Morning Glory (2010)

morningAh, I know- what in the world was I doing even watching this? I can’t say. Worlds fail me. But its a strange world, you just wind up watching the oddest films sometimes. Hey, sometimes they can surprise, but, er, this one didn’t really. You can easily see why people didn’t race to the cinema to go see this one.  

Girl gets a job as producer of a struggling Breakfast TV show. Girl improves the lives/careers of all her workmates (well, except one guy who she fires, but maybe she was doing him a favour). Girl has faith in childhood hero-figure/cranky old guy. Girl’s faith in cranky old guy is tested but ultimately redeemed. Girl meets perfect guy. Girl gets guy. Girl saves Breakfast TV show. Morning Glory is one of those films that you can predict its every turn, its every beat, and its end is certain from the very beginning. But some people like that in movies. They find it reassuring, maybe. Its not a very reassuring universe really (as evidenced by me somehow watching this film) so hey, its clear some people get their reassurance wherever they can get it. After 2020, good for them.

Rachel McAdams. There was a time when she seemed to be in all sorts of stuff. She was pretty great in that season of True Detective that nobody seemed to like. And she was okay in that Game Night film, although I’m not entirely sure comedy is good for her, whatever her agent says. She’s really wasted in stuff like this.

Mind you, on the subject of wasted- Harrison Ford. Well, one has to remember this was released back in 2010, back during that period of his career when he seemed to have given up, How else can one explain it? He plays this old, surly, cranky “third-worst-person-in-the-universe’ guy in the twilight of his career left behind by his industry and its almost like an ironic casting  statement. Honestly,  it seems like Ford’s not even trying, it hardly rates as a performance at all. Maybe he thought his old natural matinee-idol charm would get him by, but at that point such times were over. Looking at him in stuff like this, its an absolute wonder he was so good in BR2049. I suppose he’d suggest its all about the material, and that Morning Glory warranted the performance it got from him, and who could argue with that? 

Five lessons from Deep Impact

deepLesson One: Someone should take Hollywood to task for its depictions of Presidents. They keep putting the likes of Harrison Ford or (in this case) Morgan Freeman up as idealistic Presidents and its as far from cynical corrupt politicians, liars and Orange Men as its possible to get. Freeman comes across as so earnestly honourable in this, its excruciating. Imagine what 2020 would have been like with a President like this in charge. But yeah, Hollywood needs to get Real, this kind of unrealistic portrayal of what a President could and should be does nobody any favours. Donald Pleasance still remains my favourite and most realistic President in any movie, I don’t think anybody comes close (but if you can think of one, enlighten me in the comments).

Lesson Two: You never appreciate what you’ve got until its gone, and yeah, hearing a James Horner score in a film these days is just really sad. Sure, this wasn’t one of his best scores, although its certainly no slouch (which reminds me, I have it on a CD somewhere). Its just perhaps too sentimental and overpowering, as if Horner knew the film was lacking some level of energy that he thought his score could provide, but instead teeters on the brink of melodrama. That said, I repeat its just so sad to hear a Horner score in a film – its just a bitter reminder of what we’ve lost. While so many Horner scores sounded so alike at times (and yeah, with Deep Impact you hear the routine Horner-isms that haunted his later career), now that he’s gone, even those familiar motifs and sounds suddenly seem all the rarer. I felt just the same way about Jerry Goldsmiths score for Gremlins when I watched it in 4K a week or so ago (Gremlins is a GREAT Christmas movie)- movies aren’t what they used to be now that we’ve lost such great film composers.

Lesson Three: Well its definitely Christmas, because with this I’ve watched a film on commercial television, and wow, its so Old School. Its like I’ve flashed back twenty- thirty years. It seems every 15 – 20 mins the film just stops (and at the oddest places, too) for a commercial break, just killing any involvement in the film. What a bizarre way to watch movies, but yeah, thirty years or more (okay, its more, I’m older than I like to think) ago this was the way we used to watch movies, unless we were lucky enough to catch it on the Beeb. Mind, back then everything was pan and scan, at least these days they broadcast films in widescreen, even if they are ripped to pieces by deodorant, car, washing powder and perfume commercials.

Lesson Four: For about twenty minutes I thought it was Dr Zhivago playing Tea Leoni’s father until it dawned on me that it was that crazy scientist from The Black Hole. Sometimes I’m some kind of idiot.

Lesson Five: Deep Impact‘s credentials as an Apocalypse movie are utterly undermined by the fact that it at no point portrays scumbags hoarding toilet rolls. 2020 has taught us a lot about how Joe Public behaves facing the End of the World and all these Apocalypse movies have been totally found wanting. I look forward to the next Apocalypse Movie coming out (well just as soon as any Studio has the nerve) and putting it to the 2020 Covid test of authenticity.

Armstrong

armArmstrong is a fascinating documentary film about the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, and is a welcome companion to Damien Chazelle’s 2018 film First Man that starred Ryan Gosling. That film was rather divisive, likely deliberately so, as it dwelt less on the space program and the mechanics of the Apollo missions and more on Armstrong himself (the film aptly summarised by Mark Kermode as ‘more inner space than outer space’). The problem for First Man was that Armstrong was always a private man, and rather kept his distance from the media, something of a cold fish to anyone outside his inner circle of family and friends. There is a very telling observation in Armstrong that ‘thank God there was no social media back then’, and this resonated with me a great deal. Can you imagine what it would be like, had the first moon landing happened in today’s world? That first man would have been eaten alive by the demands of our modern mass-media world. It was probably bad enough for Armstrong post-Apollo 11, I don’t know how he would have managed to survive something like that now- the demands of the media world today and the added hysterics of social media… it doesn’t bear thinking about. Lacking the dramatic conflicts (albeit largely fictional dramatisation) of films like Apollo 13, First Man initially seemed a cold, distant film, but having seen Armstrong, I think First Man will reward greater on repeat viewing.

Of course the tantalising thing about First Man, and of Armstrong himself, is the sense of mystery about him, because he refused to become a part of the celebrity media circus that he might have been. Part of that mystery, beyond the facts of who he was and his accomplishments, is just how do you survive something like Apollo 11? He became one of the most famous men not just alive, but in all of history- his is a name that will be remembered in the same way as the greatest kings or Pharaohs or the likes of Da Vinci, long after the rest of us, even the most famous people alive today, the musicians or actors or scientists or leaders, are long gone and forgotten.

Which is part of the dichotomy of Armstrong, because although his name will always most chiefly represent all that Apollo achieved, he himself was always clear about his sense of personal good fortune and always referenced all the work of the many thousands of people who got him to the moon. Essentially, of course, being an Astronaut was his job and while its a curious thing to look at it like that, I think it’s important too. He earned his place on Apollo 11 and was ultimately the preferred choice for the first lunar footstep- this was by merit, and he earned it. But it could as easily been someone else through some other twist of chance.

Review: ‘Armstrong’ examines the man behind the moon landingThis documentary has input from his family and freinds to inform much about Armstrong’s personal life that the public only dimly knew, and features a surprising amount of Super-8mm home movie footage of Armstrong and his family. I also found it interesting how much footage existed of Armstrong’s test-flight days- it’s odd to consider his life was being recorded so early on when its historic value would not transpire until much later. But it’s the fairly candid footage of his home life that fascinates, particularly of the 1960s and how that corresponds to its depiction in First Man, which was actually not far off the mark.

Anyone who recalls the awful voiceover on the theatrical version of Blade Runner will be amazed by the excellent narration here by Harrison Ford, who reads speeches and personal letters by Armstrong allowing us to hear the man’s thoughts and insights. Its extremely well read by Ford, infecting it with considerable nuance through pauses and inflection of voice.

On the whole I’d suggest this is a well-balanced and informative film, that tells us a great deal about the man and his achievements without falling into the trap of awe and idolising him. While to some extent Armstrong remains something of a mystery (there always seems to be something ‘unknowable’ about him, so frustrating in First Man) there is some achievement here in distancing the human being from the event that would dominate his life and his place in history.

Solo (2018)

solo1While watching Solo, I was reminded of something I read a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away- in 1978, infact, and inside the pages of the Star Wars official collectors magazine that Marvel published back then. At least I think it was in that mag, it was a long time ago after all, but anyway, it was some comment referring to a review that cited Star Wars as being the first Western filmed in outer space. Solo is just that- a space western.

So in the spirit of laboring the space western allegory, lets look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this Star Wars movie titled Solo.

First, the good. Well, its okay. If that’s damning it with faint praise, then so be it: its no disaster (In the words of fellow blogger Gregory Moss, it could have been worse) and certainly nowhere near as divisive as The Last Jedi proved to be. Solo doesn’t usurp franchise tropes or chronology as TLJ did-  Lucasfilm has (eventually, considering this films troubled production) crafted a stable, steady adventure with typically workmanlike direction from Ron Howard’s exceedingly safe directorial hands.

While some of the action stuff such as the opening speeder chase was fairly mediocre at best, I thought the train heist in particular was great -the strangely reduced colour-palette of the film actually helps the CGI enhancements look all the more real. Some of the imagery of the windswept characters on the roof of the train reminded me of the Frazetta covers for the Battlestar Galactica paperback novelizations of the late ‘seventies. I’m also glad that the finale was rather low-key, it was a refreshing thing for a Star Wars movie, I thought, especially as the CGI-fest Kessel Run was so boring.  If we’d cared more for the characters it might have been all the better, but that post-Kessel Run stuff was fine and suggested a second movie (which we’ll now never see) might have been worthwhile. Maybe Solo should always have been a mini-series rather than a movie?

Alden Ehrenreich is okay as a young Han, albeit never really convinces. I would have preferred to have seen Anthony Ingruber (already cast as young Harrison Ford in The Age of Adaline) or Ansel Elgort, who looked like a young Solo in much of Baby Driver, at least they might have physically matched Ford better. Although he performs well considering all the pressures and baggage placed upon him (its pretty thankless signing on for a role like this), Ehrenreich is clearly no Harrison Ford- if anything, he’s more a young Dennis Quaid, particularly whenever he smiles or turns on the charm (which reminded me, ironically, of watching Inner Space back in the cinema and thinking how Quaid could have played Han Solo back then). Although he never really convinces as Han Solo, thankfully this young Solo is not an obnoxious and irritating infant re: Jake Lloyd’s Anakin of The Phantom Menace. The art direction is okay (I always get a kick out of seeing original Star Wars-era Storm Troopers), the music feels like that of a Star Wars movie (indeed even is Star Wars movie music as it re-uses themes from the original scores).

solo2Now, the bad. Its all a bit ‘meh’ if I’m honest. Not once does it genuinely shock or surprise or shake expectations of what a Han Solo movie could be. Indeed, it largely spends its time ticking boxes: Han meets Chewie, Han wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, we get a game of Holo-Chess in the Falcon lounge, we get to witness the Kessel Run. Han is a scoundrel yes but at heart he’s a good guy and does the ‘Right Thing’. Nothing new that happens in Solo can really be important as it cannot retro-actively effect the cannon- nothing new in Solo can ever be referenced or name-checked in The Empire Strikes Back or The Force Awakens. Han doesn’t make some mysterious comment about someone named Beckett in The Force Awakens, for example (and if these new films were being masterminded properly, maybe he would/should). So we never really get any dramatic suspense. Which leads us to-

The ugly? Misguided. Cynical. A production nightmare that was always doomed to fail, whatever its success at the box-office (is it really fair to saddle this finished film with the purported $300 million cost of combining its production with the abandoned original shooting of the previously fired directors?). A salient lesson to Lucasfilm of how to make/not make a Star Wars movie.

Well, that is the whole thing with prequels, isn’t it? Dramatically they are always flawed because we go in with knowing how things end up. Han can’t die, Chewie can’t die, the Falcon may get some dents but it can’t be destroyed, etc . Prequels inherently are hamstrung by the Magic Reset button- whatever happens during them they have to leave the status quo in place for subsequent editions in order to maintain continuity. And likewise, they are weighed down by unfair expectations, comparisons to better films back when Star Wars was new and fresh and exciting, better directors, better actors, all looked at through rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia.

Disney’s Star Wars films have a problem, and it isn’t competing against fellow franchise juggernaut Marvel- its the ravages of time. Star Wars is now in its fifth decade and the world has moved on. The Matrix films, good or bad, were a Star Wars for a new generation, and maybe the Jurassic Park films were too, and while the jury is out on James Cameron’s Avatar films, I suppose it could well be argued that the Marvel Studios films are indeed a Star Wars for today’s generation of film-goers. Lightsabres and Jedi and droids and everything else wrapped up in Star Wars dates back to the days of Disco and can leave some of us original fans labelled as dinosaurs.

I have no issues with Disney shaking things up with its Star Wars films- its just that The Last Jedi, in my mind, was the wrong place to do it. If you’re going to have Luke Skywalker in a Star Wars movie then he has to act for good or ill as his established character would. For instance, if Han Solo were alive in The Last Jedi, would Rian Johnson have gotten away with making him a craven coward? Whatever Rian Johnson eventually does in his proposed future Star Wars trilogy is fine by me as long as its genuinely new and seperate from the established canon. I do feel that Disney might have been better off leaving the Skywalker saga and the Jedi etc well alone and not making Episodes  7-9 at all.

In anycase, returning to Solo, these standalone prequels of course cannot do that- by their nature they have to play safe with continuity and what constitutes a Star Wars movie. I’m a big fan of Rogue One and think its a neat film from a neat idea. Solo– well, we never really needed a Han Solo movie, did we? Maybe the whole prequel thing lacks sufficient ambition- maybe they should have looked further back to the days of the Old Republic and then been freer to play looser with chronology if only because the distant past is vaguer.

Solo is what it is. I would have preferred a different lead. I would have preferred a different arc- why not have made young Han a genuinely bad guy and used the prequel story to redeem him, perhaps explain why the smuggler in the 1977-1983 trilogy has a decent streak deep down? Otherwise, whats the real point of a prequel, other than showing us what we know and have come to expect?

As it turned out, few people really wanted a Han Solo movie and it largely turned out as mediocre as everyone feared it would- albeit better perhaps than the production woes would have suggested. Its box-office failure means it will likely lead to a rethink at both Lucasfilm and Disney, and that might be a good thing in the long run. That does return me to a question I raised earlier- maybe it should never have been a movie, but rather a mini-series instead? After all, Disney will have its streaming service/channel next year. Maybe that is where the future of these standalone Star Wars movies lies, in mini-series form.

 

 

The Age of Adaline (2015)

ada1Run for the hills, guys, this one isn’t for us. The Age of Adaline is a thoroughly condescending love story, I appreciate that as its deliberately fashioned as an adult fantasy/fairy-tale  I should perhaps cut it some slack, but really, this kind of stuff is just really nauseating. A beautiful young woman, Adaline Bowman (Blake Lively) is involved in a car accident in the mid-1930s which through a miracle of chance leaves her ageless, staying 29 years old for the remaining decades of the century while her family and freinds age around her. In order to hide her immortality, she changes her name, job and home every decade- only her  ageing daughter knows the truth and shares her secret. Adaline’s only other companions in life are her beloved dogs; other than that, she stays distant from the people around her to avoid creating ties of friendship and love which might reveal her ageless condition over time.

The fact that the guy she eventually falls in love with is a handsome hunk and an internet millionaire with a father, WIlliam (Harrison Ford) that himself once loved Adaline back in the 1960s when he was a young man, just raised my blood pressure and indignation. I know, I’m some kind of spoil-sport and should be more of a romantic. But this stuff is as patronizing as Pretty Woman, the epic film that delivered the modern myth that prostitutes are good girls deep-down who will be rescued/marry a millionaire someday.

The Age of Adaline is frustrating, as it could have been something much more- it wastes its central conceit, that it might have had something to say about living a life of eternal youth in a world that has to be distant, of watching freinds and loved ones, human and canine, age and pass away. Of what that might cost an individual emotionally and intellectually. Humans are a social animal, we like to belong, have attachments- what happens when you take that away and are forced to live forever in such a world/life?

ada2Instead it just maximizes the typical feminine wish-fulfillment of Adaline one day finding her True Love and that he turns out to be both wonderful and fabulously rich, and with added benefits (Harrison Ford as a father in law and ex-love, every woman’s dream).

As if living forever wasn’t good enough. Cue the ‘deep and philosophical’ lesson that True Love having been found, she can then become mortal again through another accident of chance and live a normal life like the rest of us (albeit one of beauty and riches). I appreciate its a romantic fantasy, but really, there would be a more important lesson had the True Love been a poor guy with a heart of gold, or a guy overweight and balding (beauty deeper than skin-deep). Instead she ends up with it all, the American Dream writ large.

You may well be wondering what on Earth I was doing watching this. Well, I came upon it on Netflix, noticing that it featured Harrison Ford. Call me a fool, but I come of that generation where Harrison Ford appearing in a movie meant something, or promised the possibility of something decent. Yeah, maybe that old Hollywood ‘Star system’ isn’t wholly dead and buried, and knowing most of Ford’s filmography I should have known better, but anyway, I gave it a shot not knowing what the film was about. As it was, it was mildly enjoyable and the central premise promised much (although, as I’ve said,  it actually turned out to be a different movie to that). I still remember with fondness the David Fincher film The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button and it did, for a while, seem to be going that way… you know, an adult fairy-tale with a moral, life-affirming and poignant and all that.

The film isn’t a total loss. Harrison Ford is actually quite good, and I was impressed by the casting choice for his young-man flashbacks, Anthony Ingruber, who looked like young Ford and coupled with Ford dubbing his voice, actually worked very well and might have suggested an alternate approach to the recent Solo movie. Ingruber’s similarity to a young Ford/Han Solo/Indiana Jones was quite startling. The music score by Rob Simonsen, is as might be expected, rather manipulative but its well-written and emotionally engaging, somewhat akin to early James Horner, certainly elevating the film, with rich strings, piano and chorus. The production design is very good, the period pieces convincing.

So my issues with the film are really its politics/life-lessons about giving up immortality for love and finding a true love that is fabulous and wealthy. Maybe I’m just a grouchy old bugger, clearly this nonsense isn’t intended for me. On the surface this film was well-crafted I guess but thinking back on it, ugh, its just nauseating and condescending. One for its target audience, certainly, but cynics like me should stay well away.

 

2049 is beautiful, isn’t it?

Hey, it’ll be here soon. To tide you over (its a bit like Christmas for us dystopia fans, isn’t it?) here’s a link to a lovely piece by screenwriter Michael Green about writing the screenplay and visiting the BR2049 set. Personally, I wish he’d write a book on the subject of his BR2049 adventure, as this tantalizing glimpse just isn’t enough.

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/blade-runner-2049-behind-the-scenes-michael-green-journal

 

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.

 

 

Blade Runner 2 update

br2Well its been a few months, time for another update before I close the curtains and hide from the outside world to avoid any real spoilers. Most details are being kept refreshingly secret (and I hope it stays that way for several months to come), but there’s been a bit more news of late about Blade Runner 2 (still lacking an official title), currently in production in Hungary. In production– I confess it seems so weird, thinking that a sequel to Blade Runner is currently being shot. I’m certain that watching this film next October will be the most surreal experience of my life- its like reality has taken some weird twist into a distorted dreamland. But yeah, its in production, its real.

A little while ago we got a few examples of pre-production art that infers the film will maintain the tone of the original film, such as is in the image above. I was surprised by this as I had assumed the film, set decades after the 2019-set original, would have its own ‘look’ and feel- I almost expected them to go the Minority Report route visually and maybe they will, but that image above does look very Blade Runner.

As the film is shooting there have been more cast details, most recently news of Jared Leto being a late addition. I quite like Leto onscreen but he has a weird rep behind the scenes that is a little disconcerting. Other additions include Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, Barkhad Abdi, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri and Lennie James. Seems a pretty solid cast is being brought together, multicultural and quite European (as the original was shot in Hollywood it was mostly an American cast). They join the already announced Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright and Mackenzie Davis.

Mackenzie Davis has been speaking a little about the project. Regards the original, she says that “…it’s been my favourite movie for as long as I can remember… I can’t believe I get to be a part of it. (Villeneuve’s) enthusiasm and love for it has made the whole thing so exciting. I had friends from university who called me when the news first came out saying, ‘It’s so crazy, you had been talking about this when we were 19 that if ever a Blade Runner sequel came out it would be your dream job.’ And then it happened. It’s truly insane to me.” I guess it’s another reminder of how influential the original has been amongst the film community over the decades, no matter how it flopped back in 1982.

Vangelis, who has his first album for several years out next month, is definitely not involved this time around. As widely expected, it has been confirmed that Jóhann Jóhannsson has signed on to write the score. Oddly enough, like Vangelis,  Jóhannsson has a solo album being released next month (Orphee, which sounds great by the way from what I’ve heard of it). While publicising Orphee,  Jóhannsson has made a few comments about Blade Runner 2.

He has revealed he has visited the set and already started working on the score, and like Mackenzie Davis is a big fan of the original. “I saw [Blade Runner] when I was 13, the year it came out, and it had a huge effect on me. I was already a big fan of Philip K. Dick’s novels, so I knew the original. Obviously the film is very different from the book, but I was a huge fan from day one and it’s a film that’s hugely important to me in terms of both being a visual masterpiece – this amazing world that Ridley Scott and his team created – and also in terms of the music and the sound design, which is tremendously strong and which was very memorable at the time when I saw it. This is true of many people of my generation who experienced that film, it had a deep impact on them.”

Arrival,_Movie_Poster“Denis I tend to start very early in his process,” he says of scoring films. “I start working on the music when he starts prepping the film. When he starts shooting I’ve usually started collecting material and putting together ideas and starting the process of finding the sound of the film. This is a long process that can take many months and I like to start early in order to send things to Denis while he’s filming.” Jóhannsson has also scored Villeneuve’s sci-fi film  Arrival, which is released in November. Arrival (previously Story of Your Life) is a fascinating prospect- it will be so interesting to see how Villeneuve handles a genre film with his Blade Runner 2 on the horizon. Which raises the thought- can you even imagine the pressure he must be feeling?

The most recent news concerning Blade Runner 2 was actually something tragic and a reminder of all those people behind productions that usually never hit the headlines- a construction worker has been killed whilst dismantling a set on which production had been completed at Budapest’s Origo Studios. A statement by Alcon Entertainment stated that he was a local employed by a subcontractor to dismantle the set, he wasn’t a member of the film-crew and production has continued, having already moved on to the village of Etyek in Hungary where they were filming at the time of the accident.

So how long can the secrecy hold? How long before the marketing department get loose of their chains and start dropping set photos and teaser trailers out? I guess that will be when I try to stop thinking about the film and start actively avoiding any details. Or do I just give up avoiding those details, will it even be possible? I rather like it how things are now. It’s nice knowing the production has a great director, a fine cast and a backroom staff that seem to have a handle on the project and how important it is, but it’s also nice not knowing any further details, like the plot or what characters the cast are playing. Blade Runner 2 may be a project many of us Blade Runner fans never expected or really wanted, but at the moment it could be all things; great, horrible, brilliant. It could be anything.

Ender’s Game (2013)

end12016.33: Enders Game (Network Airing, HD)

Youngsters playing videogames save humanity from Alien menace.

Well, thats essentially it. The youngsters think they are playing a videogame simulating an attack on alien planet, when its actually really happening. They win the game, annihilating the aliens, only to find out -gosh!- that gigantic space armada in the game was the real thing obeying their instructions. Yes, whenever they lost ships hundreds of real people got killed but, hey, they won the game! Earth is saved!

This film really is that stupid. I mean, you have the fate of humanity at stake. You have a vast armada of huge battleships and attack fighters, thousands of military personnel. And you have an orbiting school for ‘gifted’ teens to find a kid to put in charge of the bloody lot. I don’t mean ‘gifted’ as per special powers such as the mutants of X-Men or super-intellects. I mean a bunch of teens who maybe passed their GCSEs a bit early. It’s utterly insane.

Incredulous, I watched this film convinced there would be a twist (other than that final painful one- literally game over, kid, you won the war-that left a huge WTF expression on my face that lingered for hours) but there isn’t one. Unless, well, I guess I could mention the painful coda/twist that suggests that, even though they attacked Earth fifty years ago, the aliens might not have been quite so evil after all so our teen hero has to fly off to make amends. I mean, what?

When the best thing about a film is its excessive CGI and green screen there is something rather wrong. It starts a little like The Hunger Games, reluctant teen becomes hero (in this case, it’s a male rather than a female) but it is a pale shadow of that series. I’ve read that the film is based on a series of books written by Orson Scott Card but I can only hope that most of the best material was lost in the screenplay, because the film does the book/s no favours at all. They ploughed $100 million into this turkey- I can in no way fathom what they saw in the screenplay that merited that kind of attention and outlay. Sure, teen-angst adventures were all the rage post-Harry Potter and Hunger Games but really, this tedious film is really poor and wide of the mark.

And anyone surprised/impressed that Harrison Ford thought the script for Blade Runner 2 was one of the very best he’d read and so good he subsequently signed up to star in it, well, its time to be rather worried. If Ford thought Ender’s Game was worthy of him, then really we need to be very cautious about BR2. I swear he looks half-asleep in much of this. What was he thinking (i.e. how much was his pay packet)? Whatever it was, he returns the favour with one of his worst performances that I have ever seen. I’ve seen better performances by trees, he’s that wooden.

It’s a harrowing film. Avoid.

 

 

Do Androids Dream of Blade Runner 2?

br2aI was a sceptic. I didn’t want a Blade Runner 2. I thought it was a bad idea and a cynical attempt to capitalise on both the success of the Final Cut release and, following its long road from box-office and critical failure in 1982, its eventual reappraisal as a classic. I felt justified, as a fan of the film since I saw it in September 1982 who witnessed its fall into obscurity and later eventual rebirth, to voice my opinion that the world didn’t need a Blade Runner 2. Leave it alone. But slowly as news has developed about the BR2 project, I’m becoming, much to my own surprise, a Believer. Ridley, you old bastard, you’ve got me converted. But can you pull it off?

(God, I’d love to sit down with Ridley just for an hour…! Seriously, I don’t consider myself a geek but as an original fan of the film (it’s been my favourite film ever since it blew me away back on that September afternoon and I’ve championed it ever since) I feel almost entitled to feel a sort of ‘ownership’ of it (ridiculous I know). I love the film,damn it. Just to sit down with Ridley and get some idea of where he’s going with it. I don’t want it spoiled, I really don’t even want to know anything detailed about the script, but.. but Ridley.. where are you going with it. It feels like that scene in Marathon Man– with me asking him,  is it safe?)

Back in December last year I wrote regards the confirmation that Blade Runner 2 looked to be inevitable, and over the last several months pieces of information have come to light about the project, and I think its a good time to sum up some of those developments, particularly following the press interviews for Ridley Scott’s latest film The Martian, during which Scott has been a bit more candid about the project.

br2bSo what do we know? Well, the script was developed by Ridley Scott with original writer Hamption Fancher. So that has to be taken as a good start, with a cautionary note that some of the best moments of the original script were attributed to the rewrite by David Peoples, who has no involvement at all with BR2. But yeah, if you had to name the original ‘parents’ of Blade Runner (considering it as a wholly independent entity to Philip K Dicks original novel) then it would be Fancher and Scott. So the lineage is there. And by all accounts the script for BR2 is very good. Following recent reveals by Scott, it’s apparent that the film is set some decades after the original. Ryan Gosling is apparently signed-on to star and his age seems to have some impact on the exact date, with Scott suggesting 2037 or 2040. There are inevitable invitations to wild speculation here- perhaps Gosling’s character is a child of Deckard and Rachel (which is a bit of a stretch considering Rachel was a Replicant and possibly even Deckard too), or, perhaps more likely, he’s a contemporary Blade Runner who in his duties has to track down Deckard (who went on the run with Rachel at the end of the original film). Scott has already said that Harrison Ford, although he has signed on to the film, will not feature largely in it;  “...we…came up with a pretty strong three-act storyline, and it all makes sense in terms of how it relates to the first one. Harrison is very much a part of this one, but it’s really about finding him; he comes in in the third act“. So it would seem safe to assume the date the film is set is largely due to Ford’s real age/the aging of him over the years since 1982. I don’t know where that leaves the debate about his character being a Replicant or not; do Replicants age? Maybe Deckard was a Nexus 7 or something, no set termination date, built to age naturally. I wonder if Tyrell has any part to play in this movie. Hell, its like falling into the rabbit hole thinking too much about BR2.

Ryan Gosling by the way seems a particularly fine piece of casting. He’s one of the few modern-day male actors who can emote visually rather than through dialogue, and has a silent real-world/tough guy presence much like Ford had back in his Raiders/Blade Runner prime or the likes of old-style Hollywood leads like Steve McQueen. I’ve enjoyed his work in films like Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines and I think he could carry a BR2 movie, it seems a natural progression for him.

br2eConfirmation came that Ridley wasn’t going to direct BR2. Firstly, I have to admit that the director appointed to the film, Denis Villeneuve, was someone unknown to me when the news broke that it would be him helming the film rather than Ridley Scott, who was stepping back into a producer’s role. To be honest, I felt relieved about Ridley stepping back, it was likely a difficult decision for Ridley to make as Blade Runner is possibly his most personal film, and the film he is most famous for. It must have been so tempting to shoot BR2 himself, but the pressure… the expectation… I think the experience of making Prometheus and all the hype it received, and yes, much of the flack after release…. I expect it had much to do with Ridley’s decision,  I do think it was the right thing to do. If the sequel gets screwed up, at least he can say it wasn’t down to him, and his original will always stand for itself.

director Denis VilleneuveSo anyway, curious about the choice of (the unknown to me) Denis Villeneuve, I streamed Villeneuve’s most recently-released film, Prisoners, and was hugely impressed by it. Its a very, very good film, a tense and brutal thriller, technically very accomplished but also blessed with great performances from its actors. It also looks incredible, with beautiful photography by famed English cinematographer Roger Deakins (some of the night photography in the rain, lit by neon and torchlight had obvious connotations with Blade Runner), When news broke that Deakins, who seems to have a great rapport with Villeneuve, had also signed on to work on BR2, well by that point I was getting excited. A talented director and one of the most accomplished cinematographers, working on BR2? Hell yeah. We have  great script, a great leading man, the return of Ford, Ridley overseeing production, a gifted director who is a big fan of the original, and a fantastic cinematographer. It’s all looking good. Villeneuve’s latest film Sicario has been getting great reviews too. He’s looking to be an excellent choice.

They aren’t racing to get it done either. No release date seems to have been set, with filming arranged late last year for summer of 2016 you’d have to expect a release date in late 2017, maybe mid-2018 depending on how long post takes (2019 would be a perfect date for obvious reasons but lets not wait that long!). The shooting date may well have been dictated by the appointment of Villeneuve, who had Sicario in progress and has just finished shooting another film after that- his schedule now apparently cleared up, BR2 awaits. I think its healthy to have a long pre-production for these kinds of film anyway. Too many films race into production and suffer for it.
br2fRegards the music, well, Vangelis’ score was such an integral part of Blade Runner, it was like another character. Fans may have anticipated a return for the synth maestro but I would imagine that’s now very unlikely, particularly as Ridley has stepped back from directing. Just as Villeneuve has a continuing professional relationship with cinematographer Deakins, he also seems to have a partnership with Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, who composed the scores for both Prisoners and Sicario. Johannsson is himself a rising star in the business (he recently also scored The Theory of Everything). He comes from a experimental/classical background and I was already familiar with his work prior to him moving into film scoring. His works IBM 1401: A Users Manual and Fordlandia are wonderful pieces of modern classical composition (check them out on Youtube), and I expect he’ll be announced as the composer for BR2. This would be a great choice and reassuring has he already has a history of working with Villeneuve. It will be interesting to see if he references the Vangelis score or makes it a wholly original composition- if the latter, then it will further position the film as more its own thing.

In September Variety spoke to Roger Deakins about Blade Runner 2. “..there’s a lot of anticipation, which is interesting. I mean I love the original but I’m surprised at how much interest there is when the original actually wasn’t commercially very successful and wasn’t critically very successful as well. So that tells you a lot about a movie’s staying power… .” Referring to the style and ‘look’ that the original has, Deakins was asked if they intended to replicate (sic) it in the sequel. ” I remember distinctly when it came out and how strong that look was when compared with other movies that were around at the time. We’ve had little conversations. I mean the film we’re going to do is going to stand by itself but it’s obviously the same world 30 years on. I mean but it doesn’t have to look the same. Thirty years on we can do anything we want, really.”

I certainly welcome this approach. I think its great that they seem to be referencing the original but are keen to distance themselves from it, likely conscious that they must visually do their own thing and give the sequel its own identity. Unfortunately the realities of modern film-making seem to have been hinted at in an interview shortly after, in which Deakins commented he would soon be working with (director) Villeneuve on a film that would be converted to 3D (evidently a reference to BR2); “…I’m not even into 3D actually… I’ve been offered it. I just don’t want to… (it will) be made into 3D eventually, but it won’t be shot in 3D.” Thank goodness the film will be at least shot in 2D. I can take (and ignore) a 3D conversion, but if it’s shot in 2D there won’t be too many of those irritating ‘pop-out’ moments in the film.

As he wraps up his other projects and turns towards BR2, he is naturally reticent to go into any specifics, but Villeneuve has started to comment on his own thoughts approaching the project; “I’m totally aware of the huge challenge. It’s a risk I know that every single fan who walks into the theater will walk in with a baseball bat. I’m aware of that and I respect that, and it’s okay with me because it’s art. Art is risk, and I have to take risks. It’s gonna be the biggest risk of my life but I’m okay with that. For me it’s very exciting; it’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Blade Runner. I love it to much, so I said, ‘Alright fuck it, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.’”

You know, I think he gets it.

But what will BR2 be called? The Independent newspaper here in the UK recently ran a story about domain names being registered by Warner Bros.; bladerunnerandroidsdream.com and androidsdreammovie.com, with natural ensuing speculation that the film may be titled Blade Runner:Androids Dream or just simply Androids Dream. While such a title may well nod back to the original PKD novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep, in the movie the term ‘Androids’ was replaced by ‘Replicants’ so I’m not sure how probable those choices are. Likely they are domain names for the films official websites but I don’t imagine the film will be titled like that. Personally I always rather liked one of the original titles the original film had before Blade Runner was chosen- Dangerous Days.  So some variant like Blade Runner: Dangerous Days seems ok to me. But obviously extremely unlikely! We’ll see.

If I had the opportunity to speak to them, my message to the makers of BR2 would be this: please, be honest to the original. Don’t pander to the fans, don’t think about what we want, but please, just be certain you are maintaining the integrity of the original. Go do something new. Blow us away, just like Ridley and his team did back in 1982. And please for Gods sake don’t consider the word ‘Franchise’; don’t make this film with an eye to a Blade Runner 3. Make it a single experience with a beginning, middle and an end. Maybe a third film will follow, I guess it has to be a consideration, its a part of the industry thinking these days but don’t make that integral to the second film. Just go and make a great film, no sequel thinking attached. That worked for Blade Runner after all. Just make it good.

Well. Lets give it several more months and see what happens…one thought does spring to mind, though: when the first teaser gets released… dare I even watch it?