Thursday, October 27, 2016

5 things to love about Tuff Turf (1985)

What’s it about:
James Spader plays Morgan Hiller, a new kid at an inner city school. He falls foul of a rough gang of students led by Nick (Paul Mones) first by foiling a mugging and later by romantically pursuing Nick’s girlfriend Frankie (Kim Richards). Basically, it’s like a John Hughes movie gone bad! The tone of the film is all over the place but that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable.

5 things to love:
1 I think the biggest thing I took away from this film is how awesome the Jim Carroll Band are. They use three tracks from Carroll’s 1980 album Catholic Boy – ‘Voices’, ‘It’s Too Late’ and the amazing ‘People Who Died’. The rest of the soundtrack is an awkward mix of bubblegum pop ‘Breakin’ the Rules (What Do You Do When Opposites Attract)’by Lene Lovich and a collection of 60s R&B covers from Jack Mack and the Heart Attack.

2 James Spader more often than not plays either out and out assholes (Less Than Zero, Pretty in Pink) or dark and eccentric characters (Crash, Secretary). It’s pretty rare that he plays a straight forward hero. I don’t really think it’s terribly suitable for the role of Morgan Hiller but it’s fun to see him playing a good guy for change.

3 So, apparently, it was only decided after the script was written and the film was prepped that they wanted to up the music and dance elements (to compete with Footloose). As a consequence, there’s a number of lengthy dance sequences in the film. The best (or worst depending on your opinion) is Kim Richards’ go for broke dance sequence. Watch it here.
4 Another awkward addition is James Spader’s impromptu song that he serenades his friends with when they crash a country club dinner. Again, simultaneously terrible and awesome. Watch it here.
I’m sorry to report that isn’t Spader singing and the song isn’t on the soundtrack.

5 The last great thing about the film is we get a young Robert Downey Jr playing Spader’s friend Jimmy. This was the first time they acted together (see also: Less Than Zero and Avengers: Age of Ultron). He gives a memorable performance, spending most of the film not wearing a shirt.

1 thing it didn’t need:
At 1 hour 50 minutes, this film is way too long. There’s not enough plot to sustain that runtime. Had this been a shorter film I think it would be more memorable. Still, for 80s nostalgists this is definitely a film to visit when you’ve worn out your John Hughes tapes.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

5 Batman movie audiobooks reviewed

I’m a huge Batman fan and I collect a lot of stuff from the movies – particularly the Burton and Schumacher ones that I grew up with.

I always used to hate movie novelisations as a kid and found them pointless. I’d usually have the film on video and couldn’t understand the point of reading a long, slow, duller version where I had to build the image up in my head.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve had a lot of nostalgia for stuff from my youth and I recently purchased a lot of Batman novelisation audiobooks off eBay (curse you eBay) and transferred them from tape to mp3. Here’s my thoughts:-

Batman (1989) read by Roddy McDowall
At around 90 minutes this is a little shorter than the movie it’s based on. Roddy McDowell is a nice choice given that he played the Bookworm in the 60s series and voiced the Mad Hatter in the animated show. His high pitched, slightly camp voice makes him more suitable for the Joker and Vicki Vale than he does for Bruce Wayne and Batman. It’s not an especially dynamic reading and definitely could have been improved. It sounds a lot like McDowall is reading his lines for the first time. Overall, it’s fine but no real surprises or additional scenes.

Batman (1989) novelisation read by Nathan Pierce (unofficial release 2016)
This is an unofficial recording made by a YouTube group called Audiobooks for the Damned who record themselves reading old movie novelisations unabridged. At 5 and a half hours this is very slow compared to the movie. It’s a straight read through of the novelisation by Craig Shaw Gardner. Hilariously it’s unedited and a few times Nathan slips up and swears to himself. Don’t let your kids listen to this. One interesting element is that it includes one of the cut subplots from the film in which the Joker defaces a statue of John T Gotham (the founder of the city) with his own face. If you go looking through some background material on the film you will find that they did build this statue but never shot the unveiling scene.

Batman Returns (1992) read by Michael Murphy
NOTE: No youtube version of this. You’ll have to find the tape.
Spread over 2 tapes this is around 2 and half hour. A little more than the film’s runtime. Michael Murphy plays the role of the mayor in the movie. He’s actually really good and has a much more suitable voice for Bruce Wayne and Batman. Again, no major additions here though there are one or two extra sleazy puns from the Penguin. This is actually really enjoyable and probably the most recommended of all the audiobooks.

Batman Forever (1995) read by René Auberjonois
Again, this uses one of the cast. Auberjonois played the small role of Dr Burton in the film. He’s a decent narrator but like McDowall suits the villains more than the title hero. A few extra lines here and there. Strangely, it begins with a flashback of Edward Nygma being bullied as a kid at school and vowing one day he’ll get his revenge. I’ve always wondered if this was ever part of the script. Overall, a good reading and at 2 and half hours, it’s about the right length. One thing I always liked is that it opens with Danny Elfman’s superior score rather than Elliot Goldenthal’s.

Batman & Robin (1997) An Audio Action Adventure
This one is the odd duck. Rather than have someone narrate the novelisation they chose to do it as a radio play with sound effects. The voice artists, uncredited, are super cheesy and very over the top (not unlike the movie). The recording also boasts “special 3D sound effects” which are really grating. It even drops the Elliot Goldenthal score for some cheesy stock library music. It’s a real dud. The only saving grace is that it’s 35 minutes.

That’s all for now. Expect some more Batman-related stuff in the future.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

3 most devastating dad deaths in movies

I know, I know. Why the hell are you writing about such a morbid topic? The answer is I don't know, it's just something I have to get off my chest. I'm rarely affected by movies but for some reason scenes involving fathers dying just devastate me.

(SPOILERS... obviously)
Big Fish (2003)
What happens:
Will is sitting at his father’s side at hospital. He’s spent his life frustrated by his father’s infidelity and penchant for telling fantastical tales rather than the truth about his life. As his father dies he asks Will to tell him a story. Seeing his father has little time left Will spins a yarn about them escaping the hospital and driving out to the lake where his father transforms into a fish and swims off.

What’s really going on:
What makes this such an effective scene is that there’s a dual layer to it. There’s the reality of the situation and the fantasy of Will’s story. One is tragic while the other is triumphant. And most importantly, it’s Will, who has spent the whole film rolling his eyes at his father’s stories, is the one who spins the most fantastic tale of them all. It rings so true that as much as you try not to be your father, inevitably, there is a lot that connects you.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
What happens:
Kevin Flynn, who has been locked in the computer world of ‘the Grid’ for 30 years, has gotten his son Sam to the portal to the real world. Standing between them is Clu, a computer programme modelled on a younger version of Flynn who has gone rogue who wants to stop Sam. Flynn calls on some mysterious force, pulls Clu back towards him and he and Clu merge before exploding in a burst of light.

What’s really going on:
Tron: Legacy – a film a lot of people were fairly cool on (Daft Punk score withstanding) – is actually a really effective film. It’s about an errant father who has missed his son growing up. Yeah, technically Flynn was locked in ‘the Grid’ but really that’s just a metaphor for the way fathers get obsessed with work and other commitments and miss out of their children growing up. The end of Tron: Legacy is Flynn realising he hasn’t been there for his son and that rather than force a reconnection he should step back and let his son grow up.
Man of Steel (2013)
What happens:
Jonathan Kent has spent years telling his adopted alien son Clark not to show the world his superpowers. When their car breaks down and a hurricane swirls in, Jonathan rushes back to the car to rescue his dog. He twists his leg in the process and is forced to accept that he cannot get out of the way of the hurricane. Though Clark could save him Jonathan holds out his hand to tell him no.

What’s really going on:
There’s two things going on underneath this scene. The first is Jonathan is saving someone – something that Clark will later do lots of when he become Superman. I always thought it was kind of silly that it was saving a dog but on reflection it makes his death all the more tragic and mundane. The second layer is that Jonathan is staying true to his beliefs that Clark shouldn’t show his powers. Again, a lot of critics and fans had a problem with this but as a father of 1 (and 2 more due next year!) I can totally understand his reasoning. Sure you want your son to exceptional but not at the expense of being a freak. I think what Jonathan Kent really wanted for his son was normal life.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

5 things to love about Cat People (1982)

What’s it about:
Natassia Kinski plays a young woman who reunites with her long lost brother in New Orleans. She falls in love with the curator at a local zoo. She slowly begins to realise that she and her brother are shapeshifters who turn into panthers when sexually aroused.

5 things to love:
1. The score by Giorgio Moroder score is a synth masterpiece. Just listen to the “Leopard Tree Dream” or the title song “Putting Out Fire that he wrote with David Bowie.
2. The tone of the film is fantastic. I mean it’s a deeply, deeply silly concept but writer/director Paul Schrader takes it utterly seriously and the whole thing feels like some half remembered dream.

3. The performances are all great and contrast really well. Malcolm McDowell could play crazy in his sleep. John Heard (best known as the dad in Home Alone) meanwhile gives a super intense performance reminiscent of William Peterson.

4. Though there’s no huge set pieces, the swimming pool sequence stands out as a super tense scene (it’s borrowed from the original 1942 film). Annette O’Toole strips off and dives into a swimming pool when she thinks she hears a panther. The lights go out and she’s left treading water in the middle of the pool, too scared to get out.

5. The transformation sequences are bizarre and totally unique. Most of it occurs off screen but once or twice you get glimpses and rather than it being the cat people morphing into panthers, instead panthers burst out of them leaving behind an outer shell of human skin!

1 thing it did need:
A better ending. Don’t get me wrong the ending is has is okay but I was hoping for something a bit more climatic and shocking.