1995 and a Waterworld mystery

waterworldA friend at work lent me a copy of Arrow’s recent release of Waterworld on Blu-ray, as I’d confessed to never having seen the film before, odd as that may sound, but, you know, some films slip us by. Well, back home Claire told me we had indeed seen it before, but I insisted I hadn’t. I mean, I honestly could not remember any of it, other than maybe the odd scene that I stumbled upon when it was aired on tv over the years (for awhile, it seemed to aired all the time on various cable stations etc, and even then I never sat down to watch it).

So Claire went off to find proof- and returned with her diary from 1995, which indeed confirmed that we had indeed seen it, at a Showcase Cinema on August 22nd, 1995. Which I honestly cannot remember, at all. Can a film be that bad, that forgettable, that it just fades entirely from memory? It still baffled me, as I could not remember it at all- indeed, it felt all a little bit scary. Is this how it begins, losing your mind?

Strangest of all, Claire had a list in the back of her diary of all the films we had seen that year at the cinema- 34 of them. Yeah, that’s right, 34 of them. I don’t think I see that many films at the cinema in a decade now. My only excuse, we were courting back then, before we got married and settled down to domesticity and the joys of home cinema. But 34 films? Crikey. While my eyes water at the state my wallet must have been in back then, here’s the list, just for curiosity sake: When  A Man Loves A Woman, Timecop, Stargate, Nostradamus, Shallow Grave, Natural Born Killers, Interview With The Vampire, Leon, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, 101 Dalmatians, Nobody’s Fool, Outbeak, Legends of the Fall, Apollo 13, In the Mouth of Madness, Don Juan de Marco, Judge Dredd, Braveheart, Waterworld, First Knight, Congo, Batman Forever, Species, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Delores Claiborne, While You Were Sleeping, Pocahontas, Mortal Kombat, Haunted, Jade, Crimson Tide, A Walk in the Clouds, Babe.

Well, there’s a few there I can barely remember either. There’s a few I would like to forget but can’t.

As for Waterworld, well, we watched it Saturday night, and other than one or two scenes, such as the dive down to the submerged ruins (which I swore I recalled from stumbling onto a tv showing, to be honest) it absolutely failed to ring any bells memory-wise. It was like I was absolutely watching it for the first time. It was utterly bizarre. Unless Claire had gone to see it with some other fella I must have just wiped that film from my memory completely in some kind of post-traumatic shock. Well, yeah, it was a pretty forgettable film, so that would be part of it- that, and nearly 24 years.

The time to lock me away in a padded room is when I forget I ever saw Blade Runner, obviously.

 

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A Brave New (Discless) World?

Days like today… well, maybe it’s not just days like today really, it’s just that days like today just make it seem worse. You ever get the feeling that the world is spinning on, off on its own mindless course, leaving you behind? Sometimes it’s what passes for modern politics or modern music or modern movies that sends me scurrying toward an old favourite on the shelf, whether it be a film or an album or a book, some avenue of escape from the ‘new’ in the comfort of the old.

It felt a little more pronounced today, when I read the news that Samsung is getting out of the Blu-ray hardware business, over in the US at any rate. Some people are describing it as another step towards the end of physical media, and it’s hard not to acknowledge some truth in that. Disc-based media, whether it be CD, DVD, Blu-ray or 4K UHD is being increasingly marginalised by the relentless popularity of streaming/downloading. No doubt Netflix is a huge part of that, as people get used to watching films and tv shows on demand- and they don’t seem at all concerned about it being of lesser quality. Well, of course they don’t, as some seem quite satisfied watching films etc on their mobile phones or tablets (which is curious, as tv panels just seem to be getting bigger and bigger). The value of a quality 4K disc or Blu-ray seems lost on those somehow still satisfied with DVD. Likewise there is a whole generation out there who don’t buy music, but listen to streams (legitimately or otherwise) instead. Music, films, media in general, seems to have become a transitory thing, sampled, dipped into, almost background noise. That notion is anathema to me, someone who cherishes/values such things and has curated a collection of my favourite films and music and books.

I remember when films receiving network premieres on tv were a special thing, when films themselves were special- now, they are almost like the pulp paperbacks sold cheap in the 1960s, 1970s, picked up, read, discarded. A $200 million blockbuster turns up in the bargain bin (a virtual bin in Amazon, a physical one in HMV or local supermarket) in the space of months. In the immediate moment, we all like a bargain, but in the long term, how much damage is it doing, and how much damage has it already done? I dearly miss the days when films could be something revered and special, their viewings rare. Nowadays they are available on demand and immediately discarded and forgotten.

I think it could also be argued that it impacts on cinema revenues, even though by and large attendances, we are told, are on the up with cinema chains raking in greater profits. When I was in Cineworld last week, I was (yet again) assaulted by invitations to join its ‘Cineworld unlimited’ subscription service in which you can watch as many films as you like for a monthly fee- basically, Netflix for those who don’t like to stay at home, I guess. I suppose if you go very often it saves you money, and Cineworld can always get extra cash out of you for the premium stuff like Imax and 3D etc. Here’s a curious fact that my wife assaulted me with from one of her old diaries- back in 1995 we watched 34 films at the cinema (something that blew my mind and will return to in a later post). Last year I think it was maybe 3, or 4 films at the cinema. This year I have only seen one, so far (last week’s Alita). I have gravitated to the alternative of discs or streams on my quality television, thankyou, and away from noisy patrons distracted by their mobile phones, but alas that alternative is becoming marginalised somewhat- the physical side anyway. And yet cinema attendances are up, so I guess I’m being left behind again.

CD production, meanwhile, is getting more limited all the time. Bottlenecks in CD manufacture became an increasing issue last year, causing some delays to soundtrack releases for some of the speciality labels like La La Land and Intrada, and such bottlenecks caused issues for the manufacture of some Blu-rays prior to Christmas (the 4K 2001: A Space Odyssey was a particular casualty in the US). I suppose such delays indicate there is still some demand worth noting, but it also indicates how manufacturing capacity is gradually reduced to match the lowering demand for the physical product, a self-fulfilling cycle. It ends only one way, and I guess I’m being left behind again.

I don’t trust the studios or the the content providers with digital. Most downloads and streams are simply licenses to view their product and can be withdrawn at the providers/copyright owners whim. I had a copy of Blade Runner on digital along with a physical copy that I bought a few years ago- my disc is fine, but that digital download is useless now, its gone, license expired I guess. Quality, too, is an issue, but it seems quality is as much a niche as anything else when people are happy enough with DVD or dodgy compression artifacts. We could be falling toward a PPV future and everyone seems happy enough, but if digital becomes the only access point, and the price of that PPV can be raised, does that move people towards illegal streams/piracy or just away from the product altogether?  How many people would pay £10 every time they want to rewatch Hitchcock’s Vertigo or Bridge on the River Kwai or Zulu?  Or maybe pay £5 just to watch one of them with a commentary track?

No, I think those extras that we film fans love will be consigned to history soon enough.

I used to think that the inevitable end of physical media was yet some years away, and hopefully it is, but recent things like hardware manufacturers dropping out of the game or Sony Music no longer licensing albums to third-party labels suggests the digital-only route could be nearer than I feared. Or maybe this is just one of those days when I think the world is dancing away on some other road than the one I’m on. You get old enough, you realise this isn’t the world you were born in.

Which can be a good thing, most of the time, God knows. But I like owning my films and albums, damn it. Before long I’ll be buying back-up players to hoard in the loft for safety’s sake: what kind of a world is that?

Avanti! again

avantiSo I returned to Billy Wilder’s Avanti! again. Its widely considered one of Wilder’s lesser films, and of course when compared to some of his greatest films (a list, remember, that includes Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard) I suppose that’s inevitable, but the film has a certain charm that draws me to it, perhaps more so than some of those ‘greats’ oddly enough. The fact that it stars Jack Lemmon is likely part of that, since he’s one of my favourite actors. But Avanti!… is strangely magical.

Even when it was first released, back in 1972, it was considered old-fashioned which was understandable looking at that era of 1970s American cinema – your Godfathers, Taxi Driver, Jaws, The Exorcist etc. But the funny thing is that once divorced from their original release, films like Avanti! (and certainly you could include Its A Wonderful Life alongside it, decades earlier) become utterly timeless in a way their contemporaries can’t. Avanti! is also so endearing, it really feels like love, my affection for it. Its a little bubble of romantic, sweetly funny joy and has frozen in time a sense of time and place forever. Revisiting Avanti! is just like revisiting a favoured place or fondly remembered friend that you haven’t seen in a long while.  It doesn’t hurt that the film features a gorgeously romantic score by Italian composer Carlo Rustichelli that can literally break your heart or laugh with joy- it plays almost throughout the film and gently seduces you without you even knowing it’s doing it.

avanti ostSome people have issue with the films languid pace and think it runs too long- clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes it is perhaps a little indulgent but when its a film you love, you just enjoy the extra time to wallow in it. As it is, rewatching it this time I felt the ending came just too soon, feeling rather abrupt. I wanted more of Lemmon and Juliet Mills (who in particular is so achingly bewitching and beautiful here), more of the island, the Rustichelli score, the gentle comedy Its one of my regrets that at the end, when Lemmon and Mill’s new lovers agree to repeat the routine of their parents and meet again at the islands hotel the next summer, I won’t ever be able to see it, rejoin their affair or see the adventures each yearly rendezvous brings. I want to feel what they feel, again, and again, but its locked away (well, at least I have the DVD and the Blu-ray and the soundtrack). We can but dream of what happened the next year, and the one after, and the one after that…

I came back to Avanti! by way of a German blu-ray that matches a US release from a year or so ago that was region-locked. Why we have to rely on German HD releases of quality films like this I don’t know- I would have thought this kind of thing (anything Wilder, frankly) was a sure thing for boutique labels like Arrow or Eureka over here. As it is, the two short cast  interviews included are slightly marred by burned-in German subs but the film itself is perfectly fine with English soundtrack and optional player subs. The HD image is a little problematic, likely derived from the same source/master as the earlier DVD but it looks fine with stable grain and no DNR: a fine filmic image with superior detail to the SD version. No doubt a fresh new master would sharpen things up better still and enable some improved colour ‘pop’, but really, a new master for a niche film such as Avanti! is unfortunately highly unlikely (but I’d like to be proven wrong).

I learned from the interview with Juliet Mills that the part of US STate Official J.J. Blodgett, played by Edward Andrews in the film, was originally written for Walter Matthau, but at the time Billy Wilder and Matthau were having a feud which nixed the actor appearing in the film. In hindsight you can tell it was written for him, some of that dialogue just drips for Matthau’s personality and comic timing, and him in it would just have made Avanti! even more perfect. Chalk that bit of casting up as another of movie history’s great ‘what ifs’.

 

Superman Again!

supestmJust when you thought it was safe to swear off expensive soundtrack purchases (the expanded Thin Red Line arrived on Thursday -yay!) La La Land land the sucker punch that is a 3-disc Superman: The Movie set.  Remastered from the original 2-inch, 24-track music masters no less, the leap in sound quality is said to be extraordinary (well, they would say that, naturally, but..) and the 3-disc set includes the original album assembly that I had on vinyl for my birthday back in (whispers) February 1979…

So here we are again, Superman: The Movie, some forty years later. Oh man, me and this music. While the Star Wars soundtrack, that I had on tape for my birthday the year before, probably launched me on my love of soundtrack music, it was without doubt the Superman score that cemented it- I must have played that album so many more times than I ever played Star Wars. Superman was just incredible, so soulful and romantic and exciting – I used to play the Fortress of Solitude track over and over in the evenings, just letting its mystical, almost-ambience wash over me. Curiously enough, I hadn’t actually seen the film either ( I had a choice between a cinema visit and a skateboard, and my only defense is the peer pressure of all my mates having skateboards) so when I listened to the score, it was my own images and daydreams rushing through my head, so I have pretty intense memories of listening to it.

Oh well. Here we go again…

Hereditary (2018)

hered1

Hype springs Eternal, especially with horror films, as the 2017 reboot of IT would testify, and it rings true with Hereditary, too, unfortunately. Thinking about it, I suppose it really depends upon what you want from a horror film. Scares, sure, they would seem a prerequisite, but anyone can do scares in movies (well, jumps anyway) – it’s mostly a question of manipulation, timing and throwing a loud ‘boo!’ on the soundtrack. Trickier, really, is establishing a sense of mood and dread, and here Hereditary scores pretty highly. This is a horror film that drips mood and the threat of scares, delivering plenty of creepiness and shocks, which is likely why it received all the hype and positive word of mouth it did.

But for me it lacked any logic, any sense, and the increasing hysterics of the family started to descend into farce long before the film reached its rather Pythonesque conclusion. I think any horror film works best if it can establish some sense of normalcy and then raise the stakes as things go wrong but right from the start the main characters are over the edge, nothing really seems normal and it just goes wilder as it goes on. Okay, here be Spoilers, so here’s a warning, although I’m one of the last few to get around to having seen Hereditary:

A text card states that Annie’s mother has died and the film opens on her family at the funeral. Annie (Toni Colette) is really rather unhinged from the off, and while Colette’s performance has been widely praised it just seemed too crazed for me, leaving her nowhere to go but further Out There. Gabriel Byrne is cast as her husband Steve and he’s utterly wasted here, and fails to have any discernible chemistry at all with Colette, not the only casting crisis of the film (which I’ll turn to later). Events get increasingly nuts (sic) around Steve and he just does nothing in particular, really. The couple’s two kids are frankly peculiar- ten year old Charlie (Milly Shapiro) behaves very oddly cutting off dead birds heads (foreshadowing there, I think) and making odd clucking sounds with her tongue, while teenage Peter (Alex Woolf) mopes around looking permanently terrified, stares forlornly at a girl he fancies and gets high on pot. Normal?

Would any mother insist on sending a ten year old girl with a deadly food allergy to an unsupervised high school party with Peter, and would Peter, intending to smoke pot and hook up with girls at said party, so easily agree to his sister going along? How many high school parties take place in huge luxurious mansions and how many teenage hosts bake fresh cakes in the kitchen (loaded with nuts, naturally)? So without Annie insisting that they take an Epi Pen along with them, when his sister eats the wrong kind of cake and starts to react badly, instead of calling for an ambulance Peter, having already smoked some pot, decides to put his sister Charlie in his car and race through the night to hospital.

So Peter has an accident on route, decapitating, no less, his sister. He then calmly drives home, and goes to bed, leaving his sisters headless corpse on the backseat and her head at the roadside. So next morning whilst he is still in bed Annie goes out to the car and finds her daughters corpse (well part of it) and screams her head off (sic).

Where are the cops in all this? Surely someone finds poor Charlie’s head on the roadside? Surely Annie and Steve have to explain to the police, or even more likely, demand an explanation from the police, regards how Charlie lost her head and died? Manslaughter charges anyone? Driving under the influence? Poor parenting taken to task? Peter’s punishment seems to be that he has to bike to school in future. Indeed, he returns to school soon enough, has a seizure and is sent home having nearly smashed his head to a pulp on his desk. Hello? Hospital anyone? Counselling? Maybe the cops would be interested?  Do they do Social Workers in America, are they a thing over there?

What really sent the film off the rails for me was the frankly bizarre casting of Ann Dowd as Joan, a woman who befriends Annie and sets her on the course of amateur seances and chatting with the dead. I mean, after stints in The Leftovers and The Handmaids Tale as crazy women with dark deeds in their minds, it’s like putting up a red warning light as soon as she appears. Terrible casting- I like Dowd and she was excellent in The Leftovers as a leading figure in a dangerous cult, but this is taking typecasting to some other level. Its lazy and its predictable- is anybody in the audience remotely surprised when it transpires that Joan is up to no good? Its getting so that everytime I see Dowd in something I audibly groan. She’s great at that kind of role but come on, she’s gone to the well too often, its run dry, it’s getting boring now.

It later transpires that Annie’s mother was a Satanist and she spent her life trying (and failing) to bring a demon to the world. It would seem that her Satanist colleagues dug up her body (when Steve is informed of the grave desecration, he decides not to tell Annie- I mean come on, someone’s dug up her mom for goodness sake) and somehow put that body in the family attic without anyone in the family twigging that strange Satanists have been in the house (other than somebody at one point wonder about a bad smell in the house).

Now, I may have it wrong, the film is obtuse to the point of making no sense at all, but it appears that said Demon is inside Charlie and this is why she behaves oddly and she has to die so that the Demon can escape her body, and that Peter has to die so that the Demon can enter his. One person has to die to lose the Demon, another die to be possessed by it? Did Charlie have to die before the Demon could enter her body in the first place, and was it a Satanist that put the nuts in the cake? When you really think about it, nothing in Hereditary really makes much sense. Annie’s mothers decomposing body up in the attic (for whatever reason) is apparently headless and for some reason Annie starts crawling on ceilings acting really unusual after begging Steve to burn one of Charlie’s notebooks and set himself alight in the process. He burns like a Human Torch but doesn’t singe the wooden floor much less burn the house down.

hered2DId I mention that the family also just happen to have a big treehouse across the drive that doubles as a ritual meeting room for the Satanists? DId I see Annie decapitate her own head with cheesewire and then her headless body float through the air into said treehouse?Is that her mom’s also-headless body kneeling alongside her own before the now Demonic Peter?

People took this film seriously.

Sully (2016)

sully.jpgIt seems to me, particularly with films such as this, that Tom Hanks is our modern-day equivalent of James Stewart- an actor whose onscreen persona is one of moral integrity and doing the right thing. I don’t think we have screen icons like there used to be in the grand old days of Tinseltown (empty and false as they might have been in reality), but Hanks seems to buck that – the cynic in me rather suspects it might just be Hank’s crafty choice of projects/collaborators, or maybe his publicity team, but the other part of me just thinks he’s a genuinely nice guy which reflects on his roles.

I still think he would make a fantastic Bond villain, if only for the shock of casting him against type.

Anyway, I often thought about the great James Stewart whilst watching this film- had this been made back in his day it would have been the perfect role for him. As it is, it’s perfect for Hanks, and possibly the easiest piece of casting for any movie project this decade.

I’ve obviously come to this film rather late, but I must confess it was much better than I had expected, which had been a dry, by-the-numbers account of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s heroic aversion of an air disaster. I well remember the events of January 15, 2009, when a US Airways flight was struck by a flock of birds soon after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. With both engines destroyed, the stricken plane’s veteran pilot glided the stricken plane onto the surface of the Hudson River, the first-ever successful water landing of a jet airliner, and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.

It would have been easy to just introduce some of the passengers back-stories, and that of the crew, prior to the flight and then let the events unfold like any other disaster movie (indeed like those old Airport movies of the 1970s). But the film wasn’t the simple retelling of those events that I had expected, as I didn’t really know the full story; instead the film focuses on the days afterwards and the air investigation into the near-disaster, which threatened to lay the blame on Sully and end his career as a passenger pilot- completely at odds with both the public perception of him as a hero and the idolization of the press who loved the ‘feel-good’ story. As the film’s narrative of the investigation progresses we see the graphic account of the fateful flight I’d expected, but broken into sections/perspectives as its framed by the investigation and scenes of Sully trying to come to terms with the traumatic event.

Commendably the film, directed by Clint Eastwood, doesn’t idolize Sully, but rather portrays him as a guy doing his job in extreme circumstances and somehow coming through. Sully certainly seems a reluctant hero overtaken by events. It is, no doubt, still a feel-good story but it’s grounded with some drama and surprising twists. Much better, and more balanced/complex, than I had expected. Nice one.