A 4K Ghost

Well, I’ve bought a new television. I’m now the (frankly amazed) owner of a 55″ OLED television and a new Panasonic UHD player- suddenly those few 4K UHD discs on the shelf have a purpose.

So soon enough I’ll start writing some 4K updates for a few films. Suffice to say I’m rather taken aback by the difference in quality. This OLED wasn’t cheap, even if it was a 2017 model- certainly the most money I’ve ever spent on a television, and I haven’t even gotten around to a soundbar or amp yet, that’ll come later I expect. But I’m pleased to report the step-up in image quality is substantial. After all, until you’ve experienced it you never really know what to expect, and its inevitably not going to seem a jump like SD to HD was, but you can certainly tell an improvement.

Changing from a 40″ LCD to this beast of an OLED, I have to say the size difference is as much an impact as the step-up in resolution and HDR. The first film I watched on UHD disc was Blade Runner 2049, which has a muted HDR palette by its very nature, visually its tone is pretty dour (beautiful melancholy I call it), so hardly a ‘hold onto your seats’ kind of movie, but the difference in screen size alone was something of a revelation. There was a sudden ‘heft’ to objects and miniatures that improved them by some margin. Roger Deakins’ photography, of course is just sublime- its a beautiful film that just blooms on a bigger screen. I’ll go into more detail in a seperate post, I expect, as I’m sure to revisit BR2049 as part of my ‘favourite films’ series of posts soon enough. I hadn’t quite got the image settings right when I saw BR2049 either, having fine-tuned them since, so a re-watch is inevitable.

A film that did ably demonstrate the possibilities of HDR is Thor: Ragnarok, the 4K UHD disc was pretty amazing. Little things like electric neon lights that suddenly burned brightly like something alive, or the lightning effects when Thor uses his God of Thunder powers late on towards the finale. Suddenly the screen popped like 3D without the glasses and overall the whole thing was rich in depth and spectacular colour.

I haven’t seen Blade Runner yet, although I did sneak a peak at the first twenty minutes or so the other night. Haters of grain should stay away as this thing is a feast of the stuff and quite rightly so, its part of the pleasures of the film for me ever since the days of my second-generation VHS copy that I wore out in the early ‘eighties.  Again., I don’t know if its the size of the screen or the new detail or the added depth from the HDR (city-lights/neon signage/rain reflections etc) but Blade Runner hasn’t looked this good to these eyes since, oh, I don’t know when. Frankly the price of the television and player seemed justified by this one movie, and I can’t wait to watch the film all-through but I’m waiting the proper moment when I can give it due time and attention (and to be honest, this current heatwave isn’t helping- Blade Runner needs to be seen on a dark night with it ideally raining outside).

One thing I did note, mind, that the bigger screen suddenly makes clear, is little stuff like when Rachel first meets Deckard and she has a close up that drifts out of focus. I’m sure its evident on smaller screens etc but here its blatantly clear. I suspect Sean Young overstepped her mark a little, as she steps into focus initially but drifts out of focus as she slightly moves too far toward the camera.  The surprising stuff though is in scenes like Bryant showing Deckard the Replicant data- those shots suddenly look exquisitely beautiful, the graduations in tone and shade on Bryant and Deckard’s faces bathed in the soft blue back-light/CRT front-light are deeply detailed and nuanced, and the smoky atmosphere around them moodily effective.  Can’t wait to find the right evening to watch this movie, but like fine wine, movies like Blade Runner deserve the right moment.

So anyway, that’s my news and I hope to follow with more detailed reports about the pleasures of 4K in the future. Fingers crossed my panel keeps performing perfectly and I can find time to watch it (you’d be surprised how little I have had this television on over the past few days, but I suspect it’ll come into its own this Autumn).

ce3kuhdI’m just wondering how long I can refrain from buying a copy of the 4K UHD Close Encounters disc…

(’40th Anniversary edition’… I’m getting old- when you see packaging with blurbs like that about films you recall seeing at the cinema on their first release, its time to stop looking in that mirror).

 

 

 

Initial thoughts on Black Panther (2018)

bp1.pngUnderwhelming. I actually watched this last weekend and have hesitated regards posting a review simply because I thought I would re-watch it again, give it another chance. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to do so due to illness so here I am, writing this post based on initial feelings that might be subject to reappraisal later.

Hype springs eternal. Maybe that’s the problem. I missed this film at the cinema but was well aware of all the praise it was getting and its impressive box-office numbers that likely surprised even Marvel. The film clearly struck a chord with audiences.

But of course you just never know what films audiences will engage with and lots of truly great films get ignored while many bad ones become hugely successful- just look at the perplexing success of the Transformers films. Disney seem to have been unstuck by the response to the recent Solo movie – a film that again, I have not seen, so can’t really comment on, but some people whose opinions I value seem to think it was pretty good and yet oddly ignored by audiences. Well, if a film that grossed $323 million worldwide can be said to have been ignored- I suppose its really a matter of scale and expectancy; a Star Wars movie, albeit one that had a troubled production that cost anything up to $300 million to make, might be expected to reach that magic $1 billion easier than most movies. Instead Solo fell well short of that particular measure of success.

But was Solo any less formulaic or uninspired as Black Panther? Or am I being harsh? Are superhero movies, particularly one with a clearly positive racial message, more in tune with the current social/cultural zeitgeist than a movie based on an ‘old’ franchise from the 1970s (I love the dichotomy of considering Star Wars movies as old and dated when all these Marvel movies are based on comics-trips of the 1960s and 1970s)?

Black Panther grossed something in the region of $1.3 billion, so if box-office is a measure of anything, it was clearly doing something right. But yes, it left me a little underwhelmed, even bored. Playing that utterly meaningless box-office card once more, Thor: Ragnarok, which was for me clearly a much better Marvel movie, grossed $850 million worldwide, so what, that means it was actually a worse movie than Black Panther? Okay, while we’re here lets be naughty and play these box-office charades again- the woefully insipid Justice League movie grossed nearly $700 million, so Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t as great a movie as I thought by that comparison (or maybe the DC fans watched Justice League out of morbid curiosity, like some kind of celluloid car-crash). Anyway. Box-office is meaningless when appraising movies, unless you’re a studio executive.

I don’t know why exactly Black Panther didn’t really engage me. Maybe I thought it would  be more original/daring, more culturally significant, less of a (I hesitate to use the word, but here I go) ordinary or formulaic genre movie. Sure, it was never going to be a Deadpool or a Logan, but all the same, it slipped into that dangerous trap of these superhero movies, of degenerating into too much cgi hysterics and less the drama that I had hoped for. I suppose I shouldn’t criticize a movie for being faithful to the original comic, but I think the film would have been more significant if it had addressed the genuine  plight of poor black people in America and involved a typical black kid with limited social mobility/options and neighborhood issues of poverty and drugs and gun crime. I suppose that is some other movie, some other hero. The Utopian dream of Black Panther may be life-affirming and full of positivity, and maybe that the point of the film, I get that.

Was I maybe expecting Marvel by way of Shaft or Superfly? Well, maybe that was the hype. I don’t know. Its not a bad film (certainly not in the DC realm of misfires) but Marvel seem to find it so easy making these films popular that I wonder if they really need to stretch themselves more- after, what, eighteen movies or whatever it was by the time Black Panther came along, you’d think the Marvel Studios formula would be getting a little tired and disengaging audiences- instead they seem to be just lapping it up, eager for more.

 

 

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

thorragWell I expected it to be good (message to self: why on Earth did you miss this at the cinema?) but I really didn’t expect it to be just this good. I mean, it’s crazy how apparently easy and effortless Marvel Studios make it seem- anybody at DC/Warners will tell you how hard it is to pull off such a naturally organic and enjoyable superhero movie. In a way, this film almost creates its own sub-genre of superhero movie, a sort of action/comedy mashup, in effect. Marvel by way of National Lampoon.

Which doesn’t sound such a good thing. I did wonder going in whether Marvel would be able to pull it off, toeing that awfully-shady line between comedy and farce that could have pulled this superhero caper into a terrible mess, but get away with it they did. Thor: Ragnarok is quite unabashedly wonderful fun, a glorious and somewhat affectionate tribute, visually, to the comic book genius that was Jack Kirby, whilst at the same time being full of knowing ‘winks’ to the superhero genre and the Marvel films in general. In some ways its one of the most sophisticated superhero films we’ve yet seen.

I thought Spiderman: Homecoming was pretty good, and pretty clever in how it revitalised Spider Man in the wake of so many recent films and the rather abortive reboot of a few years ago.  Thor: Ragnarok is of a very similar mould. Both films are light-years away from the foreboding and almost self-loathing of the recent DC movies that were so informed by the Watchmen film and its own graphic novel source. Watchmen is one of my favourite films so I’m not at all aversive to that approach, but it cannot be denied that Marvel are on to something with how it is approaching these movies.

My one note of caution- whilst both Homecoming and Ragnarok are great fun and a welcome breath of fresh air (it has to be said, Captain America: Civil War and the last Avengers movie were pretty dark and po-faced in places) Marvel will have to be wary of going too far down this light-hearted vein of comedy in their movies. They still need to maintain a weight of drama, for instance. Humor is a nice way of letting off steam and entertaining but it shouldn’t be the central crux of the superhero genre, and those films that tread too far into comedic territory risk only amplifying the inherent silliness of the whole genre.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, for some people, Thor: Ragnarok was their least-favourite Marvel movie, purely because of that humour.

But Thor: Ragnarok is just so much fun. Its nuts. Right from the start. Thor is talking to his jail companion, a skeleton, and the skeleton’s jaw drops, literally, at something that Thor says and… well, that was it, I was sold. Sure it’s daft, Sure there’s a lot of hokum and the usual plot contrivances and not every performance is perfect (I still have a hard time tolerating Jeff Goldblum in just about anything, but hey, at least they didn’t cast Nic Cage) but it’s just a pure joy throughout. It certainly isn’t dull. My God, it’s a Jack Kirby comic brought to vivid glorious blockbuster life. With quite a bit of John Buscema thrown in too, if I’m not mistaken. I mean, for that by itself it deserves to be ranked as one of the very best Marvel films.

Well, at the very least, it’s one of the most fun. I think I said that already, didn’t I?

Okay, if I have to be a sourpuss here, I didn’t like how they handled Odin’s passing- twinkly cgi fairy dust flying off into the sky? Please. It was the one miss step that I think the film made. Didn’t care for it at all. And yeah, Goldblum didn’t work for me, but he doesn’t in anything, for me, so that’s hardly this films fault.

It just looks too easy, too natural. I’m certain that these films are incredibly calculated, but at their very best, these Marvel films certainly don’t feel like it. An achievement in itself, I think, right there. At their very best, they feel loose, not contrived.

Now please, Marvel, bring on Howard the Duck. Please. Living in a world where Trump is president, something that surely even Steve Gerber could never have imagined, a Howard the Duck movie makes the most perfect sense in the world, and the guy who just made Thor: Ragnarok might be a good bet for director.