The 2017 Selection Pt.6

2017 selection 6Just a few additions to mention – and looking at the release schedules, it may be a little while (certainly September/October) before I start adding to the list again- barring any sales. Probably just as well with the backlog of stuff to watch and tv seasons in progress.

So anyway, what do we have? First, Kong: Skull Island, which I reviewed in an earlier post. I really enjoyed this and I’ve since watched the disc again, and yep, the film still works like a charm. Great stuff.

Next we have season two of The Expanse, which like the first season last year, I have had to import on blu-ray from the States thanks to the vagaries of broadcasting these days. The first season originally wasn’t picked up by anybody here in the UK, but with the second season in the can Netflix added both seasons to its roster (which doesn’t help me as I’m an Amazon Prime boy for my sins and I refuse to subscribe to every channel/outlet under the sun). Anyhow, I really enjoyed the first season -sort of a successor to Babylon 5 and the BSG reboot by way of Game of Thrones–  and am really looking forward to watching this. The discs this time around even have some decent extras, including commentaries. I have, however, decided to rewatch season one first as I’ll be damned if I can remember all the fine details of the plot from over a year ago. So a review may be a little while off yet.

Next along comes Arrow’s excellent blu-ray edition of Future Shock; a brilliant documentary about the creation and history of the galaxy’s greatest comic (at least, it was back in the day when I read it), accompanied here by hours of extras (extended interviews and the like) that more than makes it a mandatory purchase even in this era of trying to curtail my disc buying. I reviewed the doc last year when it aired on Film Four and am glad I never bought the DVD version, because I hate double-dipping and this edition is the definitive one. I’ve watched some of the addl featurettes/sections and extended interviews and it’s absolutely zarjaz.

Lastly, Ghost in the Shell, which I saw at the cinema back in April and was intrigued enough to buy on disc. It holds up very well on second viewing- probably improves in fact, if only because distractions of the original anime  are less of an issue when you know what is/isn’t going on with the plot and can consequently relax and enjoy it for what it is. It’s certainly spectacular to look at and well worth a rental.

 

Returning to Ghost in the Shell

g2.jpgBack in April I saw the live-action Ghost in the Shell at the cinema. While I found it a little frustrating in places, I enjoyed the film enough to buy the blu-ray, which I watched yesterday.

Visually the film is perhaps even more impressive on disc than it was at the cinema (maybe that says something about my Cineworld): the effects and art direction are very, very impressive. Indeed, some of the visual effects of the city augmented with live action (say, with Scarlett Johansson walking down a street or sitting on a rooftop with the streets below her) are pretty astonishing, how photorealistic some of this stuff is getting. As an effects showcase or visual spectacle, this is a major achievement, really bringing the original anime to life. I think I’ll be able to rewatch sequences over and over, just soaking up all that detail, in just the same way I did with the original Blade Runner decades ago- it’s that good.  I also like how we see odd-looking characters and background stuff going on that are not explained. Its there to either be ignored or pondered over (I prefer the latter), adding little to the plot but it’s all part of that layers of detail stuff.

There is one scene, based on one from the anime, in which the Major and Batou are standing on a boat just offshore with the futuristic night-time city blazing neon behind them, which is just jaw-dropping, really, how seamlessly everything is integrated- the camera moves, the lighting of the characters, the city behind them softly out of focus. Its that stuff that impresses me more than the whizz-bang effects stuff really. It’s slow and quiet but so disarmingly perfect.

g1Deficiencies in the plot are less of a hindrance second time around, and my misgivings over a lack of empathy with Johansson’s Major are no longer the issue I felt at the cinema. It seems a deliberate choice to neuter the character emotionally- a result of having no memories and being as much an object created for a purpose  as her being an individual person. She is told she has a ‘ghost’ or soul in her fabricated body but she doesn’t feel it. She isn’t convinced she is a ‘real person’ until she has unearthed the truth about the girl she used to be. It’s rather similar to Robocop, in which even though Murphy has the memories of his past life, he is no longer that same person; his Robocop personna being subtly different, whatever his name/memories may say. It’s hardly Blade Runner-level layers of subtext but it’s interesting, even if it possibly damaged the movie regards audiences empathising with her emotionally-challenged personna/performance. As I say, less of an issue for me this time around, but even I noticed it at the cinema, feeling oddly disengaged from the proceedings. Mind you, part of that may have been from familiarity with the anime. I guess I may well feel the same watching Blade Runner 2049– how the hell do I just enjoy the film experience of that film and not get caught up in the cold objectivity of the fact of it being a sequel to the original and being utterly distracted by it?

So anyway, not a bad movie anyway, and a good first entry regards setting up the background of the Major and her future cyberpunk world. Would have been nice to see it progress to a second and even third film, expanding the story as the anime did in its own sequel and tv offshoots.

A quick trip to Box Office Mojo reveals the painful statistics though- Ghost in the Shell cost around $110 million to make (not bad, considering) so likely needed around $250 million to see a profit- the film completely tanked in America, only managing just over $40 million. The foreign total was more impressive; $129 million, but not enough to limit the damage of that woeful American take. So, no more Ghost in the Shell movies then. Likely no live-action Akira either. Good or bad thing?

One observation. Between HBO’s recent Westworld examining in such adult fashion the ‘what is it to be human?’ question and the nature of artificial memory and freewill/slavery as well as it did, and this Ghost in the Shell nailing that whole future-cyberpunk visual vibe, what’s left for Blade Runner 2049? In some ways, I have to wonder if the Blade Runner sequel is too late- a new generation of films/television has picked up the baton of the 1982 movie and moved it forward with some success.  Here’s hoping that it still has something new to say.

 

Sinbad!

Indicator’s recent box-set (the first in a series of Harryhausen sets) contains UK blu-ray premier’s of the Sinbad trilogy, with the usual great special features we have come to expect. I may struggle to get through those extras, but the films? Well, I’ve no wish to add to the ‘to watch’ pile, and I intend to justify every 2017 purchase by actually watching them, so this past week it’s been a Sinbad triple-bill at Ghost Hall…

7thvoy1The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

The oldest of the three films, it shows its age in places but also likely benefits from that age in its bold, technicolour-drenched, almost gothic stylings that lend it a similar charm to the best of Hammer of that period. The comic book-styled colours, and deep dark shadows are particularly vivid and atmospheric-it looks like a timeless European fantasy, unfortunately handicapped by the casting of two incongruous American leads- the bland Kerwin Matthews as Sinbad and a frankly terrible Kathryn Grant (who thankfully retired from acting soon after). The film is enlivened considerably by Torin Thatcher as the villain, Sokurah. He chews up the scenery and hugely improves the film- a towering over the top pantomime sorcerer, a joy to witness. He’s about the only human aspect to match up to Harryhausen’s wonderfully imaginative stop-motion creatures. The increased grain of the process photography doesn’t do the film any favours, especially in this beautiful new HD master, but the imagination and craft in the design, building and animation of the creatures is brilliant. The film remains a timeless classic and is served by a spectacular Bernard Herrmann  score that is probably the finest musical accompaniment to any Harryhausen feature.

golden12017.40: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

As the prefix above suggests, somehow I’d never seen this Sinbad film before. The surprising gap between this film and its predecessor results in a new cast and an initially disorientating change of approach. The cast is a definite improvement- John Phillip Law as Sinbad and the gorgeous Caroline Munro as his voluptuous love-interest. Initially Law struck me as an odd-looking Sinbad but I warmed to him considerably as the film went on; a good actor with great screen presence. Munro… well, she doesn’t have to act, she just looks incredible and I always had a crush on her as a young lad- well, what young man in the 1970s wouldn’t? You’d have to be a Vulcan with green blood in your veins not to fall under her spell. This is actually one of her better performances/movies, and as I’d never seen the film before a genuine treat.

The change of approach with the movie is also a bit surprising but quite commendable. It has a bigger budget and a more accomplished scale and style; less European fantasy and more real-world Arabic adventure, helped no end by some great location shooting. Harryhausen’s creations are as fantastic and memorable as ever, but by now his stop-motion technique was showing its age and limitations in the photographic process all the more apparent. Certainly the leap in grain and the impact on mattes leave the film suffering in HD. It’s a great pity but the beauty of these films is that they are such fun and so imaginative in design that you can easily forgive the limitations in the fakery. It’s still movie magic and few cgi creations have the heart and soul of a Harryhausen creation.

And I still haven’t mentioned Tom Baker as the villain, another evil magician, Koura. Less the panto villain of Thatcher’s Sokurah, Koura is more ‘real’, more genuine, and Baker is brilliant. This film was great, possibly the best of the three and I look forward to delving into the discs special features.

eyetiger1Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977)

Oh dear. Horrible. Time (and Star Wars) finally caught up with Harryhausen, and although fans will always forgive the faults inherent in his stop-motion effects, this time the film around them was truly terrible. It’s also likely why this boxset exists- I can imagine genre fans rushing to buy 7th Voyage and, having now seen it, Golden Voyage, but really, how many would fork out hard-earned dosh on nonsense like Eye of the Tiger? I watched it once for completists sake having watched the other two, but now this disc is back in the box where it will stay. Sure, a Sinbad box makes sense but really, it’s surely the only way this film would ever sell.

To be fair, it’s not helped by the film committing one of my very worst pet hates in film- it runs the opening scenes under the title credits. I hate that. I much prefer text over a blank screen, or over graphics, whatever, but not over the opening shots of a film. Worse than that, the film compounds this heresy by showing the closing titles over the closing scenes of the film. The plot of the film involves rescuing the prince from his curse, returning him to human form and ensuring his coronation before the time limit, and then just as our heroes are triumphant and we see the fruits of their labours, boom, full-colour text is processed over the valedictory sequence. Horrible. I hate it.

Another thing, no matter how bad Kerwin Matthews was in 7th Voyage, Patrick (son of John) Wayne is even worse. Its Sinbad channeling a young Clint Eastwood. Seriously, close your eyes and listen to him- maybe it is his American drawl, but he sounds like he is actually mimicking Clint. Its utterly bizarre, and quite out of keeping with a Sinbad fantasy. There seems to be little chemistry between himself and Jane Seymour too, and Seymour herself is a pale reflection of Munro’s sultry heroine of the previous film. It’s all pretty weak and insipid, frankly: the villain (a sorceress this time, with a son for a stooge) is much inferior to those of the first two films, and the direction fairly uninspired. Even the music score is a pale shadow of the Herrmann and Rozsa scores previous. No, I really didn’t like it. Why waste time with this when you can rewatch one of the previous two?

The 2017 Selection Pt.5

coll4My efforts to restrict disc-buying seem to be working. Maybe it is the lull before the storm, but this post is my first ‘2017 Selection’ update since April, some three months ago, so I must be doing something right.

First addition to the pile is the first season of Jessica Jones. I really enjoyed Daredevil earlier this year, and this is another of those Marvel Netflix shows. I bought it in a sale, and it’s still in the shrinkwrap. But I’m sure I’ll get around to it sooner than I do the second season of Fargo, which I have already seen on its network airing some time ago. I enjoyed the show immensely- it is terrific television, but here in the UK we are deemed unworthy of a Blu-ray release (another indication of the waning format?) so I bought a copy from the States, again, my purchase triggered by seeing it cheap. My Tivo currently has seven episodes of season 3 to watch, and the romantic in me would love to watch season two again beforehand but the realist in me knows that’s never going to happen. This Season Two set may languish unwatched for some months yet but it’s going to be a real pleasure to revisit the series again eventually. This season was one of the best tv shows I have ever seen, set in the Seventies with great source music and references to CE3K that still bring a smile to my face every time I remember them.

Next is Matinee, a Joe Dante film I have somehow neglected to see, in an Arrow release that finally dropped in price. Yes another purchase triggered by a sale. There’s a pattern clearly taking form here, promptly broken by Indicator’s recent Sinbad boxset, which I pre-ordered when it was first announced. Ray Harryhausen. ‘Nuff said.

Two more new releases follow, here two films that I failed to see at the cinema although I was rather tempted- my issue is, the price of two cinema tickets these days is more than the price of buying a disc, and if it’s likely to be a film I’ll enjoy enough to buy on disc anyway, well, why not save the cinema price and use it for the disc instead? It’s the kind of logic a Vulcan would be proud of – and only completely shatters if it’s a film I end up not liking, alas. Well, as anyone who read my Logan review the other day will know, sometimes it all works out fine.

Thanks a lot, you cheating bastard…

omega1I don’t care what anyone says, The Omega Man is a cool film, and a great old-fashioned sci-fi film. Whatever ‘old-fashioned’ means- maybe its just the lack of any cgi or virtual sets, or its blatantly dated 1970s fashions and cars. Its odd that, for all its possible faults as a movie, it remains just plain cool, and gets cooler as the 1970s get more distant. Maybe you had to live in the 1970s and remember that decade with some fondness, but whenever I watch The Omega Man I’m rushed back to my childhood. Not that my childhood featured desolate streets and bad guys in spooky hoods prowling in the night, but… Likely people born in the 1980s or 1990s look back at something like The Omega Man rather differently, with the wrong kind of horror. But to me, its a cool film, a film made back when August 1977 was still in the future. Can you even get your head around that?

For one thing, it stars movie legend Charlton Heston. Say what you like about him as an actor or his real-life politics, but thanks to his Biblical epics he always seemed larger than life (Omega Man’s love-interest Rosalind Cash remarked to Heston  “It feels strange to screw Moses”). Certainly, Heston oozes a screen charisma so lacking in actors of our generation.  He had such a run of films back then, fighting a planet of talking apes in 1968, playing the last man on Earth here in 1971, and then discovering the horrifying secret of Soylent Green in 1973. I never really think of him as a sci-fi actor, but he made three solid genre films back then, and his presence is a big part of their success. Somehow a big ‘name’ like him gives them a certain gravitas and allows them to stand the test of time better than others. I remember an issue of Fantastic Films that had an interview with Heston discussing his genre films- I’d love to dig that out sometime. As I recall, Heston was fairly critical of The Omega Man, believing it to be one of his lesser films. He was probably right, but if he were alive today, I think he might be surprised how the film has survived and gained a cult status.

Sure, The Omega Man is patently a film from 1971 that was trying just too hard to be relevant in those turbulent times, with its interracial romance, casual female nudity, ‘hip’ slang/dialogue and its fashions (that jacket with the logo on the back sticking the finger to ‘the man’). There is something about the music score, funky and cool and jazzy, which I have mentioned here before. Its dated in places but when the main Neville theme kicks in its irresistable. But maybe all that is just what makes it so cool? Its like a film from some other planet (maybe the 1970s is some other planet), likely part of its appeal- it isn’t sophisticated, it is just a simple thriller with the good guy at odds with lots of hooded bad guys in an urban wilderness.omega2It is a little odd that they don’t even go for any matte paintings to give some scale to the ruined desolation, going instead with panoramic ‘live’ shots usually filmed in LA on Sunday mornings in deserted streets. I’m told you can actually see other cars moving in the far distance in wider shots but what the hell, I don’t even look for them; I’m enjoying watching the movie too much to care.  Why look for goofs when you’re enjoying a movie?

One of the films clear failings is that the director Boris Sagal was the wrong director for a film like this. While its actually fairly effective, given its limitations, in depicting its dystopian, nightmare vision of the end of the world from a monstrous man-made plague, I’ll admit there’s a certain lack of imagination in the direction of the film. ‘Functional’ is perhaps the kindest way to describe it. Heston suggested the closing shot of him lying, arms open as if in  Christ-like crucifixion, that is a flash of imagination (perhaps ill-judged, by which I mean it crudely sticks out) that the rest of the film lacks. Of course the shot also inevitably references Heston’s earlier Biblical epics, as much as possibly the Hollywood star’s ego.

I’m pleased to report that the Blu-ray edition of The Omega Man, whether you buy the HMV-exclusive or import the triple-feature edition that I did, sports a pretty solid picture. Its sharp and has fine detail (maybe a little too much for some make-up effects) and is no doubt the best the film has looked since its theatrical showing back in 1971. The extras are slim, unsurprisingly; a few minor featurettes, one of them a promo featurette from when it was made that particularly dates the film. They are rather interesting, but a commentary would have been nice.

The 2017 Selection Pt.4

selection4bI’ve bought a few discs lately, which is putting into question my intent to curtail the expenditure this year and be a bit more selective, and required another updated photo of this year’s shelf. Beginning to wonder if I’m managing to keep the quality level up. So what of the additions since last time?

The Big Heat – Another Indicator release, and it’s clear those boys are after my wallet this year. Watched this only last night (review coming up sometime soon) and it was brilliant. Hadn’t seen this before, but as I love Film Noir (my second favourite film genre) it was a must-purchase, particularly as it was recommended online. It deserves all the praise, its excellent, and deserving special mention regards this Indicator release is that it features one of the very best booklets I’ve ever seen released with a disc.

Jason & The Argonauts – An old childhood favourite, and an excellent Blu-ray edition. The trouble with catalogue titles is that if you want more of them, and want them with plentiful extras and TLC, then you have to buy them, particularly now with physical disc sales diminishing. If you don’t buy ’em, they won’t release ’em- with that logic, it’s clear it is going to be an expensive year for Harryhausen films on blu-ray, with Indicator having several coming up. The cunning devils. I tell you, I may as well hand them my wallet.

KIng Kong – I love this film. Another of those HMV exclusives that required a journey into darkness/in-store purchase. This is a nice package with a nice booklet, but I have a fancy R1 DVD copy in an embossed tin-box package with same extras etc (which is what this HD release is based on, although it came in a digibook in the States). Tempted to get it out and pop these blu-ray discs in place of the DVDs, so there may be a transformation in the 2017 selections’ next update. Looking forward to giving this a spin late at night sometime. Can’t beat curling up with this film around midnight.

Kubo and the Two Strings- I’d never even heard of this until it was released on disc early this year, and read some glowing reviews that put it on my watchlist. Amazon dropping it to a fiver last week was too good an offer to refuse (note to self: ignore sales/offers as much as possible in future. Maybe stop browsing online altogether. It won’t end well).  Very curious about this one as I usually love this kind of stuff.

Rogue One An inevitable purchase and what I’ll most likely be watching tonight. We’ll see if it measures up on another viewing (particularly regards how CGI Tarkin and Leia look on a smaller screen).

Well I’m off to hide in a hole so I won’t be able to buy anymore discs for a bit. Need to watch a few of these first (Garcia– I can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to watching Garcia yet!).

The 2017 Selection Pt.3

2017s3Here’s the latest state of the 2017 selection. There’s been a few additions since my last update. And hey, I’m still trying to curtail the spending this year.

Heat: God, another copy. Its just one of those movies. I think I have a VHS copy up in the loft somewhere, a widescreen version that came in a big box, don’t know if anybody out there remembers that edition. Studios must love idiots like me. So I buy this thinking it might be definitive and before it’s even arrived people are moaning about colour-timing and sound issues. I don’t know. At least it was strangely (suspiciously, maybe?) cheap. So I’ve got it in HD for something like a third of what I paid for it back on VHS. I won’t mention the DVD  thats lying around someplace. And no, I haven’t watched this copy yet.

The Leftovers- Season Two: I mentioned this awhile ago, as its what finally got me around to watching season one, and (hurrah!) I’ve also watched this too- review coming soon. Yeah, I’ve watched something in the 2017 selection- will this catch on? (he wonders, noting he still hasn’t watched Assault on Precinct 13 or Vampires or Garcia yet) .

Dr Strange: Actually, yes, I’ve watched this too, as my review a few weeks ago will attest. Well, I hadn’t seen it at the cinema and I’d been curious about it for months.

Logans Run/The Omega Man/Soylent Green: A triple-feature blu ray set, with each film coming in at under £4 each. Well, I’m always a sucker for deals like that. These are three 1970s dystopian science fiction films, each flawed in their own way but each having redeeming features making them worth re-watching, at least for someone like me who grew up with them on tv- I guess  viewers born post-1990 needn’t bother, they’ll likely hate them. Their loss; hell, they are worth watching if only for the soundtracks (which I have on CD for all three- yes I am that nerd in the corner).

Arrival: The best film of last year. A compulsory  blu ray purchase. I watched the disc the other night and yes, it just confirmed Oscar had it all wrong- Amy Adams deserved a nomination at the very least, and quite possibly the statuette itself too. This is a science fiction film for the ages and deserves to be ranked up there with CE3K. I should probably do another review based on the home experience. Indeed, I could watch this all over again already. There’s something strangely rewatchable about this film, the way it flows, the direction, the acting… wonderful sound design. This film has me so excited for Blade Runner 2049 (if only they could do something about that title; it still feels awkward to me). Its made me wonder though, how rare it is to watch a science fiction film these days and think it’s one for the ages.

So anyway, as we tumble towards April, this is the latest photo of my disc purchases this year. And yes, by year’s end, I vow to have watched everything in this photo.

The 2017 Selection Pt.2

selection2It must be January. I’ve bought some more discs. This is seven this month now. Really, this can’t continue. Damn Arrow etc etc.

Raising Cain. Never seen it, but I’ve quite enjoyed the other De Palma films released by Arrow in the past (Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, The Fury and Obsession) so thought this might be worth a blind-buy; it seems to have some substantial extras and includes a director’s cut, and I’m always a sucker for alternate cuts. Maybe its just something from being a Blade Runner fan (god knows there’s plenty of cuts of that film), but its fascinating to see how films can work differently with changes in the edit and music etc. We’ll see how Cain performs in its two cuts. I’ve heard it’s a bit weird. But it stars John Lithgow, who is a great actor always worth a watch, even in something as dire as Cliffhanger. Raising Cain can’t be that bad, surely? Oh, the joys of blind buys.

The second film I’ve bought is possibly the last decent film John Carpenter ever made- Vampires. Well, maybe half-decent, anyway- it’s been many years since I last saw this one. I remember buying it on a R1 DVD in the very earliest days of that format; back when you could buy an American disc before the film even got released theatrically over here in the UK. We’ll see if it has aged any better than Carpenters other films of that period (Indicator have also released Ghost of Mars on blu-ray today but even as a Carpenter fan, that film is too diabolical to contemplate ever buying on disc). Vampires stars James Woods, who is always worth a watch, particularly when he chews up the scenery as much as he does in this (from what I remember). But anyway, it’s a John Carpenter film.

Oh well. There’s an additional two films on the ‘to-watch’ list…

The 2017 Selection

2017selection1

 

I don’t buy too many discs these days. Not because there isn’t any I want, it’s more a case of trying to be selective before I get buried under the piles in the spare room. There have been quite a few releases over the past few months- The Flight of the Phoenix, Paths of Glory, Fedora, many others- that in the old days I would have just ordered without hesitation. Maybe a sale will give me an offer I cannot refuse, but up to now I’ve been pretty strong. Indeed, in all of December I bought just one film on disc- the Criterion disc of In A Lonely Place.

So it’s got me thinking, and I’m going to launch a series of posts about my purchases this year. See if all my bold talk about keeping the quality level up (and the outlay down) bears fruit over the next twelve months. This month I’ve already been seduced into buying five discs, which I’ve pictured here in a crummy photo which I’ll surely revise when I get more time. What I plan to do (other than watch them and review them, ‘natch) is take a revised photo as I add to the pile; so here’s the initial five. I’ve already commented on buying Assault on Precinct 13 about a fortnight ago (and no, I haven’t watched it yet- horrors!). Last week I bought the fifth and final season of Person of Interest as it was in a sale on Amazon.com (I still have Season 4 to watch though so the shrinkwraps staying on this one awhile), and 10 Rillington Place last week, and today I received Arrows’ Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Donnie Darko.

Catalogue titles rule the day it seems, and Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia is the only film I have not seen before (although the DC of Donnie Darko is new to me too). My viewing habits have changed over the past year or so- I tend to leave the new, untested films to streaming services and save disc purchases to films I know and enjoy with extras that add extra value. Certainly these four films I have bought on disc are all excellent editions with extensive extras. So we’ll see if ‘The 2017 Selection’ measures up, and how much money I end up wasting…