Netflix Bebop?

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Ha ha those crazy buggers at Netflix, I thought they were joking, you know, the way Hollywood keeps fooling around with the dangerous idea of a live-action Akira movie. They talk about it but they’re never fool enough to actually do it. But no, it looks like Netflix is serious. Its coming in November. My God, I’ll never be ready for this.

About the only thing that really has me excited here is Yoko Kanno returning to handle the soundtrack duties, which certainly gives the project some credit – at least it will SOUND like Cowboy Bebop, and Kanno wouldn’t associate herself with a turd, would she? Oh Ghost you are so gullible.

See you November, Space Cowboy.

Starsky & Hutch vs The Vampire

starskyvampSometimes life is so weird it just has to be a hologram. Don’t ask me why, but last night we watched a second season episode of Starsky and Hutch that had been sitting on the Tivo since March, an episode which featured the city being terrorised by a Vampire (played by no less than John Saxon) and Huggy Bear selling Vampire Survival kits (a bag with handy equipment like a wooden stake and hammer, clove of garlic and a mirror to make sure that guy behind you has a reflection). Sceptic Hutch was convinced the Vampire was some kind of gag but Starsky was quite convinced he needed to go all Van Helsing to save the public from a fiendish blood-sucker.

By the second season any grittiness that Starsky and Hutch sported in the more serious season one was long gone, replaced by a cosy, family-entertainment feel commensurate with its huge success with younger audiences. This episode, The Vampire, was the show’s Halloween 1976 offering- something I hadn’t appreciated when I was watching it, I thought it was a genuine serious second-season episode (whatever that means with this show). Instead its rather like a poor-man’s Kolchak: The NIght Stalker episode only sadly lacking the brilliant Darren McGavin. But how bloody odd (and ludicrous) the sight of John Saxon in a cape chasing after women out of the shadows, it was absolutely hilarious (presumably intentionally so).

I used to love this show when I was a kid. I suppose there remains a soft, cosy warmth watching television from the era when they had to crank out 22 episodes a year and reassure viewers that the good guys always trumped the bad guys, and you could trust authority and cops (and even tricksters/pimps like Huggy had their heart in the right place). The world of course was never like that, but 1970s American television is fascinating, watching it now- its like from some other planet.

So John Saxon’s fake-cripple dancing instructor has a plan to resurrect his dead wife by… well, its a bit vague how he intends to bring her back, perhaps it’s some kind of deal with the devil, offering sacrifices as payment or something, but unfortunately he makes the terrible mistake of killing star pupils from his own dancing school, rather making it all too easy for Starsky and Hutch to track down the dastardly fake blood-sucker. Its all pretty empty-headed nonsense and I think there’s some b-plot about Starsky forgetting the phone numbers of some attractive ladies they struck up a conversation with in a disco party before being called back to work. Its fairly mindless fun, but I don’t know what in the world we were doing watching it (well actually I do, life has been bit shitty this week and in all honesty, once we got back home late in the evening, this silly episode was possibly a perfect tonic).

The 2021 List: July

There goes July- the past few weeks have been rough at work due to sickness and leave, both within the office and nationally as a business ‘out in the field’ so I’ve been neglecting my blog somewhat (what do you mean, you didn’t notice?). Must try and fix that, and I’m wary of a backlog of reviews piling up, even if I’m struggling to find time/energy to actually watch anything.

So what have I been watching? Well, other than what is on the list below, I have been re-watching some old discs/films, some connected to films on the list below. Watching Herbert Lom in Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera got me watching the Indicator disc of Mysterious Island that I’d bought a few months back (in which Lom plays a very impressive Captain Nemo), and seeing the lovely Barbara Shelley in The Shadow of the Cat resulted in me bringing down Indicator’s first Hammer box from a few years ago and watching The Gorgon again. There’s something both familiar, comforting and sometimes revelatory about returning to films having not seen them in awhile, and I’m kicking myself for not at least dropping a paragraph or two here regards those two in  particular. I’ve also been trying to watch Arrows 4K disc of True Romance that came out a few weeks back but the time never feels right or I’m just too damn tired to give it the attention it deserves. I was one of the few that saw it back during its first theatrical run and have always loved it, so watching it in 4K is something I’m really looking forward to.

While there were a few clunkers in July, I did watch some particularly fine films, notably The Killers and Criss Cross, two astonishingly fine film noir. The first led me to the second, and I love that about films, how one can lead to another, some being fresh discoveries of films I’d never heard of before. Amazingly, I’m of a mind that Criss Cross may actually be a better film than The Killers, even though the former clearly had more impressive visual ‘noir’ flourishes, there seemed something more complete and efficient regards Criss Cross, a film that quite took my breath away, it seemed so perfectly formed. I really must work on a review of that film.

Lately I’ve been watching the German epic series Babylon Berlin, which has been on my watchlist for a long time now and will get a review in August when I’ve completed the first sixteen episodes (confusingly, they were ‘sold’ to foreign markets as two seasons of eight episodes each but I understand that in Germany it was one run of sixteen). Its astonishingly good, up there with the very best shows I’ve seen like The Wire etc (yep its THAT good). Its depiction of 1929 Berlin, during the last years of the Weimer Republic is so vivid, there’s a tactile feel to it which is almost quite horrifying. I’ve often said here that good period dramas are almost like science fiction, positing worlds as alien to us as anything envisaged for the future. I think that’s quite true of something like Babylon Berlin, which is not just depicting a world of a century ago, but one quite foreign as regards culture and politics (its really quite mystifying, but fascinatingly so).

Television

79) Superstore Season Four

86) Ratched Season One

Films

77) The Tomorrow War (2021)

78) The Killers (1946)

80) The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

81) The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

82) Nightmare (1964)

83) Synchronic (2019)

84) Saint Maud (2019)

85) Fast & the Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

87) The Sting (1973)

88) Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

89) Chernobyl 1986 (2021)

90) Blood Red Sky (2021)

91) Criss Cross (1949)

The new Dune trailer

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

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

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

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

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

Blade Runner: Black Lotus

While I’m a sucker for anything Blade Runner, and appreciate the efforts that Alcon are making to keep their investment in the property alive (the Titan books, comic spin-offs etc) this trailer for an anime series titled Blade Runner: Black Lotus just feels so woefully generic (it also disturbingly looks too much like that old Westwood Blade Runner game). For me it is just a cautionary reminder of how bad BR2049 could have been- it would have been so easy just to make a Blade Runner sequel with steamy, wet, rain-swept streets and superhumans beating the shit out of each other. Hell, maybe that would have been more successful at the box-office than BR2049 proved to be, and maybe closer to what many would have actually preferred but really, that tired old aesthetic is not what makes Ridley’s film so great for me, and there is surely more to the franchise/IP than that. Its not about countless neon signs and throwing Coca-Cola logos into the background. At least BR2049, while it made nods to that, actually went with a brutalist look of its own.

Perhaps this trailer is not indicative of what the actual series will be like- maybe it will be more intelligent than it looks and have some decent ideas behind it, but it does look so woefully generic that I fear the worst. I’m not confident about the CGI anime style either; to me I don’t see the point in this semi-cartoony/semi-reality ‘look’: you either go stylised art or photo-realistic (there’s plenty examples of both in Netflix’s excellent Love, Death & Robots series). Oh well. Mercifully I may not be able to watch the thing anyway, as its being made for Adult Swim and Crunchyroll in the States so I rather hope it doesn’t get sold over here in the UK at all.  Ignorance is bliss.

Ratched (Season One)

atchedposterThis was brilliant and appalling in equal measure.

Firstly, and here’s why I waited until now to watch it (this originally dropped on Netflix in September last year) – what’s the preoccupation with prequels and origin stories? This series could be about anyone, they could have written about an original character and told the exact same story, it didn’t need to be Mildred Ratched of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It could have been any nurse, in any asylum, in any place (in fact it probably is, as the film took place in Oregon, not this series’ California), and the character as far as I recall (its been many years since I last saw the film) was not some super-heroine needing an origin story.

So what gives? Is it all just about having a ‘hook’, a gimmick, to hang a series over, to make ‘selling’ it easier?  Is this where we are now with getting anything greenlit by a studio? Are creatives so bereft of ideas that they have to mine all their film collections looking for any possible narrative hook to spin from? Or is the only thing studios/streamers understand now the Marvel MCU/Disney Star Wars school of carpet-bombing an IP for any possible spin-off?

To add a further mix of confusion, this is essentially a remake of Ryan Murphy’s second season of his American Horror Story, which was titled Asylum, and even stars one of that season’s stars, Sarah Paulson, as the titular character Mildred Ratched. Like Asylum, Ratched is full of bizarre characters, crazy situations, gory deaths, violent ends: a delirious cacophony of excess. People are lobotomised, boiled, shot, burnt, impaled, stabbed, smothered…

Not once but several times did I shake my head and comment to my wife “these characters are all monsters.” You could argue there is not one redeemable character or anyone slightly approximating ‘normal’ here at all: a rogues gallery of misfits and oddballs. Indeed it has a pretty formidable cast lining up as these freaks: Judy Davis, Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Vincent D’Onofrio, Corey Stoll, Amanda Plummer, its a pretty cool bunch of character actors competing in the chew-the-scenery stakes, and I’d argue the show actually gets stolen by Sophie Okonedo who plays a patient with multiple personalities: she is absolutely the best reason to watch this show. She’s a murderous female Two-Face multiplied by ten and I could watch her in a show of her own (hey, maybe this show has already got its own spin-off sorted).

One sequence has a prisoner on Death Row being taken to his execution room, the viewer having been shown in slow graphic detail the process of said execution via lethal injection. Once in the execution room however, the waiting Governor Wilburn (D’Onofrio) gleefully pulls aside a white sheet covering the apparatus to reveal it has been replaced by an electric chair. The prisoner shrieks in horror as he’s strapped in while Wilburn reaches to the power switch and fries his victim- here’s a politician who gets his own hands dirty for the votes.

You either accept the camp, pulpish fun of it all being written in big thick crayon or snort in disgust and reach for the off button: as much Wretched as Ratched. For my part I actually enjoyed it but I admit feeling a little guilty about that- I was watching it aghast at some of the twists and turns feeling I was being had most of the time. A character is shot in the stomach and near death one minute and a few scenes later is up and walking around fine (the scenes in between being about another character on the run from the police and caught the next morning only adding to my confusion re: the passage of time). You just cannot take it seriously as it stumbles over plot holes and characters doing bizarre 180’s just because it suddenly suits the plot (such as there is one). Usually you get an interest in a character just before they get murdered in horrible fashion but the six characters that survive to the end of the finale are thankfully the best and hint at great possibilities for a second season.

I was a fan of Murphy’s American Horror Story show and rate Asylum as its best offering by some margin, so watching a Greatest Hits remake of that show was pretty perfect for me. Murphy would be no doubt horrified at me lazily summarising Ratchet as Asylum MkII but it appears pretty clear to me. I’m just mystified why they likely wasted so much money getting the rights to the Mildred Ratched character at all, any links to the film appear pretty tenuous to me so far and it would be no worse being something wholly seperate, unless the second season ties things up somehow. But tonally, this is definitely more American Horror Story than One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by a very considerable gory margin.

The 2021 List: June

Hang on, where did June go?

Now then- please excuse my tardiness regards writing a review of item number 75 below. I’ve seen some dodgy films this month (what I was doing watching that Dads Army movie quite escapes me, and as for that Dog Gone Trouble… well I knew it would be trouble) but that number 75 was everything I’d been warned of and more. Extraordinary film-making, certainly, but in all sorts of horrible ways, but just how do I write that review and do its horrible magnificence justice? We’ll see if I can marshal my thoughts in July (I only hope I don’t require a re-watch to do it).

Television

66) Superstore Season Two

72) Superstore Season Three

Film

61) Invasion Day (aka Dragon Day) (2014)

62) The Woman in the Window (2021)

63) 3 Days to Kill (2014)

64) The Boat (2018)

65) Dad’s Army (2016)

67) The Wave (2016)

68) The Quake (2019)

69) Black Holes: The Edge of All We Know (2021)

70) Dog Gone Trouble (2021)

71) Prospect (2018)

73) Convicted (1950)

74) Aniara (2018)

75) Kong vs Godzilla (2021)

76) The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

The 2021 List: April

So there goes April. and I watched all of eight ‘new’ films/TV shows. Yeah, I’m still re-watching ‘old’ stuff, but my general apathy/weariness continues.

Books are good. I’m currently reading J W Rinzler’s excellent ‘The Making of Planet of the Apes’, which I bought from Amazon for £18 a week or so ago- at that price its almost giving it away, considering what magazines cost these days. With its on-set photographs and old-fashioned (pre-2001/Star Wars) pre-production paintings/storyboards, its really evocative of the 1960s and something of an escape to the myth of simpler times. I’ve really enjoyed the fascinating story of its long gestation period. I’d never really appreciated what a hard sell it was in the early 1960s to sell a film project featuring talking apes. In hindsight it seems a perfectly natural premise for a series of films but when one considers it in an time pre-Star Trek, even, its quite remarkable the film ever got made. Great book- its a lovely reminder of those retrospective articles in Cinefantastique, Fantastic Films and Starburst that I enjoyed reading (albeit with its 300 pages, this book is much more detailed, Cinefantastique‘s in-depth articles notwithstanding).

Hey, we had the Oscars this month. More nauseating than ever. Privileged and pampered millionaires preaching some more. I’m not sure they ‘get it’, after the year so many of us have had. I suppose its all true that the rich just get richer and the poor poorer because looking at their expensive gowns and suits and haircuts the pandemic and its economic woes doesn’t seem to have affected them very much. Instead I rather think it has put into sharp focus just how much of another country/planet Hollywood really is, and how increasingly distant it is. Those Planet Hollywood restaurants have a very apt name indeed, indicative of a truth I didn’t really appreciate. 

Or maybe I’m just getting old, and tired of the game.

Television

46) The Flight Attendant

Film

41) Chelsley Bonestell: A Brush With The Future (2018)

42) Secret Behind the Door (1947)

43) The Tunnel (Tunnelen) (2019)

44) Anti-Life (2020)

45) Stowaway (2021)

47) Voyage of Time (2016)

48) The Heist (2013)

Anybody else rewatching UFO?

ufo3I have very fond memories from my childhood of late Sunday nights, when my Dad would come up to check if I was asleep, and if I owned up that I wasn’t (what kid ever slept easy on a school night?), he’d let me downstairs to catch an episode of Gerry Anderson’s remarkable series.  As I remember it being on Sunday nights they must have been repeats late in the evening, probably around 11 pm, because my Dad would have been out for a few hours and gotten back in about then, and popped upstairs to check on my brother and I. It would have been around 1972 or 1973, something like that so I’d have been about six or seven. Dad knew I loved space stuff so knew it would be a great treat: just like with Dr Who of that era, I’d be scared witless at the same time as being excited by all the futuristic hardware. UFO wasn’t really a kids show, at least not like the 1960s puppetry shows that Anderson produced previously- as I’ve gotten older and returned to UFO over the years on DVD and now Blu-ray, I’m endlessly surprised that while its officially a family show its really pretty dark and bleak. I mean, aliens abducting humans to steal organs and body parts? Yikes. I can’t imagine there’s any kids out there who didn’t get freaked out by the scary end-title sequence with Barry Gray’s creepy ambient music.

UFO is one of those shows that seems way ahead of its time while also inevitably dated as times have moved on (remember it was filmed in 1969/1970). Its decidedly non-PC, with sexist jokes and scantily-dressed women, clearly an indication of the times it was made in. Early in the pilot episode sequences of a character clearly ogling a female Shadow operative, while played for laughs, feels rather uncomfortable viewing now. And of course scenes feature characters endlessly smoking and drinking. There is something quite refreshing though regards UFOs non-PC credentials, a strange source of charm I suppose, but the show was ahead of its time, too, with black actors in fairly prominent roles of authority, with consideration of race relations and a mixed-race relationship featured in an early episode that feels very positive and forward-thinking. 

sherrytrekMarch seems to be a month for looking back; the lure of nostalgia seems irresistible while stuck in lockdown for so long now… maybe lockdown and Covid have nothing to do with it and its just the endless siren-call of old favourites. Maybe settling down to the first five episodes of UFO is a reaction to seeing a few episodes of Starsky and Hutch on the past few Saturday nights. Speaking of the latter, I was surprised to see a fairly young M. Emmet Walsh appear in an episode last weekend, and Sherry Jackson in an episode the week prior (Sherry having a particularly memorable role in a Star Trek episode that I’m sure left its mark on many a young fan).

But I digress. I started this post writing about UFO. It just occurred to me, watching it… all the smoking and drinking, it began to dawn on me that its possibly just a matter of simple direction back then. For instance, there are many scenes with Alec Freeman (George Sewell) and Ed Straker (Ed Bishop) in Straker’s office in Shadow HQ, mostly dialogue-based scenes which are expositional and moving the plot forwards. Its just two guys talking, so it seems likely that the smoking and drinking was just a crux for the actors, something for them to do physically while talking. So they are just using props to make the scenes interesting, visually- moving to the drinks dispenser, pouring a whiskey, drinking it, or taking a cigarette, lighting and smoking it, or thumbing through a document file etc. The drinking and smoking feels incongruous now, of course, as its obviously unhealthy and looked at differently now than back then, but my initial thoughts that it was a reflection of the time or a way of ‘selling’ tobacco or booze to viewers were eventually dispelled as I considered what the director might have felt necessary when spacing out a scene in rehearsals to try keep mostly dialogue-scenes interesting for viewers. Maybe I’m wrong. But they even feature characters smoking while relaxing on Moonbase (can you imagine that, NASA letting astronauts smoke after what happened with Apollo 1?) which looks wrong, even though when I think about it, characters smoked on the Nostromo in Alien. I’m reminded of references to the great Peter Cushing, who was considered a master at using props when on-set (something I often have a keen eye on when I watch him performing in films). 

ufo5Network’s Blu-ray of UFO looks pretty stellar- the series looks so much better now than it did back when I was a kid on my folk’s black and white television. I last watched the series on DVD several years back, and difference in the HD upgrade is really noticeable, its a great restoration, akin to that served The Prisoner and Space:1999 Blu-ray releases. Indeed its really quite extraordinary and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Its also something of a testament to the quality of the film-making I guess, and I do wonder what Gerry Anderson might have thought about the restoration. I bought my set when it first came out, so its accompanied by a 600-page book that serves as a great reference when watching the episodes. I expect later sets that were minus the book were better served by the disc-holders though- this set has a digipack featuring some of the most horrible clasps holding the discs that I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, truly horrendous packaging which is the sets weakest point. Such a shame the episodes had such TLC and the packaging (obviously well-intentioned) came so short. The box is gorgeous and the book is heavenly but the digipack is the work of aliens: still, its the show itself that counts (once you can pry a disc out of the bloody evil digipack). 

 

The Terror (2018)

terrormThis was the stuff of nightmares, but in a good way, you understand- this 2018 (how have I never heard of this?) miniseries currently airing here in the UK on BBC2 (and available to watch in its entirety on iPlayer) is absolutely terrific stuff. Its a claustrophobic, moody, tense and incredibly disturbing period horror which spins a supernatural take on a real historic tragedy. I devoured the whole thing over three days and while its not perfect (it slides downhill slightly over the last two episodes) it remains superior drama in my eyes. Absolutely recommended, albeit I must admit, it cast a disturbing shadow on some of my dreams for a few nights- perhaps bingeing the show wasn’t such a good idea after all. Its not often a tv show can give me nightmares, but this actually did. Its not that the series is especially terrifying but it is genuinely, absolutely relentless in how its dark mood and feeling of horror gradually gnaws at you. This is horror with a capital ‘H’.

The cast in particular is top-notch: Jared Harris, Tobias Menzies, Ciarán Hinds, Clive Russell… these are some of my favourite actors and they are are on very fine form in this- perhaps inspired by the remarkable premise, the performances form a solid foundation for the series and aided by the excellent production design its all very convincing: so much so that any miss-steps in the script are easily forgiven and quickly forgotten. 

I absolutely adored the convincing sense of time and place, a tangible sensation of being in that place, that moment. The atmosphere of growing doom and characters being caught in something out of their control – and knowing that the whole thing is based upon real events (ignoring the supernatural element that is perfectly fine albeit actually superfluous, as it turns out), I don’t think I’ve quite enjoyed a drama as much as this since Chernobyl. I was actually familiar with the historical events that the series is based upon and I was pleasantly surprised by how the series was true to most of the historically-accepted events, how sincere and respectful it was, how authentic it seemed. It could have spun the real-life tragedy into a trashy exploitation yarn, but its much more than that. Its very, very good indeed. Barring that finale it could have been a masterpiece- as it is, its not far off.

Everything Jared Harris touches in television seems to turn to gold, doesn’t it. A phenomenal actor, is there anything he cannot do? I think he’d be enthralling just reading a shopping list.