Walk the Line

walk12017.45: The Walk (2015)

I should immediately state that I have no head for heights. I hate ’em. It is partly why it has taken me so long to get around to watching this film- I’m certainly glad I didn’t see it at the cinema, and absolutely certain that had I been watching this in 3D Imax I would have been fleeing the place well before the end of the movie (I have NEVER walked out of a movie, but this might have been the exception). As it is, watching it at home on my humble Bravia was quite enough to have me cringing in nervous horror with my legs turning to jelly.

But I was laughing along through my terror, because The Walk, based upon the real-life story of Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who walked on a wire across New York’s Twin Towers in 1974, is a surprisingly light-hearted, jovial film. In that respect it is rather old-fashioned, a throwback to an Old Hollywood that predates the actual events it depicts. It’s a warm, fuzzy, pleasant heist-caper movie, a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ kind of film; its fun. This may I suspect have been a deliberate choice, in the face of what the Twin Towers represent to us all post-9/11. The film tries to remind us that before that awful tragedy, the Twin Towers represented something else, and of course were an awe-inspiring, world-famous landmark. As it is, there is an inevitable poignancy to every shot involving the Towers, just as there is in any film in which they are portrayed, particularly films actually shot in the 1970s or 1980s.  Here things are heightened (sic); the Towers are a work of art, brand-new, shiny and beautiful, positively aglow (in a similar way, I note, to how James Cameron portrayed the Titanic in his film).

Director Robert Zemeckis has long been something of a technical magician in film- he has always pushed the boundaries of what is possible in film to tell a story, whether it be the split-screen magic of the Back to the Future films, the virtual camera utilised in Contact, the cgi enhancements of Forest Grump. With The Walk he creates a virtual landscape, using set and landscape enhancements to construct the Towers and the 1974 New York City and the death-defying feat of crossing that wire between the Two Towers. It’s a phenomenal achievement in photo-real visual effects that certainly had me on the edge of my seat. I am sure, as is the norm for a Zemeckis film, that there were lots of shots that passed me by with all sorts of digital enhancements that I didn’t see. Visually it’s a magical film.

And thank goodness I can for the second review in a row mention a fantastic soundtrack. Longtime Robert Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri has composed a charming, bouncy score that mixes jazz moments with soaring strings full of of wonder and tension. It accompanies the film perfectly and is a fine reminder of the power of music to establish mood and the intensity-level of a film. The score instantly establishes that this is a fun ride, an uplifting adventure-  for the audience to sit back, relax and  enjoy an amazing true-life story.

So anyway, trembling knees aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this refreshingly light-hearted film. And those Towers never looked prettier.

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RIP Tobe Hooper

lifeforce1I read the news of Tobe Hooper’s passing today with much sadness- another Horror great gone. In some other alternate universe, Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is revered as the finest bad horror movie ever made. Any film that features a security guard trying to tempt a naked space vampire with a biscuit has got to be one of the greatest, oddest films of all time, and Lifeforce is full of such mad genius. I know most horror fans will refer to Hooper as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist but for me, he’ll always be the Master of Space Vampire movies- in the grandest tradition of Ed Wood, Lifeforce is his undoubted masterpiece.

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.

 

 

A Nocturnal Vertigo

noct12017.44: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

This film may not be perfect, and it may not completely reach for what it strives for, but goodness me, I have to salute the ambition behind it, which is a rare enough thing to find in film these days. If anything it is this very ambition that may undermine it- crafted like a work of art as much as a mainstream movie, the film is exquisitely shot and framed but there’s a sterile coldness to much of it -likely deliberate- that distances the viewer from it (although it’s certainly not as emotionally detached as a Christopher Nolan film, say). Just getting through the main title sequence would be too much for some (and what it even adds to the film, or says, is a matter of conjecture).

Suffice to say that this film is no less than a modern-day Vertigo; a romantic, psychological thriller laced with awful sadness, regrets and loneliness that may leave you thinking about it for days. To complain that it doesn’t reach the heights of Vertigo (sic) is of course nonsense- Vertigo is a timeless classic that we may never see the likes of again. At least Nocturnal Animals aims high enough to deserve comparison – a fine compliment as it is.

noct2Nocturnal Animals is structured as a film within a film within a film- a fascinating puzzle to explore and obtain meaning from. In a sterile environment of empty spaces, Amy Adams is Susan, who lives a life of wealth and comfort as an art dealer, with a luxury home, beautiful (if increasingly distant) husband, servants and personal assistants. She seems to have it all- but seems to be realising she lacks fulfillment. A package arrives one morning containing the proof copy of a book written by her ex-husband, Edward, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which is dedicated to her. Having a quiet weekend whilst her husband leaves on business to New York (we soon learn this is a cover for his affair with a mistress), Susan reads the book, and we witness her minds-eye picture of the book as a film within the film. This book/film is a noir-ish pulp potboiler of tragedy and revenge in which she pictures her husband as the protagonist and her younger self as his wife. Bookended throughout all of this are her recollections, triggered by reading the book, of her past relationship with her husband -how they met, their affair and how their marriage painfully (for him) ended,  a timeline which is almost third film in itself. The difficulty in weaving these three timelines so well, so each informs and reveals things about the others, is something that deserves some consideration, and it’s  quite a feat that it works so well and that we always seem aware of ‘when’ things are happening, what is real and what is the book’s fiction. Actually, now that I think about it, that ‘real’ is pretty much subjective in itself, as the reality is Susan’s reality, the past as she sees it, just as the book is how Susan sees that. Revelations slowly unfold until we arrive at a painful finale that is both discomforting, frustrating and yet somehow perfect. There is a revenge in the real-world just as there is in the novel.

Amy Adams. What can I say? Another amazing performance which, like the same years Arrival, deserved but somehow didn’t get a nomination. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that having two deserving performances actually did her a disservice by spitting her vote?  Nonetheless these two films have raised her to some kind of remarkable level of craft and leave me keenly anticipating any film she appears in.

Special mention to Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful, soulful score- as major a character in this film as Herrmann’s score is to Vertigo, performing much the same function. It’s a haunting work that is sparse but incredibly powerful. Korzeniowski is some kind of genius at this kind of stuff, whose romantic, haunting and yearning music served similar duties in the excellent Penny Dreadful tv series. It reminds me of John Barry as well as Herrmann. If only this quality of music was the norm and not the exception to film-scoring these days! This is of the quality we used to get in the 1970s, richly emotional, layered scoring. The film would be much lesser without it.

 

 

Oh, go on, another Blade Runner 2049 trailer…

Another trailer has landed: few more hints revealed, some more gorgeous photography. It’s just on the right side of revealing enough while keeping (hopefully, anyway) the real meat under wraps. It is a nice trailer though- really, even the multiplex crowd are possibly stoked for this one. Which feels a bit weird. Blade Runner was an arthouse film posing as a blockbuster, a thoughtful mood piece that took years to find its place. This one is clearly something else- seeing a Blade Runner film with action sequences etc. is a little odd to be honest but at least whilst it is clearly a different animal it somehow still feels like a Blade Runner film.  I don’t know. It still looks better than what I had feared it would be when it was announced a few years back. Not long to go now, so I hope any future trailers ease off on revealing much more.

Anybody remember The Two Jakes?

jakesSo, I was suddenly caught reminiscing about The Two Jakes (1990). Haven’t seen the film in years- in fact, not since the VHS days when I bought what was  a pan and scan copy in the early days of sell-through.  The film seems largely forgotten now, oddy not available on Blu-ray at all (which, considering the pedigree of its cinematography, is something of a tragedy, probably- add it to the list of great films still waiting a HD release). The film was a blind-buy for me, inspired by my adoration for Chinatown (1974).

Well, there’s the elephant in the room: Chinatown is a classic, and didn’t really need a sequel. Shades of Blade Runner there, which is why my mind turned to The Two Jakes in the first place. You see, almost against the odds, The Two Jakes turned out to be a pretty damn good film in its own right- a different kind of film to Chinatown, really, but beautifully made. Its sincere to the original and doesn’t hurt it at all- infact, it exists quite separately but remains a fine continuation for the lead character of private eye J.J.Gittes.

It was directed by the star of both Chinatown and The Two Jakes– Jack Nicholson, and proved to be something of a labour of love for him I think- or an itch he simply had to scratch, something he had to prove? It was a ballsy move, starring and directing in a sequel to such a revered film as the original was. The cast around him was pretty impressive- Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeline Stowe. Written by Robert Towne and photographed by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond, its credentials are plain to see, and it all paid off handsomely.

But you see the parallels: they are obvious. Distant sequel to a great film that doesn’t need one, a returning star with a fine new cast around him, a seperate story, a great cinematographer. Well. If Blade Runner 2049 turns out as well as The Two Jakes did, it will be great. Maybe a welcome moment of history repeating? Certainly it’s a fine example for the makers of the new Blade Runner. Maybe an omen for the fans, too.

Handmaid Horror

hand12017.43: The Handmaids Tale – Season One

I wish they’d stop making such great television, it’s distracting me from watching movies. Indeed, this year is shaping up to be the year of the tv boxset for me. So far I’ve watched Daredevil Season One, Sherlock Season 4, Westworld Season One, The Man in the High Castle Season Two, Person of Interest Seasons Four and Five, The Leftovers Seasons One and Two, Breaking Bad Seasons One and Two, Cardinal Season One, Fargo Season Three… and it’s all been pretty great, other than Sherlock and how Fargo ended.

So now we have The Handmaids Tale, and this may be one of the best of the lot. Even I, not averse to dystopian books/movies etc,  was shocked at just how dark and brutal this series was. Not exactly graphic but harrowing in its themes, subtext and portrayal of its nightmare near-future.

Based on the Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel (already made into a film, back in 1990), it tells the story of a Handmaid, Offred, who lives in a far-right totalitarian society of the near-future,  in what used to be the United States. The world has been blighted by a plummeting birth rate and the state of Gilead has decreed that all fertile women should be enslaved into sexual servitude (and most of the other women sent off to colonies to work until they die).  These slaves are named Handmaidens, and ostensibly are held in high regard but in reality they are like livestock whose only function is to perpetuate the species through becoming pregnant by the men of the ruling class in a ritualised rape.

The ten-episode series pretty much tells the story of the novel, weaving a backstory through it of the time before the new society formed and when the far-right regime took power. Initially it seems far-fetched but it becomes almost horribly plausible as the story unfolds over the season and we witness Offred’s attempts to survive and fight back against her rulers.

Its very dark. As I say, it’s not exactly graphic (although it has its moments) but it is relentless darkness and the horror creeps up on you. It certainly has left me thinking about what I have seen. Its brutal emotionally, rather than brutal physically, if that makes any sense? Its very well-written and the cast -Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski are the leads- are exceptional. It is beautifully photographed (why is it that future nightmares can seem so pretty to look at?) as so much television is these days, really film-quality. Disturbing but riveting television and highly recommended.

Why bother with film these days when such great quality is made available on television? Material such as this is far more involving and enlightening than the popcorn blockbuster fare that fills the multiplexes, and if you love sequels, well, The Handmaids Tale is getting a second season next year. There is irony there but what the hell, I’m looking forward to it.

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The economics of Hollywood misery

The critics are blaming the films for the poor box office this year so far. While they have a point (we could always do with better films) I think they are missing the main cause- the ticket prices. At my local Cineworld, the cheapest price for my wife and I to see a film, during the afternoon, is £18. It gets rather more expensive in the evening, and then there are the usual premiums for 3D and 4D, Imax etc*. The ticket-prices can get pretty eye-watering. In some cases it could be £40+ for us both to go see a film. Which is just plain crazy. I know that it’s an evening out and alternatives can be equally or indeed more expensive, and I know Cineworld and other chains have loyalty programmes that reduces prices a little if you subscribe/spend more/go more often (it’s frankly bizarre to see cinemas getting away with doing the same direct debit/rental schtick that tv providers on cable and satellite have managed rather than just, er, stick to lower ticket prices for everybody). But really -most of the blockbusters are rubbish and hardly worth £5 a ticket. And other arthouse/indie films hardly get a look-in even at the multiplex: they’d rather have the same film doing a four-screen rotation.

£30+ for two of us to go see a movie in the evening, putting up with noisy audiences who need to chat through the film or text on their phones or check facebook/twitter or whatever the hell they are doing glued to their brightly distracting magic little screens in the dark, and those who demonstrate lousy bladder control by getting up and going to the loo during the best bits of a bloody film.

Or:  £15 to buy the film on disc and watch as many times as I like in the comfort of my own home without the moronic distractions. Or much less to just rent the thing via streaming (Life was £1.99 on Amazon Prime, which probably had something to do with me quite liking it.) Do the math Hollywood. I don’t think simply making better films is the answer. Is it a case of audiences voting with their wallets because the films are lousy or simply that it is just getting too expensive?

*(Of course, if you’re expecting audiences to cough up £9 – £21 a ticket to watch a two-hour movie, they want plenty of bang for their buck, which is no doubt why so many big loud stupid blockbusters do the rounds these days. And why even critics darling Dunkirk feels it is necessary to spray water in people’s faces and throw them around in their seats in 4D showings.)

 

 

 

The 2017 Selection Pt.6

2017 selection 6Just a few additions to mention – and looking at the release schedules, it may be a little while (certainly September/October) before I start adding to the list again- barring any sales. Probably just as well with the backlog of stuff to watch and tv seasons in progress.

So anyway, what do we have? First, Kong: Skull Island, which I reviewed in an earlier post. I really enjoyed this and I’ve since watched the disc again, and yep, the film still works like a charm. Great stuff.

Next we have season two of The Expanse, which like the first season last year, I have had to import on blu-ray from the States thanks to the vagaries of broadcasting these days. The first season originally wasn’t picked up by anybody here in the UK, but with the second season in the can Netflix added both seasons to its roster (which doesn’t help me as I’m an Amazon Prime boy for my sins and I refuse to subscribe to every channel/outlet under the sun). Anyhow, I really enjoyed the first season -sort of a successor to Babylon 5 and the BSG reboot by way of Game of Thrones–  and am really looking forward to watching this. The discs this time around even have some decent extras, including commentaries. I have, however, decided to rewatch season one first as I’ll be damned if I can remember all the fine details of the plot from over a year ago. So a review may be a little while off yet.

Next along comes Arrow’s excellent blu-ray edition of Future Shock; a brilliant documentary about the creation and history of the galaxy’s greatest comic (at least, it was back in the day when I read it), accompanied here by hours of extras (extended interviews and the like) that more than makes it a mandatory purchase even in this era of trying to curtail my disc buying. I reviewed the doc last year when it aired on Film Four and am glad I never bought the DVD version, because I hate double-dipping and this edition is the definitive one. I’ve watched some of the addl featurettes/sections and extended interviews and it’s absolutely zarjaz.

Lastly, Ghost in the Shell, which I saw at the cinema back in April and was intrigued enough to buy on disc. It holds up very well on second viewing- probably improves in fact, if only because distractions of the original anime  are less of an issue when you know what is/isn’t going on with the plot and can consequently relax and enjoy it for what it is. It’s certainly spectacular to look at and well worth a rental.