Incredibles 2 (2018)

incred2There was a time when Pixar films were something really special. I suppose a part of that was the sheer joy and ‘newness’ of watching fully CG-animated movies, but beyond that, the films themselves were often so finely crafted they were almost, well, perfect. I often remarked in reviews that I truly wished that live-action films were given the level of craft and scrutiny that Pixar films were. Every shot, every paragraph of a script, every mannerism exhibited by the CG characters, the story arcs… I think the Pixar filmography reached its zenith with Ratatouille, which is my personal favourite.

But I really did like The Incredibles, which came out way back in 2004 and it has always surprised me that it didn’t get an immediate sequel – perhaps that should be applauded, that we didn’t get a cynical cash-in, but it does leave the weight of expectation for when this sequel eventually arrived rather high and really, a little unfair.

The Incredibles 2 is perfectly fine but I did think it rather inferior to the original. Maybe it’s just so hard to capture lightning in a bottle, maybe it’s that we just see so many CG-animated movies these days- it’s no longer just Pixar cranking these things out, sometimes it feels like everyone is doing it, and maybe it’s unfair but technically they all seem to look very similar. I suppose they are all using the same CG animation software, in just the same way as so much CGI in live-action films have tended to look very ‘samey’. The only way, perhaps, for Pixar to differentiate itself from the pack, so to speak, is for a Pixar film in theme and craft to distinguish itself by being something special and unique- but everyone else seems to have learned the Pixar game and the ensuing familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then perhaps something approaching weariness.

I am likely being unfair expecting Incredibles 2 to be something exciting and new, but it is surely not unfair for me to have hoped for something less familiar and predictable. Nothing surprised me here. Again, I realise it’s just a family animated movie and not something arthouse or leftfield but still, the lack of ambition here was disheartening. Ratatouille was such a breathless joy, the characters, the heart, the humour, the music, it was so perfect, and the original Incredibles movie was a close second to that film. It felt fresh and… well, maybe too many Marvel and DC superhero capers have put paid to that particular quality.

Incredibles 2 was not incredible. That’s the main issue I have. It was perfectly fine and polished but it wasn’t surprising or enthralling or indeed incredible. It felt almost like a rock groups contractoral second album mimicking their previous hit platter. Hardly surprising in itself but still, disappointing.

(That being said, I will qualify this post with a comment that I watched it on a HD stream that was inevitably lacking what a good blu-ray would look and sound like.  This was mostly because I originally intended to buy a 4K UHD version which Disney here in the UK seem to think we are unworthy of, and well, I decided to be stubborn and vote with my wallet so a cheap £1.99 rental is all Disney get out of me. Not the best way to enjoy this movie then and another strange turn in the story of physical media vs streaming/downloads. I really don’t know what Disney are thinking here, but a worrying sign of the times.)

Advertisements

Short Treks: Calypso

calypsoI haven’t watched the season two opener for Star Trek: Discovery yet, but I did watch one of the Short Treks on Friday that Netflix has finally put up over here, and it was awfully ‘meh’. Technically it was well done, the sets and effects work pretty terrific and the acting is fine but the story was cringeworthy even for Trek. Set a thousand years in the future with the Discovery abandoned for centuries… yeah that’s a great premise right there but dear lord what they went and did with it…

Calypso is basically a love story. Craft is a warrior castaway whose lifeboat stumbles upon the Discovery, and the ships AI computer has evolved over the thousand years to become, well, typically ‘human’ and a strange love story unfolds, complete with Zora (the AI) loving old 20th Century movies starring Fred Astaire and creating a Holo-version of herself that can dance with Craft and… ugh. There are some very firm similarities to the Officer K/Joi relationship from BR2049 here, both in plot and in physical execution. Sure technically it’s polished but this story is so old and, limited by the short running-time, so limited it just feels like Trek at its very worst: safe, predictable, cosy, embarrassing- yeah, thats modern Trek right there.  I mean, someone gives you the premise of jumping a thousand years into the future and someone stumbling upon the Discovery, abandoned somehow for centuries, and the show locks itself off from any reveals about the galaxy or the Federation a thousand years hence by becoming an intimate, ahem, love story between a stranger and an AI. Maybe I’m missing something somewhere, but there was a time when Star Trek was brave and bold- no wonder I adored Babylon 5 so much back in the day.

A few words regards Nick Redman

Late yesterday I learned the very sad news of film music producer and film documentary director Nick Redman’s passing at the age of 63. As I’ve collected soundtrack CDs over the years, particularly during the period of expanded releases over the last decade and more, I have often seen Nick Redman’s name in the liner notes and taken it as a mark of quality; like the names of Lukas Kendall and Mike Matessino, familiar and assuring- for film music fans, they are akin to football heroes. A co-founder of the independent home-video label Twilight Time in the US, Redman’s voice can also be heard on several commentary tracks.

swt_original_st_anthologyMy appreciation of Nick Redman’s work though, familiar as he later became from so many future releases, chiefly stems from the Star Wars Trilogy box that was released back in 1993, which he produced. It was back in the days of special CD box-sets that were prestige releases in pretty big cardboard boxes, back when physical releases were, well, everything. A sign of the times back then, I knew nothing at all about it until I stumbled upon a review of the release while reading a film magazine, and soon went on a trip down to London to search out a copy- back in those bad old pre-internet days you could still be surprised at reading of releases coming out of the blue and couldn’t order copies at the click of a mouse. As a huge Star Wars fan and lover of the scores while growing up, a box-set of the ‘complete’ scores (well, near as damn it) was like a dream come true, especially a proper set of my beloved Empire Strikes Back score, which up to then had been relegated to a budget CD based on the single-disc vinyl release (as opposed to the superior double album I had for Christmas back in 1980).

Even now I get a tingle of anticipation remembering the excitement I felt first reading (and re-reading! I read it over and over, couldn’t believe it) that review and then finding a copy in a specialist film music score in London. Such thrills seeing it, buying it, pouring over the booklet on the train journey home and finally listening to it. Its something I’ll remember all my life. I guess I never grew up afterall.

At any rate, of course I never met him or knew him, but Nick Redman certainly left a mark on my life and his passing is awfully sad, particularly at just 63 years old. The film music world in particular owes him a great debt and I’m sure many film music fans and score collectors will be very saddened by this news over this weekend and beyond.

Horner’s Apollo 13 expanded

apollo-13-expandedCue a really neat segue from my last post, and its proposals of lunar excursions in the next two MI films, to the confirmation that Intrada over in the US has released an expanded and remastered 2-disc edition of James Horner’s Apollo 13 score.

Regular readers here will know of my affection for James Horner’s music, particularly his early scores back when one great score followed another and it seemed like he could turn his hand at anything. There was a time that I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack blind, and go watch a film just because of his involvement.  Apollo 13 was released in 1995, just after Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, and just a few years before Titanic would really change everything (I mean, he was popular back then but Titanic would launch him beyond the stratosphere). There is some really great music in Apollo 13, but the original album release really confounded fans, being a strange mix of dialogue, pop songs, sound effects and score, relegating the score music to just a few tracks. Well, it looks like that horrible piece of corporate thinking has been rectified at long last with this edition, combining a disc of the complete score and a disc of Horner’s original aborted album assembly from all those years ago. Why exactly it has taken so long for this to happen is baffling but I suppose with how things are now with CD sales we should think ourselves lucky it’s finally here.

Its certainly a nice start to 2019. I’d really like to see new editions of his Field of Dreams and Legends of the Fall scores, so fingers crossed we have more releases of Horner’s work over the coming year.

This could be a great year for soundtrack albums, with a rumoured three or four-disc edition of Hans Zimmer’s sublime The Thin Red Line score possibly getting announced next week. As both film and score are among my very favourites, if this actually does happen I think this blog will go into some kind of meltdown…  and a depressed funk if it doesn’t.

MI:7 and 8 in 2021 and 2022

Movie Mission Impossible Fallout, Beijing, China - 29 Aug 2018Well, I really didn’t see this coming. Fallout must have been a bigger success than I had thought. Tom Cruise has announced that there will be two more outings for his Mission Impossible franchise, and that they will be shot back to back for release in summers 2021 and 2022. Not only that, but Ghost Recon Protocol, no sorry, try again–  Rogue Nation and Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie has revealed that he has signed up (presumably to both write and direct) both films.

As Fallout was my favourite film of last year this is very welcome news. I’m not sure where this leaves Bond exactly, with that franchise stuttering and floundering, finally rush-releasing (if you can call it that, after a five-year break) Bond 25 next year, with shooting to yet start. This film that will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, meaning another reboot (or at least the usual casting the next Bond hysterical nonsense) beyond that. In comparison, the MI series seems to be sailing on to bigger and better things, with a creative team confidently in charge.

I assume making two MI films together will enable a really epic, two-part narrative that may very likely complete the Ethan Hunt saga (can’t imagine even the apparently indestructible Tom Cruise has too many more of those physical stunt-ridden projects ahead of him).  Mind, after all the hyperbolics of Fallout, how I would dearly love to be in on the thought-processes involved in somehow topping that film. I’d actually like to see them reign it all in and make the films low-key and more intimate, but this is blockbuster territory so that’s out the window. Maybe some villain is going to threaten to pull the moon down onto America and Hunt has to go up there into space and save the world from Lunar orbit? At this point, not even the sky’s the limit anymore, is it?

Shadows and Fog (1991)

shadows2Part of Arrow’s Woody Allen blu-ray box-set that I bought last year, Shadows and Fog is one of his films that I hadn’t seen before, and I came to it not knowing what to expect, but you know, it’s a Woody Allen film, so you expect it to be… well, everything this film largely isn’t, as it turns out. Because this was a very, very, strange film- which is possibly the kindest thing I can say about it (the unkindest thing I can possibly say is that it demonstrated some kind of masturbatory level of self-indulgence).

Watching it, I quickly came to the suspicion that it was a shambolic mess,  experimentally shot like a latter-Terrence Malick film, without any script and just ad-libbed on the fly by actors briefed on a rough outline on what was to happen in each scene. It seemed that loose and unstructured- but of course, this is a Woody Allen so that’s obviously not the case, and it’s clear from the familiar Allen-styled dialogue that this was indeed scripted, unfortunately it’s just a really bad script… unless…

Unless, well, here’s the thing- I’ve been pondering this film most of the day and I’m just beginning to wonder if there is some kind of mad genius at work here.

shadows1Here’s the problem: Shadows and Fog is unfortunately an extreme case of style over substance, which is in itself a really odd thing for a Woody Allen film. Up to now, every Woody Allen I have seen has been pretty basic visually, there’s not usually too many bells and whistles, he’s usually just telling a story in a way that doesn’t draw any attention to itself. The story and the characters are the thing and Allen never wants to distract us from the characters or what they are saying and doing.

Allen’s genius (if that’s the word) is his gift for conflicted characters with neuroses and doubts and a world that is ignorant of them- usually his protagonists have no impact at all on the world around them.

shad3That’s maintained here but the style here is everything- this seems to be Allen’s response to (or declaration of admiration of)  film noir and its origins in German Expressionism and the b&w films of the 1920s and 1930s, and visually it’s drenched in those sorts of visuals and motifs- lots of backlighting and darkness and shadows. This is the thing that has bothered me all day- in this film, the world dominates the characters so much so that they (literally, I suppose) get lost in the fog. The film has a very dreamlike feel, and looking back on it, I have begun to wonder that perhaps this is indeed all a dream of its lead character, Kleinman (Woody Allen). It would explain such a great deal. For instance, the time and place, and the space that the characters move in, seems deliberately vague, and Kleinman seems distracted by anxieties about work, about relationships with freinds and neighbours and particularly women, as if its his subconscious dreaming mind filing away all his daytime issues. The film is quite episodic, and Kleinman bounces around not knowing what he is supposed to be doing and always seems pressured and bullied by others. In this respect, it makes some sense of the nonsensical attributes of the script, in how he moves in dreamlike fashion through dreamlike settings and meets presumably exaggerated dream-versions of people from his waking life. At one point he approaches his ex-fiance for help, and she ridicules him for jilting her at the altar before dismissing him: the encounter adds nothing to the narrative at all. But if this is indeed a dream narrative, it sort of makes sense. How, as well as his ex-fiance, he encounters his boss and later his chief rival from work, all as he aimlessly wanders the foggy streets on this timeless, endless night. It would also explain, in particular, his fascination with magic- a magician that may be a childhood hero, a circus that might be a childhood memory and the concluding moments of impossible magic/sleight of hand that could only happen in a dream.

Hmm. Maybe I need to see it again, because this ‘reading’ may actually help explain and improve the experience of the film. That’s the funny thing about films- watching this one I thought ‘this stinks, pretty much’ but having thought it over during today, I’ve more deeply considered its dreamlike attributes and arrived at this reading of the film- misguided as it may be. Even the bad films can linger and play around for awhile in your head.

So sure, maybe it’s just a lousy Woody Allen film and possibly one of his worst, but you know, maybe there’s something else going on here. But then again, there’s no excuse for Madonna being in this, unless he’s clearly exaggerating the dreamlike otherworldliness of the film with his casting.

Returning to The Expanse

exp1.jpgWell if things have been a little quiet lately on this blog its largely due to me finally getting to a belated rewatch of season one of The Expanse, now that I have season three to watch as well as season two. Suffice to say that in the grand tradition of all things Netflix, I managed to watch all ten episodes over the past four days- maybe binge-watching is an acquired skill having watched so much on Netflix over the past several months, but it’s likely just the short days/long dark evenings that have helped.

The Expanse is as great as I remembered– maybe even more so, as there have been clear advantages to rewatching this first season again. As before, one of the elements I most enjoyed was its gritty, future-noir detective story feel, inevitably a nod to Blade Runner so inevitably up my street. Thomas Jane is brilliant as life-weary/crooked cop Joe Miller who is put on a missing-persons case that he is expected to fail at. Instead of trying/failing/filing it away, something about the case and the woman, Julie Mao, raises his interest and it becomes something of an obsession. Meanwhile, out in the Belt near Saturn, the ice-freighter Canterbury picks up a distress signal from a ship called the Scopuli, but the derelict vessel they investigate is actually a trap- seemingly engineered by authorities from Mars, and the freighter is destroyed leaving a handful of survivors/witnesses in a fleeing shuttle. Political repercussions of the attack spread quickly throughout the system, bringing the opposing powers of Earth and Mars to the brink of war. Miller’s investigations lead him to links between Julie Mao and the doomed Scopuli and a conspiracy involving bio-engineered weapon tech of possibly alien origin, and the survivors of the Canterbury, led by Earther James Holden, become increasingly trapped in this web of intrigue themselves, eventually leading to them and Miller being caught together in events involving the deaths of thousands on Eros station.

There’s certainly nothing else quite like it out there, I think. The nearest thing I can suggest is that it’s like a sci-fi Game of Thrones but that’s lazy and not really fair- yes its epic with a big cast of characters and contesting factions/intrigue but beyond that the similarities end. GOT tended to lean towards sex and nudity early on to get attention and The Expanse (other than a scene early on in the first episode) avoided this. As its really a giant space opera set in the 23rd Century it really leans towards Babylon 5 (one of my favourite shows) but with a bigger budget and/or the benefits of obvious advances in CGI. It has a huge scale and looks absolutely gorgeous in HD- my player obviously upscaling to 4K on my OLED. It looks really filmic but is full of interesting characters and big ideas. Watching it this time around I noticed it’s a production from Alcon Entertainment, who were also behind BR2049, and yes, it’s certainly that same kind of intelligent, adult science fiction.  While there are things that can no doubt be picked apart by the experts, the show does lean towards a real-science, physically-accurate portrayal of space exploration that is refreshing and quite convincing- it’s certainly more 2001 than Star Trek, more Alien than Star Wars.

As I still haven’t read any of the books upon which the series is based, I can’t say how faithful it is or have any idea where it’s all headed- ironically though, as I had put off rewatching season one for awhile now, I now have two seasons to watch after this so the threads left hanging won’t be frustrating me quite so much this time around-  indeed with any luck I’ll be starting season two later today.