The 2017 Selection Pt.2

selection2It must be January. I’ve bought some more discs. This is seven this month now. Really, this can’t continue. Damn Arrow etc etc.

Raising Cain. Never seen it, but I’ve quite enjoyed the other De Palma films released by Arrow in the past (Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, The Fury and Obsession) so thought this might be worth a blind-buy; it seems to have some substantial extras and includes a director’s cut, and I’m always a sucker for alternate cuts. Maybe its just something from being a Blade Runner fan (god knows there’s plenty of cuts of that film), but its fascinating to see how films can work differently with changes in the edit and music etc. We’ll see how Cain performs in its two cuts. I’ve heard it’s a bit weird. But it stars John Lithgow, who is a great actor always worth a watch, even in something as dire as Cliffhanger. Raising Cain can’t be that bad, surely? Oh, the joys of blind buys.

The second film I’ve bought is possibly the last decent film John Carpenter ever made- Vampires. Well, maybe half-decent, anyway- it’s been many years since I last saw this one. I remember buying it on a R1 DVD in the very earliest days of that format; back when you could buy an American disc before the film even got released theatrically over here in the UK. We’ll see if it has aged any better than Carpenters other films of that period (Indicator have also released Ghost of Mars on blu-ray today but even as a Carpenter fan, that film is too diabolical to contemplate ever buying on disc). Vampires stars James Woods, who is always worth a watch, particularly when he chews up the scenery as much as he does in this (from what I remember). But anyway, it’s a John Carpenter film.

Oh well. There’s an additional two films on the ‘to-watch’ list…

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Sci-Fi Short: Citizen in the Temple

citizen2017.8: Citizen in the Temple (2015) – Amazon VOD

I have a feeling this review might take longer to write than it took to watch. I’m beginning to think there’s much more on Amazon VOD than immediately apparent, as I stumbled upon this short movie by accident. Citizen in the Temple is a short (25 mins) sci-fi film by Jason Huls, and is I believe a MFA thesis film, so its strictly an amateur piece with a very low budget (it didn’t make its target goal of $7,500 far as I can tell, but as it got made it clearly broke even some other way or got made for less).

Its probably best to judge it as a demo reel, or a proof-of-concept piece; “look, I can handle actors, I can stage an action sequence, I can handle effects, I can handle prosthetics,” that kind of thing. As such, it pretty much works. As a piece of storytelling though, it doesn’t really hold together, and its a bit unfair to audiences to tout it as a finished short film, because it doesn’t feel like it- it feels exactly like a demo reel.

Which is frustrating, as even with its meagre resources and limited running time, if it was scripted as a play, as a piece of intellectual ideas or a character piece, it might have worked very well. Too much of the running time is wasted on cgi effects shots that would have looked poor in Babylon 5‘s day, instead of just shooting an actor on a basic set emoting about his situation and convictions. With low-budget stuff like this you can’t compete with the ‘big boys’ and cgi stuff like greenscreen sets etc is just boring and cartoony when its done on the cheap, stunts and fight scenes can’t help but feel nasty and rough, but what you can do is ideas and character, that stuff costs you nothing.

Hell, I could have polished this script overnight myself. This could have been good, but the script wasn’t really about telling a tight, focussed dramatic character-piece, it was about setting up visuals and sequences to demo technique and ability.So it is what it is, and works for what it was intended to be. I guess. I feel like I’m being unfair being critical.

As it is, its all pretty vague, throw-the-audience-into-it stuff. We are on another planet, resources are scarce, and it’s basically a 1984-like totalitarian state with rebels trying to feed the poor and starving who are cast out beyond the city walls in the wilderness. Citizens in the city are ruled by the Consortium, its laws enforced by Templars, Jedi-like priests who employ Terminator-like drone cyborgs to do their dirty work. Its all very much like Rush’s prog-rock epic 2112 from their 1976 album, with plenty of Star Wars and Matrix references thrown in, not to mention the nods to Blade Runner in the city shots… its all very derivative. I guess you could play a drinking game watching this taking a shot with every ‘homage’ but you’d likely be too drunk to see the end.

Of course, I’m being wholly unfair. It was likely shot for less than the cost of a new car in very little time with most of the props and costumes made by keen amateurs, and it’s obviously a stepping-stone/demo reel for everyone involved both in front and behind the camera. Its short, and its free (on Amazon Prime) so whats the problem? Well, the old Twilight Zone tv series showed decades ago that decent sci-fi could be done in 25 minutes with a pretty-much zero budget. This short film fails to heed the lessons of all those many Twilight Zone episodes. Its all there; how to make a thoughtful, intriguing sci-fi short. You don’t need to stumble at the flash/bang/wow. Keep it to the ideas. Imagination can do the rest.

 

What’s it all about, Darko?

donni1I first saw Donnie Darko back when it first came out on DVD. Must be something like fifteen years ago.  I enjoyed it, but for some reason I never returned to it, which is odd, as I always rewatch films eventually (why buy them, otherwise?), and fifteen years is a long time. Perhaps it didn’t engage me, somehow?  I guess maybe the format change to blu-ray and me boxing away most of my dvds to make room must have had something to do with it.

So anyway, Arrow releasing a new remastered edition of two cuts of the film on blu-ray finally has me returning to a film that, on paper, I really should love. Afterall, it has something of an underdog antihero for a protagonist and its about time travel and alternate universes and is set in the 1980s. Should be right up my street.

I opted for the theatrical cut for this return, mainly because general consensus seems to be it’s the best version. Also, having only seen it once over a decade ago, any changes in the directors cut from the theatrical wouldn’t be apparent to me anyway, and I’d like to be able to note the alterations if only to ascertain the reasons for that cuts existence.

I’ve decided to leave a detailed review until I do see that directors cut, which I intend to see very soon while the theatrical is fresh in my memory. A few observations though. How young everyone looks. How sad to see some who have since left us. How cool some of that eighties music is. How dodgy such early cgi now looks. How confusing some of the internal logic still seems to be (and why some of that central mystery/paradox seems unnecessarily hard to grasp). Have to admit, I still didn’t fall in love with the film. Its one to admire but emotionally I still didn’t connect somehow. Maybe Donnie himself is just too hard a character to love. Maybe its the unanswered questions at the end. Donnie sacrifices himself, and saves his girlfriend, but that resets other stuff, like leaving a child porn ring uncaught and the girlfriends mother possibly soon killed by her ex. A few letters/calls to the police before he went to sleep might have been wise. But maybe I’m still missing something.

Well, I’ll return to Donnie Darko shortly (hopefully). Arrow’s release looks gorgeous and the extras plentiful- its really a benchmark release even for Arrow (and bodes well for their edition of The Thing, woohoo!).

Let’s see if the third times the charm for Darko…

Sir John Hurt has died.

kaneKane: I’ll volunteer to be in the first group to go out.

Dallas: Yeah, that figures.

Kane. He was the heroic one. The one with an explorer’s heart. First out of the Hypersleep chamber, first one into danger… first one to succumb to the beast. Only this was the 1970s, and heroes looked kinda ordinary back then. Actors then, they looked like ordinary people, you could identify with them, and nobody looked as normal and ordinary as John Hurt. He always looked like a guy who might live next door or you could share a few pints with in the pub. So Kane, although he was a hero, he was a different kind of hero to what we usually see now. Not someone particularly fit or tall or powerfully-built. I don’t know. Maybe he wasn’t a hero at all. Maybe he was just an ambitious company man eager to make a bonus. Maybe he was a damned fool stuck in a dead end space-trucker job dreaming of the romantic space fantasies of centuries-old fiction, suddenly on the brink of the greatest adventure of all -first contact. In anycase, his heroism/curiosity/ foolishness (delete as applicable) got the better of him, and he got bitched by a facehugger and the rest is history.

Can’t believe I’m writing another one of these again. Waking up to the news this morning that Sir John Hurt had passed away yesterday was another one of those kicks to the gut. Its strange; over the years and so many movies and tv appearances, we get some kind of daft feeling that we ‘know’ these actors, when we clearly really don’t. But we grow attached to them, we re-watch their performances and relish them. Years pass by. We re-watch those performances. They become part of our lives.

Only last weekend I re-watched John Hurt’s remarkable turn as Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place. He is so great in that movie. I mean, Hurt will always be Kane to me, from Alien. Its the first role I really saw him in and of course Alien was a pretty big deal to me growing up. I’d see Hurt in so many other roles after that, both from before and after Alien… He was so impressive though in 10 Rillington Place… his Timothy Evans, brash, foolish, easily led, unable to comprehend the events overcoming him, he seems so real with Hurt playing him. I thought he was brilliant in 1984… amazing in The Elephant Man… man, he was in some really great movies, and he was great in them. His face seemed lived-in, real, his voice… he had a great voice. Anybody remember him in the short-lived tv series, The Storyteller? He was brilliant in that. But he’ll always be Kane in Alien to me. I’ve watched that film so many times, seen that little bastard leap out of Kane’s chest so many times… well.

RIP John Hurt. I’ll raise a glass to your shade tonight. I guess this is the times we live in, but 2017 is quickly carrying on like it’s 2016.

Doomsday Clock ticks forwards…

doomsdayHere’s a sobering bit of news I read last night on the BBC. Scientists say the world has edged closer to apocalypse in the past year, with the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand now moving from three minutes to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight.

This is in fact the second closest to midnight the clock has ever been, according to the BBC. It hasn’t been this close to midnight since 1953 during the heights of the Cold War and hydrogen bomb testing by the US and Russia. Anybody else thinking about the Watchmen movie suddenly getting more relevant as our current decade threatens to slip back into an 1980s Cold War re-run? I guess most young people viewing Watchmen were confused by all the Cold War angst and references to a strange clock, but those of us grew up in the sixties, seventies and eighties will remember well the threat of nuclear holocaust.

Watchmen had Tricky Dickie and we have… well, a lot of this is due, say the BPA who decides the setting of the metaphorical clock, to Mr Donald Trump and his new job, and his comments about proliferation of nuclear weapons and his disbelief regards Climate change, and of course there’s the general political situation of the world today. Nationalism, Terrorism, East/West relations, the disparity of wealth between the Rich and the Poor. Oh yeah, its all good news.

Come on guys, we got Blade Runner 2049 coming out in October… lets not end the world just yet, okay?

 

 

Arrival’s painful Oscar snub

arr5

“And Amy Adams? If this film doesn’t reward her with an Oscar nomination, there is no justice. She manages such a powerful, understated performance it will likely be under the Oscar radar (Oscar loves the big loud and melodramatic ‘Look At Me I’m Acting’stuff). There is so much going on in just her eyes, its breathtaking really.”

I wrote the passage above as part of my review of Arrival back in November. Alas, I have been proved right. The Oscar nominees have been revealed this week for the 2017 Oscars, and while Arrival has done extremely well, garnering several nominations, in my eyes the most deserved was not forthcoming. Clearly it was not a traditionally showy  ‘look at me I’m acting’ performance that easily grabs attention, it was much more subtle and nuanced, so I would not expect her to win the Best Actress statuette but certainly a nomination was surely deserved.

Okay, we all know the Oscars is nonsense and shouldn’t be taken seriously, there is far too much politics and studio/career maneuvering at work to really consider it a balanced award based on actual merit, but really, this snub for Amy Adam’s work in Arrival is still pretty shocking. Its not as if Arrival was a dumb sci-fi blockbuster (the genre always struggles to be taken seriously by the arthouse crowd full of their own self-importance) This was a serious and adult film with performances and story worthy of praise from most critics, and even managed to do well commercially at the box-office too.

If by some miracle Arrival actually wins Best Picture… well, there’s no chance really- Oscar just ignored the heart and quiet soul of a film-carrying performance, so it hardly going to recognise that film, is it?

Something certainly went wrong here. Nevermind, I’ll just snub Oscar right back.

Arrow has The Thing!

thing1Well, the award for the Blu-ray release of the year might be in the bag already- Arrow has announced it has the license to release a new Blu-ray edition of John Carpenter’s The Thing here in the UK later this year. As someone who has gazed enviously across the pond at Scream Factory’s release of the film last year (I’m not region-free) this is exactly the news I’ve been hoping for. Not sure what the folks at Arrow could add  extras-wise that might top the SF release (I’m fairly confident Arrow will licence some if not all of the SF extras) but no doubt it will be a great package and hopefully have a superb picture quality.  Roll on October, or whenever we are due to get it (I presume October as it’s the right time to release a horror film for obvious reasons- pity the damn fool back in 1982 who decided to release the film in the summer and almost derail Carpenter’s career).

 

The Monstrous Mr Christie

place10 Rillington Place (Blu-ray)

I first saw this film many years ago, I think on a late Friday-night showing on tv. It made quite an impression on the young me, as it is a powerful film, and its lesson that authority is not always right and that justice can be flawed resonated with me greatly. Now that I’m older and watching it again for the first time in decades, it’s clear to me now just how deeply disturbing and nuanced, and commendably restrained, this film really is. Quite a few times during this film I considered how it might well turn into an exploitation horror flick in other hands, and often thought how favorably it compares to Hitchcock’s Psycho, a film much more popular (infamous?) than this. I’d say this is one film that really gives Psycho a run for its money, and really makes me wonder what kind of film Hitchcock would have fashioned from its horrifying story and its sexual undertones.

The real chills about this film is that pretty much everything it depicts is true, and indeed it is the real titular house of horrors that features in the film’s exteriors, which adds a real sense of morbidity and uncomfortable voyeurism to the film. This last point in particular is quite pressing, because all the way through I felt like a voyeur witnessing the events that really transpired. The film is, as I have mentioned, remarkably restrained- the murders themselves are shown in a dramatic, almost documentary detail but in no way exploitive, and the perverse acts that Christie acted upon the women’s bodies is only hinted at. The depths of the viewer’s imagination is ample enough to ensure that we know he was an utter monster.

place2Its interesting that the film doesn’t attempt to explain why Christie did what he did, his past and how that might have created the monster he became. He is always an enigma, a twisted mystery in the guise of an ordinary, bald bespectacled man, and this makes him all the more horrifying. There is no comforting explanation, no reason why. At least in Hitchcock’s Psycho we have a psychiatrist who offers an explanation, simplistic as it might seem,  for Norman Bates madness. 10 Rillington Place offers no such comforting explanations for its monster, no sense of rational reason. Christie is a monster who looks and acts like that guy in the bus queue or walking a trolley through a supermarket. His almost quaint English ordinariness is frankly chilling when you consider what he was capable of and he remains one of cinema’s truly ‘great’ monsters. We cannot truly know him or understand him- he simply ‘is’, and that’s truly scary.

Richard Fleischer’s direction is assured and more sophisticated than one might expect for a film such as this. It looks utterly authentic, with great moody photography and dismal, claustrophobic sets that display just how grim post-war Britain was. The acting is sublime throughout the cast, and it is no small measure of John Hurt’s remarkable performance as the doomed simpleton Timothy Evans that he steals the film from under Richard Attenborough’s nose. Attenborough’s performance is subtle and quite disturbing- there is clearly all sorts of horrible stuff going on behind behind those eyes as he looks at the women he preys upon.

This Blu-ray disc is the first Indicator release I have bought, and it promises much for the quality of future releases this year (although my wallet might well blanch at the prospect),  with several Hammer and Harryhausen films among them. The picture quality is tremendous,  really showing off the photography and the textures of the sets and clothes (though maybe Attenborough’s make-up isn’t done too many favours at times). Two commentary tracks and a number of interviews are the highlights of an ample set of supplements. I’ve sampled a good half-hour of John Hurt’s track and he is a disarming and self-deprecating talker, with great recollections of making the film, the personnel and the true events that inspired the film and the book it is based on.

All in all, a great package and a great film that deserves all the praise it gets. That the BBCs recent three-part dramatisation failed to equal it, and indeed perhaps even got mired in being too faithful to how the film tackled the story, speaks volumes about how good this film really is. Its dark and morbid and moody and horrific. Mr Christie is a monster who will haunt us for many years to come.

The 2017 Selection

2017selection1

 

I don’t buy too many discs these days. Not because there isn’t any I want, it’s more a case of trying to be selective before I get buried under the piles in the spare room. There have been quite a few releases over the past few months- The Flight of the Phoenix, Paths of Glory, Fedora, many others- that in the old days I would have just ordered without hesitation. Maybe a sale will give me an offer I cannot refuse, but up to now I’ve been pretty strong. Indeed, in all of December I bought just one film on disc- the Criterion disc of In A Lonely Place.

So it’s got me thinking, and I’m going to launch a series of posts about my purchases this year. See if all my bold talk about keeping the quality level up (and the outlay down) bears fruit over the next twelve months. This month I’ve already been seduced into buying five discs, which I’ve pictured here in a crummy photo which I’ll surely revise when I get more time. What I plan to do (other than watch them and review them, ‘natch) is take a revised photo as I add to the pile; so here’s the initial five. I’ve already commented on buying Assault on Precinct 13 about a fortnight ago (and no, I haven’t watched it yet- horrors!). Last week I bought the fifth and final season of Person of Interest as it was in a sale on Amazon.com (I still have Season 4 to watch though so the shrinkwraps staying on this one awhile), and 10 Rillington Place last week, and today I received Arrows’ Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Donnie Darko.

Catalogue titles rule the day it seems, and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is the only film I have not seen before (although the DC of Donnie Darko is new to me too). My viewing habits have changed over the past year or so- I tend to leave the new, untested films to streaming services and save disc purchases to films I know and enjoy with extras that add extra value. Certainly these four films I have bought on disc are all excellent editions with extensive extras. So we’ll see if ‘The 2017 Selection’ measures up, and how much money I end up wasting…

Daredevil: Man Not Without Fear

dared12016.7: Daredevil Season One (Blu-ray)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rather late to this one. Season Two has already been and gone and fans looking forward to a Defenders spin-off and an eventual season three further beyond that, but I’ve only just finished this first series. Blame it on how television shows are sold/distributed these days, and marvel (pardon the pun) at my powers of avoiding spoilers. For years.

Daredevil is, pretty much, every bit as good as people had been telling me. It takes many of the standard tropes of the superhero genre and gives them a fresh spin, which is pretty amazing considering how many superhero tv shows are on the air right now and how many superhero blockbusters are in cinemas. Its dark, its grim, it has a few  really effective twists and turns, and has a genuinely likeable lead who has enough doubts and fears to make him seem more realistic and interesting than your standard genre good-guy in a spandex suit might. Funnily enough, whilst I mention that, I would just point out the show seemed, in hindsight, more interesting when he was dressed in his simple black mask and suit disguise, like a shadowy vigilante. When he finally acquires his full Daredevil costume that doubles as protective armour, somehow the show veers uncomfortably close to self-parody and looking silly. Its another hero in a funny costume, this gritty and realistic film-noir story suddenly turning into, well, a typical Marvel flick. Its a tricky line to cross when a show has been as realistic and gritty as this was before turning into yet another super-costumed drama. Hopefully I’ll get over that when I eventually see season two.

The one thing Daredevil suffers from -if suffers is indeed the right word- is the usual strange thing about the villain stealing the show. It almost always seems to happen, and Daredevil is certainly no exception. Here we have the fascinating, vicious local crime boss, Wilson Fisk , who is played with such nuance and depth by Vincent D’Onofrio, it seems that he thinks he’s in a Shakespearean tragedy. His Kingpin is a monster who thinks his actions are justified by his goal to ‘fix’ his blighted city that he grew up in a child. Its clever how Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) shares the same background of being a child of Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and shares too a desire to ‘fix’ his blighted city .The guys are polar opposites yet be alike, both creations of this crime-ridden metropolis that needs either a hero or a monster, or maybe both.

Charlie Cox is great as the hero by the way- it’s just a pity for him that he is pitched against D’Onofrio playing a meatier character, but his Matt Murdock is pretty interesting and conflicted enough to be a rewarding hero. A lawyer by day and a vigilante at night, he is well aware of the perverse dichotomy at work and agonises over whether his violent actions are justified or his courtroom antics a waste of time. Corruption is rife throughout the system, and good guys are eaten up by it – who can you trust when you can’t trust the cops or the justice system? Is an honest lawyer the answer or a masked vigilante?

The show might have benefitted from being ten episodes rather than thirteen – ten seems to be some kind of magic number for these tv shows- as the story seems overly stretched over the run but on the whole, yeah, a great show, and a breath of fresh air for me, as I’ve gotten bored of (and stopped watching) Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Arrow, Flash etc. Maybe these Netflix shows are indeed the answer.