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The Bizzare Captain EO….

October 31, 2016 Leave a comment

Michael-Jackson-Captain-EO-Back-3D-DisneylandI came across a 30 year old story recently involving three of the biggest names in music and film that I didn’t have the faintest idea about… So on the assumption that you might not have heard of it either and have a spare couple of minutes to read this and 16 minutes to watch the film, it goes something like this…

In August 1985 George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola announced that along with a certain Michael Jackson they were working on “the ultimate movie experience”.

Originally known as the “International Music Man” the production now known as Captain EO (from the Greek eos or dawn) was a Disney generated idea for a themed park ride. Disneyland was struggling around the mid 1980’s and saw the idea of a big production with even bigger names, as a way of reversing the fortunes of the theme park. Accompanying the ride would be a short film that would be exclusive to the park and would not go on general release, so (they hoped) ensuring people would drive to the park to see the new attraction…

Captain EO was the tale of an emissary of light, a messiah if you will, travelling the universe saving its denizens through the gifts of song and love. There would be spaceships, space battles, assorted alien creatures and unsurprisingly with MJ on board, unfeasible amounts of dancing…

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One of the first films made with the then nascent 3D technology, it was also described by Disney as the worlds first 4D production. As it was only shown in specially modified cinemas at Disneyland, the on screen effects were supplemented with lasers, smells, smoke and flying asteroids filling the cinema auditorium itself.

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Like so many things involving MJ at the height of his fame, budget was seemingly not a major consideration and as a consequence the film ended up being the most expensive production ever made up to that time, supposedly almost $1 million per minute and with more effects per minute than Star Wars.

Time however was a limiting factor with both Ford Coppolla and Lucas having other projects already lined up, so once the story had been finalised, principal photography was wrapped up in less than two weeks…

eop220092LARGEBy all accounts the first edited version seen without many of the state of the art effects, was lamentably poor, allegedly it was even hidden from senior Disney executives for a while, it was so underwhelming. Jackson was no lead actor and the Muppet’s in Space appearance didn’t give the production much in the way of credibility or gravitas…

Additional filming and further editing got the film to a more acceptable state (although you can make your own mind up about that) despite one of the principle muppet characters having been lost and replaced by a painted ballcock and Angelica Houston’s role as the principle baddie being significantly reduced (possibly at her own request…)

The end result is a very strange thing. Even allowing for the now 30 year old effects, it seems unbelievably ropey given the money, talent and staus of the key players involved. A hybrid of ideas stolen from Star Wars, Alien (Houston’s Spider Queen), MJ’s Thiller video, Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal and all points in between. Even the songs seem halfhearted and unconvincingly delivered when compared to Thriller from 2 years earlier and Bad from two years later.

Perhaps its not surprising then that even after all these years and despite a huge demand for it to be made available after Michael’s death in 2009, it can still only be seen in very poor quality versions like the one below..

There’s a detailed account of the films history here if  you’re interested..

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Lazy Post No. 20: Google Chromecast & The BBC Post-War Architecture Collection…

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment

imagesWe bought a Google Chromecast recently which means we can now spend even more time staring at the idiotbox…

Slow off the mark as usual (as I’m sure my younger, more tech savvy friends would agree) it’s actually been something of a revelation in the few days we’ve been using it, once you get over the “do we really need more things to watch/ surely we watch too much TV already” conundrum… No more sitting in uncomfy chairs at the dining table, trying to make out images by changing the angle of the laptop screen…

Chromecast plugs into the back of the TV and then, via an app downloaded onto our Nexus 7, you choose what you want to watch and “cast” it over to the TV with a simple touch of the symbol on screen. 21st Century magic in full effect, and all for £30…

And yes the internet is built on seemingly endless hours of pointless crap, but if you’re selective and look hard enough, there’s untold gold out there beyond the cats, fail compilation’s and celebrity tittle tattle… And moreover, watching the videos on a big TV makes it seem less like time wasting somehow… Hmmm

Anyway, my current favorite sources are this random collection of videos on YouTube, and the BBC’s wondrous Post-War Architecture Collection on iPlayer, which you can get to by clicking the screen grab below…

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Rik Mayall…

June 9, 2014 2 comments

Rik Mayall_1It’s coming to something when someone who can only be considered as being of your own generation dies…

Rik was only 6 years older than me, and like everyone our age, the impact of The Young Ones on us was huge: Changing his life as he morphed into one of our finest comic actors, and changing my life through the realisation that getting older didnt have to mean becoming more sensible…

My brother and I watched the programmes so many times on mum and dads new video recorder (bought like so many others I suspect so that we could watch the pirate version of ET…) that we could quote all 12 programmes almost verbatim.

Still can in fact, ask my And..

Not sure what he died of as yet, but it’s very sad news to end the day on. A funny man, gone too soon.

 

Old London Bridge Illuminated…

May 10, 2014 4 comments

027ROY16F000002U00073000[SVC2]I caught the end of a Dan Cruickshank programme earlier this week about the bridges of London, and one image has really stuck in my mind…

It’s a page from an illuminated manuscript dating from 1483, so well over 500 years ago, and shows a scene from the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans in the Tower of London. Following his capture at the battle of Agincourt in 1415, Charles, a high ranking member of the French Aristocracy was kept prisoner at the Tower for 25 years.

The main pictorial image depicts Charles in various activities: writing a letter, standing at a window of his prison in the Tower and giving an envelope to someone in the courtyard, presumably to send back home to France and possibly containing a love poem (Charles is generally considered to have penned the first recorded Valentines Poem, which began “I’m already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine”).

I digress. The main reason this image was in the programme and the reason it has stayed in my head, is that as well as the Duke, it also contains one of the earliest known depictions of the First London Bridge, which can be clearly seen in the background of the full page and on this detail below.

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Apart from being an intrinsically very beautiful object, the quality of the workmanship on this illuminated panel is stunning… Look carefully at the City in the distance.. it’s magical in its appearance with a multitude of church spires and saw toothed roofs. No wonder London was at this time, considered one of the greatest Cities of the World (and still is I might add).

As for the Thames itself, it looks almost inviting in azure blue and turquoise. The white lines under each arch by the way, represent the effect that the massive piers had on the flow of the river. It’s been suggested these massive structures would have reduced the width of the river by upwards of 60%, resulting in a rushing effect through the openings, especially as the tide turned…

The First, Old or Medieval London Bridge was begun in 1176 and was known to have been completed by 1209, which means it took more than 30 years to build. It was the first known stone bridge in the world and was quite rightly considered one of the wonders of the age: 8m wide (26 ft) and around 255m (850 ft) long, it sat on 19 irregularly spaced arches with a drawbridge at the center to allow tall ships to pass. Also towards the center of the bridge was a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas Beckett. As the bridge was the only crossing for many miles, everyone who couldn’t afford a boat to cross the Thames, had to use the bridge, with most offering a prayer and votive  coins at the chapel.

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Famously the bridge had rows of shops and houses on either side, which resulted in a restricted and narrow route through for wagons and horses and was ultimately (along with rotten timber structures, stinking gutters and dangerous alleyways) the reason other wider, non populated bridges were built…

This amazing structure stood for nearly 600 years before being finally demolished in the 1830’s. During its lifetime it survived  The Reformation of King Henry 8th in the 16th Century and the Great Fire in 1666, remaining the only crossing in London until 1750.

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One final thing, the building in the center of the painting above was added to the bridge in 1579 and was known as Nonsuch House. Originally built in the Netherlands 2 years previously, it was dismantled, shipped over to London and re-erected on the bridge without the use of a single nail, and being significantly wider than the bridge itself, cantilevered precariously over the water on each side.

Now that really would have been something to see…

Lazy Post no. 13 : Doris Day…

April 8, 2014 Leave a comment

article-2598358-1CD5CDC400000578-461_634x758Well you learn something everyday…

Doris Day, that most iconic of actors is still alive and well and celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday, Sunday 6th April. Although in truth, it may have been her 92nd birthday, as census records suggest Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff (her original name) was born in 1920, and not 1922 as she claims).

But regardless of these specifics, there’s no doubt she’s still going strong, waving to fans from the safety of this rather impressive balcony at her home in Carmel, overlooking the golf course and country club where she seems to spend most her time these days…

Since her last film “With Six you get Eggroll” in 1968 (no, me neither) and her TV shows from the mid 1970’s, Day has consciously avoided all publicity, devoting her time and efforts to a variety of animal welfare causes (hence the strangely disconcerting photo at the end of this post). Initially this prompted a backlash against her as the lack of any hard information resulted in almost unending speculation about her looks, weight and private life, which in turn only strengthened her determination to keep away from the spotlight.

I’ve always thought Doris was pretty good in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart from 1956, a film that bridged the gap between the musicals of the early 50’s and the later romantic comedies for which she is best known. Hitchcock apparently insisted on Doris for the role of Mrs. Jo McKenna, against the wishes of the studio, and it was this faith that allowed her to demonstrate a more serious side to her acting skills.

So happy birthday to Doris Day…

UPDATE

It’s now Tuesday 8th April and since I wrote this yesterday, I’ve also learned that Mickey Rooney was still alive. I say was, because sadly he passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of 93.

Makes me wonder how many more Hollywood legends are forgotten but not gone… Perhaps uncharitably, an image of faded stars sitting in darkened rooms repeatedly watching their old films, a la Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, or Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard comes into mind, wistfully remembering the good times when everyone knew everything about them…

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Lazy Post no. 10 : Are there too many Men in Hollywood?

February 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Being a regular commuter on the underground, I’m subjected to such a constant bombardment of adverts and posters for new records, products and films, that it’s easy to let any subliminal messages they might contain, slip through your subconscious…

Some time ago now, I started noticing something almost sinister about the large majority of film posters that appear and change with such alarming regularity.

Take these posters for 10 films that are all on release in London at the moment. They were chosen pretty much at random, but if you were to choose 10 of your own, I’d be confident that the results would be very similar. There are representatives from all genres including Sci-fi, Action, Rom Com, History and whatever category Dallas Buyers Club falls under..

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A quick count up of the number of photos and written or highlighted names of the main stars on each of the posters, is simultaneously enlightening and worrying, providing us with an insight into how male orientated and dominated Hollywood land really is… (I’m assuming that the two astronauts in Gravity are Clooney and Bullock although I suspect it’s neither and they’ve been CGI’d, but that wouldn’t change the scores anyway. And I’ve ignored all the people behind DiCaprio as they are unnamed)

The upshot is that across the 10 posters, there are a grand total of 25 photos of actors and 42 different actors names. Of these, 18 photos and 30 names are of men, yet only 7 photos and 12 names of women…

Which means that there are almost 3 times as many photos of male stars as there are of female stars, and in terms of written names the men have more than twice as many as the women…

Not being a Hollywood insider, I don’t know if this is to do with the story lines of films that get made, or the experience of the producers that male stars will always make money than female, or whether it’s down to the choice of the directors or the casting agents to always have more men….

Whatever, I can’t help but think it’s significant that there are so few parts for women in all these major film releases…

As this is a lazy post, I’m deliberately holding back from going into these ideas any further at this point, rather I’m just “planting seeds” as the great Bill Hicks often said… But as I think about them further over the coming weeks, I may well revisit this post and expound my theories a little further…

Feel free to chip in…

The Scary Mind of Guillermo del Toro…

November 3, 2013 Leave a comment

61YVRAr+-MLI read a short article over the weekend about a recently published book by Guillermo del Toro, the hugely talented Mexican film director and writer who’s brought such strangeness as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage to life on the big screen…

This new book entitled Cabinet of Curiosities takes pages from his many and ever present note and sketchbooks and uses them to explain how, why and where the various monsters, deformities and horrors that he creates, fit into his filmic vision…

What’s made me stop and think, are the similarities of some of these pages, to the books made by the protagonist of David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven. With their intense and finely detailed drawings surrounded by dense areas of almost illegible text, they are a dead ringer for the leather bound volumes that were found when the police broke into John Doe’s flat. The image below is a compilation of pages from John Doe’s books I found online…

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In case you haven’t seen the film, John Doe (played by a very detached Kevin Spacey) is the coldly calculating, highly intelligent, deluded and misguided individual who sets out to create his life’s masterpiece via a series of killings arranged over a year long period that reflect each of the Seven deadly sins. It’s a great film with the ultimate revelation of the sins of Envy and Wrath still having the power to shock…

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I obviously need to be careful here. My intention is not to cast any aspersions in Mr. del Toro’s direction (who always comes across as pretty nice guy in the interviews I’ve read and seen). But if it wasn’t for it’s output via his films and writing, what might such a highly creative and let’s be honest, warped imagination be capable of? The differences between a mind like del Toro’s and John Doe’s, must be relatively small, with only del Toro having the moral control aspects required to be a valuable and productive member of society…

It’s probably not a book I’ll be buying however, it’s all a bit on the dark side for my tastes. I like Sci-Fi, fantasy and graphic novel escapism, but I’m not much into horror, tortured souls and deformity…

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Guillermo Del Toro

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