My Blog In 2015

1 01 2016

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 15,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Don’t Let The Big Bugs Bite – Mimic

30 12 2015

Mimic (Miramax - 1997)

Imagine the scene, there is a terrifying new disease-spreading throughout your home town, killing lots and lots of people…and there is no cure. What do you do? You could hang around and wait for a miracle cure, or you could find a way to stop the disease from spreading/catching further. It’s an interesting plan, and wouldn’t you believe it, it’s possible – just so as long you are sure it won’t come back to eat you in 3 years’ time.

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Released in 1997 by Miramax and Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Mimic is a Science Fiction Horror Film based on the short story of the same name written by Donald A. Wollheim. Mimic deals with the subject of genetic construction and tampering in a similar theme and style to the written works of Michael Crichton, particularly his book and later film Jurassic Park. This time however it’s for the creation of a new species of bug, which then quite literally bites back when it goes out of control.

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In Manhattan, a deadly disease known as Strickler’s disease has struck, claiming the lives of hundreds of children. The disease has no cure, nor a vaccination; however what people do know is that it’s being carried by the common cockroach. To this end, Entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) is brought in by the C.D.C. to create a new species of insect (a cross between Termite and Praying Mantis DNA) which she and her husband Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) call the Judas Breed. The insects are successful in killing off the Cockroach population, and with it Strickler’s disease. The Judas Breed meanwhile was designed to be unable to live and breed outside the lab for no more than 6 months, and so would die after 1 generation. Three years later, a reverend is chased and dragged underground by a mysterious assailant; the only person to witness it however is a possibly autistic boy called Chuy (Alexander Goodwin) who notices the strange sound the assailant makes, naming him Mr. Funny Shoes (Doug Jones, Bill Lasovich and Roger Clown). The following morning, the church building is cordoned off by C.D.C. agent Josh (Josh Brolin); who notices excrement hanging off the ceiling, inside of which has some buttons.

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Susan, now working at a natural history museum with her assistant Remy (Alix Koromzay), buys some bugs off kids Ricky (James Costa) and Davis (Javon Barnwell). One of the bugs in question is rather big and looks rather weird. Upon closer inspection, Susan begins to realize that the bug is a member of The Judas Breed and is also a baby. But before she can find out more, her office is attacked by an assailant, who only appears to take the bug specimen with him. Susan explains this to her Husband, and with Remy and the kids in tow, they try to get another specimen from a subway locker, but are stopped by Subway cop Leonard (Charles S. Dutton), who demands to see a Permit. Meanwhile, with some information from Susan, and the hope of making quick money, Ricky and Davis journey through the Underground and find an Egg sack, but before they can do anything, both kids are killed by a strange creature. In the subway meanwhile, Susan meets Chuy who is with his guardian Manny (Giancarlo Giannini). That night Chuy hears Mr. Funny Shoes inside the church, and goes looking for him, while Remy and Susan go to a water treatment plant where a large bug, is discovered. Susan’s boss Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham) examines the creature and summarizes that the bug is a soldier and part of a colony.

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Manny discovers that Chuy has disappeared, and goes underground to look for him after spotting some clues as to where he might have gone. Upon getting a permit to look in the subway locker, Leonard, Peter and Josh head underground to find another specimen, and find traces of more hanging excrement. Susan meanwhile waits outside in the station, looking through some photographs. In the station though, is one of the assailant figures, who transforms into a large man-sized bug, which then takes her deeper underground. Peter and Leonard fall into an old subway station, and Josh runs off to find help, but is then killed by a large creature. Susan meanwhile comes to, and tries to call for help from the city above, but nobody listens. One of the large insects does however, and comes after her. She is eventually rescued by Manny, who after finding Leonard and Peter asks them for help. They take refuge inside an old Coney Island subway car, but Leonard gets injured by an insect that manages to get inside. Upon killing it; Susan explains that by increasing their metabolism, The Judas Breed were able to both reproduce and mutate very fast, despite being unable to biologically reproduce at all. To this end, the creatures have begun to evolve, and Mimic their main predator: Man. At that moment, the car is swarmed by big insects, smelling the blood coming out of Leonard’s Leg. Using the dead one’s smell glands, Susan coats the windows in the smell of the dead creature insides, causing the other to flee, making the insects think the train is one of them. With the insects gone, the group formulates a plan to move the car down the tracks to a possible escape. Peter is sent to get the power back up, while Manny is sent to switch the tracks.

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Inside the car, Susan believes the Mimic Insects could spread out of the subway system and colonise anywhere they choose. She describes to Leonard that one way of preventing them from doing this would be to find and kill the colony Male, who will be the only one capable of allowing the Judas Breed to reproduce. While out to switch the tracks, Manny finds Chuy but is killed by one of the insects. Peter manages to get the power back on, and finds Chuy, and Susan, who left the car to look for Manny. They are however cornered by a group of Mimic Insects. Knowing he hasn’t got much time left, Leonard uses the smell of his bleeding leg to distract the insects long enough for Susan and Chuy to hop into a dumb-waiter and escape. Peter then sets off to find a way to stop the creatures while they are still down there. He gets chased into a room which turns out to be a colony nest. Using a pickaxe, he quickly releases gas into the room, hoping to use Manny’s lighter to set it alight, but the lighter has stopped working. With next to no time left, he uses the axe to cause a spark on some railings, causing the room to catch fire, killing all the bugs, and sending a fireball throughout the immediate subway area. Escaping from the Fireball, Susan goes to look for Chuy, but runs into the male Bug. Using her own blood to attract it, she has it chase her; just ducking out of the way from an oncoming Subway train, crushing the Male Mimic. On the surface, the area is in Anarchy after the subway fireball. Dr. Gates explains to Susan that after combing the area twice; ensures her that nothing could have survived. Peter meanwhile had a lucky escape diving into a pool of water, and is reunited with both Susan and Chuy on the surface.

If you look through the filmography of director Guillermo Del Toro, particularly at the films he has directed; many films immediately come to my mind and are at the forefront of his directing career. Films of course like Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy films, Blade II, Pacific Rim, as well as a host of films directed in his native Mexico (that I have not yet seen). On this list however you will also find MIMIC. Back when Pacific Rim was due for release, I remember reading inside VUE Cinema’s prevue magazine a piece about Del Toro and his output, and MIMIC stands out in his filmography, but the main reason for this is due to the film not making back its budget, and when compared to the success of his later films; MIMIC is held as being something like a Black Sheep in his career output. I don’t think that kind of statement is very fair however; because I think MIMIC is very good. It’s is Tremendously Terrifying. I have known about this film for years after seeing the beginning once back in between 2005 and 2008 and after finding out what it was have kept on eye on it since, but recently it was the first time I had watched it all the way through. It carries a lot of frights and scares throughout, while also maintaining a level of creepiness, because bugs are creepy, plus the science fiction story genre element works and is explained well. It’s not like 1950 American Monster Movie explanations where it is done rather quickly; MIMIC instead explains it bit by bit by the relevance of it as the characters begin to explore it. The science fiction side also makes a nice break/change from most monster horror fiction too as it goes into talk about the need for the bug species, but then how while science in the lab can be controlled, the real world can’t. The idea of this film being like a Michael Crichton novel was actually something my Lecturer suggested (who as far as I am aware has not seen it, but suggested such when I mentioned it), and when you look into it sort of does. The mention towards Jurassic Park is very apt I feel, as both stories talk about the new future for science, but in the real world, nature cannot be controlled so easily.

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I don’t know if you have watched The Strain or not (I can’t see why you wouldn’t have watched it, since the demise of Top Gear it is officially the best show on TV), but I find that in terms of the handling of its characters, Mimic has some rather similar similarities. The Strain is of course the TV Series adaptation of a book series written by Guillermo Del Toro himself about the release of a Vampire Virus. While Mimic has a similar feature in that sense, that is not what I am going to talk about right now. Mimic has an assortment of characters, all of them in varying different ways of life, the kind of people you wouldn’t necessarily think of associating with each other. Much like The Strain where you have some people who know and work on the Virus but then only to join up with others and create a rag-tag group of people which includes themselves, a pawn shop owner, an exterminator and a computer hacker. This sort of thing happens in Mimic also with characters ranging from an Entomologist, agents of the C.D.C., a subway cop, a shoe shiner, and his Autistic Ward suddenly converge on each other.

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Thankfully the major part of this cast is small so I am not going to get bogged down like the Independence Day review last week. Anyway; Mimic, sort of like Independence Day again, does work hard to incorporate and make good tertiary characters all the way through the film. So automatically within the first 10/15 minutes you get characters like Ricky and Davis who to begin with get a big role, but eventually, and something I feel of as a departure for the film, don’t survive and become early victims to the Mimic Bugs, but they’re not in the background, they are upfront, and so their death scene becomes a big moment for the film. Then you get characters like Josh, characters who meet the true meaning of supporting characters. He is the film’s light relief, a sort of comedy character. Another person who meets a grim end; but lasts longer than most. He spends most of the film complaining about his role/job and you don’t really connect with him, but for the sake of comedic relief he is ok. Next to him you also have characters like Remy and Dr. Gates. Gates presents the moral side of science, the character you need in a story like this. Someone who questions the true motives behind the uses of science to create the Judas Breed. But at no point does he lose his temper, but tries to show a logical understanding of what goes on and does what he can to support Susan. Remy meanwhile is a character I like, and consider an unfortunate casualty, as while she is a good character, and someone you want to see more of, she has very little in the way of appearances. So while she has a very positive start to this film, she does sort of get ignored from the half-way point onwards and I find that rather sad and a bit disappointing.

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Leonard is an odd one. He is a character that is very strong throughout this film and is very good at his job. Compared to most other roles played by Dutton, Leonard stands out more. He is something of a narrator, a historian more like, and who talks about the legends of the Mimic creatures before he even knows about them. Tells the tales of strange people called Long john, but also knows a lot about the underground area. As things begin to take a turn he becomes something of a guardian and a sacrificial hero to the group. He is an enjoyable character, and his singing is rather fun, I just wonder if his death is more a punishment for his unpleasantness, or if he is really needed to die at the end? In something of a similar character to Leonard, you have Manny, the shoe polisher. Much like Leonard he is very down to earth, works hard to both put food on the table and look after his ward in Chuy. He is an interesting character in that he is one of the films very few anchors, one of those people who in the midst of all the science fiction explaining, that brings it back down to a more common human level. He is very caring of Chuy, although finds him possibility a little bit irritating due to his condition, but in a similar vein to Leonard, you wonder if he is really needed as he just gets killed off like everyone else. Chuy meanwhile I find hard to think about it. Much like other characters in this section he has an interesting part, making friends with the bugs, rattling on his spoons, knowing everything about shoes. He has an interesting dynamic, but for the most part; particularly towards the end, he just becomes an alternate character to look out for and for the main characters to save, keep out of harm’s way. He is someone who is good, but as to why is the real question.

Peter Mann, someone who I cannot put my finger on, not in the sense that he is a good character, more in the form of I cannot figure why he is in this film. He starts out as the scientific boss and husband to Susan who then runs on a trail to discover and eventually annihilate the nest of the Judas Breed, but…this turn of character in him does not feel right. He doesn’t seem caring, more a sort of grumpy, he is not a connectable character, more a sort of supportive character that gets some attention. Yes his scenes underground leading to the big bug massacre is good, tense, thrilling and scary, it’s just for the most part, I just don’t get him. Which is entirely the opposite compared to Mira Sorvino’s character. What is a lovely strong female character throughout this film, you have someone who like many of the above loves and enjoys their work, but is the creator of the film’s main antagonist in the Judas Breed. Yes, there was plenty of reasoning to create them, to help wipe out a horrific disease, but just when she thinks they are all dead over, she begins to discover that isn’t necessarily the case. As things develop further, she gets thrusted head first into the situation, eventually meeting the mutated, evolved form of her creation, to then ultimately wiping them out, the one person who needed to do it. She doesn’t raise much of a smile throughout the film’s events, and is embroiled more into the case the more it develops, soon realising the real results of her work, and going from keen professional scientist, to a near nervous wreck at the devastation and death caused by the miracle bugs. So of course she has to end it all with one final, and possibly sacrificial last stand against the creatures, in the end saving humanity once again from the bugs she created to save them once before. Sorvino’s performance is brilliant in Mimic, she stands as the archetype and central figure throughout as a character that stands the rest of the film, not one who becomes a great hero, or an underdog, but someone who stands as a hero to begin with, but ultimately becomes a pre-underdog type character, being brought down to her knees on the result of her creation. A terrific performance by a true; but unfortunately, lesser (at current) titan of cinema.

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Let’s not forget however the film’s other characters. The Mimics. The Mimic Creatures in this film are nicely designed monstrosities made for a purpose but ultimately become a new threat, somewhat similar to a species of creature they were supposed to wipe out. In explanation, they were designed to kill off the common cockroach to aid in the killing of a deadly virus striking down the children of Manhattan Island. The end result of that being the death of the virus, but due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, the Mimic bugs themselves, become a new bug threat. While not a virus, like the one they helped rid the city of, still a very dangerous one. Mimic’s, so named for their ability to imitate their main predator/prey in man is a wonderful idea, one that chills the spine, but sets them up as human like characters until they eventually reveal themselves true and proper, not as humans, but as ferocious bugs. Their design is brilliant, somewhat held back by some dodgy late 90’s CGI, their appearance is still terrifying with a hint of realism, and the fact that the way they are shown of pursuing the humans like Prey adds another detail of character, not in something that is to be ignored or does ignore, but rather a merciless killer.

The special Effects are a bit hit and Miss in Mimic. As stated above, the CGI suffers a bit and doesn’t stand out as well as effects delivered in films of its time including Independence Day one year earlier, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park released in the same year as Mimic. The film’s quick scenes and quick moments of movement on part of the Mimic’s sort of make up for it. Yes; while there is still the odd dodgy bit here and there, for the most part in how they used, they look alright, and still don’t ruin the incredible level of design that went into the creature designs. Sadly though due to the lack of well-done CGI, the effects have not aged too well, and these days it’s only the real in shot stuff that still works, and the CGI looks rookie in vain to today’s standards, it’s just so lucky that everything else pretty much works in terms of the film making. But while the CGI falls a lot short, the close up uses of suits/animatronics/puppets/masks/whatever they are is brilliant. The effect of having something there and visible in camera, with added detail such as odd hairs and prongs on the arms and claws are well done. In a similar style to the Alien creatures in Aliens, if it was just the, whatever it was they used, it would have been superb throughout. Add to this the level of additional props and set pieces, like the underground sections, the cart, and of course the icky sticky, very unnerving egg pods. Those in the final scenes in the nest are really creepy, and add to it the bug like sounds, you have something that while in the main part is a horror film, still has room for moments of a horrible, repulsive, disgusting and off-putting by far, nature. Another addition I would quickly like to mention is the several uses of city skyline shots, there are only really 2 I can think of, but both of them are lovely on-screen shots that help to break up the film, but anyway back to the Bugs.

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But while the Special Effects may fall short, the soundtrack (composed by Marco Beltrami) certainly doesn’t. The film’s early sounds from scenes such as the release of the Mimic’s and attack on the priest present a very mysterious yet monstrous feel to them. The entire soundtrack on the whole sounds more operatic and monstrous more than anything else, especially the opening and closing credits. They present something of a mystery, like something is hiding, then reveals itself, and is a stark, terrifying monstrosity standing in front of you, and all that you can do, is just stare and scream, there is no running. It’s almost setting your eyes upon a Frankenstein like creature, standing in front of you; Ominous not moving, just pure terrifying. And that is just the soundtrack. Yes it works in tandem with the film, but just to provide a sense of that in listening to it, and also being memorable enough to still create a sense of that is remarkable.

Truly Terrifying: that is the best way to describe Mimic. A terrifying experience all worked into one film supported by all directions by horrifying looking creatures, great characters played by a wonderful cast, horrifying soundtrack and a gripping, thrilling story with a mix of Science Fiction to make Mimic not just a Horror Film, but a really spine tingling mystery. While maybe not standing out as much as Del Toro’s other well-known films like Pan’s Labyrinth for instance, that does not mean that it should be overlooked. Mimic is deserving of another chance, I don’t mean a remake (although a TV series could be interesting), I mean having another watch. Sure it has on and offs, and maybe t’s not Del Toro’s greatest piece of cinema art work, but for the sake of watching a horror film that both creeps you out and nearly scares you to death simply from the ideas that it generates I think is worthy of giving it another look. Now when I think of Del Toro, I am going to think of this film more in detail and equality of mention to his other works. So, Night Night, Sleep Tight, Don’t Let The Big Bed Bugs Bite, Hopefully See You In The Morning Light.

GENEPOOL (Happy New Year).





Checkmate – Independence Day

23 12 2015

Independence Day (20th Century Fox - 1996)

The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe has been tossed around for decades. Since upon discovering that there was an area above the planet, many have wondered if there was life on other planets. These thoughts usually then go onto the thought processes of considering the existence of Aliens, or UFO’s. To date, these thoughts are only theories. Yes, scientist’s get a little bit too excited when patches of liquid are spotted on other planets, but as this data has yet to be connected with proof of the existence of aliens, it should be noted that even if there is life on other planets, that it is a very big sky. But let’s not forget: “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, but still…..they come” – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the World’s.

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Released in 1996 by 20th Century Fox, Produced by Dean Devlin and Directed by Roland Emmerich, Independence Day is a Science Fiction Epic Disaster Movie involving the subject of a large-scale Alien Invasion on planet Earth. What is one of the most successful, inspiring, influential and most important films of the last 20 years; it helped to re-kick-start the creation, development and release of other big action disaster films, including films like Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

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July 2nd. Above the surface of the moon, something big, black and ominous has arrived and is moving towards the nearby planet of Earth. Down on the planet, a group of scientist’s discover its signal, but don’t know what it is. The object is investigated by Army General Grey (Robert Loggia) who is informed that it is not a meteor, as it appears to be slowing down. He contacts the Secretary of Defence Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn), who in turn informs the President (Bill Pullman). In New York City, David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), an MIT Graduate works for a cable company, who appear to be experiencing technical difficulties. Meanwhile out in the desert, a young family made up of Miguel (James Duval), Alicia (Lisa Jakub) and Troy (Giuseppe Andrews) have to continually contend with their drunk out of control father Russel (Randy Quaid) who supposedly was kidnapped by aliens several years ago. Back in space meanwhile, several large Flying Saucers appear out of another vessel. This is spotted on Radar and the President along with Grey, Nimzicki and Communications Director Constance Spano (Margaret Colin) are told that each one of these objects, 500km wide in diameter are now entering the atmosphere. Sightings are spotted globally, eventually hitting mainland USA. Slowly, one by one, large clouds begin to appear over the world’s major cities, clouds so big they completely shadow everything underneath them. Eventually, the clouds break and out of the come the huge flying saucers, eventually hovering over and plunging several major cities into darkness worldwide.

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In Los Angeles, air force captain, Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and his girlfriend Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) wake up to see these things and Hiller is told to return to base, despite being given time off for the 4th. Back at work, David discovers a hidden signal and informs his boss Marty (Harvey Fierstein) that they are going to attack. He quickly rushes home to his Dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) and asks him to drive to the White House. The President asks everyone to remain calm while mass hysteria breaks out. Arriving at the White House, David contacts his former wife Constance and tells her that he needs to speak to the President – despite once punching him. He manages to talk to the president, telling him that the ships are planning a coordinated attack. Everyone at the White House rushes to evacuate, but just as they board Air-Force One, the time runs out, and all the spaceships power up their primary weapons, instantly decimating every city they are currently over. Air force one manages to get away, with Jasmine, still stuck in the city hiding in a tunnel.

July 3rd. Captain Hiller leads an air attack on one of the flying saucers near the ruins of Los Angeles. Upon firing their weapons twice, they discover the ships have a protective shield, before then launching their own fighter squadrons. These too are shielded, and slowly all the fighters are lost, except for Hiller who manages to run away. He is chased though by an alien craft, before they both crash and he knocks out the still alive alien creature. Several prime American military installations are then destroyed by alien forces. Hiller is eventually rescued by Russel Casse and an entire caravan of fleeing travellers. On Air Force one meanwhile, after David gets into an argument with the President and his advisors, Julius comes along telling them that the government were not as unprepared as they claim they were, talking about Roswell and Area 51. While everyone else dismisses the legend of Roswell and Area 51, Nimzicki has other knowledge. As a result they all go to Area 51 in Roswell New Mexico. There they meet Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin) and scientist Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who reveal that there is indeed a crashed spaceship along with 3 dead aliens. Out in the remains of Los Angeles, Jasmine and her son (Ross Bagley) manage to get out of the tunnel, and using a truck finds survivors including the President’s Wife (Mary McDonnell). Hiller arrives at the base with the Alien, which Okun takes to dissect. However the Alien wakes up and attacks the scientists. Using Okun as a voice channel, The Alien reveals to the President what all they want is for humanity to Die, before psychically attacking him. The President is saved by his security detail shooting the alien Dead. He uses this as an opportunity to declare a nuclear attack on the Aliens. A nuclear strike team head to Houston Texas to attack one of the spaceships. After what appears to be a successful attack, the ship survives. At his old destroyed base, Hiller finds Jasmine and rescues her and the other survivors, however the First Lady dies, with the President comforting his Daughter (Mae Whitman) saying that she is sleeping now.

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July 4th. After a drunken stress out, David is inspired by his father who talks about getting a cold. That morning; David presents his idea to fight back against the aliens using a computer virus, and reveals that such a virus can bring down the alien shields. The only way of doing this though is flying the old ship into the Mother ship, something that Hiller steps up to do.  The President and his men manage to communicate with all the remaining fighter squadrons around the world, and plan to organise a counter offensive. With pilots low however, pilots have to be recruited from among survivors and refugees, to which end Russell steps up. As night falls, Hiller and David fly into Space and are pulled into the Mother Ship, spotting the large number of aliens inside it. Managing to hide themselves from the aliens, David implants the virus, which in turn brings down the Alien shields, allowing all weapons to penetrate. Flying at the front of the Squadron, The President joins in with the attack, piloting a fighter. They are able to do some damage to the ship, but are then attacked by the smaller alien fighters. With very little damage done to the big ship, it begins to circle over Area 51, planning to fire its primary weapon. With little ammo left, Russell flies in with the only remaining unfired missile, ready to disable the weapon. When the missile jams however, he decided to fly straight into the alien weapon, blowing it up instantly. The ship now destroyed internally, it begins to disintegrate. Inside the Mothership, Hiller and David launch a Nuclear Weapon strapped to the ship, and escape just as an invasion fleet is being launched. Successfully escaping, the Mother ship blows up from inside. The two men crash-land in the desert, as the disintegrated mothership streams into the atmosphere.

If I were to ask someone you to sum up Independence Day in one word, I highly doubt that the word you would reply with would be Tame (not unless you are doing it just for a laugh). It is not a tame film, in reality I can’t find a single word for Independence Day, but I can think of several. It’s Surprising, Hard Hitting, Enormous, Unstoppable, Redeeming, I could go on, but I will finish this bit with the word Fantastic. It’s a big film and does things in a big way, but why shouldn’t it, why should it conform or do things done before when that is not the point of this film. Not in its conception, not in its delivery, nothing about this film is small in any way, but it was designed to be as such. The idea originated with Emmerich’s fascination as to why Aliens fly through space for thousands of Light Years only to arrive at Earth and stay hidden. This knowledge sprouted the idea for a Large Scale Alien Attack, and as much became the case in future films from Emmerich, Nothing is kept down to a small-scale. It’s go big or go home; and everything in this film is big; Big scenes, big action, big surprises, big battles, big alien spaceships and an even bigger mothership. Independence Day delivers all of these things at an incredibly high standard that surpasses its own challengers and competitors. It’s a film with character, but also on that it is a film with a lot of characters.

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Independence Day tells a story, it tells a story of an Alien Invasion and what it could happen if Aliens with large amounts of firepower came to earth and set about wreaking havoc on it. But the destruction of cities and a way of life only for the heroes to find a way to overcome it is only one side to the telling of the tale. The other side is through what the characters are experiencing and how this either drives them apart or brings them closer together; Independence Day for the most part does the latter, but also reveals what drove them apart in the first place. Independence Day therefore contains a lot of subtext. These points are less subplot; and are more background details of characters, but it’s told with such passion and energy that you cannot hope to ignore them. Most of this is shown through the films top billing and the characters supporting them in particular. The President for instance is a hardworking man trying to do the right thing and lead in a rough situation, but at the same time he has a daughter and wife to think about. On top of this though he has past experience and animosity towards someone who rides in on a white horse and eventually helps save the world twice. This coming in the form of David. David is also a hardworking man who loves his job; he however though has a previous divorce with Constance which comes back up to haunt him, and somewhere in the past believing she was having an affair with someone, walked into the white house and punched him, although then he wasn’t the president. Then next to this we have yet a similar position with Captain Hiller. He however though has a girlfriend with a child; he loves them both dearly, and loves his new life, but finds this torn away from him due to current events. These events though ironically help him to find his family plus make a difference by bringing in his own skill set and knowledge. He is something of an outcast to this trio, but without him nothing could be done in the end. It’s a sort of three little pigs who all decide to stand up to the big bad wolf in their own ways; even though they are not pigs but humans, and the big bad wolf is a fleet of Alien Ships.

Bill Pullman, Jef Goldblum and Will Smith

Something that I continue to discover with Emmerich films is how enjoyable secondary and tertiary characters are. While these characters at no point in any of his films share the grand stage with the top billing, they provide so much enjoyment that it feels like they are as important as the top billing even if they don’t share this podium. Russel case’s family shares very little scenes as compared to everyone else, however they produce an important point of view on what these situations and events are to standard civilians, whereas most of the rest of the cast are actively involved in the understanding and activity of the event itself. What we have here is a solid family unit with Miguel having to be a father figure to his brother and sister while their father is not around. Troy and Alicia are at best supporting characters to this, but are involved in some interesting scenes including the cliché of Alicia wanting some love and intimate relationship before the supposed end of the world scenario; with Troy looking on. It’s a nice little addition to the cast while also representing a very important point of view; especially seeing as the rest of that point of view is represented in mass hysteria, and people thinking all these aliens are worth dressing up in ridiculous costumes all for the benefit of a night out (a lot like people who go to watch the Darts live). A lot of work has gone in to include a child cast in this film, but not have them in the background but as important editions. The President’s daughter and Jasmine’s son show much stronger understandings to the situation more than most adults. Add to this the level of emotion they show to the ones they love; it shows a much deeper level of understanding a stronger response to situations from a completely miss-understood point of view. Next to this we also have some interesting additions in the military with characters like officers and commanders. Some of these range from Air Force and Submarine captains, to their aides, plus the level and amount of military officers too. One person who needs mentioning of course is Major Mitchell. A strong caring and understanding character, but still maintains a serious tone. He is supportive of everyone around him and always persists to do the right thing. Easily one of the most enjoyable characters.

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What’s always important in high concept disaster moves like this is a sense of light relief in order to retain a level of humanity. So, bring in the clowns, of which there are a lot of in this film. From people like the Joke secretary of defence Nimzicki, to Mad Scientist Dr. Okun (not forgetting of course David’s boss; Marty). But next to that you have characters who start out as something of an off the cuff clown, but grow into very important and serious characters, while also maintaining their bright side. To this end we have the wonderful Judd Hirsch playing David’s father. He is not a clown as such, more someone who has his moments. He is a misunderstanding father to David, and throughout the first third of the film provides moments of laughter as to how a hysterical point of view of the situation is seen. There is another side to him though, a very admirable, and respectable side, one that creates incredibly powerful on-screen moments in the middle of tough, hot situations. Scenes like demanding that the people on Air Force one should be more grateful towards David for saving their lives, or when David is about to go into space. He is a very caring father and a very strong character; less of a clown, but one of the several strong emotional anchors throughout this film.

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Straight after that we have a string of Secondary characters; however some of these I fell are a bit hit and miss. Their part in the story being one of them, and I just feel like it’s more their story rather than themselves that help to make them stand out a bit more.  Jasmine for instance is much like Judd Hirsch’s character in that she is very strong and caring, but her determination proves to be her survival, and her love for Captain Hiller helps to bring them back together. Her attitude mixed with her caring side make her not a clown, but one of those strong characters, another anchor if you will that helps to keep your head in the situation in a situation such as this. The first lady is a weird one; I don’t see how her role is applicable in this film other than being another thing for the President to worry about. That’s not to say she is bad or unneeded, just relatively confusing.  Sort of reminds me of The Raid, where Rama has reason to get out of the building alive, but I think in this instance it just doesn’t really work as well. Mary McDonnell’s performance though is still pretty good. Constance on the other hand is a rather interesting character and helps deliver one of the major, if several subplots; that of the former relationship with David, and an uneasy relationship between David and the President. Constance is a much trusted advisor for the President, and speaks like a voice of calm reasoning in a tense situation. She does though also sport some relative attitude and does not keep herself back in such situations. Her relationship with David is a nice and slow addition providing room for the audience to take a breath for a moment, eventually leading to situations where she tries to keep David back or explain to him certain situations, but in the end is rather futile, all leading to a moment where you realise she is a more a career woman than a lover. While she does present herself as a really strong, warm character, it is hard to keep it up, and eventually she needs to redeem herself in this light. Then there is of course the films accidental hero. Russel Casse spends most of the first third of this film as a drunk crazed lunatic talking about being abducted by aliens. While this is the tale of many others and whether or not this is true, it turns out for the sake of this films plot that it is. He tries to be a good father to his children, but equally fails in this respect too. For the while he remains a clown, but as the film reaches its climax, he completely redeems himself. This could be either for what he believes in or vengeance, but deciding to sacrifice himself commits the ultimate defeat on the aliens by sacrificing himself, but at the same time, notes that he is doing it for his kids too. Thus he becomes not really an accidental hero, but the films real hero, similar in some sense to the ultimate fate of Toshiro Mifune’s character in Seven Samurai. Finally there is the fantastic General Grey. I love this role and character so much. He is played by an excellent, believable and likeable actor in Robert Loggia. He presents the General as a highly experienced and respectable character. He shows real calm and emotion but does not hold back his aggression for when he needs it to be, retaining his stance as a leader.  On the more common occasion though, he becomes and remains one of the Presidents most trusted men and along with Constance a sort of voice for reason. A real treat throughout this film. I don’t know how much more I can say about him other than just say how enjoyable a character he is.

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While not cast members themselves, to be fair The Aliens are characters too. They share some very interesting characteristics about themselves, and a lot of time has been taken in creating them and their ships, but as stated above, in Independence Day its go Big or go home. The looks of these aliens are very stereotypical like, with really thin bodies and really big heads. Shiny eyes, and no moving mouth, however, the detail of such creatures look less Science Fiction like and more Horror like. They are freakish and scary close up, and they are meant to be. They’re first appearance has to look scary as up till that point, only their ships have been seen. So there is no going overboard. We don’t know what aliens look like and it’s important for their first moment to be right, but also freaky and haunting. The big fight in the hospital room which leads to the scary conversation between it and the president is as equally chilling with small scenes of a moving arm, running, screaming, tentacles flying, and close up of the legs and inner bodies. While for the rest of it the aliens don’t show themselves like this except for in the mothership (where I can see a scene that looks either like an alien Call Centre, or the NSA HQ in The Simpsons Movie), their appearance here is enough to get us more involved, and take a brief pause from mass disaster to personal horror.

A lot of work has gone into this film regarding themes. There is a large selection of them. One of the most used themes is the large amount of evidence suggested and supported into the existence of alien life. These are mentioned periodically throughout, thanks in a way to Russell Casse consistently mentioning how he was abducted by aliens, plus people’s views and theories suggested around this. But the one that is used more than most is of course the mention of a crashed spaceship in Roswell and how it is being hidden inside Area 51. It’s a nice little touch which goes on to divert the story in a direction for the heroes to find a way out of the situation and rise up against their space oppressors. There are a couple of additional themes too in the forms of Extinction and Survival also. The theme of extinction is rife in this film. On the first day alone in the film’s narrative, within 20 minutes, an outside force arrives on earth, and soon destroys most of it. You look around the cities, being covered by this unstoppable black cloud, to which reveals a huge flying saucer. Huge cities with massive buildings and people everywhere and in one fell swoop, something much bigger and more impressive shows up (rather slowly to ramp up the tension) and by nightfall destroys 36 cities worldwide. In one day, a load of aliens show up in one ship, immediately separate into several and bring down a civilization that had spent so long fighting each other, rather than helping each other. Then however the theme of Survival begins to grow and come to light. With everyone now facing extinction together, they immediately pull together to help survive as a species than fight as one instead of several nations. It is a strong theme, and though while to begin with this film shows how selfish and weak humanity is not to work together but build to dominancy, it also shows how eventually they will come together to fight a common enemy.

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Independence Day Boasts some of the best Special Effects used in Cinema history to date. It’s been nearly 20 years since it was first released, but the effects produced back then were made to such a great standard, that two decades later they don’t look like they have aged a day. They look as sharp and crisp now as they did then. A lot of hard work has gone into produce such great effects and have as such created some terrific moments and scenes. While it is an Alien Invasion film, the Action Directing style of Emmerich reveals itself more than once, showing scenes of wonder amazement as well as terror and tension. Scenes that are common in action movies like the plane fleeing from the circle of fire, the missiles hitting the alien ship at the end, people running away in mass hysteria (which today would be a lot different as most people would probably take videos, selfies and upload them to twitter way before thinking about running away) as well as the launching of the Nuclear Missile half-way through. Add to this you also have the big near Top Gun like air battles between the planes and the small alien fighters, one of the film’s first surprising moments. However, don’t forget about the great detail and design that went into the spacecraft and how well it was delivered to the big screen. The big city sized vessels are amazing things to look at, especially in their earlier moments in space, and of course hovering coldly over the city. Two images in particular I love include them breaking out of the clouds, and one hovering ominously over New York as David looks on. Then into this, we get the brilliant scene of the weapons powering up. It’s an interesting seen that just speaks “WOW!” This bright light that suddenly appears all over a city plunged into darkness. Like the idea of how Moths are attracted to light, or a bug zapper entices a bug to its death, this long moment of a revel of pure green light, and how it attracts everyone to look, but then too late. Like the Death Star preparing to fire; it builds up and then everyone nearby simply gets destroyed by the Aliens true intentions and power. Then as the counter attack begins early on, the wonderment at how powerful the aliens are and even have a defence which makes them nearly indestructible and can fight back any enemy, no matter how big or small they are. The aliens in this film are Dangerous, and that’s a fact, but as the film carries on, of course they need to be defeated, and so with the defences down, they finally get their comeuppance in a barrage of missiles strikes on their hull. Big, destructive, but so is the ships. Eventually though, they get destroyed at their weakest point, their main weapon systems. But don’t forget, there are other ships worldwide, and that brings us onto the Mothership. Now while the mother ship could look smallish alone in space, don’t forget this thing houses millions if not billions of aliens, plus the city sized spaceships. This ship itself, while not flat like the city ships; is still pretty black and ominous, hidden in space. All this together alone creates an amazing look to this film that still stands out to this day, and let’s not forget the destruction of the cities, particularly the iconic view of the White House getting blown up.

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With all this detail and eye candy on the large amount of special effects, it’s easy to forget about the level of charm Independence carries also. Several scenes with the human interactions, and just moments like images of Air Force One arriving at Area 51, or the world discovering the arriving alien force, there are so many nice scenes that nearly get forgotten about, but are still fun to watch. What helps these additionally is the wonderful score composed by David Arnold. Independence Day has a great mix of pieces, from sounds of incoming death, destruction, big battles and victory, to sounds of remorse, emotion, curiosity, the lot. The music is very Americanised and patriotic in its sound, this includes pieces like the President’s speech, the beginning of the end credits, and when the air force starts winning in combat. These though are reserved more towards the end, and to begin with, instead of a high level of mystery as to what is going on, instead a more serious tone begins almost immediately as the film starts. For example the ominous scary tone as the Mothership arrives and reveals itself. As the discovery stage commences you get a wave of Military style tunes as events unfold all over the place. These tunes don’t stop when the city is initially destroyed, but continue throughout the second act, then developing into the patriotic music to end with. But for me, the real soundtrack is when the aliens arrive over the city.

This sound of terrifying magnificence, deadly wonder and impending doom is just fantastic. It mostly takes the form of something building up, but then, when the ship comes to light, breaking the clouds and hovering over the scared people, backed up with sounds of something roaring just creates another simply “WOW!” moment that gets me every time. The opening credits feature similar dark sounds plus this music does return briefly in the end credits.

Alltogether, Independence Day is a Fantastic film. I love it to bits. It comes packed with action scenes as well as scenes of disaster emotion and moments that just make you want to shout out “WOW” and is backed up with so many brilliant characters and a stellar cast to play them all to back it all. Plus, let’s not forget the terrific soundtrack and beautiful special effects. I am not kidding when I say how much I like this film; it takes the idea of an Alien Invasion and puts it in the here and now, in a very believable setting. To me, I prefer this to Star Wars, I think it’s better than all 6, no 7 (seventh had not been released at time of writing) films put together, I will go on record for saying that…..no wait, better: “This is Better than Star Wars!” it’s a big claim, but I wouldn’t be saying that if I didn’t feel that.

GENEPOOL





Not So Super

16 12 2015

Film Reel

During the first semester of my final year at University (about 1 year ago now), I was still studying Creative Writing and Screenwriting at the University of Central Lancashire. In my third (or 4th overall) year however it was very different, as for the first time I was doing Creative Writing Major and Screenwriting Minor, where as in the 2 previous years I had done them both joint. I decided to go down this path because in year 2 I enjoyed Creative Writing far more than Screenwriting, and wanted to do more of that, even though I was getting some of my better marks in Screenwriting. During my first semester I took part in my last screenwriting module, wherein we had to write Monologues. Now my monologue did change here and there, but the subject remained the same throughout, that of an ageing, retired super hero who just wanted to be left alone. As the development progressed, it went from a sad story of youth in my first draft to eventually a super hero talking about how he has to do work for charity events. Well eventually one thing came to another and before I knew it, it had been selected along with two other monologues from the group to be made into a short film.

Casualty Logo

At first I was surprised, but could not understand why mine was chosen. I was certain of other people in the class being better at the course than me, and so for a few days I was just at a loss to understand, eventually though I came more round to it, and began to get a little bit more excited. It was to be directed by my monologues tutor Anita who also writes scripts for Casualty, and produced by two of her ex students. I attended a meeting about the short films late December, and we talked about what they were hoping to do with it, and suggested actors to play the parts. They suggested for my film for the character to be played by Rev actor Tom Hollander (where as I thought of Tim Piggott-Smith). Anyway, that’s how it got started.

Rev TV Series Logo

In the next few months, news was scarce as to what was going on, but eventually come around February I finally heard news of what was going on. The plan was to shoot mine first out of the three and show it off at festivals. But the big news was who the production team managed to get to star in the short film; John Henshaw. When I first read that I was completely unaware of who that was, but when my Mam found out, she nearly shouted in shock and surprise. I was still unsure until I went online and found a picture of him in Google. I best know of him for appearing in Early Doors, but his filmography is much bigger than that with appearances in The Cops (which Anita also worked on), Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, and lots of other things I can’t currently grab to mind. There was also an idea for me to have an appearance in the film with him. Well, this big news was very exciting, but then about a month later I found out more detail. It turns out that John Henshaw couldn’t do it anymore, and was replaced by Shameless actor; Mark Sheals. Another person I did not know much about. However I was aware of the actress Alice Barry (after seeing a photo of her online), but instantly recognized her as someone who was in Shameless (haven’t seen it) and Phoenix Nights. Soon after that, I was given details about the film’s Facebook page where some photos from filming had already been posted and then invited all my Facebook friends to come and like the page.

Shameless Logo

So, Filming was still going ahead, but I had no idea when, until one of the producers phoned me up, and invited me to come down one day during the Easter Holidays, to Salford where it was going to be filmed. It was the Tuesday (I think) just after I got back from that year’s Saved2Serve. Anyway I turned up, having read the start of Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness on the way down. I arrived, waited for a while to be picked up, and then was, along with someone else who was waiting around at the same station. We went to one of the first sites and waited in an office for a time, only to find out we were not going to be able to film there, so we went to another site, had some lunch and I watched some of my film being filmed. The plan was that at the original location I was to be filmed with the star, but sadly it couldn’t go ahead for some reason. Anyway, I was there, watched it being made, didn’t get to have my scene, but still it was nice, was then given a lift back to Preston before journeying on to Lancaster.

Monsters Of Men (Patrick Ness - 2010)

Time passed some more after that, and I was hoping to receive a copy of the film before I went to Roothill that year so I could show it off at the camp concert. Sadly that did not get to happen, but during the previous July, I was asked to go down to Manchester, to Gulliver’s Bar, where a showing of the film was going to be put on, along with some other films that were made by some of the film’s contributors. Before that though met Alice Barry, was sitting less than a couple of metres from John Henshaw who came down to watch, and said a brief hello to Mark Sheals again. The films were all nice to watch; my particular favourite was Going to Mecca which was just really funny. But then my film came on. It was very dark and hard to see much, but it was nice to finally watch it. However I did not feel all that much strongly for it. It didn’t look or feel like the monologue I wrote, it just felt different. Out was the retired superhero who wanted to be left alone, it just didn’t feel like my work, but my Mam pointed out that it was the case that it was adapted from my work, and I may not feel as strong to an adaptation when I was so close to my original piece. Since then though I have watched it a few more times, it has been uploaded to YouTube, I have shown people I know, and I have grown a bit more strongly towards it.

YouTube

In the end it was a fun little experience, and though while it had its hurdles with both production, and me and my work personally, I am glad I did it in the end and it is a nice little film. Nice thing to put on the CV (which it is, and I am currently unemployed), but also a nice thing to show my family and friends, and something nice on which to end my Screenwriting Course. Now here is your opportunity to have a watch, please feel free to comment, like and share…….…if you want to.

GENEPOOL





Timeline Of An Empire

9 12 2015

Age of Empires 2

I recently picked up a copy of Age of Empires II HD on Steam. Upon hearing that many of you are probably thinking: “What, have you only just played it” or along those lines anyway (or possibly even; “What is Age of Empires II HD on Steam? Well, click the above links). No, it is not the first time I have played Age of Empires II. It must have been when it was first released that I played it for the first time. I remember when it first came through and on that evening playing the tutorial mode with my Dad, and my Dad noting the bad attempt of someone from America trying to do a Scottish accent. Anyway, I have played it before, but purchasing this copy on Steam marks the first time I have played this version of the game (which comes packed with previously unofficially unreleased extras), plus the first time in a long time I have played it. And it has been fun. I enjoy playing different skirmish games, attaining new trophies in Steam and just generally having fun playing this game again. I am not too fussed by playing the campaign mode, I played the Tutorial again a few weeks ago, and was so bored, but general Skirmish games I find rather fun. I also find it rather fun playing Empires that I did not necessarily use before like Byzantines and Franks as well as old favourites like the Japanese, Teutons and Koreans. My one hope at this time though is to hopefully have a multiplayer game of it at some point in the not too distant future.

AoE Score

Anyway, why am I talking about this game in the first place? Well, one thing I rather like about this game comes in the end of game stats, the ones that show you statistics of how the game went. Now I am not really all that fussed by Economy or Military stats, but what I am interested in is the Timeline functionality at the far right of the menu choices.

AoE Timeline 1

I like this feature because it features a very detailed colour coordinated graph showing how your empire in the game, and those of the other players fared, and these can be very detailed. Take the above picture for example. It shows the names of the players or AI, what army they were, when they advanced to certain stages, when there was a battle, when a Wonder was built and when a Wonder was destroyed. Doesn’t seem like all that much to gawp at I know, but looking at the way that colour can take over the chart is something in particular to behold.

AoE Timeline 2

When a certain colour/nation fills the chart more than any other, it shows who at that time the strongest empire was. These strengths of colour increase and decrease throughout all the way to the end of the game as it stands (so either as overall victory is achieved, or when someone decides to quit) come the end. Some of these colours of course begin to decrease down to a small-scale as the end draws near for that empire; however abdicating is simply not enough. I have found that even if a nation abdicates; i.e. Loses, the empire can still carry on, on the timeline even if it is just a small slither across the screen. This comes in the form of leaving their buildings and some villagers and ships alive and not destroy them when they give up. Thus to end an Empire outright, and take over the chart that little bit more, you will need to make sure there are no survivors, either people, ships, or buildings. This will cause that Empire to be wiped out and disappear altogether from that moment in time, similarly to real past ancient empires of this world.

AoE Economy

I know it’s something to do a weird post about, but it’s a nice little feature in the game that I wanted to point out and mention. You can be someone who ignores the impact of ancient empires, but something like this can show, at least in a fictional video game stance how powerful an empire can become, but similarly also how it can simply disappear and be forgotten, as other greater, mightier empires forge their own future, quashing competition in their stead.

Steam (Valve Corporation, 2003 - Present)

GENEPOOL








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