Pre-Orders/Incoming

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.

Gotham Noir

The Batman, 2022, 176 mins, 4K UHD

batmanc

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?

So a fashion student lodges in Slaughterhouse, UK…

lastnightLast Night in Soho, 2021, 116 mins, 4K UHD

Oh, this one was crazy. Crazy good or crazy bad, I’m not sure. On the one hand, considering its obvious Giallo inspiration, I suppose I should cut it some slack for some of its excesses, its avoidance of all things sensical. I’m no expert (nor particularly a fan of) that Italian horror sub-genre that champions surreal and dreamlike imagery, and visual atmosphere over narrative, but its obvious in much of Last Night in Soho‘s cinematography and increasingly silly plot that it might not be working its drama and narrative in the same way as I would hope, and that some might consider that a positive.

Well, I came to it pretty blind, knowing little all about it other than much of it apparently was set during the 1960s, and that some kind of time travel might be involved, and early on, I anticipated it might be some kind of horror spin on Tom’s Midnight Garden, and was rather relishing the prospect. Well, I was way wrong on that…

To suggest that Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho goes off the rails somewhat, would do disservice to just how utterly bonkers it gets, going all Suspiria by way of The Shining and with a cup of tea in 10 Rillington Place. 

There does seem a trend in modern cinema, and television too, to some extent, which seems to originate in an instinctive need to outdo previous films and television shows, along the lines of bigger = better, more= better, to just go further, louder. Its like restraint simply isn’t a thing anymore. and consequently as things get more bonkers, there seems to be a split in the audience regards if this is a good thing or bad- indeed some love it. Most of the time it just makes my head hurt, because internal logic seems to be the first thing that goes out the door. People think I’m being ridiculously anal when I moan about new Star Trek, with the Enterprise ‘hiding’ under the ocean instead of safely unseen in orbit, or folks teleporting to a ship in warp or indeed from one star system to another, across the galaxy, indirectly suggesting starships are actually no longer necessary. Its always something done for effect, for surprise, for spectacle and thrill, but at the expense of making sense.

So in Last Night in Soho, it isn’t enough to have our sensitive fashion student haunted by a ghost, she has to be haunted by a whole pack of them, and its not enough to have one body under the floorboards, it has to be a few dozen, and our unassuming boarding house has to be a slaughterhouse, and the ending literally a conflagration, a bonfire of the horror vanities if you will, and our heroine suddenly becoming flame-proof, because you can walk through flames if you want to, and you can inhale super-hot air and toxic smoke without poisoning and burning your lungs, because. Because.

Even there, the film can’t stop. We have to have a coda in which our heroine is fine, and her boyfriend (stabbed in the stomach and left to bleed out, unconscious in the burning building (smoke etc. I know, boring details, go get a life, Ghost..)) is obviously fine, and not only that, but she has to have the literal applause of her peers at her fashion show getting her absolute vindication in its success (from copying designs she saw in visions of what happened in the 1960s, so hardly original designs, but hey, maybe that’s a subtle commentary on how films now replicate films of old and expect to be applauded for it). Maybe whether its brilliant or not depends on personal taste, obviously, but crikey, its just one bonkers scene too far for me, spoiling anything I could have forgiven before.

Maximum Sequel

max1Last night I watched the 1979 Mad Max for the first time, probably one of the strangest examples of films I somehow have never seen (I adore Mad Max 2 aka The Road Warrior, have done since watching it on a a pirate VHS copy back in 1982, which naturally got me into a cinema to watch Thunderdome and, later, Fury Road, but I never bothered with the first film until now).

I thought Mad Max was an entertaining and interesting film, but watching it now, having watched the succeeding films, clearly informed my experience. I can’t ever get in the mindset of people back in the day watching it when it first came out. Inevitably its clearly the prototype of what was to come later, and it was evidently limited by its budget (the film I most thought of whilst watching it was George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a film that seemed to share its exploitation/indie/1970s vibe). I’ll likely write a post regards Mad Max at a later date, but I just wanted to ask- is The Road Warrior the best sequel ever, as regards improving upon its original in scale and ambition and storytelling? Its surely akin to The Empire Strikes Back compared to Star Wars. I know Godfather Part 2 is considered by many to be better than the first Godfather film, but I wouldn’t think its a better-made film as far as quality of film-making is concerned, its just got a deeper and more interesting narrative, whereas I’d argue that Empire is a classier, better-quality Star Wars and The Road Warrior same in respect to Mad Max. Some films benefit from lessons learned from earlier productions and (possibly, but not necessarily) an improved budget, is The Road Warrior the best example?

The crushing disappointment of Nightmare Alley

nightmare2021aNightmare Alley, 2021, 150 mins, 4K UHD

Well I guess the title of this post tells it all; Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a misfire, vastly inferior to the 1947 noir original. After seeing all those gushing reviews at the end of last year and all that talk of Oscar (whatever that really means) I finally watched this imported 4K disc and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Sure its pretty, that is typical of Guillermo, he’s a great visual stylist, but I was actually shocked how badly staged this film was- scenes that are disturbing in the 1947 original just seem staid and even confusing in this version, and the star-studded cast are left wasted, Guillermo unable to extract any interesting performances from them: they look like millionaire actors playing bums and are about as convincing. I usually like Bradley Cooper but he lacks sufficient intensity to pull this off, and now that I think about it, most of the cast seem unaware they are in a noir, their performances tuned for something else. So I was left at the movies end wondering had I seen the same movie as those adoring critics, had I missed something?

Is it as simple as the critics thinking Guillermo their new darling (after the over-rated The Shape of Water), who can do no wrong, or that they are largely ignorant of the superior 1947 original film demonstrating how it should have been done? This one is just too long, horribly paced and curiously uninvolving, considering that the original freaked me out and had me disturbed for weeks afterwards. The original was as much a horror film as it was a noir and like so many noir, briskly paced with no fat at all, like some runaway train pulling its despairing character to his doom. There’s no relentless nightmare down this particular alley, little sense of its character at the mercy of terrible fate, and none of the surprises of the original.

So I am left wondering, what film were those fawning critics watching? I cannot understand, for instance, how none of them seem bothered by some glaring continuity errors that seem rather odd for such a well-regarded film. One early one bothered me so much that it likely spoiled the film for me entirely, as my head kept on referring back to it thinking it would constitute something of a twist, eventually, but it was a twist that never came. The Carnival is taken down to be moved some twenty miles to join another carnival site, and soon after arriving there, the geek escapes and following a tense search in which Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) suffers a head injury mysteriously absent the next day, the geek is captured and returned to his cage- but this location/tent is the one they left behind at the previous site. They carnies have not had time to put up the tent etc or dig the pit, and it wouldn’t be so clearly identical if they had, right down to rows of formaldehyde jars and their grisly contents. It doesn’t make any sense, frankly, and in that way that continuity errors sometimes do, took me straight out of the movie, and I struggled to get back ‘into’ it.

So instead I’m just left with an urge to re-watch the 1947 original again and a pretty 4K coaster. I don’t know, maybe I need to muster the courage (and time, this thing is 150 minutes long) to give Guillermo’s film another try with lower expectations. But unless The Batman proves different next month, I fear this Nightmare Alley could likely be the biggest disappointment of the year.

Monkey Business

twelveTwelve Monkeys, 1995, 129 mins, 4K UHD

Arrow seems to have run afoul of a faulty master provided by Universal for its new 4K UHD edition of Terry Gilliam’s wonderful, bizarre and disturbing Twelve Monkeys. It actually features on their Blu-ray edition from a few years back, which I didn’t buy because I was hoping to see a 4K edition sometime down the line (pity I didn’t adopt same practice with their Robocop release, but hey-ho). Its a glitch in the edit, somehow, in which about 15 seconds of video is repeated, while the audio track continues correctly. The weird thing is, very few seem to have noticed it on that Blu-ray; it occurs at a fortuitous ((if that’s the right word) moment during some disorientating camera moves and tight edits and can easily pass people by; I’m sure most viewers never twigged it- I’m not even sure I would have noticed it had I not been warned/enlightened.

Didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the film at all, and its rather curious noting on forums that many are refusing to unwrap their copies and are returning them or getting increasingly irate over a replacement disc. Essentially those people are right, there is something wrong with the release and purchasers have every right to expect a ‘proper’ copy without any faults or glitches at all. My old VHS copy got it right, after all, so shouldn’t a brand-spanking new top of the line 4K UHD disc be the same? Of course it should. But this film isn’t broken, and unless you’re really looking for it, it doesn’t pull anyone out of the movie. Indeed in an odd way, it seems rather fitting for a Gilliam film, a sort of meta-reference to the nightmarishly inept bureaucracy of Gilliam’s earlier masterpiece Brazil (now THERE’s a film I want to see on a 4K UHD SE release). Maybe Gilliam himself would appreciate the humour in it. The important thing is that the film looks gorgeous in 4K, its really quite lovely and of course the film is only more effective/more harrowing than ever in our post-Covid world.

But it set me thinking about the theatrical cut of Blade Runner in 1982, complete with dialogue continuity errors, visible continuity errors, scenes played with the wrong dialogue take so that lips weren’t moving when we ‘heard’ someone talking, sequences with cables clearly hauling up spinner vehicles into the air or sitting off-corner where we’re not supposed to see it yet. The film wasn’t accidentally mastered and released like that, it was literally made and finished like that. Now that’s a broken movie- even though I loved it all the same.

Recent Additions/ Capsule reviews

P1110251I’ve been weak, and succumbed to a few sale offers over the past several weeks, and there have also been a few disc releases of the films from last Autumn/Winter that I’d been waiting for.

Matrix Resurrections 4K UHD: A film of two halves, really, but my review can be found here.

Whiplash 4K UHD: I watched this on a rental a good while ago, when it absolutely terrified me. I don’t know why I’m putting myself through this again, except that the 4K disc was in a sale and yeah, it seemed like a great film last time around. We’ll see what I think if/when I can muster the courage for another anxiety trip…

Cliffhanger 4K UHD: A guilty favourite, my review can be found here.

Beverly Hills Cop 4K UHD: No, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was in a sale, I used to love the Axel F single back in the day (I have the 12″ in storage somewhere), I’d seen the film on a VHS rental. Once. Actually I quite enjoyed this disc, there must be something of a nostalgic pull from anything 1980s just lately. There’s a scene in a bar where a Prince song I didn’t know was playing on the soundtrack and it bugged the heck out of me until I learned from the credits that it was a Vanity 6 song (so yeah, Prince in all but name) but it only intensified that whole 1980s ‘thing’ running through this film. The hairstyles! The fashions! That Glenn Frey song!

Eddie Murphy was actually bearable back then. There’s a story about Eddie Murphy and Jack Lemmon on the Paramount backlot which I’ve probably mentioned before, so I won’t go on with it here unless someone wants me too…

West Side Story (2021) 4K UHD: I watched this a few nights ago; quite magnificent, I thought, and easily Spielberg’s best film in twenty years. I actually think there is something in Spielberg’s style, like his slow camera crawls into actor’s reaction shots, how staged his set-ups tend to be, how much he leans on John William’s music scores, that is wholly suited to musicals. I hope to give this a proper review post sometime, but yeah, I thought it was brilliant. The staging, the use of the camera, the art direction, the casting… I could imagine it winning all sorts of Oscars in a non-Covid universe in which this film made any money (shame Oscar seems to ignore a dud). It goes without saying that the music is sublime, I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s original film and have seen the show on the stage once (albeit something provincial) so it was a given I’d enjoy it, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

Spider Man: No Way Home 4K UHD: Dude! Dude! Dude! Oh dear, the writing in this film… what, described somewhere as the best comicbook movie ever made? What? I’ll write a proper post about this film someday, but just an observation: there were a few times in the Lee/Ditko/Romita era comics that Peter Parker was revealed to be Spider-Man but those guys usually managed to write an elegant and imaginative way of Peter outwitting people and fixing things and maintain his secret identity. But the film Peter Parker shown here is some kind of selfish idiot or the films writers lacked the imagination and wit of 1960s comic writers/artists, because this film… maybe its cleverly undermining traditional super-hero tropes and the films actual uber-villain is Tom Holland’s Spidey himself. Or maybe I’m giving them way too much credit…

The Shawshank Redemption 4K UHD: I wasn’t going to do it. Its one of my favourite films (I was one of the few who saw it in the cinema when it came out, so hey, kudos to me) but the Blu-ray was fine. But sales. Bloody sales.

Ratatouille 4K UHD: My favourite Pixar movie, and a lovely feel-good film that I probably need now more than ever. I don’t expect any great leap over the Blu-ray, but it does seem I’m upgrading too many of my favourite films to 4K UHD, especially when the sales make it seem a reasonable decision rather than inherently dumb, which it really probably is.

Backdraft 4K UHD: Sales. Sales. Sales. Actually, I watched it a few nights ago and I quite enjoyed it. I’d actually forgotten Robert De Niro was even in it, its been so long since I’d last watched this (probably on DVD). It takes a few too many liberties with my intelligence with some of its heart-tugging silliness “Look at him… that’s my brother goddammit!” but it does look awfully good in 4K. I seem to recall it was this film that made me dislike Hans Zimmer scores for years, my goodness he never did do subtle.

Death on the Nile 4K UHD: Watched this on Saturday. Its quite inferior to the previous Murder on the Orient Express, from the pretty woefully miscast cast to the strangely uninvolving plot… and I’m not sure the virtual sets nonsense worked at all. I guess it was a deliberate stylistic choice but it left it feeling very… distractingly artificial? I can accept that in a Star Wars prequel with George playing with his toybox but a period murder mystery that could have been shot on location?

Nineteen Eighty-Four Blu-ray/DVD: Ah, the Peter Cushing one, that I’ve never seen but always wanted to. I’m only irritated by the fact that since this arrived in the post, Amazon has been repeatedly reducing the price of this thing. I hate it when that happens, especially when I haven’t seen it yet. See also too many other discs currently unwatched to mention, but still, its the principle of the thing.

The Proposition 4K UHD: Saw this on Sunday. Lengthy fawning post to sometime follow. Quite breathtakingly brilliant. One of those times that I blind-buy a physical disc release of a film I’d previously missed somehow and discover something quite excellent. Does this qualify as a Christmas movie? Was John Hurt ever better?

Brute Force/ Naked City (Blu-ray): I watched Brute Force last night. Brilliant film. They really don’t make ’em like they used to. I shall catch up with Naked City sometime soon. This was another sale buy that had me wondering why I hadn’t succumbed to its charms before. Arrow’s double-bill package is well designed (lovely hardcase box) with a fine book to pour over, bountiful extras; another great example of why I still love buying physical releases of old films. But its gotten me ordering Jules Dassin’s Rififi on Blu-ray, further proof that it gets expensive sometimes as one film leads to another. Damn those trailers…

Hang on, Sly!

cliffCliffhanger, 1993, 113 mins, 4K UHD

Its some kind of wonderful when I return to a film I used to really enjoy and discover that it still works, that it still has that ‘magic’ that appealed to me back in the day. There’s nothing sadder than returning to a film once beloved and realising its actually a dud, that its nowhere near as good as it once seemed to be. Thankfully that’s not the case with Renny Harlin’s 1993 thriller Cliffhanger, which I watched last night for the first time in, oh, must be getting on for twenty years now, other than catching bits of the film on tv screenings.

How is it possible that Cliffhanger is getting on for thirty years old now? Here I go again, measuring the passing of years by accounting film release dates: in this case, it feels like another life, Cliffhanger dates back to before I was married. Mind, it doesn’t escape me that the Showcase Cinema in which I first saw the film back in 1993, a still fairly-new, state-of-the-art multiplex cinema at the time, has recently been demolished to be replaced by a car supermarket. Cliffhanger has seen a cinema gone, and home video formats come and go (VHS, laserdisc, DVD etc). Seems everything is transient, but the films remain.

We had it good back then, looking back- when Arnie and Sly were in their prime. I think Cliffhanger can arguably qualify has Sly’s best film other than First Blood.

John Lithgow steals the show though. His evil Eric Qualen character is despicable and rotten to the core, and Lithgow pushes his performance to the brink of Panto holiday season. He looks like he’s having the time of his life, bless him, and its great. Its at just the right level of theatrical bombast to match Sly’s larger than life physicality. Lithgow’s stooges suffer by comparison, but Craig Fairbrass is fairly memorable daring to use Sly as a football -until Hal (Michael Rooker) informs him “Season’s over, asshole!” Cliffhanger has some fantastic dialogue/memorable lines that enable the cast to chew up the scenery while standing still. Between this, Robocop and Total Recall it feels like a long-lost art now.

So much impresses regards this film. The action sequences are great, the film benefits massively from dating back to the pre-CGI era; there is a sense of tactile reality to it, and most of the optical work is actually very good (a few miniatures betray the films age but if anything possibly just add to its old-school charm). It is also well-served by a bombastic music score from Trevor Jones that sounds like a curious mix of Predator and Last of the Mohicans to my ears now, but adds a great energy to the film that film scores these days largely lack. Its watching films like this that makes me think they just don’t make ’em like they used to, and its true. Some people will think that’s a good thing, mind… but not me.

Hang on, Sly- it won’t be long before I give this disc another spin.

A bitter blue pill

matrixr1The Matrix Resurrections, 2021, 148 mins, 4K UHD

Cor blimey, where do I start? Well, this is a strange one. It doesn’t look like a Matrix film (it has a vastly different colour palette and lighting style), doesn’t sound like a Matrix film (composer Don Davis not invited to this project) and lacks both the iconic fight choreography (the fight sequences are shockingly badly shot and edited) and ground-breaking effects sequences that the Matrix films are so famous for (the sheer crazy ambition of the earlier films trying stuff that the technology could barely manage is entirely missing here). So is it really a Matrix film?

Well, its certainly not the Matrix film many fans were possibly looking forward to- but then again, the same could be said regards the original sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions. So perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised by this strange beast.

I could almost describe this films as a $60 million arthouse film cleverly deconstructing the Matrix films with a narrative that is almost entirely Meta. Except that this thing cost $190 million and is clearly a tentpole, blockbuster movie- perhaps one of the oddest and most confounding blockbusters of all. Its almost like the whole thing’s existence is some kind of commentary (or ironic joke) on sequels, reboots, remakes and how they seem to dominate studio thinking and the industry as a whole. In a strange way its almost the perfect Matrix film- what is real, what is narrative, what is art and what is product? Its clever and incredibly stupid at the same time, utterly bizarre. I enjoyed it and I was infuriated by it. On the one hand it feels like a cynical cash-grab, and yet, on the other, if it was a cash-grab it simply wouldn’t be this movie, it’d instead be more what the fans wanted/expected.

We saw characters die in Revolutions. They are back in Resurrections, hence the title, but they don’t ‘know’ they are back (essentially, stuck in a ‘new’ Matrix, they don’t know who they really are and the main narrative is, similarly to the first film, revealing the ‘lie’ of their lives). But how exactly are they back? Are we expected to believe that renegade machines found Trinity’s dead body and brought her back from the dead? Surely her intellect is a simulacra even if they could reconstruct/repair her body? And did they similarly bring Neo back from the dead and create a copy of his personality too? Resurrections shows us this being done, but… I’m expected to just accept this Frankenstein nonsense? I almost feel like clapping to applaud the bare-arsed cheek of it. The Matrix films purport to being so smart and they try to pull this smoke and mirrors on me?

Oddly enough, I quite enjoyed this anyway, but then again, I’m possibly in the minority -well, I know I am- when I say I enjoy all three Matrix films that came before it, yes, even those derided sequels. So I guess I enjoy all the philosophising and counter-intuitive twists, the self-important writing that in its sheer audacity tries to outdo the crazy stunts and effects that wows audiences. The most disappointing thing about this film really is the clumsy fight and stunt choreography, and how mundane the visual spectacle/effects work really is -it seldom looks like a $190 million movie. This entry in the franchise is really the one where that pompous writing takes centre-stage over what really ‘makes’ a Matrix film. Maybe that’s the point. Or maybe what its really telling us is to never trust your analyst.

It doesn’t feel ground-breaking. We’ve seen too many Christopher Nolan films since Revolutions. Maybe The Matrix films are suffering a generational gap in a similar way to how the Disney Star Wars have; or even the Bond films; all these franchises really belong to another generation, their time is really done, but nobody in the film industry knows what to do instead (what? Avatar?).

Having only seen it once, I’m cautious about writing much more here. I really need to watch the film again. When I watched it last night, other than having seen a trailer several months back, I really didn’t know what to expect, managing to stay spoiler-free up to now. So I’m especially curious how a second viewing plays. Does it improve, knowing what’s going on and why, or does it just seem dumber and lazier second time around? Well, another post will likely reveal all.

I will just say that the 4K UHD looks fantastic; it really is a beautiful film in 4K watched on an OLED screen. Utterly different to how the other Matrix films look, I guess, which reinforces how odd the experience watching it feels but then again, I really need to watch that 4K boxset of the earlier films that has been gathering dust on my shelf for far too long now. I had idly considered a watching the first three films prior to this one being released but life is getting in the way of watching much of anything these days, but maybe, if I can, I should watch them before getting to this one again…