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A LT E R E D S TAT E S

A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND

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ALTERED STATES

A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND

M I N D L E S S N E S S


CONTENTS INTRODUCTION

5

JOHN McTIERNAN DIE HARD PREDATOR

6 8 9

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK STARSHIP TROOPERS FIRST BLOOD ROCKY INDEPENDENCE DAY

10 11 12 13 14

ASIA THE RAID : REDEMPTION HARD BOILED BATTLE ROYALE

16 17 18 19

MICHAEL BAY TRANSFORMERS ARMAGEDDON

20 21 22

ANCHORMAN THE HANGOVER SNAKES ON A PLANE WILD WILD WEST JURASSIC PARK BATMAN LION KING TOY STORY TITANIC

24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32


EDITORIAL Altered States is a movie guide for your frame of mind. The movie genre is an outdated and inaccurate way to classify movies, especially when deciding on one to indulge in. This is where Altered States comes in. Each issue focuses on a certain state of mind, mood or emotion and dives in, head first. Altered States is not a reference guide, nor is it a ‘top 100’ list. Altered States is a guide to movies based upon the moods, emotions or frames of mind they evoke or the mindset of the viewer. This is a guide to the movie you feel like, the one you are in the mood for, the one you genuinely want to see.


INTRODUCTION mindless — adjective • w  ithout intelligence; senseless: a mindless creature • r equiring little or no intellectual effort: a mindless task It would be unjust to describe the movies in this issue to be ‘without intelligence’ or ‘senseless’ although some definitely are, to the point that they embody the definition entirely. However, there is a difference between being mindless and being in a mindless frame of mind. This is what this issue focuses on. No one wants to sit down and watch an 180 minute, intellectual, mind twister every night. Sometimes you need to sit down and watch a movie so simple it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep for 20 minutes spilling beer and popcorn down yourself and others around you. The following movies are a cross section of the droves of mindless movies that are released, without fail, every single year. You mightn’t be Googling to find out the meaning behind why Bruce Willis jumps from a roof with a firehouse tied round his waist, but you’ll certainly enjoy it.


SPOTLIGHT John McTiernan was born January 8, 1951 in Albany, New York. The son of an attorney, the family moved to a rural farm community in upstate New York after his father became ill. McTiernan attended Exeter prep school during his high school years, and was admitted to Julliard with the intention of studying theatre directing. While there, McTiernan quickly discovered that his true love was film and enrolled in an experimental film program at the State University of New York, later moving on to the American Film Institute for graduate school, where he studied under the tutelage of the great Czech director Jan Kadar. After spending the next decade making a name for himself as a talented T V commercial director, McTiernan landed his feature debut with Nomads in 1986. The eerie supernatural thriller, his first collaboration with a young television actor named Pierce Brosnan, received mixed reviews and didn't burn up the box office, but McTiernan was singled out for his sure hand and distinctive directorial eye, enough so that producer Joel Silver recruited McTiernan to direct the blockbuster Predator (1987), the highoctane Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller that combined The Most Dangerous Game (1932) with Alien (1979), to create a box office smash that also helped solidify Schwarzenegger as a major box

office draw. McTiernan became one of the hottest directors in Hollywood after his next feature, Die Hard (1988), reinvented the action - adventure genre and went on to become one of the most imitated films in history, and helped to establish another action hero screen icon in Bruce Willis. McTiernan flexed his intellectual muscles and kept the explosions and gunfire to a minimum with his taut adaptation of Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October (1990). The Alec Baldwin — Sean Connery starrer, was a box office champ the year of its release and, many feel, remains the best of the three big screen Clancy adaptations. McTiernan made a more personal picture with Medicine Man, (1992), again teaming with Connery in the tale of a scientist in the Latin American rain forest. Although many regard The Last Action Hero (1993) as a major stumbling block in McTiernan's brilliant career, the film went on to gross over $100 million worldwide. McTiernan re - teamed with Bruce Willis for the third Die Hard installment, Die Hard : With a Vengeance in 1995, and re  -  established his box office clout in doing so.

JOHN McTIERNAN

In person, John McTiernan doesn’t come across as a director of action heroes, or a man who has blown up glass skyscrapers to thrill the masses. McTiernan is a man who almost resembles a character out of Hemingway, a man's man whose speech style is both verbose and lean. Here, John McTiernan discusses film, and his experiences working in the movie business.

 6

ALEX SIMON :

JOHN McTIERNAN :

Let's talk about where you came from.

My dad was a lawyer and became ill for quite some time, so my mother, sister and I moved back with her parents on a farm in upstate New York. I still live on a farm today, in Wyoming. I went to Exeter for prep school, which was quite terrifying for me. Here I was, this middle class kid, not very cosmopolitan, in this upper crust place, and it terrified me. I did well academically, but didn't fit in at all socially. I became intensely interested in film, so much so that I almost didn't go to college so I could make films. I went to Julliard, then to the State University of New York, which had an experimental film program going on. I was one of the only film students that wasn't stoned the whole time [laughs], so I ended up using most of the money and resources they offered. Then I went to the AFI after that.


Was there any one film that ignited your interest? No, but I remember when I decided that that's what I was going to do. I went about it like it was reverse engineering. I knew that I had to go and learn what a movie was, not just my experience of going and watching a movie. So I went and sat in Truffaut's Day for Night (1972), watched it for three days straight, eight hours at a time and memorized it shot - for - shot. I got past the story, all the original and secondary experience, so I could study what it was that I was really watching. Film is really sort of a chain that's really linear. Yet when it's all strung together, it just sort of feels like an experience. It takes quite a while to be able to deconstruct that experience to figure out what you really saw. Tell us about your experience at AFI. One of the sort of perks there is they don't have grades, but they would take the person they felt was the most likely to succeed, and they'd give him or her to the filmmaker in residence as an assistant. So I worked for Jan Kadar, the great Czech filmmaker. If you read Hemingway, half of the information you get is in this style of how he tells you, his prose style. It's not literally the events he recounts, it's how he recounts them, which appears to be obsessively simple in nature. There's a hint to what people are thinking, but he doesn't go off into these vast internal monologues. That's what Jan's style was like. He used to make me sit down and learn movies shot - for - shot. And we'd watch films by some great masters, like Kubrick and Fellini and Jan would say “See! Look what he did wrong there! That's wrong! Do you understand why it's wrong?” And I'd say ‘What's wrong with it? It's a nice shot.’ “No, no,” Jan would say, “visually, it's out of key.” He had a whole sense that you had to approach filmmaking like you were composing a piece of music. It wasn’t about making a translation from a literary source. To decide what the next note is in a piece of music, you don't think about the plot, or what it means, you think about: what does it sound like? Is it in the right rhythm, the right key? So the montage in a film needs to be in the same key, and if you're going to change key, you'd better transpose it into the other key, as if you were composing a concerto. In colour and lighting also, there are visual melodies. It's weird because I'm sort of known as

an ‘action guy,’ who gets 10,000 machine guns and blows things up. But I cut my teeth on very esoteric European films. Maybe what Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Starship Troopers) and I did was to take the technology that the Europeans developed in the 60s and started applying it to mass market American movies. Paul has an expressive narrator in that his camera is an active, expressive person. I think it's a very angry, very fiery person. If you think about American films before the European influence in the 1960s, there was no active narrator. With a few exceptions, the camera just photographed the action and didn't really have a distinctive voice of its own. Let's talk about some of your other films, starting with your first, Nomads. What was it like making the jump into features? Well, I'd done a little feature called Tales of the 22nd Century that got me into AFI. I only did commercials to support myself, really, while I was in school. It was sort of a jump in the other direction, because I started making films, then moved into commercial directing. So going back to making a feature wasn't that big a jump, really. I know you didn't go into Die Hard thinking you were going to re - invent the action - adventure genre. What were you aiming for? I think to try to make a thriller that could be jacked up a notch with a great story underneath it. There were also a lot of technical things I was really anxious to do, like have a really active camera. When I broke into the business, the rule was that you weren't allowed to cut a moving camera shot into another moving camera shot. At the beginning of Red October, I had to fire an Academy Award - winning editor, because he literally didn't know how to cut the stuff. He didn't know how to deal with a moving camera and an active narrator.

With Red October were there different challenges filming an existing novel than from an original script? No, in many ways it just makes it better. I enjoy working from a novel. You opted not to do the second Die Hard, as well as the two Tom Clancy sequels. Why is that? Well, they wanted to do Patriot Games, which had the villains as the Irish Republican Army. Both Alec and I, as Irish-Americans, were a bit uncomfortable with that, since it's our heritage. They had another script (Clear and Present Danger) that both Alec and I wanted to do, and for various reasons we decided not to. With Die Hard, I guess I just found myself bumping heads with Joel Silver a lot. Any advice for first - time directors? It's the same thing of how you get to Carnegie Hall : practise, practise, practise. [laughs] Also, I'd say get a hold of a video camera and just shoot as much as you can, of anything. If you have a script, get a couple actors together and shoot two pages from the script, then edit the footage on a really basic video editing program. It takes as long to develop a prose style on film as it does a prose style in writing, so it's crucial to practice whenever and however you can.

7


MINDLESSNESS : JOHN McTIERNAN

DIE HARD

8

Die Hard makes no pretence to be anything other than constant shoot - 'em - up entertainment, and is all the better for it. Bruce Willis is a New York cop trying to get back with his estranged wife Bedelia, who's a high - flying executive in a newly acquired Japanese company. As the script would have it, foul terrorists led by the camp and oh - so - evil Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in a remarkable debut) storm the company Christmas party and it’s up to Willis to dispatch the baddies and rescue his wife. The marriage of Willis and director McTiernan is golden – they both understand that what an audience wants to see is a hero do lots of shooting and fighting and never be at a loss for a zinging one - liner. If anything on the set hasn't moved for three minutes, then it's just begging to be blown up, so boom, there it goes. The granddaddy of a whole genre of action films still remains sharp, tough, and exciting. ‘Die Hard’ spawned its own franchise and influenced other action movies, providing reviewers with easy catch phrases like, ‘Die Hard on a boat… plane… mountain’ and more. Few of the spin - offs were able to match the sublime blend of ironic humour and suspense of the original. Thankfully few imitated the vest - attired style of Bruce Willis It's the classic plot hook of one man against many, right against wrong. But ‘Die Hard’ is more layered than your average action movie. The bickering newscasters, the friendly patrol cop whose career is slipping by, the chauffeur driver who remains oblivious to the calamity around him. These are all nicely crafted characters that lend a little depth and warmth to a violent film. Willis proves an excellent casting choice as a sardonic action hero. Director John McTiernan keeps the pace up around him, and ensures maximum suspense from the many well - executed set pieces.

DIRECTOR

John McTiernan

CAST

Bruce Willis Alan Rickman Bonnie Bedelia

YEAR

1988


PREDATOR

Predator stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader of a U.S. Army commando team that goes into the South American jungle on a political mission and ends up dueling with a killer from outer space. This is the kind of idea that is produced at the end of a ten - second brainstorming session, but if it's done well, who cares? ‘Predator’ is filmed very well. It's a slick, high - energy action picture that takes a lot of its strength from its steamy locations in Mexico. The heroes spend most of their time surrounded by an impenetrable jungle, a green wall of majestic vistas populated by all sorts of natural predators in addition to the alien. I've rarely seen a jungle look more beautiful, or more convincing; the location effect is on a par with ‘Fitzcarraldo’ and ‘The Emerald Forest.’ As the film opens, Schwarzenegger and his comrades venture into this dense and humid jungle in search of South American officials who have been kidnapped by terrorists. They track and locate the fugitives, and move in for the kill. But as they find the bodies of team members skinned and hanging from trees, they begin to realize they're up against more than terrorists. The predator of the movie's title is a visitor from space; that's established in the opening scene. What it is doing in the jungle is never explained. The creature lives in the trees, even though it seems to be a giant biped much too heavy to swing from vines. When Schwarzenegger finally grapples with it, we discover it is wearing a space suit, and that inside the suit is a disgusting creature with a mouth surrounded by little pincers to shovel in food. Such details are important, of course. Stan Winston, who designed the creature, has created a beast that is sufficiently disgusting to justify Schwarzenegger's loathing for it. The action moves so quickly that we overlook questions such as: Why would an alien species go to all the effort to send a creature to Earth, just so that it could swing from trees and skin American soldiers? Or, why would a creature so technologically advanced need to bother with hand - to - hand combat, when it could just zap Arnold with a ray gun?

None of these logical questions are very important to the movie. “Predator” moves at a breakneck pace, it has strong and simple characterisations, it has good location photography and terrific special effects. It supplies what it claims to supply: an effective action movie. Students of trivia may note that the actor inside the predator costume is Kevin Peter Hall, who also occupies the Bigfoot costume in ‘Harry and the Hendersons.’ This guy must really be a good sport.

9

DIRECTOR

John McTiernan

CAST

Arnold Schwarzenegger Carl Weathers Kevin Peter Hall

YEAR

1987


MINDLESSNESS

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

10

1988. New York City, overrun by crime, is walled in. It becomes the world's largest, most uncontrolled prison, with the inmates prevented from escaping by armed guards who man the walls twenty - four hours a day. Those confined within the city are free to live and die as they please, creating their own form of government, choosing their leaders, and using guile, brutality, and criminal ingenuity to survive. The city's world - renowned silhouette, gazed upon from the shores of Liberty Island, is familiar, but, without electricity to light up the nights, it has become dark and ominous, like the fledgling society growing in its streets, alleyways, and sewers. Skip ahead nine years to 1997. The U.S. President's plane, hijacked by terrorists, goes down in the midst of the New York City prison. Master criminal Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), whose chief personality traits are a dry wit and an unrivaled sense of self - preservation, is chosen to enter New York, rescue the President, and get out again. To insure his cooperation, he is injected with tablets that have a twenty-four hour life span. If Snake hasn't done his job by then, his head will explode. Left without options, he dons a James Bond wristband, hops in a glider, and heads for the top of the World Trade Center. Escape from New York has one of the most ingenious premises of any film released during the 1980s. For this, if nothing else, director John Carpenter deserves some credit. Unfortunately, too much of the film's promise goes unfulfilled. Escape from New York isn’t really science fiction – it's an action flick set in a futuristic setting. Apologists for Escape (and there are mass legions of devoted fans) point out that the film is as much a comedy as it is an action film. The skyline scenes of 1997 New York are very impressive. Matte artists, set designers, model makers, and animators all deserve credit for creating a believably futuristic, decadent cityscape. Cinematographer Dean Cundey gets a lot of nice, atmospheric shots that go a long way towards atoning for the film's faults. Carpenter's simple score, which is electronically synthesized, is the perfect audio accompaniment to some of the more ominous visuals (like the scene where the crazies emerge from the New York underground to close in on Snake, recalling George Romero's Night of the Living Dead). Kurt Russell is delightful as Snake. The actor, known at the time for his Disney films, makes a better  than average action hero, incorporating aspects of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti

western personality into his character. The presence of veteran actor Lee Van Cleef (For a Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), who appears to be enjoying himself enormously, reinforces the Eastwood comparisons. Donald Pleasence, Adrienne Barbeau, and Harry Dean Stanton turn in solid supporting performances. Ernest Borgnine does a wonderful turn as a New York cabby who still remembers the old days, and Isaac Hayes is damn nasty as the Duke. Stealing perhaps every scene he's in, however, its Frank Doubleday, whose turn as a bit player is so exaggerated and over - the - top that it's impossible not to notice him. So, considering all aspects of the production, what is Escape from New York? A failed science fiction spectacle that devolves into a mediocre action/comedy? Or an underrated cult classic that functions as a ground - breaking adventure film? Perhaps, as is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between.

DIRECTOR

John Carpenter

CAST

Kurt Russell Lee Van Cleef Ernest Borgnine

YEAR

1981


STARSHIP TROOPERS Paul Verhoeven's satire is so cutting it even makes fun of its target audience. Turning World War II on its head and blasting it off into space, the ‘good guys’ are a bunch of fascists intent on annihilating a race of alien invaders. There's sick violence inflicted on beautiful bodies and one hell of a lot of nuke action. Based on a piece of right - wing utopian sci - fi by Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers envisions a future in which dentally -  perfect prom kings and queens (Denise Richards, Casper Van Dien) gleefully massacre a race of horrid insectoid aliens from the Planet X. It's a strangely sexy neo  -  Fascist world, where buffed boys and girls share the showers, and commercial breaks offer the opportunity to sign up to the war against the monsters. US critics rightly identified the influence of Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's pet documentarist, and Verhoeven was harangued for employing such images. But the intention is satirical: Verhoeven is measuring the credulity of his mass audience by trying to trick them into cheering on an army of Fascists; and he succeeded, with tremendous box office success. But it's a strange, cruel piece of work, whose target audience isn't supposed to get the gag, and whose director seems to be stuck in the background somewhere, chuckling at his own intellectual superiority. Funny if you’re in the know.

11

DIRECTOR

Paul Verhoeven

CAST

Casper Van Dien Denise Richards Dina Meyer

YEAR

1997


MINDLESSNESS : STALLONE

FIRST BLOOD

12

First Blood was the start of a trilogy of action movies featuring one man killing machine John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone). Viewers will probably expect explosions, grunting violence, ridiculous combat scenes, rank dialogue. And that's just the best bits. Say it loud, say it proud First Blood is a pretty damn fine movie. Excellently paced, well acted – in true comic book action hero style – and superbly filmed. The beginning is disarmingly folksy and low key with John Rambo wandering through a small rural community in search of a fellow Vietnam vet. When he discovers his friend has died from cancer, possibly caused by agent orange gases, our hero is sad, wistful even – he's a man of few words. Then, he has the misfortune to drift into a backwater town where the Sheriff (Dennehy) doesn't take kindly to unkempt vagrants wandering through his streets. Even if they are ex Green Berets with congressional medals of honour. Who cares? “This is a boring town,” the sheriff tells Rambo as he attempts to drive him out of it. “And I intend to keep it that way.” That's when it all starts to get mad, before long Rambo is fighting off dozens of Nazi cops with his bare hands in between Nam flashbacks, out chasing a posse of police cars with just a wee moped, leaping 200 feet from a sheer cliff and laying to waste legions of armed men in an imaginative selection of styles, mainly involving sharpened twigs. Rambo rocks. What's more he's innocent – all he wanted was something hot to eat. Meanwhile, Rambo's old army boss Colonel Trautman (Cranna) turns up on the scene of the man hunt but his only advice is to get “plenty of body bags ready”. Despite its posturing First Blood had a message that was pretty pertinent at the time of the movies release – namely the poor treatment of former American soldiers. The preposterous all out gung ho action masks the theme somewhat but it's all immensely daft and enjoyable. Stallone who had been going through a lull after the end of the Rocky franchise grunts his way through magnificently. Dennehy as the bullying cop is superb, while director Ted Kotcheff stages some marvellously over the top action scenes (why explode one car when you can blow up twenty?). Sadly the terrible ending set the tone for some appalling sequels, but the first half hour alone is enough to make First Blood an action classic.

DIRECTOR

Ted Kotcheff

CAST

Sylvester Stallone Brian Dennehy Richard Crenna

YEAR

1982


ROCKY “Too bad he doesn’t box any more.” It's 1975 and Sylvester Stallone's getting feedback from producers. He's been kicking around an idea for a movie about a washed - up fighter turned debt collector called Rocky Balboa. Thing is, it doesn't contain any boxing. Stallone, a jobbing actor turned screenwriter, suddenly gets it ; put the guy back in the ring and “make this a redemptive thing.” Three - and - a - half days later Stallone's clutching a first draft of Rocky. The rest is fight movie history… Of course, Rocky isn't just a fight movie. Whatever its endless string of sequels may have twisted it into (all grudge matches, Mr  T and ill  -  advised comebacks), it began as a character study, a love story and, most of all, a reworking of a very American myth. The opening back room bout sets Rocky up as a broken  -  down fighter who earns $40 per pummelling. But after that he's off the ropes and on the streets, a man seeding his manhood oats. It'll be 80 minutes before he summons up the the self - respect to step back in the ring. And only then will the movie crescendo into a final act of redemptive body blows. The film's producers, though, never wanted to cast Stallone as the chump who turns champ. James Caan, Ryan O'Neill, Perry King were all in the frame… anyone, in fact, but Stallone. Yet it's Sly's droopy - eyed, hangdog/underdog that carries Rocky's tale of transformation. He's no oil painting, no blue - eyed hero. He's not supposed to make it – and that makes us instantly connect with him. His rough exterior houses schmaltz inside; a mumbling, stumbling courtship with mousy Adrian (Talia Shire) bringing ice rink romance and tender, hesitant kisses. Its punch - drunk love gives the boxing finale an emotional heft, though in a different movie it might have been the end of Rocky – two point four children, a meat - packing job and beer gut robbing him of his destiny. But Rocky's a man with fire, not grog, in his belly. Twitching, jabbing, jogging, weaving in every scene, he's born to fight. It's all he knows. Channelling the spirit of every down - but - not - yet - out scrapper from Brando's Malloy to Ernest Borgnine in Marty and Robert Ryan's battered has - been in The Set - Up, Stallone gives Rocky's rags  -  to  -  riches American Dream real clout. It's a fantasy of machismo fit for an age when feminism was strong

and men were on the ropes. Back in 1976, Rocky grabbed its audience by the balls, saying, “This is how to be a man.” That's not just Rocky's story. It's Stallone's too, the boxer becoming a metaphor for the Hollywood star. Unproven and distrusted, Stallone battled against the odds, enduring a humiliating probation (“If he snores, fire him”) to play the Rocky lead. Even then, no one at the studio thought movie or actor would amount to much. Shot for $1 million in chump change, it was supposed to eat mat faster than Ronnie Corbett in the ring with George Foreman. Instead, Rocky took over $55 million, KO - ed Taxi Driver, Network and All The President's Men at the Oscars and made Stallone a heavyweight contender.

13

DIRECTOR

John G. Avildsen

CAST

Sylvester Stallone Talia Shire Burt Young

YEAR

1976


MINDLESSNESS

INDEPENDENCE DAY

14

Aliens land on the Fourth of July, and it's down to US President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and feisty USAF pilot Captain Steven ‘Eagle’ Hiller (Will Smith) to do something about it. The writing  -producing-directing team behind 1994s ‘Stargate’ up the ante with this large - scale, mulit - strand sci - fi adventure. This 1996 summer giant - killer is full of ridiculous posturing and sincerity (gung-ho presidential speeches, Smith's pre  -  mission wedding), but Independence Day (aka ID4) works so well, building up a sense of menace for the first hour before going for an all  -  out alien attack, that you go along with it regardless. By the time Randy Quaid, as vengeful abductee Russell Casse, gets in on the action, you're willing extra - terrestrial butt to be kicked left, right and centre. And to cap it all there's the White House getting blown up. Though the denouement ploy of having Jeff Goldblum's MIT-trained TV company techie David Levinson mess up the aliens' plans by downloading a virus from his Apple Mac laptop strains credulity that little bit too far… For some critics, fans, and even general viewers, Independence Day stands as an example of Hollywood excess gone too far, of by - the - numbers screen - writing covered up with spectacle special effects. In retrospective, the movie also engenders ill will because its success gave Emmerich and Devlin the clout to ruin Sony's 1998 ‘Godzilla’ – a film that looked like a shoo - in for success after ID4. In retrospect, what went wrong should have been no surprise. The writing of ID4 is serviceable; it does the job of setting up the elements that make the movie work, but it is actually the sheer scale of those elements that truly impresses (as when countless alien ships bombard hapless human airmen). But size and scale can only hide so much, and ID4 has a ticking time bomb structure built into the story that keeps the plot driving forward, something sorely lacking in ‘Godzilla’. But what's far more damaging is that ‘Godzilla’ almost steadfastly refused to deliver on its potential, whereas ID4 is a wonderful evocation of childhood wish fulfilment, supplying everything one could want – or at least, everything that one's inner, eager eight - year - old could want. For that reason alone, it stands not as a guilty pleasure, despite its flaws, but simply as a pleasure.

DIRECTOR

Roland Emmerich

CAST

Will Smith Bill Pullman Jeff Goldblum

YEAR

1996


ASIA

Asia has produced some of the greatest action movies ever put to film. Although most are subtitled, thus requiring a little brain effort to follow, the sheer force and intensity makes these films them what they are. To exclude this area of film-making would be unjust. In this section we explore the eastern side of mindlessness for some of the most adrenaline fuelled, break neck paced films in the world.


THE RAID : REDEMPTION The Raid is bit like a trip to the circus, or at least it would be if the elephant was throttling the strong man whilst the bearded lady eviscerated the unicyclist. It's not exactly a subtle movie. In fact, between the gleefully gruesome acts of ultra - violence there is very little else. But relative newcomer Gareth Evans directs with such a manic attention to chaos that you won't feel too cheated. Interestingly, aside from being a carnival of violence, The Raid owes an awful lot to video game tropes – there's a sense of Evans sitting behind the screen, controller in hand, cackling away at all the outlandish things he is having his characters do. Aside from the disbelief that need be suspended over the volume of abuse that plucky lead Iko Uwais takes in his stride, each floor is a ‘level’ of increasing difficulty for the protagonists. Waves of enemies each pose a different challenge (pistols, machine guns, machetes and general melee), not to mention the boss fights leading up to the film's conclusion. To say that the plot – which has an idealistic cop (who is as acrobatic as he is stab - happy with his combat knife) and his SWAT team taking on a crumbling tenement full of bad guys en route to the king of all criminals – is a bit thin would be an understatement. The Raid is essentially a series of glorious set - pieces glued together with a bit of dialogue. This will turn some people off, perhaps rightly so. However, with the sheer talent of the stunt team, the graceful choreography, the hilarious death scenes and the imagination behind it all, it really doesn’t matter as much as you may fear. The lack of a cracking back story or a more iconic lead (Uwais does perfectly well in his role as ‘rookie cop with a backbone of steel’ but he's not exactly Rambo) is a drawback but the sheer badassery on display compensates. One scene involving a hiding place, a machete and a lethal game of ‘Pop Up Pirate’ is especially memorable. The squeamish will be tormented with plenty of chaotic bloodletting – The Raid is aimed squarely at fans of the genre. It's not quite enough to be crowned king of the ring – though its intended audience will love it to bloody, battered pieces – but it certainly announces Evans as a major new talent.

17

DIRECTOR

Gareth Evans

CAST

Iko Uwais Ananda George Ray Sahetapy

YEAR

2011


MINDLESSNESS : ASIAN CINEMA

HARD BOILED

18

The first feature film from critically worshipped Hong Kong director John Woo to receive more than a cursory release in the UK, this is an explosively visceral, operatic tour de force of breath  -  takingly choreographed violence and blistering ballistic pyrotechnics that begins over  -  the  -  top with a tea  -  house shoot - out that leaves at least thirty people dead, and then escalates into a succession of even more outrageous action set pieces. In Hong Kong, on the eve of the Communist takeover and the relinquishment of British rule, police detective Yuen (Yun Fat) loses his partner in the tea - house slaughter, and against the advice of his superior, Chan, continues his own investigation into an illegal arms consortium, determined to nail those responsible for his partner's death. Following up a brutal hit, Yuen crosses paths with an undercover cop, Tony (Leung), who, posing as a hit man, has infiltrated the gun - running operation and who, unbeknownst to Yuen, passes coded messages back to Chan. When Tony is forced to betray his boss and defect to a rival gang headed by sadistic young pretender Johnny, Yuen uncovers Tony's secret. Upon learning that a city hospital is the site of Johnny's arsenal, the pair team up for a showdown that culminates in a maelstrom of bullets and delirious destruction. With a body count well into three figures, more firepower than you can shake an uzi at, and imaginatively realised, adrenaline  -  pumping action sequences to turn Hollywood's action directors green, this was Woo's most outrageous two hours to date, mixing the frenzied pacing of kung fu flicks with a plethora of cinematic tricks — slow - motion, freeze  -  frames, wipes  –  Woo has elevated the action movie into the realm of art. Infinitely more exciting than a dozen Die Hards, action cinema doesn't come any better than this.

DIRECTOR

John Woo

CAST

Yun-Fat Chow Tony Chiu Wai Leung Teresa Mo

YEAR

1992


BATTLE ROYALE In a dystopian future, the authorities have devised an ingeniously brutal way of keeping order and channelling the inherently violent impulses of the young. Every year a group of teenagers is sent into a carefully observed wilderness to hunt and kill one another, until only one survivor – the winner of the game – remains. This is the premise of ‘The Hunger Games,’ of course, and also of ‘Battle Royale,’ a Japanese movie from 2000 that is now receiving a belated, limited release. Similarities between the two films have been noted by a handful of online pop culture mavens, and the question of influence is interesting. ‘Battle Royale,’ based on a novel by Koushun Takami and directed by Kinji Fukasaku, a prolific Japanese filmmaker who died in 2003, is shorter, less elaborate and far bloodier than Gary Ross' adaptation of Suzanne Collins' ‘Hunger Games,’ and emphasizes pulp and melodrama over political allegory. Both movies, whatever their genetic relationship, belong to a grabbag tradition of adolescent sensationalism that includes William Golding's ‘Lord of the Flies,‘ Jean Vigo's ‘Zéro de Conduite’ and the juvenile delinquent exploitation pictures of the 1950s. (Wild schoolchildren are also a recurrent presence in Japanese popular culture, going back at least to the early silent comedies of Yasujiro Ozu.) The rebellious, self  -  pitying, defiantly melodramatic spirit of youth mingles with a queasy adult sense of concern. What are we going to do with these kids? What are we doing to them? ‘Battle Royale,’ a gaudy, gruesome comic book, tackles these questions with a verve that is both earnest and impish. Quentin Tarantino has called it one of his favorite movies, and if he had ever tried his hand at an after - school special or a John Hughes high school morality play, it might look something like this. Each year, in accordance with the Battle Royale Millennium Act  –  enacted to address unemployment and youthful lawlessness – a single class of ninth graders is selected for Hobbesian self - destruction. There is no ritual of ‘reaping’ and no televised spectacle, as in ‘The Hunger Games.’ The students, dressed in their school uniforms, are told that they are going on a field trip, only to find themselves under armed guard on an overgrown island. Forty youngsters from Class 3-B have made the trip this time, and they are amazed to discover that the man running the grisly

show is a former teacher, played with stony, soulful menace by the great Japanese director and action star Takeshi Kitano. Mr. Kitano is, for most of the movie, a marginal presence, an emblem of maturity in a world of children run amok. As the body count is tabulated on screen – and by dutiful functionaries in a relatively low  -  tech command  -  and  -  control center  –  the relationships among the students come to the fore. A season's worth of mean - girl, nerd - and - jock soap opera is compressed into 114 swift and sanguinary minutes. Awful deaths (and hysterical reactions to them) punctuate declarations of love and friendship, revelations of treachery and heavily armed expressions of angst. Mr. Fukasaku (director), whose long career included seminal yakuza films of the 1960s has a punchy, efficient style. He also has a remarkable command of the emotional nuances of action that may be the source of Mr. Tarantino's admiration. His expertly choreographed scenes of mayhem are at once comical and appalling, and his young cast embraces the melodramatic extremity of the story with impressive conviction. As with ‘The Hunger Games,’ the matter of whom to root for takes on an uncomfortable intensity. It is clear enough that Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and Noriko (Aki Maeda) are destined for some kind of romantic connection, and maybe also for ultimate survival, but that leaves a lot of fast grieving and anxious, guilty cheering to be done as their classmates (and two mysterious ringers, veterans of an earlier battle) massacre one another. American fans of ‘The Hunger Games’ may not embrace – or even be permitted to see – ‘Battle Royale,’ which is too bad. It is in many ways a better movie and in any case a fascinating companion to ‘The Hunger Games’, drawn from a parallel cultural universe. It is a lot uglier and also, perversely, a lot more fun. DIRECTOR

Kinji Fukasaku

CAST

Tatsuya Fujiwara Aki Maeda Tarô Yamamoto

YEAR

1988

19


SPOTLIGHT Is it illegal to make films that entertain and excite the masses? Is it a crime to literally give people more “bang” for their buck when sitting in a theatre? If the answer is no, why do so many people have a problem with the film - making style of director/producer Michael Bay? For years critics have been dumping on Bay because of his desire to produce big budget films. Explosions and car chases have become his signature, and are easily identifiable by any steady movie goer. Granted he may never direct a film along the lines of Schindler's List or The English Patient, but then again I wouldn't want him to. Bay has his own visionary style that was unprecedented until he hit the scene in the midnineties with his feature film debut, Bad Boys. For the most part Bay has churned out some pretty entertaining films, so what's with the hard feelings? Why does everyone hate Michael Bay? I recently came across an article on Cinematical where the author pretty much bashed Michael Bay every other line. He asked the question, “is there room for Michael Bay in the age of Chris Nolan?” My first thought was, what does one have to do with the other? These are two totally different directors, with very different film aesthetics. What’s with the random

vendetta? It turns out, Bay made a few statements about his approach to making movies, and it rubbed the writer the wrong way. It seems that every interview with the man contains a response to his naysayers to the tune of: “I don't see anything wrong with spending a lot of money to make big action movies to entertain people. Yet somehow, I come under special scrutiny. I mean, why don't people get upset if Dow spends $300 million to invent some new chemical? Audiences like popcorn movies. What's wrong with that?” and “What we do is not brain surgery. We are entertainers, plain and simple, and we're responsible to bring that money back, to make a profit.” I will admit the Dow comparison was a bit extreme, but for the most part is he wrong? Hollywood is full of actors, musicians, directors, and writers who all want to be creative and make a living off their craft. If the entertainment industry wasn't a multi - billion dollar business it wouldn't be so hard to break into. What's so bad about making ‘popcorn flicks?’ Films were created to entertain, so what's wrong with making movies that do? I enjoy a variety of films, no matter the genre or director. I can watch anything from a Busby Berkley musical, to a Hitchcock thriller, to a Judd Apatow comedy. There are bad movies made in every genre for every price.

Just give me something that can captivate and hold my attention. Another issue I had with the article was it's comparison of Bay to Sam Raimi and Stephen Sommers. Again, totally different directors with different aesthetics. Google Sam Raimi, and you'll get quotes about the power of great stories, and his love for his source material. Even Stephen Sommers, who has certainly made some reviled films, talks about his enthusiasm and inspiration; you can sense he's trying. From Bay,  you get : “I'm an entertainer – don't hold me to any standard.” Really? Stephen Sommers? I liked the Mummy movies like everybody else, but your going to have to do better than that. As for Raimi, Army of Darkness is one of my favourite movies and of course I loved his work on Spiderman (with that being said, I mean films I mean one and two). The quote about Raimi's love of ‘source material’ may be a bit premature. Let's not act as if those films stuck to the Marvel comic like glue. I personally wouldn't expect them too since comic book films unfortunately always lose a little something when transferred to the silver screen. Michael Bay is Michael Bay, he's no Sommers, Raimi, or Nolan. He sticks to what he does best, and that's blowing stuff up. You don't walk into one of his movies for a thought provoking message, you go for the adrenaline rush. I'm not writing this article as a campaign for you to become the biggest Bay fan, or to run out and buy all his movies. I'm just stating a point. Bay is good at directing summer blockbusters. He says his goal is to entertain and make a profit, and that is exactly what he does. No false pretences. He doesn't think he's making art, he knows what he's making and he's good at it. Once again, isn't that what everyone in Hollywood is trying to do on one level or another? They may not all be as vocal about it, but it's true. Everyone wants to do the thing they love and do it well. As an audience member, when I spend my money for a Bay film, he delivers what he promises every time. It doesn't matter if the story's mediocre, or the acting is so - so, I know I won't leave

my seat without seeing a fire - lit car roll over five times, while a helicopter spews out a round of bullets in slow motion. Bay sticks to his guns (literally), and for the most part makes enjoyable, fun films.

MICHAEL BAY

20

—— Krystal Clark


TRANSFORMERS

Michael Bay is famous for loud, knuckle  - headed movies but Transformers makes Armageddon look like Solaris. There's a scene in Bay's 2005 sci - fi The Island that sums up his approach to filmmaking  –  he has a mildly interesting sub  -  Logan's Run sci - fi plot but, as soon as he can, he gets our heroes onto the expressway and starts throwing huge dumb  -  bells at them from the back of a lorry. Transformers is that scene writ large. You don't expect much by the way of subtlety from a movie about warring giant mechanoids but this plumbs depths of dumbness Hollywood hadn't visited since Tomb Raider. The filmmakers' first mistake is to take the Transformers mythology too seriously ; there's far too much po - faced pseudo science and portentous witterings about ancient civilisations – all to explain why alien robots made the implausible decision to disguise themselves as motor vehicles, this time round, designed by General Motors. Not that the film is totally devoid of humour. Coen brothers' favourite John Turturro provides decent comic relief as an officious government operative and a few lines from the robots themselves raise a titter. The plot is bilge, centring on the two robotic sects' quest to capture a mythical cube called the AllSpark. The clue to its whereabouts are etched on the glass of a pair of spectacles belonging to teenager Sam Witwicky (LeBeouf), who inherited them from his great - grandfather. When he auctions them on eBay, robots good and evil come calling. The AllSpark turns out to have been found by the US government (they built the Hoover Dam specifically to hide it, apparently) so the map's importance becomes irrelevant. But you don't watch a Michael Bay flick for story, character development or emotional resonance  –  it's about action. For all his duds (Pearl Harbor, The Island) he's made some fantastic popcorn chompers; The Rock (1996) is a classic of the genre and even received an Oscar nomination ( for Best Sound, which must have pleased sonic  -  obsessive Bay to no end).

The transformers themselves are charming creations, rendered in astonishing CGI and given soulful voice by, among others, Matrix star Hugo Weaving. And the action? Fear not; at around the two - thirds mark, the film becomes an explosive orgy of giant, fetishised weaponry, grinding metal and spraying lubricant – an automotive video nasty with a Fort Knox - sized budget. It's outrageous, stupid fun and you should see it on the biggest screen you can find.

21

DIRECTOR

Michael Bay

CAST

Shia LaBeouf Megan Fox Josh Duhamel

YEAR

2007


MINDLESSNESS : MICHAEL BAY

ARMAGEDDON

22

Armageddon is either a movie that you have fun with or you don't. Those looking for high cinema need look somewhere else, the same goes for those looking for the best work of Michael Bay. The poster child for a movie that teeters between absurd and serious, Armageddon could have been either an actual good movie or a ridiculously awful movie that was excellent as a result. Unfortunately, it teeters and never settles into either category. Armageddon has moments where it is deliciously cheesy and overtly pretentious, but those are accompanied by moments of actual effort to be taken seriously. The best parts about Armageddon are easily the effects and Bay's action direction. The effects are excellent, top of the line fare that hold up today as great works of art in their own right. Bay's direction in action scenes is near flawless, for all his faults as a director he does understand how to shoot and frame action scenes. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the rest of Bay's direction. His camera is stifling and suffocating in any non - action moments. He's even worse when he tries to splice in non - action with the action. Bay is always doing too much with his camera, he lacks the ability to set up a scene and let his actors go, he has to freeze frame, reverse angles, shoot from odd directions, fool around with lenses and filters, etc., etc.. The characters in Armageddon are all enjoyable; however, the dialogue, oh, the dialogue. So obvious and clunky, making sure to let you know what will happen in the next scene before it has a chance to unfold visually. Armageddon's dialogue is big, and by big I mean big speech after big speech after big speech. Armageddon is too long, too big for its own good and is god awful in places. But, not every movie needs to be an Ingmar Bergman classic, every once in a while you need a movie that is more fun than anything else, and that's where a movie like Armageddon comes in.

DIRECTOR

Michael Bay

CAST

Bruce Willis Billy Bob Thornton Ben Affleck

YEAR

1998


MINDLESSNESS : COMEDY

ANCHORMAN

23

Newscaster Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) sports a helmet of stallionbrown hair and a virile moustache. He reeks of unreconstructed masculinity and hangs out with his news team, a low rent Rat Pack who have been “going to the same party for the last ten years”. Together they live in pre - equal opportunities hog heaven, helping themselves to a sly grope of whichever lucky lady happens to squeeze by. Like Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson's Starsky & Hutch, Anchorman promises a perfect storm of retro - 1970s humour and likewise succeeds in being very funny but also somewhat structureless. For UK viewers, there is a certain familiarity to some of the material, having first seen newscasters trading insults as the credits roll in Drop The Dead Donkey. Burgundy's dead pan delivery of twisted phrases suggests familiarity with Chris Morris' deranged presenter of The Day Today. What worked on British TV struggles to find a plot that justifies a full hour and a half, but relies instead on the excellent semi improvised character work, reminiscent of Christopher Guest's troupe. The easy - going bonhomie of the news team is disturbed by the arrival of Veronica Corningstone, played by Christina Applegate, whose white trash daughter in 1980s sitcom ‘Married With Children’ fuelled the libido of a generation. As much as we love to laugh at the clothes and haircuts of the 1970s, the funniest thing about that decade remains its gender politics. Corningstone's arrival inspires all sorts of male chauvinist antics. Each of the news team take a crack at her, with Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) “musking up” with the most potent cologne in his enormous cabinet of aftershaves. It is Burgundy who finally bags her after a stupendous exhibition of his skill with the jazz flute. Unfortunately her ambition – or rather, his reaction to it – banjaxes their relationship. She gets a chance to present the news in his place after an unfortunate incident in which a cameoing Jack Black does something cruel and unusual to Burgundy's beloved dog, and their romance turns to rivalry.

After a street fight between rival news teams, Anchorman abandons realism and as a consequence we lose any emotional interest in the characters. Though never more than a romp, it's a hell of a good (and good - hearted) one. Quotability abounds, and a special mention has to go to Steve Carell's dim weatherman Brick Tamland, who steals every scene he's in. Carell would later shine as David Brent reinterpretation Michael Scott in the US remake of The Office, but here he turns the stupidity up to 11, his surreal non-sequitors belied by his oil slick of hair and serious countenance; McKay knows how to use his actors. The PG-13 version is preferable; one ‘fuck’ goes a long way.

DIRECTOR

Adam McKay

CAST

Will Ferrell Christina Applegate Steve Carell

YEAR

2004


THE HANGOVER With a track record that includes Old School and Road Trip, you could be forgiven for thinking Todd Phillips' Las Vegas  -  set bachelor party comedy The Hangover will be little more than boobs, beer and barfing. And, while those crucial ingredients are not forgotten, this ‘morning after’ tale is a mite more intelligent than your average Hollywood story of drunken debauchery. The film begins with a prologue that swiftly introduces us to the characters and set - up. Two days before his wedding, Doug (Justin Bartha) heads to Vegas with two best pals – cynical high - school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper) and under - the - thumb dentist Stu (Ed Helms) – for one final blowout. Along for the ride is Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Doug's misfit soon - to - be brother - in - law. Arriving in Vegas, these merry men soon get the party started – only for the film to deliberately miss out on the action and cut to the carnage the day after. When they come to, Stu is missing a tooth. Phil has a medical band on his wrist suggesting an unexplained hospital visit. There's a tiger in the bathroom and a baby in the closet. Worse still, they can't find Doug. And nobody can remember a thing. With the minutes ticking away, and the wedding drawing ever closer, the trio try to piece events together. Like drunken detectives, as they struggle to locate the groom, the more the maxim ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ becomes applicable. Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore – who considerably step up here after penning the less - than - impressive Four Christmases (2008) and Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past (2009) – The Hangover is quite an achievement, given the lack of budget, high concept or A - list cast. It plays fast and broad but holds back on dishing out too many crude gross - out gags. As a consequence, despite belonging to a sub - genre (lads off the leash) that would seem to be, well, hungover, the film keeps a remarkably clear head. With Heather Graham making a cheeky appearance as a stripper and Mike Tyson playing himself, the performances are largely on - song. Particularly good is Rachel Harris as Stu's suspicious partner, with whom he constantly has to check in before she snaps. While Bartha is left with a thankless role as the missing groom, the main men all also  acquit themselves well  –  in particular Bradley Cooper. Everything works here; the characters are funny, the set - ups are funny, the lines are funny and even the odd moments of randomness

(Mike Tyson singing ‘In the Air Tonight’ has to be seen to be believed) don't seem too out there. While the Apatow clan have seemingly single - handedly taken over Hollywood comedy, it's nice to see someone else come up with a genuinely and consistently funny film.

25

DIRECTOR

Todd Phillips

CAST

Zach Galifianakis Bradley Cooper Justin Bartha

YEAR

2009


MINDLESSNESS : TRULY MINDLESS

SNAKES ON A PLANE

26

“I can't believe I'm going to say this,” cries plucky stewardess Julianna Margulies, “but does anyone know how to fly a plane?” To be honest, we can't believe it either. But then if you've paid your hard - earned to see a flick called Snakes On A Plane, you pretty much know credibility will be on a knife - edge at best. Allegedly the result of a late  -night brainstorm to find the daftest pitch imaginable, this airborne thriller stoked up a tsunami of internet hype, fuelled by fans tickled by its outrageous scenario. The problem with hype, though, is that you eventually have to live up to it; if you don't, people can get mighty peeved. It's a close - run thing. Given the breathless economy of his earlier films Cellular and Final Destination 2, it's a surprise director David R Ellis takes such an unconscionably long time to set up his simple premise. Indeed, before anyone has so much as set foot in an airport, we've already seen a gunfight, a car chase and a federal prosecutor beaten to death by a Hawaii crime lord. It's witnessing this deed that makes Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) such a valuable piece of property for Neville Flynn (Samuel L Jackson), the veteran agent charged with escorting the lad to LA so he can “testify against his ass”. Unfortunately, said kingpin (Byron Lawson) has stocked the hold with a consignment of poisonous serpents timed to open once the airliner reaches cruising altitude. Let the screaming begin. “What kind of crazy plan is that?” you say. Or would, had Jackson's earthbound partner Bobby Cannavale not said it yet. That, essentially, is Ellis' defence mechanism: by acknowledging the stupidity of the snakes - as - assassins concept, he renders any gripes about logic or plausibility null and void. (“Do you think I didn't exhaust every other option?” asks Lawson hilariously.) All that's left is for Jackson's slithery foes to pop up out of every conceivable orifice (toilet bowl, overhead container, passenger sickbag) to sink their fangs into whatever's nearest (a female breast, an exposed penis, a woman's eye socket). Not that the reptiles have it all their own way, with their human prey fighting back with harpoon guns, makeshift flamethrowers and even a microwave oven. Given  that  their roles amount to little more than snake food, Jackson, Margulies and the rest deserve praise for playing them with

urgency, conviction and straight faces. (Todd Louis gives great nerd as the “hard-core snake specialist” drafted in to advise on anti - venom.) Between the bursts of mayhem there's time to enjoy satirical swipes at dog - hugging Paris Hilton types, germophobic rap stars and the camp air stewards that make up this flight's human cargo. As fun as all this is, though, there are limits. Indeed, by the time a chubby console jockey with 100 hours of computer - game flight-simulation experience is seated at the controls, even the most tolerant intelligence will feel it's been insulted enough. (“Is that PlayStation or Xbox?” asks Flynn resignedly.) Nor is any of it particularly scary, the snakes rendered in CGI ropey enough to make you wonder if Fakes On A Plane would have been a more suitable title. Snakes On A Plane is ridiculous, and that is eactly why you should see it.

DIRECTOR

David R. Ellis

CAST

Samuel L. Jackson Julianna Margulies Nathan Phillips

YEAR

2006


WILD WILD WEST Smith and Kline are the feds assigned to the case of a bunch of missing scientists. Teaming up with Hayek, the daughter of one of the disappeared, they come across baddie Branagh, a crippled inventor who plans to give America back to the colonists. As they are forced to fight their corner with all kinds of wacky gadgets invented on the spot by Kline, this overblown attack on the senses quickly becomes irritating. With little humour to match the inventiveness of the special effects, Wild Wild West is one of the most hollow Hollywood offerings, ever. This film is the epitome of mindlessness, perfect when the viewer is in the mood for a film that requires absolutely zero thought. Everyone should see this movie, if not for its ridiculousness then as a glimpse in to the workings of Hollywood. Wild Wild West takes on an entirely new perspective for the viewer after watching Kevin Smith talk about scrapped project, Superman Reborn. If you don't watch Wild Wild West, at least look up Kevin Smith speaking about Superman Reborn, this monologue offers an entertaining glimpse in to the politics of the film industry. If that doesn't convince to give Wild Wild West a chance, even just for the third act, nothing will.

27

DIRECTOR

Barry Sonnenfeld

CAST

Will Smith Kevin Kline Kenneth Branagh

YEAR

1999


MINDLESSNESS : CLASSICS

JURASSIC PARK

28

The astounding commercial success of Spielberg's theme - park movie proved once again the power of marketing and awesome special effects to overcome a thin story line and feeble characterisation. Another surprising aspect of the response was that the film seemed not to depend on a decent - sized cinema screen but proved effective when reduced to little brother telly. A definite tribute to the director's manipulative skill in dotting the overlong proceedings with enough shocks, scary moments and sentimentality to take up the slack. Amid the special effects showcasing and chases, Jurassic Park exhibits the perennial concerns of Michael Crichton – who wrote the source novel. Said concern is man abusing scientific knowledge and playing God. The culprit here is Attenborough's John Hammond, an entrepreneur who has used dinosaur DNA taken from blood - sucking mosquitoes that have been preserved in amber to re - create the prehistoric dinosaurs, with the intention of opening the ultimate theme - park cum nature reserve. To prove that all is well with his proposed park, Hammond is forced to call in three ‘experts’ : paleontologist Dr Alan Grant (Neill), his girlfriend paleo-botanist Dr Ellie Sattler (Dern), and chaos theoretician Dr Ian Malcolm (Goldblum). Oh, and sadly some kids are along for the ride too – they are the target audience after all, both for Hammond and for Spielberg. After the initial splendour of viewing a brontosaurus chomping on a tree - top and the thrill of cuddling a sickly tricerotops, things inevitably go sour and the predators make their presence felt. T- Rex reestablishes his reign, this time as king of movie monsters (a kind of bipedal Jaws), while the smaller velociraptors prove their viciousness by hunting and chowing down on various cast members. Much of the film consists of being chased by dinosaurs and trying to survive. It's a simple formula, but crudely effective. Attenborough is preposterously bad as Hammond, with an accent as wobbly as his scientific and moral judgement; the performance is only redeemed by his twinkly eyes. The rest of the cast are adequate, but hobbled by under - developed characters. Possibly the rather characterless leads work to the movie's advantage, since no one going to see a dazzling special effects movie needs distracting by a tame scientist's view of very untamed monsters. Not surprisingly, the sound and the computer - generated visuals received Oscars.

It all adds up to a thrill ride worthy of a real - life amusement park. But revisiting Jurassic Park inevitably summons mournful thoughts of the degree to which studio blockbusters have changed in twenty years. Now there would need to be dino attacks within the first ten minutes; no Hollywood executive today would feel comfortable with a film that let its well - judged story unfold at such a leisurely, confident pace. It's our loss.

DIRECTOR

Steven Spielberg

CAST

Sam Neill Laura Dern Jeff Goldblum

YEAR

1993


BATMAN Stamping its batwing logo on the forehead of Summer 1989, Batman is only memorable for its marketing savvy, which ushered in a decade of Hollywood event - movie hype. The film made Jack Nicholson a fortune, after he negotiated a slice of the vast merchandising revenues. But audiences were thoroughly short - changed. After sharing a beer with comics genius Alan Moore, director Tim Burton took his advice and created a Gotham City that was a jumble of architectural styles, sweeping away the abiding cultural memory of Adam West's camp ‘Batman’ to infuse his vision with the darker undertones of Frank Miller's comic, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. At least, that was the plan. Unfortunately, Burton's Gotham City reeks of stage set, and his Batman (Keaton) is a quizzical clown, who is astonishingly unthreatening for a vigilante who likes to dress as a giant bat. At first glance, the plot is a cut above the average superhero fare. Taking his cue from Miller, and from Moore's comic ‘The Killing Joke’, Burton creates a funhouse logic in which arch adversaries Batman and The Joker are responsible for one another's creation. While fighting Batman, cheap hood Jack Napier plunges into a vat of chemicals. After a little botched plastic surgery, voila! Napier is The Joker, with Nicholson's trademark grin locked in place by severed facial muscles. So is Batman repsonsible for the evil The Joker suddenly unleashes upon Gotham City? Or does the circle of blame go back further, to the fateful night when a crook gunned down Bruce Wayne's parents before his very eyes, creating in him a crime - fighting obsession? This doppelganger shtick hovers over the film, but it's not enough to overcome its various flaws. Jack Nicholson cooks up a series of flash one - liners that evaporate on the tongue, “This town needs an enema!”, “Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”. They hang off his perfomance like baubles. Dig deeper and you'll discover there's nothing there. Jack is not The Joker, he is just über - Jack. It gets worse. The action sequences lack dynamism, and the set - pieces (a dull parade, a romp around an art gallery) are scored by some of the worst music of Prince's career (check out the twenty minute ‘Scandalous Sex Suite’ he and Basinger snuck off to record one evening). Basinger herself is love interest Vicki Vale, with a spunky, working - woman characterisation haphazardly grafted on as a sop to political correctness. The final fight sequence, where the

villain falls from a tall building, represents a complete defeat of the imagination, a seemingly obligatory ending for the action movies of the period (In The Line Of Fire, Die Hard) that conveniently absolved the hero from killing his adversary. ‘He just, er, slipped, officer.’ Keaton and Basinger's careers subsequently imploded (not even an unlikely Oscar win could save young Kim), while Tim Burton partially redeemed himself with Batman Returns but then disgraced himself with his lacklustre reappraisal of the Planet Of The Apes franchise  –  he's since clawed ground back with the okay Big Fish and the excellent Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. Only Nicholson emerged completely unscathed: he's still holed up there on Mulholland Drive, counting his money. All in all, this is a Tim Burton film, made in the 80s and it's about Batman. If that doesn't sway you in to watching it, nothing will.

29

DIRECTOR

Tim Burton

CAST

Michael Keaton Jack Nicholson Kim Basinger

YEAR

1989


MINDLESSNESS : DISNEY

THE LION KING

30

A movie's heroes may have their names above the title, but often as not it's the sidekicks who get the real work done. And sometimes, as in ‘The Lion King,’ it's those under appreciated little people who steal the spotlight and provide the best reason to see something in the first place. While in many ways a worthy successor to “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” ‘The Lion King’ is less of a piece than its revered predecessors and the first to have a core story noticeably less involving than its scintillating peripheral characters. Set in an African landscape where man is not in evidence, ‘The Lion King’ opens with a gorgeous set  -  piece, a gathering at Pride Rock of animals from ants to elephants to pay homage to Simba, newly born son and heir to the great king of beasts, Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones). Young Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) turns out to be an irritatingly callow cub who talks ("It would be so weird") rather like a hip kid from the Valley and always wants to go exploring in just the places his father says are forbidden. He's encouraged in this by his uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons), a sullen, manipulative beast, passed over for the king's slot, who is given to pouting that he's “surrounded by idiots.” Not surprisingly, listening to Scar's oily advice gets Simba into all kinds of trouble with his senior. This father  -  son relationship, and the parallel tale of a young man's growth to adulthood, is ‘The Lion King's’ central story and for the first time in Disney's animated features, outside source material was not used as its dramatic basis. But even though three different writers (Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, Linda Woolverton) were involved, none of them were able to convey this part of the tale in a way that doesn't feel pro forma. So even though it teaches good values and even affirms with ecological correctness that “we are all connected in the great circle of life,” it remains the section of ‘The Lion King’ that makes do without a spring in its step. But just when things are looking darkest, the first of the film's clever sidekick teams appears, a trio of wild and crazy hipster hyenas who serve as Scar's henchmen. Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin as Shenzi and Banzai have a lot of fun trading riffs about “dangling at the bottom of the food chain,” while Jim Cummings

is equally strong as a goofy hyena who really does love to laugh. Though he is the hero, Simba needs sidekicks as much as anyone, especially after, in the film's darkest moment, his father, the regal Mufasa, tragically dies. Fleeing Pride Rock as a result, Simba has the good fortune to run into a couple of mellow dudes, a tender  -  hearted but evil  - smelling wart hog named Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) and a fast - talking meerkat named Timon (Nathan Lane, animated by Michael Surrey) who have gaily dropped out of the jungle rat race and encourage the young lion to do the same. ‘The Lion King’ needs every bit of this gleeful anarchy because the film's final section, with its sombre talk of guilt, responsibility, confronting the past and even a hint of recovered memory syndrome, threatens to turn the proceedings into a Serengeti therapy session. Likewise the adult Simba (Matthew Broderick) seems at times on the verge of becoming the only lion ever to seek psychiatric help, though he settles instead for an amusing encounter with Rafiki the shaman baboon (an engaging Robert Guillaume). Essential in keeping things lively throughout is ‘The Lion King's’ companionable soundtrack, with songs by Tim Rice and Elton John and score and arrangements by Hans Zimmer. It was Zimmer, in fact, who added the irresistible African rhythms and Zulu chanting that give the music much of its impact and style. The greatest wonder of all, however, is how approximately one million drawings ultimately turn into a film that lives and breathes. For even with its flaws, this Disney animated feature delivers what its audience wants. Too bad flesh and blood films can't  be  this consistent.

DIRECTORS

Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff

CAST

Matthew Broderick Jeremy Irons James Earl Jones

YEAR

1994


TOY STORY While most blockbusters merely infantilise, the best children's films help us see the world through younger eyes, reintroducing us to possibilities lost to age and anxiety. The great ones, a tiny subset to which Toy Story and its sequels most definitely belong, communicate both ways, like that radio in ‘Frequency’. This is a good and necessary thing – who wouldn't rather their little ones learned about death from Bambi rather than Basra? Bringing its genius, back - of - the - napkin conceit to life with state  -  of  -  the  -  art animation and lovably creased characters, John Lasseter's Toy Story explores ideas of upheaval and rejection amid the laugh  -  out  -  loud, Joss Whedon  -  aided dialogue. Needless to say, acquainting yourself with Woody the cowboy (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of Andy's anthropomorphised toys is a treat in any dimension, but the 3D retrofit is as fine an example of cinema's youngest dimension as any on offer. As the camera spins round Andy's lounge, leaving Woody lolling, alone and spindly limbed on the sofa, it's hard to believe what you're seeing is just pixels. This play between the real and the fake carries right through to the core of the film. It's no accident that the humans are less convincing than the toys themselves, or the endless anodyne suburbs outside are no match for the playing fields of the mind. Even indoors movie backdrops proliferate: the blue  -  sky wallpaper that stretches to infinity in Andy's bedroom, the wild west picture Woody passes, the Shining carpets in Sid the psycho's house of horror. This is a film in love with film itself: hence the Indiana Jones and Back To The Future references, and hence the animators' painstaking attempts to push the boundaries. In two dimensions, the frame reveals extraordinary reflections in lamps, windows and visors that no film camera could ever capture. In three, Buzz's through - the - legs reveal is as monumental as his ego, the toy soldiers' parachute descent is thrilling and vertiginous and the garden leaves look so lush you could reach through the screen and eat them. Then, halfway through, something strange happens. Stunning though it is, you stop noticing the 3D and concentrate instead on the characters: their endearing interactions, their flaws and foibles, what they

want. With writing, acting and, for want of a better word, direction this good, Woody and friends could be stickmen in a flickbook (or an Etch A Sketch) and you'd still want to know what happens to them. Turns out the real magic is nothing to do with technology: it's in the words, the voices, the story. But then, a child could have told you that.

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DIRECTOR

John Lasseter

CAST

Tom Hanks Tim Allen Don Rickles

YEAR

1995


MINDLESSNESS

TITANIC

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The Oscar giant  -  killer critics love to hate, probably because Titanic has the distinction of being one of the few Best Picture winners not to include any acting or screenplay awards among its tally. Many cite this as proof positive that modern blockbusters sacrifice everything in favour of computer generated magic and, while the central romance isn't without its charm, it's still the weakest element of the film. Thus, first - class rich kid Rose DeWitt Bukaer (Kate Winslet) and steerage urchin and struggling artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) fall helplessly in love, indulge in some back seat cherry popping and decide on the basis of their two  -  day relationship that they can't live without each other  –  until a big iceberg gets in the way of their new  -  found happiness. Titanic is not flawless; the dialogue is often simplistic, when not offering deathless lines like, “A woman's heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” As Winslet's arrogant fiancé, Billy Zane never gets beyond the cartoonishly villainous, and David Warner is wasted as a thuggish butler. But these are minor shortcomings. That the familiar story of the Titanic disaster is told with suspense is not as surprising as Cameron's clear - headed balance of truth and fiction, spectacle and tragedy. Cameron is no stranger to spectacle, and the amazing boat - sinking effects paper over the cracks in the story so well that even the most cynical viewer is drawn in.

DIRECTOR

James Cameron

CAST

Leonardo DiCaprio Kate Winslet Billy Zane

YEAR

1997


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ALTERED STATES

A MOVIE GUIDE FOR FRAMES OF MIND Altered States Collection One : Mindlessness Designer  &  Editor  Sean Edgar Contributors Alex Simon Krystal Clark Typefaces Optimo Theinhardt Letraset Compacta HVD Supria Sans Stock Xerox 160gsm Xerox 300gsm


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