What the Duck?!!

htd4kWhat is THIS? What’s going on… has the world gone Quackers? I guess this means anything is possible on 4K disc now. We’ve waddled across the Rubicon, people.

We’re STILL waiting for The Abyss on Blu-ray never mind 4K and there’s so many genuinely ‘Great Movies’ like Citizen Kane, the original King Kong, or Ben Hur and so many others waiting for 4K releases… cripes, off the top of my head Once Upon a Time in the West or even Conan The Barbarian or The Thin Red Line… the list is pretty endless really, because Howard the Duck…its almost funny. Well actually it IS funny because its really quite a joke. Is Howard the Duck a really successful, hugely popular cult movie that has huge demand from the public for a 4K release, are we living in that world? Well I suppose we must be, because its coming on July 5th.

What the Duck?

howardostSometimes you wake up and you wonder what universe you’ve woken up to. I read this morning that Intrada are releasing a 3-disc (!) edition of the Howard the Duck soundtrack. The complete score, so thats John Barry’s music that totals a whopping 100 minutes with loads of unreleased/rejected material/alternates, the Thomas Dolby songs and score by Sylvester Levay (whoever he is, but I guess he stepped in when Barry walked/wasn’t available).

The duck was actually a turkey, as it turned out, but I well remember watching the film on a very wet afternoon when I should have been in college. I saw it in the old ABC cinema in town, in the fleapit that was the Screen 3, which had seen far too many porn movies, God what a suspicious fleapit that room was (well, it was possibly more a closet than a proper ‘room’ but…). I remember sharing the dubious damp experience (it took me the entire film to dry out) with a tramp, I swear he was a tramp who came in just to shelter from the rain- always wondered what the hell he made of that movie.

I later saw the film again on VHS and it never really aged well. Some films are just so ill-judged, however well-intentioned they may be, and it had a great cast and production quality, and the Barry score was very nice, as I recall. I own a few Thomas Dolby albums so I didn’t mind the songs either. But I never bought the soundtrack album, and it became very rare and sought-after, oddly enough. So a 3-disc complete set will be great news for some.

Me? I suddenly feel very damp of a sudden, like some kind of acid-flashback of a deeply traumatic experience. We never got a complete Blade Runner soundtrack but we got Howard the Duck? What the Duck? Ducking hell. You got to be ducking kidding me etc. etc.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

thorragWell I expected it to be good (message to self: why on Earth did you miss this at the cinema?) but I really didn’t expect it to be just this good. I mean, it’s crazy how apparently easy and effortless Marvel Studios make it seem- anybody at DC/Warners will tell you how hard it is to pull off such a naturally organic and enjoyable superhero movie. In a way, this film almost creates its own sub-genre of superhero movie, a sort of action/comedy mashup, in effect. Marvel by way of National Lampoon.

Which doesn’t sound such a good thing. I did wonder going in whether Marvel would be able to pull it off, toeing that awfully-shady line between comedy and farce that could have pulled this superhero caper into a terrible mess, but get away with it they did. Thor: Ragnarok is quite unabashedly wonderful fun, a glorious and somewhat affectionate tribute, visually, to the comic book genius that was Jack Kirby, whilst at the same time being full of knowing ‘winks’ to the superhero genre and the Marvel films in general. In some ways its one of the most sophisticated superhero films we’ve yet seen.

I thought Spiderman: Homecoming was pretty good, and pretty clever in how it revitalised Spider Man in the wake of so many recent films and the rather abortive reboot of a few years ago.  Thor: Ragnarok is of a very similar mould. Both films are light-years away from the foreboding and almost self-loathing of the recent DC movies that were so informed by the Watchmen film and its own graphic novel source. Watchmen is one of my favourite films so I’m not at all aversive to that approach, but it cannot be denied that Marvel are on to something with how it is approaching these movies.

My one note of caution- whilst both Homecoming and Ragnarok are great fun and a welcome breath of fresh air (it has to be said, Captain America: Civil War and the last Avengers movie were pretty dark and po-faced in places) Marvel will have to be wary of going too far down this light-hearted vein of comedy in their movies. They still need to maintain a weight of drama, for instance. Humor is a nice way of letting off steam and entertaining but it shouldn’t be the central crux of the superhero genre, and those films that tread too far into comedic territory risk only amplifying the inherent silliness of the whole genre.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, for some people, Thor: Ragnarok was their least-favourite Marvel movie, purely because of that humour.

But Thor: Ragnarok is just so much fun. Its nuts. Right from the start. Thor is talking to his jail companion, a skeleton, and the skeleton’s jaw drops, literally, at something that Thor says and… well, that was it, I was sold. Sure it’s daft, Sure there’s a lot of hokum and the usual plot contrivances and not every performance is perfect (I still have a hard time tolerating Jeff Goldblum in just about anything, but hey, at least they didn’t cast Nic Cage) but it’s just a pure joy throughout. It certainly isn’t dull. My God, it’s a Jack Kirby comic brought to vivid glorious blockbuster life. With quite a bit of John Buscema thrown in too, if I’m not mistaken. I mean, for that by itself it deserves to be ranked as one of the very best Marvel films.

Well, at the very least, it’s one of the most fun. I think I said that already, didn’t I?

Okay, if I have to be a sourpuss here, I didn’t like how they handled Odin’s passing- twinkly cgi fairy dust flying off into the sky? Please. It was the one miss step that I think the film made. Didn’t care for it at all. And yeah, Goldblum didn’t work for me, but he doesn’t in anything, for me, so that’s hardly this films fault.

It just looks too easy, too natural. I’m certain that these films are incredibly calculated, but at their very best, these Marvel films certainly don’t feel like it. An achievement in itself, I think, right there. At their very best, they feel loose, not contrived.

Now please, Marvel, bring on Howard the Duck. Please. Living in a world where Trump is president, something that surely even Steve Gerber could never have imagined, a Howard the Duck movie makes the most perfect sense in the world, and the guy who just made Thor: Ragnarok might be a good bet for director.

The galaxy is saved again

ggalaxy22017.24: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (Cinema)

I have to say, I found this sequel to be far superior to the original film. Other than the funky soundtrack of classic 70s songs and some of its quirky characters, I really didn’t understand all the fuss about the first film. The bad guy was generic at best, banal at worst, and confusingly undermined by having Thanos shoehorned in to ensure the ‘Marvel Universe’ continuity running through all these movies. In fact, the whole thing seemed confusing and unfocused, complete with its obligatory cgi-fest spectacle finale that had no real drama at all. I make it sound like a trainwreck. It really wasn’t, but neither was it the triumphant comicbook movie it seems universally touted to be. Fresher maybe, I’ll give you that, after so many ‘traditional’ Marvel movies…

So anyway, I was actually rather nonplussed about watching this at the cinema but finally did so. I’m so glad I did, as it was a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable experience. It was great. It had drama, emotion, focus, character arcs… yes it had spectacle and comedy and lots of rock songs, but… it was great fun. It had a surprising amount of darkness, too (the idea of Star Lord’s Celestial father impregnating hundreds/thousands of aliens with his seed only to destroy his ‘failed’ offspring every time is, well, pretty disturbing) which when I think back on it, just gets darker. I left the cinema with that buzz you only get when you’ve had a really good time with a great movie. I even stuck around to enjoy the end credits, admiring the 1970s graphics as much as the in-joke video segments and the usual added mid & post-credits scenes.

Yeah, it was a good time, and great fun. And so much better than the first film it really, really surprised me.

Indeed, the film may even manage that trick of informing its predecessor- there are a number of revelations and character points in Vol.2 that impact on moments in Vol.1 that have me reaching for that blu-ray. The two films are, in a clever way, a two-part origin story for Star Lord himself, reinforcing each other in a way that reminds me of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Superman II (at least, how they should have turned out without producer interference).

We even get another Howard the Duck cameo. That guy really has to have his own movie someday. Meanwhile,  I’m actually looking forward to the eventual Vol.3.

1941 (1979)

1941a2016.52: 1941 -Extended Cut (Blu-ray)

1941 isn’t bad. Its terrible. This extended cut is no improvement either- there’s  146 mins of badness compared to the theatrical version’s 119, so there’s just even more bad movie, which of course cannot possibly be a Good Thing unless you are, inexplicably, a fan of this film. There are fans of this film, right? There must be (every film has its fans, after all), but I’m certainly not one of them. 1941 is supposed to be a comedy, and it isn’t even funny. Thats some kind of crime, surely.

Every great director has a bad movie inside of them and I guess this was Spielbergs- maybe there’s a few other films of his that might contend for this dubious accolade but I can’t really think of one, unless maybe the excesses of Hook or the romantic schmaltz of Always gets your blood boiling.  For me I think 1941, the whole misguided, badly-executed mess of it, is Spielberg’s Folly, just like George Lucas’ Howard The Duck a few years later. Films that… well, the idea of them is interesting but the execution is sadly pretty woeful and dire.

You wonder why some great ideas for films never get made and turkeys like these do instead, but at the time its all about the clout of the director- and after Jaws and CE3K, Spielberg was on a roll and he could have gotten a documentary on Kleenex greenlit. So 1941 was made.

I’d love to have been on-set during filming. What on earth made the cast and crew think that shooting guns and yelling loudly amid big explosions constituted the very heights of cinematic humour? I mean, thats about all that 1941 is- blazing guns and huge explosions, and Japanese soldiers disguised as Christmas trees. The prologue’s nod to Jaws is nice of course but its all downhill from there. John Belushi’s Capt. Wild Bill Kelso is just plain nauseating, strutting around onscreen as if he is somehow funny rather than just plain irritating, and the film wastes huge impressive sets and a fine 1970s cast, and -worse- a vintage John Williams score completely.

Sure, the dance hall set-piece is technically impressive but Spielberg would do all that so much better -and funnier- in the prologue of Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom. That latter observation is telling, because the one good thing about 1941 is that it apparently educated Spielberg, made him a better (and more frugal) director. Its likely we owe 1941 that at least. But thats about all, frankly.

I bought this damn thing on disc (cheap, mind). But yeah, I bought it. Makes ET look like Shakespeare or something…

 

Deadpool (2016)

dead12016.15: Deadpool (Cinema)

A deliberately subversive take on the super-hero genre, Deadpool is on the one hand great fun and on the other rather disturbing. Of course the humour (most of which is predicated on the deliberate breaking of the ‘fourth wall’) and the hyper-violent action constitute most of the fun of the film. There is something delicious in seeing/hearing so many tropes of recent Marvel and DC super-hero films being sent-up and ridiculed (affectionately or not). Its also rather risky, as the ‘traditional’ superhero film series are all destined to continue those tropes in subsequent films, and it’s debatable how casual audiences might react to that having seen them sent-up by Deadpool.

Of course the riskiest aspect of Deadpool is its R-rating in America and all that violence. R-rated movies have historically had a hard time recouping their budgets, something that only gets harder with the higher budgets typical of super-hero films, so most Marvel and DC films veer to the ‘safer’ domain of the PG-13 rating.  Notable exceptions are the R-rated Watchmen (that cost $130 million, box office $185 million) and Dredd (that cost $50 million, box office $35 million). In comparison to those two, Deadpool‘s success has been pretty extraordinary- it cost a relatively conservative $58 million and has so far managed $530 million in just a few weeks. Clearly the audience likes their R-rated superhero flicks lighthearted and irreverent, which neither Watchmen or Dredd were.

For the record, I positively adore both Watchmen and Dredd. Still, there’s no accounting for taste as from those box-office figures it looks like nobody else does.

In all fairness, Deadpool is very good at what it does. It is also very funny. Its also clearly in love with everything it is poking fun at. And it is deliriously violent. But beyond the wit and action, there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom. Think of it as Ted with spandex and guns. Should it be making some commentary on what it is doing, about the nature of the black and white world of superheroes and the credo of might equals right (its a bad world, lets beat the shit out of the bad guys and then everything will be alright)? Because this film was ideally placed to do that. Clearly however this isn’t that kind of movie and to be honest while I was watching it, that didn’t bother me. But afterwards whilst thinking about it, the film left something of a bitter aftertaste. This may be R-rated and it has lots of violence and sex and bad language but it isn’t really at all adult- its wholly adolescent.

Our hero is Wade. He is, from the start, one of ‘us’- he’s witty and he’s a geek, only in a devastatingly charming and handsome, Ryan Reynolds kind-of-way, so in fact the film is lying and he’s nothing like 99% of us. But we don’t care, because he beats up bad guys and cracks great jokes and is fantastic in bed. He’s the kind of guy James Bond would be if he read comics and played videogames.

dead2He is exactly who geeks watching the film would want to be, especially when Wade meets the love of his life, the drop-dead gorgeous Vanessa, played by geek-favourite Morena Baccarin of V, Firefly, and Gotham fame (an actress with her geek credentials clearly sorted). Now Vanessa is the very definition of a teenage geeks wet dream. Not only does she love the same movies we love (she corrects Wade when he mixes up his Star Wars films- “Empire” she corrects him, to the sound of millions of male geeks falling in love if they haven’t already), and she loves our hero for all his geekness and thinks he is cool (and therefore us too), but best of all she’s an absolute slut in bed. Wade tries to propose and she assumes he’s working his way to suggesting they try anal (she might even be disappointed a little when she sees the ring). I mean, I know it’s just a movie, but what does this whole set up have to say about 51% of the films audience (which is a conservative estimate as clearly well-adjusted women are much smarter than this and I doubt they make up 49% of the films audience). Its an adolescent’s fantasy. It doesn’t feel real. Its a teenagers ideal of a woman and what sex is like.

Compare this to Watchmen, in which one of the heroes is impotent and can only get it up if he dons his superhero costume and beats the shit out of some bad guys. There’s all sorts of stuff in Watchmen, a real R-rated superhero film with something to say. Deadpool doesn’t seem interested in having anything to say.  I don’t know. Maybe it’s a big joke: is the joke on us? It just feels a bit disturbing, about what the film-makers think a comic-book reading audience is or what it assumes that audience wants. Its wish-fulfillment on an almost Biblical scale. Its just too nuts for words. But maybe its okay, because there’s an incredible amount of blood and explosions and dick jokes to make it easy to forget/ignore what feels like manipulation. And regards that violence, there’s an awful lot of posturing, isn’t-this-cool kind of glorification of that violence. Bodyparts are flying everywhere. Without the humour, how would that look/feel? I have to wonder. Deadpool seems to be saying Violence Is Cool. Violence Is The Answer. Violence Is Funny. Oh, and here’s another dick joke.

Which is weird, because one of the things I loved about Blade Runner way back in 1982 was that it seemed to be saying violence hurts, as it showed Harrison Ford all bruised and cut and aching after every fight (most of which he seemed to lose, too). Back then I thought that was quite refreshing and sophisticated and I thought maybe genre films were growing up. It didn’t have any dick jokes either.

Maybe I’m taking this all far too seriously. This is clearly a movie to watch whilst drinking beers. And I’m far too sober right now. But if its R-rated movies from now on, then the one I’d really like to see is an R-rated Howard The Duck. Because Howard would at least have something to say.