Journey To The Centre Of The Multiplex

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It, Is To Find A Screening of The Martian.

In English. In Bangkok.  

martian-in-thai

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary…” – Joseph Campbell.  

The objective seemed simple enough; last week anyway. Wait until my beloved Mrs. B had returned from her revitalising week-long meditation retreat; then take her to watch her fave movie star: Matt Damon. The Martian had been released – quite fortuitouslyon her birthday! Seriously, how difficult could it possibly be? 

Quite difficult as it turned out…

There is a tendency – especially in regional cinemas – to dub some of the biggest blockbusters into Thai, and our local multiplex is no exception. We didn’t have this problem with Guardians Of The Galaxy, or only last month with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Although The Martian arrived here only last Thursday with FOUR showings in its original English soundtrack, it has been reduced – just days later – to ONE showing in Thai only. 

Bugger… 

So be. Looks like a day trip to the Big Mango is in order. Travelling so far just to catch one movie – no matter how brilliant and unmissable The Martian may be – does seem a tad too extreme; still, this writer requires other things up north simply not available in our hometown. Brad will proceed. And with Mrs. B?

“What’s the matter, lov?” 

“Sorry, hon. I’m not going…” 

siam-paragon

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else” – Marco Polo.

The Mother Of All Malls in the Thai capital is the Siam Paragon; it’s hard to miss, nestling right next to the interchange MRT station slap bang in the city centre. Its plush, state-of-the-art multiplex theatre has provided us with some of cinema’s finest most recent gems ALWAYS in English. Even if a movie turns out to be utter crud, at least you can marvel at the exquisite finery of the drapes…  

And the- hang on, just remembered! At the Major Cineplex, Central World, they have Special Cheezy Dip with their nachos. Yeah, will go there instead – just the next stop on the MRT. However, recent events – especially a tragic bomb attack in August at one of our favourite shrines – have made some tourists (Mrs. B included) extremely wary of Bangkok’s level of security. 

“But this is what you wanted, lov. Your birthday treat! Hey, it’s about Matt Damon stranded on Mars. Just him, vlogging for two hours. Come on, hon! He’ll be staring right at you as you watch him! Couldn’t be better!”

The thought of going back to the intolerable noise, stress and pollution of the capital city – even for just one day – fills my lady with dread. Plus, a long and reckless mini-bus ride (which she simply cannot stand) must be endured before you can seize the chance to inhale that city air…

Then there are other reservations to consider: “What if this movie turns out to be just as terrible as that other space movie, hon?” 

“Oh, you mean Jupiter Ascending? Good Lord, nothing else could be as dire as that, lov! The Martian has had some really encouraging reviews. Look…” 

At this point, frantic scrolling at rottentomatoes.com on my smartphone ensued, but she didn’t look.

“No, someone’s got to stay and look after Sooty [our cat].”

“You know what the cinema’s like: by this Friday they will have reverted back to showing the usual rubbish.”

“I can wait until this comes out on disc. Besides, I can have my Bourne trilogy any time I want.”

“So, there’s… no way I can persuade you to come with me?”

“‘Fraid not, Ford. Anyway, I don’t have a movie-blog to maintain…”  

themartian

“It is far. But there is no journey that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing that he cannot do…” – H. Rider Haggard.

The mini-bus from Hua Hin to Bangkok takes three hours (or two and a half if the driver thinks he’s Jason Bourne). Early morning, my bag packed with papers and two bottles of chilled water, we walked up to the main road together so she could wave me off.

“What are you doing, farang?” Mrs. B joked.

“Going to the big city to find Matt Damon, lov,” 

As the bus came into view, on time, she chortled: “Send him my love!” 

“Ha, will do! I’ll even Bring Him Home if I can find a pirate copy, heh heh!” 

The bus screeched to a halt. My wife pinched my arm.

“Don’t go meeting any girls up there!” she whispered sternly.

“Perish the thought, lov.”

Time to hold her tight and reassure her. 

“I’ll be back by nightfall. Don’t want to leave you for too long, hon; can’t. You’re the light of my life – the fuel on which I run. If I could reach up and hold a star for every time you’ve made me happy, my darling, the evening sky would be in the palm of my hand.”

“Ooh, get you,” she purred. “Did Matt teach you to talk like that?” 

“Uff, gizzus a hug, me sugar…” 

We shared a quick embrace. The driver started up the engine; I began to clamber in.

“Hey, what are you going to do about lunch?!”

“No worries, lov,” he was heard to exclaim, looking back over his shoulder. “There’s plenty of cake in the big city; I can pick some up there on my way back.”

“Oh for goodness sake, ya daft ham noi! I mean real food!” 

“The cinema will have nachos – Brad will survive…” 

The driver came round to slide the mini-bus door shut.

“I love you,” Mrs. B yelled out.

“I know…” 

"HANG ON IN THERE, BUDDY! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! Brad will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far! I will find you"
“HANG ON IN THERE, BUDDY! You stay alive, no matter what occurs! Brad will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far! I will find you”

to be continued...

Me, Myself And ILM: Childhood Films Blogathon

The Adventures of One Cinema-Crazy Infant

The awesome movie poster that sagged on my bedroom wall for nearly twenty years
The awesome movie poster that sagged on my bedroom wall for nearly twenty years

“You and I were really lucky to have so many good movies to go and watch” – Gordon Bradford.

The Childhood Films Blogathon, organized by the wonderful Caz over at letsgotothemovies provides this golden opportunity to reminisce about my earliest trips to the cinema.

Not like Brad to brag, but my initial ventures to the popcorn parlour (always taken by my father on Saturday afternoons) happened to happily coincide with one of the most genuinely creative times in sci-fi/fantasy movie-making. It was fuelled largely by the rise of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), the effects group commandeered by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as they dominated the early ’80s box office.

Honorary mention goes to the Odeon Cinema – the one opposite the beach – where the box office was accessible by a legendary escalator (long since removed, alas) which – to my juvenile delight – was not only an exciting ride, but a most stupendous moving portal to a well-wicked world of widescreen wonder.

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“Come on Chewie, let’s check it out” – Han Solo. 

1. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The world changed in May 1980 when Brad was, oh, about that high. The positively seismic upheaval that was the Release of the Sequel to Star Wars caused each and every sprog under the age of 12 (mostly with reluctant parent/guardian in tow) to converge on their nearest popcorn parlour.

Lee was in my class at school – a short, chubby, freckled, ginger-haired kid. i.e. pure bully-bait, so we offered him a chance to come to the Odeon with us. Probably a life-changing event for him, we hoped; certainly was for yours truly!

There is nothing as formidable as an infant with an insatiable Hoth-fix. So, soon after – probably the following weekend – we rounded up Ant: my fellow pint-sized perisher and a kid after my own bubblegum cards, and headed off into town again. We got to the Odeon only to discover that EVERY seat had been booked…

Bigger, bolder and arguably better than what had come three years before, The Empire Strikes Back was a phenomenon. You do realize of course that it is not only the greatest SF blockbuster ever made, but the only one in which the good guys lose… 

Extraordinary… in so many awesome ways. And it always will be. 

3 OUT OF 5: Oh, good lord, no! That’s not the star-rating, but the number of times we managed to see the movie. The other two trips were thwarted by a Full House sign (do they still have those?).

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“I don’t mean to sound superior, but I hate the company of robots” – V.I.N.CENT.

2. The Black Hole (1979)

My next best magical experience at the cinema.

Disney’s initial step onto the Star Wars bandwagon was a surprisingly dark and sinister piece. The effects (some truly awe-inspiring matte paintings on show) looked spectacular in widescreen – especially the meteorite shower, the “lost” ship: the USS Cygnus and the black hole itself.

Having an army of droids on your ship seemed like the coolest thing, so naturally, the laser gunfights looked simply amazing. The USS Palomino’s resident robot: V.I.N.CENT (voiced by Roddy McDowall) was one of my very first favourite characters in SF movies, and his nemesis: the big menacing red robot: Maximillian, was always one of Dad’s faves.

The whole viewing pleasure was seriously enhanced by John Barry’s stunning score – it still gives me the shivers, what… 36 years later?! Good gravy, how time passes…

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“…If it weren’t for sorcerors, there wouldn’t be any dragons. Once, the skies were dotted with them” – Ulrich. 

3. Dragonslayer (1981)

Another fantastic Disney movie that didn’t involve cartoons or high-pitched singing. This dark and bewitching fantasy told how a lottery chose virgins to be sacrificed to prevent the local dragon from laying waste to the huddled villages of the dank and murky kingdom – that’s right: this wasn’t exactly Cinderella

Galen Bradwarden, the young wizard’s apprentice must confront the beast (of course he succeeds – hey, his name’s Brad!).

Behold: the astonishing ILM SFX master-class that was the dragon itself: VERMITHRAX PEJORATIVE. There, only Caps Lock does it justice.  They don’t make dragons like that anymore! You can gush about Smaug from The Hobbit all you like (it’s just CGI after all), but ol’ Vermy was the spikey flame-thrower that made me gawp the most.

Dragonslayer still stands up quite well today; a shame it has slipped into the “forgotten gem” category.

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“I’m not your enemy! Ming is! Let’s all team up an’ fight ‘im” – Flash. 

4. Flash Gordon (1980)

In my book, sci-fi heroes didn’t get any BIGGER than Flash Gordon. Gorged myself on Weetabix cereal every morning in order to collect all 18 Flash Gordon movie cards.

Much-praised and much-maligned in equal measure, it is best to regard this notorious Dino De Laurentiis production as a 90-minute Queen music video. The visual effects, the spaceships, the costumes(!), the set design were all very special. For me, Max Von Sydow as Ming The Merciless, Ruler of The Universe was one of the Best Villains. Ever. 

How can anyone deride this movie?

The Hawkmen attack on War Rocket Ajax with the accompaniment of Brian May’s stirring guitar strains is enough to excite any infant – actually, this classic scene alone should be used to train the new generation of would-be film directors.

Thirty decades later, my generation are still quoting from this movie – a veritable sign of greatness if ever there was one.

GeneralZodForPresident20084

“Think of it: three super-villains! …Or four if you count him twice” – Lex Luthor. 

5. Superman II (1980)

A huge fan of Superman comics, to watch him on the big screen seemed too good to be true. The first film seemed too weak; it could – and should – have featured a costumed super-villain. Superman II seemed to respond to that criticism by featuring a dastardly trio from Kal-El’s homeworld of Krypton. 

The action and effects were pretty good, but it was John Williams’ sensational score that really enhanced it’s blockbuster status. Terence Stamp owned the screen as the evil General Zod. For this comicbook aficionado, this was my first enjoyable superhero movie.

Well, that’s it, and – oh, grief, we’ve reached that stage…

Squeal Before Zod!
Squeal Before Zod!

The Triumvirate of ToshTerror!

Ho-hum, here we go…

For every great smash hit at the cinema, there is a dud… or three – those movies you wanted to watch, were fantastic to sit through at the time, but have simply failed to follow you through that frightful armpit-hair-growing-stage of your life.

For me, these three movies appeared to be classics in the making, but now just make me CRINGE.

(Okay then, let’s get it over with…)

indiana-jones-and-the-temple-of-doom-screenshot

3. Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom (1984)

How – on Earth – Raiders of the Lost Ark slipped past my radar back in 1981 will remain one of Life’s Great Mysteries. Got really excited upon first learning about Temple of Doom, but had no idea that it was actually a sequel. Rented Raiders out on video and LOVED IT. Still do, of course. So, even more so, big things were expected here.

Thrilled to the spectacle @ the Obi Wan Club, jumping out of a plane on a dinghy (another unfulfilled ambition), the mine-cart chase, the tense rope-bridge sequence – yes, it was great, at the time…

…but watching on the telly a few years later, it felt insufferable, shambolic even. That Om Namha Shivaye Om Namha Shivaye business is way too freaky; and the chilled monkey brains banquet? Screaming Willie? And Short Round? No thanks… 

In order to get the Temple of Doom poster, you had to send off ten empty potato chip packets “to this address.” 

Don’t ask…

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2. Condorman (1981)

This “adventure” movie (from Disney again(!) but at least it wasn’t dark) had such good car and speedboat chases, but really…

Condorman could only ever be “appreciated” by those whose age consists of a single digit. The main character was NOT based on a real comicbook; Michael Crawford – then a TV sitcom star – was monumentally miscast; Oliver Reed spent much of the time bellowing his once-promising movie career away; and the poster came saddled with a tagline reading: “He Spies! He Flies! He Death-Defies!”

Don’t ask…

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1. Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (1981)

HRH Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981. ALL schools were closed so EVERYBODY could watch it on television, simultaneously broadcast on ALL three(!) channels. Dad was seriously dischuffed by this.

The Odeon was showing Buck Rogers just on that one day only, for those suffering from royal nuptials fatigue. Knowing how an episode of the Buck Rogers TV series was never missed in the Brad household, before you can say: “beedeebeedeebeedee” away we went. But as any bright, fresh-faced moppet of that age could tell you: this was not – by any means – in the same league as Star Wars… or The Black Hole for that matter.    

Problem is: Gil Gerard was the worst possible choice to play the lead; it was as camp as a row of tents; the sfx were hand-me-downs from Battlestar Galactica; there was an almighty embarrassing dance scene and that surfeit of spandex did irreparable damage to my central nervous system.

Again, don’t ask…

The Odeon Cinema: A Temple For Infants. Photo taken in 1973. (Note the escalator.)
The Odeon Cinema: A Temple For Infants. Photo taken in 1973. (Note the escalator.)

childhood-blogathon

Happy Days!

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The Life and Crimes of Rocket Raccoon! (and 4 Other Guardians)

Posted: 5 August 2014

Excuse me, but how cool is this?
Excuse me, but how cool is this?

“I got one plan, and that plan requires a frickin’ quarnex battery, so FIGURE IT OUT!” – Rocket Raccoon.

If it wasn’t for Rocket Raccoon, the latest Marvel thrill-fest would not have been so eagerly anticipated these last few months. The waiting is over: Guardians of The Galaxy is a thoroughly enjoyable outer space adventure, based on a comic book which – remarkablyabsolutely nobody had heard of before.

This movie has had the most successful Opening Night this year, raking in a well-deserved million dollar haul; and why? The answer is blindingly obvious: it’s fun! It’s enjoyable! But, most crucially, because it’s fresh and pristine material. And not a sequel. Of a remake. It is that quintessential, experimental, let’s-give-it-a-go, got-nuthin-to-lose attitude so sorely lacking in movie-making during this age of bland formulae and turgid franchises which is creating such a giddy and reassuring buzz. Indeed, this refreshing approach has enticed wary, yet curious, crowds back into the popcorn-munching parlours again.

How much of this joyful escapism relied on the wit and charm of this feisty lil furball?

Let’s face it: much of this weekend’s Biggest Opening of the Year is due to its smallest star. This character has intrigued me ever since first laying eyes on the conceptual art of this rapscallion raccoon (earlier this year); having watched all the trailers, excited anticipation has been brewing nicely.

As my regular Followers will well know, the majority of latest releases are caught in-flight. However, this one just had to be watched on terra firma, braving the inevitable migraine to experience it in glorious 3D as well, half-expecting to only enjoy Rocket and become disenchanted as the rest of the film collapsed into noisy tosh and predictable juvenile shenanigans.

…How frickin’ lovely to be proved WRONG!!

RocketRaccoon-yeah

“Oh… yeah!!”

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^ Rocket Raccoon: from the movie, and from the comics.

“Movies like this are usually described in terms of popcorn but a better comparison would be Space Dust: it’s fun, wacky, explosive and bursting with artificial colours” – the guardian.com. 

Just who, exactly, is Rocket Raccoon?

This irreverent anthropomorphic raccoon made his comics debut in Marvel Preview No. 7 (Summer 1976), not appearing again until The Incredible Hulk No. 271 (May 1982). In 1985, he got his own 4-issue Limited Series, and later appeared in three issues of Sensational She-Hulk in 1992. Rocket teamed up with Star-Lord in his own limited series in 2007. The Guardians title would not arrive until 2008; he, and other Guardians, most recently appeared in Avengers Assemble (2012).

As Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant, he was Captain of the Rack’n’Ruin; on the planet Halfworld, Rocket (and other animals) had been genetically manipulated to work as caretakers of inmates of an insane asylum. At one point Rocket had teamed up with the Hulk (!) before befriending Peter Quill; he did serve as leader of the Guardians at one stage.

One online bio describes Rocket Raccoon as intelligent, an expert marksman and a master tactician. Most notably, the movie portrays him wielding a huge gun and, in one brilliantly entertaining scene, shutting off the oxygen supply outside the prison control tower commandeered by the Guardians. In addition, records show that he’s “wanted on over fifty charges of vehicular theft and escape from custody.”

Wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of Bradley Cooper voicing him (but then his name is Brad so feel compelled to let him off, ha!) Actually, he’s not at all bad!  

rocket poster

guardians-of-the-galaxy

“The Guardians are a group of oddballs, outcasts, and geeks. The movie is for anyone who ever felt cast aside, left out, or different. It’s for all of us who don’t belong. This movie belongs to you” – James Gunn.

Okay, what about the other characters?

Chris Pratt makes for a likeable space rogue – Star-Lord’s Awesome Mix tape is a splendid trait to add to his intergalactic capers; Mum certainly picked out some great numbers! Presumably he – like me – was transfixed by The Black Hole (1979) for he brandishes the same parallel-barrelled blasters wielded by that film’s droids. Admittedly, some of his lines do not work, and the proposed dance-off is just cringe-inducing.

Groot (“What the hell is that?”) is a great addition to the group, providing some of the film’s more wondrous and witty moments. (Does only 3 words make him a talking tree?)

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a green-skinned assassin, but her general annoyance (with everything) and unwillingness to comply (with her fellow Guardians) sadly did not endear herself to me. Oh, and she didn’t want to dance either, so that confirms it then. Poor Zoe, it would appear that her career has already been relegated to cinema-goers merely speculating what her next skin-colour will be…

Of the main characters, Drax The Destroyer is the only one whose name is familiar to this once-avid comic-hoarder. He featured in Thor #314 (Dec 1981): one of my most cherished morsels of Marvel history. Dave Bautista puts in a surprisingly above-average contribution, actually eliciting a few laughs here and there, but this Drax bears no resemblance at all.

Ronan-Mothership

The other characters, however, are not so well-defined.

Ronan the Accuser (heck, he even sounds cool,) had the look and potential to be a classy villain, but… he has been given no memorable lines – not even a sufficient background story; so when we see him he’s just moping about, sulking as if realising that only after blast-off, he’d forgotten to pack any lighting equipment for that ridiculously ultra-dark spaceship of his. Similarly, Nebula was so underused, you’re left wondering what was the point of having her there at all.

As for Thanos – he was all over Marvel Comics back in the day; you just couldn’t get away from him! In his brief cameo, he proved to be the only bad’un capable of inducing a much-appreciated sense of menace to these proceedings.

Rocket-Raccoon-and-Groot

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One last – but poignant – observation:

Towards the end of the movie, Rocket sits alone, holding a twig, and bawling uncontrollably. Honestly, there were 20 pairs of eyes (Come on! Not bad for the only multiplex on the Gulf of Thailandthree hours drive south of Bangkok) all glistening with tears in the darkness – one of the most moving moments in a cinema this year…

Or any year for that matter…  

 

Having praised Rocket enough, let’s turn our attention to everyone’s Favourite Ent-of-the-Moment: Groot.

awesome mix vol.1

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“I guess I never really realised how much I did always love trees” – Vin Diesel.

On second thoughts, perhaps not. Brad’s been bloggin’ all evening – think it’s time to Log Off, chill and listen to that Awesome Mix tape…

Cheers!