Ugly Alien

alien4kHere’s a definite pre-order, one of my favourite films of all time, in 4K UHD. But what an ugly bloody cover. What is it with cover art these days? I would have hoped, considering how niche/film collector-oriented that premium discs on 4K are in these streaming-dominated days, that the studios might consider showing some effort, if only in releasing catalogue films with their original poster art (which is something after all that would likely appeal to original fans and collectors). Instead we get all sorts of nonsense (can’t say I was particularly impressed by the recent 4K Superman: The Movie either, much preferring that films original Bob Peak art) and this Alien one seems  particularly bad. It doesn’t represent the dark mood of the original film at all. A really missed opportunity considering how definitive 4K discs are supposed to be in representing the films at their very best (and in all likelihood in the final physical format that the films will ever be released on). Sure, ultimately its the film that counts rather than the box it comes in, but the whole point of physical is how it looks and feels as a overall package. alien4k2I’m really a fan of going back to original poster art (particularly with catalogue films, as in the old days, posters were usually given some thought and attention compared to the routine photoshop clones we get today). The original Alien poster was stark, menacing, and dripped mystery and warning while being very enigmatic. And the film was never all about the Alien itself in my book- it was the setting and the mood and the characters.

So anyway, my copy of Alien in 4K is obviously ordered but I do wish they had given some thought to that cover- or perhaps offered a double-sided sleeve with the original art on the reverse to allow the alternative if required?

Or maybe I’m just distracting myself from the really horrific fact that the film is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, and all the years that entails for someone like me who remembers its original release (I wasn’t old enough to see it over here at it got saddled with a ‘X’ certificate at the time but I was so fascinated from the film magazines and the tie-in novelization etc). Seems every time a film gets announced its another sobering reminder (The Abyss finally seems to be coming on HD & UHD now that this year marks its thirtieth anniversary- I was listening to the deluxe soundtrack the other day and could recall buying the original OST cd and listening to it, as if it were only yesterday, only it’s not yesterday, far from it). I seem to marking my middle-age by all the films I saw in the cinema ‘back in the day etc’ hitting anniversaries that are really pretty sobering when I think about it.

 

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Bohemian Rhapsody 4K UHD (2018)

bohem1.jpgWell, you can’t accuse the producers of this film of letting the truth get in the way of a really good story. Basically a sanitised story about the great rock band Queen, it definitely is not a warts-and-all biopic of its frontman Freddie Mercury. The fascinating drama I expected, of drugs, sex and rock and roll and living life to the max isn’t really here. Instead this film follows a somewhat pedestrian, formulaic narrative of four outsiders creating a legendary rock band, ts various plot threads leading to a somewhat dubious finale in which the band single-handedly saves Live Aid, the recreation of which is pretty astonishing (but as a finale it feels too obvious/manufactured).

So in some ways it does seem to be a terribly wasted opportunity- on the other hand, though, it’s simply a great yarn simply told, with an absolutely killer soundtrack of classic songs throughout. Its pretty much nigh on irresistible.

I’m not a die-hard fan of the band so I’m certainly no expert, but I’m pretty certain some of the timeline is questionable, and to be honest there was a point midway through at which I just felt I was being taken for a mug but should just go along with it. The film feels more of a rock and roll fantasy than a docu-drama, and the way it manipulates with close-up shots of smiling, happy faces towards the end, tieing up any loose ends with valedictory character beats for Freddie’s freinds, family and colleagues, feels awfully… managed, even cynical. We’re going to have a happy, positive flag-waving finale even though we know where Freddie’s own story is ultimately heading: it’s only a movie and this one isn’t going to end like Philadelphia (which may be a pity, really, because that was deeply powerful, and maybe this film might have benefited from doing that- but this just isn’t that movie).

Its a decidedly PC-era film about a decidedly un-PC era, leaving me wondering if there’s a danger nowadays of us rewriting history simply to make it more palatable. I’ve read and heard of some pretty incredible stories of bands and rock stars in the 1970s- drugs, sex, wild parties, great music, monumental fights, terrible scandals; but how much of that can you get way with now without upsetting/insulting/horrifying the tender audiences of today’s more enlightened society? I’ve read of some of Freddies parties, the wild debauchery of which could be hugely extravagant and ridiculous but there is little to suggest that here other than people getting drunk and playing music loud. Then again, we might know that it all happened, but do we need to see it, does it add anything to the narrative in a film where we aren’t really getting into who Freddie was? Instead he remains an icon, and something of an enigma- and a fantastic performer and musician. I just think its a little unfortunate that the film is so obviously intent on protecting Freddie and his legacy when it doesn’t really need to- his fans know everything and love him all the more. He was human, flawed and fragile and hugely charismatic and talented- we get a glimpse of the ‘real’ Freddie but not all we might have in a more daring film.

But what the hell, it’s still a hell of a story.

 

 

The Big Lebowski 4K UHD

big2There’s something wonderfully endearing about this Coen Brothers film, that gives it the feeling of a warm blanket- its a film to wrap yourself in, enjoy the great cast, the wonderful dialogue, the gentle whimsy of it all. Nothing feels, well, convincingly real somehow- it’s all very dreamlike, a fable, or perhaps an adult fairytale. Even though it’s only twenty years old, it feels oddly old-fashioned, a reminder of a period when I saw films like this and Boogie Nights and Magnolia– great films, I was being spoiled back then and I didn’t appreciate how much. Its curious how much these three films in particular shared a common cast, how, say, Aimee Mann turns up in a cameo in this and then her songs form such a backbone to the mood and soundtrack of Magnolia.

Indeed, maybe it’s those twenty years but there is such a tangible feel of the ‘good old days’ here. Hearing Shawn Colvin’s cover of Viva Las Vegas over the Big Lebowski end-credits was a call-back to me buying her albums back then; I was a huge fan of her Fat City album in 1992, and have bought all her albums since, but hearing her voice here was a sudden jolt. I don’t recall her song from watching the film before. Yeah, I know, twenty years. Its a bit like how surprised I was to see Aimee’s cameo, I didn’t remember it at all. Aimee was another favourite singer of mine from that era (discovered from her featuring in Time Stand Still, from Rush’s 1987 album Hold Your Fire (it’s one of my favourite songs)) so again, rewatching this film brings back all that stuff.

Where did all those years go? The cast, too, is a blast from the past- Jeff Bridges has always been a favourite, but I’d forgotten that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in this- he looks so young here, so while it was a shock seeing him here, it was also a painful reminder of his untimely passing.  Of course he’s one of the cast members who turned up in Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Christ he was a brilliant actor. He’s kind of young and bubbly in The Big Lebowski and it’s a sweet role for him. John Goodman nearly steals the film, which is saying something considering the cast around him- I think this is possibly one of his best performances, it just clicks. I suppose much of this is the perfect chemistry between him, Bridges and a shockingly young-looking Steve Buscemi (what a cast this film had!). The scenes these three have together (“shut the f–k up, Donny!”) are brilliant slices of perfection.

So anyway, The Big Lebowski– maybe you’re here to see how the 4K UHD holds up. It looks brilliant, a fine example of what the format can add to catalogue titles. Maybe stating that the film has never looked so good is beyond stating the obvious- detail is great, colours are vibrant. There is a lovely texture to it, the grain being captured and maintained without any DNR that I could see. There is a nice use of HDR in this too, which is something people look for, while forgetting that these films originally didn’t have any HDR treatment either theatrically or on DVD or Blu-ray releases. It certainly adds a nice vibrancy and ‘pop’ but I do sometimes wonder if its wholly warranted- it works here anyway, not distracting at all, it just adds to the visual quality of the film.

I only bought the film before on R1 DVD back when it first came out, and haven’t seen it in years, so can’t really comment on how it compares (an unfair comparison anyway, really). I did try the accompanying Blu-ray, which I hadn’t seen before. This is an old disc so based on an old master, but it’s where all the extras lie hence it warrants its inclusion with the UHD.  Even with the Blu-ray being automatically upscaled to 4K (any comparisons I make between Blu-ray and 4K are hamstrung by this) its clear there are issues with the master or encoding with the Blu-ray. It looks pretty ugly. Ouch, I sound like a 4K snob.

Regardless, I’m sure The Big Lebowski would work brilliantly on VHS on a b&w television. Its just a great film. The dude abides, indeed.

On that last thought, if I admit to feeling guilty even mentioning it, can I get away with wishing for a ‘twenty years later…’ sequel?  I just can’t help but be curious regards the dude now, what the hell would he think of America, and the world, where would he fit in, how would he even survive, out on the fringes, on the outside looking in on the current madhouse? I think we need the dude.

The 2019 Selection Update

big1.jpgWell, I caved in on a special offer on Zoom a few days ago, for two 4K UHD discs for £20, and they turned up today. Pick of the two is The Big Lebowski, which wasn’t released very long ago and has gotten some favourable reviews. I have a feeling of things coming full circle with this one somehow, as the film was one of the very first DVDs I ever bought, back in the early days of the format on R1, and if I recall (I may be wrong, it was twenty years ago) I bought it before the film even appeared at the cinemas over here. Back in those early days, cinema releases could still be staggered across the pond here and R1 discs sometimes beat the cinema releases to the UK, which made buying R1 discs all the more exciting/interesting. While I really enjoyed the film, I haven’t returned to it very often, in part because my favoured R1 player went bye-bye a good while ago making the disc useless (I do have my very first R1 player, a USA import, in my garage roof-space but as it has a transformer the size of a shoe box I’ve never gotten it out of retirement).  So the film has some affectionate memories of those heady days of early DVD associated with it and it will be interesting to see how I feel about it now. I’m looking forward to seeing it in 4K, certainly, so may get around to it tomorrow with a little luck.

atomicAccompanying it is the 4K edition of Atomic Blonde, a film I saw on rental last year that I really quite enjoyed. Not one I’d leap to purchase usually but on 4K for a tenner its a bit of a guilty pleasure- like with the John Wick films, I’ve become a bit of a sucker for simple action films, especially these new ones that offer something a little new in terms of their style and sensibilities/action choreography- it’s all a bit of an escape I suppose to films that offer simpler solutions/fantasies to real-world stress and anxieties. Hmm, that sounds all a bit of unnecessarily highbrow justification for buying two more discs, but it sounds good!

Criterion Badlands

bad1Put this one the 2019 list for sure; Criterion are releasing their edition of Terrence Malick’s Badlands on Blu-ray over here in the UK in May. I’ve never owned the film on any format -VHS, DVD, Blu-ray- so at least it’s not a double or triple-dip. In fact I haven’t seen the film in many years, not since I really caught the Malick bug with his later films (Thin Red LIne etc) and I’ve always been curious if I’d fall in love with it now I’m older (back then I had a distinctly ambivalent feeling towards it). Well, this is certainly the perfect opportunity to put that to the test.

The 2019 list

Rather than leave it until the end of year, I’ll do a running list of my progress each month, starting with… er, January. As far as counting goes, as usual I’ll only count ‘new’ views and while I’ll include tv shows in the mix, as last year I’ll count specials or entire seasons of shows towards the final tally for the year. I will however, while counting them in chronological order, keep the two (films and television) on seperate lists though, because I’m curious what the proportions will be at the end of year, as a lot of my viewing seems to be tv shows lately, if only because watching whole seasons naturally takes a lot more time. So without further delay;

TV Shows 

1) Dr Who 2018 Special

4) Two Doors Down Season Two (2016)

5) Glow Season Two (2018)

6) Luther Season Five (2018)

8) Short Treks: Calypso (2018)

12) Sex Education Season One (2019)

14) The Expanse Season Two (2017)

Films 

2) Game Night (2018)

3) Ghost Stories (2017)

7) Shadows & Fog (1991)

9) Incredibles 2 (2018)

10) Beast (2017)

11) Death Wish (2018)

13) Polar (2019)

Music (not counted on the list, but I’ll track them)

Nocturne by Vangelis

Apollo 13 OST by James Horner (expanded two-disc edition)

So that’s 14 on the 2019 tally so far, which is pretty good considering it includes five entire seasons of television shows , and doesn’t include my rewatch of the whole of The Expanse Season One (it’s a wonder I found anytime to review them on this blog, just the idea of watching five seasons sounds like a slog). January highlight was The Expanse Season Two, which was pretty bloody amazing, frankly, and I’m still buzzing. You can be sure season three will be on the February list, because I’m watching it now.

One thing I will raise- January was dominated by streaming. I watched one series (Two Doors Down) on DVD, one series on Blu-ray (The Expanse Season Two) and two films on Blu-ray (Game Night and Shadows & Fog). Everything else was streamed, and the majority of it on Netflix. Being a late convert to all things Netflix, I’m a bit alarmed that my blog is fast becoming a Netflix blog, but I suppose it’s only reflecting the changing times we are living in.

Irma in March

irmaHere’s some good news to start the New Year- Billy Wilder’s romantic-comedy Irma La Douce is coming to Blu-ray here in the UK courtesy of Eureka, currently scheduled for a release on March 18th. I have a copy of the film on DVD but am really looking forward to getting the film in HD- a 4K restoration was released on Blu-ray over in the States last June but it was region-locked, which annoyed me no end, but hey-ho, all good things come to he who waits (although I’m still waiting for Days of Heaven on Blu-ray over here). While not widely regarded as one of Billy Wilder’s best films, nonetheless Irma La Douce is a really nice film with a lovely score (I have the expanded score on CD and its wonderful). Stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine return after their earlier Wilder classic, The Apartment- it’s hardly fair to compare the two films, as The Apartment is one of the very best films ever made, but a new disc featuring Jack Lemmon is always something for me to get excited about.

The DVD I have is bare-bones but this edition will feature two commentaries (ported from the US release), a new video interview and the usual booklet with essay. At this stage of how things regards physical and streaming is going, any HD physical release of a film I like is something to savour and this is certainly going to be part of the 2019 Selection- yes its pre-ordered!