In lieu of being actually able to watch anything, I thought I might take this opportunity to look at what I’ve got pre-ordered or coming my way over the next few months-

POGuiltyThe Guilty & High Tide (Flicker Alley)

First (maybe) is a pair of noir just recently released on region-free Blu-ray/DVD in the States by Flicker Alley, who seem on a par with Indicator regards supplemental material and rescuing obscure titles. Unfortunately as they are based in the States, these releases don’t come cheap, even via Amazon, and there are a few other noir films from them that are on my radar. I’m dipping my toes with this one as its a double-bill but if its as good as early reviews suggest and I do go for some other Flicker alley releases it might become an expensive series of additions to my noir collection. Probably a few weeks before my copy reaches here, certainly no sign of it being dispatched yet.

PONorthThe Northman 4K UHD

Released July 18th comes Robert Egger’s The Northman, one of those films I’ve been sufficiently curious about to pre-order the 4K disc. Although it must be said, Eggers is the guy behind The Witch (a disturbing period horror which I really quite enjoyed) and The Lighthouse (a film I detested, not ‘getting it’ at all) so even now my thumb tends to hover over the ‘cancel pre-order’ button. Eggers involvement would seem to indicate this film has Marmite slapped all over it, so I’m wary about it: in theory with its setting etc it could be right up my street but you just never know- these days I have increasingly little patience with ‘pretentious’ when it interferes with storytelling. Then again, that’s a charge aimed at The Green Knight by many, a film I enjoyed and one stylistically similar to John Boorman’s Excalibur, a film which I’ve seen mentioned in the same sentence as The Northman in some circles. So who knows? Sometimes staying spoiler-free to enable watching a film ‘blind’ can be a dangerous thing though; I can understand some renting first.

POGetCarterGet Carter 4K UHD (BFI)

The week following The Northman sees the BFI release their next 4K disc following The Proposition, which was a good film in a very good package, and they seem to have followed a similar format regards releasing this British crime classic. Well, I say ‘classic’ but I’ve never seen it. It figures that if its as good as they say it is, I might as well watch it in the best presentation that I can, so this 4K remaster it is. I tend to avoid these ‘tat’ editions which seem to have sneaked into the physical market as some kind of ‘last hurrah’ but if it allows these disc releases to stay financially viable I guess I can stomach one or two where I have to (thankfully the pre-order prices have dropped recently to something less eye-watering). While mentioning these ‘tat’ editions, a 4K release of Event Horizon due in August tempts me endlessly. That film is a guilty favourite of mine and I would dearly love to fix some of the current Blu-ray disc issues (stretched ratio for one) but goodness me, can’t they drop the tat for once? Can’t see a bare-bones just-the-bloody-film-no posters or badges or scarfs edition available for pre-order yet. Added complication is I’ve got my Blu-ray sitting in my glorious elaborate Event Horizon DVD case (some of the fanciest packaging I own) which will do me fine to house the 4K if only I could buy the 4K at a reasonable non-tat price, drokk it.

I suppose most everyone reading this though is busy tutting at the revelation that I have somehow never seen Get Carter, but as I’ve mentioned before, its weird how some films, even the established ‘classics’  just pass us by. Part of me hopes it leaves me nonplussed, because it could get just even more expensive if it turns out its soundtrack is as cool as I’ve heard say.

POFlatlinersFlatliners 4K UHD (Arrow)

Here’s where my credibility really takes a fall. I think the week after Get Carter comes out, Arrow releases Joel Schumacher’s original Flatliners in a 4K edition. My only defence is that I haven’t seen this film in decades, not since the VHS rental days, and back then I really enjoyed this film immensely; as I recall, rather a cheeky poor-man’s rehash of Brainstorm (not that Doug Trumbull’s film is a particular classic). Part of my enjoyment of the film was that I was really taken by the film’s soundtrack at the time; by James Newton Howard, a composer unknown to me back then but who has since become a household name in film score circles. Indeed, just as I had done with Vangelis’ Blade Runner, I remember I would search for the soundtrack album for months in vain- it was never released, as far as I know. As for the film, I don’t know what I’ll think of it now, and I appreciate this pre-order has mindless self-indulgence all over it, but as I never owned it on DVD or Blu-ray its hardly like wasting money on a double-dip- which is a curious justification, but there you go. We’ll see if I hold my nerve/come to my senses.

POHeatHeat 4K UHD

The releases keep on coming, week after week- seven days after Flatliners possibly sullies my letterbox, comes one of those films we’ve been waiting for AGES to come to 4K UHD; Michael Mann’s Heat (after this, surely The Abyss can’t be far behind?). Shame about the lazy-looking cover though- they clearly seem to be almost reluctantly dumping this out on physical media. Remember when studios were interested and made some effort? I have a mind to dig my fancy VHS copy of Heat from out of the loft- the VHS case came in a fancy cardboard box (with the ‘proper’ film poster art)  to signify the importance of its release in Widescreen (anybody remember when those VHS Widescreen releases were such a Big Deal?). Its clearly a film which deserves the Indicator treatment, its almost a shame Warner (or whoever owns this now) couldn’t hire those good folks at Indicator to produce the proper special edition which this film deserves. I suppose we’ll be lucky if it just looks as good as it should; Mann is infamous for tinkering with home releases of his films, so maybe my pre-order needs a watchful eye for early reviews.

PODogDog Soldiers 4K UHD (Second Sight)

I haven’t seen this film in so many years. My mate Andy absolutely loved this film when it came out and always seemed to be watching it on DVD, repeatedly listening to its cast & crew commentary (which inexplicably isn’t included on this release). I’m sure Second Sight will be adding new special features but that commentary track was legendary according to Andy. Also, I’m not sure about that cover art; for some unfathomable reason they’re going for Ugliest Cover Award 2022, right? But anyway, another one of those films that I’ve not seen in ages, not since the DVD era in this case, so I’m as much curious regards what I think of it as how good it looks in 4K. After this film, Neil Marshall, who back then seemed to be a British John Carpenter, went on to direct The Descent, another horror film I loved- I’d be keen to see that one in 4K someday too.

The Police Story Trilogy 4K UHD (Eureka)

POPoliceFinally in September comes this mighty box, not certain why this seemed to somehow catch my eye- I’ve not seen anything of these films, other than a mouth-watering stunt sequence on YouTube that blew my mind and had me pressing that pre-order button. I’m a sucker for good action movies, especially as they seem to just get rarer as the years roll on. We’ll see if my courage holds up regards a boxset blind-buy like this one though. I’ve seen a few Jackie Chan films and enjoyed them so it may be a safe bet- this seems to be loaded with extras too, multiple commentaries on each film, different versions, a 100-page book, so plenty to get my teeth into assuming I enjoy the films themselves (indeed its so stacked it could be a contender for release of the year if Eureka can pull it off). Am I right in thinking that when Eureka gets into the 4K game with this release we can suggest the format is finally niche no longer? Imagine Indicator getting into 4K disc sets- what? They are? Oh my wallet.

Anyway, while on the subject of my poor wallet, that’s about it regards what I’ve actually pre-ordered right now. I’ve my eye on a few other releases but avoided succumbing just yet, particularly some of those 4K releases out in America like Kino’s Touch of Evil. There are other releases coming, for instance from Indicator (that Universal Noir box in September, and in October both a rumoured Dracula (1979) and another Hammer set). There’s also talk of Arrow releasing Videodrome in 4K – that’s one of my old favourites but I’ll likely resist that one, the Blu-ray seems fine enough to me. But who knows? The Abyss might come before year-end yet.

Recent Additions

P1110328 (2)My first package of 2022 from Indicator Films arrived late last week- the latest in their excellent Columbia Noir collections, this time devoted to Humphrey Bogart, and The Pemini Organisation, a set that was released in May which caught my interest but had to wait until I could bundle it with something else to qualify for the free postage (and use the reward points I’d accumulated last year). These releases are, as usual, limited editions, and if the numbers I received are anything to go by, the noir is as successful as ever (1150 of 6000, and only officially out today) but the Pemini set (719 of 6000) seems to be a sign Indicator could be finding it a struggle shifting them- expect it to be around for the Autumn sale.

I suppose the latter is predictable- who remembered Pemini these days, or had even heard of the three films it produced, let alone seen them? Pemini was a  film production company set up by three freinds (Peter Crane, Michael Sloan and Nigel Hodgson, the company name constructed from their first names) who wanted to work in film, so decided to be devilishly proactive: Pemini only operated between 1972 and 1974, producing just three films that pretty much disappeared when the company disbanded. All those points, of course, are why I found it so intriguing, and as ever for Indicator, its a remarkable set, the films restored and lavishly presented with an in-depth book and a bounty of on-disc extras- there’s plenty more prestigious and famous films that would be envious of such treatment. Its like a little film school in box.

I’m not familiar with the contents of the Bogart set, as I haven’t seen any of them before (I was never much of a fan of Bogart), and I understand some of them are a bit of a stretch regards defining them as noir. As usual though its a beauty of a package and a welcome companion to sets 1 to 4. The next noir box is the first of a new series, leaving Columbia behind in favour of noir from Universal Pictures, which looks fantastic but isn’t out until mid-September.

Alas, I could be awhile getting around to watching these new arrivals. After a weekend with the television hijacked for Glastonbury, its now restricted to two weeks of Wimbledon tennis: regular readers will know that during this fortnight I become a Wimbledon Widower every year, and getting to watch anything that isn’t tennis is pretty tricky. We’ll see how that goes, but its important to keep the wife happy, obviously.

Paywalls are a Good Thing

As we slide further into a streaming future and an increasing number of providers, more and more shows and movies are becoming locked away behind numerous paywalls and I’m… well, the natural thing to write here is that I’m obviously missing out massively. But I don’t necessarily think I am. I’m beginning to think its a question of liberation, an indication of the increasing irrelevance of franchises I once thought hugely important.

I watched The Walking Dead for several years, but thankfully gave up on it before its final seasons slipped behind the Disney paywall. I quite enjoyed Outlander for a few years, but fell behind before it too slipped behind a different paywall. Star Trek seems to be slipping behind a Paramount paywall, but other than curiosity regards how disappointing  Strange New Worlds probably turns out, I can’t say I really care. They should have probably done me a favour and put Picard behind that paywall so I couldn’t have suffered through its Season Two (unofficial subtitle ‘The Death of Trek’).

I’ve never subscribed to Disney+ so I haven’t seen any of the Marvel tv shows, or Star Wars tv shows, or some of the movies being put on there and nowhere else (except for those few movies that arrive on disc that I decide to take a punt on). It was a bit annoying at first, hearing great things about The Mandalorian, and a Boba Fett series certainly seemed intriguing, but as time has moved on, I’ve realised I haven’t missed them at all, and according to some reviews, I haven’t missed out on too much of any value/worth, either.  There definitely seems an indication that Disney making so much Marvel and Star Wars content risks diluting the value of those properties, and quality control seems to have definitely fallen to the wayside in the drive to ensure fresh new content pops up on the streaming service. And there’s the odd twist that there’s so many Marvel tv shows presumably linking to the films, that me not watching Disney+ makes the film themselves less appealing to me than ever. I understand back in the 1990s many comic fans gave up on the massive comic crossover arcs that required me them to buy comic series they wouldn’t ordinarily touch with a barge pole, if only because they couldn’t afford to buy them all. Is that happening with streaming platforms and franchises? Might it happen to the MCU too? You can watch the films but they will reference to series and events and characters one hasn’t seen and therefore make less sense? As if the MCU wasn’t hard enough to keep track of anyway.

Maybe I’m getting old. I have been increasingly diverted by older movies, such as the film noir that I have been watching and collecting (becoming a substantially large percentage of the titles on my shelving these days). They don’t show too many of those older films on the streaming services. Actually I find it curious, that so much regards these streaming services seems to be about genre shows, which seems oddly niche, considering streamers are after subscription numbers, and I would have thought that meant chasing Mr Average, not the geek sitting in the basement or up in the back room. Or did the geeks inherit the Earth after all, and nobody’s watching soaps or sitcoms anymore? Its just a bit weird. Maybe in an alternative universe everyone’s watching Westerns or cop dramas or something.

I’m not suggesting that streamers are the Great Evil – there are some great shows and movies being made, that I cannot imagine ever seeing the light of day through any other vendor- like Amazon’s The Boys or Netflix’s Stranger Things. But its true that the elephant in the room regards streaming services (and its not just Disney+ at fault here, as Netflix is as guilty as any) – is that to keep subscribers the services have to ensure a steady flow of new content for them to consume before they get bored and turn elsewhere, but it requires so much content that quality inevitably suffers. How many Netflix Originals turn out to be any good, never mind actually great? If Disney just made one Star Wars mini-series a year, would it enable them to make it at least consistently logical and honest to the franchises mythology?  I’ve heard things about that Obi-Wan series, how bad it is, from reliable people I know that have seen it, that are mind-boggling, frankly. Disney would have to pay me to see it, not the other way around.

There are many tv shows I would like to see, like Apple’s For All Mankind series from Ronald D Moore. But what kind of viewing figures does that show actually get, or indeed most any of the shows on these streaming platforms? How many people actually watch Star Trek: Discovery? A generation past made who shot JR or who killed Laura Palmer hugely popular discussions and as everything fragments that seems to be increasingly rare- maybe its impossible now. I’ve watched tv shows and been unable to even find anyone else who watched them at all, never mind anyone to share them with in conversation. Maybe that’s the result of paywalls, but isn’t that making much of its content irrelevant that would usually be what we used to call water-cooler television? Is that really a Good Thing?

Happy Birthday, Blade Runner

Blade-Runner-movie-posterForty years ago today, Blade Runner was released in America- June 25th, 1982. Obvious things spring to mind; forty years is so long ago, it just makes me feel dismayed thinking that Blade Runner is forty years old. I suppose I should add the caveat that my own 40th Blade Runner anniversary is a few months away yet- thanks to the gradual roll-out of films back then (hey, they used expensive ancient-tech film prints in bulky reels in those ancient times) Blade Runner, barring press screenings and a fabled preview screening by Starburst magazine, didn’t make it to UK cinemas until September that year (I first watched it on September 12th, 1982 in the old ABC in town). But anyway, film anniversaries always fall on when they were first released in the US, for obvious reasons, so today it is.

I know what 4K disc I’ll be spinning up tonight, then…

Forty years, though. Ridley was 44 when Blade Runner was released- he’s 84 now, how old does he feel this morning? Mind, poor old Vangelis is gone, recently passed away. Still can’t get over that, every time I play his music it feels a little different, somehow; only the other night I had a relaxed hour or so and listened to his albums China and See You Later, the latter of course featuring Memories of Green, that was used on the Blade Runner soundtrack (always amazes me how that track, recorded a few years before, fits the film like a glove and set the tone for the whole score). Its inevitable of course as so many years pass that so many of the people who made Blade Runner -who would generally be middle-aged at the time anyway- would pass away, leaving behind a fragment of celluloid immortality as films do, over time.  So many of the actors have gone; Rutger Hauer, Brion James, Bob Okazaki, Kimiko Hiroshige, Hu Pyke, Morgan Paull,  while behind-the-camera staff like Jordan Cronenweth, Syd Mead,  Lawrence G. Paull, Terry Rawlings and Douglas Trumbull have gone. Anybody else getting depressed yet?

Well, that’s what forty years will do. Eventually Blade Runner will leave us all behind, like old classics do such as the original King Kong. Films are Forever. Well, as long as they are restored and digitised I guess. Makes me think of original author Philip K Dick’s description of kipple, which represented entropy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: “No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.”

That’s all of us, eventually: Kipple. I need a drink. Where’s my Blade Runner-inspired whiskey glass? Happy birthday, Blade Runner.

God’s Angry Man: Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)

P1110321 (2)Odds Against Tomorrow, 1959, 94 mins, Blu-ray

Well we’re back in Noir city and this Robert Wise film, one of the last films of the ‘classic period’ noir. It’s fairly easy to tell its from the end of the ‘classic period’ (1940s/1950s) because even though I wasn’t alive back then, and not American either, its nonetheless easy to feel the 1960s bearing down upon films like Odds Against Tomorrow (see also Murder By Contract). You can feel the world changing; the post-War period is fading away and the Space Age is coming, and with it the Swinging Sixties, the Beatles, hippies, all that stuff… you can almost smell it in the wind, even in films like this; the world changing. Watching earlier noir, it can feel like something from another world, remote somehow, no matter how familiar and universal the themes and tones of the films, the fashions and social sensibilities are distant. The films can still be terribly relevant; that’s the magic of noir, they often seem the most relevant of all cinema, but there is a distance, too, sometimes comforting, sometimes frustrating, but its there. But less so in films from the close of the 1950s into the 1960s; what we see and hear is more what we know.  

So here we are and yet again we are graced with the chiselled-stone countenance of the great Robert Ryan, here playing Earle Slater, an ex-con and racist, tough as nails and angry- indeed, he’s like Gods Angry Man, raging at everything. He can’t stick anything out; job, career, relationships, he always turns any success into failure and knows it but can’t change it, its who he is, what he is. Slater’s self-destructive drive is demonstrated when he cheats on his girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters) with a frustrated housewife from the floor above, played by Gloria Grahame, veteran of earlier noir like In A Lonely Place and The Big Heat. Lorry doesn’t deserve it and Slater knows it, but he’s angry at himself, at Lorry, at the world, and he can’t help himself, his fury just makes him wreck everything.

P1110318 (2)Could anyone play Slater as well as Ryan does here? Doubt it. The irony that Ryan would later bitterly resent the fact that he never seemed to play the leading man, the hero, in any of his seventy-plus films isn’t lost on me when watching him in films like this. He was just too good, too convincing, as horrible charming monsters. Women could see themselves falling for him, men would love to drink with him, but neither could imagine turning their back on him and still feel safe.

Slater is approached by David Burke (Ed Begley), a former policeman hounded out of the force after thirty years when he refused to cooperate with crime investigators: seems he was a bent cop who turned the other way when it suited, justifying it as living in the real world of shades of grey and mocking those with sensibilities more black and white. Bitter at being cast out Burke has a plan for a Bank robbery that is so easy and simple it cannot fail; it just needs three guys to see it through. The third man he has in mind for the job is Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte) a black nightclub singer whose gambling addiction has gotten him heavily into debt and ruined his marriage.

P1110314 (2)Slater and Ingram are instantly at odds when they meet with Burke and both refuse the job, but grudgingly change their minds when they realise they have no choice: Slater, unable to get or hold a job because of his criminal past and temper, is furious at being emasculated by his working girlfriend Lorry  who supports him, and sees the robbery and its promised $50,000 as a way to be a ‘proper man’ and breadwinner again. Ingram meanwhile has debts to a criminal boss who threatens (at Burkes behest, curiously) the safety of Ingram’s separated wife and young daughter if he cannot make good on his debts, so the robbery is his only way of saving his estranged family. 

Burke thinks that hiring two men as desperate as he is will ensure their compliance with his scheme, and prove to be excellent allies, but doesn’t realise how the trio will prove horribly self-destructive: its all a recipe for disaster. All three are trapped with no way out but the inevitable one.  

Was Robert Wise one of America’s greatest directors? His earlier noir, The Set-Up, also starring Ryan, was pretty great, and while Wise seemed to have a talent for noir he was just as good turning his directorial hand at anything- after all, his next film would be West Side Story, and besides starting his career as editor with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane (notable enough, surely) his other films would include such classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain… its a hell of a list. And yet I never seem to see him mentioned alongside the likes of Hitchcock, or Spielberg .

P1110311 (2)Odds Against Tomorrow features a great deal of location shooting, its a remarkable-looking film- like so many noir shot ‘on the streets’, it succeeds even if only as a visual document of the times, but I think Wise demonstrates here his particular flair with actors; characters are defined really well, horrible as some of them are, and the three leads are excellent. There’s that odd dichotomy typical of noir, when we know the guys are bad and we don’t like them at all, but we still want to see them succeed.  The mechanics of the heist, the drama as it unfolds and how it falls apart, is also well realised. Its clear early in its staging that things are going wrong, but the three crooks are too desperate to realise it, or unable to see any alternative than just see it out.

The film is as much social commentary as it is a heist thriller, maybe more so- certainly today it seems more famous for its racial issues than the heist it centres upon, and is surprisingly complex- at one point Ingram rages at his wife for mixing with white people, for betraying her own race-  Ingram betraying racist tendencies of his own, albeit possibly reactive against the racism he suffers: “It’s THEIR world and we’re just living in it,” Ingram berates her.

Its inevitable, really, that Ingram and Slater’s rage at the world and their respective plights turns in against each other in a literally explosive finale. Odds Against Tomorrow isn’t a perfect film, some of the jazz music seems overly melodramatic at times, feeling an ill-fit in places, but on the whole its pretty powerful stuff and its sense of place and time, thanks to its location shoot, is as captivating as any noir. 

P1110315 (2)

Eight Years Later: The Counsellor still horrifies

counsellorSo I watched Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci on Amazon Prime and figured I’d review it succinctly as “its The Counsellor without the interesting bits” which seemed to sum it up.  As you possibly guessed, this got me to thinking about that earlier Ridley Scott film again and my Blu-ray copy is easily at hand so… I watched it again, if only to see how it measured up against Ridley’s most recent film/misfire (delete as appropriate).

Then it dawned on me that I last saw The Counsellor (in its extended version, having never seen the theatrical edit) back in 2014. That’s eight years. Eight years! Two things immediately sprung to mind, holding the Blu-ray case- its a Twentieth Century Fox film, something which doesn’t exist anymore since Disney took over the studio (dropping the ‘Fox’), and secondly that there’s no way Ridley would get to release an extended version of his film the way he often used to back then, especially not via Fox/Disney. Neither, now that I think about it,  would it have such an elaborate Special Feature as its ‘alternate viewing experience’ that lasts three and a half hours with commentary and video sections. Well, there’s progress for you, but its another thing to miss; such elaborate special features in just the same way as I miss the fancy packaging that DVDs used to get, back in the day.

Its actually a little sad, the part near the end of the commentary track when Ridley appreciates the home video formats (he refers to ‘DVD’) which allow him to release extended, alternate versions of his films and special features that open up the film-making process (grumbling a little that it makes his face recognisable to the public, losing him some anonymity when on the streets etc). Well, streaming is gradually eroding those old benefits of home media: how things change in just eight years though.

So anyway, back to The Counsellor. Its way darker than I remembered. Goodness its such a dark and disturbing film it should carry some kind of warning, and weirdly it benefits from something like Sicario, released a few years after, as an unintentional companion piece. An exercise in over-indulgence both within its ponderous Cormac MaCarthy screenplay, and its onscreen cast of familiar star faces (Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt, Penelope Cruz), in a way its a case of media becoming its own message, because the film is also about over-indulgence, its frankly despicable characters over-sexed, and ultra-rich, their greed for expensive pleasures and comforts proving their undoing. Its a surprisingly philosophical film too, its lengthy monologues not the hip, witty dialogue of Tarantino films but rather dark, rueful treaties on life, greed, reality, trust. There’s only one likeable character and she gets to ‘star’ as the subject of a snuff movie so yeah, its desperately noir film. Consequently, many viewers have found the film utterly repugnant and its not well-regarded (its possibly actually largely forgotten these days, far as I can tell) but I rather liked it back in 2014 and I still do, although I feel a little dirty even admitting that I think its one of Ridley Scott’s better movies, certainly in his top ten.

Maybe watching so many film noir over the past few years actually makes this films darkness more palatable. The titular character (never referred to by name, only by his title of Counsellor) is caught in a web of nightmarish coincidence triggered by his own greed (how very noir) and so the film struggles to maintain any kind of empathy for him at all- it operates contrary to how film narratives usually do, with protagonists which viewers root for: instead its a troubling viewing experience, a distant observation of someone falling into Hell. So an instant turn-off for many. But I like the monologues, appreciate the amazing cast, and find rewarding the films disturbing presentation that mortality and violence can be instant and dispassionate, ignorant of whether its deserved, and Fate has no morality or justice. Its a cruel, horrible world and we’re fooling ourselves if we think it isn’t: but how else can we give our lives meaning other than through some moral code even though others refuse to live by that code? The Counsellor is the very definition of a nihilistic film, and far from easy viewing, but something about it just gets under my skin.

Gotham Noir

The Batman, 2022, 176 mins, 4K UHD


Who knew I needed another Batman? Certainly not me- I was still rueing the ill-luck of Ben Affleck who seemed to me the definitive Batman, wasted in the artistic/commercial carnage of Warner/DC’s ill-fated attempts to duplicate the success of Marvel Studios output. Affleck wasn’t alone, mind; one could well argue that Henry Cavill’s Superman deserved better than he got. Whether we have truly seen the last of them, time will tell, but I believe Affleck has (yet another) cameo playing Batman due in someone else’s movie -next year’s Flash – and there are all sorts of rumours regards Cavill. But hey, I suppose the only certainty in life other than death, taxes and Star Trek’s endless plunge into ruin is that we’ll always have another Batman, Superman, Spider Man in some new movie…

So here we are with Robert Pattinson as a very, very dark, very, very noir, young Batman. I’ll make that distinction re: his age because Affleck is still my favourite, if only because I’m more inclined towards enjoying his older, world-weary Batman. Pattinson’s Batman isn’t yet the proper, genuine article; this is a Batman still in gestation, finding his place and gaining the experience to really be the Batman, an arc that is a central element of the film’s narrative.

Which reminds me, as someone who scoffed at the very idea of Affleck donning the cowl when I first heard news of his casting, that one should never jump to conclusions at initially bizarre casting news, because the truth is… You. Just. Don’t. Know. Because yes, Pattinson is actually very good here in a film that concentrates on the Batman rather than Bruce Wayne, a narrative decision which is a great plus in my book- yes, here’s a film that lives up to its title, this is THE BATMAN.

Batman is likely the most fascinating of all American comicbook characters- created in 1939, he has been reimagined and developed over the decades by generations of comicbook writers and artists, sometimes a dark and haunted soul, sometimes a jolly camp crusader in a colourful world of villainous misfits. Sometimes he is used as a lens to investigate our fractured society, sometimes he’s an escape into a simpler world in which good always triumphs over evil. Curiously these different approaches in comicbooks and graphic novels have been reflected in television and film incarnations, from the Adam West television series to the gothic-noir of Tim Burton’s 1989 film, through the colour-saturated kinetics of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman and Justice League.

I appreciate that this film has more than its fair share of detractors. Some balk at its lengthy running-time (nigh on three hours, something I thought was a typo when I first read it), some just don’t like the casting, some don’t like the (slow, almost glacial at times) pacing, some don’t like the relentless darkness. I can’t say I’m surprised; its so indebted to films like Seven and Taxi Driver that sometimes it doesn’t feel like a superhero film at all, which is a big plus in my book after so many of them but I appreciate alienates some comicbook fans possibly more used to Marvel’s output. Its a Marmite movie, maybe?

Well, I fell in love with this film right from the start- you know how some films just click with you, and immediately you can tell its right on your wavelength, visually and narratively, and you can just relax and go with it? Well, that’s how The Batman was for me. The darkness, the rain, its absolutely gorgeous cinematography and brilliant score. It was somewhat like my experience watching Blade Runner back in 1982. I was just sold right from the start and it hardly put a foot wrong. I even loved the film’s third act, when you can just tell the film-makers are toeing to superhero film convention by throwing in a big spectacle finish. Probably something dictated by the Studio, while it feels a little incongruous from what has featured before, I think at that point the film had earned it.  Absolutely brilliant film, for me; when it ended I had this buzz I haven’t felt in quite awhile.

As someone who adores Villeneuve’s output, and the slow pace of his films, particularly Blade Runner 2049, I had no problem at all with how The Batman is paced, slowly unfolding its story over those near-three hours. I love films that can take their time and not rush things. I suppose this is actually ironic, considering how much the films noir stylings harken back to those film noir of old which pared down their narratives to sometimes just eighty or ninety minutes despite having more plot-turns and character twists than would fit in a two-hour plus picture today. I have watched so many film noir these past few years and grown to love them so much that it possibly doubt left me more inclined to relish the stylings of this film, but yes, it is a little odd that a film that is such a film noir distillation of the Batman character and Gotham City manages to run twice the length of the films it is so inspired by/indebted to.

Oh, but Gotham City- what a place it is, in this film. Previously, my favourite Batman film was possibly Tim Burton’s 1989 film, mostly because it seemed, with its own gothic-noir art direction, to take place in a particular kind of twisted, nightmare metropolis that seemed to be a better fit for the crazy characters that inhabit it .As nutty as Bruce Wayne dressing up as a bat might seem, it makes more sense when its a reflection of the crazy place he’s living in. I know Christopher Nolan’s films will likely always be more popular, but Nolan’s attitude to his film’s setting, picturing Gotham City very much as an ordinary modern metropolis, leaning particularly towards modern Chicago, for me leaves his own trilogy lacking a major character- that of Gotham itself. Not so here; Matt Reeves’ film takes place in a fascinating, breathing, twisted location that’s one of the most memorable settings since, well, LA2019. Indeed, its a big part of the film’s success for me: in just the same way as I spent decades revisiting LA2019 in Blade Runner over the years, soaking up into bewitching ambience as its dystopian view became, rather sneakily, utopian compared to the changing real world I was actually living in, I rather suspect part of The Batman‘s appeal will be just its sense of place, its own sense of reality.

The impression of Pattinson’s Batman not being the fully-formed article helps, too. We don’t really see his Bruce Wayne, certainly not the playboy alter-ego he will (likely) later become. Instead this is the Batman in development, finding out what works, and often painfully, what doesn’t. Maybe some viewers are alienated by this almost unrecognisable Batman but I find it quite exhilarating. Likewise the Bat Gadgets are more basic, the Batmobile not the sleek machine we are used to. This is not a world familiar with superheroes or superpowers, its a gritty film with a more tactile reality.

Indeed, is The Batman really a superhero film? One has to wonder, if one compares it to Marvel’s output, or Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: The Movie (a film I consider the definitive superhero film) while neither is it a deconstruction of the comicbook tropes that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film was. The Batman is something rather less, at the same time rather more. Its a film noir, definitely; its a murder mystery, a narrative set in the seedy underbelly of a fragmenting, disintegrating city full of political and judicial corruption. The Batman itself suggests its about the failure of vengeance, and the meaning of hope – a message that feels a little trite, by the end, but narratively it makes perfect sense and earns it. Batman begins as an agent of vengeance, believing that only violent justice might clean the streets and offer redemption for the murder of his parents, but finally learns he has to become some other Batman; this one an agent of hope (which we’ll hopefully (sic) see in the next film). Its so much more sophisticated than Snyder’s “Martha!” was, and possibly suggests that maybe Burton’s film was missing the point with its own origin arc, in which defeating Jack Nicholson’s Joker was literally avenging his parents: life isn’t that neat (thankfully we also aren’t subjected to yet another retelling of Bruce Wayne’s childhood trauma witnessing the death of his parents).

penguinDisc extras are surprisingly substantial, although it misses the commentary track/s that the film really deserves. I miss the days of the Matrix films on DVD with multiple commentary tracks: those things are the likes of which we will never see again except from boutique labels but on the whole the extras here are indeed more than we usually get these days. Of particular interest to many will be the deleted scene featuring the Joker in more detail than the dim cameo sneaked into the film’s coda. It was wisely deleted- I’ve seen quite enough of the Joker in previous Batman films and I hope any sequel has similar restraint. On the subject of villains, isn’t Colin Farrell’s Penguin quite brilliant? Some have questioned the wisdom of burying him under all that prosthetic wizardry, but he’s burning prime Robert de Niro under all that stuff: part charming, part terrifying, something de Niro was brilliant at, and I think Farrell channels him well here (maybe he was aiming for Al Pacino, who knows). I thought those prosthetics were great; the design telling us things that the film then no longer has to literally- the scars on his face that suggesting a life of crime that we can only imagine, and that last shot of the Penguin about to seize control of the criminal underworld brilliantly evokes he’s paid his dues and his time has come. That’s storytelling.

Paddington Saves

Padd2I don’t know if its a sad indictment of where film-making is right now, but after the last several days watching so many bad films, I re-watched Paddington 2 the other night, and it was great (this time on 4K UHD so hey, prettier than ever). It’s a really good family film with genuinely great writing, direction, casting and performances. It reminded me of early Pixar films, the way they were planned to (near enough) perfection; you could just tell -and the Toy Story films are a fine example- that everything was thought out, worked out at the script and storyboard stage, so that it just works splendidly. Sure, opportunities of on-set, spur of the moment nature can be a boon, but it seems to me, considering how much planning must go into modern blockbusters regards CGI shots, stunts etc that so much of it seems so clumsy and ill-thought (perhaps formulaic). Paddington 2 is such a joy. Its funny, heartfelt and so little is wasted, every shot seems to have meaning or supports something that happens later, and it doesn’t seem like its telegraphing things too obviously either, which itself is a neat trick to pull off.  Basically, it was a fabulous script brilliantly executed, and so many other films should heed the lesson of the bear.

Also, Hugh Grant should be a sitcom star: who knew he was such a disarmingly brilliant comedy actor?

Murder of a franchise

halloweenrisesHalloween Kills, 2021, 105 mins, Digital

I’ll keep this as short as I can, this film deserves no more. There’s was a point during this film where I felt like damning John Carpenter for ever making the 1978 film that spawned this wholly lamentable horror franchise. Halloween Kills is so horrible it almost outweighs the positives of the 1978 original ever existing at all. Halloween Kills is badly written, badly acted, badly directed. Only the other day I was praising Ghostbusters: Afterlife for demonstrating how to resurrect a film franchise,  how to make a sequel befitting and honouring its original. Well, here comes Halloween Kills to demonstrate how not to do it. It is such a disaster I can’t quite put it into words; to be brutally honest I wasn’t expecting much, if anything at all, and yet it still managed to disappoint.

Actually, it made me quite angry. How do films, as demonstrably cynical and badly made as this get made? Of course, the answer is money, which I’ll come to in a few paragraphs, but bear with me here, because the question is nonetheless valid. There are so many continuity errors, factual errors, clumsy mistakes, it was one of the laziest, most ineptly made films I’ve ever seen, and I’ve suffered through plenty of them. Its so bad it feels almost deliberately bad, there is so little indication anybody really tried at all. There were so many moments that my jaw dropped at the crass stupidity of characters or plotting, the film increasingly edging so close towards parody and farce, it felt almost insulting, like the film-makers were physically slapping me in the face.

So lets get to the money, and the scariest thing about this film. It cost $20 million to make, grossed over $130 million worldwide, so there will be another Halloween film. And possibly another after that. Where will the horror end?

Which gets me worried; knowing how money attracts Hollywood attention, and recent rumours circulating, there’s surely a cautionary lesson in this film- that John Carpenter should, by all things Holy, somehow, if he has it within his power, veto any attempt to reboot/remake his 1982 classic The Thing, because nobody, surely, wants that film sullied like the way Halloween has been over the decades – with Halloween Kills, it has plummeted to stygian depths Lovecraft never considered. Worst film I will see this year, I expect (and sincerely hope).

Murders on the Horror Express

murders1Horror Express, 1972, 91 mins, BBC iPlayer

The first casualty of a bad horror film is any shocks, it seems. Well, that and the reputations of all involved. I dare say there are a few revisionists out there who describe this film as some novel precursor to John Carpenter’s The Thing but that’s utter tosh. Okay, the film owes a little to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella “Who Goes There?” that both the original The Thing From Another World as well as John Carpenter’s version were based on, but its so poorly executed here its practically incidental- possibly it was even accidental (an alien is thawed from millions of years in ice and proceeds to jump from body to body killing travellers on a Trans-Siberian express). No, this is just a really poor, terribly bad horror film hamstrung by a zero budget and only enlivened by the casting of Hammer greats Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, albeit one has to pity them the misfortune of featuring in such a lousy film. Indeed, my overwhelming sensation watching this film was almost of pity, soberly considering that no matter how great we may now think both Cushing and Lee were, the truth is that back in the day they were likely poorly-regarded b-movie horror actors who had to bum around for gigs in awful productions such as this (see also Cushing’s appearance in the not-quite-so-dire The Devil’s Men). Mind, I’m not certain what Telly Savalas’ excuse is for appearing in this as a Cassock captain, who seems to drop in from nowhere on the hunt for the killer like some sabre-rattling Inspector Poirot (and no, its nowhere near as amusing as that likely sounds).

So it was a wholly irritating, sobering experience, this- I’ve been curious to see it for a few years now (thank goodness I was never tempted by those Arrow sales), entirely on the basis of seeing Cushing and Lee in a movie together again. Had this been a mid-sixties Hammer romp, it may have been just as silly but it would, curiously enough, have been a better-made film, even considering the limited budgets Hammer films were notorious for. At least it would have had Hammer’s signature gothic style, gaudy colours and fine period costumes/art direction, and would have been enlivened by seeing the usual Hammer retinue of actors with a dramatic music score. Sadly, there’s none of that here, and as one might expect from a cheap Spanish production there’s also woeful dubbing on any dialogue uttered by someone other than Cushing, Lee or Savalas, which only further detracts from what actually going on.

I suppose one can admire -although with considerable sadness- the professionalism of Cushing and Lee who heartily continue to act their best whatever the rubbish they are in (maybe all those Hammer flicks were ample practice), giving genuine effort here which the film hardly deserves. Truly, the two Hammer veterans deserved much better and its such a pity that they so needed to pay the bills that they had to sign-on to pictures such as this. Its far beneath them, but that’s true of quite a few films in each of their filmographies. Mind, its true most actors likely appear in films they’d rather forget- something that was much easier to get away with in decades before home video came along. What on Earth either Cushing or  Lee would have thought had they know this particular film would still be widely available to viewers all these decades later? They would likely have been horrified. Its not often I ever say of a film featuring Peter Cushing “never again!” but its certainly true of this nonsense.