2018 Review: September

Well, September was pretty much a non-event regards my blog, as I was away on holiday for two weeks and much of my time prior to that was spent at work getting ahead with the work required during my absence. Holiday cover, eh.

The Bodyguard – not for the first (or last) time in 2018, the BBC’s proclivities towards its PC-agenda threaten to derail its dramas with irritations. It didn’t help that this series descended into earnest stupidity and wtf-coincidences that left me agape at the screen.

The Beyond– I honestly forgot most of this thing already. I had to re-read my post to remember what it was about. It was only, like, three months ago, not three years or something. It was that memorable.

And that was that, other than a post about watching the original Blade Runner in 4K. Oh dear. September: blink and you miss it. But Scotland was lovely, even in the rain.

 

 

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2018 Review: August

August saw some news breaking regards the circumstances of Johann Johannsson’s passing, a commentary on the birthday of the late Chris Whitley, a note regards the death of Neil Simon, a new Blade Runner-inspired book, and all this-

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Film of the year, simple as that. I suppose that will depress some people no end, but as far as summer blockbusters go, like the previous entry, this is pretty much definitive.

Big Bad Mama – Funnily enough, years from now, when I look back on this years viewing, I think Big Bad Mama will be one of the most memorable entries of this year. It was a blast from the past, wildly nostalgic of that 1970s era of film and television with a great cast- afterall, this one has Captain Kirk and Captain Dallas sharing the screen. How could it possibly fail?

Extinction– A pretty frustrating movie, as I recall.

Ready Player One–  As disappointments go, this one is up there with Black Panther. A very vacuous CGI-fest, it seems to have the best of intentions but I suspect the book simply ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, so the film collapses under the weight of hype and expectations.

The Camp on Blood Island – Another Indicator boxset of Hammer obscurities. It just can’t fail. This was the first n the box and a pretty entertaining flick.

Yesterdays Enemy – Surprisingly modern in approach, this is an undervalued/forgotten gem, seemingly an apology for some of the more dubious racial sentiments of the Blood Island film which preceded it.

The Age of Adaline – Ouch.

Loving Vincent– A beautiful, unique-looking film.

The Stranglers of Bombay – Likely the weakest of the third Indicator Hammer set.

It – Oh dear, another disappointing film. I think this post had the most comments of any post this year.

Lady Macbeth – Still have mixed feelings about this, not wholly successful but worth a watch, certainly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri –  Hey, this was brilliant. One of the films of the year. For once a film lived up to the hype (which is the trouble, I suppose, of coming to films late, whether it be disc release or later rental etc).

Cardinal Season Two – Entertaining thriller from Canada, ensuring interesting locations and, hmm, that Rocketeer bloke.

Murder on the Orient Express – My discovery of the charms of Agatha Christie continues.  This was a beautiful looking movie, even on HD streaming. Can only imagine what a Blu-ray or 4K UHD possibly looks like- ravishing, probably.

Only the Brave – Considering what has been going on in California a few weeks ago, I imagine this film will have long legs. Maybe some of these true story/biopics are a little too respectful or have little to say other than recounting the events? I mean, sure, that’s fine I suppose, but it’s surely an opportunity for some valid opinion or artistic viewpoint informing on those events?

15 reviews? Is this some kind of record?

 

 

The Equaliser 2 (2018) 4K UHD

eq22014’s The Equalizer proved to be something of a surprise- I was never interested in the original tv series and another reboot of a tv property was hardly anything to get invested in. Yet when I (eventually) got around to watching it on a borrowed disc, I found it to be a solid, thoroughly entertaining thriller- in no small part because of star Denzel Washington’s onscreen gravitas and charisma. Indeed, it was one of those situations where you know the actor is too good for the part but it just somehow works.

The film had sufficient success with the public to warrant a sequel with the same creative team- I also believe, from what I have read, that it’s the first sequel that Washington has ever gotten involved with, so certainly something worked first time around.

Alas, lightning rarely strikes twice, and this film is a poor reflection of the original. Something feels off- certainly, it’s no cash-grab/opportune knock-off, but perhaps simply because it isn’t a usual sequel that steers towards copying what came before, instead telling a markedly different story in its main arc, it doesn’t really feel like a Equalizer movie. It even could be said that it’s perhaps as much a Man on Fire 2 (that film being another Washington movie from years back) as it is an Equalizer 2. I almost feel that I should applaud it for taking this approach, choosing to open up the title character’s mysterious past and back story instead of simply doing an American modern-day Robin Hood righting wrongs and sticking it to the bad.

But there are problems. For one, the script does feel disjointed and much of the story really doesn’t make any sense- Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) turns globe-trotter somehow (don’t know how well being a taxi driver pays, but it must pay well) saving a snatched girl from Turkey and returning her to her American mother. A man in Belgium is executed, the murder staged to look like a suicide after he had killed his wife, and for some vague reason McCall’s friend and ex-boss Samantha (Melissa Leo) is pulled into the investigation (the dead guy being a CIA operative of some kind) and is herself killed before she stumbles upon what’s really going on. But what’s really going on isn’t really clear. The two druggie guys who beat her up and leave her for dead (the actual kill being completed by the films real baddie) are after some money but are themselves later killed to cover the real baddies tracks, and it’s never clear if the money was just a ruse to get the two druggie guys involved or if it is all about money or why the Belgium CIA guy was killed in the first place. If I sound confused it’s because I am.  There are all sorts of coincidences and twists that don’t really convince and some of the action scenes, while mostly well-staged and quite elaborate, are quite awkwardly edited in some places (the chief bad guy is up high on the roof of a tower and suddenly McCall just appears out from camera left and you have to wonder how the fuck he ended up there and standing to one side without the bad guy registering it).

Its a strange one really; it’s clear a real effort was made to do something worthwhile and on one level it certainly works, but on another it has to be said a more cynical cash-in lingers in the background, as if the creative team were stuck somewhere in the middle.

Like the first film, the film delivers action in spades and is somewhat guilty of glorifying in that violence. Like with the first film, the British release was cut to manage a 15 certificate but the 4K UHD release of both films restore the films original international cut requiring a 18 certificate. I believe the cuts to the second film are for 11 seconds in total for some graphic details that yes, are pretty graphic but hardly make the film any better (or worse for the cuts).

2018 Review: July

July was marked by me starting a number of lengthy posts analysing BR2049 that took up far too much time and nobody read. I got a third one nearly ready to go but never posted it. I figured I’d return to it sometime as I enjoyed doing them (any excuse to rewatch BR2049 is officially A Good Thing in my book), but it was taking too much time to justify, and besides, there’s sure to be actual books about it coming out soon or similar stuff up on the internet already.  Surprisingly, really, I didn’t do too bad with new reviews in anycase:

Mission– French sci-fi must be an acquired taste, it was pretty sour to me. Funnily enough another Mars adventure, The First (which I reviewed a few days ago) was coming up that was much classier/serious than this silly nonsense- maybe my high evaluation of The First owes much to how daft this was.

How It Ends – An ironic title, as it turned out.

Calibre- Scottish Deliverance.

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season One– This was a great period horror series, I was a bit late catching up with it but glad I did.

Wind River – One of the best films I’ve seen this year, I think.

The Foreigner – A pretty fun, low-demand thriller that was more entertaining than I expected.

Resolution – This was fantastic, alongside its sequel/part two which follows next. A low-budget Lovecraftian sci-fi/horror that is genuinely disturbing and fascinating.

The Endless – Follow-up to Resolution, which it accompanies on Arrows excellent double-bill Blu-ray.  Not quite as good as the first film, but really, both are better than most sci-fi films coming the mainstream route. Anybody who got a kick from Annihilation would enjoy these two.

Eight reviews then, two of which were tv shows that take longer to watch for obvious reasons. July also unfortunately marked the passing of author Harlan Ellison and artist Steve Ditko, both of which I wrote posts about. I also wrote my first 4K review, which was a rewatch of the first Deadpool movie. Busy month, all told.

2018 Review: June

We’re fast approaching the midway-point of the year now: as far as that legendary 100 films tally, I’ve done a count and up to May it actually isn’t far off target, standing at 45. So you never know; the question I suppose is, does June give a helping nudge towards that finish line…?

All the Money in the World – More remarkable for the story behind it than anything in it.

The Limehouse Golem– Interesting period horror/mystery that perhaps tips it hats too soon.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – More fun than I expected it to be. I remember my musings about a War of the Worlds/Zombie spin-off with the tagline ‘They don’t want our planet, only our brains’. I still want to see that movie!  Doesn’t anybody in the industry read this blog?

Black Panther – Other than The Last Jedi, my biggest disappointment of the year so far. I really don’t get what everyone sees in this, other than a social-political agenda. The ending is a boring CGI-fest that depressed me.

Alice Through the Looking Glass – Surprisingly boring and ill-judged sequel.

So, only five new reviews then. Mind, I was still distracted by weekly write-ups about Westworld, at this point reaching its finale of season two, and June was the month I took the jump into 4K, buying a new television and disc player (all the overtime trekking up and down the motorway due to my temp job relocation finally bearing fruit).  So halfway through the year I’m at 51 new reviews of film/television, ignoring other commentary. Not too bad I guess.

The China Syndrome (1978)

china2One of the genuine pleasures of watching ‘old’ movies, particularly the first time, is noting all the familiar faces of actors from whatever period the movie hails from. In the case of The China Syndrome, it was seeing the great American character actor Richard Herd, who played chief corporate bad guy Evan McCormack. Herd’s performance is great- he’s like a great boo-hiss Panto villain every time he’s onscreen, and all the while its bringing back all those 1970s/1980s memories I have of him from tv and films of that era. Herd turned up in Starsky and Hutch, Kojak etc and most memorably regular stints in the hit mini-series V and TJ Hooker. Although I haven’t seen him in a while he’s still working but obviously in nothing I’m watching. Anyway, seeing him in The China Syndrome was fun, and he has a great line: “Scram the son of a bitch” which I’ll adopt into my everyday conversation and bug non-movie literate people with for years to come.

china4Other familiar faces include the great James Karen (Return of the Living Dead, Poltergeist, Mulholland Drive), Wilford Brimley (The Thing, Cocoon) Peter Donat (too many tv shows to mention) and Donald Hotton (the notoriously ineffectual bumbling Fed scientist from Brainstorm, and other roles in Invaders From Mars and Dances With Wolves)- it’s a great cast for a movie buff to see and name-drop, one of the many pleasures of this film.

Of course, what finally brought me to watching The China Syndrome (via Indicator’s recent Blu-ray release) was the star billing of Jack Lemmon, and it being one of his films I hadn’t yet seen. Lemmon is, as usual, great in this. He plays a company man,  Jack Godell, who teeters on the edge between company loyalty and the safety of the public, visibly cracking under the pressure and finally realising the cold reality of the company he is working for and the industry he is working in. It rather breaks him, and the strain is almost tangible- Lemmon was brilliant at playing everyman heroes faced with moral dilemmas. At the end as he lies on the floor of the control room and he whispers “I can feel it!” (or something along those lines) the sheer horror etched on his terrified eyes is incredible. He goes over to the other side staring into the abyss and it’s horrible.

china3The China Syndrome is that particular kind of 70s thriller that was of its time, a cold-reality conspiracy nightmare of what is hidden under the surface of everyday life that we really don’t seem to see nowadays (films now more concerned with escapism than facing what’s really going on). The fashions, cars and cast etc are all very 1970s but the story it tells in this era of fake news and soundbites and lies is as timely as ever. As usual for a film of that period, all the actors look ordinary- real as opposed to aspirational. Wilfred Brimley, for instance (another familiar face!) is so perfect as Lemmon’s colleague, he’s totally ordinary and convincing, doesn’t feel like an actor at all. I think even Jane Fonda, as Brenda Starr-inspired redhead fluff-news reporter Kimberly Wells, is rather surprisingly down to Earth and convincing, with some sexist treatment and comments that raise something of a flag in our now more enlightened days “I like your hair like that,” comments her boss at a work party as if thats praise enough for doing her job.

I was surprised at how tense and and terrifying the last ten minutes of the film really was; its the stuff of nightmare and as its a 1970s film you’re never too sure how it’s going to end – films back then had a habit for non-fulfilling endings so you often mutter “they are not really going to..?” because back then they might.  As the control goes dark save for the warning lights and alarms screaming out its genuinely disturbing and it feels like the end of the world. Riveting stuff.

Creed (2015)

creed.jpgI had a curious thought watching this boxing drama/fantasy- the way in which it respected its forebears, particularly the Rocky franchise from which this film originates, brought to mind the way BR2049 clearly demonstrated its own respect for the original Blade Runner and its creators.  To my surprise, Creed was clearly no cash-grab, and it was wonderful to see Sylvester Stallone return to his perhaps most famous character and see it treated so respectfully. Sure, these things are only movies and the importance and artistic value of the Rocky franchise is purely subjective really, but it’s nice to see someone making a film like this and it not feeling like a cynical enterprise.

In a curious way, there is the stuff of modern myth about Creed and how it furthers the story of Rocky. Bringing an ageing Rocky back to the screen to reflect on “Everything I got has moved on,” as he recalls his dead wife and freinds, and the old distant glories of his boxing career, Stallone reminds us he can be a great actor with the right material. “And I’m here,” he states, cooly, facing his own mortality and illness. Suddenly, in just the same way that BR2049 informed and improved its original film, Creed does the same for Rocky. Watching the original Rocky films, with the fresh knowledge of this film now existing decades later, and its own story, must surely add something.

It turns out Creed isn’t just a movie. Its something else, and it’s something to do with this myth-making and the parts of movies that linger within us after they have ended. Films aren’t just films, not always. They are time passing and life moving on and changing. I was never a huge fan of the Rocky films (they seemed to descend into self-parody and one of them – the 2006 Rocky Balboa– passed me by entirely) but I can imagine that for fans who first watched Rocky back in 1976 and grew old alongside Stallone over the decades since and several further Rocky films, something like Creed can be quite moving. Cathartic even.  Who doesn’t get a tingle from hearing Bill Conti’s Rocky theme when it returns? I believe Creed is the seventh film of the Rocky franchise and the start of a saga of its own (Creed II being released this month, and the impetus for me to finally catch up with this film (yeah, I said I’m not a big Rocky fan)) and it’s clear that here business becomes art and perhaps, yes, more even than that- modern American myth-making.

So yes, I really was quite taken aback by Creed and had I watched it back in 2015, I’m sure I would have done so hoping that BR2049 could follow suit with its respect for the past (and thank goodness it did). Sequels, remakes and reboots don’t have to be a bad thing after all. And I really now need to rewatch Rocky sometime. Here’s hoping the Beeb schedule it over Christmas…