Freejack (1992)

Freejack

This review of Freejack contains spoilers.

Mostly forgotten now, Geoff Murphy (Young Guns II)’s 1992 SF-action turkey Freejack got some attention back on its release for starring the one and only Mick Jagger. And as a twelve year old at the time the film was getting premiered on Sky’s movie channels, I was certainly interested in it because I thought the ads looked good, plus anything futuristic was always going to fascinate me after having been bowled over by Back to the Future Part II on the big screen a few years earlier. Unfortunately (or so I thought), those movie channels were out of our price range so I forgot about Freejack until it was premiered on BBC1 a few years later.

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By then I had become more aware that the film was meant to be… how can I put it… a bit shit, so I geared myself up for a bumpy ride of some sorts. I wasn’t disappointed. I mean, it’s awful, but from the moment Jagger’s bounty hunter/’bonejacker’ Victor Vacendak lifts up the future-visor on his head and says, in that unmistakable camp London accent of his, ‘Okay… let’s do it! I knew I was going to love this film.

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I had the foresight to tape Freejack at the time and made a point of rewatching it over and over again. Well, the good bits anyway. Bits of this film are really dull. But the good bits (and by that I mean the really bad bits) were pure comedy gold.

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Based on Robert Sheckley’s novel Immortality, Inc. (more on that later), Freejack is set in a future where advancements in technology have made it possible for a mind to be transplanted into another human body. Meanwhile in present-day 1992,  hot shot racing driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is apparently killed mid-race when his car explodes in front of his adoring fans, his adoring girlfriend Julie (Rene Russo) and his adoring agent (David Johansen from the New York Dolls!). However, he’s not really dead because he re-materialises in the year 2009, surrounded by baddies in bacofoil who are ready to lobotomise him with a freaky laser. Luckily, Furlong escapes into a dystopia where people are either living at the top in sleek, plush surroundings or at the bottom where the only things to eat are rats or soup that’s so tasty that people are willing to kill you if you spill it all over them.

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Furlong realises that he’s now a ‘freejack’, a fugitive wanted for his BODY by a mystery party. Everyone he turns to for help either betrays him or slams the door in his face, except for a gun-toting nun, aka Mother Exposition, played by Amanda Plummer a few years before she threatened to execute every motherfuckin’ person in the Big Kahuna burger joint in Pulp Fiction. It turns out there’s a thing called the Spiritual Switchboard, which is a kind of cloud where human minds can be uploaded and then downloaded into a different body. Furlong’s body appears to be hot property because it comes from a time before something called the Ten Year Depression and isn’t contaminated with all the toxins, poisons and mutations that today’s underclass have been exposed to. Ah, but why doesn’t Furlong’s mystery party just take his pick of a body from 2009’s non-toxic cultural elite?

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Nope, it’s got to be Furlong, and the one who wants him is none other than Anthony Hopkins, who I forgot to mention in this review so far because he didn’t make much impression on the plot up until now. I’m sure he made an impression on viewers at the time – this was the first film he’d made after his award-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs. This was not the first instance of an actor starring in a total turkey immediately after their Oscar win, and it wouldn’t be the last. It turns out his character in this – the mysterious and recently deceased tycoon McCandless who owns everything in the future and therefore was always untrustworthy – has fallen in love with Julie and of course the only way to win over someone who’s already attached is to possess the body of her boyfriend!

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The ending was clearly this was meant to be the Ultimate Trip, the kind that would leave Kubrick whimpering. Forget 2001, this was 2009, baby! This is where Furlong and Julie enter the Spiritual Switchboard, past loads of pixels, squares, time lapse skies and altering environments, culminating in a confrontation with McCandless, who seems to be able to smoke cigars in this virtual world – how does that work? – and who also suspiciously appears to have regretted his rash decision to try and nab Furlong’s body, offering to give everything to him, his riches, his job as an apology … but we know it’s all lies and stalling, as Vacendak shows up and Furlong still ends up undergoing the old switcheroo in a sequence of, and let’s be generous, rather funny special effects that includes a trippy flashback nightmare that, like all bad dream/hallucination sequences, features not one but two random bits of people laughing wickedly.

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Weasely deputy villain Michelette (Jonathan Banks), who doesn’t want McCandless in any form to survive as that would prevent him from inheriting the company, destroys the transfer device and we’re all left wondering which mind is currently occupying the disoriented body of Furlong. Michelette has the right idea – if whoever this guy is can correctly identify McCandless’ personal security clearance number then he’s obviously the real deal. The thing is, he actually can! It must be McCandless, god damned McCandless! Michelette shakes his head in despair, laughs to himself and attempts to go out in a blaze of glory before being instantly gunned down by Vacendak.

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So Furlong’s dead, right? No. He was just guessing the security number and Vacendak went along with it because, let’s face it, nobody likes Michelette. Furlong’s a bit of a twat about it though, not telling Julie what’s happened until we the viewer also got to find out, which was a bit mean of him, stringing her along like that for what must have felt like a long few minutes. So, Furlong assures Julie that everything’s going to be alright and off they drive. In fact, his specific final line is ‘Come on, buckle up, let’s see what this baby can do!’ which is a line almost as cheesy as the one in this clip:

Haul Ass to Lollapalooza!

Cue anthemic metal from whistle-friendly favourites the Scorpions and roll those credits. Terrible ending. Saying that ‘Hit Between the Eyes’ is a fun song. I remember hearing the guitar squeals over that old Sky ad for the movie and I remember thinking this film was going to be ace.

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So, what we have here is a film that was probably the last attempt to make Emilio Estevez an action star, but he’s just not well served by the direction or the script. Also, he just doesn’t convey enough of the overwhelmed mind-scramble of what it would be like to be in a new time. Even though the Estevez smirk is almost as good a thing as the Bruce Willis smirk, he’s just too cocky here for us to really care too much. We also have future Breaking Bad legend Jonathan Banks in the role of Michelette, and compared to the dry, been-there-done-that persona of Mike Ehrmentraut, his character here is entertainingly obnoxious, stressed-out and seemingly despised by everybody. The scene where Jagger crushes a Faberge egg and chucks it over to him whilst calling him an asshole is one of the funniest in the film. Banks and Hopkins get the play-it-straight-but-chew-the-scenery-at-the-same-time thing beautifully, which can’t be said for Estevez and Russo. There’s little to no chemistry between the two, which makes their potentially thrilling, 16-year overdue catch-up a little flat. To be fair, the tragedy of their extended separation isn’t helped by the bit just as Furlong ‘dies’ when the camera rapidly zooms into Julie’s face – it’s hilarious. I think even Warners/Morgan Creek realised it was funny as early as 1993, because Brad Pitt’s waster character in True Romance is watching that exact same moment on the telly.

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But never mind that.

Let’s talk about Mick Jagger.

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Now I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan. I love their sixties stuff, I love their seventies stuff and I even like some of their eighties stuff. And I love Mick Jagger. What a frontman. I mean, there’s precious few like him. Yet there’s always been something kind of hilarious about him too. It’s that preening, camp, lip-smacking sense of mischief, right there even from the start. Like David Bowie, Nicolas Roeg found something intrinsically cinematic about him and both of them enjoyed their best big-screen performances under his wing. However, unlike Bowie, Jagger didn’t really have much of a film career afterwards. I’m not saying Bowie was a screen legend, but he also had The Hunger, Labyrinth and The Prestige among others under his belt, whereas Jagger had few other roles of note. There was Ned Kelly, and then there was Freejack.

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I love Jagger in this film – he can’t really act but he does his individual thing and he does it very entertainingly. As I’ve already mentioned, his very first line is a classic of camp delivery, but pretty much everything he says here has this kind of delightful amusement to it. How the hell do nothing lines like ‘power it up’ and ‘he’s good’, both uttered by him in the opening race sequence, end up being so gigglesome? It’s all in the execution. His best extended sequence outside of the Faberge bit is the chase scene involving the ugliest and reddest tank in history. Furlong has escaped in a car/champagne crate and Vacendak and crew are in hot pursuit. Using some kind of bluetooth connection to tap into Furlong’s car, he starts pestering his quarry throughout the car chase, and even though Furlong tries to hang up on him (leading Vacendak to hilariously exclaim ‘Oh no! I hate the dark!’) he just won’t go away. He laughs like a madman, delivers lines like ‘you can’t get rid of me that easily!’ ‘I want him without a scccraaatch!’ and ‘the brake pedal’s the one on the right’ and of course ‘DON’T DO IT!!!!’ with the kind of relish someone who actually gets paid a lot of money to say this stuff does.

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So what about the book that Freejack was based on? I wasn’t expecting Robert Sheckley’s 1958 Immortality, Inc. to be so entertaining, but it really is a proper tear-through ride of a novel that is crammed with ideas and twists. Okay, the female characters get short shrift, but for the most part it’s great. To be honest, to adapt it faithfully might have made for a pretty crammed feature-length film, but compromises could nevertheless have been made and we could have got a striking, spectacular SF experience.

When you come down to it, Freejack is mostly a lot of chases, fights and shoot outs, only really going into overdrive (some would say for the worse) for its finale. Immortality, Inc. has a lot more fun delving into the future world that Thomas Blaine (not Alex Furlong) has found himself in. At first his arrival into the future is exploited as a publicity gimmick for the Rex Corporation (there’s no McCandless here) who want to show him off as the world’s first person to be snatched from the past and put in a new body, but is soon forgotten by the media and even his own captors once the novelty’s worn off. Instead of being a target for capture, Blaine is more or less stranded in the future in a new body and with no way to make a living… I don’t want to spoil the rest of the novel as it’s a revelation for those only aware of Freejack, but if you do get round to reading it you’ll be dazzled by how much stuff there is here. Then you think about all that could have been accomplished in adapting this novel and you see what was actually made and released in 1992 and it beggars belief. Freejack essentially adapts a tiny portion of the story – the concept of an old mind occupying a younger body and the presence of the Spiritual Switchboard – and scraps the rest. I mean, there were suicide booths in the novel! Why would you not put something like that in the film? There’s merely a small electronic billboard for ‘suicide assistance’ that you can just about make out in a couple of shots. At least Futurama recognised a great (if fucked-up) SF idea when it saw one. It’s frankly insulting to see what they’ve done to the novel. If there are better examples of just how dumb the worst of Hollywood can be in adapting other mediums, then please let me know.

Of course, there was nothing in Immortality, Inc. that was as funny as the shot below, so both have their own individual merits, I suppose.

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PS: Amazingly, one of the co-writers is Dan Gilroy, who would end up directing the terrific Nightcrawler!

PSS: Some of the main characters have alliterative names, like Victor Vacendak and Mark Michelette. Those that don’t are nonetheless played by actors with alliterative names, like Emilio Estevez and Rene Russo. The only exception is Anthony Hopkins as Ian McCandless, but given he had just won an Oscar, I suppose he could get away with it.

PSSS: two non-Jagger highlights from the tank chase scene to mention – the music by Trevor Jones here is really enjoyable, great chase music. And secondly, yes that is a sample of James Brown screaming as a pedestrian jumps out of the way. There’s a few of these in this film, but it wasn’t the first action romp to feature a Brown sample. Raw Deal did it too, spectacularly. Hit me!

PSSSS: Here’s a shot of David Johansen, simply because there hasn’t been one yet in this review.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Spoiler-Crammed Review!

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I saw the new Star Wars movie this morning. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing it, even the ones that claimed to be spoiler-free. I mean, even a review that was spoiler-free might give away things without meaning to. You know, when a review thinks its being nice by not revealing a film’s big twist but the sheer act of mentioning a twist means that I’m trying to second-guess the film all the way. So, this is a review for those who’ve already seen the film. I’m not going to go into plot, because anyone who reads this review will have seen the film already. If you haven’t seen the film yet, and you still want to read this piece, then good for you. I think.Weirdo.

I’ve only seen The Force Awakens once, and it’s only been six or so hours since I saw it, so feelings and opinions are still fresh, unfocused and whatnot. In no order, this is a rambling account of how I feel about it. It’s not a thorough review, it’s just how I feel at this time.

  • It is better than all of the prequel films. The prequels were not awful – I watched them again recently and they are spectacular, sometimes exhilarating and dramatic, and Ian McDiarmid is terrific, the unquestioned highlight of all three episodes, but they are deeply flawed films. This is the Star Wars film we should have got back in 1999.
  • There is no embarassing dialogue, no clunky plot, no bad acting. This is a strong Star Wars movie.
  • The film starts without the 20th Century Fox logo. This is weird, but can’t be helped. Still, it is odd not hearing that fanfare, though I’m so glad we didn’t kick off with the Disney or Bad Robot idents. Simply having the Lucasfilm glimmer into shot without any music was the best possible solution.
  • No matter which Star Wars film I watch, all immediate emotional responses once that ‘STAR WARS’ title appears and the John Williams score explodes into earshot are the same. Essentially, it’s bliss. I’m a child again. The opening text is a good one, no crap about trade debates and taxation. I’m excited.
  • I bloody love Oscar Isaac. Seriously, whatever it is that the best actors have, whatever IT is, that special something or whatever, he’s got IT. He’s just got that charisma, that magic… he’s the best. Still, that name… Poe Dameron… I keep thinking of Cameron Poe from Con-Air.
  • As soon as that blood is wiped over Finn’s stormtrooper helmet, all the antiseptic cleanliness of the prequel trilogy is instantly forgotten.
  • Rylo Ken is a terrific villain. He makes you realise that for all his cool double-edge lightsabre antics, Darth Maul was a very one-dimensional antagonist. Maybe there was a little bit more to Count Dooku, but not much. General Grevious had more limbs that personality traits. Rylo Ken is properly conflicted, fascinating, scary and extremely well played by Adam Driver. I was unsure of him beforehand, because as terrific as he is, he has a certain screen presence that I didn’t think would blend with Star Wars. He has adapted beautifully to this series.
  • The music is strong. Whenever it references earlier cues and themes, it’s a wonderful thing.
  • The return of characters from Episodes IV-VI is wonderfully handled. Han Solo, Chewie, Leia and (eventually) Luke… it really was like seeing old friends again. Can’t say the same about Threepio and Artoo, as it feels like they never went away, thanks to them being in the prequel trilogy.
  • The action is exciting, convincing (great special effects) and engaging. The only exception is that the final attack on Starkiller Base is a little underwhelming – the concluding space battles in A New Hope and Jedi are still the ones to remember. It’s a million times better than the one from The Phantom Menace though.
  • It is arguably the funniest in the series. I know that Episodes IV-VI are wonderfully humourous experiences, but the humour I think comes from repeated viewings and familiarity with the characters. In terms of actual jokes and proper immediate laugh-out-loud moments, this is the one. Chewie complaining about the cold and the two Stormtroopers who back off quickly from Rylo Ken’s path of fury were particularly hilarious.
  • Gwendoline Christie didn’t have an awful lot to do in her masked role. Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun in Episode VIII.
  • Domnhall Gleeson was a little, and I mean just a little, hammy as General Lux – he didn’t feel truly threatening enough for me. Having him report to Snoke alongside the truly menacing likes of Rylo Ken was a bit like having Admiral Piett and Darth Vader sharing an elevator on their way to the Emperor.
  • Speaking of Snoke, was anyone else truly worried when he initially appeared to be a genuine behemoth, towering over his underlings? When it turned out that it was just a blown-up projection, I sighed the sigh of the truly relieved.
  • Underplayed, but wonderful references to the original trilogy – the little sphere thing that Luke has to defend himself from whilst training on the Falcon, the re-activation of the holo-chess game, other things I can’t remember…
  • Daisy Ridley is a total success as Rey – the film delightfully undercuts what you imagine would be typical damsel-in-distress moments. I was worried when she was taken prisoner that she would be merely the subject of rescue, but I should have known better. She is tough, smart, passionate and this new film’s brightest star.
  • John Boyega is similarly successful – this is the first time we’ve really got to know a Stormtrooper behind all that armour, and he and Ridley are a great team. Additionally, his early chemistry with Oscar Isaac is magic. Hopefully we’ll see more of these team-ups. Finn’s scenes with his newly acquired lightsabre are the equivalent of what it would be like if you or I got to handle one of those things.
  • Han Solo. His final scene marked the moment where The Force Awakens shifted from an excellent film into a truly amazing one – his and Ken’s confrontation was a major turning point, totally heart-stopping. I didn’t want Han to die – who would? But it made for terrific drama.
  • Wasn’t it wonderful to have Leia back? Carrie Fisher was wonderful – kind, but sad. Just like the way she rembered her own mother in that scene on Endor back in Jedi. Her moments with Han were really sweet. The big happy ending of Jedi never did last, sadly.
  • The new robot – BB-8, is not, as we might have understandably feared, the new Jar Jar Binks. He’s adorable and really funny. That thumbs-up bit was genius.
  • Locations and photography are stunning – the early scenes on Jakku boasted the best of the desolate, run-down feel of Tatooine, whilst the look of the final battle admist a planet where the sun was gradually being drained of power was really effective. Once the snow started falling down on the forest, the mood was the equal of that of Empire and Jedi. Earlier shots like those of the fallen Star Destroyer, or the Apocalypse Now-riffing vision of the TIE fighters against a sunset, were breathtaking.
  • Oh yes, that lightsabre duel. How bloody fantastic was that? First Rylo Ken and Finn, then Rylo Ken and Rey – this crackled with knife-edge tension and spectacle. Roger Ebert once said of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock that the ending featured the ‘latest word in fistfights on the crumbling edges of fiery volcanoes’. This scene outdoes it for duels taking place amongst apocalyptic destruction. Best scene in the film.
  • The final scene. Luke! Of course, every film aside from Episodes IV and VI (and I suppose III too, so that’s half the series, whoops) has left us hanging, and this is no exception, but it is a complete, totally satisfying film in its own right.
  • The key to this film’s success is SIMPLICITY. You could write the plots of Episodes IV-VI on the back of coasters, whereas the convoluted, overly explanatory and bogged-down plotting of the other three often dragged. The best Star Wars films do a hell of a lot with seemingly little – they breathe in and take in their surroundings, they have fun, they feel expansive. For all the surface complexity of Episodes I-III, they feel very suffocated, too trapped within their set plot course. Plus we knew exactly where they were going. Wasn’t it great to see a Star Wars film that genuinely surprised us? Roll on Episode VIII.
  • Thank you Michael Arndt. Thank you Lawrence Kasdan (great to have you back). And yes, thank you, thank you, thank you JJ. Abrams.

Back to the Future Part III (1990) Fan Commentary

back_to_the_future_part_iiiIt’s the end, the end of the trilogy, the end of our Back to the Future commentaries – go back to the Wild West with us as we chat over the delight that is the third chapter of this fantastic series of films. We recorded this over the 2010 UK Blu-Ray (region B). Click on the link to the right to listen or download for free as an mp3 – enjoy!

Back to the Future Part II (1989) Fan Commentary

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As Griff says, have you made a decision about tonight’s opportunity? I say again – are you in – or out? Of course, we’re talking about settling down to listen to our commentary for Back to the Future Part II, recorded swiftly after our track for the first film, and before a short break we’re taking before going back to the Wild West for Part III! Click on the link to the right to listen or download as an mp3 for free! This commentary was recorded whilst watching the 2010 UK Blu-Ray.

Back to the Future (1985): Fan Audio Commentary

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Here’s our commentary for Back to the Future, the greatest time travel movie of them all! We’ll be uploading commentaries for Parts II and III over the course of the day, so stay tuned! We recorded our commentary whilst watching the 2010 UK Region B Blu-Ray. Click on the link to the right to listen or download for free as an mp3! Trust us, it’s 1.21 gigawatts of audio gold!