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.

January 07, 2017

Hell Is Other People (And Demons): The Conceit Of Jacob's Ladder

Jacob's Ladder was released almost 30 years ago, so it would be safe to assume that if you're reading this, you've had a chance to see it. If not, spoilers ahead. The film stars Tim Robbins as Jacob, fresh from his lead performance in Erik the Viking and stand-out supporting roles in teen sex romps Fraternity Vacation and The Sure Thing. He plays an American soldier killed during the Vietnam War, with the bulk of the movie taking place in nightmarish 1970's New York City (or more specifically, in his own head as he slowly succumbs to his wounds).

Jacob is recently divorced with three children, one of whom, pre-Home Alone, post-Uncle Buck Macaulay Culkin, is dead. In his hellish fantasy, Jacob works as a postman and lives with co-worker Jezzie (short for Jezebel, a not so subtle hint as to her true nature). She is one minute caring and sympathetic, the next, passive-aggressive, nit-picky, vindictive and malicious. He is melancholic, withdrawn, and unable to express his true feelings; in other words, your typical, male/female relationship. Jacob also suffers from chronic back pain and has a tendency to throw his back out, frequently requiring the services of angelic Danny Aiello to make his waking life bearable. 

All of Jacob's post-war experiences are occurring in a sort of purgatory. He is haunted by his past and tormented by his present, his world spiralling further and further into madness. As Danny Aiello says (and sampled in the UNKLE song Rabbit in Your Headlights), “If you're frightened of dying and holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace then the devils are really angels freeing you from the earth.”

The film tries very hard to avoid the use of stereotypical representations of the afterlife and spirituality, and for the most part, succeeds. It shows us that hell can simply be the repulsive, claustrophobic presence of others and a life full of regret and dissatisfaction. On occasion, it does resort to horror movie clichés of hell: A nurse with poor customer service skills appears to have horns growing from the top of her head. A reptilian tail is glimpsed between the legs of a sleeping homeless person. Jacob's girlfriend snarls at him with demonic, black eyes. Demons with blurry or featureless faces watch Jacob from afar or stab needles into his brain.

Personally, I feel the movie could have made its point and been even more shocking in its twist ending by avoiding these tropes, and instead focused on the mundane and grotesque aspects of everyday life - the hay fever, the lactose intolerance, the stubbed toe, the unpaid overtime, the persistent cough, the loveless marriage, the keyed car. Granted, a film in which the hero has an impacted tooth or infected sore doesn't make for riveting viewing, yet these are the daily occurrences that make us question our existence and purpose in life. For the less resilient, they can be the difference between living a content, productive life or refusing to get out of bed and wallowing in your own filth.

Jacob's Ladder is a creepy thriller with imagery that will stick in your head long after the film is over. A Jacob's Ladder View-Master reel set would therefore be entirely unlikely, and completely unnecessary. So you're probably wondering why I spent my afternoon designing one? That's a very good question...

School Of Rock And The Reluctant Teacher

The portrayal of teachers in film generally falls into four distinct categories:

  1. The downtrodden individual who failed at life and is scraping together a meagre living with teaching's notoriously low wages. Resting precariously above 'rock bottom', this archetype usually presents at the beginning of a character's story arc.
  2. The martyr or Christ figure, reviled and persecuted by those in power, and an inspiration to his pupils due to his rebellious, non-conformist teaching methods.
  3. The 'drill sergeant' or disciplinarian, instilling fear in students via daily torment and torture.
  4. The reluctant teacher who, despite lacking appropriate qualifications and doing everything in his power to avoid actually teaching, builds relationships with his students and inevitably discovers teaching is his one true calling.

January 05, 2017

George Lucas Is Luke Skywalker ... And Darth Vader

The story of George Lucas is the story of the Skywalkers, both Luke and Anakin. It's no coincidence that Luke's story was told before Anakin's, as the narrative sequencing of both perfectly correlates with the events of Lucas's life. Like Luke Skywalker, George was an idealistic young man with dreams of leaving the family business and making it big in the outside world. That meant breaking into the heavily restricted, unionised old man's club known as Hollywood, while Luke hoped to one day apply to the Academy and become an Imperial pilot. Both Luke and George quickly became disillusioned and instead joined forces with like-minded individuals to form cooperatives.

In George's case, this was Francis Ford Coppola's American
Zoetrope. In Luke's, the Rebel Alliance.

Their ultimate goal, to take down the previously coveted, exploitative and dehumanising establishments of Hollywood and the Empire. Through sheer determination, both Luke and George eventually beat the system - one blows up a Death Star or two, while the other secures his place in American pop culture history.

With the success of Star Wars and its sequels, Lucas was able to build a number of business ventures such as Lucasfilm Ltd, Industrial Light and Magic (which would later spawn Pixar), Lucas Arts, THX and Skywalker Sound. He would realise his dream of becoming totally self-sufficient. It was this process, the artist becoming the businessman and building an empire, that was reflected in the prequels and the origin story of Darth Vader.

Anakin Skywalker was mentored by the slightly older, somewhat wiser, Obi Wan Kenobi, just as Lucas was mentored by Francis Ford Coppola.

George and Francis's relationship was notoriously tumultuous. Like Anakin and Obi Wan, they considered each other as brothers, yet beneath the surface was resentment, rivalry and jealousy. George even suspected Francis of hitting on his wife Marcia, just as Anakin believed Obi Wan and Padme were secretly conspiring against him. With Lucas's string of hits from American Graffiti, through Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Star Wars films, he surpassed his mentor - the student becoming the master, just as Darth Vader would brag to Obi Wan before murdering him.

Anakin held particularly strong views about politics, believing that the people needed a leader, a singular voice to guide them. George too, felt that the collaborative process of film making inevitably resulted in a distilling of the auteur's vision. He, then, would oversee every aspect of production like some kind of movie making, flannel wearing dictator. Although he appointed others as directors of his movies, he would continue to micromanage them, something he despised the studios for attempting to do to him in the past. Lucas eventually surrounded himself with a cadre of 'yes men'; specifically, producer and sycophant, Rick McCallum. George's power over opinion became greater and greater and consequently, his movies became worse and worse.

As a young film maker, George believed that story and audience engagement were more important than the technology or tools used to create it. Video proof here. Similarly, Luke switches off his electronic missile guidance system when making his attack on the Death Star. By the time Lucas was restoring and releasing the Star Wars Special Editions, the technology was being used not to aid or improve the films, but merely for the sake of the technology. 

Cut to: Jawa falls off Ronto.

The prequels then, can be read as the tools no longer serving the story, but the story serving the technology. Character, plot, emotional investment, audience engagement - all took a back seat to the wonders of digital film making. George's 'used universe' gave way to a six hour, shiny, yellow and chrome advertisement for toys. In essence, he became "more machine than man", just as his filmic counterpart did at the end of Revenge of the Sith

Darth Vader was redeemed in Return of the Jedi, but as that film sits in the middle of the six film story arc, the same cannot necessarily be said for George Lucas. As the sole shareholder of Lucasfilm Ltd, he embodied the very same system he had railed against in his youth - rewriting his scriptwriters's words, directing his directors and reediting the work of his editors. Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader in order to save Padme's life, and in doing so, caused her death. Padme, in this scenario, is 'the art', and Anakin's choking the life from her is (prior to relinquishing control to Disney in 2012) a fitting metaphor for Lucas's stranglehold on Lucasfilm and the Star Wars universe.

To see more pointless comparisons between Star Wars and other, non Star Wars things, read this.