Decent Ben Wheatley movie shocker!

free12017.72: Free Fire (2016)

Frankly, I didn’t see two things ever happening; one, me ever watching a Ben Wheatley film again after the frankly execrable A Field in England and High-Rise, and two, ever admitting I enjoyed a Ben Wheatley film. Well, colour me surprised, thanks to Amazon Prime putting this film up to watch and the cast enticing me in (Sam Riley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor… I mean, Christ, it’s a cast to die for, really…). Ben Wheatley’s name on the credits hardly seemed a factor. Lucky me, because this is one of those films that goes with its almost one-line premise and actually delivers a little cracker. And hey, it’s nearly Christmas. Perfect.

Both A Field in England and High-Rise were competently-made high-concept films that drowned in pretentious arthouse shenanigans – Free Fire actually reminded me of 1970s John Carpenter. In a similar way to how Carpenter would skillfully craft a classic film from simple b-movie ideas with Assault on Precinct 13 or Halloween, here Wheatley shoots (unfortunate turn of phrase, all things considered) a taut, funny action-drama from a simple set-up.

Its 1978 and a bunch of IRA members meet some arms dealers in Boston to buy a van load of machine guns. A varied and eclectic group of misfits and crooks, the tense dealmaking collapses into a violent stand-off in an abandoned factory, with the two sides in a violent conflict that lasts through the entire film. Yeah, its one long gun-fight and most of these goons ain’t going to walk out of the showdown. Its simple, it’s effective, it’s littered with great dialogue, performances and twists and turns. Sure, it’s not perfect, certainly not as cool or as hip as thinks it is but for a Ben Wheatley movie it’s quite surprisingly brilliant.

It’s a decidedly pulp film just lacking the widescreen elegance of Carpenter in his prime or Tarantino’s witty dialogue or Scorsese’s gritty realism (Scorsese actually features in the films credits as a producer) but its a ball for the ninety minutes it lasts.  Maybe it was a case of extremely diminished expectations (I call that the Wheatley Factor) but I really quite enjoyed it. Great fairly mindless fun and yeah, a great, great, cast. The wrap party must have been an absolute ball.



Napoleonic California: The Terror

terror32017.71: The Terror (1963)

An impossibly young Jack Nicholson plays a Napoleonic officer with a lazy californian accent, Boris Karloff plays a reclusive Baron with a shady past (with a twist straight out of leftfield) and Dick Miller plays his tough-guy servant as if he somehow stepped straight off a tough New York street. Its one of those old films full of utterly bizarre casting, a cheap-as-chips exploitation b-movie (Karloff filmed his scenes in just four days, using sets from Corman’s previous flick, The Raven, I think, just before they were torn down) that doesn’t make any sense at all.

And yet there is a certain charm about it. Partly it is that fun, twisted casting. It is strange indeed to see Nicholson phoning-in a performance so early in his career, or maybe it’s just that he isn’t taking any of it as seriously as Karloff, who clearly relishes it like it’s his crack at Shakespeare (but that was true of Karloff in every film). Any historical accuracy is purely coincidental, simply adding to the dreamlike sensibilities of the confused script and the vibrant, richly colourful lighting that reminded me of ’60s Star Trek.

Indeed, it’s almost shocking to reflect that as a ghost story (before it veers off into something else) this film almost works, in spite of all that is so wrong about it- the plot-holes and inconsistencies lend it an air of dreamlike strangeness that threatens to make it a much better film than it is. But of course, it’s all accidental, a combination of rushed and fractured shooting and a script that looks like it was cobbled from out-takes from other scripts (like the sets themselves, evidently, as many props and scenery look like leftovers from earlier Poe films by Corman). With its cast and strange sensibilities it’s a rewarding curio, if nothing else.

“No, there is another….” The Beguiled.

beguiled172017.70: The Beguiled (2017)

There was a story going around the internet, back when Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven was doing the rounds in 2016, that it was being marketed in America as a wholly original movie that deliberately avoided referencing its 1960 original (or the 1954 Seven Samurai that preceded that). It may indeed have been wholly apocryphal, but I did mention the film to a colleague at work who was completely unaware there had ever been a 1960 film, so I guess the misinformation age is alive and well and maybe the marketing boys pulled it off after all.

I only mention this because I wonder how many viewers have watched Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled with no knowledge of the 1971 original. Or how many watched this thinking it seemed rather familiar somehow.  I wonder only because I would imagine one’s enjoyment of this film mainly rests on familiarity with the 1971 film.

This 2017 The Beguiled is a ravishing beauty to watch, with a sense of mood and time and place that is almost tangible, and is surely a fine achievement. The darkness is pervasive, the setting almost a character of the film itself. Viewers unaware of the shadows of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood hanging over it will likely find it fascinating and surprising and dramatic; however, as someone quite familiar with the 1971 film, while I admire this new versions aesthetic I have to ask what else it brings new to the table. Or maybe that is simply because i have seen the 1971 film before and therefore have the new film at an unfair disadvantage. But why remake a film if you are only updating the premise with fancier visuals? Or maybe that’s the entire reason you remake a film these days, whilst Hollywood remains vacant of new scripts and ideas.

In anycase, somehow in spite of its fine cast (on paper, a mouthwatering proposition) I found its characters oddly disaffecting and difficult to distinguish (or maybe it was just the dark candlelight). Colin Farrell is not as charismatic as Eastwood either. Perhaps the unusually short running time of barely more than 90 minutes harms the piece, as it really feels almost like an abridged version. Somehow I felt it was missing some depth of characterisation. Or maybe I was just comparing it to the 1971 original too much. Ghosts of old films seldom rest easy in this age of so many reboots and remakes, as beguiling as they may seem.

beguiled 17b

A Tarantino Trek?

taratrekRather illogical this one, Captain.

I don’t know, Spock, perhaps if your Vulcan mind could consider a more…. emotive, human, crassly commercial  point of view….

Dang blast it, Jim, I hate to agree with the green-bloodied oaf but this time I think he’s right. I’m a surgeon, not a damned film critic, but the guy behind all those foul-mouthed violent self-indulgent pulp movies putting words in MY mouth? Sounds like I’ll being calling Spock the alien muthaf—–kr we all think he is in every f—n scene.

Gentlemen, Tarantino’s heroes are the very epitome of cool, and I haven’t been cool since the 1960s – he rescued Travolta’s career, after all, and God knows after the past few Trek movies, my career needs rescuing.

Hell with you square cats, Tarantino is a man who knows how to objectify women and I’m tired of this communications console, I so need objectifying. I’m black and sexy, dig, and I want some of that sugar he gave Pam Grier. ‘Uhura Unchained’ sounds groovy.

Ye Canna let him do it, Captain, he’s liable to make some kind of Natural Born Trekkies movie and I dunna think the ship can take it- I can give ye maybe ten more minutes at Warp 7 and then I’m muthaf—-n out of here with Dr McCoy.

Really, Mr Scott, I find your outburst sickeningly emotive and hardly conducive to solving this quandary. Whilst I have my reservations, after what JJ Abrams did to us I hardly think Mr Tarantino could do any worse, I only think-

Dang blast it you heartless muthaf—-kn pointy-eared waxen-faced alien b—d you sold us out, didn’t you?

No, Doctor, I merely thought it’s time I became the star of this show and I’m certain Mr Tarantino will see the logic of my proposal.

Damn it, Spock, I’m your Captain. And I love you.

Out of the seat, muthaf—r, this Vulcan’s taking over.




A Good Year?

We’re rushing into that time of year when we all start to realise that the year is fast becoming a whole new last year, and inevitably begin to take stock. For my part, it’s begun to dawn on me that it hasn’t been a bad year at all for movies.

We have, after all, seen the release of Blade Runner 2049, and it was everything any Blade Runner fan could have hoped for.  Its struggles at the American Box Office, as if in direct opposition to wondrous reviews, just add more to it somehow, an added pathos. If nothing else, it likely means we won’t have to worry ourselves silly over a third entry anytime soon. Maybe. Alcon did spend a lot of money for the rights, and it is still a well-known IP, so I’d rule nothing out- maybe we’ll see a smaller, less-blockbuster-budget outing next, or even a series on some cable channel.

Beyond the long shadow of BR2049, which has frankly ruined me for any other cinema outings this year (I saw it THREE times!)  and leaves me rather burned-out in the face of another Star Wars entry (still not excited, and it’s only weeks away now), there have been some pretty nice surprises this year. Genre films like Logan, Kong: Skull Island and War for  the Planet of the Apes have all impressed me greatly. Even the live-action Ghost in the Shell was rather fun with a lot to offer once you get your head around a live-action GITS existing in the first place.

On the tv front, things may have been even more impressive- Westworld was fantastic, as was The Leftovers, but another long-remembered favourite (with just as huge expectations/fears as the big-screen’s BR2049), the new Twin Peaks, proved to be utterly sublime. 18 hours of prime David Lynch, a labour of love as scary and bemusing and funny and baffling as anything he ever did. David Lynch at his very best, on tv for goodness sake- who needs cinemas? I just got the blu-ray box this week, can’t wait to plunge into it all over again (just want to rewatch Fire Walk With Me first this time).

The latest Game of Thrones season suffered from its headlong rush to the finish line of season eight. It was just three episodes too short and risked jumping the shark with a few of its questionable plot-turns. Here’s hoping the last season delivers when we finally see it. Back on the movies front, Ridley risked losing the plot along with his nerve, when his Prometheus 2 became Prometheus 1.5 with 0.5 of an unnecessary Alien prequel thrown in. Maybe he was right about Giger’s alien being all done- if Ridley can’t make the Alien scary again, who can? Meanwhile while Marvel soared (particularly with the triumphant Spiderman: Homecoming) DC floundered yet again with the frankly risible Justice League. Maybe an Ultimate Cut will fix that… who knows?

So yeah, an interesting year and one that 2018 will struggle to live up to, I suspect. Afterall, new Blade Runner films and Twin Peaks series don’t come along every decade, do they, nevermind every year. Hell, if those two projects were the only worthy efforts of the year, it would still have been a Good Year.

And I haven’t mentioned the new two-disc Close Encounters of the Third Kind soundtrack on its way across the pond, possibly in time for Christmas….

Scarlet’s gone Blu

scarlett1Just thought I’d mention this recent arrival (I really need to do a ‘2017 Selection’ update) as it doesn’t seem to be available outside of the online shop of Network; it’s the first volume of a four-volume set of Gerry Anderson’s original Captain Scarlet series. The show has been lovingly remastered and is being released in seperate volumes presumably to finance the restoration/remastering work prior to an eventual box-set release. At just £10 it’d be foolish to wait for that box-set though. The disc is a bare-bones affair with eight episodes sans commentaries or anything, but the packaging is gorgeous, the amaray case is bright red and looks lovely, and above all else the episodes in pristine HD in 4.3 format look better than I have ever seen them. The colours really pop. This series was my personal favourite Anderson show, all grown-up and violent, it was really quite dark for a kids show (but then again, Anderson never really made ‘kids shows’, they were always aimed at a wider audience).  Anyway, it’s out now via the Network website, and I just hope it won’t be long before the second volume is announced.