Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Blu-ray Review: Celine and Julie Go Boating (BFI)

"Celine and Julie Go Boating" turned out to be Jacques Rivette's biggest commercial hit, throwing together two women who will ultimately seek to intercede
in a parallel universe that plays out in a Jamesian inspired haunted house.
Celine (Juliet Berto), a magician, and Julie (Dominique Labourier) who is a librarian, cross paths in Paris and become inseparable, trading lives and personalities in their quest to stop a truly hideous crime.
Magic sweets enable the pair to watch events at the house unfold in a film-within-a-film as Bulle Ogier and Marie-France Pisier become the 'Phantom Ladies Over Paris',
with Barbet Schroeder in tow as the father of a young girl in mortal danger.
As recurring scenes play out, Celine and Julie react with amusement, boredom and horror, finally deciding to join this dislocation in time and save the girl. But from whom?

In parts, "Celine and Julie Go Boating" is very funny, with the two leads injecting physical comdey into proceedings, while at other times it anticipates Lynch's
"Mulholland Drive" with regard to the doubling experienced by Celine and Julie, and the population of the house who reach into 'the present' with bloody handprints
triggered by scenes from alternate reality.
Here, Berto and Labourier were given a degree of improvisational freedom, though for the most part, "Celine and Julie Go Boating" followed a script that grew with input from the cast.
The end result is a 193 minute feature that fair zips by, begging repeat viewings to fully appreciate all that lies within.
The wafer-thin line between fantasy and reality; the powers of memory and perception and the idea that each and every event is destined to be played out on a loop
for all time are just a few of the pieces in this puzzle, leading to a most haunting finale.
Rivette's clever use of mirrors which join this world and the next, and use of Montmartre locations to create a magical zone that bends all the rules and reshapes them, as leading ladies trade their lives make this a compulsory purchase for all lovers of Cinema Fantastique.

The BFI Blu-ray was restored and scanned at 2K from the original 16mm frame elements. Image quality is very impressive, unveiling a strong, stable picture that will delight
fans of this film.
The extras begin with a commentary track from Adrian Martin. Adrian provides background to the film; highlights the director's love of theatre and his willingness to take risks; gives valuable information on cast and crew (and quotes from a number of sources, such as Rivette and Berto); talks about various influences on this production; identifies cameos
and puts forward his theories and ideas regarding the onscreen events. It's a wholly rewarding track, and I'd strongly urge you to listen to every minute to increase understanding and appreciation of how much was accomplished here.

Next up, is "Jonathan Romney On Rivette and Celine and Julie Go Boating (19m 17s)
This excellent 2006 video essay takes a look at Rivette's career, and packs in theories and observations about the film, taking in Henry James, silent cinema and the idea that this is a girls own adventure. A valuable addition to the package.
"Tout la Memoire du Monde" (1956, 21m 54s)
Alain Resnais takes us inside the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, offering a fascinating look at how books are catalogued and also sharing some of its rare treasures.
We also see the constant battle against the slow decay of papers, books and manuscripts.
"The Haunted Curiosity Shop" (1901, 1m 55s)
WR Booth's 1901 short shows a shop owner plagued by various ghostly forms and includes some rather impressive effects shots.

The BFI also includes a booklet, featuring interviews with Rivette, Berto and Labourier; a review by Tom Milne; Susan Seidelman's reflections on her Rivette-inspired
"Desperately Seeking Susan", and an essay by scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum who is an authority on Rivette.
"Celine and Julie Go Boating" is available to buy now and a strong contender for those best disc of the year lists.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

DVD Review: Kill, Baby...Kill! (Arrow Video)

That wafer- thin line between the living and the dead has been crossed by many directors but few, I'll wager, could walk the walk like Mario Bava. With the sole exception of Lisa And The Devil, Bava had to work with meagre budgets and tight schedules, relying on ingenuity, imagination and those painterly eyes that created some of the most vivid nightmares ever committed to celluloid.

Kill, Baby...Kill! pits science and law against the forces of evil when Dr. Paul Eswai ( Giacomo Rossi-Stuart) and Inspector Kruger (Piero Lulli) arrive at the small Transylvanian village of Kremingen; the latter in response to a letter from one extremely frightened girl who was found impaled on iron railings before Kruger could reach the village. Eswai is asked to perform an autopsy, aided by Monica ( Erika Blanc), an ex-local girl who returns home to find her birthplace gripped by fear. As Bava works his magic, we slowly discover the legend of Melissa Graps (played by a young boy ,Valerio Valeri) , a 7 year old girl who, many years earlier, bled to death following an accident while drunken villagers ignored her cries for help. Now, those who catch sight of her unquiet spirit suffer a similar fate while her mother (Giana Vivaldi) presides over the family villa, surrounded by memories and fueled by hate.Although Bava is often cited as a master of style over substance, Kill, Baby...Kill! is a veritable feast for lovers of the macabre who like nothing better than a tale well told. A frightened coach driver who reluctantly delivers Eswai into a place of evil; terrified villagers who form a wall of silence; a scorceress ( Fabienne Dali', echoing Rada Rassimov's character in Bava's Baron Blood) who uses 'the old ways' to ward off the dead; wonderful mist-shrouded night scenes where a tolling bell signals another impending death.... a familiar storyline with stock characters? To an extent, yes, but even though we're on familiar ground, the soil seems firm and fresh, thanks to Bava's supreme technical skill, coupled with his unerring ability to get under the skin of what really scares us. Here, the spectral figure of Melissa Graps takes centre stage, emerging as one of Bava's eeriest and most imitated creations. This 'bambino diavolo' has inspired the likes of Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation Of Christ) and Federico Fellini (Toby Dammit, from Spirits Of The Dead), who took note of the images of a child clad in white, emerging from the shadows of half-lit corridors, peering through windows with a malevolent, death-dealing stare or, most chilling of all, perched on a swing, her laughter peeling through the cold night air: wish I had a gold coin (embedded in the heart, perhaps?) for every film that wheels on a child's ball bouncing down the stairs to land at the feet of the living.Melissa's evil mother also succeeds in quickening the pulse rate, at first commanding our sympathy and then moving to the other end of the scale as her part in this story becomes apparent.
In many ways, this is possibly Bava's finest achievement and a film that has stood the test of time. Still scary after all these years.

My DVD review copy from Arrow Video unveils a fine presentation of this film, and I found myself contemplating the long journey to finally seeing this film in pristine condition. I first saw "Kill,Baby...Kill!" on a grainy, 3rd gen video copy and graduated, years later, to DVD. I was also lucky enough to see this film on the big screen at London's National Film Theatre, as part of a Mario Bava retrospective, many moons ago. Arrow's superb presentation really does tick all the boxes here, with interior and exterior shots dripping with atmosphere created by Bava's ingenuity, often bathed in greens and blues that highlight the director's eye for creeping unease which so often reaches fever pitch.
The extras being as they should, with a Tim Lucas commentary track. Tim delivers a wealth of information on cast and crew, going on to talk about the history of some of the locations used, and also where they appeared in other Italian films. He discusses the prevalence of low angle shots, and highlights the many 'twinning' instances in the film. "Forbidden Planet", "Twin Peaks", "Toby Dammit" and "Demons 2" are just a few of the films and shows mentioned in this track, and there are interesting snippets from a telephone interview with Erika Blanc also included. It's a stimulating track, which enriches understanding and appreciation of this film.

The Devil's Daughter (21m38s)
This is an excellent video essay from critic Kat Ellinger, which covers a lot of ground in its running time.
Kat takes a look a gothic literature featuring children - such as "Children of the Abbey" by Resina Maria Roche - goes into child mortality rates in the 17th and 18th century, and offers thought-provoking analysis on child trauma in the family., touching on films and novels which include "The Devil's Backbone", "Don't Torture A Duckling", MR James' "Lost Hearts" and "The Turn of the Screw."
It's a beautifully delivered essay, guaranteed to prompt further reading and viewing from its audience.

Kill, Bava, Kill (25m 2s)
This is an interview with Mario's son, Lamberto, where his formative years are discussed, with golden memories of working under his father's stewardship.
Lamberto also takes us back to the locations used for "Kill, Baby...Kill!" in a nostalgic return to a place where time has stood still for 30 years.
It's an emotional piece, with Lamberto still greatly missing his father and justifiably proud of his achievements.

Erika In Fear (11m)
This is a 2014 interview with the still gorgeous (and very lively) Erika Blanc. Erika ehtuses over Bava's expertise, the lighting and colours used and the amtmosphere he conjured, seemingly at will. It's lovely to see this lady talking about her contribution to a great film, and proclaiming herself "a complete horror fanatic."

Yellow (6m 49s)
Semih Tareen's 2006 love letter to Mario Bava, which begins with a couple sitting down to a game of chess in a garishly lit apartment. What could go wrong? The tension is ramped up in this short film, as familiar tropes surface to delicious effect.

Arrow also provides the German opening titles for the main feature (3m 26s), which provides an early glimpse of Melissa Graps, and a 2m 32s international trailer.
Finally, we get to step through an image gallery comprising of 28 German posters and lobby cards under the title "Die Toten Augen Des Dr. Dracula".
There's also a collectors booklet included (which I haven't seen) which contains new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Orchard End Murder

As with Saxon Logan's wonderful "Sleepwalker" (reviewed elsewhere on this blog), the story of "The Orchard End Murder" will surely strike a chord with aspiring directors and lovers of British Cult Cinema.
Christian Marnham's 49m 43s film was released in 1980, and was screened as support act to Gary Sherman's "Dead and Buried."
Now, almost 40 years later, "The Orchard End Murder" has been resurrected as part of the BFI essential 'Flipside' series, beckoning newcomers and those who caught it first time round.
As well as directing, Christian Marnham also wrote the screenplay which was inspired by a local murder case which came to his attention.
The result is a black comedy with some wickedly funny lines, and also genuinely disturbing in places.

A crane shot of a village cricket game in Kent introduces a stunningly beautiful locale, where Mike Robins (Mark Hardy) romps with new love interest Pauline (Tracy Hyde)
while waiting his turn to bat.
Pauline is very much a city girl and soon becomes tired of her escape to the country, keen to be released from a ritualised setup where familiarity is all.
Her wanderings lead to the railway station where the stationmaster (Bill Wallis) invites her in for tea and cake.
This cosy English tradition is made increasingly disconcerting by the close attention of her new acquaintance, and things come to a head with the arrival of Ewen
(Clive Mantle):house guest of some three months standing who horrifies Pauline with a brutal act.
Now the scene is set for a particularly graphic murder, which launches a police investigation in this sleepy village.

For a mini-feature running under 50 minutes, "The Orchard End Murder" packs so much into its running time.
First of all, the characters are beautifully drawn and complex. Bill Wallis' station master belies his initial appearance as a simpleton, exhibiting a cool, devious mind and well
capable of talking himself out of almost anything, while Clive Mantle also excels, with Ewen's mentally unstable mind carrying him just short of Buttgereit territory.
Tracy Hyde also delivers an excellent performance as a sexually active female who finds the countryside can be even more of a threat than her beloved towns and cities.
Of course, the graphic murder is hard-hitting in the extreme, but there's plenty of quite wonderful humour to be found elsewhere in the film - do listen out for the side-splitting 'apples' gag - and even the story about the double railroad suicide is told with a twinkle. The location is almost a character on its own, combining beauty with a sense of dark foreboding with the scent of murder hanging heavy in the air.
This really is a small gem, and fully deserving of its place in the 'Flipside' collection.

The BFI Blu-ray presentation unveils a lovely transfer, with the bold, bright countryside colours looking like they were shot last week. Kudos to Peter Jessop's photography
which is beautifully captured by this 2K remaster taken from an original 16mm positive element.
The supplementary feature begin with "The Showman" (25m 45s).
This entertaining short from Christian Marnham tells the story of 63 year-old Wally Shufflebottom. Wally is the 'Last Showman', who gives the public what they really want by devising and staging a striptease knife-throwing act with flames thrown in for good measure.
We bear witness to Wally's methods of drawing in the crowds, how he enlists the girls to participate and the shows themselves.
At the outset, Wally makes some pretty bold claims, but actually keeps to most of his promises to deliver an entertaining show.

"Christian Marnham on The Orchard End Murder". (37m 26s)
Christian recalls his first job (in rep theatre); tells of his progression to the cutting room and how he graduated into television.
We hear about his partnership with Julian Harvey - who suggested doing a film for the cinema - and there's much praise for cast and crew, including Tracy Hyde, DOP Peter Jessop and Sam Sklair who did the score.
Christian is refreshingly honest about mistakes made along the way, and has some good news concerning future projects.

"Christian Marnham on The Showman." (4m 40s)
Christian explains how the idea for "The Showman" began after a chance meeting at a fairground, and talks about his utmost confidence in Wally who emerged as an expert in this dangerous craft.
We're also privy to a huge problem which reared up before the shoot, and the steps that were taken to overcome it.

"From Melody to Orchard End Murder: An interview with Tracy Hyde." (11m 19s
Tracy talks about her career, recalling the Orchard End shoot and "Melody": the film that won her 'Best Actress' in Japan, at such a tender age.
She returns Christian's praise, speaking well of her director and has good memories of the film, even accepting some of the less glamorous aspects of the shoot.

"An Interview with David Wilkinson." (12m 28s)
David recalls how Christian persuaded him to appear as a batsman in Orchard End, and gives a resume of his prolific career.
He talks about his fellow actors in the film; how impressed he was with the production and has some surprising news about the financial result earned by Orchard End.

The BFI includes a booklet with this dual format release, which contains a beautifully written essay from Josephine Botting; a fine piece on "The Showman" by Vic Pratt; colour stills, credits, notes on the transfer and an original review from Tim Pulleine.
"The Orchard End Murder" will be available to buy on 24th July .

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Blu-ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Based on Charles Neider's novel "The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones", "One-Eyed Jacks" was originally slated for Stanley Kubrick to direct.
Instead, the baton was handed to Marlon Brando for his first and only film as director. Guy Trosper and Brando wrote the screenplay, which turned out to be
a major revision of its source, and the film is now widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Brando himself headlines as Rio; a headstrong apprentice to Dad Longworth (Karl Malden). Together, the pair stage holdups which relieve law abiding folks of cash and jewellery.
Their latest heist - two bags of gold from a bank - sees them chased out of town by Mexican mounted police.
Holed up in the mountains and facing seemingly insurmountable odds, the pair decide one of them will strike out in search of fresh horses after Rio's mount is killed,
leaving the other to wait behind in a perilous situation.
Dad rides off into the sunset, never to return, leaving Rio to be captured with a jail term the result of his trust.
Deprivation of freedom, instigated by a revered friend, must have been a bitter pill that proved impossible to swallow and Rio escapes after 5 years in jail, with a burning desire for revenge.
Rio is soon on course for a long-awaited reunion when a conversation with outlaw Bob Amory (Ben Johnson) points him at towards the town of Montorey.
During the town's annual fiesta, the bank closes for two days,leaving potentially rich picking for Rio and his gang.
Rio soon gets the chance to meet with Dad, who is Sheriff of the town. During one of many memorable scenes, Rio rides out to call on Dad, with the latter resting on his front porch, observing Rio from behind bars reminding Rio of the jail that accounted for 5 years of his life.
There's now a real hatred between the pair, but love soon rears its head as Rio and Longworth's stepdaughter Louise (Pina Pellicer) fall for each other, leaving Rio with a choice to make.

Relationships old and new play a key part in proceedings here, with even Dad and his wife (played by Katy Jurado) clashing over Dad's increasingly cruel behaviour.
Witness the scene where Rio is brutally whipped and has his trigger hand badly damaged by his former friend, making Dad a particularly odious villain, closely followed by Amory and Slim Pickens' sleazy deputy in the forces of evil stakes.
Even Rio has his dark side, and it's fascinating to observe his good and bad splits fighting to hold sway.
Brando quite simply was superb on both sides of the camera, and if one approached this film with no prior knowledge, it would be difficult to discern anything other than the director was a seasoned filmmaker.
While it's true that "One-Eyed Jacks" went over budget - some 5 hours of footage no longer exists - the end result is a treat for the eyes, with Brando's wait for magic hour shots and the right kind of waves paying dividends.
Here, the photography of Charles Long Jr uses deep focus shots and panoramic sweep to capture cast and scenery in exemplary fashion.
This was the last Paramount film to be shot in Vistavision, and we must be thankful that Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg made this stunning restoration possible, banishing previously inadequate home video versions.

Aspiring actors and directors would do well to study this film, while the rest of us will be enthralled while possibly regretting this was Brando's only time in the director's chair. Maybe his standoff with Paramount regrading the ending left a bitter taste that wouldn't wash away?
Whatever the reason, he certainly made his mark as an accomplished director and his film remains one of the great Westerns.

The 4K rstoration on Arrow Academy's Blu-ray presentation is, along with "Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia", one of this year's best.
Interior and exterior scenes boast fine detail, warm colours and, at times, are simply breathtaking.
The supplementary features begin with a commentary track from author Stephen Price who wrote "Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies."
Stephen picks out Peckinpah's influence on the script; draws comparisons with other westerns; talks about the revised ending and praises Brando's meticulous approach to filming. It's an enjoyable, highly informative track.

"Marlon Brando: The Wild One." (53m 43s)
This documentary was originally broadcast by Channel 4 on 11th August, 1996. Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, Shelley Winters, Francis Ford Coppola and Arthur Penn
are just some of the artists interviewed in this valuable tribute to Brando.
The actors studio, early stagework and just what it was like to be touched by Brando's brilliance are all discussed, with clips from the likes of "On The Waterfront",
"A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Last Tango In Paris". Paul Joyce's absorbing documentary is required viewing for all Brando buffs, with great stories and insight from those who were there when the magic happened.

"Francis Ford Coppola on Marlon Brando." (48m 30s)
Paul Joyce interviews Francis, who talks about a genius he rates alongside Welles and Kurosawa, and who left a legacy for actors everywhere.
We hear about how Brando landed the "One-Eyed Jacks" gig and of course, there's plenty of insight and anecdotes regarding "The Godfather". Coppola had a tough battle to
add Brando to his fine cast, and goes into the trials and tribulations of coming up against a stubborn film company.

"Arthur Penn on Marlon Brando>" (44m 49s)
Once again, Paul Joyce takes the microphone for another interview. As with Coppola, his Arthur Penn interview was recorded for the documentary, comprising of familiar material with plenty of additions. Brando's work with Stella Adler; his improvisational skills regarding the intent of words and the first time Penn saw Brando at work are just some of the areas discussed. It's also well worth a second hearing regarding Penn's ice cube story and Coppola's 'gong' gag.
There's also a 2m 55s introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese, and a 4m 44s trailer.

Arrow includes, on this first pressing only, a collectors booklet (which I haven't seen) containing new writing on the film by Jason Wood and Filippo Olivieri; Karl Malden on Marlon Brando; Paul Joyce on "Marlon Brando: The Wild One" and an excerpt from Stefan Kanfer's "Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando."

"One-Eyed Jacks" is available to buy now, and a surefire contender for those 'Discs of the Year' lists.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Amityville Horror (Second Sight)

The events that allegedly took place at 112 Ocean Avenue have inspired several films, documentaries, books and many thousands of column inches.
What is beyond dispute is the house played host to bloody murder when Ronald Defeo Jr armed himself with a shotgun and killed five members of his family. Defeo was subsequently incarcerated and the house lay empty for a short while. Or did it?
The house was put on the market for the knockdown price of $80,000, prompting George and Katy Lutz to take the plunge.
Their stay lasted just 28 days, with the family fleeing on 14th January 1976, never to return.
James Brolin and Margot Kidder play George and Katy, recently wed with a trio of kids in tow from Kathy's previous marriage.
Before long, unexplained events occur, involving the family and a local priest who becomes convinced that dark forces are present in the house.
Director Stuart Rosenberg chose to ground some of his film on the Lutz's claims, and used poetic license to fuel the rest. The result was an enormous commercial success, giving audiences a scary ride through all manner of tried and trusted shenanigans.
The fun begins early on, when Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) arrives to bless the house and is plagued by an unseasonal swarm of flies and told top leave the house by a demonic voice.
The Lutz family soon experience terrifying manifestations, with George - apparently a 'dead ringer' for Defeo - undergoing frightening shifts in his personality, with several episodes suggesting possession by an unclean spirit.
Kathy and her children also encounter strange phenomena, including glowing eyes looking into an upstairs window and a most upsetting episode regarding a window sill that slams shut on tiny fingers all by itself.

While there are times when proceedings enter the realms of the absurd, Rosenberg mostly manages to keep things sensibly scary, aided by a deliciously eerie score from Lalo Schifrin and a cast that certainly entered into the spirit of things.
Did the Amityville house really play host to a demon, or was the whole thing a giant hoax?
112 Ocean Avenue was actually built on an old indian burial ground and if you believe in the dead returning to life, that fact may well convince you that the Lutz's stories were true.
Whatever, you'll surely wish to check out the supplementary material on Second Sight's Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray presentation here is crisp and detailed, leaving viewers with an impressive home viewing experience.
First off on the extras front is a commentary track from professor Hans Holzer; a parapsychologist who was one of the first people called to the house when the Lutz's left.
Hans talks about exorcisms, hypnosis, religion, draws on the history of the house which dates back to 1928, and the grounds it was built on.
He points out no-one in the house heard the shots as Lutz went about his rampage (nor did the neighbours) and discusses the case.
He also has some interesting theories on ghosts and demons. It's a thought-provoking track, though many will disagree with some of his ideas.

"Brolin Thunder" (16m 1s)
A new interview with James Brolin who recalls "Mutiny On The Bounty"; his 7 years with Fox and "Marcus Welby MD". Stuart Rosenberg, Margot Kidder and Lalo Schifrin also
crop up in the conversation.

"Child's Play" (16m 39s)
Meeno Peluce chats about his fellow child actors in the film, and remembers he'd just finished filming on "Don't Go Near The Park" when Amityville came up.
He displays mostly excellent recall about the shoot and do listen out for his Margot Kidder story!

"Amityville Scribe" 16m 27s)
This is an interview with screenwriter Sandor Stern, who recalls how and why he was hired to do a script re-write.
Sandor shares his thoughts on the film, and relates his own experiences with the supernatural.

"The Devil In The Music" (14m 5s)
Here, Lalo Schifrin goes through his early musical influences; recalls his work on such films as "Dirty Harry" and "Enter The Dragon" and chats about Amityville,
explaining he understood perfectly what the director wanted.

"My Amityville Horror" (85m 11s)
Directed by Eric Walter, this is an extraordinary view of the world inhabited by Daniel Lutz, whose siblings refused to take part in this documentary
Daniel stands by his account of what took place at the house as a psychologist, demonologist's Ed and Lorraine Warren and trusted reporter Laura Didio file in to contribute.
After watching this, I was no nearer arriving at a conclusion regarding the truth surrounding the Lutz's tenancy, but it is completely engrossing.
One of the stories that often crops up is that George Lutz collaborated with William Webber (Defeo's lawyer) to dream up a convincing hoax: an insanity plea for his client, and a cash-in for Lutz could have been their targets? While it's an undisputed fact that none of the subsequent tenants of 112 reported any manifestations, it seems likely to me that Lutz really does believe his own version of events. If he is lying, why did he wait decades to give his own version of events? Perhaps George and Kathy took the real truth to their graves?

"For God's Sake Get Out" (20m 41s)
This comprises of separate interviews with James Brolin and Margot Kidder who talk about how they first got into acting; about the publicity behind the film, and reveal their was some tension between the pair.

The extras are rounded off with a trailer (2m 30s); a TV spot (1m2s) and two radio spots (3m40s).
There's also a 1m 18s introduction to the film by Hans Holzer.
"The Amityville Horror" will be available to buy on 26th June. The legend surrounding this film shows no signs of going away, and this Blu-ray disc will delight those who have followed this story.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: Long Shot (BFI)

The BFI's 'Flipside' collection of films continues to mine the archives, enabling us to view hidden gems; some of them barely seen for several decades.
Maurice Hatton's "Long Shot" is one such film, shot in 1977 and thrust into the home video spotlight some 40 years later.
"Long Shot" is a film about filmmaking; not the arduous process of shooting and editing, but rather the wheeling and dealing that goes on to secure finance and a name director.

We're in Edinburgh, with the world's oldest film festival drawing a wonderful carnival of actors, directors and audiences to this historic city.
Charlie Gormley and Neville Smith are producer and scriptwriter for "Gulf and Western": a film about the Scottish oil industry, which they hope Sam Fuller will direct.
Fuller is expected to be in town for the premiere of Wim Wenders' "The American Friend", and Charlie is confident Fuller's recruitment will seal the deal with regard to the supremely difficult task of raising finance for his project.
It's a serious business to be sure, but "Long Shot" is peppered with sharp humour; much of it centered round guest appearances from the type of name director they are desperate to enlist.
Wim Wenders is one such name, hilariously approached as second choice in case the Fuller gig falls through, while John Boorman provides a wake-up call regarding the script.
Stephen Frears takes the biscuit in a lovely cameo, and Alan Bennet appears as Nev's doctor, facing an acute case of the loneliness of the scriptwriter.
Throw in Susannah York - a distinct possibility for an underwritten part - and you have a lively cast all relishing the game.
Yet more humour is delivered with improvised taxis ferrying the hapless producer from pillar to post, yet with the sobering thought that creative control ebbs away with each and every mile.
Does Fuller ever show up? You'll have to experience this film to find out, but this is a glorious slice of on-the-hoof filmmaking, displaying initiative and enterprise and a love of cinema every bit as prounced as the festival that serves as its backdrop.

The BFI Blu-ray presentation has been scanned in 2K resolution using the original 16mm negative.
Because this low budget film was shot with mainly expired film stock, the image and grain structure are very inconsistent but this is what was originally intended.
All in all, you can be sure this is how the film should look.

The extras begin with "Scene Nun, Take One" (25m 57s)
This 1964 quickie, directed by Maurice Hatton, sets Susannah York as an actress storming off set, and thoroughly enjoying her newfound freedom.
A bank heist and a fashion show are just two of her adventures as, kitted out in full nun regalia, York rally goes out on the lam, culminating in an impromptu dance with two buskers before a delighted audience. Great fun!

"Sean Connery's Edinburgh" (29m 13s)
Made in 1982, Connery's journey through Edinburgh begins in up-with-the-lark mode as early morning milk carts wake a city from its slumbers.
Here, Connery invokes the spirits of Robert Burns, Queen Mary, Alexandra Graham Bell and, of course, Ian Fleming.
The growth of Edinburgh's new town is recorded; golf inevitably rears its head (going back to a time when both golf and football were banned in the city) and the cultural significance of this historic town is lovingly showcased.

"Hurray For Hollyrood" (39m 49s)
This 1986 production makes for a great companion to the main feature, bringing in Neil Jordan, Bill Forsyth, Stephen Frears, Sam Fuller and also includes memories from former Edinburgh film fest directors, including Lynda Miles.
We learn how the festival began - primarily screening documentaries at first - and how it evolved into a truly prestigious event. There's also the lowdown on the infamous "Bloody Mama" controversy, and clips from former fest faves include "Two Men and a Wardrobe", "This Sporting Life" and the wonderful "That Sinking Feeling."

An informative booklet is included with this dual format release, covering the film and additional features, containing new writing from Bill Forsyth, Dylan Cave (BFI)
and Vic Pratt (BFI).
"Long Shot" will be released on 26th June. For me, it's this year's nicest surprise.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Arrow Video 2017)

Shot in 1969 and released the following year, Dario Argento's debut feature inspired filmmakers to don black gloves, sharpen their knives and enter the bloody arena of giallo cinema.
The late, great Mario Bava had already kicked things off almost a decade earlier with "The Girl Who Knew Too Much", but it was "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" that really kickstarted this movement.
Here, Tony Musante plays Sam Dalmas, an American writer who arrived in Rome 2 years earlier, in search of tranquility and inspiration.
After exhausting the sights of this wonderful city, Dalmas signs off a book on the preservation of rare birds - anticipating an important discovery later in the film - written purely for commercial gain, rather than a burning interest in the subject matter.
Dalmas is walking back to his apartment one night when he witnesses a beautiful woman who appears to be stabbed by a black clad figure inside an art allery.
Dalmas finds himself trapped between two glass doors, and when the police arrive, the assailant has taken flight, leaving the victim with a serious but not life-threatening wound.
Sam is interviewed by the police, who link this assault to a trio of slayings that have terrified the city's inhabitants and has his passport confiscated in the hope he will be of further assistance. After going through events several times, Sam is troubled by an incomplete vision of exactly what happened. Something doesn't quite make sense, and the question of what we see and what we think we see would become a recurring theme in Argento's cinema.

Although "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" was not well received at the start of its life, the film went on to garner acclaim from audiences and critics and is, I believe, top-tier Argento.
With a score from Ennio Morricone that sets the scene beautifully, weaving the upbeat with the eerie, and inspired camerawork by Vittorio Storaro, "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" offers a delicious twist-and-turn plot, several exciting set pieces and a cast reacting well to a screenplay that's both gripping and punctuated with humour.
Musante excels, leaving his mark as one of Argento's best leads, his performance unaffected by the various tensions that were present between actor and director.
Enrico Maria Salermo makes for an engaging police inspector; Eva Renzi and Suzy Kendall handle their duties with aplomb, and watch out for two contrasting quickies: a gripping sequence involving Reggie Nalder, and a memorable meeting with Gildo Di Marco's pimp who makes us laugh with his 'So Long' character.
It's a wholly entertaining ride, shocking in places and thought provoking always.
Those of you unfamiliar with Argento's work will find this an excellent starting point, while 'old timers' will once again relish this landmark film.

My first encounter with this film came via a Betamax videotape, released, I think, on the Stablecane label, and cost me the princely sum of £40.
Arrow Video's release unleashes a 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, that boasts exquisite detail.
The supplementary material begins with "Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis" (31m 54s).
This is an excellent video essay from film critic Kat Ellinger, who manages to pack in a wealth of material. Kat explores Frederic Brown's novel "The Screaming Mimi", offering a detailed breakdown of book vs film, and covers the 1958 film "The Screaming Mimi" starring Anita Ekberg.
Impotency and gender are also covered in an enlightening essay that's beautifully delivered.

"The Power of Perception" (20m 57s)
This features the thoughts of Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who reflects on the role of art and the theme of perception in Argento's films.
"Four Flies On Grey Velvet", "Tenebrae" and "Phenomena" - a key example of heightened perception - are just a few of the films covered, together with "The Stendhal Syndrome" which Alexandra labels his last great film. Once again, it's a stimulating essay, underlining the many comlex themes at paly in Argento's work.

"Crystal Nightmare" (31m 24s)
This is a new interview with Dario Argento, shot in 2017.
Dario talks about how Plumage was written after a trip to Tunisia, and explains why he was almost fired during the shoot.
We get plenty of background info regarding the making of this film, including the lowdown on the director's experiences with Tony Musante, together with memories of working with Morricone, Storaro and Reggie Nalder. We also learn about which city held the key to Argento's future career. Fans will enjoy this recent interview with the great man.

"An Argento icon" (22m 5s)
Here, actor Gildo Di Marco recalls his role of 'So Long' (Garullo, the pimp), explaining how he got into acting and of Argento's way of working with actors.
We are also privy to his memories of Musante and Storaro and his amazement that people ask him for interviews.
It's a joy to witness this humble man discuss his own involvement in a film that still delights almost 5 decades on.

"Eva's Talking" (11m 19s)
This is an interview with Eva Renzi, recorded in 2005. Eva talks about her career (including "Funeral In Berlin"); Klaus Kinski and Tony Musante also crop up in conversation and she's not shy on holding forth about what she really feels about Plumage and the effect she thinks it had on her career.

Last, but by no means least, we have an audio commentary track from author Troy Howorth.
Troy delves into Argento's background; enthuses over Musante's performance; talks about "The Screaming Mimi " book; Krimi films; how "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage evolved and still finds time to cover Reggie Nalder's involvement (who apparently passed on a role in one of Argento's most famous films) and Argento's fallout with Morricone.
It's an excellent commentary, beautifully delivered with a fair amount of humorous asides that reflect the playful moments in the film.
Arrow also includes a trio of trailers: Italian (3m 11s), International (2m 48s) and Texas Frightmare 2017 (55s).

The final extra comes in the form of a 60-page booklet (which I haven't seen), illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook.
This is a compulsory purchase for Argento buffs, and highly recommended for newbies curious to see what all the fuss is about.
"The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" will be released on 26th June

Monday, 20 March 2017

DVD Review: S&M: Les Sadiques

With a wintry Berlin as its backdrop, Alex Bakshaev's "S&M:Les Sadiques" offers a heartfelt tribute to the late Jess Franco while making its own mark in the cinema of unease.
Here, in the heartland of David Bowie's greatest triumphs (look out for the shrine), trans peed along tracks headed to nowhere; the lost and the lonely nurse drinks in seedy
bars, and a young woman searches for bed and board in a city where everything has its price.

College dropout Marie (Nadine Pape) soon discovers that if the streets are mean, bricks and mortar can hose even more hazards as she narrowly avoids rape,
ending up in the abode of a woman who "takes orders from no-one.
Sandra (Sandra Bourdonecc) soon introduces her latest charge to a world where pain and pleasure co-exist; a lifestyle that leads to betrayal and murder.

With nods to "Succubus", "Venus In Furs" and "She Killed In Ecstasy", "S&M" also draws on the poetic elements of Jean Rollin, where snow covered streets replace beaches,
leaving short-lived footprints that will soon fade forever.
The film is accompanied by an evocative soundtrack from Kevin Kopacka and Alexander Zhemchuzhnikov ( Stuart Lindsay performing the music of Daniel White at various points), and brought to life by exquisite photography, capturing the magic and the harsh realities of the location.

Cast-wise, there are two stimulating performances from the female leads, ably supported by Kevin Kopacka (Marie's lover), Harry Baer as her Uncle Franz and Nikolaus Sternfeld as Tom.
Thanks to the script by Alex Bakshaev and Sarnt Utamachote, there's plenty to stretch performers and viewers alike, installing this as a film that will most certainly repay multiple viewings.

It's extremely bloody in places, with jealousy and betrayal leading to a reprehensible act that will surely make your blood run cold.
There are also moments of tenderness and togetherness, recalling happier times when the world seemed less oppressive.
"S&M: Les Sadiques" scores highly in all the key areas and carries my recommendation as a perversion story with a heart and soul.

Image quality on the DVD is pin-sharp, highlighting the beautifully lit interior and exterior scenes. There are also 3 trailers. One for the main feature,
and for two other enticing titles: "Dylan" and "The Devil Of Kreuzberg".

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Blu-ray Review: The Crying Game (BFI dual format)

In the world of cinema, different markets often deliver polar opposite responses. In the US, Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game" was greeted with open arms by audiences fascinated by the film's sexual politics.
In the UK, the spectre of the IRA - very much active in England at the time - turned off cinema goers who were unwilling to accept that a member of this organisation could possess a human side.

A carnival in Northern Ireland is the setting for the kidnapping of Jody (Forest Whitaker); a soldier who is ensnared by the gorgeous Jude (Miranda Richardson) and taken at gunpoint to a safe house near Newry, some 34 miles from Belfast.
One of the senior members of the IRA is being interrogated at Castlereagh, and Jody is informed that he'll be shot unless their comrade is released within 3 days.
Slowly, Jody's personality and situation infiltrates the very soul of Fergus Hennessey (Stephen Rea); a footsoldier for the IRA, who reveals that behind the political brainwashing lies a man capable of forging friendships across the great divide.
When the inevitable occurs, Fergus has cultivated a bond with Jude, resulting in a journey to London where Dil (Jaye Davidson) works in a hairdressers, awaiting Jodie's return.

"The Crying Game" is a film of secrets deceptions and identity, with a twist halfway through through that's beautifully timed, and which leads to some incredibly moving scenes.
Rea is particularly fine here, succeeding in a supremely difficult task of getting the audience on his side, moving from potential cold-blooded executioner to a person who can laugh, love and feel for fellow human beings. Praise too, for the excellent supporting cast, including Richardson's thoroughly evil agent who eventually turns up in London, reminding Fergus that "You're never out!", having established her cruel nature at an early stage: "Don't leave me with her!" implores a frightened Jody and that's before he takes a heavy blow to the face from the butt of her gun!
Jim Broadbent's go-between barkeep Colin; an affecting turn from Whitaker; Adrian Dunbar's fiery IRA hitman and a quite brilliant performance from Davidson make this a film to enthrall from start to finish.
While it's true there is one scene in particular that requires huge suspension of disbelief, the film overall succeeds as a love story punctuated by the blood and bullets of a dark period in our history.

"The Crying Game" may not have set the box office alight over here, but it's not been forgotten and the release of this dual-format BFI Blu-ray and DVD will delight old admirers and recruit a new generation of film buffs.
The Blu-ray presentation offers solid colours, deep blacks and no anomalies. A rich viewing experience.
The supplementary material commences with a director's audio commentary track. Neil Jordan talks about cinematic influences; casting choices; why he shot in cinemascope; the research undertaken for Jaye Davidson's character and also acknowledges the tip of the hat to "Mr Arkadin."
Jordan also talks about shooting with a minimal budget: a state of affairs amplified in "The Making of The Crying Game" (50m 24s).
Here, the director is joined by Stephen Woolley, Stephen Rea, Janes Giles and Nik Powell; the latter providing further insight with regard to the low budget.
We also hear about Channel Four's main two objections to the script; how the finance was raised and why this film was very much make or break for Neil Jordan.

An alternative ending (with optional director's commentary) is presented for the first time, taken from VHS tape and running for 4m 55s.
Channel Four insisted on an alternative ending being shot, and finally agreed with Jordan that his original ending was better and could be filmed.
I'd say this was the right decision, although the inclusion of the alternative - shot in snowy London streets - is worth seeing.
"Northern Troubles" (8m 50s) Here, a Catholic and a Protestant take separate journeys through Belfast, sharing their respective views on the politics in their world.
The package is rounded off with 2 trailers. The 1st runs for 1m 37s, while the second (53s) is a series of review quotes under the film poster.
The BFI have also compiled a booklet featuring excellent essays by Ashley Clark and Juliet Jacques, and a valuable Neil Jordan overview from Brian Hoyle. Excellent writing from all three participants and worthy of your time.

"The Crying Game" will be released on 20th February.