See you later, Vangelis

The news today regards the passing of Vangelis on Tuesday….

Soundtrack of my life, pretty much, certainly for the past 40+ years. His Nemo era, Heaven and Hell, China, his Jon & Vangelis albums, See You Later, Soil Festivities, Mask, Rapsodies... and of course, his Blade Runner soundtrack. Its ironic, that I was working this afternoon in my back room (yep, still working from home, over two years now) and was listening to Vangelis’ The City album when I learned the news of his passing. I listen to all kinds of stuff, but I always return to Vangelis eventually.

I can’t help it: if its raining, I tend to listen to Movement One from his Soil Festivities album.

Himalaya, the track from his China album, is my personal favourite; I’ve adored that piece of music since I first heard it used during end titles of an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos tv series. I had it recorded off-air onto audio cassette and played it so often, while not knowing what the piece was, only that I loved it, and it was unlike anything else I’d heard. In those pre-internet days, it was tricky tracking music down, so you cannot imagine my joy when my friend Andy got a hold of a copy of China and was playing it, and Himalaya came on.

Naturally I’ve listened to his Blade Runner score far too many times to be considered healthy. I sometimes wonder if I would love Blade Runner half as much as I do if it was scored by someone else: the mix between the sound effects and Vangelis’ synths (that glorious Yamaha CS-80!) is so perfect you can’t always tell where the music ends and the sound effects take over. I suppose one could consider the film one long Vangelis pop video, or an arthouse installation for Vangelis’ electronic wizardry.

To be fair, there was always a love/hate thing though regards Vangelis. I think most of his fans will understand this. Vangelis always seemed to be very private, distant. A musical genius and remarkably prolific, it was said he recorded music constantly, and that the majority of it would never be heard by his fans. Following his Chariots of Fire success and the wealth it gave him, the gaps between his album releases would sometime stretch into years. We’d hear his succeeding scores for films and be frustrated by his refusal to release those scores on album (Bitter Moon, The Bounty etc) and indeed even taking twelve years to release his magnum opus, the  Blade Runner soundtrack, a score he sometimes seemed to hold some resentment towards: an album was supposed to be released back in 1982 (the film famously had a Polydor album referenced in the end credits which I searched for in record stores for months like some damned fool) but Vangelis had cancelled it as if on a whim, or perhaps because of an argument with somebody connected with the films production (we never really found out why, and perhaps will never know, rumours abounded for years- ego, money… hey, the music business he hated but made a fortune from).

One thing is certain. There was no-one quite like Vangelis. I actually often considered him akin to Prince. Both wildly talented, hugely prolific, incredibly contrary. We will never seer the like again, I’m sure.

Vangelis was 79. Same age as my dad. Vangelis passed away on the eve of my dad’s funeral. This has been some week.

Why is the Shawshank Redemption so popular?

shawshIs it the nail-biting finale in which the cornered Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) threatens to blow up the prison killing all of its inmates with the tons of explosives he has deviously placed under the prison foundations?

Is it the thrilling final battle on the roof of the prison block between Andy Dufresnse (Tim Robbins) and the dastardly Captain Handley (Clancy Brown) in howling rain amidst flashes of lightning and a vomit-inducing virtual camera spinning around the roof  in circles?

Is it the brilliant cliffhanger ending when Ellis (Morgan Freeman) reaches the beach at the movie’s end only to discover a note that Andy has been captured and incarcerated in another prison, and that cinemagoers now have to go watch another movie in which Ellis breaks his friend out of prison, in SHAWSHANK II: ANOTHER REDEMPTION?

Well no, funnily enough it has become incredibly popular possibly because its none of the above.

Monkey Business

twelveTwelve Monkeys, 1995, 129 mins, 4K UHD

Arrow seems to have run afoul of a faulty master provided by Universal for its new 4K UHD edition of Terry Gilliam’s wonderful, bizarre and disturbing Twelve Monkeys. It actually features on their Blu-ray edition from a few years back, which I didn’t buy because I was hoping to see a 4K edition sometime down the line (pity I didn’t adopt same practice with their Robocop release, but hey-ho). Its a glitch in the edit, somehow, in which about 15 seconds of video is repeated, while the audio track continues correctly. The weird thing is, very few seem to have noticed it on that Blu-ray; it occurs at a fortuitous ((if that’s the right word) moment during some disorientating camera moves and tight edits and can easily pass people by; I’m sure most viewers never twigged it- I’m not even sure I would have noticed it had I not been warned/enlightened.

Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film at all, and its rather curious noting on forums that many are refusing to unwrap their copies and are returning them or getting increasingly irate over a replacement disc. Essentially those people are right, there is something wrong with the release and purchasers have every right to expect a ‘proper’ copy without any faults or glitches at all. My old VHS copy got it right, after all, so shouldn’t a brand-spanking new top of the line 4K UHD disc be the same? Of course it should. But this film isn’t broken, and unless you’re really looking for it, it doesn’t pull anyone out of the movie. Indeed in an odd way, it seems rather fitting for a Gilliam film, a sort of meta-reference to the nightmarishly inept bureaucracy of Gilliam’s earlier masterpiece Brazil (now THERE’s a film I want to see on a 4K UHD SE release). Maybe Gilliam himself would appreciate the humour in it. The important thing is that the film looks gorgeous in 4K, its really quite lovely and of course the film is only more effective/more harrowing than ever in our post-Covid world.

But it set me thinking about the theatrical cut of Blade Runner in 1982, complete with dialogue continuity errors, visible continuity errors, scenes played with the wrong dialogue take so that lips weren’t moving when we ‘heard’ someone talking, sequences with cables clearly hauling up spinner vehicles into the air or sitting off-corner where we’re not supposed to see it yet. The film wasn’t accidentally mastered and released like that, it was literally made and finished like that. Now that’s a broken movie- even though I loved it all the same.

Not his Superman

superman78While reading through an old issue of Cinefantastique the other day (the Forbidden Planet double-issue, from Spring 1979, I assume) I came across a capsule review of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie which I hadn’t noticed before, and which, while I’m accustomed to the somewhat po-faced attitude of that mag’s editorials, quite took me aback. With due deference to its writer Robert Stewart, I quote the following:

“The film fails to explore the possibilities of having a new and modernized Superman tackle the real problems of the world in the late 1970s- assassinations, mass suicides, mindf–kers, famine, the CIA, sexism, racism, provocateurs, ageism, unemployment and economic collapse, corporate takeovers, bureaucratic  psychopaths, etc. Instead, he confronts villains not much different from those of the Batman television show…” 

My initial thoughts were that this guy probably loved Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: his review seems more a manifesto for Snyder’s films than anything to do with Richard Donner’s film (clearly Donner’s respectful approach to the original comicbooks went right over Mr Stewarts head). It’s one of those reviews which criticises a film more for what it is not, than what it is.

But it did set me thinking, which was probably the point of the review (so bravo, Mr Stewart, wherever you are now). I’ve noted elsewhere that I’ve really not been a fan of the recent Spiderman films and much of this -and it applies to all three ‘versions’ of the character, the Tobey Maguire films, the Andrew Garfield films and Tom Holland’s films- is simply that none of them have really captured what I loved as a kid growing up reading the 1960s/1970s Spiderman comics by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. They are perfectly fine films as they are (well, to varying degree anyway) but none of them capture the characters and mood/spirit of those comics, so its inevitable that, for me, they are lacking something. They are probably more faithful to the comics of the past twenty years (that I have never read, although I did read part of the J. Michael Straczynski run of Spiderman comics drawn by John Romita jr. which are likely indicative) which is fine, and I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt there. But my question is, am I being fair? Is it a case though of me disliking films more for what they are not than what they are?

Well, not exactly. I do think there are very real issues with the various films; retconning bad guys to be more sympathetic victims of misfortune than genuine villains is one of my pet peeves, likewise I utterly detest all the various Spidey suits of the Tom Holland films, all that nano-tech/Iron Man rubbish, all that metal arms out the back etc that defy reason, physics and gravity. That’s not any kind of Spiderman I want,  just further evidence of the Marvel films increasingly playing fast and loose with comics canon etc (as far as I know, as it could be something featured in the comics, but I doubt it). Likewise some of the writing feels pretty dire, with some fairly shocking leaps of logic, but that’s something evident in much film and television now; the talent pool is pretty weak now because there is just so much content being produced across film/television streaming etc. And yeah, in defence of writers, maybe its all those producers and executive producers interfering with the material- some films and shows I see now have as many as twenty and more producer credits, and I often wonder if the time will come when the number of producer credits will outnumber that of the cast.

I won’t even watch The Eternals; Jack Kirby’s 1970s comicbooks are amongst my very favourites. They possibly haven’t aged very well in some ways, but they were so bold and imaginative, full of the Chariots of the Gods stuff that excited me so much as a kid and was quite popular in that decade. The film, from what I have seen of it in trailers, has nothing in common with those comicbooks other than name (to be more faithful to Kirby’s work, it surely should have looked and felt more akin to 2017s Thor: Ragnarok film, which really captured the feel of a Kirby strip). I do know Neil Gaiman wrote a reboot/continuation and suspect the film has more in common with that than original creator Jack Kirby’s opus but I may be giving the film too much credit even there. Maybe I’ll get to watch it eventually but certainly I have little if any interest in it; the film was made to be something else, not something faithful to the original comics, and that’s surely true of much current Marvel Studios output.

Which is true, indeed, of what Disney is doing with Star Wars. They are making Star Wars tv shows and movies that are increasingly removed from the original film trilogy I grew up with, and they are as much not ‘my Star Wars’ as anything Marvel Studios films and tv shows are- and the same is true of the current crop of Star Trek tv shows. That being said though, some of these shows, certainly the Star Trek stuff that I have watched, are really woeful, regardless of how ‘faithful’ they aren’t in spirit and subject. The second season of Star Trek: Picard is especially diabolically poor, an absolute nadir for the Star Trek franchise.

Mind, even Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have their fans, I suppose, although those viewers must be especially forgiving of terrible writing, huge plotholes, leaps of logic (and illogic). Indeed I think the shows are fundamentally unforgivable in how crass and stupid they are, and seem to have been written by soap opera and tv sitcom writers rather than anyone actually skilled or knowledgeable of both science fiction or indeed the particular franchise canon (I can’t help but feel this is largely true of the Star Wars and Marvel stuff too, and I don’t know if this is from laziness, ignorance or simply an intent to strike off to pastures new on the back of established IP).

Thank goodness Blade Runner 2049 was sincere and respectful of the original film and extended upon the 1982 original film’s themes and mood thoughtfully, rather than just go the other, easier way, instead making a film about with a Roy Batty Mk.II or an action-based film about a new Blade Runner battling Nexus 7 or Nexus 8 improved, nastier Replicants. After all, it could have been, easily- look how generic the Terminator films became. I may not live to see any more Blade Runner movies, but at least I don’t have to witness what happened with Alien, its Lovecraftian alien creatures turned into spacesuit wearing bald guys in Ridley Scott’s ill-judged Prometheus. The more I think back on Prometheus, the more it actually seems a story about Space Gods akin to Jack Kirby’s 1976 Eternals comics repurposed to fit within the Alien franchise in order to get made (I can well imagine Ridley wanting to make a high-concept Space Gods movie and having to sell it as an Alien movie in order to get it greenlit).

Which I suppose means I should remain absolutely fearful regards that Blade Runner tv series which Ridley is producing. Maybe my luck is going to run out; and certainly, I will feel much more aggrieved regards something spoiling my appreciation and adoration of the 1982 film than I am by some Spiderman film not really being the web-slinger that thrilled me when I was seven years old.

Recent Additions/ Capsule reviews

P1110251I’ve been weak, and succumbed to a few sale offers over the past several weeks, and there have also been a few disc releases of the films from last Autumn/Winter that I’d been waiting for.

Matrix Resurrections 4K UHD: A film of two halves, really, but my review can be found here.

Whiplash 4K UHD: I watched this on a rental a good while ago, when it absolutely terrified me. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this again, except that the 4K disc was in a sale and yeah, it seemed like a great film last time around. We’ll see what I think if/when I can muster the courage for another anxiety trip…

Cliffhanger 4K UHD: A guilty favourite, my review can be found here.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K UHD: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was in a sale, I used to love the Axel F single back in the day (I have the 12″ in storage somewhere), I’d seen the film on a VHS rental. Once. Actually I quite enjoyed this disc, there must be something of a nostalgic pull from anything 1980s just lately. There’s a scene in a bar where a Prince song I didn’t know was playing on the soundtrack and it bugged the heck out of me until I learned from the credits that it was a Vanity 6 song (so yeah, Prince in all but name) but it only intensified that whole 1980s ‘thing’ running through this film. The hairstyles! The fashions! That Glenn Frey song!

Eddie Murphy was actually bearable back then. There’s a story about Eddie Murphy and Jack Lemmon on the Paramount backlot which I’ve probably mentioned before, so I won’t go on with it here unless someone wants me too…

West Side Story (2021) 4K UHD: I watched this a few nights ago; quite magnificent, I thought, and easily Spielberg’s best film in twenty years. I actually think there is something in Spielberg’s style, like his slow camera crawls into actor’s reaction shots, how staged his set-ups tend to be, how much he leans on John William’s music scores, that is wholly suited to musicals. I hope to give this a proper review post sometime, but yeah, I thought it was brilliant. The staging, the use of the camera, the art direction, the casting… I could imagine it winning all sorts of Oscars in a non-Covid universe in which this film made any money (shame Oscar seems to ignore a dud). It goes without saying that the music is sublime, I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s original film and have seen the show on the stage once (albeit something provincial) so it was a given I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Spider Man: No Way Home 4K UHD: Dude! Dude! Dude! Oh dear, the writing in this film… what, described somewhere as the best comicbook movie ever made? What? I’ll write a proper post about this film someday, but just an observation: there were a few times in the Lee/Ditko/Romita era comics that Peter Parker was revealed to be Spider-Man but those guys usually managed to write an elegant and imaginative way of Peter outwitting people and fixing things and maintain his secret identity. But the film Peter Parker shown here is some kind of selfish idiot or the films writers lacked the imagination and wit of 1960s comic writers/artists, because this film… maybe its cleverly undermining traditional super-hero tropes and the films actual uber-villain is Tom Holland’s Spidey himself. Or maybe I’m giving them way too much credit…

The Shawshank Redemption 4K UHD: I wasn’t going to do it. Its one of my favourite films (I was one of the few who saw it in the cinema when it came out, so hey, kudos to me) but the Blu-ray was fine. But sales. Bloody sales.

Ratatouille 4K UHD: My favourite Pixar movie, and a lovely feel-good film that I probably need now more than ever. I don’t expect any great leap over the Blu-ray, but it does seem I’m upgrading too many of my favourite films to 4K UHD, especially when the sales make it seem a reasonable decision rather than inherently dumb, which it really probably is.

Backdraft 4K UHD: Sales. Sales. Sales. Actually, I watched it a few nights ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’d actually forgotten Robert De Niro was even in it, its been so long since I’d last watched this (probably on DVD). It takes a few too many liberties with my intelligence with some of its heart-tugging silliness “Look at him… that’s my brother goddammit!” but it does look awfully good in 4K. I seem to recall it was this film that made me dislike Hans Zimmer scores for years, my goodness he never did do subtle.

Death on the Nile 4K UHD: Watched this on Saturday. Its quite inferior to the previous Murder on the Orient Express, from the pretty woefully miscast cast to the strangely uninvolving plot… and I’m not sure the virtual sets nonsense worked at all. I guess it was a deliberate stylistic choice but it left it feeling very… distractingly artificial? I can accept that in a Star Wars prequel with George playing with his toybox but a period murder mystery that could have been shot on location?

Nineteen Eighty-Four Blu-ray/DVD: Ah, the Peter Cushing one, that I’ve never seen but always wanted to. I’m only irritated by the fact that since this arrived in the post, Amazon has been repeatedly reducing the price of this thing. I hate it when that happens, especially when I haven’t seen it yet. See also too many other discs currently unwatched to mention, but still, its the principle of the thing.

The Proposition 4K UHD: Saw this on Sunday. Lengthy fawning post to sometime follow. Quite breathtakingly brilliant. One of those times that I blind-buy a physical disc release of a film I’d previously missed somehow and discover something quite excellent. Does this qualify as a Christmas movie? Was John Hurt ever better?

Brute Force/ Naked City (Blu-ray): I watched Brute Force last night. Brilliant film. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. I shall catch up with Naked City sometime soon. This was another sale buy that had me wondering why I hadn’t succumbed to its charms before. Arrow’s double-bill package is well designed (lovely hardcase box) with a fine book to pour over, bountiful extras; another great example of why I still love buying physical releases of old films. But its gotten me ordering Jules Dassin’s Rififi on Blu-ray, further proof that it gets expensive sometimes as one film leads to another. Damn those trailers…

War is Hell

come1Come and See, 1985, 142 mins, Blu-Ray

Where to start? I honestly don’t think I’ve seen anything like this film before, anything quite so exhausting, emotionally and intellectually. Some films are more akin to experiences than the usual narrative dramas that films usually are, and I think few films fit the description more than Elem Klimov’s stark and horrifying Come and See, a war film set during the German invasion of Byelorussia in 1943. Although even describing Come and See as a war film feels rather wide of the mark. Calling it a ‘war film’ feels almost an insult considering the gung-ho heroics depicted in so many war films before and since. Its true that one could perhaps better consider Come and See more of a horror film, depicting a young man’s descent into nightmare, a journey into darkness far more disturbing than that of Apocalypse Now, which is possibly the nearest film analogue to Klimov’s film that I can think of. Both films set the proposition that no-one in civilised times and environments can ever understand what war is, the sheer madness and brutality, and obscenity of it.

As I write this, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, and civilians are dying, cities being flattened, over a million refugees fleeing to the West: the whole thing feels like an exercise in inhumanity, evil and hate that is impossible to comprehend. That its something happening in Europe, for the first time since the Second World War, events so close geographically to those that happened and are recreated in Come and See… well, I’m way out of my league here. Watching Come and See during this of all weeks feels like watching celluloid blurring with reality, the images of this Criterion Blu-ray echoed by those images of the news bulletins which, frankly, I’ve started avoiding. One can only stand so much.

What is the old adage, to be living in interesting times?

I find it difficult to recommend Come and See, especially now. It is possibly the very best war movie ever made, and also one of the best horror films ever made. Hell, it may be one of the very best films ever made. But entertaining it isn’t. This film has teeth. And frankly, considering how it mirrors real-world events in the news right now…. its either a sobering lesson or a depressing reminder that we, as a species, as a collective humanity, just cannot escape the baser, animal instincts within us. It seems we cannot leave nation-states and racial differences behind, the dogma of ‘us’ and ‘them’ proves impossible to escape.

come2So its 1943, in Byelorussia, and two children are playing, digging in the sandy ruins of old battles (presumably those of The Great War)- young Florya (Aleksey Kravchenko) finally discovers what he’s looking for- an old rifle, which he needs in order to join up with the Partisan fighters, against his desperate mother’s wishes. His mother knows what’s coming, but of course thirteen year-old Florya has no idea. Once enlisted with the resistance fighters Florya becomes gradually pulled into a series of bizarre, increasingly nightmarish experiences that we can, alarmingly, visibly see transform his young innocent face into a mask of horror and trauma. He literally ages before our eyes: Kravchenko’s performance, if one can call it that, is quite possibly the finest child performance ever. Klimov repeatedly uses the cinematic device of characters starring back at the camera, their gaze peering back into our own, and the gradual disintegration of Florya’s personality and psyche is writ large in every frame, confronting us. Early in the film, Florya meets a girl, Glasha (Olga Mironova), and the two become split off from the partisan forces and enjoy an interlude of childish innocence which feels incongruous and almost awkward in the film, but which serves as a constant reminder of childhoods end when the events of the war overwhelm them. As the film nears its climax and we see it reflecting upon what becomes of Florya and Glasha’s faces, we remember those earlier moments and it only intensifies the horror of childhood innocence transformed into something terrifying.

Come and See concludes with an astonishing  sequence of real-world images, newsreel footage and photographs, flashing by blistering quickly, in reverse, as if our protagonist’s gunshots are rewinding history, wiping out the decades of evils of the world, until, resting upon one image, one has to wonder if the question is, how much evil and harm can be done by one individual, how one person can scar the world. We are living in a world in which borders are rendered increasingly meaningless by technology and yet we are given a sudden reminder of the power of the individual, for good or ill, and that we must not forget the lessons of History, for fear of repeating it.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve initially taken out of it, other than a contempt for the inhumanity of man, but I may be rather wide of the mark, and individuals may differ. But its undoubtedly an astonishing piece of Pure Cinema, something not to be simply watched, but experienced.

Valentine’s Day Special: How to Murder Your Wife

how2aHow to Murder Your Wife, 1965, 118 mins, Blu-ray

This year it was my turn to choose a Valentine’s-day movie to watch. Whenever its Claire’s turn, she’ll invariably pick Silver Linings Playbook for another watch, or one of the versions of Romeo & Juliet. But this year, as I note, it was my turn, so I chose Richard Quine’s wonderful black comedy How to Murder Your Wife, or Como Matar a La Propia Esposa per my Blu-ray copy imported from Italy would have it (this is another of those films starring Jack Lemmon that inexplicably remains unreleased on HD here in the UK).

I adore How to Murder Your Wife. Its a quirky black comedy starring one of my favourite actors (with the added bonus of the great Terry Thomas, too) that is funny and romantic and yes, hardly the kind of thing that could be made today. Its wrong for all sorts of reasons that for me make it so absolutely right: it is so of its time, those glorious swinging sixties that I was born a little too late to enjoy but which seems to wonderful in these Hollywood movies. The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple through to Avanti! and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, all films starring Jack Lemmon that seem to be glimpses of another, simpler world. I don’t know if that world ever really existed, or it was just something wholly built of Hollywood artifice, but its a world I love to escape into through these movies.

Its something in the cinematography, the sublime art direction, in the colours, the fashions, the generally middle-aged casts, the glorious music scores. Regards the latter, How to Murder Your Wife is graced with a wonderful lush Neal Hefti score, as was The Odd Couple. Claire remarked upon the music this time around, regards how much some of it reminded her of Avanti!‘s score, even though, as I observed, that was by another composer altogether (Carlo Rustichelli) – its just a style, a mood. A jazzy, upbeat band feel, wonderfully romantic in places with sweeping strings. Over the years I have collected theses scores on CD- The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce, Avanti!, The Odd Couple, How to Murder Your Wife… I adore the music as much as I do the films, and only the score for The Prisoner of Second Avenue escapes me, but maybe someday.

Would this film be charged with misogyny today? Could you even show this film on television today without a backlash of wailing from women’s rights groups? Would they all be missing the point? IS the film’s poster taglines “Women: warning! See it before HE does- the wife you save might be YOU!” or “Bring the little woman… maybe she’ll die laughing!” too close to the bone?

how2dI can imagine the ire of some people watching this film today. Its mostly white, privileged cast of affluent New Yorkers, many of them affirmed bachelors, with the hero of the film Stanley Ford (Lemmon) living in a lovely town house in Manhattan with his own butler/man servant. Stanley enjoying one-night flings with a bevy of beautiful women, his wealth (from his wildly popular syndicated newspaper strips featuring the adventures of super-spy Bash Brannigan, oh so sixties!) ensuring a carefree lifestyle regarded with some jealously by his henpecked married lawyer, Harold (the great Eddie Mayehoff).

It all comes crashing down for Stanley when he attends a freinds stag party – held like a funeral wake until the friend announces his fiancé has cancelled the wedding- and wakes up the next morning to find, to his horror, that he has drunkenly married a beautiful woman (Virna Lisi) who popped out of a cake during the ensuing party.  Stanley tries to extricate himself from the marriage to no avail- the woman doesn’t speak a word of English and as his lawyers wife Edna (Claire Trevor) sweeps the new Mrs Ford off to the shops for a complete new wardrobe, Stanley’s loyal man-servant Charles (Terry Thomas) leaves, refusing to work for a married couple on a matter of principle. Stanley’s once-idyllic lifestyle is in tatters, albeit lets be fair, anyone waking up to find himself married to the gorgeous Virna Lisi hasn’t got it all that bad. Its all part of the arch fun of the film, established from the start by Terry Thomas’ voiceover and first scenes in which he breaks the fourth wall and openly addresses (and reacts to) the camera and the audience behind it, something which bookends the film at its close when Charles gives in to the charms of Mrs Fords mother, newly arrived from Italy.

I absolutely love this film, its a joy to watch every time. There’s something so of its time about it. Maybe its dated, maybe its shamefully politically incorrect. But the cast is wonderful and Virna Lisi surely one of the most beautiful women in the world, and a gifted actress too with a talent for comedy. What’s really not to love? For me its the perfect Valentines Day movie, silly and funny and very romantic. Neal Hefti’s score has a love theme that can melt anyone’s heart and hey, love wins through in the end so ladies, surely you can forgive the film its fun at poking at the institution of marriage? Is that marriage thing even a thing anymore anyway?

Ah, sorry, yes dear, after twenty-six years of wonderful marriage I can assure everyone that, whatever this scandalous film possibly suggested back in 1965, marriage is still a fine institution and as valid as ever. I hope everyone had a very happy Valentine’s day- and that maybe next year, they give this film a spin.

Another Replicant alert

Blade2Imagine, in Richard Burton’s voice:  “No-one would have believed, in the last years of the twentieth century, that Replicant affairs would be increasingly watched from the darkened living-rooms of VHS and Blu-ray owners. No-one could have dreamed that Blade Runner’s video sales were being scrutinized, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few fans even considered the possibility of sequels. And yet, across the gulf of Hollywood, minds immeasurably greedier than ours regarded this film’s long-lasting  popularity with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us…”

Reading the announcement last night that Ridley Scott is executive-producing a television series, Blade Runner 2099, for Amazon Studios…  filled me with a mixture of excitement (hey, more Blade Runner!), dismay (television series?) and a creeping sense of terror (Ridley?).

At least its Amazon that brought the rights and is financing it, so it won’t be stuck behind a paywall like that Blade Runner anime (I’m possibly fortunate regards that, as its reportedly pretty poor) so hey, I’ll be able to watch it. If I dare.

So anyway, more Blade Runner. You know, if you could go back in time to me in the early/mid-‘eighties and tell me about all the Blade Runner stuff that would be going on post-millennium, the Final Cut, Harrison Ford appearing in a Blade Runner documentary and also in a sequel movie, and yeah, a sequel movie actually being bloody good too…. Well, I remember the days when few people, if any, had even heard of Blade Runner, and the few that had seen it had mostly seen it on horrible pan n’ scan versions on VHS or Betamax. As I have stated before, Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘Cult’.

I texted my mate Andy about Blade Runner: 2099; we saw the original film together back in September 1982 and dozens of times on video over the years since. His response was one of tired resignation. I’m done with all these sequels and reboots, he told me. He’d got no interest left. He may have a point: BR2049 was a fortuitous event, when the various creative talents aligned, just as they had with the 1982 film, to create something possibly greater than the sum of its parts. Its something which can’t be said for the Alien franchise, albeit I appreciate some prefer Aliens over the original 1979 film. Given time enough, Blade Runner‘s luck is sure to run out, and I’d hate for the original to be tarnished by it.

I suppose that its not fair, really, describing a project as ‘television’ when its likely an eight-or ten-part series made for a huge amount of money for something like Amazon or Netflix or Disney+ or AppleTV, its not really television the way that people of my generation instinctively think about it, Its a different beast now.

But I’d prefer to have had Villeneuve in creative control over it rather than Ridley. Ridley failed to energise the Alien franchise (one could argue his Prometheus and Alien: Covenant did as much harm as good, although others would argue that in the latter’s case, he had to contend with lots of studio mandates that fatally damaged the film) and even as one of his biggest fans I always rile at his assertion that Deckard was a Replicant. Obviously he is attracted to the intellectual idea, rather than how it supports the narrative in any way: I think the narrative of the Blade Runner films is better served by Deckard being human, but I appreciate the fact that in the two films it can be viewed either way. Maybe the series being set in 2099 will give sufficient distance that the subject isn’t even raised.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

STtmpStar Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979, 132 mins, 4K UHD 

Looking back on it, I’m tempted to suggest -sweeping over-generalisation that it is- that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is a pretty clear marker of the old giving way to the new. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the feel of Old Hollywood, of creative teams more used to making westerns and crime thrillers suddenly getting scripts featuring aliens and spaceships. There’s a sense of people suddenly making sci-fi films with no interest in such genre material, and little affinity for it – indeed, at a time when such material was considered the realm of the cheap b-movie quickie. The days of genre fans/geeks who grew up loving the stuff then making genre films would still be a few years away, but already with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg the changing times were clear: post-Jaws and Star Wars, Hollywood was still in transition, and the old guard hadn’t yet been replaced by the geeks. So Hollywood sci-fi was still Logan’s Run, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. 

In the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that’s possibly its strength. It feels like a serious (albeit often misguided, at times) attempt to make a great ‘Motion Picture!’ back when that still meant something (today any distinction of quality between television and cinema is largely gone). Its not played for laughs, there’s no dodgy sets, there’s no geek in-jokes and surprisingly low-key fan-service if any at all (I suspect much of what we’d identify today as ‘fan-service’ in the film is actually incidental). It’s not 2001, and neither is it Star Wars, but rather it sits somewhere in between, in a place few genre films have dared position themselves (maybe Interstellar would be a modern example). I am endlessly surprised whenever I re-watch the film over the years, just how refreshing it is, and enjoyable.

Indeed, having recently read Robert Preston Jones’ superlative oral history of the film, Return to Tomorrow, I’m actually more surprised than ever that the film even got finished and in sufficient shape to be considered a film at all. Its possibly a textbook lesson of how NOT to make a film. The script wasn’t finished when they were shooting the live-action, the director and actors were cooking up the finale on the fly: imagine making a film like Ben-Hur and making the last reel on-set without a script (it wasn’t quite that bad, but not far off- I’m always amazed at films going into production without finished scripts but it continues to happen). The original effects team was great on ideas but lousy at execution, wasting millions of dollars in research and most importantly wasting priceless time. Once that effects team was largely dismissed (albeit most of the staff rehired), the deadline that Douglas Trumbull and his team/s were faced with, the task left them regards its scope and the visual effects it needed, back in that era of physical miniatures, lighting and motion-control rigs and photo-chemical printing… its mind-boggling.

The pacing is obviously the film’s biggest problem, something not helped by many visual effects shots hanging around too long or sequences being overloaded with just too many of them. Its tempting to suggest that Wise and/or the editor Todd Ramsay became too enamoured by all the expensive effects shots coming in at the eleventh hour but the simple truth is, the shots were all coming in very late (Preston’s book has some timeline stuff that is just jaw-dropping regards when models became available and filming happened and elements arrived at the optical printer etc) and they never had the perspective we have with the finished film- hence the justification of the Directors Cut. But considering how late everything was… its amazing that Jerry Goldsmith’s score was so good (in my mind the composers very best) and maybe having to cut the film to the timing estimates handed to Goldsmith which he scored the music to… well, little wonder the film’s pacing is dodgy.

The odd thing about this which bugs me, is when Trumbull and everyone got together with the script and storyboards, why didn’t they cut some of those boards? I find it hard to understand why, with effects teams working alternate day/nights shifts in at least three facilities working twelve to sixteen-hour days labouring over really difficult shots to unrealistic schedules, they didn’t rip up more of those boards. The Epsilon 9 and Orbital Office Complex sequences are obvious examples, featuring too many shots. The Orbital Office Complex is a lovely miniature and beautifully photographed, but do we need to see so many shots of its exterior before cutting to the interior and Kirk arriving? Clearly nobody could ‘see’ that so much of it would be redundant or could have been culled to allow more time and resources on stuff that really mattered. I suppose its a technology thing, nowadays films have CGI storyboards, and I recall ILM shot animatics as a guide for The Empire Strikes Back to help nail the pacing of effects shots/sequences like the Hoth battle.

But nonetheless, I still enjoy watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Many much prefer the second entry, Wrath of Khan, but for me there is always something special about the first. They aimed for greatness and largely failed but you have to admire that they tried, and watching it I often have a little mischevious fun berating the suits that enforced an unrealistic deadline agreed with theatres, and all the production cock-ups and crashing egos behind the scenes. Maybe this year’s version of the Directors Cut will indeed finally be the film it could/should have been; we’ll just have to wait and see…. (and yes, likely have to buy this film yet AGAIN).  So it seems I’m not quite finished writing about this film…

Just a thought: noir happy endings

shock1Watching Shockproof (review coming soon-ish) I was struck by how a few noir just aren’t allowed to stay true to their narrative and intent, instead hijacked by presumably nervous studio execs and saddled with audience-friendly happy endings. In the case of Shockproof, I’ll get into it in more detail within the review, but suffice to say for about 75 minutes its a great noir about a parole officer gone bad because of his love for a beautiful woman who killed someone, and then in its last five minutes, maybe less, it becomes a different film entirely with a stupid ending that practically ruins the film. I mean, literally I was loving it, the cast, the story and the locations (they even filmed at the Bradbury Building!) and then boom, Game Over.

Its an ending that comes out of nowhere and I can’t see how anyone ‘buys’ it. A pretty much identical thing happens in The Brothers Rico, a edgy noir directed by Phil Karson (The Killers, The Dark Mirror) about an ex-Mafia book keeper who thinks going straight means he has left the mob behind. Its a very dark thriller that is totally undone by a happy ending so blatantly tacked on it almost undermines everything that has occurred before (which reminds me, I really need to rewatch that film and post a review).

One of the most beautiful and intoxicating things about film noir, about great film noir, are the grim, ‘downer’ endings that sometimes frustrate and sometimes disturb but yet always feel fitting and right, like  the ending of Criss Cross, which continues to haunt and disturb me, months after having seen it. Real-life is less like traditional Hollywood films and more like film noir; things don’t always go right, things sometimes get out of control and when push comes to shove, we are all far less in control of our fates than we like to think we are. Very often things go bad, very bad: there is a Truth in that. Noir films often get away with grim endings because they are about bad guys or good guys gone bad or good guys who do the wrong thing for the wrong woman- and the Production Code always stated that films should show that crime doesn’t pay, so hey, they get away with grim endings that ordinary flicks couldn’t. But sometimes the studio execs just can’t let it go.

Which allows me the excuse to mention Blade Runner again (oh yes, yet again) as everyone will recall its own abortive 1982 release version and its own tacked-on happy ending in which Deckard and Rachel are literally driving off, escaping to a happy future into the sunset. I just never appreciated at the time that the film had been shockproofed.

There. ‘Shockproofed’ is a thing now.