Crawling towards The Last Jedi…

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In the absence of any hard news about where Rian Johnson is going with Star Wars Episode VIII, this photograph from the director’s Instagram feed is sure to get pulses racing.

The photo shows the title, The Last Jedi, being dropped into the film’s now iconic title crawl.

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With a considerable wait still in front of us until the film’s December 15th release, it’s heartening to know they’ll be sticking with tradition for this and not suddenly introducing a flashy Suicide Squad style opening with garish neon colours and helpful info-dump graphics. Although, after seven previous movies in the saga, maybe that would be useful for latecomers…

Rare Grooves – The Last Dinosaur

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Welcome to the first in an occasional series of articles where I’ll be looking at the songs that have graced some of my favourite films through the years. Of course, since this is OODH, it’s unlikely I’ll be tackling anything from Grease or The Little Mermaid (fabulous as the Ashman & Menken tunes were in the latter).

In 1977, Japan’s Tsuburaya Productions (creators of Ultraman) teamed up with Rankin/Bass in the U.S. (famous for animated specials such as Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Mad Monster Party) to co-produce an odd little gem, the Tokusatsu movie, The Last Dinosaur. Richard Boone and Joan Van Ark star as two Americans who travel to an Arthur Conan Doyle/Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired lost continent beyond the polar ice caps (accompanied by a Maasi warrior tracker and a scientest, played by Luther Rackley and Tetsu Nakamura), to find a lost geologist, played by Steven Keats.

Co-directed by Alexander Grasshoff and Shusei Kotani, billed as Tom Kotani, the finished production aired in the United States February 11, 1977 as a television movie on the ABC network and shortly afterwards was released in Japan as a theatrical feature.

The film comes roaring from the gate, all guns blazing, with its astonishing main attraction right from the outset. That’s not, as you might imagine, the snarling, drooling Tyrannosaurus Rex as featured prominently in the film’s posters and trailer, but rather the snarling, drooling, sexist, drink-sodden, wealthy big game hunter, Maston Thrust (…no, really). Hollywood legend Boone gives his all (and then some) as the aptly-named Thrust, starting out at ten and then dialling up the amp from there. Subtle and nuanced the performanced isn’t, but it sure is a thing of beauty!

Maury Laws was chosen to compose the film’s score (a job he did for many of the Rankin/Bass specials and series) while the title song, with lyrics by Jules Bass, was sung by Nancy Wilson, and arranged and conducted by Bernard Hoffer.

Bass, of course, was also one of the film’s producers, while Hoffer was later the composer of the theme song from beloved 1980s animated series, Thundercats.

Singer Nancy Wilson, also known as “The Girl With the Honey-Coated Voice”, was world-renowned for her career in blues, r & b and jazz. For The Last Dinosaur, her vocals show no condescension at the material and she gives a superb performance in this Bondian recording. The lyrics can hilariously – and quite rightly – be read as referring to both Maston Thrust AND the film’s killer T-Rex, an achievement never topped by John Barry or his lyricists for any of the James Bond title songs.

Sit back, pour yourself a shot of whisky and let your ears be seduced by the 70s elegance of The Last Dinosaur.

 

And the title for Star Wars Episode VII is…

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…yes, as you can tell from the header image, it’s The Last Jedi.

Your illustrious writer has meticulously pieced together all currently verified information, taken his life into his hands by scouring the perilous and murky backwaters of internet rumours and can confidently conclude this title will refer to Luke Skywalker. Unless it refers to Rey. Or maybe Kylo Ren, if he does a last minute turnabout over to the side of the Force that isn’t the Dark Side.

Meanwhile, Lucasfilm released the following statement alongside the title and teaser poster:

We have the greatest fans in this or any other galaxy. In appreciation of the fans, we wanted them to be the first to know the title of the next chapter in the Skywalker saga: STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. THE LAST JEDI is written and directed by Rian Johnson and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman and executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Jason McGatlin, and Tom Karnowski. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is scheduled for release December 15, 2017.

If we’re really lucky, the last Jedi will turn out to actually be the Force ghost of Jake Lloyd, the young actor who portrayed Anakin Skywalker in… brrrr… The Phantom Menace, still jumping around sporting that pudding basin haircut and yelling “Yippeee!” everywhere.

Go, go away, Power Rangers…

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In all honesty I was never a fan of Saban’s hugely popular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show: too shrill, too forced. I’d be much more likely to watch an episode of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the 16th instalment of Toei’s Super Sentai franchise, from which the American show borrowed footage.

Conversely, I found the movie in 1995 kind of fun to watch with my brain parked firmly in neutral, but not fun enough to make me want to revisit the series.

I’m saying all this by way of admission that it was entirely possible I would not be the target audience for the brand new Power Rangers movie. Regardless, a full trailer has now been released and… well, I have no idea what the heck it is.

There’s your disparate group of good looking teens (“We’re all screw ups!” announces anonymous teen # 4 with all the intensity of a wet weekend in a UK seaside town that’s been closed-up for the winter), there’s a bunch of signposts suggesting they’ll find their way through their screw up-dom to become the heroes they were meant to be, there’s a bunch of rubbish-looking giant CGI thingies doing what they do and there’s a slightly more grimdark version of them all hanging out in their glittered up colour coordinated team outfits. .

Oh, and there’s the much loved Elizabeth Banks as villain, Rita Repulsa. Well, let’s hope she got some kicks out of this, at least. Or at least a new extension to her house.

Frankly, the tone of this trailer is all over the place, starting out with a dark-ish, tormented teen riff on Josh Trank’s Chronicle as they discover they have super powers and ending up with a wisecracking robot sidekick. Who knows what the hell the final film will feel like!?

Anyway, if you’re a fan, here’s your trailer and I hope it’s what you want. I think I’ll just hang on until the next Pacific Rim movie comes along.

Merry Christmas, Alien… *yes, it’s the Alien: Covenant trailer (finally)

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Okay, it’s Christmas Day, and what better way to celebrate than with the new Red Band trailer for Alien: Covenant.

After being teased (some might say over teased) by a slew of photos from Fox, the studio has finally released the trailer for Ridley Scott’s newest trip into the world of Xenomorphs and Michael Fassbender.

The stink of Prometheus is still pretty strong, but the trailer is certainly a strong statement that this will take the franchise back to its scary basics, and since advance word is sounding good there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic.

Here’s your trailer, Merry Christmas!

 

 

Dave Saves You From The Great Escape

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You know the deal. You’ve gathered in the warm, family hearth and home for the holiday season, you’re gorged on meats and sweets and faced with the prospect of sitting down to watch The Great Escape or Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

Suggested by my friend, Maria Kreutzmann (hey, Maria) allow me to present you with ten alternatives to Steve McQueen or Daniel Radcliffe (although the latter does crop up here, albeit in a much gassier form). These are films which have tickled my cinematic fancy, both in decades past and of more recent vintage. Whether you’d term them cult movies (a much bastardised phrase) is down to your own viewing habits, but you’ll find these choices both close to and way off the beaten track.

Season’s greetings and you’re welcome…

Brotherhood of the Wolf/Le Pacte des loups (2001)
A genuine pleasure from start to finish – a French horror/action, werewolf, martial arts, sexy historical drama featuring Monica Belluci, Vincent Cassel and low rent but personable action star Mark Dacascos. Loosely based on a real-life series of killings that took place in France in the 18th century and the famous legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, this is a fever dream for lovers of exploitation movies and art house films, as it falls squarely between the two, producing something unique and utterly lovable.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)
Reviewed fully here on Out of Dave’s Head. Kurt Russell, Kurt Russell’s moustache, a Western/cannibal hybrid. What more do you need to know!?

Hammett (1982)
Despite massive tampering from the studio (script rewrites, massive reshoots), Wim Wenders’ American debut remains an interesting curio. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Hammett is a post-modern homage to and an attempted deconstruction of both pulp fiction mysteries and of author Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, etc), that features an excellent cast (Frederic Forrest, Peter Boyle, David Patrick Kelley and cinema stalwart Elisha Cook Jr) and ends up messy but stylish. It also has another of John Barry’s beautiful, late period scores. Well worth seeking out.

Lady in White (1988)
Criminally underrated and fully deserving of a decent blu-ray release, Lukas Haas stars in a spooky, atmospheric campfire tale that is deliciously layered and will have fans of 1980s Amblin’ and Netflix’s Stranger Things eating out of its hand. Put it together with the recent Woman in Black for a perfectly colour coordinated night of chills.

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Bigger Than Life (1956)
Nicholas Ray’s film packs a powerful punch, a mighty melodrama that gives a full-on Glasgow Kiss to stultifying 1950s morality. Featuring James Mason (who co-wrote and produced) as a hapless schoolteacher whose frustrations at life become more heightened as he becomes addicted to cortisone. This is Breaking Bad for the Rebel Without a Cause generation (not surprising since that was Ray’s previous film), and has a lot to say about our modern attitudes towards addiction and mental illness. It’s also beautiful to look at, featuring beautiful complimentary and contradictory widescreen photography.

Swiss Army Man (2016)
Another film with a full review here on Out of Dave’s Head. Up there as a contender for best film of 2016, right alongside The Greasy Strangler.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
So many wonderful things in this film – the Barry Manilow/drunk sequence, the forest elemental sequence (which should bring a tear to your eye), the beautifully nuanced climax, great performances (Perlman, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Luke Goss), fabulous practical effects monsters and a gorgeous Elfman score. Not only a vast improvement over the original (which is already a lot of fun) but a brilliant movie in its own right. A monster movie with a great big, soft old heart. Now then, GDT, where the heck is Hellboy 3!?

Pépé le Moko (1937)
A romantic thriller that raises the genre to poetry. A possible inspiration for both Casablanca and The Third Man and a close relative of the soon-to-be-born Film Noir,  Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin), is a criminal on the run in metropolitan France, living in the Casbah quarter of Algiers, where he is out of reach of the local police. Inspector Slimane (Lucas Gridoux) sees a way to lure Pépé out of his refuge when the criminal falls for Mireille Balin’s Gaby, the mistress of a rich businessman. Sensual, intriguing and essential, and Gabin’s character was also the inspiration for cartoon star, Pepe le Pew. Now you have to see it, right!?

The Unknown (1927)
One of my favourite silent movies, starring the incredible Lon Chaney (“the man of 1,000 faces”) as an armless carnival knife thrower (who throws with his feet) and a young Joan Crawford as the object of his affections. Crawford has a fear of being held in a man’s arms, which would be lucky for Chaney except for the fact that he’s actually a criminal on the run (which might make it a good double bill with the aforementioned, Pépé le Moko) who hides his fully functioning arms by keeping them bound to his torso. Needless to say, this affair doesn’t go well and The Unknown features a climax just as gruesome as director Tod Browning’s perhaps better known, Freaks.

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The Baby (1973)
Director Ted Post is a firm favourite of mine, with his filmography covering the likes of Hang ‘em High and Magnum Force (with Clint Eastwood), Beneath the Planet of the Apes and a veritable smorgasbord of great TV work (The Twilight Zone, Thriller, Gunsmoke and, um, B.A.D. Cats). But nothing else he did was quite as out there as The Baby, a horror thriller that features an eccentric family which includes “Baby”, a 21-year-old man who acts like an infant. Best seen on a double bill with Jack Hill’s wonderful Spider Baby, which might put you off of families for life. Ideal Christmas viewing, in fact.

All these moments – the Blade Runner 2049 Teaser

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Okay, we all know certain movies should never be touched – Citizen Kane, 8 1/2, Apocalypse Now, Brazil… none of these movies need remakes or sequels and neither, seemingly, did Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

But things just keep getting more and more interesting with Blade Runner 2049, from the casting (Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, oh my), the screenplay (Michael Green and from the original, Hampton Fancher), Scott’s involvement as Executive Producer (not necessarily a sign of quality, but still…) to Denis Villeneuve as director (if you haven’t seen Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario or Arrival then you’ve really been missing out on exquisite modern cinema).

And now, this… billed by Warner Bros. as an ‘Announcement’, it’s certainly an announcement of intent that this might not be the awful, pointless extension many (including myself) feared.

Frankly, this teaser looks absolutely beautiful and intrigues the good, goddamned hell out of me.

October 6th 2017 can’t get here soon enough…

The OA -A Metaphysical Triumph!

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When Netflix drooped the trailer for their new show, The OA, last week, it raised a lot of questions. Happily, by the climax of the eight episode show, the creators are happy to answer some of them, leave others hanging, and gift you with a whole bunch more.

Created by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, in their third collaboration together (after the films Sound of My Voice and The East, both well worth seeking out, by the way), this tells the story of Prairie (Marling), a young woman who returns home after disappearing several years before. That she was blind when she vanished and returns with sight is only one of the many mysteries explored across the series.

The OA asks big questions, explores wild concepts but never strays away from emotional truth. In fact it’s an amazingly affecting story and its climax left me in floods of tears (for a number of reasons I’ll avoid for the sake of spoilers). Suffice to say I needed to sit and quietly process what I’d experienced before starting this review.

It’s a bold, smart story, subtly creepy, a psychedelic head-fuck, desperately sad and astonishingly hopeful all rolled together in one tour de force of script, casting, directing and acting.

Allow yourself to be pulled along by it and you’ll be enveloped in a philosophically challenging, emotionally captivating drama unlike anything Netflix has produced to date.

Now that issue of allowing yourself to be pulled in is an important one. In this post-truth age of ever deepening (and often fully justified) cynicism, The OA could be seen as frequently skating close to thin ice. To get maximum effect from Marling  and Batmanglij’s story you will need to loosen up and go with the flow. Do so and you’ll be rewarded with a truly exceptional experience, occasionally frustrating but wildly ambitious and wholly satisfying.

Let’s have more from Marling and Batmanglij please, Netflix, because The OA is an absolute triumph!

Rogue One – The Prequel You Always Wanted

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When Disney/Lucasfilm announced a series of stand-alone films – away from the main trilogy – there was some speculation that this was not perhaps such a great idea, and when the first film announced was the story of the stolen Death Star plans which would lead straight into the beginning of Episode IV (or just plain, old Star Wars to those of us at the front of the queue back in 1977) that speculation turned to dismay in some quarters.

How could you make a successful and exciting film when everyone knows the ending? I suppose we could let James Cameron answer that one but in his absence, I’m here to tell you that those fears were completely unfounded.

British director, Gareth Edwards (he of the 2014 Godzilla reboot) has fashioned a thoroughly exciting and remarkably fresh feeling yarn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one that will excite and astound in equal measure. Double that up if you’re a confirmed Star Wars fan.

Featuring a fabulous (and fabulously diverse) cast, including Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker, beautifully shot by Grig Fraser and marvellously scored by Michael Giacchino (utilising some of John Williams’ iconic themes, of course), Edwards gives us a good old, rip-roaring night out at the cinema that’s part war movie, part heist movie and 150% Star Wars movie.

The plot really is straightforward: Jones plays the daughter of Mikkelsen’s Death Star engineer, and the Rebel Alliance use her to try to steal the plans for the battle station before it can become fully operational.

That’s pretty much it, but that’s pretty much all we need. Everything else is a case of wind it up and let it go.

There aren’t vast swathes of depth to most of the characters, one or two performances don’t really work (hello, Forest Whitaker, I’m looking at you… just what the hell was that voice!?), and some of the dialogue is clunky (it’s a Star Wars film, of course there’s clunky dialogue), but there are so many more treasures here it’s hard, if not impossible to let these slides stand in the way of your enjoyment.

As always, Edwards’ sense of scale and scope is magnificent, he really knows how to frame a scene and open up the world with depth and focus. And boy does he know how to throw us into the trenches of war, we’re really allowed to feel the thrum of battle around us – both on the ground and in some of the most thrilling space battles ever put on screen (this is where a 3D screening really pays off, by the way).

The characters are introduced deftly and without fuss, meaning we hit the ground running and rarely pause for breath. Of these new characters, the two standouts are definitely Alan Tudyk (voicing K-2SO, a Rebel-owned Imperial enforcer droid) and the mighty Donnie Yen (who kicks major ass as an almost-Jedi).

There are some neat and very timely shades painted into the dialogue which could be seen as a reflection of political attitudes surrounding us now (that’s definitely how I read them). When asked if she’d be happy seeing Imperial flags planted across the galaxy, Jones’ Jyn Erso replies: “It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.” It’s a small, simple moment, but it resonates, with so many people in our own world who don’t seem to want to look up.

And, best of all, Rogue One is fully immersed in the Star Wars universe – from blue milk (you either get it or you don’t) to the surprise appearances by… well, let’s leave that open until you’ve seen the film. When you have meet me back here and we can discuss the various merits and demerits of these added touches. Some work better than others (you’ll understand what I mean) but all are introduced for the right reasons and add a certain sense of playfulness to the film. One in particular (if you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know who I mean) gets a moment so magnificently brutal and wonderful that you can’t help but hope this won’t be our last return visit with him (…oh yes, it’s a him).

What I can tell you without fear of spoilers is that for the final forty-five minutes of Rogue One I genuinely sat with a huge grin spread across my face, caught up in the machinery of the plot and basking in the warm glow of a very familiar and a very welcome return to a galaxy far, far away.

And really, after Rogue One you’ll never need to watch those other bloody prequels again.

The OA – stranger things on Netflix

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It’s always nice when something comes out of the blue and surprises you. Such is the case with the new series from Netflix, The OA.

The extremely atmospheric and downright creepy trailer for this series has just dropped and it pretty much guarantees that I know what I’ll be doing this coming weekend.

Very little is known about the show, and the press release from Netflix only serves to whet the appetite even more:

From Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, the visionary filmmakers behind Sound of My Voice and The East, comes a powerful, mind-bending tale about identity, human connection and the borders between life and death. The Netflix original series The OA is an odyssey in eight chapters produced in partnership with Plan B Entertainment, Netflix and Anonymous Content. The groundbreaking series offers audiences a singular experience that upends notions about what long-format stories can be.

The eight-episode season stars Marling, Emory Cohen, Scott Wilson, Phyllis Smith, Jason Isaacs, Alice Krige, Patrick Gibson and Brendan Meyer. Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Sarah Esberg produce for Plan B Entertainment and Michael Sugar for Anonymous Content, alongside Batmanglij and Marling.

If you react to this trailer in the same way I did, I guess I’ll be seeing you on the couch next to me come Friday…