“I’ve seen things…” – New Blade Runner 2049 Featurette

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If you’re anything like me you’re desperate to see something new from Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, so this just-released making of featurette should send you to bed happy or start your day right.

Featuring lots of beautiful new footage (courtest of Roger Deakins, one of the true modern masters of cinematography), this may well be all you need to see between now and October 6th. I’ve certainly reached the point where I don’t want to see anything more beyond this, as I plan to go into the cinema as spoiler-free as possible.

In the meantime, feast your eyes on the featurette and pray to whatever movie gods you hold dear that this won’t sully the memory of Ridley Scott’s seminal 1982 movie.

Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, is executive produced by Ridley Scott, Tim Gamble, Frank Giustra, Yake Badick, Vale Hill and Bill Carraro, produced by Andrew A. Kosove & Broderick Johnson, Bud Yorkin & Cynthia Yorkin, story by Hampton Fancher (based on characters created by Phillip K Dick), screenplay by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green and directed by Denis Villeneuve.

She’s A Wonder! – Jenkins’ Princess Rules!

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Director Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman had a lot of baggage to carry when it arrived in theatres. The previous DC Extended Universe movies (Man of Steel, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad) had performed well (though not as well as hoped) at the box office, but were the subjects of vast swathes of critical scorn. Besides this was the more serious battle against Hollywood sexism, where the common perception among those with the power to greenlight productions has long been that women could neither helm nor feature as main stars of big, action franchise movies.

While I’m somewhat late to the game with this review (unusually, Wonder Woman has opened later here in Norway than in many other territories), it has given me the chance to see both of these issues blown out of the water by both the film’s success and critical reaction. The film set records for the biggest domestic opening for a female director ($103.3 million) and the biggest opening for a female-led comic book film, and has, to date, grossed over $500 million worldwide.

And I’m very happy to reiterate the good news. Taken on its own terms Wonder Woman is bright, funny, charming, exciting and a genuine feel-good movie. Taken against the issues weighted against it stepping into the ring you might also call it an outright triumph.

The origin story, well known to comic book fans since American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston and artist Harry G. Peter brought her to the pages of All-Star Comics # 8 in 1941, is weaved into a World War I adventure which also brings in several of Princess Diana of Themyscira’s supporting characters (including Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons, Steve Trevor and Etta Candy) and in itself is a thoroughly entertaining romp.

Where the film really scores however is in several key ways that contrast sharply with the previous DC movies. Gone is the relentless grimdark misery of Batman vs Superman, the distancing ‘god above us’ approach to Superman and, praise the gods of film craft, the incoherent characterisation, storytelling and editing of Suicide Squad.

Jenkins’ film is generally full of clear storytelling and fun action sequences, even utilising Zack Snyder’s trademark speed ramping to actually help with both clarity and story (its use in an important moment where the Amazons face off against bullets for the first time not only looks cool but packs quite an emotional wallop). There are some genuinely exciting moments of action (Wonder Woman crossing No Man’s Land on the Belgian Front and her subsequent attack on a German stronghold are… sorry… wonders served more by character than empty cool visuals).

Wonder Woman moves at a breezy clip, from Paradise Island to London and finally to the battlefields of Belgium and, while it does ultimately succumb to the usual climax of two super-powered folk hurling big, heavy things at each other, it at least does so in an almost low-key way that provides a little emotional weight. However it doesn’t quite succeed in making the villainous character involved (I won’t name the actor either so as to avoid spoilers) seem massively threatening, which is a shame and sees some points knocked off.

Jenkins does have two extra special weapons: leads Gal Gadot and Chris Pine share terrific chemistry and carry more than their share of the film’s appeal. Pine has slowly become one of our more interesting screen presences, leading one particularly perceptive critic (and he/she will have to forgive my failing memory as to who exactly) to accurately describe him as “a character actor in a leading man’s body.” He’s a pretty face who’s pulled off a number of whip-smart performances and Wonder Woman is no exception, basting Steve Trevor in easy going, old time, movie star charm.

As for Gadot, the camera loves her and she’s well served by Jenkins and her writers (screenplay by Allan Heinberg, story by Heinberg, Zack Snyder, and Jason Fuchs) who together make Diana a warm, relatable character. There are plenty of small moments gifted to her which show why the world falls in love with Diana, and Gadot radiates atomic levels of charm while giving us a genuinely heroic hero, and make no doubt about it, one both men and women can root for!

At one point in the film, Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor tells Diana he’s taking her to London to meet with “the men who can” end the war. “I’m the man who can!” Diana replies, completely on point.

Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Wonder Woman? They’re the women who can.

Hail to the King – The Black Panther Trailer Kicks Ass!

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Black Panther is an important film for Marvel Studios, and in its way an important film, period. A huge franchise movie written and directed by black talent and featuring a fabulous and diverse cast with its black stars front and centre, it’s a movie which speaks for our times in an incredibly positive way.

We shouldn’t have to point up these things, but now the moment is here it seems churlish not to celebrate it, so it’s great to see that what’s being delivered looks astonishingly cool and majorly kick ass. Also, props to the great use of Legend Has It, by Run The Jewels.

Directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler, co-written by Coogler with Joe Robert Cole and headed up by the likes of Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o,  Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis, Black Panther will expand on the hidden African nation of Wakanda, as glimpsed briefly in Captain America: Civil War.

For a whole bunch of reasons this is a film that feels very much overdue, so sit back and enjoy what looks like Marvel firing on all cylinders. Hail to the King!

New Star Wars Characters Revealed by Vanity Fair!

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It’s always an exciting time in the run up to a new episode in the Star Wars saga and that excitement was dialled up today with the reveal of a fantastic and exclusive gallery of photos by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair.

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As well as action shots of familiar characters, staged portraits and behind the scenes glimpses, the photos reveal characters new to the saga, including those played by Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, who portray Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo and “the shifty ‘DJ'” respectively.

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Head over here to Vanity Fair to see the full stunning gallery, and get ready for December 13th when Star Wars: The Last Jedi explodes into cinemas worldwide.

Spider-Man: Homecoming Trailer Swings In!

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Marvel have just dropped a brand new trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming and while there isn’t much left to say about how excited we are here at Out Of Dave’s Head towers for this film, the trailer really rocks.

Perfectly capturing the feel of the original Spider-Man comics, light, breezy and with a distinctly friendly neighbourhood feel (Spidey won’t be dealing with giant, planet-threatening villains), let’s hope this film is really a case of third time’s the charm for everyone’s favourite webhead!

Let us know your thoughts on this: are you excited by this latest reboot or are you all webbed out?

Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into cinemas on July 7th.

Twin Peaks: The Return – Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride!

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Writing a review of the first two episodes of Twin Peaks, or Twin Peaks: The Return, if you will, is a difficult task for a number of reasons.

Firstly, reviewing any David Lynch production is tantamount to trying to explain a night of fractured dreams to someone using only the art of mime. No amount of wild gesticulation can adequately communicate so much that’s based on symbolism and mood. Lynch’s tales come complete with codes to be deciphered and visuals and sound that defy narrative description but stain themselves onto the viewer’s psyche like blood on a carpet.

Secondly, these first two episodes are part of what Lynch sees as one eighteen hour long movie broadcast across consecutive weeks, so trying to make sense of the overall narative arc now is an impossibility. Especially given the Lynchian parameters as mentioned above.

What I can say is that it is both the Twin Peaks longtime viewers have come to love (or loathe) and yet it isn’t.

Familiar characters are introduced leisurely across episodes one and two (and “leisurely” is a word I’ll come back to), particularly in regards to Agent Dale Cooper still being stuck in The Black Lodge after twenty five years, but we’re also thrown into the deep end with a bunch of new characters – a young man in New York city watching a strange glass box, a principal in Buckhorn, South Dakota who may or may not be responsible for the brutal killing of his school librarian.

These new locales (and the vastly enlarged cast, including Matthew Lillard, Ashley Judd and Jennifer Jason Leigh in episodes one and two) open up the canvas of the series, giving a much more expansive feel to events. How Lynch will tie all these together with the more familiar surroundings of Twin Peaks (the town) is anyone’s guess. Or maybe he simply won’t.

Lynch moves everything along at a deliberate, leisurely pace, sometimes wonderfully frustratingly so. The episodes feel like absolutely nothing else on TV right now and that is a complete joy. The thought of spending another sixteen hours being amused, mystified, frustrated, amazed and horrified makes me give a big Cooper-like thumbs up to see how television drama has evolved to a point where an idiosyncratic master of dreamscape storytelling like Lynch can be afforded the opportunity to unfurl his tale in exactly the way he wants, at the pace he wants, without the horror of network executive notes telling him to hurry things along because he might lose those viewers not up for the journey.

Massive bouquets of blue roses should be showered upon Showtime for giving Lynch the room to breathe that modern cinema seems to have lost the possibilty of doing.

If you love his work, Twin Peaks: The Return will be like mainlining pure David Lynch. If you’ve resisted his unusual charms then this might not be the show for you. If you’re a complete newbie, then you’re in for an experience like nothing you’ll have seen on TV before: treading the gossamer line between dream and nightmare.

Either way, load up with pie, donuts and coffee, buy the ticket and take the ride. Who knows where Lynch and Twin Peaks will take us!? But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange…

Alien: Covenant – Look On My Works And Despair!

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When Ridley Scott returned to the Alien franchise with Prometheus in 2012 hopes were high that the venerated director would give audiences the kind of scares associated with his original 1979 classic. What we got instead was a disjointed meditation on creation with a group of characters whose actions often seemed more alien than the series’ title creature.

During production of Alien: Covenant word of mouth suggested that Scott and the production team had taken onboard complaints that Prometheus had strayed too far from the formula and that this time… this time… we would see our beloved xenomorph restored to its full, chest-bursting glory.

Picking up ten years after we last saw Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender (as Dr Elizabeth Shaw and David) wander off into deep space to find mankind’s creators, we focus now on the crew of the colony ship, Covenant, heading for a remote planet, Origae-6, with two-thousand colonists and a thousand embryos on-board, monitored by an upgraded android resembling the earlier David, named Walter (also played by Fassbender).

Of course things go wrong on the mission and the ship is soon taking a detour to investigate a human signal coming from an alien planet – seemingly also ripe for colonisation.

Before you can say “In space, no one can hear you scream” the landing party runs into further trouble and for a while the film seems to be leading us along a familiar path with new forms of alien creatures, the neomorphs, making short work of everyone.

Then Fassbender’s David reappears and the film lurches into gothic Hammer horror territory. This might seem like an intriguing diversion but while Covenant IS more of a horror movie than Prometheus, Scott and his writers appear to have lost all interest in the alien. The real monster here is David, serving as Victor Frankenstein to the now dethroned star of the franchise.

Events reach a climax on the planet and the survivors return to the Covenant for a bizarre and utterly shoehorned in final fifteen minutes which attempts to recreate elements of both Scott’s 1979 original and James Cameron’s equally loved 1986 sequel, Aliens.

I have too much respect for Scott to suggest that Covenant’s Reader’s Digest abridged-version finale was a studio-dictated necessity but that is, sadly, exactly what it feels like. Events are rushed through and more crew members are dispatched with such rapidity that it would be easy to miss the true (and highly effective) horror enacted by David in the film’s final moments.

There are two movies struggling against each other, the attempted return to the scary roots of the franchise and the story Scott and co. are really interested in, that of David and Walter and the struggle with what they are, where they come from and their quest to find answers among the stars – which provide some of the most interesting moments of Covenant. Sadly, these two movies fail to cohere and we’re left with a story that satisfies neither requirement.

Scott is far too good a director for Covenant to be a disaster: there’s lots to enjoy and admire and there are moments of beauty, of intrigue and of genuine horror (and also, sadly, of unintentional humour… the baby alien raising its arms to copy David is a series low point). Unfortunately the ambition to turn the franchise into something of wider philosophical concerns dilutes the simple funhouse horror of the central creature, leaving him somewhat toothless and the film itself oddly schizophrenic.

Rare Grooves – The Green Slime

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Welcome to the latest 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).

The Green Slime is a truly wild piece of space opera which, like the previous entry in this series, The Last Dinosaur, was an American/Japanese co-production, here between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Toei. MGM provided the funding and script while Toei provided the film crew and location to shoot the film. In fact a third country was involved, as the storyline originated in Italy and was supposed to be part of Antonio Margheriti’s Gamma One tv movie series.

The script was written by William Finger (the co-creator, arguably the creator, of huge swathes of what we now recognise as the Batman mythos), Tom Rowe and Charles Sinclair from a story by co-producer Ivan Reiner. The film was shot in Japan with a Japanese director and film crew, but a non-Japanese cast of Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel and Luciana Paluzzi.

The plot sees a group of scientists sent into space to destroy an asteroid on collison course with Earth. They return from their mission to the asteroid with an unwanted guest, a glowing piece of space fungus which mutates and multiplies into the screeching, tentacled green slime monsters of the title.

It’s camp, goofy and madly entertaining, and never less than breathlessly directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who also made the seminal Battles Without Honor and Humanity film series (1973-74) and the controversial Battle Royale (2000).

The music score was written by Toshiaki Tsushima, but Charles Fox re-scored much of the film for its release in United States. Fox, of course, was co-composer (along with Norman Gimbel) of Grammy winning hit song Killing Me Softly With His Song, and created the famous theme tune for Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman TV series (“In your satin tights, fighting for your rights…”).

And it’s the theme song for The Green Slime which brings us here today. Written by Fox and produced, arranged & performed by surf music pioneer Richard Delvy, the song gives us outré lyrics such as:

“What can it be; what is the reason?
Is this the end to all the seasons?
Is this just something in your head?
Would you believe it when you’re dead?
You’ll believe it when you find
something screaming across your mind …green slime!”

Once heard, never forgotten, this song will worm its way into your psyche like… well… green slime. Enjoy!

 

Blade Runner 2049 Trailer is A Thing of Beauty

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Considering I once thought of Blade Runner 2049 as being on top of my ‘Most Unnecessary Sequels Ever’ list I’m amazed this film has become one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and the brand new trailer has only ramped up that anticipation.

One of the most enticing aspects promised by the trailer (and everything else we’ve seen from the film so far) is that, while it’s obviously set in the same world as executive producer Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, it already very much feels like its own thing.

This possibly shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since director Denis Villeneuve has displayed such a strong voice in films like Sicario and Arrival, but it’s heartening to have it confirmed that this won’t be a soulless retread.

It’s also worth pointing out just how beautiful Blade Runner 2049 is looking, and cinematographer Roger Deakins is certainly earning his pay. This baby is going to be eye-wateringly stunning on the big screen.

Released on October 16th, Blade Runner 2049 stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, along with Robin Wright, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto (no, wait… come back…), Ana de Armas, Mackenzie Davies and Edward James Olmos.

Hopefully you’re as buzzed by this as I am…

Guardians 2 – Galaxy 0 – Gunn Scores Again!

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When James Gunn hit with the original Guardians of the Galaxy, back in 2014, the film took many by surprise. For those of us who had been following both Marvel’s careful universe-building gameplan (up to that point) and Gunn’s career – starting with his days at Troma, through projects such as PG-Porn and onto the low to mid-budget gems, Super and Slither, the tone of Guardians was less of a surprise. More surprising, perhaps, was the fact that so much of Gunn’s off-kilter sensibility shone through the Marvel house style.

Happily, that sensibility has been allowed full reign for the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, perfectly encapsulated by the opening sequence which involves the already in-situ Guardians battling a tentacled space beast accompanied by the glorious harmonies of E.L.O.’s Mr. Blue Sky. Gunn being Gunn, the focus of the battle is kept to the background while we follow Baby Groot dancing along to Jeff Lynne’s most famous tune.

It’s this kind of oddball choice that gives both volumes their charm, and that’s added to by a cast now fitting snugly into their roles. Chris Pratt, Zoe Salanda, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel and Karen Gillan are all clearly having a ball, and Michael Rooker and Pom Klementieff grab their expanded and new roles respectively with relish.

The stand out star of Vol 2 for me however, was Dave Bautista. His Drax is an immensly likeable character and Bautista kills every single line and beat with expert comic timing. Vol 2 has several great laugh out loud moments and Bautista is at the heart of many of them.

Newcomers (to the MCU) Kurt Russell and Sylvester Stallone provide welcome gravitas and there are several fun and surprising cameos for both casual viewers and Marvel geeks (like me). Russell in particular plays well against Pratt and it’s something of a clash of the charmers whenever they share screentime.

Vol 2 is bold in style and is easily Marvel’s most colourful production to date – in fact the film generally resembles a particularly fine LSD trip, with shining rainbow colours splashed around gleefully. It’s a welcome expansion to Marvel’s usual colour palette, and one which the forthcoming Thor Ragnarok looks set to continue.

Also welcome is the greater emphasis on family relationships – a theme layered across several different sets of characters and one which even manages to colour the McGuffin that drives the plot. If this McGuffin feels a little underwhelming at first (even though it involves the end of the galaxy as we know it) a little reflection reveals surprising depth at the ostensible villain’s plans (I’m being deliberately circumspect here to avoid spoilers).

This emphasis makes for quite an emotional ride too, and you shouldn’t be surprised if your heartstrings aren’t well and truly tugged upon by the film’s climax.

If Vol 2 outstays its welcome by ten minutes or so, and wanders a little too amiably here and there (hello, extended sojourn on the Ravagers’ ship), that’s a small price to pay to spend two hours in the company of such superb characters. Honestly, I’d happily spend two hours with Drax, just revelling in his blunt as a brick one-liners.

This e-number fuelled adventure is a full on funhouse ride and as much of a good time as can be had without losing your underwear, and Gunn has definitely hit two for two. Bring on the promised Vol 3, I say.

*** Oh, and in the tradition of Marvel’s post-credit scenes, Vol 2 features no less than five, and viewers are advised to stay until the very, very end…