Monday, 13 July 2020

youtube Shoutout number 1. Chris Mohan

During lockdown, I've been checking out the growing number of Blu-ray video blogs by a taleted, knowledgeable bunch of people who are building up communities of film fans.
My first pick in what I intend to be a regular column is Chris Mohan.

Chris has a nicely varied selection of casts to work your way through, with solid recommendations for Blu-ray purchases from Arrow, Criterion, Indicator and other labels.
This is clearly a man who knows his films and loves his films, armed with real insight into what makes a great film tick.
Chris is a genuinely nice guy, and happily engages with his subscribers in the comments section below each video.

Enter Chris Mohan in the youtube search engine, and please subscribe to his channel for the lowdown on those valuable Blu-ray releases. Don't forget to tell him who sent you. Thank you.

I'll give details of another must-see channel in the next youtube post.

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Blu-ray Review: Walkabout (Second Sight)

Possibly the pinnacle of Nicolas Roeg's golden period of filmmaking, "Walkabout" is based on a novel by James Vance Marshall, and concerns a young brother and sister who find themselves stranded in the Australian outback. The female (played by Jenny Agutter) is a 16 year old schoolgirl whose younger brother ( played by the director's 7 year old son Luc) initially seems to take their new surroundings in his stride. Soon, the siblings encounter a young Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil), sent out by his tribe on'walkabout'; a ritual that dictates an individual must leave his home and attempt to live off the land. The difference in cultures is somewhat offset by Luc Roeg's character who uses the international language of sings and gestures to communicate an urgent need for water, and a pattern emerges.
In essence, this is a coming-of-age tale, embroidered by themes of identity, dislocation of time and decay, mixed in with growing sexual tension between the two elders. Accompanied by a gorgeous John Barry score, Roeg's film is quite beautifully shot, taking in harsh terrain and beautiful scenery to stunning effect. There are so many iconic scenes and images here, and the script is equally as strong, leading us on an unforgettable journey that ends exquisitely. The 16 year old Agutter - chosen for the role 2 years earlier - is perfect as the youngster on the verge of adulthood, while Gulpilil cuts and imposing, haunting figure whoser mating ritual late in the film leads to tragedy. Of course, Roeg's son must also take credit as the young boy who must face a trial that many adults would find beyond them. Roeg's masterly use of editing, zooms, fades and painterly eye for capturing the great outdoors so beautifully make this a veritable feast for the eyes, and the themes employed here add a vast amount to the lasting appeal of this film.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation employs a brand new 4K scan and restoration that delivers sumptuous image quality, with glorious orange sunsets, verdant greens and vivid skintones. The supplemental features begin with a new audio commentary track with Luc Roeg and David Thomson. David takes the mic for the lion's share of the talk, recalling the film received a AA rating for its UK release; discusses the source novel (which may have been written by Donald Payne, rather than Marshall); compares "Walkabout" with Nicolas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell To Earth"; tlaks about the movie-going experience then and now and turns the spotlight on Nic's inspirations from various works of art. Overall, Luc has excellent recall of the shoot and talks about how his late father evolved with technology. I think Luc was enjoying watching this film again, admiring his father's craft while at the same time feeling emotional at seeing his younger self all those years ago

Producing Walkabout: an interview with Si Litvinoff (10m 7s) Si shares fond memories of what he terms Nic Roeg's "masterpiece", recalling how he met the director and became involved and talks about "A Clockwork Orange".

Luc's Walkabout: an interview with Luc Roeg (11m 9s) Luc discusses the shoot and talks about his admiration for David and Jenny.

Jenny And The Outback: an interview with Jenny Agutter (19m 20s) Jenny recalls her first meeting with Nicolas Roeg when she was 14, and how she joined the cast 2 years later, and goes into the ingredients that make Roeg's films so enduring.

Remembering Roeg: an interview with Danny Boyle (18m 31s) Danny explains why he has such a very high regard for the late director; how Roeg employed the unused potential of cinema and why "Walkabout" still comes across as a radical, modern film.

011 BFI Q&A with Nicolas Roeg, Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg (16m 55s) Recorded at London's NFT on 5th March 2011, Nic talks about how he raised the finance for his film; Jenny recalls how she got the role and the trio remember the considerable contribution of David Gulpilil.

Archive Introdction By Nicolas Roeg (3m 54s) The director discusses the initial short script and how it evolved. Second Sight's Blu-ray package also includes the source novel, with cover art exclusive to this release. There's also a soft cover book featuring facsimilie copy of the original 65 page script with a preface by Daniel Bird, and a soft cover book with new essays by Sophie Monks Kaufman, Simon Abrahams and Daniel Bird, plus stills and lobby card images(none of which I've seen to date). Second Sight's disc is Region B, and will be released on 27th July. An essential purchase for Roeg buffs and indeed for newcomers to his work who like to be challenged by a director at the top of his game.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Blu-ray Review; The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (Second Sight)

The history of cinema boasts many tales of mad scientist's whose desire to play God often leads to an unhappy ending for all involved.
In Roger Corman's 1963 feature "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes", a much respected scientist Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) begins ground-breaking experiments with all good intentions.
Xavier claims that human vision is blind to all but one-tenth of the universe, and seeks to develop a way to sensitise the human eye
so that it can see radiation up to the gamma rays and beyond, thus enabling us to truly see everything around us for the first time.

Dr Brandt (Harold J. Stone) and Dianne Fairfax (Diana Van Der Vlis) both step in to warn Xavier of the consequences of self-testing,
but Xavier stubbornly ploughs away, ignoring cease-and-desist calls from the medical authorities.
Following a partially successful animal experiment, Xavier finds the serum now gives him the ability to see through solid objects,
leading him on a journey to manslaughter, the thrill-seeking world of the fairground and the gambling halls of Las Vegas,
en route to a truly chilling downbeat ending.

The portrayal of Xavier by Ray Milland really is a triumph, running through the whole gamut of human emotions,
with solid support from the smart Diana Van Der Vlis, whose character displays courage, compassion
and a fierce sense of loyalty right up to the very end.
However, it's Don Rickles who almost steals the show here, taking Xavier under his wing and turning him into a would-be healer and,
consequently, money-making machine who can instantly diagnose exactly what is wrong with those who seek medical aid.

It's a hugely entertaining ride for sure, with speculative scientific theories that are just about plausible, and special effects
that would have fired the imaginations of early 1960s audiences.
In many ways, this is my own favourite film from the Roger Corman collection, and Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation
does the film full justice.

Here, Floyd Crosby's cinematography looks splendid, with bold, bright colours beautifully rendered by this high definition disc.
On the extras front, we begin with two audio commentary tracks.
The first is by director Roger Corman, who talks about the 15 day shoot, explaining the original story concerned
a jazz musician who took too many drugs and why this story was dropped.
Roger is fullsome in his praise for Milland, Van Der Vlis, Rickles and Floyd Crosby, and justifiably proud of how well
his film fared at the US box office against the industry big hitters.
He also talks about his time with AIP, and explains why he feels this film should be remade.
It's a fascinating track, setting us up nicely for another commentary; this time from Tim Lucas.
As usual, Tim delivers a wonderfully informative track, and declares from the start that he considers "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes"
to be Roger Corman's signature film.
Tim manages to include a wealth of background and theory into his talk, going into a comparison between script and film; providing career information
on credited and uncredited cast members; talks about David Cronenberg, "The Lost Weekend", "Through A Glass Darkly",
"Nightmare Alley", Edgar Allan Poe - all highly relevant in his discussion of Corman's film - and X-ray vision.
Do listen out for his comment regarding drying paint in Xavier's room! You will certainly see this film
with fresh eyes after listening to this track.

Next up is The X Effect; an interview with Roger Corman (14m 16s)
Roger talks about his original treatment for this film; about the two movies he mad with Ray Milland;
the importance of pre-production planning and connects X to his Poe films.

American Gothic: an interview with Kat Ellinger (23m 13s)
A video essay from one of the brightest and best film scholars. Here, Kat discusses the 50s and 60s films that preyed on our fears, and about the deep
existential themes that lie within.
"Paradise Lost", "Frankenstein", "Mr Sardonicus" and "Masque of The Red Death" are just a few of the books and films mentioned in this beautifully delivered talk that will
raise your appreciation of what Corman accomplished here. Kat also references Corman's Poe series, with a look at the gothic
aspects of Corman's work.

Joe Dante on The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (6m 7s)
Joe labels this film one of the most ambitious films of its decade, and goes on to enthuse about the cast,
with a special mention for Don Rickles and also chats about film technology of today and yesteryear.

Trailers From Hell (2m 35s)
Mick Garris plays the trailer for his favourite Corman film.

Original Prologue (5m 2s)
Well worth inclusion here, the original prologue takes in the 5 senses touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.

The disc concludes with the 2m 19s original trailer.
There's also a booklet - which I haven't seen - which includes writing by Jon Towlson and Allan Bryce.
Most of the UK's excellent boutique labels provide booklets with their releases, which are a valuable addition
to the special features. I respectfully encourage you to read them, if you don't already.

Second Sight will release "The Man With The X-Ray Eyes" on 4th May. The disc is Region B.
An essential purchase for lovers of Cinema Fantastique.

Thanks to the wonderful Debbie Murray at Aim Publicity, I now have a copy of the booklet.
It's a beautiful 38 page affair, comprising of cast and crew credits, terrific colour and monochrome photographs
and two informative essays.
The first, by film historian Allan Bryce, is titled X Marks The Plot" Seeing Through A Cult Sci-Fi classic.
Allan's 5 page overview of this film begins with his early fascination with X-Ray vision,
moving onto a resume of Corman's career leading up to X and a look at the screenplay and optical effects.

The second essay, by critic and novelist Jon Towlson, is titled Roger Corman: The Auteur With The X-Ray Eyes, running for 6 pages.
Here, Jon talks about the failure of Corman's "The Intruder" and what drove him to make X, and goes into the script
and the concept of 'Spectorama'.
Both essays are so very well conceived and written, and eminently worthy of your time.
Second Sight have also included a reversible poster with new and original artwork, and the disc and booklet
are housed in a rigid box featuring some rather splendid artwork by Graham Humphreys.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Final Curtain. Ed Wood (1957)

With "The Twilight Zone" still two years away, Ed Wood's "Portrait of Terror" series ended almost as quickly as it had begun, though the sole surviving episode
is recommended for fans of Rod Serling's series.

Theatres all over the world have long been associated with supernatural manifestations, with the spirits of deceased performers and patrons reputed to
revisit the places that gave them great pleasure during their time on earth.
The setting here is the Dome Theatre, based in an unnamed American town or city. Here, the actor (played by James "Duke" Moore") finds himself onstage in
the after hours, when cast and audience have departed to the safety of their homes.
The actors imagination soon begins to move into overdrive. Was the burning out of an arc lamp due to intervention from another world?
Is there someone/something out there amongst the supposedly empty seats?
As the actor surveys the darkened auditorium, the urge to visit every room in the building takes hold, and he ascends the spiral staircase in the witching hour.

Of course, Dudley Manlove's narration some 'wonderful' Woodsian dialogue: " A night I had looked forward to with fear" is one such gem, and the familiar reliance
of stock footage; the camera lingering for too long on shots of no great import and Moore's short bursts of overacting remind us that this is an Ed Wood production we're watching.
Still, this 22 minute short really got under my skin at times, as Moore - who overall delivers an acceptable performance, wanders through the theatre en route
to the final room that may contain a true portrait of terror.
Credit must go to director of photography William C. Thompson for creating a truly unsettling point of view, and to Jenny Steven's whose involvement gels on
repeated viewings.

It's a real shame that the intended series never happened, but full marks to one Jonathan Harris who purchased "Final Curtain" from a collector,
thus ensuring it received its 15 minutes of fame.
"Final Curtain" is currently available to view on youtube, and well worth a view for Woodites and for those who enjoy a journey into fear, uneven as it is.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Blu-ray Review: World On A Wire (Second Sight)

Based on the novel "Similacrum-3" by Daniel F. Galouye, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "World On A Wire" was broadcast in 1973 by German TV company WDR, in two episodes.
This groundbreaking production anticipated the likes of "Blade Runner", "The Matrix" and Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" to push the envelope in the Sci-Fi genre.
"World On A Wire" concerns a super computer that's being developed by the IKZ company. This computer is partly an electronic simulation machine that creates
an artificial miniature world, populated by over 9,000 units or 'people'. A giant steel corporation discovers this computer can also study and predict consumer
habits and demands for a 20 year period, and takes an active interest in development.
Fred Stiller (Klaus Lowitsch) is assigned to debug the software after Professor Henri Vollmer (Adrian Hoven) dies in mysterious circumstances.
When IKZA chief of security Gunther Lause (Ivan Desmy) literally vanishes into thin air, Stiller finds himself in a shadowy world where people are a bundle
of electrical circuits, and private interests dominate.
The introduction of Vollmer's daughter, Eva (Mascha Rabben); an Achilles and the Tortoise drawing; the name of Christopher Nobody and a parallel world
that may or may not be the 'real' one all add to a thoroughly absorbing 204 minutes.

The general theme of alienation in what may be an artificial world is well conveyed by a marvellous cast who include Barbara Valentin, Margit Carstensen,
Gottfried John, Kurt Raab, Uli Lommel, Ingrid Caven and Eddie Constantine, while the set designs with banks of TV screens and mirrors, which acknowledge and reflect the two
worlds are major parts of a production that was indeed way ahead of its time.
Second Sight's 2 disc Blu-ray presentation sees "World On A Wire" make its UK Home Video debut. The main feature is split over the 2 discs, and image quality
is good with well managed grain and plenty of detail.
The supplementary features being with "Looking Ahead To Today" (48m 31s) by Juliane Lorenz.
This documentary takes a look at how Fassbinder and crew depicted the future; how the TV production deal was realised; Fassbinder's attitude towards
location shooting and how the cast reacted to his ideas.
With valuable contributions from cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, this is a stimulating work that adds further weight to its subject matter.

Observing Fassbinder (7m 44s)
This is a short tribute to photographer Peter Gauhe who was stills photographer on 15 of Fassbinder's projects.
Peter is sadly in the early stages of dementia, but recalls how he started in the industry and learned his craft, and also discusses his relationship with the director
and his own acting roles.

On-Set Featurette (4m 19s)
Fassbinder talks about his TV series and how he got to grips with translating the book.

No Strings Attached: Renate Leiffer On Fassbinder (29m 15s)
Here, Renate talks about her work as an on-set translator; her relationship with the director and exactly what working with WDR meant to them.

Original TV Recap (4m 32s)
A general recap of key events in this production.

The Simulation Argument by Nick Bostrom (22m 38s)
Nick Bostrom from the Future of Humanity Institute at the university of Oxford presents a fascinating talk about simulation civilisations, concerning the future and our place in the world, and how he became interested in the argument.

"World On A Wire" will be released by Second Sight on 18th February, in rigid slipcase packaging.
As an extra special bonus, there's a 50 page perfect-bound booklet (which I haven't seen) featuring new essays from Anton Bitel and Daniel Bird, archival writing
by Daniel Oberhaus and Christian Braad Thomsen and rare on-set photos by Peter Gauhe.
We are lucky enough to have some of the world's finest boutique labels here in the UK, and releases like this confirm we have never had it so good when it comes to the cream of World Cinema in our own homes.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Blu-ray Review: When A Stranger Calls/When A Stranger Calls Back (Second Sight)

For me, the 1970s was a magical period for the movies. There were so many films possessing a certain aura which has lingered down the years.
Made in 1979, Fred Walters' "When A Stranger Calls" is often compared to "Black Christmas" and John Carpenter's "Halloween", yet brings its own style and substance to the
table. Almost 40 years on, it's ripe for rediscovery.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) arrives for babysitting duties at the Mandrakis house, charged with looking after two young children while
their parents enjoy an evening out.
Following a series of anonymous phone calls - "Have you checked the children?" - Jill becomes convinced that someone is watching her every move.
When the phantom caller declares he wants her blood all over him, the stage is set for a grisly discovery.
Police involvement determined the calls were coming from inside the house, further upping the ante in this terrifying case.
We then move forward 7 years to a time when Jill herself is a parent and soon to become embroiled in a similar case, as a killer escapes from an asylum and
targets her own family.

With some fine supporting turns from Charles Durning, Tom Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst and Rachel Roberts, "When A Stranger Calls" boasts an overwhelming sense of
isloation and dread, driven by Dan Kaproff's ominous score.
The film was beautifully shot by DOP Don Peterman who captures that unerring sense of unease when darkness falls and tensions are amplified tenfold.
There are levles of suspense, too, that occur outside the Mandrakis abode: check out the pulse-pounding chase at a homeless shelter as the killer
strives to elude cop turned private investigator John Clifford (Durning) in a gripping game of cat and mouse.
It's testament to Fred Walton and his crew that their film still stands up today as a model of how to keep your audience on edge throughout.

When A Stranger Calls Back (1993)

Julia Jenz (Jill Scholen) is harassed during her babysitting stint by a stranger who claims his car has broken down.
Sensibly, she refuses to let him in to use the phone and tries to phone a repair firm herself.
With the phone line dead, Julia claims to have been in touch with the company, promising help will arrive within the hour.
As time ticks away, the man returns, demanding to call the repair firm himself and tensions rise leading to the abduction of two children.
5 years later, Charles Durning's John Clifford character resurfaces when Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) - now with a family of her own - is traumatised
by a phone call at a restaurant where she is enjoying a night out.
Clifford once again uses years of experience on the force to identify the shadowy predator who has a wholly unique way of delivering pure evil
inside the four walls of home. What should be the ultimate refuge.
I won't give the game away with regard to the reveal, but will guarantee your jaw will hit the floor!
With another wonderfully atmospheric score from Dana Kaproff, "When A Stranger Calls Back" is everything and more that a sequel could be, signing off
a double-bill that has real replay value.

The supplementary features begin with "The Sitter" (21m 22s).
This is the original, rarely seen short film which provided the basis for Walton's feature.
While it didn't go down too well with certain movie execs, it's a fascinating watch, using ingenuity and imagination that would really blossom a little later.

Directing A Stranger. An interview with director Fred Walton (16m 35s)
Fred reveals the idea for his film came from a newspaper article; talks about Kane, Durning, Colleen Dewhurst mand other cast members, explaining he tends
to leave actors alone and allow them to find their own levels.
He admits he doesn't like to revisit his work, and also praises DOP Don Peterson.

Carol Kane on When A Stranger Calls (17m 25s)
Carol reveals how she got the part; explains why she chose not to view "The Sitter"; talks about the humanity of the characters
and how her character changes in the sequel. It's a real delight to see this beautiful lady holding forth on these things and a nice addition to the package.

Rutanya Alda On When A Stranger Calls (5m 18s)
Rutanya (Mrs Mandrakis in the first film) talks about her career - including "Greetings", "Hi Mom" and "Rocky II" - the learning curve in acting,
and how she got the part in Stranger.

Scoring A Stranger: an interview with composer Dana Kaproff (7m 47s)
Dan talks about his background; his famous mentor; composing the music for both films, and likens his scores to a character in the films.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation from a brand new scan looks fabulous, and the package is nice rounded off with a CD soundtrack and a 40 page booklet.
Please note: Second Sight really have listened to their customers, and have made this disc Region Free.

"When A Stranger Calls" is released 17th December and is highly recommended for fans of the cinema of unease.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Juliet of the Spirits (Cult Films)

Fellini's 1st full-length feature film originally came to my attention via a big screen presentation at Derby Film Festival, many moons ago.
"Juliet of the Spirits" certainly left its mark on me.
The titular character here is played by Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife) who takes the role of a repressed housewife.
Juliet suspects her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) is being unfaithful, and takes steps to discover whether her fears are correct.
Following a wonderfully over-the-top consultation with a renowned psychic, Juliet enters a parallel world of the spirits, unleashing an array
of colourful creations that light up the screen during their time with us.
This dreamlike world reflects the director's fascination with our experiences beyond the walls of sleep, coupled with his active interest in the occult and the afterlife.
It all makes for an enticing cocktail that's made even more potent by the presence of Suzi (Sandra Milo). Juliet's sexually liberated neighbour is the polar opposite of
this timid woman who ultimately seeks to break free from her shackles and finally live.

"Juliet of the Spirits" succeeds in its brief to really get into the heart and soul of a woman, thanks to Fellini's inspired direction and a wonderful performance from Masina.
Juliet won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 1966, and its reputation has endured for more than 5 decades in the annals of World Cinema.
Now, this landmark film is available on Blu-ray for home viewing from Cult Films, via a 1080i presentation.

There are two commissioned extras on this disc. The first is an understanding Fellini commentary track from the excellent Kat Ellinger, who adds another triumph
to an already impressive catalogue of commentaries, video essays and writing.
Kat's track greatly increases our appreciation and understanding of this film, and also of Fellini's other work.
She examines the director's conflict between the sacred and the profane; discusses the Jungian aspects of the film, and succeeds in her intention to help us better understand this great director.
The other specially commissioned extra is a new video essay from author, critic and Oxford professor Guido Bonsaver.
'Dazzling Spirit' runs for 14m 36s and examines the three important elements to the film, and also takes in the director's interest in the occult.It's a fine essay and increases our appreciation of what was accomplished here.

"Juliet of the Spirits" is out now in a dual format Blu-ray and DVD release and is also available on digital platforms.