Blade Runner 2049 at Cinemacon

2049aIts pretty much all over the web now so you may have already read about it, but at Cinemacon in America, Sony Pictures who co-financed the film and have International rights to distribute it (Warner will distribute the film in the States) has shown 5-6 minutes of new footage. From all accounts it was very impressive stuff, utterly beautiful visuals and quite dark too. I won’t go into detail of the scenes shown, as you can find that easily enough elsewhere if you want to know. I suspect it indicates it will at least form part of the first proper trailer for the film that is likely due anytime soon, so I’m sure it will be on the internet soon enough (more was teased for Wednesday, so that may indicate a trailer is imminent).

But it has got me thinking about ‘going dark’ sometime soon. Modern trailers show way too much of films; even teasers tend to. So I’m in two minds about even watching the trailer when it surfaces. The Alien: Covenant trailer is great but it leaked too many details of the film, and I don’t want a similar experience with something as anticipated as Blade Runner 2049. Can I even manage to avoid details in the months up to release? Its still seven months away and trailers/clips won’t be the half of it. We’ve already had Edward james Olmos reveal that Gaff has a (minor) part in the film.  Its something about modern films; its rare enough for a film to be as genuinely secretive as Blade Runner 2049 has been up till now, but Studios don’t tease anymore, they show. Some trailers are almost three-minute versions of the entire movie they are advertising. They seldom leave any real surprises and are all too keen to show the ‘money’ shots.

Of course I’m curious. How can I not be? I so desperately want this film to be good. Considering I originally felt that Blade Runner doesn’t need a sequel… well, in a way I still don’t. Its my favourite film and its a single entity, always has been and no sequel was ever intended when it was made. It dates back to that strange era when Studios weren’t launching franchises with every bloody release. Back to an era when scripts had a beginning, middle and an end and no cliffhanger/tease of a further, better film. It was 1982, and films were better back then. They were films, not ‘products’ or trilogies (Star Wars and Bond et notwithstanding, I realise I’m making a pretty sweeping statement, but hell, did Spielberg rush into an ET 2? I rest my case- nowadays I doubt he’d have much choice). So anyway, it doesn’t need a sequel, but more importantly, it doesn’t need a bad sequel that tarnishes with the originals reputation or how we ‘read’ it. Prometheus went some way in spoiling rewatches of Alien by revealing the Lovecraftian Space Jockeys are big bald aliens in suits. I don’t want something in Blade Runner 2049 doing the same with Blade Runner.  Let’s not reveal that Deckard was a Nexus 7 or that Holden a Nexus 5, or that Batty didn’t really die, he was just rebooted and went on to fight in other battles Offworld.  Its difficult I know.  kudos to all involved in even daring to make it, and make it good, but please, yes, let it be good.

So I’m sitting and wondering, is this time to ‘go dark’ and avoid Blade Runner 2049 info like the plague? Will it even be possible?

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Damn, this poster is cool…

AlienCovenantI refuse to get suckered by those marketing boys, but crikey, they seem to be doing everything right with Ridley’s latest, Alien: Covenant. First the trailer looked great, then they released a really nice video short/prologue to set the film up, and now they go release this fantastic poster. Even those of us burned by Prometheus will be getting the hots for this movie. I guess job done, publicity boys. Over to you Ridley…

The 2017 Selection Pt.3

2017s3Here’s the latest state of the 2017 selection. There’s been a few additions since my last update. And hey, I’m still trying to curtail the spending this year.

Heat: God, another copy. Its just one of those movies. I think I have a VHS copy up in the loft somewhere, a widescreen version that came in a big box, don’t know if anybody out there remembers that edition. Studios must love idiots like me. So I buy this thinking it might be definitive and before it’s even arrived people are moaning about colour-timing and sound issues. I don’t know. At least it was strangely (suspiciously, maybe?) cheap. So I’ve got it in HD for something like a third of what I paid for it back on VHS. I won’t mention the DVD  thats lying around someplace. And no, I haven’t watched this copy yet.

The Leftovers- Season Two: I mentioned this awhile ago, as its what finally got me around to watching season one, and (hurrah!) I’ve also watched this too- review coming soon. Yeah, I’ve watched something in the 2017 selection- will this catch on? (he wonders, noting he still hasn’t watched Assault on Precinct 13 or Vampires or Garcia yet) .

Dr Strange: Actually, yes, I’ve watched this too, as my review a few weeks ago will attest. Well, I hadn’t seen it at the cinema and I’d been curious about it for months.

Logans Run/The Omega Man/Soylent Green: A triple-feature blu ray set, with each film coming in at under £4 each. Well, I’m always a sucker for deals like that. These are three 1970s dystopian science fiction films, each flawed in their own way but each having redeeming features making them worth re-watching, at least for someone like me who grew up with them on tv- I guess  viewers born post-1990 needn’t bother, they’ll likely hate them. Their loss; hell, they are worth watching if only for the soundtracks (which I have on CD for all three- yes I am that nerd in the corner).

Arrival: The best film of last year. A compulsory  blu ray purchase. I watched the disc the other night and yes, it just confirmed Oscar had it all wrong- Amy Adams deserved a nomination at the very least, and quite possibly the statuette itself too. This is a science fiction film for the ages and deserves to be ranked up there with CE3K. I should probably do another review based on the home experience. Indeed, I could watch this all over again already. There’s something strangely rewatchable about this film, the way it flows, the direction, the acting… wonderful sound design. This film has me so excited for Blade Runner 2049 (if only they could do something about that title; it still feels awkward to me). Its made me wonder though, how rare it is to watch a science fiction film these days and think it’s one for the ages.

So anyway, as we tumble towards April, this is the latest photo of my disc purchases this year. And yes, by year’s end, I vow to have watched everything in this photo.

A Violent Night On The Town

kinopoisk.ru2017.18: The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Film 4 HD

Back in the day, The Purge: Anarchy would have been a pretty fantastic John Carpenter movie. It feels like its Escape From New York 2, and screams for a Carpenter/Howarth score and Carpenter’s keen widescreen eye and gritty 70s-cool aesthetic. Indeed, its a pity they couldn’t have gotten him out of his semi-retirement to shoot this movie and maintain that 70s/80s vibe with a score and everything. What a movie that would have been.

As it is, The Purge: Anarchy is a pretty commendable effort and a big improvement on the original Purge movie. That film had the siege mentality of Assault on Precinct 13 but lacked in execution; but the central premise of one night in which anarchy reigns and all crime is deemed legal was sufficient enough a hook to enable the film to succeed. Buoyed by that films success this film clearly raises the bar in scope and channels Escape From New York with its ragtag, misfit bunch caught in the dead of night in a city full of murderers. Maybe the Carpenter influence isn’t really as intentional as it seems, but to me it’s inescapable, as both Purge films feel like Carpenter films at heart.

The trouble is, maybe these Purge films are being made a few decades too late?  These days even b-movies are pretty slick efforts, and these films for me really should seem more basic, grungy, 1970s-gritty stuff- yeah, more like those Carpenter classics or Cannon films starring Charles Bronson. Instead they come across as crisp, mainstream exploitation movies, as cynical as that seems, and a mooted move to a tv series only reinforces that.

 

Scarlett Goes Bonkers

lucy12017.17: Lucy (2014) – Film 4 HD

There was a time when a Luc Besson film meant something rather special. I still recall the almighty stir caused by La Femme Nikita when it came out on VHS and Besson seemed to hit the international mainstream with a bang, and later films Leon and The Fifth Element only cemented him as a major director. He had an ability to make big, stylish films with an American ‘look’ while maintaining a quirky European mentality and feel. But then something weird happened. As a director, his career has followed an odd trajectory towards obscurity, as he seems to prefer to write screenplays and produce films rather than direct. If anything, this doesn’t help matters as everytime he does finally direct a film the ensuing weight of expectation becomes something that the films can rarely live up to (possibly why John Carpenter doesn’t make films anymore). Not that Besson seems to care what anyone else thinks.

So anyway, Lucy is a film I always wanted to watch but considering Besson’s fall from grace as a director I was wary of catching up with it. Mixed/downright angry reviews when this came out at the cinema didn’t help either. So after a few years it has turned up on tv and I’ve given it a shot. Glad I did. Sort of.

Lucy is bonkers . I used to think The Fifth Element was odd and eccentric but goodness, its positively restrained next to this utterly turbocharged crazy mash-up of The Matrix and Akira. The shadow of Akira in particular looms large over the film, an obvious major influence on Bessons mad story about advanced human evolution and mind-bending powers twisting the very fabric of reality.

Logic is thrown out into the street and kicked snivelling into the gutter, because Lucy is just plain nuts. Spectacular yet often oddly boring action sequences attempt to divert attention from the utterly daft premise, but it is kind of fun.Scarlett Johansson is no stranger to superheroics in films thanks to her track record in several Marvel films but as the titular Lucy she races from well-meaning dumb blonde to cosmic time-travelling Goddess in about ninety minutes. Its a breakneck pace that ultimately undermines the film as it becomes ever-more divorced from reality and more like a silly cartoon. Maybe Besson should have been happy to leave Lucy using 50% of her superpowers and left us some frame of reference and danger. Instead he goes all the way to 100% and Lucy leaves humanity far behind her. God only knows where a Lucy 2 might have headed.

But yeah, its mindless fun for much of its time, and as always Johansson is a charismatic lead. Worth a watch.

 

Person Of Interest Nears End-Program

poi42017.16: Person Of Interest Season Four – Blu-ray

Person of Interest almost seems something of a curio in this changed landscape that is television today. It isn’t a cable blockbuster, and it isn’t a season of ten or twelve episodes. No, this is a throwback to how tv shows always used to be, a 22-episode season on Network TV, complete with scripted teases/pauses for commercial breaks. These days, that’s almost an oddity. One could be forgiven that television has moved on, what with Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead and MadMen and  other shows on cable, and so many other shows airing on providers such as Netflix and Amazon. In many ways, television has indeed moved on- Person of Interest seems from some other era.

Which is, to be frank, part of its appeal. While it does have a story-arc that stretches across each season, and indeed over all the seasons as a whole, many of the episodes generally work as seperate stories focusing on guest-stars and characters/storylines unique to each episode, often ending with an old-fashioned ‘reset’ that sees the regular characters ready and waiting for next week’s adventure. Its almost quaint, and yet it feels almost comforting in a tv landscape that can make so many demands on viewers. I recently tried watching episode 1 of series two of The Expanse and it had be scurrying away to my season one boxset, as I couldn’t really make any sense of this new episode. I hadn’t seen any of the show since last June/July and I could only recall a vaguest sense of the plot and the new episode utterly lost me, frankly. Its exhilerating to have such sophisticated storytelling that makes such demands on the viewer but it can frustrate too. Person of Interest is decidedly Old-School- not necessarily drop in/drop out whenever you like, but its all fairly familiar and tends to bring you up to speed easily enough.

At times that’s one of the shows problems- it isn’t really sophisticated at all. Very often the dialogue awkwardly explains what is going on or someones backstory or motivations, stuff viewers are familiar enough with if they are paying attention, but handy to keep casual viewers up to speed.Although sometimes it feels like it is filling the blanks for those who are late getting back from the commercial break. Which is ironic, as I’m binge-watching it on a box-set, so there are no breaks to commercials for cat food and recaps from a few episodes back are pretty redundant watching an episode or two every night..

poiWhile the show is inferior to Fringe, possibly the last genuinely great Network-based genre tv show, its nonetheless impressive that it maintains a pretty high quality level whilst somehow making 22 hours of television each season. Thats not easy, especially when it tries to maintain film-quality production levels each week, with plenty of location footage on the streets of New York.  Like Fringe, Person Of Interest struggled with ratings, something Network TV is notoriously rabid and ruthless about, but thankfully a truncated season five offers some kind of conclusion to the show. I’ll see soon enough, having now finished season four.

Maybe the show doesn’t really attain the heights I’d hoped for it a few years ago, but it is good fun, and it certainly has that old-school appeal that many of the new blockbuster shows, for all their complexity, often lack.  Part of the charm of the show is naturally its great cast of fairly entertaining and interesting characters, the saving grace of many such shows and why we keep on returning to them, but it also feels like the kind of television I used to watch back in the 1970s and 1980s. Sure the production values and overall quality is way higher than all that Glen Larson stuff etc but it has that old comforting feel. The tv equivalent of a comfort blanket and a handy undemanding escape from reality. That seems like faint praise, but I don’t intend it to be.

Now, where did I put that Season Five box..?

What it means to be young: Streets of Fire

sof1Whenever I think of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire I always think about VHS. Its like they are inseparable, and might explain why it’s been more than twenty years since I last saw it. Watching it on blu-ray just feels… almost weird, and although the picture is inevitably better it almost seems inferior without all the grain, drop-outs and blooming reds of watching it on tape.Bizarrely, looking back on it, some films almost looked better with that grainy VHS fuzziness, and I’d likely include Blade Runner in that, too. VHS just had this thing for smoke/steam/neon, the way images would go grainy and the colours bloom out into a pulsing mess. It was kind of beautiful. In crystal-clear HD it can sometimes look, well, too clean.

And thats another curio about those two films, as each of them crashed and burned at the box office but gained a second life -and revaluation- on home video. Streets of Fire in particular seemed to me to just capture the zeitgeist, almost, of that time and that new home-viewing technology. It was bold and colourful and fairly gritty and had rock songs and a great Ry Cooder soundtrack (an unreleased score, too, another weird synchronicity between SOF and BR). It just seemed made for video, back in the era of the early days of MTV remember, and of course seemed light years ahead of the films being shown on network tv at the time.

How to explain the new thrill back then of video rentals, picking films from their box art on a shelf and taking it home to watch? Impossible in this day and age of streaming and downloads and buying films to explain how much of a revolution it was back in the 1980s and only having four channels on the television, and that heavily sanitized by censors etc. Of the delicious tactile thing of that plastic, rattling case and the tape inside? Beats shiny discs in just the same way as vinyl will always be more romantic a thing than cds or mp3’s.

So I’ll aways remember Streets of Fire as being a video rental back when those things were something special and an exciting departure from the stuff on television. And it was a pretty cool movie anyway. It looked like a retro/futuristic fantasy much akin to Blade Runner, had sharp witty dialogue and yet an old-fashioned feel, like something out of a Jimmy Stewart western. It had this breathless pace, carried by that throbbing, beautiful Ry Cooder score, the heartbeat of the movie. It had a great young cast. And Walter Hill directing it.

Watching it now on Blu-ray… well, there was the first thing that was off about it. Watching it on disc instead of tape. The reds didn’t bloom, the picture was clear of drop-outs and I didn’t need to fret about the tracking. Man, thats no way to watch Streets of Fire.

sof2In all seriousness, Streets of Fire today holds up pretty well.  Its a neo-noir Western/gangster flick/Musical, this weird stylistic hybrid that maybe doesn’t really work but has a fine time trying to. There is such a blatant naivety about it, a weird fairy tale of youngsters pretending to be old-school movie stars in a big Hollywood movie. It really is a silly Rock and roll fable with intentionally cheesy dialogue and characters straight out of old Westerns, familiar archetypes that are so old-fashioned as to be almost endearing, as if it’s teenagers appropriating those archetypes, Hollywood being self-reverential. It has likely dated poorly and new viewers no doubt find it oddly disjointed and bettered by later, better films, but old fans like me will love it forever.

Maybe you just had to be young. I don’t know. There are far worse films.

And the cast! God lord they all look so young (because of course they really were). Diane Lane so beautiful  (and apparently utterly vexed she couldn’t perform her character’s songs herself), Amy Madigan, Rick Moranis, Bill Paxton (this is the first film I’ve seen of his since he passed away, rather bittersweet), William Dafoe… a great cast, all destined for greater things. And then of course there is Michael Paré in the lead role of Tom Cody, the film’s biggest casting misstep. He doesn’t really work, the biggest problem being his lack of chemistry with Lane. He’s not a bad actor, he just feels like he’s in the wrong movie (besides, is it an actor’s fault if he’s miss-cast? How come he is then expected to carry the blame for a film’s failure?).

MSDSTOF EC052
STREETS OF FIRE, Michael Pare, 1984

Not that Paré doesn’t have his moments, but he’s clearly more of a supporting/character actor than the charismatic, charming major lead which this film needs. Then again, it was his first big movie and he needed help that he apparently didn’t get from the director, left to flounder like a fish out of water and it shows through most of the film. Its sad and there’s a charm to how wrong he is, like he’s some kind of acting underdog who you just want to somehow succeed. Apparently they came really close to signing a pre-superstar Tom Cruise instead, and you have to wonder how that Streets of Fire would have looked/fared with Cruise in the lead (and Daryl Hannah originally intended in Lane’s role, too, at one point). At any rate, you can’t lay the blame of the film’s failure simply on Paré. There are more responsible parties who would always prefer that, of course.

More importantly, and most damningly, there are several key stylistic choices that really derail the film. The keyed-down violence is one of them. The thinking was that as its a fairytale/Rock and Roll fable nobody should get hurt and almost all the cast be under thirty, but that lack of gritty violence and/or gore just, well, bleeds the life out of it. It looks dark and edgy, has a great Cooder score that throbs and pulses, but it all feels watered-down and neutered, there’s no sense of real threat. Its a pity there was never an alternate, stronger cut, or that the film wasn’t shot in two different ways to offer that choice. But it was only shot the one way and by the time it came together it was too late to ‘fix’ it I guess. The good guy doesn’t really have to suffer to succeed, and the bad guy never really has the chance to be anything bad. There isn’t any real intensity to any of the drama.

Even the title of the film hints at problems- originally the Bruce Springsteen song was to be the main/end title music for the film but Springsteen wouldn’t allow it to be used. Oddly enough, before Cooder got involved, the original score was by James Horner, which was even recorded but got rejected. So you also have to wonder how that might have affected the film- although I love what Cooder did, a Streets of Fire with an early James Horner score would sound, and feel, quite different. Its also another clear sign that the film was in trouble, that they just couldn’t nail the stylistic feel they were after or got lost in second-guessing themselves, all clear signs of a film in trouble.

Not that I really cared back when I watched this on VHS. It still seemed pretty cool. Its only watching it again decades later that it is all too apparent where the film falters and what it could have been.But its still fun. One of those ‘what might have been’ movies, and anyway, to me it will always feel like a love-letter to the days of VHS. So all that young cast and cheesy songs and 1980s MTV stylings, and a ‘straight-to-video’ actor in the lead role, all of that kind of works. It throws me back to when I was young. Got to love films that do that.

Marveling at Dr Strange

dr strange12017.15: Dr Strange (2016),  Blu-ray

They make it look so easy, don’t they? It must piss those boys at DC right off, seeing Marvel Studios parading its expertise at putting comicstrip adventures up on the big screen. Its pretty amazing really. When you really think about it, all this superhero nonsense is inherently juvenile, silly nonsense, but its actioned with such earnestness and conviction that audiences just lap it up. Why audiences are so ready for tales reduced to base concepts of good and evil and larger than life heroes and villains, modern mythologies to replace the Gods and Devils of old, I don’t know. I suppose that in this fairly-new millennium these superhero films function the same way as the Bonds and Star Wars of before, perhaps even on a bigger scale. The appeal, after all, is pretty universal- these films are hugely successful worldwide, across all kinds of racial and territorial boundaries. In an increasingly complicated and uncertain world, there is perhaps an appeal to simple heroes and villains.

So yeah, we can go about this review in two ways. On the one hand, Dr Strange is terrific entertainment with an engaging cast and pretty remarkable spectacle. On the other, well, its fairly routine Marvel Studios stuff. The film seldom really surprises and pretty much telegraphs much of what happens well in advance, particularly if you are familiar with Marvel’s output. Of course, that familiarity might be part of the charm of these films- all together they represent the Mother of All Box Sets, and there is an undeniable comfort blanket in losing yourself within this Marvel Studios universe, in just the same way as the comic Marvel universe had an escapist charm through my childhood. Barring a few missteps, those 1960s strips that I read in the 1970s weekly reprints of my childhood have been brought to vivid life- and most of those missteps are a personal thing regards updating 60s strips to our modern world. Yeah, I can’t help that, its just a personal thing- Spiderman’s New York will always be a 1960s Mad Men episode to me; it just feels odd in a modern world of mobile phones and computers seeing guys dressed up in funny costumes.

Heres the elephant in the room of course- its all looking so easy for Marvel, and yet DC seems to be finding it all so difficult. Likely that apparent ease is nothing of the sort and hides some really tricky work in the background, but up to now they have pretty much pulled things off very well. We have not seen Marvel blunder into making an artistic and commercial dud. At this stage, I doubt we will; if Marvel Studios ever does begin to stumble for success, it’s all the more likely it will be from audience fatigue rather than bad movies.

dr strange.jpgSo Dr Strange is a pretty strong Marvel movie and another addition to its roster of cinematic heroes. It isn’t perfect but it is reliable fun. And yeah, when I think about those 1960s strips by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and how so much of them have been transposed to the movie screen here, it is frankly astonishing, how well it comes off without feeling camp or silly. Other than that, I don’t have much to really say, other than I really need to watch it again, as some of those big effects sequences were so busy I sometimes lost track of what the hell was going on- I kept thinking of that line from Jedi – “There’s too many of them!” There was so much going on in some of those mind bending effects shots.

Gaff’s Back

Edward James Olmos has revealed he has a scene in the Blade Runner sequel, returning as Gaff. The plot thickens- it does appear that Ryan Gosling’s leading character is involved in a mystery regarding the characters and events of the first film, how that impacts on a danger to humanity (Replicants taking over? Or if Nexus 6 production was outlawed following Tyrell’s death, warnings about ‘new’ Replicant production? Who knows, but its fun pondering ). The story culminates in his search for Harrison Ford’s Deckard- shades of Apocalypse Now, or is that wishful thinking. Hmm.  I like mysteries in films. In anycase, it looks like Gaff’s back.