Major Dundee Part One

major1I started writing a post about Sam Peckinpah’s oft-maligned and clearly broken 1965 Western, Major Dundee; I’d bought the recent Arrow 2-disc Blu-Ray, swayed into a rare blind-buy simply because of how gorgeous and finely curated the release is, as well my past affinity for and interest in both Peckinpah’s other films (chiefly Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, which itself was a sumptuous Arrow release awhile back) and those of Charlton Heston (for all the many Hollywood icon reasons, but also curiously having seen his Hollywood debut, Dark City not so long ago). My post started with a commentary about broken films and how Major Dundee fits into a particular group of films that includes Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch of Evil and it became evident it was bogging-down my actual comments regards Major Dundee, so I’ve decided to split the post into two: so here’s part one, and thoughts about broken films in general (hopefully Part Two will follow shortly).

There is clearly something seductive, for film lovers, regards broken films, or the films that never got made. In a way, its difficult to distinguish between the two because although Major Dundee got made, it clearly isn’t the film that Sam Peckinpah intended it to be. Hardcore fans of the director can no doubt wax lyrical regards what it could have been; the three-hour roadshow epic that would have been a Western intended to rival epics like Lawrence of Arabia, and Peckinpah’s subtle (or maybe not so subtle) inversion of the traditional Western hero and America’s usual rose-tinted myth of the Wild West. With films such as Major Dundee, it is at the heart of their fascination; the endless wondering about what might have been, what should have been, and the why: the latter is where the ranting comes in, and usually becomes a heated discourse about the dichotomy of the art and the business of film-making. 

Peckinpah himself was guilty of this, always bitterly blaming others regards the failure of Major Dundee, a revisionist commentary whenever he mentioned the film in the years after its release, when even the strongest of his apologists would accept he deserved much of the blame himself too, the film a troubled production. Its clear though that Peckinpah had valid reason to feel bitter- taken out of the editing suite, I can only imagine his horror when he only finally saw the finished film at its premiere. I haven’t watched all of the theatrical version, only initially watching the extended version and then later sampling the theatrical, but what I have seen of it with its awful Daniele Amfitheatrof soundtrack music is astonishingly bad. Its a good example of how a film can be ruined by a bad music score, as right from the main titles it turns the film into a bizarre parody of Peckinpah’s intentions. Just how derided and woeful this music score is, can possibly be construed from the fact that it was replaced by a new score by Christopher Caliendo in 2005 when the film was restored to that first assembly: there are likely other examples, but I cannot recall another case of a film getting its score totally replaced during a restoration. 

major3The extended cut that has become how we now watch Major Dundee is no directors cut- I understand from what I have seen/read that its a producers assembly from when Peckinpah was taken off the picture which was then further edited into what then became the theatrical. I’m always fascinated by alternate cuts of films, and how even the slightest alternate edits of scenes can change their meaning and tone and indeed the film itself, and not always for the better.    

A discussion regards broken films can get side-tracked by directors cuts and extended cuts of films- the home video boom of VHS, Laserdisc and DVD allowed for so many versions of films to be released and this actually saved some of the films and possibly damaged others. The assembly cut of Alien 3 is one of the best examples of a broken film being ‘saved’, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like -to the extent I can likely never rewatch it- the Redux version of Apocalypse Now, so its not the case that restorations and extended versions are always such a good thing. In any case, this isn’t what I’m really getting at with regards this post about broken films, and I’m concious not to get pulled into this particular hornets nest. Maybe there should be a distinction between ‘lost’ films, and those broken films which can be ‘fixed’ sometime later via restoration. Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons is gone, lost, and the film the subject of much adoration and grievance from those who appreciate what might have been. 

So getting back to Major Dundee and its status of being a film that ‘might have been/could have been…’ in just the same way as Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and so many other films where troubled production and disagreements/dissatisfaction from studios resulted in films not being everything they might have been. Very often the stories about the making of the films can be more interesting than the films themselves, and I’m confident I’m not alone in saying that the making of Major Dundee is possibly more fascinating than the film we have. Decades of tall-tales, rumours and hearsay only add to the myths surrounding some of these movies, and indeed any film-lover will have interest in the politics and friction surrounding the making of the films that work and are a success, never mind those that fell astray. Films are a uniquely collaborative medium, whatever the auteur theory that persists and is generally accepted. How much the director is author of a film is possibly a tangential discussion when examining broken films, but its a valid one: in the case of Peckinpah, Major Dundee‘s failure is usually attributed to others even by those who hold Peckinpah partly responsible too, but had Major Dundee been a perfect film, likely credit would have mostly, if not wholly, been given to the director. It is always Hitchcock’s Vertigo, or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, or Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Its curious that very often when films don’t work out as well as hoped, its not the directors total responsibility, there’s plenty of candidates subjected to blame (for my own part, I always feel the central part of what works or undermines a film is its screenplay- everything, the actors performances, the directors visual flair, is dependant on the foundation of a working and concise effective script, but its just as wrong to call it Hampton Fancher’s Blade Runner). I think I’m digressing into authorship of movies and I didn’t intend to.  

There is a tension between the business of making movies- a studio and its backers financing a film hoping to make a profit in return- and the art of making films, the creative team making a film worthy as a piece of entertainment and indeed possibly a work of art in itself. Sometimes both happens, sometimes one and not the other- bad films have made lots of money, great films have failed and made a loss. I have often stated that I don’t think anyone intentionally makes a bad film but I suppose in the real world, every project/film is a pay check and ones personal investment evidently varies. Film lovers generally -maybe rightly, who knows?- cite the creatives a the good guys and the studio brass as the bad guys, the ones who complicate matters citing budget and time overruns in the face of a directors efforts to make the perfect, best film he can. Its out of all this tension though that films flounder and fail, as films if not as products made for a profit. I mentioned in an earlier post the popularity of horror films as a genre when many if not most of the horror films made are very poor, but part of their popularity is how cheap they are to make, how easy they are to market and usually how that translates into something profitable.

major2So again, trying to get back to Major Dundee– its a film that had problems from the start, and its one of those films that was made without a finished script (which, if you consider my own thoughts regards how important a foundation a good screenplay is, speaks volumes), and I’m always surprised and aghast at how often that happens. Star Trek: The Motion Picture was being shot and Robert Wise didn’t have a finished script, the last third of the film was a blank, pretty much, and they made it up on the fly, mostly. Which seems an incredible thing considering the investment into what was such a major motion picture and no small reason why the film turned out as troubled as it did. So it was with Major Dundee in regards how the film starts very well- the first half, at least in the extended version, is a great entertaining film- but slowly fragments into a incoherent mess as it runs into its second half, with a very odd romantic element for Dundee that seems abruptly thrown in from some other movie, and very messy finale with characters suddenly acting very strangely (probably because whole scenes have been cut or never even shot). Cutting the budget and production schedule and shooting it in a very difficult location were only part of the films problems, as was feuding actors and its drunk and antagonistic director but hey, the making of Major Dundee would make a great picture in itself. 

Part Two of this review of Major Dundee will follow…

A few thoughts on Dune 4K

arrow duneBack in 1985, 2010: The Year We Make Contact and Dune were out at the same time here in the UK- I had to choose one of them, I couldn’t see both. I chose the former and afterwards ranted all the way home feeling like I’d messed up (I didn’t really enjoy 2010 at all at the cinema, I felt like it was a gross insult to Kubrick).

Not sure why I felt the need to state that, except to add that I eventually caught up with Dune on VHS rental and had second thoughts: maybe I had chosen wisely after all.

So here we are decades later. My copy of Arrow’s 4K edition of Dune arrived today. I managed to find an hour late afternoon to sample the first twenty minutes of the disc, a few of the extras on the second disc and a listen to some of the Paul Sammon commentary. Thought I’d jot down a few observations while Claire is chilling catching up on the US Open now that we’re back home unwinding.

Firstly, from what I’ve seen the film looks absolutely gorgeous on 4K UHD, its a splendid piece of work, filmic with grain and with excellent detail and depth of colour. It looks really impressive and I look forward to watching the film when I, er, can (this is another example of just why this 4K format can be so special).

Secondly, Paul Sammon comes across as a total git as usual, name-dropping ad nauseum. God knows I should treat him as some kind of God due to his work promoting Blade Runner with his Future Noir book etc but he’s just the usual condescending Hollywood Diva reciting his own PR sheet to me. Possibly its unintentional, but the guy always grates me whenever I see him in interviews etc;  likely just a bit of friction from our own individual character types being at odds, but my goodness he always comes across as a twat. His commentary over the Blade Runner workprint was bad enough (how he turns a commentary track on Blade Runner into an exercise in boredom is almost a work of art  unto itself), but this one, its in a league all its own. “Impressionistic” is what he calls it, sort-of apologising early on prior to going off-topic with more name-dropping and yes, talking about himself more than Dune. Maybe the commentary settles down after awhile, but listening to twenty-thirty minutes of it was fairly excruciating.

In a sense though, I suppose its a perfect commentary track for Dune because Dune is just that kind of movie. Its a big bloated mess that gets some things perfect and screws up everything else. It looks gorgeous- the set design is amazing, the costumes etc are really impressive, the cast is mostly perfect, but the more it progresses the further it comes off the rails until by the end its a rushed, nonsensical train wreck, a terrible folly. Describing it as flawed is being far too kind. Its broken. Sammon’s waffle about his career etc is kind of perfect; its like he thinks the film is unworthy of his attention. 

So many times I watch Dune and ask myself ‘what were they thinking?’ After all, just look at the soundtrack. Its sort-of by Toto, although it probably really isn’t, at least not in the same way as Queen’s Flash Gordon score was- for one thing, this doesn’t sound like any kind of rock-band score. Its much more traditional than that. Its great, mostly, and works, mostly, but its so traditionally orchestral in places one wonders why they didn’t just go with a Goldsmith or Williams or Horner anyway. Rather than Toto as a band, its mostly keyboardist David Paich and his father Marty Paich who were responsible, and is largely symphonic with electronics and guitars thrown in for texture. Brian Eno’s Prophecy theme steals the show though: pity they didn’t ask Eno to score the entire film himself, that would have been something indeed.

So anyway, that’s about it. Its getting late. I shall return to Dune in due course. I certainly want to watch it one last time before Villeneuve’s attempt arrives and changes everything. In some respects, the inevitable technological differences will be really fascinating. Imagine if John Boorman had made his The Lord of the Rings film back in the 1970s and we could subsequently compare it with Peter Jackson’s trilogy when that came out (best we can do is compare Jackson’s films to Excalibur, I suppose, which is a fascinating comparison in itself).

True Romance 4K UHD

true4kversSo I’ve gotten around to watching the 4K disc of Tony Scott’s True Romance that was recently released by Arrow. Picture-wise the film looks fantastic, especially the cooler shots in the first thirty minutes or so before the setting switches to California; once the story moves there, Tony Scott’s obsession with orange filters betrays the films age (there was a time it seemed all films looked that way), but detail is always very good -faces and fabrics of clothes can be astonishingly detailed, the widened colour gamut and the HDR both really do add depth. Its a great presentation and another example of why 4K is such a great format. 

I hadn’t watched the film is quite a while, possibly not since the DVD days. I’d first seen the film in the cinema, apparently one of the view that did- at the time I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t a big hit, I mean, it’s got mainstream success written all over it; sharp, fast-moving script, a stellar cast, nice music, plenty of action and laughs, but it just didn’t connect. Maybe it was just too ‘cool’ to convince, before filmgoers got used to Tarantino’s style with Pulp Fiction etc. Maybe only the film nerds ‘got it’ at the time. Certainly the scene between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper ranks as one of the very greats and must surely have been cited in favourite-scene lists over the years since.

I think the problem for the film -and I actually count it as a plus rather than a problem- is that its not exactly a Quentin Tarantino film and not exactly a Tony Scott film, but rather something else in between. Its got the witty, too-clever-to-be-real trademark Tarantino dialogue, but it doesn’t look like a Tarantino movie, and while it looks like a Tony Scott movie (visually all sorts of nods to Days of Thunder, Top Gun etc) it never sounds like a Tony Scott movie: everytime anyone opens their mouth you know who wrote the script. It has this weird almost ‘indie’ vibe when so many Scott films seemed so depressingly, calculatedly commercial: True Romance always seemed more something his brother Ridley might do (witness Thelma and Louise that came out a few years prior). That being said, before Tony Scott went and made Days of Thunder and The Last Boy Scout, but after (jeez, what a filmography) he’d made Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop 2, he’d made Revenge, which is my favourite film of his (and by the way, where’s the bloody Blu-ray of that?) so perhaps True Romance should be less a surprise in his filmography.

Part violent crime drama, part geeky wish-fulfillment romance, the film always feels more adult fairy tale than anything real, and I’ve come to the opinion this time around that the two leads are absolutely batshit crazy insane and really rather quite scary. You can watch these kinds of characters in films and maybe even root for them but crikey, I wouldn’t want to actually meet them.

Anyway, anybody who likes this film really should get this 4K edition if they have the kit because this really is the best it has ever looked and it’s one of those feature-laden special editions that seems quite rare these days – four commentaries and then additional scene-specific commentaries from actors, and also new interviews to accompany all the past features/deleted scenes from the old DVD (and presumably Blu-ray) special editions which allows those discs to go in the bin (“if you got ’em, bin ’em” as QT might say). Really, the weakest thing about this release is the horrid box art (but at least the standard amaray case within has reversible cover art); other than that, this is absolutely Definitive and the last copy of True Romance that anybody shall ever need buy.

Mind, I can remember thinking the same thing in the VHS days when films finally went widescreen- was I really ever that young and dumb?

 

Alas, no 4K Legend

legend85Oh, Arrow, you tease. Those postcards for an Arrow edition of Legend had me all kinds of (mildly) excited. Legend is a pretty damned broken film in any of its cuts but goodness it sure is pretty, and a 4K edition would be such eye-candy. Alas it seems never to be.

Yesterdays press release actually confirms the worst- Arrow’s Legend in September is a US-only release of a remastered edition of the horrific American theatrical cut (frankly unwatchable in my opinion) and the image-impaired Directors Cut (which is basically a workprint, not a ‘restored’ Directors Cut that many are), on Blu-ray as the only elements good enough for a 4K belong to the European cut that Fox (and therefore now Disney) own and the mouse as usual isn’t playing ball. So not only no 4K, there’s not even an Arrow release over here of Legend as they can’t license that European cut from Disney. Man, its so hard not to think of Disney as some kind of Evil Empire or Bond villain these days, its like they have a corporate memorandum to piss me off.

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…. 

 

Secret Behind the Door (1947)

secretdoorAfter what must have been several months or longer, I’ve finally gotten around to watching the fourth and last disc in Arrow’s unimaginatively titled ‘Four Film Noir Classics’ Blu-ray set that I bought last year. This last film was generally regarded as the weakest of the set and I have to agree, although it does have its plus points. 

Secret Behind the Door is a noir from consummate visual stylist Fritz Lang, who was no stranger to the genre and later would direct The Big Heat, the Indicator release of which a few years back blew me away and a film I would count amongst my very favourite noir. Secret Behind the Door is nowhere near as good as that later classic, but it does sport some absolutely top-notch visuals. There are a few shots that are amongst the best of any noir I’ve seen- shots that are framed in a particular way, and so consummately well-photographed with lighting and shadows in selected areas, that tell the story wholly cinematically without any need of narration or dialogue. Visually we see everything regards how characters relate to each other, body language, their positioning relative to each other within the frame, the scaling, lighting… really quite arresting stuff that is sadly let down by a script that borders on the implausible and then jumps off the cliff into the frankly bizarre.

Its perhaps some testament to Lang’s skills as a director and control of the medium that he manages to hold together the film for as long as he does. By the end of the film we’ve somehow passed from dark romantic drama to murderous noir to Roger Corman’s Poe horror territory and somewhere beyond before landing with a terrific thud back into the land of ridiculous romance. I really wasn’t sure what I’d just seen, to be honest. 

Celia Lamphere (Joan Bennett) is a beautiful New York socialite who seems to have finally decided she’s spent too long carefree and single and its time she found the right man: in this case the safe choice of an old friend,  Bob Dwight (James Seay), who works with her wealthy brother. Dwight is besotted by her and is eminently dependable but its clear she doesn’t love him- he’s simply a safe choice. Before she acquiesces to his advances however she goes off on one last vacation/adventure, this time to Mexico where she finds a man who strangely excites her like she’s never experienced before; tall, dark, handsome magazine owner Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave). In just days they marry, but moving to his mansion home near New York she suddenly discovers that not only was Lamphere married, he also has a son and a household full of strange characters including a dominating elder sister and a fire-scarred assistant.

Possibly strangest of all however is her new husband who acts increasingly odd and unhinged, soon revealing his pastime of adding a wing of rooms to his mansion in which famous historical murders of wives by their husbands or lovers took place, a chamber of horrors if you will, but the final room, behind door number seven, remains mysteriously locked and whose contents he refuses to divulge. Something to do with his recently deceased wife, of his new wife perhaps?

Clearly this is a psychological horror dressed up in noir tropes: certainly not an unlikely combination at all and as I have noted, it visually wears its noir stylings spectacularly well. It simply drips noir in most every shot- deep shadows, surreal lighting and framing, exaggerated angles and backlighting accentuating mood and tension. Unfortunately Redgrave doesn’t convince as romantic lead or as twisted, haunted and dangerous male- not that’s he’s really helped by a nutty script that goes dafter with every page. The oddest thing about the film -and likely what saves it at all- is Joan Bennett who seems so intoxicated by the premise that we can almost accept, to our utter bafflement, that she hangs around with her new husband and his deranged family more than a day in his mansion of horrors. I suspect there is a valid reading of the film in which every character is quite insane, including Celia, especially when, at the films end after Lamphere has almost strangled Celia to death and both almost died in a fiery conflagration as the house of horrors burns around them, we finally see them enjoying a second honeymoon back in Mexico. If Celia at this point has not got bountiful reasons to cite for a swift divorce, no-one has. Its like the cinematic definition of jumping the shark, but hey, maybe wives were more forgiving back then.

 

 

The Dark Mirror (1946)

DM1I watched Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror as it was included within Arrow’s Blu-ray boxset ‘Four Film Noir Classics’ which I bought a few months back (two of its titles that I’ve seen since being Force of Evil and The Big Combo). The Dark Mirror concerns the murder of a doctor, and thanks to witnesses there is an obvious suspect- but unfortunately for the frustrated police detective handling the case, the suspect has an identical  twin sister with a cast-iron alibi. Unable to distinguish which sister is which, the investigation collapses.

It sounds like a film noir, and indeed it opens like a noir, with a gliding camera accompanied by moody music entering an apartment and slowly unveiling the scene of the crime and the body with a knife in its back. Unfortunately the tone of the film appears to be all over the place not really helped by the curious casting of Thomas Mitchell prefiguring his dizzy Uncle Billy from Its a Wonderful Life (which was made in the same year, but came out at the start of 1947, so I assume The Dark Mirror was shot first). Mitchell’s Police Lt. Stevenson is too light-hearted with humorous lines lightening the mood – the character needed to be someone darker, more obsessed with the crime and maddened by the frustration of knowing a killer has escaped the law. Someone like Kirk Douglas, say, in the role would have raised the film to some other level entirely. As it is, the comic relief of the detective feels ill-placed and hurts the film: at one early point establishing the character, Stevenson’s dismissive comment about “Chinese music” is accompanied by composer Dimitri Tiomkin’s intentionally comedic quote of such music, a moment that seems something straight of a comedy. 

Likewise the film had a real opportunity to be really dark and noir by playing up the difficulty identifying the twins. Once it has established they are both totally identical and the police case is thwarted, the film then has the two women wearing necklaces with their names (‘Ruth’ and ‘Terry’) so we always know who is who, bizarrely undermining their own defence, unless of course the women are switching necklaces. 

What makes the film succeed as a thriller (if not a noir) is the brilliant performance/s of Olivia de Haviland who plays the twin sisters. The film employs split screens and some opticals to excellent effect to allow de Havilland to be onscreen as the two characters at the same time (moving shots enabled by a double viewed from the rear). While the technical aspects might take the plaudits, the real success of the conceit is the timing and acting skills necessary for her to have convincing conversations with herself (actually seperate shots filmed apart). It really is impressive, a real tour de force. The lady was a hell of an actress, no doubt.

Its just such a pity that the film didn’t really go as dark as it might have, had it been what I would consider a ‘true’ or genuine film noir- had we not been able to be quite certain in the film which twin de Havilland is playing at any one time, mirroring the confusion of the police, then the film would have been a labyrinth of suspicion and doubt- indeed, a really fine noir might have ended maintaining the uncertainty of whether the correct twin had been accused of the crime and sent to the Electric Chair. Such mind-games were probably considered a step too far for audiences of 1946, because as I’ve noted, the girls wear necklaces throughout the remainder of the film and its fairly obvious which is the killer (the script/director can’t help but push de Havilland into playing one darker than the other, something which seems to pass Mitchell’s dizzy detective by). At one point they even have one of the twins dressed in white, the other in black- subtle, not.

The film also slips into traditional melodrama by having psychiatrist Dr.Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres), brought in by Stevenson to try deduce which of the twins is actually the killer, then falling in love with the ‘good’ twin. Considering this twin was the one who was likely getting engaged to the doctor who was shown murdered at the start of the film just a few days earlier, its remarkable that the twin reciprocates his feelings immediately rather than be in mourning for awhile. This last point had me intrigued, considering that perhaps both twins were ‘in’ on the crime, and that they were actually both responsible, but the film failed to go that way.

I enjoyed the film but was frustrated, really, by the film not being quite the film noir I expected or hoped it to be. In the end its a routine romantic thriller/crime drama with very slight noir undertones, memorable mainly for the remarkable performance/s of Olivia de Havilland. That said, its a hell of a star turn and itself makes the film worthy of repeat viewings and some admiration. Just such a pity the film could not have maintained an even, darker tone throughout.    

1995 and a Waterworld mystery

waterworldA friend at work lent me a copy of Arrow’s recent release of Waterworld on Blu-ray, as I’d confessed to never having seen the film before, odd as that may sound, but, you know, some films slip us by. Well, back home Claire told me we had indeed seen it before, but I insisted I hadn’t. I mean, I honestly could not remember any of it, other than maybe the odd scene that I stumbled upon when it was aired on tv over the years (for awhile, it seemed to aired all the time on various cable stations etc, and even then I never sat down to watch it).

So Claire went off to find proof- and returned with her diary from 1995, which indeed confirmed that we had indeed seen it, at a Showcase Cinema on August 22nd, 1995. Which I honestly cannot remember, at all. Can a film be that bad, that forgettable, that it just fades entirely from memory? It still baffled me, as I could not remember it at all- indeed, it felt all a little bit scary. Is this how it begins, losing your mind?

Strangest of all, Claire had a list in the back of her diary of all the films we had seen that year at the cinema- 34 of them. Yeah, that’s right, 34 of them. I don’t think I see that many films at the cinema in a decade now. My only excuse, we were courting back then, before we got married and settled down to domesticity and the joys of home cinema. But 34 films? Crikey. While my eyes water at the state my wallet must have been in back then, here’s the list, just for curiosity sake: When  A Man Loves A Woman, Timecop, Stargate, Nostradamus, Shallow Grave, Natural Born Killers, Interview With The Vampire, Leon, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, 101 Dalmatians, Nobody’s Fool, Outbeak, Legends of the Fall, Apollo 13, In the Mouth of Madness, Don Juan de Marco, Judge Dredd, Braveheart, Waterworld, First Knight, Congo, Batman Forever, Species, Die Hard With A Vengeance, Delores Claiborne, While You Were Sleeping, Pocahontas, Mortal Kombat, Haunted, Jade, Crimson Tide, A Walk in the Clouds, Babe.

Well, there’s a few there I can barely remember either. There’s a few I would like to forget but can’t.

As for Waterworld, well, we watched it Saturday night, and other than one or two scenes, such as the dive down to the submerged ruins (which I swore I recalled from stumbling onto a tv showing, to be honest) it absolutely failed to ring any bells memory-wise. It was like I was absolutely watching it for the first time. It was utterly bizarre. Unless Claire had gone to see it with some other fella I must have just wiped that film from my memory completely in some kind of post-traumatic shock. Well, yeah, it was a pretty forgettable film, so that would be part of it- that, and nearly 24 years.

The time to lock me away in a padded room is when I forget I ever saw Blade Runner, obviously.

 

What’s it all about, Darko?

donni1I first saw Donnie Darko back when it first came out on DVD. Must be something like fifteen years ago.  I enjoyed it, but for some reason I never returned to it, which is odd, as I always rewatch films eventually (why buy them, otherwise?), and fifteen years is a long time. Perhaps it didn’t engage me, somehow?  I guess maybe the format change to blu-ray and me boxing away most of my dvds to make room must have had something to do with it.

So anyway, Arrow releasing a new remastered edition of two cuts of the film on blu-ray finally has me returning to a film that, on paper, I really should love. Afterall, it has something of an underdog antihero for a protagonist and its about time travel and alternate universes and is set in the 1980s. Should be right up my street.

I opted for the theatrical cut for this return, mainly because general consensus seems to be it’s the best version. Also, having only seen it once over a decade ago, any changes in the directors cut from the theatrical wouldn’t be apparent to me anyway, and I’d like to be able to note the alterations if only to ascertain the reasons for that cuts existence.

I’ve decided to leave a detailed review until I do see that directors cut, which I intend to see very soon while the theatrical is fresh in my memory. A few observations though. How young everyone looks. How sad to see some who have since left us. How cool some of that eighties music is. How dodgy such early cgi now looks. How confusing some of the internal logic still seems to be (and why some of that central mystery/paradox seems unnecessarily hard to grasp). Have to admit, I still didn’t fall in love with the film. Its one to admire but emotionally I still didn’t connect somehow. Maybe Donnie himself is just too hard a character to love. Maybe its the unanswered questions at the end. Donnie sacrifices himself, and saves his girlfriend, but that resets other stuff, like leaving a child porn ring uncaught and the girlfriends mother possibly soon killed by her ex. A few letters/calls to the police before he went to sleep might have been wise. But maybe I’m still missing something.

Well, I’ll return to Donnie Darko shortly (hopefully). Arrow’s release looks gorgeous and the extras plentiful- its really a benchmark release even for Arrow (and bodes well for their edition of The Thing, woohoo!).

Let’s see if the third times the charm for Darko…

Solaris (2002)

Caught an airing of Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris in HD on the TCM channel. Far as I know, the film has never had a HD release on Blu-ray anywhere in the world, so I was curious to see how it looks in HD. One word- beautiful.

solaris-planetOh go on then, another word- exquisite.  If its indeed true that there has never been a HD disc release of this film then that needs fixing pronto. Maybe Arrow Films might give it a go? I believe Solaris is a 20th century Fox release, and Arrow have licensed a few Fox titles in the past (Big Trouble in Little China springs to mind for one). If anyone one from Arrow ever reads this- make it happen, please.

Regards the film itself, it still holds up very well. Indeed, while it may be inferior to the 1972 Russian original (albeit more accessible), it remains a film that gets better with age. Its a slow, meditative film, an oddity back when it was released and only more so now as films get faster and louder with every summer season. I’ve always maintained that Alien entities are Unknowable- Star Treks friendly biped aliens with bumpy foreheads and perfect English are all well and good, but proper science fiction dealing with Alien contact should always be more 2001/Solaris than Star Trek. The biggest mistake Prometheus made was trying to explain the mysterious Space Jockey and the derelict craft from the original Alien. Contacting and understanding an Alien should be more like getting to chat with God- these are entities so utterly Alien they are, frankly, beyond our comprehension.

Which is the beauty of Solaris. Its generally accepted that the planet Solaris is alive, an Alien entity that can only communicate with humans through their memories and unconscious desires/fears… by taking corporeal form in the shape of loved ones, whether dead or left behind on Earth, the Alien Solaris attempts to understand our form of life, our physicality, mortality, our sense of space and time. Its possibly more it trying to fathom us out than us figuring it out, a fascinating realisation that to Aliens, we are as Alien to them as they are to us.

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I believe producer James Cameron (once slated to direct this film, thank goodness that didn’t work out) commented that the film was originally much longer, that it was drastically tightened up. I’d love to see that longer version. It occurs to me that Solaris would benefit from the tv mini-series approach of the recent Fargo series. I’m certain most fans of the Coen brother’s cult movie were horrified at the prospect of it being transferred to a television series but it turned out to be one of the highlights of the year, possibly even superior to the original movie, The story of Solaris spread across a ten-episode miniseries, with more characters on the space station and hence more visitations and encounters, and more time to ponder man’s place in an increasingly strange universe, would be fascinating. Of course, there’s as much chance of that ever happening as there is a longer cut of Soderbergh’s film being released- a huge fat zero.