Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer: Iron Man 3 Reaches the All-Time Top Five.

iron3Well, there’s no accounting for taste.

According to Box Office Mojo, the online tracker of film box-office takings, summer super-hero film  Iron Man 3 has become the fifth top-grossing film of all time,  having now made $1.14 billion worldwide, surpassing the takings of previous fifth place movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Well, its certainly true that one shouldn’t confuse financial success with quality, as that Transformers film’s success proves, but I must confess I was frankly gob-smacked at this news regards Iron Man 3.  I thought it was an ‘okay’ movie but in no way did I ever suspect it would prove to be the hit it apparently is.

I guess if nothing else it should make Robert Downey Jr’s negotiations regards Iron Man 4 something of a headache for the notoriously level-headed and cost-concious Marvel Studios executives.

But what is it about Iron Man? I remember feeling rather ‘meh’ several years ago when the first film was announced, as I had thought the character rather low-tier/ second-rate Marvel, but I was proven wrong back then and look to be continually so-proven today. The public sure loves the metal hero, or at least Robert Downey Jr’s charismatic, stylish performance (really, though, considering his other movie performances, is Downey ever playing a character or just himself? Is his Tony Stark a great leap from his Sherlock Holmes?). To what then do we account for the huge success of the film, and indeed the character/Downey’s presence towards the success of the Avengers movie, which is even higher up in third place on the all-time list?

The public certainly doesn’t seem to be tiring of super-hero movies, which no doubt has Warner Bros drooling at the prospects of its imminent Man of Steel movie. Personally while I enjoy the movies I’m beginning to think Marvel Studios is becoming some kind of monster devouring critics and box-office records in its path. Where will it all end?

This does bring to mind something I saw on BBC News a few weeks ago. It was an item raising the perceived low-importance of female characters in current films, poor roles for actresses and the perhaps continuing male-dominance of the film industry, particularly in America.  One of the women interviewed was a UK producer, I forget her name but she did state that it all may be symptomatic of the way Hollywood makes movies now, particularly its blockbusters. Her point was that as Hollywood is aiming its films at an ever-more international market (I believe the Chinese print of Iron Man 3 actually has a few scenes/shots unique to that territory), its easier to ‘sell/translate’ these films to foreign markets by minimising dialogue and simplifying plot-lines, and emphasising the visuals. An action sequence translates into any language and can be understood by anybody on the planet, as opposed to a dialogue-heavy, twisting plot that might be culturally unique or have elements at odds with certain beliefs/cultures. So women play a minor role in blockbuster films which instead of characterisation extol action and visual spectacle.  Likewise we get stupid films like Star Trek Into Darkness (currently $258 million worldwide after about two weeks) that is littered with crowd-pleasing vacuous ‘wow’ moments that sell just as easily to a kid in California as to a kid in Shanghai or Sydney.  Let’s have a shot of the Enterprise-in-hiding raising itself out of the ocean in a huge fx shot to wow the cinema-goers who won’t think about how more secret and low-key it would have been just to keep the damn ship out of sight in orbit.

I guess what this means is that I’m going to be even more annoyed by crass stupidity in script-writing in future, as the box-office takings of these films seem to prove it actually works. Hollywood is more about making money than making great films after-all (its nice when both happen together but that seems to be a rarity). Films apparently don’t have to really make sense as much as they need to be making money. Nothing new I know, but as bigger budgets infer bigger financial risk, studios will increasingly play it safe in a need to sell their product to ever-more international markets. Which is a bit of an ominous prospect for me at least, because that seems to translate as Bigger, Louder, Dumber, Safer.

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

HANDS-OF-THE-RIPPER-landscapeA sobering thing about watching these old Hammer films (or any old movie, but I mention Hammer in particular as I’ve been watching Hammer films lately on the Horror channel) – it is easy to look the film up on the internet whilst watching it,  look up the cast. You read someone’s whole career in a simple filmography list, or their whole life summed up in a concise paragraph or two, even as they perform in the movie before you. Perhaps they had a long and glittering career ahead of them, or maybe this was as good as it got and only obscurity awaited them afterwards. It adds a poignant weight to the film when you realise that Angharad Rees, so young and beautiful in this film, died  aged just 68 in July last year. Or Eric Porter died in 1995 aged just 67, or Derek Godfrey in 1983 aged just 59. You realise you are watching dead people on the tv screen, that they exist only on those timeless images locked into the film being watched, that strange cinematic brand of immortality graced upon all actors and film-makers. For Hands of the Ripper the unseen world beyond that film set is 1970/1; I probably well know the events in that world beyond the film set, the music being played on radios, the television shows popular at the time. It is 1970/1; Angharad Rees here is 27 forever, a life and career unknown to her still ahead of her, summed up on the tablet screen before me: two marriages, two children, a career chiefly successful in television, a later career as a shop-owner and jewellery designer. Yet on the tv screen in this film, forever a young unfortunate character haunted by the deeds of her father, Jack the Ripper (the French title of the film literally translates as ‘The Rippers Daughter”, probably a better title).


Hands of the Ripper may be a minor footnote in the long list of Hammer films, originally released as part of a double-bill with the far more successful (notorious?) Twins of Evil, but it is certainly worthy of examination and reappraisal.  The performances are universally excellent, turn-of-the-century London is brought to life with excellent production quality, and the script has a sophistication that belies the rather fantastic (albeit original) plot. Historical horror of the real Ripper murders is coupled with psychological theories, a sympathetic character and sudden, quite shocking violence featuring strong gore for the time (one of the nastiest Hammer’s of the time, I’m sure). Its a heady mix indeed.

Angharad Rees plays Anna, who as an infant witnessed the brutal death of her mother at the hands of her deranged father, the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Now a troubled young woman who has blocked-out her traumatic memories, flashbacks triggered by objects such as glittering jewellery catching the light cause her to fall into a trance-like state during which she acts as if possessed by the Ripper himself, killing anyone near her.  Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) believes she is not truly guilty, and protecting her from the police takes Anna into his house hoping to cure her disturbed behavior by using hypnotic therapy. Of course, he doesn’t bargain on Anna’s murderous rages resulting in a steadily-increasing headcount.


The weird thing about this film, is that although its one of the later Hammer films which are generally  ill-thought of, and indeed may not be a title familiar to horror fans, its actually really quite good. Not as richly gothic as Hammer’s earlier output, or as sexy/camp as other Hammer films of its period (The Vampire Lovers, Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde), its successful for what it aims to be, and the cast is earnest and effective. Angharad Rees is particularly good as Anna; she is doomed from the start and shares a similar pathos to that of Frankenstein’s monster, we feel sympathy for her even though she is the instrument of all the death and gore. She is an unwitting innocent caught up in a horror she cannot escape from, the madness of her father. The Ripper himself is a presence unseen other than in the violent prologue, a nameless mystery that hangs like a phantom over the proceedings.  Indeed,  part of Dr Pritchard’s fascination with Anna is of discovering the identity of the Ripper, whose mystery and infamy still haunts London. Pritchard’s over-confidence in his ‘radical’ psychological theories, influenced by Sigmund Freud, blinds him  to the true cost of what he is doing by protecting Anna from the authorities.

Perhaps the only miss-step for the film is with the rather oddly understated climax set in the whispering gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral, but it is well-staged and has an eerily-effective score that amplifies the tragedy that unfolds. As far as the rest of the film is concerned, the screenplay is tight and well-paced,  and our feelings for Anna remain after her  date with Destiny. Was she ever truly guilty, and does Dr Pritchard ultimately fail her? Is the Ripper triumphant? As is frequently the case with Hammer’s best films, there is a sophistication and thoughtfulness here that belies the general reputation that the films are held in. Certainly, this is a better horror film than I expected it to be.

Listening to…

escapeEscape From New York (Expanded edition).  I’ve just bought this expanded edition of John Carpenter’s seminal EFNY soundtrack- its not new, its been out for years, but I never got around to buying it until now. I’ve got an old edition from the mid-eighties up in the loft somewhere- it was a straight port from the original vinyl edition and originated from Germany of all places, so it had different artwork and the title ‘Die Klapper-Schlange‘ (what is that in German?). I think even the track titles were in German;  I guess all that stemmed from the compact disc being a ‘new’, limited-market format back then (yeah, I’m old enough to remember the days of vinyl and cassettes ruling the record stores and compact discs being in a corner somewhere like a niche item).

Here we are decades later and even compact disc is going the same way as vinyl and cassette,  its all downloads now. I don’t like downloads. I guess its a generation thing, but I still prefer having something tangible, a real object in my hand with a case, liner notes etc. and I’ll even pay extra for a CD when the thing is available as an mp3 for less. Behind the times, eh?

Before I bought that German CD, I remember borrowing the vinyl edition of EFNY from the town library during my college days, and recording it on cassette. It may sound dated now but the Carpenter score was so cool back in the day. Originally due to being forced into it (he couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it for him), Carpenter scored his own film soundtracks (Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog) but by the time he got to Escape From New York, it wasn’t so much a budgetary constraint forcing him to do it, it became part of the identity of his films. The limited technology of synths back then give his scores a bare-bones, gritty, retro feel that is rather unique, and was at the time. The often cold, simple and direct synth scores mirrored the style of film-making that Carpenter was pioneering- basic, no-frills, shotgun film-making; nothing fancy, brutally direct. In these days of digital film-making its a wonder there aren’t more modern-day Carpenters shooting films like he did, as you’d think it would  be easier to get away with it on digital compared to the costly photo-chemical days; its an irony about digital that perplexes me.  Surely we should have more risky low-budget films and fewer huge blockbusters? Oh well. I think its fair to say Escape From New York is one of his better scores (although my personal fave is likely Prince Of Darkness from a few years later) and as entry point to Carpenter’s film-music this is the album to go with.

This expanded edition has the remaining cues that wouldn’t fit on the old vinyl version (twenty minutes per side, and that was your lot back in the day), alongside music not featured in the film (an abandoned Bank robbery prologue that was shot and scored but cut from the film, and an end-title piece that was dropped as it was deemed to break the mood of the film). A few dialogue snippets are thrown in to jazz things up and provoke memories of the film, in a similar fashion to Vangelis’ maligned 1994 Blade Runner album. It all results in a great listening experience, and hearing it again after so long it feels fresh and more impressive than ever.  Its got me reaching for my copies of the They Live, Big Trouble In Little China, Prince of Darkness soundtracks to continue this John Carpenter soundtrack listening experience. They really don’t make music like this anymore, just as they don’t make films like Carpenter did in his heyday (well I guess stuff like Dredd qualifies but look what box-office fate awaited that- makes me abandon all hope).


Iron Man 3 (2013)

iron3Iron Man 3 is certainly  a welcome improvement on the ill-judged Iron Man 2. Unfortunately it suffers the hardship of following on from the superlative Avengers movie (a problem also shared by the impending Captain America and Thor sequels). There is just no way it could live up to that movies huge epic scale, and for the most part, it doesn’t seem as if it even wants to. It just follows its own path, albeit with some welcome consideration of the impact that the events of the Avengers movie would have on the characters, particularly Iron Man himself, who glimpsed  things through the wormhole that have left a mark on his once overconfident psyche. It may be somewhat superficial in execution but its surprising nonetheless. Just a pity it involves an irritating and needless child sidekick for some of the movie.

In this film,  Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) stays out of the Iron Man suit for a lot of the time, even for many of the action sequences, and I can understand the logic behind it. Its a problem many of these comicbook films suffer from- why spend millions for a ‘star’ actor only to hide them behind a mask for most of the time? Indeed, it could be anyone once the mask is on. There is also the dramatic element of seeing the hero’s face/eyes etc and emphasising with the character, rather than the distancing (albeit iconic), features of a mask.  As a dramatic device I can appreciate its value, but it is something that irritated me endlessly with the Spiderman movies- in every film’s grande finale he seems to spend most of the time without the mask even on.

In the case of Iron Man3, it can be argued that over three movies prior, we’ve seen everything there is to see regards Iron Man suited up in action. We know what he can do. Having the character out of the suit and in jeopardy can only increase the tension (and get the studio more quality time ‘seeing’ the expensive actor rather than his cgi double, so everyone wins).

Unfortunately by the film’s end it falls into the same old trap as many other blockbusters, resorting to the eye-candy of OTT cgi and explosions and shouting etc. We still get to see Downey Jr out of his suit but instead replace him with forty-plus automated Iron Men battling an army of superhumans that glow in the dark.  It sums up all the current thinking in Hollywood and these epic sequels (what’s more exciting than a cityblock being totalled? Lets see a city destroyed! (Transformers 3), or in this case,  what’s more exciting than one Iron Man? Lets have forty!). Its supposed to be exciting but it really serves to undermine the dramatic tension and betrays a lack of imagination and ambition. I couldn’t care less about the cgi cartoon uber-violence. The real dramatics are of Stark and the villain rival Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) battling, even though even that is somewhat undone by the cgi effects. And in a curious similarity to events in Star Trek Into Darkness, even death no longer means anything when you have Magic Blood.  Hell, seems anyone can be a super-hero these days. Maybe Paltrow will get her own Super Pepper spin-off movie.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013): First Thoughts

Crikey. Even the title doesn’t make sense.  What hope then for the movie?

trekdarkFirst thoughts.  I’ll attempt to keep this spoiler-free but proceed with caution if you intend to see the film. I’ll return to this film later on in detail, but for this post I’ll try to keep things general with a few observations about the film that initially bugged me. For the most part, the same things that bothered me about the 2009 reboot concern me with this movie too. Maybe even more so.

I’m beginning to think that all the concerns about over-the-top, excessive set-pieces and excessive cgi in modern films are just a smoke-screen distracting us from the real culprit regards bad movies, and that’s the scripts. Because scripts are pretty bad these days, full of howling plot-holes. But most of us just moan about the OTT visuals and cgi, while others just love all that stuff anyway and are so distracted by it they don’t seem to care/notice about the plot-holes.  I’m quite alarmed at so many fawning reviews of this movie, raving about how wonderful it is. I cannot believe these reviewers saw the same film I did. It reminds me of Oblivion– not a terrible movie by any means, but most reviews champion it as the best sci-fi movie in years, completely ignoring all the massive plot-holes in it. Yes it looked very good but the script took huge liberties with the audience’s goodwill and common-sense, and I think that’s very true of this film too.

I guess it depends on what you want from a movie. If you just want dumb, popcorn entertainment with bang-for-your-buck eye-candy, then yeah, Star Trek Into Darkness, dumb title aside, serves it up on a platter. But too often that whole ‘popcorn entertainment’ argument is used as an excuse for bad storytelling and I think we deserve more.  How about thoughtful characterisation, character arcs, profound ideas, emotional involvement. Realistic effects of violence even rather than cartoon, superhuman displays? I walked out of this screening thinking back to Blade Runner, and Harrison Ford’s Deckard being bruised, aching and battered after his fights with Zhora and Leon- his cuts and bruises, his bloody nose. This is a hero who hurt, felt pain, got post-traumatic shakes that sent him to the nearest drink. Nowadays our heroes are like Supermen from Krypton. Think about what some of the characters in this Star Trek film go through with nary a scratch or a bruise.

Fully accepting that Star Trek is your typical sci-fi/space fantasy nonsense, I do find these reboots somewhat disconcerting. Disclosure here- I’m a fan of the original 1960s Star Trek. I couldn’t really care less for The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine or Voyager etc. so I don’t consider myself a die-hard Trekkie or Trekker or whatever else they call themselves these days. But I do love the old show, hammy acting and creaky sets, dodgy costumes and the rest. For all the many faults of that old show, it always seemed to make sense somehow.  But even taking into account the inherent silliness of Star Trek‘s premise, these new films do seem to have gone too far.  I also believe they are being very cynical in how they are using established characters and settings and then not have to be faithful or honest with it, simply because they can use the lame excuse of the  ‘alternate timeline’ nonsense and pretty much get away with everything. The writers say they are being honest and careful of the shows mythology but on the evidence of these two films I don’t believe it. There are awkward moments in the new film that replay certain moments from the second original Trek movie in particular for no reason at all other than to manipulate the audiences expectations. It doesn’t earn any emotional pay-off; indeed it comes across as ill-judged and embarrassing.  It makes me nervous regards how new film-makers are going to treat the future Star Wars movies. I’ll go into the scene in particular in  a later blog once everyone has seen the film, but if you have seen it, you will know what I’m alluding to.

Even set in a far-future setting, a story or mythology needs to have an internal logic, a self-consistency if you will.  A set of parameters in order for anything to, well, mean anything.  In a time-travel story it might be not being able to interfere with your own timeline, such as killing your grandfather, or meeting yourself in the past and changing time,  and all that paradox involves. In Star Trek, it might be the use of a Universal Translator to explain why everyone speaks English,  or the vast distances between stars, and the time it takes to travel to them. It might take days at Warp One, or hours at Warp Nine, but all that makes the distances mean something. Stuff like that. The vast canvas of the galaxy means nothing at all if you just rip all that up just to suit a lazy plot mechanic (and don’t get me started on the Magic Blood. Yes. Magic Blood! But I digress….)

Here’s what is wrong with the rebooted Star Trek: like Prometheus and so many other recent films, it doesn’t really make any sense, the writers have dismantled all internal logic, let rip with all the plot holes they can muster, and then tried to hide it with madcap pacing and loud explosions and huge effects, and yes, in the case of this Trek reboot, endless lens flare. Everything serves the ‘wow’ factor, like in so many modern blockbusters.  Just like in the 2009 movie, they always seem to go too far with everything. Are we really to believe that a character can transport himself from on board a shuttle on Earth, all the way to the Klingon Homeworld? Even if you allow for something as silly as that to pass, then why not follow it through- why can’t the other characters immediately give chase by doing the same, even though the guy who invented the tech is a part of the crew? Why risk triggering interstellar war and a Starship’s crew of 500 when you can just teleport a crack team after the fugitive?  For that matter, as soon as trouble (Kirk and his cronies) eventually turns up via old-fashioned ultra-slow starship, why not just transport himself someplace else? Its all part of the internal logic. Once it starts to break down it all caves in. If they had just stated that the guy had teleported up to a ship in orbit which then warped over to Klingon then that would be fine, job sorted.

I asked the question regards the 2009 film when it pulled a similar transporter trick; why bother with starships at all? The scriptwriters just seem to take the piss just for the hell of it, as they pull all sorts of similar tricks.  Stuck in Klingon space, Kirk picks up his communicator and has a chat with Scotty back on Earth. Doesn’t that bother anybody? It might take warp-speeds and hours/days to travel places in starships but you can use a teleporter to instantly travel across the stars and a handset communicator can give you instant one-one-one chat with anybody anywhere. They even repeat the injury later on. Hmm, I need some advice, lets ring my alternate Spock over on New Vulcan and have a quick chat.

The pace of the film is distracting too. Have modern audiences the attention span of a meat-fly? Seriously. How else to explain that modern blockbusters seem pre-occupied with loud explosions and massive effects and people running around and loud explosions and people shouting and more massive effects and more explosions and  nary a moment to pause for, maybe, a character beat or something old-fashioned like that? Do producers edit scripts by just chucking all that character motivation stuff out and instead leave all the loud fast stunt-filled stuff in? Do they keep the mad crazy pace up to the max in these movies so the audience won’t have time to pause, take stock and notice all the gaping plot-holes? I’d really like to know.


A View to a Kill (1985)

bond50So we finally come to A View to a Kill as I work my way through the Bond 50 boxset. I would like to say it was a neglected entry in the Bond series, a flawed film with surprising redeeming features. But that wouldn’t really be true. The only thing I can really say about it is that it means I can finally say adieu to the Roger Moore incarnation [1] and at long last now see Timothy Dalton’s Bond for the first time, something I have looked forward to since buying this set last year. There really isn’t much positive that can be said of A View to a Kill though.  You know you are in for a rough ride as soon as the Beach Boys boom out of the speakers during the familiar pre-credit snow-boarding sequence.

Moore himself is clearly just too old for the part, and was honest enough to say so, announcing his retirement from the film series having being talked into doing two too many. His Bond was always rather fun and self-deprecating, but his age here (he was 57 I believe) is damaging to the film. Christopher Walken’s psychotic Zorin (clearly evil, clearly a threat in every scene)  is a good Bond villain, but alas he is utterly wasted in a rather vapid plot about horse-doping (in a Bond movie?!). There is a missed opportunity sub-plot regards genetic manipulation/experimentation of super-humans that should have really been brought to the fore.  Instead the main plot, involving Zorn’s plan  to create an earthquake that destroys Silicon Valley ensuring the global domination of his own chip-manufacturing company  seems more a scheme of Superman‘s Lex Luthor than a Bond villain. But that’s not the film’s weakest link. Nor is the rather typically odd performance of the slightly crazy-looking Grace Jones (does she ever act?) as Zorn’s madcap henchwoman Mayday.

No, the proverbial nail in the coffin for A View to a Kill, that likely confirms its title of worst Bond movie ever, is Tanya Roberts woeful turn as Bond girl Stacy Sutton, clearly the worst Bond girl to ever ‘grace’ the screen (and that’s taking into account Denise Richard’s infamous nuclear scientist Christmas Jones years later). “James, don’t leave me!” she cries in the burning elevator shaft as Bond clearly searches for an exit for them. “Oh James!” she wails in further jeopardies. She is utterly irritating and without any redeeming features. Clearly just a one-dimensional damsel-in-distress, it’s true she isn’t helped by the vapid character written for her but dear oh dear, her performance is truly awful. I sniggered as she escaped the inferno without even a mark on her white dress or on her pretty face, even still wearing her high heel shoes, and soon ended up driving a fire truck through San Francisco’s streets whilst pursued by cops, still in those damn high heels.  It was just so bizarre. The whole film is  like a compendium of the Worst Bond Girl Moments.

Still, this film, like Octopussy before it, is clearly the best reason for the Bond 50 boxset. I cannot fathom why anybody would wish to buy this film individually or even own up to owning it except as a necessary part of a packaged set.  But still, it’s done, and I can at last move on…

1) In truth, Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond actually surprised me, as before I always felt his was the weakest of them, and yet I have quite enjoyed his take on Bond- as a whole I feel the films are possibly equal to those of Sean Connery. Individual films featuring Connery are no doubt superior- but on the whole, just as Connery’s films slipped in quality and Connery’s ego and contempt of the character increasingly filtered through into the films, Moore’s work-ethic and sincerity for the part and the films themselves, weak as some of them are, is clearly evident. Daft as they are, they somehow feel more honest.

Returning to Drive

drivebluFinally got around to re-watching Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive the other night. It’s a film I saw on rental last year which I enjoyed so much an eventual Blu-ray purchase was inevitable.

The film is the very epitome of cool. The retro-synth soundtrack is gorgeous, something that, with the neon-drenched visuals, instantly evokes memories of the days when Miami Vice was the coolest show on television. Drive is a film-noir/pulp fantasy of a Mysterious Stranger who befriends and protects a troubled family beset by hostile forces; a plot familiar to anyone who has seen the Leone/Eastwood westerns of the ‘sixties.  Indeed there is a lot of Clint Eastwood’s early screen persona of cool, silent wrath in Ryan Gosling’s performance. Of course the story here is set in a modern metropolis, the horses replaced by cars, but its cinematic roots are clear.  Throw in all manner of further references to Walter Hill’s The Driver, or Michael Mann’s Heat, or the shocking moments of violence of Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver, and you have a film that is quite mesmerising.  It isn’t a gangster movie, or a car-racing movie, or a love story, or a crime thriller… and yet it is all those things and more. Watching it again after so many months, I was surprised how sophisticated,  and yet at the same time simple, the whole thing is. So much is told in the long silences, its a truly cinematic movie. Its one of those movies that you just don’t want to end,  and when it does, you want a sequel… and yet you don’t. It’s perfect as it is, and too many good films have been spoiled by sequels.

Ryan Gosling is remarkable in exuding heroic cool, and while he may seem a bit too pretty to be real (something true of too many male actors these days), his glacier-like face is well served by those emotive eyes. Carey Mulligan does well as his love-interest and the unwitting catalyst of all that unfolds. The supporting cast is excellent- Ron Perlman may be the main bad-guy of the film but it is his partner, played by Albert Brooks, who is the real surprise to me.  Played with an icy,  devastatingly business-like attitude to doing what simply has to be done, regardless of how morally wrong it may be, his character is a thing of modern urban nightmare.

Refn has a new film out soon, Only God Forgives, in which he has again teamed up with Ryan Gosling. The trailer looks electrifying. I can hardly wait.

The Films We Love- (yes, even Lifeforce…)

Its funny the films we love. Ignoring those ‘classics’ that are widely considered great films (you know the usual suspects, Citizen Kane, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Apartment, 2001 etc) there are those that we just fall in love with anyway, just because, well, we like them, whatever critics and anyone else says. Some are rather good films deserving our fondness, while others are guilty pleasures that we enjoy perhaps for reasons outside the films themselves- reasons like nostalgic memories of the times we saw them, the way we were. Some films we carry torches for from our teenage years all the way through adulthood and old age. I guess I’d count many of the late ‘seventies/early ‘eighties films that I love in that category. Blade Runner is my favourite movie partly for the experience of watching at just that time when it was new and breathtaking, and for that period when it was like the ultimate cult film that no-one had seen or heard of other than for hardcore sci-fi nuts like me. Its clearly not the greatest film ever made- indeed it was horribly flawed, damn near broken on its first theatrical version. But even though the versions have changed on its many re-releases, and I have seen it countless times -surely more than a hundred- in the 30 years since that first time back in September 1982, I still love that film as much as I ever did. Revisiting it is like revisiting an old friend.

But its like that sometimes even with those old films we didn’t like back when we first saw them. Perhaps we were too young to appreciate some films and we find that re-watching them when older and wiser we ‘get’ them and enjoy them. Maybe some films are just as bad as they were back in the day but in hindsight don’t seem quite so awful as the current crop of films for some reason or other. I’ve found I quite enjoy some older, pre-cgi films precisely because they are pre-cgi… as if the matte lines and dodgy effects and actors unfortunate hairdos give the films a charm and affinity it lacked originally. Is that more the charm of the old days, memories of the times, than anything in the film itself? Certainly a lot of older films lack the artificial sleekness of current films, as I find that there is a ‘perfection’ in how actors look these days, and how modern films are obviously co-designed by marketing departments and aimed with chilling sophistication at particular demographics. Older films seem more innocent shots-in-the-dark in that respect.


I must admit to a certain thrill at the news that Arrow is releasing a special two-disc edition of Lifeforce later this year (ain’t that steelbook a peach?). I saw Lifeforce at the cinema back on its original release. I think I was in college then. Saw it in town in the old picture-palace that was the ABC cinema- back in that huge, red-plastered, cavern-like Screen One that seemed like a theatre of lost silverscreen dreams, the dog-eared worn seats shadows of earlier, more prosperous times, back when The Sound of Music  and Zulu ruled the box-office.  Well, even inspite of Mathilda May’s obvious charms, Lifeforce was a complete stinker. As a horror film it was shockingly silly.  At the time I dismissed the film but as the years have passed and I’ve watched it several times, I actually have grown to like the film. Its a lousy horror film but it is so bad its actually rather funny, and I find I can giggle at the bad dialogue and cheesy performances and inept direction. So bad its good? And of course its all pre-cgi make-up and optical effects, the over-the-top music score is over-ripe Hammer… its a great bad movie.  To think after all these years someone is working on a two-disc special edition of the film with commentaries, docs etc.. well it restores my faith in humanity when a film as bad and broken as this one gets that kind of love and care. I’m just surprised some people still maintain its a horror film- if they marketed it as a deliberate comedy I think it would get a wider audience and recognition. No accounting for taste, eh?

But anyway, I’d hardly cite Lifeforce as a great film, but I love it all the same. Legend is one of Ridley Scott’s more lamentable misfires, but I have found that my affection for it has increased over the years. Partly because I remember seeing it back in its cinema release when it seemed to slip by unnoticed by most people, partly because its real-world sets/make-up/miniatures give it a ‘look’ utterly alien to the cgi wonders of The Lord of the Rings films and the recent The Hobbit.

Maybe part of it is how modern films are so obviously colour-graded in post, whereas the ‘look’ of older films is from the actual on-set lighting, lenses, filmstock…  maybe thats why when I rewatch these older films I feel something in them. Conan The Barbarian (the 1982 version) was a film I didn’t even particularly enjoy back when I first saw it, but nowadays I thinks its up there with Spartacus– its a bold, gritty, real-world movie that, in spite of its dodgy acting, mixed effects work etc, feels like exactly the kind of film they can’t make anymore (and the recent remake proved it). Bear in mind its also got a fantastic soundtrack score, which is something that a lot of older films have but current films usually lack. Indeed most of the older films I love have great music scores, while most current films ditch melodies in preference for ‘mood’ and ambience, or sound like Hans Zimmer/Media Ventures muzak.

So anyway, if it takes your fancy, please leave a comment regards the films you love that you just know aren’t great, or indeed perhaps even any good. I figure that every film out there has at least someone who loves it. I’m just curious how bad some of them are!