The King

thekingOne thing is certain about this gloomy, low-key, decidedly modern take on Henry V: Timothée Chalemet is a future superstar, and his performance here in the title role has me so intensely excited for Villeneuve’s Dune next year that its almost painful knowing that film is still over a year away. If his Paul Atreides is as dark and moody and charismatic as his young Hal here, we will be in for something truly special. He can hold the viewers attention with a frown or a stare, and is surprisingly adept physically considering his slender boyish frame- he commands the film in every scene he is in, holding his own despite the great cast that threatens to steal the film from him.

If only the film was the sum of its parts. Certainly, it looks great, with beautiful cinematography and excellent art direction and set design. It sounds even better, with an absolutely gorgeous score by Nicholas Britell that deserves Oscar attention but will no doubt be ignored. It runs over two hours so never feels particularly rushed, the editing as deft as one could hope for, giving the scenes time to breathe, and the performances opportunity to shine.  As for those performances, Chalemet as I’ve noted is excellent, but he is ably supported by a terrific cast – Ben Mendelssohn, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, all in very fine form. This film should be great.

But something seems missing. I suspect its the fault of a script that really fails to ignite, but also feel that the choice may be deliberate- this film could easily have descended into the formulaic theatrics of Braveheart or Gladiator or so many other stirring historical epics that sweep people away with spectacle and stirring words and OTT performances. This film is very low-key, a gloomy, almost melancholic take on material many will be familiar with, albeit more sincere adaptations of the bard. I would imagine its an attempt to be fresh and ‘new’ but it ironically works against it.

It’s a difficult thing, sometimes, having seen so many films, I’m certain it colours my perception of new films, possibly unfairly. Someone younger than twenty, say, coming to this film having seen few if any historical dramas might come away absolutely impressed and overwhelmed in a very positive way. A whole new generation might connect with this film in ways I cannot fathom, seeing things in Chalemet’s performance that reflects the modern world and how their generation sees it through this tale of a distant past. Something, for me, was missing, however, and I’ve been quite perturbed by it. There’s possibly nothing as frustrating as a good film that might have been truly great. Nothing quite as puzzling as trying to find what is missing and not being certain. As I’ve noted, I suspect its really a matter of the script and its focus on keeping things realistic and reducing the tendency for theatrics. I applaud the intent but wonder if it was ill-judged, but in any case, I am sure I will return to this film again, and that’s not something you can often say about Netflix Originals.

Blood Father

Chew on this you drug-pushing scum

blood1Hey, Mel Gibson’s back. Well, of course he is, I’m sure plenty of you have seen him in other stuff recently (didn’t he make some comedies?) since he upset people shouting his mouth off in the ‘real world’ about things he shouldn’t have, but this here must be the first thing I’ve seen him in since Edge of Darkness in 2010- no, wait, he was in The Expendables 3, wasn’t he (good grief I’d almost mercifully forgotten that). So anyway, for me its been awhile (my favourite Mel film is Payback, I think, although Braveheart is unabashedly daft fun).

And what do you know, Blood Father turned out pretty good, in a sort of check your brain at the door, soak up the action, kind of way, when I’d expected some pretty dismal, straight-to-video stuff from the premise. Its b-movie, but classy b-movie, I suppose, if that’s even a thing.

Mel is Link, ex-con and recovering alcoholic, running a tattoo business in a trashy trailer melting in the desert sun in a god-forsaken middle of nowhere, when suddenly his long-lost daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty, the weak link (sic) of the film), from an earlier failed marriage rings him begging for help, having gotten mixed up with the wrong sort of drug-dealing scum. Well, you can guess where this thing is going, I suppose Liam Neeson must have been busy. Link drives off to rescue her and gets her back to his trailer, but she’s not being 100% honest with her long-lost dad because she’s being hunted down by pissed off drug-runners/dealers/bandits and a super-assassin too. And they soon come calling.

But Link is pretty bad-ass himself, and while he’d prefer to maintain his quiet life and ‘enjoy’ his parole, long-lost daughters in trouble come first. So of course it’s not long until all hell breaks loose.

To be honest, Mel dominates this film, carrying it all by himself, indeed in spite of Moriarty, who is a) too pretty and b) not in the slightest bit convincing, as his daughter. Her casting and indeed her character is all some kind of bizarre throwback to a 1980s movie starring that Seagull sorry Seagal fella – it’s like the last thirty years never happened. Physically Mel is pretty formidable, all bulked up and craggy and rough and yes, quite a convincing action figure for a guy who turned sixty when this came out, but it’s the performance that counts, almost demanding the camera’s sole attention in every scene he’s in- shades of Lethal Weapon etc.  Its a suggestion he may yet have great, even career-best things ahead of him yet.

Its pretty formulaic otherwise , but there’s a pretty impressive cast shuffled in behind Mel (William H Macy, Michael Parks) and there’s plenty of action to hold attention between the talky bits and Moriarty, bless her, trying to derail the enterprise with every scene she’s lost in.

1995 and a Waterworld mystery

waterworldA friend at work lent me a copy of Arrow’s recent release of Waterworld on Blu-ray, as I’d confessed to never having seen the film before, odd as that may sound, but, you know, some films slip us by. Well, back home Claire told me we had indeed seen it before, but I insisted I hadn’t. I mean, I honestly could not remember any of it, other than maybe the odd scene that I stumbled upon when it was aired on tv over the years (for awhile, it seemed to aired all the time on various cable stations etc, and even then I never sat down to watch it).

So Claire went off to find proof- and returned with her diary from 1995, which indeed confirmed that we had indeed seen it, at a Showcase Cinema on August 22nd, 1995. Which I honestly cannot remember, at all. Can a film be that bad, that forgettable, that it just fades entirely from memory? It still baffled me, as I could not remember it at all- indeed, it felt all a little bit scary. Is this how it begins, losing your mind?

Strangest of all, Claire had a list in the back of her diary of all the films we had seen that year at the cinema- 34 of them. Yeah, that’s right, 34 of them. I don’t think I see that many films at the cinema in a decade now. My only excuse, we were courting back then, before we got married and settled down to domesticity and the joys of home cinema. But 34 films? Crikey. While my eyes water at the state my wallet must have been in back then, here’s the list, just for curiosity sake: When  A Man Loves A Woman, Timecop, Stargate, Nostradamus, Shallow Grave, Natural Born Killers, Interview With The Vampire, Leon, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, 101 Dalmatians, Nobody’s Fool, Outbeak, Legends of the Fall, Apollo 13, In the Mouth of Madness, Don Juan de Marco, Judge Dredd, Braveheart, Waterworld, First Knight, Congo, Batman Forever, Species, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Delores Claiborne, While You Were Sleeping, Pocahontas, Mortal Kombat, Haunted, Jade, Crimson Tide, A Walk in the Clouds, Babe.

Well, there’s a few there I can barely remember either. There’s a few I would like to forget but can’t.

As for Waterworld, well, we watched it Saturday night, and other than one or two scenes, such as the dive down to the submerged ruins (which I swore I recalled from stumbling onto a tv showing, to be honest) it absolutely failed to ring any bells memory-wise. It was like I was absolutely watching it for the first time. It was utterly bizarre. Unless Claire had gone to see it with some other fella I must have just wiped that film from my memory completely in some kind of post-traumatic shock. Well, yeah, it was a pretty forgettable film, so that would be part of it- that, and nearly 24 years.

The time to lock me away in a padded room is when I forget I ever saw Blade Runner, obviously.

 

Horner’s Apollo 13 expanded

apollo-13-expandedCue a really neat segue from my last post, and its proposals of lunar excursions in the next two MI films, to the confirmation that Intrada over in the US has released an expanded and remastered 2-disc edition of James Horner’s Apollo 13 score.

Regular readers here will know of my affection for James Horner’s music, particularly his early scores back when one great score followed another and it seemed like he could turn his hand at anything. There was a time that I’d buy a James Horner soundtrack blind, and go watch a film just because of his involvement.  Apollo 13 was released in 1995, just after Braveheart and Legends of the Fall, and just a few years before Titanic would really change everything (I mean, he was popular back then but Titanic would launch him beyond the stratosphere). There is some really great music in Apollo 13, but the original album release really confounded fans, being a strange mix of dialogue, pop songs, sound effects and score, relegating the score music to just a few tracks. Well, it looks like that horrible piece of corporate thinking has been rectified at long last with this edition, combining a disc of the complete score and a disc of Horner’s original aborted album assembly from all those years ago. Why exactly it has taken so long for this to happen is baffling but I suppose with how things are now with CD sales we should think ourselves lucky it’s finally here.

Its certainly a nice start to 2019. I’d really like to see new editions of his Field of Dreams and Legends of the Fall scores, so fingers crossed we have more releases of Horner’s work over the coming year.

This could be a great year for soundtrack albums, with a rumoured three or four-disc edition of Hans Zimmer’s sublime The Thin Red Line score possibly getting announced next week. As both film and score are among my very favourites, if this actually does happen I think this blog will go into some kind of meltdown…  and a depressed funk if it doesn’t.

Hail the Vikings!

vik1Anybody who can watch the return home of the Viking longship near the start of The Vikings (1958) without a stirring in their heart has no soul. The exquisite photography of the great Jack Cardiff, the gorgeous location, the soaring music of Mario Nascimbene… its one of the greatest scenes in movie history in my book. It’s a timeless, beautiful scene, harking back to some Golden Age of movies now lost to us. Everytime I watch it, it’s like falling in love again, and I wonder what it must have been like, seeing it on the big screen back in 1958. I don’t know why exactly- it’s some sublime combination of music, photography and age, intangible but undeniable; pure cinema.

I’m pleased to report that this scene, and the film in general, looks brilliant on Blu-ray. Our American cousins (and those here in the UK who are region free) will have known this for years, but it’s wonderful to finally have the film available to those of us in the UK who are region-locked, thanks to the Eureka label.  Indeed, while there are sections where the print shows its age, for the majority of the time it looks simply phenomenal and is the best quality I have ever seen the film. The rich colours of Jack Cardiff’s technicolour cinematography are breathtaking, rich and vibrant and leaping from the screen. For any fan of this film this blu-ray is a real treat.

What might be a surprise for some is just how well the film holds up in general. I suppose it could be argued some of the Boys Own Adventure battle scenes look a little bit cardboard swords and shields, but the star cast and the tight, efficient script sails (sic) above such censor-ridden limitations (I recall the trouble Hammer had back then with censors so can only imagine how The Vikings was limited with what it could manage). At its heart is a rolocking adventure with bold heroes and a dastardly English king, and I suppose it could well be argued that Kirk Douglas is more anti-hero than hero, lending a rather modern sensibility to his role. To be clear, this film is pretty perfect and in no way needs a remake, but I’m surprised one hasn’t been done – a blockbuster, star-ridden remake akin to Braveheart or Gladiator seems a no-brainer.

Thankfully we’ve never seen that remake, though. Not yet, anyway….

Outlander Season One

outlander2016.60: Outlander Season One (Amazon VOD)

Outlander eventually becomes more than what you’d expect from its first few episodes. Indeed, I dare say many people (well, men, anyway) will have watched the first half-dozen episodes and had quite enough of it, thinking its just a feminist take on Braveheart, or a Mills & Boon romance with softcore sex instead of swoons and lingering glances. I’ll be honest, I was almost like that myself, but on the advice of a friend who recommended it I stuck with it and I’m glad I did- by the end of the first season, Outlander becomes something else entirely. What begins as a historical romance with time travel elements is granted a much larger canvas and becomes rather dark and brutal. Infact, by the end of the season it feels like a completely different show, a remarkable feat over its sixteen episodes, and it is a fine example of the advantages of having all of a season available to watch immediately. If it had been a matter of waiting several weeks for the ‘bigger’ story and complexities to emerge many would perhaps have given up on it.

I know nothing of the books, you understand, although I believe there are several. I came to Outlander much as I did Game of Thrones, quite ignorant of the storyline or where things would eventually be going, and I’ve really no idea how faithful the show is to the books.

Shortly after the end of World War II, war nurse Claire Randall  (Caitriona Balfe) is on a second honeymoon with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) in Scotland, trying to rekindle their marriage following how each have separately suffered the horrors of war. Frank is doing some research into his family history, particularly that of a military leader who was something of a scourge of the Scottish two hundred years before. Claire is very much a ‘modern’ woman; intelligent, confident in her sexuality and her place in the world. Incredibly all this is  suddenly thrown to the wind as Claire, intrigued by some ancient standing stones on a nearby hill,  finds herself transported through time to Scotland in 1743 and forced to marry a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). The first half of the series details Claire coming to terms with Highland life and attitudes of 1743 whilst trying to find a way back to her own time and her ‘original’ husband. As time goes on she finds herself falling in love with young Jamie and at the same time falls under the twisted attentions of Franks despicable ancestor John Randall (also played by Menzies).

So anyway, that’s the first several episodes and pretty much predictable stuff, albeit well-acted and impeccably shot and produced, with an endearing Bear McCreary score that might, given a few seasons, equal his best work in Battlestar Galactica. During the second half though the show takes a dark turn and really develops, revealing the books to be somewhat akin to Game of Thrones with game-changing twists and bold character arcs. As I haven’t read the books I’m several seasons behind so have no idea where the story goes from here -although thankfully has I have come to the show rather late, Amazon has season two on stream so I don’t have long to wait.

It is quite remarkable though, how the show changes from your average romantic potboiler into a Scottish Game of Thrones drama, really pulling you in and usurping expectations. The acting is great with a really excellent supporting cast, but Balfe and Heughan are particularly good in deceptively tricky roles, with a genuine chemistry and sense of conviction in this strange romance that could have seemed plain silly. There is a grittiness to it that surpasses the romance-novel plot at its heart. So yeah, well worth a watch, particularly if it’s the kind of thing you might dismiss due to early misconceptions.