The ‘Burbs again

burbsLast night I returned to Joe Dante country, that cinematic landscape that shines so brightly from decades past. More specifically, I returned to The ‘Burbs, his 1989 movie that landed (and disappeared) to little fanfare. I remember going to the cinema one afternoon and quite loving it- especially, as I remember, the Jerry Goldsmith score that took a few years to eventually get released (and I got the revised Deluxe Varese edition a few years after that). I can understand why the film didn’t find an audience- its a little too arch, perhaps too subversive, to find traction with general audiences, although I’m certain its stock has raised and it has found an increasingly positive reception over the years since. Its certainly not perfect but all the same, I find so much good in it that I find myself retuning to it often. The cast is terrific, littered with geek favourites with nods to genre trivia. Its actually peculiar how some of this stuff just gets weirder with age- even the innocent casting of Tom Hanks, as when the moment lands in the film of Tom’s character waking up to the opening of preschool tv show  Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood – Hanks having starred in a biopic of Fred Rogers (A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood) some thirty years later. Carrie Fisher, rest her soul, looks so incredibly young and beautiful – still close to how she looked in the original Star Wars films, its like watching Princess Leia in a bedroom and like her appearance in The Blues Brothers a reminder of when her appearance in any film could get men of a certain age ridiculously excited. Living with Carrie Fisher in the ‘burbs sounds a little like heaven to some of us (I know the reality was likely a hell of a lot different to the picture Dante paints here, but hey, that’s the magic of movies).

I was reminded, watching the documentary that is included with Arrow’s excellent Blu-ray edition, that The ‘Burbs was originally envisaged as a spoof of Hitchcock films, particularly Rear Window. That’s one of those weird movie factoids that can instantly surprise but also make perfect sense when you consider it. Anyway, I see that as the perfect nudge to get me watching the 4K UHD  of Rear Window that came out in last year’s Hitchcock 4K boxset tonight. Sometimes one film just leads to another….

Pity the Fanboys

fanb1I so wanted to like this; a comedy about a bunch of Star Wars fans who take a cross-country trip to break into Skywalker Ranch in 1998 so that their dying friend can see a rough cut of The Phantom Menace before he dies. Its a story about friendship and a shared love for Star Wars, a triumph of geekdom in a cold harsh world that shatters childhood dreams, a film about realities of adulthood and lost youth.

Or rather, it should have been. I’m not sure what it actually turned out to be, except that it wasn’t particularly funny, and wasn’t as involving and genuinely heartfelt as it could have been. The irony that the Grail these fanboys are after turns  out to be a pretty lousy movie (and that perhaps in the face of their geeky friendship and shared love of Star Wars, that doesn’t even really matter) is hardly touched upon. Maybe they’ll make a reboot someday about a bunch of fanboys on a road-trip to steal the only pre-release cut/copy of The Last Jedi will land the irony when they destroy it and save fellow fans the horror.

For some reason, the film chooses to degenerate into highlighting a geeky feud between Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans, persistently going back to this old joke as if to add some manic comedy action to the plot, add some pace to it. If anything this risks alienating the geek fanbase you’d think this film was being made for. Certainly the film works best when we laugh with our geek heroes rather than laugh at them, and the humour perhaps really shouldn’t lean towards humour at the expense of them. There is a tendency for the POV to be from an ‘ordinary’ non-fan perspective, ridiculing the fandom, which seems like a lazy joke.

While Fanboys was obviously made with the best of intentions (at least I hope it was) it is largely a misfire. Its enlivened by some nice cameos (William Shatner! Carrie Fisher! Billy See Williams! Kevin Smith! etc!) but they just feel all the more wasted in the end, because none of them are actually asked to do much or really inform the reason for their cameos (I did like the “I know” joke that sweetly highlights the Carrie Fisher cameo, and of course, just seeing her again is both lovely and sad, too). I mean, how do you waste a legendary ego like William Shatner with a one-scene cameo?

There’s a great Fanboys movie to be made someday, but I really think that to do it right, it might be more like Stand By Me in tone and execution, albeit starring middle-aged guys rather than kids or young adults; serious but warmly affectionate, a story about  lost childhood and a shared love for something that thrives utterly apart from Corporate billions, Box Office or critical infamy.  Just call it Class of ’77 and go with it, how can you lose?

Somebody call my agent, lol!

Hannah’s turned Blu

hannahSo dipping into my Woody Allen box-set again, I watched Hannah and Her Sisters. I’d seen it once before, back in the VHS days not long after it came out, on a rental I think. Back at the time (the film came out in 1986) it was hugely well-regarded I believe and quite popular, but as tends to happen over time, it seems rather forgotten now. Or maybe Woody Allen films have always been niche and the period of their popularity inevitably transitory, I mean, Gods are transitory, just ask the Egyptians or those guys who wrote ‘Jedi’ on their census forms or maybe I’m way off the mark and Hannah is as well-regarded and loved as it ever was, maybe it’s just me and I’m wrong again, I don’t know, I don’t know what to think, I think maybe I should go see my analyst or pop some paracetamol and go lie down, do I look a funny colour to you?  Do I sound like Allen himself here in one of his voice-over monologues? It must be infectious.

I think Allen must have learned a lot from making Hannah because I can see a lot of it in the (superior) Crimes and Misdemeanors: the multiple plot threads, the quirky and imperfect characters and their relationships, and the concious theorising over God and mortality and the meaning of our existence while someone cheats on someone else.

The cast are pretty great, mind. Barbara Hershey is so beautiful and fragile and glowing in this, and seeing Carrie Fisher again out of the blue (I’d forgotten she was in it) was a sudden and pleasant surprise – she looks so young and vivacious. And a shockingly young-looking (albeit middle-aged, admittedly) Michael Caine, what a perfectly weak-minded foolish bastard he was in this. Or maybe he was a smart opportunist calculating bastard. I’m not sure which. But he most certainly was a bastard.

The blu-ray looks pretty good (as you would expect from Arrow), maybe not as impressive as Crimes did the other night but it’s got a nice filmic look with plenty of grain.

Yeah I really quite enjoyed this. There’s something nice and relaxing (almost comforting) about settling into a Woody Allen film, particularly from this period, and just soaking up its small insular charms. Maybe Allen’s films have always been from some other world, but compared to today’s cinema, it’s a world farther and farther away.

The Princess Diarist

carrie1Anyone looking to learn any real details/minutiae of the filming of the original Star Wars trilogy are likely to be somewhat disappointed by this book. “I don’t remember much about things like the order we shot scenes in or who I got to know first. Nor did anyone mention that one day I would be called upon to remember any of this long-ago experience,” Carrie writes, warning Star Wars fans to manage their expectations before dropping the Carrison bombshell. The bitter truth is that she was writing this book some forty years after the event, and in 1976 she was just nineteen years old and Star Wars was just another movie, really. Important to her career and a lucky break, but hardly the phenomenon it would later become upon release.

So anyone looking for anything as in-depth or fascinating as Bob Balaban’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind Diary should look elsewhere or regauge their expectations. The actual section reprinting her diary from the time is pretty dim, juvenile nineteen-year old girl stuff, random thoughts and poetry full of doubts and emotions about her affair with Harrison Ford and nothing at all concerned with her actual on-set experiences. The remainder (and majority) of the book is a sort of contemporary rambling rumination looking back, at the few things she really can remember, which is pleasant and informative at times, but its all written in a ‘stream of consciousness’ manner.  Like a rambling conversation, shifting around and running off into all sorts of odd corners of whatever was occurring to her as she wrote it. Its annoying and fun and endearing and and enlightening and empty-headed too at times.

A poignant fact that I didn’t realise before, was that she was good freinds with Miguel Ferrer and that it was Miguel who she called up to read the Star Wars script with her so she could rehearse lines for her audition. Imagine my surprise reading this, knowing that only recently both had passed away, within weeks of each other, Carrie in December and Miguel in January. I tried to imagine both of them forty years before, sitting in Carrie’s bedroom rehearsing lines from Star Wars, whole lives and many films ahead of each of them, and the awful odds of both of them dying within weeks of each other all those decades later. Hollywood is a small world, I guess.

Everyone, of course, must know by now of this book’s major revelation, and what likely got sales of the book going (at least until she passed away so suddenly), which was her affair with Harrison Ford during the shooting of Star Wars. A secret both had kept for the all the years since, Carrie decided it was time to let it into the open at last- if only perhaps to justify the book itself, considering how scant other details are of the shooting of the movie. It probably doesn’t cast Harrison in too good a light; an actor in his mid-thirties leaving a wife and two sons back home to shoot a weird sci-fi film abroad, having an affair with his nineteen-year-old co-star. Maybe this sort of thing happens frequently on-set, I don’t know, but it doesn’t really seem to gel with the Harrison Ford portrayed to the public over the decades. Carrie seems to know, even in 1976, that its just an on-set affair to Harrison and nothing serious, him being emotionally detached even if, as her diaries attest, she was quite smitten. At one point Harrison seems quite horrified when it dawns on him that she isn’t really the confident and experienced young woman she pretends to be in her public persona, although at that point it’s too late. In anycase, once filming was over Harrison returned home to his family and the affair was over.

To be honest, that stuff doesn’t interest me, other than the insight into how the two of them would meet in a pub to continue their affair and be totally unknown to anyone else there. Its weird, looking back on a time when Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were just ordinary people unknown to anyone.

The most interesting parts of the book are when she discusses living with Star Wars and its fans for all the decades after 1976. Its an enlightening glimpse of what she and Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (and yes, George Lucas, too) would go through for the rest of their lives, and is quite cautionary. The strangeness of being subject to so much adoration and fascination, of being caught up in the cultural phenomenon that was Star Wars and it’s almost religious stature amongst fans; “…this little movie leaked out of the theatre, poured off the screen, affected some people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected with it”, she writes. They played with dolls of her, watched and rewatched that same movie over and over. Cued up for hours, decades later, to have photos autographed by her, names kids after her. She would be famous for playing Princes Leia for the rest of her life, becoming a cultural icon, bad hair-do and all. That summer of 1976 shooting Star Wars in London would forever alter everything afterwards- how ironic that that nineteen-year old girl would be so totally fixated in her diaries on her conflicted emotions regards her affair with her co-star, as if that film was secondary. It was secondary, it was ‘just’ a movie, after all.  It just sneaked up on her afterwards when it became ‘Star Wars’ and changed everything.

So its a slight, mildly diverting read. Yes, its disappointing that it lacks any real details but it does serve, in an odd way, in giving a sense of perspective to things. To those of us who grew up with it, Star Wars was an important and sensational part of our lives. But for those who made it, well, it clearly wasn’t such a big deal and they had no idea what was coming, and it’s interesting to read how Carrie Fisher, at least, tried to deal with it afterwards. It’s a curious insight regards her relationship with that level of fame and the fans and indication for what it must have been like for those others caught up in it.

 

 

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.

 

 

RIP Carrie Fisher

carrieSome awfully sad news; it has just been announced that Carrie Fisher has died aged 60. For boys of my generation, who grew up with Star Wars, Carrie and her Princess Leia made something of an impression- I was twelve at the time, and I’m pretty sure she was my first crush. Of course her sassy and confident, daring and heroic princess made a different impression on girls everywhere.

Its impossible to quantify the cultural impact Carrie and that character had. If you were around in 1977, 1978, when Star Wars hit- it is hard to explain now, in this era of the internet and social media and celebrity culture, people are almost immune to it, but back then, Star Wars was something wholly new, a global event that even Jaws a few years earlier could not equal. Surely that was something of a weight for her to carry. Although she had a ‘Hollywood Royalty’ background, fame such as that which Star Wars threw on her is of a scale that few people could be prepared for or able to handle. Her personal life following Star Wars was somewhat blighted by failed relationships. drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems. She was only human.

She played other roles and wrote a number of books, but to me and many others she will always be Princess Leia from Star Wars.

1977 isn’t really all that long ago, and 60 is no age at all. Its been quite a shocking year for losing our icons. I’m sure stats can mean anything, and this is just an inevitable outcome of this generation and the one before it just running out of time, but really, Bowie, Prince, Rickman, so many others this year- Kenny Baker, the man inside R2D2, was another Star Wars actor who passed away this year. Part of me hopes that once 2016 is over, things might return to normal, whatever ‘normal’ is regards losing our icons, but the other part of me fears that this is just me getting older and those actors, writers and singers who I grew up with just getting older too- and that 2017 will just continue this sad and troubling trend.

A few months ago I started a list of all the authors I used to read, the actors I grew up watching on television and in movies, the singers whose music I listened to and bought, the artists whose artwork in comics and books I admired. When I looked at how many of them have passed since, well, I stopped making the list. It was like seeing all my life passing into shadow, all those people who had an impact on me all gone. There doesn’t really seem that many of them left. It was such a sobering and depressing observation.