The 2020 List: December

Hey, at long last we can kiss/wave goodbye to this horrible year. I wish I could suggest that next year will be better – it could hardly be any worse, but I fear we may largely get more of the same. I remain open to being pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, the year ended with something of a whimper, numbers-wise and getting posts up. Maybe I was just a bit burned-out after finally reaching 200, but much of it was work-related. The run-up to Christmas is a thankless time of year doing my job and tends to wreck things- hardly needed Covid’s help, but hey, we’re in Tier 4 as of midnight yesterday. 2020 is the year that just keeps on giving.


202) The Crown Season Four

208) The Job Lot Season One

212) The Job Lot Season Two


203) Drive a Crooked Road

204) Ava (2020)

205) Polytechnique (2009)

206) 5 Against the House (1955)

207) Black Water: Abyss (2020)

209) Genius Party (2007)

210) Genius Party Beyond (2008)

211) Tenet (2020)

Five lessons from Deep Impact

deepLesson One: Someone should take Hollywood to task for its depictions of Presidents. They keep putting the likes of Harrison Ford or (in this case) Morgan Freeman up as idealistic Presidents and its as far from cynical corrupt politicians, liars and Orange Men as its possible to get. Freeman comes across as so earnestly honourable in this, its excruciating. Imagine what 2020 would have been like with a President like this in charge. But yeah, Hollywood needs to get Real, this kind of unrealistic portrayal of what a President could and should be does nobody any favours. Donald Pleasance still remains my favourite and most realistic President in any movie, I don’t think anybody comes close (but if you can think of one, enlighten me in the comments).

Lesson Two: You never appreciate what you’ve got until its gone, and yeah, hearing a James Horner score in a film these days is just really sad. Sure, this wasn’t one of his best scores, although its certainly no slouch (which reminds me, I have it on a CD somewhere). Its just perhaps too sentimental and overpowering, as if Horner knew the film was lacking some level of energy that he thought his score could provide, but instead teeters on the brink of melodrama. That said, I repeat its just so sad to hear a Horner score in a film – its just a bitter reminder of what we’ve lost. While so many Horner scores sounded so alike at times (and yeah, with Deep Impact you hear the routine Horner-isms that haunted his later career), now that he’s gone, even those familiar motifs and sounds suddenly seem all the rarer. I felt just the same way about Jerry Goldsmiths score for Gremlins when I watched it in 4K a week or so ago (Gremlins is a GREAT Christmas movie)- movies aren’t what they used to be now that we’ve lost such great film composers.

Lesson Three: Well its definitely Christmas, because with this I’ve watched a film on commercial television, and wow, its so Old School. Its like I’ve flashed back twenty- thirty years. It seems every 15 – 20 mins the film just stops (and at the oddest places, too) for a commercial break, just killing any involvement in the film. What a bizarre way to watch movies, but yeah, thirty years or more (okay, its more, I’m older than I like to think) ago this was the way we used to watch movies, unless we were lucky enough to catch it on the Beeb. Mind, back then everything was pan and scan, at least these days they broadcast films in widescreen, even if they are ripped to pieces by deodorant, car, washing powder and perfume commercials.

Lesson Four: For about twenty minutes I thought it was Dr Zhivago playing Tea Leoni’s father until it dawned on me that it was that crazy scientist from The Black Hole. Sometimes I’m some kind of idiot.

Lesson Five: Deep Impact‘s credentials as an Apocalypse movie are utterly undermined by the fact that it at no point portrays scumbags hoarding toilet rolls. 2020 has taught us a lot about how Joe Public behaves facing the End of the World and all these Apocalypse movies have been totally found wanting. I look forward to the next Apocalypse Movie coming out (well just as soon as any Studio has the nerve) and putting it to the 2020 Covid test of authenticity.

Tenet struh ym daeh

tenetRegular readers of my blog may recall my past posts regards Christopher Nolan and his films. Nolan is a guy who has great fun treating films as magnificent toy boxes, making hugely ambitious films of massive scale, praised for being a bold and intelligent film-maker up there with the likes of Kubrick. While he may indeed share many of Kubrick’s own weaknesses, I’d dare suggest Nolan’s films are not quite as sophisticated and successful as professional critics or Studio marketing might suggest. I suppose Nolan shines in comparison to his contemporaries, but his latest film, Tenet, may be the one that most starkly reveals his particular weaknesses and worst excess. Remove the Imax footage, remove the huge set-pieces, and what have we left? Well, a headache, most likely.

Setting the film’s tone from the start, Tenet begins at a relentless pace and never really lets up, ensuring that the audience can at no point pause, take stock and consider just how ridiculous and nonsensical the proceedings are. We are thrown into a massive symphony concert  in Kiev that is interrupted by a terrorist attack. Fortunately the security forces seem to be onsite in suspiciously short order, and among them is The Protagonist (John David Washington) and a few other agents that posing as part of the security forces go in to retrieve a high-profile asset whose cover has been blown and whose murder is being masked by the terrorist attack (or something to that effect).  We never learn who the asset is or who he is working for or indeed who the Protagonist is working for. After a typically elaborate action sequence that Nolan seems able to spend fortunes on getting ‘in-camera’, the Protagonist is captured by the shadowy unnamed bad-guys behind the terrorists. is tortured for information but manages to take a cyanide capsule to ensure he dies before giving any information away.

Cut to an unspecified location an unspecified period of time later, with The Protagonist fully recovered due to somehow being rescued off-screen and brought back to life and his tortured features (and ripped-out teeth) all magically restored due to astonishing cosmetic surgery. I must confess that at this point I was already baulking at the leap of faith I was being expected to take. He’s dead, then alive and in perfect health, and we’re expected to just take that on faith- an indication of the majority of the film to come, in fact. Tenet is distinctly not an exercise in show, don’t tell. A monstrous amount of screen-time is invested in dialogue explaining what we are seeing and why but its so convoluted even the exposition confuses.

The Protagonists fortitude to not succumb to torture,  and die rather than give in to the enemy, has seen him promoted to an unspecified intelligence agency in a secret war to avert World War Three. The Protagonist is moved to an unspecified offshore windfarm, from where he is later whisked away to an unspecified location and introduced to the concept of inverted objects that are travelling backwards through time, from some unspecified future, sent by unspecified people. Such objects can be picked up before they are dropped and other nifty tricks. Who is sending these objects from the future and why, for what purpose? Me, I was still wondering how they (and who ‘they’ are) managed to rescue The Protagonist, resurrect him and restore his devastatingly good looks. The time travel and high-end physics stuff was already going past my head. 

Clearly, Tenet is very ambitious, but like Inception and Interstellar, it suggests a sophisticated and intelligent thriller slowly unravelling before our eyes. It feels churlish to complain about a film offering a bit of a mental challenge but I’m not entirely certain its honouring its own rulebook as it progresses (yes, can I dare suggest Nolan may have been cheating?) I’m not entirely sure I ever had a grip even on the basic premise, and as it makes its mental loops and twists in its relentless sprint to the finish I confess I rather gave up on ever making sense of it all, deciding that I’d perhaps leave that until my second or third viewing. 

I suspect though that, rather than it being a case of me missing the clues necessitating those repeat viewings its really a case of bad film-making and sneaky smoke and mirrors. There are several really problematic things about Tenet, and much of it centres upon bad story-telling.  Nolan has largely gotten away with not alienating his audiences in the past, but he may be just too clever/ambitious for his own good with this one. A major plot-point involves the wife of an evil Russian oligarch/arms dealer  being threatened by said husband that he will ruin her reputation and take her son away: but I don’t think that son has a single line, or close-up, or any emotional stake in the film. We are told how she feels, we are told about her plight, but we don’t really see it, feel it. It seems more like a plot device, and that sort of thing, and lots of coincidences, permeate the film throughout. I’m not at all convinced repeat viewings won’t exasperate my current concerns either.

But I suppose I’ll have to wait and see. Perhaps the film will be transformed on subsequent viewings, but as I unfortunately cannot read messages from the future as they do in Tenet, I’ll have to indeed just, ahem, wait and see. 


A Christmas Blade Runner

Los Angeles, December 2020

One icy-cold Christmas Eve the city lay covered in a blanket of mildly acidic snow. Those poor defective souls unable to have fled to the Off-World paradise sheltered in their miserable hovels, while the snowfall wreaked a festive nightmare under a leaden sky. Christmas 2020 was far different from those of old: children could no longer build snowmen in parks or front yards without eventually melting their gloves and mildly burning their hands.  Indeed wee nippers everywhere didn’t hope for toys, instead they hoped that Santa would bring them new shoes and boots to replace those melting away from walking through puddles of stinging wet slush. But mostly they wished for tickets to Off World. Not that Santa could oblige.

Mr Bob Cratchit lived in Kindred Lane, in the outskirts of the city, his home surrounded by streets of the empty, slowly decaying houses of luckier people who had long since fled for Off-World and left Mr Cratchit behind. Mr Cratchit’s house was the only house in his street still occupied, its festive lights swinging across his front window and doorway a lonely source of light in the gathering twilight gloom for miles in any direction.

Mr Cratchit rather enjoyed the peace and solitude, but he worried for the wellbeing of his children. School was some distance away in the heart of the city, and the Spinner Bus that ferried them there every day was increasingly at risk of a funding cut. No doubt someday next year the family would finally have to up sticks and move into the city, where there were many vacant apartments waiting for them. Moving Off-World, alas, was not an option; poor Tiny Tim failed the medical fitness requirements. 

But what place would Off-World have had for the Cratchits, and what did the Cratchits care for Off-World? For himself, Cratchit was content. He had his family, and his home, and his job at the Van Ness Animal Pet Store Repair Shop (they weren’t real pets, of course, they had all died after the Great War Terminus, but they kept up the pretence that the artificial pets were real, an artifice carefully  maintained by its proprietor, Hannibal Sloat).

And of course it was Christmas, Cratchit’s favourite time of year. In this decaying world of madness there was something reassuring about tradition, and family, and never was this clearer than at Christmas. And Cratchit was convinced Christmas 2020 would be something special. 

So he cooked a special Christmas Eve meal and waited for Mrs Cratchit and the children to return from their Christmas Eve Church Service, while he left the television set tuned to a dead channel, confident that the lone city station would resume transmission at the scheduled time for some festive programming, and maybe even, as hoped, a special message from the President from the Oval Dome on Mars. Cratchit broke the silence of his home and the streets beyond with Christmas songs that he sang over the stove and as he prepared the table, feeling quite jovial and full of the Christmas spirit. His merry melodies were suddenly halted by a knock at the door. Why, had Mrs Cratchit yet again got her arms so full with the children that she could not put her key in the door?  

Cratchit swung open the door expecting to see his lovely wife and his adorable little children, but was instead confronted by a dark, tall and imposing figure that seemed to soak up all the darkness of the gathering night, his face deep in shadow.

 “Cratchit? Bob Cratchit?” The figure grunted.

“Why, yes,” Bob replied, utterly at a loss, forlorn at the sight of the case the man was carrying.

“Hart,” the figure barked. “My name’s Hart. Detective Hart.”

“Oh,” Bob sighed, looking more curiously at the man’s large briefcase. “I thought you were some kind of salesman. “

Hart leaned forward so that what dim light emanated from Bob’s hallway lit up his brutish, heavily-lined face. “I’m getting cold and wet standing here, Cratchit, and this snow stings like shit. Can I come in?”

“Well its a little inconvenient,” Bob protested. “My wife and children are out at church but they’ll be back soon, and we’ll be having dinner. What’s this about, officer?”

“Church, eh?” Hart said, glancing back at the gathering wet dusk outside. “We need to talk,” he said, stepping into the hallway and brushing Bob aside.

“Wait one moment!” Bob cried, staring in disbelief at his now empty doorway and then spinning after the large brutish figure striding down his hallway into the apartment beyond. This man was obviously a salesman after all. “Now this won’t do at all! I don’t know what it is you’re peddling but I’m not interested!” After a moment in which he realised that the man was no longer paying attention, Bob reluctantly shut his door and chased after the retreating figure.

He found the man standing in the centre of the lounge, dropping his suitcase onto a vacant chair. The man’s eyes were taking in the room, slowly turning until he faced Bob. “Nice. Homely,” he spat, as if it was the most disgusting thing in the world.

“Now look here, Mr…. what was it, Hart? Now look here Mr Hart, this is most irregular. I don’t know what you’re selling but this is Christmas Eve, and I know that sort of thing doesn’t mean very much to some… people,” he hesitated, suddenly wary. “But my family take it very seriously, very seriously indeed, and I won’t have you ruining things. I didn’t invite you in and I’m not interested in whatever rubbish you’re peddling from your case there and-“

“What I’m selling, no-ones buying,” Hart grumbled, nodding.

“Well I’m very sorry but neither am I!” Bob shrieked, pointing an indignant arm back in the direction of his hallway as dramatically as he could muster. In truth, he was getting a little worried. All sorts of people walked the streets these days, there were all sorts of horrible stories, stories that nobody in their right mind wanted to invite into their house at night, particularly on Christmas Eve. “Its Christmas Eve!” Bob wailed.

“Calm down, Cratchit,” Hart sighed, brushing a huge calloused hand through the short-cropped grey hair thinning on his leathery scalp. He peered at the hallway behind Bob, as if considering the door and the cold wintry world beyond. “Sit down. I’m certain we’ll be done before your wife returns”.

Bob suddenly found himself stepping to a chair and mutely siting down, immediately feeling foolish for doing so, but he was beginning to realise this stranger in his house was not someone easily thrown out. “What’s all this about?” he finally asked.

“My names Detective Hart, Rep-Detect,” the detective sighed, his gravelly voice cracking a little with some weariness, as if he was repeating something he’s stated so often that it had long since become a crushing exercise in boredom. While he did so he shrugged off his trench coat, and slung it on top of the case discarded on the sofa. In doing so he revealed the huge heavy blaster fastened to his belt. Seeing this Bob blanched, horrified.

“Oh my God,” Bob croaked. “You’re a… a….”

Blade Runner,” Hart coldly grinned, no warmth in his smile, only ice. “That’s what they call us now.” he walked over to a chair across from Bob and sat down, stretching his legs before him. “I hate that bloody name. I’m a detective, a professional, not some kind of bogey man.”

“But…what are you doing here? What do you want with me?”

Hart wasn’t listening. “Back in the old days, it was always looked down on,” Hart continued. “Rep-Detect was something openly sneered at, even by the traffic cops. Hidden down in the Precinct basement. Like a shameful secret where lousy cops deemed unworthy of ‘proper’ police work were dumped.” Hart paused, as if reflecting upon something. “I was good. Bryant always said so. Just because it was a shit job, you didn’t have to be shit at it.”

Suddenly Hart looked across at Bob, and stared at him intently. It was an unnerving, penetrating gaze. After a few moments he seemed to relax, his gaze softened, and he glanced again at the hallway. “When I started, it was the Nexus 3. Anybody could detect one of them toasters. Not so easy now- I guess that’s what they call progress. Progress!” Hart barked, flashing a sudden and disconcerting grin as he laughed at some joke.

He reached across towards the sofa and tapped at the case resting there. “These VK-decks. Humbug! For amateurs. Old-school Detectives like me, we don’t use them if we can help it. No skill involved in those gadgets. Nexus 3, Nexus 6, all the same to me.”

Bob looked across and felt a cold feeling settling in his stomach. Suddenly he seemed to be looking at a broken man. A broken man with a very dangerous gun. What were those stories he’d heard, of crazy cops going around shooting people?

Hart looked back across at Bob as if he was reading his mind. “Blade Runners,” he nodded. “Stupid bastards at Rep-Detect took it like some badge of courage.  It’s something the shrinks thought out, some bullshit medical term about Detectives losing their shit. You retire so many Reps they said, Reps that become more and more like real people with every new model, they said it messes with your head. They said it messes everybody up eventually, just a matter of time. Too long running the blade. Eventually you get cut.” Hart groaned.

“You know how long the average Blade Runner lasts before they dump you in the gutter?” Hart asked. “Four years. Just four bloody years. The irony doesn’t escape me: four years,” he added, weighing up those words in the silence that followed.

“I don’t understand,” Bob croaked, his voice awfully dry. This man was obviously unhinged, Bob had let a madman into his house on Christmas Eve and Mrs Cratchit would be home soon with the children, and this madman had a gun- this could ruin Christmas. What was Bob to do?

“I like you, Cratchit. I can see you’re a listener. The world’s full of talkers and listeners, and the talkers are always talking shit. I have to listen to them all the time. Yeah, I listen, I hear some shit, Cratchit. I hear some things”. Hart leaned forward, as if  intimating with Bob something important, his voice lowering. “I hear some things,” he repeated, levelly. “You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I hear. Those stupid bastards at Tyrell, crazy fucking bastards”.

“T–Tyrell?” Bob dimly realised he was leaning forwards now himself. “Isn’t he dead? Dead last year?”

“Maybe. Some reckon he’s in cryo-freeze in the heart of his Pyramid, that the one people saw and ‘died’ last year was some kind of a Replicant.  I don’t know, I never met him. But  I’d have known straight away if I did. ” Hart relaxed a little, tapped his nose. “Never fails, I never miss one. Don’t need no VK-deck to know a real human from a filthy toaster. I got this skill, see. How I lasted all these years.

“But I heard this thing, Cratchit. This thing that makes me think, hurts my head. I got to say, it scares me, scares me shitless.” Anything that scared this scary man was obviously something bloody terrifying to Cratchit, who could feel whatever remaining colour was in his cheeks paling away to a shade as white as the snow outside in the night.

“Memories. They been messing with memories. At first it was some control mechanism, to manage emotions, feelings, from fucking up Nexus behaviour programming, but they got too fancy, too clever, too complex. Over time, some of the Nexus 6, especially those on the run, they get confused, they keep photos, they cling to these memories, they start thinking they are real, that the things happened to them. Take your wife. How’d do you know?”

“What about my wife?” Cratchit croaked in a hoary whisper.

“How do you know? How do you know she’s really going to come through that door? How do you know you’re not a Nexus 6 on the run who finally went loopy, that you are in some crazy loop everyday hiding out here in the ‘burbs, always convinced you got some family that’s only a loaded memory intended to keep you easily controlled but that has finally driven you crazy?”  

Cratchit reddened. “You’re mad You’ll see. She’s late, but she’ll be here soon. With the children.”

Hart acted like he was someplace else, not listening. He shook his head, slowly. “That’s not what really fucks me up. You see, I got to thinking. I started thinking, how do I know? How does anyone know?” He leaned forward. “I wake up in my apartment, I have photos of family, heirlooms and shit. It all looks real. But how do I know? How do I know I’ve not just been switched on that morning, placed in that apartment, switched on with my memories preloaded. I could be just like the things I’m set to hunting and never know it. Set a toaster to catch a toaster.” Hart broke into a wide, agonised smile. “Its been done. I’m sure of it. They fucking cut us within four years, none of us last more than four years. Christ,” he groaned. “Four years, its obvious, its right in our bloody faces and we didn’t see it.” 

Cratchit found himself shivering a little, suddenly cold. “You’re real. I’m sure of it,” Cratchit declared (as real as Santa Claus, he thought, but it wouldn’t be wise to upset a mad man with a big gun).

“I was flying my Spinner up from San Diego, few nights ago. Some rumour about a Rep down in the refuse yards, but I never found anything. Anyway, I was flying back up, and I noticed your lights, out here all alone in the ‘burbs. Reps tend to live the lies of their lives out in the sticks, away from anyone who’d notice.”

“Well I don’t know what you’re insinuating, Detective. Its no crime to live out here in my family home after everyone else has either died or gone Off World. I don’t see why I should abandon everything I worked hard for just because everyone else has. How dare you come here, on tonight of all nights, and threaten me, and my family, without cause.” Cratchit didn’t know where the courage to rebuke this giant monster came from, but his words seemed to hang there in the air, suddenly spoken before he’d chosen to.

Hart seemed amused by Cratchit’s defiance. “Just doing my job, Cratchit-“

Suddenly there was a crash at the door, a rush of cold and laughter and giggling that was swiftly followed by three children racing in, excited faces beaming and suddenly turned to confusion by the sight of this stranger in their home. Almost as quickly Mrs Cratchit loomed behind them, breathless and similarly confused at the sight of this hulking brute in her home.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Hart gasped. 

The television screen sprang into life, arresting their attention: “My dear fellow Americans,” a jolly clown beamed. “I’m looking down on the Dear Old Earth and while I’m glad I’m not down there with you, you poor bastards, my thoughts are with you as I wish you a very Merry Christmas. My husbands and hand maidens all share my hopes that you are fairly well and your rotting appendages haven’t entirely dropped off, as we sit here by our Christmas Tree- yes we grow Christmas trees here on Mars. You poor bastards probably never seen one, so here it is, here’s what a Christmas Tree looks like.”

“Looks fake,” grunted Tiny Tim with a frown as he limped over towards the tv screen. 

Hart laughed. “Kid, the whole of Mars is fake. Its all smoke and mirrors in those domes.”  

Mrs Cratchit reached over towards Tim, pulling him close to her as she did the rest of the children. “Well, Mr Cratchit,” she nervously spoke, her voice fragile and broken. “Who is this?”

“Why, this is Mr Hart,” Cratchit beamed, “and he’s spending Christmas with us, he’s our very special guest,” he said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. Part of him figured, if you can’t get rid of him, invite him. It nearly gave him some calming sense of control over this strangest of Christmas Eves.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Hart said, again. 

“Not at all,” Cratchit replied. “Its Christmas.”

And that was how Detective Hart spent Christmas with the Cratchits.


It was the day after Christmas Day, and Harry Bryant needed a drink more than ever as he surveyed the bloody carnage before him. He was standing in the lounge of the Cratchit residence, and the Cratchit family -well, the bloody and dismembered pieces of them- were scattered over the floor, walls and ceiling. A clean-up team had put sheeting down and were proceeding to mop up the remains. Better they had a hose with a bucket- the body bags were largely redundant. Why were they even clearing this mess up, better to just burn the place down. Why weren’t they burning the place down, he wondered absently.

“Goddam it I need a drink,” Bryant shuddered, feeling his guts already twisting in fiery protest. Part of Tiny Tim dripped down from the ceiling and Bryant stepped back to avoid the grisly ooze that splattered onto the plastic sheeting. “Goddam it Gaff, its Christmas and I’m dodging some kid’s intestines raining down on me. Its worse than the goddam snow. You told me you’d got Hart tracked down.”

Gaff, as chillingly smooth and sharply-dressed as ever, leaned on his walking stick as he moved toward his boss, effortlessly avoiding the remnants of Tiny Tim. Bryant always marvelled out how Gaff moved. For a guy with a smashed leg walking with a cane, he always seemed to dance rather than limp.

“We had a trap set up in San Diego, a report of a rogue Nexus,” Gaff explained in a hushed voice only Bryant was intended to hear (you could always count on Gaff being discreet). “But he’s good. Hart must have smelled trouble. By the time we realised he’d flown…”

Bryant waved a hand in the air, dismissing Gaff’s excuses. “Well thank Christ all this is out in the sticks and no-one to see it. Nobody’s going to miss the Cratchits, that’s damned clear.” Well, that was about the best of it, Bryant thought. Everything else had Bryant reaching for a drink and exploding the molten ulcer in his gut. His fists trembled in his trouser pockets. “Shit, Gaff,” he whined, “how many is this? Hart’s running around like a one-man murder squad slaughtering anyone he comes across. Crazy bastard sees toasters everywhere.”

“I’m confident the stats will state the Cratchits were Replicants,” Gaff observed with a casual glance at the clean-up team diligently working. “Good for our stats, more retired Reps. Not that it matters. Little people,” he added.

Bryant could have punched him there and then, but instead spun around and stormed out of the room, heading for the exit and his party back home. “Goddam it Gaff. get that bastard,” he yelled back. “Get him soon. I don’t need a rogue Blade Runner running amok, especially at Christmas. It reflects badly on the Department, no matter which way you write it.”

Outside, the dusk was gathering again, the shadows drawing in around him. Bryant looked around at the empty houses, broken windows, collapsing roofs. It almost seemed like a cemetery. What compelled a guy like Cratchit to live out here in a practical wilderness? Sometimes humans could be like Nexus clinging to their memories. This street, this place, meant something to Cratchit. The old life, the old world, possibly.

But that old world was long gone. This world was now a grave.

“Merry Christmas,” Bryant muttered, reaching his Spinner and dropping into its pilot seat. He flicked a switch and the car coughed into life and rose up in a twisting curve up into the leaden, ashy sky.



Denis Villeneuve’s harrowing Polytechmique was his third film, and watching it for the first time now, following all those films that came after – Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner 2049– its really quite fascinating seeing one of his early works and spotting within it all those signs and precursors of his later work. Indeed, with its stark urban landscape frozen in snow and blizzards, in some ways this film most closely resembles BR2049, but it certainly confirms Villeneuve’s fascination with place, and landscape, being characters in his films just as much as the actors. Perhaps this is something he took from watching Ridley Scott’s films (he was certainly the ideal director for a Blade Runner sequel).

Polytechnique is based upon a real event- a massacre in a Montreal school in 1989, but it obviously also indirectly references so many school shootings before and after. Shot in stark black and white its an unforgiving, brutal film that is at the same time curiously delicate, an usual combination that reminded me of Arrival and BR2049 in how it all feels weirdly poetic even though its so damned disturbing. The violence is quite restrained but so sudden its really quite shocking; indeed, when watching it, the film feels really violent but really its more suggestive than graphic. Clearly Villeneuve wanted to do justice to the victims of the massacre and deliberately avoided being sensationalist or in any way exploitive. It’d be so easy to make this a violent horror film depicting the same terrible events, but that might well indirectly glorify or even validate the actions of the killer, and Villeneuve really wants to focus on the students without defining them by the events they were caught up in or the killers helpless rage at the world.

Having been something of a Villeneuve aficionado since seeing his film Prisoners, I’ve been very curious about watching his earlier works and was so glad that the BFI have finally been able to give this a well-overdue Blu-ray release for us here in the UK. The film looks excellent and the disc includes both versions of the film (each scene with any dialogue was actually shot twice, once in French and then again in English- I watched the French version with English subs as that is the most authentic). One benefit of this release being done now is that it improves on the original Region A release of several years ago by being able to include a splendid documentary Polytechnique: Ce qu’il reste du 6 décembre (2019, 52 mins), which was made for the 30th anniversary of the Montreal massacre, featuring interviews with survivors, witnesses and family members of those that died. Its an excellent companion piece to the film, really informative and demonstrates how much the film was faithful to the actual events; its one of those docs that just increases ones respect for a film.

And how much of a small world this world really is: the star (and a co-producer) of the film is Karine Vanasse, who is so familiar to me from her four-year stint as detective Lise Delorme in the crime thriller Cardinal. She’s excellent here, obviously made some years before that 2017-2020 series, but clearly showing she was destined for success back then. As for Villeneuve, well, its obvious he was a film-marker to follow by the quality of this film. This is a great release from the BFI and I’d heartily recommend it. It isn’t an easy watch and can be quite disturbing but its sensitivity to the events marks it as something quite remarkable.

Life’s a Black Water Abyss, and then you…

blackwI’ll keep this one short, I first just have to find an excuse for having watched this… well, it was a long day, a rough day at work (well, in my back room, so ‘at work’ doesn’t mean quite what it used to… ) so I was tired. That’s my excuse, I was tired. I could have put something decent on, something that required my attention, but really, some nights when I’m tired, that’s not doing a good film justice, it feels wasteful. So I was tired, had about 90 minutes to kill before going to bed, needed to ‘escape’ a little… so yeah, the mission is to find some undemanding harmless rubbish that doesn’t insult my intelligence.

But that’s a tricky thing in itself, browsing through all the possibilities on either Amazon Prime of Netflix,  you can be so spoiled for choice, you fail to make a choice. Its happened to me before, thinking I’ll find something to watch that’s about 90 minutes long, and twenty minutes/half-hour later it dawns that the 90 minutes now requires two hours all told and I just give up, cut my losses with a half-hour sitcom and trudge up to bed irritated at having wasted opportunity for an evening movie.

So that’s my excuse; I sensed it was taking too long to find something and just desperately clicked on Black Water: Abyss, the premise of which is clearly a rip-off of The Descent, which was a great little movie that I should really watch again sometime (yeah, 2021 is coming) as well as cynically nodding to all sorts of films like Crawl, which was pretty bloody lousy itself. I have no excuses, really, it was clear this thing was pretty crummy. You watch enough movies, its funny how adept your Shite Radar can be; you can spot it just by the premise. 

So what’s Black Water: Abyss about? Well we’re in Australia, and bargain basement Chris Hemsworth lookalike Luke Mitchell, who honed his acting chops in the gym and on Aussie soap Home and Away, stars as Eric, who leads a group of young non-entities (two couples and a gooseberry) on a jolly outing exploring a cave network out in a remote location. It starts raining, the caves start flooding, and, er, they get trapped with a hungry killer croc. That’s about it.  There’s some subplot about two of them cheating on the other two and girl power winning out, and there’s even a really bad false-ending and silly coda that’s so ridiculous I might have yelled at the screen had I been less tired, but the ending was a merciful relief even if it was appalling. 

Anyway, I promised I’d keep this short. This one’s pretty terrible and one you should definitely avoid, even if you’re stuck late in the evening looking for something short and undemanding to watch.   

2021 Babylon 5

b5I’ve already written regards this blog next year looking back as much as reviewing/commenting on ‘new’ films and television. Oddly, recent news from various quarters seems to have reinforced that, with a strange sense of synchronicity. Two of my favourite anime, the wonderful Satoshi Kon film Millennium Actress and the tv series Planetes, are being released early next year by All the Anime,  Millennium Actress on 4K UHD and Planetes on Blu-ray, each firsts for the UK.  I’m really enthused regards revisiting them, and shall hopefully be able to write about how wonderful they still are having not seen them for years: one of my fears of revisiting old favourites next year is in discovering they aren’t as great as I used to think they were, but you know, sometimes things just look even better in hindsight, so the opposite might be just as true.

Added to those anime returning is recent news regards my old favourite tv show,  J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 coming to Blu-ray next Spring in remastered form. Well, I say remastered, there are caveats to that, but all the same, this is frankly wonderful news. I’ve read that a new remaster of the show is now available on Apple iTunes and is apparently being set for a disc release on Blu-ray in the Spring. The show has returned back to its original transmitted 4:3 format in order to preserve some level of quality to the aged CGI visual effects shots and allow a remaster of the on-set material, essentially upscaling the show as was done with reasonable success with Farscape a few years back. While B5 was forward-thinking enough to be consciously shot ‘protected’ for widescreen, and was released as such on DVD several years back, unfortunately this was undermined by the original VFX hard-drives being lost long ago, which meant that any scenes involving VFX had to be zoomed-in from 4:3 to 16:9, just making the already dated CGI look even worse. The only way of truly remastering the show properly would be recreating all the VFX shots from scratch in 16:9 and editing them into the 16:9 live-action material, at what is apparently a far too prohibitive cost for Warner Brothers to countenance. Its frustrating, but its just how things are, so this new endeavour of remastering the show in its original 4:3 format is the best we will ever get.

As for the show itself, well, one has to remember how old B5 is now, and all the many great genre shows that came after it. I recently watched a YouTube video of the Babylon 5 cast then-and-now and it was really scary seeing just how many years have passed (and how many of the cast have been lost to us over the years), but it did have me feeling very nostalgic and swaying towards a re-watch of the show, so this remaster news is rather timely.  I think something that will help B5 stand apart is the fact that it was always distinctly old-fashioned space opera, rather than space fantasy or hard sci-fi; very much the kind of stuff one could read in the 1950s and 1960s. Hopefully the charm of that will help forgive some of its failings, and for myself I’m really curious having not seen it in years (I never really got through all those DVD boxsets, it just looked so poor). And hey, its a triple-dip! I had the show on (really expensive, all told, looking back on it) VHS tapes where they released them two episodes at a time, or something like that, and yes, bought those DVD sets. Maybe the third time will be the charm. Yes its a real pity nobody at Warners (or some millionaire fan) thought it worthy of investing in redoing those effects and bringing the show up to modern standards, but at the very least this preserves the old, authentic experience of the original transmissions back in the day. I just hope that news of Blu-ray releases holds true (apparently place-holders have been spotted with European vendors, and it makes sense for a disc release while physical is still worth something). I look forward to someday next Spring  sitting down with a strong coffee steaming from my Babylon 5 mug while I revisit that dangerous place, our last, best hope for peace… 

The Absurd Ava

ava2Its probably weighed negatively upon my opinion of this film, but I must confess, Jessica Chastain in roles like this seems an unlikely fit. I don’t know why exactly an actress of her calibre should feel inclined to slum in such sub-par action material – its not that I’m being snobbish here, I love good action movies- other than the sad fact that every actress seems to be doing it (the diminutive Natalie Portman a female Thor for goodness sake).

To her credit, Chastain largely manages the action stuff quite well (or her stunt double does, anyway) but any effort she makes in the drama stakes (more of which later) is wholly undermined by the utter preposterousness of the enterprise. Indeed, crucially even the action scenes are totally preposterous- at one point when she has run away from an assailant in a park, and the killer searching for her walks past a water fountain/pool, I thought, ‘even the daftest film wouldn’t have her leaping out of that shallow pool’ and boom, she did just that! I almost applauded the sheer audacity. We are supposed to believe that, in the moments he lost track of her, she submerged herself in that shallow fountain, held her breath underwater -and herself, for that matter, I mean, we naturally float, you know?- for an interminable amount of time on the off-chance he’d walk past that way, and then somehow have traction enough to leap out and dispatch him. She leaps out of the water as if propelled by a spring board. What is this, Wonder Woman here?

Bad enough that -apologies to female empowerment junkies- a woman of the slight build of Chastain can repeatedly beat the shit out of armed heavies twice her weight and size and weirdly dodge bullets. The fight sequences throughout the film are, again, preposterous and laughable. Is this where all the Marvel movies have left us? Any sense of reality, any sense of the real outcome of actual violence, all the punches, stabbings, being thrown through windows and into walls etc is long gone in the face of several years of spandex sensibilities infiltrating sane stunt design, as is the reality of a ten-stone woman taking on a fifteen/sixteen-stone hulking brute. I know its only a movie, but its not a superhero movie, right?

Thinking back to female screen icons like Ripley and Sarah Connor, when I really think back on it, they never really did anything wildly implausible or ridiculous, there was always a sense of reality, of a real woman in whatever situation they were in. You were never expected to see Ripley beating the shit out of several hulking brutes (never mind a Giger monster) or Sarah Connor dispatching a squad of armed goons in a gun battle all by herself.  

Alas, Chastain cannot retreat to using her acting prowess in any drama away from the action, because the absurdity bleeds from the action into what would usually be the dramatic story/character arcs hidden between the stunts and carnage. We are expected to believe Chastain’s Ava was, just eight years before, a teenage delinquent and alcoholic who went off to join the army, got clean, excelled in training, served a few tours and then got hired as an assassin by some mysterious agency, earning a reputation of ‘best in show’ or something by dispatching 40 victims who deserved to die. Well, I say deserved, even Ava seems to have eventually  appreciated her orders may be dubious, taking to asking her victims what had they done to deserve their murder before she finally pulls the trigger, a rebellious tactic that angers her employer enough that it orders her own assassination. Returning home from her eight year stint as a killing machine, she finds her ex is now shacked up with her sister, her mom is in hospital and her scumbag father dead. Yes its all daft nonsense and frankly rather insulting of any audience intelligence. Not Chastain’s finest hour, but I guess it pays the bills.

Nothing ugly about this one

gbuostAbsolutely a surprise Christmas present for film score fans, Ennio Morricone’s classic score to the Sergio Leone western masterpiece The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has been announced by Quartet Records in the form of a 3-CD complete edition, following on from Quartet’s remaster of his 1982 score The Thing earlier this year. This western score is truly as iconic as its movie, instantly recognisable, back when film scores were Film Scores and intended to be noticed, front and centre of the film experience (the final stand-off practically an Operatic masterpiece that takes the film to some mythic level). This very surprising release looks magnificent- a dream come true for fans. Originally released as a standard 34-minute vinyl back in the day, and later expanded to a 55-minute CD that seemed to be the best anyone could possibly hope for (and a CD I bought some years ago) this edition is clearly definitive: the full score and alternates over the first two discs and the original vinyl edition (a re-recording I believe, as many soundtrack albums were back then) in stereo on the third disc, fully remastered. Pretty amazing news, and a fantastic release to close out the year with. Now that I think about it, it might be time to dig out my Blu-ray of the film for a watch over Christmas: they don’t make ’em like they used to, and no-one ever wrote film scores like Morricone.  

Moody walk this morning

IMG_20201207_105919502_HDR (3)Took Ed to the vets today for his annual booster. He was as nervous as ever, which only made us all the more anxious about what most dog owners treat a routine visit. Not that Covid restrictions helped, its turning everything into something out of a biological disaster movie; you have to call from the carpark to gain entry, three pets in the premises at any one time, one owner per pet, distances dictated on the floor; I don’t think I will ever get used to wearing a mask and must confess to being curious why dog’s don’t even seem to notice. Ed of course was eager to get in there but terrified once he realised where ‘there’ was, and as usual turned a quick injection into a bit of a drama. Terrified terriers can be such charmingly endearing wimps.

Anyway, as a reward/apology to Ed, on our way home we took him to a local park. Shrouded in an Autumnal fog that refused to fade away, it resulted in a  damp, cold and moodily atmospheric walk that felt a very different landscape to the walks of the past. Everything seemed to fade quickly to grey in the middle-distance, lost in murk, the world suddenly very small around us, and strangely quiet too. I was quite entranced by the spectral trees, branches bare of leaves reaching up into the sky and fading away in the mist, and took this quick snap with my phone.