March in Review

Well here’s a recap of the month of March on my blog. There were a few distractions (like 5 birthdays in the family, including my fiftieth) which led to February being a difficult month. Indeed, February I only managed  9 posts, which didn’t merit a review post at all, but March has things back on track with a total of 16 posts. This maintains a busy workrate for me, bearing in mind that I’ve posted 40 times already this year and had managed just 68 in all of 2015. So if this year proves to be my last hurrah blogging then at least it’s going out with a bang rather than a whimper.

So anyhow, here’s the list of those blog entries-

  1. Cocoon: The Return OST
  2. Ghost Story
  3. (2016.16) Never Say Never Again
  4. (2016.17) Knight of Cups
  5. Searching For Bobby Fisher OST
  6. (2016.18) Southpaw
  7. (2016.19) Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut
  8. (2016.20) The Maltese Falcon
  9. (2016.21) [Rec] Apocalypse
  10. (2016.22) Hitchcock
  11. (2016.23) Ash Vs The Evil Dead Season One
  12. The Birds
  13. Mockingjay Part 1 (again)
  14. (2016.24) The Monuments Men
  15. (2016.25) The Hunger Games- Mockingjay Part 2
  16. (2016.26) The Theory of Everything

 

The best film of the month was clearly Knight of Cups, a big surprise to me as I feared the worst (maybe it was a case of reduced expectations) and the worst film is a no-brainer, the frankly awful Never Say Never Again (which I was glad to have at least watched at long last).

You can see by the list above the most notable thing is the total ‘new’ stuff I’ve seen reaching number 26. Three months in, that leaves me on track to maybe reach Richards annual target of 100 or to get somewhere close. I used to think that, over a year, considering how much I usually seem to watch that 100 wouldn’t be a crazy target (maybe Richard thought the same when he started his 100 Films In A Year blog years ago) but now that I’m keeping count I have to wonder.

I’m also intent on reviewing everything as I watch it too which is really more an organisational problem more than anything. There is only so much free time in a day and fewer days with sufficient free time than you’d think considering all the other demands of modern life. I think the only people who can appreciate the effort and discipline required to maintain a blog are those that have tried it. Give yourselves a pat on the back guys, you know who you are.

(It occurs to me that some readers will be of the opinion that the really hard work is having to read these blogs so, yeah, I’ll cut this stream of thought right now and wind things up).

So one last observation before I slip over into April. Getting through ‘new’ stuff means I’m finally managing to get through some of my to-watch list stuff like The Maltese Falcon, but unfortunately this month there’s some new entries on the to-watch pile like Evangelion 3.33 (I really must have a push on the anime, having not finished Kill la Kill yet either). The irony that I was frustrated for years having to wait for that bloody Eva film to finally be released, and now have it sitting unwatched on the shelf is infuriating. So yeah, maybe in April…

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The Theory of Everything (2014)

theory12016.26: The Theory of Everything (DVD)

This dramatic and uplifting film is quite an achievement and particularly notable for the performances of its two leads- Eddie Redmayne as famous scientist Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as his wife Jane. Both are outstanding and it could be argued that Jones actually steals the show away from Redmayne’s Oscar-winning performance. Her casting in this years Star Wars: Rogue One is exciting to say the least, and it will be fascinating to see if she can bridge the gap from thoughtful drama to full-blown blockbuster. If she can manage that then surely the skies the limit for her career.

While the film is not exactly historically accurate (some liberties have inevitably been made for the sake of drama) it tells a gripping and emotionally-charged story. We see young Hawking before he became ill, as a brilliant but socially awkward Cambridge student who meets an attractive fellow student, Jane, at a party. Romance blooms but then tragedy interrupts, with Hawking diagnosed with a neurological disorder that will gradually rob him of physical control and likely prove fatal within two years. Jane stands by Hawking and marries him, sacrificing her own career in order to care for him as his disorder takes hold and confines him to a wheelchair.

At its most trite, you could sum up the film as a ‘love conquers all’ message, but a few twists towards the end reminds you that this is based on real events and not everything in life works out the way you would like (or as most movies would prefer). It adds a welcome weight and poignancy to the film, a sense of reality even if it plays a little fast and loose with some of the facts.  It’s certainly a life-affirming film and an inspirational tale. Thankfully it doesn’t repeatedly bang you on the head with a THIS FILM IS IMPORTANT message. It has a story to tell and tells it well, and leaves it at that.

Beyond those aforementioned two stellar leads the supporting cast is very good too. The story zips along maintaining a steady pace demonstrating some accomplished editing. My only caveat is that the passage of time is a little hard to judge sometimes-I would have prefered perhaps the mechanism of a subtitled date momentarily onscreen to give the viewer a sense of when things are happening. A lot can be judged by changing fashions etc (the films art direction is fantastic) but I think an onscreen date as years pass between sections would have helped.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 2 (2015)

hungr12016.25: The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Pt.2 (Blu-ray)

Well, I’m glad I watched Pt.1 the night before, because after twelve months I would have been pretty well lost dropping straight into this one as there is no re-cap at all; the viewer is just thrown into it as if having watched Pt.1 immediately prior (which would be a looong double-bill, incidentally). These serial storylines are problematic and just assuming the audience is up to speed could backfire and it certainly hampers the storytelling. The fans will  be fine but casuals like me, well, we need a little consideration. You don’t get a huge multi-million dollar franchise just working to the hardcore crowd, after all (maybe Lucas was on to something with those introductory crawls in the Star Wars films).

Anyway, two questions spring to mind. Does this film work as a separate film, and does it work as a conclusion to part one (and the films prior to that)?

Well, as a separate film it’s clearly problematic. Mockingjay Pt.1 has set things up and Pt.2 needs to be immediately up and running and finding a resolution to everything- which would be easy enough had the film only got to last ninety minutes maybe, but this thing is again over two hours long. So just as in the case of Pt.1, there is plenty of padding here, uncomfortable lulls as the film slows things down when it should (or had Mockingjay been one film) be racing to a conclusion, reaching for that resolution.

Just when things seem to be happening it often seems to make a clumsy side-step. A handy foil against finishing everything seems to be the still-unconvincing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale which repeatedly threatens to bring the film to a stuttering halt (that said, I can’t say I was ever particularly convinced by the romance between Katniss and Peeta in previous films either). I just accept all the romantic drama nonsense as an indication of the original novels being aimed at a teenage female audience and try to ignore it but it’s something of a problem for the films when the central relationship doesn’t convince. By the time the love triangle is resolved it is with a distinct sense of anticlimax anyway.

hungr2These lulls in the plot and problems with pacing also occurred in Pt.1, which does make me wonder if there might somehow be a fan-edit one day assembling Pt.1 and Pt.2 into a workable single film. Even if it were two and a half hours long or more it might work better with superior pacing. There clearly isn’t really enough material in Pt.2 to really justify releasing Mockingjay as two separate films, particularly with all the treading water plot-wise of Pt.1 already. Suspicions that it was a greedy studio trying to crank up some extra box-office from the material seem well-founded. Looking at it the other way, had Mockingjay been released as one film, and then released as two extended cuts as we have them today, would those extended cuts be well-lauded, or contain important scenes that fans were desperate and glad to finally to see? I rather doubt it.

So I have to wonder if  Mockingjay Pt.2 is perhaps stretching things just a film too far.

In anycase, this film concludes the Hunger Games saga of what has become four films. As such, how does Mockingjay Pt.2 fare? Well, its a mixed bag really. I guess the biggest surprise to me is the sense of self-importance the last two films have-it reminds me of what happened with the Matrix films. By the time Mockingjay comes around it’s all very serious and momentous and stodgy. Indeed, is it just me or does Jennifer Lawrence actually look bored throughout this film?

I welcomed the examination of the importance of propaganda, about what is real and fabricated in order to marshall and influence public opinion. How the public seem to instinctively look for a leader, an icon. How the end justifies the means and how leaders hide personal agendas. There’s some very interesting stuff there that I didn’t expect. Unfortunately its all rather an intellectual exercise and lacking in any emotional value. What began as a thrilling dystopian future with people fighting in life and death arenas for public amusement and the status quo has by Mockingjay Pt.2 been completely ditched in favour of a rather dry tale of political skullduggery, of opposing campaigns using Katniss and Peeta to influence the masses and further their own agendas.

There is one sequence in the sewers that feels like something out of Aliens and is one of the highlights of the whole saga, but there isn’t really a lot else that thrills or recaptures the excitement of the first film. Part of it is the self-importance and profundity of Katniss and her cause as she attempts to finally bring President Snow to justice. It just threatens to drag the whole thing down into maudlin melodrama. Or is this is because Katniss seems to have become, incredibly, actually rather irritating, unable to take charge, simply accepting that she is being used as a political weapon. Perhaps she is supposed to be broken and traumatised but there are moments where she seemingly cannot think for herself, or take charge of her own destiny. Hardly the definition of a hero.

As realistic as that may be intellectually, it doesn’t really lend itself to a great heroine in a grand adventure. By the time the final twist occurs it doesn’t really come as a surprise, and the film lacks, shockingly, any real emotional punch at its end. Characters die and we feel very little. For a saga spanning four films this seems to be the biggest sin of all. There is no valediction, no fanfare, as Katniss finally walks into the proverbial sunset in a love affair that didn’t really convince me anyway, so it all felt rather shallow. The ending satisfies on an intellectual level but fails on an emotional one. For a saga aimed at teenage girls that really surprised me.

The Monuments Men (2014)

Still from Monuments Men2016.24: The Monuments Men (HD Streaming)

In this post-Saving Private Ryan film landscape, it is actually rather odd that The Monuments Men is so surprisingly lightweight. Evidently this is deliberate, but it leaves it feeling like two different movies. On the one hand, it is visually stunning, using quite extraordinary effects work to place the protagonists in the middle of post-D Day wartime Europe. It looks like an epic war movie, and so much another Saving Private Ryan/Band of Brothers, a gritty war movie like, say, the same year’s Fury, and yet the twist is that it’s actually nothing of the sort. Director Clooney is trying to weave a more intimate, family friendly, life-affirming tale about the true story of Frank Stokes (Clooney) who gathers a group of art experts and scholars on a mission to save Europe’s greatest works of art from being destroyed in the chaos of the Allied invasion and German retreat.

The cast is pretty impressive – no, strike that; Clooney has assembled a frankly fantastic cast that includes Matt Damon, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Bonneville. Clooney is no doubt hoping that casting such heavyweights will allow their screen personas to inform the scantily-sketched characters spread thinly across the films short but busy running time. It doesn’t really work- seeing such great actors with lightweight roles seems a bit of a waste, but I guess it engenders rapid audience empathy. Its just a pity the characters aren’t more rounded or convincing.

It does seem that the film spreads itself too thin trying to tell too much of a story, that it needed editing down. In its defence, it’s clear that the film is trying to be faithful and respectful to the true story and mindful of not shortchanging anyone. It’s a similar situation to Everest. Sometimes you try to be fair to everyone and it turns out detrimental to the film as a whole and ultimately fails the original objective.

Which is not to suggest that The Monuments Men is a bad film. It’s a noble one, certainly, and tells an interesting and entertaining story, but as its characters split up and travel all over war-torn Europe hunting down the artworks stolen by the Reich, the film spreads itself too thin. The individual storylines become vignettes and I guess they are intended to inform the whole, but instead I felt that the scattered approach instead weakens it. We don’t really feel everything we are intended to feel. The film may have been better served by focusing wholly on one pair of ‘heroes’ but I suppose the counter-argument would be that wouldn’t be the ‘whole’ story. Clooney walks a tightrope here and falters- to further the analogy, while he doesn’t really fall off he loses his balance a few times, the film losing the grace it should have.

Yet some sequences are mightily impressive. There’s a particularly poignant Christmas scene, when a recorded Christmas message from back home involving  a warm Christmas song is played over a snow-swept Allied camp’s tannoy against visuals of wounded soldiers in a medical tent and one young man dying. It’s intimate and effective, a reminder of the contrast of the setting and the time of year and what our heroes are fighting for, and what they have at stake. It’s a well-written and directed scene, possibly the best of the film.

Elsewhere Clooney displays some skill at managing the great scale of things. He seems quite accomplished at knitting in the big effects shots and has a keen eye for composition. Its some feat to star in a film at the same time as directing it but he manages it well; its just a shame that the script, spread so thin telling so much, can’t afford more scenes as effective as the Christmas sequence, or characters a little more rounded and driven.

But what the hell, it’s a film with Bob Balaban in it (and he’s great, by the way). In my book, that makes it a film more than worth seeing, period.

Mockingjay Pt 1 (again)

2014, THE HUNGER GAMES -  MOCKINGJAYPrior to watching the recently released Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.2 Blu-ray which closes out the Hunger Games saga, I’ve had to watch last year’s release of Mockingjay Pt.1 again, if only in the hope of then following what goes on in the second part. Funny thing is, that same logic would (you’d think) have required me to rewatch the first two Hunger Games films too- and yes, actually it would have helped, because I had a bit of a hard time getting back into Pt.1 as it was. But how much time do these film-makers and studios think we casual fans have to devote to their sagas?

Its the trouble with these serialised franchises if you aren’t familiar with the original source material or such a fan that you’ve re-watched installments several times and are wholly familiar with the storyline.  I’ve enjoyed the Hunger Games films, but I’ve bought the successive releases really out of curiousity of how the damn thing all turns out. It does raise the question of the demands these serialised films make on the audience- sure, die-hard fans will always be onboard and up to speed, but what mainstream ‘general’ audiences have to make of dipping into these movies is anyones guess. It also must inevitably impact on the quality/success of the individual films themselves. Are they supposed to function as separate entities or not?

I raised this in my original review of Pt 1 last March, and I’ll quote it here – in some ways its the most interesting of the Hunger Games series I’ve seen. But it is inevitably hamstrung by the decision, right or wrong, artistic or purely business-based, to split its original book’s story into two. Essentially Mockingjay is, by its very nature, the beginning and part-middle of a bigger story. There is no resolution here. Characters are being introduced, arcs being set up, that will not come to fruition until the second part. It makes for  very frustrating experience, especially in light of having to wait another year for the conclusion.

Re-watching Pt.1, I’m in that same position of not knowing where its all going but at least I’m nearer to that particular goal with Pt.2 now sitting by the Blu-ray player. Pt.1 remains a very interesting film and a surprisingly dark one too, but I guess its real value and success can only really be judged by having seen Pt.2 so we’ll see how that turns out. I appreciate that these grand sagas and their long stories can reward in ways that short one-off films cannot, but do think the patience of audiences must be getting strained by these annual episodes.

It raises the question of how much audiences will continue to accept the demands of serials like this. I’ve read that when Pt.2 was released theatrically last year its box-office was lower than earlier installments, an indication perhaps that audiences are tiring of such demands and serialised film-sagas in general. Logic might have expected a bigger or at least maintained audience since its the grand conclusion and everyone wants to see how it all turns out, but it doesn’t seem to have turned out that way. Or maybe some people were turned off by Pt.1 and its inevitably hamstrung anti-conclusion? Is a year too long to expect people to wait? Maybe some of the potential audience decided to just wait a little longer for the home video release and watch the whole saga as a box set rather than drop into the second part at the cinema.Maybe their patience will be rewarded by a superior viewing experience. In anycase, I’ve found myself in the strange position of being forced to rewatch a film in order to improve my enjoyment of the succeeding one, and actually found that I might have been better served by watching the previous two too.

We are living in the era of the box-set, and it’s getting quite exhausting.

The Birds (1963)

birds1The Birds (Blu-ray)

I first saw The Birds many, many years ago- I remember it was a Sunday evening airing on ITV. It’s to the films credit that I can so clearly remember when I first saw it- it evidently made an impression on me. I was a kid and more forgiving back then about the pitfalls of rear-projection and bad mattes and dodgy puppets. The film was strange and exciting and scary.

Watching it again now that I’m older and subjecting the film to the demands of bigger screens and HD presentation in an age of sophisticated CG effects, that rear projection work and fuzzy mattes are rather more off-putting, but the film remains an effective thriller even if its technology is rather dated. It’s left me rather conflicted though, as I usually don’t care about dated effects etc but the effects in this film really haven’t aged well, and it just highlights the other weaknesses of the film. The casting is one particular issue for me- there is no chemistry between Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor and they seem uncomfortable and unconvincing. Imagine if the film had been somehow made ten years earlier with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant and you know it would have been much more effective even had it been saddled with even weaker effects.

But maybe Hitchcock was simply a better director when he was making those films with those great leads. Following the triumph of Psycho, Hitchcock’s career would move into a spiral of steady decline, never recapturing his earlier glories. That said, while many describe The Birds as his last good film, I much prefer his later Frenzy. That film didn’t depend on effects and it had a better cast, and of course had a more conventional story. Maybe Hitchcock’s heart just wasn’t into supernatural horror- this film does seem rather unique amongst his films in that respect. The Birds lacks something, some of that Hitchcock genius that his previous films had. Perhaps he felt frustrated at having little control of the effects and therefore rather less control of the finished film. It does raise the tantalising question of what would Hitchcock have done with all the technological wonders we have today. Its like wondering what would Kubrick do were he shooting a film today with all the stuff he could do now. I’d certainly like to think Hitchcock and Kubrick would have keener eyes and wiser applications of CG effects in their films compared to the young turks of today who seem to have the subtlety of a brick and prefer bashing audiences over the head with it.

Most alarmingly, The Birds lacks the fascinating psychological stuff of Rear Window and Vertigo and Psycho and the real-world thrills of North By NorthwestThe Birds feels like something of a dream. Maybe that’s indeed the problem- it doesn’t feel quite real and Hitchcock’s best films all feel very real and disturbing and thrilling.

The one thing I will say in the films favour is that the film never explains why the birds are behaving in the way they do. They can’t be reasoned with or argued with; they simply act the way they do without sense or reason and thats the most disturbing thing about the film. In a modern film there would be a need to explain everything and describe what is happening in the wider world, but here that’s left to the audience. When our heroes eventually manage to get in a car and drive out of town, they might be fleeing to safety but they might be driving to a further horror. Is the birds behaviour symptomatic of all of Nature finally turning on mankind in a supernatural Apocalypse? We just don’t know. It lends a rather dark, dour note to the ending which is pure Hitchcock and the films saving grace.

 

Ash Vs Evil Dead – Season One (2015)

ash12016.23: Ash vs Evil Dead (VOD, HD)

For my generation, the 1981 film The Evil Dead has a certain notoriety; it was, after all, the headliner of the mid-eighties ‘video nasties’ storm here in the UK. There was a sort of cultural ‘claim to fame’ of having seen it, before it got banned and later cut by the censor. Of course,  pirated VHS copies ensured plenty of people saw it even during the ban. Back in those early days of home video, the liberation of being able to watch films when you wanted to, and versions uncut compared to those versions edited for TV broadcasts, was new and exciting, and a film like The Evil Dead was pushing the envelope, testing the moral outrage of the press at the time, which was pretty hysterical as I remember. I’m fairly certain I actually watched a rental copy before the ban happened, but its so long ago I’m not sure, it may have been a pirate copy.

Funny thing is, I cannot for the life of me imagine what the reaction to this new TV series would have been back then. Ash Vs Evil Dead is incredibly violent and gory, and yes, funny too, but really, the gore…. even in these jaded times this stuff is really so over the top its sure to get a reaction from everyone who sees it. Yep, it’s authentic Evil Dead alright.

I don’t know who decided to release the show as ten half-hour episodes, but whoever it was, was some kind of genius. The show is so out-there and crazy, releasing it in (pardon the pun) bite-sized installments really makes it (here’s another pun) easier to digest. Standard one-hour episodes would have been just too much, so this shorter format might buck the trend but it works.

Ash must be the stupidest hero ever. I guess that’s his appeal. His one-note character just never wises up, and age hasn’t made him any smarter now he’s middle-aged wearing dentures and dyeing his hair. Stuck in a dead-end job, slumming in a trailer home, getting drunk and trying to get laid is pretty much the loftiest of his ambitions. He’s God’s Lazy Bastard. So when he inadvertently reawakens the Evil Dead whilst trying to impress his latest drunken babe, its an act of characteristic stupidity that has set him off on his latest blood-drenched adventure, and it’s a similar act of stupidity that closes the series (which I won’t spoil here). Suffice to say, if he’s humanity’s last hope, we’re pretty much screwed.

Bruce Campbell is in typically fine form here. He makes it look so easy it seems he could do this stuff in his sleep, but I suspect that might be deceiving. He’s supported by a great cast, most notably the fantastic Lucy Lawless. Really, the geek credentials of Campbell and Lawless are formidable, how could casting like this fail (answer: it couldn’t).The make-up effects are quite spectacular, the gore over-excessive, some of the fights and stunts surprisingly inventive. The production design is great, particularly the authentic-looking rebuild of the original cabin, contents and all, from the first film.

Sophisticated it isn’t, but fans of the Evil Dead films must be deliriously happy with this series. The constant rebooting and revisiting of old genre properties has long been tiresome, but this is one of those rare cases when it works. Great stuff. Roll on Season Two.

Hitchcock (2012)

hitch12016.22: Hitchcock (Network Airing, HD)

Strange one this. It purports to be an examination of Alfred Hitchcock and the making of his classic 1960 shocker Psycho. But it didn’t really come across like that. Instead it seems a very revisionist drama with a largely pro-feminist agenda; I know full well that Hitch and his wife Alma were a team, and that Hitch relied on her for her fine judgement, but this film seems to exaggerate this, almost to the point of stating that Hitch was an overweight, leery old goat who relied on Alma’s creative genius to actually make the movies. Hitch seems to be reduced to supporting character with Helen Mirren’s Alma being the focus of attention. Mirren is in fine, dependable form as ever, but her sheer charismatic force dominates every scene and threatens to sink the enterprise, dominating everything; maybe Mirren is just too good. Make no mistake-this is Alma’s movie.

That said, the film is a fine easy-going, lightweight drama of making movies in Old Hollywood- ‘Mad Men in Tinsel Town’ maybe. But it doesn’t really feel convincing. If there was a darkness to Hitch (his preoccupation with his leading ladies for instance) that informs his best movies, like Vertigo, then it’s largely unexplored. Hitch here is more preoccupied with raiding the fridge and drinking too much, and flailing at recreating his former film glories until Alma steps in and saves Psycho. It feels like fantasy- maybe it’s all true, but I very much doubt it; it always feels like fantasy, a lightweight Sunday afternoon drama. There’s no grit. In a film about Hitchcock, no less.

Anthony Hopkins does fairly well but he never becomes Hitch; buried under all that make-up and the fat suit he approximates the ‘look’ but the script always seems reduce him to something of a caricature, accentuating that tendency in the make-up design. Scarlett Johansson does surprisingly well as Janet Leigh and James D’Arcy’s is excellent as Anthony Perkins; both actors deserved more screentime and hint at what the film could have been. Jessica Biel doesn’t really convince as Vera Miles but she doesn’t have much to work with unfortunately. The problem is simply that the focus is never really the making of Psycho but rather the Hitchcock’s marriage and ‘fact’ that Alma was the real genius behind the scenes.  It feels like revisionist history and that rather grates to be honest.

[Rec] Apocalypse (2014)

rec42016.21: [Rec] Apocalypse (HD Streaming)

The fourth, and apparently the last entry (an unnecessary coda notwithstanding) in the [Rec] series of horror films from Spain. The films started as part of, and were indeed an highlight of, the ‘found footage’ subgenre but thankfully that’s pretty much dropped with this one, and it’s much better for it. There’s only so many ways you can move forward a plot with that hand-camera conceit without it feeling forced. So anyway, it’s a much more traditional horror film and it’s possibly actually the best of the four.

It follows on from Rec 2 (Rec 3 being something of a departure that can be dismissed continuity-wise) and by its end wraps up the saga nicely. It begins back in the first film’s apartment building infected by a virus that turns its victims into murdering monsters that are something between zombies and demons. Tv presenter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) is rescued from the building just before it is destroyed and awakes sometime later out at sea on an oil tanker with three other survivors of the virus outbreak. The tanker is cut off from the outside world and is being used by medical scientists to investigate the nature of the virus and ensure the survivors are clear of infection. Of course, in the grand tradition of films like Alien, there are ulterior motives at work and there is another outbreak.

The film has a wonderful claustrophobic feel with everyone is out at sea on a quarantined ship and manages to ramp up the tension after a quiet early section that introduces the setting and new characters and motivations. Once it’s up and running though it’s an effective thriller/horror film, albeit fairly routine, with plenty of nods to genre favourites like Resident Evil and Aliens. The rapid shooting-style and great production design hides the films low budget well, and the make-up/monster effects are excellent. I’m not so sure how well some of the OTT acting works but some of that may be lost in translation (the film being in Spanish with English subtitles) and is something fans of the series will be used to by now.

Fans of the first two entries who were turned off by that dismal third film ( so bad I can’t honestly remember much of it other than it involved a wedding and was somehow a comedy) should feel safe to give this one a try, and will be rewarded by a film that brings it all to a decent enough conclusion. Its really a pity this film wasn’t the third part of a [Rec] trilogy, but I guess fans can pretend that other film never happened, and as such it makes for a decent horror trilogy indeed.

 

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

falcon1.jpg2016.20: The Maltese Falcon (Blu-ray)

Another of those classic films that somehow I’d never gotten around to, the steelbook Blu-ray I’d bought has patiently sat on the shelf for something close to two years until now. Having enjoyed Casablanca so much a few weeks ago it was inevitable that I would get around to finally watching this at last (and yes, I’m certainly getting through the ‘to-watch’ list this year).

The Maltese Falcon is no Casablanca, but it nonetheless deservedly merits its status as a film classic. I was actually surprised how demanding this film is. From the very start you have to pay keen attention to the twists and turns of its fairly labyrinthine plot (though I’m told its by no means the most confusing of the noir thrillers of the period). Its fascinating to consider how sophisticated its script is compared to the simpler fare that gets made today; I certainly cannot imagine many modern-day multiplex-goers sitting through a film this dense without walking out perplexed.

Hardboiled private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), is hired by mysterious femme fatale Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) to tail a man who has ties to her estranged sister. When Spades business partner Miles Archer is murdered that evening, Spade finds that he is a police suspect and is thrown into a complex web of lies and double-dealing concerning the location of the Falcon of the title. Along the way we meet some remarkable characters- notably Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre in possibly his finest role) and Kasper ‘The Fat Man’ Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in what is, incredibly, his first screen role, stealing every scene he is in and defining the silver-screen ‘evil criminal mastermind’ forever).  The economy with which this film tells its tale and divulges its secrets is quite breathtaking, it’s really a very little film with a small cast and minimal sets but it packs quite a punch. A film like this could really teach modern-day screenwriters and directors something about scale and storytelling.

If only because the film answered some decades-old questions of my own regards a Jon & Vangelis song, I rate this film as something special, and it’s certainly a classic. You can see it creating the film noir/private eye genre right before your very eyes. All those films that came afterwards owe so much to this film.Funny thing is, and something that I had no idea of until I watched some of this excellent blu-ray disc’s special features, is that this is not the first screen attempt at filming The Maltese Falcon. It’s actually the third film made based on the story. Well, you learn something new everyday…