Sunday, 17 August 2014

Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Title: Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Director: Randall Lobb
Released: 2014:
Plot: Documentary charting the history of the series from its early beginnings as an indie comic book to worldwide phenomenon

Review: Back when I was growing up I had two favourite cartoons, the first being “SWAT KATZ” while the other was “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles” as it was known here in the UK as censors were kind of twitchy about the word ninja. While both shows were popular it would be the turtles which would truly blow up with the show ultimately running to 193 episodes as well as spawning as we probably all remember a popular toy line, several feature films and two further TV series. Unquestionably there was once a time were you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing some form of turtle inspired merchandise.

This year the franchise celebrated its 30th anniversary, which is honestly quite astonishing for a series which started as joke between series creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird when Eastman showed him a picture he’d drawn of turtle wearing a bandana. The unrelenting popularity of their creation the documentary only further highlights over its examination of the series from the first comic book and ending with the shudder inducing “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” with the later years of the franchise only highlighted on various character timelines which break up the various eras the documentary covers.

Shot over four years and comprised over 200 hours of interview footage with nearly all the major players who were involved in the series during the golden years of their meteoric rise in popularity and featuring extensive interview footage with both Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird who provide most of the commentary tying the footage together due to the lack of any kind of narration. The pair also provides a fair amount of behind the scenes footage via their home movies especially from the early days of Mirage Studios.
The pair are unquestionably still humble about their creation and frequently admit throughout the film that its success was really as much a surprise to them as it was everyone else and much like their original meeting the result of blind luck than anything else. This is no better highlighted than the fact that in the first issue of the comic that they killed off Shredder never expecting that there would be a call for a second issue. This first issue is frequently returned to over the course the film, as time and time again it proves to be the key to opening the door to the next evolution for the series.

Unsurprisingly the bulk of the film is dedicated to the classic cartoon series, which came out surprisingly of the Playmates Toys Inc looking to produce an action figure range based on the characters and needing a good promotional vehicle teamed up with Fred Wolf and his animation team to produce the special which would soon after turn into the long running series. It is really at this point that the film really goes into fanboy heaven as the whole of the original voice cast are reunited to share their experiences of working on the show. Bizarrely though Rob Paulsen who voiced Raphael is strangely missing from the reunion, but this is unquestionably made up for by the cast members they do assemble including the now sadly departed James Avery (aka Uncle Phil from “Fresh Prince of Bell Air”) who voiced Shredder and here fondly reminists like all the cast about his time on the show, while even going as far as to compare it to doing Shakespeare which he then proceeds to do in the voice of Shredder in just one of the many great moments of this scene. This scene is especially fun as each of the cast go into their method for creating each of their character voices complete with demonstrations from each of the cast which really is really blew my little fanboy mind, best of all though has to be Pat Fraley comparing his portrayal of disembodied brain Krang to a Jewish mother!

Thankfully everyone involved in the series have seemingly kept everything from the production of the series as the interview footage is frequently accompanied by animation stills aswell as character design sketches which help to highlight the gradual evolution of the characters from their dark comic route to their more recognised lighter form which also saw them donning their trademark colour bandana’s in favour of their uniformed red bandana’s which they had worn in the original comic. Aswell as this we also get to see design sketches for characters which didn’t make the final cut. The production materials also really come into effect when showing the sheer scale of making the live action version, which also serves to remind you of a time when the studios weren’t eagerly buying up every comic book property they could. The interviews with those involved in the making of the film also serve to show just how much of a nightmare the film was to shoot, especially with the Turtle effects which is highlighted with some nice test footage from the Jim Henderson archives aswell as interviews with Brian Henderson and Kevin Clash (he of Elmo fame) the latter who was responsible for the Splinter puppetry.

Unquestionably this documentary will delight the fans who it is essentially aimed at. More so when it is an overwhelmingly positive picture that it paints here, with no one seemingly having a bad word to say, which might also explain why the “Coming Out Of Their Shells Tour” is not discussed by any of the major players. For those who’ve yet to witness how horrible it I would highly recommend watching the analysis by Phelous. Even the eventual parting of ways of Eastman and Laird being seen by both as a mutual decision and a result of growing apart and desires to work on other projects, which fans of Eastman’s work will know saw him creating the cult comic “Heavy Metal” (his appearance with his wife Julie Strain in “Return to Savage Beach” is sadly not mentioned). The film ending on a positive note for their relationship as after two decades they are shown reuniting for the thirtieth anniversary.

Despite the title claiming to be the definitive history of the Turtles, only half of the history is really covered here which will no doubt irk some fans looking for more background on the spin off’s like the live action “Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation” which saw the turtles being joined by a fifth female turtle Venus De Milo or the two cartoon series which followed it or either of the last two films, which no doubt may have taken away from the sunny one that we get here. This however is still an essential watch for turtle fans while still accessible enough so that even those unfamiliar with the show can still enjoy it. Now where's my new SWAT KATZ??

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Hit and Run

Title: Hit and Run
Director: Dax Shepard, David Palmer
Released: 2012
Starring: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Kristin Chenoweth, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper, Jess Rowland, Ryan Hansen, Beau Bridges, Michael Rosenbaum, Jason Bateman

Plot: Former getaway driver Yul (Shepard) is happily enjoying his new life in witness protection under his new name of Charlie Bronson. When his girlfriend Annie (Bell) gets a job interview in LA, he is faced with running afoul of his former gang member Alexander Dmitri (Cooper)

Review: It has frequently been said that just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it. A case certainly proven here with the second film from the directing team of Shepard and Palmer and made on a minuscule budget of $2 million with Shepard using cars from his own personal collection and with the help of friends in the business to get the film made. Apparently it’s a method which worked out well for the duo, especially considering how they seemingly could afford to blow half the budget was blown on securing music rights. The end result though is essentially the equivalent of a student film made with an actual budget as here, Shepard (who also wrote the screenplay) seemingly aims to recapture the spirit of “True Romance” only with added car-porn. Sadly though this is nothing but a pale copy.

Opening with Yul and his Emily in bed, it is a utterly horrible bombardment of dialogue that introduces the couple at the heart of this tale in a scene which almost had me reaching for the eject button before the film had even begun. I guess one of the main issues I had with them is the fact that they have no real chemistry which could be placed more on the fact that they are being played by the real life couple of Shepard and Bell which more often than not fails to work outside of the occasional rare exception like “Cruel Intentions” which saw the pairing of real life couple (at the time atleast) Ryan Phillippe and Reese Witherspoon to memorable effect. Why the pairing of Shepard and Bell doesn’t work it’s hard to place and perhaps might have had a lot to do with Yul being the sort of character that Sam Rockwell would have played so well and perhaps it was this desire to see him the role which made this pairing all the harder to take.

The couple unfortunately are made only the more unlikable by the sheer lack of character development outside of surface details and their general relationship, they essentially have about much depth as a puddle, while never really giving you any reason to really care about either of them, even more so when both Shepard and Bell at times give the impression that they are pretty much phoning it in. Such frustration is only really added to when they never seem to be doing anything particularly interesting bar the occasional bit of fancy driving (interestingly mainly performed by the cast due to the budget) or when Shepard decides to show off another of the fancy cars in his collection, which considering they are the real highlight here makes it more of showcase for them than anything else.  

When it comes to the supporting cast things get slightly better with Tom Arnold on fun form as the fantastically clumsy and easily flustered U.S. Marshal Randy as he gives ones of his best performances since “True Lies” as he frequently has to deal with a number of escalating issues with his people carrier, which not only seems to have a mind of its own, but frequently seems to actively be trying to kill him, as it sets off his gun and even launches a bowling ball at him during one of the many specular crashes he has, which also certainly tests the endurance of the vehicle which honestly seems to be indestructible considering what its put through. Arnold’s character much like an overworked joke about a gay hook up app, really throws off the tone of the film which can never seem to decide if its supposed to be a drama or a comedy. As a result it flirts with both genres, while never fully committing to one or the other which again could be done to the generally horrible and frequently boring dialogue that while aiming for a sense of cool only to largely come off flat and uninspired.

Elsewhere Bradley Cooper proves to be another of the stronger aspects, while also getting to give us a rare villainous turn as the dog loving psychopath Alexander Dmitri who can be set off over something as simple as the type of dog food someone chooses to feed their dog. True the accent might be alittle off and the fact that Annie’s persistent ex-boyfriend Gil (Rosenbaum) is able to tip him off about Yul’s whereabouts through Facebook is beyond laughable, but here he frequently manages to come off as a decent threat to the couple, without ever having to resort to comically overplayed acts of violence outside of his introduction which proves to be more than enough to establish his character without ever needing to be added to.

Considering that half the budget was blown on the music rights for the soundtrack, its kind of a relief that this expense really pays off, with no doubt most of this expense going towards such tentpole tracks as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, which unsurprisingly are used to soundtrack the more gratuitous slow motion moments of car porn.

Overall this film was a chore to get through from the start to the finish and the sort of film which would benefit from Shepard either fully committing to acting or directing, rather than trying to do both. Perhaps then there might have been some balance to the film but had it not been down to the resources available to Shepard it would be unlikely that this film would have been made atoll, bringing back to my opening statement, that just because you can do something it doesn't mean you should do it!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Kick-Ass 2

Title: Kick-Ass 2
Director: Jeff Wadlow
Released: 2013
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Morris Chestnut, John Leguizamo, Jim Carrey, Clark Duke, Donald Faison, Angustus Prew, Lindy Booth, Olga Kurkulina

Plot: Dave (Taylor-Johnson) having retired from fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Kick-Ass, starts training with Mindy (Moretz) aka Hit-Girl to become a proper hero despite also being forced into retirement by her guardian Marcus (Chestnut). Elsewhere the former Red Mist Chris D’Amico (Mintz-Plasse) still wanting revenge on Kick-Ass reinvents himself as supervillian “The Motherfucker”

Review: Back in 2010 when the original “Kick-Ass” was unleashed on the unsuspecting movie going public, it finally brought a much needed fresh spin to the superhero genre which had pretty much grown stale thanks to a stream of less than stellar adaptations, while Marvel had only taken the most tentative of steps in establishing their all dominating cinematic universe. Like the source material though, here was a film which did for comic book movies what “Scream” did for the horror genre, as it shook things up while playing off the long established conventions as it applied them to a real world setting, only without the dark edge of Alan Moore’s legendry “Watchmen”.  

Unsurprisingly “Kick-Ass” was followed by a host of imitators such as “Defendor” and the wonderfully bizarre “Super” but ultimately “Kick-Ass” was the only one which left me wanting to see what happened next. Which was especially the case after the first was so much fun, with its intoxicating mix of warped humour and over the top violence which perfectly captured the tone of the source material. The fact that it stuck so close to the material really made me wonder how this sequel would play out more so when the source material for the sequel really doesn’t pull any punches as Mark Millar’s book not only ramped up the violence, but also contained numerous controversial scenes including children being machine gunned and one character being gang raped by The Motherfucker and his crew.

This controversy was only added to by Jim Carrey suddenly withdrawing his support for the film in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting stating

“I did Kick-Ass a month before Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to others involved with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”

Of course this proved to be better promotion for the film than if he had done a dozen press junkets, especially as the prospect of controversial violence had fans clamouring to see what the film had in store for them, especially those who’d read the book whose curiosity was sent into overdrive as they wondered if director Wadlow was going to truly give us a no holds barred adaptation. The answer of course is….no.

Unsurprisingly while there are numerous things you can do in fiction and comic books (just look at the antics of Clive Barker and Alan Moore for prime examples) these same things just don’t carry across to their film adaptations and if they do they usually won’t make it past the censors shears. So it comes as little surprise to see numerous elements being toned down or played in a more humorous light as especially seen with the gang rape sequence which has now been replaced with a impotence jab which honestly was the right choice like so many of the changes between the film and the source material as here Wadlow trades the darker aspects in favour of moments of slightly warped humour.

Focusing on two main plot threads it is a delicate balancing act that Wadlow pulls off here as the film switches between Dave’s return to costume vigilantism, which now seems him now teaming up with fellow like-minded have-a-go heroes to form “Justice Forever” lead by the square jawed patriot Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey) while finding a new love interest a group member Night Bitch (Booth). The other main plot follows Mindy and her attempts to live a normal life now she has retired her Hit-Girl persona, which soon sees running afoul of the resident mean girls at her high school. Needless to say it is only a matter of time before Mindy cracks and finds a way to get her revenge which is spectacularly graphic to say the least.
Despite having had a run of tough guy roles in the likes of the frustratingly smug “Savages” and the more recent “Godzilla” reboot, it is nice to see him being able to tone things down again to play the weedy Dave whose sole power is pretty much from his ability to take a pounding (thanks to his damaged nerve endings) and makes his training at the hands of Mindy only all the more hilarious to watch, especially when she reminds him frequently that he’s been beaten up by a 15-year old girl while proving that she’s lost none of her acid tinged wit in the time since we last saw her.

Elsewhere Christopher Mintz-Plasse continue to surprise and really seems to have a blast playing the off the rails Motherfucker whose sole ability is being filthy rich and being able to hire his own team of misfit villains including the towering Mother Russia (Kurkulina) who make up his Toxic Mega-Cunts a reminder that Miller really didn’t expect this film to be resonating with any kind of highbrow audience that’s for sure. Mintz-Plasse’s Motherfucker is the typical idea of what a supervillian should be if you gave a teenager the free reign that Chris has, caring little for what is politically correct as he names his henchmen based on race hence we get the likes of “Black Death” and “Genghis Carnage”. Thankfully John Leguizamo’s Javier is on hand to balance out Chris’s frenzied nature, as he attempts and fails frequently to provide the voice of reason to Chris’s OTT plans of domination, which Leguizamo’s performance only further serves to remind us just how underrated he still is an actor, much like Carrey who gets to play a more subdue role as Captain Stars and Stripes, not that you could tell from the trailer which ironically choose to show the two oddball moments he allows himself.

Perhaps not as sharp as the original film, especially when it frequently relies on toilet humour than the sarcasm and wit of the original making Jane Goldman’s absence from scriptwriting duties all the more noticeable. This aside Wadlow gives us here a fun sequel and a nice setup for the proposed final part of the trilogy, which due to the film underperforming might be something we see solely in the comics.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Elwood's Essentials #8: Ghost World

Title: Ghost World
Director: Terry Zwigoff
Released: 2001
Starring: Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi
Plot: Life long friends and recent High school graduates Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson) embrace their place as social outcasts and care little for what anyone else thinks about them as they rain down scorn and sarcasm on their peers. However after finding a personal ad placed by the lonely Seymour (Buscemi), their prank call leads Enid to find a kindred spirit in Seymour, as the two start to build an unlikely friendship. Meanwhile Enid finds her own relationship with Rebecca deteriorating as she fights to keep things around her from changing.

Review:  It’s time for me to once again revisit another of my all time favourite films. Always a daunting prospect to say the least and mainly because I'm of the mindset that once I review a film that I'm essentially done with it and to write about one of my favourite films means the prospect of never getting to have the pleasure of writing about it again. Still after a recent conversation about films with one my work colleague revealed the horrible truth that there still folks out there who have not seen this film that I knew I had to try and readdress the balance.
Based on the cult graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. The story first appeared in Clowes’s now defunct comic book series “Eightball” before later being republished in its more recognised trade paperback format. Clowes would also write the screenplay for the this film alongside director Terry Zwigoff in his first film in seven years, since directing the insightful documentary “Crumb” about another cult comic artist Roger Crumb, so it seemed almost perfect that Zwigoff would choose the work of another cult comic artist for his return to film making.

Needless to say the assorted colourful characters of “Ghost World” are almost too perfect for Zwigoff, who has made a career out his obsession with misfits, antiheroes and alienation. All themes which he gleefully gets to explore here, especially when these themes are equally popular with Clowes own work making this collaboration the perfect partnership, while Clowes is certainly not afraid to adapt his popular graphic novel, for anyone who has read it will tell you that it is nothing like the film version, outside of perhaps a handful of scenes and its familiar characters. Still the more obsessive fans of Clowes work will no doubt recognise the references to his other comics he has included throughout.

What remains the same though is the bond which Enid and Rebecca share, which is one not so much of close friends, but in fact much closer to a sisterly relationship. A relationship which has been perfectly captured by Birch and Johansson, who truly embody these characters with Birch in particular giving another memorable performance which (her meddling father's career interference aside) only makes you question why she has not been picked up for more mainstream projects rather than working almost exclusively on indie films as she currently is? Johansson on the other hand as we all know would explode into mainstream movies shortly after the release of this film, even though she regularly fails to muster half the laid back talent she showcases so proudly here and later in the equally wonderful “Lost In Translation”

On equally good form is Buscemi, who once again brings his oddball charm to the character of the lovable loser Seymour, a character which Clowes reportedly based in part on director Zwigoff, who in turn had insisted that the character was expanded way beyond his appearance in the original graphic novel, were he shown solely as the victim of the prank call. The similarities between Zwigoff and Seymour only continue through out the film with Seymour’s obsession with 1920’s Blues and Jazz records mirroring Zwigoff’s own obsessions, something which was the focus of his debut film "Louie Bluie". This expansion of his character works only more in the films favour, especially with the graphic novel seemingly being a series of events randomly strung together, while this change instead gives the film a much more structured format and in turn makes the story all the stronger when viewed in this format, for what works as a graphic novel it’s safe to say would not have worked here.

Still the relationship between Enid and Seymour is a fascinating one to watch, as the urge to instantly pair them together is fiercely resisted, with Enid seemingly doing anything she can to help Seymour break out his cocoon of old records and classic nostalgia he has crafted for himself and even when they do get together it is only as a meaningless drunken one night stand, which serves more a catalyst for Enid’s own changing self than it does for their relationship. This however is just one of the numerous risks that the film takes, as it fights against the usual storytelling conventions and somehow never puts a foot wrong.

Though the name “Ghost World” has by Clowes own admittance nothing to do with the story and more to do with the fact that he felt it would be funny to have a bunch of places named after this like Ghost World Elementary. Still Zwigoff has seemingly taken this title in another direction, as he shoots the film almost as if being viewed from a ghosts view point, especially as the camera opens gliding past the windows of Enid’s apartment block, glancing momentarily at each of the various occupants as if choosing who to follow before finally setting in Enid in the throws of her imitation of the dance routine from the bollywood mystery movie “Gumnaam”. Such shooting style continues throughout, with Zwigoff shooting from the position of the onlooker than sat with the characters, while other examples include the extended shot of a video store clerk absentmindedly picking his ear with his pen. Still even though we follow Enid and Rebecca through this journey the audience is still very much left with the feeling of just being ghosts in their world, especially with the films ending seeming so ambiguous on the first viewing.

Unquestionably a hard film to define and in many ways only makes it more like both "Welcome to the Dollhouse" and "Daria" which combine forms an unofficial timeline for Enid, with Dollhouse's Dawn representing Enid in seventh grade, "Daria" her high school years with "Ghost World" representing graduation. I guess all we need now is a film which shows an Enid style character in her wilderness years to further the chain, a film we continue to hold out for.

This is a film which is hard to sell, but easy to fall in love with once viewed, while finally being the high school movie, which will no doubt ring all so true to its fellow misfits and anyone whose felt themselves an outcast.

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day

Title: The Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day
Director: Troy Duffy
Released: 2009
Starring: Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr., Julie Benz, Billy Connolly, Judd Nelson, Peter Fonda, David Della Rocco, Willem Dafoe, Bob Marley, David Ferry, Brian Mahoney

Plot: Eight years after the events of the first film the sibling vigilantes Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) have put their guns to earth as they now live a quiet simple life with their father and former assassin “Il Duce (Connolly). However when they are framed for the murder of a Boston priest the brothers are forced out of retirement as they set out to clear their name

Review: Coming a ten years after the first film it was something of a surprise that this film was actually made, but then the same could also be said for the original whose troubled production was documented in the documentary “Overnight” which saw Director Duffy being heralded as the new Tarantino with his excitingly inventive script being picked up by the Weinstein’s only to soon becoming a property that no studio wanted after Duffy's general attitude soon found his project being dumped. Duffy would eventually get the film made if for a fraction of the original budget and over the years it has continued to gain a strong cult following as the fans clamoured for the return of the brothers.

True it might have been a longer wait than the fans might have wanted, thanks again to a variety of production issues which served to delay its release with many of the fans doubting that it would ever see a release. Needless to say now that it has finally been released it is something of a relief to find that Duffy’s debut wasn’t the fluke some may have written it off as, as here he truly delivers a sequel equal to that of the original. Equally pleasing to see is that the original cast have all been brought back for this sequel which considering how Reedus is now best known for his role on “The Walking Dead” I doubted that we would see his return here, much like Dafoe who even more surprisingly also makes an appearance even if it is pretty much a glorified cameo.

Unsurprisingly this film is essentially more of the same as the brothers upon their return to Boston waste little time in picking up were they left off cleaning the street of drug dealers and gangsters, while this time joined by their new Mexican sidekick Romeo (Collins Jr.) who is essentially a carbon copy of Rocco from the first film (who bizarrely also puts in an appearance via a random dream sequence)  as he generally is the source of most of the films comic relief, while Collins Jr. brings enough personality to the role to make him more than just the Mexican Rocco, especially during one scene were he misses out on an intense hotel room shootout due to the amount of time he’s spent trying to come up with killer catchphrase.

While on the subject of copies the same could also be said of FBI agent Bloom (Benz) the apprentice of agent Smecker (Dafoe) who share many of the same mannerisms even if she doesn’t exactly scene steal the same way as Dafoe did in the original, their methods are essentially identical, while director Duffy takes advantage of having Benz in the role as he includes a sexy cowgirl fantasy as part of one of her analysis, complete with some pretty fancy gun tricks which have zero to do with her explanation but sure looks cool and kind of made me want to see her play a gunslinger role like Sharon Stone in “The Quick and the Dead”. Like Smecker she is once again joined by the bumbling trio of detectives Greenly (Marley), Dolly (Ferry) and Duffy (Mahoney) who are still trying to cover up their involvement in the vigilante plans of the saints and this time play more of an active role in assisting them in a nice move for the series as it goes from just being the brothers, to now becoming more of a group, even if it is still largely down to the brothers to do the real grunt work.

The other focus here revolves around the background of Il Duce, who we were given the minimal amount of information about in the original, while generally being surprised that Scottish funny man Connolly was capable of playing such a badass, much less giving a convincing Irish accent, especially considering how a strong an accent he has normally. Unsurprisingly it is a background filled with similarities to the brothers own path to becoming vigilantes only with a dose of betrayal to explain away his incarceration.

Despite being more experienced than they were in the first film, the brothers still rely as always on what they’ve learned from the movies and general luck and instinct than any real kind of training. Infact judging from their questionable beards and new life as goat herders it would seem that they we’re exactly planning on returning to Boston after the first film and explaining away why they are none the more planned this time around. As before Duffy uses this inexperience frequently as a source of humour for the action scenes which are essentially as inventive as before aswell as featuring the extensive use of slow motion shots to really work each of these scenes. The real standout moment however has to be the butt clenching game of Russian roulette between Il Duce and the assassin responsible for framing the brothers, which Connelly truly unleashes his inner badass with a simple “Easy boys...Daddy’s working” as he maintains an icey cool demeanour.

Duffy once again shows an ear for dialogue as he once more delivers a boat load of quotable dialogue, making it unsurprising that so many people were keen to compare him to Quentin Tarantino and yes while both bring a fresh energy to the crime genre, it remains to be seen if he can work outside of the world of the saints which currently seems to be his sole focus, especially with “Boondock Saints 3: Saints Preserve Us” currently in the works aswell as a rumoured TV adaptation, but if they are as much fun as these first two entries I’m hardly going to complain about his current lack of range.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Spin Off - Quint (Jaws)

“Jaws” it’s safe to say is a franchise truly run into the ground by a combination of increasingly outlandish plots and the general opinion that all was required to make the giant rubber shark scary was to recycle the now legendry theme music and find ever unique ways for the human cast to become shark chow.

So with “Jaws: The Revenge” having driven a stake through the series could there be any life left in the franchise? After all once you have your shark seemingly capable of wanting to claim revenge on the Brody’s let alone suddenly gaining the ability to roar your kind of already clutching at straws even if these ideas half as strange as some of the ideas being thrown around in the current development hell with currently surrounds the attempts to adapt Steve Alten’s prehistoric shark on the rampage series “MEG”. Where could a possible spin off go? The answer it would seem is with the character of Quint.
Memorably played by Robert Shaw, who interestingly wasn’t Spielberg’s choice having originally wanted to cast either Lee Marvin (who preferred to fish for real) or Sterling Hayden for the role before he cast Shaw who as we all know now would go on to be one of the most memorable characters in the film let alone steal every scene which he was featured in. Ironically Spielberg would later go on record to state that he would have cast local Craig Kingsbury in the role had he met him sooner and ultimately would cast him to play Ben Gardner and who would also be highly memorable in the film as one of the best scares when his decapitated head plays peek-a-boo.
When we meet Quint in the original film he is a grizzled shark hunter and captain of the “Orca” who is the first to step up to killer the monster shark, only to get shot down by the town authorities who baulk at his demands for $10,000 rather than the $3000 bounty originally on offer. Right from the start he is established as being a man who only cares about himself with a heightened dislike for men in positions of power and authority, with a unique sense of humour as he frequent makes wisecracks and limericks for seemingly his sole amusement.
As we get to know more about Quint during the climatic shark hunt we also learned that he is a survivor of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in one of the most memorable scenes of the film and one which was used as the basis for the rumoured “Jaws: Dark Waters” which would focus on the story Quint tells about how the survivors of the ships were forced to fight off a pack of sharks with the film being based around this story leading to the crews eventual rescue.

Unquestionably from this simple moment which Shaw made unquestionably so gripping (Richard Dreyfuss admitted that he didn't fake his gripped expression) , we learn so much about his motivation and general demeanour as it was the officer top brass who made the mission of delivering the Hiroshima bomb so secret that no one knew the location of the ship and in turn further delaying their rescue and perhaps goes a way to explaining why he is so driven on hunt as many sharks as he can.
It is of course this period from Quint leaving the navy and coming to the town of Amity that my proposed spin-off would start from as Quint arrives in the sea side town and constructing his shack and starting up his shark fishing business.  Over the course of the film we would see him also putting in place the other sidelines the source novel mentions such as his moonshine and whale oil business he uses during the off season, aswell as his frequent battles with both the mayor and other fisherman which he fought using layman’s legal knowledge gained from legal books in the Amity library.
The book also makes mention of another epic shark hunt which Quint undertook prior to the events of the film, in which he battled another large shark (if not quite the size of the film’s shark) while on one of his charter fishing trips, with the shark equally requiring three barrels to capture it. The hunt ultimately ending in one of Quints trademark blowouts when the tourist wanted to claim that he caught the shark on line and reel rather than with the use of barrels. Despite Quint in a surprising moment actually tries to reason with the tourist who is adamant over which story they wish to use and ultimately ends with Quint dumping the carcass overboard in a scene which would make for the perfect ending and ultimately a lead into the original film.

The perfect opening though for the film can also be found in a scene removed from the original script were Quint is introduced watching “Moby Dick” at the cinema, the scenes of Gregory Peck battling the mechanical whale causing him to laugh so hard that other people in the cinema walk out as his laughter can be heard echoing into the street. Sadly it was a scene cut which Spielberg explained
“Gregory Peck felt it wasn’t his proudest work; he didn’t want it to be made fun of or even be in the film at all”
True this would be an issue which would still stand even now, but with so many giant sea creature movies it wouldn’t be such an issue to find one whose actors aren’t perhaps so sensitive about the footage being used
While the background of Quint is patchy outside of what we are given by both the film and the book, further inspiration could also be taken from the life of sport fisherman Frank Mundus who was a key inspiration for author Peter Benchley when writing the book aswell as while working on the screen play, having first heard of Mundus when his publisher told him about how Mundas caught a 4550 pound great white shark off the shores of Long Island which he caught via harpoon. Mundus also holds the record for the largest fish caught via rod and reel when he caught a 3,427 pound great white, a fibreglass copy of which still hangs on the Lake Montauk waterfront. Unlike Quint though Mundas would towards the end of his career go from shark hunter to conservationist (much like Benchley) through to his death from a heart attack in 2008.

The main issue with Quint being the focus though is his general demeanour which means that he only cares about himself and generally comes off pretty unlikeable until he warms up to people as we saw in “Jaws”, so it may require an additional crew mate to be written in, just to keep things light or perhaps the film could show Quint perhaps not as bitter with life as when we meet him in “Jaws” either way another shark hunt with Quint is one of the few prospects for the series I would still like to see, even if it isn’t the same monster size as the ones the series has become renown for.

For more Spielberg related fun makes sure you check out French Toast Sunday's "Spielberg In July" for which this article was compiled for.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Top 6 Underated Spielberg Moments

Unquestionably Steven Spielberg is one of a small amount of directors to achieve the status of a master director in his lifetime and to look at his back catalogue it is easy to understand why and over the years his films have featured countless memorable moments. However for every mash potato mountain, surprise shark appearance, boulder dash and bunch of kids managing to elude the FBI on BMX's (geez are they on steroids or something) there have been numerous moments which for one reason of another never seem to get a mention when discussing Spielberg's films.

So as part of French Toast Sunday's "Speilberg In July" I will now try and honour some of these overlooked moments, so please allow me to present you with my top 6 underrated Spielberg moments!

Hook - Captain Hook's Suicide Attempt

A surprising moment sneaked into what is supposed to be a family film, because we all know nothing says family entertainment like a beloved childhood character trying to kill themselves. Still Spielberg rolled the dice with this scene and it works, while unquestionably helped by having two titans like Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins in the scene ensuring that a pretty black humoured joke comes off pitch perfect, while the back and forth banter between Hook and Smeed only further adds to the fun. No doubt because of how well the scene works no one questioned its inclusion unlike the opening of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End" which despite also being a family film memorably opened with a hanging.

Jurassic Park - Flea Circus

Unquestionably this film still holds up even now as here Spielberg gives a film unquestionably dripping in spectacle and wonder as well as one whose set pieces are still as exciting to watch even after repeat viewings. However I personally always loved this scene were John Hammond talks about his flea circus and while it might seem like a throwaway scene, it is one that Richard Attenborough truly sells on its pure simplicity. At the same time it serves to highlight the sheer delusion of Hammond who even at this point in the film with the park currently in chaos (as this scene shows) believes that he can control his creation, only for Ellie (Laura Dern) to give him a swift reality check.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Sarah Hits The Glass

True I was going to go with the truly random scene were the raptor is knocked through a window via gymnastics, but instead opted for this scene, just because you genuinely wonder how they will survive this. The key shot here is when the trailer first goes off the cliff and you see the back door fly off leaving a seemingly open void to fall through. Needless to say this shot caught a lot of people out on their original viewing, but on repeat viewing the slowly cracking glass makes it such a great moment and one reminiscent of the glass cracking in "The Abyss".

Jaws - Give Us A Kiss

The film which still today makes me weary about swimming in the sea and host to numerous classic moments, meaning that this scene far too often gets overlooked which is kind of a shame as with the spot on casting of the Brody family, you truly believed that they were a family and none more so during this scene. Honestly though I never appreciated until I had kids of my own and now its easily one of my favourite moments of the film and one which perfectly frames Chief Brody's frame of mind at this point of the film were he is pretty much defeated in his attempts to warn the town of the danger lurking in the waters around Amity.

This is a scene which could have easily been overplayed or drenched in smaltz, but thankfully here it is played straight, allowing the natural playful humour to shine through providing a slight moment of light relief from the bloody carnage the shark is carving through the town.

Schindler's list - Shower Scene

Unquestionably the most powerful of Spielberg's films it unquestionably pulls no punches with it handling of the profile of Oscar Schindler and its portrayal of the holocaust. So powerful and moving is this film that I have only twice managed to sit through it in one sitting, normally requiring a break to calm myself before returning to the second half. At the same time it is a film packed with so many memorable moments including most famously the little girl in the red coat, that it is hardly surprising that this scene is so often forgotten.

Resting on the suggestion that we are watching this group of ladies being prepared for their death in the gas chambers disguised as a shower block, there is an unquestionably sense of dread which runs throughout the scene as Spielberg slowly cranks up the tension to the point that it is the same relief these ladies feel when water comes from the showers that the audience also feel. Here we clearly see a master working at the height of his powers.

War of The Worlds - Ferry Attack

For years the Spielberg rumour mill was a buzz with talk of his adaption being a true to the source novel including the turn of the century setting, so it was kind of a disappointment when he finally gave us his adaptation that it was like the previous film adaptation set in modern times. Still atleast he did finally give us the tripods (even though the flying ships were equally cool) and managed to hit many of the main plot points missing from the previous version including this scene which originally I thought would see the appearance of the battleship HMS Thunder Child in one of my favourite moments of the book, though sadly it was not to be.

What we do get instead is one of the most surprisingly tense and realistic moments of the film and one Spielberg helped generate fear in his actors by playing the "Jaws" theme underwater and I think its safe to say it worked pretty darn well even if the rest of the film was pretty forgettable.

So there you have my top 6, but what would make your list? Let me know in the comments section below.

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