Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016)

alice1I wonder where to start, which rather shadows this film. After a wildly ill-judged (in my opinion) opening, this film took what seemed ages to actually get started following a stodgy series of expositional scenes, only really settling down at the halfway point, from which it was fine, albeit terribly  uninvolving- maybe even boring.

But I’m hardly the target audience of fluff like this, and if I were to throw this film back a few decades to my younger self back in the 1970s, I would likely have been enthralled. I mean, technically, sure, this things something of a marvel, the many effects houses throwing all sorts of amazing imagery on the screen. Its difficult sometimes to appreciate in this CGI-dominated age just how remarkable some of this imagery in modern films can be compared to what we were used to. I’m sure young children lap this stuff up and are thoroughly thrilled by it. So yes, I’m hardly the target audience, but… but really, it seems pretty wild and without much reason.  I can imagine the studio chiefs standing behind the effects boffins screaming “More pixels! More pixels!”

So my issues were from the vary start with a wildly extravagant and spectacular opening sequence of a naval chase/battle through a raging storm. I mean… well, this is real-world stuff apparently, and its wholly a subjective view, but I thought the whole point of these fairy-tales of characters entering fantastic worlds is that the fantastic worlds are, er, more fantastic than reality? I’m not suggesting that the film should have filmed the real-world stuff in black and white and jump into colour in the fantasy land as per Wizard of OZ, but there was a point to that ageless classic when it took that conceit. At least this film should have cemented, I think, the reality of the real world of Alice by layering it in some kind of realism. As it is, the opening is wilder and dafter than Pirates of the Carribean, and features the unlikely sight of a female captain of the high seas in Alice (Mia Wasikowska, utterly slumming it here, like the rest of the cast) in preposterous CGI high-jinks on wholly digital seas.  Going through the mirror after this stuff seems rather pointless, we’re clearly in fantasy-land already.

By the time the plot finally gets going we’re mid-way through the film and have already been assaulted by endless CGI. Really, films like this are as much animated movies per Pixar’s stuff as they are live-action. Much less coherent, too, to be honest. It certainly looks pretty but it is wholly boring- but, as I have noted earlier, I’m not the target audience- this films arrives about forty-odd years too late for me. I’m sure its got its fans but they are surely hardly the discerning lot, really.

The rest of us really should avoid such dross.

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Westworld Season Two, Episode Nine

west9I have to say, Westworld season two certainly seems to be saving its best episodes until last (which makes the wait for next week’s finale all the more intriguing/exciting). Whether its good for a show to risk alienating its fans until eventually coming up with the goods is subject to debate, I suppose, but that said, the odd thing about shows such as this is that very often you shouldn’t really judge a season until you’ve seen it as a whole. Binge-watching, in particular, has made it interesting how one evaluates a show now, and once this series has ended its weekly run and becomes available on-demand and on disc, it will become some other animal, I suspect.

Anyhow, for now we’re stuck with weekly airings. This episode centered mostly upon our favourite villain, MIB William, played by Ed Harris, whose chiseled, life-worn face so perfectly encapsulates the character he plays its like he was born for the role (he also reminds me of Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Unforgiven, no small achievement for a Western, nevermind a sci-fi Westerrn). Tonight we saw more of MIB William’s background, his life away from the park,  his dysfunctional family and his despairing, alcoholic wife Juliet. A glimpse behind the curtain and perhaps an indication of why he is so obsessed with escaping into his second-life inside the park- or perhaps more directly an indication of how much that second-life impacted on his life at home.

It also offered some tantalizing possibilities. So here’s this weeks theory, likely to be debunked next week: what if MIB William is unknowingly a host, or at least a simulacra of the real William, and that the data card/drive that Ford hands him not only shows the grim ‘highlights’ of his dark deeds in the park, but also ultimately reveals that he isn’t actually human, but a host copy? It’d certainly explain why his wife was suddenly racked with suicidal despair upon accessing it- the knowledge that she’d been living/sleeping with a machine copy of her husband would send anyone clutching for any kind of escape. Maybe its too obvious-  indeed, as this episode draws to a close, William himself seems to be cutting into his arm as if doubting that there’s simple blood and tissue under his skin. Could he be everything he’s been trying to destroy? And if so, whatever happened to the ‘real’ William? We cut from him before we see what truth he uncovers from his wound, the revelation left until next week.

Elsewhere, Delores finally unravels. No matter his reprogramming, Teddy’s true nature wins out, an interesting comment on individuality, freewill and fate as he finally reasons the only way out is to end himself with a bullet to his AI-brain. Its a remarkable moment  when Delores collapses in grief and horror, the soundtrack becoming awash with white-noise/static as if she is having a literal breakdown. What remains of Delores after this is anyone’s guess. With the Cradle gone, I assume Teddy is also gone- all deaths are final, now, I think. Bye bye Teddy then.

Meanwhile, back in the Delos labs, Maeve lingers on borrowed time, the labrats having discovered how she has been controlling other hosts and thus weaponizing Clementine as a way of getting the rogue hosts to kill each other. With her secret out, Maeve is worthless to them and scheduled for destruction. The virtual ghost of Robert Ford, however, pays her a visit and tinkers with her settings, likely offering her a way out of her predicament and ensuring she’s around for season three.

Who else survives into season three seems open to conjecture. To me, Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins are the secret heart of Westworld (evidenced by the feeling that ‘something’ was missing for the first half of this season until Ford returned) and if either of them left the show I’d be devastated, frankly. Lets just hope William can keep on surviving being riddled with bullets and that Ford can somehow continue cheating virtual death. These two guys are great and really chew the scenery with aplomb.

I guess all (or most, anyway) will be revealed next week. Here’s hoping there’s not too many deaths coming up…

Initial thoughts on Black Panther (2018)

bp1.pngUnderwhelming. I actually watched this last weekend and have hesitated regards posting a review simply because I thought I would re-watch it again, give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to do so due to illness so here I am, writing this post based on initial feelings that might be subject to reappraisal later.

Hype springs eternal. Maybe that’s the problem. I missed this film at the cinema but was well aware of all the praise it was getting and its impressive box-office numbers that likely surprised even Marvel. The film clearly struck a chord with audiences.

But of course you just never know what films audiences will engage with and lots of truly great films get ignored while many bad ones become hugely successful- just look at the perplexing success of the Transformers films. Disney seem to have been unstuck by the response to the recent Solo movie – a film that again, I have not seen, so can’t really comment on, but some people whose opinions I value seem to think it was pretty good and yet oddly ignored by audiences. Well, if a film that grossed $323 million worldwide can be said to have been ignored- I suppose its really a matter of scale and expectancy; a Star Wars movie, albeit one that had a troubled production that cost anything up to $300 million to make, might be expected to reach that magic $1 billion easier than most movies. Instead Solo fell well short of that particular measure of success.

But was Solo any less formulaic or uninspired as Black Panther? Or am I being harsh? Are superhero movies, particularly one with a clearly positive racial message, more in tune with the current social/cultural zeitgeist than a movie based on an ‘old’ franchise from the 1970s (I love the dichotomy of considering Star Wars movies as old and dated when all these Marvel movies are based on comics-trips of the 1960s and 1970s)?

Black Panther grossed something in the region of $1.3 billion, so if box-office is a measure of anything, it was clearly doing something right. But yes, it left me a little underwhelmed, even bored. Playing that utterly meaningless box-office card once more, Thor: Ragnarok, which was for me clearly a much better Marvel movie, grossed $850 million worldwide, so what, that means it was actually a worse movie than Black Panther? Okay, while we’re here lets be naughty and play these box-office charades again- the woefully insipid Justice League movie grossed nearly $700 million, so Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t as great a movie as I thought by that comparison (or maybe the DC fans watched Justice League out of morbid curiosity, like some kind of celluloid car-crash). Anyway. Box-office is meaningless when appraising movies, unless you’re a studio executive.

I don’t know why exactly Black Panther didn’t really engage me. Maybe I thought it would  be more original/daring, more culturally significant, less of a (I hesitate to use the word, but here I go) ordinary or formulaic genre movie. Sure, it was never going to be a Deadpool or a Logan, but all the same, it slipped into that dangerous trap of these superhero movies, of degenerating into too much cgi hysterics and less the drama that I had hoped for. I suppose I shouldn’t criticize a movie for being faithful to the original comic, but I think the film would have been more significant if it had addressed the genuine  plight of poor black people in America and involved a typical black kid with limited social mobility/options and neighborhood issues of poverty and drugs and gun crime. I suppose that is some other movie, some other hero. The Utopian dream of Black Panther may be life-affirming and full of positivity, and maybe that the point of the film, I get that.

Was I maybe expecting Marvel by way of Shaft or Superfly? Well, maybe that was the hype. I don’t know. Its not a bad film (certainly not in the DC realm of misfires) but Marvel seem to find it so easy making these films popular that I wonder if they really need to stretch themselves more- after, what, eighteen movies or whatever it was by the time Black Panther came along, you’d think the Marvel Studios formula would be getting a little tired and disengaging audiences- instead they seem to be just lapping it up, eager for more.

 

 

 

 

Wow me don’t involve me?

Reading various forums, hardware and disc reviews over the past few weeks as part of my research regards buying a new (4K) television, has resulted in some troubling observations. I watch movies because, well, I love movies- good, bad, indifferent, I enjoy watching them, experiencing them, being uplifted, frustrated, awed by them. I enjoy the art and craft of them. Sure, some might turnout to be stinkers but its extremely rare that I ever stop a film mid-way. When I start watching a movie I’m making an effort, a statement of intent,  an investment of my time and I’ll see it through no matter what. I love movies, just as  I love books.

But I don’t choose to watch particular movies because they look good, or show off the hardware I’m watching them on. I watch them because I enjoy them or want to experience something new, perhaps be enlightened or surprised.

I have discovered the rather troubling trend of many enthusiasts who watch particular films just because they look great. Regardless of how good a movie it actually is, if the film has a brilliant image quality and ‘wow’ credentials, it gets praised/highly rated and bought and watched if only to justify the expense of that high-end screen sitting in the corner/on the wall.  Films are actually rated not by credentials like story, acting, drama, craft, but rather by superficial nonsense such as moments of impressive HDR or Dolby Atmos sound-staging, as if the films are simply multi-million tech demos and not creative pieces of art.

Surely these home cinema enthusiasts are simply missing the point?

I loved Blade Runner at the cinema, and I enjoyed it on a pirate-copy VHS that I was gifted at Christmas in 1983, grainy and fuzzy and mono and replete with blooming colours as it was, it was still a great movie. I am certain that it will look great someday when I watch it in 4K on a new television, but it has always been a great movie and while it would not be ideal, if I had to watch it on an ancient b&w portable because that was the only way to re-watch it, then I probably would. The movie is the thing, not the bells and whistles of the hardware I’d be watching it on.

But this does make me wonder if this trend is indicative of why films are so often all visuals and spectacle and little substance now. Are people so obsessed with the size of their screens and all the bells and whistles of modern hardware that elements like script and drama seem antiquated and immaterial? Wow me don’t involve me?

BR2049 home video success?

Whilst on the subject of BR2049 (aren’t I always, here it seems- just wait until I get a new tv to watch my 4K disc on), here’s a link to an interesting article concerning the film getting a second wind on home video, with sales figures not to be sniffed at. Certainly not bad for a film commonly perceived as being a flop. Which it wasn’t of course- it will struggle for a few years to make much profit but it did much better than the original, with critical success and Oscars besides.

(I’d love to see an interview with the heads of Alcon Entertainment and see their take on how the film performed, what they have learned from it and whether they intend to return to the property in some way in future).

Anyway, here’s the link-

http://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/04/blade-runner-2049-home-video-sales.html

Vangelis & Blade Runner

Its probably old news to most of you, but I rewatched this all-too short video again yesterday and thought it worthwhile linking here just incase anyone missed it. This is exactly the sort of featurette that should have been down for the 4K release of Blade Runner, or at least put on the BR2049 discs to replace some of the EPK nonsense we were lumbered with instead.

Actually, no doubt a ‘proper’ BR2049 disc release will be forthcoming someday. I think it proved quite successful on home video (more so than at the cinema, I hope) and should it gain the following it deserves, a better release with a genuine documentary would be quite deserved. If physical formats endure log enough to see it, anyway.

In the meantime, a reminder of just what Vangelis achieved with the soundtrack for the original film.

And whilst on the subject of Blade Runner music, while it might not be of worth to purists, this was kind of interesting too-

 

NOS 4R2 by Joe Hill

nos4r2NOS4R2 is the first book I have read by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (‘Joe Hill’ is his pen name, his full name is Joseph Hillstrom King, but all credit to him not riding on his old man’s monicker). Its the story of Charles Manx and his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the licence plate ‘NOS4R2’ which, yep, spells out ‘Nosferatu’. Manx is a serial killer who is over a century old, a vampire that lives on the youth of children, who he abducts and spirits away to Christmasland, a place where it is Christmas everyday and from where children never return.

I guess its a little bit Christine, a little The Shining, a little The Dead Zone… which is not to depreciate Hills achievement here, its just that the style of Stephen King is so heavy in this, if I hadn’t been aware it was written by his son, I would have been convinced that King himself had written it under a pseudonym.  Its even as overlong as so many of King’s novels are, totaling almost 700 pages long when a bit of editing would have helped no end. But length not withstanding, its a rollicking read, a real page-turner and a reminder of back when King himself was at his best.

Inevitably, there’s a damn good film here in these pages- I haven’t read a book so certain there’s a great movie on the page since Andy Weir’s The MartianI think the book has actually been optioned as a mini-series on TV, which on the one hand makes sense as its such a big book, but really, I’m certain it could make a better film with a little editing.

Great summer read though. I’ll try other books by Joe Hill in the future.