It’s a strange world….

Have you read the news today...?
Hey, have you read the news today…?

This has been one of those weeks where I found myself wondering if I’d slipped into the Twilight Zone or something…

ALIEN 5

First came the confirmation, after weeks of rumours, that Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame (and, lets not forget, Elysium infamy) has signed on to make Alien 5, and that it would be essentially a sequel to Aliens, bringing back Ripley, Hicks and Newt, apparently ignoring the existence of both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Now, I couldn’t give two hoots about Resurrection but I’m a big fan of Alien 3, particularly the workprint version. Indeed, I much prefer Alien 3 to Aliens, as I feel that Cameron’s film really undermined the mystery and terror of the first film, turning it into Rambo in Space. God knows I’m in the minority in that, as the film has its legions of fans who are now hugely excited. But its really bizarre, this whole thing. Are the events of the third and fourth film to be consigned to a hyper-sleep dream? Really, the whole thing boggles the mind. I’m curious to see how Blomkamp pulls the whole conceit off, following Aliens somehow with those characters, considering how many years have passed now and the actors will have aged so much (it is seemingly not being recast as Sigourney Weaver has apparently signed on for the project). Its either some kind of genius project or a horrible cynical reboot disaster…. only time will tell.

More BLADE RUNNER 2 news…

Another project that carries a heavy weight on its shoulders is the promised (or threatened, its a matter of opinion) Blade Runner 2. Alcon, the production company behind the film, has officially announced that the film commences shooting summer 2016 with Denis Villeneuve signed as the director. Villeneuve made the well-regarded Prisonerswhich I haven’t seen yet (but you can be certain its now top of my watch list). Harrison Ford is confirmed, having been very impressed by the screenplay penned by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green (the script being one of the best things Ford ever read, according to earlier reports by Scott). The story is reportedly set several decades after the events of the original film. So maybe Deckard wasn’t a rep after all?

Of course the big news about all this is that while Ridley Scott remains involved (presumably in a producer role) its now confirmed that he won’t be directing. I’m split on this. On the one hand, after Prometheus, I’m rather relieved, as it would have been a huge weight for Scott to equal/surpass his original work. On the other hand, I’m disappointed as there’s that part of me just plain curious to see what Scott could come up with, returning to Blade Runner with all the tech that film-makers have these days. Have to admit its likely a wise move by Scott. If it somehow turns out that Blade Runner 2 is a great movie and a worthy sequel, he still has his name on it- if it turns out to be terrible then he can blame everyone else. Certainly, whatever you think of the project, Denis Villeneuve is a very brave man. Signing on for the sequel to such a classic film (one that hardly needs any sequel at all) must be such a daunting prospect.

But what a strange week its been. Alien 5. Blade Runner 2 confirmed. Add it to recent news that Sony has teamed up with Marvel Studios to reboot its Spider Man franchise yet again…. its a crazy world. To be honest, I still can’t believe that we have another Star Wars movie coming this December. Next thing you know, Vangelis will sign on to produce the Blade Runner 2 score and as a genius nod to his fans release a complete Blade Runner soundtrack with all the previously unreleased music that we’ve been waiting decades for.  Who knows? These days it seems all bets are off.

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Jupiter Ascending (2015)

jup1I rather liked it.

I liked Jupiter Ascending.

There you go, I’ve said it; I did. I liked it. Imagine the 1980 Flash Gordon mixed with Dune and The Fifth Element and you pretty much get Jupiter Ascending. If that combo of movie influences intrigues you, you may very well find that you enjoy Jupiter Ascending too. Its Gordon’s rich, brash comic-strip colours, its Dune’s mind-boggling huge scope and far-future space opera and its Element’s cheeky European tongue-in-cheek humour. Put it all in blender. Throw in the crazy attempt to squeeze a Star Wars trilogy into one two-hour movie (as mad and headache-inducing as that sounds) and you get Jupiter Ascending. Its mad. It doesn’t work, and yet it does. Its daft. Its fun. Its preposterous. Its bloody stupid. Its got an interesting subtext/social commentary about the rich feeding on the poor (in the case of Jupiter, literally feeding on the poor). It has a heroine who does very little, and even less that is actually heroic. It is, yes, stupid beyond belief (have I said that already?). Well, it is. I should hate this movie. But… but…

jup3But did I say its breathtakingly beautiful?

Well it is. It’s a space-opera fan’s wet dream. While no amount of eye-candy will ever substitute for plot or character or drama, there is something rather unrelentingly endearing about Jupiter Ascending. The Wachowskis and their team have created this huge epic movie with gigantic spaceships and bizarre aliens and gorgeous alien worlds and crazy costumes and… well, it has to be seen to be believed. Its as if all the pulp fantasies of Astounding and all those old sci-fi magazines burst into cinematic life. I know I should hate this movie, but its so crazy and daft and beautiful it melted this cynic’s heart, and I suspect it may be a guilty pleasure for many if they ever ignore the reviews and give it a chance, either at the cinema or on Blu-ray someday. I do not imagine it will win many over but… well, I’d much rather have this crazy joyous mess of a movie than Guardians of the Galaxy. 

jup2‘Art’ it isn’t. I’m not going to suggest that this is a cult film that will one day be reappraised as a classic. Its a film that features a character named Jupiter Jones as its heroine, and her love-interest is a hunky bloke gene-spliced with a wolf (she even says “I love dogs” to him during a romantic interlude). Its crazy, utterly bonkers. But that craziness is intriguing somehow. It even leaps off into Brazil territory;a wild frenetic trip into space-opera bureaucracy that actually features that films director in a cameo, yes, Terry Gilliam- yes, thats right, the ode to Brazil features Brazil’s director Terry Gilliam (I was loving the sequence and then saw Gilliam and thought, bloody hell, they’ve got Gilliam! The Wachowski’s ARE crazy!). Seriously, its just that kind of nuts.

No doubt this film is tanking miserably at the box-office, but it was always going to, wasn’t it? The writing was on the wall for this film when it was delayed from July last year until this month. Why anyone making this film actually thought it would find an audience and be a hit is beyond me. Its one of those films that you watch simply incredulous that it even got made. Not that I think it is terrible or any worse than many other so-called blockbusters. Other than Guardians, I’d certainly take this film over Transformers 4 or the last Hobbit film- the fact that those two films have each made over a billion dollars at the box office (well, I think the Hobbit film is a bit shy of the golden billion figure just yet) is certainly no judgement on the comparative artistic value of the films. Jupiter is fun. Jupiter is bonkers. Jupiter has to be seen to be believed.

jup4Can’t wait for the Blu-ray.

(Did I mention the dinosaurs? There’s these hulking walking talking biped dinosaurs…. they reminded me of the Kleggs from the Judge Dredd strip from 2000AD’s 1970s heyday.  Any film with badass talking Dinosaurs can’t be all bad in my book.) 

Fury (2014)

Brad Pitt;Shia LaBeouf;Logan Lerman;Michael Pena;Jon BernthalThe shadow of both Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s Band of Brothers looms large over David Ayer’s Fury. That’s no fault of the film itself, its just the way things are- its as inevitable as watching Guardians of the Galaxy and comparing it to Star Wars, or Interstellar and comparing it to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In what is perhaps a concious effort to step from out of that Private Ryan shadow, Fury pushes the envelope with its graphic onscreen portrayal of war. People burn horribly, heads explode, severed body parts litter the screen… this war isn’t pretty. And yet the one shot that lingers in my mind is one of a vast armada of bombers in the sky, weaving a spider-web of contrails across the clouds as the air trembles with the sound of their engines- its a beautiful, arresting image, quite at odds with the horrors the film portrays down on the ground.

This raised a thought whilst watching Fury; is it acceptable to portray the horrors of war in the guise of entertainment? Is it an artistic or even moral right to show the brutality of it, exploding heads, burning flesh, the blood and body parts, in a movie designed to entertain? Is there something wrong with viewers gaining enjoyment and satisfaction from watching such bloody horrors unfold? Is it even possible for any film to really encapsulate what war is? Fury may not flinch from showing battles in graphic detail but I dare say it pulls its punches- there is a limit to what censors will allow I’m sure, but as the years pass the boundaries keep moving, and I wonder where it may end. Even the heroes (as we used to understand the term in war movies) aren’t what they used to be-  the Allied soldiers seem as bitter and twisted and destroyed as the Germans they are fighting, even though its the last days of the war and the Allies are clearly on the winning side with victory near. They are all broken men. Broken by their experiences of the war.

kelly1This isn’t a consideration for earlier war movies- I found myself thinking of Kelly’s Heroes, another film featuring tanks, and one of those movies I can watch over again and again- its a war movie from back in the days that Hollywood war movies were really Boys Own Adventure films (albeit in Kelly’s Heroes case focused through a prism of late ‘sixties/early ‘seventies cynicism). Back when soldiers would get shot and fall down dead with the minimum of fuss or gore or sign of pain. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule (All Quiet on the Western Front for one), but prior to Apocalypse Now, war movies were in no way focused on the reality and madness of war. Just thinking of war movies starring John Wayne makes me cringe- only the other day whilst flicking channels I stumbled on a movie, I don’t know what it was, but it had Charles Bronson in army get-up playing soldiers with a bunch of other actors like Henry Fonda and it looked, frankly ridiculous, like grown men playing at being soldiers, almost in bad taste. But war films are what they were, prior to Apocalypse Now, Platoon and of course Saving Private Ryan. The playing field has changed now, and Fury is clearly a product of its time.

Fury is a very interesting and arresting film. Visually it is quite brutal, although it sometimes seems a little too keen to shock the viewer. It does seem brave for having such a largely unsympathetic group of characters; it is very difficult to empathise with the nominal good guys at times and that’s contrary to how films work with protagonists in peril (you really should root for the ‘good guy’ otherwise why care what happens? Perhaps it is simply showing how war and its horrors breaks men and strips them of their humanity. Its evidently a concious decision of the film-makers, because the performances themselves are all of a very high standard- they just in no way try to engender audience sympathy. Interestingly, I don’t recall any of the characters really talking about their old, pre-war lives, as if the war is all there is, all there has ever been (perhaps they don’t really believe its ever going to end).
fury3The battle scenes are well-shot and staged, albeit quite harrowing, and the film does look beautiful, which is odd considering what horrific things are depicted. Steven Price’s score is unusual and effective, and although its a bit disconcerting to hear music that sounds so like his earlier Gravity score in a period movie, on the whole it works well.

So Fury being a war movie with tanks, being compared to Kelly’s Heroes as another war movie with tanks, is hardly any fit comparison at all, but all the same, its interesting to note how much has changed with war movies. Watching the two films back to back (something I really must do someday) would be a sobering thing indeed, to see just how much things have changed in the decades between them. I guess the world has changed, and how we perceive war, as much as Hollywood’s depiction of it. Which influenced which, I wonder? Did our knowledge of war force Hollywood to change, or was it the change in Hollywood war films that influenced our view of what war is?