Friday, May 31, 2013

Two year anniversary

Wow, another 12 months has gone already? Apparently so. Thanks again for everyone who reads this blog, I love reading your comments. Apologies I've posted so few reviews this year. I'm going to try and get ahead this weekend so I can get back to some regularity again.

As a stop gap, here's a few bits and pieces that I want to share with you guys.

Copycat DVD covers

My very first post for this blog was about growing phenomenon of film companies getting graphic designers to go back and redesign the covers for old movies. Turns out that two years on this process is still rampant. Check out these confusing covers.

I think just about every vampire movies ever made has now had their covers redesigned to look like Twilight but I found Kathryn Bigalow's Near Dark to be the most offensive. Those films are complete polar opposites.
Next up is Francis Ford Coppola's dull 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Obviously the designer was too worried about making the poster look like the recent Baz Lurhmann version so instead they ripped off the designer of the Oscar-winning The Artist!
Finally, this one is definitely my favourite, Midnight at St Petersburg was a 1995 TV movie sequel to Caine's classic 1960s Harry Palmer spy movies. "Hey Michael, Matt Damon just called. He wants his body back!"

My Favourite Behind the Scenes Photos

I love looking at old behind the scenes pics. Seeing actors with their guards down, seeing how effects wee made. Here's just a few of my favourites.

John Milius instructing Arnold Schwarzenegger how to look tough.

Holy cow! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was just a guy in a suit?

Turns out filming Psycho was actually a lot of fun!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Underrated Adventure: The Wind and the Lion (1975)

There's two things you have to accept in order to enjoy The Wind and the Lion. The first is that though the film is based on a true historical events it has been very loosely adapted by the writer/director John Milius. Some of the alterations are minor changes, other are very large. For instance, the main character in the film Eden Pedecaris, played by the beautiful Candice Bergen, was in real life a 66 year old man called Ion Perdecaris. The second thing you have to accept is that Sean Connery is playing a Moroccan outlaw called Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli. I'll say that again Sean Connery is playing a Moroccan outlaw and just like every other role he's played from The Hunt for the Red October to The Untouchables, he doesn't make any alterations to his thick Scottish accent. You've just got to go with it.

The Wind and the Lion begins in 1904 with the Raisuli and his men kidnapping Eden Pedecaris along with her son and daughter from their house in Morocco. With Eden being an American citizen, President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is forced to take the matter seriously. He's up for re-election and how he deals with the kidnapping situation could make or break him as a politician. Meanwhile, it turns out the Raisuli has actually staged the kidnapping purely in the hope that it will cause a major public embarrassment for the Sultan of Morocco and incite a civil war in the country. The Raisuli has no hostile intentions with Eden, he has no hostility towards her and purely needs her as a pawn in his plans. As the kidnapping goes on Roosevelt is forced to turn to ever more desperate measures to mount a rescue effort and eventually set out his decree "Pedecaris alive or Raisuli dead!"

Despite the odd casting choices and liberal approach to history The Wind and the Lion is a masterpiece of cinema. I absolutely love this film. The acting is top notch across the board. Though Connery is exceedingly charismatic as the Raisuli, it's Brian Keith's wonderfully stiff and mannered portrayal of Roosevelt that sticks in your mind after the credits roll. What's brilliant about the film is that it has several layers. On the surface you have an exciting kidnap and rescue story with all the usual trappings like the kidnappee slowly coming around to the kidnapper's point of view. But underneath there's a lot more going on. The film is really a character study of the Raisuli and Roosevelt. Two powerful men from very different worlds who are trying to show their strength to the rest of the world.

The two men never meet at any point in the film and their only communication is via a letter at the very end of the film in which the Raisuli perfectly sums up their differences. "I, like the lion, must stay in my place, while you, like the wind, will never know yours." That's such a perfect metaphor for both their countries and their characteristics. The Raisuli is a descendant of the Barbary Pirates, he is expected to be dangerous and unpredictable. While Roosevelt is a civilised man from the still quite young United States. Roosevelt is trying to win an election, Raisuli is trying to incite war. Very different ways of becoming rulers of countries. And yet, there is a commonality I think that Milius wants us to see between them. They both do cowardly things during the course of the film. The Raisuli, obviously, kidnaps an innocent woman. Roosevelt shoots a grizzly bear and has it stuffed for a museum. Despite being at opposite ends of the battlefield they are not so different. 

Anyway, that's enough metaphorical musings I've got to talk about Jerry Goldsmith's stunning score as well. It's a wonderfully epic, soaring, bombastic piece. I don't know why it's not more well known among his work. Yes, it sounds a little bit like Maurice Jarre's score for Lawrence of Arabia in places but I think that was intentional. There's no doubt that Milius was inspired by David Lean's earlier film. Anyway, it perfectly compliments the film and works particularly well during the intense action scenes. I don't think I've seen another film that had so many horses falling over (which is also possibly why it's not been released on DVD in the UK - our censors always cut out horses falling over!)

So was it bad idea to cast Connery? Should Milius have changed Pedecaris to a woman? In answer to the first question, apparently Omar Sharif was intended to take the role of the Raisuli but dropped out. As much as I like Sharif, I'm glad Connery was cast instead. He's a superior actor and brilliant at playing likable rogues. As for changing Pedecaris to woman I can see Milius' reasoning. Firstly, there's no other female characters in the film, it needed at least one. Secondly, having Pedecaris be a woman allows for a hint of romance and this is mostly definitely a Romantic adventure.

Bottom line is if you haven't seen this film go see it now.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All the cinematic references in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

I know this blog is predominately about films but having just completed the awesome PSN game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon last night I felt compelled to write an entry about this. For those that haven't heard, Blood Dragon is a standalone spin-off from the wildly successful Far Cry games. Essentially, they've taken the previous game Far Cry 3, a first person shooter set on a tropical island, and reworked it so that it's set in a post-apocalyptic future instead. The internal game mechanics are exactly the same but the plot is completely unrelated.

When the first details of Blood Dragon were released a month or so back I think most gamers thought it was a hoax. For one it seemed more like the kind of crazy "mod" a fan would make and secondly the first poster for it was released on April Fool's Day. The game is basically a huge, beautiful love letter to the cheesy films of the 1980s.

You play as Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a cyber commando fighting a war against the evil Colonel Sloan and his cyborg army Omega Force. You start the game on Sloan's huge island and one by one you have to take down his bases using your stealth skills and a ton of insanely powerful weapons. That may seem like a walk in the park but you'll also need to be careful to avoid the deadly blood dragons - huge dinosaur-like creatures that shoot lasers from their eyes.

As a child of the 80s this game is absolutely amazing. I'm going to list all the references I spotted in the hope that it might encourage others to play it (believe me there's probably a ton I missed).

The Terminator (1984)
- There are several references to Jim Cameron's film. First and foremost is the casting of Michael Biehn as Rex Power Colt who played Kyle Reese.
- Rex's cyborg eye looks very similar to the T101 when it slices the flesh around it's eye off.
- Rex's love scene with Dr Darling is clearly a call back to Kyle love scene with Sarah Connor.
- The game opens with a tune very similar to Brad Fiedel's iconic theme.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
- The shotgun that Rex uses has a similar flip cock technique that Arnie uses in that film.

Aliens (1986)
- Mission 4 - 'What the S**t' - has you use a flame thrower to burn a Blood Dragon's nest of eggs, just like Ripley. Later on in the same mission, you furiously use the flame thrower to push back two Blood Dragons while you wait for an huge lift to come down.

Red Heat (1988)
- Colonel Sloan's base is called Danko Base which is probably a reference to Arnie's character Ivan Danko in Red Heat.

No Surrender, No Retreat (1986)
- When Rex has a training montage towards the end of the game the song 'Hold on to the Vision' by Kevin Chalfant plays in the background.

Rocky IV (1985)
- The training montage is heavily based on Ivan Drako's training montage in Rocky IV with Rex using a running machine and doing push-ups.
- The name of mission 7 is "I Must Break You"
- Early on in the game there is shot of Rex's fist hitting Sloan's fist and exploding just like the gloves did in at the start of Rocky IV. 
- Also the final level has the song 'War' by Vince DiCola from this film.

Escape from New York (1981)
- Rex's cynical quips about everything felt very similar to Snake Plisken.

Miami Connection (1987)
- The song 'Friends' by Dragon Sound plays out over the end credits. 

Krull (1983)
- Towards the end of the game you go on a quest to find a mystical weapon called the Killstar which is very much like the Glaive from Krull.
- The Omega Force use laser guns just like the 'slayers' in Krull.

Commando (1985)
- Colonel Sloan seems very much inspired by Bennett from Commando and gives a speech about he and Rex being similar at the end.
- Also the ridiculous sounding name Rex Power Colt is definitely a homage to the crazy names action heroes had in 80s film like John Matrix and Mason Storm.
- Also there's a montage early on showing Rex suiting up with all his weapons that is definite homage to the one from Commando.

Cobra (1986)
- The name of mission 5 is "I Don't Deal With Psychos I Put Them Away" which is a line said by Sylvester Stallone in this film.

Tron (1982)
- Obviously, there's heavily influence from Tron in the set design of the forts you take over. Neon red edges is everywhere and each fort has a light beams that shine right up into the sky.

Predator (1987)
- Opening level involves you firing a chain gun out of a helicopter while Little Richard's 'Long Tall Sally' plays in the background.
- Some of rumbling ambient music is definitely inspired by Alan Silvestri's tribal score for Predator.

Poltergeist (1982)
- The name of mission 2 is "They're Heee-ere".

Revenge of the Ninja (1984)
- Rex's partner is called Spider and wears a ninja mask which is obviously referencing the explosion of ninja films that came out in the 80s. I've just picked my favourite one.

The Last Dragon (1985)
- The Killstar weapon gives you the ability to shoot glowing laser bolts from your fingers not unlike Leroy in The Last Dragon. 

C.H.U.D (1984)
- Dr Carlyle's evil mutants, nicknamed The Running Dead, are zombies that have glowing eyes.

Hands of Steel (1986)/1990:Bronx Warriors (1982)/New Barbarians (1983)/2019: After the Fall of New York (1983)/Robowar (1988)
- Bad guys all wear motorcycle helmets which could be a reference to any one of these Italian sci-fi exploitation movies.
- The game is set in the future year of 2007 after a devastating nuclear war which again could be a reference to any one of these films.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
- One side mission involves you going down into the sewers under one of the bases where you have to kill four (un-mutated) turtles! Pizza boxes are strewn around everywhere.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
- Sloan turns out to Rex's father!

Conquest (1983)
- Not sure if this is intentional or not but the neon blue bow and arrow Rex uses looks very similar to the one in Lucio Fulci's film Conquest.

The Karate Kid (1984)
- There's a shot of Rex practises tai chi against a sunset just like Daniel and Mr Miyagi.

Robocop (1987)
- Rex's robotic arm seems definitely based on Robocop's arm.
- Rex's pistol also seems identical to Murphy's trademark gun.
- At one point Sloan shuts Rex down in the same way that Dick Jones shut down Robocop when he confronts him in the 1987 film.

Transformers TV show/Cadillacs and Dinosaurs TV show/He-Man TV show/Flight of the Navigator (1986)/The Last Starfighter (1984)
- The final mission sees you have to pilot a Titanium plated cyber-dragon which could be a reference to dinobots, He-Man or Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. Maybe I'm reading too much into it but I felt the indestructibility of the dragon was quite similar to the spaceship from Flight of the Navigator or The Last Starfighter too.
- Also when Rex picks up the Killstar weapon he says "I've got the touch, I've got the power" - paraphrasing Stan Bush's excellent song from Transformers: The Movie.

Mortal Kombat (1995)
- The portal that Rex takes to the parallel dimension looks just like one of the sets in Mortal Kombat.

Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)
- The name of mission 6 is "Summon the Plague" - a line that Drake uses in this film.

Blade Runner (1982)
- One of the random henchmen can be heard saying "I saw attack ships off the shore of Uranus."

So, that's all the ones I found but there's probably a whole load I missed. Bottom line is that if you like any of these films you owe it to yourself to get this game.