Great Xpectations: A Tale Of Love, Mutants And Apocalypse

What’s the last thing you remember?

cerebro

“Get off the bloody chandelier, Hank!” – Charles Xavier.

With the release of X-Men: Days Of Future Past on DVD, this ol’ X-fan has finally got round to enjoying what was inevitably shaping up to be one of the best blockbusters of the year; with Bryan Singer back at the helm, and a plot grabbed from a major story arc in the original comic, it was looking like a very promising prospect indeed.

In the original Days of Future Past comic, it is intriguing to learn that it was Shadowcat (aka Kitty Pryde) and not Logan, who was tasked with the time-travel duties.  Also, the “future” events supposedly take place in 2023, but interestingly enough, the original 1981 comic specifically mentions 2013 – the year incidentally in which filming began.

Well over thirty years ago, visits to London during school hols would always culminate in raiding the bottom shelf of the station newsagent for a comic to read on the train home. Obsessed with finding as many crazy-costumed-crusaders as possible, the search usually concentrated on teams rather than solo heroes. So, er… X marked the spot as it were. No pun intended, for any Uncanny X-Men issue swiftly became the treasure of my (modest) comic collection.

x-men daysxaviers

“So, I wake up in my younger body, and then what?” – Logan.

Why – if you like the X-Men so much – has it taken so long for you to get round to watching this: one of the finest in the franchise? Oho! Trust you to come up with such a good question, dear Follower.

When X-Men:DoFP was released in mid-May, my usual mid-year sojourn in the UK was weeks old; the film was available in multiplexes throughout the country, humongous billboard posters of Wolverine and Mystique taunted me in London Underground tunnels, but still, no muto-show. What on Earth was holding me back?

Thousands of miles at home on the Gulf of Thailand, Mrs. B waited patiently. During our daily chats on the phone, we agreed to not seeing it separately until my return.

In the past “a new and uncertain world” as Charles Xavier called it, (late 2000 to be precise), while flying down to Australia, watching The X-Men as inflight entertainment was such a great experience, and helped allay pressing concerns about how (and where) to find gainful employment and/or the love of my life.

Fast forward to May 2003, Bradscribe – living and working in Southeast Asia – sat in a fine, yet freezing cold, cinema, with his gorgeous girlfriend (who is now the lovely Mrs. B) enjoying X2: X-Men United beside him. My own “world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes” had been seized successfully. Such an amazing movie – we ended up watching it together at the cinema three times. Not only did we promise to grow old together, but vowed to watch any more X-Men sequels that came our way!

It’s such a shame that X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) turned out to be a huge disappointment, jettisoning the drama and character development of the first two films for a monotonous cascade of lame fight sequences. It may have been a weak movie, but our love remained strong.

magneto ballsmagneto hat

“We were supposed to protect them. Where were you when your own people needed you? Hiding! You and Hank, pretending to be something you’re not! You abandoned us all!” – Erik Lehnsherr.

It should be said that it was stupendous news to learn that Michael Fassbender had been cast as a young Eric Lensherr, in X-Men:First Class (2011). Mrs. B acquired the DVD when it came out. We settled down to watch, and sure enough, Fassbender as Magneto proved to be impressive; his presence made the film work and took the franchise to an interesting new level. But it soon became evident that my beloved clearly did not dig what was going on. To her, an X-Men movie without Scott or Jean – or completely Ian McKellen-less for that matter – ain’t worth her time. Yet this new instalment, with all of Her faves reinstated, and some spectacular scenes on offer, looked like rekindling our mutual mutant appreciation.

For me, DoFP did not disappoint. Again, Fassbender is on top menacing form. An instant classic scene sees a sinister fedora-clad Eric, infiltrating the facility where his helmet is stored; the image of him marching down the corridor levitating metal balls above his palm, was cool and impressive, not only requiring  inmmediate playback, but just had to be incorporated into this Post by any means necessary. The tension between Erik and Charles in 1973 clearly in my view surpasses the ’60s drama of the previous movie. The scene between the young and elder Xaviers is especially astounding, and the dialogue between Wolverine and a dispirited Charles in Cerebro is a contender for one of the best scenes from the whole franchise.  

The final scene where Logan wakes up in a peaceful but busy Xavier School and sees Jean Grey was a nice touch and brought back teary-eyed memories of that happy month in 2003… when only one movie mattered.

x apocalypsex apocomic

“The thrust of Apocalypse is really to complete the trilogy… There will be familiar characters and new characters that we haven’t seen… ever… but it’ll be the completion of what we began in First Class” – Simon Kinberg.   

Last, but by no means least, the post-creds sequence for DoFP must stand as the most thrilling this fanboy has ever seen in any Marvel-related movie. From the depths of my dark, tangled mind, the character portrayed was instantly discernible. Apocalypse was one of the most powerful mutants, also known as En Sabah Nur (“the first one”). This final instalment in the trilogy may feature other mutants not previously featured onscreen, but should provide an awesome spectacle when it is unleashed in May 2016. But will Mrs. B appreciate it? “It’s going to take the two of us.”

Well, as our new DVD got underway, it came in for instant criticism. She frowned discouragingly during the opening mutants vs. Sentinels battle.

“Who are these guys?!…”

It is with deep regret that even yours truly had to confess to not knowing who any of those mutants were.

“You’re the fanboy! You should know!”

Yes, my dear, but 1981 was a very long time ago, and none of the onscreen X-Men sport their unique costumes as seen in the comics, so it all looks rather confusing.

When Logan wakes up in 1973, he just had to be absolutely starkers, didn’t he? Mrs. B was clearly not amused. She huffed discontentedly, snuggled down on the sofa, and fell fast asleep, leaving me to sit through the rest of the movie on my own which, as mentioned before, is what this blogger should have done four months ago anyway.

Oh well…

Er... no, not exactly
Er… no, not exactly

 

 

Advertisements

Towering Influence: A Tribute To A Larger Than Life Legend

 

Richard Kiel: 13 September 1939 – 10 September 2014

1977, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

“Well, they don’t really need an actor, he’s more a monster part… I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration” – Richard Kiel.

At 7 ft 2 in tall, Richard Kiel, who has died at the age of 74, will be forever remembered for playing the henchman Jaws in not one, but two Bond movies. The role has became so iconic that he’d virtually made a separate career from countless Bond convention and fanfest guest appearances. Despite being blind in one eye, and his distinctive height and physiognomy attributed to the hormonal condition: acromegaly, he carved a 50-year career spanning dozens of television and movie appearances.

Funnily enough, in the mid-70s, when auditions for a certain evil cloaked space villain began, both Kiel and one Dave Prowse were up for the role. Interestingly, Kiel “turned down the role of Darth Vader in order to play Jaws, which he felt offered greater acting potential since the character was not encased in a mask.” When the role of Jaws came along, he (reluctantly) went up for it against (who else?)  Dave Prowse…   

And what about Chewie? In an interview two years ago, Kiel claims he turned down the chance to play that walking carpet due to a fear of being typecast, and complaining that it’s: “always so hot inside those suits…”  

When The Incredible Hulk was developed for television in 1978, Kiel spent the first two days of filming as the green giant. However, the producers felt he “was not bulky enough,” so in stepped Lou Ferrigno, but later in the series Kiel would make an appearance, albeit uncredited.

kiel alienhumanoid

“He was a super guy. He was larger than life. He was very friendly; would always make time to talk with his fans” – Luis Fairman.

Richard Kiel – who would have turned 75 this past Saturday – began his acting career by appearing in various TV Westerns such as Laramie and The Rifleman. He starred in the poor little-known SF feature: The Phantom Planet before making a striking appearance on television.

One notable episode of seminal TV show: The Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man” (1962) told how a 9-foot tall alien race known as the Kanamits arrived on Earth to assist mankind. Besides being 2 feet too short(!), Richard Kiel portrayed the still-imposing Kanamit ambassador who visited the United Nations to reiterate the aliens’ peaceful intentions; his lips never moved – as Kanamits communicated telepathically, his “voice” was provided by another actor.

Later that year, Kiel would play the titular caveman of the atrocious Eegah, in which “teenagers stumble across a prehistoric caveman, who goes on a rampage.” 

Other roles in the genre included The Humanoid (1979). Richard Kiel had a substantial role in this ultra-cheap Italian Star Wars knockoff, but this is a shame, for it turned out to be yet another case of shoddy material which did not do its star any justice. As anyone can see from both Bond films, Richard Kiel could apply the subtlest nuances in his looks to alternately convey menace and mayhem and then heart and humour.

jaws bondjaws grip bondRichard-Kiel-Roger-Moore-star-unveiling

“They shot two endings [for Spy Who Loved Me]: one where the shark got him and one where he got the shark. And, in America, there was great whooping and hollering when his head came up out of the sea” – Sir Roger Moore.  

Sir Roger Moore was said to be “totally distraught” at learning of Richard Kiel’s passing. Despite being involved in some of the best fight scenes of the 007 franchise, off-screen Moore and Kiel were the best of friends. Moore praised his giant friend for helping him in fundraising campaigns for UNICEF. “He was a big, caring man.”

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is often considered one of Moore’s best 007 adventures. Originally, Jaws was to be like every other henchman: do his bit and then come a cropper, but there was such a distinctive vibe about Kiel’s performance which makes Jaws one of the most memorable villains of any genre. Plus, preview audience reaction was so positive that the character was saved to bite another day.

Although Moonraker does not rate highly on some Bond lists, it still holds up pretty well. For the 1979 Bond movie, two elements were required: it had to have a sci-fi feel: to capitalise on Star Wars fever, then an unprecedented worldwide phenomenon; and secondly,  Richard Kiel just had to make a comeback as the baddie with the baddest teeth.

Critically, Jaws may be even better in his second outing. Consider the list of classic scenes: who can forget his comical arm-flapping before plummeting onto a circus big-top?; the boat chase and the priceless expression he pulls prior to toppling over a massive waterfall; and what about the cable-car sequence? But what really confirmed Jaws in the stratosphere of franchise fame was the introduction of a love-interest in the diminutive form of a bespectacled, pig-tailed girl known only as “Dolly” (played by Blanche Ravalec, trivia-buffs!), who incidentally, was cuter and more charming than that film’s official Bond-girl(!) This twist could so easily have turned out ludicrous, but was handled just right. Upon realising that he does not measure up to megalomaniac Drax’s “standards of physical perfection”  Jaws revolts, ending up aiding the same man he’d been hired to kill. Against expectations – certainly against typeKiel had succeeded in creating a more tender, endearing individual.  

There was no greater opponent for Jaws… other than his own metallic molars. “They were nauseating” Kiel said. “As soon as the director called Cut, out they came.” The formidable gnashers were tipped to be created by John (Planet of the Apes) Chambers, but that job went instead to dental mechanic: Luis Fairman. Whilst filming, those uncomfortable teeth were kept in a safe each night! So, have they been kept in a glass by the actor’s bedside ever since?

Not exactly. Kiel admitted not knowing what had happened to them, but thought they may have ended up “in a Bond museum somewhere.”  

jaws dollyjaws moonraker

jaws dolly cheers

Well, here’s to you, Richard.

Cheers!

 

 

 

“Utterly Compelling”: The Most Mesmerising SF Movie You’ve Never Seen!

And man exists to create… great art

stalker

“The Zone wants to be respected. Otherwise, it will punish” – Stalker.  

In the annals of modern cinema, it would appear that while people flock to watch ninja mutant turtles, some of the finest celluloid masterpieces lie neglected somewhere. This is the story of one such near-forgotten treasure.

Having savoured many fine SF delights in my time, complacent enough to believe that all the good movies, books and comics have been well and truly devoured, every so often – out of the blue –it is still possible to be struck by a bolt of absolute, unparalleled brilliance. On a few occasions, the above still – a mysterious yet overpoweringly cool image – has been seen. Frustratingly, there were never any revealing captions to reveal what it was or from whence it came. But then, just a fortnight ago, while searching for something else – isn’t that always the way? – a piece of music, in fact, my eyes caught this pic in a Youtube Suggestions box (of all places).

Eureka!

The name: “Stalker” did not mean anything to me. The 5-minute track which accompanied the pic, listed as “Meditation” was composed by Edward Artemiev, who provided the score for the Russian movie: Solaris, a widely revered masterpiece of World Cinema. It is a fantastic hypnotic piece of music (now played daily, even swirling around inside my headphones this very moment as the keyboard is battered relentlessly).

And the search to find the movie was on!

stalker claustrodon't go anywhere

^ Trying to enter the Zone through gritty monochrome back streets (l) and then finding “the quietest place in the world” (r)

“A vast prose-poem on celluloid whose forms and ideas were to be borrowed by moviemakers like Lynch and Spielberg” – Peter Bradshaw.

Stalker – directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, a stalwart of Soviet cinema – tells how a meteorite supposedly crashed in the USSR many years ago and the authorities cordoned off the area, labelling it: “the Zone.” Whoever went in to investigate the truth were never seen again; rumours spread that normal laws of physics did not exist there, and deep within this Zone, there was the Room, a special place where people’s innermost wishes and desires can come true. Despite being forbidden to enter, countless souls yearned to find out what the Room has to offer.

Enter the Stalkers: special guides who – for a price, of course – can help the curious avoid the traps and take them to the Room. Here, the Stalker (played by Alexander Kaidanovsky) agrees to take two clients, known only as Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) and Professor (Nikolai Grinko) into this restricted area. The rest of the film concentrates on these unlikely adventurers infiltratingand exploring the Zone, but more importantly, can they find the Room, and are they prepared mentally to enter it?

Chillingly, the Stalker himself describes the Zone as “the quietest place in the world.” In one interview, Tarkovsky suggested that the Zone did not exist, and was a figment of Stalker’s imagination. Whatever the truth behind this most beguiling of enigmatic plot devices, the film’s uncanny yet subtle ability to twist the minds of more discerning cinema-goers remains undiminished.

stalker tanksstalker writer

^ Abandoned features of the Zone (l) and realising they have lost the Professor and are lost themselves (r)

“Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic inquiry into freedom and faith presents an arduous journey for the spectator, but conjures up its own mystical universe with majestic conviction” – Total Film.

Upon its release in 1979, critics – in awe of its “raw emotional impact” and “multi-layered visual resonance” – discussed Stalker endlessly, trying to derive real meaning from the seemingly ambiguous images and dialogue. Not until 1986, and the frightening calamity of the world’s worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl did it all come together. Suddenly, the eerie wasteland, the abandoned tanks, the cobweb-ridden bushes and all the desolate lifeless features made startling sense.

Stalker is described as an art film, which means that the first 37 minutes are in gritty monochrome. As the trio travel into the core of the Zone (by rail), colour appears, but it’s fairly muted – most notably, the overgrown grass appears to have a greyish tint; and there are long atmospheric panning shots of bygone artefacts of past lives strewn in shallow water. If the subtitles on my copy are reliable, then it can be confidently stated that the dialogue is a joy to read, consisting mainly of enriching and poetic lines. The screenplay was written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, loosely based on their own novel: “Roadside Picnic”.

Behind the indomitable legend lies an unbearable legacy. As filming took place near a disused chemical plant outside Tallinn, Estonia, the toxic surroundings would eventually catch up with members of the cast and crew. To compound the hazards, the original film stock was ruined and all scenes had to be reshot. Talk about double exposure

The actor who played Writer: Anatoli Solonitsyn died of cancer, while Tarkovsky himself succumbed to cancer just months after the Chernobyl disaster occurred, but at least their contributions to the art of World Cinema will forever be honoured. In a recent poll, members of the BFI voted it Second Greatest Movie (behind Blade Runner); on the Rotten Tomatoes movie website, it holds a perfect 100%.

stalker dogwriter solonitsyn

^ So many iconic images to choose from; note the religious connotations (r)

“Every single frame of the film is burned into my retina” – Cate Blanchett.  

To what extent does science feature in this languid fiction? Other than allusions to that meteorite, and the dubious promise of otherworldly powers, there is actually very little to tie this film with an SF tag. Essentially, it works as a meditative psychological drama, and with some hypnotic long and lingering shots, meticulously framed by Tarkovsky, this makes for a rewarding visual feast.

Crucially, the film skilfully incorporates the age-old science vs religion dilemma, with Stalker instilling his faith in the Zone, while his two companions represent the cynical intellect of restless enquiring minds. As they trudge ever closer to the Room, the moods of all three become more agitated and introspective…

It has been said that Solaris is the Soviet 2001. A similar comparison can certainly be given to Stalker. Clarke and Kubrick deliberately set out to raise more questions, rather than provide answers with their powerful yet perplexing masterpiece, and that is most definitely what Tarkovsky strived to accomplish with this majestic and metaphorical work. As for its notoriously plodding pace, there was never a dull moment to be had.

While Writer and Professor experience nothing in the Zone except silence and emptiness, those attributes are precisely what compel Stalker – otherwise burdened with a jobless and hopeless existence – into this area time and time again.

Lastly, it seems quite clear to me that not only does the Zone exist, we make of it what we will because, ultimately, each and every one of us desires such a special place into which we can escape, find solace and be alone with our thoughts.

ctankep

Honestly, how – and why! – has Brad been deprived of this classic for so long?

 

 

Outer Space, Outta Bounds: Why You Wouldn’t Want To Go Interstellar!

They all wanna see Buck Rogers and that’s us!

If you don't succeed, try and try again!
If you don’t succeed, try and try again!

“I’ll tell you, being involved in human space flight, it is an emotional endeavour. I think it brings in the highest highs and the lowest lows” – Ellen Ochoa.   

As SF literature has consistently featured the marvel of manned space flight, movies have repeatedly revealed how dangerous and downright foolhardy such spacebound ventures can be. So with a revival of manned space exploration announced by NASA back in 2004, not surprisingly, scientists greeted the news with disdain, knowing all-too-well what dangers will lie in store for the new wave of unsuspecting space invaders.

Just look at the record of celluloid space flight: an embarrassing catalogue of disaster, danger, bad news and overacting. It is most notable that the most optimistic predictions of one of science’s greatest visionaries: Arthur C. Clarke fell short when it came to the enlightening subject of humankind’s journey to the stars. No doubt his predictions of humans landing on Mars – by 1994, and then by 2010 – were severely offset by the Apollo 13 crisis, and the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

Who would be a Space Hero? 

You have to ask yourself: if given the chance – knowing how far unmanned space probes have already travelled and how much data they have accumulated, while manned space missions will be way too costly – would you still want to venture into space?  

The latter stages of the Apollo space program yielded very little of scientific value to our knowledge of space, so – bearing in mind that clearly defined objectives should be set out well in advance – what use/benefits would these new missions strive to achieve?

Anybody know what the inflight movie is?
Anybody know what the inflight movie is?

“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it” – H.A.L. 9000.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) featured the first manned mission to Jupiter, but the Discovery was at the mercy of the shifty computer: HAL 9000. There is no more lonely, frightening experience than being stuck outside your own ship (without helmet) and trying to reason with a machine that refuses to open the pod bay doors…

A year later, the movie Marooned told the story of three astronauts trapped in orbit when they lose control of their vessel. A fourth man goes up in an untried craft to try and rescue them; it gained an Oscar for its special effects.

Too much time, but no space
Too much time, but no space

“You know, when Apollo 17 landed on the Moon, people were calling up the networks and bitching because reruns of I Love Lucy were cancelled. Reruns, for Christ’s sake!” – Dr. James Kelloway.

Capricorn One (1978) was a taut and compelling conspiracy thriller about a hoax manned mission to Mars. Just before launch, the three-man crew are advised to evacuate their rocketship and informed that they had faulty equipment. In order to save the space program (especially its funding), the reluctant astronauts have to act out the Martian landing at a remote studio in the desert. But then they realise that in order to make this phoney show convincing, they will have to be bumped off, so they make good their escape. Despite going separate ways, they are hunted down by mysterious pursuers in black…

See how dangerous it is? Especially when you consider that none of these guys even got off the ground for cryin’ out loud!

Galactic hero Kevin Bacon
Galactic hero Kevin Bacon

“We just put Sir Isaac Newton in the driver’s seat” – Jim Lovell.

Eventually we come to the movie: Apollo 13 (1995), based on the actual drama that unfolded in 1971. Interestingly, for the synopsis, refer to Marooned; however, in this case, there was no rescue vessel. Jim Lovell and his crew-mates – along with Mission Control – had to work out how they would make it back in one piece.

You’d think that having the legendary Intergalactic Hero Kevin Bacon onboard would be enough to ensure boundless good fortune for any mission, but no, they had to be lumbered with Bill Paxton, the only movie star to be killed off by both Predator and Alien…

Before this far-reaching, but near-missing, Post blasts off into the hyperspace of the Blogosphere, it should be said that in the forthcoming SF thriller: Interstellar a wormhole will be tested to find out if the next stage of space travel can be reached. Considering how none of the above examples made it through without any major difficulties, all that can be said here is:

“Good luck with that!”