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South Park did it!
30 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
In 2009 'South Park', the animated tv show (and best current affairs programme on any US TV channel) showcases a three-part arc called 'Imaginationland'. Satirising the American paranoia of terrorist threats and access to too much violent pop culture, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone conjured a fantasy land, accessible via the Stargate portal, containing every pop cultural hero and villain from Zeus to the Terminator and beyond. 'Imaginationland' has since become a genre where books, games, films and TV shows use a panoply of pop culture franchises to populate its roster of settings and characters. The first of its kind was arguably Zach Snyder's 2009 'Sucker Punch' wherein the abused denizens of a strip club escaped into a fantasy land of anime warriors and robots, zombie invasions and superhero worlds in order to thwart an aggressor. 'The Cabin in the Woods' pitted college kids in a log cabin against a veritable vending machine of successive horror archetypes. 'The Lego Movie' arguably copied the 'Imaginationland' plot more, utilising the many franchises licensed to Lego to people it's Universe. The novel 'Ready Player One' was published in 2011 and continues in the 'Imaginationland' trope. This time a poor but good kid (in his mid twenties!) enters the Oasis a virtual reality world to escape his slum life and combat and compete with avatars of every pop cultural character from Beetlejuce to the Iron Giant. He falls for Artemis, a female rebel highly reminiscent of the Lego Movie's "Wildstyle". His band of suitably diverse (think the Lost Boys of Spielberg's 'Hook') friends are racing for the golden ticket style keys to Mark Rylance's autistic Wonka "Halliday"'s kingdom. Control of the Oasis itself. Add Ben Mendelssohn's effective but off the peg corporate bad guy Nolan and the film is set for showdown twixt good and evil. Spielberg has his name on the marquee but as the effects are labelled on, by myriad effects houses, the impact is lessened. It's thrilling initially to see Tron like soldiers chase the Delorean into the arms of King Kong. However the wonder lessens to the same surprise one might have for a pinball feature from a pinball's eye view. The hero, Wade, may drive the Delorean but at least audiences cared about Marty Mcfly.
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Strike a Pose (2016)
An Important Film Exposing Pop's Callous Commercialism.
1 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Madonna, like all good pop culture icons, was all things to all people. By the early nineties she, or her managers, saw that this could be consolidated by her seeming to embrace and become an avant garden patron saint of the LGBTQ+ community of the time. Madonna was seen on TV wheeling out Sandra Bernhardt as her girlfriend - she was in fact seeing Warren Beatty. She made a mainstream hit of 'Vogue', just a dance craze song in the old tradition but culled from underground gay and drag culture.

Vogue and the Blonde Ambition tour it was part of, required young male dancers from the dance subculture it exploited. Madonna handpicked dancers and soon became the mother hen of an elite inner circle of the mainly gay men.

'Strike A Pose' catches up with the surviving members of Madonna's male dance troupe and discovers some whose lives were changed by it, some for the better, some now worse off.

Archive footage shores up the stridently powerful woman we recall of Vogue era Madonna as a naive and superficial "issues" hound who used - or was advised to - the LGBTQ+ community to expand her market to the "pink dollar". However Madonna actually, personally cared.

Through interview, segments of expressive dance and more than honest reminiscences.

A startling and heartfelt deconstruction of those on the fringes of fame and a true interrogation of the sincerity of commercial pop art.
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The Mummy (2017)
I Don't want "good looking monsters"
21 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
We can blame the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee did crib most of his heroes by inverting classic Gothic and Universal Monsters (Frankenstein plus Dr Jekyll is Hulk, Doctor Strange is Dracula, Iron Man is every Mad Scientist in a robot suit and Spider-Man/Ant-Man every bug-man sci-fi horror as a hero)

So, Universal Studios imagined, with not an ounce of respect for the paunchy, weirdly accented and only-a-mother-could-love faces that made their Universal Monsters a hit in and out of make-up, that their monsters could be heroes too. This film is meant to be the first in this "Dark Universe".

'The Mummy' tries to have its cake and eat it. Never mind the fact that the charisma vacuum of Tom Cruise is the star, his every cgi-tornado-framed grimace making us yearn for Harrison Ford; slickness was never the word associated with Universal monsters. Action fans are going to be bored or confused, the poor petals. Horror fans will laugh at the latest first-year art student photo-shop collage brought to life and called a "monster".

At least Sommers had tongue in cheek and an eye for the outrageous. At least his Mummy and Van Helsing films entertained. Not much can save this film from being yet another Tom Cruise vanity project. To add insult to injury, he already played a vampire in a monster movie that had heart, soul and blood. This lifeless thing will remain that way.

Come back Jack Pierce, all is forgiven.
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Twin Peaks (2017)
14 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
At the end of the developments of the Twin Peaks procedural there was a breach of Agent Cooper's all American, literally cherry pie fueled world view. A cathartic revelation. This was the point where a surreal parody of soap opera transcended the form and became an allegory of the fight for the soul in the face of change.

This confusion, this realization that places in the universe hold sway over our soul or psyche and that our own cosy view of ourselves or the world can change, has been brilliantly expressed - as a journey of the now both childlike and diabolical Cooper doppelgangers and of the viewer's discomfiture. Won't sit well with some but this is a better sequel than Twin Peaks could have hoped for. Let it wash over you.
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Better Call Saul (2015– )
A Parable of America
10 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
One of the second season episodes opens with a shot of lead character Jimmy McGill against a stars and stripes mural and this could be taken as the mission statement for a program where the picaresque hero's crimes and misdemeanours we accept - didn't all America's pioneers break the rules?

If 'Breaking Bad' was 'Macbeth' mixed with 'Richard III', 'Bill Nye' and 'Scarface', 'Better Call Saul' is a modern Mark Twain tale; a sexier and gorier Frank Capra movie. Only, imagine if the Jimmy Stewart lead character was a skilled confidence trickster and the villains were upstanding "square" and hard working people.

Jimmy McGill is a street hustler turned lawyer chained to his anxiety disorder ridden brother, the professionally minded girlfriend he can lead astray and forays into evidence fabrication and underworld dealings. Shot through with a certain decency, McGill, who the audience mostly know will become Saul Goodman of 'Breaking Bad' is on an ultimately selfish quest where he sees monstrous self righteous windmills - particularly his older brother's - in the mainstream world of law and sees fit to taint or destroy along the way.

Gus Fring represents, in season three, the figure with whom he will ultimately make a Faustian pact and we also follow the travails of Mike Ehrmentraut, 'Breaking Bad' and Gus's fixer. All roads lead to the catastrophic destiny 'Breaking Bad' holds and part of the suspense comes in learning to know and watch grow new characters, who never made it to the 'Breaking Bad' realm, and anticipating what may become of them.
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Trainspotting Most Wanted: Age of Ultron
28 January 2017
The Thug/Junkie Avengers in a Time Capsule of Fast Food Pathos.

Danny Boyle's 'Trainspotting 2' goes all in on a nostalgia ticket and bets everything on that being the reason for audiences wanting to come and see this "universe" again. And "universe" in the modern Hollywood context is correct as the film has more in common with ensemble superhero movies and the recent 'The Muppets' film than the agitprop storytelling tradition the original was birthed from. As Disney studios own those two cinematic "properties", Trainspotting 2 is a "Disney-fication"

Mark Renton returns to the Edinburgh of Trainspotting - not necessarily current Edinburgh - to make his peace with those he robbed and, well, seemingly reacquaint himself with a life of threat and squalor his new middle class life in Holland denies him.

Sick Boy is his first port of call and then a visit to a Gollum-esque Spud (Bremner) Essentially, with a prologue scene profiling Begbie's escape from jail, the "team is getting back together". Like Avengers or the Muppet film where fan sensibilities pushed Thirnandbthe Hulk or the felt-fabricated puppets together, the invisible "audience desire" to see this troupe of thugs and junkies together apparently motivates Renton.

The unsteady performances of Miller as Sick Boy and Mcgregor's phoned-in-from- Hollywood Renton, only emphasise that Carlyle and Bremner seem to take their characters to a place of real investment. Even if caricature prevents Spud from being truly sympathetic and Begbie truly scary.

The group have to journey to a Glasgow orange lodge for a truly funny scene ending with them nipping back along the M8. There are a collection of entertaining, set-piece moments and sketch-like ideas like this, linked by a slight "well, what we gonna do next?" plot that surrealist-satirist modern Scottish comic Limmy would leave on the floor at idea stage.

The film's flow is that, though, of a standup comic. And what they could not film comes out in a forced "choose life" speech given by Renton in a wine bar. Appropriately for Mcgregor but incongruously for Renton, this is done the way Obi Wan described the Force to Luke. "Choose Life" has been invested with such lunch box branding import.

Indeed, as Bill Hicks used to ruminate at the end of his shows "what's the point here, let's find a point!" The film decides it is Spud's journey that we have been following and he is given his own "soon-to-be-on-a-t-shirt" revelation that in life "there is opportunity then there is a betrayal"

Cartoonishly murdered from the original Welsh literary sequel "Porno", 'Trainspotting 2' only truly had that as its source and this rushed, fan-serving production although entertaining the way a greatest hits album is, said nothing to me about my (Scottish) life. 'Trainspotting' gleefully sugar coated thug life and despair with the darkest of comedy. 'Trainspotting 2' is a likable but indulgent mess that responds to what the original film became rather than what it was about.
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Deadpool (2016)
Time to make the chimichungas!
12 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Superhero movies always navigate a very narrow furrow that can easily slip into self- parody or unintentional laughs.

What is impressive about 'Deadpool' is that it tests the edges of both mainstream superhero movie franchises and the validity of comic book sacred cows.

Marvel was ever the more fun comic house than DC and as a comic book Deadpool was a melange of underground comic humour and coolly wrought ultraviolence from British comic books.

All of this is present and correct in a film that absolutely knows it is a reboot - and tells you - breaks the fourth wall into jokes about the fact it knows it is a movie and contains genuinely funny and poignant moments.

That the film plays ultra fast and ultra loose with the medium yet makes you care about and want to see further adventures of this Deadpool on the big screen is testament to what Hollywood long thought a risk.

For year the most profitable comic-book adaptation was 'The Mask'. More films should have been made like it and here us why.

Go see it with a big crowd and enjoy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll want chimichungas.
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Frank Drebin, Young Training Day and Hermione fight Spoiled brat cosplayers
17 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A broadly Glaswegian accented space pirate berated Han Solo and the Glasgow audience I watched 'Star Wars: Episode 7: The Force Awakens' with took it to their hearts. It is a people pleaser. JJ Abrams comes at the Star Wars universe with both a fan and auteur's eye. Fan's, in the sense that he has focused in upon a story that revolves around the "lunchbox" characters of Star Wars. Auteurs in that he retains an individual look - this is a Star Wars universe stretching right back to the abandoned concept art of the original movies and using them to set the tone for worlds, environments and creatures.

It was logical for the sprawling Timothy Zahn original trilogy sequels to be abandoned as they would have used up three movies per book. But what real fan of the films, however philistine the view may be, was truly enamoured of Star Wars as a Frank Herbertesque, sprawling political space opera? Instead is the theme of lost promise and lost past - of a bleak future for the celebrating-too-soon victors of Return of the Jedi but weirdly that salvation may come in a return to the days of the much maligned prequels. In fact how fans view the films, reaction that reputedly left George Lucas despondent after the prequels and was the monkey on Abrams' back at every turn, becomes the subtext of 'The Force Awakens'.

This is a film that juggles commentary on fanaticism with blockbuster obligations, very much having its popcorn and eating it too. That Lucas did not have much to do with the story is debatable seeing as rabid, young, spoiled "fans" of the galactic empire - the First Order - are the new movies' bad guys. However with that paean to Lucas made, Abrams also rubs George's nose in how much faster, more intensely, bigger, funnier and more entertaining he can drive the franchise without need for a Jar Jar or Trade Federation starship.

Oscar Isaac channels 1970s Pacino chutzpah into Poe Dameron - a Han understudy. John Boyega acts like a young Denzel Washington playing Superman III Richard Pryor while Daisy Ridley as independent Rey and Adam Driver as the pretentious and petulant Kylo Ren, are Star Wars through and through.

Again, like the prequels, there are wild disparities when CGi and manual effects wash the screen - not least when aliens that are clearly masks or puppets vie with undulating, breathing cgi ones. In fact one CGI big bad - Snoke - hints more at a future Wizard of Oz style revelation (look to cinema history not other Sci fi to help . In any case this is a drink of water in a long drought for fans of the original movies and a huge signal that Disney mean business.
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Good but not the dabble in the Marvel Palette It Could Have been.
27 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I think that the film was fine but basically a retread of the original 2011 movie. However The Winter Soldier, with a fairly complex and even thought provoking plot and Guardians of the Galaxy which was a Sci-Fi effects movie with indy heart and soul promised something from Age of Ultron that wasn't delivered.

I think Whedon and the producers should have retained Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as inventor of Ultron, commissioned by a US government ashamed of what SHIELD had become. There could still be conflict with Stark with Ultron invading his armoury. Add a more unstoppable Ultron element (in the time he was away he could have brought world finance to a halt) then you would have had an epic scale sense of peril that wouldn't just be limited to one small Eastern European City (even if it was going to be used as a nuclear warhead) Overall I enjoyed the film but last year's Marvel films wrote a plot and tone cheque 'A:AOU' failed to fully cash.

Introducing Pym (Michael Douglas) and having him be Ultron's creator wouldn't have been difficult. I feel this would have made so much more sense and added that extra layer that it needed - then Pym's history and initial protection of his creation could have provided a character arc that would have led more neatly into 'Ant-Man'.

Marvel/Disney own Pym and Ultron - there was no need to erase Pym from Ultron's history. OK, may be OCD-geek of me, but I truly think that just on film terms that would have enhanced the drama.

I enjoyed the film but despite Ultron's excellent CGI capture of Spader's performance, Tom Hardy - for example - with a plastic mask and shaved head managed to hold so much more dramatic power as a super villain because the timing and plot showed so much more tacit threat.
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Winslet Wobbles But She Don't Fall Down!
22 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It was Alan Rickman's birthday. February, twenty-first, two-thousand-fifteen. The art-house GFT cinema in Glasgow had devoted the entirety of cinema 1 to premiere his second directorial feature 'A Little Chaos'. Rickman fans clutching beloved memories of Snape, The Sheriff of Nottingham and Hans Gruber, among devotees of his "art" films thronged the auditorium. Rickman came out to ask that the audience put all thoughts of historical inaccuracy from our minds and enjoy his film.

What followed was a slight tale, painterly but meaner with colours and longueurs than Peter Greenaway. In fact, with the plot of Kate Winslet's architect Sabine being hired to design an elaborate feature of Louis XIV's Versaille with all concomitant trials and tribulations, this could have been a Tarantino-esque chimera tribute to Greenaway.

However this was something else. With a hero increasingly willing to sacrifice herself in more dangerous situations in order to secure a building, this was Die Hard in pompadours and corsets. With a lowly individual championing the cause of revolutionary ideas in the face of manipulative local powers and one particularly scheming higher-up, this was Robin Hood with a set square. With ghostly memories of a bygone tragedy arresting the hero's progress this was 'Truly, Madly Deeply' in powdered wigs. This was more of a Rickman greatest hits package than he may have presumed.

However, Rickman dismissed questions, in the follow-up q&a in Glasgow (when he could understand questions delivered in none too heavy a "too Scottish" accent), about the blockbusters his fans cherish his villainy in. "These were all about twenty five years ago" he gently chided a 'Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves' fan. Maybe, in those name-making roles he - a trained artist before he stepped foot on stage - felt that he was broadly scribbling while in his "deeper" films he may feel he was - and is - applying oil to canvas - but what in cinema is more captivating than a scribble and what could be duller than watching paint dry?

'A Little Chaos' is by no means dull but it is as guilty of the Hollywood conventions Rickman would deny as his burdensome blockbusters. Beginning with the independent and single woman Sabine de Barat in her self sufficient farmstead it charts her battle in a world "where men stand still and give the orders and women bow and curtsy" but the feminist message is slightly lost in what becomes a (financially steered?) Disney princess plot with an over-reliance on handsome noblemen and wall-to-wall wobbling cleavage. Verite gives way to caricature by turns but Stanley Tucci sketches a humorous and diverting character in his Duc D'Orleans and Rickman himself performs Louis XIV in Zen- like cruise-control, a hidden danger lurking under quixotic whimsy.

From its title to its "peak-plummet-peak" Hollywood skeleton, Winslet facial grimaces and period drama pillar-hiding and fan-fluttering, 'A Little Chaos' could be a clichéd Ricky Gervais spoof of the kind of film that receives Oscar nods. In this light it is difficult to mark the film as truly escapist of the Rickman-dismissed blockbuster movies in which he made a pretty penny.

Surely though, in the age of 'Birdman', actors of Rickman's standing can't dismiss the comic-book caricatures they are beloved for. Rickman, in a subtle dig at the chiselled supermen his villains contended with, told Glasgow that he liked working with the actors of the ilk of 'A Little Chaos' cast because they, like him, had performed and directed stage plays, had "been in the gym". Such high handedness serves only to gift Rickman a complacency that blinds him to the effete superficiality of "art films" whose pauses, symbolism and moments of plot highs and lows strike the same beats as the cop partner being killed, the bomb being detonated and the villain being dropped from the roof in an action blockbuster.
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Starred Up (2013)
Sound and Fury.
15 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
'Scum' will always be the benchmark by which "gritty British youth in prison movies" are judged and while 'Starred Up' shares a few similarities, it has its cake and eats it just like 'Scum' did.

While Alan Clarke crammed a succession of titillating stories about Borstal into 'Scum' while framing it with the tedium of prison, 'Starred Up', like it's protagonist, can only sit within the confines of mundane prison realities before it plunges headlong into melodrama. The first half of the film brilliantly displays the gritty truth of the agitated mind of someone like "Love" and then builds a steady pace into excellent character studies. The positive- reinforcement-powered tutor, who sees himself in a fantasy role of Robin Williams style saviour grows more demented while the old school prison hierarchy were portrayed dully cruel enough without becoming Dick Dastardly clones at the finale.

There are uneasy truths that stop the film becoming a Vertigo Films macho testostothon - the pragmatic lure of prison homosexuality is well handled - but the sudden burst for action movie histrionics at the end rob the film of any socio-political power it may have had rather than just "don't go to prison, you'll turn gay or be hanged by the governor". For the most part though, a good showcase of acting talent.
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A Love Letter from Children of the 70s and 80s to Sci-Fantasy
3 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Like lead character Quill/Starlord's many Kirk-esque alien-female conquests, 'GotG' charms our pants off but doesn't just coast along on a lot of that charm and humour. That's not to say that the charisma and quirkiness of the movie are not sincere and artful but that the humanity of one character (Pratt's Quill) is more deeply explored than previous Earth- to-fantasy heroes, including Harry Potter. He is Alice in Wonderland with a cool leather jacket and guns while the myriad creatures and characters around him are enticingly eccentric, have their moments of humour and pathos and become wondrous in director Janes Gunn's hands.

Gunn is a great conductor of an audience - which is a modern rarity in blockbuster effects films - if you look at Michael Bay movies shows what happens when the heart dissolves from a project.

Rather than just tip the toys out onto the playmat, Gunn gives them voice and emotional resonance. However, more than any other director in the cycle of "Geek revolution" comic book movies and TV shows, Gunn has tapped into why many "geeks" retreated into or embraced sci-fi and cult pop culture in the first place. Here is the group of toys or comics that listened when you were bullied. Here are the records mom or dad played in the den while you immersed in kenner playsets or Marvel one-shots. Here are the matte vistas of 'Heavy Metal' magazine with the frenetic edits and dynamics of cartoons like 'He-Man', 'Thundercats' or 'Galaxy Trio' yet couched in human roots (or Groot's) so deftly, it reawakens why you loved such "kid's stuff" in the first place. A love letter from kids of the 70s and 80s.
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Green Lantern (2011)
The Green Duck
3 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
It's a 'Howard the Duck' remake - with some tweaks. No, hear me out!

In 'Howard the Duck' and 'Green Lantern'

  • an alien crash lands to Earth disrupting his / a human's playboy lifestyle. - An invading alien evil follows him and possesses a nerdy scientist, warping his body. - other alien beings are referenced/ seen - a female love interest plays very hard to get and is endangered by the possessed scientist. - Tim Robbins appears. - at the end various cosmic forces align to thwart the evil but only the hero can save the day.

I loved the music and eighties cheese of 'HTD' and the CGI GL Corps in 'GL' (oh and Mark Strong was a perfect Sinestro) However, not only do both films share similar plots but they have a similar vibe too.

Mind you, the first 'Thor' movie was virtually just a remake of the Dolph Lundgren 'He-Man' movie but I'll save that for their IMDb page.
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Non-Stop (2014)
Funnier than 'Airplane!' If you watch it fro. A certain viewpoint.
7 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Being Scots-Irish myself, I've been on family vacation flights where a burly Irishmen was, as Neeson's Bill Marks character, drunk as a lord and threatening to tie up fellow passengers with duct tape.

Fortunately he never had Air Marshall powers to carry out his threats. However, given the number of SkyMall perusing, bored-looking Air Marshalls I've seen travelling on internal and international flights, I hope they don't see this film and try to reenact it to alleviate their mundanity.

Neeson is in 'Taken' and 'Unknown' territory again, here and he simultaneously always knows this is multiplex fodder while also avoiding completely phoning his performance in. There's no Bruce-Willis-on-NyQuil stuff here. Neeson attends to economy class stuff just as passionately as he graces business class fare such as the Dark Knight trilogy and historical dramas.

With Julianne Moore as a red haired herring and Neeson out-McClaning the Die Hard franchise, it's a fine blockbuster thriller in the old school tradition!
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The Consequences of Modern Online Life, Writ "Gilliam".
16 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Cohn Leth (Christophe Waltz) is a specialist IT worker in a future time somewhere between our own and the true dystopia of director Terry Gilliam's earlier 'Brazil'.

Possibly a hypochondriac, Leth seeks permanent time off from his work in order to be present full time at home for a mysterious phone call he is expecting.

Denied time off, Leth seeks direct meeting with his employer 'Mancom's "Big Brother"esque boss - a neat cameo by Matt Damon. As a result Leth is allowed to work from home, assigned the task of deciphering the titular "zero theorem", a task that has driven previous undertakers to despair. Once home, Leth is subject to the distractions and temptations of life more than in the outside world he seems to shun, as a futuristic "webcam babe" and the arrival of Bob, the son of Leth's boss, become modern "Men from Porlock". Just as Poet Cokeridge was interrupted in his completion of his ode to Kublai Khan by a doorstepping salesman from Porlock so Leth is procrastinate from his goal leading to a literally nihilistic finale.

Gilliam's style, on an apparent budget here, is present as are his formative cultural experiences - Waltz's Leth seems to be a cross between Gilliam's protagonists from 'Twelve Monkeys', 'Brazil' and 'The Fisher King' so David Thewlis plays his grin-and-bear-it boss Jobey as a distillation of all the Python alumni's sleaze bags and game show host characters. As a stylistic link to 'Brazil' and 'Twelve Monkeys' there are in-jokes and clues which anticipate those films in a prequel idiom far more subtly than 'Prometheus' did 'Alien'.

A satire on modern IT work and play - computers in the Zero Theorem's world are the result of a drunken one-night stand between a play-station and an iPad - Leth's antisocial oyster-life is a caricature of and meditation on online hopers and dreamers. Bloggers, online creatives and artisans, seeking escape from their day jobs - waiting as Leth is for "the phone call", for the big break to come knocking - may be sorely disappointed. From a computer desk, in one's head at least, an individual can work, play, pick fights, fall in love, have sex and virtually die.

Gilliam's meditation has a stark conclusion - the internet can absolutely indulge the self, just as religion offered, creating a despot as whimsical and cruel as the reality the individual seeks escape from. Nothingness awaits if you cannot start to live in the real world.

A quiet, smaller scale film for Gilliam but with some of the largest and most pertinent ideas he has yet expressed.
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The Twilight of the Eccentric by a Master Documentarian of Eccentrics
13 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
'Blueblack Hussar' follows Ant during his obsessively driven comeback of the early 2010s. Strutting the streets of London in his Lord Nelson tricorn hat, like the time-travelling veteran of some early nineteenth century war, Ant has battled mental illness, sectioning and public acrimony. Many who casually followed Ant on UK television may have recalled a greying, t-shirt-and-suit sporting fellow who seemed more "Manager of Deutschebank" than "Wild King of Deutschegirls". Ant's attempts to appear as a wine-bar crooner, inoffensively and uninterestingly attired, drove his fans away like vampires from garlic.

Maybe it was 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and a previous decade that had seen history become cool in the movies. 'Plunkett and Maclean' and 'Dear Wendy' made anachronistic swashbuckling fashionable and it surely must have been a transfusion of Johnny Depp's "rock star pirate" Jack Sparrow that reminded Ant why he had been loved. Kids loved his adventurous persona, teenagers kindled excitement and all meanings of romance from his "gone native" Prince Charming.

Bringing with him a carnival retinue of burlesque dancers, Gen-X musicians, retaining two drummers and, with the help of kohl and dye, a still handsome older version of his 80s pinup self, Ant struck up a comeback tour that would not have been out of place in the campaign of a regency general. Ant is followed from London to Paris and back as he marshalls his circus, primal screams in the faces of a 100 Club audience, meets idol Charlotte Rampling - an ex partner of director Jack Bond - to have her guest on a cover album. 'Spinal Tap'-esque interviews with interloping "hip" radio stations and media show Ant as the old hand he really is, toying with, intimidating but ultimately aiding his fixy-bike riding interrogators. Jack Bond, his face a graceful, gaunt mask of handsomeness, peeps in and out of his film like both a curious child and avuncular companion to the walking Terry Gilliam movie Adam Ant has become. Bond famously directed documentary of Salvador Dali and Olivier and Ant fits this canon. Unlike Bowie or Madonna - or more especially, Michael Jackson, who stole Ant's look for one tour - Ant has embraced his eccentricity. He may possibly be open to accusation of hypocrisy by being one of those who commercialised punk and now looks to mine punk nostalgia and independent digital media to relaunch. Ultimately, though, Ant remains a fascinating figure, still searching for a muse, still hungry for an audience and - as a camera-skimmed wall collage hints - is eternally, one-sidedly warring with the last figure he believed robbed him, Johnny Depp.
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Count Arthur Strong (2013–2017)
Did Slapstick Truly Need a Right-On Facelift?
7 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
On British radio, 'Count Arthur Strong' has over six series under its belt, some scripts stronger than others, but overall a mundane world (in the radio sow, the North of England) viewed from the perspective of the malapropic, Munchausenian "Count Arthur". Arthur is the antagonistic protagonist, consistently getting himself and others out of his/their depth due to spiralling lies, misunderstandings - or mammoth drinking sessions. On radio, he is a quixotic Falstaff, childish and hilariously self-preserving. His dubious relationships with eternal protégé "Malcolm" plus his tentative grasp of reality and Equity membership, add to the tone of a sitcom Morrissey might have penned. The humour is unabatedly "Northern" but self-effacing with it - for example, Strong constantly name drops cult Northern comedy turn, Jimmy Clitheroe, to scant recognition.

For television it may have been seen as a cheap or cheating move to simply transport the radio scripts to screen. To reshape it or TV, Graham Linehan, one of 'Father Ted''s progenitors, became writing partner for Steve Delaney (the Count himself) and the outcome was positively anticipated.

What results is an odd Frankenstein creation of the Count Arthur Strong stage show - which Delaney performed solo for years - and what appears to be a 'Colin's Sandwich'- style script Linehan had pre-written, ancillary to the Strong project.

The location changes from a drab, 'Butchers Films' style North to, utterly incongruously for Strong's potential gravitation, a trendy Brick Lane/ Camden Lock style area of London. Gone is the camp manchild Malcolm and instead Rory Kinnear's 'Michael Baker' is Arthur's principal comic foil, a writer who has paired up with his light-entertainment icon father's former partner, Strong, in order to record his memoir. Here begins one of the many problems with the TV 'Count Arthur Strong'. Strong's name may be above the shopfront, but Linehan devotes so much time to Kinnear/Baker's reactions, right-on problems (Baker, constantly meeting with Strong in an ethnically diverse cafe, endeavours to show he's neither racist or, in his pursuit of a diamond-in-the-rough waitress, sexist) and first-world woes that he may as well be the eponymous character.

The only 'Father Ted'-level belly-laughs come, ironically, when Linehan's scenarios give way to sections of Delaney/Arthur's radio scripts or original stage (a disastrous radio- drama recording; a marathon, one-man, musical showcase). These are rendered all but narratively impotent when offset by ( presumably Linehan-scripted) exchanges where the cafe waitress chides Baker for exploiting Arthur. The implication is that Arthur's caricatured exploits are those of an uncoping, possibly senile geriatric. Therefore, the Linehan tack, offsetting truly funny slapstick and malapropism, with sixth-form level political correctness, isn't just unfunny, it seeks to rob the genuinely funny (Delaney written) portions of the script of laughs - are we, the audience, daring to laugh at a person suffering from mental illness?!

In the last few years, Linehan has adopted a po-faced, "arbiter of all that is politically correct-and-right-on" pose on social networking platform 'Twitter'. Under the nom de plume @Glinner, he has engaged unwary souls over the mildest of criticisms and accused even the most liberal tweeters - whom he takes against for some reason - of whichever "ist" or "ism" he sees they conveyed.

The sitcom suffers from this dubious, contrary and ultimately too "preachy" hand wringing. A conspiracy theorist character, Eggy, is held up for ridicule then pathos - he questions the government and status quo because his wife was unfaithful. The chimera of a slapstick and social mores sitcom so patronising of a mainstream audience that it questions hilarity at the acts of a fool or fool(s), cannot work. Linehan, so deftly working in broad strokes and productively cake-and-eating-it with'Father Ted' taints this show with his own seemingly conflicted attitude to what should be - but not "is"- funny.

His fellow twitter "King Bee", Stephen Fry, opined that sitcom 'M*A*S*H' started well but then ended in a mire of pathos and saccharine fluff with "a little Korean boy being brought on every week that the white cast could head-pat". This could be advice best heeded as, figuratively speaking, Linehan has hit the ground running with " juvenile-Korean-head- patting" in 'Count Arthur Strong' and it can only be hoped that he hands the reins back to Delaney - as he did after one series to Dylan Moran on 'Black Books' - that he might salvage his character.

If that means simply televising old radio scripts, all the better.
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Stand By Men
19 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have yet again concocted a movie comedy drawn from both's immersing roots in observational "geek" comedy and sci-fi-fantasy tropes. The so-called "blood and ice-cream" (jokes about gore and cornettos, the UK's uniquely homely ice-cream cornets) cycle, as well as their landmark TV show 'Spaced' have invariably included exploration of interpersonal man-boy issues born of Pegg, Frost and Wright's generational joys and trials. Married to horror, action or sci-fi plots, the movies took the work of Kevin Smith one step further, in a way the technical handicaps of Smith could never do, mounting the real world geek trials amid deft Hollywood spoof.

'The World's End' sees Pegg as the mysterious Gary King, the former teen alpha of a group of geeks and misfits who has mythologised his crew's half-completed 1990 end-of-school-last-night of drink and drugs pub crawl to become an unfinished, near Homeric, quest. Rounding up his gang after more than twenty years, the manic (and, as we discover, manically depressed alcoholic) King returns to Newton Haven where a local old conspiracy theorist's prophecy of alien takeover of the town becomes an apparent reality.

Where Pegg's protagonists - in his and Wright's previous films - have been an emasculated couch potato (Shaun of the Dead) and workaholic superman (Nicholas Angel in Hot Fuzz) Gary King is like a pub-dwelling pied piper, a nice version of Jack Torrance in Kubrick's 'The Shining'; an avuncular version of Ledger's 'Joker'.

While his friends joined the ranks of professionals and home-makers, Gary remained the eternally partying Pied Piper he had been in his late teens. His mental illness almost provides a plot twist that could have been sobering - but there is no "it was all a dream - you're still in a ward" ending. Determined to complete his quest of a pint of lager in every one of the town's numerous pubs, regardless of riotous fights amid invincible robots posing as humans, King leads his reluctant crew, ultimately forcing his teetotal friend Andy (a kinetic and career-best Frost) to become his drinking buddy-cum-bodyguard and fellow (sort of) saviour of Earth. Rather, there is a near Douglas-Adams-with-tourettes finale which also, rather too quickly, gives a peek at a potential sequel-spawning adventure.

The plot, ultimately, is less engrossing than that of previous Pegg/Wright efforts. Their first was a (very successful) Hollywood calling-card. Their second a technical firework display showcasing Wright's comic and action credentials. Here, the joy is in reveling in Pegg and Wright's repertory of masterful acting chums and repertoire of dramatic and comedic trick box. A lesson to fans about the need for reality checks on fantasy-obsessed lives but a love letter to the unique souls who embrace such lifestyles.

The possible sequel implied by the closing scene might feed into an altogether better film but as a parting gift to Pegg and Wright fans, this is a delicious morsel.
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Man of Steel (2013)
Reeve Still Rules
15 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
One of the first images seen in 'Man of Steel' is a Kryptonian 3-D X-ray of the baby Kal- El's heart. This looks like it contains a heart but is really just a melange of special computer effects that briefly dazzles but doesn't truly contain any heart at all - and no more fitting mission statement could be provided for Zach Snyder and Chris Nolan's 'Man of Steel.

The prologue on Krypton is far more fleshed out than in any previous versions. Russell Crowe plays a vastly more kinetic Jor-El than Brando - hopping from a showdown in a council chamber to a race on a giant bi-winged bat - yet so begins the difficulties with the film. Richard Donner's 1978 motion picture showed only mini-models and plaster sets to denote Krypton while Snyder's film gives vistas of Kryptonian flora and fauna and a planet wide civil war - and Donner's Krypton still trumps it. One should not be asking why Jor-El now looks and acts like British TV star Noel Edmonds - as happened here - while Brando's chiselled countenance and glowing white hair seem subtle by comparison.

Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent by way of David Bruce Banner from the 1970s 'Incredible Hulk' series. In this version, his childhood and upbringing in Smallville was - appropriately for an alien-on-Earth story but wandering from canonical story lines - harrowing and alien.

The young Kent takes off on the road to work in a variety of the bluest of blue-collar jobs like a Calvin Klein littlest Hobo, solving the odd industrial accident here and the odd sexual harassment case there.

This self-exiling Odyssey through every job on the Discovery Channel's "Extreme Careers" list brings him to an Arctic military outpost. A millenia-old Kryptonian colonising vessel has been found by the US government and is about to be excavated. Clark Kent is set to reach it first but not before Lois Lane (Amy Adams) follows him.

Adams is problematic and, again, one cannot help but compare her to Margot Kidder and the final obstacle to 'Man of Steel' truly winning the hearts of audiences is revealed. Donner's films realised that, like Clark, Lane was still an innocent under her posturing. Reeve and Kidder had chemistry that we saw grow in front of an audience. Cavill and Adams, mouths too crammed full of expositionary gobbets, fail, ironically, to lift their relationship from the ground.

'Man of Steel's effects are truly special. It does not fail as a comic book movie because it delivers the bang, crunch and pop that Bryan Singer's strangely elegaic version lacked. Michael Shannon's Zod is an amalgam of almost all despotic super villains from Kal-El's rogues gallery - two parts Darkseid to one part Armageddon and a backstory and motivation cribbed from that of Brainiac. So there are enjoyable set pieces and moments of tension caused by the uber-destruction of Zod and his crew's arrival.

Donner and Reeve's films remain untouched, at the top of the tree, because relationships and plot were shown to us, not told to us. We see so many more wondrous CGI confections in Snyder's films yet shown so much less than Donner showed.
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At least the original film just keeps looking better and better...
24 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The first Hangover film was a surprise hit. Yes, it had glossy Hollywood production values, but it had no big name stars and in fact made stars of the three main actors.

Hangover 2 was a cash-in, deliberately politically incorrect retread of the original. This part three, well... it could have been great.

The original idea was to have Alan already committed to a psychiatric ward with the "wolfpack" (a throwaway joke in the first film that became something akin to the jedi order in the sequels) breaking him out so that he could attend his father's funeral. To do this they utilise the "demon inside" Stu by plying him with a cocktail of drugs. The Marshall vs Chow story was to have been a subplot.

This was jettisoned in favour of a plot that Jon Favreau did far better things with in his movie 'Made'.

There are some funny moments, but Bradley Cooper - on Bruce Willis-ian phoning-it-in mode - seems embarrassed to be there now, while the relatively weak acting chops of Ed Helms and Ken Jeong are laid bare by the threadbare script. This is Galifianakis's movie and one is left wondering how funnier it would have been just to focus on his character.

Lack of exposition, of any knowledge of the real story on the characters' part is what made the original such a treat. A terrific script powered it. In part three, funny sketches occasionally raising laughs, there us no such genius at script level. Acres of exposition fill the mouths of actors - John Goodman deftly using this to his advantage as the no-nonsense Marshall - and ultimately it is the audience who are lost and wrong-footed when, in a 'The Hangover' movie, it should be the characters. I mean, did we all really enjoy the nauseating "Mr Chow" so much as to have him be a breakout character?

As a movie, Hangover 3 makes a terrific trailer.
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Blame or Credit the "Parallel Universe"?
11 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Eric Bana's renegade, time-warping Romulan Nero has a lot to answer for. Not only, in the first film, did his 'A Sound Of Thunder' style time-messing change Kirk's physiognomy, but also that of Chekov. Brunettes became Aryan Adonises. Olive-skinned Hispanic television actors became high-cheek boned, dyed-black-redhead English TV ones.

Why fuss over racial casting? Why moan over the choice of the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch in a role he makes his own (he looks more like a 1960s TV baddie than Ricardo Montalban at any rate)?

Well, Gene Roddenberry created a well-paced series with a cast whose very presence on screen broke barriers. Khan (for it is he played by Cumberbatch here) was a landmark role for Hispanic icon Ricardo Montalban and it is strange that one of his fellows was not cast here. Benicio Del Toro would have been magnificent.

Why keep tribbles as lumps of faun wool when the grandeur, flawed glory and warped codes of the Klingons are dispensed with in favour of turning them into disposable LOTR orcs acting like the stormtroopers from 'Star Wars'?

My rambling has a point. Abrams has all the ingredients of exciting and funny space opera yet his batch of flash-bang gumbo, with odd, sleight-of-hand emotional wringers and wiki'd-in-a-day nods to Trek-lore tastes bland compared to the sometimes cheesily overcooked banquet Roddenberry bequeathed.

That Trek lore and history - even aesthetic - is so drastically altered, apparently by that attack on the Kelvin by Eric Bana all those years before - leaves less of a blank cheque to rewrite than JJ Abrams has a right to cash.

An entertainingly thrilling film - but an unsettling watch all the same for anyone remotely familiar with Trek in all its TV incarnations - where diplomacy and philosophy were merely flanked - and for solid plot-motivating reasons - by phasers and torpedoes.

Whatever any viewer's reaction may be, Karl Urban's uncanny channeling of DeForest Kelly is, as in the first film, worth the price of admission alone and his is the most memorable performance in the whole interstellar jambalaya.
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Iron Man 3 (2013)
Fan-Challenging but Ultimately Successful Third Episode.
27 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Often, such as in the case of 'The Green Lantern', comic book movies are declaimed to be lesser than their source material. The cluttered mythology is either forced all at once into one film or film producers squeeze all the costumery, monsters, mad scientists and fun out of a title so as to deem it almost unrecognisable.

The 'Iron Man' film franchise had it tough from the get-go in 2008. Tony Stark was a sixties throwback into whom creator Stan Lee had parlayed cool-at-the-time-not-so-cool- now misogyny and materialism, sticking him in a clunking great robot costume that made him look like an angry fire hydrant at times. He was a near unknown character to anyone outside of the humid, cumin-flavoured recesses of a comic-book nook.

Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jnr did well to play into the new-found trend for anti- political correctness. Hot on the heels of Daniel Craig's bastardly, born-again Bond, Downey's Stark was every bit the callous, corporate mogul playboy struck down by destiny to rethink his life and re-harness his talents.

Favreau selected Downey Jnr for many reasons, principally for the spooky parallels twixt actor and character but also because of Downey Jnr's career re-defining performance in Shane Black's whip-smart dialogued 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang'.

'Iron Man 3' returns the favour to Black by having him helm this new instalment. This new movie takes a cue from Chris Nolan - how could a "real world" version of the sci-fi-fantasy of comic books play out - and looks behind the corporeal and figurative masks of hero and villain. To wit, Black plays geek-defying games with stalwart Marvel villain 'The Mandarin', offering a take that may please conspiracy theorists with views on who Al Quaeda really are rather than comic book fans. It is a very brave move and one which is satisfyingly resolved - 'The Mandarin' is in this film, he just may not be who you think he is.

Overall, with cute kid and damsel in distress tropes comically toyed with, the film is a success and made me decide that Downey Jnr and the Favreau films (he produced this one as well as reprising Happy Hogan here) are my favourite take on the Iron-Man mythos. There are false notes in this film too - Don Cheadle's Rhodey seems better completely out of his Iron Man suit and the Shane Black wisecracks/grabassing can be indulgent in some scenes - but this is a geek-discussion-fuelling, edge-of-the-seat-gripping great night out at the flicks!
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Breaking Bad (2008–2013)
America's Macbeth
7 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
In an age where nerds and geeks might seem empowered by the likes of 'Community' or 'The Big Bang Theory', true geeks and nerds know that Walter White is the true avatar of geek apotheosis.

We have watched Walt slowly metamorphose into his demonically cool alter ego Heisenberg with more shock and awe than we did Jeff Goldblum's Brundle become the fly. So this is a modern American Macbeth, subtly scifi flavoured and as addictive as the crystal meth White so skilfully cooks.

Ultimately, Walt doesn't just kill and plot to further his "Empire" - he wants to avoid DEA brother-in-law Hank from ever discovering his activities while seemingly caring that Hank is protected and genuinely affected when Hank is attacked and then threatened.

He may be caught, or go on the run but the greatest conflict, the outcome of which may never be known, is the spiritual battle within Walt. Does the Tyrant Heisenberg eventually wrest control of his soul, or the martyr for his family, Mr White, win?
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Maybe the best production of the musical in any media.
10 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film, although near perfect, epitomises what I would say to be a heady cocktail of what I loved about the eighties. Frank Oz, a Muppet creator and star, has never really received full recognition outside of his die-hard fans (recognition he often betrays he does not want) in the arena of serious movie critique (which he solely desires, even though he is as a god to fans of felt puppets and foam latex goblins)

Here, he shows only he could have made a giant foam latex monster orchid be menacingly cool. He reunites with Saturday Night Live alumni (He and Henson did adult muppet sketches on the first series of SNL) to create that delicious synergy of comedy and sci fi horror geekery that added that special MSG to 'Ghostbusters' and 'Gremlins'.

It is hard to define and I'm meandering here, but Oz could have been far more great and powerful of he didn't shrink from mention of the Muppets and Yoda in every TV interview and had pursued more comic fantasy in the 'Little Shop' style.
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Hitchcock (2012)
So boring as to utterly offend Hitchcock's memory.
12 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
'Hitchcock' - for a film boasting to document the "Master of Suspense" creating his most shocking film it doesn't half bore the arse off you. Hopkins' one-note impersonation of Hitchcock comes over like Austin Power's 'Dr Evil' on morphine, while the true interest at the heart of his and his wife's (Helen Mirren's) relationship - that he was impotent and she was a lesbian - is hardly touched upon, in favour of a rather glib subplot involving her and a potential fling with Danny Huston. Alfred himself is portrayed as he portrayed himself in his 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents...' TV show introductions - deliberately monotone, sepulchral and lascivious. By all accounts - including Janet Leigh's own memoir - Hitch was as giddy as a schoolboy on set and had a hand in everything. Hopkins shows flashes of brilliance, but he, frankly, was not the actor to portray Hitchcock. Matt Lucas or Paul Giamatti (provided the accent was done well) have more of the spirit for example. The movie's attempt to fuse Hitchcock with William Castle was misleading toward the end and ultimately the great man himself would have been bored rigid - a crime he found unforgivable in movie makers. A stagy, TV-style biopic was hardly worthy of the most brilliant populist filmmaker that ever lived - the father of the modern "event" movie - and to have him shuffle about as a rather obnoxious restaurant patron in a state of almost somnambulistic autism just showed the filmmakers to be as fooled by the public image Hitchcock tried to portray as any other fleeting TV viewer. Other than a gleefully fan sating final scene, the film is all, in all, disappointing.
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