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.

Columbia Noir: City of Fear (1959)

cn3cCity of Fear proves less of a revelation than director Irving Lerner’s earlier Murder By Contract, which featured in Indicator’s previous Columbia Noir set. That film blew me away and I’m sure will be one of my favourites of this year. While City of Fear proves more melodramatic and ‘ordinary’ than the extraordinarily ‘cool’ and hip Murder By Contract, it does benefit from some unfortunate timing- its tale of a city under threat of an unseen, insidious and deadly menace resonates strongly with our contemporary experience of living in the time of a pandemic. Indeed, what we are living through now can only intensify the experience of this film and leaves one with a question- is this film really very good or is it just proving a mirror for our current fears and tensions?

Vince Edwards again proves himself a very good performer, albeit a bad guy more routine than the cold enigmatic assassin he played in the earlier film. He does a lot with very little, frankly, but then again that’s true for most everyone in the film. Shot with a very low budget and over the space of, allegedly seven days, this is b-movie film-making that clearly struggles to even make do, desperately padding the already slim running time of 75 minutes with repeated shots of cars in traffic, city exteriors and characters repeatedly scrutinising charts and maps; the film could easily lose fifteen-twenty minutes and you wouldn’t miss it. This is something of a shame as, on the strength of Murder By Contract alone, the creative talent deserved and would have benefited from more time and money. There are moments when it seems they have gone with the first take and moved on, with little evidence of any rehearsal.

That said, the film does have, of all things considering its meagre budget etc, a score by none other than Jerry Goldsmith (his second film score after working in radio and television during the 1950s, which is evidently how they got him). Its a nice, jazzy score that serves the film well, albeit obviously not even hinting at Goldsmith’s later epic soundtracks.

Like Murder By Contract, City of Fear is clearly a late-period noir on the cusp of the 1960s, and unsurprisingly, perhaps, feels very ‘modern’ and seperate from conventional ‘classic’ noir of the 1940s and early-1950s. It also has a curious television feel, in how its shot, how it ‘looks’- to me its more serviceable, obviously constrained by budget and schedule in just the same way as television shows were, lacking the time for the visual sophistication typical of superior noir with its visual styling. Maybe this actually works to the films benefit, with a distinctly hand-held, gritty, you-are-there feel to its location shooting. This latter element is possibly what I found most engaging- its like a glimpse of a lost world, the film almost an historical document with its late-1950s Californian streets, traffic and décor, images from a 1950s-set Philip K Dick novel like Voices From the Street or In Milton Lumky Territory.

Columbia Noir: The Sniper (1952)

cn3dI was surprised to discover just how much of a precursor Edward Dmytryk’s serial-killer-with-a-rifle flick is to Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry, the latter film’s Scorpio killer even terrorising the same city (poor San Francisco) with both films featuring sequences of the rooftops as a place of danger and ‘death from above’. Most surprising of all, in some ways, is how The Sniper is intellectually perhaps more sophisticated than the 1971 film- the villain of the 1952 noir is handsome, all-American guy Eddie Miller (Arthur Franz) who knows he’s mentally disturbed and keeps trying to stop what he’s doing, actually trying get caught and returned to hospital. Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio killer looks shady, acts crazy and is just plain evil, enjoying what he’s doing- a frankly one-dimensional villain, fitting the Siegel film’s simplistic black and white narrative. Film noir of course, for all it being actually filmed in black and white, is thankfully often more nuanced than might be expected, and The Sniper is indeed more complex than the later exploitation flick. 

Its impossible to over-estimate the impact this film likely had back in 1952, considering its subject matter and quite graphic murders. Its rather progressive social commentary, calling for better mental health services and understanding of those who are a possible danger to society, curiously echoes sentiments delivered in The Dark Past, another film in this Indicator set. What likely made The Sniper so radical at the time is how it gets us ‘into’ the mind of the conflicted Eddie, marking him a victim himself – not excusing his actions but possibly explaining them. The way the film portrays him repeatedly as an ‘outsider’, as someone who doesn’t fit in or really understands how to be accepted in society, also reminded me greatly of Taxi Driver. No-one has any compassion for Eddie, not even children in the street who turn upon him when he attempts to join in their ball game, and even a customer who is friendly towards him casts him away as soon as her boyfriend turns up (this rejection actually triggering him to enact his first murder).

The one thing in this film that didn’t ring true -and actually annoyed the hell out of me- was Gerald Mohr as detective Joe Ferri, younger sidekick of elder-statesman/case leader Lt. Frank Kraft (Adolphe Menjou). Mohr seems to think he’s in some boys-own adventure film or that he’s somehow the actual lead hero- he grins like an idiot throughout and poses all the time (he holds his gun like its a toy). I suppose he reckoned he was a matinee heartthrob, and can imagine him asking his agent “do I look good?” in every scene and its a horrible performance that grates throughout, he’s just terrible and watching him run, gun in hand, towards Eddie’s building near the films climax was cringe-inducing (“hey, look ma, its me!” kind of thing). One of those cases where an acting performance is clearly NOT trying to serve the movie, I’ve discovered that Mohr features in the noir classic Gilda that I bought on disc a few weeks back that I shall be watching for the first time soon. A cautionary discovery!

Arthur Franz is thankfully very good as the conflicted Eddie. He’s quite sympathetic in a role that could usually be a one-note crazy bastard (again, see Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio killer) and he succeeds in earning our empathy even after killing women in cold blood. I thought it was clever, possibly even daring, casting a handsome actor who looks like your typical Hollywood ‘wholesome good-guy’ as such a dangerous unhinged individual. It certainly gets our attention and curiosity regards what makes him tick and the source of his mad rages- not the usual consideration when watching a Hollywood villain.

Columbia Noir: Johnny O’Clock (1947)

cn3aOne of the pleasures of this series of Columbia film noir being released in these Indicator boxsets is the recurring talent in front and behind the screen, thanks to the studio system prevalent at the time (the talent tied to studio contracts). Hence here again we get Nina Foch of Escape in the Fog and The Undercover Man, and Lee J.Cobb of The Garment Jungle, both of whom will also appear in the next film in this third Columbia Noir set, The Dark Past. And we get another George Dunning score (5 Against The House, Tight Spot, The Mob, The Undercover Man etc) too. There’s all these connections between the films.

Anyway, Johnny O’Clock was great, a really good noir. I think it was the cast that made it so special; this film is another example of just good Lee J Cobb was; a fantastic character actor, he’s great here as Detective Inspector Koch, who floats around Johnny O’Clock (Dick Powell) convinced Johnny is the likeliest culprit for a murder that just seems to get murkier. In the event, Johnny is quite innocent, but suffers from association: his business partner is a crook under pressure from a bent cop who wants a part of the business. Meanwhile Johnny finds himself ‘suffering’ the attentions of three beautiful women which, as this is a noir, can only mean trouble. While some of us men can only dream of that kind of ‘trouble’ it does prove to be Johnny’s undoing.

Nina Foch actually has only a minor role in the film, as Harriet Hobson, although its her death that sets the domino’s falling in on Johnny. Eveleyn Keyes, as Nina’s sister Nancy, set’s Johnny’s pulse racing as she arrives in town questioning what happened to her sister. Keyes is pretty fine indeed, but the femme fatale of the piece is actually Johnny’s ex, Nelle (Ellen Drew) who still holds a torch for Johnny while now being married to Johnny’s business partner/mobster Guido Marchettis (Thomas Gomez). Its quite a tangled web, especially when the crooked cop trying to muscle Johnny out of Marchettis’ casino business is found dead too.

Ellen Drew stole the show for me as temptress Nelle, usually drunk but draping herself sensuously around lounge furniture and men, teasing and laughing. I’m not certain why exactly, but there was just something irresistible about Drew; she quite fascinated me, and absolutely convinced as a beauty that consumes Marchittis with jealous rage and insecurity, while her drunken state is perhaps triggered by feelings that her move upwards from Johnny to Guido was a mistake. Is it just me, or is part of the appeal of these movies of this period that women look like women, are dressed and wearing make-up that heightens their sexuality in what I dare say could be described as traditional/old-fashioned (or possibly sexist)? I continue to be horrified, mind, by just how frequently the women persist in lighting-up and smoking: another indication of the times and social practices of the day of course.

Its quite possible that the least interesting character in the film is Johnny O’Clock; Dick Powell is fine but he isn’t helped by a character that, by his nature, has to remain aloof and confident, its unfortunate that it leaves him a less emphatic ‘doomed’ character than some noir protagonists. Likewise he suffers by comparison to Cobb, who quietly steals every scene he is in, in just that way Cobb did in his every role. His performance is a masterclass in using props and the set around him, he was really such a gifted actor, so charismatic: one of the greats. 

There is a subtle charge/suggestion of homosexuality between Johnny and his personal assistant/man-friend Charlie (John Kellogg): its naturally unspoken as you’d expect in a film of the time but Charlie spends an awful long time in Johnny’s apartment, waking Johnny in his bedroom and preparing his breakfast, and I wondered if the reason why he suddenly turns on Johnny is because he doesn’t approve of Johnny’s interest in Nancy. I’m actually surprised by how much homoerotic subtext filters in so many of these noir, but its an element, deliberate or not, that proves a further example of just how subversive and complex this genre can be. 

Corruption, anyone?

corrHmm, latest announcements from Indicator include this 1968 horror/thriller starring Peter Cushing that I’ve never heard of. Well, they had me sold at Peter Cushing. Is it wrong of me to be more excited about a special feature (“The Guardian Lecture with Peter Cushing (1986): audio recording of an interview with the legendary actor recorded at the National Film Theatre, London”) than I am the film itself? I’m such a film geek sometimes I embarrass myself.

I have no idea what the film is like (if you have, feel free to educate me in the comments), but the fact its one of Indicator’s slipcase editions with an 80-page book of essays etc would suggest its worth watching. But really, they had me at Peter Cushing, anything with that gentleman in is worth watching in my book. Well, it comes out in August so I’ll have to get my pre-order in over the next week or so when my wallet allows (I haven’t yet pre-ordered the sixth Hammer box that Indicator keep teasing me with). Damn it, every time I try to put a hold on disc buying… (“Just when I thought I was out,  they pull me back in!” as Al Pacino once said).

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. 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Avanti! (yet again)

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

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

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

Revisiting Big Trouble in Little China

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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….