The Invisible Man (2020)

invisThe opening of The Invisible Man shows it to be a taut, tense and efficient thriller, a promise that is fulfilled through most of its running time. Unfortunately, the script becomes so forced as it relentlessly ramps up the twists and tension that it starts to run foul of its internal logic (neither of the brothers notices that one of the Invisibility suits has gone missing from the lab?) until it rather fizzles out in the the end, which is unfortunate. It reminds me of John Carpenters early films like The Fog and Escape From New York, which demonstrated wonderful premises but had scripts that failed to stick the landing, so the speak, with endings that failed to be worthy of their set-ups.

So its a little sad that when The Invisible Man reaches its finale, it splutters rather than soars and left me a little deflated as it stumbled over one too many contrivances and plot holes. On the whole though, it remains a very good thriller and a welcome change from the typical problematic reboot (the 2017 reboot of The Mummy, for instance). The overwhelming saving grace of the film is of course the star turn by Elisabeth Moss, which is mightily impressive and commanding. Moss carries the film all by herself, with a performance that raises the film to some other level, and promises that her career may finally be moving up from television to the silver screen (not that this carries the acting career kudos it used to, really- these days possibly the opposite is true).

Future becomes Past

esc1I am still beyond irritated that I never re-watched Blade Runner during November, 2019. It feels like something vaguely heretical that I never watched that film in that, of all months. Once upon a time, that film was of the future, now its not even of the past, but some alternate past, like the 1997 of Escape From New York, or the 2001 of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alternative histories, of the future become past.

Perhaps that’s more powerful. It is, after all, the problem when predicting the future in science fiction movies. You can get judged by what you get right, what you get wrong, and maybe that’s missing the point- the films really tell us about when they were made. In the decade that gave us Taxi Driver, it wasn’t perhaps too much of a stretch to imagine New York becoming a maximum security prison to dump all the criminal filth of America into. Likewise when Kubrick and Clarke made 2001 in the 1960s, with America pumping so much money and effort into Apollo, it was no doubt easy to imagine the Superpowers with bases on the moon by 2001. In just the same way that Escape From New York shows how grim society seemed to be getting in the grim late-1970s, 2001: A Space Odyssey betrays the sense of hope and ambition of the 1960s.

In any event, its easy to re-watch 2001 imagining that Vietnam never happened and that political will championed an ambitious space program for decades to follow, or that when economic collapse threatened the America of Escape From New York,  far-right politics condemned society’s ills to the solution of a city turned into a prison. Or, in the case of Blade Runner, that perhaps the Axis won World War Two and set the world into the different path of a German Space Race, and an Off-World solution to the climate collapse of Earth.

In this way the films actually become more powerful, separated from the weight of prediction, instead benefiting from the freedom of dreaming what might have been. I think its something that film-makers etc should perhaps consider when contemplating possible futures: don’t make them ours, make them someone else’s. If the opening crawl of Blade Runner had been something along the lines of: “1946: The Axis wins WWII, 1954: The first man on the moon is a German,  2019: Now” then people would perhaps have been more open, even in 1982, to accept its future noir vision. Its an approach that Villeneuve and his team clearly seemed to relish when making BR2049 and furthering its alternate history/future, something that the film benefits from with its retro tech.

I note that perhaps the next film to join the distinguished company of Escape From New York, 2001 and Blade Runner is Soylent Green, whose grim future of 2022, of devastating climate change, pollution and overpopulation is next to become an alternate past. Mind, as predictions go they possibly weren’t terribly far off with that one.

Hotel Artemis

artemis1.jpgIts 2028, and the futures great, if you can afford the price- in the grand cyberpunk tradition of films like Robocop, and in a dark reflection of the classic Chinatown,  Los Angeles is being torn apart by riots following a corporation’s decision to privatise the cities water supply. The City of Angels is now looking more like Escape From New York‘s prison wasteland, armoured riot police patrolling the streets and helicopters being shot out of the sky.

Hidden amongst the cities tower blocks behind the facade of an abandoned hotel, Hotel Artemis is a heavily fortified medical facility reserved for the criminal fraternity- a place where criminals, if they are paid-up members, can access the talents of The Nurse (a great turn from Jodie Foster under some make-up) an old woman who hasn’t left the building in over twenty years, and her assistant/muscle, the aptly-monickered  Everest (Dave Bautista), who enforces the rules- reminiscent of those of John Wick‘s hotels- that guests cannot bring in guns or fight the other guests whilst on the premises.

The premise may not seem captivating -it’s certainly not original, wearing its influences clearly on its bloody sleeve- but in execution Hotel Artemis is a great, a rather refreshing little b-movie with a cool head on its shoulders. Shot for about $15 million, it looks good and punches way above its weight regards its cast- as well as Foster and Bautista, it features Jeff Goldblum in the best performance I’ve seen from him in years, and Sterling K Brown, Sofia Boutella and Zachary Quinto put in fine work. It favours the early films of John Carpenter, looking a lot like a modern Escape From New York and also Alan Rudolph’s lovely Trouble in Mind, a retro-looking slice of the future that really makes the most of its claustrophobic setting and gritty, violent nature.

It also sounds alot like Carpenter’s early films too, thanks to a fine electronic score from Clint Martinez that is typically for him, brutal in places and angelic in others, ably supporting the film.

artemis2I found myself enjoying this film much more than I expected. Probably it’s that retro feel, harking back to Carpenter’s stuff, which I’m always a sucker for, but it moves along at a great pace and is over before you can question some of the logic. Foster’s The Nurse is a memorable character whose past comes back to both haunt her and set her free and the setting is so well realised it’s a pleasure to soak it up. It recalls so much of the genre flicks of the 1970s when most movies of the future were dark and bleak as this, and yes, there are neat nods to Robocop, stuff like that. Medical technology has improved, using organs from 3D printers and nanotech and advanced drugs, but it seems only the criminals can afford it using their ill-gotten gains, and the police seem to be out for hire to the highest corporate bidder. Its a lovely noir, dark-future movie, and while its not trying to be anything groundshakingly original, it uses its influences to fashion something that still feels fresh enough to enjoy with an indie-flavour that, again, reminded me so much of Trouble in Mind.

A great little movie, and a real surprise (is it wrong of me to admit I can forgive little films like this things I’d bitch about if it had a $50 million budget?). Mind, even though it only cost a purported $15 million, it still managed to fail to make any profit (worldwide it only earned about $13 million, which makes me wonder did it even get anything like a proper release?) so I guess that’s why stuff like this seems so rare, and its fate quite undeserved.

Bushwick

bushThanks to its outrageously preposterous storyline, this film has an awful lot in common with John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York, and to be honest Carpenter’s film came to mind several times during the film. Its certainly something I most appreciated from it- Carpenter had a knack of coming up with a killer (albeit ridiculous) premise, whether it be turning New York into a State Prison or an old police precinct under siege from a murderous street gang or a coastal town terrorised by ghosts of pirates after revenge, and spinning it into a compelling low-budget thriller, the low-budget, no-frills approach only adding further verisimilitude to the project. Less gloss, more grit. The low camera angles, the long single-camera shots, the rather odd funky 1970s-like soundtrack… Bushwick shares a great deal of the style and sensibilities of early Carpenter work, with particular echoes of Assault on Precinct 13.

The casting of David Bautista (so good in BR2049) brought me to it, and to be honest I really didn’t expect much other than a derivative b-movie action flick and an opportunity to see Bautista in an early career effort. I even thought the title referred to the Bautista characters name, like in films such as Shaft, Bullitt etc- I didn’t realise it referred to a NYC district.

Sometimes films pleasantly surprise, because on the whole this film was pretty good. Shot in the style of Cloverfield, as one long continuous take as if in real time, that conceit wears a little thin as you play a bit of a game spotting the trickery that they use to join all the seperate takes (lens flare giving them an artificial fade-out/fade in to white, sometimes the shot slipping into dark shadow like a momentary fade to black, sometimes a split screen created by the scenery) which is a little unfortunate, in the same way as found-footage movies get distracting when you start wondering who keeps on filming stuff in such moments of stress or how did someone later find it and edit it together. But the film somehow still draws you in, ultimately becoming compellingly fascinating viewing.

The core fascination is that daft premise, and also its nightmarish reflection of the American Dream gone amok- in this respect it often reminds of The Purge series. Its a uniquely American thing, that mash-up of patriotism and gun ownership, where it fits in society and modern civilization, how easily that could break down and the country return to the Wild West myth of good vs evil, right vs might and the power of the gun.  It reminded me a great deal of DMZ, a comic book by Brian Wood set in a near future Second American Civil War in which Manhattan Island has become a Demilitarised Zone caught between the opposing factions. I bought the deluxe hardback collections a few years back and had heard it was going to become a miniseries or something- perhaps this movie dates back to this project, because it does seem awfully close.

bush2Lucy (Brittany Snow) returns to Brooklyn with her new boyfriend Jose, to find the underground station oddy deserted and alarm sirens sounding. Nearing the exit they are confronted by a screaming man racing by, all aflame, and sounds of explosions and gunfire ahead. It transpires that the city has been invaded by an armed militia, arresting and killing people in the face of an armed response from the locals. Anarchy has broken out, criminals and police and this mysterious militia attempting to take control of the streets through gun battles with innocents caught in the carnage and looters taking advantage of the bedlam. Helicopters patrol the skies and snipers take shots from rooftops at everyone passing by, lawlessness is everywhere.

Lucy falls in with Stupe (Dave Bautista) a veteran US navy medical officer traumatised by past experiences and the loss of his family in the 9/11 tragedy. They both get injured and have to work together to survive, heading for a US army extraction point, during which they get caught in lootings and gunfights and encounters with the armed militia, discovering that Political elements have broken free of the Union, and commenced a new civil war between rival States.

Its daft and crazy but somehow it works. I think its low-budget, no-frills approach works mightily in its favour, especially in how the gritty visuals, camera work and largely electronic score evokes so much of John Carpenter’s films. Its hardly groundbreaking but I’d much rather see low-budget, novel films such as this than your typical, anodyne blockbuster films: in some ways it reminded me of the early VHS era when stuff like this seemed to be on the rental shelves.  Admittedly its use of CGI etc betrays it as a modern film but on the whole in its sensibilities it really does feel very low-fi 1980s in mood and approach. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here but a pleasant surprise nonetheless-  I enjoyed it.

Prince of Darkness 4K UHD

pdark1.jpgI’m always a little wary revisiting old favourites. I’m pleased to say that John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I haven’t actually seen since back in the DVD days, holds up very well today. I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish- harking back to Hammer’s classic Quatermass & The Pit this is a thought-provoking, intelligent horror film full of ideas. Okay, as a horror film, it may suffer a little from lack of genuine scares and perhaps a budget a little too short for its lofty ideas (this is a film, after all, that was made for a paltry $3 million), but it really does feel fresh and interesting. As with They Live a few days ago, its such a pleasure watching a great John Carpenter movie.

And it does look lovely in 4K- better than I ever saw it before infact, although admittedly the last time I saw it was on DVD, as we never got a Blu-ray release over here. Honestly its been so many years since I saw this at the cinema back in 1987 there is no way I can compare this to its theatrical presentation, but I can’t imagine it was any better than this. Detail is excellent, really impressive, the colours are vibrant and even the night scenes hold up well- when they do suffer from crushed blacks its obviously inherent in the source and the original photography.  It really looks gorgeous and I am thrilled to have this film in 4K.

One of the chief pleasures watching this film again, was of course its great cast of b-movie actors- and I say that with some affection. These thespians (other than the great Donald Pleasence) were never destined to be superstars of the screen but several have links to some of Carpenter’s other films- familiar faces from other favourite films are always endearing and a pleasure to see. As well as seeing Pleasence again (Halloween & Escape From New York),  there are Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (both from Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, Village of the Damned and other Carpenter flicks).

However, I was struck again by the great performance of Lisa Blount as the female lead (and ultimate hero of the film albeit with a terrible fate- that last shot of her always fills me with horror) and I wondered at how she never became a bigger star. Looking her up on IMDB I sadly learned that she had passed away back in 2010 at the age of just 53. Not for the first time I am struck by sobering reality when looking up someone from an older film on IMDB to see they have passed, a life summarized by a brief bio and filmography. Its a perspective I don’t really like and it makes me increasingly reticent to look people up on IMDB.  It left a bit of a shade upon my experience of rewatching this great movie.

I would not suggest that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film- far from it. It never really lives up to the promise inferred by its great nine-minute title sequence and it does noticeably sag towards the end as the characters sort of do nothing at all while the film waits for night to fall again. The ending doesn’t really have the impact it should but the coda  with its cheeky scare has a truly chilling final shot that infers all sorts of grim horror to follow in the viewers imagination- a great thing for a horror movie to do. Indeed, this film has always been a favourite of mine chiefly from all the ideas behind it, all the concepts going on that linger in the mind afterwards, rather than anything particularly in the film, strangely. Not all films do this.

The film has an absolutely perfect score that has always been a favourite of mine (I originally had the soundtrack on audio cassette that says everything about the age of the film, funnily enough) and I really do rate the film as being one of Carpenter’s very best. In my book, there’s The Thing, Escape From New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness.. but then again, Big Trouble in Little China is no slouch, and I love In the Mouth of Madness‘ Lovecraft vibe and The Fog is a lovely old-fashioned ghost story and.. yeah, well, this is why lists are so useless- Carpenter may have made a few duds late on but he made some great films.

Anyway, this film with They Live really has me hoping for the best with the release of Escape From New York on 4K UHD later this month.

 

They Live 4K UHD

they1
I don’t believe my eyes- 4K UHD??

They Live is a film that gets better with age. There is a sense of truth to it- not that aliens really are secretly in control of the world and are subjugating the poor, but rather that certain classes and groups of humanity can behave like aliens against their own. The class and power divide is as valid now as it was when the film was made, and its portrayal of the detached political elite and the power of television as true as it ever was.

In this sense, it also seems one of John Carpenter’s most sophisticated and intelligent films, and will, I suspect, have a greater shelf-life than some of his ‘bigger’ hits. Whenever I re-watch the film it remains as horrifying and thought-provoking as ever and its a lovely demonstration of Carpenter’s craft- thriving, as he always seems to, under a tight budget and shooting schedule. I don’t think big-budget studio films really suited him, and its such a shame he retired from the business having become so tired of it. They Live suggests that he might have had some great low-budget/high-concept anti-establishment films in him and its our loss that he didn’t make them.

This 4K UHD release of one of Carpenter’s later, so-called lesser, films (when he dabbled back in the low budget arena with films like Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness after the big-time left him behind), is something of a surprise and is perhaps a measure of how popular his films are. After all, we haven’t even seen a release for James Cameron’s The Abyss on Blu-ray, let alone 4K UHD, and here’s Carpenter getting his due with 4K releases of They Live, The Fog, and next month Prince of Darkness and Escape From New York. On the  demonstration of They Live, the other releases may be cause for some excitement (particularly EFNY, which has recently not fared well on home video) because They Live looks terrific. Detail is excellent, colours balanced and really, any issues are likely down to the original photography, such as the night footage still having some black crush. I doubt this film has ever looked this good before and for a fan its a great treat. I haven’t watched any of the extras yet but one particular surprise is that the soundtrack bundled in the collector’s edition is actually the extended ‘full’ soundtrack issued as a limited CD some years ago. Being such a fan of the film this boon is somewhat wasted on me, as I own both versions of the soundtrack already- I remember ordering the original album on import via mail-order way back in the pre-internet days and getting such a thrill when it eventually turned up. I kinda miss those days. But some fans will get a kick out of that CD, I’m sure. They Live has a great Carpenter score, one of my favourites.

Anyway, They Live is one of the greats and its a real treat to see it get this 4K UHD treatment. The only bad news is that it likely paves the way for all the rest, and having bought so many on DVD and Blu-ray before, the prospect of another set of purchases is a little depressing- at least this should be the last double/triple dip of the Carpenter catalogue. Besides, in this case, I only had They Live on VHS and DVD prior, we didn’t get a Blu-ray over here… so win-win! But wait, this box contains both 4K UHD and Blu-ray so they got me anyway. Dang it, they get you everytime… like I said, there is a truth to this film, you can’t beat the system….

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A Violent Night On The Town

kinopoisk.ru2017.18: The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Film 4 HD

Back in the day, The Purge: Anarchy would have been a pretty fantastic John Carpenter movie. It feels like its Escape From New York 2, and screams for a Carpenter/Howarth score and Carpenter’s keen widescreen eye and gritty 70s-cool aesthetic. Indeed, its a pity they couldn’t have gotten him out of his semi-retirement to shoot this movie and maintain that 70s/80s vibe with a score and everything. What a movie that would have been.

As it is, The Purge: Anarchy is a pretty commendable effort and a big improvement on the original Purge movie. That film had the siege mentality of Assault on Precinct 13 but lacked in execution; but the central premise of one night in which anarchy reigns and all crime is deemed legal was sufficient enough a hook to enable the film to succeed. Buoyed by that films success this film clearly raises the bar in scope and channels Escape From New York with its ragtag, misfit bunch caught in the dead of night in a city full of murderers. Maybe the Carpenter influence isn’t really as intentional as it seems, but to me it’s inescapable, as both Purge films feel like Carpenter films at heart.

The trouble is, maybe these Purge films are being made a few decades too late?  These days even b-movies are pretty slick efforts, and these films for me really should seem more basic, grungy, 1970s-gritty stuff- yeah, more like those Carpenter classics or Cannon films starring Charles Bronson. Instead they come across as crisp, mainstream exploitation movies, as cynical as that seems, and a mooted move to a tv series only reinforces that.

 

John Carpenter October film..?

hall2Halloween (1978) – Blu-ray.

Well, October’s a fairly topical month to be watching horror films, and if you are going to watch a John Carpenter film in October, then odds are it’s going to be Halloween. Fortunately I had a copy of the blu-ray 35th anniversary steelbook sitting on my shelf in the unwatched pile, so not only did it tick off another October horror movie but it also got that infamous pile down by one.

There’s not much to be said about Halloween, its surely all been said already. Separated from its iconic status over the years and its franchise of endless sequels and reboots (which beyond Halloween 3 I have never watched), the 1978 film remains a great little horror movie. Its a small, lovingly-crafted, nicely acted, wonderfully scored horror film. Like Alien and Jaws, it’s a great film that begat many (often inferior) sequels but remains perfect all in itself. Its a lesson in tension and the implied threat of violence- indeed, in gore/violence terms it’s a very restrained film, and its also a masterclass in using the widescreen frame in its shots. Carpenters films -particularly his early ones- are beautifully composed, he really knew how to use the widescreen frame.

hall1Donald Pleasence- isn’t he wonderful in this? He was always a great talent that graced genre films like THX 1138 and Escape From New York, and channeled all sorts of Peter Cushing vibes in this, perhaps his most famous role as Dr Sam Loomis. He was the kind of actor we seldom see these days, but his twitchy, nervous bald Everyman convinced he’s hunting the Devil Incarnate (and who’s to say he isn’t?) is a joy here as he is in most everything, really. I miss him, and as with Peter Cushing, with his passing we as film-fans suffered a major loss that grows more pressing as the years pass.

One thing I will note regards this 35th Anniversary disc -and I don’t know if this appears on the films many other home editions- is a great little documentary, The Night She Came Home, which features Jamie Lee Curtis attending a Halloween/horror convention and spending a weekend meeting and greeting fans, the proceeds going to a hospital charity.  Apparently she distanced herself from horror fans and the Halloween fanbase for some years so her attendance here is a rare event and warranted this video record. Its a nice doc. I quite like this kind of thing, related to the film on the disc but not restricted to being a making-of talking heads piece, rather it’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the event, the actress, the fans who share their stories regards love of the film etc, and we see other actors and behind the camera staff from the film series. Its not often I really bother with extra features on discs these days (much to my shame) but this was a nice one that sucked me in immediately after watching the film.

 

 

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Listening to…

escapeEscape From New York (Expanded edition).  I’ve just bought this expanded edition of John Carpenter’s seminal EFNY soundtrack- its not new, its been out for years, but I never got around to buying it until now. I’ve got an old edition from the mid-eighties up in the loft somewhere- it was a straight port from the original vinyl edition and originated from Germany of all places, so it had different artwork and the title ‘Die Klapper-Schlange‘ (what is that in German?). I think even the track titles were in German;  I guess all that stemmed from the compact disc being a ‘new’, limited-market format back then (yeah, I’m old enough to remember the days of vinyl and cassettes ruling the record stores and compact discs being in a corner somewhere like a niche item).

Here we are decades later and even compact disc is going the same way as vinyl and cassette,  its all downloads now. I don’t like downloads. I guess its a generation thing, but I still prefer having something tangible, a real object in my hand with a case, liner notes etc. and I’ll even pay extra for a CD when the thing is available as an mp3 for less. Behind the times, eh?

Before I bought that German CD, I remember borrowing the vinyl edition of EFNY from the town library during my college days, and recording it on cassette. It may sound dated now but the Carpenter score was so cool back in the day. Originally due to being forced into it (he couldn’t afford to pay someone to do it for him), Carpenter scored his own film soundtracks (Dark Star, Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog) but by the time he got to Escape From New York, it wasn’t so much a budgetary constraint forcing him to do it, it became part of the identity of his films. The limited technology of synths back then give his scores a bare-bones, gritty, retro feel that is rather unique, and was at the time. The often cold, simple and direct synth scores mirrored the style of film-making that Carpenter was pioneering- basic, no-frills, shotgun film-making; nothing fancy, brutally direct. In these days of digital film-making its a wonder there aren’t more modern-day Carpenters shooting films like he did, as you’d think it would  be easier to get away with it on digital compared to the costly photo-chemical days; its an irony about digital that perplexes me.  Surely we should have more risky low-budget films and fewer huge blockbusters? Oh well. I think its fair to say Escape From New York is one of his better scores (although my personal fave is likely Prince Of Darkness from a few years later) and as entry point to Carpenter’s film-music this is the album to go with.

This expanded edition has the remaining cues that wouldn’t fit on the old vinyl version (twenty minutes per side, and that was your lot back in the day), alongside music not featured in the film (an abandoned Bank robbery prologue that was shot and scored but cut from the film, and an end-title piece that was dropped as it was deemed to break the mood of the film). A few dialogue snippets are thrown in to jazz things up and provoke memories of the film, in a similar fashion to Vangelis’ maligned 1994 Blade Runner album. It all results in a great listening experience, and hearing it again after so long it feels fresh and more impressive than ever.  Its got me reaching for my copies of the They Live, Big Trouble In Little China, Prince of Darkness soundtracks to continue this John Carpenter soundtrack listening experience. They really don’t make music like this anymore, just as they don’t make films like Carpenter did in his heyday (well I guess stuff like Dredd qualifies but look what box-office fate awaited that- makes me abandon all hope).