neojaponisme on Fantasma by Cornelius

Cornelius’ Fantasma is an all-time favourite album of mine and on it’s 15th anniversary we should extol its many virtues here.

Fantasma was released on the now defunct Trattoria Records in 1997.

Thing is, NeoJaponisme has already done a far, far better job than we could ever manage so you should go and read it here: 15 years of Fantasma

Even better, it’s a five-part series and it’s only halfway through. And the comments are superb, to boot.

And if you’ve never heard Cornelius’ breakthrough album, here’s a taster in the shape of the ad for the 2010 remaster….

Plot holes (that would make great sequels)

Sequels are much maligned. They’re seen as lazy film-making, taking from a pre-existing audience and riding on its coat-tails. This can be the case, but such a notion is incredibly lazy in and of itself.

The Godfather part II, Empire Strikes Back, The Evil Dead II, Oldboy, Desperado, For a Few Dollars More and Terminator 2 all improved and built on the mythology of their original films and are rightly considered improvements. But that’s a discussion for another time…

Evil Dead II

What we’re looking at here are the films that seem to end of a satisfactory conclusion, but in actual fact need sequels far more than the casual viewer will realise. These are the films that, when you start thinking about it, you really want to know what happens next. Now they’ve established the rules, why not go further with them?

There are all sorts of blogs and postings around teh interwebz that tell you films which need a sequel because the poster wants one. This isn’t one of those. Some of these films are great, but many of them aren’t. To shoot a proper sequel to some of these films would be almost impossible, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have had one earlier. This isn’t “films we’d like to see follow ups to” it’s “films that still have some explaining to do”. Think of it as plot holes that we’d like to crawl into.

Also, as an aside, there might be some spoilers.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)

John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.

As we know it: John Carpenter only makes movie gold or absolute, utter bum drivel. The man who made Halloween and They Live also made Ghosts of Mars. Big Trouble in Little China is one of his best, mixing the big kid 1980s action film with some clever special effects and Kurt Russell. It was basically The Goonies grown up. With Kurt Russell.

Why it needs a sequel: Most people will remember the main story of the film. Kurt and his friend try to save a kidnapped girl from a gang, only to discover the gang are actually working for an all powerful sorcerer who needs to marry a girl with green eyes to keep his youthful good looks. Kim Catrall – also green eyed – gets involved, gets harassed by thousands of year old monsters, gets kidnapped and eventually both girls get freed by Kurt. A job well done.

Only, the very last shot of the film shows Jack Burton’s (Russell) Pork Chop Express truck pulling away with one of the thousands-of-year-old monsters still clinging to the bottom. Sure, Burton has dealt with an all-powerful evil sorcerer, what possible threat could this monster pose? That was just there to toy with the audience, right?

Well, according to the original script, this particular monster is “the most horrific creature… thing… abomination… you ever saw. An unnatural monster of myth and legend, a Chinese wild man made of flesh and blood… the claws on his fingers that dig into Gracie’s arms recall only death”.

Aye, I think it might be a tough ask to get rid of him quickly, seeing as this particular monster is actually the Chinese Bigfoot… 

Likelihood? Thankfully very little. Not only are we coming up for the 30th anniversary of the original film, but it’d be all wrong to suddenly touch on a plot point so far after the fact. Still, there is “hope” for some revisiting of the character, if not the series. There are comic books based on the ongoing adventures of Jack Burton, and sooner or later Hollywood will get round to making every comic book going.

Top Gun (1986, Tony Scott)

As we know it: Tom Cruise camps it up in the name of the USA; flying, shouting, standing in his pants, high-fiving other glistening bodies and hooting after taking down unnamed enemies from an undisclosed country. Glistening body high-fives all round, innuendos-a-plenty and the world saved in the name of Uncle Sam.

Why it needs a sequel: Now the last thing we’d want to do is think too hard about a Tony Scott film. His recent passing has meant that people (quite rightly) re-evaluated his work, discovered he was very good at what he did, and confirmed that he made films for the thrills rather than for the thought. Still…

The finale of Top Gun has Maverick taking down these mysterious enemy MiGs, which have – and this bit is important – attacked a US communications ship that has drifted into enemy waters. Now for starters the phrase “communications ship” is all well and good, but imagine for a second the cinematic reaction a Russian “communications ship” in 1980s America. Basically, a US spy ship got caught in hostile territory and came under attack.

From the original script we also know that this “hostile territory” was meant to be North Korea. If that’s the case, then the MiGs are going to have come from Russia. Still, the Russians and Americans would have been good enough to put their differences aside in the mid 80s, wouldn’t they? Oh. Right.

This was still at the peak of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was launching his Star Wars projects to prevent nuclear attacks from Soviets, both countries were refusing to travel to the other for the Olympics and in 1983 there had been two false alarms in Russia which had suggested the US was launching attacks.

At best, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell kicks off an illegal war with North Korea, after shooting down their planes in their own airspace. At worst he gives the Russians all the reason they could ever need to formally declare war on the USA. Nice one.

Likelihood? Up until a couple of weeks ago there were concrete plans to make a sequel to Top Gun, with Cruise reprising his role. Were we likely to get a meditation on the possible World War Three that his character must have kicked off? Unlikely. It’d have been a gun stroking, tech-happy plane-porn. Tony Scott’s death means the chances of the sequel are unknown.

Cape Fear (1991, Martin Scorsese)

As we know it: In one of the better remakes of the last three decades, Robert de Niro’s Max Cady gets out of prison 14 years after being left to rot by his former lawyer, Sam Bowden. Cady sets about making Bowden’s life hell: psychologically tormenting him, raping his colleague/mistress, poisoning his dog and setting about his family. Eventually, Cady and Bowden have a showdown on the family houseboat, and Bowden hand-cuffs Cady to the sinking boat, hitting him in the head with a rock to make sure he sinks.

Why it needs a sequel: There are a series of plot holes in this that all add up to what could be a very interesting legal drama. First of all, in the film Cady has served his time, getting 14 years for rape. In the eyes of the law he’s a former criminal, not a current one. Meanwhile, during the course of the film Bowden first hires a private investigator in an attempt at scaring Cady away, the conversation of which is recorded, and then hires three goons to assault his former client. This is discovered by the police, who disbar Bowden from practicing law and place a restraining order on him. At this point, the only criminal is the “good guy”.

Being played by Nick Nolte may help with a plea of insanity.

Cady then breaks into Bowden’s residence, kills the private investigator in the house and follows the family to their house-boat. After fighting with Bowden he is eventually hit with a rock and handcuffed to the sinking boat. The bad guy is vanquished and the family can all be together again without the psychotic criminal chasing them down, yeah?

Think how this looks to the police. A former criminal gets out of jail and his former lawyer doesn’t like the look of him being on the outside. He repeatedly reports the newly free man for crimes of which there are no evidence, hires a PI to intimidate him to leave town and then hires a gang to give him a doing. That’s what the police know.

A couple of days later and the private investigator turns up dead in the house of the lawyer and Max Cady’s body is retrieved from the river, handcuffed to the side of a boat and with a rock-shaped hole in his head. How does Bowden explain all of this? Cady’s gun went over the side of the boat and the only other (alive) person who could testify to his crimes is Lori Davis, Bowden’s colleague, who refuses to do so because the police will ask questions about her promiscuous lifestyle (which presumably includes time spent with Bowden).

At best Bowden is going to lose his family to revelations about his private life and a drawn out murder trial, at worst he’s going to be charged with kidnapping and first degree murder. In North Carolina. Which has the death penalty.

Likelihood? Not bloody likely.

Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)

As we know it: Aliens invade the earth, blow up some monuments and generally wreck shit up good. Then Will Smith discovers that being from another planet doesn’t make you invulnerable to a good ol’ American haymaker, a computer virus is introduced as a weapon by and for people who don’t really know what one is (it was 1996) and Randy Quaid’s bark-at-the-moon crop duster goes all hari-kari to save the world. The president is shown to be a lead-from-the-front war hero, the Fresh Prince pumps it up and all is right with the world again. Right?

Why it needs a sequel: The tagline to this was “the question about whether we are alone in the universe has been answered”. Yes, but only in a one word answer.

Not only do the population of earth realise there are other lifeforms out there, but at least one of them are genocidal tyrants. In the film we see downtown Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and numerous other landmarks levelled to the ground. What is the body count here? Hundreds of millions? Billions? You do notice that the aliens didn’t attack Scotland, but then again, if the Romans couldn’t do it neither could they. Then again, I digress…

So the survivors of this attempted alien invasion are not only tasked with rebuilding The World, they know that there are beings from outer space who quite fancy dealing out death. Earth’s technologies aren’t really up to finding these invaders, so the paranoia make the Cold War seem fairly mild. Presumably the invading army of the original film wasn’t all of their species? And nobody that builds a 20-mile diameter space ship for the purposes of gunishment takes a kicking from Dr Rex Martin from Brain Dead without thoughts of retribution.

Likelihood? Pretty good, if you refer simply to the chances of it happening. Roland Emmerich says he’s going ahead with two sequels (with or without the involvement of Will Smith), so it’s certainly on the cards. Will we see the kind of post-apocalyptic, paranoid investigation into what a post-war earth would be like? Or will we get a bigger, explodier, 3D rehashing of the original…

American Gangster (2007, Ridley Scott)

As we know it: American Gangster follows the real-life story of Frank Lucas, a good-hearted man trying to get out of the ghetto by selling drugs, and Richie Roberts, one of seemingly few non-corrupt NYPD officers in the 1970s. The story fishtails two character’s lives as Lucas attempts to avoid the mafia and the attentions of the bent cops, while Roberts aims to take him and his like down, while cleaning up the police operation. The film ends with Lucas striking a deal with Roberts to avoid the maximum prison sentence in return for information that will stop the heroin trade and lead to the arrest of the corrupt elements of the NYPD. Roberts goes on to become a lawyer, while Lucas goes into witness protection.

Why it needs a sequel? This is all to do with the post-script of the film. After watching the lives of these two characters intertwine for two hours, we are left with a seemingly satisfactory conclusion: the good guys won and the police were cleaned up. But then we get a freeze frame and an explanation of what happened next.

Four years after the events of the film, Frank Lucas was caught trying to sell heroin again. With his background, he was likely to receive a huge sentence, and bring unwanted attention from the sort of people who a drugs whistle-blower doesn’t really want to know. Fortunately for him, he got off lightly with a four year prison sentence thanks to his lawyer, Richie Roberts. Wait, what?

Yes, after spending years trying to take Lucas down, and eventually growing to respect him for his part in cleaning up the NYPD, Roberts became a lawyer and actually represented the man he was chasing for over a decade in a huge trial. Surely that’s your film, right there, not as a post-script?

Likelihood? Never going to happen, and with numerous director’s cuts and extended editions, the ending is even more diluted and questionable. In some versions they even end on this…

…which is either a very sloppy way to cast back to Lucas’ earlier glories, or a suggestion that he took revenge after going into witness protection. If it’s the latter then it is even more of a missed opportunity.

Freebie Friday #1

We’d love to promise to do this every week, but we can’t, so we won’t. Still, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Here’s a selection of brilliant free music, so you don’t have to have a guilty conscience over funding international terrorism through your illegal downloads. On a more serious note, support your local artists, and if you like them, go and see them!

Here’s a selection of goodies from around teh interwebz.

Cat Power – Cherokee

Cat Power. Purr.

Oh Chan Marshall, how we’ve missed you. Returning after a four-year absence, Cat Power conjures up something entirely different from her brass/soul driven sound on 2008’s Jukebox. There’s a clear return to her more sparely produced roots, but she’s taken a very different road to get there.

Crystal Castles – Plague

Another warmly welcome return, this time for Crystal Castles. Whose gothic electronica seems to have been ripened for the masses. Consider our appetites whet.

Domo Genesis and The Alchemist – No Idols

Domo Genesis

Odd Future are rapidly doing for second decade 00s hip-hip what the Wu-Tang Clan did in the 90s, with each member offering absolutely superb solo albums. Tyler the Creator, Hodgy Beats and Frank Ocean have each produced massively innovative works in the last 18 months, and Domo Genesis isn’t going to be left out. Here we’ve got an entire mix-tape worth of free material. And it’s very good.

Doom featuring Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood – Retarded Fren

There are few more chameleon-like performers than Doom, aka MF Doom, aka Madvillain, aka King Geedorrah, aka Viktor Vaughn, aka Love X, and numerous other alter-egos. His latest album, (as JJ Doom) features a wealth of tantalising collaborations, including Beth Gibbons, Dave Sittek and this one with Radiohead’s Thom York and Johnny Greenwood.

Elliott Smith – Almeda (alternate version)

Elliott Smith

Okay, not strictly a freebie, but for $1 you can get an entirely different take on one of America’s finest songsmiths’ best works. Smith took his own life in October 2003.

The Oh Sees – Lupine Dominus

There aren’t many more prolific acts in the world than The Oh Sees, and if garage-rock is your want, they satisfy like few others. Lupine Dominus is from their 14th album, Putrifiers II, and will take a while to get your head around. Do not eat the brown acid.

Paws – Miss American Bookworm

Paws.

There’s plenty of bands around at the moment who are trying to revive the Spirit of ’91, but none of them sound quite as good as Paws. Scotland’s three-piece don’t just tip their hat to Nirvana, like some, but there’s a healthy dose of Husker Du and Sonic Youth in there as well. Speaking of Husker Du, there’s some brilliant new Bob Mould stuff out as well…

The comics that TV needs

If we’ve not said it before, then we’ll definitely say it again in the future; we’re in the golden age of TV.

From series like Twin Peaks, through Oz, The Sopranos, Sienfeld, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones and The Wire, there are now more insightful and though-provoking dramas produced by and for US audiences than there are by Hollywood. By some considerable margin.

Season one of The Wire. The best thing ever to appear on TV.

We’ve seen the big movie (intentional use of the word) studios hedging their bets more and more often. In 2007 AMC debuted Mad Men, BBC launched The Tudors, HBO premiered Flight of the Conchords, ABC had Pushing Daisies, Showtime had Californication, while FX had Damages. These were the biggest stations in the world, taking chances away from the mainstream, hoping to find intelligent audiences.

At the same time, the highest grossing films released by the Big Six studios weren’t exactly challenging. The third installments of Pirates of the Caribbean, Spiderman and Shrek didn’t live up to their originals, Transformers was one big ad-break, while I am Legend stripped out everything that made the book sacred in the name of a happy ending. We won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but needless to say, the title of the book is less important in the film.

One constant has been the willingness to transfer successful comic books onto the silver screen. This has been done with an increasing level of sophistication, from Nolan’s Batman to Whedon’s Avengers to Jon Favreau (or should we say, Robert Downey Jnr’s) Iron Man. Even Frank Miller’s Sin City and 300 were given effective cinema treatment, while Watchmen was one god-awful sex scene from being a very fair treatment.

So why, in the golden age of television, aren’t we getting more TV adaptations of what are almost always episodic stories? The Walking Dead has been a semi-successful take on Robert Kirkman’s usually-excellent comic, but we’ve yet to see the subtlety and breathing space that television affords combined with comic characters.

The Walking Dead

AMC’s adaptation of The Walking Dead is almost really good.

When you think about it, the two mediums are perfect for each other, particularly for the less flamboyant tales. Great TV is about unveiling characters over hours, maybe even days, of revealing insights, while comic stories can play with the luxury of time and pace within interlocking story arcs.

With this in mind, we’ve thought about some stories that would be perfect for small screen adaptations. First, our disclaimers!

There’s no point in having a small screen adaptation of Batman, or Hulk, or Superman anymore. These characters are legitimately Big Screen. TV budgets couldn’t do what they’d need to do to make these the spectacles they should be.

Likewise, if there’s ever a screen version of The Invisibles it needs to be Big. Transmetropolitan would make a great film (or maybe that’s just wishful thinking). After much consideration, we also came to the same conclusion about Sandman. A series of films would/could do it justice, with the possibility of a spin-off Endless TV series? What we’re needing is something a bit more subtle.

Secondly, we do need to be aware of what would and wouldn’t work on television. As much as we’d love to see a version of The Boys created by HBO, we just don’t think the world is ready for that. The fact a film version is being suggested seems ludicrous, unless Hollywood really is ready for paedophile superheroes, a protagonist who needs breast milk to survive and a Russian hero called Love Sausage. No? Didn’t think so.

So, on to the list…

Chew

What?

Chew follows the (mis)adventures of cibopathic detective Tony Chu, who has the powers to feel the last moments of whatever he eats. While this is incredible useful, not to mention stomach churning, for his work in solving crimes, it also means that his diet is pretty much restricted to beetroot so as to avoid the wracking pain of consuming flesh or the taste of pesticides.

Tony Chu, created by John Layman and Rob Guillory.

Set in a world where avian flu caused millions of deaths and the eventual ban on chicken produce, Chew is a sci-fi detective story filtered through a Ren and Stimpy lens.

How?

A television version of Chew (surely starring Ken Leung from Lost?) could focus on him solving an individual crime each week, with each revealing something of a bigger picture. Think of it as being Murder She Wrote with teeth.

Without giving too much away in spoilers, there are significant events which would anchor each series, and occasional characters that pop-up with equally bizarre “super” powers.

If that’s not enough of a sales pitch, Chew also features vampires, cannibalism, aliens, lots of heaving bosoms and a sexually opportunistic android.

Who?

Showtime have done an excellent job on the creation of Dexter, keeping what is essentially a ridiculous notion rooted in reality. They’ve managed to keep a firm grip on the dark humour of the series, without it becoming farcical. Equally, the frequent violence is handled in an almost-comic, semi-surrealist fashion anyway. If they could apply the same rules to Chew they’d be on to a winner.

Fables

What?

Set in modern-day New York, Fables tells the story of fugitive fairy-tales, who have had to leave their own lands for the relative safety of the USA, after their worlds were conquered by The Adversary.

Fables: Legends in Exile. Compiling issues 1-5.

If all of this sounds a little childish, then it’s worth pointing out the layers of subtext in the stories and the not-so-subtle political allegories in later books. Each character is transposed into a real-life version of their fairy-tale selves; Pinocchio is a sexually frustrated adolescent, cursed by never being able to grow old; Prince Charming is a womanising sleaze with three failed marriages; the Big Bad Wolf (aka Bigbie Wolf) is re-imagined as a film noir sleuth, watching out for the inhabitants of Fable town.

How?

Key to Fables’ hugely successful run (118 issues and counting, not including spin-offs) has been the number of characters they can call on and explore. Key to the jeopardy of the drama is the over-arching threat that The Adversary will find their new hiding place, but it is the intricate way the characters work together, live together, love together and die together that makes the series compelling.

This is perfect for TV. Michael Madsen as Bigbie Wolf? Here’s the pitch… The opening scene of the pilot shows an animated tapestry depiction of the fairy-tale world we are all familiar with, with a baroque string section playing something quaint and peaceful. From there the sky darkens and we see the violent (really violent) deaths of Fables at the hands of a monstrous invading army.

Then the music skews and we go “through the clouds” and Googlemap zoom right into modern Manhattan, following the worn soles of a male protagonist. Our happy-ever-after music replaced by something like this…

…illusion shattered? We’re not in Kansas any more. We follow the feet into a building, then into a lift, then along a decrepit corridor to a door. The door opens, our protagonist enters, and we pan up to reveal the name on the glass: Bigby Wolf, Sheriff.

Who?

HBO successfully lured viewers into the world of Dungeons and Dragons with Game of Thrones, and could surely do the same trick again with Fables? This isn’t a series that is big on laughs, but it requires the skill of successful characterisation and development. There aren’t any better in the business.

Gotham Central

What?

We’ve already established that Batman is now far too big for the small screen, but what’s to say we get a spin-off from the caped crusader? There were plans in place to make a TV version of Gotham Central, the Gotham police department, almost a decade ago, but nothing ever came to fruition.

Gotham Central #1, cover by Michael Lark

Now is surely the time to revisit the idea? The world of Gotham meets The Wire? Not only would a TV series be able to give some time over to the huge rogues gallery of the DC universe (maybe even get some knowing cameos from Tommy Monaghan or Jean-Paul Valley?), but it’d be able to further explore the complex nature of morality in Gotham. How do the police feel about a vigilante doing their jobs? Is the city a safer place for having a guardian angel? What happens when you find the body of a man who laughed himself to death? What happens to police officers who think they too can take justice into their own hands too?

How?

Key to this working would be to keep both Batman and the more fantastical elements of the comics away from the TV series. Take a series like The Shield, which took traditional police dramas and ramped everything up to eleven. That would be the model to play with.

Gotham has numerous Crime Lords, lesser criminals and familiar faces that would serve as exceptional linking devices for a detailed analysis of the world of Batman. A really clever scriptwriter could also incorporate some of the deconstructive elements of the superhero work of Alan Moore or Mark Miller.

One of the great modern leaps in Batman mythology was the release of the Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games, which portrayed the locations as living, breathing places, where things happened other than just for the benefit of Batman. This would be an exceptional premise for a TV show.

Gotham City

Fancy an explore?

Not only would this play to the gallery of Batman fans, but it’d offer a far bigger exploration of one of the great unsung characters in the Batman universe, Gotham City itself. This is a town of millions, which has been under the grip of various terrorist activities and campaigns of fear. What better time than now to explore that relationship between a perceived threat and the real dangers of American living? Do citizens feel safer at night knowing there’s an all-powerful mystery-man watching them for wrong-doing?

NYPD have 35,000 serving police officers. Presumably Gotham would have something similar. That’s a lot of stories.

Who?

Warner Brothers TV was interested in making a version of this a decade ago, but opted out. Presumably the rights to this would now fall to The CW TV network, which isn’t exactly a blessing. Although they had fairly sympathetic treatments of the Superman universe in Smallville, the majority of shows they produce are the likes of Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural. It wouldn’t be impossible for them to take Gotham Central and turn it into a success, but it’d be very different to what they make just now.

In an ideal world, and this isn’t ever going to happen, we’d want FX to take this on. They already did police corruption taken to extreme levels, morally dubious police characters and vigilante justice in The Shield. Add in some DC characters and we’d be sold.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

What?

In a history of cinematic abominations created from the fantastic world of Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was easily the worst. Stripping out all subtlety, self-referential humour and nuances of the comic, we were left with a mess of a film, which didn’t really have any reason for existence.

What the film-makers failed to realise is that without the references to books, characters, art, culture and fiction “of the time”, there was no point in creating the series at all. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is all about the references. As with much of Moore’s other work, it is a story about stories.

How?

Where the film failed, a television series could succeed. One of the main reasons for the successes of the comic story is that it can play subtle tribute to – for example – the penny dreadful, or a promotional flyer from the 1850s, or a house-of-ill-repute mentioned in a work of 1909, without being screamingly obvious.

Drawing characters from great works of literary fiction – Alan Quartermain, Mina Murray, Jekyll/Hyde, Captain Nemo – only works if you yourself are writing literary fiction. To fully engage with the true genius of the comic, we have to know exactly who Mycroft Holmes is and why the invaders from Mars look the way they do. To get the joke we need to have done our homework.

This isn’t possible in a two-hour film, where explanations eat up valuable editing time. On TV, it would be far more feasible to create the world in which The League exists, and explain just who Jack the Ripper is, why Emma Frost is culturally important or the significance of Orlando.

Who?

The BBC. Imagine what the BBC could do with their archives, their record of producing period drama and – perhaps most importantly – their existing talent pool. Need to establish Mycroft Holmes in The League? Simply drop in Mark Gatiss (who would be brilliant at adapting this!). Steven Moffat has already had success with his take on Jekyll, another key component. Need vintage Emma Peel? You’ve got the archive.

Let the literary references sit comfortably in a literary work. Instead, create your televisual League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from the world of television. There’s already been numerous adaptations of the classics, so set the scene for each series with what we collectively identify with in the realms of television.

Preacher

What?

Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s masterpiece has been suggested for cinematic adaptations for years – Colombia currently own the rights – with little or no sign of progress. The Big Screen is the wrong medium to properly explore this world. Why? Well…

Hollywood has a problem when it comes to questioning religious faith. Despite making well over $200m at the box office, The Golden Compass was never given the sequel it needed because financiers were nervy about the atheistic message in Philip Pullman’s books.

Preacher is all about a holy-man who becomes the vessel for a supernatural spirit known as Genesis, created by the union of an angel and a demon. When the arrival of this spirit kills his flock, Jesse Custer – the title character – sets out to find God, who has abandoned his post in fear of Genesis/Jesse, and get some answers. This isn’t going to sell well in the mega-plex in Arkansas on a Sunday afternoon.

How?

TV is the natural place for Preacher, which is essentially a road movie across the USA. Taking the chaotic style of a film like Natural Born Killers and transferring it to the small screen would perfectly fit with much of the extremity of the comic.

Part of the problem with simply making one Preacher film (and hoping that there’ll be another one) is that it’d miss so much of the mythology of a series which tackles The American Dream, religious corruption and Bill Hicks. Look at the above cover and tell me you don’t want to know the story of every one of those characters?

Who?

It’s HBO or nothing. Timothy Olyphant as Jesse, Yvonne Strahovski as Tulip, Aiden Turner as Cassidy. Make it happen.

Films utterly ruined by their sequels

The sequel is something to be treated with suspicion. More often than not, especially in modern cinema, the sequel is a cash-in on a successful stand-alone film, possibly even the first step in that most hideous of terms: the franchise.

That said, some of the greatest films of all time are the second volumes. The Godfather II, The Empire Strikes Back and, eh, Evil Dead II each far exceed their originals, and offer far more depth, colour and imagination. The worlds hinted at by the first volume are greatly improved by the existence of a sequel.

Here, we’re not looking at films that had bad sequels. I’m sure Transformers II didn’t do much to improve on the original, but I’m equally sure that there weren’t many people who left having been seriously mis-sold on the story. We’re not talking about films which simply had stupid sequels.

Neither are we looking at films which have been written out of the public consciousness by the selective editing of a determined culture. Saturday Night Fever is never really tarnished by the memory of Stayin’ Alive, and the legacy of something like The Karate Kid didn’t really take much of a hit from the sequel.

Rambo meets Tony Manero. Literally.

Instead we’re looking at films which could and should have been bona-fide classics; real all-time great pieces of cinema. Or they would have, had it not been for their sequels, which hang around them like over-bearing parents, ready to embarrass and act as a reminder of their short-comings. The sequel didn’t extend the legacy of the original, it killed it.

One final point. Most of these films are relatively modern. There’s a simple reason for that, and that’s because it’s a relatively modern phenomenon to tack-on additional material to your original story. Although screen trilogies go back as far as Karloff’s Frankenstein, it was only in the mid-70s that sequels and extended riffs on the same theme became par for the course. That’s reflected in the list.

Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Why?

John Carpenter has always only made works of absolute genius or complete drivel. In the late 70s and early 80s it was mostly the former. Halloween is a genuinely scary, hugely innovative film, which defined a genre. In Michael Myers, Carpenter created a monstrous antagonist, capable of scaring audiences even when he appears in broad daylight. The film featured one of the most iconic posters ever produced, and borrowed heavily from films like Psycho, the point-of-view horror of Dario Argento and even elements of “it’s not what you can see” horror from Jaws. The soundtrack was superb as well.

How it should be remembered: This one is slightly unfair, because Halloween is quite correctly remembered as a classic horror film. It isn’t, however, given the credit it is due. Think of how often there are horror film festivals celebrating The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Wickerman. Halloween was every bit as influential, if not more, but doesn’t have quite the same cult status. It should be in the top five horror films of all time.

The sequels: Not only was there a law of diminishing returns on the follow-up films (in particular Halloween III, which didn’t even feature Michael Myers), but Rob Zombie’s remake and the Freddy vs Jason franchise haven’t helped either. What all of the subsequent films miss is that Michael Myers wasn’t scary because he was a monster, he was scary because he was a human being driven to mass murder by those around him. That was far more scary than a modern-day Frankenstein creation.

And I’m sure you all know the Captain Kirk story, right?

While the intentions were obviously good in remaking the film, Rob Zombie fell into the trap of trying to modernise by borrowing from the horror films of the day. His Halloween is explicit where Carpenter’s was subtle, overtly violent where Carpenter implied violence. While Rob Zombie scared audiences with “bangs”, Carpenter realised that it was the anticipation of the bang which was really effective.

American Pie (1999, Chris and Paul Weitz)

Why? The very fact that you are wary of this one proves the point.

For some reason we always under appreciate comedy and horror. Check the lists of the all-time greatest films and you’ll struggle to find films that are purely comedic or horrific, there has to be a psychological edge to them (Woody Allen’s work), some sort of ennui running through the whole thing (Wes Anderson’s work) or a political base to the whole thing (Dr Strangelove).

American Pie was funny. It refreshed the teen-comedy genre, had a series of memorable characters and featured a number of set pieces that anyone who has seen it can recall.

How it should be remembered: It should have been one of those films that defined an era in American cinema, alongside The Matrix and The Blair Witch Project. Films like Porky’s became cult classics, and this should have been offered the same fate. While it was crude, it had heart and, but for the sequels, could have been a modern take on The Brat Pack films of the mid 80s, and remembered with the same affection.

The sequels: The main problem with each of the (seven and counting) sequels was that they were all the same. They all featured essentially the same template of characters, the same scenarios and criminally, the same jokes. Scenes that were fresh and surprising were flogged to death by their repetition in every other version of the film. It doesn’t matter how good your joke is, it gets tiresome after you’ve heard it seven times. Essentially, you can’t fondly remember something if you’ve never been allowed to forget it.

The Matrix (1999, Wachowski Brothers)

Why?

The Matrix did almost everything right. Not only did it introduce the Western world to the incredible fight choreography of Yuen Woo-Ping, it touched on pop-philosophy without trying too hard to be clever. It had read Descartes and Lewis Carroll, understood them and incorporated it into an action film. The soundtrack was great, it looked unlike anything we’d seen on screen before and it even managed to play on Keanu Reeves’ gormless charisma. After a decade of films influenced by cyber-punk and drug-culture, this one topped them all.

Granted, loads of it was lifted from Ghost in the Shell and The Invisibles, but if you are going to go thieving, steal from the best houses.

How it should be remembered: As one of the best action films of all time. Yuen Woo-Ping had been doing amazing things with fight scenes for three decades prior to The Matrix, but only afterwards did he get the recognition he deserved. That was only one of several game-changing moments which arrived with this film’s release.

Bullet-time became almost ubiquitous in action movies, from Underworld to Nightwatch. The CGI was unlike anything we’d seen before, and went a long way to condemning The Phantom Menace that summer. More than any of that, this was an intelligent blockbuster, which could be read on a number of different levels. Not only did it look and sound amazing, but there was plenty of scope for debate on the nature of being. There were just the right number of questions left unanswered…

The Sequels: …and then the sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions, attempted to answer them in the most heavy-handed way possible. Master programming? Lazy biblical references? The rave scene? That whole bit with the Architect? After the subtlety with which the original approached its subtexts, there seemed to be a rush to cram in as many “high-brow” references as possible in the latter two films. It was so much of a let down that even the presence of Monica Bellucci didn’t help.

And if this woman can’t improve your film, you’re in trouble.

Or, put it another way, here’s Grant Morrison speaking to Suicide Girls website: “It was just too bad they deviated so far from the Invisibles philosophical template in the second and third movies because they blundered helplessly into boring Catholic theology, proving that they hadn’t had the ‘contact’ experience that drove The Invisibles, and they wrecked both ‘Reloaded’ and ‘Revolutions’ on the rocks of absolute incomprehension.

“They should have kept on stealing from me and maybe they would have wound up with something to really be proud of – a movie that could change minds and hearts and worlds.

“In the end, I was glad they got the ideas out but very disappointed that they blew it so badly and distorted all the Gnostic transcendental aspects that made the first film so strong and potent.”

Amen.

Ocean’s Eleven (2001, Steven Soderberg)

Why? There are few examples of remakes far out-stripping the originals, and fewer still of modern re-visitings capturing the essence of the era better than a work of the time. Ocean’s Eleven did just that. It managed to out Rat-Pack the Rat-Pack with an all-star cast, a superb (highlight that, superb) soundtrack and a feeling of cool that you can’t fake.

How it should be remembered: Soderberg’s version should be remembered as one of the key points where Post-Modernist cinema went beyond its boundaries. As one of the key proponents of depthless, dialogue driven, almost plot-less American cinema in the 1990s, Soderberg understood where the medium was at the moment.

Films like Pulp Fiction perfectly encompassed what the post-modern movement in cinema did so well. It was all about the cool and it had ironic casting of well known faces, which required your prior knowledge to “get the joke. Plot wasn’t as important as character, or perhaps “character”, and there was much more of an emphasis on how it all looked, sounded and felt (without really “feeling”) than anything else. This was mash-up film-making.

Soderberg had pioneered this kind of stuff in Sex, Lies and Videotape. As a result, he know how to reverse it. His Ocean’s Eleven has the cool soundtrack, the witty dialogue, the sharp characters and the stunning visuals. It also has depth and heart. On its own Ocean’s Eleven should have been the Big Budget The Royal Tenenbaums.

The sequels: In a recurring theme here, we get tired of the same characters, and their need to constantly place themselves in danger stretches the tethers on our suspension of disbelief.

Leaving aside the problems with plot, there’s a very fine line between cool and self-confident before crossing into self-parody and knowing smugness. By Ocean’s Thirteen it was a case of cramming as many celebrities, guests and cameos as possible into the film, indirectly destroying what the first film did so well.

A feature of post-modernism is the obsession with celebrity (just ask Warhol), and in Ocean’s Eleven Soderberg managed to play on that to go beyond (or perhaps step back?) from all-out pastiche. The first film was an ensemble cast, the two sequels were just ensembles. There was no mirror being held up to celebrity, just a starry-eyed acceptance of it.

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, Gore Verbinksi)

Why? At a time when Blockbusters were getting more and more serious (Return of the King was released the same year), Disney decided to make a film out of one of their theme park rides. Rather than the disaster it could have been, Pirates of the Caribbean captured all the sense of adventure that 1930s audiences must have felt when they saw Errol Flynn on screen.

Not only were the characters larger than life, the action sequences thrilling and the one-liners fresh, but this was the revival of a genre that hadn’t really seen the light of day in 50 years. And, of course, there was Johnny Depp at his finest. For a particular generation, it was Monkey Island come to life.

Look behind you, a three-headed monkey.

How it should be remembered: As one of the great action films of recent decades. It’s easy to forget, but Depp’s Jack Sparrow was originally a thrilling creation, before the sequels (and numerous Halloween parties) turned it into a cliche. He was given free licence to swagger and swashbuckle. If further proof were needed, Depp was nominated for an Oscar for this role. It’s hard to picture now.

As a standalone film, perhaps even alongside the first sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean deserves to be remembered as an equal (if parallel opposite) to Lord of the Rings or the Bourne trilogy.

The sequels: As with several other films on this list, the sequels only served to make us forget why we loved certain characters in the first place. The second sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, was actually very good, and did build on the characters of the first film. From then on in, it was all downhill.

An aimless, over-lengthy third film introduced too many new characters, gave Orlando Bloom too much time to act, and pushed the film into too dark a place for Depp’s Sparrow to keep things ticking over. Even the main character had become cliched and tired by that point. Still, audiences loved it, it made a billion at the box office, and we’ll probably get another one yet.

As with several other films on this list, if you want to make characters with lasting appeal, remember. Absence genuinely does make the heart grow fonder.

Saw (2004, James Wan)

Why?

Saw is a dark, twisted thriller, and despite one particularly startling scene, it never descends into the kind of torture-porn nonsense that became so fashionable in the mid 00s. It’s a tight, low-budget, almost neo-noir take, with one of the best finales in cinema of the last decade. The casting is superb, with Cary Ewles and Danny Glover perfectly deployed with a knowing nod to the audience, and the premise of the film is dark without ever going beyond the realms of possibility. Key to it all, faced with the options of shock or suspense, it always went for the latter.

How it should be remembered: Saw should have been remembered on-a-par with something like David Fincher’s Se7en. It wasn’t a proper horror film, but a morality tale featuring a villain who displayed some sort of twisted logic.

The Sequels: In the original film, Jigsaw’s puzzles are only part of the picture. They feature prominently, but are only hinted at, in much the same way as some of John Doe’s hideous creations are in Se7en. Leaving things to the imagination was key.

In the sequels there was an increasing tendency towards shock for the sake of shock. It was Willitblend.com on a massive budget. From the tense, thoughtful opening film (made on a budget of $1m) we were left with a woman getting her head pulled apart by a bear-trap, in 3D on a budget of $17m.

 

Under-rated rhythm sections

When it comes to musical debates there are only a few categories that ever really get brought up.

Arguments around particularly brilliant (or not) songs or albums are ubiquitous, and countdowns on the greatest guitarists, drummers and even bands are regular features of magazines and television. One dynamic that is rarely discussed is the rhythm section; the bass and drum combination.

A vocalist can give a band a personality as well as the more obvious powers of speech, while guitarists can offer limbs ended with pointed fingers, balled fists or the softest of touches. The drummer and the bassist provide the spine, and while that’s mainly just useful for standing up straight, a really limber one will let you thrust in all directions, and musicians have a reputation to uphold.

Leaving the laboured metaphors aside, this is some praise for the great under-appreciated rhythm sections in some bands that I like, and a brief explanation of why. Miles Davis often spoke of the important parts of a piece of music not being in what you played, but in what you didn’t. Likewise, if something is described as being “like clockwork” then it has ridges as well as grooves. The two interlock to keep things moving. Timing is everything.

Now we all know of some truly great rhythm pairings – Entwhistle and Moon, Redding and Mitchell, Bonham and John-Paul Jones, Reni and Mani, etc. The point is, these guys get all the credit they deserve. This is meant to be a bit of praise for some of the people that don’t. It isn’t in praise of one individual or the other, it’s the couples that made it so much more than the sum of their parts.

As ever, a couple of caveats. I’ve stuck to popular(ish) music, or at least music aimed at the popular market. I’m only too aware that I’m not aware of incredible jazz musicians and Ethiopian folk musicians, if that makes sense. This isn’t a definitive list, or even an attempt at one, it’s just – if I’m honest – a few rhythm sections that I thought don’t get enough credit while driving back from work in the car. The research runs that deep.

Apologies if it goes a bit music theory-ish, it’s not meant to be aimed at chin scratching muso knobheads, but it is written by one.

Oh, and one final thing, put the bass up on your computer before listening.

Matt Tong and Gordon Moakes

Bloc Party have been one of the most intriguing guitar bands that Britain has produced in the last decade, because of their willingness to accept failure as a potential cost to endeavour. After releasing a truly magnificent debut in the shape of The Silent Alarm, they tried out a variety of different musical suits, some of which fitted and others which didn’t, but at least avoided the Emperor’s New Clothes-syndrome of some of their contemporaries. Key to all of this was lead singer Kele Okereke’s increasing disillusionment with “indie”, and the fact that in Russell Lissack they had possibly the most innovative UK guitarist since Jonny Greenwood.

What most people fail to pick up on is the fact that the real heroes in the band, the two that separate them from every other indie-rock band with ambition, are drummer Matt Tong and bassist Gordon Moakes.

Need further proof? Listen to a single like Two More Years.

The immediacy of the music is all through the drums, which are the most prominent parts of the song’s mix. Then note when they change pace, when the bass comes in and the constant beat of the drums, which seems at odds with the sentiment of the lyrics, flourishes and actually expresses something and sighs. In any other hands this would have been indie slush, but it gets guts from the rhythm section.

Another great example is in Helicopter, which is seemingly all about the two guitar parts.

The drums and bass parts stay syncopated and nimble, repelling the angry riffs, and Moakes’ descending bass-line in the chorus makes the whole thing work.

Bill Berry and Mike Mills

If Stan Lee was writing about a rhythm section… It seems strange to suggest that any part of REM were under-rated, but they are a perfect example of musicians being so much more than a sum of their parts.

Berry was a good drummer, but he wasn’t a virtuoso. However, the band never recovered when he left. In Mike Mills he had the perfect musical ally; a multi-instrumentalist who understood allowing music to breath and pause.

None of REM’s big hits feature memorable bass parts or drum fills, but listen to some of their most acclaimed work and you’ll realise who it was that did the leg-work in carrying the music that Michael Stipe and Peter Buck gilded. On It’s the End of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) there is very little in the verses but the almost rock-a-billy drums and Mills’ meandering bass.

In Man On the Moon it is the bass part that leads the entire song, and the drums are subtle, putting the emphasis of the verses on beats one, two and four, almost like a polka.

Jenny Lee-Lindberg and Stella Mozgowa

There aren’t many high profile female drummers, but Warpaint have one of the most nuanced in Stell Mozgowa. The band’s ethereal, Cocteau Twins-esque mystery is anchored by a drummer that can switch time signatures on a whim, and offer a more subtle (specifically feminine?) power that defines so much of their work. Put it another way, if they had an incredible male drummer, they would never sound so nuanced. She plays drum parts that can only be described, in your best Old Grey Whistle Test voice, as grooves.

Alongside her is Jenny-Lee Lindberg, who understands that if you are going to have arboreal guitar parts growing from beneath your feet, you need to keep both a steady footing and give over plenty of space for the branches.

?uestlove and Leonard Hubbard

Although The Roots have found an entirely new level of professionalism and dedication in recent years, both live and on record, their classic rhythm section featured the Leonard Hubbard, who left in 2007, as well as ?uestlove. The band had always managed to mix political, eloquent statements with music that was for the hips as much as the head, and arguably never more so than on 2002s Phrenology.

You can tell someone is adding something genuinely special when you know what they’re playing, but can’t figure out quite how. On a track like The Seed there is the most rudimentary of drum parts, keeping a straight 4/4 beat. The bass part hops from one foot to the other, without ever wandering too far from the straight and narrow. So what makes it hold such a swagger? The bass and the drums may be simple, but they react to each other so perfectly that they appear to be one instrument.

Bruce Thomas and Pete Thomas

Three words. Pump it Up.

Ok, a bit more proof is needed. Like this…

Eye candy, ear honey #1

Five audio-visual treats…

The Left Rights – I’m On Crack

This has been around for a couple of years and I had never seen it. Not sure I like a world where that’s possible.

Directed by Mike Diva and starring professional Tupac impersonator Josh Hallaway dancing with cats, spinning through space, negotiation Mario Land and other general loopiness, it’s two minutes of lunacy and that’s a good thing. Made me want to be on crack momentarily, until I remembered that would be a bad thing.

Public Enemy – I Shall Not Be Moved

They say class is permanent but I’m sure Chuck D would admit that Public Enemy’s output hasn’t always hit the high-water mark of Fear of a Black Planet. This is a return to form though, with a stripped-back approach that shows that hip-hop’s senior citizens still command attention.

Nobody says “yeah” like Flavor Flav.

And something I didn’t know until today? Chuck D does the play-by-play commentary on PS3 game NBA Ballers: Chosen One

Todd Terje – Inspector Norse

Fell in love with this the first time I saw and heard it. Without the video, it’s “just” a wonderfully bubbly, hypnotic little dance tune.

The video, however, is an excerpt from a short film called Whateverest by Kristoffer Borgli. It’s funny and sad and brilliant.

The Presets – Youth In Trouble

Since the light electronic mood of Girl and the Sea, The Presets seem to have become increasingly minimalist and edgier. This single, the first from forthcoming album Pacifica just sounds menacing. It’s like they took the idea of “I Feel Love” and decided to write “I Feel Malevolent” in response.

The video, by Japanese artist Yoshi Sodeoka, is like the sort of visuals you would see at raves in the early 90s or on middle of the night “catch the chemically enhanced” music programmes like BPM. Love it.

Perfume – Spring of Life

Yes it’s sugary, manufactured and packaged with forensic detail but come on, how healthy is your musical diet? This tune just cheers me up and it makes me think of shopping in Shibuya once upon a time. Put aside your prejudice and I’ll bet it’s stuck in your head for days.

If Kylie had recorded it, or any of the British girl groups, it would be the sound of the UK summer. (Nod to the brilliant makebelievemelodies.com, where I heard about it first)

The 101,000,000th review of The Dark Knight Rises on the internet

A stellar cast helps bring Nolan’s vision to the screen in convincing fashion.

It’s difficult to write about The Dark Knight Rises after the shootings in Colorado at an advance screening of Christopher Nolan’s film.

The horrific events in Colorado show that a disturbed identification with film can create a path that leads to tragic consequence but the blame for the shootings cannot be laid at Nolan’s feet.

As the director explained in his response to the Aurora massacre:  ”I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.

“The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

There are savage and brutal sequences in TDKR but the heart of Nolan’s film is hope. Elsewhere, debate has already begun about the link between violent images and violent acts but this isn’t the place for that argument. Instead, this is a consideration of whether TDKR is a great artwork and what the shared experience is.

Just over two months ago, Joss Whedon presented his cinematic take on Marvel’s Avengers to the world. Technicolour, glossy, effervescent and surprisingly funny, it proved to be the most accurate adaption of the pulpy, feel-good ‘action as entertainment’ side of comic books.

As good as it was, Whedon’s film only showed one shiny side of the coin. With The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan shows the scarred, damaged and more textured side – embracing the fact that comics and film, as part of the media, not only reflect our world but also seek to explain it.

It’s a serious film, a thoughtful and painstakingly crafted take on the source material that is as far removed from the pop art 60s television series as Downfall is from ‘Allo ‘Allo.

As the third and final part of Nolan’s trilogy begins, it’s apparent early on that that the scope is wide and that the director intends to deliver a blockbuster with brains.

Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent has become the symbol of a heroic Gotham that has beaten its own demons and cast Batman in the role of villain. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon knows that a war was waged on the back of a lie and still grapples with his own part in concealing the truth.

Batman is gone, Bruce Wayne is living a hermit-like existence albeit in the grand surroundings of the rebuilt Wayne Manor and Dent is, of course, dead. Only Gordon remains as the public face of the battle against organised crime but as one of the city’s great and good notes “He’s a war hero in a time of peace”.

Peace is fragile and while the crime rate may have plummeted, there are indications that a class war may be coming.

The tension between the have and have-nots is sketched out through exchanges between Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle early on. She has the vitality, skills and edge while he is near crippled, greying and lost. When she later warns him, with relish, that “there’s a storm coming” it’s as much a prediction about the state of Gotham as it is a pointer to the central dramatic thread.

That thread, for anyone who has been off-planet for the past year, centres on Bane, a physically powerful terrorist mastermind who is plotting Gotham’s reckoning. Carrying on the unfinished work of Rhas Al Ghul from Batman Begins and spouting revolutionary rhetoric that seeks to paint his destruction as liberation, Bane is a threat that creates the need for a Batman once again.

One bad guy to take down and a city to save is pretty standard superhero fare though. Nolan adds in the double-crossing,but compelling and alluring, Kyle/Catwoman. He factors in a boardroom battle, a “greed is good” business rival, the moral quandary over an energy source and the crumbling of a financial empire.

He introduces an idealistic young cop who has the detective skills to impress Gordon and pursues a hunch about Bruce Wayne and there’s a new dimension to Wayne’s relationship with Alfred.

In short, and without revealing the entire plot, TDKR rejects the simplistic and sets in motion a story that brings change and conflict to both the personal and the city as a whole.

If there was a flaw in The Dark Knight, and it’s entirely excusable, it was that Heath Ledger’s mesmeric performance left Batman somewhat in the shadows. In TDKR, central villain Bane is a hypnotic presence when on screen but the focus has shifted back to Wayne and Batman.

Bale plays his role superbly as a lost soul who finds a reason to return and, after being broken physically and mentally, rebuilds himself inside and out only to sacrifice himself again.

His is one of several superb performances that give the film its heart. Michael Caine brings something new to Alfred, the sage and wise butler who helped build and guide Batman now distraught and conflicted at the personal cost. Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon was a careful, thoughtful cop in the previous films but now harbours guilt and seems numbed by the fact that lies and failures have led to the lasting peace. Until the peace fails…

Of the new faces, Joseph Gordon Levitt proves the link between Gotham’s protector and those in need of most protection. His John Blake is the film’s moral compass, pointing to the city’s failings, demonstrating its ability to rise to a challenge and showing what secrets should be kept and which should never be hidden.

Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle is a valuable addition to the trilogy.

Anne Hathaway gives good smirk as Selina Kyle and takes Catwoman in a direction that’s new to film after Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry’s wildly different interpretations. Looking after number one but aware of the bigger picture, she’s smart and funny, worldly and capable and her fear of Bane underlines the menace of Batman’s newest adversary.

It couldn’t have been easy agreeing to follow Heath Ledger as the latest Bat-villain but Tom Hardy benefits from having an entirely different bad guy to embody. Physically imposing as the result of a punishing regime, Hardy cuts an impressive figure but he, like his character, is more than just muscle.

With a mask obscuring most of his face, and a distorted voice to boot, he doesn’t have a lot to work with. But Hardy achieves something special in that the evil, the intelligence, the curiosity and the anger are all communicated through his eyes. Intimidatingly smart and physically smart he may be but the defining aspect of the battle between Bane and Batman is undying conviction and Hardy sells it perfectly.

Hollywood has a rich history of great performances in flawed films though, and what makes TDKR is that every aspect boasts the same level of excellence.

Wally Pfister’s cinematography and well-chosen locations broaden the palette from the previous films. Whether it’s Gotham in snow (and later in pieces), a dusty and desolate prison, a packed stadium or a bustling stock exchange, each setting has its own feeling, creating a layered, convincing world the characters to inhabit.

Hans Zimmer’s score has moved from the scratchy, keening and foreboding tones of the previous film, where it heightened the tension as The Joker turned the screws. In TDKR it’s relentless percussion adds gravity and the sense that everything is marching to a brutal and definitive conclusion.

The special effects and props are never just for spectacle and the manner they are introduced as the believable, inevitable results of military engineering and imaginative use mean they bolster rather than deflect from the realistic tone that has served Nolan so well in the past.

These are all just parts though, and the sum of those parts is what matters. The Dark Knight Rises had expectations to meet and each element combines to produce a film that is deeply satisfying.

It isn’t perfect (Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate disappoints and even with a lengthy running time there are some strands that seem to be introduced and concluded too quickly) but it aims high and reaches its mark.

The brief appearances from one or two cast members from The Wire serve as a reminder of how the HBO drama forensically explored a city over five seasons. Nolan has built one over three films and not just as a backdrop for special effects. His Gotham has endured, overcome, been besieged and saved and it has been compelling viewing because he built it with care.

That big picture is balanced with the personal and Bruce Wayne has gone from fearful child to revenge-fixated youth, from disciple to leader and symbol, from trapped to free.

As the closing part of a trilogy it does what few films achieve. It builds on the previous two films and expands the scope before bringing every arc to an end. Nothing is left unexplained but there are no shortcuts or cheats. It aims for the epic and achieves it.

Nolan hits the mark in  terms of delivering a spectacle that has broad appeal and lends itself to shared experience. That he has also made a valuable contribution to the history of an art form he so clearly reveres is what makes The Dark Knight Rises a blockbuster with brains and one that offers hope.

The Newsroom: not an original story

Aaron Sorkin is back writing TV with latest show The Newsroom.

In pop culture, the key elements aren’t always treated equally.

In music, bass and drum get undersold despite James Brown’s exhortations to “give the drummer some”. In comics, artists are always complementing a writer’s work but good art rarely gets credit when illustrating a bad script. In film, actors get praise, then directors, then everyone else.

Everyone thinks of Chinatown as a Jack Nicholson film. Some talk about it as Roman Polanski’s finest hour. Only the film geeks talk about scriptwriter Robert Towne and then, as film geeks do, they move on to the Towne trivia.

In television the writer gets shorter thrift but, occasionally, a name becomes a brand and thus we have The Newsroom sold as the latest from the pen (probably laptop) of Aaron Sorkin.

That’s fair enough. As the writer of three critically-acclaimed TV dramas (the under-rated Sports Night, sublime The West Wing and “better than just a po-faced 30 RockStudio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Sorkin has as much right as anyone to be seen as the USP of a new show in a cluttered market.

A name before the titles brings expectation and in Sorkin’s case it’s no bad thing. Snappy dialogue, big ideas and genuine drama made his name and that’s a draw. It’s disappointing, therefore, to find that the opening of The Newsroom is a little familiar.

News anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) has been treading water. A passionate, driven man taken to going with the flow has found that the pressure can’t be denied and he erupts, delivering an uncomfortable state of the nation address without warning, shocking all who witness his lacerating critique of 21st century America.

A perfect opening even if, especially if, it harks back to Network. But for Sorkin, it’s a retread. The beginning of his flawed but entertaining Studio 60 at the Sunset Strip was centred on the public meltdown of a well-meaning guy who just couldn’t take it anymore. The West Wing’s first storyline was the fallout from Josh Lyman’s (Bradley Whitford) on-air off-message rant

Sometimes an artist has a motif he repeats, and if that was Sorkin’s then it would be a nice comfortable welcome to a genre of his own. Sadly, it’s a red flag that only serves to highlight other possible repeat performances.

Studio 60 failed in part because of the central dramatic thread. Harriet Hayes’ (Sarah Paulson) star turn had to live with ex-boyfriend Matt Albie (Matthew Perry) pitching up as her new boss. In The Newsroom, McAvoy’s punishment/reward for speaking his mind is that his show is now produced by his ex-girlfriend  Mackenzie MacHale (Emily Mortimer).

Career-oriented Don Kiefer (Thomas Sadoski) is at odds with the new regime on News Night and just wants to play it safe and by the book so he’s already preparing to jump ship. Not at all like play-it-safe, by-the-book Ricky Tahoe (Evan Handler) who leaves Studio 60 because of a personality clash with his new boss.

And if the “will they or won’t they?” tension between Josh and Donna Moss (Janel Maloney) was good enough for The West Wing then it’s sure as hell good enough for The Newsroom. The bickering and flirtation between Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jnr.) and Maggie Jordan (Allison Pill) has begun and it won’t end until … actually, it probably won’t end.

Which one of us gets to be Sam Seaborn?

The recognisable situations and Sorkin types actually lend the series more believability and comfort than The Newsroom’s big clever device. With the show set two years ago, the fictional news team will be covering real-life stories from the time. So episode one centres on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Tea Party will be discussed and dissected and presumably by season two (already confirmed) we’ll be seeing how ACN would have covered the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and why The Social Network didn’t win Best Picture in 2011.

It’s a conceit that Sorkin claims was intended to add realism but it backfires. While major plotlines in The West Wing were fictional, from the president’s MS to the election of a non-white Commander in Chief, they were believable. The Newsroom’s take on real-life events is handled in a manner that only highlights the artifice; we’ve seen the real coverage and the “in hindsight” jars with what we already knew.

The intentions are sound. Show a passionate, talented team without any agenda or spin covering the story as we would all love to see the news reported. All well and good. Highlighting where others failed by showing a fictional team report using information the writer gleaned from reports by the real media? Not quite fair.

The opening episode illustrates the point. We all know from extensive reports the significance of the BP oil spill and the system that allowed it to happen but on day one, it wasn’t a full story.

In The Newsroom, a report of an explosion is quickly interpreted by an underling who writes the show’s blog as potentially the biggest environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez. Everyone runs with that. Within an hour, an intern promoted by accident to assistant and then promoted again for no apparent reason to Associate Producer uncovers information that nails the negligence and systematic failures that caused the accident.

The producer from the “old guard” wanted to ignore the story. “Look”, says The Newsroom “That’s the real media. Isn’t it disappointing?”

We can only be thankful that it wasn’t set in 2001 or we may have seen a passing cleaner predict a terrorist attack based on a report that air traffic control had lost contact with a plane.

With this plot device, we’ll be able to call the election perfectly.

It’s flawed and it’s a little predictable (what am I bet that the mention of MacKenzie’s physical and emotional exhaustion from working in warzones leads to a Josh Lyman type PTSD episode?) but, bizarrely, it remains watchable.

Maybe it’s because all the pointers to previous shows identify the journalists as idealists already. Maybe it’s because there are jokes that work and political points that resonate and everyone wants to see thorough, searching news reports.

Or maybe it’s because for all the flaws, Sorkin playing his greatest hits is better than watching most other dramas. And certainly more entertaining than watching real-life American news.

More to come on this particular story…

Five things we can expect from The Dark Knight Rises

It’s undoubtedly going to be the biggest film of the year, and after what has seemed like eons of teasers and trailers, we’re now just days away from finally getting closure on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Perhaps the biggest complement that you can pay Nolan is that he’s managed to make us forget Clooney’s Bat-nipples and Arnie’s take on Victor Fries, which remains chilling for all the wrong reasons. Now we’ll get closure on Nolan’s story and on one of the great modern trilogies.

But what to expect? The plot has been a closely guarded secret, and we’ve only seen fleeting glimpses of what seems to be an apocalyptic Gotham. We know we’re going to get Tom Hardy’s take on Bane, which can only be an improvement on the green luchador (played by World Championship Wrestling’s unfortunately named The Final Solution) depicted in Batman and Robin. On the other hand, Anne Hathaway has quite a task to live up to Michelle Pfieffer’s scene-stealing embodiment in Batman Returns.

Aside from that, what should we expect? We know that Nolan has done his homework, and meticulously studied the comic source material in the writing of both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The former was heavily based on Frank Miller’s now-legendary Batman: Year One, while the latter borrowed a fair bit of its source material from Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween. Based on a hunch, as all of this is, Nolan’s likely to find his inspiration in the comic books. Here we try and look at what that might be.

Just as a wee aside, this might contain spoilers. Technically it is guess-work, but it’s educated guesswork, based on tales from the comics and things hinted at in previous films. It might be entirely off the mark, but there’s some advance warning.

Also, it contains a hell of a lot of comic spoilers. This is maybe something to be more aware of.

So, after that rather expansive pre-amble, what are we to expect from The Dark Knight Rises?

The Breaking of the Bat

The decision to use Bane as the main antagonist served a couple of purposes. Not only does it exorcise the demons of the aforementioned cinematic version, but it brings to the screen one of the great modern Batman villains.

The male contingent of Batman’s rogues gallery falls into two distinctive categories. They’re either criminally insane super-brains (The Joker, The Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin, Victor Fries, Hugo Strange, Scarecrow, Hush) or freakish monstrosities of nature, capable of out-muscling the hero (Killer Croc, Clayface, Solomon Grundy, Amygdala, Blockbuster). Where Bane is different is that he embodies both. He’s capable of physically and mentally defeating Batman, and is one of very few who comprehensively has.

Batman is broken by Bane in Batman #497. Artwork by Jim Aparo.

Anyone who is familiar with Bane’s backstory will know one important detail about him; he broke The Bat. To cut a long story short, during the Knightfall story-arc of 1993-94, Bane psychologically tortured Batman, only to finally confront him, and break his back, leaving him a paraplegic in Batman #497.

This is the single most significant and important event in Bane’s comic book existence. Not making reference to it would be like rewriting the Batman saga without the death of his parents. In short, if they’re going to have Bane then they’re going to have to break The Bat.

The Dark Knight falls

Presumably this will be tied to the above event, but if – as the title suggests – The Dark Knight rises, then first of all he must fall.

The obvious thing to do would be to have Batman psychologically traumatised by Bane, then beaten to within an inch of death (or perhaps to a “death” visible by the residents of Gotham). Because this is Nolan’s last hurrah with Batman, then we’re going to have to see him really up the stakes.

Batman, by his very nature, is a tortured character. At different points in the comics he has seen his parents murdered, assorted friends desert him often to return as enemies, been sent through time, “died”, had his mind corrupted by a rabid religious cult, seen two Robins bumped off, been forced to endure the torture of Barbara Gordon and more recently watched helplessly as several of his exes were offed by a murderous former-flame. In short, the man has it tough.

From Batman #428. Artwork by Jim Aparo.

What makes Batman work is that he overcomes all of these things. In the films so far he has overcome the death of his parents and his first friend. Where else for Nolan to push things other than for the Dark Knight to overcome death itself?

Again, because this is the final part in Nolan’s trilogy, we’re not going to get some The Empire Strikes Back/Godfather II ending, we’re going to get something uplifting to conclude Nolan’s reign and miss it when it’s gone. What better way to do that than having Batman return from “death” to return Gotham to some form of safety?

Someone else takes on the cowl

This point is a bit more abstract and certainly less certain than the previous points, but it makes sense.

If Nolan is going to be using Knightfall as the basis for his final Batman story, and have Batman “fall”, then it stands to reason that he’ll also have someone coming in to take over the cowl for a while.

In Knightfall it offered the opportunity for writers to road-test their right-wing, take-no-shit, Punisher-esque replacement, Jean-Paul Valley, or Azrael. He takes over the role of Batman after Bane’s defeat of Wayne’s original, and brings his own version of vigilante justice to Gotham.

Jean-Paul Valley took over as Batman for a run between 1993 and 1994. Artwork by Kelley Jones, from Detective Comics #667.

This isn’t going to happen in Nolan’s realist take on Batman, but the element of someone else carrying on Batman’s work while he is indisposed might. The question is, who?

On one side we’re likely to have a morally grey Catwoman character, who could well fill in as a protagonist in the wake of Batman’s “fall”. However, there’s scope for it to be someone else who actually takes on the cowl.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt has been cast as the somewhat mysterious “John Blake”, of whom we know very little, other than his inclusion in a very brief Joker story. However, it would seem ridiculous to cast such a well-known leading actor in an insignificant role. It would fit with Nolan’s ethos if Blake, a Gotham cop, had to take on the role of Batman for a period, even if it were just to keep up the appearance of Batman’s continued existence while the man himself is out of action.

Not only would this fit with some of the ideas explored in the Knightsend story-line, but it would appeal to those who want a “Robin” style character; someone who wouldn’t ever have fitted in to the Nolan mythology.

Someone is going to die. Properly.

As any great drama knows, it’s all about jeopardy. If your main character isn’t in trouble then we’re not going to be that interested in him. This holds doubly true for a character like Batman.

As we’ve already said, Batman is a tortured soul, and we expect him to have everything going wrong before he gets one thing to go right. The morality of the whole series is based on whether the decision Bruce Wayne made to avenge his parent’s death by fighting crime is the right one. For every good deed he does, more bad things happen to him.

Batman mourns his parents. From Batman: Year One animated movie.

Now we’ve already speculated that Batman will “die”, but we’re not going to get to the credits with Batman out of the picture. Leaving aside the fact that Warner Bros will want a few more films (without having to open the next one by explaining what a Lazarus pit is), it just doesn’t make sense nor fit with previous Nolan work for him to leave Wayne in the ground. Nolan likes asking questions, but he also likes having things fairly neatly tied up. See also: The Prestige, Memento, Insomnia.

Again, we’ve already pointed out that Bane will attempt to break the Bat mentally before he physically gets in about, and to do this Batman is going to need seriously riled.

In the Knightfall story-arc this is done by pitting Batman against a series of his old-foes, one after the other. This is obviously not going to happen. Instead he needs to find another way of psychologically traumatising Batman, forcing him to face Bane directly. The obvious thing to do would be to place someone Bruce Wayne cares for in danger.

Now, if this were a Schumacher version, this person would be kidnapped and that would be enough to draw Batman into a trap. Nolan’s vision is far more brutal, and so it would make sense that someone is going to die. The question is, who?

We can almost (almost?) categorically rule out Commissioner Gordon, as it’d be far too much of a re-writing of the rules for him to get him bumped off. He acts as a the moral compass for the whole Batman series; the everyman in a world where there aren’t every men. Alfred? Lucius Fox? While killing off Batman’s sole “family” would fulfil the remit, something doesn’t quite sit right.

The most likely person to be wearing the metaphorical Star Trek red jumper is Marion Cotillard’s Miranda Tate. Cotillard has denied that her character is actually Talia al Ghul, which would have given her as much of a guarantee of longevity as is possible, and so she remains an unknown quantity in the final instalment.

Marion Cotillard has said that she will not be playing Talia al Ghul

It would fit if she was a romantic lead for Wayne, perhaps even a fiancée? His family and friend have been killed, so where left to go but for the love life? While providing the jeopardy that would be needed to make the Bane story work, having a firm romantic lead would also give Selina Kyle/Catwoman the opportunity to show her own seductive capabilities. What better way than to ramp up the drama than to have Bruce Wayne obviously taken with her infront of his betrothed? Perhaps this attraction could even play a part in her ultimate fate, further exasperating his mental trauma?

Ra’s al Ghul will complete the circle

As we’ve mentioned previously, Christopher Nolan likes messing with our heads, but he likes to tie things up in relatively neat bundles. He’ll obviously aim to do the same in the final Batman instalment.

We know that Liam Neeson will be returning, at least for a cameo, as the mysterious Ra’s al Ghul. We also know that in Nolan’s chronology it was he who was at least partially responsible for creating the Batman as we know it.

From the comic books we know that Ra’s al Ghul is a self-serving, duplicitous character, who has his own moral code. He serves as both an antagonist and occasionally as a wise Yoda-like character who provides sage, if barbed, advice.

From The Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul. Artwork by Tony Daniel.

Again from the comics, we also know that he can constantly regenerate himself with the aid of Lazarus pits, which not only heal him, but provide a convenient plot tie should writers want to bring back a character they killed off in previous works. As we’ve discussed, there’s no way that Nolan’s hyper-real take could have something as far-fetched as a Lazarus pit, but that doesn’t mean he can’t find a way of recreating the same ends with different means.

Assuming some of the leaps of logic above, it would make sense if it were Ra’s al Ghul who returns Batman (Bruce Wayne) to the role of Gotham’s protector. Whether this is through some sort of mystical healing process, or through a recuperation montage, it would fit with his role as partial creator of the Bat if he were to remould it.

In the KnightsEnd story-arc, a recently recovered Bruce Wayne attempts to regain his poise and confidence after his traumatic defeat at the hands of Bane. He calls on the help of fabled assassin, Lady Shiva, to help him sharpen up his game, aiming to wrest control of the Batman mantle from the now-insane Jean-Paul Valley.

Again, it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to suddenly have Nolan break his own rules and introduce a hitherto unknown super-ninja. However, Ra’s al Ghul would fit this same archetype.