Posted December 28, 2016
into Movies by John Birmingham
By sad, unplanned coincidence we chose A New Hope as our first pick of the front yard outdoor cinema season last night. I wasn't thinking of Carrie Fisher when we settled on that. I just thought it'd be cool to revisit the story after Rogue 1.
However, watching it a few hours before the news that Fisher had passed away, I was struck by how much agency her character enjoyed, and how well she played a 1930s Saturday matinee tough grrl, updated for the 1970s. Other things occured to me as well, including how much the film owes the classic war movies of the 1950s and 60s. But Carrie Fisher's Princess Leia stood out.
I'd say she was an amazing character for that time. But given the way things have gone, she'd be pretty fucking amazing if she turned up for the first time tomorrow.
Posted December 20, 2016
into Movies by John Birmingham
Took the fam to see this last night. Can't recall when I've enjoyed a Star Wars film as much. This being the end of civilzation, there has of course been a manbaby backlash to the penis shortage in the ensemble cast. It's only like 95% male, which is very misandrist.
But being an utter cuck, I fucking loved it.
I thought it meshed with the overall narrative much more smoothly than any of the rebooted and mostly reviled 'prequels' and it gives me real hope for where Disney might go with the franchise over the next decade or so. There's a lot of narrative infilling they could do.
I wont get into spoilers here, but anyone who hasn't seen the film should avoid the comment thread below.
Non spoilery reflections. The storyline was a deft melding of revenge motifs, a coming-of-age tale and a star spanning caper flick. The violence was much more instense than the original series, but not as bloody as last year's Force Awakens. It was still pretty intense though.
The cast was well balanced and the performances mostly great.
I thought the exploration of the 'dark side' of the rebellion was fittingly modern. It recalled the insurgency series of Galactica.
Effects? Top shelf, although I had a few uncanny valley moments with Moff Tarkin.
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.
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