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!

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Loathing Luther

lutherSo I watched the last part of season five of Luther last night (it aired over four consecutive nights last week, but I caught up with it Tuesday & Wednesday) and I have to say, the whole thing was fairly abominable. There seems to come a time when a much-hyped series/franchise just ends up in a sea of fan-service and self-parody, and the much-loved Luther seems to have succumbed. Too many coincidences, too many shocks purely for shock’s sake, too many leaps of logic, so many things that simply made no sense, too much really awful editing. Idris Elba seems to think he just has to stand there and slouch in his coat and that’s enough, and sure, the guy is the epitome of cool but on the face of this, I hope the persistent rumours of him one day being James Bond never come true. I like him, he’s a fine actor, but you can’t phone-in performances like this, particularly in one-note scripts like this (late Christmas) turkey. An embarrassment for all concerned (even Ruth Wilson), this is certainly my first disappointment of 2019; really, it was terrible from start to finish.

Actually, I’ll qualify that last remark- the Dr Who New Years Day special was probably worse but it wasn’t as big a disappointment because I hadn’t expected much, if anything, because if there’s one thing that you can count on, it’s that the Doctor always disappoints.

What a shame, Luther, what a shame. Off to jail, then son, and here’s hoping Auntie Beeb throws away the key.

 

On this day last year-

w3It was The Love Witch. Riding in hot not on a broomstick but rather a sexy 1970s convertible. While hardly the best film I saw last year, it was one of the most fun and memorable, a gaudy rich tongue-in-cheek… I hesitate to call it horror, maybe a comedy-thriller would be more apt. Some films are difficult to pigeon-hole and put in a box (albeit a coffin-shaped one maybe in this case) and those are sometimes the most fun. They need to bring back Kolchak: The Night Stalker like this, I mean, that would be fantastic geek nirvana (it’ll never happen, naturally, but still…). Anyway, I don’t usually dwell on movie anniversaries, but maybe I should, because a year ago today I was writing about this cheeky little ode to horror/thrillers of old, and it’s nice to remember.

The 2019 Selection?

I didn’t do it last year (partly because I was consciously trying to limit buying discs), but back in 2017 I ran a regular series of posts entitled ‘The 2017 Selection’ which was a tracker of all the discs I was buying – taking photographs of the expanding number of discs on the shelf and noting when I managed to watch them (or not- one of the first discs I bought that year, which was John Carpenter’s original Assault on Precinct 13 on Blu-ray, ended up being one of the very last titles I actually watched in the tail end of December).

exp3So anyway, let’s resurrect this old beast, shall we? Hopefully I’ll manage to keep the numbers down and quality-level up. Just arrived today through the letterbox has been The Expanse Season Three on Blu-ray, which I bought during a timely sale on Amazon (its since gone back up in price already).

I saw the first season back in 2016, so yeah, way back really, and thoroughly enjoyed it, and then eventually bought the season two set when that fell in price on Amazon, but didn’t get around to watching it. Which would infer I didn’t really enjoy that first season all that much, but that’s really not the case. My problem is that the show is really quite elaborate and complicated (refreshingly so, infact, as I love the idea of a big sci-fi space opera to get my teeth into) but of course separating seasons of it over more than twelve months makes it harder to remember who’s who, what’s what and still get the most out of it. And frankly, there’s just so much stuff to watch it’s easy to get lost in the noise, which is what happened here as I intended to rewatch season one before jumping into the sophomore outing, but got distracted by all the new stuff out there etc… and here we are again, with me still procrastinating over season one with now two seasons  on the shelf.

Well, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully I’ll demonstrate more self-discipline this time around and actually watch season one again and progress onto those later seasons. Its funny though, coming at a series with this kind of delay (I think season three was originally aired several months ago now) and the distance it brings. The Expanse of course actually got cancelled and eventually saved by Amazon, with a fourth season airing on Prime sometime late this year which I’ll probably have to watch via streaming. I do hope a physical release is forthcoming somehow, I’d hate my disc collection to be rendered incomplete, but Amazon don’t have a brilliant track record for allowing some of its programming to be given physical releases (The Man in the High Castle a particular offender- which reminds me I still have to watch season three of that).

Agh, here we go again. The New Golden Age of Television can be a right inconvenient bugger sometimes.

Feeling the Glow of a Netflix Binge

glow1.jpgIts been a rough few weeks, and particularly the last few days. It may not be the healthiest way to escape the realities of the world, but we retreated to Planet Netflix yesterday and this afternoon, watching the entire second season of Glow over the two days (eight episodes yesterday, the final two today).

I’m sure somebody must have a blog somewhere entitled ‘Adventures in Binge-Watching.’  It’s illuminating, how so many shows now are surely designed specifically for binge-watching. I certainly don’t think it’s as simple as just instantly dumping an entire season of a show on a service, whether it be Netflix or Amazon or iplayer (the BBC, who you’d think would be above such shenanigans, did it last year, putting up all the first series of Killing Eve on its iplayer service while concurrently airing the show on a traditional  weekly schedule on its ‘normal’ channel), and just expecting that people will devour it all at once. I think these modern shows are deliberately designed for binge-watching, whether it be the serial-arc writing across a season or the teasers/cliffhangers that are placed at the end of each installment.

There has been a subtle shift evident in structure. In the ‘old days’ of commercial episodic television, the writing required a sting or tease every twelve minutes or so, to signal the ad breaks and ensure that viewers stick around (and through those paying ads) to see what happened next. These days, the writing is more akin to a movie, with similar pacing, negating the need for those artificial twelve-minute stings and enabling a better flow- albeit with those old stings/cliffhangers being placed at the end of each episode. Similarly Netflix reinforce this by having a 5-second countdown to automatically start the next episode automatically: there’s been more than a few times that a new episode automatically begins and I think, ‘oh well, since its on I’ll just give it ten minutes to see what happens’ and then -boom- that next 40 minutes is toast and the whole ep has gone by.

Anyway, Glow was terrific. I’ll try to get a proper review posted sometime, but it’s definitely superior television- well scripted, acted, directed, funny, sad, and set in the 1980s. I’m a sucker for anything set in the 1980s. Here in the UK the 1970s were particularly grim and for my generation at least, the 1980s were our 1960s. Great films, cheesy films, great music, cheesy music, okay, sure, mostly cheesy television, and yep, lousy fashion, sure, but crikey, we even had totally amazing comics (Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, for cryin’ out loud- nothing has come close since). Maybe its because I’m looking back from the particularly dystopian vantage point of 2019, but looking back, the 1980s were mostly great. And yeah, Glow is great.

 

Two Doors Down Series Two (2016)

two-doors-downI don’t very often drift into sitcom territory here. I don’t really watch them- in today’s enlightened age sitcom’s simply aren’t what they used to be, usually for fear of upsetting somebody, somewhere, which has resulted in most of them being, well, pretty anaemic. On the one hand, I can see it as progress, on the other, it’s a bit of a shame; comedy can be a good tool to enlighten, and ridicule some beliefs and prejudices through humour. I might cringe a little at some moments in Steptoe and Son from the 1960s and 1970s, but it’s nonetheless bloody funny and I don’t think it does any harm to realise (and appreciate) how times have moved forward while having a good belly-laugh.

Sitcoms of course have always been a mainstay of British television, but times change. The days of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas specials bringing the nation together with audiences of over 20 million are long gone (the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show attracted 28 million viewers – around half the total UK population at the time, sitting around their television sets when it was aired; imagine that). Video recorders and more recent advances like the iplayer have meant that people simply don’t all watch the same programme at the same time anymore, and of course we are no longer limited to just three channels here as we were back in 1977. Its a bigger, more fragmented world now.

Indeed, it’s so easy for things to pass me by now. I didn’t come across The Detectorists until it was all over, and was late coming to Two Doors Down. I saw its original pilot (set at New Years Eve) when it was repeated on New Years Eve 2017, purely by chance, and subsequently watched its third series that aired a few weeks later. So I came around to series one on repeats on UK Gold this summer and a Christmas present of the DVD boxset has given me the chance to (finally) catch up with series two, and a festive binge through all three series. Its been a slice of Heaven this past few weeks with what’s being going on here of late, being able to escape ‘real-life’ through it- I’m almost bereft at finishing the last episode. Fortunately the show is popular enough that a fourth series is starting next week, so more lies ahead.

There is something quite comforting about being able to settle into a DVD boxset of your favourite sitcoms. I guess it’s the comfort-viewing equivalent of a comfort food. In darkest winter as it is now, with short days and long dark nights and a political climate as poisonous and dystopian as they come (LA 2019 far more welcoming and pleasant than anything in UK 2019- if only Ridley knew back  in 1982 that he needn’t have bothered with Syd Mead and Douglas Trumbull, eh?). Losing oneself in several episodes of sitcom-land is such a welcome escape. Two Doors Down has some great characters, marvelous acting and comic-timing to deliver some really quite witty scripts. I simply adore it, laughing both with and at the characters, wincing painfully at some and sympathising with others (particularly the put-upon Beth and Eric whose home is usually the setting for all the comedic revelry).

I don’t think I’m alone in coming upon the series late- I’ve read that the programme is one of the best-kept secrets on television now. I hope its success continues and that maybe we’ll get a series five some day. If you’ve never watched it, I urge you to give it a go. Its rare these days for a sitcom to strike me as genuinely funny and involving as this one does- sitcoms almost seem a lost art, but maybe there is hope yet…

Ghost Stories (2017)

ghost1.jpgThere are some genuinely creepy moments, and old-fashioned scares, in this horror anthology movie- indeed, for awhile I was pleasantly reminded of those old Amicus movies that I loved years ago. Initially I was wrong-footed by a titles/prologue sequence that seems to break the fourth wall and suggested that the film was a found-footage/pseudo-documentary piece- it’s only after this that the film settles down into a traditional film format that I was able to relax into it. I don’t know if this distracted others or if it was just me, but there’s something wrong with all this and it handicaps the film somewhat- I’m surprised the film-makers didn’t revisit it (there’s stuff going on in camcorder footage of a Jewish celebration and ensuing family discord that seems to have no impact on subsequent events at all).

Once the film slips into traditional horror-story territory it improves no end, and after seeing so many American horrors,  it’s lovely to see UK characters and locations in an old-fashioned horror story, in which very real, very ordinary people get caught up in genuinely unsettling situations. The film and its three seperate tales (albeit they are not quite as seperate as we are led to believe) are structured around the investigations of Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman, who co-wrote and directed the film with Jeremy Dyson). Goodman has devoted his career to exposing phony psychics and fraudulent supernatural claims. A childhood hero of his, Charles Cameron, who has been missing for years, suddenly contacts Goodman and tasks him with three cases of ghostly goings-on that cannot be explained: a night watch-man’s terrifying experience in an abandoned asylum, a young man’s car accident deep in some creepy woods and a father being haunted by the malevolent spirit of his unborn child. 

The tension during the horrific tales as they unfold is very well done- the film is not at all gory but is genuinely creepy and certainly it’s a refreshing nod to old-school horror films, where mood and atmosphere is superior to graphic excess. Other than that off-putting opening I really enjoyed the film and its ‘twist’ at the end, while perhaps not completely surprising or convincing, certainly honours the feel of those Amicus anthologies. Its a great old-fashioned ghost movie, and there’s nothing wrong with that- indeed, I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff. In just  the same way as science-fiction and fantasy films have become too persistent with graphically ‘wowing’ us by literally showing everything onscreen in CGI spectacle, so have horror films been persistent lately in graphically detailing all their gory horrors onscreen. Suggestion is sometimes a more powerful tool, no matter the CGI trickery that film-makers possess today.