Midnight struck at the end of 1999 and we found ourselves flung into a brand new century. I’m sure many who were alive then have hazy memories of wonderful partying and fireworks and optimistic looks towards the future. As for me I was miserably sober having been conned into acting as designated driver, and spent the first hour of the new century driving through a dodgy part of Nottingham with a couple on my back seat having a blazing, drunken, screaming row which ended with one of them vomiting on the floor of my car.
So the new century did not get off to a cracking start, but at least I’d have an awesome year of a new age of ground breaking 21st century movies to devour right? Well, no actually. This year kind of left me a little cold as I went through the films on offer. There were some great films don’t get me wrong, but this blog is always about the films that had an effect on me personally and there was little from this year that I could say really fuelled my love of movies with great memories. Fortunately I could still pick a trio of films that fitted into my personal remit, one of which was sowing the seeds that would change cinema in ways we never could have expected.
Bryan Singer some guy)
The emergence of super powered mutants causes panic amongst the regular human population. As the authorities begin plans to take measures against them, two mutant factions respond with very different plans.
Sometime in 1999, I spent an entire night sat at the family desktop computer, downloading a single two minute video through an internet dial-up that to that point had only ever been asked to cope with pages of Ain’t It Cool. Every ten minutes I’d recheck the progress and check out the few more seconds of footage that had appeared in that time. Way, way past midnight I was finally able to watch full and uninterrupted something I never thought I would ever see, a trailer for an actual X-Men movie.
Growing up as a comic fan I’d always longed for a proper movie that put the superheroes I loved on the screen in all their glory. Deep down I knew it was never realistically going to to happen. In the 20th century we’d had enjoyable iconic adaptations of Superman and Batman, but even the Tim Burton version of the Dark Knight had come with a degree of camp and a watered down mythology.
I would have taken any decent comic book film, but the one I dreamt of was a an X-Men movie. One that did justice to my favourite comic that during the epic Chris Claremont run got me through some lonely times in the 80’s and early 90’s. And for years there had been rumblings of one. I once bought a film script at a film convention that I believe was a mid 90’s draft penned by Andrew Kevin Walker that ultimately came to nothing. It was crude, obviously written with a realistic budget in mind but it gave me just a glimpse of what an X-Men movie could be.
An attempt at any group superhero movie was ambitious at the time (remember the more well known fantastic four had so far failed in it’s attempts to make it before audiences), and the X-Men did not have massive public awareness outside of comic readers, although there was a boost provided by the groundbreaking fan pleasing animated series. Marvel themselves had no track record, their sole character to be a movie hit had been Blade, and that was more down to the public craze for vampires and not a sign that superheroes were bankable.
20th Century Fox were cautious and only willing to allow a budget for 75 million dollars, which to put in perspective was way cheaper than other block busters such as Mission Impossible 2, Men in Black and Gladiator from that year. To sober thoughts futher it was only 5 million more than was budgeted to the Mel Gibson romantic comedy What Women Want. Despite this it was able to land a top director in Bryan Singer and two heavy weight, respected actors in Patrick Stewart and Ian Mckellen.
Although the trailer (that had caused a hike in the phone bill that month by downloading it) had not been that promising and it’s early stage footage was akin to a Roger Corman movie, X-Men proved to have a maturity and seriousness in a manner up to that point not seen in a superhero movie. The film opening with a grim concentration camp scene, with a child Magneto’s powers awakening as his family is marched to the gas chambers, establishes the themes of prejudice, oppression and fear mongering that drove the comic to be a cult hit.
For X-Men to work it was tasked with a lot of world building and it successfully does this early on, moving from the tyranny of the Nazis to shades of McCarthyism as congress debate passing a “mutant registration act.” In attendance the adult Magneto (Ian Mckelle) recognising the significance of what he is witnessing prepares his militant response while Professor X (Patrick Stewart) urges a more Martin Luther King approach to his Malcolm X.
“Well, what would you prefer? Yellow spandex? “
X-Men did it’s best to please fans by including so many X-Men characters and powers, even if sometimes they appeared briefly as background such as Iceman and Pyro. However there were decisions that threatened to annoy fans. Though there were complaints, toning down the costumes and giving the X-Men black jumpsuits was for the best in avoiding laughs creating a more realistic tone. To the chagrin of some, the character of Rogue was adapted, taking away her super strength and flying powers, focusing on the tragedy of her power that prevents her from safely touching others but making her way younger with a teenager persona more in keeping with the likes of Kitty Pryde and Jubilee.
The most controversial decision in the run up to the film was casting an unknown, pretty boy Australian in the role of the most popular X-Men characters Wolverine. Fans were dismayed when they saw pictures of clean cut (and horrifyingly not short) Hugh Jackman and screamed for message boards to be invented so they could bellow “that’s not Wolverine!” Jackman though nailed the role of the hot headed, bitter violent Logan as best a PG-13 film could. Nowadays it’s impossible to imagine anyone else ever playing Logan, just like with Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man, Heath Ledger as Joker, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, all of whom would never have gotten those roles if the viciously vocal in fandom had gotten their way (so if you’re currently whining about Robert Pattison being Batman, maybe shut the fuck up and give those qualified to cast the benefit of the doubt.)
With so many characters and a storyline that centred around Wolverine and Rogue, inevitably there those who really only came into their own in the fight scenes and brought little more than cool looks and fancy powers. Halle Berry never got to bring much personality to Storm through any of the films and Cyclops did little better than act as an opposite to Wolverine (he’d practically disappear for most of the sequels). Likewise Famke Janssen was relegated to playing Jean Grey as little more than a love interest in a Cyclops Wolvering triangle.
A similar complaint can be made against Magneto’s henchmen, Toad, Sabretooth and Mystique. However their powers and looks make for great fight scenes, in a scale that surpassed any superpowers vs superpowers contests that had come before it. The final battle in and out of the Statue of Liberty is impressive and exciting and has a great objective around it. In keeping with his motivation Magneto wants to turn a meeting of UN ambassadors into Mutants, believing this will cause them to rally around mutant rights. However the X-Men have stop him knowing this “mutation” is more likely to kill them and further escalate the human-mutant tensions. Looking back this is a refreshing alternative to the trope of the big destructive energy cloud in the sky that has to be stopped.
While it has since been surpassed by more spectacular comic book franchises, “The X-Men” still holds up as an enjoyable film almost twenty years later. It’s also the most important and influential film in what would become the superhero genre. It showed creatively what could be done with a more mature comic book adaptation and being a box office success open the doors to green lighting more projects. If X-Men had failed it’s possible that studios would not have indulged the more colourful and faithful films that came later.
It’s a shame that the X-Men films failed to maintain their quality and therefore became a shadow of the MCU. X-Men left many plot lines hanging in it’s ending and these were picked up beautifully in the more daring, excellent sequel X-2. Sadly the trilogy ended with a disappointment in Last Stand, and spin off Wolverine origins movie was worse still (the best thing it ever did was sow the seeds for Deadpool). With superhero movies suddenly the big thing thanks to the MCU, the franchise was revitalised with a successful prequel and new line up in”First Class,” before another so-so Wolverine solo film. In 2014 an ambitious team up of both eras of X-Men brought the classic and beloved story “Days of Future Past,” to the screen and incredibly did it justice. Sadly this was followed up by the derided Apocalypse and recent Dark Phoenix bringing this version of X-Men to a bland close.
The franchise of the X-Men has lost the hearts of fans with it’s inconsistency. Yet everyone involved with Marvel and DC movies and any cinema goer who walked out of Avengers:Endgame with a smile on their face, owes a nod of respect to the 2000 X-Men movie. All of it began here.
Battle Royale (Director: Kinji Fukasaku)
In a near future where Japanese society is falling apart, a class of 42 schoolkids are taken to an island and forced to compete against each other in an annual fight to the death where only one can survive. No, this isn’t the Hunger Games.
In 2000, American audiences wanting a dark and disturbing viewing experience had films like American Psycho and Requiem for a Dream to sate their needs. Yet it was Japan that really kicked off the century by raising the stakes in brutality with such an uncomfortable premise that it was denied a proper release in the US for a decade.
Battle Royale’s release in Japan came at a sensitive time in America. With the scapegoating of popular culture for supposedly warping the minds of the young and with the Columbine Massacre still fresh in the public’s mind, a film about school children engaged in a gory fight to the death would no doubt have caused outrage and been the first target of finger pointing when the next high school tragedy occurred.
In Japan the film caused controversy and came under attack from the media and the government. The film is a heavy critique on the Japanese educational system, highlighting it’s overcrowding classes (the class in the film has 40 students) and the allegations that school in Japan fails to prepare the young for real life. In Battle Royale in response to a supposedly out of control youth culture, the government responds by kidnapping one class a year and forcing them to a engage in a three day mass fight to the death on a remote island (bombs are attached to their necks to force them to comply and will be triggered if they are in not in certain zones at certain times.) The class of 3-B is chosen after one of it’s students stabs a teacher played by Takeshi Kitano, who ends up returning to oversee the game.
Battle Royale pays off it’s disturbing story with suitable gore and blood, as the students battle armed with a random weapon each that vary from Machine guns, knifes, baseball bats, machettes and for the unlucky booby weapons such as coat hangers and cutlery. Naturally the results are scarily violent and often distressing as some students are terrified and heartbroken, at the start two girls are shown in tears promising each other they are still friends, despite knowing they can’t both survive.
In their reactions to the contest, you see a cross section of a typical class. The scared and vulnerable who are easy prey for the bullies, the cliques who stick together as best they can, and the loners who frighteningly come into their own and actually revel in the killing. One girl the social outcast Mitsuko builds up a large headcount while another youth from outside the class Kazuo actually volunteers to take part in the slaughter. There are also the rebels, the ones that team together for as long as they can, refusing to play the game and instead fight against the system trying to use the familiarity with technology to turn the monitoring computers against their oppressors.
Battle Royale’s themes may have been interpreted differently on different sides of the world, but the conflict and tensions between adults and the young. The film was inspired by and maybe exploited by a rising tide of demonising the young, with fears that school violence and massacres were examples of a youth that was growing out of control. Battle Royale shows the divide from the other side. From the backstories of the students we constantly see children who have been failed by teachers,the authorities and parents. Most notably there is Shyu let down by a father who committed suicide and psychotic Mitsuko who’s mother left her with a paedophile for money as a young child.
While Battle Royale in the US gained a cult following through underground bootlegs, the film was available legally in many other countries. I first saw it on TV (probably on Channel 4) where I believe it must have been shown as early as 2001 or 2002, as when I saw Kill Bill in 03 I recognised Chiaki Kuriyama and the homage of her being in the school girl uniform.
I thought Battle Royale was unlike anything I’d seen in a long time. Even accustomed as I was to the violence of Asian Cinema, Battle Royale was a shock to the system, brutal, tragic and horrifying. While excited by the action, I watched the film full of tension and felt sickened for their plight.
Comparisons are naturally drawn with the Hunger Games that was to come out a decade later. While the concept is essentially the same (author of the books Suzanne Collins always claimed she was unaware of Battle Royale as a book or film when she wrote them), the two are very different. Hunger Games deals more with class oppression rather than exploitation of the young, while taking a satirical swipe at reality shows which Battle Royale does not address (the game in Battle Royale is not seen by an outside audience).
Hunger Games is also a way less explicate film, aimed as it is for teenage audiences. But one effect that the similarity of the two films did have that benefited ardent Battle Royale fans, is it put paid to any plans of a Hollywood adaptation, plans of which had been in the works for years. Imagining how diluted a Battle Royale remake would probably have been, that’s probably the best thing to come out of those movies.
Titan AE (director: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman)
Fifteen years after Earth is destroyed in an alien invasion, humanity is an endangered species scattered throughout the universe. A young man finds he may hold the key to mankind’s survival and joins a ragtag band of alien mercenaries to find their last hope “The Titan.”
Today trailers are a work of art, often anticipated with as much excitement as the films themselves. This was not always the case however. Back in the day very few trailers stayed in my memory once the main feature had started, (wrath of khan is a rare exception) with emphasis given more to music videos of songs from the movies which naturally would be seen a lot more on MTV (back when the channel was based on music as opposed to spoilt 16 year olds). However sometime in 1999 a trailer popped up that got me hyped. It was for an animated movie of a good old fashioned sci-fi story of spaceships, lazer fights, aliens and a fight for the survival of humanity after the destruction of Earth. This was old school cartoon fun that I’d not seen for a while and plus the trailer played with a cracking rock track that was just the sort of cheese that would give me goosebumps (apparently the song was Higher by Creed, so you may mock I don’t care).
Invoking memories of the 70’s anime Space Firebird the trailer got me interested enough to want to see it in cinemas as the animation looked appealing with some flashy, luminous effects with the alien baddies. Unfortunately I had to wait for a video release as the film arrived and was gone from theatres super fast when it appeared I was one of the few people that a trailer with Creed would be considered an attraction.
When I finally saw Titan AE I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though I was many years past the pre teen market it was aimed at. The film opens at a tremendous pace, with Earth been evacuated as a alien race called the Drej (pronounced Dredge) destroy the planet in spectacular fashion, the debris taking with it the moon and much of the fleeing human fleet. Sadly this could be seen as a metaphor for what Titan AE did to 20th Century Fox’s animation division, as the filmed bombed both critically and at the box office. Reportedly losing over a $100 million, Fox closed their animation division and would outsource their future projects.
Titan AE is another film that I have fond memories for, despite critics at the time and every nostalgia podcast I can find absolutely slaughtering it. Granted it’s not the most original story, with a cocky hero Cale finding he has encoded into his dna the location of mankind’s last hope, his father’s mysterious spaceship The Titan. Cale joins a ragtag band of humans and aliens on a quest to reach the ship before the Drej, skipping from planet to planet and battling various aliens along the way. In an age when even a Star Trek series seems way too high brow and hard to full, this fast paced, flashy pulp style approach to a sci adventure seems nostalgically heartwarming.
Very few people have a good thing to say for Titan AE. Even co-writer Joss Weedon has mocked the film any chance he gets, using it as his stock Q&A answer for when asked what the best joke he’s ever written is. Personally I liked the animation that been mostly computer generated looked different from anything else at the time. The voice cast was also impressive with Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore (as a lushly drawn space pilot Akima), Bill Pullman, Ron Pearlman and Nathan Lane. I even liked the various alien races designs, based on birds and reptiles. And the soundtrack while probably dated now and not that relevant to a space saga, had enough guitar twangs and ballads to keep a rock fan like me happy.
One of the things that endears me to Titan AE is that it’s an sci-fi movie that refreshingly is for kids. Sci-Fi increasingly with it’s adult themes seems to be pitched out of the reach for young uns to enjoy. Even remakes of classic sci fi shows and films once accessible to kids, now have a seemingly mandatory gritty, mature take on them. As as a loud, action packed adventure, this film won’t change the way kids look at the world, but for 90 minutes it can refreshingly entertain them.
Ok, the fact is couldn’t find any WTF? moments in film for the year 2000 (I said this was a fairly dull year). So rather than take the easy route of tearing apart the clusterfuck embarrassment known as Battlefield Earth, I decided instead to repost my review of a true cult classic from 2000 that I wrote here a few years ago (back in the early days of Couchzone when I had a different format). Frankly this film is probably the most interesting that came out in 2000.
Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie (2000) (director Lloyd Kaufman)
The wonderful thing about being a movie fan is there is always something new to discover. Some exciting, obscure genre you never knew existed until you heard it being discussed by fellow geeks on a podcast. Or an actor, actress or director that you stumble across while picking a film at random action film one night while drunkenly browsing Netflix. Before you know it you’ve opened yourself up to an entire back catalogue of work you never knew existed allowing you to explore further into exciting and fresh subculture of the fringes of the movie world.
Right now I’m on a pilgrimage working my way through the films of the studio Troma, the brainchild of guerrilla film genius Lloyd Kaufman. For decades Troma has been thrilling an appreciative cult audience with B-Movie style self aware schlock, mixing horror, comedy and parody to push the boundaries of taste and hilarity. If you around in the video store days you’ll probably remember such over the top titles as Surf Nazi’s Must Die and Class of Nuke Em High and their most famous creation, the one that became the icon for the whole studio and even spawned a cartoon series “The Toxic Avenger.”
Toxic Avenger (1984) introduced us to “Toxie,” a superhero paraody character who starts out as a bullied nerd who falls into a vat of nuclear waste and is mutated into a super powerful but deformed monster. Toxie goes on a violent and gory kill spree on the criminals of Tromaville (the fictional town where most Troma films are set) while getting revenge on the jocks who made his life hell and earning the love of the town residents and even gets romantic with a conveniently blind waitress Sarah.
Toxic Avenger slowly became a cult hit and was followed by two blah sequels. Then some fifteen years later Toxie returned in a back on form fourth instalment, which ramps up the gross out, humour that gives zero fucks for political correctness and adds some great satire and so far is the funniest and favourite of all the Troma films I’ve seen so far.
It should be warned that Toxic Avenger may well cause offence if you are at all sensitive to jokes about the physically or mentally disabled, abortion, Mexicans, the overweight, Nazis, murdering of the eldery, school massacres, compulsive masturbation, sex and nudity, blind people, deaf people, gay porn and scenes of very violent gore. In fact there is something to offend or gross out most people in this movie (gotta admit I turned away at a couple of shit and cum gags). But if you have an open sense of humour you will probably also find Toxic Avenger 4 absolutely hilarious as it’s full of sharp gags and one liners throughout, firing with the relentless pace of the Airplane films or Police Squad series. Especially hilarious are the twin news readers who deliver the news with eye rolling sarcasm and fantastic cameos from Stan Lee (in the form of a voice over intro that apologises for Toxic 2 and 3), Ron Jeremy surprisingly in the role of straight man as the mayor and Motorhead’s Lemmy who only has a few lines but is amazing in delivering “That’s a damn shame happening on Take a Mexican to Lunch day and all!”
In Toxic Avenger 4, Toxie saves a “special needs” school from being blown up by the terrorist group the Diaper Mafia but accidently opens a dimensional rift with a mirror reality and he swaps places with a doppleganger the evil “Noxious Offender” Noxie. As Noxie goes on a bloody rampage on the citizens of the regular Tromaville and smashing through the town’s other superheroes led by Sgt Kabukiman (another Troma creation making this a shared Troma crossover universe decades before Marvel started the trend), Toxie has to survive the dangerous ruined Troma of “Noxie’s” crime ridden world where evil reigns.
Watching a Troma movie for the first time can be a shock to the system of what’s to be expected of a professional movie. Some will bail in the first five minutes mistaking the campy acting and corny dialogue for being bad, but for those who “Get it” and recognise them as deliberate parody and done for laughs a whole universe of fun awaits, providing you have the stomach for Toxie dismembering and crushing the skulls of wave after wave of villains in glorious explicit gory scenes.
What also becomes obvious is that for all their celebrated low budgets, Kaufman’s films are extremely well shot and put together. The camp and gore is presented in some really imaginative scenes and Kaufman’s direction keeps the film together when it gets crazy towards the end. The long showdown between the Toxic Avenger and Noxious Offender within Tromaville Hospital, mixes the scenes with the battle between the pairs unborn children still in Sarah’s womb…..Yes this actually happens, so add being offended by brawling unborn babies twins to the list of things that may turn you off this movie.
Toxic Avenger 4 is wild, original, actually witty and tons and tons of fun, especially if you get a kick out of laughing at stuff you know that 21st century sensibilities will chastise you for finding funny. Like with most Troma films it isn’t for everyone, but even coming from Kaufman’s studio it’s a movie unlike anything you’ll find either from Hollywood or the B-Movie scene. Toxic 4 takes the notion of “Guilty pleasure” and takes it to a whole other level.
So 2000, some good movies as can be found in any year, however not a great deal of memories at least for me when it came to visiting the cinema.
Little could we have guessed that in the year 2001 we were all going have eyes glued to our screens, but never in ways we would have wanted.