Lucky (2017)

lucky1This was a delight; one of those little films in which, well, very little happens, other than character moments and observations of the human condition- you know, the stuff we seldom see in film these days. I can’t say its perfect, I thought some of it was rather forced and I didn’t ‘buy’ everything, but the good easily outweighed the bad. Its Harry Dean Stanton in one of his last films, for goodness sake, and any criticism I have regards the film is about the supporting cast and some of the script choices: Harry is perfect in this, you can tell it was largely written for him, little nods to his own life history scattered in the details. Mostly its a one-man show, and that’s when the film is at its best. Harry should have stayed in his house watching daytime telly, smoking and drinking too much coffee, sometimes cussing the television inanity. That would have been film enough for me.

Lucky is a sad, melancholy film; its also rather sweet, thankfully without resorting to the saccharine, a tricky balance. Its got a ninety-year old beloved actor playing a ninety-year old loner contemplating his own mortality, realising that everyone and everything and everyplace he knew or knows is either gone already or will be. David Lynch is wonderful, the rest of the cast is okay, but Harry towers over all. The fact that he passed away just a few months following this film’s release just makes it all the sadder.

Every time I see Harry Dean Stanton onscreen… I hear Ry Cooder music. Can’t escape it. That’s Paris, Texas and there is no escaping it, its like Cooder was sound tracking Harry’s face and not the movie. There were a few moments in this film in which, because of the similar desert setting and Harry’s endlessly craggy, lived-in face, that I almost thought this might be some kind of unofficial sequel, in just the same way as Jack Lemmon’s character in Glengarry Glenn Ross seems to be The Apartment‘s CC Baxter decades after the Billy Wilder film, ruined by the darkside of the American Dream.

And hey, this has got Dallas and Brett together again some 38 years after Alien. How weird is that scene: its possibly one of the films weakest, and doesn’t really fit in, I suspect, but hey, its got film nostalgia/event soaked up in it. You just can’t help but smile and wish it was a longer scene, just to live it a little more. And marvel with some horror at the 38 years.

Anti-Life (2020)

antiThis was hilarious, its utterly bizarre that people are still hellbent on ripping off Alien all these years later, and doing it so ineptly. Everything in this film was so diabolically poor- the awful script, the wooden/cardboard sets, the woeful CGI… its like a masterclass in how NOT to make a sci-fi film and looks worse than any fan-flick that might surface on YouTube. It would be embarrassed by most student films, I’m certain (if it WAS a student film, I’d suggest the film-makers change career paths and go work in a grocery store instead).

But the film was also disturbing- what in the world are Bruce Willis and Thomas Jane doing in this rubbish? Being in this film must be the absolute nadir of both careers and I cannot understand their thinking, appearing in something as bad as this must be some kind of laughing-stock in the industry that could only harm their careers and reputation. Considering the budget this film must have had – something in the region of 1970s Doctor Who, by the look of it- I cannot imagine they appeared in this for the money. Okay, Willis has been slumming around for years at this point and never fails to amaze me how deep he can dig the hole his career is falling into (Willis spends the film sniggering and taking sips from his hip-flask like he KNOWS he’s in something akin to Plan 9 From Outer Space– maybe he thinks in fifty years this thing will be deemed somehow cool for being so bad), but Thomas Jane? He has his detractors but he’s surely better than this (The Expanse must seem so faraway). 

I honestly think this film has no rights being released, in my opinion its quite un-releasable in the state its in with no redeeming features at all. Nothing works on any level – I haven’t seen anything quite as bad as this in a long, long time. You’ll note I haven’t mentioned anything of the plot. I’m not sure it really had one, and if I were to jot it down here now… well, I’d be spending more time on this post than this film deserves.

Streaming services like Netflix (how I watched this film) are so desperate for new content they will buy and stream ANYTHING and this film proves it. Its like any kind of quality control has been dismissed for the sake of having something, anything, new and Willis being attached to it is just another example of the cynicism behind rubbish like this. Films like this make me despair at the where the film industry and artform is going, now. There used to be a time when you had to have talent to be able to make films, but that isn’t the case these days. Seems any idiot can write and direct and produce a film now – they don’t even need an idea, they just need a DVD collection they can rip off (sorry, ‘homage’).

Anyway, that’s quite enough. Its past time I started trying to forget this film exists. 

 

 

Revisiting Contact (1997)

contact2I have a fascination with space travel, alien civilizations and our own place in the Cosmos that dates back to me as a kid watching Star Trek. Films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Carl Sagan’s book and tv series Cosmos only reinforced my conviction that we are not alone, that we should watch the skies and being alone in this vast universe is surely a big waste of Space. 

I never read Carl Sagan’s book Contact. I’m not entirely sure why, it seems a strange omission but life is weird like that, we make some choices which, looking back, don’t entirely make a lot of sense.   

So I don’t know what differences exist between Robert Zemeckis’ 1997 film and the original book, or whether it is wholly faithful. It feels like something Carl Sagan would have written; certainly it has novel ideas and extrapolates from scientific ideas a plausible premise about First Contact. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter to me, although now that I consider it I really should catch up with the book sometime. Its enough that the film was, when I saw it at the cinema back in the day, and remains today watching my Blu-Ray copy, a pretty strong and quite satisfying film. 

Its perhaps a wee bit melodramatic, a little too Hollywood… maybe its just that its a product of the 1990s. I think it would have benefited by being made several years ago with a less emotive director, someone like Denis Villeneuve, really- its no mistake that the film I kept on thinking about while watching Contact was Villeneuve’s own First Contact film, his superb Arrival from 2016. Arrival is a better film by some margin, I think, but I would dearly love to see what someone like Villeneuve might have made of something like Contact, given the material and a big cinematic toybox.

I was oddly disturbed, funnily enough, when I considered that the last time I had watched Contact was before Arrival existed- this was the first time watching Contact in which Arrival was in my thoughts, and it made me consider the strange thing it is of re-watching films over the years. We are different, the world is different, the cinematic landscape is different: and that later point is perhaps the most telling of all. Films made decades later with better technologies inevitably have some bearing on whether a film still holds up years down the line. For one thing, I seem to remember the visual effects of Contact being pretty cutting-edge back in 1997; its funny how much some CG effects have aged spectacularly badly. Many of Contact’s visual effects hold up pretty well, and some of them, er, really don’t look good.   

The search for extra-terrestrial life always made perfect sense and great importance to me. As Arthur C Clarke put it,  “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” Contact doesn’t voice it in the same way, it leaves that argument unspoken and I keep on thinking that Jodie Foster’s character, our central heroine, Ellie, should scream that sentiment out at her loudest voice: how can any one of her detractors critiquing her obsession with SETI deny it? Contact seems more concerned with arguments of Faith, examinations of Faith, either in God or Science and its a bittersweet stroke of genius that Ellie’s First Contact experience ultimately becomes a matter of Faith. Are we believers (of course we are, we saw what she saw) or are we non-believers (did we really just see what she thinks she saw)? I think the film would have been incredibly brave had it just left it that way- instead it tips its hat with a reveal that Ellie’s digital recorder may have recorded just static- but it recorded eighteen hours of it, which validates Ellie’s claims. It feels a little too literal, too obvious to me, I think I would have preferred a vaguer conclusion. I think what I’m getting at is that Contact is still an enjoyable and fairly strong film- it just isn’t sophisticated enough, for me today. Maybe its too literal. 

contactThe films constant tension between God and science, between Faith and Empirical Evidence is both its most interesting dynamic and its most irritating. It keeps on forcing its way in. It feels like something Carl Sagan would have written, even if he always seemed quite dismissive about anything Divine- God always seemed too simple a solution for Carl. My suspicion, having not read the book, is that a lot of the films preoccupation with God and science are from the Hollywood direction, not the book, but hey, I could be way wrong and should-have-done-my-research.

The cast is really good. Jodie Foster is great as Ellie, and its wonderful seeing Tom Skerritt as the  boo-hiss villain of the piece, scientist/bureaucrat/bastard David Drumlin. James Woods of course could play the frankly despicable -if wholly believable- government senator Kitz in his sleep, and seeing him in this I wonder again why we see so little of him these days (has he retired?). How wonderful, too, is John Hurt as tech magnate S. R. Hadden (and me suddenly realising he’s a fellow Alien colleague of Skerritt, and yep they both die in this film too). Really, the cast is one of the films strengths. Even a rather young-looking Matthew McConaughey, who always irritated me in the film and still does -too cool, too self-confident, too sexy, too Hollywood- has the novel perspective gifted from his later roles, particularly Interstellar, a film that assumes intelligence but is frankly quite behind Contact in that regard (Interstellar’s twist that the ‘aliens’ are our future selves communicating via a Cosmic Bookcase is just… I’m always rather lost for words). 

As I’ve gotten older my own faith, as it were, that it would surely be just a matter of Time before SETI found some evidence of an alien signal and proof of neighbours in the Cosmos, has not been realised. Years and decades went by and the euphoria of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was eventually worn down by mundane reality. When that film originally came out I read something by someone remarking that the events of CE3K had they happened would have been kept secret, we -the public at large- would never have been told, it was an event just too big, too huge. It would change too much, so such revelations would be hidden away for our own safety. Reading that as a kid, I dismissed it with my usual youthful enthusiasm, but as I’ve gotten older and more jaded… partly I think, how do you keep such secrets secret in this Information Age, but then I think, grow up. They can hide anything.

Maybe something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind couldn’t be made today. Its message of Good Aliens after decades of Hollywood alien invasions felt quite radical at the time, even if its sentiments proved short-lived with Alien and Independence Day and so many others reasserting the alien’s rightful place of outsiders and menace. Are we ready for First Contact? Robert Zemeckis’ film suggests that we’re not, and its possibly right, but its a great question to ask and ponder over. For my part, a recurring problem for me every time Contact finishes, is that its somehow pressed some magical ‘reset’ button worthy of 1960s television- there is no mention of the alien technology just sitting waiting to be used again, or the various applications of that technology that would filter down into military and civilian use. Ellie is even back at her old job listening for signals again. James Woods dismissing the whole thing as an elaborate hoax by some high-tech industrialist is like some kind of magic trick, and its that one moment in which Contact becomes, at the last moment, utterly stupid.

Just as at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there would be no going back, and maybe the REALLY interesting films, in both cases, would be the films telling us what happened next, but neither CE3K2 or Contact 2 ever happened. Sometimes film-makers get away scot-free.

Rocketmen: Ad Astra and Sunshine

ad astraI was going to write about Ad Astra, which I watched for a third (maybe fourth) time a few nights ago, but then I realised I’d written two posts about it before (once from its original cinema showing, and then again when I bought the film on 4K UHD) making anything I have to say this time around pretty much redundant. I do find it rather curious that the film, flawed as it is, still maintains some fascination for me. I sometimes think flawed films can be like that- you can watch it enjoying it for what it does very well, and then fall into a sort of mental trap considering what was wrong with it, how it could have turned out better, second-guessing the creative team’s choices. I wonder if those very same creative teams (chiefly the director and producer/s) end up doing the same themselves, or perhaps just walk away from it and happily never go back to it. Well, I suppose the recent example of Oliver Stone’s repeated tinkering of Alexander (four cuts so far) would indicate that some of those creatives really do find it hard to pull themselves away from nagging doubts and second thoughts. The truth of course is that in the case of my own considerations, they are seperate from the business pressures and considerations that are the harsh realities of making a film- films are rarely ever made in a vacuum, and one has to make allowances, the higher a budget climbs, regards the pressures and doubts of executives putting up all that production money. In my head there is a perfect Ad Astra film that pretty much tells the same story but does so without manic space baboons and perhaps with a more genuinely space-crazed father out on the edge of human civilization and cosmic void. 

You do take different things from films everytime you re-watch them. This time in particular I was troubled by how the film played it fast and loose with scientific accuracy while at the same time it acted like some kind of successor to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It posed as one thing but was really something else; maybe not to the extent of space fantasy’s like Star Wars but maybe closer to something like Alien or Sunshine

sunshineMentioning the latter, I re-watched that again last night. The curious thing about Danny Boyle’s Sunshine is that it is also one of my wife’s favourite movies; she’s not a great fan of space movies in general but there is certainly something about Sunshine that she really enjoys, and indeed whenever we re-watch it, its usually down to her suggesting it. Not something that ever happens regards re-watching Blade Runner, I can tell you, but nobody’s perfect. But Sunshine... well its a weird film; on the one hand it is heavily indebted to Alien and often gets criticised by its nods to Event Horizon later on in its proceedings. I described Ad Astra in the past as two films vying for dominance and neither really winning out, and the same is very true of Sunshine, which makes me wonder, what is it with these space movies? They are made as if they are one thing, and then they suffer a midpoint crisis and become quite another. Maybe its a bit of the old pre-2001 sci fi b-movie thing that was going on for decades, and which has left films post-2001 stuck in this weird cosmic no-mans land of trying to be entertaining but at the same time acknowledge that Kubrick’s film changed everything. 

What makes Sunshine so successful, I think, are the characters who are so well realised by the very good cast. In that respect, its something that Alien succeeded with in a clever shorthand that Boyle mimics well, and something that 2001 ironically failed at totally. Which is not to ignore the subtext of 2001 in that the humans were deliberately less human than HAL 9000, as if the bestial man-apes of the films prologue became less and less natural and ‘human’ as they evolved into technological creatures, the tools from bones becoming the spaceships of their space odyssey but their lives soulless and bland. That’s an intellectual argument that only Kubrick could get away with, but it does alienate many viewers. Films need empathy, some connection between the viewer and the characters depicted, in order to engage with those viewers. Something Sunshine succeeds very well at. Indeed, maybe it succeeds better than Ad Astra in telling the same story, as the Icarus II crew’s journey into space brings them in contact with a character who has been driven insane by the sheer immensity of space, the revelation of our place in space and time. Roy McBride’s journey to his father in Ad Astra is inherently the same as the Icarus II crew encountering the commander of the doomed Icarus I mission- Pinbacker’s violent and bloody rampage that threatens the second Icarus mission rather more intense and traditional, story-wise, than the encounter McBride has with his Dad, but in real terms its the same; character/s trying to save the Earth in opposition to an individual driven insane by a cosmic perspective. I suppose one could even argue both films owe a sly debt to the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, maybe.

The Color Out of Space is so bright, you’ve got to wear shades

colorWell ain’t that weird, this one’s a tricky one- I actually quite liked Richard Stanley’s The Color Out of Space a wee teeny bit, but I’m hard pressed to explain why. Maybe its the fairly poor track record for films based on H P Lovecraft’s horror fiction; its highly likely that the best Lovecraft films are not actually based on any of his stories at all- thinking of Alien and Annihilation here- and its pretty clear that when film-makers try to bring actual HPL stories to the screen it never really ends well. Ironically, while HPL’s own prose is very serious and thoughtful archaically elegant, most films seem to swap tension for laughs, as if the tales are just so ridiculous you have to wink at the audience rather than yell “boo!” which is something that has endlessly irritated me, a trend set way back by 1985’s Re-Animator. If I had to name my favourite ‘proper’ Lovecraft film, it would probably be the late Stuart Gordon’s Dagon from 2001, and that was far from perfect. Or maybe the 2005 Call of Cthulhu produced by H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, although I’d contend that was more a ‘fan film’ than a genuine full-fledged motion picture. What I’m saying is, as far as Lovecraft films are concerned, the bar’s set pretty low. 

Maybe if Guillermo del Toro had managed to shoot his At the Mountains of Madness film ten years ago, things would be much different. That film possibly ranks among the great films never made, one of those lingering ‘what-ifs’ that film buffs can wax lyrical over whilst sharing drinks on a cold and stormy night. By all accounts, that film might finally have been Lovecraft done right, with a huge budget, visionary director and a great cast. 

Lets get the elephant out of the room straight away- I’m no fan at all of Nicolas Cage and he is perfectly hideous in this. Although one can argue the slippery slope his career has been on has been a long and steep one (if Hollywood had a Mariana Trench, you’d find Nic halfway down it), in recent years particularly he has essentially become a parody of himself. Here in The Color Out of Space he is absolutely, horrifyingly, mind-bogglingly terrible- I’ve seen him phone in some nonsense before, but he seems to think he can justify his casting in this film by having a wild tantrum in the kitchen. Maybe there is some level of meta-horror here in his casting that escapes me, some level of terror that his performance graces this film with that elevates it to some other subconscious territory of horror – God knows when I think back upon his performance it evokes something of a shudder.  

Its clear that  The Color Out of Space suffers by being made after the fantastic Annihilation, a film that, sharing so many of the themes and ideas of Lovecraft’s original story,  visually pre-empted many of the visual flourishes that Richard Stanley uses here- the twisted, richly-coloured vegetation and strange alien creatures used to express the sense of unknowable, alien nature. Indeed some viewers could be forgiven, in fact, for mistakenly thinking its based on the same source material or is indeed a sequel, both films after all concerned with an alien rock falling to Earth and transforming the land around its crash site, and ultimately warping reality. The world within the Shimmer of Annihilation has a profound strangeness, of normality slipping into alien nightmare, and Stanley uses similar art direction to same effect with this film. But Alex Garland’s film is far, far superior, with a better cast and script, and Stanley of course sadly has to contend with dear Nic. In any case, with the nagging feel of the familiar hanging so obviously over Stanley’s film, it loses any sense of originality that might have otherwise excited attention. 

But all that being said, how bad Cage is and how much the film suffers in comparison to Alex Garland’s film, I have to admit I still found it worthwhile. Maybe it was just refreshing to see someone trying to make something decent while at the same time making a HPL film: its heart was in the right place, you know? You gotta love a trier, especially if you’re a fan of this Lovecraft stuff, as I am.

Yet again though, here’s a horror film that makes the unforgivable sin of not really being scary, but that’s something I can say of most horror films of late so its perhaps not fair to slap the film with that one. Perhaps its the limitations of the budget, or the cast (the lack of chemistry between Cage and his onscreen wife Theresa, played by Joely Richardson, is deplorable, albeit quite funny in their awkward romantic moments, which had me wondering if it was a clever reference to Lovecraft’s real-life antipathy towards women, as if Stanley was weaving some complex meta-story). One of my chief issues turned out to be that perennial favourite of HPL movies:  with it showing flower-child daughter Lavinia (Madeline Arthur) messing around with amateur black magic at the start, the film establishes a silly fairy-tale-like milieu from the start that undermines any attempt to make anything afterwards feel as real or involving as the events, of, say, Annihilation.  And that’s before the pattern of nuttiness that rolls in when Nic appears, leaving Stanley nowhere to go but a kookier colour Purple than even Prince could have ever imagined. This, in a film which I’ve praised for being a serious take on Lovecraft. If nothing else, that surely indicates how low the bar has fallen with all these Lovecraft adaptations.  

Dagon wakes: Underwater (2020)

underw1I’ll be honest, I was predisposed to enjoy this film just because of the setting, and the surprising nods to Lovecraft only sealed the deal, so this possibly isn’t the most even-minded, judgemental of reviews. We’re just predisposed to like certain films, I guess.  James Cameron’s The Abyss, for all its faults, is one of my favourite films, and William Eubank’s somewhat ill-fated Underwater (what, not even a DVD release over here?) is like some kind of sequel or perhaps more precisely an  ‘anti-The Abyss’. In Cameron’s film our bold aquanauts meet Spielbergian good-guy aliens who just want us to play nice on the surface, whereas in Underwater our aquanauts meet up with beasties who want us to frak off and die horribly, but both films share the same blue-collar workers in the depths/gritty hardware/grungy reality tropes which nod back to Ridley Scott’s truckers-in-space Alien. The hardware is great in Underwater, particularly the deep-sea suits that they have to wear in order to survive the pressures of the depths and trek across the desolate ocean floor- they are hugely impressive and convincing.  

Underwater initially unfolds like an Irwin Allen disaster movie, with a bunch of survivors trapped in a stricken deep-sea mining platform trying to get back to the surface. The setting is well realised -if vaguely uninspiring/overly familiar, in a Deepcore/Nostromo kind of way- and the characters reasonably defined, our angst-ridden, moody heroine Norah (Kirstin Stewart) surprisingly androgynous as far as traditional heroines go. She manages to find some survivors in the ruins -Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and wise-cracking comic relief Paul (T J Miller) and after a finely directed claustrophobic crawl-through-the -wreckage sequence they hook up with station commander Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) who has managed to see off the last of the crew in twenty-two surviving life-pods. Lucien and two other crew -Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) and Emily (Jessica Yu Li Henwick)- having now run out of lifepods are trying to find some other way off the station, and Norah and her bunch join the effort.  

underw2My biggest gripe regards the film is that it has clearly been edited down to its bare-bones: it literally starts with a bang, with the drilling station stricken by disaster. It’d be like starting The Abyss with the Deepcore rig being dragged to the edge of the, er, abyss, or Alien starting with the Nostromo landing on the planetoid.  We are not given any time as viewers to acclimatise ourselves with the setting or the premise or the characters, we are just thrown into it and the pace never really lets up over its slim 95-minute running time. The only real information about where we are and whats going on is given during the title sequence in the form of text/news cuttings, and that’s it- clearly this is a deliberate info-dump device which is bookended at the end, too.

This obviously betrays the film as a film of its time, as attention-deficit disorder viewers obviously have very valuable time that they don’t want to waste with movies establishing characterisation and drama in the old-fashioned ways, they just want to get to the action and then go out for a drink and pizza. Very often this kind of thing is done in films to disguise plot holes and bad logic- JJ Abrams is a master of this and Rise of Skywalker possibly the most heinous culprit of late- and its a pity, because Underwater doesn’t really have too many plot-holes it needs to hide away and it could have done with more running-time to establish its characters in more, er, depth (sic). Its hard to care for characters if you don’t know them, and while the film does manage to clearly define them as individuals it only does so by making them unfortunately very simplistic and one-dimensional. The brevity also damages the atmosphere of the film, lacking the time to deepen the mood and tension. Like many-if not all- modern films, Underwater lacks a really good score too: its score by genre veteran Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts is functional at best, and lacks the cloying, disturbing atmosphere, of say Elliot Goldenthal’s similarly-themed Sphere soundtrack.

So while I thoroughly enjoyed Underwater for what it is, there is always a frustrating sense that it could have been more, and that it betrays itself as a possibly troubled production (it was apparently finished in 2018 but left on the shelf for a few years waiting release). While I suppose I’m fooling myself to think there’s possibly a longer, superior extended Directors Cut out there that we’ll never see, I think I’d be right in thinking that if this film had been made in the 1970s or even 1980s, it would be two hours long and better-paced with proper character beats and an improved sense of tension. Like many modern films, this film in its final guise almost feels like a highlights reel, and its likely inevitable that if a studio starts cutting a two-hour movie to ninety minutes, it’ll keep the expensive effects sequences and cut the character stuff.

As it is, after a very limited cinema release earlier this year, Underwater has been dumped on digital rental services here in the UK, without even a DVD or Blu-ray release (never mind 4K UHD). Hey, its not exactly a genre classic but it deserves better. A film like Underwater, as dark as it is, can be particularly hurt by compression issues when streaming it, and to be frank it looked pretty horrible in some of the more frantic murky sequences on the Amazon stream I watched it on. Just another reason to bemoan the move away from physical formats- what a brave new world we have to look forward to, film fans. 

  

Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

split1
“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Returning to Annihilation

anni2Last night I re-watched Alex Garland’s Annihilation, this time on 4K UHD disc rather than streamed on Netflix. The film holds up very well indeed, and remains one of the very best science fiction films in recent memory. Its dark and sombre and horrifying and disturbing. The ending of course is challenging/refreshing/infuriating and I would imagine what people think of the film largely depends on how well they accept such vague and obtuse storytelling. Some of the best science fiction films (looking at you, 2001: A Space Odyssey) leave things open to interpretation and conjecture, leaving some work required from the audience.

What excites me most regards Annihilation‘s ending is that it maintains the sense of the alien, the unknowable, that permeates the entirety of the film. Throughout the film the nature of the Shimmer, its what and why escapes the characters caught up in it. In science fiction films of decades ago (or indeed not even all that long ago), a somebody, whether it be scientist or alien, would be obliged to explain everything in a long monologue to reassure viewers that they are not stupid for not understanding or fathoming it all out, but thank goodness films can be more mature now. Characters in Annihilation offer up suggestions but none of it is ever really taken for truth or final solution. There is a sense that Reality cannot be relied upon, something in the light and the air is wrong and changed and the creatures that exist in this swampish, wooded dreamscape are strange  and twisted. Time seems to pass differently, days can be lost from memory, A monster howls the last screams of one of its victims. Shapes shift under skin, plants sprout from arms, fingerprints shift into new patterns: our bodies betray us (simplest solution: its a film about cancer?). I love that this film leaves it open for me to think about, to ruminate over. There seems all sorts of possibilities and readings to consider on future viewings; I find that exciting. Lena keeps telling her interrogator “I don’t know” when questioned about what happened to her. I don’t know what happens either, but I can have fun thinking about it.

Something fell out of the sky and infected reality with something like cancer, multiplying, creating and destroying without reason, likely without concious intent.

We cannot grasp the real size of the universe or our place in it, and can never really ‘know’ what an alien would be like, or think, if it thought at all. All too often aliens are depicted in film as dudes with Californian accents and a desire for the nearest hot chick (I didn’t intend to reference the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 but I think I just did) and I much rather films go the Giger’s Alien route when they can (the biggest crime of Prometheus is trying to dispel the 1979 films bloody mystery).

So anyway, Annihilation is bloody brilliant. Absolutely loved it. This time I had the added bonus (as I have the film on disc) of being able to watch the extra features and was surprised to discover that they are pretty substantial, totalling close to 90 minutes all told and being really quite informative and not the EPK filler we usually get these days. Behind the scenes footage of some key sequences with insights from cast and crew, some of the pre-production work and as usual Garland is quite open regards how he adapted the original novel (a journey “from suburbia to psychedelia” is one of his observations) and his thoughts on the cast (shame there wasn’t a commentary track though, I suspect Garland would be a great company for a run through the film, but the lack of commentary just perpetuates the mystery I guess).

Great film, though.

A Nostromo Restoration

While I’m (still) reading J.W. Rinzler’s excellent The Making of Alien, and to try to excuse the fact that I haven’t had time to write any new reviews (haven’t even had time to watch anything since Saturday), I thought I’d post this link to a great old YouTube video that may have passed by some readers here. Have you caught yourself looking at your reflection in the mirror thinking you look old? Relax- it ain’t nothing like how bad the poor Nostromo looked like a decade ago. This video was posted by The Prop Store, who had acquired the original Nostromo miniature from Alien and commissioned Grant McCune Design’s modellers to try restore it to something like its original glory.

Its surprising just how basic the miniature was- definitely a product of its time and the Old School sensibilities of the British effects technicians working on the film. The miniature looks great in the film so you could argue its all it needed to be, but its nothing like the beautiful Enterprise miniature that was built and shot for Star Trek: The Motion Picture at around the same time- mind, it likely cost nothing like as much as the Enterprise did.

Last Week: Warning- Disney loves the Alien

ndisneyDistressing news last week (at least I think it’s distressing, your own mileage may vary) was that Disney, having now gobbled up 20th Century Fox, is looking at all the IP its bought and is looking at ways to maximise the potential returns. One of the first properties under its uncanny eye is Alien, and it has been reported that it is looking to reboot the franchise.

Dear God. I hope that doesn’t mean a remake of the original Alien.

Now, I well understand that this also means we can finally dump Prometheus and Alien Covenant in the trash bin and pretend they never happened, because once the reboot button is pressed, then essentially everything prior becomes non-canon, and, well, as we won’t be getting a third prequel from Ridley Scott, the two films are pretty much even more useless than they were before. I’ll be honest, I was rather forlornly hoping that Ridley had another Alien film in him to tie things up with those Engineers and save the day but, alas, it seems its not to be. Maybe this is a good thing.

But they’d better keep there hands off remaking the 1979 movie.

Rebooting Alien. What the hell does that even mean? Do they go back to the Dan O’Bannon/Ron Shusett original treatments and start from scratch? Does that mean a redesign of the Alien and dropping Giger’s creature? There’s a special circle of Hell waiting for any execs crazy enough to make that move. Giger simply is Alien. His dark twisted horror/sexual imagery is the core of the film’s Lovecraftian dread. There’s all sorts of subconscious tensions and fears in that stuff. Maybe they could recreate the creature in CGI fully recapturing those proportions of his paintings that really confound the limitations of a man in a suit. I’d go with that. But let’s not lose the creature.

So what do Disney do? What the hell has that Mouse got in its head? Making a movie set in the same Alien universe, but maybe set after Alien, or Aliens? Pretend that everything from Alien 3 never happened?

Or does it go the Another Life route? Crew the Nostromo with a hip young crew of beautiful people, white, black, gay, straight, bisexual, oversexed, ultracool, dressed in cool fashionable clothes with perfect haircuts. Send them into space with a slick spaceship carrying a payload of water to a climate-change ravaged desert Earth and have them detour to a planet and a flying saucer with a Made In the USA sticker hidden of their sight in a cunning ploy by the Weyland corporation to field test their new bio-warfare toy on an alien Love Island?

God leave it alone Disney. You’ve messed up Star Wars, just leave Alien alone. Its not your thing. This isn’t about selling children’s toys/merchandise or creating Nostromo rides at Disneyland. Alien is Heavy Metal, its hardcore adult horror. I know it hasn’t been that for years, really, but let’s just pretend that 1979 film is Out Of Bounds.

Whatever next? Reboot Planet of the Apes (again)? Reboot Die Hard (again)? Hey, I can see it now- it’s the grudge match everyone’s been waiting for- its Aliens versus Apes in Weyland Tower, a corporate skyscraper under siege by eco-terrorists, and our only hope is a bitter detective visiting town to see her ex-husband who works on the 99th Floor. Can Jane McClane alert the authorities of the terrorist attack before they can steal the Weyland Biowarfare files, while somehow surviving the attention of talking Apes and slimy Alien Face Huggers? It may be Easter, but those Eggs aint for kids mutha—-r.  Kerching! I can hear those cash registers ringing, I’m on fire. Talk to my agent, Disney, I’m sure we can do business.