Category: Film

Motion pictures from high art to schlock…

Super Mario Bros. the Movie! Dystopia hits the Mushroom Kingdom

Super Mario Bros at 30 - Luigi

Super Mario Bros at 30 - Luigi

To mark 30 years since Mario’s arrival in homes, a look at one of the Italian plumber’s rare misfires: 1993’s Super Mario Bros. The Movie! A side-line to Jokerside’s summer of dystopia, it even features a villainous spin for Dennis Hopper. Time for a reappraisal?

IT’S 30 YEARS SINCE MARIO WENT SOLO, WELL ALMOST SOLO. ENLISTING HIS MALACHITE SIBLING, THE SUPER MARIO BROS OFFICIALLY HIT THE NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM ON 13 SEPTEMBER 1985. The plumbing brothers had appeared on arcade machines two years before of course, not quite getting the look down pat while they battled strange invaders in the sewer system under New York. And two years prior to that Mario, the everyman masquerading for a bit as Jumpman, had conquered the misguided Donkey Kong as he rescued Lady Pauline in the arcades. But it took four years from that first pioneering stab at putting narrative in a videogame for the Mario we all know to arrive in homes across the globe. On consoles. In living rooms.

And it was then that everything slotted into place like Tetris (invented a year before, but yet to turn the videogames industry on its head). With Super Mario Bros. Mario was suddenly in the brightly coloured Mushroom Kingdom. Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by the forces of the dastardly Bowser and only the pipe-travelling plumber Mario could save her. Coins abounded, as did invincibility stars. Enemies were stomped and blocks head-butted, granting 1-ups and special abilities including that brilliant and powerful lil’ fire flower. Everything was pretty much set in this much ported game. And you could even introduce Luigi by picking up another controller.

From there the games piled up. Sequels, and the arrival of Super Mario World on the SNES and Super Mario Land on Gameboy. The Italian icon diversified as he took on sports like tennis, golf and baseball. Guest appearances in the broadening Nintendo home franchises saw him juggling, typing, karting, studying for a doctorate, dealing with over excited dinosaurs and even merging with the blocks in Tetris Attack. It was all going swimmingly for Mario and his brother, and then Hollywood came calling for the Brooklyn plumbers and everything changed…

Super Mario Bros. The Movie (1993)

“Strap your belt on kid, we’re going in”

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Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 2007 – 2032 (and beyond…)

Terminator twisting time lines

Terminator twisting time lines

The final part of a Terminator retrospective that mixes its twisting timeline with some of the horror roots behind each instalment. Jokerside’s looked back at 1964 to 2004, but now the twist gets harder, from The Sarah Connor Chronicles to Terminator Genisys. Spoilers abound…

THE CHANCES OF THE TERMINATOR FRANCHISE REGAINING THE CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF ITS EARLY DAYS ARE AS REMOTE AS SKYNET AGREEING A TRUCE WITH HUMANITY’S LAST UNDERGROUND CITY OF ZION. Still, The Terminator remains intriguing; relatively distinct from and self-assured compared to young pretenders like The Matrix. After years in the ether, the Terminator film rights are due to revert to T-Master James Cameron in 2019. But amid terrible marketing, reviews and release, the latest attempt to reboot, a film superior to its immediate two predecessors in many ways, has somehow managed to gross over $400 million at the international box office. Impressive work, showing that there’s still fuel left in the endoskeleton. Arnie wasn’t lying about T-800s lasting 120 years.

Against expectation, The Sarah Connor Chronicles appeared late last decade and wowed a small but influential audience. As it’s the most consistent and longest running Terminator story it makes the cut here, in a franchise that happily rides roughshod over previous instalments. And following the seminal first two parts, and the major time split caused by Judgment Day’s arrival in the third film, that’s where this glance at the horror of The Terminator series begins…

Terminator Time lines Clock

2007 – 2008 (via 1999) – Key series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Released 2008 – 2009)

Where we are: Sarah and John Connor emerge on a freeway in San Francisco, swapping 1999 for 2008 with their guardian Terminator Cameron (not as beardy as the franchise creator who gifted her name). Judgement Day has been deferred, but as much as the Connors have bought some time with their disappearance, resistance and Skynet forces are growing in a past increasingly forming a temporal civil war. Sarah and John set about stopping the armageddon once and for all, leaping twists and turns as they go.

“Come with me if you want to live”: Several times, courtesy of the delightful and mysterious new Terminator model – the T-900 series Cameron.

Skynet mechanism: Military. Via AI, chess machines and temporal sabotage. Or is it?

Horror: Psychological / And Then There Were None

“The future’s ours and it begins now.”

Splitting the timeline, and deliberately ignoring the events of Terminator 3 (the clue’s in the title), the two short seasons of The Sarah Connor Chronicles may be Terminator’s finest hour(s).

“Great, it looks like a robot serial killer lives here”

Where to start. Praising The Sarah Connor Chronicles could take volumes, and perhaps it will take over Jokerside one day… But let’s get it over with succinctly here. For all the trauma of the material, fan expectation and behind the scenes machination, possibly no other series has carved an original and captivating narrative from a simple pitch, while retaining the essence and maintaining the sanctity of two seminal blockbuster films. No, not even Timecop. But, there are inherent problems with taking that one line pitch from the first film and fixing it to an ongoing narrative.

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Terminator: Twisted Timelines and the Horror Within! 1964 – 2004

The Terminator Timelines

The Terminator Timelines

Another franchise all about futility? This is becoming a habit. Part one of a look at the horror of Terminators 1, 2 and 3

Terminator Genisys has just emerged the shadow of flop and thanks to some phenomenal Chinese takings has somehow surpassed Mad Max Fury Road at the international box office. This return of the Terminator brings ever more twisted timelines with the biggest reboot in the temporally tangled saga. But that’s only to be expected in a franchise that’s had that moveable timelines built in from the first instalment…

It’s not just a shame to miss out on some of that ‘time fun’, it would be like watching Salvation again. But while doing that, why delve into the more interesting idea that every Terminator film draws on a different type of horror? From slasher to gothic to psychological – behold the horror within!

AS ITS MOST FAMOUS CATCHPHRASE SUGGESTS, TERMINATOR IS THE KING OF THE COMEBACK – THE PREMIUM GOLD FRANCHISE THAT SITS JUST THE WRONG SIZE OF BUDGET TO STOP IT BEING USED AS COLLATERAL ACROSS TINSEL TOWN. And there are many studios, let alone filmmakers, lined up to have a stab. It’s helped that the rights have pinged around as much as Hunter Killers, and this year Genisys is the latest example of that wringing of the franchise. Moving away from the last attempt, 2009’s Salvation, it chucks the proverbial time travelling sink at Skynet. As its stuttering box office has suggested, there’s a lot of time streams running under the bridge…

Twisting Timelines

“I can’t help you with what you must soon face, expect to say that the future is not set”

Terminator. That dark, gritty, violent slice of horror science-fiction… That spawned an empire. Having jumped at the peak, creator James Cameron, has sat outside the franchise, but still atop Hollywood box office. He’s not alone. While the legend persists that the main franchises needs Arnold Schwarzenegger to survive, even he hasn’t spanned the entire universe. Over 30 years, five films a TV series and multiple prose, comic, gaming and theme park spin-offs the franchise has left an indelible footprint on western cinema. And as Genisys proves, it’s far from dead. And not has it risen again, but Genisys is resolutely closer to the original film than any of the others. In fact, it’s taken 31 years for the franchise to dare to touch the sacred timeline set down by that first classic.

There’s one common link throughout the saga. While almost every film distorts the timeline in some way, the famed Judgment Day remains inevitable. As much as the Connors flip between survival and actively trying to stop Skynet in its tracks, it remains a certainty no matter how much it is pushed back in time or mechanism. The result is an ever-expanding temporal war spilling out from a few points in the future that continue to spin further backwards and sideways in time. It’s built on paradox, but there’s something else in there as well…

Hedging Horror

For all the dodging of an 18 certificate in the UK, Terminator at least started off in a gruesomely mature film. Back then the time jumping wasn’t too complicated and the plot a slash ‘em up – but more of that later… As the Terminator saga has grown it’s hung on to its horror roots in ways that are far more interesting than extrapolating the parallel timelines alone. In this summer of dystopia, it’s possibly the big budget Hollywood franchise that preaches futility in the face of certain destiny the most. So taking that horrific journey through time, exploring key horror at the key dates, where exactly are we?

Terminator Time lines Clock

1964

19 September and 17 October, two episodes of the Outer Limits titled Soldier and The Demon with The Glass Hand are broadcast, both written by Harlan Ellison. See 1984…

1965

Sarah Connor is born. The fatal cat and mouse pursuit can begin, somehow dodging her forefathers.

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Escape Back to the Planet of the Apes: Enter Paradox

Escape back to the Planet of the Apes

Escape back to the Planet of the Apes

The third of Jokerside’s retrospective looks at a turning point of the all-conquering Planet of the Apes franchise. This summer’s revelled in dystopia, showing that the recent Apes reboot was ahead of its time. But it didn’t owe so much to the stark and iconic original with its Lady Liberty conclusion or Tim Burton’s Apes film that time forgot… Read on for the film that made Apes contemporary. 

IN HINDSIGHT, THERE WAS NEVER AN EVOLUTIONARY DEAD-END WHEN IT CAME TO PLANET OF THE APES SAGA, MUCH AS TIM BURTON’S 2001 RE-IMAGINING LOOKED LIKE ONE. There was still a lot of stock in those dominant Apes of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And even though Fox Studios wisely decided that the critical stock wasn’t quite there at the beginning of the century, despite the reboots solid box office, the franchise could never be seen as anything other than a sleeping King Kong. When the right hook appeared less than a decade later, it didn’t lay in the same place as it had in 2001…

A different dawn

In the first part of this retrospective, it all ended with a beginning. Tracking the nihilistic fate of humanity, 1968’s Planet of the Apes followed Charlton Heston’s Taylor as he discovered that humans had doomed themselves to subjugation by insurgent Apes… And then accepted the pointlessness of it all and destroyed the Earth in the sequel. It was bleak, no doubt about that, but the studio wanted more. Alongside animated and live action television series, there would be another three films that put paradox front and centre of a franchise that had previously used time travel as a loose but science-anchored device to look at man’s ultimate fate.

The second part of this retrospective looked at how Tim Burton’s flawed 2001 reimagining had got its opposable thumbs in a twist trying to forge something new and iconic from a franchise it defined as temporal paradox and general monkeying around. Amid high stakes studio play, it got the angle wrong and proved a short-lived revival. Fortunately the source material was rich. While Pierre Boulle’s original novel, the short tome that had sparked the whole saga, had propelled men forward to witness the dominance of apes, it left plot strands and ideas that even the original five films hadn’t picked up. And when it came to writing around the end, it was the only place to look.

Having destroyed the world in a very finite way at the end of the second film, a famous telegram reading “Apes exist. Sequel required” landed on the plate of Paul Dehn. And it was this legendary adapter of Goldfinger, Taming of the Shrew and later Murder on the Orient Express whose storytelling steered the Ape ship for the next three years. He chose a simple and brilliant escape route, taking the favourite apes from the first two films and dispatching them back to the present day, suddenly contemporary to the present/near future that Taylor had left in Planet of the Apes.

It’s the point where the main film Apes timeline diverges for the first time, based on an ontological paradox. Zira, Cornelius and brilliant but short-fused Dr Milo’s arrival in the ‘present day’ at the very least sped up the ape ascendency, and by altering that time flow must cast the eventual fate of Earth in doubt (although of course, Taylor’s journey had already taken place).  But despite necessarily altering the franchise premise, Escape from the Planet of the Apes may be the one film that draws the most from Boulle’s novel, albeit by visiting key sequences, ideas and the final literary exposition from the opposite angle.

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