Halloween (2018)

hall1.jpgHalloween 2018 starts out really well. Its central conceit is that none of the myriad Halloween sequels/remakes/spin-offs or reboots ever happened, and that, 40 years later, this is the Part Two to the 1978 original’s Part One. A little like how the aborted Alien 5 would have pretended that Alien 3 & Alien: Resurrection never existed. In a similar way to films like Creed and BR2049, it treats the original material and mythology with some reverence and sincerity. It also allows, as the other films did, for the intervening years in the real world to be reflected by the passage of time in the movie world, adding some weight of pathos to the proceedings, allowing that sense of the weight of time for the characters to be shared by viewers. Maybe it just makes the nostalgia and recollection of the original feel more intense, and maybe it transfers those feelings to the new incarnation.

Of course, the central issue for Halloween 2018 is that its taking something that’s inherently very simple (the 1978 film is basically just a b-movie slasher/exploitation horror flick that has been endlessly copied ever since) and treating it very, very seriously. I’m a big fan of the original- John Carpenter was (is?) a consummate horror director with a keen eye for composition and skill in the editing room at maintaining tension and jumps and scares, but really, Halloween 1978 is not High Art, although it’s surely a classic of a genre not particularly renowned for high quality. Its simplicity is likely the key to its effectiveness and how well it has stood the test of time- and of course there is the brooding, relentless electronic score.

That score returns (and John Carpenter, on scoring duties here, with it), and it really helps Halloween 2018 feel authentic, in just the same way as BR2049 felt like a Blade Runner movie.  Something’s a little off though, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) not quite ringing true as she goes all Sarah Connor from T2, ready and waiting for Michael Myers to inevitably escape from his incarceration and run amok on another killing spree. This time she’s spent decades survivalist training and building Fortress Strode out in the woods into a safehouse for when Myers comes knocking. And of course, he does, complete with his iconic Captain Kirk mask, conveniently brought along by dim-witted journalists looking for a great story and getting undone by it, the mask apparently the trigger for The Shape to do what he does best on another Halloween night. There’s lots of graphic deaths and grisly gore here, a marked difference to the surprising restraint and suggestion which Carpenter crafted in the original- perhaps the most disturbing sign of just how much times have changed.

It seems churlish of me, really, to criticise this film as it was surprisingly sincere and effective in approach and how it was made, and the cast are great, the jumps are pretty great and the violence certainly made me wince- it works so well in so many ways. But I just didn’t buy Laurie going all Sarah Connor. It just makes it feel like a different, ‘wrong’ movie, like when James Cameron spun his Rambo-in-space yarn from Alien‘s ‘ten little indians’ horror film. Suddenly the tables are turned and the hunter becomes the hunted, and a crazy woman having an arsenal in her basement something to be applauded. Infact, thank God for that, because the doctors are crazier than Myers (I so sorely missed the great Donald Pleasence, whose presence seems to haunt the film like a vacant void) and the cops are more stupid and ineffective than ever. I suppose there’s a kind of movie myth that the world needs heroes like Sarah Connor rather than the original 1978 films nice girl next door; gun-toting heroines rather than terrified babysitters just trying to survive. I quite liked the post-traumatic, dysfunctional and rather unhinged Laurie that we first see in the film, but got rather bored by the killing machine survivalist she turns out to really be. Maybe the film is some kind of commentary on violence breeding violence and Myer’s bloody violence transforming 1978s nice girl next door babysitter into, well, another killer.  Maybe I’m just missing something.

Terry Rawlings has died

Just a few words to note the passing of film editor Terry Rawlings yesterday. He edited several films that have been amongst my favourites- Alien and Blade Runner are possibly the two classics he’ll be most remembered for (other than Chariots of Fire) but I’ll also remember him for two flawed films that could be listed under ‘what might have been’- Legend and Alien 3, two films that never really clicked but could have been amazing in better circumstances. Both are a reminder that with all the best will in the world, films are a collaborative work and always subject to outside forces, ill will and ill luck.

freudostOf course, if you’ve been reading this blog recently you’ll know I only rewatched Alien on Sunday, which was the first film Rawlings edited, I believe, on his own. Having had a background working as a sound editor before, Rawlings brought with him an understanding of the importance of sound (and music) in the editing process, and his work, and films, benefited from this. Mind, it could also be a subject of some contention. Rawlings was a lover of music (and I suspect had a huge collection) and his temp music track for Alien caused him some troubles with the composer Jerry Goldsmith. Some sections of Goldsmiths Alien score were replaced by some of Goldsmith’s earlier score for the film Freud – noticeably the section of Dallas in the shaft or the the acid dripping scene when Ash tried to cut the facehugger from Kane.  They are very effective scenes with the Freud music (it’s a fantastic score, I bought the album a few years back and it’s brilliant, and its quite uncanny how well it works in a film made so many years later). Nothing Goldsmith did for Alien could shake Rawlings and Scott’s love of the temp track and it stayed, much to the composers chagrin – likewise even the main title music was dropped in favour of some other Alien music Goldsmith wrote for the scenes on the planetoid. Goldsmith was horrified by this second-guessing and manipulation of his score for different scenes, but I have to admit, Rawlings was right. The title sequence with its drone-like, moody music never fails to pull me into the mood of dread that pervades the film (I think the Alien title sequence is one of the very best of all time).

Listening to- Alien 3 OST

a3ost.jpgAfter a few delays at the label due to manufacturing plant issues (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising how few places actually manufacture CDs in this age of downloads and streaming) I finally received my copy of La La Land’s expanded Alien 3 release.  To say its been a great listen over the past few days would be an understatement- its wonderful to finally hear all that underscore that was missing on the original album release (which is also included in this two disc set). The main set-pieces were all on the original album but it left an awful lot out (my personal gripe was the music when Ripley went to the canteen and was among the male prisoners for the first time, its a wonderfully tense and evocative piece). There is a lot of underscore and atmospherics which really give character and weight to the score, and a few surprises unheard in the film. I believe there is about forty minutes of music additional to that found on the original fifty-minute album, with another ten minutes of alternates as a further bonus (the full score assembly totals ninety minutes, which indicates most of the film had music).

Back in 1992 Elliot Goldenthals score was like a breath of fresh air- bold in its orchestration, daring in its use of atmospherics and downright Wagnerian in the brutality of its horror. All these years later it still sounds just as fresh and unique. I suppose Goldenthals absence from blockbuster film scoring has abetted in his unique musical ‘voice’ seeming so unusual and rare, but its clear that there hasn’t been such boldness in mainstream scoring since (the only thing I can recall offhand is perhaps some of Don Davis’ Matrix scores). It reminds me of Vangelis’ Heaven and Hell album in a way; not in content but in the way that the music contrasts moments of serene aching beauty with moments of cacophonous depravity.  Some of it is terribly haunting, emotional and sad and some of it quite terrifying and unsettling- I don’t think I could listen to this on headphones in the dark, frankly the subsequent nightmares aren’t worth risking!

Alien 3 as a film is still a divisive moment in the franchise (I’ve always been a fan myself but I know many felt robbed by it dismissing so much of what they thought was great about Aliens) but I’m sure few could argue that there is anything bad about the music. In this expanded form its clear how much it nods back to Goldsmiths original Alien score in inventiveness and mood and tension. Its a magnificent work and I’m so glad that I can finally, after all these years, put the two-disc Alien 3 set alongside my two-disc Alien release from Intrada on my shelf.  Just goes to show- everything comes to he that waits. Maybe its not too late for a complete Blade Runner from Vangelis after all.

Alien 3 Expanded OST!

a3ostThey said it would never happen. No really, they said it wouldn’t. ‘They’ being the people in the biz who would know. Something about the recording session masters being lost. But they said that about the original Conan The Barbarian masters, and that got released a few years ago. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that some Indiana Jones-type at Fox managed to unearth the masters from a dusty vault forgotten somewhere. In anycase, La La Land records have announced the release next week of a two-disc expanded and remastered edition of Elliot Goldenthal’s absolutely superlative horror score for the much-maligned Alien 3. 

This is big news, certainly to me anyway. One of the last great scores that really needed an expanded release, and one of those supposedly least-likely to ever happen, and here it is. Seriously, this is one of the best scores of the past thirty years, it’s that good. Well, my pre-order is in already (limited to 3,500 copies, it might not last as long as you’d think prior to going OOP). Its a really remarkable score, the kind we certainly don’t get anymore and I can’t wait to hear it. Has me of a mind to get my Blu-ray of the restored workprint version out for a watch…

Se7en (1995)

se7enSe7en (Blu-ray)

There’s not really much to be said about Se7en (is it ‘Seven’ or ‘Se7en’ anyway?)– it is David Fincher’s dark masterpiece, a film up there with the very best films of all time.

Having recently watched Fight Club due to enjoying the first season of Mr Robot (which shares much of its themes and content with Fincher’s film), it was no doubt inevitable that I’d then be reaching for this particular blu-ray. It is a dark, mesmerising thriller, so perfect it almost hurts. Well, I say perfect but it does go a little off the rails towards the end… did I just write that? It feels like a sin… no, it’s just that after the finer-executed, intense ‘sins’ we see created earlier in the film, the ‘lust’ one feels forced somehow. It doesn’t work, it pales compared to the others, almost descending into some standard melodramatic potboiler/horror mash-up, but it’s easily forgiven, as everything else in the film oozes perfection. Maybe that ‘lust’ sequence, and the casting of Spacey, maybe, just maybe is the film bending to more mainstream genre conventions, I don’t know, but other than that, this film is truly great: thats Great with a capital ‘G’. The acting, the photography, the make-up, the music, the art direction… it’s a dark, twisted work of art, superior film-making indeed, and almost perverse perfection.

The rain never ends. There is seldom any sunlight, or any warmth. The city feels like a city of the damned, as if its denizens are souls trapped in some circle of hell from which there is no escape. A feeling of dread pervades everything; there is never any inclination that anything remotely like justice or hope or salvation is even possible here. There is a feeling that we are watching a film from the ‘seventies, where characters seem like real people and their world is as real as ours, when anything is possible, even a bad ending, an inconclusive ending, a disturbing ending.  It’s a scary thing. It’s never anything remotely like an ordinary contemporary thriller (except maybe during that aforementioned ‘lust’ section).

Its like a bad dream, one returned to everytime we rewatch it. Watching this film I often think back on Alien 3 and its own horrible flawed beauty, and wonder what Alien 3 might have been had Fincher been left to make it unmolested by the studio suits. After the failure of Alien 3 (a film I always liked, even the ‘faulty’ original cinema cut),  Se7en had an incredible impact, a sense of revelation, vindication. Here Fincher seems to be in control over everything, and the results show. Yes it’s all style and atmosphere but…to criticise the film for that, almost feels like missing the point- it’s so integral to the piece, the atmosphere is actually one of the films characters, like the production design is in Blade Runner.  Se7en is something very close to perfect.

 

Gone Girl (2014)

gone1Gone Girl is a fine thriller, elevated no end by Rosamund Pike’s great performance which in most other years might well have been awarded an Oscar- she’s that good. On the face of it, the premise of the film is fairly simple- revolving around the mysterious disappearance of Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike) and her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) who increasingly begins to fall under suspicion of her possible murder. There is of course an inevitable twist but surprisingly this comes mid-way through the film, from which point the film almost becomes another film entirely. Its a good film but due to its nature its one I can’t discuss freely without heading into spoiler-territory.

The only point I can really make is regarding the film’s soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. David Fincher has seemingly become infatuated with ambient soundscapes in his movies (the pair having scored his last three movies now) and while it might serve Fincher’s purpose, I suspect you could run this film minus any of its music score and not notice any difference at all. Its that kind of score. Which is all well and good, but I prefer music that’s almost a character in the film; scores like Poledouris’ Conan The Barbarian or Hermann’s Vertigo or even, for a more recent example, Zimmer’s Interstellar. Music that is an integral part of the film and its sense of character- Reznor’s score here is more of a drone with the odd bit of tune hidden away in its mix, and is pretty much redundant. It is what it is. But the fact that Fincher seems to be more in favour of this style when his earlier films had such great scores as Goldenthal’s Alien 3 or Shore’s Seven or the Dust Brother’s Fight Club… well its rather disheartening.
gone2And really that’s my biggest beef with Gone Girl- Fincher himself. This is the guy after all, who directed Alien 3, the unfairly-maligned result of a troubled production that is a beautifully-shot elegy on death, moody and stark with great performances, wonderful music, great photography and sets…. its a great failure. Its got balls, and is easily the most interesting of all the sequels to Alien. This is the guy who directed Seven, as brutally dark a film as you’ll ever see, a fascinating thriller that’s pretty much the definitive serial-killer movie. Again, great score, great performances, beautifully shot, a film, again, with balls. And then of course we have Fight Club, one of the boldest, mind-bogglingly ballsy movies to come out of Hollywood, ever. The very least you could say of these movies is that Fincher was pushing the envelope, and proving himself something of a maverick director. If Alien 3 failed, it wasn’t really down to Fincher, and the workprint version at least hints at what might have been had the suits left him alone. His next two films were great, classic films.

I’m not going to suggest that his subsequent movies weren’t any good, I’m a big fan of Zodiac in particular, but Fincher seems to be settling down to a routine of thrillers that are competently made but nowhere near as bold as his early films. He seems to be mirroring the career-trajectory of Ridley Scott, whose own best films can easily be argued to be his first three, from which he himself settled into often pedestrian fare.

Gone Girl is a good film, but I have the feeing it would be just as good a film with anyone else directing it. Fincher should be making films only he could make. He should be making a Dune or Rendezvous With Rama or his own Unforgiven, by which I mean a genre film that turns things on its head and says something new. I don’t think his last few films have, and though I’d like to think his future projects will, at the moment that’s getting a little dubious. The promise of a Fincher film used to excite me, but that’s worn off now, sadly.