Bumper Round-up

Quick reviews for recent stuff (Dead Reckoning! Get Carter! The Sandman!) and to misquote a Spielberg movie, I’m gonna need a bigger shelf unless I stop buying 4K discs…

In lieu of writing ‘proper’ posts, here’s a summary of where things are at lately. Hopefully genuine review posts will follow, but time being what it is lately (Einstein reckoned time is relative, and here its pretty short of late), I thought I’d get something out there.

P1110377 (2)First of all, I’ve had a bit of a mad splurge over the last few weeks on some Kino 4K titles on import (joining The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For A Few Dollars More which I bought months ago). This bunch are mostly noir titles; the three-disc Touch of Evil, Kubrick’s dabbles in noir The Killing and Killer’s Kiss, with the Billy Wilder classic Some Like It Hot. These are all upgrades, double-dips (dear God, the Wilder is a triple dip, I had it on DVD too) of various Blu-rays bought over the past several years, something I’m increasingly wary of these days. But aren’t those slips gorgeous? Currently box-art seems something of a lost art so its especially lovely to see original artwork being used (The Killing actually has a reversible cover in the disc case, as I showed on my recent review). As well as The Killing, I’ve watched Some Like It Hot, and yes it too looks damn fine in 4K- its surprising how good these b&w titles look in the 4K format (as if we needed further proof how gorgeous Marilyn Monroe was). The contrast, grain management, improved gray scale, all impress, and Kino seem to have gone nuts on the bitrates, way over the top (compare that to Disney releasing the near-three hour Heat on 4K using a BD66).

I only saw Killer’s Kiss on Blu-ray a few months back. The film was made prior to The Killing and being less than seventy minutes long, it was included as a special feature on Arrow’s The Killing Blu-ray which I bought back in 2016, but I never actually watched it. I think I was misinformed by Internet opinion that it was lesser-tier Kubrick not worth bothering with, that The Killing was widely considered Kubrick’s first ‘proper’ film and first worthy of note: I suppose Killer’s Kiss being relegated to the special features menu only reinforced this view. Anyway, I finally got around to it; I knew there was a boxing element and was pointed back in the film’s direction after enjoying Robert Wise’s The Set-Up a few months back.  Well, diminished expectations and all that, but I absolutely loved it, probably for all the reasons so many disparaged it. Raw, low-budget, with a brisk (for Kubrick, positively frantic) pace, a bare-bones story shot like a docudrama with amazing footage of a lost New York, foreshadowing stuff like Taxi Driver. The only thing holding me back from a gushing review post here back when I watched that Blu-ray was suddenly learning only days later that Kino was releasing the film on 4K, so I decided to wait and will continue to wait until I’ve seen it again on this 4K disc. I’m really looking forward to it, but just waiting for the perfect time.

Which is a bit of a sour point: the best time to watch these noir (especially in 4K) is late at night when its dark and these long hot summer days are not conducive to that. What’s that line in a film about mood – ah yes, Gurney Halleck in Dune; “Mood? What’s mood to do with it?”, but its true about movie watching (if not fighting); one has to be in the correct mood for a particular kind of film and bright summer days/evenings- well, unless you’re watching something like Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat,  which was made for hot summer nights. Besides, by the time its late/dark enough, I’m usually too tired to watch a demanding film, and noir ARE demanding, usually quite complex and nuanced and narratively pretty dense for their usually short running-time. Case in point, I recently tried watching John Reinhardt’s The Guilty a few weeks back and damn near fell asleep near the end – my wife actually did fall asleep, missing its last fifteen minutes and I’ve ribbed her endlessly ever since regards her missing its major twist. “You’ll never guess!” I’ve teased her. There’s a film that deserves a proper rewatch soon as possible.

P1110379 (2)Hmm, yeah, some more purchases. Here’s me claiming to reign it all in regards buying discs, and sure, I’ve (mostly) stopped the blind-buys but of late that’s only transferred my wallet’s woes to the upgrades/double dips: here another Billy Wilder classic upgraded to 4K (this time courtesy of Criterion) and Flicker Alley’s The Guilty/High Tide double-bill (in the latter’s case, I’ve elected to use the original art on the reversible cover). Criterion’s Double Indemnity rather annoyed me- not the disc or the film, but because over here in the UK, presumably due to licensing issues (or the duplication costs?) Criterion only released it on Blu-ray (I have the old Eureka edition).  So in order to get the 4K edition released in the States  that everyone was raving about I had to grudgingly import it, complete with two Blu-ray discs locked to Region One that I can’t watch (so I’m keeping that Eureka set for some of the extras, but that true of Arrow’s The Killing disc and my Blu-ray of Some Like It Hot). Goodness, no wonder my shelves are filling up, I’m buying new upgrades and keeping the old discs too- madness.

Anyway, enough of my foolish financial woes, I’m just partying before the recession and Autumn of Discontent (see what I did there?) puts paid to my collecting. On with some quick reviews.

Dead Reckoning (John Cromwell, 1947) – first film from Indicator’s Columbia Noir #5 set, and allegedly one of the few genuine noir films in the set. Bit alarming, that. I never warmed to Humphrey Bogart, so haven’t seen many of his films. In fact, I can only name a few films of his I actually liked; In A Lonely Place for one, and another that I first saw on television decades ago, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which is a Blu-ray gathering dust on the shelf that I keep meaning to watch, but… Anyway, something about Bogie just rattles me. Maybe this box set’s contents will feature a film that will warm me to his charms more, but Dead Reckoning isn’t it – unless of course this is another example regards mood. Maybe it was just the wrong film on a warm summer night. Shame, its a great title for a noir. I was especially disappointed in Lizabeth Scott, who I’ve seen and been impressed by before. Here she was ill-served by an underwritten character (likely deliberately underwritten to enable/underscore the surprise twist) leaving her with little to work with- I suppose someone like Rita Hayworth (originally conceived of for the role) would have gotten by better from sheer screen charisma and presence, but Scott just doesn’t have that. Also, I just couldn’t see any chemistry between Bogie and Scott, and a film whose success largely depends upon the romantic tryst between two characters is in trouble from the start when the chemistry seems lacking. Is it wrong of me to note that I thought I would have enjoyed it more had it featured Glenn Ford (no stranger to this kind of noir) in the lead role?

Get Carter (Mike Hodges, 1971) – No casting issues with this film. Don’t ask me how/why I never saw this film before, but we all have these oversights/black holes in our moviegoing street-cred. Release by BFI in a simply gorgeous 4K edition that is so tactile you feel you can reach into the screen and touch it, and smell the beer and aftershave, sweat and cigarette smoke- it’s excellent; its another case of a film likely looking better than it did even when it first came out. This is such a film of its time, its like some kind of time machine physically taking us back, and who’d really want to go back to Newcastle circa 1971? What a cast (Ian Hendry brilliant yet again, and what a shocker seeing Michael Caine chucking that bloke from Coronation Street off the carpark roof), and what a  gorgeous jazzy score (that main title sequence is sublime). Here’s a film that I was ready to rewatch as soon as it finished.

The Sandman: Season One (Ten Episodes, 2022) – I don’t know what’s more shocking- that someone actually managed to make a decent live-action adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s comicbook classic or that somehow its on Netflix, but then again, it is the home of Stranger Things…  Its been well over a decade since I last read Gaiman’s opus (I bought the graphic novel paperbacks so long ago it was from a genuine bookstore) and a lot of my memory of it is burry, which was rather curious seeing it onscreen thinking “oh yeah, they actually did that…” or “I don’t remember that at all” so I can’t comment regards how authentic it was.  It wasn’t perfect though, I have to confess I was bit bothered by some of the casting choices- it was a great cast and I’ve no complaints, but John Constantine is now Johanna Constantine, played by Jenna Coleman? And I had a bit of a hard time keeping a straight face watching Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, of all things. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong in subsequent seasons or the inevitable Johanna Constantine spin-off (call me a cynic, but the writing/casting for that episode had “pilot for a spin-off” written all over it). Those caveats aside,  I did enjoy the series; even the music was good (shades of BR2049 in places and ‘nowt wrong with that). Inevitably the highlight of the show (and if you only watch one episode of it, make it this one, its pretty standalone) was The Sound of Her Wings, the sixth episode and an adaption of likely most readers favourite issue of the comic. Should have been retitled The Sound of An Emmy, because it surely deserves a nomination at least.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Rudolph Carter, 1954) – this BBC adaptation has always been on my radar if only because it starred Peter Cushing, one of my very favourite actors (my unofficial quest to watch everything he ever did continues slowly apace). I bought this new Blu-ray edition (from the BFI folks) a few months back but watched it just a week or so ago… I intended to write a proper post about it, even tried, but… goodness this was so depressing. Its through no fault of the adaptation (by Nigel Kneale, of Quatermass fame) its limited production values (mostly a live performance thankfully recorded for posterity), or its cast, but more the horrible inescapable fact that George Orwell’s cautionary tale is as timely now than ever- perhaps more so. Real-life events of the past several years, just how the world has slowly changed largely for the worse, makes something like this all the more prescient and important. Its horrible, like a warning from a future that just feels just more plausible than ever.

And while on the subject of warnings of the future, it looks like Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall is coming to Amazon Prime on Friday. I can hardly wait. Its got such a crazy, ridiculous premise, I’ve so wanted to subject myself to its cheesy silly horrors while avoiding spoilerific trailers. There’s a thought: am I the only person alive actually avoiding spoilers for Moonfall? Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow is one of my favourite bad movies, it was all I could do to refrain from buying it on Blu-ray disc when it was released a few months back (maybe if had been on 4K over here in the UK, I would have given in to its despicable allure, but it was limited to DVD/Blu-ray). Anyway, that’s my Friday (or Saturday) night sorted then, and possibly will be my next posting here; yes, be afraid, its Moonfall next, unless I get some time to sit at this laptop again beforehand.

Recent Additions

P1110328 (2)My first package of 2022 from Indicator Films arrived late last week- the latest in their excellent Columbia Noir collections, this time devoted to Humphrey Bogart, and The Pemini Organisation, a set that was released in May which caught my interest but had to wait until I could bundle it with something else to qualify for the free postage (and use the reward points I’d accumulated last year). These releases are, as usual, limited editions, and if the numbers I received are anything to go by, the noir is as successful as ever (1150 of 6000, and only officially out today) but the Pemini set (719 of 6000) seems to be a sign Indicator could be finding it a struggle shifting them- expect it to be around for the Autumn sale.

I suppose the latter is predictable- who remembered Pemini these days, or had even heard of the three films it produced, let alone seen them? Pemini was a  film production company set up by three freinds (Peter Crane, Michael Sloan and Nigel Hodgson, the company name constructed from their first names) who wanted to work in film, so decided to be devilishly proactive: Pemini only operated between 1972 and 1974, producing just three films that pretty much disappeared when the company disbanded. All those points, of course, are why I found it so intriguing, and as ever for Indicator, its a remarkable set, the films restored and lavishly presented with an in-depth book and a bounty of on-disc extras- there’s plenty more prestigious and famous films that would be envious of such treatment. Its like a little film school in box.

I’m not familiar with the contents of the Bogart set, as I haven’t seen any of them before (I was never much of a fan of Bogart), and I understand some of them are a bit of a stretch regards defining them as noir. As usual though its a beauty of a package and a welcome companion to sets 1 to 4. The next noir box is the first of a new series, leaving Columbia behind in favour of noir from Universal Pictures, which looks fantastic but isn’t out until mid-September.

Alas, I could be awhile getting around to watching these new arrivals. After a weekend with the television hijacked for Glastonbury, its now restricted to two weeks of Wimbledon tennis: regular readers will know that during this fortnight I become a Wimbledon Widower every year, and getting to watch anything that isn’t tennis is pretty tricky. We’ll see how that goes, but its important to keep the wife happy, obviously.

In A Lonely Place (1950)

lonely22016.96: In A Lonely Place (Blu-ray)

One of the pleasures  of being a film-fan is discovering old films that you haven’t seen before and simply falling in love with them. Its like they’ve been waiting all those years just for you. In the case of Nicholas Ray’s film noir masterpiece In A Lonely Place it’s been 66 long years- it’s in like those movies where a character asks “where have you been all these years?”, it seems incredible that this film has been out there and I’d been ignorant of it. Thanks to Criterion’s recent Blu-ray release of this classic noir, and subsequent rave reviews that got my attention, I’ve finally fallen under its spell.

(Its the ‘magic’ of disc releases of catalogue titles; many of them don’t seem to appear on tv anymore and its only through these releases, like so many by Warner Archive and Arrow Films, Eureka etc., that these older films get my attention. It’d be such a shame if disc releases get replaced by streaming and downloads, as I’m sure these older films will suffer. You can’t rely on late-night television screenings anymore (they just don’t seem to happen these days)).

lonely3The genius of In A Lonely Place is that while its film noir, its really a story of a doomed romance, a tragic love story. Humphrey Bogart plays Dixon Steele, a washed-up screenwriter with a vicious temper. He becomes the prime suspect in a Hollywood murder, and his alibi proves to be his seductive, beautiful new neighbour  Laurel (Gloria Grahame). The two of them are lonely, broken souls and they start a passionate affair while the police continue to try to pin the murder on Steele. As the film continues, the romance is clearly good for Steele- he gets back to writing again, and gets a whole new zest for life, but Laurel’s happiness starts to unravel as she begins to witness Steel’s temper and his hair-trigger for violence. Doubts start to form in her mind -and in the audience- regards Steel’s innocence. Are the police right after all?

Its all very dark and complex, with elements that would later surface in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo a few years later. Indeed it very much feels like a film noir Vertigo, and in some ways In A Lonely Place seems actually superior to that classic, concluding with a similar dark and tragic inevitability. Of course, as Vertigo is one of my very favourite ‘Top Ten’ movies, it’s inevitable that I would fall in love with this noir masterpiece that shares so many of that film’s themes.

lonely1Bogart delivers a brilliant, complex and subtle performance, displaying both a vulnerability and a simmering darkness. Grahame is equal to Bogart with a sultry swagger that slowly becomes something more tender and then fragile. Both are phenomenal, both are perfect- its one of those films where you cannot possibly imagine any other actor inhabiting the roles they take. Bogart is not an actor I ever had much interest in when growing up; other than his early  gangster roles I was pretty much ignorant of his films- I only finally caught up with Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon this year. I think I’ve been missing out on something. I think thats something I will have to rectify.

In anycase, In A Lonely Place may be 66 years old, but its one of the very best films that I have seen all year. Its one of those films that lingers in your head for days- “I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.” Dialogue and sentiments like that, in tragedies like this, it’s pure Hollywood magic. If  you are as ignorant of this film as I was a little while ago, really, this film is not to be missed. Its simply brilliant, and I can hardly wait to watch it, live it, all over again.

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

falcon1.jpg2016.20: The Maltese Falcon (Blu-ray)

Another of those classic films that somehow I’d never gotten around to, the steelbook Blu-ray I’d bought has patiently sat on the shelf for something close to two years until now. Having enjoyed Casablanca so much a few weeks ago it was inevitable that I would get around to finally watching this at last (and yes, I’m certainly getting through the ‘to-watch’ list this year).

The Maltese Falcon is no Casablanca, but it nonetheless deservedly merits its status as a film classic. I was actually surprised how demanding this film is. From the very start you have to pay keen attention to the twists and turns of its fairly labyrinthine plot (though I’m told its by no means the most confusing of the noir thrillers of the period). Its fascinating to consider how sophisticated its script is compared to the simpler fare that gets made today; I certainly cannot imagine many modern-day multiplex-goers sitting through a film this dense without walking out perplexed.

Hardboiled private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart), is hired by mysterious femme fatale Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor) to tail a man who has ties to her estranged sister. When Spades business partner Miles Archer is murdered that evening, Spade finds that he is a police suspect and is thrown into a complex web of lies and double-dealing concerning the location of the Falcon of the title. Along the way we meet some remarkable characters- notably Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre in possibly his finest role) and Kasper ‘The Fat Man’ Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet in what is, incredibly, his first screen role, stealing every scene he is in and defining the silver-screen ‘evil criminal mastermind’ forever).  The economy with which this film tells its tale and divulges its secrets is quite breathtaking, it’s really a very little film with a small cast and minimal sets but it packs quite a punch. A film like this could really teach modern-day screenwriters and directors something about scale and storytelling.

If only because the film answered some decades-old questions of my own regards a Jon & Vangelis song, I rate this film as something special, and it’s certainly a classic. You can see it creating the film noir/private eye genre right before your very eyes. All those films that came afterwards owe so much to this film.Funny thing is, and something that I had no idea of until I watched some of this excellent blu-ray disc’s special features, is that this is not the first screen attempt at filming The Maltese Falcon. It’s actually the third film made based on the story. Well, you learn something new everyday…

Casablanca (1942)

cas1

2016.13: Casablanca (Blu-ray)

It’s really a crime against cinema that this film has remained on my to-watch list for so long. I bought it on Blu-ray back in 2013 (the receipt was slipped inside the case, as if I’d put it there to shame myself when eventually watching it years later). How I managed to miss ever watching it prior to 2013 though, on any one of its many tv showings over all the years before (or even afterwards, while the disc gathered dust on the shelf) will remain another mystery. Its strange how some such films slip through the net,  but in some ways it’s a good thing that such classics can still be discovered for the first time. I have to admit, this is a film that surpasses all expectations, it’s a wonderful film. Perfect even. Naturally it leaps into my list of fifty great films.

Naturally for a film as old as this one, and so well-known as this one, it is pointless describing the plot and anything positive I have to say about the film is utterly redundant. Surely all has been said. The script… goodness, the script is simply perfect, and somehow despite being set in 1941 hasn’t dated at all. It’s a genuine example of why a good script is the foundation of any good film. The film is perfectly directed and lovingly shot. The cast are perfect. Have used the word ‘perfect’ enough?

It’s one of those films that was made at just the right time, when just the right talent in front and behind the camera came together at just the right time. It’s a film that defies criticism, that seems perfectly formed- cinema magic, a timeless work of art. There’s not many films this good; masterpiece is an over-used term these days, especially regards films, but in this case it is more than justified, its essential.

cas2So anyway, now I can truly understand all the fuss. One thing I must just mention; Ingrid Bergman- she just glows. Her performance is just… priceless. The rest of the cast are no slouches; Bogart impresses, as does Claude Rains, but it is Bergman that steals the show for me. It’s a phenomenal performance from -incredibly- seventy-four years ago. That thought just makes me pause a moment. Seventy-four years ago. Good grief.

Thats the magic of movies I guess. Some moments, some performances. They are frozen in time forever, truly the nearest a human can get to immortality. In this film Bergman shines forever.