2018 Review: September

Well, September was pretty much a non-event regards my blog, as I was away on holiday for two weeks and much of my time prior to that was spent at work getting ahead with the work required during my absence. Holiday cover, eh.

The Bodyguard – not for the first (or last) time in 2018, the BBC’s proclivities towards its PC-agenda threaten to derail its dramas with irritations. It didn’t help that this series descended into earnest stupidity and wtf-coincidences that left me agape at the screen.

The Beyond– I honestly forgot most of this thing already. I had to re-read my post to remember what it was about. It was only, like, three months ago, not three years or something. It was that memorable.

And that was that, other than a post about watching the original Blade Runner in 4K. Oh dear. September: blink and you miss it. But Scotland was lovely, even in the rain.

 

 

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Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

disc1There certainly seems to be a problem with all these ‘old’ intellectual properties. Star Trek seems to be suffering a similar existential angst as Star Wars. The issue, of course, is that Star Trek dates back to the 1960s, and Star Wars to the 1970s, and here we are in 2018 and they are still trying to be valid and of the times we are living in. It’d be a bit like trying to bring back the 1930s serial Flash Gordon and expecting it still be modern and of our time- you could update it I guess but it wouldn’t have the b&w innocent charm of those serials, in  a similar way to how Snyder’s Man of Steel update of Superman lost so much of what appealed to fans of Donner’s Superman: The Movie (the irony being that Superman Returns tried so hard to replicate the original and got criticised for just that).

My gut thinking is, ‘why bother?’, why not just do something new?  What makes anyone think that Star Wars is really anything more than a trilogy released between 1977-1983? Was the biggest problem for Lucas’ prequels that they were a product of the 1990s-early noughties, and that the whole franchise should have been left behind, a problem doubly compounded for Disney trying to now do it decades later still? Is it possible, for instance, to return to The Matrix now, continue that series as if it could be just as valid now as it was back in 1999-2003?  Like the old adage, ‘you can’t go home again’, if you have to change everything so much that it no longer looks or feels like the original, then why even bother?

Why indeed keep looking at the past, instead of developing something genuinely new and of our time?

So anyway, Star Trek: Discovery is yet another attempt to resurrect that old 1960s series whilst making it new and valid, albeit with the additional noose around its neck of being a prequel set ten years before the adventures of Kirk and Spock of the original show.  It does seem the common perception these days that prequels just don’t work and we haven’t arrived at that perspective by accident. On the one hand, prequels are always handicapped by dramatic consequence- in the recent Solo movie, for instance, we ‘know’ from the outset that Han and Chewie will survive simply because they have to, as they appear in the original Star Wars movie set years later, as does the Millenium Falcon, so any tension we feel during action sequences etc is, er, severely hampered. Also, prequels cannot help but be seduced by unnecessarily fan service- in the case of the Solo movie, how Han met Chewie, how Han won the Falco from Lando, etc. Its like ticking boxes rather than telling a honest dramatic story.

So anyway, Star Trek: Discovery would quite possibly be a great space opera were it not for the fact that its pretending to be Star Trek. I mean, let’s be clear, it’s not Star Trek. It may have the name in its title, and it may have Vulcas and the Federation etc but its not Star Trek. The show’s Klingons are not Klingons. They do not look like Klingons, they have a language that requires subtitles and they don’t really behave like Klingons- certainly not the same Klingons that contested with Kirk back in the original Trek. Likewise all the tech thrown around in Discovery, the ships and the holograms and everything, its amazing and pretty to look at but it’s no way predating Kirk. A hundred years later, maybe, sure.

So my issue watching Discovery is simply this- it’s not a bad show, really, but it should be its own show. Slapping Star Trek on it is just, well, it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t look like a Star Trek show or feel like a Star Trek show, then, indeed, why bother? The writers seem so enamoured with updating everything and making it culturally relevant to ‘now’ that it loses sight of what the simple pleasures of the original were, and frankly if it insists on that, why call it Trek? I kept watching this show and I quite enjoyed it, but it never really felt like Trek and all the way through I kept asking myself why did they bother? What was the point of the show other than making money and appealing to an established fanbase rather than making one of its own?

Another issue is that it feels indebted to Roddenberry’s own revisionism in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which he laboured the utopian ideal of Star Trek with no-one arguing or falling out or getting paid or having any life beyond Star Fleet and hopping around the galaxy. Its an irony that the characters of the ‘sixties show feel more ‘real’ than those of subsequent series simply because they are living, breathing characters having wild west-adventures in space without idealising how people behave or saddling everything with a Prime Directive that kills any dramatic tension.

But at least they keep the design of the original phasers, I guess we should be thankful for that.

2018 Review: August

August saw some news breaking regards the circumstances of Johann Johannsson’s passing, a commentary on the birthday of the late Chris Whitley, a note regards the death of Neil Simon, a new Blade Runner-inspired book, and all this-

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Film of the year, simple as that. I suppose that will depress some people no end, but as far as summer blockbusters go, like the previous entry, this is pretty much definitive.

Big Bad Mama – Funnily enough, years from now, when I look back on this years viewing, I think Big Bad Mama will be one of the most memorable entries of this year. It was a blast from the past, wildly nostalgic of that 1970s era of film and television with a great cast- afterall, this one has Captain Kirk and Captain Dallas sharing the screen. How could it possibly fail?

Extinction– A pretty frustrating movie, as I recall.

Ready Player One–  As disappointments go, this one is up there with Black Panther. A very vacuous CGI-fest, it seems to have the best of intentions but I suspect the book simply ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, so the film collapses under the weight of hype and expectations.

The Camp on Blood Island – Another Indicator boxset of Hammer obscurities. It just can’t fail. This was the first n the box and a pretty entertaining flick.

Yesterdays Enemy – Surprisingly modern in approach, this is an undervalued/forgotten gem, seemingly an apology for some of the more dubious racial sentiments of the Blood Island film which preceded it.

The Age of Adaline – Ouch.

Loving Vincent– A beautiful, unique-looking film.

The Stranglers of Bombay – Likely the weakest of the third Indicator Hammer set.

It – Oh dear, another disappointing film. I think this post had the most comments of any post this year.

Lady Macbeth – Still have mixed feelings about this, not wholly successful but worth a watch, certainly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri –  Hey, this was brilliant. One of the films of the year. For once a film lived up to the hype (which is the trouble, I suppose, of coming to films late, whether it be disc release or later rental etc).

Cardinal Season Two – Entertaining thriller from Canada, ensuring interesting locations and, hmm, that Rocketeer bloke.

Murder on the Orient Express – My discovery of the charms of Agatha Christie continues.  This was a beautiful looking movie, even on HD streaming. Can only imagine what a Blu-ray or 4K UHD possibly looks like- ravishing, probably.

Only the Brave – Considering what has been going on in California a few weeks ago, I imagine this film will have long legs. Maybe some of these true story/biopics are a little too respectful or have little to say other than recounting the events? I mean, sure, that’s fine I suppose, but it’s surely an opportunity for some valid opinion or artistic viewpoint informing on those events?

15 reviews? Is this some kind of record?

 

 

The Equaliser 2 (2018) 4K UHD

eq22014’s The Equalizer proved to be something of a surprise- I was never interested in the original tv series and another reboot of a tv property was hardly anything to get invested in. Yet when I (eventually) got around to watching it on a borrowed disc, I found it to be a solid, thoroughly entertaining thriller- in no small part because of star Denzel Washington’s onscreen gravitas and charisma. Indeed, it was one of those situations where you know the actor is too good for the part but it just somehow works.

The film had sufficient success with the public to warrant a sequel with the same creative team- I also believe, from what I have read, that it’s the first sequel that Washington has ever gotten involved with, so certainly something worked first time around.

Alas, lightning rarely strikes twice, and this film is a poor reflection of the original. Something feels off- certainly, it’s no cash-grab/opportune knock-off, but perhaps simply because it isn’t a usual sequel that steers towards copying what came before, instead telling a markedly different story in its main arc, it doesn’t really feel like a Equalizer movie. It even could be said that it’s perhaps as much a Man on Fire 2 (that film being another Washington movie from years back) as it is an Equalizer 2. I almost feel that I should applaud it for taking this approach, choosing to open up the title character’s mysterious past and back story instead of simply doing an American modern-day Robin Hood righting wrongs and sticking it to the bad.

But there are problems. For one, the script does feel disjointed and much of the story really doesn’t make any sense- Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) turns globe-trotter somehow (don’t know how well being a taxi driver pays, but it must pay well) saving a snatched girl from Turkey and returning her to her American mother. A man in Belgium is executed, the murder staged to look like a suicide after he had killed his wife, and for some vague reason McCall’s friend and ex-boss Samantha (Melissa Leo) is pulled into the investigation (the dead guy being a CIA operative of some kind) and is herself killed before she stumbles upon what’s really going on. But what’s really going on isn’t really clear. The two druggie guys who beat her up and leave her for dead (the actual kill being completed by the films real baddie) are after some money but are themselves later killed to cover the real baddies tracks, and it’s never clear if the money was just a ruse to get the two druggie guys involved or if it is all about money or why the Belgium CIA guy was killed in the first place. If I sound confused it’s because I am.  There are all sorts of coincidences and twists that don’t really convince and some of the action scenes, while mostly well-staged and quite elaborate, are quite awkwardly edited in some places (the chief bad guy is up high on the roof of a tower and suddenly McCall just appears out from camera left and you have to wonder how the fuck he ended up there and standing to one side without the bad guy registering it).

Its a strange one really; it’s clear a real effort was made to do something worthwhile and on one level it certainly works, but on another it has to be said a more cynical cash-in lingers in the background, as if the creative team were stuck somewhere in the middle.

Like the first film, the film delivers action in spades and is somewhat guilty of glorifying in that violence. Like with the first film, the British release was cut to manage a 15 certificate but the 4K UHD release of both films restore the films original international cut requiring a 18 certificate. I believe the cuts to the second film are for 11 seconds in total for some graphic details that yes, are pretty graphic but hardly make the film any better (or worse for the cuts).

2018 Review: July

July was marked by me starting a number of lengthy posts analysing BR2049 that took up far too much time and nobody read. I got a third one nearly ready to go but never posted it. I figured I’d return to it sometime as I enjoyed doing them (any excuse to rewatch BR2049 is officially A Good Thing in my book), but it was taking too much time to justify, and besides, there’s sure to be actual books about it coming out soon or similar stuff up on the internet already.  Surprisingly, really, I didn’t do too bad with new reviews in anycase:

Mission– French sci-fi must be an acquired taste, it was pretty sour to me. Funnily enough another Mars adventure, The First (which I reviewed a few days ago) was coming up that was much classier/serious than this silly nonsense- maybe my high evaluation of The First owes much to how daft this was.

How It Ends – An ironic title, as it turned out.

Calibre- Scottish Deliverance.

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season One– This was a great period horror series, I was a bit late catching up with it but glad I did.

Wind River – One of the best films I’ve seen this year, I think.

The Foreigner – A pretty fun, low-demand thriller that was more entertaining than I expected.

Resolution – This was fantastic, alongside its sequel/part two which follows next. A low-budget Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror that is genuinely disturbing and fascinating.

The Endless – Follow-up to Resolution, which it accompanies on Arrows excellent double-bill Blu-ray.  Not quite as good as the first film, but really, both are better than most sci-fi films coming the mainstream route. Anybody who got a kick from Annihilation would enjoy these two.

Eight reviews then, two of which were tv shows that take longer to watch for obvious reasons. July also unfortunately marked the passing of author Harlan Ellison and artist Steve Ditko, both of which I wrote posts about. I also wrote my first 4K review, which was a rewatch of the first Deadpool movie. Busy month, all told.

2018 Review: June

We’re fast approaching the midway-point of the year now: as far as that legendary 100 films tally, I’ve done a count and up to May it actually isn’t far off target, standing at 45. So you never know; the question I suppose is, does June give a helping nudge towards that finish line…?

All the Money in the World – More remarkable for the story behind it than anything in it.

The Limehouse Golem– Interesting period horror/mystery that perhaps tips it hats too soon.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – More fun than I expected it to be. I remember my musings about a War of the Worlds/Zombie spin-off with the tagline ‘They don’t want our planet, only our brains’. I still want to see that movie!  Doesn’t anybody in the industry read this blog?

Black Panther – Other than The Last Jedi, my biggest disappointment of the year so far. I really don’t get what everyone sees in this, other than a social-political agenda. The ending is a boring CGI-fest that depressed me.

Alice Through the Looking Glass – Surprisingly boring and ill-judged sequel.

So, only five new reviews then. Mind, I was still distracted by weekly write-ups about Westworld, at this point reaching its finale of season two, and June was the month I took the jump into 4K, buying a new television and disc player (all the overtime trekking up and down the motorway due to my temp job relocation finally bearing fruit).  So halfway through the year I’m at 51 new reviews of film/television, ignoring other commentary. Not too bad I guess.

The China Syndrome (1978)

china2One of the genuine pleasures of watching ‘old’ movies, particularly the first time, is noting all the familiar faces of actors from whatever period the movie hails from. In the case of The China Syndrome, it was seeing the great American character actor Richard Herd, who played chief corporate bad guy Evan McCormack. Herd’s performance is great- he’s like a great boo-hiss Panto villain every time he’s onscreen, and all the while its bringing back all those 1970s/1980s memories I have of him from tv and films of that era. Herd turned up in Starsky and Hutch, Kojak etc and most memorably regular stints in the hit mini-series V and TJ Hooker. Although I haven’t seen him in a while he’s still working but obviously in nothing I’m watching. Anyway, seeing him in The China Syndrome was fun, and he has a great line: “Scram the son of a bitch” which I’ll adopt into my everyday conversation and bug non-movie literate people with for years to come.

china4Other familiar faces include the great James Karen (Return of the Living Dead, Poltergeist, Mulholland Drive), Wilford Brimley (The Thing, Cocoon) Peter Donat (too many tv shows to mention) and Donald Hotton (the notoriously ineffectual bumbling Fed scientist from Brainstorm, and other roles in Invaders From Mars and Dances With Wolves)- it’s a great cast for a movie buff to see and name-drop, one of the many pleasures of this film.

Of course, what finally brought me to watching The China Syndrome (via Indicator’s recent Blu-ray release) was the star billing of Jack Lemmon, and it being one of his films I hadn’t yet seen. Lemmon is, as usual, great in this. He plays a company man,  Jack Godell, who teeters on the edge between company loyalty and the safety of the public, visibly cracking under the pressure and finally realising the cold reality of the company he is working for and the industry he is working in. It rather breaks him, and the strain is almost tangible- Lemmon was brilliant at playing everyman heroes faced with moral dilemmas. At the end as he lies on the floor of the control room and he whispers “I can feel it!” (or something along those lines) the sheer horror etched on his terrified eyes is incredible. He goes over to the other side staring into the abyss and it’s horrible.

china3The China Syndrome is that particular kind of 70s thriller that was of its time, a cold-reality conspiracy nightmare of what is hidden under the surface of everyday life that we really don’t seem to see nowadays (films now more concerned with escapism than facing what’s really going on). The fashions, cars and cast etc are all very 1970s but the story it tells in this era of fake news and soundbites and lies is as timely as ever. As usual for a film of that period, all the actors look ordinary- real as opposed to aspirational. Wilfred Brimley, for instance (another familiar face!) is so perfect as Lemmon’s colleague, he’s totally ordinary and convincing, doesn’t feel like an actor at all. I think even Jane Fonda, as Brenda Starr-inspired redhead fluff-news reporter Kimberly Wells, is rather surprisingly down to Earth and convincing, with some sexist treatment and comments that raise something of a flag in our now more enlightened days “I like your hair like that,” comments her boss at a work party as if thats praise enough for doing her job.

I was surprised at how tense and and terrifying the last ten minutes of the film really was; its the stuff of nightmare and as its a 1970s film you’re never too sure how it’s going to end – films back then had a habit for non-fulfilling endings so you often mutter “they are not really going to..?” because back then they might.  As the control goes dark save for the warning lights and alarms screaming out its genuinely disturbing and it feels like the end of the world. Riveting stuff.