June 13, 2021

Book vs Film: Fight Club

 


Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club is a fast 208 page read and perfect fodder for the ‘hero’s journey’ narrative structure preferred by Hollywood producers and the general film consuming public. Despite Palahniuk’s unorthodox prose, it was, for the most part, faithfully adapted by Jim Uhls for David Fincher’s 1999 film. As with any novel to film adaptation, there were a number of notable differences between page and screen. This includes a subtle shift in its overall tone; the novel’s nihilism is substituted for the audience friendly optimism of the film. During the final act, Project Mayhem’s ultimate goal changes from being purely selfish - erasing the past (destroying a museum), to being selfless and altruistic - erasing debt (destroying credit card companies). The protagonist was successful in achieving this goal in the film, and did so in one of the most iconic movie climaxes of all time. The novel, however, ended with Tyler’s bomb failing to detonate and the narrator committed to a mental institution.

In the film, a messiah. In the novel, a
murdering psychopath.


Most of the changes made by Uhls and Fincher were justified, successful, and the reason for Fight Club’s ongoing notoriety more than 20 years after its release. Others, not so much. In keeping with Repeat Viewing’s purpose statement of pointlessly dissecting popular culture for the benefit of no-one, here is the best and worst of David Fincher’s Fight Club adaptation.

September 28, 2020

The Private Pyle Conundrum


Stanley Kubrick had many obsessions throughout his life and career. He loved a good notebook. He adored animals, particularly cats. And he had a big old man crush on Napoleon Bonaparte. There was however, one nagging problem when it came to the exiled emperor of 19th century France. Kubrick could not understand how a master strategist like Napoleon could be such a noob when it came to invading Russia. No army had ever managed to successfully invade Russia in 600 years, so why did Napoleon attempt it during the winter of 1812, when his soldiers were already pushed to their limits and dangerously low on supplies? This was a frequent source of confusion and frustration for Kubrick. I have a similar issue with Kubrick and his writing of Private Pyle’s character arc in Full Metal Jacket.


As big a fan as I am of Stanley Kubrick, even I can admit that his films are peppered with cringe worthy moments. Eyes Wide Shut, for instance, is full of them. Yet most of these directorial decisions are related to his penchant for ‘interesting’ performances. Private Pyle’s character arc stands alone in Kubrick’s filmography as, potentially, his one and only screenplay flaw. Spoilers ahead.

Private Leonard Lawrence enters Full Metal Jacket as a slack jawed mouth breathing dullard. His amusement at being berated by Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman earns him the moniker ‘Gomer Pyle’ and the first of many beatings. He is unfit, slow to learn, disliked by his peers and routinely humiliated. Then, under the tutelage of Private Joker, Pyle transforms into a well trained killing machine. He gains the respect of Hartman and graduates as a United States Marine Corps Infantry Rifleman.


Immediately following this, he is found sitting in the latrine with his rifle Charlene. He claims he is ‘in a world of shit’, and proceeds to murder Hartman before blowing his own head off. This is something I could never understand, and is the first of two points I would like to make on the subject. Pyle has achieved the impossible - he has become a Marine. So why is he still ‘in a world of shit’? Fair enough to say that he was in a world of shit, but now? Why not kill Hartman weeks ago? Why not blow your head off when you’re at your absolute lowest? Why wait until you’ve achieved the one thing no one said you could do before killing yourself? Other than to cap off the Parris Island segment with a shocking climax, what logical reason is there to place this scene here?


My second point is this - assuming Pyle wasn't drafted, why didn’t he just quit? Hartman hounded him relentlessly to leave, and it seemed to be an option, so why stick it out? I can see only two reasons why someone might choose to continue training despite the torture and abuse Pyle received:
  1. He had been given a court order stating that he either go to prison or join the Marines, and Pyle believed the alternative was worse.
  2. He needed the money. Perhaps Pyle was the sole income earner for his family, and maybe the Marines was the only employer willing to give him a job?

Now I am aware that none of the characters in Full Metal Jacket have fleshed out backstories, and that this was a conscious decision on Kubrick’s part. But if the audience is to believe that a character’s derangement was inevitable and unavoidable, then one or two lines about his criminal past or his destitute family might have sold that point more convincingly.

Kubrick’s screenplays evolve over years of countless writers, drafts and meetings. During filming, he rewrites scenes himself, over and over again with no concern for time or budgetary constraints. Every single story decision and line of dialogue is considered numerous ways before being immortalised on film. Private Pyle’s unconvincing character arc therefore, like Napoleon’s decision to push forward into a Russian winter, will forever remain a mystery for the ages.

June 19, 2020

The Parallelism of Kubrick and Kate


Stanley Kubrick and Kate Bush are two of the most important and influential artists of the 20th Century. Despite this, Kubrick is not renowned for his singing or dancing. Similarly, having recently laboured through Bush’s 1993 self proclaimed ‘load of bollocks’, The Line, The Cross and the Curve, it’s safe to say that she is not synonymous with film making. Yet both of these artists have so much in common it’s astonishing that everyone isn’t talking about it, like, all of the time. According to comedian Michelle Wolf, ‘Blogs are a conversation that no one wanted to have with you’. That observation has never been more applicable than to this red hot topic.

January 27, 2020

How To Make A Belated Sequel



It has become common practice for filmmakers to strip-mine the past for pre-existing IP with a ready made fan base. This has resulted in a slew of new 'first' sequels to movies from the 80s and 90s – movies that we never thought required a second outing. In 2020, sequels that may or may not be coming your way include:

I love a good dot-point list, so here's another one of belated releases from the past few years:

The fear of alienating those who are unfamiliar with the original has also precipitated the rise of the ‘soft reboot’ - films that are more remake than sequel. These films rarely adhere to a numbering system (for example, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV) but instead try to hide their numerical position in a larger franchise (Rocky Balboa, Creed). Every so often, though, a belated sequel will appear that proudly flaunts its sequelness. But does that always make for compelling viewing? Let's compare two recent examples...

October 01, 2019

Eyes Wide Shut: Masterpiece Or Meh?


I’m rarely confounded by a film, yet Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut confounds me. In the twenty years since its release, I’ve watched it a thousand times; not because I like it, but because I still don’t know if I like it. Is it a work of genius, the culmination of a lifetime of obsessive research by history’s greatest film-maker? Is it a rumination on the masks we wear, itself masquerading its meaning behind layers and layers of inscrutable detail? Or is it the last ditch effort of a pervey old man to stare at some boobs? 

We've heard it all before: Eyes Wide Shut set the Guinness World Record for the longest film shoot of all time. Stanley Kubrick required his actors to perform take after take of inconsequential actions, so much so that Harvey Keitel quit and Tom Cruise developed a stomach ulcer.* Kubrick literally worked himself to death, suffering a major heart attack only days after completing his final cut of the film. Considering the time, money and energy that went into the making of Eyes Wide Shut, it's almost impossible to watch the film without asking oneself some variation on the following question: What the hell is going on?

Other questions might include:
- How come no-one in this film seems to know how to act? 
- Why does New York City look so fake?
- Is the orgy supposed to be erotic, suspenseful or lame?


Let’s discuss.

July 23, 2019

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: A Novelisation To Film Comparison



Ancient, grotesque space monster falls in love with horny, suburban divorcee; not the kind of children's story you'd expect to become one of the most beloved and highest grossing movies of all time. Yet this is exactly the premise of William Kotzwinkle’s 1982 novelisation of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

April 19, 2019

View-Master Mock-Up: Empire Of The Sun


1987 was a banner year for movies. It's easy to overlook the impact that this year had on popular culture and the film industry, especially when years like 1985 and 1994 continue to hog the metaphorical limelight. But take a look at some of the watershed moments on 1987's CV. In no specific order:

  • Predator
  • The Lost Boys
  • Robocop
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Full Metal Jacket
  • The Untouchables
  • Raising Arizona
  • The Princess Bride
  • Wall Street
  • Good Morning Vietnam
  • Evil Dead II

And also, these:

  • Can't Buy Me Love
  • Mannequin
  • The Running Man
  • Dirty Dancing
  • Spaceballs
  • Near Dark
  • Project X
  • Some Kind of Wonderful

The list goes on and on. One particular favourite of mine is Steven Spielberg's adaptation of JG Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Check out my comparison between the novel and the film here. Or just take a quick look at this imaginary Empire of the Sun View-Master reel set that I spent far too much time designing over the past week or so.



More merchandise for films that never existed can be found by clicking the CUSTOM TRADING CARDS, CUSTOM READ-ALONG RECORDS and CUSTOM VIEW-MASTER tabs at the top of the page.

April 06, 2019

View-Master Mock-Up: True Romance



Let’s take a peek inside the addled mind of Clarence Worley! When he’s not imagining the late Elvis Presley is his spirit guide and greatest fan, he’s fantasising about falling in love. Spoilers ahead for Tony Scott's 1993 film, True Romance.


On the night of his birthday, Clarence fails to find a date for the Sonny Chiba Streetfighter triple feature. Alone and despondent, he spirals into a fugue state; one in which he imagines himself to be a fast talking, highly capable cold blooded killer and drug dealer.

He also manifests his greatest desire - a call girl who will not only marry him on the first night they meet, but one who also thinks that a guy who hangs out in a comic book store and waxes lyrical about 'Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos' is cool. Alabama Whitman is Clarence’s ultimate fantasy; an unlikely mix of 70’s exploitation cinema femme fatale, manic pixie dream girl, and Sissy Spacek from Terrence Malick’s 1973 classic Badlands. Clarence dreams that even when her loyalty is tested near to the point of death, Alabama’s love for him remains true.


In this fever dream, Clarence's childhood friend and terrible actor, Dick, manages to land a role on T.J. Hooker (a television series that had already ended by 1986). Clarence fantasises about cruising around Hollywood with an Arquette by his side in a 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado. He pictures himself impressing the producer of one of his favourite movies, 'Comin' Home in a Body Bag'. He even confronts his deadbeat dad. In this emotionally charged hallucination, Clarence imagines what it would be like to show up on his father's doorstep with a smoking hot, subservient young wife. Clarence sends Alabama out for food and beer with his own money, proving that he is a better provider than his abusive, negligent dad. He also gets to tell his father all the things he’d wished he'd said in the past, before imagining him being tortured and brutally killed.

And finally, at the conclusion of his fantasy, Clarence literally becomes the father of Elvis - all while sporting a super cool eye patch like his hero, Nick Fury.


It probably comes as no surprise that True Romance never had a View-Master reel set. If it had, it might bear a striking resemblance to this:


April 09, 2018

Star Wars And The Post-Jedi World



The legacy of the Jedi is failure. That’s what self proclaimed Jedi Master Luke Skywalker tells us in Rian Johnson’s mostly excellent The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren agrees, suggesting that Rey let the past die. Even Yoda gets in on the Jedi bashing action, burning a sacred tree full of ancient Jedi texts to the ground with lightning bolts. The Last Jedi reminds us time and again that the Force is not the sole domain of the Jedi and Sith. The Force is an energy that binds all living things; one need not be a confirmed card carrying Jedi to wield its power (or related to a Skywalker). Look at blind Chirrut Îmwe in Rogue One. That guy wasn’t a Jedi, yet his magical abilities were, without doubt, achieved with the aid of the Force.



So Luke says it’s time for the Jedi to end, and he’s right. All that we know of the ‘real’ Jedi is from the prequels, and in those films, the Jedi come across as a bunch of ineffectual goofballs. They allow a Sith Lord to rise to power beneath their noses. They task notorious Jedi in training, teenage Anakin Skywalker, with the role of bodyguard to teenage senator Padmé Amidala - stoking a relationship that precipitates the rise of Darth Vader. They painstakingly arrange holographic projectors so that it appears they’re all sitting in the same room. And when the clone troopers turn on them, the Jedi’s ability to see the future fails to protect them from being easily decimated. Sure, when they’re fighting a bunch of CGI droids they seem to know what they’re doing, but put four of them in a room with one Sith Lord and they’re absolutely useless.


The Last Jedi acknowledges that the Jedi, as a religious entity, is done. This not only destroys the dreams of Star Wars nerds everywhere (who grew up with fantasies of being a Jedi Master like Luke Skywalker), it also has far deeper implications in the world of Star Wars merchandise. Think of all those t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as ‘JEDI IN TRAINING' or ‘I AM A JEDI LIKE MY FATHER BEFORE ME’. The notion of wanting to be a Jedi has been tarnished, and this concept has not been lost on Disney. Take a look at their online store. Unless preceded by the words ‘The Last’, the word ‘Jedi’ is completely missing from their range (until you reach the Rogue One merchandise). Everything now refers to ‘The Force’. 



It’s a bit like if Catholic churches stopped pushing the whole Christianity angle in favour of spirituality, and removed all trace of religion from their religion. Which makes you wonder - is this the point Rian Johnson is making, that religion is obsolete? If we all just agreed to believe in the underlying spirituality of it all, or a higher power with no denomination, then maybe we could find peace. And, dare I say, ‘balance’?

March 26, 2018

Beards In Film


I’ve worn a full beard on and off - mostly on - for the past 20 years. It has never been a fashion choice, nor an indication of my profession, lifestyle or social status. My reason for having a beard is simple; facial hair is relentless. Do nothing to remove it and it grows. Beards in film, on the other hand, are rarely meaningless. They generally function in one of two ways - to perpetuate a preconceived character type, or, more frequently, as a milestone in a character’s story arc.


Consider Marvel Studios’ underwhelming CGI spectacle Doctor Strange. When the eponymous hero is first introduced, we see him shaving with a double edged razor. After a car accident leaves him with damaged hand nerves, he attempts to shave but finds he is unable to hold the razor steady. Hence, his facial hair signifies a physical impairment, and eventually, the passage of time as it grows longer and fuller. Rather than a stylistic choice, it is a visual reminder of his downward spiral into depression and obsession. When he becomes proficient in the mystic arts, he immediately trims his beard into the neat goatee and moustache that we associate with ‘The Magician’. His facial hair ensures the audience knows exactly where he is on his journey to enlightenment, and serves a definite purpose in the film.

Although ‘The Magician’ is a facial hair cliche, it does not meet the criteria of a full beard and therefore is precluded from the following list of film beard stereotypes; of which there are five major variations. It's worth noting that the majority of full beards in movies have negative connotations, despite the fact that many of the greatest directors in film history have been beardies.

So, in order of beardliness, the five most prevalent beard stereotypes in contemporary films from the 80s and right up until the pre-hipster 2000s are:

'The Bad Guy'

'The Bad Guy': This beard is heavily manicured, implying that anyone who puts too much thought and effort into shaping their facial hair must clearly be evil.

'The Old Man'

'The Old Man': This is your full, neatly trimmed beard. It's generally only found on middle aged and older men in films - those who are considered 'past their prime'. Oftentimes, it is worn by teacher/mentor figures.

'The Down-On-His-Luck'

'The Down-On-His-Luck': Unkempt and not quite as thick as 'The Old Man', this beard signifies a character is lacking some vital element in his life. It is inevitably removed when the character is redeemed, or is finally on the path to redemption.

'The Hobo'

'The Hobo': Long, filthy or scraggly, this beard is generally worn by social outcasts or misfits. It also screams rock bottom, and is removed or trimmed to signify positive change in a character’s situation.


'The Wizard'

‘The Wizard’ - As magnificent as it is unlikely, this beard is only achievable with the aid of magic (or much oiling and combing).


There are some notable exceptions to these stereotypes. The best example of a refreshingly pointless beard belongs to the character of Ellis in Die Hard. He is your typical, 1980s businessman, yet instead of being clean shaven, he has a full, regular, no nonsense beard. The beard is never referred to, it offers no clue to his character nor impacts the plot. It’s just a beard.

February 20, 2018

The Terrible Tragedy of Tonari no Totoro



There has been much conjecture regarding the hidden truth of Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 anime, My Neighbor Totoro. A cursory search on google lists endless websites and forums spouting the same cut-and-paste controversies, all of which stem from the notion that four year old Mei Kusakabe is dead. Spoiler alert – she's not.

Mei's sandals.

Not Mei's sandal.

But if you are interested in reading about all the strange, coincidental links between a lovely G rated film and a 55 year old true story involving the rape and murder of a teenage girl and the subsequent suicide of her sister, then read this. And more recently, this.

It's human nature to search for deeper meaning in children's classics, and it's entirely justified to assume that all art exists on multiple levels - regardless of the artist's original intent. For instance, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Gremlins; one is clearly about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, while the other is an allegory for sexual repression. You decide which is which.

Still feel an overwhelming desire to ascribe an adult reality to a beautifully nostalgic children's story with environmentalist overtones? Then consider this: The fantastical elements of My Neighbor Totoro can be chalked up to everyday, run-of-the-mill mental illness.

October 18, 2017

The Bleak, Dystopian Future Of Men's Fashion



Roger Deakins' cinematography in Blade Runner 2049 is, to use a frequently overused adjective, stunning. Complimenting it is Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch's score - a skull scraping sonic landscape which pays homage to Vangelis while effectively elevating the relatively straightforward plot with its anxiety inducing drones. Dennis Gassner's production design adds a gritty realism, extending well beyond the frame to immerse you in a world that has expanded and moved on since the original film. Clearly, much time and effort has gone into the look, sound and feel of this movie. Which is why it is perplexing that the costume design for both Harrison Ford's Deckard and Ryan Gosling's Officer K are so utterly, frustratingly bland.


Think back to the costumes of Blade Runner. From J. F. Sebastian, to Roy, to Tyrell, each and every character had a distinct look; their clothes, iconic. Yet in 2049, men's fashion looks suspiciously contemporary. Their hairstyles, too, are likely the same hairstyles Ford and Gosling walked into the studio with on the day of shooting. This lack of imagination is most noticeable in the two available action figures.


Other than his token Blade Runner-ish jacket, Officer K is wearing jeans (with the cuffs rolled up) and a top that he may well have purchased at Gap, circa 2007. 


In contrast, the Blade Runners in the original (Deckard, Gaff and Holden), are all dressed in shirts and ties. Now, I understand fashion can change in 30 years, but I also know fashion is cyclical. And jobs that required a tie 30 years ago tend to still require a tie today. Or at the very least, a collared shirt.

Deckard is dressed even more casually in t-shirt and jeans; almost as if Harrison Ford stipulated in his contract that he would only accept the role if he could wear his own clothes. Considering the popularity of cosplay and pop culture conventions, it feels like the producers of this film have missed a trick. No one will be attending the next comic-con dressed as Deckard from Blade Runner 2049. And even if someone did, you would never actually notice.


Consider, when K tracks him down, Deckard has been living alone in the desert for many years. Personal hygiene might be a thing of the past, so I'd imagine him looking more like a post apocalyptic hobo than your dad on his day off work. He would unlikely be concerned with facial grooming, nor would he have access to a hairdresser. A more appropriate look might have been a shaved head and unkempt beard. Around his neck, perhaps a scarf or goggles would be useful in a dusty, desert environment. In the film it's snowing in LA, so we can assume Las Vegas would also be cold - for this reason, a t-shirt might be a little underdressed, even indoors. Layers would be more suitable, clothes that have lost all colour and have been mended numerous times. We already know that Deckard has a penchant for overcoats, so, fan service aside, I would've liked to see him in one similar to the original (rather than Gosling).

Wardrobe may seem superficial, but it is as important as the cinematography, the music, and the production design. There should be logical reasons for a character's costume. And when you have two celebrities as your main characters, it should be of utmost importance to distance them from their real world personas; to allow the audience to invest emotionally in the characters. Blade Runner 2049, unfortunately, has failed in this regard. 

© Jason Morgan, Hollywood Movie Costume & Props 

On a positive note, they have succeeded in giving us an inexpensive, go-to costume for every lazy man forced to wear fancy dress.

October 06, 2017

Harrison Ford: Absent Father

WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner franchises.



As much as Harrison Ford would like you to list Jack Ryan as one of his most memorable characters, he will never break the top three. Those positions will be held, in perpetuity, by Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Rick Deckard. Ford is at his best, and his most memorable, when he plays to type. And his type, of course, is the anti-hero. Or at least it was back in the 'good old days'. In this current age of liberal conservatism, our childhood heroes are forced to make amends for their past deeds. And what better way to de-rogue a lovable rogue (or chauvinistic robot rapist/murderer) from our childhood than to reunite him with his estranged child? Many spoilers ahead.

July 08, 2017

Is Nostalgia Bad?


Nostalgia is defined as a longing for a time or place that no longer exists. This melancholia can manifest itself as a desire to own items from a specific time, or a need to promote and defend elements of that period as 'better than now'. Does that make nostalgia unhealthy, or is it merely a side effect of getting old?

July 05, 2017

Sequels And The Law Of Diminishing Returns: The Karate Kid Part II


On paper, The Karate Kid Part II should have worked. It features the same cast members as the original and is written and directed by the same people, Robert Mark Kamen and John G. Avildson respectively. The cinematography for both films was shot by 70s and 80s stalwart, James Crabe. Even the score was composed by the same person, Bill Conti. So what makes it such a poor film in comparison to the original?

In both films, new kid in town Daniel LaRusso provokes the ire of the local bully. Under the tutelage of mentor Mr Miyagi, he learns a secret karate move that will defeat his enemies, bestow on him the adulation of a small community, and win the girl of his dreams. Like most sequels in the 80s, The Karate Kid Part II follows a generic sequel blueprint, rehashing the exact same story as the original with slightly elevated stakes. This certainly reduces its value as a film in its own right, but shouldn't necessarily make it 'bad'. It's when we start comparing the two films that the sequel's failings truly become clear. The film-makers actively force us to do this in the opening minutes of Part II, in which we are treated to a flashback summary of the first film. By the time Daniel's flying crane kick makes its appearance, we are reminded of the excitement we felt at the climax of the last film and are primed and ready for the next instalment. The sequel, inevitably, fails to reach these same heights.

Using story elements originally written for the end of The Karate Kid, the sequel begins at the conclusion of the All Valley Karate Tournament. Straight away, things don't seem right, and I'm not referring to the fact that Mr Miyagi is awkwardly loitering by a shower room filled with naked teenage boys.


July 03, 2017

The Karate Kid And The Perfect Movie


People tend to throw the phrase 'a perfect movie' around quite a lot these days. More often than not, they are referring to a certain type of movie; not 'a masterpiece', but something with broader appeal. 'Perfect films' usually include competent acting, invisible editing, a rousing score or soundtrack, and follow a generic plot structure that consists of:
  • a male protagonist who is at a low point in his life; someone whom the audience can identify with and follow on his journey
  • a complication that propels the protagonist into action (with little hope of success)
  • a resolution in which the protagonist overcomes his obstacles, allowing the audience to feel a sense of satisfaction and, on a subconscious level, their own personal achievement
Raiders of the Lost Ark is one such movie. Die Hard is another. Despite the fact that it's lead character, Daniel LaRusso, is arguably the apparent instigator of all his own problems, 1984's The Karate Kid can also be considered 'a perfect movie'. But not the sequels. The sequels are guilty pleasure trash.

Inexplicably, The Karate Kid never had a set of trading cards. With the magic of Photoshop, it does now...


To see more of this set and others that never existed, follow the link or click on the TRADING CARDS tab at the top of the page.

January 18, 2017

View-Master Mock-up: Flash Gordon

Seminal 80's sci-fi masterpiece Flash Gordon was never released as a View-Master reel set. If it was, it might have looked a little something like this...



To see more View-Master reel sets that never existed, click the VIEW-MASTER tab at the top of the page.