Flee to the Movies… but not The Omega Man (obviously)

omega1Listening to Horner soundtracks in my car, commuting to work. Every day a new score, every day less cars on the roads, less people on the streets, the world slowly becoming more The Omega Man. Its funny how the routine drive to/from work that was once pretty changeless day to day, week to week, month to month, has suddenly been so transformed. It was getting so I could drive to work and judge whether I was running early or late by at which point on my journey I would pass by certain pedestrians walking on their regular routes to work or shop etc. I drive alone in my car but the familiar faces almost seem like partners on my journey. A woman who I have figured out to be a teacher at a nearby infant school (regular as a watch term-time, absent during the holidays), or an old man with a hunched back walking his dog… both gone now, and so many others. Suddenly that whole landscape has changed. Call it Covid-19 Blues, a lonelier car journey than usual.

Has anyone else noticed the horrible feeling of reality come crashing in, when you’ve just watched a good film and then its over and -boom- you’re back to the Real World with all this Covid-19 nightmare going on? I suppose its all a part of the escapist appeal of movies anyway, but its pretty horrible, lately, coming out of a great movie and suddenly realising whats really going on. There’s a moment of ignorant bliss, basking in the ‘reality’ of the film before that glow fades and reality bites. Anybody else pointedly looking at watching more positive/escapist films than stuff, like, say The Omega Man or Soylent Green etc? Its funny how, when life is fine, you don’t mind dipping into something Dystopian or dark, but when everything in the world turns lousy, that stuffs just plain too horrible to bear and you need something rosier, happier.

There was a time, back in 1982, when I remember Blade Runner seeming dark and moody and Dystopian. Its practically a Utopian Ideal now.

I hadn’t listened to Horner’s scores for awhile. I stumbled into it by accident, my USB stick on random suddenly dropping onto the Main Title of Brainstorm, and that was it, I was hooked, the random function deactivated, listening to the whole album. Brainstorm is such a clear, fresh and astonishing work: the first James Horner score I ever bought, on a TER vinyl that I feared I’d wear out (a few years later it would be one of my very first purchases on Compact Disc, an expensive Varese import). Pretty much every day I would be driving to a different score, my USB stick going alphabetically through the ones I’d put onto the stick a few years back: Braveheart, Cocoon, Glory… the latter in particular bringing incredibly vivid memories of distant days, of blasting out Charging Fort Wagner racing through Cannock Chase in my first car (a banged-up old death-trap posing as a Mini Cooper) with my mate Andy: sun-drenched forest and Horner in his prime, glorious indeed. Its funny the things you remember like yesterday, when yesterday can be such a blur.

Mind, the last several yesterdays don’t deserve remembering at all, do they, so I welcome forgetting the details, the general darkness enough to send me scurrying for something pleasantly positive from my shelves of discs. I re-watched Gladiator the other day (albeit a 4K-UHD edition I bought in a sale a little while ago) and it was great, held up pretty well. Oliver Reed is magnificent in that; every time I watch Gladiator I wonder at what the hell happened with that guy, what amazing roles/films we missed out on because of what I assume were his personal demons. I don’t know much about him- its a funny thing, mind, how he seems to turn up in quite a few of the Hammer films in the Indicator box-sets (he even has a turn in The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll that I watched a few nights ago: there was the weird feeling, seeing him in Gladiator, so old worn-out looking, shortly before his death,  while in Jekyll, so young and handsome (I guess the women in the audience adored his angry charms) with his whole life and career ahead of him.

johncAnother film I watched the other night, well a part of it, anyway, as I stumbled on it channel-hopping just prior to going to bed, was John Carter, Andrew Stanton’s wonderfully evocative love-letter to the old sci-fi pulps that Star Wars etc summarily ‘homaged’. Hadn’t seen it for awhile, I really enjoyed  what I saw and really need to find out my Blu-ray copy for a proper re-watch at a more civil time. It still seems mightily impressive,  looking gorgeous and sounding even better, with that fantastic Michael Giacchino score. That was a film from just before Disney purchased Lucasfilm (indeed, John Carter was killed by that particular deal) and you know, it was pretty clear to me from just watching half-hour of it, that the film was better than any of the Disney Star Wars films that replaced it. Whenever I see John Carter I wonder about all those other adventures on Barsoom we were robbed of. There ain’t no justice.

Ugh. I feel my mood slipping darkly. Maybe its time for The Omega Man after all… if you can’t beat it, wallow in it.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

bad1How I loved this. You know how, sometimes, just right from the very start you know that a film is just right for you, right from the very first shot you simply know it’s going to be great, right up your street? That’s how it was for me watching this- there’s a static shot, a long single scene shot from one fixed camera, of a hotel room. A figure walks past the window outside and opens the door, hurriedly steps inside, furtively carrying two bags of luggage. The room is sparsely furnished and has period decor, 1950s. Plays period music om the radio. moves bed and furniture, rolls up the carpet, lifts up a section of floorboards, hides one of the bags in the gap underneath, nails the boards back down, rolls back the carpet, restores the bed and furniture. Camera hasn’t moved. Its dark, stylish, there’s something noir about everything. Its raining hard outside. The man changes clothes, waits. There’s a knock at the door, he opens the door, recognises who stands there, turns his back on them and walks into the room, letting them in, relaxes. I won’t write what happens next- indeed, this is one of those posts where I really can’t say much of anything about the film. Its full of twists and turns and surprises and overlapping timelines and flashbacks and it’s all part of the fun of watching the film.

Now, I won’t attempt to suggest that this film is perfect. There’s certainly plenty of detractors online: its overlong, there’s too many twists, the last third doesn’t live up to the promise of the first, the film sags in the middle, Chris Hemsworth is terrible. Well, I’d have been happy with another half-hour, I can’t understand how the attention-span of some gets worn thin these days by anything north of two hours (I’d love to be able to soak in an extended cut, even). I thought the ending was fine, if the film kept on piling up the twists and turns it could have become a farce, really- it’s a fine line as any Tarantino film will suggest. Hemsworth does seem a particular item of contention but actually I think he has the charisma to pull it off, he’s an OTT nod to the nightmarish magnetism of a Charles Manson. The whole thing is bizarre-noir, it’s all part of the pulp-noir flavour of it all, but sure, I can understand how it doesn’t click with some. Its just that kind of divisive movie. But I love movies like that, marmite movies I guess you could call them.

bad2The cast- it’s a great cast. I don’t think Jeff Bridges has been quite this good in years (and Bridges in great form is a joy to behold), Jon Hamm is great (its funny how he just seems to physically ‘click’ in anything set in the 1960s, which reminds me, I really have to finish Mad Men), while Cynthia Erivo is just extraordinary, frankly, and no doubt destined for Great Things.  The film features a brilliant soundtrack of period songs complimented by a fine Michael Giacchino score (someone else who seems to thrive with 1960s-set movies). Its got some really jaw-dropping art direction… I fell so in love with the whole setting and the design work involved in bringing it all to life, the hotel is simply a wonder to behold, and the widescreen compositions really bring the best out of it.

I watched this on something of a whim as a £1.99 rental on Prime, and I’m really fighting the urge to just go out and buy the 4K UHD (the common-sense voice in my head is just reminding me to wait for a sale to drop). Yeah, I really, really liked this movie. I just can’t really go into the details about why, all the individual moments, the clever sleight of hand of the director or the surprises in the script or just the great turns by the cast, because it would possibly spoil the experience of watching it for the first time. So maybe I’ll come back to those details when I buy the disc and rewatch the film. I’m certain it will reward repeat viewing: I liked the gaps; there’s an awful lot alluded to or suggested that the film really doesn’t elaborate upon and it’ll be interesting to rewatch and ponder/examine them. Maybe people are irritated by those gaps- the film doesn’t explain everything and sections of the narrative are deliberately vague, and I know some hate that kind of thing. I think films can really benefit from being vague – afterall, the whole ‘is he/isn’t he a Replicant’ never hurt Blade Runner.

bad3.jpgIt isn’t for everyone, evidently (I was actually surprised, after watching the film, when I then went to see some reviews and saw just how negative many are). Its funny, really, as I wasn’t as impressed by director Drew Goddard’s previous film, The Cabin in the Woods, which did get all the critical/popular acclaim but to me didn’t really work, it seemed a bit too clever for its own good. But this one certainly did; maybe it was the style, the setting, the mood. Contender for one of the best films I’ll see this year, I think.

The Apes of Wrath: War of the Planet of the Apes

war.jpg2017.69: War of the Planet of the Apes (2017)

Here is that rare thing- a blockbuster trilogy that embodies high-quality, intelligent film-making with each film getting better than the last. Part of me pines for a fourth entry or even, perhaps, a second trilogy that could  revisit and follow the events of the Charlton Heston original film, but part of me thinks that would be tempting fate in this world of franchises of ever-decreasing quality. Better perhaps for the studio to quit while it’s ahead. This is a great movie; I’d hate to see it spoiled by lesser entries.

The revelation of this film, particularly considering its title, is just how intimate it is. If this is a war film, it’s one more akin to Malick’s The Thin Red Line than, say, Rambo. It’s a surprisingly quiet, internal film- a film of quiet rage, and sacrifice.  There’s something of a Western about it, too- perhaps even Eastwood’s Unforgiven- its a much darker blockbuster than I expected.

Not that the film is perfect- it falters in a few respects. There are a few moments in the script where it stumbles markedly- a scene in which one of the apes gifts the human girl a flower from a tree too easily prefigures that same apes death with the subtlety of being slapped in the face with a wet kipper. Its an awkward moment of manipulation. that does so much of the rest of the film a disservice, but on the whole the film works splendidly, and for the most part you even forget that 90% of what you are watching probably resides in a computer somewhere.

Ah, yes, the effects. While I always seem to be moaning about CGI spoiling the quality of movies, as they often seem to be used to replace quality drama and screenwriting through spectacle, rather than actually support said drama/screenwriting, I have to admit that used properly CGI can really move film-making to some other level of cinema, offering realities that could not exist elsewhere. These recent Apes films have been pretty astonishing, frankly, on a technical level, bringing to the screen something utterly impossible just years ago, but this third film is really something else entirely- powerful, quality film-making featuring characters that simply don’t exist but which somehow out-act most ‘real’ actors (maybe it’s finally time for a Virtual Actor award from the Academy).  It’s not lost on me that this same year I marvelled at the creation of a gigantic ape in Kong: Skull Island. Regardless of the quality of the drama, there were moments watching this film, as with the prior films, that I just gasped at the marvel of how ‘real’ the fakery seems to be. It’s a modern sorcery and I have to wonder where it will all end.

I feel I must also mention a simply wonderful music score from Michael Giacchino- in a climate in which most blockbuster soundtracks just sound like background noise, it’s lovely to report that this is a genuinely moving score of orchestral  music with strong themes and intelligence. A definite throwback to the glory years of the 1970s with Williams, Goldsmith and Barry in their prime (the score does in particular carry nods to the music of John Barry).

On the whole, one of the films of the year for me.

 

Get Carter

cartr1It was a cold, wet, dark drive to work this morning. Thoroughly dank and dismal. So I put on the John Carter soundtrack on the car stereo (usb memory stick, 32gb of my music, all sorts of weird stuff hiding in there). I haven’t listened to this music -or seen the movie, either, for that matter- in such a long time. It almost sounded new. Suddenly the rain and the traffic were gone and I was adventuring on the sands of Mars.

Its a great fantasy score, and always sounded like a Star Wars kind of score, benefiting from sweeping flourishes and great melodies and orchestration. The irony is that Disney buying Star Wars from George Lucas would kill any John Carter franchise stone dead before it even got released and that Giacchino would later get a ‘proper’ Star Wars scoring gig with Rogue One, which would be a vastly inferior score compared to his John Carter.

Okay, we should maybe cut him a break. In the insane world of modern film-making, Giacchino only had a few weeks to score Rogue One, as he was a last-minute replacement. His Rogue One score is functional and adequate and will likely ensure he gets another Star Wars gig with more favourable conditions someday in the near future.

But John Carter remains a fresh and magnificent score, the kind we don’t get too often these days. Attached to a dead franchise, the score seems to be relegated to forgotten/OOP status- I see the CD soundtrack commanding crazy prices now. Listening to it this morning it rekindled all those ‘what might have been’ fantasies of a series of Carter films and scores.

Death By Star Wars, eh.