Friday, September 6, 2019

Oh My Word! 007's Are Forever

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"In this day and age why are we even obsessed with colour or gender?"

Before anyone gets upset over a female 007, let me start by asking you to open your mind and be rational. After reports that British actress Lashana Lynch is to play 007 in the next James Bond movie, the internet exploded. With headlines such as "It would be the first time a white man will not play 007 in the spy movie series’ 57-year run" and "Meet the new Bond", it really is getting ridiculous. So, let's clarify things a little...

Lynch is portraying a 007 agent called Nomi in the next movie, but she is NOT James Bond. Still confused? Then please research a little and read up on 00 agents, you'll enjoy the experience. But to give you some insight into it all, here's an interesting piece from Wikipedia: "In Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and the derived films, the 00 Section of MI6 is considered the secret service's elite. A 00 is a field agent that holds a licence to kill in the field, at his or her discretion, to complete any mission". At "HIS or HER" discretion, so we know that a 00 agent can be a man or woman.

OK, so what about 007, hasn't there ever only been one agent to hold that particular licence to kill? Actually, no. In Fleming's stories, Bond is the only 007; to date that has also included the official Eon film franchise. Take a look at 2018's Forever and a Day, however, and you'll find that James Bond isn't the first: "The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. It's time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime. It's time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera".

So, someone else had been 007 before Bond. They had been murdered. As a result, a new agent is assigned as 007. This could have been anyone, male or female. As it happens, the person chosen is Bond.

We know that tabloids have a habit of misquoting or making things up completely, but when you see the Mail Online printing such nonsense as "First ever black James Bond girl who played Thumper in Diamonds Are Forever blasts casting of actress Lashana Lynch who is taking over as 007 - saying iconic code name was meant for a man", it is easy to feel disappointed. So I roll my eyes, sigh, and write my own thoughts. It isn't controversial to cast a black woman as 007, as any agent can be assigned as any 00 if the previous agent has either died or retired from Service.

In this day and age why are we even obsessed with colour or gender? A talented actor/actress has been cast in a film about the secret service. Yes, it's a Bond movie so James Bond must be male but not necessarily white. That does not mean the remaining cast cannot take on other important roles within the infrastructure of the plot.

And it does seem possible that at the start of the new movie, now given the title "No Time to Die", James Bond has indeed retired from the Secret Service. It looks like something will bring him out of retirement, or perhaps he'll work with the new 007 without an official licence to kill of his own. It has happened before, remember when Timothy Dalton's Bond became a fugitive? His licence to kill had been revoked so, in affect, he was no longer 007 until it was reinstalled by his superiors.

It has also been announced that CIA agent Felix Leiter will be played by Jeffrey Wright. In previous instalments the character has been portrayed by numerous actors including David Hedison, whose storyline in Licence To Kill is unforgettable.

Bond 25 is being directed by Cary Fukunaga and will star Daniel Craig as James Bond. As for 007, well, I'm sure the licence to kill is in safe hands. 007's are forever, after all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ghosts of Mars (2001) - FilmReview

Can they survive the ghosts of Mars?

Escape From Mars

Director and writer John Carpenter's work has given us some of the best movies in the last forty years. A master of scifi and horror, who can forget Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, Starman, or They Live. Sadly, Ghosts of Mars was seriously underrated by critics and fans, failing to earn enough at the box office and being heavily criticised for being "distressingly amateurish" and an "embarrassing disaster". But is it really that bad?

In truth, it isn't the best movie in Carpenter's catalogue. That said, I do enjoy it for what it represents: a fun and violent action flick that doesn't take itself too seriously. I couldn't disagree more with the "poor set designs" and "hammy acting" accusations. The setting is a simple one, kept to a minimum for maximum impact, and the acting isn't meant to be serious.

I have read that the script was originally intended to act as a Snake Plissken sequel, Escape From Mars, but the idea was changed due to the failure of Escape from L.A. to make a profit.

"Let me put it this way. Maybe I'd sleep with you if you were the last man on Earth. But we're not on Earth"

The film is set on a terraformed Mars in 2176 AD at a time when the planet has long been colonised by Humans. "640,000 people now live and work at far-flung outposts all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources". The problem is, during one of these mining excavations, an alien tomb is unearthed and Martian spirits belonging to a now dead warrior race are free to possess the living. Miners who aren't taken over are butchered and beheaded.

Lt. Melanie Ballard (played so brilliantly by Natasha Henstridge) is on an assignment to collect a criminal known as James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) from a cell in a Martian mining town, Shining Canyon, and deliver him into the hands of the authorities. She isn't alone in this task, however: joining her are officers Sergeant Jericho Butler (Jason Statham), Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier), and rookies including Bashira Kincaid (Clea DuVall). Sergeant Butler spends most of his time either coming on to Ballard or unlocking doors.

A gypsum (a soft sulfate mineral) mine near Albuquerque, New Mexico was chosen as the location for filming. To give it that Red Planet look, colouring had been used on the mine's rocks.

Upon arriving at the colony, Ballard and her colleagues are at first greeted by a ghost town. Instead of a bustling community, there is nobody in sight. Eventually the team locates a number of decapitated bodies and heads on spikes. It isn't long before they are attacked by a possessed army of miners who have mutilated their own flesh. In a style similar to that of Carpenter's Assault of Precinct 13, we end up with a siege as the newly-arrived officers and a bunch of survivors - which include "Desolation" Williams and three of his associates who came to Shining Canyon to rescue him - attempt to survive the onslaught and escape.

The drugs do work...

One of the things we learn is that when a Human host dies, the Martian spirit will seek a new body to possess; this happens often, and at one stage Ballard is consumed by one of the ghosts, forcing the other survivors to take her outside for their own safety. Sergeant Butler, however, gives her a goodbye gift: he places a pill in her mouth, one of the narcotics she carries around with her in a little silver locket. This trip seriously screws with the alien presence inside of her, allows Ballard to see through the eyes of the spirit and understand the history of these Martian warriors. The drug also helps the young woman to repel the invader, and it exits via her mouth as a red mist before dissipating.

This gives Ballard a chance to rejoin her group and make contact with the train that will lead them to safety.

Love for Ballard

It's been said that Michelle Yeoh, Famke Janssen and Franka Potente were originally considered for the role of Ballard, yet they all turned down the role. The part eventually went to singer and actress Courtney Love, although she departed the project due to injury. In my opinion Famke Janssen would have been an excellent choice. As it is, Henstridge's casting is a welcome one, the Species star is one of the best things about Ghosts of Mars.

What followed after Mars?

It is a shame that this movie was a box office financial failure, a sequel starring Henstridge would have been incredible, perhaps leading a group of men, women and children through Martian landscape in a quest to find a safe zone from the Ghosts. Mars has been quarantined, so no help expected from Earth. Even the thought of leaving the Red Planet is a risk - what if any of the Ghosts escape with them? So many possibilities...

As for the director, John Carpenter took a break from regular film-making after Ghosts of Mars. His next big project would come in 2010 with The Ward. When asked in an interview why such a long gap, he replied, "Man, I was burned out. Completely burned out. I just couldn’t do it anymore, I had to stop. I looked at myself and said you know, I’ve been working constantly. I’m like a drug addict — I need a little bit more of a life. It stopped being fun, it stopped being glorious. I’d fallen out of love with cinema. So I had to rekindle it".

Friday, August 9, 2019

Alien Isolation - NovelReview (2019)

Originally published on

Release date: July 2019
Writer: Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Promise

One of the saddest things about Alien isn't that Ellen Ripley lost her crew-mates aboard the Nostromo at the hands - or jaws - of a vicious killing machine, it is the heartbreaking fact that she never returned home to Earth in time for her daughter's Eleventh birthday, and that she never got to see Amanda "Amy" Ripley EVER again! In Aliens DIRECTOR'S CUT we get to view the moment when Carter J. Burke, junior executive for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, reveals that Amanda Ripley-McClaren died at the age of 66, two years prior to Ellen being found in deep space. She had died of cancer. However, what we as viewers never got to see was Amanda's own personal journey. Until now...

"Dallas wants me on the Nostromo, and they just took on a big contract to bring cargo back from Thedus."

Titan Books have published some terrific titles in the Alien catalogue, my favourite being Alien: River of Pain. However, there had yet to be a title covering Ellen Ripley's lost years, those being her 57 years absent in hypersleep aboard the Narcissus.

November 2137, the crew of the salvage ship Anesidora discover the flight recorder of the commercial space tug Nostromo, which had now been missing for 15 years. Altering course, the Anesidora goes to LV-426, the last known location of the missing ship. Those familiar with Alien won't be too surprised when things turn sour and one of the Anesidora crew gets attacked by a facehugger. With no time to lose, they leave the planet and head to Sevastopol Station where they hope to find help.

"Sevastopol's a supply depot in the region. It's a permanent freeport facility."

While repairing a Lagdamen X34 land buggy, engineer Amanda Ripley is told of the fortunate black box discovery by Christopher Samuels, a Weyland-Yutani Corporation employee. At first sceptical that the information could lead to yet another dead end, she eventually agrees to board the USCSS Torrens and head for Sevastopol. This being Alien, nothing goes to plan and Amanda finds herself trapped on board the space station among armed civilians and a deadly monster stalking the corridors and ventilation system. Her single goal: to locate the flight recorder and find out just what happened to her mother all those years ago.

As the book proudly states on the cover, Alien Isolation is an "original novel based on the hit video game" of the same name from 20th Century Fox. The game was a 2014 first-person survival console experience developed by Creative Assembly, it was published by SEGA for various gaming platforms such as PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. Once it was announced that a book would be released based on Alien Isolation, however, you can just imagine my excitement. Author Keith DeCandido, who has written a plethora of sci-fi works including media tie-in books such as Star Trek as well as his own fiction, was tasked to adapt the game. Titan Books couldn't have chosen a better writer. What you get with Alien Isolation the novel is a lot more than just a mirror image of someone else's work, he literally adds depth to the back story of Amanda Ripley. We get to see her childhood, and the moment when she had to say goodbye to Ellen before that ill-fated trip aboard the Nostromo. DeCandido also includes a scene one month before her eleventh birthday when her stepfather Paul gets the news that the Nostromo is being declared "missing in action".

There are other inclusions that I will leave for you to discover.

Celebration and the Xenomorph

Titan Books couldn't have chosen a better time to release Alien Isolation. It is now 40 years since director Ridley Scott gave us the Xenomorph in Alien (1979). The franchise has exploded like a Chestburster, impacting on every media from movies to novels, comics and video games. And collector's merchandise. Though the movies first focused on warrant officer Ellen Ripley, played so perfectly by Sigourney Weaver, follow-up titles such as Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Prometheus (2012) have opened the door for other characters to confront the nasty saliva-dripping creatures.

Considering this is an official canonical expansion of both the game and Alien universe in general, what is there not to love? Published 30th July 2019, you'd be crazy not to board the Torrens with Ripley and explore Sevastopol.

Just pick up your motion tracker, and watch out for bugs.

You can pick this up, as well as other great titles, direct from Titan Books.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Critters (1986) - FilmReview

Brad (Scott Grimes) hiding from the terror

Gremlins From Outer Space

You could easily accuse screenplay writer Domonic Muir of copying the success of another creature feature movie released in 1984: Gremlins! However, a screenplay for an early version of Critters had already been around a few years earlier than Joe Dante's own masterpiece. If anything, because Gremlins reached audiences first, the script for Critters had to undergo some changes to reduce similarities between the two movies. They are different enough to enjoy.

What I really liked about Critters is that it sets the scene perfectly by introducing an asteroid prison in deep space where the last eight of a vicious carnivorous species called Crites are waiting to be transferred. Unfortunately the mischievous monsters escape from the facility in a hijacked spacecraft and flee. Two shape-shifting bounty hunters are assigned to track them down. The destination: Earth!

I had watched this as a teenager, so decided a new viewing was needed. It made for a fantastic trip down memory lane. Firstly, I realised that actress Dee Wallace (Mary in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial) was playing the role of Helen Brown; wife to Jay (Billy "Green" Bush), and mother to Brad (Scott Grimes) and April (Nadine van der Velde). They're a normal family living on a Kansas farm. That is, until something lands nearby and Critters begin eating cattle and attacking local residents. For the rest of the time this becomes a siege movie, as the Brown family tries to keep the alien beings outside of the farmhouse. The father is badly bitten at the beginning but manages to stay alive. In addition to this, a second extraterrestrial ship arrives and two strangers search for the escaped Crites. of my absolute favourite movie memories...

It's certainly a fun movie, with excellent practical effects and a team of puppeteers to bring the Critters to life. They also look different enough from Gremlins to work well. One critic at the time said of the film, "Critters isn't a memorable or even very slick movie, but it is good fun. What it lacks in substance it makes up for with a perverse kind of charm". I disagree. Critters remained one of my absolute favourite movie memories from years past, a delightful low-budget sci-fi and horror flick that shouldn't be taken too seriously but will leave a smile.

Another face that I recognised during my fresh viewing was that of actor Ethan Phillips, known to many as Neelix in Star Trek: Voyager, playing a police officer. His role in this was a short one, but still a very nice surprise.


Out of the two bounty hunters, actor Terrence Mann played the lead as Ug, the one who takes on the appearance of a rock star called Johnny Steele. During the space flight, Ug had studied television signals, latched onto a rock concert and copied the eighties singer to make mingling in with Human society a lot less suspicious. Too bad, then, that his companion, Lee, blew up everything in sight and caused panic in the town of Grover's Bend. After reading Critters Wiki I've learned that these bounty hunters are known as Nothing-Face until selecting a "species facial identification". While Ug had no problem in assimilating an appearance, fellow hunter Lee didn't seem to find anything suitable, thus copying three different Humans during the story.

"They eat so fast, you don't have time to scream"

The Critters themselves have a Porcupines look about them, with the ability to shoot poison barbs as projectile weapons that can stun a victim. They also have razor-sharp teeth, and enjoy munching into an arm or two - or worse! Like the Gremlins, they are intelligent, though the level of that intellect varies from creature to creature.

There are some lovely nods to other movies: in one scene a Critter encounters an E.T. vinyl plush toy (in acknowledgement of leading lady Dee Wallace's 1982 role), the logo on the back of bowling uniforms will clearly be noticed by fans of Ghostbusters, and a toilet scene is reminiscent of Ghoulies (1985).

Charlie McFadden, portrayed perfectly by Don Keith Opper, is the local joke, a mechanic and drunk who receives information of alien abductions through his fillings; he will eventually become a familiar character within the franchise. Critters also features an early appearance by Billy Zane as Steve Elliot, April's boyfriend, who will regret wanting to have sex with her in the barn.

Critters spawned a number of sequels, and a web television series called Critters: A New Binge. The latest movie, Critters Attacks! (2019) sees Dee Wallace return in a different role to the one she plays in the first chapter. We do have to wonder why they keep churning out new versions/sequels/reboots, but... if something can be milked dry...

Thankfully, this first one is an absolute dream.