Thursday, 27 March 2014

Captain America: the Winter Soldier Review

Given the advanced reviews for Captain America: the Winter Soldier, I expected it was going to be one of the best Marvel films so far.

Maybe because I had just sat through Martin Scorsese's three-hour epic The Wolf of Wall Street, or maybe because the premiere was at midnight, but the sequel didn't grab me as much as I wanted it to.

It certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to epic set pieces and impressive visuals. Alas, after a while I tired of the blurry hand-to-hand combat, and was a little bored during the third act, which felt too much like the deafening heli-carrier battle from Avengers Assemble.
(My spellcheck aptly changed that to 'headache' carrier.)

Okay, there is much to admire about Joe and Anthony Russo's film. The shadowy Three Days of the Condor/Jason Bourne style-plot marked a welcome change for a superhero epic.
But the sight of Robert Redford, with that extraordinary hair, giving a rather lacklustre performance, left me colder than Christmas.

Chris Evans is good, not great as Steve Rogers; Scarlett Johannson sexier than ever asNatasha Romanov, and Samuel L Jackson on good form as Nick Fury, as usual.
(Fans of SLJ's work will spot a nice little in-joke during a graveyard scene).

There are also good support turns from Jenny Agutter and Colbie Smulders, but it's just a pity that Neighbours veteran Alan Dale pops up and spoils any tension as a World Council member.

I did get a frisson of excitement like a child on Christmas morning when Steve and Nickentered a hangar with heli-carriers, but for me there were none of those moments like in the first film when I was moved as selfless Steve threw himself on a grenade.

In a previous blog, I said the problem with Capt America is partly down to Chris Evans. He hasn't got the acting chops to carry a film of the scale, but having seen the film the key problem is the fact that Cap is just not that great a hero. A little too goody goody for my tastes, and although he acts as a great foil for warriors like Iron Man and Thor, as the star of his own show he is a little disappointing.

One great addition to the Marvel universe is Anthony Mackie's Falcon. As a fan of the Capt America comics, it was great to see this iconic supporting character finally given his big screen chance.
Admittedly, some of his aerial action scenes tended to grate a little after a while, but Mackieis a great actor and I wouldn't mind seeing him in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron or the inevitable Cap 3.

Stay tuned for the inevitable credits teaser for one of the next big Marvel films and some rather cool closing titles.
It's certainly not the worst film you'll see all year, but it could have been so much better.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Brian Clemens: Professional British Legend

Brian Clemens is one of the most influential British writer/producer/directors in history having created The Avengers, The New Avengers and a string of international hit series and films. With the release of his classic TV series The Professionals on Blu-ray, DVD and download, I spoke to Brian about his life and work.

What was the seed of the show - was it a need for a British Starsky and Hutch?

Oh well it began like that. Brian Tesler of London weekend television having liked the way we did The Avengerssaid he'd like a buddy show in the Starsky and Hutch mould, or at least as a rival to them. And I came up with two ideas. One was about two undercover cops. The other one was The Professionals. He liked The Professionals and said "I'll commission the script, If I like it, we'll make 13". A bit unheard of these days, but that's exactly what happened of course.

Did you relate to CI5 boss George Cowley as the show runner overseeing a couple of slightly cocky stars?

No, not really, because Cowley was my business partner's idea to bring in Gordon (Jackson). Originally we had Clive Revill, a New Zealand actor. He's in The New Avengers; the one who Steed's killed and he carries the bullet in his heart. We wanted him to do theCowley part, but he'd just done a pilot in America and if it was taken up he'd be very rich, so he couldn't do it, so we looked around. Albert (Fennell) who'd worked with Gordon on a number of occasions, brought his name up, and I thought that was brilliant, becauseGordon had just finished doing Upstairs Downstairs, and I'm sure that he was looking for a change of pace to cast aside the butler image.

Anthony Andrews was the original choice for Bodie. Was he not chosen because the dynamic between him and Martin Shaw wasn't quite right?
It was nothing to do with Anthony, who is a fine actor. It was just that when you got him and Martin on screen together, it was like seeing the same person. They both had the same sort of throwaway style and I was looking for Black and Decker, not black and black, so we recast (and chose) Lewis (Collins).

There was a real spark between Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins but judging by a making of documentary on the new discs, they didn't see eye-to-eye initially.

I don't think they got on too well.

Which may have added to the dynamic

Oh absolutely! Yeah.

Would long-form series like 24 work well for a Professionals reboot?
Well I think it would work pretty well. I mean actually the stories have caught up with us and it's very castable.

I never understand why the BBC put (Benedict) 'Cumberbunch' or whatever his name is in everything, because they can't get Stephen Fry. And actually when you put someone on television for two nights, you've got an instant star, even if they are terrible.

Is it true that Lionsgate are prepping a Professionals film prequel?
That's right, though you didn't hear it here first, I understand that there is going to be an announcement it Cannes, and that's in May isn't it?

It is

I've been told all this before because it's been going on some years now.

The HD remastered version of The Professionals makes it look fresher than ever. 
Yeah, that they haven't sent me one yet, but everyone who's seen it says it looks smashing.

It looks like it was shot yesterday
Yeah, that's good, it can't do any harm. Maybe they can sell it in America now.

Did you have any idea how influential The Avengers would be when you make that first episode?
Not really, no. You never really know you're going through a golden age. Golden age is always back then, it's never now. But we were going through a golden age.

It must have been great working with Patrick McNee, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. 
Oh yeah, many good friends.

What were your thoughts on The Avengers film version, because I didn't think it worked?
No, well I could have made that work. They didn't involve anybody who knew about The Avengers. 

It was ridiculous; they got it so wrong. The Americans never understood The Avengers; never understood what made it work. Which was why they never interfered with the series. They were afraid it was a house of cards and if they removed the wrong card, the whole thing would collapse.

I'm a big fan of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. What were your memories of making that?
Oh that was great fun. Great fun. They keep threatening to bring that out again, you know, remastered. They keep threatening to remake it too. That's the trouble with this country, nobody actually does anything.

It was a great format as well
It was intended to be a format, yeah. He's called Kronos because that's Greek for 'time'. I thought I could take him through all sorts of time warps. He could turn up anywhere. He says it in the film, "where ever there is evil to be fought..." So the world was my oyster, or my lobster. (laughs).

You've been involved in so many influential series over the years. I imagineThe Avengers was a personal favourite
Oh yeah, well it was the most fun to work on.

And it must've been great that lightning did strike twice for The New Avengers?
Yep, but it wasn't an accident though. I like people to think it was an accident. It's an accident after a great deal of work.

And it turned Joanna Lumley into an overnight star
Yes, I had to interview several hundred young actresses. We tested about 20 on camera. And I always knew it was going to be Jo Lumley, but I had to go through the motions to convince the people around me.

Were there any lesser known projects that were personal favourites? 
Well I liked (sitcom) My Wife Next-Door. They've never really done (repeated) that. I think it must be something to do with the artist holding that back or re-shown.

How was it working on Highlander II?
Oh, that was fun. I was in Hollywood for that, and that was Hollywood big time. That's always good fun.

Did the producers want something different from the first film?
They didn't know what they wanted. I got it because I came up with the idea who the Immortals were. They came from another planet with a different time warp, so when they lived for a minute, it was 400 years.

What's been the secret of your success, because you've been so prolific?
I don't set out to be. I love everything I write at the time of writing, and I don't go for bullsh*t. I don't send 'messages'. There are messages to be found that are not upfront, and I think that's what's wrong with a lot of British products at the moment. It's too social. It should be entertainment first and social under the cover as it were.

You've lived in Bedfordshire for 50 years. Were there no plans to retire to Hollywood?
Oh no. I've enjoyed working in Hollywood and living there, but I wouldn't want to be there for ever and a day. I'm European. I like the food. I love France and Spain for eating. The American way of life is too like ours. I go foreign, I want it to be foreign.

Tell us about your new play
Yeah, Murder Weapon, it's threatening to be put on at Windsor and Nottingham sometime late spring or early summer. That'll be fun. My thriller of the year. My pension (laughs).

What was the most memorable day of your career?
That most memorable day I think was when I was given the OBE by the Queen. That was quite something. I felt kind of proud of myself... a bit. They don't give you any money though (laughs).

Maybe it should have been a knighthood?
I'm working on it (laughs).

:: The Professionals Mk1 Available on Blu-ray & DVD from 31st March. Now available on iTunes in SD & HD. Network Distributing


Friday, 21 March 2014

Advice for Aspiring Stand-ups

I'm not a comedian, but I've seen a lot of stand-ups over the years and interviewed hundreds of others, ever keen to see what makes them tick and what makes a good comedy routine great. 

Of course chatting to the likes of Ricky Gervais, Russell Howard and Sean Lock gets you so far. Some comics nail a universal truth that touch a chord with the masses while a favourite stand-up like Stewart Lee has mastered the repeat-until-funny schtick.
Then there are those too-cool-for-school acts who think winging it is enough to get by. 
Some gifted comedians may be able to sustain laughs for a few minutes before the wheels come off. Others never even get off the comedy slip road and onto the M-fun. 

Such is the case with the worst alleged comedy act I ever saw. 

In a foul mood from the minute he was picked up from a random British train station, he tried and failed to seduce his married guide by being inappropriate, a little too touchy feely and generally vile. The fact he  nearly helped crash the car was unforgiveable. 

By the time his gig started, it felt like car crash theatre. 

“I haven't prepared anything”, he warned the audience, perhaps expecting them to forgive and embrace him for his honesty. 
On a rainy night at £10 a head that's not what you want to hear. 

“I've been doing this a long time...” he tried to reassure us, his auto pilot mouth making comedic promises his bankrupt gag account couldn't honour. 

Alas, as he tried to engage the audience with banter, the promise of laughs soon evaporated like a thimble-full of water in the Sahara. 

That sinking feeling grew as he started talking politics, and suddenly it felt like a bad episode of Question Time... directed by Ingmar Bergman... screened at a wake... in the third week of January... with flu... after root canal surgery.  

The interval seemed a lifetime away as our alleged comic clicked into name-drop mode. He recalled an apparently wild evening with a celeb chef and actor/director mate. 
The audience yearned for laughs, but were cruelly denied. Like a treasure hunt for a broken compass, we huddled masses came to the collective conclusion our waiting, like the hunt, was equally pointless. 

Our host’s TV appearances had dried up in recent years after one high profile show dropped him like a scalding potato. His car-based, pre-gig inappropriateness a sad, disturbing reminder of how he'd scuppered a regular gig seen by millions. 

Give a microphone to the dullest bloke in your local pub after 10 pints and it could have generated more laughs. 

“I'm fascinated to see who comes back for the second half,” he remarked. 

His body was in the room, his mind was spending the night’s takings like a Homer Simpson gag. Sans laughs.

Enough was enough, but while the second half was out of the question, I was fascinated by the amount of people who wanted their money back. 

I started to wonder if he'd been using Avatar-style technology all along as he headed off for a break, a cigarette and a chance to marinade in his joyless creative juices. 
So, having analysed great comedians for decades, the universal truth hammered home on that moist evening was the old adage ’Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, because no matter who your celeb mates are, or your political beliefs, if there's no fuel in your comedy vehicle, don't be too surprised if you're left stranded at the side of the showbiz road. 

Which is what his harassed driver should have done after 30 seconds.