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Favourite Films Part 1 August 25, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 1 comment so far

Many years ago -back in the ‘eighties- I jotted down a list of my top ten favourite films. Reading it today is a sobering experience. Was I ever so young and naive to list John Milius’ Conan The Barbarian in there? I guess the list  mostly amounted to the ten films I was watching and re-watching back then; we had a limited access to films in those early videotape days, when the film listings in the Christmas Radio Times was a highlight of the festive season (the thought of being able to actually buy and own a personal copy of a movie even on pan-and-scan videotape was just a dream unless you had more cash than sense).

But still, we have to make the distinction here between ‘Favourite Films’ and ‘Best Films’; there is a big difference. I would hardly pronounce Blade Runner to be the best film ever made, but its certainly my favourite. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since that list of long ago. Favourite films are subjective, chosen for the memories the films engender, the associations we make with those films; favourite films are those guilty pleasures that we can watch and re-watch, while some of the cinematic greats gather dust on our DVD shelves. Lists of favourite films can be like a Rorschach test, a simple list of ten titles that can be terribly more revealing than an hour’s conversation.

So, my favourite films. Reading that old list made me wonder what films I would put in a top-ten now, and how many of that old list would yet persist in the new one. Well, here goes, and we’ll start with just four of them for now-

Blade Runner - simply my favourite film as its the one that had the profoundest effect on me. It remains the most intense cinema experience of my life. So hard to explain what a thunderbolt it was back in 1982, now that we are living in its world so much that the film could seem mundane to contemporary viewers. Back when I had it on tape I watched it and re-watched it so many times. I’ll be the first to admit though, it had more charm back when it was a true cult fave shared by so few, compared to its more recent re-evaluation and acceptance as a classic. Where Blade Runner is concerned, my question is ’where were you in’82?’ and everything follows on from that. Sometimes I’ll even watch the flawed 1982 cut, complete with voiceover and continuity errors,  rather than the Final Cut. Which makes me wonder about Prometheus again- a rather broken film, the broken state of Blade Runner in 1982 (scenes out of order, horrible wires on the Spinners, awful voiceover, woeful ending) kind of puts Prometheus into perspective- regardless of Ridley Scott’s reputation, he’s evidently not averse to releasing films shockingly unfinished.

Vertigo - this film is like a dream-state, like one of those strange Philip K Dick real-world stories set in the 1950s that saw print after his death. It’s 1950s San Francisco is so detached from our contemporary reality that it seems as dreamlike and unreal as something out of a David Lynch film, its evocative score is utterly bewitching, the whole thing mesmerising.  Unique amongst Hitchcock’s body of work, its an arthouse movie in the guise of mainstream thriler, a powerful  study of the destructive power of love and obsession. Made half a century ago.  Mind-boggling. How many of our current ‘hits’ will stand the test of time as well as this film that flopped so many years ago?

Once Upon A Time In America- of all the films in my list, this is likely my least-watched film, not due to any quality issues but rather the sheer enormity of it. This is a long film (getting longer in the restored version hopefully arriving on Blu-Ray next year) but more than that, it’s a very complex and demanding film. You have to pay attention and work with it. And you know, of all the films in my list, this is the one that changes the most, as I grow older and revisit the film. Its weird, but your own age and viewpoint effects how you read and interpret this film. In that sense I guess its truly a work of art, something banded about regards films but often undeserved. So first-time viewers heed my word of warning; don’t approach it expecting a gangster movie. It looks like one, and purports to be one,  but it really isn’t. It’s more a study of the impact of time, mortality, age, so many things. Is any of it real, or is it all an opium dream? Pure Cinema.

Watchmen- including this one might seem surprising, but this remains the last time I left a cinema wide-eyed with a big grin of my face, buzzing from having seen a really great movie. Such experiences are truly rare, and its also the last time I actually went back to see a film twice at the cinema. I know its got its detractors, but for me its just so faithful to the comics, its just wonderful, impossible- I still have to pinch myself, its just too perfect. I mean, I enjoy Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight films, but they are not really Batman films, are they? They aren’t faithful to the comic, but rather are an interpretation of the Batman characters in an ultra-serious real-world scenario. Likewise the Spiderman films aren’t really honest to the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko comics I loved as a kid. The 1960s originals had an innocence and charm unique to their era, which is lost transferring them to contemporary times. I much prefer Spidey swinging over that 1960s New York skyline and fighting waterfront gangsters and living in that unique world. A Spiderman film set in the 1960s visually akin to an episode of Mad Men would no doubt confound most people, but I’d love it. Besides which, it really annoys me how Spidey is so often unmasked in the films. It’s more about seeing the face of an expensive actor than being honest to the comic.  On the subject of faces, the new Dredd film looks interesting and at least more faithful regards keeping the helmet on than the Stallone film was, but the dark over-serious tone of the Dredd trailer hardly seems to fit with the knowing British humour and pathos of the original strip. I know, films are a different medium and should make adjustments but what the hell, in that regard Watchmen is just damned fine and so incredibly faithful to the original, a comic brought to such vivid life, its a joy. The fact that the Directors Cut is even better than what I saw in the cinema is just icing on the cake. I still find it’s existence  hard to believe, every time I watch it. I mean, can you imagine how bad it might have been? One version would have had Arnie as Doc Manhattan for crying outloud. No doubt he would have quipped “I’ll be back!” when he made his departure at films end…

Leone’s extended America in 2013? August 9, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , add a comment

Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America is one of my very favourite films, easily in my top three all-time. I think its a genuine cinema classic, a term widely over-used in this era of hyperbole but truly deserved in the case of this beautiful epic. Its not a film easy to watch, I’ll admit, being dark, violent, poetic, and yes, very long.  An amazingly complex film, it was brutalised, frankly, by its American distributor who released it in a chronological 139-min version (of which critic Pauline Kael commented “ I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a worse case of mutilation”) which at least partly contributed to Leone’s death.  Here in Europe we had a 229-min version that saved Leone’s complex structure of flashbacks and remains a truly great film, but rumours of an even-longer cut have persisted for decades.

Last year, completely out of the blue, it seemed, it was announced that the Leone estate, with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, had begun work on restoring the film to its proper and complete form with some forty minutes of additional footage. In importance, this is somewhat akin to the recent restoration of  Lang’s Metropolis when long-lost footage had been found in Argentina. This newly restored version was premiered at Cannes in May this year; confusingly most reports cited the added footage at being somewhat under the trumpeted forty minutes,  actually something in the region of 25 minutes, but nonetheless most reviewers described much of this footage as very important.

Scheduled to be next shown in Australia at a film festival in Melbourne, The Guardian reported last week that this newly restored and further-extended cut of  Sergio Leone’s  film had now been pulled from circulation for more restoration work. In some ways this is not too much of a surprise, as some people who were fortunate enough to see this version had reported that the additional footage looked to be of workprint quality, generally inferior to the rest of the film.

While any delay of finally seeing the film is unfortunate, I think its a postive step that further restoration work is being done. A recent Q/A session with Warner Bros revealed that Warner do indeed have the rights to the extended version and are looking to release it one day, certainly on DVD/Blu-ray but also possibly in cinemas. No doubt this further restoration work has all of that in mind. There was always the possibility that the restored version might only have ever had an extremely limited distribution on the film festival circuit, particularly if the quality was not of a high enough standard. So anyway, I think this is very welcome and exciting news. Its hoped that this version of the film will return to the festival circuit at the end of the year or early next year. So if all goes to plan, a Blu-ray release in Summer or Autumn of 2013 might well be on the cards. It already ranks in my mind as the  most important release of 2013. Can hardly wait.

Iron Sky August 3, 2012

Posted by ghostof82 in : Film General , 2 comments

“See that UFO? That thars no Martians- thats goddam filthy Nazis!” (no, that line isn’t in this movie, unfortunately).  Iron Sky is an extremely-low budget movie that began as an FX demo reel, the film apparently financed by crowd sourcing, something like public financing by geeks turned on by its clever premise. Unfortunately it turned out to be a clunker hamstrung by a terrible script and what could have been a witty low-budget take on Mars Attacks (and all those b-movies  and comics that Mars Attacks affectionately ridiculed/’homaged’) fails utterly- not so much a ‘b’-movie as a ‘z’-movie I’m afraid. In fact, it’s hard to describe this as a movie at all; it is more of a demo reel of everything wrong with cg-heavy low-budget film-making. Or what happens when a one-line pitch for a script (”Earth invaded by Nazi’s from the moon!”),  well, pretty much stays a one-liner, as if the FX Dept mugged the writers and carried on making the film without them. It’s so lame and  fundamentally amateur in so many ways its just depressing me writing about it but I guess considering its origins it was inevitable.

Thank goodness I saw this on a rental- some poor fools were suckered by the hype and the too-good-to-true-geekfest premise and actually bought the thing. You have to feel sorry for them- after all, how can you go wrong with a premise in which Earth is invaded by Nazi’s from the moon? Its just such a crazy idea it begs to be seen but in no way does it ever live up to the daft possibilities, instead it falls flat on its face in a mess of parody and political farce, ineptly directed, shockingly underwritten. There was a reason why this film only got a single-day cinema release here in the UK.  Quickly rushed onto home video, it’s a  Blu-ray disc better used as a coaster- yes its that bad.

“World War Two ends when we SAY it ends, yankee scum!” (no, that line isn’t in this movie either). So we have a Nazi base in the shape of a swastika on the dark side of the moon, disturbed by a black American Astronaut  (sent by a female Sarah Palin-lookalike president, yes it’s that subtle) who is captured and bleached white (I kid you not) by the evil Nazi’s who decide the time has come to invade Earth but spend three-quarters of the movie getting to it. They just need to steal an iphone first. Social commentary? Comedy? Not here folks. If this is biting satire then I’m a Martian. I’m sorry, but apologists for this film somehow champion it as a definitive anti-establishment movie, a crowd-sourced amateur epic. Well its amateur, certainly. It’s ham-fisted teenage-simplistic politics (America and the rest of the Free World as evil and fascist as the Nazi’s are) might appeal to the spotty pre-exam crowd but give me a break. This film isn’t anywhere near as funny as it thinks it is, or as smart as it’s  fans think it is either. How on Earth, with its wonderful mad premise, this managed not to be hysterically funny is beyond me- I cannot possibly describe how juvenile, how horribly shallow,  how poorly acted, how terribly directed, this film is. It’s the kind of film you get when you let people who have never been to Film school make a film (and if they did go to Film school, well, they obviously weren’t paying attention). Pretty damned terrible, and yes, the poorest film I’ve yet seen this year.

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