Recent Additions

P1110248 (2)Buying films on disc is still ‘A Thing’ but as you can see from the snap I’ve taken of my recent purchases, rather than new films my eye is in the rear view mirror and past films that I’ve seen before (and yes, bought before on previous formats). At least I’ve managed to resist the Indiana Jones set just recently released on 4K. No doubt its time will come eventually but one has to draw the line somewhere (sorry, Indy).

So anyway; I rationalised buying the Toy Story 4K box because I never bought Toy Story 4 on disc and this long-overdue box release is the most cost-effective way of going 4K on these Pixar classics. The Predator 4K box has just come back into stock at a reduced price (I missed the opportunity prior to Christmas) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is just one of those films… well, I bought it on R1 DVD so many moons ago and then again on Blu-Ray… maybe this is the last time (my wallet certainly hopes so). As a film lover some films just, well, they drive us crazy and we lose all common sense and go all Gollum (“I must have it, my precious!”). Lastly I managed to pick up Murder on the Orient Express on 4K for less than a tenner- its a film I saw on a rental that I really enjoyed, and at the time I was wondering how gorgeous it would look in 4K so I’ll find out soon enough. I just noticed that I watched that rental nearly three years ago!

And here’s a shocker- I’ve actually gone and bought two films on digital. I know, I know, shock, horror, that’s Hell freezing over, but I couldn’t resist testing the water with some bargains on Amazon. I bought well-regarded indie sci-fi Prospect for 99p in HD, and a HD copy of Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film that I’ve been curious about for just £1.99. I don’t think digital will ever be a Big Deal for me, I’ll always prefer films on disc but at those prices (must be the digital equivalent of the Bargain Bin), what’s not to like? If I watch something I absolutely adore I’ll just get the disc version and won’t have lost much financially. Mind, I still feel like I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

A Triumph of the Familiar: Toy Story 4

TOY STORY 4Did we really need a Toy Story 4? Of course not. Or maybe we did: I must confess it really surprised me that I really, really enjoyed this film, and more so that Pixar somehow made the film feel necessary, too. That last point is the real game-changer for me. This was the first Toy Story film that I didn’t watch at the cinema and didn’t purchase on disc on home release: I really didn’t see the point of another Toy Story. In an industry that just seems endlessly reliant on sequels, reboots and remakes, Pixar making another Toy Story film just felt like a cynical, cash-grabbing exercise that lent further weight to the ‘Disney is Evil’ scenario so familiar on the Internet these days. It was a seductive scenario and I was suckered by it, more fool me.

That said, I’m still afraid that Disney will announce a Toy Story tv series for Disney+ sometime (and if they already have, I won’t be surprised). Its the endless battle between art and commerce I suppose. Films are made to make money, its a business, and films are product, not necessarily ‘art’. Its so easy for us film fans to become cynics.

At any rate, I was certainly a sceptic going into this, more curious regards the improvements in the animation and art tools the guys at Pixar are using now than how well the actual script would turn out, confident that it would quickly betray itself as the cash-cow it surely was. But you know, I was very pleasantly surprised. Maybe its the irresistible magic of the very first Toy Story, the concept and its wonderful characters: in hindsight,  how could it fail, how could they screw it up? Then again, it’s like wondering how anyone could screw up making a Star Wars movie and then being surprised by Lucasfilm ‘finding a way’. I suppose the secret to this film is that it doesn’t ‘break the world’ in quite the same way as The Last Jedi did, but also organically progresses things nevertheless (in ways that the JJ Abrams Star Wars films didn’t). At any rate, it would seem Pixar could teach the guys at Lucasfilm a thing or two, or maybe the cynic in me was just bewitched by the magic. Shock, Horror- maybe we need a Toy Story 5!

TOY STORY 4One thing is patently clear- this film certainly looked absolutely gorgeous. I think I need to put this films 4K UHD edition on my shopping list, because I’m pretty certain that must be a wonder to behold. Do they have a 4K boxset of all the Toy Story films? I shall have to have a look sometime. I can only imagine how beautiful this film must look in crisp 4K detail and with the extra ‘pop’ and sense of depth usually associated with HDR. Even in standard HD the later scenes in the nighttime fair looked so three-dimensional: the Pixar artists do this thing with keeping foreground objects/characters in focus and the backgrounds soft and blurred, almost abstract, its something we’re used to seeing in live-action but of course here its all inside the box, artificial.  Its a little bit like the opposite of the ‘uncanny valley’, something that fools us into thinking something is real when it is purely artifice. A part of this films success is how perfectly the subject matter, toys, always fits within the technology of the animation, the constraints its greatest asset: the original film was always dreamed up and designed within the parameters of the tech, and even after so many Pixar films, the Toy Story series feels the most natural and ideal combination of narrative and visual CG style.



The Secret Life Of Pets (2016)

pet12016.100: The Secret Life of Pets

There’s maybe too many of these cgi-animated films out there now. Okay- there simply ARE too many of them. Like with superhero films, it seems mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery, because its getting to the point at which they all start to look the same or follow a familiar formula. There’s certainly reminders of earlier (and better)  films like Bolt here, or so many Pixar films like the Toy Story series. Its fun. Its even funny. But I wouldn’t dream of describing any of this as original or ground-breaking. Its okay, but it always feels rather generic.

It does, however, raise an issue that is starting to arise with these films, and some may well argue that its been here a long time already. It took them a few films to get there, but once Pixar established the formula for its family-comedy animated films with the ‘buddy-quest picture’ template, and continued to pursue it in successive films, it set a precedent and practically wrote a ‘how-to’ guidebook that so many studios have followed since. Unfortunately its so routine that the scripts for these films almost seem to have been all written by the same team, and viewers can predict every turn, to the degree that no matter the finesse in the animation or art design, the mold being used desperately needs to be broken. I guess Hollywood would argue, if it aint broke, why fix it, as the box-office returns on these films appears to be pretty reliable.

Its getting to the point though where even the character designs and mannerisms/animation is all starting to look the same. They almost look interchangeable between films, and the voice-work sounds pretty familiar too. At least in the old days you could tell a Disney film from any other animated film, and a Pixar film too, but the homogeneity of the cgi-animation behind these films is all making it more a general animated landscape of, well, conformity and over-familiarity.

Sadly, its rather like so many superhero films, in just the same way that Marvel have settled upon such a winning formula for making their films that DC have felt the need to adopt it with their own (and consequently impacted their BvS film, for example, by awkwardly putting in unnecessary seeds for later DC films in just the same way as Marvel has seeded their various superhero franchises in individual films).

The Secret Life of Pets isn’t a bad film. In fact it was something of a hit in my household, with my in-laws citing it as the best film they have seen over the Holidays. So it’s clearly doing something right. I’m perhaps being unfair to it, complaining it isn’t anything particularly new or demanding anything of its audience. It simply is what it it is. But there are too many films like this before it and no doubt many like it due in the future, and eventually, over-familiarity breeds contempt. It’d be a shame if it was a Pixar film that caught a hit over it, or maybe that would be poetic justice?

How Old is Star Wars?

Star Wars is 39 years old this year. Looking back on Star Wars from now is like being in 1977 and looking back at films made in 1938. Thats films like The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn or James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. Those are the only films from that year I can recall ever seeing, and back in 1977, those films seemed so old.

Looking back now at Star Wars, it’s hard to feel its really as old as those films seemed to me back then when I was eleven years old. Back then I even thought those great 1950s sci fi movies that I loved were old- films like Forbidden Planet, made in 1956. But in 1977 that was ‘only’ 21 years before. Thats the equivalent of looking back today on films released in 1995- films like Toy Story and Apollo 13 and Heat. Those films don’t feel very old (indeed something like Heat feels like it might have been made only yesterday). But maybe they do seem so old to eleven year old kids watching The Force Awakens now (I wouldn’t recommend that an eleven-year old kid watch Heat but you know what I mean).

This is a pretty scary game. Blade Runner is 34 years old this year, the equivalent of being in 1982 and looking back at films made in 1948. Thats films like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. I’d say the former is pretty timeless but the latter a bit old-school compared to Ridley Scott’s film. But compared to films made now, Blade Runner doesn’t feel ‘old-school’ at all, not to me.

Or The Abyss, from 1989. That’s 27 years ago. That’s like being in 1989 looking back at films from 1962, such as the first James Bond film, Dr.No, and David Lean’s magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, or Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcataz. Great films, but in 1989, they felt pretty old. The Abyss doesn’t feel that old now though, hell, I remember watching it at the cinema like it was only a few years ago, not decades ago.

2001: A Space Odyssey is 48 years old, which is the equivalent of having your mind blown by Kubrick’s masterpiece in 1968 and looking back at films made in 1920. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any of those films from 1920, although I’ve certainly read about some of them, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde starring John Barrymore. Of course they were silents and in black and white, a lifetime away from the widescreen glory of 2001‘s feast for the eyes and ears. But maybe to youngsters today, 2001 feels just as old and dated when compared to the films they have now with their virtual worlds and CGI characters.

Anyway, I was just thinking about Star Wars closing in on its 40th Anniversary and wondering what 39 years really means. But its led to all this other rambling about movies and it’s freaking me out. So I’ll stop now before I feel as old as I really am.