Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Death Race 2000 (1975)

It is the distant future, the Year Two-thousand. The US is an autocratic state with an alleged enemy in France, and a nation has an obsession with the Death Race, a coast-to-coast rally where pedestrians, zealots, onlookers and even one's pit crew are fair game for vehicular carnage and point-scoring along the way. Race favourite is the shady Frankenstein, a patchwork man in black who is close friend with Mister Pesident, and wants to get closer still...

I've been thinking about watching this movie for years on curiosity value alone, and now I have - job done. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it!

I'm sure that a lot of this is down to timing. Twenty years ago I'd likely have taken this film in as a dated piece of seventies tat, much as I did Rollerball or The Omega Man. Ten years ago I'd have been a little more forgiving, but now, with my extracurricular activities involving kitbashing model cars into Mad Max-styled vehicles of pedestrian destruction, its time seems finally annointed. What a movie. Also, teenage me was an idiot. I might be edging towards the actual 100 points in Death Race's arcane scoring system, but I'd like to think I know the value of a decent Roger Corman movie.
But teenaged me was also a comic reader, and in particular a 2000AD reader. The DNA of 2000AD is all through this movie - future dystopias? Check. Ultraviolence and amoral heroes? Check. It's long been said that the initial look of Judge Dredd was based on the image of Frankenstein on the movie's poster; how satisfying then for a fan of the comic and films to see Dredd's spiritual godfather beating several layers of unholy crap out of Sylvester Stallone - Awesome! I swear that this is more a comic brought to life courtesy of Corman than the likes of Fantastic Four or Battle Beyond the Stars, and it seems fitting that the comic sequel was the work of 2000AD's Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill, when their previous creation Marshall Law bears more than a passing resemblance to David Carradine's Frankenstein. 
There's just a real anti-authoritarian, gonzo vibe throughout that transcends the occasional performances, the low low budget, and the small cast. in places it is outlandishly violent, but it is by and large he violence of cartoons, and it shares the gleeful twisted humour of Mills and Wagner's best works. The themed cars and outlandish identities (Nerothe Hero, Machine Gun Joe, Matilda the Hun) are fun, the design work a little bonkers - especially Stallone's gangster suit pinstriped helmet, and although the cast is perhaps a little too white-bread, it serves its female characters pretty well, and I must admit I felt quite sorry for Calamity Jane's lonely three-point-tun into oblivion when her time came. Plus, not knowing the twist in the story meant that I was quite taken in by Frankenstein's concluding gambit.
Time's been rather kind to this film, making the movie's more outlandish plot points almost self-fulfilling in real life, from the Fox-style cynical TV coverage, the vilification of France as the enemy of 'Amurrikkin freedom', and even the President accusing a foreign power of sabotaging the telephone network has to be the Seventies equivalent of cyber-terrorism.
So yeah, a big thunbs up from me, and a nice wee birthday present for me over the weekend as I contemplate getting closer to the age when I too might be wheeled wheezing out into the street in front of a hospital, perhaps to meet my maker under the wheels of an oncoming novelty cat-shaped death machine or something. In the mean-time I rather fancy catching this again, perhaps in a double-bill with Rollerball.

Friday, July 24, 2015

He[a]r[i]n the Hunter/s

Evening all.

Now, of late things have been quiet on Jetsam, and somewhat reactive rather than proactive. I'm hoping to address this soon by posting some creative endeavours, but in the mean-time, some more reaction in the cheapest way - a combination post! Yes, my apologies. It's nearly bed time.

So what am I reacting against? Whaddaya got? Well, how about the long-rumoured and finally confirmed return of Hawk the Slayer?

That's pretty cool. Lord knows, the original movie had enough sequel hooks in it, and if I might take a moment to be a leeetle unkind, this is a movie project that may benefit from having some of its old cast unavailable for bookings. Okay, that is unkind - I loved Bernard Bresslaw and Morgan Sheppard, and it looks like Ray Charleston is back as a very Old Crow, but Voltan must be recast with Jack Palance out of the frame and, well, I wish them all the best. As readers will know, I rather took a shine to this little piece of cinematic miscalculation, and after some very disappointing fantasy movie spectacles, perhaps small-scale fantasy might be the way forward for a while?

And while we're riding through the glen, today's news is of another long-rumoured, long-attempted follow up to an even more beloved Eighties slice of fantasyfolklore. Robin of Sherwood is getting an audio sequel! Based on a script by RoS' late, great creator Richard Carpenter, Knights of the Apocalypse has a title that promises something as big and tumultuous as the original series' The Swords of Wayland. Even better, it's in good hands, courtesy of Bafflegab (who produce the wonderful Scarifiers series), script editor John Dorney (who has produced some top-notch stories for Big Finish's Doctor Who line) and a lot of the original cast. Okay, no Michael Praed, but Jason Connery, Nickolas Grace AND Ray Winstone, plus Judi Trott and Paul Rose! I'm in. Sign me up.

What a year to be alive. Cue Hawk-inspired rock song!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Cape Expectations

This is a synched trailer review from a Batman perspective. You can read Kal-Al's Superman-oriented review here!

Over the past weekend I spent an inordinate amount of time online, trawling a handful of websites, pushing the Refresh button at intermittent intervals. Oh, and reading. I did this because I was never going to go to San Diego ComiCon – hell, I’d be hard-pressed to get to Armageddon this weekend, but virtually at least, SDCC was where it was at for me. And why? Because of this trailer specifically:
Yes, in Marvel’s absence, the weekend belonged to Warner Brothers and Fox Studios. And Disney – but dammit, every day is Disney day with or without Star Wars, so enough about that. Let’s talk about the Bat and the Boy Scout. And, also the Amazon! And the Villain – or the one we see here, at least.
The trailer was pretty much everything I’d hoped for, but most of all it’s impressed me with how smart it is. Directly referencing the climactic Battle of Metropolis from Man of Steel is a great start, and should immediately shut up the ‘concerned moviegoers’ who, three years on, are still bellyaching over the destruction wrought in Superman’s death-match with the physically superior and battle-ready General Zod. Moreso, it places Bruce Wayne in the middle of the battle, in a breath-taking sequence loaded with modern imagery. 2016 will see the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11; Zack Snyder’s choice to film the collapse of Wayne Financial’s tower from street level, and frame it from the experience of the average person in the street, can only reference one major recent real-life event. It’s brave, and it’s immediately resonating and it works. The sight of an un-costumed, quite human Bruce Wayne running into the debris cloud is jaw-dropping.
At ComicCon there was much made on both DC movie panels (for BvS and Suicide Squad) over how these movies are anchored in a real world context – yes, there are spandex(ish) suits, capes and super powers, but the real world reactions and impacts are, I think, a new addition to the genre. Super hero comics already work in a heightened version of reality, so this change down is a significant revision, and a smart move on the producers’ part to create points of difference for DC’s heroes and villains. These are deliberate images – the rooftop appeals for help from flood-bound families recalling Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, the familiar rainbow-coloured placards outside Kal El’s hearing in the Capitol deliberately recalling those of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrations are another. Maybe more than that, they are touchstones of US culture, a trigger against what looks like Superman taking on a global work roster (saving a Russian rocket crew, appearing in a Day of the Dead gathering.) In response, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor appears to be baiting his (unseen) audience's patriotism, resorting to a national xenophobia, recasting himself as a modern day Paul Revere in the droll “the red capes are coming!”
So this is the set-up, but there's still much to see – Jeremy Irons' Alfred in the flesh as Bruce's moral core, the Joker's handiwork over a fallen Robin costume, some nifty visual echoes of Frank Millar's iconic Dark Knight Returns cover. And, of course, Wonder Woman in action - at long last!

I'm still sold on this movie, even moreso than I was with the teaser trailer a few months back, and even moreso even after liking the casting of Ben Affleck. It seems we're stuck with a grim and gritty Batman for some time yet (thank god then for the 50th anniversary of Batman '66 next year and the animated movie tribute!) but while Christopher Nolan's similarly 'real world' Dark Knight trilogy left me cold in the end, I think Snyder's Batman will be the best Batman to date; and I think the injection of super powers and godlike heroes into his world will be for the betterment of Gotham's finest.

Next trailer will hopefully show even more. Roll on 2016!