August 2017~ Trek-On!

Trek-On! was a Sci-Fi one-day convention organised by the guys who produce the TrekMate Podcast. It took place on Saturday 19th August 2017 at The Rudolf Steiner School in King’s Landing Langley.

I. along with a few other people from FCD Events was asked to help crew the event. Initially there were 14 guests, mostly from Star Wars. The headline guest was Max Grodénchik who played Rom in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who had come over especially for the event on his way home from the big Trek con in Las Vegas. After setting up the venue on the Friday night, most of the team met up with Max at a local carvery, which was a first for him and his family.

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The event had everything you need for a good con. It had a good amount of guests. Plenty of dealers plus other activities such as a Jedi Fight Academy run by Andrew Lawden, one of the guests, who was Liam Neeson’s fight stand-in in Star Wars Ep 1: The Phantom Menace, a table-top gaming area plus a console gaming area. There were also props on display from Back to the Future, courtesy of The Hill Valley Preservation Society. A screen accurate DeLorean was outside the venue and you were able to have your photo taken inside it. In Hall 2 (where the guests were situated) you were also able to have a professional photoshoot with the guests. A variety of talks by the guests had also been planned, hosted by the man of many voices, Mr Contalk himself, Neil Green!

When I crew cons for FCD, I am part of the management team and normally manage an area but with this event I had asked to do something simple like helping to look after a guest or two. This request was honoured, but due to a shortage of staff I ended up looking after quite a few!

The crew of the USS Merlin, a Region 20 Chapter of Starfleet International, the world’s biggest Star Trek fanclub were present, with RAdm Richard Sams in command. He was there to present Max Grodénchik with his member pack after he joined the USS Alba, a Scotland-based chapter.

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Although there was a lot on offer, sadly attendee turnout was low. From the point of view of the organisers, it was upsetting to say the least. It hasn’t put them off and they are going to try again in the future. But, from the point of view as a collector/fan it was good for me as I got to spend a lot of time with the guests, chatting about their time on various films.

The majority of guests were what are commonly known as ‘extras’. Personally, I hate that term as I think it totally devalues their role in film/tv. I prefer ‘Background Actor/Artist’. Most of these people are trained actors. Yes, they don’t speak on screen and if they do it has to be less than 13 words (in the UK at least) otherwise they get paid more and get a screen credit. Theirs is an important role. When talking to people about this topic, I always ask them to think of an important scene in a film and then imagine that scene with all the background actors removed. For example, look at the scene below. It’s the medal ceremony from the original Star Wars film. How boring would it look and how much less of an impact would it have if it was just Luke, Han and Chewie with Leia giving out the medals? It would look nowhere near as effective.

For some, this is their life’s work and they have worked on many famous films and TV shows and worked with many big celebrities. These folks have helped make some of the biggest films what they are today and to devalue their work would be an insult and a disservice to them.

We were lucky enough to have quite a few ‘extras’ at the event. I’ve been waiting to meet a good few of them over the past few years.

First there was Alan Tomkins. Alan has been Art Director on a number of blockbuster films, including The Empire Strikes Back, Batman Begins, numerous Bond films and war films such as ‘A Bridge Too Far’. I was eager to meet him for his work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was interesting to hear his stories of working on the film including how Kubrick made his life hell by constantly wanting the pod bay of the Discovery-One re-dressed.

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The there was Alan Austen. Alan has done a number of films but his main role for me was as the Stormtrooper who put Han Solo in the carbon freeze in The Empire Strikes Back.

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Derek Lyons has been in a number of my favourite films and had multiple roles in each. He was a German soldier in two Indiana Jones films, has appeared in multiple Bond films and had three roles in Flash Gordon. It was great to hear stories from both him and Alan. I met Derek because of his 3 roles in the original Star Wars. He was a Rebel Honour Guard, a Rebel Pilot in the briefing room scene and finally Lt. Voren Na’al, medal bearer at the award ceremony.

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Like Derek and Alan, Nick Joseph has had a varied career, appearing in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and many episodes of the classic Doctor Who. Nick portrayed Major Arhul Hextrophon during the medal ceremony in the original Star Wars. Nick was a pleasure to speak to.

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Next was Tina Simmons. Tina has done lots of background work, most recently in Transformers: The Last Knight and Doctor Strange. Tina played a Rebel Technician during the briefing room scene in Return of the Jedi. I know someone else who was in that exact same scene and stood only meters from Tina. If only I could convince him to do cons too? Great talking to her as well!

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Harry Fielder was a pleasant surprise. Harry has had a near-40 year career as a background actor, appearing in hundreds of TV shows and films. His first being an episode of ‘The Saint’ with Roger Moore. Harry used to be very popular on the Star Wars con circuit, but due to ill health he hasn’t done an event for a while. Luckily, he lives a couple of miles from the venue so came down to sign. The man has so many stories, it’s amazing. I had no chance of hearing them all so I bought his book. Harry played Corporal Grenwick in the original Star Wars. He was in multiple scenes but is best known for helping Darth Vader with Princess Leia’s interrogation and being shot by Han Solo when they attacked the detention block. I’m glad I got to meet him!

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Finally, there was Sandeep Mohan. Sandeep has played many roles including being an MI-5 agent in Skyfall and a surgeon in Dr Strange. For me, he is best known as a Scarif Trooper in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and a First Order Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens. In TFA he appeared in two standout scenes: He was the trooper that manhandled Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) and the trooper that stopped his partner and made them back away when Kylo Ren was having his tantrum.

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It was a great pleasure talking to all these guests and I wish Wayne and Jude all success in the future with any events they put on. There is so much potential there.

 

 

August 2017~ Prince Charles Cinema

I often write about the films I’ve seen at the PCC but never about the cinema itself and thought that it’s about bloody time!!

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Situated in Leicester Place, just off of Leicester Square, The Prince Charles Cinema is one of a few independent, repertory cinemas in London. It was originally built in the early 60s as a theatre but soon became a cinema. It went through a period as a porn cinema but eventually became the cinema we know today.

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It has two screens, one is a more modern looking screen upstairs with 104 seats and the downstairs screen, near the bar which as a very 70s/80s feel to it and has 285 seats.

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It is known for showing a range of cult classics and regularly has seasons of either a certain film type, director or series. Most recently it has had a season dedicated to the late Stanley Kubrick and I have been able to see his Sci-Fi masterpiece, 2001:A Space Odyssey a few times in 70mm (It originally ran at The PCC back in 1968 when it was first released). There have also been seasons dedicated to 80s action films, Bond, Harry Potter and much more. Personally I have never had a problem with the quality of the image or the sound, especially when some of the prints used are more than 50 years old!

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Downstairs, opposite the bar (which is awesome), it the film requests chalkboard where visitors can request films they would like to see. You are limited to 5 requests per person and the board can get very full. It’s good to see that lots of these requests are honoured as well.

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The cinema is also known for showing sing-a-long films. A couple of years ago I was subjected to seeing Frozen Sing-A-Long when my niece wanted to go. I have learned to like the film over the years. Regular sing-a-longs include The Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Picture Show to which many people dress up as they do for other films shown at The PCC (they actively encourage cosplay which is awesome!).

It’s also worth keeping a close eye on the canopy outside, as over the years cinema staff have been known to put funny messages up. A few examples are below.

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Tickets are cheap and vary from film to film. The refreshments kiosk is just like it was back in the 70s/80s just like the rest of the establishment and I love it! You can become a member which gives you discount on tickets and snacks at £10 for a year (which I currently have) or £50 for life (which I keep meaning to get!). They also do members only screenings for £1.

If you want the big IMAX type screen this isn’t the place for you, but if you LOVE cult movies and like the feel of 70s/80s/90s style cinema and are slightly nerdy when it comes to film then this is the place!

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If it’s good enough for Quentin Tarantino, it’s good enough for me! (Legend has it that The PCC is his favourite cinema in the UK)

The Prince Charles Cinema Website

August 2017 ~ War for the Planet of the Apes

I’ve been a fan of The Planet of the Apes franchise from a very young age as you can see from the picture below…

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….and I still have a few Simian friends right now.

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Back in 2001 I was happy to hear that Tim Burton was attempting to reboot the series, however, like many others I was very disappointed with the film. Then in 2010, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was announced and like many, I was very dubious.

Luckily, the film turned out well, and had lots of nods to the original film with Charlton Heston. You can find a list of those easter eggs here:

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Then a couple of years later came the sequel, which only had a few callbacks, mostly just repeats of the previous film. It didn’t follow on straight after the events of the first film but instead used a time-jump to explain the story in between films and to introduce the Simian Flu backstory in full.

In 2016 another sequel was announced. War for the Planet of the Apes. It was released in July 2017. Again this film utilised a time-jump at the start and to move the story on a few years.

By now the apes have established a settlement in the forest outside of San Francisco. Caesar has re-established control over the ape population after the events of the previous film with Koba and the ape-coup. That is until humans rear their ugly heads and start causing trouble.

I’m not going to go into the full plot details as that would spoil it, but suffice to say the story was enjoyable with lots of action. There is also a great deal of humour from a new ape character called ‘Bad Ape’ who reminds me of US comedian, Jerry Lewis.

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Even though this rebooted series of ‘Apes’ films was supposed to stand alone from the originals, I can see it all tying in nicely with the original Charlton Heston film from 1968.

The CGI gets better with each film and I look forward to the story being wrapped up in the as-yet-untitled fourth film.

There were lots of easter eggs in this film too, including the introduction of a new character, a mute-human child who is rescued by Maurice the Orangutan. The child (played by Amiah Miller) was named Nova which is a call back to the original Nova played by Linda Harrison.

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The Alpha/Omega military group led by Woody Harrelson links back to the Alpha-Omega cult in ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’.

In the original film, all of the humans (except the three astronauts) were mute. In the new film it is starting to happen to humans.

Obviously Caesar is a callback to Roddy McDowall’s other ape character from ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ but in this new film, the latest Caesar has a son called Cornelius- McDowall’s character in the original movie.

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Then there is the beach scene at the end which harkens back to the original scene with Taylor/Nova or horseback, only this time it’s the apes and Nova on horseback. In both scenes the main character (Taylor/Caesar) is riding toward their destiny.

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Finally, there is the doll, which in the original, serves to prove to Dr Zaius that there was an older, human civilisation before the apes. In the newer film it serves a much different purpose.

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If you are a fan of the ape films. go and see it. If you like action/sci-fi films, go and see it. It’s a good solid movie that I would happily see again. It probably won’t win any major awards (unless it’s for CGI) but nevertheless it’s worth a watch!

July 2017 ~ Dunkirk

“Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Sweetest sound you could hear out here.”

I don’t claim to be a professional film critic, quite the opposite. I like to talk about my views on films that I have seen. Sometimes I agree with others, sometimes not. Filmgoing is a very personal experience for me (which is why I like to go alone) and I know that films affect people in different ways and that is what makes them special.

I always see films more than once. If I don’t it normally means that I disliked it so much it’s not worth a second viewing. The first time I see a film I concentrate on the story. Does it make sense? Are there huge, gaping plot holes? That kind of thing. The second time I pay more attention to how it was shot, the acting, soundtrack etc. If I do see a film multiple times (For example: Rogue One 7 times and Wonder Woman 9 times) then I must REALLY have enjoyed it!

On to Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan (Director of Interstellar, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception) It will be short, spoiler-free review (I hope!).

I really enjoy war films based on real events, providing they are as accurate as is possible. I know that time constraints mean that events have to be condensed or altered slightly and I’m fine with that as long as they are accurate as possible. One example of this are two films based on the same event, The Battle of The Alamo. One of the most popular films based on this event was the 1960 movie starring John Wayne. Whilst this was a good, entertaining movie, it was highly inaccurate. The 2004 version of the story, directed by John Lee Hancock (No relation) was much more accurate. The director had taken the time and effort to do his research. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot more accurate than The Duke’s version.

My initial worry with Dunkirk was that it would be sensationalised like many of today’s films, so I purposely avoided any teaser/trailer, right up to the final 4-part trailer that was released back in April this year. I was able to see the film without knowing a great deal which was a bonus.

My first screening was in 70mm at The Odeon Leicester Square. I can wholeheartedly say this is the best way to see the film. There is so much going on over such a wide area that it needs 70mm to do it justice.

What struck me first about the film was the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. There wasn’t a loud score, drowning out dialogue as can sometimes happen. Don’t get me wrong, it works for certain films like Star Wars but with Dunkirk I think it would have taken away from the story. There was a soundtrack, but it was subtle enough to not distract. The volume was just right. For example, the track “Supermarine” which played over the dog-fight was at the perfect level to really enhance the scene.

The second thing that  struck me was the dialogue, or should I say lack of. Sometimes I’m sure that scriptwriters and directors put in dialogue just for the hell of it and it can come across as cheesy (ahem George Lucas!). Not here. There was dialogue when needed. I don’t want to say more as it will spoil it.

The story was great. It takes place over three time periods, based on different locations. The first was ‘The Mole’ (Similar to a breakwater, to protect harbours) which took place over the course of a week. The second was ‘The Sea’ which focussed on the Small Vessels Support and takes place over the course of a day. The third and final location was ‘The Air’ which focussed on a small group of fighter pilots and takes place over the course of an hour. By the end of the film, these three intricately woven stories have all become one and makes, for me, a moving, accurate as possible, story about sacrifice, loss and the stubbornness of the British people during World War 2 and Operation Dynamo.

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The visuals are breathtaking. From the scenes on the beach or at The Mole, to the sky and down to the sea. There are times you will find yourself holding your breath.

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Stand out performances by Sir Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Mark Rylance and Aneurin Barnard. But, the best two performances throughout the whole film, for me, were Cillian Murphy as the shell-shocked soldier, and Tom Hardy as Farrier, the Spitfire pilot who could give across so much emotion during this film with just his eyes…

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The one performance that I thought was hyped-up by the media was Harry Styles. He just didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t that it was a bad performance, it was that anyone could have done it in my opinion.

Keep an ear out for a special voice-cameo by Sir Michael Caine.

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If you can, see it in 70mm at The Odeon and receive a free-film strip!

I’ve seen it twice. Will I see it again? Most definitely!

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