Posted August 4, 2016
into Movies by John Birmingham
I also quite liked this piece in Rolling Stone on the return of the Bourne franchise. I've always liked the sleeping assassin genre. The first line of Without Warning is a nod to it. The Bourne films are the apotheosis of that particular literary trope – although Robert Ludlum would hardly literary.
This piece by David Fear is worth a read for any fans:
No one knew that the War on Terror was just around the corner while folks developed the blueprints for the Bourne movies in the early aughts, or that the talented lad who cried in Robin Williams' hairy arms had an inner MMA fighter lurking within. Play poker against an Oreo-licking, scenery-chewing John Malkovich? Totally. Sweep the leg of a guy with a machine gun who just crashed through a window, crack his limbs and stab the dude with a pen? Did not see that coming.
That's the Identity scene that really sells the idea of Damon as an agile action hero — or more specifically, that his lean, mean, government-trained killing machine could be the template for an entirely different type of action-movie hero, one more suitable to the moment than the traditional steroidal he-man. The Stallone/Schwarzenegger model wasn't necessarily going to cut it now, nor, for that matter was a dapper agent with a martini in his hand and witty quip on his lips. (To say that the Bond films changed tact, and wisely so, would be an understatement.) What was needed was someone espionage-savvy who played dirty in a dirty-bomb age even if he seemed as superficially whitebread as a Midwestern all-state wrestler. Someone smart enough to have read a book and lethal enough to then use that same book as a weapon.
Posted April 27, 2016
into Movies by John Birmingham
Stephen King's zombie project, Cell, has moved the big screen. From the trailer below it seems they've dialed back on the zed-axis and amped up the technophobia. Possibly to put a little daylight between Cell and the 28 Days/Weeks franchise which first popularised the fast-zombie trope, and Brad Pitt's World War Z sequel which will be along any moment now to give you a little nibble.
Anyways, the book gave me nightmares when I had to review it, which doesn't normally happen with the King's stuff. It was also one of his last 'pure' horror novels before he started to stretch out into speculative literature with 63 and, arguably, Under the Dome.
My book review is below. It's interesting to speculate on what's been changed for the movie adaptation. The sympathetic gay guy is the most obvious switch, making way for Sam Jackson's cranky but sympathetic black guy. The zeds also look more WWZ than 28 Days, which is not the case in the book:
The supermarkets and mega stores will probably discount Stephen King's latest novel, Cell, using it as a loss leader to drag punters into the shop. You might even get it for less than twenty bucks, but don't imagine for a second that's all you're going to pay. There'll be a heavy toll levied on anyone who reads this thing from cover to cover; vivid nightmares that wreck your sleep for however long it takes you finish and get the creepy thing out of your system
As with the best of King's work, Cell comes with a simple premise. At 3.03pm, US Eastern Standard Time, some sort of Pulse runs through every mobile phone in the world. Anyone using their natty little Erricson at that time goes violently insane. And as the author points out, who doesn't own a mobile nowadays? As millions of zombie's possessed by their batphones suddenly turn on the rest of the population, those not affected at first begin to ring friends and family to warn them or to find out what's happening, and they too get zapped by Satan's Own telco. Only a small percentage of people remain unaffected, either because they don't have mobiles, or they stay off them long to realise that they are the source of the problems.
Keeping such a global disaster personalised is the role of Clay Riddell, 'a young man of no particular importance to history', a graphic artist caught in Boston during the Pulse. The book follows his attempts to make it home, a hundred miles away, to his twelve year old son, for whom he had only just purchased a mobile phone. Clay throws in his lot with an ensemble cast of suppporting survivors; notably Alice, a traumatised teenager and Tom, a confirmed bachelor of much less than heroic stature, who turns out to be one of the most sympathetically drawn gay men you'll ever find in pulp fiction.
Possibly the goriest of Stephen King's books so far, it won't be for everybody. Never one to resile from painting humanity in the worst light, recent events seem to have darkened his view of us even further. The book is current enough to include references to Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath of that disaster informs the shocking and occasionally sickening portrait of a world in collapse which takes up the first part of the narrative.
With it's legions of blank-eyed, shuffling undead unpeople, Cell quickly reveals itself as a zombie horror story, in the style of George Romero, one of King's favorite auteurs. And like Romero, King uses the iconic figure of the zombie for satircal as well as scarifying purposes. When the phone crazies, as they are quickly dubbed, begin to exhibit flocking behaviour, and march in jerky lockstep to nearest mega mall to strip it clean of rapidly decaying foodstuffs, they recall scenes from Romero's Dawn of Dead, which was as much a commentary on American materialism as it was a low budget splatterfest.
As usual, King's story is loaded with references to the world of real things – a phrase of which he is very fond – and while some of these merely provide verisimilutde, others point to a deeper intent on the writer's part. The opening scenes are purposely drawn in the shadow of 9/11, and Al Qaeda's mass casualty attack haunts both the action and the thoughts of the main characters throughout. King is also The King however, and a world full of flesh eating zombies isn't nearly interesting enough to keep him at the keyboard. He amps up the story wattage with a developing subplot about the victims of the Pulse beginning to act as a single organism with weirdly otherworldly Stephen Kingly-type super powers.
It might all sound like a load of old cods, but all of his books would, when viewed in blurb form. King pulls them off because he has that rare facility of making you believe it could happen. I challenge anyone to read this book and feel comfortable making a phone call right afterwards. Indeed, like all true art, the Cell lingers in your mind, having its greatest effect when the immediate experience of the work is over. It's like a depth charge, sinking deeper and deeper into your subconcious and detonating days afterwards in the form of some very unpleasant dreams.
It can and will be read on different levels. As simple freak show carnography. As a satire on commercial culture. A homage to Romero. Even as a reflection on the war in Iraq. (One character makes this link explicit). For me though, it marks a stunning return to form of the heaviest hitter in the world of the airport novel. If you don't mind being pursued through your dreams by a ravening host of zombies, this one is for you.
15 Responses to ‘Stephen King's Cell. First trailer, and a book review’
Posted December 6, 2015
into Movies by John Birmingham
And loving this trailer for The Nice Guys, starring Russ and Ryan. Shane Black, the director, is credited with Iron Man 3, but the crucial reference here is Lethal Weapon, his first screenplay and proof that he can write a seminal buddy movie.
It's awesome how Russell Crowe has let out his belt and his innner bogan for this character.
Posted November 22, 2015
into Movies by John Birmingham
I used to love visiting the video store a lot more than I love scrolling through Netflix, Stan or iTunes for my televisual needs. Don't get me wrong. I love the convenience of digital distribution, the always there all you can eat buffet. But there was something weird and extra about actually dragging your arse down to the shop.
I've read a couple of really excellent think pieces on the passing of the video store. The best of the indie stores were akin to the finest book shops, a place were people and ideas came together. This piece at Vox by Dennis Perkins, "I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died," is one of the best in a crowded field.
A little taster:
The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice.
We watch Netflix like we used to watch television on a slow Sunday night, everything blending together as we flip aimlessly through the channels. At first the choice is overwhelming: all of these options and nothing but the questionable "You Might Like" cue to guide us — we stare at the screen like idiots, paralyzed. But then when we make a choice, if we make a choice, it feels unimportant. Another option is only a click away.
If you're actually in a video store, the stakes are different. You're engaged. You're on a mission to find a movie — the right movie. You had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to a store. You had to think about what you want, why this movie looks good and not that one, perhaps even seeking guidance or advice. Whether it's from nostalgia, advertising, packaging, reputation, recommendation, or sheer whim, a movie chosen from the shelves attaches you to your choice. Before the film even starts playing, you've begun a relationship with it. You're curious. Whether you've chosen well or poorly, you've made a choice, and you're in it for the duration.
With online streaming, we don't decide — we settle. And when we aren't grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films. Unlike that DVD they paid for and brought home, a movie on Netflix will be watched only so long as it falls within the viewer's comfort zone. As that comfort zone expands, the desire to look outside of it contracts.
He has many more insights, often touching and brilliant. It's sad to think that something which was once such an important part mass culture will soon pass away. But this is the way of all things.