REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049

Retro Review by George McGhee

A Blade Runner sequel?! That’s a terrible idea!

Like many, I was skeptical of a sequel to Blade Runner (1982). It’s a brilliant piece of intelligent sci-fi that didn’t require further storytelling. With original director Sir Ridley Scott involved, surely that a reason to be hopeful?… If you have read my thoughts on Prometheus and Alien Covenant, you will realise that they were actually reasons to be fearful!

However once Denis Villeneuve was announced in the director’s chair, with Scott making the sensible move to producer, I was intrigued. I had enjoyed his stylish, but little-seen thriller, Enemy (2013) and thought Sicario (2015) was a solid yet slightly over-rated effort. It was only stumbling across a very early press screening of Arrival (2016), that I was truly excited at the prospect of a Blade Runner sequel. Arrival was one of my favourite films of last year, up there with it’s smart sci-fi siblings, Gattaca (1998), Primer (2004), Moon (2009) and indeed Blade Runner.

I realise the original film is not everyone’s cup of tea – it took me several watches to fully appreciate it.  I had put it off for years due to it’s slow pace, not to mention it always seemed to be shown on TV in the middle of the night. Unsurprisingly, Blade Runner 2049 is not a crowd pleaser either, it’s a slow meditative film, with long scenes with minimal dialogue and lots of characters. Plot aside there’s so much to take in, fantastic set design, costumes, cityscapes and a pounding score (especially loud in Imax) which make it a captivating piece of cinema. It’s an experience that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen available.

The themes established in the first film –  memory, humanity and our place in the world are all present here. In addition, the sequel deals with more current issues of identity, technology, possessions and even the tension between authority and the masses. The film plays with conventions; Ryan Goslings’ character K, is a brooding loner, much like Deckard (Harrison Ford), yet for different reasons. Deckard’s character is impressively developed and despite a late entrance to the film, Ford achieves a lot with limited screen time. The villains of the piece, Leto’s megalomaniac, Wallace and his cold-hearted henchwoman, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) are also used sparingly, which stops them from becoming caricatures.

blade runner 2049 ryan gosling

 

The original look and feel of the world Blade Runner is so iconic, yet Villeneuve and DOP Roger Deakins deliver a sequel that feels practically seamless – belying the 35 year gap between films. The special effects team have deliberately kept as much effects practical as possible, sometimes even using miniatures for the cityscapes like the 1982 original. In comparison, one thing that bugged me about Prometheus is that the tech on display felt light years ahead of Alien, despite being a prequel set decades earlier. Much like the more recent Star Wars films, the filmmakers have made the sensible decision to keep as much in-camera as possible, as it’s more immersive than CGI backdrops.

Blade Runner 2049 gives everything a fan could hope for. It’s a loving homage that doesn’t overstep the mark. It builds on themes, introduces new concepts, characters and can stand on it’s own (take note Superman Returns). There’s a lot of familiarity, the neon cityscapes, the endless rain and a soundtrack that veers on being a remix album of Vangelis’ sublime score. A lot has changed since the original 2019 setting, which creates an interesting dynamic between key characters and Villeneuve takes them to new places. A bigger budget and larger plot means escaping the confines of LA to explore almost alien landscapes – from the scrap yards of San Diego or the abandoned ruins of Las Vegas.

Villeneuve has defied expectations and delivered a belated sequel that stands proudly against the original. His next project is likely to be a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, a challenge where others have failed in the past. With Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival under his belt, I think it’s safe to say it’s in safe hands. Intriguingly, Villeneuve is also on the director wish list for the next Bond film, which I would love to see. On balance, his style may not make commercial sense, considering how crowd-pleasing that franchise needs to be. Whatever project he approaches next, I’ll be there, waiting in line!

REVIEW: Batman (1989)

In a nutshell: Billionaire Bruce Wayne spends his nights fighting crime disguised as the masked vigilante, Batman. As he tackles Gotham City’s crime and corruption, a new threat emerges in the form of psychotic criminal, The Joker.

No time to read the article? Listen or download the podcast episode here!

Reviewed by George McGhee

We are currently living in the “Superhero” Age of Cinema. This year alone (2017) features eight comic-book  blockbusters released in as many months with the same amount due next year. Whilst their source inspiration has been around since the 1930’s, the comic-book film genre never really took hold until the late 90’s, early noughties, with Blade (1998), X-Men (2000) and Spider-man (2002). The advance in CGI to fully realise these larger than life characters was one of the main reasons but for the studios, there’s the benefit of instant brand recognition, cross audience appeal and most importantly, merchandising opportunities.

Batman…begins

Key elements of what makes a successful superhero/comic-book film can be traced back to Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). The film took it’s sweet time getting to the big screen, especially being over ten years after DC Comics stable mate  Superman (1978) which gave birth to the genre. However as the studios discovered, you can’t paint Batman with the same brush as Superman, the characters and tone are very different (a reason why they frequently cross paths).

The biggest challenge was how to re-establish Batman as he was originally written; a dark, brooding vigilante.  Especially when he was best remembered very differently – a 1960’s icon,  the bright, camp and batshit crazy, Batman TV series with the legendary Adam West. The television series only ran for three years, but ran on regular repeat rotation around the world meaning it would remain in the public consciousness for decades.

Despite going through the hands of various established directors like Richard Donner, Joe Dante and Ivan Reitman, studio Warner Brothers took a big risk and eventually handed the keys to the Batcave to a young and emerging director, Tim Burton. Burton’s background was one of comedy (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice) but he had a keen eye for stylised visuals with a dark gothic quality – he would go on to be a key influence on Goth culture, effectively becoming “King of the Goths”, if you will.

“Wait till they get a load of me!”

Burton’s hiring was the first of many risks the film took, the look of the character was changed, the origin story was ditched and the casting of Michael Keaton as the lead had comic book nerds screaming in disbelief. The director of Pee Wee and the star of Mr Mom?! Fans assumed the film would be just as camp as Adam West and company – as such, over 50,000 fans petitioned to have Keaton removed, which in a pre-internet era, is a lot of dedicated fan-boys!

With such unknown qualities, Warners needed to find a name that brought respectability to the production, much like Superman casting Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando opposite an unknown Christopher Reeve. Jack Nicholson’s casting was top of the studio’s wish list for The Joker and they were willing to pay good money to get him – Nicholson’s pay packet is still legendary today.

Unfortunately, the spot on casting of The Joker wasn’t enough to quell the wave of negativity.  So Warners decided to release a teaser trailer made from rough assembly of footage, to put these fears to rest. Thankfully people went nuts for the trailer (this time, in a good way) queuing at cinemas just to see it. It changed the whole concept of what a trailer could be. The Batman hype machine had begun and would dominate the summer of 1989, with the Bat symbol plastered across billboards, cereal boxes, t-shirts and even neckties, paving the way for every blockbuster film since. As producer Michael Uslan put it simply.“The wheel had been reinvented”

With such development troubles and the marketing hype in overdrive, could the film live up to expectations? Fortunately for everyone involved, it was one of the most successful films of the year (just behind Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade) and the highest grossing DC film until The Dark Knight (2008).

“I want you to tell all your friends about me….”

There’s a lot of reasons why the film works, from great casting, fantastic production design and a snappy script to gets straight into the action. The opening fools you into thinking you’re watching the Bruce Wayne origin story, with the mugging/attack of parents and their young son. However then Batman glides onto the rooftops like an Angel of Death to scare the bejesus out of the two criminals. Within minutes, any images of Adam West’s dayglo Batman are safely banished.

From there, we get a brief introduction to all the main characters; reporters Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) on the case of Gotham’s six foot bat. The struggle between the Mayor’s office, featuring District Attorney Harvey Dent (Billy. Dee. Williams) and Commissioner Gordon (a bumbling Pat Hingle) and the city’s gangsters Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) and Jack Napier (Nicholson). These points are reinforced whilst at the charity ball held by the mysterious (or just plain weird) billionaire, Bruce Wayne.

This all sets up the origin of the villain, rather than the hero, who is fully formed but still a myth in Gotham. We quickly get to the first main action sequence at Axis Chemicals where a betrayed Napier and his goons are escaping the inept police, only to be picked off by one by one by Batman. Napier’s ego gets the better of him, and he ends up falling (or is he dropped? Discuss.) into a vat of chemicals to become the Clown Prince of Crime.

The film has a great sense of pace, despite juggling various subplots of romance, mystery, and terrorism amongst some well choreographed action where Batman gets to show off his wonderful toys, including a heavily armed but incredibly inaccurate Bat-plane, (aka The Batwing).

In true Burton fashion, the surreal climax is suitably gothic and over the top, with a battered Bat taking out goons (in the tallest cathedral you’ve ever seen) before the Joker can make his escape to…somewhere. It’s not exactly clear what Joker would do if his plan to kill most of Gotham succeeded – but let’s remember that he’s psychotic, so he may not have thought this through.

One weakness is the film is guilty of being the Jack/Joker show, with Nicholson gleefully devouring every scene he’s in – even when he’s the only character in a scene. That said, it’s a real shame he gets killed off, as he’s a such an important villain to Batman and part of the fun is their duality and seeing their ongoing encounters.

Love That Joker!

The Joker has never been a subtle character, he’s crazy, twisted, unpredictable but most of all, he needs to be funny and Nicholson delivers on all points. Whilst the film was deemed “dark” at the time, with hindsight The Joker is in danger of approaching Cesar Romero (the Joker in the 60’s show) levels of camp.  On balance, you could argue such theatricality adds more heft to Keaton’s brooding near silent take on Batman/Bruce Wayne.

Despite being far from anyone’s first choice, Keaton turns in a strong and nuanced performance as a man struggling with his past. Gone is the swaggering playboy that we’re familiar with. Keaton’s Wayne is a reclusive, aloof and introverted billionaire that people struggle to recognise. One of the reasons Burton wanted Keaton was his expressive eyes and intensity and it works, once he’s in the suit, it feels like a totally different character. His take on Bruce Wayne may stray from the character (sleeping like a bat, “You wanna get nuts?!”) but it’s role he would better define in the sequel, Batman Returns.

Danny Elfman delivers an iconic soundtrack that is only bettered than John Williams legendary work on Superman. Elfman’s operatic themes add extra credibility to this serious take on The Dark Knight would go on to influence the terrific Animated Series of the early nineties and sorely missed in the Schumacher sequels.

In classic 1980’s blockbuster fashion, the film also features a plethora of pop courtesy of Prince. The two big scenes of the Joker trashing the art gallery or the city parade climax that feature Prince songs are a lot of fun, but basically borderline music videos which really date the film (along with Keaton’s choice of turtleneck sweaters).

“Gentlemen! Let’s broaden our minds!”

The film has some fantastic (not to mention Oscar-winning) production design – Gotham City with it’s endless skyscrapers bathed in near permanent night and the now infamous Batmobile (a bugger to park, one imagines) all courtesy of the late Anton Furst. The choice to radically change Batman’s costume from blue and grey tights to black body armour is another bold (yet practical) choice that would go on to influence many other films including X-Men, Blade and arguably The Matrix.

Burton infuses the gothic sensibilities with a mix of 1950’s kitsch and eighties consumerism, a style he would go on to refine in his next film (arguably his best) Edward Scissorhands (1990) as well as many others throughout his career.

In the years since it’s release, many people now see the definitive take on Batman as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Nolan does get a much better feel for Batman and the characters that surround him and I agree that The Dark Knight is a better film – however, Burton’s Batman is a lot more fun. What makes Batman so appealing is his flexibility, he can be camp, gothic or realistic, all have their strengths but the less said about the Joel Schumacher sequels, the better!

Ultimately, this film is a key chapter in Batman’s history and a defining film for Tim Burton who over the years following would deliver some of his best work, Edward Scissorhands , Batman Returns (1992) and Ed Wood (1994) . The film proved to the genre that you could be flexible with the source material as some things just don’t work on-screen. Along with Star Wars, it also changed the perception of what a blockbuster could be, how it could be merchandised, which changed the industry forever. Now, who’s up for a delicious bowl of Batman cereal?

Coulda woulda shoulda – Robin Williams was studio’s back up choice for The Joker, apparently he was used as bait to secure Nicholson.

MVP: All the bold choices lie with Tim Burton.

Alternate Title: Goth-man v Nicholson: Dawn of the Franchise

 

REVIEW: White House Down vs. Olympus has Fallen (2013)

Due to their retro roots, George reviews the recent Die Hard rip offs, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen. Are they guilty pleasures or crimes against the action genre? Read on to find out…

White House Down v.s. Olympus Has Fallen – Two Dragons?

There’s a recurring Hollywood phenomenon where, sometimes in the space of a few months. Two big pictures were released with near identical plots. In the 1990’s, this happened a lot. You may remember two disaster movies from 1997; Volcano and Dantes Peak. A year later we had Deep Impact, an asteroid movie that’s not as good and nowhere near as fun as Armageddon. We also had two animated films about an insecure ant who becomes a hero – Antz or A Bugs Life. A couple of years later, saw Mars set sci-fi Red Planet released in the same year as the similar, if slightly more intelligent Mission to Mars.

Due to the blatant similarities, on release naturally we’re inclined to make a decision on which of the two films is better. With hindsight, most of those films are pretty forgettable, with only Armageddon making a deep impact (ahem)… Mainly due to it being the noisiest and most ludicrous (back when Michael Bay was more “restrained”).

In 2013, the phenomenon made a comeback with two films tackling a terrorist attack on the White House –it appears that Hollywood felt enough time had elapsed since 9/11 to make light entertainment about terrorist attacks on American soil.

Who brought us these two action flics?

Olympus Has Fallen (for simplicity referred to as OHF) directed by Training Day and The Equalizer helmer Anton Fuqua and White House Down (WHD) from Roland Emmerich, a director famous for destroying American landmarks  (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, etc). 

Whilst the competing films usually share a familiar plot premise – volcanoes, asteroids and Mars landings, plucky bugs etc. These two films appear to share a sole film as inspiration – genre classic Die Hard (1988). Obviously there have been many attempts to copy the Die Hard formula over the years. As I discussed in my review of Air Force One the film had Harrison Ford’s President of the United States (POTUS) going all John McClane by deciding to tackle the terrorists mid-flight on his private 747.

However, in both these “Die Hard in The White House” movies, this time the POTUS is not the hero but instead paired with a John McClane clone. WHD has John Cale (Channing Tatum), a wannabe Secret Service agent. An underdog trying to earn his daughter’s respect and get his dream job of guarding the POTUS.

Are either a new take on a well-known genre?

OHF has Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) a disgraced secret service agent who failed to save the first lady. Banning may not be a father, (he’s too busy being a goddamn patriotic hero) but acts a surrogate to the President’s son, so we’re covered on that front.

Tatum is tasked with protecting Jamie Foxx’s president, a younger spin on Obama; likeable, warm and witty. The film’s main strength is the odd couple/buddy cop rapport between Foxx and Tatum. Whilst Tatum could be accused of coasting on his trademark underdog charm, it’s a nice change of role for Foxx. I sometimes forget how versatile he can be. In just over a year, he had made Horrible Bosses (one the few highlights) Django Unchained and this.

In the other White House, Aaron Eckhart is playing the POTUS in a performance that’s a mix of square-jawed charm and earnestness, but it’s not a million miles away from his character Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight (2008), you know, before he goes mental and becomes Two-Face.

OHF aims to set up an interesting dynamic between the hero and the President – the fact the President’s only hope is the man who failed to save his wife. A good storyline that unfortunately never really plays out. It’s more of a plot device to keep Banning on the outside as an unknown quantity when it all kicks off. It doesn’t help for all the good acting chops Eckhart has, he spends most of the movie tied up on the floor of his bunker.

What to say about Gerard Butler? The Shouty Scot brings his usual macho mix of gruff authority and a dodgy American accent. Despite his shortcomings, Butler can be a convincing action hero and does a good swear, having one of the best one-liners in years, “Let’s play a game of Fuck Off, you go first”

How do the two films differ?

Both films feature dramatic opening attacks to seize the White House but it’s really OHF that registers with a gripping and brutal opening assault on Washington. Where Fuqua displays some, at times, uncomfortable scenes of collateral damage. I would argue that it’s the old school action violence that allows OHF to triumph over the outrageousness of WHD. Don’t get me wrong, OHF is completely over the top too, with John Wick (2014) levels of henchman fatalities. Butler stabs at least two bad guys in the head!

WHD, with it’s lack of bloodshed, is clearly going for the more family friendly/tween vibe. There’s even a sub-plot about Cale’s daughter’s vlog and how her YouTube videos help identify the terrorists and I’m like, not even joking. As previously mentioned, the film’s strength is the banter between the two leads. While it’s funny seeing the President struggling to handle a rocket launcher – a similar joke that was done a lot better almost 30 years previously in Commando where Arnie’s sidekick (Rae Dawn Chong) accidentally fires one backwards.

Unfortunately neither film is able to fully escape the shadow of Die Hard. They rely too much on plot beats established in the 1988 classic. In both films, we get to see the hero and villain trading wise-cracks over walkie-talkie and a final act involving a failed rescue attempt via helicopter.

Characters & Casting

WHD even has it’s mercenaries pushed through the Die Hard mould. Instead of intense henchman Karl, we get Jason Clarke’s disgraced Black Ops soldier. For the camp geeky tech guy like Theo, we get Jimmi Simpson in full Graham Norton mode. It’s clear they’re both working with limited material as they’re both capable of turning in better performances. Clarke is solid in Zero Dark Thirty and Dawn of the Planet of The Apes. Simpson was one of the standouts in the recent Westworld series .

However the films don’t just rip off Die Hard,  they even go as far as even borrowing from other Die Hard knock offs! From the war room scenes from Air Force One, where OHF wins points for using a near identical set to having Angela Bassett getting as close to Glenn Close as a gal can. WHD even features Air Force One (the plane) as a major plot development. However, when you see the plane is full of obvious cannon fodder, you know something is likely to go wrong.

WHD also borrows from The Rock with a supposedly tragic villain and his disgruntled mercenaries.  In it’s most ridiculous scene, goes as far as having Cale’s daughter heroically waving the American flag to warn off the impending air strike – urgh, I felt nauseous just writing that! Obviously harking back to Nic Cage and his green flares (NB. smoke beacons opposed to his choice of trousers) in The Rock.

Which film is better?

In the end, I found myself getting more annoyed with WHD, which feels like a poor man’s Die Hard 4.0 with it’s 12A (PG-13) levels of action violence. Emmerich’s films have always relied on spectacle, usually interspersed with some trite sentimentality from two-dimensional characters and this film is no different.

Whilst there’s less CGI destruction than usual and despite having twice the budget of its rival, there seems to be a lot of blue screen backgrounds (due to restrictions of filming on location) and the cartoon violence becomes laughable. My favourite being the car chase involving presidential support vehicles that come with retractable miniguns – you never know when they’ll come in handy.

OHF goes all guns blazing/knives stabbing to harken back the action thrillers of the 80s and 90’s that I enjoyed so much growing up. It’s far from perfect, it’s not even close to the other Die Hard rip offs I’ve mentioned but after a few beers, it fits the bill for mindless entertainment. It’s safe to say that Fuqua has more form than Emmerich in the action film arena, The Equalizer (2014) being an improvement and plays like an unofficial Jack Reacher film. Yes – much better than any of the Tom Cruise efforts.

Which film performed Better at the box office?

Looking at box office and critical reception, White House Down was deemed the loser in this film face off. Olympus Has Fallen with it’s relatively small budget, was more popular with audiences and the studio quickly churned out a sequel – London Has Fallen (2016).  Despite poor reviews and apparently being downright offensive, another sequel, Angel Has Fallen (2018), has also just been announced.  This time, Butler is taking on the terrorists mid-flight on Air Force One. Hang on, that sounds familiar…..

 

REVIEW: The Goonies (1985)

In a nut shell

In order to save their homes from being turned into a golf resort, a group of misfits, known as The Goonies, set out on a dangerous adventure to find a pirate’s hidden treasure, all the while, being pursued by a family of criminals, known as the Fratellis.

Would you like to know more? Listen to our podcast review here!

Everyone that was a child of the eighties remembers growing up with The Goonies.  Like Back To The Future, it seems like it was a mandatory rites of passage, forever etched in our hearts. It’s not hard to see why, it’s a straightforward adventure story with kids as the heroes, like an Enid Blyton tale seen through an 1980’s American lens. For me it was definitely a relatable experience – like Mikey and co, I grew up in a quiet village where nothing interesting happened, hanging out with my mates and riding bikes, yet sadly we never found any pirate treasure.  Even watching it now, in my thirties, the film has a strong pull of nostalgia, with moments, be it musical cues or lines of dialogue that echo back to memories of enjoying it as a kid.

Looking at who’s involved, it’s clear that this film is no fluke. Firstly it’s a Richard Donner film, a director who was able to tackle any genre – The Omen, Superman, and the Lethal Weapon series – it’s so diverse I was tempted to write a feature and call it “Donner Kebab”….(sorry)

Every director needs a good team behind him, including a solid script, courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus (Gremlins, Home Alone, Harry Potter) as well as reliable production staff – Spielberg (again), Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall have had a few hits between them over the years (Star Wars, Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, Bourne, Jurassic Park to name a few) so it’s no wonder this film was such a success- it’s like the Avengers of blockbuster filmmaking!

With Spielberg and Donner’s involvement, it’s surprising that John Williams isn’t on scoring duties, however composer Dave Grusin – (The Graduate, Tootsie and The Firm) provides a catchy and rousing soundtrack. Cyndi Lauper on hand to provide a hit song (and even popping up as a cameo on a TV in one scene) and is one of the few things to timestamp the film – well that and Brand’s shorts over jogging bottoms combo…

With so many characters, good and evil, to introduce, it’s a feat that the film manages to introduce and establish them so quickly. Within 10 minutes, we have a daring prison escape (from some very inept police),introducing the bickering Fratelli’s, as well meeting the Goonies themselves and their topline traits. In this day and age, it was pleasant to rediscover that whilst this is a beloved kids film, it’s still one filled with drug references, swearing and dick jokes – again, all in the opening act.

The Spielberg values that worked so well in E.T are apparent here too – squabbling siblings, absent parents, friendship, and youth rebelling against their elders/the establishment. Instead of Elliot and co on the run from government goons, it’s the Goonies against the fat cats and spoilt brats of the Astoria Country Club. We even get a recurring motif of a group of kids on bikes that was such an influence on recent nostalgia fests, Stranger Things (2016) and Super 8 (2011).

Despite the Spielberg touch, it’s a testament to Donner’s skill of working with actors that he gets great performances from such a mainly young and inexperienced cast. It’s bizarre to think it’s both Josh Brolin and Sean Astin’s film debut – they seem so at ease in their lead roles – some people even fail to recognise both actors in more recent films like No Country for Old Men or Lord of the Rings. Whilst the characters are mainly lovable, I found myself getting a little annoyed with Astin’s character, Mikey who becomes a little whiny and grating – whether it’s motivating the others or having a one sided dialogue with One Eyed Willy.

Donner manages to pace the laughs and thrills much like a well crafted theme park ride. From the dramatic opening, to the slow build up to introduce the characters, the stakes and their quest but once the Goonies discover the tunnels, it’s a ride that never lets up. Much like Raiders of the The Lost Ark, the reliance on mainly practical effects for the various traps and challenges all enhance the films’ longevity and nostalgia factor. There’s a fairly well known deleted scene involving the kids fighting a giant octopus, and it’s an example of the quality control on display – the effects obviously didn’t look good enough to be included and would stretch the believability even further.

Speaking of monsters and effects, what to say about Sloth? He still terrifies me now, though by the end, just like Chunk, we’re all fond of him. It’s safe to assume that you wouldn’t get a character like Sloth in a kids film today, what would the PC brigade say?

Essentially a moralistic story – the importance of friendship and family triumphs over greed – but like its companions Back to The Future and E.T. it’s that delicate balance of sentimental schmaltz and thrills. The Goonies could chase after the ship for more treasure, but the point is that they have enough to save their homes, and that’s all that counts. If it were me and my friends however, we wouldn’t be whimsically watching the Inferno sail off into the sunset, we’d be desperately trying to charter the nearest boat to chase after it.

Why don’t they make films like this anymore? If you take a look over the last twenty years, the highest grossing family friendly blockbusters have either been comic book films or animation – Despicable Me, Shrek, and Frozen. The only thing that comes close as a classic adventure film is Pirates of the Caribbean and that’s because, well mainly, it features pirates. Where are all the kids movies about kids?

The film is very good at conveying the various relationships succinctly – we get that Mikey and Brand are always bickering, but in a quick scene, there’s also genuine affection. With all the differing characters on display, it’s easy for the viewer to identify with at least one of the Goonies. We’ve all known a jock like Brand, an unreliable friend like Chunk, the, a fast talker like Mouth and like Mikey, even now, I occasionally get my words mixed up.  At the end of the day, we’re all Goonies and that’s why it’s such a joy to revisit this film – it’s like catching up with an old mate.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda – The other famous Corey of the 1980’s, Corey Haim, auditioned for the role of Mouth, and that’s when he first met Corey Feldman. The two would go on to make a number of films together, most famously being The Lost Boys (1987).

MVP – A tie between Donner, Spielberg and Sloth.

Alternate Title: The Search for One Eyed Willy.

Sir Roger Moore – PART 2: Mark O’Connell Interview

Following on from our retrospective on Sir Roger Moore in Part 1, George McGhee was lucky enough to interview comedy writer and author Mark O’Connell.

Mark O’Connell

Mark’s first novel, Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan is essential reading for any Bond fan and anyone who grew up in the age of VHS.

In this episode we discuss Mark’s own encounter with Sir Roger, what inspires the Bond production team and his thoughts on the future of the Bond franchise.

CATCHING-BULLETS-jacket-artwork-03-01-13-661x1024SUNDAY (1)

The novel covers all the Bond films up to Skyfall (2012) and is touching mix of memoir, nostalgia, film critique and Bond trivia. One of the key themes featured in the book -reminiscing about the movies of our youth – is a big inspiration on Retro Ramble, so it was a real honour to spend some time talking with Mark.

Thanks to his connections with the producers of the Bond franchise Mark has unique insider knowledge regarding all that goes into making a film not to mention what Sir Roger was like in real life.

Stream or download all of our podcast episodes directly from any of these sites below:

Extras

Copyright Notice: All copyright material remains the property of the original copyright holder and all clips and audio samples have been used only as a reference and as part of a review in line with Creative Commons FAIR USE policy.

RetroRamble 2017

Shownotes

Mark recently wrote a touching obituary for Sir Roger Moore for The Guardian

The Roger Moore fan encounter we discuss can be found here

Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan is available through Splendid Books and Amazon.

REVIEWS: The Rock (1996)

Check out George’s full review below (click here to listen/download the podcast episode)

In a nutshell

Alcatraz is taken over by terrorists with chemical warheads and a rescue team go in to save hostages and defuse the weapons, with the help of a former inmate and a chemical specialist.

No time to read the article? Listen or download the podcast episode here!

Retro Review by George McGhee

When I mentioned we were going to cover The Rock in the next Retro Ramble episode, most people would take a moment before answering. “The person or the film?” was the response on more than one occasion. Understandable as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appears to have a new film out every month and apparently the nicest man in Hollywood.

It’s sad to think that some may have neglected the film, as there’s much to enjoy- a cracking cast led by Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, some stylish over the top action and some memorable one-liners.

therock_actors_retroramble.blog

Whilst not as snappy pitch as “Die Hard on a Plane” or “Alien in the Jungle”, The Rock has a solid premise – a great setting of Alcatraz – the (near) inescapable prison, an interesting twist on the buddy cop formula and a compelling villain with some very nasty weapons.

Brought to us by 80’s and 90’s powerhouse producers, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer – it’s everything you’d expect from the makers of Top Gun, Crimson Tide and Bad Boys. Stylised action, cheesy music, military hardware and beautiful sunsets.

Simpson/Bruckheimer had a mostly successful formula and whilst this was the last as a partnership (due to Simpson’s death mid-production) Bruckheimer has continued to have a midas touch at the box office (Con Air, Armageddon, Pirates of The Caribbean) and all the small screen (the many, many CSI series).

bruckheimer_simpson_fims_retroramble.blog

The producers definitely had a talent for sniffing out…talent. Whilst the plots, on the whole, are cheesy, patriotic and over the top, you can’t help buy into it because there’s usually competent people in front of the camera. It’s hard to deny that these guys turned Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy and Will Smith into box office stars.

The Rock is no different, by wisely casting Cage, fresh off his Oscar win for Leaving Last Vegas (1995), quickly turning him into a credible action hero. Whilst Cage was known for his more twitchy, eccentric types, it didn’t stop audiences lapping up Con Air, Face Off, Gone in 60 Seconds over the following years.

Cage brings a real energy and heart to the role of Stanley Goodspeed, making him him a great foil to a grizzled and grumpy Connery, playing Bond in his twilight years – 0070, if you will. Their casting and relationship are the main reason I keep coming back to this film, their zingy dialogue cuts through a lot of heavy exposition throughout the film.

Whilst our heroes are great fun to spend time with bickering, you also need a compelling villain and the ever-reliable Ed Harris certainly delivers. His General Hummel is a genuinely sympathetic and believable character, a man fighting for recognition of his fallen comrades and Harris seamlessly shifts from hardened soldier to a conflicted leader who realises he may have gone too far.

The Rock_hummel_retroramble.blog

Like a lot of our favourite films at Retro Ramble, there’s no shortage of great supporting actors on the sidelines: Xander Berkley (24, Air Force One, Terminator 2), Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens,), John C McGinley (Point Break, Scrubs) and Stuart Wilson (Lethal Weapon 3, The Mask of Zorro, Hot Fuzz) are just a handful of familiar faces amongst the good and the bad.

The visual template of Simpson/Bruckheimer films has been pretty much determined by two directors, Tony Scott and Michael Bay, both who come from a background in commercials and music videos and carry that frenetic editing style to their features. Bay’s calling card was Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything For Love (1993)  video which practically plays like a short film for Bruckheimer & Simpson.

meatloafv1_retroramble.blog

A lot of people give Michael Bay stick, and after some of his recent films rightly so. That said, it’s hard to argue that he has an eye for action sequences, much like Zach Snyder who comes from a similar background.

The Rock is fairly well paced with great sequences – Hummel’s raid on the weapons depot, a Humvee/Ferrari/Police chase that makes The Blues Brothers look tame and a tense final act which cuts between Connery and Cage taking names and diffusing rockets. Bay and his production team have fun with Alcatraz’s architecture, sewers, shower blocks, industrial furnaces etc, but frankly the mine cart sequence is one action scene too far.

Like a mine cart, the Bayhem is helpfully guided along on rails by a good story and witty one liners – apparently Tarantino, Aaron Sorkin and the writing team behind Likely Lads, Porridge and Auf Wiedersehn Pet! all did polishes on the script as well as some improv from The Cage.

Bar regular doses of pyrotechnics, the film doesn’t have the need to dissolve into the CGI-fests that Bay is now renowned for – the 90’s were a simpler time when most special effects were practical. Whilst the films of Bay and Bruckheimer can be fairly formulaic, I’d argue The Rock holds up as it’s a delicate balance of spectacle and character. I think it’s safe to say that it’s Connery’s last good film and Michael Bay’s best film.

His best?! Losers always whine about their best….

SeanConneryTheRock_retroramble.blog

MVP

Admittedly a cop out but all three leads – Connery, Cage and Harris are key to the films’ success.

Coulda Woulda Shoulda 

Arnold Schwarznegger was initially approached as a lead (conflicting reports say for both Mason and Goodspeed). Arnie claims he regrets not getting involved but he was approached when the script was in it’s earliest stages. Years later, Arnie would go on to play a similar role in Escape Plan (2013) with Stallone (worth a watch)

Fun (or terrifying) fact 

In 2016, the Chilcott report on Britain’s involvement in the Iraq War noted that one agent had falsified claims about observing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and had based his description of them on the VX gas missiles featured in The Rock!

 

PODCAST – Episode 4 – Point Break (1991)

In this episode, Charlie and George go in search of the perfect wave and take on 90’s action thriller, Point Break. FBI agents, surfers, sky diving, bank robberies, bromance and err, ooh some Buddhism. It’s almost too silly, but yet, it somehow works.

Plot Recap : Ex semi pro footballer turned FBI recruit Johnny Utah is assigned on his first mission to learn to surf so he can infiltrate a group of bank robbers who call themselves the Ex-Presidents.

Would you like to know more? Check out George’s review here!

Stream or download all of our podcast episodes directly from any of these sites below:
Extras

Here’s the video of Keanu proving just how much of an accurate badass he is on a gun range.

Whilst you’re here, be sure to check out the rest of the blog for tonnes of additional content, movie reviews, funny videos and much more.

Copyright Notice: All copyright material remains the property of the original copyright holder and all clips and audio samples have been used only as a reference and as part of a review in line with Creative Commons FAIR USE policy.

RetroRamble 2017

Check out this episode!

REVIEW: Predator (1987)

predator_retroramble.blog

If you’ve been on the blog before, you should know by now that at Retro Ramble, we love a high concept idea for our blockbusters and so it’s quite amusing that when the original Predator (working title – Hunter) script was doing the rounds in Hollywood, it was pitched as “Alien in the Jungle”. Whilst the franchise would go on to take on the Alien in a more literal sense, it’s a simple pitch but not an entirely fair one – it’s quite a different beast.

No time to read the article? Listen or download the podcast episode here!

Part of what makes the film so unique, is unlike Ripley and the Nostromo crew who were ill-equipped to fight their Alien and were confined to a ship, Arnie’s “best of the best” team of commandos are dropped into a vast jungle playground with enough firepower to literally level acres of it and yet they are still out of their depth.

I’ve seen this film so many times I can’t even remember my first viewing (definitely underage, on video, at a friends house) but I imagine going in cold, you could easily assume on that you’re watching some Commando spin off – John Matrix and Friends – so to speak. Yet the film switches from genre to genre seamlessly, blending action, adventure, stalker horror and science fiction. It’s the reason the film endures repeat viewings, like fellow 80’s genre mash-up stablemates, Terminator and Aliens.

Outside of the gun porn on display in the first third, the film briskly sets up all the characters and the team dynamic, so you take an interest when they start being picked off. Whilst some of the men can be boiled down to one or two character traits (big gun, pussy jokes, speaks Spanish etc) – it’s McTiernan’s canny eye for casting and direction that makes it work. Like the Colonial Marines in Aliens, all the actors spent a week training with real military in preparation and it noticeably adds credibility to see them operate on screen. Kudos must also go to Schwarzenegger, who surrounds himself with big personalities throughout the film – even when all his team have exited stage left, he has to share the screen with the big event, Mr Predator, who towers over the “Austrian Oak”.

predator_air_wrestle_retroramble.blog
The immortal “air-wrestle” of machismo at its best

Like all good movie monsters, we don’t get a proper look at the Predator until he goes toe to toe with Arnie and it’s worth the wait. Whether it’s down to storytelling or budget, it’s a smart move. It’s fairly well known the original Predator design was scrapped during filming, and they even postponed filming until extra budget could be secured and a new creature created. McTiernan admits this hold up actually benefitted the film, as it allowed him to edit the first two thirds and work out what was missing. The last third is the film’s trump card and why the film works, Arnie can’t physically beat the beast or outgun him, he must outsmart him, play him at his own game.

It’s quite clear that a key part of the franchise’s success is it’s title character. The Predator design we know and love was designed by the late, great Stan Winston, responsible for creating many movies monsters of the 80s and 90’s – Terminator, The Alien Queen and Jurassic Park’s (non CG) dinosaurs. The look was inspired by a painting of a rastafarian warrior on producer Joel Silver’s wall, with some mandibles thrown in (suggested by friend James Cameron) and a voice courtesy of Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen. All in all, a unique and memorable villain (anti-hero?) was born, a creature that’s terrifying and completely badass at the same time.

Effects still don’t look too shabby 30 years on.

Like fellow competitor Alien, the film offers scant mythology around the Predator. We briefly glimpse his spaceship at the opening, and walking-exposition Anna tells us the beast only hunts when it’s hot and…. That’s about it. This backstory gets explored in greater detail in the sequels – Predator 2 showed us more gadgets, more Predators and teased that they have been hunting for centuries. I can’t speak for the stories explored in other mediums – comics, games etc however it seems a shame that the films haven’t really delved into this historical aspect for story potential. (I refused to acknowledge the AvP series)

Whilst one of my favourite films, it does have some weaknesses. It’s levels of testosterone are in danger of making any female watching pregnant. Watching it with an audience at the cinema a few years back, it was almost like watching a comedy, so many moments were laughed at – the infamous arm wrestle, the macho one liners “ain’t got time to bleed” and “Lets vork out in da jungle!” scene where the team lay their trap for the Predator, and get all shirtless and sweaty in the process. (In true horror movie convention, our hero loses more clothes as the film goes on)

What about the women? I mean, woman -Anna the rebellious… rebel who only really serves as the Predator’s PR –  “the demon who makes trophies of men” and being a plot contrivance which shows the Predator to be a good sport – he doesn’t kill the defenceless. Elpidia Carrillo makes the best of the role with what she has to work with (which even McTiernan offers, wasn’t much). It’s one thing the sequel improves on, by including a James Cameron-esque tough female cop, Leona Cantrell, played by Maria Conchita Alonso – even if yet again, she provides an excuse for the Predator to be merciful – due to her being unknowingly pregnant (who knows, maybe she just watched Predator…).

predator - rumble in the jungle - retroramble.blog
“There’s nothing in the trees billy!”

The jungle is a character itself, growing up in a rural Northern village, it was a real touchpoint of what I thought a tropical jungle could look like. The setting adds to the team’s struggle, offering a sense of the unknown whilst mixing in a dash of Boy’s Own adventure once Arnie and co are required to be resourceful with their traps (Five Get Hunted by A Rasta Alien, if you will) You could argue that it’s a key ingredient.  

Predator 2 made the smart move of taking it to the urban jungle, though some may argue the film suffers due this setting – as it lacks the vulnerability of the real jungle. In Predator, Dutch and his team are stranded in hostile territory (they need to “Get to Da Choppa!”) – they face the beast because they have no choice. In Predator 2, Harrigan (Danny Glover) must go it alone because he’s a maverick renegade of a cop/ the cliche demands it. If the heat got too much for Harrigan, he could just bugger off, get on a plane or bus and let someone else deal with it…  Predators took the reboot/remake approach and returned to a jungle – this time an alien jungle – so again a sense of the unknown which adds to the tension.

There’s a real sense of verisimilitude throughout, brought together by tight direction and orchestral soundtrack. Whilst Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack veers awfully close to his Back to The Future soundtrack, it adds a real sense of tension and bombast. There are some cheesy lines but they’re delivered with such gusto, it’s hard not to get swept away with it – many of the lines are still part of the public lexicon.

predator_1987_retroramble.blog

As I’ve stated, there are many reasons that make this film endure repeat viewings – casting, direction, design  and soundtrack, among other which in turn have turned it into a legacy for better or worse. I think it’s safe to say that it’s one of the 80’s best action films and one of Arnie’s best offerings. Unlike the Terminator franchise, Predator doesn’t need to rely on Arnie, though with each new installment, Major Alan (Alan?!) “Dutch” Schaefer is always rumoured to return. No matter how many sequels or spin-offs (shudders) will be churned out, I will always be up for getting back in Da Choppa with Dutch and the team – “Anytime!”

MVP: John McTiernan.

Alternate Title: Alien in Dah Jahngle

Coulda Woulda Shoulda: Jean Claude Van Damme was set to play the alien for it’s original design, before it was scrapped to make way for the 7ft Rasta alien we all know and love.

Fun Fact: The Predator was played by Kevin Peter Hall, who had previous monster experience playing Harry the Bigfoot from Bigfoot & The Hendersons (1987).

What’s Next: The Predator will return in 2018 with uh… The Predator, along with Shane Black (Hawkins) who is directing and co-writing this time around, in what he promises it to be “an event movie”. Fingers crossed.

If you haven’t already be sure to check out Episode 3 of our podcast where Predator in even more detail.

EXTRAS

Link to Predator the Opera

Link to Predator Dark Ages

Link to Batman Dead End

NEWS: I’ll be back….again

After flirting on the fringes of each new production, it appears James Cameron is ready to go back to Titanic, Terminator. George McGhee wonders if this is a good idea.

It’s a machine that can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop…EVER. Yes, I’m talking about the Terminator but not the actual character- I’m talking about the studio engine that will not let this once great franchise die, by letting it gracefully slip into the fiery furnace of time with a graceful thumbs up, so to speak.

t2_thumbsup_retrorambleblog
Can James Cameron recapture T2’s magic?

Yet Hollywood keeps hitting the reset button on this franchise – why? Nothing is an easier sell than brand/name recognition – hence the continuing bombardment of remakes, sequels, and the term that makes me cringe – “shared universes”. The big surprise is that none other than the Miles Dyson of this franchise, self proclaimed “King Of The World” James Cameron, is actively involved in this new production.

Whilst Mr Cameron is far too busy prepping numerous Avatar sequels, it’s been revealed that he is taking on a “godfather” or a creative consultant role for a new Terminator film – as the film rights revert to him in 2019. One would hope that his involvement means proper production opposed to executive production – which is essentially funding a film but with little creative input.

On every sequel since Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) the Cameron Connection has always been crowbarred in some way, however tenuous. Both Terminator 3: Rise of The Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation (2009) had his best wishes – mainly support for his friends/collaborators Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sam Worthington.

He had a more direct involvement in Genysis, from the initial suggestion on how to bring back Arnie (“what if the T-800’s skin ages like a human?”) to a cringe worthy video endorsement where he praises it as a true sequel to the first two films…. The claim is almost as outrageous as the shirt he’s wearing for the video.

Following the poor critical and audience reception at remake/reboot/sequel, Terminator Genysis (the first of a new planned trilogy and potential TV series tie in) we all thought the franchise, like Salvation before it (another planned trilogy…) was a non starter.

As a huge fan, I can still find strengths in each sequel post Terminator 2, which happens to be one of my favourite films of all time – however disappointing they can be. Rise of the Machines was averagely entertaining in a familiar way but I was really impressed with it’s bleak ending. Salvation was the opposite – fans were eager to see the future war teased in Cameron’s films and it had an interesting twist with a human/cyborg hybrid (like Genysis, the key twist was spoiled in the trailer). However the film still couldn’t avoid giving us another smack down finale in familiar factory, followed by the world’s first desert based heart transplant…

As Cameron points out, Genysis is a “true” sequel of sorts, with it’s Back to The Future II approach, the opening half hour impressively recreates previous scenes almost shot for shot. Sadly as soon as they announce “we must travel to 2017! For reasons!” it quickly falls apart with all too familiar action scenes (another Golden Gate Bridge set-piece, really?!) and wooden exposition delivered by Arnie, a miscast Emilia Clarke and miscast in everything, Jai Courtney.

The press release promises this new take will be a reboot and conclusion of the story, which…makes little sense. With Cameron’s busy slate, rumour has it that Tim Miller, the other man (besides Ryan Reynolds) that we have to thank for the wonderful Deadpool (2016), is due to take on the directing duties. Apart from being one of the funniest films of last year, Miller displayed an inventive flair for stylish action and violence and most importantly with a limited budget – so again, another reason to be hopeful, if not outright excited.

Is Cameron the right man for the job? Or does it need some new blood? After all, Star Wars is doing a lot better without George Lucas, now it’s in the hands of talented filmmakers who grew up with the originals. Cameron has done little to tarnish his Terminator legacy, with his last two theatrical features are two of the biggest selling films of all time. You can moan about the mawkish romance of Titanic or Avatar being Pocahontas with blue cat people all you want, those numbers don’t lie. It’s fair to say that box-office numbers don’t always mean quality (e.g. Transformers/Fast & Furious films) but it’s unlikely many would accuse Cameron of approaching anything half-heartedly – in each of his films, he’s clearly looking to push boundaries in terms of using technology to tell a story, opposed for the sake of it.

My concern is where can the story go, that it hasn’t tried already. Whilst a groundbreaking idea in the early 1980’s, has today’s technology overtaken the concept of a killer robot disguised as a human? Cameron pointed out back in 2011 that the machines have already won, we’re already enslaved to technology. It seems that Genysis took this concept literally with Skynet turning into a killer app – a storyline that people found hard to take seriously.

Personally I feel the only sensible way to approach Terminator is to go back it’s roots, as a low budget, horror sci-fi, and controversially get rid of Arnie – alright, give him a walk on cameo if you must. For further proof, check out the excellent action film The Guest (2014), which lovingly homages Terminator and other 80’s action thrillers. It’s almost an unofficial remake, with Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens (yes, you read that right) as a seemingly unstoppable soldier.

terminator-2-judgment-day-arnold-schwarzenegger-and-director-james-cameron-on-set_retroramble.blog
To be, or not to be? Can Cameron save the franchise?

Time will tell if Cameron can right the course of this franchise and what exact role he will take. The last two features Cameron produced were Strange Days (1995) and Solaris (2002), both are strong sci-fi entries in my opinion. They offered intriguing concepts and strong visual aesthetics whilst still recognisably the work of their respective directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Steven Soderbergh. (On a side note, check out the Solaris DVD commentary with Cameron and Steven Soderbergh – it’s very informative and entertaining).

Many fans are saying the franchise has had it’s day, and whilst an unknown future rolls toward us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope. Dun-dun-dan-dun-dun…….

Should Terminator be rebooted again?

Let us know in the comments below.

FUNNIES: John Wick Honest Trailer

With the next installment of John Wick hitting cinema’s we thought it only prudent to share with you Honest Trailer’s most recent treatment to the 2014 original that gave the world exactly what it didn’t realise it was in serious need of; Keanu Reeves handing out the gunishment with more headshots ever seen on Call of Duty!

With films like this and Deadpool maybe we are heading back to the glory days of dark action films. We certainly hope so.

Enjoy!