RIP Bob Morton

morton1Ah, he knew how to party did Bob Morton. The slimy, double-dealing treacherous OCP executive in the 1987 classic RoboCop. He was born too early and in the wrong genre universe, else he may have benefited by Darth Vader’s warning “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations” because Bob surely did. In his climb up the corporate tree of OCP management by orchestrating the creation of the titular law enforcer, he screwed over corporate foe Dick Jones and got himself blown to pieces by a nasty guy with the unfortunate name of Clarence.I don’t know why Clarence seems such an unfortunate name, I’m sure there are lots of very nice people with that name, but this Clarence was a nasty piece of work who always seemed pissed off at people, and I always figured his name had something to do with it. Anyway, Clarence was a buddy of Dick so Bob got put on his shitlist and, well, Clarence had a way of dealing with his anger issues with guns and grenades. So, that was it for poor Bob.

Okay, maybe Bob snorted too much cocaine and would shit on his own mother for a dollar and a key to the executive washroom, but really, he was my favourite executive bad guy. The guy had no style, no class, and was played to perfection by the great Miguel Ferrer, who sadly died on Thursday aged just 61. I was always thrilled to see Miguel’s name on the credits of anything he was in, and I was truly crushed by the news of his passing. Maybe he never had a great super-star status or appeared in many classic films or shows but he was always a great joy to watch, a great character actor who was for some reason particularly adept at playing slimy bad guys. And his Bob Morton will forever be up there high in my list of slimy bad guys.

RIP Bob Morton, and RIP Miguel.

Czechmate

anth12017.6: Anthropoid (2016)

Anthropoid seems a strange title for a film -it must have seemed a nightmare for the marketing boys- but the title does make sense when you watch it. This is a tense, gripping, edge-of-your-seat World War II thriller based on the true story of a Czech resistance operation that may have had considerable bearing on the outcome of the war.

I’ll get this out of the way- this is a great WWII movie. Its got a brilliant script, a great cast and fine direction…. and it looks… brutally  beautiful?  I’m not sure what I’d call it exactly, but there is such a convincing sense of time and place. Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia is another world from anything we can experience today; it’s almost like reverse-science fiction, the film taking us to a world that once existed rather than a future-world yet to exist, but quite alien all the same. Art direction and photography is excellent (there is a wonderful filmic quality to the image, it isn’t soft-focus or sepia but it does give a wonderful sense of period, perhaps it’s the overall colour scheme and the lighting). I guess there may have been some fairly extensive cgi enhancements and effects but everything is handled so carefully nothing particularly stands out and distracts you, it all just serves the story. And its a great, inspiring story.

Its 1942, and Jozef Gabčík (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubiš (Jamie Dornan) are Czech soldiers parachuted in on a secret mission to assassinate Nazi Reinhard Heydrich – Germany’s third highest-ranking commander and architect of the Final Solution; he’s a nasty piece of work and one of Hitler’s key men.The attempt to assassinate Heydrich and its aftermath leads to chilling reprisals. Its a study of bravery and dedication and ordinary people rising to take their place in historic events.

When I was young, references to WWII seemed to be everywhere; it was, after all fairly recent memory. As another fifty years have gone by now it’s clearly slipping further back, and I wonder how relevant the war might seem to young people now who don’t associate, say, Germany with that European war in the same was as I did playing wargames with my boyhood friends. Sometimes I watch and read about stuff like this and I think people were somehow different back then in that war, perhaps a whole generation who were different to what we are today. Are we weaker now? How would we measure up thrown into a world at war like that in 1939-1945?

I suppose if there was any criticism of the film, its that the  first half is fairly routine espionage thriller stuff, the film establishing the politics within the resistance network and the mechanisms of the surveillance and planning. But I think this deliberately slow pace is designed to catch viewers unaware, as at the midway point time finally runs out for the plotters and they have to take decisive action. The film clearly steps up a gear as events threaten to overwhelm the resistance and their courage and dedication to the operation is put to the test- some do better than we expect, others are found wanting, but they are only human, as opposed to the superhumans dominating our screens today.

What happens next is a brilliant exercise in edge-of-your-seat tension and a horrifying reminder of the brutality of war. The action set-pieces are easy to follow and edited very well indeed. No frenetic cuts and shakey-cam here. Its unnerving stuff.

Yeah, a great war movie. I don’t say that enough on this blog. We do need more great war movies.

 

 

Get Carter

cartr1It was a cold, wet, dark drive to work this morning. Thoroughly dank and dismal. So I put on the John Carter soundtrack on the car stereo (usb memory stick, 32gb of my music, all sorts of weird stuff hiding in there). I haven’t listened to this music -or seen the movie, either, for that matter- in such a long time. It almost sounded new. Suddenly the rain and the traffic were gone and I was adventuring on the sands of Mars.

Its a great fantasy score, and always sounded like a Star Wars kind of score, benefiting from sweeping flourishes and great melodies and orchestration. The irony is that Disney buying Star Wars from George Lucas would kill any John Carter franchise stone dead before it even got released and that Giacchino would later get a ‘proper’ Star Wars scoring gig with Rogue One, which would be a vastly inferior score compared to his John Carter.

Okay, we should maybe cut him a break. In the insane world of modern film-making, Giacchino only had a few weeks to score Rogue One, as he was a last-minute replacement. His Rogue One score is functional and adequate and will likely ensure he gets another Star Wars gig with more favourable conditions someday in the near future.

But John Carter remains a fresh and magnificent score, the kind we don’t get too often these days. Attached to a dead franchise, the score seems to be relegated to forgotten/OOP status- I see the CD soundtrack commanding crazy prices now. Listening to it this morning it rekindled all those ‘what might have been’ fantasies of a series of Carter films and scores.

Death By Star Wars, eh.

Oh, Sherlock…

sherl4b2017.5: Sherlock Season 4 (BBC HD)

Oh dear. Sherlock was such fun, once.

What a nonsensical, self-indulgent mess this was. Perhaps it just became too big to fail and with nowhere to go, went up its own arse instead. It appears that writer/producer Steven Moffat has done to Sherlock what he did to Who. Its so utterly over-confident and ignorant of storytelling basics that it beggars belief; it’s almost a modern tragedy how something so precious and beloved, so clever and witty and imaginative can become so… boring. Halfway through last nights final episode and I was actually bored, waiting for it to finish.

Lets look at the basic storytelling issues. Consider that in seasons one and two the show was sharp and made sense with twists and turns that felt honest and earned. Lets look at what season four left us with. We are expected to believe Holmes had a sister but doesn’t remember her, and no-one, not even his parents, ever mentioned her or any sign of her left for our super-sleuth to have ever noticed in four seasons. And she lived in a top secret super-prison off the coast that she turns into an evil lair like some Bond villain, and yes, actually had a visit from Dr Moriarty for a Christmas present. Handily, although its out on an unmapped island off the coast somewhere, it’s a prison that she can nip out of easily so she can  catch a bus in the first episode to flirt with Dr Watson, or, in episode two, spend a few afternoons analysing him by posing as his therapist. Or in this third episode pilot a drone with a high-tech grenade/bomb to take out Sherlocks pad. If she’s loose around London playing with Sherlock and company for two episodes, why retreat back to her prison cell in episode three to play Hannibal Lecter? Indeed, did she pilot the drone all the way from her prison cell? And if she’s just toying with her brother, why risk blowing him up to kingdom come? Maybe because a big explosion looks good in trailers?

And we are expected to believe that while she is doing all this, in her fragile state of mind she’s actually a frightened little girl on an aircraft, and that ultimately love conquers all? Oh, Sherlock, what happened to you?

Which is exactly the real crime here. It isn’t about telling a self-contained logical story about the world’s greatest detective detecting. The crimes are secondary to the in-jokes and the over-acting. Episode one should have been a warning, with the overwrought death of Mary that gave her a bullet in the chest and another few minutes to chat about everything before dying, and then a few more minutes talking on a dvd message, and then in the second episode hanging around as a ghost to chat some more. Enough, already. Its nonsense and far removed from the tight storytelling of season one.

Horrible waste of time and talent.

A few thoughts on ‘Delectus’

delectusDelectus is a forthcoming box-set of Vangelis albums dating from the 1970s/early 1980s, basically all the Polydor albums not already released in remastered form (his collaborations with Irene Papas came out remastered a few years ago).  It also features his first solo album, Earth, which appeared on the Vertigo label. As far I know, its the first time a deluxe box-set of Vangelis albums has been released.

Its a pretty big collection (back in the day, Vangelis was pretty prolific) and it contains most of his work dating from the Nemo Studios era; the  albums Earth, L’Apocalypse Des Animaux, China, Opera Sauvage, See You Later, Chariots of Fire, Soil Festivities, Mask, Antarctica and Invisible Connections, plus the Jon & Vangelis albums  Short Stories, The Friends of Mister Cairo & Private Collection. For most fans like myself, this is best work, and vintage Vangelis. My favourite Vangelis albums date from this era, particularly China and Soil Festivities.

Its unknown exactly how old these remasters are. I remember back around 2007 that sound engineer Frederick Rousseau had announced he had been remastering all of Vangelis’ back catalogue with the maestro. Some of these remasters (the RCA albums of the early 1970s) were subsequently released but the Polydor albums (other than those Papas discs, and  Chariots of Fire) remained unreleased.

So these remasters may in fact already be ten years old, but Vangelis fans are pretty much accustomed to being thankful for whatever scraps we get. I would have preferred separately packaged albums with original artwork but if a box-set such as this is the only way these Ploydor remasters will see the light of the day, then I’m fine with that. I appreciate the fact that physical sales, and the CD format in general, is on the wane, and that this is likely the only way these albums could see the light of day again- and it’s certainly the cheapest option. The extra carrot for fans are 4 additional tracks, which pretty much amount to b-sides from the vinyl era that have never been released on CD. While they are a nice addition, its a pity that this opportunity didn’t result in perhaps a full disc of material from that era that Vangelis didn’t release back then. He must have plenty of stuff considering the rumours of him recording everyday.

So I’m really looking forward to this (it’s less than three weeks away now, barring any delays). Just curious about how the remastering sounds- some of the RCA remasters had added tweaks (mostly reverb) and most alarmingly a few odd edits, which resulted in them being less of a success than hoped for. So I just hope Vangelis didn’t mess around with China too much. Certainly L’Apocalypse Des Animaux needs a remaster (my CD has always sounded like I’m playing a bad lp, its full of hiss and pop and collapses in the high-end) and the current CD of  Short Stories has the track separations messed up. The current CDs date back to the very beginning of the CD era over thirty years ago, so remasters are well overdue. We’ll just have to see. I do wish Vangelis would open up some of that vault material though- I suspect some of his best work has never been heard by anyone.

“Time to kick some serious alien ass!”

id22017.4: Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day: Resurgence is a pretty stupid title for a film, even an ID sequel- it’s hardly easy on the tongue is it. A simple ID2 monicker would have sufficed, or perhaps ID2: The Aliens Strike Back, which would at least (George Lucas/Disney notwithstanding) been more honest/faithful to the exploitation feel of the whole enterprise. After all, with all the alien gadgetry and dashing to the moon in ten minutes and giant space guns,  Independence Day: Resurgence is more of a Star Wars film than anything else anyway. Or to be more precise, in its endless blitzkrieg of ‘spectacular’ cgi nonsense it feels more of an overblown Star Wars wannabe than those prequels did. Indeed, it makes those prequels seem positively restrained.

Yes, the gloves are off with this one. It literally seems to throw everything at the screen barring the kitchen sink (and maybe there’s one of those in the background ruins somewhere). Essentially,this mindless parade is a two-hour long effects reel sprinkled with a few scenes of actors struggling with inane dialogue in a futile attempt to dig some plot out of the chaos (actors from the first film are thrown in almost randomly with often unintentionally funny results).

The first film was hardly a shining example of restraint or credible storytelling but this film takes it to some other level entirely, indeed, it almost makes the first film look pretty good in hindsight. That word I used earlier, ‘exploitation,’ hangs heavy over this whole wearisome exercise. It really is a terrible film.The script is banal, the acting phoned-in, the effects such a wearing assault on the senses it all becomes incredibly boring. When will Hollywood learn that even the most spectacular visuals need some kind of context, some kind of emotional underpinning. Just throwing all this cgi shit onscreen expecting it to ‘wow’ people… well, maybe it worked twenty years ago with the first Independance Day, but audiences are more sophisticated these days, right? Er… right?

Its all the more depressing after seeing the intelligence and emotional power of Arrival last year, a grown-up and adult look at the same subject. I do hope those idiots that praised this film last summer didn’t walk out of Arrival feeling too bored, poor things.

Maybe it will be another twenty years before we get a third one. I live in hope.

Whatever Happened to Laurie Zimmer?

Well I didn’t have time to watch Assault on Precinct 13 , but I did find time to watch a few of the extras on the disc. The first was an interesting interview with star Austin Stoker reminiscing about the film and talking about his background prior to appearing in it. Its a great piece; I always like these fairly contemporary interviews that look back on films wherein the subjects benefit from the perspective that the passing of time (in this case, entire decades) grants. He’s affectionate and proud regards Assault, but it’s clearly not the usual glowing EPK fluff piece that discs are usually dumped with.

laurieThe second was the documentary Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which suckered me in being initially unaware of its lengthier than expected (nearly an hour-long) running-time. I thought it was just a featurette but its actually an independent doc shot back in 2002. Its an elegant and quite engrossing piece and worth the price of the Assault disc alone; a fantastic edition to the extras. Laurie Zimmer of course plays Leigh in Assault, but although she was clearly beautiful and talented,  it didn’t launch her into a great career (why she never went on to star in Carpenters next film, Halloween, is a particular mystery).

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer was made by French filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak (hence English subtitles running throughout for her narration). Szlovak had shot an ill-fated film project Slow City, Moving Fast starring Laurie Zimmer in the mid-seventies, and the documentary chiefly features footage from this project, mostly of Laurie driving a convertible through 1970s sun-drenched LA.  I’ll admit I was suckered from the start- the first sequence of the film hauntingly features a woman who certainly looks like Laurie walking from a house to a  huge 1970s-era car on a sunny morning and going out for a drive. I wasn’t sure if this was modern footage or authentic 1970s footage (it’s the latter, obviously) but something about it just pulled me in; the sense of time and place I think is quite enchanting. We learn that after shooting the film (which is inferred to have been never finished), Szlovak went back to her home country and the project was forgotten, but occasionally she would wonder whatever happened to the young actress that featured in her little film.

So, returning to LA many years later, Szlovak goes on a search for Laurie and shoots it as a film project, little realising how difficult the search would become. Cut between sequences from the 1977 film, her camera prowls the city of dreams in a fascinating journey into the past, a detective story of sorts and an exploration of the impermanence of LA’s fame and fortune. Old films, old studios and old movie theatres are like ghosts haunting the streets of this post-millennium LA and Szlovak’s search to discover whatever happened to Laurie is informed by her musings about unfulfilled dreams.

I love this kind of stuff, particularly the depth and profundity of real life set against the tinseltown legends of fame and fortune. It reminded me of the doc Searching For Sugarman that I watched a few years ago. The idea that success can be fleeting and that you can be forgotten in no time at all. That maybe you can have some kind of later validation, or that such validation means nothing anyway, that lives can have value away from wealth and fame or even being remembered.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the doc regards whether Laurie Zimmer is ever found or what happened to her, but it’s a great doc, a really fascinating and well-constructed piece. Certainly a brilliant extra for this disc, and yes, worth the money I paid for it alone- it almost relegates the Assault film to a bonus feature to be honest.  I’ll be watching this particular ‘extra feature’ again, which isn’t something I could say about many.