Monday, 28 March 2016

Blu-ray Review: Five Dolls For An August Moon (Arrow Video)

Mario Bava's "Five Dolls For An August Moon" (1970) was deemed to be his worst film by none other than the great man himself.
I respectfully disagree with this brutally frank opinion, as Dolls is a showcase for Bava's artistry and ingenuity.
Mario became involved with the project as a 'gun for hire', replacing the original helmsman, and was immediately confronted with a script he labelled as a joke.
The screenplay was loosely based on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" and though it's the weakest aspect of the film, what it does do well is to help generate some tense scenes.
The story concerns the formula for a new type of industrial resin, pioneered by Professor Gerry Farrell (William Berger).
The inhabitants of a remote island retreat anticipate a weekend of relaxation with some hard-nosed business at the top of the agenda. The Professor's formula attracts very lucrative offers from a trio of likely lads who seek possession of this valuable information.
Farrell's wife Trudy (Ira Furstenberg); sex kitten Marie (Edwige Feneche); wife-slapping, womanising George (Teodoro Corra) and Jack (Howard Ross) are all part of a group whose chances of survival grow slimmer by the minute, amidst the greed and deception.

Following a hoax stabbing, the real slayings begin, with a series of murders committed off-camera: presumably a directorial protest against the material he was given to work with.
This one really is a dry run for "A Bay Of Blood", with a large dose of the experimental at play, amidst amazing glass matte paintings and other ingenious compositions to give your 'pause' button a real workout.
Check out the crystal balls tumbling down a staircase, straight into a bathroom that plays host to another dead body; the scenes where the recently departed hang in a freezer beside real slabs of meat; the camera setting up the cast by zooming into their eyes, only to find an emptiness that matches their very souls, and a shot involving a scarf that demands repeated views.
While Bava couldn't fix the screenplay, he could push himself to create and solve visual problems which ensured Dolls is a stimulating affair, with Piero Ulmiliani's score matching the director's vision and innovative style.
Antonio Rinaldi's cinematography - shot under the watchful eye of his director - captures and contrasts cold interior beauty with the picturesque outdoor setting, with colours that really pop in Arrow Video's strong Blu-ray presentation.

Dolls is a worthy addition to Arrow's Mario Bava Collection; middle-tier Bava at best, but fascinating nonetheless.
The film is accompanied by a Tim Lucas commentary track, which begins with the assertion that "Five Dolls For An August Moon" was misunderstood by its own director.
Tim tlaks about the use of paintings in the film; the soundtrack -"one of the greatest scores Bava ever worked with" - and he discusses the director's craftmanship. Tim also compares certain scenes to other Bava films, such as "Kill, Baby...Kill!", "Danger:Diabolik" and "Planet Of The Vampires".
Those of us pondering the identity of the original director of this film will be intrigued by Tim's theory.
Another top-notch commentary from - for my money- the best in the business.

Fans of the excellent score will be pleased by the inclusion of a music and effects track, and there's also a documentary to savour.
While seasoned Bava buffs will undoubtedly have already seen "Mario Bava: Maestro Of The Macabre", it's easily worth repeat viewings, and newcomers will find it essential.
Here, we get input from the likes of Alfredo Leone, Sam Arkoff, Joe Dante, Tim Burton, John Carpenter, Carlo Rambaldi and Tim Lucas, while Mario's family are represented by son Lamberto, grandson Roy and granddaughter Georgia.
There are clips from "Baron Blood", "Black Sabbath" and "Black Sunday" to name but a few, and an abundance of insight and anecdote covering the great man's career.
There's also a collectors booklet featuring new writing by Glenn Kenny, and a new essay by Adrian Smith on the Fancey family and their efforts to deliver foreign exploitation titles to the UK during a three decade period.
"Five Dolls For An August Moon" is a Region B release, and available to buy now.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Blu-ray Review: Underground (Emir Kusturica) BFI

Emir Kusturica's magnificent beast of a film earned him the Palme d'or in 1985: the second time he's won this prestigious award.
"Underground" also attracted fierce criticism, with accusations of engaging in Serbian propaganda, and his use of documentary footage also upset many viewers.
The film centres on Blacky (Lazar Ristovsky) and Marko (Miki Manojlovic)best friends who are both engaged in selling arms to partisans.
Gorgeous actress Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic) soon drives a wedge between the pair, and the lovestruck buddies eventually find themselves further separated by a terrible deception.
Marko, driven by jealousy and pure greed, keeps his friend below ground in a cellar for 20 years, feeding him the lie that the second world war is still going on above his head, with air raid sirens and other bogus methods ensuring he stays firmly out of the picture.
Above ground, Marko prospers, making hay with his life and career as time marches on towards a day of reckoning.

While some people may not care for the main players - who boast few redeeming features between them - they are undeniably fascinating to watch as the years overtake ambition and personal gain en route to sobering old age.
Wounded, weary faces are much in evidence during the many sombre moments, yet there are also scenes of priceless comedy that lighten the load, with running gags, a hilarious sequence where a bicycle headlamp assists a most unorthodox birth and several instances of pure slapstick: do look out for the riotous wedding scene where the shellshocked bride - betrothed to Black's son - sits wondering just what the hell she's married into as a revolving band plays on regardless, and the most talented chimp this side of Argento's "Phenomena" who brings the war a little bit closer to home.
This carrot and stick approach, for me, works beautifully, elevating the film and ensuring it's one of the quickest 170 minutes you'll encounter.
Serious study of relevant historic periods may well cast "Underground" in a different light, but the many arresting visuals and striking, layered performances do make for compelling viewing.

This BFI release consists of a Blu-ray containing the 170 minute version of "Underground", plus 2 x DVD discs which include Kusturica's six-part tv version, "Once Upon A Time There Was A Country" which runs for 5 hours 15 minutes.
Disc 2 contains 4 episodes, running for 3 hours 7 minutes, while the 3rd disc delivers episodes 5 & 6, running for 1 hour 41 minutes.
This extended version is able to spend more time on characterisation and also tightens the narrative considerably, bringing a greater degree of coherence, while the scenes below ground have a greater kick now, adding to the enormity of a deception that ran for two decades.
"Underground" has certainly acquired a cult following, and those people will be delighted with this release.
Image quality on the 3 discs is excellent, providing a fitting showcase for Viko Filac's stunning cimenaphotography, with an abundance of fine detail amidst robust colours.

The extras begin with "Shooting Days" - a 1996 documentary by Aleksander Manic - which follows the making of "Underground" and runs for 73 minutes.
It's a fascinating piece, pitching the story as a final scream for the old Yugoslavia, with cast and crew really buying into their director's vision.
With the atmosphere varying from tense to exuberant, the cast and crew are seen coping with a script which changed almost daily as new ideas were thrown into the mix.
The 29 minute EPK makes for a good companion to "Shooting Days", comprising of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Kusturica, Mirjan Jokovic, Lazar Ristovski, Miki Manojlovic and production designer Miljen Kljakovic.
Here, Lazar talks about his portrayal of Blacky - " a pre-war idler" - while Miljen discusses production design, with an interesting look at the ageing process for the three leads.
There's also praise for Goran Bregovic's extraordinary score, some b-roll footage of the wedding and Mirjan holding forth on her character and its development during the 18 month shoot.
A booklet accompanies this set, containing enlightening essays from Sean Homer, Dina Iordanova and Michael Brooke which add historical context to this film.
This BFI set is available to buy now, and comes highly recommended.