Predator (4K UHD)

pred4kIts easy to forget, as time rolls on, just how wild and special the 1980s were for those of us growing up back then, and just how bloody good films were (I’m conveniently ignoring turkeys like Howard the Duck, admittedly, to make my point, but…).

Even ignoring the glorious summer of 1982 and its own remarkable crop of genre classics, we were graced with two Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Terminator, Robocop, The Abyss, Die Hard, Tim Burton’s Batman and so many others. We had Arnie, we had Sly, crikey, we didn’t know how good we had it: and I’m often surprised just how well so many of those 1980s films hold up still, all things considered, and are often clearly superior to all the remakes/reboots/sequels that they have been mined for over the decades since by an increasingly imagination-bereft Hollywood. Maybe films back then benefited from their photochemical, technological limitations, which grounded them in ways that contemporary films fail to be.

Case in point: Predator, a film which arguably looks better here on 4K UHD than it ever has, in a pretty gorgeous presentation: plenty of grain, yes, but also a delicious ‘pop’ graced from some of the highlights through HDR with a pleasing sense of depth and tactile reality. I rather felt like I was watching it for the first time, back in the cinema again. Of course, the image quality is only the icing on the cake: the film itself is a high-testosterone, gory and over-the-top majestic action spectacle, a high-octane b-movie. Tautly wound, it doesn’t waste a moment and its a magnificent example of Arnie in his absolute prime. Actually, I had to double-check the year Predator came out, because looking at Arnie’s physique in this film -he’s pretty huge- reminded me so much of his 1982 Conan The Barbarian (how dearly I’d love to see THAT in 4K) that one could be forgiven thinking he’d made Predator directly after that John Milius sword and sorcery epic.

I’d forgotten just how good Predator is though. Its simply glorious stuff, even the cheesy, 1980s-at-their-worst stuff feels like a breath of fresh air after the last several years of anodyne Hollywood blockbusters. Stogie-chomping Duke (Arnie) and old war-buddy-in-a-tie Dillon (Carl Weathers) can’t say hello without flexing their biceps for a contest of physical prowess. Jesse Ventura chewing up the scenery along with his beef jerky. Big guns! Big explosions! Boy this film is loud. The glorious Alan Silvestri score that reminds just how great movie scores could be, and how much we’ve lost with what they have lately become. By the time Arnie yelled “Get to the Chopper!” I howled with joy and high-fived my wife. What a ride this film was in 4K. Absolutely thoroughly enjoyed it and there’s no better way to experience it than in this new 4K incarnation.

Recent Additions

P1110248 (2)Buying films on disc is still ‘A Thing’ but as you can see from the snap I’ve taken of my recent purchases, rather than new films my eye is in the rear view mirror and past films that I’ve seen before (and yes, bought before on previous formats). At least I’ve managed to resist the Indiana Jones set just recently released on 4K. No doubt its time will come eventually but one has to draw the line somewhere (sorry, Indy).

So anyway; I rationalised buying the Toy Story 4K box because I never bought Toy Story 4 on disc and this long-overdue box release is the most cost-effective way of going 4K on these Pixar classics. The Predator 4K box has just come back into stock at a reduced price (I missed the opportunity prior to Christmas) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is just one of those films… well, I bought it on R1 DVD so many moons ago and then again on Blu-Ray… maybe this is the last time (my wallet certainly hopes so). As a film lover some films just, well, they drive us crazy and we lose all common sense and go all Gollum (“I must have it, my precious!”). Lastly I managed to pick up Murder on the Orient Express on 4K for less than a tenner- its a film I saw on a rental that I really enjoyed, and at the time I was wondering how gorgeous it would look in 4K so I’ll find out soon enough. I just noticed that I watched that rental nearly three years ago!

And here’s a shocker- I’ve actually gone and bought two films on digital. I know, I know, shock, horror, that’s Hell freezing over, but I couldn’t resist testing the water with some bargains on Amazon. I bought well-regarded indie sci-fi Prospect for 99p in HD, and a HD copy of Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film that I’ve been curious about for just £1.99. I don’t think digital will ever be a Big Deal for me, I’ll always prefer films on disc but at those prices (must be the digital equivalent of the Bargain Bin), what’s not to like? If I watch something I absolutely adore I’ll just get the disc version and won’t have lost much financially. Mind, I still feel like I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

Army of the Dead (2021)

army1Zack Snyder’s return to the zombie genre is as loud and dumb as anyone could have hoped for or feared (some people love this stuff, like some guilty pleasure) – I just wish it could have been more tense. Its the one thing that’s quite unforgivable about this film – the utter lack of any tension. There really isn’t any. In a zombie movie. Its violent and gory but it isn’t in the slightest bit scary, there simply isn’t much of any sense of threat- possibly because the core set of characters are so by-the-numbers and familiar that we don’t really care about any of them. I swear the woman who doubles as Aliens‘ Vasquez, from wardrobe to final death, it is so obvious its a wonder James Cameron isn’t knocking on Snyder’s door for a credit, but we’re past the point now that genre fanboys feel more clever about spotting these ‘homages’ than they do feeling pissed off at yet another bloody call-back to a better movie. They’ve even got a ‘Company man’ who pulls a double-cross and a rooftop escape that is thwarted by the transport having fled early… (oh no we’re screwed, its not here its gone no wait no its not, here it is we’re saved) yeah they even pull THAT Aliens gag, I’m almost surprised they didn’t use James Horner’s music cue.

Once the action starts and the deaths start to mount up, we’re watching almost passively, utterly uninvolved. Its like everyone involved got obsessed with the technical stuff- the visual effects, the stunts etc- that they (and I guess when I write ‘they’ I’m really referring to Snyder) forgot the script. And the characters. And yet this thing is about 150 minutes long. 

Its style over substance. Nothing new there, its Snyder after all. Its competently shot and generally looks pretty great, with some quite arresting moments, but its so dumb and predictable. Its such a shame. Technically, Snyder is some kind of genius, he has this eye for this kind of stuff that can’t be denied, and he’s marshalled a team of excellent production designers and make-up artists and visual effects teams, and the premise of a zombie-infested Las Vegas as the setting for a violent heist caper is some kind of genius, especially when you can throw in a certain few Elvis Presley songs. But where’s the tension, where’s the scares, where’s the surprises? Why all the familiar genre tropes and nods to earlier movies?

Not a crushing disappointment but nowhere near as good as it might or should have been. Snyder desperately needs someone standing at his shoulder whispering “hey, hang on, lets think about this for a minute…” but at this point in his career that’s apparently long gone now. Studios get a lot of beef for interfering with creative visions but with Netflix its surprisingly routine for projects to suffer from the creative teams having too much freedom, and such is the case here. But hey, its a popcorn movie.

Recent Additions

P1100368 (2)While the crazy disc-buying days of old are over, I’m still prone to buying discs (I just try to be a bit more selective). Here’s my most recent additions to the shelf. Some still in the shrink-wrap, but others actually watched already (!).

Planetes is a brilliant Japanese anime which seems increasingly prescient over the years, concerning a team of astronauts tasked with cleaning up all the debris cluttering Earth-orbit before it causes a calamity (Gravity owes a lot to it). I used to have it on DVD back from the days when we used to have to buy anime shows over time in multi-volume releases (five or six discs released over several months, as I recall) which puts into comparison even the premium costs of these boxsets from All The Anime. Fortunately for my wallet I was able to pre-order this set in an early deal; its a lovely set with a 80+ page book of artwork accompanying the digipack in a sturdy hard slip-box, and on the Blu-ray the show really shines; it looks gorgeous. I only watched the first episode, as I’m biding my time to watch the series throughout properly, but this will be a definite pleasure.

Of course every boxset that Indicator release truly delivers- and Columbia Noir #3 is as beautiful a package as the first two sets. A series of posts reviewing this set’s six noir films will follow over the next few weeks, and hopefully the films, none of which I have seen before, will be equal to the films that preceded in the first two volumes. These are possibly my favourite sets from the last few years. I used to complain about there being so few film noir releases over here in the UK and then we hit the motherload with these. I hope there is another two or three volumes of Columbia Noir to come (no-one seems to be sure how many we’re getting).

I bought Irreversible with Columbia Noir #3 and Someone To Watch Over Me direct from Indicator, justifying it by saving on postage and getting my credit points high enough to get a discount on my next order. Its a notorious film; I have it (somewhere) on DVD and only managed to stomach it for one viewing (probably why the DVD is long-since AWOL) so its hard to fathom exactly why I bought this Blu-ray. The package is enticing, with fine artwork, definitive-looking extras and an 80-page book… its almost as if I bought this intending to learn more ABOUT the film rather than actually get around to watch it. We’ll see. 

Someone To Watch Over Me and Extrablatt (The Front Page) I’ve already mentioned, having watched them together on Saturday

Two Criterions follow, thanks to an offer on Amazon (my previous Criterions were bought last summer in the previous Criterion sale). The Ascent is the most recent release, as it came out on my birthday earlier this year, funnily enough, which felt something of an omen since the film seems to have been given universally positive reviews: a ‘masterpiece’ of Russian cinema released on my birthday? Well, patience has saved me some dosh. Gilda is the Criterion that slipped through the net last year, as I couldn’t pick a film to accompany it, which has been doubly annoying as I kept on seeing/hearing references to it on the Columbia Noir sets from Indicator. I’m really curious about it, as I’ve never seen it, and it will certainly fill a gap in my noir collection.

Lastly, this week has seen the 4K UHD release of The Sting. Here again I have to confess that, despite my affection for 1970s American Cinema, and plenty of opportunities over the years with television screenings, particularly over Christmas’ past, I have somehow never seen this film. Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw? I’m reminded how odd it can be, the films we don’t see, over the years. I think it proves something of a lesson, particularly for a film lover like me who’s seen so many films- so whenever I read a blog and someone hasn’t seen Citizen Kane or some other ‘classic’ I have to cool down my dismay and appreciate I’m guilty of some bad misses too. Its all relative, after all- I mean, I’ve seen less Russian films than I can count with the fingers of my two hands and my experience of European Cinema is pretty slight, so we can all be guilty of being a little myopic in our choice of films. 

 

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.

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…. 

 

Casino 4K UHD

casinoWhile the step-up from Blu-ray to 4K UHD is not as easily noticed as the upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray (although a worrying number don’t even notice that difference much either), sometimes catalogue titles are released in which the upgrade is clear as day. A truly great 4K release can have amazing detail and grain, giving a wonderfully textured ‘look’ and HDR brings the whole image to life in a way that can often take the breath away. 

Such is the case with Martin Scorsese’s Casino– set mostly in the bright lights of Las Vegas the film benefits from HDR in such a way that the film arguably gets a whole new lease of life, and indeed watching this I almost felt like I was watching it for the first time. Its quite a revelation. The wisps of backlit cigarette smoke, the dazzling reflections of light bouncing of surfaces, the bright lights, the neon… the image really pops, and of course that is augmented by the uptick in detail, the texture that is added to everything from fabric in clothes to the plush carpets and furniture, the WCG adding extra verve to the bright colours. 

Casino is perhaps understandably going to be forever in the shadow of Scorsese’s Goodfellas, a deliberately cooler, rock and roll rollercoaster of a ride than this somewhat darker, more intimate film. I have always had a bit of an issue with Scorsese’s gangster films making their characters more palatable for audiences by making them cool, indeed almost heroes that the audience roots for, relishing in their violence and ill-gotten gains rather than condemning the monsters that they are. Casino re-adjusts that balance somewhat- Robert De Niro’s Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein is always more businessman than gangster, the mob really a means to an end, but Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro is indeed all monster, a mob enforcer who gets seduced by Vegas’ riches and undone by his greed (its never enough, he’s always after more, proving his own worse enemy). Nicky’s final demise remains one of the most brutal and harrowing scenes ever put on film, despite being not as graphic as one might recall. The surprise in the film is the amount of focus it gives Ginger, Sam’s girlfriend and later wife who is always on the edge of self-destruction, played incredibly well by Sharon Stone in what is likely a career-best performance.

De Niro of course was great back then, in retrospect at the height of his career (I’d argue he was on a downward slope ever after) and Pesci himself was never better. Following so soon their performances in Goodfellas, seeing them in the similarly-themed Casino seemed almost lazy casting, as if they were coasting, but in hindsight, from the perspective of 2021 I can see things differently now. Casino was seizing the opportunity of the time with two great actors being at the top of their game: it had to be made then, even if being made in 1995 just five years after Goodfellas, it was doomed to suffer from comparison.

On the surface, with its tight cutting, ever-moving camera and sublime soundtrack of iconic songs accompanying the visuals, the film seems very Goodfellas and this might be why it alienates some fans of that film- its a different kind of film in the guise of that earlier one, like a pretender almost. On its own terms however Casino may be the more accomplished of the two and really, its never looked a good as it does on this 4K UHD, finally having a rather arresting image to supplement its intense storyline.

Casino is a study of how we destroy ourselves, and Vegas seems to be a place that draws people in and exaggerates, intensifies that self-destruction: or at least it was until the mobsters were forced out and it was turned into a Theme Park for adults. I find it somewhat curious that the New York of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is long gone now, the film almost as much historical record as it is drama, its seedy, adult-cinema sin city since turned into a more palatable Disneyland and that’s oddly repeated in how the Vegas of his Casino movie also suffered that same fate. Reality replaced by artifice. Of course Scorsese’s New York of Taxi Driver was the real deal, whereas his Vegas of Casino is a recreation, but its one that looks quite glorious in this 4K edition.

Godzilla vs Kong must wait

godzillakongI want to watch Godzilla vs Kong (released this week on home rental) but I think I’ll save my £16 to put toward the 4K release in mid-June. The studios just haven’t got their rental pricing right for these new hybrid-release movies: the only film I could conceivably be suckered into paying that price for a rental for would be Villeneuve’s Dune if I absolutely can’t see it in a cinema come October.

I understand some premium level of pricing is inevitable and even necessary but I can’t see how its really going to work regards recouping the mounting costs these films have while waiting for release. How can they possibly break even whatever they charge, so shouldn’t they be aiming for something more towards the impulse-rental level? Maybe something like £10 would be sweet spot enough to tempt those like me in to giving it a rental and get sufficient rentals enough to be worthwhile. I don’t know.

My worry is where all of this leaves these franchises once the dust clears. How in the world Dune Part Two ever happens is quite beyond me, and I’m rather worried about the gap in time between the productions if they even get Part Two greenlit next year (Dune was completed last year). Will Villeneuve be enthusiastic following the HBO Max nonsense, or will he jump ship as Christopher Nolan is rumoured to have done?

You know, all this actually makes me thankful, in a weird way, that BR2049 proved a box-office failure back in 2017. Had it been successful enough to warrant a third entry in the Blade Runner franchise, it would possibly have been caught up in all this, even had it been still in pre-production. How do ‘big’ films get made in times such as this? 

The 2021 List: March

March seemed to almost absently become a month of some reflection, returning to some old films and television shows, rather than really turning to very much that was new. A spell of historical dramas (Agora, Life of Brian, Troy and Spartacus) was followed by a few space movies (Ad Astra and Sunshine), and as is my current wont on the tv front the usual 1970s repeats had me watching episodes of UFO, Starsky and Hutch and even (horrors!) an episode of Charlies Angels, a show I hadn’t seen anything of since it was first aired over here in 1977. I may have been unlucky and stumbled upon one of the very worst of the first season offerings, but it was a Farrah Fawcett Majors-centred episode (‘Dirty Business’, directed by The Incredible Hulk himself, Bill Bixby, who should perhaps have stuck to acting) and dear me Farrah may have been easy on the eye but she wasn’t a particularly talented actress (although to be fair the abysmal script didn’t do anyone any favours, nor did the director, who was perhaps due a blast of Gamma Rays).

Television

32. The Terror Season One (2018)

38. Sykes Season Three (1974)

Films

33. Affair in Trinidad (1952)

34. Tight Spot (1952)

35. Murder By Contract (1958)

36. Below Zero (2021)

37. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

39. Crimewave (1985)

40. Soul (2020)