Saturday, 30 July 2011

Saturday Playlist #30: Indiana Jones

It's Saturday the 30th July. It's Playlist #30. And it's 30 years to the day since Raiders Of The Lost Ark opened to UK audiences, changing the face of cinema forever. FOREVER, I TELL YOU. So we may as well celebrate the fact by listening to some ear-shaggingly amazing music from one of cinema's greatest trilogies, and that other film that unfortunately happened.
So sit back, surround yourself with a Nazi monkey, a small Chinese boy, an elderly Scotsman and an annoying twat, and...


And if that tickled your pickle, there's plenty more John Williams to be had in this playlist. And this one. And this one. Oh and this one. The man really is a chuffing legend.

Friday, 29 July 2011

30 reasons why I love
Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Whenever people ask me what my favourite film of all time is, I like to appear intellectual and tiresome by banging on about how it's impossible to have one favourite film and going on to list about fifteen possible candidates. Having watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark again the other day, though, I may have to concede that it is in fact The One. There is literally nothing wrong with it.

I first saw it when I was about eight years old, which is about as impressionable an age as you can be, so maybe that's got something to do with it. Nearly *cough*ty years later, though, it still feels like the ultimate treat to sit down and watch it again and bathe in its classic story, faultless script, note-perfect performances and slick direction.

Raiders was released in the UK 30 years ago tomorrow, so by way of celebration, here are 30 reasons why I love it more than any other film. Except maybe Back To The Future. Or The Empire Strikes Back. Or... oh, balls.

1. The poster
This design, by Richard Amsel, is one of only two film posters adorning the walls of my house, and along with the subsequent work of Drew Struzan provides all the arguments necessary when banging on about the unbelievable shitness of today's blockbusters' posters.

2. The title
"Raiders Of The Lost Ark" immediately conjures up good old-fashioned adventure and mystery, it's got a lovely rhythm to it (unlike its sequels, which trip over themselves on the way out of your mouth) and it can easily be shortened in casual conversation to a single, unmistakeable word. It's a sign of how great it is that even though George Lucas nonsensically renamed it Indiana Jones and the Raiders Of The Lost Ark, LITERALLY NOBODY ever calls it that. Power to the people!

3. John Williams' score
"Washington Ending & Raiders March"

We're all aware that this is officially the greatest film score ever written, right? Good. Just checking. Also, you may as well play this clip while you're reading the rest of this post.

4. Indy's introduction
Spielberg gives more than a gentle nod towards James Bond's introduction in Dr. No, teasing us with obscured shots of Indy before that full, dramatic reveal. Before we've even seen his face we know he's intrepid, cautious, methodical and shit-hot with a bullwhip. It's also clear that he's got bloody good hearing.

5. The barely-perceptible head tilt
when Barranca cocks his pistol
how to make gifs
This is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.

6. Harrison Ford
Having already created one of cinema's most enduring heroes with body warmer-wearing pirate Han Solo, Ford went on to be surely the perfect Indiana Jones. Sorry Tom Selleck, but I just don't see it. Ford blends exactly the right amounts of humour, rage, expertise, confusion, resourcefulness, smarts and heroism to make Jones such a realistic, fallible, lovable icon. It seems unbelievable that the perfect script could come along for the perfect actor at the perfect time, but that's what makes some movies magical, and for generations of impressionable kids turned cynical grown-ups, Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones.

7. Indy's costume
Designed by comic book artist Jim Steranko with the help of the film's costume designer Deborah Nadoolman, Indy's costume is both practical and effortlessly cool. The hat, the whip and the jacket are now forever associated with Indiana Jones, and the whole ensemble is even greater because YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO CARRY IT OFF YOURSELF.

8. The reveal of the spiders
Forget snakes. Spiders properly give me the willies, making this scene almost unwatchable as a child. Compare it with Crystal Skull's CG ants and weep for the past.

9. The boulder dash
The first set-piece of the film sets the tone of the whole series in style. It may be completely ludicrous - how did the Hovitos ever get that rock up there in the first place? - but if you can suspend disbelief and go with it (and if you can't, you're watching the wrong film), the next hundred minutes are going to be right up your passage.

10. The maps
I used to follow Indy's travels with an atlas whenever I watched Raiders, leading to several tedious dinner-table conversations with my parents about when we might be able to visit the tiny Greek island of Anafi, where I firmly believe the Ark was opened. Wikipedia reckons it was Kasos, but that's balls. Even their own entry for Anafi suggests the island was so named because An Ofis means 'without snakes', HELLO.

11. Marion Ravenwood
Giving Indy and Marion a history immediately does away with all that pesky getting-to-know-each-other nonsense that's bad enough in real life, never mind in films. It also allows Marion to be angry, devious and selfish before realising what she's got involved in, making her far more interesting than Indy's other squeezes. Of course it helps that she's unconventionally gorgeous and packs an amazing right hook.

12. Marion's amazing right hook

13. The fight in Marion's bar
Like all of Raiders' fight scenes, this one is choreographed to perfection, but unlike all the others there's no music under it, somehow lending it more menace and realism. It's packed full of perfectly judged visual gags too, and the fire trail across the bar never fails to impress, despite being completely unrealistic. Since when does booze flow in a nice thin straight line like that? Since never, that's when. Fortunately the payoff with the whisky bottle is brilliant enough to forgive it.

14. All those baskets
So he's chasing these guys through the streets, right, and they're carrying his girlfriend in a basket, yeah, and he keeps losing them, but then he thinks he's got them, right, he runs to the end of the street, right up to the camera with this look on his face like, "shit", then the camera pulls back and the whole place is CHOCKAFULL of identical baskets, man!!! Skill.

15. The bit with a tiny glimpse of a semi-naked lady
I'm sure you can imagine the effect this shot had on an eight-year-old boy. What makes it extra special is that it appears exactly one hour into the film, making you wish there was somebody out there judging the relative merits of films by freezing the frame every 30 minutes.

16. Shots like this
Quick shout out to cinematographer Douglas Slocombe. Top work, Do-Slo!

17. René Belloq
Like the Bond films, Raiders has a serious, intellectual villain and a psychotic henchman. As the former, Belloq is as passionate, dedicated and determined as Indy, but just a little bit mad. He's not a Nazi, he's in it for himself, so it's easier to identify with him as a flawed human being, especially as he feels genuine affection for Marion, not just a villainous lust. And Paul Freeman plays him exceptionally: watch his reaction as the entrance to the Well of Souls is sealed shut. He's heartbroken that it might mean Marion's death, but equally he could be mourning Indy, his only equal.

18. Major Arnold Toht
Raiders' more cartoony villain, played with squirming, sweaty glee by British actor Ronald Lacey, is a bad guy for the ages. Coming across like a clammy Nazi toad, he may be a remorseless bastard but he's not without a sense of humour. His sick chuckle at the aforementioned Well of Souls sequence is in deliberately marked contrast to Belloq's reaction, and his coathanger party trick never fails to raise a smile.

19. The Toht-hanger
What a card.

20. The stunts
Not only are the stunts in Raiders astonishing, but they're all done for real by a team that now reads like a who's who of the late 20th century's greatest stunt performers. Vic Armstrong, Martin Grace, Richard Graydon, Peter Diamond, Wendy Leech, Rocky Taylor... Anyone who ever watched the 'making of' documentaries about any '80s or '90s action film will recognise those names, and they all came together for Raiders. It's like The Expendables, only 100% less shit.

21. The sound effects
Ben Burtt's sound effects for Star Wars were amazing, but because nobody knows what a lightsabre sounds like we take them for granted. His hyper-real representations of gunshots, bullwhips and punches in Raiders, however, played as big a part in setting the film apart from the standard action-adventure as the script, the performances and the score. The Academy were so impressed they gave Burtt a Special Achievement Award for his sound effects editing.

22. The plane fight
Indy's fight with the world's biggest Nazi on and around the Flying Wing is one of the greatest fights in cinema history. The fight itself is perfectly blocked and choreographed, it's brutal yet funny and it shows Indy's capable of outsmarting an enemy when he's clearly physically inferior. Ben Burtt's sound effects come into their own again, and the unforgettable conclusion is horrifying, massively satisfying and troublingly hilarious.

23. "I don't know, I'm making this up as I go"
Raiders Of The Lost Ark's best line. It's genius, but I can't help thinking that it needs the word "along" attached to the end.

24. The truck sequence
Almost everything great about Raiders comes together in this scene. Harrison Ford is vulnerable, tenacious, resourceful and very angry, John Williams' score is perfect driving-over-Nazis music, the over-the-hood-and-under-the-truck stunt is both ingenious and performed with unbelievable skill by stuntman Terry Leonard, and Indy keeps his hat on throughout. The final shot of the squished soldier's arms and legs popping up is the kind of perfect visual touch Spielberg used to drop in his sleep.

25. The drive off the cliff
A combination of live action and matte painting make this shot surreally astonishing. And I love that we never see the truck explode in a Nazi fireball: in fact I'm fairly sure that somewhere in North Africa, those guys are still falling.

26. The mirror gag
The cutaway shot of the ship improves this gag by about one zillion percent.

27. This costume change
This little piece of silent comedy relies entirely on Ford's body language to work, and he pulls it off consummately. It's also the scene in which he's a more handsome bastard than at any other time in his life.

28. The melty faces
The scene even more responsible for a worn-out pause button on the VCR than Marion's naked back is so well-executed that it's a wonder Raiders made it as a PG. A more satisfying fate for Herr Toht would be hard to imagine, and the fact that it was all done with a practical model rather than CGI makes it all the more special. Although to be honest they could have gone the extra mile and actually melted Ronald Lacey with a blow torch.

29. The warehouse

30. Steven Spielberg
It's impossible to overestimate the effect Spielberg had on my formative years. As a director and a producer he was responsible for so many films that I loved then and intend to continue loving until I lose my marbles and forget my own name. With Raiders, though, not only was he at his best - nothing from the rest of his filmography matches it for effortless skill, flawless structure and throwaway moments of pure genius - but he gave me a film that felt like it was made just for me. The fact that so many other people feel the same way just goes to show how perfectly crafted it is.

More than that, though, Steven Spielberg and Raiders Of The Lost Ark made me realise that I loved film; something that could delight, terrify and amaze me in equal measure, and which would continue to thrill me to the point where I had to spew my thoughts about it to anyone who stumbled across my small corner of the internet.

So there you go: all this is his fault.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

BlogalongaBond / Diamonds Are Forever:
Blofeld Blows It Again

The commercial disaster of On Her Majesty's Secret Service left the James Bond phenomenon in crisis. The only way forward was to look backward, and so Sean Connery was lured back with a massive cheque, Goldfinger's director Guy Hamilton was hired to make Bond fun again, and Tom Mankiewicz was told to inject more humour into his script, which was based on a dream Cubby Broccoli had. Apparently this is a perfectly valid way to write a Bond film.

Sadly Hamilton and Mankiewicz confused 'fun' with 'funny' and 'humour' with 'comedy', and the result is a decent story smothered by stoopid gags and ludicrous plot devices designed purely to raise a LOL or two.

Now I don't mind a good double entendre or a subtle, relevant visual gag in a Bond film, but in Diamonds Are Forever there's a fruit-machine-playing elephant, a chase across a fake lunar landscape inexplicably featuring slow-motion-running astronauts, and a pair of gay hitmen with comedy haircuts. And Mr Wint and Mr Kidd aren't the only ones raising the camp factor: Connery himself is only five minutes of photoshopping away from turning the pre-title sequence into a Carry On film.
The film's biggest crime, however, is its insulting decision to ignore everything OHMSS worked towards. The murder of Bond's wife is never even mentioned, and Bond himself doesn't appear to have been remotely affected by the brutal slaying of the only woman he truly loved, apart from the fact that he looks like he's tried to find happiness at the bottom of a freezer full of Pukka Pies.

Treated with equal disdain is the once enigmatic, now laughable figure of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. At one point Blofeld, for no adequately explained reason other than to get some cheap laffs, wears a dress, full make up and the same wig in which Dick Emery was prancing about on his none-more-'70s TV show. It's a glaring visual metaphor for the series as a whole: where once Blofeld had been classy, threatening and mysterious, he was now reduced to a punchline; an old queen just dying to go "I'm just stroking my pussy, ooh pardon!"
The Bond films' depictions of Blofeld over the years have never fully satisfied, neither in comparison to the books nor as original creations for the movies. Blofeld should have been Bond's Moriarty, his Joker, his Darth Vader. Instead he's Bond's Dr. Evil. Mike Myers probably gave himself a huge pat on the back for coming up with Austin Powers' nemesis, but in truth all the work was done for him by the Bond screenwriters.

Diamonds Are Forever marks Blofeld's fifth and, thankfully, final (kind of) appearance in the Bond films, ignoring a typically ludicrous (for the Moore era) cameo in For Your Eyes Only. He only appeared in three of Fleming's books, dramatically altering his appearance in each one, which I suppose gave the filmmakers an excuse to do the same - although the fact that it's never referred to on screen suggests it's more of a coincidence than a deliberate choice. In 'Ian Fleming's James Bond', John Griswold's exhaustive examination of the novels, illustrator George Almond shows how Fleming described Blofeld in each book:
In the films, however, the depictions were even more inconsistent, except this time without explanation.

In From Russia With Love, we never see the head of the head of SPECTRE, although his subordinates do. It's a nice touch and makes for an interesting and typically '60s master villain, especially at a time when we were constantly being told that the nearest dirty commie could be anyone. Christ knows why he's stroking a fluffy white cat though, the ponce.
By Thunderball, he doesn't even want his minions to see his features, so he hides behind shutters. This must make it tricky for him to see whose contract he's terminating in an improbably over-the-top fashion, but in a Cold War where nobody was trustworthy I suppose it makes sense to prevent yourself being identified by possible double agents. Or maybe he's hideously disfigured?
In You Only Live Twice, it turns out he's hideously disfigured. Not only that but he's short and bald and now has a silly squeaky voice. This reveal was kinda fun when I was eight, but the boring grown-up Bond fan I've become now wishes he'd stayed hidden. The threat and tension are immediately dissipated when it appears Bond could defeat Blofeld with a good tickle.
OHMSS's Blofeld had surgery to remove his earlobes, which makes sense in the context of the plot, but simultaneously took the opportunity to fix the scar, grow a few inches, add a mole to his left cheek, turn on the charm and speak with an American accent, which doesn't. In actual fact Telly Savalas makes quite a good version of the literary Blofeld, but his resemblance to his From Russia With Love self is negligible.

By Diamonds Are Forever, our confused antagonist has grown hair, changed his accent again and developed a penchant for cross-dressing. He wants to make copies of himself, which seems pointless when he can apparently change his entire appearance and demeanour at will, and claims that "science was never my strong suit", despite having spent the previous film developing viruses for use in chemical warfare.

Mercifully, after Diamonds Are Forever, EON Productions more or less left Blofeld alone. This was partly because the rights to the character were owned by Kevin McClory, who co-wrote the screenplay on which Fleming based 'Thunderball', and who was prepared to sue the asses off Broccoli and Saltzman if they used SPECTRE or Blofeld again.

With Connery saying "never again" again and SPECTRE and Blofeld off-limits, it was time for the third consecutive overhaul of the franchise. The tongue-in-cheek, raised-eyebrow strategy had paid off but someone with more cheek and more agile eyebrows was required to drag Bond, smirking and preening, into the 1970s and beyond. Only time would tell how much Moore the audience could take.

Bambi and Thumper
While the fact that a reclusive billionaire's entire security force consists of two female gymnasts is emblematic of Diamonds Are Forever's wilful stupidity, the scene in which Bond is beaten up by acrobatic totty is probably the most fun to be had in the whole film. It's the first time 007 gets into a decent scrap with the fairer sex (his tussle with Rosa Klebb just consisted of waving a chair at her, while Pussy Galore's tumble in the barn was basically foreplay) and it's the only time he gets a good hard kick in the knackers, which sadly - for those of us by now fed up of Connery - happens offscreen.

The rare moment of actual comedy
Not long after dispatching Bambi & Thumper, Bond and Willard Whyte hide behind a rock while Whyte's former lieutenant Bert Saxby takes pot shots at them. When Saxby is eventually shot and Whyte realises who's been trying to kill him, he exclaims "Tell him he's fired!" Connery's wordless reaction is funnier than all the homosexual villains, cross-dressing megalomaniacs and moon buggy escapes put together. Imagine that.

The score
John Barry - "The Whyte House"
As usual, the best thing about the worst Bond films is the score. John Barry pulls out so many great themes this time that you forgive him for helping to make some of the characters as comical as they are. He also pours so much sleazy loungecore into his Las Vegas themes that I daren't ever go there in case this music isn't playing on an eternal loop at ridiculous volume.

And finally: As Plenty O'Toole, Lana Wood's sole purpose in Diamonds Are Forever is to set up knob gags. The first, a cheap shot about her name, is just baffling, but the second is much better:

Having just disrobed Plenty in his hotel room, Bond discovers three men pointing guns at him.

Good evening... I'm afraid you've
caught me with more than my hands up.

BlogalongaBond will return with Black Dynamite Live And Let Die

What the hell is BlogalongaBond? I'll tell you.
Further BlogalongaBondareading here

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger

As crack teams of defenders of Earth go, The Avengers are a bit on the slack side. They've been assembling for over three years now, since Samuel L Jackson first broke in to Tony Stark's house at the end of Iron Man. It's a good job an unexpected enemy hasn't emerged in that time, threatening global safety and security, because SLJ would have had to ask it to go away and re-emerge when he'd finished building his little army of weirdos.

Captain America is the final Avenger to hand over his origin story, and like all the others (except The Incredible Hulk, which is rank) it's enjoyable fluff which starts off well before settling down into a well-worn and slightly tedious goodie vs baddie groove played out against acres of unconvincing CGI sets.
It starts off well, with an almost-sepia palette BECAUSE IT'S THE OLDEN DAYS, a cheeky Raiders Of The Lost Ark reference to win me over and, thankfully, a convincingly weedy Chris Evans (much improved since the trailers), although he's still got a near-baritone voice despite being the size of a chicken. Tommy Lee Jones struts on and gets all the best lines, Hayley Atwell justifies the use of 3D and Stanley Tucci is the business, relishing every syllable of his ridiculous German accent.
Then Tucci injects Evans with his super serum (fnerk) and before you know it Captain America's got bigger tits than Atwell and he's leaping tall buildings in a single bound, appearing in Alan Menken musical numbers and stealthily sneaking around enemy strongholds with a brightly-coloured stars and stripes target painted on his massive shield. All of which sounds awful but is in fact rather fun.

Sadly the same can't be said of the film's dull villain, Red Skull, or his vague evil scheme - something to do with hailing hydras (hydrae?), punching the air and wearing a Hugo Weaving mask for no apparent reason - while a potentially more interesting antagonist, a soldier who believes he should have been the one given the superhero boob job, remains sadly undeveloped.
Cap spends the second half of the film repeatedly chasing and catching up with his florid-faced foe in a series of non-perilous set-pieces designed to make you long for the days when films had practical stunts shot in real locations, until the inevitable happens and we finally get to the post-credits trailer for The Avengers everyone's been waiting three years for. SPOILER: It probably wasn't worth the wait.

In summary:
The Avengersometer
Based on this scientific data, I predict The Avengers will be Average Out Of 10.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Beginner's Guide To Blue-Tongue Films

My borderline-unhealthy obsession with Animal Kingdom (now my favourite film of the last five years and firmly lodged in my Top 30 of all time) has led me, via hours of furious Googling, to discover Blue-Tongue Films, a loose collective of six Australian (and one American) filmmakers started in 1996 by stuntman Nash Edgerton and his actor brother Joel, and which includes - among others - Animal Kingdom's writer / director David Michôd.
Blue-Tongue have knocked out an impressive bunch of short films over the last few years, and are responsible for - amongst other things - the forthcoming feature Hesher, which stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a massive pair of undercrackers, and why anybody wouldn't be excited about that prospect is quite beyond my capacity.

So here's The Incredible Suit's unsolicited but invaluable cut-out-and-keep guide to the most fun bunch of Aussies since the Rebecchi family. Bonzer!

The Players

Nash Edgerton - Actor, writer, director, editor, stuntman. Doubled as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith. Played "Security Guard #5" in The Matrix Reloaded.

Joel Edgerton - Actor, writer, director. Looked bored as Owen Lars in the Star Wars prequels. Was brilliant as Barry Brown in Animal Kingdom.

Kieran Darcy-Smith - Actor, writer, director. Played "John Harrop" in Animal Kingdom. I've seen it twice and I can't remember seeing him. Soz KDS.

David Michôd - Actor, writer, director. Wrote and directed Animal Kingdom, starred as "Nurse #2" in Aussie toilet-based comedy Kenny. Not sure which of those two achievements is the greatest.

Luke Doolan - Actor, writer, director, editor, cinematographer. Edited Animal Kingdom. Never appeared in Neighbours as far as I can tell.

Spencer Susser - Writer, director, editor. The American one. May be responsible for the recent theft of Alan Davies' hair.

Tony Lynch - Stuntman, actor, cinematographer. Performed stunts in Superman Returns, M:I-2 and He Died With A Felafel In His Hand, which is the best movie title ever.

The Shorts
The Blue-Tonguers, as I'm sure they don't want to be called, have all either written, directed, edited or acted in their own - and each other's - short films. Some of the early shorts are essentially showreels for Nash Edgerton's stunt skillz, but the rest range from thoughtful crime dramas to alien bodysnatcher nonsense. They're all on the Blue-Tongue Films website and if you've got an afternoon spare you could do worse than sit and watch them all.

If you've only got an hour spare though, here are five of the best (and if you've only got ten minutes, just watch Spider):

 (2007, d. Nash Edgerton, w. Nash Edgerton & David Michôd)
From mundanely familiar to blackly comic via horrifyingly shocking, Spider is Safe For Work but be warned: you will probably swear out loud twice.

I Love Sarah Jane 
(2007, d. Spencer Susser, w. Spencer Susser & David Michôd)
A kids' love story with zombies (better than it sounds), I Love Sarah Jane stars a young Mia Wasikowska as a potty-mouthed girl who impresses the boys with her spade-wielding proficiency. "Word" on "the street" is it's being turned into a feature.

 (2007, w. & d. David Michôd)
The second of three shorts directed by Michôd, Crossbow is as atmospheric as Animal Kingdom and displays the same eye for a beautiful depiction of mundanity and terror in the same frame.

Miracle Fish
(2009, w. & d. Luke Doolan)
Doolan received massive plaudits for this wish-fulfilment tale, including an Oscar nomination in 2010.

 (2010, w. & d. Joel Edgerton)
Features no actual monkeys but some great Australian mullets.

The Feature Films
Solitary Endeavour On The Southern Ocean
(aka Solo) (2008, d. David Michôd & Jennifer Peedom)
Michôd co-directed this hour-long documentary using footage found in the empty kayak of Andrew McAuley, who set out to row from Australia to New Zealand but disappeared a day before he was due to complete his task. I haven't seen it.

The Square
(2008, d. Nash Edgerton, w. Joel Edgerton & Matthew Dabner)

I haven't seen this either.

Animal Kingdom
(2010, d. & w. David Michôd)

Ooh, I've seen this one. Did I mention it's completely brilliant?

(2010, d. Spencer Susser, w. Spencer Susser & David Michôd)

I haven't seen this because it hasn't got a UK distributor yet. Considering buying it myself.

Wish You Were Here
(2011, d. Kieran Darcy-Smith, w. Kieran Darcy-Smith & Felicity Price)
The press release for this mystery-thriller says "Four friends lose themselves in a carefree South-East Asian holiday. Only three come back." I'm guessing the fourth isn't just hiding in the plane's toilet. I haven't seen this because it isn't finished yet.


This has been a public information post by The Incredible Suit on behalf of Blue-Tongue Films. You're welcome.