Endgame

end1Last night I finally got around to giving my 4K disc of Avengers Endgame a spin. Regular readers will remember my mixed feelings/downright disappointment with the film when I first saw it during its cinema release. The film proved to be a major success with most people though, and seemed to attract a huge repeat crowd and became the biggest box-office film of all time (inflation notwithstanding, I suppose). Can’t say I’d really seen that coming.

The numbers are frankly astonishing- the film cost over $350 million to make but earned $2.8 billion at the Box Office.

Watching it again though, and so soon after seeing Rise of Skywalker, the differences between the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes are boldly apparent. Avengers Endgame is everything that Disney and Lucasfilm felt that Rise of Skywalker should be, a huge climactic cinematic event that seized (for better or worse) the cultural zeitgeist and became the biggest movie of all time. Rise seems to have actually arrived with a frustrated whimper, awkward and uneven, hampered by being part of a dysfunctional trio, dividing its core fanbase or reinforcing present divisions, whereas Endgame seemed to have pleased most everybody in the core fanbase as well as the mainstream.

I still have my issues with Endgame. It seems unnecessarily convoluted, getting lost in myriad time travel paradoxes and finally succumbing to all the worst excesses of CGI bombast spectacle that I personally find boring. But on the whole it works, and serves as a summation of all the Marvel films before it, closing out the arcs of some fan-favourite characters/actors at the same time as handing off to a new generation. If it takes itself too seriously, well you can almost forgive it that considering its, what, the 22nd film in that franchise? Imagine a film being the 22nd in the Star Wars franchise- only a matter of time I suppose.

But watching it this second time I began to realise that perhaps it gets right more than it gets wrong. Or maybe compared to Rise, maybe its successes become all the more impressive. Then again, compared to Rise, most everything any Marvel film does appears pretty impressive. I don’t think Disney should go the Marvel route with Star Wars, although it does appear to be heading in that direction with some of the staff changes going on behind the scenes, but it is clear that the Marvel films have a fairly clear control on the mythology of all those decades of comics. Some of it is counter-intuitive and contradictory, and I don’t think they ever really nailed its most popular character (Spider-Man) in any of its screen incarnations, so its certainly not a successful slam-dunk. I shudder at some of the stuff in Marvel films just as I do watching Star Wars, but the good/bad ratio seems to fall for the better.

 

Sign ‘O’ the Times returns

sign1First released by German label Turbine Media in September last year as a pretty expensive limited deluxe edition (that nonetheless sold out very quickly), Prince’s classic concert film Sign O The Times was re-released in December in a slightly cheaper mediabook edition, just in time for Christmas. Well, if you can’t treat yourself at Christmas, then when can you?  This more space-savvy edition features the same discs (two Blu-rays and two DVDs) and the same booklet (in a reduced size naturally but featuring the same very informative essays).

While the album Sign ‘O’ The Times is one of my favourite Prince albums, I hadn’t actually seen the concert film since back in the VHS days, so there was a distinctly ‘blast from the past’ feel when I finally gave the Blu-ray a spin a few days ago. I remember the VHS looked pretty awful but as the concert was shot on film (barring the U Got the Look video that serves almost as an ugly video-noise intermission)  it really looks great in HD, The music of course is as sublime as ever, arguably the songs better in their concert form than they were on the original album- Prince was at his creative peak here, and I’m only hoping we don’t have to wait too many years for the Prince Estate to release a Super Deluxe boxset edition, full of goodies like Vault tracks and live music.

One of the curious pleasures of this edition- and everyone’s mileage on this might vary- is the commentary track, by a bunch of folks at the Peach and Black Podcast. Its light on technical details really but once its gotten past its awkward first several minutes, it offers the curious luxury of sitting in a room watching the concert with a few other Prince fans. Its chatty and very fan-based but its great; grabbing a few beers and watching the show doesn’t feel quite as lonely as it used to. You see, even though Prince was a musical powerhouse-cum-genius, in my immediate social circle he’s as popular as Trump on a Twitter spree. I think this commentary track is great fun, the guys know their stuff (certainly have seen the concert many more times than I have) and I’m certain it has great replay value.

Strangely enough, being a fan of Prince has become something of a Strange Relationship (sic) since his untimely death- there have been quite a few books out (I had the cruelly-brief memoir-book The Beautiful Ones as a present for Christmas) and the Estate album releases since have offered tantalising glimpses behind the curtain with which Prince used to maintain his mystique and mystery. In some ways he feels more real, more human, but while there are moments I think I understand him better, at the same time I realise that I perhaps know him even less than before. Certainly the near 90-minute documentary that accompanies the concert film here offers fresh insight and behind the scenes details about the album, tour and the film (as does the rather detailed booklet essays). There’s a fresh appreciation to be had here, and as a deluxe edition this set is pretty damned fine- sure its very much a fan-based project, very positive without any real negative reappraisal accompanying any of it: its clearly a celebration, sadly one well overdue. How tragic it is that it had to wait for Prince’s death to come into being, and seems to have arisen quite independent of the Prince Estate due to a rather troubled rights situation. I haven’t even gotten around to the second disc that features unedited interviews from the doc totalling three hours, so whether its fascinating or yawn-inducing, I can’t say.

I believe that the concert film is indeed being released over here in the UK shortly, and may indeed be the same restoration/master, but it does appear to be minus the special features that Turbine Media has curated here, and minus the Dolby Atmos soundtrack (there are three soundtracks, a bassy Atmos track, something called a Auro-3D 11.1 mix, and the original stereo mix which will keep purists happy even if it lacks something of the wallop of the other pair of tracks (all three appear to be different mixes entirely, rather than the same mix across the three different formats: everyone’s sure to find one that they prefer)).

So whether its worth the added expense (even the mediabook edition can be quite expensive, as it can only be bought from Germany and is itself a limited edition) depends on how much one needs that commentary track, the doc or that Atmos mix and the other two mixes. The packaging is very fine and it looks a quality product- I just hope one day there’s a Super Deluxe edition of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album to accompany it. Time will tell, but in the meantime, here’s hoping we get rumoured that Parade Super Deluxe later this year.

End of Year Report, 2019.

Didn’t get my Replicant Pleasure-Model in the mail, nor did my new car launch vertically into the air for a commute to work in the sky-lanes… and neither was I able to book my holiday Off-World, so thanks for ‘nowt, Ridley…

But 2019 did come with some great television shows and movies. That said though, there were plenty of clunkers and disappointments.  I think what I shall remember most of 2019 is that it was clearly a year when television content surpassed movies in quality by a pretty wide margin.

In my previous post I mentioned that I watched three seasons of The Expanse this year, which was pretty amazing and certainly one of my favourite shows of the year, but there was plenty of other quality shows. Some clunkers too, mind- February brought the first (and thankfully last) season of Nightflyers, a truly abominable creation that so soon after having enjoyed the brilliant The Expanse brought my sci-fi viewing crashing back down to Earth. At the time I was confident it would be the worst piece of television I would see all year, but I was innocently ignorant of Another Life coming later in April. The fact that Another Life has been granted a second season is just mind-boggling and very, very scary.

Certainly the good outweighed the bad, though, if only because you can afford to be judicious with so much content available across Netflix and Amazon Prime. By March I’d also see season two of The Crown, the first outing for The Umbrella Academy, season one of Stranger Things and Love, Death & Robots, a ridiculously entertaining anthology show that was a Fantasia for sci-fi geeks like me, and totally beautiful.

Regards movies though, I had really struggled to see anything really memorable until April, when I saw both Bad Times at the El Royale and Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse. El Royale really impressed me on a rental, so much so that a few months later I bought the 4K disc. Then in May John Wick Chapter Three: Parabellum blew my mind on a rare trip to the cinema, an absolutely dizzying action-fest that instantly put itself as prime contender for my Film of the Year. In an era of politically-correct naval-gazing and various worthy agendas being shoved in my face all the time, Wick was refreshingly old-school, unfashionably simple action-movie nirvana. May also brought Avengers Endgame, another rare cinema outing that this time proved hugely disappointing. I’m really curious to see if a rewatch will revise my opinion of the film, but even though I bought the 4K disc of the film when it came out a few months back, I still haven’t actually watched the disc. I keep thinking I should watch Avengers Infinity War first, maybe the two films in a double-bill over a weekend, but the length of the darn things proves rather daunting. All those Marvel geeks who watch all these movies often and know them inside-out are made of sterner stuff than I. Watching Captain Marvel just once, when the 4K disc came out in July , left me pretty burned-out on all things Marvel- the thought of the ultra-fans watching and re-watching that one is just plain scary.

Away from movies, April brought us the big television disappointment of the year, with season eight of Game of Thrones. In hindsight, it could only ever disappoint, it had hyped up the conclusion and all the show’s mysteries and intrigues over several seasons to such a degree, it was inevitable that it would all just implode. Didn’t think the crash would be quite so spectacular though. Having bought all the Blu-rays already, I bought the 4K disc set of season eight anyway, and am hoping that when I get the courage to watch it again after all these months the pain will be less, I can make my peace with some of the wilder crazier twists and maybe manage to see something in all the episode three murk now its in 4K UHD. We’ll see.

Much better television followed in June: and no, I’m not talking about season two of Star Trek Discovery, but rather it was the month when I caught up with Chernobyl, a breath-taking and harrowing series that was pretty much perfect. Discovery was far, far from perfect- it ably demonstrated that while much television can be great, it can also out-dumb and out-stupid anything Hollywood movie studios can do.

In August, I caught up with both Aquaman (a film that proved DC could still make worse movies than Captain Marvel) and Shazam! (a film that proved DC could actually make great, fun superhero movies). Aquaman would be another of those terribly busy movies that tried to fit three films into one, like some kind of Readers Digest edition of an actual film trilogy. It doesn’t work, it just gives me an headache. I watched the 2017 remake of Flatliners, and although I thought that was diabolically appalling, I had no idea I’d also see the Jacobs Ladder remake later in the year, a film which would make the Flatliners remake seem a classic and put me in a total dark funk for a weekend.

Returning to television shows, August also sprung a major surprise with the quite excellent The Boys over on Amazon. The quality television continued into September with the long-awaited (by me, anyway) disc release of the third season of True Detective, which I really enjoyed (I love all three seasons of that show- yes, that includes the maligned second season) and Carnival Row, another Amazon show that was much better than I’d expected, even if it did leave me pining for the superior (and sadly missed) Penny Dreadful.

Sheesh, all these seasons of television shows and all their complicated multi-layered narratives. I suppose I should be glad most movies turned out to be rather less demanding, more simplistic and comfortingly predictable. A prime example would be September’s Ad Astra, which I was expecting to be a high-concept sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now. Well, it was certainly a sci-fi take on Apocalypse Now, almost literally so, but with lunar space pirates and a mad Space Baboon, it was rather more Event Horizon than 2001: A Space Odyssey. A disappointment then, and another example of the lack of confidence of movie studios to challenge and provoke audiences as much as HBO etc do on television. I would imagine that had HBO made Ad Astra as a ten-episode serial, it would have proven far more enticing and thought-provoking.It would probably look just as good too- the gap between television and cinema in regards of visual effects is obviously still there, but its much narrower than it used to be, and television more than makes up for any deficit there by better script writing. November’s The Lion King would prove to be a startling reminder of what visual majesty only cinema budgets can presently afford, but the same months Spider Man: Far From Home ably demonstrated that cinema could just get dumber and dumber even as it got prettier.

November also presented us with The Irishman, a Martin Scorsese gangster ballad that incredibly came to us via Netflix (I prefer ‘ballad’ to ‘epic’ just because its more, well, thoughtful and mature than the joyously questionable glorification of Goodfellas). The idea that a $150 million Scorsese flick could just drop onto Netflix on a Friday night still feels dizzying and possibly game-changing. I really enjoyed the film (its certainly more Once Upon A Time in America than Godfather or Goodfellas).

The Irishman did show, though, just how much has changed during 2019. Streaming services are all the rage now, and really will prove more of a Big Deal in 2020. The prevailing move by studios towards streaming and away from physical media, and indeed away from traditional vendors like cable and satellite television providers, is just a gathering storm that gets windier by the month. For someone like me who likes to own my favourite films and television shows and enjoys special features and commentaries, its pretty worrying. I can see a future not far away where streaming and pay per view is everything. Its clearly inevitable, but its a future where The Irishman can’t be purchased on DVD or Blu-ray, a future where you’ll probably need to subscribe to Disney+ in order to watch future Star Wars and Marvel movies in the comfort of your own home (and I’m pretty certain that premium content on Disney+ will eventually require additional purchases in-app to watch; it may start as a subscription service but it’ll inevitably evolve into a pay-per-view service when alternative avenues like physical media are gone). Hopefully that’s more 2029 or 2039 though, and I’ll be past caring as long as I have a Blu-ray player working.

 

 

The Expanse: Season Four

exp1At the time, here in the UK it entailed importing the Blu-rays, but I started this year watching season two of The Expanse and watched season three immediately after, thoroughly enjoying both the series, safe in the knowledge that a fourth season was due later thanks to Amazon having saved the show from cancellation. We had to wait a little longer than we’d hoped for this fourth season to drop but it turned out to be a great early Christmas present.

Did I mention how hooked I am on this show? Three episodes on the Friday that it dropped (staying up until the early hours even after a typically long Friday shift at work), four episodes on the Saturday, and the rest on the Sunday- ten episodes over three days. Its just that kind of show for me, and while I can understand the argument that a ‘normal’ (if there is such a thing these days) weekly transmission schedule may have served the show better regards weekly digest and discussion, how can one resist binge-watching such a great and satisfying show?

Alas, it leaves me having to start another long wait for more new episodes- currently the team are mid-way filming the fifth season (thanks to Amazon green-lighting two whole seasons), so a late 2020 estimate seems reasonable. So I’ve decided to finally do the decent thing and start reading the books, the first three of which have handily just been reprinted in hardcover (well, it was either that or re-watch the whole thing again, tempting as that is). That’s me covered for reading into the New Year.

So I’ve praised the show up and not gotten into any details regards why it is so great. I think that’s related to my reticence regards reading the books that the show is based on. I love watching each episode not knowing whats going to happen next, and have carefully avoided spoilers on the ‘net, and am worried that if I get carried away I’ll eventually be reading the books beyond where the show has gotten and possibly spoil my enjoyment of the series (there’s one problem that Game of Thrones never had in the end). Having published the eighth book now, the authors have made it clear that the series ends with a final ninth book, which is obviously going to come out before the corresponding television season does. I know, First World problems and all that. But its a pertinent point that I’m intensely reticent to spoil anyone’s enjoyment by giving away anything at all if they read one of my posts and decide to give the show a go.

So anyway, its a pretty great cast, some great characters (I’m still pissed that some don’t survive to the fifth season, so consider that a further indication of its ‘Game of Thrones in Space’ description being apt), and it looks pretty damned gorgeous streaming it in 4K UHD. The visual effects are excellent, the writing is great… and it features Real Science, and Real Physics, which is something rather new to television science fiction. Now that Amazon has it, the future for the show just seems brighter, and the odds of getting all nine seasons more likely than it ever was. As we are approaching, in theory, the midway point of the whole saga next year, this seems an ideal time for people to jump on board the gunship Rocinante and find out what a protomolecule of alien origin can do.

(The Expanse is available in its entirety on Amazon Prime, and the first three seasons on DVD and Blu-ray)

Taste of Fear

tasteThe second film that I’ve watched in Indicator’s fourth Hammer box-set, Taste of Fear is a psychological thriller from 1961 deliberately set up to arose the viewers suspicions and curiosity and at the same time surprise through misdirection and subversion of those viewer suspicions. Its inevitably unnatural and artificial, rather like being played in a cinematic game between film-makers and audience, which unfortunately reinforces a sense of distance from the proceedings- for myself, rather than feeling immersed in the proceedings I felt distanced from them, always aware of film-maker scheming and manipulation. All films are manipulative of course, the skill is in hiding it- murder mysteries etc always seem to excel in manipulation and are less inclined to hide it, aware its all part of their appeal.

Its to Taste of Fear‘s credit then that I missed the films central twist, and unfortunate that as this is its main success I cannot divulge what that twist is- otherwise the film has little to really offer the viewer. I can comment on the cast, which is really pretty excellent. Indeed, one of the things that most interested me in the film prior to seeing it (indeed the only reason I ever knew of it) was the casting of Ronald Lewis in the film. I have mentioned Lewis here before, and in my review of an earlier Hammer film that I saw him in, The Full Treatment. Lewis was an actor of some talent whose career didn’t ever really hit the highs it might have done, and who died, apparently committing suicide, in 1982, shortly after being declared bankrupt. Films are time-capsules, and Taste of Fear is one- Lewis here in his relative prime and when his career was on the up, ignorant of the reality years ahead that our perspective affords us. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that he is better here than in the earlier The Full Treatment, but its clear he could have been something of a star with better material and a little luck in choosing it. People today generally have no idea who Ronald Lewis was, and it might have been so very different.

Old films and our contemporary perspective of them and the people who made them can offer sobering insights of the human condition, something that endlessly fascinates me. I was particularly impressed with Taste of Fear‘s lead, Susan Strasberg, who played the wheelchair-bound Penny Appleby- its a great performance that surpasses the limitations of the role and script, she engenders real empathy and she was the clear highlight of the film for me. I was surprised to later learn that Strasberg would only have limited success in film, instead generally appearing onstage and mostly in guest-spots on various 1960s and 1970s TV shows. Shades of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood there, funnily enough.

Its difficult to refrain from looking up actors names from these old movies, seeing what else they were in and inadvertently the success of their career or lack of it, or indeed reading an entire bio in just a paragraph or so. Marriages, siblings, deaths. Lewis died at the age of just 52, Strasberg passed at just 60. Taste of Fear of course will live forever, the two actors in their youth frozen in time, as is the wont of film. Indicator’s Blu-ray release in this box-set is of typically high standard, with some very interesting and informative supplements that perhaps belie how generally forgotten the film has become over the years. I think its nice to think that actors like Lewis and Strasberg can be seen by more people because of releases such as this, and we can watch them and wonder at what might have been. At the very least, it gets bloggers like me mentioning them, and ensures they might be forgotten a little less.

 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

once2

The mutt steals the picture. Sure, Brad may be the coolest actor on the planet, the sense of calm, old-school cool that he just exudes in this film is just a wonder to behold, frankly, how effortless it seems to be… (and how that compares with the more introverted lead in Ad Astra) and Leo again shows how he can still surprise as he gets older…  but those guys can’t stop pit bull Sayuri (who plays Brandy, Brad’s pet dog in the film) from stealing the film from them. They should have put her name above the credits, it would have been an in-joke worthy of the director.

Somehow I managed to avoid any spoilers for this film- other than knowing that it was set in Hollywood and involved the murder of actress Sharon Tate, I knew nothing. Turned out I knew less than I thought. This really wasn’t the film I’d expected it to be. Is it even a film? With all due respect to Mr Tarantino, I feel the need to describe this as more as an experience than a film. For much of its running time hardly anything, dramatically at least, seems to be happening- certainly anything like a plot or the traditional three-act structure films usually have seems to be missing. And yet I can’t say I noticed, except about just over an hour in when I glanced at the digital counter on the dash of my Blu-ray player and wondered when something was going to happen. Turned out I had to wait for another hour for that.

I’m exaggerating of course. Or am I? Not that I minded, because I found it all pretty enthralling nonetheless. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an incredibly evocative film, creating an amazingly convincing sense of time and place through a combination of superb art direction, cinematography and sound design (typically of Tarantino, it boasts a wonderful soundtrack of songs). Its so atmospheric that I can’t help but allude to Blade Runner, and how over the years part of the pleasure of watching that film was just being immersed in this incredibly convincing future world- in the case of this film, its a sense of being thrown back to 1969 and its long-lost Hollywood. I’m pretty certain that I’ll re-watch Once Upon a Time in Hollywood not for the jokes or the (sparse but powerful) action, or even the great performances, but rather just to soak it all up again, wallow in that sense of a time and place. Its an escape, just as it was when visiting the LA of 2019 envisioned by Ridley all those years ago. LA 2019, and LA 1969- the more things stay the same.

once1It may, of course, alienate those in the audience who prefer, say, Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the high-octane, in-your-face, twist-and-turns and shocks and surprises that his past films are so famous for. This slow, rather sad and reflective film is unmistakably Tarantino- there’s still plenty of the ornate dialogue and self-knowing humour, but it all seems balanced by some new, maturer perspective. Its more a film about movie myths, the power of them, the nostalgia of pop-culture and how fragile fame and fortune can be. The relentless march of time and change and sensing your best years are behind you.

It turns out that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a Golden Age fairy tale, leaving the real world behind as it turns towards its finale. It leaves us finally revealed to be less a film, more some strange otherworldly dream, tricking us through the power of nostalgia and what we have grown to expect from a Tarantino picture. Its quite a sleight of hand by Tarantino, and really quite magical. I was really quite enthralled by the whole thing. I’m not sure it was actually a proper film, at least in the conventional sense. More a love letter for movie lovers and fans of the old television Western era then, and none the worse for that.

The Damned

damned1This is a particularly odd one, but its also one that, strangely enough, I’ve absolutely completely fallen in love with. Part of Indicator’s long-awaited fourth Hammer box, this  ably demonstrates the genius and worth of these collections, as its another excellent film that otherwise I would likely have never heard of, never-mind had opportunity to see.

The Damned really doesn’t begin well- it starts like a very horribly dated, awkwardly British gang-culture film, in which a group of leather-clad teenage bikers armed with knives pick upon unwitting tourists in the coastal town of Weymouth at the start of the 1960s. A female member of the gang, Joan (Shirley Anne Field) baits the attentions of frankly predatory middle-aged American tourist Simon Wells (Macdonald Carey) and once led into a back street by Joan the gang sets upon Simon, beating him up and stealing his money. So far, so ordinary, and not helped by the film’s soundtrack being dominated by a terrible song that acts as the biker anthem which infects the viewer like the most terrible ear-worm one could imagine (by frequent Hammer stalwart composer James Bernard, and part of a quite effective score).

But immediately it becomes apparent that something else is going on under the surface, and I find myself wondering if Hammer’s Weymouth was an inspiration for Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The leader of the gang is Joan’s brother, King (Oliver Reed) who clearly has an incestuous fascination with his sister that is hidden from no-one. He seems to externalise his own self-revulsion by beating up any man who dares touch Joan (“I’ll kill any man that touches you,” he promises her). There’s a tension between them that goes unrealised but carries some weight on the proceedings: at one point later in the film a child asks “Mr. Stuart told us that brothers and sisters can’t marry. Is that true?” Its a peculiar question that comes out of nowhere, but would seem to be a sideways reference  to King and Joan. There also seems to be an unspoken friction between King, Joan and Sid, another member of the gang who shares furtive glances with Joan, indicating some kind of secret relationship of their own that threatens Kings ‘ownership’ of his sister and the solidity of the gang.

Something about Simon attracts Joan, even though he’s clearly old enough to be her father (or maybe because of that, as King and Joan appear to be orphans), and she finds her way back to Simon once she’s temporarily escaped the watchful attentions of her brother. Simon, of course, comes across as something of a sleaze- a divorcee who has left his career behind in America and has seemingly decided to spend his mid-life crisis yachting around Europe preying on women young enough to be his daughter. I mean, this guy is the nominal ‘hero’ of this film, but it makes you wonder if anyone has Joan’s best interests at heart.

Simon resumes his pursuit of Joan, and at one point when he’s got her on his boat out to sea he attempts to awkwardly force himself on her, an attempt which begins to feel like a rape until she manages to push him away. Joan demonstrates a peculiar ill-judgement when, after asking him to put her back ashore, she acquiesces to his  desires once she’s led him to an isolated cottage and he finds them a bed. Its a really uncomfortable sequence and there’s something genuinely unlikable about all the leads, really, which just makes it so interesting to watch. Naturally all the attention Joan is aiming towards Simon causes King to become increasingly unbalanced and dangerous as he sets the gang searching for them.

damned2At this point I haven’t mentioned Bernard (Alexander Knox) who is in charge of a military installation above the cliffs outside of the town, or his relationship with Swedish sculptor Freya (Viveca Lindfors) who arrives planning to spend the summer in the cottage in which Joan ‘enjoys’ her romantic tryst with Simon. Freya teases Bernard for an explanation of whats going on in his military base, but Bernard’s work is a secret, he warns her, that were he to confide it with Freya, might condemn her to death. Definite shades of typical Hammer there.

As you can likely tell, its a very strange, dark and surprisingly disturbing film- and I haven’t even gotten to whats REALLY going on, or whats REALLY disturbing about the film, as its all part of the genuinely surprising twist that transforms the film into a science fiction film. Suddenly the Lynchian gang-culture, the sexual taboo obsessions of brother and father-figure with poor confused Joan, melt away as the film becomes something else entirely. Its disorientating and quite brilliant, and I can’t explain why: this film is getting on for sixty years old but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Maybe in a few months time, maybe.

Ten minutes in I doubted I’d ever watch the film again, by the time it ended I was keen to devour the substantial on-disc special features and give the film an immediate second viewing. Its quite strange and brilliant. I’m not going to suggest its perfect- in some respects it hasn’t aged well and there is an oddness about some character motivations and twists that don’t quite gel, but maybe even because of this, on the whole its a bizarre and fascinating film. It really struck some kind of chord in me, and I wish I could expound on some of those twists that transforms the film into something so special. Its a very bleak, odd and mesmerising film that ranks as one of the major surprises of this year for me.

 

 

The 2019 List: November

Well, things don’t seem to be working the way they should- one would expect more viewing (and posts) in Autumn than in the Summer, if only because dark, long nights are more conducive to sitting in-front of the telly than the distractions of warm weather/long days (or whatever approximates such here in dear old Blighty). Instead though these last two months have bucked that, with November my worst month of the entire year for both watching stuff and posting about it.

Real-life crises and other seemingly endless hitches have conspired against me. Shit happens I guess. I didn’t even manage to watch my beloved Blade Runner in November, 2019- I tried a few nights ago, but at close to the mid-way point of the film a phone-call had me racing out of the house. Seems it was not to be, and a curious turn of fate that is indeed, after all those years thinking actually watching the film in November 2019 was such a no-brainer… well, you just couldn’t make this up.

Hopefully December will see an improvement, and to those of you whose blogs I should be reading/posting comments on, I promise I’ll try catch-up. All this nonsense can’t carry on for a third month, surely?

TV Shows:

138) Better Call Saul Season Two

141) Better Call Saul: Season Three

Films:

139) The King

140) Apollo 11

142) Spider Man: Far From Home

143) The Mule

144) The Lion King (2019)

145) The Irishman

The Lion King (2019)

lion2I should have hated this with a passion. When I first heard of it, I was pretty incredulous. Remaking the animation classic The Lion King seems rather akin to remaking Citizen Kane or Blade Runner or The Godfather. I’m not necessarily comparing the Disney original to those other films regards quality or reputation you understand, but really, whats the point remaking a film that is perfectly fine by itself?

Money?

Not that anyone would admit it, but the entire point, the central reason any of these recent Disney live-action remakes of their animation classics exist, is as an exercise in making money. To be fair, the reason ANY film is made is in order to make money, any artistic value is almost incidental, possibly accidental, as long as a film is made that gets bums on cinema seats or downloads and streams clogging the internet. Disney of course is enabling a new stream of fresh content for its Disney+ service as well as updating its back catalogue for generations that think those old flicks are rather dated and the animation rather old-fashioned compared to the dazzle of contemporary stuff.

The animated Lion King of course was released in 1994, just twenty-five years ago. Its been a long time since I last saw it- back in the days of DVD I think, so my memory of it is rather hazy. Watching this new 2019 version brought it all back mind, because its pretty much the same movie, Or at least it seems to be. I suspect there are more differences than audiences realise, many tweaks and updates that pass us by, but on the whole its the same movie, except that it looks so astonishing.

Astonishing really is the word for these visuals, mind. Watching this in 4K UHD is a pretty breathtaking experience, particularly on a OLED panel. I doubt it looked anything like as good as this at my local Cineworld. There is bad CGI and good CGI of course, and this is very, very good CGI. They can do anything, it seems, fake anything, when given sufficient money and time to get it right. When NASA (or its Chinese equivalent) gets somebody back on the moon, and the conspiracy theorists bring back their claims at fakery and hoaxes – well, maybe they might be onto something, because they really could do that now. In The Lion King, you’ll believe a Lion can sing.

Or maybe not. There is a curious uncanny valley being brought back here, in just the same way as the virtual thespians of  Final Fantasy; The Spirits Within didn’t wholly convince. The CGI creations here are much superior and more convincing (often its like you’re watching outtakes of the BBC’s Planet Earth or The Blue Planet etc), but the issue here is seeing such realistic creatures doing such odd things like following the directors instructions or talking and singing. Its weird how watching hand-drawn animated characters doing such stuff rather suspends disbelief and enthrals us, and yet seeing something that looks so real doing it looks so odd.

Fortunately another curious thing is that, as its based so closely on a film that simply worked, this astonishing-looking, albeit weird and possibly ill-judged remake inevitably works too. Its difficult to love and easy to distrust, but its hard not to get swept up by it anyway. It looks so ravishing it works a strange magic. I’m still deeply sceptical and suspicious of Disney and these live-action/CGI remakes, and still rather feel these new editions will be forgotten long before the originals- the cynic in me has a few doubts however, thinking I’m giving the younger generations and my fellow viewers too much credit. Maybe they will actually prefer the new films and the originals will fade into obscurity, lost in some hard-to-find corner of the Disney+ service. That would be a terrible thing but one has to wonder.

 

What amazed me about An American Werewolf in London

maxresdefaultTwenty years- I hadn’t seen this film in more than twenty years. That’s no judgement on the film itself- I think I’d just seen it so many times on VHS when it was such a popular rental that I’d just worn myself out on it, I guess; indeed I never bought it on DVD, or Blu-ray until this new Arrow edition (boasting corrected audio and remastered picture, as well as boatloads of extras). Seeing an old film at its best, or better than previous formats managed, is always a temptation of course- its why so many of us get suckered into the dreaded double-triple-dip, especially when Amazon has a sale on.

So how did the film measure up over the years? Pretty damn well really. Of course its dated but that is all part of the charm of such films- character actors so familiar (particularly to us British viewers) looking so astonishingly young (I’d never realised, for instance, that a very young Rik Mayall featured in the early pub scene) and of course all those old cars in street scenes etc. Its almost looking at an old forgotten world.

Which is partly what amazed me about it: I was oddly fascinated by the decor in Nurse Alex Prices apartment, and in particular the small b&w CRT television sitting in a corner. Of course there was a time when televisions were small and not huge screens bolted onto walls,  it seems almost cute and arcane, how things used to be. Nurse Alex was too busy in her career and didn’t have more than three channels and no video recorder either- what on Earth would she want with a big television anyway? Probably why she kept books and actually read them.

So when David is biding time while Alex is at work, he switches on that ancient artefact of what approximated a television back then, and of course as its the daytime, the BBC channel is transmitting the old test card. Wowza. Those were the days.

So anyway, that’s what probably amazed me the most, re-watching An American Werewolf in London– not the still-impressive Rick Baker transformation make-up or the gentle pace of the film, or the fact that the whole cast were pretty uniformly great, or that Jenny Agutter was as beautiful as I remembered and probably the best thing in the whole film, oddly enough- no, it was that old b&w television and seeing that old test card. Its a funny thing, watching old movies again (does An American Werewolf in London, released in 1981, even qualify as an ‘old’ movie? There’s a debate for another day).