GBUK progress report

Thank you

Well I’ve been blogging for around a month now and seem to be finding my feet a little and picking up some followers (hopefully I’ll continue to add more) so a big thanks to all of you readers out there for taking the time to read the blog.

I’m generally pleased with the stats so far (I keep telling myself it’s still early days) and it’s been great discovering some of the other blogs via WordPress.

As it stands my aim is to publish at least two posts a week (more if time/creativity permits), I’m mindful that the bulk of the content so far is film related and I hope to balance it out a little with some more comic book and TV related articles.

It’d be great to hear from you all, so please don’t be shy and add your thoughts by commenting on the various posts and don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter, follow/like the blog and can also check out/like the Facebook page – see the right hand column (which I hope I haven’t cluttered too much!) for details.

So, until next time – take care!

All the best, Chris…your friendly neighbourhood Geek Blogger!

Chris 01

GBUK film classics: ‘Batman Begins’

Looking at some all-time film favourites…

 

“It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me…”

Year:  2005

Starring:  Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Katie Holmes

Director:  Christopher Nolan / Written by:  Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer

What’s it about?

After a seven year absence (and being declared dead), Bruce Wayne, orphaned as a young boy when his parents were murdered before his eyes, returns to Gotham City with a mission: to turn fear onto those who prey on the fearful.  To do this he must cultivate a symbol, a legend and bring about change to return Gotham to its once proud glory.  He will become…the Batman.

In review

After enduring the hell of Joel Schumacher’s woefully camp Batman Forever and (shudder) Batman and Robin, in 2005 Batman fans (and audiences in general) were treated to the film they deserved thanks to the efforts of Memento and Insomnia director Christopher Nolan and his production team.

With a screenplay from Man of Steel’s David S. Goyer (fully versed in Batman mythology, drawing on elements of classic stories such as Frank Miller’s seminal Batman: Year One), Batman Begins takes us to the very beginning of the Batman legend and presents us with a psychological examination of Bruce Wayne’s journey to becoming Batman, handled in a grounded and relatable manner.

One of the strongest elements of Batman Begins is its cast, most good films would normally have two or three great actors but here we have several phenomenal actors.  Christian Bale gives a nuanced and (I hasten to use that word again) relatable performance as Bruce Wayne and is supported by Michael Caine as (a more Cockney) Alfred, the Wayne’s ever loyal butler – who also serves as Bruce’s conscience – and Gary Oldman (one of the finest actors ever) filling the role of Gotham Police Lt. James Gordon.  Their portrayal of their respective characters evokes the spirit of their comic book counterparts, nailing effectively the key relationships between Bruce Wayne and Alfred and Batman and Jim Gordon.

Special mention should also of course go to Morgan Freeman who takes on the role of Wayne Enterprise’s Applied Sciences caretaker (and Bruce Wayne’s very own ‘Q’) Lucius Fox, who falls foul of CEO William Earl (the ever superb Rutger Hauer).

The villains of the piece are Henri Ducard/Ra’s Al Ghul (neatly combining the two comic book characters) and Dr. Jonathan Crane (Scarecrow), played by Liam Neeson and Cillian Murphy respectively, serving the story well and providing plenty of conflict for our protagonist…but as most will agree – the best is to come!

Amongst the grand locations, Gotham City is realised on an epic scale – the Chicago City location is complemented by a CGI monorail network and impressive, elaborate physical sets creating the slums which provide the decaying gothic aesthetic of the city as we know it from the comics.

A strong A-list cast and layered and poetic screenplay aside, none of the expected excitement (albeit without any onscreen ‘Zzaps’ or ‘Pows’, for that you need the 1966 Adam West movie) and action of a comic book film is lost.  There are chases across (and many a leap from) rooftops, high octane Batmobile (aka the ‘Tumbler’ – an interesting reinvention of the most iconic piece of Batman’s arsenal) chases and mixed martial arts fisticuffs aplenty!

Overall, Batman Begins is a testament to quality film-making and craftsmanship – from the strong cast performances to the screenplay and direction, all topped off nicely by a thrilling and emotional score from Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.  It gets to the heart of Bruce Wayne’s character and the world of Gotham City, offering the viewer a deeper understanding and legitimacy to the Batman’s purpose.

Standout moment

Bruce Wayne makes an excursion into the cave below the foundations of Wayne Manor where, unyielding to his fears, he stands and faces a swarm of Bats…the legend is born!

Three reasons it’s a classic…

  1. It takes Batman seriously and provides a grounded and relatable interpretation of the character and the world he inhabits without sacrificing the key elements of the mythology.
  2. As well as a phenomenal cast Batman Begins benefits greatly from a rich and layered screenplay.
  3. It features beautiful (and Oscar nominated) cinematography from Wally Pfister.

Did you know?

Cillian Murphy originally tested for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

If you like this then watch…

Batman (1989):  Tim Burton’s gothic fantasy followed the lead of the darker and more adult comic book tales of the Eighties and presented us with a serious and brooding Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), grappling with his own demons as he faces the threat of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

Man of Steel:  With a story developed by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer (Nolan also serving as producer), the recent smash-hit Superman reboot takes the Batman Begins approach of grounding (not literally) the character and making Krypton’s Last Son more relatable to modern audiences.

Batman (an intense Christian Bale) confronts Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) .

Batman (an intense Christian Bale) confronts Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy) .

An interview with Alexander Williams of mcphoney.com

In my opening post for this blog (which you can read here) I mentioned my good friend Alexander Williams and his website mcphoney.com which showcases numerous excellent short films and series produced by Alex himself.  Myself and Alex have been friends for many years and I have proudly witnessed the evolution of Alex’s various projects, some of which I have been fortunate to be involved in (with some further collaborations planned).

So amongst my usual blogging I decided to put together this interview with Alex about mcphoney.com, past projects and plans for the future…

Chris:  So, Alex, cast your mind back to that summer of 2004 and the holiday in Suffolk which a group of us went on.  You had brought your Dad’s camcorder with you and I remember you approached me about making a short film for fun, specifically with the title of “The Man Who Knew Too Much” as a starting point (no relation to the Hitchcock films of course).  What were your thoughts at the time?

Alex:  Basically, I’ve always thought that if you have a camera, you should be productive with it.  Of course many people film weddings, birthdays etc. but I believe there should be more to it than that.  I remember reading about James Cameron (director of all-time classics such as “The Terminator” and “Aliens” – Chris) and his quote “just pick up a camera and do it!”.  With that in mind and being on holiday in the middle of nowhere with the extra bonus of having my good friend and fellow film enthusiast at my side, production was able to commence!  Ok yes it was just a bit of fun, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it and look how far we have come now.  It’s even better picking up a camera and having a go when you have someone just as enthusiastic about film and film making by your side!

Chris:  Exactly, most things are worth a try and you never know until you do.  So, how did mcphoney.com come about?  I remember you launching the site but can’t recall any prior discussion…

Alex:  I think it was almost by accident.  I remember thinking about the name “mcphoney” in Art class back in Secondary School when I was about 15.  It was more of a random thought: “imagine your name was mcphoney” but then it kind of just stuck and whilst trying to think of a name/place to publish my short films, it seemed the perfect choice.  Unique/bizarre and original!

When I first put the website up I think it was just a single page showing what you could watch…somehow because this was before the days of YouTube, and me not knowing much about the web in those days, all I could really do was promote the films verbally, not publish them!  As soon as video sharing sites came along however, it became the ideal opportunity to get the videos out there and released on the unsuspecting world!!!  Obviously now it has a bit of a cult following and with website design becoming easier every day I’ve been able to create an easy to navigate website as well as a store with some branded merchandise too (get buying)!

Chris:  Haha, nice plug sir!  Anyway, I enjoyed being part of what we’ve always referred to as The Men Who Knew Too Much trilogy and had fun with the retrospective mockumentary we put together but tell me about Two Many which you made during college…

Alex:  The funny thing about Two Many was that the idea actually came about whilst I was listening to the soundtrack for Alien 3 (an excellent atmospheric score by Elliot Goldenthal – Chris).  The music gave me this vision of a security camera showing someone’s true identity or secret.  So then I thought, how could I create a short story that ends with this twist?  This is how Two Many was born.  I myself however was not actually meant to be in the film.  On the day of filming unfortunately one of the cast had to drop out (they had good reasons too) and so I jumped in at the last minute (I’m actually reading the script off the floor!).  To be honest the original score for the Two Many was the entire soundtrack from Alien 3 but due to copyright this had to be changed to the music you hear in the finished production (I actually preferred the original version though).

Chris:  You re-launched mcphoney.com back in January.  What prompted you to re-launch the site?

Alex:  That’s right, mcphoney.com always seems to be changing but don’t worry, I’m sticking with this new look.  Having created the original ‘Earth’ logo (using Adobe After Effects) I thought it looked a bit cold, not very inviting so I scrapped it and began again and hence the new ‘clapperboard’ logo was created which I am very happy with.  The hard part was just learning everything because I had no idea how to build a site let alone create a logo and host videos etc. but after a LOT of researching I was slowly able to create the website I had envisioned after all these years, and that’s the site you see today!

Chris:  It’s a great looking site with an easy to follow layout and professional looking design.   Featuring heavily as part of the re-launch was the opening episode of your hit YouTube series What Happens Next?  You’ve made seven parts so far and the plan is to finish the series with the tenth.  Looking back at Part 1, did you always have an overall plan for the series or has each part shaped the course of it all?

Alex:  The first one was actually meant to be a one off, maybe with a comedy ending revealed in the second episode or even just leaving it at that.  However, since it was such a simple thing to film I thought…why not continue?  This could lead to something good, thus the series was born!  It was only after the second episode that I started putting “some” thought into it, the hits on YouTube really started to gather and of course I didn’t want to disappoint!  The big finale (Parts 8-10) will hopefully rap up all the loose ends and I’m hoping for an end of 2013 release – be prepared as everything will not be as it seems!

Chris:  I like the way that each part cranks up the tension leading to a killer cliff-hanger which really does leave you wanting more.  Parts 6 and 7 kicked things up a notch with a more urgent and action-orientated pace.  Will this carry through to the grand finale?

Alex:  Hopefully yes…but at this point it’s hard to say.  I liked the tension/suspense of the earlier parts but everyone loves a good action scene!  I know what will happen in my head but it will depend on whether it’ll work or not, watch this space!

Chris:  I know you can’t divulge much about Parts 8-10 but could you perhaps give me a word or two as a hint at what to expect?

Alex:  Erm…I suppose…there will be a lot more to take in than just myself on screen…again it all depends on what works and what doesn’t – I’m positive however that you will all be satisfied!

Chris:  Moving on to your other YouTube hit, Cooking with Uncle Joe – how do you feel that’s progressed and are there further instalments in the works?

Alex:  The trouble with Cooking with Uncle Jo is that it takes such a long time to film.  Even the “Pancake Special” took over 6 hours and then there’s the editing on top of that as well.  The reason why there has been a shortage of them recently is that I’m trying to revamp the series, give it more of a niche.  The other problem is that I’m also currently very busy with other productions that are due to go ahead.  Don’t worry though, Uncle Jo is not dead – all in all I’m planning to keep it going as I have the material to do so!

Chris:  Well we’ve both recently developed something together (under our ‘C+A Productions’ banner via mcphoney.com), a short titled A Fateful End” which we’ll be filming soon…shall we give a little teaser?

Alex:  Why not, basically it’s a kind of short thriller…or is it? [Laughs]

Chris:  Indeed, we obviously don’t want to give too much away as it will rely heavily on suspense!

Many thanks to Alex for agreeing to this interview.  Be sure to check out his website at www.mcphoney.com where you will find all of the short films mentioned in this piece together with links to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Alexander Williams: short film-maker and web master of 'mcphoney.com'.

Alexander Williams: short film-maker and web master of ‘mcphoney.com’.

Hopes for the ‘Man of Steel’ sequel

Now that Man of Steel has passed the $500 million mark in worldwide box office gross, Warner Bros. Pictures are naturally looking toward Superman’s next behemoth big screen adventure.  The film has sparked some intense fan debate (not unusual, just look at last summer’s The Dark Knight Rises and every franchise blockbuster in general) and everyone will have their own ideas of what course they would like a Man of Steel sequel to take.

Here are some of the elements I would like to see tackled…

Lex Luthor

It’s nigh on essential that Lex Luthor is brought to the fore in the sequel, not solely on the basis of his existence being acknowledged in Man of Steel (via those LexCorp easter eggs) and not only as he is a key part of Superman mythology but the timing would also be right.  Luthor perceives Superman as a threat to humanity as opposed to being its guardian and given the destruction wrought during Man of Steel it would be the perfect opportunity for Luthor to emerge from the shadows and plot to take action against the Last Son of Krypton.

I’m enthused by screenwriter David S. Goyer’s thoughts on approaching Luthor as more of a Bill Gates-esque character which lends itself to the (relatively) realistic and relatable tone that’s been established.  Gene Hackman’s portrayal in the Christopher Reeve films is of course iconic and memorable but ultimately dated and Kevin Spacey’s turn in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns was certainly a step in the right direction but the Man of Steel sequel, given the right actor with a healthy measure of gravitas, could present us with the strongest screen version of Superman’s greatest foe and one worthy of his finest hours in the comic books.

However, whilst Luthor can stand toe to toe with our hero on an intellectual level there also needs to be a significant physical threat.  Luthor’s exo-suit from the comics notwithstanding, perhaps there could be a second villain to increase the overall threat – although Fanboy passions would have me bellow out “Brainiac” and “Doomsday” they really deserve the spotlight in future films and galactic overlord Darkseid would most likely be reserved for Justice League.  This taken into consideration, maybe the meta-human ‘Parasite’ could provide that physical threat without overshadowing the main antagonist (it worked reasonably well in the Secret Origin graphic novel after all)?

Batman

The path to Justice League must (and no doubt will) continue, although not rushed.  Given the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios’ Avengers Assemble, Warner Bros. are obviously keen to team up the DC Comics ‘super friends’ (there’s one for you 70’s cartoon fans!) as soon as possible but some restraint needs to be applied.  One of the reasons Avengers worked so well was that Marvel spent five films (released over a four year period) establishing the individual characters and their universe, thus clicking everything neatly into place instead of prematurely jumbling everything into the mix.

To this end there should of course be some JL set-up in MoS2 but with care taken not to weigh down the story with it (one of Iron Man 2’s perceived flaws).  Given the appearance of a Wayne Enterprise’s satellite in Man of Steel, perhaps the corporation could feature more prominently in the sequel…or could Bruce Wayne himself make an appearance?

As well as clearing the way for the eventual Batman reboot this could also trigger a Superman/Batman cinematic team up that would provide a significant stepping stone to Justice League.

Go deeper

Much as Joss Whedon is to take a deeper and not ‘bigger’ approach with Avengers 2 so should MoS2.  We’ve already had a lot of introspection amongst all the action in the current Man of Steel which is key to making Superman relatable to modern audiences and draws on the strongest aspects of the character via the ‘humanisation’ of Krypton’s Last Son.

Repeating the level of destruction in Man of Steel would just be silly, sure we still want to see Superman using his powers and plenty of physical conflict but it should be dialled back a little in the sequel without sacrificing the excitement of the first film, balancing it all out with more of what puts the “man” in Superman.  It will be interesting to see how the Smallville Clark Kent/Daily Planet Clark Kent/Superman dynamics (together with his relationship with Lois Lane) play out further in the unfolding Man of Steel universe.

Jonathan and Martha Kent

Another essential element, provided it fits the story, should be the inclusion of further flashbacks from Clark’s formative years as the adoptive son of Jonathan and Martha Kent.  Those scenes peppered throughout Man of Steel made you care about Clark’s troubled journey to donning the red cape and gave an insight into the events that instilled his sense of morality.

Mythology

Now that Superman has arrived, the sequel should seek to broaden the mythology of the character and widen his universe including more revelations about Kryptonian culture, history and their connection to Earth, which surely could be brought forth via visits to the Fortress of Solitude?  Perhaps establish the existence of Kara-El – Supergirl and cousin of Kal-El – and might there even be some of the deadly emerald green Kryptonite?

Whatever happens I have faith that the next Man of Steel will deliver the goods, given that the evolution of the DC cinematic universe rests on its shoulders there’s no reason for it not to succeed.

Read the GBUK spoiler free review of Man of Steel here.

Warner Bros' Man of Steel continues its reign at the box office, will the sequel be just as successful?

Warner Bros’ Man of Steel continues its reign at the box office, will the sequel be just as successful?

What would you like to see in the next Man of Steel?  Leave your thoughts below!

Have you read… ‘Green Arrow: Year One’ ?

The comics and graphic novels you may not have read that are

well worth checking out…

Written by:  Andy Diggle / Art by:  Jock

Collects:  Green Arrow: Year One #1-6 (published 2007)

What’s it about?

The young Oliver Queen is a reckless socialite and billionaire playboy without a purpose.  Betrayed by his trusted bodyguard, Hackett, Queen is shipwrecked on an opium-rich jungle island where he must fight for survival against a group of ruthless drug traffickers…

In review

No doubt like numerous other comic book fans, DC Comics’ Green Arrow was a character I had always overlooked.  Sure, I had a passing awareness of Oliver Queen from years of reading other DC titles (his appearance in Geoff John’s Green Lantern:  Rebirth for example) but for some reason I was never really interested in Green Arrow – was it the Robin Hood motif?  Possibly – although honestly I was already heavily invested in Batman, Superman and Green Lantern (with a bit of The Flash here and there as well).  Those characters always excited me…but some middle-aged guy dressed as Robin Hood?  “No thanks” was always my overriding thought but, slowly, through osmosis – the character’s sporadic guest appearances in other titles, his addition to the cast of Smallville and now the Arrow TV series (Year One a clear influence on the latter, from naming Queen’s bodyguard after writer Diggle to the series’ island flashbacks sequences) – I have developed an appreciation for the Emerald Archer.

This leads me to Green Arrow:  Year One (which thanks to a recent digital comics sale I was able to obtain relatively cheaply), having already read Mike Grell’s rather enjoyable ‘mature readers’ title The Longbow Hunters (a sort of Green Arrow equivalent of The Dark Knight Returns, but not nearly as ground-breaking) Andy Diggle/Jock’s mini-series was naturally next on my list.

I’d heard a lot about Year One over the years since its publication in 2007 and understood it to be one of the character’s definitive tales and already being a fan of both Diggle and Jock’s work it qualified as a safe purchase on those merits alone.

The story depicts the young Oliver Queen and the formative event that would lead to his creation of the Green Arrow persona.  It opens with the reader being introduced to the drunk, immature and generally careless Queen – living his life without worrying about consequences or responsibility (including an outlandish auction bid that leads to the fateful acquisition of a longbow).

The first chapter (Part One) provides the set-up leading to Hackett’s betrayal and Queen’s shipwrecking leaving the remaining chapters to fully explore the dire situation he awakens to and the formation of the skills he will need to prevail, leading to his eventual rebirth as Green Arrow.

Of course, at first, Queen fights simply to survive – to hunt for food and to defend against the drug traffickers he finds are enslaving the island’s population.  Queen’s befriending of a pregnant islander gives him a cause and a purpose not only to escape but to free the enslaved populace by taking down drugs baron ‘China White’ and her gang.  By the end of the story Queen is reformed, having a strong sense of justice instilled in him and the will and means to commit to the very purpose he had been seeking.

Andy Diggle’s script flows nicely, the story never feels rushed nor does it become sluggish and the dialogue is well written.  Jock’s art (supported by colourist David Baron, with apt use of greens during some key scenes) is the perfect fit and really brings the excitement and action to life, on the whole it all looks and feels epic – almost cinematic – especially in the penultimate chapter (Part Five) as Queen leads his one man attack on China White’s sub pen headquarters.

Year One is gripping from start to finish with a tense and (literally) explosive final show-down with China White and Hackett receiving some poetic justice.

Why you should read it

As with Batman:  Year One, Green Arrow:  Year One is an essential and definitive take on the origin of the character.  It’s well written and gloriously illustrated making it one of the best titles I’ve ever read – considering it features a character I was never really remotely interested in it goes without saying that you should check it out.

Standout moment

Hunted by China White’s men, Queen finds that the Pacific Queen has ran aground on the island’s shore.  He seeks refuge inside the yacht, awaking to the harsh sunlight only to discover an important item resting on the deck – the longbow that was once a symbol of his decadence will now serve as the symbol of his transformation…

Did you know?

The character of China White appears throughout Arrow’s first season and is played by X-Men 2’s Lady Deathstrike, Kelly Hu.

Read it if you like…

Batman:  Year One, Green Arrow:  The Longbow Hunters

Green Arrow: Year One is available in print and digital formats from DC Comics.

Jock's artwork brings the action of Green Arrow: Year One truly to life, with some nice use of greens by colourist David Baron.

Jock’s artwork brings the action of Green Arrow: Year One truly to life, with some nice use of greens by colourist David Baron.