Reminiscence 4K UHD (2021)

rem1Lisa Joy’s tech-noir thriller Reminiscence is a film which, like a few this year, I unfortunately missed at the cinema, which annoyed me as it seemed right up my street – someone went and made an adult, intelligent sci-fi thriller and I didn’t get to see it, and like BR2049 it bombed spectacularly. So I was really looking forward to seeing it when it came to home video, and naturally I went the full 4K UHD route (with hindsight its a pleasant surprise it has turned up on the format at all), but it proved rather disappointing.  It turns out that, for all it does well -and it does indeed do some things very well- its badly flawed, unfortunately. It’s not bad, exactly- it just doesn’t tie together somehow, it doesn’t really work, overall, which is frustrating because some elements are very good indeed. Its a case of being clumsy where it really needed to soar, and perhaps being overly familiar.

So many films and tv shows one sees these days, if they aren’t actually remakes or reboots, they still often seem to be a combination of the ‘greatest hits’ of someone’s DVD collection. Maybe its the entertainment industry’s sincerest form of flattery, or a reminder that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Reminiscence is hitched upon the central conceit that an invention enables people to re-live some of their past experiences which can be visualised for others to see and record, and this also enables access to forgotten memories or the ability to vividly recall things otherwise only dimly remembered. The law enforcement agencies use this machine to interrogate suspects who can be prosecuted by the evidence their memories reveal – an inversion of the ‘future crime’ of Memory Report, then, but similarly projecting crimes for others to see and record for evidence, criminals being betrayed by their own memories or those of witnesses.   

The seductive aspect of reliving good memories, especially in the distinctly dystopian world which Reminiscence proposes, reminds one of another tech-noir thriller, Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days, and its device which enabled the recording of events for others to experience, itself similar to Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm of some years before. Some characters in Reminiscence are doomed to endlessly  return to and re-experience good times in just the same way as Ralph Fiennes’ Lenny in Strange Days, and indeed this is something mirrored by the ultimate fate of this film’s main character, Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), who can’t let go of his muse, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) any more than Lenny can shake off his obsession over his own lost love. So Reminiscence seems to come to us now third-hand, almost, rather than be anything actually new, ironically leaking reminiscences of other films-  I don’t really mind that if its done in some new and interesting way, but this is where the film slips up.  While there is some political subtext and a crime to solve, Lisa Joy treats that as secondary to its romance woven through the narrative, and its that which doesn’t entirely convince. Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson are very good actors but they just seem a little too ‘perfect’ to convince as the flawed, haunted characters that Joy wants them to be. There is a feeling that we are always watching beautiful people merely approximating what desperate, hungry and haunted characters might be like were they a little more, well, ordinary like the rest of us. Perhaps this is always true of Hollywood product. 

There is, to be sure, a really great film in here, somewhere. Considering recent world attention on Climate Change and rising sea levels, seeing a film portraying a possible nightmare scenario spun off of that -in this case a half-submerged Miami and days so hot that everyone sleeps in the day and spend the majority of their waking hours during the night-as vividly as this film does is something timely and fascinating. And the reliance of the survivors upon the new technology to re-experience memories and experiences of better times as an avenue of escape is very interesting, and similar to how people during the pandemic have eulogised old pre-COVID traditions and pursuits like, hey, going to the cinema like we used to, or perhaps re-watching films that remind us of better times. There is perhaps a subtext there upon fantasy and escape and what catharsis films themselves provide us, and what a dead-end that may be. 

So what goes wrong exactly? I think its partly the romance that doesn’t wholly convince, and as that’s the central interest for Lisa Joy that’s a pretty fundamental failing. The crime that hangs in the background concerning a wealthy family, an illegitimate child, a bent cop and resultant murders just doesn’t interest either, really. Maybe its just too many balls to juggle in the air; I rather suspect that Lisa Joy has more success with so many narrative threads when she’s spacing them over an eight or ten-episode series on HBO rather than a two-hour movie, and films always tend to need cohesive, satisfying endings, not more mystery boxes. 

As someone who has watched quite a few film noir lately, I also think that Reminiscence could have possibly done without its narration, a noir device that doesn’t, to be honest, really work for me here. I always prefer film-makers to show me, don’t tell me, and the best noir, no matter how complex they may be, can often manage just fine without a voice explaining it all. Maybe I’m wrong and don’t appreciate that post-millennials are lazier. 

Maybe Reminiscence is just another victim of dystopian films just not appealing to audiences right now- maybe we’re swerving back to the days of post-Vietnam 1977 and audiences just want escapist fun. We’re living in a dystopian world as it is, and we know the future increasingly looks bleak; we don’t necessarily need films to remind us, or show us how bad it might get. Or maybe we just want better movies.

Last week: Once Upon a Time

onceThis last week I’ve been contemplating re-watching Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America. I say ‘contemplating’ because its a formidable work to really take in- the restored cut released a few years ago on Blu-ray totals 251 minutes, which is just over four hours. That’s not four hours of big CGI action and stunts that can pass by without any effort regards actually thinking about what you’re watching- this is four hours of complex, bravura film-making at a sometimes glacial pace that shifts backwards and forwards in time across decades, between reality and opium dream. This is four hours that requires attention and respect. You don’t put Once Upon A Time In America on just to pass the time with a favourite movie. This film is an experience, and a sometimes demanding and daunting one. I’m sure some people hate it. I love it.

But I don’t watch it very often. Some films you can watch and rewatch quite regularly but America isn’t one of them- its just not that kind of film. I think its a film that should be savoured, and every time I do watch it, its a wonder to behold. As I grow older I find myself increasingly wondering how on Earth it even got made. America could never get made today. It just wouldn’t get done. I don’t think something, anything like this film, could ever get made now. Maybe it was the last of its kind.

Louise Fletcher. The first film I ever saw her in was Brainstorm. I loved the film but it was largely dismissed even at the time it came out, remembered now mostly for the tragic real-life story behind the scenes, a film practically disowned by the studio that made it and had to be forced to release it. Louise Fletcher was brilliant in Brainstorm, a revelatory performance for me; I thought she was wonderful. A few years later, having been familiar with Once Upon A Time In America for awhile through a VHS rental and later buying a VHS copy on a trip to London, I became confused by reports that she was in the film. I couldn’t remember her being in it, surely I would have noticed her. I put it down to bad information/poor journalism, but her name kept on coming up related to the film.  Eventually I learned that she actually had been involved, but that her role had been completely cut out. A film that was already 226 minutes long in the versions I had seen (I have always had a morbid fascination with one day seeing the infamous 139-minute cut but never have) somehow managed to cut her part out of it, an Oscar-winning actress? America is that kind of movie. Huge, monumental, astonishing, ridiculous.

The cast that is in the film is remarkable, but the stories about what the film might have been are equally remarkable, really- the film took so many years to make,  and over its lengthy gestation all sorts of names were connected for a time. Once upon a time, America featured Gerard Depardieu as Maz, and Richard Dreyfuss as Noodles (and James Cagney as the old Noodles? Crazy). Once upon a time, Tom Berenger was Noodles (and Paul Newman the old Noodles, even crazier!). Once upon a time, Brooke Shields was Deborah.

America always had Ennio Morricone scoring its music. Indeed, the music existed before the film was even made- Morricone wrote much of the score’s themes before it was shot and Leone filmed scenes to match the music. Once upon a time, films were made that way. Its why the score is as important as any cast member of the film; the score is the films soul.

I want someone to write a book about Once Upon A Time In America, a huge definitive book that delves into its long pre-production, its filming, its reception, its failure,  the death of the genius behind it, and its long road to reappraisal. Maybe that book would be as daunting to write (and read) as the film can be to watch.

The longest current version of the film is 251 minutes long, but it could yet be even longer. Leone’s initial cut was 269 minutes long, and I understand the missing 24 minutes exists, but cannot be incorporated into the film because of rights issues. Rights issues. Even the behind the scenes of the film is ridiculous. 35 years and Leone’s original vision is yet incomplete. Its like the plot of a movie, larger than life. Fitting enough I guess, as the film is always larger than life, more an ode to American myth, and Cinematic myth, than any reality. In just the same way as his Westerns are bigger than any real West.

I wish Leone had lived longer, and had been given opportunity to have made more films. Cinema is the lesser for his loss. But the irony of course is that America is the price of that loss, because the film and the troubles behind it are what is widely accepted as contributing to his untimely passing.

I’m sitting here writing this. I should be watching America.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

hit1During the end credits of this movie, when I saw the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich come up on screen, I had such a strange sensation of nostalgia, of seeing old familiar friends after a long, long time. Which it has been, really- I don’t think I’ve seen both their names on a film’s credits since Brainstorm back in 1984. But it was such a surprise, as I had no idea either of them were connected with this film, especially as the film is such a low-key, odd little film that it seems the unlikeliest thing. But hey, life is full of surprises, and this was one of them. As far as film geeks go, it was like seeing the names of heroes onscreen, gave me something of a buzz. But hey, life is strange and film geeks stranger.

Its perhaps just as well that I really, really liked this film. I have since seen some really negative reviews and commentary about the film, but the hell with all that. We just like certain movies, and certain films click with certain people I guess. The title The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot may be its own problem, because I think that title suggests a certain kind of film; something trendy, funny, from left-field, like a Tarantino movie maybe, and this film is nothing at all like that. Instead The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is a rather sad, melancholy fable, a story of an old man near the end of his life reflecting on his life, and his regrets.

It is also, oddly enough, something of a superhero film. Maybe an alternative superhero film, if there is such a thing. Because certainly the main character of this film, Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) is a  man with superpowers. Its a film that approaches superheroes in a similar way that Watchmen did, asking ‘what would it be like if Superman existed in the Real World?’, and posits that he’d decide to live a quiet life away from any action, perhaps even regretting the heroic deeds he’d once done.Hmm, a Tarantino film it isn’t.

hit2So anyway, that’s pretty much what the film is about. Calvin is an old man, a recluse who unknown to anyone in his town was once a legendary assassin who killed Hitler, a success which failed to really change the course of WWII (turned out Germany used ‘fake’ Hitlers to continue a pretence that Hitler was alive in an attempt to maintain its war effort). So in the present-day, some MIB-type agents pull Calvin out of retirement for one final secret mission – to track down and kill a Bigfoot that is infected with a deadly disease that will likely infect and wipe out humanity if the creature remains on the loose much longer.

Its during these present-day sequences that Calvin reminisces about his past before the war, and his mission to kill Hitler during the war that changed everything for him. These flashbacks are intended to inform the present and why Calvin is the way he is- basically a bitter old man tired of living.  There is a bittersweet but doomed romance that suggests a life of happiness denied him- his price, perhaps, of his powers. Regards these powers, they are fairly mundane- he can’t fly or anything- instead he is very strong, deadly in combat, adept at any languages (hence a useful talent undercover during the war in occupied territory) and immune to any disease (its likely, for instance, he’s never had a cold in all his life). Likely he has other talents/powers the film doesn’t show. During flashbacks to the war, we see him witness Jews being put on trains to the concentration camps, and I think his powerlessness to stop it -and his later assassination of Hitler failing to really alter anything- makes him feel a failure, as if he wasted his talents.

Its as if being born a comparative Superman, but then failing to really achieve anything, made him feel he has had a wasted life. Perhaps his life of anonymity was the price for maintaining some normality, avoiding the circus of notoriety in the public eye. I guess you either buy into that or not, but its an interesting premise.

hit4Sam Elliott as the grizzled, weary old Calvin is perfect for the role- its like it was written for him, and Aidan Turner (yeah that Poldark fella) does pretty fine as the young Calvin. I thought it was a really interesting, and quite affecting film, graced with a notable score from Joe Kraemer that evokes all kinds of John Williams textures. Indeed in many ways it feels a film from some other time- a film very of the 1970s, with its slow pace and gentle feel. Even the Bigfoot sequences (man in a suit! man in a suit!) brings to mind guilty pleasures like Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Okay, Bigfoot is really a little more sophisticated than that really sounds, but you know, its certainly no modern CGI extravaganza, and that’s part of the films charm.

So anyway, I really enjoyed it and was quite surprised by the negative reviews I’ve since read. Then again, its just one of those films that perhaps defy ordinary expectations, especially with the hook that the title suggests. Its really something of a gentle fable of what a life with superpowers might be like. The fact its not a life with capes and masks and super-villains likely confounds some. I thought it refreshing. And hey, its a film with the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich on the end credits. I’m still getting a kick out of that.

Flatliners (2017)

flat1I’m sitting here feeling somewhat numb. What can I possibly write about this new edition of Flatliners? It feels about as pointless as the film itself. I expected it would be bad, but it turns out it’s worse than I had imagined. Frankly, life is too short, but here goes, I’ll try keep this brief-

I remember watching the 1990 original of Flatliners and thinking it was pretty good at the time- I saw it on VHS rental, so what, that’s 25+years ago now, and I can’t recall watching it again since, as it was pretty forgettable really, the most notable thing about it being the cast (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon), who all went on to bigger better things. The set-up (medical students deliberately flatline/kill themselves for a few minutes prior to being resuscitated in order to study/discover what happens after death), is daft but full of potential- I remember hoping for something like Brainstorm, a film that would offer an answer to the inevitable questions: is there a Heaven, is there a Hell, or is there Nothing? At least Brainstorm, for all its flaws, had suggested an answer, albeit just really offering familiar religious iconography in doing so, but hey, it’s one of my guilty pleasures and it’s a decent movie. But Flatliners just ducked the questions like a coward, afraid to upset anyone in the audience and offered up guilt-trips instead, but hey, that’s show business, and I believe it made lots of money (more than Brainstorm, certainly).

Incredibly, this new Flatliners makes the exact same mistake but compounds it by featuring a mostly uninteresting cast of unconvincing and bland characters with a script that is shockingly inept. Its terrible, really, not that I should perhaps be surprised, but really, the stupidity is what’s most shocking. Ellen Page’s character flatlines and has an out-of-body ‘experience’ of rising up out of the hospital into the sky above it, afterwards convincing her colleagues by daft nonsense like “I flew above the roof of the hospital- I’ve never seen the roof of the hospital before!” as if thats some kind of proof. Suddenly she’s super-smart and can also play the piano, but these sudden bursts of knowledge and creativity, a catalyst for others of the group to give flatlining a go, is subsequently ditched as a plotpoint in favour of jump-scares and standard horror tropes. Religious imagery seems to have been consciously avoided in order to not question any audience belief-system. Its therefore completely anemic and bloodless and boring, certainly to me. And none of it makes any sense- the film suggests that everything is happening in each person’s mind, like a guilt-trip for past transgressions, but this does not explain how Ellen Pages character gets dragged across the floor of her apartment or how James Norton’s character gets stabbed in the hand by a knife. Its preposterous and silly nonsense that falls apart with any thought.

But you know, it really is so typical of the bullshit modern films have become. The characters are all beautiful and rich. They are all students, but one drives a new car (minus plates) another rides a big motorbike, one of them lives in a big apartment, another in a luxurious home, another lives on a bloody yacht for goodness sake. After a cursory glance at fancy 3D graphics on a laptop following the first experiment, they follow the further flatline experiments by going to rave parties or dances, getting drunk or having sex, they don’t seem to delve into the successive medical results or ponder What It All Means or worry about getting a night’s sleep before attending med school the next day. And don’t get me started about how fully-functioning and totally unmonitored medical machinery and equipment just conveniently sits in the hospital basement for our characters to play with each night.

Horrible. Time to dig out my Brainstorm Blu-ray I think and thank the lord no-one has sullied it by a vapid remake featuring young beautiful Somethings. Yet.

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

laz1Oh dear. Flatliners meets Brainstorm and it ain’t gonna be pretty. Its funny really, watching this so soon after rewatching 1989’s Pet Sematary, another film in which fools embark gladly on playing Frankenstein and things go very badly. It’s as if movies are made in some alternate universe in which no scientist has ever read Mary Shelley or watched any horror film about bringing back the dead. I suppose it gets points for resurrecting a dog first instead of a cat, but still, when the inevitable accident happens and our heroes are ‘forced’ by cruel circumstance to use their new science breakthrough on a human subject, it’s clearly not going to end well. One of the scientists teases us with the old adage that humans only use 10% of their brains, but only people paying the film 10% of their attention could be surprised how things turn out, it’s so routine and poorly telegraphed throughout.

Which is something of a shame, because the cast is pretty good -Mark Duplass (so good the other night in Paddleton), Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger, these are pretty impressive names, and the film even features Twin Peaks fave Ray Wise as a corporate bad guy to add some geek appeal, but its all for naught. They are stuck with a script that is Dead on Arrival, and no miraculous Lazarus Serum is going to resurrect this one.

It is so frustrating, because although the premise is inherently daft (scientists develop a serum that when injected into a corpses brain and activated by an electrical shock brings them back from the dead) it offers all sorts of possibilities but doesn’t even try other than suggesting that sometimes dead is better. No wait, wrong movie….

Lets try again- let’s say they do bring someone back, lets not saddle them with esp/telekinetic superpowers straight away, lets show her demonstrate her acting chops by dealing with being pulled back from Heaven (or Hell, it seems in this case) and returning to the living and all that psychological and religious baggage that entails. But no, I suppose that risks upsetting someone in the audience for ridiculing their belief system or actually making an empirical statement about Life, Death and the Beyond, so instead… lets make her eyes go spooky black and have her bump everyone off one by one. The irony is, even as a horror film this film fails, it simply cannot carry of any level of tension or scares.

Not so much a case of sometimes dead is better, then, but maybe that 1989s Pet Sematary (and Brainstorm and Flatliners before it) is better than previously thought. All things are relative, I suppose, and it does seem that you can count on new bad films showing old ‘bad’ films in a new, kinder light…

Superman Returns Expanded OST

suprmn retTo get me in the mood for the (hopefully imminent) arrival of La La Land’s 3-disc Superman: The Movie soundtrack, I’ve been listening to John Ottman’s score for the ill-fated Superman Returns from 2006- well, the expanded 2-disc edition that La La Land released in 2013. It might seem a perverse choice, but I really like Ottman’s score – mainly because it re-uses so many of John William’s original themes. Its almost a Superman Greatest Hits, with plenty of Horner’s Brainstorm score also thrown in, partly from the choral sections which accentuate the films rather ill-judged religious tensions regards our Kryptonian hero, but yeah, there’s a lot of Brainstorm in passages of this score. I think it’s a really nice, melodic and thematic old-fashioned superhero score – inevitably it owes a huge part of its success to those timeless classic William’s themes and motifs, but as a fan of that original score it was lovely reprise. You just can’t make a Superman film without John William’s music- God knows Hans Zimmer later tried, but Man of Steel etc are woeful, frankly, compared to William’s masterpiece. Whenever Ottman reprises the Superman main theme, I always get a tingle, and the frequent use of the Fortress of Solitude music is lovely, lending it something of an importance not present in the original film.

Admittedly I’m not best equipped to really comment on the 2006 film,  I haven’t seen the film for some time, probably back when it first came out on Blu-ray over a decade ago. When I first saw it at the cinema (and subsequently on disc) I really enjoyed it but I’m open to a rewatch recalibrating my opinions somewhat. Time inevitably changes things. Back when it came out I was overjoyed by its sense of heritage, its honouring of Richard Donner’s original – it felt like the Superman III we deserved back in the day. And the music! As a lover of William’s original score, how could I not be bewitched by hearing it again?

Looking back on it, maybe the film was just too faithful and sincere to the original and needed a fresher, more unique voice of its own- it’s a shame the same creative team didn’t get to make a sequel that, having set up the return of our hero, actually gave him an adventure worthy of the Big Screen (that being said, one of the things I remember enjoying of Superman Returns was how intimate and character-based it seemed). Instead the franchise stalled again and took a decidedly different approach with Man of Steel etc.

Anyway, I’ve certainly been enjoying exploring this score again. I hadn’t given it a spin for awhile, but it certainly holds up pretty well. Indeed, considering how film music (and superhero scores in  particular) have been going lately with the almost mundane background muzak of the Marvel films etc, it’s almost a great surprise. supermanalbumSure, in the great scheme of things its a poor shadow of the Williams classic in comparison, and I’m sure the 3-disc edition of the original will blow this out of the water, but that’s true of most scores compared to that 1978 colossus.  But this hasn’t been a bad way of getting me in the mood for that lovely old album I used to love listening to, an album assembly that features on disc 3 of the new set and that I’m really looking forward to hearing again.

Ah hell. Time I dug out my old vinyl and jumped back to being a thirteen-year-old kid again, lying on my bed with the gatefold on my lap, listening to the music and dreaming of heroes and villains. 

 

 

 

Apollo 13 OST by James Horner – Expanded 2-disc edition

apollo-13-expandedA few nights ago I rewatched Apollo 13 on Blu-ray. Mostly, I watched it because the new expanded CD of the soundtrack was due in the post this week, and I was curious to rewatch the film again and get a reminder of how the music worked in it- and fortunately Claire ranks the film among her own top ten films so it was easy to talk her round to it (there’s nothing more odd than an individual’s favourite films, I find).

Curiously, the last time I watched the film was in 2015, not long after James Horner passed away in an air accident- in a way, it was an attempt to honour his memory by watching a few films that he had worked on (I remember Field of Dreams was one of them, as well as Apollo 13). So James Horner’s memory worked its trick again, in a roundabout way, getting me to rewatch Apollo 13 again.

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Apollo 13 that I have mentioned before and won’t get into again. Basically, its that while the film’s subject matter is right up my street and the cast features some of my favourite actors, there is a sense of cynical manipulation and dialogue driven hand holding that pulls me out of it. But whatever issues I have with the film, the score isn’t one of them, and while some may take issue with it as a seperate listening experience, within the film itself its works like gangbusters, one of the best examples of how well James Horner wrote music to suit its film and its beats and moods.

Anyway- as expected, this new edition arrived in the post today. Intrada’s new release of the score is across two discs but there is a lot of repetition/redundancy at work here to ensure its as complete as fans would desire. The first disc features the complete score and isolated electronic cues that feature within the film, and the second disc an original album assembly created by Horner that failed to materialise, replaced at the time by a curio release that featured key Horner music amongst songs used as source music within the film, as well as sound effects and dialogue. The first disc separates the orchestral score and the electronic cues later added by Horner, but an alternate track listing in the booklet will enable listeners to program the score with the electronic cues in chronological order as heard in the film. The second disc is largely a repeat of the orchestral score on the first disc and follows a soundtrack tradition of featuring discs of original score albums alongside the fully expanded discs- the irony here being that the original score album never got its intended release at the time (it was later released as a promo from which a bootleg was widely circulated). Fans buying this release won’t be at all bothered, but I imagine Joe Public would look at it at being a bit of a rip-off being sold a two-disc set with two discs that are essentially the same- not that Joe Public is really the target audience for something like this, that old horrible curio release would suit them fine I expect. The biggest selling-point is the remastering, as this music really shines here, and new detail can be heard all over.

It can’t be denied this is a great Horner score and I’m certain this release will seem long overdue for fans. It has a great main theme and some lovely orchestrations featuring a choir and Annie Lennox doing some very effective and emotive wordless vocals. All Systems Go -The Launch  is a ten-minute powerhouse of score music that I remember back when the film came out just blew me away- back then it seemed every Horner score had music like this, stirring music that sounded new and exciting (which is an irony considering how plagued Horner later was by accusations of plagiarizing his own work) and it would be fascinating to see the scene with and without the music to demonstrate how well it served the film. Elsewhere there are examples of Horner’s talent for Americana-like music, patriotic and uplifting, and yes, plenty of music similar to other Horner works (a surprising amount of Brainstorm, I think), but you know, the Beatles sound like the Beatles, and Prince sounds like Prince, and with James Horner gone now, we have no opportunity to hear ‘new’ music, and I’ve found myself making peace with all those Hornerisms that used to drive me batty later in his career. Absence, they say, makes the heart grow fonder. That all said, there is some really original music here (Docking, and Dark Side of the Moon, for example) that stand as some of the most memorable pieces of his career.

The simple truth is that, whatever one’s views on Horner’s music, its film music such as this, lyrical and melodious that can be hummed and whistled walking out of the cinema, that has become increasingly rare and unfashionable in films. You just don’t hear scores like this anymore, really, and while I wouldn’t even say this film or score is particularly old, it feels like it- this release is a very welcome reminder not just of a great talent lost but also a style of film music that we have lost too.

James Horner’s music is a powerful part of the success of this film and this release is surely one to be treasured by fans of both Horner and the film itself. I know I keep on saying this, but it’s increasingly true- as time moves on, and the physical formats like CD continue to wane, these expanded and remastered releases will just get more rare and eventually will be gone. I consider myself lucky I’m around now and able to afford to import the ones that get my interest, and yes, Apollo 13 is a great way to start 2019.

Living in the Age of Airplanes – OST by James Horner

airp1Just arrived at Ghost Hall is the long-awaited (well, by me at least, as I resisted the download for years- call me a very old-fashioned bugger) CD release from Intrada of one of James Horner’s very last scores.

Inevitably, it’s a very bittersweet experience listening to some ‘new’ Horner material years after his passing in an air accident back in 2015- indeed, it’s impossible to ignore that the love of flying that is so infectiously instilled in this score also led to the accident that took his life.  Considering the sadness this carries with it, I have to say this score is so overwhelmingly positive and joyous it’s impossible to resist, and it becomes almost a cathartic celebration of James Horner’s life’s work.  While some of it carries the ‘Hornerisms’ that perhaps dogged his later career (and God knows, I have to say over the last few years I’ve really missed those ‘Hornerisms’ that I used to moan about so much) most of this score sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant and exciting. It really is such a celebration of his music that it is an oddly fitting farewell, almost, to the composer, having fallen in love with his work way back in 1984 and his Brainstorm score. I am pretty certain I may yet have the opportunity to hear some ‘new’ Horner music – I am sure there are scores etc of his that I have not heard- but I doubt any will be such a pleasant and positive experience as this.  Its quite a way to bid farewell, James.

 

 

Disney’s $50 million insurance payout

cf1I see in the news there are reports that Disney is set to receive an insurance payout of $50 million following Carrie Fisher’s death. The company took out protection cover incase the actress was unable to fulfill what was apparently a three-film deal. Her scenes in Episode 8 are all complete (she is said to have a more substantial role than she had in The Force Awakens) but it is unknown what impact her passing will have upon the script for Episode 9, or indeed how much it will impact on how Episode 8 was intended to dovetail into Episode 9.

Such insurance policies are nothing new in Hollywood- if you are shooting a major motion picture there are obvious implications in the event of a major actor dying during production. I recall MGM trying to shelve Brainstorm when Natalie Wood died during production with some scenes incomplete, back in 1981. Its only natural with films going episodic in nature that such cover becomes even more paramount.

I think Disney have a major opportunity here. Rogue One is taking a massive haul at the box office, $790 million globally now, with it yet to launch in China, and indeed in America alone Disney films made over $3 billion during 2016. So Disney hardly need the money. I think it would be fantastic for Disney to use that $50 million to set up some kind of Carrie Fisher Foundation, or donate the majority of the money to various suitable charities. It would be a fitting tribute to the author and actress and would mean a great deal to the Hollywood community and Star Wars fans worldwide.

How realistic such idealistic things are is a matter of conjecture. Disney is a business afterall and that insurance policy likely wasn’t cheap, but with the company having such riches in 2016 at the box office, and with what Star Wars is likely to bring in revenue over the ensuing decades, I think it would be a fantastic gesture. I am sure I am being hopelessly naive and such thinking deserves to be left in the fantasy world of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but anyway, it’s just what I’ve been thinking today. Perhaps I’m just trying to think of ways to bring something positive from what happened, but it would be nice, and although we may not be living in that nice world,  we can still aspire to.

 

 

Invaders From Mars (1986)

invaders1This film and I have a history. I saw it at the cinema back in 1986 and I hated it. Absolutely hated it. One of the most excruciating cinematic experiences of my life. Horrible movie. So horrible I have never seen it since, not any of it. I really hate seeing bad films at the cinema- hasn’t happened to me too often thank goodness. Its one thing to be watching a bad movie on home video, you can switch it off, hit that ‘eject’ button, but at the cinema? You’re stuck there for the ride. Even if the projectionist should really know better and put the patrons out of their misery by faking a power cut or something. So me and Invaders From Mars. We met in 1986 and never again since. Until last night.

I should have known better.

I’m something of a sucker for cheap blu-ray releases of older films. In this day and age of streaming and PPV catalogue releases on disc are becoming rather scarce. The main studios don’t seem to bother, instead licensing titles out to distributors like Arrow here in the UK. Its no doubt a niche market. Well, its tempting to just try encourage more releases by supporting those we do get. You have to buy every Hammer film released on Blu-ray (even the poorer ones) if you want to get your favourite Hammer films released someday. But that doesn’t really explain why I bought this one. We grow older and our faculties wane, bitter memories ease a little, and the passing of time, all near-thirty years of it, blurs memories until you begin to wonder, was it really all that bad? Maybe it was a bad day, maybe I wasn’t being fair, I was a teenager, maybe I wasn’t ready for it, maybe…

invaders2Invaders From Mars is still a horrible movie. Maybe even worse than I remembered. Its certainly nowhere near the fun that Tobe Hooper’s earlier Lifeforce is. Lifeforce is a bad movie, its a positive stinker of a film, but its nonetheless so bad its… well its one of those bad films that…  its actually quite fun. I love Lifeforce. Its got risible dialogue and a nonsensical plot but its a great laugh when you’re in the mood for it. Any film that portrays the End of the World as a Jean Michel Jarre concert attended by zombies can’t be all bad, and its got a cast to die for uttering those atrocious lines- Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Patrick Stewart, Aubrey Morris… it’s geek gold. And I haven’t mentioned Mathilda May’s charms either. But Invaders From Mars? No, its just bad, really bad. Its casting is just part of it, but… yeah, about that cast…

Louise Fletcher. I’ll never forget my horror at seeing the wonderful Louise Fletcher who I had previously seen in Brainstorm, in which she was so monumentally brilliant, slumming in this film as the teacher from hell that eats a frog for no discernible reason. She hams it up in this film with its rubber martian monsters like she’s in a cheap muppet movie, privy to some joke none of us are in on (maybe its her paycheck that she finds so amusing). James Karen, so wonderful in the horror comedy Return of the Living Dead, incredibly miscast here as some army general, smoking cigars like his life depended on the smoke hiding his face/shame from the camera. Karen Black as the oddly hysterical school nurse is just so wrong, wrong, wrong in so many ways, its like she’s walked onset from some other movie. But really the true horror is the kid.

invaders3Hunter Carson is the nominal star of the film, the child ‘hero’ David Gardner whose parents are under the martian influence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a bad child performance in a movie- the only thing that gives this a run for its money is Jake Lloyd in The Phantom Menace. Really its terrible, as if they got some kid off the streets and shoved him in the movie. Its really quite bizarre, he even manages to ‘move’ all wrong- even when he runs across the playground it looks like he’s acting. I can only imagine what the producers thought after seeing the dailies roll in. They must have known they were in trouble. I always wondered how the hell he got through any audition and then I discovered he was the child of Karen Black so maybe it was some kind of package deal that horribly misfired.

Or maybe its all Tobe Hooper’s fault. Maybe it’s just how Hooper was directing Carson. The thing is, the central conceit of the original Invaders From Mars was its dreamlike quality, it was the stuff of a child nightmare. Camera angles were always low, the art direction exaggerated perspective with its strange sets, the colours all exaggerated… I actually think in some odd way Hooper was doing something along those lines with how the actors in his remake were delivering their lines and acting, not like real people/characters, but somehow like a childs picture of adult behavior, like adults in a child’s dream. Unfortunately it doesn’t work in the slightest, the adults just look stupidly overacting, and the kid, well, he’s just incredibly irritating. I don’t know what Hooper was thinking. Lifeforce has this strange, almost camp quality of a huge blockbuster Hammer film that never was, but Invaders From Mars… its just badly shot, badly acted, badly directed. A complete mess.

Its a really ill judged film. Of course, when he was making Lifeforce, Hooper thought he was making a horror movie. When it was screened he was reportedly upset that audiences were laughing at it. So maybe following that experience he approached Invaders From Mars in some odd way at playing for the laughs (in which case he misfired again) or was suffering from a complete lack of confidence. I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t help the case for him having had any hand in directing Poltergeist, because none of the suburban scenes in Invaders look anything like as sophisticated as those of Poltergeist, and none of the stunts or horror gags have any of the finesse of Poltergeist. Its clearly the work of another director, far as I can tell. If Hooper did indeed direct Poltergeist, then I have to wonder, what the hell happened to him in the next few years. Did he get abducted by Martians? Did he shoot this film with a plaster on the back of his neck?