Innocence recalled

I’ve just watched Blade Runner for about the fifth time. This time is was the Directors ‘Final’ cut, but I reckon I’ve watched every version of it out there, as well as an excellent documentary about it too. This is a movie I should love. It’s got a lot of my favourite elements – vaguely sci-fi set in a dystopian future. It’s got Ridley Scott directing and Harrison Ford starring. Rutget Hauer is great in this also. Production design is great, and the photography eye-catching. The story itself is fascinating, and even includes a philosophical angle of the like I warm to. Somehow though it’s never done it for me. I keep watching thinking one day it’ll just click for me. It hasn’t though, and I know now that it won’t. It’s a pity, because I so want to love it. I don’t think it’s bad, I even think it’s pretty good in some general sense, I just don’t find the greatness in it the elements would suggest, and which so many critics have given it.

There was a rash of movies made of Phillip K. Dick novels and stories in the eighties. They’re all classic, very imaginative stories, but you go back to the source material and they’re a little disappointing. Blade Runner, for example, was based on a book by Dick called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Now there’s a difference between book and movie, as there so often is, and in many ways you understand why. Dick had great story-lines, but I don’t know if he executed them in print as well as he could have. The movies solve that problem by taking the plot genius, and building their own narrative around it.

What else have I watched lately?

The Place Beyond the Pines was a movie lauded by everyone I spoke to. I found it pretty disappointing. I thought it didn’t chere as it should have. The story is clear enough, they just didn’t join together as neatly as they needed to.

I enjoyed The East more. An interesting and intelligent movie starring one of the more interesting and intelligent actresses going around today, Brit Marling. One of my favourite films of last year was written and directed by her, Another Earth.

Pacific Rim? A bit hoky, but I love watching Idris Elba in whatever he appears. A kids movie really.

World War Z is an interesting one. This had a lot of truly spectacular scenes and is one of my favourite movie genres. It’s entertaining, but never really scary like a good zombie movie should be. I thought it resolved to quickly and easily as well. I enjoyed it enough, but wouldn’t watch it again.

Star Trek: Into Darkness was generally excellent in a light-entertainment mode. Not profound, not anything that will resonate with you for any period of time, but well made and good solid fun.

I watched an old Danny Kaye movie yesterday – Knock On Wood – and it was a joy. The joy is twofold. Danny Kaye to start with, such an entertaining performer. There is a nostalgic joy also. This was made well before I was born, 60 years ago this year. Portrayed on-screen is a world familiar in general, but distant in the sense that it has an innocence and happy naivety seemingly absent from the world today. It’s hard to understand why exactly. The second world war was not long finished, and with the full horrors of that exposed to the world at large.

It’s simplistic to think that movies such as this – and there were many – were an antidote to that horror. In the same way you might suggest that movies such as this marked an era when people believed that the likes of Hitler had been defeated for all time – and that we won. The alternative suggestion is that these movies were intended as an entertaining diversion from the realities of the day. From this vantage point it often seems society was generally more naive in those days, and happy to be so – yet this is also at the beginning of the cold war, of ‘duck and cover’, the Rosenberg trials, the McCarthy witch-hunt.

I find myself watching movies of this era wondering at the times they were made in. Many of the movies are expertly crafted, and beautifully written. But even something like Rear Window, which I watched again recently for the umpteenth time, has a sinister story at its heart but told in whimsical fashion. I’m probably wrong, but I can’t recall a movie from that era you might call ‘serious’. I’m sure I am wrong.

Amusing, entertaining movies are made today, but they’re a lot more slick, and absent any of the heart-warming folksiness of a Danny Kaye movie. We do clever, we don’t do warm. We glop the sentiment on a regular basis (Hollywood does anyway), but the authentic is less easily found.

Art ultimately is a reflection of the society of the time, and that’s more true of film than of anything else. We’re not naive anymore, and we don’t care to be. We’re cynical, we know too much, and we wont be fooled. Polish counts for a lot. That’s why I am drawn to movies like Danny Kaye’s – because they strike a chord unplucked today. I recall my innocence, and it delights me.



What to see

Caught some previews the other day for a few of the big movies being released this year. Some looked great, others just meh, and some stupid. 21 Jump Street anyone? Seems to have little reference to the original series, and looks dumb. What I want to see..

Prometheus. Wanted to see this right from the moment I heard about it. Alien and Aliens are two of my favourite movies, and this is the prequel if you like, 30 years after the original. I like Ridley Scott too, particularly his early stuff. He has a striking and distinctive visual style, and makes the sort of movies generally I want to see.

The Bourne Legacy. If we’re talking about great movie series then the Jason Bourne movies are right up there. For non-stop action and adventure they’re hard to beat. The first was the best I think, but the other two pretty good also. No Matt Damon in this one, and so no Jason Bourne. Instead this version features on another Bourne-like operative played by Jeremy Renner. Wasn’t sure of Renner as action hero, but the shorts look great. Definitely on my must watch list.

The Hunger Games. I figure this is a movie on many people’s lists, especially those late teens readers of the original book. I’m no longer in my teens, but I listened to the book and thought it was a great concept well-executed. I enjoyed it, but not sufficiently to read any of the subsequent books. The movie looks ok. I could be completely wrong, but I’m not sure about the casting of the lead character, Katniss Everdeen. In the book she comes across as a resolute and resourceful girl, somewhat independent and verging on the tomboy. It’s a role plenty will have opinions on, but in the short preview I saw she looked more glamorised than I would like, and with a different look. Could be wrong, and it is all subjective.

The House in the Woods. This is here because it looks interesting and different, and because Joss Whedon is behind it. No blockbuster maybe, but interesting all the same. Has Chris Hemsworth in it too, and he has great presence. And he’s Aussie. Coincidentally his younger brother Liam is in The Hunger Games.

Other movies on now I’m yet to catch up with but look forward too are George’s latest, The Descendants, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy based on the famous John Le Carre novel. Both have good reviews, and my type of film. Doubtless other movies will appear to pique my interest, but – and notwithstanding some disappointed expectations – it seems a more interesting batch of movies than in previous years.


Robin Hood

Cover of "The Duellists"Cover of The Duellists

Whatever happened to Ridley Scott? He's not everbody's favourite film-maker, but I reckon he's made some crackers, particularly early on. Alien is as good a sci-fi movie as you're ever going to see, Bladerunner, a cult movie in anyone's book, and the likes of Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, American Gangster are pretty good movies too. Once upon a time he was a director whose movies I looked forward to seeing.

Other than Alien my favourite movie of his was his very first, The Duellists. It's a great movie based upon a Joseph Conrad story about two officers in Napoleon's army who fight a series of duels over the span of 20 years in different countries and through the rise, fall, and temporary return of Napoleon. He was an inknown director at the time and he cast as his two leads a couple of less fashionable actors – Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine – who proved very effective. Though it was his first go-round as a big movie director the film had stylistic imprint of Scott – beautiful to look at, lovely composed scenes, rich attention to detail. In the years to come that was to become his hallmark, and what made his films so distinctive.

I couldn't help but thinking of The Duellists as last night I watched Robin Hood, his latest movie. Somewhere in between he lost it big time. Though it looked lush The Duellists was a small movie by an untried director. It was, in a sense, a boutique movie, if not quite an art film. It had the broad sweep of Scott's work, but was held together by small parts and rich characters. None of this is evident in Robin Hood.

Robin Hood stands in many ways as symbolic of his decline as a film-maker. It is both over-blown and bloated, and pretty shallow. A lot of Ridley Scott's stuff is borderline pretentious, but for the most part he has tread on the right side of the line. Not so in this case. The writer – Brian Helgeland – has done much better stuff. Quite aside from the blatant re-writing of legend and history – unacceptably so in my book – it is the fine sounding but meaningless rhetoric that had me groaning as if I was listening to an American presidential speech.

Overlong, tedious and uninvolving is my final verdict on the movie. If I was giving it stars I might give it one and a half out of five. I'm dead-set certain too that the Ridley Scott of 30 years ago would have made a much different film of it, shorter, tighter, more compelling.

I'm prepared to write this off. He's made some clunkers in recent years, yet I still think he has it in him to re-create the sort of compelling screen experience he has in the past. I hope so – he's now working on Alien 5, which is something to look forward to.


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