Elstree 1976 (2015)

elstree1This kind of Doc should be right up my street; I remember both the summer of 1976 and of course the media hysterics surrounding Star Wars‘ release the following summer (and Winter here in the UK). Sometimes it feels rather like yesterday, and Star Wars still something new and relevant and exciting, but that was 44 years ago- its like looking back from the perspective of 1977 and thinking about films made in 1933. That’s a little like comparing Star Wars to the 1933 King Kong, which makes me feel older than I feel and depresses me. Thinking like that can depress anyone.

Sometimes I think I’ll always be ten or eleven deep inside, like 1976 etc is locked away in there, all those Marvel comics I was reading, or paperbacks like Logans Run and the Making of book about the 1976 King Kong, with Star Wars and Close Encounters and Superman: The Movie  just around the corner…

Alas Elstree 1976 finds it too difficult to really capture the feeling of 1976: I think it should have shown some news footage or home movies, maybe, of that summer and how people dressed and what music we listened to (ABBA, for one thing). Yeah, the soundtrack missed a trick there; it should have played songs from 1976 to emphasis the sense of the ‘now’, the fashions (hideous as they may be now). Capture the moment and how this country was back then. A sense of the place, too, as I really didn’t get any feeling for what Elstree was like that summer.

I did enjoy the reminiscences of some of those involved in the making of the film: maybe it should have been opened up more to talk with some of the craftsmen and technicians as well as those actors. Some of the stories and observations were fine, but it seemed to only briefly actually talk about making Star Wars at Elstree before going off to talk about later careers and movies and convention appearances. Much of that was padding out the running time- as it is, the film could have been half-hour shorter and lose very little. Indeed, had it been edited to 60 minutes it would make an excellent extra on a home release of Star Wars.

Still, at least it offered some perspective away from the stars of the film who usually take all the attention, and I really did appreciate some of the observations, sense of perspective some of them had regards this strange little movie that refuses to go away like most others did.

Elstree 1976 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

The Whole Truth (1958)

wholet1My first comment regards The Whole Truth is my surprise when I saw the directors credit come up on the screen: John Guillermin, who later directed such notable films as The Blue Max, The Towering Inferno and the 1976 remake of King Kong (and, later, its regrettable sequel, King Kong Lives). I assumed, wrongly, that perhaps this 1958 whodunit was one of his first features, but looking it up later, I saw he’d done several before, the first dating back to 1949. Guillermin has a bit of a footnote in my film affections, as a paperback tie-in about the making of the 1976 King Kong that I bought from my local newsagents proved to be my first real discovery regards all the machinations behind the scenes of movies and set me off on the path that leads to, well, me here posting on an obscure blog about films and ‘stuff’. I remember picking it up off the rack 44 years ago, fascinated by the text and the b&w pictures detailing that troubled production (even at the age of ten I reasoned they could never get away with that fake full-size ape and a man in an ape suit, but I guess those were innocent times just before Star Wars shook up the visual effects game). Reading about Guillerman’s tribulations making that film was my first appreciation of the role of directors in film.

I’m not certain anything in The Whole Truth suggests bigger and better things lay ahead for Guillermin, but there are certainly a few good crane shots ambitiously trying to make more of the frankly claustrophobic sets doubling for streets.

The Whole Truth is also notable because it stars the great and beautiful Donna Reed, who I’ve always had a bit of an unrequited love affair with since I first saw her enchanting performance in Its A Wonderful Life. After The Whole Truth, Reed would move over to television where she had huge success with The Donna Reed Show, which ran for several years- I suppose the success of which resulted in her never making any more movies. Our loss, I think. Reed had an enduring presence, albeit sickly wholesome to some I suppose, on screen had the camera certainly loved her. I appreciate I really haven’t seen many of her film appearances, but wonder what she might have done had she opportunity to move away from that wholesome screen image. Wouldn’t surprise me if she felt hampered by it and that was why she ultimately moved away from films. Reed died far too young, just 64, in 1986.

Which reminds me of Yvonne Mitchell, who I saw recently in Turn the Key Softly– Mitchell herself died too young, at the age of just 63, in 1979. I only mention this because its made me wonder about their generation- I suppose they smoked, or lived and worked in smoke-filled places. It just made me think about how people of their generation possibly died too young, simply because of the way society was in their day, with the prevalence and popularity of smoking. It was just the way the world was, I suppose. You’ve only got to watch films of the 1940’s and 1950’s to see it, everybody seems to smoke onscreen or be in smoky places, and its clearly a socially accepted thing, heedless of any health dangers (both women died of cancer).

You may have noticed I’m not writing much about The Whole Truth. To be honest, its because there really isn’t much to say: its pretty average, really.  Stuart Granger plays film producer Max Poulton, struggling with temperamental, hot-headed leading lady Gina Bertini (Gianna Maria Canale) who he had an affair with several months ago. Gina is keen on restarting the affair but Max is trying to save his marriage with loving wife Carol (Donna Reed). When Gina is murdered, Max finds himself the prime suspect, something not helped when his lies about his affair (trying to maintain it a secret from his unaware wife) are uncovered by the police, the lies threatening to cast even deeper suspicion upon him. Max learns that Gina’s husband has engineered the whole thing as an act of revenge and Max has to go on the run to prove his innocence. It probably sounds better than it is- its obviously inspired by the Hitchcock thrillers of that era, but its definitely a poor-mans Hitchcock, if even that.

wholet2Its a bit of a shame- there is a good cast in the film. George Sanders as the victim’s cunning husband proves a slimy scene-stealer, and Granger is perfectly fine albeit largely unsympathetic (which damages the film somewhat). Reed is given little to do in an underwritten role that depends on her wholesome screen persona to carry her through. The film shows all the hallmarks of a rushed, low-budget production, not helped by some pretty poor sets, particularly the street exteriors (‘Murder on the Riviera!‘ proclaimed the films posters, but its as far from the Riviera as a beachfront in North Wales).

Part of my issue with the film might simply have stemmed from its (in my humble opinion) ill-fitting, upbeat Jazzy score that would suit a spy caper better. There are moments of the score when it seems at odds with the scene, almost as if it is source music from a radio- it distracted me often. The film has more problems than just that score, but its what bothered me the most. There’s nothing quite as perfect as a score that perfectly suits its film, easy listening or not, and for me if a score proves ill-fitting its really something of a problem.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

pru
ok kids, saddle up- time to save the world!

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was a film that I quite enjoyed– while quite flawed it remained a fun geeky love-letter to KIng Kong, Godzilla and giant mecha/robot stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Thanks to del Toro’s canny eye it bettered the Transformers films that it sometimes seemed to be imitating, with a genuine sense of size and scale that beggared belief.  I haven’t seen it for a few years, surprisingly- quite shocked to learn it dates back to 2013.

I suppose the fact that this sequel is somewhat belated is a clue to how it eventually turned out. Pacific Rim was a success but a modest one, so that when a sequel was finally greenlit it came with a few caveats from the studio. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but there’s no smoke without fire, as they say, and there’s a clear indication with Pacific Rim: Uprising that some retooling to the possible franchise was done in the giant robot garage.

More light. More fun. More kids. Oh God, more kids. You know it’s time to run for the hills when you learn that one of the protagonists is a teenage girl who was orphaned in the post-Pacific Rim ruins of a city where she spends her time building her own giant robot suit (a jäger in the parlance of the film). This is as irritating as the kids saving the day in Ready Player One. She should be dirty, starving and emigrating to some place safe where she can be fed and kept warm but instead she’s set up a garage/workshop and demonstrating formidable engineering and mechanical skills that a post-Grad would envy.  Of course she becomes a jäger pilot who with her other classmates at pilot-school save the day when all the adults get massacred (was this plot for the aborted Star Fleet Academy by any chance?).

Okay, I still got a kick from some of the giant robots/monsters decimating another city in eye-popping visual effects but this one clearly lacks the credentials of the original- not quite as bad as that infernal Independence Day sequel but not too off. This isn’t the first time, of course, that a sequel is made that suffers from studio-mandated tinkering. A similar thing happened decades ago when the rather adult Conan The Barbarian was reformatted into a PG-13 kiddie cringefest in Conan the Destroyer and we all remember how well Superman turned into increasingly lightweight fare in Superman III. Look at how well Justice League turned out when Warner had a panic attack after Batman v Superman. 

Which is really spending too much time thinking about this very average and misguided effort. That it ends with our street-urchin having a happy snowball fight with John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son of the original film’s hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for a bit of light-hearted, life-affirming nonsense as if it was the close of an episode of a 1960s Star Trek, says everything. Its like two films in, someone’s pressed the franchise’s  reset button already. Weird, and demonstrates a clear lack of faith. So no, this not Pacific Rim 2, not really. Its something else. I suppose its fun and light-hearted…

 

Hail the King

2017.38: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

kong1If Lara Croft was a photographer, then she’d look like Brie Larson in Kong: Skull Island. Not that Lara Croft: Tomb Photographer is a likely prospect for a future film/videogame, but its definitely the ‘look’ they were going for.

Kong: Skull Island is immense fun. Its one of my biggest genuine surprises of the year so far- its a film that from the trailers looked pretty lackluster to be honest, so the film didn’t really interest me too much- I gave it a miss at the cinema, as I expected it to be just another cgi snore-fest. Boy, was I wrong.

As it turns out, yes it is a cgi-fest in places but that cgi is very well done, indeed technically audacious and quite imaginatively executed with some thoughtful design choices and while it is a fairly dumb film,  its also great fun. The cast is great, the script witty and the direction has considerable flair. Its a far better film than I expected and really much, much better (and decidedly less calculated/by the numbers) than the recent Jurassic Park reboot.

Kong himself is huge here- I mean, crazily, ridiculously, mentally over-sized, but I suppose its all part of the intentional, over-the-top fun of the whole piece. This Kong is literally Godlike, a gigantic force of nature to finally put puny man in his place. This Kong won’t get beaten by humans in their war planes- this King tosses around helicopters straight from Apocalypse Now as if they are playthings. Its like monster-movie revenge for the 1933 original finale (and that of the 1976 and 2005 remakes); gloriously rewriting the traditional Kong story- I can almost imagine this being a Joe Dante movie, its so like Gremlins in how it has such naughty fun subverting conventions of earlier Kongs. Its glee could only be intensified had it somehow got a Jerry Goldsmith score similar to his riotous Gremlins score.Yeah, a Joe Dante King Kong movie- this is nearly it.

With credentials like that, this film is a must-watch. I can still hardly believe it, and can’t wait to watch it again. If they can keep the creative team together,  the Godzilla vs Kong mooted to follow will be an absolute riot. Hail the King indeed.

The 2017 Selection Pt.4

selection4bI’ve bought a few discs lately, which is putting into question my intent to curtail the expenditure this year and be a bit more selective, and required another updated photo of this year’s shelf. Beginning to wonder if I’m managing to keep the quality level up. So what of the additions since last time?

The Big Heat – Another Indicator release, and it’s clear those boys are after my wallet this year. Watched this only last night (review coming up sometime soon) and it was brilliant. Hadn’t seen this before, but as I love Film Noir (my second favourite film genre) it was a must-purchase, particularly as it was recommended online. It deserves all the praise, its excellent, and deserving special mention regards this Indicator release is that it features one of the very best booklets I’ve ever seen released with a disc.

Jason & The Argonauts – An old childhood favourite, and an excellent Blu-ray edition. The trouble with catalogue titles is that if you want more of them, and want them with plentiful extras and TLC, then you have to buy them, particularly now with physical disc sales diminishing. If you don’t buy ’em, they won’t release ’em- with that logic, it’s clear it is going to be an expensive year for Harryhausen films on blu-ray, with Indicator having several coming up. The cunning devils. I tell you, I may as well hand them my wallet.

KIng Kong – I love this film. Another of those HMV exclusives that required a journey into darkness/in-store purchase. This is a nice package with a nice booklet, but I have a fancy R1 DVD copy in an embossed tin-box package with same extras etc (which is what this HD release is based on, although it came in a digibook in the States). Tempted to get it out and pop these blu-ray discs in place of the DVDs, so there may be a transformation in the 2017 selections’ next update. Looking forward to giving this a spin late at night sometime. Can’t beat curling up with this film around midnight.

Kubo and the Two Strings- I’d never even heard of this until it was released on disc early this year, and read some glowing reviews that put it on my watchlist. Amazon dropping it to a fiver last week was too good an offer to refuse (note to self: ignore sales/offers as much as possible in future. Maybe stop browsing online altogether. It won’t end well).  Very curious about this one as I usually love this kind of stuff.

Rogue One An inevitable purchase and what I’ll most likely be watching tonight. We’ll see if it measures up on another viewing (particularly regards how CGI Tarkin and Leia look on a smaller screen).

Well I’m off to hide in a hole so I won’t be able to buy anymore discs for a bit. Need to watch a few of these first (Garcia– I can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to watching Garcia yet!).

1976, the year it all started…

1976. Simpler times, especially if you were a kid. Batman was being re-run on the telly. I was reading Marvel Comics like crazy. Starsky and Hutch on Saturday nights on BBC. There was a drought that long hot summer. And there was that damned scary shark…

When all is said and done, I write film reviews on this blog, and you read them, because we love movies. I was wondering the other day about just when it all started for me. For most of us it’s an easy thing to state when we fell in love with movies, we know the moment well. Its usually a key moment when we ‘click’ with a certain movie, when it makes an impact on us on an emotional level. ‘Emotional’ because that’s the real kicker with any movie, at least for me- you can rationalise, on an intellectual level, the quality of a film, but where any film makes its real impact is surely on an emotional level; how it moves you, that’s where any movie really leaves its mark on you. Its why an undisputed classic like Citizen Kane may not be your favourite film- Kane is a great film easily admired but it may not have touched you in quite the same way as an intellectually inferior movie like a Ghostbusters or ET or Great Escape or Ben Hur did. Favourite movies are not always great movies, but they are often the reasons why we love movies.

JAWS1For me, it started with Jaws. Those of you who moan about waiting three months for a home release and are accustomed to simultaneous (or near as damn it) world theatrical releases might be alarmed at the Cinematic Dark Ages of the previous millennium when cinemagoers had to wait months just for films to cross the pond from America into our cinemas. American summer releases were often winter releases over here. So it was with Jaws, not arriving until 1976 here in the UK (It think it was actually Boxing Day 1975 for London, but it would take some months for it to eventually move out into the rest of the country… things were so slow back then!). So 1976 was when all this movie nonsense started for me. I was ten years old.

Of course, I’d seen many films as a kid but this was something else. My Aunt Lydia (now no longer with us, sadly) and her boyfriend (later husband/uncle) took me along on a Saturday afternoon to see the film. By this time the film was a massive phenomenon, merchandise was everywhere (I recall I was reading the paperback around the time when I saw the film) and it already clearly had a huge cultural impact- the delayed release over here actually only prolonged and intensified this. That delay -and films running at cinemas for a much longer period back then- has made me think. Nowadays films come and go in hardly any time at all, so we don’t seem to get such a scale of media saturation now. FIlms seemed to stick around longer back then, funnily enough, and home video releases now seem to have made films more disposable. I was in a supermarket the other day and quite recent films were already in a bargain bin of DVDs, which quite alarmed me. Jaws was a huge cultural event, and even some years later when it had its first tv premiere, I remember it still being a huge media event, featuring on the cover of the TV TImes. Films seemed a Bigger Deal back in the day. In my life, I think the only other film with a similar cultural impact as Jaws would be Star Wars a few years later (well, 1977 in America, 1978 over here).

I’ll never forget that Saturday afternoon. Indeed, to this day I cannot watch Jaws divorced from those memories, those feelings that screening engendered in me- everytime I’m pulled back to that cinema experience. Its funny how sophisticated audiences are now, everyone seems to laugh at the rubber shark, but it was never like that for me or indeed most audiences at the time. For us that shark was real. Of course, the film scared me shitless. But it wasn’t gore or anything graphic, it was more the anticipation, the fear of the unseen, the threat in those watery dark depths. I think the sophistication of audiences now… well I think they’ve lost something. Everything is so literal now. Thanks to cgi there’s no need to tease or hint, everything can be visualised up on the screen and from a storytelling standpoint and audience experience I think something has been lost. Sure it’s great to see such huge impossible things on screen these days but does it really now have to be so… complete?

The genius of Jaws is in its editing, and what is unseen. Most of this wasn’t at all intended, it was rather a triumph against adversity. The shark didn’t work, and many of the shots Spielberg wanted couldn’t be done, even with the shoot extending from some 55 days to 159 days. The shoot was a nightmare and Spielberg worried his career was already over. But all the disasters and technical problems that resulted in the production being forced into working around a non-functioning fake shark proved to be the making of the film. John Williams turned in an incredible score that provided all the tension that the fake shark couldn’t- you didn’t need to see the shark; you could hear its threat just in the music; it’s Pure Cinema, something much more effective than a contemporary authentic-looking cgi shark might ever be. Indeed Jaws is one of Spielberg’s best films simply because it has to be held back by its technical limitations; Jaws is Speilberg in Hitchcockian mode and he’s all the better for it. He can’t fall back on Douglas Trumbull or ILM excess to carry the picture. Consider the difference between Jaws and the excess of 1941. Needless to say, Jaws is my favourite Spielberg film- maybe not his best film, I appreciate that his later films have their merits- but certainly my favourite. When the film got released in cinemas a few years ago (2012 was it?) I naturally made sure to see it on the big screen again.

kk1It was such an intense experience back on that Saturday afternoon in 1976. Is it any wonder that it triggered an interest in that magical artform that has continued to this day? It was surely no accident that later that year I bought a paperback copy of Logan’s Run with the films gorgeous artwork catching my eye, or a paperback book about the making of that year’s remake of King Kong. The latter would prove to make a particular impression on me, as it would open my eyes to all the behind-the-scenes stuff that happened in order to get those films made. The following year I’d start buying magazines like Starburst which regularly featured making-of articles and interviews with directors and actors. But 1976 is when it all started. And of course, a little film titled Star Wars was just around the corner…

A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part Four

Ghost-In-The-Shell-2.0-BoxG is for… GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0. The natural question that springs to mind is, did we really need the 2.0? I’m referring to the fact that when released on Blu-ray a few years back, it was trumpeted as a remix version- remastered with added 3D-CGI, colour-balancing re-done, new cast recording in 6.1…  the list of enhancements (and I choose that word carefully, considering the subject of the film itself)  is long. Its another example of film-makers returning to their work, drawn in by the seductive allure of new technologies available to polish the original.

Its something all too common these days, probably due to it being easier to do as things go increasingly digital. George Lucas was one of the pioneers of this with his Special Editions of the original STAR WARS trilogy and THX:1138. Well, I won’t go on about any of that, except to say that Lucas evidently could see what was coming. I remember a time when films were finished and done, and never tinkered with afterwards. No-one would have ever dreamed of re-shooting the fx of the original KING KONG or FORBIDDEN PLANET, or converting 2D films into 3D. Technology has now made it too easy.

Regarding that 2D to 3D thing, James Cameron, perhaps the biggest exponent of 3D, has often decried sub-standard 3D films and championed films designed to be filmed and projected in 3D, and yet he converted his own 2D movie TITANIC into 3D. I don’t get it, surely TITANIC was never designed or shot with 3D in mind? And if it’s 2D photography, staging and set design works so well in 3D, what does that say of 3D movies having to be specifically designed and shot for 3D to be a success? Or maybe, gosh, its about the money. Yeah, well, that’s what I think 3D was all about. Art my ass.

Remastered/remixed/enhanced/3D conversions. Its a bit of a minefield out there. As if all the remakes and reboots were not bad enough, even the original films themselves are messed about with. My own old fave, BLADE RUNNER is not immune, although, considering how broken/unfinished the 1982 version was (really, the messed-up condition of PROMETHEUS is nothing compared to all the f–k ups and plot-holes in the original BR) then I guess the Final Cut was really a blessing. Maybe it can be argued that BR needed it. But not all films do. GITS was a perfectly fine Japanese anime, prescient and increasingly relevant. The new version means it looks shinier, but it isn’t necessarily a better film. And who’s to say this version is really definitive, and that there’s not a version 3.0 or 4.0 somewhere in the future? That’s the real crux of the argument; when does it end? Lucasfilm commenced converting the STAR WARS films to 3D ( a project quite possibly canned since), but who is to say that later versions of the films won’t have further changes to fx shots, dialogue etc?

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterH is for… THE HOBBIT. Well, while I’m on the subject of tinkering, since THE HOBBIT trilogy (Trilogy! Did PJ ever consider just shooting the book as it was, minus all that Appendices stuff?) is being shot in 3D, and there is an inevitable six-film box-set on the cards for Blu-ray or download in the future, is it likely the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy will be converted from 2D to 3D like TITANIC was, in order to match the HOBBIT movies? What’s that going to be for the hardcore fans, what with 2D/Theatrical/Extended/3D versions…  double/triple/quadruple-dip? And what’s the odds of a full, six-film 3D set coming after the original 2D LOTR is issued with the three HOBBIT films first, you know, just to milk it that extra bit? Crikey. Someone could plan their entire career path marketing these films over and over again over the course of the years and the changing formats.  I guess its true, films never die, they just keep on coming back in different editions on different formats.

Damn it. You knew where you stood with the original KING KONG and FORBIDDEN PLANET.