Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: The Thing (1982)

“It’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is”

John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing is easily in my Top 5 films of all time. That’s not just for horror either, the movie is one of my earliest memories as a young film fan, and the scene when we first see the mysterious canine stranger turn, is for me an excellent example of how to combine science-fiction and horror, with the unseen and unknown coming together in the horrifying image of the grotesque animal. Glistening and writhing, it is simply unforgettable and is just as terrifying now as when I first watched it from behind the sofa all those years ago.

Not only are the visuals memorable, but when the dog/thing lets out that tormented scream, it literally chills the blood. Carpenter is an expert in making the viewer not just relate, but share the experience of the characters. In this case, many of the men are frozen in place by the image, and using the torches to reveal parts of the monster is simply genius directing. My favourite scene from easily my favourite John Carpenter movie, and that includes Halloween!

I hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of the Week, look out for next time’s!

 

England vs Italy: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After spending Saturday night in an absolute cauldron of a bar that decided to allow its air-conditioning to break on one of the warmest and most packed nights of the year, I needed all of Sunday to recover before posting about England’s opening group match in this explosive Brazilian World Cup. I am glad I did, because after allowing the small disappointment of not getting a result to sink in, I find I am not alone in feeling almost relatively happy and fairly optimistic despite the defeat. Not to the point of delusion as too many failures have nullified that sort of thinking. Instead, it is so pleasing to know that we played one of the most inexperienced and youngest teams in England’s history against one of the top teams in the world, and it nearly worked.

I was one of those jumping on the bandwagon after the last tournament, demanding that we play with freedom, youth and with an attacking style, and I have to credit Hodgson for doing exactly what the public have asked. He has given these young lions every opportunity to thrive in the absence of misplaced optimism. Therefore, on the performance alone, we as England fans can all pat ourselves on the back for creating a media storm and being completely correct in thinking this approach would make for a better England team, because it did. This has strangely taken any blame for lack of results off of the players and manager’s shoulders, and if we go out playing like we did Saturday night, then so be it, it was what we all wanted anyway. Everyone would trade in playing risky but exciting football on the world stage for a painfully dull and depressing exit at the hands of penalties, and I bet that there were a few neutral fans around the world that nudged each other, and said, “you know what, England look pretty good”. That is what makes me proud to be English and to support the national team.

I would think that the Italians were as surprised with how good we were, as we were of them, and both teams’ friendlies leading up to the game were extremely deceiving, and I was genuinely not expecting so much of an improvement from our players. But the best thing about losing whilst playing well, is that it is a lot easier to tweak, make adjustments and find those problems, as well taking advantage and build on strengths. So without further a do, here is the Good the Bad and the Ugly of England vs Italy:

The Good

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  • England played the best football I had seen since Hodgson took over, and it is easy to see how much the squad has developed as a team in the past couple of years. They have mostly all earned their place, and again, Hodgson must be given credit for balancing World Cup qualification with experimentation with younger players. Sterling was driving Italy up the wall on Saturday night and his pass to Rooney proves that his ability transcends mere pace. Barkley looked good again coming off the bench, and this England team seems full of bright young talent.
  • England had a high passing accuracy against a good Italy side, who had 93% to England’s 91%. Not only this, but England’s possession far outweighed that of two years ago, which shows massive improvement considering Italy have improved as well. Qualification will be difficult, but playing like that against a poor defence in Uruguay and Costa Rica will surely bring some goals for Sturridge and co.
  • We can add strength where needed over the next two years and try gain, but at least we will have a plan at long last, and one that we have the time to compete given the overall youth of the players. Who would be the captain after the inevitable retirement of Gerrard, willingly of otherwise. Cahill? Hart? Maybe Sturridge? Who knows? The future, for once, looks bright.

The Bad

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  • Defence still looks shaky, but we were always going to take risks short term by going to the tournament without more reliable players like Ashley Cole, but that is just testament to the determination to start again with a young side. Glen Johnson is still questionable, but he put in better performance on Saturday. A lot of pundits and commentators, when asked for their starting eleven before the match, often started with, “well, the back five picks itself”.  After Saturday night, I am not sure whether this is a good thing after one of two defensive errors. But, at least a consistent back line will mean the young team will gel together more quickly over time. If anything, Jagielka is really growing into the position, and I think Cahill and he can form a good partnership for England over the years, we just need some better cover in case of injuries.
  • I really liked the combination of Gerrard’s passing range and Henderson’s boundless energy and forward runs and passes. But although Gerrard’s long ball game does stretch the opponents, it also stretches our players, and these moments in the game where a breather is needed without relinquishing possession, requires the England players to practice piggy in the middle with the opposition for ten minutes. Whether we have the “technical” players for this is yet to be seen, but it would be good to at least have a plan B for these situations as the Italians looked above all very comfortable in the closing stages.  In a close game, grinding out a win with sustained possession and pressure does not come naturally to us, and this obsession with finding players that “like to turn and run at defenders” is almost overloading our football philosophy, and the need to also move the ball around without purpose is sometimes necessary.
  • Without doubt the biggest problem that was highlighted throughout the game was the left-hand side, more specifically a lack of cover for Baines. Unfortunately, this lack of cover was very much pointing at an overpaid white elephant in the room, which leads me onto. . .

The Ugly

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  • This isn’t a hate campaign, it is just all the fans can see there are players in better form. Maybe a case could be given for him behind Sturridge, but the fates are against Rooney, and the combination of Sterling’s dynamic performance in-behind Sturridge, and Rooney’s inability to be effective on the wing has left both Hodgson and the man himself with no excuses. I don’t know whether we as fans are missing the bigger tactical picture, or whether this is a sub plot involving Nike, but either way I think it’s time for a change . He does track back well and help midfield, and he did set up Sturridge for the goal with an an excellent cross, but by playing Sterling in the number 10 role behind Sturridge, Hodgson is admitting there are better players than Rooney in both positions, and by putting him on the wing, he is also admitting he won’t do anything about it.
  • I would rather see Milner keeping tabs on the left backs, as he is also a good crosser of the ball, something England was clearly lacking against Italy. Although this does not encourage youth across the park, it makes sense to learn from mistakes as we hopefully progress through the tournament. Rooney can always come on to replace a younger player, and let’s not forget an in-form Ox is now ready for his World Cup moment.

I am no Football analyst (as you probably have realised), but for what it is worth, here would be my starting eleven for the second game against Uruguay:

 Hart

Johnson / Cahill / Jagielka / Baines

Oxlade-Chamberlain / Gerrard / Henderson /  Milner

Sterling / Sturridge

IMPACT SUBS: Rooney / Barkley / Welbeck / Lambert

Did you think england played well? Comment below!

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

“I’m going to tell you a story. At first it’s going to sound ridiculous. But the longer I talk, the more rational it’s going to appear”.

After seeing Doug Liman’s much praised Edge of Tomorrow I came away feeling that its humour was the surprising highlight of the film. I am still not entirely sure whether this speaks volumes for its slight lack of a really gripping and original sci-fi story, or if it is simply an added bonus on top of a fantastically entertaining and well acted summer movie. I will join the majority that seem to be leaning towards the latter, because despite the movie’s paradoxes and predictability that has plagued other time-travel yarns such as Looper, I feel that Edge of Tomorrow is without doubt greater than the sum of its parts.

The film begins by using the always effective media-montage to deliver the back-story, which, in a nutshell, is your run-of-the-mill alien invasion. Although unoriginal as an introduction, it cleverly leaves out direct references to alien appearance and uses instead images of general chaos and WWII style geographic models. This all means a great surprise when you sit alongside Cruise and see the aliens face to face on the battlefield. The alien invaders are ironically called “mimics”, as they may conjure up memories of other recent creatures across the genre. But then again this more often than not is the case in a fairly congested sci-fi arena.

Cruise plays Major Cage, a media hugging combat dodger, essentially a coward, whom is the ideal candidate for the central role, as his character leaves the most room to develop, as a ready-made hero would most likely just follow routine action lines until he eventually saves the day. After being thrown into battle and labelled a deserter, Cruise predictably dies in combat at the hands of an alien called an Alpha, which spills its blood on top of Cruise, giving him the ability to reset time, or more specifically, the day. Cue hilarious montage of Cruise copping it through bullet fire, alien attack and a badly timed combat roll under the wheels of a truck. This is where the film comes into its own, and Bill Paxton is the perfect poker-faced foil for the film’s humour as Master Sergeant Farrell.

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Cruise is joined by the sultry Emily Blunt (above), who plays bad-ass, helicopter blade-wielding war hero Rita Vrataski, otherwise known as the ‘full metal bitch’, who has also been gifted Cruise’s ability in the past, another clever way of using characters to dictate the script’s rhythm. They work together with Noah Taylor to find and eliminate the central alien mind, the Omega, which has the ability like Cruise, to reset time and therefore out-manoeuvre the humans in this un-winnable war. Unfortunately, this science-fiction sub plot of killing a central nerve to avoid plot complication has in recent times become slightly overused to the point of movie cliché (Avengers, Independence Day, Phantom Menace etc), leaving me slightly frustrated that the original story could not have been changed to avoid travelling over the same ground.

Thankfully though, the quick witted script, slick editing and inventive cinematography (such as some video-game contemporary FPS angles and cool close-ups of the mecha-suits) gives the film a minty freshness, that mixes well with the gritty and intense camera-work. The action scenes hold together really well, and the whole film feels futuristic, but at same time relatable, in the way that Children of Men is. It is perhaps just a shame that the quality of cast does not pass down from the central group, and the supporting cast that mostly encompasses J-Squad, is rather just a mish-mash to cultural stereotypes. But perhaps that is the difference between the truly epic science-fiction of Aliens, and the entertaining, clever, but ultimately unremarkable Edge of Tomorrow.

Shapstik Verdict: Despite the absence of some key elements to reach greatness, the whole thing comes together really well, and fans of Cruise’s humour will have great fun watching the variation and inventiveness of his multiple deaths. Edge of Tomorrow’s great acting, sharp editing and strong script, leaves it with a sheen that allows the whole affair to glitter a little bit more than it probably deserves. 7/10

Shapstik’s Movie Clip of the Week: True Romance (1993)

“You got me in a vendetta kind of mood”

One of the best from the late director Tony Scott’s collection, True Romance is an artful display of some of the best performances from an array of actors. But without doubt the best scene from the whole film is Christopher Walken’s interrogation of Dennis Hopper, as he searches for his son Clarence and his “whore” of a wife. It is impossible not to be immediately intimidated by Walken’s cool and polite demeanour and Hopper portrays the mix of emotions that he goes through superbly.

The best part for me, and the turning point of the whole scene, is when Hopper realises his situation. Knowing he cannot lie, and that he cannot guarantee his freedom even if he was to give up his son, decides to end on one of the greatest anecdotes in film history. Requesting his Chesterfield from Walken, the music begins as he describes in damming detail the factual account of Sicilian genetic history. The only thing this does guarantee, is that it will anger Walken to the point of murder, and save him from the inevitable torture that will follow.

It is just one of the those moments in film, when the viewer just shuts up and takes in a classic to and fro between two of cinema’s greats.

Hope you enjoyed my Movie Clip of the Week!

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

“Just because someone stumbles and loses their path, doesn’t mean they can’t be saved”

The X-Men franchise returns to the screen with a bang with its latest and greatest instalment Days of Future Past, which sees the original director from the first two films Bryan Singer return to the helm. But don’t think for a second this means more of the same, as the cast from the newer X-Men: First Class joins forces with the original cast to create a time-jumping extravaganza that enjoys a great balance of gritty science-fiction and the levity and humour that makes the X-Men films so enjoyable.

This is not to say that you will be blown away by the story as it hardly twists and turns like a good time travel film should, but when dealing with such a problematic time-based plot, its probably always best to keep things simple. A fantastic beginning sequence, superb acting performances (especially a heavily underused Peter Dinklage as the misguided Trask) and some unforgettable sequences involving some new and improved mutant-powers, just about covers up a slightly anticlimactic ending that sums up a story that somehow does not fulfil its full potential. Perhaps it just needed that final ambitious push to reach true super-hero greatness.

The movies begins in a gritty and darkly comic-book dystopian backdrop, set in the days of the future, before it inevitably jumps back to the days of future past (which is a rather heavy-handed way of describing any time whatsoever). On the brink of destruction during the final war between humans and mutants, the X-Men, including Magneto and Professor Xavier (didn’t he die?), send Logan back through time to prevent Mystique from killing the inventor of the sentinels, which are adaptive machines programmed to destroy anything even remotely related to mutants. This whole first scene which sets up the first use of time-travel is pretty spectacular and I was astounded by the special effects and inventiveness with the mutant’s cool powers. Unfortunately, I was just as astounded by the similarity of the whole thing to the Matrix, and even more taken back to the Sentinels’ resemblance to the Asgaardian guardian in Thor. But that is soon forgiven as the viewer is thrown back to the 1970s where humour, political intrigue and most importantly, character development are the name of the game.

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When a troubled Professor X is forced to free Magento from prison, we are introduced to easily the best character in Quicksilver, captured effortlessly well by Evan Peters. His ability to move faster than the eye can see, matches perfectly with the young actor’s quick wit and delivery, which is a shame because he is quickly taken out of the picture, for no real reason whatsoever, and the much needed levity is lost. In fact, just like a lot of super-hero movies, the longer running time creates a slight stagnation in the middle of the film that seems such a shame given its intriguing and promising start.

This is not to say X-Men DoFP isn’t enjoyable even when its slow, as the excellent casting means there is not one character that looks uncomfortable. Perhaps a new direction at the half way point, outside of variations of the central plot line, could have spiced things up. But as an instalment within the X-Men franchise, its originality cannot be ignored and it blends so much of the ideas and themes of the whole series so well, it is arguably the best yet.

Shapstik Verdict: When it’s not busy reminding you of other science-fiction movies or cementing over holes and paradoxes on Plot Street, X-Men DoFP is easily one of the best super-hero movies to date and the most ambitious of the X-Men franchise. With its classy production, array of great acting performances and its richly varied depiction of timelines, it has more than enough to offer the viewer (or sometimes a little too much in the case of Jackman’s behind).  8/10