Assault at Last

prec13Readers may recall that my first disc purchase this year was Second Sight’s new edition of Assault on Precinct 13 on blu-ray, which I then inexplicably failed to actually watch (although I did watch the discs most interesting featurette, Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which was all kinds of poignant and profound and just downright fascinating).

So anyway, here we are, the end of the year, and yes, I finally got around to watching it last night. Hurrah for me. I’m pleased to say that Assault was as entertaining as ever and indeed looked finer than ever. Sure, its early Carpenter and he had better films ahead of him, but for an indie, low-budget b-movie/exploitation flick it remains just plain brilliant. It’s one of those films where the cheapness increases the films veracity; it feels gritty and real somehow, almost like a docudrama, and yet it remains a brilliantly choreographed widescreen ode to old Westerns, it is so self-consciously reverential to old Hollywood. Sure, some of it is clumsy and there are often moments when you can feel the film pushing against its limitations in budget and shooting schedule. Overall though it’s just plain cool and enriched by that throbbing, almost timeless Carpenter synth soundtrack that became such a staple of his movies.

*Whatever Happened to Laurie Zimmer?

Well I didn’t have time to watch Assault on Precinct 13 , but I did find time to watch a few of the extras on the disc. The first was an interesting interview with star Austin Stoker reminiscing about the film and talking about his background prior to appearing in it. Its a great piece; I always like these fairly contemporary interviews that look back on films wherein the subjects benefit from the perspective that the passing of time (in this case, entire decades) grants. He’s affectionate and proud regards Assault, but it’s clearly not the usual glowing EPK fluff piece that discs are usually dumped with.

laurieThe second was the documentary Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer, which suckered me in being initially unaware of its lengthier than expected (nearly an hour-long) running-time. I thought it was just a featurette but its actually an independent doc shot back in 2002. Its an elegant and quite engrossing piece and worth the price of the Assault disc alone; a fantastic edition to the extras. Laurie Zimmer of course plays Leigh in Assault, but although she was clearly beautiful and talented,  it didn’t launch her into a great career (why she never went on to star in Carpenters next film, Halloween, is a particular mystery).

Do You Remember Laurie Zimmer was made by French filmmaker Charlotte Szlovak (hence English subtitles running throughout for her narration). Szlovak had shot an ill-fated film project Slow City, Moving Fast starring Laurie Zimmer in the mid-seventies, and the documentary chiefly features footage from this project, mostly of Laurie driving a convertible through 1970s sun-drenched LA.  I’ll admit I was suckered from the start- the first sequence of the film hauntingly features a woman who certainly looks like Laurie walking from a house to a  huge 1970s-era car on a sunny morning and going out for a drive. I wasn’t sure if this was modern footage or authentic 1970s footage (it’s the latter, obviously) but something about it just pulled me in; the sense of time and place I think is quite enchanting. We learn that after shooting the film (which is inferred to have been never finished), Szlovak went back to her home country and the project was forgotten, but occasionally she would wonder whatever happened to the young actress that featured in her little film.

So, returning to LA many years later, Szlovak goes on a search for Laurie and shoots it as a film project, little realising how difficult the search would become. Cut between sequences from the 1977 film, her camera prowls the city of dreams in a fascinating journey into the past, a detective story of sorts and an exploration of the impermanence of LA’s fame and fortune. Old films, old studios and old movie theatres are like ghosts haunting the streets of this post-millennium LA and Szlovak’s search to discover whatever happened to Laurie is informed by her musings about unfulfilled dreams.

I love this kind of stuff, particularly the depth and profundity of real life set against the tinseltown legends of fame and fortune. It reminded me of the doc Searching For Sugarman that I watched a few years ago. The idea that success can be fleeting and that you can be forgotten in no time at all. That maybe you can have some kind of later validation, or that such validation means nothing anyway, that lives can have value away from wealth and fame or even being remembered.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the doc regards whether Laurie Zimmer is ever found or what happened to her, but it’s a great doc, a really fascinating and well-constructed piece. Certainly a brilliant extra for this disc, and yes, worth the money I paid for it alone- it almost relegates the Assault film to a bonus feature to be honest.  I’ll be watching this particular ‘extra feature’ again, which isn’t something I could say about many.



2017 Selection Pt.7

2017gWell, after a  year of some success regards curbing my disc-buying, everything went out the window towards the end of the year. I mean, just look at that haul above, which dates from around Sept onwards I think. This 2017 selection update is clearly way overdue, and with so many additions I almost gave up on it, but I suppose that would have defeated the point of all those preceding posts so here we are.

So a quick run-through seems in order. The sales caught up with me with The Walk and Nocturnal Animals. You can’t go wrong at about £4 each. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was my favourite cinema experience up until BR2049 swept me away- I may be in the minority, but I do think Galaxy 2 is superior to the original. Wonder Woman didn’t particularly fill me with wonder but it was still cheaper than a cinema visit and I’ll inevitably rewatch it sometime.

While I quite enjoyed Alien:Covenant at the cinema, it fared less well on disc, but I chiefly bought it for the Ridley Scott commentary, which unfortunately I haven’t heard yet (come on Ridley, explain it to me, what’s going on with the Alien franchise?).  The Vikings, meanwhile, is a great catalogue release- it’s a brilliant film brought to HD with a beautiful picture quality and worthwhile extras. Brilliant. Then of course we come to one of  the releases of the year- the simply gorgeous Arrow edition of The Thing, here in its LE variant- a lovely matt-finish hard box with the Amaray slipped inside with a book and artcards and poster. Regardless of the package, it’s the remaster of the film that is the big draw- it’s perfect. I almost dread the inevitable proper 4K release one day- I’ve really brought this film too many damn times already.

Then Indicator’s Hammer box (the first of four, I believe) heralded the Autumn of big releases coming up. I just cannot resist Hammer, and while the Sony Hammers that Indicator have access to are not exactly the Premier league of Hammer their treatment is exemplary and I really rather enjoyed them all. Some nice surprises in this set.

So here we come to the start of the spending madness.2017h

In My Mind was an impulse purchase, a great documentary about The Prisoner, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Season three of The Leftovers was another import due to there being no HD release here, which was followed by the exact opposite- a release that tempted me with one too many HD options. HBOs Westworld really impressed me when aired and was a disc release that I was looking forward to all year, and it turned out to be my first dual-HD format purchase, as I bought the tin with both 4K and blu-ray discs. Of course, I don’t have a 4K telly yet and have no idea when my current perfectly-fine Bravia will fail and cause any 4K replacement. Months? Years? It feels a bit silly but already future-proofing is on my mind. That slick packaging likely swung it.

La La Land was another sale purchase, and I really enjoyed it- I only hope I won’t regret not waiting for the 4K edition to come down in price. The Farthest is a simply brilliant doc about the Voyager space mission and Captain Scarlett in HD needs no explanation for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of Gerry Anderson magic.  Then of course two blockbusters I didn’t see at the cinema- Spiderman Homecoming and War For the Planet of the Apes, both great movies. They look great in HD but again, should I have stretched out to the 4K editions? I have a feeling that question will be a routine one going forward.

2017g (2)So then we come into Decembers offerings. Two more tv series boxsets follow- season 7 of GOT and the sublime wonder that is the Twin Peaks series three set. When in the world I will actually get to watch them I don’t know (the last three sets of GOT have sat on the shelf waiting for the past few years- I love the show and having only seen them on Sky Atlantic over the in-laws are surely ripe for proper viewing without breaks etc but somehow it never happens). A few more sale buys follow- 4K/Blu-ray of the notorious marmite flick Valerian that might prove to be a disastrous purchase (haven’t seen it yet) and two anime titles from a Christmas sale at All the Anime; the tv series Terror in Resonance (actually in a deluxe set in a huge box that’s hardly shelf material) and the twin set of Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, two rather curio films that I have been interested in for years but never seen.

Finally, last weeks Arrow release of The Apartment, one of my top ten fave films in a lovely set with some new extras and a book, and the extended 4K/Blu-ray release of The Martian. The latter has been on my radar for ages but was in one of those flash-sales at Amazon last week (I bought it whilst surfing on a break at work, and the price had already gone up again by the time I got back home later in the day). Bit daft really, I wanted it mostly for the commentary and addl extras but figured if I was double-dipping I might as well go the 4K route whilst doing it.

Christmas presents/festive sales may yet add to the selection and require another post. But clearly I already have my work cut out for me regards the to-watch pile. Breaking the barrier into 4K purchases is a troubling event that may prove to be a trend next year (I already have the 4K BR2049 pre-ordered) which frankly feels a bit silly knowing a 4K telly and Ultra HD player may yet be over a year away. But double-dipping is so frustrating maybe it’s the only solution. Will 2018 be the year I buy discs I can’t even watch yet? Shudder.





Scarlet’s gone Blu

scarlett1Just thought I’d mention this recent arrival (I really need to do a ‘2017 Selection’ update) as it doesn’t seem to be available outside of the online shop of Network; it’s the first volume of a four-volume set of Gerry Anderson’s original Captain Scarlet series. The show has been lovingly remastered and is being released in seperate volumes presumably to finance the restoration/remastering work prior to an eventual box-set release. At just £10 it’d be foolish to wait for that box-set though. The disc is a bare-bones affair with eight episodes sans commentaries or anything, but the packaging is gorgeous, the amaray case is bright red and looks lovely, and above all else the episodes in pristine HD in 4.3 format look better than I have ever seen them. The colours really pop. This series was my personal favourite Anderson show, all grown-up and violent, it was really quite dark for a kids show (but then again, Anderson never really made ‘kids shows’, they were always aimed at a wider audience).  Anyway, it’s out now via the Network website, and I just hope it won’t be long before the second volume is announced.

The Apes of Wrath: War of the Planet of the Apes

war.jpg2017.69: War of the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Here is that rare thing- a blockbuster trilogy that embodies high-quality, intelligent film-making with each film getting better than the last. Part of me pines for a fourth entry or even, perhaps, a second trilogy that could  revisit and follow the events of the Charlton Heston original film, but part of me thinks that would be tempting fate in this world of franchises of ever-decreasing quality. Better perhaps for the studio to quit while it’s ahead. This is a great movie; I’d hate to see it spoiled by lesser entries.

The revelation of this film, particularly considering its title, is just how intimate it is. If this is a war film, it’s one more akin to Malick’s The Thin Red Line than, say, Rambo. It’s a surprisingly quiet, internal film- a film of quiet rage, and sacrifice.  There’s something of a Western about it, too- perhaps even Eastwood’s Unforgiven- its a much darker blockbuster than I expected.

Not that the film is perfect- it falters in a few respects. There are a few moments in the script where it stumbles markedly- a scene in which one of the apes gifts the human girl a flower from a tree too easily prefigures that same apes death with the subtlety of being slapped in the face with a wet kipper. Its an awkward moment of manipulation. that does so much of the rest of the film a disservice, but on the whole the film works splendidly, and for the most part you even forget that 90% of what you are watching probably resides in a computer somewhere.

Ah, yes, the effects. While I always seem to be moaning about CGI spoiling the quality of movies, as they often seem to be used to replace quality drama and screenwriting through spectacle, rather than actually support said drama/screenwriting, I have to admit that used properly CGI can really move film-making to some other level of cinema, offering realities that could not exist elsewhere. These recent Apes films have been pretty astonishing, frankly, on a technical level, bringing to the screen something utterly impossible just years ago, but this third film is really something else entirely- powerful, quality film-making featuring characters that simply don’t exist but which somehow out-act most ‘real’ actors (maybe it’s finally time for a Virtual Actor award from the Academy).  It’s not lost on me that this same year I marvelled at the creation of a gigantic ape in Kong: Skull Island. Regardless of the quality of the drama, there were moments watching this film, as with the prior films, that I just gasped at the marvel of how ‘real’ the fakery seems to be. It’s a modern sorcery and I have to wonder where it will all end.

I feel I must also mention a simply wonderful music score from Michael Giacchino- in a climate in which most blockbuster soundtracks just sound like background noise, it’s lovely to report that this is a genuinely moving score of orchestral  music with strong themes and intelligence. A definite throwback to the glory years of the 1970s with Williams, Goldsmith and Barry in their prime (the score does in particular carry nods to the music of John Barry).

On the whole, one of the films of the year for me.


Simply Amazing

spider12017.63: Spider-man:Homecoming (2017)

This was brilliant. There’s no-one more tired and weary of reboots than I, but this third attempt at bringing Spider-man to the screen just goes to prove the old adage that yes, sometimes the third time’s the charm. More than that, the gap in quality between this film and Justice League, which I suffered through just a few days ago, is remarkable. If Justice League is a lesson in how not to make a superhero movie, then Homecoming is a lesson in how to do it right. It may not be perfect, but it comes awfully close.

Indeed, after so many Spider-man movies during the past decade or two, this should have felt tired and formulaic, but instead thanks to the expert input of Marvel Studios it’s so fresh you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the very first cinematic outing for our favourite web-slinger.

The pace is great, the characters endearing, the fun-quota high, there’s plenty of laughs, plenty of drama, some brilliantly staged action sequences with high-quality visual effects, and it even manages to throw in a decent villain with a great character arc of his own (without making him a tragic villain or something).  And yes, there’s an ending high on action but low on frenzied CGI with a dramatic confrontation between two characters. Yes, no CGI monsters or huge explosions or armies of bad guys, simply exalting instead in a face-off between two characters. So refreshing to see a superhero film dialing it down a little – sometimes less is more.

tinkererIn tieing the events of this film with the aftermath from the New York battle in the first Avengers movie, the writers pull off a fine trick of explaining the origins of two of my favorite Spidey villains, the Vulture and the Shocker, without them feeling dated or silly. And if my eyes don’t deceive me, was that guy re-engineering the alien tech the Tinkerer (he’s an alien disguised as a human way back in one of the very earliest issues of The Amazing Spider-man)?  The way that explains how the bad guys manage to adapt the alien tech and create the Vulture’s wings and the weapons etc, whilst also nodding to the origins of the comic from way back in the early 1960s, is just sheer genius.

There is such a sense of internal logic to this film and its character arcs. Michael Keaton almost steals the film as the Vulture, but of course Tom Holland more than holds his own as Peter Parker and Spider-man (contrast this with DC fumbling the job of portraying both Clark Kent and Superman in the last few DC films). I sincerely hope they don’t bring the Green Goblin into this series and instead bring back the Vulture (particularly as he knows Peter’s secret identity and now has a grudge to settle).

The funny thing is, although everything works so well, it’s telling how different this film is from the original comic. Back in the 1960s comic, Peter Parker was a nerd ostracized by his classmates and nothing ever really seemed to go right for him, every issue ending on a downer, whether it be Spider-man being hated by the public and hunted by the law, or Peter himself failing to get the girl or falling deeper into money problems. Homecoming‘s Peter Parker has a date with a girl, has a close buddy who stumbles upon his secret identity and assists him,  and has a ‘hot’ Aunt instead of the elderly Aunt of the comic. Maybe I should be yelling out “heresy!” but I think all the changes from the comic actually work. It also helps distance this film from the previous films that may have been more faithful to the comic.

Logan Marshall-Green; Photographer select; Tom HollandAt any rate, this film was great fun, the very opposite of Justice League and I really can’t wait for further instalments if they manage to maintain this balance of fun, sophistication and sheer, well, joy.  Not all superhero films have to be dark and serious, and  while I’ve no doubt those future installments will lessen the humor and heighten the drama, Holland’s tenure is off to a great start.  But now I’m starting to sound like a fanboy (I do love the 1960s Spidey comics) so I’ll pack this in. This film may not be high art, but it is great fun though.




Melancholy Apocalypse: The Leftovers

left2017.61 & 62: The Leftovers Seasons Two and Three

There’s all sorts of ways to interpret The Leftovers. It’s a strange/ambient series akin to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, with the peculiar weirdness of The Prisoner thrown in (particularly towards the end), so it is rather fitting that The Leftovers finished the same year that Twin Peaks returned and The Prisoner celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.

Fans of either of those shows will take me to task for this, but one thing that The Leftovers has over both of them is better acting and better, more rounded characters- or at least, more rounded battered psyches. Everyone is damaged goods in The Leftovers. The Leftovers is a study of loneliness, melancholy and grief, and how fragmented personalities/lives try to make sense of a senseless world after a massive, biblical event.

Biblical, yes- the chief supposition of The Leftovers, at least as how I personally see it, rather than how it might seem to others, is that God does exist, but it’s a God that we cannot really understand, and that the world is therefore stranger than we can possibly know. The Leftovers to me is an intensely religious series, its conceit being how would our modern pragmatic world respond to a Biblical event- the Sudden Departure, in which 2% of the planet’s population -millions of people- disappeared. Husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children… there is no connection, no reason, no scientific explanation. There were here, then suddenly in the blink of an eye, gone. Gone where? Or have they ceased to exist? Should they be mourned, or should they be searched for? Was it random, or were they chosen? Who were the blessed, those that departed or those that remained?

Of course, some might believe it’s a bunch of crazy scientists whose experiment went massively wrong (in the third season, some scientists claim to have a machine to send people to another universe), but I think it’s more likely God (in the third season, you see God get mauled to death by a lion).

Ah. Yes, you read that right. And I’ll write no more about it. At turns enthralling and frustrating, amazing and confusing, there are many mysteries in this series. Inevitably for a show with such twists and turns and layers upon layers as this one has, I’m hesitant at this point to discuss the series in any great detail. The beauty is in its ambiguity and discovering its secrets. Surely one of the appeals of this show is the fact it is just three seasons long – three precious miracle seasons- with episodes as intense as anything else on television.  So its not expecting you to sit around for several seasons and outstay its welcome.

Personally, I feel the shows producers nailed the ending (Damon Lindelof! Who’d have thought it! He nailed an ending!)  although I do know some fans felt shortchanged. Some people like to be shown, to see something, rather than have it suggested to them- me, I’m okay with letting my imagination work , extrapolate the suggested possibilities. There are depths to this show that I am sure will reward repeated viewings.

One of the best tv shows I have ever watched, basically. More pointedly, it is possibly the best tv show that no-one else seems to have watched.  I hope it will pick up an increasing audience with time. That’s the beauty of tv box-sets, whether via streaming or on disc (the latter being the rub- season one had a blu-ray release over here, but my second season is an Australian disc and the third season an American disc, and not many people are going to go to such lengths). Its beautifully acted, lovingly shot and directed and scripted. Like any object of art, I’m certain it will raise string responses and that some will hate it as easily as other fall in love with it, but nevertheless it’s worth searching out and discovering and experiencing.  Yes, The Leftovers is an experience and one that you will not forget.



Pirate Zombies Ahoy!

potc2017.59: Pirates of the Carribean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Or maybe they are more ghosts than zombies (Does it matter? Does anyone care?).

Ahoy there, shipmates- just how do you review, in this day and age, a POTC film?

Answer: I don’t think you can. LIke the Transformers films and quite possibly the Fast & The Furious films (which I haven’t seen), at this point the POTC series defies criticism. Strange to think that films reach some kind of zenith/nadir (delete as appropriate), where public opinion defies all logic and reason. Although box-office was down for this fifth entry in the series, that may be more indicative of a general malaise in box office than the films popularity (particularly in America, where all sorts of films have fallen foul this year).

Curiously, the film sports a different title in America, with the subtitle ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’  instead of  ‘Salazar’s Revenge’. Was it a marketing thing? Not that it’s the kind of thing that’ll keep me awake at night, but I am curious. The problem with the title we’ve got is that I don’t think Salazar was ever mentioned in the earlier entries so his name and ‘Revenge’ doesn’t particularly mean much, and at the very least whilst ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’ doesn’t really reflect any particular plot point, it least it refers to a line spoken in the movie.

At any rate, I’m wittering on because I can’t really find much to say about it, except that it ends with some sense of closure which suggests it might be the (welcome) end of the franchise. If so, it isn’t a bad film at all, Pirates-wise you understand, but if they go off on another tangent then this finale rather betrays any good will I have for it.

As it is, it has a few laughs, some terrifyingly deep plot holes, some very good visual effects and a whole heap of excesses which just insult decent film-making and general common-sense. I guess kids everywhere love it,  but the franchise is looking rather tired now (well it looked a bit tired a few films back) and perhaps it should be laid to rest. Unfortunately, whether it’s artistically exhausted or not, whether there’s another POTC story that desperately needs to be told or not, the question that will impact whether we see  another POTC film is simply what the suits at Disney think of this films box-office.  Which is why the series got to this point anyway: money. The greed of the studio and the greed of the film-makers and the cast (I’m looking at you Mr Depp) has more bearing on modern film than such old considerations as originality and quality.