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Posts tagged “Ridley Scott

Alien – Covenant (2017)

ac1I think it might have been a mistake to revisit both Alien and Aliens in high-def 4K prior to catching the latest franchise instalment, Alien: Covenant, on the big screen this weekend. They both remain masterpieces of the form, the first one of the greatest horror and SF films ever made, the second arguably the greatest US action film committed to the screen, so how can anything possibly compare? Well, after the glaring failures of Prometheus and the initial trailers for Covenant I had adjusted my expectations accordingly, but we live in hope that Ridley Scott might have one great film left in him, and to all the naysayers that repeat the mantra that the originals can never be bettered I point to the Mad Max reboot which meekly disproves that position as one rare exception to the rule. For cinephiles of my vintage the first couple of films are akin to our first viewings of Star Wars, indelibly seared into our memory of what cinema, and rather more specifically genre cinema could achieve through atmosphere, themes and design. They are corrosively etched into our shared popular culture, a nodal point for all future endeavours to be benchmarked and compared against as long as storytellers look to the indescribable depths of the universe and ponder on what immortal terrors may be lurking between the distant stars. Have they equalled these peaks with this latest mission? No, of course they haven’t but this film isn’t without its merits, while also working as a wider metaphor for all the frustrations of franchise filmmaking in 2017.

ac3The set-up seems gestated in an Alien franchise screenwriting nest, drawing DNA strands from previous instalments in a simmering SF stew. It is the year 2104, and the 15 soul crew of the colony ship Covenant is progressively hurtling toward a remote planet, Origae-6. Some two-thousand colonists are also slumbering in hyper-sleep, monitored by an upgraded android named Walter (Michael Fassbinder), the next generation of synthetic that we previously knew as David in Prometheus, the bio-technical pinnacle of the sinister Weyland Yutani corporation. After a solar flare damages the vessel the crew are thawed, and in the ensuing chaos receive an enticing transmission from a nearby system, revealing a potentially fertile world for their colonising ideology – the planet yields an oxygen atmosphere, acceptable gravity, and a promising array of vegetation and hydration. The missions terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterson) objects to the diversion, but is overruled by acting Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), so with a new course set an away team investigates the source of the message and naturally all hell breaks loose, in all the gruesome glutinous violence that we franchise fans have come to expect.

ac2Let’s seed this review with some of the fertile positives before we reluctantly turn to some of the more problematic elements of Covenant. Firstly, it’s a Ridley Scott joint so naturally the aesthetics are just stunning – the gloomy production design, the tech, wardrobe and uniforms, the typography and cinematography are all state of the art, effortlessly building a believable and tactile future universe which is worthy of a big screen experience alone. I loved the desaturated, misty palette, and no-one shoots a klaxon shrieking, steam bathed strobe-lit bulkhead corridor better than Ridders. The first two-thirds are compelling and for much of the time I had a nagging belief in the back of my head that we might have another great Alien movie on our hands. It takes its time to build the story and assemble the narrative pieces on the chess board, but then like Prometheus the effective set-up and activation of plot nodes stumble into an increasingly fractured climax which – and this is difficult to articulate but bear with me – seemed to be assimilated into Covenant from an entirely different Alien franchise film. It is a very strange shift in pace, emphasis and events, where the supposed incessant demands for CGI set-pieces obliterate the previous control of structure and symbolism. The orignal Alien, and to a lesser extent Aliens orbit some very elemental human characteristics which pollenate across cultures and creeds while impregnating  some unconscious essentials of human nature – the semen flushed fluids of the artificial androids, vague vaginal threat, inverse concepts of male rape and insemination. In opposition Covenant seems neutered, displaying a distinct lack of sexuality in terms of its emphasis or acuity, even the concept of the crew being populated by colonist couples working together as professionals regardless of their gender in some post misogynist landscape is largely supressed and discarded. Now,  for the record this isn’t some SCW agitating, this is a concept that was present in the series from day one if you watch the various documentaries on the development of Alien, even before Ripley was transferred from a male to female antagonist through the script development process. Hell, even Alien III dropped a woman into a isolated culture of rapists and other criminal miscreants, where an ‘Alien’ outlier could at least be understood and tackled, querying where the real threat might be lurking.

covenentWith very little time the characters are hastily sketched, some twitter reviews I’ve scanned have praised Waterman although I can’t agree, she was something of a nonentity on-screen for me with just the bare bones of backstory.  Billy Crudup’s captain makes some early intriguing references to his religious beliefs which is a thread that is promptly discarded, a casualty  of an evolving script development one suspects. I’m not sure why they made Amy Seimetz , initially a competent, spacefaring professional pilot into a hysterical shivering mess so quickly, but it’s nice to see the Mumblecore and Shane Curruth alumni getting some higher profile roles. With the exception of the miscast Danny McBride – I just can’t take him seriously in a dramatic film – the rest of the crew are identikit red-shirts, so it is left to Fassbender to save the day. He plays the synthetic with the same intriguing gravity that he brought to Prometheus, an artificially created specimen with all the just slightly off delivery of speech and figure movement, internally questioning the integrity of his flawed creators*. I just wish the screenwriters didn’t resort to the cliché of crowbarring numerous literature references into his occasionally portentous dialogue beats – Shelley and Keats to name but two, and also a spot of Wagner – when a few allusions to the other Shelley and the Frankenstein myth would have sufficed. Rather more  mischievously I admired the films bloodthirsty intentions, it is graphically violent with shredded puny meatbags being repeatedly ground into mince in a most amusing fashion, making me chuckle in glorious gorehound glee.

ac4The major problems with the Alien franchise, now in its sixth (or eighth) gestation and near four decade hereditary are these – the entire direction of travel, the effort to create some franchise universe is unnecessary, and it is distracting. When they brought in the pathogens, those alabaster hued engineers and the swirling pixels of nanotechnological viruses it just obscured the pathological, elemental, primordial terror of the Xenomorph and its, well, it’s utterly alien nature. Why couldn’t they have just taken the series to earth, or take a petrifying sojourn to the beasts homeworld? Elemental myths and fears of the mystery of creation, of isolation and cognition, gender, evolution and birth swirl around these recent episodes of the series but they are simply not wielded to anything as potent as the sheer terror of the unknown, of lifeforms without remorse or pity subjecting us to their superiority and horrific, incubating lifecycle.  To be fair the artificial life, synthetic philosophising is fascinating from a SF perspective and is contemporary with the growing unease and progression in IRL A.I. evolution, and this gets a lot of play in Covenant which might be this film’s singular saving grace – time, contemplation and a few re-watches are required. Some of the callbacks to early instalments are great fun – I really loved the revival of Jerry Goldsmith’s music cues from the original which is one of the most overlooked triumphs of the original film –  but this now being 2017, and not 1979 or even 1986 there is this hideous necessity to incorporate some ‘thrilling’ action scenes which are also unnecessary and distracting, shattering the screen fidelity and immersion in the world, and dancing around spoilers one plot development late in the film is so spectacularly obvious it’s almost insulting when they detonate it. It’s funny, I initially was a lot more forgiving of Covenent when I exited the theatre, I mostly had a good time and enjoyed the experience, but gathering my thoughts here has exposed the glaring errors of what could have been. In summary then I’d rate this as on par with Alien III, flawed, irritating but still pulsing with some of that glutinous, gruesome fascination that the first two masterpieces incubated. With three more instalments already in the works I’ll keep a flickering flame lit amidst  a melancholy musing over what course we might be on if they’d let Blomkamp have a crack at this still fertile, but frustratingly ferbile franchise;

* Maybe Fassbender could get together with Scarlett Johannson’s succubi in Under The Skin in some weird SF sidebar mythology. And fuck. This is how my genre crossover mind works. Professional help is being sought……


Alien – Covenant (2017) Full Trailer

Jesus Christ on a xenomorph this is looking increasingly wretched – maybe like how Promethea had a great trailer and was bad, this has a bad trailer and is….good? Yeah, I know, I’m clutching at interstellar straws. The casting doesn’t help either, I just can’t take Danny McBride nor James Franco seriously in this universe, and nice to see the fate of one character spoiled already. …yes I’m there opening weekend ’cause its Alien, but it will be be arms firmly folded and legs crossed, awaiting to be impressed;

Oh, and that whole ‘post-credits-sting-action-beat’ technique thing can also go fuck a duck….

The Martian (2015)

mars1Well, you can’t buy publicity like that now can you? Before we get into this years solar powered SF surprise I think we need to have a little chat about Ridley Scott. I almost went to see Exodus last year purely because Sir Ridders was on viewfinder duties, there wasn’t much else out that particular weekend but the poor reviews still kept me away. For a man who began his career with the gorgeous The Duellists and then crafted two masterpieces to say his recent roll-call is a litany of  critical if not commercial failures might be understating things a little, just consider this rogues gallery of indiscriminate antics – The Counselor. Body Of Lies. Robin Hood. Exodus: Gods & Kings and of course Prometheus, undoubtedly one of the biggest disappointments of the decade. There was a time when I’d go and see his movies at the cinema sight unseen, which is why I have seen 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, Hannibal and Matchstick Men on the big screen, but the recent descent has sworn me off giving him the benefit of the doubt, for one obvious reason. I’ve had the winds taken out of my sails by Kermode on his recent review show where he articulated my precise thoughts when it comes to this problem, that Scott is unquestionably one of the greatest visual stylists of his generation, but he consistently fails to shoot a good script. This repeated omission curses his films from the embryonic stage with lacklustre narrative nerve or consistent characters, marking his movies as often aesthetically arousing but incredibly frustrating experiences. Strong visual techniques can carry a lot of a films water given the intrinsic emphasis of the medium, but not a two and a half hour character orientated narrative, where you have to care and empathize with the protagonist from the initial purr of the projector. Finally however Scott seems back on track with The Martian which has done spectacular business over the weekend, and the headline is that this is his best film since Gladiator way back in 2000.

mars3We are a mere ten or twenty years hence where Matt Damon stars in a curious sister film to another serious SF expedition which orbited multiplexes last year, although the extra vehicular activities are restrained to our own local solar system this time around. Diving head first into the narrative we’re barely given time to digest a procession of awe-inducing Mars travelogues before we zero in our principal Mark Watney, senior botanist of a seven crew scientific excursion to the Red Planet headed by Mission Captain Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). Before our orientation can commence a cataclysmic storm overwhelms the camp, causing the astronauts to flee to their drop ship and exit the lethal atmosphere, linking up with the sub-orbital ship the Hermes which will sustain them on their 12 month mission to get home. During the frantic exfiltration disaster strikes when Mark is struck by storm blasted debris, presumed dead in the confusion and left behind, a global martyr for man’s incurable appetite for progress and adventure. When he awakes battered and bruised some hours later Mark faces a terrible situation – with dwindling resources and a severe diet he has at best mere months to live, with a four-year window for any rescue mission even if Houston realised he was still alive. It’s a SF picture in the same slipstream as Apollo 13, ContactGravity or Moon, of human indviduals embarking on fraught and fragile missions, rather than the melee of pew-pew guns, EVA dogfights and intergalactic colourful alien species of most space opera and comic-book cloned fare. Based on the popular novel by Andy Weir the movie pivots on an expositional technique of having Mark speak to camera in a series of visual log entries, equipping screenwriter Drew Goddard with a neat technique in communicating a wealth of plot exposition, as events back on Earth slowly challenge the true failures and demise of the mission…..

mars2There is a desultory cargo manifest of filmmakers throwing their cameras into the unforgiving desert environments of our neighbouring barren spheroid, and many have been broken by its inhospitable climate and dramatic potential, resulting  in some of the worst films of their career – De Palma’s Mission To Mars, Carpenters Ghosts Of Mars and the director of Red Planet’s entire career was lost and he never made another picture. But we’ve never quite seen the planet presented like this before and the key concept here is total immersion, as Ridley Scott’s keen visual acuity blesses the picture with a rich, seething atmosphere that ironically the real planet chemically lacks. The blend of backdrops and sets is utterly seamless and you can’t detect the CGI joins or digital bonding agent, the sets and various visual planes blurring into a cohesive digital coalesce, I saw this in 3D and my eyes thanked me for such a rich and satisfying feast. As the breadth of his predicament becomes more tangible you feel connected to Marc and his desperate tussle with the elements, with the three core periodic ingredients that we on terra firma take for granted – air, water, food – being as precious as any commodity imaginable. Quite simply Mars is breathtakingly beautiful in its unsullied, silent majesty, but rather than muse over the scale of the infinite the film has a definitive comedic tone, it’s actually quite flippant in its overall purpose, with plenty of scope for comedic asides and relief from the desperate and almost inevitable death sentence. If you have a fetish for masterfully engineered corridors, zero-G lifeboat exercises and state of the art VR interfaces then you will quite frankly be in 7th heaven, the film is a bukkake of ergonomic design porn, and from these perspectives alone a wealth of behind the scenes documentaries on the production design and scientific baseline evidence and prophecy for future missions is a must for the Blu-Ray release – I’d be fascinated to see exactly how much of Mars’s known topography has been computer extrapolated from existing satellite and survey photography.

mars4Damon generates enough star wattage and charisma to carry the majority of the film as a likable and resourceful guy, although lines like ‘I’m gonna science the shit out of this’ really should have been hurled out of the airlock during the quality control inspection. Although The Martian is primarily his film and he dominates vast swathes of the narrative Scott has also assembled an impressive cast back home, with particular standouts being Chiwetel Ejiofor as a perennially concerned NASA boffin, a sadly underused Kristen Wiig as a beleaguered press officer and contrary to the trailers indications Jeff Daniels not adopting the evil bureaucrat role, thankfully the film avoids those atonal clichés, heck even Sean Bean gets a significant role against type and doesn’t get brutally murdered even once.  There are some issues with structure as it circulates through the three areas of operation  – mark’s marooned scrabble for survival, the politics at mission control and the scientists the Hermes return home which is particularly short-changed by only attracting emphasis during the third act when we really should have got to know some of the these other characters beforehand. Some cynical sorts might find some of the MacGyver or A-Team contrivances hard to entertain, particularly in the final breathless race against time, but by the time we’d got to this point I was thoroughly invested in the tale, despite the obvious decisions to evade any of the more serious psychological implications of being marooned  in order to appeal to as wide a worldwide demographic as possible. There is no emphasis on the crushing alienation and loneliness that Mark would suffer as the only sentient life within a 2,000 million mile radius, nor the implications of his starvation diet, other than Damon losing a few pounds and growing an unruly beard to indicate he might be getting to the end of his good natured tether. Ridley Scott usually has an undercurrent of darkness in his films no matter the genre or source material, the black dog of depression which he has spoken about and which for obvious reasons we know runs in his family, so this might be his first completely unalloyed sunburst of optimism for both individual and our collective species future, with scientific imperatives superseding governmental ideology and nationalistic boundaries, a common humanity In that light The Martian is a film about ingenuity, human endurance and courage, of survival in the face of implacable obstacles, how intellectual and scientific disciplines can still deliver miracles in such a secular age;

The Martian (2015) Trailer

Heh, I wonder how many on-line denizens are going to make some ‘hilarious’ mash-up’s of this and a certain recent high-profile SF film, and inadvertently ’cause a ruckus with the spoiler brigade?

Ridley Scott really hasn’t made anything above mediocre or distinctly average level status for decades has he? Christ, the last film of his I actively enjoyed was 2003’s Matchstick Men but then I’m a sucker for con-artist flicks. I re-watched Prometheus (so help me god) a couple of weeks ago and it remains, to coin a scholarly term ‘fucking rubbish’, so I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up for this, even with Drew Daredevil, Alias, Buffy, Angel & Cabin In The Woods Goddard at mission scribe control….

Well, after being a little dismissive I have to say that ‘proper’ trailer has perked my interest, Gravity meets All Is Lost by the looks of things, although they didn’t have to give us all the bloody story beats through to the third act climax in three bloody minutes. It also looked pretty, whatever his failings Ridders always knows how to shoot an atmosphere (if you’ll excuse the unintended pun), so for pure visual ‘spectacular’ I guess I’m in…….

Blade Runner – Final Cut (2007) Reprise

br1‘Memories….you’re talking about memories‘ – We’ve been here before of course, through two generations of Voight Kampff interrogation, but I think you’ll be willing to undergo a third assault on one of my all time favourite films – it must be edging out 2001: A Space Odyssey for sheer volume of Menagerie coverage by now. When yet another big-screen revival of the SF classic was announced I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t have a great deal to say from yet another screening, yet I dutifully ambled over to the Prince Of Wales cinema this week, handed over my £8 and scrambled upstairs for another trip to the Stygian Los Angeles of November 2019. Within moments of the opening credits my laughable concerns were obliterated in the face of the masterpiece – and let’s be clear with this, that this is a masterpiece –  as the film continues to mature and evolve like the highest proponents of the craft. Given that I’ve covered the familiar ground in those previous pieces I’m not going to be retracing the old ‘did you know the original cut closed with outtakes from The Shining?‘, ‘I wonder how the film would have turned out if original cast choice Dustin Hoffman shot the Deckard role?’  or ‘did you know that William S. Burroghs optioned the name title Blade Runner from one of his stories?’ anecdata which should be perfectly clear and general knowledge to you by now, instead I’ll formulate some thoughts around  some specific themes which have gloamed like those fiery refinery belches through that future industrial smog.  It’s fair to say that this entire on-line enterprise probably wouldn’t exist without Blade Runner, it was the first film I really developed an obsessive fascination with, and would watch every day after school on an increasingly degraded VHS copy that preserved an inferior ITV pan & scan transmission. Just to dilute any concerns about my mental health I would often be reading or doing homework as it thundered away in the background, so I’d look up and pay 100% attention only to the essential sequences –  the opening crawl, the Tyrell / Batty confrontation, Zhora’s knockers, the final chase and soliloquy, and, well, yes the list goes on. I’m not exaggerating when I proclaim that I’ve seen this film well over 100 times, so it is quite difficult to divorce yourself from knowing every anecdote from every component, of being able  to predict the sequence and contour of every scene and mentally mirror the dialogue ad nauseam, but I have tried my best to approach this with a fresh 2015 perspective in order to reassess the film another eight years on from its previous generation. So c’mon now, abandon those noodles, let’s crank up some music and take the spinner for a stroll, and let me show what I’ve seen with your eyes. Or something.

deckard‘Captain Bryant toka. Me ni omae yo’ – Oh god bless you internet, there I was wondering if anyone had translated Gaff’s dialogue delivered in that future urban argot – just another small ingredient of world building which adds nourishing texture to the piece – and of course they fucking have. That urban mood of the city as a living, breathing omnipresent entity evokes noir which takes us neatly to the first area I want to explore – genre, and rather more specifically genre hybrids. The mix of neo-noir and SF in Blade Runner has simply never been bettered (yes, I’m including Godard’s overrated Alphaville in that equation), and if you disassemble the constituent parts it’s rather a strange, seemingly incongruous combination. There are plenty of SF action movies, or action-comedies, cross pollenating to horror-comedies and so forth, but taking the futurism and predictive qualities of SF and then crouching those in the mean streets of urban malaise, of crimson lipped duplicitous dames and existential dread seems like a volatile, indigestible mixture. It’s not just the 1940’s costume design influences in the film, the neon-scorched & smoke saturated streets or Rachael’s Joan Crawford influenced Mildred Pierce hairstyles and power suits, beyond the visual trappings Hampton Fancher and David Peoples script also lavishes attention on tone. World-weary gum-shoe who is constantly drunk in the film? Check. Doomed, transgressive romance with a dame shielding a host of mysteries? Check. Powerful industrialist falling prey to the criminal elements of society he is in part responsible for unleashing? triple check. Thematically these iconographic contours refract and intensify against each other in some genre generated echo chamber, with the wielding of cloaked intentions and identity within an environment of moral and social disintegration, of fate and time dictated by some personified and malignant entity, with the oriental elements even suggesting the post-war occupation of Japan which was captured in the first cycle of noirs such as Sam Fuller’s  The Crimson Kimono or House Of Bamboo.

blade1‘Also extraordinary things; revel in your time’ – Just seeing this on the big screen again with roughly 25% extra visual information than the pan-scan TV versions I was weened on never fails to dazzle and inspire, Ridley populating and cramming every pixel with visual information, from Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paul’s retro-futurist production design and Jordan Cronenwith’s caliginous cinematography. The film feels timeless like many other classics, it doesn’t have the historical gradient of many of its contemporaries and isn’t a glaring product of American cinema of the 1980’s like the Schwarzenegger or Stallone testosterone traducements. Perhaps this is because the themes and queries spliced into the film at every level are timeless – what is it to be human? How long have we got on this mortal realm? Can we create artificial intelligence? If so, then what are the consequences of igniting that Promethean fire? Even the scrubbed SFX stands up to scrutiny apart from some of those cityscape mattes framed outside Deckard’s apartment, and the post-modern fashions, the cultural and social coding is decades ahead of its time unlike similar fare which operate in the slipstream of Reganomics and the cold war – The Thing, Tron,  E.T. & Turkey Shoot – just to pick a few contemporaries from 1982. It’s also not just the 1940’s inflected future which Ridley restricted his influences upon, very little mention has ever been made about the Louis XIV inspired inner sanctum of Tyrell regaled in a Midas gold sheen, or J.F. Sebastian’s apartment cluttered with La Belle Époque garbed clockwork mannequins and prototypes, nor the New Romantic baroque decadence of the West Side bar where Deckard  fatally meets Zhora. I also noted that we never even get an establishing shot of this potentially lucrative location in the sense of fashion and design textures, an oversight unheard of in todays visual language of storytelling spectacle, all of which suggests that Ridley still had some detritus from the The Duellists to shake out of his viewfinder.

br3‘We’re not computers Sebastian…we’re physical’ – For the first time seeing the film projected I felt a real, palpable emotional core with the character of Rachel, and not simply because she was one of my first and  deepest screen crushes. Her function and plight is the emotional centrifuge of the film, the rostrum of simulacra and memory orbiting her character like a slowly descending spinner, and I was actually moved by her plight rather than taking a swim in her dreamy, chameleon eyes…….oh, I’m sorry, I erm, I got a little distracted there. Like HAL in 2001 she is the only empathic character in the film – Deckard is little more than a gum-shoe cypher who drinks constantly, gets beaten up and shoots women in the back – she is the engineered creature who enjoys anything like a dramatic arc, and her and HAL’s digital constitution is one of the great ironies of these twinned films, proclaimed as ‘more human than human’ by Tyrell as the corporate mission statement. Similarly Daryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer portrayal as curious adult/child hybrids given their emotional immaturity, it’s just so wonderfully pitched and played in comparison to the I.AM. {BZZT} A. ROBOT. dimensions of artificial intelligence on the big screen, and I’ll bet you digital dollars to differential doughnuts that Pris was a central influence on Scarlett Johannson in Under The Skin. Speaking of influences the films programming of Ex Machina is evidence of Blade Runners continual influence over thirty years later, a cognitive take on the major scientific and cultural issues of the day, but it was also the romance scenes in Deckard’s apartment which seem to have matured with a melancholic method, apart from the ‘no’ meaning ‘yes’ aspect of the seduction scene which is kinda uncomfortable in 2015. I’m not going to labour the point about the film not existing in almost as many cuts as the replicants themselves – 1982 domestic and international cuts, 1992 directors cut, the 2007 Final Cut and the original Work-Print – but here is a comparison of the opening and closing versions of each iteration;

The lights have expired, Vangelis prismatic score swells to establish mood and atmosphere, the credits leisurely spool across the retina as the only sensory information in a darkened auditorium, acclimatizing us into this incredibly tactile world immersion that is due to commence. I don’t want to be that guy but most movies today could take a lesson in from Blade Runner in terms of patience, of not plunging straight into the action with a barely conceived title sequence (which is an art unto itself of course), of trusting the audience and securing their undivided attention. Controversially I actually prefer the original ending, even if it doesn’t make narrative sense in the abstract that all these souls would be suffering in the LA metropolis hellhole and not living out in the Eden like mountains, except isn”t that what people do in the real world? Do they live in shanty towns in South America and Africa instead of foraging for sustenance out on the wilderness? No, we are social creatures that flock together so that criticism never made sense. I am hoping to see the original cut, either domestic or European on the big screen some day (naturally I leapt at the chance of seeing the Directors Cut in 1992) but I suspect that Warner Brothers and Ridders have pulled a Lucas and removed prints from circulation. It’s just a hunch as even on my social media feeds of numerous cinephiles and critics from across the globe no-one has ever mentioned, not once in almost a decade, of going to see the original 1982 version on the big screen.

br4‘Are you for real?’ – Must we reassess the great question that has raged for years – is Deckard a replicant? My current status with this perennial question is succinct and to the point – who cares? It doesn’t fucking matter, and no matter what Ridders said in that interview the question must and should remain opaque, uncertain and undefinable like the very notion of consciousness and moral authority probed in the movie. Does it benefit to have a clear-cut explanation of  what the monolith ‘means’, of the final shot in Haneke’s Hidden and all the queries that raises, or what ‘Rosebud’ really refers to in Kane? The beauty and strength of these inquiries on an artistic and cognitive level lies in the mind of the beholder, as you experience, digest and mull over the work in alignment with your experiences and ideology. Once an artist releases his or her creation into the cultural market then they lose any intellectual authority over that work, other than their specific intentions which are usually fascinating and instructive, but can chain the work to a single interpretation of meanings and mediations. I’m not saying that Deckard’s status isn’t an interesting query to pose and consider when thinking about the text, especially when considering some specific moments in the film (so why does Bryant have to explain to Deckard, a Blade Runner with numerous years experience exactly what a Nexus-6 is? Other than the scene being a clunky screenwriting exercise in audience exposition of course) although the sequel is guaranteed to focus on this question with diminishing and discordant results. It’s these uncertainties, these intangible signifiers that also bleed into the animal extinction and environmental catastrophe of movie world 2019. The notion that the vast majority of animal life has been exterminated is front and center in PKD’s source text but embroidered into the DNA of the film without oblique reference, no character ever wields clumsy dialogue stating ‘of course all animal life has been rendered extinct since the atomic wars of the late 1990’s’, instead it is just another factor of the world which raises the temperature of the artificial and evolutionary, of science advancing to the status of replacing but not regenerating, an ideal which is as prophetic in 1982 as it remains today.

br5Wow,…you’ve got some….really nice toys here’ – The tender streak of blood that Roy brushes across Pris’s cheek as he gives a final kiss, mirroring the drops of blood spiraling from Deckard’s wounds into his neat vodka after the encounter with Leon. The mannequin sitting at the bar with a bottle of J&B during the final chase scene (1:42) which I had not noticed in the aforementioned 100 viewings which could be another piece of evidence of Deckard as  an artificial alcoholic construction, you can’t see it well in that poor quality clip but it is there, yet more proof that further viewings can still yield intellectual treasures. The fact that Pris and Roy’s incept date seen in the opening of the film are a mere nine and eight months away) which I’m sure some cinephiles will be celebrating on-line, in the most otaku levels of fandom. The deleted scene which is so strongly reminiscent of the look and design of Alien that you’ve got to conclude that they operate in the same universe, perhaps with Weyland Yutani and the Tyrell corporation as warring competitors who in true cyberpunk fashion have supplanted government and civil society as the organizing forces of culture and capitalism across the colonized systems – if anyone from  the Villeneuve camp is reading this then yes I am available for script duties. The fact that this exists and is now my favored background writing inspiration. So finally, once again, the finale. It’s not just the speech, the now iconic addition to the greatest soliloquies of all time speech, no for me it’s the whole sequence from Deckard entering Sebastian’s apartment through to the smash-cut ending which is up there with the greatest sequences ever committed to polyethylene nitrate.  The pacing and texture is perfectly engineered, it is exciting and saturated with apprehension, giving us more vital yet abstract elements of the abandoned, saturated cityscape interiors suffering in almost abstract decay – just like Batty. Most importantly it has the emotional pay-off, the villain of the piece becoming transformed through mercy and expressing more humanity than all the other characters in the film combined – not bad for some dumb skin-job. It’s these tensions of story and theme that elevate Blade Runner to masterpiece status powered by its revolutionary visual conceptions, soundtrack and atmosphere, the extraordinarily prescient social, architectural and design predictions, a future world on-screen which straddles the immense landmarks of Lang’s Metropolis through to Kubrick’s 2001. The influence remains overwhelming as the themes evolve with each passing year – isn’t this wonderful – like Gaff’s closing ambiguous statement ‘it’s too bad she won’t live, but then again who does?’;

Blade Runner (2007) Final Cut: Re-Release

After the re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey last year and a re-release of Blade Runner this year I have to wonder – have the BFI been intercepting my calls? Two of my all time favourite films given another airing in subsequent years? All we need now is a John Carpenter season, now that would be….something. Here’s the new trailer, having seen the film three times at the flicks I doubt I’ll bother with another sojourn to LA circa 2019;

Oh fuck it, who am I kidding, of course I’ll go and see it again – I just can’t help myself. It might be fun to give it another pass and throw some thoughts together for 2015, in the light of the sequel announcement and the imminent calendar catching up with the meta-narrative – just four years and eight months to go. You know what though, what would really get me excited is a screening of the original 1982 domestic or European cut, as I’ve never seen either version on the big screen, voiceover n’all – that would be completest paradise. Here’s a reasonably written overview, for the best fun skip to the comments for some quite hilarious trolling……

Scott Free

Kids today eh? They bloody don’t know they’re born with their modern conveniences and century of cinema lore to absorb, easily absorbed through numerous streaming and on-demand entertainment options. Well, you may have been wondering why their has been radio silence on two recent high-profile and DNA related announcements, the prospect of a new Alien movie with Neil Blomkamp at the helm following the warmly received pre-production artwork, and the confirmation that Blade Runner 2 is progressing with Ford returning to the Deckard role. Exciting, and infuriating;

Well, apart from querying if this is how every future project will lever a greenlight going forward – get some outline production design concepts and sketched material together, ‘accidentally’ leak them through social media and gauge the fan reaction – well apart from that I’m hesitantly embracing the first and still rejecting the latter. I think Blomkamp has certain talents which makes this a potentially effective hybrid of material and master, he is skillful at SFX and futuristic world building, and design is absolutely crucial to any successful Alien film.  In fact if you’ve got that right then I reckon you’re 50% of the way there, the creatures, ship designs and planetary environment, I just hope he gets some decent screenwriters to bolster the mechanics and mileau which he badly botched by his own admission in Elysium. Final word – anything possible to eradicate the memory banks of the AvP atrocities is welcome around this sub-orbital system, and Ripley deserves a decent send-off.

Moving onto to our Nexus 6 chums the news of director Denis Villeneuve being attached to the project is an eye raiser, his earlier films (and one wonders if the doubling in this film was one reason he got the gig) were great but I think there is one overwhelming obstacle – the pyramid shadow of the original. Look, I’m not of the adolescent age where any interference of franchise or previous material sends me off on some nerd-rage, quite the contrary in fact, as we’ll always have the original regardless of the remake/reimagining/reboot, and the second generation might be an entertaining picture.

Does Carpenters The Thing seem diminished by infected osmosis due to the terrible prequel? No, of course not. Yet all that said I fail to see what they could possibly do to eclipse the original, as all everyone will be debating another rehash of the whole ‘oooh, is he a Replicant?’ question. Even with half of the original screenwriting talent back on board (and the other writer is the genius behind Green Lantern – awesome!) and Tyrell, Sean, Daryl, Eddie, Roy and even Bryant still defying their termination dates around this sounds like a clusterfuck of epic proportions. A new film set in that same exhausted 2019 world? Maybe. Deckard being back? No, I really don’t think so – some things should be kept sacred. Now, who’s gonna get cracking on that Legend reboot?

Exodus (2014) Trailer

Hmm, this slipped out rather quietly, after Noah are we going to be subjected to another cycle of biblical guff? Still with Sir Ridders behind the viewfinder I’m sure it’ll be visually impressive, if nothing else;

The Man Whose Feet Expanded….

An Unexpected Party indeed, for tonight I shall be feasting on the expanded The Hobbit: There & Back Again movie Blu-Ray which has just dropped through the letterbox. It should be interesting to see the additional footage as with the LOTR inflated editions, and there is a merciless nine hours of production material to wade through – say what you will of Jackson’s bloated epics but from a cinephile perspective the filmmaking insight should be precious;

Hopefully I shouldn’t be to exhausted for tomorrow’s plans, a BFI wedding visit which I plan to precede with the divisive The Councillor. I don’t think I’ve seen a film so argumentatively split critical opinion since, well, that  film which we no longer discuss, but a combination of a Cormac McCarthy script, an A grade cast and Ridders visual sheen demands big screen consideration. That trailer is pretty uninspiring though….. 

Prometheus (2012) Redux

302__320x240_043012-prometheus-internationalPeople have often asked me why I don’t produce a ‘ten-worst’ movie list alongside my annual round-up. The answer to this is relatively straightforward I think, I mostly just can’t find the inspiration to construct ten more pieces on something which is evidently not worthy of merit, and even more simply life is just too short. Now that’s not to say writing a review of a bad film can’t be as entertaining as heaping on the praise – I hugely enjoyed putting the knife into the horrific failure that was Dark Shadows for example – but it’s just a little negative and I kinda see my job here as much more aligned with identifying the films you should strive to see, rather than scaring people off things which they are potentially pre-destined to enjoy anyway. If I have convinced one person to go see a movie that they wouldn’t have seen then my work is done, and if recent feedback is anything to go by then I’m proud to admit this lofty goal is occasionally achieved. However I am going to make one violation of this rule and return to the scene of the crime for Prometheus, one of the biggest disappointments of the past five or more years rather than just one of the worst of the year, which has received a lengthy re-appraisal from a series of essays now doing the rounds;

I knew precisely when my heart plummeted and I realised we were entering hostile territory with Prometheus, after that mysterious opening (and mysterious is usually good) when they arrived on the planet and one of the scientists removed his helmet citing some ridiculous comment  about ‘experiencing this moment organically and taking a leap of faith’ or whatever nonsense he spouted. Right, so let me get this straight, you’ve the emissaries of the human race and the prospect of any viral or microbiological infection on either side hasn’t crossed your mind you dick? I knew then, straight away, that we were in serious trouble.

It’s filmmaking 101 really, when you make a film you have a tone, a particularly fragile beast to master especially when at the helm of a ‘world building’ picture as befits SF projects of this large and unwieldy sort. We can accept interstellar travel and advanced robotic AI, those functions of the universe that you accept as logical and embedded in the films core, but when characters start acting like total idiots, completely antithetical to their profession or personality then you know the script has gone seriously awry, and Prometheus is absolutely infected with these inconsistencies, and seeming entirely missing scenes and sequences that have been sacrificed on the altar of ‘pacing’ which is a cloudy way of saying this had to be short enough to maximise screening revenues at the expense of the film as its own entity.

Finally, as we bask in the fading cheer of this heartwarming festive season I’d just like to bookmark the year with a miniscule plea to my fellow cinema patrons following a 2D viewing of The Hobbit with my mother yesterday afternoon. The film was still good, I picked up a few more things I hadn’t noticed but the fucking twat of a child sitting next to me for 75% of the film detonated the worst viewing experience I’ve suffered all year. This little fucker was afflicted with a severe (and potentially terminal if I see him again) case of fidgeting, getting up and obscuring the view at core points, talking, slurping, and rustling for roughly two hours of the screening. So, from the cadres of respectful movie-goers to this fucking bozos parents – and to be clear I’m talking about an eleven, twelve-year-old here not a toddler or anything – then may I humbly suggest that if you can’t raise your fucking child to fucking pay other fucking people fucking respect in fucking public then perhaps you should fucking consider a fucking vasectomy you selfish fucking ignorant fucking clowns. Merry fucking Christmas.