Raised By Wolves (Season One)

raised1Alas, the fascination with ‘mystery boxes’ continues and becomes increasingly tiresome: its a crux used by JJ Abrams all through his career and one endlessly mimicked by other creatives, best described as being a narrative which drops viewers into the middle of a mystery-in-progress that leaves them wanting to know answers in both directions (what happened before/what happens next?). Admittedly I can trace a lot of this to J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5, which is one of my most revered genre shows. Not that B5 was the first, but certainly at the time when it came out, American shows were generally episodic in nature, pressing a metaphorical ‘reset’ button at the end of each episode and one episode seldom if ever referencing another.

Babylon 5 was more like a huge novel, each season being a part of a larger whole, so early seasons of B5 dropped hints and portents of mysterious ancient wars and a dark menace returning to threaten all the galaxy, and Straczynski fulfilled all the promise in later seasons, rewarded all the investment with the arcs and world building. He brought all the threads and revelations together into a grand conclusion that satisfied immensely (at least as regards the Shadow War storyline with season four, season five’s issues being largely out of his hands).

It paid off, and in spades, but that was a trick that showrunners and writers these days don’t seem to heed. 

So instead we get obtuse writing posing as complex storylines, promising grand revelations regards mysteries being scattered through plots (Westworld, Lost, Disney Star Wars etc) which ultimately fall apart, everything being built on sand. Its incredibly frustrating being taken in every time by this mystery box routine. Showrunners and writers are hooking viewers in and then largely failing to reward the viewer investment: even shows that succeed at this on some level only manage this in some compromised way that proves contentious even amongst fans (I’d cite Fringe as an example of this, and Ronald D Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot too).

So now we can add Raised By Wolves to this annoying list of Mystery Box Television, and already by the end of its first season its clear that a promising concept is not going to fulfil the early promise of its first few episodes. Those first two episodes in particular, directed by Ridley Scott no less, promise so much that even within the space of its ten-episode first season the crushing disappointment is palpable.

raised2Two androids (‘Mother’ and ‘Father’) arrive at a remote planet, Kepler 22b tasked with raising a group of human children in order to rebuild and save a humanity that has been destroyed by a global war between two factions: atheists and fundamentalist sun worshippers called the Mithraic. The visual design and concept is fascinatingly reminiscent of that of Scott’s troubled Prometheus, so much so that it almost seems an unofficial sequel, or at least set in the same universe. The music, too, seems directly related to that films haunting score.

On that level, I was hooked from the start, and enthralled by glimpses of this global disaster shown in flashbacks (Ridley Scott visualising The End Of The World!), scenes of survivors boarding colony ships bound for a fresh start on a new world. Vague references to the two warring factions and a subtext referencing Eden, humanity bringing its old sins to tarnish this new world – it promised much. Additionally, ‘Mother’ (Amanda Collin, who is quite excellent) is fascinating, an androgynous android that back on Earth was a weapon of mass destruction, a Necromancer that destroys with its voice, the android of Lang’s Metropolis transformed into an Angel of Death. Now mysteriously reprogrammed to nurture and protect its cargo of twelve human embryos and the children they grow into, she is aided by her companion, a lesser, servant-model android named ‘Father’ (Abubakar Salim, who possibly steals the show). ‘Mother’ is initially protective as intended, but falls back into her old destructive ways when her wards are threatened by a Mithraic colony ship arriving at this New World, her powers terrifying both children and enemies alike.

The mysteries are endless: who reprogrammed ‘mother’, what is the history of this new world and the skeletons of giant snakes that litter the landscape, what are the unnatural circular shafts that plunge into the depths, the odd voices characters begin to hear, the mysterious artefacts of alien origin that are found… yeah its all mystery box piled upon mystery box, and unwisely the series begins to unwrap some of these boxes, each one proving a confounding disappointment, increasingly riddled with inconsistencies. Why is no-one alarmed at signs of alien life or remnants of apparent alien intelligence? Are Mother’s virtual meetings with her creator truly the resurfacing of deleted memories or are they a fabricated deception created by some entity of Kepler 22b, manifested later as the giant snake? And how do Mother and Father survive plunging down into what is presumably the molten core of the planet, through and out the other side (as patently ridiculous as it sounds, it makes the Hollow Earth of Godzilla vs Kong seem almost pedantic).

Its actually alarming to see a show that begins with such promise collapse so very quickly- its like seeing all three seasons of Westworld condensed into a single season, and I cannot imagine where it will take us with season two (just finished filming, apparently). That’s if I stick around for season two, of course. I was enjoying the first half of this season but began to rapidly lose interest during the second half, the finale proving totally unsatisfying, typically dropping hints and leaving arcs for season two to attempt to resolve (or just tangle up even more). Even as a fan of Babylon 5, I am getting so tired of the teasing of revelations and answering questions with more questions: just tell the goddam story.

Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

memoryI enjoyed this documentary far more than I had expected to, believing that it was largely redundant at this point, after all the documentaries made about Alien featured on various DVD and Blu-ray releases over the past few decades, and of course all the books written about the film- most recently the late J W Rinzler’s magnificent The Making of Alien volume. An additional handicap is that some primary interviewees are no longer with us (Dan O’Bannon, H R Giger) and Ridley Scott was presumably not available/not interested, therefore forcing the film-makers to use video interviews from those old Blu-ray documentaries with the now so-familiar soundbites. The film’s editor Terry Rawling was a pleasant surprise appearance; he died in 2019 so I suspect this was one of the final interviews that Rawlings attended, if not the last.

And yes to some extent Memory is indeed redundant because there is little here that’s really new regards Alien lore for fans of the film. In some respects its largely a Readers Digest of all the factoids that Alien fans have learned over the years, but I did enjoy some of the points about mythology and symbolism, and how Alien really represents where society and its audiences were back in 1979 – it was clearly the right film at the right time, capturing the cultural zeitgeist and resonating through all these years since. I think there are some very valid points made and some views quite illuminating, particularly regards universal archetypes and myth.

Maybe the films argument that Dan O’Bannon was some kind of genius is a bit of a reach, but its no accident that O’Bannon was connected to some of the most important or memorable film projects that I have seen over the years- Dark Star, Alien, Total Recall, The Return of the Living Dead and Lifeforce. Some of them are great and the others are at the very least great fun (and I REALLY want to catch up with his last directorial effort, the Lovecraftian horror The Resurrected, which has escaped me for years, frustratingly). You don’t get a resume like that in Hollywood without having some talent, and he’s surely qualified as a genre great. Yes, Alien was very derivative of other, earlier movies and the genius of Alien is mostly that of Ridley Scott’s approach of elevating schlock b-movie fodder into serious, top-list quality motion picture, but one can’t deny that what made Alien unique was Giger, and it was O’Bannon who knew the artist (from the aborted Dune project) and championed his work for the film.

On the whole though I really enjoyed this documentary: the title is ironic considering so much of it was like a stroll down memory lane of Alien factoids and familiar faces. But yeah, this is Alien, and I don’t mind being reminded why the film is so bloody great, so this was certainly a very pleasant watch.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is currently available on Channel Four’s On Demand service up to late September, and is also available on DVD and digital download/rental.

Alas, no 4K Legend

legend85Oh, Arrow, you tease. Those postcards for an Arrow edition of Legend had me all kinds of (mildly) excited. Legend is a pretty damned broken film in any of its cuts but goodness it sure is pretty, and a 4K edition would be such eye-candy. Alas it seems never to be.

Yesterdays press release actually confirms the worst- Arrow’s Legend in September is a US-only release of a remastered edition of the horrific American theatrical cut (frankly unwatchable in my opinion) and the image-impaired Directors Cut (which is basically a workprint, not a ‘restored’ Directors Cut that many are), on Blu-ray as the only elements good enough for a 4K belong to the European cut that Fox (and therefore now Disney) own and the mouse as usual isn’t playing ball. So not only no 4K, there’s not even an Arrow release over here of Legend as they can’t license that European cut from Disney. Man, its so hard not to think of Disney as some kind of Evil Empire or Bond villain these days, its like they have a corporate memorandum to piss me off.

If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.

 

Voyage of Time (2016)

voyageSometimes we can be such loyal fools, enthralled by past glories and ever hopeful of their return. I keep watching each new Ridley Scott film with such anticipation, and for decades was just the same with each new Prince album, or John Carpenter movie. Terrence Malick has made such genuinely great films, Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line are amongst my all-time favourites and I really do like The Tree of Life: there is something endlessly fascinating about it, if only because it aims so high and just falls short. The idea of a section of that film, which depicted the formation of the universe/Solar System and the beginnings of life on Earth, including the Dinosaurs and the cataclysm that wiped them out, being turned into a full-length documentary film was just so enticing. But…sadly I must say it should have all just remained within that film. Sometimes less is more: funnily enough, that’s possibly very true for much of Malick’s output. 

Its taken me a few years to catch up with Voyage of Time, finally importing a German Blu-ray relatively cheap, but alas, I possibly shouldn’t have bothered. Even as a fan and frequent apologist for Malick, I have to admit, this is a pretty poor effort. Pretty and vacuous, its terribly inferior to Godfrey Reggio’s magnificent Koyannisqatsi when it could/should have certainly been equal to it, with something new to say (instead, I have to report that Koyannisqatsi possibly shares so much of Voyage of Time‘s ‘message’ and sentiment but got there decades before and said it much better).

I’m not really even sure what Malick was thinking; we have an irritating, typical-of-Malick-horribly-obtuse Cate Blanchett narration that says nothing, for no reason at all other than, presumably, to have her name on the credits to ‘sell’ the film. Any narrative flow for this voyage through the ages of the universe and Earth is repeatedly derailed by dropped-in sequences of present-day humanity that serve no purpose at all: one moment we are in the present, then back in the past, then back in the present. At least in Reggio’s film the scenes of humanity unwittingly lost in urban cages and horrible jobs etc served some purpose, some commentary on life out of balance.

As one would expect, the film looks very pretty but little more impressive than what we’ve already seen in BBC wildlife documentaries on television, and while the visual effects are quite astonishing at times, without a clear ‘voice’ or narrative to give them purpose, what’s really the point of them at all? There’s nothing here that Kubrick’s 2001 didn’t say much more succinctly and effectively. Maybe Malick finally found he had too much to say, or nothing at all to say. Again, like so many of his recent films.

I had expected to see an expansion of that Tree of Life sequence, showing the Big Bang, the formation of stars and planets, the wild primeval life of Earth, perhaps a glimpse of mankind and its glories in art and history and then the long slow decline of the universe back to darkness, some kind of cosmological model and perhaps a sense of our small insignificant place within it. I didn’t expect to see a poor man’s Koyannisqatsi. At least that film had meaning; instead Malick’s Voyage has no meaning at all.    

Quelle surprise! Its still 1982?

blade-runner-60I was gobsmacked over the weekend; I was flicking through the channels and stumbled upon Blade Runner being shown- it was almost midway through the film, when Rachel is in Deckard’s apartment and she rushes out, leaving him alone, and he picks up the photograph she has dropped and… Harrison Ford’s bored voiceover came on. I’m not sure why exactly I was so surprised, but yeah, they are still showing the original theatrical cut of Blade Runner on television. Really, I can’t believe that original 1982 cut is still even a thing, other than in fan’s DVD and Blu-ray boxsets. Surely with The Final Cut being released back in 2007, that is the version of Blade Runner being shown to everyone on network broadcasts or streaming? Well, apparently not.     

It does appear quite bizarre that Ridley Scott, Warner, the Blade Runner Partnership or whoever has any input into this kind of thing, would want any other version of Blade Runner than The Final Cut, or perhaps maybe the 1994 Directors Cut being shown- I’m not sanctioning a George Lucas 1977 Star Wars situation here, because this is wholly different, there’s all kinds of various cuts of Blade Runner readily available to fans and film historians. I’m not suggesting that the 1982 edition should not exist anymore, because it does and fans can get hold of that easily enough if they want to watch that, but even with my rose-tinted nostalgia specs on I cannot say that the original 1982 version of the film has any more entertainment value than the Final Cut edition. The 1982 film is really pretty broken. The internal logic is awry, the narration is awful, the visual effects aren’t all finished, continuity is a mess, the stunt double for Joanna Cassidy is a slow-motion wtf, the ending is the most bonkers thing of all; the Final Cut doesn’t fix everything but it fixes an awful lot and remains faithful to that 1982 version. Its more of a retune than a Star Wars Special Edition. Why shouldn’t that Final Cut version be widely seen rather than the flawed original? 

I just assumed that The Final Cut was the defacto standard version of Blade Runner being distributed now but apparently its not. Its still 1982 for some viewers who may well be wondering what all the fuss is about, so rightly aghast at the tacked-on nonsensical happy ending that they might never want to watch the film ever again- which is why I find it a little bit shocking but hey-ho, it just goes to show that its a crazy world sometimes. To be clear, I’m one of the films biggest fans but when I tried to watch my Blu-ray of the theatrical cut a few years ago I had to give up before I got halfway through, its too rough, nostalgia only goes so far and there’s a better version out there. Maybe I’ll get a few comments that some prefer that 1982 version and fair enough, I’m sure some do, but for any new viewers coming to the film, its not the one to see.

Anyway, its the cinematic definition of a storm in a teacup, but yeah, I was surprised. 

Dagon wakes: Underwater (2020)

underw1I’ll be honest, I was predisposed to enjoy this film just because of the setting, and the surprising nods to Lovecraft only sealed the deal, so this possibly isn’t the most even-minded, judgemental of reviews. We’re just predisposed to like certain films, I guess.  James Cameron’s The Abyss, for all its faults, is one of my favourite films, and William Eubank’s somewhat ill-fated Underwater (what, not even a DVD release over here?) is like some kind of sequel or perhaps more precisely an  ‘anti-The Abyss’. In Cameron’s film our bold aquanauts meet Spielbergian good-guy aliens who just want us to play nice on the surface, whereas in Underwater our aquanauts meet up with beasties who want us to frak off and die horribly, but both films share the same blue-collar workers in the depths/gritty hardware/grungy reality tropes which nod back to Ridley Scott’s truckers-in-space Alien. The hardware is great in Underwater, particularly the deep-sea suits that they have to wear in order to survive the pressures of the depths and trek across the desolate ocean floor- they are hugely impressive and convincing.  

Underwater initially unfolds like an Irwin Allen disaster movie, with a bunch of survivors trapped in a stricken deep-sea mining platform trying to get back to the surface. The setting is well realised -if vaguely uninspiring/overly familiar, in a Deepcore/Nostromo kind of way- and the characters reasonably defined, our angst-ridden, moody heroine Norah (Kirstin Stewart) surprisingly androgynous as far as traditional heroines go. She manages to find some survivors in the ruins -Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and wise-cracking comic relief Paul (T J Miller) and after a finely directed claustrophobic crawl-through-the -wreckage sequence they hook up with station commander Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) who has managed to see off the last of the crew in twenty-two surviving life-pods. Lucien and two other crew -Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) and Emily (Jessica Yu Li Henwick)- having now run out of lifepods are trying to find some other way off the station, and Norah and her bunch join the effort.  

underw2My biggest gripe regards the film is that it has clearly been edited down to its bare-bones: it literally starts with a bang, with the drilling station stricken by disaster. It’d be like starting The Abyss with the Deepcore rig being dragged to the edge of the, er, abyss, or Alien starting with the Nostromo landing on the planetoid.  We are not given any time as viewers to acclimatise ourselves with the setting or the premise or the characters, we are just thrown into it and the pace never really lets up over its slim 95-minute running time. The only real information about where we are and whats going on is given during the title sequence in the form of text/news cuttings, and that’s it- clearly this is a deliberate info-dump device which is bookended at the end, too.

This obviously betrays the film as a film of its time, as attention-deficit disorder viewers obviously have very valuable time that they don’t want to waste with movies establishing characterisation and drama in the old-fashioned ways, they just want to get to the action and then go out for a drink and pizza. Very often this kind of thing is done in films to disguise plot holes and bad logic- JJ Abrams is a master of this and Rise of Skywalker possibly the most heinous culprit of late- and its a pity, because Underwater doesn’t really have too many plot-holes it needs to hide away and it could have done with more running-time to establish its characters in more, er, depth (sic). Its hard to care for characters if you don’t know them, and while the film does manage to clearly define them as individuals it only does so by making them unfortunately very simplistic and one-dimensional. The brevity also damages the atmosphere of the film, lacking the time to deepen the mood and tension. Like many-if not all- modern films, Underwater lacks a really good score too: its score by genre veteran Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts is functional at best, and lacks the cloying, disturbing atmosphere, of say Elliot Goldenthal’s similarly-themed Sphere soundtrack.

So while I thoroughly enjoyed Underwater for what it is, there is always a frustrating sense that it could have been more, and that it betrays itself as a possibly troubled production (it was apparently finished in 2018 but left on the shelf for a few years waiting release). While I suppose I’m fooling myself to think there’s possibly a longer, superior extended Directors Cut out there that we’ll never see, I think I’d be right in thinking that if this film had been made in the 1970s or even 1980s, it would be two hours long and better-paced with proper character beats and an improved sense of tension. Like many modern films, this film in its final guise almost feels like a highlights reel, and its likely inevitable that if a studio starts cutting a two-hour movie to ninety minutes, it’ll keep the expensive effects sequences and cut the character stuff.

As it is, after a very limited cinema release earlier this year, Underwater has been dumped on digital rental services here in the UK, without even a DVD or Blu-ray release (never mind 4K UHD). Hey, its not exactly a genre classic but it deserves better. A film like Underwater, as dark as it is, can be particularly hurt by compression issues when streaming it, and to be frank it looked pretty horrible in some of the more frantic murky sequences on the Amazon stream I watched it on. Just another reason to bemoan the move away from physical formats- what a brave new world we have to look forward to, film fans. 

  

Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

split1
“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

mal1Twenty minutes into this belated 2019 sequel to the 2014 original I almost gave up on it (the Abort Button already, crikey I’ve had some week) – it was too twee, too sweet, too… well to be honest, it was too much like an animated movie. Nothing was real; the sets/locations/characters, other than Elle Fanning (and God knows she can be wooden enough to be mistaken for a Supermarionation character) everything seemed to be CGI artifice, outtakes from Avatar. Nothing, I mean NOTHING, was real: I swear it was like it was a Pixar movie. Like quite a few of these live-action Disney films, I really wonder if they should be taken to task referring to them as ‘live action’. They even insisted on one of those endless impossible helicopter/virtual camera shots sweeping over vast landscapes and huge distances, low over forests and over waterfalls and all that… ugh I hate those shots. Always pull me out of what I’m watching and put me on edge.

Thankfully we eventually reached a part of the film with real actors and real sets and the plot kicked in, because then I finally had something to latch onto, even if it was a bit weird seeing Citizen Smith (Robert Lindsay) apparently selling out as royalty and, well frankly I still felt a bit lost. Wasn’t King Henry some other actor before, as was Aurora’s boyfriend, Prince Phillip, and was Michelle Pfeiffer the Queen in the first film? Yes, they recast quite a few of the roles, and no, King Henry’s missus didn’t seem to be in the first one, weird that, or maybe I blinked and missed some explanation. Are we supposed to expect continuity problems or internal logic issues between movies?  Are we supposed to care with films such as this?

mal3Actually, it got better as it went on. Nothing too original or clever, I mean the script was fairly routine/predictable but I guess you rather expect that with big blockbusters like this: keep them simple, keep them undemanding. I might suggest that maybe they should spend some of the overblown effects budget on decent writing, but hey, you can never tell these days, maybe they did, scripts like this probably don’t come cheap even if they do sometimes feel cobbled together from DVD collections. It did, unfortunately, come across like some big overblown machine, the structure of the film, the characters, the telegraphing of stuff… I’m sure the kids love it but many of these blockbusters feel like films made by a committee, films without any individuality of vision.

But it worked, eventually working out as a worthy sequel to Maleficent, a film I quite enjoyed but never returned to- maybe I would have enjoyed this even more had I rewatched the first film beforehand (yeah, do your homework stupid), but it certainly looked like a ‘part two’ to a ‘part one’, even if that first film did originally appear to be self-contained. Some of the visuals are astonishing- Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent continues to be a remarkable creation, scary and monstrous and beautiful and somehow sexy… like a female version of Tim Curry’s Darkness from Ridley Scott’s Legend. Legend actually came to mind a few times watching this film- many of these film fantasies continue to appropriate some of that films imagery, and Ridley’s achievement in those pre-CGI days cannot be denied. But yeah, Jolie really does well under all that make-up, that can’t be easy.

And they should probably do a Flash Gordon reboot now, because the winged men of Prince Vultan’s Sky City can be nailed perfectly- the later battle sequences of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil are like a pre-vis for the end of a future Flash Gordon attack on Ming’s Fortress: I couldn’t help it, I kept on thinking “Flash!” having a bit of a geek giggle. I’m reminded of the recent Planet of the Apes films using CGI apes so magnificently; sometimes a films time comes, when the tech can fully realise the vision, you know? Maybe Flash Gordon’s time is now: an odd thing to realise from watching a Maleficent movie.

Kingdom of Heaven and the Shelf of Shame

kohWatched the Roadshow Directors Cut of Kingdom of Heaven last night; what a bloody brilliant movie that is. I think Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the best example of the transformative power of the Directors Cut- sure, the DCs of Watchmen and The Abyss are much better than their original cuts, too, but they remain flawed films in many ways, but the DC of Kingdom of Heaven is just, well, to put not too fine a point on it, a bloody brilliant movie, and is one of Ridley Scotts best films. His last truly great film, too, I suspect (I guess its only competition would be The Martian, but, well, I like The Martian but clearly Kingdom of Heaven is the better movie). This is the same guy who brought us Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? I find it so hard to believe; incredible. I make no apologies for stating that this film is one of my favourite all-time movies, which makes it a little odd to confess that I gave not seen it in several years….

Of course, I’ve watched the DC of Kingdom of Heaven several times before- first on a sumptuous R1 DVD edition many years back, and later when it arrived on a lacklustre Blu-ray edition (here in the UK, anyway). The reason why this post features in my Shelf of Shame series is that this copy is the Ultimate Edition steelbook, that contains the three cuts of the film via seamless branching (theatrical, DC and Roadshow cuts) with a second disc containing the exhaustive special features from that old DVD edition. To my frank disbelief I bought this edition back in 2015 and its been sitting on the shelf ever since, which is some kind of madness considering that, as I have mentioned, this is one of my favourite movies. Maybe its the length of the film. The Roadshow version, which features an Overture and an Intermission, runs well over three hours (as I adore the score for this film, I find that Roadshow version by some margin the best version to watch), and like Once Upon a Time in America, the longest films may be the greatest, but they do demand more time and consideration when scheduling.

Oh well, this lockdown and isolation we’re living during Covid19 has to be good for something, right? We have the time, I guess, to enjoy some of these longer films now.  And, er, I really need to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America, too, now that I think about it…

I hate double and triple-dipping but I’ll say here and now, this film desperately needs a 4K UHD edition. Please, someone, by all that’s Picard, make it so. This is one of Ridley’s greatest movies- they put that damned Robin Hood flick of his on 4K UHD, and those Alien prequels, but not this? Kingdom of Heaven looks fine in HD, but there is noticeable banding and blocking in some sections of this film, particularly during fade ins and fade outs, which I suspect is down to the sampling rate limited by the length of the film and the multiple branching over the single disc. Its hard to believe I’m berating a Blu-ray disc when it used to be the pinnacle of home viewing (I wonder how bad the DVD looks like?) but its clear to me that a 4K UHD would handle a lot of such sections, as well as the dark interior scenes, much better than a Blu-ray encode can manage.

I was really buzzing, though, after watching this. As its been a few years since last watching it, some of it surprised me, regards what I had actually forgotten, such as the layers of the storytelling, the different character arcs and moments, particularly in this extended version. Its quite complex and nuanced and features a great cast in great form, with brilliant direction and some really fine editing. Naturally its a beautiful-looking film, but some of the pacing and composition work… really, its the director at the absolute peak of his game, here. I can’t really understand why people talk about Ridley and mention Gladiator etc but not this, but I can only assume that’s because they saw the original version and not the DC. I recall watching that theatrical release back in, crikey, 2005, and being disappointed by it; sure it looked beautiful (as one would expect of Ridley, especially with period pieces) but the whole thing felt simplistic and formulaic. Which is why I rate this edition so highly as an example of just how good extended or directors cuts of some films can really be.