Point Blank’s unreliable narrator

pointbcPoint Blank, 1967, 92 mins, Blu-ray

There is something very, very odd regards John Boorman’s crime drama Point Blank, mostly because it doesn’t make much sense at all. A (deliberately) disjointed prologue shows anti-hero Walker (Lee Marvin) being double-crossed by Mal Reece (John Vernon), shot at point blank range and  and left for dead in a cell in abandoned Alcatraz. We thereafter see Walker recover, wander as if in a daze around Alcatraz and then step into the waters of the bay to swim over to San Francisco. Its something frankly preposterous, especially for a man critically injured by gunshots.

Later, we see Walker half-undressed and he bears no scars of bullet-wounds at all. I commented to my wife regards this, questioning was it a continuity error, or a lack of attention to detail,  but I suppose all this leads to the question that has concerned viewers of the film for decades: did Walker actually die in that prison cell when he was shot, or perhaps did he drown in the bay? Is everything we witness post-shooting actually the fantasy of a dying man (I’m reminded of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, another film with an unreliable narrator, with many reading most of that film’s narrative as the opium- fuelled dream of Noodles (Robert de Niro)). Or instead is Walker, every time we see him after being shot, literally a vengeful ghost, the film a horror story dressed up as neo-noir? Indeed, a few times we see him advised/courted by Yost (Keenan Wyn) a mysterious character who weirdly drifts in and out of the proceedings; appearing and disappearing – we are led to believe he is a federal agent (at least, that was my first impression, Yost seeking Walker’s help in taking down ‘The Organisation’ protecting Reece) but Yost could perhaps be seen as a guardian Angel (or Demon?) guiding Walker on his path of supernatural revenge, feeding him information.

Its really a very peculiar film, quite disorientating even today- goodness knows what the response was back in 1967 (the film eventually proved a cult hit over the years and highly regarded but its odd structure and narrative concerned the studio and initial audiences). I’m pretty confident I’ll enjoy it more on subsequent viewings but this first time around, I was quite taken aback by its curious, almost Lynchian sense of time out of joint (some scenes are literally edited out of sequence, it seems) and being subject to an unreliable narrator who may be dead, or may be dreaming. I’m still not certain what to think. Its notable also just how, well, European-arthouse it looks, with all sorts of curious angles and camera set-ups that only intensify the sense of unreality that pervades the film.

There is definitely an impression that this is a film distinctly of its time- back when Old Hollywood, under the continuing threat of television, was changing into what would become the American Cinema of the 1970s, the rather auteur, sometimes quite radical movies such as Taxi Driver, Klute, The Exorcist, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now and so many others, before that itself began to transform into the corporate Hollywood we are living with today. Watching Point Blank‘s rather surreal narrative I found myself thinking of The Swimmer, released just a year later. Both are so strange one cannot imagine them being made the decade before or the decade after.

Point Blank was based on a book “Hunter” by Richard Stark that also served as inspiration for the Mel Gibson-starring Payback from 1999, a film I really enjoyed (especially in its directors Cut version)- Payback has a more routine, dare I say reliable, narrative and I really must get that Blu-ray out for a rewatch sometime soon. It will be fascinating to compare the two very different approaches to the same revenge story. I also find obvious similarities between Point Blank and Get Carter from 1971 that I watched a short time ago, another more routine revenge tale when compared to John Boorman’s film.

Artwork’s getting ugly- would you like to know more?

STARSHIP4KWell as if horrible remakes, reboots and wrecking favourite franchises isn’t bad enough (nervous glance towards Amazon’s LOTR show coming September), it seems the studios are letting the talentless cretins with those devils-own typewriters loose on creating the artwork for physical releases of old movies now- anyone would think they deliberately want to sabotage physical disc sales to further excuse the continued push towards streaming/eventual PPV. Its a conspiracy worthy of an X-File: you can imagine some suit in six months saying “we released this fan-favourite movie on disc and no-one bought it! Physical media is dead etc etc!”

Just look at this steelbook release of Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers– surely one of the ugliest covers yet? You’d have to be a pretty hardcore fan to part with hard-earned for this. The unfortunate ‘twist’ for some will be that this re-release of an old 4K disc has Dolby Vision (the original ‘just’ has standard HDR10) which in theory could result in a better picture quality depending upon one’s set-up, but if a cover like this is intended to sway fans into a double-dip for said DV…. Well, I guess the hardcore could buy this and switch the disc into the case from the old release, maintain their self-respect that way…

lawrence4kIt seems that Blade Runner inexplicably NOT getting a physical re-release to celebrate its 40th Anniversary this year possibly has some consolation – at least we’re not getting some ugly art to pour salt on the wound of no new special features/all the cuts in 4K, no Dangerous Days doc finally in HD etc. 

Its like there is a parallel universe in the physical media community, in which Kino use original artwork for its covers and folks like Indicator likewise, with lovely books and packaging etc, and meanwhile the major studios are doing, er, THIS to some of the finest films ever made. I suppose the issue from their perspective is that some of these old, old favourites from those distant shores of the ancient 1980s/1990s (never mind the prehistory of the 1960s) is that they have been released several times over different formats and the artwork must be pretty tired by now. I don’t agree at all with that, I’m a huge fan of original artwork (I still grimace at that most recent release of Alien in 4K) but its clear that, whatever the boutique labels are doing, the studios have some problem these days with original artwork.

 

Flatliners impresses

lat1Watched the 4K of Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners (that’s the 1990 movie, the less said about the 2017 remake the better), which looks absolutely lovely. Film itself has aged pretty well, too (I hadn’t seen the film in maybe twenty years). I really quite enjoyed it, although the casting is pretty amusing seeing the actors (Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts, Oliver Pratt) looking so young; how is it possible something like Flatliners is over thirty years old now?

I’d forgotten the gorgeous end title music composed by James Newton Howard, and how it suddenly through music alone lifts the film to some other level which the last close-on two hours of actual film failed to reach. Simply sublime music, choral in parts and really, really beautiful and soulful. I also found the music over the sections where William Baldwin’s character sees hallucinations of women talking to him through video footage he’d surreptitiously filmed of them having sex with him very effective too; its a very nice score. Never released on a soundtrack album though – I think its due to some crazy reuse charges. as it was recorded in LA, which has made any official release prohibitively expensive. Such a shame.  I remember searching out the album in vain, just as I had the Blade Runner soundtrack album several years before.

I will take issue with an essay on the included booklet though: its an essay about NDEs and in particular a section that brings up similar-themed films, citing examples such as Paul Hogan-starring Almost an Angel (1990), and obscure titles like Death Dreams (1991), but completely ignoring Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm (1983), which literally depicts the near-death experience of a scientist daring to experience a Death tape recorded by a colleague. I always thought that Brainstorm and Flatliners were like filmic cousins but the writer Amanda Reyes seems ignorant of Trumbull’s film. Oh, that sounds so very anal of me now that I mention it as a criticism. Must be this hot weather…

The ultimate disastrous disaster movie: yes, Moonfall

moonedMoonfall, 2022, 130 mins, Amazon Prime

Moonfall is unrelentingly stupid, probably the most stupid film I have ever seen. I used to think Michael Bay’s Armageddon was off its rocker, but that film seems pretty excellent in retrospect. Isn’t it rather sad when new films make what we thought were the bad films of old actually seem pretty decent in comparison? Armageddon at least had actors making an effort, playing fairly interesting characters with some memorable character arcs in a script with a genuine threat, with added drama of the race against time etc. True, it was utterly bonkers and over the top as all of Bay’s films tend to be, but crikey, it was a work of substance compared to Roland Emmerich’s utterly dismal offering that never tries to make any sense whatsoever or contain any believable or remotely interesting characters.

Moonfall is absolutely  horrible, with no discernible redeeming features that I can see, other than stupidity taken to some new higher level that deserves a whole new word in the dictionary. A disaster movie in which the biggest disaster is the movie itself, full of lazy tropes such that it almost borders on parody : of course the military’s immediate solution is to try nuke the moon before it can crash into the Earth. But- nuke the moon? As if all the nukes of all the Earth could blow up the moon? Just think about that for a moment, the sheer insanity of it. Mind, by the time all the cities are ruined during the film’s proceedings, and all the satellite networks swept up by the moon’s tumble into the Earth there’s nothing worth saving, the economies of the world completely thrown back into some new Dark Ages: yeah some kind of happy ending, that.

Its rather contemptible really, modern film-making in microcosm, believing that spectacle alone is enough. The utter hubris thinking that a film can get by with just big effects etc. You don’t need well-written characters, or dramatic conflict, or pretty much any script at all- imagine; an end of the world storyline totally lacking any real drama, its mind-boggling how low this film sets the bar, and everyone involved shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a film production ever again (but of course they will, its just business as usual).

So the moon is apparently some kind of megastructure built by aliens but broken somehow (actually it has been sabotaged by a seperate alien threat but that’s another level of silliness threatening an alien invasion sequel) and the moon is now falling to Earth, and only America and NASA can save us. Which has become just another level of stupid since those Armageddon days, bearing in mind that currently NASA can’t even get a guy into orbit without out-sourcing it to Elon Musk’s bunch. But hey, isn’t there an old, flight-ready (sorry, what?) Shuttle on display in a museum?  If one can even accept all that nonsense, we are asked to accept that a) NASA knew all along the moon was an alien construct and covered it up, b) they developed an EMP bomb to thwart any alien menace but it got cancelled by -wouldn’t you know it-  short-sighted budget cuts and c) nobody, not all the amateur astronomers or foreign space agencies etc noticed an eruption of space aliens on the lunar surface when a shuttle mission back in 2012 suffered a critical disaster depicted during the films opening rip of Gravity. You know a film’s bad when within the first few minutes I’m shaking my head at being asked to reduce my intelligence to that of an infant-school Spaceflight pop-up picture book.

So bad that it isn’t even fun as a curio, Moonfall is the ultimate disaster movie in all the worst possible ways. Thank goodness I watched it on Prime and never got fooled into watching it at the cinema or buying it on Blu-ray or 4K UHD.

Bumper Round-up

Quick reviews for recent stuff (Dead Reckoning! Get Carter! The Sandman!) and to misquote a Spielberg movie, I’m gonna need a bigger shelf unless I stop buying 4K discs…

In lieu of writing ‘proper’ posts, here’s a summary of where things are at lately. Hopefully genuine review posts will follow, but time being what it is lately (Einstein reckoned time is relative, and here its pretty short of late), I thought I’d get something out there.

P1110377 (2)First of all, I’ve had a bit of a mad splurge over the last few weeks on some Kino 4K titles on import (joining The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More which I bought months ago). This bunch are mostly noir titles; the three-disc Touch of Evil, Kubrick’s dabbles in noir The Killing and Killer’s Kiss, with the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. These are all upgrades, double-dips (dear God, the Wilder is a triple dip, I had it on DVD too) of various Blu-rays bought over the past several years, something I’m increasingly wary of these days. But aren’t those slips gorgeous? Currently box-art seems something of a lost art so its especially lovely to see original artwork being used (The Killing actually has a reversible cover in the disc case, as I showed on my recent review). As well as The Killing, I’ve watched Some Like It Hot, and yes it too looks damn fine in 4K- its surprising how good these b&w titles look in the 4K format (as if we needed further proof how gorgeous Marilyn Monroe was). The contrast, grain management, improved gray scale, all impress, and Kino seem to have gone nuts on the bitrates, way over the top (compare that to Disney releasing the near-three hour Heat on 4K using a BD66).

I only saw Killer’s Kiss on Blu-ray a few months back. The film was made prior to The Killing and being less than seventy minutes long, it was included as a special feature on Arrow’s The Killing Blu-ray which I bought back in 2016, but I never actually watched it. I think I was misinformed by Internet opinion that it was lesser-tier Kubrick not worth bothering with, that The Killing was widely considered Kubrick’s first ‘proper’ film and first worthy of note: I suppose Killer’s Kiss being relegated to the special features menu only reinforced this view. Anyway, I finally got around to it; I knew there was a boxing element and was pointed back in the film’s direction after enjoying Robert Wise’s The Set-Up a few months back.  Well, diminished expectations and all that, but I absolutely loved it, probably for all the reasons so many disparaged it. Raw, low-budget, with a brisk (for Kubrick, positively frantic) pace, a bare-bones story shot like a docudrama with amazing footage of a lost New York, foreshadowing stuff like Taxi Driver. The only thing holding me back from a gushing review post here back when I watched that Blu-ray was suddenly learning only days later that Kino was releasing the film on 4K, so I decided to wait and will continue to wait until I’ve seen it again on this 4K disc. I’m really looking forward to it, but just waiting for the perfect time.

Which is a bit of a sour point: the best time to watch these noir (especially in 4K) is late at night when its dark and these long hot summer days are not conducive to that. What’s that line in a film about mood – ah yes, Gurney Halleck in Dune; “Mood? What’s mood to do with it?”, but its true about movie watching (if not fighting); one has to be in the correct mood for a particular kind of film and bright summer days/evenings- well, unless you’re watching something like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat,  which was made for hot summer nights. Besides, by the time its late/dark enough, I’m usually too tired to watch a demanding film, and noir ARE demanding, usually quite complex and nuanced and narratively pretty dense for their usually short running-time. Case in point, I recently tried watching John Reinhardt’s The Guilty a few weeks back and damn near fell asleep near the end – my wife actually did fall asleep, missing its last fifteen minutes and I’ve ribbed her endlessly ever since regards her missing its major twist. “You’ll never guess!” I’ve teased her. There’s a film that deserves a proper rewatch soon as possible.

P1110379 (2)Hmm, yeah, some more purchases. Here’s me claiming to reign it all in regards buying discs, and sure, I’ve (mostly) stopped the blind-buys but of late that’s only transferred my wallet’s woes to the upgrades/double dips: here another Billy Wilder classic upgraded to 4K (this time courtesy of Criterion) and Flicker Alley’s The Guilty/High Tide double-bill (in the latter’s case, I’ve elected to use the original art on the reversible cover). Criterion’s Double Indemnity rather annoyed me- not the disc or the film, but because over here in the UK, presumably due to licensing issues (or the duplication costs?) Criterion only released it on Blu-ray (I have the old Eureka edition).  So in order to get the 4K edition released in the States  that everyone was raving about I had to grudgingly import it, complete with two Blu-ray discs locked to Region One that I can’t watch (so I’m keeping that Eureka set for some of the extras, but that true of Arrow’s The Killing disc and my Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot). Goodness, no wonder my shelves are filling up, I’m buying new upgrades and keeping the old discs too- madness.

Anyway, enough of my foolish financial woes, I’m just partying before the recession and Autumn of Discontent (see what I did there?) puts paid to my collecting. On with some quick reviews.

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) – first film from Indicator’s Columbia Noir #5 set, and allegedly one of the few genuine noir films in the set. Bit alarming, that. I never warmed to Humphrey Bogart, so haven’t seen many of his films. In fact, I can only name a few films of his I actually liked; In A Lonely Place for one, and another that I first saw on television decades ago, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is a Blu-ray gathering dust on the shelf that I keep meaning to watch, but… Anyway, something about Bogie just rattles me. Maybe this box set’s contents will feature a film that will warm me to his charms more, but Dead Reckoning isn’t it – unless of course this is another example regards mood. Maybe it was just the wrong film on a warm summer night. Shame, its a great title for a noir. I was especially disappointed in Lizabeth Scott, who I’ve seen and been impressed by before. Here she was ill-served by an underwritten character (likely deliberately underwritten to enable/underscore the surprise twist) leaving her with little to work with- I suppose someone like Rita Hayworth (originally conceived of for the role) would have gotten by better from sheer screen charisma and presence, but Scott just doesn’t have that. Also, I just couldn’t see any chemistry between Bogie and Scott, and a film whose success largely depends upon the romantic tryst between two characters is in trouble from the start when the chemistry seems lacking. Is it wrong of me to note that I thought I would have enjoyed it more had it featured Glenn Ford (no stranger to this kind of noir) in the lead role?

Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) – No casting issues with this film. Don’t ask me how/why I never saw this film before, but we all have these oversights/black holes in our moviegoing street-cred. Release by BFI in a simply gorgeous 4K edition that is so tactile you feel you can reach into the screen and touch it, and smell the beer and aftershave, sweat and cigarette smoke- it’s excellent; its another case of a film likely looking better than it did even when it first came out. This is such a film of its time, its like some kind of time machine physically taking us back, and who’d really want to go back to Newcastle circa 1971? What a cast (Ian Hendry brilliant yet again, and what a shocker seeing Michael Caine chucking that bloke from Coronation Street off the carpark roof), and what a  gorgeous jazzy score (that main title sequence is sublime). Here’s a film that I was ready to rewatch as soon as it finished.

The Sandman: Season One (Ten Episodes, 2022) – I don’t know what’s more shocking- that someone actually managed to make a decent live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comicbook classic or that somehow its on Netflix, but then again, it is the home of Stranger Things…  Its been well over a decade since I last read Gaiman’s opus (I bought the graphic novel paperbacks so long ago it was from a genuine bookstore) and a lot of my memory of it is burry, which was rather curious seeing it onscreen thinking “oh yeah, they actually did that…” or “I don’t remember that at all” so I can’t comment regards how authentic it was.  It wasn’t perfect though, I have to confess I was bit bothered by some of the casting choices- it was a great cast and I’ve no complaints, but John Constantine is now Johanna Constantine, played by Jenna Coleman? And I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face watching Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, of all things. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong in subsequent seasons or the inevitable Johanna Constantine spin-off (call me a cynic, but the writing/casting for that episode had “pilot for a spin-off” written all over it). Those caveats aside,  I did enjoy the series; even the music was good (shades of BR2049 in places and ‘nowt wrong with that). Inevitably the highlight of the show (and if you only watch one episode of it, make it this one, its pretty standalone) was The Sound of Her Wings, the sixth episode and an adaption of likely most readers favourite issue of the comic. Should have been retitled The Sound of An Emmy, because it surely deserves a nomination at least.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Rudolph Carter, 1954) – this BBC adaptation has always been on my radar if only because it starred Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors (my unofficial quest to watch everything he ever did continues slowly apace). I bought this new Blu-ray edition (from the BFI folks) a few months back but watched it just a week or so ago… I intended to write a proper post about it, even tried, but… goodness this was so depressing. Its through no fault of the adaptation (by Nigel Kneale, of Quatermass fame) its limited production values (mostly a live performance thankfully recorded for posterity), or its cast, but more the horrible inescapable fact that George Orwell’s cautionary tale is as timely now than ever- perhaps more so. Real-life events of the past several years, just how the world has slowly changed largely for the worse, makes something like this all the more prescient and important. Its horrible, like a warning from a future that just feels just more plausible than ever.

And while on the subject of warnings of the future, it looks like Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is coming to Amazon Prime on Friday. I can hardly wait. Its got such a crazy, ridiculous premise, I’ve so wanted to subject myself to its cheesy silly horrors while avoiding spoilerific trailers. There’s a thought: am I the only person alive actually avoiding spoilers for Moonfall? Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favourite bad movies, it was all I could do to refrain from buying it on Blu-ray disc when it was released a few months back (maybe if had been on 4K over here in the UK, I would have given in to its despicable allure, but it was limited to DVD/Blu-ray). Anyway, that’s my Friday (or Saturday) night sorted then, and possibly will be my next posting here; yes, be afraid, its Moonfall next, unless I get some time to sit at this laptop again beforehand.

Bats Crazy

I don’t know if its another casualty of the streaming wars or just the result of a radical rethink of the DC movies, but the cancelling of Batgirl, a film mostly completed by all accounts barring post-production work, and having already cost anything between $70 -$100 million depending upon who’s doing the math…

…maths is always a bit weird in Hollywood. I suppose an industry that throws millions around like normal people toss pound coins around on corner shop lunches is always an extreme example, a bit like comparing ordinary physics to what happens near the event horizon of a black hole, but I’m reminded, of all things, of the bizarre accountancy surrounding Ridley Scott’s Alien back in 1979, a worldwide financial (and perhaps most importantly cultural) success which 20th Century Fox always maintained didn’t make a profit. Details are vague all these years later but if I recall correctly (and bear in mind I’m thinking back to articles published in Starburst magazine, we had no internet back then), I think some of the players behind the film, most likely the producers and Ridley Scott, had percentage points ((shares of the profits once the film paid back its costs to the studio) in the film but Fox didn’t pay up. Which seemed patently ridiculous considering how big the film was back in 1979.   

…but anyway, back to Batgirl. How bad is the idea of a Batgirl movie? How did that even get greenlit? I always thought Batgirl was akin to Superman’s spin-offs Supergirl, Superboy and Superdog and all his other comics super-kin, and indeed Robin the Boy-Wonder to Batman. People often talk about comicbooks etc as grown-up and worthy of adult attention but they seem to forget they were originally kids comics and never intended to be anything more than disposable fun, certainly not massive $100 million+ tentpole blockbuster movies. Probably the biggest thing about Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie was the, quite radical at the time, notion that a superhero character from comics was deemed worthy of a big, serious movie. We take that for granted now (it was a notion likely cemented by Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman) but there was a time when superheroes only called to mind the camp silliness 1960s Adam West tv show.

It possibly suggests how comicbook characters have become so endemic in films and television now that marginal, and frankly ridiculous characters/properties such as Batgirl can be even considered for serious attention. I know why these properties exist, as they ‘target’ other groups than young males (superheroes for girls, super pets for your kids etc) and I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but to me the appeal for some of characters like Batman is their gravitas, the idea that in a real world only slightly removed from our own a billionaire nutcase traumatised by a childhood tragedy could dress as a bat to transfer his anger into scaring and beating up bad guys. Its silly but not as silly as some girl relative or daughter of a police commissioner electing to do much the same. Its not all THAT removed from homegrown legends/mythology like Robin Hood, or King Arthur is it?

Mind you, we rationalise that we can take it seriously, but we all know how long a spandex-clad character would survive in an assault-rifle shootout with gangster hoods. And the judicial and political nightmare of some vigilante roaming the streets beating up people said character deems a criminal.

I suppose its all pretty ridiculous, isn’t it, other than all the billions the MCU has made over the years… that’s all very serious, to the tune of $26 billion serious.

The new guy who has taken over the newly-created Warner Bros Discovery seems to have a new, ten-year plan to relaunch the DC line of superhero characters in films with an aim towards replicating the success of the MCU. Which is interesting and depressing at the same time- the DC films have been a mess for a few years now but I’m not certain we need another MCU with its own alternative line of spandex heroes. I quite liked some of the DC films, for all their quirks and mistakes…and definitely enjoyed recent edgy forays like The Joker and The Batman, films the likes of which the MCU wouldn’t go anywhere near. I’m all for making daft nonsense like Batgirl a casualty of this corporate rethink, but much less so if it means losing that darker line of films.

Ed’s back

P1110375…mind, its not as if he’d gone away anywhere, but his mug has been absent from this blog awhile. Here’s a pic I took yesterday afternoon whilst I was out back having a read in the sun.

What was I reading? Nothing too wild. I’ve been trying to read through a DC Omnibus of 100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello with Argentine artist Eduardo Risso. Its a neo-noir graphic novel anthology, very dark and violent full of flawed characters and twists of fate. I think they did 100 issues or something like that (it won the Eisner award), and rarely for this kind of long-run thing, Risso did all the art throughout (I think) and its tremendous stuff, I love Risso’s graphic art style, which seems very European, distilled through what is usually an American ‘thing’ (its all set in America, at least it has been so far). This beast is only half the story and its over 1,300 pages. I bought it well over a year ago but as usual never got around to it, but the second Omnibus volume arrived a few weeks back which finally kicked me into action. Yeah, I have shelves of books on the to-do list as well as all the Blu-rays. Retirement can’t come soon enough, if only I last that long. I wonder if the shelves will last that long- these Omnibus books are routinely bloody heavy.

I sincerely hope that, no matter how interesting the premise of 100 Bullets is, that it never gets adapted for a TV series by HBO or a film series, anything like that. A series of deluxe hardbacks I bought a few years back, collecting a 72-issue series titled DMZ written by Brian Wood and drawn (mostly, but not completely) by the brilliant Italian artist  Riccardo Burchielli was a gritty story about a near-future America following a second Civil War, in which Manhattan had become a demilitarized zone (DMZ) and the setting of various misadventures involving a roster of interesting characters. I remember reading the books and thinking how crazy (albeit fascinating) the premise was, but then to my horror the real-world seemed to be catching up with it, all the polarized politics in America leading up to when Trump got the big job and all the crazy stuff that has followed. Anyway, DMZ was turned into a limited series on HBO which, from what I have seen of the horrible trailer (couldn’t subject myself to watching the series) was an adaptation in title only and looked nothing like the books I’d read. It was a pretty incendiary comic book/ graphic novel series predicting all sorts of horrors and they turned it into…ugh.

You know how it is; Hollywood loves to grab great ideas and run off and ruin them. Its a rare adaptation that turns out right, so safer to leave well alone.

The Killing 4K UHD

Kill4kI’ve come back to The Killing by way of its recent 4K upgrade from the folks at Kino over the pond. I last watched the film back in 2016. I have to confess, watching it again my memory of it was pretty fuzzy- I remembered the overall plot and some of the cast, but specifics, and indeed the ending, escaped me completely. To some extent it was rather like watching the film for the first time.

Which was nice, but worrying- I used to have such an excellent memory for films; I’d usually remember most everything. Maybe its just me getting older – hope this isn’t how dementia starts- but I rather suspect its a case of just watching too many films over the past few years. In some ways we’re living in a film buff’s paradise, the access we have to films these days, whether it be films we have collected on disc, or stream on the various platforms. Back in the 1970s we were at the whim of terrestrial schedulers on three networks so only watched films when we could, which increased the rarity and sense of occasion (I still recall the Jaws network premiere, and that of Star Wars and Alien, quite vividly, and movie seasons over Christmas holidays just made the festive seasons more special). Those were the bad old days, certainly, but nonetheless films seemed to have much more of a value back then. I suppose watching fewer films, they stuck in your memory more too.

But now, they almost seem to blur into each other- certainly some film noir, of which I have watched an awful lot of over the past few years. I suppose it inevitable when they share so many narrative and visual tropes and character archetypes. Alarming though, that I’d forgotten so much of this film. Maybe this blog should revert to its original purpose back from its Film Journal days, serving as a diary of viewing- not that this blog really ever diverted away from too much (though I have stopped compiling monthly/annual lists of the films). But whatever next? Index cards next to each disc on the shelf?

Because to be sure, someone who professes to be a film buff shouldn’t be forgetting details of films as exquisite as The Killing, one of the definitive heist movies and one of the best examples of a perfect film noir. Its a taut, gripping story about flawed characters, depicted by brilliant actors in memorable performances. Did I say memorable? Hmmm. Well, to be fair, while I’d forgotten so much of the film, I’d not forgotten the likes of Sterling Hayden here- what a gritty, convincing turn.

Kubrick’s third directorial effort and widely considered his first ‘proper’ film, The Killing is absolutely amazing and, dare I suggest, one of his best. Its certainly a film for people who don’t profess to like Kubrick’s filmography- it lacks his full ‘auteur’ stamp, as he didn’t have the complete control he would soon have following Paths of Glory and SpartacusThe Killing is more routine, more accessible compared to how inscrutable some of his films can seem.

That being said, its tricky to describe The Killing as routine- it certainly makes demands upon its audience, with a chronology-shifting narrative in which it moves forwards and backwards in time depending upon each characters involvement in the heist. It’s helped somewhat by a voice-over which is pretty wonderful but was, I suspect, possibly a studio-mandated element to help steer viewers along.

When I last watched The Killing in 2016, I hadn’t been aware even of the existence of Vince Edwards’ later noir, Murder by Contract, which I watched last year as part of Indicator’s Columbia Noir line of boxsets and which proved to be one of the best films I watched last year (so good was it, indeed, that I watched it twice). So anyway, back in 2016, Edwards was just another face- this time around, I immediately recognised him and enjoyed, again, another of his performances. Naturally Edwards will always be more remembered for his massively popular Ben Casey tv show of the 1960s but I think he’s brilliant in The Killing, Murder by Contract and City of Fear in which he has this weird charisma with the camera (and inevitably the on-screen ladies) that only certain actors destined to be stars have. So if my memory really does go south there will be index cards for Vince Edwards dotted around my shelves of Blu-rays.

killb4kRegards this 4K release of The Killing, it looks absolutely amazing. Lots of grain, detail and contrast- 4K with its HDR really suits these black and white films. Can’t believe I haven’t bought Citizen Kane on 4K yet (must be all those copies on DVD and Blu-ray making me already feel like a double/triple-dipping idiot). There is a lovely tactile quality to this film, in its detail evident in sets and clothing, and the HDR really improves the lighting which can be so intrinsic to the noir experience. The scene in which the guys sit around a small table lit by a lone bulb above them, their faces both brightly lit and masked in shadow, the cigarette smoke drifting about them- its like each frame is a painting and is one of the best film noir shots I’ve seen: in 4K its really something. While Kino doesn’t include booklets or anything at all like that, it does use original poster artwork which make its releases great collector pieces, in a similar way to the art direction on Indicator’s releases (this disc also has a reversible sleeve). Devoid of extras other than some trailers, the disc features a commentary track by Alan K. Rode which, from the twenty-thirty minutes I’ve heard, is absolutely terrific and which I look forward to listening to in its entirety. More on that in another post maybe.

Trom Season One

tromTrom, 2022, Six episodes, BBC iPlayer

Trom is another example of Nordic Noir, a crime thriller this time set on the isolated, windswept Faroe Islands. A journalist, Hannis Martinsson (Ulrich Thomsen), is contacted by a young woman who claims to be his daughter and is seeking his help. When he arrives on the islands to meet her he discovers she has been murdered and sets about uncovering the web of political and judicial corruption behind her death.

Unfortunately Trom fails to equal the sum of its parts- its setting (filmed pretty much entirely, it seems, on the actual islands) gives it a suitably dark, wet, gloomy mood so common to these Nordic dramas, but really has some distinct atmosphere, other than reminding me of holidays in Scotland. Its central mystery is your typical whodunnit with plenty of suspects, red herrings and of course misdirection’s that you can see a mile off (maybe I’ve seen too much Nordic Noir) but with enough genuine surprises chucked in to maintain your interest. Its not bad, its just not great. Thomsen is very good in the starring role, giving the series some considerable weight (he often reminded me of a middle-aged Laurence Olivier) but some of the cast just aren’t up to it, or have been cruelly miscast (the police characters particularly so, being possibly the most unconvincing police types I’ve ever seen; I kept on referring to two of the lead police characters as Laurel and Hardy every time they were onscreen).

I found the final revelations regards the guilty parties and what actually happened to Martinsson’s daughter enough to possibly save the day, but it was ultimately undone by just too many coincidences and a desperate cliff-hanger that comes out of nowhere and is pretty ridiculous. Wide-open space, dozens of people attending a funeral service, and the child central to everyone’s attention suddenly disappears, kidnapped, without anyone noticing? I demand a season two in order for the series makers to explain themselves regards the contrivances involved making her vanish into the damp air, cruelly teasing another season/mystery at the very last minute. Is it just too much to expect a proper ending?

4K Poltergeist

poltergeist4kDon’t look at the cover. Don’t. The real horror is, there have been worse.

First film I ever rented, back in 1983 – Poltergeist will always be something special. It was the first film I ever watched on a VHS tape, when the ‘miracle’ of watching a film at the push of a button, with no censorship or ad-breaks was something to leave you breathless, and incredibly exciting in ways that kids today will never understand. Ah, the pull of nostalgia will never loosen its grip on this movie.

Fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score, a pretty great cast including the beautiful JoBeth Williams and the great, late James Karen whose only better film was The Return of the Living Dead, and ILM bringing the horrors of Raiders to suburbia. 1982 was a great year for movies, and its somehow been 40 years so I guess this release was inevitable- joining quite a few of the Class of 1982 to 4K.  I just want to know where’s Conan The Barbarian in 4K;  you’d think Arrow or someone would give it a go if Universal had zero interest.

Bloody cover does look more like an alternate for CE3K than something for Poltergeist  (“Honey there’s a mothership over the house!”).