Saturday, 20 August 2011

More X-ellent X-Men

X-Men: First Class trailer

Just finished watching X-Men: First Class for the second time. What a bloody great film, my fave of 2011 so far, with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Super 8 not too far behind. Director Matthew Vaughn did a bang up job, giving XM:FC a super slick James Bond vibe and being helped no end by a smart, textured, yet economical screenplay from usual co-conspirator Jane Goldman. The movie also has a wonderful cast featuring James McAvoy as Xavier and a superstar-making turn from Michael Fassbender as Eric/Magneto. The entire cast is great but special praise goes to the gorgeous and highly talented Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique. Her relationship with Xavier and Xavier's friendship with Eric is at the heart of the film. Plus the action is all top notch. That Cuban missile crisis sequence at film’s end just rocks my world. Oh, and then there’s the sight of the delectable Rose Byrne in her undies as the icing on this mutant cake. Brilliant film and almost as good as the franchise's still high point of X2.

Also I just finished watching Marvel's last X-Men animated TV show - Wolverine and the X-Men. And that was pretty darn great too. Loved how they wove Phoenix and the Hellfire Club in to the story. Wolverine may have been just a bit too nice and cuddly in this version but his struggle to be a leader and to convince his doubting fellow ex-X-Men that he's the man for the job was pretty compelling. Nice how they kept the rivalry with Scott over Jean and Wolvie’s troubled big brother relationship with Rogue. Plus you get some really cool Sentinel bashing and some very nice little stand alone stories, many of which having elements that come back in to play in time for the big finale. Just a shame they never made a season 2 (funding issues apparently). I still prefer X-Men: Evolution over all but Wolverine and the X-Men came from the same team and carries on the same quality storytelling and character work they managed with Evolution.

Wolverine and the X-Men trailer

Make mine Marvel. :)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Raiders: The Adaptation. Why didn't I do this as a kid?

South America 1936

Okay, so I’ve watched twice now the legendary Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Jeez! I can’t believe I’ve not seen this until now.

I know it isn't readily available to see, but even so, there are ways and means. And seeing as how Raiders is my favourite film bar none it’s almost criminal that I haven’t sought out and watched this little gem until now.

Time for a brief history lesson:

Raiders: The Adaptation is a 100-minute, almost shot for shot recreation of Spielberg’s classic movie put together by three young friends - Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala, and Jayson Lamb from Mississippi, USA - over a seven year period starting in 1982 and finishing in 1988. The boys were all just 12 when they started. It was filmed in and around family homes, cost hardly anything, and got made through sheer on-the-spot-ingenuity, enthusiasm and a deep love for the material. On its completion the movie had one local showing in 1989 and was then largely forgotten until 2003 when somehow Eli Roth got hold of a copy, loved it and sent it to Spielberg. Spielberg also loved it and contacted the now grown up boys to congratulate them, saying he’d watched it twice on the trot and felt deeply inspired by what they had done all those years ago. The film has since gone on to have a few limited screenings at festivals around the world and made international news when Paramount and producer Scott Rudin purchased the rights to the boys story.

So what of the film itself?

As I said earlier, this is almost a shot for shot remake. It’s shot on 80’s video so the overall picture quality is not great (fuzzy image, picture rolls now and again). But that by no means detracts from the sheer fun and charm of the whole enterprise. Yes, some of the kids look ridiculous in their roles (Toht and Sallah spring to mind) and the long overall filming time means actors often look older/younger/different hair etc. from scene to scene. But their enthusiasm shines through and more than compensates. Also the kids playing Indy, Marion and Belloq are actually pretty good. As Indy Chris Strompolos has some presence and gives some good Harrison; as Marion Angela Rodriguez delivers some of the same two-fisted spunk as Karen Allen; and as Belloq Eric Zala manages to be nicely slimy with added French accent.

Technically the film is also quite the wonder – especially being made in an age long before desktop computer effects were available. For starters the lighting is often a remarkably good match to that of Douglas Slocombe’s. And the recreated sets are either eerily similar to those of the original (Belloq’s tent, the Cairo cafĂ©) or they are smaller yet still wonderfully accurate versions (South American idol temple, Marion’s bar, Well of Souls). Of the location work, the kids skilfully utilised local alleyways for the Cairo market/basket chase, and what seems to be a huge quarry/sandpit for the desert stuff and end island sequence. And most impressively, they used a real ship and a real WW2 submarine for Captain Katanga’s ship and the Nazi sub.

All the way through watching Raiders: The Adaptation, I was wondering, “How the hell are they gonna do…?” re. upcoming scenes and sequences. But virtually every Raiders sequence is recreated as accurately as humanly possible. The only major sequence sadly missing is the Indy/German mechanic fight at the flying wing. Guess they couldn’t find/recreate a giant flying wing. Still, everything else the kids managed to recreate is nothing short of spectacular. Don’t believe me? See their version of the truck chase. They obviously couldn’t get a horse so Indy just leaps on to the truck from up high. But the rest of the sequence is identical – even Indy going under the truck and being dragged along behind it! This and the earlier fire gags in the Tibetan bar fight looked so incredibly dangerous. I’m amazed their parents let them do it. But then maybe they didn’t know. Probably the latter. Heh.

The film culminates, as does as the original, with the opening of the Ark on the island. Here, the kids even managed some basic visual effects combined with plenty of dry ice and simple camera tricks to portray the whispy spirits and the angel of death as they appear and then attack the bad guys. We even have soldiers being shot through with lightening, melting Nazi’s and an exploding Belloq head!

Now, I just love stuff like this! I love it where fans, driven by nothing more than passion, go out and make something for no other reason than their love of the original material and with nothing to help them except their own boundless enthusiasm and honest creativity. It’s how the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, Abrams et al got started - making their own home movies inspired by others. So huge respect to those three then lads and their friends from Mississippi who went out there and managed this epic feat. What they set out to do and what they achieved is in perfect keeping with that same spirit of ‘just get out there and do it’ adventure epitomised by Indy himself.

Indy: “I don't know, I'm making this up as I go.”

A short tribute vid

Friday, 5 August 2011

Dark Phoenix and Tabby Boom Boom shake the room

Dark Phoenix Vs. Evanescence

Thanks to the greatness of X-Men: First Class I’ve gone on a bit of an X-Men binge of late.

To start with, I went and bought Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic Dark Phoenix Saga first published in the late 1970’s. I haven’t read this bad boy since I was a kid when it first came out. And reading it now I’m sure back then a lot of it must have gone way over my childish head. Claremont’s writing is brilliant. It’s mature, intelligent, full of depth, thematic resonance and great, great character arcs. His style is lush, creative, emotional and rather poetic. One moment the story is a sweeping galaxy spanning epic, and then, in an eye blink, it is a small, emotional and intimate story about family, love and loss. What I love is that Claremont clearly wasn’t afraid to write what is basically a comic book for kids as if he were writing a deadly serious, character driven tragedy that deals with some pretty weighty themes. The story of Jean Grey and her tragic and seemingly unavoidable destiny is truly the stuff of classic mythology and Claremont and Byrne treat their tale with due seriousness and respect.

Oh, and as a related point of interest, the Dark Phoenix Saga is also the story that introduced the character of Kitty Pryde - the smart, capable fifteen year old girl who suddenly discovers she has special powers and must come to terms with her own destiny. Now, as any decent Whedonite worth their salt will know, Kitty is much loved by Joss and was a major inspiration behind his creation of Buffy Summers, who in turn served as inspiration to the creators of the X-Men: Evolution animated series, which featured prominently none other than Kitty Pryde. And then, just to complete the circle, Joss went on to write the highly acclaimed Astonishing X-Men comic featuring prominently none other than – yep, you guessed it - Kitty Pryde. Such perfect creative synchronicity in action.

And after that short interlude its back now to our regularly scheduled programming.

So, yeah, the Dark Phoenix Saga is excellent stuff. Reading it makes you realise just how lame the third X-Men film actually was. They tried to do the whole Jean Grey/Phoenix thing only to screw it up well and truly. One day someone should just film Claremont & Byrne’s story. Mind you, it is so epic, spanning galaxies, warring aliens and the destruction of entire civilisations, that it would probably cost an absolute fortune to make. Still, one can but dream.

And still on my X-Men trip…

Tabby ‘Boom Boom’ Smith Vs. Green Day

As well as rereading classic X-Men comics I’ve also been watching the aforementioned cartoon series X-Men: Evolution (2000 – 2003). I know someone who’s a big fan of this show and they thought I’d also like it being the huge Buffy fan that I am. And they were right. X-Men: Evolution is a great show, taking the X-Men back to their original comic book teen roots, only in a contemporary setting. In Evolution, Xavier, Wolverine and Storm are the parental figures running what is essentially a home for troubled (i.e. mutant) kids. Some are orphans, like Scott (Cyclops) Summers; others, like Kurt (Nightcrawler) Wagner, Kitty (Shadowcat) Pryde and Jean Grey have all been sent there by their families. Then there are the ones like dour Goth girl Rogue, who have been actively sought out by Xavier and co. and given a home. Living at the mansion, the kids learn to accept and control their abilities, not letting their abilities control them. They also attend the local high school so as to learn how better to relate to ‘normal’ people in an everyday setting.

For an animated kids show the writing on X-Men: Evolution has remarkable depth. The characters are distinct, well written, likeable and with real character journeys to go on. It also has a nice line in wit and can be pretty darn funny at times. One of my favourite characters in the show is the fun-loving, trouble-loving Tabby 'Boom Boom' Smith (see video above). In one memorable episode Tabby is being trained by the X-Men but she isn’t taking any of it remotely seriously and keeps on calling Wolverine “Badger” much to his extreme annoyance. I did laugh rather hard at that. Poor Wolvie. Being emasculated by a teenage girl.

In Evolution, as in Buffy, everyday troubles faced by both the kids and the adults in the show are often given the ol’ metaphor treatment. Whereas Buffy used vampires, demons and other assorted supernatural nasties as the walking metaphors for the big bad of growing up and of life in general, so Evolution uses bad mutants, human prejudice and the kids’ own abilities as problems and obstacles to confront and overcome. At the time the producers and writers of Evolution freely admitted to being huge Buffy fans and of borrowing quite a bit from Joss’s little myth. And that’s great as Joss did exactly the same with the X-Men when creating the Buffster. I’ve gotta say I’m enjoying X-Men: Evolution quite a bit. It lasted four seasons and I’m currently half way through season 2 and it’s only getting better. Also on the X-Men front, I’ve gone and bought the latest X-Men cartoon series -Wolverine and the X-Men. It’s on TV every Saturday morning over here and, just like Evolution, it is pretty darn good. Not surprising as it comes from the same team who made Evolution, though it is not a sequel and finds the X-Men in their usual adult versions.

So, yeah, gotta love those troubled mutants.

That’s all for now, bub.