Snowpiercer (2013)

snow22016.55: Snowpiercer (Blu-ray)

Well, this is more like it. Once you get over the implausible set-up (ahem: scientists trying to ‘cure’ Global Warming have plunged the Earth into a new Ice Age that has killed all life, the only remnants of humanity surviving on a train that circumvents the planet once a year), what remains is a very enjoyable fantasy, sort of like a Twilight Zone episode by way of Terry Gilliam. Full of metaphors for the human condition and the separation of the haves and have-nots of society (literally the rabble at the back, the elite at the front, so very British), it’s similar to the approach the 1960s Star Trek took with its allegories of real-world events and situations. Whether Snowpiercer really holds-up or just betrays the projects simplistic, comic-book roots is subject to some debate and depends on how much you are willing to go along for the (train) ride.

But of course that’s the problem- here in the UK we aren’t allowed to go for that ride, as the film is still officially unreleased over here- my copy being a Blu-ray from Australia. The film ran foul of studio executives and threatened recuts and was eventually through some kind of studio politics tit-for-tat subject to limited distribution. Its crazy that a film like this has yet to be released here- the film may have its faults but it clearly deserved much better, if only a belated straight-to-video release (which is the likeliest scenario now after so many years).

snow1So yes, to be clear, as the premise might suggest, it’s a bit daft, and I’m not going to suggest its some kind of genre classic suffering a monstrous injustice.  But it is very sincere and made with real conviction- it’s well-acted (Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris all in terrific form) with beautiful production values and an often charming, darkly witty script that rewards attention. Certainly it’s refreshing to find a genre film that -rather preposterous prologue notwithstanding- drops the viewer into its world with minor information, leaving  the viewer to discover what is going on and unravel the central mysteries/twists rather than be simply spoon-fed them. Consequently it’s best that the viewer watches the film with as little prior information as possible so I am reticent to progress further into spoiler territory, even for a film that was released back in 2013.

Its a silly situation really, and it must seem dumb to people in other territories who have had the film available for a few years now to the extent that the film is actually ‘old news’. Its like some kind of bizarre throwback to the old days when films would take years to be released across international territories, like us in the UK waiting six months or more for Jaws and Star Wars etc. But three years and counting? Thats some kind of tragedy really.

At any rate, while keeping details vague, I can easily recommend the film as worthy of going through the hoops needed to actually see it here in the UK. It’s surprising really that the presence of Chris Evans alone (considering the success of the Captain America films etc) hasn’t been enough to encourage a release for the film here yet, and considering the length of time that has passed now I suspect an eventual home video release is the best that might be expected. Surely most people curious about it have seen the film, like me, through other channels anyway. Is it actually possible it may never get released over here?  Thats a depressing thought considering whats playing over at my local multiplex now and getting released on disc this Monday. I mean, I’m not suggesting Snowpiercer is Citizen Kane or something, but this situation is making me wonder whats going on these days- its a crazy world when films like this get lost in some kind of limbo considering all the different distribution channels available now. Really, it’s all so 2016. What a bloody year.




Now You See Me (2013)

now12016.54: Now You See Me (Amazon VOD)

Now this is the kind of modern film that has me scurrying for the safety of 1960s/1970s films, back when film-makers had some common-sense and restraint. Now You See Me stretches the bounds of believability and then goes another 100% beyond that just for good measure. Modern film-makers don’t do subtle, do they? As the film had enough success to spawn a sequel I guess the mindless, spectacle-at-any-cost cinemagoers simply lapped it up. Maybe when they actually think about what they are watching they will realise they’ve been had. It’s a horrible con of a movie and one of my most depressing viewing experiences this year.

Its supposed to be about magic tricks and illusions but leaps into implausible extremes of logic and luck with so many WTF moments of CGI excess that I had to wonder if I’d stumbled onto another Marvel superhero franchise. It really is that daft with its incredibly funky/hip/beautiful/sexy (yep so Hollywood) ‘magicians/tricksters’ demonstrating impossible acts of illusion and impractical extremes of blind chance. It’s a shame really as the basic premise is interesting and could have made a decent thriller/mystery but as usual with modern films the film-makers cannot restrain from just going too far for spectacle and theatrics that simply cannot bear any intelligent scrutiny. None of the characters feel ‘real’, or the events they are situated in seem anything other than a noisy fantasy.

Do people watch a film like this and really believe it? Do they just blindly accept the patronising excuses/explanations pandered to them by such an inane script and offered up with blatant ignorance of any audience intelligence? At one point a giant safe under guard in a warehouse is apparently stolen, only to be explained as a supreme ploy of misdirection, as the safe is still in the warehouse but cunningly ‘hidden’ by an elaborate giant mirror somehow installed without the authorities knowing about it- indeed, the authorities chasing the supposed getaway truck without examining the crime scene enough to spot a gigantic 100-foot mirror hiding the actual safe still in its original position behind it? Or an elaborate chase scene culminating with a mock-crash/fatality on a bridge that is subject to such crazy chance and unlikely serendipity, and puts so many members of the public at risk of harm or death, that it’s just laughable when the ‘explanation’ is eventually given. It’s beyond preposterous; it’s insulting the viewer’s intelligence- particularly  when it includes a passing remark about a corpse being ‘borrowed’ from the morgue as if it’s just an ordinary occurrence, or that ‘magicians’ with no stunt-driving experience can rig an elaborate stunt that requires CGI augmentation for even a Hollywood film-crew to pull off.

At other points such daft excuses aren’t even attempted-  one of the magicians floats above an audience in a giant soap bubble, blatantly just a CGI effect, with no subsequent attempt to explain how the ‘illusion’ is really performed as it’s impossible fantasy- simply just a thoughtless ‘wow’ moment that gets carried by the films relentless don’t-pause-to-think-about-anything pace. So many films now race along breathlessly simply because they are so daft, with such supreme leaps of ridiculous logic and gaping plot-holes, that the film would fall apart if forced to bear any examination. I hate films like this, as they just refuse to give anything -including the audience- any sincerity or respect. Its spectacle and nothing more, pandering to a mindless viewer who just wants the ‘wow’ whatever the cost, just like any Transformers movie. To maintain the pace some of the editing is so extremely tight that it’s physically impossible for some actions to take place in the ‘real’ world, with characters ‘leaping’ from location to location almost instantly, lapses of logic carried away by the noisy soundtrack and bright flashy spectacle.

It is a horrible movie. Really horrible. And even more horrible is that so many people like it and we’ve apparently got a sequel- good lord, has the world gone mad? The lesson here is that people get the films they deserve and actors will do any movie for a paycheck.

No, I really didn’t like it!

Babylon 5’s Jerry Doyle dies aged 60

b5jerryIts getting so I’m almost afraid to look at the news these days.

Well, mark this as another reason why this year seems particularly horrible. The actor Jerry Doyle, who played the space station’s flawed security chief Michael Garibaldi, has died at the age of 60. The show’s creator  J.Michael Straczynski has posted a moving tribute  regards Jerry’s passing, noting that “…Of the main cast, we have lost Richard Biggs, Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, and now Jerry Doyle, and I’m goddamned tired of it.” 

Jerry’s Michael Garibaldi was a refreshingly realistic character for a science fiction show; he came across as a no-nonsense, working-class guy just doing his job the best he could, with his some interesting character flaws and backstory which developed over the show’s five seasons. At a time when most tv science-fiction featured idealistic characters in utopian futures (dominated of course by Star Trek), Babylon 5 and its characters with individual arcs that changed over the length of the show was such a radical thing, it’s hard to describe its impact back then with the changed tv landscape we experience and take for granted now. Certainly Garibaldi was one of my favourite B5 characters; a little overweight, balding, suffering from drink problems… he seemed to be a ‘real’ guy in a genre dominated by tall, handsome, muscular heroes who always got the women and saved the day. Garibaldi was just doing his job and he didn’t get everything right- he could be a bit of a jerk as much as a hero; indeed in the latter seasons he was frankly a bit of an asshole.

Jerry didn’t have a ‘traditional’ acting background; he moved into acting fairly late, following a career as a pilot in civil aviation and a stint as a Stockbroker on Wall Street. I think his life experiences informed his acting and gave added depth/life to his character. I’ll certainly never forget Garibaldi. Post-Babylon 5 Jerry turned into politics and ran for office in the US House of Representatives as a Republican candidate but failed in his campaign, later having success on a national talk-radio show.

Its funny,thinking about it, the way the world is now, Babylon 5 is more valid and topical than it ever was, with its varied alien races seeking to exist in harmony in the face of interplanetary war, and its ensuing refugee crises and far-right political machinations. It all seems so familiar to the world we live in today. While I don’t think we need a reboot, I thinks its past time Warners remastered the show with updated CGI effects and re-released it to current audiences who might have missed it (the original effects files are long-lost and the show can’t be properly aired in widescreen or HD without replaced effects) .

Well, its a lousy reason to dust-off my Babylon 5 DVDs but I think I shall watch an episode tonight. Here’s to you, Jerry Doyle.

Blue Jasmine (2013)

jas12016.53: Blue Jasmine (Amazon VOD)

Blue Jasmine is a very good Woody Allen film (okay, maybe not up there with his ‘greats’ but damn good nonetheless and proving his continuing his validity as a film-maker even after so many years/films), that is graced by a powerhouse performance by Cate Blanchett as the title character.

Penniless and post-mental breakdown from her failed marriage to high-flying financial New York businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), Jasmine has flown to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her two young boys, giving up a wealthy socialite existence in New York for a crowded apartment above a shop. Jasmine, who is clearly already fragile emotionally and mentally, has to start a new life in a world she considered far beneath her, seeking menial employment and fending off men with little or no prospects.

It’s a fish out of water/culture-shock film, quite funny in places but also rather affecting, chiefly due to Blanchett’s remarkable performance. Jasmine isn’t necessarily a likeable character- certainly there’s more opportunity to laugh at her predicament than share her pain at the film’s outset, but Blanchett’s genius is that she opens up and displays a vulnerability and warmth as the film progresses. A series of flashbacks, that are quite jarring and awkward at first, start to unravel the true story she would rather keep to herself. By films end (and mild spoiler warning here) we are left caring very much for Jasmine and it’s a sobering, not particularly positive conclusion, the end of her road (or at least where the film leaves her) not a welcome one. It feels a perfect ending, a real ending, just not the kind Hollywood usually delivers.

The cast as a whole are excellent, as usual for a Woody Allen film. Sally Hawkins is fantastic as Ginger, a divorced woman struggling to make ends meet and find some happiness for herself. Its a great performance unfortunately overshadowed by Blanchett’s brilliant, mesmerizing turn-  I hadn’t realised that she had won both a BAFTA and OScar for the role, but I don’t find the awards surprising at all (whatever awards mean, anyway) and they are well deserved.

Blue Jasmine is a fine enough film, but it certainly deserves watching if only for that central performance.  Actresses don’t get many meaty roles such as this in films these days, and you can tell that Blanchett is playing the part for all she is worth, conscious the role is a rarity. Great stuff and a real pleasure to watch.

1941 (1979)

1941a2016.52: 1941 -Extended Cut (Blu-ray)

1941 isn’t bad. Its terrible. This extended cut is no improvement either- there’s  146 mins of badness compared to the theatrical version’s 119, so there’s just even more bad movie, which of course cannot possibly be a Good Thing unless you are, inexplicably, a fan of this film. There are fans of this film, right? There must be (every film has its fans, after all), but I’m certainly not one of them. 1941 is supposed to be a comedy, and it isn’t even funny. Thats some kind of crime, surely.

Every great director has a bad movie inside of them and I guess this was Spielbergs- maybe there’s a few other films of his that might contend for this dubious accolade but I can’t really think of one, unless maybe the excesses of Hook or the romantic schmaltz of Always gets your blood boiling.  For me I think 1941, the whole misguided, badly-executed mess of it, is Spielberg’s Folly, just like George Lucas’ Howard The Duck a few years later. Films that… well, the idea of them is interesting but the execution is sadly pretty woeful and dire.

You wonder why some great ideas for films never get made and turkeys like these do instead, but at the time its all about the clout of the director- and after Jaws and CE3K, Spielberg was on a roll and he could have gotten a documentary on Kleenex greenlit. So 1941 was made.

I’d love to have been on-set during filming. What on earth made the cast and crew think that shooting guns and yelling loudly amid big explosions constituted the very heights of cinematic humour? I mean, thats about all that 1941 is- blazing guns and huge explosions, and Japanese soldiers disguised as Christmas trees. The prologue’s nod to Jaws is nice of course but its all downhill from there. John Belushi’s Capt. Wild Bill Kelso is just plain nauseating, strutting around onscreen as if he is somehow funny rather than just plain irritating, and the film wastes huge impressive sets and a fine 1970s cast, and -worse- a vintage John Williams score completely.

Sure, the dance hall set-piece is technically impressive but Spielberg would do all that so much better -and funnier- in the prologue of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. That latter observation is telling, because the one good thing about 1941 is that it apparently educated Spielberg, made him a better (and more frugal) director. Its likely we owe 1941 that at least. But thats about all, frankly.

I bought this damn thing on disc (cheap, mind). But yeah, I bought it. Makes ET look like Shakespeare or something…


Returning to Mars

martian1I watched The Martian again last night…

The standard, theatrical version, you understand, not the Directors Cut recently released in the States (and out here in a few months). Yes, (sigh); another Directors Cut. Still, at only ten minutes addl running time, I doubt that this particular Directors Cut is anything too major, likely just a few trims removed to get the theatrical version down to a premium running time (perhaps calling it an ‘Extended Cut’ would have been a fairer title).

The best, ‘proper’ Directors Cuts have additional sub-plots or additional characters, added depth… what The Martian Directors Cut does have though is more substantial extras, particularly a commentary track sorely lacking from the copy I own. Well, maybe after several months when its cheap enough to justify buying for that commentary…

Studios can be like a Bond villain sometimes. Home release strategies encouraging/necessitating double-dipping- say what you like about Warners and Batman v Superman, at least their Ultimate Cut is on the first home video release rather than six months down the line (although with BvS you have to wonder if that particular strategy would be a dead duck from the start with only a minority bothering to double dip later on- then again, that strategy somehow worked with Avatar...).

So anyway, I watched The Martian again.

Hell of an achievement that film, if only on a technical level. Say what you like about the films aesthetic merits (and they are pretty fine anyway), but what Ridley Scott, at his age (ouch- Ageism!) managed to do with The Martian… I mean, considering its scale it was made on such a tough schedule for an impressively tight budget of just over $100 million. It looks fantastic, marshalling a big crew and balancing several plot-threads and a large ensemble cast with considerable style, skillfully shot with a great sense of pace that never really falters. Sure, its not perfect but crikey, what a fine movie. And pulled off by a producer/director who was 77 years old at the time. Several moments during the film I just had to shake my head in some awe at what Ridley accomplished here. Puts these young turks to shame who think they just need flashy effects and a handheld camera to make a movie. Ridley’s best days are likely behind him, but he can still pull off a great movie experience, particularly if he has a good script to work with. Almost had me wishing he was shooting Blade Runner 2 rather than Villeneuve. Almost…

So anyway, yeah, returned to The Martian yesterday, and to this blog today.  Been a bad month for obvious reasons. I guess life goes on, but it’s bloody grim sometimes though. 2016 is proving to be A Very Bad Year… aside from losing Ben, my health hasn’t been great of late and we had particularly bad news in the family recently. 2016 needs to be over. Soon.

(Ridley made a film several years back titled A Good Year. A minor film. He should consider a sequel with A Very Bad Year for a title… it’d be very apt the way 2016 has gone…)