January in Review

I’ve started the year with the intention of reviewing or at least commenting on everything I watch this year- that’s ‘new’ movies, old movies I’ve already seen but have rewatched and also tv box-sets that I get through. Don’t know if I’ll manage that throughout the year, but I’ve certainly managed it for January so at least I’m off to a good start.

Naturally the initial impact is that the number of posts has gone up -15 this month, which is pretty considerable for me. I’ve also started numbering all the ‘new’ stuff I’ve seen; you’ve probably noticed the prefix of the year and then a number at the front-end of some reviews. It’s something that Richard does for obvious reasons on his 100filmsinayear blog and I’ve always been curious about just how many ‘new’ films I myself manage to watch in a year and this is one way of finding out. I’m counting tv series in the list but I figure that’s reasonable since a) there shouldn’t really be many of them and b) they take so much time just to watch compared to movies and since that impacts the time available to actually watch any movies, I figure including them is a fair trade.  We’ll see how it goes and where I end up at years end.

So January is done; let’s see how it was with a look at the month’s posts, here’s the list-

  1. (2016.1) Terminator Genysis
  2. Georges Delerue’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (Unused Soundtrack)
  3. (2016.2) Fear The Walking Dead Season One
  4. (2016.3) Inside Out
  5. Three More Years
  6. A Tale of Two Recalls
  7. (2016.4) Ted 2
  8. (2016.5) True Detective Season Two
  9. (2016.6) Snowtown
  10. (2016.7) The Revenant
  11. (2016.8) Boardwalk Empire Season Five
  12. (2016.9) Child 44
  13. Dances With Wolves
  14. Blade Runner Details
  15. (2016.10) It Follows

With so many tv series in that list(catching up on some of last years highlights) there is a lot more viewing-time in there than might first appear, but I’ve also managed to watch seven new films during the month, including one trip to the cinema with The Revenant, which as an extraordinary film and no doubt already a possible Film of the Year. Re-watches were the two Total Recall films on consecutive nights and the four-hour extended cut of Dances With Wolves. I was pretty pleased managing the latter as I really want to hit the ‘to-watch’ pile this year. I didn’t make a ‘to-watch’ list for 2016 but I’m conscious that some of the films that were on the 2014 To-Watch list still languish on the shelf (Betty Blue, The Maltese Falcon etc) and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend good money on discs and never even watch them. Its a bad habit and an obvious waste of money. A particular target this year will be some of the Anime box-sets that have piled up over the past few years. A Glasgow-based label, All The Anime, have been releasing some gorgeous blu-ray sets over the past few years and I’ve been buying them up (as most have been limited editions) but I haven’t been knuckling down to actually watch them. Part of it is because my wife isn’t into anime so I have to watch them when she’s engaged elsewhere and its been difficult, but anyway, I must do better. (My wife doesn’t like Blade Runner either, which is why I didn’t watch my favourite movie of all time at all last year- something else I must attend to).

Best film of the month was naturally The Revenant, worst film was Snowtown, which was just horrible (I still feel somehow dirty from watching it and intend to dump that disc in a bin somewhere soon unless someone wants a freebie). I hope Snowtown turns out to be the worst film I see all year, because I’d hate to think of seeing anything worse.

Regarding those tv shows, as usual the quality was pretty high (to be honest it should be as I’m selective what I watch). True Detective had bad word-of-mouth but really surprised me, I thought it was excellent and deserved better reviews.  Boardwalk Empire had a pretty good send-off with its final season. I do think some of these high-profile A-list shows are often superior to what passes for film entertainment these days and merit inclusion on this blog.

My favourite post? Well, I think my post about the two Total Recalls was fun to write. I don’t consider it a review piece, more an opinion/commentary piece given the benefit of the distance of time/hindsight, and watching the two films back to back over two nights was a nice experiment and opportunity to compare them. It was nice to look back at when I first saw the original and consider how my thoughts have changed about that film over the years, and it will be interesting this year to possibly see how many 1980s films have aged well (or not!).

So anyway, I’m pretty pleased with how January went. Maybe the dark winter nights and lousy tv schedules have helped (certainly regards finding opportunity to work through those three tv shows), we’ll have to see how better weather and other distractions impact things as the year progresses.

February next, with some important blu-ray releases, offering the chance to rewatch some of last year’s highlights like Sicario, The Martian and Spectre, and also some ‘new’ films like the long-delayed Evangelion 3.33.  Amazon Prime has a few films on there now that I really must get around to watching, and I’ve at least one tv series to get through (American Horror Story: Hotel just missing the January list). I’m sure there will be a few surprises too, and hopefully something from that dusty To-Watch shelf...

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Follows (2014)

it12016.10: It Follows (HD Streaming, Amazon Prime)

It Follows is yet another frustrating horror film. Maybe I expect too much these days (is it possible to have watched too many horror films?). There was great word of mouth about this film and positive reviews when it first came out but it doesn’t really live up to that praise. Yes it does have a great central premise and it is well shot with some nice scares in there but… well, okay, it’s good. But it could have been great.

Jay (Maika Monroe) has a date with Hugh (Jake Weary) and the night goes so well that they park up in a deserted carpark and have sex on the back seat. But things take a strange turn when Hugh then knocks Jay out and she wakes up strapped to a chair in an abandoned warehouse. Hugh tells he that by having had sex with her, he has passed on to her a curse. Unless she herself passes on the curse by having sex  with someone else, a nameless creature that can take on the appearance of other people will stalk her and kill her. Only she and others who have previously received and passed on the curse can see the creature. The creature will not run, only walk, but it will not stop. It cannot be talked to or reasoned with. It will kill whoever currently has the curse and then it will backtrack through those that had passed it on. Her only hope is to avoid being caught and killed by the creature before she can pass on the curse. Well, she looks fairly hot and already has some geek lad back home drooling over her, so she shouldn’t have much trouble shaking the curse.

So basically, sex = death. Great premise for a horror film aimed at horny teenagers featuring horny teenagers. Its like one of those late 70s/early 80s Guy N Smith horror stories in some beaten-up old paperback. I guess it could have had some kind of meaningful subtext about sexual disease in the modern world, promiscuity and women using sex as a weapon (or men abusing women to shake off the curse). But this isn’t that movie. Which is a pity. The kind of layers that, say, a film like The Thing had back in 1982 are woefully lacking here, but films don’t seem to have that baggage these days.

it2What lifts the film up to something mildly interesting is that it’s well directed and has a great retro-synth score by Disasterpeace that recalls John Carpenter’s Halloween music. The film though falls far short of Carpenter’s classic. For me -and okay, maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe that great music was bringing to mind that great movie and raising unfair comparisons- It Follows just felt pretty dumb and too teen-orientated. There’s no adults around, no parental involvement, the kids just lounge around watching tv or drive around or… I don’t know. No-one calls the police? Or a parent? Or a teacher? Or maybe a priest? (of course, The Exorcist is positively ancient, these kids have likely never even heard about it nevermind seen it).

Worse, the internal logic itself doesn’t hold up. Early on the creature behaves just as we’ve been led to think it will, but later it starts just, well, standing on the roof of a house because it looks threatening, and throwing objects at its victim in order to avoid a trap. We learn that it was standing in a cinema just watching its victim when it should have been tearing his face off. It’s supposed to just track down its victim and kill, not hang around looking cool or enabling the curse to be passed on. But this isn’t really a horror film, it’s a date movie. I think. Its just a silly teen fantasy that could have been a kick-ass hardcore horror movie with something to say about sexual politics.

Still the film seems to have been very popular so I dare say It Follows Too (see what I did there?) will be on the way before long…

 

Blade Runner details…

brfxOne of my favourite shots from Blade Runner is when we are approaching the Tyrell Corporation up close, and just left of centre we can see the panoramic window and look ‘into’ the room where Deckard will soon meet Rachel and Tyrell. It is a moment of exquisite detail. There’s no need for it, and it certainly isn’t highlighted- that section of the miniature is just in the background, and very quickly the passing Spinner car intentionally takes the attention away from it, and the viewer can’t even recognise that room on first viewing as he hasn’t seen it yet. Its really just something you notice on your second, third, fourth viewing. I imagine a lot of viewers haven’t noticed it even then. Its just another of the films sublime details that makes the film so special.

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And of course, it dates from a time when effects shots involved miniatures rather than CGI. People had to craft by hand everything we see; miniatures, matte paintings on glass. Whenever people question me moaning about CGI, this is the kind of thing I bring up. I don’t hate CGI. We have films now that would be impossible  otherwise. We see genuine wonders now. But the artistry of the old pre-CGI days has been lost, and the due care and attention to the crafting and framing of those effects shots has, I believe, suffered. More ‘wow’, less thought, now, most of the time.

Anyway, I just love that shot in Blade Runner, and these stills showing that part of that Pyramid miniature being built. That room with the long table where Deckard will test Rachel and those pillars standing… I wonder who had the balls to even suggest such a complex shot back then? Just imagine the sheer fearless ambition in attempting a shot like that. Maybe the effects boys knew they were working on something special. Its wonderful really. All that fine model detail destined to be lost in the background of a shot diffused by smoke on the shooting stage. Like tears in the rain, eh?

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Dances With Wolves (1990)

dances1I well remember seeing Dances With Wolves back during its cinema release. It was a lovely cinematic experience that harkened back to an old kind of less cynical, pre-Leone Western while displaying some wisely revisionist respect towards Native Americans. It starred -and was directed by- one of the genuine rising stars at the time and marked a return to film scoring by John Barry (the way the film sounded no doubt helping its rather nostalgic feel). I loved the film and bought the soundtrack and later the film on VHS (yep thats how long ago it was!) and later still another VHS copy of the deluxe-boxed extended cut (back when extended cuts were more of a rarity than now). The film was hugely popular at the time and has possibly suffered a backlash over the years, before being triumphantly remade by James Cameron into a sci-fi epic (okay I’m joking at that last bit– or am I?).

Last night I watched the film again for the first time in something like twenty years. Twenty years– and this is a film I really liked; its scary how the years sneak past you; indeed, I’m certain the last time I saw the film was on VHS. I did buy a copy of the film on DVD but somehow never got around to watching it. This time I watched it on Blu-ray, a German steelbook that I imported for the two cuts and substantial extras that are incredibly lacking on our theatrical-only UK disc.

dances2What got me buying the Blu-ray and actually watching the film again was the release late last year of the complete John Barry soundtrack on a 2-CD edition from La La Land records. Listening to that gorgeous Barry music – better now than ever, and rarer now that Barry himself is long gone and film music has rather gone down the Zimmer toilet these past years- had me reminiscing about the film again. Similar to how listening to James Horner soundtracks following his death last year has me reaching for my Apollo 13 and Field of Dreams Blu-ray discs.

I’m pleased to report that Dances With Wolves holds up very well after what is now 25 years- it remains a lovely film. I don’t think it’s particularly dated at all (though some of the hair-styles betray a rather 1980s vibe that likely wasn’t intentional) and it’s a joyful reminder of Orion Pictures logos* and Costner as a young rising star (his career never maintained that 1980s-1990s trajectory of The Untouchables, Field of Dreams, No Way Out, Dances and The Bodyguard). And yes it’s a reminder of great John Barry music that graced so many other great films. Its warm and its funny and its thrilling and full of awe-inspiringly lovely landscapes.

Its got a genuinely wonderful script. The script just works, and is the great foundation of the whole film (reading the soundtrack CD liner-notes I sadly learned that Michael Blake, who wrote the screenplay from his own novel, died in May 2015 at the age of 69, another sign of all those years that have passed since the film was released). I wish every film these days had such finely judged scripts with great characters and character arcs and a message and everything. Yes the film was entertainment but it also had something to say about America and its past and the plight of Native Americans.

And the film had such time to breathe. It isn’t edited down to within an inch of its life to satisfy audiences with attention-deficiency disorders.

Maybe the 25 years have increased the nostalgia factor. It is a funny thing watching films that we grew up on, have strong memories of. Like music albums, songs bringing old times and memories rushing back, films can be such time machines too.

 

 

* same feeling I get watching the original Robocop and The Termnator. I wonder if we will one day get so warmly nostalgic about seeing Star Wars films with the 20th Century Fox fanfare after years of Disney Star Wars?

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Child 44 (2015)

child44.jpg2016.9: Child 44 (Blu ray)

Child 44 isn’t as good as it might have been -and indeed likely should have been, considering the talent involved. I suspect the film may have suffered from being too close to the original book. Books can be nuanced and complicated in ways that films find tricky to pull off without bogging the running time down with sub-plots and unnecessary background details diffusing the core narrative thread, and thats largely why Child 44 suffers. At its core, the film has a fascinating premise: in a highly paranoid post-War Russia, Stalin’s decree that there can be ‘no murder in paradise’ is put to the test when bodies of children are found and it becomes evident that a serial-killer is on the loose. Stalin’s decree cannot be argued with, so the authorities fabricate all manner of theories and ‘accidents’ to explain away the bodies, and anyone who argues is considered treasonous and an enemy of the state and suffers death or exile. Meanwhile the serial killer is free to carry on murdering children and the body-count rises to, well, 44.

Ministry of State Security  officer Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) is already suffering a crisis of faith maintaining the communist status-quo in this nightmarish society in which people are singled-out and sentenced to death without hardly any evidence of actually being subversive.  Its soon clear that an easy way to rise through the ranks of society is simply to denounce those above you without need to prove anything. He suffers just such an attack himself when his own wife is denounced as a traitor of the state and he faces the choice of either denouncing her himself or joining her in exile. While all this is going on a colleagues child is found dead near train tracks, evidently murdered and the murder covered up to maintain Stalin’s decree. Demidov has to deal with being exiled with his wife whilst trying to solve murders that no-one can publicly recognise.

child44b.jpgSo the film is complicated enough- part serial killer/murder mystery, part study of the horrors of the 1950s USSR. But the film adds a prologue showing that Demidov himself was an orphan before becoming a hero during the war, and that his relationship with his wife may not be as perfect as he himself thinks. The film struggles not to collapse under the weight of all the plot threads. Does Demidovs wife really love him? Is she indeed guilty of being a subversive? Demidov’s nemesis Vasili (Joel Kinsman), the fellow security officer who denounced Demidov’s wife in order to progress through the ranks at Demidov’s expense, is clearly psychopathic but the film never really explains why he does what he does or indeed why their commanding officer seems content to see Demidov gone. Then again, maybe they are just examples of the corrupt system at work.  But why is the climactic showdown a fight between Demidov and Vasili and not Demiodov and the serial killer, if the film is ostensibly a murder mystery/crime thriller?

It isn’t a bad film- just that one that seems to suffer from lack of focus, of trying to be too faithful to what was likely an already over-complicated book. I think that prior to production someone should have just tried to establish more clearly what story the film is telling.

It certainly looks impressive; the production design is excellent. The cast is A-list: maybe too good, clearly wasting many here in minor roles, notably Gary Oldman, and Noomi Rapace as Demidov’s wife Raisa has a thankless task making something of a fairly underwritten part. I think Tom Hardy is becoming one of the finest British actors of his generation. Earlier this week I was amazed by him in The Revenant and here his Russian security officer -physically menacing, with Russian accent that sounds as authentic as his American one in the The Revenant–  has a subtle warmth and decency that enables audience empathy in what is otherwise a very cold dispassionate film. He’s certainly a great character actor and I wonder when he will get genuine ‘star’ status (if that was the likely intention of him starring in Mad Max: Fury Road that didn’t exactly go to plan).

So not a bad film at all, its just struggling under the weight of being too important, telling too much of a story. Sometimes less is more. But certainly it’s well worth watching just to see Tom Hardy in such fine form. I’m sure that if he can pick better films then greatness awaits.

 

Boardwalk Empire Season 5 (2015)

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2016.8 Boardwalk Empire Season 5 (Blu ray)

Another tv series boxset. Another viewing bingefest. Four episodes on Day One, two more on Day Two, followed by the final two episodes on Day Three. Hell of a way of watching a tv series. The only better way of watching this show would have been being able to watch all five seasons in quick succession, which I’m sure many future viewers will do through boxsets and streaming.

Indeed, I’m rather envious of people doing that- discovering the shows pleasures and secrets in the space of weeks whilst up to now we’ve only been able to do so over the years. Shows like Boardwalk Empire will I’m sure have a second life because of that. Maybe it will get a reappraisal over time, because while it was a critical darling (and rightfully so, in my opinion) from the start, the show never seemed to capture audience attention; certainly it was no Sopranos and would quickly fall under the shadow of the Game of Thrones juggernaut. When the show finally ended with its fifth season last Autumn I wonder how many people were still watching.

Perhaps it was the slow burn? I don’t know. It was always a good show to me but some were off-put by the slow pace (what is it with peoples attention spans these days?). Technically it was accomplished, just like everything else on HBO- the production was film quality standard, and the cast were always excellent, Steve Buscemi simply magnificent throughout in a role he seemed born to play. Perhaps it was misconceptions. Perhaps the public wanted a 1920s-era Goodfellas, which Boardwalk Empire clearly wasn’t – yes the show could be very violent, at its best shockingly so, unleashing that violence without warning. But it was always more than just the violence. Boardwalk Empire was always a character piece, and a study of greed in a desperate, brutalized society of riches, poverty, and racism.

As it turned out, it was also a show about consequences, never more so than in this truncated final season. Using flashbacks both to Nucky’s childhood and young adulthood, it showed us those decisions that the young Nucky made that led to him becoming the Nucky that we saw from season one. These early formative events are juxtaposed by seeing Nucky in the ‘present’ of 1931 as he struggles to stop his empire crumbling around him. As we near the end of the series we witness the fateful moments that set in motion those events and relationships that the series chronicled in seasons one to five. Everything has consequences, and everything is set in motion when Nucky agrees to do the Commodore’s dirty work and send the young Gillian to him to sate the old man’s filthy desires. “Don’t do it,” I muttered helplessly at the screen, knowing full well that it was inevitable. The act sets Nucky on the path towards the wealth and power that he craves, to everything he will become by the start of series one, but it also seals his final fate that we see at the end of season five, and all his troubles in between. And in something of a revelation, Gillian Darmody turns out to be the chief victim of the whole saga, putting her actions of the whole series into a whole new perspective. It doesn’t really condone what she would do, but it does explain everything and lends her some sympathy.

I understand some fans didn’t like the final season, but I really enjoyed it, and I thought the last episode was a great ending to the show. It gave a weight and pathos to everything we had seen before over the five years, so much so that I look forward to one day watching the whole series again from start to the finish, only this time having the perspective granted from those last few moments of the last episode. Boardwalk Empire was always a very good show, but with this finale, it actually became a great one.

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The Revenant (2015)

rev22016.7: The Revenant (Cinema)

Extraordinary. An Arthouse epic that displays nature as both breathtakingly beautiful and horribly terrifying. Impossibly spectacular landscapes juxtaposed with butchered bodies, heart-stopping moments of natural beauty juxtaposed with moments of brutal ugliness. Moments of kindness and moments of banal hatred. Its one hell of an experience. One for the ages.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki  has lensed some pretty amazing-looking films (Gravity, The Tree of Life, Children of Men)  but this may be his masterpiece; the only tragedy of him walking away with the Oscar next month is that it previously seemed a dead-cert for the also truly deserving work by Roger Deakins on Sicario. Deakins must feel like he’s just been mugged again- will he ever get that long-overdue Oscar?  And while Leonardo DiCaprio is also surely the safest bet for his own Oscar, I’d actually suggest that Tom Hardy damn near steals the film from him in one of his typically understated performances; a Supporting Actor nod maybe?

Away from all the Awards  talk that dominates the headlines at this time of year, The Revenant remains a remarkable film and contender already for Film of the Year. As usual with my reviews of ‘new’ films, I won’t progress into spoiler territory and will leave an in-depth summation of this film for its blu-ray release, but goodness me, what a film. I can well imagine this film being in my all-time top ten, its that good. I’m sure the film will have its critics, it won’t be for everyone, and it’s two and a half-hour running time will be too much by far for some, but this film was so up my street it could have been three hours long, I’d have loved it.

It almost feels like a film made for me You know how it feels when a film just clicks?  If a film that feels like The Grey mixed with The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford mixed with The Thin Red Line rocks your boat then be assured, you’ll adore this film, simply adore it. Its Pure Cinema, a film for the senses, and one that surely needs to be seen on the largest screen you can. Don’t wait for that blu-ray unless you really have to.

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One more thing; the haunting soundtrack (by Ryûichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto) is so odd it actually sounds like Vangelis’ Beaubourg at one point, and even his Blade Runner at another, and sometimes Wendy Carlos’ The Shining too. Thats just crazy. And yet it works brilliantly, even though it damn near killed the speakers at the multiplex here. I’ve got to get that soundtrack…

Anyway, excuse all this gushing, but I just got in from seeing a pretty great film. Its a lovely rare buzz these days.

Snowtown (2011)

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2016.6: Snowtown (Blu ray)

John Bunting is Australia’s most notorious serial killer, who between August 1992 and May 1999 killed 11 people, the crimes uncovered only when barrels containing human remains were discovered in an abandoned bank vault by police investigating missing persons cases.

Snowtown is a thoroughly nasty film. Its just, well, horrible. I wouldn’t call it entertainment at all and doubt I’ll ever have the inclination to watch it again. Did director Justin Kurzel aim for this effect when he made the film? If so he succeeded brilliantly, but I wonder if this kind of film-making should be commended or damned. The nearest thing I can compare this film to is Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (another film I managed to watch once and never again).  Of course its perfectly logical- any film that attempts to get into the mind of a serial killer is going to be disturbing. But this is something else. Bunting didn’t act alone. He had help from friends. Snowtown displays the absolute dark side of humanity- a humanity of prejudice and hate and ignorance. It depicts with chilling efficiency a squalid underclass that is alienated and amoral, and the film seems to be as much about the dismal Australian suburb of Snowtown that gives the film its name, and the people within it, as it is about Bunting and the murders. I wouldn’t even describe the film as particularly graphic regards the murders themselves.Most of it is off-camera, left to the imagination. Maybe that makes it all the more disturbing.

Maybe if the story was just fiction it would be ok, but this stuff really happened. The reality of it hangs its awful shadow over everything depicted, you just can’t avoid it, particularly with everything being presented so…  so efficiently. Besides which, there is a scene in which Bunting hands sixteen-year-old Jamie a gun and tells him to shoot dead his dog. Well, I nearly stopped the film right there. Bad enough scenes of molestation, rape and buggery etc, but as a dog owner I find such cruelty to animals particularly harrowing.

Performances are excellent, the cast of unknowns looking like real people rather than actors, which gives the film a grim air of reality- there is a feel of the camera being present at real, spontaneous events rather than something staged (which just makes it all the uglier). In particular Daniel Henshall, who plays Bunting,  gives a remarkable performance that I’d ordinarily praise and state as a reason to watch the film. Unfortunately though the ugliness of the film outweighs Henshall’s achievement – Snowtown is such a thoroughly depressing and distressing film that I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s certainly not entertainment, not in my book.

 

 

True Detective Season 2 (2015)

true12016.5: True Detective Season Two (Blu ray)

Season Two makes the unforgivable (in some eyes) sin of not being True Detective Season One. I think it’s a shame people were so intent on getting more of the same and were so appalled when faced with something else. Me, I’ve no problem with it being different- that’s the genius of these anthology-format shows, each season offers something different, a fresh take on the basic format. It worked for the second season of Fargo and had mixed results with American Horror Story, but I think it worked very well for True Detective.

Season Two is a great piece of work. Its a hard-boiled, pulp-paperback film noir crime drama. Its an urban nightmare of characters trapped in a concrete, neon-drenched world they cannot fully understand and certainly cannot control. Its confusing, its contradictory, its fascinating, its full of incredible performances.

I seem to be in the minority though- a lot of people really REALLY disliked this season. I find that interesting.

Maybe people were made uncomfortable by this season because it wasn’t easy to disseminate; the plot was confusing, yes, but so is real life, and yes, by the series finale some of the good guys died and some of the bad guys prospered, but that’s like real life too. Life doesn’t always have a happy ending- in fact I think it could be argued that by series end, there isn’t a happy ending for anybody but the bad/corrupt people. That frustrates, I know. And yes it is rather labyrinthine over the eight episodes- even though I loved it, I can’t say I fully understood the complicated web of plot and subplot- but that’s such perfect noir, or maybe Hollywood Noir in this case and I’m fine with that.

It would be argued by some that, on the basis of expectations from the first series, the show should simply be a mystery, about a murder to solve. In season two, the murder and the establishment of the task force to solve it is almost incidental, it’s not really what the series is ultimately about. That may have been a step too far for many and evidently upset plenty of fans from season one. While it was certainly a brave move by HBO and the programme makers to make a show that distanced itself so much from the first series, unfortunately the negativity can’t help but impact on an eventual third season. I guess a return to something more akin to the first season is inevitable next time around.

I think the way I watched it may well helped, but that’s the beauty of binge-watching tv boxsets- in this case, two episodes per night over four consecutive nights, the series unfolding like the chapters of a novel. Perhaps weekly airings would have frustrated, weakened its impact; it calls into question how such programmes are aired and consumed by its audience these days. That said, I think this series was so different to season one that part of that audience would never like it however they watched it.

true3The acting is universally excellent- even Vince Vaughn delivers. But Colin Farrell is amazing in this show. Strange to think I was only watching him in the dismal Total Recall remake last week and here he is in such incredible form. I guess its all in the material. There is a scene late in the series -I hesitate to go into detail so as to not spoil anything- when the camera dwells on his face in silence as he reacts to a revelation about something from his past; in his changing expression you can see his mind racing, disintegrating as he feels his world unravelling about him. Its a great performance throughout the season but this moment is a highlight.

Rachel McAdams, too, is pretty amazing. Her character, like the others, is haunted by an event in her past which she cannot escape from without self-destructive action. It puts her in awful danger in one incredibly gripping scene, when she gets herself into a depraved sex party where the rich and powerful use and abuse women, and she has to try escape it and rescue someone (in a final irony typical of this show, that someone didn’t even want saving). Like  the event from her past, the experience is something that will haunt her,  another stone to carry, another weight on her forever. All of the leading characters seem to have seen things or done things that they cannot escape from. Again, that’s just perfect noir.

true2The cinematography is great- its a beautiful show to look at. Crushed blacks, hot reds, deep greens, it’s all those gaudy pulp-paperback covers brought to vivid life. The music is just as dark, reminding me of Twin Peaks at times. Indeed, I wouldn’t be too surprised if next year’s Twin Peaks revival looks and sounds a lot like True Detective Season Two. As a fan of Twin Peaks, maybe that’s why I enjoyed this season so much.

I love Film Noir and I think as an homage to that genre, True Detective Season Two absolutely nailed it.  It’s a modern day Chinatown, a story in which the place and the events within it dwarf the characters, a place full of bent politicians and corrupt cops, and pasts that return to haunt and destroy the protagonists. I think it’s great, remarkable television. I think this was a great series, and I look forward to watching it again.

Ted 2 (2015)

ted22016.4: Ted 2 (Blu-ray)

Ted 2 continues the story of America’s foul-mouthed answer to our rather more polite Paddington bear, and benefits from it being really his movie, whereas there was a feeling that he was more a supporting character, or at best co-star, of the first film (the irony of writing this about a cgi character is not lost on me). The story of the first film mainly concerned his owner Johnny’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend Lori, culminating in their marriage. The absence of actress Mila Kunis, who played Lori, is swiftly dealt with at the start of the sequel with it established that the marriage is over, Johnny (Mark Wahlberg in fine comedic form here) is back to single life and Lori is out of the picture in more ways than one. Instead its now Ted who is getting married to his human girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and the film focuses on how the marriage fares, their attempts to have a child and Ted’s legal status as an object rather than a person.

But a film like this isn’t really about the story is it? Its about the jokes, and I actually think this film is funnier than the first, certainly in this films unrated edit (I’ve not bothered with the theatrical cut). Focusing mainly on Ted himself is clearly a good move, as its Ted everybody is really interested in- what he does, what he says, how the human cast react to him. The humour is as raunchy and crude and ‘did they really SAY that?’ non-PC as the first film was, and if you are easily offended then this kind of humour is hardly going to impress. Regards theatrical and unrated versions though, as in the case with this film when you get a choice when the disc loads up, does anybody ever bother with the theatrical version when there is an unrated edit included?

Like the first film’s reference to Flash Gordon and its star Sam Jones (who returns in an unfortunately smaller role here), the film has several affectionate nods to geekdom with some nice cameos (you could play a game as the film progresses name-checking them and their geeky credentials), culminating in a climactic set-piece at a New York Comic-Con in which the sky is the limit for geek in-jokes.

ted3I guess this stuff looks deceptively simple, but the voice-acting, the digital character work, the actual jokes and how they are staged and the set-pieces stitched together to become at least some kind of rudimentary plot, are all probably incredibly difficult and its remarkable how well it all comes together. I’m actually of the opinion that this is a better film than the first, and it’s not often you can say that about a sequel.  Seth MacFarlane has done a fine job here and I guess a Ted 3 is inevitable (but if by some miracle you ever read this Seth, I’d much rather you got us a second season of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey...).