Let's face facts, once they hang up the cape most superheroes are as dull as ditch water. Clark Kent is a socially inept wet blanket. Bruce Wayne a reclusive misery guts. Peter Parker a dweeby geek. You'd have to have a cavernous hole in your diary to be desperate enough to invite them out for beers.
Tony Stark on the other hand would be a riot. Not only is he is charismatic, loaded and has more one liners than Tommy Cooper but he is to women what the BBC is to paedophiles (look it up).
The success of the Iron Man is due in no small part to Robert Downey Jr,'s suave, sardonic portrayal of the millionaire playboy. You feel he isn't acting so much as portraying a slightly exaggerated version of himself. Downey cocks a perpetual eyebrow at the more po-faced excursions into this comic book universe and as a result the first film felt like a breath of fresh air.
Sequels rarely improve on the predecessors and Iron Man 2 was a case in point, foregoing some of the knockabout fun of the original in order to set up the convoluted plot for Stark's appearance in franchise crossover The Avengers Assemble. There he battles an alien invasion with his superhero buddies and now Iron Man 3 sees a shell-shocked Stark suffering from burnout in the aftermath.
Holed up in his Malibu mansion he spends all his time tinkering with an army of Iron Man suits, arguing with his missus Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and suffering from panic attacks. As Stark licks his wounds a string of terrorist bombings perpetrated by flamboyant Osama-like The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) causes chaos in the US and injures Stark's head of security (Jon Favreau).
In Stark's agitated state he misguidedly goads the terrorist into challenging him personally and after giving out his address live on air The Mandarin is only too happy to oblige. He sends a trio of heavily laden attack choppers to Stark's hillside hideaway to, lets say, "redesign" Stark's premises through the medium of missiles.
The lead chopper flies in over the sea and fires off a couple of missiles that blow a huge hole into the property's art deco frontage. The explosion catches Stark in the blast radius but he quickly dons his suit and returns fire by launching a huge chunk of masonry at the helicopter. He hits his target but the chopper does not explode and flies out of shot.
A second chopper goes in for the kill but Stark hits the jackpot when another piece of hurled debris hits its target. The impact causes the helicopter to spin in classic whirly-bird fashion but unfortunately the stricken chopper crashes straight into the mansion's supporting structure. As a result the entire building then tumbles down into the sea below with only a miracle saving Stark from being crushed in the carnage. The last chopper pilot thinks his work is done and pootles off for a well earned pint.
Its a juicy set piece, nicely shot and with plenty of destruction but the helicopter explosion is delivered with a reddish glow which betrays its CGI origins. The mansion tumbling into he sea after succumbing to the helicopter wreckage is a nice touch.
Exploding Helicopter Innovation
Whilst the destruction of the chopper is pretty routine its not often you see a helicopter reduce a mansion to rumble.
Do Passengers Survive
Unusually the first chopper pilot, despite being hit by a massive slab of concrete, looks like he may have been able to make an emergency landing. The 2nd chopper pilot would have definitely came a cropper though.
As to be expected for a Marvel adaptation action fans will feel as satisfied as Lindsay Lohan on holiday in Colombia with the Green Bay Packers. All the set pieces are executed with aplomb (I particularly enjoyed the skydiving sequence) and there is more shiny CGI than you shake a stick at.
The studio has also managed to corral a great acting ensemble together so Downey is not left to prop up the picture on his own. Guy Pearce delivers another convincing performance as evil mastermind Aldrich Killian that continues to make his time as Mike Pearce in Neighbours seems like a cheese induced dream. Ben Kingsley as always is a delight and delivers an unexpected character twist that is usually absent in this genre . To top it off we get ultimate movie asshole Miguel Ferrer, of Robocop fame, pop up as the crooked Vice President Rodriguez.
Despite the acting chops not everything is rosy in the Iron Man universe.
Director Shane Black may be responsible for writing the classic Lethal Weapon series but its wise-cracking buddy formula doesn't work so well here. Stark befriends a precocious brat (Ty Simkins), whilst investigating the dubious explosions that maybe linked to the accident that befalls his head of security . Their "banter" feels forced and not a little ridiculous.
The pacing of this film is also questionable lurching as it does between knock about one liners to gruesome deaths in the space of a minute. Whilst the original film had its moments of levity rooted in Downey's louche portrayal of Stark, here the "comedy" is overdone and borders on the schizophrenic.
Also, the technology in the original movie was reasonably grounded in reality but here the audience is required to take a greater leap of faith. Stark's new remote control Iron Man suits and Killian's DNA regeneration programme feel like one step too far and possibly a case of jumping the shark.
Overall the film is more enjoyable than Iron Man 2 but fails to live up to the alchemy of the original. I wouldn't go out of your way to see it.
Brandt: Is that all you've got? A cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner?
Tony Stark: Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography.
Shane Black is a bit of a jack of all trades. Not content with being a mere screenwriter or director he has also dipped a toe in the acting world. Keen eyed exploding helicopter fans might recognise him as the bespectacled radio operator Hawkins from the classic Predator. This bit of trivia is just an excuse for me me to quote the following lame joke
Hawkins: Billy. Billy! The other day, I was going down on my girlfriend, I said to her, "Jeez you got a big pussy. Jeez you got a big pussy." She said, "Why did you say that twice?" I said, "I didn't."
[Billy stares blankly]
Hawkins: See, cuz of the echo.
Hang about until the credits have rolled to see Stark on the psychiatrist couch with Dr David Banner. Worth waiting for.
In the last few days it has been impossible to avoid the terrible scenes in Dhaka, Bangladesh where 360 people are dead and hundreds more still missing, presumably under tons of twisted steel and concrete, following the collapse of a clothing factory.
Despite cracks appearing in the structure on Tuesday, management ignored concerns and forced staff to carry on working the following day or have their pay docked. Company stooges then approved building safety the day before the collapse. Building owner Mohammed Sohel Rana has now been arrested along with three factory owners and two engineers but surely this is just the tip of the iceberg.
This tragedy isn't just another far off disaster we can shake our heads and go back to our cornflakes. The factory has links to well established high street retailers Primark, Matalan and Mango so there is a good chance you may have some of the offending factory's handiwork hanging in your closet.. It highlights a thorny issue, one which the West has gamely ignored for years, namely that the sweat shops of the 3rd World make most of the clothes on our backs.
Is this disregard for workers safety a byproduct of the West's insatiable appetite for disposable fashions or is the developing world's desperation to better itself by exploiting its workers the root cause?
I am reminded of the Panorama documentary Primark On The Rack, originally aired in 2008, which conducted an undercover investigation on the ubiquitous high street fashion retailer's dubious manufacturing processes.
Primark are a fashion success story with over 160 stores in the U.K and boast a rapid expansion throughout Europe. Famed for "disposable fashion", items are so cheap they can be worn once and thrown away, T-Shirts sell for £3 and jeans for £8. The are quick to ape cat-walk fashions and can do so for a fraction of the price. Some of their range isn't actually that bad and I'll be honest, in my moments of weakness I have bought the odd pair of pants.
Many say Primark are a prime example of West's penchant for waste and disregard for worker exploitation in far off lands. To commemorate their status as the Cruella De Vil of the retail world they were awarded the dubious accolade of "Least Ethical Retailer 2005" by Ethical Consumer Magazine. But who cares about a no-name award given out by a bunch of hippies? We all want cheap clothes right?
Rattled by this bad P.R, Primark trumpeted a change in their policy and proudly display their commitment to ethical standards at the entrance to their stores. The documentary exposes this as empty rhetoric. Reporter Tom Heap went undercover in the Indian textile industry to shine a light on the seedy sweatshops whose slavelike conditons are the sole reason you can buy embroidered dresses for £15.
In the labyrinthine slums of Delhi mass produced garments are ordered with very little lead time forcing Indian suppliers to get shipments ready using illegal outsourced child labour. According to Heap, who posed as an industry buyer, children as young as ten have to work long hours in squalid conditions for peanuts (17p/35c an hour was the wage quoted). India has a huge problem with poverty and many of the population live conditions that those in the West would consider subhuman. With wages this paltry it is hardly surprising.
I remember being at my folk's house when I watched this and whilst I pontificated on my best Guardianista soapbox about the appalling conditions and sub-standard pay my mum came up with a couple of salient points. First of all, one could argue that if these big retailers didn't place orders in third world countries they would literally have no jobs and no income whatsoever. Bangladesh for instance relies almost exclusively on its textile industry to supports its economy. Primark itself says it creates work for about 2 million workers in the developing world in one form or another. If they thought conditions were bad now what position would countries like India, Honduras or Vietnam be in without any western investment?
When I complained about the fact that these kids should be in school I was told that we shouldn't expect our values to be reflected in our cultures in the same way. We have the luxury of legislation forcing kids to go to school and a social system that helps the margins of society. In effect we have it very easy in the West. With no social services, Indian parents see large families as an insurance policy to help earn money and look after them when they get old.
The answer to these cultural and socio-economic problems could possibly lie in the Fairtrade model. Start paying a bit more for our clothes and instead of the money going to the multi-nationals the locals could get a fair wage and afford for their kids to go to school. Despite fair trade coffee and sugar being available on most supermarket shelves I have yet to see a Fairtrade clothing shop.
Its easy to see why Primark, with their emphaiss on low prices, take the lion's share of abuse on the topic of fair trade but take a second to look at what you are wearing today. I just did. Topman jeans made in India. North Face fleece made in Indonesia. Berghaus jacket made in Thailand. Onisuka Tiger/Asics made in China. Its not just the cheap brands that contract out developing nations. Everyone is at it.
Personally I feel it is unjust to pin all the blame on the West for outsourcing its manufacturing processes. Local governments shoulder some of the responsibility for their absence of regulation and paucity of labour law that effectively puts the interests of the manufacturers above that of their citizens. Comprehensive, well policed employment regulations what stop abuses fairly quickly, but they would drive up production costs and in turn that would drive business elsewhere.
Banning products from countries with questionable safety records is not the answer as this would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water? If things are this bad now what kind of conditions would Bangladesh's workers would have to endure if Primark et al pulled out?
I'm not naive. I look for a bargain like the best of them. The reality is that in these credit crunching times there is even less inclination for the West to change the status quo and for the likes of you or I to start paying more for our clothes, shoes or electronics. If Primark step out there a long line of retailers waiting and willing to fill the void.
As undercover reporting goes its hardly up there with Donal MacIntyre's tattooed two year infiltration of the Chelsea Headhunters or Antonio Salas learning Arabic, converting to Islam and getting circumcised in order to infiltrate terrorist organisations.
No, in Panorama - North Korea Undercover (BBC1) shouty documentarian John Sweeney manages to impregnate the secretive womb of communism by growing a bit of a beard and nodding his head in a professorial manner. Let's hope North Korea's long distance nukes are as effective as their border controls.
Judging by the media furore generated by his masquerading as LSE history teacher on a study trip, I was half expecting Sweeney to have offered up LSE students as free labour for the Korean gulags. The reality is much more prosaic. Sweeney just went along for the ride on the same lame coach tour as the students and filmed it. His guide offers words of reassurance for those tourists worried about security.
"Our bus has the mark of the Korean International Travel Company so the Americans won’t strike our bus. Ha ha . . .’
Despite Sweeny's attempts to ramp up the jeopardy,
”We’ve seen loads more soldiers in town today...you can feel the tension rising”
no one seemed to be in the least bit of danger during his eight day visit.
In fact for such a secretive society they seem relatively lax in their security. On the bus, despite repeatedly being asked not to take photos of the poverty stricken Koreans scrabbling about the drab countryside (they do anyway) the tour group are free to wave their cameras about during the scheduled stops and video whatever they like.
Some of these stops are laughable staged. A farm devoid of animals or crops, a bottling plant without any bottles or a pristine hospital that doesn't actually have any patients in it. This was the only point where Sweeney has the balls to conduct any challenging journalism.
‘Tell the doctor we’re not fools. We haven’t seen any patients."
Whilst their enemies to the South offer all the trapping of a prosperous, free western society North Korea's tin pot regime isn't even able to keep the lights on. Pyongyang suffers constant city wide power outages on a daily basis. Is this really a country we should be worried about?
Yes, according to North Korean expert, Professor Brian Myers, who suggests we should take them seriously in case their rhetoric inadvertently turns to war by accident.
‘We may see a thermo-nuclear war but it wouldn’t be because the North Koreans wanted it. It’s not their plan to unleash that, but it might come to that as a result of a disastrous miscalculation.’
Most telling are the stories from defectors talking about the work camps where bodies are buried in mass graves and the reality of living in this totalitarian regime is chilling. In South Korea Sweeney interviews an escaped doctor who explains that rank is no guarantee of protection in this oppressive society.
‘If you as a doctor had said, “We need more money for medicine for the patients”, what would have happened?’ ‘They would kill me that very day"
Offering a peak into this Orwellian country, Sweeney documentary is interesting enough from a voyeuristic prospective, but it's hardly ground breaking. Yes, Kim Jong Un comes from a long line of despotic nutcases. Yes, North Korea is a paranoid and warlike state. Yes, its inhabitants are routinely brain washed by 24hr propaganda. This is all common knowledge.
North Korea's "mystery" may have more to do with the fact it is such an utterly depressing place, very few people have actually bothered to visit it.
You can watch it on iPlayer for the next 12 months
Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, a puffed up Jacque Cousteau wannabe, who was once the toast of the movie world but whose star status is on the wane. His glamorous undersea adventures had transformed him into a public figure with cover stories and celebrity endorsements (Adidas no less). His “Team Zissou” membership rings were more sought after than Blue Peter badges (ask your Dad).
Fame is fickle and the shine then began to peal from his celebrity once his films lost their allure with an increasingly disinterested public. Now cutting a pitiful figure he scrounges around for funding and releases his kitschy documentaries to ever diminishing returns. His wife (Angelica Houston) is on the verge of leaving him and his successful nemesis Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) seems to pop up everywhere just to rub his nose in his decline.
To make matters worse, during the making of his latest documentary his best friend (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by the elusive, and perhaps even fictional, Jaguar Shark. This leads Zissou and his ragtag crew of oddballs on one last adventure to track down the mysterious creature, avenge his friend and perhaps offer them a chance at redemption.
Director Wes Anderson follows Rushmore and The Royal Tenebaums with another bittersweet comedy/drama dealing with his usual preoccupations of age and strained family relationships albeit this time set on the high seas and coloured with his usual off kilter sensibilities.
The story’s gentle humour and trademark quirks won’t be to everyone’s tastes and the plot does kind of meander along but it’s rather like being on a rolling river in a foreign country looking at the strange flora and fauna passing by. You end up being pleasantly surprised by every quirk that emerges from around the bend.
One such curveball is the helicopter explosion that graces the finale. Zissou and his long lost “son” Ned (Owen Wilson) fly out to sea in search of the Jaguar Shark from the deck of their ship, the Belafonte, in a bright yellow sea chopper.
Due to Zissou’s funding problems it seems the helicopter has not been maintained in quite a while and as soon as it is at cruising altitude they hear a snap which Ned believes is the pin on the rotor mechanism. There are no histrionics or flashy pyrotechnics, just a shot of Zissou’s Adidas as the sea looms up from below them. The stricken chopper and its passengers are then on a one way journey to Wetsville.
As to be expected from Wes Anderson the scene is chock full of imagination. Rather then the easier and obvious ways to destroy a helicopter, be that CGI or old school explosives, Anderson chooses to try the less is more approach.
As the chopper crash lands in the water instead of the normal fire/flame combo the explosion is depicted using an avant garde fast cut of bubbles fizzing and filling the screen spliced with flashes of red and a bizarre a flash back sequence of the Owen Wilson in a cinema auditorium.
Instead of the usual crash/bang of an explosion there is just a high pitched hum and some weird atmospherics. Once the chopper has “exploded” we cut to Murray, cradling a stricken Wilson as burning debris bob around them. Exploding helicopter purists may be aghast at this unconventional direction but I found it all rather refreshing.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Its not often we see choppers go down due to inadequate maintenance. Not sure the insurance company will pay out on this one.
Do passengers survive?
Tragically, and in contravention of Exploding Helicopter’s Second Law of filmmaking, one of the good guys gets killed. Ned drowns after a head injury overcomes him, after first making a few oblique indie references, in the arms of the helpless Zissou. Positives:
On top of fabulous performance by Murray and Goldblum this is an ensemble piece for which you would struggle to put together a better cast. Zissou’s crew of misfits includes a rare comic role for Willem Defoe as German engineer Klaus and Cate Blanchett as a National Geographic reporter imbedded within the team. Michael Gambon pops up as louche film producer and musician Seu Jorge appears as safety expert Pele dos Santos, who spends most of his time randomly playing samba versions of David Bowie songs on deck. It is completely bizarre but it works.
Mercifully this film is a CGI free zone with Anderson aiming for a hand made look with his emphasis on colour saturation and stop motion animation for the undersea elements. The whole thing feels like a pop-up movie made in kindergarten by skilled toddlers with film degrees.
I found it charming but could easily see why would not appeal to mainstream audience. You either buy into Anderson’s whimsy or you don’t. For those who didn’t enjoy it I’m sure another Adam Sandler movie will stink along in the near future which better satisfies your tastes.
When a movie shows this much charm and innovation it would be churlish to criticise it. So I won’t.
Festival Director: (asking a question about the Jaguar Shark): That's an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?
Steve Zissou: Revenge.
Most of the film was shot on the Italian Riviera where Bill Murray became a certified diver during the filming of the movie, logging over 40 diving hours between takes.
For those in the UK who define "hardship" as not being able to afford Sky Sports or a second foreign holiday the day-to-day reality depicted in The Toughest Place To Be...A Bus Driver hits you like a slap in the face.
As part of the fantastic BBC series exploring difficult working conditions in the developing world, this programme focuses on Manila, officially the most densely populated city on earth. Much of its 20 million inhabitants live cheek by jowl in grinding poverty and the city was no doubt chosen due to its appalling road conditions and chaotic infrastructure. The producers no doubt thought they would get plenty of mileage watching a naive Brit flounder in the midst of Manila's madness. Little would they have expected such an emotional human story to emerge.
A couple of years ago London bus driver Josh West visited the Philippines to trade jobs with local "Jeepney" driver Rogelio Castro to see what it is was like to ply his trade on the mean streets of Manila. Its is fair to say the experience was life changing for them both.
Before arrival, Josh admits to knowing little about the Philippines other than the infamous Imelda Marcos' shoe collection. On the face of it their lives could not be more different. Whilst Josh has a comfortable job driving a state of the art £35K Routemaster through London's well maintained streets, his conditions protected by a myriad of employment and driving regulations, Rogelio toils away for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in a clapped out minibus through the chaotic, congested streets of Manila.
His gruelling days, where he acts as driver, mechanic, cleaner and ticket collector, earn him about £8 a day which is often not enough to pay for his wife's medication. Rogelio lives in a ramshackle, self built property with tiny rooms inhabited by ever growing collection of extending family.
What made the show powerful and pushed it beyond the bounds of the realms of poverty pornography was the human relationship that played out between Josh and Rogelio. Despite only staying with him for 10 days the visit made a profound impression on the Londoner.
"When you see someone working that hard, how can you turn your back on them?"
On Josh's first visit Rogelio broke down when explaining the arduous treadmill his life had become and his inability to escape from the crushing weight of poverty. He was basically running just to stand still. Josh was overcome with emotion as he realised that despite them both being bus drivers only one of them was destined for a life of drudgery.
‘If I was born here I’d be in the same situation as you. It’s just by chance that I was born in London‘.
Rogelio might be struggling but he is positively middle class in comparison to some of Manila's poor. There was one section of VT which turned my stomach and gave an indication into how far reaching and desperate the poverty has become in the shanty towns of Manila. Josh went into the slums to witness the phenomena of "pagpag", a form of food recycling .
Scavengers will collect discarded and half eaten chicken remnants from the garbage cans outside Manila's numerous fast food restaurants and root through them to pick out the bits they can re-use (mostly bones, cartilage with the odd bit of rancid chicken attached). They then sell these on to pagpag "restaurants" who will recook the detritus and sell it on to slum dwellers for pennies. This is likely to be their main meal of the day. It is truly a shocking state of affairs.
Despite seemingly being worlds apart the 10 days Rogelio spent teaching Josh the Tao of a Filipino bus driver had transformed their relationship into something of a "bromance" with them exchanging emails and photos after Josh returned back to the UK. Deeply affected by his visit Josh decided he would do something practical in order fund the one request Rogelio had for a better life.
I won't spoil it but Josh makes an emotional return to Manila two years later to reunite with Rogelio his adopted "brother" to see how his life has changed since the documentary first aired (he is something of a local celebrity now) and lays out his long term plan for Rogelio's family. I must admit I don't know many people would make such a commitment after such a chance visit. Josh is a truly an inspirational character.
After years of being bombarded with images of poverty through Live Aid, Sport Relief, Red Nose Day it is testament to Josh and the programme creators for making an utterly engrossing documentary packing more punch than any celebrity endorsed hand wringing I have ever seen.
I urge you to watch the documentary on iPlayer and donate to Josh's Danceaid page that is attempting to raise money for Manila's street kids. After watching this documentary only those with a heart of stone could refuse such a request.
In the 50’s, genre films that were shot on a budget were all the rage. In the US, to cope with the boom in drive in theatres, studios churned out movies with simple plots, stock themes and reliable shock effects to satisfy punters more interested in copping a feel rather than character development. Let’s not mess about. Most of these films were crap.
Alien invasions were a popular staple of the genre, tapping as they did into Cold War hysteria and the feeling that dirty Commies were lurking in the laundry basket and about to take over. Amongst much of the B-movie dross a few classics did emerge. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It Came From Outer Space and War of The Worlds are enduring examples of the genre.
I’m waffling on about B-movies because that is broadly what Skyline is: a pedestrian retread on War of Worlds with added effects. Aliens descend from the heavens and try to take over the planet using a strange light that transforms the populace into zombies which they then proceed to gobble up.
You’ve seen this scenario played out with more thought, wit and panache a million times already. Despite the fact that whole scenes are practically ripped from War of The Worlds the film is neither scary, funny or remotely thought provoking. Emphasis has undoubtedly been placed on the smorgasbord of special effects yet the aliens look fake, poorly designed and are unconvincing.
The whole film has a “straight to DVD” quality about it like an X-files spin off. To cover up the entertainment vacuum the directors have used the piles of CGI like a budget fast food joint would use melted plastic cheese to mask the flavour of your three day old donkey burger.
I was utterly disinterested in the whole sorry affair and struggled to write even a single page of notes. Fortunately I was jerked out of my torpor as an army helicopter hovered into view. Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and Elaine (Scottie Thompson) are holed up in an up-market apartment complex but with aliens closing in decide to take their chances and hail down the passing chopper from the rooftop.
As it approaches a large alien climbs up the side of the building and shoots two sticky tentacles from its claws onto the chopper’s chassis. There is a short tug of war until the chopper succeeds in overpowering the alien with a volley of gunfire. The problem is that as the alien tumbles off the side of the building it drags the chopper down with it. The chopper is pulled into the glass and concrete and goes up in flame, its rotor blades spinning off and wedging just above the heads of our protagonists. Shot from the ground the rest of the fiery debris plummets to earth and crashes through a glass foyer.
The set piece is competently executed and I liked the way the shell of the helicopter comes straight at the camera from above, adding to its impact.
Exploding helicopter innovation
As a mostly innovation free film it comes as a surprise that destruction of a chopper is executed in this unconventional manner. Until a giant chameleon sticks out its tongue and brings down a helicopter this will remain a unique set-piece.
Do passengers survive?
Rule 1 of the helicopters pilot’s character arc. If you haven’t got any lines and you tangle with a bad guy you will end up as slightly charred worm food.
Apart from the helicopter explosion there is absolutely no need to watch this film.
Where do I start?
A no mark cast of actors are understandably unable to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Donald Faison (Turk in Scrubs) pops up as rapper Terry and is mercifully dispatched half way through the film before he can tarnish his resume any further. David Zayas (who you might recognise as latino gang leader in prison drama Oz) plays a strangely aggressive concierge who has some awful lines “Vaya con Dios, you son of a bitch”. He decides to turn on the gas and light himself up when the aliens coming calling. After watching this turkey you might want to do the same.
Despite being an effects driven movie nothing much interesting seems to happen for the bulk of the film. The dialogue is flat and as most of the film is shot in the confines of an apartment block, with the aliens mostly outside, there are swathes of the film that are just plain dull. The film misfires on almost every level. A one location shoot is not a barrier to a good film. Phone Booth, 127 Hours and Glengarry Glenross show movies with smart dialogue can use their restrictive environments to ratchet up the tension. The directors could have tried to show a siege mentally or show evidence of cabin fever but all of this is overlooked for more clunky looking aliens floating about outside.
No exploration of the wider themes of interest like the public reaction to an alien invasion, possibilities for anarchy or why the aliens are even here in the first place. No allegories to the modern ills of commercialism, secularism or politics are discussed let alone contemplated. Perhaps I’m expecting too much.
To top it off the ending is complete and utter baloney. The aliens use human brains as fuel and when Jarrod is captured and his brain harvested he amazingly has the power to control the alien his brain is inserted into. None one else has this ability. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO F*CKING EXPLANATION FOR HIS SPECIAL POWER! It comes apropos of nothing. Just accept this important plot point like the moron the directors expect you to be. Favourite Quote:
(As the aliens revive themselves after being blasted by a rocket)
Jarrod: “They’re not dead. They’re just really p*ssed off!”
A special mention should go to directors The Brothers Strause. They have a background in effects work having been involved on the visuals to the Fantastic Four, The Day After Tomorrow and Terminator 3. They then moved into directing having been responsible for the sh*tfest that was Alien v Predator: Requiem. They have an unenviable record of making routinely bad films.
Out of the $20m this cost to make (chicken feed by today’s mega-budget standards) only 2.5% of the budget went on physical production. The vast majority went on the effects costs. Despite the thoroughly negative reviews the film made over $78m at the box office and you will probably see a sequel as a result. It goes to show the movie going public are mostly made up of f*cking idiots.
Fact is often stranger than fiction, but if the real life story of Rodrigo Rosenberg, a successful Guatemalan lawyer gunned down by hit men in 2009, exceeds that of even Hollywood's wildest imaginations. If it's not currently being made into a Hollywood blockbuster, it certainly will be.
Whilst we wait for the airbrushed version, director Justin Webster's documentary I Will Be Murdered (part of the excellent Storyville series on BBC4) unravels the complex nature of his death and lifts the murky lid of Guatemalan society. A mix of interviews and CCTV footage it views like a real life CSI Guatemala whose Machiavellian cast feel like extras from a John Le Carré novel.
Guatemala is a country with a murderous past whose decades long civil war only finished in 1996. 36 years of abuse and wide scale brutality has indoctrinated the population into adopting the "life is cheap" maxim as the country's official motto. Violence is deep rooted in Guatemalan society and seen as a viable solution for the poorest subsistence farmer to powerful heads of government.
The country is now riddled with corruption, cover ups, conspiracy, propaganda, assassinations and coups. Mexico may be considered by some to be a no-go zone following waves of narco killings but in 2009 the Guatemalan murder rate was four times higher. Statistically you would be safer going on holiday to Baghdad.
In 2007 the UN even went as far as saying:
“Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder, because you will almost certainly get away with it.”
In the UK we complain about our politicians fiddling their expenses but Guatemalan politics take it to another level. Public life seems to be polluted by a malevolent criminal oligarchy. As a nation Guatemala is about as stable as a three legged table.
I was there in 2005 and warned about travelling at night or hanging around too long in Guatemala City such were the levels of violence and car jacking. Despite the warnings I foolishly did both and ended up on the red eye from the northern town of Flores ending up in the capital in the early hours of the morning. I distinctly remember the squalor and degradation of the capital and the fact the bus company locked their customers in their compound whilst they waited for their connections. Standing in the street would be "unwise" I was told
Rodrigo Rosenberg would have been nothing more than another forgotten crime statistic, one more unsolved murder, had his dramatic prophecy not emerged from the ashes. Soon after his death a video emerged that appeared to show Rosenberg foretelling his own murder.
"If you are watching this message, it is because I was assassinated by President Ãlvaro Colom, with help from Gustavo Alejos."
In the video Rosenberg claims the reason he had been killed was because he had "direct knowledge" of a conspiracy involving a multi-million dollar money laundering operation through the national Banrural bank perpetrated by the Colom administration. He had come across this evidence after investigating the assassinations of Khalil and Marjorie Musa who he believed had been murdered because the incorruptible Khalil was going to accept a position on Banrural's board thus scuppering the government’s embezzling operation.
The video went viral and crashed the servers on YouTube. Rosenberg's revelations were dynamite and caused an explosion of anger with normal Guatemalans who took to the streets in vast numbers accusing the elite of being "asesinos" .
With the government on the verge of collapse, and in desperation, Colom agreed to allow an independent UN backed investigation unit called CICIG into the country to try and restore the government’s tattered reputation. Chief prosecutor Carlos Castresana only agreed to the position after demanding:
“To take the case, I need complete independence.”
Castresana had to overcome the usual obstacles to justice in Guatemala: informants, moles, counter surveillance and personal smears but his team quickly uncovered the first piece of the puzzle; hit man and former policeman Willian Divas. CICIG used wiretaps to piece together his gang's network through clandestine conversations and simultaneously swooped on dozens of locations around the country.
The gang quickly gave up the people who had ordered the hit; the Valdez Pais brothers: two of Rosenberg's close cousins. The target had been described to the killers as simply an extortionist who was blackmailing Rosenberg. Divas was given extremely detailed instructions as to where the mark would be and exactly at what time. But why would the Valdez Pais brothers, who supposed were very close to Rosenberg order his death?
Investigators then obtained a mobile number from which Rosenberg had reported receiving threats. They traced it back to Rosenberg's driver. He had been ordered to buy two anonymous mobiles and gave one of them to his boss and the other to the Valdes Pais brothers. Rosenberg was using the anonymous mobile phone to call his home number thus creating the illusion of receiving death threats.
Once Castrasena tracked down the phone other tell tale evidence started to appear. A cheque for $40.000, the amount Divas received for the contract killing, was issued from Rosenberg office via a 3rd party bank account so not to attract suspicion. Rosenberg used the Valdez Pais brothers as go-betweens who were completely in the dark about Rosenberg’s real intentions to distance himself from the hit.
It was becoming clear to Castresena that the unbelievable scenario could be the only explanation for the convoluted turn of events: Rosenberg had ordered his own killing.
"This is the end of our careers as no one will believe it"
Meticulously planned and painstakingly executed Rosenberg would have succeeded in bringing down the entire government if only the his driver had remembered not put his name on the receipt for one of the phones.
But what had brought Rosenberg to such an extreme course of action?
It turns out that Rosenberg was having a secret affair with Majorie Musa and was about to propose the day after her murder. In his depressed and agitated state he took the responsibility of investigating her deaths and believed the government was responsible for her inadvertent killing (the real target was her father). He lacked concrete evidence to pursue the matter in court and felt desperate and powerless.
His friend and fellow investigator Luis Mendizabal said
"His impotency to do something dismantled him"
Rosenberg felt the only way he could avenge his lover’s death and politically destroy the corrupt Colom government was to frame them by physically destroying himself.
Since the truth emerged, and despite all the corroborating evidence, there are those who refuse to believe Rosenberg killed himself, believing the verdict another in a long line of political white washes.
"Carlos Castresena, are you trying to sell us mirrors?"
No one seems to have come out of this episode with any particular credit. Rosenberg is seen by some as a hero and by other as a coward. Evidence has emerged, not included in the documentary perhaps to preserve its narrative, indicating that Khalil Musa was not the victim of state sponsored murder but was killed because of his dealings with a criminal network from whom he had bought contraband for his textile factory.
Once the dust died down on the Rosenberg case, Castrasena suffered a backlash from powers that be resentful that a “foreign” body was meddling in internal affairs. A concerted smear campaign attacking his private life forced his hand. He discovered, much like Rosenberg, that in Guatemala the only way to fight impunity was to “blow himself up.” His marriage suffered and now, having been hounded out of the country, admits that the case took its toll.
“I have nothing, I lost my family while in Guatemala. It almost took my life.”
At the end of the day it is hard to know what to believe in the curious case of Rodrigo. Guatemala is a country of counterfeit realities and misdirection is a way of life.
The ephemeral nature of Guatemalan truth is best summed up by scholar Susan Jonas
“Guatemala mocks me. Just as you think you understand, we’ll show you that you understand nothing at all”