Contact (1997)

Contact (1997)I’ve decided to write of review of Contact (1997) for two reasons, one, after seeing Interstellar (2014) a few weeks ago I felt it was time to take in this film with similar themes. Whilst also reply to a request by Mark Kermode for similar reasons. It’s always a joy to take in this film, one of the first science fictions films that I actually saw when I was younger that has stayed with me. A film that was not all about the action, more adult dealing with a few strong ideas which are still relevant today. It hasn’t really aged since it was released nearly 20 years ago, yes it’s that old if you look at the release date.

To consider this all of this in the light of Interstellar (2014) the relationship of father and daughter is very strong at the start and end of the film, an astronomer who lost her father at an early age, a person who encouraged her ambitions, seen early making contact with anyone on the radio. Whilst a faith in the unknown is really at the heart of the film. Interstellar is more about hope for a better future which the father is in search of, whilst his daughter now grown up is finding the truth behind that the science. There is more an emphasis on the battle between science and religion when a message from the Vega system is picked up by adult Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) which even in the umpteenth viewing still excites me, you can feel the energy in the room as they piece together what is going on, the impossible is happening for her team. Probably helped by the transmission being played on repeated, this was actually happening.

There is also the threat of higher-powers, the government and funding which has the ability to make or break what is happening. In the form of David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt) who is mostly out for his own glory. Whilst coming from the opposite side of the spectrum a younger Matthew McConaughey as “a man of the cloth, without the cloth” is looking for the truth beyond all the technology that we have in our lives. Something that is ever more prevalent today, surrounded by even more technology than we can shake a stick at. I’m typing this review up on a mac-book, the reach of science is practically encroaching. A fear that was predicted back in the mid-nineties has come true, and are we happier – are you? I’m not even sure why he shares top-billing in this film, only in a handful of scenes compared to Skerritt who is always stealing Arroway’s thunder as the film progresses. 

There is none of this in Interstellar which is determined by the preceding events in space as they look for prospective new homes for the people of Earth. Faith is replaced by a love and that attachments it creates between people. Contact is concerned with the consequences of a higher power, alien or god-like which is seen in the mass gathering as the fear becomes more real as we piece everything together, the message from the ‘Vegans’ (not those who eat not meat products) much from the help of the mysterious S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) who knows more than he’s been letting on, practically pulling strings from behind the scenes.

Contact is very much a product of the period, surprisingly not special effects driven, even with Robert Zemeckis directing, coming off the back of Forrest Gump (1994) playing with the fabric of television media to play out this film, superimposing Bill Clinton into a number of scenes, making the events all the more real. Theres an awareness of the governments involvement in the events, taking control, escalating it to a national security issue, we’d probably have the US navy out in the ocean today if the film was re-made today, ready to defend the nation…and the world.

Taking Contact on it’s own merits, it’s a grown up serious piece of sci-fi that dares to wonder what if, and how in the case we do make it happen, the consequences of that first recording to the actual first contact. With breath-taking special effects that match the wonder of the film, holding up well 17 years later as Foster travels through a wormhole to meet the messenger. It doesn’t really think about 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Unlike Interstellar which is more unashamed of what it does as it explores another dimension, the very future of the human race. The father-daughter relationship is something is the main similarity, however more a plot device in the earlier film to allow the final act to work for the audience. Not a communication point that allows a conclusion to be made. For me it’s about religion versus science, who wins? Well thats down to us, not James Woods as he fights for the truth at the investigation, a leap of faith is needed, do we believe it was an illusion or in-fact she travelled across space and back in 9 hours.

The Train (1964)

The Train (1964)This is the kind of film you want when you think of The Monuments Men (2014) which also wants to save priceless art falling into Nazi hands. Something which The Train (1964) does better in spades. Focused on the journey of one train load of paintings by artists we know today as the masters of modern art we know today. Their skill and talent was known even before the out-break of war. A time in Germany which saw book burnings, modern art of both German and international artists branded as degenerate. Raided from collectors both, especially Jews who had worse to suffer under the regime. Being archived and exhibited as degenerate art of lower races, something to be-despised by German people.

Once France was under occupation, sways of more art was taken away, the countries pride and glory, something that has been left in their care. If these are lost they cannot be recovered, or remade. Not like the cuisine or output of the culture. To loose these would be a crime that a nation would be ashamed of for a generation.

Enter a member of the Resistance who cares little about a collection of art which is being transported over to Germany. He has no real appreciation for the works, however the idea that a part of France can so easily be lost is something he cannot let happen. Train station master Labiche (Burt Lancaster) who is persuaded by gallery archivist whose passion for the works that are bout transported out he is soon persuaded with his small resistance group.

It’s essentially a game of cat and mouse between the resistance and Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) an officer who by definition should detest theses works that drive him mad with passion. The journey into Germany blinds him to the point of distraction as time after time sabotage and good old fashioned foolery proceed in the film. When you think about it, France had been under occupation for almost 5 years by the time these events take place, when their culture is at stake they rise to the challenge once.

Centred around a single train engine for most of the film, the camera takes in the beautiful piece of engineering history from every angle possible as this game of wits plays out. Its tense yet fun to see the Nazi fooled time and again. With more love for the trains as they are used like weapons at times to de-rail (literally) the plans of one journey that should never make its destination.

What makes this film is that the real passion for the work lies with the enemy, who by default would want it destroyed, unless it was heading for the proposed museum in Germany. Whilst a Frenchman whose culture is a stake has no real interest in the works, he knows nothing of they’re worth financially or critically. He is instead driven by a passion for his country, its one step too far. Instead of banging on about a culture being lost as I have seen in The Monuments Men these people are actually putting their lives on the line, not talking about it. Yes they did meet a few, but they didn’t go half as far, maybe they should have joined the resistance. Thats not to do deserve to the real monuments men who saved a lot of work falling into enemy hands and disappearing off the face of the Earth. We are still discovering works by the old masters which were taken from Jewish collections. Why didn’t George Clooney and his boys take a leaf out of Lancaster’s book? 

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego Movie (2014)There was once a time when I had all but one pack to complete the Indiana Jones-esque Egyptian series of Lego, the large temple to go with the sphinx that opens to reveal a skeleton. I was so close. Then came the Rock-Raiders which I had only one part of, then the game too, that was just when Lego was starting to commercialize, not that I really noticed it. Today we have everything from Lego The Simpsons to The AvengersIt feels to me that the idea of children and now adults using their imagination to construct their own worlds is being restricted by the ever-growing series of cash-in sets. Then came along The Lego Movie (2014) which seems like the biggest cash-in/sell-out of it all, with another one in the works, a Batman spin-off too. What happened to the good old fashioned Danish toy company that has been making Lego for over 50 years.

Putting my thoughts to onside about the current state of Lego which for me was so more about building house-boats and caravans as a kid (not the most imaginative for an artist I must admit, they were the best ever though) that came out of a yellow bucket with a square four block lid on top. That was were the real fun lay for me, pouring out the bricks onto the carpet and seeing what I could build. And that is the essence of this film. It pulls away all the cash-in series to go back to the roots of the company, the play-well, the imagine and create, once you’ve followed the instruction book which can be read by anyone in any country you can dissemble to create whatever came into your head.

The Lego Movie is a celebration of all that I’ve just said really, and most of the world who has seen this film will agree, anyone who has played with the toy and got a real buzz from it, playing for hours on end. As we follow what could the most generic of the City series figures, a builder Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who has for years followed the rules, well the instructions as long as he has been assembled. Lets talk in Lego terms for this review, it just makes sense to. Not thinking beyond the page, unlike others around him who like either sausages or fries, they all have a particular passion, not one passion for everything. He’s a sheep follow the herd blindly not seeing past the end of the booklet to see what else is possible for himself. Well except for a double-decker sofa so friends can come over and watch a film with you. You’d need a super massive TV for that to work or even a projector maybe.

Emmet the bland builder accidentally gets himself involved in what could be the end of life for him and Lego-kind as we know it on meeting Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is on the hunt for the special one as prophesied by the great Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as laid out in the prologue to the film. When Emmet discovers he is the chosen special one a lot of pressure is put on him to perform, to do good on his new title in front of the master builders (an array of figures from the heaps of series of Lego from Batman to Milhouse Van-Houten to the 80’s spaceman. Everyone and everyone is there, all having a moment in the lime-light. Which is part of the wider commercial universe they have created. All these can build using their imaginations, something that Emmet is seriously lacking after years of following the instructions, conforming to the society he is a part of.

I could go on about the plot, which for me spends time in the Old West for a time before darting all over the place, animated perfectly, if there was ever going to be a Lego film it would have to have this level of detail, the lightness of touch. Nothing is left to chance, even the water is made up of Lego single circles (again Lego lingo). From the same studio that gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009). It’s heaps of fun with the sensibility of Lego central to the film. With the threat of the world being frozen with super-glue close at hand, to live the live of a theme-park, which would stop creativity dead in it’s tracks. We must remember the power of imagination, how it allows us to get carried away, to create and build whole worlds, even with a few bricks.

When we pull away to the real-world, which was a brave yet natural progression, to see the toy as it actually is the argument between father and son is played out, to play with the bricks, or to glue them frozen which defeats the object of toys. The danger of reaching adult-hood where we can loose that creativity, to move away from ‘childish’ things. Something I have seen before when action figures are collected in hope they stay in the packaging in the hopes that it will increase in value, we forget what toys are for, to play with.

I started off talking about how I view the current state of Lego which I feel has lost it heart with sets for every film franchise under the sun which restricts to a point imagination of the player. Yet on the other side of the argument with those figures in your hands the story continues  so it’s not all bad, The Lego Movie is living proof they are thriving, even in the hands of a major film company. I just can’t see where a sequel can go, except as the ending suggests an invasion from Duplo, the film is perfect as a stand-alone for me.

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)It’s always interesting to see how a remake of a classic film turns out, will it be a word for word, scene for scene job, or a completely new spin on a film which worked, laying the foundations to be labelled a classic. A piece of work that should be respected and held in high regard. That’s the danger with remakes, I always try to  see the original before I see a remake or a cash-in on a working formula. Such as 3.10 to Yuma both versions, which I found was expanded in the 2007 remake. As much as the psychology of the original remains in tact, everything around it was built upon, making for an action packed film that allows a coward to truly redeem himself to himself and his family. Moving forward to 1962 with The Manchurian Candidate which explored brainwashing on the battlefield of war to be brought back to the home front of politics. Having just seen the 2004 remake I safely say that things have been updated, becoming more sophisticated, whilst keeping all the ingredients of the original.

Updating firstly the Korean War to the first Gulf War that sees a unit of soldiers who were engaged in battle taken away to be brainwashed by a group of scientists employed by a financial group in the States. That’s the backdrop of the film, wanting to influence the countries politics from the heart. Updating the technique from the classic hypnotism was a strong move, allowing for technology to play a part in this game of mind-control. The dreams that we see through-out is also a brave move away from the old cut between audiences in the original that still has the effect of brainwashing just as hauntingly. When we see the men in the present day under control I would have liked to see something more subtle than a bright light to indicate the transition. Maybe it’s just me but it does insult the audience, we know too easily what is happening.

The relationship between Ben Marco (Denzel Washington) and Rosie (Kimberly Elise) is expanded from the original between Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh who had more of a supportive role that drifted in and out. To give the Rosie role more of a purpose to the plot really added to the world they were in. Not really knowing until the final hour. Whilst the Jon Voight role was reduced down considerable. Even the love interest between Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber) and Jocelyne Jordan (Vera Farmiga) is just a mention. Also the resentment between Raymond and his domineering mother Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep) is reduced to a few scenes. Increasing the reach politically, not just the wife of an dead senator, she is one, her weight is felt elsewhere. Streep’s casting however is a stroke of genius, if only they allowed mother strained to be explored in more detail. Something that was more rounded by Angela Lansbury who will always remain the Eleanor Shaw for me. I was also surprised by Liev Schreiber’s casting is by far the best, an actor I thought was confined to the comic book and villain role is able to play the political puan.

The crux of the film is still in tact, brainwashing in politics, from the battlefield of war as I mentioned earlier. However the characters around the main three are reduced to nothing really. As if they turned up for a few days shooting and went onto the next film. Both of similar length, all the ideas could have been discussed to some degree here. Maybe it’s the change of times that saw these decision being made. I will always as you natural do, think of the original which will somehow however unsophisticated it maybe it made a mark that can’t be shifted easily. 


Frontier Town Update (18/11/14)

I’ve been working really hard today, producing all the frames for the forthcoming models which are now moving into the next phase of construction. I sound like a builder here. I will soon have another miniature town, which I am already thinking of expanding once these are all completed.


With all the frames in place I began to cover the front of the buildings. As I’ve done it before a few weeks ago I am pushing through them at a good speed, having got almost three out of the six being cladded out. Starting on the building before turning to the bases later on as they seem to work better when they are done last.


I also added another piece to the train station as I wash’t happy with the roof, it needs to flow more at the back, it would otherwise always bug me as long as I had the model. It had to be fixed before I went further with it. I am looking forward to see how these turn out in comparison to the first three which are by far still my best models yet.

Frontier Town Update (17/11/14)

Because I am running low on some supplies I thought today to focus on what I can do, which is the  frames of four more models which are already for the next stage. I have modified two of them, both for different reasons.

The first two models were pretty straight forward, starting them yesterday, the jail and the livery stable. I noticed that I have to pay close attention to the measurements as I double them in size.

DSCF4912 DSCF4909

Compared to todays models which saw me modify them for the scaling up and looking better. For the blacksmiths I was worried about the roof that extends out of the main building. I have now placed in a chimney on-top, which I am thinking will be replaced with a thinner one. I’m still not sure. Whilst the train-station is more like a station with a roof which can be seen either side of the clock face in the middle.


Next time I’ll be getting in more supplies to push these models further. I’m tempted though to carry on with the frameworks for the two remaining models which will complete the set I already have.

Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar (2014)I’ve given myself an hour to properly digest this epic film that really does deliver on visual spectacle if nothing else. I’ve known from just the trailer (which I’ve tried to avoid) that it references both Contact (1997) and more importantly 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It’s hard to really see Interstellar (2014) and not think of these two films. We seem to be getting more and more sci-fi with the message of saving the planet before it’s too late. More so here when its time to up-sticks and find somewhere else to live. It’s not an easy task when the world population has been reduced from one of materialist wealth and greed to one of pure survival, the world’s stock of basic food-stuffs is down to corn, which we see plenty of that throughout the scenes on mother earth that seems to want to get rid of us in sandstorms.

When single father of two Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles across a secret Nasa plan to find a new home for the human race, which is left in the dark about the project, seen as political futile, when its more important to put food on the table. The project lead by Professor Brand Nolan regular Michael Caine who by chance alone believes that the ex-pilot Cooper is needed to pilot the mission aboard the Endurance along with the professor’s daughter Brand (Anne Hathaway). For Cooper it’s a decision that doesn’t come lightly, his son Tom takes the news far better than Murph who is very much like her father develops feelings of abandonment. Left in the care of grandfather Donald (John Lithgow) who is able to see the bigger picture, knowing his son wants to make a difference.

The Endurance team leave planet earth with such hope and aspirations, knowing that they may never be coming back home, their families will probably never see them again. They have three possible planets to check out, thats after going through a wormhole that was conveniently found just next to Saturn. This is where the science really begins, already having our first serving courtesy of Professor Brand we have to let the science go over our heads to a certain extent to enjoy the visual splendour (not created in a computer). I do understand some of the science, having seen my share of sci-fi over the years, there are still moments I’m left scratching my head. But then If I was left thinking about all the techno-babble I would be missing the amazing planets that they visit. The lone spacecraft which Endurance docks travels through space.

Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey the science is still very much possible, none of what we see on-screen is too far away, apart from TARS (Bill Irwinthe onboard computer who accompanies the crew, more human than the computers we are used to. Predicting the level of sophistication that is in are grasp, give to take a century. Matched by McConaughey’s down to earth approach to the film that keeps everything grounded and engaging for the audience who is taken back and forth to earth (missing out the wormhole).

For this film to work minus the science (with the plot-holes) would be far less enjoyable. Nolan doesn’t patronise the audience with quick ideas, its researched properly, with added entertainment factor, it’s not supposed to be fully factual, it’s a film at the end of the day, if you wants facts read a book or read a science article. The science makes it all seem more real. I have to admire Nolan’s push for the celluloid film which is a dying medium, wanting to be authentic as possible. This way he was able to move away from the digital hold, allowing him to rely on good old-fashioned tricks of the light which you can really tell the difference when placed up against a C.G.I. blockbuster. We see little of space, but when we do, it’s wondrous and all spectacle, it’s an event of a film.

To say this film has faults I would probably shoot for the science which can go over your head at times like I mentioned earlier, it wouldn’t be Nolan without it. The cast is held together by McConaughey and Jessica Chastain as the older Murph, who fight for the truth when it is finally revealed we are left uncertain which way the film will lean. The rest of the cast are not really important, with a few pages of dialogue each.

From the reviews I’ve already read I was still left unsure how the reunion would come together. Where there is hopelessness at the beginning of the film, as if Nolan is against anything technological (not just digital film) he does have a point as much as we don’t want to admit it. My own mobile provider is practically forcing me to have an upgrade. The need for material goods is incredible that we loose sight of what is really important, the need for food, water, shelter and good health. Which without we would be screwed. Unlike Gravity (2013) which I can never watch again unless I’m wearing 3D glasses, I could easily watch this over and over for just the visuals which are heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick who had not even heard of C.G.I. The need to improvise really pays off here, hearing stories of how Anne Hathaway stood on one leg to float about, all the old tricks work and hold up. The ludite in Nolan really pays off, because he works hard at his craft, he didn’t earn the title as the next David Lean from Michael Caine for no good reason.

Saad Qureshi

For what seems like ages, I have been gallery gorging recently, and came across the work of Saad Quereshi who is currently exhibiting in the Gazelli Art House, London. CONGREGATION which has an installation of 99 wooden stands that altogether hold 313 life-sized Abaabil birds made from plaster and straw, representing fossilised birds who guard a Ka’bah in Pakistan.

Walking through the installation was a incredible, to view each individual bird, hand crafted and unique. I was reminded of the crows who gather on the climbing frame in The Birds (1963). It was a menacing sight to be confronted by all of these birds as I entered the space. These alien creatures  all staring at you with makes this piece very effective when you first encounter it. An army of birds ready to attack.

27 Inches Closer (2014)

An intervention in reaction to the British Board of Film Classification‘s 1916 policy drawn up by T.P.O’Connor that stated in rule 34 of 43 that prohibited men and women to be in bed together. A policy that effected Hollywood’s exports to the United Kingdom, a large part of their foreign market. Forcing them to depicted couples in twin beds as British film-makers were doing. An aspect of classic cinema which can be confused with the Hays Code in the U.S. a self imposed form of censorship that was drawn up in the 1930’s. Inspired also by the four bedroom scenes found in Mrs Miniver (1942) which along with a selection of other films that obeyed this censorship ruling. Pushing the twin beds of on-screen couples in photographic form from screen-shots sourced from found footage.

Tunnel of Love

Tunnel of Love

The McKenna's Packing

The McKenna’s Packing

The Miniver's

The Miniver’s

The Miniver's Talking in Bed

The Miniver’s Talking in Bed

Mrs Miniver Gettng into Bed

Mrs Miniver Gettng into Bed

Laura in a double Bed

Laura laying in bed with Guilt.

Nora waking up


Last Action Hero (1993)

LLast Action Hero (1993)et me start by saying I wasn’t going to write about Last Action Hero (1993) however I just can’t shake loose some of the ideas that it explore, if only for entertainment value this is one of those films. A boy Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) whose whole life is the big screen and the escapism that it allows him to engage in on a nightly basis. His favourite is one of ours at the time Arnold Schwarzenegger in his take on the Dirty Harry part Jack Slater, as we see from the beginning the third instalment of the series. The invincible rebel cop who is armed with guns in too many places. Causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. Sound familiar, spoofing the action cop genre, with Arnie in the titular role.

The lone viewer Danny adores the character, knowing the films back to front, he knows the conventions of Hollywood cinema too which come in handy later on. When his projectionist friend Frank (Art Carney) invites him to an exclusive preview showing of the new Jack Slater film he is given a golden ticket that was originally a gift from Harry Houdini. Its power is not yet known or even tested. in the hands of excited Danny its full potential is unlocked. A gateway into the film, the fourth wall is now open to him, and closed behind him.

Becoming a part of the fabric of the film. The characters unaware of the automatically reloaded guns, the gorgeous women who occupy Hollywood’s view of Los Angeles. This world is a complete film with its own reality and laws that govern it, the actors who portray them are unaware they are simply a performance, the now expands to the new element in the film, Danny who throws the completed film into chaos  From here on-in Danny teams up with Jack to solve the drug ring that is the plot of the scripted film. The villain of the film and deadly assassin Benedict (Charles Dance) is curious to know who this new element in the film is, how he knows so much. The voyeur becomes the watched that takes his experience to inform and direct the films progress.

Leading the deadly stereotypical British villain to unlock the power that the boy has, the potential of the ticket to survive in the real world. Having secured the ticket as the action progresses he understand how to use the ticket to unlock “baddies” from other film, to have the power of their on-screen character in the real world. Moving from the projected world which projected into audiences, our desires, dreams of the characters who come alive every time we watch them on the big screen. They have a life on in our own consciousness, empowered further with Houndini’s ticket become a reality.

This is a fascinating idea that holds up more than the film, even when Arnie’s character comes into contact with the man himself at the premiere of his own film, the cage he otherwise trapped in. His new lease of life is a culture shock to him, learning his limitations of as fictional character. It’s both fascinating and complex to see character confined to film come alive outside of their own framework. To imagine our favourite characters from over a century of film come off the screen, having a life beyond the film set, the special effects and the script, etc that brought them to life step out having another one. The actor may be long dead or still alive, there’s a clash when the two meet, and ultimately the new person is only as rounded as the on-screen performance given by the actor, which determine their life-span.

The film it self for me is particularly throw-away, a typical nineties action comedy that plays on the conventions of film. You could easily remake this film with another set of actors, even moving the action from a film projection to digital, allowing a film character to leak into the internet, the travel around Youtube, finding other clips of films. The possibilities are endless.



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