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.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Blu-ray Review: D.O.A. A Right of Passage (Second Sight)


"The world is yours for a season"
Oscar Wilde

I started going to music gigs in the Autumn of 1976, taking in the likes of Budgie, Man, Curved Air and Steve Hillage.
Truth is, I was bored and didn't know it. Then, the Punk Rock explosion took place, which saw one of the most exciting musical revolutions ever.

D.O.A. A Right of Passage offers fascinating insight on both sides of the channel, following the Sex Pistols' infamous tour of America, while also
keeping tabs on what was happening in the UK.
The end result is a must for those who were there at the time, and for anyone who wonders what all the fuss was about.
Both sides of the fence are well catered for here, with fan interviews before and after gigs - some positive, some negative - while the odious
chain-smoking Bernard Brooke Partridge and Mary Whitehouse do what they did best, attacking anything they didn't understand.
There is coverage given to other worthy bands - with footage of Generation X, Sham 69, X Ray Spex and The Rich Kids - but this is the Pistols' show,
and their glorious wall of sound hits home with live footage of the likes of "Anarchy In The UK", "EMI" and "Holidays In The Sun".
The band played seven dates in the USA, culminating in that final gig at Winterland, San Francisco when the band trudged off, leaving us with one of the finest debut albums ever recorded.


Lech Kowalski's documentary really does get under the skin of Punk, with this movement's DIY attitude of making something out of nothing, uncovering
the state of things for an army of participants who felt let down by a system designed to bring them down. Witness Terry Sylvester - a working class lad
who tells it like it was before taking the microphone to front his own band, Terry and The Idiots.
There are some wonderful stories and anecdotes from the contributors here, who provides articulate insight into what went down and why, within a true example of guerrilla film-making.
Of course, the concert hall footage is alone worth the price of the disc, with Lydon showing he's one of the very best live performers, being utterly mesmeric.
I'd seen Joe Strummer, Iggy, Lux Interior, Patti Smith, Ari from The Slits, Siouxsie and Ian Curtis and Lydon can be added to anyone's list of fromtmen.


Another 30 years from now and the number of people who were present and incorrect during Punk's Golden Years will be vastly diminished. That's one of the reasons
documentaries such as this are so terribly important, turning the spotlight onto an age When We Were Kings.

The special features on this Blu-ray disc (which also includes a DVD) being with "Dead On Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was" (1 hr 55 mins 20s)
Here, we are privy to the recollections and opinions of key players in this story.
John Holmstrom (founder of Punk magazine); photographer Roberta Bayley; co-director and journalist Chris Salewicz; Pistols historian Mick O'shea; Midge Ure and many others, including Malcolm Maclaren. We hear about the origins of Punk with New York Dolls and Iggy namechecked (Roberta talks about being on the door at CBGB's); how the film ran into financial difficulties; why the crew were banned from filming at gigs, and there's valuable input from photographer Rufus Standefer. The Sid and Nancy infamous bed interview
is also included.
Nice to see Lamar St. John pop up, too, being the girl on the ground in the main feature, and still vital after all these years.
This generous making-off doc with a wealth of nostalgic footage gives considerable added value to an already worthy disc.

DOA A Punk Post Mortem (27m 8s) .
Chris Salewicz talks about the documentary and certain individuals, recalling the Sid and Nancy interview; the part played by Tom Forcade of High Times magazine and
looks at what Punk meant and continues to mean.
I struggle to think of anyone better than Chris to tell this story, which continues to resonate over 40 years on.
D.O.A. A Right of Passage will be released on the Second Sight label on 10th September. Image quality on this high definition presentation is strong,
and there's also a limited edition booklet in the package, written by Punk aficianado Tim Murray with additional article by Phelim O'Neill. The booklet is limited to the first 2000 copies, so hurry!

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Blu-ray Review: The Changeling (Second Sight)


Compile a list of big and small-screen superior spookers, and the usual suspects inevitably come out to play: the BBC's Christmas ghost stories, The Haunting,
The Innocents, The Legend of Hell House, The Stone Tape, Bava's Kill, Baby...Kill!.....another solid addition would be Peter Medak's The Changeling.
My own association with this film dates back to the opening weekend of its theatrical release when I was lucky enough to attend a screening at a cinema
in London's Tottenham Court Road.


"The Changeling" begins with a truly tragic scene. Composer John Russell (George C. Scott) is on vacation with his wife and young daughter when a roadside
accident leaves him well and truly alone in this world.
The grief-stricken Russell moves to Seattle in an attempt to rebuild his life, subsequently moving into the Chessman house, which has spent the last 12 years uninhabited... by the living, at least.

Russell soon finds out why, as strange manifestations suggest the house - or something in the house - is reaching out to him.
A piano that plays untouched by human hands; the ubiquitous child's ball that bounces down the stairs; a music box which plays the same tune
as Russell's latest composition and - most chilling of all - a wheelchair with a mind of its own.
Add to this the thoroughly unnerving banging sounds that always take place at 6.00am, and icy terrors that lie behind closed or half open doors
and you have a haunted house tale par excellence.
There are so many scenes that make the spine tingle and the blood run cold, including a seance that ultimately delivered far more than was
initially suggested, leading Russell to investigate sinister Senator Joseph Carmichael, played by Melvyn Douglas.


Ken Wannberg's wonderfully evocative score builds the tension nicely, while also being sensitive to the twin tragic aspects of this story. Of course,
George C. Scott is also finely tuned into proceedings, delivering a pitch perfect performance as a man who has lost his family and must start again.
Russell's burning desire to positively react to voices from beyond the grave and his reactions to haunted memories are beautifully conveyed by Scott
in one of his most heartfelt performances.
In these times of overkill and excess, the resurrection of this superbly directed film will gladden the hearts of all those who hold it in high regard,
and also bring new admirers to the fold.


Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation unveils a 4K scan from the IP that boasts rich colours and a healthy amount of grain.
The extras begin with an informative commentary track featuring Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels.
We hear why the film almost didn't get made; how Medak started out in the business; his stories about being on the sets of "The Haunting" and "Marnie";
why the film didn't take off in America, and there are discussions about the music and sound design and warm words for Scott and Douglas.

The House on Cheesman Park (17m 31s)
A featurette based on the Cheesman house which was built on a giant graveyard, with between 2,000 - 5,000 bodies still buried there when production began.
The Cheesman property had all the trappings: secret compartments and doorways; a bouncing ball and the diary of a young boy, making this a fascinating story.

The Music of The Changeling (8m 59s)
Here, composer Ken Wannberg talks about the great John Williams; the process of scoring a film and the pressures involved.

Building The House of Horror (10m 56s)
Art director Reuben Freed talks about building and lighting the sets; logistical problems; the budget and the passion of the crew.

The Psychotronic Tourist (16m 2s)
The wonderful Kier La- Janisse - author of "House of Psychotic Women" - plays host to 12 locations used in the film.
We get to see how the places look today, including the scene of the roadside accident, and visit a graveyard that contains two absolute legends.

Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling (5m 31s)
Mick explains that he loves this film for its emotion, and talks about "The Haunting" and "Don't Look Now". He also explains why "The Changeling"
remains a very personal film for those of us who saw it theatrically.

The package is rounded off by the original theatrical trailer (2m 18s) and a TV spot running 29s.
Second Sight have also included the original soundtrack on CD and a 40 page perfect-bound booklet (which I haven't seen) containing a new essay
by Kevin Lyons, original production notes and an archive on-set interview.
Hugely recommended for those cold Winter evenings when shadows cast long and the imagination takes over.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Space Truckers. Blu-ray. Second Sight


Stuart Gordon's 1996 Science Fiction comedy comes armed with a strong cast and a rollicking story, set in a galaxy far, far away.
Dennis Hopper takes the role of John Canyon; an independent trucker who moves freight beyond the stars, in order to make a living.
It's a world of synth burgers and sham fries, where a canteen deal is struck for the eventual marriage of John and Cindy (Debi Mazar)
providing he can get her back to Earth for her mother's operation.
Enter Nabel the creator (Charles Dance) who is responsible for the design of an army of state-of-the-art disintigrators: biochemical super warriors
who will soon be bound for planet Earth in a cargo that's officially claimed to be sex dolls.
John and Cindy join forces with Mike (Stephen Dorff) in an effort to thwart this murderous mission, with Nabel just as intent in carrying it through.
The result is a pacey, often hilarious romp that makes the minutes fly if you don't think too hard about what you're viewing. Certainly, there's enough
explosions, excitement and general mayhem to satisfy all but the most demanding viewers.


Hopper is great value for money as the last of the breed trucker, while Dance also excels: watch out for a particularly strange case of erectile disfunction!
Even those raised on a steady diet of Stuart Gordon's OTT Horror fare will find much to enjoy here, as trademark humour rubs shoulders with some nifty fx,
and there's a nice surprise at the end for fans of a certain leading lady who certainly left her mark in the director's filmography.
There's no doubt "Space Truckers" has a healthy cult following, and members of that club will be delighted by the image quality on Second Sight's
Blu-ray presentation.


The special features begin with "Space Trucking with Stuart Gordon" (22m 53s)
Here, the director talks about his early ambition to be an astronaut (shared with script writer Ted Mann), which eventually led to the creation
of this film. Stuart talks about the $27 million budget, and the quest to source additional funding, and of working with Dennis Hopper who unleashed
a stinging rebuke for his director, during filming.

"The Art of Space Truckers" (8m 7s)
Art director Simon Lamont breaks down his role in this production, and gives his thoughts on how the film stands up today.

"Scoring Space Truckers" (12m 31s)
Composer Colin Townes - the original score composer - gives a brief resume of his early career, and explains his approach to scoring the film,
which benefited from his versatility.

"Space Truckers" is available to buy now on the Second Sight label.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Blu-ray Review: Heimat (Second Sight)


"Love and suffering lie so close together"

Edgar Reitz's acclaimed television drama depicts the lives of ordinary people in the Hunsrueck: a mountain range in Rhineland Palatinate, Germany,
which is bordered by four rivers.
Here, the fictional village of Schabbach plays host to a thoroughly engaging series of events, following village life from 1919 to 1982.
The cast - comprising of over 120 speaking parts - contains some beautifully drawn characters wo win and retain our most earnest attention
throughout the 889 minute running time.
We have Maria (Marita Breuer): daughter-in-law of Mathias (the village blacksmith) and his wife, who is married to their son, Paul.
The turmoil of World War One has taken its toll on Paul, who suddenly disappears, leaving Maria with her two sons, Anton and Ernst.
As the years gop by, there will be new additions to the family: Maria has another son, Hermann; Mathias' son Eduard gets married to the over ambitious Lucie;
Hermann grows up and finds love and, inevitably, characters dear to our hearts pass away.
Where did Paul go to on his long walk to enjoy a beer? Why did he leave his wife? Did he ever return to Schabbach? Not all of these questions are answered,
tantalisingly out of reach to cast and audience who experience some big changes down the years.
The rise of Nazism - personified by the big chief Weigand and his son; the introduction of the telephone, radio and television; the rise of Anton's
optics company and a soul-searching decision he is called to make, all presented by Glasisch, the narrator who guides us towards a quite beautiful
finale, set in a place many of us have wondered about. We must hope it turns out to be like Reitz's vision.


Throughout the series, triumph and despair, economic hardship and prosperity, life and death are all captured by some gorgeous cinematrography,
as Eduard's camera joins in with the recording of memories.
Here luminous monochrome vies with colour. Sometimes colour is used for fleeting moments, then for longer spells. Occasionally, b/w and colour
are used in the same shot: look out for the carnations dropped over the village during a homecoming flight to remember.
The onset of war brings its own physical and psychological challenges, scarring those involved, yet pushing them onwards and upwards
in a collective quest to create better times.
Some of the scenes are heartbreakingly sad, but there are happy times enjoyed by people who work and play together down the years.
Of course, this story is tinged with bitterness and regret, but it's also extremely uplifting in places,
demonstrating the human spirit car soar, even through hardship.


It's a tall order to chronicle 63 years of family life in a single project, but Edgar Reitz and his cast and crew delivered a work of art
that will endure for many years to come.
Indeed, it's the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner, sustaining interest and offering unlimited replay value.
A masterpiece, no less.


Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation offers a sumptuous image, restored from the original negative by the Edgar Reitz Foundation.
Here, the glorious Hunsrueck countryside comes alive during the four seasons, , whether it's the monochrome shots of Winter or the warm Autumnal glow
of the surroundings. Outstanding!

The extras begin with "Heimat The Hunsrueck Villages: Stories from the Film Locations" (1 hr 53m 17s)
This documentary offers a comprehensive look at German village life, taking in memories of the wars; transport; slate mining and history
lessons for children, and there's footage of an old mine that's now used for concerts because of the excellent acoustics (something that occurs in the series, too).

"An interview with Edgar Reitz on the making of "Heimat." (38m 39s)
Edgar begins by explaining how he became one of 26 young directors to sign the 1962 Oberhuasen Manifesto, designed to create a new type of German cinema.
He talks about his early work - which including success and failure; casting his series; how the actors grew into their roles and reminisces about
the war years and growing up in a world without men.

"Maria's Story: Marita Breuer on Heimat" (11m 18s)
The still gorgeous Marita recalls how she landed the role; talks about the mutual trust she enjoyed with her director and how she grew into the role.

"An interview with Christian Reitz on the restoration of Heimat (17m 24s)
Christian explains how "Heimat" was restored, with an arduous and rewarding process that repaired scratches, tears and warps to create
the wonderful high definition image we have today.

Showing Not Talking: Jan Harlan on Heimat (12m 16s)
Jan Harlan talks about seeing this series at the Lumiere cinema in London, and of the impression "Heimat" made on friend and colleague Stanley Kubrick.

"A visual essay by Daniel Bird" ( 8m 44s)
Film historian Daniel Bird delivers an excellent visual essay, demonstrating the role of the camera to enact the process of memory. It's a key theme
of this series, and explored so very well here.

This release is rounded off with a 50 page soft cover book (which I haven't seen), featuring liner notes by Carmen Gray; 'The Collaboration with Gernot Roll'
by Edgar Reitz and 'Germany as Memory' by Anton Kaes.
"Heimat" is avialable to buy right now, and highly recommended.