Last week…

Still working from home, close on six months now. As we slip towards Autumn, it looks like there’s little rush getting the team back into the office, at best it may be for just two days each week, and that’s still some time off.  Its not lost on me that after all the fair weather we’ve had, the time I’m going to finally be expected to commute back to work will be when the frosts return/bad weather/possibly snow etc.

Meanwhile Covid 19 numbers are climbing, particularly here in the Midlands, and our Governments latest desperate roll of the dice, the ‘rule of six’ (limiting the number of people at any social gathering to just six people) begins tomorrow. A rule that can’t possibly be policed,  simply dependant on the public happily following the rule… I mean, its not as if its Mega City One and some Judge will be kicking the door down if there’s more than six perps chatting in the lounge or back garden. Mores the pity with some of the idiots out there. Regards Covid, so many people seem to be in denial, or just bored of it, and think everything is back to normal. Hence the numbers rising? All I can see is lots of idiots out there, most of them proving the (ironically old) adage of too young to know better. The next few weeks seem to be crucial. The days are shortening. Winter is Coming. Hang on, that didn’t end well, just ask HBO.

Anyway, last week. You may have noted that I had a busy/productive week regards watching films: i’m thinking of ending things, Under Suspicion, Bumblebee, City That Never Sleeps, The Man Who Finally Died. I didn’t get around to reviewing Under Suspicion– a thriller starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane… a great cast, but wasted in a pretty lousy film that almost had me hitting that abort button. Only the great Gene Hackman kept me stuck with it: one of my favourite actors.

ohmssRegards re-watches, I managed two. The first was one that…well, we lost Dame Diana Rigg on Thursday, which was an awful shame, and I’ve been meaning to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again for awhile now. Its an awful reason for doing it, but Dame Diana Rigg’s passing was the push that I needed; I reached for that Bond 50 Blu-ray set. OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie; its the film when the Bond franchise grew up and yes, graced with the best Bond Girl of all, the one that got Bond to the altar. But what a downer at the end. This time I watched it, it just seemed so remarkable, such brass balls of the producers to close out a film -and a Bond film at that- on such a huge emotional downer. And in a film with a new Bond, too. Talk about loading the dice for a serious gamble, like a real-life Casino Royale moment. Dropping George Lazenby and breaking the continuity (OHMSS really needed such a proper sequel with Bond out for revenge) was a terrible error, I think, and it would take Bond decades to grow those brass balls again.

vertigo1The second re-watch was the 4K UHD disc of Vertigo, that graces the four-film Hitchcock 4K set that was released last week. The film looks utterly gorgeous in 4K, really something special. We’ve seen some great 4K releases for classic films this year and this is one of the best, I think. Mind, is it just me, but as I get older, does Vertigo on subsequent viewings just get more disturbing, and James Stewart’s obsessive Scottie more repellent?  As a deeply flawed character who proves difficult to root for, he reminds me of Robert De Niro’s character in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America. The difficulty in revisiting films with such doomed, self-destructive characters is that you have to re-experience it all over again, with the knowledge of hindsight that the character itself obviously lacks. There seems something deeply personal, of both Leone and Hitchcock, in these two films, and I’m sure that’s part of each films endless fascination. Glimpses of flawed humanity’s darkness. Vertigo is such a powerful film, exquisitely filmed and scored (by the great Bernard Herrmann), and really so daring, its one of my favourite films and it feels a blessing to be able watch it again in this kind of quality. I’m building quite a collection of (hopefully definitive and final) editions of some of my favourite films in 4K, with some great additions this year.

dunetrailrLast week also brought us the first trailer for Villeneuve’s long-anticipated  Dune. Mind, it seems we will have to wait longer for the film itself, as word has it that the film will be delayed to next year now, with Wonder Woman 1984 being moved to the Christmas Day slot (Tenet‘s box-office woes causing much consternation for a troubled film industry struggling to manage the Covid crisis). Of course the Dune trailer looks great and pretty much everything we might have hoped for. I was a bit surprised that it looked, visually at least, like a Blade Runner 2049 sequel set Off World, it seems to share so much of the monochromatic, brutalist ‘look’ of his previous sci-fi epic. I’d hoped for something a bit wilder, more ‘out there’ and unusual, but we’ll see. There’s so much, after all, that we didn’t see.

Speaking of delays, news broke last week that Vangelis’ latest album, Juno to Jupiter, accidentally released on digital by a UK store over a weekend a few weeks back before being hurriedly pulled, has been officially delayed (again?). This is so frustrating, its a great album, one of his best in decades, but it seems so strangely (and unfairly) blighted by mishaps. Possibly its just a Covid thing effecting marketing etc, but I sincerely hope that perhaps this delay will facilitate a simultaneous physical and digital release, rather than the latter first (which was the original plan, and which possibly led to that premature release foul-up).  Its a great piece of work, and I was gearing up to finish my track-by-track review… well, I’ll just join the pack and let my review suffer another delay. Hey, its just so Covid, man.

I just hope that the Super-Deluxe of the Prince classic album Sign o’ the Times isn’t going to get delayed. Its only two weeks away now so seems to be all on track. Certainly review copies are out and some reviews have been released, track breakdowns on forums etc so my only worry is problems with stores getting stock out. Hope springs eternal- I’m actually on leave from work the week it gets released, and naturally I’m going nowhere, so the opportunity to just relax for a few lazy days, chill with that box of peach and black goodies is the nearest thing to Christmas I’m actually likely to see this year.

Sign ‘O’ the Times returns

sign1First released by German label Turbine Media in September last year as a pretty expensive limited deluxe edition (that nonetheless sold out very quickly), Prince’s classic concert film Sign O The Times was re-released in December in a slightly cheaper mediabook edition, just in time for Christmas. Well, if you can’t treat yourself at Christmas, then when can you?  This more space-savvy edition features the same discs (two Blu-rays and two DVDs) and the same booklet (in a reduced size naturally but featuring the same very informative essays).

While the album Sign ‘O’ The Times is one of my favourite Prince albums, I hadn’t actually seen the concert film since back in the VHS days, so there was a distinctly ‘blast from the past’ feel when I finally gave the Blu-ray a spin a few days ago. I remember the VHS looked pretty awful but as the concert was shot on film (barring the U Got the Look video that serves almost as an ugly video-noise intermission)  it really looks great in HD, The music of course is as sublime as ever, arguably the songs better in their concert form than they were on the original album- Prince was at his creative peak here, and I’m only hoping we don’t have to wait too many years for the Prince Estate to release a Super Deluxe boxset edition, full of goodies like Vault tracks and live music.

One of the curious pleasures of this edition- and everyone’s mileage on this might vary- is the commentary track, by a bunch of folks at the Peach and Black Podcast. Its light on technical details really but once its gotten past its awkward first several minutes, it offers the curious luxury of sitting in a room watching the concert with a few other Prince fans. Its chatty and very fan-based but its great; grabbing a few beers and watching the show doesn’t feel quite as lonely as it used to. You see, even though Prince was a musical powerhouse-cum-genius, in my immediate social circle he’s as popular as Trump on a Twitter spree. I think this commentary track is great fun, the guys know their stuff (certainly have seen the concert many more times than I have) and I’m certain it has great replay value.

Strangely enough, being a fan of Prince has become something of a Strange Relationship (sic) since his untimely death- there have been quite a few books out (I had the cruelly-brief memoir-book The Beautiful Ones as a present for Christmas) and the Estate album releases since have offered tantalising glimpses behind the curtain with which Prince used to maintain his mystique and mystery. In some ways he feels more real, more human, but while there are moments I think I understand him better, at the same time I realise that I perhaps know him even less than before. Certainly the near 90-minute documentary that accompanies the concert film here offers fresh insight and behind the scenes details about the album, tour and the film (as does the rather detailed booklet essays). There’s a fresh appreciation to be had here, and as a deluxe edition this set is pretty damned fine- sure its very much a fan-based project, very positive without any real negative reappraisal accompanying any of it: its clearly a celebration, sadly one well overdue. How tragic it is that it had to wait for Prince’s death to come into being, and seems to have arisen quite independent of the Prince Estate due to a rather troubled rights situation. I haven’t even gotten around to the second disc that features unedited interviews from the doc totalling three hours, so whether its fascinating or yawn-inducing, I can’t say.

I believe that the concert film is indeed being released over here in the UK shortly, and may indeed be the same restoration/master, but it does appear to be minus the special features that Turbine Media has curated here, and minus the Dolby Atmos soundtrack (there are three soundtracks, a bassy Atmos track, something called a Auro-3D 11.1 mix, and the original stereo mix which will keep purists happy even if it lacks something of the wallop of the other pair of tracks (all three appear to be different mixes entirely, rather than the same mix across the three different formats: everyone’s sure to find one that they prefer)).

So whether its worth the added expense (even the mediabook edition can be quite expensive, as it can only be bought from Germany and is itself a limited edition) depends on how much one needs that commentary track, the doc or that Atmos mix and the other two mixes. The packaging is very fine and it looks a quality product- I just hope one day there’s a Super Deluxe edition of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album to accompany it. Time will tell, but in the meantime, here’s hoping we get rumoured that Parade Super Deluxe later this year.