Remembering “Ghostbusters”

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The 1980s was a very interesting decade in terms of popular culture. It played host to a whole new wave of music as well as a big boom of highly profitable movie and television franchises such as Back To The Future, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Franchises like these were so successful that many of them are still being capitalized on today (in case you hadn’t noticed). The 80s also gave us a little flick called Ghostbusters, a highly entertaining comedy about a trio of misfit scientists who start a ghost-catching business. I bring this film up because there’s been a lot of talk recently about rebooting this franchise in some way or another. While miracles can happen, I’m not too sure what good could really come from this as I really think that the original film is a classic and doesn’t need to be revisited over and over. With that said, I thought I’d take a look back at the original and remind people why it’s considered to be one of the greatest comedies ever made.

So let’s start with the obligatory summary of the plot, which is ingeniously quirky. We’re introduced to three parapsychologists, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd) and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). Peter is an overconfident womanizer who takes nothing seriously and relies heavily on the other two, Ray is highly intelligent but far too overzealous, and Egon is a quiet and socially awkward super-genius. Shortly after their first encounter with a ghost at a public library, the three find themselves jobless and penniless due to their university grant being terminated by a disgruntled dean. At the suggestion of Peter, they decide to go into business for themselves as specialist paranormal investigators/eliminators and Ray is convinced to sell his old family home in order to provide funding. Things are slow at first, but after successfully capturing and containing their first “full roaming vapor” using the proton packs developed by Ray and Egon, the Ghostbusters become citywide celebrities. From there they are joined by Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), an average Joe looking for a job who knows nothing of the supernatural, and are tasked with saving the city and Peter’s love interest Dana Barrett from the clutches of the evil demigod Gozer. And as you can imagine, hilarity ensues.

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Blending supernatural elements with comedy wasn’t really anything new when Ghostbusters hit the screens back in 1984, as it had been done previously in films such as Spook Busters (1946). What makes the concept work really well here though is that the comedy element is mixed with moments of genuine terror. A prime example would be the scene in which character Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is dragged by a demon armchair into the paws of the terror dog Zuul. The contrast provided by these scarier moments make the comedic moments even more enjoyable and adds to the overall experience. I believe we can thank Ivan Reitman and his stellar directing for that.

The film is very well written, with the narrative structure and pacing being kept very tight throughout and the characters being very well conceived. Although in my opinion it’s the performances and chemistry of the cast that really provides the comedic spark. The three main actors are all terrific comedic performers in their own right and as a team they work off each other brilliantly. On top of that, this film produces more hilarious and quotable one-liners than most comedies I can think of, one of my personal favourites being Peter Venkman’s line: “back off man, I’m a scientist”. While the movie showcases many top of the class comedians of the time, including Aykroyd, Ramis and Rick Moranis, the star of the show is without a doubt Bill Murray. Without his dry, deadpan performance I don’t think the film would be quite as good as it is. His reactions towards the ridiculous situations he’s placed in are just priceless; only Murray could make a line like “he slimed me” sound so pitch-perfect.

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The only thing as good as the acting is arguably the soundtrack, containing an effective mixture of eerie/dramatic orchestral music and lighthearted/jaunty stuff. And I don’t think I need to remind anyone of how awesome and unforgettable the main theme song is (so unforgettable you’ll never get it out of your head!). If any of us weren’t sure who we were gonna call, Ray Parker Jr. certainly cleared that up.

So is there anything bad about the film? Well, a lot of the special effects seem rather dated by today’s standards… but that’s perfectly understandable as it is 1984 we’re talking about here. Aside from that there is only one real problem I have with it: I don’t really see the purpose of Ernie Hudson’s character Winston. I get that he’s meant to be the “everyman” character that the audience can identify with more than the others, but in my eyes he doesn’t really do much. He’s introduced about half way through, we’re told nothing about his backstory, he’s given a few funny lines and he helps out in the climax, but apart from that there doesn’t seem to be any reason for him to be there. I’m certainly not knocking Ernie Hudson’s acting; he’s the king of cool, but I personally would like to have seen more of him throughout the film.

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Finally, I would like to say that any criticisms I have of Ghostbusters are all nitpicks and don’t come close to spoiling what is an incredibly well conceived, written, acted and directed comedy. I actually think many comedies today could learn a thing or two from it. I’m sure you’ve all seen it, but if you haven’t, get on it!

Posted by Frank Short

Does Jeremy Clarkson Deserve To Get The Boot?

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Well old Jezza’s finally done it. He’s got himself suspended by the BBC. This means that the very popular series Top Gear (one of my personal favourite shows) has been suspended as well, for how long we don’t know. I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later, as Clarkson has never shown any sign of changing his disruptive behavioral patterns. He’s just the kind of guy that speaks his mind without considering the consequences, and so far he’s managed to get away with it (just). This time however, it looks as if he might be on his last legs. But does he really deserve to get the boot?

I find Top Gear to be an incredibly entertaining program, not because of the cars (as was probably the original intention) but because of the presenters’ personalities and how they work off each other. And I’m sure a lot of people will agree that the driving force behind most of that humour is Jeremy Clarkson. He brings so much passion and charisma to the screen that it’s hard not to appreciate it. Despite this, it would appear to the average onlooker that Clarkson’s sole purpose in life is to offend people. Throughout his career he’s been known for making remarks that have insulted every manner of races and groups. A lot of these races and groups have cried out in anger, although in my opinion these remarks never actually had any truly malicious intent. I admit that as much as I enjoy watching Clarkson he’s probably not the kind of person I’d get on with in real life, but I still view nearly everything that comes out of his mouth as tongue-in-cheek.

So what is he in trouble for this time? Well, nothing Earth shattering actually. Apparently, he had a row with one of the Top Gear producers and allegedly “smacked” him. Now if his actions were in fact out of line then of course this shouldn’t be tolerated. However, there have been many instances when I think the gravity of his actions has been blown way out of proportion, and some (such as the license plate he sported in the Top Gear Patagonia Special seemingly referring to the Falklands) that may have not even been his fault at all. If this is the case, then is it right to condemn him? A lot of people think so, but he also has his fair share of supporters including fellow Top Gear presenter James May and the PM himself David Cameron.

I’m not afraid to say that I have a certain respect for Jeremy Clarkson. The reason for this is that for all the insults he dishes out on a daily basis, he seems to be able to take just as much himself. If you want an example, I remember seeing a video once of an incident in which someone threw a pie at him as he was about to receive an honoury degree from Oxford. How did he react? Well surprisingly he didn’t get angry at all, he took it very calmly and actually complemented the perpetrator on her pie throwing skills. To me, this is him saying “throw pies at me all you want, I can take it”, and I’m sorry but you have to admire that. Do you know what happened when someone threw an egg at John Prescott? He punched the guy in the face. There have also been instances on Top Gear when he has been insulted to some degree by a guest star and he has always taken it in good humour.

When all is said and done (and Jezza has said and done quite a lot), do Clarkson’s thoughtless comments really have much of an impact on anything? He’s not a world leader or any kind of influential politician, he’s just a silly bloke with a risqué sense of humour that presents a programme about cars. People can easily choose to ignore him if they want, but many don’t. In all fairness his comments and opinions are broadcast to millions of people worldwide and that is a lot of people that the BBC don’t want to rub the wrong way. Regardless, Top Gear has managed to consistently attract high viewership and they have Jeremy to thank for that in large part.

Does everyone have to like him? Of course not, I personally think he’s like marmite: not everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t enjoy his brash, outspoken tendencies then you don’t have to watch him, no one’s forcing you to. But I really don’t think he’s worth kicking up such a fuss over, he just exists to provide light entertainment. As for those of us who enjoy watching him on TV, we just take his remarks for what they actually are: dry humour.

Posted by Frank Short

Remembering “Mrs. Doubtfire”

Robin Williams In 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

Ah Robin Williams. Will we ever forget him? Not likely. He gave so much joy to the world that sadly it seems he didn’t have any left for himself. But I didn’t start writing this post with the intention of being morbid. I intend to talk about a little film of his that I re-watched the other night called Mrs. Doubtfire. It was never one of my favourite films that I would watch over and over again, as I’m sure it was for many people, but I do remember it being a pretty big part of popular culture as I was growing up in the 90s (and incidentally it was released the very same year I was born). While there is no denying the film’s popularity and legacy, I’d like to give my own personal thoughts on how well it holds up.

The “drag queen” comedy, in which a male actor masquerades as a woman for comedic effect, has now been done many times in films like Big Momma’s House, White Chicks and Jack and Jill. The Chris Columbus directed Mrs. Doubtfire arguably started this trend, and I personally think the novelty wore off almost immediately. However, while I don’t find Adam Sandler in drag to be remotely entertaining, that is not the case with Robin Williams; I find him funny, believable and strangely charming as the eponymous character. I have no doubt that this is down to just how darn good an actor he was. He imitates the voice, personality and mannerisms of an old British woman almost flawlessly and it is his performance that brings life to what would otherwise most likely be a sub-par comedy.

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The film follows Daniel Hillard, an out of work voice actor whose irresponsible attitude soon leads to him getting divorced and separated from his three children Lydia, Chris and Natalie. Unable to bear the thought of only seeing his kids once a week, Hillard uses his skills as an impressionist to answer an ad placed by his wife Miranda (Sally Field) seeking a housekeeper/babysitter. With the help of his makeup artist brother Frank, Daniel takes on the role of sweet old house-lady “Mrs. Doubtfire”. After being hired by Miranda, he attempts to rebuild his relationship with his family while also trying to sabotage Miranda’s blossoming romance with the handsome Stu Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan). And naturally, hilarity ensues.

In terms of character, Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire is of course the most enjoyable and the most fully developed, but the supporting characters aren’t too bad. Miranda can be unlikable at times but is always at least somewhat understandable in her actions. A working mother coming home to find that her husband has allowed the house to be trashed and attracted the police? Yeah, we can all see why she’d be a bit irritable. We do get to know her warmer side as the story progresses and Sally Field is a great actress as always. Pierce Brosnan’s character Stu also has both his unlikable and likeable traits, as while his distaste towards Daniel is made clear he does seem to genuinely care about Lydia, Chris and Natalie. However, at the end of the day he is still essentially Pierce Brosnan. The children themselves are fairly cute and charming, although they aren’t given an awful lot of development. We get a sense of their relationship with Daniel but we don’t find out much about them personally; we know that Natalie likes storybooks and that’s about it. Even though delving into subplots involving them would probably have distracted too much from the main story, it wouldn’t have hurt for us to know more about who they are so we can better identify with them.

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The story is reasonably well structured, although if I had one major complaint it would be that I think the film drags on slightly towards the end. The restaurant scene in which Daniel is switching back and forth between identities gets a tad exhausting. I do understand that the situation is a comedic setup and gives Daniel a problem to overcome; I just think it takes its time too much. As for the comedy, some of it works and some of it doesn’t. The comedy that does work mostly comes from Williams’ charisma in the title role; lines like “broke by bag the b***ard” and “it was a run-by fruiting” are just unforgettable. Scenes in which comedy is derived from Daniel trying to be both identities at once don’t personally do much for me, but my tastes tend to be more off the wall than other people’s.

For all the film’s strengths and weaknesses, I believe the overall message it tries to convey to be well handled and relevant, if slightly over-sentimentalised. As I’ve mentioned previously however, it is dear old Robin that makes it as he delivers one of his many memorable performances that will likely be enjoyed for years to come.

Posted by Frank Short

“Kingsman”: Gratuitous Or Masterful?

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(Warning: this review contains some spoilers)

I saw the new film Kingsman: The Secret Service at the cinema recently and walked out with somewhat mixed opinions. Part of me liked it, part of me didn’t. So I thought: you know what? I’m going to channel my conflicted thoughts and write a well-balanced review.

The film has been described as James Bond meets Kick Ass… and yes, that is more or less on the money. So what is it all about? Well it stars Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson and tells the story of a secret organisation of spies operating beneath a Tailors shop. Taron Egerton plays Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, a youth on a path to self destruction who encounters Harry Hart (Firth), a suave gentleman who turns out be a high ranking member of the spy organization known as “the Kingsmen”. After learning that his late father was a Kingsman, Eggsy is persuaded by Harry to unlock his full potential by training to become a Kingsman himself. He is then forced to go head to head with Richmond Valentine (Jackson), a maniacal Internet billionaire, and his deadly assassin Gazelle (Sofia Boutella)  as they hatch an elaborate and diabolical plot to cull the majority of Earth’s human population.

When I summarize it like that it sounds pretty much like every other spy/thriller movie you’ve ever seen doesn’t it? Well… not quite. On the surface, it’s a story format we’ve seen a million times; the coming of age story about a young hero trying to follow in his father’s footsteps while being mentored by one of his father’s close friends who feels a degree of responsibility towards him. We’ve seen that in Star Wars and many other films. However, the content of this film tries to add a bit more of a kick (literally). There are quite a few jolting moments and action that will definitely keep your blood pumping. There are also moments in which the film attempts to defy cinematic conventions in a somewhat self-aware manner, which some may view as merely gimmicky but others may find fresh and exciting.

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The film derives much strength from its enjoyable characters. The sheer contrast of Eggsy’s rough and, for lack of a better term, “chavvy” personality mixed with the suave, James Bond style demeanor he is forced to adopt makes him an entertaining lead protagonist. He is developed quite well and there is not a lot of focus given to his romantic subplot, which I found refreshing. Taron Egerton gives a good performance to boot. The show stealers however are Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, who both seem to have a lot of fun in their respective roles. I think what really makes them shine is the fact that the characters they play in this film are quite different in style to what they would normally play. Seeing Colin Firth swiftly beat up a gang of roughians in martial arts fashion is such a spectacle that it’s hard not to appreciate it, yet he still manages to maintain his trademark charm and cool-headedness. Likewise, Samuel L. Jackson’s take on a geeky Internet billionaire/super villain with a lisp is brilliantly quirky. Eggsy’s fellow Kingsman trainees are generally less interesting characters, with the exception of Roxy, but the film doesn’t devote too much time to them. Mark Strong gives a solid performance as the Kingsmen’s tech genius Merlin and as for Michael Caine’s character Arthur, while the actor commands a strong presence as always I can’t help but feel that he was under-utilised.

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The action sequences are very kinetic and exciting to watch, however my main issue with the film comes from the sheer level of violence and death. The problem for me started during a scene in which [SPOILER ALERT] Firth’s character Harry ruthlessly slaughters an entire Church congregation. Granted, Harry wasn’t actually in conscious control of his actions thanks to Valentine’s mind warping technique, but as the sequence went on (and it is rather lengthy) I reached a point where I thought to myself… this is a tad excessive. The level of violence is similar to that of Kick Ass, a film I enjoyed greatly. In Kick-Ass however, the context that the violence is placed in enables it to come across as satirical, which I can accept. Kingsman didn’t quite do that for me; it came across as more gratuitous. I may be overthinking it, but the morbidity sucked some of the fun out of the whole affair in my eyes and left a bad taste in my mouth. Saying that however, I still enjoyed the movie as a whole. In addition to the good characters, the story is well paced and it has some decent comedy.

To wrap up, there are three aspects that make this film worth seeing in my opinion: the visual style, the comically over-the-top action sequences and the performances delivered by the main cast, particularly Firth and Jackson. The violence may put some people off but overall I would say that Kingsman: The Secret Service is quite a fun-filled ride. Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Posted by Frank Short

The Trial Of A Werewolf

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“Please tell the court Mr Wilde, did you or did you not murder Daniel Sanderson?”, Mr Lawthorn asked me. The sinister tone of his voice turned my blood cold. He knew the answer to the question, everyone in the courtroom knew. I had murdered my best friend. So why did he ask? I can only assume it was to instil a sense of guilt in me that would display itself like an aura and ensure my prosecution. It was a futile effort however, as there was no way he could give me any more guilt than I already had.

     The fear and disgust in the eyes of that jury reminded me of the same look I received from the guards every time I walked down the dingy corridor of the facility, on my way to be encaged. Each month they would look at me with a degree of such harshness that it left no doubt in my mind that I was a monster, regardless of what I had been told by “society”. Their stares were particularly intense on that one night. Besides that however, everything was perfectly normal. The routine carried out as it always did, giving me no reason to think that something could go disastrously wrong; but it did. The guards had gone outside for a smoke, when I noticed something was not right. There was no red light, meaning the door was not locked. I cannot put into words the panic and shear horror that set in me at that moment. I had no sooner jumped up to alert the guards, when the change came over me. The unimaginable pain hit me as it did every month, as if I were being torn apart from the inside. It’s something you could never get used to. Bones stretched, skin ripped, my whole body reshaping itself from God’s image to the Devil’s. After the agony subsided, there was blackness. I remember nothing after that. It’s like going to sleep.

     I sometimes dream while I’m changed, although these dreams would be more suitably described as nightmares by any account. I often relive the night I was infected. Science may call it a virus, but I still call it a curse. That thing that came out at me from the darkness was not a species, it was an abomination. As it’s teeth sank into me I remember thinking, please let it kill me. As strange as it sounds however, I actually prefer that dream. The other dream involves me chasing someone through the woods. I eventually catch them, tear them apart and consume their innards; and I enjoy it.

     No matter how gruesome the nightmares were, and gruesome would often be a gross understatement, I would always wake up safe and sound in my cell. On that night however,  the nightmare did not end when I woke up. I was in the middle of a field drenched in blood. It was as if I hadn’t woken up at all. The nightmare would never be over.

     The case was all over the news. The containment facilities had a spotless safety record up until that point. The tabloids had a field day. Walking into that court room I immediately felt like I was being condemned by every single person there. Justice, equality, you see those are just buzzwords. No matter how far mankind advances there will always be prejudice. Part of me was convinced that I wasn’t really a monster; I just had an illness, no different to a turrets sufferer. However, another part of me saw the anguish and hate in the eyes of Dan’s family and came to a very different conclusion.

     I had a good lawyer. We couldn’t afford the best but we were lucky enough to find someone who actually sympathised with my case. And also lucky enough to find someone who would object at the very moment I was struggling to think of an answer to the prosecution’s manipulative question. “I’d like to remind the court that the circumstances of Mr Sanderson’s death are not the focus of this trial”, he responded. “I reiterate my earlier point that my client was not in conscious control of his actions and therefore cannot be found guilty of this crime!” It was a valid argument, but I could still see doubt splattered across the faces of the jury. Then the moment finally came for them to reach a verdict.

THE END

Posted by Frank Short

The Funny World We Live In

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“Did you fight in World War Two?”, I once asked my Grandad when I was young, naive and uninformed. “No”, he told me, “I was a little boy back then”. If I had asked that question today I would have been laughed at for my poor ability to do basic maths, as my Grandad was 64 and the year was 1999, but at that time my juvenile mind could be forgiven for such a mistake. “Can you remember it?”, was my next question. “Only very vaguely”, he replied (I just nodded as I didn’t know what that word meant). He then went on to tell me a story. A story that had a rather profound effect on my young self. To the best of my recollection, it went like this:

   “It was the year 1941 and I was five years old. At that time, England and Germany weren’t getting along very well. There were these people in Germany called the Nazis who wanted the whole world to be like them, but we said no. This made them very cross. Now you know when you throw a tantrum because you can’t have your own way?” I nodded, and I seem to remember my mum rolling her eyes. “Well, that’s exactly what the Nazis did! They flew planes over to England and dropped lots of bombs on us, and we called it the Blitz.

    “During the Blitz, I was living in a small house with my mother. My father had joined the army and gone to help fight those horrible Nazis. My mother, your great grandma, found it very difficult to look after us both. All the food was rationed, which meant that everyone was only allowed a certain amount because our supplies were being cut off by the enemy, and we had barely enough to feed us. What made it even harder for her was the fact that I had the measles.” I gasped, as I had learnt about the measles in school and knew that it was very bad. “This meant that my mother had to be very careful not to let me near other people in case I passed the measles onto them.” At this point, an alarming thought hit me and I jumped backwards about a metre. “You’re not going to give the measles to me are you Grandad?!”, I asked. “No silly boy! I don’t have them any more!” He proceeded to laugh heartily as I sat back in my spot, ridiculed and disgraced, and then continued the story.

   “One evening, my mother was walking back home from collecting our rations with me in her arms when all of a sudden she heard the terrible wailing sound of the air-raid sirens! The Nazi planes were coming to drop more bombs on the town, so my mother had to rush home as fast as she could so we could get into the bomb shelter and be safe. As she ran through the streets the bombs started falling around us” He made explosion noises for dramatic effect and all the time I was staring with wide eyes and an open mouth. “But when we got back to our house, we found that it wasn’t there anymore. A bomb had fallen right on top of it and it was now just a big pile of rubble” This revelation shocked me in a similar manner to the part in The Lion King where Mufasa is killed by Scar (one of the more traumatic moments of my childhood). I would have been on the edge of my seat had I not been sitting on the floor.

    “What did you do? Where were you going to live?”, I asked. “Well”, he paused for a second either to maintain the suspense or because his memory had momentarily failed (as often happened when he was telling stories), “because we had nowhere else to go, we were taken to one of the special underground shelters that had been set up for people whose houses had been bombed”. This gave me an air of relief as I was deftly afraid that my infant grandad and relatively young great grandmother were going to be forced to live on the streets (I had seen people who lived on the streets and they weren’t particularly pleasant looking). However, the next word he spoke quickly dispelled the relief.

    “But”, that infamous conjunction which always presumes to ruin everything, “when we got to the shelter we found that it wasn’t very nice. The ceiling was leaking, it was quite small and very crowded, meaning that everyone was all squashed together. This particularly worried my mother because of my measles, which was very contagious”, thankfully I had learnt this word in school just a few days prior so I didn’t have to interrupt him to ask what it meant. “If she took me in there was a very high chance that everyone in the shelter would catch it!” “Oh no!”, I exclaimed, momentarily throwing Grandad off track. “So”, he continued, “my mother, being the selfless person that she was, decided that we would not stay in the shelter after all and instead we were able to stay with one of the neighbours whose house hadn’t been bombed. The very next morning, as my mother was downstairs eating breakfast while I was still sound asleep in bed, she saw something in the morning paper that chilled her to the bone”. I prepared myself as I had a feeling I was in for yet another ghastly shock. “On the front page was an article saying that the shelter we had looked at the previous night had flooded. A water pipe had burst and the exit had been blocked by debris from the bombing, meaning that everyone inside had drowned”. My vocabulary hadn’t quite expanded enough to include the word debris but I knew perfectly well what drowning meant, and it didn’t take long for me to work out the implications of this development.

    “But that means,” I began with confidence, “if you had stayed in the shelter, then you would have drowned too!” Exactly”, Grandad confirmed, “and if I had, then I wouldn’t have married your grandma and had your dad, and you would never have been born!” This revelation caused my young mind to spin to such a degree I almost felt dizzy. “In a funny way, me having the measles as a baby is the reason you are alive!” I let this sit with me for the rest of the evening, as we had dinner, watched a bit of TV and finally set off home.

    After hearing this story of how a deadly disease saved my Grandad’s life and therefore indirectly assured my existence, I was perplexed. It is also vexing to think that so many people died and yet one was chosen by fate to survive and pass on his torch in the gene pool (although my philosophizing was of course not quite as deep at the time). I couldn’t help thinking to myself back then, and I still think to myself now: it’s a funny world we live in.

THE END

Posted by Frank Short

Why Does No One Talk About “Aliens” Anymore?

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Computer Generated Imagery. We seem to have reached a point now where we can’t live with it, and we can’t live without it. Every film that wants to make money exploits this miraculous technology, and anything we can imagine is now possible to create on screen. Some good has come from this, such as the first Jurassic Park and the Disney/Pixar films, and some bad has come from this, such as Michael Bay’s seemingly endless output of repetitive and formulaic crowd-pleasers like Transformers and that film about giant talking turtles. Either way, you can’t make a blockbuster without it, right? Wrong.

A lot of people seem to have forgotten that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) sci-fi action movies ever made had no CGI whatsoever. Yes, that’s right. What movie am I talking about? Why, James Cameron’s Aliens of course. This film, starring Sigourney Weaver, came out before the days of computer animation and yet managed to be more epic and exciting than any modern Michael Bay flick merely through the use of guys in rubber suits, well crafted models and highly sophisticated animatronic puppetry… and also a hefty dose of extremely good writing, acting and direction (which god knows are in short supply these days). It’s everything you could want from a film of this genre; it’s chock full of enjoyable, believable characters, the story’s well conceived and structured, the action’s great, the set pieces are unbelievable… it just has the lot. And if you’ll pardon my French, this b**ch looks more badass than any computer animated monster I’ve ever seen:

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As a sequel, the most notable thing about the film is that while it continues the same story, it has a completely different tone to the original and this really works to its advantage. While Alien showcased suspenseful horror, essentially being a “slasher” film in space, Aliens went for full on action and sci-fi spectacle, showcasing an epic war between a small group of humans and an army of extra-terrestrial beasts. This different approach enables the film to be fresh and entertaining while not duplicating the stuff we saw in the first film. However, the narrative of the first film is still continued in a logical way and the basic plot structure of Aliens mirrors that of Alien while still adding a lot of new, exciting elements. Because of the above, one might go so far as to call it the perfect sequel.

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So why does the film get virtually no attention these days? Everyone has a fond remembrance of the first film and it’s not like the director fell into obscurity; in fact he’s become one of the most renowned directors in Hollywood and most of his films are cemented and remembered as benchmark cinematic achievements. But then, most of his films make use of CGI. Terminator 2 and Titanic were both pioneering incorporators of the technology and the less said about Avatar the better. Does this mean that Aliens gets overshadowed as a blockbuster in the eyes of the general public purely because it goes “against the grain” by modern standards? At the time of its release, it was a massive deal and got all the praise it deserved. But today, CGI heavy action films are the “big thing” and many may view Aliens as outdated, regardless of its quality. This is a terrible shame, as I think Hollywood really needs to be reminded that there are other, often better ways to make a blockbuster.

If I’m honest, I probably prefer the first Alien as a film overall mainly because of it’s quiet, unsettling, yet strangely poetic feel (I’m a former film student, we’re just suckers for that stuff). But just because the first film was a brilliant piece of cinema doesn’t mean that the follow up should be forgotten. On the contrary. Give it a watch (or a re-watch if you’ve already seen it) and compare it to similar films today. How well does it hold up? In my opinion, it’s still a masterpiece.

Posted by Frank Short

Why “The Imitation Game” Deserves To Be Remembered

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, tells the story of Alan Turing, an eccentric yet exceptional mathematician/cryptanalyst recruited by the British government to help crack the Nazi Enigma code. When I first saw the film at the cinema, I gaged a few different reactions from fellow audience members as we were walking out. One teenage girl said something along the lines of “that was really boring”, a frustrating but unsurprising response considering the ignorance of youth. However, I felt more encouraged when one middle aged woman said, “I think I’ll Google him”. Upon hearing this, I immediately thought to myself: this film has done its job.

So who was Alan Turing? What did he do that is worthy of remembrance? He’s certainly not a household name (or at least he wasn’t before this film came out) but his life story is something that has deep resonance in today’s world. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Alan invented what came to be known as the “Turing Machine”. This was a contraption that not only managed to crack the code of the infamous Enigma Machine employed by the Nazis, allowing the Allies to intercept German transmissions and subsequently win the Second World War, but also served as the starting point for the development of what we would now call a computer. The significance of his work should therefore not be understated for fairly self-explanatory reasons.

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At this point you’re probably thinking, this man will surely have been hailed as a hero! Well… he wasn’t. In fact, he was prosecuted and chemically castrated. Why? Because he was gay, why else? As awful as it may seem now (in western culture at least), back then performing homosexual acts was a crime, plain and simple. Tragically, Alan Turing wound up as yet another genius unacknowledged in his time. Now that isn’t to say that to this day the man still hasn’t been acknowledged: quite the opposite.

There have been a number of tributes to Alan Turing since his death, including a 1986 play staring Derek Jacobi, and in the 21st Century he has received a posthumous pardon from Queen Elizabeth II as well as a public apology from the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”. So the purpose of The Imitation Game is not to seek justice and redemption, but rather to widen Turing’s cultural recognition. Cumberbatch himself has expressed his befuddlement as to why Alan’s story is not a more prominent part of British cultural heritage and hoped that the film would rectify this.

So we all know what this film was trying to achieve, but did it actually do a good job? In my opinion: yes. I’ve read reviews arguing that the film doesn’t work with its full cinematic potential, referring to its lack of scope when depicting the war, and is more evocative of a TV drama. For me however, the film is much more of a character study than a war film and has more than enough intrigue and emotional depth to justify a feature length theatrical release. I also feel that the consensus by some that Cumberbatch’s performance is merely a Sherlock knockoff is ill founded as while there are strong hints of Sherlock’s intelligent wit and social awkwardness in there, Cumberbatch’s Turing displays a greater level of humanity and vulnerability. It’s just a role that really suits the actor’s talents. Despite the film’s minor factual inaccuracies, sacrificed I’m sure in the name of artistic license, all the pieces come together to make a thoroughly enjoyable biopic.

If you haven’t seen the film yet I highly recommend it, and if your tastes are anything like mine you won’t be disappointed. When the DVD arrives on the shelves, I know I’ll be picking up a copy and giving it a re-watch. Also, if you don’t know much about Alan Turing, please do Google him.

Posted by Frank Short