Posts Tagged ‘ Film ’

The problem with comic book films.

My favorite comic book has always been 2000AD. I like American comics but overall I have always preferred this British Sci-Fi anthology. In a word 2000AD is anarchic. Anarchy permeates its world view. It has been a home to some classic stories: Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog, Slaine, Halo Jones, Zenith etc etc. It’s most famous character is Judge Dredd and he epitomizes the outlook of the weekly. Dredd isn’t a superhero, in fact he is the complete opposite but I’ll get into that anon. In this day and age we live in the Marvel cinematic universe: they produce sleek and slick films by the bucketload. I enjoy them for what they are and what they are are high-concept films.  These are films that have one broad concept that can be easily distilled into a sentence thus eschewing nuanced character development and the layered, the ambiguous and the  difficult. The high concept film works. Dredd should work within this framework for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. With that in mind the money should flow and the films find a ready made audience for comics equal big bucks but it hasn’t worked out that way. Here is my take on why. 

Judge Dredd first came to the screen in the 1995 eponymous film starring Sylvester Stallone as the titular character. It was a mess but remember this was the 1990s and comic book films weren’t ubiquitous and streamlined like the Marvel megaliths today. As discussed Dredd should be an easy sell for he is a lawman in a post apocalyptic America that has the power of judge, jury and executioner. However, his problem is a stark one namely Dredd is a fascist not a hero. He is a clone that comes from a long dead Chief Judge called Fargo. America has been destroyed in a nuclear war and those that remain live in mega cities that are controlled by the judges.  In Dredd’s world America is no longer a democracy in and since Hollywood produces films with an American-centric view that’s a massive problem. Particularly when trying to sell a film to an American audience.  Basically, then the villain in Megacity One is the public. The judges have big bad’s such as the Sov Bloc and the inter-dimensional Judge Death but by and large the public is the enemy. The film is aware that selling an anti-democratic fascist American anti-hero that loves busting heads is a problem. Their solution: go to a story that sees Dredd start as a fascist but ends up as a democrat. It failed because it wasn’t true to the character and it was a flop. 

Most of us fans thought that was the end of that but in 2012 ‘Dredd’ was released. This was a darker film and more in keeping with the comic. The premise was simple: a day in the life. It looked like a high-concept film but again Dredd isn’t a hero so violence abounded and it flopped. It is a pity as the world of Dredd has so many possibilities but hey why produce that when we can have three different Spider-Men in as many years? I don’t know where comic book movies are going anymore. I don’t know why I’m paying to go and see them. I do know that Marvel are a monopoly and their fanbase picks apart any other franchise that doesn’t adhere to it formula (hey it’s all connected! We have the bit at the end that shows this explicitly! Aren’t we clever!) Dissent is not allowed. Star Wars is following the same trend. It is a franchise I love but a large part of the  fanbase cannot tolerate a story that doesn’t chime with its world view. Sci-Fi is in a bad state. The high-concept rules and the adherents are not happy with feminist voices, left-leaning voices or indeed anything that supposedly deviates from canon. Dark days indeed. 


It’s a swindle…

imageFor a band that changed so much in our music and culture the Sex Pistols have, by and large, been ill-served on the movie front. Shortly after the band split The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle (directed by Julien Temple) was released. In many ways it is a fun film and offers some great footage of the band. There are classic scenes of the chaotic US tour including such highlights as Sid whacking a guy over the head with a bass and, of course, Lydon’s parting shot on the San Francisco stage where he looks out and says: ‘Ha ha ha, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ Steve Jones plays a Philip Marlowe like character, albeit a foul-mouthed version as he fucks and blinds his away around England and Brazil. There are oddities aplenty, Ronnie Biggs (a train robber, then on the run and living in Brazil) is shoe-horned in for no apparent reason and an most bizarrely mentions of ‘who killed Bambi?’ which is never explained (it comes from an earlier script). However, it is wrapped in a narrative which creates the impression that Malcolm McLaren (their manager) was some great puppet master that pulled the strings behind the scenes. The band are reduced to a play-thing for the machinations of their malevolent manager. It becomes little more than an ego-stroking exercise. What is rather ironic is that in the fictitious telling of the story whereby McLaren wants to make the band out to be anti rock n’ roll his story makes them the most boring rock n’roll cliche. He destroys the bands power; he reduces them to a cheap carry-on farce and robs them of any real potency. All that is left is the cartoon version of the band, the one that can’t play, the one that pukes all over the place and the one that was essentially a boy band created to sell clothes for Malcom’s infamous shop, Sex.

Sid and Nancy was directed by Alex Cox and was released in 1986. Gary Oldman stars as the doomed Sid Vicious but just like the aforementioned Swindle the characters are reduced to caricatures. Oldman does a great job with the material as does Chloe Webb in her role as Nancy Spungeon alas, the rest is shocking. Lydon is portrayed as a bean-eating joke,one that is is jealous of Nancy. Steve Jones and Paul Cook are just in the background but criminally when Cook is shown he is an idiot that for some reason the band don’t like. Verisimilitude is absent from the gig scenes, punks with day-glo Mohawks are pogoing about despite the fact Mohawks weren’t to arrive on the scene until the 1980s, Poly Styrene, half Somalian lead singer of X-Ray Spex is transformed into a white woman and it all just seems off. Again, the potency of the band is neutered.

In the end maybe a fictitious telling of the Pistols story is impossible. If you are interested in their story read Lydon’s No Irish, No Blacks,No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, Glen Matlock’s I was a teenage Sex Pistol and Steve Jones’ Lonely Boy. Three films I would recommend are Don Letts The Punk Rock Movie, DOA by Lech Kowalski and The Filth and Fury by Julien Temple. Get off your arse.

Gravity, De Beauvoir and other moments.



I finally got around to viewing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity and I have to say I was suitably impressed. I know the scientific community were giving out about the mistakes but ultimately I felt the film was less about scientific accuracy and more about the isolation, loneliness and the interiority of grief. Sandra Bullock plays Ryan who, apart from being on a spacewalk which goes disastrously wrong, is dealing with her own personal tragedy. Out in space, self-contained in her spacesuit she comes to embody the manner in which grief both isolates and can, for a time, come to define us and the ways we cling to it to survive. It is a simple conceit but an effective one. However, it also reminds us that death is the ultimate existentialist idea, for it is in facing death, and therefore thinking about life, we ultimately give meaning to that life. Being in the realm of existentialism got me thinking that at the core of the film is femininity,or more properly the idea of femininity, just like that other great Sci-Fi epic Alien. Space becomes the locus were, to use the De Beauvoirian idea, immanence and transcendence can occur. Females throughout history have only existed in the interior space according to De Beauvoir and could not transcend beyond. In the beginning Ryan is trapped in her interiority, literally by her space suit and figuratively by her grief and her sense of motherhood. The image of the womb is implicitly made when Ryan enters the International Space Station but she transcends the womb (representing essentialist ideas of the female) to drive outwards from herself and in doing so begins to leave behind her grief and her fear. Finding the will to live she transcends the moment, writes her own script (and in doing so illustrates the triumph of existentialism over essentialism) and cuts the umbilical cord. In cutting that umbilical cord she shows that we can move beyond ideas of what we should be and also that the grief we carry when we experience loss does not need to define us or our future. Ryan also faces her own existentialist crisis, she momentarily loses hope and nearly surrenders to the vast nothingness. Yet it is her love that wins over despair. Kierkegaard states :’Love hopes all things – yet is never put to shame. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of the good is to hope. To relate oneself expectantly to the possibility of evil is to fear. By the decision to choose hope one decides infinitely more than it seems, because it is an eternal decision.’ Ryan, in choosing hope makes that decision and finds the hope in living. De Beauvoir once said ‘It is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.’ In a way, Ryan illustrates that she can do both: she can give live, both to a child and herself, and she can kill the past which holds her back. At the end of the film she is reborn and free to create herself anew. In my mind Sci-Fi should deal with complex themes and make us view the normal at a different angle at that level Gravity worked for me. Go watch it!

Fiery the angels fell (and other moments)

I want to talk about a beautiful film that lives long in the memory. Don’t you love when a movie does that? I can never forget the soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner, you know the one…the one about the rain and life. Odd thing about Blade Runner is that it’s sometimes ignored by sections of the viewing public because it is Sci-Fi. Genre plays an important role in how we decide what to watch. Up to a point cartoon films were firmly in the genre marked: Children’s movies but somewhere around the late nineties Pixar began producing animation that had nods and winks to the parents in the audience and all of a sudden animated films became socially acceptable. Of course, Pixar are not short of money so their films are very slick and digital: high-end stuff that teaches simple enough morals about the values and mores of the western world. The film I want to talk about is the opposite in every way firstly it isn’t digital secondly it is black and white and thirdly it is set in the Islamic world. Persepolis is a 2007 film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel of the same name. Persepolis means city of Persians and the story is a Bildungsroman of a young girl called Marji as she comes to terms with the effects of the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Again, we are in a different world from Pixar et al as this films deals with politics, religion, revolution and the way in which the individual deals with all three. It is also a film about love: familial and romantic love and the ways in which Marji has to deal with the beauty and pain that exists in both.



Like all good history it allows us to make sense of seismic events through the eyes of the individual. It constantly reminds us that behind ideology there are human stories and behind every revolutionary dream there are groups willing to seize power and clamp down on dissent. We see the downfall of the Shah and the rise of fundamentalism in Iran as one torturous regime leads to yet another oppressive regime. It is the classic story of revolution: we have the revolutionary moment leading to rupture and then the return of the status quo. Marji is a rebellious girl and her ideas of the world clash with that of the new theocratic leadership for one she likes to listen to punk and heavy metal. This is itself is an act of revolt as it is perceived as western and decadent by the powers that be. We see the way in which girls and women lose their freedom in the new Iran we see Marji packed off to Europe (where she meets discrimination due to her nationality) and we see her spiral into depression due to everything she has experienced and witnessed. Revolutions, more often than not go wrong and it is the masses, the ones that had suffered previously, that suffer all over again. I don’t want to spoil the ending but it lives long in the memory and serves as a fitting coda to what has gone before. Yes, Persepolis may not be highly polished in the way that animation has become under the digital age, you may not be able to see every hair individually move or there may not be countless references to other franchises but for all that it is a movie that deals with, rather than nods at, adult themes whilst all the time wearing its heart on its sleeve, which is no bad thing. Go see it.