If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.

 

Avanti! (yet again)

av1Yes I’ve watched Avanti!. Again. Isn’t it weird how one of Billy Wilder’s most easily-dismissed films has yet cast a bewitchment on me that keeps on pulling me back. Mind, I’m sure of all us who love movies have one or two curios which we return to or love quite irrationally. I don’t know why it is, but its… well, I rather think its an emotional thing, a connection we possibly can’t even explain. Maybe part of it is nostalgia, either for the time/experience when we first saw the film or for the period the film was made, what it represents, or the world it has frozen in time on celluloid. Certain films grab hold of us, and they never let us go.

The world of Avanti! no longer exists; perhaps it never did. Sometimes film can be strange that way, either fooling us into thinking its real or represents a heightened reality, like musicals do, or suggesting a better world, a picture of how we would like to be, or a world we would love to be in. Who wouldn’t like to stay in the Hotel Excelsior and be pampered by the fussy Carlo Carlucci, or meet Pamela Piggott and go for a swim in the early-morning ocean?

Who can resist revisiting it every year, watching the film again? Not me.

The Unthinkable (“Den blomstertid nu kommer”) (2018)

unthinkNow this was a totally absorbing film from out of nowhere, which I stumbled upon on Amazon Prime presumably because, as its a foreign film, some algorithm spotted I’d watched the subtitled apocalypse film Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula prior. and figured I might be up for another. So here we go with a Swedish character drama/end of the world thriller that may not be perfect but is really very satisfying. 

Victor Danell’s The Unthinkable is a great little movie with epic pretentions, and its uneasy mix of the intimate (a dysfunctional family drama with an introverted young man, Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot) broken by regrets over his lost true love) and the macro (a doomsday thriller with exploding bridges, cars crashing like projectile weapons and helicopters falling out of the sky) creating a strange tension that in a sense hampers the film but is also quite fascinating; the friction between the two being quite jarring. Its almost like two movies edited together, separately each is perfectly fine (if each were expanded into two movies they would work quite well) but together they feel really, really weird.

Indeed its quite bizarre being lost in an intense European character drama one moment and then being quite utterly disorientated by unexplained death and carnage in the next. Gradually we learn that Sweden is being invaded by antagonists unknown and nobody, not the people in the streets, the politicians nor the military, seems to know what’s happening or why. There isn’t a declaration of hostilities or an Alien Mothership in the sky announcing planetary invasion. People get increasingly deranged (its explained only later as to why people’s behaviour gets odder) and events get more chaotic. Its strange and thrilling and the sudden shocks are genuinely disturbing. 

I would also like to mention the film’s particularly fine, emotive score by Gustaf Spetz, which really does support the film very well indeed. Its emotional, melodic analogue-synth beats (reminiscent of Nils Frahm music) are very fine and its thunderous action moments are quite sweepingly operatic at times, with a nice use of organ that reminded me of Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar. This is a score that succeeds in raising its film to a higher level and Spetz, who I had never heard of before, is to be commended.

unthink2The core problem with the film though is its nominal protagonist, who is introduced in the films disarmingly low-key first half-hour which is almost a movie within a movie. Alex is a self-obsessed, emotionally damaged young man who is bullied at school and suffering a miserable family life with his parents bickering and eventually breaking up. His whole existence is fairly horrible, frankly, and the only ray of light in his life is his deepening friendship with Anna (Lisa Henni) who shares his love of music. Alex’s feelings for the pretty Anna seem to be reciprocated, except her mom gets a job far away and they leave before Alex gets the courage to reveal how he really feels, taking Anna out of his life seemingly forever. More misery for poor Alex!

The issue for the film is that after all this, Alex is clearly damaged goods; after a flash-forward of some ten years we see Alex is now a successful musician, but he behaves pretty much like a selfish jerk whose hobby is lashing out at the world. He’s older but still immature, it seems, anger always simmering under the surface. Its perfectly understandable, possibly quite realistic, but dramatically it makes him a difficult protagonist to root for, especially when throughout the film he keeps making bad decisions. Within minutes of us catching up with Alex as a musician, we learn his mother has died (more misery!) in some alleged terrorist bombing attack that actually prefigures the imminent invasion, and that he is so disenfranchised from his short-tempered father Bjorn (who has a storyline of his own through the film, having been left behind by his wife and later his son, and whose conspiracy theories eventually appear to be vindicated) that Alex refuses to advise Bjorn of his estranged wife’s passing: forgiveness not being one of Alex’s character traits.

But while this emotional soap-opera might seem a little frustrating as far as giving us someone to root for and identify with, it does kind of work. Although Alex is a strange and unusual candidate for a movie hero, there is a curious sense of reality to him, even when he makes selfish or odd decisions. Mind, the latter isn’t wholly confined to Alex- many characters make unusual decisions and often come off worse because of them. But there is an odd reality about this: too often in movies, characters act like movie characters rather than real people, with decisions and acts of courage that conveniently serve a movies plot but often don’t ring true of the foolishness of ‘real’ people. In The Unthinkable, characters make a snap decision under pressure and are dead because of it minutes later. As a viewer it frustrates a little because we sometimes ‘know’ the decisions are foolish but that doesn’t make it any less believable, because in real life people are often dumber than in movies. Its just unusual when a character makes a left turn when the movie standard is one to the right.

Considering its humble origins the film handles the epic enormity of its action/disaster sequences with much success. I won’t dwell upon its low budget because I had no inclination of this when watching it- only later did I learn that it cost something in the region of just $2 million and was a Kickstarter with its crowdfunding backers listed in the credits. This film really punches above its weight and its low budget is quite irrelevant, except that Hollywood/Netflix etc could likely learn a thing or two. The sense of scale and the excellent use of practical and CGI effects is really to be commended, a sense of reality to the ensuing nightmarish events being maintained largely throughout.

Ultimately the epic scale returns to the intimate as most of the characters are reunited, at least temporarily as arcs come full circle; I hesitate to expand on this too much as it might undermine the films twist, which is related to a central theme about relationships and memory- and how important memory is, how it can overpower us and we can be slaves to it (while it also defines us). There’s a pay-off here though that didn’t really work for me- mainly because of how much of an unlikeable git Alex tended to be: how much the finale works depends largely upon how much one can empathise with Alex’s plight, and I ultimately couldn’t, really. I was more inclined to sympathise with Anna (Lisa Henni is really good). I suppose Alex’s arc is one that succeeds more on the intellectual level than it does emotionally, certainly for me anyway, but I do think the film is to be commended for trying to land an intimate, character-driven pay-off instead of one of spectacle. Perhaps my view may change on a subsequent viewing, and the film is definitely one I’ll return to; I really enjoyed it and its definitely worth a watch on Prime.  

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

t2bpI fondly remember Train to Busan, it was Die Hard on a Train (with Zombies!), and there was a point early on in this film, in what turned out to be a prologue before the main plot proper, when I thought that this film was going to be Die Hard on a Boat (with Zombies!). I figured that zombies would get loose on the big boat of refugees sailing to freedom and that, trapped on the ocean for three or four days in its race to salvation, it would be a claustrophobic thriller with lots of story breaks/crises (the engines are on fire! We’ve sprung a leak! Zombies in the Lifeboats! etc). In hindsight that might have been construed, possibly rightly so, as a lazy sequel, a very minor twist on established formula as most sequels are. Maybe the film-makers for Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula should be praised for trying something different, for upping the scale and having some ambition – essentially what they have done here is a similar trick to what James Cameron did with Aliens following Ridley Scott’s claustrophobic, more intimate original. Unfortunately though its possibly too much of a departure, because this film has lost most of what made the original so great.

I suppose this is the danger of coming into a film blind having no idea what to expect other than, er, lots of blood and zombies. I just didn’t expect it to be quite so much of a departure from the first film, especially when all of the changes leaves the finished production such a crushing disappointment.

So its not Die Hard on Another Train or Die Hard On A Boat; indeed its not Die Hard at all. This is more Escape From (a Zombie-Infested) New York/a (Zombie) Road Warrior/Fury Road and on that level, of some bizarre self-indulgent genre mash-up, its almost fun. Diminish your expectations and settle for a low-rent John Carpenter-inspired flick and I guess its really quite enjoyable. Well, it would be if it didn’t feel quite so much like watching someone playing a videogame. There is so much CGI in this film, particularly in the Mad Max-inspired chase through a zombie-infested city, that it rather degenerates into a cartoon; Final Fantasy: The Zombies Within maybe. The night before I watched Baby Driver and thrilled to its real-life car chases and stunts, which really put the woeful CGI here into sharp relief and all the worse for that comparison.

Maybe its the sheer scale of the thing, having so much CGI (at some points it looks like a Sin City-style greenscreen movie) and thus the sheer number of shots forcing the quality of it all downwards – it happens all the time, you’d think film producers would have figured by now that Less is More. The best films heavily reliant on CGI effects struggle to maintain credibility, here its quite beyond them, the physics and weight of most of the vehicle shots quickly degenerating into videogame nonsense and the CGI zombie hordes soon quite boring rather than anything threatening. Its a shame; if they’d just left it as an Escape From New York-inspired heist film trying to rob a bank in a zombie-infested/criminal militia-run city, a kind of Apocalypse Now journey into zombie heart of darkness, it could have been intense, thrilling, scary.

This film is everything but scary. Maybe that was largely true of the original, too but that film at least had thrills and tension. Instead this has a crazy grandpa, blubbing kids, a morose wooden hero… and lots of shades of other, better movies. Not a terrible movie but not far from it really: biggest sin of all is how much it looks like one of those FAQ/Walkthoughs of videogames one sees on YouTube. Movies should be more than that.

Revisiting Baby Driver (but in 4K!)

bb4kLast night I finally took my 4K disc of Baby Driver out of its shrink-wrap and rewatched the film. My original thoughts are here, from back when I watched the film on a rental from Amazon- I enjoyed the film immensely and purchased the 4K disc when it featured in a sale not long afterwards (ah, the good old Zoom days…) but isn’t it strange when it takes so long to rewatch even a film one enjoys? Baby Driver is one of those clever films that just clicks, a twist on the musical genre and a brilliant reinterpretation of the use of source music in films that dates back to American Graffiti. If anything, I enjoyed the film so much more this time around- no doubt because of the image quality of the 4K and perhaps even more so its superior sound too. Yeah, streaming is okay but its definitely sub-par in so many respects.

And of course, in another example of the argument for physical media, they may not be on the 4K disc, but there’s lots of special features on the accompanying Blu-ray disc bundled with the 4K. This includes two commentary tracks which I think will prove to be highly informative regards the use of the music and the decisions regards selection.

I read recently that Edgar Wright has spent lockdown finishing the script for Baby Driver 2 (which I presume involved listening to his entire music collection and writing for specific tracks/beats) so I look forward to seeing what comes of that. Baby Driver is a fairly self-contained film and doesn’t need a sequel but I’m certainly open to more if its as good as the first film. I also see that Ansel Elgort (who should have been hired by Disney to play Han Solo in its Solo flick) is starring in Spielberg’s West Side Story due in December; he’ll be absolutely huge after that if it proves as good as it hopefully is.

What the Duck?!!

htd4kWhat is THIS? What’s going on… has the world gone Quackers? I guess this means anything is possible on 4K disc now. We’ve waddled across the Rubicon, people.

We’re STILL waiting for The Abyss on Blu-ray never mind 4K and there’s so many genuinely ‘Great Movies’ like Citizen Kane, the original King Kong, or Ben Hur and so many others waiting for 4K releases… cripes, off the top of my head Once Upon a Time in the West or even Conan The Barbarian or The Thin Red Line… the list is pretty endless really, because Howard the Duck…its almost funny. Well actually it IS funny because its really quite a joke. Is Howard the Duck a really successful, hugely popular cult movie that has huge demand from the public for a 4K release, are we living in that world? Well I suppose we must be, because its coming on July 5th.

Revisiting Big Trouble in Little China

Watched my Blu-ray copy of Big Trouble in Little China last night; first time I ever watched that disc, which really qualifies this as a ‘Shelf of Shame’ series of posts. 

Don’t know why I waited so long to get around to this (other than perhaps the crazy number of times I watched this film on VHS and DVD), as I love this movie, have done since I saw it at the cinema back when it first came out. I was so blown away by the film- I thought it was brilliant; funny, action-packed and so much sheer fun. Yet it just failed to get an audience at the time. It was so weird. I’ve kind of gotten used to it now, so many times I’ve walked out of a cinema buzzing and later its like I’ve seen a different film to everyone else. I’m way off the cultural zeitgeist, that much is clear.

But like with Blade Runner and so many others, VHS saved this movie. I wonder if streaming will ever save movies the way VHS did (and later DVD, I guess). Streamers don’t usually post viewer numbers but I suppose that’s just the same as most studios never posting VHS sales, which I was always curious about. I’d love to know, for instance, how many copies of Blade Runner have been sold over the years- someone must have those figures, surely? Those old days of VHS rentals and sell-through… one could just tell, somehow, when a film was very popular (certainly in the days of rental stores when you couldn’t get a booking without waiting days/weeks: Die Hard was another film when copies were like gold-dust). Streaming… its anyone’s guess how well new films are performing when they are streaming.

Big Trouble in Little China does seem to be one of those films that gets better with age. It still seems an unlikely film amongst all the others in John Carpenter’s filmography, it feels a little odd. Carpenter’s films are usually so dark and edgy, and China feels just so light and fluffy, daft and fun, almost like a cartoon brought to live-action. The humour is off-key, something which really flummoxed the studio at the time (‘what? Jack Burton’s not the hero? He’s an idiot?’) and left them lost regards how to sell it. Maybe it would have worked better as a more typical low-budget Carpenter flick, like Escape From New York, without a big budget loading the film with all sorts of false expectations (people seemed to think it should have been another Indiana Jones movie, but Jack Burton is no Indiana Jones- even though Kurt Russell is just so good in this). So typical of John Carpenter though, subverting expectations. I miss that guy. It was a better world when he was still making movies.

He’s making original CD albums now, just to prove how messed-up this world is. He should be making MOVIES, darn it.

There’s been lots of talk over the years about remakes/sequels/reboots of BTILC and EFNY. They should follow the BR2049 route, bring back both Carpenter and Russell and show us Jack Burton as a retired old bum in a bar getting roped into an alien invasion storyline and missing things up all over again. Okay. Horrible idea, but no more horrible than some of the sequel projects mooted over the years. 

The 1980s was a pretty cool decade for genre movies, wasn’t it. Cooler than we possibly realised even at the time; when we were in that decade, post-Star Wars boom as it was, it rather felt like it would last forever but times change, tastes change, etc. Mind you, I just remembered that Howard the Duck was released the same year as BTILC. So maybe I should discard these rose-tinted glasses.

Promising Young Woman (2020)

promPromising Young Woman is almost a horror movie- or its a horror movie posing as tragi-comedy; its a curious mash-up that works very well. It’s hamstrung by a plot that forces a few too many coincidences and unconvincing plot twists but on the whole its quite good. The central performance of Carey Mulligan is fine enough to forgive the film’s stumbles, on the whole, even though I fear she’s possibly a little too old or maybe too perfect- I don’t know, there’s something a little ‘off’, but again, that’s possibly less Mulligan and more the scripts contrivances, that leaves the film feeling less ‘real’ and more wish-fulfilment female power fantasy.

The central premise is that our Promising Young Woman (there’s actually two of them, but one is already dead when the film starts, mourned and obsessed over by the other) Cassandra (Mulligan) is fully aware that all men are bastards but remains open to being convinced otherwise (albeit always disappointed). Well, all these bastards must pay, and Cassandra’s the girl to cash them in, like some feminist American Psycho. She frequents nightclubs late at night pretending to be so drunk she’s almost about to pass out, a sure-fire target for predatory males to lure home and take advantage of (well okay, rape) – the males of course are in for a shock when she ‘sobers up’ instantly whilst they are up to no good, and while she doesn’t physically harm them (at least as far as we see)  she does ensure that they are aware of the errors of their ways. 

The film is basically a revenge flick and a reckoning for men who see women as just sexual objects – Cassandra’s ire being from her best friend, Nina (the other Promising Young Woman) who was gang-raped whilst blind drunk when at college whose rapists (male students) went unpunished, the shame and injustice/guilt of it all driving Nina to suicide. So when the perpetrators of that said assault cross paths with Cassandra by almost random coincidence a chain of events is set in motion, an almost deliriously far-fetched rape-revenge saga that is saved by a pretty amazing (‘did they just do that’?) twist that totally saves the film. 

Some women will feel empowered, some men will feel distinctly uncomfortable, which is possibly the point of the film. I was annoyed by the plot contrivances, really, some of which felt cheap and lazy, frankly. But its not a bad film by any means, again, saved by some of the performances. I just get bugged sometimes- its fine I suppose at showing some people at their very worst, but ironically like many American films, when its showing people at their very best, it fails to be really convincing in how they act, how they relate, speak and verbalise their thoughts. A few times watching this film I asked myself ‘do people really talk like that?’ and scenes just failed to convince. Which I suppose is doubly black regards this film as dark satire, in that I can readily believe in the bad guys but not the good. What does that say?  

King of New York (1990)

kingnewykAbel Ferrara’s King of New York is a highly-stylized exploitation mob movie, about New York drug lord Frank White (Christopher Walken) released from prison and intent on regaining his criminal empire. Shot mostly (possibly entirely) on location it has a gritty, docudrama ‘look’ which is undermined by just being so stylized and overly… maybe manipulative is the wrong word, but its a brazen shock-for-shocks-sake film, so much so that with every establishing shot of a new scene you expect to see a sudden moment of violence from anywhere. Its almost exhausting at times and this ultimately works against it- it doesn’t feel ‘real’, the characters almost being gratuitous caricatures, whether they are mobsters or cops. Supreme over all of this is Christopher Walken as Frank White, a typically riveting performance when the actor was in his prime, dominating every scene and clearly a league apart from the rest of his cast. It is a good cast, mind, with players destined for big things afterwards: David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, Giancarlo Esposito, but its telling that each (with the exception of Fishburne) are largely under-used by a screenplay that skirts the surface and offers little substance or depth. White is almost permanently accompanied by two women who are both bodyguards and possibly lovers but I don’t think we even get to know their names, never mind get an inkling of what they are thinking or their background/history with White. Often it has the feeling that there’s a prequel movie that the director assumes we’ve already seen. Its pulp fiction, entirely exploitation, feeling no need for any depth.

It really has the feeling of a 1980s VHS rental; you know, the down-to-basics, often violent thrillers that thrived in the home video market when people could rent out the kind of unedited films that couldn’t be shown on network television. In that respect its a pleasant kind of throwback movie, but it lacks any kind of sophistication of message or execution: indeed its so intent on shocks and taking any excuse for a graphic shootout that it becomes rather convoluted and confused, which is really quite ironic. We don’t really understand White, or get under his skin, suggestions of his Robin Hood-style ethics (his drive to finance a neighbourhood hospital) unexplained, which is a pity considering Walken’s ability and screen presence. Perhaps Ferrara wanted to maintain some element of mystery to White’s background and intentions, but I think much of this issue is the films drive to shock. White will suddenly pull out his gun and shoot an adversary simply for the surprise and thrill of the sudden violence, when really the film should perhaps pause for some kind of dialogue that deepens the drama or suggests White’s motivation. 

So King of New York is clearly a film of its time, and rather suffers from its pulpish, shocker roots: a stylish b-movie (it certainly looks pretty good). Its dated by its electronic score that again is very of its era but I suppose this is, for its fans, all part of the films charm, and I can understand why the film has something of a high reputation among those who saw it back when it first came out. Watching it in 2021 though its really something of another story.

The Good, the Bad & the * Ugly True Romance

true4kversOh dear, what has happened to my beloved Arrow Films? Is the boutique Blu-ray/DVD market suddenly on a slippery slope? A 4K release of True Romance, of both cuts and with a raft of extras making it pretty much definitive, is surely something to be championed and praised loudly, considering where physical media is going lately, but this release is blighted by some of the worst artwork I’ve had the misfortune to see in all my many years. It also appears to signal a cautionary note regards possible future 4K releases of The Thing (and maybe, even, Ridley Scott’s Legend if the rumours are valid) if they follow a similar release path to this one.

Zavvi (yeah, boo hiss, everyone) bought Arrow Films recently and its pretty clear now how things are going to pan out. Announced for release mostly as Zavvi exclusives True Romance will be released as a 4K limited release steelbook with lots of tat, a 4K steelbook minus the tat with a slimmed-down 30-page booklet (both of these the Zavvi exclusives), and seperate 4K and Blu-ray limited editions (with the ‘proper’ 60-page booklet) which will presumably turn up on Amazon for pre-order next week. Luckily I couldn’t care less for the £40 and £30 steelbooks but even the tat-less 4K set is £30, and with cover artwork as ugly this one’s got they are perhaps pushing people into the direction of the steelbook, but only braver than I risk ordering from Zavvi (not renowned for the best mail packaging around).

true4k5Of course what’s on the discs is what matters but I do wonder who’s in charge of the art direction on this release and greenlit the poster art. Likenesses are pretty poor and worst of all I don’t think any of the designs -even the steelbook, which is the least ugly one of the bunch- actually feels right for the film. It rather seems something of a fudge and a surprising one, as Arrow in the past has been pretty good with their packaging (although their Blu-ray of The Thing was borderline bad, now that I think about it). The thing (sic) that concerns me (other than the Zavvi exclusivity, which was inevitable really) is the sudden tendency to load the releases with tat in order to justify a higher price-tag (their American Werewolf in London was another example of this). Is this just a refection of a last-ditch effort to save physical media?

Can’t imagine Indicator going that way with Columbia Noir tee-shirts and badges etc but I suppose this is the influence of Arrow’s new owner: Zavvi is infamous for re-packaging the same old discs with all-new ‘premium’ packaging, especially regards steelbooks which for some reason seem to drive fans/collectors into a buying frenzy. I’ve bought the odd steelbook in the past but have never second-dipped a film just for the new packaging (I’ve not been in the slightest interested, for instance, in Zavvi’s recent steelbooks for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, as the discs are just the same as I already have and you’d have to be out of your mind (or under the influence of too much Soylent Green) to spend £25 just for fancy re-packaging, no matter how much of a die-hard fan you might be – and believe me, few are as die-hard regards Blade Runner as I). Its surprisingly easy to part fools with their money, maybe, but I fear for where this indicates physical releases going.

As far as True Romance goes, its possibly my favourite Tarantino flick (if only because it was directed by a better director) and I’m really pretty chuffed about it, especially in 4K, and the extras look really fine. I never bought the film on Blu-ray so that’s a nicer bonus as it will be nice to watch the film again for the first time in quite awhile… but man, this artwork….