Posts Tagged ‘DVD/blu’

Midnight (2021)

Wri/Dir: Kwon Oh-Seung | South Korea, Thriller 103′

An impressive first film for South Korea’s Kwon Oh-Seung highlighting his country’s negative attitudes towards women and the less able in a really tense cat and mouse thriller.

Kyung Mi (Jin Ki-joo), a deaf woman, is attacked in a crowded street when she goes to the assistance of another young woman, onlookers siding with the assailant (serial killer) Do Shik (Wi Ha-Joon) and viewing her cries for help as female histrionics – or even a tantrum.

The implication here is that these two women really shouldn’t really be out and about after dark. But putting misogyny aside for the moment, the film inadvertently sheds a grim light on the male characters: a control freak brother and an outright killer.

Kyung Mi and her mother may be aurally challenged but they certainly make up for it with their courage and resourcefulness refusing to be put down despite their impairments, without coming over as self-pitying. The director makes clever uses of a soundscape that imagines the world from the POV of the hard of hearing and that is its selling point, despite the rather trite finale. MT

Midnight is released on 14 March on digital platforms courtesy of EUREKA

Corridor of Mirrors (1948)

Dir: Terence Young | Cast: Eric Portman, Edana Romney | UK drama 108’

A unique Gothic version of Fifty Shades of Gray, with the extravagance but not quite the sex (debuting director Terence Young would later supply plenty of that in his James Bond pictures).

Set in 1938 and shot in France with a British cast (including future Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell, with later Bond villain Christopher Lee making his film debut), a French cameraman and music by the great French composer Georges Auric. Scripted by producer Rudolph Cartier and leading lady Edana Romney (‘inspired’ by a novel by Chris Massie), it provides a temporary escape from the mundane day to day realities of life in postwar austerity Britain to which she returns rather as Celia Johnson does at the end of ‘Brief Encounter’. It’s amazing that this extraordinary film isn’t better known.  @Ricard Chatten

BLURAY NOW AMAZON

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Dir: Sidney Lumet | Wri: Morton S Fine | Cast: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sanchez | US Thriller 116′

Director Sidney Lumet’s gritty New-York set Nazi survivalist movie made Rod Steiger a star with his unforgettable portrayal of a Holocaust survivor. Jewish refugee Sol Nazerman is a broken holocaust victim eking out an existence as a pawnbroker in Harlem’s squalid mean streets. His world-weary cynical approach to his customers is a study of indifference occasionally erupting in irritation – he’s too exhausted by misery and the memories of the wife he lost in the Death Camps to be angry or even sad any more, although at one point he’s reduced to tears of sheer emotional exhaustion by his tyrannical business partner, the gangsterish Rodriquez (Brock Peters).

Haunted by the lost and the misunderstood, The Pawnbroker is given a certain poignance with its louche jazz score from debut film composer Quincy Jones. Based on Edward Lewis Wallant’s cult novel – the film evocatively recreates a not so swinging Sixties America where life limps on in the shadows of the past. MT

THE PAWNBROKER IS OUT ON BFI BLURAY/DVD 16 August 2021

The Father (2020) Blu-ray

Dir: Florian Zeller | Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell | Drama 97′

If ever there was a film for now it’s The Father. Dementia has become today’s most dread disease – along with cancer – not least because of its emotive and devastating effects on sufferers and loved ones alike as the personality disintegrates in a frightening and often hurtful way casting a dark shadow on entire families as they struggle to make sense of it all as everything changes.

Based on the acclaimed, award-winning play, The Father starts out with a simple idea based on the situation familiar to many of us. Anne (Olivia Colman) realises her 80-year-old father, Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is losing his mind but can do nothing to help him. Anthony refuses a carer determined to control his own destiny while exerting an invidious grip on his frustrated and desperate daughter, who is moving to Paris and needs to ensure his wellbeing.

The Father is rather a triumph for director and playwright Florian Zeller who has already won an Oscar for his clever script nailing the anxiety, frustration and sadness surrounding dementia, and the confusion it causes for the sufferer and those affected who increasingly find themselves at odds with each other.

Anthony thinks a conspiracy is playing out as he continues his life ‘as normal’ believing his daughter (Colman) to be overplaying the situation as she becomes increasingly neurotic and overbearing, according to him. One of the features of the disease it that sufferers confuse members of their family, and Olivia Williams steps in to play the ‘other’ person. Meanwhile Anthony suspects (wrongfully) that things are being done behind his back and this all too familiar aspect of dementia often gives rise to a dark humour that Zeller thoughtfully interweaves into the fractured narrative through a series of surprise events and changes adding a bizarre twist to proceedings.

Hopkins pulls this off brilliantly in a totally convincing performance that sways from outrage to pitiful vulnerability building on his reputation as one of the world’s finest actors. Colman too is impressive as she struggles convincingly between anger and deep sadness. A sibling set-to would have added grist to the storyline, so often family members fall out as they are pitted against one another amid stress and confusion in a battle to comply with the sufferer’s need to divide and rule in the descent in mental mayhem.

The Father is a difficult film to watch – and it will touch a nerve with so many of us – but Hopkins and Colman deliver their best and that’s all that can be hoped for in the circumstances. MT

The Father is on Digital Download 27 August and Blu-ray & DVD 30 August from Lionsgate UK

Zee and Co. (1972)

Dir: Brian G Hutton | Wri: Edna O’Brian | Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, Susannah York, Margaret Leighton | US Drama 110′

For anyone who ever hankered to see what a collaboration between the novelist Edna O’Brien and the director of Where Eagles Dare would have looked like, look no further! After two war movies in a row, Brian G. Hutton obviously felt the need to try his hand at something a bit more dangerous; and Elizabeth Taylor in all her big-haired, loud-mouthed and even more loudly dressed glory dominates this delirious spectacle in a way rarely seen since the heyday of Bette Davis.

Taylor and Caine give their all as a self-absorbed pair who make George & Martha from ‘Virginia Woolf’ look like The Brady Bunch. In reality Caine would probably have abandoned or murdered Taylor long ago; but she’s entertaining to watch and listen to – at least for the duration of the movie – and shows a delightful flair for mimicry mocking some of her co-stars. (spoiler coming up: I thought she jumped the shark, however, with her suicide attempt.)

Susannah York understandably seems more than a little overwhelmed by the madhouse she’s wandered into. A few spoilsports have already revealed the twist at the end of this tale. As a bloke I was as surprised and delighted as I was relieved that a woman wrote it; so it absolved me of feeling guilty at being served up with one of my favourite male fantasies about two women.

Whatever happened to these three after the closing credits is anybody’s guess; but the audience I watched it with at the Barbican tonight laughed appreciatively all the way through and gave it an enthusiastic round of applause as the lights went up. @Richard Chatten.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

Senso (1954) DVD/blu-ray

Dir: Luchino Visconti | Cast: Farley Grainger, Marcella Mariani, Alida Valli, Massimo Girotti, Heinz Moog, Rina Morelli | Italy, Drama 123′

Visconti’s first film in colour and his first with a patrician 19th Century backdrop, Senso is a squalid tale of base animal passion with an epic grandeur that raises it to the pantheon of Great Screen Romances by courtesy of Visconti having robed his sixth feature in the trappings of the momentous historical backdrop of the Risorgimento of 1866, Venetian locations, plush interiors, immaculate costumes and Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony (which wasn’t actually composed until fifteen years later).

The plot actually has marked similarities to Joseph Losey’s The Sleeping Tiger, made concurrently in drab monochrome in postwar austerity Britain; in which refined Alexis Smith (married to decent but dull Alexander Knox) completely loses her head over delinquent Dirk Bogarde. Ten years earlier, Visconti himself made a much more unadorned treatment of greed and destructive passion with Ossessione (1942) an adaptation of James M. Cain’s sweaty tale of blue-collar adultery and murder, The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Maria Callas had been Visconti’s first choice for the part of Countess Livia Serpieri – a society wife who becomes infatuated with good-looking creep Lieutenant Franz Mahler (played in a gleaming white uniform by an obviously dubbed Farley Granger), but she had too many theatre commitments to take time out for the shoot which eventually took nine months to complete, and Ingrid Bergman was too wrapped up working with her husband Roberto Rossellini, so the role eventually went to Alida Valli. Still stunning, but already perceptibly older than during her late forties Hollywood sojourn, in the arms of Lt. Mahler Valli discovers an erotic fulfilment entirely new to her; but to Franz she’s just another notch on his bedpost, and someone to sponge off.

Marcella Mariani (who died in a plane crash aged 19, just six weeks after Senso‘s premiere) is rather sweet and vulnerable as the young prostitute Clara who is spitefully exploited by Franz to further rub Livia’s nose in his rejection of her. Rina Morelli has an eye-catching cameo flitting about Livia’s villa in Aldeno as her maid, who seems to be actively enjoying the thrill of her mistress’s affair. But the most blackly comic element in the film is the way that as momentous historical events escalate around them, she and her idealistic cousin Roberto Ussoni (played by Massimo Girotti) are shown to be completely oblivious to what is making the other tick.

Under the impression that Franz is waiting for her at an address to which she has been followed by her stuffy husband (Heinz Moog) she melodramatically declares, with her back to the door, that YES SHE HAS A LOVER!!!, only to discover the place occupied by Roberto and his revolutionaries eagerly making plans; as oblivious of the turmoil raging inside Livia as she is by now indifferent to their cause. She commits treason by sheltering Franz from the Italians, and then gets even deeper into corruption by helping him to avoid combat by giving money meant for The Cause to him. One of a number of loose ends in the plot is that we never find out what happens when it’s discovered that 200,000 florins have gone missing from the fund intended to finance The Revolution, has been filched by yours truly.

As her grip on sanity loosens, Livia’s wardrobe (the work of Marcel Escoffier & Piero Tosi) becomes more and more buttoned down and severe, the black dress she wears in her final scenes making her resemble some ferocious bird of prey. The distinguished Italian cameraman G.R. Aldo was killed in a car crash during filming (this was also his first colour production); and the opening scene in Venice’s Fenice Theatre is the work of his successor Robert Krasker, who himself walked out on the production after falling out with Visconti, leaving the film to be completed by Giuseppe Rotunno. Whoever shot the amazing close-ups of Valli – her eyes wildly darting from side to side as she becomes more and more unhinged – merits particular kudos. During the final confrontation in the hotel you’re expecting her to produce a gun and shoot Franz; but she achieves the same end by more deliciously vindictive means, and he ends up in front of a firing squad assembled at remarkably short notice while she careens into the night to a very uncertain fate.

Having ended with a bang, the final credits still have one more surprise to serve up when the first two names we see after Visconti’s turn out to be those of the future directors (on this occasion humble assistants), Francesco Rosi and Franco Zeffirelli.

Senso was shot in English, and there are a couple of excerpts on YouTube from the truncated 94 minute English-language version, ‘The Wanton Countess’ which enable you to hear Granger in his own voice speaking dialogue written by no less than Tennessee Williams and Paul Bowles (thus confirming suspicions that we are witnessing a Venetian variation on A Streetcar Named Desire).

By the 1970s Visconti could finally make a film truer to his own inclinations in Death in Venice (1971), with Dirk Bogarde – once the object of infatuation himself in The Sleeping Tiger, but now the one smitten – in a production again dressed up to the nines, handsomely set in period, again using beautiful Venetian locations and this time almost entirely dispensing with dialogue in favour of Mahler, his favourite composer; whose name he had co-opted for the young officer in Senso (who had been called Remigio Ruz in Camillo Boito’s original novella). Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD on AMAZON + CRITERION COLLECTION

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) Bluray

Dir: Joseph Sargent | Cast: Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, James Broderick, Dick O’Neill, Lee Wallace | US Thriller 104′

A depressing sign of the times is that Ridley Scott’s underpowered 2009 remake of this classic thriller has far more posts on IMDb, after ten years, than the original after twenty. Mind you, even older viewers would be hard-pushed to recall the name of the actual director. But Joseph Sargent (whose long career in TV included James Cagney’s final role in Terrible Joe Moran) put his long career directing actors to good use in his one major cinema release, filmed in New York with a cast recruited largely from Broadway (including Rudy Bond – who played the judge in the opening scene of 12 Angry Men – as the police commissioner).

A slow-burner with a terrific score by David Shire (whose other films include The Conversation and Zodiac). During filming everyone knew they were making a winner, but at the box office back in the day failed to come up trumps, and the thriller rarely showed up on tv during the eighties. It was eventually resurrected twenty years later as a cult movie after inspiring Reservoir Dogs, which turned the film inside out by not actually showing the caper itself, dealing instead which its planning and aftermath.

In Reservoir Dogs we instead see the squabbling among grown men over who gets what colour, while the black suits worn in Tarantino’s film reflect the simple but effective disguises employed by the original desperadoes (it comes as quite a shock when Mr Grey turns out to be bald underneath his hat).

Frederick Raphael cited the use of the word ‘Gesundheit’ and its implications in the final scene as exemplary of the high standard of the writing; evident throughout the film as when one of the security men observes that “You’d think a million dollars would look like more” or when Garber is surprised to discover that Inspector Daniels is black. The one major flaw is when Blue behaves wholly out of character by going back into the tunnel to kill the plainclothes man solely so that he can get caught (Matthau’s line that they don’t “at the moment” have the death penalty in New York State shows just how long ago this film was made). The scene where Blue kills the guard is genuinely shocking since we have come to care about him, but demonstrates just how ruthless Blue is and justifies his own sticky ending. Richard Chatten

NOW ON AMAZON

Gunman on the Streets (1950) DVD

Dir: Frank Tuttle | Cast: Dane Clark, Simone Signoret, Fernand Gravey, Robert Duke, Michel Andre | US Noir thriller 86′

Atmospherically shot by the veteran Oscar-winning cameraman Eugen Schüfftan, Gunman in the Streets is the English-language version of a co-production released in France as Le Traqué. The French version is now even more obscure than this, and since it had a different credited director (Borys Lewin, normally an editor) may be substantially different from this one. All those obviously Gallic types speaking English seem a little incongruous and it would be easy to imagine this with subtitles (Dane Clark and Robert Duke were presumably dubbed). Jean-Pierre Melville probably saw Le Traqué, and Fernand Gravet’s police commissioner, suavely hot on Clark’s trail, strongly resembles Paul Meurisse’s Commissaire Blot in Le Deuxième Souffle (1966).

The English-language version bears the name of blacklisted Hollywood veteran Frank Tuttle (before he yielded in 1951 to pressure to name names to the HUAC), which may be why it was never released theatrically in the United States. But it can’t have helped that it’s so relentlessly sordid, grim and claustrophobic, with a hero unlikeable even by Dane Clark’s usual charmless standard.

It starts like Odd Man Out, with Clark on the run on the streets of Paris with a bullet in his shoulder after shooting his way to freedom. He contacts former girlfriend Simone Signoret, curtly informs her that he needs 300,000 francs pronto to get out of the country, and they hole up in the apartment of a creepy admirer of Signoret’s (Michel André) who Clark handles predictably roughly. What Signoret (then in her absolute youthful prime) ever saw in this vicious little runt was beyond me; I guess he must have been dynamite in the sack. Richard Chatten

NOW ON DVD FROM AMAZON

Dr Crippen (1962) DVD | Talking Pictures

Dir: Robert Lynn | Wri: Leigh Vance | Cast: Donald Pleasence, Samantha Eggar, Coral Browne, Donald Wolfit, James Robertson Justice | UK Drama 98′

Along with Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed this is the role Donald Pleasence was born to play; although ironically Coral Browne, who stars as his abrasive wife, later married Vincent Price who landed the part originally written with Pleasence in mind, of Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General (1968).

Nic Roeg is behind the camera here and the focus is Crippen’s love life in a storyline that opens at the start of the doctor’s trial in the Old Bailey, flashbacks fleshing out the gruelling desperation of his marriage to failed performer Belle (Browne), whom he later leaves to elope with his young secretary and mistress Ethel Le Neve (Eggar) only to be arrested on boarding the vessel bound for freedom – and death in 1910.

George Orwell once observed that it shows what society really thinks of the institute of marriage that whenever a woman gets murdered the first person police suspect is always the husband. Making a welcome change from the usual theme of petty crime and bank robberies that British cinema at that time became known for, Robert Lynn’ macabre ‘true crime’ drama followed swiftly on the heals of the Lady Chatterley’s trial that showcased the subject of sexual incompatibility within marriage. Dr Crippen carried an ‘X’ certificate due to its raw depiction of unfulfilled married life, rather than its murderous subject; and in order to potray a very contemporary problem on screen it was necessary to do so in the guise of a famous criminal case over a half a century earlier. Richard Chatten.

ON DVD and TCM | TALKING PICTURES TV

 

Lost Boundaries (1949)

Dir: Alfred J Werker | Wri: Ormond Dekay | Cast: Beatrice Pearson, Mel Ferrer, Susan Douglas Roubes, Robert A Dunn, Richard Hylton | US Drama 99′

During the immediate postwar period Hollywood developed a new maturity and a social conscience on racial matters given expression in 1947 by two dramas about anti-Semitism, Crossfire and Gentleman’s Agreement. Two years later, Lost Boundaries was one of at least four films released in 1949 addressing discrimination against Black Americans preceded by Home of the Brave and followed by Pinky and Intruder in the Dust.

The issues addressed by Lost Boundaries anticipated Imitation of Life and the British Sapphire by ten years, but Imitation of Life itself was already based on a 1933 novel that had been filmed before in 1934. The 1934 version of Imitation of Life is possibly unique in that the daughter who ‘passes’ was actually played by a Black actress, Fredi Washington (1903-1994), who is superb, and whose failure to go on to a fruitful career in Hollywood speaks volumes. The topic remains hot today, with the White House having been recently occupied by the man who sponsored the ‘birther’ campaign against his mixed-race predecessor (who himself once raised eyebrows by describing himself as a ‘mutt’); while in 2015 the whole situation was turned on its head when Black activist Rachel Anne Dolezal was ‘outed’ as White.

Crossfire was actually based on a novel in which the original murder victim had been a homosexual, and the issue of ‘passing’ for straight for the sake of a quiet life also remains a live one, as Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia (1993) testified. (Richard Hylton – who plays the son in Lost Boundaries – ironically returned to the stage after Fox declined to renew his contract due to rumours about his sexuality, and eventually committed suicide in San Francisco in 1962.)

Mounted by Louis de Rochemont to resemble a documentary, Lost Boundaries depicts a world unfamiliar even today to many White audiences of America’s Black professional class, and is based on the case of Dr. Albert C. Johnston (1900-1988), a Black radiologist who along with his wife Thyra (1904-1995) passed as White in 1930s New Hampshire (and was even chairman of his local Republican Party) until his cover was blown when the USN withdrew his commission in 1940 after learning that he was part Black.

The story of Dr. Johnston and his family was the subject of a Reader’s Digest article in 1947, followed in 1948 by a book, Lost Boundaries, by William L. White (author of Journey for Margaret and They Were Expendable) before being turned into this film, which won the award for Best Screenplay at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival and was banned in both Atlanta and Memphis. (Dr. Johnston himself continued to work in Keene, N.H. until moving to Hawaii in 1966).

For modern viewers more used to seeing Mel Ferrer in escapist Hollywood fare like Scaramouche and Lili his role in this is a surprise; but he is in fact one of several actors making their debuts in the feature, notably Richard Hylton – whose discovery that he’s Black just as he was about to enter the navy has a power equivalent to the plight of the daughter in Imitation of Life – and a charming and impossibly young-looking Carleton Carpenter in a smaller role.

The fact that the son’s situation is far from unique is revealed when a Black police lieutenant observes, “Ohh, one of those cases, eh? Some times they really do go screwy”. Canada Lee is excellent as usual as Lt. Thompson, and it’s yet another of the film’s many ironies that when he died of a heart attack three years later at the age of 45 he was at the time being hounded by the HUAC. Richard Chatten.

ON DVD AND TCM in the US 

Twice Round the Daffodils (1962)

Dir: Gerald Thomas, Wri: Patrick Cargill | Cast: Juliet Mills, Donald Sinden, Donald Houston, Kenneth Williams, Andrew Ray, Amanda Reiss | UK Comedy 89′

Carry On Nurse had been the top British moneymaker of 1959, but Twice Round the Daffodils is far from the “Carry On in all but name” it’s usually claimed to be – and was originally promoted as – despite the presence of Kenneth Williams who’s actually rather subdued here. The ‘naughty’ digressions with Jill Ireland clambering through a window in her drawers and Donald Sinden’s roving eye actually go jarringly against the grain of most of the rest of the film.

Based on a play called ‘Ring for Catty’ by Patrick Cargill (who had just appeared in Carry On Regardless) and Jack Beale, originally produced as Rest Hour in 1951. Producer Peter Rogers had owned it for several years and had wanted to film it when he was obliged to make Carry On Nurse instead’. It’s obvious from the opening credits accompanied by Bruce Montgomery’s soaring score, however, that this is a completely different kettle of fish more akin to the ‘Sanatorium’ episode of Trio (1950).

Taking its title from the fervently aimed for constitutional exercise of ‘twice round the daffodils’ indicating possible permanent release from the hospital confines, this is a film best appreciated after a spell of serious illness, or possibly even Covid isolation. When I recently spent two months in hospital, I often thought about this film, and how soul-destroyingly boring hospital life must have been without the iPad my sister supplied me with. Everybody in this film looks far too healthy, the interminable nights and the tedium and melancholy of the days is suggested only by Kenneth Williams’ desperation for a chess partner; and while going to the lavatory isn’t overlooked – and is here treated as a subject of mirth – it looms large in your calculations if you’re stuck in bed all day.

To return to the credit sequence, Amanda Reiss as Nurse Beamish (referred to only as ‘Dorothy’ in the cast list) is listed right at the bottom of the cast despite featuring prominently and touchingly throughout the film itself. Richard Chatten.

COMING UP ON TALKING PICTURES

Eerie Tales (1919) *** DVD

Dir: Richard Oswald | Cast: Anita Barber, Conrad Veidt, Reinhold Schunzel, Hugo Doblin, Paul Morgan, Georg John, Bernhard Goetzke,

By 1919 feature films were now long enough to accommodate more than just one story (as Intolerance had amply demonstrated), and Unheimliche Geschichten provides five; replete with spooky special effects and atmospherically lit interiors shot by Carl Hoffmann that make good use of depth of field. (The apprehensive-looking fellow who appears in the prologue with Reinhold Schunzel and Conrad Veidt is director Richard Oswald.)

The Black Cat and The Suicide Club (episodes 3 and 4) will already be familiar to most viewers, while the first episode presumably draws upon the same urban legend that originated during the Paris Exposition of 1889 that was most famously filmed as So Long at the Fair in 1950. I don’t know how widely seen this film was during the 1920s, but plenty of the imagery found its way into later, more famous movies (the ghostly clutching hand in The Beast with Five Fingers, the button that can kill the person sitting in a particular chair at the reading of SPECTRE’s financial reports in Thunderball, for example).

With his creepy demeanour, slicked-back hair and tights, moon-faced Reinhold Schunzel as Satan resembles The Riddler, while in the first episode he looks like Kurt Raab. It’s always good to see Conrad Veidt; but the film is particularly valuable as a record of the naughty Weimar-era cabaret dancer Anita Berber, whose adoption of formal male attire in Dr Mabuse was later made famous by her erstwhile girlfriend Marlene Dietrich, and who was the subject of a famous portrait by Otto Dix in 1925. She burned herself out young but here gets ample opportunity to display her corporeal presence in several different roles, as well as her famous androgyny and dancing agility doing the splits in tights and a short smock that display her legs while simultaneously making her resemble a female Hamlet. Richard Chatten

SO LONG AT THE FAIR is now on Talking Pictures TV | Amazon

 

A New Kind of Love (1963)

Dir: Melville Shavelson | Cast: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodwood, Thelma Ritter, Eva Gabor | US Romantic Comedy 100′

One of the funniest things The Marx Brothers ever did was attempt to pass themselves off as Maurice Chevalier singing the title song of this ghastly misfire to bluff their way through customs in Monkey Business (1931). Over thirty years later Chevalier here puts in an appearance to briefly warble it himself; which simply demonstrates that they did this sort of thing better in the thirties and that Paul Newman couldn’t play comedy.

Rehashing the old chestnut that short hair and a suit equals frumpy, and that tarting herself up and plonking on a blonde wig and several pounds of slap automatically makes an already delightful woman irresistible. The plot resembles a leering cross between Ninotchka and Two-Faced Woman on which glossy Technicolor photography by Daniel Fapp and fanciful colour effects by George Hoyningen-Heune have been squandered. And it all thinks it’s a lot cleverer and sophisticated than it actually is. Years later they used one of the photos to headline the Cannes Film Festival, bringing the film back into the collective conscience, so that served a purpose of sorts. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

The Investigation (2021) BBCiPlayer | DVD

 

Dir: Tobias Linholm | Cast: Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek, Pernilla August, Rolf Lassgard, Laura Christensen, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Hans Henrik Clemensen | Denmark, True crime drama, 2021

True crime doesn’t get any more gruesome than the murder of journalist Kim Wall. So the Danes have thrown their best talent behind this HBO miniseries (now also on BBC 2) written and directed by Tobias Lindholm (whose Another Round is Denmark’s Oscar hopeful) and starring Pernilla August, Borgen‘s Soren Malling, Pilou Asbaek (A Hijacking) and Rolf Lassgard.

This was a murder that shocked the world: a Danish inventor Peter Madsen invited Wall to visit his homemade submarine somewhere off the coast of Denmark. She then disappeared without trace and Madsen was rescued after his vessel sunk near to Copenhagen’s Koge bay. Interviewed by police Madsen later claimed Wall had slipped and hit her head, drowning in a watery grave. But then it gets weird. As Wall’s body parts were gradually washed up, the head some time later delaying identification, Madsen was arrested and charged with her murder, changing his story several times in the aftermath.

Sombre and sumptuously photographed by Magnus Nordenhof Jonck this plays out as a slow burning and evocative thriller that manages to be utterly compelling while respecting the delicate subject matter and Wall’s loved ones, as it carefully chronicles the unfolding investigation – day by day – under the guidance of Malling’s thoughtful Jens Moller. The detective really took it upon himself to ensure that no stone was left unturned in exploring the unpalatable facts, consulting oceanographers and tide experts to fathom out what happened during that fateful night of August 10th 2017.

Wall was an accomplished professional investigative journalist with everything to live for, yet her career was cut short by Madsen who not only ended her life, but in such a macabre way – presumably he hoped the evidence would be destroyed by marine life.

Moller works painstakingly in the suitably grim conditions of a rainy Danish autumn – the whole process took four months – to try and piece together enough evidence to nail Madsen. Dogs detectives join specialist divers and pathologists, and the scenes involving Walls’ parents are particularly moving. The six part structure enables Lindholm to fully flesh out the characters’ backstories in this deeply affecting criminal procedural that widens out into a slice of social history.

Although one tries to avoid the expression ‘Nordic Noir’ in this particular case, it’s just what it is. No disrespect to Wall, she just happened to be the victim. All things considered I think she would consider this a fitting tribute to her life. MT

ON BBC2 from 29 January 2021 | DVD on 1March 2021

 

 

Station Six-Sahara (1963) VOD

Dir: Seth Holt | Writers: Brian Clemens, Bryan Forbes, Jean Martet | Cast: Caroll Baker, Peter van Eyck, Ian Bannen, Denholm Elliott, Biff McGuire, Mario Adorf, Hansjorg Felmy | UK Comedy Thriller 101′

Not a film for anybody currently climbing the walls under lockdown. Station Six-Sahara demonstrates that a wide open expanse can be as claustrophobic as a tiny little cabin; the oppressive desert backdrop (of Libya’s Sahara) vividly rendered by veteran cameraman Gerald Gibbs as a blinding white nothingness stretching to infinity (like snow but also oppressively hot).

Usually mistaken for a drama, Station Six-Sahara is more properly enjoyed – if that’s the right word for such an intense experience – as a very black comedy. Bryan Forbes rewrote Brian Clemens’ original script based on a play by Jean Martet which anticipates The Flight of the Phoenix and Dark Star in it’s unsparing depiction of a group of men who didn’t have much in common in the first place driven further round the bend by being cooped up together; or to suffer the final twist of the knife when Carroll Baker literally crashes in on them.

There’s little overt action, the tension deriving from what’s going on inside them rather than what they are actually doing. Or wish they were doing. Richard Chatten.

NOW on PRIME VIDEO 

The Last Warning (1928) *** Bluray

Dir.: Paul Leni; Cast: Laura La Plante, Montague Love, Roy D’Arcy, Burr McIntosh, Margaret Livingston, Carrie Daumery, John Boles)Bert Roach, D’Arcy Corrigan; USA 1928, 89 min.

Universal intended The Last Warning as a companion piece to Leni’s more famous (and superior) The Cat and the Canary (1927), and it was also German born director Paul Leni’s final: he died at the age of forty four eight months after the film’s premiere, contracting sepsis from an untreated tooth infection.

Based on the novel by Wordsworth Camp, the Broadway play by Thomas F. Fallon and then adapted for the screen by Alfred A. Cohn, The Last Warning is a mystery-thriller ‘who-done-it’, with a clunky and complicated narrative dominated by Leni’s direction and Hal Mohr’s jerky camerawork. Charles D. Hall’s art direction is inspired by German expressionism, with Leni’s Das Wachsfigurenkabinett/ Waxworks (1924) perhaps his greatest achievement.

Leni made use of the Phantom of the Opera (1925) set for his last outing which begins with one of the actors (Woodford’s D’Arcy Corrigan) being electrocuted on stage. There is rumour Woodford was part of a menage-a-trois, but more confusion occurs when the body disappears without trace. The theatre is closed but five years later producer Mike Brody (Roach) re-opens the place to catch the murderer by staging a re-run of the play with the original cast members.

During the rehearsals falling scenery, a fire and frightening noises occur, and the purse of leading lady Doris (La Plante) is stolen. Stage manager Josia Bunce (McIntosh) receives a telegram,  signed by John Woodford, telling him to abandon the play and this sets the stage, quite literally, for a series of disasters, involving a 400 volt cable electrocution and worse was to come.

After the shooting, some spoken dialogue and audio effects were added, but this version has been lost. We are left with great moments of camera work, such as in a scene where veteran actress Barbara Morgan leaps from the stage and plummets to the ground, with the camera taking on her POV. Whilst Phantom of the Opera would play a great role in future Universal canon of horror features, The Last Warning, with its masked killer, is a prelude to the Italian ‘Gialli’ features of directors Dario Argento and Mario Bava. AS

ON EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA 15 FEBRUARY 2021

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries (1940-) ****

Lon Chaney Jr is the stars in this fantasy horror compendium of six cult classic features that dabble in Death, dementia and the dark arts. Based on the popular radio shows of the 1940s, Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man), gives a timeless performances alongside his leading ladies Anne Gwynne, Lois Collier, Patricia Morison, Jean Parker, Tala Birell and Brenda Joyce in these spooky chillers.

Calling Dr. Death (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1943) – A doctor is not sure if he murdered his wife and has his nurse uncover the truth by hypnotising him.

Weird Woman (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – While on a trip, a professor falls in love with an exotic native woman who turns out to be a supernatural being.

Dead Man’s Eyes (dir. Reginald Le Borg, 1944) – When an artist is blinded, an operation to restore his sight depends on another person willing to donate their eyes.

The Frozen Ghost (dir. Harold Young, 1945) – A stage mentalist and a discredited plastic surgeon are involved in mysterious goings-on in an eerie wax museum.

Strange Confession (dir. John Hoffman, 1945) – Flashbacks reveal the events leading up to a man’s revenge on the racketeer who took advantage of his wife.

Pillow of Death (dir. Wallace Fox, 1945) – A lawyer in love with his secretary is suspected of suffocating his wife, among others.

INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: THE COMPLETE FILM SERIES starring Lon Chaney, Jr; on Blu-ray as a part of the Eureka Classics range from 18 January 2020.

Cape Fear (1991) **** Blu-ray

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Wri: Wesley Strick from the novel by Joh D MacDonald | Cast: Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis,

J Lee Thompson’s cult classic 1961 thriller is undoubtedly a more sober and classy reflection on recidivism with its serious and starkly realised legal procedural, you cannot deny the appealing immediacy of Martin Scorsese’s version, its characters are certainly more relatable in our contemporary gaze. The 1991 Cape Fear  has  four colourful central performances to enjoy, as well as cameos from key characters from the original, including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck (in what would be his final film). As a piece of entertainment the 1991 version has everything, including Freddie Francis behind the camera, although some may argue its melodrama and schlocky sensationalism verges on the extreme. It’s a thriller and a fiery one at that, Scorsese finding a brilliant way of bringing things to a climax in the coruscating final act.

Scorsese’s decision to stage the final denouement during a tempestuous rainstorm on the bayou was a masterstroke, the turbulence of the rushing water serving as a magnificent metaphor for the emotional turmoil felt by all the characters, and for different reasons: Nolte’s defence lawyer is hellbent on protecting his family (Lange’s histrionic wife, the innocence of her daughter (Lewis). And a felon just keen to survive as the waves gradually claim the psychotic victim.

Scorsese leaves us in no doubt that his married couple are still enjoying each other, whereas the Peck and his staid onscreen wife Bergen seem to have veered off that avenue of pleasure, despite their relative youth. Robert De Niro makes for a terrifying villain as bible-bashing Max Cady; all quietly persuasive and self-righteous, he emerges a viciously twisted misogynist when riled, and a chilling sociopathic monster in a finale that will remain seared to the memory, alongside Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men (2017). In preparation for the role De Niro paid a doctor USD 5,000 to grind his teeth down and then USD 20,000 to have them restored after shooting had finished. He also used vegetable dyes for the horrific tattoos, that faded a few moths later.

In contrast Robert Mitchum’s 1962 Cady is a standard nasty piece of work, but he doesn’t make our blood run cold, certainly not from a woman’s point of view, coming across moreover as a suave operator who just happens to be a sadistic small time criminal. But Mitchum comes up trumps in the Scorsese version as the heavyweight Lieutenant Elgart. In contrast J Lee Thomson’s womenfolk are twee coffee morning folk, particularly Polly Bergen’s prissy housewife, Peggy. Admittedly it was early Sixties Georgia in America’s staid Deep South (where race riots were still raging).

Martin Scorsese regular casting director Ellen Lewis makes a wise choice with Juliette Lewis for the role of Danielle Bowden, and both she and De Niro garnered Oscar nods for their performances. She gives a great deal of texture to the flirty vulnerable teenager: on the cusp of adulthood, and  hormonally charged, she is sexually curious yet still possessing of a young girl’s fragile charm.

Nolte’s Bowden has clearly put a foot wrong in his legal judgement by suppressing evidence that may have kept De Niro’s Cady out of jail, and he continues to blot his copybook on this misdemeanour, flirting with Douglas’s unstable Lori Davis rather than making amends with a decent apology to Cody.

Casting and performance-wise Gregory Peck comes across as a morally superior Bowden, with his finally chiselled jawline, matinee idol demeanour and clean-suited integrity, as against Nolte’s rather scuzzy married man nursing a nascent midlife crisis and sniffing around before the inevitable onset of sexual disfunction. Bernard Herrmann’s thundering score also unites these two films (remastered for the 1991 version), it’s a magnificent and memorable musical calling card to what will follow. As an elegantly realised moral drama the award goes to J Lee Thompson, but as a rip-roaring riveting thriller Scorsese wins with Cape Fear. MT

CAPE FEAR IS NOW ON BLU-RAY | 14 DECEMBER 2020 | COURTESY OF FABULOUSFILMS.COM

 

 

Le Trou (1960) **** Prime video

Dir: Jacques Becker | Michel Constantin, Jean Keraudy, Philippe Leroy, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel | French Thriller 131′

It was bold indeed of Jacques Becker to make another prison escape film so soon after Robert Bresson had created the genre’s masterpiece, Un condamné à mort s’est échappé (1956); but the gamble paid off handsomely.

Based on a book by Jose Giovanni and adapted by the writer, along with Becker and Romanian-born Jean Aurel, the plot is simple: four long-serving inmates planning an elaborate escape cautiously induct fresh blood into their scheme in the shape of a short-term detainee from another cell-block. Will he have the same commitment in his desire to escape?.

Like Robert Rossen’s Lilith (1964), La Trou seen in isolation looks more like the debut of an exciting new talent than the valediction of a veteran in his fifties about to be taken before his time. Released shortly after Becker had died of a heart attack aged just 53, when confronted with such a fresh and modern-looking piece of filmmaking one is vexed by the question of where Becker would have gone next, which we shall never know.

The film remains unusual for its lack of a music score (composer Philippe Arthuys, significantly, is actually credited at the end with ‘Illustration sonore’), and I can even forgive this film for setting a deplorable precedent by being possibly the first to have no credits at the start; they all come at the end, to the accompaniment of a simple piano arrangement of Rubinstein’s ‘Melody in F’ which may have been intended as discrete mockery on Becker’s part of the grandiose use of Mozart’s ‘Mass in C Minor’ at the conclusion of Bresson’s film. DoP Ghislain Cloquet (who was married to Becker’s script-editor daughter, Sophie) achieves tremendous rhythm with his kinetic black and white camerawork despite the claustrophobic and squalid prison confines. Jean Keraudy, a veteran of the original escape, segues smoothly into the uniformly excellent cast; while among the staff, Jean-Paul Coquelin has a beguiling air of dry good humour in his scenes as the cell block lieutenant. Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

 

 

No Man is an Island (1962) ****

Dir: Richard Goldstone, John Monks Jr. | Jeffrey Hunter, Barbara Perez, Marshall Thompson, Ronald Remy, Amparo Custodio, Paul Edwards Jr. | US Action drama, 116′

No Man is an Island (aka Island Escape) is based on the 1945 memoir ‘Robinson Crusoe, USN’ by George Ray Tweed (1902-1989), who evaded capture by the Japanese for more than two and a half years after the Japanese invasion of Guam in 1941.

Nearly two hours in length, this Universal release handsomely lensed in colour and scope by Carl Kayser and back in Hollywood edited by veteran cutter Basil Wrangell is considerably more ambitious than the other cheap war movies shot in the Philippines during the early Sixties; with Hollywood star Jeffrey Hunter again finding himself alone on an island dodging enemy bullets just nine years after finding himself in the same situation in the Boulting Brothers’ Singlehanded.

The title quoting John Donne – along with a lead actor who had just played Christ – had made me expect something preachier; but apart from a scene with a local priest there’s actually surprisingly little God talk (maybe there was more in Tweed’s original book). The situation was played for laughs in Heaven Know, Mr Allison! (from which footage reappears) and Father Goose; while the ending recalls Brigadoon. But here – despite one character treading barefoot on a scorpion and others bleeding to death, being decapitated and stripped down to a skeleton by crabs – the treatment is more like a soap opera, with a pet chicken cutely named ‘Admiral Halsey’ and a suitably romantic score by Restie Umali.

Although prominently billed second in the opening credits, Girl Friday Barbara Perez in fact gets a fraction of the screen time of ninth-billed Filipina comedienne Chichay (Mrs Nakamura) as a feisty Japanese-American saloon owner, to whose establishment the film keeps returning. Richard Chatten.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE and Amazon DVD

 

Oliver Sacks: His Own Life (2020)

Dir. : Ric Burns; Documentary with Oliver Sacks, Kate Edgar, Bill Hayes, Paul Theroux; USA 2019, 114 min.

The final six months in the life of eminent clinical neuro-psychologist Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) are the focus of Ric Burns’ immersive biopic. Filmed in the Sacks’ Greenwich village home and taking its title from his New York Times essay of February 2015, penned on discovering he was dying with terminal cancer, this warmly enjoyable portrait reflects Sacks’ compassionate nature as well as his courage.

Sacks appears to make a graceful exit from this world; writing, talking and loving to the end. Not that the doctor’s life had always been so harmonious and well-structured – on the contrary – his homosexuality and extreme shyness, which he blamed on his prosopagnosia (Face blindness), a neurological defect which some of his patients shared.

Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Cricklewood, London in 1933, he was destined to become a medical doctor: both his parents were members of the profession, so were two of his older brothers. Oliver was his mother’s favourite but when she found out he was homosexual (at the age of 18), she declared “I wish you had never been born.”

Oliver and his brother Michael had been evacuated during the Blitz to a boarding school in the Midlands where both were bullied and beaten. Michael was so disturbed he developed full-blown schizophrenia. Oliver was physically strong, but very timid, and on his 18th birthday let his parents know his plan to move to the USA. In San Francisco and LA he found a life very different from that in repressive London. Achieving a weight-lifting record from his body building he also became addicted to  amphetamines and his BMW motorcycle. His sex life was a disappointment: he constantly fell for straight men and after a birthday encounter in 1963 at the Hampstead Ponds, on a short-lived return to London, he turned celibate for 35 years.

Back in the Bronx Sacks’ life hung in the balance during a fellowship at the Albert Einstein College. And by New Year’s Day 1966, came the realisation his drug habit had to go. In its place came writing. Seeking the help of psychoanalyst Leonard S (the two where still “getting there” by the end), the late 1960s saw him working at Beth Abraham Hospital, where he discovered the beneficial effects of a dopamine replacement drug (L-DOPA) on victims of the encephalitis lethargica pandemic of the 1920s. His patients recovered and shared their experiences during “Lock-Ins”.

Unfortunately, Neurology had acquired a bad name largely as a result of the widespread practice of lobotomising difficult young schizophrenics, but Sacks’ work with kids in this area was too subjective and therefore regarded as ‘unscientific’. In 1973 he was sacked for criticising the practice of putting troublesome young patients suffering from Schizophrenia into solitary confinement.

But his book on EL, entitled ‘Awakenings’ was not well-received, and his colleagues shunned him. To make matters worse, he had written it during a rapprochement with his mother, who then died during a trip to Israel. So disturbed was he at her loss that he injured his leg during a hiking accident (an obvious act of self-harm/suicide) and it took him years to regain his full mobility. This was made worse by his relationship difficulties – homosexuality was a crime, and even an admittance would mean the end of a career. Prison terms and chemical castration were common punishments. (Ironically Penny Marshall’s 1990 film version of Awakenings, with Robin Williams and Robert de Niro, was nominated for three Oscars).

In 1982 Sacks met the editor Kate Edgar, who became his mother surrogate: organising not only his writing output but running his day-to-day life. Sacks output was prolific: his books are always centred around neurological topics, like the aforementioned Prosopagnosia, which he tackled in “The Man who mistook his Wife for a Hat” and “Egnosias”. His love for music was the main theme in “Musicophilia”, “The mind’s Eye” is a research into the brain recognition process of seeing moving images, where a neurological disorder can slow down our recognition process to a slow motion tempo.

Sacks was an explorer of the mind, observing and empathising with his patients, he became completely at one with them during the treatment process. He considered the hierarchical structures which dominate medicine to this day as deleterious to the profession.

DoP Buddy Squires close-ups of Sacks dominate the feature, with Burns keeping proper distance from his subject – apart from at the end, when he chronicles his late-life relationship with NY journalist Bill Hayes, whom Sacks met in 2008. This story of an outsider who became the part of a professional mainstream tainted by decades of patient mistreatment is an enjoyable and informative watch. AS

NOW ON release in Cinemas

The Sheltering Sky (1990) ***** Blu-ray

Dir: Bernardo Bertolucci | Debra Winger, John Malkovich, Cambell Scott, Jill Bennett, Timothy Spall | Drama 138′

Bertolucci transforms Paul Bowles’ oppressively mournful novel into a sizzlingly seductive big screen feast. With a talented cast all dressed up in James Acheson’s stylish rigouts and Vittorio Storaro’s lush visual mastery there is also Ryuichi Sakamoto’s teasing score and the sultry scenery of the Sahara to salivate over. So abandon yourself to the sensual pleasures of this richly romantic drama that lingers for over two hours.

John Malkovich and Debra Winger are at their languorous best as the rather louche Americans (Kit and Port Moresby) who are travellers – rather than tourists – in North Africa in 1947. Bertolucci brings out the humanity in this rather dizzy couple – who are unlike their page versions – so when it all ends in tears we actually care in a finale that echoes The English Patient.

There is something Gatbyesque about Kit and Port – spoilt beautiful people they may be but there is a tenderness in their love for each other, however much they suffer their melancholy ennui. Both are casually unfaithful early on in the film: Kit with their travelling companion Tunner  (a sultry Scott), Port with a Moroccan prostitute. But the pivotal moment comes when they realise their relationship is doomed while making love under the eponymous sheltering sky.

From then on Algeria morphs from exotic paradise to a place of primitive danger as the trip gradually implodes. This is because Port contracts typhoid leading to a fraught search for medical help. Until then this is a sumptuous swoon of a film full of magnificent sunsets and mysterious beauty. Bertolucci by no means subverts our expectations of the cruel savagery of Africa but triumphs in showing us how terrifyingly Heaven turns to Hell. Kit loses her moral compass after Port loses his life and the enigmatic desert swallows her up in an entirely appropriate denouement. MT

A distinguished and emotive follow-up to his Best Picture-winning The Last Emperor (Academy Awards 1988) and a highlight in an extraordinary filmmaking career, The Sheltering Sky won a BAFTA for Vittorio Storaro’s outstanding cinematography and a Golden Globe for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s haunting original score. MT

NOW ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW

 

 

Parasite (2019) **** In Black and White

Dir: Bong Joon Ho | Cast: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Chang Hyae-jin, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ziso, Lee Jung-em, Jung Hyeon-jun | Drama | Korea 131′

The black and white cut of this wickedly thrilling upstairs downstairs social satire Korean-style seems even more resonant, relevant and appealing in its monochrome format.

This scabrous story is the latest in a line of hits from the South Korean master along with The Host, Snowpiercer and Okja. But this time the gloves are off as Boon Joon offers up shameless social reality and makes no bones it, dishing the dirt on the rigid class system in his homeland.

Thematically rather too similar to last year’s Plane d’Or winner Shopkeepers to offer any big surprises about South Korean life, this is nonetheless startling in its candour. The characters are ordinary people making their way as best they can. But this is a flashier film that wears its satire on its slick sleeve for all to access, and there’s nothing subtle about its social message. The ‘parasites’ are sharp individuals who cunningly see their way to the main chance. Bong Joon calls the film “a comedy without clowns, a tragedy without villains.” Yet in the natural world, parasites live off their hosts, depending on them for survival, but often causing disease or harm. This certainly was the case in The Servant, but does it happen here?

Head of the family Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) lives with his wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) in a squalid slum, grafting a living by preparing cardboard pizza boxes. Through his backstreet contacts, young Ki-woo inveigles himself into a wealthy household of a captain of industry Mr. Park (Lee Sun-kyun) where he is tasked with tutoring his teenage daughter Da-hye (Jung Ziso). Her mother Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong) is a typically vacuous trophy wife who prances around their pristine modernist mansion all day, doing a spot of shopping when she occasionally ventures out with . Without giving any clues away, the Ki-woo’s entire family are drafted into the vast mansion, taking various guises, and booting out the old guard. As the narrative spools out with a series of plot twists, the tension gradually mounts and the gulf between rich and poor is ramped up to the maximum. No one comes out a winner after a lavish garden party where they all take part in some form or another, as blood mingles with the champagne.

Winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2019 and four Academy Awards in 2020, including the Oscar for Best International Feature, this is a confident and entertaining drama that beats as it sweeps, its production values as smooth as silk and laced with a dread-laden score. The kids give as good as the adults performance-wise and leave us pondering which is best: North Korea with its oppressively restrictive communist regime or the South with its dog eat dog capitalism based on the law of the jungle? MT

PARASITE WON THE PALME D’OR 2019 | ACADEMY AWARDS FOR BEST DIRECTOR, BEST MOTION PICTURE, BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE.

NOW in Black and White COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE | IN CINEMAS from 24 July 2020

 

 

 

Phantom Thread (2017) **** Blu-ray release

Dir: Paul Anderson | Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, 130′ | US | Drama

The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is quite unlike anything he has done before. PHANTOM THREAD is a deliciously thrilling love story with a slow-burning tight-lipped tension bred partly out of the discrete haute couture world of its gracefully dapper central character Reynolds Woodcock. Played peerlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis in his ‘swan song’, Reynolds is a Hardy Amies-style fashion designer who lives and works in London’s Fitzroy Square where he presides over a celebrated 1950s fashion house specialising in dressing high society and the Royals.

This stylishly buttoned-up affair is all about control, power and prestige in maintaining a veneer of respectability through discipline, dedication and duty that drives Reynolds forward, preventing him from acknowledging the hole in his soul, left by the death of his dear mother, and the absence of true love in his life.  Anderson constructs a world of superlative elegance where the daily round involves the pristine almost priestly preparation of his dress, coiffure, floral arrangements and particularly his breakfast: “I can’t begin my day with a confrontation.” Says Reynolds primly as he goes through the motions of his morning tea ceremony (lapsong, please) and silently buttered toast. “Nothing stodgy”. And no “loud sounds”. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville at the top of her game), trundles in all red-puckered lips and seamed stockings. She rules the roost with utmost decorum, helping Reynolds as his business advisor and mentor. Reynolds is a disillusioned romantic, a bachelor in his fifties secretly yearning for love, but unable to let it into his tightly-corseted schedule. So his lust for carnal pleasure is channelled into luscious food – runny egg yolks and jugs of cream – until the real thing comes along to unleash his passion in the shape of a scrubbed up waitress named Alma (Luxumbourgeoise actor Vicky Krieps).

In his weekend retreat, he delicately delivers a breakfast order to her: poached eggs, butter, bacon, and jam – but not strawberry, raspberry…and some sausages –  is the verbal equivalent of an orgasm. And beneath Reynolds’ fussy exterior there really does lie a highly sensual man capable – we feel – of giving sexual pleasure to a woman, as well as tailored perfection, and this is the fine line that prevents Day-Lewis’ performance from being too prissy, although it sometimes veers in the direction. Alma is slightly gauche but also sensuous – like a ripe peach that won’t yet yield its stone. And so love gently blossoms in the autumn of Reynolds’ life while storm clouds linger on the horizon.

PHANTOM THREAD feels like a perfect metaphor for the well-known adage: AISLE ALTER HYMN (I’ll alter him, for the uninitiated) and this is just what the innocent-looking Alma has in mind when the two start working together in the West End atelier. This is a drama that sums up the utter dread many men feel about losing control of themselves to a woman. Reynolds will not cede to Alma’s charms and refuses to sacrifice his precious craft by allowing her control of his inner sanctum – the House of Woodcock – which represents his heart and life blood. She remains tough but loving – the perfect replica of his beloved mother, tempting him yet repulsing him by equal measure. Day-Lewis is adamant as the tortured artist, every subtle nuance flickers across his face in a display of mesmerising petulance. It’s impossible not to admire his gentle delivery and his chiselled, tousled allure. As an actor his economy of movement is unparalleled; he possesses the feline grace of Roger Federer and the innate style of breeding of George Sanders. During a delirious night of Alma-induced food-poisoning, Reynolds reveals his deep love attachment to his mother (whose ghost appears to him in her wedding dress)  and somehow her power is magically transferred to Alma, who from then on gets to wear the tailored trousers.

PHANTOM THREAD is Anderson’s eighth feature, and refreshingly is not based on anything but his own inventiveness. It perfectly suits its 1950s setting, an era where England was still on its knees after the war and rationing, and duty and pride in one’s work was paramount – people were so glad to have a job – and this is conveyed by a team of first rate unflappable seamstresses (with names like Biddy and Nana) who understand implicitly when a deadline looms, and a wedding dress must be tweaked or repaired for the following morning at 9am.

There is an erotic charge to PHANTOM that cannot be underestimated despite its immaculate and primped aesthetic. And the acerbically brittle Reynolds is no high-performing borderline psycho. He can transform at the doff of a cap into an amorous and extremely tender lover.  As in “The Master (2012) this is a film about the power and control dynamic between man and woman, and who eventually wins. It moves like the well-oiled engine of Reynolds’ blood red Bristol he drives down country lanes to his retreat. “I think you’re only acting strong,” says Alma, to which he replies, “I am strong.” And the two continue their power play in a way that never resorts to extreme physical or extreme verbal displays, although there is an extremely sinister side to Alma’s methods that make her the perfect antiheroine of the piece, Reynolds, like some overtly powerful  men, emerging the weaker of the two.

Jonny Greenwood’s music is the crowning glory, setting a tuneful rhythm of piano and strings for the soigné scenario that often feels quite claustrophobic, particularly in the final scenes, where we find ourselves shouting: “Don’t!” (you’ll soon see what I mean). At one point Reynolds says: Are you sent here to ruin my evening? And possibly my entire life?” These are the long-held suspicions of the committed bachelor who desperately longs for love, but constantly suspects the worst from his loving mate. Regretfully PHANTOM THREAD is our last chance to see Day-Lewis on the screen. He will be much missed from the films that he has graced. And this is possibly his best. MT

PHANTOM THREAD IS ON Blu-ray

Éric Rohmer – Comedies and Proverbs | Blu-ray

The Comedies and Proverbs series brings together six of Éric Rohmer’s best; the first entry in the series, The Aviator’s Wife, sees François become obsessed with the idea that his girlfriend is being unfaithful. A Good Marriage follows Sabine in her pursuit of matrimony with Edmond, who it seems is the only person that doesn’t know the two are set to marry. In Pauline at the Beach the titular Pauline and her cousin Marion discover lovers new and old during a summer vacation. Full Moon in Paris centres on Louise who although in a relationship with Remi seeks the freedom of single life. The Green Ray sees Delphine let down by her holiday companion, travelling alone she witnesses a remarkable natural phenomenon. The sixth and final tale in the series, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend tells the story of new-to-town Blanche and her colleague Léa whose relationships become entangled.

ON BLU-RAY from the 20 APRIL 2020 | Available on Amazon

7 Facts | Alejandro Jodorowsky | Bluray re-releases

The legendary Chilean filmmaker is still active at 90. His latest film, the documentary PSYCHOMAGIE, un art pour guerir came out a few months ago. He is also an author, poet, theatre director and comic book writer. Here are a few interesting facts about him.

Jodorowsky moved to Paris in 1953, at the age of 24. He felt there was little left for him in Chile, where he had grown up in an abusive household facing discrimination for being the son of immigrants. Arriving in France, he studied mime and ended up touring with the legendary Marcel Marceau. Once back in Paris, he moved on to theatre directing, working on Maurice Chevalier’s music hall comeback.

He directed his first film, a 20-minute Thomas Mann adaptation entitled La Cravate.in 1957. The short garnered praise from Jean Cocteau but was subsequently considered lost until a print resurfaced in 2006.

Santa SangreIn 1968, Jodorowsky’s first feature film, FANDO AND LIS caused a full-scale riot when it premiered at the Acapulco Film Festival. As a result, the film was banned in Mexico, which led to his decision not to release his next film EL TOPO in his adopted country, fearing another scandal.

For the American release of EL TOPO, cinema owner Ben Barenholtz, who had attended a private screening of the film at MoMA, decided to screen it as a midnight feature at The Elgin. This proved to be a successful strategy as midnight audiences were enraptured by the film, and it kept running in New York seven days a week from December 1970 to June 1971. The midnight screening platform was retained for the film’s distribution across the United States, which reportedly the result of praise from a very high-profile fan: John Lennon.

thedanceofreallity_thIn 1974, Jodorowsky was hired to direct an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science-fiction novel Dune. The project would have featured an eclectic cast consisting of, among others, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dalì; with the director’s own son playing the lead. It was eventually shut down due to budgetary issues, but Jodorowsky suggested someone could revive it as an animated film, using his storyboards. Frank Pavich’s documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune provides an insightful and often hilarious account of the project’s history.

He is considered a spiritual mentor by Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn, and has been mentioned in the “Special Thanks” section of the closing credits in three of Refn’s films: Drive, Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon

All three of Jodorowsky’s sons have appeared in his films. Most notably, Brontis (born 1962) plays his own grandfather in both La Danza de la Realidad and Poesia Sin Fin, which also features Adán (born 1979) as Alejandro himself. MT

EL TOPO | PRINCE CHARLES CINEMA on Friday 10 January 2020

EL TOPO (1970)

Director Jodorowsky himself plays ‘The Mole’ of the title: a black-clad, master-gunfighter. In the first half, El Topo journeys across a desert dreamscape with his young son to duel with four sharp-shooting Zen masters, who each bestow a Great Lesson before they die. In the second half, El Topo becomes the guru of a subterranean tribe of deformed outcasts who he must liberate from depraved cultists in a neighbouring town. EL TOPO is considered he director’s most violent film, often described as an ‘acid western’. The film shocked and dazzled audiences back in the day of its controversial original release. A countercultural masterpiece, which ingeniously combines iconic Americana symbolism with Jodorowsky’s own idiosyncratic surrealist aesthetic, EL TOPO is an incredible journey through nightmarish violence, mind-bending mysticism and awe-inspiring imagery.

THE HOLY MOUNTAIN (1973)

Jodorowsky casts himself as The Alchemist, a guru who guides a troupe of pilgrims, each representing a planet of the Solar System, on a magical quest to Lotus Island where they must ascend the Holy Mountain in search of spiritual enlightenment.

FANDO Y LIS (1968)

In Jodorowsky’s feature debut, Fando and his paraplegic sweetheart Lis embark on a mystical journey through a series of surreal scenarios to find the enchanted city of Tar. On the way, they journey through urban desolation, scorched deserts and towering mountains, whilst encountering a series of terrifying and sometimes moving characters.

Boasting some of the auteur’s most disturbing images, the film is an ambitious and intense adaptation of a controversial play by Fernando Arrabal. A bizarre tale of corrupted innocence and tortured love rendered in searing, high-contrast black and white, FANDO Y LIS incited a full-scale riot when it was first screened at the 1968 Acapulco film festival. Film4 said the film ‘leaves Fellini and Buñuel spluttering in its dust’.

EL TOPO is released 10 Jan; THE HOLY MOUNTAIN is released 24 Jan; and FANDO Y LIS is released 7 Feb in selected cinemas by ARROW VIDEO. All three titles will also be released as a Limited Edition Blu-ray set in March 2020.

Terminus (1960) Talking Pictures

Dir.: John Schlesinger; Documentary, UK 1961, 33 min.

This was John Schlesinger’s last documentary, having started his career as a TV director for ‘Monitor’. His first feature A Kind of Loving (1962) was part of the New British Cinema, but Schlesinger would soon find a place in Hollywood, where he would cast Julie Christie in the classic Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and go on to secure an Oscar for Midnight Cowboy (1969), amongst other successes in a muscular body of work that encompassed 50 years of the 20th century. Schlesinger’s gift to cinema was his varied depiction of gender relations and his ability to convey complex emotions sensitively and eloquently through multi-layered characterisations. And this is picked up here in the passengers’ comings and goings, their greetings and goodbyes, their anticipation, elation and anguish, in particular, seen through the little boy who gets separated from his mother, a situation that resonates for everyone. Set to Ron Grainer’s mellow original score there is a rhythmic quality to Kenneth HIggins’ black and white camerawork.

Terminus was shot in one day in Waterloo Station in the style of the cinema verité, and won him a BAFTA and the Golden Lion at Venice. Ken Higgin’s black-and-white images are grainy, but even today have lost none of their poignant meaning; together with the direct sound (and no-commentary or voice-over) they encapsulate British society at large on its way into a decade of technology, youth culture and liberation. Other little stories emerge – the woman who’s lost her umbrella – the camera often ‘finds’ different people again, before losing them in the turmoil. The three-class system in carriages had been reduced to two after nationalisation, but nevertheless, the rigid segregation is still visible. The stories of marriage, work and petit crime allow a kaleidoscopic view. Train journeys, in life and in the cinema can be a real life changer, as in Schlesinger’s second feature Billy Liar. There is a seriousness in Schlesinger’s approach, which can be seen on the faces of the travellers: the close-ups say very much about those involved. Schlesinger never objectifies his protagonists, always leaving them in control.

Terminus was one of 140 short documentaries produced by Edgar Anstey, a protégé of the great John Grieson. Anstey not only worked, like in this case, for the British Transport Film, but also for the BBC.

ONE OF THE BRITISH TRANSPORT FILMS now on TALKING PICTURES | Blu-ray FROM THE BFI

Cemetery Without Crosses | Una corde…un Colt (1969) | Blu-ray | DVD release

image009 copyDirector: Robert Hossein   Writer: Dario Argento

Cast: Michele Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand,

90min   Spaghetti Western  France

Robert Hossein directs this Spaghetti Western with a French twist and also stars as a friend who reluctantly comes to rescue and avenge a woman whose husband has been lynched by a rival gang. Well-crafted, sparingly scripted and infused with soulful Latin romance, the film conjures up the harsh and macho world of 19th century America where men were monosyllabic and women alluring. Sergio Leone’s memory comes flooding back through Andre Hossein’s evocative instrumental score and Scott Walker’s rousing rendering of the title track. Guy Villette’s sound design makes good use of howling ambient winds and creaking boards.

Maria (Michele Mercier) and her husband have made enemies and none more bitter than the Rogers family. But after his death a resonant and palpable chemistry ignites between her and Manuel and this, together with Henri Persin’s impressive range of set pieces that create a remarkable sense of place, is largely the reason for the film’s sixties success and enduring watchability.

Although Dario Argento is credited with writing the script, his input was more down to dialogue with Claude Desailly and Hossein making the major contribution. Performances are authentic and convincing from the largely French cast. Manuel and Maria work particularly well together, both giving subtle yet compelling turns as they gradually fall in love. CEMETERY WITHOUT CROSSES is a classic Western of the finest order. MT

OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO on JULY 20, 2015

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The Face of an Angel (2014) | DVD |Blu-ray release

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Writers: Barbie Latza Nadeau and Paul Viragh

Cast: Daniel Brühl, Cara Delevingne, Kate Beckinsale, Ava Acres

101mins   Drama    English/UK

Michael Winterbottom’s latest film captures the mood of uncertainty and transience surrounding the mysterious murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia in the summer of 2012, tracing the story via a journalist and documentary filmmaker director called Thomas, played by Daniel Brühl. After a disastrous career in Hollywood, Thomas has arrived in Siena to kickstart his career, in much the same way as Colin Firth’s character, Joe, did in the 2008 outing GENOVA.  Both are convincing portraits of troubled fathers, with adolescent kids, balancing their work and family lives while trying to make sense of their personal circumstances in a shifting scenario of contemporary Italy. Winterbottom gives the impression of trying to understand his characters from his own perspective of life.

Once in Siena, Thomas (like Joe) is overcome by visions of his ex-wife, dreamlike sequences in which he’s haunted by murderers as if the medieval city is transpiring with the past to create a unsettling and picaresque atmosphere of dread and mistrust. The dream sequences pepper the middle act of The Face of an Angel. They’re bewildering, involving and entirely disconcerting. While they are nothing to do with the murder he is investigating they create an ambiance of bewilderment that feels appropriate in echoing the mysterious circumstances of the death of the young English student and her involvement with the unusual American, Amanda Knox, that captured the collective imagination and obsession of news audiences all over the World. Michael Winterbottom is trying to tap into the zeitgeist that somehow, through ‘smoke and mirrors’ reporting or handling of the case (by the Media), obfuscation in the events surrounding the murder, allowed proceedings to be derailed.

Thomas becomes involved with two women: the first is Simone (Kate Beckinsale), an American journalist in a similar situation to himself, hoping that she may shed light on the truth of the case, but she, in turn, is involved with local Italian hacks who are a law unto themselves, chasing a story or an angle that may not necessarily reflect the truth of what happened. The second is a young English student, Melanie (Cara Delevingne in a dynamite debut), who serves to allow him to capture the essence of his youth away from the hackneyed hacks. Sadly, neither of these characters bring us anywhere nearer to enlightenment on the murder, or the truth.

There are analogies here with Dante – Beatrice being supplied by Melanie, and the hacks – the various characters from the circles of Hell. But above it all rises the terrible fact that a young and intelligent woman was murdered in suspicious circumstances and little clarity really emerges as to the whys or the wherefores of this terrible tragedy. When somebody dies in unclear circumstances, the press and public seize upon the story, forgetting the victims and their families. The murder becomes disassociated with the bereaved and suddenly belongs to the public imagination. This is both a natural phenomenon and a crass reality that Winterbottom has captured with intelligence and inventiveness. While it doesn’t offer any clues or solutions, it throws up and reflects something deeper to ponder upon. MT

THE FACE OF AN ANGEL IS ON DVD | BLu-ray from 20 July 2015

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3 Women (1977) | Robert Altman season BFI 2021

Dir.: Robert Altman | Cast: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier | USA Drama, 124 min.

Robert Altman despised Hollywood with the true hatred of a renegade and claimed that the idea of 3 WOMEN came to him in a dream. Nowadays you have to be careful with these kind of statements – suffice to say the film is a free association on the topic of female identities, leaving ratio and conventional narrative behind. Calling the film an ‘American answer to Bergman’s Persona, does Altman no justice; the point is that 3 Women is an exercise in psychological symbolism, avoiding any classification in itself.

It all takes place in a spa for seniors in the Californian desert near Palm Springs where Millie Lamoreaux (Duvall) works as a physical therapist acquainting newcomer Pinky Rose (Spacek) with her duties in the opening scene. Millie is a walking/talking ‘Cosmopolitan’ woman, full of witticisms and superficial knowledge which she sprouts continuously.

Millie sees herself as ‘God’s given gift to men’, too often getting the bum’s rush, so it’s quite a surprising that Pinky, fresh from small town Texan small town, chooses her as a role model and soon the two are flat mates, Pinky a sycophantic sidekick to her mentor Millie

The trio is made up with pregnant Willie Hart (Rule), who paints disturbing murals on the apartment buildings and pool – owned by her husband Edgar (Fortier) – where Pinky and Millie now live. Edgar is an ex-stuntman more married to the beer bottle than his artist wife. But a startling turn of events sees the film change gear, Pinky becoming a much more functional version of Millie (and even seducing Edgar). And as the mood changes, structure and narrative also become blurred as the three women somehow drift into one united by another tragic turns of events.

What starts as a mordant caricature of California (and Hollywood) shifts in tone towards the end, the images becoming more languid, as the three women seem to glide towards one other. But this not just female solidarity at play, we are actually entering a new sphere. Altman lets the audience decide what to make of it all, offering an alternative to what has gone on before. It is an invitation to cut loose from the American dream of crass materialism and superficial uniformity, in order to find a dynamic we can share with others. Altman sets himself apart from mainstream cinema both in form and content without providing a clearly defined alternative. But, like Bodhi Wind’s murals, the emotional journey taken by these three different souls is enigmatic and mystical. 3 Women is a cinematic invitation to step outside the constraints of society, and try something different, for a change. AS

NOW AT THE BFI Southbank LONDON | ON BLU RAY RE-MASTERED COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS & VIDEO

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) | Leone D’Oro | Venice International Film Festival 2014

Writer/Director: Roy Andersson

Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom

101 mins, Sweden, Germany, Norway, France

To paraphrase Chaplin, life is a tragedy in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. That’s the spirit of Roy Andersson’s latest, dizzy, brilliant film. The film’s first three scenes offer slices of death: a man suffers a heart attack opening a wine bottle; a dying, wailing mother prizes her handbag of jewellery from her money-grabbing kids; a dinnerlady offers up the abandoned beer of a gentleman who has just collapsed and died in front of her. They’re all ferociously funny scenes. Why? Because we’re only human.

Pigeon’s characters may be acting a tragedy of their own making, but it makes for a warm, funny and beautiful movie, of the kind that reflects our own trials and tribulations and forces us to put them perspective, to laugh in their face. Yes, it’s that good.

The film concludes Andersson’s ‘Living’ trilogy (after Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living), each film released seven years apart. His latest has a similar series of related vignettes, most comic, contemplating something greater through the banality of everyday existence. If there is a through-line, it’s led by a pair of travelling salesmen Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), skating in and out of their own miserable lives amongst the memories and dreams of those they meet. Selling novelty gifts:“extra long” vampire teeth and “laughter bags”, as well as the latest “Uncle One-tooth” mask that they hope will be the next big thing. They know as much as we do that it won’t, their products so absurd they mock themselves.

Andersson meticulously crafts each set-up – he took four years to make the film – and yet each scene catches something serendipitous, as if captured by magic of the camera’s apparently arbitrary medium-shot length (of course, it isn’t). Some sequences are stunning: Jonathan and Sam are lost trying to find a shop called “party” (the existential joke is surely intended), and enter a shabby café to ask directions. While there, the huge army of King Charles XII march outside on their way to defeat at Poltava. Here’s a Swedish national hero reduced to a simple man asking for sparkling water. Later, in another period scene, 19th century English colonists load slaves into a furnace. Their screams squeeze through a series of trumpets into beautiful brass music.

There’s also a haunting repetition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic (better known as “Glory, Glory Alleluia”), translated to suit various settings from war marches to the melody of a barmaid asking for a kiss. The original song was about the American civil war – is the director contemplating a split in man’s soul between hope (that characters here show) and the reality that exists? Who knows, but it’s unquestionably moving.

Pigeon is an absurdist drama for today, and Andersson an heir to Ionesco or Beckett on film. To the director, we’re a tragicomic race: we so long for company and gratification, but dying alone is our lot – again, it’s what makes us human. But he’s asking us to take heed of another of Chaplin’s timeless quotes: “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it”. Ed Frankl.

REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NOW ON DVD BLU

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Nashville (1975) | Blu-ray release

Director: Robert Altman  Writer: Joan Tewkesbury

Cast: Keith Carradine, Karen Black, Ronee Blakley, Shelley Duvall, Geraldine Chapman, Jeff Goldblum, Lily Tomlin, Henry Gibson

159min   Drama Musical   US

It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when a project as personal as Robert Altman’s NASHVILLE could be funded. Which American director today, apart from Thomas Paul Anderson, could conceive of such a film? NASHVILLE is a remarkable 1976 epic of incidents, encounters and happenings played out against the backcloth of a Grand Ole Opry music event, political campaigning and Nixon’s Watergate.

NASHVILLE is effortlessly fluid yet always tightly harnessed-in. Altman’s editing between multiple narratives, employment of overlapping conversations and the delayed and executed music numbers is quite masterly. The camera roves with its twenty five characters – politician, campaign manager, folk singer, BBC journalist, wannabe singers, country musicians and celebrities. Even the crowd itself becomes a main character. And like its standout people, it is highly restless for entertainment, stability and emotional calm.

NASHVILLE is a state of the nation drama imbued with telling satire and a comedy of manners (examples of which are the appearance of two celebrities: Julie Christie and Eliot Gould, playing themselves. Gould is constantly interrupted by ‘in your face’ reporter, Geraldine Chaplin. And Christie is warmly welcomed at a party only to be quickly dismissed as they cannot remember the film for which she won an Academy Award.)

Altman’s on record as declaring NASHVILLE to be a musical. There are ‘musical’ events. In the film’s recording studio opening country singer Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) sings a song called ‘200 years.’ It’s a boastful slice of American triumphalism (“We must be doing something right to last 200 years.”) Whilst NASHVILLE‘s final song, delivered by Albuquerque (Barbara Harris) is ‘It don’t worry me’ with the lines “It don’t worry me if I aint free.” Given the violence that erupts, just before her appearance, the film rings with a bitter irony.

What memorable well-acted characters are here. The painfully deluded girl singer Suleen Gay (Gwen Welles). The philandering folk singer Tom Frank (Keith Carradine) singing to his conquests in the audience. And Mr. Green (Kenneth Wynn) unable to get his spaced out niece L.A. Joan (Shelley Duvall) to meet his dying wife. In their scenes (and many characters other moments) Altman’s satire is incisive but also surprisingly warm and caring (credit for the success of NASHVILLE must also go to Joan Tewkesbury’s screenplay.)

Altman was an uneven director, but when he hit the target he was uniquely Altmanesque, able to control a movie like a conductor. He’d a great gift to imagine a particular sense of cinematic time and space – and if he ‘sprawled’ well enough his craft produced a spontaneity that enthralled. Altman didn’t really tell stories so much as explore the quirks and vulnerabilities of characters. That constant fragmentation (Nashville, The Long Goodbye and Short Cuts) gave us a laid back weaving in and out of a ‘story’ to reveal new stories continually diverted by a his characters’ fresh feelings about the situation.

NASHVILLE has recently arrived on a three disc Blu-Ray set. It’s a great restoration of this free-wheeling comedy. Unforgettable. Alan Price

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

A Most Violent Year (2015) | Bfi Player

Director/Writer: J C Chandor | Cast: Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola, Elyes Gabel, Albert Brooks | 125min  US Crime Drama

The seventies was a dynamite decade for American crime drama: Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The French Connection, The Parallax View. A Most Violent Year wasn’t made in the seventies but it feels as if may have been. Writer, director J C Chandor’s third feature is a thriller, rich and redolent with promise: well-rounded characterisation; slow-burning narrative; subtle performances all topped with 21st century production values – and superb on the finish. From the opening titles, Chandor shows us that this is a film to be savoured; a grown-up film that will stand the test of time.

This superbly imagined drama takes place in 1981, according to Chandor, one of the most violent years for New York City crime. Like his previous drama ALL IS LOST, it takes its time to build a storyline but makes up for this with a sustained low-boil tension, gradually drawing us deeper into the intrigue and masterfully navigating towards a surprising denouement marking Chandor out to be a rare talent in the making. Oscar Isaac recalls Al Pacino’s performance in The Godfather: mesmerising, skilful and wonderful to look at. He inhabits his role, as decent businessman Abel Morales, with integrity and confidence. Endeavouring to stay on the straight and narrow as corruption seethes from every crack in the City’s pavements, Morales is an immigrant who started life as a truck-driver and married the boss’s daughter, Anna, (Jessica Chastain in a career-defining role) acquiring the gasoil importing business from her dodgy-dealing father, he has made a clean breast of the family business and intends to keep it that way.

Along the way, Chandor paints a picture of middle-class struggle, borrowing and risk-taking, building up relationships with clients and associates while keeping a beady eye on the competition. With Chastain’s Anna he crafts a credible chemistry: the two are partners and equals both in the sleeping and working sense. Sexuality frizzles in their every scene together. She is a woman who knows how to massage her man’s ego and when to up the ante, how to look attractive while keeping the books: but very much her father’s daughter, as we eventually discover. Theirs is an empowering partnership that would make any modern couple envious: the kids are well in the background, not pawns to be traded on the foreground of this marriage.

Abel prides himself on his upwardly mobile vision, still retaining the personal touches of his immigrant Latin background. Acquisitive, he has bought his family a “classy” mansion that would make any footballer envious of. His sales strategy is in line with Dale Carnegie’s: “Keep the eye contact for longer than it feels comfortable” his sales patter full of faux honesty “We’re never going to be the cheapest,” he advises, “so we have to be the best.”

But in this very violent year in NYC, his gasoil company is engulfed in a crime wave of its own: his drivers are being robbed at gunpoint and pistol-whipped. Even his family isn’t safe from a late-night armed prowler, whom Abel confronts with a baseball bat, in true macho style. This all puts in jeopardy his plans to borrow money to acquire a waterfront fuel terminal for easier delivery direct from barges (that can bring the gasoil straight from the offshore tanker) and give him a great profit margin. And the district attorney is fingering his business in a massive malpractice investigation.

Chandor manages this all masterfully with magnificent widescreen vistas of NYC and more intimate scenes that keep us in the picture, enjoying the moment, showcasing Chastain’s lush Armani fashions and Isaac’s exquisite tailoring, well-toned physique and quiet and authentic conviction while always maintaining an uncomfortable tension accompanied by Alex Ebert’s occasional organ score, then pumping up the adrenalin with shootouts and heart-stopping car chases. The scenes with his one of his threatened truck drivers, a fellow Hispanic ( Elyes Gabel) add a certain texture that is meant to add contrast to Abel’s success story, but instead feel slightly overplayed and melodramatic.

A Most Violent Year doesn’t tell us anything new, but what it does, it does extremely well and sets Isaac, Chastain and Chandor up there as artists at their peak. Ultimately this is a story about ‘the American Dream’. Support cast are also superb: there are interesting vignettes with Alessandro Nivola as a soigne Upper East Side competitor, Jerry Adler as an Orthodox Ashkenazi money lender and a world-weary Albert Brooks as his right-hand man. But most all this is a trip to New York at its best, the iconic skylines with the Twin Towers, the old-fashioned cadillacs, and streets deep in snow and a classic core from Marvin Gaye’s ‘Inner City Blues’. MT

ON BFI PLAYER and DVD

 

 

Fanny (2013) | DVD release

Director: Daniel Auteuil      Writer: Daniel Auteuil    FROM THE THE WORKS OF MARCEL PAGNOL

Cast: Jean-Pierre Daroussin, Victoire Belezy, Raphael Personnez, Marie-Anne Chazel

104min     Drama   French with English subtitles

Marcel Pagnol’s work is still popular in France, especially among older viewers who made up the lion’s share of the audience at the Cannes Film Festival screening.  FANNY is the second film in the trilogy and the last segment (CESAR) is still in development.

Daniel Auteuil directs and acts (as Cesar) using the same cast and crew as for MARIUS (the first part – which deals with his longing to be a sailor) namely Victoire Belezy as Fanny, Jean-Pierre Daroussin as Panisse and Raphael Personnaz as Marius.

Marseilles accents and the maritime setting gives this light-hearted ‘chamber piece’ a very French feel but the classic plot line is universally satisfying, marking Pagnol out as one of the last century’s most renowned dramatists. Alexandre Desplat’s elegant score carries the dialogue-driven narrative through its paces, most of the action taking place in the confines of Cesar’s bar in contrast to the resplendent summery visuals of the wedding scene.

Fanny’s good-looking boyfriend Marius has set off to the South Seas on a 5-year contract, leaving her in Marseilles where she discovers her pregnancy.  Distraught at the idea of being an unmarried mother, Cesar secretly organises to marry her off to Panisse, a wealthy local manufacturer and drinking buddy, on the condition that the child will become his heir and inherit a considerable fortune.

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Auteuil and Daroussin are convincing in their roles as traditional French men: Daroussin is sensitive and unassuming as the dowdy and much older suitor to the sultry young girl. Auteuil’s character is more ‘rough and ready’ but with a tender heart of gold. The coquettish Bezey does her best to conceal her disappointment at the marriage particularly as she’s still in love with Marius, who eventually re-appears in a showdown that pits the evergreen theme of wealth and social suitability against passion, love and sexual desire.  MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD along with MARIUS

 

 

 

 

Marius (2013) | DVD release

Director: Daniel Auteuil      Writer:  Daniel Auteuil       FROM THE TRILOGY BY MARCEL PAGNOL

Cast: Raphael Personnaz, Daniel Auteuil, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marianne Chazel, Victoire Belezey

93min   Drama   French with English subtitles

This is the first part of Daniel Auteuil’s adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s sun-drenched Provencal story of 1920s ordinary folk which follows young lovers MARIUS and FANNY.  Intimate in feel and dialogue-driven, the focus here is on Marius and his wanderlust for the Southern seas.  Very much a chamber piece with entertaining performances from the well-known cast, we get the occasional glimpse of the glorious seaside location of Marseilles, set to Alexandre Desplat’s suburb original score.

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Raphael Personnaz cuts a suave figure as Marius, the good-looking son of Danny Auteuil’s César, almost resembling an early Alain Delon with shades of Hugh Grant.  He has no interest in tending his father’s bar and despite his strong feelings for Fanny, is not yet ready to settle down. Meeting with some local sailors, they offer him a possibility to join a voyage as they set sail for the Leeward Island and Marius is determined to satisfy his yearning for the big wide world.

Jean-Pierre Darroussin’s Monsieur Panisse is much more combative and feisty in this segment, waiting in the wings with his considerable fortune for Fanny’s hand in marriage,and Marius is well aware of the fact and insanely jealous of his older rival.  But he refuses to confess his feelings or reveal the true object of his feeling even to his father.  Meanwhile, Marianne Chazel plays the neurotic Honorine, Fanny’s mother, and is getting very upset and excited over the young couples ‘secret’ love-making which she discovers by accident on returning home from her weekly visit to her sister in Aix En Provence.

But Fanny is not entirely convinced that Marius is ready for commitment, despite his feelings for her,  and she is under considerable pressure, for financial reasons and the future of her family’s respectability, to do the right thing.

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

God’s Pocket (2014) | DVD release

Director: John Slattery

Writers: John Slattery, Alex Metcalf (from the novel by Peter Dexter)

Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, Richard Jenkins, John Turturro, Eddie Marsan, Caleb Landry Jones

88mins  US Drama

The South Philadelphia neighbourhood of God’s Pocket, depicted here in John Slattery’s debut, may be a poor and depressing, but it’s honest and God-fearing. This is where Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman lives with his wife Jeanie (Christina Hendricks) and her son Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), an insipid loser who has so few friends amongst his co-workers at the local junk-yard that when he threatens one with a flick-knife and gets a fatal head wound in retaliation, no one is disappointed. And when the police arrive on the scene, everyone swears blind it was an accident. But his histrionic mother will have not of it and forces her unlucky husband to ask around for clues and cash to afford a decent burial.

A rich vein of black humour runs through this close community of Italian and Irish blue-collar workers, drunks, hustlers and bottom-feeders: it doesn’t seem to matter what you do (steal, cheat, or even murder) – as long as you’re from ‘The Pocket’ – you’re safe amongst your own. Mickey is an outsider but part of the Pocket by marriage and he understands the status quo and hangs out with the best of them; gambling and drinking in the Hollywood bar. Trading in meat, his refrigerated van is home to stolen carcasses and a good deal more. But celebrity journalist Richard Shelburn (Richard Jenkins) a burnt out intellectual, doesn’t belong and although he’s championed the community and knows how to depict these hard-working denizens in the newspaper, he misjudges the mood when he’s called in to ‘investigate’ the crime he falls foul of the locals, offending them with his phoney, working class diatribe (‘Simple men, who rarely leave)”. And especially when he crosses the boundary with Jeanie.

John Slattery (of Mad Men fame) bases his impressive first feature on an eighties novel by Peter Dexter (The Paperboy). It’s a witty and well-written affair, richly textured, cleverly lensed in seventies style (by Lance Acord) with a gripping storyline and characters that ring out with rare authenticity.

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Among the performances, Christina Hendricks is appealing as a sexually dutiful wife and doting mother and Philip Seymour Hoffman excels in a paunchy portrait of a small time hustler who is forces to do the right thing but feels little inclination or real joy in his life. John Turturro and Joyce Van Patten are unmemorable but Caleb Landry Jones is strong and unsettling as the spoilt son. Here in God’s Pocket, the community is a religion that supports a godforsaken people who have little else to support or really sustain them; a brash world but not an entirely unfeeling one and there are moments of comedy in the bleakness such as the undertaker (Eddie Marsan) who spills beer on the corpse.  This is a place with little to recommend it and characters you would probably rather not know, but it’s a world with a heart that keeps on beating despite the odds. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

Free Fall (2013) | DVD

Director: Stephan Lacant

Writers: Stephan Lacant, Karsten Dahlem

Cast: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Attila Borlan, Katherina Schuttler, Stephanie Schonfeld, Maren Kroymann, Luis Lamprecht

100min  Gay-themed Drama   German with English subtitles

In Stephen Lacant’s gay-themed drama Free Fall, the Police Academy is a hotbed of young, fit trainees all preparing to serve their country.  One of them is Marc (Hanno Koffler) who is blessed with a great sex life, a girlfriend Bettina (Katharina Schuttler) with a baby on the way and the support of his parents, who understand the rigours of Police life.  Into this seemingly perfect state of affairs, drops Kay (Max Riemelt) a fellow recruit who has heart set on Marc and pursues him hotly despite Marc’s hostile protests to the contrary. Why then does Marc fall for the temptations of a gay fling with a fellow recruit, who also has a girlfriend?

Writers Stephan Lacant and Karsten Dahlem tackle this intricate story with skill and aplomb, creating a stylish and thoughtful drama set in the lush forests of Southern Germany.  Free Fall is a tense and tight-lipped affair that sees Marc’s burgeoning homosexuality slowly take light like a smouldering bonfire. It gives the impression (quite convincingly) that if it weren’t for social conditioning, any one of us is open to any sexual persuasion, given the right opportunity and chemistry.  Kay offers such a persuasive possibility and such an exciting contrast to Marc’s staid and quotidian lifestyle with Bettina,  that this whole premise becomes entirely plausible.  But without this opportunity, would Marc have discovered his nascent desire for same sex satisfaction?

Stephan Lacant presents his case with alarming simplicity but is never judgemental. As Marc becomes increasingly  inventive in his love-making with Bettina, his boring stereotype of a dull marriage rears its ugly head. And as his homosexuality develops Marc emerges as the more interesting character, where Bettina becomes clingy, oppressive and needy.  His parents are predictably one-dimensional and disappointed once Marc’s secret emerges and even his work colleagues are suspicious and mean-spirited in the middle class area of Baden-Wurttemberg.  Free Fall, is a metaphor for straight-laced lives and uniformity in a society where the only rewards come out of sticking to the mainstream, toeing the line and keeping up with the Jones’s. Instead of trying to understand Marc’s complex response to his sexual unconformity, Bettina is hostile and unyielding: “Are you gay? – then if not, what are you Marc?” As Marc, Hanno Koffler’s performance is disarmingly moving and exultant by turns.

Free Fall has the feel of Flying Skyscrapers, shot through with the same resonating sensibility and aqua-tinted aesthetic. Visually it may lack the inventive creativeness of Skyscrapers but evokes a far greater sense of loss, delusion and shame, particular through the characterisation of Marc.  Stefan Lacant has made a film that tackles some important issues and does so with engaging insight, making even mainstream audiences prick up their ears. MT

FREE FALL IS OUT ON DVD FROM 27 JANUARY 2014. AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER THROUGH AMAZON.CO.UK

 

The Great Beauty (2013) La Grande Bellezza

GREAT_BEAUTY_2D_DVDDir: Paolo Sorrentino   Writers: Paolo Sorrentino, Umberto Contarello

Cast: Toni Servillo, Sabrina Ferilli, Carlo Verdone, Carlo Buccirosso

137mins  *****     Italian with English subtitles   Drama

Paolo Sorrentino’s sensual overload of all things Italian transports you to Rome for a paean to pleasure and pain, gaiety and melancholy seen through the eyes of writer and roué, Jep Gambardella.  Played exultantly here by Sorrentino’s regular collaborator, Toni Servillo (The Consequences of Love, Il Divo), this is possibly Sorrentino’s best film so far, capturing the essence of Italy’s rich, beautiful and cultured middle class with an appealing and bittersweet languor that was first experienced in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, here seen in the context of 21st century ennui.

But Jep Gambardella has only written one book having spent most of his nights as a party animal and bon viveur.  At 65, well-preserved and suave, he exudes a Mediterranean masculinity with his finely-tailored jackets and well-made shoes.  In this rich Autumn of life,  jolted from his benign state of bachelorhood by an unexpected discovery, he is thrown off-balance and onto a Proustian trip down memory lane.  But as he looks back with friends and paramours, he sees complexity and spirituality beyond all the glamour and profanity.

The Great Beauty is an opulent banquet of tone and texture, captured here by Luca Bigazzi’s dizzying cinematography, evoking all that’s stylish and beautiful as well as hypocritical and shallow about the Italian way of life.  See it, enjoy it, savour it; because one day its passion and glory may be gone forever and only memories will remain. MT

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THE GREAT BEAUTY IS OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY ON  13 January 2014  COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE.

THE FILM HAS ALSO BE SHORT-LISTED FOR THE FOREIGN LANGUAGE SECTION OF THE OSCARS IN MARCH 2014

 

Only God Forgives (2013)

Dir: Nicolas Winding Refyn | Cast: Kristen Scott Thomas, Ryan Gosling, Vithaya Pansringarm, Rhatha Phongam, Gordon Brown, Tom Burke | 90mins    Denmark/France

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For sheer cinematic brilliance and artistic style, Nicolas Winding Refyn’s Bangkok-set revenge tale really set the night on fire at its Cannes premiere back in 2013, dividing critics and polarising opinion.  Some derided it for its cold brutality and lack of emotion but Heli was equally violent, gratuitously so, and won an award.  

Only God Forgives is all about controlled emotion, seething under the surface of Refyn’s glittering jewel-box of visual tricks: brooding resentment, latent anger, moody scorn and dysfunctional lust also join the party in a thriller seething with a pervasive sense of dread,  heightened by a dynamite score.

The performances are stylised, mannered and supremely elegant: Ryan Gosling, who runs a Thai boxing club, very much serves the film rather than stars in it, wearing a sharp suit and the expression of a frightened rabbit as the submissively loyal son of Kristen Scott Thomas’s vampish mother and drug baroness, Crystal.  She’s a woman at the top of her game, her two sons are trophies she toys with dispassionately.

 

We first see her arriving in Bangkok to demand retribution for the murder of her ‘first son’ Billy (Tom Burke) on the grounds of his raping and killing a local teenager. “I’m sure he had his reasons” she claims, very much her own woman.  It’s a superbly entertaining performance and one which should have won her Best Actress. Sporting a long blond wig and killer heals, she is every bit as sexy, poised and alluring as any actress half her age, or less.

Against advice, she hires a hit man to take out Chang (Pansringarm), the local police chief responsible for the killing of her son Billy. But the plan backfires and Chang turns the tables on Crystal and her agent (Gordon Brown) who is tortured and killed in possibly one of the most inventive and exquisitely painful deaths in cinema history, all playing against a glimmering back-drop of the lacquered night club interior.  Glamorous hostesses look on motionless and expressionless in compliance with their oriental culture of self control.

Only God Forgives glides gracefully along, each frame an expertly composed, perfectly balanced, a shimming masterpiece. Punctuated by brusque episodes of savage violence, it epitomises a world of clandestine doings and shady characters suggested but not fully fleshed-out, adding an exotic mystique to the piece rather than detracting from it, leaving room for the imagination to wander, to speculate and to dream.  It’s a world where evil meets evil and no one is up to any good.

Nicolas Winding Refyn’s points out “We must not forget that the second enemy of creativity, after having ‘good taste’ is being safe”.  This is not a safe film, it’s a daring, exciting and malevolent. MT

NOW ON MUBI | OUT ON DVD

 

The Brood (1979) DVD Release

David Cronenberg made this iconic psychological thriller with its well-crafted characters and plot-line at the height of his career.

Oliver Reed plays Hal Raglan, a secretively sinister psychiatrist experimenting with a new kind of therapy that unleashes violent reactions in his patients, one of whom is Samantha Eggar as Nola, who is locked in a bitter custody battle for her little girl Candy with husband Frank (Art Hindle) who desperate to rumble Raglan and his unorthodox methods.

But that’s not all – a group of little red-coated people, who are supposedly mutants bred inside Raglan’s dodgy clinic  – are bludgeoning Nola’s relatives to death before you can say “Don’t Look Now”.

Deeply seventies from the wall-papered interiors to the dated fashion statements (Reed sports the classic waist-coated suit and sheepskin car-coat straight out of ‘High n Mighty’), displays the classic Cronenberg visuals; the screeching violin score presaging doom and desolate snowscapes of Toronto.

THE BROOD is out on BLU-RAY  and DVD in July 2013 on SECOND SIGHT FILMS

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