MAD: No Country for Old Men
May22

MAD: No Country for Old Men

(2007 Paramount/Watched on DVD) A western set in 1980 that’s both timeless and essential viewing. Plenty has been said about this instant classic from the Coen Brothers. It’s widely regarded as one of the best films of the 2000s. Plot: Man finds dead men with money. Takes money. Is pursued by cold-blooded maniac. Javier Bardem plays Anton Chigurh, a Terminator made flesh who stalks the highways and motels of Texas, clad in dark denim and the haircut of a Monkee. His chosen method of dispatching the people he meets who present obstacles, or have something he wants or merely annoy him is a slaughterhouse air hammer, which speaks volumes as to how he sees the human race. The fact that when he kills people they barely have time to scream, or else make no noise at all as his silenced shotgun makes its *SWITCH* sound, further emphasises in chilling fashion, how small and insignificant these creatures are to him. Chigurh is a far cry from Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, with not the slightest interest in making himself seem clever to others, or even interacting with them. He comes across as a true psychopath, and as such the kind of character I only want to spend a portion of one movie with. I don’t understand why psychopathic killers are all that fascinating to audiences in the long term. The nature of psychopathy is wildly misunderstood to begin with, squeezing entertainment from mental illness is spurious, and in the case of killers it’s not likely to be an arc they are on that we are bearing witness to, as they journey to a different form of character. In other words, when I’ve seen this monster dispatch three people and learned from studying his movements and reactions how he views the world, that’s about all I need. The Coens and Bardem manage that in swift, economical form with a very pacy and abrupt editing style. Events play out like a Japanese meal, in small portions with many, many courses. Some scenes are only seconds long and get straight to the point, moving the pieces and making changes. There is little time afforded for overblown or blasé tension-building, things tend to happen quickly, which means you’re constantly on edge because you know you’re not likely to get more than a few seconds warning before something awful happens. There’s barely any music so you can’t even rest on that comforting industry standard to help you parse out the shape of each moment. Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Kelly MacDonald all turn in fine, human performances to contrast this spectre of death. Cormac MacCarthy’s writing...

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MAD: The Avengers (No, the Other One)
May21

MAD: The Avengers (No, the Other One)

(1998 Warner Bros/Watched on DVD) This is the first time I have hunkered down and watched this film since I sat, open-mouthed in the cinema in ’98. Back in the 90s poorly-performing blockbusters were often a spectacular stack of bad ideas thrown out into the audience like soiled laundry, eventually achieving a sort of turd nirvana. And this might well be the worst of all of those. It’s difficult to know exactly what to say here. I’m supposed to talk about maybe the flaws or how it made me feel, but I think my brain has melted a little bit from watching. It’s best described as utterly inhuman. It appears to take place in an alternate history where the 1960s never stopped, or it could of course just be the 60s, but it’s also weirdly empty. There’s barely a person in sight aside from the key characters they have to meet which makes it feel like the world may have ended leaving England pristine once the corpse trucks had done their rounds. The leads drive from stately home to empty office building and barely encounter another soul across this creepy, barren mausoleum to a dead England. If they wanted it to feel kitsch and fun they failed, this is like a NIGHTMARE! I do love Ralph Fiennes now, but this reminded me why I thought he was a creep in the 90s… this and The English Patient. His John Steed is the perfect gentleman, but no more than that. And he certainly shrugs off far too much, too many attempts on his life to feel like a real person. Uma Thurman as Emma Peel is basically the same without the Y Chromosome. Throughout the film they never discuss themselves, their views or outlooks, they are never challenged and nothing elicits a natural emotion. Their arcs are two full stops. Sean Connery is a leering, repugnant bulldozer of a villain, barking Shakespeare and basing his whole operation on a weather control machine that even Cobra would reject as done to death. He takes every opportunity when Doctor Peel is around to grab her by the throat or the tits and is never told that this is not how you treat women. He also appears to be absolutely fucking miserable, rather than having fun with the eccentricity. For one of his final performances it’s a stinker and makes his turn in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen look like a powerhouse in comparison. There is a shred of humanity displayed in a sweet, firm old lady, but that goes out the window when Connery just punches her square in the face. At one...

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MAD: Out for Justice
May20

MAD: Out for Justice

(1991 Warner/Watched on DVD) Steven Seagal’s old buddy is gunned down by a mutual friend, now he’s out for… punching many, many men in the balls. This movie is wall to wall broad Italian immigrant stereotypes. It is the most New York Italian movie ever to star a man of English, German, Dutch, Russian and Jewish descent. There’s a lot of shouting, a lot of posturing, thugs get beaten up and shot, and Seagal occasionally, when he’s not threatening or maiming, engages in some moist-eyed, husky conversations about his simpler past with his wife and colleagues. The violence is meaty and when people get shot it’s a at close range and savagely gory. It was that era when the best bits would be ham-fistedly chopped out of our movies when we watched them far too young on TV. The greatest moment that a younger version of me wouldn’t have been allowed to see being a guy getting his entire lower leg blown off at the knee. This is a film Danny Butterman from Hot Fuzz would have loved (in fact it shows up at the petrol station scene next to Point Break and Bad Boys II). The only real moment of preposterousness comes when Seagal goes toe to toe with his old friend, a man he’s clearly angry at, but not complex levels of ambivalence. More to the point this guy is hideously out of shape and coked out of his mind and it still takes Seagal about seven goes to get him to stay down. This guy could punch over the Statue of Liberty, and I know he’s been shot in the heart but for this kind of movie that’s just a flesh wound, are you seriously telling me this moustachioed vole could give him even three seconds challenge? For some reason Seagal likes wearing black bomber jackets with no shirt underneath and sports a lengthy rat tail, greasier than a bucket of KFC, as well as a silver neck chain and a gold bracelet, and makes calls on a car phone the size of a boombox, making him look like a genetic experiment to create the world’s greatest bouncer. Throughout the film he goes off the police radar, gets medieval on a pimp for being horrible to a woman, stabs a bunch of guys, hits one with a big sausage, is rather horrible to multiple women, tampers with crime scenes, steals evidence, frames a partner for murder and somehow doesn’t incur a massive amount of paperwork. The events happen all in one day so it feels exhausting to watch, like a whole season of 24 in 90...

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MAD: Bad Boys II: Good Boys
May18

MAD: Bad Boys II: Good Boys

(2017 Alex Shaw/Watched on MP4) As with Passengers: The Awoken Cut, this is a version of a movie that I have gone into and re-edited. Unlike Passengers which required one substantial act movement and an adjusted ending this one took a hundred tiny cuts to bring in something presentable. Because unlike the first film which is a cracking comedy action cop caper, THIS fucking foul mess is a straight up monster. Released eight years after the first film, the tone is completely different. The writing team is different, the editor for damn certain was different, (Christian Wagner, editor of Fast and Furious four through eight for the first, and three different guys for the second, none of them was Wagner) and I’m going to say the Michael Bay who directed it was a different man back then to the fellow he was in 2003 and judging by Transformers 4 still is. Eight years is also a long time for Will Smith to go from being Fresh Prince to Men in Black II and Martin Lawrence had gone through a lot of fat suits in the interim years, playing Big Momma). I removed 37 minutes from the 2 hours 20 running time on the UK DVD. What I removed was the casual racism blurted out in an attempt to be funny, like some kid who loves Cartman but doesn’t get that he’s not someone to emulate. Really it feels like nonstop racial slurs (although clearly it couldn’t have been) Africans, Cubans, Haitians, all get constantly defined by their ethnicity in an insulting and derogatory fashion. There’s a streak of how embarrassing it would be to be thought a homo by other people. And there’s many minutes of leery, viewpoints with the camera floating past and through women’s crotches which just makes Bay feel like a dirty old man. More disturbing than that though is the Bad Boys themselves. These men murder people every single day and don’t feel it at all. Quite the opposite, they joke about it. But mirthlessly, not for fun, and it’s not at all amusing to watch. Mike in particular is a cold-blooded serial killer. It’s fucking bone-chilling. And to make everything so much worse, they actually DO sort of reference the fact that the stress of the job is getting to them, Marcus in particular. But the HOW of how they do this is absolutely key. Because in the eyes of Bay and the scriptwriters, therapy is for pussies and turns grown men into dickless wimps who find life HARDER to handle, simply by admitting that they need help. It’s abundantly clear that the best...

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MAD: Aliens vs. Predator Requiem: Noir
May17

MAD: Aliens vs. Predator Requiem: Noir

(2017 Alex Shaw/Watched on MP4) Another edit, this time on a fucking repulsive wreck of a movie. I have hated the few viewings of this I’ve undertaken in the past. For me it will always be dead last in both the Alien and Predator franchises. Nothing could be worse than this. At once a shitty knock-off of both Alien 1 and Predator 2 (as in clueless civilians come up against first one monster, then the other) along the lines of Alien vs. Hunter or the other cynical, merit-free shite that The Asylum churn out to cash in on the success of other movies they hope to be confused with, AND somehow simultaneously an ACTUAL instalment in both of these franchises, legitimate, licensed and funded by Fox in the most baffling case of paying for beef and getting delivered a turd in a bag! EVERYTHING is wrong with this movie. The actors are terrible no-name amateurs who churn out dismal performances that are far better suited to daytime soap operas, as are they. If everybody overacted like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2 or Mortal Kombat Anihilation it would at least be funny, but it’s not. Just baseline sub-mediocrity that has no place in cinema. I can’t remember a single character name. Nobody has an arc, there’s no story, the effects are rubbish, the music (and I like Tyler Bates) is totally generic, the script is nothing, just a collection of dull conversations, some of them shouted. Worst of all is the direction by the Brothers Strauss, a pair of effects guys handed a major project very unwisely. They have no comprehension of how to frame or light a scene. Everything is pitchy dark and indistinct so you have no clue what’s going on, and with all of the above in place nobody could possibly care anyway. What’s actually going on is that after the first movie a Predalien hatches and infiltrates a shuttle of the Predator mother ship, which is inexplicably sent back to Earth as they are passing Saturn and before they know this beastie is on board. The creature kills the crew and the shuttle crashes in rural America. Facehuggers find humans, Aliens hatch. A Predator on the homeworld, like Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction journeys to Earth to clean up the mess and dispose of both beasties and witnesses. Only lightly armed for no reason, he picks up more weapons from the crash site. If this was a story ABOUT the Wolf Predator, that would be an interesting take. So this was how I pitched my re-edit. Firstly I removed the colour. It looks like...

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MAD: Alien vs Predator
May16

MAD: Alien vs Predator

(2004 Fox/Watched on Steelbook Blu Ray, that’s how much I like it) [Once again, this is what We Hate Movies are covering this week, so I watched it first and jotted down my thoughts before listening to what I’m certain will be them rightly calling this film very stupid.] As I detailed in our extensive series of podcast reviews of both the Alien and Predator movies, I really dig this onscreen clash. It’s nowhere near as good as it could have been, with someone like Shane Black or Neill Blomkamp at the helm, a small cast of engaging human characters that you want to survive and a gory R rating but it’s still a party I’m always glad to be invited to. The humans in this case are a bunch of under-developed dimwits with a fifth of a personality to go round between them, (much like Prometheus which is an unwitting remake of this). Luckily Alexa, the Ripley stand-in is sensible and firm with the safety rules, which makes her easy to follow. She gets a lovely scene with Lance Henriksen who classes the joint up while he’s there. As a Weyland performance this one is up there with the version of Guy Pierce at middle age, rather than the sour old Mr Burns creature we got. In both cases they should have been a major character the whole way through. As I laid down on the podcast, the story this is most like in structure is less Aliens and actually more Jurassic Park. You go on a weekend vacation with these guys, starting on a helicopter, there’s a slow, exploratory build up, then all hell breaks loose and the survivor goes home a little wise, a lot tougher, after being chased by a T-Rex inspired Queen. I read the first novel, based on the comic series, Prey, back in the early 90s and the one thing they held onto from that, which I was greatly pleased by was the team up between  the hard-ass female security officer and a Predator forced to accommodate her because he needs an ally. Their way of communicating with one another through gesture and non-verbal means is. Something I expanded upon greatly in my novel Tiger’s Eye, since the idea of a huge, alien hunter and a small, fragile human cultivating a symbiotic relationship fascinates me. Like Prometheus, these humans blunder into this place they should not be and spring the trap, unlike Prometheus there are no pretensions of intellectual layers or philosophical musings on our ancient creators, though both are clearly inspired by Chariots of the Gods. Again UNlike Prometheus, once the...

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MAD: Passengers: The Awoken Cut
May15

MAD: Passengers: The Awoken Cut

(2017/ Alex Shaw/Watched in MP4 Format) This is an interesting project I’ve undertaken. After watching the video “Passengers Rearranged” by The Nerdwriter, (who is fascinating to watch and I’d love to get him on the show) I set out to re-edit Passengers into a better movie. Spoilers, and this will only make sense if you’ve seen it. And all credit to Doug Walker and Chris Stuckmann whom The Nerdwriter cited as having this idea while they reviewed the movie. If you divide Passengers into five pieces, five movements, five stages, the simple story easily becomes modular in nature. 1. Chris wakes up and spends 30 minutes agonising over loneliness, eventually waking up Jennifer. 2. Jennifer meets Chris in the lobby and asks what’s up. He says he doesn’t know and they spend a while getting to know and like one another. 3. Jennifer finds out and freaks out (entirely justifiably) 4. Ship in danger. They join forces to save the day. 5. Chris dies. Then comes back to life. Happy ending. OK bear with me, because this is what Walker said and he’s right. Take segment 1… and put it AFTER segment 3. Suddenly your focus character, the one you begin with is Jennifer. You go on her journey, you don’t view the story through Chris’ eyes. The ship becomes a crime scene. Then after she finds out the truth and you hate Chris along with her THEN you see his story and slowly begin to understand his terrible predicament. Rather than being complicit in his crime and hoping she will forgive him/us, we are in her shoes finding the empathy and humanity to forgive HIM. The join is the scene where Jennifer is swimming in the pool, mere seconds before the ship goes wrong and everything gets moved onto the next cause of concern. This next section is the weakest bit of the film. It’s a little boring and predictable, and Lawrence Fishbourne was a slow-walking bracelet delivery system, and Chris dies and then comes back to life and everything is awesome! Unless you cut to credits the second before he comes round. At the exact point Jennifer has her hands over her mouth in shock, and you know that if he dies she’s going to be left with the same choice he was. Will she wake someone else up? Will his noble sacrifice sway her to live out her long life alone? Is that even sensible? Because she needed his help to save the ship, this could happen again in  the next seventy years. It is on her to decide whether the ship needs a crew and who...

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MAD: Definitely, Maybe
May14

MAD: Definitely, Maybe

(2008, Universal/Watched on DVD) Ryan Reynolds, a man finalising his divorce, tells his eleven year old daughter, Abigail Breslin the complicated bedtime story of how she came to exist. It involves three woman, whose names he changes, all of whom were in and out of his life during the mid-90s. I actually won’t spoil this one, I’ll just say that like 13 Going on 30, it surprised me in the best way. There aren’t many daddy-daughter movies. Please do suggest others in the comments as we got a lovely viewing session out of this one. Logan is a fine example that I’m looking forward to showing Lyra, but it’s nice to find one that won’t horrify her. Reynolds and Breslin are at maximum charming, and Lyra and I soon found ourselves thoroughly invested and making predictions on where each of the on-off relationships was going next. The three women, Rachel Weiz, Elizabeth Banks and Isla Fisher all have their own qualities and flaws and feel like real enough people. Fisher in particular annoyed me at first, seeming dismissive and nihilistic whilst somehow campaigning for Clinton in ’92 which somehow seems contradictory. But there’s a definite turning point with her character regarding a certain piece of classic literature which opened her up like a flower, revealing a hidden fragility. I love it when I underestimate characters, only to be proven wrong, I really do. Honestly, thinking about it, that’s really the best of all combinations. Meeting expectations is good, but never as impressive as coming out of the blue with a home-run, failing to meet them is disappointing, and being just exactly as rubbish as expected cements a certain worldview when it comes to people. A worldview which makes those times when a person defies expectation in a good way all the more special. There’s a neat little gag at the beginning when Reynolds gets handed an early 90s cellphone, one of those black bricks you could kill a man with. That’s a gag that will actually get funnier every year that we progress beyond that era, as phones transform from slimmer bricks to clam-shells, to smartphones, to Go-Go-Gadget phone-hands with aerials that come out of your thumb. What this seems to have at its core is the notion that there may not be a perfect individual out there for everyone, as much as there are many compatible people you could end up quite comfortable with, and you *could* find just the right person, but it’s not the right time. And maybe it will never work out between you, and that’s OK, or maybe you’ll get together and it *still* won’t...

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MAD: Rambo: First Blood Part II
May13

MAD: Rambo: First Blood Part II

(1985 Tristar/Watched on DVD) In one of the most spectacular misunderstandings of the premise of the original comes Rambo. The first film is an exciting but ultimately harrowing depiction of what the Vietnam war did to the men who served, and worse, the contempt and dismissal they were treated to when they rotated back to the world. John Rambo is mentioned as being of Indian and German descent in some of the opening lines, Stallone is half Italian, half Russian Jewish. Now that’s what I call acting! If you’re familiar with Hot Shots Part Deux (and frankly if you aren’t) you will not be able to take this self serious testosterone-fest as seriously as it would like. It’s chock full of lines like “And by the way, what you choose to call Hell, he calls home”. Watched in conjunction with the original, putting the traumatised and deeply damaged John back in the shit is clearly an act of unimaginable cruelty and it’s never treated as such. He’s just a gun with legs, satisfied to finally be pointed in the right direction again. The most cringe worthy aspect is the character of Co Bao, his contact in the jungle. At once exemplary of Asian characters speaking broken American, and a cack-handed way of force-healing the divide of prejudice. Their heart is in the right place; ” Hey, American men, not all Asians are evil. Some of them want wars to be over as well and if they die you should be sad.” But it’s as though they are explaining this to children. What struck me most though was what an excellent setup for Predator this was. I even asked Lyra if it reminded her of anything and the muscly man running around the jungle, easily killing goons immediately recalled the McTiernan classic. Predator, coming two years later, takes the trope of these invincible strongmen in the bush and then throws in the only thing tougher, and they get slaughtered, and it’s brilliant! As it is, Rambo (let’s not call this First Blood Part II any more, it’s an insult to both of the films) stands along with Commando as the benchmark of this kind of movie. The one man army with the amazing body, the opposing force of foreigners for him to throw bullets at with his hands (one of my favourite Hot Shots potshots), and walk out of the war zone with soot rubbed onto his glistening abs. You can’t really make this kind of film any more without subverting it or mixing it up in some way, so it’s important to have exemplars of the breed, even if they’re...

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MAD: Alien Covenant
May12

MAD: Alien Covenant

(2017 Fox/Watched in the Cinema) [I’ll keep this one mostly spoiler free. I don’t recommend this movie, but if you are determined to go see it, like I was, you could do worse.] This was better than it could have been, but worse than it might have been. Effectively it’s a chance for Ridley Scott to do-over Prometheus, with a new script and a proper Xenomorph to satisfy the fans. Apparently he was rather surprised that people wanted Aliens to feature in a story about how the Aliens came about. This one remedies that. Some, but not all of the issues that plague Prometheus for some (especially myself) have been addressed. The ship feels like it might possibly be from the same timeline as the Nostromo. There’s less in the way of flashy tech to present that contradiction. The crew are not all just a bunch of stupid, needlessly aggressive, mouthy twits who this time know exactly why they are there, and debate what to do in the solid first act. Once the acid hits the fan and people start dying things slip backwards a bit. Especially by the end of the film there’s a leery Friday the 13th feel about the way the Alien stalks two particular victims canoodling in a shower. Interestingly most of the stuff they were showing us in the trailers and preview clips is the worst of it. The worst of it comes when Scott and company start providing definite answers to the how and The why of the Xenomorph. The why is actually pretty firmly explained with reasoned motivation, as to the HOW we are back in black goo territory. They may as well have put that Deacon creature from the end of Prometheus into a pod marked SCIENCE and pressed a button marked GO. And of course once it’s all laid out the road back to the beginning of Alien is rocky as hell. Fassbender does a decent job this time, but that period at the beginning of Prometheus, one of unnerving subtlety is only briefly reached. A lot of it is him in a hood looking grumpy and I had quite enough of that in Assassin’s Creed. What I love is seeing Fassbender’s eyes sparkle, when he hits on a great angle for a great role . He had it with Erik and then he lost it. The same is true with this artificial person. The music by Jed Kurzel is a blend of Jerry Goldsmith’s superb Alien score and occasionally the key riff from Prometheus, as this is, after all, inescapably Prometheus 2, no matter what it’s actually titled. As...

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