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.

A CS-80 Masterclass

Forgive me another YouTube link, but this one’s pretty special. This is a one-hour demonstration of the legendary Yamaha CS-80, most famous for its use by Vangelis in so much of his music, particularly during the Nemo days and albums like Spiral, China and the soundtracks Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner, portions of the latter being played  midway through the video leaving me amazed. Imagine sitting down with Vangelis at his Nemo Studio in London, as Ridley Scott must have done, and seeing/hearing him play that iconic Blade Runner score…I remember reading stories of Vangelis’ assistant redressing Nemo to establish mood and atmosphere for when the maestro was creating a particular piece of music or an album. Must have been spine-tingling, for instance, when he was performing the first movement from Soil Festivities, say, or Rhapsody from his collaboration with Irene Papas, Rhapsodies. What I would give to be there and to have witnessed it. All in a days work for the Greek maestro, I imagine, but something quite inspiring and astonishing to me.

You couple Vangelis’ mastery of the CS-80 with his vast collection of percussion instruments that filled Nemo and… well, magic is not the word, the recordings speak for themselves and his music back then formed the soundtrack for most of my life since. Timeless, gorgeous sound, and so much of it from this remarkable… do you call it a machine, or instrument?

Vangelis made the CS-80 his own, and funnily enough, it is commented upon by the presenter of this video that one of the only negatives regards the machine is that its so hard to play it without someone remarking “that sounds like Vangelis”. Frankly I think that is possibly the highest praise one could receive but I imagine some musicians would be infuriated by it.

If nothing else, the CS-80 goes to show that progress isn’t always, well, progress, and that in many ways this instrument remains unequalled. Mighty indeed. This is a fantastic video, absolutely fascinating stuff.

Actually a Rise of Skywalker review

rise1There’s a story going around that Rise of Skywalker was deliberately sabotaged by Disney in order to damage the reputation and career of its director, JJ Abrams, in order to thereby impact his future career/contract with Warner Bros, whose DC franchise is a direct rival to Disney’s own Marvel Studios franchise. That’s a conspiracy theory stupider than anything in this movie, which is saying something.

Its clearly some kind of attempt to excuse the true horror of a film so ineptly made as this one proves to be, and barring the inevitable NDAs that will cloud the truth, someday there will hopefully be a great book investigating the making of this film, and the two that preceded it.  I’d be fascinated to see the hows and whys that this film turned out so bad as it has done; while I’m confident much of it is due to the reactionary response to the misguided hubris that brought us The Last Jedi, I’m also certain that there was all sorts of meddling and politics going on behind the scenes that the panic  is in everything we see in this pretty dire film. Rumours prior to its release described six different endings, and the film is so disjointed, uneven and badly paced that I can well believe those multiple endings truly existed.

It seems a textbook case of how not to make a Hollywood blockbuster, and certainly how not to make a Star Wars movie – alarmingly for Disney however, it does also seem familiar with the story behind  the making of Solo, and its strange that the lessons behind that film don’t seem to have been learned. Change of director, lack of cohesive narrative, rushed production, numerous re-shoots… its really no surprise, but all the same, you’d have thought that Lucasfilm would have figured all this shit out.

Certainly its a lesson of how not to make a trilogy. A story goes that original director Colin Trevorrow had wanted Luke Skywalker alive in order for him to feature in the final movie and had begged The Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson to allow the character survive that film which is an example of the lack of a cohesive narrative across the three films as a whole. I guess Rian was so obsessed with usurping all the fanboy expectations and series tropes that he was hellbent on killing Luke. It is strange though- after Luke’s hologram/Force projection shenanigans there would have been no harm in just closing the film with him exhausted back in his Jedi hideout rather than abruptly fading away, especially if the third film’s director felt a live Luke was necessary for his film. No wonder Trevorrow walked.

So anyway, I went to see Rise of Skywalker expecting little, and even those expectations proved to be unrewarded. Inevitably spoilers follow, but I assume after so many weeks everyone who wants to see the film has done so by now.

rise3.jpgI don’t particularly enjoy being taken for an idiot, but it happens sometimes when watching movies and tv shows. Its when willing suspension of disbelief is just taken a step too far and I suddenly feel like I’m being taken for a fool, when the filmmakers just don’t give a toss and obviously anything goes, and to hell with internal logic or common sense.

It happened quite a few times during Rise of Skywalker. God knows my bar was set pretty low. Sure, its only Star Wars. Its a silly space fantasy. Its never going to be Kubrickian, or even anything akin to Ridley Scott’s increasingly irrelevant Alien prequels or the pompous silliness of James Camerons Dance with Wolves in Space Avatar. This is JJ Abrams. You’re not supposed to think with JJ Abrams stuff, its all smoke and mirrors with pacing so quick you won’t have time to consider what you’re seeing, you’re just supposed to go with it in the moment. Its only afterwards when you’re walking out that you begin to realise you were had. If the Jedi can heal the wounded or dying, or indeed bring back the dead to life, why didn’t Obi-Wan heal Qui-Gon Jinn in the Phantom Menace, or Luke Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, or Anakin his mother in Revenge of the Sith?  Abram’s talent for ignoring and breaking established mythology of course has a precedent in his Star Trek reboots.

But there’s one moment. One moment when my jaw literally dropped. I’d read most of the spoilers, and being forewarned, most of the films crass stupidity didn’t upset me as much as it might have otherwise (God only knows what this film was like for fans on opening weekend), but there was one moment when I just stared at the screen slack-jawed in amazement, dumbfounded.

If you’ve seen the film, you probably know what the moment is. Its when Rey is on the cliff side looking out at the wrecked ruins of the second Death Star resting out on the storm-tossed ocean. She gets out this Sith dagger that has been their quest for half the movie, and its supposed to be a clue to finding the second of two Wayfinders with which they can find their way to the resurrected Emperor Palpatines Hidden Base, and one of these Wayfinders is in a closet on this Death Star, somewhere.

Now at this point I’m okay with this Wayfinder nonsense, because my bar is set really pretty damned low with this movie. Palpatine has a Hidden Base on a secret Sith Homeworld that isn’t on any starchart, but he’s conveniently left two devices (why two? well why not?) with which someone (or some two) can find this Hidden Base and scupper his plans for ‘Galactic Domination from  beyond the grave’. Just how secret a Sith Homeworld can be when it needs a minimum of 20 million people to crew his 100-500 Star Destroyer (and God knows how many to build them), is frankly debatable. But go with it, its only Star Wars. The central plotline for the film is that the Rebels have just sixteen hours to find a way to the Emperors base and do something about his armada of Certain Death. After thirty-plus years of keeping his existence a secret, you’d think Palpatine would have managed an extra sixteen hours and unleashed his armada in secret.

rise2But anyway, Rey holds out her arm and the edge of the weirdly-shaped blade suddenly matches the exact same shape of the Death Star wreckage (my mouth’s dropping at this point) and then, incredibly, she pulls out of the handle this other curved piece of metal that lines up and points to a specific point of the wreck- ‘x’ literally marks the spot and my jaw is on the floor. This is beyond stupid. This is something of another order of bad writing entirely. Someone will make a study group in a future screenwriting course that will examine this film in its entirety and perhaps highlight this moment as some barometer of screenplay stupidity to measure all films after.

So lets get this straight. This blade is decades old (the dagger was used, a flashback assures us, to kill Rey’s parents years ago) but presumably was designed and crafted by someone standing in this exact same spot in order to match the outline of the wreck and thus display where the room is in that wreck which contains the Wayfinder. If someone stood someplace else on this coastline overlooking the wreck, it would neither match the wreckage or point to the same spot. Even if one stood a few metres either side, nevermind the kilometres of random coastline or so that is quite clearly visible in the same frame, it just wouldn’t serve its purpose.

In anycase, its a Sith blade, owned/designed/made by a Sith who knows where the Wayfinder is but presumably doesn’t need to use it to find the Sith Homeworld else he would have taken the Wayfinder for himself, and the existence/location of said Homeworld is a secret so what exactly is its purpose? A Sith dude forges a blade that reveals the Wayfinder so that someone who shouldn’t have the Wayfinder (i.e. a Good Guy) can find that Wayfinder and oh my head hurts. Or the Death Star exploded and various bits of wreckage crashed down to this moon and landed in the ocean in just that particular shape and configuration that it just somehow matches the edge of this blade and… oh my head hurts. Another thing, are we expected to believe that back during Return of the Jedi, Palpatine’s schemes were already afoot and that he kept that Wayfinder safe in that closet in his throne room because he already knew he had to leave a clue on this Death Star (which would survive both the explosion and a fall from orbit) in order for someone to find his hidden base decades later? Or that Darth Vader knew nothing about this and couldn’t warn Luke  before he died that that evil critter Palpatine was probably still alive and that Luke should search for the Sith Homeworld for the sake of future generations of film-goers… oh my head hurts.

Its staggeringly stupid, and now that I think about it, possibly not the stupidest thing in the movie. I think Han Solo returning ranks pretty highly, or Chewbacca being dead/not dead or… well, I could be writing this for hours, I think. ‘The Dead Speak!‘ opening the title crawl ranks pretty high, I mean, they didn’t even think that the return of Palpatine merited some mystery/tension- it’d be a bit like the opening crawl of The Empire Strikes Back revealing that Vader is Luke’s dad right at the start. Can’t they construct a decent script /tense narrative anymore?

I really didn’t expect much from this film but even those expectations were ill-founded. I watched the film with my brother who hated it with a passion (he knew no spoilers so he lacked the forewarning that cushioned my pain) and the people in-front of us broke into embarrassed laughter when Kylo climbed out the pit to resurrect Rey and share that kiss.

The pacing is horrible. It is so much like two films in one and I can actually sympathise with JJ Abrams initial wish to split the film into two like the final Hunger Games and Harry Potter films. There’s just to much story to tell and wrap up, and too many Rian Johnson cock-ups to fix/retcon. Its really relentless how fast it races by and how it resolutely refuses to make any sense at all. That editing terribly hurts the film- it rather feels unfinished, frankly like a workprint. Considering my low expectations, its a very disappointing movie. Even the space battles feel tired and few visual effects or action scenes seem well-executed or impressive.

Its almost inexplicable that this film has been released like this. Oh well. I guess the campaign for a longer directors cut is inevitable at this point. Not that I expect it to happen, or fix anything, but really its pretty bizarre for such a major motion picture release that fans should start a campaign to fix a clearly broken movie.

I’m sure there are some that enjoy the film and think its great- they are wrong, obviously- but I can’t say I’m surprised  how bad this film is, considering how much The Last Jedi fouled things up and having Abrams at the helm. Perhaps its a pity Trevorrow couldn’t have stuck around, and had a live Luke to feature in the film: this was doomed from the start, it would seem, and Rian Johnson remains the real villain of the Skywalker saga.

The Efficient Martian

THE MARTIANThere is something almost brutally efficient regards Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Its a mean, lean machine- I think Scott says in his commentary that the film was shot in just 74 days, which is formidable indeed for a film of its scale, of its visual complexity. I would not suggest its a great film- like Interstellar, its a film I can enjoy and quite admire but its far from a personal favourite or a film I love. Which is, considering its subject, like that of Interstellar, rather strange- you’d think this kind of film would be right up my street. Maybe its the lack of tension, which may have something to do with the film’s particularly laid-back, relaxed score. I’d read the book beforehand so I knew how the film would play out the first time I ever saw it, but I don’t think anyone unfamiliar with that book has any doubt how it will turn out. At any rate, I do think that had this film got a moody, tense Jerry Goldsmith score, it would be a different experience entirely.

So anyway, The Martian certainly looks gorgeous (I watched it this time in 4K UHD, and in its slightly extended cut), with brilliant art direction, it has a fine cast, and a great story and screenplay, and no matter my misgivings is clearly superior to Apollo 13, the film it obviously is most similar to. Its just misfiring a little, and I’m beginning to think its because of its brutal efficiency- there’s little chaos to it, its all… not mundane exactly, but it just feels so calculated. Every shot, every line, its all like a machine with a particular purpose, to tell its story.  Its possibly a film via a committee, rather than a passionate and involving film from a single visionary director. Its quite true that there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but somethings missing, and whenever I watch this film,  I’m never sure quite what.

Alien 4K UHD

alienAh, Alien– just thinking about the film throws me back to summer 1979, reading Fantastic Films magazine  absolutely goggle-eyed at the imagery- you have to remember, absolutely nothing that looked quite like it had ever appeared on film before (except, curiously, for the Victorian-bent tech of First Men in the Moon in 1964). Alien really was something new, a trend-setter and showstopper, one of those cultural pivot points that rarely happen now in these more jaded times- and of course a neat adult response to Star Wars. It wasn’t the technology of Alien‘s film-making that changed things (as opposed to how technology-driven modern film-making has since become, it was using all the old tricks and methods of so many films before and after), but rather the sophistication with which Ridley Scott approached its otherwise derivative b-movie plot (essentially a haunted house/monster on the loose story in space). The coverage of those issues of Fantastic Films really opened my eyes to the craft and art in genre films- its interviews with Ridley Scott in those issues (particularly the extensive examination of the Alien storyboards Scott drew) really fascinated me, and sealed my interest in Scott’s films forever after.

ff2I wasn’t really familiar with Heavy Metal at the time, but Alien was definitely the very first Heavy Metal movie in approach and artistic worth. It was adult and dark and gritty and quite overloaded with visual information. Even today some forty years later it’s amazing not just how well Alien holds up, but also how it surpasses much of what we see now. The Nostromo bridge, the messroom, the corridors, it’s incredibly convincing, a work of art. That’s quite seperate to the impact of Giger’s nightmarish creations: never was a films title so apt. Alien really was alien, its Lovecraftian pseudo-sexual horrors as disturbing now as they ever were. I almost wish it stood alone, that there were never any sequels or any prequels, that Alien could just stand there, a one-off classic.

Its certainly the best way to watch it today. Just soak up and savour the mystery of that derelict craft and the alien space jockey, and the glimpses of the creature itself as it preys on the Nostromo crew. Try to forget the mythology that followed after with all its contradictory noise.

So that summer of 1979- like some kind of fool, I was of course madly anticipating actually watching the film, but as the September release date of the film neared here in the UK I learned that it was rated ‘X’ by the BBFC, partly no doubt for the films intensity but more for the use of language- swear-words were a big no-no in the old days of Blighty (actually things might not have changed so much in the years since). So having read all the film magazines, as we used to do in those pre-internet days, the film became this forbidden object, a tantalising mystery- and of course this was in those dark pre-VHS days when films came to the cinema and then went, lost for years before even a glimmer of hope of a possible tv screening. I didn’t actually see the film until it turned up on television*, on a Sunday night following the 1982 World Cup final on ITV. In pan and scan, nevermind the dreaded ad breaks (didn’t have a video recorder back then, so recorded the film onto audio cassette to listen to after- only hardcore/older geeks possibly understand what that was all about).

So perhaps it was fitting that last night, another Sunday almost thirty-seven years later, slowly slipping towards the fortieth anniversary of the films 6th September UK release date, I watched the film again, only this time in yet another format- 4K UHD.  I have to say, the film looked gorgeous, the best I’ve yet seen it, one of the best catalogue films I have seen on 4K disc. The HDR isn’t distracting, instead tastefully managed to increase the sense of depth to the picture and really improving some of the miniature shots (such as the Nostromo touching down on the planetoid with its lights blazing in the stormy murk). The colour balance and saturation of the film seemed improved, and the 4K image certainly allowed more appreciation of the films many visual details. I’d say this presentation seemed pretty much definitive to me, and I really enjoyed the film again.

Rewatching films can always be a curious experience, as you can take different things from them with every viewing- this time around, I seemed to appreciate some of the acting quality. Ian Holm was brilliant, as was Veronica Cartwright too- both are superb character actors with a sense of understated reality. They seem natural and effortless performances and convincingly ‘down to Earth’ (albeit that might seem strange considering the film’s setting). As a whole I’d say the films casting was a masterstroke in general- the characters are quite underwritten by the script but each actor brings something to each part. Compare the trucking Nostromo crew to any of the characters in Prometheus or Alien Covenant, say, and you’ll get what I mean (damn- I intended not to refer to those prequels at all and I’ve gone and bust it). The casting grounds the film in a sense of blue-collar reality, and while the smoking may seem a little incongruous these days, it’s certainly another layer of reality that carried weight back in 1979. The world has changed but Alien won’t, it’s a part of film history locked in time and thank goodness for that.

A curious thought though, that forty years ago I would be reading all those magazines, Fantastic Films, Starburst etc) and getting photographic glimpses of the film, and I’d read the Alan Dean Foster novelization, and the film would be frustratingly yet held back for another three years. And here I was some forty years later rewatching the film again. If I was around forty years from now, no doubt I’d still be rewatching it. Films, afterall, can be forever- well, the best of them, certainly. But maybe I’ve just bought Alien one last time in one last format.

* prior to the network premiere, indeed some time before as I recall. maybe in 1981, I was looking at records in my local HMV when I noticed that they were playing Alien on a television sitting on the shelf near the till (it must have been a sell-through VHS tape, which were wildly expensive at the time, before rentals took off and the idea of actually owning a film became rich fantasy). It was near the chestburster scene, and needless to say I stuck around awhile to see it in the corner of my eye while pretending to examine vinyl copies of albums. Vinyl, VHS, record stores… it’s a long time ago indeed, and I was so nervous that this was an ‘X’ -certificate film that they were surreptitiously screening that everyone in the shop of any age could see. Was I ever that young/naive? 

The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe

cyber1One of the infrequent pleasures of the pre-internet era was stumbling upon books that mentioned, even in passing, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner– particularly back when it was the very definition of cult. As the film started to get a second life on home video and became better appreciated, some books dedicated to the film began to surface. One of the first and very best books dedicated to examining the film was Judith Kerman’s Retrofitting Blade Runner from 1991, and there have been several that followed over the years as the film gained in popularity; Paul Sammon’s Future Noir from 1996, or Will Brooker’s The Blade Runner Experience from 2005. Treasure-trove’s of information or heady brews of contentious opinion, for a fan of the film they are irresistible.

So now we can add another to the list: The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe, edited by Lou Tamone and Joe Bongiorno, which went into print last month. As its such a recent book, it includes essays about Dennis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and, in a similar way to Brooker’s book, examines both the original 1982 film and its versions in some detail as well as all that followed it in various media. There is, for instance, a delightful appreciation of the original Marvel Comics adaptation that was my one way to relive the film back in the dark days of pre-VHS 1982, and, yes, accounts of the execrable K W Jeter sequels that were inflicted upon fans around 1995 when it was clear that Blade Runner still had some kind of future (even if it was so inept it was more depressing than anything in the movie). While much of the information contained is hardly new, there is some information new even to an old fan like me, and some canny observations.  The various espoused opinions and views are interesting, the writing very good and the wide collection of essays a pleasant reminder of the decades that passed since 1982, and all we’ve lived through to the miracle of BR2049. Its a bit like sitting in the pub or by a fireside with a few knowledgeable fans of Blade Runner and having a spirited conversation and reminiscence.

Its also quite substantial, over 400 pages in length and including a very good introduction from Paul M Sammon that possibly betters, in literary terms, ell those voluminous pages of his Future Noir book.

If Alcon Entertainment are ever going to revisit the Blade Runner IP, in some future film or television project, then its important that the brand be kept alive and books such as this are a part of that. I have read that Alcon are keen on maintaining Blade Runner in comics and books at least, keeping the property alive and valid- this book is an unofficial release and not endorsed by Alcon, but I think they might well be pleased that this book has begun the campaign to keep the property alive and get something made, film or whatever, someday.

All concerned here ‘have done a mans job’, and no mistake.

 

Blade Runner 3

…its funny how reading headlines on the internet can suddenly cause you so much consternation and alarm. Yesterday I was taking a break at work and was browsing the web for a few minutes to try clear my head a little and I stumbled upon a site teasing a new Blade Runner film. It wasn’t, actually, anything new, merely a bit of news circulating back at the start of this year about Ridley moaning about the length of BR2049, where he thought it went wrong and possibilities about a further Blade Runner sequel, where he would take it.

The headline seemed to infer that Ridley Scott was going to take over the reigns of Blade Runner 3 and shoot the film he thought BR2049 should have been. The curious thing was, my heart sank like a stone at reading it. I mean, years ago, the idea of Ridley making a sequel to Blade Runner would have excited me (just as the idea of him making another Alien movie), and I admit, first time I read he had stepped back from Blade Runner 2 I thought it was a mistake letting some other director have a go. But now? Oh man.

I was actually relieved to discover this was old news nixed in the interim by BR2049‘s poor box-office. The idea of Ridley taking on Blade Runner 3, and no doubt all that would entail in bringing Harrison back or establishing without any doubt Ridley’s assertion that Deckard is a Replicant… for a few moments I was filled with actual dread.

And this interested me, once reason had settled. How things change, and how I almost feel that Ridley Scott messing with Blade Runner could be considered toxic. It almost feels dishonorable even thinking it, never mind writing it. Ridley, afterall, is what made the original film such a classic- his eye for detail and visuals back then. Maybe its just fallout from Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, but these days I just prefer him leaving well alone. Which is unfair, really, as by all accounts it was Ridley with Hampton Fancher who came up with the story for BR2049 and he deserves every credit for that.

I just can’t shake my own wonder at that crushing feeling of despair I felt, though, at the sudden thought that Ridley was going to make Blade Runner 3. Just goes to show, be careful what you read on the internet… yesterday for me it was a little like Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast. Very scary.

All the Money in the World (2017)

all1Here’s the thing about Ridley Scott films- with a catalogue of great or at the very least memorable films to his name, particularly his earliest films like Alien or Blade Runner, or perhaps later efforts like Gladiator, its difficult for any new addition to the list being given a break, or accepted as just being an average movie. There is this weight of expectation attached to them, as if every film he ever makes has to somehow measure up to his greats- sure, it’d be wonderful if they did, but its really an unfair expectation, isn’t it.

Besides, (reduce to a whisper)  I always suspect directors get too much credit anyway, so perhaps its unfair to saddle them wit all the blame too. In just the same way as its the players on the pitch in a game of football who get, or fail to get, a result, as much as the manager on the touchline who gets credited for masterminding a win or blamed/sacked when things go awry, on a movie production there are too many factors that effect how a film turns out for it to be fair that a director gets lauded or pilloried depending on the final product. I suppose much of this treads into auteur theory, with directors treated as the author of movies as if they created a film themselves- I suspect films are much more collaborative than that.

One thing I will say for Ridley Scott films, as I’m speaking clearly as a fan here who has followed his career since 1979 reading interviews in Fantastic Films way back then, is that he is a consummately formidable technician. His later films may not artistically or thematically match his first films, but he shoots them extremely well, speedily and on budget, demonstrating such control its something to marvel at in a world in which so many films go over-schedule or over-budget or dragged down by re-shoots.  Ridley gets the job done. The studios must love having him at the helm- box office be damned, at least they know a film is going to get made on  time and with solid quality, and The Martian has proved he still has hits in him.

That being said of course, All the Money in the World was troubled in post-production and required substantial reshoots,  a scandal involving allegations made against original star Kevin Spacey causing him having be replaced. The fact that, had it not been so well documented, watching the film you would have no idea that Christopher Plummer was a late replacement is a pretty formidable testament to the quality of Ridley Scott’s professionalism. Simply as an exercise in last-minute film-making its pretty jaw-dropping that the film even works.

The film was also pulled into the argument over inequality of pay between actresses and their male co-stars.  When Ridley and the studio decided the film could not be released with Spacey still in the film, he recast with Plummer but this triggered a clause in  Mark Wahlberg’s contract, which had co-star approval. Wahlberg, or his team of lawyers and agents, simply stated that he would not approve Plummer and attend re-shoots without an additional payment of $1.5 million, essentially holding the film to ransom. Co-star Michelle Williams didn’t have that clause in her contract so attended the re-shoots for something like $80 a day. To add further salt in the wound, Williams told the USA Today that “”I said I’d be wherever they needed me, whenever they needed me. And they could have my salary, they could have my holiday, whatever they wanted. Because I appreciated so much that they were making this massive effort.” Thinking about it, this film got such a beating you could argue it was one of those cursed productions you sometimes read about. I read later that Wahlberg donated his fee to Times Up, but I’m sure most of Hollywood wishes they had his management team.

(It might be interesting to note regards the inequality of actors pay that Wahlberg’s original fee for the film was $5 million -itself much less than what he is usually paid-  and Williams $625,000).

all2So having written all that, I realise that I written nothing really about the film itself. Well, considering all the hysterics surrounding it, I must say I was surprised how good it was and how much I enjoyed it. Clearly its one of Ridley’s lesser films but its nonetheless a solid piece of work graced by some fine performances, particularly Plummer who is frankly astonishing considering he was a last-minute replacement in scenes shot in just 10 days. His octogenarian billionaire, at the time the richest man who had ever lived, is a fascinating character and Plummer clearly relishes the role in every moment on screen. Its impossible to say what Spacey originally brought to the role but its hard to imagine the film is any the lesser without him. You might be forgiven for expecting Plummer’s scenes to feel rushed and perhaps feel ‘off’, be technically inferior to the original shoot but they actually become the cold icy heart of the film and its finest asset.

The film is based on  the true story of  the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) in 1973,  and the increasingly desperate struggles of his mother Gail (Michelle Williams) to ensure his release when his grandfather refuses to pay up. While the kidnappers threaten to start sending the boy back in pieces, his grandfather spends his money on paintings instead and his time gleefully monitoring ticker-tape reports of his ever-increasing wealth.

Wahlberg is perhaps miscast in the film. He plays Fletcher Chase, one of Getty Sr’s negotiators who Getty tasks with bringing the boy home without giving the kidnapper’s any money. In a traditional Hollywood thriller with someone like Wahlberg in the role, you’d perhaps expect something like a Taken movie to ensue as the guy does what a guy has to do to bring the boy home and let the body count be damned. But as this is based on a true story and that didn’t happen, it seems a bit of misdirection on the film-makers part. As it is, left without kick-ass action Wahlberg sort of drifts around looking a little lost. Why spend all those millions on him if he’s not doing what he usually gets paid all those millions to do?

WIlliams is very good, with a captivating performance that almost measures up to that of Plummer. Together they rather tease the classic movie that this might have been, but really its not a bad film at all. Ridley Scott captures the sense of period as brilliantly as ever, making it look so easy,  and moves the plot forward with the efficiency he is so famous for now, until the film ends in a climactic hide and seek sequence that almost feels like its from some other movie. The real center of the film is Plummer’s performance and this strange real-life Citizen Kane, which rather unbalances a film whose drama should revolve around the kidnapped boy. I suspect there are two films here, and its that second film made in the re-shoots that steals it.

Our favourite films (Part One)

I’ve tried this sort of post before, in which I write about my favourite films and why they are my favourite films. Its a subject that really does interest me. There are good films, great films, average films, terrible films, we can judge films and drop them into one of those categories but whether we fall in love with them or not… something happens. Some connection. Its easy to explain why I might love a really good film, quite another to explain why I love a film that I know intellectually is pretty bad.

It is also true, I think, that our favourite films say everything about us. I’ve often thought that you can tell a lot about someone by looking at the books on their bookcase -presuming of course they even have a bookcase, or read books, which nowadays isn’t necessarily so- and that logic works just as well for someone with a film collection on DVD or Blu-ray that might reside on a shelf. Although, God knows, it would have to be a hell of a big shelf to house all my films on disc… okay then, imagine you have a shelf for your ten or twenty favourite films. What would they be?

This part is kind of fun, if sometimes frustrating. Ten or twenty favourite films. Its not really as  easy as you might think. Well, naturally, one film on that shelf of mine would be Blade Runner, my very favourite film that I have carried around with me since 1982, such a long time it seems it’s existed forever. Its not the best film ever made but it is my favourite….

Yeah, let’s be clear here: these are favourite films, not what you should  consider to be the best films ever made. That’s two seperate lists, really. I sound like some kind of film geek here, but it’s an important point. I know most of my favourite films are not perfect, and are nowhere near as important in the grand scheme of things as many other films. Now, some of my favourite films are indeed great films (that’s ‘Great’ with a capital ‘G’) which is a happy coincidence but that’s really all it is, coincidence.

We love the films we love for all sorts of different things. It might be the time in which we saw them, what they meant to us at the time, it might be how they made us feel, what emotional connection they made with us, it might be the connection they give us with the past and when we first saw them, the people we saw them with, the people and the places they remind us of.

So in my case, what would that shelf over there look like if I just put my very favourite films on it? Blade Runner, The Thin Red Line, Vertigo, The Apartment, Citizen Kane, The Assassination of the Outlaw Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Taxi Driver, Its A Wonderful Life, Once Upon a Time in America, How to Murder Your Wife, Glengarry Glen Ross, Alien, Jaws… it’s pretty easy at the start, but once you start limiting oneself to ten or even twenty, it gets pretty hard when you start to realise which films you might be omitting.

Hmm. This really needs more thought.

I think back to a list I made back in the early 1980s, I think I even have it somewhere in the back of a notebook up in the loft. It had a lot of films from that period of time. Blade Runner, Conan the Barbarian, The Empire Strikes Back, Citizen Kane, 2001… with time, all these lists can be embarrassing. What, I loved that film? I haven’t seen it in years! You know how that goes. I don’t expect we should love, say, the same ten movies for all our lives. There’s plenty of new ones to usurp old ones, afterall, or at least, you’d like to think there might be. Wouldn’t it be boring if there was nothing new to fall in love with and undo the sanctity of the list?

The list says everything about who we are NOW, and old lists, if we kept them, say everything about who we were THEN.

Films can be incredibly tangible, powerful connections with the past. Take Ridley Scott’s rather low-key film White Squall. Certainly, it’s not one of my favourites, I recall only mildly enjoying it when I first saw it. But, and here’s the but- I remember seeing it with my fiance the afternoon before we were to be married. More clearly than the actual movie, perhaps, I remember walking out of the multiplex cinema into a big car park and it was raining, a real storm in fact and remember thinking about what was happening the next day (the big day turned out fine, by the way). I have not seen the film since, not since that day so many years ago. Why I’ve never watched it again I’m not sure, but I am absolutely certain that if/when I do ever watch that film again, it will throw me right back to that afternoon and walking out into that storm.

I think my favourite films are like that. Films I have made an intense emotional bond with, and with which I connect in all sorts of ways and engender all sorts of memories and nostalgic connections with. The best films, our favourite films, they are a part of us, which is why it’s more an emotional connection than an intellectual one. I am pretty sure music buffs will say its just the same with their favourite albums and songs.

Whenever I think of Blade Runner, I’m not really thinking of the 2007 Final Cut, although that is clearly the definitive version. I’m really thinking of that original voiceover version, staying in the old ABC cinema to watch it twice that first Saturday afternoon, watching it in a double-bill with Outland early in 1983 (and being shocked at someone walking out midway through Blade Runner), and having it on a VHS (ahoy, pirate!) copy for Christmas 1983, and darn near wearing that damn thing out. I remember staying up late on Boxing Day, the rest of the family asleep upstairs, and me watching Harrison Ford entering the Bradbury building, the eerie music, the moody lighting, just wallowing in it, thinking it was the best Christmas present ever.

So anyway, I think this all deserves more thought and I’ll return to this a little later, perhaps with a selection of my favourite films and what makes them favourites.

Anybody out there got ten, or even five favourites that they can easily share?

Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.