Tuesday, December 22nd, 13:50.

…thats when I’ll be sitting down to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yep, got my seat booked already. God, that makes me sound like such a Star Wars geek, having the ticket booked so far in advance. Truth is some of the lads in the office have organised a trip to the cinema as a Christmas treat as that week should be pretty hellish at work and it gives us something to look forward to. Or be afraid of. Which exactly, I’m not too sure. Which has set me to thinking- am I actually looking forward to it or not?

(Curious fact: I’m the eldest in the office, and the only one of us even born when Star Wars first came out. My co-workers in the office all discovered the films on home video. One of them even hates The Empire Strikes Back. Some kind of idiot, unless he’s just winding me up.)

swyb

See the poster here, revealed a little while ago before the final trailer came out. Does anyone else feel uneasy about it? I mean, Star Wars, particularly after those lamentable prequels, is hardly the bastion of originality and fresh ideas. God knows Lucas picked all sorts of ideas from Flash Gordon to Lord of the Rings and Dune when writing the original film (the ideas weren’t particularly new in 1977 but the execution of them certainly was). But I remember how disappointed I was back in 1983 when Return of the Jedi featured another Death Star. TESB had been such a quantum leap after Star Wars, so full of fresh ideas and opening it all up, and then the third film centered on a plot device picked straight out of the original film. I didn’t get it. I hated it. It just seemed to be a lack of creativity, of original thinking. ROTJ seemed almost a remake of the first film in some ways, just flashier and busier and louder, even with Luke and Vader resuming the light-sabre battle that was cut short in TESB. I guess that swordplay was inevitable, but another trip down another Death Star trench?

Trouble is, see that Death Star-like spherical object far right of the poster? Oh dear.

Whilst trying to avoid spoilers etc, it’s inevitable that you pick up stuff from rumours. I read something months ago about a Starkiller station or something, a weapon that can destroy star systems. Maybe there was some truth to those rumours. Whats the bet it has a design flaw that allows the rebels to blow it up?

What worries me is, have Disney and the film-makers decided to remake Star Wars? Well, not exactly remake it, but sort of put a new twist on it… Well, okay, I’ll say the word: reboot.

We have a new droid, BB-8 is it? Sort of like R2 D2 but a little different, he beeps and rolls around and… yeah, a bit like R2 D2, but with a twist. We have a new, younger cast, a girl, a guy…  and on the poster, isn’t that some other menacing character in a mask? And all those troopers in white armour, stormtroopers of old albeit with a twist. It all looks rather familiar. There’s even X-Wings and TIE fighters, all with new paint-jobs, updated with a… twist.

Maybe I’m not realistic to expect something new, original, fresh. I’m just a bit concerned we’re heading down that ROTJ path again. I guess all will be revealed in December.

 

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Sicario (2015)

Now THATS a film poster...
Now THATS a film poster…

The prospect of director Denis Villeneuve helming Blade Runner 2 is more exciting than ever having seen Sicario. It also reinforces his evident fascination with humanities dark side, being a particularly grim, and at times unrelentingly tense, thriller with some fantastic performances (oddly, I did find a particular comparison here with Blade Runner, albeit unintentional- just as Harrison Ford was overshadowed by Rutger Hauer in the 1982 film, here Emily Blunt is overshadowed by the performance of Benicio Del Toro in what is ostensibly a supporting role that simply steals the movie). Alas news that LIonsgate seem keen to move on with a Sicario 2 is a little depressing even if somewhat predictable considering how the film ends. Sicario simply does not need a sequel and I fear it will be weakened by a follow up- I guess this is just a further demonstration of the times we live in, but it’s such a shame that a film like this can’t be allowed to stand by itself anymore. Indeed, it has hardly been given time to be released before the studio has raised the prospect of a sequel. My own response to the news of a sequel was “what? WHAT?” as if it was some kind of joke. Imagine Heat being followed by a Heat 2 and a Heat 3…. it’s heartbreaking really how cannibalistic the film industry is now, success breeding some kind of instant feeding frenzy.

(While those films that deserve or suggest a sequel, like Dredd or John Carter, haven’t a teardrop in Hell’s chance of ever getting one).

sic3I wouldn’t by any means describe this film as perfect- there are a few pacing issues with Sicario that leaves the middle somewhat laboured, but it remains a superior thriller with ambiguous lines of morality that is quite refreshing. Clearly there is Good and Evil here but its all shades of grey rather than simplistic black and white… There is no moral high ground championed, rather just a vague sense of futility trying to make sense of it all, the distinctions of right and wrong blurred in somehow trying to define a Greater Good, the central question being does the end justify the actions getting there. Having seen his previous film,  Prisoners, it comes as no surprise that Villeneuve has no problem establishing a realistic milieu with fine performances from his cast. What does come as a welcome surprise, considering how intellectual that films probing of human darkness was, is how well Villeneuve manages Sicario’s action sequences. It’s no overstatement to suggest it is so accomplished it recalls Michael Mann’s Heat, but even when the bullet’s aren’t flying it is the threat of violence that is most powerful and impressive. We live in age of films laden with cartoon violence with cities portrayed collapsing in photorealistic detail, whether it be due to superheroes or giant robots or giant monsters, but the implied threat of violence when being trapped in a traffic jam is here far more overpowering. Tension is ramped up incredibly high in three sequences, but beyond that there is a dark feeling of dread, of a world out of control. Its a tragedy, in many ways.

Clearly this film consolidates Villeneuve as one of the most promising directors at work today. Roger Deakins photography, meanwhile, ensures the film looks utterly beautiful, if such a thing can be said about a film as uncompromisingly as bleak as this is. I must stop mentioning BR2 but goodness, one can only wonder at the possibilities of these two working on the project, and what they might come up with if left alone and given decent material (i.e. a decent script). One can only hope and wonder. As it is, Sicario simply remains one of the best films of the year and really deserves some recognition come awards season.

 

San Andreas (2015)

san1In many ways San Andreas is everything I abhor in so many modern blockbusters; lazy writing rasing all the old tropes and cliches with predictable plotting and cynical insults to audience intelligence. On the other hand, it does everything it says on the tin, as it were. It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. I knew going in that it was hardly going to be high art and if you’re in the mood for a high-octane disaster movie you’ll be in for a treat.

san3Positives? Well, the effects guys pulled out all the stops on this one. There are jarring exceptions that sneak in no doubt due to the sheer amount of effects shots in the film (alarmingly for the film the first effects shots are the worst which creates an initial sense of cheesiness), but on the whole the scenes of destruction are well staged and convincing. You certainly get plenty bang for your buck, whether it be a rental or a purchase or (originally) cinema ticket. The casting is fine (Kylie Minogue though is so out of left-field its just utterly bizarre) and the acting is fairly good, though you suspect that all the actors know the effects are the real draw so they don’t bother breaking much of a sweat trying to make much of the dialogue they are given. Alexandra Daddario as Dwayne Johnson’s daughter is probably the exception here and the best of the bunch- yes she is extraordinary eye candy but she seems the only one who thinks she’s in a better movie and makes an effort. She really does shine in this and it ideally should lead to some leading roles in better films (if she somehow never turns up in some Marvel film in a headlining role it’d be something of a crime). Daddario’s clear efforts here are opposed to the apparently-ageless Carla Gugino and the great Paul Giamatti who both know full well they are slumming in a popcorn pot-boiler with dialogue clearly beneath them.

san2Negatives? Well I could go on awhile but here’s my chief gripe. What annoys me is just this; why is a huge man-mountain like Dwayne Johnson -who does very well in the part given him, to be fair- always the leading man/hero of this kind of film? I think the film would be much more interesting and exciting if it was the balding/middle-aged/overweight Paul Giamatti playing the hero trying to survive the disaster and rescue his daughter. You know, put an ordinary guy in peril and see him making his way through it. It’d be so much more interesting. Irwin Allen’s 1970s disaster movies are often remarked upon these days as being formulaic and cheesy but at least their leading men are fairly ordinary-looking leading men. Dwayne Johnson here is some kind of Masculine Ideal, a helicopter rescue pilot who can hotwire cars and parachute out of planes and race a boat up a tidal wave while dodging falling freight containers… its just preposterous stuff. Its fantasy casting/writing and very irritating  Of course, I well appreciate the fact that no-one is going to spend $110 million on an action blockbuster starring Paul Giamatti as the leading hero. Its been like that for years, its why the original Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and not Richard Dreyfuss or James Woods. But wouldn’t they all be much more interesting films? As it is we are stuck with highly unlikely plots with highly unlikely people in them.

The key family dynamic is the best thing in the film but even that is pure formulaic stuff. Following the death of one of their daughters, Johnson and Cugino have split up and Cugino now has another fella who just happens to be some kind of billionaire who travels in private jets/limos and builds skyscrapers for a living. Loving dad Johnson dotes on his remaining daughter Daddario while still clearly having feelings for his wife who has moved on to her billionaire and is starting divorce proceedings. Of course the disaster strikes and Johnson has to save the day. But just look at those leads- Johnson looks like some kind of man mountain, Cugino is a statuesque icon of age-defying motherhood and their daughter Daddario is just breathtakingly hot. Johnson drives a truck all shiny-chrome and gleaming paintwork fresh off an assembly line, Cugino’s new bloke lives in a millionaire palace with swimming pool and servants. The whole thing is utterly divorced from the real world, or at least the world I’m living in.  Its just dumb and lazy and generic nonsense.

I realise we shouldn’t really expect anything more from these kinds of films and San Andreas is just what it was intended to be, but then again, maybe we should be expecting more from these films. This shouldn’t be what these films aspire to be, just dumb trash with beautiful people in extraordinarily stupid situations (the airport is out of action, so lets jump out of this plane and parachute down into that baseball stadium). As these films get ever more expensive to produce and studios become ever more conservative about avoiding risk etc, then these films are just going to get louder and dumber. Where will we end up in ten years or twenty years? I shudder to think.

Tomorrowland (2015)

t2With an estimated budget of $190 million and a worldwide-box office tally of $208 million, Disney stands to lose something in the region of $100-150 million on this one summer film. Which is a pity, not because the film is particularly good, but rather because it is an original property rather than a sequel or a reboot. I couldn’t care less that Fox’s Fantastic Four stands to lose its studio much more – that film should never have been made; the world didn’t need another Fantastic Four film anymore than it needed another Terminator film- but I do feel sad about an original film failing to find an audience in an industry where originality is at a premium.

Hopes were high pre-release; Brad Bird is the director of The Iron Giant and  Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille, three remarkable films. Tomorrowland looked intriguing from the first teasers and trailers. I was rather rooting for Tomorrowland. Yet something seems to have gone wrong, it’s turned out messy and confusing. If I was to suggest that, when I think back on it, too much of Tomorrowland doesn’t really make a lot of sense, then maybe that is sort of explained by Damon Lindelof’s attachment as co-writer to the project. Oh yeah, that guy again.

t3I just think it needed reigning in- or maybe Lindelof needed reigning in/kicking out the door. It’s such a good concept with a valid Message that is pure Disney. The modern world is going to hell; NASA is shut down, the public buried under the weight of terrorism, global warming, famine, all the problems of the world, with all the hope and positivity of the sixties (and in particular The 1964 Worlds Fair and its Tomorrowland theme park) all forgotten. The solution to our woes is the City of Tomorrow which somehow sits Out There, a symbol of hope and promise, but even that beacon of The Future can’t survive the pessimism and despair which threatens the world with an impending Doomsday.

The central mystery of what/where Tomorrowland is, and what its purpose is, is engrossing, and it has a refreshingly positive message; but the whole thing just flounders towards the end. It sort of collapses under the weight of its lofty ambitions (but hell, at least it has those ambitions, right?) Its just so frustrating, this should have been so great. I hesitate to go much further because I rather like my reviews to be spoiler-free for fairly recent films (its fair game on older films, most readers will have seen them by now, but new films? Nah). I do suspect, like Prometheus before it, that Tomorrowland suffers from the Lindelof factor. It shouldn’t really so simple, film-making is a huge endeavour with many hands involved, but that Lindelof connection is too hard to ignore. The central idea of Prometheus was great but it got too twisted up in ideas that conflict with each other and just confuse, and Tomorrowland rather goes the same way. The more I think about Tomorrowland the less it makes sense, plot-points seem to flounder, so much is left unexplained. But it is so beguiling. Maybe it deserves to find its audience someday.
t1That all said, I rather liked the film, and a few days after watching it I find myself thinking about it a lot and curious to re-watch it again. Tomorrowland isn’t a bad film, it just isn’t the great film it might have been. It’s funny and thoughtful and the cast are fine. Some sequences are just astonishing, particularly one where a character has an all-too brief ‘visit’ to the wondrous City of Tomorrow and all its wonders (jetpacks, anti-grav pools, giant robots, levitating trains, rockets, all in a retro sixties-future-look) depicted by ILM in breathtaking photo-real CGI. I hate to sound like an effects junkie, but some of the visuals in this film are worth the price of entry alone. It’s all rather bewitching.

Go into this film with cautionary expectations, and you just might fall under its strange spell too.

 

Do Androids Dream of Blade Runner 2?

br2aI was a sceptic. I didn’t want a Blade Runner 2. I thought it was a bad idea and a cynical attempt to capitalise on both the success of the Final Cut release and, following its long road from box-office and critical failure in 1982, its eventual reappraisal as a classic. I felt justified, as a fan of the film since I saw it in September 1982 who witnessed its fall into obscurity and later eventual rebirth, to voice my opinion that the world didn’t need a Blade Runner 2. Leave it alone. But slowly as news has developed about the BR2 project, I’m becoming, much to my own surprise, a Believer. Ridley, you old bastard, you’ve got me converted. But can you pull it off?

(God, I’d love to sit down with Ridley just for an hour…! Seriously, I don’t consider myself a geek but as an original fan of the film (it’s been my favourite film ever since it blew me away back on that September afternoon and I’ve championed it ever since) I feel almost entitled to feel a sort of ‘ownership’ of it (ridiculous I know). I love the film,damn it. Just to sit down with Ridley and get some idea of where he’s going with it. I don’t want it spoiled, I really don’t even want to know anything detailed about the script, but.. but Ridley.. where are you going with it. It feels like that scene in Marathon Man– with me asking him,  is it safe?)

Back in December last year I wrote regards the confirmation that Blade Runner 2 looked to be inevitable, and over the last several months pieces of information have come to light about the project, and I think its a good time to sum up some of those developments, particularly following the press interviews for Ridley Scott’s latest film The Martian, during which Scott has been a bit more candid about the project.

br2bSo what do we know? Well, the script was developed by Ridley Scott with original writer Hamption Fancher. So that has to be taken as a good start, with a cautionary note that some of the best moments of the original script were attributed to the rewrite by David Peoples, who has no involvement at all with BR2. But yeah, if you had to name the original ‘parents’ of Blade Runner (considering it as a wholly independent entity to Philip K Dicks original novel) then it would be Fancher and Scott. So the lineage is there. And by all accounts the script for BR2 is very good. Following recent reveals by Scott, it’s apparent that the film is set some decades after the original. Ryan Gosling is apparently signed-on to star and his age seems to have some impact on the exact date, with Scott suggesting 2037 or 2040. There are inevitable invitations to wild speculation here- perhaps Gosling’s character is a child of Deckard and Rachel (which is a bit of a stretch considering Rachel was a Replicant and possibly even Deckard too), or, perhaps more likely, he’s a contemporary Blade Runner who in his duties has to track down Deckard (who went on the run with Rachel at the end of the original film). Scott has already said that Harrison Ford, although he has signed on to the film, will not feature largely in it;  “...we…came up with a pretty strong three-act storyline, and it all makes sense in terms of how it relates to the first one. Harrison is very much a part of this one, but it’s really about finding him; he comes in in the third act“. So it would seem safe to assume the date the film is set is largely due to Ford’s real age/the aging of him over the years since 1982. I don’t know where that leaves the debate about his character being a Replicant or not; do Replicants age? Maybe Deckard was a Nexus 7 or something, no set termination date, built to age naturally. I wonder if Tyrell has any part to play in this movie. Hell, its like falling into the rabbit hole thinking too much about BR2.

Ryan Gosling by the way seems a particularly fine piece of casting. He’s one of the few modern-day male actors who can emote visually rather than through dialogue, and has a silent real-world/tough guy presence much like Ford had back in his Raiders/Blade Runner prime or the likes of old-style Hollywood leads like Steve McQueen. I’ve enjoyed his work in films like Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines and I think he could carry a BR2 movie, it seems a natural progression for him.

br2eConfirmation came that Ridley wasn’t going to direct BR2. Firstly, I have to admit that the director appointed to the film, Denis Villeneuve, was someone unknown to me when the news broke that it would be him helming the film rather than Ridley Scott, who was stepping back into a producer’s role. To be honest, I felt relieved about Ridley stepping back, it was likely a difficult decision for Ridley to make as Blade Runner is possibly his most personal film, and the film he is most famous for. It must have been so tempting to shoot BR2 himself, but the pressure… the expectation… I think the experience of making Prometheus and all the hype it received, and yes, much of the flack after release…. I expect it had much to do with Ridley’s decision,  I do think it was the right thing to do. If the sequel gets screwed up, at least he can say it wasn’t down to him, and his original will always stand for itself.

director Denis VilleneuveSo anyway, curious about the choice of (the unknown to me) Denis Villeneuve, I streamed Villeneuve’s most recently-released film, Prisoners, and was hugely impressed by it. Its a very, very good film, a tense and brutal thriller, technically very accomplished but also blessed with great performances from its actors. It also looks incredible, with beautiful photography by famed English cinematographer Roger Deakins (some of the night photography in the rain, lit by neon and torchlight had obvious connotations with Blade Runner), When news broke that Deakins, who seems to have a great rapport with Villeneuve, had also signed on to work on BR2, well by that point I was getting excited. A talented director and one of the most accomplished cinematographers, working on BR2? Hell yeah. We have  great script, a great leading man, the return of Ford, Ridley overseeing production, a gifted director who is a big fan of the original, and a fantastic cinematographer. It’s all looking good. Villeneuve’s latest film Sicario has been getting great reviews too. He’s looking to be an excellent choice.

They aren’t racing to get it done either. No release date seems to have been set, with filming arranged late last year for summer of 2016 you’d have to expect a release date in late 2017, maybe mid-2018 depending on how long post takes (2019 would be a perfect date for obvious reasons but lets not wait that long!). The shooting date may well have been dictated by the appointment of Villeneuve, who had Sicario in progress and has just finished shooting another film after that- his schedule now apparently cleared up, BR2 awaits. I think its healthy to have a long pre-production for these kinds of film anyway. Too many films race into production and suffer for it.
br2fRegards the music, well, Vangelis’ score was such an integral part of Blade Runner, it was like another character. Fans may have anticipated a return for the synth maestro but I would imagine that’s now very unlikely, particularly as Ridley has stepped back from directing. Just as Villeneuve has a continuing professional relationship with cinematographer Deakins, he also seems to have a partnership with Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, who composed the scores for both Prisoners and Sicario. Johannsson is himself a rising star in the business (he recently also scored The Theory of Everything). He comes from a experimental/classical background and I was already familiar with his work prior to him moving into film scoring. His works IBM 1401: A Users Manual and Fordlandia are wonderful pieces of modern classical composition (check them out on Youtube), and I expect he’ll be announced as the composer for BR2. This would be a great choice and reassuring has he already has a history of working with Villeneuve. It will be interesting to see if he references the Vangelis score or makes it a wholly original composition- if the latter, then it will further position the film as more its own thing.

In September Variety spoke to Roger Deakins about Blade Runner 2. “..there’s a lot of anticipation, which is interesting. I mean I love the original but I’m surprised at how much interest there is when the original actually wasn’t commercially very successful and wasn’t critically very successful as well. So that tells you a lot about a movie’s staying power… .” Referring to the style and ‘look’ that the original has, Deakins was asked if they intended to replicate (sic) it in the sequel. ” I remember distinctly when it came out and how strong that look was when compared with other movies that were around at the time. We’ve had little conversations. I mean the film we’re going to do is going to stand by itself but it’s obviously the same world 30 years on. I mean but it doesn’t have to look the same. Thirty years on we can do anything we want, really.”

I certainly welcome this approach. I think its great that they seem to be referencing the original but are keen to distance themselves from it, likely conscious that they must visually do their own thing and give the sequel its own identity. Unfortunately the realities of modern film-making seem to have been hinted at in an interview shortly after, in which Deakins commented he would soon be working with (director) Villeneuve on a film that would be converted to 3D (evidently a reference to BR2); “…I’m not even into 3D actually… I’ve been offered it. I just don’t want to… (it will) be made into 3D eventually, but it won’t be shot in 3D.” Thank goodness the film will be at least shot in 2D. I can take (and ignore) a 3D conversion, but if it’s shot in 2D there won’t be too many of those irritating ‘pop-out’ moments in the film.

As he wraps up his other projects and turns towards BR2, he is naturally reticent to go into any specifics, but Villeneuve has started to comment on his own thoughts approaching the project; “I’m totally aware of the huge challenge. It’s a risk I know that every single fan who walks into the theater will walk in with a baseball bat. I’m aware of that and I respect that, and it’s okay with me because it’s art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It’s gonna be the biggest risk of my life but I’m okay with that. For me it’s very exciting; it’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Blade Runner. I love it to much, so I said, ‘Alright fuck it, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.’”

You know, I think he gets it.

But what will BR2 be called? The Independent newspaper here in the UK recently ran a story about domain names being registered by Warner Bros.; bladerunnerandroidsdream.com and androidsdreammovie.com, with natural ensuing speculation that the film may be titled Blade Runner:Androids Dream or just simply Androids Dream. While such a title may well nod back to the original PKD novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, in the movie the term ‘Androids’ was replaced by ‘Replicants’ so I’m not sure how probable those choices are. Likely they are domain names for the films official websites but I don’t imagine the film will be titled like that. Personally I always rather liked one of the original titles the original film had before Blade Runner was chosen- Dangerous Days.  So some variant like Blade Runner: Dangerous Days seems ok to me. But obviously extremely unlikely! We’ll see.

If I had the opportunity to speak to them, my message to the makers of BR2 would be this: please, be honest to the original. Don’t pander to the fans, don’t think about what we want, but please, just be certain you are maintaining the integrity of the original. Go do something new. Blow us away, just like Ridley and his team did back in 1982. And please for Gods sake don’t consider the word ‘Franchise’; don’t make this film with an eye to a Blade Runner 3. Make it a single experience with a beginning, middle and an end. Maybe a third film will follow, I guess it has to be a consideration, its a part of the industry thinking these days but don’t make that integral to the second film. Just go and make a great film, no sequel thinking attached. That worked for Blade Runner after all. Just make it good.

Well. Lets give it several more months and see what happens…one thought does spring to mind, though: when the first teaser gets released… dare I even watch it?

Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For (2014)

sin1After languishing on the shelf since last Christmas when I received it as a prezzy, I’ve finally gotten around to watching Sin City 2. Why exactly it remained unwatched for so long I’m not sure- I was a huge fan of the original film and have all the Frank Miller Sin City graphic novels (indeed, I bought the massive hardback omnibus volume several months ago to replace my paperback copies). Probably it was the negative word of mouth that had kept me away from the theatrical release of the film too. Like many fans, I’d waited several more years than expected to get a second Sin City flick- a delay that raised expectations in fans and fostered disinterest in others and likely cost the studio a mint as it turned out- and it was clear from reviews that the final film was a major disappointment.

To be fair, being a fan of the books, it was clear already that A Dame To Kill For aside, the best stories were featured in the original film. It also cannot be denied that Frank Millers artwork and plotting all suffered increasingly as the series of books wore on, almost becoming a parody of itself towards the end. I don’t know if it was boredom or laziness on Miller’s part but the law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head over his Sin City. Which was such a shame, as the first volume was wonderful. So anyway, I rather expected the second film to suffer the same fate of the books- after all, the films are so slavishly faithful to the graphic stories, if the stories were slipping in quality as they went on, that would inevitably translate to the film versions, too. And it does.

sin2SIn City 2 opens with a short tale Just Another Saturday Night, and instantly sets the alarm bells ringing. There’s not really any story here to tell of, just a perfunctory plot to set the violence off. Sin City‘s violence is hyper-stylised stuff, all graphic slo-mo sequences with bright gushes of white splatter and severed limbs. It works great in the comic and was a novel (at times shocking) approach in the first movie, but it was always in the context of the bigger story, the drama and the characters, such as they were in its pupish noir universe. Its as if the film makers thought that it was the crazy graphic violence that made the first film so popular, when, in my opinion at least, it was the web of intrigue and fatal characters that was the real success of the film.  In this opener it just seems cartoon violence for its own sake and actually seems boring rather than exciting. It feels too forced and an ill-judged opener to the film (the first film opened with a lovely moody sequence much more restrained and was all the better for it). Most frustrating of all, Marv, one of the most interesting and enjoyable characters before, comes across here as just a dumb tank, lacking the pathos and doom-laden end that he had in the first film. This continues later on when he appears in the later chapters of SIn City 2, utterly diminishing his character.

The most successful chapter of the film, as might have been expected, is A Dame To Kill For. Its the closest it gets to the ‘feel’ and intensity of the first film. Yes its violent, yes its decadent and sexy, but its got a great noir story and great characters played by a marvelous cast. Eva Green is, as ever, simply magnificent, chewing up the black and white cgi scenery as well as the men her character traps in her poisonous web.Josh Brolin is very good as her ex-lover Dwight, doomed to fall back into her clutches before battling his way out. It has the tone of a genuine pulp novel and is the highlight of the whole film. I almost wish that the story had been expanded somehow rather than have been so faithfully reproduced from the original graphic series, as it feels just frustratingly short and diminished by the stories that surround it.

sin3On the whole though I did enjoy the film- certainly more than I had expected too. Its hardly the disaster that the reviews I read intimated it to be, and considering how the graphic series turned out its hardly surprising that it suffers in comparison to the original. Maybe just too many years had passed and the creators misjudged what had made the first film such a success. In anycase, I’ll forgive the film its digressions just for the fine A Dame To Kill For segment, glad to finally at least have that after having waited so many years for it.

So it’s extremely unlikely we’ll ever get a Sin City 3, which does seem a shame. It might have been an entertaining trilogy of films. Indeed I get the feeling of ‘what might have been’ about Sin City 2, and that’s a frustrating thing to say when you consider it wasn’t a quick cash-in after the first film but rather a film that came out several years later and, ironically perhaps because of this failed to recreate that original spark. But it’s not a bad film at all, just…. yeah, just not what it might have been.

 

Revisiting ‘Star Wars’ (1977/1997)

sw-1With Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens coming up, I’ve decided to try and watch the Original Trilogy over the next few weeks. Partly to properly ‘prepare’ for the new film like every Star Wars geek must be doing over the next few weeks, partly because…

Well, its Alien and Prometheus all over again isn’t it? For good or ill, after SW7 hits, watching the original characters in the first trilogy just won’t be the same again. Its hard to watch Alien now without dwelling on the knowledge that the Space Jockey is just a bald giant in a space suit and the Nostromo crew weren’t (apparently) the first humans to explore the derelict. Likewise whenever we next watch the original films in 2016 and later, it’ll be in the knowledge of what comes after, what became of our heroes and the Empire etc. In a sense its exciting, but it’s also rather scary. I doubt that SW7 will be a disaster, but for so many decades now, we’ve all had our dreams of what follows Jedi.. will the ‘reality’ of a whole new series of movies measure up? Likewise, prequels featuring the theft of the Death Star plans and adventures of a young Han Solo… how much will these impact on our enjoyment of the Original Trilogy (as if Jake Lloyd being the origin of Darth Vader wasn’t bad enough)?

So anyway, before all that nonsense inflicts further damage on my childhood love affair with Star Wars, I shoved the Blu ray disc into my player and settled down for one more trip down the Death Star trench…

The thing that bugs me about watching Star Wars these days -and I do so rarely, this occasion being the first time in quite a few years- is that when I’m watching it, it doesn’t feel like Star Wars. At least, not the film I remember from when I was a kid in 1978 (to paraphrase the film itself, I hear Obi-Wan intoning “this is NOT the film you have been looking for…”). Of course what we watch now is the 1997 Special Edition… well, that plus whatever changes were made when the film got released on Blu-ray a few years back. The Star Wars I fell in love with, warts and matte lines and all, well, thats up in the loft somewhere on VHS tape; the Star Wars I have on DVD and Blu-ray is something else entirely.

sw1But that’s a gripe we’re all bored of by now so I won’t dwell on it. If the Force is with us (sorry) Disney will eventually release those original editions of Star Wars, Empire and Jedi – there’s been plenty of rumours circulating over the past few years, indeed, it now just seems a matter of when rather than if. I wonder if, when it eventually comes, it’ll be a case of be careful what you wish for? I’m sure those of us of a certain age who grew up with the originals will greet them with wild applause, but I do wonder if younger generations will moan at the dodgy effects and miss the fancy cgi shots.

Funny thing is, three things crossed my mind watching Star Wars again. First, Lucas really didn’t have a lot of coverage when he finished filming. You can see that only careful editing saved some sequences. I spotted a Stormtrooper dead on the floor one moment and up shooting back at Luke and Leia the next, and several shots extended by fast cuts to and fro (a Stormtrooper taking forever to fall over during the Falcon’s escape from Tatooine), and careful editing of the same life-size X-Wing taking off several times to give the impression of a fleet of them. I can imagine Lucas and his editors trying to make sequences work with the barest minimum of shots. Trying to make some of the space battles make sense must have been a huge headache. It’s a potent reminder of the difficulties making the film, that the cast and crew were making it up as they went along, that it really was the first of its kind, almost a prototype Star Wars. The leap in sophistication between Star Wars and Empire is huge.

sw3Second, well, frankly, what brass balls Lucas had to even attempt it. Watching Star Wars this time, I was so aware of how ahead of its time it was, how much of a leap of faith it must have been. Its so silly really, all that Force mumbo-jumbo, robots and aliens, a captive princess in white and a big bad guy in black armour. Of course as a kid I lapped it up, it made perfect sense for someone growing up on Marvel comics, but to world-weary adults, particularly in the fairly grim 1970s it must have seemed absolutely nuts making it. How many times did Lucas doubt what he was doing would ever work? Even the simplest thing, giving character to R2 D2 and C-3PO, one a robot that beeps and the other an English guy in a gold suit. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Lucas has come under so much criticism over the years, what with the prequels and special editions and everything (if SW7 is bad, imagine the ire Lucas will get for ‘selling out’ to Disney’s Evil Empire) but it has to be said, the guy was something of a genius with Star Wars.

Third, and this is a strange one after all these years. The score by John Williams. Its just too good. Imagine watching the film with just dialogue and on-set sound effects prior to dubbing etc. How cheap and tacky and daft the whole mad thing must have seemed. Yet John Williams created this huge gorgeous symphonic score with all his sheer sincerity that the story was real and epic and operatic. Frankly, Star Wars didn’t deserve such a fantastic score, but thank goodness it got one. The music elevates it, to, well mythic opera. Imagine it with a cheesy Disco score… the mind boggles.