URBAN FOX: What happened to Quentin Tarantino?

24 Nov

I often compare film watching to diet. Sometimes you get cravings. I was recently shown a British gangster film I was in called Stagger. It was weird watching myself but the film itself is surprisingly enjoyable and makes a lot more narrative sense and with more emotional resonance than I expected.

However it did get me thinking about the gangster films I like…

A throw-away comment from my parents over dinner made me think: “It’s been a while, I want to watch Pulp Fiction again.”

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Alternative Theme Tune #1: The Walking Dead

20 Nov

This feature’s been conjured up after listening to a song that basically sounded as though it had been written specifically for the new AMC undead drama.

I was a little disappointed with The Walking Dead opening credits, if I’m honest, as the highlight of the comics books was often the cover and I was hoping the show would come up with a clever ploy to create a ‘cover’ for each of the episodes (much like those brilliant freeze frames used at the beginning of every Eastbound & Down episode, here’s a rather rude example).

So it was with pleasant joy that I discovered a song that seemed perfect for the show, and figured this is as nice a chance as any to provide director Frank Darabont an alternative theme song for the show.

The song, written by singer/songwriter Felix Carey, is a bittersweet love song set in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland. The lyrics could easily be from the point-of-view of The Walking Dead’s main protagonist Rick Grimes (especially after the lovely reunion with his wife Lori), and the down-tempo guitar fits well with the shows often bleak outlook.

Interestingly, the show come about during a radio show where listeners are asked to text in suggestions for song ideas – and one lucky listener has Felix write and perform a song (based on their idea) an hour later. And it takes some artists months to write a tune!

Perfect for The Walking Dead, right?

Eden – World Builder (on iPhone): don’t be fooled by the Minecraft outer shell.

20 Nov

Gaming segments very rarely feature on this site, this may well be the first in fact, but I think the release of a blatant Minecraft rip-off on the iPhone has far-reaching implications and begs a familiar question – what the hell is the point of bad rip-offs? They’ll annoy the fans of the original and hardly attract an original crowd.

I actually went as far as paying for this (£2.99 when it was first launched, down to 59p now I believe) as I was intrigued, but like anyone who chose the Asylum version of Sherlock Holmes (link) instead of the Guy Ritchie one (probably because of the dinosaur on the DVD cover!) I was stung by just how bad cheap, tacky remakes can be.

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‘Mo’vember is incoming; the greatest TV moustaches ever!

22 Oct

The month of November approaches, a month where by the end you may notice a higher proportion of men with well endowed top lips.

This is often to raise money for the Movember charity event, where men (and possibly a very small number of women) get sponsored to banish their razors for the month. It’ll itch, it’ll look a bit silly and it will clearly seperate the men from the boys (I’m in the latter), but it raises millions of pounds for Prostate cancer (and various others) and brings offices and households a little bit closer; a shared enjoyment of silly looking faces.

In celebration of the brave fellas doing it this year, and have done it in the past, I think it’s time to salute those individuals on television that have a mo’ all year round.

I’ve probably missed out countless hairy top lips that have entertained over the years, especially in the decades when it was rather popular, but I’ve tried to include the best ones of at least the last decade or so.

And I think we’ll begin this list with the most infamous one of all…

Tom Selleck – Magnum P.I. and Blue Bloods

Density: 8/10, like a small dog’s tail.

It’s the Selleck, the tash we all know and respect. Years of viewing on Magnum PI meant much of America was greeted with this mighty mo’ for a decade and he’s created quite a standard.

Burt Reynolds – various movies and TV shows, most recently in Burn Notice (above)

Density: 3/10, with the texture of a snooker table.

Ol’ Burt made his appearance on Burn Notice this season and the tash was still snuggled below his nose. It’s wonderfully symetrical and matches his hair colour perfectly, it’s a real mo’-from-a-pro.

Dan Stark – The Good Guys

Density: 6/10, like a hairy pooh.

The new hero of tash’s on television right near is Dan Stark, played by West Wing veteran Bradley Whitford, in the under-rated cop caper The Good Guys. He goes as far to reference it numerous times, and there’s also a scene of the most manly thing a bloke can do – combing it.

Borat – Da Ali G Show (and film)

Density: 8/10, like a wooly bow-tie.

I’ve always wondered if this one’s a fake, but I’ll give actor / creator Sasha Baron Cohen the benefit of the doubt. This one is a true masterpiece, perfectly sculptured to perfection and with a thickness that would seem daunting to a lost flea.

Ned Flanders – The Simpsons

Density: 9/10, like a door-stop made from mud.

Homer’s chirpy neighbour has sported a moustach since the very beginning and he seems to have sculped it perfectly for 20 years. It’s a solid and quite soft looking too – touchable.

Mike Watt – Spaced

Density: 6/10, like a top-lip glove made from a grizzly bear’s back fur.

Most people’s favourite Spaced character Mike sports an awesome mo’ and you can definitely see why Pegg’s character Tim sees in him as a friend (apart from his awesome shot at paintball).

Walter White – Breaking Bad

Density: 3/10, like the skin of a balding donkey.

One of televisions ultimate badasses compensates his lack of hair with some near-ginger fluff on his top lip. It seems to be tailored very short, the mark of a drug dealer always wanting to be in control, but it certainly adds to his hardcore credentials.

Randy Marsh – South Park

Density: 10/10, like a floppy underscore.

Everyone’s favourite South Park character, next to Butters and Cartman, also sports a brilliant piece of face-wear. It definitely adds to his hilarious charm and dimwittedness in crazy events that tend to crop up in the small snowy town.

Stan – Frisky Dingo

Density: 9/10, like the very end of your big toe.

Xander Crews’ strangely loyal associate Stan, who runs the day-to-day operations of Xander’s company whilst he acts like an idiot and tries to be a superhero, is basically personified by his tash. So-much-so that he’s one of the rare characters in the list where you actually don’t see his mouth move at any point. He also seems to have more hair below his nose than above it.

Paul Teutul Sr. – American Chopper

Density: 11/10, like a wooly unicorn’s shoe.

Look at that thing! The domineering head of the pimped up motorbike place that dominates the schedule of the Discovery Channel is one of the kings of the mo’. It reminds me of a simple pot plant on a window sill that ends up growing down the building and mostly out of the original pot – does it still just count as just a pot plant? Whether this qualifies as a moustache or a  beard is a debate for another time though, for now admire that density – if a fly got caught up in that he’d never make it out alive.

Dicky Dastardly – Wacky Races

Density: 1/10, like the eyes of a sleeping Chinaman.

This is almost the most skilled of the lot – crafty Dick Dastardly must have spent years growing just two hairs below his nostrils, whilst shaving all around the top lip, to achieve this mighty look. Some people have argued whether it’s just very long nose hair, but I am positive that this is a sneaky tash grown for the pure purpose of stroking when coming up with genius plans to win that damn Wacky Race (although he ironically seemed to have the best car out of the lot of them).

That’s it for the list this year, although I’m sure there’s many I’ve forgotten and will end up cunningly adding after I post this article.

For anyone taking part in ‘Mo’vember this year – good on ya!

And for those men lucky enough to be able to grow hair on their face but aren’t going it – why not?

Join up, get a few donations and get those follicles out; the weather’s getting cold so just see it as a philtrum jumper.

The Event; will it get the axe?

18 Oct

Arguably NBC’s biggest punt this year was in the conspiracy thriller ‘The Event’, the Monday night drama that got off to a solid start and was also one of the biggest reasons that slot rival Lone Star (on Fox) was kicked off the air after two episodes (it just couldn’t compete in the deeply competitive slot and sadly Fox refused to give it a decent chance and / or another slot).

But the numbers have been tumbling by significant amounts every week though and it looks like this killer slot ‘may’ have another victim sometime soon.  So if you’re planning to tune into this on Channel 4 then stand-by that the hundreds of questions that are brought up may have no resolution in the future.

Check out this graph, that compares The Event to the similarly poor received Flashforward last year (which was given a full season but left many viewers disappointed with no real resolution). It looks at the viewing figures (in adult millions) across episodes, starting from the first episode on the left.

Click on the graph to see it full size.


That’s nearly half of The Event’s original audience gone by episode four!

Whereas Flashforward only lost just over 3 million viewers in the same period, which is quite a fall and did ultimately lead to cancellation. But the steady numbers later in the season, hovering just over 5 million viewers, was just good enough to warrant that full season (and I reckon they figured dramas like this have decent DVD takings, which is helped if they have one full season – poor already-cancelled Lone Star, My Generation and Outlaw will never have that blessing).

The Event may have settled at just over 6 million viewers, if episode five’s numbers are any indication, then it’s still a disappointment for the network but should be enough to get a second season.

But why were the viewers desserting in such heavy numbers?

I think for a number of reasons. Lost, which is pretty much the reason shows like Flashforward and The Event get green-lighted in the first place, has just ended and viewers may like a break from such bafflement and intrigue. A show like Lost often required the viewer to do a bit of homework, be it rewatching an episode to having hearty discussions online, and after six years of this they may just want a bit of a break.

It’s also the fact that creatively it just isn’t that good. I only watched the pilot, I’ll admit, but I already got that lingering feeling I had with Flashforward; the creators are trying so hard to create something to hook me that they ultimately lost me. It goes full circle. The pilot of The Event was a mess, full of pointless time shifts and twists that it just became boring. It also didn’t help that none of the characters ooze the relatable charm those in Lost had from the very first episode – by the time Jack, Kate and Charlie returned from the brutal trip to the cockpit I was already rooting for them and wasn’t completely bombared with mystery in that first episode.

Maybe Lost was also just an exception to the rule. The most succesful shows on the broadcast networks tend to be procedurals that have a very clear beginning, middle and end for each episode (like House MD, NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI) or shows with a clear and easy-to-follow storyline that don’t ‘neccessarily’ need a full commitment (like Glee, Hawaii Five-0, Castle). The shows that break that mould need a cast that have charisma and charm that will draw people in week-by-week (like 24, Greys Anatomy, The Mentalist). Lost broke the mould because it ticked the latter box, The Event does not.

It could also be, as already mentioned, the vicious competition in the slot. CBS has the troublesome twosome of Two and a Half Men and newcomer Mike & Molly (a comedy about overweight people that was always bound to rate well) that are watched by 11.5 million people, whilst ABC has Dancing With The Stars that is watched by nearly 20 million people. That’s a majority of the audience on the other channels straight away, and Fox learnt that lesson quickly (sadly for Lone Star, the key demographic for them was the one watching Dancing For Stars).

My prediction? It will probably get a full season order like Flashforward did, just for the sake of the improved DVD sales in the future. I think there’s a much greater chance that the season will be shortened though, to around 18 (or less!), if the numbers don’t rise any time soon. If it continues to fall at its current rate (beneath 5 million viewers consistently or so) then I think that the axe will begin to sharpen and the questions raised will have no answers at the end of it all…

UPDATE

The Event has been given a full season order by NBC (though the terrible Outsourced did too).

Games and movies; is it always going to be a terrible relationship?

18 Oct

Two of the universal truths in the media world: (1) a game of a blockbuster movie is nearly always rubbish. (2) a movie of a blockbuster game is nearly always rubbish. It’s happened time and again, and with both Bioshock and Halo movies in the works the same cycle will happen again – heightened expectation followed by dour disappointment. Alan takes a look at this phenomenon and asks the simple question – why?

If you asked anyone that knows me what two of my biggest interests are you would probably hear a lot of them say ‘computer games’ or ‘films’ and they’d be right, I’m a massive fan of both, so why then does the thought of the two being combined make my asshole clench more than receiving an invite to a pool party at Michael Barrymore’s house?

With the release of Resident Evil: Afterlife, the latest in the puzzlingly long-lasting franchise, I thought I’d take a look at why computer game films are almost all rubbish and what could be done to make sure the next wave don’t follow in these oh-so terrible footsteps. Maybe first of all we should take a look at some of the previous offenders. I can’t claim to have seen every film of a game and I’m sure if I had then I might have given up hope a long time ago.

Street Fighter: This is my opinion the worst of the bunch (though I have heard truly terrible things about Alone in the Dark, oh Christian Slater what happened to your career).

As a kid I loved playing Street Figher 2. I had the game on my Amiga 500+, it came on 4 disks which you had to swap at least a couple of times between every fight. That didn’t stop hour after hour being spent kicking my dad’s ass. When I found out a film was going to be released I couldn’t wait. I was so excited about seeing all my favourite characters brought to life on screen. I was 11 years old when the film came out (in 1994) – I remember it clearly, my family were on holiday in America and through constant bitchin’ I managed to convince them we should go and watch the film. If only I could travel back now and warn myself not to open that Pandora’s box of shit.

The thing that always strikes me about that film is that even at that age I came out of the cinema knowing I had just watched a really bad film. At that point I wasn’t focusing on the hammed acting or even Kylie Minogues terrible attempt at a British accent, I was annoyed that many of the characters weren’t who they were supposed to be.

I’d spent hours as Blanka (a large green half human/gorilla) electrocuting peoples asses, and when he appeared on screen for about 5 seconds I was seriously pissed.

Seriously, look at this. What the hell:

Amazingly this dire film went on to spawn an even worse game.

So there you go, the circle of life was complete and all Street Fighter fans had received one massive nut kick.

The next film I’m going to talk about is probably the strangest, as most people remember it as a terrible movie but to be honest when I saw this back in 1993 I was no where near as disappointed as I would be a year late by Street Fighter.

I’m talking about Super Mario Brothers the Movie: I actually haven’t seen this film in about 15 years so everything I say is purely coming from that memory, and maybe that’s the reason I don’t think it’s quite as awful as other people. It is however a very strange film.

The Mario games have always been very colourful and light-hearted, as you know, but this was one hell of a dark film, where (from what I remember) it’s based in some kind of alternate dimension where dinosaurs hadn’t died out but instead evolved into a very greasy haired Dennis Hopper (King Koopa) and company. For some reason Mr Hopper wanted to merge the two dimensions, though I cant remember why (probably just to piss everyone off), and it was up to Mario and Luigi who were dragged through to this dimension to stop him.

The film suffers from a strange case of juxtaposition flipping constantly from slapstick humour to some very dark locations and quite scary creatures. Again the film just wasn’t loyal to the fans, characters had been radically changed and kids felt short changed, and we held out for every glimmer of a character we knew or something that was actually close to the games we loved.

This seems to be a mistake made by most films of games; if you’re going to adapt this source material then you need to stay loyal. That doesn’t mean it has to be a word-for-word copy but please don’t turn the world on its head, the players are the people that are going to watch this film (for the most part) – don’t piss them off.

So where can we go from here?

There are a number of hugely successful games out there right now that studios are climbing all over each other to get at – Mass Effect, Gears of War, Uncharted to name just a few. All of these have the potential to make amazing films but will they? Probably not. Game developers are starting to realise more and more that there IPs are worth a hell of a lot and aren’t willing to sign them over to make some half assed movie for a quick buck. Just a couple of months ago a movie based on the already-mentioned Gears of War was put on hold by its developer Epic due to the first script feeling more like ‘2012’ than ‘District 9’.

To me this can only be a good thing; developers that have poured years into a game shouldn’t jump at the first chance to turn their work into a film if it’s not true to their vision – I say more power to them.

The games industry has changed more than any other form of entertainment in the last 10 years or so. Yes, when Mario and Street Fighter were developed it must have been a hell of a job. Mario is hardly Shakespearian in it’s story so depth and character building clearly needed to be developed to work within the confines of a film. And Street Fighter obviously couldn’t be based completely around the fighting, and most of the film’s influence was arguably taken from the small segments after fights that gave a glimpse into the characters life.

Now, however, we have games such as Mass Effect where developers ‘Bioware’ have spent a head spinning amount of time fleshing out races, planets, history…. You name it they’re probably already thought about it. So all of this should be a God-send to Hollywood! Just run with what you’ve got, you don’t need to suddenly think up a character’s surname (I’m looking at you again ‘Mario Mario’) – they already have them.

How’s this for a crazy idea – maybe movies isn’t the way to go at all! Some of the games with the most fleshed out backstory can easily clock in at over 20/30 hours,  which is going to be one hell of a job to fit into a film and obviously some crucial elements would need to be missed out.

So what about television? The already-mentioned Mass Effect could make for an amazing science fiction TV series; sure it would have high production costs but I really think it could be the next Star Trek or Firefly (hopefully minus the premature cancellation). And with the quality of television growing and growing is it really that unbelievable?

– AC

URBAN FOX: Film 2010 and the value of critics…

18 Oct

With the launching last week of Film 2010 (with Claudia Winkleman and a film journalist instead of Jonathan Ross) I find myself thinking about film critics. While it seems a bit odd to criticise a critic, I found the show to be an odd cross between Newsnight Review and the Strictly spin off show she hosts.

What baffles me is why it needs to be live. This seems to impair the elements of the show that are not in the studio. I like finding out about what is going on set and see some cool trailers.

Claudia Winkleman seems nice. However I do look forward to her and her journalist friend properly debating the merits of a film. People agreeing with each other does not make great TV. What it needed was a real curmudgeon, the kind of Scrooge that the audience would want to boo.

When people think of critics they usually think of figures like Anton Ego from Ratatouille. They tend to be thin lipped, cruel and dismissive figures who have no emotional context with which they make their pronouncements, treating our pleasures with contempt.

With the rise of the internet, the level of criticism increases. You only have to look on Imdb to see hundreds of variations of “That was brilliant”, “that sucked”, “it’s alright” and “over rated.”

Good criticism can be great writing in and of itself. Pauline Kael is probably the most quoted but I like Peter Bradshaw and the food critic Jay Rayner. Total Film is probably my favourite film magazine because on balance it seems to recognise the difference between “highbrow” and “low brow.”

People often say that criticism is “just opinion”. A well constructed argument is never just an opinion. It should justify that opinion. For example, my personal opinion is that films should not remind you of other, better films and this is one reason why I did not particularly enjoy Inglorious Basterds. I fully accept other people probably enjoyed the fact it was camp and trashy and probably ignored the fact it was overlong and inconsistent.

Another thing to remember is that film criticism was also responsible for one of the most influential groups in film history. Cahiers Du Cinema was a French film magazine whose writers would go on to create masterpieces such as Jules et Jim and A Bout De Souffle.

A housemate once dismissed these films as “boring French films.” What they may not realise is that most modern action films (for better or worse) owe most of their techniques from the French New Wave. Tarantino was so influenced by them that his production company was named Band Apart after the film Band A Part (the jazz dance sequence in that film was also a heavy influence on the iconic dance in Pulp Fiction).

In my opinion a good critic is fair and compares like with like. For example, while it would be unfair to compare Ocean’s Eleven to Citizen Kane,  it is fair to compare it to The Sting.

It also annoys me when people refer to enjoying a film by “putting brain in neutral” as if that excuses total crap. A good action film should be of sufficient fast pace to excuse a weak plot. The Rock may not be a classic and Speed is hardly artihouse but they are aware of what the audience wants and delivers it.

By contrast, the Tomb Raider films are plodding with long lulls in between action scenes. This always guts me as I think Angelina Jolie plays the part perfectly well but is saddled with a clumsy script and useless direction.

The simple fact is nobody can watch every film ever released. There are some alternatives to critics but most of them are flawed. For example, never go and see a film your friend describes as “alright” (it’s usually bad). As I get older I find myself getting less and less hyped up by trailers and that saddens me.

Do I think anyone can be a critic? Yes if they are prepared to justify their opinions and explain it. I do not necessarily have to agree with their opinion but if it is well constructed then I can accept it. Oh and they have to stay until the end of the film (unlike some “professional” critics who should know better!)

Am I saying we could do a better job than Film 2010? I really am not and I can’t emphasise that enough. What I do think is that criticism should be taken more seriously.