Farewell Armageddon

ARMA1Armageddon, 1998, 150 mins, Streaming

Ah, but who am I kidding? The ‘Farewell….’ series of posts are about films which I believe I have watched for the last time (there’s only so much time, and so many films to watch, after all) but deep down I know I’m sure to return to this film again, someday (hell, it would probably only take a 4K UHD release to start me reaching for my wallet).  I KNOW that Armageddon is a terrible movie- its not a lot saner than Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, which is what brought me to this one again, but certainly its a whole lot better than that disastrous disaster movie. What actually makes it a better movie is an interesting conundrum though. Is it the cast? The music? As far as scripts are concerned, both are incredibly silly, over the top spectacles that use big special effects to cover up all sorts of chasms of logic and scientific inaccuracy. One can feel self-respect and brain cells melting away with every minute of screen time. Its an endless marvel watching the actors earnestly spouting the cornball dialogue like their careers depended upon it – Steve Buscemi gets away lightly with what are probably the film’s best lines, but most everything Billy Bob Thornton utters during Armageddon is cringe-inducing, and Bruce Willis’ wry smirk seems to indicate he knows that he’s got worse movies/scripts coming.

While I shall likely (hopefully, even) never watch Moonfall again, I’ve probably watched Armageddon twelve times or more over the past twenty-plus years since I first watched it at the cinema, and parts of it more than that – I can’t help myself watching it if every time I stumble upon it screening on television, for instance, so I’ve seen the last half too many times to mention, probably. My routine excuse is that its so bad its good, like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, another guilty favourite (although in that films case I can rationalise it as imagining it is the film Hammer might have made had that British studio still been making its horror films into the 1980s, which actually improves the experience no end).

A more interesting, certainly more fitting, comparison than Moonfall would possibly be between Armageddon and 1998’s other meteor impact film, Deep Impact, which seems to be on television just as often, if not more. Deep Impact is widely accepted as being the better film, even if its not the most re-watchable of them. Which maybe adds another question, regards what actually makes films re-watchable anyway. Maybe its just anticipating the cheesy moments, the clunky one-liners, the idiotic science, as if there’s some perverse pleasure in it. I do know there’s better movies I should be re-watching.

That all being said, for all I know someone out there, maybe LOTS of someones, rate Armageddon as their favourite movie of all time.  I’d love them to explain why.

Unbreakable Glass?

unbreakableglassSomething of a strange night, this. I started with the newly-arrived 4K UHD edition of M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, a film I haven’t seen in many years – not since back in the DVD days, to be honest, as I’d bought it on a R1 disc back in my multi-region/importing days. I’d seen the film at the cinema and loved it and rated it highly, even if, as I’ve noted, I’ve not put that to the test with a re-watch in a long time. This new 4K edition served the best opportunity, and I’m pleased to note that the film really held up very well indeed. As the end credits rolled, Claire noted that we still had Glass -the final film in a trilogy of Unbreakable, Split and Glass– on the Tivo, recorded last Winter and still unseen. Remembering that Split (which I’d only watched once, a good while ago itself) only teased its Unbreakable link at the very end in a geek-friendly coda, the temptation to just go ahead and see what Glass was all about, even though the evening was growing late, proved irresistible. A late night then with an unforeseen movie double bill.

So let’s start with Unbreakable. What a culture shock that film proved to be, mainly because of the fact that its – shockingly – more than twenty years old now. It came out pretty much before Marvel made superhero movies so de rigueur that they almost seem boringly popular and routine now, and before Zack Snyder’s slo-mo action sequences became cinematic shorthand in 300, Watchmen and a DC Snyderverse that still shows signs of an HBO resurrection. Unbreakable posited putting superhumans into our real world and explaining comicbook mythology as something more meaningful than one might expect: perhaps not something new to comicbooks themselves but certainly perhaps to the wider movie-going populace at the time, predating the film of Watchmen, and shows like The Boys etc. 

Also, what a shock to see Bruce Willis in his prime actually acting again, you know, making an effort, in what is actually one of his most understated, rewarding roles where he actually plays a character working away from his comfort zone- no smirks or wisecracks here, here he plays someone rather introverted, emotionally compromised and maybe even a little dim. Reminded me of his turn in Terry Gilliam’s brilliant Twelve Monkeys that came out a few years prior, another great performance in a decent movie… whatever happened to Bruce Willis? And when is that Twelve Monkeys 4K UHD coming out? 

Unbreakable is full of that kind of stuff, coming back to it so may years later- how young Samuel L.  Jackson is, and my goodness, Robin Wright (then Robin Wright Penn) looks so young too. Wright is great in this, and Glass, which I’ll be coming to shortly, sorely suffers for lacking her presence. But of course, Unbreakable is over twenty years old now, these things are inevitable, and become part of a fascination of their own. Just watching Bruce giving a shit proved fascinating enough. I think one of the most rewarding things regards Unbreakable is just the fact that it reflects a time before costumed heroes in spandex took over blockbuster cinema, and when superhero films could actually be subtle.

The 4K disc of Unbreakable looks pretty great too- conforming to the films muted tones, the HDR is subtle but when it works, it really elevates the film and of course the lift in detail is really marked. Overall its a great filmic presentation and another example of just how 4K discs can prove their worth, its really quite gorgeous (alas, all extras are relegated to the Blu-ray disc, and its a shame nobody deemed it worthwhile making anything new- this is one of those times when a commentary track or featurette offering some perspective could have been interesting). 

So anyway, a fast forward of almost twenty years (and maybe twenty comicbook issues) brings us to Glass, a film that I gather has been fairly widely maligned by fans of the first film. The differences between the two feel so distinct its almost as if the films had different directors, but of course, its M. Night Shyamalan at the helm again for a film that serves as a sequel to both Unbreakable and Split but really feels more akin to the second than the first. The tonal shift between Unbreakable and Glass is marked, particularly for me as a viewer having just re-watched Unbreakable only minutes before. Is it the influence of the Marvel and DC comicbook films, perhaps, sneaking in? Glass feels more pulpish, less grounded than Unbreakable, certainly. It lacks the focus of the first film, this one feeling like it slips all over the place and leaves its cast with little to do other than serve a plot seemingly hellbent on closing it all down, albeit it actually ends positing a possibility of new spin-offs in the grand Marvel/DC tradition, which feels like the film peculiarly negating its own raison d’etrere.

I enjoyed Glass, although it is clearly inferior to the first film -and possibly Split, too, although I haven’t seen that more than once and that was awhile go- but I can certainly sympathise with fans who feel, like with Alien and Prometheus, that they rather wished they could pretend Glass never happened at all and that Unbreakable exists on its own terms seperate from anything else. Maybe its another example of ‘we should be wary of what we wish for’. Its not that Glass does anything quite as radical as turning Space Jockey’s into tall bald men, and I can understand M. Night Shyamalan reaching for closure, but all the same it feels so pulpish in comparison to the tense reality of the first film. Mind, the first twenty minutes or so work very well, giving us a glimpse of how David Dunn has spent the intervening years using his powers to help people as some kind of hooded vigilante, and there must be more than a few fans wishing that Shyamalan had just continued that- its perhaps the Unbreakable sequel most fans wanted, and its true that Shyamalan should perhaps be commended for instead trying to go somewhere different, but where he went…

Its not that he went all One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but isn’t it peculiar chance that it features Sarah Paulson as a psychiatrist when she soon after played Nurse Mildred Ratched in Ratched, the prequel show to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest set in another asylum with her treating crazy patients? I just think that the central conceit of the film, that the three individuals from Unbreakable and Split are placed into a psychiatric facility to prove they are crazy rather than actual super beings, is just a step too far. We have seen what they are capable of, and the world has, too, if only it is clips on social media etc. and the revelation at the end, that she is trying to do them a mercy rather than otherwise simply terminating them (because she works for a Higher Agency that knows such beings exist and seeks to destroy them) falls rather flat. The central flaw of the film for me is how it wastes such a fine actress as Paulson, with a character that is woefully underwritten and one-dimensional: the film needed a character with more fire and vigour and presence. I’m certain the flaw is because Shyamalan can’t resist the twist, that he thinks all his films need one final twist to surprise viewers, when he should have forgone that late twist and revealed it earlier to better serve the film and overall plot. Let the film tell its natural tale rather than hamper it for the sake of a mediocre surprise. Establish the HIgher Agency and its cause, and what Paulson’s Dr Staple is trying to do, maybe give her some personal agency to that too, and then portray the battle of wits. If The Beast (James McAvoy, remarkable as ever as he switches personalities) is David Dunn’s nemesis, then surely Dr Staple is Mr Glass’ nemesis, ironically becoming a super villain (or heroine) character herself for good measure (becoming the very thing she and her masters are trying to undo). 

Glass frustrates then with a sense that it should have been much better. Its difficult to criticise Willis, because even though he’s clearly not in the same league as he used to be, he could well argue he is underserved by the script which, as per Paulson’s character, leaves him with little to do or much to work off. We get a brief explanation of why Robin Wright is missing but it doesn’t really serve Dunn’s character arc at all and the explanation feels almost pointless (indeed better left unsaid, perhaps). Maybe his wife’s death could have driven Dunn to a mental breakdown and that might have put him into the mental hospital, you know, a narrative more elegant than what we got. Jackson is very good and has the best arc (hence why the film bears his name, perhaps) but again, much of the fire and brimstone he could have brought to it is rather nullified by keeping that twist on the side-lines. 

Shyamalan proves to be his own nemesis, then, perhaps.

 

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. 

 

 

Hotel Mumbai

Hotel MumbaiHotel Mumbai is a very harrowing, suspenseful dramatisation of the 2008 attack on the city’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel during which the city was attacked by a ten-strong group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists. Its riveting stuff- as a thriller its effective indeed, and its very similarity to Gerard Butler’s Olympus Has Fallen etc makes uncomfortable viewing as we know, as disturbing as things are, this time around its based on true events. Tragedy as entertainment always has an uncomfortable feeling about it, but it makes everything seem more intense, too. The comic book heroics of Butler’s films, and others like it (I suppose, after all, you’d possibly include ‘classics’ like Die Hard in that list) have to be stripped out because these are just normal people in unusual situations and really, in the real world there’s no place for wisecracks or fisticuffs in the face of grenades and assault rifles.

So we have this weird dichotomy going on, in that as the outrage progresses, we have the misguided expectation that Armie Hammer’s tall handsome American architect or Jason Isaac’s obnoxious Russian with a military background will step up with some heroics like a typical thriller would have it, but as this film is based on a true event and such Hollywood nonsense never happened, there is a weird frustration through the film. The heroism of this film is of a different kind entirely- its one of simply surviving, and mostly of the staff protecting its guests. Perhaps you could call it civilisation versus barbarism. Perhaps we have been so used to those Hollywood action films where Willis, Butler or Neeson step up with their own brand of justice to right the violent wrongs that we struggle with their absence.

I suppose my point is, this film should possibly be a horror film, and this films only failure, really, is that its indeed ostensibly a thriller. Mans inhumanity to man is always a depressing subject but what I found most distressing was the familiarity of it all. Terrorist incidents such as this frequently seem to be in the news – bombings in foreign countries, shootings etc in which the victims almost inevitably become just numbers, statistics, and we’ve seen films simplify such events in action-thrillers of the past.

Partly this itself becomes a problem for the film- the statistics of this attack are incomprehensible, really. Over the three days that the event lasted, 174 people died, including 9 of the 10 attackers, and over 300 people were wounded. To its credit, the film shy’s away from sensationalising the events and attempts to show the simple heroism of staff trying to protect the hotels guests and those guests trying to survive and protect their loved ones. Its a human story but inevitably because of the numbers involved the film is limited to showing events from the perspective of the few, and possibly over-simplifies things.

hotel3I suppose my issue with this film -that perhaps it is ‘only’ a thriller is wholly unfair. But the polarisation of the world today, of good and evil and the fevered hysterics of both national and international politics of our day… this week alone in the UK we have witnessed our Parliament reduced to heated arguments more suited to a drunken rabble in a pub than the distinguished statesmen those elected representatives should be. I hold modern news media to blame for this (personality politics is a very modern 24-hour news thing, as journalists turn news into entertainment with viewing figures in mind) as much as social media. My contention is that perhaps film should do more than just dramatise events such as this, perhaps it should add some commentary somehow. How you do this without inflaming peoples viewpoints or world-beliefs I don’t know- maybe you can’t, hence my consideration that my issue is likely unfair.

So the terrorists are monsters, and the film only makes a perfunctory attempt to get into their reasoning, their mindset. The film suggests that they are victims themselves, coerced into the carnage by shadowy figures back in Pakistan who have masterminded the attack.  The awful inhumanity of killing innocent civilians, and how the terrorists have justified it in their minds so those civilians are perceived as infidels and indeed as sub-human, is something too large for a thriller such as this to encompass really. Maybe no film could. The fascination in films about serial-killers for example, is partly that ‘thing’ about getting into their minds, how they reason, function, see other people as victims/prey. How do you get into the minds of terrorists without being charged with rationalising their atrocities?  And if you don’t try, isn’t that over-simplification demonising them? Failing to get to the reasons why the world is as polarised as it is? Is it East vs West, Poor vs. Rich, is it national power-brokering or religious jihad?

Hotel Mumbai necessarily skirts around such issues as it just presents what happened within the perimeters of a thriller. It doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does leave it a strangely frustrating, albeit riveting film that likely could have been something more.

Death Wish (2018)

death1Another remake, and this time a remake of a decidedly exploitative 1974 thriller, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that this was as bad as they come. What did surprise me, though, was some of the talent involved in this- so much so that this movie felt more of a betrayal to filmgoers than I could believe.

We’ll start for what passes for a script, written by Joe Carnahan. That’s the guy behind such films as Narc and The Grey (a great film, that one) although considering he was also behind the A-Team movie reboot, perhaps this particular project shouldn’t surprise me afterall. This is purely by-the-numbers gun glorification, that uniquely American myth that owning guns is a noble thing and killing bad guys is what every righteous cowboy sorry civilian should aspire to do if only they had the guts to Do The Right Thing. Its every lunatic’s God-given right to own a gun, it seems. And every cop is so inherently stupid we can’t trust them to police the streets and serve justice. Seriously, the detectives here are greedy, lazy and so idiotic they can’t see whats infront of their faces- thank God for Bruce.

Ah, Bruce. That’s Bruce Willis, not the shark from Jaws, although that rubber shark was more impressive and sincere an actor than the one Willis is now. I don’t know what happened to Willis- he was so good years ago but he’s just appalling these days, phoning in performances that are frankly embarrassing. Its infuriating, because I watched him again in Die Hard only a few weeks ago and he’s so good in that- funny and charming and wiseass and cool, but with a streak of vulnerability too. Twelve Monkeys, he was just brilliant in that. These days he’s a cardboard smirk, and that’s about it.  That word raises up in my head again- betrayal; betrayal in this case of any fans he had left and anyone who pays to see a movie because it stars him. Off the top of my head I can’t name another actor who has gone so far south of the reservation as he has. Clearly he signed up for this film for two things- the pay cheque and a cynical ploy to launch another action franchise as Liam Neeson did with the similarly-themed Taken films and all the Taken clones Neeson cashed in on afterwards.

The rest of the cast- this thing has a pretty great cast; Vincent D’Onofrio,  Elisabeth Shue (now there’s an actress who deserved a better career), Dean Norris (so great in Breaking Bad, so awful here although he’s practically playing The Same Goddam Part), Stephen McHattie (so great in Watchmen, here he’s relegated to a (perhaps merciful) several-second cameo) are wasted, the film dragged down by the Black Hole of Willis’ charisma, sucking the very life out of every scene he’s in.  Its like some kind of irresistible life-sucking force of nature draining every other actors talent, it’s almost scary ruthless it is.

Surprisingly even Eli Roth, the exploitation-enfant terrible that he is, is unable to maintain any energy in this film- there’s a bit of commentary on social media and radio talk-show debates as people argue whether our hero (‘The Grim Reaper’ no less) is  a hero or villain, but otherwise Roth’s main contribution seems to be some moments of very graphic gore during the action stuff.

Watching this film I often had to wonder, is this film really this bad or is it some kind of arch-commentary of modern action flicks and right-wing politics? Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey a top surgeon in Chicago’s A&E department (you’d think it’d be easier to just let the scum die on his operating table). It becomes almost hilarious when on his every vengeance spree he goes down to his Bat Cave (Hospital basement) to clothe himself in the abandoned hoodies of (presumably) dead patients, which always seem to fit him like some inevitable superhero costume (“no longer the Smirking Reaper, he becomes The Grim Reaper, scourge of the criminals!’).  Nah, this film isn’t clever or sophisticated enough to carry the arch-commentary excuse.

Utter nonsense and truly dire, definitely one to avoid because life is Just Too Short.

A bad way to Die Hard

die5Last night we were over the in-laws, and they put A Good Day To Die Hard on the telly, bless them. Well, I of course saw this once before and as Sean Connery would be amongst the first to remind me, never say never again. So there I was, a captive audience for a study of how not to handle a franchise.

Considering how much of a genuine classic the original Die Hard is, its doubly sad to  be reminded how the mighty had fallen with this entry. Maybe we are all guilty these days for simply wanting ‘more’. Rather than let a great film stand on its own, we always want more; a second, third, fourth film of the same. Perhaps its simply an attempt -usually in vain- to rediscover and re-experience that joy of something great and original, rare such as it is. Naturally as far as the studio is concerned, it has had a hit and wants another.

But its always difficult to rekindle/recapture that magic. You can try put a fresh spin on things, raise the stakes by making it bigger/faster/louder. God knows the Bond franchise, Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator…  Die Hard isn’t alone in having inferior sequels or stumbling fortunes.

So while fans bad-mouth the creative team and studio bigwigs behind the film, and the Crown Prince of Smug, Bruce Willis, phones in another jaded performance, maybe we should examine our own role in ever-declining franchises. If we walked out of seeing a great film without immediately thinking about going to see the sequel, then maybe we would see better, and more original movies. Why, after all, do we think we have a right to another, better, Bond? Does there even have to be another Bond, another Die Hard?