The Race of the Iron Throne

game72017.47: Game of Thrones Season 7 (2017)

Well, it certainly wasn’t Game of Thrones‘ best season. Which is a pity, but in many ways it was inevitable. The trouble with stories is how they end.

In a sense, a story’s end is almost arbitrary. I often think about films or tv series and about their endings. A film might end in a moment of victory or validation, but I often consider what happens afterwards, after the film fades to black and the credits roll up, the story of the film is over but the meta-story, if you will, beyond that, continues. The trick for a screenwriter and a director is in finding a satisfying place to end a story, but it’s always an artificial ending, that meta-story continues.

And of course finding that satisfying ending, it’s a real trick after 30, 40, 50 hours of story in a tv series. Particularly for Game of Thrones and its complex, sophisticated plot and its huge roster of characters. How does one find an ending to match all the dreams and fantasies, all the theories and fan-fiction created worldwide over all those years when the series has become a phenomenon, and from even before that, over the decades of the books being published? Indeed, it strikes me now that Game of Thrones rather cheekily perhaps gets two bites at the cherry, with the HBO series first and, hopefully if time allows, the book series second. It gets two attempts at a satisfying conclusion.

HBOs solution, after a fashion, is that rather than spend three or four years and astronomical sums of money to produce two gigantic ten-episode seasons for the concluding two runs, instead they will condense the spend of a ten-episode season into seven and six-episode runs respectively, thus ensuring huge visuals and scope to hopefully bring things to a grand climax. Unfortunately this rather spoils the other aspects of the show- the sense of scale of the geography, the character beats, the political machinations and various interludes that fans grew to enjoy.  The irony of those of us who complained at the interminable pace of some seasons/episodes while the HBO show waited for author George R R Martin to write and publish another book over the years , now complaining of the ferocious pace of the show now that it has given up on waiting and has gone ahead and leapt beyond the leaden pace of his typewriter, isn’t lost on us. Be careful of what you wish for, eh?

In any case, I return to my original observation- how in the world will Game of Thrones possibly end in a way to satisfy everyone, or even the minority, of its huge worldwide fanbase? It simply can’t, and I think this is the lesson of  season 7. I am not going to write a negative, hateful review picking out all the plotholes or weak scripting or terrible coincidences that insult fans who have watched and enjoyed this show for so many years. There were many spectacular moments in season 7, and it is easy to forget that, HBO or not, this is a television show, not a huge Hollywood movie, and what it manages to create and put on screen is really wondrous and for all its faults this is one of the very greatest entertainments ever, of any format. It is just that season 7 has saddened me a little, and left me a little more reluctant than expectant, for what season 8 brings us next year (or the year after, who knows?). Game of Thrones was extraordinary, indeed still is extraordinary, but it also became a little more ordinary with season 7. Like we just experienced some kind of reality-check.

Because with only six episodes left, and where season 7 has left us, there is little room for many character moments ahead, or for learning who/what the Night King is, what drives him, what he hopes to achieve in slaughtering all the living with his army of the dead or what he intends for those lands yet beyond the oceans (I suspect it would involve turning said oceans to ice and simply walking across). Or what happens when the general story-arc is over and what happens to the (surviving) characters ten, twenty years later.

I had hoped, after all the teasing since the very first moments of the first episode of season one, that the Night King might be fleshed out, as it were. Or that once the Game of Thrones was over, and someone finally sat victorious and uncontested on the Iron Throne we might see the result of that years, decades after. We won’t. Because six episodes is surely a headlong rush of battles and treacheries and victories and deaths that will be thrilling and spectacular but it’s only six episodes. And if the seven episodes of season 7 teaches us anything, it is that six episodes won’t be enough. Maybe ten episodes, or any number of episodes, wouldn’t be enough. That there is the conundrum. Just how do you end Game of Thrones?



Handmaid Horror

hand12017.43: The Handmaids Tale – Season One

I wish they’d stop making such great television, it’s distracting me from watching movies. Indeed, this year is shaping up to be the year of the tv boxset for me. So far I’ve watched Daredevil Season One, Sherlock Season 4, Westworld Season One, The Man in the High Castle Season Two, Person of Interest Seasons Four and Five, The Leftovers Seasons One and Two, Breaking Bad Seasons One and Two, Cardinal Season One, Fargo Season Three… and it’s all been pretty great, other than Sherlock and how Fargo ended.

So now we have The Handmaids Tale, and this may be one of the best of the lot. Even I, not averse to dystopian books/movies etc,  was shocked at just how dark and brutal this series was. Not exactly graphic but harrowing in its themes, subtext and portrayal of its nightmare near-future.

Based on the Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel (already made into a film, back in 1990), it tells the story of a Handmaid, Offred, who lives in a far-right totalitarian society of the near-future,  in what used to be the United States. The world has been blighted by a plummeting birth rate and the state of Gilead has decreed that all fertile women should be enslaved into sexual servitude (and most of the other women sent off to colonies to work until they die).  These slaves are named Handmaidens, and ostensibly are held in high regard but in reality they are like livestock whose only function is to perpetuate the species through becoming pregnant by the men of the ruling class in a ritualised rape.

The ten-episode series pretty much tells the story of the novel, weaving a backstory through it of the time before the new society formed and when the far-right regime took power. Initially it seems far-fetched but it becomes almost horribly plausible as the story unfolds over the season and we witness Offred’s attempts to survive and fight back against her rulers.

Its very dark. As I say, it’s not exactly graphic (although it has its moments) but it is relentless darkness and the horror creeps up on you. It certainly has left me thinking about what I have seen. Its brutal emotionally, rather than brutal physically, if that makes any sense? Its very well-written and the cast -Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, Yvonne Strahovski are the leads- are exceptional. It is beautifully photographed (why is it that future nightmares can seem so pretty to look at?) as so much television is these days, really film-quality. Disturbing but riveting television and highly recommended.

Why bother with film these days when such great quality is made available on television? Material such as this is far more involving and enlightening than the popcorn blockbuster fare that fills the multiplexes, and if you love sequels, well, The Handmaids Tale is getting a second season next year. There is irony there but what the hell, I’m looking forward to it.


The 2017 Selection Pt.6

2017 selection 6Just a few additions to mention – and looking at the release schedules, it may be a little while (certainly September/October) before I start adding to the list again- barring any sales. Probably just as well with the backlog of stuff to watch and tv seasons in progress.

So anyway, what do we have? First, Kong: Skull Island, which I reviewed in an earlier post. I really enjoyed this and I’ve since watched the disc again, and yep, the film still works like a charm. Great stuff.

Next we have season two of The Expanse, which like the first season last year, I have had to import on blu-ray from the States thanks to the vagaries of broadcasting these days. The first season originally wasn’t picked up by anybody here in the UK, but with the second season in the can Netflix added both seasons to its roster (which doesn’t help me as I’m an Amazon Prime boy for my sins and I refuse to subscribe to every channel/outlet under the sun). Anyhow, I really enjoyed the first season -sort of a successor to Babylon 5 and the BSG reboot by way of Game of Thrones–  and am really looking forward to watching this. The discs this time around even have some decent extras, including commentaries. I have, however, decided to rewatch season one first as I’ll be damned if I can remember all the fine details of the plot from over a year ago. So a review may be a little while off yet.

Next along comes Arrow’s excellent blu-ray edition of Future Shock; a brilliant documentary about the creation and history of the galaxy’s greatest comic (at least, it was back in the day when I read it), accompanied here by hours of extras (extended interviews and the like) that more than makes it a mandatory purchase even in this era of trying to curtail my disc buying. I reviewed the doc last year when it aired on Film Four and am glad I never bought the DVD version, because I hate double-dipping and this edition is the definitive one. I’ve watched some of the addl featurettes/sections and extended interviews and it’s absolutely zarjaz.

Lastly, Ghost in the Shell, which I saw at the cinema back in April and was intrigued enough to buy on disc. It holds up very well on second viewing- probably improves in fact, if only because distractions of the original anime  are less of an issue when you know what is/isn’t going on with the plot and can consequently relax and enjoy it for what it is. It’s certainly spectacular to look at and well worth a rental.


Fargo loses its charm

fargo3a2017.42: Fargo – Season Three (2017)

Third time unlucky? It seems churlish to moan about a tv series that has a great cast, an interesting storyline with plenty of surprises and takes all sorts of imaginative conceits in telling its whimsical story- sort of Twin Peaks with a plot- and is beautifully shot, cannily directed. And yet, somehow it all got derailed in the final two episodes of the season- a frankly astonishing twist in itself. Having collected the ten episodes on the tivo and sat down each night to watch one, sometimes two episodes (even three one night), bingeing the season over a week as is our wont these days with these serial series, I thoroughly enjoyed the season, and looked forward to the final double-bill of episodes nine and ten.

Alas, in utterly bizarre fashion, the underwhelming conclusions to the various plots seeded through the previous eight episodes were unfurled in a strangely lacklustre fashion, as if everyone behind the camera had become bored with it, or suddenly realised the budget was gone and they only had a few days left scheduled to shoot the darn things. How to kill a season in two episodes? Well, this is how you do it.

I would love to know the story behind the creative process of this season, and why certain decisions were made and why the entire season just seemed to wimp out. It’s almost as if the show was passed over to an entirely different creative team for the last two episodes. Its infuriating and peculiar, and that last night’s viewing just seemed to mutate from high anticipation to sadly bemused WTF?

Maybe it is because the first two seasons were so bloody perfect, start to finish. Great casts, brilliant scripts, each season building to a suspenseful and surprising finale. Which is not to say that this third season was terrible, it’s just that it felt as if all the goodwill earned over eight great episodes was thoroughly undermined by a strange creative thought-process- as if it was an intellectual exercise rather than a simply entertaining one.  Which brings me back to the whole curious thought-process behind such an otherwise so creative and successful series- it was surely deliberate, with some justification behind it. It just doesn’t work. Quite bizarre really.

Two greats lost

Sad news today concerning the passing of Martin Landau and George Romero (good grief, as if losing one wasn’t enough, we lose two greats over one weekend).

spasemartinSpeaking as a Brit who grew up in the 1970s, Martin Landau will always be Commander Koenig in Gerry Anderson’s tv series Space:1999. I loved that show when it was first on; it was dark and serious and huge. And like all Anderson shows, it had a killer main title sequence, one of the best to this day.  Over the years it has perhaps not aged very well, but the adult me appreciates its 2001-inspired design and cutting-edge miniature effects, and also the irony of a logistics expert being put in charge of Moonbase Alpha just as all the shit cuts loose. Koenig is the anti-Kirk; intentional or not, it makes for fascinating viewing and it’s fun seeing Koenig so clearly out of his depth and clutching for solutions like some modern-day politician. The less said about the second season the better but the first certainly has some brilliant moments and it remains uniquely positioned as a tv-response to 2001- there’s nothing else quite like it.

But my very favorite memory of Landau remains his remarkable turn in Crimes and Misdemeanors. He’s absolutely fantastic in that film- he really deserved some recognition awards-time for that. It’s a deep and thoughtful film (Woody Allen’s best, for me) and Landau is just incredible.

And of course we also have the news that the Godfather of the Zombie Genre, the great George A Romero has passed away too. It’s a little unfair, but it’s probably only natural that when I think of Romero, I think of Dawn of the Dead. My God, what a film that is. Back in the video-nasty period of the 1980s, an uncut VHS copy of Dawn of the Dead was like some kind of holy grail for horror fans. I remember first watching it, thinking it was the greatest horror film I’d ever seen- so dark, brutal, graphic, twisted and funny. So clever too with its social commentary (as timely now as ever- it just needs shots of zombies with mobile phones to bring it bang up to date).

Of course there was more to Romero than Dawn, and even zombies (although, bless him for embracing it rather than looking down on it or its genre fans). I loved Creepshow. That was so much fun, and he did many great films. Just none quite as great as Dawn for me. That film was just the right film at the right time; it became something more than just a film. It represented something.

Yeah, a very sad news day. We keep on losing these great names that we grew up with. It is only natural I guess as the years march on and we ourselves grow older but it never gets easy- there is a weird feeling of my own past slipping away.



nyqistI noted with some sadness last week the passing of Michael Nyqvist, the actor who starred in the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I rewatched the films awhile ago and  they remain very impressive. Nyqvist, like his Dragon Tattoo co-star Noomi Rapace, went on to some success in Hollywood, notably a fine turn in MI: Ghost Protocol and another in John Wick- in both films he demonstrated a flair for playing villains, which still surprises me considering the down-to-Earth heroism of his part in the Tattoo films. He clearly had some considerable range and I’m sure he had great roles/films ahead of him. He was only 56, which is awfully sad. You just never know, do you? 56. Seems so unfair.

norm1And of course, also last week came the news of the passing of film critic/BBC presenter Barry Norman. Beyond these shores his name likely means little, but to us in the UK -and particularly those of us who grew up in the pre-Sky era and the internet- Barry’s name is held with much affection. He presented the BBC ‘Film…’ series for something like 26 years, and his opinions held considerable weight before the internet came along and flooded us with inferior amateur film criticism (cough). Although I would often be at odds with him whenever he looked down on my favourite blockbusters I always wanted to know what he thought. I recall he was having a break from the show in 1982 when Blade Runner was released, so I never got to see what he thought of it- perhaps that’s just as well.

Barry Norman was to films what Sir Patrick Moore was to astronomy. You don’t realise, until you look back, for how many years we grew up with these people in such programmes, how big a part of our lives they managed to be. I don’t think presenters will ever be associated with such long-running programmes like that ever again, television was wholly different back then when we only had three and later four channels. I used to love that ‘Film…‘ music, and hearing Norman’s voice as he introduced the show and told us the films that would be reviews. Good memories.

Since I’ve just mentioned my favourite movie yet again in this blog… (hey, here’s a drinking game- read my blog and take a drink every time I mention Blade Runner…) ahem, anyway, while you’re still sober, regards Blade Runner, I guess everyone has seen the latest trailer for Blade Runner 2049 and this subsequent behind the scenes featurette. It still looks pretty promising. But thank goodness the film is a sequel and not Blade Runner 2018 or something. Prequels are just too much trouble.  The news that the original directors of the new Han Solo movie that Lucasfilm is making have departed/been sacked, and that the competent hack Ron Howard- oh the horror!- has been brought on board for reshoots, has had me thinking about prequels in general. They don’t really work, do they? Case in point the Alien prequels that Ridley is making. While I don’t hate them as much as some Alien fans do, they clearly add little to the franchise other than spoiling the Lovecraftian mysteries of the original. I fear this new Han Solo movie might do the same for Star Wars. After all, what’s the point? We know who the Corellian smuggler is as soon as we see him in Star Wars, we don’t need to know about his adventures as a young man or how he ended up working for Jabba the Hut etc etc.

Nobody mention Space Jockeys, please…

How tempting it might have been -and for all I know, might yet be- to make a prequel film to Blade Runner detailing Batty and his fellow replicants breakout from an Offworld colony and journey to Earth that led to the original film. Imagine some other actor playing Batty. The pointless plot leading to the inevitable landing near LA and dovetailing into Leon getting a job at the Tyrell pyramid. It almost makes me hope the new film is a flop so no further Blade Runner films are made. Heaven help us if ever the words ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘franchise’ get linked together. Becoming a franchise never really did Alien any good at all.

Much preferred it when films were singular with no prequel/sequel attached. These days you can’t get a blockbuster greenlit, it seems, without a prequel or sequel already set-up. But certainly prequels do seem particularly problematic, and rarely seem to work (I guess Rogue One springs to mind as one of the better ones).

Actually, whilst waxing lyrical on all things Blade Runner as is my wont, a belated note about the film celebrating its 35th anniversary last week. Well, its American anniversary. Far as I’m concerned, it’s 35 years old when we reach September, which is when it reached old blighty. Funny, to think how long it took for films to cross the pond back then (E.T. actually took longer, not released here until December, much to the pleasure of VHS pirates). I first saw Blade Runner on a Saturday afternoon, and I believe it was on the 11th September, to be precise. That’s when it hits 35 in my book. 35 years though. That’s rather scary.

brquadukI was never at all keen on this UK poster for the film. It’s got four Tyrell pyramids for one thing, shockingly inaccurate, but I did always love that headline banner, “A chilling, bold, mesmerizing, futuristic detective thriller”… yeah, that always summed up the film for me. Visually it is such an awful (literal) cut and paste job. The film, of course, was already dead in the water at that point in September, having utterly flopped Stateside. Thinking about it, I guess such long, drawn-out international releases just heightened the pain for film-makers on the receiving end of such failure. Did they bother with a London premier with any of the cast or crew or was it just dumped out there, I wonder? I just imagine a sour-faced Ridley in tuxedo struggling to break into a smile in-front of the press, or the studio deciding to cut its losses and not bother flying Harrison out.

Anyway, apologies again for my lax posting on this blog of late. Just gone through a very busy period at work (actually, I’m still likely stuck in the middle of it) and it’s left me little enough time to do anything at all at home.  I’m afraid this summer is passing me by. I didn’t even have time to write a post regards the anniversary of us losing our pet dog Ben a year ago last week- yeah, it’s been a year already. A very sad weekend, was that. Its dawned on me that I really haven’t yet processed it yet, losing him. I know that sounds bizarre, after all this time, but I really didn’t handle it at all well, when it happened, all the trauma and stress of his illness and everything, and I think I’ve really just avoided dealing with it, over all these months. Losing our first dog Barney was pretty awful but I managed to grieve and deal with it, but Ben? No. I really haven’t, and the anniversary just made me realise it.

But life goes on, even if it seems it’s passing me by of late. Can’t seem to get around to watching many movies.  Anyway, maybe I’ll manage a few of these miscellanea posts in lieu of proper reviews for awhile. I’m still here!




I know your face, Cardinal…

d12017.31: Cardinal- Season One (2017)

By the second episode of this six-part crime drama, I was hooked- but also bugged by a distant familiarity with the actor playing the titular detective. Where the hell had I seen him before? This kind of thing bothers me all the time these days. He looked familiar and yet… not. Even his name, Billy Campbell, seemed familiar. Yet I couldn’t place the name or the face. This is exactly the kind of thing that the internet is made for, but I was being stubborn, I’d figure this out eventually….

Only I didn’t. The internet finally won. In my defence, it had been 26 years.

Billy Campbell was the star of the 1991 film The Rocketeer, which was the last thing that I had ever seen him in (although that wasn’t exactly true, as apparently he’d been in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and an episode of Frasier, according to IMDB).  Anyway, nowadays he’s older, craggier, greyer… yes, an infinitely more lived-in face compared to the youthful charms of his heroic character in the Disney film. I loved The Rocketeer. I saw it at the cinema and thought it was great, but it turned out to be another one of those films that deserves a sequel but fails to muster an audience, instead getting sidelined to the kerbside of movie history.

Cardinal is a Canadian series with much in common with such crime dramas as The Killing or The Bridge and so many others. Its graphic, relentlessly serious, dealing with isolation and serial murders and complicated detectives. Not as good as the first series of True Detective (but then again, what is?), but certainly well worth watching. Being set in Canada in freezing-cold locales buried in snow it looks as cold as its grim subject. If I were to offer any criticism its that it never really attempts to get under the skin of its criminal/s, instead finding the titular detective a more interesting character to dissect- which is fine, it’s just that kind of detective show where the nominal ‘hero’ is the real subject. It just leaves much of the grisly murders and their methodology unexplained. In hindsight, that may be a good thing- some things can’t be explained, some twisted psyches too twisted to make sense from, but there is a vagueness to it that is a little frustrating. Yes, Cardinal himself is fascinating and layered and Billy Campbell very good in the role, but… the murders, man.. all the torture and graphic gore. Whats it all about? What makes the bad guy/s (I’m being deliberately vague here, incase you’ve not seen it) tick?

So anyway, a pretty impressive show and apparently immediately greenlit for two more seasons. Well, there’s something to look forward to next year. At least next time I won’t be distracted by where the hell I’ve seen that guy before.

(In my defence, he looks so much different without that rocket on his back).

The Great Escape Pt 2: Papillon (1973)

pap1Ladies and gentlemen: the Randomness of the Universe. Its a terrifying thing; Lovecraft wrote about a universe of chaos, of a mindless cosmos utterly ignorant of us, and our place so insignificant within it that the stark reality of it was enough to drive men mad. Patterns within it, a sense of meaning, well, that’s all just constructs of our minds, it’s just the way our brains work. Its why we ‘see’ recognisable shapes and objects in clouds. We discern patterns that aren’t really there- we see ‘God’, we see ‘meaning’ in our lives, some rational explanation for existence. We are good storytellers too.

How does any of this relate to Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1973 prison epic Papillon?

Well, here goes: several weeks ago I stumbled upon the film Papillon airing on BBC that evening. This in itself was something of unusual good fortune, as I watch very little (network) tv and seldom look at the tv listings or digital guide. Papillon has always been a minor-favourite film of mine. I remember first seeing it one Christmas, decades ago now, back when films were an important part of the Christmas holidays and staying up late to watch a movie something of a treat. Thinking about it, maybe that’s how I fell in love with movies. I must have been maybe twelve at the time, something like that, and the film made quite an impression. I’ve seen it several times since, but not for some years now- possibly it was back in the VHS era when I last saw it. Yeah, thats going back some, when you think about it.

So anyway, I set the tivo to record it, thinking it would be good to see it again, in HD now and widescreen too. Maybe I would eventually get around to it, maybe I wouldn’t- quite often I record films on a whim and wind up deleting them to make room for other, more pressing, stuff. I have seasons of tv shows on that tivo hard-drive (latest casualty of the delete button, the Legion tv series).

papostMidway through last week I received an email from Quartet Records, a French label who released a 2-disc set of Jerry Goldsmith’s Total Recall soundtrack awhile back. In itself this wasn’t unusual, once you are on someone’s mailing list in this email age you are guaranteed occasional news of releases, and I have had a few from them time to time. This time though the email referred to an imminent release of theirs which caught my attention- they were releasing a new edition of Jerry Goldsmith’s Papillon soundtrack, expanded from newly-discovered master tapes featuring music not used in the film. I’d always been as fond of the score as I was the movie, but had never bought any of its previous incarnations on vinyl or CD… not sure why- but in anycase, here was an opportunity to finally rectify that with a definitive edition. And hey, no double or treble-dipping involved, for once- and so soon after the release of Goldsmith’s Thriller scores on disc (as I wrote on the FSM forums, how weird that life can still surprise with new Goldsmith releases after so many years).

So anyway, although I was coming off (another) twelve-hour stint at work in another long week of them, I took ten minutes to log-in to the Quartet website and preorder the disc. Just as well I did, as it turned out- this edition was limited to 1000 copies and sold out within a few days of being announced, indeed the very next day after I put my order in (apologies if I’ve just spoiled your day).

So here we are with the randomness of the universe deceiving us with some apparent reason. I stumble upon the film airing on BBC 2, I record the film on my tivo, the score suddenly turns up out of the blue in some definitive edition… its like I’m being told to rewatch the film again. It’d be rude not to, right?

Papillon was directed by  Franklin J. Schaffner during a spell of great movies that included the original Planet of the Apes, Patton and Papillon, and would go on to include Islands in the Stream and The Boys From Brazil– all of these films also being scored by Jerry Goldsmith. Its quite a run of films. And the scores are greats too, with Goldsmith in his prime. Actually, this was likely why I first paid attention to the film so many years back- I would always watch films that I knew Goldsmith had scored for. Yeah, I was a pretty weird kid back then- most people watch films because of who stars in them, and here was I watching films because of who had scored the music (I should have gotten out more, clearly, but the ‘seventies could be pretty dismal).

PapillonPapillon dates from 1973. Films were different then, even prison epics like Papillon. It has a slow, steady pace that is quite deceptive in how it establishes character and place. It seems very low-key, surprisingly lacking any Jerry Goldsmith score for almost half of its two and a half-hour running time. The film pulls you in with its brutal sense of reality, of time and place. Have I mentioned that this is one of the greatest prison-break movies ever made? Well, it is possibly second only to The Shawshank Redemption… and watching Papillon again I have to note that it must have been an inspiration for Stephen King when he wrote the original story that The Shawshank Redemption was based on. The sense of male-bonding, the passage of many years of trials and adversity, the inhumanity of jailers and inmates, the life-affirming message of friendship and freedom. Its like a cinematic guide to how to write/shoot a prison movie: shady characters, noble inmates, betrayal, loyalty, cruelty, harrowing ordeals such as periods of solitary confinement.

The difference between the two is clearly that Papillon is based on an (allegedly) true story from the best-selling memoirs of Henri Charrière, a burglar arrested for the murder of a pimp (which he always denied) and sent to the brutal penal colony in French Guiana; Devils Island and the St. Laurent du Maroni prison camp from which escape was deemed impossible. Back when prisons were, well, prisons, with no pretence of rehabilitation or mercy. While some doubt has since been placed upon Charrière’s story, its nonetheless a great story and makes for a great movie. The actors are pretty epic too, to be honest. Steve McQueen is hugely charismatic with a great presence onscreen ( a ‘natural’ actor I guess, who, like actors such as Charlton Heston or even John Wayne brought a huge sense of personna to every role, regardless of their actual acting talent). Dustin Hoffman is particularly impressive too, and the kinship and bond these two actors demonstrate clearly prefigures that of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman years later.

pap4One observation- there’s a sequence in the film during Papillon’s escape attempt that he wears a loose-fitting shirt and slacks and a crumpled hat, and he looks like the clearest prototype for Indiana Jones. Its so like he’s wearing the same outfit, I had to do a doubletake. Don’t know if this was simply accidental or something indicative of Spielberg or Lucas loving movies- I seem to remember James Steranko doing pre-production art for Raiders, maybe he was a fan of Papillon. Or maybe its just more of that random universe slipping cosmic tiles into place. In anycase, Steve McQueen looks like he could have been a pretty cool Indy. He would have liked doing his own stunts, for one thing…

Very often as I’ve gotten older, revisiting ‘old’ movies can be rather disappointing, but not so here- this film is more impressive than I remembered. There is something fascinating in the widescreen framing, the steady, long-held establishing shots that don’t try to amaze you in the way so many current films do with fancy camera moves and effects work. The cinematography of course is all in-camera, with none of modern film-makings tinkering in post; it looks very authentic and real. There’s just something ‘classy’ and confident about it. Yeah, films were rather different back then. Less ‘wow’, and all the better for it.

Familiar faces of actors from that 1960s/1970s period grace the film leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling of reacquaintance, memories of other films, other tv shows. A nostalgia for the period. The Goldsmith score when it finally takes hold is wonderfully indicative of his scores of the time and movie music in general back then. Its clearly a film of its time. Its a genuine great, and oddly not available here in the UK on Blu-ray yet. What gives? This film so deserves a good HD presentation on disc with a commentary track or two- odd how some films have still somehow slipped through the net.

Its a great prison-break movie and a great reminder of just how good a star Steve McQueen was. Hmm. Maybe its time I rewatched The Great Escape again…


Jerry Goldsmith’s Thriller (and Prince’s Purple Rain)

tadthrillrWhilst on the subject of Jerry Goldsmith in my previous post, I thought it timely to raise the release by Tadlow Music just recently of a re-recording of some of the Jerry Goldsmith scores from the 1960 tv series Thriller. While I grew up thrilled and scared by classic anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, I never saw Thriller, so I was unfamiliar with the particular episodes Goldsmith scored or the music itself. But really, it’s Goldsmith. Classic, vintage Goldsmith. No-brainer.

Turns out the music is great. Innovative orchestrations with some creepy music, some of it akin to the original tv Star Trek music from the sixties (which is perhaps odd, as Goldsmith had no involvement in that- likely it’s just me, or something related to the limited orchestras involved in tv scoring back then, the ensuing creativity in tv scores of the time). In anycase, it is a great disc and sales have been good enough to encourage a second volume, so it’s all good news. How odd that stuff like this surfaces even now with cd sales falling through the floor and so long after the work was originally created- it’s the very definition of ‘niche’ market and likely means nothing at all to most who read this.

purpleRecently I’ve been following the rather tortured path to release of the remastered Purple Rain remaster/expanded edition due this month. Following Prince’s death last year there has been great interest in the artist’s fabled vault that houses hundreds, perhaps thousands of unreleased songs and abandoned album projects etc. From what I gather, this Purple Rain release may have unreleased tracks but they are not likely to be sourced from original masters within the vault itself- Warners seem to have their own copies of material from around that period which are second-generation. At any rate, there has been endless legal wrangling over rights to the music within the vault and whether it will be properly archived/restored and released one day. Some Prince fans feel that proper archive releases are likely years away, possibly decades- and indeed, some speculate they will never live to see/hear them (some of us Prince fans, as he ‘peaked’ in the ‘eighties, are getting a little long in the tooth now). After all, the recent deluxe Sgt Pepper remaster/expansion is 50 years after its original release.

The complication is simply that the cd, and physical music formats in general, are becoming increasingly marginalised in an ever-more digital market. So even if, say, work began on a series of properly mastered, deluxe vault releases tomorrow, would there even be a physical format and market for them over the coming decade/s? Or if there was, would it be so niche that prices/limited numbers would make them unviable? Of course we fans would like to think that Prince was a huge megastar, and he was a great performer/musician, but how popular/relevant is his music to the general public (and younger generations) today? Hardcore fans would likely pay any price but the general public? Perhaps this reality is why this Purple Rain release seems to be so low-budget and unambitious packaging-wise compared to some deluxe packages doing the rounds, with some Prince fans looking at the Sgt Pepper deluxe with envious eyes and wondering of what might have been. Warners seem to be dumping out a cardboard cheapie in order to keep the price down (and keep impulse purchases up?).

Naturally in this there are parallels to movies being released on disc. With streaming and downloads increasing in popularity, we have to wonder how long we will be so spoilt by films -particularly older, catalogue films- being released on disc. It can already be seen that some of those expansive, intensive bells and whistles releases of new films are becoming all the more rare. We’re lucky to get a commentary track days- usually its just EPK fluff thats no interest at all. So whats the future for film lovers who just want to treasure their fave films and have them pride of place on a shelf as part of a collection?

Kick the Can (and kick that horrible Twilight Zone movie)

kickcanLast night I rewatched some of Twilight Zone: The Movie– in particular the dreadful prologue featuring Dan Aykroyd and the Kick the Can segment directed by Steven Spielberg. Its a pretty miserable, leaden movie, with the awful on-set accident that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children hanging over the whole enterprise like some terrible spectre. Indeed, considering that accident it is a wonder the film ever got released at all- it would have been little loss to film, as it turned out.

The film made money though, enough to ensure a 1980s revival of the show got made. But in truth it’s a poor imitation of the classic original show.  I know there is much appreciation for the segment that remakes the Nightmare at 20,000 feet episode, but I didn’t get that far into the movie.  In truth, the only reason I watched the Kick the Can segment was Jerry Goldsmith’s music. I remember watching the Twilight Zone: The Movie for the first time decades ago when it was aired on television, and that Goldsmith score was really the only thing that really caught my attention in any favourable way. Eventually I bought the FSM CD, pretty much solely due to Goldsmiths score for that segment. Its a tender, romantic sequence of music, perhaps a little over the saccharin limit for most tastes, perhaps as excessive as Spielberg’s particularly unsubtle direction. Indeed, watching it again last night, it seemed obvious to me that this segment highlights all the worst shortcomings of Spielberg back then. But anyway, I watched it again just to see a reminder of how Goldsmith’s score functioned within it.

Its such a genuinely 1980s movie. The ‘look’, how it sounds, the actors featured, the directors involved. It really should have been a better movie considering the talent. It really should have had more bite. Probably would have been better served by having original stories rather than remaking episodes from the classic series. You can’t capture ‘lightning in a bottle’ twice, and it is clear that the black and white photography really allowed the original a life and mood utterly lost by bringing it into colour and a modern setting. The stories should be universal, yes, but it clearly doesn’t work, remaking them- the truth is, its the episodes that are universal.

I have the complete classic series on Blu-ray on the shelf. I really should return to them, if ever time allows. But this movie? Wouldn’t be surprised if I never watch any of it ever again. Its done.