Blockbuster Round-Up!

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With next year’s big releases debuting their teaser trailers this week (namely Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens), it seems an appropriate time to look back at the traditional summer blockbuster period this year and assess the damage. But looking through the box office rankings seems to suggest that 2014 will hardly go down as one of the all-time-greats for popcorn movies. Only comparative underdogs Guardians of the Galaxy and The Lego Movie felt like genuine break-out successes that will enjoy a long shelf life, critically acclaimed and universally liked (if you only saw Chris Pratt or Scarlett Johansson films this year, you’d have a pretty good success rate of most talked about/popular/very good movies). And let’s hear it for Edge of Tomorrow. Only through consistent good write-ups did I give it a chance, and I’m glad I did – funny, inventive, different, and Tom Cruise’s best performance since Collateral, with great support from Emily Blunt and Bill Blooming Paxton.

Apart from that, there were few films I didn’t feel bad about giving a miss. At least until a couple of long-haul flights and some recent DVD releases came along so I could catch-up. So here’s my blockbuster round-up, filling in the gaps of those I didn’t fancy seeing first time round.

First up, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the sequel to the preboot (that’s a reboot that works as a prequel) that did a very good job of making rampaging apes seem exciting and not so very silly (a feat in itself). The world’s population has been decimated by simian flu, though once again, we’re back in the San Francisco area, so it’s hard to say if other parts of the world are experiencing similar primate problems. Caesar and his chums are back, and Andy Serkis and co, plus the fantastic work of the computer graphics team, do a terrific job of tricking you into not necessarily believing what you are seeing is real, but not caring that it isn’t. Sadly, the human characters are in no way as well-drawn as their ape counterparts (Gary Oldman does a very good bit of crying, but that’s about as three dimensional as anyone gets), and as interesting as their clashes are, I wished I could have cared more about what was going on as it all reached its inevitable conclusion/cliffhanger. A triumph more of technology than writing.

Superheroes set most of the rest of my catch-up agenda, with Marvel in its various forms (via Fox and Sony, plus its own studio) basically unchallenged. Maybe not the obvious choice, but Captain America: The First Avenger was probably the film out of Marvel’s first wave I enjoyed the most thanks to its interesting spin on perhaps the character that seemed most out of place in the 21st Century (by having him do just that, after gallivanting around in WWII and finding his status as a propaganda tool problematic). But while Captain America: The Winter Soldier was popular with both audiences and critics, it did very little that wowed me. Given Captain America himself as more conventional superpowers than most, it was impressive how creative the action sequences were, taking stock-and-trade car chases, fist fights, and stealthy sneaking scenes and adding something different or unexpected to them. However, so much of the plot hinges on you giving a solitary toss about S.H.I.E.L.D., so come the twists, reveals and conspiracies, I really didn’t care, likewise with the titular Winter Soldier. I even fell asleep a bit during the climax (okay, I was on a plane, but still). Guardians of the Galaxy remains the only Marvel Studios film I’d give more than three stars.

Not a great deal better was X-Men: Days of Future Past. Billed as the ultimate X-Men movie, given it unites the cast of the original trilogy and the First Class prequel, but even with original director Bryan Singer returning, the future dystopia sequences felt as ropey as anything in Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, while the main narrative thread in the 70’s didn’t play as much around with the period or have quite as much fun as First Class had with the 60’s. It’s weird how, much like The Expendables, the prospect of seeing a big cast sharing screen time ends up being more interesting than the finished product. Not bad by any means, but given the stakes (trying to prevent a future in which everyone, human and mutant alike, are enslaved or killed by giant murder machines), it all feels disappointingly inconsequential.

Weirdly, it was two of the summer’s more divisive blockbusters I ended up enjoying more, especially impressive as one was the sequel to perhaps the least necessary reboot in recent memory. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, while still not maybe quite yet justifying Sony’s revived attempt to ‘Cinematic Universify’ the Marvel brand they still hold onto beyond simply renewing their rights, is at least a step in the right direction. Compared to the dull retread of Marc Webb’s first attempt, the sequel remembers that Spider-Man should above all else be fun and sparky and vibrant. The main draw is Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, and their interactions feel natural and genuine, to the extent you could probably remove the big action set-pieces and it would still be worth watching. The threat of adding too many villains to the broth (which apparently killed Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, along with Emo Peter Parker, but you’re WRONG IT’S PERFECT) in the end doesn’t work out that way, and both Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan handle tricky roles well. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 knows that it can be alternately serious and goofy and still be entertaining. It doesn’t need to be po-faced like Nolan’s Batman trilogy or Man of Steel, nor does it have to be smug and quip-laden like Iron Man or The Avengers. That’s not to say it’s better than any of those films, but it finally felt like its own thing.

But altogether more surprising was how much I found myself liking Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a film I had little to no interest in seeing, and put off for the longest time once the rental DVD arrived at my door, despite Aronofsky’s track record being actually pretty good, or at the very least interesting. Well, lo and behold, so too is Noah. From the get-go, you can imagine they wanted the tagline to be: “This Ain’t No Bible Story”, for while it does feature a whole heap of biblical reference and backstory, it does a lot to divorce itself from the Sunday School imagery that immediately springs to mind. Although the world of Noah is pre-apocalyptic, it looks and feels closer to post-apocalyptic. It’s Mad Max B.C.. Plus, thrown into the mix are The Watchers, fallen angels turned giant rock monsters that despite being CG creations move and behave somewhere between stop-motion animation and a Jim Henson puppet. And they are great. In fact, the animals of the ark play only a small part in the story, with the focus on Noah (Russell Crowe, doing his patented mix of gruffness and sensitivity) and his family, and in particular Noah’s determination to follow God’s plan, come hell or high water (ba-dum tish). And boy, when that water comes, it is pretty damn horrifying. You wonder what the studio execs must have felt, bankrolling a big Bible epic and expecting a Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments and ending up with something so dark and downright weird, but kudos to them anyway. I still don’t know what Noah really is, or what it is trying to be, and if there’s an antecedent, The Fountain probably comes close, though this has far more drive and urgency. But it’s fascinating, engrossing and worth watching with an open mind.

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Today is one year away from when Marty McFly arrives in the future in Back to the Future Part II

What's the date today?

What’s the date today?

Today is October 21st 2014. That means in 365 days it will be October 21st 2015. A date of immense significance, at least in terms of fictional future narratives, as it is that date on which Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) arrives in a future Hill Valley in Back to the Future Part II.

The Back to the Future films continue to cast a long popular culture shadow, the kind of mainstream family-friendly adventure comedy that only really exists nowadays in animated form or as long as a superhero is involved, Guardians of the Galaxy probably the closest example (and it can’t have escaped studios that a large part of its success was down to finally releasing a film that was actually ‘fun’). As a cornerstone of nostalgic entertainment among the current generation, it’s only parallel is probably Ghostbusters in terms of popularity. And while BTTF2 is generally considered the weakest of the trilogy, its reputation is unfair considering just how much it manages to cover in its running time – including an alternative present (technically past at the time of release) and a clever intricate return to the 1955 stomping grounds of the first film.

But it is in its depiction of a future 30 years from Marty’s time that the film remains most memorable. Indeed, it’s arguably the most popular segment of all three films, and a large part of the success of the section, and the trilogy as a whole, can be put down to that date. In the past couple of years, a spate of memes circulated, tricking people into thinking that today’s date was the day Marty arrived in the future. There are even websites set up specifically to both generate your own hoax-date or to countdown to the actual date that appears in the film, while istodaythedaymartymcflyarriveswhenhetravelstothefuture.com is pretty self-explanatory.

The real date, in case you were wondering.

The real date, in case you were wondering.

However, I’m not so much interested in this being one year before the events of BTTF2, or to demand where my hoverboard is, or wonder how we’re possibly going to squeeze in 15 Jaws films within 12 months. Rather, my interests lie in asking: why this date? Why is it so important to us?

Other pop culture properties mention key dates and would have been ripe for jokey anticipation. In Terminator 2, Judgment Day is set for August 28th, 1997. But there wasn’t so much hoo-ha when that came and went, perhaps because while a fictional SkyNet should’ve been waging war against mankind, our own internet access wasn’t quite as extensive, and meme culture was hardly widespread. Besides, it was all superseded by the very real (okay, not so real) threat of Y2K.

And once 2015 has been and gone, we still have the world of Blade Runner (November 2019) to look forward to. But we don’t get endless Shortlist articles asking when we can expect to have our own ESPERs, or when off-world colonies will be set up, or synthetic owls will be available to the rich and powerful.

These are more adult examples obviously, but that’s not to say that fascination with the future of BTTF2 is purely an exercise in nostalgia. Yesterday’s kids may be the grown-ups of today, and so they bring with them their own childhood experiences and interests. But I was already working out I would be 30 by the time BTTF2 rolled around when I first saw it, about 4 or 5 years old. The anticipation for that future was an instantaneous one, not something that has happened as it has gotten closer, at least for me. Then again, I once got my Dad to drive at 88mph on the motorway in the hope we would travel back in time (of course, forgetting we didn’t even have a flux capacitor). Even still, will kids count the days until the events of their favourite films are set to take place? Do films set in the future even have dates now? I must admit I have stopped paying attention. A generic THE FUTURE or 20XX may suffice, but there is something about having a specific date that both maintains interest in the run up to calendars aligning, as well as seems kind of cute in retrospect. If sci-fi films of the 90s, 80s, 70s and earlier are to be believed, the world should have ended/been invaded/turned into a maximum security prison several times over by now (something retro-futuro parody game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon plays on with its tagline: “The year is 2007. It is the future”). 1984 and 2001: A Space Odyssey carry with them a potency in their titles, even after the titular years have long passed, as they represent something about the time in which they written, as well as suggesting a milestone as part of a wider framework, the greater progress of civilisation and mankind’s journey.

Maybe it’s because none of these future visions are quite as much fun and optimistic as Hill Valley, 2015. It’s highly unlikely that Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale would’ve expected the fanciful creations of BTTF2 would come to pass in the timeframe allotted (though an 80’s revival and hands free videogaming are totally things right now). Flying cars and rehydrating pizza machines and self-tying Nikes are pure wish fulfilment, whereas the near-futures seen in the likes of Blade Runner and Children of Men, while even more vivid and detailed, are hardly happy and hopeful.

Even if in the future, jerks still exist.

Even if in the future, jerks still exist.

All this though is probably missing the key point, in that the Back to the Future films are all about time-travel. The dates are more than just a nominal background setting or arbitrary dressing, but foregrounded and essential to the narrative. The closest equivalent I can think of when it comes to time-travel comedy adventures of the period are probably the Bill and Ted films, and while the San Dimas of 2691 A.D. as depicted in the start of Bogus Journey is amusing in its dayglo aesthetic, it’s just not as intrinsic to the story nor is enough time spent in that period to really make an impact. Plus, 600 years into the future is just not as tangible. Watching BTTF2 as a kid, knowing that, all things being well, I would experience that date in my lifetime, fired off more sparks in my imagination. I won’t even be around to see the establishment of Bill and Ted University (2425 A.D. if you must know).

And so, in just one year’s time, that burning sense of anticipation, of childhood wonder, will have been extinguished by the cold hard wind of reality. But hey, let’s not end on a downer! Let me know what’s the next future date to look forward to. What might I have missed?

FILM REVIEW: I Declare War

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Regulars to this blog (if they even exist) will note my predilection towards films depicting kids that kill. Be it Battle Royale or Who Can Kill A Child?, I seemingly can’t get enough, so without wishing a a psychoanalyst upon me, it meant when tiny Canadian indie flick I Declare War appeared on my radar, my interest was certainly piqued, and a recent UK release was most welcome.

With a cast exclusively comprised of actors for whom having reached double figures is still kind of a big deal, two groups of kids pitch battle in the great outdoors, with sticks and twigs as firearms and water balloons as decisive ‘blood grenades’. What turns a simple childhood game into something different is that the film-makers give life to their imagination, arming them with ‘real’ guns, ‘real’ ammunition and ‘real’ explosives.

We’ve all waged make-believe warfare, long summers spent in the woods recreating whatever ridiculous action movies we recorded off late night telly without parental guidance (in that sense, this is something of a distant cousin to Son of Rambow). So there is something thrilling about the action sequences in I Declare War, which are surprisingly effective and exciting. But it is also inherently amusing. The kids fit comfortably into war movie archetypes – the joker, the religious nervy one, the ruthless general, the mute at one with nature, etc. They are suitably obnoxious: foul-mouthed, violent and cruel, so a fairly accurate portrayal of kids being kids. It’s surprisingly successful in being both a parody and fine example of war on film.

Yet, it also understands there is something unsettling about all this young unfettered bloodlust. As one might expect, it can be fairly on the nose with its messages –  war is pointless, nobody wins, military powers behave like squabbling tykes, yadda yadda yadda. However, its frequent scenes of kids with guns, intentionally or not evoking images of child soldiers and school shootings may be little too close for comfort for some – personally, I didn’t give it much thought, and nor do I think film-makers  Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson specifically set out for simple shock tactics. Better handled is how through the prism of conflict some pretty heavy emotional truths hit home, the kind that feel particularly brutal in childhood. Friendships are tested to breaking point, cliques are torn apart, bullying both physical and mental come to the fore – it’s tough being a kid some times, and I Declare War doesn’t shy from it.

It helps that there are some pretty good performances amongst the cast, some admittedly more so than others, but as PK, Gage Munroe is a force to be reckoned with – a pipsqueak with braces on the outside, but a cold heart and steely tactical brain inside. And Michael Friend as Skinner and Siam Yu as Kwon do well selling the tension of their scenes as captor and captive. But other performers are not so well handled, as much down to inexperience as ideas that perhaps looked better on the page and weren’t pulled off effectively in the finished product. The blurring of reality and fiction works well with the gunplay, but one character’s imaginary superpowers feel disconnected from the rest of the film, while a subplot with the only female character and her lovey-dovey daydreaming is a fumbled ball.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to admire about I Declare War – it is ambitious and fufils the potential of its premise, even if when it extends its reach, it comes up short.

FILM REVIEW: They Came Together and Hits

Davids Wain and Cross brought their latest films to Sundance London in April for their UK premieres, making for an irresistible double-bill of new American indie comedy. Though wildly different that both films were, it was pretty clear which was the more entertaining.

They Came Together

A wonderful send-up of romantic comedies, Wain’s They Came Together pitches Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler against each other before they inevitably fall in love, break up and make up again, but while there is arguably nothing clever about skewering the rom-com formula when its predictability is much of its appeal, it is a great excuse for a stream of very funny, very silly jokes. As with any spoof, not every gag lands, but few are milked (the key running gag of characters describing plot points and their specific roles in the story could wear thin for some, but it tickled me). There are pratfalls aplenty, copious amounts of mugging, lots of familiar faces from those boned up on the US comedy scene, ridiculous cameos, and everything is kept moving at a brisk pace, so refreshing when the default setting for mainstream American comedy at the moment is baggy improvisation. It’s also a reminder that spoofs don’t need to be Scary Movie or Meet the Spartans, nor coated in Seth MacFarlane’s patented mix of self-satisfied smuggery and distasteful bile – indeed, it’s the best example I’ve seen since Black Dynamite. And are there two more likeable and perfect comedy performers out there right now than Rudd and Poehler? A constant joy.

Hits

Less convincing however is David Cross’ directorial debut, Hits, in which schlub Dave Stuben (Matt Walsh) with a bone to pick with the local council finds himself being championed by cause-seeking hipsters after a video of him at a town meeting becomes a sensation. Though intermittently funny, despite the best efforts of its decent cast, its scattershot approach taking pop shots at too many targets leaves the film feeling rather bitty, leaving the central character rather sidelined and key aspects of the story unexplored. Not only that, the targets already feel dated, especially when it comes to a subplot with Dave’s daughter who dreams of becoming famous and will do anything to get on The Voice (“Aren’t kids obsessed with celebrity and TV talent shows today?” – Yawn). That Cross brought up Nathan Barley in the Q&A in reference to the hipsters suggests that he may be aware of being behind the curve anyway, but it feels as relevant as making jokes about the Bush administration. It’s a shame, as there are still things to enjoy about Hits, primarily James Adomian as the head hipster and his amazing outifts. And though few characters are sketched out particularly well, Jake Cherry as confused wigga Cory ends up being the most sympathetic out of a bad bunch. Better than Bobcat Goldthwait’s similarly themed God Bless America, but overall Hits fails to convince.

Film Review Round-Up 2014 Part I

Over on my Tumblr page, I’ve been posting mini-reviews, both Film 2014 (for new releases this year) and Catch Up Cinema (those not released this year) varieties, whereas saving the main blog for bigger articles, features and more in-depth reviews. But I figured that not might always be clear, and with the nature of Tumblr being comparatively ephemeral, I thought I might gather a round-up of reviews you may have missed. They are an odd bunch collated together, but an enlightening peek into my bizarre viewing habits I suppose. This is Part I and thus covers everything worth linking to up until this point, and perhaps a Part II will no doubt arrive in a few months time. Couple of proper reviews and full pieces coming soon though (as well as another Listening Post)!

FILM 2014

CALVARY

“There are individual moments when you feel it almost has meaning in its grasp, and some isolated scenes (and the magnificent scenery) trick you into thinking the film will fulfill its potential, and yet it never shakes the sense that it is merely a series of disconnected events and disjointed characters in search of something deeper. Not a total loss, just a disappointment.”

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET / 12 YEARS A SLAVE

“…it’s brimming with energy, making directors half his age seem old hat. Keeping it all together (well, losing it completely) is DiCaprio, his best performance since (the not too dissimilar) Catch Me If You Can, who shows hitherto untapped resources as a great physical comedian and willingness to debauch himself in all kinds of ways.”

12 Years A Slave is a very well made film – a terribly upsetting story told in a considered and respectful manner, unafraid to shy away from brutality or difficult issues. The way the film is composed, through its editing, cinematography, and sound, is close to faultless. And yet, and I wonder if I’m alone in this, the performances are a real mixed bag.”

AMERICAN HUSTLE

“I wanted to like American Hustle a lot more than I did, and there are excellent moments peppered throughout. But it’s this year’s Argo, a hollow period confection that seems to please crowds and awards bodies alike, though its charms seem lost on me.”

 

CATCH UP CINEMA

LOGAN’S RUN

“Despite its effective premise, time has not been kind to Logan’s Run. Of course, a certain amount of dating is to be expected, but there is little interesting in its design or notable about the execution for it to get by on kitsch factor alone.”

TEQUILA SUNRISE

“…there is one outrageously hilarious hot tub sex scene…with lots of steam, reflections, slo-mo, cross-cutting and saxophone (the credit for Saxophone Solos appears very high on the credit list), culminating in Pfeiffer spooning yoghurt into Gibson’s gaping maw.”

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

“…still an effective and engaging little thriller, with some neat camera tricks and surprisingly grim ideas.”

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

“…the first film is marginally better, mainly as a result of Francis Lawrence’s sure if unremarkable direction compared to original director Gary Ross’ more interesting choices. Both films continue to bungle the Hunger Games section itself though, with messy action sequences and a lack of energy or excitement, the build-up and aftermath far more interesting overall.”

WAKE IN FRIGHT

“Chilling, hysterical, upsetting, hilarious, shocking, tense, exciting – Wake in Fright is all these things, yet it also maintains an intelligent and deeply thoughtful core, a stark portrait of the nature of bravado, machismo and our strengths and weaknesses.”

ROBO-G

“Crowd-pleasing and easy-going it may be, but there’s more to Robo-G than meets the eye.”

1941

“…there are so many disparate threads, it’s hard to keep up with its myriad characters, who are either goofy caricatures or lightweight love interests. And, even in its truncated form, it feels a good half-hour too long. Yet, there’s something peculiarly charming about its madcap energy.”

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN vs CHRONICLE

“…much too much has already been said about how a reboot came only a decade after Sam Raimi’s first take on the webslinger, but in comparison to Chronicle, it really is a long tedious bore.”

LA BELLE ET LA BETE

“I enjoyed its humour, the costumes, the performances, design (especially the Beast’s impressive make-up), but it all felt a little flat, the editing – particularly between story threads – especially lacking, rendering it a series of neat moments rather than a fully engaging whole. “

Beyond Rocky Horror: Undergoing Shock Treatment

I must have first seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show aged around six or seven years old, stumbling upon a video of it my parents had taped from the TV (a spot for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare would date it early 1992 in the UK), and it kind of blew my tiny mind. Of course, much of its adult material flew over my head, I just enjoyed the silliness of it all, and my parents must have not been too concerned regarding the content given that they took me to see it on stage a couple of years later. So I grew up with Rocky Horror in a peculiar way, even appearing in a desexualised school production in my early teens (according to one parent, my American accent was very convincing). And yet the closest I’ve been to one of the film’s midnight screenings or sing-a-long events, the very thing that has sustained it as a pop cultural entity for so long, was an interview with creator Richard O’Brien and original musical director Richard Hartley at the Southbank Centre, culminating in a live rendition of ‘The Time Warp’.

With this background in place, I first became aware of Shock Treatment with its release on DVD, bundled together with a special edition version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. However, I soon gathered it had a reputation, even among Rocky Horror fans of being a bit, well, crap. You need only look at the general consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, and though it does have its defenders, the clear majority thinks it sucks, largely with the view that trying to follow in Rocky Horror’s footsteps was a bad idea to begin with. So for a long time, I gave it a miss – until now.

Released six years after the original film, Shock Treatment picks up with Brad and Janet, now wed but their marriage is on the rocks. Their hometown of Denton now appears to exist entirely within a TV studio and when they become gameshow contestants, Janet is whisked away into a life of glamour and celebrity while Brad is committed to a mental asylum. Will they ever break free and be reunited? Now, even I’m not sure that brief synopsis is what I saw, and that’s just very lightly skimming over the surface of the film’s many components. But first off, is it even a sequel then?

Janet (Jessica Harper) and Brad (Cliff De Young) on the Denton TV Set.

Well, Brad and Janet are the main characters. And a fair chunk of the cast and creative team return. But the callbacks to Rocky Horror are so minor (and nothing of their Transylvanian experiences are mentioned), it might as well exist unto itself. Though Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon didn’t return to their roles (filming commitments and salary quibbles respectively), this works in the film’s favour, drawing an effective line between Rocky Horror and itself. You might even wonder why they would even bother having Brad and Janet in at all, but as the archetypal sweethearts, it’s fitting that they should continue to represent the American dream gone sour, no longer chaste and repressed and ultimately giving into the “absolute pleasure” of Rocky Horror, but now married and facing the new struggles of stagnation, boredom and depression. In place of Sarandon and Bostwick are Jessica Harper (having already solidified her cult credentials with starring roles in Brian De Palma’s similarly rocking Phantom of the Paradise, and Dario Argento classic Suspiria) and Cliff De Young (who pulls off an impressive dual role so effectively, I didn’t realise until the end – or maybe I’m just a dumb-dumb). Meanwhile, returning Rocky Horror alumni include O’Brien (but of course), Patricia Quinn, and Nell Campbell, but if it is perhaps missing someone that could fill Tim Curry’s sizeable stiletto boots, you do get Barry Humphries as a crazy, blind, Austrian gameshow host, so it’s not a complete loss. And if that’s not enough, you also get Ruby Wax (yay?) and an all-singing all-dancing Rik Mayall (what?).

Yet, Shock Treatment remains an altogether different beast. Thematically it seems incredibly forward thinking, imagining a 24 hour constructed reality show, taking pop shots at consumerism and its place in modern society as a new religion, and dependency on drugs and self-medication to avoid dealing with their emotional problems head on – all in a heightened, bizarro musical fantasy. You could even say it is more relevant now than it was then, but maybe more relevant circa 2007 would be more accurate. But this melting pot of ideas is partially why it comes unstuck, prone to missing as many targets as it hits. Whereas Rocky Horror at least had a familiar framework of B-movie sci-fi and gothic horror tropes, Shock Treatment is more cohesive but less coherent, offering so little in terms of explanation it can feel alienating at times. There’s no outside world or context (partially down to the 1979 Screen Actors Guild strike preventing location filming), everyone simply accepting they live in a TV studio now, and no explanation for how and why this would be the case. What it really could do with is a narrator, akin to the Criminologist in Rocky Horror, but while Charles Gray also returns and offers some partial insights into what the heck’s going on, it’s not enough. Yet it’s carried along by its intense loopiness and your curiosity as to what might happen next, and there’s something quite admirable in how it offers no concessions to the audience.

The staff of insane asylum soap opera Dentonvale.

But then there are the songs, and any doubts that it couldn’t compete with Rocky Horror soon fizzle away, for the Shock Treatment songbook is arguably the equal of its famous forebear. Though in a similar rock ‘n’ roll vein for the most part, Shock Treatment shakes things up a fair amount too. The rousing, brilliant cheerleader chanting of ‘Denton, U.S.A.’ worms its way into your ear and refuses to let go. ‘Bitchin’ in the Kitchen’, in which Brad and Janet sing odes to household goods and appliances as featured in a commercial break over a nifty ska beat, is delightfully silly. The smoky and sultry ‘Looking for Trade’ is strangely haunting, ‘Lullaby’ is both sweet and creepy, while ‘Little Black Dress’ is the ‘Time Warp’ take two, and title track ‘Shock Treatment’ is a joy. As a selection of great songs, with inventive staging, set design and lighting, Shock Treatment is hard to beat. It’s just all the bits in between that barely keep it from falling apart under the weight of its weirdness.

Even with its flaws though, it still seems kind of baffling why it has nothing like the legacy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was cynically deployed, playing predominantly in midnight movie slots in the States, where Rocky Horror found its success, but this time round, even the in-built fanbase didn’t take to it, so it died at the box office with no one willing to resuscitate it. Given that the film is so self-contained, you would think it would find a new life on stage. And as the Denton TV audience is effectively the chorus (and you could simply replace the dressing up box of fishnets and Transylvanian tuxedos with Americana and doctors/nurses/strait-jackets), you might think a sing-a-longa crowd would adopt it as its own for all its cultish charms, but when even the President of the Rocky Horror Picture Show Fan Club doesn’t see the potential for audience participation, I guess Shock Treatment’s position as the unloved and forgotten sibling will unfairly forever remain.

So what I’ll say at the end of all this is if you love Rocky Horror, don’t delay your viewing of Shock Treatment any longer. If you don’t like it fine, it won’t sully your opinion of what came before, but you just might find something that shockingly turns out to be a treat. BA-DOOM-TISH.

The Oscars: Pick of the Posters

The 86th Academy Awards are upon us, and as red carpets are hoovered, speeches hastily “not prepared”, and fashion blogs primed, you’d almost forget that it’s all about good movies. Which is why I’ve decided to continue that trend and not talk about any of the movies nominated this year, or indeed any year. Instead, just as much an indicator of tastes as the films and fashion is the official Oscar ceremony poster. Past couple of years have had the host the focus, but the majority naturally put the iconic statuette front and centre, with varying degrees of success. Here’s my selection of just some of the best (and some of the very worst):

Ah, back to a simpler time. In 1960, audiences were made aware that there were “NO INTERRUPTIONS – NO COMMERCIALS!”. Oh, what a glorious time that must have been! 1963 was pretty neat too – I especially like the inclusion of a television set to remind viewers that they did not need to go to the cinema to see their “favorite movie stars”, which the advert handily lists at the bottom (though the note that they will be “on film and live” seems maybe a little cheap, no?).

Keeping it classy in the 70’s. Love the simple and stylish but unmistakably 70’s look to the 1971 poster, but the 1975 is both bold and timeless. Yeah, it’s just blurry lights, but it’s closer to the programme for a European cosmopolitan film festival than a Hollywood all-singing all-dancing awards show.

And so to the 80’s, if it wasn’t already obvious from the neon lines of 1985 on loan from Max Headroom. 1984 in particular lives up to its Orwellian expectations, with a vast “Big Brother” Oscar towering over the globe, all-seeing and all-knowing. The Academy Awards are here America, and there’s not a goddamn thing you can do about it!

The early 90’s, and things start to get a little, I don’t know, unnerving? Maybe it’s just me, but the above posters all look a little “horror” movie to me. Especially 1992, perhaps appropriate given that’s the ceremony The Silence of the Lambs won “the big five”. 1994 is just mad.

It’s strange that few of the posters fully exploit the Art Deco design of the statuette to its fullest. 1995 is a clear exception and very stylish it is too. But 2002’s Batman-inspired poster, nice enough as it may be, is somewhat baffling in context. Batman and Robin was 5 years prior, Batman Begins was another 3 years away, and Batman films generally aren’t Oscar bait (bar Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for The Dark Knight and maybe some technical trophies).

And finally we come to the section known as “Designer’s Day Off”. It seems like whoever came up with 1990’s offering looked long and hard into a crystal ball, then realised they had half an hour to submit the final work and whipped up this “10-year-old kid playing with Word Art” monstrosity. That said, it’s no worse than your average The Apprentice marketing task monstrosity. And at least it’s not the 2004 poster – either the design company had just discovered Clip Art for the first time and searched for a stock image of “press photographer”, or they spent time, money and effort into recreating an image better suited to a village hall newsletter advertising their Oscar party than the official promotional material for the ceremony itself. Sheesh.