Monday, 19 December 2016

Sequel or replica(nt)?

Today turned into a pretty big deal for me. Not because it's my last week at work before the Christmas break, or that I'm feeling guilty for not having seen Rogue One yet. No, it's because today is the day that the Blade Runner 2049 trailer was shown.

I have mixed fixed feelings on this. I love Blade Runner as a stand-alone movie (ignoring the fact that there are about 5 different versions) and wish that film companies would just leave great one-off films alone. Blade Runner also treated its audience as adults and didn't deign to explain every plot device (it just had Gaff wandering around being brilliantly cryptic). On the other hand, the sequel could be great and it could be a wonderful example of where a sequel does complete justice to, and even betters, the original (see Toy Story 2).

So what did I think? Well, to be honest the trailer didn't show an awful lot (which is sort of how trailers should work). The tone felt right, the music and voice-over helped massively, and old man Deckard added the same sort of nostalgia that old man Solo added to The Force Awakens. Ryan Gosling will probably be pretty good too, but at this point it's hard to tell.

The most overriding feeling I had was just how empty the scenes in the trailer appeared to be. So far it has none of the built up chaos of the original and, dare I say it, it looks too clean. I always think back to the design of Sebastian's hotel room as a marker for the design ethos of Blade Runner. A jumble of new tech and degraded antiques, a collision of two completely different worlds. I think there's something deeper here too, we aren't too far away from the year 2049 so the idea of setting a future tale here could be fraught with danger. We live in such a combination of the contemporary and the future that often it's easier to imagine how the far future looks than the one that's coming round the corner.

I won't exactly quote William Gibson on this one but I'm pretty sure he mentioned that we are pretty much all living a science fiction life nowadays, which makes it harder for him to separate current day from future state. If you've read any of his recent books set in the modern day you'll understand this.

Insert Dick joke here.

And I suppose there is a danger of taking on the mantle of something that is widely considered to be one of the finest movies in it's genre. As a medium films have sunk themselves into our consciousness, whether it be quotes from Star Wars, the theme from Jaws, or people saying hello to their little friends. Blade Runner is no exception. We took the kids to a pantomime at the weekend, a performance of Dick Whittington full of jokes that were squarely aimed at the adults, and lo and behold, halfway through the character of King Rat started a soliloquy. "I've seen things you people couldn't possibly imagine..." Well, I almost fell off my chair. I never thought I'd hear that one in a regional theatre production at Christmas!

So this film has huge boots to fill. I hope it manages it. I am rooting for this one, in fact I am desperate for it to prove me wrong and deliver on all fronts. I just hope Gaff doesn't turn up and explain the paper unicorn.

Monday, 12 December 2016

I am Spartacus!

So far 2016 may well be remembered as a bad year. Not just for Brexit and Trump, but also for the amount of highly regarded famous faces that have slipped their mortal coil. This may well have something to do with a generation of greats that influenced film and music all going together as they reach a similar age, or it could just be bad luck, or someone's idea of a joke (I'm looking beyond the clouds on this last point).  Whatever it is, 2016 has generally been considered to be a year that sucked.

But there is a ray of sunshine which I had to write about. It turns out that Kirk Douglas has just hit the fantastic age of 100. Someone told me the other day and I'm not proud to admit that my first reaction was "I thought he was dead!" Based on this years hit list it's not too much of a stretch, but there he is still full of his old swagger. One of the truly great actors from the golden age of Hollywood is still with us.

I'm not going to pick his films apart (do a quick Google search and you'll realise just how many he's done) but I am going to mention a few that have really left their mark on me. I've written in previous blogs that I had a fair old diet of classic films growing up, and Kirk and his dimpled chin played a pivotal part in it. So here goes, helped by a small pre-Christmas bottle of beer these are my 3 favourites:

Nordic style, Brooklyn accents.

The Vikings was the first of his films that I remember seeing. I think I was off school with a cold and watched it on telly in the afternoon. This is classic 50's Hollywood: Tony Curtis (with beard) and Kirk Douglas play play a pair of Vikings who are great mates, then hate each other, then become great mates again. Kirk loses an eye (obviously making no comparisons with Odin there at all) and has grand adventures. At no point do either actor make any concessions to a nordic accent. That's not how films used to work, so prepare yourself for Tony and Kirk making no attempt to lose theirs as they battles across the seas, and do derring do in little more than leather skirts.

The big one.
Spartacus. It's the biggie. We all know the last scene ("I'm Spartacus") but it's easy to forget just how good a film this is. And it's a whopper. Three and a half hours of full-on, cinematic, big-budget, epic scale, old school, Hollywood historical action. With a heart. The story is gripping, the cinematography is dazzling, and it doesn't let up at all. Tony Curtis turns up in this one too ("Do you prefer snails, or Oysters") but nothing can take away from Kirk. He is the definition of a film star in this movie.

This definitely doesn't look like a buff Cary Grant.

Greatest war movie ever?
This one is down to Channel 4. Towards the end of my teenage years Paths of Glory was screened as part of a season on Stanley Kubrick and it quickly became a firm favourite. One of the greatest war movies ever made in my opinion. Certainly one of the best anti-war movies. I'd rate this alongside All Quiet on the Western Front (the original, not the remake that starred John-Boy Walton) as one of the most moving anti-war films I've ever seen. Kirk delivers a performance that is unlike almost anything else I'd seen him in up to that point. One full of pathos, rage, frustration which is ultimately doomed. They (whoever "they" are) should screen this in schools as part of the curriculum, it's mesmerising. And, because I have to have some link to Bladerunner, it also stars Joe Turkel who played Dr Eldon Tyrell in the Ridley Scott classic.

That's it. There are plenty more great Kirk movies (Tough Guys, Saturn 3 and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea all spring to mind) and I'd recommend watching a few to remind yourself how good an actor he was.

Congratulations Kirk, I raise my small bottle of cheap French lager to you!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Now I have a blog... ho, ho, ho.

Christmas films!

Don't act surprised it's December. If, like me, you were seriously annoyed when the shops started selling mince pies in October then the fact that I've waited this long to talk about festive films should be something of a Godsend.

It's that time of year when everyone I work with has the annual debate of what's the best Christmas film ever. The current vogue is to say Die Hard, because it's set at Christmas and, er, because, well, um, aah.... sod it. Die Hard is the best Christmas film ever. Sorry. That's it. Blog over. End of discussion. It's just not Christmas until I've watched Hans Gruber fall off the Nakatomi Building.

This is as Christmassy as I get.
But there are other films too (really, there are!). So I thought I'd give an insight into my family's favourite Christmas movies. After all, the kids aren't old enough to watch Die Hard. Yet.

Christmas Story.

If anyone in America is reading this then you should be with me already. Chances are that my UK friends will have a slim to none knowledge of this one. I was given a copy of this some years ago and apparently it's something of a classic across the pond. It's the story of a young lad who just wants a toy rifle for Christmas (don't we all), set in the 1950's and full of classic Americana it's a great film. And one I only really started to love when I had my own family.

Muppet Christmas Carol.

The kids aren't old enough to watch Scrooged just yet so this makes the list. Rachel has just told me she's never seen it so this will be on the telly for her benefit within the month. Why's it so good? Pretty obvious really: The Muppets, Michael Caine, and the classic Christmas Carol story. I'm pretty sure this is the most faithful adaptation of the book too (maybe).

It's a Wonderful Life.

Cliche! I know, this is like saying Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever made (which it is) but this is a bone-fide, hands down, Christmas classic. I'm not going to lie to you here, we're all friends, I am crying like a baby by the end of this one. It is such a heartwarmingly great movie, there is nothing wrong with it (unless you count the lack of terrorists and sub-machine guns).


Will Ferrell. Dressed as an Elf. I've got nothing else to say here.

Home Alone.

Despite how the rest of his career turned out, this is a fantastic film starring MacCauley Culkin. It's got everything you need in a Christmas movie (except terrorists and sub-machine guns): laughs, tears,   Joe Pesci, slapstick comedy, stupid parents, a scary old man, John Candy, violence, pranks and a tarantula. Better than all of the sequels combined, this is the film that my kids laugh the loudest at.

Naturally there are other great Christmas films that my kids will have to wait a bit longer to watch. I'm not sure they're old enough for Trading Places, Gremlins, Bad Santa, Scrooged, or The Nightmare Before Christmas just yet.

Nor are they ever going to be ready for the "really not a classic, not even remotely" Santa With Muscles starring Hulk Hogan.

I'm just going to leave this here.