You Were Never Really Here (2017)

you1Funnily enough, the clue is in the title, in how it is so obtuse – hardly an easily-digestible title or a direct explanation of what the film is about, You Were Never Really Here is actually a sort of arthouse version of The Equalizer, carrying a major actor in its lead just like The Equalizer did (here Joaquin Phoenix as the hand of justice similar to that Denzel Washington played in The Equalizer). We have criminals at large and under the shiny veneer of civilized society a sex-ring that needs breaking up and a young girl busting out. I know I make this sound like a straight exploitation thriller or something, and deep down inside its dark heart it is.

But while I like films doing things differently and have no aversion to arthouse movies I have to wonder if maybe mainstream stuff like The Equalizer (or Taken, etc, before it) actually do it better. You Were Never Really Here fascinates in its examination of protagonist Joe (Phoenix) a broken man traumatised from childhood who has a proclivity for claw-hammers when dealing with ‘private security’ and doing work outside of the law such as rescuing abducted girls. The problem with the film is that it proves as fragmented as Joe’s slowly crumbling mind, the film itself an unreliable narrator. There is a sex-trafficking ring and paedophilia and a conspiracy involving, it seems, government and judiciary, but it is really quite  deliberately vague. Things sort of seem to go on around an increasingly confused Joe whose flashbacks seem to suggest he’s a man who should be in a mental hospital rather than dealing out violent justice.

There were times when I thought that this film really wanted to be a modern-day Taxi Driver and if that’s the case, its a bit of a misfire. Taxi Driver was dark and disturbing but it was always cohesive, and I don’t think You Were Never Really Here was at all. It is not a bad film, but it doesn’t really need to be so consciously clever or alternatively baffling. Perhaps it works better on second viewing, as some of the plot details are a bit hard to fathom on first showing- some viewers will feel this is refreshing but I just think its bad storytelling. Joaquin Phoenix is as always quite excellent, albeit having so recently seen him in Mary Magdalene and seeing him sporting Jesus’ beard in You Were Never Really Here proves rather distracting. Maybe in retrospect it was too soon, or I wound up watching the two films in the wrong order. These things happen.

Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

pru
ok kids, saddle up- time to save the world!

Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim was a film that I quite enjoyed– while quite flawed it remained a fun geeky love-letter to KIng Kong, Godzilla and giant mecha/robot stuff like Neon Genesis Evangelion. Thanks to del Toro’s canny eye it bettered the Transformers films that it sometimes seemed to be imitating, with a genuine sense of size and scale that beggared belief.  I haven’t seen it for a few years, surprisingly- quite shocked to learn it dates back to 2013.

I suppose the fact that this sequel is somewhat belated is a clue to how it eventually turned out. Pacific Rim was a success but a modest one, so that when a sequel was finally greenlit it came with a few caveats from the studio. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but there’s no smoke without fire, as they say, and there’s a clear indication with Pacific Rim: Uprising that some retooling to the possible franchise was done in the giant robot garage.

More light. More fun. More kids. Oh God, more kids. You know it’s time to run for the hills when you learn that one of the protagonists is a teenage girl who was orphaned in the post-Pacific Rim ruins of a city where she spends her time building her own giant robot suit (a jäger in the parlance of the film). This is as irritating as the kids saving the day in Ready Player One. She should be dirty, starving and emigrating to some place safe where she can be fed and kept warm but instead she’s set up a garage/workshop and demonstrating formidable engineering and mechanical skills that a post-Grad would envy.  Of course she becomes a jäger pilot who with her other classmates at pilot-school save the day when all the adults get massacred (was this plot for the aborted Star Fleet Academy by any chance?).

Okay, I still got a kick from some of the giant robots/monsters decimating another city in eye-popping visual effects but this one clearly lacks the credentials of the original- not quite as bad as that infernal Independence Day sequel but not too off. This isn’t the first time, of course, that a sequel is made that suffers from studio-mandated tinkering. A similar thing happened decades ago when the rather adult Conan The Barbarian was reformatted into a PG-13 kiddie cringefest in Conan the Destroyer and we all remember how well Superman turned into increasingly lightweight fare in Superman III. Look at how well Justice League turned out when Warner had a panic attack after Batman v Superman. 

Which is really spending too much time thinking about this very average and misguided effort. That it ends with our street-urchin having a happy snowball fight with John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son of the original film’s hero Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) for a bit of light-hearted, life-affirming nonsense as if it was the close of an episode of a 1960s Star Trek, says everything. Its like two films in, someone’s pressed the franchise’s  reset button already. Weird, and demonstrates a clear lack of faith. So no, this not Pacific Rim 2, not really. Its something else. I suppose its fun and light-hearted…

 

Listening to- The Vikings (re-recording)

vikingsA really pleasant surprise this- the City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, who re-recorded the complete Conan the Barbarian score several years ago,  return with a new recording of Mario Nascimbene’s magnificent score to the 1958 film The Vikings. I reference their earlier Conan album deliberately because this in many ways is its second cousin, a great old-Hollywood epic score full of emotion and grandeur- Nascimbene’s score sounds very akin to the Poledouris opus. Readers of my post last year regards The Vikings on blu-ray will remember how fond I am of both the film (a childhood favourite when it used to air on tv all the time) and its music. This album sounds fantastic, rich and clear and a very modern, faithful recording with a deep and wide stereo soundfield that the original score itself cannot match. Indeed, I well recall buying the original soundtrack on CD many years ago and being quite appalled by its awful, scratchy and weak sound, in mono no less and possibly one of the worst-sounding discs I ever bought (wouldn’t have surprised me if it had come from a very bad vinyl). For many years I have hoped that someday someone might do a re-recording of the score (particularly, funnily enough, back when the Conan re-recording came out (itself prior to Intrada’s ‘proper’ expanded original soundtrack that is still inferior in parts to the Prague version).

Oh well, it does seem that sometimes all things come to he that waits (hint- you reading this, Vangelis?). Its simply brilliant to be listening to this wonderful music in such great audio quality. It remains a genuinely great score that tells the story of its film without needing any visuals, utterly timeless and quite stirring. That Viking main theme gets me everytime, especially in tracks such as Regnar Returns. The sequence is one of my very favourite film moments, Pure Cinema, the gorgeous cinematography with the music making something special- a genuine piece of art, timeless and haunting.

Anyway, this is one of the music releases of the year. A The Vikings re-recording finally happened. Somebody pinch me. Hail Regnar!

 

Superman: The Movie 4K UHD

supes.pngWhere does one start regards genuine classics such as this? Re-watching this absolute gem again, I can’t say I really learned anything new. Sure, its aged somewhat, especially in regards its visual effects, but really, that is inevitable after so many years -the film enjoying its 40th anniversary this year- and I’d like to think people watching this film for the first time today might look past the sometimes aged visuals.  The sublime beauty and genius of Superman: The Movie is in the casting of its leads, and the script focusing on character rather than spectacle (no matter how spectacular the film is at times, it is never the focus- a lesson modern blockbusters seldom seem to heed). There is a heart and breathless joy to the whole thing, but the truth is there is a fresh pain and sadness to the experience of watching the film now that neither Christopher Reeve nor Margot Kidder are with us today. Indeed, when watching the film’s opening credits, it almost seems that every other name of cast or crew has since died. When did Superman: The Movie get so old, when did it get so full of ghosts? I hear the music, that glorious, breathless, exciting and playful main theme, and it seems utterly at odds with the sober thoughts rushing through me at seeing all those names of people gone. Superman isn’t an old film, it feels so fresh and alive and exciting even today, and yet..

Of course, it is just such a pleasure to see both Reeve and Kidder, and Brando and Ford and admire the skills of Unsworth and Barry and all the rest. The star that shines brightest, of course, is Reeve- well, he simply will always be Clark Kent/Superman- nobody else is ever really going to come close. That scene after Superman has taken Lois for a flight over the city and returns as bumbling Clark to Lois’ apartment, when, as her back is turned, he takes off his glasses and ‘becomes’ Superman simply from adjusting his posture and his facial expression, so tempted is he to reveal his identity… and then he loses his nerve and puts the glasses back on and ‘becomes’ Clark again… it’s just marvelous.

suptmRegards this new 4K UHD edition, boasting Dolby Vision as well as the usual HDR10, I would just say the film looks wonderful albeit with some cautionary notes. The film was always rather soft-focus from its use of diffusion filters to establish its romantic/classic matinee ‘look’ and this is reflected in the softness of the 4K image. Detail is obviously very good and the colours well balanced. While some have commented on the Kryptonian costumes lacking ‘punch’ I felt they were very impressive, and indeed, the scene of Jor-El being berated by the Kryptonian Council looks breathtaking in its tones and colours, something of a revelation to me- its beautifully photographed by Unsworth.

While it’s easy to and likely correct to say the film has never looked better, I would just add a note that this disc doesn’t do some of the effects, particularly the process-work and some of the miniatures, any favours and it can be very distracting.  A very early scene of the Krypton surface miniature is particularly awash with digital noise and buzzing grain. Much of this depends upon calibration I suppose and an individuals set-up so some may not be as distracted as I was, and I’ll have to revisit some of my settings on the strength of some shots here. Its certainly a curio of this current display technology that everyone’s experience from watching any particular disc can vary widely due to screen quality, calibration, the player settings etc. Its really something of a wild and tortuous playing field and the demands of the 4K high resolution, the WCG and HDR can create all sorts of issues. I remember watching this film in pan and scan on a 4.3 CRT television, so you’ll not hear me complaining, but yes, there are all sorts of things going on that can complicate things now.

 

 

Prince of Darkness 4K UHD

pdark1.jpgI’m always a little wary revisiting old favourites. I’m pleased to say that John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I haven’t actually seen since back in the DVD days, holds up very well today. I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish- harking back to Hammer’s classic Quatermass & The Pit this is a thought-provoking, intelligent horror film full of ideas. Okay, as a horror film, it may suffer a little from lack of genuine scares and perhaps a budget a little too short for its lofty ideas (this is a film, after all, that was made for a paltry $3 million), but it really does feel fresh and interesting. As with They Live a few days ago, its such a pleasure watching a great John Carpenter movie.

And it does look lovely in 4K- better than I ever saw it before infact, although admittedly the last time I saw it was on DVD, as we never got a Blu-ray release over here. Honestly its been so many years since I saw this at the cinema back in 1987 there is no way I can compare this to its theatrical presentation, but I can’t imagine it was any better than this. Detail is excellent, really impressive, the colours are vibrant and even the night scenes hold up well- when they do suffer from crushed blacks its obviously inherent in the source and the original photography.  It really looks gorgeous and I am thrilled to have this film in 4K.

One of the chief pleasures watching this film again, was of course its great cast of b-movie actors- and I say that with some affection. These thespians (other than the great Donald Pleasence) were never destined to be superstars of the screen but several have links to some of Carpenter’s other films- familiar faces from other favourite films are always endearing and a pleasure to see. As well as seeing Pleasence again (Halloween & Escape From New York),  there are Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (both from Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, Village of the Damned and other Carpenter flicks).

However, I was struck again by the great performance of Lisa Blount as the female lead (and ultimate hero of the film albeit with a terrible fate- that last shot of her always fills me with horror) and I wondered at how she never became a bigger star. Looking her up on IMDB I sadly learned that she had passed away back in 2010 at the age of just 53. Not for the first time I am struck by sobering reality when looking up someone from an older film on IMDB to see they have passed, a life summarized by a brief bio and filmography. Its a perspective I don’t really like and it makes me increasingly reticent to look people up on IMDB.  It left a bit of a shade upon my experience of rewatching this great movie.

I would not suggest that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film- far from it. It never really lives up to the promise inferred by its great nine-minute title sequence and it does noticeably sag towards the end as the characters sort of do nothing at all while the film waits for night to fall again. The ending doesn’t really have the impact it should but the coda  with its cheeky scare has a truly chilling final shot that infers all sorts of grim horror to follow in the viewers imagination- a great thing for a horror movie to do. Indeed, this film has always been a favourite of mine chiefly from all the ideas behind it, all the concepts going on that linger in the mind afterwards, rather than anything particularly in the film, strangely. Not all films do this.

The film has an absolutely perfect score that has always been a favourite of mine (I originally had the soundtrack on audio cassette that says everything about the age of the film, funnily enough) and I really do rate the film as being one of Carpenter’s very best. In my book, there’s The Thing, Escape From New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness.. but then again, Big Trouble in Little China is no slouch, and I love In the Mouth of Madness‘ Lovecraft vibe and The Fog is a lovely old-fashioned ghost story and.. yeah, well, this is why lists are so useless- Carpenter may have made a few duds late on but he made some great films.

Anyway, this film with They Live really has me hoping for the best with the release of Escape From New York on 4K UHD later this month.