Halcyon Days.

Film Fascinating insight into what was state of the art in digital manipulation twenty-years ago, courtesy of Film 95. Look at all the paper on Dr Boudry's desk!

My Interview with Juliette Binoche. Sort of.

Film Speaking of fiascos, another on the list of "how did this happen" films is Bee Season which along with The Juror, August Rush, Running With Scissors is my go-to example of a project gone amok and creative hubris. Here's the trailer:

And the Kermode review.

Right. Ok. It's rubbish. It has a scene in which Richard Gere spends ten minutes explaining Buddism very slowly to his daughter and casts Juliette Binoche as a kleptomaniac and that's not the main storyline. I've always wondered what attracted her to the film. So when The Guardian decided to have a Q&A with the actress I had to ask:

Which is why I tend to be quite sympathetic to actors in films who're always at the mercy of whatever takes the editor and director use and indeed to the director. If a usually good actor seems out of sorts in a piece, it's often because of circumstances beyond their control and also quite often an actor can only be as good as the part. The Sue Storm debacle is not Kate Mara's fault.

Fantastic Four: The Mudslinging begins.

Film Having had a cold this past couple of day, I entirely missed the Hollywood Reporter piece about Fantastic Four which is glorious in its detail but lacks just the right about of information to make a Final Cut or The Devil's Candy style book about the fiasco a tempting prospect. Notably this paragraph:
"As filming wound toward an unhappy close, the studio and producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker engaged in a last-minute scramble to come up with an ending. With some of the cast not fully available at that point and Kinberg juggling X-Men: Apocalypse and Star Wars, a lot of material was shot with doubles and the production moved to Los Angeles to film scenes with Teller against a green screen. "It was chaos," says a crewmember, adding that Trank was still in attendance "but was neutralized by a committee." Another source says the studio pulled together "a dream team," including writer and World War Z veteran Drew Goddard, to rescue the movie. Whether the final version of the film is better or worse than what Trank put together is a matter of opinion, of course, but the consensus, clearly, is that neither was good."
Wow,  The usually brilliant Drew Goddard allegedly was sucked into this singularity as well. Did he actually write and direct any of the closing material?  Was he another bystander on the road and we'll discover he didn't really have anything to do with it either in the end?  What again, we ask, was (the curiously unmentioned in this piece) Matthew Vaughn's participation?

Meanwhile, here's the also usually brilliant Richard Brody in the New Yorker seeming to make the case for the film almost being a comic book film for people who don't like comic book films, even though in my experience, people who don't like comic book films will never like comic book films.

Extracting the BBC Genome:

Film Back in 1995, as part of the century of cinema celebrations (of which more in my old post about The Fifth Element) the BBC broadcast a series of short five or ten minute programmes in which prominent people chose and described their favourite film scenes.

Being a student at the time, I was never around when they were broadcast, which was through July then throughout the Autumn and at odd times during the day but have a vivid memory of the episode in which Gale Ann Hurd describes the resuscitation scene from The Abyss and how it's the emotional climax which made it an exceedingly difficult to find a satisfying conclusion.

Sometimes they were succeeded by a broadcast of the film in question.

For years I've wondered exactly which films had been chosen and by who and the other day I realised that there was now a source in existence which could tell me.

A quick search of the BBC Genome and here they are.

Find below a list of the films and the person who chose them.  For ease of use, I've only included that information but this Genome search has all the relevant TX dates should you be interested.

They're generally in broadcast order, although I've changed the chronology whenever the same film's chosen by two people or the same person's chosen two films.  To be honest it doesn't look like they were produced to be broadcast in any particular order anyway and there were a few repeats during the run (which I've left out too).

Someone's also recently uploaded some episodes to YouTube which I've embedded so you can get some idea of what the series was like.

In case you're wondering, someone else has already listed Moviedrome.  That's on the Genome too.

Close-Up (BBC, 1995).

An American in Paris (ballet scene). John Barry (composer).

The Killing Fields. David Puttnam (director).

Casablanca (final scene). Russ Meyer (director).

Les Diaboliques. Denis Healey (politician).

Madonna of the Seven Moons. Carla Lane (writer).

Sunset Boulevard. J G Ballard (writer).

Beauty and the Beast. Janet Street-Porter (television executive).

The Wizard of Oz. John Waters (director).

Brief Encounter. Mary Whitehouse (!).

Safety Last. Mary Whitehouse (twice?).

Rio Bravo. John Carpenter (director).

Metropolis. Ken Russell (Metropolis).

Faster Pussycast Kill Kill. Jonathan Ross (presenter).

On The Waterfront. Maevy Binchy (novelist).

On The Waterfront. Lynda La Plante (author).

White Heat. Michael Mann (director).

East of Eden. Michael Mann (director).

Battleship Potemkin (Odessa steps). Roger Corman (director).

Weekend (Godard). Mike Figgis (director).

City Lights (Chaplin). Richard Attenborough (director and actor)

The Producers. Teresa Gorman (MP).

Victor Victoria. Teresa Gorman (MP).

King Kong. Alex Cox (director).

King Kong. Ray Harryhausen (sfx animator).

Night of the Hunter. Christine Vachon (producer).

A Hard Day's Night. Hanif Kureishi (director).

Gone with the Wind. Diane Abbott (MP).

Gone with the Wind. Julian Clary (comedian).

The Best Years of Our Lives. Richard Fleischer (director).

Up in the World (Wisdom). Nick Park (director).

Henry V (Olivier) (epic battle scene). Michael Winner (director).

My Darling Clementine. John Milius (director).

Return to Paradise. John Milius (director).

Citizen Kane. John Schlesinger (director).

Stagecoach. P D James (crime novelist).

Spellbound (Hitchcock). Robert Rodriguez (director).

Gun Crazy (bank robbery scene). Stephen Woolley (producer).

The Woman in Red. Nicolas Roeg (director).

The Apartment. Susan Seidelman (director).

The Apartment. Volker Schlondorff (director).

The Searchers. Brian Cox (actor).

Three Colours Blue. Brian Cox (actor).

Once Upon A Time in the West (opening scene). Maggie Greenwald (director).

Gypsy. Terence Davies (director).

The Tales of Hoffman George Romero (director).

Pather Panchali. Mike Hodges (director).

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Joe Dante (director).

A Touch of Evil. Joe Dante (director).

The Abyss (resuscitation scene). Gale Ann Hurd (producer).

Daddy-O. James Ellroy (writer).

Zero de Conduite. Abraham Polonsky (screenwriter).

The Wages of Fear. Perry Henzell (director).

A Fistful of Dollars. Christopher Frayling (director).

The Silence (Bergman). Jane Birkin (actor).

A Blonde in Love. Ken Loach (director).

Saturday Night Fever (opening scene). John Badham (director).

Urga. Julie Christie (actor).

Twelve O'Clock High. Bob Rafelson (director).

Kes. Kathy Burke (actor).

Jules et Jim. Mike Leigh (director).

Bad Day at Black Rock. Philip French (critic).

Klute. Lizzie Borden (director).

8½. Terry Gilliam (director).

Le Plaisir. Bernardo Bertolucci (director).

A Place in the Sun. Monte Hellmen (director).

The Third Man. Monte Hellmen (director).

The Godfather, Part II. Allen Daviau (cinematographer).

Pickpocket. Paul Schrader (screenwriter and director).

Greed. Robert McKee (screenwriting teacher).

The finale (broadcast on New Year's Eve) had John Landis going to town and choosing "his favourite comic movie moments, featuring the Three Stooges, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy and includingscenes from Annie Hall and Jaws."

Also there's one episode which is simply listed as "Another favourite movie moment." But nothing else.

Brief commentary:  some of the choices are really interesting - Nic Roeg choosing The Woman in Red or Diane Abbott on Gone With The Wind - and it's frustrating not to know what they said.  Plenty of women directors too.  Oh and the youngest is Robert Rodriguez who in 1995 was on the crest of his original burst of fame with El Mariachi and Desperado.

Another Doctor Who Trailer.

TV With the ComCon model (which has subsequently received some broadcast play on television) being a bit, yeah, nice, oh he's playing the guitar, here's another one with more guitar playing and a general sense of the Doctor being more traditionally heroic this time. Clara seems far more enamored at least. A few new things:


Which brings to mind the best moment in the whole of Torchwood's Miracle Day:


"Tale as old as time..." Doctor Who does Beauty and the Beast? Animal Kwackers? King of the Cheetah People? The Garm?  Also they're really selling the Maisie stuff.  Notice how she's not wearing the Civvies from the TARDIS publicity shoot here.  Is she in more than one episode?

Overall with the viking helmets and such it feels more like the Matt Smith era in tone and look since its a return to blues and yellows over the autumnal colours of the previous series. It's noticeable there are no killer lines, no jokes and the Doctor's generally very isolated, doesn't really interact with Clara much, apart from that bloody lovely backwards hug towards the end. My expectations are still magnificently low, but this at least looks more like someone trying to make Doctor Who again.

My favourite film of 1986.

Film One of the great joys of the MARVEL cinematic universe is the post-credit sequence not just because of the added value but also because they're a way for cinema goers to note exactly who else lives in their head space. At each performance of one of these films there will always be people who leave just after the given director's name disappears and they'll always but always survey the auditorium, a questioning look in their eye wondering, "Why are you all still here? Why haven't you left yet?" before turning and leaving us to see either the actual end of the story (Thor: The Dark World) or a preview of what looks like footage from the next release (Ant-Man). The most ironic example of this was the screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron I attended, a film where the producers and director had warned that there wasn't going to be anything after the credits but the entire audience, some thirty of us, stayed in our seats anyway. Just in case.

Unlike most of those, the post-credits sequence on Ferris Bueller's Day Off is pretty difficult to miss, with the duration of the credits absorbed with Ferris's headmaster having to take the school bus and a first floor corridor in Ferris's house appearing just after said vehicle has rolled into the distance.  That makes what he says, "You're still here?  It's over.  Go home.  Go."  Well, yes, Ferris, it's over now, you scamp.  For a while I thought this was the first, but as this Wikipedia page explains, it might have been The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash or The Muppets (depending on your attitude to the former being a theatrical release).  The one for Adventures in Babysitting is especially fun because it ties up one of the film's bits of plot.  But was Ferris the first to speak to the audience directly?  What must that have been like at the time?  Did people just laugh?  Were some of them freaked out?

On video, it was a particularly useful moment because it signalled the end of the Yello track if you didn't happen to be watching the screen.  Ferris is a rare example of an 80s film which doesn't have a soundtrack album because John Hughes didn't think it constituted a coherent collection of songs and didn't think anyone would want to buy them and so the only way to listen to some of the songs back in the VHS age was the simply watch the film.  The Dream Academy's cover of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want has only just become widely available on their best of album this year and the version at this Spotify link isn't even the instrumental from the film.  So for a while I'd simply have the video on in the background and let the sounds fill the room and when Ferris's voice appeared it reminded me to rewind the tape so I could start all over again.

We need to talk about Fantastic Four. Now that I've seen it.

Film Absolutely fucking horrendous, genuinely one of the worst films ever made, misconceived in almost every way, feeling on all levels as though it was thrown together and made worse by the impression, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise, that there isn't a better film hidden underneath somewhere.

Now I appreciate that I'd set myself up to hate it and to an extent a lot of that had to do with lowering my expectations, a process which has actually helped me enjoy other films in the past, notably the Resident Evil and Underworld series which tend to be universally slated by critics but I enjoy on almost every level and not secretly.

I had hoped that I'd come away from Fan Four Stick with a certain admiration for a noble failure in the realm of Catwoman, seeing someone remove a concept from its origins and then turn out something which has its good points or least justifies not being the thing it's supposed to be an adaption of.  It's not.

Despite that, let's try to find some positives.

Well, for a start I didn't have to pay to see it.

Having tried to find a showing at the Odeon with the least potential audience toxicity, so 10:15 on a Monday morning, I pretty quickly noticed an odd noise coming from somewhere in the auditorium.  Sitting on the front row I could hear it pretty clearly as the pre-show advertising slides appeared and then during the quiet bits between adverts.  I stepped out to tell an usher and the two of us sat back on the front row listening out for it.  I think he was half convinced there was something as he left before the trailers but nothing changed.

So I spent the whole film also trying to work out what the noise was until a particularly silent bit during an amazingly quiet narrative for something in the comic book genre and realised it was the sound of the air conditioning unit and so on top of everything else I had that whooshing along in the background.

After the film finished I met a manager in the foyer, told him about the distraction and was issued with a full refund without any quibbles and it's important to note without actually having asked for one (it's cheaper on a Monday anyway).  I was simply letting them know so that it didn't effect other patrons enjoyment of the film should they have wandered in by mistake.

Otherwise the film was well projected across a massive screen with proper luminance and excellent sound quality.  There we about seven of us in the audience with the two families sat towards the back and silent throughout.  Ironically this was the perfect environment to watch a movie.

In relation to the actual film and this is where the spoilers really beginning;

Opening with the class project material isn't horrible and essentially the opening of Big Hero 6 filmed in the style of Super 8.  As a way of establishing Reed Richards as a kind of scientist outside the mainstream this would have worked in a more orthodox adaptation of the comic though it is derivative of other super hero films, notably the first X-Men and Superman before it.

The actors all work well with the material that they're given or at least the selected footage of their performances shows that for at least part of the project, the initial photography, they had some notion of how the material should be played.

The rest of it is a failure.

Professional critics and the rest of us all have our theories as to why that is, and since you can go glance through the hundred odd reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (currently metascore 8%) or people ranting into their iPhones on YouTube if you want to, I don't know if there's much point in me trying to reiterate their many points.

Except ...

Things didn't start well when I approached the box office and asked for a ticket to see "Jurassic... no I mean Fantastic Four.  God, I wish I was going to see Jurassic World again.  I don't even know what I'm..." "So you'd like a ticket for Fantastic Four?" "Sorry, yes." "The 10:15 showing." "Yes, sorry."  It was almost as though my mouth was making a last ditch effort to spare my brain from what was to come.

Then, glancing through the Odeon's in house magazine I noticed a massive factual error in the synopsis for the film...

"this latest adventure from the Marvel Cinematic Universe".  If only.

In any case, just to limit myself, here are five things which stood out to me:

(1)  Sexism.  Trank takes time to properly introduce Reed, Ben, Johnny and Victor to varying degrees with their own scenes which to some extent demonstrate how they tick.  Sue on the other hand is simply introduced to Reed and has absolutely no narrative agency, the scene which is supposed to highlight who she is entirely played through Reed's POV as he reacts to her.

She's also the only female main character.

Granted there's only a small main cast, but given how much if the piece has been re-engineered by Trank et al, there would still have been a lot of space to give Sue a friend or (and I hesitate to say this believe me) female friends to some of the other guys.  But since no one has a life outside the requirements of what plot there is or indeed seems to leave a lab much, here, based on the IMDb are the character names of the those played by female cast members:

Sue Storm
Mrs. Grimm
Mrs. Richards
Science Fair Judge #2
Girl Classmate
Street Race Girl
Reed's Scientist #1 (Area 57)
Sue's Doctor (Area 57)
Johnny's Doctor (Area 57)
Computer Military Tech (Area 57)
Emergency Announcer (Area 57)
Baxter Board Member (uncredited)
Lawyer (uncredited)
Ben Scientist #2 (uncredited)
NYC Passerby / Scientist (uncredited)
Sibling (uncredited)
Science Fair Judge (uncredited)
Sibling (uncredited)
Hospital Patient (uncredited)
Lab Tech (uncredited)
Baxter Institute Professor (uncredited)
NYC Passerby (uncredited)
Extra (uncredited)

Incidentally, the IMDb lists about a hundred and thirty cast members of which only twenty-three are female.

The only character here with a substantial speaking role is Sue and that's just barely.  She's also the only female character who's granted a full name (though admittedly few of the male characters actually do either for some reason).  It's Rachel Grimm and Evelyn Richards in the comics by the way.  Looking at this list, I'm reminded of what Russell T Davies said about writing scripts and how he always gives characters names because it means that when the actor puts the role on their CV it looks more substantial than it actually is. "Reed's Scientist #1 (Area 57)" is nonsense.  A lot of the uncrediteds on this list look like must have appeared in the excised Trank footage (a lot of which is in the trailer - the shot of Ben with the baseball bat certainly isn't).

Also, setting aside the fact that we're not really watching a Fantastic Four film, note how the actual experimental flight which leads to the characters getting the powers is taken by the four blokes none of whom think to phone Sue and invite her.  Reed calls his best friend instead, a character who is only being invited along because he has to become the Thing.  Effectively it's Hot Tub Time Machine 2.  Sorry, 3.  Whatever.  The set designers could have produced a machine with five capsules or six but instead Sue gains her powers through absorbed the after burn of the capsule returning to Earth.  Even the Tim Story film had Sue take part in her own origin story.

(2)  "It's Clobbering Time!"  I parted company with the Transformers films when Bumblebee's original shell, the Beetle, was disrespected and nudged aside in favour of some non-descript sports car, this being the moment when I realised the production put commerce and product placement above respecting the original source material.  In Fantastic Four, Ben's catchphrase is first used when his older brother bullies him which makes its eventual callback later in the film nonsensical in character terms.  Trank puts the reference in for fan service, just as Bay does with the Beetle in Transformers but also in such a way that it disrespects it.

(3)  Who's the protagonist?  A more orthodox approach would have made all four of the characters joint protagonists, but in Trank's rendering its notionally Reed Richards.  It's his prologue and we see the Baxter Building through his eyes and his goal is to visit the other universe.  Except after the set up, he's gone for much of the film and although a sort of secondary goal is set up about him trying to find a way back through the dimensional portal to cure himself and his friends it's not really developed and there's no real pay off to the beginning other than being handed a giant research facility as a step up from the garage.

One of Joss Whedon's slight of hands in the Avengers screenplay is making Nick Fury the protagonist.  He has a clear goal, creating the Avengers, and that goal's satisfied at the end.  Weirdly, the F4 script almost does the same thing by accident with Tim Blake Nelson's nefarious Dr. Allen (a reimagining of the Mole Man apparently though this was changed in post) exploiting the new powers of the characters and he certainly has the most agency in the final half during the reshoots.  A Fantastic Four film is horribly misconceived if something like this is the case.

(4)  Now what?  One of the fundamental problems is once the story enters the lab, the notion of world building ends.  There's some glances towards what this version of the world is like during the section when The Thing is sent into conflict, but overall we're not given much information at all about the place where these characters exist.  When Doom threatens the planet at the end, for all the minor set-up near the start about him being a misanthrope, mainly we ask why?  It's because he's Doom, but apart from that?  Rather like Ben going on the mission, it's motivated by the need to recreate a character from the comics rather than anything particularly developed in the film itself.  Eventually, what this ends up with is a superhero team with no one to fight, an origin story with nowhere to go.

Much of this has to do with hedge betting, just in case the world turns out to be the same as X-Men (presumably post Days of Future Past) (and apparently a Deadpool mask appears at the back of one the scenes) but my feeling is that they knew they were onto a non-starter during production.  This doesn't feel like a film which is expecting a sequel or anything else - instead it's as though the studio really has cut its losses and decided to film an ending so they have something to release because to dump the project altogether would be even more expensive.  No one could look at the last quarter of the film and be proud of what they've accomplished, which would explain to some extent too why the cast apparently weren't shown it before going out to publicise it.  It feels unreleasably unfinished like a film school project knocked together at the last minute to hit a deadline, which since the release date for it was agreed months in advance it actually was.  At a certain point everyone involved must have (I guess) entered a period of filling a contractual obligation and that rarely ends with something coherent appearing on screen.  Ambersons.

(5)  The reshoot footage is hilariously poor in places.  Apart from the obvious changes in Kate Mara's wig there's also the moments when the actors are entirely unengaged by the material or worse actively don't even seem to know what to do with it.  Notice Miles (Reed) Teller as he explains what Doom is doing, all character drained from his voice.  The shots of Kate (Sue) Mara on the Planet Zero (a place which until that point she hadn't already visited herself so you'd think would have some reaction to that) her face scrunched, her hands gesturing less convincingly than Josie Lawrence improvising after a  Panto suggestion during the Film & Theatre Styles on Whose Line Is It Anyway?  Who really shot these scenes and what support did they get and how long before we get a version of the Street Fighter article for this debacle?

Overall, as I suspected, the moment the project was sunk was as soon as Trank or whoever decided to throw the source material out of the window and do something new because that's the moment this stopped being a Fantastic Four film.  Yes, it's supposed to be a version of the Ultimates FF but it doesn't even manage that.  Partly their hand was forced by the Tim Story films which were just close enough that anything produced now would be compared to them (and one of the amusing results of this is watching people re-evaluate Rise of the Silver Surfer) but that doesn't excuse the poor execution of even the so-called better earlier half of the film when we're forced to endure the endless montages and exposition about the creation of what's essentially and ersatz TARDIS when we should be finding out who these characters are and enjoying their company ...

... which is probably when I should stop writing or I'll be here for another hour.  I've spent longer writing this than it took to watch the film.  That's another thing,  A hundred minutes is in no way long enough to tell the origin story of four chara ...

... enough.  Enough now.

"Just one damn thing after another..."

Theatre He really shouldn't have to do this. If you're geographically in the right place and can afford to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, why would you spend the whole sodding thing recording it through a camera phone in a form which you probably won't then ever go and bother watching again and with the ignorance of how distracting it is for the actors. The fact that they had to stop the performance twice because of this and that they're soon to be having to install detectors is abominable and shows an utter lack of respect for the process from the audience.  Never has a post tag been more appropriate.

"Been spending most of our lives..."

Film Rolling Stone Magazine has an oral history of Coolio's Gangsta's Paradise including the filming of the promo:
"Michelle was kind of nervous, because I don't think that, up to that point, she'd ever been around that many black people in her life [laughs]. And, you know, my boys were 'hood! But we had a good time. She came out and did her thing, and she killed it; it took her two takes to do her parts, and she was outta there. When I got the first edit back, I was like, "Wow, this could be big!" But let me tell you something — I had no idea that it was gonna take on the kind of life that it took. I totally was still thinking, in my mind, that it was gonna be a 'hood song. I was thinking to myself, "Man, with what's going on in the video and what I'm saying, there's no way white people are gonna get into this song. No way." But I was wrong.
There's also some interesting material about the preview process for Dangerous Minds, and how the film's numbers were incredibly low until the introduction of the song which presumably changed people's perceptions of the film before seeing it.