B Movie Buffet

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th April 2013.

Every so often I feel compelled to visit my local non-specific video store and take advantage of a special offer in order to bring you my B Movie Buffet. The popcorn is ready and the sneeze guard has been removed. Let me watch the dross so that you don’t have to.

First up in this cavalcade of clunkers is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, a sequel to the 2006 original which was based on the Konami video game. Starring unknown Australian actress Adelaide Clemens, the film also features appearances from returning stars of the original, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell and Deborah Kara Unger. Ah, the power of contractual obligation. The movie impressively adopts the nightmarish imagery of its source material. Abandoned hospitals, bizarre creatures, faceless scalpel wielding nurses…they’re all here. Just like the video game, the film also has no discernible plot whatsoever. The filmmakers really need to look up the meaning of “revelation” in the dictionary.

WWE Superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin stars as the third incarnation of the titular character in The Marine: Homefront, a direct-to-DVD entry in the franchise from WWE Studios. This reasonably new production company was established to showcase the acting talents of WWE wrestlers. Insert laughter here. In the prologue, the film explains that US marines are trained to deal with any situation. After watching this unintentionally hilarious film, this obviously includes saving your sister from terrorists embarking on the dumbest scheme ever with flaws and assumptions big enough to drive a tank through.

Next up on the conveyer belt of cheese is Red Dawn. A remake of the 1984 original which starred the late Patrick Swayze, this teen action flick was actually made in 2009 but delayed due to MGM’s financial problems. Prior to the film’s release last year, the remake’s villains were changed from a Chinese invading force to North Korean. There’s a lot of money to be made at the box office in China compared to North Korea, you see. Aussies Chris Hemsworth and Isabel Lucas lead up the Wolverines, a rebel fighting force formed by some good looking teens who manage to escape the initial invasion. In a ridiculous training montage, Hemsworth transforms the rag tag group into a tight military unit in a single day. Plot holes abound. How do the North Korean soldiers parachute into Spokane and then suddenly have tanks and jeeps? How do the Wolverines infiltrate the city to carry out their missions when everyone else appears to be locked down? Why do I care? My verdict: Tomorrow When the Bore Began.

Last up is the pick of the litter, although that’s not saying much. Here Comes the Boom stars Kevin James of The King of Queens fame. He plays a biology teacher who becomes an MMA fighter in order to raise funds to save his school’s music program, run by The Fonz. There are a few laughs to be had, and I must admit to rather enjoy seeing James, an incredibly annoying comic, get punched and kicked in the head. A predictable ending leaves a saccharine taste in the mouth, and it’s no surprise that this lightweight sports comedy comes from Happy Madison Productions, Adam Sandler’s production company.

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Film Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

This review was originally published on The Orange Post on Sunday 17th March 2013.

What happens when you take a well known filmmaker with a distinct visual style and a back catalogue of cult and popular hits, and run them through the Disney corporate movie machine? There are two answers to this question: Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and now Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful.

Burton’s 2010 blockbuster was a bland CGI heavy 3D mess that dispensed with character in favour of spectacle. Unfortunately, Oz suffers the same fate. Responsible for three of my favourite films of all time, the Evil Dead trilogy, Raimi’s trademark fast paced style and wry humour is crushed by the Disney steamroller leaving behind a pretty screensaver and little else.

With the rights to The Wizard of Oz, including all of the elements introduced in the 1939 MGM film which did not originate in L. Frank Baum’s book, held by Warner Bros., art director Robert Stromberg was forced to redesign the Land of Oz for this unofficial prequel. Thus, there are no ruby slippers, the yellow brick road in Munchkinland has a different swirl and even the Wicked Witch’s green skin tone is slightly (but legally) different.

These limitations, coupled with a reliance on CGI, results in landscapes which appear to have been lifted straight from last year’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, another ho-hum green screen adventure.

As the titular Oz, James Franco is out of his depth. Smiling is not the same as emoting and I wonder what the earlier casting choices of Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jnr. would have brought to the film. Oz is a complex character who treats people badly at the beginning of the film, but then begins to see the value of friendship and love. Unfortunately, all of this character development is undermined by the audience’s knowledge that he will bugger off in the balloon at the first opportunity in the next film.

Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis are serviceable as witchy sisters Evanora and Theodora. Michelle Williams fares better as Glinda, a role that requires her to do little else but look pretty and speak in a breathy style. Zach Braff appears in the beginning as Oz’s offsider Frank and then voices the CGI monkey bellhop Finley. A little Zach Braff goes a long way so don’t be surprised if you feel like reaching out and trying to strangle the 3D monkey by the end of the film.

The theme of duality which worked well in the MGM original makes little to no sense in this prequel. Beginning in black and white and a 4:3 aspect ratio, Raimi’s film then transitions to colour, 2:35:1 widescreen and stereo sound upon arrival in Oz. Several actors make cameos in the black and white segment, and then reappear as different characters in Oz. There seems to be no explanation for this. No-one is clicking their heels and going back to Kansas at the end of the film.

Remarkably, Raimi cannibalises from his own work, with a graveyard sequence and mechanical line of soldiers distracting the enemy ripped directly from Army of Darkness.

In 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, Raimi showed he was capable of finding his mojo again after a creative disappointment with Spider-Man 3. Let’s just hope he does something truly great and powerful after the disappointment that is Oz the Great and Powerful.

Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

Famous Characters: Recast

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st August 2010.

The Australian Box Office figures for the past week have Salt, starring Angelina Jolie, in the top spot, grossing a very healthy $5200000 in its first week of release. Directed by Australia’s Phillip Noyce, who knows his way around a spy thriller having previously helmed Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Patriot Games (1992), Salt features Mrs Pitt as a CIA agent who must run for her life when a KGB defector names her as a Russian sleeper assassin.

Whilst Australian cinema goers clearly appreciate Jolie’s assets, that is, her ability to jump off bridges onto moving vehicles and smash her enemies in the face with various objects, looking beautiful the whole time, something inside of me still wonders what Salt may have been like if its original star had actually agreed to make the movie.

Originally, the titular character was supposed to be a man. That’s right, Salt was written to be a vehicle for Tom Cruise. Ultimately, he jumped ship to make Knight and Day with Cameron Diaz instead. By the way, does anyone know what the title Knight and Day is supposed to mean? There’s also talk of a third Mission: Impossible sequel that may have been a little too close to Salt in terms of its spy on the run storyline for Cruise’s liking. So the producers simply rewrote Mr Salt into a Mrs Salt and a box office hit was born.

There are several iconic film characters that were originally slated to be portrayed by a different actor. No matter the reason for the recast, it must be difficult as a performer to see someone else rise to fame in “your” role.

It is hard to imagine anyone else as adventuring archaeologist and snake hater Indiana Jones. In 1981, at the time of casting Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the man in the hat was Tom Selleck. Lucas wasn’t keen to work with Harrison Ford so soon following their collaborations on American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars films (or fourth and fifth if you want to be a nerd). The producers of Selleck’s hit TV series, Magnum P.I. would not release him, so Ford got the gig three weeks before shooting was to begin.

A similar situation occurred in 1986 when Pierce Brosnan was slated to replace Roger Moore as the new James Bond in The Living Daylights. Brosnan’s commitments to his TV series, Remington Steel, appeared to have concluded with its cancellation that year, so the timing seemed perfect. Unfortunately, a spike in interest in Brosnan with the announcement of the Bond offer led to NBC renewing Remington Steel for another year and the contract bound Brosnan had no choice but to decline the role. Of course, he eventually did get to play Bond a few years later, following on from Timothy Dalton in GoldenEye and three other film adventures.

Whilst on the subject of Bond, is he the same man in every film, or is “James Bond” a code name that gets passed on between different 007’s? Just thinking out aloud…

Finally, can you imagine anyone else as time travelling Marty McFly? How about Eric Stoltz? Star of Mask (1985) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Stoltz filmed Back to the Future for six weeks before being recast by director Robert Zemeckis. According to Zemickis, Stoltz lacked the humorous feel that was required for the role. With short notice, Michael J. Fox, the director’s first choice for McFly but initially unavailable, was able to split his time between the film and TV sitcom Family Ties.

For the trivia buffs, Fox’s middle name is Andrew but chose “J” when he discovered that Michael Fox was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild and he disliked Andy Fox as a stage name.

For the record, a similar thing has happened to me. Way back in 1998, I auditioned for the role of Choi in The Matrix. Choi is the character who buys illegal software from Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo. This scene then leads Neo to start his awakening by “following the white rabbit.” Unfortunately, there is no great scandal or controversial recast to be found here, I just did a truly terrible audition.