Superman: Der Film!

supsderForgive me one of my ‘moments’, but I thought this was really funny: ‘Superman: Der Film!‘ I hadn’t noticed the German version of the Superman: The Movie title before, but when I saw news had leaked of a UHD release this coming November via a German website, I thought it was funny when I saw the German artwork with its title.

Don’t know why I’m laughing, its another UHD catalogue title that I’m going to find awfully hard to resist. I don’t know how well the soft-focus ‘glow’ of the film will translate to UHD (it will hardly ‘pop’ like new titles do) but how can one resist a possibly definitive edition of this classic movie? answer: you can’t. Take my money.

Here’s a curious fact: the cinematographer for Superman: Der Film was Geoffrey Unsworth, who also shot 2001: A Space Odyssey for Stanley Kubrick which is itself getting a UHD release the month before. Imagine, both of these movies in UHD this Autumn. This may be my last new format but its going to be fun while it lasts, I think.

Second curious fact: I still haven’t watched my UHD of Blade Runner. Something is very wrong with the world, I think, and Trump isn’t the half of it.

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BR2049 Recording Sessions artwork

BR2049 rec sessionsSo they save the best BR2049 poster for an amateur-sourced work for the cover of a soundtrack bootleg? Go figure.

I suppose BR2049, like the original Blade Runner, is a tough nut to crack regards poster artwork. Back when BR2049 came out on DVD in January, a friend of mine passed it by in the shop, not realising the DVD was indeed BR2049 as he initially mistook it for a Marvel movie. It does indeed look like a Marvel movie, which, sure, might help sell the film to some but hardly declares what kind of film it really is. Alienates the arthouse crowd who might give it a try and pisses off the superhero junkie who buys the film and ends up with a long, slow, thought-provoking work of art. But clearly the marketing boys for BR2049 suffered in just the same way as they did with the 1982 original. Just how do you sell a film like Blade Runner or its sequel?

Anyway, I quite like this image used for this boot.  Isn’t perfect but I quite like the black surround that lends it a darker mood and recalls the original Blade Runner painting by John Alvin. The poster is probably a final, and while it does look like a tonal study in preparation for a final render, its not a bad effort.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is all the amateur poster artwork designs for Blade Runner, some of them bad, some of them frankly amazing, that surfaced. The film is clearly a visionary inspiration for many artists. I like the ones that reflect the mood of the film; a difficult thing to capture. Since last Autumn, those Blade Runner designs have been joined by lots and lots of designs for BR2049. Its been fun looking at them. There’s a great artbook that will never happen, containing the best paintings inspired by the two films.

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The Beyond (2017)

bey1A poor-mans’s Arrival and Interstellar knock-off, unfortunately, this low-budget UK sci-fi has a few moments of impressive visuals but that’s about it, betraying the fact that it was written and directed by a guy who has worked as a visual effects supervisor. For the most part it is ruined by both its blatant  ‘inspirations’ (which no doubt got the project green-lit) and its ill-conceived and ineptly executed script.

A wormhole (hello Interstellar) appears above the Earth and is somehow kept secret by the Space Agency that runs the ISS etc from the UK (!) until lots of giant alien spheres suddenly appear above cities etc down on Earth (hello Arrival). While the world appears to be on the brink of war, with the military heads world over itching to attack the spheres (hello again, Arrival)  the Space Agency plans a secret (!) mission to enter the wormhole (hello again, Interstellar) and contact the aliens  presumably responsible for populating the Earth with floating Death Stars. For some reason deciding that humans aren’t up to the ordeal, it is reasoned that cyborgs, robots with human brains placed into their metal craniums, will make the trip instead. Just as well we have all this handy tech in the year 2019.

I can only imagine that it was at the behest of the budget, but the choice of shooting the film as a fly-on-the-wall docudrama is a big mistake, reducing much of it to a literal talking-heads piece. I mean, really, it seems to go on forever listening to ‘scientists’ chatting to the camera-crew about what they think is going on. How in the world  this camera-crew happens to be filming this ultra-top secret event (allowed to film the preparations for First Contact even when, outside the Space Agency,  no-one on the planet knows the wormhole is even up there, amateur astronomers the world over presumably looking the other way) is beyond me. And its rather hysterical seeing the POV camera prowling the garden of the Space Agency chief and sneaking shots through the marigolds as she talks to a candidate for the First Contact mission over tea on her patio. Please, please, don’t get me started about the space-physics implications of a second Earth appearing right by us and being told that Venus and Mars etc have suddenly ‘disappeared’. Who writes this silly stuff and thinks they can get away with it?

So anyway, it looks good -even great in places- and therefore looks the part of a Hollywood blockbuster but it really needs a script, and a director who can direct actors. This film has neither. Its truly woeful in places and its simply betraying the fact that it was dreamed-up after watching Arrival and Interstellar and that its essentially just a tech demo for some CGI effects rigs. Which is infuriating, because if you’re given the money to make a movie like this, you should make the most of that money by doing a character-driven piece, an intelligent, low-budget drama. Don’t pretend you can be as flashy as the big boys and expect that to be enough.

But its free on Netflix so if you want to blow your mind at how bad-but-pretty modern sci-fi can be, go knock yourself out. But you’ve been warned!

 

Only the Brave (2017)

brave1Sometimes, expectations are everything: Only the Brave is a frustrating film. Oh, its sincere enough, and a noble attempt at telling its true story with respect and surprising restraint- this isn’t the huge Hollywood effects spectacle that might be expected. It just doesn’t, sadly, ignite (sic). Its such a strange thing- competently staged and with a really great cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly)… actually, maybe that cast is the problem, maybe its just too good a cast, with too much cinematic baggage behind them that carries all sorts of expectations in itself.

I was surprised to see that it was directed by Joseph Kosinski,  of Tron: Legacy and Oblivion fame, as that in itself would suggest a big, spectacular and horrifying canvas would be put up on the screen but Kosinski seems to deliberately play against those expectations. Its just a different sort of movie than his previous films might suggest. Yeah, there’s those confounded expectations again.

But it isn’t an intimate character-driven piece either, possibly because those big-name actors, or that visually-adept director, aren’t exactly an arthouse cinema bunch. Its therefore caught somewhere in-between, and so intent on treating the real events and people caught up in them with proper due respect that the film just… exists, without really saying anything.

It reminds me rather a great deal of The 33, another film based on true events that impacted on a reasonably large group. While Only the Brave mostly centers upon Josh Brolin’s character, it also tries to flesh out the rest of  the Granite Mountain Hotshots that he leads in the firefighting, and like The 33, the film suffers from not having enough time, or perhaps the script isn’t finely honed enough, to do so many characters justice.

I don’t know, its really a strange one. Its a good film, but it just lacks that essential spark, if you’ll forgive one more fire metaphor. I’m tempted to suggest the issue may lie with the score, funnily enough. I just find myself thinking of the film Glory, and James Horner’s magnificent score. Sure the music and the film were perhaps overly manipulative but the combination of film and music involved me, made me feel something.  I didn’t really feel anything with Only the Brave; I enjoyed it and found it very worthwhile but it didn’t engage me emotionally. It might seem odd to suggest blame lies with the music score but film music isn’t what it used to be, and the industry has lost something of the genius of the likes of Goldsmith and Horner and that kind of film music, no longer in vogue, certainly worked back in the day.

So a missed opportunity then, unfortunately, but certainly a sincere enough effort.

Remembering Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Sad news yesterday of the passing of American playwright Neil Simon at the age of 91. The obituaries published online and in print are rightfully in praise of his genius and many accomplishments, particularly his more famous works such as The Odd Couple which became a hit movie in 1965. However, I’d like to make a nod to one of his perhaps lesser-known works, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a film of which, released in 1972, remains very close to my heart. My original post about the film can be found here.

Although more famous for his many Broadway successes than the movies that I am more familiar with, I would just like to add that the one thing the modern film industry needs, over and above more CGI artists and pretty actors and actresses, is more quality screenwriters and authors. The example that Neil Simon leaves, in his body of work, is a testament of the importance of quality dramatic writing, whether it be tinged with comedy or not. All the effects spectacle and acting skill are for nothing if the spectacle is vacuous and the acting based on empty words. Great screenplays become great movies. Bad screenplays become bad movies. Its as simple as that. Billy Wilder and Stanley Kubrick didn’t spend years finessing screenplays for nothing.

Anyway, I’ll forever owe Neil Simon a debt of gratitude for The Prisoner of Second Avenue. It may not be his best work, but it struck a chord in me and always will.

 

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

murder3Here’s another case where my ignorance of past adaptations (1974 movie for one), and the original source material likely results in rosier remarks than might have been the case- I have no idea how honest it is to that source material, for one thing, or whether it takes diabolical liberties. Its a bit like someone who has never read a Robert E Howard story watching any of the Conan movies and judging them just as movies, ignorant of the fact that each of them ruinously ill-serve the original Howard stories and characters. Indeed, I’m not one for this whole murder-mystery genre at all, and have only recently in the last year or so watched any adaptations of Agatha Christie’s stories. So I’m hardly qualified then. Bye.

Still here? Well then. One thing is for certain- this film is utterly gorgeous to look at. I saw it via streaming in HD on Amazon Video on a rental, but that is hardly doing the term ‘HD’ justice really. I cannot imagine (well I can, and it has me salivating) what this film looks like on Blu-ray or 4K UHD. The colour palette, lighting and production design are all exquisite. Of course it could also be argued that it is all overly fanciful and possibly even distracting, but I found the look of the film utterly charming and impressive, and yes quite cinematic. This is, at all times, clearly a ‘MOVIE’ and not at all the kind of thing you’d see from a Netflix Original- well, that seems to be the clear intent.  There is also the very modern trend of the film clearly setting itself up as the start of a possible franchise, with a not at all subtle lead-in to a sequel based on Death on the Nile.

murder2Equally impressive is the cast- a list of A-listers indeed and a throwback to the ‘Old Hollywood’ habit of throwing great casts at prestige films or novelty projects like Irwin Allen disaster movies. Kenneth Brannagh as the sleuth Poirot, of course, but also a list of suspects as esteemed as Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Daisy Ridley, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Derek Jacobi, and Johnny Depp (the wrap party must have been legendary) as well as a supporting cast no less impressive. There is something almost comforting about seeing so many recognisable faces hamming it up in this old-fashioned 1930s murder mystery.

And ‘hamming it up’ does seem to be the order of the day- it would be fair to suggest that only Brannagh himself really gets into it and chews up the scenery sufficiently. The rest of the cast rest on their laurels, mostly, as if just bringing their familiar faces on-set and saying their lines is going to be enough. Perhaps there is something to be said that the script hardly demands anymore of any of them, and as far as the huge talents at hand, most get wasted.

As a pleasant matinee diversion this film ticks all the boxes, and I can imagine, with its snowy vistas and starry cast, this film is destined to become a mainstay of Christmas schedules in years to come. Perhaps I should criticize it for lack of ambition and failing to really stretch either itself or any of its genre boundaries- the denouement may be faithful to the book, for instance, but I did feel it rather jumped the shark and threatened to spoil the whole experience. But would that be unfair complaining about the film when it should be the original author taken to task? Or does the film have a different solution to the mystery than the book did?

So yes, maybe I’m not at all qualified to measure the worth of this film. I will just say that I quite enjoyed it, distracted throughout, admittedly, by how lovely it looked and by each famous face that appeared onscreen. Certainly a guilty pleasure then.

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A Malick moment!

mal1Yesterday was a little damp and gloomy, and I was walking Eddie taking in the hint-of-Autumn air when I noticed a couple a distance ahead of me along the path. They were just standing there, not talking to each other, just standing. I didn’t pay much attention to them, as I instead considered Eddie’s usual fascination with the smells of the damp grass that the path cut through. Eventually though we proceeded to slowly work our way along the path, and I observed that the couple had split up a little; the girl, likely about twenty years old, had walked up the path towards us, the boyfriend (I presume), working his way some distance behind. Still not speaking, just looking around, walking aimlessly as if trapped by each other’s gravity.

Eventually Eddie and I passed them, and after awhile I looked back and saw the two still back there, a slight distance from each other, walking in weird circular orbits around each other, still hardly talking, if at all.

It was then that I realised it was like I was in a Terrence Malick movie. As if I had dropped into a scene from To The Wonder with Ben Affleck sulkily walking  aimlessly with Rachel McAdams or Olga Kurylenko, or Christian Bale with one of the several women of Knight of Cups. Suddenly I was living in an arthouse movie, or maybe, I considered, those Malick movies are not as fanciful as I had first thought.

Unless, of course, Malick was hiding somewhere in the shadowy bushes, filming everything, shooting a future project on a wet Sunday, in which case it really was a  movie and the world really isn’t so strange and I want my eventual residuals for my star turn as ‘man getting wet walking his dog’.