There are times watching rentals that I think, swept away by a really good film, “wow, I’ve got to buy a copy of this movie!” well, this certainly wasn’t one of them. A dismal case of style over substance, in many ways this film personifies much that is wrong with many films these days- over-the-top design, ridiculous excess of cgi, and hopelessly vacuous plot. It really is an awful, heartless effort with a telling apparent lack of thought given to it throughout.  Immortals had me forgiving the recent remake of Clash of The Titans all its own many faults.

There are so many things wrong with this film. Hyperion’s army of hundreds of thousands of cgi warriors that’s so OTT its almost funny- I mean, I’d be surprised if there were that many people alive in the whole of Greece back then, and can only wonder at the logistics of feeding/watering so many people in the middle of a desert; it’s a prime example of style over content, of trying to impress with largesse and spectacle, and only strengthening the stupidity of it all. I won’t go on about the casting, except to say that Mickey O Rourke is so wasted here and so uninterested as he channels Marlon Brando’s Apocalypse Now performance that  its evidently just a chore, a money project. Or how utterly uncharismatic the superhuman Gods are, with all the gravitas of a paperweight or weekday afternoon tv soaps.

No, if I’m going to waste twenty minutes of my life on this blog writing regards this film, I’m going to direct my wrath at the miserable excuse of a script that this film is handicapped by. How on Earth does anyone dumb down great complex Greek myth to a level somewhere well below that of a children’s comicbook? How do you take a mythic character like Zeus and turn him into a mindless, uncharismatic superhero without a cause? Even in Harryhausen’s Jason And The Argonauts the Gods had purpose, defined character, a narrative pull on the film. Here they stand in Olympus gazing vacantly at humanity below, occasionally leaping into sudden superhero action for no apparent reason other than bailing out our luckless and witless hero, Theseus and thus pissing off grumpy Zeus who proclaims humanity has to save itself prior to leaping down and doing it Himself anyway.

Oh, Theseus- what an abject and pointless hero we have here. He seems to fail utterly at everything he does. You have to feel sorry for Henry Cavill, even The Tudors was more complex and rewarding than the part he gets to play here as the mighty hero of myth turns into a bastard farmboy whose mom gets killed which sends him on, well, some kind of vengence-trip that gets detoured into a quest for a magic bow.  John Hurt plays a mysterous old man/Ben Kenobi figure who nudges Theseus into the plot, such as it is, before disappearing completely. I’m not even sure what the story is about. If Theseus is the saviour of humanity, he goes a pretty strange way about it; he only finds the magic bow to lose it soon after, and other than managing to kill some muscle-bound bloke in a metal bull helmet (the film’s oddly  mundane take on the Minotaur of legend), he fails at everything else; defeating the Titans is something Zeus zaps down to do for Himself with his A-Team of hapless Gods, making Theseus utterly redundant. Having failed to stop Hyperion unleashing the said Titans, Theseus finally manages to defeat Hyperion in a protracted tussle only to get himself buried by masonry and killed. In effect, the hero is accidentally murdered by Zeus!  Its almost funny when you think about it. Everytime Theseus seems to get into any trouble some half-naked God in a golden skirt races down to save him and in the end Zeus kills him anyway. What’s the point of it all?

Blade Runner 30th Anniversary box

30 years? Now I know I’m getting old.  Anyway, as reliable as death and taxes is the ability of film studios  to ensnare us in double-dip/triple dip madness with repeated releases for 20th/25th/30th anniversary sets for the films we know and love so well in ever-reliably varied formats. How many of us bought the Star Wars films in pan and scan VHS, then widescreen VHS, then the Special Editions on VHS, DVD, then Blu-ray? I’m not one of those who got into Laserdisc, thank goodness.  I must have 3 editions of The Abyss gathering dust in the loft (for the record, pan and scan VHS, widescreen VHS, Directors Cut VHS LE boxset… wait a minute, add the R1 DVD non-anamorphic set to that) and I’ll no doubt rush to buy the remastered anamorphic Blu-ray next year. I have more versions of Alien than I can count. Suckers, everyone of us.

So here comes another Blade Runner Blu-ray, timed to coincide with the films 30th anniversary. Actually it might seem a tad overdue as hardcore/sad (delete as appropriate) fans may well argue it had a May 1982 release back in the day, but here in the UK we didn’t get the film released in cinemas until September that year, so the late October release for this new box isn’t as tardy as some might think. Previously only the 2007 Final Cut was available on Blu over here so this release, matching the US release with 5 different cuts of the film, would probably be very welcome, had not any BR fan worth their salt already bought that US set (dear God, I actually bought that thing twice, once on HD-DVD and later on Blu… oh the madness never ends).  Still, this set comes with a dinky new Spinner car model and an artbook, is spread across fewer discs, has 1,000+ stills in HD as a ‘new’ extra (prepared for the earlier release but cut due to space issues).  No doubt many UK fans will be over the moon.

I must be strong. I must be strong. I don’t need another version. Begone from me, Amazon link….

Who am I kidding?

Favourite Films – Part 1

Blade Runner…The Empire Strikes Back… Conan The Barbarian…. what?!

Many years ago -back in the ‘eighties- I jotted down a list of my top ten favourite films. Reading it today is a sobering experience. Was I ever so young and naive to list John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian in there? I guess the list  mostly amounted to the ten films I was watching and re-watching back then; we had a limited access to films in those early videotape days, when the film listings in the Christmas Radio Times was a highlight of the festive season (the thought of being able to actually buy and own a personal copy of a movie even on pan-and-scan videotape was just a dream unless you had more cash than sense).

But still, we have to make the distinction here between ‘Favourite Films’ and ‘Best Films’; there is a big difference. I would hardly pronounce Blade Runner to be the best film ever made, but its certainly my favourite. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since that list of long ago. Favourite films are subjective, chosen for the memories the films engender, the associations we make with those films; favourite films are those guilty pleasures that we can watch and re-watch, while some of the cinematic greats gather dust on our DVD shelves. Lists of favourite films can be like a Rorschach test, a simple list of ten titles that can be terribly more revealing than an hour’s conversation.

So, my favourite films. Reading that old list made me wonder what films I would put in a top-ten now, and how many of that old list would yet persist in the new one. Well, here goes, and we’ll start with just four of them for now-

Blade Runner – simply my favourite film as its the one that had the profoundest effect on me. It remains the most intense cinema experience of my life. So hard to explain what a thunderbolt it was back in 1982, now that we are living in its world so much that the film could seem mundane to contemporary viewers. Back when I had it on tape I watched it and re-watched it so many times. I’ll be the first to admit though, it had more charm back when it was a true cult fave shared by so few, compared to its more recent re-evaluation and acceptance as a classic. Where Blade Runner is concerned, my question is ‘where were you in’82?’ and everything follows on from that. Sometimes I’ll even watch the flawed 1982 cut, complete with voiceover and continuity errors,  rather than the Final Cut. Which makes me wonder about Prometheus again- a rather broken film, the broken state of Blade Runner in 1982 (scenes out of order, horrible wires on the Spinners, awful voiceover, woeful ending) kind of puts Prometheus into perspective- regardless of Ridley Scott’s reputation, he’s evidently not averse to releasing films shockingly unfinished.

Vertigo – this film is like a dream-state, like one of those strange Philip K Dick real-world stories set in the 1950s that saw print after his death. It’s 1950s San Francisco is so detached from our contemporary reality that it seems as dreamlike and unreal as something out of a David Lynch film, its evocative score is utterly bewitching, the whole thing mesmerising.  Unique amongst Hitchcock’s body of work, its an arthouse movie in the guise of mainstream thriler, a powerful  study of the destructive power of love and obsession. Made half a century ago.  Mind-boggling. How many of our current ‘hits’ will stand the test of time as well as this film that flopped so many years ago?

Once Upon A Time In America– of all the films in my list, this is likely my least-watched film, not due to any quality issues but rather the sheer enormity of it. This is a long film (getting longer in the restored version hopefully arriving on Blu-Ray next year) but more than that, it’s a very complex and demanding film. You have to pay attention and work with it. And you know, of all the films in my list, this is the one that changes the most, as I grow older and revisit the film. Its weird, but your own age and viewpoint effects how you read and interpret this film. In that sense I guess its truly a work of art, something banded about regards films but often undeserved. So first-time viewers heed my word of warning; don’t approach it expecting a gangster movie. It looks like one, and purports to be one,  but it really isn’t. It’s more a study of the impact of time, mortality, age, so many things. Is any of it real, or is it all an opium dream? Pure Cinema.

Watchmen– including this one might seem surprising, but this remains the last time I left a cinema wide-eyed with a big grin of my face, buzzing from having seen a really great movie. Such experiences are truly rare, and its also the last time I actually went back to see a film twice at the cinema. I know its got its detractors, but for me its just so faithful to the comics, its just wonderful, impossible- I still have to pinch myself, its just too perfect. I mean, I enjoy Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight films, but they are not really Batman films, are they? They aren’t faithful to the comic, but rather are an interpretation of the Batman characters in an ultra-serious real-world scenario. Likewise the Spiderman films aren’t really honest to the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics I loved as a kid. The 1960s originals had an innocence and charm unique to their era, which is lost transferring them to contemporary times. I much prefer Spidey swinging over that 1960s New York skyline and fighting waterfront gangsters and living in that unique world. A Spiderman film set in the 1960s visually akin to an episode of Mad Men would no doubt confound most people, but I’d love it. Besides which, it really annoys me how Spidey is so often unmasked in the films. It’s more about seeing the face of an expensive actor than being honest to the comic.  On the subject of faces, the new Dredd film looks interesting and at least more faithful regards keeping the helmet on than the Stallone film was, but the dark over-serious tone of the Dredd trailer hardly seems to fit with the knowing British humour and pathos of the original strip. I know, films are a different medium and should make adjustments but what the hell, in that regard Watchmen is just damned fine and so incredibly faithful to the original, a comic brought to such vivid life, its a joy. The fact that the Directors Cut is even better than what I saw in the cinema is just icing on the cake. I still find it’s existence  hard to believe, every time I watch it. I mean, can you imagine how bad it might have been? One version would have had Arnie as Doc Manhattan for crying outloud. No doubt he would have quipped “I’ll be back!” when he made his departure at films end…

Prometheus Blu-ray extras…

I’ve noticed some interesting info on the BBFC website regards the Prometheus Blu-ray release. According to the BBFC, they have certified two commentary tracks (up to now I’d only heard of a Ridley Scott track). The second track could be even more interesting than Ridley’s own commentary, as it features  ‘WRITER JON SPAIHTS AND WRITER/EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DAMON LINDELOF’. So that’s the writer of the original script and the guy who butchered it, sorry, re-wrote it.  Actually maybe I’m being unfair to Lindelof there, but we’ll see. It would certainly be interesting to hear what the original script was and how much was changed and why. I doubt either will be particularly candid but it could well be an interesting track and will certainly be welcome.

Also the BBFC have detailed the deleted/alternate scenes, that total some 35 minutes in total:

00:00:42:14 (SKIN) (DELETED SCENE)

As you can see some of the titles are intriguing and would seem to be in chronological order. Imagine how annoying it will be if some of those scenes are great and should have been included in the (broken) theatrical cut. The concern I have about it is that with that much material I don’t see the likelihood of them one day releasing a Directors Cut at all; having seen those deleted scenes ‘outside’ of the movie already, it kind of defeats the ‘pull’ of any Directors Cut.  Surely had they intended to release a further cut they would have withheld those scenes for now?

The film is definitely getting a substantial release, what with all that deleted material, three hours of docs/featurettes and two commentary tracks; this release pretty much says it all regards Prometheus. . We usually get burned into double-dipping to get stuff like this, and compared to most releases these days (the upcoming Avengers Assemble is particularly disappointing) it’s really something special, and makes me look forward to this release more than I probably should considering how disappointed I was with the film at the cinema.

Leone’s extended America in 2013?

Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America is one of my very favourite films, easily in my top three all-time. I think its a genuine cinema classic, a term widely over-used in this era of hyperbole but truly deserved in the case of this beautiful epic. Its not a film easy to watch, I’ll admit, being dark, violent, poetic, and yes, very long.  An amazingly complex film, it was brutalised, frankly, by its American distributor who released it in a chronological 139-min version (of which critic Pauline Kael commented ” I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a worse case of mutilation”) which at least partly contributed to Leone’s death.  Here in Europe we had a 229-min version that saved Leone’s complex structure of flashbacks and remains a truly great film, but rumours of an even-longer cut have persisted for decades.

Last year, completely out of the blue, it seemed, it was announced that the Leone estate, with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, had begun work on restoring the film to its proper and complete form with some forty minutes of additional footage. In importance, this is somewhat akin to the recent restoration of  Lang’s Metropolis when long-lost footage had been found in Argentina. This newly restored version was premiered at Cannes in May this year; confusingly most reports cited the added footage at being somewhat under the trumpeted forty minutes,  actually something in the region of 25 minutes, but nonetheless most reviewers described much of this footage as very important.

Scheduled to be next shown in Australia at a film festival in Melbourne, The Guardian reported last week that this newly restored and further-extended cut of  Sergio Leone’s  film had now been pulled from circulation for more restoration work. In some ways this is not too much of a surprise, as some people who were fortunate enough to see this version had reported that the additional footage looked to be of workprint quality, generally inferior to the rest of the film.

While any delay of finally seeing the film is unfortunate, I think its a postive step that further restoration work is being done. A recent Q/A session with Warner Bros revealed that Warner do indeed have the rights to the extended version and are looking to release it one day, certainly on DVD/Blu-ray but also possibly in cinemas. No doubt this further restoration work has all of that in mind. There was always the possibility that the restored version might only have ever had an extremely limited distribution on the film festival circuit, particularly if the quality was not of a high enough standard. So anyway, I think this is very welcome and exciting news. Its hoped that this version of the film will return to the festival circuit at the end of the year or early next year. So if all goes to plan, a Blu-ray release in Summer or Autumn of 2013 might well be on the cards. It already ranks in my mind as the  most important release of 2013. Can hardly wait.

Iron Sky

“See that UFO? That thars no Martians- thats goddam filthy Nazis!” (no, that line isn’t in this movie, unfortunately).  Iron Sky is an extremely-low budget movie that began as an FX demo reel, the film apparently financed by crowd sourcing, something like public financing by geeks turned on by its clever premise. Unfortunately it turned out to be a clunker hamstrung by a terrible script and what could have been a witty low-budget take on Mars Attacks (and all those b-movies  and comics that Mars Attacks affectionately ridiculed/’homaged’) fails utterly- not so much a ‘b’-movie as a ‘z’-movie I’m afraid. In fact, it’s hard to describe this as a movie at all; it is more of a demo reel of everything wrong with cg-heavy low-budget film-making. Or what happens when a one-line pitch for a script (“Earth invaded by Nazi’s from the moon!”),  well, pretty much stays a one-liner, as if the FX Dept mugged the writers and carried on making the film without them. It’s so lame and  fundamentally amateur in so many ways its just depressing me writing about it but I guess considering its origins it was inevitable.

Thank goodness I saw this on a rental- some poor fools were suckered by the hype and the too-good-to-true-geekfest premise and actually bought the thing. You have to feel sorry for them- after all, how can you go wrong with a premise in which Earth is invaded by Nazi’s from the moon? Its just such a crazy idea it begs to be seen but in no way does it ever live up to the daft possibilities, instead it falls flat on its face in a mess of parody and political farce, ineptly directed, shockingly underwritten. There was a reason why this film only got a single-day cinema release here in the UK.  Quickly rushed onto home video, it’s a  Blu-ray disc better used as a coaster- yes its that bad.

“World War Two ends when we SAY it ends, yankee scum!” (no, that line isn’t in this movie either). So we have a Nazi base in the shape of a swastika on the dark side of the moon, disturbed by a black American Astronaut  (sent by a female Sarah Palin-lookalike president, yes it’s that subtle) who is captured and bleached white (I kid you not) by the evil Nazi’s who decide the time has come to invade Earth but spend three-quarters of the movie getting to it. They just need to steal an iphone first. Social commentary? Comedy? Not here folks. If this is biting satire then I’m a Martian. I’m sorry, but apologists for this film somehow champion it as a definitive anti-establishment movie, a crowd-sourced amateur epic. Well its amateur, certainly. It’s ham-fisted teenage-simplistic politics (America and the rest of the Free World as evil and fascist as the Nazi’s are) might appeal to the spotty pre-exam crowd but give me a break. This film isn’t anywhere near as funny as it thinks it is, or as smart as it’s  fans think it is either. How on Earth, with its wonderful mad premise, this managed not to be hysterically funny is beyond me- I cannot possibly describe how juvenile, how horribly shallow,  how poorly acted, how terribly directed, this film is. It’s the kind of film you get when you let people who have never been to Film school make a film (and if they did go to Film school, well, they obviously weren’t paying attention). Pretty damned terrible, and yes, the poorest film I’ve yet seen this year.

Prometheus 2 greenlit!

Great news? Well, I have to admit I’m chuffed that Fox have reportedly greenlit a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.  I feel like I did in ye olde days when Babylon 5 would get a new series greenlit from out of the shadows of impending cancellation.  Besides which, if Ridley jumps into a Prometheus sequel quickly, that will likely be putting the rumoured Blade Runner sequel onto the backburner, which, considering what Prometheus did for Alien, is no bad thing for those of us who hold Blade Runner in something akin to religious reverence. So for me it’s a ‘win win’ situation.

No doubt there are many who will read the news of a sequel with something approaching despair. Yes I had major reservations about the film and it’s clunky, nonsensical script (surely it featured the dumbest science party ever to visit an alien planet?) but I have high hopes that a sequel can a) make sense of some of Prometheus’ inconsistencies and b) finally justify all the hype, and redeem it’s illustrious heritage.

Well neither of those two things will be easy, but at least Fox seems to have learned from much of the feedback from viewers, as Lindelof (who seems to have gotten the biggest portion of the blame, as he wrote the script) seems to be out of the picture (well, fingers crossed such reports are correct). Hopefully this means a more coherent script, or at least a script that makes sense;  what won’t be easy is fixing some of the logic problems of the original film, but you never know.

Perhaps most important, with a sequel being progressed it would also seem more likely that we’ll also get the hoped-for Directors Cut for Prometheus. I’m hoping for a Kingdom Oh Heaven-style phoenix rising from the ashes. I know, I’m an endless optimist who at my age should know better in these post-Star Wars Prequels years.

Anyway, time for everyone to chip in with their wishlist for the sequel…