2018 Review: December

So here we come to the end of the line for 2018, as December finally draws to a close.

Mandy – a decent Nic Cage movie? Its like my whole world-philosophy has come crashing down.

Witness for the Prosecution– Billy Wilder never fails.

Ant-Man and the Wasp– hey, this was quite fun and cunningly ingenious in its effects/execution. All too often these days we tend to dismiss visual marvels as ‘clever CGI’ as if that’s the simplest thing in the world, but sometimes I have to just step back and consider just how tricky some of this stuff must be to pull off. The damnedest thing is how they make it seem so, well, casual, almost.

Creed– this was particularly interesting, partly as a film in its own right but also as some kind of commentary on film franchises and our connections with them over decades, as if there was some kind of meta-reality at work. Possibly the farthest thing from the creators minds, or maybe not, but it did lend this film a particular sense of pathos that was quite effecting.

The First: Season One– a ‘Martian adventure turned into decent tv show’ shocker. I only hope we get to see a second season, because if this thing gets cancelled the irony will be written all over those inferior tv shows about Mars that got sophomore outings.

The China Syndrome– I appreciate he leaves some cold, but Jack Lemmon in a film I haven’t seen before is an experience I find irresistable and rather life-affirming, like an extra-special Christmas present- which was rather apt considering I watched this in December, I guess.

The Equalizer 2 – inferior to the original, but interesting enough to warrant its existence, and Denzel finally going the sequel route. Just goes to show, Hollywood gets them all, in the end.

Star Trek: Discovery – its a sci-fi series, Jim, but its not Star Trek, at least not as we know it. Shame that.

Cam– a surprisingly above-average thriller with a Black Mirror vibe.

Bird Box – while its apparently inferior to A Quiet Place, which I haven’t seen yet, I did enjoy this.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch – there’s really such a lot of meta-reality/nature of reality/PKD shenanigans going on in this interactive film, in which the interaction itself is some kind of commentary on the themes and subtext of the thing, really, its enough to induce a headache.

So anyway, that’s the end of this 2018 Review. I’ll leave the stats totals for number of posts/visits for another post later on, but the immediate big news, mind, is this- that Bandersnatch review was my 103rd review for something ‘new’ this year. Yes indeedy, strike up the fanfare- I passed the 100 milestone for just the second time ever on this blog.  Considering some of the things going on in the Real World Out There, on a personal level that’s really some achievement. And no, that doesn’t mean I’m going to target some damned fool number like 150 next year.




Black Mirror: Bandersnatch (2018)

Bandersnatch-NetflixThere’s a moment in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a film Netflix is touting as ‘an interactive film’ where young computer programmer Stefan (Finn Whitehead) in a moment of PKD insight becomes convinced he isn’t in control of his own actions and shouts out to The Big Unknown. That’s when a choice is offered to the film viewer and I opted for Netflix as my answer, and lo, a text message appeared on Stefan’s computer that he was being controlled by a viewer watching Netflix, an online streaming service. Of course from Stefan’s vantage point of 1984, this didn’t mean a hell of a lot, but for me it was a strange meta-reality commentary on all things PKD and The Matrix and the nature of reality and what films are now and possibly might be in the future.

How well Bandersnatch functions as a dramatic work is open to debate, but as an interactive experience and nod to PKD and 1980s culture its something of a marvel. The old-style WHSmith stores (crikey, those old carrier bags even more of a nostalgic nod than possibly intended with recent news of Government intent over here), 2000AD, Tomita’s The Bermuda Triangle on vinyl, the Thompson Twins and the grand finale (at least the one I experienced, as there are supposed to be five endings to Bandersnatch) of Laurie Anderson’s sublime O Superman, a song that sums up that whole era for me- so many moments had me cooing ‘awww….’ at the screen. Possibly the best was the Ubik poster coming alive. That would have blown poor Philip K Dick’s mind had he seen it, I think.

I’m curious to rewatch Bandersnatch and choose a different path/s to really put the test to its ‘interactive/multiple branches’ credentials but on first viewing it was damned impressive. Quite how Netflix managed the branching streams without incurring pauses for buffering etc is something of a mystery and, yeah, to be honest, one I’d actually like to avoid learning about, as if part of some unquantifiable magic.

It was quite apt, I suppose, as Black Mirror itself tends to comment upon and extrapolate on modern technology in dark and devious ways that the series used this interactive experience to tell its story of choice/freewill and the nature of its technology. Making the viewer a cog in the machine was quite ingenious. Whether in 2028 we’ll see a MI:9 that puts the viewer in charge of a (possibly CGI/virtual by then) Tom Cruise as he weaves through multiple paths of espionage and various twists of fate, and whether that would be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing is open for some other debate, but it’s possibly a insight into eventual possibilities.

Well, on the bleak side, there’s another nail in the coffin of good honest storytelling, maybe. We may have seen a glimpse of the future, and it’s something to do with keeping our hands on the remote, but not regards switching channels etc…


Two Christmas movies…

I seldom if ever get chance to watch a film over Christmas, visiting family etc takes care of filling days that are just too short and exhausting. Christmas’ of old that I remember so fondly for watching Jack Lemmon films or film noirs or sci-fi b-movies are a distant memory, back when I was a youngster on long school holidays, not married middle-age and a few days off work.

However, I did manage to watch two very special Christmas movies just prior to the holidays- back on the 23rd I watched Its a Wonderful Life on blu-ray, and on Christmas Eve I watched Die Hard on 4K UHD. Both films are fantastic Christmas movies. While Its A Wonderful Life is an established classic and a firm favourite of mine (bought the books, the soundtrack etc), it is something of an acquired taste for some (a query at work revealed some spouses turn it off at the opening scenes where the stars are talking to each other- have some people no soul?). The film is surely a fable for the modern age and as relevant now as it was when first made – indeed maybe more so considering Trump is dissing Santa to kids these days.  

Die Hard is a film I hadn’t seen for several years, somehow, and while Its A Wonderful Life is a Christmas staple pretty much every year, this was the first time I actually sat down with Die Hard at Christmas. Of course it’s a Christmas movie (although some argue that it isn’t) but beyond that, it’s a great action thriller that delivers excitement, laughs, shocks and surprises – particularly the surprising notion that 1980s films can feel so old-fashioned now. Old-fashioned in a good way, you understand- this was back in those pre-CGI days when the script and characterisation took preference over the action and noise, but I think I’m reaching the end of the line when a 1988 film gets to feel old-fashioned, even if it is in a good way. Everything in Die Hard is finely tuned and while it isn’t perfect it’s damn near it, and while during the long dark nights of a moviegoers soul I’d take it to task for all the rip-offs inflicted upon us in the years since, that’s hardly the films fault.

Anyway, Die Hard remains the highlight of Christmas 2018 for me. I really did enjoy it, so much so I’ve already got it booked in for Christmas Eve 2019. Could be the start of a new seasonal tradition…

2018 Review: November

A few 4K UHD reviews  (Prince of Darkness and Superman: The Movie) opened the month, but as I’ve seen the films before on previous formats they didn’t count as ‘new’ reviews. Alas, that run broke with-

Pacific Rim: Uprising – A pale reboot in place of a ‘proper’ sequel, and a missed opportunity. Please don’t let them do something like this to my beloved BR2049.

You Were Never Really Here – Strange one this, I enjoyed it but it felt like it was an arthouse film too consciously trying to be a John Wick film, or maybe a John Wick film trying to be an arthouse film. In the end, it just fell somewhere in between.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Rather loved this. Typically wacky Cohen Bros film, only -gosh- a Netflix Original. 2018 will be forever remembered as the year of Netflix here at Ghost Hall.

Night of the Demon – This was simply brilliant, and another example that there are still great old movies out there to be discovered.

The Kominksy Method (Season One) – A very enjoyable (albeit all too Hollywood, but maybe that’s me being a miserable Englishman)  comedy series from, yes, Netflix.

Beyond Skyline – Beyond silly, but sort of fun, I guess.

So six new reviews, and a few posts about The Tree of Life (I saw the extended cut and really should have just given it a new proper review, but anyway, I really enjoyed it and waxed lyrical about it being like 2001), and a new Vangelis album, Nocturne, coming in the New Year like a late Christmas present, and in a strange case of history repeating, hot on the heels of a disappointing Jean Michel Jarre album. What’s new is old, or something like that. Bit like Christmas. Hang on….



Bird Box (2018)

bird1Netflix ends the year on something of a high, as this apocalyptic thriller is pretty solid stuff. Bird Box is based on a 2014 novel I have never heard of, and follows a reluctantly pregnant woman, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) on a journey to salvation over a five-year period during what is essentially the End of the World. Alongside Bullock, the film contains a pretty heavyweight cast (Trevante Rhodes, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich) with a fairly high-profile director, Susanne Bier at the helm. I appreciate Netflix Originals might always have a hard time escaping a stigma of ‘straight-to-video’ and ‘tv movie’, but projects like this really should help break that. Besides, it also suggests that movies like this, which aren’t necessarily box-office gold by any means, can yet get made in a cinema environment dominated by noisy blockbuster franchise stuff- indeed, I think some mixed reviews of this generally stems from people expecting it to be something it isn’t (i.e. a huge ‘event’ horror blockbuster). Its really a character-based thriller rather than the graphic apocalyptic horror some might expect- although, that said, the early scenes of society crashing down are pretty graphic and convincing.

The talent involved both in front and behind the camera certainly suggests that Netflix might be onto something, and that perhaps something genuinely great might be in the offing someday. Bullock is very good in this film, with an interesting character arc and an involving performance, clearly taking the project very seriously.

Very often I was watching this wishing that The Walking Dead series (by now having descended into self-parody) had taken this route- I always like the dramatic tension of taking desperate characters and putting them in an enclosed space with a very real external threat. In The Walking Dead, the outside threat of the zombies has become almost a routine turkey shoot, we don’t feel the threat or smell the decay or the fear of, well, the walking dead overcoming everything. At least in Bird Box the apocalypse is horrible and scary, and wisely doesn’t explain everything. There is an awkward moment when one of the characters expresses what he thinks the unseen monster/s are and explains he did his research on the internet, but on the whole the film manages everything superbly well. I like the threat being unseen and unknown and largely unexplained- its the physical and mental results of that threat that drives things forward and I think leaving it unexplained helps. It could be demons, it could be aliens, in the end, it doesn’t matter.


The Mortal Flop

“Oh, Oh, there’s trouble looming in those empty cinemas..!”

Hey, I’m hardly qualified to comment here as I’ve not seen it but apparently The Mortal Engines has failed to connect with audiences and has resulted in a box-office failure of some magnitude. The irony of me wishing for less reboots/sequels and more original projects and then one gets made and it flops as spectacularly as BR2049 did (perhaps worse) doesn’t escape me, especially as I didn’t see it either (at least with BR2049 I did my bit, going to the cinema three times).

Unfortunately, real-world problems made missing this (and the new Spiderman animated movie) inevitable. Claire’s uncle has passed away and as she is next of kin, we’ve been so busy registering his death and struggling through all the bureaucracy that entails, Claire contacting people and organising his funeral etc that Christmas itself  seems quite irrelevant this year (it’s coming up, right? Hard to tell with everything going on). On top of that, work is always busier this time of year, making other demands, so I’ve struggled to post much of anything at all on here lately.

So watching films is way in the distant background noise of life and The Mortal Engines, a film that looked intriguing from the teasers I saw months ago, has apparently come and gone and nobody else seemed to pay much attention to it either. I don’t know, maybe it was a lousy movie anyway (reviews seem tepid), but it does seem a pity that what appeared to be at least something new seems to have failed so badly at the box-office (albeit I guess it’s more company for BR2049 and other financial follies… follies seems a poor term though, it’s not as if some of these films are terrible). Like BR2049, I suspect part of it is a crowded marketplace. Seems every studio spotted there was no Star Wars movie this Christmas and thought there was an opportunity for success and like a 1982 summer in Autumn/Winter, something had to give. I’ll catch up with it in the Spring no doubt (and Spidey, too) on eventual disc releases or rental.

Does make me rather nervous for the prospects for Dune though… perhaps they should have cast Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as the Baron Harkonnen or something- a wise ploy or selling out? I’m not so sure right now…

2018 Review: October

Alas, October marked the passing of Judge Dredd artist Carlos Ezquerra, but also the anniversary (a year already!) of watching BR2049 at the cinema, and a busier month for new reviews-

Spectral – Unexpectedly sharing shooting locations with BR2049, I quite enjoyed this dumb slice of action sci-fi and its well worth anyone’s time, especially with a few beers when in the mood for a 1980s-feel film.

The Neon Demon – Well, this one has finally sworn me off any future Nicolas Winding Refn pictures.

R.I.P.D. – As loud and dumb as they come, complete with a horrifying waste of Jeff Bridges. Has film finally come to this, that they can waste an actor like him in trash such as this?

Solo – Mostly harmless, and not a complete disaster, but hardly worthy of the franchise. Likely hampered by terrible casting of the lead, who never really convinces as Han Solo.

Hold the Dark – Beautifully shot, well-acted horror-cum-thriller that frustratingly fails to maintain the grim fascination of its first half.

The Post – There’s not much worse than Oscar bait, unfortunately. Its like watching Hollywood talent devour itself.

Apostle – Timely Netflix horror, admittedly a poor-man’s Wicker Man, it was nonetheless quite enjoyable.

Tomb Raider – Latest reboot/videogame movie. Maybe they should give these things a rest?

Red Sparrow– Very silly spy caper, or something like that, without the espionage or anything resembling a convincing lead character (in this case a ballerina who turns into a cunning female Bond).

Mary Magdalene – Much better than I had expected. I was drawn to it by the Johannsson score (one of his last) and it really elevates the film, but it’s very notable regardless. Reminded me of another great historical drama, the sadly-overlooked Agora.

So ten new reviews, a better return than September, anyway. Hey, it’s getting closer to Christmas, and 2019…




Cam (2018)

camCam is a very effective thriller/horror film in the vein of the tv series Black Mirror, in that it takes a modern-day technology (in this case web-cams and video streaming) and goes a little bit into the future with it – albeit a rather dark future. It also has a very Videodrome-vibe; indeed, it’s often really a very modern-day Videodrome, complete with that films comparison of reality and the video-reality of the screen.

Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer, in a great central performance) is a cam girl, broadcasting online live semi-nude shows from a room in her home, appearing as “Lola”. Obsessed with her ranking on the cam site platform she is using, she gets more daring and provocative in her show in order to attract more views and earn more money from her viewers. During one episode she fakes her own suicide, pretending to slit her throat live on the net, and is rewarded with a high ranking. She then performs a sex-act with a friend who also works as a cam-girl, her desperation to hit the top ten making her susceptible to riskier content if it gets her more hits.

One morning however she wakes up and discovers she is locked out of her account and that “Lola” is somehow online. Alice accesses the live stream and finds out that sees a woman that looks, sounds and acts exactly like her. Thinking it might be recording being broadcast she soon discovers that this “Lola” is reading and responding to messages posted by her viewers. Of course Alice cannot fathom what is going on, and sets out to discover who/what this “Lola” is and try to get back her virtual persona that climbs up the cam site rankings doing increasingly salacious things as if to mock her.

Its a very taut, well-directed, smartly-written piece, and while it favours the feel of a Black Mirror episode it never feels like there’s any padding in its 90+minute running time.  Madeline Brewer is particularly good and delivers praise for what must have been a tricky and demanding part. Mostly though, I really did enjoy those echoes of Videodrome and its questions of reality and of losing control- it’s a very clever, well-thought-out drama. One of the better Netflix Originals that I have yet seen, which is more than the premise might suggest.

Spoilers ahead-


One of the things I thought most rewarding is that the film never really over-explained anything regards who/what “Lola” is- I came to the opinion that it was likely a Military AI that escaped from R&D labs out into the internet and now ‘lived’ there, mimicking popular streams with virtual doppelgangers (Alice learns that the ‘number one’ cam girl on the site actually died six months before and is therefore another doppelganger), but that’s just my own reasoning, as the film itself explains nothing. There’s all sorts of questions regards identity and what is real. It offers tantalising suggestions but refrains from explaining anything, which I found refreshing- it’s nice watching something and being left to think reason things out.



2018 Review: September

Well, September was pretty much a non-event regards my blog, as I was away on holiday for two weeks and much of my time prior to that was spent at work getting ahead with the work required during my absence. Holiday cover, eh.

The Bodyguard – not for the first (or last) time in 2018, the BBC’s proclivities towards its PC-agenda threaten to derail its dramas with irritations. It didn’t help that this series descended into earnest stupidity and wtf-coincidences that left me agape at the screen.

The Beyond– I honestly forgot most of this thing already. I had to re-read my post to remember what it was about. It was only, like, three months ago, not three years or something. It was that memorable.

And that was that, other than a post about watching the original Blade Runner in 4K. Oh dear. September: blink and you miss it. But Scotland was lovely, even in the rain.



Star Trek: Discovery (2017)

disc1There certainly seems to be a problem with all these ‘old’ intellectual properties. Star Trek seems to be suffering a similar existential angst as Star Wars. The issue, of course, is that Star Trek dates back to the 1960s, and Star Wars to the 1970s, and here we are in 2018 and they are still trying to be valid and of the times we are living in. It’d be a bit like trying to bring back the 1930s serial Flash Gordon and expecting it still be modern and of our time- you could update it I guess but it wouldn’t have the b&w innocent charm of those serials, in  a similar way to how Snyder’s Man of Steel update of Superman lost so much of what appealed to fans of Donner’s Superman: The Movie (the irony being that Superman Returns tried so hard to replicate the original and got criticised for just that).

My gut thinking is, ‘why bother?’, why not just do something new?  What makes anyone think that Star Wars is really anything more than a trilogy released between 1977-1983? Was the biggest problem for Lucas’ prequels that they were a product of the 1990s-early noughties, and that the whole franchise should have been left behind, a problem doubly compounded for Disney trying to now do it decades later still? Is it possible, for instance, to return to The Matrix now, continue that series as if it could be just as valid now as it was back in 1999-2003?  Like the old adage, ‘you can’t go home again’, if you have to change everything so much that it no longer looks or feels like the original, then why even bother?

Why indeed keep looking at the past, instead of developing something genuinely new and of our time?

So anyway, Star Trek: Discovery is yet another attempt to resurrect that old 1960s series whilst making it new and valid, albeit with the additional noose around its neck of being a prequel set ten years before the adventures of Kirk and Spock of the original show.  It does seem the common perception these days that prequels just don’t work and we haven’t arrived at that perspective by accident. On the one hand, prequels are always handicapped by dramatic consequence- in the recent Solo movie, for instance, we ‘know’ from the outset that Han and Chewie will survive simply because they have to, as they appear in the original Star Wars movie set years later, as does the Millenium Falcon, so any tension we feel during action sequences etc is, er, severely hampered. Also, prequels cannot help but be seduced by unnecessarily fan service- in the case of the Solo movie, how Han met Chewie, how Han won the Falco from Lando, etc. Its like ticking boxes rather than telling a honest dramatic story.

So anyway, Star Trek: Discovery would quite possibly be a great space opera were it not for the fact that its pretending to be Star Trek. I mean, let’s be clear, it’s not Star Trek. It may have the name in its title, and it may have Vulcas and the Federation etc but its not Star Trek. The show’s Klingons are not Klingons. They do not look like Klingons, they have a language that requires subtitles and they don’t really behave like Klingons- certainly not the same Klingons that contested with Kirk back in the original Trek. Likewise all the tech thrown around in Discovery, the ships and the holograms and everything, its amazing and pretty to look at but it’s no way predating Kirk. A hundred years later, maybe, sure.

So my issue watching Discovery is simply this- it’s not a bad show, really, but it should be its own show. Slapping Star Trek on it is just, well, it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t look like a Star Trek show or feel like a Star Trek show, then, indeed, why bother? The writers seem so enamoured with updating everything and making it culturally relevant to ‘now’ that it loses sight of what the simple pleasures of the original were, and frankly if it insists on that, why call it Trek? I kept watching this show and I quite enjoyed it, but it never really felt like Trek and all the way through I kept asking myself why did they bother? What was the point of the show other than making money and appealing to an established fanbase rather than making one of its own?

Another issue is that it feels indebted to Roddenberry’s own revisionism in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which he laboured the utopian ideal of Star Trek with no-one arguing or falling out or getting paid or having any life beyond Star Fleet and hopping around the galaxy. Its an irony that the characters of the ‘sixties show feel more ‘real’ than those of subsequent series simply because they are living, breathing characters having wild west-adventures in space without idealising how people behave or saddling everything with a Prime Directive that kills any dramatic tension.

But at least they keep the design of the original phasers, I guess we should be thankful for that.