A Quiet Place

Shhh! Don’t ask too many questions. 

quet1A Quiet Place is clearly a superior horror film- its tautly staged, with a small cast and some genuine jumps/scares, with a feeling of dread and doom throughout. Its probably one of the better films I’ll see this year. And yet it also irritated me. We all carry our baggage into films, which is no doubt why some people love one film, and others don’t, and while I admired and quite enjoyed A Quiet Place, some of its choices turned me cold.

Wrong film on the wrong night, maybe? It happens, Usually I like films leaving things unsaid, or simply putting mysteries up into the air for the audience to chew over- sometimes its all part of the fun. But with A Quiet Place, something felt a little off. The premise, for one thing- it’s the near future, and there has been some kind of apocalypse leaving civilization in tatters and most of the population dead. Deadly creatures prowl the land, totally blind but able to hunt prey by sound alone. Which is fine, it makes a change from zombies. But if they are blind, and if they are indeed aliens, how’d they build space ships and fly here? Or how come they don’t have a keen sense of smell to match the incredible hearing? Or fingers or thumbs for using tools or… We just accept the bizarre premise of blind monsters and move on, I guess.

The streets of a derelict town are deserted, where are the dead? Did everyone just up and leave or did the creatures whisk their victims away? And regards those creatures, what exactly are they? I’ve been told by one person that they are aliens, whereas I thought they might have been a genetic experimentation gone wrong, or maybe they are something more demonic, Its never said, and I suppose on another day I’d be praising that ambivalence, but right now I’m not sure the film deserved a pass.

I think a part of this are the many other things we are expected to just accept, as if unearned-  the details of the Abbot family, for one. The father, Lee (John Krasinski, who also directed this) is more than just handy, he’s some kind of gadget nut able to wire up a farm with lights, cameras and a basement full of tech, and he’s a bloody good survivalist in general, setting up traps, growing food. The mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt, who I usually love in just about anything), seems to have medical training alongside the survivalist stuff (so is that survivalist thing something they teach in American schools?), and is smart enough to teach her kids since schools out, like, forever. Heavily pregnant (a dubious move in this scenario, you’d have thought) she turns out to be some kind of superwoman later, giving birth not only alone but in total silence (grit those teeth, woman) and managing to put her foot though a nail, and later pull it back off that nail, in stocky silence- Captain Marvel, eat your heart out.

But you know, the unknowns and the fortuitous details just keep on piling up. Did they always own the farm they are living in, or did they just find it and make it the fortress of solitude/silence it’s become? I guess it doesn’t really matter. Or what about those other survivors, whose other fires in the night suggest the Abbots are not alone?

I suppose I should just shut up (like the characters do) and enjoy it. And I did, really. Its a good film, but it just… I don’t know, just pushed credulity a little too far. As I remarked a while ago in my Black Summer review, in the real world, if the shit hit the fan, most of us would be in the dead majority in no time at all. We’d be no good sorting medical ailments or growing crops or engineering clean drinking water or setting traps or managing sewage, never mind keeping one step ahead of deadly monsters.  They wouldn’t be able to make a gripping movie about most of us because it wouldn’t be a very long one. But make it a little more realistic, dial down the heroics or the perfection, maybe, of people who don’t lose their shit at the earliest opportunity?

Then again, the inevitable sequel might explain everything and that might just equally piss me off, go figure.


A Perfect Allison Williams Double-bill

perfect2Allison who? I hear you ask. Well, that’s a very good question really. I was watching The Perfection last night, and you know how it is, you’re watching a film or tv show and you see a (usually pretty) face and you think, I’ve seen that bloke/woman (delete as appropriate) before, but where? I watch a lot of films, not as many as some, sure, but a lot, and this kind of thing happens all the time. Its what mobile phones and the internet are for, right, to avoid this kind of thing becoming a mental meltdown spoiling what you are watching, but I prefer it to be a bit of a game- pause the damn thing (it’s what pause buttons are for, right?) and just debating with your other half “what the hell have we seen her in? Its something recent, I’m sure, but…”

Too many movies/tv shows. Its all getting a blur at the best of times.

So anyway, this occurred watching The Perfection, a strange horror/thriller flick on Netflix- whenever Allison Williams was onscreen, and it was, like, all the time because she was the star of the damn thing and it was really bugging us. So twenty minutes in we hit the pause button and wracked our brains and eventually, as it does, it came to us- she was in Get Out, another horror/thriller film that we saw a few weeks ago but which I hadn’t gotten around to reviewing here.

So, probably an ideal opportunity to review both films, or at least offer a few thoughts about each whilst considering the artistic qualities of she who is named Allison Williams.

Now, Allison, let’s get this right off the bat- she’s pretty, and she looks an awful lot like Daisy Ridley (Rey from the latest Star Wars trilogy) and Keira Knightley (The Pirates of the Carribean and a lot of other more forgettable stuff) so I suppose I could be forgiven for thinking that she fits a certain casting profile of what’s trendy in films now regards female leads. Now, the spin here is that while I’d likely be correct in thinking that, I’d also have to admit, she’s pretty good, possibly even a better actress, although she comes from a television show background (not something that carries the stigma it used to in the 1970s, certainly) and hasn’t had the break into blockbuster territory that Misses Ridley and Knightley have enjoyed just yet. At any rate, she was pretty damn good in Get Out, and even better in The Perfection– maybe she benefited from limited roles but she manages screen presence and charm and carries herself pretty well. I suspect we may see more of her in future and in later years people won’t be stumbling upon this post wondering “Allison who…?”.

011641211.jpgSo anyway, let’s start with the film clearest in my memory because I saw it last night: The Perfection. This is a something of a revenge/horror thriller that delivers on the shocks and gore but also on the modern tendency of scripts to just break down under scrutiny. I have been reminded before that all film is like that- it’s the plot holes that are filled by the scripts that enable the drama and twists etc and that most films fall apart when really given consideration. So we can forgive all that to some degree. I mean, it’s a little like thinking back on all the carnage in the John Wick films and wondering where all the cops are, particularly in New York considering Wick leaves a wake of bodies akin to a terrorist incident and the frenzy of police and ambulance sirens would surely be up on live News casts etc while it’s still going down. So filmgoers should always suspend disbelief with the proverbial pinch of salt and consider it all part of the fun.

In the case of The Perfection, its perhaps to consider it a modern fable, a kind of adult morality tale, clearly something rather diverged from any reality any of us are familiar with. Its a b-movie posing as something more sophisticated, which it really isn’t, and in this way it reminds me of several other films, like Velvet Buzzsaw, for example, or the recent Suspiria. Child prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) was a budding master cellist who had to leave a prestigious musical academy when her mother fell ill, and now years later following her mothers death she reconnects with her old tutors and the academy and the star pupil that replaced her and has lived the fame and success that Charlotte was denied. There’s a similar jealousy/animosity/sexual tension that featured in the superior Black Swan, as Charlotte and new star Lizzie (Logan Browning) reconnect. They start an affair as Lizzie takes a well-earned break from performances but something feels a little ‘off’ and its soon revealed that Charlotte really has a few scores she means to settle before the film is over.

To reveal much more would certainly break into spoiler territory, and as I endeavour not to do that when posting about new or fairly recent releases, I won’t go much further here, except to say that it’s got a few left-turns and surprises and is pretty good, except that it really can’t resist going just a few steps too far. Its not a unique criticism, I mean its true of so many contemporary films and tv shows- the drive to shock and surprise and entertain in modern material just can’t help but stretch credibility. The Perfection is, ironically given its title perhaps (whoops, cheap shot right there) is, alas, far from perfect, but it’s reasonably good fun while it lasts. Best to approach it for what it is, a b-movie at heart, and accept it on those terms.

geto1It is also, in a way, reminiscent of the original Twilight Zone tv series, something I was also thinking of when I watched Get Out a few weeks back,  Both films can be considered as simple Twilight Zone-like pitches. In Get Out‘s case, its a film about Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young black guy whose relationship with white girl Rose (yep, Allison Williams) comes under some nervous scrutiny when he meets her family one weekend at their rural family home. “Don’t go to a white girl’s parents’ house!” he is warned by Rod, his conspiracy theorist best friend, whose wild fancies are initially played for laughs but it transpires he’s right to be afraid for Chris. Its all a little like The Stepford Wives or Twin Peaks, regards a dark underbelly hidden beneath what on first glance is a pleasant, law-abiding if overly conservative white American community out in the sticks. I was reminded of some of H P Lovecraft’s stories, in which cultists would preserve their essences in ‘Saltes’ through which they might achieve some immortality or life beyond death by occupying the bodies of later descendants – Get Out chooses to follow a more scientific route to explain what’s really going on, but it’s essentially the same.  Its well acted and staged and is a pretty good thriller, and like the best Lovecraft fiction, it had me grimly pondering the really nasty undercurrent of what was really going on – on reflection it’s really horrible how people were being replaced by others in their bodies and for how long it had been happening (I prefer Lovecraft’s more fanciful somewhat mystical methodology than the brain-swapping silliness the film hints at, and I think the film would have functioned as  a great HPL film had it gone that way).

So anyway, there’s two films featuring Allison Williams. I’m sure there will be plenty more, and maybe with the next one I’ll recognise her straight away and won’t be distracted by wondering where I’ve seen that face before…?

Turing Test, Talos Principle and Ben

subnautica1I’m gravitating towards more solitary, slightly cerebral videogames of late- the thought of multiplayer is just horrible, I play videogames to get away from people and the world, I don’t need to get stressed playing shoot em-ups getting mugged by eight year olds, thankyou. So I’ve spent far too much time than is possibly healthy probing the underwater depths of an aquatic alien world in Subnautica, which is a survival-adventure game, something I’m pretty new to (nearest previous title was No Man’s Sky I think, and the survival part of that game wasn’t really its core).  Subnautica is beautiful and fascinating and really hooked me in. Parts of it are like James Cameron’s The Abyss, and I love that movie, so it’s irresistible being drawn into it, being a part of it and having to use my wits to figure out its mysteries and manage to survive. I don’t know how far I’ve progressed into it, but there’s definitely more depths to discover (literally, so), but I’ve put it on hiatus for now.

turing1So  I’ve been playing The Turing Test, recently placed on the Gamepass library. Now this is brilliant, one of those first-person puzzlers where in this case you explore a series of rooms on a research facility on Europa (yep, Jupiter’s moon), figuring out each puzzle that unlocks access to the next room, slowly delving deeper into the abandoned base. As you do so, hints and clues are gradually revealed of the stations original crew, an unfolding narrative that so far (I’m about two chapters in) I’ve really enjoyed. Its another mystery, akin to that of What Remains of Edith Finch, your game progress unfolding a meta-narrative. As you play you are observed by an AI, brilliantly voiced by James Faulkner (unmistakable and a really great performance) who comments on your actions and the state of the base- clearly the rooms are a test, a Turing Test, infact, to distinguish between human and machine, and it’s fairly obvious that you are being manipulated by the AI and that it (Tom) knows more about the fate of the original crew than it is telling.

The tests so far aren’t particularly grueling and are quite refreshingly intuitive, slowly becoming more complex and adding complications as they go. I’m really enjoying the sense of place and mood, though. Its fairly routine in design but it feels real, a place to feel and adjust to. Clearly there’s a mystery to solve and no doubt there are inevitable twists, but I am enjoying the gradually unfolding narrative. I’m one of those people who like to just look around the virtual space, soak it up, read any old crew logs that are abandoned and reveal tantalising back-story and clues to what Tom may be up to.  I think there are about 70 rooms in all and I’m not half-way yet- I certainly hope the puzzles don’t become too challenging. Its a tricky thing, the developers raising the stakes/complexity but still encouraging the player to work harder and avoiding the player hitting a difficulty wall he/she can’t get beyond. Here’s hoping I manage to get to the end and figure out what’s  really been going on. Engrossing stuff though, and like so many examples of this kind of thoughtful game, a really good, atmospheric soundtrack (in this case courtesy of Sam Houghton).

talos1.jpgIt reminds me of The Talos Principle, which I played on PS4 a few years ago. That was a brilliant, brilliant game- another first-person puzzler with a really fascinating backstory. But I never finished it. I was deeply into it back when our dog Ben was really ill, and was playing it off and on during those last few weeks before he died. Unfortunately the game, its graphics, sound effects and music are just so tightly wrapped up in my feelings and memories of that traumatic period, well, I really can’t ever go near it again. I remember Ben on my lap as I played it, and I’d be talking to him as I tried to figure out the games quite ingenious (and increasingly tricky) puzzles. Of course I knew he was ill but didn’t really know how ill- well, I guess I did but we tend to fool ourselves with hope, don’t we?

Funny how music, film, or in this case videogames (which in a audiovisual sense can be an intense combination of both) can be such an arresting link to particular moments, good and bad- they can represent great joy but also such terrible pain.  I suppose it’s a pity that I’ll never feel able to go back and finish that Talos Principle. Its too much like a Time Machine that only ever goes back to that one time.

24th June, almost three years ago. The day we lost Ben was the day the Brexit result was announced. Its like we stepped out from one sane world and into a crazier one, in which our dog was gone, our country split in two and politics slid even further into farce. I suppose it’s a little like moving from one level of a videogame to the next, only I can’t find the exit to this one.


Countdown to Dune continues

duneartSome time ago I wrote a post about Denis Villeneuve’s Dune project– probably the most exciting film on my radar. Naturally I failed to follow-up on later news regards casting and the commencement of filming, but then again, this isn’t a film news blog really- I just figured eventually I’d get around to summing things up, probably when the first publicity photos etc started to appear. But anyway, yesterday I read about WarnerMedia’s streaming service (which I assume is an impending ‘thing’ along the lines of Disney+ and Netflix etc) has greenlit a series titled “Dune: The Sisterhood” from Legendary Television, which I assume is an arm of the Legendary Pictures that is behind Villeneuve’s film.

I’m not sure how I feel about this- interested, sure, excited? Well, the intention to have Denis Villeneuve himself shoot the pilot is certainly an eye-opener. It also blurs the increasingly blurred lines between film and television. Years ago George Lucas would never have dreamed of making a Star Wars tv series while his Star Wars films were being made- there was always a sense of the clear distinction between cinema and television in regard quality and scope. The only way to see ‘proper’ Star Wars (I’m not even going to countenance the fact those Ewok movies exist) was to go to the cinema. Of course Netflix’s huge production budgets have blurred any distinction between big-screen and small screen (whatever small screen itself means in a world of large panels in homes) but I do have to wonder- if you can see a Dune series at home, why bother going to the cinema?

Which is not to say I’ll even get chance to watch the damn thing anyway, with how these streaming services put these things behind a paywall. DIsney are already spending a fortune on a live-action Star Wars series (they are actually working on three, The Mandalorian, a Rogue One prequel and some other project) that will only be available on Disney+ (which means I’ll likely never see them) and with this WarnerMedia streaming thing suggesting Warner seem intent on putting their properties behind their own paywall, it’s clearly a picture of an unpleasant future for some of us not throwing loads of disposable income at all these seperate services.

In anycase, the intimation that Villeneuve’s Dune will be something of a franchise is a little concerning. It kind of dilutes it somehow? Dune always seemed to me to be sci-fi’s answer to Ben Hur, this huge epic story, and to be honest I always had little enthusiasm for the sequel books, even those written by Herbert, nevermind the endless library being churned out by his son etc. But here we are with them already discussing spin-off tv series and possibly a box-set of movies in ten years time. Lets just have a great movie (part one/part two, whatever) before we start jumping on a franchise bandwagon. I don’t know. It just feels wrong. The Dune film itself is a Part One and we’ll only see Part Two if the first is successful, and I suppose it’s all part of a marketing strategy to spread the word etc. but I do miss the good old days when Star Trek: The Motion Picture was titled such because there was some kind of distinction for films to be something different, something special. Now they just seem to be a teaser for future media platforms where the real money is. And naturally this all feeds into the debate regards streaming and physical media, and where all that’s going.

Mind, BR2049 struggled to set the world alight with enthusiasm for all things Replicant but we already have comics and books and anime series in the offing so this is clearly where the future and the media world is headed. I suppose it’s very Cyberpunk in a way, the way it’s all so Corporate, it’s all product. I’m reminded of Murphy’s line at the end of Robocop: “They can fix anything”.

Maybe he should have said “They can sell anything”.

The Meg

Round One:  Statham v. Megaladon- FIGHT!

So The Meg. I think I thought the trailers were a joke. This couldn’t possibly be actually real, could it? A Chinese/Hollywood co-production featuring a gigantic prehistoric shark in an increasingly personal feud with Jason Statham? A film that literally proves there’s yet more depths for the summer blockbuster to sink into.

I’m used to crazy dumb films. Hell, I only saw The Wandering Earth a few weeks ago. But here we are. Maybe the Chinese are trying to destroy film-making in general- not content with making Michael Bay cinematic hybrids of their own, they recruit Hollywood talent to join in with their unholy exercise to destroy Western Civilization through bad moviemaking (its funny, you’d just think they’d sit back and let Michael Bay just carry on himself).

So bad it’s fun. We’ve all thought it at some time or another watching blockbuster schlock. I’m not so sure how much fun is to be had with this though. Mind, it earned lots of dosh at the box office, proving that stupid loud films with implausible giant sharks with dubiously generic characters and awfully creaky plot twists are somehow incredibly popular with the popcorn crowd, to the tune of over $530 million. Its bizarre really, as this thing is so bad it seems more destined straight to video than the local cineplex, but hey, Screen One seems to be the new VHS bin. How else to explain it?

Well, for one thing, its extremely gentle. I think Jaws was gorier than this and Piranha probably had more scares. This is decidedly (some would suggest cynically) family-friendly material, very Dr Who even in how it dishes out its very fishy tale of a monster shark discovered in deeper depths than even Cameron’s The Abyss dared plunge into. Its also very Gerry Anderson, with all manner of shiny CGI submarine hardware utilised to excite the easily excitable. An aquatic Pacific Rim almost.

I await the sequel with something approaching terror.




Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Cynical cash-grab sequel crosses the Rubicon with an ill-judged script- but grosses $1.3 billion

I suppose if I had to give the makers of this sequel any credit at all, it would be that they at least tried to stretch the Jurassic Park franchise boundaries, and move it towards something ‘new’, however ill-thought that ‘new’ is, or even if we needed to really stretch those boundaries anyway.  We’re out of the Theme Park business now, we’re into the Dinosaur Arms race. Which irritates the hell out of me. Using the dinosaur cloning tech as a weapons technology? I never bought that in any of the earlier films, it just doesn’t make any sense. What the hell is the military application of having leading a squad of Raptors on a field operation? How do you train Raptors to do anything but kill the enemy (and possibly any civilian or military ‘friendlies’ caught in the middle), or anything else moving within their sight, and how do they do that if they are being gunned down from a distance or blown up, or how does anything they do surpass a enacting a simple drone strike operation from thousands of miles away anyway? Where’s the stealth or element of surprise when using a T-Rex as a heavy weapon, or do you ride it like a horse in some kind of cavalry charge? Moreover, when genetically engineered Dino-weapons become utilised by both sides, where’s the gain other than dealers profiting from yet another arms race? Hey, I thought these movies were about dinosaurs?

Its just like Alien with its own nonsense of a weapons division seeing some monetary worth in dubious and unexplained applications of using the Alien creature in combat. I never bought that nonsense in 1979 and I still don’t now, several films later. Other than demonstrating the hubris of thinking you can control such a technology or creature, both franchises just seem to use their central conceit of man’s fascination with military might, or making money from it, simply as a device to move their plots forward. Its limited logic breaks down the more you think about it, but nonetheless the film-makers seem to insist on stretching the idea further and further. Its comic-book thinking that appears to believe it deserves elevating to serious motion-picture appraisal.

The danger of course is that the franchises become something far different from what they were when they started, and alienate their original audience. A monster in space horror movie becomes a Rambo in space action flick, and a Dinosaur Theme Park movie becomes, what, a Jurassic Terminator action flick or some Jurassic hybrid of the Planet of the Apes movies, in which the dinosaurs re-inherit the Earth?

It has occured to me that there is a parallel with the recent Star Wars films, in that The Force Awakens basically remade A New Hope in just the same way as Jurassic World remade Jurassic Park, and that with the second films (The Last Jedi and Fallen Kingdom) the producers have (ironically, perhaps) then moved the films much further away from their forebears, as if in a reactionary response to those prior remake/reboots. So in Fallen Kingdom we have the original island blasted by a volcanic eruption, the remaining dinosaurs relocated to the mainland and let loose following an arms auction that has run amok.

Mind, that box office seems to prove the film-makers are doing something right and I know nothing, John Snow.


Party Like it’s 1989: Batman (4K UHD)

Its difficult for me to seperate the memories of that summer of 1989, and how big an ‘event’ film it was, from Tim Burton’s Batman itself. Its all wrapped up in the same thing- Batdance playing in the charts, Prince’s Batman album, the news reports about its release Stateside, all the marketing/tee-shirts/toys etc. I don’t know what the marketing budget was, but Batmania was huge that summer, with the Bat-logo seemingly everywhere. In some ways the film was a corporate juggernaut, from the casting choices to the use of Prince etc; it’s a testament to Burton’s efforts that the film still feels like it has a singular voice and vision in spite of the demonstrably hands-on studio behind him. 

Batman was the first film I saw in a cineplex, when the Showcase opened up nearby and consigned the old dilapidated ABC cinema in town to history forever (and eventual closure). So Batman remains more a memory of time and place than just a movie that could ever be judged on its own terms- it’s the quintessential ‘event’ movie, in the same way as Star Wars was and Jurassic Park was. Some films are never ‘just’ films.

Its also worthy to note that Batman wasn’t influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, as later versions were (Miller’s opus cast a long shadow over Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Snyder’s Batman v Superman). Instead, it definitely appears more focused on the very first comic books prior to Robin featuring- something evidenced particularly by its oddly 1940s ‘look’ which seems to set the film in some strangely timeless world, a curious mix of period fashions and art deco sets and futuristic gadgets mixed will all sorts of retro stuff. In this respect, it’s a lot more like Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, which itself had a very dreamy, almost lost-Americana feel in which even the films ‘present day’ had a strong sense of early-1970s kitsch even in 1978. Both films of course are commended for taking the original sources very seriously indeed- thanks to endless re-runs on tv of the camp 1960s show, Tim Burton’s film in particular had a big weight around its neck in this regard which is possibly hard to envisage now, all these years later.

The production budget for the film was $35 million, which in today’s money would equal something around $75 million- not as high as might be expected in this age of $150 – $200 million budgets, perhaps indicating the surprisingly smaller scale of the Burton film compared to the later versions (Batman Begins was budgeted at $150 million in 2005, about $198 million in today’s money). The scale of the film is also impacted by the technology of the time. The CGI of the post-Matrix era has really enabled film-makers to open up the possibilities and trickery in superhero films, leaving Burton’s film rather dated with its matte paintings and model shots.

But of course films are always of their time, and I recall even in 1989 being underwhelmed by some of the visual effects and opticals; Batman was always an old-school, overwhelmingly analogue film even in 1989, with obvious nods to German expressionism in film and Citizen Kane and Vertigo. In this respect it remains a certain achievement and a curiously beautiful artifact.

Indeed, it looks damn gorgeous on this amazing 4k release- I’m really quite astonished at how beautiful this film looks now in 4K. Sure much of the fakery still looks fake, but some of the matte painting extensions of Gotham are just breathtakingly beautiful to look at, with new detail and colour breadth. And the sets. Good grief the sets. The interiors are pretty astonishing in detail and lighting (the HDR really benefiting the shadow detail) and the exteriors are really a wonder (the Gotham streets built on the Pinewood backlot and shot at night really impress here with all the added detail). In some ways this Batman is one of the most impressive catalogue 4K UHD discs I’ve yet seen- the HDR isn’t distracting (you’re not blinded by bright lights etc like you can be in some rather revisionary remasters) but simply increases the sense of depth and detail throughout. Its really tastefully done, clearly retaining the intentions of the original film-makers but looking, frankly, better than it ever has, even during its original theatrical presentation in 1989.

An interesting thing rewatching this film after so many years (I really can’t recall when I last saw it, but it was possibly on DVD) is the casting- after seeing Heath Ledger’s Joker, I expected Jack Nicholson’s version to pale in retrospect, but Nicholson’s Joker still impresses, surprisingly still perhaps the definitive Joker so far. There’s something real and fascinating and gritty about him- of course Nicholson is a great actor with real charisma in front of the camera- it’s almost magical here. Jack Napier is clearly a Bad Guy, a self-centered criminal working his way up the crime-syndicate ladder who becomes distinctly unhinged once he becomes the Joker, with what I assume are Nicholson’s ad-libs elevating the movie in just the same way as Robin Williams Aladdin several years later. His Joker is mean and scary and funny in a really fine performance, and yeah, he actually kills people in this- I was surprised when watching this again to see both Joker and Batman kill people. Its a surprisingly violent film considering it also lacks some of the CGI hysterics/stunts etc that later contemporary superhero films are afforded now. Burton actually wanted to cast Brad Dourif as the Joker- boy would that have been a different movie.

Jack Palance of course is brilliant, the only problem with his Carl Grissom is that he’s not in the film enough, Palance having a huge weighty gravitas in the few minutes of screentime he has. Kim Basinger and Jerry Hall remind us just how old the film is/when it was made, Basinger reduced to just screaming damsel in distress most of the film and Hall simply a trophy moll, it’s clearly all stuff they wouldn’t get away with today (Basinger replacing Sean Young as original choice for Vicki Vale, how weird would that have been for me as a Blade Runner fan). I always liked Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox, a finely tuned comic performance that is quite measured and successful considering its in the same film as Nicholson’s Joker. Wuhl has always been one of the things I liked most in this movie.

Batman is curiously dated- as I have said, it was dated even in 1989 in some ways, and hasn’t ageed well since, but I did enjoy rewatching it. The saddest thing is that so much was dropped/changed when the sequel was made, and while many seem to think Batman Returns is superior I really don’t like it. I preferred the originals big Pinewood exteriors and interior sets, and really hurt by how much of the cast that we lost (I always thought Batman 2 should have reprised Billy Dee William’s Harvey Dent and featured Two-Face as the villian, it’s such just a lost opportunity). Batman Returns just felt like too different a film, and the title oddly ironic, as it wasn’t the return of the Batman I had so enjoyed in 1989- it actually felt like a reboot.

You will have noticed I haven’t mentioned the biggest issue I always had with this film- Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Wayne is okay I guess, but his Batman really seems limited. Maybe it was the suit. It looks okay but it was clearly a bitch to shoot, it looks like he can hardly move in the bloody thing. The cape is almost a funny throwback to the 1960s show how it flaps around much of the time, and any fighting sequence is hampered by the suits inability to actually do anything in it without falling over. I always watch the film thinking about Spielberg’s ordeals shooting the mechanical shark Bruce in Jaws and feel that Burton must have had similar sleepless nights with that damn Batsuit. They managed to light it okay in most scenes, with the film’s expressionistic approach and deep shadows helping hide many of its failings, but it’s not the suit a real crime-fighter would employ without being put to death by the first serious super-villain. Its one of the things that dates the film really, but what the hell, it was 1989 I guess.

And of course, even as a big Prince fan, it really does seem weird, his music featuring in this. With it 1940’s looks it always seems funny to see Joker’s goons lumbering around with a 1980’s boombox and Partyman blasting out of its speakers. But yeah, what the hell, it was indeed 1989 afterall. Party on.


Cardinal Season Three: By the Time You Read This

There’s something oddly comforting about the arrival of another season of Cardinal, almost like the return of an old friend: regular readers will possibly recall my reviews of seasons one and two of the show, and I’m pleased to report this third season is surprisingly good- much better, infact, than season two. Indeed, on reflection this third season might actually cast dubious events of that sophomore season in a fairer light, chiefly that of the suicide of Cardinal’s unstable wife, Catherine Well, I say ‘suicide’ but the inference of that season’s finale is the crux of this season. When Cardinal himself begins to believe the death was suspicious I rather felt familiar old demons of guilt were pushing him in the wrong direction, and into another seasonal pit of self-loathing, but it transpires he has every reason to have his doubts.

Continuing the series tradition of differing seasons (season one set in Winter, the second in Summer), By the Time You Read This is set in the fall, and its predictably gorgeous.  The semi-rural locale of Cardinal (Alonquin Bay, a fictional version of North Bay, Ontario) is one of its biggest selling-points, almost lending it a Twin Peaks-kind of vibe at times, and its wide-open golden forests and bitterly-cold windswept lakes are a lovely diversion visually. The cast, led by Billy Campbell as the title character, all hushed commentary and craggy, life-worn features, is as fine as ever, and I definitely think Karine Vanasse as his investigative partner Lise Delorme has really come into her own here. Both leads underline the series tendency for underplaying everything and not relying on too many shock tactics- there is a fragility about everything, and a calmness that is refreshing, especially after season two’s straining of credibility;  a definite return to form.

This third season benefits by improved writing, with four arcs that ultimately tie together in a very satisfying manner. I’m tempted to suggest it manages this over a six-episode season far better than Game of Thrones managed, but that feels like a cheap shot. Oh okay, I went there. But anyway, it throws these storylines in the air: the first is a series of grisly murders perpetrated by an odd group of End of the World nutters, another is a series of violent robberies at ATM machines, another the department chief being involved in a bloody suicide, and the fourth being Cardinals initially, we assume, misguided theory about his late wife’s death.  It seems unlikely at the outset, but the arcs really do tie in together rather well and form a satisfying whole at the conclusion- yes, they manage a perfect landing compared to GOTs dodgy near-crash in the dirt. The personal angle, and our empathy for Cardinals plight and self-doubt regards Catherine’s death is what really raises this season. I do think this has been a marked improvement this year on what I felt a fairly exploitative previous season.

So it definitely seems there is plenty of life in this show yet, and indeed a fourth season is coming, hopefully next year. I appreciate that this is likely one of those shows lost in all the noise of bigger, more popular series on Netflix, Sky Atlantic etc but it’s certainly well worth tracking down. Stuck on BBC’s Saturday night foreign drama slot on BBC4 its unfortunately a victim of Autie Beeb’s scheduling and it’s a wonder I manage not to miss it whenever a new series suddenly drops.

Best Batman Movie Ever

Aha, clickbait infects ghostof82. Well, maybe not. All will be revealed with my review of the just-arrived Batman 4K UHD, sometime soon. I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s comic-book hit from 1989 for, oh, well over ten years. Might actually have been on DVD, last time I watched this, so I’m pretty curious how well this holds up.

Mind, that is fairly hideous box art, giving the 4K UHD of Alien a run for its money. What were the Warner artists thinking, or was it farmed out to some art design studio that frankly didn’t give a shit?