Tag Archives: cinema

Rob’s Top Five Films of 2012 and Top Movie Moments of 2012

1 Jan

Crikey, we’ve got a twofer here! Not only my favourite flicks of last year, but the specific moments that made me squeal with delight! Let’s get this started with the best movies, in no particular order.


21 Jump Street

I was cynical going into this. A reboot of an old eighties TV show, starring Channing Tatum and that dude from Superbad? It looked fairly decent, but that was it. Instead it ended up being the funniest film I have seen since Anchorman. Ridiculous, and with a tongue firmly placed in-cheek, 21 Jump Street delivers not only top dollar laughs but a number of fantastic action set pieces. Get it and watch it: Ice Cube’s performance alone is worth the price of the DVD.



Compliance is one of the most uncomfortable-to-watch films I have ever seen. Detailing the real-life events of a mysterious phone call to a fast food restaurant, it will make you squirm on a variety of levels. Featuring some great performances from a cast with no big names, Compliance is not a film that you enjoy, exactly. Rather than see it and be entertained, you will see it and want to have a shower and cry for a bit. More power to it, to be honest. Compliance is a serious, powerful, and emotive film and one of the great lesser-known movies of 2012.


The Dark Knight Rises

Given my huge write-up of this film earlier in the year, I was trying to find another film to take its spot on the list. But there’s no getting around it, it deserves to be here. Not only is it a fantastic film in its own right, but it completes one of the best trilogies of all time. Christopher Nolan did the impossible, by placating the majority of a hardcore fanbase whilst refusing to budge on his creative vision of a realistic superhero trilogy. An incredible feat and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.



Speaking of superhero films, Chronicle provided realism in an entirely different way. The world is fantastical, with a group of teens gaining superpowers from a crashed meteorite, but – incredibly – the characters appear to react as human beings. They don’t immediately don spandex outfits and fight crime. Instead, they focus on their own lives, and their own pain. It’s a brilliant take on the subgenre and adds a fresh new element to the found footage style.


Red Lights

Oh boy, do I love a good mystery, and Red Lights gets it right. Cillian Murphy and Sigourney Weaver are a pair of paranormal investigators, who spend their time picking apart fraudster psychics and hoax hauntings. They take on the world’s biggest psychic, played charismatically by Robert De Niro. But is he really a hoax? Red Lights is a complex film in all the right ways, leaving clues along the way to help the audience decipher the mystery of its plot. Unnerving and tense in all the right places, Red Lights is a gem that was unfairly overlooked.


So those are my top films of the year. But what about the best moments?


Prometheus – Surgery Scene

Prometheus was a flawed film in a variety of ways. But it was visually stunning and there were some absolutely incredible moments. The most memorable of these was the grotesque surgery scene that…well, see for yourself.


Sinister – Home Movies

Sinister was my horror movie of the year. Generally, it built its scares on atmosphere rather than jumps, which puts it a long way above most of this year’s other horrors. The most important parts of this were the home movies that Ethan Hawke’s crime writer finds. The clip below is a good example, but the best of the bunch involved lawn mowing. I would link it, but I don’t want to spoil it. See it for yourself.


Ted – Shoryuken

If I had to pick a comedy alongside 21 Jump Street, Ted would be it. A wonderfully charming film, it still has some great moments of shocking humour. My favourite was seeing Mark Wahlberg give a snotty brat of a kid his just deserts.


Dredd – Finale

Gosh darn this film was great. A fairly faithful adaptation of the 2000 AD character, Dredd was a bloody, violent, wonderful film harking back to the ultraviolence of eighties action. The best part was how Dredd’s character – an unstoppable force of legal righteousness – was kept in. How he deals with MaMa threatening to destroy a tower block was an iconic end to yet another great comic book adaptation.


The Dark Knight Rises – Bane’s Prison Speech

Oh, Bane. Everything about the character was fantastic: charismatic, dangerous, brutal, violent, and – most importantly – fiercely intelligent. It was everything his character in the comics was, but with crucial changes to make him applicable to Christopher Nolan’s Gotham. The best example of this was his speech in front of Blackgate Prison: a wonderful bastardization of the Occupy movement to suit his own, evil means.


So that’s the best of 2012. I’m not going to go into the bad – I’m not really that kind of fella. All I can say is that I hope that 2013 is just as good as the year just gone. It was a wonderful year for cinema, so let’s hope for an even better future.


Happy New Year to you all!

Bargain Bin Reviews: Anaconda!

20 Nov

Welcome to a new feature! I will be having a gander at often-overlooked movies. I’ll dust them off and give them a chance to impress. So, let’s get going with my first Bargain Bin Review.

Anaconda is the story of a loveable, misunderstood giant snake that is mercilessly tormented by a bunch of documentary-makers. All it wants to do is devour Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, but for some reason they object. Just to warn you, there will be many spoilers ahead. But, given that this review is for a fifteen year-old film, I think you can forgive me.

The movie starts off by killing Danny Trejo. His boat is attacked by some kind of nasty creature and, faced with a choice between a gooey painful death or taking his own life, he decides to shoot himself in the head. Generally, it seems as though poor Mr Trejo gets the raw deal in situations with killer beasties, such as his early demise in Predators. Here, though? Well, his character probably caught wind of the script coming his way and decided to off himself. Oh, how I wish I could join you.

God speed, Mr Trejo. You made the right decision.

After a wonderful bit of pan-pipe music, we’re then greeted to the ragtag bunch of filmmakers. First up we have J-Lo and the dashing anthropologist Eric Stoltz. They are off on the noble endeavour of documenting the existence of a rarely-seen tribe in the Amazon. The makers of Anaconda, though, have no such artistic temperament, shown by the fact that the moment you see Miss Lopez she’s, for some reason, wearing a very skimpy nightgown. Who knows, perhaps I am being too cynical and that is perfect attire for the Amazon.

They are joined by Ice Cube, the angry cameraman and one of the few voices of reason within the entire film, the production manager and attractive-but-not-famous-so-will-definitely-survive Kari Wuhrer, the constantly aroused sound guy (played, amazingly, by Owen Wilson), snooty English presenter Jonathan Hyde, and the unbearably sleazy and definitely-not-sketchy ship captain (Vincent Castellanos). If you have made any early presumptions about who is likely to survive this film, you are probably right.

Give horror-movie-survival bingo a go, I dare you!

Only a short while after they set off on their journey, they find a boat sinking into the river. They rescue the lone occupant, a Paraguayan snake-catcher played by Jon Voight. I’d just like to take a moment to tell you exactly how frickin’ creepy this guy is. He’s like if The Joker from The Dark Knight and Tommy Wiseau had a South American middle-aged lovechild. The only way he could be creepier is if he was naked the entire time, his greasy ponytail flapping in the breeze. You half expect every scene to end with him having sex with some kind of reptilian creature.

Don’t believe me? Well I took the time to make a brief compilation of a few of his weirdest moments in the film. Take a look.

In spite of the fact that their new guest is clearly not a very nice man – shown by the way that ominous music starts every time he’s visible and the fact that he is constantly staring at everyone in an outrageously evil way – they decide to welcome him aboard, and even listen to his advice on their journey. The only two crewmembers that don’t seem to trust him are the aforementioned sceptic Ice Cube and the Indiana Jones-wannabe Stoltz.

Of course, this means Stoltz – the only man willing to tell Voight “you know what, let’s not take that meandering route through the Amazon that you say will lead us to our destination” – has an accident after trying to clear vines from the boat. Incapacitated, Voight takes command and lets the crew know of his real motive: to catch a ruddy great big anaconda. Choosing not to listen to Ice ‘Voice of Reason’ Cube, Sleazy Captain, Owen Wilson and Snooty English decide to join in on the plan. First stop on their whirlwind tour of idiocy? The remains of Danny Trejo’s ship.

Unsurprisingly, this does not end well. The sleazy ship captain is the first to go, chomped right outside the boat. Owen Wilson is next. Having already survived a failed attempt at a sex scene on the shores of the Amazon at night (surely the best idea anyone has ever had), he finally succumbs to the wily Jaws wannabe.

From that chin and nose combo, you can tell that it’s Wilson.

Apparently the death of Owen was enough for the rest of the crew to decide enough is enough with the creepy ponytailed guy. J-Lo seduces Voight – in one of the most awkward-to-watch scenes I have ever seen – as the rest of the crew pounce. Tying him up, they think they’re safe. Unfortunately for them, the giant snake hadn’t quite forgotten about their previous attempts to turn it into handbags, and attacks, enjoying Snooty English as a rather fine brunch. Voight uses this as a way to escape, killing poor not-as-famous-as-J-Lo in the process.

Lopez and Ice Cube manage to fight off the anaconda and, with the help of the woken-from-his-illness Stoltz, manage to knock Voight into the river and escape. Stoltz, unfortunately, doesn’t even have time to whisper “you guys seriously trusted the weird snake catcher? Seriously?” before he once again succumbs to his wounds and passes out.

Without his guidance, the wonderful J-Lo/Cube duo are captured by the soggy but still dangerous Voight. He uses them as bait to catch a mega-snake, covering them in monkey blood. For some reason, we need to see Voight kill two monkeys over the course of this film, as if to prove that he is such an evil madman.

Thankfully, the anaconda decides, halfway through suffocating Ice Cube and Lopez, that it would rather go after the creepy-looking guy sneering at it in the corner. It eats him, spits him back out again because apparently he tastes as bad as he looks, and instead goes after J-Lo. Between them, Lopez and Ice Cube manage to trap the snake and blow it up. In spite of being set on fire, exploded, and thrown fifty feet in the air, our plucky jungle friend tries to eat them one more time, and is bludgeoned to death by Ice Cube, who apparently was sick and tired of goddamn snakes at this point.

Can I axe you a question?

And that’s about it. Anaconda, as you may imagine, is a bad movie. It sits awkwardly between its A-List budget and B-List plot, and as a result it is absolutely brilliant entertainment. It’s a trashy, violent, stupid mess with bad performances and a hackneyed plot, and I enjoyed every bloody minute of it. Anaconda is the only place to go if you want to see Ice Cube attack a giant snake with a pick-axe, all the while with an incredible pan-pipe soundtrack.


Interested in more? Be sure to head over to GeekClique.net, where future Bargain Bin Reviews will also be hosted.

Horror Movies You May Have Missed Part Three: The Reckoning

5 Sep

It’s been a while, but here’s another bunch of spooky movies you might not have seen.



This 1981 film is one of the most unsettling I have ever seen. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani play a couple whose marriage has deteriorated beyond repair. She wants a divorce, but Neill is determined to try and save the relationship: if only for the sake of their son, Bob. Although it features some spectacular – and horrifying – special effects, the film succeeds mainly on the strength of its psychological nature. Paranoid and desperate, this is a film you will never forget.



Absentia is going to become a real cult classic. Released in 2011 and made on a measly budget of $70,000, it’s got the best scares-to-pound ratio of any film since The Blair Witch Project. Winner of a huge number of horror awards, the film follows two sisters trying to continue their lives after the disappearance of the elder’s husband several years earlier. But was something sinister behind his departure?


Cabin Fever 2

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t like the first Cabin Fever. It didn’t scare me, the over-the-top gore seemed a cheap trick, and the plot didn’t work for me. The sequel, though? Well that’s a different matter entirely. The only way I can describe this film is that it’s like Napoleon Dynamite if someone added a flesh-eating virus to the mix. Totally unique and compelling viewing.



In this found footage film, a group of grad students decide on a controversial film thesis – to travel into America with a group of illegal immigrants and document their journey. Unfortunately, the group is captured by an anti-immigration vigilante group, who offer them a deal: record everything that happens in their secret prison, and they will be set free. Try to interfere, and they will be killed.


Shadow of the Vampire

This movie gives us a brilliant premise: what if, whilst making Nosferatu, Director F.W. Murnau had given the role of the vampyr to an actual creature of the night? Darkly funny and deeply frightening, this film has absolutely fantastic performances from John Malkovich and Willem Defoe. Add a great supporting cast, including Cary Elwes, Udo Kier, and Eddie Izzard, and one of the best final monologues in cinema history, and you’ve got an excellent horror on your hands.


Stir of Echoes

Probably the most well-known film on this list, Stir of Echoes had the bad luck of being released very soon after The Sixth Sense. Kevin Bacon, after a hypnosis session, begins to suffer horrifying visions of a ghost of a girl. Although not particularly scary, the film has a great atmosphere, excellent performances, and puts together a genuinely compelling mystery.



I love a bit of body horror, and Society is one of the greats of the sub-genre. Equal parts funny and disgusting, the film follows a teenage boy who begins to suspect his family – and his entire town – may be more than human. Acting as both a great parable for adolescence and a scathing critique of the class system, Society shows that horror can be intelligent.



Speaking of body horror, it would be negligent of me not to mention David Cronenberg. One of the greatest directors ever, he’s been responsible for some of the best horror films ever created – but his first film is often overlooked. Made in 1975, it was once the most successful Canadian film of all time, but was so heavily controversial that Cronenberg found it difficult to get funding for further projects. Also known as They Came From Within, Cronenberg’s debut is a must watch.



A lot of horror films tap into the fears we had as children. They is no exception, and focuses around four adults that had night terrors when they were growing up. What if night terrors were because of genuine monsters, and that one day, those monsters come back? It may not be a classic, but They is a real chiller.



The final film on this list, Dread is based on a short story by Clive Barker. A team of students decides to do a film study on fear – getting to the root of what really makes people scared. Although it sometimes drops into Saw-esque territory, for the most part it is a brutal, psychologically-scarring film with surprisingly deep characters. Most impressive of all is Quaid, played by Shaun Evans, who gives a brilliant, terrifying performance.


That’s all for now! Up next, another retro review. But I’m sure that more horror recommendations will be coming your way…

Oh yes indeed.

A Closer Look at Film Adaptations

11 Aug

Last time, I wrote about just how difficult it is to create a successful adaptation. The example I used was David Lynch’s Dune, a box-office bomb that failed to bring Frank Herbert’s epic vision to the big screen. Today, I’ll go through my personal favourite, least favourite and controversial adaptations – not just of novels, but of a variety of different media. I’m only picking five from each category, so since this is far from a definitive list.


The Good

Below are the best of the best: fantastic movies that managed to adapt the original source material without it leading to major detrimental changes to the plot, and that, at least mainly, avoided the wrath of either fans of the original or the creators themselves.


Blade Runner

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, shall we? Blade Runner is a fantastic movie. Beautifully directed, expertly scripted, and with a huge number of iconic performances. It’s one of the best science fiction films ever made. What often gets overlooked, though, is just how well it was adapted into film. The original novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, contains a myriad of different ideas that were excluded from Blade Runner, the most important being the religious movement of Mercerism. In spite of the big changes, Blade Runner stays true to the main plot of the novel, so much so that Philip K Dick, who lived only to see a test reel and read the screenplay, said that they had captured his “own interior world”.


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Thing (1982), and The Fly (1986)

I may be cheating a little here by putting three films together, but these movies share a similar timeline: pulp science fiction stories, first adapted for cinema in the fifties, and then again in the seventies and eighties. I count these three films amongst the best horrors ever made, and I would say that they improve upon the original stories by making small changes: the setting and ending of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the discovery of the alien in The Thing, and the transformation method of The Fly, for instance. Of the three, The Thing is actually the closest to the source material – and I’d suggest the original novella, Who Goes There?, to any science fiction fans looking for an underrated gem.

Great posters, too.


American Psycho

Reading American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis is like being bludgeoned to death by an incredibly well-written brick. It’s a brutal and uncompromising critique of late 80s Wall Street ideals and is an important and powerful work of literature. It is dark, funny, ultra-violent and absolutely brilliant. It was given an equally controversial adaptation in 2000, starring Christian Bale. I mention Bale as he was the main reason why I think the adaptation works: an astute casting choice and an inch-perfect performance. The adaptation was relatively faithful to the novel, bar a few of the more gory moments, but somehow doesn’t quite have the same power as the book. That said, it is still an intelligent, funny, and thought-provoking movie.


Jurassic Park

This was once the most successful film ever made, and for good reason – the best special effects of the time, a bright and vibrant directorial style, and a story that was exciting for adults, but still family-friendly. And that is the biggest change that was made between the novel and the film. Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is quite a different beast: darker, longer, with more detailed scientific exposition.

Spielberg’s film streamlined the plot and cut a number of characters. The most interesting example is that of the lawyer, Gennaro. Rather than the weak, frightened character seen in the film, the Gennaro of the novel has a much more active role, and contributes a lot more to the plot. However, in the film Gennaro was combined with another character called Ed Regis.


LA Confidential

Curtis Hanson’s LA Confidential is a near-perfect film noir. It includes a smoky atmosphere, great performances (particularly those of Kim Basinger and Guy Pearce), is aesthetically wonderful, and most importantly has a genuinely intriguing and hard to decipher mystery. It’s a work of art, and is so good that the novel’s author James Ellroy counts it as one of his favourite crime movies. And Ellroy is a hard man to please; he was particularly scathing of another adaptation of one of his novels, The Black Dahlia.


The Controversial

The films below are those that deviated heavily from the subject matter, plot, or tone of their original material, and in doing so were heavily criticized by the original authors or fans of the intellectual property. In spite of that, I still consider them to be good films.


The Shining

“Wait, The Shining?” I hear you cry. “But that’s one of Kubrick’s greats!” Well, yes it is. But people didn’t always feel that way. The Shining was nominated for Razzies, and received a lot of negative reviews. Stephen King himself was highly critical of it, both because of the removal of large amounts of the supernatural and the way that Jack was built as an incredibly unsympathetic character from the off. Over time, both the critical reception and King’s own feelings on the film have softened, but at the time this was far from the controversy-free masterpiece that we know today.


Total Recall

Daft one-liners, extreme violence, nudity, explosions, and a hulking Austrian: Total Recall may well be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best movie. It’s also another Philip K. Dick adaptation, this time of the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. There are very few similarities between the two, however; you won’t find any three-breasted mutants or action-packed fights on the surface of Mars. The short story instead is much stranger, and like much of Dick’s work deals with the way that perception and reality differ. That said, I love both: Total Recall is a great action movie, and …Wholesale is a unique and interesting read.



I must confess that I love this film. It’s directed perfectly for a more fantastical comic book movie, the casting was excellent (particularly Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian), and, personally, I think that the changes made to the main plot work. I think Zack Snyder keeps the overall message of the film on-track and is as faithful as he could have been. I can also understand where the criticisms come from: gone are the wonderful, intertwining story arcs, the multimedia storytelling and the full development of some characters. Watchmen was always said to be ‘unfilmable’, and to an extent I agree – I think that Snyder did as well as anybody could do, and as it stands, I think he did a great job.


Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

This film, with Gene Wilder in top form as the inscrutable sweet-maker Willy Wonka, is a cult classic. Loved by kids for its vibrant colours, dreamlike locations, and the wish fulfilment fantasy of owning a chocolate factory, not everyone was a fan. And by that, I mean Roald Dahl, the author of the original book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl, who was writing the screenplay but could not keep to deadlines, was absolutely furious with what the final film did to his novel, and afterwards refused to give over rights to a sequel.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy         

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy took $2,917 million at the box office and won 17 Oscars. But not everyone enjoyed the epic fantasy trilogy. There was huge criticism over changes made to characters, events, and themes of Tolkien’s original trilogy. In particular, the changes made to the characters of Merry and Pippin, and the cutting of the hobbits’ return to The Shire to find it under the control of Saruman, brought on the anger of Tolkien fans. As it stands, Peter Jackson’s trilogy is still one of the biggest achievements in film history – but perhaps not a true reflection of Tolkien’s fantasy series.


The Bad

Finally, here are the adaptations that just don’t work. Heavy deviation that is detrimental to the overall quality of the film, cluttered and unforgiving screenplays for the uninitiated viewer, and total thematic change are all included below.


Max Payne

This adaptation of the 2001 videogame should have been an automatic hit. The storyline, a mix of hard-boiled detective, corporate conspiracy, and good, old-fashioned action was perfect as it was, and game’s pulp, graphic novel art style meant that it really should have been an easy adaptation. Unfortunately, it fell into the trap that claims many a videogame film: over-complication of the story. Rather than stick to the watertight plot of the game, changes were made that turned Max Payne into a convoluted mess.


The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has a number of complex themes right underneath the surface. Most important of all are the discussion of religion, and the development of children into adulthood through increased responsibility. All of this disappeared, though, in 2007’s adaptation. Worst of all, though, was the way in which Roger’s fate was changed – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has yet to read the novels, but it makes a dramatic difference to the tone of the story, and it was a change that really jarred with the original.


The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender was one of the best kids TV shows in the last twenty years. It had deep, interesting characters, an interesting art style, a wonderful setting, and – most important of all – a completed and impressive story arc. Unfortunately, it did not convert well into a feature film. There was scathing criticism over the casting choices – Avatar was set in an Asian-influenced world yet the film had a primarily western cast – and over absolutely appalling dialogue, wooden characters, and a nonsensical plot.


We Need To Talk About Kevin

A controversial choice, this – but hopefully I can explain myself. We Need To Talk About Kevin received fairly good reviews upon its release, and the praise of Lionel Shriver. However, I feel it falls down by being thematically different from the original. I spent a large proportion of the book thinking about whether I believed my narrator; was she reliable? The framework of the novel was strong, as well: it was separated into different letters. Instead, the film gave us an unconventional, time-jumping structure and little hint that the film was showing anything other than the absolute truth. Although fantastic-looking, We Need To Talk About Kevin could not achieve the same effect as the original.


The Bonfire of the Vanities

Finally, here is the infamous The Bonfire of the Vanities. The novel by Tom Wolfe tapped into the political, social, and racial sentiments of 1980s New York – from the rich and powerful of Wall Street to the marginalised of Harlem and the Bronx. The film, though, was a huge box-office bomb. Part of the reason it failed to capture the same power as the novel was the casting choice of Tom Hanks as Sherman McCoy. McCoy, an intensely unlikable character in the book, was softened in an attempt to make him more likable. In the end, it meant that The Bonfire of the Vanities was a weakened-down comedy-drama, and a far cry away from the incisive original novel.


So, that was a brief look at what I consider to be some of the best, most controversial, and worst adaptations. Up next, I will take you through the adaptations that I would love to see happen.

Source Material and the Film Adaptation

6 Aug

As I’ve said before, I am not against adapting books/novels/comics/delete-as-appropriate into movies. I recognise that a lot of amazing films have been created from other sources. However, when a film is made out of a previous intellectual property, filmmakers have to tread a very careful line: to stay faithful to the source material whilst creating a story that works. And believe it or not, this is much harder than it looks.

What people fail to realise is that books and movies are very different media, and as such require very different structures and writing styles. Just because a novel has a brilliant plot, it will not necessarily transfer over into cinema. There are methods novels can employ that films cannot: use of descriptive text, use of internal monologues for characters, and a less stilted conveyance of emotion without resorting to dialogue for instance.

Excessive dialogue does not cover up other flaws in a screenplay.

Meanwhile, movies are an inherently visual medium, and must also successfully utilize the use of sound. Plots need to be more concise. Characters need to be more concrete and defined. The world of the film must be more structured, and, as it were, more real – or at least have a set of rules that must be adhered to for the audience to buy into the situations shown. Cinema is at the same time both simpler and more complex than fiction.

Having said all this, I can suggest a few main reasons why certain adaptations fall flat. First up is pacing. Fiction can have more meandering sections, where characters can be developed without it being detrimental to the overall plot. Even the most action-packed of novels can have chapters where the tension can drop and the reader can really get to know the characters. In film? Not so much. There is a bit of leeway, but characters really need to be defined by their actions, by how they look, and by what they say.

Next up, there’s the problem of back story. How exactly do you get a huge back story into a film? With a Star Wars-style opening crawl? Clichéd, but it can work sometimes. Expositional dialogue? Definitely not. The most successful back stories are created without the audience even realising: a look or an in-joke between characters, mise-en-scène to portray the world of the film – or in the case of specific props, a bit of a character’s history.  There are some examples otherwise but in general these subvert the tropes of dialogue.

One of the reasons The Joker is great is because of his two back stories. Which is real? Is either?

Then, there’s the length. Novels, in general, have quite a lot going on – a complex plot, lots of characters, back story, even large jumps through time. When the subject of an adaptation is a long text, then sacrifices need to be made. But where should these sacrifices fall? Successful adaptations take the core plot, keep other plot elements that are thematically important, and cut around that: characters that add little vibrancy or have nothing to do with the story, back story that doesn’t develop the plot of the film, and character-developing scenes. It’s incredibly hard, though, to work out what should be cut, and the director and scriptwriter are bound to upset fans of the original work. Perhaps this is why it seems that short stories often work out as better adaptations.

Finally, there’s the audience. Many adaptations fail because they ignore one simple rule: the audience is a blank slate. Lots of them, or even most of them, will not have read the original text, and they shouldn’t have to. It doesn’t matter if fans of the novel understand what is going on; if Average Joe the cinema-goer doesn’t understand it, your film doesn’t work. If a viewer has to have done homework in order to decipher a big-budget adaption, then the filmmaker has, unfortunately, done something wrong somewhere during the production. This is the one criticism I have of Edgar Wright’s fantastic Scott Pilgrim – it looked great, the correct elements were cut from the plot and cast, the art style reflected the comic perfectly, but some viewers came out of the movie not quite understanding what they had just seen. This one mistake in an otherwise wonderful film could be one of the reasons why it didn’t do that well at the box office.

Those are the major reasons that adaptations fail. So, let’s do a case study, shall we? Let’s pick David Lynch’s Dune: one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Lynch was so unhappy with it that in certain pressings his name in the credit is replaced by Alan Smithee. Let’s not get on Lynch’s back, though – Frank Herbert’s original novel has many traps that any movie-maker could all into. It has time lapses, meandering character-developing sections, a massive back story, it’s absolutely massive, has a huge number of characters, its own vocabulary, a high-concept plot, and it’s absolutely insane. This book is potentially unfilmable – at least, as a single movie.

Lynch’s Dune fails at each and every one of these problems. Time-lapses are explained by an omniscient narrator, character developments are either explained by the same narrator or by the characters themselves – through both dialogue and internal thought. Back story? That’s the first fifteen minutes. The complete version of the film clocks in at just under three hours, and cuts still had to be made for the theatrical release that chopped up the story even further. Hardly any characters were cut, even those who, due to plot streamlining, had no point anymore. The vocabulary remains, some of it explained, some of it not. It’s still insane, and difficult to follow even if you’ve read the original text.

Worst of all though, are the additions made by Lynch himself. Obviously, additions need to be made, in terms of art style and dialogue. Sometimes even plot points and characters need to be added to make an adaptation work. Lynch, though, made some very strange choices. The evil Baron Harkonnen was given sores across his face (not mentioned in the novel), and due to the Baron being gay there were allegations of homophobia – with the sores representing the AIDS epidemic.

Then there’s this scene:

Why is a cat being milked for an antidote? Who knows. It wasn’t in the novel, that’s for sure, and doesn’t add anything to the film other than making Sting look even more mental.

How about the giant eyebrows of the Mentats? Or the seductive Bene Gesserit being made bald?

Eyebrows mean logic and baldness is sexy.

Lynch seemed to choose these additions over other points that were vital. The Mentats were included despite the Mentat/Bene Gesserit rivalry being practically removed from the film. Hawat (he who needs the cat-antidote) was kept in the film in spite of his role in the novel – helping the Harkonnens after believing that Paul Atreides’ mother betrayed him – being taken out of the movie. Gone was any feeling that Arrakis was a hard planet to live on, and indeed the value of water is not really present. And the point of the novel – that Paul Atreides is not truly a god, but has made himself seem one, is taken out. Unfortunately, Dune is far removed from the source material in all the wrong ways. It is also similar to the source material in all the wrong ways.

Film adaptations, for me, fall into one of three categories. There are the great adaptations – the films that are respectful of the source, build upon it, and adapt it into a working movie. The films that make you want to go back and read the original work, regardless of whether you’ve read it before. Then there are the films that were heavily criticized for their deviation from their source material, but are still good films in their own right. Finally, there are those that just don’t work – nonsensical plots, poor scripts, changes to the source that make no sense, and that are just bad movies.

Join me next time and I’ll take you on a whirlwind tour of the three categories of adaptations – the good, the bad, and the it-got-ugly-with-the-original-fans.

Why I Love The 90s: The Original Video Game Movies

2 Aug

I have a compulsion to watch every video game film I can find. I know most of them are trash, about 98% of them are directed by Uwe Boll, and they deviate crazily from the source material, but I can’t help but track them down, just to see how bad they are. I can count the number of passable video game movies on one hand. The only video game film that I think of as ‘good’ is Silent Hill.

Pyramid Head is a busy guy.

However, there are still plenty of enjoyable shit movies from the early days. Let’s have a look at the pioneers of the sub-genre and all of their flaws.


Super Mario Bros

Awww yeah! Super Mario Bros is the one that started it all. It’s a horrible, horrible mess of a film: part kid’s comedy, part action, part Blade Runner-esque cyberpunk nightmare. Bob Hoskins puts on a brilliant Brooklyn accent as Mario and John Leguizamo plays a snotty teenage Luigi. In spite of all its problems, I still love this movie. Dennis Hopper is brilliant as King Koopa, there are about ten billion quotable lines and some really fun set pieces. Hell, it starts with a couple of dinosaurs talking in New Yoik accents. Sure, it’s a bad film, and has nothing to do with the games, but it sits comfortably – and brilliantly – in the so-bad-it’s-good section of my movie library.


Double Dragon

We’ve all played Double Dragon, right? A kidnapped girl leads two brothers to go kick the crap out of a gang and generally be total badasses. The obvious choice for such a simple, dumb story, then is to add a bunch of jargon about a magical amulet and evil overlords. Throw the bad guy from Terminator 2 and Alyssa Milano into the mix and you’re sure to win an Oscar, right? Well, not quite. But you do get an awful movie full of 90s clichés and some awful performances. Kudos to them for making Marian, the girlfriend from the game, into an active character though.


Street Fighter

This film can be summed up entirely in a single casting choice: the lead character is Guile, a man so American he has the star-spangled banner tattooed on his arm. Who’s the best person to play this all-USA dude? Why, the Belgian actor and roundhouse-kicker Jean Claude Van Damme, of course! The movie-makers managed to squeeze a load of the characters from Street Fighter 2 in, which certainly deserves credit, but it means that the plot is completely insane. It all looks incredibly tacky, too. What saves it? Why, a brilliant performance from the late, great Raul Julia as M. Bison of course! It was his last movie role and it’s worth the cost of the DVD alone. Well, that and seeing Kylie Minogue acting. Yup.


Mortal Kombat

Aside from Silent Hill, I actually think Mortal Kombat is the best video game movie. It’s trashy and dumb, but it’s just so much darn fun. It’s also got a plot that kind of makes sense (well, in comparison to the likes of Super Mario Bros and Street Fighter), and who needs acting talent when you’ve got wise-cracking, shades-wearing kung fu heroes punching four-armed monsters in the bollocks? Great fight scenes, awesome special effects, awful one-liners: this movie has it all. Unfortunately, the sequel Mortal Kombat: Annihilation isn’t quite as good.


Wing Commander

Last and possibly least is 1999’s Wing Commander. The games had a great cast – with Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell in the brilliant Wing Commander III – and what better way to continue that trend than with the magnificent Freddie Prinze Jr. Ahem. The movie follows the usual plot of the plucky young rookies who manage to save humanity whilst being very cool and relatable for the film’s target demographic.


After these trendsetting films, the video game film adaptation trend really kicked off, particularly after the big success of the Resident Evil franchise. But for me, these 90s films are very interesting to watch back. In fact, I would rather watch Super Mario or Mortal Kombat than the likes of Max Payne or Hitman any day of the week.

Seriously, how can you ever beat scenes like this?

Money, Money, Money: Ten Box Office Flops You Need to See

30 Jul

It seems as though every year there are big-budget movies that fall through the cracks. This summer alone we’ve had Battleship, John Carter, Rock of Ages, and potentially The Watch failing to deliver when it comes to earnings. But being a financial flop is not always indicative of being a bad-quality film. Not every film that fails is a Pluto Nash or Battlefield Earth. Here are ten box office flops that are still worth a viewing.


Death to Smoochy

Danny De Vito’s 2002 black comedy about corruption in children’s television was a huge financial failure, making only $8 million from US box office. It was hit-and-miss with the critics and even received a Razzy nomination. In spite of that, it’s still one of the funniest films I have ever seen. The film follows Sheldon Mopes (Edward Norton) when his Barney-a-like character Smoochy replaces the corrupt entertainer Rainbow Randolph, brilliantly performed by Robin Williams. Along the way Mopes encounters the Irish mob, children’s charity gangsters and bung-taking agents. It’s a hilarious and smart comedy, with a unique style, brilliant script and a number of great performances.



Gattaca put Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman together in 1997 and came out with $12 million from a $36 million budget.  It was a big hit with the critics and even had an Oscar nomination. Audiences chose to miss out on one of the most intelligent science fiction films ever made, creating a realistic future world where employability is entirely decided upon a person’s pre-determined life expectancy. Asking big questions about genetic engineering and the power of the health industry, Gattaca was perhaps a little too high-concept for its own good.


Strange days

Kathryn Bigalow directed this James Cameron-scribed cyberpunk thriller. In it, Ralph Fiennes plays an ex-cop who makes a living selling memories – memories that can be played and recorded via a device that hooks into the cerebral cortex. One of these memories, though, contains a horrifying secret, which leads Fiennes deeper and deeper into a dangerous conspiracy. In spite of a cast including Tom Sizemore, Juliette Lewis and Angela Bassett, and plenty of critical acclaim, Strange Days didn’t come close to making back its $42 million budget.


The Cable Guy

I think we’ve all come across this one at some point or another. A film that ‘nearly wrecked Jim Carrey’s career’ according to Homer Simpson, in fact this Ben Stiller-directed movie wasn’t a flop at all and made $60 million in America alone. Then why is it on this list? Well, because people often give it a swerve due to its notoriety. If you give it a chance you’ll find a great black comedy with some hilarious jokes, an intelligent message and a strangely prophetic vision of the future:

Not bad for a film from 1996, eh?


Cool World

Ever imagine what would happen if Who Framed Roger Rabbit had an older, weirder brother? Well, if you did, Cool World is the film for you. Gabriel Byrne is a comic book artist who is sucked into the universe he created. Unfortunately, some of the ‘toons he created want to get out. The film was plagued by rewrites that took it away from director Ralph Bashki’s original idea (the original plot involved a half-‘toon, half-human hybrid escaping from a comic book to seek revenge on its human father – awesome, I know). Although Cool World is a bit of a bloated mess, and isn’t necessarily a good movie, it’s still got lots of interesting ideas and is worth watching.


The King of Comedy

A lot of the time, you can see why a film failed, even if you don’t agree. Maybe Gattaca was too intelligent for most movie-goers; maybe Death to Smoochy was too dark given the very cartoony surface layer; maybe Strange Days was a bit too geek-friendly. I can see no reason why The King of Comedy flopped, though. It’s directed brilliantly by Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro gives possibly his best performance, and the film has a brutal, chilling quality throughout. Throw in the critique of media idols that the film presents and you’ve got a movie that, by all rights, should have been a classic. Unfortunately, only the critics seemed to see it.


Last Action Hero

Another one of the big historical failures, 1993’s Last Action Hero declared a financial loss of $26 million. In spite of this, the movie still did fairly well at the box office – but not enough to offset the whopping budget that was reported to be over $70 million. Panned by the critics at the time, the film has actually stood up to the test of time very well, giving an incisive, satirical critique of the world of action movies whilst delivering plenty of fun action set pieces.


Deep Rising

What happens if you combine Aliens with Titanic and throw Die Hard into the mix? Deep Rising, that’s what! A team of mercenaries attempt to hijack the most expensive cruise ship in the world. When they get there, they discover that evil aquatic monsters have got there before they have. An action-comedy-horror hybrid, the film is full of quotable lines and memorable (sometimes gory) scenes. Unfortunately critics and movie-goers alike didn’t agree.


Titan A.E.

This animated film, directed by Don Bluth, with Joss Whedon on the writing team and Matt Damon, Bill Pullman and Drew Barrymore in the cast, did so badly that it closed Fox Animation Studios. The movie created a wonderful setting – a humanity spread across a vibrant universe after the destruction of Earth – and gave an epic plot reminiscent of Star Wars. Unfortunately, the film fell between a younger and older demographic and a lot of people missed out on a great sci-fi movie.


Cutthroat Island

Cutthroat Island is part of one of the biggest disasters in movie history – between this and Showgirls, it forced the fantastic Carolco Pictures to close. What makes Carolco Pictures so special?  Well, only that they were responsible for the Rambo movies, Total Recall, and Terminator 2. But is Cutthroat Island really that bad? No, not really. In fact, it shares a striking number of similarities to the massive hit Pirates of the Caribbean. Geena Davis is fantastic, the plot is fun, but most importantly, it is a wonderfully entertaining adventure movie. If it had been made a few years later, with a decent marketing push behind it, I’m sure that Cutthroat Island would have been a hit.


Hopefully, this will have made you think to look beyond whether a film did well at the box office before passing judgement on its quality. Of course, some films are awful and not worth buying, but some of them are genuinely fantastic movies.


And, ahem, some of them are so awful they need to be seen.

Found Footage Films and the Art of Closure

14 Apr

This Sunday on Channel 4 is the network premier of The Last Exorcism. I would recommend giving it a watch. Not because it’s a wonderful movie, although it takes an interesting idea and does a lot of good work with it. But, because it epitomizes a problem with Found Footage cinema – it doesn’t have a good end.

The Last Exorcism disappointed me when I first saw it. And it’s because it is absolutely fantastic up until the last ten or so minutes. I’m not going to spoil it for you, because it’s worth watching up until then, but I was completely captivated for the majority of the film. Great performances, well filmed, well paced. But then it hits the curse of Found Footage – the abrupt, cheap ending.

It’s not alone – although I’d say it’s the best of the Found Footage films which has failed at this important step. Most recently, The Devil Inside fell into the same traps. Apollo 18 did it. Paranormal Activity 2. All of them had an abrupt end that clashed with the rest of the film, both thematically and pace-wise.


Space parasites aren't good at driving shuttles.

So why does this happen? And why does it seem to be such a problem with these first person movies?

Personally, I think it stems from the nature of the medium itself; Found Footage films are generally horrors, and the basis of most of them is ‘the people who made this film didn’t make it out alive’. It’s quite important to have this threat as well – if the characters of the film survived, why would the footage be ‘found’? If a conspiracy is uncovered, or a monster is revealed, why did we, as the public, not find out about it before?

In a fair few cases it still works; the finale of REC is one of my favourite scenes in cinema. The Blair Witch Project’s final scenes, when watched for the first time, were genuinely shocking and fresh. Chronicle, recently, also managed to pull off a satisfying ending (it’s another film you should definitely see – an interesting and innovative take on the superhero genre).


That kid you bullied at school will NOT be alright with super-powers.

But the same problems constantly get brought up – how was the film found? And by who? In the best cases, this is answered. If you don’t want spoilers then please stop reading now. The REC series takes a very much first person view – you never really see the cameramen at all, and there is almost a ‘present tense’ feel to the films, and there is no real editing that would have to be done post-recording. The Blair Witch project had an excellent bonus feature explaining how the tapes were found. Chronicle has a single survivor.

In terms of films that have failed, though – how exactly does the footage from Apollo 18 survive, when it is caught up in an in-space collision between two space shuttles? How did the footage in The Devil Inside survive a car accident that killed those involved? If you do watch The Last Exorcism, you’ll see that it’s possibly the worst of the lot.


Let’s just say there will probably be NO ONE around to edit this bad boy

So, how do you fix this? I think the most important thing for these films to do is stick to their convictions and not to fall into the tropes that previous films in the genre have done. The ‘shocking deaths of everybody at the end of the film’ has damaged so many Found Footage movies it’s beyond true, so much so that I go into these films expecting everyone to die, even when it makes no sense (à la Troll Hunter).

Apollo 18 would have been a much better film if someone had survived to bring the footage home, and then had been forced to be quiet about it, until the story was leaked now for the watching audience. In The Devil Inside, the Vatican supposedly stops any footage of Exorcisms from being viewed – so the reason for the footage not making it outside of their clutches is already in place within the story. Behind the Mask (a flawed film that it still worth watching and buying because the idea is so fan-fucking-tastic and the first three-quarters are so brilliant) would have been one of the best films of all time if it had continued its stylistic choices into the finale. The Last Exorcism could have been great, if it had stuck to the intentions set out by the film crew and proved one of the main characters right instead of going for the cheap, shocking twist.

Death is cheap. It’s not shocking anymore. Filmmakers, please don’t go to it as your default option to end a film. Found Footage movies can offer a lot to cinema. It can break that level of detachment and really immerse the audience. It can offer small, independent directors the chance to work on big ideas without a big budget. It can open up people’s ideas an unlimited amount. Hell, just look at Marble Hornets. That’s something anyone with a good idea can achieve with internet access and a camera.

Don’t cheapen it. Do what’s right. Do what’s edgy. Keep away from the clichés and make audiences witness something genuinely dangerous and unexpected.

In Defence of Remakes, Reboots, Prequels and Adaptations

6 Apr

Probably not the best way to start this, but I just saw The Thing. The 2011 one. And it…erm…wasn’t very good. Supposedly a prequel, it followed the story of the original to the letter, had renamed versions of the same characters in it, and had nearly shot-to-shot scenes from the original (want a tense scene where they check who and who isn’t the Thing? And then it goes wrong? You got it!). It was worse in every single way. It was tame, the characters were stupid, the special effects were generic, and it wasn’t scary.

However, all is not lost when it comes to prequels, sequels, and reboots. They’re often seen as a lost cause from the off, and I’m just as guilty as everyone else in this.

But, in themselves, these films aren’t evil. Look at how many brilliant films are adaptations: The Godfather trilogy, Schindler’s List, Blade Runner, The Shining, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Dr Strangelove, and every goddamn Disney animation that was made for decades. Lots of cult and classic movies are too: The Running Man, Rambo, Death Wish and Total Recall for instance.

Quaid's reaction to the news he is being played by Colin Farrell

Some of the best films ever made have also been remakes of previous movies, such as The Magnificent Seven or Cape Fear. The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Fly – what I like to call the ‘Triforce of Body Horror’ – are all remakes of 1950s films based on even older fiction. Going briefly over to television, The American Office is vastly superior to the British original.

What I am trying to say is this: remakes and adaptations are not a new thing and sometimes they can be absolutely brilliant.

The Descendants and Drive were two of my favourite films of 2011. The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films of all time and it’s a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book and also a reboot of two previous versions of the franchise. The Departed, in 2006, was a remake of the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs. The Social Network was based on real-life events and on a non-fiction book. Never Let Me Go was adapted from an equally-brilliant novel in 2010. Children of Men. The Girl with the Dragon tattoo. 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit were both remakes. 21 Jump Street, loosely based on a 1980s TV show, is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

Seriously, see this movie.

This summer, the most-hyped films are The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Amazing Spider-Man. I think at least two of them are going to be genuinely fantastic movies, I’m sure they will all be entertaining, and not one of them is a new intellectual property.

That’s not to say, though, that is isn’t worrying that there are few original ideas. When I saw the trailer to Total Recall 2012 I groaned. When I heard about the remake of Robocop I wanted to cry. When Michael Bay told us about Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles I wanted to gouge out my eyes.

Speaking of franchises that are totally original: a comic, then toy and cartoon line, then live-action movie series

But this isn’t because they are remakes. It’s because there is something wrong with film at the moment. With the way they are produced and directed. The Nightmare on Elm Street, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, and Alfie weren’t bad films because they were remakes and adaptations: they were bad because they were awful films. House of Wax, Rollerball (oh dear god Rollerball), Planet of the Apes, and The Day the Earth Stood Still weren’t bad films because they were remakes: they were bad because the scripts were bad, the direction was bad, or the performances were bad.

The Wicker Man would not have been better if it was called Snuggleberries

There is something wrong with films at the moment. And that thing is safety. Remakes aren’t a new thing, and remakes weren’t always good (go and watch the 70s King Kong, I dare you). But at the moment films are made with safety and security in mind. So many films look like they have been directed by the same person. It’s the same in independent film – how many versions of Garden State have you seen under different names? People are choosing ideas that are likely to make them money. And who can blame them? If they make a box office bomb, their career is on the line. In the recession, there is less money for new intellectual properties. There is so much more of a risk involved, and these people need to eat.

So you want to know how to stop this rot? How to stop studios making the same film over and over again? Go and see films that look interesting, that look innovative, or that look just plain damn awesome. Scott Pilgrim was a bomb at the box office because people didn’t go to see it. It was also rather darn good. It was also also an adaptation.

It doesn’t matter if a film is a remake, an adaptation, a reboot of a series, a prequel, a sequel, or a spin-off. If it looks good, if it looks like it does something that interests you, or that it does something new, go and see it. That way, directors will be more likely to make risks. To make films that matter. To make remakes that surpass the original versions based on the sheer quality of the final product.