SomeTHING Arrow this way comes…

thing1The other night when I watched this, it was dark early and getting cold outside and I commentated to my wife that it was a perfect night to watch The Thing. “Who on Earth would consider releasing this in the summer?” I said, shaking my head. “But of course, they did- in the middle of June in fact.” My wife is hardly concerned with the vagaries of film releasing and marketing, but even she can see the insanity of releasing a horror film such as this in high summer.

I suppose studios back then thought -and maybe they still do- that big films simply have to be released in the summer per the example set by Jaws and all those summer hits that followed annually ever after. But The Thing is such a winter horror movie its frankly mind-boggling to consider audiences walking out of a showing reaching for ice cream and a chilled coke in dazzling hot sunshine. It’s almost indecent.

Anyway, this edition of The Thing is simply perfect. The film has never looked or sounded better and all the old extras are there as well as a few new ones. Well, to be fair the new ones are a bit meh – I turned the new commentary track off after about twenty minutes of inane podcast-worthy chatter. Maybe I’ll give it another go, see if it settles down, but how does anyone do a lousy commentary track for a film like The Thing? Incredible. Someone give me a microphone and I’ll show how a quality commentary track should be done for a film such as this. A new feature-length doc has a welcome focus on the original short story and the Howard Hawks film, but offers little new regards the Carpenter film. There’s an interview panel with a few of the cast from 2017. A featurette about all the genre films from 1982 and how they suffered the wrath of a cute ugly alien suggests a nostalgic glow but slips into a talking-heads piece offering, again, little new. But in anycase, its the film that matters and it’s indeed never looked as good as this. Its a real pleasure to watch it looking so amazingly good.

Oh, and there’s a particularly good fan-short, The Thing: 27,000 Hours,  inspired by the film that is just brilliant and a lovely hint at what a sequel might have been like…

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Holiday Eddie strikes a pose

P1060628 (2)

Well, he seems a natural at it really. He certainly took a shine to Scotland and having his owners at his beck and call for two whole weeks. One long endless playtime with lots of forest walks and a trip to the beach thrown in. Even celebrated his first birthday whilst he was there- as if being spoiled wasn’t enough, he wanted a big birthday meal and a new soft toy to chase around too. Same again next year, Ed?

Basic Instinct Revisited

hand12017.53: The Handmaiden (2016)

Much to my surprise, there’s actually a decent story in here with a few surprising twists and turns, but oh dear it’s a bit of a struggle getting there. Director Park Chan-wook is too intent on shocking the audience and getting the film a provocative reputation with its graphic scenes. It’s really Downtown Abbey for the Tarantino generation, which misses the point of its spiritual forebear, Basic Instinct, which was a pulp thriller deliberately cheesy and over the top,  Paul Verhoeven imbuing essentially a silly b-movie with a knowing, arch sense of style and nods to old genre thrillers. Verhoeven is a more sophisticated film-maker than most give him credit for. Maybe Park was intending the same here, I don’t know- in anycase, it doesn’t really convince.

Most of it looks gorgeous, as you would expect from a modern film that is digitally shot with all the processing available in post these days. So it looks good, and it seems pretty well acted. I just think the original story (it is based on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, previously adapted by the BBC) is probably captivating enough without being sensationalised with such graphic content. There’s a fine line between provocative and just plain silly, and some of this just seemed unintentionally funny- as the film goes on it just gets dafter and dafter.  Park just doesn’t seem to know when to stop, or reign in his excesses, the film almost becoming a parody of itself. Maybe it’s just me missing the point, but in hindsight, Basic Instinct was a pretty good thriller. Not so sure what exactly The Handmaiden is, other than a period exploitation film.

 

What year is it?

tp12017.52: Twin Peaks – The Return

Well, what was all that about, then? Up to the penultimate episode I thought I had a fairly decent grip on things but then Lynch, that crafty old goat, comes along with a final curveball with a confounding episode 18 that pulls the rug from under viewers and leaves a cliffhanger that just hangs there for… well, forever?

Who knows? Maybe we’ll get another season in four or five years, or maybe it’ll never happen. Even if it did, I doubt that we’d get any closure or things would ever tie together. That’s not what Twin Peaks was ever about- every mystery solved just unwrapped another mystery. Back when we learned who killed Laura Palmer we didn’t really learn who killed her- or what killed her, the answer not really being an answer, just something else to analyse and decode. In some ways, Twin Peaks isn’t at all strange or odd- it just mirrors our own reality, our lives and world that makes little sense either. The fun is just being there, and enjoying the crazy madness of it all.

Which rather sums up my feelings about this Twin Peaks revival, an event as crazily impossible as a Blade Runner sequel-  2017 is some year for  ‘pinch me, this cannot be possibly happening’ moments.  The Return is a brilliant, bizarre show that faithfully  echoed the appeal of the original and just took it even further out there. Indeed, it occurs to me now that this is quite similar to how 2049 did just the same thing. Both projects took a cherished original and reworked and expanded upon it, where the creative forces had freedoms that outweighed any backroom pressures. Watching this new Twin Peaks you could tell Lynch was just doing his thing with this great toy set of cast and crew, in just the same way as watching 2049 I had the sense that it was Villeneuve’s film, that he had total freedom to make his movie his way.

There are so many incredible moments through the 18 episodes of The Return, clues/codes/red herrings, so many cameos and dead-ends. Was there ever any connection to that New York sequence early on, what was that scary creature that killed that naked couple (whoever they were), what was the significance of the Atom bomb test in episode 8? Indeed, was Episode 8 of some particular significance, as the talking boiler that represented FBI agent Phillip Jeffries (who Cooper tells us  “doesn’t even exist anymore, at least not in a normal sense”)  exudes a steam cloud that transforms into the number 8 and an infinity symbol when turned on its side.  Maybe it means something. Maybe it means nothing.

Quite astonishing really. In just the same way as 2049 has been rattling itself around in my head for the past few weeks over three viewings at the cinema, so Twin Peaks: The Return has been rattling around in my head these past few months. It’s been quite brilliant, confounding and exhilarating,  possibly the best show on tv all year. Its positively nuts, crazy, maddening, funny, bewildering, scary- only in 2017 could television get away with this. With this and 2049, it’s as if the stars are just aligned somehow. “What year is it?” Cooper asks, the series very last line. I feel like shouting back: ‘2017. You better believe it!’

Or on the other hand-

Maybe The Prisoner has something to do with it. That show is the spiritual father of Twin Peaks and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. How fitting that The Return premieres 50 years after Patrick McGoohan’s show first confounded unwitting audiences.  1967 = 2017. Maybe that means something.

Hail the Vikings!

vik1Anybody who can watch the return home of the Viking longship near the start of The Vikings (1958) without a stirring in their heart has no soul. The exquisite photography of the great Jack Cardiff, the gorgeous location, the soaring music of Mario Nascimbene… its one of the greatest scenes in movie history in my book. It’s a timeless, beautiful scene, harking back to some Golden Age of movies now lost to us. Everytime I watch it, it’s like falling in love again, and I wonder what it must have been like, seeing it on the big screen back in 1958. I don’t know why exactly- it’s some sublime combination of music, photography and age, intangible but undeniable; pure cinema.

I’m pleased to report that this scene, and the film in general, looks brilliant on Blu-ray. Our American cousins (and those here in the UK who are region free) will have known this for years, but it’s wonderful to finally have the film available to those of us in the UK who are region-locked, thanks to the Eureka label.  Indeed, while there are sections where the print shows its age, for the majority of the time it looks simply phenomenal and is the best quality I have ever seen the film. The rich colours of Jack Cardiff’s technicolour cinematography are breathtaking, rich and vibrant and leaping from the screen. For any fan of this film this blu-ray is a real treat.

What might be a surprise for some is just how well the film holds up in general. I suppose it could be argued some of the Boys Own Adventure battle scenes look a little bit cardboard swords and shields, but the star cast and the tight, efficient script sails (sic) above such censor-ridden limitations (I recall the trouble Hammer had back then with censors so can only imagine how The Vikings was limited with what it could manage). At its heart is a rolocking adventure with bold heroes and a dastardly English king, and I suppose it could well be argued that Kirk Douglas is more anti-hero than hero, lending a rather modern sensibility to his role. To be clear, this film is pretty perfect and in no way needs a remake, but I’m surprised one hasn’t been done – a blockbuster, star-ridden remake akin to Braveheart or Gladiator seems a no-brainer.

Thankfully we’ve never seen that remake, though. Not yet, anyway….

Where’s the Wonder?

ww12017.51: Wonder Woman (2017)

Its perhaps unfortunate for  Wonder Woman that it is the first film I have seen since watching Blade Runner 2049 (twice). Wonder Woman is a competent effort, and perhaps the best of the current DC stable, but it is, compared to 2049, woefully generic. It doesn’t surprise at all, rather excelling in the familiar, and while it does seem rather promising at moments, it falls into a terribly typical, noisy and overblown cgi fight-fest finale that  almost derails the entire film. That ending is terrible.

Is it just me, or is it getting increasingly tiresome watching cgi characters thrown into buildings and vehicles and leaping hundreds of feet and walking through fire and explosions without a scratch? Enough already. Its boring me to tears. Likewise the heroic shots of superhero action slowed down ad nauseum akin to almost pornographic comic-frame ecstasy? Get on with it, this is a film, not some motion-comic.

Gal Gadot is excellent as the title character and it’s down to her performance, rather than the annoying cgi character that doubles her in some of the ludicrously OTT action shots, that saves the film. She carries far more nobility and charm than Man of Steel‘s Henry Cavill, and compares well with Christopher Reeve’s Superman- she’s that good. Gadot has the physical presence the film requires and her absence during the cgi stuff is like a huge vacuum. It is uncanny how the cgi Wonder Woman looks so cartoony and fake. Indeed, there seems to be issues with most of the cgi work in this film- something just looks ‘off’, something rather painterly about much of it. Many of the scene extensions and digital mattes look a little sub-par too, but the digital representations of many of the characters don’t convince at all, either.  Maybe it’s the sheer amount of effects shots that brings the quality level down.

In a supporting role, Chris Pine is American spy Steve Trevor, but either he’s a surprisingly limited actor or he’s deliberately channeling his James Kirk personna here from his Star Trek movies, because he’s Kirk here through and through, to the point it rather unnerved me that he was a better Kirk here than he is in those Star Trek films. Really. If his Kirk was this good in those films I’d have cut them more slack.

But enough of my moaning. This film cruised to over $800 million worldwide box office so I seem to be in a minority. Sure, I thought it was pleasant enough but it’s not as if this is the first superhero blockbuster suddenly wowing audiences- it is treading a path well-trod by both Marvel and DC, and I’m wondering if audiences will ever tire of this familiar formula.  Perhaps it was the wrong franchise (I hate that word) to expect something radical or new but really, it is rather upsetting to me how generic and formulaic stuff like this gets lapped up while 2049 is utterly rejected. I guess it’s just the world we live in: people just want simple bubblegum movies right now.

But coming off the glorious 2049, this film was something akin to a culture shock.

Blade Runner 2049: Have you ever seen a miracle?

2049d2017.50: Blade Runner 2049

He would have loved this film, so I’ll begin by paraphrasing the late John Brosnan: Blade Runner 2049 is a masterpiece, much to my surprise. So too,  I am sure, would Sara Campbell, and I just wanted to mention them both, for this film has been 35 long years coming, and not everyone who deserves to see it are still here to do so. There is a sadness knowing that, a reminder of the sense of mortality that permeates both (both! Still can’t get my head around that!) Blade Runner films, and a reminder of how lucky we are now, how remarkable this is. This film, Blade Runner 2049, should not exist.

Where to begin? Well, have you seen 2049? If not, stop reading now, go see the movie. You need to see it and it seems the film needs your patronage. And you really don’t need to read the spoilers that follow. If you have seen the film, you won’t mind the spoilers, and I hope you can give me your time, share with me my thoughts, offer some thoughts back. Sitting comfortably? This could be a long post. Time enough, as Batty might say.

First of all, I really have to say how strange an experience it was. Anybody who has read this blog will be aware of how much of a big deal the original Blade Runner is for me. I first saw the film in September 1982, and it remains the most intense cinematic experience of my life. Thursday night may have been the most bizarre cinematic experience. You see, Blade Runner has been my favourite film for some 35 years – years in which it grew from box-office failure and obscure cult film to a video favourite and critical darling. For all those years until just awhile ago, the very idea of a sequel was ridiculous.

Yet here it was. I’d pre-booked my tickets for the first evening of its release, and was going with my long-term friend Andy who had been there with me back on that Saturday afternoon in 1982 when we saw the film for the first time. The tickets were 75p each back then, markedly rather more now. 35 years is half a lifetime ago and much had changed, but we both still shared our love of this particular film, and here we were for its sequel.

Of course I was nervous. The film had been the subject of much hype and early word on Twitter last week was frankly ecstatic. But what do critics and people who weren’t even born back in 1982 know? A good film doesn’t necessarily mean a good Blade Runner film, was this film made for modern audiences or for the fans who have lived this film since 1982? I cannot possibly explain the impact the film had back in 1982, in just the same way I cannot possibly explain the impact of the opening Star Destroyer shot in Star Wars on audiences back in 1977/1978 to people now. Films are of their time and while they may impress years later…  it’s hard to recapture that impact. I consider myself lucky to have experienced the original in 1982. It was of my time. It’s in my blood.

So here we are 35 years later and watching Blade Runner 2049 was an utterly bizarre, almost out-of-body experience. Yes I enjoyed it, I was fascinated and awed by it, but also there was an almost detached point of view of it, from outside almost. Interrogating it like some Voight-Kampf test of it being a ‘real’ Blade Runner film as opposed to some second-rate modern Hollywood replicant. The relief, of course, was overwhelming. 2049  is indeed a great Blade Runner film, but more than that, its a great sequel, a film that both informs and expands upon the original, in the same way as The Empire Strikes Back with Star Wars, or indeed The Godfather Pt.2. Watching Blade Runner again in the future might actually be improved by having seen 2049. Imagine that. 2049 might actually make Blade Runner better.

I’ve been thinking of Philip K Dick and of his astonishment at seeing twenty minutes of Blade Runner footage shortly before his death where he couldn’t work out how they got those images out of his brain.  For the past few days the film has been rattling around in my head as if I have been in some kind of post-traumatic fugue, trying to make sense of it. Was this how PKD felt when he had seen that Blade Runner footage? It’s not that I saw things Thursday night that I had imagined before, it was simply that they existed at all. Blade Runner 2049 is… well, in some ways it should not exist. It’s a near three-hour long arthouse movie made with a blockbuster budget, and a sequel to that strange dark sci-fi film that flopped spectacularly over three decades earlier. More than that, it’s a cinematic love-letter to all the films fans for all those years. And it’s quite brilliant.

2049fTo be clear, 2049 is not perfect, it’s not without its faults. But 2049 is also quite extraordinary. It raises more questions, cleverly sidesteps others. We are no longer simply asking how real or human a Replicant is, but also how real or human a hologram, or an AI can be? Can an AI fall in love? Can it feel empathy for another? Can it dream of electric sheep?

The film has the pace of a dream, is slow and hypnotic… shots, scenes, linger… maybe too long, I’m not sure, but it’s a long film and modern audiences get impatient with that. Not me, anyway, as it harks back to the Golden Days of ‘Seventies American cinema when American film was, well, better. But yes, it’s long, and its pace would seem to be utterly alien to most cinemagoers today. As expected, everything is beautifully staged and the cinematography is sublime- surely Roger Deakins will get his Oscar at long last. Speaking of Oscar….well, dare I say it, Harrison Ford actually turns in a performance I thought he was incapable of. It might even be the greatest performance of his career, oddly confounding any suspicion that any Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod might be a consolation gesture for that long career. The guy probably deserves to actually win it.

In my last post I mentioned that The Force Awakens was like a comfort blanket for Star Wars fans- what I meant was that the film contained familiar faces, music, places, objects, and was complete with a familiar plot that was like a greatest-hits package of all that had come before it. The whole film is designed to please, to wrap fans in a nostalgic return to childhood while lapsing into the calculated stupidity of so many contemporary blockbusters.

2049 isn’t like that. Yes its a Blade Runner film -sing the praises from the the highest rooftops!-but it’s quite utterly disturbing, particularly for Blade Runner fans.. well, certainly for me anyway. When that crate was dug up and its contents put on display in the LAPD morgue, I knew immediately whose bones they were. I just knew and it cut me deep. It was Rachel. This was Rachel, her skull…

For 35 years Sean Young’s Rachel has been frozen in time, a vision of utter beauty, a replicant of impossible perfection, the magical chemistry in celluloid of a beautiful actress, Jordan Cronenweth’s gorgeous cinematography, stylish make-up and costume design. I have seen Sean Young many times in films since but she never really looked or sounded or acted quite like Rachel. For 35 years she has existed in that one film, a creation as timeless and permanent as any iconic performances of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. But here she was, a skull, some bones. It felt brutal, cold.

I’m not certain why, but throughout the film that really creeped me out. That feeling seemed to inform every scene. A sense of horror, of mortality, of melancholy. Later on when Jared Leto’s enigmatic (under-used?) villain Neander Wallace held Rachel’s skull in his hand before Deckard, it felt like something utterly monstrous. And when the inevitable happened, and that 35-year-old vision walked into the scene as if 35 years had never happened and the impossible had been given form, I nearly freaked out. My jaw dropped. I think I may have moaned. This was Pure Cinema. It was like a nightmare. I saw the pain and horror etched on Harrison Ford’s face and the torture was complete, palpable. I felt it too.

It was horrible. It was perfect. This film, I realised, should not exist.

And I’m thinking again about PKD’s reaction to seeing that Blade Runner footage. His astonishment. His reaction: “How is this possible?”

2049bHow is this possible that 35 years after Blade Runner, they made this huge slow enigmatic study of the nature of humanity and existence? The protagonist is a Replicant who has a relationship with a hologram. Two artificial intelligences sharing… love? Debating the validity of implanted memories? Discussing the possibility of being ‘real’? It’s a genius twist of the original film- here we  know that Officer K (a brilliantly nuanced Ryan Gosling) is a replicant, but does that make him any less real? As the films events unfold and he finds cause to question his implanted memories, and begins to think he may not be more human than human, but actually human, if not some kind of hybrid, the sadness of the eventual truth is heartbreaking.  And yet, like Batty in the earlier film, he reaches some self-awareness, some humanity that is undeniable. What is human anyway?

(This film even has a great joke, a funny one: as he considers Deckard’s dog, K asks, “Is he real?” and Deckard deadpans “Ask Him.” I guffawed. But that joke sums up the film. Is it real? What is real?)

We live in thrall to technologies intended to serve. People cannot seem to live without their smartphones. The hologram Joi is the natural extension of the smartphone, what it may evolve into. An AI assistant, a diversion, a replacement for human company. We may never have the flying cars of Blade Runner, but I suspect AI like Joi is inevitable- indeed, barring the holographic flight of fancy, it’s almost already here. But is it real, can it feel, can it aspire to be human?

Consider this:  an Hologram AI has purchased/arranged a pleasure-model Replicant to have sex with the Holograms owner/lover who is a Replicant itself (himself/herself/itself, how does that work with Replicants?). While I try to get my head around that, add this to the mix: the pleasure model that Joi hired is part of the resistance/uprising who uses the opportunity to plant a tracker in K’s coat, so is Joi a part of that resistance all along? Is K being steered by unseen forces all along?

2049eI really need to see the film again. All sorts of thoughts and observations have been rattling around in my head for the days since. A sign of a good film is one that lingers in your head. I am sure 2049 will reward repeat viewings, possibly for years. But I really need to see it again on the big screen before it slips across to disc (the thought that six months from now I will be used to simply rewatching it at home whenever I like is a frankly salivating prospect).

They show you someone weaving memories together in this film. Its breathtaking, like fashioning dreams with a strange (very PKD) device that looks part-camera, part bus conductor ticket machine. They show a Replicant having her nails done whilst orchestrating rocket fire from some automated weapons platform hanging unseen in the sky. A giant hologram selling an app steps out of the skyline to accost our protagonist who has already loved and lost that product, the giant hologram’s blank unfeeling stare utterly at odds with the loving sincerity of the eyes that he loved.  A wooden horse replaces the origami unicorn of the previous film, but seems to represent the same question: what is human? Can you trust your memories in a world that can have them woven like dreams and implanted? What is the meaning of the final shots where a dying K stares up at the falling snow and watches it fall into his hand, while Dr. Stelline in her glass world nearby fashions memories of snow falling out of nowhere?

This film should not exist.

Sadly, as I write this it seems the Box-Office for the film has been very disappointing, particularly in America. I feel a sense of history repeating, and it seems awfully unfair that the bravery in making this film so sincere and ‘honest’ to the original won’t be rewarded financially, and we won’t get a third film. Not that we should even measure quality by box office anyway, or that we even need a third film, but its seems cruel that, when we finally get a quality adult sci fi film, it stumbles at the box office, as if we’re being haunted by the lessons of 35 years ago all over again. In a genre swamped by huge empty-headed spectacle or superhero comic movies… Well, it’s very frustrating and quite utterly depressing and disappointing. 2049 deserves better from audiences, but at least it got the love of (most) critics. So it’s doing better than Blade Runner there, at any rate.

The question still rattles around in my head: this film should not exist, but it does. How is this possible? PKD would have loved that.

 

First Impressions of 2049

2049aWell, in a somewhat bewildering -pinch me is this real?- evening of utter strangeness I finally saw Blade Runner 2049. I’ll post a considered review in a few days, but first impressions are it’s a fine sequel to Blade Runner, both informing and expanding on the first film. Indeed, while most of us never wanted a Blade Runner sequel, if we had to have one I’m rather glad its this one.

I didn’t expect it to be quite so disturbing. There are plot points and stuff referencing the original that really quite impacted me. I’m not sure where I stand on all of that but yeah, it was a strange feeling that ran through me for most of the film. It wasn’t a comfort blanket of familiar sights and sounds that, say, The Force Awakens was to Star Wars fans. This was… something else.

At any rate, yes it looks beautiful, Harrison Ford is quite remarkable, his best performance in many years, the film does have pacing issues (but I like wallowing in long films) and the music is the films weakest element, as I first feared hearing that Johann Johannsson had been replaced. But it is a great, great sequel even if it may not be a great, great movie (which it possibly is, I need to see it again next week).

Certainly its this year’s must-watch movie, and experienced on the biggest screen possible. Its quite remarkable.