Syd Mead has died

syd1One more post today, and one that I really wish I didn’t have to write. Having already lost both Rutger Hauer and Lawrence G Paull this year, we have lost another of the Blade Runner ‘family’: I woke up this morning to the sad news of the passing of visualiser Syd Mead, the artist who designed much of what encompassed the distinctive  ‘look’ of Blade Runner. Is it wrong of me to consider it morbidly poetic that he passed in 2019, of all years?

Syd Mead of course worked on several other films, although Blade Runner is perhaps inevitably the most famous assignment he took. He did design work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Aliens and Tron, amongst others, and of course returned to the Blade Runner universe to design some of the Las Vegas skylines for Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. He was due to accept the Art Directors Guild’s William Cameron Menzies Award award in February next year.

I’m sure such news as this will become all the more frequent now as the years roll on: its grimly inevitable. Syd was 86 years old, and many of the cast and crew are reaching that kind of age- Harrison Ford is now 77, Ridley is 82, Vangelis is 76, Douglas Trumbull is 77. Hopefully they have plenty of years still ahead of them but… well, Blade Runner was released in 1982, its reaching its own 38th anniversary next year, we’re all getting older.

Well isn’t that a cheerful note to end 2019, that magical year of certain dreams dating all the way back to 1982.

The 2019 List: December

My total for 2019 is… (drumroll! trumpets! tah-dah!)  156… that’s some kind of record for me.

Breaking it down a little, its 111 movies and 45 television series, and if I give those series a conservative estimate of 6 episodes each (the norm is 8 or 10 episodes of course, and a few were sit-com seasons of the usual full 22 half-hour episodes) that means a low estimate of 270 individual episodes overall, although its possibly closer to 400 in reality. I’ve certainly watched a lot more television programming than movies this year.

And this is my post number 252 for this year. That’s a lot of posting-  writing by me and reading by readers like you. That’s if you’ve read most of them (and if so, thank you, and thank you even more if you’ve taken the time and trouble to write comments), but yeah its me who’s written them all. Its something of a discipline, maintaining a blog, and its dropped off a little recently due to real-world issues, and it has been a pretty rotten year really, with funerals and deaths and all sorts of stuff then can send anyone scurrying to a tv boxset or movie to escape.

Usually of course, nobody actually records how much they watch in any given year, and I’m pretty certain there’s all kinds of specials I haven’t recorded and naturally there were series I have not gotten past the first few episodes of (regards television shows I’ve only counted those which I’ve watched complete seasons of, and nor have I counted those few films I’ve started and given up on).

Its pretty sobering really. I should go get myself a normal life. Or maybe this is indeed a normal life in the 21st Century, when you think about it that’s even more of a sobering thought. Certainly its little wonder I seem to struggle finding time to read books. So anyway, that’s December done and all of 2019.

Happy New Year, everyone.

I wonder what lies ahead in 2020? There’s a certain film I’m really looking forward to…

TV Shows:

146) The Crown: Season Three

149) The Expanse: Season Four

150) Watchmen

156) War of the Worlds


147) Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

148) Taste of Fear

151) Jacobs Ladder (2019)

152) Anna and the Apocalypse

153) Borg vs McEnroe

154) Harry Price: Ghost Hunter

155) Mary Queen of Scots


End of Year Report, 2019.

Didn’t get my Replicant Pleasure-Model in the mail, nor did my new car launch vertically into the air for a commute to work in the sky-lanes… and neither was I able to book my holiday Off-World, so thanks for ‘nowt, Ridley…

But 2019 did come with some great television shows and movies. That said though, there were plenty of clunkers and disappointments.  I think what I shall remember most of 2019 is that it was clearly a year when television content surpassed movies in quality by a pretty wide margin.

In my previous post I mentioned that I watched three seasons of The Expanse this year, which was pretty amazing and certainly one of my favourite shows of the year, but there was plenty of other quality shows. Some clunkers too, mind- February brought the first (and thankfully last) season of Nightflyers, a truly abominable creation that so soon after having enjoyed the brilliant The Expanse brought my sci-fi viewing crashing back down to Earth. At the time I was confident it would be the worst piece of television I would see all year, but I was innocently ignorant of Another Life coming later in April. The fact that Another Life has been granted a second season is just mind-boggling and very, very scary.

Certainly the good outweighed the bad, though, if only because you can afford to be judicious with so much content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime. By March I’d also see season two of The Crown, the first outing for The Umbrella Academy, season one of Stranger Things and Love, Death & Robots, a ridiculously entertaining anthology show that was a Fantasia for sci-fi geeks like me, and totally beautiful.

Regards movies though, I had really struggled to see anything really memorable until April, when I saw both Bad Times at the El Royale and Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. El Royale really impressed me on a rental, so much so that a few months later I bought the 4K disc. Then in May John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum blew my mind on a rare trip to the cinema, an absolutely dizzying action-fest that instantly put itself as prime contender for my Film of the Year. In an era of politically-correct naval-gazing and various worthy agendas being shoved in my face all the time, Wick was refreshingly old-school, unfashionably simple action-movie nirvana. May also brought Avengers Endgame, another rare cinema outing that this time proved hugely disappointing. I’m really curious to see if a rewatch will revise my opinion of the film, but even though I bought the 4K disc of the film when it came out a few months back, I still haven’t actually watched the disc. I keep thinking I should watch Avengers Infinity War first, maybe the two films in a double-bill over a weekend, but the length of the darn things proves rather daunting. All those Marvel geeks who watch all these movies often and know them inside-out are made of sterner stuff than I. Watching Captain Marvel just once, when the 4K disc came out in July , left me pretty burned-out on all things Marvel- the thought of the ultra-fans watching and re-watching that one is just plain scary.

Away from movies, April brought us the big television disappointment of the year, with season eight of Game of Thrones. In hindsight, it could only ever disappoint, it had hyped up the conclusion and all the show’s mysteries and intrigues over several seasons to such a degree, it was inevitable that it would all just implode. Didn’t think the crash would be quite so spectacular though. Having bought all the Blu-rays already, I bought the 4K disc set of season eight anyway, and am hoping that when I get the courage to watch it again after all these months the pain will be less, I can make my peace with some of the wilder crazier twists and maybe manage to see something in all the episode three murk now its in 4K UHD. We’ll see.

Much better television followed in June: and no, I’m not talking about season two of Star Trek Discovery, but rather it was the month when I caught up with Chernobyl, a breath-taking and harrowing series that was pretty much perfect. Discovery was far, far from perfect- it ably demonstrated that while much television can be great, it can also out-dumb and out-stupid anything Hollywood movie studios can do.

In August, I caught up with both Aquaman (a film that proved DC could still make worse movies than Captain Marvel) and Shazam! (a film that proved DC could actually make great, fun superhero movies). Aquaman would be another of those terribly busy movies that tried to fit three films into one, like some kind of Readers Digest edition of an actual film trilogy. It doesn’t work, it just gives me an headache. I watched the 2017 remake of Flatliners, and although I thought that was diabolically appalling, I had no idea I’d also see the Jacobs Ladder remake later in the year, a film which would make the Flatliners remake seem a classic and put me in a total dark funk for a weekend.

Returning to television shows, August also sprung a major surprise with the quite excellent The Boys over on Amazon. The quality television continued into September with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) disc release of the third season of True Detective, which I really enjoyed (I love all three seasons of that show- yes, that includes the maligned second season) and Carnival Row, another Amazon show that was much better than I’d expected, even if it did leave me pining for the superior (and sadly missed) Penny Dreadful.

Sheesh, all these seasons of television shows and all their complicated multi-layered narratives. I suppose I should be glad most movies turned out to be rather less demanding, more simplistic and comfortingly predictable. A prime example would be September’s Ad Astra, which I was expecting to be a high-concept sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now. Well, it was certainly a sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now, almost literally so, but with lunar space pirates and a mad Space Baboon, it was rather more Event Horizon than 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disappointment then, and another example of the lack of confidence of movie studios to challenge and provoke audiences as much as HBO etc do on television. I would imagine that had HBO made Ad Astra as a ten-episode serial, it would have proven far more enticing and thought-provoking.It would probably look just as good too- the gap between television and cinema in regards of visual effects is obviously still there, but its much narrower than it used to be, and television more than makes up for any deficit there by better script writing. November’s The Lion King would prove to be a startling reminder of what visual majesty only cinema budgets can presently afford, but the same months Spider Man: Far From Home ably demonstrated that cinema could just get dumber and dumber even as it got prettier.

November also presented us with The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese gangster ballad that incredibly came to us via Netflix (I prefer ‘ballad’ to ‘epic’ just because its more, well, thoughtful and mature than the joyously questionable glorification of Goodfellas). The idea that a $150 million Scorsese flick could just drop onto Netflix on a Friday night still feels dizzying and possibly game-changing. I really enjoyed the film (its certainly more Once Upon A Time in America than Godfather or Goodfellas).

The Irishman did show, though, just how much has changed during 2019. Streaming services are all the rage now, and really will prove more of a Big Deal in 2020. The prevailing move by studios towards streaming and away from physical media, and indeed away from traditional vendors like cable and satellite television providers, is just a gathering storm that gets windier by the month. For someone like me who likes to own my favourite films and television shows and enjoys special features and commentaries, its pretty worrying. I can see a future not far away where streaming and pay per view is everything. Its clearly inevitable, but its a future where The Irishman can’t be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray, a future where you’ll probably need to subscribe to Disney+ in order to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies in the comfort of your own home (and I’m pretty certain that premium content on Disney+ will eventually require additional purchases in-app to watch; it may start as a subscription service but it’ll inevitably evolve into a pay-per-view service when alternative avenues like physical media are gone). Hopefully that’s more 2029 or 2039 though, and I’ll be past caring as long as I have a Blu-ray player working.



The Expanse: Season Four

exp1At the time, here in the UK it entailed importing the Blu-rays, but I started this year watching season two of The Expanse and watched season three immediately after, thoroughly enjoying both the series, safe in the knowledge that a fourth season was due later thanks to Amazon having saved the show from cancellation. We had to wait a little longer than we’d hoped for this fourth season to drop but it turned out to be a great early Christmas present.

Did I mention how hooked I am on this show? Three episodes on the Friday that it dropped (staying up until the early hours even after a typically long Friday shift at work), four episodes on the Saturday, and the rest on the Sunday- ten episodes over three days. Its just that kind of show for me, and while I can understand the argument that a ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing these days) weekly transmission schedule may have served the show better regards weekly digest and discussion, how can one resist binge-watching such a great and satisfying show?

Alas, it leaves me having to start another long wait for more new episodes- currently the team are mid-way filming the fifth season (thanks to Amazon green-lighting two whole seasons), so a late 2020 estimate seems reasonable. So I’ve decided to finally do the decent thing and start reading the books, the first three of which have handily just been reprinted in hardcover (well, it was either that or re-watch the whole thing again, tempting as that is). That’s me covered for reading into the New Year.

So I’ve praised the show up and not gotten into any details regards why it is so great. I think that’s related to my reticence regards reading the books that the show is based on. I love watching each episode not knowing whats going to happen next, and have carefully avoided spoilers on the ‘net, and am worried that if I get carried away I’ll eventually be reading the books beyond where the show has gotten and possibly spoil my enjoyment of the series (there’s one problem that Game of Thrones never had in the end). Having published the eighth book now, the authors have made it clear that the series ends with a final ninth book, which is obviously going to come out before the corresponding television season does. I know, First World problems and all that. But its a pertinent point that I’m intensely reticent to spoil anyone’s enjoyment by giving away anything at all if they read one of my posts and decide to give the show a go.

So anyway, its a pretty great cast, some great characters (I’m still pissed that some don’t survive to the fifth season, so consider that a further indication of its ‘Game of Thrones in Space’ description being apt), and it looks pretty damned gorgeous streaming it in 4K UHD. The visual effects are excellent, the writing is great… and it features Real Science, and Real Physics, which is something rather new to television science fiction. Now that Amazon has it, the future for the show just seems brighter, and the odds of getting all nine seasons more likely than it ever was. As we are approaching, in theory, the midway point of the whole saga next year, this seems an ideal time for people to jump on board the gunship Rocinante and find out what a protomolecule of alien origin can do.

(The Expanse is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime, and the first three seasons on DVD and Blu-ray)

Mary Queen of Scots

mary1This is one of those films that fails to be the sum of its parts. It has a high-pedigree cast, that includes Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Guy Pearce, with David Tennant in scenery-chewing mode- and what fine scenery that is, with some gorgeous sets and lovely wide location shoots, some really fine art direction and hauntingly atmospheric music from Max Richter. It should really be something powerful, stirring, something akin to Roland Joffe’s The Mission, perhaps.

But it doesn’t really ignite,  doesn’t really seize the emotive heights it should.  Instead it seems to get bogged down by the minutiae of 16th Century court politics and in the end seems to just reaffirm that ages-old riff that all men are bastards, and that the world would be a better place were we led by women who did’t have to be distracted at playing men’s games in a mans world.

mary2Or perhaps that was the whole point of the film after all, and I’m being unfair to it expecting more. Robbie’s Elizabeth I is rather ill-served in my opinion, almost rendered impotent, which is a curious spin considering some of the films made about her in the past (such as the 1998 film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett, which seemed to portray an entirely different woman altogether). This film seems rather uncertain whether she and Mary are opponents or allies sharing similar problems (i.e. the men surrounding them), kindred spirits divided by the physical borders that define them. I rather suspect that history is being reshaped to reflect modern sensibilities, modern concerns- there is sex in the film, and homosexuality, and alcoholism, and a character in Mary’s court who is suspiciously transgender. Its curious also that perhaps the most interesting moment in the film, arguably its actual climax, is a meeting between the two women which never really happened.

There is plenty to admire in the film- it does indeed look ravishing and the two leads are very good (albeit Robbie rather ill-served), and the music score fits the film as well as I suspected it would having listened to the soundtrack CD some months ago. So its well worth a watch and rewards the attention its sluggish, rather dense script demands, but it never feels to match what it might have, and should have been. Not exactly a misfire, put possibly a missed opportunity.


Harry Price: Ghost Hunter

harry1In 1920s London, paranormal investigator Harry Price (Rafe Spall) is called upon by rising political star Edwin Goodwin to investigate the odd goings on in the MP’s home and the apparent mental disintegration of his wife Grace, who seem to be the focal point of the bizarre goings-on. Harry teams up with the family’s maid, Sarah Grey (Cara Theobold), and the two attempt to investigate the haunting and deduce if a ghost or something more earthly is behind the horrors.

Christmas schedules always offer something supernatural, and often ideally period, in nature and Harry Price: Ghost Hunter fits the bill brilliantly- a well-made tv movie that was also patently a set-up/pilot for a tv series. Unfortunately I’m late to the party as usual, as this originally aired in December 2015 and that tv series never came, which is something of a surprise- considering ITV had huge success with other period dramas such as Downtown Abbey at the time, a mystery series like this on Winter Sunday nights seems a sure-fire winner, with Harry Price and Sarah Grey an ideal British Mulder and Scully for some period X-Files-like shenanigans.

Maybe it was too obvious- admittedly its hardly high-concept, but the format seems to be a success, the period setting is pretty convincing as one would expect, and the cast perfectly fine. Two of the lead actresses also featured in Downtown Abbey, oddly enough. While Spall initially seems a bit of an odd fit for Harry Price, the subtlety of his performance wins through in the end and the brooding tension from his back-story (originally a charlatan and a devout sceptic, its clear he’s got a subconscious need to be proven wrong) suggests a clever narrative over a series of tales. Considering its period setting, its also deliberately modern, with the Sarah Grey character clearly a very modern woman struggling in the face of a very male-oriented world.

If I had any real criticism of it, its perhaps that the script obviously wants the best of both worlds- the investigators finally arrive at a rather prosaic explanation for whats going on, but it also offers a visual suggestion that there’s more going on than such a mundane solution offers (Grey herself witnessing a paranormal event that suggests that poor Grace is not seeing mere hallucinations at all). I don’t know if, had the format gone to a full series, that such a balancing act would have been able to be supported over a long arc.

So while I suppose its rather forgettable (it never went to series, after all, so clearly it was found wanting by the execs or the public at the time of its transmission) as a piece of Seasonal supernatural drama it works pretty well (watching this kind of stuff in the glow of the Christmas tree lights is a strange shade of perfect). Its just a pity, considering it didn’t go to series, that its so consciously setting one up over its last ten minutes, because it robs the film of proper closure, instead ending with that tease familiar in so many modern movies. Its all very well when you know Super Hero Caper Two, Three or Four is coming, but if that follow-up never comes it feels rather, well, all Alien Covenant, and that’s not good at all.

(Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is currently available on Amazon Prime in the UK).

Anna and the Apocalypse

annaWell, its a Christmas movie -of a sort- so that means its Seasonal, but its also a Zombie movie and, well, its a Musical, which doubles the horror factor since it features a largely teenage cast with inevitable shades of stuff like Glee and distant memories of Fame… Yeah, its really something of a bizarre cross-genre mash-up that is pretty harmless and not without some charm. The songs aren’t too shabby either, and the mostly teenage cast pretty good- I suppose this has ‘future Cult-movie’ written all over it, it just needs a few years for word-of-mouth to spread.

The film is set in a Scottish High School (albeit oddly missing the heavy Scottish accents you might expect, so no subtitles needed) during preparations for an end of term Christmas talent show. There’s a really fun sequence early on when Anna wakes up and sings her way to school with her headphones on, shutting out the world as normal, therefore comically ignorant of the Zombie Apocalypse rising around her as she dances to school with zombies behind her and bloody carnage in the streets. Its a nice nod to the perception of teenagers living in a world all their own: Anna only comes to realise something odd is going on when a Zombie Snowman finally gets her attention.

There’s nods to social media and how teens are lost without their mobile phones/internet, and it manages a fine balance between songs/teen drama/zombie horror, but it spends so much effort managing that balance that it lacks the, ahem, bite that it really needs. I think it should have been rather darker, more like An American Werewolf in London, say, in order to really work. Mind, its certainly diverting enough from the usual sugary Christmas-obsessed stuff we get fed (sic) during this Holiday Season.

(Not a) Rise of Skywalker review

sky1.jpgWell, no I haven’t seen it. Probably won’t until the New Year when the fuss has died down, and even then it might not be until March when the disc comes out. I’m a Star Wars fan from 1977 when I read the Marvel comics (we didn’t get the film here in the UK regions until early 1978). I’ve bought the films on every home format going and seen each one at the cinema until Solo. I’ve bought the soundtracks, wear the tee-shirts. If Disney can’t get my big arse on a cinema seat then somethings very, very wrong in a Galaxy far, far away.

The reviews, some positive, some negative, some indifferent, some absolutely apocalyptic, are pretty much everything I expected from the film. I have little tolerance for the methods of JJ Abrams, whose entire career seems to have been an exercise in polishing up and re-selling the creative genius of others, nor Kathleen Kennedy, a ‘safe’ pair of hands at Lucasfilm who mistook bullet-points and agendas for creative narrative.

Richard over at 100 Films in A Year has posted his review and its pretty typical. He raises a very good observation that the film-makers “forcibly insert bits that seem to exist merely to look good in trailers” which is something that Abrams has been guilty of before. The most telling one I recall is the Enterprise rising out of an ocean in Star Trek Into Darkness. It was totally idiotic (the excuse being the Enterprise was hiding from the native civilisation, when it would have been perfectly hidden up in orbit as it has been for several tv series and movies over the decades) and betrays Abram’s cynical method of putting ‘wow’ moments into his films that serve no narrative function or internal logic at all. First time around it distracts through surprise and spectacle but on repeat viewing it just rankles. Its curious that repeat viewings of his movies seldom go well and a lot of his films (the Star Trek reboots and The Force Awakens in particular) are subject to much revisionary criticism years later- they really don’t age well at all

He’s like some kid smashing all his toys up for the hell of it. The guys appropriates the worlds created by others and joyfully breaks them. Like another example in the same film when Khan transports himself across the galaxy from a shuttle down on Earth to someplace on Klingon, instantly, and immediately negating the need for space ships or FTL travel at all. A smarter hand on the script would have simply had him teleport to a ship waiting in orbit that then warps off to Klingon, a move that would have performed the same narrative function but stayed within established mythology and logic. Which is pretty much the same as that jerk Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi when Holdo jumps into Hyperspace through the First Order flagship and destroys the ship and most of the fleet. Its a big ‘wow’ moment, beautifully executed, certainly the one scene that provoked gasps of surprise and awe, but its also the one in which it broke the world. I wonder how many times in The Rise of Skywalker a situation arises in which had the good guys done the same manoeuvre they could have wiped out Palpatines forces? Or more tellingly, how many times Palpatine could have wiped out the rebel armada by one of his ships doing the same?

Its all very sad. I don’t want any Star Wars film to fail but neither do I want bad storytelling to be rewarded. Lucasfilm clearly had no plan for this sequel trilogy, and while I believe it went wrong from the start with The Force Awakens so cynically remaking A New Hope rather than moving onto new territory, it went doubly wrong letting Rian Johnson then break everything Abrams started with The Force Awakens, I mean, where did they expect the franchise to go after The Last Jedi? I sincerely wish, for all my dislike of The Last Jedi, that Rian Johnson had been left to make the third film and try to conjure up some satisfying conclusion himself. It was too easy and let him off the hook, he took so much pleasure breaking everything with The Last Jedi and he was able to walk away like some triumphant auteur and I almost feel sorry for Abram’s position with this third film. Johnson got away with it and didn’t have to ‘fix’ what he broke.

That all being said, the ultimate failure is surely of Kathleen Kennedy and the heads at Lucasfilm who failed in oversight of the trilogy. Say what you will about the prequels (and they are pretty awful) but Lucas clearly had a narrative arc for them, telling the story of Anakin Skywalker and how he became Darth Vader and the rise of the Empire. I don’t know what the hell this new trilogy was supposed to be about.

In both The Phantom Menace and A New Hope, the audience is informed of the political situation, whether it be of the troubled Republic of the first film or the established positions of the Empire and the resistance in A New Hope. Somehow between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the defeated Empire has arisen as the nonsensical First Order, and instead of the New Republic post-ROTJ defending against the new evil its left to some kind of new bunch of freedom fighters instead. Its never explained how things have turned out how they have or who’s bankrolling the First Order or who the hell Snoke was, except that I gather its ‘explained’ in Rise of Skywalker that it was Palpatine all along. Yeah, the same dude that was blasted by his own force lightning and hurled down into a blazing reactor core subsequently destroyed with its vaporised Death Star- I gather all this is ‘explained’ by the Great Bard Abrams and I don’t know how Palpatine gets defeated/killed in Rise of Skywalker  but I wonder whats stopping the bugger magically resurrecting himself again.

From the start this new trilogy has been lazily written, ill-reasoned, and hell-bent on just rebooting everything from the earlier films whilst arbitrarily ignoring established mythology and internal logic. Every narrative has a beginning, a middle and end with sensical narrative and character arcs, whether it be a single movie or three films telling a whole larger story. Did Lucasfilm start shooting The Force Awakens with no idea where the story went in films two and three? It seems patently obvious this was the case and insanely irresponsible and reckless. They got what they deserved, alienating the core fanbase while they were at it. I’m sure The Rise of Skywalker has it fans and will pass a billion dollars at the box office but I’m pretty confident its a bad movie.

Jacobs Ladder (2019)

jacob1I keep asking myself why. Why Jacobs Ladder, 2019?

Why I watched it? Well, that’s the easy one: grim, determined curiosity. I’ve been a huge fan of Adrian Lyne’s original 1990 film ever since I first saw it at the cinema. Sure, its got its detractors, but I always found it a fascinating, disturbing, wholly satisfying horror film complete with its own internal logic and a… I hesitate to term it a ‘philosophy’, but it does. Its a horror story/fable about letting go, about dying, about the human experience of life and death. It makes sense. Nothing makes sense about this remake, reboot, whatever they call it. It doesn’t sense why they made it, what they thought it could offer new, and it doesn’t make sense as a movie. Its a mess, an utterly terrible mess.

Not that I ever expected anything different, this film had ‘disaster’ written all over it from the start. I first heard about it several years ago, then all went quiet, and after I’d assumed it had gotten mercifully canned prior to getting made, I learned it had indeed been made but had been pretty much shelved by the studio, so bad it couldn’t be released. Well, they had that right. It should have stayed on that shelf.

But it seems they couldn’t resist getting it out there and trying to make some money out of it.

So what does this 2019 version have to offer? Well, predictably enough, this version replaces Vietnam with the Gulf War, as is the wont of such contemporary updates, and replaces the originals disturbing visions with horrible, noisily-edited  jump-scares and CGI nonsense. Surprisingly while it replicates much of the plot from the original, even actual sequences/imagery (the ice-bath scene, winged demon/angel imagery during a sex scene) it fails to follow the internal logic of the original, its almost grace-like philosophy. It makes no sense at all and while the original was a relentless plunge into darkness and paranoia, eventually achieving some kind of sense through revelation at the end, this film just becomes increasingly confusing and nonsensical and just ends with the cinematic equivalent of a thud.

Seriously, the end credits came up and I gasped. What the hell? What the hell just happened? What the hell did any of it mean? What the hell did they do to one of my favourite movies?

If nothing else, this film serves to remind me just how lucky I was that BR2049 turned out to be such a respectful and successful continuation of the 1982 original. This new  Jacobs Ladder serves as a sober reminder of why remakes/reboots/sequels are generally treated with such caution. Maybe that’s the real answer to my question of ‘why’.

Its a horrible, horrible movie though. Probably the worst movie I’ve seen all year. My advice to anyone reading this who is as similarly curious as I was: just avoid. Life is really far too short. Best watch the 1990 original instead, and live in blissful ignorance of this terrible film.

Taste of Fear

tasteThe second film that I’ve watched in Indicator’s fourth Hammer box-set, Taste of Fear is a psychological thriller from 1961 deliberately set up to arose the viewers suspicions and curiosity and at the same time surprise through misdirection and subversion of those viewer suspicions. Its inevitably unnatural and artificial, rather like being played in a cinematic game between film-makers and audience, which unfortunately reinforces a sense of distance from the proceedings- for myself, rather than feeling immersed in the proceedings I felt distanced from them, always aware of film-maker scheming and manipulation. All films are manipulative of course, the skill is in hiding it- murder mysteries etc always seem to excel in manipulation and are less inclined to hide it, aware its all part of their appeal.

Its to Taste of Fear‘s credit then that I missed the films central twist, and unfortunate that as this is its main success I cannot divulge what that twist is- otherwise the film has little to really offer the viewer. I can comment on the cast, which is really pretty excellent. Indeed, one of the things that most interested me in the film prior to seeing it (indeed the only reason I ever knew of it) was the casting of Ronald Lewis in the film. I have mentioned Lewis here before, and in my review of an earlier Hammer film that I saw him in, The Full Treatment. Lewis was an actor of some talent whose career didn’t ever really hit the highs it might have done, and who died, apparently committing suicide, in 1982, shortly after being declared bankrupt. Films are time-capsules, and Taste of Fear is one- Lewis here in his relative prime and when his career was on the up, ignorant of the reality years ahead that our perspective affords us. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that he is better here than in the earlier The Full Treatment, but its clear he could have been something of a star with better material and a little luck in choosing it. People today generally have no idea who Ronald Lewis was, and it might have been so very different.

Old films and our contemporary perspective of them and the people who made them can offer sobering insights of the human condition, something that endlessly fascinates me. I was particularly impressed with Taste of Fear‘s lead, Susan Strasberg, who played the wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby- its a great performance that surpasses the limitations of the role and script, she engenders real empathy and she was the clear highlight of the film for me. I was surprised to later learn that Strasberg would only have limited success in film, instead generally appearing onstage and mostly in guest-spots on various 1960s and 1970s TV shows. Shades of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood there, funnily enough.

Its difficult to refrain from looking up actors names from these old movies, seeing what else they were in and inadvertently the success of their career or lack of it, or indeed reading an entire bio in just a paragraph or so. Marriages, siblings, deaths. Lewis died at the age of just 52, Strasberg passed at just 60. Taste of Fear of course will live forever, the two actors in their youth frozen in time, as is the wont of film. Indicator’s Blu-ray release in this box-set is of typically high standard, with some very interesting and informative supplements that perhaps belie how generally forgotten the film has become over the years. I think its nice to think that actors like Lewis and Strasberg can be seen by more people because of releases such as this, and we can watch them and wonder at what might have been. At the very least, it gets bloggers like me mentioning them, and ensures they might be forgotten a little less.