Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vintage Trailer of the Week 37

Writer Director Larry Cohen is a sort of twisted genius. Nobody has ever mastered high concept quite so well as he did in a string of low-budget b-movies through the 1970s and 80s including God Told Me To (1976) Its Alive (1974) and The Stuff (1985). In recent years his work as a Screenwriter has maintained that focus on a single compelling idea - he wrote Phone Booth (2002) Cellular (2004) and Captivity (2007) - but his best work remains this deranged pulp Classic which plays like a straight gritty New York police thriller for the most part...only its got an enormous stop-motion Dragon as the villain. Nesting in the Chrysler building. feeding on Manhattanites. David Carradine seems so stoned hes incapable of emoting and Michael Moriarty gives a hysterically hyperactive performance and its all great fun:


Friday, August 21, 2009

There is no Spoons

Spoons was a 2005 sketch show screened on Channel 4 and E4. It only got one Series and was, I presume, not a great popular success. I never read any reviews at the time, I only dimly remember any promotional material for it, and it ended without any hype or fanfare. A DVD squeaked out, more or less unannounced, some months later. People I've chatted to about it either remember it only vaguely or not at all.
This seems a massive injustice.

The thing that set Spoons apart from other contemporary sketch shows was its focus on thirtysomething life. It was about the world you face when your twenties recede and you realise you're not really young anymore. When you're settled in a job - possibly not the one you hoped for - and you're in a serious long-term relationship, and commitment is already established and your concerns are mortgages and the possibility of children and getting a pension. When all of your peers seem to be identikit same-people; your friends, your partners friends, your friend's friends. All reading the same papers, liking the same music, going on the same holidays, eating at the same restaurants. This is the terrain of a dozen middling sitcoms, but sketch comedy rarely ventures here, not so consistently at any rate. More or less every single sketch on Spoons was set in and commenting on this world.

But that would be utterly irrelevant if it wasn't funny.
I stumbled across it and the first sketch I saw hooked me instantly. It seemed so universal and truthful it almost wasn't comedy. It was this sketch:

That would go on to be a long-running repeated sketch, more elaborate and involved with each rendition. But the essential power came from the fact that any man in a relationship with a woman of a certain age knew that this was exactly what she was thinking, only her hints would be more subtle, or at least less psychotic. Many of the sketches came from a similar place - male terror at the closing trap of their lives. A man who goes alone to an empty storage unit just for the quiet and the solitude, who resents his wife's phone-calll and lies to her about being at the Supermarket, or stuck in traffic. A man who approaches strangers in public to tell them that the woman hes with has abducted him, taken over his life and is planning for them to get a mortgage: "Please - Call the Police! She chooses my clothes..."

Or the many sketches about life as part of a couple. Like the couple who find themselves gently arguing about who should go to the bar or the popcorn kiosk in the lobby, the man plainly desperate that it should be him. He eventually concedes and as she departs, cannot contain the scream "And try to keep your knickers on this time!" Then he turns to nearby strangers and explains. "She had an affair last year...Its Fine now..."
Or the couple who share variations on this exchange repeatedly:
Him: Is that a new top?
Her: Yeah.
Him: It looks good. It really suits you.
Her: Thanks.
Her: So, you obviously think that I dress like your mum's jumble sale the rest of the time.
You really are a fucking cunt!
Or the couple using a Ouija board together. The bloke, of course, is surreptitiously directing the glass. She thinks they’ve contacted her nan.
She says “Nan”, do you think it’s time I had kids?”
He moves the glass to “No”.
She says “Then what will make me happy?”
The glass moves to letters, spelling out: T-R-Y-A-N-A-L.
“Tryanal?” she exclaims quizzically. “What does that mean?”

It was co-written by Charlie Brooker, too, fresh off Nathan Barley, another reason to be surprised by its failure. His style is all over it, most evident in the sketches which lean on long riffs for their power, but also in the dry bitterness of it, in the characters who are obviously miserable misantropes, in the shots at the silly fickleness of popular culture and middle class mores. The cast are generally outstanding, particularly Tom Goodman-Hill, Simon Farnaby and Rosie Cavaliero.

I could go on. I have gone on.
And while it was never the mighty Big Train It was funny, in a terribly bourgeois sort of way. And in a world where the likes of Spoons-lite ManStrokeWoman gets a second series on the BBC and Spoons alumni Kevin Bishop gets two series of his own show, and Little Britain is a commercial behemoth, it just doesn't seem fair that Spoons virtually disappeared without a trace.

There isn't much from the show on YouTube, but there are some gems. Especially the first two sketches here, which make use of Goodman-Hill's Yorkshire accent and warm earnestness:

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vintage Trailer of the Week 36

Godard. Bardot. Palance. Delerue. Contempt. Supercool.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elmore Leonard does TV, Take 3...

Leonard creates characters you would imagine would work on television. I think its his world that doesn't quite work. Not on network TV, at any rate. Its too bold and colourful and adult. The villains are too frightening, the heroes too cool, the contrasts too stark. There is something about it - the moral balance, perhaps - which is almost evocative of post-War, Eisenhower America. American Network television drama works on one of two principles: either its fantasy (Lost, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica etc) or its "realist" escapist drama. Leonard fits neither. He needs to be on HBO or Showtime.

Neither of the other two series based upon his work - Maximum Bob and Karen Sisco - survived very long on a major network, despite good pedigrees and great reviews. But the newest one - Lawman, premiering next year, has better prospects.
The titular Lawman is Deputy US Marshall Raylon Givens, who has appeared in a couple of Leonard novels (Pronto and Riding the Rap) as well as in the Novella Fire In the Hole, upon which the Series is based. In the novella, Givens is sent back to the hometown in Kentucky pursuing a White Supremacist and is drawn back into local intrigue and violence. In the Series, Givens is reassigned perfectly to his home state.

I can see it working as a Series. The premise is arresting, the environment of the sort we see little of on TV, and in Timothy Olyphant it has a perfectly-cast leading man with experience of playing a US Marshall with a penchant for ultra-violence. Olyphant is a scene-stealer in supporting roles in (Go or the recent A Perfect Getaway) but, Deadwood apart, has never really made it as a leading man. This role, which seems to cater both to his machismo and sense of humour, would seem to be tailor-made for him. The writer/creator is Graham Yost, whose work as a screenwriter is decidedly variable (Speed, Hard Rain, Mission To Mars) but who has a much surer hand on television, where he has contributed to Band of Brothers and Boomtown.

Most crucially its on FX, meaning it will be violent enough, foul-mouthed enough, adult enough to get Leonard right. Meaning ratings won't be the be-all and end-all. Meaning good reviews might actually make a difference. This clip suggests that it could be a cracking show:

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Lee Weeks, that is. The penciller who got away, possibly the single most underrated comics artist of his generation (depending on whether or not Stuart Immonen is part of that same generation, because he should truly be a Superstar).
None of these shots can adequately convey what makes Weeks so wonderful, because they are covers, splashes and posters. But his storytelling is without peer - muscular, subtle, beautifully stark.

Hes one of those artists who seems to have suffered for his Classicism. Because he looks like he's influenced by Toth and Wood, by Joe Kubert and Gil Kane, by Ditko and Frazzeta, by Buscema and Colan and Mazzuchelli rather than Manga or George Perez, he has never ever really fit in at Marvel. When he emerged, after working on Justice and The Destroyer to earn his spurs, he was given Daredevil, the street level superheroics and noir vibe of which would seem to best suit his style, but even there he seemed ill at ease, still finding his style and not quite confident enough to embrace it fully. So his fitfully stunning work looked old-fashioned by comparison to the hip artists at that company at the time (a problem Ron Garney also suffered from) , the Image generation in particular.
Still he worked on the semi-classic "Last Rites" storyline, and followed Daredevil with a run on Gambit, at that point very much a hot character.

But his style was not a good fit for the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe, no matter how many dynamic, brilliantly designed covers he came up with, and after Gambit he left Marvel to briefly work at DC. For me Weeks should be working at DC, it seems his rightful home. He was surely born to draw Batman, as Batman Chronicles: the Gauntlet suggested.

Most of his work at DC, however, amounted to Cover Art (he also did storyboard work on Superman: The Animated Adventures), which wastes Week' storytelling ability, and he didn't last long at the company, drawing Tarzan Vs Predator: At the Earth's Core for Dark Horse in 1996. But soon it was back to Marvel, and there he has bounced about, drawing covers, working on a story arc here, a mini-series there. It can be tough to keep track of him, and since he rarely works on the more prestigious projects or with the better writers, not always entirely rewarding. It seems certain that he will never be the star his talent suggests he should be. He works too little, too slowly, and his style is not flashy or individual enough. From interviews I've read, I gather he also takes a dim view of much of the industry's current product, disliking the "darkness" of a lot of material, which is a shame. But what an artist!

He does have his fans. Volume 17 of the Modern Masters series is dedicated to a Weeks interview, with tons of unpublished art etc, demonstrating just how highly some rate him. Here are some covers etc, beginning with the Hulk the way he should always be seen. On horseback, carrying an axe.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tackling the Twelve: Cocksucker Blues

What I hadn't really expected about Robert Frank's legendary Cocksucker Blues, is that it would make being in probably the biggest band in the world look like such a soul-destroying, achingly empty hell. But it does, oh how it does.

Filmed on the Rolling Stones long-awaited 1972 North American tour, Frank's film is so legendary for a number of reasons. Firstly, its about the Stones, a band with a certain midas touch when it comes to Film. From the early Charlie Is My Darling(1965) following them through a brief tour in Ireland (and out on DVD for the first time in a few weeks), through Godard's One Plus One (1968) and the Maysles' awesome Gimme Shelter (1970), the band had always made for fascinating cinema.
Secondly, there are the circumstances of the tour: their first since 1969, a tour which had culminated in Altamont, Hells Angels and murder (captured in Gimme Shelter). this time they were supporting arguably their greatest record - Exile on Main Street - and the tour was a mammoth trek through enormo-domes. The tour became famous both for the Stones' onstage performances and the outrageous backstage antics of their massive entourage. The Stones at this point carried around a certain mythology. They were the dark side of the British invasion. They were Brian Jones dead in a swimming pool, drug busts, Marianne Faithfull and mars bars, Altamont and songs about satan. And finally there are the circumstances of the films non-release. When it was screened by Frank for the band, Jagger is reported to have told him that it was great, but if it screened in America they would never be allowed to re-enter the country. They went to court to have its release blocked, Frank fought them, and it remains the victim of a strange little legal ruling. It can only be screened in Frank's presence, and so has never been released on VHS or DVD. Bootlegs exist, of course, and I watched one.

Frank's method was unusual for a Rock documentary. He shot Cocksucker Blues cinema verite style, distributing cameras throughout the band and their entourage, so that they were left lying around for anybody to just pick up and film whatever was going on. This makes for some great, strange footage, and also a lot of tedium. But there is Jagger filming himself in the mirror upon the ceiling over his bed rubbling at his crotch almost comically, and there are snatches of home movies of him and Bianca play-fighting. There is also an instant atmosphere. Frank is adept at allowing the background noise to insinuate itself into every sequence, and so there are montages backed by Jagger or Richards noodling around on piano. There are political speeches on endless hotel room telephones, radios playing Al Green records, the band listening to their own songs (in new-fangled stereo!). But if tone and atmosphere are the film's strongest points, then coherence is sacrificed. Subjectivity is all, and so it becomes a blur of people in rooms, waiting out the times between gigs. Roadies, backing band members, promoters, groupies, journalists...they all blur together, the tour an endless procession of hotels and new faces the same as the old faces.

If there is a theme, it is that life on the road is crushingly boring and lonely, which explains the depth of feeling in one of the band's greatest songs, "Moonlight Mile", an ode to a lover waiting at the end of a tour. The last reel is a long stream of hotel-room scenes: Keith Richards, obviously stoned and ordering "strawberries and blueberries" and "three apples" from room service, poker games, televisions always buzzing away in the background, a naked groupie rubbing cum into her belly as a roadie tells her how great it looks. It almost suggests that it is unsurprising that Rock Stars get involved in drugs. And so we see Jagger snorting coke, and (it is hard to tell) Richards shooting up. Frank's cameraman, Danny Seymour, is seen shooting up more than once, and his decline into the narcotic rhythms of the touring life is one of the film's subtly indicated plotlines. Frank brilliantly juxtaposes one heroin scene - a long monologue in praise of the drug - with Watts watching an advert for "Exedrine", the narcotic effects of which are emphasised in another monologue.

We also see so many rock cliches it is almost as parodic as Spinal Tap - Richards and Danny Keyes throw a tv off a hotel balcony. But first we hear them faffing with the chord, and they carefully check that there is nobody below before they drop it. At one point, we see them seemingly lost backstage. The band crossing airfields to their private jet. Nodding off in limos and on airplanes and propped up in bed. There is relatively little performance footage. The highlight is a medley of "Uptight" with "Satisfaction" performed together with Stevie Wonder, whose vocals make Jagger sound drunk and inept. But Jagger is brilliant in his solo spot on "Midnight Rambler" and less so in the uptempo songs where he is all "Mick Jagger", all strutting cock dance moves and jerky kicks and self-conscious showmanship. Somehow the desolation of his life offstage makes it all so much less convincing.

He and Richards are the twin leads, both fascinating and enigmatic and shockingly middle class whenever they open their mouths. Richards seems perpetually distant, dazed and doped, that vacant expression on his face at all times except in a few scenes. Jagger is more affected; his boredom seems a foppish performance, and we can see the calculation in him - in a brief conversation with Frank about how they have treated some crew member who was violent, in his attention when plans for shooting the crowds for the film are discussed, in his answers to questions in television interviews. And he is a different person with his then-wife, Bianca; quieter and less of a rock star. She hovers in the corners of rooms sullenly, apparently resentful of everyone, and Jagger seems to tiptoe around her beauty. He does seem human, however. In one of the funniest moments in the film, Tina Turner leaves a dressing room full of men after a conversation with him and he drawls "I wouldn't mind..."

Perhaps the best scene, however, is when the band, together with only a few of their party, go off-map somewhere in the South. they just drive off into the countryside, on backroads, looking for somewhere to eat. Jagger comments how great it is to get away from "all those people" and says the South is one of the only places in America where you can get "interesting food", while Bianca keeps telling him to turn left. Mick Taylor sleeps in the back. They end up playing pool in some little bar, and it is perhaps the only moment when they escape the mad circus surrounding them, and all the layers of people at different levels the film observes are gone.

That is the other real subject - the menagerie revolving around these five young men. Their roadies, managers, the fans, support acts, the media, all of them interpreting and ascribing significance to the minutiae of the band's lives and declarations and songs. Frank knits together one aural montage of soundbites, radio commentators on the band, which seems removed from the actual day-to-day existence he has depicted it seems surreal. That day-to-day is empty and dehumanising, a world filled with non-places (hotels, airports, stadiums) and with random encounters with celebrities (Truman Capote, Andy Warhol) and depressing debauchery (a couple of groupies get stripped and roasted by roadies inflight while the amused Stones provide a backing track). Frank's best move, but one which makes the film hard going at times, is to refuse explanation or exposition. True verite: no voiceover, no interview excerpts, nobody ever identified, no linearity. Just a chaotic random rambling mess of scenes long and short, exciting and tedious, beautiful and ugly. Don Delillo named the third part of his novel "Underworld" Cocksucker Blues and in that chapter, a couple of characters attend a screening, allowing DeLillo to riff on the film and the Rolling Stones for a few pages. He focuses on the shadowy, fudged mess of it, the non-interviews and the comments spoken out of the sides of people's mouths, how casual it all is. And he is right, it feels almost as if it made itself, a unconscious projection by all those people surrounding the band. He also writes about its blue glow, a certain crepuscular light which is a big part of the melancholy heart of the film and one of its great glories.

This is what makes it special, unlike any other Rock Documentary I have ever seen (altough its influence is plain in so many lesser films since). Frank had the courage and the artistic ambition to aim for art, to aim for poetry. His commercial instincts were obviously nonexistent. And his film is all the better for it.

Find the original "The Twelve" post here .

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


This is the Coen Brother's contribution to Chacun Son Cinema, an anthology film commissioned for the 60th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival. It consists of 34 three minute films by acclaimed directors. The Coens' film, World Cinema, isn't available on either of the dvd releases of the anthology, and as such it has been much sought after. I've mentioned it here before in connection with either No Country for Old Men or Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and now - hurrah - its on YouTube, at last. Is funny in a quiet way:

Labels: , , ,

Vintage Trailer of the Week 35

Francis Ford Coppola's most underrated film is a swanky, gaudy, ahead-of-its time chronicle of man against corporate America with a great (as usual) Jeff Bridges at its heart. It feels a bit autobiographical on the Godfather's part, to me, with its story of a charismatic visionary and genius surrounded by people who just don't understand. Unavailable on DVD, of course...


Sunday, August 09, 2009


- Last mention of Michael Mann for sometime, I promise: The Autuers published a fine set diary on Public Enemies a while back which is well worth a perusal...

- This site is a legal, free streaming service showcasing some great movies in decent quality with - at the moment - no registration required. Never seen David Gordon Green's lovely George Washington (2000)? Nows your chance. Or his later, more difficult Undertow (2004)? Its there too. As is another recent favourite of mine, Joachim Trier's Reprise (2006). And Fernando Leon de Aranoa's great Mondays In the Sun (2002), starring Javier Bardem and Luis Tosar. Ray Lawrence's excellent Lantana (2001), Milcho Manchevski's masterful Before the Rain (1994), Lars Von Trier's The Boss of It all (2006) and a couple dozen more.

- I love Saul Bass, and thought I knew his work pretty well, but I had never seen this typically awesome poster for The Birds until today:

- The Spanish term for "Nutmeg" (in the football sense) is Caño. A most beautiful maneuver when performed well. I love a nutmeg, as does YouTube. Mute it though because the soundtrack - as is true of most Youtube football montages - is offensively atrocious...

- Mindless Ones is my favourite comics site these days for the occasionally brilliant criticism it features and for the bouts of shameless geek-nostalgia it never fails to evoke. As in this recent piece on Maniac 5 from early 90s 2000AD. I had utterly forgotten that Maniac 5 had ever even existed, (because, like the similarly brilliant the Journal of Luke Kirby, from the same era, it has never been collected) but it was Awesome and possibly Mark Millar at his most Millaresque. Meaning it was ultra-violent, more than a little offensive, and brilliantly played the formula of hero-comes-back-from-the-brink-to-win. Plus it had art by Steve Yeowell, the most underrated of his generation of Brit artists...

- So many World Cinema titles play at various festivals and I read reviews and watch trailers and make little mental bookmarks and then they never come out here. Not even on DVD, in some cases. Whereas American comedies with Paris Hilton in get cinematic releases. There truly is no justice. Which seems to be sort of the subject of this Mexican-American co-production. Its coming out on DVD in the US this month, and I may have to get that version in order to see it. But its Executive produced by Carlos Regaydas, which is good enough for me...:

- This is a preview of M.K. Reed's newest comic, Cross Country. Its funny, well observed stuff. You should read it.

- Just how great are The Monks? Pretty great. One almost perfect, absolutely unique album of 60s Garage Rock, some hilarious promo photos, a stunted career in Germany (where they had been stationed as GIs), and they were more or less done. But that album...that album is brilliant. This is "I Hate You", a good primer in their particular brand of aggressive rock and roll, set to some 60s Israeli movie:

Oh Raquel, you fill me with inertia (Yes You Do)

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Into the Western

Some creative talent was just made to make Westerns. Walter Hill, say. Tommy Lee Jones. Viggo Mortenson. But they all know it, you can see it in their choice of material. Others aren't quite there yet. Tom Jane. He desperately needs to play a decent cowpoke with a fast draw and a bloody past in a modest modern Western. I feel its his destiny. Michael Madsen. He did it in Blueberry, but nobody saw that, and got close in Kill Bill to playing the shit-eating bad guy he looks and talks like, but not quite close enough for my liking. Javier Bardem, surely born to play a Mexican bandido? He would imbue such a stock figure with depth and humanity. Salma Hayek. As a whore in some border town.

And then theres Marco Beltrami. Hes a soundtrack Composer, responsible for a dozen forgettable Scores for action and genre movies. Remember the Hellboy score? No, me neither. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines? Nope, but I'm presuming it ripped off the original theme Bigtime. Live Free or Die Hard? Did that one sound like Michael Kamen's original? I, Robot? Sorry, I'm drawing a complete and utter blank.

But put Beltrami on a Western, and its a different story. Put Beltrami on a Western, and he'll net himself an Oscar nomination.
Maybe its the Morricone factor. Just as some composers seem to feel the need to go all Bernard Hermann whenever they write a score for anything remotely Hitchcockian, many young composers embrace their inner Morricone as soon as men in hats ride by on horses on screen. Out come the surf guitars, the unorthodox choral passages, the eccentric rhythms.
On his score for 3:10 to Yuma, Beltrami is guilty of all this. But he does it all so well. And he writes some great melodies to twist the stylistics around, which is always key. The main theme, a swooningly romantic passage, is lovely and sounds classically Western but also inescapably modern.

This is because Beltrami puts his own stamp on these familiar elements. He modernises where he can - there are synthesisers and samples alongside the electric guitar and orchestra and mandolin. The score sounds like a score for a Western, but could also belong to a modern action film in its propulsive sense of forward momentum, in its constant tension.
Here is the closing theme, the best showcase of that melody:

And this, the very Morricone Bible Study:

3:10 to Yuma is as Classical a Western as Hollywood can make these days, devoted only to telling its story without much in the way of subtext or genre revision in mind, and so the strained romanticism of Beltrami's score is a good fit. His other prominent work on a Western, for Tommy Lee Jones' fantastic The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a lot stranger and more experimental, which suits the material. At heart it contains an unmistakeably Western theme, picked out on guitar, but Beltrami surrounds it with strange synth noise, echoes and a jerking percussion which make it thoroughly modern. There are also haunting quivers of what sound like Native American instruments underneath the main melody, which is lovely in itself:

Beltrami seems to be splitting his career cleverly at the moment, working on big genre movies (like the upcoming sci-fi actioner Repo Men and Knowing) and also on projects for quality directors, such as Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Bertrand Tavernier's In the Electric Mist. However, there are no Westerns on his slate at the moment, which is a damn shame.

Novelist George Pelecanos loves Westerns. He refers to them in his books - one of his recurring heroes, PI Derek Strange, is a Western nut and even listens to Soundtrack cds at his desk ( I bet he loves Beltrami) - and writes reviews and articles about them on his website and in online and print media. He wrote a great piece for Sight & Sound a few years back in which he discussed Elmore Leonard adaptations, including a couple of Westerns (he praised the unjustly underloved Valdez Is Coming) and I've read his paeans to Classic Western Novels like Oakley Hall's Warlock and Charles Portis' True Grit. He even contributed this List of 10 Best Westerns to Read for Amazon and this one of his favourite Western movies to the Rumpus. So he knows the genre.

His own books are basically Urban Westerns, in a sense. He tells tales of Men in conflict, of law and order, full of moral quandaries and loyalty and violence and blood, of honour and revenge, and always with an extraordinarily vivid sense of place. He has written several period books - altough only The Big Blowdown is set in a period far removed from his own experience - and recently worked as a writer on HBO's The Pacific, set during WW2. But he needs to write a Western. His crime writing has become somewhat repetitive in its setting, characterisation and concerns, and a change of focus would freshen up his approach, I think. A screenplay would be good, but I really want to see Pelecanos try his hand at an Elmore Leonard-style Western novel; taut, spare and gripping the way Leonard used to do it. Pelecanos is more than capable.

A few years ago I would have said I fervently wanted Quentin Tarantino to direct a Western. Now, post-Kill Bill; not so much. But I would love to see Michael Mann on a western. Or Terence Malick. Carlos Regaydas. Scorsese or Soderbergh. Peter Weir. Many more...

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 07, 2009

"I'm gonna get to the bottom of this ASAFP, but first I'd like to butter your muffin"

I grew up in the 1980s. John Hughes movies were part of the fabric of my childhood and early adolescence. Some of the qualities for which they are most fondly remembered - the way they didn't talk down to teenagers, the understanding of the pressures of High School and conformity and clique culture - I wasn't really conscious of. But I could see even then that a film with John Hughes' name on it was liable to be a classier, more enjoyable and rewarding work than one of the many films that tried to imitate his success. I got that he gave great parts to his young casts, and that he had an amazing ear for dialogue. and most importantly that he was funny.

So the more serious films he made were never the ones I loved. Pretty In Pink (1986) (which was directed by Howard Deutch from a Hughes script), 16 Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) - I liked them, but never the way I liked Weird Science (1985) or Ferris Buellers Day Off (1986). The amazing fact that all these films were made within three years reveals just how influential Hughes was at one point, and how his sensibility and worldview set the tone for the way Hollywood treated teens in a way that persists in the modern teen comedy.

Hughes grew older and after a couple of more "adult" comedies - Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), which may in fact be his masterpiece, and Shes Having a Baby (1989) - he seemed to regress, and for the rest of his career made and wrote films almost exclusively for children. But I will always remember him for the anarchic geek-triumph moments in Ferris Bueller and Weird Science, probably two of the most quotable and quoted films of the 80s. Weird Science in particular was my favourite, less eager to please than Bueller, with Kelly LeBrock, an Oingo Boingo theme song, Bill Paxton's funniest appearance ever and mutant bikers all part of the bizarre package.

That theme tune:

John Hughes
1950 - 2009

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Caveat Empire

I wrote a post a month or so ago on Michael Mann. An A-Z thing. If you're a regular here then you may have read it, or, intimidated by its length, skimmed or skipped it. Believe it or not, it could have been twice or three times as long but I cut a lot and tried to keep it as short as I could. Anyway, a couple of weeks later my old buddy Monsterwork informed me that Empire Online had posted their own Mann A-Z .

Mine was up on Tuesday June 30th, theirs on July 6th, and there were definite similarities, but then you would expect a lot of similarities in longish pieces with such a tight focus on a single Director. For instance, we both had The Keep as our K entry, and whereas I had B is for Blue, they had I is for Indigo. Which seems almost a schoolchild's level of plagiarism. But it was some of the details that got me and seemed most suspicious: references to Peter Berg, FX Feeney's Mann book and Andy McNab's advisory role on Heat. Friends who read both pieces seemed more outraged and certain than I was that I had been ripped off.

So I emailed one of the Online Editors at Empire, received an "Out of Office AutoReply" mail with an alternative address, and sent another mail to that address. I kept my mail polite and just requested some acknowledgement or clarification. Nothing. Two weeks without any reply. Until yesterday, that is, when I sent another mail to the original address. This time the editor replied to me within an hour with a polite explanation that there was no plagiarism, that he saw little resemblance between my copy and theirs, that the two(!) writers had never seen my post before he showed them the link I had supplied, and that their piece had been commissioned on June 12th and filed two weeks later, before my post even went up. All of which is fair enough, and I dropped the matter.

Except for this post. what was most interesting about this whole thing for me was comparing my version with Empire's. I haven't read Empire regularly for years, and indeed I fail to understand its purpose in the Internet era. When I purchased it avidly the Internet was in its infancy, and Empire was literally the best - indeed only, alongside its glossier, more American sister publication Premiere - place to see frames and hear news about forthcoming movies. The Internet is a one-stop shop for all that now. Empire was never the place for great criticism or analysis; it is far too dependent on a lowest common denominator demographic, and its inverse snobbery means that it pays little attention to World Cinema or anything pre-Star Wars. This means that while my Mann post is full of attempts at analysis, some more successful than others, Empire contains virtually none whatsoever. Instead if is factoid-heavy, a few vague efforts to understand some of the trends in his work being made amidst lots of gags. The Empire house style - ultra-readable and slick - is also evident, whereas my post seems almost academic by comparison. A decade ago I would have been thrilled by even the tiniest suggestion that Empire might have copied a piece I wrote. But now, while heartening in a way, it didn't seem that big a deal. A blog is good in that way. You just write something and let it go.

I prefer my version, obviously. But then I would say that, wouldn't I?

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Vintage Trailer of the Week 34

"What do they want of Quiller? What does Quiller want of them?"
Adapted from Adam Hall's novel by Harold Pinter, and directed by a young Michael Anderson before hackdom truly claimed him, this is probably the most cerebral and atmospheric of all 60s Spy Movies. Alec Guinness and Max Von Sydow offer predictably classy support, but George Segal owns the film as the clever, poker-faced Quiller, and theres the requisite John Barry score and some fascinating location photography of Berlin. Its a shame its lack of success meant it never became a franchise.
Great trailer, too: