Sunday, 26 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: The Incredible Melting Man (Arrow Video)

First seen in the UK on a dobule-bill with 'The Savage Bees', William Sachs' 'The Incredible Melting Man' has been labelled a bad movie by many critics and consumers. Happily, this film also has its fair share of supporters, of which I am one. Every film has a story behind it regarding production or location issues, finance or cast and crew difficulties. 'The Incredible Melting Man' encountered hard-headed producers who disagreed with Sachs' vision of a comic book tongue-in-cheek affair, and instead wanted a atraight-edged, serious horror movie.

The film begins with a voyage to Saturn going terribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of two crew members and the transformation of a third into a gelatinous incarnation of his former self. Now, astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) roams Planet Earth looking like a cross between Hellraiser's Frank and one of Lucio Fulci's zombie outcasts, oozing fluid from his body and leaving a trail of corpses in his wake. The melting Man needs human cells to live on, resulting in a line of victims including authoritarian figures hot on his tail, and civilians who offer no threat. Dr Ted Nelson (Burr De Benning), General Perry (Myron Healey) and Sheriff Blake (Michael Alldredge) represent the hunters who use gieger counters to track the radioactive trail of a good man who has turned into a life-threatening force.

On the debit side, dialogue and performances leave a great deal to be desired, though some of this can be put down to the director's desire for a more comic approach which does sneak in on quite a few occasions. Despite the producers intentions, this is not a film to take seriously, but there are a couple of suspenseful scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat, plus a spectacular death on wires and the unveiling of Rainbeaux Smith's prize assets. If you're in an undemanding mood, 'The Incredible Melting Man' is an oddly compulsive watch, and a reminder that B-Movie double-bills often delivered quite a kick.

Arrow's Blu-ray disc contains a director's commentary track where William Sachs flies solo, providing cast and crew info, chronicling his disagreements with producers and highlighting footage that had nothing to do with him.It's an informative and enjoyable track, displaying real warmth for some of the participants - including effects wizard Rick Baker - and real regret that his original vision never achieved lift-off.
A 7 minute Super 8 Digest version of the film is also included on this disc. Super 8 was the first Home Video distribution format, and it's nice to experience a little bit of history as this condensed version briskly unfolds. Interviews with the director and Rick Baker follow, running for just over 19 minutes. Sachs reveals George A. Romero's 'Night Of The Living Dead' was the main inspiration for his film, while Baker explains he asked for what he thought was an outrageous amount of money for his services in the hope he'd be turned down. While he doesn't rate the performances, Baker acknowledges the film certainly has a fan base, and it's good to hear both men airing their views.
A 3 minute interview follows with Greg Cannom who filled the role of special make up effects. Greg recalls 'The Incredible Melting Man' was his first gig, and tells how he first met Rick Baker.
A 4 minute promotional gallery - which includes some nifty design work - and a theatrical trailer round off the package.

Arrow's Blu-ray presentation scores highly on image quality, looking clean and sharp, with strong colours.
Another of Arrow's excellent booklets comes with the disc,featuring Mike White's excellent 'Going Crackers' essay which talks about the film's staying power, the novelisation and the role of food in the film.
'It Came From The Super 8!' A Potted History Of The First Home Video Distribution Format is written by Douglas Weir, is an invaluable short history of the format, looking at the beginning and the end of what was cutting edge technology back in the day. The booklet is illustrated with some terrific colour and b/w stills, and add the finishing touches to an excellent package.

'The Incredible Melting Man' certainly has its shortcomings, but in many ways, they add to its charm. The Blu-ray represents plenty of bang for your buck, and will certainly add to its cult following.

Friday, 3 October 2014

DVD Review: Glengarry Glen Ross

"And to answer your question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favour. I said the real favour, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser"

And there we have the tail-end of a savage wake-up call from a character named Blake, sent in by the heads of real estate firm Mitch and Murray to give their sales force the bollocking of a lifetime. In fact, this is a bollocking royale and, as Blake, Alec Baldwin has probably never been better. Here, Blake marches out from the office of "company man" Williamson (Kevin Spacey) and delivers a shattering assault on the senses of three v-e-r-y tired men. We have Sheldon Levene (Jack Lemmon); a veteran salesman whose better days are behind him and the double act of Dave & George (Ed Harris, Alan Arkin); a pair of inveterate whiners who are destined to perform the bar sketch, mimed by Blake, in the not-too distant future. Missing in action is one Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is attempting to persuade James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) to buy some land, with his other 'office' (a nearby bar), ensuring Lingk literally enters into the spirit of things. 6 0r 7 doubles later and Roma has his man, seducing him into signing on the line that is dotted with a bewitching combination of hooch, personal anecdotes and philosophies. This really is prime time Pacino: one moment calm, laidback and persuasive, the next raging at colleagues and even the police who are called in to investigate the theft of some gold-plated leads. Pacino becomes the epitome of a smooth-talking salesman who really does have a gift, coupled with an outrageous line in bullshit. Indeed, it's clear that in another 4 or 5 years, his character will mutate into Blake with fancy cars and extreme pep talks on the horizon. On the surface, Roma seems a caring guy, praising Sheldon when he finally closes the Nyborg sit, but take a closer look at his face and you'll see he's really not interested in Levene's 'war stories'. In short, he's ultimately an unlikeable individual and the same can be said of the rest of this cast. The fact that Glengarry is totally absorbing and entertaining from start to finish with no sympathetic characters, is a tribute to director and cast who help fashion a production that gets better with each viewing. Hard-nosed Williamson; living-in-the-past Levene with a sick daughter in hospital, and who still makes me squirm with his old school mentality; Dave and George borrowing Al's megaphone to amplify their incompetence and anger at themselves. Hell, even Lingk fails to command any respect, allowing himself to be sucked in and painfully building up to a half-hearted stand-off during a hilariously bogus partnership between Sheldon and Ricky.
This really is a masterclass in acting and the script - penned by David Mamet - must have been a real joy to deliver. There are other 'characters' in this film that we never get to see: the Nyborg's whose signatures briefly put Shel back in the big time ("Put me on the Cadillac board!"), and Jerry Gross: the latter being mentioned by every member of the sales force, coming over like some bogeyman who would be only to willing to employ this motley crew of cheats, spivs and, yes, losers should they care to simply walk across the street. Foley's film really does take the lid off the precarious world of sales where, for every high flyer, there's a dozen poor souls who don't cut it. Lies, petty actions, intense rivalry and the worst kind of jealousy rule this world of pain but, for the odd few like Roma, the rewards are massive.

Independent distributor Odyssey DVD have just re-launched in the UK and returned with a release roster of cult and classic movies. The first 6 films are: 'Grey Owl''Drums Across The Mohawk', 'Electra Glide In Blue', 'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry', 'Julia' and 'Glengarry Glen Ross'. The DVD's are out now, and Glengarry offers a handsome transfer.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Blu-ray Review: Salvatore Giuliano

For my money, Francesco Rosi's 'Salvatore Giuliano' is a film rather than a documentary, but many would perhaps consider it to be a mixture of both. Whatever, it's an engrossing account of the legendary outlaw, with the real truth still tantalisingly out of reach.
Giuliano was 23 years of age when he was offered the role of Colonel by separatist group EVIS during the battle for Sicily's independence. By this age, Giuliano had already been an outlaw for two years, and had been forced to retreat to the mountains after killing a member of the cabinieri. Rosi's film begins with a shot of Giuliano's bloodstained body just before the media circus are beckoned in, and then switches back and forth in time with the actual figure of the outlaw taking a back seat for most of the running time. A trial to determine those responsible for the massacre of communists at Portella della Ginestri is impressively presided over by Salvo Randone's judge, merging with events leading up to Giuliano's death.
Rosi's film score highly in many departments, not least authenticity. with locals who actually lived through these events not only appearing in the film, but also getting involved with the script.
There's so much to take in here, as eye witness accounts conflict with the 'official version', making this an utterly compelling viewing experience. Giuliano's Robin Hood persona is but one topic open to debate with murder, kidnap and blackmail rearing their ugly heads amongst Salvatore's work for the poor, and the role of Pisciotta adds its own chapter to the story and it's quite a story!

Arrow Academy's Blu-ray (a dual format release also containing a DVD) features much to enthuse over regarding image quality and contributions from the director, academics, a relative of Giuliano and many more influential figures.
The film was restored by Cineteca di Bologna with the original camera negative scanned at 4K resolution. Digital grading was executed with particular care using a vintage copy as reference. As a result, 'Salvatore Giuilano' looks absolutely stunning, with Gianni di Venanzo's monochrome photography rich and full bodied. The level of detail here really is something to behold, with healthy skintones, nice inky blacks(check out the scenes shot during darkness) and the baking hot countryside a treat for the eyes. Reference quality, no less.

The extras begin with 'The Filmmaker And The Labyrinth'; a 55 minute documentary directed by Roberto Ando in 2002. This is a virtual treasure trove for those of us wishing to learn more about Rosi's work, covering his formative years; his association with Luchino Visconti; his approach to filmmaking and his thoughts on death which he terms "a rendering of accounts." 'Labyrinth' is punctuated by contributions from the likes of Tonino Guerra, Martin Scorsese, John Turturro and Giuseppe Tornatore, together with clips from some of the director's films, and there's an emotional return to Portella del Ginestri some 40 years on.

'Francesco Rosi On Salvatore Giuliano' comes next, being a 12 minute interview where the director talks about the reasons why the figure of Giuliano was absent for most of the film; how he directed the residents of Montalepre, and praises the work of DOP Gianni di Venanzo and Slavo Randone.

'The Sicilian Robin Hood' is a 14 minute featurette which focuses on Giuliano from the viewpoint of his nephew Giuseppe Sciortino. Giuseppe comments that his relative was a hero for the people of Sicily, comparing him to Che Guevara. He remarks that the fight to exercise the statute continues, and explains why Giuliano and his men could not have been responsible for the massacre whose victims included children. We also learn of the existence of top secret files in Rome, and why we'll have to wait until 2016 for another strand of the truth to emerge.
'Giuliano And The Mafia' runs for 10 minutes, featuring the participation of Attilio Belzoni; a writer and journalist who has written extensively on The Mafia. According to him, Salvatore was a Mafia hitman, responsible for the deaths of union leaders and policemen amongst others. It certainly livens the debate to seek out Belzoni's thoughts, and he does give his thumbs-up to the film during this interview.The 2014 extras were produced by Daniel Bird and Michael Brooke, whose expertise continues to enrich our understanding and appreciation of key works in cinema. The extras conclude with a trailer, and there's also another of Arrow's informative booklets included in this package, featuring writing on the film from Pasquale lannone, an annotated synopsis by Ben Lawton and a selection of reviews.

Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B and available to buy now. 2014 has indeed been a productive year for UK Home Video releases, and 'Salvatore Giuliano' with its superb restoration and valuable supplementary material is a serious contender for your Best Of The Year list.