Friday, 29 January 2016

Next Up On Wonderland

Just heard the very sad news that Jacques Rivette passed away today after suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for several years.
He'll be remembered as an extraordinary filmmaker, constantly pushing boundaries and perceptions in search of cinematic truth.
I'm currently working my way through Arrow's wonderful Jacques Rivette collection (the specs for this release appear below)and a review will appear shortly.
For now, let's pay tribute to this adventurous figure of the French New Wave and mourn his passing.

1st March 1928 - 29th January 2016 RIP

Blu-ray Spec for the collection

Limited Edition Collection [3,000 Copies]
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all films from brand new 2K restorations of the films with Out 1 supervised by cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn
Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
Optional newly-translated English subtitles for all films
The Mysteries of Paris: Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 Revisited – a brand-new feature length documentary by Robert Fischer and Wilfried Reichart containing interviews with actors Bulle Ogier, Michael Lonsdale and Hermine Karagheuz, cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn, assistant director Jean-François Stévenin and producer Stéphane Tchalgadjieff, as well as rare archival interviews with actors Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Michel Delahaye, and director Jacques Rivette
Scenes from a Parallel Life: Jacques Rivette Remembers – archive interview with the director, in which he discusses Duelle (une quarantaine), Noroît (une vengeance) and Merry-Go-Round, featuring additional statements from Bulle Ogier and Hermine Karagheuz
Brand-new interview with critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who reported from the sets of both Duelle (une quarantaine) and Noroît (une vengeance)
Exclusive perfect-bound book containing new writing on the films by Mary M. Wiles, Brad Stevens, Ginette Vincendeau and Nick Pinkerton

Sunday, 17 January 2016

DVD Review: The House On Pine Street

Partly funded by a Kickstarter campaign, "The House On Pine Street" is a joint directorial effort from Aaron and Austin Keeling, concerning a most undesirable residence in Kansas.
Luke and Jennifer (Taylor Bottles, Emily Goss) have moved from Chicago to prepare for a life-changing experience.
Jennifer is seven months pregnant, and her partner sees their new home as a perfect environment to begin to raise a child.
Jennifer, however, feels ill at ease there, right from the word go.

A house-warming party - organised by her overbearing mother Meredith (Cathy Barnett) - has much the same effect on psychic chiropractor Walter (Jim Korinke) who notes the house has "an unusual energy".
Knocks on the door with no-one in evidence; the lid of a cooker moving unattended and sundry unexplained occurrences heighten Jennifer's nervous state, though it's the presence of someone/something behind her in the shower that really ups the ante: especially when her husband walks in a moment later.
Convinced the house is haunted, Jennifer asks for Walter's help, only to be told he's never had any success in his quest for evidence of the 'other side', and wants nothing more to do with the supernatural.
Is this the truth, or has he sensed something too powerful, too malevolent, to deal with?

As the disturbing events escalate, Jennifer's fragile mental state deteriorates further, causing Luke to question her sanity. Are the fears of impending motherhood edging her towards a breakdown?
Is Luke having an affair with Meredith, with the scheming pair feeding her hallucinatory drugs in an effort to push her over the edge? Or, is the house really haunted?
Perhaps this seemingly unquiet residence has its own energy which is colliding with Jennifer's to produce projected sights and sounds, by triggering a replay of a time gone by?

The Keelings have certainly used their funds so very well here, creating a most unsettling atmosphere, with shadowy figures, disconcerting sounds and a genuine sense of dread that hangs heavy in the air.
While the film does sometimes wear its influences on its sleeve - "The Haunting", "Rosemary's Baby" and "Amityville" spring to mind - a strong identity of its own and subtle use of scare tactics should see its already solid reputation grow.
A fine central performance by Emily Goss; fluid cinematography from Juan Sebastian Baron and a suitably eerie score from Nathan Matthew David and Jeremy Lamb add much to a film that offers replay value on DVD.
"There's always an explanation" declares our luckless paranormal investigator. You'll have to wait until the bitter end to see if the Keelings offer one and it's an entertaining, gripping ride for sure.

"The House On Pine Street" will be released in the UK by Second Sight on 1st February 2016.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Review: Sylvia: Tracing Blood

Saxon Logan's thoroughly absorbing "Sylvia: Tracing Blood" tells the story of Sylvia Raphael: a woman with a secret life, comprising triple identities, who went on to become one of Mossad's most effective agents.

Saxon travelled far and wide to interview family, friends, a former lover, heads of security and one man greatly affected by the actions of the organisation she worked for. The 1972 Munich Olympics massacre led Sylvia to the town of Lillehammer in Norway, where Mossad planned to kill Ali Hassan Salameh: the man behind the Black September atrocity.

During the course of this riveting human interest story, we encounter Sylvia's brother Bunty; her widower Annaeus Schjodt; Chico Bouchikhi - renowned musician, founder of The Gypsy Kings and brother of the man mistakenly killed in Lillehammer - her former lover Sunday Times correspondent Jon Swain and other friends and associates who share their memories of her.

Through their eyes, we learn of her early years; her graduation as a teacher and subsequent move to Israel where she lived on a Kibbutz; how she assumed the identity of a Canadian photojournalist named Patricia Roxborough and her work for Mossad which involved many dangerous situations, culminating in a prison sentence for conspiracy to commit an assassination.

Sylvia's great beauty; her self control and strong character, together with her work as a highly skilled operative are all discussed, even touching on her gallows humour during the final months of her battle against Leukaemia.

The very best film making and cinema educates us and moves us, and "Sylvia: Tracing Blood" scores so very highly in both departments.

Witness the approach to her hometown as magisterial photography takes us through the unforgiving beauty of 'The Valley Of Desolation'; Bunty's visit to the old family homestead evokes an almost Checkovian element where he joyfully discovers the Aga is still there, and calls to mind the ghosts of the Family’s past. Jon Swain's arrival at the Paris apartment where he and Sylvia shared a home, with him ironically unknowing his girl-friend’s vocation.

The past re-visited, invoking happy memories, but also a great sadness as the stepping back to times gone by throws us back to the present with a gaping hole that can never be filled.

Add to this, the director's often tear-inducing voice-over narration, and you have a documentary film that leaves an indelible mark.
It's also a beautifully balanced work, allowing us to appreciate why Sylvia enchanted so many people, but never losing sight of the fact that her story regretfully includes the death of an innocent man. Praise too, for the sterling work put in by Saxon's team: Helena Grier Rautenbach's superlative score which is thoroughly deserving of a soundtrack album; Eliot Haigh's endlessly inventive photography, capturing the contrasting beauty of old world terrains and contemporary exotic locations, and Bernard Bruwer's brilliant editing which is amongst the very best I've seen in many a long day. Careers of great substance await this trio. One other notable feature of this film and its production is the director's will-do attitude, overcoming obstacles - love the way he and his crew enter a Norwegian top security prison, having previously been denied permission to do so - en route to get the whole picture.

I've been lucky enough to see the long version of this documentary film which runs for 1 hr 47m 30s, and you can be sure I'll be including further coverage on Wonderland in the future, as there's so much to take in here, a single viewing cannot even begin to do it justice.

For now, I confidently predict "Sylvia: Tracing Blood" will have a long and acclaimed life. A triumph, no less.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Blu-ray Review: What Have You Done To Solange? (Arrow Video)

There's a lot to enthuse over with regard to this 1972 giallo gem. So much so, that it's hard to know where to begin.
Let's start with the character of Herta Rosseni, played by Karin Baal.
For the first half of the film, Herta - a teacher at London's St Mary's College For Girls - comes over as a dowdy, ice-cold wife who suspects husband Enrico (Fabio Testi) is having an affair. After her suspicions are confirmed, Herta is transformed into a radiant spouse who not only stands by her man, but joins him in the search for a sadistic killer who preys on targets from St Mary's. Enrico, also a teacher at the school, was having an affair with a girl named Elizabeth (Christine Galbo) and their clandestine meeting on a boat is uncovered by Inspector Barth of Scotland Yard, played by Joachim Fuchsberger.
Barth is on the trail of a killer who is responsible for the death of a young girl, and the crime - committed on the banks of the River Thames - was witnessed by Elizabeth whose memory is somewhat hazy.
As the girl attempts to recall missing details, Enrico fights to save his marriage and his reputation while the murders continue.

The theme of incomplete memory, where the whole picture is tantalisingly out of reach, has figured in many gialli - witness the big hitters from Dario Argento - and a black-gloved killer who constructs a string of gruesome murders is front and centre here as we join up the dots en route to his/her identity.
The bloody aftermath of the slayings will doubtless remain in your memory long after the haunting, thought-provoking final frame, frozen for all time, and there's also a very disturbing scene involving the titular character (played by Camille Keaton) who eventually arrives on the screen with a tragic back story.
The film as a whole is beautifully constructed, playing with our emotions and altering perception of the main players. It's very much a film about relationships; about how people can change and how they react to extreme situations.
It's stood the test of time so very well, set to a striking score from Ennio Morricone and blessed with fluid photography by Aristide Massaccesi. Director Massimo Dallamano's 'schoolgirls in peril' giallo can now be savoured by a new generation of admirers, thanks to Arrow Video's Blu-ray presentation.

The film can be viewed with Italian or English on-screen titles and audio. Subtitles and audio can be independently configured via the setup menu.
Image quality is excellent,courtesy of a brand new 2K resoration of the film from the priginal negative.
The commentary track on the impressive list of extras may well be your first port of call.
This is another informative and entertaining outing for the winning team of Alan Jones and Kim Newman who hold forth on the cast, locations, production history and themes contained in the film.
We hear about Dallamano's skewed visions of London; the composition of the widescreen photography; Robertson's Jam; symbolic art direction; Edgar Wallace titles; the rather odd ending and the idea of a giallo walking tour of London!
Always a real pleasure to listen to this pair.

"What Have You Done To Decency?"
A 13m 38s interview with Karin Baal, which took place in Berlin in October 2015.
Karin discusses her love scene with Testi; Camille Keaton's bad experience during filming and her own opinions and verdict on the film as a whole. You may be surprised by some of the things Karin has to say.

"First Action Hero" (21m 17s)
Filmed in Rome in 2006, this is a fascinating interview with Fabio Testi, who discusses his 8 years as a stuntman and his subsequent elevation into the world of straight acting. He talks about Enzo Castellari, Lucio Fulci and Dallamano, who he remembers as a highly skilled director who ran a well organised shoot.
Testi also talks about his varied roles, explaining he liked to mix things up to avoid being pigeon-holed.

"Old School Producer" (11m 2s)
Also filmed in Rome in 2006, this is an interview with Fulvio Lucisano who talks about Massaccesi's photography and Dallamno's career.

"Innocence Lost" (29m)
Another informative video essay from Michael Mackenzie, who uses video clips from Solange and its two semi-sequels, together with footage from "Don't Torture A Duckling" and "Who Saw Her Die?".
He discusses child gialli and observes the themes presented in the aforementioned films.
Sterling work from a true expert in the field.

The disc is rounded off with a 3m 5s trailer, and the extras conclude with a booklet which contains an article on the giallo scores of Morricone by Howard Hughes; a Cammile Keaton career retrospective by Art Ettinger and original archive stills and posters.
Arrow's disc is regions A/B and comes highly recommended.