It’s time to play some music…

If you have stumbled across this today, seeking some sense of relief from anxiety or fear regarding the world at this moment in time,

then please, even for just a moment, allow me to share that which never fails to make me smile.

Ladies and Gentlemen…Fozzie and Rowlf.

Hope that brightened your day…even just a little.

Be blessed.

Max Von Sydow – Five Farewells: Judge Dredd

The world has said a fond farewell this week to one of the acting professions true legends – the inimitable Max Von Sydow. At 91 years old, Sydows list of film credits is epic and impressive, having worked with no small number of master film craftsmen.

He also appeared in his fair share of schlock.

There was nothing pretentious about Max. Like his fellows who have achieve the rank of Legend (Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Christopher Plummer to name a few) he was happy to lend his own brand of gravitas to ridiculously budgeted sci-fi or horror B-movies in Tentpole makeup. He was never overshadowed by these appearances, instead somehow elevating the movies to something that would not be so easily disposable. His legacy embraces the most critically acclaimed Biblical Epic ever made, what was once considered the most terrifying film of all time, and one of the hands down greatest films of all time.

I came to know him, however, because he was not too proud to appear in schlock, such as…

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Judge Dredd

Year: 1995
Director: Danny Cannon
Writers: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Michael De Luca, William Wisher, Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Jurgen Prochnow, Rob Schneider who never once speaks to…Max Von Sydow
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Pat Mills.

1995 was a strange era. Established properties were considered gold by studios, and there were no greater hopes for a global smash hit than those hung upon comics. Comic book properties were hot commodities, thanks to the insanely profitable Batman from 1989. These were far from the days of the meticulously crafted MCU – where the Character is King (except, perhaps, for Robert Downey Jr.) – but a time when the consideration was how a well known funny book character could benefit a movie star looking to up their profile.
Judge Dredd; the most recognised character from Britain’s longest running anthology comic series, 2000 A.D.
Sylvester Stallone; at one time in the running for the Biggest Movie Star In The World, or
at least Biggest Action Star.

2000 A.D. wasn’t particularly well known beyond comic book circles, and Stallone – while still undeniably huge – had not seen stellar returns from his early 90’s efforts. He wanted a hit, and a simple, action-packed story with an iconic look for a character was a good
bet. This was not a film done on the cheap either. Sets were lavish and well designed, special effects were well-polished for the era, and someone convinced Gianni Versace to do costumes. Comedy duties would be handled by Saturday Night Live alumn Rob Schneider – part of the same lineup as Adam Sandler and Mike Myers, who had become insanely popular. With a true international cast and crew to raise the global profile, by number alone, this must have seemed a great idea.

So, we’re all clear that the movie’s trash, right?

I have never been a fan of the “Guilty Pleasure” concept. My motto for film has always been “like what you like”, and no one should ever be able to tell you what you can feel about a movie. None of that is a reflection on any concept of objective quality, so I want to be perfectly clear: Judge Dredd is not a good movie…but I enjoy it a whole lot. Part of it is just the basic cognitive enjoyment that comes from seeing something I already enjoy in one medium become visible in another. The film looks like it came out of the comic, I don’t think anyone could argue that point. Additionally, it’s just fun when to watch actors having fun on screen…and Armand Assante looks like he’s having the time of his life. Seriously, that man is the Manifest River of Ham.

And then there’s Chief Justice Fargo – Max Von Sydow.

There’s a particular type of role I’ve begun to notice, whereby an elder-statesman actor is brought in for one unenviable purpose. Exposition.
Like Patrick Stewart in X-Men and Anthony Hopkins in Thor, Max secures his place among the greats because of his capacity to explain the most ridiculous parts of the story, or the world around him, and be completely believable. The character of Fargo is tasked with providing the audience with context for the film’s environments, motivations for various characters, and back story that factors into the film very little…but it’s totally engaging storytelling because it’s Max Von Sydow. There was something about the man that conveyed a sense of experience and authority. I  buy into these worlds, these characters and this ridiculous series of events largely because he tells me to.

This is a quality that is seen in a fair few of his film and television appearances, even the brief ones such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones. He reminded me so much of a grandfather involved with whatever games the kids are playing. He’s taking it every bit as seriously as they do, and that makes the immersion all the more complete. It’s like his presence gives permission for everyone else to go all in.

It’s also important to note that every single emotional beat of the film involves his character. Every one. Understanding the horror that Judge Dredd himself has been proven guilty of a crime is sold by the expression on Fargo’s face. The drama of Dredd’s sentence is only effective because it is intercut with Fargo’s exile. We are drawn into the tale of Dredd’s birth because Fargo is telling the story, and it may be the last thing we hear from him. In contrast a later scene in which Dredd shows vulnerability to love-interest Judge Hershey is simply not believable, even though it is played as an emotional moment for both characters.

Put simply, Max Von Sydow is the only reason I care about what’s happening in Judge Dredd. That is perhaps the more lasting impact he has had on me as a fan of movies, and I suspect others would have a similar experience. It’s part of the reason why I am finding that his particular passing moves me so much. He was the reason I cared in quite a few movies. It’s like he was a bridge for people to connect with stories, and I think that may be the best legacy he could leave behind.
It’s the reason why a brief testimonial, or even a list of favourite appearances didn’t seem enough of a farewell. That’s why I introduce this new feature “Five Of…”, to celebrate Max Von Sydow through five of his feature roles that had an impact on me.

Vale Max.

 

Adéle Haenel and wrestling with guilt…mine, and Polanski’s

adeleAlongside Al, who built Esoteric Fish in the first place, and everyone who has contributed over the years, I have worked hard to keep the tone of this place fun. Most definitely esoteric, but always fun. When we have looked critically upon a film, show or game I like to think we have never indulged in piling abuse for the sake of entertainment. Obviously the luxury we have had on this platform  is that – beholden to none but ourselves – we get to talk about literally anything we want. In light of all of that, what follows will likely seem an odd contribution, but it is a subject that hits very close to home for me. I have recently been challenged about whether my silence on certain controversial topics is wisely not becoming involved in pointless debate, or complacency that belies my personal convictions. This may be a little raw folks, but I pray it will make you reflect a little. Continue reading

Remake; Reboot; Re: Perfection

Although I rarely indulge these days, in the not-too-distant past I was something of an avid gamer. I suppose for most of my generation that’s more to be expected than not, but I should be honest and upfront about the fact that, while enthusiastic, I was never very good. ‘Good’ is probably a subjective term anyway, but certainly from the point of view that I rarely, if ever, actually played a game through to completion. Notable exceptions include Mass Effect (1 & 2), Uncharted 2: Drake’s Fortune and Diablo. Just the original mind you, even though Diablo 2 probably stands as my favourite game of all time, and certainly holds the record for most number of hours clocked. Continue reading

Water Worlds: All they’re cracked up to be?

by C. S. Cooper, 13th July, 2019

Thinking about Water Worlds

I think my first experience with a water world was playing Lylat Wars (StarFox64 for US readers). It was a video game on the Nintendo64, and involved a team of elite fighter pilots travelling through the Lylat System, stopping at each planet to battle the evil forces of Andross, determined to take over the universe. It was a pretty fun shooter-on-rails, and I still occasionally play it on an emulator. Continue reading

Give Us A (Point) Break!

Several years ago, Birthmoviesdeath ran an editorial with the provocative title: “Johnny Utah is an (awful) FBI agent.”

Point_break_1991_7_reeves-300x175“Dude…whoa.”

Now, I’m a reasonable guy; Birthmoviesdeath is my go-to for movie stuff, and they have affirmed their appreciation for the glory of the cinematic wonder that is Point Break; and I always take several grains of salt with pieces such as this. But as I got further and further into this article…son, my blood began to boil. Continue reading

I’m King of the (Water)world!

by Mitchell Hall

Underwater movies have never been something I dived into over the years; it’s been something I’ve grown to appreciate, slowly and surely so I don’t get the bends.

Underwater is just dark and some weird looking fish (not Esoteric Fish). Then I started reading interviews with James Cameron and I began to appreciate the technology and the science that it takes to get down there. I did see James Cameron’s exhibition at the Maritime Museum and seeing his diagrams and photos of sending a mouse underwater in a diving bell gave me that sense of new horizons.

I watched the documentary on James Cameron’s dive into the Mariana Trench. Just the tension around the planning table where James straight talks the Australian Engineering firm. He tells them that if something goes wrong on the diving sub, he is dead. End of story and the end of a lot of stories.

To see that ship go out and dive down deep into the ocean is an amazing thing to achieve and whilst I don’t want to go down deep myself it gave me an appreciation of the ocean and the environment there.

Last summer I was given the gift of my first snorkelling kit, I went to a beach of Sydney, put my flippers on and double backed into the water. I swam and avoided some rocks, went through the seaweed and saw my first fish. Just swimming around and seemingly oblivious that I was there.

I saw some more fish, this time with colours and stripes and different looks and I felt amazed to see this going on in my hometown.

The underwater world is amazing, there is life there that is inspiring, if you can explore it.

 

James Cameron’s stunning documentaries – Ghosts of the Abyss, Aliens of the Deep and Deepsea Challenge are well worth a look for the extraordinary passion for the ocean on display.

Aquaman

“Arthur Curry – The Aquaman – must find his place in both the land and the ocean in order to prevent a war that could engulf both.”

Aquaman

Year: 2018

Director: James Wan

Writers: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, Will Beall, Geoff Johns, James Wan

Creators: Paul Norris, Mort Weisinger

Starring: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman (wait, what?), Temuera Morrison, Patrick Wilson (?), Willem Dafoe (whoa, seriously?), Dolph Lungdren (The Dolph’s in this?!?), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and featuring the voices of Djimon Hounsou, John Rhys-Davies and Julie Andrews…this can’t be real!

When I was in my early teens, discovering comics in that most 90’s of decades, one of my older brother’s friends explained to me, with great gravity, the cardinal rule we were all to follow: You are either with Marvel, or with DC – you cannot be in both camps. As an impressionable lad I took this almost-strangers words to heart, and since I had already started with Superman, I figured my die was cast. In truth I never felt like I had reason to regret that – I have always been drawn to the iconography and mythology surrounding the DC superheroes, and never felt the need to relate strongly to them for their foibles and humanity – the hallmark of their Marvelous competition. When comic book properties started being snatched up and produced for the big screen, however, I noted with interest how eagerly Marvel characters were being thrown at audiences, while the old WB seemed a little slow in doing the same for their own four-colour creations. Sure, I’m on board with The Dark Knight just like everyone else, and I’m even something of an apologist for Superman Returns and The Dark Knight Rises. Like so many other fans, however, I couldn’t help but lamenting the sense that Marvel – from Iron Man onward – seemed to have cracked a winning formula that Warner Bros. just couldn’t match, and threatened to leave my beloved Justice Leaguers obsolete; and while I am not as down on the so-called “Snyder-verse” as some have been, I have long wondered when these film folk were going to wise up, embrace the fact that comics and superheroes have an innate level of ridiculousness to them, and just have some fun.

I never could have suspected that of all films to finally go big…it’s Aquaman that has hit the Joy-Joy for me.

A user review on IMDB starts out by saying: “My impression was that this would be yet another bloated studio tentpole with cheesy dialog, a generic story and artificial looking CGI.” To which I respond…well, yeah. That is all absolutely correct. It also simply does not matter, because I was having such a good time with the film that the many “flaws” on display (and they are certainly there) are overcome by the sheer, visceral sense of fun and adventure. To be fair to “Gogoschka-1”, they continue their review with much the same sentiment as me.

i can’t even bother to recount elements of the plot, or the background of the characters; part of the joy is in the often clumsy ways in which the film feeds the audience. I don’t feel I can talk at length about performances in this film either. This may be the first film I have ever seen in which every single person involved has chosen to bathe themselves in the river of Ham immediately prior to “Action!”. It is a perfectly suitable choice for the material, which we should acknowledge is utterly ridiculous at the source, but is somehow made even moreso by James Wan and his beautifully demented team.

We do have to zero in on the key element that bring this whole gloriously enjoyable mess together. It’s this guy:

I think Jason Momoa is an entirely unique kind of actor. He appears as someone who should have been a big deal in the 80’s, but should be somewhat out of style by now; he has an imposing presence, but is not really threatening; he plays serious men who face serious challenges, but seems to be having so much fun all the time! He embodies the qualities of this film: big, bombastic, engaging and uplifting.

I recall an interview with Peter Jackson in which he discusses films like Evil Dead, 28 Days Later and his own Braindead (or Dead Alive depending on where in the world you may have seen it) and says “Seeing films like this makes you want to get your friends and go make low-budget horror of your own because it looks like fun and it is fun.” Aquaman feels like that statement writ large. James Wan has embarked on a massive studio project with an enormous budget, the weight of producer and fan expectations overshadowing everything, working in with an uncertain franchise, not to mention that his central character is widely regarded as the least popular (or most lame, depending on how generous you’re feeling). None of this should have worked. But it does, and it feels like Wan’s own superpower may be in enabling everyone he gathers around him to have such a good time that it is literally transmitted through the screen into our brains.

Big budget movies, with low budget attitude. How sweet is that?

Honestly, this film makes me reassess my own attitude towards films and filmmakers. I don’t tend to like “reviewing” films, and I certainly don’t like scoring them, as I’m very invested in the idea that movies are so subjective an experience that we’re all better served if we just films make us feel. Filmmaking is a craft, however, or perhaps more accurately a combination of a wide array of crafts, and the practitioners of those crafts are capable, at different times, of maintaining a standard or falling short. Normally, when those failings are obvious, it is cause to lessen the status of the film in question. But somehow, this time, it just doesn’t matter. I don’t care about whether dialogue is cheesy; I don’t care that the CGI is, at times, distracting; I don’t care that the story takes unnecessary turns. In the end…Jason Momoa takes on an army of people riding sharks while he himself rides a tentacled sea monst the size of a skyscraper!

I am so pumped for the sequel.

How To Enjoy It

It’s Surf’n’Turf time! After a lazy afternoon on the beach, fire up the BBQ. Make sure the steaks are Eye Fillet, throw on a healthy number of prawns, if some gifted cooks are among you then make up some of your own calamari rings as well. Make sure there’s plenty of beer (I mean plenty), set up deck chairs and bean bags and project the movie in your backyard.

Across a crowded room…

Years ago, when I first heard of a new web-based social media service called Twitter, a friend of mine tried to get me on board, and explained it thus: It’s a conversation.
So simple…yet so impenetrable, at least for me, who has historically a very slow uptake to new media. The only way I could come to understand it was to envision an immense function hall, with countless people attending a party thrown by the Internet. Everyone gathered is talking; all at once; all over the top of one another; most at the top of their lungs.

Imagine my surprise when my friend responded to my illustration by saying: “Well yeah, that’s pretty much it”

I have watched, carefully, since then, and come to understand that such an image could be applied to the entire online experience. Everyone’s talking, and every now and then we hear someone respond to something we say, or we engage with others on something. While, as something of an introvert, the prospect of such fills me with apprehension, I have to acknowledge the wonder of it all – people from all over the world, given equal voice, equal volume, equal time, equal platform. This very column may not quite be the place to discuss how such an endeavour can turn very, very human, but when we’re all of one accord The Conversation is a beautiful thing.

Interesting, given that movies have been aiming for such a dialogue from the beginning.
Oh sure, initially it may just have been giving everyone a common subject to talk about, but those who pioneered, experimented, defined and refined filmmaking have gone on to create not just a dialogue between audience members, but between the audience and the films themselves. Who hasn’t had the experience of entering into a new social group – be it at school, work, church or a friends party where said friend is too caught up to actually hang with you – and felt the awkward pang of being outside the conversation…UNTIL someone says “What did you all think of Game of
Thones?” Our shows and movies become ultimate icebreakers – some of them are so universal that they can put a whole group of strangers at ease with one another (thank you Marvel Studios), while others are so idiosyncratic – so esoteric – that they function like some sort of secret social code. When did you find your kindred spirit at that party? Was it when someone referred to “finding Mr. Darcey”? How about when someone revealed their Scud: The Disposable Assassin t-shirt? Or perhaps you were thinking about leaving when you heard someone say: “Shop smart…shop…S-Mart…YOU GOT IT!?!?”
At its best, cinema causes us to engage with film itself, and examine our beliefs, our assumptions, our notions of right and wrong, good and evil…all the metaphysical stuff. I hold no truck with the view that people’s actions or behaviours are overly influenced by what they see (this does happen to some extent, but it is far from “monkey see, monkey do” mentality), but when approached openly – as a dialogue with a new acquaintance – film, television, literature, comics, music, art…ALL OF IT, can get us asking questions of ourselves, and our efforts to answer may just make us into better people.

I think that’s the best we might be able to hope for.

So come on…join the conversation.

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