Sunshine at last. Time to party.
Sunshine at last. Time to party.
The Walking Dead – Season 8
Well, that’s an hour of my life that I’m not getting back. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s a whole 15-16 hours of what was Season 8 that I’m not getting back.
Whatever happened to The Walking Dead? I can remember back when it was great, each episode eagerly awaited and discussed at work with the guys afterwards. Having never read the comics, the show seemed full of surprises and capable of genuine shocks with various members of the cast getting the bullet (or bite).
Those days seem long gone now. I’ve stubbornly watched (endured, a more apt description) the last two seasons out of some mix of loyalty and curiosity- having invested several years watching it, it seems pointless/stupid to give up on it and not know where it goes/how it ends. It feels like I’m that guy in Godfather Pt 3… ” Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” But at this point I really have to wonder if I’m out for good, and the way the viewing figures for the show is going, it would seem I’m not alone. Loyalty and curiosity only goes so far, and maybe nine seasons of turgid mild horrors (and that’s just the last-minute twists and the truly cringe-inducing dialogue) is more than enough.
There have always been pacing issues with The Walking Dead but the show has done so many WTF about-turns with character behavior and turgid storylines and plot-holes that it’s impossible to take it seriously anymore, it’s just becoming a self-parody. Its an awful, bloated, self-important mess with so many confusing, convoluted WTF moments that I’ve lost track. Case in point, this season eight finale revelation of where Eugene’s true loyalty lies which is so out of left-field and contrary to everything seen over the last two interminable seasons I just cannot fathom out what the script guys were thinking. Indeed, in an effort to surprise and possibly shock they’ve thrown out any semblance of credibility and continuity. A few episodes ago Rick is killing bad guys who have surrendered to him and here he’s offering amnesty to a bunch that were all ready to wipe out Rick and his freinds in a bloody cold-murder trap just a few moments earlier. Its bullshit, that’s what it is. This show has truly jumped the shark.
And Maggie has been pregnant for two seasons (possibly actually three, I can’t remember) and still isn’t even showing a bulge yet? WTF?
Just arrived at Ghost Hall is the long-awaited (well, by me at least, as I resisted the download for years- call me a very old-fashioned bugger) CD release from Intrada of one of James Horner’s very last scores.
Inevitably, it’s a very bittersweet experience listening to some ‘new’ Horner material years after his passing in an air accident back in 2015- indeed, it’s impossible to ignore that the love of flying that is so infectiously instilled in this score also led to the accident that took his life. Considering the sadness this carries with it, I have to say this score is so overwhelmingly positive and joyous it’s impossible to resist, and it becomes almost a cathartic celebration of James Horner’s life’s work. While some of it carries the ‘Hornerisms’ that perhaps dogged his later career (and God knows, I have to say over the last few years I’ve really missed those ‘Hornerisms’ that I used to moan about so much) most of this score sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant and exciting. It really is such a celebration of his music that it is an oddly fitting farewell, almost, to the composer, having fallen in love with his work way back in 1984 and his Brainstorm score. I am pretty certain I may yet have the opportunity to hear some ‘new’ Horner music – I am sure there are scores etc of his that I have not heard- but I doubt any will be such a pleasant and positive experience as this. Its quite a way to bid farewell, James.
I love instances of synchronicity, where image and sound become something special, reaching some other cinematic level through the sublime combination of craft and music. Here’s two examples; two episodes of Black Mirror that each attain some extra level of greatness because the great scripts and performances are accompanied by utterly perfect soundtracks that enable a special emotional ‘kick’-
Black Mirror: Nosedive
Finally subscribing to Netflix enabled me to at last catch up with Black Mirror and I started with the episode that intrigued me the most- and it was the Max Richter soundtrack that got me there. I’ve been listening to Richter’s music for years and his many original albums and scores have been one of the soundtracks to my life and work commutes, and I’ve been very curious about this particular work. Fortunately the episode itself blew me away.
Nosedive is about a society of social media-obsessed people whose lives revolve about their status, their score that they carry everywhere and which is governed by what everyone else thinks about them, their lives, their achievements, their posts on social media. Peer pressure is everything- you are your score, your rating, and its mostly governed by everyone else. So smile, look happy, be content, and if you mark someone else highly they might do the same for you too. The more people you know, the more likes and ratings and ‘hit’s’ you get, the higher your score, the higher your worth, and the greater your happiness.
It really doesn’t feel that far into the future. Somewhere around the next corner, maybe, and future-fiction in the grandest tradition of The Twilight Zone. Being a Black Mirror story, this is naturally a cautionary tale, a pastel nightmare. Lacie Pound (Bryce Dallas Howard, utterly wonderful here) lives what is on the surface a fairly idyllic life, but her social standing and life- opportunities are squarely defined by her score of 4.2, a measure openly noted by everyone she comes in contact with. Everybody wears contact lenses that work a little like Google Glass, augmenting what they see with a virtual avatar, like a numeric hologram that floats like a Facebook Halo by their heads. A simple number that somehow summarises everyone’s life and worth.
The insidious part of this is that this number limits your life choices- quality, life-changing loans/discounts are only offered to people rated 4.5, the quality of your job or the car you drive or the place where you live can all be impacted by your score. In Nosedive, Lacie needs a rating of 4.5 to enable her to receive a discount that will enable her to live in a plush apartment and all the opportunities it will give her. She needs to be more popular, to be ‘better’, and her efforts spiral into a descent into horror as circumstances get the better of her and her rating actually plunges, forcing her to reassess her life and the ways she lives and measures success and those around her.
Nosedive looks utterly brilliant, all pastel colours and clean art direction, a world designed by Apple for IPad people, it pictures a utopian world that looks perfect but is, naturally, rotten to the core and in just the same way as the best Twilight Zone episodes did, the story forces viewers to consider how it colours our own world and our own values and perceptions. The cast is terrific, particularly Bryce Dallas Howard, who blew me away her with a charming and powerful performance that is career-defining in my book. The heart and soul of the episode though is Richters music, full of emotion and pathos, fragile and tender as the veneer of idyllic perfection is stripped away to reveal the real horror beneath. The soundtrack is barely 24 minutes long so it’s woefully slim for an album, but here is a case where quality wins out over quantity. The music is quite haunting and adds substantially to the impact of the episode.
Black Mirror: San Junipero
Clint Mansell’s score manages the same with the next episode of Black Mirror that I watched; San Junipero. Its a 1980s-flavoured score, its electronics sounding like something John Carpenter might have written for one of his films of that period. Its a rather warm and tender soundtrack in spite of it being synthesisers, suffused with a sadness that permeates the episode itself.
On a neon-drenched Saturday night in a 1980’s Californian seaside town, two young women meet in a nightclub- shy, inhibited Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) and confident, mysterious Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). rather a case of opposites attracting, the two begin a relationship, but as usual for Black Mirror, something feels ‘off’, something about the place and the people and obscure offhand references to limited time and it always being a Saturday night with a deadline of midnight.
The twist is that the seaside town of San Junipero isn’t real- its fake, a virtual world in which the two women are escaping from their harsh realities. In the real world, both girls are actually old women near the end of their lives, living far apart and never destined to meet. Yorkie has been in a coma for 40 years, and Kelly is a widow and bereaved mother who is dying from cancer. San Junipero offers a few hours of escape, but they have the option -as their real bodies fail and they die- to stay in San Junipero forever. Yorkie is keen to do so, but Kelly wants to die and try her chances for a real heaven and a real reunion with her dead husband and daughter. The love affair seems ultimately doomed, and Yorkie destined to spend eternity in her virtual seaside heaven alone.
Beautifully acted and sensitively told, for me, the story was as much a study of what is ‘real’, as much as it was a love story. There were some pretty deep ideas being shuffled around. The guarantee of a virtual heaven in San Junipero against the act of faith in a real heaven was an interesting concept, and the possibility of humanity through technology being offered the comfort blanket of a virtual heaven, versus the unproven promises of religion, seemed fascinating. At the end of the episode, we see a vast hall full of servers in which no doubt thousands or even millions of dead people live forever- literally, per the Belinda Carlisle song that opens the episode, Heaven is a place on Earth.
Or is it? In a similar way to the technological promises of Star Trek‘s transporters or Altered Carbons‘ stacks and ‘sleeves’ offering immortality, the seductive promises of San Junipero surely lack substance. The way I see it, the transporters of Star Trek are actually rather scary- people are scanned, disintegrated, and then re-integrated, or copied, at their destination. The Kirk that appears on a planet is surely a copy of the one that was vanished from the Enterprise – looking and feeling identical, with identical memories etc, but surely not the same Kirk. In Altered Carbon, the stacks are hard-drive backups of the real people, simulacra that when re-loaded into new sleeves are just that, copies, perfect in every detail and convinced that they are real, but just duplicates nonetheless. In San Junipero, Yorkie really dies and her brain dies too- it’s a download or copy of her brain waves that lives forever in the virtual heaven of San Junipero. The ideas and promises of the technologies are seductive but they are not real. Or maybe it’s real enough for the virtual Yorkie in her virtual world, as is the false immortality that stacks and ‘sleeves’ offer in Altered Carbon. Maybe technology really will save us. Maybe copying/downloading our intellects is future salvation, or maybe our souls are salvation and those digital intellects redundant.
Or maybe I’m just overthinking stuff. God, I love sci-fi. Its some crazy shit at times.
This music is real though- Richter’s Nosedive and Mansell’s San Junipero are wonderfully evocative, powerfully affecting scores. And these two episodes of Black Mirror are two of the best pieces of television I have seen in years.
I’ve finally finished watching the first (and hopefully not the last) season of Netflix’s sci-fi series Altered Carbon.
Following on from my comments regards the first half of the season, the show really does look spectacularly entrenched in the 1980s, for good or ill (depends on your point of view, I guess). Partly this is naturally due to its debt to Blade Runner, but it goes much deeper than that. Altered Carbon owes much to 1980s shows like Max Headroom and the pop videos/movies that aped the style of Ridley Scott’s classic for all of that decade. It also is so purely cyberpunk in style and attitude that it is drenched in the vibe of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), and the work of Bruce Sterling and John Shirley. As someone who read so much of that stuff during that decade it’s really something of a nostalgic thrill to see it brought back. That said, it’s also a sobering thought that this series spends so much time looking back and displaying such retro sensibilities. In just the same way as Blade Runner had a 1950s noir vibe within its futuristic trappings, this series carries a relentless 1980s vibe. Imagine a 1980s sci-fi television show indebted to Blade Runner but with our current cutting-edge CGI and a budget up there with Game of Thrones. That pretty much sums Altered Carbon up.
That being said, I believe that the second book leaps forward in time and has a completely different setting so it may very well lose that Blade Runner/1980s style completely. This could be exciting and enable the show to remain fresh and different each season.
One of the fascinating things about the show, and its chief conceit of ‘sleeves’ and people’s minds inhabiting successive bodies, is that in just the same way as Dr Who has been graced by many different actors in the title role over the years, so might Altered Carbon‘s main character, Takeshi Kovacs, be played by different actors each season. This might become the shows chief frustration, too, as it dispels audience familiarity and empathy for a particular actor, but it does raise interesting possibilities. Perhaps the show could be a sci-fi anthology show like Fargo, with a wholly different cast and setting each season. Who knows?
I just hope Netflix lets us find out.
I’ve been wondering where to start with my ‘Favourite Films’ series of posts and the answer was staring me in the face, as this month is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s monumental movie, so here we go-
There isn’t really much new that I can say about this extraordinary film, a film that exists as a piece of culture almost beyond cinema itself, a film whose impact resounds even today, some fifty years later. Where to begin? Well, I’m one of the Star Wars generation, too young to have seen the film when it first came out in 1968 (oh what it must have been like for those first audiences) but old enough to have been around when the film was still part of the then-recent cultural zeitgeist of the 1970s. I’d read the book by Arthur C Clarke, seen some images from the film. I read the Marvel comics 2001: A Space Odyssey by Jack Kirby, one of the strangest, weirdest comic book series anyone might ever see, certainly at the time. It all added to the strange mystique surrounding the film. It was something enigmatic, something I’d heard and read about but never seen. Of course, little did I realise it would remain just as enigmatic even after I had seen it, only maybe even more so.
So yes, eventually the stars aligned and I saw it, on its first UK network screening, which was, I think, sometime around Christmas 1979 or 1980, I’m not certain which it was. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to think. Which was as true of audiences back in 1968 or indeed in 2018- the first time you see 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Its only on the second viewing, or the third or fifth that you really ‘get’ it. Or maybe you don’t really ‘get’ it even after the fiftieth time. Maybe you’re not supposed to ‘get’ it. Arthur C Clarke said “if you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered.” There, in a nutshell, is the magic and fascination of the film and why it still remains the very antithesis of traditional cinema, and particularly current cinema which feels the need to force feed audiences everything. Most every film these days feels the need to explain, rationalise, feed endings or tease new beginnings/sequels.
I read a comment back when BR2049 came out last year, about the ending where K and Deckard reach Dr. Ana Stelline’s office, and they stand in the snow and Deckard asks K why he has done what he did, what Deckard is to K. Following a pause, K just smiles and tells Deckard to go see his daughter, and they part. What was interesting is that this really pissed off the guy writing the comment. “Why doesn’t K say something?!” railed the guy. “Its stupid! I want K to tell us why!” To me, this is the genius of the film. Attentive viewers will know why K did what he did, and what Deckard meant to him, what Deckard represented. We don’t need it spelled out for us. Well, some of us don’t.
Which is the deepest heart of 2001. Its never got the slightest intention of explaining anything or everything. In a way, it rather does, but it leaves it up to the viewer to extrapolate meaning or sense from the film. So anyway, when school resumed after that Christmas holiday, members of my form came over to me (as the class resident sci-fi geek and film nut) and asked me what the hell 2001 was on about. I remember shrugging my shoulders and giving some general summary of the plot and what I thought but didn’t feel entirely sure myself. 2001 wasn’t Star Wars. 2001 was something else.
So began a fascination that followed for all the near-forty years since.
I re-watched some of 2001 in art school, particularly the effects shots. Even back then, the film seemed particularly slow (God only knows what it seems like to new viewers coming to it now). I remember how control of the image, fast-forwarding and rewinding the VHS tape still refused to reveal the films secrets to me. I remember that the film was one of the first catalogue films sold on VHS in the very earliest days of affordable sell-through, and it was of course an inevitable Christmas present to me. Of course it was pan-and-scan version that mutilated the framing and the image quality was typically poor of VHS, colours blooming and dropouts etc. Well, it was long before DVD and even Blu-ray, and no doubt a 4K UHD is due eventually.
All the books. I have read so many books about 2001. There’s still books coming out about it, fifty years later, and surely in another fifty years time there will be more.
The first and probably best was ‘The Making of Kubrick’s 2001‘ edited by Jerome Agel. Its a paperback published in 1970 which is utterly brilliant in its approach. Its basically a compilation of quotes and reviews and articles surrounding the film from its genesis and the months immediately following its release, complete with a 96-page insert of b&w stills and behind-the-scenes images explaining some of the technical aspects of the production. It includes Arthur C Clarke’s original story The Sentinel which formed the basic foundation of the plot, sections from the MAd magazine parody, the instructions from a model kit of the Orion Pan Am clipper. Letters to Kubrick from confused/angry/ecstatic viewers. Its a brilliant book, and I only wish someone had done something similar for Blade Runner.
The funny thing about 2001 is that it was never about prediction. Even the rosiest predictions from the mid-sixties with the manned moon landings planned and NASA’s huge budget at the time couldn’t really have led to the films visions becoming reality by the year 2001. But as the years and decades passed everyone was making the comparison of fiction vs reality. Probably pissed Kubrick off no end, and how unkind and yet almost fitting, that Kubrick himself didn’t live to see the real 2001? So in a weird way, passing the real year 2001 was something rather liberating for the film, far as I’m concerned. Yes, the film is partly a fascinating glimpse of what the future looked like from the optimistic and thrilling vantage point of the 1960s, when everything was possible. And yes, it also looks rather quaint and retro-’60s, now, from our 21st Century perspective. But it’s really only reinforced the mythological intent of the film all the more clearly. As such it feels all the more powerful and allows fresh insights. Its cinema as art. Its Pure Cinema. Its a timeless masterpiece.
Or its breathtakingly self-indulgent, boring, slow, frustrating, stupid.: the film still maintains the ability to thoroughly piss people off. I’m not going to suggest that those people are wrong and that I’m right about it being a masterpiece. Oh, go on then.
Marking 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of my favourite films is almost redundant and almost as boring and predictable as had I started this series of posts with Blade Runner. But the fiftieth anniversary of this film clearly is apt excuse to start with this particular film. How many films that are made today will still be so hotly talked about/praised/hated in fifty years time as this one? How many films have really measured up in the years since? When Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar came out a few years back, so many people were comparing it favourably to Kubrick’s 2001 that it drove me nuts. People thought Interstellar was groundbreaking and intelligent and thought-provoking, but it’s nowhere near the same league as 2001, no matter its ambitions. No sci-fi film director has really come close to what Kubrick achieved in 1968. No-one has pushed the envelope, challenged how people ‘see’ sci-fi or that genre as a whole, or what it might be capable of. It is one of my saddest observations that for all the technological breakthroughs we have seen from CGI etc, that no-one has carried it through to some new Odyssey for our own age.
Stanley Kubrick said “How could we possibly appreciate the Mona Lisa if Leonardo had written a the bottom of the canvas: ‘The lady is smiling because she is hiding a secret from her lover.’ This would shackle the viewer to reality, and I don’t want this to happen to 2001” There’s not many films that could possibly ever be compared with the Mona Lisa, as a piece of art of such magnitude, but 2001 surely can. A film for the ages then, and yes, one of my very favourite films.
Whilst on the subject of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in my previous post, here’s an image I came across recently of the Starship Enterprise from that film; surely the most beautiful-looking spaceship miniature to ever grace a movie, rendered here in a CGI image that rather lovingly recaptures the ‘look’ from the film. Images such as this throw me right back to 1978/1979 when I was a young Trek-geek in awe of how they were re-creating the Enterprise and making it ‘more’ after so many years of enjoying the tv show. I could stare at images like this for ages (and don’t get me started on all those fascinating behind the scenes photos of the actual miniature being built and photographed, I’ve been a sucker for those for years).
That CGI image actually reminds me of the pre-release poster, a slight variant of the one here which I remember from the back of an American Marvel comic in Winter of 1979 which I stared at for much longer than the actual contents of the comic. Ah, those were the days, back when you could so excited about a Star Trek movie….
Anyway, I don’t care how the actual movie turned out (I still like it, so sue me) but I still get weak at the knees remembering how it was back then, the anticipation for the movie (hey, I was a Star Trek nut many long years before Star Wars came out) and how beautiful the Enterprise redesign looked and was realized in miniature.
Sigh. Where’s that blu-ray….
Over Easter I saw a documentary which featured this painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner from 1897, of the Annunciation. Its an unconventional image depicting Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel – Mary is depicted as an ordinary young woman, without halo or any holy adornment, and Gabriel is, brilliantly, simply depicted as a shaft of very bright light…
…and immediately this sprang a connection in my mind to the V’ger probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which the probe penetrates the Enterprise defenses and appears on the bridge of the ship, examining the crew and the ships equipment/computer. I wonder if Tanner’s painting was an inspiration for the effects crew’s realisation of the V’ger probe? It does look particularly close, a bit like one of those ‘separated at birth’ captions from Private Eye etc.
In any case, that Tanner painting is quite exquisite, and the decision to render the angel as a strange shaft of light was a stroke of genius on Tanner’s part. Astonishing really; I was quite taken aback by the sheer audacity of the painting and the realism of it, considering how embroidered with symbolism and religious tropes many such paintings were. The V’ger connection just made it all the more weird. Its a strange world sometimes.
Frankly, you’d think we’d have moved on, by now. Moved beyond such silly tedium in sci-fi. Its like we as a species refuse to grow up. Then again, some of the biggest, most successful films in the world have adults dressed in tights in silly power-fantasies/moral dramas that have no relation to any reality any of us are living in. And we love space operas like Star Wars, with sounds and explosions in space and cute aliens and hissy panto villains. I mean, it’s not as if I expected The Cloverfield Paradox to be a 2001 but really, it’s fifty years since Kubrick made that film and people are still making sci-fi films like The Cloverfield Paradox?
At least BR2049 had something to say; it may not have said it very well or well enough to interest the majority of filmgoers who stayed away in droves, but, it said something to those of us who were listening. If The Cloverfield Paradox has anything to say, the message passed me by.
Well, lets be clear- The Cloverfield Paradox has nothing to say. Because it’s stupid.
Not that I expected anything else, from the reviews and comments I’d read on the ‘net. But its is so disheartening, how a script as bad and clunky and nonsensical as this could be written and passed for filming. That a film could be so woefully miscast (Chris O’Dowd, as a space engineer? What?). That a film could be so leadingly directed. That at some point thirty minutes before the end I could turn to my wife and say “I haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on, why these people are doing what they are doing, or how they are doing it, I don’t care about any of it and don’t believe the people who made this film believed in any of it either.”
Not for the first time writing this blog, I am faced with the enigma about whether anyone ever deliberately makes a bad movie- does every film start with the best of intentions, and just when does it become just another pay cheque? When it does it pass the point at which some producer should just say, “stop everything, everyone, this just isn’t working.” Or, like Brexit and most modern politics, is it simply a case that no-one knows how to stop the ride or just dares call time on the idiocy? Are we, as film fans, simply fools to believe that film-makers know what they are doing?
Its 2028, and the world is suffering from a major energy crisis. The lights are, literally, going out. The oil is running out. Somehow during all this infrastructure and economic crisis we have built the Cloverfield orbiting space station, something that’s clearly more 23rd century Star Trek than 21st Century NASA/ESA. I mean, right from the start, its that stupid. Ten years from now we build something that’s as hi-tech as Star Trek in orbit? While the world is apparently going all Mad Max? And we can have a bunch of dysfunctional ‘experts’ somehow spending years in space without being replaced or returned to Earth for health reasons or in need of fresh supplies? So they are let loose with a particle accelerator because its isn’t safe or cheaper to do so on Earth, but they cannot get it to work and then after a few years of trying, they get it to work but they fuck something up and ‘lose’ Earth or cross dimensions but can fix everything by running the same fucked-up experiment for a second time but without the shower running this time and wow, yes, they’re back but watch out for the saboteur from the other dimension and whoops now there’s giant monsters roaming the planet. But at least now we can keep all the lights on.
I mean, jeez, give me a break. I haven’t even mentioned the crazy disembodied hand that is actually given a pen and writes an important clue or the bloke who dies with a gyroscope in his stomach or the worms or… stop me now. Just stop.
Let’s all be nice to each other and pretend this film never happened, yes?