as a fairly dark character, to a femme fatale in Obsessed. I think she would be a great addition to the action team.

Gina Torres – I only need one word this time. Firefly. If you’ve not seen the TV show, then go out and rent or buy the DVD, then watch the film Serenity. Then tell me you don’t believe that her character used to be a tough space marine and I will call you a liar. She can play big, strong, tough and intimidating, but she’s also very good at funny, sensitive and caring. A powerful on screen presence and definitely not someone you would want to upset.

Michelle Rodriguez – Just about every film role I’ve seen she has been playing someone tough and usually a cop, marine, a pilot, space marine or similar. I’m sure she is capable of playing another type of character, but in this fantasy action film of my devising, we’re after actresses who are convincing as tough characters, so she is ideally suited for this sort of film.

Two others I would be remiss if I didn’t mention are Cobie Smulders, who did a great turn as Maria Hill in a little film called The Avengers, and Scarlett Johansson who was also very good as Natasha Romanoff. Cobie Smulders is an interesting actress as previously when Joss Whedon was briefly attached to write and/ or direct a Wonder Woman film for DC comics, I believe his choice for Wonder Woman was Cobie Smulders. She’s extremely accomplished as a comedic actor, as her body of work in ‘How I Met Your Mother’ shows, but in The Avengers we get to see a tougher character in a position of authority.

Other names suggested include Lucy Lawless, Wei Zhao, Zhang Ziyi, Nicola Adams, Michelle Yeoh, Anne Parillaud, Zoe Saldana and Chloe Grace Moretz, although I think the latter might be a little young despite her role in Kick Ass.

So, who would you cast, and also, for a bonus point, what would be the title of the film franchise?

EDIT – It turns out this is actually happening. An all female Expendables type film is being made, as was recently reported in Variety, and Gina Carano will be in the film and most likely in the lead role. I wonder how many others listed above will appear.

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Man of Steel

This week I saw The Dark Knight Rises on the second day it opened in the UK and absolutely loved it. I think it was a great finish to the Nolan/ Goyer trilogy. One of the more interesting rumours was that there would be a Man of Steel preview trailer before the film for the Superman movie which comes out next year. And there was one, but it was unlike any Superman trailer I’ve seen before.

When the WB and DC logos first came up I thought I had made a mistake and that this was for a different film, for something I didn’t know about, but I was right the first time. Now, pretty much all of what I’ll mention below is speculation, based on a very short trailer, but I believe I’m on the right lines based on the tone and approach.

There has already been some negativity towards this trailer saying that it looks as if the new Superman film is going to be boring, but I completely disagree for several reasons. Going back a few steps, Bryan Singer, acclaimed film director, rebooted the Superman franchise with Superman Returns and unfortunately it didn’t work. There is a lot I like about Superman Returns, and overall I think it’s a good movie, but it followed in the shadow of the Reeve / Donner juggernaut and rather than try to go in a different direction, Singer’s movie felt like a me-too product and it owed too much to them. It did move the story forward in some ways, which I won’t spoil here for those who haven’t seen it, but it didn’t sit right with a modern audience.

Jonathan Nolan and David Goyer worked on all three of the Christopher Nolan directed Batman movies and as a result they made WB a lot of money because they are all damn good movies. Some might disagree but a lot more agree which is why The Dark Knight made somewhere in the region of half a billion dollars at the box office. So to their credit, WB asked Nolan and the others if they would be involved in rebooting the Superman franchise, who is DC comics other flagship character. Christopher Nolan declined to direct, but he is producing the movie and the screenplay for Man of Steel is written by David Goyer. So behind the scenes you have a lot of the right people already, people that not only have done well in the recent past, but in the case of Goyer here is someone who is a huge comic book fan. Most people forget he brought Blade to the big screen, a character no one outside of comics had ever heard of before and it spawned 3 films and a short lived TV series. Goyer has even written comics himself, so he knows his comics. Zack Synder is directing the movie, and there again, whether you like his movies or not, he knows how to direct action (Watchmen, Sucker Punch, 300).

Looking at the content and the character, Superman is a character I’ve always liked and always admired for what he represents and the ideals he upholds, but in my spare moments I always thought even if given the rare chance to write a Superman story for DC comics, I don’t know that I could. Batman is someone I think I understand, someone I can get behind and I think I could write a Batman story and do it reasonable justice. But Superman always bothered me and part of it is because here is a being that has the power of a God and yet he chooses to use his powers to help people. Why? Why help people? Why not set himself up as a God and rule the planet and live a life of utterly luxury? There are weapons that could harm him and it’s possible human beings would eventually find a way to kill him, but why did he make the choice to inspire, to create hope where none sometimes exists and to set an example that others will hopefully follow?

We’ve seen his origin story a couple of times now in the films, the crashed spacecraft, the cornfields, the childless couple who take him in and raise him as a normal boy until the moment when they can’t anymore. But the movies have always then jumped to him as an adult, coming to Metropolis, joining the Daily Planet, becoming the bumbling reporter Clark Kent. The first Donner movie did touch on some of what went on in between those moments, and the TV series Smallville explored the whole period in school, but sticking to the original material in the comics, we know Clark travelled before coming to Metropolis. Those few years, that time exploring the world is what it looks as if part of Man of Steel will focus on.

I think this is a Superman Begins movie, if you will, in a similar mould to Batman Begins. The boy leaves home and goes on a quest to find himself and a purpose that he will pursue for the rest of his life. An ideal that he will dedicate himself to until either he succeeds or dies trying. The difference here being that Batman works from the shadows, he starts as an urban myth, something to scare criminals and inspire fear in the lawless before becoming a legend. Superman is the other side of the coin. He lives in the sunlight and works in the day, he saves people and he inspires them to greatness. He is also so much more powerful in many ways than Batman, but in order to want to protect humanity, he must also believe in them and see something worth saving. Hence the quest and the quiet, thoughtful moments we’ve seen in the new trailer. I’m sure there will be lots of fighting and flying and punching things, but I’m 35 years old now and I need more than epic fights to keep me entertained. I realise the film has to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so there will be moments that the 8 year old will find amazing and other parts they find dull with too much talking, but that’s ok, because those are the moments I will probably enjoy the most.

The two short Man of Steel trailers (links below) focus on this quest element. In one Clark’s father, Jonathan Kent, lays it all out for him and tells him that it is up to him to decide who he wants to be and whatever he chooses will affect the entire world. In some ways that’s a terrible thing to say to a child, but Clark is not an ordinary boy, no matter how he might want to be. And to answer my earlier question as to why, why choose to do the right thing with his power? Part of it comes from his parents, Jonathan and Martha, and part of it is because of what he finds when he goes on this epic quest. The Kents raised him to respect life, to treat people fairly and with kindness, regardless of their skin colour, religion, sexuality, etc. There have been countless What If Superman stories where Clark was raised by someone else, and in those stories he chose differently and became the dictator or world leader that ruled through fear, but we are all more like the original than those darker stories, which is why they’re fun, but ultimately don’t resonate.

In the comics Lex Luthor sees himself as the hero and saviour of humanity and in his mind Superman is an alien invader and a ticking time bomb. He knows that it is only a matter of time before Superman decides to change his mind and rule us instead of hiding among us and saving people. What he doesn’t understand and doesn’t know, because his own upbringing was such a mess, is that Clark’s moral core is pretty unshakable because of how he was raised. As much as they could Jonathan and Martha raised their son like any other boy, but there was always the extra aspect to any lesson where they had to tell him just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Clark could have run faster than any other boy and won every medal and award. He could easily punch out the school bully and be adored, but they never told him that might was right.

Coming back to the trailers again, Jonathan knows that despite everything he and Martha taught their son (because to me they are his parents) it is ultimately his choice. Just like any other person on the cusp of becoming an adult and taking those first solo steps into the wider world, Clark must decide who he wants to be and what path he will take. The difference is the impact of his decision is one that will change the entire world, for good or bad. He could do nothing, live as a human, never use his powers overtly and just be a reporter or farmer or fisherman, but beneath his impregnable skin is a human heart, one that doesn’t like to see people suffering and in pain. If you saw a plane falling out of the sky and you had the power to stop it happening, would you really let it fall or would you stop it?

I think in the Man of Steel we’ll see flashbacks to his childhood or a short section focused on it, and thereafter it will be Clark’s quest to understand humanity, to live among them as an anonymous traveller, to find his place in the world before he ultimately puts on the suit. I have no idea if he will even reach Metropolis and become a reporter or not, but that’s actually not that important. What is important is that when a terrible and powerful creature, one equally as powerful as him, finds its way to Earth and decides to take the darker road and rule, he steps forward from the crowd to stop them.

The other trailer focuses on Jor-El, and his view of what Clark will achieve as a figure to inspire humanity to greatness. Clark looks completely human so most people simply assume that Superman is one of them, a man who can fly, a man who can accomplish great and powerful and wonderful things and that the power to do the same is in them. Ok, that’s actually built on a white lie, as Clark is an alien who just happens to look human, but the message is true and although humans may never have his powers, there are many paths to greatness and he represents an ideal to which everyone can aspire. Greatness can be achieved in art, science, mathematics, medicine, music, diplomacy, politics, law and a thousand other ways. A law to ban slavery, an injection to prevent a plague that killed thousands, a formula that allows men to walk on the moon, a law that brings peace and prosperity to a worn-torn nation.

My favourite part of the trailers is not actually what happens at the end, but the other part where he is just an anonymous John Doe, a regular guy trying to find work, to find a purpose, to find something to which he can dedicate his life. I guess that’s because it’s a moment which many of us have faced, or are about to face, or are even facing now as we contemplate the future and the years we have left.

The other great thing about this trailer is that it is different and hopefully it means the movie will be different and approach the source material in a different way. They’ve tried to do a copy of what came before and it didn’t work, so something new is definitely good and overdue. Overall I’m excited, inspired and hopeful about the Man of Steel movie. So, all I have to do now is try to avoid any major spoilers for the next year and hold onto this feeling until the film comes out.

 

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