Monday, 21 April 2014

Your handy guide to the Seven Samurai

Akira Kurosawa's quite marvellous Seven Samurai is out on Blu-ray this week courtesy of those sexually devastating BFI types, and it's one of those films that not enough people have seen even though they know they really should. I suspect what's holding many people back is the fear of not being able to follow which of the titular septet of samurai is which, what with them all being Japanese and in black and white.

Because I'm good like that, I'm prepared to overlook the potentially racist undertones of your fear and shall attempt to alleviate it with this convenient cut-out-and-keep guide to the seven samuraiest samurai in all of samuraidom. Banzai!

(NB Do not attempt to cut out)

Kambei: Baldy Samurai

Kambei is the leader of the titular ronin, and is wise because he is old and bald. He is thoughtful and considerate, and slays people in silence and slow motion. His interests include cartography and painting.

Katsushirō: Baby Samurai

Katsushirō enjoys flower arranging and tumbles in the hay with pretty young boys. He is headstrong but naive and narcissistic; his morning routine is two hours long, and he is exceptionally pleased with the inverted boobs shape made by his hairline. He is a Pisces.

Gorōbei: Manly Samurai

Gorōbei works out regularly and can bench press a Nissan Micra. He enjoys archery, but not its western equivalent, darts, which he says is for "fat, drunk gaijin". His favourite colour is azure.

Shichirōji: Chunky Samurai

In the face of fierce competition, Shichirōji has the daftest hair of all the samurai. He was probably on his way to the hairdressers when Kambei bumped into him and recruited him, the poor bugger. Shichirōji enjoys running, building barricades and watching the EastEnders omnibus.

Heihachi: Silly Samurai

The joker of the pack (in the same way that every office has a joker, i.e. he's not very funny), Heihachi uses his humour to leaven tense situations, like awkward inter-samurai arguments about whose pubes are in the miso soup. He spends his spare time splitting logs and sewing, the big girl's macho blouse.

Kyūzō: Scary Samurai

The name "Kyūzō" is Japanese for "Do not fuck with me". He is an excellent trainer of armies but is a loner ever since he got close to one of his recruits and had his advances rebuffed. He tells everyone he got that scar above his eye when he was attacked by Godzilla, but in fact he merely cut himself shaving while distracted by a bee.

Kikuchiyo: Phony Samurai

Kikuchiyo's interests include fishing, being naked outdoors, amusing small children and near-fatal amounts of heavy drinking. Often he likes to combine all of these at once. He dislikes miserable people, horse riding and real samurai.

Seven Samurai is out now on Blu-ray in normal boring plastic case and deeply sexy steelbook hewn from the finest Hattori Hanzō steel, very possibly.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Blog post #2 of hundreds about The Rover

I'm generally loath to do marketing companies' work for them, but in the case of David Animal Kingdom Michôd's The Rover I'll make an exception. This is the film I'm most excited about this year (although let's be honest, X-Men: Days Of Future Past looks immense), so I'm duty-bound to ensure that every single person who reads this blog knows about it in the hope that both of you will go and see it.

Hot off the back of the announcement that it'll be premiering in a midnight screening at this year's Cannes Film Festival, A24 Films dropped the first, WB Yeats-misquoting full trailer today, complete with "OFFICIAL SELECTION CANNES 2014" insert, almost as if they knew. It's gorgeously moody and leaks out a little more plot than the teaser (obviously), but this is clearly a film that isn't going to be described in two-and-a-half minutes.


Fans of Robert Pattinson are going crackers for this on Twitter right now, which seems unfair when fans of Guy Pearce's facial hair are relatively silent. So here I am doing my bit: get ready for The Rover, motherfuckers. It' going to be amazing. Or possibly rubbish. Hard to say. Regardless, here's some more marketing material.


Sadly not an entire feature film about Lost's greatest character, Locke is in fact a fantastic slice of claustrocore with Tom Hardy in a chunky-knit sweater. I wrote some words about it for The Shiznit when it was on at the London Film Festival; why not read them? Then you'll know how good it is and want to go and see it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Abandoned idea #216

I'm sure I had a point to make when I started this, but by the time I'd finished I had no idea what it was. Sorry.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2:
Electro Boogaloo

It seems important these days to preface any discussion of a given film by outlining your feelings about that film's prequels or previous incarnations (in various media), just so that people know whether you're on their wavelength or talking out of your shitpipe. So, for the record, here are my qualifications for having an opinion on The Amazing Spider-Man 2; you can decide for yourself whether what I'm about to say in the rest of this post is likely to reflect your own views or make you want to kick me in the dick.
And so it was with the taste of two-year-old dog shit lingering in my mouth that I approached The Amazing Spider-Man 2, still cross about the premature rebooting of Spidey's barely-cold corpse and even crosser about what a colossal waste of time it was reliving his origin story for one hour and watching him piss about with an abysmal CG lizard man for another. Fortunately the great thing about superhero Part Twos is that with the origin story out of the way, we can crack on with superpowered angst, human relationship drama, villains afforded a decent amount of time and all that stuff that gets added to Part One as an afterthought, and in this case it's doubly good news that Part One is over because it was so skin-flayingly awful.

It also means that without the bits that made me want to chuck stuff at the screen last time, I can now appreciate what Marc Webb's version of Spidey does so much better than Sam Raimi's, and those things are plentiful. Most obvious is ol' Webhead himself, who, after years of clunky CG, finally convinces as he lobs himself through the canyons of New York, and who is also the wisecracking chucklemonkey from the comics - something Tobey Maguire never quite pulled off. Andrew Garfield is brilliant here, selling the comedy and the emotional stuff so well that you barely notice that the middle of the film is almost entirely Spider-Manless. The question still remains, though: how does he fit all that hair into Spidey's mask? Turns out, as these exclusive stills show, they use CGI to digitally shrink his head in post-production.
Sally Field's Aunt May and Emma Stone's Gwen Stacy are also in a different league to their preboot counterparts (for the sake of argument, Stone's counterpart is Kirsten Dunst), not least because you don't want a bad guy to pull all their limbs off one by one because they're so hair-tearingly annoying. In fact two scenes, one with each of them simply sharing well-written dialogue with Garfield, caused me to get something in my eye. It was popcorn, because well-acted, well-written dialogue scenes really exacerbate my hand-to-mouth co-ordination disorder.

Main villain duties fall to Jamie Foxx's Electro, although for a main villain he too is largely absent from the film's mid-section. His character has the pathos with which Stan Lee liked to imbue many of his bad guys, and his first face-off with Spider-Man is well-handled: the Electrovision is a cool touch, sparingly used, and Hans Zimmer and Pharell have given him a bonkers theme song that sounds like Eminem having a row with Daft Punk in the cellar of a lunatic. Unfortunately he's got the world's dullest supervillain costume (except for his magically self-repairing electropants), a million miles from the lightning-masked loon of the comics, but what he lacks in style he makes up for in mentalism: his bedroom is eerily reminiscent of that of Jed Maxwell, Alan Partridge's unhinged stalker.
Once again, I find myself asking of a supervillain: how does he wank?

Dane Dehaan, who still hasn't grown into his ludicrously deep voice, borrows Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man 3-era emo haircut to play Harry Osborn, with mixed results. It's hard to buy him and Peter as BFFs, and he's too sinister not to turn psycho, but the Parker / Osborn mythology is given an interesting new twist to prevent another retread of the Raimiverse. When the inevitable Goblinisation rolls round, you'll have to decide for yourself whether it's a terrific addition to the supervillain canon or if it is, in fact, just a little bit too silly.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far from perfect (it isn't even amazing); like every modern superhero film it's too long, it doesn't really add anything useful to a bloated genre and it wastes a fun hero/villain dynamic at the expense of a subplot that sits apart from the rest of the film. But it's very funny, boasts a handful of excellent scenes and performances, and delivers some first class comic book action. It's not quite the Iron Man 3 to its prequel's Iron Man 2, but it's enough of an improvement to re-pique my interest in the franchise, and frankly I imagine that was its only goal.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Happy 22nd birthday Empire magazine!

Astute readers of monthly movie waffle merchants Empire magazine cannot fail to have noticed that this year it celebrates 25 years of active service. Like a lady made of paper and words, Empire has been menstruating film chat every month for quarter of a century, and its menopause is, thankfully, nowhere in sight. Long may it continue to discharge the blood and mucosal tissue of its smart and witty reviews, exclusive features and crap photo captions into the sanitary towels of our eyes, and may it forgive this unpleasant metaphor which I began without fully realising the horror of its inevitable conclusion.

As far as I'm concerned, Empire is in fact a mere 22 years old, as I didn't start reading it until early 1992. I still remember the day Empire and I first met: bored shitless during my lunch break from a Saturday job at Lloyds Supersave chemists in my home town of Whitchurch, Shropshire, I ventured into WHSmiths in the hope of finding something to take my mind off an impending afternoon of stocking shelves with IZAL medicated toilet paper. Browsing the magazine rack, I was alarmed to be confronted by Kevin Costner gurning handsomely at me from the cover of Empire issue 32. I didn't care much for Costner at the time, so the thought of paying money for something with his face on it gave me pause, but I was a big film fan and it certainly appeared that this magazine might just have something about films in it.
I must have flicked through it in the shop, because nothing on the cover of that issue could possibly have convinced me to part with what probably amounted to half my weekly salary from Lloyds Supersave. Frankie & Johnny? BORING. JFK? BORING. I was 17 and excited about The Last Boy Scout and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, not free cardboard posters of two films I'd never even heard of. But inside were reviews of The Last Boy Scout and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, so while Empire may not have had me at "hello", it certainly had me at "take your shoes off and make yourself comfortable".

I've remained more or less faithful to Empire ever since, although I should confess that I've cheated on it with Total Film, Hotdog and Neon (the latter of which was by far its best companion and I mourn its loss to this day) for a while, and I downright deserted it for about six months some time in the late 1990s. I can't remember the cause of that temporary separation, but I'd stayed true throughout those long years of every article ending with a maddening ellipsis, so whatever it was must have been serious. Maybe it was those paltry three stars for The World Is Not Enough, so clearly a four-star film, right?
Shut up.

In 2009, faced with another house move involving lugging several tons of magazines from one postcode to another, I donated my 17-year collection of Empires to a recycling bin. It was a tediously practical decision, and while I don't regret it (I don't think I ever looked at an old issue once the new one came out), I do regret dumping issue 32. I could buy one on eBay for 99p but it wouldn't be the one I fondled so vigorously that Saturday lunchtime over a turkey sandwich and a cup of instant coffee that tasted like IZAL medicated toilet paper.

In my final year at university I had written to Empire's editor, Ian Nathan, asking for work experience on the magazine. I'd included my review of Ron Howard's Ransom, a piece of writing I now recognise as one of the most unpleasant things ever to happen to paper, and that includes IZAL medicated toilet paper. Mr Nathan, displaying the kind of judgement which has kept him at the magazine for so long, did not reply. But fifteen short years later I circumvented him by pestering reviews editor Nick de Semlyen to let me write short DVD reviews, and in issue 271 Empire and I finally consummated our relationship as I penetrated its pages with my three-star review of the home entertainment release of Mr Popper's Penguins. Movie journalism had entered a brave new era.

I dip my toe into this stinking cesspit of self-indulgence because, being old and grumpy, I don't get excited about much, but being even the tiniest of cogs in the Empire magazine machine gets me all sorts of tumescent. It's been such a constant part of my life for so long that I can't imagine being without it, so helping to make it (even if I'm only helping to make it worse) feels like an enormous privilege. Who, having read it for so long, wouldn't want to write for Empire? Only last week at their annual awards shindig, Online Editor James Dyer chatted amiably with Arnold Schwarzenegger; regular freelancer Olly Richards shook hands with Tom Cruise (twice, he'll happily point out); and diminutive, beardular, subnormal Features Editor Dan Jolin felt the warm embrace of courageous, manly, distinguished icon Hugh Jackman (adjectives added at Dan's insistence). It's getting to do shit like that FOR A LIVING that makes the people who make Empire make it as fun to read as it is. They're all film geeks living the dream, and that enthusiasm drips off the pages like... well, let's not get into period metaphors again.

So without wishing to sink any further into a bog of sycophantic muck sloshed liberally over an occasional employer, I'll simply wish Empire a happy 25th birthday and thank it for everything it's given me since January 1992. Keep up the good work guys, and if you're interested, I have a terrific Ransom retrospective piece up my sleeve...