Category: Film

Motion pictures from high art to schlock…

Desert Clothing: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope

A tale of droids and sand…

First, a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… There was a planet of Sand…

A glimpse at the original Episode IV, its iterations and context in the wake of The Force Awakens’ glorious boosting of Hollywood’s mightiest space franchise. Spoilers guaranteed.

THAT PLANET OF SAND WASN’T ARRAKIS, ALTHOUGH FRANK HERBERT’S EPIC EXPLORATION OF THE PLANET DUNE HUNG HEAVILY OVER GEORGE LUCAS’ GAME CHANGING SPACE OPERA. The sand preoccupying the director in May 1977 was on the beach in Hawaii where Lucas finally heard confirmation that his great gamble wasn’t just a first weekend wonder; his suspicion that he’d broken his back to helm a career stalling disaster was apparently way off the mark. Just as Spielberg, in the minority, had told him. On limited release on 25 May 1977, what was to become Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, but was forever seared into cinema-goers’ minds at the time as Star Wars, captured an astonishing $1.5 million on its opening.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

It’s incredible how much of Star War’s original Episode hangs on the innate ability for people to forget…

Six major films later, five of those under Lucas’s stewardship, the brand renewed and strong in the lock-tight grip of the House of Mouse, the impact of that first film is increasingly difficult to gauge. While the prequel trilogy that appeared at the tail end of the 20th century is the root of most criticism that will forever hang somewhere around Lucas’ neck, tendrils of four decades of fan-base mistrust also hangs in the legendary tinkering that’s seen the original trilogy morph and shift and re-sheen an incalculable number of times. Incalculable as many alterations snuck into prints between big releases, many un-signposted and insidious… It’s a joke, but it’s also a matter as deadly serious as it can get in the realm of the world’s most successful space western.

Yes, let’s start with the recent years and work back to that original hope…

Through multiple variations that have remastered, rejigged, recut and re-pixelated, Episode IV has raked in more than $775 million worldwide. While the stories of Lucas meeting a muted reception among almost all his film contemporaries in the mid-1970s, and that legendary, yielding beach retreat, his irrepressible desire to change the result of a gruelling process that for all its innovation, had a budget that couldn’t match his vision, is understandable. His simple and rapid disconnect form a fan-base so attached to the quirks and overreaching scope of the franchise over a few pixels and forced consistency however, is not. But by the time of Special Edition releases Lucas had set out a certain stall that Star Wars was a work in progress.  That attitude to Hollywood output would no doubt be far more prevalent if any other filmmaker had the finance and control that Lucas enjoyed.

Still, there’s no doubt that when those Special Editions emerged for the film’s 20th anniversary in 1997 they risked diluting the films’ vision. After that ever unnerving vision of Luke’s aunt and uncle’s smoking corpses at their devastated moisture farm, Obi Wan’s wonderfully over the top description of Mos Eisley as an unbeatable “hive of scum and villainy” can only ever be undermined by a cut to ‘hilarious’ droid and ‘pratfalling’ Jawa slapstick. For all Lucas’ protestations that this is a children’s film, that disconnect seems belligerent and wilfully perverse.

Continue reading “Desert Clothing: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope”

#Batman: Which Villain Are You?

Which Batman villain are you TITLE

C’mon, you know you’ve always wanted a long weekend in Arkham…

BATMAN’S BEGUN, DARKENED AND RISEN. Timely then, that this Easter finds a new Dark Knight heading to the Big Screen, facing off against that red and blue DC Comic character far more usually caught up in a Messiah analogy. In 2016, audiences will confront a Bat in his most gnarled and world-weary live action guise yet, having no doubt worn down many if not all of the best rogues gallery in the superhero business over a long and painful career.

So the real question is which of those arch nemeses are you?

Wonder no more Bat-fans – at long last Jokerside presents a guide to discovering which resident of Blackgate Penitentiary or Arkham Asylum you are! Which super scoundrel fits your bill.

Cat, bird or clown? Step right this way… Continue reading “#Batman: Which Villain Are You?”

Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The Punisher on Film

Punisher on Film

Punisher on Film

The Punisher’s back, skull, firearms and singular purpose complete and with its longest ride yet. Could the small screen at last give one of Marvel’s most adapted, and still most difficult character’s a break?

DAREDEVIL SERIES 2 HAS JUST UNLEASHED AN ALL NEW PUNISHER ON THE MASSES, THIS TIME FINDING A WAY FOR FRANK CASTLE TO BREAK INTO THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE AS HE DEBUTS IN SMALL SCREEN LIVE ACTION. That Netflix contained Hell’s Kitchen, so far shaped by the first closed seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, looks perfect for him. And in taking on the patch patrolled by the often more brutal Man without Fear, it looks like his anti-hero/villain status will have just the bridge he needs.

A square peg. With a skull on it

The Punisher is and has always been a difficult fit for the Marvel Universe, but typically, that’s exactly where the huge appeal the character springs from, continuing to attract creators no matter the Marvel imprint or scale of crossover event.

The Punisher doesn’t just have the potential to bring death and extreme violence into the comic book universe, darker and blunter than the various homicidal villains and amoral antiheroes in that huge universe, but also a complete lack of redemption. As countless films remind us, this is not vengeance or revenge as much as various storylines have found ways to drag up the tragic past that broke policeman Frank Castle. This is punishment. And as soon as the Punisher was born from that broken shell, as soon as the skull shirt was put on and the wicked punished, all hope of redemption was off the table. There sits on his shoulders the weight of many deaths, no matter how avenging or moral they seem. Rumour has it that’s a key part of him entering Daredevil’s universe…

Still, that’s a remit that makes the Punisher all the more difficult to slot into a film. You have all manner of three act and tragic precursors to drag this difficult slant into the mundane. One of the nearest comparators in comic books, with a career shaped by tragedy is of course Batman. But the Dark Knight quickly became a metaphor within his fictional city, and creators have had great fun playing with the idea of escalation that chucks increasing layers of the grotesque at him. The Punisher’s encountered his fair share of grotesques, but in the hard reality of his America, the two shadowy figures are entirely separated by the use of fatal force.

Issues. With a skull on them

Still, as with the Dark Knight, Punisher stories and particularly adaptations find it difficult to stop reminding us about Castle’s stark tragedy, albeit only one of the three film adaptations so far have wandered onto that difficult canvas of trying to solve it.

Batman represents the loss of childhood innocence. He was steered into a life where he sought to protect following a savage murder that he could not have stopped as a child. In comic book lore, Frank Castle was an adult, a highly experienced soldier who failed to protect his wife and two children. He was forged in the heart of Manhattan, in Central Park. While both may lurk in dark hideouts, unlike Batman Castle doesn’t have an incredible array of technology that can mimic and counter his grotesques. His brand of justice requires huge firepower, ultra-violence death and action. He employs every tool of the villain to make that happen. And many, many of his victims are minor mafia attached criminals.

Spider-Man may have jumped into the Marvel Cinematic Universe just in time to take up a valuable role in Marvel’s tent-pole film of 2017, Civil War, but there’s no chance the Punisher will. Frank Castle first appeared in the pages of a 1974 Spider-Man comic and wold go on to play a considerable role in Mark Millar’s original Civil War comic event. However, once again, the irreconcilable, utterly irredeemable qualities of what’s left of Frank Castle mean that even in moments of extreme Marvel crisis he’s no easy fit with the rest of the Marvel elite.

Peak Punisher. With a skull on it

There are three films starring Marvel’s awkward antihero to look at, but it would be impossible to ignore the work of the Punisher’s definitive contributor on the page. Above everybody else is Garth Ennis. As ever a writer who prefers to steer clear of superheroes, but unfortunately writes them brilliantly.

His ongoing series cancelled in the mid-90s, Castle spent some time clinging onto in mini-series before Garth Ennis’ 12-part run at the beginning of the 21st century returned his popularity. The Punisher’s look was pared down (farewell those Mickey Mouse gloves) and soon Ennis had moved across to the adult MAX imprint, legendarily given an unlimited run on the character; one that produced heavy, realistic and wonderfully dark tales for 66 issues. That series would continue tackling modern world events, having established a universe where Vietnam-veteran Punisher had been active for 30 years and taken over 2,000 lives, until the character’s own death. Other comic series would drag Castle into superhuman scraps, mutant meltdowns and even transform him into the undead like of FrankenCastle during the publisher’s Dark Reign event.

There’s nothing like a good antihero, and he’s one of the psychologically damaged originals. So it’s no surprise that aside from his devastating runs on animated series and his huge homecoming on Netflix, he’s fronted three feature length films. But none of these have sustained a franchise, each picking up a different actor for a different portrayal of Castle. Perhaps the prolonged serial story of the new Daredevil adaptation will finally be able to piece together a compelling persona for one of the most damaged Marvel has to offer. Continue reading “Marvel: “Go to Hell Castle” – The Punisher on Film”

FICTIONSIDE 102: Jokerside’s 10 Rules of Engagement

Jokerside Fictionside #2 The Rules

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The Rules

To mark Jokerside’s third and a half birthday, another Fictionside. This time exploring the central tenets that Jokerside loves to stick by / completely ignore.

Here are nine of Jokerside’s rules of engaging with pop culture (full explanations below):

  1. Anything deserves credit
  2. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole
  3. Change is a luxury
  4. Never count on renewal because, bluntly, Networks aren’t often wrong
  5. Works of fiction can’t have plot holes
  6. A creator cannot rely on an audience to fill in plot holes
  7. Remakes, sequels and prequel cannot diminish the original
  8. Enemies must be used sparingly
  9. Narrative knows no bounds, everything has its medium
  10. Canon is there to help fans, not deny them

 

Let’s jump in…

  1. Everything deserves credit

If it took people time and effort…

Hellraiser Pinhead and the Lament ConfigurationAnything that makes it to the small or big screen has taken time, effort and thought. No matter how tempting it is, no matter how flawed the end product, no matter how much you disagree with it, there’s more chance of Batman V Superman crashing at the box office than a group of people dedicating months to producing something that deliberately failed against their goals. Yes, even rush jobs like Hellraiser Revelations, which a Pandemonium’s worth of evidence might suggest was a cynical attempt to retain franchise rights, deserves some credit because aside from any studio or legal issues people persevered to make it happen. Clive Barker has every right to dismiss it, Doug Bradley too, and many others. But anyone who’s handed the keys to the franchise, even with a sharp production schedule and light budget is unlikely to resist opening that puzzle box.

From top to bottom, there are big credits that reflect every collaboration and rewards them. So, it’s unfair, bordering cruel, to disparage that work. And after all, everything is an acquired taste…

Jokerside seldom slips at the negative, even considering half the Hellraiser franchise on an equal plane, but it’s tricky. Take a trip to Victor Frankenstein last year. That was Jokerside’s first, long-awaited trip to see a Frankenstein adaptation on the big screen (you know, we love Frankenstein) and while the end result was a disappointment it just shows how behind the scenes nonsense can get in the way of incredible talent working in front of and behind the camera. That kind of mess can be impossible to decipher, it might be aspersion and it’s doubtful the behind the scenes tales will ever spill out. But really, what needed to be said about a film that crashed at the box office, was poorly treated by British cinema chains and was surely not what the creators envisaged.

Always remember the glasshouses. No matter which demon, scientist, captain or bunch of pixels built them.

  1. A writer should want (need) to write themselves into a hole

With a quill you are fearless…

It’s one thing to set a cliff-hanger at the end of film, book, comic, television series… And another to use it to pitch the direction an intent of a whole second stab. As arc shows have fast become the accepted norm, that’s all the trickier to navigate when a huge weight of concept shows appear year after year, propelled by hubris and concept and are… Promptly cut off after one season. Step forward Flash Forward. It’s the kind of thing that makes people utter inane comments like “Oh, if I’d have known it was only going to last one season, I’d never have bothered…” Really? It comes to something when a full US season of over 20 hours requires years of promised story yet to be written to warrant investment. After all, why bother with the second year when it could just as easily be cut off before the third…

For all the success (and contemporary criticism) The X-Files found by asking constant questions, giving few answers and hedging bets, there was an early warning shot when the ambitious five year plan of Dark Skies was cut short.

Television is both serial and finite, it’s Schrödinger’s Idiot Tube and you don’t get to both turn on your cathode ray and turn it off.

The Leftovers - A JokersliceA flip-side comes with renewals that are taken for granted or when there’s an occasional guarantee of multiple seasons. Lost was a prime example of the latter, with later truncated runs balanced against a fixed six season commission. Wonderful, but could it have been to the detriment of the show’s story? Recently, one of the sublime break-outs of the past two years, The Leftovers, had the mixed blessing of a confirmed but final third year. In that case it is very good news, and feels exactly right. But only as that show has bold, risky storytelling at its heart. And that’s rare.

Hannibal was another bold show that knew full well it was lucky to run three years on prime time network. Bryan Fuller would have had no issue keeping its intoxicating story going longer even though [spoilers] he ended the third year with a superb Reichenbach moment. Though we all lament for Fuller’s take on The Silence of the Lambs (truthfully, already echoed in earlier seasons), that was both a satisfying conclusion and a huge hole to write himself out of. A hole it might be said that Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t bothered to write himself out of over a hundred years ago. Back to the X-Files, the recent limited run poked fun at the outrageous stretching enigma that typified its original nine year run, but ended with a satisfying cliff-hanger that will likely, but possibly never, be resolved.

Jplerside Fictionside #2 The RulesWe’re well past the days when episodes reset every week with a laugh on the Bridge of the Enterprise. Writers should always aim for the boldest and most satisfying conclusion for a story, no matter the difficulty it causes their future selves. They should be confident that no matter how dire or finite the ending, a writer or writing team can pen themselves into a new story the next time round. After all, real life carries on regardless, and it takes writing itself out of ridiculous situations for granted every second. That is life. It doesn’t stop.

So writing to a limit or writing to infinity is a trap to be avoided at all costs. And come the end of a series, no matter how demarcated, no matter how Blake’s 7 it all seems, a writer must be ready to continue that story. That’s what Charles Dickens was doing week to week far before a TV writer hedged their bets. Continue reading “FICTIONSIDE 102: Jokerside’s 10 Rules of Engagement”

%d bloggers like this: