Friday, 28 February 2014

About Art Decades: A New Magazine For The Ages

I'm really excited by the news that ace writer Jeremy Richey is starting a new magazine, with his wife Kelley.
Jeremy is responsible for some of my favourite blogs, including 'Moon In The Gutter', Harry Moseby Confidential' and 'Fascination' which is dedicated to the late, great Jean Rollin. Jeremy is a supremely gifted writer, and he's gathered together some wonderful scribes to participate in the first issue of 'Art Decades'.

Jeremy and Kelley yesterday launched a 'kickstarter' campaign on to get some startup funds available, and I'm just about to head over there to pledge some cash. Let Jeremy tell you more about this project.

"Hello, My name is Jeremy Richey and I am the author of various film blogs including Moon in the Gutter and Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience. My work has also appeared in the pages of such publications as SCREEM, RUE MORGUE and THE DIRECTORY OF WORLD CINEMA. My wife Kelley and I are currently working on our first print publication and, to help raise some startup funds, we have just started a campaign at Indiegogo and would appreciate any help you might be able to offer.<br> ART DECADES is an upcoming quarterly print publication that will feature a variety of critical, historical, and personal articles on everything from film to music to fashion and beyond from a large number of writers from all over the world. ART DECADES will also feature exclusive interviews with various up and coming and established artists, filmmakers, performers, musicians and photographers. Issue #1 of ART DECADES will be released in November of 2014 and will be available to order from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and our official website."

If you love music, film and the arts in general,this promises to be one hell of a magazine.

Just click HERE for the link to pledge at indiegogo.

Please head over there, and pledge what you can afford. You can keep up with Jeremy's other work by checking out my blog list to the right of Wonderland.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Killers (1964)

Don Siegel's 1964 film had the distinction of being the first made-for-TV movie, but ended up playing in cinemas after the network pulled it from schedules. 'The Killers' is a remake of Robert Siodmak's 1946 film, starring Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner. Here, Lee Marvin plays the role of hitman Charlie Strom who, with the aid of accomplice Lee (Clu Gulager) leave us in no uncertain terms of his ruthless streak when he visits a school for the blind, leaving bodies in his wake. Strom's mission is to locate a guy by the name of Jerry Nichols (John Cassavetes), who used to be a racing driver under the name of Johnny North and who walked away with a million dollars after a robbery. Strom duly identifies and shoots his target, but the fact that North accepts his fate with no attempt to run leaves Strom with a burning desire to find out more.
The puzzle leads him to one Sheila Farr (Angie Dickinson); a gold-digging dame known as 'The Wrecker', who takes North's concentration away from his job, much to the concern of his business partner Earl (Claude Akins). In turn, Farr introduces sugar daddy Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan in his final screen role), who is mixed up in the million dollar heist and is out for revenge. Reagan usually played "best friend" of the leading guy in his feature films, so a nasty role like Jack Browning represented a real sea change and a chance to expand his cv. Unfortunately, Reagan didn't see it like that. He hated the role, and only took it because he was broke. It's by no means a great performance, but just about convincing enough to capture Browning's mood and motivation

Of course, Lee Marvin was used to playing guys with a mean streak, and the role of Charlie Strom has to be one of his most memorable, ably supported by Cassavetes and Dickinson: one outstanding feature of 'The Killers' is that whoever gets top dog of the situation, good will not triumph.

This Blu-ray disc from Arrow Academy is an absolute highlight of UK first quarter releases, with some fascinating supplementary material. The film is presented with two choices of aspect ratio: 1.33:1 for TV and 1.85:1 for theatrical screenings. Picture quality is outstanding, with an abundance of fine detail, robust skin tones and a fine layer of grain. Fans of this film will be delighted with this presentation.

The extras begin with 'Screen Killer: Dwayne Epstein On Lee Marvin', being a 30 minute interview with the author of 'Lee Marvin: Point Blank.'Epstein does more than enough to prompt folks to invest in his book, declaring Marvin pretty much invented the modern American Cinema Of Violence, and going on to chart his career as a marine and his bout of post traumatic stress disorder which led to alcohol-related problems. Marvin's formative acting years on the stage are also mentioned (sadly not the occasion when he left Lee Strasberg's studio with a defiant "Fuck You!"), and his ability to understand the dark side of the characters he often played. It really is a fascinating interview, and it was with a genuine sense of regret that the interview came to an end: full marks to High Rising Productions Calum Waddell and Naomi Holwill for another superlative disc extra.
The aforementioned pair are also responsible for 'Reagan Kills: Marc Elliot On Ronald Reagan', which is a 20 minute interview with the writer of 'Reagan: The Hollywood Years'. Elliot gives us the lowdown on Reagan's career as an actor and as US President, acknowledging he was not a truly gifted actor but a survivor; how he hated the role of Jack Browning and objected deeply to having to slap Angie Dickinson, and moves to his stint as President Of The United States. Reagan was anti-union and his actions including the Pakco air strike (where he fired one of my wife's cousins for hisa paart in the strike) are covered, together with his home and foreign policy. it's a fascinating interview, and leads us to a final piece: a ten minute interview with Don Siegel shot in 1984 and originally made for French TV's 'Cinema Cinema' programme. Here, Siegel talks about his work in second unit for many directors, his dislike at being known as an action director and his constant battles with producers. 'The Killers' must rank as a personal triumph, and was certainly ahead of its time.Arrow's disc is rounded off a photo gallery and comes with a 40 page booklet (which Ididn't receive)that contains text interviews, projectionist notes and 'about the transfer'. This Blu-ray disc is Region B, contains subtitles for those of us who are hard of hearing and is released on 24th February.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: Green Street 3: Never Back Down

For many people, the dark days of football violence have come to an end. Flashback to the '70s and early '80s and damn near every game was a battlefield between rival fans with 1,000 a side set-to's outside grounds and the taking of ends designated for the home support, with travelling fans infiltrating their rivals' terraces and sparking vicious fighting that often raged for the entirety of the match. Now, we have all-seater stadiums, banks of close circuit TV and police officers who will nick you for as much as sneezing. Most of the old school have long since retired, replaced by a new breed of youth firms who strive to keep things on the boil, despite long banning orders and jail sentences. Gone are the days when the penalty for fighting in the ground was being ejected and simply walking back to the turnstile and paying again to get back in. Now, we have long bans dished out for doing next to nothing and foreign firms turning up for European nights, walking previously mean streets, safe in the knowledge that the UK scene is dead, unlike 20 years ago when they simply wouldn't dare to turn up and play up.
It's been a significant sea change, and James Nunn's 'Green Street 3' takes things a step further. Danny (Scott Adkins) plays ex-leader of West Ham's 'Green Street Elite', finding himself back in London for his brother's funeral. Joey had assumed the mantle of the GSE's 'top boy', but died in a vicious fight. Now Danny is back on home turf, aimign to track down his brother's killer, with the help of his best friend Victor (Joe Ansah) who just happens to be 'Old Bill'. In order to discover the truth, Danny must got back to leading the firm, but finds that things have changed considerably during his time away. Now, there is a code of conduct whereby rival fans avoid matchday fights in and around grounds, and instead channel their aggression to underground fight clubs where each firm puts up their top 5 boys in a last man standing battle, thereby gaining points for each victory in an effort to finish top of the league. At first, Danny's men fare miserably, with a lack of belief and commitment following Joey's passing, not to mention an appalling lack of fitness in the wake of too many beers. So, Danny must train his troops to negotiate a path through fights with rival firms en route to a possible showdown with their hated rivals from Millwall, and their leader Mason (Spencer Wilding).

As you would expect, the fight scenes are brutal in the extreme, but the twist is that fists and boots are joined by martial arts combat, so at times you're thinking you walked into one of those MA actioners with bona fide trained combatants. Actually, for several cast members this is exactly the case, as Adkins, Wilding and Ansah (the latter also serving as fight trainer and choreographer) all have backgrounds in MA which paid dividends for James Nunn who takes a keen interest in the genre. Overall, there's enough to attract both football types and action buffs, and the performances on pretty much on the mark. Sure, the script does contain a good few cliches, but maybe they are hard to avoid with this sort of film.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray offers a nice sharp transfer, with Hard-Of-Hearing subtitles and just one 12 minute featurette, dealing with the making of this film. Nunn, Adkins, Wilding and Ansah are joined by Jack Doolan who plays Gilly, a comitted member of the GSE. The participants chat about how the fight scenes were set up, the level of training required for the film and their backgrounds before GS3 came along.
Green Street 3 does try to be different in certain areas and earns marks for that, but the definitive football violence film has yet to be made.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: Classe Tous Risques

Based on a novel by former Death Row inmate Jose Giovanni, 'Classe Tous Risques' follows gangland boss Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) who has spent a decade in Italy with a death sentence hanging over his head. Davos hooks up with a confederate named Raymond Naldi (Stan Krol), aiming to secure a return to France for his wife and two young sons. Desperate for money, the pair indulge in a spot of bag snatching and, with the police in hot pursuit, make their getaway by car and boat before an encounter with border officials leaves his wife and Naldi dead. Now Davos has to rely on his colleagues to get him out of the country, but finds loyalty to be an all-too rare commodity.
Enter Eric Stark(Jean-Paul Belmondo, who earlier that year made his name in 'Breathless')who is sent in an ambulance to rescue Davos. For a while, Able resents the fact that a stranger has been sent to collect him and although it's a sticking point for the rest of the film, a bond forms between the pair. Stark is played in Belmondo's effortlessly cool manner, who in between his relationship with Davos and the kids, even finds time for a relationship with actress Liliane (Sandra Milo) who is also rescued; this time after a roadside altercation with her manager.

'Classe Tous Risques' marked Claude Sautet's directorial debut and is a powerful, often moving piece and a remarkably assured debut which takes a through-a-glass-darkly look at both the ties that bind family and(dis)honour amongst thieves. Ventura is absolutely top-notch here, juggling his sons' welfare with a desire to settle scores, while being defiantly aware of his own mortality. Check out the scene where Davos instructs his eldest son to take his brother's hand and always walk ten yards behind, in case their father should be apprehended and surrounded by men. It's a supremely moving scene, in a taut, tense 108 minutes that justifies its status as one of the Finest crime dramas to come out of France.

'Classe Tous Risques' was previously unseen in the UK until the British Film Institute released it in selected cinemas in September 2013. Now, the BFI have brought this film to Blu-ray and DVD in a dual format edition.
This brand new restoration utilised the original 35mm negative for the picture, and the audio was sourced from the original 35mm interpositive. Dirt and debris were removed using the M.T.I restoration system, and the result is a beautiful monochrome picture that exhibits splendid detail and a fine layer of grain. Fans of this film should be delighted with the image and sound quality here.

The BFI have also included a 35 minute documentary, 'Monsieur Ventura'. Here, friends and colleagues are interviewed about this great actor with Charles Aznavour, Jose Giovanni, Roger Hanin, Georges Lautner, Henri Cogan and others discussing Lino's career, with Cogan revealing they once took part in a wrestling bout (the bill poster is displayed) where Lino shattered his leg, only to get his own back years later. All the participants show great respect for his screen presence and great strength of character, with Hanin declaring Lino to be a better actor than himself.
Ventura possessed a great comic talent, but ultimately opted for dramatic roles and participants here reveal he was a man who would turn down any role that didn't seem right and true for him; even at the expense of losing a sizeable pay cheque. 'Classe Tous Risques' was exactly right for him, and this collection of interviews compliments his talents with an absorbing account of his life and career.

This BFI release concludes with the original French and US trailers - the latter designed to centre on Belomondo's place in the public eye after 'Breathless' - and there's also an illustrated booklet with a newly commissioned essay from The Guardian's John Patterson.
'Classe Tous Risques' is released for home video in the UK on 24th February.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Blu-ray Review: Phantom Of The Paradise

Brian De Palma's 'Phantom Of The Paradise' opened at US cinema's on Halloween 1974, and became a box office flop. Although it performed well in Winnipeg and France, while also becoming a hit in Japan, Phantom was initially deemed an over ambitious failure. Happily, the film has steadily built an enthusiastic cult following over the years, and will be available on Blu-ray in the UK from 24th February, courtesy of Arrow Video.

Phantom is a heady combination of The Phantom Of The Opera, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and the Faust legend, with struggling singer/composer Winslow Leach (the late William Finley) striving to better his current position as back-up to The Juicy Fruits a band produced by the egotistical Swan (Paul Williams) - who plans to make his new 'Paradise' venue the ultimate rock palace. Swan hears Leach's music and believes it will be the perfect choice to open his new venue, but the pair have very different ideas regarding who will perform Leach's songs. Winslow favours aspiring singer Phoenix (the wonderful Jessica Harper), while Swan is determined to install colourful Beef (Gerrit Graham) as his artist of choice.

Swan (who De Palma modelled on Phil Spector) needs Leach out of the picture and has him framed. After serving around 90 seconds of his term, Leach escapes and returns to The Paradise where he plans his own brand of industrial sabotage. With Swan believing his rival to be dead ('Mad Tunesmith Bites Bullet'), the scene is set for a phantom to stalk the corridors and auditorium, leading to a twisted deal and a contract signed in blood, which ultimately brings about a sea change in the relationship between Leach and his diva.
With its perfect marriage of sound and vision, this cartoon with real people gains in stature with each viewing, promoting infuriatingly catchy tunes and emerging as a 24 carat cult classic with the legs to consistently attract new viewers and keep enchanting those already under its spell.

Arrow's Blu-ray presentation is crisp and polished, with fine contrast, good detail and strong colours. Detail is also very sharp, with the Phantom's costume, the set design and exterior scenes benefiting hugely from this hi-def incarnation.
On the extras front, Arrow have included some excellent supplementary features, beginning with 'Paradise Regained'; a 50 minute documentary with contributions from key participants including De Palma, Paul Williams, William Finley, producer Ed Pressman, Gerrit Graham, Jessica Harper and DOP Larry Pizer. Here, De Palma discusses the uneasy mix of economics and art, moving onto the Psycho-esque shower scene intended as two fingers to the flak received for 'Sisters'. All participants possess good recall of their time onset; a testament to the level of enjoyment experienced on this production, and are justifiably proud of their involvement in a legend that continues to grow.
'Guillermo del Toro Interviews Paul Williams' runs for 72 minutes, being two talented friends chatting about careers in film and music. Williams - composer of songs for The Carpenters and Three Dog Night amongst others - talks about his formative years, of his love for the works of Cole Porter and Gershwin and his eventual appreciation of rock and roll. We also hear about Williams' career in music which realised some timeless classics, and there's plenty of input from del Toro who is always an absolute joy to listen to. del Toro reveals he is full of admiration for Phantom, and explains how it influenced certain scenes and motifs in 'Cronos'.

Next up is 'The Swansong Fiasco'; an 11 minute feature which details how Led Zeppelin's manager (Peter Grant) threatened to block Phantom's release over it's use of the 'Swansong' moniker. Split screen is used to show unused production footage, together with the finished product which detail how shots containing the Swansong logo had to be altered by reframing or shortened and replaced with the 'Dead Bird' logo of Death Records. This is just part of the Phantom legend, and it's good to see it covered here.

A 9 minute interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton takes a look at how much was achieved on a low budget, with Rosanna explaining how her creative powers were put to the test, and states 'Phantom' remains unique amongst the many films she's worked on: interesting to note Sissy Spacek worked as a set dresser on this film.

'William Finley On The Phantom Doll' is a short (35 second), sweet pitch on what must be a sought-after collectable for fans of this film.

'Paradise Lost And Found' gives us 13 minutes of scenes from the cutting room floor, involving a split-screen account of alternate takes compared to the finished film, including the shower scene, Phoenix's audition and the rooftop scene which works much better in the finished version, though the alternate take ihas real interest value.
Trailers and a b/w on-set stills gallery end this wholly satisfying package.

Arrow's Blu-ray package delivers a first-rate presentation of this classic which heightens our appreciation and enjoyment of a film whose pulse has never been stronger.