Sunday, 25 April 2010

Be Seeing You? No Thanks or The Prisoner: (Re)Making Money

There's a lot of remakes doing the rounds at the moment. Films, TV programmes and even computer games are all getting the remake treatment, for better or worse. I just started watching the new version of The Prisoner on ITV. I've now seen the first two episodes, and I have to say, I'm distinctly unimpressed.

The original version of The Prisoner is one of those TV programmes to which the word "seminal" can easily be applied. What started as a vaguely offbeat show about Patrick McGhooan's Number Six resigning from his job as a secret agent, and subsequently being held in a strange Village, run by the mysterious and never seen (until the end anyway) Number One, and One's rotating group of Number Two's (stop sniggering). Each episode would deal with Six trying to find a way to escape the Village, which was guarded by Rover, the infamous giant inflatable ball, while at the same time, Two would try and trick Six into revealing why he resigned from his job in the first place. Strange enough to being with, instead of answering any the many questions the series posed, over the course of its seventeen episodes, The Prisoner slowly developed into one of the trippiest, but also most intriguing shows around. The fact that at the end, we still didn't even know Six's true identity (though rumours persist he was supposed to be John Drake, the secret agen McGoohan played from 1964 to 1967 on "Danger Man") didn't matter. McGoohan (who also produced, directed and wrote for the show) had fucked with all of our heads, and we liked it. Lost could learn a lot from The Prisoner, a show which dared not to answer the very questions it posed in the first place and knew when it should come to a close.

The new version of The Prisoner is shorter, only six episodes in total. This is a good thing, because it's really not very good. To be fair, it is a beautifully shot show, with the desert locale being put to excellent use and the Village, while no Portmeirion, is realised very well. The whole thing has a dreamlike quality about it which, while pretty to look at, actually ends up working against the show. You don't really believe any of this is happening, other than maybe in Six's head, which really makes it hard to care.

Jim Caviezel plays Six (given the name Michael from the off here), and while he does the best he can with what he's given, but unfortunately, what he's given doesn't match up to his talents. In the original, McGoohan played a Six with a level of self confidence about himself which meant that you always felt like he was going to end up turning the tables on his captors. Caviezel's Six doesn't have that. He plays a man who seems close to madness already, which only adds to the feeling that maybe none of this is actually happening. Caviezel plays it very well, but the way the character is written just doesn't quite work.

Another mistake is made with Number Two. Again, the part is cast wonderfully in the shape of Ian McKellan, but not only does he play Two in every episode, they actually give us a subplot about his own family issues. This a really bad idea. McKellan is excellent (the man doesn't know how to be anything but) but, using a different Two every week on the original (okay, some of them repeated, but never consecutively) added to the feeling that there was a major player behind the scenes pulling everyone's strings. Using the same Two every episode, and then giving him a family and even making him a minor celebrity in the Village, takes away from both the mystery and the sense of danger surrounding the character. Bizarrely enough, while much of the rest of the show is too dream like and unreal, this makes Number Two seem more real and grounded in reality, possibly moreso than Six himself.

There are many other problems with the show, not least of which is a massive plot hole from the off. If they want to find out why Six resigned his job, then why send him to a village where everyone loses their memories from the off? He can't tell you if he doesn't remember himself! The residents of the Village are also a problem. In the original, they had an air of menace about them, with their constant cheery disposition, they actually seemed creepy and only added to the overally feeling that the Village was not a nice place. The people in the Village this time around? They're just people, all wondering what's wrong with Six, something which again, just doesn't work.

But the biggest problem with the new Prisoner? It's not just nonsensical, but it's boring. Both episodes I've watched have been incredibly dull. You get the feeling no one know what to do with it, which is no surprise when you watch the original. With that in mind, why did they even bother trying to put out this shit in the first place?

Oh, yeah, money.

Monday, 12 April 2010

That's How I (Electoral) Roll

Here we go again then. A general election is upon us, and we, as a nation, get to vote for the party we dislike the least to govern us. Between now and the sixth of May, the news channels will be covering nothing but these simpering politicians travelling all over the country trying to convince the public that they are the right person to run the country, while the opposition is nothing but a money grabbing opportunist who will drive you into financial ruin, forcing you to prostitute your wife/mother/daughter/granny and send the kids to the poor house just so that you can survive from day to painful day, all the while lamenting "why, oh why didn't I vote for the other guy?" The fact of the matter is that, more now than ever, it feels like we're being asked not to vote for the one which can do the best job, but the one we think will be slightly less rubbish than the others.

There was a time, long ago, when Britain was considered to be a great nation. This tiny island had an empire that spanned most of the globe, thanks in no small part to a navy second to none. Britain commanded respect, and we got it in spades. We had a royal family who were so much more than just a tourist attraction. We had many of the greatest writers and the finest minds of the time. Put simply, we had it all.

And now? We've got Jaffa Cakes. That pretty much sums us up. Britain has become a joke. Our royal family seem to be nothing but fodder for the tabloids and those magazines which tell you which idiot off Big Brother went down the chippy last night. Our general populace is seen as either toffee nosed, superior, aristocratic wankers or drunken, violent thugs. And we all have bad teeth and eat nothing but jam and scones for lunch, and fish and chips for dinner. But mainly, we're America's bitch. Dear lord, we're completely and utterly shitcellent!

That's how many people see us. They're not right, of course, but they're not entirely wrong either. Our royal family do often come across as nothing more than the celebrity elite, and those drunken, violent thugs can be found in most towns and cities without you having to look too hard. And yes, we're most definitely America's bitch. It's really not helped by having a prime minister who is very much the proverbial drowning man with a brick. Not all his fault, of course. His predecessor didn't exactly leave him with a country that was running smoothly, but he hasn't really handled it well. Things have only really gotten worse under ol' Brownie.

The problem is, we, as a nation, are idiots. In the upcoming election, I'm going to be voting Lib Dem. For me, I think they represent the best chance this countries got right now. I'm not going to go into they whys and wherefores, exactly what it is about their policies I like, or dislike. Nor am I going to do that with the other parties. I'm not particularly politically minded, and I find it a struggle to write about that kind of thing. That's not what this piece is about. Their policies aren't the issue for me right now. The fact that Britain is a nation of morons is the issue.

Don't get me wrong, I love Britain. In my own bizarre way, I guess I'm a patriot of some kind. The history of Britain is truly impressive, and I love the idea that one of the smallest nations on the planet commanded one of the largest empires. But when I say I love Britain, that's what I love. The history and the ideal of what it represented and could be. The reality of Britain at the moment is decidedly unimpressive at times. This election is a case in point. Now, I'm not campaigning or anything here, but the Lib Dems could get in if it weren't for some monumental stupidity on the part of a the British public. In a recent survey, people were asked who they would vote for if their vote counted. If their one vote was enough to get whichever party they voted for into power, who would it be? The overwhelming majority said that in that unlikely scenario, they would vote Lib Dem. When asked who they were actually voting for, they said Labour or Conservative. Why? Because a vote for the Lib Dems is a wasted vote.

No, no, no, no, no! Don't vote for the party you think is going to win, vote for the one you want to win! With that kind of mentality, of course the Lib Dems won't get in. All their voters are voting Labour because that's what they think the rest of the voters are going to do as well! It's ridiculous! Either vote for the party you'd rather see in power, or don't vote at all. Stick to voting in the latest overblown ITV talentless contest on every Saturday night instead. Don't get me wrong, this isn't me urging you to vote Lib Dem. I will be, but that doesn't mean you should. All I'm asking is that you actually vote for whichever party your head is telling you can do the best job of governing this country. Tell your friends to do the same. Let's not settle for the ugly, boring person in the club because that's all we think we can get. Let's go for the thing we want, and if we don't get it, at least we can say we tried.

Unless the one you want is the BNP, in which case you suck and may get a Paddy Prescription in the not too distant future.

I don't pin my hopes on things really improving for Britain in the near future. But I'm not leaving yet either because... well, because Britain is sort of like my cat. It's really bloody stupid. But it's also kind of adorable in it's own way, and I love it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

A Kick-Ass Review

Kick-Ass is the first film of the year which I was truly excited about going in. Don't get me wrong, there were films I was looking forward to. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to enjoy Sherlock Holmes, and if The Road wasn't anything but brilliant, then I would've been surprised. But neither of them excited me. Holmes was too unknown, in terms of how they were going to tell the story and whether Guy Ritchie was going to be able to effectively direct this type of movie, so there was some trepidation there going in. And good as I knew the road was going to be, I also knew it was going to be incredibly bleak and hard going, and if incredibly bleak and hard going excites you, there's something wrong.

Kick-Ass though, that excited me. The comic it's sort of based on (sort of because the two were written at the same time), written by Mark Millar with art by the legendary John Romita Jr, is one of the best titles to come out last year. It was excellent, being funny and irreverant, and poking fun at superhero conventions while also revelling in them. Millar and Romita crafted a violent, bloody love letter to the superhero genre which has served them both so well over their respective careers. Publishing it through Marvel's Icon imprint, for creator owned titles, they also funded most of it themselves, something which paid dividends when it quickly became on of the best selling comics of 2009.

The film version was adapted by Matthew Vaughan and Jane Goldman, who had done so well with their adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, closely overseen by Millar and Romita, so the pedigree was good. Two of comics top creators teamed with the people who successfully adapted Neil Gaiman on one of the modern ages best comics? Yeah, that's exciting.

And thankfully, the film more than lives to the excitement.

Both the comic and the film tell the story of Dave Lisewski, a school student and comic book fan who wonders why no one ever puts on a mask and tries to fight crime in the real world. It isn't too long before Dave has got himself a costume and is prowling the streets as Kick-Ass. After being caught trying to prevent a mugging on camera, Kick-Ass quickly becomes an internet sensation, meets fellow superhero The Red Mist, and is forced to team-up with Big Daddy and Hit Girl, two rather more extreme costumed heroes, against the mob.

The idea of telling a superhero story in the real world isn't necessarily a new idea (one of the many incarnations of Superboy was set in our world, among others), but what sets Kick-Ass apart is how knowing it is. Dave Lisewski, as his own narration tells us, doesn't have a dark tragedy in his past, nor does he have any special powers or equipment. All he has is enthusiasm and a costume. So it's no real surprise that, as far as superheroes go, he's no Batman. He's barely even D-Man (yes, he's a real character. Look him up). But one thing becomes clear fairly early on. Dave is an addict, and so he keeps on putting on the costume and heading out to do good. The results are hilarious.

Kick-Ass is, first and foremost, a comedy. There aren't many films in recent memory where the audience have been laughing so hard and so loud throughout. From the opening scene of an ill-fated winged superhero, through to the twelve year old Hit Girl's introduction featuring the single greatest use of the Banana Splits theme ever, right on to the films coda and the fate of Red Mist, this isn't just a funny film, but possibly the funniest film there's been for a long time.

In particular, and perhaps most surprisingly, it's Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy who gets most of the laughs. Lets face it, Cage has hardly been lighting up the screen for the last few years, phoning in his performances in shoddy films like Knowing, Ghost Rider and, *shudder*, the just awful Wicker Man Remake. Up until now, you wouldn't be wrong to suggest his last good movie was Adaptation in 2002 (not counting his turn in one of the Grindhouse trailers). In Kick-Ass, Nicholas Cage is back to his best. In Big Daddy's civilian identity, Cage plays it mostly straight, coming across as a doting father, albeit one who's also training his daughter to be a vigilante. Put Cage in the costume though, and all of a sudden he becomes a pitch perfect Adam West Batman. It's a perfect fit for the character, and Cage is clearly loving every second of it, something which comes across in his performance. Cage has often come across as bored and disinterested in recent years, but here, he comes alive, reminding us of why he was once such a box office draw. It's almost enough to steal the whole film.

Not quite though. That honour goes to Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl. Big Daddy's daughter, Hit Girl has been trained by her father to help him take down the mob and avenge the death of her mother. It's Hit Girl who gets the lions share of the action sequences (the more accomplished ones anyway), most of which are brutal, bloody and funny, made all the more so by the fact that it's an eleven year old girl fighting and swearing her way through the movie. But Moretz is also excellent during the quieter moments. She and Cage have a chemistry that means you completely believe them as a father and daughter who completely and utterly love each other, and some of their scenes together are among the most moving in the film. Moretz will next be seen playing Abby, the vampire in the English language remake of Let Me In (the English language and worse titled version of Let the Right One In). It's for this reason alone that it may be worth checking that out after all.

Though it's Moretz who steals the film, the rest of the cast acquit themselves well. Aaron Johnson plays Dave brilliantly, gradually turning him from a lovable loser into... well, a more confident loveable loser. It's a performance which combines flat out slapstick and big moments with more subtle touches. After the acclaim he received for his performance as John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, and now this, it's easy to see why he's being talked up as the next big thing. Likewise, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist manages to add some depth and genuine character moments to his usual role of the withdrawn nerd, and Mark Strong chews up the scenery as Frank D'Amico, the films main bad guy. Able support also comes from Clark Duke, Evan Peters, Michael Rispol and Vaughan Stalwarts Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng.

Kick-Ass is a strong early contender for Film of the Year. It's one of those rare films which you just can't find fault with, and has a sense of fun running through it at all times. Even during it's darker moments, such as the origin of Big Daddy and Hit Girl (told brilliantly through flashbacks which utilise the artwork of John Romita Jr), the sense of fun isn't lost. The ending of both the comic and the film leave it open for a sequel, and rumour has it, Millar and Romita are working on one at this very moment, tentatively titled Balls to the Wall. We can only hope that this rumour is true, and that the same team then make the movie. We should also hope it features Hit Girl again. Moretz is up for it, and so should you be.

Kick-Ass, in both it's incarnations, is, quite simply.... well, I'm not going to say it. But that's what it is.