Frood’s Fun Friday Facts: Star Wars: Return of The Jedi

Dr Frood is minding his own business one day when he comes across a random, doubtless apocryphal bit of trivia that titillates his mental tastebuds: when casting around for a director for Return of the Jedi, future Star Wars persona non grata George Lucas decided that he really, absolutely definitely wanted his film to be directed by none other than David Lynch.

No, really.

David Lynch, director of dreamlike, surrealist creep-fest Eraserhead. David Lynch, whose various artworks (movies, music, paintings etc) specialise in being disturbing, offending and confusing in equal measure. David Lynch, who looks like he’d be happiest hanging around Dalston after dark eating people’s souls.

Directing Star Wars.

Chances are his film wouldn’t have been wildly different from Richard Marquand’s. So at best this is a mildly diverting factoid. Maybe so, but here at Frood we prefer to go a little…more obvious.

So here’s how we like to think David Lynch’s (18 rated) ROTJ would’ve turned out:

We have the same score that we know and love, albeit done in the signature style of Twin Peaks. With Julee Cruise on breathy vocals.

The scenes in Jabba the Hutt’s palace would have had more of an undertone of sexual violence and body horror (with puppets!) under a veneer of middle class respectability; Blue Velvet meets Jim Henson. One shudders to imagine the pit of the mighty sarlacc (hole in the ground with teeth and tentacles that Jabba wants to throw Han, Chewie and Luke into).

So one shan’t imagine the pit of the mighty sarlacc.

This eventually leads us to the weirdy dream logic of Luke reuniting with Yoda and learning the truth about daddy while Roy Orbison sings in the background and because we haven’t rammed in enough references to Blue Velvet, Luke finds a severed ear.

Remember Admiral Ackbar? He would probably have been redone in the vein of the pallid leather-daddies from the Spacing Guild in Dune, with the same horrifying vocals. The visual similarity to the Emperor would no doubt remind us that today’s freedom-fighter underdog is tomorrow’s brutal totalitarian regime. It’s a trap indeed.

The Ewoks would all be called Bob, have always been dancing, slowly and slightly off the beat. They’d have had regular human voices, but played at half speed with a touch of reverb. They’d have been seen eating human meat at least once. They probably shouldn’t have survived the movie in any event, so let’s just assume that Lynch would have given them psychic gifts/magic/messing with your head while you’re dreaming powers/lesser demonic entities.

Finally, when the Emperor is doing his old electricity trick (can’t mess with a classic) on Luke, Luke and Darth Vader both stand, start singing ‘In Heaven’ in unison, holding hands, while Jedi mind-controlling the Emperor into happily throwing himself to his own death. Meanwhile, back on Endor, Leia would sing along while sitting in the middle of the scorched, bloody remains of the battle.

Oh, and one of Luke or Han would’ve been recast with Kyle MacLachlan.
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I would absolutely watch all of Sting’s scenes from Dune again on a loop if it meant I could see that version of ROTJ.

A Second Pitch For Man Of Steel 2: Batman Vs Superman

With news that Wonder Woman is set to make an appearance alongside Batman in the Man of Steel sequel, here at Frood we have developed a second pitch (first pitch here). Warner Bros, drop us a line and we’ll get a treatment together…

Light-dappled waves kissed the shores, caressed them even. A gentle breeze took the edge off the heat. Paradise. She took a sip of her long drink (such an elegant glass) and allowed her mind to drift.

With fire in his eyes and ice on his tongue he was possibly the most beautiful man she’d ever seen, tall and dark and handsome. She blushed involuntarily in sudden embarrassment at her soppiness. But he’d literally swept her off her feet. He’d promised her the Earth and she believed he could deliver; when they’d made love he’d been gentle and caring, attentive to her every need. And afterwards he’d bathed her in a warm glow, holding her in his rippling arms until dawn.

She sighed despite herself – he was such a simple, sensitive man, maybe the perfect man – a good listener (incredible hearing come to think of it), handy. She found herself increasingly day-dreaming of raising a family with him: he’d be an excellent father, the best anyone could hope for.

She arched her back and stretched languidly, gracefully, enjoying the feeling (he’s really got under my skin).

Better call Steve, she thought, what can I say: I’m sorry, Steve, it’s not gonna’ work out Steve. I’ve loved being with you, and I loved you from the moment I rescued you from your plane crash. But even though I love you I’m no longer in love with you. The truth is I’ve met someone and he…well, he isn’t you.

No, too cruel. But what then: it isn’t you it’s me? I’m not ready to settle down with you because I’ve not settled down with me yet; I don’t know who I’m going to be yet? Yuck.

And anyway, it wouldn’t be quite true. Because she hadn’t just met someone – she’d met someones. Plural.

She’d met him first, just the other week in fact. He was suave and dignified, sophisticated with an arrogant streak a mile wide. Oh he’d swaggered about like he owned the place (he probably did come to think of it), but she’d sensed a shyness in him, a little boy lost hiding underneath the $10,000 suit and expensive manicure. So complex, so intriguing. Potent mix.

They’d gone for dinner, somewhere fancy, but she wasn’t interested in the money, had enough of her own. He’d ordered for her (control freak?), which she normally hated but he’d been right on the money; she couldn’t have done better herself. He was a good detective, he said, could read people, like a gift, like it was no big thing. That arrogance again, but delivered with enough smooth charm that she found she didn’t mind.

He’d walked her to her hotel – streets aren’t safe, he said. She’d laughed internally at that, she was pretty confident that if anything the streets weren’t safe from her. But it was touching in an old-fashioned sort of way. And he clearly adored the city.

She’d made her mind up by the time they reached the hotel. But then his shyness reared up – is he not used to this sort of thing? He’d held the door for her and she’d thought does he really think we’re here for coffee?

But then he’d, well he’d ravished her, like a pirate in one of those stupid romance novels. It was quick and dirty and sexy as hell. Not very feminist of you, Di, she thought; a man who took what he wanted like that, who hadn’t treated her like a goddess like men usually did. But boy did it work

She found herself blushing again from the memory.

Which reminded her, she was seeing him tonight. Better make sure she hadn’t double-booked and agreed to see farm-boy too – this dating two men was exhausting. But she couldn’t decide between them and in her more honest moments she admitted to herself that she was having too much fun to stop.

Her phone rang: he had a helicopter coming to pick her up in an hour (they were going to the opera so dress nice). Shit she found him sexy. She sighed, despite herself.

Miles away ‘farm-boy’s’ brow furrowed. He wasn’t quite sure what he’d heard, but he was uneasy. Don’t jump to any conclusions. But even if you’re right, he thought, I’m a good man with a good heart; I’ve as good a chance as anyone.

Meanwhile in the gloomy, subterranean depths Batman smiled wickedly in the green glow of a computer screen.

Kal-El, this means war.

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But on second thoughts the studio will have second thoughts about this pitch – there’s only one Wonder Woman after all, which means one of Batman or Superman will lose.  And that can’t happen, because you need a draw (and it’s a cop-out if she decides to go back to wussy Steve in the end having learned the value of reality over fantasy, vomit).

So here’s the shock twist (it doesn’t matter that it makes no sense, just go with it) – it turns out that Batman and Superman are actually dating different incarnations of Wonder Woman from different Earth-Nos so they both win! Just like in that R Kelly/Usher music video!!!

For her part, Wonder Woman expresses her dismay to the studio execs that by now we should have moved beyond the notion that women are chattels to be bartered or otherwise exist for men to compete over them. Surely in this day and age she should be more than just a plot device?  But the producers told her not to worry her pretty little head over it and get back in the kitchen where she belongs. Cos’ she’s really good at all that baking and stuff and the men are sure gonna’ be hungry soon.

So she kills them.

The end.

THAT Speech In Full: Sin City

The night’s as hot as hell. It’s a lousy room in a lousy part of a lousy town – I’m staring at a goddess. She’s telling me she wants me. I’m not going to waste one more minute wondering how I’ve gotten this lucky. She smells like angels ought to smell, the perfect burger… the Goddess.

Big Mac. She says her name is Big Mac.

Subverting the RomCom: Celeste and Jesse Forever

Celeste and Jesse are childhood friends who married young and are now in the throes of a divorce.  They try to maintain their increasingly bizarre and destructive relationship while pursuing other people. 

Some things are obviously bad for you: Dan Brown’s latest page burner (the something man did something adverbly).  Others are more subtle, such as juggling chainsaws or wrestling grizzly bears.

Standing in a lift at work with a man making eyes at himself in the mirror might also count; one is, after all, witness to a burgeoning romance with a distinctly sexual undertone.  And on a personal note, I hope that that particular gentleman waits until he’s alone to consummate said relationship.

Talk of love and all its associated bodily fluids leads us in a dark, degenerate direction.  I refer of course to the romantic comedy.  A once-decent genre that gave us the likes of The Apartment and When Harry met Sally has become…well:

Blank-eyed mannequin has single obnoxious trait and unfeasibly large apartment as a result of an unlikely career path.  Meets blank-eyed mannequin of the opposite sex with equally unrealistic lifestyle.  They speak at cross purposes, maybe taking an instant dislike to one another. 

But they’re equivalently attractive so nature takes its course.  There is a sub-plot involving their two best friends, both of whom are slightly less good-looking but likewise equivalent to one another.  ‘Without warning’, a heavily foreshadowed obstacle crops up that derails the young romance.  Then there’s a third act set piece, probably involving an airport or train station, one of the mannequins does a call back to the obnoxious trait and they all live happily ever after. 

If the two best friends haven’t done so already, they get together during the credits.

Or as Matthew McConaughey puts it, ‘bullshit’.  And Kate Hudson instantly melts.  Don’t pretend you didn’t get the reference.  Or that you didn’t have to wipe away a tear at the memory.

Just me?

Sometimes a movie comes along that aims at subverting the clichés of the form, largely by playing up to them. It’s called having your cake and eating it ironically.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is one of these movies – he’s an aimless artist archetype (ie a manchild who can doodle), she’s a media trend analyst, whatever one of those is.  But get this: the movie opens with them in the throes of a divorce.

Yeah. Take that rom-com; it’s like an anti-rom-com.

Rashida Jones (Celeste) and Andy Samberg (Jesse) are both charming performers who share an easy chemistry onscreen.  Unfortunately they’re saddled with distinctly charmless characters – Celeste considers herself to be mature and sensible, when in fact she’s selfish and impulsive, content to ditch Jesse for not matching up to her requirements until he shacks up with another woman. At which point she suffers from wantwhatyoucan’thaveitis.  For his part, Jesse is weak and lazy – he takes up veganism at the behest of his new girlfriend but the film seems unsure as to whether this is indicative of him growing as a person and embracing much-needed change or whether he’s just adopting the lifestyle of his new squeeze for an easier life.

Things happen suddenly and without warning – a pregnancy that serves the plot but further obscures the film’s attitude to its protagonists.  Elijah Wood appears as the gay friend who’s trying (awkwardly) to emulate the stereotypical gay best friend beloved of lazy writers.  As a critique that’s fair enough, but as a character it makes for a hazy attempt at satire and a distinctly uncomfortable performer.  Elijah Wood can do comedy – he’s excellent in TV series Wilfred for example – but he’s better as the straight man rather than comic relief.

Emma Roberts plays a caricature of the spoilt starlet, rather than a character in her own right.  Her function is to show Celeste up for her arrogance (Celeste assumes her to be vapid and ill-informed, even though they, like, totally dig the same artist) then perform an abrupt about-turn and become Celeste’s bestie, helping her come to terms with Jesse moving on with his life.

As for the various love interests – the movie’s not particularly fussed and seems content to rifle through previous rom-coms for cast-offs – the focused grown-up man Celeste thinks she wants after initially disliking him, the free spirit earth goddess Jesse rebounds with falls for; the divorced man who’s a little further down the road.

Because really this movie is about Celeste and her changing feelings about her relationship with Jesse.

Between the snarky riffs on genre tropes and sudden plot developments it’s all a little disjointed, like Frankenstein’s agony aunt responding to every rom-com heroine who realised post-credits that maybe love requires a little more than a frou frou speech on a bridge.

Andy Samberg is a comic actor rather than a pure breed, and the cast’s other notable performers are Ari Graynor, fresh from similarly lightweight/bittersweet dramedy 10 Years and Eric Christian Olsen, of Not Another Teen Movie fame.

Damning with faint praise it may be, but they all make for a likeable group of people (albeit playing douchebags), while Rashida Jones takes on the dramatic heavy lifting, playing a deeply flawed character gradually gaining some awareness of those flaws.  Jones is the movie’s greatest asset by far, revealing a range and dramatic heft you wouldn’t usually associate with an actor best known for TV comedy.

But then maybe that was the point all along, given that she co-wrote the script with Will McCormack (who gets a small role as mutual friend).

The director Lee Toland Krieger (The Vicious Kind) lends an indie credibility to the film. He uses a well-defined colour palette and some lighting effects oddly reminiscent of Bladerunner to create a picture that is far more appealing than the genre’s tired norms.  Definitely a career to watch.

And that’s probably the conclusion I’d draw from Celeste and Jesse Forever – there’s plenty of talent on display here, but it’s a movie as showcase for talent.  A good enough movie rather than a good one: you’ll enjoy it while it lasts but probably not enough to watch it again.  Just like any other rom-com.

As a subversion of the genre it clings a little too keenly to the conventions, it mocks them while milking them for all their worth; it protests a little too much to be anything but what it is.

You just enjoyed a rom-com.  Don’t worry; I won’t tell your friends.

Future Noir: A Pitch For Fahrenheit 451

One of the reasons why the film is almost never as good as the book is that you create a film of the book in your head as you read it.  You picture the characters, give them their voices and fill in the blanks.  This is why good writing doesn’t give you everything, just what you need.

I’m a big fan of the clichés of noir – urban settings, darkness and rain, moody atmosphere and morally compromised players.

Also, I’ve been reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Guy Montag is a fireman – a person charged with finding and burning books (the ultimate source of unhappiness in mankind).  He’s assisted in this task by a monstrous mechanical hound armed with a hypodermic syringe.  But is there really any happiness in his life?  And is he maybe hiding books of his own…?

It’s a typically dystopian sci fi novel from the mid twentieth century, about a post-literate future in which people are isolated from real engagement with one another by earphones, tvs and constant sensory input.  In its way it’s oddly prescient, if very much a product of its time.

Anyway, combine the above, and here’s what I’ve got…

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Black screen.  Jesus In The Courtyard by King Dude plays.  The door opens (it wasn’t a black screen at all).  We’re opening with one of those showboating shots, the camera as point of view.

Our man strolls down the corridor swinging a box that occasionally comes into view.  There’s a blaring TV screen and a hubbub of excitement, not unlike any group of men left unsupervised.  The vocals cut out as our POV man cranes his head round the corner of a door.  The box raises up (the framing’s slightly skewed like someone’s leaning at an angle) “Got a real mean bastard tonight, you coming?” to the room’s inhabitant.  He shakes his head, “not tonight.”

“Wife still won’t let you, huh?”

“Something like that…” an apologetic, conspiratorial half-smirk – wife calls the shots, what you gonna’ do?

The song picks up volume.  We wander down some stairs, passing men in uniform and exchanging greetings.  We pass a slightly scruffy logo, Fahrenheit 451; the noise gets louder with each step.

It gets a little darker, with more than one off-kilter light source.  We’re in a crowd of men, shouting and passing money round.  The box is lifted again, the door opened and the animal inside shook out…

And THEN the shot switches completely to the point of view of the animal –we see the man who’s been carrying the box.  He’s dark haired, in his mid-twenties in the same heavy-duty uniform worn by the others in the crowd.  The shot whirls around, panicked – it’s a circle of men, who look huge from this angle.  There’s a rat and someone’s dropped a chicken.  Then a metallic noise from the shadows, a single red beam of light and a huge beast bursts out grabbing the rat as the crowd goes wild.

Then it turns on our point of view, a menacing metal 8-legged freak that pounces and the screen goes black.

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Next scene is of the man who declined to be involved in the blood sport, Guy Montag (though we don’t know that yet).  He closes the door behind him – his shift is over.  As soon as the door closes, Generique by Miles Davis plays.  There’s a long shot down the street, in a quite conscious homage to old noir movies.  The scene is lit by moon and streetlight.  It’s late-ish autumn.  He turns his collar to the cold and starts to walk home.

On his way home tonight he’ll meet a young girl who’ll prove to be a catalyst to his unease.  When she first speaks the music stops (it won’t play whenever she’s around, and won’t stop when she’s not).

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Maybe I’m strange, but I like to adapt the stories I read like that, giving them a character and a palette not necessarily all that faithful to the book.  It’s why ‘my’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ is a lot meaner and bleaker than yours (and also less dated).

Do you do the same? Would you?  Is it sacrilegious to take such gratuitous liberties with the written word…?  As ever, comments below for venting.

Con Heir

Amid (now-dashed) rumours that Nic Cage is set to join The Expendables cast for their third outing, we look at perhaps his most defining role…

If he’d had the good fortune to live long enough, Mahatma Gandhi’s most memorable line would’ve been “Western civilisation? It’s fantastic; gave us Con Air.”

Nicolas Cage IS a hairpiece who returns from doing army only to be goaded by How Do I Live Without You into defending his pregnant wife’s honour. A man dies in slow motion, in the rain.  Hairpiece is then screwed over by his lawyer – a scruffy, less manly hairpiece who looks like he has personal hygiene problems – and sentenced to a decade in prison.

Sentence served, our hairpiece, now a fully grown out and grown up mullet, is due for release to see his daughter for the first time, like, ever.  First though, he must fly aboard a plane stocked with a motley assortment of rambunctious miscreants including John Malkovich on scenery chewing form, some extras, a photogenic prison worker (Rachel Ticotin) and his diabetic bezzy mate, Baby-O (Mykelty Williamson).  Malkovich and Ving “They’re talking to Denzel for the movie” Rhames, get their hijacking on; Cage’s hairpiece spurns the chance to save himself and instead saves the day.

Sadly, at no point does anyone utter the phrase “Baby-O…dear”.

That’s a minor quibble, for other than that frankly unforgiveable oversight, Con Air is literal…figuratively flawless.  The plot is clearly more the work of sudden inspiration rather than sustained perspiration, and that’s putting it as nicely as one possibly can.

The dialogue speaks for itself – a poorly reheated soup of clichés, bad cod-psychology and half-remembered lines from other films.  You hope that some of it is ad-libbed but you suspect it was faithfully acted out the way it was written.

The action, especially towards the end, is clearly the work of a hyper-stimulated little boy with access to a closet full of fireworks and a team of stuntmen with nothing left to live for.

And How Do I Live Without You is the best thing about the soundtrack.  I’ll leave you to let that sink in.

Got that?

And yet and yet and yet: Nicolas Cage.  John Malkovich.  Ving Rhames.  John Cusack.  Danny Trejo.  Steve Buscemi. Colm Meaney.  Dave Chappelle.   And Monica Potter, who never quite hit the heights of her illustrious co-stars.

One ought not rhapsodise about the genius of Jerry Bruckheimer.  But even still, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

The rage of Cage, the Twitter-precursor corpse messaging, Buscemi’s discourse on the semantics of insanity, “Si!!!…” “Anara.” and the cigarette close-up; Meaney’s incredible flying convertible…

And the coup de grace: “puuut duur bunneh back eeun duur boox”; Cage speaking throughout as if he’s suffered a severe head trauma.

I used to wonder whether Con Air was a spoof on the excesses of the action genre, given that it’s so awful and its cast so awesome, but I hope not.  In these days of all-pervasive irony, Con Air works best if you view it as a sincere effort in all its shouty, testosterone-heavy OTT bullshit.  It is of a piece with all those other moronic 90s actioners (Broken Arrow, The Rock) – the bastard children of the 80s Action Jackson genre that took far too long to die.

The difference, though, is charm.

It’s a stoopid, red setter (as in the dog) sort of charm, but it’s still pretty…um…charming.  That is the only explanation for why a film so utterly devoid of merit is also so insanely rewarding.

Besides which, it’s far too good-natured to be a mean-spirited cartoon designed to mock the portion of the audience that just doesn’t get it, yeah?  Put another way, it’s in an entirely different league to the pastiche of movies like Shoot ‘Em Up.

And in these dark days of sequels, remakes, reboots and the never-ending Die Hard franchise, when every identikit superhero or faceless protagonist wants to be relevant (ie grim), when every high concept demands ‘take me serious’, the world needs Con Air.

So I propose a sequel: Con Heir.

I recognise that another sequel probably isn’t the solution to too many sequels.

Cage reprises his role as he is dragged into a plot involving an old-fashioned plane hijack while attempting to vacation with his daughter (who’s grown up to be some kind of rookie special agent/cop with a fondness for revealing clothing and roundhouse kicks).  He teaches her how things go down in the real world, as opposed to at the academy.  Because book-learning is for dickheads.

The Expendables (sadly) exists, so the cast will be drawn from the same indy-leaning palette as the original.  We want heavyweights and thesps – suggestions welcome below – and power ballads, caricatures, crap dialogue and a cameo for Denzel Washington (playing Diamond Dog in the in-flight movie within a movie, obviously).

And a bunny rabbit in a box.

I’ll leave you with Gandhi. “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”  I hardly think I need explain the relevance.

THAT Speech In Full: American Beauty

It was one of those days when it’s a minute away from snowing and there’s this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. Right? And this bag was just dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. That’s the day I realized that there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video’s a poor excuse, I know. But it helps me remember… I need to remember… Sometimes there’s so much pretentiousness in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.