Last Week: This Matrix may have a score to settle

matrix1Well, Warners are bringing The Matrix back. Its been rumoured before, but the announcement this week seems more official: Lana Wachowski (one half of the Wachowski, ahem, sisters who brought us the original trilogy) is signed up, as is Keanu Reeves and (somehow) Carrie-Anne Moss. Presumably shooting next year for a 2022 release, who knows, there’s still plenty of time for it to fall apart. Keanu is, as the Hollywood parlance goes,  rather ‘hot’ at the moment, with his John Wick films doing so well, which likely explains why Matrix 4 is finally happening. The Wachowski’s have struggled post-Matrix (although I did really enjoy Cloud Atlas) so in some ways it’s a little surprising that Lana is even attached to the project, but I guess it keeps the fans onboard. Speaking as a fan of all three Matrix movies (I actually have a sneaky adoration of the second one in particular, as freakish as that may seem) I’m intrigued to say the least at seeing what might happen next. At their very worst, the Matrix trilogy is odd and confounding and subversive and full of good (and bad) ideas, and I’ll take that over the generic fodder we seem to get lately. I just hope they bring the Architect back.

It will be in some company, what with future Marvel, DC, Star Wars and Avatar movies in the offing over the next decade- it rather makes me wonder where they’ll all fit in on the release schedules. Where will ‘ordinary’ non-genre movies fit in, I wonder?

Mentioning Star Wars, it has likely not escaped anyones attention that the trailer for The Mandalorian, Disney’s new flagship show headlining its November Disney+ launch, was revealed this week. Of course it’s impossible to judge anything from its trailer, but it at least looks ‘Star Wars’. To be honest, I thought it looked like a neat idea for a proper Star Wars standalone movie, like Rogue One, and that its almost a pity its a mini-series rather than a movie. It could be great, but here in the UK we don’t know when we are getting Disney+ anyway, so it becomes something of a moot point.  Sign o’ the times indeed. People get used to downloading/streaming torrents, they aren’t going to be inclined to subscribe when it eventually arrives, especially if its been seen ‘by other means’, but Disney may have a situation in the UK with Sky having rights to so much Disney content. Actually makes me wonder, if Disney pulls all that content, what on Earth will Sky have to actually air?

Not that Sky are unique in that situation, but they are particularly open to some damage there. Content is king, afterall, and as streaming avenues open up and content becomes tied to particular streaming channels, a whole new world opens up and the old content providers, whether it be Sky or Virgin Media, whoever, could be in trouble.

Funnily enough, I’m reminded of when Battlestar Galactica‘s two-part pilot was edited into a theatrical release over here in the UK,  and wonder if Disney would consider launching The Mandalorian over here in cinemas this Autumn if its first episode/s could work as a standalone item. Afterall, it’s all just digital files on hard drives these days, there’s no expense making prints like back then. Might keep the hype train rolling and divert people from those torrents.

So anyway, this week real-life issues got in the way somewhat regards writing posts here. I did manage to watch some stuff though – other than the execrable mother!, or Hunter Killer and Aquaman (three things that I did manage to post about), I did complete Season Three of Glow (which was fine) and watched a few episodes of The Boys (which is pretty great). Also my copy of the Ghost Story expanded soundtrack from Quartet Records arrived, but I haven’t really had proper opportunity to listen to it yet. Its a big, lush, romantic score, quite complex in orchestration and unlike the scores we get these days (it dates, of course, to 1981).

On the subject of scores, as I didn’t mention it in my Aquaman review, I feel the moment is right to point out that Rupert Gregson-Williams Aquaman score was, like the film itself, all over the place tonally. Sometimes symphonic and grand, sometimes it was all ‘Daft Punk’ channeling Tron Legacy, at others it was all Bear McCreary BSG. I suspect we hear the temp track revealing itself. But the source music used was something else entirely… did I hear the most horrible mutilation of Toto’s Africa that has ever been inflicted upon Western Civilization? I actually looked on Amazon and they even included it on the official soundtrack album. Ye gods. I’ve listened to the track (Oceans to Oceans) on Youtube and still cannot quite believe it exists. Isn’t Donald Trump being President enough of a cross for us to bear?

Party Like it’s 1989: Batman (4K UHD)

Its difficult for me to seperate the memories of that summer of 1989, and how big an ‘event’ film it was, from Tim Burton’s Batman itself. Its all wrapped up in the same thing- Batdance playing in the charts, Prince’s Batman album, the news reports about its release Stateside, all the marketing/tee-shirts/toys etc. I don’t know what the marketing budget was, but Batmania was huge that summer, with the Bat-logo seemingly everywhere. In some ways the film was a corporate juggernaut, from the casting choices to the use of Prince etc; it’s a testament to Burton’s efforts that the film still feels like it has a singular voice and vision in spite of the demonstrably hands-on studio behind him. 

Batman was the first film I saw in a cineplex, when the Showcase opened up nearby and consigned the old dilapidated ABC cinema in town to history forever (and eventual closure). So Batman remains more a memory of time and place than just a movie that could ever be judged on its own terms- it’s the quintessential ‘event’ movie, in the same way as Star Wars was and Jurassic Park was. Some films are never ‘just’ films.

Its also worthy to note that Batman wasn’t influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, as later versions were (Miller’s opus cast a long shadow over Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Snyder’s Batman v Superman). Instead, it definitely appears more focused on the very first comic books prior to Robin featuring- something evidenced particularly by its oddly 1940s ‘look’ which seems to set the film in some strangely timeless world, a curious mix of period fashions and art deco sets and futuristic gadgets mixed will all sorts of retro stuff. In this respect, it’s a lot more like Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie, which itself had a very dreamy, almost lost-Americana feel in which even the films ‘present day’ had a strong sense of early-1970s kitsch even in 1978. Both films of course are commended for taking the original sources very seriously indeed- thanks to endless re-runs on tv of the camp 1960s show, Tim Burton’s film in particular had a big weight around its neck in this regard which is possibly hard to envisage now, all these years later.

The production budget for the film was $35 million, which in today’s money would equal something around $75 million- not as high as might be expected in this age of $150 – $200 million budgets, perhaps indicating the surprisingly smaller scale of the Burton film compared to the later versions (Batman Begins was budgeted at $150 million in 2005, about $198 million in today’s money). The scale of the film is also impacted by the technology of the time. The CGI of the post-Matrix era has really enabled film-makers to open up the possibilities and trickery in superhero films, leaving Burton’s film rather dated with its matte paintings and model shots.

But of course films are always of their time, and I recall even in 1989 being underwhelmed by some of the visual effects and opticals; Batman was always an old-school, overwhelmingly analogue film even in 1989, with obvious nods to German expressionism in film and Citizen Kane and Vertigo. In this respect it remains a certain achievement and a curiously beautiful artifact.

Indeed, it looks damn gorgeous on this amazing 4k release- I’m really quite astonished at how beautiful this film looks now in 4K. Sure much of the fakery still looks fake, but some of the matte painting extensions of Gotham are just breathtakingly beautiful to look at, with new detail and colour breadth. And the sets. Good grief the sets. The interiors are pretty astonishing in detail and lighting (the HDR really benefiting the shadow detail) and the exteriors are really a wonder (the Gotham streets built on the Pinewood backlot and shot at night really impress here with all the added detail). In some ways this Batman is one of the most impressive catalogue 4K UHD discs I’ve yet seen- the HDR isn’t distracting (you’re not blinded by bright lights etc like you can be in some rather revisionary remasters) but simply increases the sense of depth and detail throughout. Its really tastefully done, clearly retaining the intentions of the original film-makers but looking, frankly, better than it ever has, even during its original theatrical presentation in 1989.

An interesting thing rewatching this film after so many years (I really can’t recall when I last saw it, but it was possibly on DVD) is the casting- after seeing Heath Ledger’s Joker, I expected Jack Nicholson’s version to pale in retrospect, but Nicholson’s Joker still impresses, surprisingly still perhaps the definitive Joker so far. There’s something real and fascinating and gritty about him- of course Nicholson is a great actor with real charisma in front of the camera- it’s almost magical here. Jack Napier is clearly a Bad Guy, a self-centered criminal working his way up the crime-syndicate ladder who becomes distinctly unhinged once he becomes the Joker, with what I assume are Nicholson’s ad-libs elevating the movie in just the same way as Robin Williams Aladdin several years later. His Joker is mean and scary and funny in a really fine performance, and yeah, he actually kills people in this- I was surprised when watching this again to see both Joker and Batman kill people. Its a surprisingly violent film considering it also lacks some of the CGI hysterics/stunts etc that later contemporary superhero films are afforded now. Burton actually wanted to cast Brad Dourif as the Joker- boy would that have been a different movie.

Jack Palance of course is brilliant, the only problem with his Carl Grissom is that he’s not in the film enough, Palance having a huge weighty gravitas in the few minutes of screentime he has. Kim Basinger and Jerry Hall remind us just how old the film is/when it was made, Basinger reduced to just screaming damsel in distress most of the film and Hall simply a trophy moll, it’s clearly all stuff they wouldn’t get away with today (Basinger replacing Sean Young as original choice for Vicki Vale, how weird would that have been for me as a Blade Runner fan). I always liked Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox, a finely tuned comic performance that is quite measured and successful considering its in the same film as Nicholson’s Joker. Wuhl has always been one of the things I liked most in this movie.

Batman is curiously dated- as I have said, it was dated even in 1989 in some ways, and hasn’t ageed well since, but I did enjoy rewatching it. The saddest thing is that so much was dropped/changed when the sequel was made, and while many seem to think Batman Returns is superior I really don’t like it. I preferred the originals big Pinewood exteriors and interior sets, and really hurt by how much of the cast that we lost (I always thought Batman 2 should have reprised Billy Dee William’s Harvey Dent and featured Two-Face as the villian, it’s such just a lost opportunity). Batman Returns just felt like too different a film, and the title oddly ironic, as it wasn’t the return of the Batman I had so enjoyed in 1989- it actually felt like a reboot.

You will have noticed I haven’t mentioned the biggest issue I always had with this film- Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and Batman. His Wayne is okay I guess, but his Batman really seems limited. Maybe it was the suit. It looks okay but it was clearly a bitch to shoot, it looks like he can hardly move in the bloody thing. The cape is almost a funny throwback to the 1960s show how it flaps around much of the time, and any fighting sequence is hampered by the suits inability to actually do anything in it without falling over. I always watch the film thinking about Spielberg’s ordeals shooting the mechanical shark Bruce in Jaws and feel that Burton must have had similar sleepless nights with that damn Batsuit. They managed to light it okay in most scenes, with the film’s expressionistic approach and deep shadows helping hide many of its failings, but it’s not the suit a real crime-fighter would employ without being put to death by the first serious super-villain. Its one of the things that dates the film really, but what the hell, it was 1989 I guess.

And of course, even as a big Prince fan, it really does seem weird, his music featuring in this. With it 1940’s looks it always seems funny to see Joker’s goons lumbering around with a 1980’s boombox and Partyman blasting out of its speakers. But yeah, what the hell, it was indeed 1989 afterall. Party on.

 

Coming up…

Hey, a quick glance at whats coming up over the next several weeks (I love this time of year, its like a second summer for movie buffs as consolation for when the rain comes).

rp1uhdReady Player One (UHD)- out tomorrow. If ever a film was screaming ‘vacuous eye-candy’ then this film is it. Have been looking forward to this for some time but expecting to be disappointed. One of those cases of declining the cinema visit figuring I’d use the money to buy the disc instead, as its likely got re-watch appeal if only for the visuals and 1980s easter-eggs. In the meantime I bought my new television and upgraded to a UHD disc over the standard Blu-ray. So hey, even prettier eye-candy. Review later this week no doubt.

Missing (Indicator)- Sept 1st. Another Jack Lemmon film and one I’ve only seen in pan and scan television airings many years ago (remember those? Blade Runner‘s was really funny). This one has a lovely Vangelis score, too, so I hope the sound is as improved as the image. I have faith in Indicator (which reminds me, I still haven’t caught up with my The China Syndrome disc…)

Avengers: Infinity Wars (UHD)- Sept 3rd. While I enjoyed this at the cinema I’m feeling a bit ambivalent towards the disc release. Maybe it was that CGI-fest ending. Just looking forward to all the scenes with Thor in, to be honest. The less said of Spider Man’s horrendous pseudo-Iron Man suit with those bloody metal arms the better. No, looking back at this movie hasn’t made me grow any fonder- on the contrary. We’ll see if it sweeps me up for a second time, though- those Marvel guys are like a machine and hard to argue with ‘in the moment’ watching the stuff they do. Its just afterwards in the cold light of the day that you feel a little like you’ve been taken for a mug…  hey, that’s entertainment…

Deadpool 2- Sept 17th. Aha, another film I haven’t seen/deferred for a disc release that has been upgraded to UHD (the first film on UHD is a peach, too, which has gotten me really excited for this one). We even get a longer cut, to. I thought those extended cuts were something akin to an endangered species now? Nice to see there’s life in alternate cuts yet, though it may just be a curio, we’ll see. I’ve avoided spoilers for this one and haven’t seen any of the later ‘proper’ trailers so hopefully it’ll surprise me in a good way..

solouhdSolo (UHD)- Sept 24th. So yeah, September seems to be the summer blockbuster season in Ghost Hall. Gives me a warm nostalgic feeling, its just like 1982 all over again when we used to get films late. So Solo is possibly the most interesting title of all of these upcoming releases. Was it as bad as some said? Was it better than many claimed? Did it unfairly suffer a post –The Last Jedi backlash or was justice finally done to the Disney Star Wars juggernaut? One things for sure, the cover art is unfathomably ugly- ugliest artwork of the year, no doubt. Why couldn’t they just go with the cinema artwork featured on the soundtrack? (more on which later…)

Night of the Demon (Indicator) – Oct 27th.  Only recently confirmed, this one could be something special. Its a great old fave of mine which I’m surprised to say I haven’t seen for years- and this one might actually offer something new, as there’s different versions on it.

2001: A Space Odyssey (UHD) – Oct 29th. There’s still plenty of worrying on forums that Warner are going to mess this one up. For one thing, the extras are hardly anything to sing about- imagine if Arrow or Indicator got hold of something like this. I will never forgive Warner for stopping Doug Trumbull from making his documentary about 2001 a few years back. That would be so perfect for a release like this. Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary in a format that promises better image quality than I have ever seen the film in (I did see it theatrically a few years back, but that wasn’t exactly any revelation, unfortunately) so this could be the release of the season.

Other stuff on the radar: How will I resist A Matter of Life and Death on Blu-ray? The Matrix films on UHD? Candyman from Arrow? Westworld Season 2 on UHD? I’ll probably need to import The Expanse season 3. There’s sure to be a few surprises, too. Hopefully Mission Impossible: Fallout will make it out before Christmas. Over in Germany there’s some UHD releases of John Carpenters films- Prince of Darkness (which I really rather love), The Fog and They Live that look tempting.

swarcAnd of course there is the monster (600 pages? I need to go work out in the gym just to carry the damn thing) Star Wars Archives book from Taschen that is due next month (lets hope it slips into October, September is getting a little nuts already). Also on the book front, there’s a new REH book from the REHFP that I need to catch up with.