June 14, 2015

From SOE to Hammer horror to LOTR, Christopher Lee’s remarkable career

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn looks back at the real life and cinematic exploits of Sir Christopher Lee:

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow — and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun — and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned — a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

His own favorite film was Jinnah, in which he played the title role of Pakistan’s ascetic founder. It’s very credible, but it’s not why audiences loved him. Lee redeemed almost anything he was in, but had his work cut out when George Lucas signed him for the Star Wars prequels. By then Lucas was a director without peer when it comes to getting bad performances out of great actors. Once upon a time Ewan McGregor was one of the sexiest actors on the planet. Then George Lucas cast him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and turned him into a souvenir action-figure with no private parts and a flat monotone voice. As Princess Amidala, Natalie Portman couldn’t be Aniduller. The kid who plays Anakin seems like he should be the shy fellow in the back in some passing boy band but instead his agent stuck him with some lousy movie gig in a language not his own. He and Miss Portman roll in the grass like it’s a contractual obligation. The most fully realized characters are the computer-generated ones, like Yoda, the wrinkly midget with the inverted word order that nevertheless sounds less unnatural than the rest of the inert, stilted dialogue.

April 18, 2015

BBC radio finds two of the only people who have never seen Star Wars

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

… and one of them is Godfrey Elfwick, who runs a parody Social Justice Warrior twitter account:

Listeners of the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say programme were treated to a bizarre analysis of the Star Wars franchise today by a caller who claimed that “Dark Raider” was a “racial stereotype” who listened to rap music and “the only female character ends up in a gold space bikini chained to a horny space slug.”

Godfrey Elfwick is a student from Sheffield who regularly fools observers with his parody Twitter account, an off-the-deep-end “social justice warrior” persona that tweets bizarrely and hilariously about racism, sexism, misogyny and other favoured topics of the political Left.

Elfwick attracted the attention of the BBC World Service today, when he tweeted that he had never seen Star Wars. A World Service presenter who was producing a segment in the wake of the recently-released trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens took the bait, inviting him onto the programme.

Because of course the BBC can’t tell the difference between an outlandish, obviously fake social-justice obsessed parody account and a normal member of the public.

December 25, 2014

A critical view of the Star Wars Holiday Special

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The poor bastards at Red Letter Media sit through a full showing of the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special so you don’t have to.

December 2, 2014

Mr. Plinkett Reacts to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:03

Published on 30 Nov 2014

http://www.redlettermedia.com – Harry S. Plinkett has awoken from his booze induced slumber to comment on the new J.J. Abrams Star Wars film. Now that he’s awake he just might start work on his next review…

March 30, 2014

Alec Guinness, my goodness!

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:50

Mark Steyn’s Saturday movie column is about the great Sir Alec Guinness:

Eight Alec Guinness roles, from one film, Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

Eight Alec Guinness roles, from one film, Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)

In London one hundred years ago this week — April 2nd 1914 — Sir Alec Guinness, CH, CBE entered the world as Alec Guinness de Cuffe. His mother was Agnes Cuff, and the Frenchification of her maiden name seems to have been an attempt to compensate for the blank space on the birth certificate where “Name of Father” should appear. “Alec Guinness” were his two Christian names, leading to periodic suggestions that his pa was a member of the Guinness family. Sir Alec himself took the view that he had been sired by a Scottish banker who turned up at the flat once in a while purporting to be an “uncle” and who paid for his young “nephew” to be educated privately. He was, at least in public, not much interested in his parents, neither the absent nor the present one. From this appropriately vague lineage emerged one of the most versatile British actors of the 20th century, and (via Star Wars) one of the wealthiest.


His other great military tour de force is as the carrot-topped carouser Major Jock Sinclair opposite John Mills’ by-the-book colonel in Ronald Neame’s Tunes Of Glory. An Ottawa reader who’d “sat through one mess dinner too many” wrote to me a few years ago to say that his all-time favorite Guinness movie line was Major Jock insisting, “Whisky for the gentlemen that like it, and for the gentlemen that don’t like it – whisky!” There’s a lot of Scottish dancing in the picture, and the film itself seems to reel, with Guinness’ blazing orange hair and heeland-flung accent poised brilliantly on a knife-edge of menacing heartiness.

That was unusual for him. I think it was Eileen Atkins who said that Guinness was the only actor who could do absolutely nothing in a close-up and yet you knew what he was thinking. It’s probably closer to the truth to say you knew he was thinking something, and you thought you knew pretty much what it was, but there was always the possibility that something more might be going on. A character like Colonel Nicholson has to be complex, or he simply doesn’t exist, and Guinness was a master at hinting at complexity, even when playing a piece of cardboard such as Obi-Wan. In an age of soul-barers, when Daniel Day-Lewis does Hamlet to work through his feelings about his father, Guinness remained a kind of Gypsy Rose Lee of great actors: he exposed very little, and thereby suggested that what lay underneath must be a real knockout. By the time he got to John le Carré’s George Smiley, he had mastered a unique skill: scene-stealing blankness, nicely caught on one of the early episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway? when Jonathan Pryce, out of the blue, goes into a sly Guinness take-off — all glances off and an enigmatic smile.

He made his screen debut eight decades ago, in Evensong (1933). No one noticed. So he tried again with David Lean, as Herbert Pocke in Great Expectations (1946) and Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), two superb performances. Then came his finest group of pictures — the Ealing years, beginning with Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), in which he played eight different members of the d’Ascoyne family bumped off, in succession, by Dennis Price. Poor old Price actually gives the best performance, but no one cares: Kind Hearts is a novelty turn for Guinness, yet the film has a harder edge than his other Ealing films. To contemporary moviegoers, Ealing is a far more remote world than any in Star Wars — for a long time, the films were hard to get hold of and rarely aired on TV — but they show off brilliantly a youngish actor of unpromising looks but boundless inventiveness.

He had, by all accounts, a lower regard for his art than the other theatrical knights, but it served him well. And, unlike Olivier or Gielgud, Alec Guinness pulled off a unique double: he remains the only man in the galaxy to be knighted both by Her Majesty The Queen and the Jedi.

December 7, 2013

Bohemian Rhapsody: Star Wars Edition

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:36

Published on 4 Dec 2013

Press “CC” in the player for the lyrics! Based on “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen and STAR WARS created by George Lucas. Performed by the Star Wars cosplayers of the Arizona geek community!

Produced by the Students and Faculty of the Digital Video Program at University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona (http://www.uat.edu)

“Star Wars Edition” Lyrics by Stephen Panagiotis, Jamall Richards and Paul DeNigris

“Star Wars Edition” Vocals Produced by Joey Sawhill & Adam Newton
All vocals by Adam Newton
Engineered & Mixed by Joey Sawhill

February 20, 2013

Rare praise for obscure movie director of the 1970’s

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:30

He apparently goes by the same name as one of the most reviled movie figures of the last 20 years:

It’s hard to imagine now, but the original Star Wars movie was more than just a star-spanning, kid-pleasing action flick. It was also a rule-breaking, expectation-thwarting one-film rebel alliance.

For instance, remember how the movie starts with a blare of trumpets and the title, followed the text crawl, followed by the actual movie? Notice how there aren’t three minutes of “Doopdy Doo Pictures and Skippity-Skip Entertainment Present … A Furfty Fur/Yonker Boo Production … A Glarpton Spitcake Film … Elwee Groodicle … Robbles Pancake … Spankster Carmont … and Bliss Underham … Casting by Arhop Maser, C.S.A … Music by Hambone Jury … Cheese Table Relocation by Hollywood Dairy Movement L.L.C.” and so forth? Lucas was fined $250,000 for that. Specifically, he was fined by the Director’s Guild for not having an opening director credit. That’s right, he was fined for not giving himself credit before the film even starts.

Or take the fact that there are two main characters who not only don’t speak English, but whose growlings and bleepings aren’t even translated into subtitles.

Oh, and one more thing. It’s science fiction. These days you can’t swing a large popcorn without hitting a science-fiction blockbuster right in the hyperdrive, but at the time there hadn’t been a really successful science fiction movie in nearly a decade. Just by setting his film in a galaxy far, far away — not to mention long, long ago — Lucas was defying the conventional movie-making wisdom of the time.

The point is that while Star Wars is the spaceship that launched a thousand clichés, it achieved its success by being something profoundly original. So here’s my unsolicited advice to Abrams, and moreover to the hundreds of entertainment bureaucrats who are going to want to have their meddling incorporated into the upcoming Star Wars VII: Action of the Noun: Don’t give into the Dark Side. Don’t incorporate the following clichés that have increasingly infested sequels for the past 35 years.

December 3, 2012

“Wookierotica” in Oz

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:09

The Register is always willing to go the extra parsec to get the NSFW story. Here’s Simon Sharwood on a burlesque show with a Star Wars theme being performed in Australia this month:

The show’s creator says the performance doesn’t necessarily involve nudity, as he dislikes notions that burlesque always has to end up with a pile of smalls on the floor.

As the NSFW video below shows, the production will certainly leave you feeling rather more kindly disposed to storm troopers. You may also find out whether Jabba the Hutt bought Princess Leia just the one bikini.

The show is billed as a parody and is definitely not in canon. It’s also proving hard to suppress: since debuting late last year, it has enjoyed several seasons around Australia. A new run of shows kicks off in early December at Sydney’s Vanguard Theatre, just in time for Vulture South’s Christmas party.

June 2, 2011

It actually does explain why the “prequels” sucked

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 16:11

H/T to Cory Doctorow for the link.

May 9, 2011

Gadgets from science fiction

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:55

Caleb Cox rounds up ten geeky gadgets from science fiction shows and movies that he thinks we’d all like to have:

Tomorrow is always round the corner in the world of tech, and gadgets that started life in the imaginations of mad folk are starting to become a possibility.

Tools that give us superpowers may seem impossible, but ultramobile computing is a reality these days, with commonplace kit that seems more capable than devices Gene Roddenberry dreamt up.

As we’ve already looked at fantasy blades you wished you owned, it’s about time we talked-up the fantasy tech, after all, we are Reg Hardware. So here’s ten of our favourite gadgets from popular culture that may or may not be the tech of the future.

Let us know if there’s anything you think we’ve missed and give us your views on its commercial prospects in the comments section at the end.

His choices are:

  • Cloaking device — Predator
  • Holodeck — Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Hologram communication — Star Wars
  • Orgasmatron — The Sleeper
  • Peril Sensitive Sunglasses — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Personality glasses — Joe 90
  • Sonic Screwdriver — Doctor Who
  • Timebooth — Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Telepathic Lens — The Lensman series
  • Teleportation belt — The Tomorrow People

August 24, 2010

Silent Star Wars

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:32

H/T to Marc Campbell.

August 20, 2009

It must be a slow week in movies . . .

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:14

. . . so John Scalzi decides to kick over the hornet’s nest of Star Wars geekdom:

I’ll come right out and say it: Star Wars has a badly-designed universe; so poorly-designed, in fact, that one can say that a significant goal of all those Star Wars novels is to rationalize and mitigate the bad design choices of the movies. Need examples? Here’s ten.

Sure, he’s cute, but the flaws in his design are obvious the first time he approaches anything but the shallowest of stairs. Also: He has jets, a periscope, a taser and oil canisters to make enforcer droids fall about in slapsticky fashion — and no voice synthesizer. Imagine that design conversation: “Yes, we can afford slapstick oil and tasers, but we’ll never get a 30-cent voice chip past accounting. That’s just madness.”

Can’t fully extend his arms; has a bunch of exposed wiring in his abs; walks and runs as if he has the droid equivalent of arthritis. And you say, well, he was put together by an eight-year-old. Yes, but a trip to the nearest Radio Shack would fix that. Also, I’m still waiting to hear the rationale for making a protocol droid a shrieking coward, aside from George Lucas rummaging through a box of offensive stereotypes (which he’d later return to while building Jar-Jar Binks) and picking out the “mincing gay man” module.

And the crowd goes wild.

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