The 2017 Selection Pt.3

2017s3Here’s the latest state of the 2017 selection. There’s been a few additions since my last update. And hey, I’m still trying to curtail the spending this year.

Heat: God, another copy. Its just one of those movies. I think I have a VHS copy up in the loft somewhere, a widescreen version that came in a big box, don’t know if anybody out there remembers that edition. Studios must love idiots like me. So I buy this thinking it might be definitive and before it’s even arrived people are moaning about colour-timing and sound issues. I don’t know. At least it was strangely (suspiciously, maybe?) cheap. So I’ve got it in HD for something like a third of what I paid for it back on VHS. I won’t mention the DVD  thats lying around someplace. And no, I haven’t watched this copy yet.

The Leftovers- Season Two: I mentioned this awhile ago, as its what finally got me around to watching season one, and (hurrah!) I’ve also watched this too- review coming soon. Yeah, I’ve watched something in the 2017 selection- will this catch on? (he wonders, noting he still hasn’t watched Assault on Precinct 13 or Vampires or Garcia yet) .

Dr Strange: Actually, yes, I’ve watched this too, as my review a few weeks ago will attest. Well, I hadn’t seen it at the cinema and I’d been curious about it for months.

Logans Run/The Omega Man/Soylent Green: A triple-feature blu ray set, with each film coming in at under £4 each. Well, I’m always a sucker for deals like that. These are three 1970s dystopian science fiction films, each flawed in their own way but each having redeeming features making them worth re-watching, at least for someone like me who grew up with them on tv- I guess  viewers born post-1990 needn’t bother, they’ll likely hate them. Their loss; hell, they are worth watching if only for the soundtracks (which I have on CD for all three- yes I am that nerd in the corner).

Arrival: The best film of last year. A compulsory  blu ray purchase. I watched the disc the other night and yes, it just confirmed Oscar had it all wrong- Amy Adams deserved a nomination at the very least, and quite possibly the statuette itself too. This is a science fiction film for the ages and deserves to be ranked up there with CE3K. I should probably do another review based on the home experience. Indeed, I could watch this all over again already. There’s something strangely rewatchable about this film, the way it flows, the direction, the acting… wonderful sound design. This film has me so excited for Blade Runner 2049 (if only they could do something about that title; it still feels awkward to me). Its made me wonder though, how rare it is to watch a science fiction film these days and think it’s one for the ages.

So anyway, as we tumble towards April, this is the latest photo of my disc purchases this year. And yes, by year’s end, I vow to have watched everything in this photo.

Logans Run’s George Clayton Johnson has died

lr1I’ve read today of the death of George Clayton Johnson, who passed away on Christmas Day aged 86. Johnson was the co-author of the 1967 novel Logans Run, which will be remembered by any geek who grew up in the 1970s due to the MGM film, the Marvel comic and short-lived tv series that were all inspired by it. It was the last major sci-fi property prior to Star Wars the following summer, and the film is a fascinating insight into how much sci fi changed when Star Wars arrived (these days the film is most famous for its fine Jerry Goldsmith score- Goldsmith had a talent for writing superb scores to lesser films).

lt2I didn’t see the Logans Run film itself until years later (although as I recall, plenty of footage from it was used in the pilot episode of the tv show) but I read the original novel (re-released with the films gorgeous poster art) and enjoyed the comic adaptation (its brilliant how they turned the film into an action title- typical 70s Marvel).

The film was a big budget, high profile production but looks so old and inferior to Lucas’ film, its like something from some other decade rather than the year before. The film bore little resemblance to the original book- I recall reading the book and being curious at how much the Marvel comic deviated from it, but of course the comic was based on the film which had itself changed so much of the story. In the novel ‘lastday’ was reached at the age of 21, while in the film it was age 30: this was likely amended to enable casting older, more seasoned/tested leads but in this day and age of ever-younger leads targeting ever-younger demographics I could see the ‘proper’ age of 21 being adopted in any future film version.

Johnson earlier wrote several episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series; these would include some of the shows most successful tales, perhaps most notably the episode ‘Kick the Can’ which was later adopted as a segment directed by Steven Spielberg for the big-screen Twilight Zone Movie in 1983. The Twilight Zone led to further work in television, including an episode of the original Star Trek series (‘The Man Trap’– not one the show’s finest hours but it does have the distinction of being the first episode broadcast).

 

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

dawn1Film of the year? Well, if it isn’t, its awfully close, and off the top of my head I can’t recall another film from this year that has impressed me quite as much as this remarkable film. Ladies and gentlemen, here is that rarest of beasts- the thoughtful, intelligent summer blockbuster. Sure, some people may point negatively at elements of the plot or some minor superficial characterisation, but that’s surely nit-picking. On the whole this is a fantastic movie, an example of high production values and magical effects married to an intelligent and nuanced script, a combination that raises it high above most genre offerings. I’d heard it was good, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good this is*.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins with a prologue that largely recaps the first films finale, with the Apes on the loose and the ALZ-113 virus wreaking havoc as it spreads across the world.  The film then shows us the state of the Ape colony ten years after that prologue, and its already clear that the effects technology has moved on from that of the first film. Its really utterly magical and breathtaking watching these ape characters come to vivid life, and its evident that this is a film impossible just a few years ago (some of the CGI here is so beautifully crafted and rendered that afterwards I had to pause some shots just to marvel at the detail). We stay with the apes for some time and even the apes begin to wonder what has happened to the humans. Soon after two apes wandering in the woods happen across a human who panics and shoots one of them, nearly triggering an all-out conflict when the apes rush in on the small party of humans that have ventured into the woods. Its a microcosm of the movie; the suspicion and fear between ape and human and the precipice of bloody conflict. The humans retreat back to the ruins of San Francisco and we witness how far they have fallen, we  learn how desperate humanity’s few survivors are.

dawn2Knowing the overall arc of the original Apes film series, its obvious that things won’t end well for humanity. The clever thing about Dawn is that it shows that there was a chance, albeit slim, that things might have gone differently here. While there is a dark undercurrent of inevitable doom it is nonetheless countered by hope of forgiveness and reconciliation: the moment, say, when Malcolm’s artistic son shares a book with the ape Maurice and we glimpse of a peaceful co-existence that might have been. The complexity (such as it is in a Hollywood blockbuster) in this film,  is that it is not just the (predictable?) evil of humanity (albeit born by desperation) at fault, but also that of the Apes. And even here things aren’t as one-dimensional as they might have been. What might have been a poorly written ‘bad’ human, the engineer Carver (Kirk Acevedo), is here rather more nuanced- here is a man mourning for his lost life using the apes as a scapegoat/figure of blame. Likewise the ape Korba, who rebels against Caesar and instigates the eventual bloodletting between ape and human, is clearly traumatised by years of captivity and experimentation at the hands of human scientists. Korba isn’t evil, he just can’t forgive the humans what they did or trust they won’t do it again in the future. There is no real black and white here, rather welcome shades of grey. Indeed, even the noble Caesar has to admit that the humans and apes are far more alike than he had expected, his only mistake being that he thought that apes were better than the humans. Events spiral towards the war between ape and human that will no doubt be depicted in the next film.

I loved how so much of this film, particularly when it moves to the forest-infested ruins of San Francisco, harkens back to some of the wonderful imagery of 1960s and 1970s science-fiction films- particularly the original Apes films and Logans Run‘s ruined world outside its futuristic domes. There is a clear lineage of past films here in this dystopian future, with a sophistication impossible back when those films were made. There is such a strange and yet familiar beauty to the desolation, but the real beauty of Dawn is that it doesn’t simply rely on advances in effects wizardry- it has a clever and nuanced script and wonderful acting, particularly (and remarkably so) in the motion-captured characters.

dawn3So much just ‘clicks’ and feels so right in this film, its almost a revelation. Its curious to consider that this is ‘just’ a Hollywood summer blockbuster that might well have been just a dumb action romp with humans battling CGI apes in elaborate idiotic set-pieces. Often I watch flawed films and wonder what might have been- its a pleasant change seeing a good film and wondering at how bad it might otherwise have turned out to be. I’m not suggesting for a moment that this film is perfect. If I had to point towards any fault at the film, well, I’d liked to have seen a little more of the human society. As it is, the sense of loss and grief has to be conveyed in short moments, such as the poignant scene when Gary Oldman’s character, Dreyfus, manages to access old photographs of his wife and children, his old life that he has lost and is over-ridden by grief. It is so easy for that grief to turn to hate. What do you do at the End Of The World? You can empathise with some of the hatred, understand the causes for some of the ill-judged actions of both human and ape. Its all part of the inevitability, the remorseless movement towards disaster as one civilization falls and another rises. Its a very good film and one of the best summer blockbusters I’ve seen.

And yes, so many subtitles in a summer blockbuster- so those snotty kids that blockbusters are usually aimed at can actually read, eh? Who’d have thought it….

*I just wonder if this will be The Empire Strikes Back of the eventual Apes trilogy? It develops the premise set up in Rise and largely sets up events for the as yet un-named third entry, but is such a leap forwards for the series, and suffused with such a sense of dark inevitability, that I often thought back to TESB. Its even manages that clever trick of TESB that so many ‘middle’ films fail at- its got a very satisfying cliffhanger ending; I am eager to see what happens next and yet completely satisfied with what I have just seen- yes, certainly more TESB than Desolation of Smaug territory here.

Strange Vinyl from the Garage…

Here’s a few weird vinyl things from the archives (i.e. the garage) that I unearthed Indian Jones-fashion recently…

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The Empire Strikes Back ep by Meco. Not quite in the disco groove of his original Star Wars disc, this remains a fantastic re-imagining of some of the themes from possibly the finest soundtrack, ever. Some of the tracks resurfaced on CD a few years ago but Meco couldn’t resist tampering with it, alas (maybe he was going for the authentic Star Wars/George Lucas ‘experience’). In a strange precursor to all those VHS copies of the pre-Special Edition Original Trilogy that we keep in the loft, this vinyl ep seems to be the only way to hear the original versions of Meco’s music. Nowhere near the hit that the original Star Wars disc was, this was actually something of a rarity here in the UK, especially in those pre-Internet days when you had to trawl through record stores looking for stuff. This copy actually belonged to a friend at the time who later gave it to me when his interest in all things Star Wars waned (i.e. he grew up- don’t know what that says about me still owning it decades later, but…) . Great music though- Meco’s medley featuring the themes for Darth Vader and Yoda was brilliant.

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Here’s an album also The Empire Strikes Back-related. After the success of Star Wars releases years before, with TESB  albums the RSO  label went a bit nuts (two versions of the soundtrack, the Meco disc,  a Boris Midney disc, even a jazz album). This is a story album- basically the film soundtrack (dialogue, music, sound effects) edited to tell the story of the film with a narrator to fill in the gaps/transition between scenes. These things may seem odd now, but back at the time they were really quite popular. The three Star Wars films all had one, as did The Black Hole… of course actually owning copies of films was impossible back then, so being able to listen to an abridged  version was as near as fans could get. This disc had a gatefold sleeve to help ‘see’ the film alongside the audio presentation.  Tried taking a picture of it without much success but hopefully you’ll get the idea…

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Meco’s huge hit with Star Wars a few years earlier had everyone trying to make money out of film scores, attempting to turn them into pop hit singles. This was a time long, long ago kiddies when there was such a thing as 7-inch 45rpm singles, the market for which was huge, culturally as well as financially- people by the millions used to tune into a top-40 countdown every Sunday.  Anyway, history lesson over, I feel old enough as it is. This oddity somehow surfaced on a market-stall in Willenhall, of all places. No doubt inspired by Meco’s Star Wars-themed music, this 12-inch single by some guy called Nostromo (a monicker inspired by Alien) tried to turn John Barry’s main theme for The Black Hole into a hit dance single, which of course it didn’t. Oddly, the b-side was an original piece titled ‘Gom Jabbar’, the significance of which utterly escaped me at the time. Kudos to the first comment that reveals where that song gets its inspiration from, and if anyone knows who the hell Nostromo is/was feel free to enlighten me.

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The beauty of 12-inch vinyl albums of course, particularly for movie soundtracks and the like, was the large reproductions of film artwork. It’s something we lost with reducing things down to the size of a compact disc. Album covers could be such beautiful things just to stare at when you were holding a big 12″ cardboard sleeve in your hands- a gatefold even better (I have the 2-disc/gatefold TESB soundtrack and its more than just an album, its a work of art/genuine souvenir of the film, with a booklet and everything, simply gorgeous).  Case in point, the soundtrack album for Logan’s Run, a great Jerry Goldsmith score graced with this extraordinary artwork. I believe its by Charles Moll, an artist who doesn’t seem to have done much other film poster work, mores the pity. I have to wonder if Moll designed the distinctive logo too, I presume so. The film itself may have been naff, but the bright colourful poster somehow evokes so much of 1976. At first glance it may seem cluttered, but close-up the artwork is tight and clean, highlighting objects and moments from the movie; I’d love to see what the original artwork looked like, what size it was. They certainly knew how to sell movies in those days, I miss great film posters like this, the 1970s were a great period for film posters.

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One last pic for now- this is the stark, arresting cover from the soundtrack album The Thing from 1982. The Thing always seemed to struggle for artwork on theatrical release, VHS, DVD and now Blu-Ray. Its one of those films that artists/marketing teams always seemed to struggle with. But to me they nailed it from the very start- I just love this cover design and think its such a perfect poster for that brutal horror classic. I gather its from the original pre-release in the USA, and got buried after the film tanked on its theatrical run. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and I think this is great, but when the film died at the box-office I guess it was easy to blame the marketing. Damn it people, it was that bloody E.T. that killed The Thing (that long-necked critter killed Blade Runner too). Far as I know, this poster design was never used for any subsequent soundtrack release on CD or on any home video format. Don’t know about you, but I think it would look great on a Blu-ray edition. Hell, even further reduced on CD, its simple enough to work.

Well that’s it for now- maybe I’ll get some more albums out later. Oh go on then, one more. This is most likely (as far as I remember anyway), my very first record, which my parents bought for me from Woolworths back in the very early ‘seventies. Its another of those story albums. Can you imagine how cool that cover was to a kid about six years old?

 

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