Criterion Badlands

bad1Put this one the 2019 list for sure; Criterion are releasing their edition of Terrence Malick’s Badlands on Blu-ray over here in the UK in May. I’ve never owned the film on any format -VHS, DVD, Blu-ray- so at least it’s not a double or triple-dip. In fact I haven’t seen the film in many years, not since I really caught the Malick bug with his later films (Thin Red LIne etc) and I’ve always been curious if I’d fall in love with it now I’m older (back then I had a distinctly ambivalent feeling towards it). Well, this is certainly the perfect opportunity to put that to the test.

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The 2019 List: February

Another month, another summary-

TV Shows

17) The Crown Season Two

18)  Nightflyers Season One

20) Two Doors Down Season Four

21) The Expanse Season Three

25) Les Miserables

28) Inside No.9 Season One

Films

15) Dumplin’ (2018)

16) Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)

19) Assassins Creed (2017)

22) Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

23) Sully (2016)

24) Hereditary (2018)

26) Upgrade (2018)

27) The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

29) I Think We’re Alone Now (2018)

Wowza. Thats me up to 29 already by the end of February. Must be some kind of record (for me, but I’m not going to check so savour the suspense). TV show of the month was the frankly amazing season three of The Expanse (which I haven’t yet reviewed because it’s embarrassing gushing all that praise on a show so few seem to be watching, but I may get around to it). Film of the month is a tricky one, none of them really grabbed me. I think I’ll be controversial and go with Alita, if only to highlight how meh most of the others were, (while I did enjoy Sully, it was fairly pedestrian I suppose). I think a film that even in 2019 feels the need to evoke Blade Runner‘s future city so much, well, it’s almost poetic in this year of all years, isn’t it, so yeah, let’s go with Alita (I’m going to hate myself at years end, but yet another Blade Runner reference forgives anything).

As for the worst thing I’ve seen this month, well, someone dig a big deep hole for Nightflyers please, and let’s all hope we don’t see a season two.

 

I Think We’re Alone Now (2018)

i think 2Hmm, contrary to expectations, this isn’t a film about pop star Tiffany’s ‘Dystopia 2018’ tour across a post-Apocalyptic America. Mind, that might make for a pretty interesting movie in its own right (I certainly hope readers aren’t scurrying to google to search out who the hell Tiffany was/is- I didn’t think it would be too obscure a reference).  Anyway, there’s no songstress belting pop songs out in this one. Instead we have Del (Game of Throne‘s Peter Dinklage) as a lone survivor of an unexplained event in which everyone else has strangely perished.  He’s all alone cleaning up a deserted mid-Western American town, spending his days disposing of the bodies littering the town in unceremonious burials out in a field and tidying up the empty houses. It seems a strange way to spend your Apocalypse but it seems to give him some routine that keeps him occupied and sane. Fortunately he seems totally comfortable in his own company.

ithink2However, one day a young woman named Grace (Ellie Fanning) arrives in the town (well, it could have been Tiffany in her tour bus I suppose) and Del suddenly realises he is not the only survivor of the blight that killed everyone around him. The taciturn Del doesn’t appreciate a strange woman breaking the idyll of his lonely but oddly satisfying existence and  we are suddenly in a character-based study of the interactions between two strangers in a post-traumatic situation at the End of the World. Its a slow, quiet film, its dour mood intensified by a fine, and effectively moody soundtrack score from Adam Taylor (who seems particularly adept at this kind of piece, having also scored the dystopian series The Handmaids Tale).

Unfortunately (well, I say unfortunately, some may think the subsequent ‘twist’ enlivens the film considerably), the film takes a sudden turn into a road-movie thriller, of a sort, and the cast list doubles with the arrival of two more survivors who are looking for Grace- played by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Paul Giamatti, no less. It felt like an awkward shift to me but it works, I guess, and offers a slightly surreal coda to the film by offering a suggestion of the world outside of Del’s bubble of existence.

On the whole, I’d say this was an effective and quite refreshing take on the Apocalyptic genre and well acted by its fine cast. Maybe it’s a better cast than the material really deserves, but Dinklage is very fine, carrying the film all by himself really and it’s almost an imposition when Grace turns up, because a Wall-E by way of The Walking Dead seemed a pretty fine way to spend an evening, to be honest, especially with Dinklage in the lead. Indeed, the quiet, moody and intense existence of Dell surviving the End of the World was a bitter reminder of the possibilities of character-focused storytelling that The Walking Dead has largely ignored.

I expect some may have found this film all too slight and all too slow and dark and therefore unsatisfying. To a degree it is indeed an arthouse Walking Dead, but it’s none the worse for that and I found it very interesting and well made. The score, as I have noted, is very fine and the steady calm throughout seems at odds with what these kind of slicks tend to be like. It was quite refreshing and while I have the suspicion it might have been more substantial without the sudden doubling of the cast (seriously, the credits have four named performers, that’s all- although I can’t help but feel insulted on behalf of the canine cast member who was oddly uncredited, for shame) I did enjoy the fact that the Apocalyptic event, alluded to by Dell and Grace, is never explained and remained a mystery.

Nice little film.

 

 

Inside No.9 Season One (2014)

number9Its a funny thing about misconceptions, something I have noted before. In this case, I came across this series while looking through Netflix offerings, and while I had certainly heard of the show before, as I’ve seen it advertised on blu-ray over the years and seen it highlighted on the BBC’s schedule in the past, somehow I expected it to be some kind of quirky sitcom. As it turned out, while it does have moments of comedy, its of the notably dark kind, and is indeed more of a Tales of the Unexpected than the sitcom I initially expected.

So rather than see a bunch of characters having weekly adventures in the usual sitcom mode, this is actually an anthology show featuring totally different characters and (mostly) new actors with each story. Its perfectly fine and really very enjoyable, with some great casting and plenty of surprises and twists with each episode, but it was, shall I say, a rather disorientating experience, initially. Just one of those rare times that I have managed to see something without any spoilers at all but also no idea at all what I’m going to actually get.

At least I’ll be more prepared for season two when I decide to take the plunge. As it is, I think I watched all six episodes of this in just three nights. Might take a bit of a break though, before I do turn to that sophomore season, as maybe binge-watching wasn’t the best approach- I did have some very disturbed dreams those nights. In hindsight, maybe someone should have warned me…

 

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legtarazanCaught this on Netflix last night. At least it didn’t cost me anything (Netflix subscription notwithstanding, at least it wasn’t a rental or disc purchase). What a woeful, ill-judged film this was. Ignoring the shambolic script, the actual presentation, with sweeping circular camera moves that always irritate me and excessive use of painterly (unconvincing) CGI landscapes and characters, was really pretty poor. As for that script… well, let’s be fair, it’s hardly a finished script- it feels like a rough draft and it may be a fault of the editing that it seems so bad, or maybe the editing looks bad because it’s trying to fix the script problems in post.

The Legend of Tarzan seems to want it both ways- retelling and retooling the familiar origin story in awkward flashbacks whilst setting itself ten years after Tarzan has returned to England as Lord Greystoke, thus enabling a sort of post-modern revisionism of the story/legend in much the same way as Spielberg tried (and failed) with Peter Pan in his movie Hook. Unfortunately, it makes the film feel as much Marvel as it does Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Its hard to measure the cynicism of the piece, from the casting of Samuel L.Jackson to give the film the uncomfortable feel of a buddy picture while making it also ‘hip’ and trendy,  to the awful waste of Christoph Waltz as the utterly one-dimensional chief bad guy and nemesis for Tarzan. As for Tarzan himself, Alexander Skarsgård acquits himself pretty well but is hamstrung with the stodgy script that fails to serve the character at all. There were a few times that I thought that the guy was a pretty good Tarzan but wasted in the wrong movie- I felt quite embarrassed for him.

legtarazan2The film seems too concious about retooling Tarzan for a modern audience more accustomed to the heroics of Marvel and DC superheroes than the heroics of old, with Tarzan’s swinging through the jungle CGI-hysterics looking too much like Spiderman swinging through the canyons of New York, and some of the one-on-one fighting looking pretty much like any other modern costumed caper. I’m left with the suspicion that the whole project is really a case of it being made simply to be ‘Tarzan for the CGI generation’ as if the film-making techniques (such as the rendering of CGi apes and other animals etc) of today are the sole reason to retell Tarzan’s adventures.

When the film finally closes and the credits start to the accompaniment of a pretty awful ‘pop’ song, the ugly cynicism is complete: this is a film that is all about product, and franchise, and making money. Maybe I’m being naive, I guess all films are about making money, but somehow the film-makers managed to sink $180 million into this – and it looks like all of $80 million managed to get onscreen, an indication of waste perhaps reinforced by the bewildering number of producers credited. Its so terribly knowing and cynical, it doesn’t seem to be anything about a decent story being told as efficiently as possible but rather the usual noise and spectacle that is inevitably ill-judged. By becoming calculatedly epic (the grand finale is a horror of all the usual bad CGI habits, with thousands of digital thespians and dodgy cartoon landscapes serving no good at all) and ignoring the intimate (the chemistry between Tarzan and Jane (a free-spirited Margot Robbie that perhaps feels a little too Lara Croft) never really convinces, despite, or perhaps because of, Skarsgård sulkily mooning over her all the time. When Jane is captured by the dastardly Christoph Waltz and Tarzan stoutly chases after her, it’s all very Last of the Mohicans but without the passion or tension. The predictable ending is inevitable.

 

Upgrade (2018)

upgradeSet in an undefined near-future city, Upgrade is a low-budget sci-fi action thriller that reminded me of the good old days of the (original) Robocop. Its a reminder that sci-fi films don’t have to be mega-budget/high-concept blockbusters to succeed, and indeed in many ways Upgrade is more successful than Alita, which I happened to have seen not long before.

The film seems to have been spun off the possibilities, for good or ill, of AI (Artificial Intelligence) – there are trashy settlements of disenfranchised and unemployed on the wrong side of the AI divide, while the rich live in high-tech homes that are controlled by AI and who are driven around by AI cars. Inevitably, while it reminded me (through its violence and corporate dystopia) of Robocop, it also reminded me of Black Mirror, in how it spun its story around the technology and how it impacted the characters and world.

Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green), an analogue guy in a digital world, is a mechanic who prefers old-fashioned cars that are driven, over high-tech cars that drive people around. His wife, Asha, has no such issues, fully at ease with the AI world that serves her every whim and ensures her a promising career with a tech company. However one night their AI car is hacked and malfunctions whilst driving them home and crashes. Four assailants pull them from the car wreckage in what is apparently a high-tech robbery, but it escalates into something more and Asha is killed, and Grey left crippled by a shot though his spine.

One of Grey’s clients who he rebuilt a car for, approaches Grey in hospital where Grey, mourning his dead wife is also bitterly looking ahead at a life as a quadriplegic. This client, Eron Keen, is the head of a tech company that has a radical (albeit illegal) new tech that involves implanting a revolutionary computer chip named ‘Stem’ into his spine to fix his new disability and offer Grey a normal life again. Grey agrees to the experimental procedure and signs an NDA to ensure the technology remains secret.

The operation is a success, although Grey has to continue to pretend to be paralysed until the procedure can be analysed and proven safe.  It also has unexpected benefits- Stem is a self-aware AI that Grey can ‘hear’ in his head and while it ‘fixes’ his disability is also able to take control of Grey’s body giving him super-human reflexes and combat skills, and all sorts of high-tech connections through databases. Stem offers to help Grey investigate the robbery/murder that ripped his world apart and Grey accepts, frustrated by the police inability to solve the crime.

Logan Marshall-Green is pretty damn good as Grey, it’s a tricky role in that he’s often reacting to, and having conversations with, a voice in his head and it’s a pretty physical  part as well, with some considerable action scenes and stunts. He manages to elicit some sympathy for his condition and fight for justice and carries the film pretty much by himself.

Naturally there are plenty of twists involved and in the great tradition of both Robocop and Black Mirror nothing in the corporate world is as genuine as it seems and the AI tech has a few issues of its own. The low budget ensures the film has a few limitations but on the whole its very successful, with offerings of body-horror/manipulation that reminded me of Cronenberg’s Videodrome.  Ultimately what seems to be a pulpish sci-fi action flick transpires to be a rather cautionary tale and on the whole it’s a great little movie.

1995 and a Waterworld mystery

waterworldA friend at work lent me a copy of Arrow’s recent release of Waterworld on Blu-ray, as I’d confessed to never having seen the film before, odd as that may sound, but, you know, some films slip us by. Well, back home Claire told me we had indeed seen it before, but I insisted I hadn’t. I mean, I honestly could not remember any of it, other than maybe the odd scene that I stumbled upon when it was aired on tv over the years (for awhile, it seemed to aired all the time on various cable stations etc, and even then I never sat down to watch it).

So Claire went off to find proof- and returned with her diary from 1995, which indeed confirmed that we had indeed seen it, at a Showcase Cinema on August 22nd, 1995. Which I honestly cannot remember, at all. Can a film be that bad, that forgettable, that it just fades entirely from memory? It still baffled me, as I could not remember it at all- indeed, it felt all a little bit scary. Is this how it begins, losing your mind?

Strangest of all, Claire had a list in the back of her diary of all the films we had seen that year at the cinema- 34 of them. Yeah, that’s right, 34 of them. I don’t think I see that many films at the cinema in a decade now. My only excuse, we were courting back then, before we got married and settled down to domesticity and the joys of home cinema. But 34 films? Crikey. While my eyes water at the state my wallet must have been in back then, here’s the list, just for curiosity sake: When  A Man Loves A Woman, Timecop, Stargate, Nostradamus, Shallow Grave, Natural Born Killers, Interview With The Vampire, Leon, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, 101 Dalmatians, Nobody’s Fool, Outbeak, Legends of the Fall, Apollo 13, In the Mouth of Madness, Don Juan de Marco, Judge Dredd, Braveheart, Waterworld, First Knight, Congo, Batman Forever, Species, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Delores Claiborne, While You Were Sleeping, Pocahontas, Mortal Kombat, Haunted, Jade, Crimson Tide, A Walk in the Clouds, Babe.

Well, there’s a few there I can barely remember either. There’s a few I would like to forget but can’t.

As for Waterworld, well, we watched it Saturday night, and other than one or two scenes, such as the dive down to the submerged ruins (which I swore I recalled from stumbling onto a tv showing, to be honest) it absolutely failed to ring any bells memory-wise. It was like I was absolutely watching it for the first time. It was utterly bizarre. Unless Claire had gone to see it with some other fella I must have just wiped that film from my memory completely in some kind of post-traumatic shock. Well, yeah, it was a pretty forgettable film, so that would be part of it- that, and nearly 24 years.

The time to lock me away in a padded room is when I forget I ever saw Blade Runner, obviously.