Thursday 22 May 2014

How to tell if your movie title is shit

This is how movie titles are created today: a puppy is covered in glue and fed a bottle of bourbon, then let loose in a room full of pieces of paper with random words on. After ten minutes, the puppy is released and whichever words are stuck to it are then arranged into order by a blindfolded chicken and divided midway by a colon to form the title.

As if evidence were needed of this improbable claim, along comes the unwelcome announcement that Zack Snyder's Man Of Steel follow-up (thus far referred to simply yet excitingly as Batman vs Superman) is to be officially and, frankly, stupidly, known as Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Hot on the heels of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Dawn Of The Planet Of The ApesTransformers: Age Of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Snyder's title is proof that it's time someone put a stop to all this nonsense without further ado.

And so, in order to alleviate this blight on cinema marquees, bus stops and life in general, I have helpfully come up with ten basic questions for filmmakers to ask themselves in order to determine whether or not their film's title is shit. I trust that this will become a standard text in every filmmaking handbook, and hope to God that I never have to give a film a title and announce it on the internet.

How to tell if your movie title is shit

1. Does your title actually make sense?
a) It makes perfect sense
b) Yes, if you're familiar with the comic book run on which the film is loosely based
c) No idea, I assumed it was a clever metaphor or something
2. How exciting is your title?
a) The Empire Strikes Back exciting
b) Noah exciting
c) Salmon Fishing In The Yemen exciting

3. How long is your title?
a) 1-3 words
b) 4-6 words
c) More than six words

4. How many times does the word "OF" appear in your title?
a) None
b) Once
c) More than once
5. Does your title contain a colon?
a) No
b) Yes, because it's part of a series
c) Yes, even though it's not part of a series

6. How do you feel saying your title out loud?
a) Cool
b) A bit silly
c) I would never in a million years refer to the film by that title out loud, least of all when requesting a ticket for it at a cinema

7. When you say your title to another person, how do they react?
a) They don't react at all
b) They ask me to repeat it, only more slowly
c) They look confused and ask for dictionary definitions of the words I just said
8. If your film is part two of a series, how have you denoted that in the title?
a) Not at all
b) With a "2" or a "II"
c) With the word "too"

9. Is your title a pun?
a) No
b) Yes, but it's a good one
c) Yes, it's an Alvin & The Chipmunks movie, it has to be a pun by law

10. Does your film title contain the words "Die Hard"?
a) Yes, but those are the only words in the title
b) Yes, twice in fact. Plus the number 2 and the letters E and R
c) Yes, cunningly integrated into a phrase which may or may not make sense

How did you do?
Mostly 'A's: Your title is fine.
Mostly 'B's: This is the first title you thought of, isn't it? Ponder some alternatives.
Mostly 'C's: Your title is shit, fuck off.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Three simple ways Gareth Edwards
could have improved Godzilla (a bit)

Not including this one.

*** WARNING ***
Contains massive spoilers for Godzilla.
Don't read unless you've seen it, aren't planning
to see it, or don't give a hoot about spoilers.

Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, currently stomping around in a cinema near you shouting about something or other, may have some of the best set-pieces we've seen in monster movies for yonks, but in terms of its human characters it's prehistoric. Everyone's a cliché, relationships are irrelevant and emotional attachment to any of them is non-existent.

But more troublingly, despite this being The Year Of Our Lord 2014, the film is a total sausagefest. Juliette Binoche is dispatched in the first reel, Sally Hawkins is a dutiful, irrelevant assistant and Elizabeth Olsen spends the whole film being a worried wife on the end of a phone while the men get on with all the heavy lifting. The only important female character in the entire movie is a Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Object, and if there's one thing I know about women it's that they don't like to be referred to as Objects. Or, for that matter, Massive.

While much of the blame for this woeful state of affairs can be apportioned to screenwriter Max Borenstein, Gareth Edwards has gone on record to say that he was largely left to his own devices by Warner Bros, so as director the buck must stop with him. He's an intelligent guy, and his first film Monsters did a much better job with the gender balancing, so what gives? The most frustrating thing about the testosterone overload is that there were three very simple solutions available to Edwards and Borenstein, and any one of them would have made a positive difference. The plot may still have been throwaway, but at least we'd be making some kind of progress in an industry powerful enough to cause ripples as big as Godzilla's footsteps.

1. Swap Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche
Cranston and Binoche are both terrific actors, and their billing in Godzilla is a sly wrong-footing of the audience given the amount of screen time they get. But imagine for a moment that Binoche is the nuclear expert who has to make the terrible decision to seal her husband's fate, and then spends fifteen years trying to uncover a conspiracy. Not hard, is it? The story would barely change, but the mother-son dynamic between her and Aaron Taylor-Johnson would have been a refreshing spin on the Steven Spielberg Absent Father routine Edwards employs.

2. Swap Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins
Presumably Ken Watanabe has to be the Godzilla expert rather than Sally Hawkins because he's a) older and b) more Japanese. Fair enough. But couldn't Hawkins' Dr Graham have been on a more equal footing to Dr Serizawa, if not his superior? Hawkins can do anything, and I for one would love to have seen her get all misty-eyed over the discovery of Gojira and excitedly spewing exposition. Gareth Edwards' love of Jurassic Park is obvious, but it doesn't appear to have extended to a close examination of the skillfully written relationship between Graham and Serizawa's predecessors, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler.

3. Swap Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen
I'll admit this one's a stretch, but only because the ridiculously-named Ford Brody is a soldier and we don't see many lady soldiers. But why not? He doesn't need to be physically intimidating, he's a bomb disposal expert. I'm pretty sure women do that job too. Shove him in the hospital with an iPhone stuck to his face and get Elizabeth Olsen, one of the most exciting young actresses of the moment, out in the field. The dynamic between her and her fellow soldiers would immediately suggest the kind of gender politics-based interest we saw in Aliens, and young female audiences would get their very own Ripley to boot.

I realise this might sound a bit hypocritical coming from someone who's a huge fan of such classic feminist films as the James Bond series, but I genuinely believe that young, exciting directors like Gareth Edwards have the ideal opportunity - a responsibility, even - to do something about a problem which very much exists. The fact that it might have improved his slightly disappointing film somewhat just happens to be a bonus.

Thursday 15 May 2014

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

If you could go back in time and prevent Bryan Singer from abandoning the X-Men franchise and leaving it in the grubby, suspiciously-smelling hands of Brett Ratner, would you? Think of the misery that could be avoided by simply transferring your consciousness into your younger self and having a quiet word in the younger Singer's ear. You could also suggest that he steer clear of parties where booze, drugs and young men are in plentiful supply, but that's neither here nor there.

Well, Singer can't erase the existence of X-Men: The Last Stand, but he's done a bang-up job of erasing our memories of the blip in his X-tenure by returning to the franchise in glorious fashion. Imagine Timothy Dalton playing James Bond again: X-Men: Days Of Future Past is almost that good. Taking the cream from the casts of both old and new incarnations of the X-Men, Singer has churned up superhero butter, and it's virtually fat-free. Which would make it rubbish as butter, but quite good as a film. (Note to younger self: think metaphor through more carefully before writing this review)
"What? What have I done now? Well yes, obviously, but APART from that?"

Kicking off in a shitty future where mean and nasty (but well cool) robots called Sentinels are wiping out Earth's few remaining mutants, X-M:DOFP skips over immediate plot holes like a carefree schoolgirl: why is the future so balls? It wasn't that bad at the end of The Wolverine, was it? And how come Professor X is alive again? Because SHUT UP, that's why. This is a franchise with such a tenuous grip on reality that it once featured Vinnie Jones, so frankly it can pretty much get away with anything now. And so no sooner have you begun to ask yourself if Ian McKellen has introduced a vague Irish tinge to his accent to make up for Michael Fassbender's vocal wrestling in X-Men: First Class, than boom! It's 1973, and future Wolverine's mind is in past Wolverine's head admiring his younger cock and balls in a mirror.

Singer is super-efficient at setup here: the wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff is swiftly dealt with so the fun can begin, and he smartly avoids all that laughing-at-those-silly-1970s that, in a lesser director's grubby, suspiciously-smelling hands could have taken up most of the first act. Composer John Ottman is allowed the briefest flirtation with a wah-wah pedal, while costume designer Louise Mingenbach pitches everyone's clobber with authenticity, not flamboyance. Only a surfeit of awesome sunglasses and one magnificent hat threaten to tip the balance, but everyone looks so cool it's impossible to complain.
Collars were big in the '70s, apparently

Split into two halves (a clear-cut men-on-a-mission movie followed by a hectic, slightly messier hour of action), X-Men: Days Of Future Past veers between intelligent social commentary and balls-out superhero brilliance almost as well as Singer's previous X-flicks. The tremendously-monikered Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) represents that distasteful but powerful part of society determined to instill fear into others by convincing the world that mutants are the enemy (it's possible he edits the Daily Mail in his spare time), while his army of automated killing machines may be called Sentinels, but you'll probably recognise them as drones. Meanwhile there's all the Wolverine-led carnage you'd hope for, plus a contender for scene of the year in a corking introduction to the talents of Quicksilver, a new character written and played to perfection after so many lacklustre mutants have come and gone in the past.

It's a little flabby in its final act - some daft business with a football stadium is bafflingly OTT - but when the flab is being perpetrated by the likes of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Hugh Jackman, it's hard to complain. The star of the show, however, is Bryan Singer, and his continued involvement in this eternally youthful franchise is to be welcomed and encouraged. Bring on the Apocalypse.

Wednesday 14 May 2014


This review originally appeared on the Virgin Movies website. I thought about writing another one in a slightly different style for The Incredible Suit, but time is a precious commodity. I'm not getting any younger and I still haven't climbed Mount Fuji, written a bestselling novel or made love to a supermodel in a Ferrari. I mean, I'm not going to do any of those things now, if ever, but the principle stands.

The Godz must be crazy! etc.

Making a monster movie these days is an unenviable task. It's nearly twenty years since Jurassic Park, almost thirty since Aliens and knocking on for forty since Jaws, and pretty much every effort in the past two decades to replicate the artistic and commercial success of those man-vs-unknowable-beast touchstones has met with varying degrees of failure. The latest attempt, Gareth Edwards' 21st-century update of kick-ass kaiju Godzilla, comes frustratingly close to achieving the legendary status its eponymous titan deserves, but lacks the heart and soul of the films it so obviously reveres.

Wisely pretending that Roland Emmerich's 1998 stab at reviving Godzilla never happened, Edwards' take pays a respectful homage to the themes that spawned the Japanese original sixty years ago. Nuclear radiation is still A Very Bad Thing, and when it appears it's responsible for the creation of a terrifying threat to mankind, only one hundred-metre tall hero has the power to prevent total wipeout. (Of humanity. Not the TV show.)

But before the monster mash can begin, we need a cast of humans to provide the necessary exposition, heroism in the face of apparently insurmountable odds, and screaming. Bryan Cranston is Joe Brody, a former nuclear plant worker with a conspiracy itch he's been scratching for fifteen years. His son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is a soldier, husband and father whose skepticism about his dad's crusade withers when it's vindicated in destructive, terrifying style. Ken Watanabe, meanwhile, is the expert to whom everyone turns when the plot needs explaining, and if he were here now he'd tell you that an ancient fear has awoken in the shape of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Objects), and it would be wise if we all took cover under the nearest sturdy table.
Someone get Cranston some conspiracy cream for his conspiracy itch, stat!

The thought of Bryan Cranston sharing screen time with Godzilla is almost unbearably tantalising, and it's the potential of that meeting between gigantic acting talent and gigantic CG lizard that suggests Godzilla might be more than just Pacific Rim minus the robots. Tragically though, the film fails to capitalise on that potential by not featuring enough of either star. Cranston is sidelined in favour of Taylor-Johnson, who's a blank, emotionless substitute, while Big G occupies far less screen time than the MUTOs. They may be undeniably impressive antagonists but, well, whose name's on the poster, guys?

Fortunately Edwards conjures some incredible set-pieces for his creatures, with the first appearances of both MUTO and Godzilla providing terrific bursts of cinematic thrillery: a panning shot from inside an airport's departure lounge may be the most gleefully exciting thing we'll see all year. And when the inevitable final-act smackdown rolls around, preceded by the eerie HALO jump you saw in the trailer, you know you're in the hands of a filmmaker with talent to burn.

The downside is that it takes so long for the 'zilla thrills to arrive: each time the main attraction threatens to turn up the excitement to deafening volumes, Edwards cuts away to more scenes of puny humans yapping about electro-magnetic pulses or standing around stupidly refusing to leg it from rapidly-disintegrating cities. Nobody wants to see two hours of monsters punching each other, but when the star of your show is God-frickin'-zilla, at least let the big guy roar some more.
Also unfairly shoved into the background are any characters without a penis: Juliette Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen and Sally Hawkins all get short shrift, which in 2014 is an embarrassing and insulting waste of formidable talent. Gareth Edwards, and screenwriter Max Borenstein, are evidently fans of Jurassic Park and Aliens - entire scenes in Godzilla are dangerously close to crossing the line between homage and rip-off to Spielberg and Cameron's masterpieces - but they've failed to pick up on their predecessors' provision of crucial, meaty female roles. It's all very well winking at the audience with a character called Elle Brody - just one letter away from Chief Brody's wife Ellen in Jaws - but what Godzilla could really do with is an Ellie Sattler or Ellen Ripley to balance out the testosterone.

There's much to enjoy in Godzilla, and a lot of it is down to watching Edwards - on just his second film as director - grow as a master storyteller. But he's not quite there yet, and he needs a better story to tell than this one. A sequel would be welcome, but it'll need more heart, more soul, and much more Godzilla.

Friday 9 May 2014

That's Rogertainment! Rogisode 4: Gold

The mid-1970s were glory years for our toffee-tanned hero. In the middle of the decade in which he made his best films, he was an adonis; a bronzed idol, always immaculately dressed and in fine physical fettle. Michael Caine and Malcolm McDowell might have been making better films, but neither of them had the catalogue model looks of Roger Moore. Now you could argue that that makes Michael Caine and Malcolm McDowell more deserving of your time, but this is That's Rogertainment so bugger off.

Just three months before his second Bond film (The Man With The Golden Gun, in which he looks his Bondy best) was released, Rog popped up in Gold, a tale of greed and heroism set against a backdrop of South African gold mining, and it's hard to deny how goddamn handsome he is in it. It's as if he's in competition with actual gold to see who can look the best. He knows it too: in most of the Johannesburg-set scenes, Rog is incapable of doing up more than a couple of shirt buttons, a look which he somehow gets away with far more successfully than I do when I emulate it in the pub at the end of our road.
It helps that Gold is directed by Peter Hunt, a man used to working with models-turned-James-Bonds after ushering the equally teaky George Lazenby through On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Hunt had also directed Moore in an episode of The Persuaders!, and knew how to make his star look good. In fact Bond alumni fill out the crew of Gold: John Glen directs the second unit and edits (as he did on OHMSS), Maurice Binder knocks up the titles, Syd Cain is production designer and Alec Mills is a cameraman. Perhaps most excitingly, Don Black writes the lyrics to the brilliant, bonkers and Bondesque theme song, which is a touching paean to the plight of the humble gold miner expressed via the medium of some absolutely bollocks-out brass:

After that vaguely crackers opening, Gold disappoints slightly by turning out to be a perfectly adequate drama about the heroically-named Rod Slater (our Rog), a gold mine manager who unwittingly gets caught up in a wicked plot, devised by a suspiciously SPECTREish cabal of businessmen bafflingly led by John Gielgud, to flood the mine and tinker with global gold prices. It's zippily edited, as you'd expect from Hunt and Glen, and despite its earnestness it never gets too boring for its own good. Its questionable high point is the total annihilation of a six-year-old Patsy Kensit in an explosion aimed at her SPECTRE-disappointing father.

Unsurprisingly, Roger Moore is the best thing about it, although this is one of his roles for which he leaves his self-parody hat at home. Hunt demands that Moore plays Slater straight, and as a result he comes off as a believable patsy and a genuine hero come the climax. He gets to bark lines like "Shut up Kowalski!" and "Drop it Kowalski!" (Kowalski is a bit of a prick), while the double entendres we so love to see him wrap his tongue around are scant and given to others: "I noticed you slipped out," purrs a female conquest as Rog climbs back into bed in the middle of the night. You can practically see the eyebrows desperately itching to climb north but being beaten back by Peter Hunt's steely glare.
It is a little-known fact that Roger Moore ejaculates champagne.
For this scene he filled a bathtub in one sitting.

A solid slice of Rogertainment then: proof that he can actually act when given good direction, but not as Rogertaining as when he's got his tongue jammed in his cheek and his eyebrows ready to ask "how high?" when he says jump. But my goodness he's a dishy devil, and if I look anything like that when I'm in my late forties (I won't, I can't afford the hair) then I'll consider myself to be one lucky bastard.

FUN FACT! In his autobiography, Rog fondly remembers how the arsenic in the water at the bottom of the gold mine turned his nipples a funny colour.

Why am I banging on about Roger Moore? Hard to say. Here's an attempt to explain.

Friday 2 May 2014

When The Incredible Suit met James Bond: Episode four in a series which
redefines the word "met"

It's eighteen long months since I last reported on the progress of my ongoing mission to meet every James Bond, and in that time I've come to terms with the fact that of the three remaining targets, only one is realistic, given that he's the only one still working. And so as long as there was breath in my body and intelligent people still casting him, I knew that one day I would meet Timothy Dalton, The Greatest James Bond That Ever Lived. Here's the story of how I did. Kind of.
Several weeks ago I was summoned through a leather-padded door and into a wood-panelled office at Empire Magazine and given a mission by a man I shall refer to only as 'N': to visit the set of Sky Atlantic's new horror drama Penny Dreadful and report back. From that day on my heart has barely returned to its normal b.p.m., for I knew that not only was Penny Dreadful created and written by Skyfall and Bond 24 writer John Logan, but that Timothy Dalton was a key cast member. Here was a chance to meet at least two Bond alumni, not to mention various others involved in both worlds - Eva Green (Casino Royale), Rory Kinnear (Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall), Helen McCrory (Skyfall) and 2nd Unit Director Vic Armstrong (too many Bonds to mention) are all involved in Logan's new project.

The set visit was fantastic: the show looked amazing, John Logan was charming, enthusiastic, incredibly generous with his time, and gave me a full personal tour of the sets and an exclusive Bond 24 interview which contained precisely no scoops. There was just one problem: I didn't meet Timothy Dalton. He was there, and I saw him, several times - in fact at one point he was as close to me as you are to that guy next to you - but we didn't actually exchange any words. This was mainly because he was working on an incredibly tense scene, and frankly I was mildly terrified. Dalton has enormous presence: when he walks into the room, you notice, and I noticed that he was way too busy being a ruddy amazing actor to speak to me. So I satisfied myself with some longing gazes and the knowledge that I'd breathed the same air as him, and went about my business.

Deep down, though, I knew that I hadn't really MET Timothy Dalton. In order to tick him off my list with a clear conscience, I had to talk to him. 'Seeing' plus 'talking to' equals 'meeting' in anyone's book, surely, even if those two elements occur weeks apart.
Insanely, no matter how long you stare at this photo,
it does not constitute a meeting.

Now magazine articles are rarely built from the transcript of just one interview, and so it was inevitable that I would need to talk to some of the Penny Dreadful cast at some point, even if it was just on the phone. And when I say "some of the Penny Dreadful cast", I mean "one of the Penny Dreadful cast". And when I say "one of the Penny Dreadful cast", obviously I mean Timothy flipping Dalton.

And so, just over two weeks later, I found myself sitting at home in front of my computer with no fewer than two voice recorders pointed purposefully at the telephone. It was 4.20pm on a Friday afternoon, and in ten minutes' time Timothy Dalton was due to call me from his home in Los Angeles. I repeat: Timothy Dalton was about to phone me, at my house, for a chat. I was trying extremely hard not to die of disbelief.
That photograph may or may not hang on my bedroom wall.

4.30 came and went, and the phone had not rung. 5.00 came and went, and still my phone remained frustratingly silent. I started to panic. Was the phone actually working? Had I given the right number to Dalton's people? Had I made some catastrophic miscalculation with the time difference? I checked and re-checked all possible opportunities of a balls-up but found none. At 6.00, still nothing. I needed a wee, but there was no way I was leaving the phone. My wife was due home at 6.30, so I decided I would make her my PA when she got in, instructing her to take any calls while I nipped to the bathroom. However, at 6.20 I could wait no longer. I was bursting. Reasoning that if Timothy Dalton hadn't phoned in the last 110 minutes, he was pretty unlikely to in the next two, I abandoned my post and took the much-needed comfort break.

Obviously, as I was mid-wazz, the phone rang. Unbelievable. James Bond was trying to get hold of me and I was urgently squirting out a torrential jet of piss that showed no signs of slowing down in the next few minutes. Somehow I clenched every relevant muscle, probably causing internal injuries to my bladder and personal waste disposal system, put everything back where it belonged and dashed back to the phone, answering it just before it was due to go to voicemail.

"HELLO!" The voice was unmistakable. Booming, but with a gentle Welsh lilt, Timothy Dalton's tones sang out to me from across the Atlantic Ocean. We were about to exchange our first words; to finally meet. How would we begin our relationship?
At this point I should make it clear to readers who don't know: my name isn't Nick, although in the heat of the moment I considered changing it to Nick by Deed Poll so that I wouldn't have to correct Timothy Dalton.
"Uh... it's Neil. Is that Timothy?"
And with that, 'Tim' and I were off on a magical fifteen-minute voyage of conversation. It turned out that the lateness of the call was simply down to him being incredibly busy - it was, after all, his birthday; I gave him my best wishes but stopped short of singing breathily down the phone like Marilyn Monroe. And I realise all that detail about my trip to the toilet might seem unnecessary, but I need my wife to understand the sequence of events which led to her coming home to find me talking to James Bond on the phone with my trousers undone.

Anyway it pleases me to report that Dalton is charming. I had been concerned that the fiercely intense man I'd seen on set would be equally as terrifying on the phone, but he was quite the opposite: ebullient, effusive and erudite. At one point he used a Latin phrase, which I like to think means "you are my favourite blogger". When I told him I'd seen him in action on the Penny Dreadful set, he demanded to know why I hadn't come and said hello; I told him he seemed heavily involved in what he was doing and, with sly self-awareness, he replied "well that makes a certain sense".

I spent the next hour or so in a daze. I don't want to sound like I'd had a visitation from the holy ghost, but I did have a nice chinwag with a man largely responsible for bringing an enormous amount of pleasure to my Bond-nerd existence, and that felt pretty ruddy special. It pained me to wash the hands that had held the phone that was connected to the phone that was held by Timothy Dalton, but they had dried wee on them so, sadly, I kind of had to.

So there we are: four down, two to go. I know that both Sean Connery and George Lazenby are keen readers of The Incredible Suit, so it can only be a matter of time before one or both of them get in touch to arrange a meeting. In preparation for their call I'm off to stock up on incontinence pants.

You can read the fruits of my conversation with Timothy Dalton in Issue 300 of Empire Magazine, out now in all good newsagents and some newsagents who charge 80p for a packet of Tooty Frooties, the daylight robbing bastards.

Further reading