The Weekly Summary #5

from2Repeats. Don’t you just hate them? Well, the bane of British Summer Television arrives early; here’s the (few) things I watched this past week-

First Man (2018) – 4K UHD

Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – 4K UHD

From the Earth to the Moon (1998) (TV series Episodes 1 – 4) – Blu-ray

The Dark Knight (2008) – 4K UHD

So there you go, nothing new at all. Well, it was one of those weeks I guess, but to be fair, I often look at all those films on my shelves and think, “yeah, I’d love to watch that again sometime” or, as in the case of From the Earth to the Moon (which I originally watched back in 1998), I looked at the Blu-ray edition which I bought back in -gasp, shudder- 2019 and realised I had STILL not watched it yet, other than my favourite episode, Spider, which I rate as one of my favourite hours of television, ever…

There’s certainly a value to returning to films and television shows, if only that it partly justifies having bought them on disc in the first place, as opposed to a rental fee or streaming something once for what we fool ourselves as ‘free’ on Amazon Prime or Netflix. I’ll be honest, I could forgo watching anything ‘new’ at all and just rewatch all those Hammer and Noir boxsets from Indicator, or all those TV boxsets I have like the BSG reboot, Fringe, Person of Interest, Chuck, Space:1999, UFO, The Prisoner…  there’s so many hours there and hey, I’d enjoy all of it. Maybe I should cancel my Netflix sub after all…

Of course, the other thing is rewatching films and revaluating them; was that film REALLY that good (or indeed was it really that bad)? Now, two of the films I rewatched are still fairly recent so I was hardly expecting to be surprised, and I wasn’t: First Man and Top Gun: Maverick were both as great as I remembered. Indeed, Maverick just amazed me again; it is so good a blockbuster entertainment- yes some of the dialogue was clunky, the plot never surprised and the romance felt as forced and unnecessary as it did first time around, but crikey, it just works so well, if only as, well, a blockbuster film. Is that damning it with faint praise?

The Dark Knight was more interesting. I hadn’t seen it for several years, and have seen Ben Affleck’s Batman since as well as Robert Pattinson’s Batman too. Its a sobering thought that I’ve seen two further caped crusaders since I last saw Christian Bale’s rendition (I expect another isn’t far away, either). I remember that, back in 2008, The Dark Knight was generally considered to be the best comicbook movie ever made, the definitive Batman, and I’m sure many still feel that way (for the record, I’ll always feel that Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie is the definitive comicbook movie). What still holds true regards what makes The Dark Knight as special as it is, is Heath Ledger’s Joker; his performance still took my breath away, he was so good and certainly stole the film from everyone else (and will no doubt be the bane of every actor cast as the Joker, ever).

One thing I always thought, and still did when rewatching it last night, was regards Aaron Eckhart (who is brilliant as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, by the way). Dismiss me as crazy as the Joker, but I thought Eckhart would  have made for a great Batman. Its his jawline: he’d be brilliant in that Batman cowl, he’s so square-jawed he looks so like Brian Bolland’s Batman, and he’s got the build too. As unlikely as it might sound, just watch him in The Dark Knight and for a moment imagine him in the cowl etc. You might just be surprised.

As far as From the Earth to the Moon is concerned, the show holds up as well as ever. Its so well written. Every hour is just so well constructed. Its interesting that, as its over twenty years old now, the cast is some kind of time capsule of the great actors of its day, some of whom you might not know their names, but you know their faces, and some indeed who would go on to far greater things (such as Bryan Cranston with Breaking Bad, obviously). What I absolutely adore regards this show is its music: episodes composed by Michael Kame, Mark Isham, James Newton Howard,  Jeff Beal and other greats, this has some of the best music composed for any television series, and incredibly its never been given a proper soundtrack release. A terrible injustice. Maybe one day (hey, it took decades for that Star Trek: TOS complete box release).

So what’s coming next week? Well, I think we might be going Italian…

The Weekly Summary #2

satAnother week already? Well, here’s the list for week # 2 of 2023:

6. Jurassic World Dominion (2022) – 4K UHD

7. The Pale Blue Eye (2023) – Netflix

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – 4K UHD

8. Saturday Night & Sunday Morning (1960)

Jack Ryan (Season One, 2018)  Episodes 1 to 5 – Amazon Prime

9. Crimes of the Future (2022)

Life keeps on throwing curveballs. Last year I desperately wanted to see out 2022; Christmas seemed just incidental to getting to New Year and kissing it all good riddance. There’s an old tradition for New Year that my My Dad followed, I don’t know if its something unique to England or the Midlands or something everyone used to do in the old days – certainly for the past twenty+ years I’ve always been the only one ever doing it in my street. Seeing out the old and in with the new, you walk out the back door of your house shortly before midnight, wait outside for the turn of midnight, then enter the house through the front door; out with the old year, in with the new. What? I’m the only one doing it? I knew it. I’m some kind of idiot. But bless him, my Dad used to do it when I was a kid so I used to tag along with him, and I’ll carry on doing it.

These days the only New Year tradition folks seem to follow other than possibly getting drunk is letting off lots of noisy fireworks that terrify my dog. Its something that has become the norm since the Millennium New Year when everyone seemed to go batshit crazy about a number. Every year now as the minutes approach midnight I’m standing out front of my house, with the field across from it I have a wonderful view like some great vast panorama, and the sky goes berserk with fireworks, money being burned for the sake of pretty colours and loud bangs. No, I’m not a fan of fireworks, I expect few dog owners are.

So anyway, back to the subject at hand- anyone who’s a regular reader of my blog will understand why it was one of the very worst years of my life and I just wanted to be rid of it, draw a line under it and hope for a fresh start in 2023. Unfortunately life is rarely as neat as that, and the game of endurance just seems to have rolled over into 2023. I’ve started the year with a death in the family so another funeral ahead (after the three funerals in 2022 I’d have hoped for a longer respite from them but hey, it increasingly seems life has other ideas when you’re getting older).

Is anyone else trying to ignore the news these days? It seems the media just love to milk a crisis and dwell on the worst. I suspect they found that Covid had the benefit of stupendous ratings for news outlets – there’s profit in misery, so they continue to pile it on. Is it the same everywhere or is it just the UK? There seems a great deal of attention is paid to mental health these days but no-one seems to take the news outlasts to task. Lets have some hope, people. Its getting so that watching the darkest of film noir is actually an escape to some old world utopia.

Which allows me an awkward link to an early twist- looking at the list above, you’ll note that there’s been no noir this week, and that unfortunately I’m already falling even further behind on posting reviews ((there’s a few from week #1 that I need to catch up on, never mind those listed above). I wish I could simply suggest that I must try harder and clear some of the backlog, but as ever of late that’s a battle with real-world issues beyond my control, so the pressure is on to at the very least keep up with these weekly summaries (we’ll see how that goes, but at least I’ve managed to week two so its now a bone-fide series rather than a forlorn one-off).

The best film of the week -and I intend to keep track of these ‘best of the week’ titles and maybe use them at the end of the year if I get that far- is Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a simply remarkable film from 1960 which somehow I had never seen before. I have a review of it about ready to be posted so I won’t dwell upon it here, you’ll be able to read what I thought when I get the post up later today or early tomorrow, but if that isn’t one of the best British films ever made I’m a Wookie’s uncle. I was never really a fan of Albert Finney, I got used to seeing him when a mature actor in films and television during his later years, but goodness, seeing him so young and handsome, his innate fiery energy funnelled into his portrayal of an angry young man (absolutely perfect casting) was quite a revelation.

Worst film of the week is David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future– a real gut punch that one as I’d hoped for the best. I think it is clear that Cronenberg’s best years (Videodrome, The Dead Zone and The Fly remake, for me) are well behind him. I’m sure it must have its fans, but I simply didn’t ‘get’ Crimes of the Future, even though I tried my damnedest: I don’t think it matters what great ideas are involved in a film, bad storytelling is bad storytelling, and I’m not even certain Crimes of the Future even had a plot. Perhaps the art-house crowd don’t care so much about that. Such a shame considering it had a good cast and a premise one would expect to be perfect for Cronenberg. I guess it could be argued that the film was a welcome respite from the empty-headed blockbusters but for me it was just too far in the opposite direction; an empty-headed arthouse flick with dodgy performances. Body-horror for its own sake? I guess I missed the point.

So anyway, that’s week two. Now this is the part where I go to a ‘coming attractions’ teaser to get all you gentle readers excited for the week ahead but its really a blank slate at the moment: no disc releases are due  or anything planned like those 4K Godfather films from Christmas. Well, who dares makes plans these days? The week seems already busy with all that real-world stuff (Claire’s mom is having a carpet fitted so we need to go over and move some more furniture beforehand, there’s the usual shopping chores and possibly another instalment in the saga of taking my Aunt to her Opticians… really, it makes me wonder how I fit my job in never mind this blogging nonsense).  I’ll probably go back to a noir or two for some kind of escape, and there’s still a few ‘new’ films on Netflix and Amazon I need to catch up on, so we’ll wait and see, hey?

Welcome to the Jurassic one last time

JurassicW3Jurassic World Dominion, Dir. Colin Trevorrow,  2023, 160 mins, 4K UHD 

This is a curious one- why do I feel so guilty for admitting that I really rather enjoyed this? To be sure, I’m not suggesting it was great, high-concept drama or anything particularly original – serviceable, reliable popcorn entertainment is much nearer the mark. There’s a place for that, though, isn’t there?

Jurassic World Dominion is the sixth entry (and the end of a second trilogy) in a franchise so its inevitable, really- unless its deliberately shaking things up, like Alien 3 or The Last Jedi did, the success of either the subject of endless debate- that the film has the air of over-familiarity, even of laziness. But if it nonetheless entertains for a few hours, where’s the harm? I didn’t come to this film expecting an awful lot; indeed the mostly negative reaction to the films cinema release last year had me expecting much worse, so diminished expectations and all that left me pleasantly surprised and maybe a bit too forgiving.

Yes, the story is slight, and very daft, and the cast are hardly bothering, clearly there for the pay cheque (particularly the three brought back from the original trilogy), going through what little demands are made of them. That said, I will acknowledge that the three -Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum-  are used much better than the cast of the original Star Wars trilogy were in the The Force Awakens/The Last Jedi/The Rise of Skywalker; at least in this they are brought together to share scenes and given some chance to shine and play off each other again rather than just limply validate the new generation. And yet again I find myself utterly mystified by the success and apparent appeal of Chris Pratt, a soggy piece of man-mountain cardboard who seems to play the same character in whatever franchise he is in. What makes him the go-to guy for these popcorn action flicks? If it isn’t him, its Chris Hemsworth, but at least Hemsworth has some kind of charm and charisma, Pratt just maintains the cryptic mystique of an empty microwave.  Not that the story demands much more than hang around for the bits when he’s not being doubled by a stunt guy or a CGI doppelganger.

JurassicW3bThe thing is, I know I should be much more critical, particularly of the insane indestructibility of the human characters that remains a continuing pet peeve of mine that so many films have inherited from too many Marvel/DC films. Bryce Dallas Howard (who for me is the highlight of these Jurassic World films) gets ejected from a speeding plane, tossed in the air as her chute is attacked by winged beasties, then crashes through countless metres of thick trees until finally coming to rest suspended from the ground, and comes out of it without hardly a scratch or a torn garment. Chris Pratt falls through broken ice into a freezing lake, swims up and out onto the surface, legs it from danger and has no chills/hypothermia and his clothes dry almost instantly. Four characters -chiefly the older bunch from the original trilogy- are in a 4×4 which falls over a precipice, rolls end over end down a steep embankment, coming to rest upside down, and they all climb out undazed, again without any mark or evidence of being shaken. I guess you choose to either go along with the silliness or balk at it.

Positives- a great (dare I suggest old-fashioned) score by the dependable (albeit typically unremarkable) Michael Giacchino carries things along nicely, with a few very effective moments that bring to mind the glory days of 1970s/1980s movie scoring. I also thought the visual effects – both the CGI Dinosaurs and their real-world puppet equivalents- were tremendous, particularly considering the sheer number of effects shots in this thing. And regards the cast, DeWanda Wise, playing a bounty hunter/pilot who joins the team, pretty much steals the film from the rest of the cast and those visual effects too. She’s great. Maybe they should have ditched all the rest of the old Jurassic Park/Jurassic World cast members, saving a fortune, and given her a Jurassic movie all her own. Or maybe, the cynic in me wonders, they were eyeing up this as a possible lead-in to a new trilogy starring her in adventures of her own?

There’s a great, tense, scary, gory, adult movie with dinosaurs that we all would like to see someday but this is clearly not that movie. Indeed, considering the cost of these things we likely will never see the intelligent (well, if that’s even possible in something involving live dinosaurs) dinosaur epic that most Jurassic Park fans seem to have wanted. These films have to appeal to the lowest denominator, across all sexes, age groups and nationalities to be a financial success, or at least that’s the perceived wisdom at Hollywood, so this is the kind of film these things have to be, apparently. This film even made money so I guess that wisdom wins out in the end.

So anyway, the 4K UHD sports great picture quality, a (slightly) extended version of the film that may or may not have been the actual original/preferred cut by director Colin Trevorrow, and is, if you can leave your brain at the door for a few hours, a pretty decent fun ride. I’ll go back to those 1940s/1950s/1970s movies for real drama, great screenwriting and acting, but as far as popcorn entertainment goes, this definitely wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

Event Horizon needs a reboot

EventIn an effort to shake things up from the relentless noir-watching of late, I watched Event Horizon again (well hey, a film in COLOUR!), albeit this time the recent 4K UHD release, which while hardly a revelation is nonetheless a big improvement on the old Blu-ray and the DVD before that.

I usually enjoy watching the film, but this time it didn’t feel the same. Its not as if I was expecting anything great. It’s just Event Horizon, after all, but I’ve always considered it a guilty favourite, much like Tobe Hooper’s Life Force. Event Horizon is cheesy with some stiff acting and terribly dodgy dialogue and is massively derivative of so many other, better films but usually I can ignore/put up with all that and enjoy it for what it is. But what exactly is it? What exactly has brought me back to it over the years?

Maybe its the mood, the ‘look’ of the film. I think I’ve noted before how much it feels a part of the Alien universe, if only because its at such pains to mimic Ridley Scott’s film. If the Alien franchise had gone another way, less about Giger’s xenomorph or Ripley and more about seperate horror films set in space, then yeah, this film could have been titled Alien: Event Horizon and nobody would have batted an eyelid. I think every time I watch the film I half-expect to spot the Weyland-Yutani logo somewhere, and I guess one could argue it looks part of the Alien franchise more than Prometheus did, so one could argue it succeeded where even Ridley Scott failed.

But of course, its not just Alien that the film cribs from. There’s a lot of The Shining in it. I could imagine a commentary track in which the voices say “hey look, here’s a bit of The Black Hole” or “this here’s a nod to Outland” or “here’s the fifteenth thing it’s nicked from Alien” or “yeah there’s that decompression gag  from Total Recall” etc. Its almost a wonder this film got released without any resulting litigation at all, its so blatantly cobbled together from other films.

Maybe its time that everything went full circle, and somebody made a reboot of Event Horizon, you know, rehash the film that was itself a rehash of so many other films. There’d be a certain logic or poetic justice to it.

Westworld sticks the landing, while The Peripheral leaves wreckage everywhere

peripheral1Westworld Season 4, 2022, 8 Episodes, 4K UHD

The Peripheral Season 1, 2022, 8 Episodes, Amazon Prime

Well this post’s title says it all so I’ll try keep this short. I’m pleased to say that somehow Season 4 of Westworld manages to reach some kind of satisfactory conclusion. It feels somewhat rushed, but when watching it I put that down to the showrunners having to fashion some finale without the originally intended fifth season- a similar feeling when watching Babylon 5′s rushed fourth season, funnily enough, but it turns out that how Westworld’s season four ends wasn’t intended to be the finale. They still thought we’d get a season five (indeed, I’ve read that HBO have had to pay the leading cast a total of $25 million for the fifth season anyway, as they had a play or pay deal in another example of the madness of Hollywood financial frugality) so the open-ended coda returning to the Western setting of season one isn’t just an affectionate tease.  But it somehow works; how crazy is that? Probably as crazy as knowing that Babylon 5 got its own fifth season (the benefits of being comparatively cheap) and the irony that some like me actually think B5 should have ended with season four aftercall, as B5′s fifth season proved pretty dismal. So hey, lets be a glass half-full kind of chap for a bit – at least Westworld has some kind of satisfactory ending, was great fun while it lasted and intellectually satisfying most of the time, too.

In a curious twist of streaming fate, The Peripheral is from most of the same team that brought us Westworld, but is all the poorer in comparison. It starts very well, with a curious conceit of time travel through the transmission of data via some quantum entanglement, basically transmission of personality via a data stream to a date decades in the future that is posing as a VR game. Its a neat twist, discovering that what we believe early on is a VR game is actually a future reality in some strange utopian  London (hey, an added twist, that utopia is largely a fake and its a dystopia after all, oh the irony/several-too-many-layers of complexity).

I quite enjoyed most of it, but the finale proved just too confusing/confounding. I won’t go into it here, but it seems like they have pulled the rug under us again. Not simply transmitting the personality ‘live’ but actually transferring it after our heroine is (we assume) shot dead in some kind of bargain sacrifice. I don’t know. Its just a few steps north of credibility in my book. I don’t mind shows being obtuse and vague and mysterious, hey, it makes for great television sometimes, but The Peripheral is bordering on being a parody of such shows. Can’t say it really leaves me enthusiastic about waiting a year or two and then struggling through eight more such episodes, especially when I’ve likely forgotten most everything from season one. I admire the ambition, but really, do shows like this really have to be such work?

My next question- Amazon cancelled The Expanse in favour of spending money on dead-end shows like this?  Answers on a postcard please to Streaming Sucks UK.

Nearing the end of Westworld

Westworld Season Four, Episodes 1 -4, 2022, 4K UHD

Part of the appeal for me of Westworld is its obvious Replicant = Host parallels with Blade Runner, and the ‘what-is-reality?’ question that runs throughout so much of author Philip K Dick’s work- in some ways the show has always seemed as much an exploration of Philip K Dick’s oeuvre as it is Michael Crichton 1973 film Westworld. Indeed, as the show moved away from its Wild West-inspired theme park it became a temptation to think its what a Blade Runner 3 might have been had a film followed-up the Replicant rebellion plotline from Blade Runner 2049, or perhaps some precursor to what the Blade Runner 2099 TV series will prove to be. Leaving the theme park setting antagonised and frustrated some fans, who might have preferred something a little more… not routine exactly, but a season set in Futureworld or Medievalworld. Instead the showrunners, for good or ill, had other ideas, grander ambitions, taking it out into the real world beyond and a future apocalypse, a cautionary warning about technology and AI and the dangers they bring for a possibly obsolete humanity that’s part Terminator, part Blade Runner.

Its the end of the world, and its the end of the series.

I’m four episodes in now, at the midway point, so that end is getting near. Probably, its going to be a non-ending.  Maybe the cancellation by HBO changes nothing- if ever this maddeningly brilliant, maddeningly infuriating series was going to be so ordinary and mundane as to give us anything like a definitive ending, but hey, I guess we’ll never know now. So watching this season is a strange experience of watching the clock, desperately hoping the series isn’t going to waste any time on superfluous plot points, knowing there’s only so many episodes left, and hoping that whatever season ending these eight episodes arrive at, it somehow works as an overall ending for the series as a whole. Too much to ask for? Probably. But I am enjoying this last ride .

Because its pretty damn good, still full of lofty ideas but somehow easier to digest. After the muddled third season (I quite enjoyed it for the inevitability of some of its technological ideas, but I know it had its issues) this show is back on track. While its not as nuanced, sophisticated or balls-to-the-wall ambitious as the show’s tremendous first season, there’s possibly an argument to be made that instead its clearer, more defined, maybe a little bit more traditional, mainstream, which seems a deliberate choice by the showrunners. Maybe an admission they took everything a little too far in turning its plot into a narrative Rubiks cube? Oh the irony that just when the show got a little less obtuse and toned down some of its elements that alienated the mainstream crowd, it got cancelled.

While its a pale shadow of its tremendous first season (and to be fair, that was one of the best seasons of television drama ever made, so that was inevitable really), the fourth season of Westworld looks to be absolutely splendid and having reached the midpoint its clearly a definite improvement on the third season. Unfortunately, the series cancellation looms every episode, every plotline, so watching this season is a strange experience of watching the clock and hoping that whatever season ending these eight episodes arrive at somehow works as an overall ending for the series as a whole. Too much to ask for? Probably. But I am enjoying this last ride (hell, its worth it just for every minute of Ed Harris’ Man in Black).

But how maddening will the end of this journey prove to be?

Its Cruise control in the Death Star trench

topgunmavTop Gun: Maverick, 2022, 130 mins, 4K UHD

Credit where it’s due, Tom Cruise has blockbuster movie making down to some arcane science now. There’s an old adage in Hollywood that nobody really knows what will prove a hit, and plenty of great movies have crashed and burned at the box office, but maybe Tom has sussed it out. Back when Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015) came out, I remember thinking that it pretty much defined what a great Hollywood blockbuster should be, and then he went and did it again with Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018) and lo and behold, he’s done it again with Top Gun: Maverick (to the tune of nearly 1.5 billion dollars in a post-Covid world with cinemas struggling to get audiences to return: one has to wonder where the numbers would have ended up at in a ‘normal’ world).

Top Gun: Maverick almost makes me wonder what should define Great Cinema. All these films are inherently silly, escapist entertainment, but they are clearly so ruthlessly planned out to perfection, down to character arcs, dramatic structure, through to location shooting, stunts and visual effects… its just astonishing cinema. Its perhaps wrong to care about any off-key moments, because the films are absolutely brilliant rides: they just WORK. I do wonder where the particular magic lies- these films are not subtle at all and you can sense the character beats and what’s going to happen, I could comment about the clunky dialogue, how the romance between Maverick and Jennifer Connelly’s Penny feels like it intrudes from some other movie, and while in some films it might irritate there’s something about Cruise’s deft touch (or possibly that of the people he hires/works with) that results in us not getting annoyed and instead just going with it. Lately most Hollywood blockbusters irritate with forced virtue signalling and stupid scripts awkwardly executed, while Cruises last few projects just seem to soar.

And none of them soar in quite the same way as Top Gun: Maverick. The buzz audiences must have felt walking out of cinemas after seeing this must have been something indeed.

Yes, it is silly, sometimes in the extreme. Indeed, coming into the film pretty much spoiler-free, I think the most surprising thing about the film for me was just how obvious its debt to Star Wars was. Its almost like a blatant remake of the 1977 Star Wars, the attack on a underground nuclear bunker/processing plant so total a lift of the race down the Death Star trench and the targeting of its thermal exhaust port I both admired the fact that it was a better Star Wars movie than anything Disney has done but wouldn’t have been surprised if the film had a nod to George Lucas in the writing credits. They even have computer graphic imagery explaining the attack plan to the assembled pilots where I swear someone says something about a thermal exhaust port; its like the film starts as a remake of The Right Stuff, then asides to repurposing beats from the original Top Gun (I still haven’t seen the original film, but its clear there are nods to that film and moments of fan service), and then it morphs into Star Wars, with a final sly nod to Clint Eastwood’s Firefox. It should irritate for all the repurposing but instead it feels quite glorious.

Tom Cruise may or may not be the last great movie star/Hollywood icon (I think Clint Eastwood may qualify for that although clearly some fans will have other favourites they could elect for that title) but its plain that whatever his merits as an actor, he is also a great producer. As age eventually, as it surely must, presses upon him the time when he just can’t keep defying his years (turning sixty, he looks like he could pass for forty), it seems there will be plenty of opportunity for him to impress from behind the scenes. But then again, its gotten to the point that nothing really surprises regards Cruise these days. It almost feels like he could do anything, and we’ve got two more Mission Impossible films incoming over the next two years to further prove it. There’s even talk of him actually going into orbit to film a space movie in, er, space. The mind boggles.

Returning again to Gattaca

Gattaca1Gattaca, 1997, 106 mins, 4K UHD

The future in films is always a pretty complicated thing- sometimes Utopian, sometimes Dystopian, various visions that, as the years go by, might in hindsight seem surprisingly spot-on, or surprisingly wide of the mark. Back in 1968 during the glory days of the space race, 2001: A Space Odyssey must have seemed pretty convincing, and while it remains largely definitive and prescient regards technology and space travel, in hindsight it was clearly at least a century out regards its timeline. When Blade Runner came out in 1982, its narrative setting of 2019 already seemed unlikely, as reality proved – but I find it endlessly amusing that reality also turned what was in 1982 a Dystopian vision instead into a Utopian one. Reality has fairly out-nightmared Ridley Scott, and when I watch Blade Runner these days it seems positively escapist entertainment.

Gattaca posits a future that does not belong to us ordinary, natural homo sapiens. Its something that I began to appreciate as I grew up, reading science fiction novels and absorbing science news, for example about how dangerous and inhospitable space is. It became pretty clear to me that humans leaving the Earth behind will be different, either coldly efficient like Kubrick’s astronauts and scientists, or physically enhanced to withstand the rigours of cosmic radiation or living in zero/low-gravity. I doubt future humans will be so comfortably familiar as they are, say, in Star Trek. I think future humans will be different, just as we would look different to prehistoric humans: in the same way as we have been shaped by our environment and technology, so will future humans who may not, physically, appear as wholly human as we might expect. A lifetime out in the Asteroid Belt, or on a Jovian or Saturnian moon would result in a physique, and likely mental, aspect quite unlike that of us today.

Maybe I’m too critical, maybe humanists would point towards a more reassuring, familiar shape for humanity out in the solar system and the stars, would argue that we won’t really change much at all. All I’d suggest is that when I was a kid, nobody would have believed that everyone in streets and buses and trains would be so endlessly tied to and fascinated by the little screens they carry around with them. Technology is already shaping us and our behaviour. I remember going for a meal and seeing another couple, arriving at another table after us, immediately upon sitting down each taking out their mobile phones and, instead of talking to each other, instead ignored each other, absorbed in their little screens and messages. It caught my eye and seemed quite alien, but you see that kind of thing all the time.

Gattaca suggests a biological advance, of genetic enhancements purchased to order prior even to conception, or immediately after, geneticists removing bad genes, replacing or improving them, ensuring a physical and mental perfection, or at least as near damn it. Wealth ensures success and opportunity, while poverty, the economic inability to utilise the biological tinkering  ensures membership of a social underclass. Its not far removed from how education separates many today into different social classes and opportunity (the last five Prime Minsters, for instance, all attended Oxford –  not certain if that’s a pro-Oxford commentary or not, considering how inept may of our Prime Minsters have actually been in the job).

Gattaca has always felt utterly convincing to me, like its future is inescapable. I’m not suggesting that’s its prime appeal; I think its best feature is its human drama, but nonetheless there is some fundamental truth to the future it envisages. Its a future horribly sad and dystopian, albeit tinged with a message of hope for the human spirit, a last hurrah for the humanity we are today. Vincent’s triumph is one for all of us, but I always think its a final one, that the future belongs to the others, those enhanced humans who curiously don’t seem to interact at all. There is largely something curiously cold and robotic about Vincent’s colleagues, not quite human, as if its suggesting that its our imperfections and limitations, and how we work work around them, that make us human.

I first saw Gattaca during its original cinema run here in the UK in 1998 and was immediately captivated by it, and have remained so ever since. Its one of those films that is pretty much perfect. Great script, visually impressive, great cast, wonderful music score – its up there with The Shawshank Redemption, Field of Dreams, and Glory for me, to name a few examples… films that may or may not be defined as Great Cinema like Citizen Kane, say, but are nonetheless essentially perfect.

Gattaca‘s premise is fascinating, scarily convincing, its script finely written with great characters and a great setting, using the films limited budget to its advantage, leveraging its future setting into the background, a ‘less is more’ approach that is refreshing. Nowadays it would be ‘bigger’ and more spectacular, no doubt, thanks to temptations of easy CGI enhancements, but I feel this would work to the films detriment. Instead, in just the same way as Alan Rudolph’s Trouble In Mind (1985) did,  the film thankfully focuses on its characters, and its cast, who are all at the top of their game- indeed what a cast! Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Alan Arkin,  Elias Koteas, Gore Vidal, Ernest Borgnine, Tony Shalhoub, Xander Berkley… this time around I spotted Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris playing a cop (probably because I hadn’t seen Breaking Bad last time I watched this film). Its a wonderful cast, really one of the films pleasures.

Of course being such a fan of this film, I’ve purchased it on home video a number of times; back in the early days of R1 DVD, later on Blu-ray and now on a 4K UHD that looks quietly gorgeous in that understated way that fits the film so well. This isn’t a film to ‘wow’ viewers with HDR but it does afford a level of detail and breadth of colour that is lovely. I often find myself referring to Gattaca and people looking blankly at me, and I often wonder when, if ever, its time will come (it seems to have been largely forgotten over the years, as some films strangely do). Maybe one day in decades hence when people are buying designer babies and choosing sex, hair colour, etc like we choose options when buying cars, people will note how eerily prescient Gattaca was; not all Hollywood futures come true (thankfully, in some cases), but perhaps this film, softly whispering down the decades like a cautionary Ray Bradbury or Rod Serling story, will be appreciated not just for being a great film but also a warning of what lies ahead and what might be avoided. Nearly two decades earlier, Star Trek: The Motion Picture proclaimed that ‘the human adventure is just beginning’ and while Gattaca darkly suggests otherwise, it perhaps also ponders there’s maybe an alternative, or that at least we should consider what being human really means.

Stop the bus, I need to hear the commentary track

Polices1Police Story, 1985, 99 mins, 4K UHD

Its always a little tricky coming to a genre one isn’t particularly interested in or familiar with; its rather like manually tuning a radio station, turning the dial this way and that, trying to get a clear signal but nonetheless unable to rid oneself of static/background noise: there are moments when you get it tuned right and its all clear, and you ‘get it’ but the rest its clouded by interference and leaves you wondering what you’re missing, unable to fathom the appeal.

So regards Jackie Chan movies, I’m quite entirely ignorant, really- other than the Rush Hour films, the only other film I can recall watching was The Foreigner, a few years back.  Eureka’s recent 4K boxset of three Police Story films, highly regarded by many martial arts/action film fans, seemed an opportunity to remedy that.

So we come to Police Story, from 1985 – a film that while passing me by completely (I’d never even heard of it until a few months back, such is my ignorance), first wowed its fans here in the West back in the days of VHS rentals, when films like this could never be seen on television broadcast. There’s a certain charm to VHS, well, for those of us who lived through its early days, anyway: blown-out colours and scratchy drop-outs and tracking noise… strange to eulogise those horrors when I’m watching it now in 4K with HDR. But certainly the production company logos that open the credits for Police Story look so dated, so redolent of those indie VHS releases of the day with garish, hand-drawn animation, that they carry an instant charm.

I watched Police Story in its original Cantonese with English subtitles, assuming that the original is more authentic and richer an experience, but I’m not sure I chose wisely. Pretty immediately the frenzied, exaggerated performances, complemented by the speed of the language, started to grate on me. Maybe it was the tone of it all. The film is an action-comedy with outrageous stunts, more Harold Lloyd than Bourne Identity, certainly, and I found it hard to get a complete grip with it. The humour is so like that of a cartoon, very slapstick, the characters one-dimensional, the tone uneven (action film, romantic comedy…). No doubt second viewings will reward better, having acclimatised to it, but this first time around it put me rather in a tailspin.  Returning to my radio analogy, I couldn’t tune it it in, was getting messed up by all the static noise.

Midpoint of the film I got along easier with it, mainly because it took a very interesting twist, and a darker turn than what preceded it, but certainly from the start the action set-pieces and the stunts are amazing. There is one in particular, when one of the characters jumps off the fifth-floor roof of a building into an alarmingly small swimming pool below, that is so crazy, so apparently reckless (this is back in  the day of no CGI wire removal or similar safety measures, the stunts being done absolutely for real in ways that would get Hollywood insurance companies reaching for the emergency exit), that it took my breath away and terrified me as much as it exhilarated me. To be honest, we’re used to crazy ridiculous stunts these days, knowing that there’s lots of trickery and visual effects making them look bigger/riskier than they really were, but watching films from back then, knowing the dangers… Even the fights, all the spins into sheets of glass or glass displays or onto concrete or walls…

POPoliceAt any rate, by the last third of the film I was well into it, more accustomed to the exaggerated theatrics that I assume must be style of these Hong Kong films. Its the curious thing about watching a kind of film that one doesn’t usually watch, its almost a foreign language in itself, so maybe not watching it in its (American, I assume) English-dub was indeed a contributory factor to my initial sense of distance. Maybe watching it in fuzzy VHS with dodgy tracking was part of this film’s charm in the 1980s, but on this 4K restoration the film looks quite spectacular. I look forward to watching the remaining two films in this box set, but do wonder if I should stick around for the commentary tracks on this film first to really get educated to what these films are all about…

Poltergeist 40 years on

Poltergeist1Poltergeist, 1982, 114 mins, 4K UHD

My affection for Poltergeist is deeper than it really deserves- as noted before, it was the first film rental I ever saw, back in 1983 when my parents rented a VHS machine and sent me down to the video store with a membership card. It was tremendously exciting having a genuine film on this weird big plastic cassette and loading it up in the player, watching a film, uncut, with no ad breaks, of our choice when we wanted to watch it. It was a glimpse of the future that at the time could not be guessed at, a future of films on demand and that one can actually own to rewatch time and time again.

I’ve rewatched the film several times over the years since, and I think I’ve bought it on every new format (4K UHD of course just the very latest one). I think its possibly an attempt to relive that original excitement from 1983, because every time I rewatch it, the film disappoints somehow. Its a good film, and also a big reminder of just how varied and largely successful genre releases were in 1982 in particular, something we’ll not see the like of again. But as a horror film, is it really genuinely scary on repeat viewings? Can those child actors really act? Does it rely too much on ILM visual effects that increasingly look dated, big loud sound effects (it gets ridiculously noisy towards the end) and the propulsive qualities of Jerry Goldsmith’s music? Is it too much a Spielberg movie?

You can tell its based on a story by Spielberg. Its got that reliance of showy effects and spectacle, sort of a mix between CE3K and Raiders of the Lost Ark posing as horror movie, largely ignoring the subtlety of genuine quiet, creepy horror that gets under ones skin. And perhaps indicating Spielberg’s youth at the time most of all, it suggests parents who don’t report their missing child to the police, something as ridiculous as a father deserting his children to go fly off in a UFO, dubious plot holes I imagine he’s since regretted with maturity.

The authorship of the film as a whole -particularly who directed it- has been a subject of some contention amongst fans for years. It clearly carries Spielberg’s stamp, including some of his worst habits of the time, like slow camera pull-ins on actors reaction shots that always irritated the hell out of me and still does on repeat viewings (thankfully something Spielberg grew out of, eventually) that suggest he directed some moments at least, or certainly had a big involvement in the editing. I rather think of Poltergeist as I do Return of the Jedi; the latter may credit Richard Marquand as director but its got George Lucas’ hand all over it, unfortunately (a response to Lucas feeling he lost control of The Empire Strikes Back). I suspect Tobe Hooper worked as a director-for-hire and acceded to Spielberg in all creative discussions (other rumours persist that Spielberg actually took over when Hooper lost control/fell ‘ill’, but that being said, I suspect that had Spielberg really directed it as some suspect, the performances of those child actors would have been much better).

There are moments in Poltergeist that are genuinely great; I’ve always loved Goldsmith’s effective score, particularly when we see the ghostly spirits coming down the stairs. It was the moment that truly blew me away back in 1983 and always raises the hairs on the back of my neck. JoBeth Williams is wonderful, the heart and soul of the film that carries all the proceedings once her daughter is abducted by the ghosts haunting the house. The more times I have watched the film, I increasingly wish the script had just had a bit more polish that might have ensured less of a reliance on those effects. Its a film that leans more toward entertainment than genuine scares, I feel; an indication of what Amblin would be all about during the 1980s etc and how mainstream Hollywood was going with its summer blockbusters. Its less an adult horror movie than it is a creepy movie for kids- yeah, a Spielberg horror movie rather than  a Hooper horror movie, clearly (albeit the censors seem to have nixed that intent; Poltergeist is still a 15 over here in the UK).

poltergeist4kOn 4K UHD Poltergeist naturally looks better than it ever has. The HDR allows greater clarity, particularly in daylight, exterior scenes. I don’t think it does the ILM photochemical effects too many favours, really- some of the animation looks a little too painterly… I wonder, had Doug Trumbull had a hand in the effects, if his ‘painting with light’ approach might have been a preferable one. I did notice some banding in a few of the dark skies (pretty nasty in the scene where Steve and Diane knock on their neighbours door and the dark cloudy night sky has ugly banding behind them, but maybe that’s a source issue). On the whole it looks pretty great though.