Sunday, 27 December 2015

My Top 10 Discs of 2015

Thanks to a flu bug that ran from mid-December to late-January, my top 10 for 2014 did not materialise. However, I'm able to select my choices this time round from what has been another great year for Home Video releases. As you'll see, 11 titles have made it into my list, and I'll also mention a few that just missed out. All of my choices are UK discs. We have some of the best boutique labels in the world, and I don't plan on going multi-region any time soon because there's more than enough going on here to keep me occupied.

"Ghost Story" (Second Sight)

The time has come to tell the tale for a new generation. There's some things I don't much care for in this film, but the Blu-ray presentation along with some nifty special features - have compelled me to look with better eyes than I did many years ago.
You can read my review HERE

Tokyo Tribe" (Masters Of Cinema)

Batshit crazy futuristic romp set in Tokyo, with a rapping cast and some gorgeous neon-drenched sets make this a thoroughly entertaining 116 minutes.

"Videodrome" (Arrow Video)

Cronenberg's classic looking in particular fine fettle, with a stimulating array of extras.
You can read my review HERE

"Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cats" (Arrow Video)

A wonderful double-header that repays the asking price for this set some several times over. Good to be able to re-appraise Fulci's film, while Martino's gem comes over more deliriously entertaining than ever. You can read my review

"Rabid" (Arrow Video)

I was lucky enough to see many Cronenberg films on the big screen, and this was one of them. Good to see this premium presentation many years later, with a bounty of special features.
You can read my review HERE

"Seconds" (Masters Of Cinema)

Frankenheimer's creepy SF still seems ahead of its time and looks gorgeous here, courtesy of this Masters Of Cinema disc. A cautionary tale of how your wildest dreams can mutate into something terrifying, with a fine performance from Rock Hudson.

Vivre Sa Vie (BFI)

An absolute treasure trove for Godard buffs, featuring a beautiful presentation of his film, and an array of informative and entertaining supplementary features.
You can read my review HERE

"Rude Boy" (Fabulous Films)

Essential viewings for all fans of The Clash, and for those who wondered what it was really like during those times.
This really does capture the filth and the fury of golden musical years, with some top-notch live performances and valuable supplementary features. I was lucky enough to see The Clash play live on many occasions, and you can read one of my accounts HERE Better still, buy this disc and live/re-live the magic.

"Eyes Without A Face" (BFI)

A long wait for this BFI release and worth every single minute Georges Franju's highly influential poetic and horrifying film is joined by some terrific supplements: there's a stimulating feature-length commentary track from Tim Lucas - in my opinion, the best in the business - and do look out for the short film "La Premiere nuit", where a young boy spends a night in the Paris Metro. You can read my review HERE

So, we get to the Number One spot. I was unable to split these films and don't really want to. One of them is a firm favourite of mine. The other is a discovery that pulled me in from the word go

"Blood And Black Lace" (Arrow Video)

For the quality of the film which cements its status as an influential classic; for the sumptuous, mind-blowing transfer and the generous array of excellent supplementals, this deserves a place on your self.
You can read my review HERE

"The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne" (Arrow Academy)

Savage, subversive, poetic in the extreme, this imaginative film has a fitting home at long last. The transfer is gorgeous; the extras entirely rewarding (Michael Brooke's video essay is, for me, the year's best) and Daniel Bird and Michael deserve our eternal gratitude for all the hard work that went into this release.
You can read my review HERE

So, a great year for Home Video. There were many titles that eluded me: Rossellini's "War Trilogy"; "Hard To Be A God" to name but two, and a few that could so easily have been included in my top 10 such as "Thief" and Kelly Reichardt's brilliant "Night Moves" from the fab folks at Soda Pictures. I look forward to seeing what 2016 has in store.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Blu-ray Review: Ghost Story (Second Sight)

Peter Straub's "Ghost Story" novel came out in 1979 and, for me, remains one of the finest tales of the supernatural ever written. Straub's book, rich in characterisation and unearthly chills, centres on a group, of old men who meet up under the banner of 'The Chowder Society' and take it in turns to tell ghost stories.
It's an enthralling read, and presented a considerable challenge with regard to making a successful translation to a feature film.
Director John Irvin took on that challenge, employing a wholly distinguished cast; a legendary director of photography; top-notch makeup and fx men and Lawrence D. Cohen whose script was a significant task in itself.

In the film, Fred Astaire takes the role of lawyer Ricky Hawthorne; Melvyn Douglas plays Dr. John Jaffrey, and Dogulas Fairbanks jr and John Houseman were cast as Edward Wanderley and Sears James; the latter being Ricky's business partner.
This quartet of old men gather at Sears' house and, armed with brandy and cigars, talk of things that no mortal man should hear, let alone experience.
It's a perfect setting for the cold winter that the town of Milburn is experiencing, with tales delivered by solemn voices for an ever fearful audience.
The men have all been suffering from nightmares, which link to a fateful event some 50 years earlier concerning a woman whose influence has grown stronger down the years. Alma Mobley/Eva Galli - brilliantly portrayed by Alice Krige -
was a shape-shifter in Straub's novel. Here, she's still the ultimate femme fatale, returning to exact the ultimate revenge for meeting a watery grave and serves as a major part of the film's theme of men's fear of women.
Milly (Jacqueline Brookes), Jaffrey's housekeeper, and Stella (Patricia Neal), Ricky's wife, are strong characters here, and Craig Wasson takes the roles of the Wanderley twins who fell under Mobley's spell. Amongst the absentees from the film version are the characters of Lewis Benedict and Peter Barnes, while Fenny and Gregory Bate are thrown into the mix in such a fashion that one may be forced to conclude they should have stayed on the printed page.

To get the most from this film, one must attempt to separate it from the book: not an easy job but one that pays dividends. Hardened Straub supporters will inevitably point to aspects of the production that aren't to their liking, but there's also much to enthuse over.
The town of Milburn is a winning celluloid creation, switching between postcard-like snow-scapes - you'll actually feel the biting cold - and driving rain with the wintry elements a part of the 'fine weather' we demand for such fare.
Jack Cardiff's magisterial photography beautifully reproduces the books' essence, while Dick Smith's makeup and Albert Whitlock's matte magic are indeed the stuff of nightmares and great beauty.
The performances are mostly excellent, too, with the four-man Chowder Society sensitively portrayed by a quartet of actors who would all be making their final film here. Patricia Neal - who would go on to make one more film after this- joins this treasure trove of ability and experience to emerge as a character who deserved more screen time but who made the best of what she was given.The real revelation here has to be Alice Krige, who is positively chilling to watch. Dick Smith certainly created some grisly makeup to transform her visage into pure evil, but she's at her most unnerving in her natural state, with looks, expressions and gestures that make it all too easy to believe she's not of this world.

Until Second Sight's Blu-ray came along, it had been many years since I'd viewed Irvin's film. At the time, I'd just re-read the novel and didn't much care for the filmed version. Now, with age, I still regret some of its shortcomings, but better appreciate its accomplishments. The things it does so very well. The time has come to tell the tale to a new generation, and perhaps to enhance its reputation amongst older viewers.

Second Sight's Blu-ray presentation is satisfying on practically all levels. An excellent encode, vivid detail, strong flesh tones and a fine showcase for Jack Cardiff's talents: his lighting of Alice Krige added so much to proceedings.
The supplementary material begins with a John Irvin commentary track.
John talks about his debut feature "Dogs Of War" and goes on to explain that "Ghost Story" was his second feature and one where he aimed for a European feel. He talks about the challenges of working with ageing cast members: Douglas, wo died four months after filming, worked in extreme pain, while Pat Neal was recovering from a stroke.
He also holds forth on Alice Krige, who impressed him with her "spiritual qualities"; reveals why Phillippe Sarde was an unpopular choice as composer with studio execs; is honest enough to admit that some scenes in the film could have been done better and recalls how Craig Wasson lost his character in a particular scene. This was John's first viewing of his film in almost three decades, and he clearly enjoys recalling a happy experience, even finding time to recall his own brush with the supernatural.

Ghost Story Genesis With Peter Straub (39m 42s)
An absorbing interview with the author who talks about the creative process and how he gains inspiration for his work.
He remembers how "Ghost Story" changed his life, in between reading extracts from his book.
"Koko", "Shadowlands" and "Floating Dragon" are also discussed, along with the music of Dave Brubeck, and Jack Cardiff also receives praise.

Alice Krige: Being Alma Mobley and Eva Galli (28m 52s)
An absolute delight as Alice explains why she decided to go into acting; her take on the Mobley/Galli character; the joy of working with such a generous cast and her thoughts on her nude scenes. She also records her pleasure concerning the re-issue of this film, remarking that it's "wonderful a film with merit is not lost."

Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen and Producer Burt Weissbourd (29m 29s)
Burt explains how he got into working with writers and why he elected to turn his back on producing.
Lawrence talks about his "Carrie" screenplay; discusses the tough decisions that had to be made with regard to revising his screenplay (the film was edging towards a 3 or 4 hour number)and recalls his relationships with directors.

The Visual Effects Of Albert Whitlock: a Discussion With Matte Photographer Bill Taylor (28m 51s)
Bill relates how he and Albert first met; talks about the matte printing process and refers to Albert as a "fountain of ingenuity."
He also touches on that wonderful shot of Alice Krige in front of a speeding car and explains how it was engineered.
A 31s TV spot and a 1m radio spot are followed by a moving photo gallery running for 8m 43s, which includes theatrical posters and colour and monochrome stills.
The package is rounded off by a 2m 6s trailer which does a fine job of selling the film.

Second Sight's Blu-ray and DVD are released in the UK on 7th December. The Blu is already one of my favourite releases of 2015. If you've seen this film before, this is an excellent vehicle to increase appreciation. If you haven't, I'd say you're in for quite a ride!

I have a copy of the Blu-ray up for grabs. Still a few more days to run so check out this competition to be found elsewhere on this blog. Terms and conditions state UK entrants only.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Competition: Win A Copy Of The Ghost Story Blu-ray From Second Sight

Second Sight will release John Irvin's "Ghost Story" on Blu-ray and DVD on 7th December.

Thanks to the fab folks at Aim Publicity, I have a copy of the Blu-ray to give away.
The disc includes a director's commentary track and interviews with Alice Krige and Peter Straub amongst the extras.

Just email your name to: and mark the subject 'Ghost Story Comp'
I'll select one lucky winner. Closing date for your entry is 11.59pm 10th December. I will contact the winner and arrange for the prize to be mailed.

Terms and conditions of the competition state UK ENTRANTS ONLY!
Good luck. I'll have a review of the disc up shortly.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Blu-ray Review: Thieves' Highway

Hazardous long-haul trucking; the shady, double-dealing world of produce supply and distribution; rage, revenge and romance.... they're all to be found in AI Bezzerides' screenplay which was based on his own "Thieves' Market" novel.
Directed by Jules Dassin, "Thieves' Highway" terlls the story of Nick Garcos (Richard Conte); a ships mechanic who returns home bearing gifts for his parents and the girl he hopes to marry. In a highly emotional scene, Nick discovers his father is wheelchair-bound, having fallen foul of duplicitous produce dealer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb).
Soon, Nick is on the road, leaving girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) behind, with Figlia firmly in his sights.
A new partnership with trucker Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) sees nick bound for San Francisco - a 400 mile journey without sleep - transporting a coveted early crop of golden delicious apples.
War veteran Garcos comes over as a decent man, driven to exact revenge for his father's condition and prepared to do whatever it takes in the process, which also involves falling for a wily female.
Valentina Cortesa's Rica is another well-drawn character in a film brimming with them, bringing a continental feel to proceedings.

It's certainly an absorbing journey; mean and moody with shocking violence and lifts the lid on a business not commonly associated with heavy-handed tactics to a surprising degree.
There's real pleasure to be drawn from watching the plot unfold in a shadowy world where loyalty and disloyalty are separated by a wafer-thin line and if none of the characters emerge with any real credit, maybe that's part of the appeal of "Thieves' Highway".

The Blu-ray presentation from Arrow Academy looks terrific,from a new 4K digital restoration from Twentieth Century Fox. The film looks crisp, with real depth and there's a fine level of grain beautifully preserved.
An enthralling documentary is first amongst the supplementary material.
"The Long Haul Of A.I. Bezzerides" (55m 42s) was shot in 2001, and provides an intimate portrait of 'Bezz' with contributions from the man himself, Jules Dassin, Mickey Spillane, Barry Gifford and George P. Pelecanos.
Gifford recalls Bezz was haunted by the flaws of common people, and this is certainly highlighted in "Thieves' Highway". Bezz talks about his work ethic; what made him want to become a writer; penning screenplays for Warner Bros; his opinion on the art of directing and his thoughts on Spillane's "Kiss Me Deadly" novel: Spillane returns the 'favour' elsewhere in this documentary. Clips from "Juke Girl", "On Dangerous Ground" and "Thieves' Highway" are included, but it's Bezzerides himself who gives this peice its heart and soul, talking with passion about his work and movingly, about the loves of his life. A very special guy.

"The Fruits Of Labour" (33m 39s)
This is a new video essay about production, reception and politics from Frank Krutnik, author of "In a Lonely Street".
Frank looks at the theme of the exploitation of labour; talks about the similar backgrounds of Bezzerides and Dassin; title changes; script revision, casting and labels "Thieves' Highway" a 'film gris'.
The 1949 opening in LA and audience and critical reaction are also covered in an essay that really does increase appreciation of this film.

"Commentaries By Frank Krutnik" takes 3 scenes from the film, and offers real insight with regard to mood and motivation.
"The Homecoming" (12m 19s) looks at nature and culture; the central theme of cash in a money-obsessed world and the fate of Nick's father in the novel.

"Delicious Golden" (7m 48s)
Frank highlights the labour behind the produce, the numbers behind the cash and Nick's desire to stop hard working men being cheated. Here, monetary value over nutritional value is what drives the likes of Figlia and his battle with a decent man is part of an age-old duel between right and wrong.

"Rica" (10m 46s)
Frank notes how Rica changes the films' direction; her interaction with Nick and how "Thieves' Highway" launched her career in the US.

A stills gallery comprising 43 photos can be accessed, including several fetching shots of Barbara Lawrence, and there's a theatrical trailer (2m 6s) which begins with the line "Your high road to an explosive human experience".
Arrow have included an excellent collectors booklet which features new writing on the film by Alastair Phillips (co-author of 100 Film Noirs).

A must buy if you're following Arrow's marvellous Jules Dassin collection and if you're not, this is a great place to start.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Blu-ray Review: Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cats (Arrow Video)

Lucio Fulci's 1981 feature "The Black Cat" was sandwiched in the middle of "City Of The Living Dead" and "The Beyond": a rather dull interlude between two cult classics or an underrated gem deserving of some long overdue love?
Loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's story, "The Black Cat" opens with a fiendish feline apparently inducing the driver of a car to let go of the steering wheel and crash.
The setting is a sleepy English village where the local population experiences a decline in mortality rates, with the titular creature involved in a series of grisly deaths and violent attacks.
A young couple suffocate in a remote boathouse after being locked in; a man falls to his death, impaled on a spike and a Scotland Yard hotshot (David Warbeck) - sent to investigate the disappearance of the aforementioned lovers - is viciously clawed by the four-legged demon.
While there isn't the level of gore found in Fulci's splatter classics, "The Black Cat" is still a bloody affair, and Sergio Salvati's prowling camera records some eerie, atmospheric scenes: check out Patrick Magee's deranged Professor Robert Miles,who roves through a mist-shrouded graveyard, microphone held up against tombstones, hoping to communicate with the dead. It's a great idea - unfortunately not expanded on - and remains one of this film's most stimulating moments.
A real shame, then, that Biagio Poietti's script misses the opportunity to deliver a truly arresting supernatural tale that advances on some interesting ideas. For all that, "The Black Cat" boasts several compelling set-pieces, played out by a solid cast that includes Mimsy Farmer as an American tourist charged with photographing dead bodies; Dagmar Lassander as the mother of the missing girl (played by Daniela Doria) and Al Cliver filling the role of a police sergeant. There's also a terrific Pino Donaggio score to savour.

"The Black Cat" is presented with English and also Italian on-screen titles and audio and subtitles can be independently configured via the set-up menu.
Image quality is very strong, banishing memories of previous Home Video incarnations, with strong colours and vivid detail.
You may decide to commence the impressive selection of extras by listening to Fangoria's Chris Alexander who takes the microphone for a commentary track. Chris is a huge Fulci admirer and makes a strong case for a re-evaluation of this film, while admitting it's far from being the maestro's finest work. He talks about David Warbeck's career; Magee's performance; other adaptations of Poe's story; the things that give Fulci's films their soul and proclaims Mimsy Farmer to be "a bit of a limp handshake as a female lead." An enjoyable, if at times controversial chat.

Next up is Stephen Thrower's video essay "Poe Into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness". (25m 37s)
Here, the author of a fabulous book on Fulci looks at Poe's story; explains the bouncing bed scene was not Fulci's idea; highlights a previous pan-and-scan video release and gives us the lowdown on the absence of a Fulci cameo.
Perhaps, most importantly of all, Stephen presents a compelling case that "The Black Cat's" time is now, believing that many Fulci devotees overlooked this film in the midst of what was a golden age for the director. Stephen's analysis spells out that "The Black Cat" was cut from the same cloth as his more successful films and viewing the film again, it's hard to disagree.

"In The Paw-Prints Of The Black Cat" (8m 28s)
Stephen Thrower returns to take us on a guided tour of some of the locations used. The village of Hambledon UK was used for the shoot, and it's interesting to watch Stephen literally following in the footsteps of some of the cast, and visiting the famous Hellfire Club which was used for the macabre crypt scenes.
This documentary was made on the 34th anniversary of the day shooting commenced on Fulci's film.

"Frightened Dagmar"
This is a 20m 12s video interview with the wonderful Dagamar Lassander, who talks about her debut feature; explains how Artur Brauner offered her two further roles; shares memories of Mario Bava, Ricardo Freda and Laura Betti; chats about nudity in films, then and now, and explains why she gave up acting.
This is a prime example of the value of physical media against the soulless streaming process, devoid of added value.

"At Home With David Warbeck" (1 hr 10m 20s)
A priceless video interview, shot at David's home in Highgate and conducted by Stephen Thrower in 1995. David had so many stories to relate, ranging from working with Catriona MacColl - "a golden girl" - to Anthony Quinn and, of course, Lucio Fulci who possessed " a wicked sense of humour."
We hear about David's approach to acting; his thoughts on real-life horror vs fantasy filmmaking and also censorship.
David, who passed away in 1997, is still sadly missed, not just by those he worked with in the industry but also on the fan circuit where he was always a courteous and enthusiastic participant.
The extras are rounded off with a 3m 1s theatrical trailer and you'll have heard Stephen discussing one of the clips elsewhere on this disc.

Disc 2 of this special edition moves from a film in search of reappraisal to one that has never had any trouble finding an appreciative audience: Sergio Martino's "Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key"

Mario Bava and Dario Argento are two names that invariably crop up when Giallo's are discussed: the former blazing a trail with "The Girl Who Knew Too Much", while Argento weighed in with "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage", lighting the fuse for a host of directors to follow.
Sergio Martino is another important director when it comes to those mutli-layered, utterly compelling thrillers and "Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key" is right up there with his very best work.
The film's title is taken from a letter seen in Martino's "The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh", and once again, a black cat is in residence, this time bearing the name of 'Satan.'
The Villa Rouvigny, in a peaceful Veneto town, is the setting for this sexually subversive tale of lust, deception and murder with married couple Oliverio and Irene (Luigi Pistilli, Anita Strindberg) right in the centre of a bloody, tangled web.
Oliverio, a washed-up, drunken ex-writer who hasn't been able to write a sentence in years, is given to entertaining a local hippie group with decadent parties, while mourning the loss of his mother. The deceased Countess casts a long shadow over proceedings in what could be termed a battle between the living and the dead, while Irene is forced to act as an accomplice to murder.
The two leads are particularly impressive: Pistilli immersing himself in the lurid atmosphere, while Strindberg's cold-eyed beauty drags her complex character from one shock to another in a film with no likeable characters.
Edwige Feneche - taking the role of Oliverio's niece - enters this circle of sex and deceit, bedding both husband and wife, portraying a truly wicked woman for the first time in her career.
She plays her hosts off against each other beautifully, even finding time to speculate it's entirely likely that Oliverio may well have slept with his mother.
It's plausible that, in this disquieting place where anything can happen, the Countess' beloved Satan is possessed by his former owner: just another pattern on an already rich tapestry of stylish murders and plot twists.
A true classic of the genre, and fully deserving of the reverential treatment it receives here.

As with "The Black Cat", "Your Vice" benefits from a 2K scan and looks very crisp, with strong colours and an abundance of fine detail.
The extras begin with 'Through The Keyhole: An Interview With Sergio Matino.' (34m 42s)
Here, the director explains Edgar Allan Poe was a big influence on his film; that the 1950s 'Feneroli crime' also inspired this film; speaks very well of Pistilli, expressing sadness that he didn't live a happier life and chats about Strindberg, Feneche, critical reaction to his films and declares he's a stern critic of his own work.

'Unveiling The Vice' (23m 7s)
Shot in 2005, this is a making-off retrospective feature, containing interviews with Martino, Feneche and Ernesto Gastaldi.
The director states "Torso" is his best film, while feeling "Your Vice" has greater depth. Gastaldi talks about the challenges faced by writers and directors; remembers Pistilli "He didn't need to act. Filming him was enough", and Feneche also talks about her leading man and of the film that marked a career progression for her.

'Dolls Of Flesh And Blood' (29m 4s)
A video essay from the splendid Michael Mackenzie, which uses split-screen and his own brilliant analysis to explore Martino's five gialli from a golden period.
Michael returns to the M gialli and F gialli he promoted in an essay on Arrow's "Blood And Black Lace" Blu-ray; recalls how "Torso" turned the genre on its head, and talks about Fenech, George Hilton, the theme of multiple killers and observes that Fenech unlocked her true potential in "Vice".
An essay to savour more than once, and the same can be said for Justin Harries' contribution.
'The Strange Vice Of Ms Fenech' (29m 42s)
Justin follows Edwige's career in this absorbing essay, looking at the influence of the Martino brothers on her life and career.
Justin looks at the different phases and roles, including sex comedies; the characters her Italian audience strongly identified with, and her television career.
It's a hugely informative piece, and is followed by 'Eli Roth On Your Vice' (9m 17s)
Eli crams a lot into his slot, talking about the giallo genre; explaining why Martino's films work so well and acknowledges Sergio's influence on "Hostel 2", which features a cameo from Fenech.
It's a nice way to end this two-disc set, which offers real value for money.

There's also an 80-page booklet in this limited edition (3000 copies) release, which includes new articles on the film, Fulci's final interview and a reprint of Poe's original story.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Art Decades Magazine: A Terrific Triple Bill

Since I wrote about the debut issue of Art Decades magazine, Jeremy and his team have gone from strength to strength, with a further 3 issues to enjoy.
Disclosure: editor Jeremy Richey - an extraordinary writer and also editor of this fine magazine - was kind enough to ask me to contribute. In all honesty, my contributions pale into insignificance compared to the other writers who have made this magazine essential reading. So, no mention of my own specific work here. Instead, let's highlight what the team has been covering.
There's a great piece in issue 2 by Tara Hanks on Pauline Boty - who was "one of Britain's most vital young artists". Pauline passed away in 1966 but lives on through her work and the recognition she gets in articles such as this.

Fans of The Ravonettes will certainly be delighted by an interview with the band conducted by Jeremy and his wife Kelley. It's a beefy 6 page affair, which is followed by Kelley's take on what the band means to her. Jeremy's album by album look at the band is another gem, and the same can be said of Erich Kuersten's look at the career of Lou Reed: this episode looking at the 70s. There's also a Mary Woronov interview, conducted by Dave Stewart; video essayist Nelson Carvajal in conversation with Marcelline Block; a Daniele Santaguliana interview conducted by Salem Kapaski and JD Lafrance's look at "The Snarkout Boys and The Avocado Of Death" novel.Also, you'll surely love some terrific photography. I believe every photograph has a soul, and the artists here - including the talented Whitley Brandenberg - capture the soul on every shot.

You can purchase issue 2 by clicking HERE

Issue 3 continues Jeremy's theme of a magazine "driven by strong female voices" and includes a great interview with one of his heroes, Maria McKee. The wonderful Viv Albertine talks about The Slits, her fabulous album "The Vermillion Border" and her life during and after Punk in Dave Stewarts' interview.Part 3 of Erich's Lou Reed retro; Heather Drain's great piece on "The Devils"; Claudia Siefen's stimulating look at Masao Adachi; an article on the bruised beauty of Lana Del Ray from Tara Hanks; Michelle Alexander's article on Mike Patton; more sterling work from Jeremy on Maria McKee; Bryce Wilson on the cinema of George A Romero; Kelley's interview with Laura Sfez, and an Eric Bell interview from Silver Ferox.
The standard of writing and creativity are of the highest order, with a ton of recommendations on artists you may not have previously encountered, and fresh interpretations of old favourites.

Pure gold.You can order your copy by clicking HERE

Issue 4 includes Jeremy's interview with editor, video-essayist and writer Serena Bramble, and interviews with Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi. This is part of a fantastic tribute to the band Lush, which also features an album by album article from Jeremy. There's an artists profile on the talented Kimbre Woods; Tanner Tafelski's look at Taylor Mead; Ric Menello on Claude Chabrol by Aaron Graham; Indie filmmaker Brandon Colvin interviewed by Marcelline Block; more Lou Reed and some more classic photography with images and gorgeous actresses forming a story in your mind.

You can purchase issue 4 by clicking HERE

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

DVD Review:The Green Man BBC TV Series Albert Finney ( Simply Media)

Based on the 1969 novel by Kingsley Amis, this television mini series was aired by BBC2 on 28th October 1990. Just im time for Halloween.
Maurice Allington (Albert Finney) is the 53 year old proprietor of The Green Man; a guest house set in the picturesque county of Cambridgeshire. Allington turns out to be a serial seducer with a taste for wooing female guests, paying little attention to his second wife Joyce, played by the smouldering Linda Marlowe.
Reviews in good food guides reveal The Green Man has a resident ghost; a tale that Allington exploits to widen his customer base and enthral guests with ghostly stories, neatly upping their alcohol intake and overall spend.
Allington - who does not believe in an after life - is clearly making it up as he goes along, and puts his sighting of a mysterious red haired lady on the stairs down to a mixture of hallucinations and his almost permanently drunken state.
When his father (Michael Hordern) dies of a stroke at the dinner table, it's clear cause of death was instigated by a vision of something very frightening that is linked to the tale of a 17th century cleric named Underhill.
Dr. Underhill (Michael Culver) dabbled in the occult, with the murder of his wife and an appalling sexual preference for very young girls following him to the grave and beyond.
Now Underhill has returned, promising Allington that "I will show you the shape of you."

"The Green Man" is really a triumvirate: part morality tale, sexual farce and very scary story with some achingly funny moments, bedroom and outdoors high jinx, and spine chilling scenes that sometimes recall the fiction of M.R. James and the nightmarish tree attack from "The Evil Dead."
Allington - beautifully played by Finney when he was 54 and close to his character's age - is a loveable rogue at times, gaining the support of a trio who number his daughter-in-law Lucy (Josie Lawrence); Diana (Sarah Berger), his latest sexual conquest and the local vicar Sonnenschein (Nickolas Grace) who is required to get into exorcist character as Underhill tightens his grip.
It's certainly a busy, lively little number, including a proposed threesome between Maurice, Joyce and Diana; a trip to a fictitious Cambridge college for some Jamesian research on the depraved Doctor; an enormously unsettling grave robbing scene and a personal appearance from God.
The special effects are excellent, combining gore with subtle, memorably spooky imagery, driven by Tim Souster's score and the performances are straight down the line delightful.
There's also a healthy split of opinion on the subject of life after death. Allington's first wife was kncoked down by a car, and it's fascinating to watch his initial scepticism eventually disappear as he relaises his own physical and mental problems are but the tip of the iceberg.

"The Green Man" was honoured at the 1991 Bafta awards, with Tim Souster winning for Best Original Television Music, and Finney received a nomination for Best Actor: small wonder that director Elijah Moshinsky didn't receive a nod for his considerable skills behind the camera.
This TV series comprises of three epsiodes, each running around the 49 minute mark, and has extended its popularity to other countries including the United States.
It's good to see this entertaining series resurrected on DVD by Simply Media.
Image quality is first-rate and the dialogue and soundtrack crystal clear.
Each episode has been given 6 chapter stops, and an English subtitle option is also provided.
A superior slice of television, guaranteed to give you goose bumps during those long Winter evenings.
Oh, do watch out for cameos from Clement Freud and Bernard Levin!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Blu-ray Review: Night And The City (BFI)

Meet Harry Fabian. Truth to tell, he's probably not the type of person you'd wish to encounter but it wasn't always like that.
Witness the scene where long suffering partner Mary (Gene Tierney) picks up a photograph of the pair and declares "Look at the people we used to be."Somewhere along the line, Fabian - played by Richard Widmark - was a decent man until his desire to be someone well and truly took root. Now, Harry is a hustler chasing the big bucks via a series of moneymaking schemes that end in tears, invariably leaving his partner holding the dirty end of the stick.
£100, £400 or a crisp £5 note... to Harry, it's just stake money on a game that can't go wrong but always does.
He inhabits a shadowy world where forgers, hookers and spivs peddle their wares, with enough mug punters and desperate clients to keep the wheels turning nicely. Harry's latest venture involves the chance to run London's wrestling circuit, after an encounter with old-time legend Gregorius ( Stanislaus Zbyszko) whose son Kristo (Herbert Lom) can see through Harry immediately. Thus, father is turned against son while Harry's endeavours to secure finance for a clash of wrestling titans may well make him the someone he craves to be.
Harry gets one half of the backing from Philips Nosseross (Francis L. Sullivan); owner of The Silver Fox club, whose wife Helen (Googie Withers)sees a way out of their marriage, aiming for a life of "ease and plenty" as Fabian is so fond of saying. This ill-fated alliance leaves battle-scarred victims in its wake, with scarely a likeable character on view. Even bumbling gourmet Adam Dunn (Hugh Marlowe) sets the hackles rising, just waiting for Fabian to trip up for the final time so he can win Mary's affections. In the end, it's only Gregorius that wins any sympathy, really tugging at our heartstrings when he asks for a window to be closed in a highly emotional scene.
For all that, it's a pleasure to watch the cast at work: Withers as the deliciously self-centred Helen; Sullivan having a ball with big Phil's scheming character and Widmark's take on Fabian who ultimately discovers that London is a very small place when you're on the run.

DOP Max Greene constructed a marvellous monochrome world here, with low camera angles, shadows on walls and ceilngs and famous London landmarks acting as a backdrop to enthralling doses of backstabbing and nefarious dealing in 1940s London.
Quite possibly director Jules Dasson's finest, and a film noir par excellence.

Green's cinematography certainly looks even more impressive on the BFI Blu-ray which unveils the American version of this film from a 4K scan. The films looks gorgeous here, with excellent contrast and detail, while the British version benefits from a 2K scan. There are several differences between the two cuts: the English version initially gives us a glimpse of two people reminded even more strongly of how things were before Harry's hare-brained ideas held sway and there's a different take on the scene where Helen Nosseross makes a startling discovery.
The two versions have different scores: Franz Waxman on the American version and Benjamin Frankel on the British cut which also features narration from Dassin.

The extras begin with two commentary tracks. The American cut sees Paul Duncan - writer and editor of film noir books - take the microphone. Paul talks about Gerald Kersh's novel; script revision; various stars who were approached to appear in the film; the challenges posed by shooting at busy London locations and MPAA directives regarding some of the scenes. The English version offers a commentary track from film scholar Adrian Martin who highlights the differences between the two cuts and the cosmopolitan aspects of the film. Adrian also discusses the novel; identifies locations used in the film and makes comparisons with both Orson Welles and "Force Of Evil".
Two excellent tracks that will heighten your appreciation of just what was accomplished here.

Next up is The Guardian Lecture: Jules Dassin Interviewed By Alexander Walker. (51m 38s)
The interview plays out to a series of images from the film, and includes Dassin's recollection of how he made the transition to Hollywood - a place that had "very little mind of its own." Dassin recalls films that influenced him; discusses the blacklist and his subpoena to appear before the Unamerican Activities Committee, and also takes questions from the audience for the last 5 minutes.

Richard Widmark Interviewed By Adrian Wooton At The National Film Theatre (1 hr 12m)

Recorded in July 2002, this very special event is a joy to view. Widmark talks fondly about his radio and theatre days; his debut feature in 1947 titled "Kiss Of Death"; his approach to acting and love of the studio system and the "great experience" of working on "Night And The City". Again, the audience are invited to ask questions, which include a query about the differences between acting in monochrome and colour which brought the house down. Hugely entertaining and informative.

The BFI have included a booklet which features an essay by Lee Server; Paul Duncan's piece on the film, novel and remake, and James Hahn's article on the two versions of the film.
A highly recommended release.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: La Grande Bouffe (Arrow Academy)

Marco Ferreri's "La Grande Bouffe" caused quite a stir at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, and if you focus soely on the darker side of this film, there's certainly plenty to get your teeth into.
However, this is really a story about friendship: four professionals who are at ease in each others company.
We have Philippe (Phillipe Noiret); a judge who enjoys sexual favours from his nanny and is a complete opposite to the more playful members of the quartet: Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), an impotent airline pilot and Michel (Michel Piccoli); a TV executive who brings his own baggage to proceedings. The last member of this exclusive gentlemans club is Ugo (Ugo Tognazzi); a chef who brings an expensive set of knives to what is described as a "gastronomic seminar."
The men have decided to stay at the house of Philippe's parents, now solely occupied by their servant Hector (played by Michel Piccoli's father, Henri) and simply eat themselves to oblivion.
The men hire a trio of prostitutes to enliven the event, and Philippe's refusal to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh leaves him a prime candidate for the attentions of schoolteacher Andrea (Andrea Ferreol). When she appears with a group of children to view a lime tree that French poet Boileau used to sit under, we expect a rather staid lady who will soon depart from this den of iniquity. In fact, Andrea goes on to outperform the whores and match the men bite for bite, agreeing to become Philippe's wife and then proceed to indulge in carnal and culinary pursuits with great abandon.
When the hookers eventually bale out, it's left to Andrea to provide the entertainment, while endeavouring to become a calming influence amidst food chaos. In many ways, Ferreol is the absolute centre of this film, delivering a top-notch performance.

It has to be said the banqueting scenes are indeed grotesque: we witness oyster speed eating; beef, lamb, wild baor, guinea fowl, and pizza are shovelled down in a riot of cooking and consuming and - in one hilarious scene - the toilet even gives out, exploding in a white-flag moment that does nothing to deter the participants of this banquet from hell. This really is a tour de farce, with some great humour but possibly not for those with weak stomachs. There are, however, more sedate scenes that will haunt the memory for long after: witness dear departed friends placed upright in a cold room, watching over those still living. It's a scene that further amplifies the sense of comradeship that ties these men.
It's exquisitely performed by the stellar cast, and beautifully shot by Mario Vulpiani, whose work can be fully appreciated on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation.

This is a fine restoration, scanned in 2K, with the mono soundtrack transferred from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. Image quality is excellent, enabling us to discern fine detail and better appreciate the colour schemes and, of course, that glorious (?) food.
The supplementary features begin with "The Farcical Movie: Marco Ferreri" (27m 9s)
This episode of "Morceaux de bravoure", directed by Georges Paumrer, was originally broadcast in April 1975.
Ferreri is asked what comedy means to him; explains that while he's a Bunuel fan, he doesn't like being compared to him, and cites comedy as being a "dangerous genre". He also mentions Tod Browning's "Freaks", Tex Avery and Bunuel's "Nazarin" and there are clips from "The Ape Woman" and "L'harem" amongst others.

Behind-The-Scenes (11m 35s)
An episode of "Pour le Cinema", broadcast in April 1973. Here, the male quartet of actors talk about the amount of improvisation in the film, with Togazzi stating a script was the last thing they saw.
Noiret talks about the use of chefs from top restaurants to cook the food and Ferreri is described as a man of poetic nature.

"Colours Around A Festival" (4m 28s)
Broadcast in May 1973, just weeks after the Cannes screening, this one also benefits from the input of the actors. Piccoli states he's proud of the film, while Noiret explains the actors brought more to this production than other films they were just instruments in: the fact that the main players all used their christian name for their own role is rather apt.

Forming Ferreri (18m9s)
Italian film scholar Pasquale Iannone serves up an excellent introduction to the director, covering his early days; his move to Madrid after getting nowhere in Rome and the troubles he had with censors. We hear about some of the great performers he worked with, and of his success on the festival circuit.

Selected Scene Commentary (27m 15s)
Pasquale makes a welcome return for this featurette, which contains commentary for 5 scenes from the film, including a look at Andrea Ferreol who he notes was in her mid-twenties when this film was made. Paqual highlights Ugo's wonderful Brando impression and the careers of the four male leads, including their work for Ferreri.

Cannes Film Festival News Conference (1m 42s)
A brief snippet from Cannes, where the director defends his film with gusto.

The extras are concluded by a booklet featuring new writing on the film by Johnny Mains, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
"La Grande Bouffe" is available to buy now, and is Region A/B.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Hourglass Sanatorium (Mr Bongo)

Based on the novel by Bruno Schulz, Wojciech Has' 1973 film begins in a rundown railway carriage, presided over by a blind conductor.
Jozef (Jan Nowicki) is on the way to see his ailing father Jacob (Tadeucz Kondrat) who is spending his final days at a sanatorium. Jozef encounters what first appears to be an empty, ramshackle building and soon discovers a displacement of time that gets progressively stranger.
Jozef walks through deserted corridors; a restaurant with unfinished meals and drinks, decorated by cobwebs and enveloped by a profound sense of loss. Here, time is late explains his father's Doctor, "By an interval I can't precisely define."

This is indeed a story which "goes beyond any fantasy" as Jozef is guided through a labyrinth of decay by girls from his younger days; his mother (Irene Orska); medical staff who inform him that his 'dead' father has not yet reached the final stage and colourful figures from pre-World War II eras.
Those of you who enjoy truly challenging cinema that poses many questions with few answers are in for a treat with this one.
Suppose we have already been privy to the landscapes and people we encounter in life?
Jozef has that same feeling on his own journey, seduced and unnerved by the sights and sounds he conjures up.
The director speculates that maybe we are responsible for our own dreams and nightmares, filling the roles of director, producer and primary cast member to populate the hours of sleep with a mixture of what has happened and what may happen.
Our most fervent wishes and deepest fears team up for a bewildering journey where sense of time and space are displaced, just like Has' own vision here.
Has also draws on other elements of Schulz's work here, immediately installing the author as a name to look up for those unfamiliar with his books.
For what it's worth, my own take on this film places Jozef permanently in that railway carriage, and close to death.
Everything in the film may well be his own fever dream where his life flashes before him in a combination of re-creation, profound regret and palpable fear.
The people we meet, those who cross our paths and remain unknown, and places we visit or imagine actually exist.
A lifetime rolled up into just a few minutes. Or seconds.
Has' film certainly inspires many theories and much speculation, borne out of mood and a series of rich imagery and a haunting soundtrack.
Jerzy Maksymiuk's score acts as a guide that cuts a line through places of darkness and light, perfectly tuned to the on-screen events, while the photography and set designs are striking in the extreme.

The Blu-ray transfer captures the rich costumes and interiors with striking clarity in a world of warm candlelit vigils; beautifully detailed mannequins and landscapes dusted with pure white snow.
Mr Bongo's Blu-ray is available to buy now and is region-free. It showcases a most absorbing film, and opens up a stimulating world for fans of international cinema.
Releases such as this are so very important, and I do respectfully urge you to support them.