Friday, 31 January 2014

BFI Blu-ray & DVD Releases For Spring/Early Summer 2014

Check out the following BFI releases for later this year.

The acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth is celebrated by the BFI with its Flipside release of That Sinking Feeling in April 2014. This definitive Dual Format Edition of Forsyth’s hilarious cult 1979 debut has been lovingly produced with the full collaboration of its director, with input from one of its most ardent and high profile fans, Mark Kermode. Newly remastered in High Definition, this inventive low-budget masterpiece can be experienced with its original Glaswegian dialogue track and in its correct aspect ratio. Among the disc’s extensive extra features are a full-length audiocommentary with Bill Forsyth and Mark Kermode, a number of rarely seen short films and documentaries and a dryly funny BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance film made by Forsyth in 2009

Other new releases to look forward to this spring/early summer include:

Limited Edition Blu-ray SteelBookTM editions of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972) and Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979) (May)
The Werner Herzog Collection – mammoth Blu-ray and DVD box sets compiling 18 of the legendary German director’s films from late 1960s to the early 1980s, including The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz (1967); Last Words (1968); Precautions Against Fanatics (1969); Fata Morgana (1971); Handicapped Future (1971); Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972); Land Of Silence and Darkness (1971); Heart of Glass (1976); Stroszek (1977); The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974); The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1974); How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1978); Woyzeck (1979); Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979); Fitzcarraldo (1982); Huie’s Sermon (1983); God’s Angry Man (1983); and Cobre Verde (1987). Extras include Jack Bond’s long-unseen South Bank Show on Herzog from 1982. (July)
Seven Samurai – digitally remastered 60th anniversary SteelBookTM and DVD editions of Kurosawa’s world-renowned classic (April)
The Children’s Film Foundation Collection: Runaways – three classic British films including Hide and Seek (1979) (starring a teenage Gary Kemp) and Bond director Lewis Gilbert’s early film Johnny on the Run (1953) (April)
Alain Robbe-Grillet: Six Films 1964-1974 – Blu-ray and DVD box sets making the controversial French director/writer’s enigmatic and sexually-charged films available for the very first time. Digitally remastered presentations of all films, including Trans-Europ Express (1966) and Successive Slidings of Pleasure (1974), as well as interviews and exclusive audio commentaries by world-renowned cult cinema authority, Tim Lucas (June)
Eyes Without a Face – Dual Format Edition of George Franju’s notorious 1960 arthouse horror with extensive extra features (July)

As always, the BFI’s DVD and Blu-ray releases carry the highest quality film presentations and are packaged with contextualising extra features and fully illustrated booklets, providing the very best way to experience the wealth of content on offer.

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number 1. Sleepwalker. BFI

I noted at the beginning of this exercise that my choices for the Top 10 Discs of 2013 were in no order of preference, and that still holds true with the exception of number one, which really does stand out for me as the best and the most welcome release of last year.

Saxon Logan's Sleepwalker has a history that goes back to 1984, and a time when UK film policy changed forever; a state of affairs which denied people the chance to see the film. Now, Sleepwalker has risen like a phoenix from the ashes and has become one of the jewels in the BFI's 'Flipside' series of releases. The disc contains some terrific extras, together with a fascinating and extremely moving interview with the director that showcases a remarkable career and a true passion for filmmaking.

You can read my original review (written several years ago after catching a rare theatrical screening by clicking HERE and you can also read my review of this disc by clicking HERE

I'm aware and very grateful this blog receives visitors from all around the world, so I want to amplify the point that the Sleepwalker Blu-ray is Region-Free so jump all over this one people and hurry. It won't be available to buy forever!

Selecting my top 10 choices has been pleasurable but extremely difficult, with some titles so very hard to leave out. So, I'd like to conclude by mentioning some of the other discs that have marked me over the course of the last 12 months.

Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (Arrow Video)

Blowout (Arrow Video)

Dr Mabuse der Spieler (Masters Of Cinema)

Like Someone To Love (New Wave Films)

Baron Blood (Arrow Video)

Heaven's Gate (Second Sight)

Robin Redbreast (BFI DVD)

2013 was a great year for Home Video releases. Let us hope 2014 is just as good.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number 2: The Long Goodbye. Arrow Academy

Great transfer for Robert Altman's classic, and a wealth of mouth-watering extras that really deliver the goods by enhancing our enjoyment and appreciation of this film.

You can read my review of this disc by clicking HERE

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number 3. Possession. Second Sight

Andrzej Zulawski's intensely shocking film came to Blu-ray in July of 2013, and this astonishing account of a the aftermath of a marital split featuring violence, self-mutilation and a hideous tentacled creature was originally banned in the UK.
Second Sight's Blu-ray benefits from an excellent transfer and the following supplementary material:

REPOSSESSED – The film’s UK and US reception, the ‘video nasties’ furore and the American recut

A DIVIDED CITY – Interview with the composer Andrzej Korzynski
OUR FRIEND IN THE WEST – Interview with legendary producer Christian Ferry

BASHA – featurette on the artist who created the famed film poster

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number Four. Opening Night BFI

One of the most welcome Home Video releases of the year saw John Cassavetes' Opening Night come to Blu-ray with a fine transfer and some valuable supplementary material.

You can read my review of this disc by clicking HERE

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Top Ten Discs of 2013: Number 5. Spider Baby. Arrow Video

Aka "The Maddest Story Ever Told", 'Spider Baby' was Jack Hill's first solo feature, and concerns a trio of siblings who suffer from 'Merrye Syndrome'a condition that causes them to mentally regress backwards.Lon Chaney Jr gave his last memorable performance here as their guardian Bruno, and Sid Haig and Carol Ohmart also star in a film that gets weirder and more damnably entertaining with every passing minute.
The Blu-ray transfer is exemplary, with a nice line of grain evident and impressive depth and contrast.
There's infinite replay value to be had here, and Hill's macabre masterpiece is honoured by the comprehensive extras which are as follows:

High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the main feature, available in the UK for the very first time.
- High Definition transfer of the feature approved by director Jack Hill.
- English SDH subtitles for deaf and hearing impaired.
- Audio commentary featuring Jack Hill and star Sid Haig.
- Panel discussion from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences “FILM-TO-FILM” Festival, recorded September 2012, featuring Jack Hill and stars Quinn K. Redeker and Beverly Washburn.
- “The Hatching of Spider Baby” – Interviews with Jack Hill, Sid Haig, star Mary Mitchel, fan Joe Dante and more on the making of the film.
- “Spider Stravinsky: The Cinema Sounds of Ronald Stein” – The composer of ‘The Terror’ and ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Woman’ among others is remembered by Harlene Stein, Jack Hill, American Cinematheque’s Chris D. and others.
- “The Merrye House Revisited” – Jack Hill revisits the original house that was used as the main location in the film.
- Alternate opening title sequence.
- Extended scene.
- Original Trailer.
- Gallery of behind-the-scenes images.
- The Host (1960) – Jack Hill’s early short film featuring Sid Haig in his first starring role.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham ‘Evil Dead’ Humpreys.
- Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by artist and writer Stephen R. Bissette, and an extensive article re-printed from FilmFax: The Magazine of Unusual Film and Television featuring interviews with the cast and crew, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Epic Of Everest

With its summit proudly standing some 29,000 ft above sea level, Mount Everest has long been a source of fascination and dogged ambition for people all around the world.

In 1924, George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted to reach the summit and actually got further than any previous expedition, though we'll probably never know exactly how close they got to the top. This treacherous journey was caught on camera by Captain John Noel and, some 90 years on, remains a breathtaking and emotional experience that has been restored and brought to Blu-ray by the BFI.
The Epic Of Everest serves not only as a visual documentation of the expedition - punctuated by often heartbreaking inter-titles - but also as one of the earliest records on film of the Tibetan people who live in the shadow of what they call Chomolungma, Goddess Mother Of The World.

Noel had actually gone into Tibet in 1913, reaching a place called Tashirak which lies just 40 miles from the mountain; a journey which inspired him to one day return with the aim of conquering Everest. Using some amazing state-of-the-art photographic equipment, Noel has left us with a visually stunning record of the expedition, following the intrepid team as they negotiate the lakes, valleys and ridges that lead to a place nearer to God than any man had ever reached before. Irvine was the youngest of the party at just 22 years of age, and was last seen with Mallory some 600 ft from the summit of Everest. After that last sighting, the party had no knowledge of their situation, leaving only two conclusions to be drawn: the pair had reached the summit but lacked any remaining strength to make their way down, or they fell short of their goal and froze to death with the summit so tantalisingly close. I'm sure we all like to think those heroic men reached the top and hel each other tight in the knowledge that Everest's summit, for just a short while, was populated by living, breathing men whose graves would soon take the form of a pure white blanket of snow.

The BFI Blu-ray presents The Epic Of Everest via a restoration from nitrate positives held by the Institute's National Archive, and taken from two existing copies with the best source for each shot determined. The result is an incedibly detailed work, capturing the mountain's beauty and also its unforgiving nature.

Frozen mist and glacial ice, evening light beams dancing on the ice world all around and gorgeous colour tinted sequences are all a joy to behold, and hugely benefit from the collaboration with Captain Noel's daughter, Sandra.
The extras on this disc begin with 'Introducing The Epic Of Everest' where Sandra Noel and Bryony Dixon (curator of silent film at the BFI) discuss the background and filming process. 'Restoring The Epic Of Everest' is a discussion on the film's restoration process with Bryony Dixon, Ben Thompson (BFI National Archive) and Lisa Copson (Deluxe Digital) where the importance of staying true to the films origins is underlined.
'Scoring The Epic Of Everest' is a conversation with Simon Fisher Turner who was commissioned by the BFI to write a new score. Here, he discusses his approach to his work on this project and how he went with raw musicians to realise a modern sound. Certainly, his beautiful shimmering score adds vivid brushstrokes to Noel's compelling visuals and is an out-and-out success, with Mojo Magazine voting it number one soundtrack of the year.
Completists will also enjoy the inclusion of the original 1924 score as recreated by Julie Brown who is a specialist on film music and early twentieth-century concert music, and there are also additional music pieces that accompanied the film on its first screening at the Scala in London.
This dual format edition has the 1924 film programme downloadable from the DVD as a PDF, and the BFI have included a 30 page illustrated booklet with essays and contributions from Sandra Noel, explorer Wade Davis, Julie Brown, Simon Fisher Turner and the BFI's Kieron Webb. It's a wholly satisfying and informative way to end this very special package.
The Epic Of Everest is released on 27th January.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

DVD Review: Hunt Vs Lauda: Grand Prix's Greatest Racing Rivals

Originally screened on BBC4, Hunt Vs Lauda is a riveting 52 minute documentary account of the monumental 1976 Formula 1 season. The battle for number one spot between the Britain's James Hunt and Austria's Niki Lauda went all the way to the very last of sixteen races, and the drama, controversy and courage will be talked about as long as Formula 1 exists.

Hunt was part of the Mclaren team, while Lauda drove under the Ferrari banner with all its wealth and power, and was determined to stay one step ahead of his playboy rival. In fact, Lauda soon established a 33 points to 6 lead over Hunt, and by the time we reached the halfway stage at the end of the 8th race, Lauda had 52 points to Hunt's 26. Could race 9 - which took place on Hunt's home turf - be the turning point? When the race was stopped, the partisan British crowd almost rioted and practically willed Hunt to gain first place on resumption of the battle. Hunt did exactly that, although Ferarri lodged an appeal which was eventually upheld weeks later.
Now all eyes were focused on the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, where Hunt further closed the gap when Lauda's car crashed and burst into flames, leaving the Austrian close to death. Incredibly, he was back in the saddle just 40 days later, permanently scarred but ready to race for the title.
By the time we reached the final race in Japan, Lauda was just 3 points ahead and further drama was about to unfold.

It's an amazing story, told in this DVD from Delta Leisure with valuable contributions from Lauda, Daniele Audetto (Ferrari F1 team manager), Alastair Caldwell (Mclaren team manager) and James' sister Sally. Together, they paint a compelling picture of two fierce rivals who shared friendship and respect for each other during their titanic struggle. These interviews are punctuated with some terrific race footage and behind-the-scenes clips that will delight Formula 1 addicts. Throughout, the differing personalties and racing agenda's of the two men come to the fore: the late James Hunt being flamboyant on and off track, with Lauda being more reserved and adopting a scientific approach to racing.
With Ron Howard's 'Rush' on the way to UK cinemas, there is no better time to view this gripping account of the season that changed the face of Formula 1 forever.
Delta Leisure's DVD will be released in the UK on 27th January.

At this point, I'd just like to send prayers and all good wishes to Michael Schumacher, who is still gravely ill in hospital. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number 6. Dead Of Night. BFI.

The last three surviving episodes of the BBC Dead Of Night series have long been prime candidates for unnerving slices of small-screen terror, so thanks to the BFI for bringing them to DVD for first time viewers and those of us who were lucky enough to catch the original broadcasts. Don Taylor's 'The Exorcism' gave me nightmares for months afterwards, and it's true to say fragments from the broadcast have stayed with me down the years.

You can read my review of this DVD by clicking HERE

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013: Number 7. Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers. Arrow Video

Widely touted as one of the best remakes of all time, Philip Kaufman's 1978 film is more a re-imagining of Don Siegel's original, and scores highly in practically all departments. I was particularly pleased when I learned Arrow Video were to release this as a special edition Blu-ray and delighted with the image quality and also the supplementary features package.

You can read my review of the disc by clicking .HERE

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Top 10 Discs of 2013: Number 8. Betty Blue. Second Sight

Jean-Jaques Beineix's timeless classic appears on the Second Sight Blu-ray in two versions: the original theatrical cut which I saw during its UK cinema run, and the more powerful 3 hour director's cut which I caught several years later.
A superb transfer, and the hour long documentary, 'Blue Notes And Bungalows', make this an absolutely essential purchase for all those who fell in love with the film.

You can read my review by clicking .HERE

Monday, 13 January 2014

Top 10 Discs Of 2013. Number 9. Black Sabbath. Arrow Video

One of Mario Bava's finest films gets royal treatment here, courtesy of a splendid transfer and an excellent audio commentary track from Tim Lucas. There's also a featurette showing the differences between the Italian and AIP versions. Highly recommended for Bava buffs and newcomers who have yet to discover the maestro's brand of other-worldly magic.

You can read my review of this disc by clicking HERE

Arrow Video will be releasing further titles from Mario Bava's filmography in 2014.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Wonderland: Top 10 Discs of 2013. Number 10

I would have loved to be able to do a top 10 theatrical releases but, unfortunately, my health does not permit cinema visits. So, I thought I'd compile a list of my favourite discs from last year. I've taken a number of factors into account, including the quality of the film, the Blu-ray transfer and the extras. I hope you will take the opportunity to check out any you have yet to see.
This list is not in order of preference, so let's start with today's selection.

Me And You (Artificial Eye)

A beautifully directed adolescent drama, from the great Bernardo Bertulucci.

You can read my review by clicking HERE

Blu-ray Review: Big Trouble In Little China

Big Trouble In Little China was shot during the Autumn of 1985, released the following year and turned out to be a box office flop. Originally conceived as a western, Big Trouble eventually emerged as a high octane Martial Arts themed ride, with a satisfying dollop of Chinese supernatural lore thrown into the mix. The studio really wanted their own version of Indiana Jones. Instead, they got John Carpenter's most entertaining film, with more bang for your buck than the aforementioned hero and his quartet of films.
Big Trouble takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown district as Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) sees his 'Pork Chop Express' truck go missing and becomes embroiled in the darkest kind of Chinese magic.
The beautiful Miayo Yin (Suzee Pai) arrives at the airport to meet her intended - Wong Chi, played by Dennis Dun - who has just lost yet another game of chance to the streetwise Burton. The green-eyed Maiyo is snatched by Chinese street punks before she can even embrace her beloved, and eventually ends up in the underground lair of David Lo Pan (James Hong)who needs to marry a green-eyed girl in order to break an ancient curse and become permanent flesh and blood once again.
Aided by tour operator Egg Shen(Victor Wong), lawyer Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) and assorted Martial Arts experts, Burton and Wong venture into a shadowy world of Chinese black magic, aiming to rescue Maiyo and claim back the 'Pork Chop Express'.

John Carpenter had always longed to do a film with a strong Martial Arts theme, and Big Trouble marks a wholly successful entry into this field, making the most of an energetic cast who clearly relish their excursion into Chinese mythology. Burton's wisecracking rough and ready hero really hits all the right notes, while Pai, Cattrall and Kate Burton's newshound on the trail make for an appealing trio of green-eyed ladies who enjoy the frantic efforts of the men around them. The combat scenes are beautifully choreographed and staged, benefiting from sumptuous stage sets that combine to make Big Trouble so visually splendid and damnably entertaining from the word go.
Of course, various influences take root here; my own favourite being a nod to the underwater sequence in Dario Argento's Inferno which can be seen around the 39th minute mark.

So, why did Big Trouble fail at the box office? One possible reason is that it was released just 16 days before James Cameron's Aliens when expectation was at fever pitch for this follow-up to Ridley Sctott's original. Happily, Big Trouble has taken off on home video through various formats to become a cult classic, and I welcome its UK Blu-ray release from Arrow Video.

Arrow's Blu-ray exhibits excellent colour reproduction, with the sets and costumes looking splendid, while detail is very strong. Fans of this film should be delighted with this presentation and will doubtless enjoy the bounty of supplementary material, which begins with around 80 minutes of interviews. Here, Carpenter, Russell, Dean Cundey, producer Larry Franco, actor and choreographer Jeff Imada and visual effects producer Richard Edlund. JC kicks things off with an informative chat, recalling his love of Martial Arts movies and the unhappy experiences with Big Trouble that prompted him to turn his back on the studio system. Kurt Russell's contribution reveals the special bond he has with his director and recalls his casting of the lead role in 'Elvis' and some hilarious anecdotes drawn from the filming of Big Trouble. Cundey, Imada,Franco and Edlund chat about life on the other side of the camera, including the lowdown on set design, choreographing fight scenes, FX and design, Carpenter's breakthrough with Halloween and how and why the plug was pulled on Carpenter directing Firestarter.

Next up are eight deleted scenes, with some available on transfers of Betamax worktapes, while others are presented as workprint or videotape, allowing the viewer to check out one or both. Highlights include a rare moment of dialogue from Miayo Yin; some priceless Burton wisecracks and some background info on Grace Law.There's also an extended ending to enjoy, with Burton taking care of one last piece of business.

A 7 minute vintage featurette follows, with Russell, Carpenter, Dennis Dun, Cattrall, James Hong and costume designer April Ferry talking about the making of Big Trouble, while music videos, trailers and a valuable isolated score round off the package. There's also a rollicking commentary track with Carpenter and Russell who recall the fun, frustrations and satisfaction they experienced with this film., and when Carpenter talks about the importance of casting the right people, you just know that with Big Trouble he got everything right.

Big Trouble In Little China is a Region B release, coming as a standard case or a gorgeous steelbook and is out now.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Ballad Of Joe Strummer : Rope And A Double-Bill To Die For

Originally titled "Rent-A-Riot", the second album by The Clash was released on 10th November 1978 and was called "Give 'Em Enough Rope". After their astonishing debut album, their difficult follow-up gave them the chance to cement their reputation as one of our top bands of the moment. As far as I'm concerned, the album delivered in spades, but many people I spoke to felt the sound to be sanitised, pointing the finger squarely at producer Sandy Pearlman. The album peaked at number 2 in the UK album charts, ensuring a successful outcome for the band, though Joe Strummer suffered as a result of Pearlman's involvement. Pearlman was no fan of Strummer's vocals and made sure Topper's drums were mixed louder on the whole album.
"Give 'Em Enough Rope" spawned two chart singles in "English Civil War" and "Tommy Gun" - the latter dealing with terrorism, reflecting the bands political focus, and kicked off with one of the most dynamic opening tracks you could wish for with "Safe European Home". This would go on to be a live favourite with fans and was joined by the intensely moving "Stay Free"; the swagger of "Last Gang In Town" and the immense "All The Young Punks" with lyrics that would stay with you for ever.
The album was voted 'Album Of The Year' by Rolling Stone and Time magazines and by influential UK music paper Sounds, and deservedly so, showing the band could evolve while staying true to their roots.

The recording sessions for the album also realised some terrific tracks that would grace both vinyl and concert halls in the future. "White Man In Hammersmith Palais" (in my view, their finest hour), "Pressure Drop" and "The Prisoner" were just a few of the songs recorded during the Rope sessions and showed their output to be fiercely creative.
I spent a fortnight with the album rarely off my turntable, growing to love the songs and eagerly awaiting the 24th day of that very same month when The Clash would return to the Kings Hall Derby with The Slits and The Innocents as support bands. I'm ashamed to say I missed The Innocents, due to time spent in the bar trying to spy anyone from Ashbourne who could give me a lift home, but made bloody sure I got out in time to see The Slits who were simply magnificent. I can see Budgie now, pounding the skins with Tessa providing solid backing while Ari prowled the stage and Viv layed down her wonderful skeletal guitar. The hall was naturally packed for their set, and expectations went even higher as the lights dimmed and The Clash took the stage. Late again, but I had a lift home so I could enjoy the night without the prospect of kipping out under the stars as I did a year earlier.
Beginning with the already classic "Safe European Home", The Clash tore the place up, with "Police And Thieves" and "Pressure Drop" rubbing shoulders with the more frantic "White Riot" and "Janie Jones" and "Career Opportunities" inducing mass pogoing from the front to the back of the hall. As always, I departed from the frenzy down the front and moved to the balcony to watch the band for a couple of numbers and Strummer's stage presence seemed to energize the crowd, making us think that whatever the New Year had in store, we could handle it.
It seemed the band were at the height of their powers, and I was simply drooling at the thought of what was next on the agenda. As it turned out, London was calling.