The new Dune trailer

Oh this looks good. This looks so VERY good. Anyone else get a tingle watching those Ornithopters flying over the sand dunes?

But is anyone else concerned that the last ten years of dumbing down blockbusters may have robbed this film of its audience? Nobody turned up to go watch BR2049, and that film wasn’t being dumped on HBO Max at the time either. I don’t know how much of an impact that HBO Max thing will prove to be, or how much Covid will be in the equation come October, but considering the money that Dune needs to make in order to break even/get Part Two greenlit…  My biggest concern is simply that, are audiences going to go in droves to watch a sci-fi epic minus caped superheroes beating the shit out of bad guys while wrecking a city? Are audiences going to sit still for a film with ideas? 

Mind, Dune is an epic story with epic spectacle so maybe that will pull people in. Films are so stupid now though, particularly the ones that make any money. I’m still reeling from the assault on my senses that was Godzilla vs Kong and that Hobbs & Shaw thing. Is that what films are now? While I take some comfort from how Disney’s Black Widow seems to have under-performed recently, that also makes me nervous regards how streaming (and yeah, Covid) seems to have pulled people away from the movie experience, wondering if things have changed forever. Have the weekly drops of content on Netflix and Disney+ so diluted peoples appreciation of tentpole releases (I have to wonder if Disney putting Marvel and Star Wars content for ‘free’ onto subscribers televisions is a kind of self-sabotage) weakened and diluted the appeal of said franchises as regards getting bums on seats in cinemas, like it used to be? We’ve already seen how people don’t seem interested in buying films on disc anymore. Some of the high-end stuff being dropped on Netflix is often poor but production-wise, they are essentially exactly the same thing as is seen in cinemas. I remember when I was kid, I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and when I got home Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was on the telly, and funnily enough it was the episode with the asteroid sequence and Buster Crabbe but it was so different in quality, the chasm between home entertainment and cinema entertainment was plain. That’s gone now, and seeing ‘new’ Star Wars and Marvel stuff straight onto the telly…

I’ve noted before that movies don’t seem as important or special as they used to be in my youth, back when Star Wars would be on the big screen only and when you’d wait for years to ever see Jaws again- gradually films have become more disposable. In a world where you can buy Avatar for a fiver, is there any wonder that Avatar itself fails to have any real cultural significance (and I’m really curious how those Avatar sequels will perform in a few years time). Are movies, as we fans remember them as ‘MOVIES,’ essentially dead, and things like Dune simply being made for a world and business model that no longer exists?

One has to wonder if Dune: Part Two will eventually just be a mini-series on HBO Max.

How NOT to watch Blade Runner, Part Two

blade-runner-76Clearly these ‘reaction videos’ on YouTube are not for me. On the one hand, I cannot understand peoples fascination for them, albeit there is clearly an audience for them and those that put them up must evidently get some financial reward for doing so. I just don’t get it- why watch someone watching a film? What thrill does one get from seeing someone over-react in shock/horror at what they are watching? Do people really believe these YouTubers have never seen some of these iconic movies? And if they somehow haven’t seen the films or heard anything about them (I mean, The Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s ‘identity’- have they been buried under a rock or something?) then doesn’t that mean they are EXACTLY the least likely to be worthy of making a reaction video?

Anyway, regards Blade Runner: running (sic) through some more various reaction videos I’m just more disheartened about how people watch the movie and what it possibly means re: how people watch films in general. I’m sure its no definitive example but goodness it made me think. Actually, it didn’t just make me think, it made me rant in various texts to my old friend Andy who watched Blade Runner with me back in September 1982. Andy just seemed amused at my sense of insult and affront, possibly winding me up with his texts back, but at one point I was like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction quoting his ‘furious anger’ speech. Some of these YouTubers seem very pleasant and all, but the Nexus 6 bit refers to a model line, not a supervillain team (imagining a team of Reps calling themselves the Nexus Six is very Marvel, maybe) and one very nice guy totally missing the point of the movie when he was absolutely convinced throughout the film that Rachel was human (and everyone in the film referring to her as a Replicant apparently lying) – I don’t understand it. 

My suspicion is that its all part of the deep fake of these reaction videos. In this day and age, how do you avoid spoilers for old movies even if you’ve never seen them? So maybe these guys getting confused or missing the point is a deliberate ploy to make it seem like they genuinely haven’t seen what they are watching. When they surely, obviously, have: even some of the ‘Oh My Gosh!!’ reactions seem so wild they have to have been rehearsed (watch some of the The Empire Strikes Back reaction-videos of no doubt, ahem, ‘aspiring’ actresses being horrified by who is Luke’s father). I think some of my horror is just.. its all madness out there, you know? Social media is just so INSANE. 

I have the digital footprint of a gnat. Clearly I’m from some other century.

(Actually, I really am, now that I think about it. That possibly explains things a little).

The Absurdity Of Everything.

I sometimes wonder… on one of my texts to Andy, I asked him what he thought Philip K Dick would think, had he lived to see the world we live in today. Even ignoring all things Covid, the political landscape in America alone… well, Andy balked at that (No! Thats too much!” he replied, refusing to even give it consideration and adding that he was reaching for a drink instead). Sometimes though, I really feel like I’m living inside a PKD novel that I haven’t read yet. And yes, its probably titled The Absurdity Of Everything.

Godzilla vs Kong must wait

godzillakongI want to watch Godzilla vs Kong (released this week on home rental) but I think I’ll save my £16 to put toward the 4K release in mid-June. The studios just haven’t got their rental pricing right for these new hybrid-release movies: the only film I could conceivably be suckered into paying that price for a rental for would be Villeneuve’s Dune if I absolutely can’t see it in a cinema come October.

I understand some premium level of pricing is inevitable and even necessary but I can’t see how its really going to work regards recouping the mounting costs these films have while waiting for release. How can they possibly break even whatever they charge, so shouldn’t they be aiming for something more towards the impulse-rental level? Maybe something like £10 would be sweet spot enough to tempt those like me in to giving it a rental and get sufficient rentals enough to be worthwhile. I don’t know.

My worry is where all of this leaves these franchises once the dust clears. How in the world Dune Part Two ever happens is quite beyond me, and I’m rather worried about the gap in time between the productions if they even get Part Two greenlit next year (Dune was completed last year). Will Villeneuve be enthusiastic following the HBO Max nonsense, or will he jump ship as Christopher Nolan is rumoured to have done?

You know, all this actually makes me thankful, in a weird way, that BR2049 proved a box-office failure back in 2017. Had it been successful enough to warrant a third entry in the Blade Runner franchise, it would possibly have been caught up in all this, even had it been still in pre-production. How do ‘big’ films get made in times such as this? 

Quelle surprise! Its still 1982?

blade-runner-60I was gobsmacked over the weekend; I was flicking through the channels and stumbled upon Blade Runner being shown- it was almost midway through the film, when Rachel is in Deckard’s apartment and she rushes out, leaving him alone, and he picks up the photograph she has dropped and… Harrison Ford’s bored voiceover came on. I’m not sure why exactly I was so surprised, but yeah, they are still showing the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner on television. Really, I can’t believe that original 1982 cut is still even a thing, other than in fan’s DVD and Blu-ray boxsets. Surely with The Final Cut being released back in 2007, that is the version of Blade Runner being shown to everyone on network broadcasts or streaming? Well, apparently not.     

It does appear quite bizarre that Ridley Scott, Warner, the Blade Runner Partnership or whoever has any input into this kind of thing, would want any other version of Blade Runner than The Final Cut, or perhaps maybe the 1994 Directors Cut being shown- I’m not sanctioning a George Lucas 1977 Star Wars situation here, because this is wholly different, there’s all kinds of various cuts of Blade Runner readily available to fans and film historians. I’m not suggesting that the 1982 edition should not exist anymore, because it does and fans can get hold of that easily enough if they want to watch that, but even with my rose-tinted nostalgia specs on I cannot say that the original 1982 version of the film has any more entertainment value than the Final Cut edition. The 1982 film is really pretty broken. The internal logic is awry, the narration is awful, the visual effects aren’t all finished, continuity is a mess, the stunt double for Joanna Cassidy is a slow-motion wtf, the ending is the most bonkers thing of all; the Final Cut doesn’t fix everything but it fixes an awful lot and remains faithful to that 1982 version. Its more of a retune than a Star Wars Special Edition. Why shouldn’t that Final Cut version be widely seen rather than the flawed original? 

I just assumed that The Final Cut was the defacto standard version of Blade Runner being distributed now but apparently its not. Its still 1982 for some viewers who may well be wondering what all the fuss is about, so rightly aghast at the tacked-on nonsensical happy ending that they might never want to watch the film ever again- which is why I find it a little bit shocking but hey-ho, it just goes to show that its a crazy world sometimes. To be clear, I’m one of the films biggest fans but when I tried to watch my Blu-ray of the theatrical cut a few years ago I had to give up before I got halfway through, its too rough, nostalgia only goes so far and there’s a better version out there. Maybe I’ll get a few comments that some prefer that 1982 version and fair enough, I’m sure some do, but for any new viewers coming to the film, its not the one to see.

Anyway, its the cinematic definition of a storm in a teacup, but yeah, I was surprised. 

The 2020 List: July

Well, there goes July, and what a month that was. I saw some absolutely fantastic movies and few real stinkers (I suppose Rambo: Last Blood was the worst). For another month, television shows took a back seat to films, and bucking current trends, of the 20 new films I watched, 7 were on disc, which might not seem many, but really, with how things are going, its really something of a blip.  Not something unnoticed by my wallet either (I feel on the edge of a slippery slope; just as well the sales seem to have dried up).

Television

121) Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season Seven

125) Cardinal Season Four: Into the Night

Movies

109) Out of the Fog (1962)

110) Where There’s a Will (1955)

111) The Uncanny (1977)

112) The Invisible Man (2020)

113) The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)

114) Klute (1971)

115) The Hunter (1980)

116) Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

117) Detour (1945)

118) Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

119) The Big Combo (1955)

120) Force of Evil (1948)

122) Elstree 1976 (2015)

123) The Anderson Tapes (1971)

124) Midway (2019)

126) Play Misty For Me (1971)

127) The Old Guard (2020)

128) 7500 (2020)

129 ) Dark City (1950)

130) Blood of the Vampire (1958)

The Abort Button

None- for the second month in a row, I chose wisely, as that bloke in that Indiana Jones movie said.

A sense of the alien in films pre-Covid19

contagionIts really strange watching films of late. There are scenes with crowds and people getting together, even times when  -horror!- someone shakes someone else’s hand in greeting or hugs somebody. Such casual wanton misbehaviour! Whenever this happens I get this weird feeling that something is terribly wrong and alien about it.

We’ve only had a few weeks of this lockdown/social isolation thing going on, and its pretty horrible not being able to visit friends or family properly and, er, touch people like we used to. But the strange thing, even almost insidious thing about it, really, is how it now looks so weird seeing the old ‘normal’ way of living in films and being almost shocked by seeing it. Its a little like seeing pre-2000 films in which people smoke a lot; the further back in time when the film was made, the more prevalent and ‘social’ it is – go back to a film made in the and 1950s and people tend to smoke endlessly in the oddest places (in retrospect) and its so inclusive and social as the people progressively damage each others health and encourage each other to work harder at it. Thinking its fun, that its… sexy.  The old being ‘human’ becomes something decidedly alien.

That’s happening now, as if things actually changed overnight. I’m living in a world in which chat shows on television have ‘virtual’ interviews via webcam or game shows have panellists playing from home (Have I Got News For You is such a bizarre experience just now its almost like watching a Japanese game show). Even on Breakfast television presenters are either doing so remotely from home or sitting in the studio several feet apart, and yet in movies, naturally, things are from a different time, like, from a month ago or something, and obviously very different- its just so weird how it feels watching it. I have to exercise additional suspension of disbelief to just accept such ridiculous scenarios lacking social distancing or enhanced cleanliness. The world has gone crazy and its left all our movies feeling just that little bit odder and unreal.

Mind you, the other night I noticed Netflix have got Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion available, a film I haven’t seen since I first saw it back in 2011 on a rental and like some damn fool who hasn’t had enough fear from watching the news, I watched the first half of it. How horribly prescient that film is proving to be, and suddenly it looks like the most normal film I’m watching now. Seeing people wearing masks, gloves and PPE and trying to manage containment and isolation procedures is like, everyday stuff now. No longer as alien as it seemed back in 2011, its now, er, so normal.

We need life to go back to weird, like those other movies, as soon as safely possible.

Oh Disney, say it ain’t so!

swAllow me to gripe a little. The Star Wars films -the ‘proper’ Star Wars films- are coming out on 4K UHD at long last. Usually these films finally hitting a format is something major, something to get excited about, but Disney don’t appear to be too excited. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to get too excited myself, either, because having brought the films on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray in the past, this time around I’d really just like to buy my favourite ones:  Rogue One, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and maybe get around to Return of the Jedi if the price was right or lowered in a subsequent sale. But I can’t. Its a box of the ‘Skywalker Saga’, episodes 1 through 9, from Amazon only, or its nothing, and certainly no Rogue One in 4K at all. That’s where we are at here in the UK.

I still cannot get my around the fact that here in the UK, on release day, nobody can walk into a shop and buy those 4K films, even if only in that box. Who could have dreamed that 4K releases of the Star Wars films will have never happened in regular bricks and mortar retail? Maybe physical releases have slipped into obscurity so far already that the fine folks at the remaining HMV stores won’t be too concerned that they cannot make money from selling them. In the old days a major release like this being restricted to Online only would seem crazy, but I guess the times they are a changin’.

The simplest conclusion of course is that Disney isn’t particularly interested, and if that’s what you’re thinking, then I think you’d be right: Disney+ seems to be whats really exciting the mouse these days. Disc releases are so much yesterdays news. Streaming, and subscriptions, seem to be where its at and physical media seems inconvenient at best, possibly on borrowed time at worst. When you can afford to ignore bricks and mortar retail, its clear that streaming is the future you’re really interested in.

I expect the single-disc releases (and a belated Rogue One 4K release) will happen eventually, a few months or so down the line – maybe Amazon’s deal is a six-month exclusive and everything will follow after. The individual films are available in other territories after all, but I’m reminded that there are several Pixar films on 4K that remain unreleased here in the UK (including my favourite, Ratatouille) and there seems no sign they are ever coming. On the evidence of some forums some fans are going the import route but that can be expensive (and putting up with foreign-language packaging seems a nonsensical argument for maintaining with physical media to me).  Me, I guess I’ll be voting with my wallet and saving my money.

And no, Disney, I won’t ponying up my dosh for Disney+ anytime soon either.

 

Saving Picard

picard4…seems to be impossible, at this point. What on Earth is going on? I watched the sixth episode last night, so we are cruising into the final stretch now, theoretically building to the grand conclusion, but you wouldn’t know it on the strength of what went on this week- we seem to have been treading water, as far as any narrative goes, since the first episode. Little of any substance has really happened, we haven’t uncovered any further layers of the central mystery, characters have come and gone without moving anything forward. All the characters seem to be stepping around huge gaping plot-holes. One character killed another character in the med-bay at the end of episode five, something witnessed by the holographic doctor, but guess which character isn’t quizzed about the death- yep, the holographic doctor, who previously kept on popping up every time somebody got tense or nervous but who has conveniently been out of sight since the death. I mean, you are investigating a death in med-bay, you’re going to ask the med-computer or holo-doc, right? Its enough to make me yell at the screen, its so stupid: you just accept the word of the woman who was there, you don’t suspect she might be lying?  Coincidence piles upon coincidence: a character escapes prison by tunnelling through a floor, and although a Borg cube must have hundreds of levels, she literally emerges out of the ceiling on the level where Picard is standing, and handily there just happens to be a Borg Stargate (hey, franchise crossover!) nearby so they can make an escape to a planet light-years away. Curiously though while the Stargate is being activated,  another character on Picards spaceship transports into the room to assist Picard without anyone realising that if they can transport in, then surely they can transport out without relying on some magical Borg gizmo.

I think I’ve finally deduced whats fundamentally wrong with this show though- like Star Trek: Discovery (which was always more Star Wars than Trek, much like the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboots), this series seems to be written by writers who know very little, if anything, of Star Trek. Moreover, it is produced by people who don’t actually like Star Trek. Its incredible really, that a franchise such as this can be handed over to creative types who are possibly the most ill-suited for it. Its like the suits/money-men just think anyone can make a Star Trek series as long as its got ‘Star Trek’ slapped on the title, as if the title is enough and the actual content purely incidental.

Yet perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. I will always contend that the recent Disney Star Wars films have been made by people who don’t understand Star Wars or its mythology/lore, and also the current Dr Who series on the BBC is being made by creatives hellbent on turning that series into an anti-Dr Who, saddling it with all sorts of political agendas in place of coherent storytelling or drama. Maybe my thoughts about the talent-pool being weakened by just too many genre shows/movies being made across too many platforms at present are just being proven right, but each episode of Picard  has been so bad, with such terrible dialogue and character decisions and leaps of logic and chance, that it feels like fan fiction. Worse than that, its  inferior fan fiction

Feeling the Leviathan’s Wake

leviI’ve recently finished Leviathan Wakes, the first of the nine-book series that forms The Expanse. Partly its to fill the empty expanse (see what I did there?) in my life as I wait for season five of the show to drop on Amazon (hopefully before the end of the year), and partly its to sate my curiosity about what the original books are like, compared to the series.

As it turns out, the series is very faithful to the books by the evidence of this first entry. Can’t imagine many original readers being annoyed by any changes. I must admit I was rather surprised at how much of a page-turning potboiler it turned out to be. The book lacked the slow start and world-building that the series featured, with some characters appearing in the first series of the show not in this book at all, but clearly due to turn up in the second and third books. In some ways I found this a little disappointing, and I actually think the television incarnation might actually be an improvement on the book, because I quite enjoy all that world-building and exposition. It did seem odd, having been used to reading the Game of Thrones books, the sheer density of which dwarfed the HBO series even when it that series followed the decidedly sedate pace of the books. I suppose some readers might actually find the lack of possibly irritating explanations of how the Epstein Drive works or the detailed planetary politics going on in the background etc as being a bonus. I suppose I’ll have to see if the following books fill in some of those details.

Happy Birthday, Robert E Howard

bobToday I shall have a drink to the memory of one my heroes, the great Texan author Robert E Howard, who was born today in 1906, in Peaster, Texas. A master storyteller, author and poet, his words have inspired, excited and scared me for most of my life. Probably most famous today for his sword and sorcery yarns featuring Conan the Barbarian, he wrote Boxing stories, Westerns, Historical fiction, even a few Detective tales. His poetry is particularly notable, his word-craft quite extraordinary and vivid.

They say never meet your heroes- well of course I never had a chance with Bob, as he died some sixty years before I was born. I have often wondered what it would be like, though, to sit a share a cold beer with him, and wonder if we would get along in conversation. Meeting Lovecraft, say, would be pretty horrific I expect, but I have always had the suspicion that meeting Bob would be a much more positive experience. Mind, although I often had the hope that he would be a kindred spirit, that’s possibly more than wishful thinking on my part. Bob was a complex man who lived in a very different world and his mental health has often been debated by readers over the decades.

I once had an incredibly vivid dream of walking to his house in June of 1936, and dissuading him from his act of suicide. It possibly says more about me, that I can dream of Time Travel and of going back to that one day, and try to stop that one event, instead of, say, dreaming of Dinosaurs or Rome. But we are all  full of weird tales that way, and our dreams often seem to follow a whim all their own.

Anyway, here’s a beer to you, Bob.