Movies that Piss me Off (Part One)

I often hear people say ‘I hate that movie’, or variations of this interspersed with swearing. Personally, I think it is a bizarre sentiment. Hatred is a very powerful emotion. To hate a piece of art or entertainment is baffling to me. Oh I get angry at films. I swear at how stupid or predictable they are. I have shouted at movies. But hate them? No. The type of movie I might hate is just not worthy of that level of passion ie. poorly made films shouldn’t make you mad.

But, let’s talk about movies that put me close to hating them, and why.

I was thinking about this recently and the film titles that came to mind were the Vanishing, Battle Royale 2, the Ring, the Departed and the Thing.

Actually, I’m removing the Departed from that. I watched it last night and it just irritates me by how flat it is in comparison to Infernal Affairs, the Chinese original. Essentially, the lead performances of Andy Lau and Tony Leung are far superior. It also depresses me to think that THIS is the film Scorsese won an Oscar for. Ergh. I think that movie just reminds me of how little I care about Oscar nominations and how strongly I wish others did too. But the Departed doesn’t belong with those others I listed. Not even with that stupid moment of the rat at the end. It is poor but not aggravating.

No, we’ll go back to the Vanishing, Battle Royale 2, the Ring and the Thing.

Why these ones? They are all bad movies, but the reason they piss me off so much is for reasons outside of the films themselves. Three of them are remakes. Now, I’m not against remakes. One of my favourite films is the Thing, which is a remake (you may be confused right now, but fear not, all shall be cleared up). But this trio of remakes irk me due to their complete failure to capture anything that worked in the originals, as well as not even needing to exist.

Disclaimer: one remake I refer to is actually a prequel, but it is essentially a remake, so sod it.

The one non-remake is Battle Royale 2. That’s a sequel, obviously. If you are a fan of Battle Royale, may I take this moment to urge you never to see the sequel. No, it isn’t so bad it is good, nor is it worth watching to catch up with the characters, world or themes from the first. No. Just no. Don’t do it, don’t think about it. Stop it right now. I mean it.

Battle Royale was a fast and violent film with Japanese schoolkids forced into killing each other on an island as part of a government attempt to control the unruly youth. It showed us how these kids were troubled and how they troubled others, what they did right and wrong, and it used school social hierarchy to good effect.

Battle Royale 2 does none of this. It is one big rant about the USA, in essence. I have bitched about this movie before, in a post called ’28 Weeks Later and Other Pointless Sequels’. I won’t bother to do so again. But what I will say is that this film takes nothing that worked from the first. We have one character who returns, yet I wish he hadn’t. There is no school or teenager analysis. Many characters are slaughtered early on. The terrorism of one group of kids seems to be excused due to the behaviour of the big bad adults. It is just a weak, pointless film that does nothing to add to the first, and I loved the first. It is a cash grab, but hell, I’ve seen cash grabs that have some level of entertainment or thought put in. This does have one thought in it, I admit, and that is to blame America for everything going wrong. As a Brit, blaming Americans for anything is a favourite past-time, but this is tedious, clunky and over the top. This sequel sickened me. Still not worth hating though.

So we have the Vanishing. The original is a film I came across late one night. I used to stay up watching all kinds of weird and wonderful movies. I was an avid fan of Moviedrome. One night, I saw the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The one directed by David Cronenberg and starring Donald Sutherland. It has a great ending, which is also a shocker, and after seeing that I didn’t feel I could just go to sleep. So teenage me (not sure how old I was exactly) stayed up and started watching a French/Dutch movie called the Vanishing. In this, a couple are driving about, the woman goes missing, the man spends years searching for her – ruining a new relationship in the process – until he meets a strange man who claims to have kidnapped his girlfriend. In order to find out what became of her, he has to drink a cup of coffee with a drug in it. Having incessantly searched for her, having ruining his life in this pursuit, he concedes and downs it.

Now, the ending is more of a shocker than Body Snatchers, and how I got to sleep that night after seeing it, I don’t know. I won’t give it away. But the film was intense to watch.

The remake is made by the same director but has ‘Hollywood ending’ written all over it. Starring Keifer Sutherland (an odd link to my personal experience of watching the original) and Jeff Bridges, with a brief appearance by Sandra Bullock as the missing woman, this film follows along the same route for the most part. Then we get to the end. It hurts me just thinking about it. We need a happy ending so the new girlfriend sticks around and helps save the day. That is fine. In truth, it was an interesting development with how she plays mindgames with the strange man. But we get this awful ending where the happy couple are offered coffee, which they instantly reject, then laugh about it. Laugh! After what they have been through, they laugh! It is this awful, ridiculous, inappropriate bit. People died, they were both nearly killed, but let’s have a giggle about no longer drinking coffee. Because, you know, drugs and murder. Tee hee hee.

Do I hate the film? No. Overall, it may not be that bad. I’ve only seen it once, I think. The original definitely only once. But I get angry at what it represents. An American remake failing to capture any of the atmosphere of the first, yet more importantly, blotting out the original work. Looking up originals and finding only references to the more widely distributed and advertised remakes can be such a depressing experience.

Speaking of which, that brings me to the Ring. I also saw this one recently, but it has been on my shit-list for some time. It is just boring. I find the original, Ringu, an intense watch with an impending sense of doom that keeps ticking forward. I don’t watch it often, I can’t bear to. I have the book, which explains a lot of the background of Sadako and makes sense of the supernatural phenomenon. But the remake is as if someone watched the original, chose to make the exact same movie yet thought that all that suspense and mystery just slowed things down. What we need is insects, jump scares and eeewww, girl with gross face!

Again, I feel no hate toward this movie. It isn’t worth it. It isn’t an atrocious film, I guess, just bland and obvious. But again, it bugs the shit out of me that films like this get made. Ringu was a huge international hit on DVD. But noooooooooo. We need a dumb, American version. And that’s not to say, ha ha, Americans are dumb and they need dumb things. No, it is the opposite in truth. People who make entertainment in the US seem to think their audience is dumb and treat them as such. My experience is that Americans get more passionate about the source material from abroad. Yes, some want the dumb shit, but that happens in all countries. Yet many are fine with foreign films, weird movies and art/entertainment that challenges them. The Ring is none of those things. It panders. It is stupid and predictable and trundles along. Harumph.

Okay, seeing as I still have plenty more to moan about, I’ll stop here for now and put up Part Two in a couple of days time.

The Twilight Zone

So I’ve been binge watching the Twilight Zone this past week or so. I was always aware of the most famous tales from this show and had seen them parodied often (especially by the Simpsons). I had seen the movie too. I enjoyed it. But it wasn’t until I sat down and started watching these that I realised I had never really gotten into this show. Which is a crime for a writer, or a lover of scifi, or someone who loves the imagined, the weird and the fantastic. This really was a great show. It was amusing to watch the first episode where Rod Serling – the creator, main writer and that odd guy who always introduced and concluded each episode – mocks himself for daring to claim this TV series would go on to great things. He wasn’t wrong.

I guess we could call the Twilight Zone scifi, and many stories are straight up science fiction, with tales of aliens coming to Earth or humans ascending to space. Yet this show is far more about the fantastic. It reminded me of what scifi TV and films were like back then. There was a golden age of scifi during the 50s and 60s, at least for those of us who adore cerebral and challenging science fiction (I also love flashy nonsense like Flash Gordon and straight up action like Aliens). Movies like the Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, the Thing from Outer Space/Another World, etc were filled with social commentary and questioning the advancements of science. The atomic era especially. Also shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, Land of the Giants and the Time Tunnel. It is amusing to see how old Star Trek differs from the newer stuff. The original series is full of episodes with weird things happening. More supernatural than science.

For me, the best scifi is often using science to tell us about humanity. In the Twilight Zone’s case, we have the classic episode ‘Time Enough at Last’. A nuclear holocaust leaves one man who loves to read alone with all the books he could possibly ever want. I won’t spoil the ending, even though it is well known, just in case, but the episode is about him, not about the science. In another, ‘People are Alike All Over’, we have a man land on another world, who fears what is out there, only to find that people – including alien people – are alike all over. Truly. Again, the science is a tool, not the main content.

But we have plenty of weird and wonderful episodes too. Some very dark ones. I was surprised to see Dennis Hopper in one episode, playing a Nazi, who becomes influenced by a shadowy figure and starts to win people over. There are a number of episodes laden with the aftermath of World War Two. An episode called ‘Deaths-Head Revisited’ has a former SS captain of a concentration camp going back to his place of torture, with old friends waiting for him. These can be pretty dark, but with meaningful messages.

The Twilight Zone is a celebration of the new frontier that was science fiction of American TV back then. We knew enough to use science to create new scenarios but not much more so that going out to space or developing new technologies had an almost magical feel to it. Admittedly, aliens tended to be a bunch of white people who spoke English, but this was not the time of diversity. We understand the cosmos much more too. But the episodes are still telling us about ourselves.

Other episodes are downright supernatural. I’ve seen the devil show up in two already. There has also been a ghost caller, a writer bringing characters to life, and a few individuals reliving a nightmare, even their death.

The Twilight Zone is entertaining as well as intelligent. I prefer the shorter episodes, they feel tightly written, whereas the ones closer to an hour sometimes feel a bit padded. Episodes often work on a nugget of realism with a character made to deal with it and then some weird wonderment thrown on top. So they can be very short and very effective.

I admit I love the way Rod Sterling presents them too. He seems so earnest. His presence as a visible narrator should be breaking the fourth wall. Perhaps it does in a way. Yet he also lures you in. He makes you feel as if you have front row seats to a television episode and also a notable event coming from the Twilight Zone itself. He never tries too hard. Never gives it the high hat. He states in that enunciated manner of his and you’re believing his words before you realise how absurd things sound.

I highly recommend watching the Twilight Zone if you haven’t. There are episodes all over Youtube. Not sure about availability on DVD and such, but for now my intent is simply sharing the love. Again, I liked the movie but the television show feels special. This was a ground breaking work from a brilliant writer. A lot of young actors are involved too who go on to great things. Stories that now feel overdone are freshly set for the first time.

Essentially, I’ve become a bit addicted. I guess this is what happens when you enter…. The Twilight Zone.

Do de do do, do de do do, do de do do, do de do do……..

Death’s Head is the Best, yes?

I’m a Batman fanboy. I like the Green Arrow a lot, although not read much on him. Big fan of the tv show. Always been interested in knowing more about Martian Manhunter after watching the Justice League animated series. Judge Dredd is great (give us a Dredd sequel, you bastards!) as are the ABC Warriors and Bad Company and others. I love me some 2000AD.

Yet if I had to pick a favourite comic book character, it would have to be Death’s Head. Not because he is a Marvel character. Don’t give a shit about that Marvel vs DC crap. Being Marvel certainly suits him – he has an irreverence about the mayhem he gets involved in, although that also shows his British origins, I think – but I don’t care what team he plays for. It is the character himself. The all business, ultra violent freelance peacekeeper with the twisted sense of humour and affront to being named a bounty hunter.

Death’s Head. The mechanoid who fought Rodimus Prime and Galvatron, and future Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, and had two run ins with my childhood Doctor, Number Seven (Sylvester McCoy), and more. Not the most intelligent of individuals but quite devious when necessary, in a blunt-weapon-on-legs type of way, Death’s Head was like a mechanoid mountie – he always got his man. You hired him, he got the job done, no matter how many walls he had to break through, heads he had to bust open or hits he had to take. He was damn tough, if not invincible. He had to be rebuilt by his new partner Spratt at one point. He can be broken up a bit too. When he fights Arno Stark, he gets his head ripped off, but his body kicks the crap out of the Iron Man of 2020. He also had a detachable hand. He carries an array of weapons that can be fixed onto his arm. Very handy, yes?

Perhaps I should explain about that. Death’s Head had a quirky way of talking. Often short and sharp, to the point, as any businessman should be. But he often ended statements with questions or added a querying yes or no to a question. “I scare you, yes?” “Should have ducked faster, no?” “Bad day for you, yes? Should never have got out of bed, huh? Let me put you back to sleep.” (These aren’t quotes, by the way. Just things I made up that suit his style).

It is amusing to read but really added to his unique behaviour. He’s an oddball, even for a heavily armed robot who lives for profit. He also has strict codes and a very practical attitude to, well, everything. Never take things personally. Don’t get mad, get paid. Oh, he would whole heartedly agree with the Joker’s comment: If you’re good at something, never do it for free. Even lunatics make sense sometimes, no?

So credit where credit is due, the two creators of Death’s Head are Simon Furman and Geoff Senior – the writer and artist respectively. Apparently he was only meant to be a minor character in the Transformers’ world, yet after Geoff Senior had worked out the appearance, they knew he had to be something more. He looks great. Kind of like a robot devil – something which is highlighted in one story where a criminal refers to him as El Diablo. Simon Furman is a name that means a lot to me too. He worked on Transformers comics in the UK, then got promoted to running things in the US because of how good a job he had done. He used the new characters from the 1986 movie really well and wrote a brilliant storyline for the Transformers facing Unicron. Different to the one in that movie, and elsewhere I believe. Much better too. I wrote about it before: Me, Grimlock, Understand Genetics

Death’s Head came from good parents and deserved a better run. From what I’ve read, Furman and Senior both love the bastard and have tried repeatedly to bring him back. If he ever got into one of the Marvel movies somehow, that would be my true fanboy moment. I might literally squee.

Ultraviolet

So all the fan love for Idris Elba continues to amuse me. Late to the party, folks. I’ve been a fan of his since Ultraviolet, and I knew I had seen him in other things before then. In a trailer for one episode of this show, it looks like he is about to die. At the time, back in 1998, I remember thinking ‘poor bastard, he keeps getting killed off in shows’. I won’t pretend I knew his name back then, not until the Wire, but I knew the actor. He was cool, even in the 90s. That is a feat indeed!

I loved the show too. Ultraviolet is such a British tv show. While the US had Buffy – former cheerleader kicks vampires while struggling with the turmoil of High School – we in the UK had Ultraviolet. Our show was grim, sombre, macabre even. It feels more like a cold war thriller than a vampire show. In fact, it really isn’t a vampire show. It is more about those who hunt them. A priest, a scientist, an army sergeant, a police detective. Well, former ones. We see investigations, detection work, discussing what moves to make. Little action, restrained special effects. It is closer to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy than Buffy.

One of the main features of the show is the nature of vampires. This world isn’t good versus evil, although some characters insist it is. This world is grey. The fascinating thing about these vampires is that they care about the human race and the environment. Okay, so only in the same way we care about our livestock, but they do. The vampires are becoming more active, more aggressive because of humanity’s ability, and desire, to destroy itself has greatly arisen. They don’t want us dead. They want us controlled. This puts them at odds with us, of course, but not in the usual way. These aren’t demons. They’re not typical kill-all-things evil. Those individuals turned (this is said in a way that feels like turning a spy from one side to the other) talk about how they are still the same, just better. They don’t become monsters. They are who they are. They also claim no one gets turned who doesn’t want it. They accuse their enemies of bigotry. They have a point.

The main character, a cop who finds out his best friend has been turned, spends most of this series bitching at the people he now works for. He distrusts them, questioning their actions. I’m not sure if there was a bigger concept on how this character would be developed. Unfortunately, Ultraviolet only got the one series. I like to think they have him behave like this so he learns the hard way before becoming a dedicated hunter. Maybe not. But his incessant complaining does grate. Yes, he is new and brings fresh perspective. Yes, he doesn’t hate like they do, hasn’t lost to the same degree they have. But he really does get damn uppity. Wouldn’t have minded if Idris had slapped him at some point.

Oh yeah, so Idris Elba isn’t the main actor. He plays Vaughan Rice, former army sergeant who barely survived a vampire attack that slaughtered his squad. He hates them. Refers to them as leeches. He never questions, never hesitates. His relationship with Michael Colefield, the MC, is testy at best until later on. I’ll be honest, he was my favourite.

Another thing about this show is that the word vampire is never used. This was because they thought it would be tough to get a ‘vampire show’ made. The original title was Vampire Squad and this was dismissed. In their world, they call them Code 5s – 5 being V in Latin. That and Vaughan’s term leeches. They never have that moment so many tv shows suffer from when some character has to state the obvious. One character has the revelation made to her in a full frontal, no holds barred way. She sees one executed. In this show, vampires explode when killed. Up to then, she knows things are up, some weird things, but nothing more. She sees this. Person shot, person explodes. We get a reaction shot, then that was it. We know she knows. We don’t need her to gasp ‘vampire!’ or anything.

That is something I love about the show having watched it through on DVD. It is very subtle. A lot of character presentation is made via action, not dialogue. We see people process things rather than have them do it aloud. For example, the Code 5 is never explained, we just witness a character see V in a church and recall the term.

It is also quite fast paced, despite how slow it can feel while watching it. I get the feeling that everything in these six episodes would fit into a longer US season, just drawn out more. The priest developing a life threatening disease. The scientist dealing with the loss of her husband and daughter while being over protective of the one daughter she has left. The plots and schemes of both sides as Michael deals with his past trying to catch up to him. It surprises me how quickly we go from vampires being a new thing, to understanding the conflict, to getting to know these four central characters, with a few on the side, and then ramping matters up so we have a vampire prisoner trying to make peace. There is a lot left unsaid or merely brushed over to fit into the six episodes, so you often want more from it. I like that.

The female characters are notable too. The main one is the scientist, Angie Marsh, played by Susannah Harker (actual descendant of the Harker Bram Stoker knew to use the name) who has been in a number of shows. The best one I remember her from besides this is House of Cards. She is very good, and her character is one of the most ruthless, strong willed people in the organisation. But we find out her husband and daughter were turned, to be used against her, and she killed them. She isn’t cold, though. In an episode, she is confronted with a woman and her ‘late’ husband. She hesitates, a tear rolls down her face, but she shoots. She’s strong but not inhuman.

Oh yeah, quick mention. They have high-tech ways of dispatching the Code 5s. Carbon bullets and garlic gas grenades. Also they use small cameras on the side of their guns. Vampires cast no reflection, and in this world that means no machine can detect them. No voice recording, no image on camera. So if you point at someone and they’re not on the camera, they’re a leech.

Back to the women of this show, we have a strong central one, then two others. One is the fiancee of Michael’s best friend, who he himself has a crush on. This is the weakest part of the show by far. Not just his simpering manner with her, but the way she becomes relentless in finding out what he is now up to. When Michael leaves without a word and moves home, she hires a journalist to find him. Nevermind that, as a cop, he may have gone undercover or something. Needless to say, this does not end well, and she blames him. She is not to be liked.

The other female character isn’t in it much. We never get much explained (again) but she is an ex of Michael and has feelings for him still, and she works in intelligence or something. Essentially, she knows how to find things out. Michael goes to her when he needs serious help. She helps him due to past feelings, but more and more she questions him. In the final episode, he demands she just help him. He needs it, he can’t explain. “Help me!”

“No.” I nearly cheered. She straight up says no. Leave your key, go, don’t come back. This woman has her shit together and then some, and even her complicated relationship with Michael is never tiresome in the way Michael’s infatuation with the other woman is. She is smart, has her own life, asks questions but knows when to leave things alone. Even after this falling out, when she gets brought in by the other hunters because they suspect Michael is up to something, she won’t talk because he is her friend. I can only imagine she would have had a bigger role in a second series. Damnit.

So a major factor that creates the mood of this moody drama is the music. It is really, well, moody. Really effective. I remembered the dulcet tones of this show for some time after I first saw it.

I think it is only fair to mention the other major character. He is in charge, a priest or former one, I am never sure. He clearly has a religious background and links, but he doesn’t go around with a dog collar on or a Bible in hand. He even goes to confession later on. He is also adamant that the ‘other side’ are bad, that they want to control us as fodder, yet he isn’t as certain as he first seems. He develops a serious illness, then meets a vampire prisoner who clearly knows about him. He has doubts, hence the visit to the confessional. They want to turn him, for obvious reasons. He is even suspected by Vaughan. I won’t say more.

He sets the tone for this world, this war they’re in, with this great line in the first episode:

“Our free range days are over.”

He prophesies a future of battery farms. Slavery, essentially. Concentration camps. Like I said, this show asks a lot of questions about what is going on, challenging the characters morality and duty, yet it remains a struggle by humanity for its own survival. The real question, of course, is how we keep our humanity in this struggle.

Loved the show. Badly want a reboot. Especially with my man Idris involved.