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

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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.