One of the things that annoy me about superhero movies is their constant need to start off with origin stories.  Let's face it, an origin story is usually slow and needlessly complicated and very rarely shows the hero in question at their best.

Christopher Reeve - we really did believe a man could fly!

Richard Donner's Superman (1978) needed to be an origin story because it was, essentially, introducing a (then) forty-year-old character to a new medium and world that may well have forgotten or misunderstood his origin.  Superman was the first serious superhero film in a generation; it was a proper reboot and therefore needed to start from the ground up.  There is no denying that Superman is a fine example of the form, epic in scope and groundbreaking in its calling-upon big stars (need I remind you of the god-like awe in which the movie-world held Marlon Brando, never mind the kudos brought by Oscar-winner Gene Hackman?)  The Salkinds were also pioneers in that they had the vision and the finances to make Superman and its sequel simultaneously (a practice I believe they originated with The Three Musketeers / Four Musketeers - 1973 / 4) something that is not even unusual these days.
"Kneel before Zod" ... You know you've said it yourself!

So, Superman had to be an origin story ... But is there anyone who prefers it to Superman II?  Even the diluted version of Superman II which backroom squabbling left us with?  Superman II has the conflict that the first film lacked.  It has the badguys which, let's be honest, you still quote from time to time!  It was more fun, more exciting and a truer representation of who Superman is.  Those of us who read comics at the time were used to seeing city-blocks being levelled by tussling titans that was far more interesting than saving trains and repairing dams!
Jack Nicholson, laughing all the way to the bank with his (reputed) $50 million for three weeks' work

Then, after many, many false starts, along came Batman (1989).  It side-stepped the origin problem by including its origin as flashbacks, but it was still weighed down by the need to turn Jack Napier into the Joker and then ruined by a villain who had infinitely more charisma than the hero.  Again, Batman has one or two quotable lines but is mostly remembered now for Danny Elfman's first standout score and for having been the rehearsal, if you will, for the far more successful Batman Returns (1992).  This film hit the ground running, had room for three villains and hurtled along at a cracking pace.

Okay, so he's too tall and too ... Australian.  But he's still perfect casting!

X-Men, in 2000, was peppered with some origin material, but mostly around Wolverine, leaving a lot of questions unanswered (and thusly paving the way for a steady stream of prequels).  Despite some exceptional casting (better, even, than Donner's Superman) the problem for this film was simply the sheer number of characters with which one had to become familiar.  By the time we got round to X-Men 2 in 2003, this job was done and they could all get on with being useful and interesting (except James Marsden of course, whose Cyclops was, sadly, neither).  One could argue that origins have run through all of the X-Men films and I couldn't disagree but, what that hasn't done, is get in the way of the narrative and conflict.

You'll believe a CGI character can swing between CGI buildings

Spider-Man (2002).  Oh dear.  That origin story seemed wafer-thin back in the 60s when Lee and Ditko first came up with it.  It certainly doesn't stand up to too close inspection now.  Okay, so they tampered with it, adding the extremely-useful 'genetic' catch-all and having him grow web-shooters rather than build them (which always seemed unlikely, one has images of him swinging around with a tank of web-fluid on his back).  Again, it doesn't all really tie-together until Spider-Man 2 where they can just get stuck into super-hero versus super-villain which is, after all, why everyone stumps-up their money.

Press that one to make it go BOOM!

Batman Begins (2005) ... Okay, so, given how spectacularly far off the rails Warners had allowed its franchise to go in the nineties, this series desperately needed a re-boot!  I will therefore, begrudgingly, admit that I enjoyed all that learning to be an ice-skating ninja stuff and the process of finding his cave, developing his suit and, of course, finding his Bat-Mobile.  But, when his past returned to haunt him in the film's third act, the movie just fell apart.  Not so The Dark Knight (2008) which is simply the best, most powerful, hugest superhero film ever.

Hang on ... How much did Nicholson get?

So, you see, I don't like origin stories, they drag a film down.  If they were so bloody important every film would be an origin story.  All characters have origins.  All characters have reasons for being who and where they are.  But, no, most films are content to tell you what you need to know when you need to know it and no more.

And please, don't even get me started on the god-damn Punisher films.

So, despite all my advice, Hollywood has decided to reboot both Superman and Spider-Man.  Oh joy.

And, in both cases they have cast young men hardly able to shave.  Both remarkable actors, I'm sure (I can't lay claim to having noticed Henry Cavil - who is to be Clarke Kent - in much but Andrew Garfield - who is at the moment being Peter Parker - is an actor with considerable range) but they are both kids.  This means we are going to get origin stories.  Again.

Garfield in the 'leaked' photo of him in costume.  Yes, Sony must be livid at the VAST amount of free publicity this leak has got them ...

I still think Warners made a massive error in 1988 when they green-lit Batman, that they didn't hire Clint Eastwood to don the cowl and cape and just put Miller and Janson's genre-defining masterpiece The Dark Knight Returns up there on screen.

Click to enlarge ... And just bask in the magnificence of this - the absolute zenith of the superhero comic-book.

Superheroes typically become more interesting as they develop.  They have more experience, more adventures, more bad-guys!  The dilemmas they face become more interesting, the emotional baggage they carry becomes heavier, they simply have more to lose and, therefore, the stakes are higher!

But, of course, these characters will be older and therefore of less appeal to the all-important 16-24 movie demographic.  Well, ignoring just how patronising an assessment of movie audiences that is, let's look at the facts ... The 16-24s turned out in record numbers to see Up (2009).  They pile into the cinemas to see the mid-life-crisis films of once young (but rarely funny) comedians like Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell and exactly how appealing to a sixteen-year-old would a film called Forty Year-Old Virgin be anyway?  Extremely, it seems!

My point is that Hollywood doesn't have to slavishly pander to its belief that teenagers will only watch films about teenagers nor, for that matter, that teenagers represent the entirety of its audience.  It could, therefore, portray these same characters at later points in their careers and come up with something genuinely different for the movie screen.

Case in point:  Comics readers are, stereotypically, even younger than cinema-goers and yet they can accept stories about characters far older than they are.  Readers and viewers don't need to identify precisely with a character in order to care about them.  Let's face it, what sane person identifies with Superman, anyway?

The mid-life-crisis on infinite Earths ...
Alex Ross has blown away comics readers with his photo-realist paintings of superheroes in action, particularly in his magnificent mini-series Kingdom Come (1996) which is absolutely about older, thicker-set heroes.  He has also done remarkable work with The Justice League - all of which could be filmable because DC doesn't have Marvel's problem of licensing different characters to different studios since they're all owned outright by Warners.  Well, wouldn't it be an idea to see his version of a mature Superman, dealing with issues far larger than how not to let down Ma and Pa Kent.  As for casting, well, it seems obvious to me:  Patrick Warburton.

You will probably know his voice (not least from Family Guy) more than his face (although he was excellent ten years ago in the criminally short-lived The Tick TV series).

Have a look at Ross' now definitive version of  Superman ...
Patrick Warburton

Now have a good look at Warburton and you tell me if that isn't uncanny.

 The campaign begins here: bring on the wrinkly superheroes!  Death to origin stories!  It's the way forward!

Top Ten Animated Films That Screw With Your Head – part 2

... suddenly, the animator suffered a fatal heart attack!
Okay, yesterday I unveiled the first five of my top ten cartoons that expand your mind.  That'll be here, then.  All of them, it turns out, are of European origin.  But, as we move into the top five, we become a bit more Ameri-centric so, without further ado:

5: Heavy Metal (1981)

Our first non-European film, Heavy Metal is actually Canadian, however the magazine from which it takes its name is an English-language reprint of Metal Hurlant which is, of course, French.  Like the magazine, the film is a portmanteau of short-stories, linked by the mysterious and all-powerful artefact, the Loc-Nar.  All of the stories are animated in different styles by different teams and with different writers and directors.  The stories are based on the visual styles of, among others, Richard Corben, Bernie Wrightson and Moebius.

Inevitably, this makes the film a bit patchy, with stories ranging from the tedious (Harry Canyon) to the risible (Den) to the delightful (Captain Sternn), the chilling (B-17)  and the epic (Taarna … which was parodied so perfectly by South Park in its 2008 episode ‘Major Boobage’).  

... suddenly, Kenny suffered a fatal heart attack!
 It was an attempt to release an adult animation – the first since Ralph Bakshi’s films of the early 70s, but its drooling T&A content meant that the result, whilst adult, was certainly not mature.  The over-all feeling  is of a self-indulgent, hallucinatory, sensory overload which is, I imagine, exactly what the makers were aiming at! 

It is, however, a good opportunity to hear some great, unrepentant 1970s rock music (my personal favourite being the spine-tingling Veteran of the Psychic Wars by Blue Öyster Cult and Michael Moorcock).  It’s also a good opportunity to see some animated sex and violence – not unusual now, but surprisingly controversial at the time.

4: Wizards (1977)

At last, a full-on, out-and-out all-American movie, albeit from the American underground.  Ralph Bakshi had carved out quite a reputation for himself in the '70s as the first (and only) American animator making feature-length animations for adults.  Fritz The Cat (1972 - based on Robert Crumb’s seditious comic of the same name) became notorious for its starkly honest depictions of sex and drug use, which were commonly depicted in live-action films of the time without critical comment but, of course, Fritz was a cute cartoon character.  Bakshi would promptly go on to the vastly ambitious and deeply flawed adaptation of Lord of the Rings but, before that, we have Wizards, which is his masterpiece.  

Set in a future so distant it looks like the past (sounds oddly like another film Fox released in ’77), Bakshi employs the already well-used tropes of the fantasy genre, mixed in with science fiction and some late-seventies political cynicism.

It contrasts the jagged, intimidating graphics of Ian Miller with the cute, softness of comic-book artist Mike Ploog.  The mish-mash of magic and modern weaponry led the way, to a certain extent, to subsequent developments in the use of science fiction ideas in film.  When the budget ran out, Bakshi resorted to rotoscoping found footage for the massive battle sequences, a technique he repeated in Lord of the Rings.  I have to say it works far better here!

3: A Scanner Darkly (2006)

just 'cos you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you
 Like The Adjustment Bureau, this is based on a Philip K. Dick story (to which, unlike The Adjustment Bureau, it sticks like glue) and, like Rango, is produced through an advanced variation of rotoscoping, which director Richard Linklater developed for the earlier Waking Life (2001).

The unreal imagery feeds into the narrative which concerns the paranoia of drug-addled losers, suggesting that they, in their narcotic-infused state, see the world very much like this.  Like many Dick stories, this deals with questions of identity and of what is real, what is hallucination and whether you can definitively tell the one from the other.

2: Comet Quest – The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985)

This film is pure magic.  It tells the story of Mark Twain, who has built himself an extraordinary airship so that he can go and meet Halley’s Comet (he was born on the day it last visited, 75 years earlier) and takes three of his fictional creations with him, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher.  The ship has an ‘indexivator’ on board, which takes the children into re-enactments of several key Twain works.

The film is directed by Will Vinton and employs his trademark ‘Claymation’ technique, which is far more detailed than Aardman’s similar Wallace and Gromit animation.

The unrestrained imagination of the visualisations of Twain’s stories, combined with the extraordinary detail Vinton’s animators achieve in this entirely hand-animated movie, makes this an undiscovered treasure.  Still unavailable on DVD in the UK, the only footage from it I could find to show you is this dark and disturbing sequence which seems to have been posted as some form of protest.  Watch it and remember what the armadillo said: “It’s a metaphor”. 

1: Akira (1988)

 There are many anime out there which can turn your brain to jelly but, for me, the best by far, is still the first I ever saw.

Imagine the scene:  It’s 1990, a midnight screening, we had gathered to watch a fuzzy NTSC video projected onto a conference room wall.  No one in the country had, till that time, seen these strange Japanese cartoons, save the Marine Boy and Battle of the Planets bastardisations that had polluted our Saturday mornings. 

Akira was unveiled before our disbelieving eyes.  There were no subtitles, no way of knowing what the hell was going on, but the imagery was life-changing.  I’ve spoken to people who claimed to have dropped acid to watch 2001 in the sixties.  Well, minus the acid, this was my 2001.  Deprived of sleep and bombarded by wonderfully incomprehensible images, this movie truly was a trip.  I’ll never stop thanking Helen for pressing play that day.

This, for me, is the number-one mind-fuck animation out there!

And, before you ask why I have ignored Yellow Submarine (1968), it’s simply because I really don’t like it.  I find it almost unwatchable.  It just bombards you with psychedelic, surreal and non-sequiturial imagery from beginning to end.  I have to watch it in bits, its far-too rich a brew for me to take all in one go.  In that sense it served as something of a template for the pop video industry that came along about 15 years later and which still, to this day, machine-guns its viewers with images deprived of coherent meaning.  So, I appreciate Yellow Submarine, but I don’t like it … And this is my list and it is done!  Wow … I think I need to lie down now.

While I do that, feel free to lambast me about the films I’ve missed; those animations which have a special place in your heart and which I have unforgivably slighted by omitting them.

Top Ten Animated Films That Screw With Your Head – part 1

There is a noble heritage in animation of using the limitless possibilities of the medium to present a world entirely unlike the real world.  Of late, the rise of CGI has been responsible for a drive to create ever-more convincing depictions of the real world.  This seems beyond futile to me and Robert Zemeckis’ photo-real movies (The Polar Express etc) fail, for me, in just about every respect.  There is no point in using animation to create real people, you might as well just use real people!  The magic of animation is that it can present visions that are simply not achievable in the real, world where the laws of physics hold sway.  Some things can only be presented in animation and that should be celebrated.

Rango treads a line between these two traditions … It presents a photo-realistic vision of a world that simply could not exist.  A careworn, ramshackle wild west populated with a menagerie of anthropomorphic animals all of whom live together irrespective of their natural habitats.  The town of Dirt becomes their natural habitat.  It’s almost a though the works of Enid Blyton or Kenneth Graham were filmed by Sergio Leone and David Lynch.  But the film goes beyond this because, as a bifurcated armadillo points-out early on, “It’s a metaphor!”  The film plays with our post-modern sensibilities and feeds our appetite for the unusual.

Yes, the film is full of meta-narrative quotations from other films, subtle or obscure ones, like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) or stark-staring-bleedin’ obvious ones like Apocalypse Now (1979) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964).  Yes, its story is wafer thin … bogus sheriff learns to protect the town that trusts him … making it a sort of Carry On Chameleon!  But it goes beyond these all-too-common motifs.  It is a film which is not simply content to engage us emotionally, it wants to stimulate us intellectually as well, by constantly pulling the rug out from under our metaphorical feet.

It is certainly a heady mix which, when Rango wanders into the desert and begins to hallucinate, crosses the line into The Surreal, a place where animation is particularly comfortable!

 Animation often does and should stretch the mind of the viewer, it should open your eyes wide and show you marvellous new things the like of which you have only ever dreamed and, if you are occasionally reminded that you are watching a cartoon, that’s not such a bad thing, it means you are conscious and not in the blank-eyed, slack-jawed, empty-headed state so many big Hollywood movies seem to require.

With that in mind – I have begrudgingly conceded that I need to publish a list.  It is, simply put: My Top Ten Animated Films That Screw With Your Head.

Now, I freely concede there is some wonderfully experimental stuff in Disney films, particularly the earlier ones, but you’ll likely be more than familiar with them, so I’m not going to include them here.  Similarly, there is a whole universe of extraordinary animation by the likes of Jan Svankmajer, Jiri Barta, Lotte Reiniger, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Stan Brakhage and my personal favourites, Norman McLaren, Terry Gilliam and, in a league of his own, Ray Harryausen, any one of which would seriously zap you in the head, but they tend to produce shorts rather than features so I’ll leave them out of this list.  They deserve a list of their own, anyway!

So, without further ado:

My Top Ten Animated Films That Screw With Your Head:

10:  La Planète Sauvage - Fantastic Planet (1973)

click to enlarge to Brobdingnagian proportions

 I first heard of this film at the end of the seventies when it was featured in Starburst magazine, every issue of which I pored over, practically memorising every word since, in 1978, there wasn’t a lot of other movie-related information available to me!  This film seemed wildly exciting simply because it was different from anything I’d seen before. 

Sadly, it isn’t; exciting, that is.  It’s essentially a version of Gulliver’s Travels, with the human race reduced to pets kept by gigantic blue-skinned aliens call Draags.  Some humans have escaped captivity and set up their own civilisation on this psychedelic and vastly-out-of-scale planet.  Like Rango, it’s a metaphor!

Produced by the peace, love and pass the spliff generation in the joint crucibles of late ‘60s fervour – Paris and Czechoslovakia - It was the first feature by French animator René Laloux, based on the designs of surrealist artist Roland Topor.

9: Metropia (2009)

It’s possibly the presence of Vincent Gallo as the voice of the main character that makes this film feel like an Independent American movie, but it’s actually Swedish.  Unfairly unreleased in much of the world, it tells a tale of a non-conformist in a 1984-like dystopia where civilisation is teetering on the brink because of a disturbingly familiar financial crisis.  The movie’s central metaphor is The Underground: all of Europe’s underground systems have been joined together so people can move around freely without ever needing to go to the surface.

The weirdness lies in the CGI which has taken photographs of real faces and distorted them slightly, to give every character a deathly blank feel and the whole film a disturbingly quality of the unheimlich (look it up).

There is an official website for Metropia here.

8: Renaissance

Another cross-cultural mongrel, this is a French, British, American, Luxembourgian co-production.  It’s a cyberpunk film shot in stark black-and-white (making it look more like Frank Miller’s Sin City comics than Miller and Rodriguez’s film version did).

Set in a piled-high Paris of the future, it concerns a corrupt mega-corporation, the fountain of youth and gangsters.  The stark visuals are very hard on the eyes, initially, but you quickly learn the film’s short-hand and are drawn into its other-worldliness. 

The film is produced through a process called rotoscoping which is a tried-and-trusted animation technique going back almost a century to the early work of Max Fleischer, where the performances are filmed then traced by the animators.  Modern rotoscoping employs computers to produce the final image but, other than that, the process remains largely unchanged.

7: Strings (2004)

 Arguably this isn’t animation, because it’s puppetry.  But it’s my list, my rules.  Like a lot of the films here, this is a peculiarly European movie, this time being a Danish-Swedish-Norwegian-British co-production. 

The conceit with this film, which is an idea bordering on genius, is that the puppets know they are marionettes, they are aware of their strings and, indeed, their strings are most important to them as they stretch up into the sky connecting them to the thing that gives them all life: be it, Heaven, God or merely a great Frank Oz in the sky.

The logic of life as a puppet is beautifully explored, but, as with all good animation, the clever depictions of an alternate form of life are merely the background to an astonishingly ambitious epic story.  The DVD has a documentary on it showing  just what lengths the producers went to ensure the film was finished to the standard they needed (including mortgaging houses and selling cars).  It was worth the effort.

Ignore the appaling voice-over on this trailer and just bask in the wonderous imagery ...

6: Baron Prasil – The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1961)

 This film is a collage of animation styles, including 3D models and 2D cut-outs interacting with live action.  It also mixes Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon with Rudolph Erich Raspe’s The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

Given Munchausen’s claims (and it’s worth remembering that the fictional character is based on a real 18th century German nobleman with a reputation for, shall we say, exaggeration) of a flight on a cannon-ball and a journey to the Moon, animation was the perfect way to present his adventures.

The film was also a clear and considerable influence on the magnificent Terry Gilliam and for that, alone, it deserves your attention.

This trailer has been cut together by a fan, but it better represents the film than any other clips I could lay my cursor on, so enjoy ...

 And tomorrow, I'll be unveiling my top five ... Ooh, the tension is almost unbearable ...Or, you could save your finger-nails and just click here.


I sometimes think that the only SF books that get read in Hollywood are written by Philip K. Dick.  He certainly seems to be the only SF writer who has a decent number of his works made into films.  Although, as Charlie Jane Anders points out in this excellent piece, there are a few likely candidates of his still to see the silver screen.

As for the vast panoply of other authors from the so-called Golden Age, you can’t tell me that America wouldn’t embrace movie versions of Heinlein’s books to its gun-toting, Bible-thumping bosom?  Some of his Young Adult (as they would now be called) books are the finest in the field – and would be guaranteed that all-important popcorn-shifting 12A (or PG13).

The case can, and often has, been made that short stories make better movies than full novels.  Well, if that’s so, why don’t we get more Harlan Ellison?  He’s written one or two stories in his time!  Ray Bradbury?  Every work is a poetic masterpiece!  I’m not saying that these other authors don’t get their work made, of course they do … But they don’t seem to get as many big budget, big name movies as Dick does.  I’m also not saying his work doesn’t deserve greater recognition, it certainly does.  But so do many other authors.

Anyway, The Adjustment Bureau is, in case you hadn’t already guessed, based on a Dick short story.  It’s called Adjustment Team from 1954 and you can read a facsimile of its original magazine appearance here

If you do trouble to read it, you will doubtless not be surprised by the differences twixt written text and filmed adaptation.  The main character’s name and status have changed, his talking dog sidekick has been replaced by a kindly black man in a hat (make of that what you will) and the story is, suddenly, a love story.

In Gary Westfahl’s annoyingly excellent review of the film, which you can read here, he suggests that this is because of Hollywood’s very own Adjustment Bureau; the people who ensure that every major film (and, be under no misapprehension, the presence of Matt Damon in the lead role makes this a major film) is carefully altered and manipulated to make sure that it conforms to what The All-Powerful Studios believe their audiences want.  It is very rare that a big, expensive Hollywood film stretches an audiences expectations (Rango is an interesting exception I’ll come to in a later blog entry) but, on the other hand, it is rare that a story by Dick fails to stretch your expectations.

But ah, there’s the rub, the friction that exists between director Nolfi’s dreams of being dangerous and challenging, given pause by the Studios’ need to be friendly and familiar.  It must also be said that the film’s marketing really hasn’t helped.  The TV adverts deliberately make The Adjustment Bureau look like an action/chase movie when, in fact, it’s a fantasy/ romance (I’m sorry, purists, there’s no hint of science in this fiction now). 

See?  Then there’s the, frankly, appalling poster which, at least in the UK, proudly sports Total Film’s doubtless, entirely spontaneous blurb proclaiming the film ‘Bourne Meets Inception’  which, of course, the marketing people felt compelled to use in all the UK advertising.  

thanks to for finding the source of that rather unhelpful blurb
Bourne Meets Inception.  Really?  Does Matt Damon’s character kill loads of people?  No.  Is he fighting a one-man battle against a ruthless, faceless power that will stop at nothing to kill him?  No, they want to help him.  Does his girl-friend get killed?  Nope.  Okay, so, Inception … Is the plot ferociously complex?  Not really, you do need to pay attention, though.  Is it a redemption story?  Oddly, for a Hollywood movie, no.  Does it switch between levels of reality?  Ah, well, sort of, yes.  Right, so, like Inception, it’s quite clever and plays around with reality, but the only similarity it has with Bourne is Matt Damon and, I imagine, he would be quite insulted if people really expected him to play every role like Jason Bourne.

The dismal poster, which doesn't look at all like Matt Damon's head Photoshopped onto a stock shot.
See, this is a much better poster (albeit derivative of The Social Network's), it's moody and classy and more likely to appeal to the adults who would actually enjoy this film.

Alright, so, enough about what the film isn’t … What is it?  It is certainly an engaging attempt to tell a very traditional story in a non-contemporary way.  I imagine, in an alternate universe, Frank Capra could have made almost exactly this same film in the 1940s.  At least the hats that The Adjusters wear would have been in period and not as anachronistic as they here appear.

The film begins with an unlikely protagonist, since Matt Damon is a politician called David Norris.  Is it possible to be sympathetic towards a politician?  Ah, but it’s okay, Norris’ first act is to lose his election; so he’s a rubbish politician.  That’s alright, then.

On election night he meets Elise (played by a radiant Emily Blunt) and falls instantly head over heels.  She inspires him to start telling the truth in his concession speech and that, then, is the key moment in his life.  Four men in hats watch this unfold with a sense of a job well done.  They have ensured the future.  All that needs to happen now is that they ensure David and Elise never meet again.  Well, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if they succeeded, now would there?

The film has a soft heart.  It tells us that the right kiss from the right person at the right moment can change your life.  Which it can.  We humans are fairly simple beings and once an idea – such as true love – embeds in our heads, there’s really no shifting it.  Damon and Blunt are magical together, there being a real and natural chemistry between which means we also genuinely believe in their love and that Damon will defy the universe for her.  This is proper, traditional romance, not post-modern pastiche or comedic parody, and the film is all the better for it.

"See, in the story there's a talking dog.  I told you!"
 But The Adjustment Bureau also has a soft head. It is implied that these characters who oversee us and influence us are Angels and The Plan is written by God, with the best interests of everyone written into it.  That is a stupendously simplified view of Fate and Destiny which, I suppose, I could go along with, if these Angels actually understood the people they are overseeing.  But they don’t.  They can’t, otherwise they’d know that putting obstructions in the way of David and Elise’s relationship is only going to make its consummation all the more inevitable.  We’re simple creatures, but we’re also stubborn!

The Men In Hats are a lovely, simple idea.  They have a sort of diplomatic immunity to the laws of physics and can turn any door into a door to someone else.  That was a nice idea when Pixar used it in Monsters Inc (2001) and it bears expansion and development here. These are people with awesome supernatural powers but who are bound by bureaucratic red tape and hierarchy, just like you and me (without the supernatural powers, in your case). 

As such, the frustration felt particularly by Case Manager, Richards (played delightfully by John Slattery) is palpable.  He has to ensure everyone sticks to The Plan but it is above his pay grade to know why.  He’s strictly Middle Management and, when his repeated attempts to keep Norris on-plan fail, he has to call in Senior Management, in the form of Thompson (Terence Stamp, giving one of those killer cameos he specialises in these days).

When the film reaches its inevitable conclusion after, I must say, rambling around for a good reel more than it needs to, I, for one, was left with a few questions about the credibility of what I’d seen (and, yes, credibility is essential even in a fantasy … I’d say especially in a fantasy) and about whether surrendering one’s free will to an omnipotent benign organisation would really be such a bad thing.  It also left me with a niggling suspicion that I maybe shouldn’t trust people in hats.

Another Dick adaptation that features a hat, as well as romance against which the forces of evil conspire, and which also happens to be the finest movie ever made, is Blade Runner (1982).  If you haven’t seen the Blu-Ray edition, I encourage you to rectify that immediately.  You can thank me later.

Meanwhile – whether you wear a hat or not - if you have any thoughts on traditional (or even brand new) SF authors who don’t get enough screen time – that’s what the comments section is all about.  Have your say!
Dir: George Nolfi
Stars: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Terence Stamp
Dur: 106 mins


You'll have to forgive me for using this as an opportunity to exploit some glamour on my weblog, but Jane Russell was accustomed to being exploited.  She was, to my mind, the model for the modern celebrity.  Here, in the 21st century, where fame is pursued aggressively by an entire generation of young people who have been raised to believe that life doesn't happen unless it happens in the headlines, where children are snatched from obscurity and thrown to the tabloid wolves by Svengali-like figures on a monthly, almost weekly basis, being exploited has become an acceptable, even aspirational, norm.

Justin Bieber became famous, apparently, by posting himself on YouTube.  He was desperate to be exploited and now, at the tender age of sixteen, he has his wish.  By the time he's seventeen, of course, the nano-second attention-spans of his fan-base will have very-likely moved on to the new shiny object.  But he'll never be entirely forgotten.  That's the thing with being famous ... it means that, however inconsequentially, you get to leave your fingerprints on our culture.

Jane Russell found her Svengali when she was just nineteen.  She died this week, seventy years later, and her fingerprints are still all over our popular culture.  Rather like the post-Madonna pop-stars (Kylie, Beyonce, Rihanna, Fergie, etc) she was as famous for her underwear and what she put in it, as she was for her actual talent.

It would be easy to see her as a victim of an exploitative, sexist, media machine, especially since her fame came at the behest of the notoriously weird millionaire Howard Hughes, who became obsessed with her photograph or, more precisely, with her extraordinary breasts.

He created the film The Outlaw for her in 1943 and propelled her into the public consciousness through an ad campaign that was far too raunchy for the censorious attitudes of the time. 

The original poster, with its come-hither, roll-in-the-hay promise and cunning, vaguely Freudian, use of sexual symbolism is available in various forms, some of which are more 'acceptable' than others.  Of course, as is often the case, the censored version - which replaces the gun with a bullwhip - could be considered far more provocative than the original.

That cleavage and that steely stare were to propel Russell into a career that many young girls would die for.  The thing is; she was never really 'A list'.  Hers is not one of the names you think of when considering the great actresses of the period (and there were a lot of great actresses during the war years, that really being the only time in Hollywood history they were given an equal share of the spotlight) and I think this is because she had the raw sex appeal of a Monroe with the intelligence and attitude of a Bette Davis and, consequently, failed to fit into either stereotype.

People forget that the prophetically entitled Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) was a starring vehicle for Russell.  Marilyn Monroe was merely the supporting role, but her sexuality combined with her vulnerability propelled her to an iconic status of which Russell could only dream.  Even the publicity shots for the film - such as the rather ungainly handprints-outside-Grauman’s photo below - put the emphasis very much on Monroe.

You see, Monroe fed men's rescue fantasies.  She seemed lost and at risk and completely dependent on the kindness of men.  Russell had no such vulnerability.  She was taller than a lot of men and had that smart, intimidating stare.  Men, of course, were (and very much still are) the decision-makers in the entertainment industry and their taste ran more to the ditzy, self-destructive blonde than to the witty, self-confident brunette.

Compare the famous, iconic image of Monroe from the film:

... To this frankly ominous publicity shot of Russell for the same film:

... And draw your own conclusions about the way she was perceived.

Russell understood the way the wind was blowing and she didn't make another significant film after 1957, effectively bringing an end to her short, notorious career.  Ironically, once she was below the celebrity radar, she proved to be far more vulnerable than she appeared and, like Monroe, sank into alcoholism which resulted in her reappearing in the headlines in 1978 when she was jailed for drunk driving.

Her later years were marked by her outspoken Right Wing politics and Christianity, but she clearly never lost her sense of humour, describing herself as "a teetotal mean-spirited Right-wing conservative Christian bigot".

Possibly with that in mind, the Daily Mail has written an excellent obit for her here and The Guardian has gathered together some clips of her more famous acting moments here.