Glory 4K UHD

gloryposterTonight I finally watched my 4K disc of Glory; first time I have seen the film for several years. What a magnificent film, what glorious (sic) music from James Horner. I was so lucky to be loving films and going to the cinema while films like Glory were being made, and someone like James Horner composing stuff like his scores for Glory, Field of Dreams, Cocoon, Apollo 13, Legends of the Fall, Braveheart

I texted my old and now-distant friend Andy that I’d re-watched Glory again, and reminisced about the day we first watched it. Andy, my cousin Tony and I had watched Born on the Fourth of July that afternoon, then gone over Tony’s for a takeaway tea (his folks were away) and later returned late evening to the Showcase cinema  to watch a film called Glory, that we knew nothing about other than it was a Civil War movie. We’d been impressed by a big carboard standee of the poster that had been on display in the lobby of our Showcase cinema for a few weeks: a beautiful image that promised… something. You know, back in the good old days of great, imaginative poster art. We didn’t expect, though,  that we would walk out at midnight, stunned, convinced that we’d just seen a better film than Born on the Fourth of July: it was the Oliver Stone film that critics were raving about. Glory seemed to just come and go, but it certainly left its mark on us. I searched out the Glory soundtrack CD a few days later. Popped it onto a cassette and blasted it out of the cheapo stereo in my beat-up old death-trap first car as I raced Andy and I through Cannock Chase in blazing sunshine several days later. Good times.

I grew up watching Jaws, Star Wars, CE3K, The Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner at the cinema… and so many others. I was a really lucky guy, looking back. Films were better then. Film music was better then.

Glory looks really fine on 4K; its a gorgeous, grainy image with real depth and vibrancy, particularly those shots of the setting sun obscured by fire-smoke etc. Its a good example of how film-like the 4K format is with HDR. What a cast that film had too. And there is a very real, tactile feel to the film too, as there’s no CGI. Its all pretty much real, which just makes the battle scenes all the more impressive. After watching the film I put the commentary track on and watched it again, not something I do as often as I used to. Its one of those (rare) picture-in-picture commentary tracks, in which we can see the speaker in a smaller image in the corner. Anybody remember those? DVD and Blu-ray had some really ambitious, clever features like that, that the studios just don’t seem to bother with anymore. Its getting so that looking back at the glory days of DVD makes me feel lucky to have been around in those exciting days for a film-lover. I remember when every new special edition seemed to be more ambitious, films like The Abyss, Contact and T2, and the first boxset of the Alien films. I used to buy them on R1 from a local hi-fi store, but actually bought The Abyss disc when I was on holiday in San Francisco back in either 2000 or 2001. That’s a surprisingly long time ago, now that I think about it- but isn’t everything? That night I vividly recall first watching Glory with Andy and Tony was 32 years ago. 32 years ago!

Tracking tells me my expanded Glory soundtrack disc from La La Land left America yesterday. Its on its way. Really looking forward to hearing it. Eat, drink and be merry, Morgan Freeman tells me on the commentary track, for tomorrow we die. That’s one way of summing up Glory, and maybe life too.

Well, I’m tired. Time for bed, folks. This film was a good one.

Glory expanded edition

glory1Christmas is coming early. I’ve been waiting for someone to do this soundtrack proper justice for years, decades, and here it is at last- one of the last James Horner remasters/expansions, I imagine, certainly one of the last few I’ve been holding out for. What is left, Field of Dreams and maybe the 2-disc Brainstorm? Yeah, I’m still hoping for the latter: it’d be ironic and strangely fitting if that soundtrack, the first James Horner album I ever bought (on the old TER vinyl), turned out to be my last one too. But its a crazy enough world, this Glory is proof enough of that.

I look forward to being able to write a review in a few weeks.

Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019)

memoryI enjoyed this documentary far more than I had expected to, believing that it was largely redundant at this point, after all the documentaries made about Alien featured on various DVD and Blu-ray releases over the past few decades, and of course all the books written about the film- most recently the late J W Rinzler’s magnificent The Making of Alien volume. An additional handicap is that some primary interviewees are no longer with us (Dan O’Bannon, H R Giger) and Ridley Scott was presumably not available/not interested, therefore forcing the film-makers to use video interviews from those old Blu-ray documentaries with the now so-familiar soundbites. The film’s editor Terry Rawling was a pleasant surprise appearance; he died in 2019 so I suspect this was one of the final interviews that Rawlings attended, if not the last.

And yes to some extent Memory is indeed redundant because there is little here that’s really new regards Alien lore for fans of the film. In some respects its largely a Readers Digest of all the factoids that Alien fans have learned over the years, but I did enjoy some of the points about mythology and symbolism, and how Alien really represents where society and its audiences were back in 1979 – it was clearly the right film at the right time, capturing the cultural zeitgeist and resonating through all these years since. I think there are some very valid points made and some views quite illuminating, particularly regards universal archetypes and myth.

Maybe the films argument that Dan O’Bannon was some kind of genius is a bit of a reach, but its no accident that O’Bannon was connected to some of the most important or memorable film projects that I have seen over the years- Dark Star, Alien, Total Recall, The Return of the Living Dead and Lifeforce. Some of them are great and the others are at the very least great fun (and I REALLY want to catch up with his last directorial effort, the Lovecraftian horror The Resurrected, which has escaped me for years, frustratingly). You don’t get a resume like that in Hollywood without having some talent, and he’s surely qualified as a genre great. Yes, Alien was very derivative of other, earlier movies and the genius of Alien is mostly that of Ridley Scott’s approach of elevating schlock b-movie fodder into serious, top-list quality motion picture, but one can’t deny that what made Alien unique was Giger, and it was O’Bannon who knew the artist (from the aborted Dune project) and championed his work for the film.

On the whole though I really enjoyed this documentary: the title is ironic considering so much of it was like a stroll down memory lane of Alien factoids and familiar faces. But yeah, this is Alien, and I don’t mind being reminded why the film is so bloody great, so this was certainly a very pleasant watch.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is currently available on Channel Four’s On Demand service up to late September, and is also available on DVD and digital download/rental.

Another Murder By Contract

murder2Its becoming clear to me that August has been a largely a month of re-watching movies, whether it be because of new 4K editions (True Romance), revisiting films that perplexed me first time around (Tenet), or just revisiting old favourites, as in the case of this film, the noir classic Murder By Contract, which came out as part of the second of Indicator’s Columbia Noir boxsets and which I first watched back in March. The fact that I have returned to it within the space of six months hopefully indicates the high regard in which I hold this film. Its really quite extraordinary. There probably isn’t anything more I can say about the film that I didn’t when I first reviewed it, but it is a remarkably cool film, from the catchy guitar score by Perry Botkin (which so good its unfathomable that Tarantino hasn’t used it in one of his films somewhere), to the deadpan performances of its cast, particularly that of Vince Edwards as psychopath assassin/amateur philosopher Claude, a character who will haunt me for years. Part genius, part idiot, a handsome dude who is horribly detached and casual in his violence until he finally, incredibly comes undone by his final target. It’d be a bit akin to casting a young Harrison Ford as Jack the Ripper or Scorpio; you want to be with Claude as he seems so cool but you know you’d be much safer in another country.

Released in 1958 (with such a low budget it was allegedly shot in just eight days), Murder By Contract was made at the tail end of the ‘classic’ American noir period, nodding towards the stylistic changes that the 1960s would bring (and the eventual advent of neo-noir). As much as it is a richly bleak noir it is a very, very black comedy. In some moments, its a little like the Wile E Coyote/Road Runner cartoon hijinks transported into a noir movie and really quite unlike any other film I have seen, other than Kiss Me Deadly and Taxi Driver, two examples which hopefully indicate just how odd a film this really is. Its a work of some crazy genius, one of the best films I will have watched this year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I give it another watch before the end of the year. Some films really make a connection and this one did with me.

Another Thing…

anotherThingWhilst on the subject of John Carpenter movies (cunning link there to yesterday’s post) I’ve found myself pre-ordering another copy of The Thing, this time the 4K UHD edition that Universal are releasing in September. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought this film on a home video format: DVD twice, Blu-ray twice… actually I think it may have been three times on Blu-ray, and that is just plain insane even to me. But it’s The Thing, and it’s on 4K UHD, and it is surely the last copy of this film I will ever buy. Please, lord, the last time. I’m beginning to think the 4K format is the work of the Devil.

It is rather quietly ironic, in what is supposed to be the slow decline of physical media, that we can still be suckered into buying these new editions of films we’ve bought so many times before. Its likely no accident that Carpenter is so well-represented on 4K disc (Prince of Darkness, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and They Live with more likely to follow before the disc replicators finally grind to a halt), as his films have always been very popular on home video formats. I remember back when VHS started here in the UK, Escape From New York was one of the first big ‘hits’ on rental in 1983, partly because its a good film but also because it sported, at the time, a pretty amazing stereo track the likes of which previously unheard of in the home. Of course it was on VHS in pan and scan/pain an’a scam format but hey, it was 1983 and our televisions tended to be still black and white even then, and absolutely 4:3. How times change, but some Things (see what I did there?) stay the same, sort of.

The 2021 List: July

There goes July- the past few weeks have been rough at work due to sickness and leave, both within the office and nationally as a business ‘out in the field’ so I’ve been neglecting my blog somewhat (what do you mean, you didn’t notice?). Must try and fix that, and I’m wary of a backlog of reviews piling up, even if I’m struggling to find time/energy to actually watch anything.

So what have I been watching? Well, other than what is on the list below, I have been re-watching some old discs/films, some connected to films on the list below. Watching Herbert Lom in Hammer’s version of The Phantom of the Opera got me watching the Indicator disc of Mysterious Island that I’d bought a few months back (in which Lom plays a very impressive Captain Nemo), and seeing the lovely Barbara Shelley in The Shadow of the Cat resulted in me bringing down Indicator’s first Hammer box from a few years ago and watching The Gorgon again. There’s something both familiar, comforting and sometimes revelatory about returning to films having not seen them in awhile, and I’m kicking myself for not at least dropping a paragraph or two here regards those two in  particular. I’ve also been trying to watch Arrows 4K disc of True Romance that came out a few weeks back but the time never feels right or I’m just too damn tired to give it the attention it deserves. I was one of the few that saw it back during its first theatrical run and have always loved it, so watching it in 4K is something I’m really looking forward to.

While there were a few clunkers in July, I did watch some particularly fine films, notably The Killers and Criss Cross, two astonishingly fine film noir. The first led me to the second, and I love that about films, how one can lead to another, some being fresh discoveries of films I’d never heard of before. Amazingly, I’m of a mind that Criss Cross may actually be a better film than The Killers, even though the former clearly had more impressive visual ‘noir’ flourishes, there seemed something more complete and efficient regards Criss Cross, a film that quite took my breath away, it seemed so perfectly formed. I really must work on a review of that film.

Lately I’ve been watching the German epic series Babylon Berlin, which has been on my watchlist for a long time now and will get a review in August when I’ve completed the first sixteen episodes (confusingly, they were ‘sold’ to foreign markets as two seasons of eight episodes each but I understand that in Germany it was one run of sixteen). Its astonishingly good, up there with the very best shows I’ve seen like The Wire etc (yep its THAT good). Its depiction of 1929 Berlin, during the last years of the Weimer Republic is so vivid, there’s a tactile feel to it which is almost quite horrifying. I’ve often said here that good period dramas are almost like science fiction, positing worlds as alien to us as anything envisaged for the future. I think that’s quite true of something like Babylon Berlin, which is not just depicting a world of a century ago, but one quite foreign as regards culture and politics (its really quite mystifying, but fascinatingly so).

Television

79) Superstore Season Four

86) Ratched Season One

Films

77) The Tomorrow War (2021)

78) The Killers (1946)

80) The Shadow of the Cat (1961)

81) The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

82) Nightmare (1964)

83) Synchronic (2019)

84) Saint Maud (2019)

85) Fast & the Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw (2019)

87) The Sting (1973)

88) Between Midnight and Dawn (1950)

89) Chernobyl 1986 (2021)

90) Blood Red Sky (2021)

91) Criss Cross (1949)

The new Dune trailer

Oh this looks good. This looks so VERY good. Anyone else get a tingle watching those Ornithopters flying over the sand dunes?

But is anyone else concerned that the last ten years of dumbing down blockbusters may have robbed this film of its audience? Nobody turned up to go watch BR2049, and that film wasn’t being dumped on HBO Max at the time either. I don’t know how much of an impact that HBO Max thing will prove to be, or how much Covid will be in the equation come October, but considering the money that Dune needs to make in order to break even/get Part Two greenlit…  My biggest concern is simply that, are audiences going to go in droves to watch a sci-fi epic minus caped superheroes beating the shit out of bad guys while wrecking a city? Are audiences going to sit still for a film with ideas? 

Mind, Dune is an epic story with epic spectacle so maybe that will pull people in. Films are so stupid now though, particularly the ones that make any money. I’m still reeling from the assault on my senses that was Godzilla vs Kong and that Hobbs & Shaw thing. Is that what films are now? While I take some comfort from how Disney’s Black Widow seems to have under-performed recently, that also makes me nervous regards how streaming (and yeah, Covid) seems to have pulled people away from the movie experience, wondering if things have changed forever. Have the weekly drops of content on Netflix and Disney+ so diluted peoples appreciation of tentpole releases (I have to wonder if Disney putting Marvel and Star Wars content for ‘free’ onto subscribers televisions is a kind of self-sabotage) weakened and diluted the appeal of said franchises as regards getting bums on seats in cinemas, like it used to be? We’ve already seen how people don’t seem interested in buying films on disc anymore. Some of the high-end stuff being dropped on Netflix is often poor but production-wise, they are essentially exactly the same thing as is seen in cinemas. I remember when I was kid, I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema on a Saturday afternoon and when I got home Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was on the telly, and funnily enough it was the episode with the asteroid sequence and Buster Crabbe but it was so different in quality, the chasm between home entertainment and cinema entertainment was plain. That’s gone now, and seeing ‘new’ Star Wars and Marvel stuff straight onto the telly…

I’ve noted before that movies don’t seem as important or special as they used to be in my youth, back when Star Wars would be on the big screen only and when you’d wait for years to ever see Jaws again- gradually films have become more disposable. In a world where you can buy Avatar for a fiver, is there any wonder that Avatar itself fails to have any real cultural significance (and I’m really curious how those Avatar sequels will perform in a few years time). Are movies, as we fans remember them as ‘MOVIES,’ essentially dead, and things like Dune simply being made for a world and business model that no longer exists?

One has to wonder if Dune: Part Two will eventually just be a mini-series on HBO Max.

I need a Lotto win

peter cushingSideshow collectibles over in the USA have announced two statues of Hammer stalwarts  Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as his adversary Van Helsing, from the 1958 Dracula. My, the Peter Cushing one is gorgeous, a work of beauty, that – Kudos to the artists at Sideshow, that looks pretty special. Mind, at something like 20″ tall I’d need a bigger shelf, as well as a bigger bank account. 

Apocalypse Now 4K UHD

apocI finally -FINALLY- got round to watching my 4K UHD copy of Apocalypse Now last night. Although my copy is the six-disc set with the Final Cut and Redux versions I went with the theatrical, as I think less is more for Apocalypse Now. I know Coppola seems as endlessly fascinated (frustrated?) with this film as his buddy George Lucas was with his Star Wars films, but this film is pretty much perfect as it is. I tried to enjoy the Redux version -I’ve watched it twice and always walk away hating it, so I didn’t even consider watching the Final Cut. Maybe one day, as I guess it’d be a shame for the disc to just sit there, but is there any film out there with two alternate cuts as superfluous as those for Apocalypse Now?

This is such a damned extraordinary film. I think every time I watch it, I get more out of it, and enjoy it all the more, and it just seems more and more remarkable that something like this could even get made (I guess you just had to be the guy behind two Godfather films in order to get a pass for a film like this). Its a work of madness. Of mind-boggling crazy ambition. Its an Hollywood epic in the guise of an Arthouse movie, or maybe its the reverse.

It has, without any doubt, the best voiceover narration of any film, ever. Maybe there is some other film to compete, but if there is I’ve never seen/heard it (closest I can imagine is maybe the voiceover narration for  Taxi Driver, although that example feels too obvious).

Some damn fool went and made a sci-fi reboot and called it Ad Astra. Which does make me think, why can’t someone make a sci-film as important and strange and huge and crazy as Apocalypse Now? Maybe Kubrick already did it with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films seem as equally important as regards being landmarks in Cinema, although so wildly different.

The 4K disc is pretty much as gorgeous as everyone has said it is in reviews etc. The HDR really does increase the sense of depth and verisimilitude: the Playboy bunnies scene pops out of the jungle darkness and the Do Lung Bridge sequence pops so bright it feels like being stabbed in the eyes. Which does make me wonder about some of these 4K releases, in the case of Apocalypse Now, how it looks with its HDR pass likely surpasses anything cinematographer Vittorio Storaro originally intended or could have hoped for back in its original projection era. Should the film in 4K be considered authentic?

I have one more question if someone could answer it: Apocalypse Now has no title card, no credits at the start and none at the end (the film fades to black and that’s it). I was just wondering how Coppola got away with that or if the film originally had credits during its theatrical release. I wouldn’t have thought the film unions would allow a film to be released without the cast or crew being credited anywhere (didn’t George Lucas get into trouble for leaving Irvin Kershner’s card until the end of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980?).

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.