Assault at Last

prec13Readers may recall that my first disc purchase this year was Second Sight’s new edition of Assault on Precinct 13 on blu-ray, which I then inexplicably failed to actually watch (although I did watch the discs most interesting featurette, Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which was all kinds of poignant and profound and just downright fascinating).

So anyway, here we are, the end of the year, and yes, I finally got around to watching it last night. Hurrah for me. I’m pleased to say that Assault was as entertaining as ever and indeed looked finer than ever. Sure, its early Carpenter and he had better films ahead of him, but for an indie, low-budget b-movie/exploitation flick it remains just plain brilliant. It’s one of those films where the cheapness increases the films veracity; it feels gritty and real somehow, almost like a docudrama, and yet it remains a brilliantly choreographed widescreen ode to old Westerns, it is so self-consciously reverential to old Hollywood. Sure, some of it is clumsy and there are often moments when you can feel the film pushing against its limitations in budget and shooting schedule. Overall though it’s just plain cool and enriched by that throbbing, almost timeless Carpenter synth soundtrack that became such a staple of his movies.

*Whatever Happened to Laurie Zimmer?

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

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

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

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

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

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



Next-Gen Griswold: Vacation

vacation2017.78: Vacation (2015)

One of the blights of the last few decades of film-making has been the industry’s propensity towards remakes/prequels/sequels/reboots of existing intellectual properties, whether it be old movies or tv-series. We’ve seen big-screen outings for Starsky & Hutch, Baywatch and the A-Team and so many other old tv-shows. And don’t get me started on the number of film properties that get resurrected- from 1982 alone, we’ve seem a  prequel to The Thing, a reboot of Conan, a sequel to Blade Runner, a remake of Poltergeist, a sequel to Tron. It seems anything goes. No sooner as Ben Affleck quits his current Batman role, it is just taken for granted that another fresh Batman will immediately hit the silver screen, for better or worse.

One of my family’s favourite film series of the VHS era was National Lampoon’s Vacation series, in which the hapless Griswold family endured terrible holidays to great comedic effect. The whole family would sit down and enjoy them- we must have watched those films so many times. Even today there is an enduring charm to the films, and I can watch Christmas Vacation every year during the Christmas holidays and still get a giggle out of it. Sometimes films age like wine, somehow, no matter how truly average they originally were. Nostalgia no doubt plays a part of that, and no doubt that’s why we get so many reboots and remakes anyway- that, and the intellectual and creative desolation that is modern Hollywood.

So here we have what amounts to the Griswolds: The Next Generation, in which the young son of the originals, Rusty, now a married man with two kids of his own, decides to re-capture the disastrous family holidays of his youth by taking his own family on a roadtrip across America to Wally World. In that weird way so many of these reboots fashion themselves, its part-continuation, part-remake. It’s a road-trip like the first film, it features a hire-car like the first film, they have all sorts of mis-adventures like in the first film. Many of the gags are direct references to the first film, such as Christie Brinkley’s supermodel in a supercar whose drive-by flirtation with our hero in the first is reprised here, a gag probably working better here than others, with a great twist that offers something new.

I suppose the question is, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And if this is what a Vacation movie is, why should it be anything more? On the whole it’s a poor imitation of the original, as it largely misses the chemistry of the original leads and can’t help but feel over-familiar and tired (as so many reboots/remakes do). But I still got plenty of laughs out of it, once I’d warmed into it twenty minutes in. Its a Vacation movie, and quite fun. You know what you are getting- it ain’t great, but it ain’t bad. Is that damning it with faint praise?

May the Toys Be With Us: Plastic Story

plastic2017.77: Plastic Story: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014)

When Star Wars finally came across to our UK shore in Christmas 1977, it rolled out across the regions in early 1978- so by the time it came to my local Odeon in town I was twelve years old. So really any possible interest in the Star Wars figures and toys by Kenner (Palitoy I think over here) was nixed by me being just too old and sophisticated. Although I loved Star Wars, I was more interested in the Marvel comics, the model-kits and the soundtrack and ‘story-of’ albums, and all the kiddies toy stuff passed me by. So I have always been a little ambivalent to the long-running geek culture surrounding those Kenner toys of the original trilogy run.

The chief pleasure for me watching this documentary then, was just the sheer nostalgia for that period, those old point-of-sale items, the old tv ads, the kitsch aspects of the plastic toys and the slightly uncomfortable mania of the collectors interviewed in the film who have back rooms and basements clearly set up like shrines to the original trilogy toys and their own lost  childhoods. It’s a little sad, a little bit like a religious mania unique to our commercial age. But I’m certainly not one to criticize- different strokes for different folks, after all, and it’s all a matter of degree and I’m sure largely painless. These guys loved Star Wars as kids and that connection with a film is something I have shared over the years, God knows, and the culture of collecting something connected to that is something that differs clearly by degree. It’s quite fascinating, that whole thing of buying/collecting physical objects that offer some way of re-connecting with a time and a place and a particular pleasure long gone. Afterall, I still have my Star Wars OST cassette from 1978, and my original Blade Runner VHS tape.

It’s interesting really just how much of an impact Star Wars had back then, something that continues to this day, although it has long since lost any of the innocence it might have once laid claim to.

This is one of the doc’s most fascinating points- that nothing like Star Wars had happened before, on a merchandising and cultural level, and that Kenner, who almost reluctantly stumbled on the licensing deal after bigger toy companies had passed on it, suddenly found itself in a No Mans Land and with a huge money-maker (the figures are gobsmacking). There is a very real case of it being uncharted territory and the toy designers, several of which are candidly interviewed here, learning as they went along and being a part of something much bigger than they could know.

So it’s a fun documentary and well worth a watch for Star Wars fans even if you were, like me, simply too old and sophisticated at the grand old age of twelve to be seen playing with those strange little plastic figures. I mean, what would girls say?

(The bitter irony being, I never really had much ensuing success with the girls back then, a geek is a geek and easily caught out by feminine appraisal, so I might as well bought/collected those toys anyway. If I’d been incredibly smart and kept them in the  blister packs unplayed with, I’d possibly even be a rich man now. That’s life I guess. Someone find me a time machine… A Delorean will do….).

Sunset, walking the dog

IMG_20171227_155104168_HDR (3)Sometimes the sky suddenly lights up just for a few minutes, and things go a little Bespin all of a sudden, and you don’t mind shivering in the cold while the dog decides to take his time sniffing the nearest lamp-post. Then as soon as it appeared the sun is gone, the clouds grow dull, dusk falls and you’re still standing there, cold. And the dog stares up at you as if you’ve just done something odd.

Misery & self-loathing: Manchester by the Sea

manch2017.76: Manchester By the Sea (2016)

If nothing else, this film had me thinking of beginnings and endings, and how film-makers and writers decide what constitutes a beginning, and what an ending. In any story, it’s all very arbitrary- the real  beginning for anyone’s story is their birth, and the end is their death, and usually what a story is, is some bubble of time between. We witness such a bubble, or fragment of someone’s life, in Manchester by the Sea, in which that person  is a tortured soul full of self-loathing and regret and anger. We don’t initially understand why, and this is deliberate- we are coming into this story almost at its end, really. Flashbacks dotted through the film offer tantalising hints until a horrifying reveal unfolds the truth before us. It’s one of those films where the sudden dawn of realization is almost like a physical punch. Maybe others see it coming, but for me this was one film that didn’t telegraph things ahead as some do. I thought it was a very effective drama.

And does any other actor do quiet, seething anger quite like Casey Affleck?  It’s a remarkable performance that is, typically of Affleck, so understated, so quiet and devoid of the scene-chewing hysterics that many actors would bring to it. But that’s the film, too, really- surprisingly quiet and understated, a gentle study in melancholy and the cruelness of life and the world we are sometime lost in and destroyed by.

Not a perfect Christmas movie by a long shot, Manchester by the Sea is nonetheless something rather special.  So special that I’ve been careful to avoid plot details or spoilers, even for  film as ‘old’ as this when most people reading this will likely have already seen the film. It’s that kind of film- an experience best unspoiled.


Bring Him Home: The Martian (extended cut)

marty2017.75: The Martian Extended Cut (2015)

While it’s debatable just how much ten minutes of footage can impact or benefit a film (I suppose fans of the cocoon sequence in the first Alien might have an interesting opinion), I must say I certainly enjoyed this repeat viewing of The Martian, and perhaps this was aided by that ten minutes of extra footage. Mostly tweaks/extended scenes, nonetheless I think that while it may not have improved the film greatly, I did appreciate the additional shots of Mark Watney’s emaciated figure towards the end, clearly establishing the physical ordeal and impact of his lengthy stay on the red planet, and some of the other character beats littered through the movie.

Indeed, I think the extended cut (note it isn’t called a ‘Directors Cut’, I wonder what is the distinction?) does improve the film, and the fact it’s only ten minutes extra footage means the film doesn’t slip into the longer attention-span/pacing issues pantheon of extended cuts that, say, leave me still preferring the theatrical cut of Dances of Wolves or Apocalypse Now.

One of the biggest impressions from rewatching this film is just the observation of how good a Ridley Scott film it is, just how good he is given a decent script. Tellingly, the film is not one he himself developed; instead its one he was hired -onto during development and it clearly benefits from his keen eye and visual techniques whilst not being harmed by some of his aesthetic choices idea-wise that probably harmed Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. It makes me think about the case of Terry Gilliam and The Fisher King (but also the case that a John Carpenter movie was never a ‘real’ John Carpenter movie when he was simply hired-in to direct some studio project) . The distinction is sometimes lost these days between a film-director as a film-maker and perhaps as an auteur/director whose sole ‘vision’  or voice dominates a film for good or ill. Film-making is a collaborative enterprise and I think some directors would be advised to be more directors than producers, and perhaps leave professional writers etc to do their jobs. But what do I know? I’ve yet to see if Luc Besson dominating the Valerian movie resulted in a great or flawed movie, but yeah, it just makes me wonder.

It still feels wrong feeling thankful that Ridley Scott didn’t make BR2049, but as that film clearly had a great script etc maybe it would indeed have turned out okay directed by Ridley- but would Ridley have been unable to resist insisting Deckard be revealed as a Replicant, forcing that personal view onto the other film-makers less inclined to agree with him (or an actor for that matter)? Ridley still has great films in him in the right circumstances, as evidenced by the successes of The Martian.  It’s quite possible some viewers/critics are of the opinion that it is in fact his best movie, period.

While I’m unable to watch the 4K disc in this package (a regular refrain going forward into 2018, I’m sure) I will say this release/double-dip does benefit from a solid bunch of extras, including a commentary and a fine series of docs produced by Charles de Lauzirika whose name on a doc always means quality (and to whom I will always be indebted to for the stupendous Blade Runner Final Cut release several years ago). The visual-effects breakdowns alone are enough to make me reassess the achievements of this film and the ‘genius’ of Ridley and his team- so much taken for granted is the result of huge amounts of trickery (they even CGI’d his beard in on some shots, it’s bizarre, where were the make-up crew?). Some interesting Q&A discussions involving NASA staff regards the real exploration of Mars round out a great all-round package.

So if nothing else, my estimation of The Martian, towards which I was always a little reserved, has improved no end. It’s a great film with a hell of a lot going for it, and whilst the extended cut’s differences/additions are perhaps not substantial enough to be an essential purchase for those happy enough with the film in its original form, I do think its an improved movie and the extras package finally gives the film the treatment it deserves. And who knows, maybe the film really sings in 4K with HDR etc.- for me that will be a pleasant discovery for some other time down the road.

2017 Selection Pt.7

2017gWell, after a  year of some success regards curbing my disc-buying, everything went out the window towards the end of the year. I mean, just look at that haul above, which dates from around Sept onwards I think. This 2017 selection update is clearly way overdue, and with so many additions I almost gave up on it, but I suppose that would have defeated the point of all those preceding posts so here we are.

So a quick run-through seems in order. The sales caught up with me with The Walk and Nocturnal Animals. You can’t go wrong at about £4 each. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was my favourite cinema experience up until BR2049 swept me away- I may be in the minority, but I do think Galaxy 2 is superior to the original. Wonder Woman didn’t particularly fill me with wonder but it was still cheaper than a cinema visit and I’ll inevitably rewatch it sometime.

While I quite enjoyed Alien:Covenant at the cinema, it fared less well on disc, but I chiefly bought it for the Ridley Scott commentary, which unfortunately I haven’t heard yet (come on Ridley, explain it to me, what’s going on with the Alien franchise?).  The Vikings, meanwhile, is a great catalogue release- it’s a brilliant film brought to HD with a beautiful picture quality and worthwhile extras. Brilliant. Then of course we come to one of  the releases of the year- the simply gorgeous Arrow edition of The Thing, here in its LE variant- a lovely matt-finish hard box with the Amaray slipped inside with a book and artcards and poster. Regardless of the package, it’s the remaster of the film that is the big draw- it’s perfect. I almost dread the inevitable proper 4K release one day- I’ve really brought this film too many damn times already.

Then Indicator’s Hammer box (the first of four, I believe) heralded the Autumn of big releases coming up. I just cannot resist Hammer, and while the Sony Hammers that Indicator have access to are not exactly the Premier league of Hammer their treatment is exemplary and I really rather enjoyed them all. Some nice surprises in this set.

So here we come to the start of the spending madness.2017h

In My Mind was an impulse purchase, a great documentary about The Prisoner, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Season three of The Leftovers was another import due to there being no HD release here, which was followed by the exact opposite- a release that tempted me with one too many HD options. HBOs Westworld really impressed me when aired and was a disc release that I was looking forward to all year, and it turned out to be my first dual-HD format purchase, as I bought the tin with both 4K and blu-ray discs. Of course, I don’t have a 4K telly yet and have no idea when my current perfectly-fine Bravia will fail and cause any 4K replacement. Months? Years? It feels a bit silly but already future-proofing is on my mind. That slick packaging likely swung it.

La La Land was another sale purchase, and I really enjoyed it- I only hope I won’t regret not waiting for the 4K edition to come down in price. The Farthest is a simply brilliant doc about the Voyager space mission and Captain Scarlett in HD needs no explanation for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of Gerry Anderson magic.  Then of course two blockbusters I didn’t see at the cinema- Spiderman Homecoming and War For the Planet of the Apes, both great movies. They look great in HD but again, should I have stretched out to the 4K editions? I have a feeling that question will be a routine one going forward.

2017g (2)So then we come into Decembers offerings. Two more tv series boxsets follow- season 7 of GOT and the sublime wonder that is the Twin Peaks series three set. When in the world I will actually get to watch them I don’t know (the last three sets of GOT have sat on the shelf waiting for the past few years- I love the show and having only seen them on Sky Atlantic over the in-laws are surely ripe for proper viewing without breaks etc but somehow it never happens). A few more sale buys follow- 4K/Blu-ray of the notorious marmite flick Valerian that might prove to be a disastrous purchase (haven’t seen it yet) and two anime titles from a Christmas sale at All the Anime; the tv series Terror in Resonance (actually in a deluxe set in a huge box that’s hardly shelf material) and the twin set of Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, two rather curio films that I have been interested in for years but never seen.

Finally, last weeks Arrow release of The Apartment, one of my top ten fave films in a lovely set with some new extras and a book, and the extended 4K/Blu-ray release of The Martian. The latter has been on my radar for ages but was in one of those flash-sales at Amazon last week (I bought it whilst surfing on a break at work, and the price had already gone up again by the time I got back home later in the day). Bit daft really, I wanted it mostly for the commentary and addl extras but figured if I was double-dipping I might as well go the 4K route whilst doing it.

Christmas presents/festive sales may yet add to the selection and require another post. But clearly I already have my work cut out for me regards the to-watch pile. Breaking the barrier into 4K purchases is a troubling event that may prove to be a trend next year (I already have the 4K BR2049 pre-ordered) which frankly feels a bit silly knowing a 4K telly and Ultra HD player may yet be over a year away. But double-dipping is so frustrating maybe it’s the only solution. Will 2018 be the year I buy discs I can’t even watch yet? Shudder.