Interesting commentary about the situation with the Blade Runner 2049 score…
Interesting commentary about the situation with the Blade Runner 2049 score…
2017.47: Game of Thrones Season 7 (2017)
Well, it certainly wasn’t Game of Thrones‘ best season. Which is a pity, but in many ways it was inevitable. The trouble with stories is how they end.
In a sense, a story’s end is almost arbitrary. I often think about films or tv series and about their endings. A film might end in a moment of victory or validation, but I often consider what happens afterwards, after the film fades to black and the credits roll up, the story of the film is over but the meta-story, if you will, beyond that, continues. The trick for a screenwriter and a director is in finding a satisfying place to end a story, but it’s always an artificial ending, that meta-story continues.
And of course finding that satisfying ending, it’s a real trick after 30, 40, 50 hours of story in a tv series. Particularly for Game of Thrones and its complex, sophisticated plot and its huge roster of characters. How does one find an ending to match all the dreams and fantasies, all the theories and fan-fiction created worldwide over all those years when the series has become a phenomenon, and from even before that, over the decades of the books being published? Indeed, it strikes me now that Game of Thrones rather cheekily perhaps gets two bites at the cherry, with the HBO series first and, hopefully if time allows, the book series second. It gets two attempts at a satisfying conclusion.
HBOs solution, after a fashion, is that rather than spend three or four years and astronomical sums of money to produce two gigantic ten-episode seasons for the concluding two runs, instead they will condense the spend of a ten-episode season into seven and six-episode runs respectively, thus ensuring huge visuals and scope to hopefully bring things to a grand climax. Unfortunately this rather spoils the other aspects of the show- the sense of scale of the geography, the character beats, the political machinations and various interludes that fans grew to enjoy. The irony of those of us who complained at the interminable pace of some seasons/episodes while the HBO show waited for author George R R Martin to write and publish another book over the years , now complaining of the ferocious pace of the show now that it has given up on waiting and has gone ahead and leapt beyond the leaden pace of his typewriter, isn’t lost on us. Be careful of what you wish for, eh?
In any case, I return to my original observation- how in the world will Game of Thrones possibly end in a way to satisfy everyone, or even the minority, of its huge worldwide fanbase? It simply can’t, and I think this is the lesson of season 7. I am not going to write a negative, hateful review picking out all the plotholes or weak scripting or terrible coincidences that insult fans who have watched and enjoyed this show for so many years. There were many spectacular moments in season 7, and it is easy to forget that, HBO or not, this is a television show, not a huge Hollywood movie, and what it manages to create and put on screen is really wondrous and for all its faults this is one of the very greatest entertainments ever, of any format. It is just that season 7 has saddened me a little, and left me a little more reluctant than expectant, for what season 8 brings us next year (or the year after, who knows?). Game of Thrones was extraordinary, indeed still is extraordinary, but it also became a little more ordinary with season 7. Like we just experienced some kind of reality-check.
Because with only six episodes left, and where season 7 has left us, there is little room for many character moments ahead, or for learning who/what the Night King is, what drives him, what he hopes to achieve in slaughtering all the living with his army of the dead or what he intends for those lands yet beyond the oceans (I suspect it would involve turning said oceans to ice and simply walking across). Or what happens when the general story-arc is over and what happens to the (surviving) characters ten, twenty years later.
I had hoped, after all the teasing since the very first moments of the first episode of season one, that the Night King might be fleshed out, as it were. Or that once the Game of Thrones was over, and someone finally sat victorious and uncontested on the Iron Throne we might see the result of that years, decades after. We won’t. Because six episodes is surely a headlong rush of battles and treacheries and victories and deaths that will be thrilling and spectacular but it’s only six episodes. And if the seven episodes of season 7 teaches us anything, it is that six episodes won’t be enough. Maybe ten episodes, or any number of episodes, wouldn’t be enough. That there is the conundrum. Just how do you end Game of Thrones?
2017.46: Split (2017)
It has been a long time since I actually looked forward to a film from M. Night Shyamalan; probably as far back as Unbreakable back in, 2000. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and after the great The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his further films, Signs, The Village and Lady in the Water clearly showed him to be a director/writer who loved one-line concepts, nifty ideas from which he would extrapolate a movie, often complete with a ‘twist’ stinger. The idea works in theory – Rod Serling did it consummately well with the classic The Twilight Zone anthology series, but a movie is a different beast to a half-hour tv show and it soon became tiresome, for me, anyway, and I finally gave up with The Happening, a film with the most ironic title in film history, as far as I’m concerned, as nothing happened for the whole bloody film.
I never watched The Last Airbender, or After Earth, or The Visit.
Split is a return to form, though, and even teases an Unbreakable 2 at the end (which is titled Glass, perhaps to dispense with the problem of calling it either Unbreakable 2 or Split 2, and ahem, avoid any risk of splitting fans). That said, I think some of the positively ecstatic reviews are more a result of James McAvoy’s brilliant turn as Dennis, a character who has 23 personalities with a 24th threatening to surface with horrific results, than the quality of the film itself. McAvoy is pretty phenomenal, completely convincing as ‘Dennis’ keeps appearing with a different personality. The viewer is quickly able to identify each distinct personality as much from McAvoy’s visual ‘ticks’ and his voice as much as from what clothes he is wearing. Indeed, later on in the film as the personalities seem to switch during single shots McAvoy’s performance becomes almost breathtaking in its subtlety and clarity.
Beyond McAvoy’s performance, though, the film does fall into problems. The films heroines (captured teenagers imprisoned by Dennis for a grisly fate at the hands/teeth of personality #24) are a pretty bland bunch, and like many M. Night Shyamalan films, the film is ultimately just too long to sustain its one-liner plot. The film is also surprisingly low on scares/tension until the end, and even there the final ‘twist’ is unfortunately a little weak. If Unbreakable was a superhero origin film, then Split is a supervillain origin film, so what was ostensibly a horror/thriller becomes, in ironic movie split-personality fashion, a superhero genre film- yeah, another one. Which in hindsight is rather fun, I guess. But maybe it is one clever conceit too many and M. Night Shyamalan falling into his old pitfalls.
Still, certainly a return to form for the writer/director and hopefully it bodes well for his next film- yes, one I’m actually looking forward to. So job done, I guess.
2017.45: The Walk (2015)
I should immediately state that I have no head for heights. I hate ’em. It is partly why it has taken me so long to get around to watching this film- I’m certainly glad I didn’t see it at the cinema, and absolutely certain that had I been watching this in 3D Imax I would have been fleeing the place well before the end of the movie (I have NEVER walked out of a movie, but this might have been the exception). As it is, watching it at home on my humble Bravia was quite enough to have me cringing in nervous horror with my legs turning to jelly.
But I was laughing along through my terror, because The Walk, based upon the real-life story of Philippe Petit, a Frenchman who walked on a wire across New York’s Twin Towers in 1974, is a surprisingly light-hearted, jovial film. In that respect it is rather old-fashioned, a throwback to an Old Hollywood that predates the actual events it depicts. It’s a warm, fuzzy, pleasant heist-caper movie, a ‘triumph of the human spirit’ kind of film; its fun. This may I suspect have been a deliberate choice, in the face of what the Twin Towers represent to us all post-9/11. The film tries to remind us that before that awful tragedy, the Twin Towers represented something else, and of course were an awe-inspiring, world-famous landmark. As it is, there is an inevitable poignancy to every shot involving the Towers, just as there is in any film in which they are portrayed, particularly films actually shot in the 1970s or 1980s. Here things are heightened (sic); the Towers are a work of art, brand-new, shiny and beautiful, positively aglow (in a similar way, I note, to how James Cameron portrayed the Titanic in his film).
Director Robert Zemeckis has long been something of a technical magician in film- he has always pushed the boundaries of what is possible in film to tell a story, whether it be the split-screen magic of the Back to the Future films, the virtual camera utilised in Contact, the cgi enhancements of Forest Grump. With The Walk he creates a virtual landscape, using set and landscape enhancements to construct the Towers and the 1974 New York City and the death-defying feat of crossing that wire between the Two Towers. It’s a phenomenal achievement in photo-real visual effects that certainly had me on the edge of my seat. I am sure, as is the norm for a Zemeckis film, that there were lots of shots that passed me by with all sorts of digital enhancements that I didn’t see. Visually it’s a magical film.
And thank goodness I can for the second review in a row mention a fantastic soundtrack. Longtime Robert Zemeckis collaborator Alan Silvestri has composed a charming, bouncy score that mixes jazz moments with soaring strings full of of wonder and tension. It accompanies the film perfectly and is a fine reminder of the power of music to establish mood and the intensity-level of a film. The score instantly establishes that this is a fun ride, an uplifting adventure- for the audience to sit back, relax and enjoy an amazing true-life story.
So anyway, trembling knees aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this refreshingly light-hearted film. And those Towers never looked prettier.
I read the news of Tobe Hooper’s passing today with much sadness- another Horror great gone. In some other alternate universe, Tobe Hooper’s film Lifeforce is revered as the finest bad horror movie ever made. Any film that features a security guard trying to tempt a naked space vampire with a biscuit has got to be one of the greatest, oddest films of all time, and Lifeforce is full of such mad genius. I know most horror fans will refer to Hooper as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Poltergeist but for me, he’ll always be the Master of Space Vampire movies- in the grandest tradition of Ed Wood, Lifeforce is his undoubted masterpiece.
As I write this, 35 years ago.
Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.
I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever, lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.
It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us- 2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.
In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.
1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play. I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.
I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…
1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.
I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.
1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.
Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy- how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).
I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983. Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.
Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.
It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).
When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.
Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.
2017.44: Nocturnal Animals (2016)
This film may not be perfect, and it may not completely reach for what it strives for, but goodness me, I have to salute the ambition behind it, which is a rare enough thing to find in film these days. If anything it is this very ambition that may undermine it- crafted like a work of art as much as a mainstream movie, the film is exquisitely shot and framed but there’s a sterile coldness to much of it -likely deliberate- that distances the viewer from it (although it’s certainly not as emotionally detached as a Christopher Nolan film, say). Just getting through the main title sequence would be too much for some (and what it even adds to the film, or says, is a matter of conjecture).
Suffice to say that this film is no less than a modern-day Vertigo; a romantic, psychological thriller laced with awful sadness, regrets and loneliness that may leave you thinking about it for days. To complain that it doesn’t reach the heights of Vertigo (sic) is of course nonsense- Vertigo is a timeless classic that we may never see the likes of again. At least Nocturnal Animals aims high enough to deserve comparison – a fine compliment as it is.
Nocturnal Animals is structured as a film within a film within a film- a fascinating puzzle to explore and obtain meaning from. In a sterile environment of empty spaces, Amy Adams is Susan, who lives a life of wealth and comfort as an art dealer, with a luxury home, beautiful (if increasingly distant) husband, servants and personal assistants. She seems to have it all- but seems to be realising she lacks fulfillment. A package arrives one morning containing the proof copy of a book written by her ex-husband, Edward, entitled Nocturnal Animals, which is dedicated to her. Having a quiet weekend whilst her husband leaves on business to New York (we soon learn this is a cover for his affair with a mistress), Susan reads the book, and we witness her minds-eye picture of the book as a film within the film. This book/film is a noir-ish pulp potboiler of tragedy and revenge in which she pictures her husband as the protagonist and her younger self as his wife. Bookended throughout all of this are her recollections, triggered by reading the book, of her past relationship with her husband -how they met, their affair and how their marriage painfully (for him) ended, a timeline which is almost third film in itself. The difficulty in weaving these three timelines so well, so each informs and reveals things about the others, is something that deserves some consideration, and it’s quite a feat that it works so well and that we always seem aware of ‘when’ things are happening, what is real and what is the book’s fiction. Actually, now that I think about it, that ‘real’ is pretty much subjective in itself, as the reality is Susan’s reality, the past as she sees it, just as the book is how Susan sees that. Revelations slowly unfold until we arrive at a painful finale that is both discomforting, frustrating and yet somehow perfect. There is a revenge in the real-world just as there is in the novel.
Amy Adams. What can I say? Another amazing performance which, like the same years Arrival, deserved but somehow didn’t get a nomination. Perhaps there is some truth to the theory that having two deserving performances actually did her a disservice by spitting her vote? Nonetheless these two films have raised her to some kind of remarkable level of craft and leave me keenly anticipating any film she appears in.
Special mention to Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful, soulful score- as major a character in this film as Herrmann’s score is to Vertigo, performing much the same function. It’s a haunting work that is sparse but incredibly powerful. Korzeniowski is some kind of genius at this kind of stuff, whose romantic, haunting and yearning music served similar duties in the excellent Penny Dreadful tv series. It reminds me of John Barry as well as Herrmann. If only this quality of music was the norm and not the exception to film-scoring these days! This is of the quality we used to get in the 1970s, richly emotional, layered scoring. The film would be much lesser without it.
Another trailer has landed: few more hints revealed, some more gorgeous photography. It’s just on the right side of revealing enough while keeping (hopefully, anyway) the real meat under wraps. It is a nice trailer though- really, even the multiplex crowd are possibly stoked for this one. Which feels a bit weird. Blade Runner was an arthouse film posing as a blockbuster, a thoughtful mood piece that took years to find its place. This one is clearly something else- seeing a Blade Runner film with action sequences etc. is a little odd to be honest but at least whilst it is clearly a different animal it somehow still feels like a Blade Runner film. I don’t know. It still looks better than what I had feared it would be when it was announced a few years back. Not long to go now, so I hope any future trailers ease off on revealing much more.
So, I was suddenly caught reminiscing about The Two Jakes (1990). Haven’t seen the film in years- in fact, not since the VHS days when I bought what was a pan and scan copy in the early days of sell-through. The film seems largely forgotten now, oddy not available on Blu-ray at all (which, considering the pedigree of its cinematography, is something of a tragedy, probably- add it to the list of great films still waiting a HD release). The film was a blind-buy for me, inspired by my adoration for Chinatown (1974).
Well, there’s the elephant in the room: Chinatown is a classic, and didn’t really need a sequel. Shades of Blade Runner there, which is why my mind turned to The Two Jakes in the first place. You see, almost against the odds, The Two Jakes turned out to be a pretty damn good film in its own right- a different kind of film to Chinatown, really, but beautifully made. Its sincere to the original and doesn’t hurt it at all- infact, it exists quite separately but remains a fine continuation for the lead character of private eye J.J.Gittes.
It was directed by the star of both Chinatown and The Two Jakes– Jack Nicholson, and proved to be something of a labour of love for him I think- or an itch he simply had to scratch, something he had to prove? It was a ballsy move, starring and directing in a sequel to such a revered film as the original was. The cast around him was pretty impressive- Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Madeline Stowe. Written by Robert Towne and photographed by the legendary Vilmos Zsigmond, its credentials are plain to see, and it all paid off handsomely.
But you see the parallels: they are obvious. Distant sequel to a great film that doesn’t need one, a returning star with a fine new cast around him, a seperate story, a great cinematographer. Well. If Blade Runner 2049 turns out as well as The Two Jakes did, it will be great. Maybe a welcome moment of history repeating? Certainly it’s a fine example for the makers of the new Blade Runner. Maybe an omen for the fans, too.