Posts Tagged ‘DVDs’

Birdman (2014) **** MUBI

Dir: Alejandro González Iñárritu | Wri: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo | Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts  | Comedy/Drama, US  119mins

After Gravity comes Birdman, a breathless, funny, sad, esoteric meta-cinematical work that equals the former’s visual feat, but also an about-turn by director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the likes of which has rarely been seen. A return to the limelight comes in Michael Keaton’s great performance as Riggan Thompson, a former star of the superhero Birdman franchise, whose career has faltered into wilderness (comparison to Keaton’s real life are very much intended). He wants to stage a comeback on Broadway to direct and star in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. But it’s not plain sailing, even for a movie star, as he has to deal with ego-maniacal co-stars, a druggie daughter and disastrous previews. Oh, and he’s haunted by the voice of his Birdman character, and believes he can move things with his mind.

But that doesn’t begin to explain what watching the film is like. Directed to look like one continuous shot alongside Antonio Sánchez’s glorious free jazz score, but set over several weeks (following tricks out of Hitchcock’s Rope, it’s somewhere between the technical mastery of Russian Ark (2002) and the themes and styling of Synecdoche, New York (2008)– but in fact it looks almost like something that’s rarely been seen before. It’s far from Iñárritu’s previous works, which were grim, expansive world-is-connected films, shot with shaky steadycams and quick editing like Amores Perros (2000) and Babel (2006). And what a successful volte-face.

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Much of the thanks should go to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, whose redefined 3D in Gravity last year to critics who dismissed stereoscopy as dead on arrival, creating long, dazzling steadycam takes. The first shot is a levitating Michael Keaton, and there are some magic moments – Keaton walking through Times Square in his Y-fronts is just one of many highlights. But perhaps the style’s greatest feature is simplicity, how after a big moment – an argument, a fight, for instance – the film doesn’t cut, change scene, but we find out that rarest of things: what happens in those moments next.

The cast are dynamite together with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zack Galifianakis on top form alongside Emma Stone as Riggan’s dagughter, who delivers a zeitgeisty rant about how Riggan’s play is of little importance in the modern world compared to the 350,000 YouTube visitors that have seen her father in just his underpants. In a way it’s not dissimilar in tone to Truffaut’s Day for Night, also about a dysfunctional troupe of directors and actors. But while that’s about a film set, it struck me how much Birdman is actually one of the great films about the stage, where Broadway’s St James Theatre is as much a character as the players and which reflects the theatre in the film’s very composition – no cuts is, well, like theatre.

It’s also a searing satire of ego-centric thesps, Hollywood and of popular culture, where top actors have been downgraded and are now hired in Hollywood only for superhero flicks (Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner are roll called). But also it credibly shows the foolhardiness of putting faith in dreams and the pitfalls of grand artistic pretensions – a hole into which Iñárritu himself fell in the past. Riggan says he went into acting because Raymond Carver gave him a personal note with a good review as a youngster, but, as we soon discover, it was on a bar napkin, meaning the author was presumably (as he often was) drunk. With the film’s subtitle “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance“, would knowing that have made Riggan more or less happy, more or less willing to plunge into his art? Perhaps ignorance is bliss. The film went on to garner four Oscars, in the Academy Awards of 2015: for cinematography, directing, and screenplay, it also won Best Motion Picture of the Year. Ed Frankyl.

NOW ON MUBI | BIRDMAN PREMIERED AT VENICE 2014 | DVD BLU-RAY IS NOW AVAILABLE

 

Viaggio in Italia (1954) | Journey to Italy | Bfi Player

Dir: Robert Rossellini | Wri: Roberto Rossellini, Vitaliano Brancati | Cast: Ingrid Bergman, George Sanders, Maria Mauban | Drama, Italy/France, 86

In this groundbreaking film it is almost impossible to take your eyes off Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders as they enact the fading love story of a well-healed fifties middle class couple both undergoing painful heartache of their own, behind the scenes. Roberto Rossellini’s drama is the culminating masterpiece of Italian neo-realism and arguably one of the greatest neo-realist love stories of the era.

Inspiring and ushering in the New Wave, Viaggio channels the ideals of the neo-realist movement in the use of non-professional actors and rural everyday life, in the this case in Naples and Pompeii and although it performed badly at the Box Office, it went down very well with French critics, based loosely, as it was, on Colette’s novel Duo and Francois Truffaut, called it the first ‘modern film’.

The film’s plot is simple: an unhappily married couple drive down to Italy to organise the sale of an inherited villa in one of the most scenic locations in the South, the bay of Naples. They bicker and neither is at peace. Katherine is young and vivacious but disappointed with her hostile husband, Alex, who – she claims – cares only for money and work and dislikes the area: “I’ve never seen noise and boredom go so well together.” As the trip grows more complex with delays in the property sale so Alex takes it out on his wife, who harks back to a previous lover and starts to sense that divorce is inevitable. The two flirt openly with outsiders on every social occasion and spend increasing time away from each other during in activities and venues that seem to enhance their feelings of desperation and sadness. Katherine visits a morbid catacomb, Alex becomes close to a girl he meets through friends. The final moments are unforgettable, unexpected and transcendent in the history of Italian cinema and mark Viaggio in Italia out as a significant film that has stays in the memory long after the titles fade.

The production was not without it difficulties. Ingrid Bergman’s marriage to Rosellini was under severe pressure. George Sanders was at the end of his union with Zsa Zsa Gabor and was fraught from his attempts to contact her long-distance.  He was not only annoyed that he was expected to improvise, but also that the director himself appeared to be making it up as he went along.

According to Tag Gallagher (The Adventures of Robert Rossellini, New York Da Capo Press, 1998) Sanders was waiting in his hotel reception as instructed at 2pm: “I was led like a man in Sing Sing’s Death House to the waiting car which whisked me away to some Neapolitan back street where Rossellini had set up the camera to shoot the momentous scene for which we had all been waiting so patiently.  He had his scarlet racing Ferrari with him (a new one!) and he kept eyeing it and stroking it while the cameraman was fiddling with the lights, getting the scene ready. Finally when all was ready, Rossellini changed his mind about shooting the scene and dismissed the thunderstruck company. While we watched him in stupefied silence, he put on his crash helmet, climbed into the Ferrari, gunned his motor and disappeared with a rorar and screeching tyres round the bend of the street and out of our lives for two whole days…). Meanwhile Ingrid Bergman was equally distraught. She couldn’t improvise, she hated to improvise, which Roberto well knew.  Yet whenever she’d ask what she was supposed to say, he’d snap: “Say what’s on your mind”.

After a long and tortuous process, the film was finally released in July 1954. Despite all the set-backs and unpleasantness and Rossellini’s wasteful and unorthodox methods the film emerged as one of the most enduring examples of ingenious innovation and timeless inspiration.  Rossellini managed finally to get convincing performances from two people authentically portraying the end of love. MT

Recently restored l’Imagine Ritrovata VIAGGIO IN ITALIA | BFI Player 

Hockney: A Life in Pictures (2014)

hockDirector: Randall Wright | 113min   UK Biopic

“We grow small trying to be great”.

Born in a tightly-terraced house in Bradford, the fourth of five children, David Hockney’s early memories were of darkness and claustrophobia. It was a happy and aspirational childhood with his strong mother and a father who encouraged him not to care about what the neighbours thought, and fired his imagination and enthusiasm for the world outside with regular visits to ‘the pictures’.

Randall Wright’s portrait of the artist is as ambitious and upbeat as Hockney himself, enlightened by archival material and enriched by cine footage from Hockney’s family collection. Spanning a career that started in local art school and the RCA as a popular and gently opinionated maverick, it shows how he was associated with the Pop Art movement of the 60s, abstract expressionism and figurative work, and is now considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century, and the most expensive living artist when his Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures (1972) was sold at Christie’s for 80 million dollars under the hammer in November 2018.

Kicking off with the usual talking heads who share their fondness for the artist contemporaries and American pals (Ed Ruscha who fleshes out a picture of a philosophical thinker, capable of amiable friendship, lively wit and occasional bouts of introspective loneliness: “I think the absence of Love is Fear”). After a sexually and artistically explorative spell in 1960s New York (his blond hairstyle was the result of a Clairol advert on TV), Hockney gravitated to California spending many years developing his technique with acrylics in bright colours, a fascination with the spacial qualities of water and swimming pools led to his most famous work: A Bigger Splash (1967) – the splash took seven days to paint.

Friendships with Christopher Isherwood and his partner Don Bachandry feature heavily during these years along with a love affair for Peter Schlesinger, an art student who also posed for him and followed him back to London where Tchaik Chassey designed a lateral apartment for the couple in Kensington. Embarking on a series of portraits for friends and relatives, we also meet Celia Birtwell who appeared with Ossie Clark in his other well-known figurative painting, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970/71).

Continually broadening his artistic horizons, Hockney also stresses the intellectual side of art as opposed to photography: “the longer it takes to put (an image) together, the more representative it becomes of time and space”. Hockney also developed an interest in Opera due to his gift of synesthesia, an ability to see bright colours when listening to music. His iPad paintings are possibly his most innovative work with landscape, developing and exploring a spacial awareness unique to painting and allowing us to chart the development of his paintings from the first marks  “the way we depict space and the way we behave in it are different – wider perspectives are needed now”.

Filled with serenity, insight and gentle humour, Randall Wright’s biopic overflows with information, facts and fascinating footage, packing in every subtle nuance of this remarkable creative force in just over two hours.  We are left with a feeling of pride and admiration for our national figure who is as charmingly appealing and strangely naive and this colourful legacy. MT

HIS LATEST EXHIBITION entitled THE ARRIVAL OF SPRING 2020 IS NOW SHOWING AT THE ROYAL ACADEMY IN LONDON

HOCKNEY: A LIFE IN PICTURES IS ON DVD

 

 

Fellini’s Casanova (1976) | Fellini Centenary 2020

Dir.: Federico Fellini  | Wri: Bernardino Zapponi | Cast: Donald Sutherland, Tina Aumont, Cicely Browne, Carmen Scapitta, Diane Kourys | Italy/USA 1976, 155 min.

The last years of Casanova’s life are a permanent odyssey through Europe indulging in a variety of amorous but mostly tired adventures. Fellini’s production echoes this emotional ennui. But the film was also an exercise in misery that started with a long search for the leading man: Alberto Sordi, Michael Caine, Jack Nicholson and Gian Maria Volonté were all in line to play the raddled seducer before Donald Sutherland finally got the part. More than one producer gave up and had be replaced. The shoot was suspended between December 1975 and March 1976; on top of everything, some of the  reels were stolen and the scenes had to re-shot.

Sutherland’s Casanova is an old man, a shadow of himself. His role as the Count Von Waldstein’s librarian occupies his days but at night he is hellbent on enforcing his virility at the Venice carnival before he is imprisoned by the inquisition and accused of ‘black magic’. After his flight from the infamous ‘Piombi’ (lead chambers) he travels to Paris, but his stay is short-lived: he finds out that the hostess Marchesa d’Urfe (Browne) is only interested in gaining the secret of eternal life from him. An affair with the young Henrietta (Tina Aumont) causes him to fall into a deep, suicidal depression when the young woman suddenly leaves. After many more affairs, Casanova feels his existence become an ordeal, and ends up dancing with an automated puppet as he is reduced to an object of ridicule by the  servants.

In an interview Fellini is quoted of saying:  “I wanted to realise the total film. I wanted to change the celluloid of film into a painting. If you look at a painting, the effect is total, there are no interruptions. But if you watch a film, the effect is different. In a painting, everything is included, you only have to discover it. But film is just not as complete: The audience does not look at the film, the film allows the audience to look at it, and so the audience becomes the slave to the rhythm of the film, it dictates the tempo. It would be ideal to create a film which has only one sequence. A film in one, great, permanent and varied movement. With Casanova, I would have liked to get closer to this ideal, with Satyricon I nearly reached my goal.” AS

SCREENING AS PART OF THE FELLINI CENTENARY | BFI LONDON 2020

Romance (1999) | Blu-ray release | Bfi player

4767 copy Dir.: Catherine Breillat | Cast: Caroline Ducey, Sagamore Stevenin, Francois Berleand, Rocco Siffredi | France 1999, 84/99 min.

Catherine Breillat, novelist and filmmaker, has been a victim of censorship (and misinterpretation) from the beginning of her career as a cinematographer: her debut film Une Vraie Jeune Fille (1975), based on her own novel Le “Sopirail” was banned after its premiere until 1999. Influenced very much by George Bataille (whose 1928 novel “Histoire de l’oeil” was wrongly indicted for pornography), Breillat, too, had to fight off the same accusations.

Her heroines do not fit into the mainstream categories of either victim or aggressor: they like their sex in whatever form, but at the same time they want to determine their lives; fighting their male partners successfully for domination in their relationships. And they are no goody-two-shoes: Barbara in Sale Comme Un Ange (1991), is married to the young detective Didier Theron, and willingly seduced by his much older superior George Deblache, who might be a drunkard, but satisfies her carnal needs much better than her bland husband. Deblache gets Theron killed on a job, and slaps Barbara at the end of the film: he is only now aware of her manipulating, whilst she smiles like the cat that got the cream.

Marie (Ducey) in ROMANCE (1999) chooses a not so different way to punish her narcissistic boyfriend Paul (Stevenin) for his refusal to sleep with her, simply because he wants to control her. First Marie, a primary teacher, has a casual affair with Paolo (Siffredi, a well known porn star), then she plays S&S games with her headmaster Robert (Berleand). Somehow, she gets Paul to sleep with her after all, and the resulting pregnancy makes him even more removed from her, neglecting her in favour of friends and relatives. But he ends up paying the price: after the birth of Paul junior, only one male with this name ends up being part of Marie’s life.

Breillat’s films show an understanding of women’s sex life from their own perspective – just the opposite of the male view that is usually trotted out. Whilst male sexual transgressions (in films and books) are usually tolerated, Breillat’s female counterparts are censured, her films condemned as pornographic. Like Simon de Beauvoir and Bataille; Breillat in her novels and films, often adds an essayistic character, strong symbolism and abstract images, best described by Linda Williams as “elitist, avant-garde, intellectual and philosophical pornography of imagination, [as opposed] to the mundane, crass materialism of a dominant mass culture”. Whilst one can describe male sexuality (including nearly all phantasies) as strictly one to one, meaning that there is no ambivalence left, actions and desire are one, female sexuality thrives on ambiguity and imagination. Whilst sex from a male perspective (and its mostly male descriptions in all forms) is treated as an object. For Breillat and her heroines, sex is the subject of their emancipation. There is no pleasure in Breillat’s sexual images, the best example being Marie’s encounter with a man on the staircase. The man offers her money for performing cunnilingus on her, but she does not take the money. Instead she turns over, having rough sex doggy-style. The scene ends highly ambiguously: Marie cries, but when the man calls her names, she retaliates: “I am not ashamed”. Further more, the whole scene begins as voice-over, Marie informing us that this particularly way of being taken, is her phantasy. In blurring the boarder between phantasy and reality, Breillat leaves the audience to judge what they have seen, and how to categorise it. This is just the opposite of conventional pornography, where a mostly male audience is never left in any doubt what is going on, taking their pleasure from the submission of the female.

In A Ma Soeuri! (2001) Breillat went a step further, trying to redefine rape: Anais (12) and Elena (15) are sisters; the latter attractive and sexual active, the former overweight and insecure. On a parking lot, an attacker kills Elena and her mother, afterwards raping Anais. When questioned by the police, the young girl stoical denies having being raped, in her experience, she has at long last caught up with the experience of her sister: for the first time in their rivalry she has come out on top. Breillat’s interpretation gives room for misunderstanding, as does the use of un-simulated sex in her films – but she is a major figure of modernist filmmaking; her films are dominated by reflectiveness and a desire to reinvent class consciousness; not via an out-dated model but by describing women as a class via their experience of sex: Breillat is an innovative heir to the ideas of de Beauvoir’s “Le Deuxieme Sexe”. AS

NOW OUT ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECOND SIGHT FILMS and BFI Player 

 

Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me By Now (2019) ***

Dir: Olivia Lichtenstein | Biopic | 106′ US

Teddy Pendergrass was such a loved and wanted child, success would always follow him. Born in Philadelphia to a proud mother who had suffered six miscarriages that made her cherish him all the more, the two grew close after his father left home shortly after he arrived. Powerful both musically and physically, he had an electric smile and a rich and melodious voice. And women in their droves would flock to his sexually-charged performances, while men were attracted by his power. Lichtenstein chronicles his story but somehow misses a vital chapter, playing down a sinister but clearly significant crime side-story involving the local Phili mafia. And that somehow eclipses the high notes of this essentially celebratory film.

Much the same as Aretha Franklin, Pendergrass started singing in his local Gospel church where he would be ordained. He soon joined Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, only to leave  in 1977  – under a cloud – for a spectacular solo career, that would result in a clutch of platinum discs: an impossibly handsome, virile man with a rich and sensuous voice. But in 1982 tragedy would touch his life when a car accident turned him into a cripple. He flirted with suicide but pulled back from the brink thanks to his family and friends. One of the film’s most moving moments is seeing Pendergrass performing from a wheelchair at Live Aid at Philadelphia.

In 1977, one of the most important woman in his life was shot dead. No one has ever been convicted of Taaz Lang’s crime but Teddy was devastated. And clearly the split from Melvin had left him with enemies too, not least the local police, yet to play this up would diminish the overall impact of his own success and recovery from near death. And, at the time his career was taking off and he was positioned to be a major crossover artist, a Black Elvis even. But the crash takes over in the final scenes changing the mood of the film and leaving us wondering what really happened and why.

The murky world of organised crime in pop music is a real issue, but Pendergrass’s inspirational comeback story forces a different narrative arc on the film, leaving questions unanswered. It’s a remarkable story, but way more complicated than this makes it sound. MT

DVD RELEASE DATE 29.03.19

NATIONWIDE SCREENINGS

moviehouseent.com/films/teddy-pendergrass

Mean Streets (1973) | Masterclass with Martin Scorsese | Cannes Film Festival 2018

“You don’t make up for your sins in Church. You do it on the streets. You do it at home.  The rest is bullshit, and you know it”

Mean Streets was an autobiographical feature with Harvey Keitel’s character loosely based on Scorsese’s father’s relationship with his younger brother, played by Robert De Niro, who was always in and out of jail. Scorsese explores themes of responsibility and obligation, pondering where they end, and if they ever do in a society based on strong moral ties and close relationships, such as his own strict Catholic upbringing, in a tough working class neighbourhood of Queens, where he suffered from asthma. With no books or money, music and visits to the cinema became his abiding influences. In the film, he asks:. How do good people exist in a bad society, and can they still remain good surrounded by evil. Bad people, too, are often capable of extreme acts of kindness and generosity, so where do the boundaries lie? Most of his work closely examines his close relationships with other men, who were a particular feature of his own life, and he is most familiar with these male bonds: brother; cousins, fathers and friends.He is also interested in exploring compassion in society and how difficult it is to care for others who are challenging and cannot see the light, such as his father’s younger brother.

Before making a film, Scorsese generally locks himself away for 2 weeks and draws the entire thing on paper which he then shows to his DoP. He considers the minute geography of the film he’s working on, examining all the angles thoroughly before starting. His latest film has so many scenes, he has started working more closely with the actors, and making things comfortable for the them, often person by person. 

Robert De Niro phrase YOU TALKING TO ME happened as a pure accident while they were rushing to finish a scene, but it’s become legendary. Another happy accident was Joe Pesci’s line: “ou think I’m funny? These all happened due to time constraints. There has to be laughs during the filmmaking process because the anxiety and tension of making the dark stuff is harrowing, he makes music films as a way of balancing things out. MT 

Dir.: Martin Scorsese Cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Jody Foster; USA 1973, 112 min.

Imagine being told by a fellow director you admire, that “you have just spent a year of your life making a peace of shit” – Martin Scorsese was told exactly this by John Cassavetes, after he’d watched Scorsese’s Box Car Bertha (1972). Cassavetes suggested that his next film should resemble his debut feature Who’s that Knocking at my Door? (1967), set in the Italian/American community in New York. Scorsese followed the advice and directed MEAN STREETS – the rest, as they say, is history.

MEAN STREETS (original title ‘Season of the Witch’) takes it title from a Chandler essay: “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”. Based on Scorsese and Robert de Niro’s personal experiences in “Little Italy”, MEAN STREETS is a “passion play” – not only because of the religious undertones but also in the sense of the anger and violence displayed. Charlie (Keitel, who had starred in Who’s that Knocking) is in love with money, Teresa and God – in a constantly changing priority. But Charlie’s life is complicated by his best friend Johnny Boy (De Niro), a psychotic gangster who prefers to keep his cash for clothes, instead of paying back his creditors, who will eventually get their own back on him.  Charlie not only has to look after Johnny, he also has to hide his love for Teresa (Robinson), an epileptic girl, who happens to be Johnny’s niece. And then there are Charlie’s relatives, wanting him to take over the family restaurant – very much against his will. The violence escalates after Johnny insults the loan shark Michael once too often. When he, Teresa and Charlie head out of town for a holiday they are ambushed and a professional killer (Scorsese) peppers their car with bullets. Unlike Glenn Ford who comes too late to save his wife from the burning car, in Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat – which Charlie’s uncle is watching on TV; Charlie leaves the severely injured Teresa in the car.

Amazingly MEAN STREETS was shot mainly in Los Angeles, Scorsese – the crew only spent six days in New York. The physical and emotional violence is best symbolised by Jodie Foster’s child prostitute, Iris. Foster was just eleven at the time the film was shot, and her older sister Connie had to body-double for her in the sexually explicit scenes. MEAN STREETS is the key to all Scorsese’s crime films: metaphors and quotes have vie with the violence, the integrated score(often overlaying the fighting – ironically), seventies hits such as ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘I Looked Away’, religious themes and the lack of male engagement, leading to the brutal conclusion of total annihilation.

Whilst MEAN STREETS was not a success at the box office, the New York Times’ film critic wrote after the premiere: “No matter how bleak the milieu, no matter how heart breaking the narrative, some films are thoroughly, beautifully realised, they have a kind of tonic effect that has no relation to the subject matter. Such a film is Mean Streets”. Amen. AS

MARTIN SCORSESE MASTERCLASS FOR HIS CAROSSE D’OR | THEATRE CROISETTE | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2018| NOW OUT ON DUAL FORMAT | BLURAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA

Bridgend (2015) |Dual Format Release

Director: Jeppe Rønde |Writers: Jeppe Rønde, Torben Bech, Peter Asmussen |Cast: Hannah Murray, Josh O’Connor, Steven Waddington | Denmark Drama 99min

19429907_1481140108610583_7290979167310657879_nDanish tourist Jeppe Rønde arrived in Bridgend with a readymade tragedy-mystery on which to base his debut feature, which world-premiered in competition at the 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam this week. It was in the Welsh town, and across Bridgend County as a whole, that 79 suicides were recorded between 2007 and 2012. Most of the victims were teenagers and all bar one were by hanging. The local and national press were dumbstruck, while police found little evidence to link them together.

Though a fascinating and investigative documentary demands to be made about Bridgend’s suicides – one, perhaps, that goes some way in delving into its history as a mining town, and how the obliteration of this industry might in some way account for a general sense of purposelessness there – Rønde moves away from his award-winning background in non-fiction and instead lends his experience in television commercials to a fictionalised drama involving Sara (Hannah Murray), a Bridgend-born teen who returns after years away in Bristol with her single father Dave (Steven Waddington), the police officer tasked with investigating the local suicides.

Opening with the early-morning discovery of the twenty-third suicide, found by the victim’s own father, the film hurls Sara into the deep end: befriended by the latest victim’s pals, she’s the kind of doe-eyed lass who needs ‘pig’ (i.e. copper) explained to her, and is understandably freaked out when the group concludes a trip to their favourite lakeside idyll with a mourning ritual at the spot where the recently deceased was found hanging. When another unexpected suicide occurs within the group, Sara’s dad is justifiably concerned not only by the escalating tragedy but also by his daughter’s proximity to the clan’s more influential leaders – among whom he counts Jamie (Josh O’Connor), the son of the local priest and Sara’s new boyfriend.

Shooting on location with DP Magnus Nordenhof Jønck (who worked on A HIJACKING as well as Danish TV series BORGEN and THE KILLING), Rønde brings a dreamy atmosphere to proceedings, concentrating less on solving the suicides than on the tensions that characterise the three-way standoff between Sara, her pals and her dad. Unfortunately, Rønde and fellow scribes Torben Bech and Peter Asmussen seemingly have little to say about this dynamic. Indeed, BRIDGEND is less Scandinavian procedural than it is BROADCHURCH, or some other bereft three-part drama made for ITV.

Dave, apparently the only copper in town and lifted straight out of a scene from EMMERDALE, is barely a character at all (props to the wardrobe assistants who made him look like an extra from 1994 British serial THE CINDER PATH though!). Meanwhile, Sara and Jamie’s relationship develops by means of montages awash with French producer Mondkopf’s minimalist score, which renders dialogue conveniently inaudible as the youths frolic at the coast and in abandoned theme parks. When the characters are audible, their dialogue is ropey indeed.

Shock-cuts from an amplified soundtrack to virtually silent scenes and the presence of a horse called Snowy add both to the formal and narrative clichés – to say nothing of a voice-over rendition of Dylan Thomas’s ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’. Some problems are merely budgetary, of course: presumably, scenes in local cafés are so sparsely populated with extras because funding didn’t stretch that far. And while Jønck’s dank cinematography lends sheen to the morbidity, why do none of the houses have their lights turned on? Is it that these decisions were meant to provide an aesthetic approximation of unspoken trauma? Whatever the case, cinematic depictions of suicide have never been so unaffecting.

But deeper qualms persist. Barring its title and closing text, there’s little else to link BRIDGEND to the real-life suicides from which Rønde took inspiration. But his decision to make such an evasive work, one so dependent upon archetypes for its storytelling grit, is questionable in light of the very real tragedies that have haunted this town. Put another way, without the kind of subtly provocative satire of, say, Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003), which prodded at some of the cited causes behind a real-life tragedy, there’s no real reason here why the film has to be linked to Bridgend at all. And it’s when the film hints increasingly at a horror template, implied by a palpable nastiness and chatroom gossiping (don’t any of these kids have phones?), that Rønde exposes himself as a fraud at worst and a hopelessly confused artist at best. MICHAEL PATTISON

BRIDGEND DVD BLURAY DUAL FORMAT RELEASE | AXIOM FILMS |  24 JULY 2017 | ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 21 JANUARY -1 FEBRUARY 2015

https://vimeo.com/126255323

 

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920) | bluray steelbook | 2 disc

photoDAS KABINETT DES DR. CALIGARI

Director: Robert Wiene

Cast: Werner Krauß, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover, Freidrich Feher; Germany 1919, 73 min.

Few films have been the object of so much secondary literature as CALIGARI, but the production itself came together more or less by accident. To start with, Fritz Lang was supposed to be the director but he did not finish his production of Die Spinnen in time, and Wiene was chosen to direct, even though Lang was still involved, being the author of the sub-plot, which framed the main narrative. Carl Mayer Mayer and  Hans Jannowitz, the script writers, both believed that the new structure watered the message of the film down (as did Siegfried Kracauer, but more about that later). But most important, Wiene did replace the symbolist painter Alfred Kubin, who was supposed to design the film with Hermann Warm, Walter Röhrig und Walter Reimann, members of the Berlin expressionist group “Der Sturm”. The rest, as they say, is history.

In an asylum, the patient Francis (Feher) sees Jane (Dagover) walking past him, and he starts telling her story to another patient: On a fair ground in small a north German town, Dr. Caligari (Krauß) shows his medium Cesare (Veidt) to the paying audience. Cesare is supposed to know the future but after a civil servant, who has mistreated Caligari, is found murdered, Francis and his friend Alan suspect Cesare. When Alan inquires how long he would go on living, Cesare answers “till the next morning”. Alan too is murdered and Francis finds out that it is not Cesare who is sleeping in a box in Caligari’s tent, but a doll. Cesare now (unsuccessfully) kidnaps Jane, with whom Francis is in love. Caligari escapes, hiding in an asylum, where Francis finds out that he is really the Chief Warden. When Caligari is shown Cesare’s corpse, he looses his mind. After ending his story Francis meets Caligari, the real Chief Warden, and accuses him of being the mad fair ground proprietor. But Caligari explains calmly to a co-worker that, after hearing Francis story, he would be able to cure him.

The Expressionism of the design is supported by the actors, mainly Krauß and Veidt. The design, exclusively painted, is dominated by distorted perspectives and painted shadows, also synonymous with the jaggedness of the Expressionist movement, confusing the audience even more with their unrealistic angles and sinister atmosphere. Intricate convoluted levels negate the realistic conceptions of space. Inter and subtitles are part of this strange world: when the psychiatrist is driven by his madness to become Caligari, letters are dancing across the contorted roofs of the town forming, in the end, the sentencing “Du mußt Caligari warden” (You have to become Caligari”).

It is true that the sub-plot takes much away from effect of the main narrative. Instead of being a dangerous madman, masquerading as a Chief Warden, Caligari becomes a positive character, only wanting to help the disturbed Francis. In “From Caligari to Hitler”, Siegfried Kracauer, a film critic who emigrated to the United States after the suicide of his friend Walter Benjamin, researches film characters in popular German films between 1918 and 1933, and comes to the conclusion that Caligari was more or less a prototype Hitler, a mentally ill person, who incited others to murder for his own ends. The distorted reality of the film set was for Kracauer also a sign of the madness of the fascist system, which orchestrated great spectacles to trick the masses into following Hitler.

Having said all this, CALIGARI is even today, after nearly hundred years, a very frightening film. Whatever the interpretations, it may well be the first true horror film in the history of the seventh art. AS

ON 16 JANUARY EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT ANNOUNCES A LIMITED EDITION BLURAY STEELBOOK INCLUDING THE DOCUMENTARY FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER (2014) AS PART OF THE MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES

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Pride and Prejudice Zombies (2016) | Home Ent release

Director: Burr Steers

Cast: Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Lily James, Jack Huston, Lena Headey

107min | UK | Horror drama

Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is a household classic successfully adapted for screen on various occasions. Zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead have also garnered much popularity, so why not meld the two together in a lavishly mounted period romp with a solid British cast and you cannot fail to win at the box office, right?

Wrong. With the best intentions Seth Grahame-Smith has over-complicated his script for P&P Zombies: this stylish low-budget affair has all the right credentials: ravishing settings; decent actors; (Charles Dance, Sam Riley, Jack Huston) and some sumptuous costumes and accoutrements – and created a fantasy horror that imagines the appearance of zombies in the quaint 19th century location of Hertfordshire (well-known for its Wicked Lady – but she was very much alive).

Lifting vast swathes of the original page and blithely inserting the word ‘zombie’ in an opening scene, he contrives a zombie tale that pales into insignificance compared to the original, thus bleeding the film dry of any amusement with the absurd and insulting premise the aristocracy rise up and wage war on their zombie interlopers whilst the proles are ravaged to death.

Lizzie Bennet (Lily James) and Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) fall in love while trying to combat the enemy who talk and even think, making them irritating to outmoeuvre as well as difficult to quell. Despite his young age, Sam Riley’s acting chops seems to have peaked and he is sullen and buttoned in the role of Colonel Darcy, rather than dashing and suave. Lily James, meanwhile, shines as gutsy go-getter Lizzie Bennet. The straight scenes come alive thanks to a patrician Charles Dance and darkly dishy Jack Huston, but Austen devotees will not appreciate the original vixen Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Lena Headey) becoming a feisty zombie slayer in this version, which nevertheless retains its early 19th century period detail down to last bonnet with some sexy lingerie peeping through.

The problem with P&P Zombies is that not even the solid cast and Steers’ competent direction can make sense of the cumbersome and rather silly storyline which is mired down in zombies’ mess whenever it tries to offer something fresh and entertaining.  If you’re going to re-make the original then at least make it original – and entertaining. MT

OUT ON DVD | HOME ENT FROM 27 June 2016

 

M by Fritz Lang (1931) | bluray release

Dir.: Fritz Lang;

Cast: Peter Lorre, Gustaf Gründgens, Friedrich Gnass, Theo Lingen, Otto Wernicke, Theodor Loos

Germany 1931, 111 min.

Even though M is Lang’s first film with sound, there are still silent scenes, like those in the streets or the courtyards. But after the great epics Nibelungen or Spinnen, this time the focus is on an individual: Peter Lorre, in his debut, as the serial killer Hans Beckert. M starts with a parable: seven children in a circle, a girl speaking a macabre counting rhyme: “Wait, wait for a while, then Haarmann will come to you too, and with his little chopper, he will make mincemeat out of you, one, two three and out are you”. The reference is to Fritz Haarmann, the serial-killer of Hannover, who murdered 27 boys, and was executed in 1925.

In M, the odd one out is seven-year-old Elsie Beckmann, another victim of the Berlin killer whose victims are all little children. The Police and the criminals of the underworld in Berlin all unite in the hunt for Beckert. Obviously, the Police are doing their duty, but their constant raids are disrupting the activities of “ordinary” criminals like burglars and safe breakers, so ironically the gangsters join in the search. Led by the most successful criminals, these organized gangs get to Beckert first. They set up a kangaroo court, where the chief safe breaker (Gründgens) is acting as the prosecutor. In his long leather coat, he looks (and talks) like a member of the future SS: declaring that Beckert is unworthy to live, a vermin, to be exterminated. The police ‘intervene’ just in time. Interestingly, Gustav Gründgens became a good friend of the Nazis after 1933, and Göring made him artistic director of all Berlin theatres. He was interned after the war and Klaus Mann’s roman-a-clef, featuring Gründgens interactions with the Mann family, was filmed as Mephisto by Istvan Szabo.

There were some imminent German actors at the time, but Lorre, who was acting on stage in the Brecht play “Man is Man” in the evening, whilst filming M during the day, managed to carry the film with his magnetic persona. His high-pitched voice, and strangely ungainly figure, he is an outcast from the beginning. His portrait of a driven soul is perfect: “Sometimes it seems, that I am running after myself… I want to run away…run away from myself…then I stand in front of a wanted poster, reading what I have done, I am reading, reading…did I really do that?” In spite of his many Hollywood roles, Lorre would never be so convincing again, apart perhaps from The Lost One (1951), a film noir, where he plays a doctor in a displacement camp, his only work as a director, shot on his return to West Germany in 1951. The lack of success broke him and he ran back to Hollywood.

Fritz Arno Wagner’s camera work creates the perfect climate for a mass psychosis: everyone is suspecting their neighbours, friends and family members, and this gives rises to continuous denunciations as well as public and private fracases. It is the portrait of a people who trust neither themselves nor their countrymen: somehow the time is rife for a cataclysm. And it took less than two years to arrive. AS

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A BFI Film Classics book, M, by Anton Kaes, first published in 2000, is out now through Palgrave Macmillan.

 

 

Experimenter (2015) l Dvd and Digital release

Director|Writer: Michael Almereyda

Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Taryn Manning, Anton Yelchin, Tom Bateman, Jim Gaffigan

98min   Biopic Drama   US

Peter Sarsgaard leads with a haunting and humanistic performance in this serious and well-crafted biopic of the controversial social psychologist Stanley Milgram who grew up in America, the child of Romanian and Hungarian Jewish refugees.

Cleverly reminding us of the Holocaust without placing it at the forefront, Michael Almereyda elevates this absorbing film with Ryan Samul’s subtle cinematography and Deana Sidney’s restrained set design that never allows it to feel dry or technical. Set in ’60s Yale, a subtle love story simmers below the surface, that of Milgram and his wife Sasha, elegantly portrayed by Winona Ryder. Meeting in a lift during the opening scenes, they pursue a rapid, low-key courtship, both immediately recognising their suitability as marriage partners due to their Jewish roots.

Milgrim’s notoriety was largely the result of “the machine”, a device that he used to illustrate his experiments on human obedience to malevolent authority. During his debatably unethical study, he tricked ordinary people into delivering electric shocks to unseen subjects in another room,  Even though there was no coercion, practically all of them continued with the experiment despite the cries of pain that emerged from the room. In reality there were no electric shocks, but Milgram wanted to prove that people would continue inflicting pain, just because they were told to. The scientist was also known for proving the “six degrees of separation” rule through a Harvard mail experiment.

Peter Sarsgaard gives a melancholy performance but one which manages to be both seductively sinister and authoritative. Quoting from  Søren Kierkegaard (“Life can only be understood backwards, but it much be read forwards’), he is quietly spoken and detached yet full warmth and acceptance for both his co-workers and his wife and children; never coming over as condescending or boffin-like. The only thing that marrs EXPERIMENTER is the appearance of an ill-advised beard that sprouts suddenly on Milgram’s face after the birth of his two children; adding an unintentional comic element to the proceedings. There is also a scene that features a man playing William Shatner in the TV movie The Tenth Level, that was loosely based on Milgram’s book. Sasha claims that this character turns him into a “goy” (non-Jew) where in fact Shatner is Jewish, and Sarsgaard is not.

The central theme of the film continues to be the main central experiment and the stark and unbelievable reality – backed by science – that most people continued to press the button, ‘harming’ their fellow men, despite their sheer abhorance of the facts and their subsequent disbelief.  Highly recommended. MT

EXPERIMENTER IS OUT ON DVD AND DIGITAL RELEASE FROM 29 FEBRUARY 2016 here 

REVIEWED DURING THE UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NATIONWIDE 7 – 22 NOVEMBER 2015 | MORE FROM THE PROGRAMME here

 

James White (2015) | DVD / Digital Release

Director: Josh Mond

USA​ Drama ​88mins

Having produced the likes of MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011) and SIMON KILLER (2012), Josh Mond makes his directorial feature debut with JAMES WHITE, whose bland, personifying title suggests a continuation of the previous character studies’ low-key naturalism. Taking its name from its ‘just like you or me’ protagonist (Christopher Abbott), JAMES WHITE is a moving, nuanced portrait of a twenty-something Manhattanite trying to find his place in a world that appears to be dealing him several cruel hands at once. At the beginning of the film we learn James’ father has recently died; at the weeklong Shiva, to which he shows up wearing a casual, black hoodie, James meets his father’s new wife, of whom he only heard first mention weeks previously.

We sense from the awkward welcome he extends to the stepmother he never knew that James is loyal to his own mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon), whose pale complexion and wig-hidden bob hints towards a recent bout of chemotherapy. Asking Gail to fund a vacation so that he can have some thinking space, jobless James retreats from immediate responsibilities to a coastal resort with his pal Nick (Scott Mescudi), where he meets Jayne (Makenzie Leigh), a high school student also, by coincidence, from New York City. When his vacation is cut short by a phone call from Gail revealing she has been re-diagnosed with cancer, James continues his relationship with Jayne, but the pressures of having to care for his mother weigh increasingly heavy.

Mond handles the tonal shifts of this extremely mature story with deft precision. Though sober, the film is never austere: it neither banishes comedy nor milks the tragedy that caring for a terminally ill parent entails. Though Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography—previously showcased in Sean Dirkin’s TV series SOUTHCLIFFE, in addition to this year’s SON OF SAUL—often privileges Abbott/James with shallow-focus compositions, his notably widescreen framing evokes a wider social fabric to which the protagonist is only intermittently aware.

The strength of Mond’s drama rests upon two fundamental realisations. Firstly, that there is much dramatic potential in a premise built around an otherwise antiheroic male whose everyday experiences compel him one way (hedonism, listlessness, laziness) while the universal banality of a parent being diagnosed with cancer pulls him another. Why? Because starting from an ordinary character forces an astute writer-director to ask questions that an exceptional circumstance doesn’t (e.g., if James were, say, a remarkably promising artist diagnosed with premature sight loss, we can only imagine the dramatic liberties taken). Secondly, that it’s in the way you tell a story that determines its believability.

Here, Mond includes otherwise superfluous details that enliven rather than distract from his fictional universe. In terms of character, consider the choice to have Scott Mescudi, better known under his music-making moniker King Cudi, play Nick as a homosexual. While deleted scenes elaborated on this more, the omissions de-sensationalise the supporting character’s sexuality so as to re-humanise it. Add to this Mescudi is black, and it’s refreshing to watch a film that resists the more obvious issues-based agenda. It helps that Mescudi’s performance is excellent. For evidence that he is an actor of outstanding subtlety—encompassing both body and facial control—look no further than three separate and very different moments: when he trudges toward camera in his work uniform and declares with deadpan hyperbole that he wants to kill himself; immediately after, when he browses a store on an acid trip; and when he confronts his best pal in a hotel room, physically stifling James’ pent-up aggressions.

Mond’s brand of naturalism is also helped immeasurably by Abbott, promoted to leading man here after much smaller roles in MARTHA MARCY and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014). The Connecticut-raised actor forms a plausible chemistry with each of his fellow cast members, not least of all Nixon, with whom he shares many a poignant moment. Chief among these is that heart-achingly prolonged take in which James calms his mother during a middle-of-the-night bathroom visit by getting her to imagine she’s somewhere else, somewhere exotic, away from all the shit unfolding at home. MICHAEL PATTISON

NOW ON DVD | Digital | Reviewed at LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | 5 – 15 August 2015 l London Film Festival 2015

Brooklyn (2015) | DVD BLU release

Dir.: John Crowley  Script: Nick Hornby   Novel: Colm Toibin

Cast: Saorse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Waters, Jessica Pare, Fiona Glascott, Brid Brennan

Ireland/UK/Canada 2015, 111 min.

In this lush and impressively-mounted drama John Crowley (Boy A) goes for an epic but somehow falls short but Nick Hornsby’s screenplay cleverly captures the zeitgeist of a tight Catholic community in Southern Ireland in contrast to the promise of new horizons in Brooklyn during the fifties.

Adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel, Saiorse Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, a young ambitious Irish woman with few prospects beyond working in the local village grocers, where the bitter-tongued owner (Brid Brennan) gives her a difficult time. Ellis’ sister Rose (Glascott), already marked by an illness, is saintly enough to forego the opportunity to emigrate and stays to look after their widowed mother (Jane Brennan), while Eilis sails to the New World and New York.

In Brooklyn, Ellis finds a home in the boarding house of Ma Kehoe (Walters), who supports the newcomer, appreciating her classy naivety. The local Catholic priest (Broadbent), also keeps an eye on her, financing her evening studies in bookkeeping as things fall into place. Falling in love with an Italian plumber Tony, Eilis starts to blossom in her new home. But after a family tragedy she travels back to Ireland, where he sophisticated and confidence impresses the locals and upper-class Rugby player Domhnall Gleeson (Farrell). No longer a one-trick pony, Eilis has to decide between two men and two continents.

Despite being shot in Montreal, BROOKLYN is truly at home in 1952: François Seguin’s sumptuous production design, on both sides of the Atlantic, is flawless. Hornby’s script reduces the story to moving moments between the lovers and the sisters, laced with occasional wit (Julie Walters provides this with aplomb). Even if we overlook the lack of references to the Korean War and the general climate of the Cold War, BROOKLYN goes for the saccharine. Young Eilis falls on her feet in a series of lucky breaks, surrounded by an army of kind souls. The standouts are Julie Walters as Ma Kehoe, Emory Cohen who sensitively evokes young love and Jenn Murray, as Dolores, the only sardonic young girl in the bunch. Positive Catholic values seep through in a world where everyone seems to be well-intentioned, only wanting the best for this ‘damsel in distress’. Her development from a shy teenager to the “Vogue look-alike” after her return from New York, is never really explained, but Ronan handles the part with considerable skill, transforming to a woman with the confidence supplied by Tony’s love. But the script does rather stretch the imagination back in Ireland where Domhnall’s posh family tries to enhance their son’s chances with Eilis, and a job in accounting is miraculously served to her on a plate.

DOP Ivan Belanger’s images are soft-lensed primary colours, a picture-postcard of the fifties. The slow motion walks and runs remind us of the 70s; everything, city or countryside, is photographed like a travelogue – an achievement, considering Brooklyn’s status as a homestead for emigrants. Performances are totally in line with the sugary sentiments, the close-ups prove that the world is a good place, bereft of anything which could contradict the feel-good factor. Crowley has succeeded in creating a world of dutiful Catholic souls in Ireland and Brooklyn, beavering away for the good of mankind, creating a feel-good-factor which never really existed. BROOKLYN is an upbeat charmer that slips down like silk when the reality was actually made of nylon. MT

DVD | BLURAY | DIGITAL RELEASE|

 

The Beat that My Heart Skipped | Blu-ray release

Director: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Romain Duris, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Niels Arestrup | 108min |French

In THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED Jacques Audiard ((Rust and Bone) turns the story of James Toback’s 1978 Fingers into a profound and gritty study of alienation and redemption experienced by Tom (Romain Duris) a petty Parisian crook who is caught up in a web of dodgy property deals, inherited from his father (a masterful Niels Arestrup). Essentially a decent bloke, Tom is desperate to get on the straight and narrow so he can focus on his real dream; that of becoming a concert pianist. Romain Duris is superbly watchable here as Tom, balancing the two sides of his life with tangible nervousness in a drama as taut as the strings of his treasured piano. MT

OUT ON BLURAY FROM 14 March 2016 COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICAL EYE

 

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

Dir/Wri: Walerian Borowczyk | Cast: Udo Kier, Marina Pierro, Patrick McGee, Gerard Zalcberg, Howard Vernon | 92min  | Thriller | Polish German

There have been many striking film and TV adaptations of Stevenson’s novel. Favourites are Mamoulian’s Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde (1931) and Baker’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). Borowczyk’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne joins the illustrious list. Although Mamoulian’s film remains the best adaptation, Borowczyk’s treatment is the most radical, having a ferocious energy bordering on the transgressive.

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a claustrophobic film that rarely departs from Jekyll’s house. Patrick Magee plays an army general. Udo Keir is Dr Jekyll. Clement Harari a priest, and Howard Vernon another doctor. These four pillars of the Victorian establishment, supported by their female guests, are depicted as controlling and repressive. At a dinner-party debate Borowczyk pierces their conversation with brief flash-forwards to the rapes and murders to come. These are not just the crimes of Mr Hyde but the imaginings and acts of some of the guests.

The ‘voyeurism’ of Dr Jekyll’s fiancée Miss Osbourne (Marina Pierro) is a key sequence in the film. The shift from a predatory male to a curious prolonged female gaze is not only radically different for a horror film but teases us with its overlay of ideas. A conventional director would have depicted a passive and increasingly frightened Miss Osbourne but Borowcyzk’s subtle direction of Marina Pierro conveys amazement and fascination as to what her future husband’s antics. When Jekyll prepares his potion he knocks it back and adds it to his bathwater, writhing and splashing in the bath to become Mr Hyde (Gerald Zalcberg, radiating a sub-human menace). Miss Osbourne is beguiled by the transformation process. Even after Hyde tries to kill her, she is not so much intent on understanding Jekyll but becoming a Hyde-like creature herself.

There are now two versions of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne. Viewing the dubbed English version, the acting appears stilted and sometimes pushes the film into the sexy slease category into which Borowczyk’s later films were unfortunately promoted. Watching the French version (with English sub-titles) brings a greater seriousness of tone suggesting an art movie merely dressed up as a horror film. But both accounts are the same cut of the film with its often extreme violence and after effects (Borowczyk occasionally lingering too long on unpleasant details).

What also makes Borowczyk’s adaptation so outstanding is its visual style. Beautiful soft-hued photography, fabulous framing, composition and lighting have a creepy nightmarish charge combined with Bernard Parmegiani’s electronic score, that haunted me for days afterwards. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne is a terrific European horror experiment. Very much in the spirit of Stevenson’s dark text it captures the author’s sense of repression by the stripping “of these lendings and springing headlong into liberty.” whilst never succumbing to an inevitable Victorian moralising. Like Herzog’s vampire film Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), evil triumphs with a libertine flourish. Borowczyk’s film frequently evokes the fetishism of Buñuel and the surrealism of Borowczyk’s own early animated films. It’s all quite amazing. Alan Price.

NOW OUT ON Dual format BLU-RAY |DVD

 

Lost in Karastan (2014) | DVD release

Writer|Director: Ben Hopkins

Matthew Macfadyen, MyAnna Buring, Noah Taylor, /Richard van Weyden

91min | Comedy |

Paweł Pawlikowski has a wicked sense of humour – he waxes satirical here again as he did in a similar vein with his documentaries Tripping with Zhirinovsky and Serbian Epics, although as co-writer of LOST IN KARASTAN, a comedy ‘Eastern’ directed by Ben Hopkins, the satire is less subtle, more in your face. It follows a British filmmaker who fetches up in the Caucasus to attend a retrospective of his own films. Wacky and watchable, along the lines of Borat with more style, thanks to Matthew Macfadyen in the lead role as Emil Forrester and Xan Butler (Noah Taylor) as his hard-drinking fellow guest from Hollywood, LOST IN KARASTAN is a well-crafted and bizarre B-movie; the locations (Tbilisi, Georgia) give it street cred and a touch of exotic panache. The story is so plausible, it could almost be real. Well almost! MT

OUT ON DVD from 29 FEBRUARY 2016

Bolshoi Babylon (2015) | DVD release

Director: Nick Read | Documentary | UK | 86min

Internecine politics fail to dampen the ardour of Russia’s finest export and barometer of the superpower’s national health in BOLSHOI BABYLON

British director Nick Read (The Condemned) explores the bizarre case surrounding the acid attack that nearly blinded Bolshoi Ballet’s artistic director Sergei Filin in this tight and well-paced documentary whose unprecendented access to the inner workings of the ballet and enticing clips from recent productions (Swan Lake, Boris Godunov, Traviata etc), are sure to entice balletomanes and cineasts alike.

But this is not the only salacious aspect of a film that grows more intriguing by the minute with its revelations about the Bolshoi and its attempts to overcome a never ending battle to survive both in and out of the theatre confines. Interviews with its new company director Vladimir Urin, principles such Maria Allash and Maria Alexandra and ballet masters Boris Akin and Nicolai Tsiskaridze paint a bloody portrait of the physical and emotional rigour required to stay the course by all involved with Moscow’s hallowed cultural edifice.

It gradually emerges that the acid attack, in 2013, was ordered by dancer in defence of his girlfriend’s lack of promotion due to favouritism by the powers that be, headed by Filin and that left him with extensive third degree burns to his face and partially blind in one eye. Not only does this confirm rumours of violence and corruption in contemporary Russian society but it also upholds long-held beliefs and stereotyping in the West. Pavel Dmitrichenko, a soloist, admitted to hiring his neighbour to attack Filin due to jealousy and resentment. Vladimir Urin, polishing up his own profile courtesy of the filmmakers, reveals that many are interested in influencing the future of the national treasure, not least President Vladimir Putin and Prime Dmitri Medvedev, who appears in a startling interview where he claims the Bolshoi is a sort of guided propaganda missile of national heritage that is sent abroad to influence and profit the mother country.

This is a commercial film but also one that will make you jump on  the nearest plane to Moscow to experience the Bolshoi for yourselves. What emerges it that the arguing, bitterness and jealousy is the ‘raison d’être’ of the Bolshoi, defining them firing up the enthusiasm, professionalism and creative brilliance of these highly emotional artists. The only criticism is the brevity of the beguiling ballet footage of the troupe performing seen both backstage and from the Bolshoi Theatre presidential boxes. MT

 NOW ON DVD 

 

Olive Kitteridge (2014) |DVD RELEASE

Dir.: Lisa Cholodenko

Cast: Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Bill Murray, Peter Mullan, Zoe Kazan

USA (TV series) 2014, 232 min.

Based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Strout, HBO’s production of the TV series is carried nearly single-handedly by executive producer Frances McDormand in the title role. Bullying her way through 25 years of recent history in the small seaside town of Crosby in Maine, New England, this is peach of a role for a middle-aged woman who plays her cards close to her chest and whose strength lies in her depiction of a woman who is not weak, tearful or vulnerable.

Olive is a Maths teacher in Middle school, her long-suffering husband Henry (Richard Jenkins, in fine form as a beta male), a pharmacist. Their only son, Christopher, is treated by his mother with the same disdain as the rest of her family in particular – and the rest of Crosby in general. Olive is not able to empathise with any of the other characters – with the possible exception of her teaching college Jim O’Casey (Mullan), a melancholic, caustic, sullen alcoholic, who loves the same nihilistic poems and novels as Olive – and, like her, looks down on everyone. Unfortunately for her, O’Casey commits suicide, before she can declare his love for her: never in the film do we see her nearly as emotionally broken as when she learns about his suicide, camouflaged as an automobile accident.

Henry, owner and proprietor of the local pharmacy, meanwhile seeks solace in the company of his employee, young Denise Thibodeau (Kazan), a kind and shy child woman, whose husband is killed in a hunting accident. For a moment we wonder if Henry will make the break from Olive: he buys Denise a cat to console he, whereon Olive comments that “he bought the mouse a cat”. But Henry is a coward, and lets the opportunity slip by. Her negation of others is nothing but self-negation.Olive manages to fall out with everybody – apart from Henry who is unbelievably stoic in his approach to life with Olive, is this a brilliantly-observed and well-acted ‘soap opera’.

Even though made for TV, OLIVE KITTERIDGE does not cut corners, the character studies are detailed, the analysis of small town life realistic, and always with the right sort of humour. The souls of the American petty-bourgeoisie are looked at with a critical eye, but with warm understanding of their shortcomings. Olive herself is the monster, in spite of her superior intellect. The camera always tries to show life from different angles, and the colour palette, particular in the many autumns we witness, are particular impressive: the beauty of nature, is rather spoiled by many of the Maine denizens – but most of all by Olive. Lisa Cholodenko (The Kinds are Alright) keeps the same rhythm in spite of the four-hour length , which, despite its off-putting title, is grippingly watchable from start to finish. When was the last time, one could say that about a Hollywood film?

NOW ON DVD | REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2014 –

 

 

The Second Mother | DVD RELEASE (2015)

Dir.: Anna Muylaert

Cast: Regina Case, Karine Teles, Camila Mardila, Lourenco Mutarelli, Michel Joelsas

Brazil 2015, 114 min.

The tranquil life of an upper middle class family in Sao Paulo is turned upside down, when the daughter of the housekeeper Val (Case) comes to stay. As it turns out, Val is the lynchpin of the family, and nothing will ever be the same again after Jessica arrives. Writer/director Anna Muylaert (Collect Call) tackles themes of class, family, education and wealth in a narrative driven drama, carried by the brilliant central performance of Regina Case.

Val left her village and her baby Jessica behind when she went to work for Dr. Carlos (Mutarelli) and his wife Barbara (Teles) in Sao Paulo. A decent salary meant Val could afford a good school for Jessica. Now she has come to Sao Paulo, to sit an entrance examination at the very competitive architecture exams at the prestigious FAU. Fabinho (Joelsas), the son of the house, is the same age as her daughter, but the opposite of the success-driven Jessica: he idles his time away with friends and still goes for nightly cuddles with Val, who more or less raised him, feeling much closer to her than to his careerist mother. Dr, Carlos is a decadent ex-painter who has given up on life, and spends much of the day in bed, even proposing to Jessica. Fabinho too falls for Jessica, who successfully ‘upgrades’ her lodgings from a mattress in her mother’s small room, to the much bigger guest room. Jessica does not follow her mother’s orders of subservience to her host family (‘you say ‘no’ when they offer you something, because they expect you to decline’). She even asks for the “better” brand of ice cream, reserved for family members, whilst Val and her helper Edna have their own, cheaper brand. Dona Barbara (as she likes to be called by Val) finally snaps: after Jessica has a swim in the pool with Fabinho and a friend, she orders the water to be drained and replaced from the pool, making a lame excuse of having spotted a rat. It’s clear that life will never be the  same again now that Jessica has made her presence known in this rigid class-based society.

Apart from Case, the ensemble performance is very strong, particularly Teles’ Barbara, who acts the part of the “modern”, successful woman, giving interviews about progress in society, despite being able to cope with the fact that her cleaner’s daughter is more successful than her pampered son. Her husband, having inherited wealth from his hard working father, is remote from his family, only interested in lusting after Jessica. In spite of his utter laziness, Fabinho is the most sympathetic member of the family, his good-bye to Val is heart-wrenching. But Val and Jessica are not just victims of the system but women who make their own decisions, will ultimately shape their lives. With an English title that is much more pertinent than the original “When will she come back?; ex-film critic Muylaert delivers a serious critique of inequality in contemporary Brazil in this fast-paced, subtle and amusing tour-de-force. AS

NOW ON DVD

Wilde (1997) | blu-ray release

Director: Brian Gilbert

Writers: Richard Ellmann (novel) Julian Mitchell (screenplay)

Cast: Stephen Fry, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Jones, Michael Sheen, Judy Parfitt, Zoe Wanamaker, Tom Wilkinson,Ioan Gurffudd

118min |  Biopic  | UK

Brian Gilbert’s elegant Arts and Craft’s romp delicately unbuttons the sexual adventures of one of Ireland’s best known poets and playwrights who became a household name largely for his epigrams and novel: The Importance of Being Earnest.

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning biography by the American writer Richard Ellmann, Julian Mitchell’s script rekindles Wilde’s warmth reflected from the pages of Ellmann’s book and Stephen Fry successfully evokes his purported decency, gentlemanly charm, suave eloquence and dashing sensuality.

The film opens as Wilde has returned from America and plans to marry a quietly pliant woman of breeding Constance Lloyd (played by Jennifer Ehle)  who “allows him an audience”. Soon after the birth of their first son, Wilde turns to homosexual lovers as he hopelessly juggles his writing commitments (like “a Nothern business man who has to keep an eye on his factory”) with those of his growing family. Then at the peak of his professional career as ‘Importance’ opened to rave reviews in 1895, Wilde was convicted of “gross indecency”, due to homosexuality being against the law, and he suffered a spectacular fall from grace which forced him to spend the remainder of his life behind bars and in emotional torment.

Gilbert’s cast is nothing short of masterful: apart from Fry, the standouts are Jude Law who plays his vain and petulantly impatient great love, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas; Tom Wilkinson shines as Bosie’s dashingly witty but vengeful father, the Marquess of Queensbury, who furiously exclaims in a coruscating father and son tiff: “you’re nothing but a bum boy!” and Michael Sheen who plays his more discrete and companionable lover Robbie Ross.

Oscar Wilde’s downfall was largely due to his unwise move of suing the Marquess when he tried to defame him for sodomy and later was able to produce evidence from “rent boys” who testified that the Marquess was correct in describing Wilde as a ‘bugger’. At after scenes in court, Wilde lives out the rest of his life in less agreeable circumstances.

Stephen Fry is the shooting star of the piece giving a glowing performance that effortlessly reflects the poet’s appealing personality. As the first “modern man” he shines by cleverly managing the conflicting sides to his Wilde’s personal life, which he handled with consistent integrity, calm and dignity.  Despite all this, Wilde was sadly unable to win over the court and the final scenes are testament to Wilde’s deep philosophical understanding of the world around him.

On this pristine blu-ray re-release, Maria Djukovic’s imaginative production design and Martin Fuhrer’s visuals glisten with jewel-like brilliance and an original score from Wolf Hall’s Debbie Wiseman adds intensity and romance to the narrative depth of Brian Gilbert’s impressively-mounted Victorian moral tragedy. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

 

Aferim! (2015) | Berlinale 2015| SILVER BEAR | DVD BLU

Director: Radu Jude
Writer: Radu Jude, Florin Lazarescu
Cast: Teodor Corban, Mihai Comanoiu, Cuzin Toma

Romania / Bulgaria / Czech Republic Historical Drama 108 min

MIDNIGHT RUN meets THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADAS ESTRADA in Radu Jude’s third feature AFERIM!—an unlikely pairing by which to describe a road movie set in 1830s Romania. From its opening credits sequence (lively music and foregrounded cacti) to its crisply shot rural vistas, though, there’s more than a touch of the western about this talky and occasionally very funny film, which bowed in competition this week at the Berlin Film Festival.

While a Ford or a Hawks may have felt compelled to have their protagonist transcend the moral restrictions of his time, Jude doesn’t afford his central figure such a luxury. Gendarme Costadin (Teodor Corban) is employed by a local boyor (high ranking aristocrat) to hunt down Carfin (Cuzin Toma), a gypsy who has run away following accusations of an affair with his owner’s wife. Accompanied by his son and protégé Ionita (Mihai Comanoiu), Costadin travels on horseback across the racial hotbed of feudalist Wallachia in search of his bounty, encountering various people of impoverished or inferior stations—gypsies and women chief among them.

Women and gypsies get the brunt of it in Jude and fellow writer Florin Lazarescu’s script (which, as a long list of historical texts indicates at the very end of the film, in addition to the beautiful production design and costume design by Augustina Stanciu and Dana Paparuz respectively, is the work of impressive research). Costadin refers to one woman he comes upon early in the film as a hag. Others are referred to as crows and filthy whores. Not that our protagonist is especially tyrannical. Though he claims to be “as harsh as a hot pepper, born of Father Garlic and Mother Onion”, Costadin goes about his daily routine with palpable ambivalence, making ends meet with an unquestioning deference for the prevailing status quo while admitting, in those moments of downtime he enjoys with Ionita, that “this is a dog’s life: we sweat like beasts for a piece of bread.” Later, a chemistry almost forms between the policeman and his quarry, as Costadin agrees to put a word in for Carfin upon returning him to his master—though he doesn’t quite extend such sympathy enough to free him, upon Ionita’s suggestion.

The casual, accepted misogyny that pervades the film is exemplified best by the puppet show that Costadin observes among many other onlookers, in which a male marionette beats his wife to death. Young viewers begin to inspect the motionless puppet, convinced that it’s real. Up to this point, the film has been free of explicit violence, though the darker impulses revealed in dialogue (“gypsies: are they people, or Satan’s spawn?”) prepare us for an outcome that denies a happy resolution. True to recent traditions in Romanian cinema, AFERIM! is an effectively frustrating look at how the unequal power relations of any historical period absurdly go unchallenged by those who benefit from them most.

“This world will stay on as it is,” Costadin tells his son. “You can’t change it, try as you might.” But we know different. Though inequalities still exist, the situation in Eastern Europe has changed dramatically. While it’s refreshing to see a Romanian director turning to a more remote point in his nation’s history (as opposed to, say, its search for a post-communist identity), the film speaks to the present juncture—not least of all in its authentic depiction of how gypsies were treated in the 1830s. Just as the movement for freeing gypsies (then regarded as slaves) began to gather momentum in the mid-19th century—resulting finally in the 1856 bill declaring their emancipation—we find much solace in the systematic changes that have unfolded since, and in those that are still to come. MICHAEL PATTISON

ROMANIA’S OSCAR 2016 ENTRY | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015 | FOLLOW OUR COVERAGE UNDER BERLINALE 2015 | DVD BLU RELEASE

Philby Burgess & Maclean (1977) | DVD release

imageDirector: Gordon Flemyng   Writer: Ian Curteis

Cast: Anthony Bate, Derek Jacobi, Michael Culver

78 mins / Drama / United Kingdom

During the British Cinema’s darkest hour in the 1970s it would occasionally be observed that the British film was in fact still alive and well, but was to be found on the small screen rather than the big screen. Had Philby Burgess & Maclean, for example, received even a perfunctory cinema release rather than just one TV screening on ITV on the evening of 31 May 1977, it would – instead of soon receding from memory after getting excellent reviews in the press – continue to enjoy the reputation that it merits.

Philby Burgess & Maclean belongs with John Schlesinger’s later TV production An Englishman Abroad (1983) in its depiction of the older Guy Burgess as a dissolute drunk and Donald Maclean as a morose one rather than as the guilded youths that have since become much more familiar in Another Country and Cambridge Spies. Steven Spielberg’s recent Bridge of Spies is similarly suffused with a soft-focused nostalgia for a lost era; (in Spielberg’s case for the time when the young Steven was curled up on the sofa watching 77 Sunset Strip).

Philby Burgess & Maclean, on the other hand, was made while many of the protagonists were still alive and Anthony Blunt had not yet been exposed and stripped of his knighthood. Ian Curteis’s script manages briskly to cover most of the facts as they were then known; while director Gordon Flemyng brings to the convoluted proceedings the same brevity and clarity of the Edgar Wallace second features he made for Merton Park during the early sixties. The succinct 78 minutes of Philby Burgess & Maclean (minus ad breaks) displays a narrative economy while being both tense and witty that puts Spielberg’s film – at 141 minutes almost twice its length – utterly to shame; and from which many of today’s filmmakers could learn.

Philby Burgess & Maclean now looks very dated indeed, but to its advantage. Alan Parker’s jarringly anachronistic seventies synthesized score and the Top of the Pops graphics (the opening iris out on the sweaty face of Soviet defector Konstantin Volkov and the later scene depicting President Truman’s outraged response to the news that Russia now had the Bomb stand out as particular highlights in this respect) actually enhance its impact as a tingling tale of intrigue and espionage in the vein of The Ipcress File. Although the costumes and décor – as well as the modest TV production values and drab seventies colour – perfectly evoke the original postwar Austerity Britain, they do so without smothering the drama.

The large cast is an enjoyable mix of British ‘B’ movie stalwarts like Patrick Holt and Bernard Archard (the latter known to an earlier generation of TV viewers as Lt Col. Oreste Pinto in Spycatcher) and relatively new boys like an almost unrecognisably young and slim Oliver Ford Davies and a scene stealing Derek Jacobi, who had just become a household name on the strength of the previous summer’s I Claudius and dominates the proceedings with a suitably flamboyant turn as Guy Burgess. All the acting, however, is superb, with Michael Culver vividly conveying the toll that the strain of working as a spy had taken on Donald Maclean’s nervous system; in marked contrast to Anthony Bate’s quietly ruthless Philby, always keeping his head while all around are losing theirs. Arthur Lowe contributes a priceless cameo as the future President of the British Board of Film Censors, Herbert Morrison, who had to suffer the humiliation of Burgess & Maclean’s defection on his brief watch as Foreign Secretary in 1951. Philby and Maclean’s wives are both vividly drawn by the late Ingrid Hafner and – particularly – Elizabeth Seal; both repulsed by Guy Burgess and at a complete loss to understand their husbands’ unyielding loyalty to him. Another clever piece of casting is the actor and political activist David Markham – whose vigorous campaign for the release of Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky had just recently ended in success – as MI5 interrogator Jim Skardon, who interrogated Philby ten times without ever managing to pin him down.

With the recent publication of Andrew Lownie’s biography of Guy Burgess, interest in the Terrible Trio seems likely to continue unabated for some time yet; and it is to be hoped that Network’s recent dvd release of Philby Burgess & Maclean will aid in bringing this forgotten gem to the wider audience that it so richly deserves. RICHARD CHATTEN

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD | UK ONLY ON AMAZON.CO.UK

Eden (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Løve; Cast: Felix de Givry, Arsinee Khanjian, Greta Gerwig; France 2014, 131 min.

At only 33 years old, Mia Hansen-Løve has already directed four features, a considerable achievement for a woman director in France. EDEN shares with her last two outings, a central character who does not know when to give up. In Father of my Children (2009), the producer Gregoire Canvel (based on the real life figure of the independent producer Humbert Balsan) can’t stop producing, even though his debts are astronomical – desperate, he commits suicide in the streets of Paris. Camille, the heroine in Goodbye first Love (2011) can’t get over her first love, and spends years in the doldrums, before accepting the loss. Both films could do with some shorter running time, but they are aesthetically so mature, whilst genre- wise so different, that one has to marvels at this filmmaker’s skill.

EDEN, true to its name, is set in the world of French Garage music, chronicling the years from the late eighties to the present. Its anti-hero, the DJ Paul (de Givry), inhales mountains of coke and goes through many broken relationships whilst living in the “fast lane”: a superficial and consumerist existence. Having given up his literature studies, his debts accumulate and his mother (Khanjian) has to continually bail him out. His girlfriends usually don’t stay around long; empathy is not his strength. On his travels to New York, he meets up with Julia (Gerwig), who had left him in Paris. Having been dumped again, he rekindles the relationship, even though Julia has two little girls. When Paul’s best friend, the cartoonist Cyril, commits suicide, throwing himself under a metro train, Paul, now in his mid thirties, says goodbye to his former life style, and returns to his first love, literature. When a young woman on his course, asks him about his past, he lets on about his involvement in Garage music – to his utter astonishment, she has never heard of this music genre…..

Paul, like many men in his circle, is semi-autistic. Narcissistic, egocentric and spoilt by his mother, he accumulates debts from a coke habit that ruins his bank balance and his health. Self-pity is just another character trait he wears on his sleeve. His love for Julia only functions in retrospective yearning. When he meets her again, she has to abort their child, because Paul is totally broke.  Hansen-Løve’s style is remarkable: even those who know next to nothing about this particular music scene in France will find this edifying and informative, not only from a musical angle, but also from the  atmosphere engendered, and the admirable characterisations. Hansen-Løve astonishes with her maturity and sheer brilliance, worthy of any veteran., Her talent and spontaneity oozes out of every frame. The ensemble acting is brilliant, the camera catches every moment in time, working in elliptic movements, showing the musicians in intimate close-ups and illuminating the Paris skyline in glorious panoramic shots, that never degenerate into picture-postcard blandness. A spellbinding tour-de-force of music and emotion. AS

NOW ON DVD RELEASE from 14 December 2015

Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Dir.: Andre de Toth

Cast: Robert Ryan, Tina Louise, Burt Ives, Alan Marshal, David Nelson

USA 1959, 93 min.

André de Toth (1913-2002) was one of the ‘B-Movie’ directors of Hollywood, admired by the French Nouvelle Vague: his austere films featured ambivalent heroes for whom even a happy-end could only be ambiguous. Widely known only for his 3-D feature House of Wax (1953) – a considerable achievement, since de Toth had lost an eye in a childhood accident – the Hollywood films of the Hungarian emigrant have very much in common with the work of Robert Siodmak, Max Ophuls and Fritz Lang.

Born into Hungarian nobility as Endre Antal Miksa de Toth in 1913, de Toth directed five (!) features as Endre Toth in Hungary in 1939, before he went to London to work for his compatriot Alexander Korda in London. In 1942 he went to the United States where he started his Hollywood career with Passport to Suez in 1943. A year later he married Veronica Lake, and had two children before their divorce in 1952. That same year De Toth directed his only A-Feature, the Gary Cooper vehicle Springfield Rifle.

His B-Pictures, mostly Western and film noirs, feature heroes suffering from violence, betrayal and an exterior space which makes their tasks even harder. These heroes are almost catatonic, they seem to glide in slow motion into their conflicts. In true Noir fashion (de Toth’s Western are as Noirish as his urbane films) the hero stands alone, his interactions with the environment forcing him to make choices. Spaces, like the snowy mountain in Day of the Outlaw, are complex and often treacherous, the hero (in this case Robert Ryan’s Starrett) being forced to unite with the environment against his enemies. But, like the audience, “the landscape acts as a mute witness to and stage for the entwined actions of the characters”. De Toth’s characters seem to question how long they have to suffer for the wrong choices they have made in the past. De Toth’s cinema has a blunt anti-romanticism, which borders on a deeply unsettling morbidity.

The cattle baron Blaise Starrett (Ryan) is set for a shoot-out with the farmer Hal Crane (Marshal), because the latter wants to fence in his land, this way stopping Starrett’s cattle from grazing. The situation is complicated by the fact that Crane’s wife Helen (Louise) was once Starrett’s lover, and offers herself to Starrett, if he (being the much better shot) would refrain from the duel with her husband. Starrett declines the offer and the two men face each other when a gang of outlaws enters the tavern, led by the renegade Union officer Jack Bruhn (Ives). Whilst Bruhn, who is injured (the local vet removes the bullet from his chest), wants to save the women of the little hamlet from his brutal and sadistic troop, Starrett tries to guide the women away from the marauders, but is stopped and beaten up. It’s obvious that Bruhn will not live very long to keep his gang in check, and Starrett leads him and his men into the snowy wilderness, pretending that he knows a pass though the mountain.

De Toth recalls “the producers did not understand where I was heading – a sphere I had been exploring for some time: is it worse being the jailer, instead of the prisoner? Is it worse being incarcerated by the white snow in white silence, or by the blankness of black silence? Which of the human flock would fall apart first under the tightening band of their communal deep freeze?” De Toth also had to fight the producers to shoot the film in black and white: “It was a story of tension and fear, survival in a prison of snow. Had I shot it in colour, the green pine trees covered with snow, the soft glow of candles, the dancing tongues of flames in the fireplaces would have radiated warmth and safety, and the joy of peace on earth. A ‘Merry Christmas’ card from fairy-tale land”.

DOP Russell Harlan (To Kill a Mocking Bird, Rio Bravo), had already shot seven films for Howard Hawks and his images here are again striking; together with Robert Ryan’s towering performance, they inspire his film which culminates in a cat-and-mouse game in the snow, one of the cruellest moments of the film – only surpassed by a wild dance scene where the outlaws are ‘allowed’ by Bruhn to dance with the town’s women; manhandling them brutally in scenes that teeter on the brink of rape. The camera follows them in epicyclic circles, like a machinegun covering a war scene. DAY OF THE OUTLAW shows that male violence of all kinds is ready to erupt at any time, for whatever reason. Ryan’s Starrett, who was only a moment away from killing Crane, is well aware of his propensity for savagery when he is riding out with the outlaws into the snowy mountain. AS

NOW ON DUAL FORMAT BLU | DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

The Gift (2015) | DVD VOD release

Wirter|Director: Joel Edgerton

Cast: Rebecca Hall, Jason Bateman, Joel Edgerton, David Denman, Busy Philipps

108min  Thriller

Australian writer-director Joel Edgerton stars in his own thriller debut that draws comparisons with Dominik Moll’s indie Harry He’s Here to Help (2000). He plays a strange character called ‘Gordo’ who re-aquaints himself with a couple who have moved into the neighbourhood to start a new life. Pacific Heights and Unlawful Entry also spring to mind here but The Gift takes things a stage further adding a creepy additional twist to this threesome thriller that will keep you guessing with its chilly touches of cognitive dissonance and briskly-paced, plausible storyline.

Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are well-cast as the couple – Simon and Robyn-  who quickly settle in a stylish house in leafy Los Angeles. But while Simon slots in seamlessly to the corporate culture – he’s a masterful decision-maker who ‘cuts to the chase’ and offers masculine stability to his emotionally frail wife – Robyn stands out in the cosy culture of stay-at-home mums called Duffy and Lucy, having just lost her own child. Shopping for cushions – wouldn’t you know – they run into Gordo, who turns out to be a friend from school days and after a socially awkward impromptu supper, Gordo swings by the following morning with a wee gifty; and starts to make a habit of it.

Alarm bells would ring for most women at this stage in the game. But strangely Simon seems to be the only one to find the ginger-haired misfit a bit of a ‘weirdo’ – in his own words. Talking in cliches, Gordo has nothing to show for his past but is anxious to ingratiate himself with these morning visits to deliver well-wrapped but inappropriate thank-you presents, including koi carp for the ornamental pond. Instead of telling Gordo to get lost, Robyn seems unruffled by his gauche air of vulnerable quirkiness and even starts telling him her woes. Clearly Robyn feels comfortable on some level with Gordo, and Edgerton’s script shrewdly taps into her feelings of insecurity at not having kids or absorbing work to keep her occupied. But Robyn even gives Gordo the benefit of the doubt when he proves to be a pathological liar and peeping tom. To give him his credit, Simon keep her involved in his new job and encourages her to think positively towards their future. But when a letter arrives from Gordo claiming his desire to “Let bygones, be bygones” Robyn inquisitiveness gets the better of her with disastrous consequences for all concerned.

Edgerton’s characterisation is a tad traditional, focusing on the classic narrative of a deteriorating husband and wife relationship, where the man is powerful and the woman is weak and neurotic. That said, they are a plausible pair, and the dialogue feels real as they interact seamlessly as Edgerton twists in the tale in anther direction. Whereas it might have been more inventive to flesh out the creepier dynamic between Gordo and Simon – offering rich pickings on the male bonding front – Edgerton reduces the mens’ quarrel to pure physical violence rather than rhetoric, blurring the lines between victim and villain by making us feel a misplaced sympathy for Gordo one minute and for Simon the next, but also cleverly providing two contrasting portraits of father/son abuse.

Stylistically, Edgerton’s film is also classic of the genre: the pet dog (Mr Bojangles) disappears mysteriously; the camera creeps through empty corridors spying upon the characters at night and in misty shower scenes, with an unsettling score.  The Gift is tonally consistent: there is no melodramatic shift or bloody climax, just a chilling realisation that leads us to our own conclusions. In the end, Edgerton offers pathos rather than pure horror. A clever and unsettling thriller and one of the most enjoyable out this summer. MT.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD \ BLU\ VOD

The Nutcracker (1986) | Christmas re-release | DVD

Dir.: Carroll Ballard; Cast: Hugh Bigney, Vanessa Sharp, Wade Walthall;

Music: Peter I. Tchaikovsky; LSO conducted by Charles Maccerass; North West Ballet;

USA 1986, 89 min.

Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion) has tried to give Tchaikovksy’s ballet based on ETA Hoffmann’s story, a more child friendly appeal. He has engaged the children’s book author Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are) to co-script and have a hand with the design.

The opening sequence shows an illustrator sketching sets and characters of the story. But that is as far it gets innovation-wise: the rest is a very respectable version, choreographed by Northern Ballet’s artistic director Kent Stowell. Somehow acting and dancing never manage to feek ‘live’, this is an saccharine-laced sugarplum: too sweet and too much culture with a capital C. And, in spite of aerial shots and some interesting tricks – like the dream dancers on the bed sheets with the girl’s face towering over them – one hardly forgets that this is a (very well) staged ballet.

Ballard’s successes as a director, particularly with Never Cry Wolf depended on great outdoors settings. They were lyrical epics about men in the wilderness. But he never breaks trough the demarcation lines of the stage: his trickery (like the fourth wall in some of the scenes) just underlines the fact, that he is showing a “Guckkasten” production. Strangely enough, one of the most impressive scenes is the fat tiger, having to function as a maypole for the dancing children – most certainly an idea of Maurice Sendhak.

THE NUTCRACKER is a prime example for the impossibility of filmed ballet: it is in a way a contradiction in itself, because ballet is somehow transitory – the dancers glide, their physical presence feel replaced by their image. Charles Maccerrass’ interpretation of Tchaikovsky is ponderous, giving it too much ‘schmaltz’ and failing on the tempi – after all, this is supposed to be a ghost story – for children – but nevertheless, the music never reflects the eeriness of the story.

Only when Sendak’s sinister figures appear do we finally see something out of the ordinary. But these moments are rare and they feel alien in the context of the whole, rather mediocre, enterprise. The dancing is somehow lost, whilst the dancers are obviously better dancers than actors, the camera concentrates most of the time on their secondary skills. Too often cuts interrupt the action, taking away the fluidity one associates with ballet; only near the end, during the Nutcracker Suite, we are treated too a long, uninterrupted dancing sequence. The result is still an admirable effort, perhaps the collaboration of Maurice Sendak set the bar of expectations too high.AS

NOW AVAILALBLE ON DVD

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) | Dual format release

20858304372_38fd3c4d6c_zDirector: Byron Haskin  Writers: Ib Melchior, John C Higgins

Cast: Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West

11min | Sci-Fi | US

There’s something strangely magical and upliftingly intelligent about Byron Haskin’s sixties space oddity, based on a Daniel Defoe classic, in which an astronaut and a monkey fetch up in Mars after crashing their spacecraft. The credits promise: “One adventure in a million that could happen – tomorrow!” and the inventive visual design was to have a far-reaching influence on fantasy filmmaking on the big screen in the years leading up to the space race.

This was Haskin’s second literary adaptation, after his 1953 thriller The War of the Worlds, based on an H G Wells classic, had the Martians coming in the opposite direction – to Earth – in a similarly engaging and amusing tone, wreaking destruction on our cities whereas Commander Draper (Mantee) and his monkey (Mona) are almost deferential in their visit to Mars, whose arid hostile landscape is spectacularly evoked in its Death Valley locations (Zabriskie Point). Rendered in Arthur Lonergan’s crisp sets (re-using the flying saucers from 1953) and Winton C Hoch’s glowing black and white visuals, the result is a heartening study of Draper’s survival against the odds, with his increasingly faithful, furry friend.

Haskin avoids Cold War allegory here making a more enduring and contemporary social commen: the importance of man’s relationship with the animal kingdom and the struggle of small communities in an increasingly difficult world, seen through Draper’s eventual connection with another being who he names “Friday” (Victor Lundin). Eventually the two manage to escape with Mona in one of the final speculative films before the early 70s Mars landing. Shot in technicolor, the script was written by John C. Higgins and Ib Melchior. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT DVD | BLU-RAY COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015) | DVD | VOD

Director: Robert Carlyle

Cast: Emma Thompson, Robert Carlyle, Tom Courtenay, Ray Winstone, Martin Compston

90min  UK   Comedy drama

Robert Carlyle plays the lead in his eponymous feature debut, a suitably gruesome urban comedy from the backstreets of Glasgow, where his character is a social misfit with a sideline in accidental murder.

Dark comedies are notoriously hard to handle but Carlyle pulls this off with a certain aplomb although some of the scenes could have done with a little less throttle (particularly the finale). As Barney Thomson, Carlyle cuts hair during the day and at nighttime goes home to his mum Cemolina, a corrosive, cackling, bronze-coiffed Emma Thompson with a permanent fag on the go and a penchant for Bingo. She never wanted Barney – the unfortunate product of a one night stand – and Barney’s snarky, bad-temper reflects this in angry outbursts at Henderson’s Barber Shop where, one day, he is given the sack. But Barney’s not having this, and things turn deadly in the ensuing fracas when his colleague Wullie (Stephen McCole) accidentally gets stabbed to death by Barney’s very own tools of the trade.

Unfortunately for Barney, the local police are conducting an investigation into a string of murders involving young men  whose body parts are being posted to various Scottish outposts. A severed penis arrives in Arbroath; a foot in Pitlochry and so on. Led by a mouthy (as always) Ray Winstone as the blundering Detective Inspector Holdall, the inquiry points a finger at Barney, who is seen loading a bulky object into his Nissan Primera by a curiously be-wiggged weirdo.

Traumatised by his crime, Barney goes into denial mode, hoping his mum will sort things out but the gorgonesque Cemolina (a hilarious Emma Thompson in full abandon) has better things to do such as relaxing on a two day £40 coach trip to the Isles with her bawdy Bingo pals. And the more Barney tries to cover up his wrongdoings the worse it gets.

Carlyle peppers his film with plenty of gritty Glasgow texture: Barrowland looms large along with the famous tenements and tower-blocks and the City’s sandstone landmarks, making this very much a postcard picture of his native Glasgow allbeit a grim and grotesque one. A man with an electronic voice-box is a macabre reminder of the social ills of a city where smoking is the national pastime.

Emma Thompson brightens each scene with her caustic portrayal of a woman of dubious origins who has resorted to a certain low cunning synonymous to make a success of economically challenged past and Barney discovers this to his horror when a well-dressed young man comes knocking at their front door responding to a small ad “from a woman looking for a night of unbridled passion”.  A certain poignancy piques the meltdown melodrama of the scene where Barney discovers his origins from his hard-nosed Mum, and Carlyle is restrained and melancholy in the title role.

The Legend of Barney Thomson is fast-paced, tightly scripted affair adapted by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren from the series of seven Barney Thomson books by Douglas Lindsay. And very much like the city of Glasgow itself, it’s a cacophony of the good, the bad and the downright ugly. MT

PREMIERED AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NOW WINNER OF  TWO BAFTA SCOTLAND AWARDS FOR ‘BEST FILM’ & ‘BEST ACTRESS’ AT 2015 AWARDS CEREMONY

Shane (1953) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: George Stevens

Cast: Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Jack Palance, Brandon de Wilde, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook jr

USA 1953, 118 min.

SHANE is the middle part of George Stevens ‘American Trilogy’, preceded by A Place In the Sun (1951) and followed by Giant (1956). He filmed Jack Schaefer’s novel as an archetypical conflict between cattlemen and homesteaders in the modern West; a theme that was to be taken up again in Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Michael Ciminos’ Heaven’s Gate.

Sometime after the enactment of the Homestead Act in 1862, Shane (Ladd), a professional killer, meets a pioneer homestead family, the Starretts, in Wyoming. Over dinner, they discuss the plight of the families fighting the brutal cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Meyer). Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) offers Shane a job and the latter accepts. Starrett’s wife Marian (Jean Arthur in her last role, her only colour film), develops a rather ambivalent relationship with Shane: on the one hand, she does want Shane to teach her son Joey (de Wilde) how to shoot, on the other hand she looks at Shane in a way which speaks of an emotional conflict. Jack Wilson (Palance), a killer hired by Ryker, taunts “Stonewall” Torrey (Cook jr.) a proud Confederate soldier, and provokes him to a duel which Wilson easily wins against the un-experienced farmer. At Torrey’s funeral, many of the farmers want to sell their land to Ryker, but in the end, Starrett convinces a majority to fight and tragedy ensues for all concerned.

An underrated director, Stevens he was a stickler for detail and had started his career as a DoP. SHANE was shot between July and October 1951, but Stevens took his time over the editing and the film was eventually premiered in April 1953. The film’s budget of 3.1 M$ was so considerable (particularly for a Western), that Paramount tried to negotiate with Howard Hughes to take SHANE off their books, but Hughes pulled out. In the end SHANE made a very decent profit. Strangely enough, the two macho heroes of the film both had their problems: The scene in which Ladd teaches the young boy how to shoot, runs to 116 takes. And when Palance jumps on his horse, it turns out, that the actual shot was of him dismounting the horse, played in reverse. In another scene, Palance was supposed to gallop into the town on his horse, in the finished film, the horse walks slowly towards the camera. And in the grand finale in the bar, when Ladd shoots Palance twice, one can see him blinking. In the rather sentimental good-bye scene at the end, de Wilde crossed his eyes and stuck his tongue out. Ladd was so angry that he told the boy’s father: “Make that kid stop, or I’ll beat him over the head with a brick”.

But SHANE is still a very modern film, as the following dialogue proves: when Shane teaches the boy how to shoot, Marian interrupts: “Guns, are not going to be part of my son’s life”. Shane argues, that “a gun is a tool, not better or worse than an axe, shovel or any tool.’”And: “A gun is as good as the man using it.” But Marian insists that everyone would be better off if there weren’t any guns, including Shane’s. AS

OUT ON 30 NOVEMBER 2015 | LIMITED FIRST RUN EDITION FEATURING TWO BLU-RAY SET (2000 COPIES) | STANDARD EDITION ONE-DISC SET AVAILABLE ONCE STOCK OF THE LIMITED EDITION IS DEPLETED | COURTESY OF EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA

The Honeymoon Killers (1969) | DVD Blu ray release

Director|Writer Leonard Kastle

107 minutes | Crime Thriller | US | B&W

Cast:  Shirley Stoler, Tony Lo Bianco. Mary Jane Higby, Doris Roberts, Kip McArdle, Marilyn Chris, Dortha Duckworth

Leonard Kastle’s classic sixties Noir thriller THE HONEYMOON KILLERS  exposes the unsettling crime of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez who were executed for murder at Sing Sing Prison, in March, 1951. The gruesome couple were in some ways the American predecessors of Fred and Rosemary West except their victims were older women rather than young girls, and their motive was money.

The hard-faced, stolid Shirley Stoler plays the obese, frustrated spinster Martha. Cooped up with her needy mother she is embittered by a string of unsuccessful romances and working as a matron in the local hospital when we first meet her, reprimanding a couple of nurses who appear to be canoodling in a cupboard. Desperate for affection, she joins Aunt Carrie’s Friendship Club and strikes up a relationship with Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco), a darkly handsome smooth-talker who seems too good to be true. And he is. Tony turns out to be a con man with a sinister past. Shot in stark black and scored with the sonorious tones of Mahler’s Symphonies, THE HONEYMOON KILLERS makes for troubling viewing. The toxicity of the gruesome duo gradually permeates a story of murder and malice in which lost souls become lethal in a partnership that goes from to strength to strength.

Staying close to the true crime story, Kastle explores their relationship up until the trial, proceeding with clarity and precision in a drama in which victims and perpetrators are physically and emotionally unappealing. Even Tony Lo Bianco’s good looks gradually pale in comparison to his vile obsequiousness: yet Martha exerts an inexplicable hold over him, given her physical and personal unattractiveness. Both give stunning performances, the most unsettling aspect of which is not only their ease at switching between charm and coldness but also their magnetic screen chemistry which seems to be at its most potent immediately following brutal behaviour towards their victims: immediately after viciously murdering their final victim, the couple indulge in some passionate love-making. Violence seems to fire up and fuel their sexual appetite, almost acting as an aphrodisiac.

Martha is a more controlled psychopath than her counterpart Gloria, in Fabrice Du Welz’s drama Alleluia, a looser 2014 adaptation that transposes the story to contemporary Belgium. While Stoler is constantly teetering on the edge of insanity with her performance as Martha. Lola Duenas’ Gloria is sexually out of control and completely unhinged with jealousy by Michel’s power over women, whilst Martha is more enraged by the victims’ emotional closeness to Tony than by the physical rapport he has with them. Tony here appears less keen to develop a relationship with the women, and more dispassionate about their welfare when Martha derails their nascent romance. And being a nurse in the early 1950s, Martha is more powerful because of her medical expertise and knowledge of sleeping drugs. THE HONEYMOON KILLERS is an intimate-feeling chamber piece with a more clinical, procedural approach than Alleuluia, which is an unbridled love story between the two people who end up killing violently because one of them (Gloria) becomes uncontrollably jealous of the other’s motives. In THE HONEYMOON KILLERS there is never any doubt of Martha’s confidence and mastery of Tony. Oliver Wood’s cinematography makes this occasionally front lit piece striking and beautiful despite its ugly subject matter.

Where THE HONEYMOON KILLERS is weak lies largely in with its rudimentary sound recording – odd with Kastle being a composer – possibly due to its low budget, but given that most of the action takes place indoors, USD 150,000 seems quite reasonable. None of the cast were big screen stars: Lo Bianco coming from a TV background had just filmed Star! with Julie Andrews, and Stoler was making her screen debut at the ripe old age of 40. Photographed in black and white, with fairly rudimentary and at times quite poor sound recording – largely its only downfall Lighting largely came from natural sources given THE HONEYMOON KILLERS very much the feel of an indie debut outing, which it was, as Kastle had previously been a TV composer and has never completed another film.  Gustav Mahler’s symphonies are also an strange choice for the score – the triumphant, classical quality completely overriding the sinister nature of the seedy, suburban narrative. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD | BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS AND VIDEO | INTERVIEWS WITH FABRICE DU WELZ (ALLELUIA 2014) | TODD ROBINSON (LONELY HEARTS 2006)

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The Grapes of Wrath (1940) | Blu-ray release

Director: John Ford | Writers Nunnally Johnson | John Steinbeck (novel)

Cast: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin, Doris Bowden

129min  | Drama | US

John Ford’s THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940) achieved iconic status by being one of the first films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. Does this film, now 75 years old, deserve that accolade? Yes, it certainly does says Alan Price. 

THE GRAPES OF WRATH is not a revered ‘museum piece’ but a living and visceral classic of social realism whose concerns about poverty, displacement and exploitation still strikes a chord and 1930’s Depression America continually haunts us today.

The film records the journey of the Joad family. They’ve suffered the trauma of the dustbowl on their farm in Oklahoma and their home has been seized by the bank and they are forced to load up their possessions on a truck and head West where California appears to be offering fruit picking work. On the road they encounter hardships, scorn, resistance and the death of their grandparents, accompanied by small acts of kindness from ordinary folk.

Accompanying them is their paroled son Tom (Henry Fonda). Tom is the one who will eventually answer back to a repressive authority and become the film’s social conscience. Whilst the mother, Jane Darwell, stoically epitomises the spirit of the family and the people, Ford movingly employs their voices as a ‘rhetorical’ commentator as they journey to the humble ‘Eden’ of a decent better paid job and stable home. Some have viewed this as socialist propaganda. What saves their words from being sentimental or preachy is the heartfelt sincerity of the performances. Ford coaxes such magnificent acting out of Darwell and Fonda. Ford, who was often a right-wing sympathiser, ended up making a film sharply critical of American capitalism, which, at the time, was a very daring move.

Despite Ma Joad’s famous affirmation (“We are the people. And you can’t beat the people. We just keep on a’goin”) the film remains unsettled and rootless. For THE GRAPES OF WRATH now appears as an unlikely pre-curser of the contemporary road movie, emerging out of a family drama, causing traditional roles to be reversed on the highway and creating hard consequences. Film critic Andrew Sarris once said ”What is actually happening is nothing less than the transformation of the Joad family from a patriarchy rooted in the earth to a matriarchy uprooted on the road.”

Ford’s authorative direction and his assured placement of camera – from Ma Joad’s expression, in a mirror, as she tries on old earrings just before leaving home – to Ford’s truck-view tracking shots upon entering a work-camp; Gregg Toland’s photography (just prior to him working on Citizen Kane) contains so many expressive night shots whose poetic eloquence never draws attention to itself. All these elements coalesce seamlessly in THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Consider also the early candle lit scenes with a displaced neighbour: They evoke a nightmarish scenario where home has been destroyed and dignity and sanity unsettled.

Nunnally Johnson’s script is an exemplary adaptation of Steinbeck’s novel. Whilst the courage of Daryl F.Zanuck to have produced such a film is quite remarkable. Essential viewing. AP

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY 

Gate of Hell (1953) | Blu-ray release

Director: Teinosuke Kinugasa

Writer: Kan Kikuchi

Cast: Machiko Kyo, Kazuo Hasegawa, Isao Yamagata, Yataro Kurokawa, Kotaro Bando

86min  Drama    Japan

In the early 1950’s Japanese cinema was a revelation. Kurosawa’s Rashomon and Mizoguchi’s The Life of O’Haru thrilled western audiences with their narrative structure and classical composition. They were in black & white. By 1954, Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL arrived. A colour film of such a breathtaking colour palette that it won the Grand Prix at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film and Best Colour Costume Design.

The story is set in the 12th century where a samurai Morito (Kazuo Hasegawa) helps to put down a palace rebellion by using a decoy for the empress, in the form of Lady Kesa ( Machiko Kyo). Afterwards Morito asks for a reward – marriage to Lady Kesa. Yet she is already married to Wataru (Isao Yamagata), a member of the imperial guard. An intense conflict of desire and resistance ensues, resulting in a tragic outcome.

There are great colour experiments that employ their design in a symbolic manner. The River (Renoir), The Red Desert (Antonioni), Cries and Whispers (Bergman) and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Demy). Colour ‘spills’ over in those films to make itself a presence suggesting multiple meanings, complemented by its lighting, production and directorial vision. GATE OF HELL is not a masterpiece on the same level. It’s often moving but lacks the emotional depth and engagement of those classics. However the film’s harmonious colour canvas has a dense power that is both painterly yet very cinematic. The first 25 minutes of the film are rightly applauded for their visual power. Scenes of war, panicking citizens and attacks on their homes are constantly filmed through transparent veils and torn curtains. Kinugasa piles on details. Black and red cockerels in a field, the brown bodies of frightened horses, lush green foliage, red costumes of warlords, purple uniforms worn by the higher up samurais and more modest green and brown outfits for the lower order warriors.

Through these swiftly staged actions GATE OF HELL‘S design alternates between watercolour, illuminated scroll and traditional painting. This accumulation of scenes is ‘violated’ by a colour force that moves on and on. As the colour ‘slows down’ the film shifts mood into an amour fou played out in the moonlight. Here the golden costume of Lady Kesa assumes a noble and tragic gleam, as she attempts to resist the advances of Morito, the obsessed samurai.

But the film is by no means a triumph of style over content: GATE OF HELL is a sad and engaging tale. The performances are all good and in the case of Machiko Kyo, absolutely superb. Her body movements (she tends to float rather than walk) combine Kabuki with film-acting. Kinugasa’s direction is always purposeful and confident (and not restrictively static as some critics have unfairly claimed). And the stirring music score is by Yasushi Akutagawa. The only other Japanese colour period film of the fifties that comes to mind is Tales of the Taira Clan. Kinugasa is not on the same filmmaking level as Mizoguchi, but for surface beauty alone runs him pretty close. ALAN PRICE

NOW AVAILABLE ON EUREKA MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES | DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY

Amy (2015) | Cannes 2015 | DVD | Blu-ray | Digital release

IMG_1736Director: Asif Kapadia

90min   Musical Documentary UK

Best known for his acclaimed 2010 documentary SENNA about late Formula One driver, Asif Kapadia’s bittersweet biopic AMY, premiering in Cannes, introduces the Southgate-born jazz singer as a “North London Jewish girl with a lot of attitude”, who loved to write poetry and lyrics. Unearthing a treasure trove of photos, home movie footage and demos shared from over 100 interviews from those closest to her, he shows Winehouse as a witty, down to earth and “gobby” girl with a rich and velvety voice, who never wanted to be famous but whose inadvertent stardom let to her tragic death, aged 27.

The legendary Tony Bennett described her as “a natural, true jazz singer” when they performed together towards the end of her career, comparing her quality to Ella Fitzgerald; while Amy’s own confessed role models were Billie Holliday and Thelonius Monk.

Kapadia’s raw and real expose has not gone down well with her father Mitch Winehouse. And it’s easy to see why. No dad wants to witness a full and frank account of his daughter’s personal life – straight from the mouths of friends and lovers – however truthful this may be. But Kapadia never stands in judgement of the singer’s life, telling her story simply and sensitively as it unfolds. Winehouse herself admits “My dad was never there.” But as her career prospered, Mitch is seen becoming more exploitatively involved, when all she had ever wanted was a supportive male figure in her life who she could unconditionally love. Kapadia does not attempt a psychological analysis. It is Amy who confesses how music became her refuge and a way of expressing inner turmoil.

This visually vibrant and often shocking film unspools in a straightforward fashion: Amy’s teenage years marked by singing in the National Youth Jazz orchestra after a middle-class childhood deeply affected by her parent’s split and father’s departure, only to return again; her gradually rise to fame and riches, voiced through photos of various musical collaborators Nick Shymansky, Mark Ronson, Raye Cosbert and Salaam Remi, her obsessive relationship with a self-seeking Blake Fielder-Civil for whom she confesses “unconditional love” after her spectacular fall from grace. Clearly the two were desperately in love but toxically inseparable, alienating their close friends. Honeymoon footage shows them blissfully happy on a speedboat in Miami, but eventually he is seen denouncing Amy for her lack of interest in his life. This was clearly another crushing blow. Tearful girlfriends talk of her ‘phoning to say “Sorry”, for her behaviour shortly before the end. At the depths of her career, photos show her hollowed features and emaciated figure and she appears, dazed and confused. Chat show hosts who welcomed her interviews are later seen openly deriding her afflictions: proof of the fickle nature of fame.

But there are plenty of upbeat moments celebrating her poignant vocals and seductive singing style in performances of “Stronger Than Me’, ‘Back to Black’ and ‘Frank’; her defiant hit ‘Rehab’ contrasts sharply with her negative views on celebrity in her ordinary North London speaking voice, that Jonathan Ross jokingly describes as “common”. And the film vaunts her exotic beauty, raven locks and emerald eyes blinking suggestively in her signature eye-liner as she poses sensuously at the microphone, then playfully screwing up her features with irritation as a female interviewer bores on to her about Dido.

In the end, Kapadia’s respectful and polished documentary shows the glory and the tragedy of this vulnerable and gifted young woman, saddened by her parent’s split, sullied by drugs and alcohol yet honest and convincing. Amy’s life may be an unfinished symphony but she leaves an enduring musical legacy.

Meredith Taylor is the Editor of online film magazine Filmuforia.co.uk. This review also appeared in the Hampstead and Highgate Express and Islington Gazette | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 13 -24 May 2 | AMY IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY/DVD/DIGITAL|

* The home entertainment release contains some worthwhile additional features including  touching and intimate scenes (a tattoo is visible on her ring finger) of fresh-faced Amy riffing on her guitar and singing LOVE IS A LOSING GAME; YOU KNOW I’M NO GOOD; REHAB 

* Deleted scenes of a US visit featuring producer Commissioner Gordon and Bob Marley’s ex-band members, a US ad lib recording session of Frank and the Back to Black recording session with Mark Ronson 

* Teaser trailer and UK trailer 

* Nearly 50 minutes of Blu-ray interviews with collaborators 

 

 

Salem’s Lot (1979)

Director: Tobe Hooper  Writer: Stephen King, Paul Monash

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Bonny Bedelia, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Ed Flanders, George Dzundza, Lew Ayres

183mins  | Horror | US | Warner Home Video

In SALEM’S LOTnovelist Ben Mears (David Soul) returns to his hometown of Salem to find that things have changed. In fact, the previously warm and friendly community is now rather sinister and he suspects that the bizarre behaviour of his old friends and neighbours is the work of oddball antique dealer, James Mason. But Salem has a rich history of witchcraft dating back to the time of its New England, Pilgrim Fathers, and this adds a twist of historical intrigue to what is clearly one of the best known horror outings of the 1970s.

The innocuous title sequence presages doom but only due to Harry Sukman’s menacing theatrical score that attempts to elevate this massive TV outing to theatrical level. When Ben arrives in his Mini Moke (a nice seventies touch along with his signature blond tousled locks) Richard K Straker (James Mason) is already there to meet him on the stairs of his large mansion, The Marsten House, a doomladen edifice that dominates the small hamlet of Salem, near Boston, Massachusetts (the locations are actually California). And the dreaded house with its ferocious black dog, continues to looms large in the narrative, floodlit on the hillside. Ben has come home from Mexico to work on his novel that examines whether true evil can actually be embodied in the rafters and fabric of a mansion such as Marsten.

But Ben has other things to discover on his return, namely the young Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedalia) and she is just as interested to examine him. For a made for TV outing, Tobe Hooper’s SALEM’S LOT is expertly dirested, well-mounted and deeply horrific – as far a TV can be. Small town politics, haunted mansions, wild dogs, James Mason’s bloodshot eyes, and a collection of very suspect local denizens: all those well-oiled horror tropes are wheeled out for an airing. Tobe Hooper does his stuff well on a budget that exceeded that of Texas Chain Saw by a cool 4 million dollars, although, to be fair the latter was a good deal more scary.

The arrival of a ice cold package from Europe is the another sinister element to rear its head: along with coffins and of course vampires. The scene of the vampire Glick floating up to his brother’s closed bedrooms windows is one that will remain seared to the memory, impossible to eradicate, however hard you try. SALEM’S LOT runs for three hours  and is well worth the watch, if you’re looking for an unforgettable HALLOWEEN experience. MT

SALEM’S LOT is AVAILABLE FROM WARNER HOME VIDEO ON AMAZON.CO.UK

 

Mr Holmes (2015) | dvd blu-ray release

Director: Bill Condon

Cast:  Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker, Hiyoyuki Sanada

Cert. PG 104mins. US/UK 2015

It is 1947 and Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) is now in retirement in Surrey, assisted by his housekeeper Mrs Munro (Laura Linney). Now 93, he has been retired for 30 years, and feeling that he had failed in his last case has made him rather grumpy and not a very happy man. His former colleagues – Dr Watson, Mrs Hudson – have died and Holmes feels even more alone. His main joy is beekeeping which also interests the widowed Mrs Munro’s young son, Roger (Milo Parker). He recognises that Roger is very bright and, in his direct manner, tells Mrs Munro, “Exceptional children are often the product of unremarkable parents.”

Holmes ponders on his last case; remembering Ann Kilmot and her husband’s instruction to follow her to see what she is up to. Through his detective work Holmes manages to work out that although Ann seems to be plotting to kill her husband in fact she intends to kill herself. The rest of Ann’s story is harder to discover and it is that which makes Holmes admit failure. He does not agree with Watson’s written story in which Holmes becomes the hero of this particular case.

In the early scenes we see Holmes returning from a trip to Japan where his host Umezaki Tamiki (Hiroyuki Sanada) tells him that he believes Holmes was involved in the disappearance of his father in England. This is yet another mystery for him to solve as his formerly strong memory has deteriorated and he can’t even remember meeting Umezaki’s father.

The starry cast of well-known actors includes Roger Allam as Sherlock’s doctor, Frances de la Tour as a kind of mystic who mentors Ann Kilmot, Phil Daniels as a police inspector and Hattie Moran as Ann. Laura Linney manages an impeccable English accent and, as usual, gives a most sensitive performance. The boy, Milo Parker, is just right as young Roger and he and McKellen work very well together. Of course the film belongs to McKellen who embodies the ageing detective in a realistic manner. In fact he plays two different ages – younger Sherlock in the scenes showing his interaction with Ann and the present day 93-year-old.

This is a gentle character-driven movie about the older and then very old Sherlock Holmes. It has a lot to say about ageing and nearing the end of life and also about love – the love of Mrs Munro for her son and her memories of a loving relationship with her husband and now being without him and the deep affection of Sherlock for young Roger. Carlie Newman.

OUT ON DVD | BLU RAY ON 10 November  2015 | SEE OUR INTERVIEW 

Dragon Inn (1967) | Dual format Blu-ray DVD

Writer|Director: King Hu

Chun Shih, Lingfeng Shangguan, Chien Tsao, Feng Hsu

111min  | Wuxia Adventure | Taiwan

This cult classic action masterpiece, that finally comes to dual format blu-ray this Autumn, is the dazzling daddy of all the martial arts adventures combining as it does some magnificent set pieces and some of the most startling and gracefully performed action sequences ever committed to film, embodying the exotic essence of Taiwanese Wuxia and establishing the genre’s archetypes such as the Eunuch and The Swordswoman.

Director King Hu, was born in Beijing but left China for Hong King in 1949 where started his film career during the fifties, first as an actor and then as a writer and director. In 1967 he started his own studio in Taiwan where DRAGON INN was film and later selected, along with A Touch of Zen, as one of the 10 Best Chinese Motion Pictures of all time. It was later remade by Tsui Hark who cast Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love) and Tony Ka Fai Leung in the leads.

After the violent death of General Yu at the hands of his political rival Tsaio, the Emperors’s first eunuch, his two children flee to the western border where Tsaio’s secret police lie in wait to ambush them at the remote Dragon Gate Inn. But grandmaster Hsaio (Chun Shih) turns up at the inn to meet the owner Wu Ning, who emerges as one of the general’s lieutenants, and who has summoned Hsaio to help the children escape, aided and abetted by a brother and sister team of highly skilled martial-artists.

There is a rich painterly quality to this visually sumptuous affair that is both beguiling and gripping with its tense and elegantly-staged action sequences enhanced by a teasingly atmospheric original score by Award-winning composer Lan-Ping Chow (Come Drink With Me). The quality of the acting is also unusually sensitive and subtle for an action adventure outing and Hui-Ying Hua’s widescreen photography absolutely breath-taking. MT

OUT ON 26 OCTOBER 2015 | DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA |  MASTERS OF CINEMA.

 

Manglehorn (2014) | dvd l blu-ray release

Dir.: David Gordon Green

Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Chris Messina, Harmony Korine; USA 2014, 97 min.

Director David Gordon Green seems to specialise in redemption movies: in 2013 he cast Nicolas Cage in the title role of Joe, a hard-hitting and drinking man who wants to save a young worker to replicate his own fate. Here too, Al Pacino’s small town locksmith AJ Manglehorn is certainly a boozer, but his violence is of the psychological kind: he is ageing very ungracefully, rotting from the inside, whilst perpetually spilling out monologues of self-pity. Who ever gets in his way (and some people don’t have a choice, if they want to regain access to their flats or cars), is overwhelmed by a torrent of third-rate philosophy and rather personal criticism regarding their shortfalls in locking themselves out.

Manglehorn is obsessed with emptying his post-box (the meaning of the bee’s nest underneath has eluded me), and we soon learn, that he is obsessed with a certain Clara, who left him some way back. She returns all his letters unread, which he collects in a special room, full of memorabilia to her name. His son Jacob (Messina) is a stockbroker, outwardly just the opposite of his dishevelled father, but equally dishonest with himself. When he gets into trouble with the law, his father tries his best to humiliate him even more. The same goes for Dawn (Hunter) a bank-cashier, who is naïve enough to believe that Manglehorn might have some feelings for her, instead she too is put in her place,by his long winded stories of the happy times he had with the blessed Clara. The only creatures Manglehorn has any positive feeling for are his grand daughter and his cat – since they do not talk back. Unsurprisingly, we finally learn, that Clara left Manglehorn because he was always emotionally distant.

Al Pacino hams his way through 97 minutes, of this one dimensional and repetitive drama. He makes the minutes stretch, and if Green tried to reign him in, he was totally unsuccessful. Pacino’s Manglehorn, centre-stage for the whole film, leaves very little space for the development of any other characters, who are simply reduced to card-board cut-outs. Worst of all, there is even hope on the horizon – a soppy ending in line with the countless other failings of Green. The camera shows a candy-coloured America, as undeserving of saving as AJ Manglehorn – a self-obsessed bore and misanthrope, whose obnoxiousness is mistakenly shown as riveting. AS

On DVD blu-ray from 2 November 2015 | Reviewed at Venince Film Festival | Showing at Edinburgh Film Festival 2015

Song of the Sea (2014) | Blu-ray release

Director: Tomm Moore  Writer: Will Collins

93min  Animation   Ireland

With: Brendan Gleeson, David Rawle, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnula Flanagan

There are some enchanting animation films that sadly most audiences avoid, considering these films for children. Not so. This year’s Oscar nominations include some dark and very significant narratives: The Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Boxtrolls and Song of the Sea are amongst them with their metaphors relating to real life and serious contemporary themes.

SONG OF THE SEA is a moving family drama with a wider context. From the director The Secret of Kells, its tale is rooted in Irish folklore with ‘faeries’ featuring in a story about a family who are grieving the disappearance of their mother, as two young children try to make their way to safety.

As is often the case with Studio Ghibli films, the narrative here is melancholy and tender with sumptuously rendered animated sequences and vibrant colours telling of the mysterious Macha – a kind of witch – and owls with eyes as big as saucers. Tomm Moore has put his distinct touch to the piece with its lilting score by folk band Kila that perfectly captures the film’s past and present context. MT

OUT ON DVD | BLU-RAY | VOD | FROM NOVEMBER 9TH COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

Runaway Train (1985) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: Andrei Konchalovsky

Cast: Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca De Mornay, Kyle Heffner

USA 1985, 110 min.

Produced by the (in)famous Israeli Golan/Globus production duo and their distribution arm Cannon Films, RUNAWAY TRAIN is one of the most international films ever made in Hollywood. The story itself was originally by Akira Kurosawa, the script trio of Djordje Milicevic, Paul Zindel and Edward Bunker kept very closely to the masters plans. Director Andrei Konchalovsky was the son of Sergey V. Mikhalkov (1913-2009), who, in 1942 got a phone call from Stalin, asking the popular children’s book author to write the text for the new Soviet anthem, composed by A. Alexandrov.

After spending ten years at the conservatoire, Konchalovsky, decided to became a filmmaker after a chance meeting with Tarkovsky (for whom he would later script Andrei Rublev). His debut film The First Teacher (1964) was praised, but as so often happened with the Soviet Censors, his second one was surpressed. After Sibiriada was awarded at Cannes in 1979, Konchalovsky emigrated to the USA, where he lived with Shirley MacLane before leaving her for Nastasja Kinski, who got him a contract with Cannon Film. Interestingly enough, Konchalovsky directed the Inner Circle in 1992, which tells the story of Stalin’s love for films and hatred for filmmakers, from the perspective of his private projectionist.

RUNAWAY TRAIN is told on three levels: There are the two prison escapees, Manny (John Voight) and Buck (Eric Roberts), who meet Sara (Rebecca De Mornay) on the train which, as the title suggests, runs into difficulties. A bickering dispatch team try to blame the accident on the computer system. And then there is Warden Barstow (Kyle Heffner, who is not much different from Manny – who was called a beast in prison – and joins the hunt in a helicopter, grimly determined to catch the criminals. The snowy, white desert of Alaska is perhaps the greatest star of RUNAWAY TRAIN: an eerie background to human story of delusion. The stunts were performed by the actors themselves, something which contributes very much to its success.

As Roger Ebert wrote after the premiere: “The ending of the movie is astonishing in its emotional impact. I will not describe it. All I will say is that Konchalovsky has found the perfect visual image to express the ideas in his film. Instead of a speech, we get a picture, and the picture says everything that needs to be said. Afterward, just as the screen goes dark, there are a couple of lines from Shakespeare that may resonate more deeply the more you think about the Voight character.” AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AT AMAZON

Theeb (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Naji Abu Nowar

Cast: Jacir Eid, Hassan Mutlag, HussainSalameh, Jack Fox, Marji Audeh

Jordan/UK/UAE/Quatar 2014, 100 min.

Set in Western Arabia in 1916 during the First World War, THEEB is the story of a young boy, caught up in the war between the British and the Ottoman Empire, surviving against adults in his attempt to avenge the killing of his older brother.

The brothers Theeb (Eid) and Hussein (Salameh) have recently lost their father – young Theeb taking his father’s name (which means ‘wolf’) – the older teenager Hussein takes care of Theeb, teaching him all means of survival important for Bedouins. One evening, Edward, a British soldier (Fox) and his Arab escort Marji (Audeh), arrive at the tent of the brothers’ family, asking for help to find the Ottoman railway track, which they intend to destroy. Even though the Bedouins have not taken sides in the conflict, their ancient laws regarding hospitality oblige them to help the strangers, so Hussein sets out with them to guide them to the tracks. Theeb is forbidden to join them, but he follows nevertheless. In the mountains, the four men are attacked by local bandits, who have joined the Ottoman army guarding the railway. Edward and Marji are killed, whilst the brothers escape into the mountains. Tragedy ensues and Theeb eventually teams up with a severely wounded man and, while never losing sight of his goal of revenge, the pair ride through the desert to an Ottoman military outpost.

THEEB works on multiple levels: there is the story of a young boy precipitated into adulthood way before his time; the the narrative of disappearing communities seen through the changing life of the Bedouins, who for centuries guided the pilgrims to Mecca, but who are now replaced by the railway. Due to the strict laws on hospitality for the Bedouins – even if they might not agree with the dealings of their visitors, they are obliged to offer a helping hand. Theeb becomes a victim of all these conflicting circumstances, and he pays doubly: suffering bereavement and the loss his childhood, way before time.

Shot in Jordan, DOP Wolfgang Thaler (usually working with Ulrich Seidl), has eschews folkloric images , allowing the wild landscape speak for itself. Equally, Nowar steers clear of any sentimentality, showing the Bedouins as proud warriors who follow their laws, even if they become their own victims. But most of the praise should go to Eid and the other non-professional actors, who are the soul of the story.  THEEB is aan intense journey into adulthood for a young boy in a changing world. He fights with the tenacity of the name he has been given. First time director Nowar is certainly deserving of the ‘Director’s Prize’ at last year’s ‘Orrizonti’ section at Venice. AS

NOW ON DVD

 

The Look of Silence (2014) | FIPRESCI | Venice 2014 | DVD release

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

Denmark, Indonesia, Norway, Finland & UK

Documentary, 98 mins

Joshua Oppenheimer’s extraordinary documentary The Act of Killing was such a left-field way of  presenting a documentary, exploring such harrowing events, it’s no wonder that The Look of Silence might disappoint as it follows a more established convention. But to say this latest work is orthodox would be grave mistake. Even as a companion piece, this further exploration of Indonesia’s sixties genocide remains a horrifying study: personal, shattering, and stunningly photographed.

Up to a million people were murdered in the purges of 1965-66 as the Suharto coup sought to take control by terror. Communists were the named enemy, but it was really anyone who was against the government at the time – dissidents, artists, intellectuals, as well as the Chinese minority in the country. Almost fifty years later, the perpetrators of appalling acts live in the open, and in all ranks of government, while the descendants of those killed, marked “politically unclean” have had to live in fear of reprisals.

In The Look Of Silence Oppenheimer follows Adi, an optician whose brother Ramli was murdered in 1965 in a gruesome attack that is boasted about by its smiling perpetrators. Adi, born several years after his brother’s slaughter, travels around fitting glasses to the those who were around, while asking questions of the past to the bemused interviewees we learn were subjects of Oppenheimer’s studies for Killing.

According to press notes (but not mentioned in the film), Oppenheimer set out to make a more straight-forward documentary than what was released almost ten years later in Killing, but if The Look of Silence was his final accomplishment, Oppenheimer could still boast an tremendous achievement. The wealth of research he pursued is just as clear here. Adi watches clips from unused interviews in stunned silence – just like the population featured throughout. How else, you might say, can you react?

Adi confronts the killers without desire for revenge, but that’s almost what happens. Nobody gets thrown prison, but instead they’re confronted with the dead coming back to life. One perpetrator calls it a “wound” that’s just been reopened, another asks “why should I remember if remembering breaks my heart?” Maybe that’s a form of revenge, or maybe revenge is best when, as in one scene, the daughter of a killer apologises on behalf of her obstinate father, as if to perform the reconciliation her country’s previous generation were too twisted to consider. Perhaps Oppenheimer is confronting the critics who said The Act of Killing didn’t give a voice to the victims. In fact, he did, but Killing was the wrong film for it.

Why is this important? Children at Indonesian school have been indoctrinated for decades that the killings were for the good of the country (as we witness in one harrowing scene), and former gangsters and paramilitary leaders are a backbone of society. We meet the head of the regional legislature, who dismissed his role in the massacres as: “That’s politics, achieving ones ideals in various ways, isn’t it?” Then he laughs, straight into camera. Indonesia, a country of 240 million people, with wide natural resources, has never reached the capacity it could reach – economically, socially or spiritually. For this sprawling, vast, but beautiful nation, it’s the future with which Oppenheimer’s films are most concerned. Ed Frankl

THE LOOK OF SILENCE was reviewed at VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

NOW ON DVD

 

P’tit Quinquin (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Bruno Dumont

Cast: Alane Delhaye, Lucy Caron, Bernhard Provost, Philippe Jore, Philippe Penvion, Lisa Hartmann, Cindy Lonquet;

200min  France 2014  Comedy Drama

Having left his sensationalist and violently misogynist early period (Humanite/Twenty-nine Palms) behind, Bruno Dumont, former lecturer of Greek and German philosophy, has set most of his work in the region near Calais, where he was born. Seen as the heir to Bresson, his topics always are discourses about death and the same can be said about P’tit Quinquin.

Apart from the format (a four part TV series, which can be watched as well in its totality) what is most surprising, is Dumont’s use of humour, however dark it sometimes becomes. Set in rural Picardy at his birthplace of Bailleul, P’tit Quinquin is seen through the eyes of the title hero, played with great vigour and enjoyment by Alane Delhage, a non-professional actor like the rest of the cast. The young adolescent is nearly always accompanied by his girlfriend Eve (Caron), the two playing a loving couple like the leads in a school play. On the opposite side is the other “pair”, Commandant Van der Weyden (Provost), a detective with a manic tic, and his side-kick, Lt. Carpentier (Jore), the former send to the small town and its surrounding villages to clear a murder. Unfortunately for hopeless policemen, the longer they stay, the more murders happen, until Van der Weyden has to confess that they are confronted by an evil serial killer.

The first victim, a Mme. Lebleu, whose corpse, cut into small parts, is found in the belly of a cow. Since cows are not carnivores, Carpentier deducts rightly, that the animal is suffering from mad cow disease. Soon the detectives discover that the dead woman had a lover, a certain M. Bhiri, whose is missing, and found murdered soon after. The main suspect, M. Lebleu, shares the same fate as his unfaithful wife, and Van der Weyden begins to see an apocalyptic picture developing. The next victim (this time a suicide) is a young Arab student, who fancies Eve’s older sister Aurelia (Hartmann), a local celebrity who aims to sing on TV. But the young man is driven to despair, when Aurelia’s friend Jennifer calls him “a monkey, who should go back to Africa”. Aurelia, covering up for her girl friend, is the next victim of the killer, and eaten by pigs. When the policemen find out that Quinquin’s father has kept it secret that the first murder victim was his brother’s wife, he becomes the prime suspect, before another unfaithful wife, Mme. Campin (Longuet) is found murdered at the beach…..

Dumont uncovers a society, where life is full of contradictions. Beneath seemingly benign normality – nothing is as it seems to be: the priest laughs during a funeral, the local band makes a mockery of Bastille Day, Carpentier is more interested in stunt driving with his police car than in solving the case, whilst his boss nearly falls of a horse and rambles on about the similarities of women, horses and paintings by Rubens. And meanwhile Quinquin throws firecrackers where ever he finds a target.

Needless to say, Dumont was not aiming for a “who-done-it”, but a tableau of human frailty. Guillaume Deffontaines, who photographed Dumont’s last film Camille Claudel 1915, uses widescreen successfully to integrate the landscape with the actors, achieving a pastoral idyll, betrayed by the viciousness and heartlessness of the protagonists. The first sequel is titled “La bête humaine”, easily the description of what is to follow. AS

| THE FOUR PARTS RUN AS A ENTIRE SCREENING OF 3. AS A TV MINI SERIES | NOW ON DVD

Colt 45 (2013) | DVD release

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Ymanol Perset, Salem Kali, Gerard Lanvin, Joey Starr Alice Taglioni

85min  Crime Drama | France Belgium

This stylishly competent Parisian crime drama is Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz’ follow up to his rather more distinguished Cannes 2014 outing Alleluia. Set under the same grey skies as its edgier predecessor, COLT 45 is chockfull of impressive set-pieces and slick shootouts but Gaspar Noe collaborator, Benôit Debie’s suberb cinematography proves rather too glamorous for Fathi Beddiar’s throwaway script and plotlines. Decent performances from its solid French cast ensure that COLT 45 slips down easily though, if you’re looking for an uncomplicated late-night watch.

A romantic undercurrent is provided by Alice Taglioni (Paris, Manhattan) and Imanol Perset (Cub) as two detectives who fall for each other when the reserved but decent junior cop is fingered for a high level shooting operation that sends him into a stratosphere that will ultimately make a man of him. Training by night with crime master Gérard Lanvin (Chavet) and rapper Joey Starr (Milo) he keeps his day job in the police armoury division, but the going gets tough at night when the rollcall of robberies and deaths among his colleagues starts to take its toll on the young sharpshooter. Du Welz struts his stuff with impressive allure but this Gallic gunslinger is not amongst his most outstanding. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD from 11 November 2015

The Hermitage Revealed (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Margy Kinmonth

Documentary; UK/USA/Netherlands/RUSSIA 2014, 83 min.

Founded 250 years ago in 1764 by Catherine the Great, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world, housing three million treasures. The Hermitage, and the adjoining Winter Palace (opened in 1766 as a museum) were also the homes of the Russian Tsars, until the revolution of 1917.

Margy Kinmonth (Looking for Lowry) guides us through these astonishing buildings with the help of the current director Mikhail Piotrovsky (since 1990), whose father Boris held the same position before him.  As a young boy, Mikhail (played by a young actor) frolics through the vast building, as  enthralled adult visitors look on. Piotrovsky attempts to take a balanced and detached view of the history of this museum. The founding monarch, Catherine The Great, came to power by a coup-d’etat, non unlike the Bolsheviks, who would end the Romanov dynasty in 1917. Catherine was a prolific collector, apart from her ‘private’ collection of gems and cameos (10 000), she amassed over 4000 Old Masters, among them the famous collections of Brühl (Lower Saxony), Crozat from Paris, Robert Walpole from London and Count Baudouin from Paris, including Rembrandt’s, Michelangelo’s and Da Vinci’s.

The old Winter Palace burned down in 1837, but the Hermitage was saved. It took only a year to rebuild the Palace, “but many serfs lost their lives”, according to Piotrovsky. Next time the Winter Palace was in the news, it was 1917 and the Bolsheviks arrested the “Provisional Government” in a room in the Palace. “The Bolsheviks were much less vengeful with the art treasures than the French revolutionaries before them. They just raided the wine cellars”. In an ironic twist, the Winter Palace was much more damaged by Eisenstein’s filming of “October” (1927), than the actual fighting ten years earlier. The Hermitage director chides Stalin for selling off many famous paintings to the USA (in exchange for factory equipment), but saves his most vitriolic comments for the Germans, who encircled the city during WWII, starving them and killing a third of the population. “There were no noble German officers here, unlike in Florence, they wanted to destroy the whole of Leningrad. It was culture against anti-culture”.

Most of the treasures had been stored elsewhere, like in WWI, ironically some of them in the very house in Yekatarinburg (Sverdlovsk), were the Tsar and his family were shot. Today – not unlike in The National Library of Russia in the same city – artworks from different periods live peacefully side by side: Post-Impressionism, (shut away by Stalin), post-revolutionary Art-Nouveau and modern sculpture including pieces by Rodin. HERMITAGE REVEALED is indeed a fascinating foray into this treasure trove of world art, and Maxim Tarasyugin’s vibrant cinematographer brings it all to life  with some dispassionate commentary provided by Tom Conti (as Pliny the Elder) – but overall it is a little too conventional; too balanced, crushing the tragic, blood-filled history of hundreds of years under its bombastic grandeur. AS

Now on DVD | Image courtesy of Foxtrot Films

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Eyes Without A Face (1960) | Les Yeux sans Visage | Mubi

220px-Eyeswithoutaface_posterDir: Georges Franju  Wri: Jean Redon (novel) | Cast: Edith Scob, Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Alexandre Rignault | 90min | France  | Horror thriller

In 1960, George Franju’s Eyes Without a Face was in a pretty bad shape. It was ludicrously re-titled The Horror Chamber of Dr Faustas, suffered a crass censor cut and was badly dubbed into American English. For a film that deals with a surgeon’s attempts to transplant a new face onto his disfigured daughter, the film’s mutilations appeared ironic, way back then. Thankfully in the 1970’s the film was re-evaluated and restored intact.

Eyes Without a Face is roughly contemporary with Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and Powell’s Peeping Tom (1959). All three films have huge images of anxious eyes and nervous looking faces. Such depiction of threatened and threatening visages pushed the mid-20th century horror film into a dark psychological realm still felt today.

Only on a surface level is Franju’s feature a horror film. Our mad scientist (a surgeon, Dr.Genessier, played by Pierre Brasseur) is killing young women for his facial surgery experiments. This is executed out of ambition, guilt and love for his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob) injured in a road accident caused by her father’s erratic driving. Christiane wears a mask that radiates a Jean Cocteau-like expression. The surgeon is assisted by his female secretary Louise (Alida Valli) who faintly echoes Baron Frankenstein’s assistant Igor. Whilst Dr. Brasseur’s theory of a transformative surgery (delivered to an audience of rich, enthusiastic elderly women) reminds you of those Boris Karloff, as crazy scientist, moments when a ‘great’ vision for mankind is triumphantly announced.

Yet of all horror films, it cannot be reduced to its generic elements. For it is not quite a horror film, not quite a fantasy, not quite a fairy tale, not quite a crime movie, not quite science fiction, nor a parable or a feminist fiction. Franju’s sure and sensitive direction makes it walk its own unique road conveying an atmosphere of mystery and ambiguity. Its very French and very existential creepiness contains ideas of identity, responsibility, notions of what attract and repels the self, and the terrible loneliness of being a non-person without a human face (literally and spiritually) in the world.

Perhaps the film’s most chilling scene is not quite a documentary moment. A series of still photographs with a detached voice over, record the failure of an operation on Christiane. The implanted face in the superimposed photographs is shown to be gradually cracking and breaking up to reveal signs of the shattered mess underneath. It makes you think of tyrannical control, tampering with nature and the horrible work of the Nazi doctors. Yet, let’s not forget further Gallic frissons. A brilliant, nervy barrel-organ score from Maurice Jarre, Eugen Schufftan’s ominous photography, the haunting performances of the leads, the film’s audacious use of dogs and birds, and Franju’s assured filmmaking (few directors can make a car-ride scene feel so frightening).

The BFI Blu-Ray edition (containing extra shorts and a documentary) is the best print I’ve ever seen of a masterwork that’s both acutely painful yet tenderly poetic. Alan Price

NOW ON MUBI

The Naked Prey (1965) | DVD release

1588404-01Director: Cornel Wilde | Writers: Clint Johnsion | Don Peters

Cast: Cornel Wilde,, Gert Van Der Berg, Ken Gampu, Patrick Mynhardt, Bella Randels

94min  US  Action Thriller

THE NAKED PREY is a difficult film to watch by today’s politically correct standards and makes you realise just how far we’ve come on the human and animal rights road to freedom. Crass in the extreme with its wide-scale animal cruelty and vicious human slaughter that starts shortly after the two hunters – Cornel Wilde (a professional tracker) and Gert Van Der Berg (the Safari financier)- embark on their ill-starred safari in Botswana and Zimbabwe for a killing spree with ivory as their prize. Having argued and almost fallen out over the giving of gifts to the local tribespeople – advised by Wilde as the correct protocol – they start shooting elephants. But soon become the victims of their own cruelly-intentioned Low Velt outing.

This is certainly gruesome stuff complete with a score of native drums and the full tribal regalia including spears, and leather loin cloths. After the local tribe turn nasty, Cornel Wilde’s experienced tracker breaks lose -Tarzan-style, and makes his getaway across an arid and scrubby landscape peppered with savage beasts, and that’s just the natives. There are chameleons, snakes and scorpions to name but a few perils, fauna-wise. This is the ultimate boy’s own adventure and, archaic though it may seem to our 21st century eyes, it is outrageously entertaining and at times even exhilarating. Naturally, being the director, producer and star, Wilde gets to do his macho stuff: having rid himself of pesky natives and their spears, he’s seen tapping sap from a nearby bush, and tracking cheetah, baboon and even the odd fowl – the latter unsuccessfully. The locals are more savvy when it comes to hunting and do get their prey: a beautiful young impala, which they carry off silhouetted into the sunset.

Interspersed with these thrilling action sequences which continue into the more vibrant setting of the High Velt, there are shots of lions eating antelope, and snakes a plenty. THE NAKED PREY, put simply, is a metaphor for how easy it is for man to sink into the lowest form of life, given the correct conditions: you can take a man out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the man. And no one can extract an apology from Mr Wilde for his political incorrectness in making this thrilling adventure; he’s long gone, to that ‘jungle’ in the sky. The movie was even nominated for an Oscar in the 1965 Academy Awards. How times have changed!.

OUT ON DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA | MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES | 19 OCTOBER 2015

Boy Choir (2014) | DVD Release

Dir.: Francois Girard

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Garret Wareign, Joe West, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas

USA 2014, 103 min.

Canadian director Francois Girard (Red Violin) has done well to ingratiate himself with Hollywood: his simperingly-mawkish BOY CHOIR aims to be a tear-jerker but makes any cliche-counter bust after twenty minutes.

Rebellious Texan teenager Stet (Wareign) loses his poor (single) mother in a car crash, filmed with the greatest amount of tackiness possible. Enter Dad (Lucas), who has never met his son, since he has been busy having his own designer family, including two teenage daughters, in New York. Anyhow, his bank account allows him to bribe the principal of the prestigious American Boychoir School, to take young Stet on. His gutless rival for the solo parts, Devon (West), steels Stet’s music sheets before a performance, plasters photocopies of the hero’s late mother’s police photo all over the dining room – but, yes you guessed, to no avail, since Stet, with help of the great humanitarian Master Cavelle (Hoffman) gets the solo part in Haendel’s “Messiah” and, for a proper happy ending – right again – a membership in Dad’s upper class family.

The only interesting part of this schmaltz-opera is the bickering staff of the school, including a really funny Kathy Bates as headmistress. The rest is as far off the mark as the director’s knowledge of music; proclaiming at one moment that Handel’s “Messiah” lasts 50 minutes (real time 140 minutes), then just showing the “Halleluja”, which ends the concert in the film, whilst again, twenty more minutes of music follows in real life – something BOY CHOIR does not give a toss about. AS

ON DVD FROM 5 OCTOBER 2015

 

Death of a Gentleman (2015) DVD VOD release

Dir.: Sam Collins, Jarrod Kimber, Johnny Blank; Documentary

UK 2015, 98 min.

Searching for answers as to why the “gentleman’s” game of cricket – in particular its five-day format – is gradually dying out, two cricket enthusiasts stumble into a world of corruption in the International Cricket Council (ICC), making the FIFA scandal child’s-play in comparison.

The starting point of DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN is rather naïve: the reason for the demise of the five-day tests is mainly a changing generation of fans, whose attention span is limited. On top of it, the ethics of test cricket are buried in colonialism and imperialism, where gentlemen had their place (and leisure time), not caring too much about winning – after all, their status alone guaranteed that they were society’s winners. Today’s One Day events, called 20/20, have supporters whose behaviour is closer to that of the Premier League (at least in India) than the refined atmosphere at Lords. One may hanker after the feelings of the past, when a test match consumed not only the spectators, but as shown in certain Hitchcock films, gentlemen far away in foreigncountries, but the leisured classes of today have a wider choice than their Edwardian forefathers. This is still no reason for the ICC to limit the number of countries who are allowed to play test matches to ten, not even ten per cent of the 105 member countries. And the next edition of the Cricket World Cup will be played by ten, instead of fourteen teams. Cricket must be the only sport which cuts the participation of its main competition.

Much darker is the financial picture of the ICC. Since 2014 three nations, India, England and Australia have taken control of the money: over 52% of the revenues of the sport (the second highest spectator sport in the world), are shared by those three nations, the amount for the growth of the game has been cut from 25% per cent of the budget to a mere nine. Giles Clark, chairman, now president of the English Cricket board, can see nothing wrong with this development. After all, the former investment banker can be proud, having looked so successfully after the interests of his organisation. But the real villain of the peace is N Srinivasin, an Indian multi-millionaire who made his money in cement. Later, he invested in the Indian Cricket team CSK (Chennal Super Kings), part of the lucrative Indian Cricket League, where the best players from all over the world are hired to perform in One day cricket matches, in front of huge crowd and televised on lucrative pay-TV. N Srinivasin’s son-in-law, G Meiyappan, is the chairman of the CSK team, owned by his father-in-law. The Indian’s court wanted Srinivasin to resign from the position of chairman of the Indian Cricket Board, since he had a conflict of interest, being the owner of the most successful team. After his son-in-law was caught betting on his team’s result, and giving inside information to third parties, his father in-law finally resigned. But his influence is still overwhelming, his successor nothing more than a straw-man. N Srinivasin is also the chairman of the ICC, being responsible for the “financial reconstruction” of the game, and behind the upheaval of changes, which led to the election of a new ICC president, Zaheer Abbas, who is a supporter of N Srinivasin.

From a rather weak start, this well-crafted documentary develops a strong argument for change in the global running of this sport. As Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice, wrote “The ICC reacts as though it is primarily a Members club, its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary”. A must-see for fans of the game. AS

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN is in cinemas 7th August http://deathofagentlemanfilm.com/

DEATH OF A GENTLEMAN ON DVD AND DIGITAL PLATFORMS 26th OCTOBER 2015

 

The Reunion (2014) | Atertraffen |DVD release

Writer| Director: Anna Odell

Cast: Anders Berg, David Nordstrom, Erik Ehn, Fredrik Meyer, Sandra Andreis

89min   Drama   Sweden

Artist, director, writer, exhibitionist: Anna Odell is many things. In 2009 she caused a furore in her native Sweden with a university graduation-project entitled “Unknown Woman 2009-349701” that involved her staging a fake suicide attempt and was taken away by men in white coats before admitting that the whole thing was actually a stunt in the name of Art. Any publicity is good publicity, and despite a court case that ensued, she became a household name.

In her debut feature, she plays herself in a striking lead in a psychological drama exploring the dynamics of power and bullying within a group of friends. During a college reunion 20 years after graduation, Odell examines how individuals ostracised in the classroom can go on to suffer mental issues later on in life.

Anna has found her way into filmmaking via her conceptual art projects which have proved controversial in her native Sweden, but found little interest abroad. This disappointingly tepid outing sees her acting out this new provocative persona on the big screen. School reunions are the unavoidable consequence of social media, which has made sure that no one can successfully disappear into oblivion from the schoolfriends they never even liked in the first place. Odell’s drama opens with a really disastrous example of how these gatherings can descend into farce or even tragedy. With shades of Thomas Vinterber’g Festen (The Celebration), this gruesome gathering of forty somethings rapidly goes awry when perpetual outsider Anna’s  ‘goes off on one” unleashing a torrent of accusatorial abuse.

Odell’s drama takes on a film-within-a-film structure: in a demoralising showdown she is forced out of the premises after the initial ugly mêlée Part One: The Speech and in a considerably calmer version of herself follows (Part Two: The Meetings) undergoes further demoralisation as she shows her work to the people on whom her protags are based, in a disingenuous attempt to garner respect that results in further alienation from her peers.

What emerges is a fictional film about the making of a fictional art exhibition but fails to really excite the audience or attract sympathy for her work: it actually elicits embarrassment rather than shock. And as another film blowing the lid off Scandinavia’s outwardly prim and ‘sorted’ society, it pales in comparison with Winterberg’s Danish dogma piece, and feels attention-seeking than entertaining, Nor does it shed any new light on the situation despite solid performances and slick crafting. MT

SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA | BEST DEBUT WINNER | Venice 2014 | Now on DVD

 

The Skull (1965) | DVD BLU

Director: Freddie Francis

Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Patrick Magee

97min | Horror | UK

THE SKULL opens with a scene as creaky as the skeletons who haunt its graveyard setting. But don’t be dismayed, this soon morphs into first class Horror due to a some fiendish tropes and a stylish cast of sterling British acting talent in the shape of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett and Patrick Magee. Director, Freddie Francis took the story and adapted it with Milton Subotsky from Robert Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”. This literary underpinning gives the film considerable gravitas and a certain piquance particularly when the real descendants of the French nobleman complained about the original title The Skull of the Marquis de Sade – whereupon it became known as THE SKULL.

Peter Cushing plays Dr Maitland, a collector of rare and occult antiques who is offered a skull – purportedly that of the French nobleman – by Richard Widmark’s slightly disreputable but debonair dealer, Marco. A series of murders ensue and appear to be connected to the skull which possesses strange powers during certain phases of the moon whereupon the object literally glows with a ghastly spectral pallor in some scenes. The film features a stylised noirish dream sequence that takes place in a courtroom and is directed with much skill and panache by Francis with the help of John Wilcox (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and is enhanced by a percussive score from Elisabeth Lutyens, the first woman to compose music for British feature films and daughter of Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Francis was a talented director whose skills ranged from early sixties Sci-fi with The Day of the Triffids to horror outings such as Tales of the Crypt, Paranoiac and The Ghoul . He also offered his talents as a cinematographer on more mainstream hits such as The Elephant Man, Cape Fear and Dune. MT

OUT ON DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY | DVD COURTESY OF EUREKA FILM AND VIDEO ON 26 OCTOBER 2015

 

Marshland (2014) La Isla Minima | VOD | DVD release

Director: Alberto Rodriguez

Writer: Alberto Rodriguez, Rafael Cobos

Cast: Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo, Antonio de la Torre, Maria Varod, Perico Cervantes, Jesus Ortiz, Jesus Carroza,

105min  Noir Thriller    Spanish with subtitles

Alberto Rodriguez’s Noir thriller is a stylish affair steeped in the traditions of its remote Andalucian location of hostile wetlands that provides a fitting background to the social confusion and mistrust permeating this post-Franco Spain on the cusp of democracy. Captivating aerial images of the sinuous wetlands provide an unsettling tone to a tale whose murky plotlines wade around in the marshes from where they emerged with a predicably macho stance. But dynamite performances and atmospheric cinematography makes this an intriguing ride even though the ending leaves some questions unanswered.

When teenage sisters, Estrella and Carmen, disappear mysteriously in Villafranco de Guadalquivir, the arrival of two experienced detectives is greeted with savage mistrust rather than relief in a community where everyone seems at loggerheads. Pedro (Raul Arevalo) and Juan (Javier Gutierrez) surface during the ‘feria’, but parents, Rocio and Rodrigo, are not celebrating and their marriage is clearly under strain. The cops two have their differences too – Pedro is young and hungry for justice to be served while Juan is hardbitten and prone to violent outbursts. The new case could be linked to some other unsolved crimes in the area and evidence of blackmail – a burned negative showing porno images of the girls found in their bedroom – is handed over to the cops by their downtrodden mother, Rocio (Nerea Barros). Later, the girls bodies are found, strangely mutilated, in a ditch.

A sexy local seducer Quini (Jesus Castro, “El Nino”) with a predilection for teenagers, seems to be linked to the case and he is seen picking up his latest fling on a motorbike but when tested, his DNA fails to match that found on Carmen and Estrella and soon an older girl, Marina (Ana Tomeno), seems suspiciously involved.

MARSHLAND is a deeply unsettling film that works brilliantly as a mood piece: its breathtaking images, rich textural quality and brooding ambience almost hijack the film’s narrative with its broadly-written characterisation and predictable reliance on macho violence towards its entirely submissive female protagonists. Everything and everyone seems to garner suspicion: the classic sleazy hack (Manolo Solo); the playboy Quini, the strict father (a superb Antonio de la Torre), the local factory boss; even a strange psychic fisherwoman with more red herrings in her basket than grey mullet: all are reek of suspicion but none are particularly engaging. A drug-smuggling subplot also gurgles beneath the surface, but never really takes hold. The gripping finale and its dazzling car chase is almost an anticlimax that still leaves us guessing.

The Andalusians are a proud and serious bunch who rarely smile easily, and nowhere less than in MARSHLAND. Pedro and Juan glower menacingly at each other and everyone else, and you come away feeling little empathy or interest in either of them, which makes MARSHLAND a difficult film to love, despite its fabulous sense of place and luscious look of Alex Catalan’s expert lensing. The troubled Franco years are deeply embedded in this staunch and unyielding territory, baked by the sun and drenched by the elements: even at the end MARSHLAND feels impenetrable. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 7 AUGUST 2015 | Altitude Film Distribution release Alberto Rodriguez Marshland (15) on DVD and digital platforms from 14 September 2015

Steamboat Bill Jr (1928) | The Play House (1921) | Buster Keaton is back

Buster Keaton (1895-1966), known as the man “who never laughed”, was not only the only silent movie star/director who could compete with Charles Spencer Chaplin, he was also a fearless stunt man who was in love with aesthetic innovation: The Playhouse (1921), a short, twenty-one minute silent ‘experiment’, featured not only, one, or two but nine (!) Buster Keaton’s in one frame. In this sparkling new restoration, with a score by Carl Davis and playfully directed by Edward F Cline, he stars not only as the inspirational leader of the vaudeville show but performs nearly all the roles of the characters and the audience. And, being Buster, he has to chase a girl who happens to have a twin sister. Full of visual gags, The Playhouse is still, nearly hundred years later, breathtakingly modern.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) is, with The General (1926), Keaton’s masterpiece of the silent era, before the studios took away his creative control of his films. Here, he plays Bill jr., the son of steamboat captain William Canfield, the latter a burly and robust tyrant who is disappointed that his son turns out to be a meek college graduate. Canfield senior is fighting for his existence while James King, another steamboat operator, runs a modern ship and is taking away Canfield’s customers. To make matters worse, Bill. Jr. falls in love with Kitty, King’s daughter. When a cyclone breaks out, Buster/Billy saves not only the lives of all main protagonists, but jumps again into the water, seemingly avoiding the grateful kiss of Kitty, only to fish the minster out of the sea. Steamboat Bill Jr. was a major production, $135 000 worth of street sets were built, just to be destroyed by the cyclone. In one of his most memorable stunts (often repeated in film-history), Keaton walks along a street, when a whole building façade collapses on him – the cut out of the set just big enough to miss him by inches. Steamboat Bill Jr. was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Steamboat Bill, premiered six month later, and featuring, for the first time, a hero by the name of Mickey Mouse. AS

IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 19 SEPTEMBER 2015 | 4k RESTORATIONS COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS | BFI

Hard to Be a God (Trudno Byt Bogom) 2014 |

Dir.: Aleksei German

Cast: Leonid Yarmolnik, Aleksandr Chutko, Yuriy Tsurilo

Russia 2013, 177 min.

Just before his death in February 2013, Russian director Aleksei German (*1938), finished his last film and legacy HARD TO BE A GOD. Final touches were added by his wife and co-writer Svetlana Karmalita and his son Aleksei German jr. Shooting took place between 2000 and 2006. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. They also wrote novel and script to Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Sukorow’s Days of the Eclipse. In 1989, the German director Peter Fleischmann directed a version of the novel “Hard to be God”, under the title Es ist nicht leicht ein Gott zu sein (“It’s not easy to be a God”). The brothers Strugatsky could be called SciFi-writers, placing their novels in the past, but actually writing in coded form about life in the Soviet Union.

Whilst Fleischmann took a philosophical approach to the novel, with long monologues by the central character Don Rumata, German overwhelms his audience with stunning, often absurd monochrome images. Rumata is a scientist sent from earth, to find out why the planet Arkanar is so backwards, the population still living in the middle-ages. In German’s version, Rumata is much less communicative than in Fleischmann’s because in the Russian outing, Rumata is not allowed to help the population on its way forward, so he just comments on the permanent warfare taking place around him in the mud, pretending to be a God, but nobody really believing it. It is not quiet clear what the two rival groups, “Blacks” and “Greys”, are fighting for, but the battle scenes are vicious, the violence shown in gruesome detail making it extremely unpleasant viewing. Drowning in the muddy autumnal weather as winter gradually brings its dank, filthy, rainstorms that gust over the fields and the ramshackle houses that offer scant shelter from the elements. By the end of the film a frozen winter has set in, snow covering the battlefields and frigid corpses strewn all over the place.

Arkanar is a hellish place: the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Brueghel spring to mind. There is no relief from the endless slaughter, drinking, shouting and torturing. The absence of anything or anybody even mildly encouraging is terrible. Quite evidently this film is a portrait of the old Soviet Union, and it comes as little surprise that German only finished five films in the USSR between 1968 and 1998; Soviet censorship taking not too kindly to his frontal attacks on the system, in comparison with the more subtle works of Tarkovsky and Sukorow. Aleksei German was the USSR’s harshest critic. In some ways there is a certain nostalgia about HARD TO BE A GOD; the inhuman world of Stalinism has gone, making the drama now feel like a time capsule; a witness report sent too late.

The DOPs Vladimir Ilyin and Yuri Klimenko have really created a world of hyenas and vultures, a slum of souls played out in a battlefield of elementary degradation. HARD TO BE A GOD is an epic vision of hell, told in the most minute of details. It is indeed a sight for sore eyes; the human condition is a rotten one. Those who stick with it will be greatly rewarded. AS

REVIEWED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | NOW ON DVD RELEASE COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

Hamlet (2015) | DVD release

Director: Margaret Williams

Cast: Maxine Peake, John Shrapnel, Barbara Marten, Gillian Bevan, Katie West, Thomas Arnold

195min   Drama   UK

Margaret Williams’s stage-to-screen film has Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything, Silk) in dynamite form in the lead of one of Shakespeare’s most tragic plays, HAMLET. She is not the first woman to play the Prince: Sarah Bernhardt and Frances de la Tour have also taken the part of Hamlet – but she is the first to be born female in the role but identifying as a boy; her blond hair cropped stylishly and wearing a marine blue sailer’s jacket, echoing Saint Exupéry’s ‘Le Petit Prince’. Filmed by Williams, who used eight different cameras in the shoot, Peake is not the only cross-gender role – Gillian Bevan is cast as Polonius and Jodie McNee plays Rosencrantz with Goth undertones.

Theatre director Sarah Frankcom chose an appropriately minimalist styling (using iconic Danish designs and tableware) for her re-telling of the Danish tragedy that was a sell-out at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre last autumn. Peake is no newcomer to Shakespeare having played Ophelia. Hamlet is one of the most difficult parts any actor can play but she pulls if off with aplomb, getting into her stride with a mixture of playful accents and a defiant swagger. By the end of the Act I she is really enjoying herself tremendously and so are we. Judiciously, she tempers fits of anger with moments of vulnerability, gentle humour and even cheekiness here and there, as she takes on the mantle of the confused and indignant son who has only just lost his father, when his mother marries again to his uncle and father’s murderer.

This Hamlet is supported by a sterling British cast: John Shrapnel, Gillian Bevan and Barbara Marten give particularly thoughtful and nuanced turns and Katie West offers up a delightful Ophelia full of charm and feminine vulnerability. The film is divided into two parts: one of 123 minutes, followed by a final one of 70 minutes. MT

The film is distributed by Picturehouse Entertainment | NOW ON DVD.

The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) | DVD Blu release

Director: Terence Fisher | Cast: Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, Anton Diffring, Arnold Marie | Horror | 83min | Hammer UK

19925847270_1d11192a50_mTall, moustachioed and dapper, the 37-year-old dressed elegantly in a black dinner jacket is none other than Christopher Lee in his fourth collaboration with Terence Fisher. Lee stars alongside another Horror legend Hazel Court, in this classic spine-chiller from Hammer Studios from 1959. It also has Anton Diffring as Dr. Georges Bonnet, a mad scientist caught up in an obsession for eternal life. His macabre project needs the glands of living humans, and he’s looking for a partner in crime, a willing partner.. Slow-burning yet vibrantly crafted in true Hammer Horror style, there are some grotesque set pieces – particularly the final meltdown scene where Arnold Marié transforms into a horrific mummy-like creature before burning to death. This isn’t Terry’s best film: Christopher Lee is the main reason to watch the late fifties Hammer outing – he is captivating in a story that could have been more gripping, despite being scripted by the fantastically-named Barré Lyndon. Still worth it for the amazing costumes, lighting and special effects. MT

OUT ON DVD | Blu-Ray COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | EUREKA CLASSIC LABEL | 21 September 2015

 

Anti-Social (2013) | DVD release

Best known for his relationship with Amy Winehouse: Reg Traviss tries his hand with a low-budget drama that aims to capture the zeitgeist of swinging Hoxton, with its mix of yuppie creatives and laddish London louts. Sadly, ANTI-SOCIAL is a little bit sweary, rather lairy and completely derivative of the bulk of loutish Britflicks that currently plague our cinema screens financed, for the most part, by City types attracted to the tax incentives offered by the EIS Scheme.

This one has artistic pretensions as it scratches its way towards a more ambitious storyline with some glossy sets, slick visuals and a putative ‘creative’ buzz of arty characters who sadly fail to feel authentic or to lift it from its dreary Hoxton-style origins, mainly due to limp scripting and clunky dialogue: in one scene five characters say “you al’ right”, almost simultaneously and self-consciously. The story centres on a half-decent, half-Spanish graffiti artist Dee, (a charming Gregg Sulkin) who turns out Banksy-style artwork and gets involved in a ‘gangland’ heist through his brother Marcus (Josh Myers). Traviss blends this urban melange with a bit of meaningless sex, robbers dressed in full Muslim regalia for a ‘smash and grab’ and pretty, pouty girls, but while you can take the boy out of the End End, you can’t take the East End out of the boy. Turgid stuff but better than his previous outing Joy Division so there’s hope on the horizon for Traviss. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

Timbuktu (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Abderrahmane Sissako

Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi Ag Mohamed

France/Mauritania 2014, 97 min.

Abderrahme Sissako (Bamako) has created a film that appears to be a contradiction in terms: Timbuktu’s harsh political storyline unfolds in images of poetic realism.

Set in Mali in 2012, under the control of fundamentalist jihadists, this is the tale of the destruction of a family. Kidane (Ahmed) lives peacefully with his wife Satima (Kiki), his daughter Toya (L.W. Mohamed) and his young shepherd Issan (M.A. Mohamed) in the dunes near Timbuktu, where jihadists terrorise the population: Music, dancing and even football are forbidden – some youngsters get around the latter decree by playing with an imagined ball. The local Imam is able to throws the armed jihadists out of the Moschee, but apart from this he too is powerless. One day, a fisherman kills one of Kidane’s prized cattle called ‘GPS’, as it accidentally wanders into fishing nets during grazing. Kidane is so upset at this trivial slaughter that he threatens him with a gun, which goes off accidentally, killing the fisherman. The family demand retribution, and the ‘fundamental jihadists whose medieval garb and laws belie their obsession with mobile phones, video cameras and expensive cars, are only too happy to apply the maximal penalty against Kidane. After all, they have just punished a woman to eighty lashes because she was listening to music in a room with a male singer.

TIMBUKTU‘s dreamy images are in stark contrast to the inhuman terror of the jihadist regime they portray: nature seems to be unaffected by the harsh cruelty of men. Humans and animals alike flee from the hunters, who use their cars to capture their prey. The jihadists, like their German fascist predecessors in Europe in the 40s, love to document their crimes: instead of the pen, they use their video cameras for this endeavour, which they see as heroism. Their misogyny is boundless, but Sissako shows that it is just the other side of their repressed lust, which manifests themselves in condoning ‘ancient customs’, where the rape of a virgin is considered a legitimate marriage. Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulov Kiki and Layla Walet Mohamed give subtle performances of great intensity, but the images of the shimmering, glittering landscape are most impressive: Sissako’s message is clear: nature’s beauty will always survive human cruelty. AS

TIMBUKTU IS NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | DVD release

Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014) |DVD release

Director: Chuck Workman

94min  Biopic  US  Orson Welles 1915 – 1985

With: Simon Callow, Christopher Welles Foder, Jane Hill Sykes, Norman Lloyd, Ruth Ford, Julie Taymor, Peter Bogdanovich, James Naremore, Steven Spielberg, Henry Jaglom, Elvis Mitchell, Beatrice Welles-Smith

Veteran documentarian Chuck Workman hits the high notes with his lively and engaging look at the life of Orson Welles. With witty one-liners from the maestro himself, rare archive footage and interviews with those he loved and worked with, although it only skims the surface, it shows Welles to be an appealing though unpredictable maverick absorbed in his craft rather than with his family (according to daughter Beatrice) and with a natural gift for bringing theatricality and talent – but not always finance – to the projects he chose.

The Welles story has been told many times before, on the page and on screen, and this although this offers nothing particularly new to the connoisseur, it gives a brisk and vibrant visual sense of Welles’ peripatetic career from the time he appeared in Ireland, as a penniless young man on an “art” trip, bluffing his way straight into the leading role in a Dublin stage (“I started as a star and worked my way downwards”) to his final Merv Griffin interview hours before he died. The documentary is divided into decade-sized chunks from the 1930s onwards charting Welles’ career on stage and as a way of getting to know the star and filmmaker who entertained us so royally with his prodigious output as the trailblazer of American postwar independent film.

Workman also offers glimpses of the sparkling array of Welles’ unfinished films that tempt our imagination – The Deep, Don Quixote, King Lear, The Dreamer et al – abandoned largely due to lack of financing – which meant that Welles worked in stops and starts when he had the money; and is the reason why Othello was delayed and Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight was four years in the making.

In the 1930s after his training at Todd’s School, Illinois, Welles’, he made his New York debut in 1934 as Tybalt and also married and made his radio debut and his first short. Later he was known for his impressive theatre productions at the Federal and Mercury Theater, his radio broadcasting and Workman includes appearances from Norman Lloyd and Richard Linklater who styles him the “Patron Saint of indie film”. Although signed to RKO, he was not a successful Hollywood filmmaker despite triumphing against the odds with Citizen Kane which crashed and burned at the box office but later met with critical acclaim, and The Magnificent Ambersons that fell prey to an editing controversy – Welles’ ending was changed to a ‘happy one’ in the wake of Pearl Harbour while the director was busy in Brazil on a Government project. This unfortunate episode lead to him being shunned by Hollywood for years afterwards and he sought exile in Europe in the late 1940s after the The Stranger – his most financially successful film but his least favourite. A Touch of Evil (1958) was also a commercial failure but lauded in Europe and won a prize in Belgium.

But despite this light touch, MAGICIAN is by no means a hagiographic account of the legendary filmmaker. Workman highlights Welles’ uncanny ability of alienating ‘the money’: there was something about him and his unpredictability that did not engage the backing of financiers, although this is never really explored. Workman also fails to elucidate on the story behind another lost project, The Other Side of the Wind, which took up most of Welles’ time during the 1970s.

The only other criticism of Workman’s handling (Workman-like?)of his documentary – in common with many biopics – is that he doesn’t delve deep enough into the life behind the showman; sticking to the surface razzle-dazzle rather than exposing the soft underbelly – what does come across though, is Welles’ vulnerability, mystique and appeal to women: he married three times: Virginia Nicholson, Rita Hayworth and Paola Mori and sired four children in and out of wedlock, spending his final years with longtime lover Oja Kodar, who also appeared in F for Fake and The Dreamers. And in this way, MAGICIAN will whet your appetite to discover more about this intriguing master of stage and screen, who, inspite of his box office failures, was awarded the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1975 and the highest honour of all, the D W Griffith Award in 1984. This year at CANNES there is a Centenary Celebration of his work with 4k restorations of Citizen Kane, The Third Man and The Lady from Shanghai. MT

ORSON WELLES CENTENARY | BFI JULY – AUGUST 2015 | DVD release 

 

 

The Falling (2014) | DVD release

IMG_1283Writer/Director: Carol Morley

Cast: Maisie Williams, Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan, Florence Pugh

Drama, UK, 102 min

Morley, director of the haunting quasi-documentary Dreams of a Life, has sculpted a compelling film about a series of fainting fits that plague a 1960s all-girls school, drenched in gothic and supernatural intrigue but with the pique of a spicy black comedy. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones) stars as Lydia, a 16-year-old in a traditional countryside school in 1969. She is inseparable from her best friend Abigail, the smarter, sexier, senior partner in their friendship, but when Abi reveals she’s lost her virginity, a psychological barrier forms inextricably between the two. It’s not jealousy, but discomfort and insecurity. Abigail reveals she may or may not be pregnant – she soon starts vomiting in the morning, and faints in class: perhaps she’s struck by a venereal disease. But when tragedy hits the school, Lydia, and then others begin to share the symptoms, finding themselves in the heart of something they believe is bigger than themselves. To say more about the plot would be churlish.

Morley ratchets up the tension, she doesn’t force it, but something cruel bubbles beneath the surface of these characters. Newcomer, Florence Pugh, is convincing as Abi, a difficult first role which she handles with subtlety, and her singing voice echoes Britt Ekland’s Willow in The Wicker Man.  Maxine Peake is tremendous as Lydia’s spiky, near-silent mother, a hairdresser who works from home, too afraid to venture outside because of her own brush with a mysterious terror in the past. Lydia’s brother Kenneth (Joe Cole) talks of magic and the occult being “just what’s hidden” – perhaps it is a mysterious stream that flows under the school, or the grand oak tree that rests by the school presenting some pagan significance. Monica Dolan gives an impressive turn as Headmistress, Miss Alvaro, bringing a certain style to the part that feels accurate to anyone who attended an English High School in the late Sixties. This is a film that embraces the tradition of the Female Gothic of British letters – supressed feminine sexuality, hysteria, the supernatural – and Morley does her best to create a wildly witty drama from this superb premise but her script is muddled and confused as it pursues several strands in the overall narrative which fail to find their meaning. Lydia and her friends are 16, and perhaps their sexual coming of age has a comment on Britain in the late-sixties too. Here was a country facing up to its demons so successfully kept under a dreamy drug-addled haze of the 1960s, but finding itself politically unstable and unready for its difficult decade ahead. It was also a time when parents, particularly mothers, were still affected by the war years and were less permissive than mums of today, as they had been raised by Victorian parents.

Some of THE FALLING does suggest a filmmaker feeling her way into features (Morley has had a run of well-regarded shorts). Clunky subliminal images cut into the film that feel more gimmicky than revelatory, for example, and some of the early prog music feels out of tune with these teenagers who would more likely be listening to The Osmonds, David Cassidy or David Essex or even David Bowie. However, Morley’s drama works well as a character piece with a really stunning British, predominantly female cast. EF/MT

THE FALLING | VENICE 2015 REVIEW

NOW ON DVD 

The Treatment | Der Behandeling (2014) | DVD VOD release

Director: Hans Herbots

Writer: Mo Hyder and Carl Joos

Cast: Geert Van Rampelberg, Ina Geerts, Johan van Assche, Laura Verlinden, Dominique Van Malder

125min |  Northern European Noir | French, Flemish with subtitles

If you’ve ever spent a wet weekend in Ghent you’ll instantly be familiar with the setting of this sombre Belgian film, adapted from British novelist Mo Hayder’s thriller. Complicated and very long at over two hours, those familiar with her novels will be at home with the characters; if not, it’s worth dipping into her debut ‘Birdman’ to acclimatise yourself with activities of Hayder’s regular protagonist DI Jack Caffery. In this screen adaptation of The Treatment, Caffery is transformed into Flemish investigator Nick Cafmeyer by Geert Van Rampelberg, who, apart from having a name to be conjured with, is a man who channels high levels of energy and emotion into investigating a paedophile crime linked to his past, and the mysterious disappearance of his younger brother, Bjorn.

In the rain-soaked Belgian countryside, Cafmeyer is still suffering the effects of his brother’s abduction and is taunted by noncey neighbour Ivan Plettnickx (Johan van Assche) who was implicated yet cleared from the original investigation. Herbots builds tension with a niftily mounted series of slo-mo sequences that lead us to the discovery of a handcuffed couple imprisoned in their home. Cafmeyer and his colleague Danni Petit (Ina Geerts) are summoned to find out why the place is covered in urine and their son is nowhere to be seen. After the boy is found dead in a tree, the father (Tobo Vandenborre) and mother (Brit Vam Hoof) differ on their version of events, and it appears that the father has something to hide.

During the course of his investigation, Cafmeyer chances upon the suicide of Plettnickx, whose death clears him from the suspect list but the clues of his brother’s ‘death’ die with him. Another possible perp in the shape of a pasty-faced and puny swimming instructor (Michael Vergauwen) lurks around the locale with intent. Meanwhile the suspect, who leaves his trademark bites on his victim’s body, has broken into another couple’s home, Steffi (Laura Verlinden) and Hans Vankerhove (Roel Swanenberg), the same modus operandi. In scenes of heightened melodrama it emerges that this damaged individual is using his young victims as experimental fodder to further his belief that female hormones are responsible for his impotence but this fascinating strand is not the central thrust of Herbots’ narrative. He is more concerned with pursuing Cafmeyer’s histrionics as he is wound into a world of rampant paedophilia and the past. As the plot unspools, so does the dramatic tension despite Herbots’ histrionic treatment – it is simply untenable to countenance the extreme levels of hysteria and intensity demonstrated by our protagonist on an ongoing basis for over two hours without our attention wandering, for the sake of some light relief, into endless plotlines and characters whose backstories are never developed sufficiently for us to care. Despite excellent performances, (particularly from Rampelberg), and some masterful camerawork, THE TREATMENT cries out for a different treatment and would work better as a three or even five parter where Herbots could really get his teeth into this ground-breaking area of scientific crime and develop his characterisation more satisfactorily. MT

THE TREATMENT IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 MAY 2015

Out on DVD, Blu-ray & On-Demand: 14 September 2015

 

 

L’Eclisse | Eclipse (1962) | BFI Long Release | DVD

B&W010 copyDir.: Michelangelo Antonioni

Cast: Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Francisco Rabal, Lila Brignone, Rossana Rory

Italy/France 1962, 126 min.

After L’Avventura (1960) and La Notte (1961) Antonioni finished his ‘trilogy of alienation’ with L’Eclisse. Another story of doomed love, Vittoria (Vitti) leaves her long-term writer lover Riccardo (Rabal) after a night of soul-bearing and when L’Eclisse starts in the morning, it feels somehow like a continuation of La Notte.

But before Vittoria ends her relationship with Riccardo, she arranges a new Stilleben behind an empty picture frame. The break-up is not traumatic, Vittoria cowers on the sofa like a mourning child, Riccardo cannot get through her passive-aggressive attitude with his arguments. Vittoria seems to pay for the break-up with a life in silence, words or sounds do not reach her anymore. The freedom she has achieved turns out to be alienation. Rome is hot, and Vittoria wanders without focus through the city, only following a man for a short while: he has lost a fortune at the stock market, and draws an endless array of little flowers on a slip of paper. Antonioni shows the transition of Italy in the architecture of its capital. The EUR quarter, with will later be the business centre, was originally planned by Mussolini, to celebrate twenty years of fascism in 1942. Wide boulevards and austere buildings give an idea how the city would have looked if the Axis would have won the war. Now Rome is one big building side: the old and the new fighting for supremacy. Vittoria, searching for her neighbour’s dog is lost in a city, also losing its own identity.

She visits her mother (Brignone), who is playing the stock market, always ready to “play” big – later she will loose a million Lira. Mother and daughter have not much to say to each other, Vittoria seems to be condemned to a lonely, silent life. At the stock exchange she meets Piero (Delon), but is not impressed by him at all. Later, they run into each other again by accident, starting an affair, which is very unsatisfactory for Vittoria: ”I wish I could love you more or not at all”. But Piero, who spends his life in the fast lane, is not a loveable character at all: when his car is stolen and later turns up in a river with the thief trapped dead behind the wheel, he is only concerned about the dents.

Piero belongs to the future: “One can love, without knowing much about each other”. But Vittoria somehow comes alive, her isolation seems to be over. The lovers arrange a rendezvous, but their hearts are not in it. Clearly Piero is married to his work and Vittoria needs more: the camera lingers over the place of their tentative meeting, before a nuclear-style eclipse of the title, brings the film to a close. Vittoria seems to be set free by a cosmic storm: as her urban confines: door frames, scaffoldings and shop grilles, are replaced by trees.

Monica Vitti’s Vittoria is like Wenders Alice in the City: a child in a world of adults, repelled by their emotional coldness. Delon is all actions and superficiality, his friend’s remark “long live the façade” sums it all up. DOP Gianni De Venanzo’s long panorama shots show very little empathy with the eternal city, particularly the shots in silence which seem to evoke a ghost town populated by little worker ants, dwarfed by the huge buildings. Giovanni Fusco’s score kicks in towards the second half and with the voice of Italian superstar Mina. After the tremendous closing sequence, L’Eclisse will lead without much transition to Deserto Rosso (1963/4), where Vitti as Guiliana wanders the streets, getting lost again in a fog on a very unearthly planet. AS

ON LONG RELEASE AT THE BFI FROM AUGUST 28 2015 | BLU-RAY AND DVD COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

 

The Phoenix Incident (2015)

Dir.: Keith Arem

Cast: Troy Baker, Yuri Lowenthal, Jamie Tisdale, Mason Shea Joyce

USA 2015, 78 min.

First time feature film writer/director Keith Arem (better known to addicts of video games, having directed 50 titles among them Call of Duty II), has created a horror-flick based on tries and trusted ingredients: found footage, fake-interviews with relatives of victims and the cover-up agents of the military establishment: The Phoenix Incident, based loosely on real events in Phoenix, Arizona on 13.3.1997, when UFOs were spotted over the hills, is tacky to the extent that bargain-basement hardly captures its impact.

Four young men get lost on the evening of the UFO sightings in the hills of Phoenix; trying to hide in an army base they are captured and abducted by aliens whose unimaginative laughable looks are symptomatic for the whole production. Chief witness for their fate is a violent cop beater who is mostly drunk and stoned and has to spent a lifetime in prison as part of the cover up. Why the aliens decided to leave him behind is one of many unanswered questions.

Even the pure entertainment value of The Phoenix Incident is so minimal that it does not justify much attention: it is an unconvincing parody of a genre, but the mainly involuntary laughs are at its own expense. AS

THE PHOENIX INCIDENT IS RELEASED DIGITAL HD ON 31 AUGUST AND DVD ON 7 SEPTEMBER 2015

 

Videodrome (1983) | 4-disc DVD | Blu-ray release

Writer|Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Combining the bio-horror elements of his earlier films whilst anticipating the technological themes of his later work, VIDEODROME exemplifies Cronenberg’s extraordinary talent for making both visceral and cerebral cinema.

Max Renn (James Woods) is looking for fresh new content for his TV channel when he happens across some illegal S&M-style broadcasts called ‘Videodrome’. Embroiling his girlfriend Nicki (Debbie Harry) in his search for the source, his journey begins to blur the lines between reality and fantasy as he works his way through sadomasochistic games, shady organisations and body transformations stunningly realised by the Oscar-winning makeup effects artist Rick Bakeailed by his contemporaries John Carpenter and Martin Scorsese as a genius, VIDEODROME, was Cronenberg’s most mature work to date and still stands as one of his greatest.

In this 1983 cult classic Cronenberg outing, James Woods is the standout and Debbie Harry is convincing as his sexually experimental girlfriend in a visually audacious and stunningly disorienting drama that sees the director exploring dangerous sexuality and technological obsessions in collaboration with his cinematographer Mark Irwin. Howard Shore’s haunting score strikes a conjures up a similar atmosphere of dread as Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind achieved in The Shining 

OUT ON SPECIAL FORMAT DVD | Blu-ray digipak | 10th August 2015 | Courtesy of ARROW

4 disc pack includes short films Transfer (1966) & From the Drain (1967) and newly restored early features Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970). Alongside a wealth of archival content, this lavish new edition will feature a stunning newly restored high-definition digital transfer of the unrated version of Videodrome, approved by both Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin.

The DVD includes new documentaries – David Cronenberg and the Cinema of the Extreme, a documentary programme featuring interviews with Cronenberg, George A. Romero and Alex Cox on Cronenberg’s cinema, censorship and the horror genre and Forging the New Flesh, a documentary programme by filmmaker Michael Lennick on Videodrome’s video and prosthetic make up effects.

Other features on the discs include brand new interviews with cinematographer Mark Irwin and producer Pierre David, alongside the feature AKA Jack Martin in which Dennis Etchison, author of novelizations of Videodrome, Halloween, Halloween II and III and The Fog, discusses Videodrome and his observations of Cronenberg’s script.

CAMERA (2000) Cronenberg’s short film starring Videodrome’s Les Carlson will also feature on the discs bonus content alongside the complete uncensored Samurai Dreams footage with additional Videodrome broadcasts with optional commentary by Michael Lennick. Two additional featurettes by Michael Lennick, Helmet Test and Betamax, which look at the effects featured in the film will be also be included.

Les Combattants (2015) Love at First Fight | DVD release

Dir.: Thomas Cailley

Cast: Adele Haenel, Kevin Azais, Antoine Laurent, Brigitte Rouan

Drama France 2014, 98 min.

Two outsiders, Madeleine (Haenel) and Arnaud (Azais) meet o the beach of a sleepy town in the region Alps/Maritime. This sounds as good as any romantic cliché, but their meeting is anything but sexy, because they are facing each other in a judo fight.

First time writer/director Thomas Cailley’s LES COMBATTANTS is the very opposite of a glossy French teenage romance. To start with Arnaud bites Madeleine after he is in danger of losing the fight, witnessed by his brother Manu (Laurent) and his mates. Whilst Madeleine does not tell anyone about his outburst, she will remind Arnaud more than often of his cowardice. The young man has just lost his father and is supposed to join his brother in running a carpentry business. In this capacity he soon meets Madeleine again, when he starts to erect a wooden beach house near the swimming pool on her parent’s property. Needless to say, his carpentry expertise is as bad as his judo skills and his half completed construction is soon blown apart by a storm; to the chagrin of his brother. But Arnaud and Madeleine have found common ground: they both want to get out of the boring middle-class environment they inhabit. Madeleine, who has just left university without completing the course, believes strongly that apocalypse is soon to happen. She prepares for the end-of-time scenario by toughening herself up with constant exercises and a disgusting diet, with includes eating a whole fish, whizzed up in the mixer. When she decides to join the marines for a preparatory army course, Arnaud follows her, abandoning his brother and mother Helene (Rouan). But the debacle doesn’t end successfully in this love story which ends up being a fight for survival.

Adele Haenel (Water Lilies/Suzanne) carries LES COMBATTANTS with a lively and intense performance. Her Madeleine still longs to be a tomboy, long into her adolescence. She is unaware that this image is just her way in pretending to be tough, as not to be found out how vulnerable and insecure she really is. Whilst she knows exactly what she does not want in life (middle-class security), she has no idea what she wants instead, and her experience shows, that she is far too independent for such a hierarchical life style. Arnaud on the other hand, behaves like every average man with the first woman he shows an interest in: he follows her obediently like a puppy. But is fascinating, how Cailley brings their combined weaknesses and strengths together in a rather dramatic finale. Shot in lively colours from innovative perspectives, by the director’s brother David, Les Combattants is as original as it is moving, never succumbing to any preconceived ideas, thus emulating the couple’s unruly and idiosyncratic behaviour within a narrative that develops just at the right tempo allowing us enough time to get to know this offbeat  couple. AS

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD THROUGH ARTIFICIAL EYE | CURZON

Story of My Death (2013) | Historia de la meva mort | DVD release

Director/Writer: Albert Serra

Cast: Viçenç Altaió, Eliseu Huertas, Lluis Serrat, Montse Triola

148min   Catalan with English subtitles   Drama

Purportedly a metaphor for the journey from Enlightenment to Romanticism, Albert Serra’s Golden Leopard winner is a deliciously louche and languorous affair that plays on the title of Giacomo Casanova’s autobiography “Histoire de Ma Vie”. Distilled from 400 hours of freewheeling footage to a shimmering strand of candlelit and moonlit reverie, it is based on an imagined meeting between Casanova and Dracula that takes place in 18th-century Switzerland and Romania. Sensitively re-creating the leisurely pace of the era, the film opens with an al fresco supper between paramours.  Scenes in Casanova’s boudoir follow, where the raffishly cheeky Catalan Marquis (Viçenç Altaió) gives decadent rein to his sensual appetite for salacious and philosophical badinage alone with his newly-acquired manservant, Pompeu (Lluis Serrat), while imbibing and grazing on grapes and completing his oblutions. Embarking on a pastoral journey that will lead beyond the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania, he is joined by said manservant and a motley crew of subservient female acolytes.

Altaió portrays Casanova as gently playful rather than sexually predatory which is possibly how he manages to satisfy his vast sexual appetite; coming across as naughtily risqué rather than oppressively letcherous: it’s an irresistible combination that evokes impish seduction rather than tyrannical oppression reflecting the cultured gentility of the age of Enlightenment.

The  tone slips sinuously into Gothic Horror in the  Transylvanian segment where we meet the raven-haired, elegantly-coiffed Count  (Eliseu Huertas)- a sociopath of a different colour;  presenting himself as a gift-horse to the unfortunate females in the travelling group and later devouring them with an horrendous volte-face nod to 19th century Imperialism.  Here Casanova’s saucy superficiality is stretched to the limit as he suffers a downturn in his fortunes (redolent of Barry Lyndon) in the backlash of violent vampires as the narrative down-spirals into valium-enfused blood-letting.

This inventive twist on a classic legend with its inspired performance from Viçenç Altaió is sumptuously filmed with exquisite attention to period detail. The luminescent set-pieces are masterpieces in their own right marking Albert Serra as a creative genius in of the art of arthouse filmmaking. See this when you have time to contemplate its rare treasures. MT

STORY OF MY DEATH WAS REVIEWED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | NOW ON DVD

The ‘Maggie’ (1954) | DVD | Blu-ray release

Director: Alexander MacKendrick    Writer: William Rose

Cast: Paul Douglas, Alex MacKenzie, James Copeland, Abe Barker, Tommy Kearins

92min  Comedy  UK Ealing Black & White

Alexander MacKendrick was far from satisfied with his finished comedy drama The ‘Maggie’,  claiming it too personal, but he scored a hit with his casting of Paul Douglas in the leading role. A sports reporter who had turned his hand to acting in middle age, he became an overnight Hollywood success during the forties and fifties starring alongside Barbara Stanwyck in Clash By Night, Richard Widmark in Panic in the Streets and Kirk Douglas in A Letter to Three Wives. The five-times married actor exuded a rugged masculinity which perfectly suits the role here of an American businessman in Scotland who is conned into shipping a valuable cargo to Islay to furnish a surprise gift of a holiday home for his wife (whom we never meet). The coal-powered boat turns out to be a leaky ‘puffer’ from which the film takes its name.

Sentimental in tone, this light comedy zips along playfully in a similar vein to MacKendrick’s other outings although it lacks the witty humour of Whisky Galore, or the more trenchant social commentary of The Man in The White Suit. That said, there are well-crafted performances from a strong cast particularly Tommy Kearins, a newcomer who gives a surprisingly good turn as the clever and mischievous ‘wee boy’ Dougie. Gordon Dines does a fine job of lensing fifties Glasgow, Crinan and the Isle of Islay in silky black and white visuals. The Radio Times described it as a “wicked little satire” and the pier scene will certainly make you laugh out loud. A worthwhile comedy drama from the Ealing era. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD COURTESY OF STUDIO CANAL | 24 AUGUST 2015 | DVD and Blu-ray

 

She’s Funny that Way (2014) | DVD release

SHES_FUNNY_THAT_WAY_DVD_3DDirector: Peter Bogdanovich

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Quentin Tarantino, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Tatum O’Neal

93min   US   Comedy

Peter Bogdanovich made his long-awaited return at Venice 2014 with this blast of humour that feels quaintly dated but welcome nonetheless amongst an array of, frankly, second-rate festival dramas. Co-scripted with his ex-wife Louise Stratten in her screenwriting debut, it has a solid comedy cast of Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston and Imogen Poots. Not to mention Rhys Ifans.

Although set in a contempo Manhattan, this has the classic feel of a Woody Allen film from the early eighties and it also shares the rich, honeyed visuals of the era. The narrative, too, feels dated; locked in a bygone era of the casting couch, which is the thrust of its central duo, played by Imogen Poots – as spunky wannabe actress cum call girl Izzy –  who finds herself involved with a married film director, Arnold Albertson (a reticent Owen Wilson), after entertaining him in her bedside manner the night before she gives him an audition for a play. So smitten is he (and so wealthy), in his plausible, but gentlemanly midlife crisis, that he offers to take her off “the streets”.

It just so happens that Izzy has another andropausal admirer in the shape of Judge Predergast (Austin Pendleton) who shares the same shrink, Jane Claremont (a fabulous Jennifer Aniston) whose own lover (Will Forte) is the playwright of the piece that Izzy’s trying for. The delightfully dotty Kathryn Hahn plays Arnold’s wife who’s keen on Seth (Rhys Ifans), the main star of this play in question. As so the twisty tale goes on with a few too many plotholes to mention, but a few laughs too on the way.

This is old-fashioned but good-value entertainment, as long as you don’t take it too seriously – there’s even a cameo appearance from Bogdanovitch himself. Aniston and Poots act their socks off to great effect and the support performances are more than decent. SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY is pleasant, light-hearted comedy. And for a simple night out, it does certainly does the trick. MT

REVIEWED AT VENICE 2015 LA BIENNALE 71 EDITION | ON DVD FROM 10th AUGUST

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Dir/Wri: Ana Lily Amirpour | Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Dominic Rain | US Thriller 100′

Ana Lily Amirpour’s first feature is one of the most distinctive of recent years. The young UK born Iranian filmmaker’s exhilarating visual language feels more important than the simple narrative but her striking monochrome aesthetic is both stylishly retro and contemporary.

In the hostile industrial landscape of an oil refinery town named Bad City, a man retrieves a pet cat from behind the railings of a building site. This is Arash (Arash Marandi) – a Middle-Eastern James Dean – who, apart from his matinée idol looks is also well-mannered and kind: a refreshing take on Middle Eastern man. Arash is caught between his drug-adict father and the tattooed dealer (and pimp) try to call in his loan. But as his father is up to his eyes in debt, the pimp decides to take Arash’s car in payment, forcing him to walk the streets at night where he meets a lone woman in black Islamic garb (Sheil Vand) and gradually a love affair blossoms, quite extraordinary in its singularity, yet evocative of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise.

With an idiosyncratic soundtrack and striking performances from the leads this is a quietly mesmerising first feature marking Amirpour out as a distinctive voice in modern US/Iranian cinema. Amirpour followed her debut with The Bad Patch that translocates a similar lone female to the desert – with a starrier cast of time is Suki Waterhouse and Keanu Reeves. Since then she has broken into TV directing eps of Castle Rock, The Twilight Zone and Homemade and is currently working a new feature Blood Moon, again wrapped around a central female character, this time Kate Hudson. MT

NOW ON Bfi Player 

 

 

I Am An Old Communist Hag (2013) | DVD release

SUNT O BABA COMUNISTA

Director: Stere Gulea

Cast:  Luminita Gheorghiu, Marian Ralea, Ana Ularu, Collin Blair, Valeria Seciu

88mins    Drama    Romanian with English subtitles

Communism and the Ceausescu dictatorship were not popular in Romania, for obvious reasons, but Emilia, the central character of this New Wave drama from old school director Stere Gulea (Weekend With My Mother 2009), remembers the time with a great deal of nostalgia. And nostalgia and selective memory of the good old days are the themes that permeate this unevenly-paced but subversively touching drama told as a simple linear narrative and graced by Vivi Dragan Vasile’s luminous visuals, capturing the naturalistic location. These limpid, summer  colours evoke the predominantly upbeat and serene feel of the piece.

But not all the old people here remember communism fondly.  Dna Stroescu, a local dressmaker (beautifully played by Valeria Seciu), claims it prevented her from pursuing a career as a painter, adding contrast to Emilia’s view. But for those cherishing family life, security and full employment, the era had a great deal to recommend it and Luminita Georgiu’s Emilia (a modest character compared to her flagrant role in Child’s Pose) now retired and in her early sixties, enjoyed bringing up a family, holding down a factory job and now lives quietly with her husband Tucu (Marian Ralea) in a small Romanian village. Looking forward to a visit from her pregnant daughter Alice (Ana Ularu – Anaconda 4) and fiancé Alan (an amusing Collin Blair) from Canada, she is also taking part in a documentary being filmed in the village, about August 23rd, a national holiday before the 1989 Revolution in Romania.

When she hears about Alice’s shaky job situation in Canada, a free economy, she starts to peddle communist propaganda to her, putting a selectively rosy spin on her own past in the dark era of Ceausescu.  These ‘golden’ memories are seen as bleached-out black and white flashbacks depicting Alina as a little girl with the young Tucu, when the dictator purportedly visited her factory and are accompanied by Henning Lohner’s rousing original score.

Alina’s homecoming exposes cracks in her daughter’s relationship with Alain and meditates on the merits of New World capitalism versus Old World solid family values and traditions with intelligence and surprising insight. MT

REVIEWED AT THE LONDON ROMANIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2013 | NOW ON DVD

 

Salute! Sun Yat-Sen | Meeting Dr Sun (2014)

Dir.: Yee Chih-yen

Cast: Zhan Huai-ting, Matthew Wei, Cheng Wei-teng, Gina Chien-Na Lee

Taiwan 2014, 90 min  Drama

Meeting Dr. Sun is writer/director Yee Chih-yen’s first film in 12 twelve years, following Blue Gate Crossing which featured some of the same characters as his latest film. On the face of it Meeting Dr. Sun appears to be a surrealistic teen comedy but the real themes run much deeper. Two rival high school gangs are attempting to steal a statue of the founder of Modern China and use the money to pay off their outstanding school fees.

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) was the founder of the Chinese Republic in 1912. He was soon deposed as president by warlords, but later returned to politics and formed a coalition between his Kuomintang (KMT) party and the Chinese Communist Party in 1923. He is one of the few politicians admired by mainland China and Taiwan. Along with Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek, he was one of the most important figures in China from 1900 to 1976. Father of modern China (now Taiwan) espoused “Three Principles” – Nationalism, Democracy and Socialism which he developed whilst in exile in the UK.

Lefty (Huai-ting) is the gangling leader of a group of four students who have fallen behind with their school fees. He comes up with the plan to steal the massive stature of Dr. Sun which is stored away in the corner of the school. The group buys cheap masks so as not be recognised by the schools security cameras. But at the last minute Lefty finds a notebook outlining a plan to steal the statue in the same way he had planned. When Lefty meets Sky (Wei), the leader of the rival group, they compare notes on who is the least flush of the two. Sky than uses Lefty’s generosity to steal the statue with his four friends, but Lefty’s group appears just in time, wearing the same masks. This turns out to be helpful for both groups, since they need eight people to move the heavy statue. The delay alerts the caretaker and his girlfriend (Lee) who are suddenly surrounded by eight scarily masked men who chase them into a class room. Turning the situation to his advantage, the caretaker persuades his girl friend to make love, since “they may not survive the night”, as Lefty and Sky are the left fighting it out for the possession of the statue.

DOP Chen Tai-pu cinematography of the dark school and Taipei by night are highly imaginative, Meeting Dr. Sun plays out like a choreographed ballet performed in different shades of grey. What might seem like a prank, turns out to be a real fight for survival and the gang’s solidarity in the end is a metaphor for the student strike of March 2014 in Taipei. Dr. Sun’s statue represents the need for a social and democratic solution in Taiwan as well as in China. Meeting Dr. Sun is aesthetically a unique experience and when coupled with the political subtext, not easily accessible for European audiences, it becomes even more admirable. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JULY 2015 | DVD

 

Dancing With Crime | Jet Storm | Richard Attenborough Classics | DVD release

JET STORM (1959) 

Written and directed by Cy Endfield (Zulu) this 1959 star-studded aviation drama has Dame Sybil Thorndyke, Stanley Baker, Hermione Baddeley, Paul Eddington, Diane Cilento, Bernard Braden, Mai Zetterling, Elizabeth Sellars.

When Ernest Tilley’s (Attenborough) daughter is killed in a hit-and-run, he’s hellbent on avenging her death. Armed with a homemade bomb, he tracks down the killer to an airport and boarding the same flight, he threatens to be the first suicide bomber. Cy Endfield’s in-jet thriller relies on the dynamite performances to ramp up the suspense and he gets them from a brilliant cast including Attenborough playing against type as a sinister potential killer, driven insane by sadness. Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Hildyard does a great job with the claustrophobic setting (the interior of a Russian Tupolev Tu-104) and Stanley Baker is masterful as the suave captain, who has his own sad history. Elizabeth Sellers is foxy and provocative (and still rocking on at 93); Sybil Thorndyke lightens the mood with a mildly humorous turn and there is also a touching romance between Virginia Maskell and the co-pilot to sweeten things as emotions boil over in this tightly-scripted classic full of interesting texture and superb vignettes, based on a story by Sigmund Miller. MT

DANCING WITH CRIME (1947)

Directed by John Paddy Carstairs (Trouble in Store) makes its much-anticipated arrival on DVD for the first time since its theatrical release in 1947. Filmed at Cromwell Studios, Southall.

In this classic British film Noir, childhood friends and army comrades Dave Robinson (Bill Owen) and Ted Peters (a young and earnest Attenborough at 23) turn out to be very different when they get back from the War. Ted gets an honest job as a taxi driver, and saves for his wedding to his childhood sweetheart (Sheila Sim). Dave, however, is a bit of a geezer who wants easy cash and soon gets involved with a gang. When Dave is found dead in the back of Ted’s taxi, suspicions fly as Scotland Yard investigate the murder. This is schematic stuff but beautifully-crafted with Reginald Wye’s velvet visuals (The Seventh Veil) and enlivened by a score of forties band classics including “Bow Bells” and Ben Frankel’s original score. Vintage pleasure. MT

THIS CULT CLASSIC DUO IS OUT ON DVD FROM 17 AUGUST 2015

The Devil’s Violinist (2013) | DVD | VOD release

Director: Bernard Rose

Cast: David Garrett, Jared Harris, Joely Richardson, Veronica Ferres, Christian McKay

114min  Musical Biopic    UK|US

After some interesting outings with experimental fare and psychological dramas, the most successful being Boxing Day, Bernard Rose returns to the musical biopic genre where he found fame twenty years ago with Immortal Beloved, with Gary Oldman’s dynamite turn as Beethoven. Sumptuously mounted but poorly cast, for the most part, in THE DEVIL’S VIOLINIST he has selected David Garrett for the lead. While Garrett is a popular figure for his musical talent and raffish good looks, his acting lacks the charisma and seductive elan needed for the role of the maverick Italian music-maker, Niccoló Paganini.

In 1830 things are not going well for Paganini. The opening scenes showcase his darkly tousled locks adorning the satin pillow in a hotel where he has failed to pay the bill. In comes a saturnine Urbani (Jared Harris, with a curiously rasping voice more akin to League of Gentleman’s Papa Lazarou than an Italian benefactor), posing as a dubious financier and offering his services as a manager. Before you can say ‘Machiavelli’, success arrives in spades as Paganini cuts a musical swathe through Europe womanising as he goes, while Urbani, ever at his side, looks on hissing “take your medicine”.

In London, a strand of forced feminism is interwoven into the narrative referencing a groundswell of apparently disenchanted (or spurned?) women seeking to ambush Paganini’s purported debauchery. Paganini coughs on oblivious and takes residence in the home of impresario John Watson (Christian McKay), his wife Elizabeth (Veronica Ferres, who we last met in Casanova Variations) and more pertinently, his ravishing daughter Charlotte (Andrea Deck). Charlotte is a budding opera singer who fails to fall for Paganini’s advances, calling him “a puffed up peacock”, and the two develop a wary friendship. Paganini also garners support against the feminist protestors in the shape of journalist Ethel Langham (a cockney Joely Richardson – to boost box office in the US). Meanwhile Paganini continues woodenly working his magic with the lovely Charlotte, against her better judgement.

While Bernard Rose tries his best to leverage the more sensationalist elements of the Paganini story, the resulting film lacks authentic conviction or even dramatic punch, emerging as just another period drama, albeit a well-crafted one; although at just over two hours it outstays its welcome, along with its misguided hero. Certainly, it is a lovely thing to watch and listen to but that alone fails to life the film out of its clunkiness in general. Garrett can’t set the night on fire with his acting chops but he’s certainly a wizard on the violin, in some of the more successful scenes. MT

NOW ON DVD | VOD

Mona Lisa (1986)

image003Director: Neil Jordan

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Michael Caine, Cathy Tyson, Robbie Coltrane

103min  UK   Crime Drama

MONA LISA has Bob Hoskins scraping the barrel as soft-centred, hard-bitten petty crim George, who takes a job as driver for Cathy Tyson’s elegant intelligent “tall thin black tart” in London’s West End, after a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Against his will, he gradually falls for Simone as she conspires to bring down local kingpin Mortwell (Michael Caine in fabulous Cockney form) and rescue an underage hooker from the grips of her ruthless pimp.

To contemporary audiences MONA LISA‘s themes of prostitution and a lesbian subplot may come across as rather quaint, but Neil Jordan’s well-crafted and suspenseful crime-land thriller is a tightly-scripted exploration of sexual and racial tensions that morphs into a tender love story against the gritty backdrop of eighties Britain on the cusp of the Big Bang.

Following in the footsteps of A Long Good Friday, Hoskins plays another type of gangster here: down on his luck but not without redemption or decency. As George gets gradually sucked into the story he realises that romance with Simone is futile despite the renewed vitality and hope it offers after his prison years. Hoskins gives another vibrant and authentic turn that lifts this average gangland crime caper, scored by Nat King Cole and Phil Collins’  love songs, into the realms of something unique and special.  MT

Hoskins garnered an Oscar nomination as well as winning Best Actor awards at Cannes, the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, and MONA LISA remains one of his greatest roles.

A 2K REMASTER IS NOW ON DVD | BLU | COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

 

Lauda (2015) | DVD | VOD release

image013Dir.: Hannes Schalle

Documentary; Austria/UK 2014, 90 min.

On the 1st of August 1976 the Austrian Formula One racing driver Nikki Lauda was involved in a horrendous accident on the Nürburgring during the German Grand Pix. Pulled out of the burning car by fellow drivers, he suffered severe burns to his face and damaged to his lungs from inhaling toxic gases. He was lucky to survive, but only six weeks later he raced again at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

In Hannes Schalle’s big screen debut, we find out that Lauda was born in 1949 into an upperclass Viennese family who were appalled at his choice of profession. His grandfather wanted him to make the headlines in the business rather than the sport pages, and this wish eventually came true when, after his retirement as a racing driver, Lauda founded an airline which he later sold to “Austrian Airlines”.

There is a lot of love for Lauda from his fellow racing drivers, but the three times world champion is the only one showing a little detachment to his erstwhile profession, questioning the validity of 36 Grand Prix garnering the lion’s share of the media headlines over the racing weekends. Unfortunately, Schalle concentrates on these endless talking-head interviews with fellow drivers whose main focus, apart from Lauda, seems to be the security arrangements, or lack of them, before the 90s. (Lauda had argued to boycott the 1976 German Grand Prix, but was out-voted by his fellow drivers.)

Whilst this is clearly a valid point to make, the subtle nuances in road and car safety improvements are both overwhelming and inane to an audience not familiar with racing. When Schalle interviews Lauda’s first wife, Marlene Knaus, she observed that she was  “married to three different Nikki’s”; unfortunately the filmmaker does not elaborate more on this remark. Thus, Lauda: The Untold Story, stays exactly this way: we learn next to nothing about a man from privileged background, who risked his life as a racing driver in the early years of his career, paying with borrowed money to secure a gilded place in racing posterity. AS

NOW OUT ON DVD and VOD from 6 July 2015

Colors (1988) | Blu-ray release

Dir.: Dennis Hopper

Cast: Robert Duvall, Sean Penn, Maria Conchita Alonso, Trinidad Silva

USA 1988, 127 min.

By the time he directed COLORS in 1988, Hollywood enfant terrible Dennis Hopper (1936-2010) had reached the stage of the ‘wise old man’ of Hollywood – and it shows. Hopper transferred the action from Chicago to Los Angeles and had the original script by Richard DiLello changed; even though he later admitted that had he had total control, he would have concentrated more on the interaction of the gangs, and not so much on the policemen’s story.

Experienced cop ‘Uncle’ Bob Hodges (Duvall) is paired with newcomer Danny ‘Pacman’ McGavin (Penn), to keep peace in the suburbs and barrios of the city. Three main gangs fight it out: Crips, Bloods and Barrio, the later an all Spanish gang, led by the vicious Frog (Silva). Whilst Hodges tries to stay human, McGavin thinks he knows everything and often ruins McGavin’s plans with his aggression. Finally, the Barrio’s are the last gang standing, and when Hodges arrests Frog, he is shot dead. Later we see a much more mature McGavin, patiently explaining to a black rookie the same tactics Hodges had told him. Whilst the gang violence is very realistic, the cop relationship is told in a very conservative way (Hopper’s disinterest showing). McGavin’s short relationship with the waitress Louisa (Alonso) is just an excuse for some nudity. Somehow it is difficult to believe that COLORS is the work of the director of Easy Rider and Out of the Blue. AS

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

 

State of Grace (1990) | Blu-ray release

SoG_BLURAYStd_3D_HiRes copyDir: Phil Joanou

Cast: Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright, John Turtorro, Burgess Meredith; USA 1990, 134 min.

Director Joanou has a diverse output, reaching from U2 Rattle and Hum to the sporting drama Gridiron. STATE OF GRACE is very much Sidney Lumet/Martin Scorsese territory; Joanou perhaps too much in awe of the two directors.

The violent neo-noir narrative is centred around undercover cop Terry Noonan (Penn), returning to New York’s Hell Kitchen and the Flannery gang, once his pals. Terrys’ best friend Jackie (Oldman) and his brother Frankie (Ed Harris) are leaders of a gang, modelled on the Westies. Terry rekindles his love for his old sweetheart Kathleen, sister of the two gangsters, who later leaves all the violent males. After the psychotic Frankie shoots his brother Jackie in cold blood, Terry throws his badge away, and kills Frankie and two of his henchmen in a pub, whilst Kathleen is watching the St. Patrick’s Parade.

Joanou avoids any sentimentality: his Terry is as violent as the brothers he is fighting, but just on the other side of the track. Ed Harris’s snake-like portrait of Frankie is most impressive – the cold-blooded murder of his brother the highlight of the film. But somehow Joanou lacks the punch of Scorsese and the psychological insight of Lumet, and STATE OF GRACE turns out to be a little much too clichéd and superficial, particularly regarding the Terry/Kathleen relationship. That said, Ennio Morricone’s score and the wonderful work of DOP Jordan Cronenweth (who photographed Blade Runner, and worked in spite suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for 13 years before succumbing during the shooting of Alien III) still make STATE OF GRACE e a watchable film. AS.

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY

 

The Man Who Saved the World (2014) | Now on DVD

Director: Peter Anthony

Documentary/Docu-Drama with Stanislav Petrov, Galinia Kalinina, Sergey Shnyryov

Denmark 2014, 105 min.

We are often asked, depending on the generation, where we were when Kennedy was shot or when the Twin Towers came down. After watching THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD by first time Danish director Peter Anthony, we should now ask “where were you on the evening of September 26th 1983”. Because on that very day, the world could easily have come to an end, had it not been for the Russian Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov. Commanding the Soviet Air Defences Forces that evening, he spotted on the computer screens, no less than five US missiles being launched against his homeland.

A less inquisitive person would have simply ‘believed’ the technology to be right, after all, we were at the height of the Cold War, President Reagan famously stating that he “wished his daughter would die right now, rather than having to live under Communism”. But Petrov hesitated in informing his superiors, gambling – rightly – on his hunch, that the appearance of the missiles on the screens were due to a computer glitch. Had he been wrong, the Soviet Union would have been decimated, as there would have been no time for retaliation.

Peter Anthony’s masterful debut operates on three levels: there are the usual documentary clips: Petrov’s visit to the USA, where he met Robert de Niro and Kevin Costner among others,  a re-staging of the crucial day’s events, as well as Petrov’s personal traumata after 1983, with Sergey Shnyryov playing the lieutenant colonel so brilliantly that it’s occasionally possible to forget that he is not the real Petrov. And this is by far the most moving part of this drama: Petrov’s personal tragedy starts with a severe reprimand after the evening’s events and for not having correctly filled in the daily report. Later, he has to leave the Forces to care for his wife Raya, who is dying slowly from cancer. Petrov is left alone and embittered, even deserted by his own mother, who preferred to live with her younger son, her favourite. Since then, Petrov has not seen or even spoken to his mother, but has retreated into himself, seeking solace in the bottle. When we are introduced to (the real) Galina Kalinina, Petrov’s interpreter on his journey to the USA, the family conflict immediately surfaces, Petrov shouting at her, for just bringing up his mother’s name. Later, in the USA, where Petrov is lauded at the UN, Galina tells him bluntly “You want countries to forgive each other, but you cannot even talk to your own mother”. Needless to say, Galina rightly described as “stubborn” by Petrov, makes sure of a moving reconciliation.

THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD is a unique film, its three strands seamlessly interwoven. But it also carries a prescient wake up call to us all, since the Superpowers still have all their nuclear arsenals pointing at one another. When shown a silo with a Minuteman II missile, Petrov explains to a US park ranger that its destructive power is equivalent to that of  the entire WWII arsenal from 1938-1945. When we consider that both sides each have in excess of a thousand missiles left, let’s pray that a future crisis will again be averted by somebody like Stanislav Petrov. AS

ON DVD from 29 JUNE 2015

Tokyo Tribe (2014) | DVD Blu release

Dir.: Sion Sono

Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Riki Takeuchi

Japan 2014, 116 min.

Since his European breakthrough with COLD FISH (2010), Japanese director’s Sion Sono’s film’s have increasingly done  away more with any meaningful narrative, relying on pure shock value as in his recent out WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013). It is therefore no surprise, that TOKYO TRIBE is an all singing/all-fighting/dancing/rapping box of tricks – and the rapping skills are dim to say the least – full of energy and spectacular fighting scenes, but vacuous to the extreme.

Based on a best-selling Manga-cartoon, TOKYO TRIBE features the city in the non-so-distant future, where 23 gangs rule their territories, coming down aggressively on any rival tribes that strays onto their turf. Sadistic, and occasionally cannibalistic, Lord Buppa (Takeuchi), directs the warfare between the other clans, hoping to claim dominion over the whole city. And when his day of ‘victory’ arrives, girls are dragged into Buppa’s dining room, desperate to become his prostitutes or even a tasty snack for his lunch.

Among them is the enigmatic Sunmi (Seino), who turns out to be the daughter of Buppa’s family priest. Sunmi is quite vanilla about being taken as a love object (even though she does not succeed): Not surprisingly, her father wants to sacrifice her as a virgin to Satan. Meanwhile, Buppa’s henchman Mera (Suzuki), shirtless and muscle-proud, hates Kai (Dais), for the simple reason that the latter has a bigger penis (!) and he tries to lure members of Kai’s tribe, peaceful loving hippies, into his palace, so he can do away with Kai. But the latter unites all the other gangs under his and Sunmi’s leadership and fights a successful battle against Buppa’s men. One of Buppa’s wives accompanies the mayhem singing wonderful Handel arias, but she too is sucked into a giant fan, which does away with the Buppa clan, including Buppa’s son Nkoi, who kept an array of living furniture. A car with chandeliers as headlights and a couple of earthquakes complete the mayhem.

This widescreen spectacle on a giant studio stage starts off as an exhilarating bandwagon but after a while, neither the cast nor he audience is able to sustains this high level maelstrom of activity as outrageous peaks and waves of activity follow each other fast, like breakers on a stormy beach, leaving no pause to contemplation in the permanent frenzy. The inadvertent humour adds to a feeling of a monstrous, but utterly empty production, super-fast food for the boy’s own brigade who have left their brains and their consciousness behind them in the ticket foyer. AS

NOW ON DVD | Blu-ray

 

Home From Home (2013/14) | DVD release

Dir.: Edgar Reitz

Cast: Jan Dieter Schneider, Marita Breuer, Melanie Fouche, Rüdiger Krise, Antonia Bill, Maximilian Scheidt, Philine Lembeck, Christoph Luser

Germany/France 2013/14, 231 min.

Few directors would start their eighth decade shooting a four-hour epic – mainly outside and in harsh weather. But Edgar Reitz cannot let go: HOME FROM HOME is his forth saga about the Hunsrück village of Schabbach. Whilst Heimat I(1984) covered the period between 1944 and 1987, Heimat II (1993) depicted the student uprising of 1968, and Heimat III (2004), dealt with the reunification of the country.

HOME FROM HOME is a prequel, starting in 1842, and dealing, among other upheavals, with another muffed revolution in Germany. Jacob Simon (Schneider) is a dreamer and voracious reader, the teenager is always punished by his authoritarian father Johann (Kriese) for trying to avoid working – apart from a blacksmiths, the Simon family runs a farm. After yet another confrontation, Jacob runs away from Schabbach to live with his sister Lena (Fouche), who is not allowed home since her father, a fervent Protestant, disapproves of Lena’s Catholic husband. But Jacob’s restful period is short, his brother Gustav (Scheidt), just back from his military service, talks him into returning home on account of his mother Margarethe’s (Breuer) ill health. Having met Jettchen (Bill), Jacob is madly in love with her, but brother Gustav gets between the two and marries Jettchen, causing Jacob to run riot against the authorities, ending up in a fortress prison. Jacob, who has studied the languages of the Aztecs – he knows all 22 expressions for their word for ‘green’ – dreams of an emigration to Brazil, and with the help of the engraver Olm (Luser), whom he met in prison, Jacob finally obtains all official papers for the journey. But again, Gustav ruins everything, declaring that he and Jettchen will go to Brazil, leaving Jacob behind, to look after his mother. As a small consolation, Jettchen sleeps with Jacob before she leaves with her husband. Frustrated, Jacob gives up hope any of escape from Schabbach, and marries Florinchen (Lembeck), Jettchen’s best friend.

Gernot Roll’s black and white images of devastating poverty, death and endless epidemics dominate the film. Countless funeral processions and carriages filled with emigrants and their sparse belongings pass over the bridge near the village. Occasionally, certain objects are coloured in: as in a river scene, where Jacob has joined students on a boat, fighting in a pre-March action against Prussia, waiving the red/black/gold coloured banner, before being shot at from the shore by Prussian soldiers.

But Jacob is just a poor relative of Hermann from Heimat I: whilst Herman left Schabbach and became a composer, Jacob is all German introspection, part of a much too folkloristic set-up, where emotions are kept inside, and the self-repression of the individual is seen as praiseworthy. The reconciliation between Jacob and his brother, then later with his father, when Jacob’s stationary steam engine succeeds (whilst Gustav’s had exploded before), both ring false. Reitz, who had set out to fight against the affirmations of existing norms in his earlier Heimat projects, now rather serves traditional values like “Bleibe zuhause und nähre dich redlich“ (stay at home and live in moderation). In spite of its brilliant aesthetic values, including a convincing ensemble cast and imaginative settings by the PD Toni Gerg, who died during the shooting, HOME FROM HOME lacks the distance and analytical prowess of Heimat I. But the dark and gloomy images of a poverty ridden Europe, which was itself a continent of emigrants in the 19th century, are haunting and poetic, and do more than compensate for unwelcomely generous running time and a sometimes tepid approach. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE COURTESY OF CURZON | DVD BLU-RAY

 

 

Out of the Dark (2014) | DVD Release

Director: Lluis Quilez

Cast: Stephen Rea, Pixie Davis, Scott Speedman, Julia Stiles

92min  Horror Supernatural   Spain | US

Why would any sensible family facing a move to South America choose a creepy old colonial ex-hospital as their new home? Well this is the premise of Lluis Quilez’ feature film debut OUT OF THE DARK. The Spanish love this kind of thing but we’ve seen it all before in Amenabar’s The Others and The Orphanage, both more enjoyable than this blend of supernatural horror, now out on DVD.

When arty young couple Sarah (Julia Stiles), Paul (Scott Speedman), and their young daughter Hannah (Pixie Davies), arrive in the steamy Colombian jungle, Stephen Rea is there to welcome them as Sarah’s dad. Rocking a jaunty panama hat and a jilty American accent, Rea plays a paper factory owner who is hoping Sarah will help run his business, while book illustrator Paul plays house husband to Hannah.

Exotic ambient birdsong and colourful fruit and vegetable markets provide a vibrant backcloth to their new life in Santa Clara, but soon a chilly wind blows through their idyll when Hannah starts seeing ghosts of masked children in the nearby woods. This could herald the start of the local ‘Festival of the Saint’s Children’, a jolly tribute to the mass burning alive of the village’s children by the conquistadors 500 years previously.

All the usual horror genre tropes are wheeled in at this point: lightening, bouncing balls, strange throaty whispers, creaky floorboards not to mention trite dialogue (“Ok sweetie, I think we’re both tired, we need to get some rest”) requiring the creative efforts of not one but three screenwriters who manage to interweave corporate skulduggery into the paper thin script. Hannah’s life comes under constant threat from unusual viruses until she is spirited away in the jungle by feral kids.

Meanwhile Stiles and Speedman have no sexual chemistry whatsoever and an underwritten Stephen Rea talks to his daughter as if he was her travel agent with a sketchy but clearly suspect agenda. That said, there are some atmospheric visuals, lush locations and a gratifyingly short running time of 92 minutes. The only mysterious thing about OUT OF THE DARK is why it came to be made? MT

OUT ON DVD FROM 22 JUNE 2015

It Follows (2014) | DVD release

Director|Writer: David Robert Mitchell

Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary, Daniel Zovatto

100min   Horror|Fantasy   US

The backwaters of Detroit, Michigan can be a pretty desolate place in late Autumn – particularly so as pictured in this indie horror outing that will have you screaming in the aisles, and running for cover.

Writer-director David Robert Mitchell’s 2010 debut, The Myth of the American Sleepover, saw the stirrings of adolescence peeping from the shyness of childhood in a group of Illinois teens. Here, he takes the subject into murkier waters where imminent danger scratches the edges of emotional security for a young woman after a sexual encounter turns deadly. Eerie and unsettling, this low-budget weirdity combines the best in horror techniques with an otherworldliness making it uncannily suspenseful for both sexes as a succubus morphs into an incubus, ensuring that no viewer escapes unscathed.

A breakout indie hit at Cannes 2014, IT FOLLOWS became the talking point amongst critics until its much awaited release earlier this year. A gripping slow-burn plotline, sensitively-nuanced performances and ethereal visuals (combined with haunting voyeuristic tracking shots) make this a modern classic of the horror genre, for cineastes and mainstream audiences alike, and marks Mitchell out as a talent to be reckoned with. His skill in counterposing long moments of silence with an atmospheric score by Richard Vreeland further provokes a pavlovian response to the terror.

In a typical US suburban neighbourhood (grass verges, detached houses)  the film opens as a scantily-clad girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), escapes from a house and drives off in a car. Alone on a beach, she makes a tearful phone-call to her father – the kind that precedes imminent disaster. Flash back to a dimly-lit bedroom: Jay is seen provocatively dressing and later leaving a Detroit theatre hand in hand with Hugh (Jake Weary) who she later has car-sex with before disaster strikes. It emerges that a sexually-transmitted supernatural force hexes the post-coital victim with a zombie-like being that pursues them, slowly but vehemently, until it either catches them, or, they pass on the curse to their next lay. Days go by with nothing happening until suddenly the being appears from nowhere, inexorably moving towards us, leaving the victim permanently on ‘red alert’; nerves shredded and mental composure perpetually derailed as they are caught in a stranglehold of morose terror. So effective is this technique, that we are forced perpetually to scan each frame for the emergence of another semi-naked notional nutter on the war path.

Meanwhile, a love triangle plays out between Jay and ‘boy next door’ Greg (Daniel Zovatto) and her long term admirer and school mate Paul (Keir Gilchrist), who both feel so strongly for Jay that they are prepared to sleep with her to rid her from the dreaded curse. Along with the rest of the gang (Kelly and Yara) they gradually empathise with Jay’s fear, although they are unable to see the zombie apparitions. Keeping her company during the wee small hours, they eventually formulate an inventive plan to oppose the forces of evil. And it’s in a ghastly funereal-style public swimming baths, on the seamy side of town, that the nightmarish finale finally unfolds.

Maika Monroe gives a soulfully subdued turn here as Jay: the blood drained from her fresh-faced beauty by angst-ridden watchfulness, she acquires an edgy sexual allure that doesn’t sabotage the central storyline but merely adds subtle texture. The support of the other nearly new-comers feels authentically gloomy and doleful yet never upstages the tone of unremitting anxiety that pervades throughout, occasionally pricked by downright terror. This is a stylish horror outing and one of the best you’ll see this year. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

Germany Pale Mother (Deutschland, Bleiche Mutter) 1980| DVD review

Dir.: Helma Sanders-Brahms; Cast: Eva Matthes, Ernst Jacobi, Elisabeth Stephanek; Germany 1980, 151 min.

Hema Sanders-Brahms, who died aged 73 in May of this year, was not a favourite of film reviewers in Germany. Her often very personal films were attacked for their subjectivity and her aesthetic achievements were often overlooked. But she was much higher regarded abroad, and GERMANY PALE MOTHER was seen as a definitive work on the role of German women during the 40s and 5os.

The film begins in summer 1939, when Lene (Matthes) and Hans (Jacobi) meet near a lake: a German Shephard dog, encouraged by four Nazis, is attacking Lene. Hans, in a boat with his friend, comments: “She didn’t cry, a real German woman.” They marry after a whirlwind romance just before war breaks out. Whilst Lene is the victim of bombings and homelessness, Hans becomes a killer: twice, in Poland and France, he executes partisan look-alikes of his wife (in both cases played by Matthes). Murdering them, he also murders his wife twice over. Their child Anna is born during a bombing raid, but the harshness of the war is less debilitating for Lene (and other German women) than peacetime: the men return home, women have to obey like in pre-war times, old Nazis soon gain prominent positions in society, and Hans becomes a tyrant at home. Lene tries to commit suicide, but her daughter literally calls her back into life.

Sanders-Brahms comments herself in voice-overs, making the film as personal as possible with her statement: “I live exactly like my parents, just in another era”. Brecht’s poem, which he wrote in 1932, just before emigration, is the banner of the film: “They may talk about the guilt of others, I talk about my own”. A truly epic film, with memorable performances and impressive images – a testament to the career of an underrated filmmaker. AS

REVIEWED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014 | NOW ON DVD

The Magnet (1950)

Director: Charles Frend    Writer: T E B Clarke

Cast: James Fox, Kay Welsh, Stephen Murray, James Robertson Justice, Thora Hird, Gladys Henson

79min   Drama   UK

THE MAGNET director Charles Frend was not as synonomous with Ealing Studi0s as its other directors: Charlie Crichton, Alexander Mackendrick and Robert Hamer. After working with British Gaumont and MGM at Elstree, he went on to direct several prestigious classics Scott of the Antarctic and The Cruel Sea. But he was also capable of creating a wonderful English family intimacy in this light-hearted dramady’ which gave James Fox his first starring role, as a boy of 11. It showcases postwar Merseyside and the towns of New Brighton, Wallasey and Liverpool Cathedral, where in a brief glimpse of Neo-realism, Scouse boys (including a young Chinese immigré ) offer a vibrant slice of local colour, rendered through the crisp black and white visuals of Lionel Banes’s cinematography.

James Fox plays Johnny Brent, a lively and imaginative kid who lives in a smart, double-fronted house with his parents, kindly psychiatrist Dr Brent (a smooth Stephen Murray) and elegant housewife Mrs Brent (Kay Walsh who had just divorced David Lean). Off school with Scarlet Fever, Johnny cons a younger boy out of a magnet on the beach. Feeling guilty, he then ends up being accused by the Police of using it to cheat on a pinball machine. But when he meets an iron-lung maker (an early form of life-support machine) who is raising funds for the local hospital, he hands over the magnet as a potential auction prize. In the meantime, Johnny overhears a conversation which leads him to believe the boy he ‘robbed’ has died of a broken-heart and, in his vivid imagination, he becomes convinced that he is guilty of murder. After accidentally absconding in a “Jacob’s Cracker” van (wonderful product placement) he meets some local boys on the other side of the Mersey and ends up rescuing one of them in a satisfying finale to this feel-good ‘boy’s own’ outing. There is also a more serious strand to the story, told through a coming of age twist involving Johnny’s psychiatrist father attempting to analyse his boy’s transformation to a young adult. In an uncredited cameo role, a then Parliamentary candidate and actor, James Robertson Justice, plays a local tramp with cheeky verve.

T E B Clarke (Tibby) wrote the script in between his more successful hits, crime drama, The Blue Lamp (an early example of social realism) and The Lavender Hill Mob, a mainstream comedy success. Nevertheless, THE MAGNET, is a delightful film that deserves to stand out in the Ealing cannon, epitomising a certain discreet charm that was England in the early fifties. MT

OUT ON DVD FROM 19 JUNE COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) | Blu ray release

Director: Albert Lewin

Cast: James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Shim

122 min   Drama   US

Albert Lewin’s PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN is a film that skirts the borderline of kitsch without collapsing into absurdity. A vigorous, high flown, yet emotionally engaging, version of the legend of the 17th century seaman condemned to sail the seas forever, until salvation comes from a woman who will sacrifice her life with him.

In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson describes Pandora as ‘gaudily ridiculous’ and ‘impressive in a romantic, thundery way’. About its visual style he says ‘In such moments as Ava Gardner in her nightie on the edge of a cliff, romantic sensation comes inadvertently near the vision of Delvaux and Ernst.’

Thomson aptly mentions surrealist artists. Yet there is an even more relevant artist homage. When Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) first meets the Dutchman, Hendrik van der zee (James Mason) she discovers that she bears a great likeness to the woman, in the painting he is finishing, who in turn resembles Hendrick’s dead wife: and the painting itself has a Dali / De Chirico appearance – more so when Pandora physically attacks the canvas and Hendrik paints over the damage, creating a strange imprisoned egg-head look to the portrait.

Their romantic Wagnerian tryst is revealed to us earlier on. The lover’s drowned bodies are discovered in their boat, washed up on a Spanish coast circa 1930s. We see a picturesque close shot of entwined hands next to a fishing net and an opened copy of Fitzgerald’s ‘The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam.’ The film’s narrator, Pandora’s friend, Geoffrey Fielding (stiltedly played by Harold Warrender) is introduced. He’s an archaeologist and literary gent prone to quoting poetry. “The measure of love is what you are willing to give up for it” Lines repeated throughout a film that savours its love of poetry and myth.

Director Albert Lewin was an unusually learned man to work for Hollywood. A cultured Harvard graduate with a predilection for quotation. James Mason’s silky toned voice enthrals Ava Gardner whilst reciting Mathew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach.’ And in the period costume flashback scenes Hendrick’s jealously motivated killing of his 17th century wife has the ring of Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess.’

If all this poetry and art makes the film sound pretentious that’s not so. Pandora has abundant romantic passion – greatly aided by the tone of Jack Cardiff’s beautiful Technicolor photography. Concise dramatic music from Alan Rawsthorne. Good performances from Pandora’s other suitors and female rivals. And Ava and James convey a seductive and expressive eroticism. (They’re like characters clashing in a Powell and Pressburger movie.)

‘Watching this film is like entering a strange and wonderful dream’ is what Martin Scorsese declared. If you’re a fan of doomed love stories like Portrait of Jennie or Vertigo then Pandora and The Flying Dutchman will have you sighing with pleasure. To watch the beautiful Ava is to willingly give up everything for this radiant Hollywood star. So dream on in Gardner and Mason’s presence in this superbly restored film, now on Blu-Ray. Alan Price 

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY 

 

Mommy (2014) | dvd blu

10903909_1550750168496369_6539403438326329238_oDirector: Xavier Dolan

Cast: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément, Patrick Huard

139min  Drama  Canadian/French

The prolific outpourings of Canadian wild child Xavier Dolan continue here with a searingly emotional mother/son melodrama that way outstays its welcome at over two hours. MOMMY is a reverse thrust of his debut J’Ai Tué Ma Mère that had the young Dolan at odds with his mother (made when he was only 20). Here it’s Mummy that’s mean and ready to kill but with love as the weapon.

Based on a plotline relating to Canadian Juvenile Law in an imagined near future in Quebec, raunchy single mother – played by regular collaborator Anne Dorval – decides to take her ADHD-suffering teenage son out of the place that was treating him for delinquency. In order to avoid more draconian institutionalisation, she elects to work from home, compromising her cleaning job, to care for him ‘inhouse’. Diane loves her only son Steve with a passion in this gut-wrenching saga that plays out in a series of expletive-ridden exchanges and violent outbursts. Needy and attention-seeking Steve resents her interactions with other males but their lives are changed collectively and individually by two neighbours. The first is Paul, who is sexually attracted to Diane as he tries to help Steve through the complex legal arena. Kyla (Suzanne Clément), the second, is a lonely married mother on sabbatical while she deals with her own emotional issues, and the trio engage in a co-dependent friendship, that is particularly beneficial to Steve, with some unexpected consequences for all concerned.

Filmed in an aspect ratio that makes the screen “portrait” shaped – intended by Dolan to enhance the restricted outlooks of its protagonists – MOMMY feels at times over-intimate and ‘in yer face’ with its close-ups, occasionally making you desperate to gain arms length from its brilliantly visceral yet uncomfortable perspective. At times poignantly funny, this is a chaotic drama and Antoine Olivier Pilon’s turn as Steve is dynamite – if you can take it, this is cinema at its most raw. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES 2014 | OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 MARCH 2015 | NOW ON DVD

 

Birdman (2014) | DVD blu-ray

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., Armando Bo

Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Comedy/Drama, US  119mins

As festivals go, Venice has nailed the opener. After Gravity comes the much hyped Birdman, a breathless, funny, sad, esoteric meta-cinematical work that equals the former’s visual feat, but also an about-turn by director Alejandro González Iñárritu the likes of which has rarely been seen. A return to the limelight comes in Michael Keaton’s great performance as Riggan Thompson, a former star of the superhero Birdman franchise, whose career has faltered into wilderness (comparison to Keaton’s real life are very much intended). He wants to stage a comeback on Broadway to direct and star in his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. But it’s not plain sailing, even for a movie star, as he has to deal with ego-maniacal co-stars, a druggie daughter and disastrous previews. Oh, and he’s haunted by the voice of his Birdman character, and believes he can move things with his mind.

But that doesn’t begin to explain what watching the film is like. Directed to look like one continuous shot alongside Antonio Sánchez’s glorious free jazz score, but set over several weeks (following tricks out of Hitchcock’s Rope, it’s somewhere between the technical mastery of Russian Ark (2002) and the themes and styling of Synecdoche, New York (2008)– but in fact it looks almost like something that’s rarely been seen before. It’s far from Iñárritu’s previous work, which were grim, expansive world-is-connected films, shot with shaky steadycams and quick editing like Amores Perros (2000) and Babel (2006). And what a successful volte-face.

birdman_clip_pulls_051514-LUT.00070587.tif

Much of the thanks should go to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski, whose redefined 3D in Gravity last year to critics who dismissed stereoscopy as dead on arrival, creating long, dazzling steadycam takes. The first shot is a levitating Michael Keaton, and there are some magic moments – Keaton walking through Times Square in his Y-fronts is just one of many highlights. But perhaps the style’s greatest feature is simplicity, how after a big moment – an argument, a fight, for instance – the film doesn’t cut, change scene, but we find out that rarest of things: what happens in those moments next.

The cast are dynamite together with Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zack Galifianakis on top form alongside Emma Stone as Riggan’s dagughter, who delivers a zeitgeisty rant about how Riggan’s play is of little importance in the modern world compared to the 350,000 YouTube visitors that have seen her father in just his underpants. In a way it’s not dissimilar in tone to Truffaut’s Day for Night, also about a dysfunctional troupe of directors and actors. But while that’s about a film set, it struck me how much Birdman is actually one of the great films about the stage, where Broadway’s St James Theatre is as much a character as the players and which reflects the theatre in the film’s very composition – no cuts is, well, like theatre.

It’s also a searing satire of ego-centric thesps, Hollywood and of popular culture, where top actors have been downgraded and are now hired in Hollywood only for superhero flicks (Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner are roll called). But also it credibly shows the foolhardiness of putting faith in dreams and the pitfalls of grand artistic pretensions – a hole into which Iñárritu himself fell in the past. Riggan says he went into acting because Raymond Carver gave him a personal note with a good review as a youngster, but, as we soon discover, it was on a bar napkin, meaning the author was presumably (as he often was) drunk. With the film’s subtitle “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance“, would knowing that have made Riggan more or less happy, more or less willing to plunge into his art? Perhaps ignorance is bliss. ED FRANKL.

BIRDMAN WAS REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. DVD BLU-RAY IS NOW AVAILABLE

 

Too Much Johnson (1938) | Orson Welles Centenary |BLU-RAY

Cast: Joseph Cotton, Virginia Nicholson, Edgar Barrier, Arlene Francis, Mary Wickes

US Silent Comedy

At the 2013 Pordenone Film Festival a remarkable premiere took place. Orson Welles’s second film Too Much Johnson (1938) was finally revealed. A mint copy of this long-considered lost silent comedy displayed the ‘boy wonder’ Orson having cinematic fun with his new toy – the movie camera. Too Much Johnson is a chase movie. Joseph Cotton plays an elusive philanderer being pursued by his rival, in romance, across Manhattan rooftops, a meatpacking market and a Cuban desert.

The film was intended to be screened as an integral part of a Welles Mercury Theatre production of an 1894 stage comedy written by William Gillette. You have to keep this multi media idea in mind and realise that only a very small portion of the film was edited by Welles. What survives is an unfinished 66 minute work print that even to avid fans of Orson Welles does feel, on first viewing, a chore to sit through. True there are delightful pastiches of the Keystone Cops, Harold Lloyd, German expressionism, Harold and early Soviet cinema. Yet this is all un-edited stuff in need of a more dynamic momentum. However a newly-edited, cut down alternative cut (or intelligent guess) lasting 34 minutes has been done by the National Film Preservation Foundation.

This speculative edit of Johnson allows Welles’s fans to have more fun in seeing how much (if any) of a youthful auteur’s signature is here. Citizen Kane did come next, and there are low and quirky camera angles on rooftops (before Welles did his Kane ceiling images), some mischief with the novelty of the automobile and a sophisticated organisation of crowd scenes. These shots look like ideas to be fully realised in The Magnificent Ambersons, The Stranger and The Trial. But any possible Wellesian ‘look’ is still very much grounded in his personal love of the past and early cinema.

Greed,_1924,_19_epilogoThere is an amazing scene involving barrels and hats. This has the flavour of the René Clair silent The Italian Straw Hat. Group compositions combined with deft cutting, where guys scramble for their boater hats and trilbies after chaos amidst rolling barrels, lend a frenetic charm. These moments are matched by Johnson’s later scenes where the hunter and the hunted splash, fully clothed, around a lake near a desert. Here we are pushed into something a little odder, more absurd, even darker, than a knockabout comedy. I wonder if Welles intended some mad comic take on the final scenes of Stroheim’s Greed? (left).

Too Much Johnson is more of a fascinating, re-discovered curiosity than a lost gem.But it’s still wonderful to have it back in circulation. As for the acting, well Joseph Cotton reveals a gift for comedy that was never properly realised in his other films. Both versions of Too Much Johnson are now freely available, from the National Film Preservation Foundation, and can be viewed online. Now, I wonder if the discovery of the lost Magnificent Ambersons footage is just round the corner? Just a cineaste’s improbable hope! AP

CELEBRATING THE CENTENERY OF THE BIRTH OF ORSON WELLES | DVD / BLU| Screened at 2013 Pordenone Silent Film Festival – Cinema del Muto | Courtesy of Mr Bongo Films 

The Stranger (1946) | Orson Welles | Retrospective

IMG_1272Director: Orson Welles  Writers: Anthony Veiller

Cast: Loretta Young, Edward G Robinson, Orson Welles, Richard Long, Philip Merivale, Martha Wentworth

95min   Film Noir   US

Based on Victor Travias’ Oscar nominated original story of the same name, THE STRANGER earned Orson Welles a nomination at the Venice Film Festival, although he claimed it was the least favourite of his films. And it’s not difficult to see why.

The first film after World War II to show actual footage from the concentration camps, this restored classic noir stars Edward G Robinson, Orson Welles and Loretta Young in standout performances, particularly for Edward G. who plays Mr Wilson of the War Crimes Commission, tasked with seeking out Nazi war criminal and architect of the Holocaust, Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). Erasing all evidence of his past, Kindler is now Charles Rankin, a high-school teacher married to the headmaster’s daughter Mary Longstreet – a luminous Loretta Young who is forced to divide her loyalty between respect for her father and love for her husband, a masterful but manipulative Welles.

In order to entrap Kindler, Wilson releases his former comrade Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) from prison and follows him to Connecticut. With the arrival of his ex-Nazi comrade and his wife’s growing suspicion, Kindler knows that his past is catching up with him and will go to any lengths to prevent his identity being revealed. Noirish shadows pravail in this small town setting of decent, law-abiding folk. But Welles centres his thriller on the local church, a beacon of respectability but also a focus of fear. A real gem and Welles’ most successful film at the box office.

IN CELEBRATION OF THE CENTENARY OF ORSON WELLES’ BIRTH, MR BONGO RELEASES A BRAND NEW RESTORED 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF FALSTAFF CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (FROM 1 MAY 2015), AND DVDS OF TOO MUCH JOHNSON, IMMORTAL STORY AND THE STRANGER

Chimes at Midnight (1965) | Orson Welles Centenary

Director: Orson Welles

Writer: Orson Welles | Chronicles of England, Scotlande and Irelande | Raphael Holinshed

Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Marina Vlady, Walter Chiari

113min   Comedy Drama   US

CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT is an amalgam of five Shakespeare plays: Richard II; Henry IV: Parts One and Two; Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. The film’s re-ordering of selected scenes, textual cuts and a shift of narrative emphasis makes for a story more centred on Falstaff. Orson Welles gives a superb performance as Sir. John, the fat man playing an archetypal clown which morphs into a vulnerable fat man playing less of a role and more of his true self. Welles’s acting is never exaggerated and achieves a genuine pathos.

In interviews Welles called CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT  ‘a sombre comedy’. It’s certainly a remarkably disenchanted view of ‘Merrie England.’ Welles’s energetic camerawork orchestrates a kind of fall from paradise. From the early zestful scenes, with Falstaff and Hal in the ale house, their friendship is enacted like a joyful, though manipulative, dance. We move onto a grim battle, and then to some beautifully framed scenes of father/son encounters. King Henry IV’s soliloquy on sleep and Hal’s banishment of Falstaff are elegiac and mournfully lit by photographer Edmond Richard.

This embittered view of history is perfectly realised in what is now regarded as a legendary film battle sequence. I’ve watched this so many times and I always marvel at the editing, dramatic rhythm and sensual texture. Not only do we witness the savagery of war but the deaths of its beasts (how many film battle scenes show close shots of horses penetrated by arrows?). Throughout the mayhem the huge figure of Falstaff (half clad in his imprisoning armour) struts and waves his sword. This is a brilliant part-comic touch of Welles. Both Orson as director and his Falstaff creation are detached spectators, yet ultimately complicit in the staging of a futile fight, as corpse upon corpse piles up in the muddy field.

After such powerful spectacle, Welles delivers an intimate coda. King Henry (John Gielgud), Prince Hal (Keith Baxter) and Falstaff speak of the real but hollow victory they’ve achieved. Their angry, funny and bitter comments followed by silent and expressive close-ups, convey much about duty, honour, rivalry, ambition and filial love. Welles’s casting is near-perfect. Everyone responds in a tremendously engaged way.

In his early films Welles brought a Shakespearean grandeur to his tragically flawed heroes. Yet sometimes they growled, and anguished, with too much self-conscious rhetoric; not so much losing the plot but our full attention and sympathy. But his Falstaff is the most human and touching of Welles’s creations. With nothing to prove, he simply tries to be a good child-like man.

Welles has made some great films: Citizen Kane, the first half of The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil and Othello, yet you can argue that sometimes their visual magnificence can be a little distracting. He was undoubtedly a master director, but perhaps rarely let go enough to show that he cared. The relaxation of Welles’s egotistical energy into a project that allowed him a profound classical simplicity, is fully apparent in his masterpiece CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT. Alan Price.

THIS 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION IS ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 1 MAY 2015  MARKING THE CENTENARY OF ORSON WELLES | BFI celebrates a season of his films during July and August including MAGICIAN: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (2014)

The Theory of Everything (2015) | Oscar Best Actor | DVD blu

Director: James Marsh     Writers: Anthony McCarten & Jane Hawking

Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, Simon Chandler

123mins  British  Biopic Romance

The challenge every biopic faces is how to generate emotion and a sense of drama into the story of a household name; someone we may feel we know everything about, or even a personality who holds little interest for us. The well-known scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, is a case in point.  Despite his terrible affliction of motor neurone disease, his is not a character whose life inspires particular fascination for people who find science and physics of little interest. Strangely despite these two key elements, James Marsh’s film THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is one of the most affecting and inspirational biopics I’ve seen in a long time.

The ultimate success of THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING has universal appeal: It is a story about fighting the pain of physical illness made considerably more appealing by the power and poignancy of the enduring love story at its core. Stephen Hawking is a undoubtedly a brilliant man but without the love and stoical support of his engaging first wife Jane (Felicity Jones), he may never have reached the pinnacle of his profession.

The two first meet in the heady days of Cambridge University in 1963, where Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is studying for a PhD in physics, while Jane (Felicity Jones) is pursuing medieval poetry. Almost as soon as they’ve starting dating, Hawking makes the grim and dramatic discovery (after a painful fall) that he’s suffering from motor neurone disease and faces gradual paralysis with only a few years to live. For the next 30 years, until their split in 1995, Jane dedicates her life and strength entirely to his career while bringing up their three children – fortunately Motor Neurone only affects certain muscle groups.

This is very much Eddie Redmayne’s film and he absolutely brilliant in his portrayal of Hawking: a career-defining role that sets him on the same level as Daniel Day Lewis in MY LEFT FOOT. He literally ‘becomes’ the Professor, and his extensive physical and speech training has certainly paid off to evoke a portrait that balances suffering, geeky charm and chipperness in equal measure. It also exudes an emotional intelligence, rare in many scientists, and in the end we completely forget that he is acting.

Anthony McCarten’s script, adapted from Jane’s memoir, “Travelling to Infinity”, very much epitomises English restraint in its discretion and clearly follows the “Never explain, Never Complain” maxim, a quintessential tenet of Englishness. Although there are no shouting matches or extreme displays of anger, it is made potently clear from the dynamite performances of elegant restraint from Jones and Redmayne that raw emotion is aching from every single sinew of their bodies. And although they never ever allow themselves to descend into vulgar slanging matches or crass behaviour of any description somehow this very much adds to rather than subtracts from the drama; I found myself weeping quietly throughout. It is entirely possible, as we have seen from many examples, that people can suffer extreme mental anguish and physical torture and still manage to keep it ‘buttoned up’ and it’s testament to Jane Hawking’s rare restraint that this is very much the case here.

When Jane meets Jonathan (Charlie Cox), a widowed church choir leader, her sexual desires are awakened as she becomes aware of the extreme sacrifices she has made for her own emotional well-being and while she still clearly loves Stephen, as he does her, the toll of their long and arduous battle finally becomes evident as they gradually drift apart emotionally and physically, despite the birth of a third child. This is an emotional epiphany that can often only be experienced when a couple has struggled for a long time against adversity – and it is not borne out of selfish sudden desire to cheat or stray but a dawning realisation that the entire being hungers for satisfaction on a different level, despite the continuing existence of enduring love. And as Jane and Jonathan grow close – platonically, at first – it becomes apparent that their feelings for one another are moving in a direction that eventually neither can deny.

Jonathan, a ‘confirmed Christian’, brings his true Christianity to bear in a part which shows selfless service to this needy couple as loneliness and desires of the flesh start to overwhelm him and also the realisation that spiritually this is a time to move on, offers a fascinating dynamic between the three characters as they continue to ‘bash on’.  Cox here gives a subtlety nuanced turn as the Man of God severely put to the test and Jones’s role as a decent woman who’s physical and intellectual needs have been neglected for too long. At this point the flirty comforts of Maxine Peake’s carer Elaine Mason enters their lives, she is eventually to become wife number two.

Eddie Redmayne performance is certainly Oscar material here. He started out in LIKE MINDS (2006) but came to fame in Tom Kalin’s SAVAGE GRACE. Apart from the performances from a superb British cast, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING is wonderful to watch, transporting us back to the dreamy spires of Cambridge, the gentleness of the English countryside, to values that are sometimes now seen as unfashionable and to the memories of when British Rail actually served a decent cup of coffee – with cream. MT

Eddie Redmayne won Best Actor in the 87th Academy Awards | ON DVD Bluray

Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) | DVD | BLU

FAR_FROM_THE_MADDING_CROWD_2 copyDir.: John Schlesinger

Cast: Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, Prunella Ransome

UK 1967, 168 min.

Whilst the novel was the first great success for its author Thomas Hardy in 1874, John Schlesinger’s 1967 screen version of this forlorn Victoria love story was one of the last in a run of  English ‘independent’ films after A KIND OF LOVING, BILLY LIAR and DARLING in this sixties, signalling the emergence of his great talent. After SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY (1971), Schlesinger would, for the rest of his career until his death in 2003, create films with big names and mega budgets – MARATHON MAN and PACIFIC HEIGHTS. Rather like Anthony Hopkins, he sold out to Hollywood.

Adapted by Frederic Raphel for the screen, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD sticks closely to the original, heightened by Richard Rodney Bennett’s atmospheric score and brought to life by Nicholas Roeg’s innovative camera, gliding over the wild fields and desolate beaches (Durdle Door), then intimately catching the main protagonists in passionate close-ups. Hardy had taken the title of his novel from the first line of the 1757 poem by Thomas Gray “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”: “Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife’ (today we could substitute ‘frenzied’ for ‘madding’), and Schlesinger’s film translates the passion and tragedy of one woman and three men fascinated by her beauty, and later wealth, played out in remote emotional distance from the surrounding farm and townsfolk. Whilst certain undertones of Hardy’s TESS and JUDE are evident, here our heroine also gets away with some immaturity and pride, but others suffer the same fates as Tess and Jude would later.

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In Hardy’s beloved Dorset, or specifically Wessex country, we first see our heroine Bathsheba Everdene (Christie) riding on a horse down to the beach, greeting the shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates in fine form), who soon holds out for her hand. Rejected as being beneath her, even though she likes him, Gabriel nevertheless stays arounf after she inherits her uncle’s farm. Although Gabriel works hard to offer his expertise in farming, he must watch helplessly as the rich landowner William Boldwood (a regal Peter Finch), many years her senior, makes a play for Bathsheba after receiving her Valentine card, sent on a childish whim. She is not particularly taken by the crusty bachelor but thinks it the right thing to do. But her heart is not convinced and, after lighting the flames of his ardour, she tries desperately to put off an engagement. And when Boldwood thinks that his time has finally come, Bathsheba meets the young and dashing Sergeant Francis Troy (a dashing Terence Stamp), and is completely smitten. After their marriage (Gabriel had warned his mistress that she would be better off with Boldwood), Bathsheba finds out that Francis is an empty vessel: a gambler, a man’s man, and, on top of it all, is still in love with his former fiancée Fanny Robin (Ransome), who, it emerges, is carrying his child. Bathsheba discovers his secret after Fanny dies in childbirth, but Francis declares that Fanny will always mean much more to him than his wife and tries to drown himself in the sea. Years later, Boldwood has another crack at winning Bathseba’s hand with a lavish party during which he attempts to announce their ‘engagement’. Francis makes a grand entrance ‘from the dead’ (after briefly emerging as a circus clown, watched unrecognised by Bathsheba and Boldwood), Boldwood shoots him in cold blood and events take their natural course.

Class and gender are the demarcation lines which initially keep Bathsheba and Gabriel apart for so long. Women are strictly second class in Hardy’s era, even wealthy ones. Bathsheba is belittled and marginalised by the farmers of the small town. Hardy’s doltish farm workers are captured as little more than poor zombies, destined for poverty as they approach old age. This near-feudal set-up leaves little room for passion in anyone but the male of the species endowed with power, status or money, like Troy and Boldwood. Bathsheba and her three suitors play out fascinating duels of passion, each of the men eliciting different emotional responses from their object of desire: the steady Gabriel, affectionate and steadfast; the ego-driven, empty façade of the exploititive Troy and the ageing but gentlemanly Boldwood, out of touch with his feelings; lonely and ready to be a doormat for a young and desirable bride. A vibrant Julie Christie evokes a portrait of wilful capriciousness, tempered with charisma, playing all the men against the wall – a queen amongst emotional dwarfs. She carries the film, in giving in wisely at the end, to the only man almost worthy of herself. AS/MT

BLU/DVD FROM 1 JUNE 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL AS PART OF THEIR VINTAGE CLASSICS COLLECTION, FULLY RESTORED AND FEATURING BRAND NEW EXTRA SCENES, AND A CORRECTED ASPECT RATIO SUPERVISED BY CINEMATOGRAPHER NICOLAS ROEG

 

 

Me, Myself and Mum (2013) | DVD release

ME, MYSELF AND MUM (LES GARCONS ET GUILLAUME, A TABLE!)

Dir.: Guillaume Gallienne;

Cast: Guillaume Galliene, Andre Marcon, Francoise Fabian, Diane Krueger

France 2013, 85 min.

The directional debut of actor Guillaume Galliene is a disappointing farce, treating the rather delicate issue of gender role confusion as a vehicle for a non-stop over-the-top romp of cheap laughs.

Young Guillaume (Galliene, who also plays his mother) grows up with his middle class parents and two loud and sporty brothers in Paris. His mother has withdrawn from life, usually reclining reading on her bed in daytime. Guillaume is not very fond of his brothers, which is hardly surprising, considering their boorish behaviour. He starts identifying with his mother and other women, copying them in movements and dress code. His father (Marcon) tries helplessly to stir his youngest into a more male role, alienating him even more in the process. Being sent to boarding schools in France and England does not help Guillaume’s estrangement from his own gender and after some unsuccessful pick ups in gays bars, Guillaume falls in love with the beautiful Amandine, marrying her and writing a play, in which he tells his life story.

Galliene , co-writing the script, leaves no cliché out: in a German spa-town Guillaume is getting an enema from a butch nurse, whilst the muscular masseur hurts his back. The director treats military boards and countless analysts Guillaume visits, with equally superficial jokes, the same goes his for clumsy descriptions of life in Spain and England. He succeeds in making fun of everybody in the worst possible taste, even making a mockery out of gay Arab men.

It is sad to see a contemporary director treating a serious issue in this way, denouncing everyone’s sensibilities (including  that of his own mother) to create a tawdry sit-com. AS

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

Wild Tales (2014) | Relatos Salvajes | Bfi Player

Argentinian film-maker Damián Szifrón’s latest film was also his big hope for the Foreign Languages Oscars in 2015. He didn’t win but WILD TALES is worth watching: a collection of wacky and wonderful stories from contemporary Argentina: a country richly suffused with the feisty Latin temperament of its Spanish forebears and public services that would make even Franz Kafka proud. Exploring a series of nightmarish scenarios and characters on the verge of a nervous breakdown (Almodovar is co-producer), but WILD TALES could be set in any modern European capital making it a drama of universal appeal.

On a plane, a fashion model finds she is next to her nemesis leading to mile-high mayhem; a cook uses her culinary expertees to help her boss avenge an unpleasant diner; a macho driver gets more than he bargained for on a mountain journey, a demolition man (Ricardo Darin) brings the house down over a ill-judged parking ticket; a rich industrialist tries to cover up his son’s mistake and, finally, a Jewish wedding ends in a showcase showdown after the bride pits her wits against her unfaithful groom.

In scenes of spectacular violence, outlandish revenge and powerful poignance the portmanteau fiom travels the length and breadth of the country from the heart of Buenos Aires to the magnificent mountainsides and pampas, Szifrón uses dark humour and subtle gravitas to expose his fellow compatriots’ proud self-belief and unswerving inner-strength: a scene between a bride and a random waiter on a hotel roof-top is almost magical. Performances are gutsy and heartfelt from the ensemble Argentinian cast, WILD TALES offers world class entertainment worthy of any Oscar ceremony. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

 

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) | Bfi Player

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Dir/Writer: Peter Strickland| Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Chiara D’Ana, Monica Swinn, Eugenia Caruso | 104min UK Drama

Fusing European arthouse with English sensibilities; Peter Strickland is a unique voice. His debut Katalin Varga was a folkloric revenge drama set in Hungary; Berberian Sound Studio, a giallo-style thriller with touches of dark humour, followed. The Duke of Burgundy is a psychosexual art house curio that continues to explore and deepen his fascination with sound and texture echoing the seventies soft porn of Emmanuelle with Walerian Borocywck’s twisted humour.

The Duke has nothing to do with the aristocracy or indeed France yet  Strickland adds finesse to a story that explores the erotic intricacies of sexual powerplay between two lesbian lepidopterists in a fairytale seventies setting somewhere in Hungary. Very much a love story, it focuses on BDSM. Cleverly there is no nudity, leather or whips: the love scenes are emotional and tender.

Sidse Babett Knudsen gives a performance of considerable allure as Cynthia, the dominant sexual partner of Evelyn her submissive lover and assistant archivist cum housekeeper, gracefully played by Chiara D’Anna. Essentially a two-hander, this is a female-centric story with occasional glimpses of ‘The Institute’ where sexual frissons waft between the beautifully-dressed women scientists attending and giving sober lectures on the arcane subject of moths and butterflies.

At first it seems the draconian Cynthia is in control in her palatial mansion deep in the countryside: Each day as Evelyn arrives for work, the pair fall into a ritual which gradually leads to the bedroom and some rather fetching lingerie designed by the aptly-named, Andrea Flesch. Forcing the bird-like Evelyn to handwash her underwear in iridescent soft-focus suds (mild green Fairy Liquid never looked so appealing) and subjecting her to ‘golden showers’ (behind closed doors) at her own behest.

But after Cynthia injures her back moving the Evelyn’s birthday present (an ornate coffin where she is confined nightly at her own volition), it emerges that the servant is in fact the master – Evelyn may wash the pants but actually wears the trousers in a relationship that both universal and unusual. Paradoxically, Evelyn’s masochism is very much on her own terms: her constant need to be emotionally abused is the overriding element that puts her firmly in control in a relationship where one partner is gradually worn down in order to satisfy the sexual predilections of the other. The powerplay that ensues between the couple is subtle and convincing and leads to a languorous denouement.

Anyone who has experienced performance fatigue will find this drama particularly poignant. Annointed with touches of wry humour and DoP Nicholas Knowland’s  intoxicating visual images of insects in flight and atmospheric landscapes, this is an evocative and sensual drama from one of England’s most inventive and insightful contemporary filmmakers. MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER 

The Punk Syndrome (2012) | VOD Release |

Directors/Script:Jukka Karkkainen, J-P Passi

Cast: Pertti Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Toni Valitalo

Finland   2012             85mins         Music Doc

A truly one-off music documentary about unlikely Finnish Punk sensation, ‘Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day’; a band made up of two obsessive Down’s Syndrome sufferers and a mentally disabled lead singer with rage issues. You just couldn’t write it. No, you wouldn’t be allowed to write it. But then, isn’t punk all about throwing ‘PC’ out the window?

THE PUNK SYNDROME is an at once a joyful and poignant study following the band’s rise and their trials and tribulations, without the smooth PR one might normally bounce off when trying to document a band both at home and on tour. What thus follows is an extraordinarily candid insight, not only into the band, but also into what it is to live an institutionalised life on the margins of society and how blurred that line can indeed be with the rest of us.

The documentary has already played at Tampere, Visions Du Reel, Helsinki IFF- Love and Anarchy where it won Special Prize Visions Du Reel and Best Film/Films On Art Competition New Horizons IFF.  What makes it work so well is unflinching access straight through to the humanity of the players; four men who recognise that their lives really aren’t that great, but who manage to negotiate their own selves and vent the vast majority of their frustrations through their music.

It is noticeable at some of the various gigs that the audiences start out thinking they’re perhaps going to witness the performing equivalent of a train wreck, but in the end are simply won over by the heart, brutal honesty, energy and pretty funny lyrics that come out of these four committed musicians, through some enthusiastically thrashed out titles such as ‘Speech Defect’, ‘ADHD’ and ‘Decision Makers Are Cheaters’.

As the guitarist and songwriter Pertti says, ‘This isn’t about honour, this is about punk’. THE PUNK SYNDROME has some brilliant laugh out loud moments, but one cannot also but be genuinely moved by the plight and frustrations of these guys who, despite the way their lives are stacked, remain resolute in raging against the machine. And I can promise you, you’ll never look at pedicurists in the same way again. Pure Gold. Ian Dury would be proud. AR

http://kovasikajuttu.fi/

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Becoming Traviata (2013) |BBC Musical Awards Winner 2015

Director  Philippe Beziat

Cast: Nathalie Dessay, Jean-Francois Sivadier, Charles Castonovo, Louis Langree

108min      French/English/Italian  Music Documentary

In one of the memorable documentary highlights of 66th Festival. Philippe Béziat’s BECOMING TRAVIATA follows soprano diva Nathalie Dessay, as Violetta, through rehearsals for a new production of ‘La Traviata’ in a dreamy Provençal outdoor setting and asks: does emotion in opera come from singing, acting or music?

Opera is the perfect mix of theatre and music. BECOMING TRAVIATA offers an electrifying ‘fly on the wall’ take of key dramatic moments of Nathalie Dessay’s working relationship with her teacher, opera director, Jean-Francois Sivadier,  as they piece together their often unspoken and artistic ideas to create the perfect interpretation of Verdi’s romantic operatic tragedy.

Béziat is known for his forays into the world of musical documentaries and his talent at creating a work of art from a work of art is quite ingenious and special. I found his film so breathtaking and uplifting, it actually made me want to burst into song during the screening. The chemistry between leads Dessay and Charles Castronovo is so authentic and heartfelt that we really believe their sexual and emotional bond: their responsiveness to one another; the tenderness of touch; the sensual vibrations they evoke as a couple ‘in love’ are really extraordinary to behold and totally entrancing.

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Opera director Jean-Francois Sivadier’s guidance is full of exhuberance and subtlety as he reworks and gesticulates with Dessay and Castronovo, often in total silence, enhancing and accentuating the magical alchemy of movement and expression that leads to perfection.  Béziat catches the myriad expressions and mercurial thoughts that flash over Sivadier’s face like quicksilver – Dessay reflects these immediately in her gestures and emotions, as together they build a soaring performance ringing every last drop of joy, passion, pain and heartache out of the tragedy of love and loss, that is ‘Traviata’.

Louis Langrée’s masterful direction of the London Symphony Orchestral accompaniment is ebullient, relaxed and easy.  It’s so inspiring to watch these strikingly talented professionals at the top of their game, honing their skills and yet somehow making it all look so easy. Béziat decides not to show us the final production but by the end, we have witnessed every single thought, reflection, and nuance of emotion required in the creative process and feel an integral part of this soaring production. MT

AVAILABLE AT AXIOM FILM SHOPS

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Nymphomaniac (2013/4) Volumes I & II Bfi player

Dir/Wri: Lars von Trier | Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellen Skarsgard, Uma Thurman, Shia LeBoeuf, Christian Slater, Stacy Martin, Connie Nielsen, Sophie Kennedy, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe Denmark, Drama   122mins  Tagline “Forget About Love”

Lars von Trier loves to spark controversy and the final chapter of his trilogy that began with Antrichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011), continues to do just that. You are unlikely to feel indifferent to the film, but not in the way you might imagine. Screening in two ‘volumes’ due to its running time of nearly four hours (each part has explicit dumbed-down versions); the first opened in European cinemas appropriately on Christmas Day but now both parts available on iplayer.

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Regular collaborators Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellen Skarsgard make ideal leads in this poetically unhinged saga that chronicles the life of Joe (Gainsbourg), a self-diagnosed ‘nymphomaniac,’ from birth to the age of fifty. As Gainsbourg is now fifty, Joe is played as a girl by the then newcomer Stacey Martin. But the film actually opens with Gainsbourg’s Joe, who we first meet on a cold winter’s night, beaten up in an alleyway.  Refusing both ambulance and Police assistance, she accepts an invitation to go home with Skarsgard’s chilled-out, kindly Jewish batchelor Seligman, who is more than delighted to offer her the spare room (with rising-damp); a pair of his jimjams and a bowl of dishwater tea in return for the riveting revelations of her sex life so far.  But before launching into her erotic confessions, Joe appears philosophical and resigned: “I’m just a bad human being”.  What then follows is a masterclass ‘par excellence’ in von Trier’s inimitable style raccounting Joe’s sexual exploits.

Nymphomaniac is immersive, provocative and radical but never titillating, despite the hardcore premise, possibly because neither narrator nor listener feels the slightest bit turned on in performances that could be described as morose, in the best possible way.  von Trier has made an engaging intellectual drama with a flip-side of light-hearted levity: is it deep and meaningful, or just a puerile prank?. Never taking itself too seriously, the film appeals to the ‘naughty boy’ in men and the sensual imagination of women – offering up the ultimate universal debate open to multiple interpretations.

During the candid revelations, Joe and Seligman gradually bond but each retain exclusive agendas, seemingly oblivious to the erotic possibilities of Joe’s dialogue. Seligman likens Joe’s exploits in male seduction to the behaviour of fresh-water fish, drawn from his fascination for fly-fishing, and later cleverly compares her need for multifarious lovers to Bach’s three-tone ‘Polyphony’.  Joe admits that her sexual conquests started as a facile competition with her teenage friend (Sophie Kennedy) to notch up the most lays – a game played with the rather childish aim of winning a bag of chocolates. Here as the young Joe, Stacy Martin gives a chilling performance conjuring up Francois Ozon’s teenager ‘Isabelle’ in Jeune et Jolie: cold, calculating and confident with a scintilla of vulnerability (as she loses her unwanted virginity mechanically to Shia le Boeuf’s Jerome at the age of fifteen);  and Michael Fassbender’s Brandon in Shame – a psychopath who gorges on unlimited sex to quell his feeling of emptiness. Similarly Joe admits to using sex to stave off the “loneliness that is my constant companion”.

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In Gainsbourg’s voiceover narration we learn that Joe is a ‘daddy’s girl’ – and the daddy is convincingly played by Christian Slater as an emotionally intelligent doctor who inculcates in his daughter a love of nature and particularly of trees, from an early age. After a spell as a low level secretary to accommodate her busy schedule of night-time lovers,  we see them come and go in strict rotation as she ‘treats them mean to keep them keen’.

There are gruesome episodes featuring Uma Thurman’s jilted wife (unconvincing) and Joe’s father who is admitted to a hospital likened – by von Trier – to the house of Usher. Eventually Joe loses track  of her libidinous experiences, seen in a hilarious sequence of photos of circumcised and uncircumcised flaccid penises.  Her teenage exploits are a bid to separate sex from love and she never appears remotely moved by her conquests beyond the bounds of pure animalistic satisfaction, gorging on coitus with any available stranger during moments of extreme stress: at one point we see her straddling a stranger in the hospital basement, as light relief from waiting vigil at her father’s deathbed.

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Stellan Skarsgard’s Seligman resembles a sexual voyeur couched in bookish intellectualism; never giving the impression he is the slightest bit excited by the revelations. Joe, for her part, deflects any sexual overtures by presenting herself as dour, and troubled by the uninvolving experiences with her many lovers.  She does become obsessed with Jerome, her long-term sexual interest. Shia LeBoeuf, although looking the part, fails in his portrayal of a convincing object of her sexual obsession. Struggling with a strange almost South African accent, he emerges as an effete and ineffectual partner. Connie Nielsen evinces a vapid portrait of Joe’s self-absorbed and emotionally-distant mother.

Despite the gently ribald humour there is a delicate melancholic quality to Manuel Alberto Claro’s cinematography that manages to match the sobriety of the drama making it feel very much part of the ‘Melancholia trilogy’ and the musical interludes are atmospheric and complementary.  So Nymphomaniac (Volume I) manages to be provocative, subversive and strangely moving – but what else would you expect from the Danish die-hard? Volume II moves from the seventies to the present day and the flight of tongue-in-cheek surreality -continues with Jamie Bell as a sadist.

At the Berlinale premiere in 2013 Lars was jubilant, playful even; knowing that whatever he said or taken seriously – he doesn’t care either way. Nymphomaniac is like going to bed with a beautiful stranger: highly-charged, unpredictable, dangerous even but always fun and exciting. Make of it what you will but enjoy the experience. MT

NYMPHOMANIAC VOLUMES 1 & II | NOW ON BFI PLAYER | NYMPHOMANIAC: DIRECTOR’S CUT (Volumes I and II) is on DVD & BLu Ray with 90 minutes of previously unseen material courtesy of CURZON FILM WORLD. A total running time of 325 minutes

 

Dior and I (2014) | London Fashion Week

Director: Frédéric Tcheng | France, Biopic 99′

In early black and white news footage of Christian Dior and his creations, shown in the opening sequence of Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary the designer comes across as a timid, elegant, family-loving man who “hated noise”. But this is all we really discover about a legendary icon who founded the House of Dior in 1946, only to work there for 10 years. Tcheng then shows how the brand still lives on with its clear and powerful mission to create ultra feminine designs.

In the contemporary Paris atélier we meet Raf Simons (ex Gil Sander) the new creative director and a minimalist who started life as an industrial designer, and who is now set to take over the house, attempting to modernise the haute couture side while also staying faithful to the Christian Dior ethos. He has just 8 weeks to prepare for the premiere launch.

As Raf steps up to the grand stage, it is hoped he will embrace this feminine image with all its embellishments while taking it into the 21st century. Tcheng intercuts his documentary with frequent news footage of the Dior’s early years, showing how he created the “New Look” celebrating the end of rationing to create a full-skirted female silhouette as couture took on a more womanly and floaty profile in the post war fifties’ return to voluptuousness after the austere, masculine, structured look of the forties.

We see how Raf Simons works quickly and formally to create his vision for a new dynamic woman, producing 12 looks that are then taken up by each of the seamstresses, who each chose their favourite design and then get to work on the launch. This is a stressful, pressurised time, running to deadlines and balancing creativity with practicality: but the house has ample finances to draw on thanks to its ownership by Bernard Arnault (billionaire Chairman of LVMH).

Raf Simons feels an increasing empathy with the late designer: reading his memoirs and even visiting his childhood home for inspiration. Dior and I works best when focusing on this theme of creativity and the essence of fashion genius, giving valuable insight. Sadly this fascination fades as Tcheng draws his focus towards the hurly burly of the premiere and to pleasing Dior’s illustrious clientale and members of the Press. This is a process we’ve seems many times before in his recent Diana Vreeland and Valentino outings, and the Carine Roitfeld documentary Mademoiselle C in 2014. Although Simons appears confident and in control during the design process, he quails away from Press interviews and claims he ‘would faint’ if required to walk down the catwalk.

While starting promisingly Dior and I descends into a clichéd affair of air-kissing celebrity. Insight into the conflicts, personal dynamics and professional relationships are buried under a deluge of tears, Champagne and roses once the premiere is underway and Tcheng draws the focus away from the more engaging topic of Simons’ creative strategy and the real Mr Christian Dior, who sadly remains an enigmatic character. That said, this is an upbeat, well-paced and compelling introduction to the elegant and sophisticated House of Dior.  John Galliano is nowhere to be seen. MT

| DIOR AND I on DVD courtesy of Dogwoof Films | Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival 2014

 

 

Kon-Tiki (2012) | On DVD Blu

Dir.: Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Cast: Pal Sverre Hagen, Anders Baasmo Christensen, Agnes Kittelsen;

UK/Norway/Denmark/Germany/Sweden 2012, 118 min.

IMG_0667In 1947 Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) sailed with his crew of five on a self-build raft nearly 5000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Peru to the Polynesian Islands. The reason for this epic voyage that took 101 days is uncertain, as the South Americans had already proved that the journey was possible fifteen hundred years previously.

The first twenty minutes of the film are the most interesting telling us something about Heyerdahl (Hagen) and his relationship with his first wife Liv (Kittelsen), who divorced the explorer after his return, bringing up their two sons. During the journey we are treated to the usual spectacle of impressive male heroism, even though they manage to loose the ship’s parrot to a shark.

Kontiki 5KON TIKI is largely a hagiography, leaving no room for any critical reflections about what was really achieved by this mission that portrays Heyerdahl as a cross between a Nordic God and a spiritual leader – but in reality only showing a man with a terrible lack of imagination and not much care for his family: the prototype of the semi-autistic warrior of his time.

Performances fail to excel on any level: the men hamming their way through the proceedings, with only Kittelsen standing out from the ensemble cast with a turn of nuanced subtlety. However, Kon-tiki is visually impressive with Geir Harly Andreassen’s camera occasionally struggling with the restricted location and soon running out of variations on the sumptuous seascapes. Overall KON TIKI is aesthetically and contents-wise a throwback to the early Fifties, showing male physical dominance in a very clumsy way, making the audience of today occasionally cringe with embarrassment. If you’re looking for a straightforward sea sortie KON TIKI is as solid and well-made as Heyerdahl’s raft, offering some bumpy moments before becalming you into a gentle slumber. AS

KON-TIKI WAS NORWAY’S OFFICIAL SUBMISSION TO THE 85TH ACADEMY AWARDS 

KON-TIKI, is out on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on 13 April.

Night Will Fall (2014) |

Dir.: Andre Singer

Documentary; UK/Germany/France/Israel/Denmark 2014, 75 min.

When the Allies liberated the concentration camps during the last phase of WWII, they literally did not believe their eyes: the horror they discovered was too much to take in; particularly and especially for the fighting soldiers. When Richard Dimbleby’s onsite report from the liberated camp at Bergen-Belsen was broadcasted in April 1945 on the radio to traumatic responses, Sidney Bernstein, Chief of the Film Section at the the Supreme HQ Allied Forces, commissioned British cameramen to film the liberation of the camps in the British Occupation Zone of Germany. Together with material from American and Soviet cameramen filming the liberation of camps in their zones (and Poland in the case of the Soviet liberators), it would form the basis for “German Concentration Camps Factual Service”, a first hand report on the atrocities of the Nazi regime – documenting not only the guilt of the camp personal, but the residents in the neighbourhood of the camps.

NIGHT WILL FALL is the story of how this unique documentary was never finished; never mind shown – apart from a one-off shortened version at the Berlinale in 1984 and a subsequent TV broadcast in the US. Excerpts from the original documentary material are harrowingly graphic and make extremely unpleasant viewing. Painful to watch are the mountains of corpses, starved to death, de-humanised, like the few survivors, who were surprised to be liberated “because we were meant to die”. The camp guards, surprisingly many women among them, had to help bury their victims, while remaining cool and detached as when they were in charge of the death machine.

Bernstein asked his friend Alfred Hitchcock to advise on the treatment. And he, like others before him, wanted to make sure that the documentary showed proof that the Germans would deny such a monstrous crime, which even today seems unthinkable. One way was to make the German residents of the nearby towns and villages visit the liberated camps, showing them the thousands of victims. Many of them had profited from the forced labour offered by of the camps, which was cheap and left the victims open to mistreatment on a wide scale. But this human workforce provided by the concentration wasn’t the only economic strategy of the Third Reich: All the belongings of the victims, amongst them hundreds of sacks containing human hair were found in Bergen Belsen along with toys belonging to the murdered children, dental equipment – nothing went to waste. As one commentator said: In twelve years the Germans dragged humankind 12 000 years back.

In the summer of 1945 the British government lost interest in the project to the piece together the original documentary film. There was a desultory memo talking about “the need for the Germans to wake up from their apathy and engage in the rebuilding of their country.” But the topic eventually drifted to the back-burner. Billy Wilder directed a short, 22 minute (German) version of the material, shown as Death Mills in 1945. Nearly seventy years after the project was shelved, the fully restored version of “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey” will be shown this autumn, thanks to the team of The Imperial War Museum. Sobering stuff indeed. AS

25th April – NIGHT WILL FALL + Director Q&A
26th April – GERMAN CONCENTRATION CAMPS FACTUAL SURVEY + Q&A
Screening across Saturday and Sunday is Andre Singer’s beautiful latest doc Night Will Fall and Sidney Bernstein’s recently restored German Concentration Camps Factual Survey at Bertha DocHouse screen. Both films will be followed by Q&As.
Bertha DocHouse / £9 (£7 concessions)
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Still Life (2013) | DVD release

Director/Writer: Uberto Pasolini

Cast: Eddie Marsan, Joanne Froggatt, Karen Dury, Andrew Buchan

92min  Drama

Uberto Pasolini’s expertly-crafted and affecting look at one man’s life is nothing short of a mini masterpiece. After screening at Venice back in 2013, it has finally arrived in British cinemas and has been very much worth waiting for.

The main reason to see it is for Eddie Marsan’s performance as John May, a 44-year-old South London civil servant, whose job is to trace the next of kin of those who die unnoticed by their friends and family. Some would consider this a morbid profession, but such is the dedication and touching commitment of Mr May to his work, that to watch him go about his daily duty becomes absorbing and almost enjoyable, in itself.

A seasoned professional with over 100 films to his name, Eddie Marsan, has made his performances here into a work of art: every subtle detail; every expression; tilt of the head; sigh and quiet smile is a subtle and yet integral to the part of Mr May.  His integrity and pride he takes in the gloomy tasks is transformed into a thing thing of joy. That everyone deserves a decent burial, goes without saying, but Mr May adds dignity to theirs lives, if only in death, by attending the funerals of the deceased, sometimes as the only mourner.

And these are not only Christian ceremonies: all denominations are catered for personally, based on photos in the deceased’s council homes, he composes thoughtful eulogies based on minimal details and selects the appropriate anthems  music for services (Pasolini’s wife, Rachel Portman, composed the film’s score). Pasolini’s shrewd scripting and subtle characterisation are complimented by Stefano Falivene’s elegant and occasionally witty visuals echoing the central character’s preoccupation with order and Marsan’s powerful stillness embues every scene. John May is a character straight out of an Anita Brookner novel. A tightening tension creeps in slowly as the narrative develops but no one could predict the final scenes. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

 

Electricity (2014) | DVD release

Director: Bryn Higgins

Writer: Joe Fisher (screenplay) Ray Robinson (novel)

Cast: Agyness Deyn, Lenora Crichlow, Christian Cooke, Paul Anderson, Ben Batt

96min   UK   Drama

Urban road movie, ELECTRICITY, is a poignant and spirited exploration of epilepsy. Agyness Deyn gives a dynamite peformance as, Lily, a young woman living with the condition. Deyn (Pusher) has recently inherited some cash from her mother. Emboldened by the legacy, she sets off on a journey of discovery to track down her estranged younger brother in Lond.

This is Deyn’s debut in a starring role and the narrative is played out through Lily’s eyes as she lives, day by day, with the condition. We first meet her getting ready for a date in her hometown of Redcar, Cleveland. Pretty, blond and bubbly, her excitement builds and then crashes: we experience the surreal effects of an approaching fit that sends her crashing headlong onto the pavement in full view of passers-by.  Immediately we empathise with her feelings of fear, disappointment, embarrassment and anger as her condition threatens to ruin yet another chance to enjoy a normal life. Through Lily, we enter the horrific world of epilepsy: a life full of apprehension, fear, pain, disfigurement, and ultimately a life lived through doctors, hospitals and drug regimes.

But this only the physical side. In a performance of sparky vulnerability, Deyn shows how Lily’s background has contributed to her problems in personal relationships. Gradually it emerges that her mother (who we never meet) was unable to cope with her vulnerable child, so Lily grows into a survivor. In London, her older brother, a chancer who hustles for a living through professional gambling, is a dominating and controlling influence. He is dead against sharing their inheritance with their younger more sensitive brother, so Lily is alone in her bid to track him down through the less salubrious parts of London, where her kind and friendly nature is taken advantage of by the usual round of users and wayfarers, until she finds an honest friend in Leonora Critchlow’s sympathetic Mel. To some extent Mel is a gift-horse and this is where the narrative stretches our imagination: why would an intelligent, hard-working woman such as Mel would have an unrented room in the middle of London? But Mel takes to Lily for reasons that gradually become plausible.

Bryn Higgins crafts a dramatic and intensely visual experience here, blending Si Bell’s imaginative cinematography with inspired touches of inventive imagery making this a watchable, even breath-taking drama. Combined with Deyn’s outstanding turn as Lily on her spiritual journey to regain her inner power makes ELECTRICITY an absorbing and, at times, heart-rending ride through unsettling territory. The camera loves Deyn from every angle; even when she beaten and bloodied in her hospital bed. Anchored by Joe Fisher’s screenplay, based on the novel by Ray Robinson. ELECTRICITY is not just a story about a struggling girl, it’s a soaring tribute to those that suffer the daily indignities of this disorientation condition, bringing their plight to a wider audience. MT

OUT ON DVD from 6 APRIL 2015

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Dreamcatcher (2015)

Director: Kim Longinotto

With: Brenda Myers-Powell

United Kingdom Documentary 97min

Winner: World Cinema Directing Award | Documentary | Sundance 2015 

International Film Festival Rotterdam – British documentarian Kim Longinotto turns her expert eyes and ears to Brenda Myers-Powell, a former prostitute and drug addict who now spends her days and nights carrying out educational and outreach work in schools and correctional facilities as well as on the hard streets of Chicago. Drawing on her own harrowing past, Brenda is able to connect with prostitutes and other vulnerable women in order to help raise awareness of rape culture and change perspectives on prostitution as a criminal activity.

Brenda’s voluntary work as the co-founder of the Dreamcatcher Foundation (“we’re not here to pressure you or judge you… have you got any dreams you wanna catch?”) recalls that of CeaseFire, the violence-intervention organisation that was the subject of another excellent Chicago-based documentary, Steve James’s THE INTERRUPTERS (2011). Like the activists in that film, Longinotto’s subject is an indefatigable survivor of remarkable strength and character. Seen early on in the film deliberating over which wig to wear for a meeting, she is a demonstrably chameleonic listener and talker, one who’s obviously able to speak on the same wavelength as the many different young women she visits.

Whether tactfully approaching a prostitute to ensure she has condoms or telling high school students that she was molested during most of her life, Brenda shows an exceptional skill at getting other women to open up about their own lives. This provides Longinotto, who sticks for the most part to an observational strategy, with some absorbingly candid material. In an after-school club for at-risk teens, one student reveals that she was raped at the age of 11. “People used to ask me why I was so jumpy… I don’t trust no man at all.” Another student, 15-year-old Temeka, started prostituting at 12. These are unthinkable revelations.

Meanwhile, prostitute Marie – who ran away from her abusive home in Portland, Oregon, and who has been on the streets since she was 8 – is an ostensibly hardened veteran of this unforgiving world, though it isn’t long before Brenda’s determination to win her trust moves the young woman to tears. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone’s brave face collapse in light of a rare extension of warmth – and if Longinotto really did feel the need to bring in Stuart Earl’s quiet score at this point, at least she does it subtly.

Longinotto’s go-to means of flowing from one sequence to the next is to cut either to a startlingly attractive cityscape from above, or to a travelling shot from a car through more upmarket areas of Chicago. In addition to assisting the narrative editorially, these moments provide an ironically pristine image of urban space, whereas the testimonies from the women whom Brenda encounters in her daily work suggest a real gulf in wealth – perhaps the unacknowledged framework by which the director has come to film their experiences. At some point, we have to ask why the majority of these battered, mistrustful women are black – and, drawing further back, why all of them come from impoverished, working-class backgrounds.

Until those questions are asked, though, there’s a real-life superhero at work on the streets of Chicago, and she’s got the back of all women who’ve been marginalised, abandoned and left in mental and physical tatters by rapists, abusers and an institutional system that wants only to criminalise their survival instincts. MICHAEL PATTISON

Reviewed during THE 44TH ROTTERDAM FILM FESTIVAL | 21 JANUARY – 2 FEBRUARY 2015 | DVD RELEASE 27 APRIL 2015

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

 

 

 

 

The Offence (1972)

15771950614_6e4c03b14f_mDirector: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Vivien Merchant, Ian Bannen

UK/USA 1972, 113 min. Drama

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) was always interested in subjects to do with judicial justice; his first great success, Twelve Angry Man (1957) shows the interaction between very different men on a murder jury. There, as well as in THE OFFENCE, he tries to describe violent actions committed by men, whose own disturbing nature is not far removed from the suspected criminals they are dealing with.

Sergeant Johnson (Connery) is a burnt out cop who humiliates his wife Maureen (Merchant) with sadistic fervour. When confronted with the suspected child molester Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen), he sees very much of himself in the man, beating him unconscious in the end in this tense psychological drama that unspools within the confines of a police interrogation room. Later, when interrogated by his boss Superintendent Cartwirght (Trevor Howard), we see further parallels with Baxter: Johnson shrinks literally in front of Cartwright (“You are not up to it, still a Sergeant at your age”). Ambiguity runs through the fragmented narrative, the flashbacks underlining even more how close Baxter and Johnson are in their psychological profile. Whilst we never learn if Baxter is really guilty, Johnson’s reaction to the raped girls and murdered women leads us to believe that he too is very well capable of these crimes. Sexually frustrated and in a dead-end marriage himself, he tries to impose his own feelings onto Baxter, in order to draw a confession out of him. Finally, Johnson admits to Baxter that he has rape phantasies, and asks Baxter to help. “I have to have what you have got, help me!”. When Baxter recoils in disgust, Johnson starts killing him in an admission that he cannot bear his role as police officer anymore. The self-hatred, which could be observed before in his interactions with his wife, is projected onto to Baxter.

The script is by John Hopkins; based on his stage play. Hopkins wrote several scripts for “Z-Cars”, among them one for a very young Ken Loach. The acting, particular Connery’s ‘lost soul’ Johnson, is brilliant. And Trevor Howard also excels in his portrait of the senior police detective. Gerry Fisher’s camera catches the mood of the early 70s in Britain perfectly and the grim architecture of the Secondary Modern school where the victim (Maxine Gordon) attends school, and creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the police interview room. In 1971, before shooting Diamonds are forever, Connery had only agreed to star in this new James Bond film, if United Artists would finance two independent films of his choice, costing not more than 2 million. In the end, THE OFFENCE, which cost £ 900 000, was the only realised project – it was a box-office flop. Roman Polanski beat Connery to the post with the second project, a screen version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. AS

AVAILABLE FROM 20 APRIL 2015 COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA | EUREKA

New 1080p presentation of the film on the Blu-ray
· Optional English SDH for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
· Optional isolated music and effects track
· Video interview with stage director Christopher Morahan
· Video interview with assistant art director Chris Burke
· Video interview with costume designer Evangeline Harrison
· Video interview with composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle
· Original theatrical trailer
· 36-PAGE BOOKLET featuring a new essay on the film by critic Mike Sutton, a vintage interview about the film with Sidney Lumet, and rare archival imagery

 

Bad Hair | Pelo Malo (2013) | DVD VOD release

Director/Writer: Mariana Rondon

Cast: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites, Nelly Ramos, Maria Emilia Sulbaran

93min  Venezuela  Drama

Joining the recent crop of gay interest films from South American comes  Pelo Malo (Bad Hair). Themes of identity and nascent sexuality are sensitively but rigorously explored in this appealing Venezuelan arthouse gem which runs along similar lines as the award-winning Brazilian indie The Way He Looks. The star turn here is newcomer Samuel Lange (as Junior) whose fraught but loving single mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), is anxious to suppress confusing sexual signals as she struggles to run home and family in the overpopulated city of Caracas. Meanwhile, Junior channels his childhood angst and burgeoning adolescence into taming his crop of afro curls. As the title suggests, he’s definitely having a ‘bad hair’ day, and it continues throughout the drama.

The barnet in question is the legacy of his black father, but Junior has more of a pop idol role model in mind as he desperately tries to straighten his unruly locks. As Marta, Samantha Castillo puts her foot down in a subtle performance of well-concealed irritation. She really needs a masculine man about the house to help her raise his baby brother, not a budding gay star with a eye for the boys, and particularly the local newspaper boy (Julio Mendez) who seems to be the object of Junior’s affections. As is often the case, Junior gets more leniency from his paternal grandma, Carmen (Nelly Ramos) but she has her own reasons for wanting to bring him up. Mariana Rondon crafts her narrative sparingly allowing us space to fill in the gaps and form our own conclusions in this nifty neorealist social drama that tackles the age old subject of oedipal love in a traditional matriarchal and Catholic environment, without resorting to sentimentalism. Micaela Cajahuaringa’s mobile camera evokes this nightmare of Caracas’s psychogeography with a vivid backdrop of traffic-choked streets and chaotic social housing that suffocate childhood dreams in a marasma of sombre daily reality. On a positive note, Camilo Froideval’s upbeat score suggests that Junior’s imagination may just win out in the end.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 January 2015 | 30 March on DVD VOD  with interviews with Mariana Rondon, featurettes, and trailers.

 

King of Escape (2009) | DVD release

DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie

Cast: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascale Aubert

93min  French with subtitles   Comedy drama

Middle-aged gay tractor salesman Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a rough and ready country type who enjoys his food and a glass of red. But when he breaks up a local brawl to save sultry teenager Curly (Hafsia Herzi), he doesn’t expect her to fall in love with him. This is what happens in Alain Guiraudie comedy drama KING OF ESCAPE. A far cry from his award-winning hit Stranger By the Lake, this is rather a curio as gay-interest films go. Sharing the same laid back Provençale setting as Stranger, its upbeat summery charm contrasts with the sinister ambiance that haunted the thriller, although Armand is a similar character to the unlucky Henri (Patrick Assumcao).

Curly’s father, Daniel (Luc Palun), is one of Armand’s competitors, and there are no prizes for guessing why he is dead against his daughter’s budding romance an affable and harmless chap who has grown rather tired of the limited gay scene in their remote village, and rather fancies a cosy future with Curly. But when she falls for his easy charm, Dad turns nasty, pursuing the courting couple with a loaded gun.

The homosexuality here is a light bucolic ripple rather than a pulsating undercurrent, giving KING OF ESCAPE an almost irreverent comic tone: old men with unfeasible large members indulging in some over-the-top groaning are  amusingly and indulgently weaved into a storyline that has some mainstream appeal, although it’s still not really a family film. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous outings, these older gay men are a normal part of the human landscape evoking a refreshingly laid back vibe, despite being a gay one.

That Armand should fall for this fresh young girl seems entirely plausible given the local competition and Guiraudie makes the salient point that sexuality, and indeed love, can be a moveable feast – often catching us unawares when we least expect it. Curly and Armand make convincing lovers in scenes of unbridled sensuality similar to those in the woods in Stranger. But there’s a twist to the tale involving Curly’s father and his mates.

KING OF ESCAPE is a simple story but an enjoyable one – Guiraudie drawing us slowly but surely into his world of southern camerarderie. His characterisation is inventive yet convincing and totally lacking in cliché in a setting that feels as comfortable as a pair of old shoes. Herzi is the main attraction and Berhillot’s relaxed style and economy of movement echo those of Henri in Stranger.

Sex scenes — mostly al fresco— are staged with humour and realism and the unlikely romance feels convincing in the heat of the Toulouse Summer. Well-formed characters bolster the comic background; from Francois Clavier’s serious gendarme who pops up when least expected, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert. As a feisty old git, Jean Toscan provides a hilarious denouement. MT

RELEASE ON DVD FROM 23 MARCH 2015 COURTESY OF PECCADILLO PICTURES

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

 

Amour Fou (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Jessica Hausner

Cast: Birte Schnoeink, Christian Friedel, Sandra Hueller, Stephan Grossmann, Barbara Schnitzler

Austria/Luxembourg/Germany 2014, 98 min.

AMOUR FOU opens in 1811, in with a painterly image of a Berlin intellectual household listening to Mozart’s “Das Veilchen”, performed by a professional singer. This is a typical setting for the classic “Hausmusik” (musical salon) chez Friedrich (Grossmann) and Henrietta (Schnoeink) Vogel and their twelve-year old daughter Pauline. Significantly, one of their guests is the poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist (Friedel). The latter is in love with death and has already asked his cousin Marie (Hueller) to ‘die with him’ as a expression of their mutual feelings; Hausner implying that she is not the first to be asked this question. Henrietta, who appears a contented and modest mother and wife, is next in line, and she vehemently denies any interest in a suicide pact. Later on, she falls ill; what seems to be at first just a psychosomatic symptom, turns out be terminal cancer, and von Kleist seems to have found a companion to die with at last. But the couple’s first try falls due von Kleist’s boorish and petty behaviour, before the poet makes a second attempt to inveigle Henrietta at the “Kleine Wannsee” into to his pathetic scheme, near Potsdam on November 11th 1811.

Hausner portrays von Kleist not very sympathetically: he comes over as egocentric and not at all romantic or even physically appealing. After Henrietta’s illness is diagnosed, von Kleist rejects her wish for a suicide pact and tries his luck again with the much more upper class Marie, who rejects him again as she is now betrothed to a Frenchman. Left with no alternative, Heinrich returns, apologetic, to Henrietta. Friedrich Vogel seems to be a much better person, really in love with his wife, even though he treats her (as was common at the time) like an infant daughter. The most unpleasant person in the Vogel household is certainly Henrietta’s mother, a bitter and resentful person, who seems to dislike everyone.

Hausner (Lourdes) succeeds not only in revealing Heinrich as a manipulator, she also indirectly answers a question many asked after WWII: how could such a culture-loving nation like Germany commit so many crimes against humanity. The answer can be found in AMOUR FOU, and in historical figures like von Kleist himself. Right after listening to Mozart, the discussion at the table turns to the new Prussian tax laws which, according to Friedrich Vogel, a government official, will set the peasants free as with taxation comes more freedom. The undemocratic argument at the middle class table was “one cannot give the lower classes the freedom to do what they wish, since they are not capable of making decisions”.

Whilst cultural appreciation went hand in hand with reactionary arguments at this level of society, on a higher level, the togetherness of culture and aggression led to continuous wars: Frederick the Great, who played many instruments, among them the flute to a semi-professional level, led the most bloody wars of his period, including the Seven-Year war (1756-1763). He was not by chance the idol of Adolf Hitler. And one should not forget that Heinrich von Kleist himself spend the years between 1792 and 1799 in the Prussian army, seeing action in the “Rhine” campaign and leaving with the rank of a lieutenant. Hausner shows clearly, that all characters in her narrative have an emotional deficit, and that von Kleist’s false romanticism is really a death wish, accompanied by the need to murder somebody else in the process. There is a direct line from von Kleist’s Wagnerian dream of destruction and self-destruction, to Ucicky’s U-boot film Morgenrot (premiered not accidently on the 2.2.1933) and his hero declaring: “We Germans might not know how to live but we certainly know how to die”.

Hausner sets AMOUR FOU in expertly-framed and sumptuously-lit tableaux, showing distance and analytical endeavour and giving us a formal yet exquisitely pleasurable impression of looking at pictures in an exhibition. Schnoeink’s Henrietta is vulnerable, but still caring. All the men, including the doctor who treats her, suffer from a total lack of empathy; Friedel’s von Kleist leading the field. The set design and general aesthetic underline the lack of any sensual enjoyment in life: the bedroom of the Vogel’s looking like a luxury prison cell. AMOUR FOU is a brilliant portrait of a society unable to be in touch with emotions or any kind of sensuality. The relationship between von Kleist and Henrietta is symbolic: there is no passion or love, just a quiet resignation and a desire for death.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH FEBRUARY 2015 | DVD from 5 March 2015

What’s Left of Us DVD | The Desert (2013)

Director: CHRISTOPH BEHL

Horror Fantasy – also know as The Desert

Cast: Victoria Almeida, Lautaro Delgado, Lucas Lagré

98min  Spanish   Horror Fantasy

In this atmospheric mood piece, filmed mostly in close-up, Axel, Jonathan and Ana are survivors of some dreadful apocalypse which has made them desperate prisoners in a stiflingly uncomfortable internal bunker. Pasty and exhausted, they wallow in a feeling of overwhelming heat. Outside, an unimaginable Hell exists, experienced only by sounds of indiscriminate buzzing, distant cries and gunfire, suggesting warfare in a continuous present. Occasionally venturing outside to forage for subsistence, inside becomes a worse Hell: Holed up at close proximity they run through a range of human emotions: loathing, love, fear and mistrust, but they are forced to tolerate one another, making impromptu ‘confessions’ into a recording machine and watching TV on a small device as they slowly lose their minds. Gradually the enemy outside becomes the enemy within. For some inexplicable reason, they have captured one of the ‘undead’, a masked, traumatised zombie-like man who stares into space and refuses to comply with their efforts to communicate. Although Behr is successful in evoking a mood of ambient claustrophobia, this well-performed three-hander outstays its welcome after the first hour of its 98 minute running time, failing to compel or engage our interest beyond the initial scenario. John Paul Sartre’s 1944 play ‘Huis Clos’ springs to mind here, particularly Sartre’s expression “Hell is other People” expressing our daily struggle of being forced to see ourselves as an object in the world of another consciousness.

Christoph Behl is a German director who learnt his trade in Buenos Aires. He won a SILVER BEAR at Berlinale in 2004 for his short PUBLIC/PRIVATE. MT

DVD & VOD from 11  May 2015

Maidan (2014) | DVD | Blu release

Maidan 3D DVDDir.: Sergei Loznitsa; Documentary; Netherlands/Ukraine 2014, 133 min.

After his impressive feature films MY JOY and IN THE FOG  Sergei Loznitsa returns to documentary filmmaking with MAIDAN. Even though he captures a historical event – the removal of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from power – viewers might mistake MAIDAN for a well-directed feature, shot in the style of Eisenstein.

In November 2013 Yanukovych declined to sign an agreement for Ukraine’s associate membership with the European Union, obviously under pressure from Russia. Nationalist protesters started gathering around Maidan Square (Maidan roughly translates into “independence”). At first the mass meetings were peaceful but they escalated in January 2014 into fighting after the introduction of a law to curb the activities of the ever-growing number of protesters. Only one month later, after over hundred nationalist protesters had died, Yanukovych fled the country, leading the way to new elections. The rest is history still in the making.

MAIDAN is shot with a static camera (just one movement, caused by teargas, when the cameraman had to flee), a small number of inter-titles give sparse information, no interviews, just crowd scenes, and mostly off-screen speeches and poetry readings. Loznitsa really has taken his Eisenstein to heart: the crowd is everything. He frames their milling around; their running; the panic; the singing and the eating and drinking. The majority of them are middle-aged or even older citizens, grey is definitely the dominant hair colour. They sing anthems and other traditional songs with gusto, unashamed nationalism pores out. Somehow it feels like a delayed settlement with Russia  because these men and women must have marched in countless Stalinist rituals on the same square. Yes, their nationalism is over-the-top, the involvement of the church leaders perhaps not that appropriate, the invocation of the “Cosack” nation leaves a rather nasty taste – but at no point does Loznitsa succumb to agitation: his painterly style shows us pure emotion whatever the historical background. In his detachment, Loznitsa iis more interested in small details of the ad-hoc organisation, in near still images of people gathering to eat, creating a commune-like feeling in the first part of the documentary.

MAIDAN is, ironically, a triumph of soviet documentary style. But this is not old-fashioned, because the protesters are, for the most part, not the young angry crowd of the Arab spring and other recent uprisings but citizens whose memories go back a long time, and their anger is not just a spur of the moment, but the result of decades of Russian domination. Their cringing nationalism and the huge presence of Russians in the Ukraine, which might lead to a partition of the country, is another issue. But, in the true style of Eisenstein, Loznitsa has captured the will of the people, with all their emotional might. We should not begrudge them this moment of triumph, because they might have to pay for it with the loss of large parts of their country. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 FEBRUARY 2015 | DVD | 13 APRIL 

 

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) MUBI

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer | Writers: Joseph Delteil/Dreyer

Cast: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, Andre Berley, Maurice Schutz, Antonin Artaud, Michel Simon

80min   Drama | Biography

The close-up is one of the most potent means by which a filmmaker can make a point. It tells us what a character is thinking or feeling in an instant. Yet close-ups can produce emotional overkill – the ‘lesbian’ love story Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013) is an example of employing the technique so often that the film is unable to breathe.

So what are we now to make of Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc where the entire drama is the close up? It has been called the supreme close-up film (not quite true for medium shots are also inserted). Yet Dreyer inescapably creates a film where the human face is the focal point. The face of Joan (the accused) and the faces of the clergy (the interrogators) are filmed with an unbearable tension.

The Passion of Joan of Arc taxes the viewer not with an excess of looks, but with intense spiritual intimacy. The critic Béla Balázas described Dreyer’s film as ‘a drama of the spirit’ enacted ‘in duels between looks and frowns.’ Joan is played by the French stage actress Maria Falconetti. Dreyer certainly found his Joan with Falconetti. He said that ‘She didn’t act for me. She just used her face.’ Falconetti’s androgynous beauty gives her performance a timeless quality. Her ‘acting’ or ‘being’ is magnificent.

The Passion of Joan of Arc is based on the 15th century records of Joan’s actual trial. Being a silent film we only get inter-titles. However Dreyer asked his actors to read out the records, even though we cannot hear what’s being said. This was Dreyer’s need for scrupulous authenticity. He also asked for the building of a medieval town and fort (rarely used) and the tonsuring of the male actors. Most of his film takes place in a set of stripped down purity. It was never meant to be a costume drama with medieval ornamentation. Not only does it look accurate, but it is also anti-naturalistic. To get at the soul of Joan’s story, Dreyer employed a radical editing style. A tableau of close-ups is often ‘irrationally’ employed to reveal the inner conflicts of each character, and not just logically to whom the dialogue is being addressed. The film has distortions of time and space. Actor’s bodies are rarely filmed below the waist. This abstraction takes the audience off guard. If space seems very strange, then cinematic time is also compressed, leaving us unsure if it’s an hour, day or a week that’s passed.

Many consider The Passion of Joan of Arc to be one of the pinnacles of silent cinema. It is certainly one of the best examples. Perhaps Dreyer’s last film Gertrud (1964) would be my favourite amongst his films. But Joan’s trial has to be experienced. 87 years old and still so essential, disconcerting and very moving.

A final suggestion. To fully experience Joan’s trial play the DVD/BLU RAY without choosing a music option. For me it’s probably the only silent film that benefits from being watched in total silence. Alan Price

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC IS AVAILABLE ON MUBI

The Killers (1964) Blu-ray

THE KILLERS, is out on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK on 24th February. One of the first post-noir movies, The Killers, based on a Heminway short story, is a sizzling sun-drenched thriller packed with shadows where the darkness at the heart of its protagonists’ souls is allowed to rot in the heat of the day. Probably best known as the film which was originally intended to be the first TV movie, but pulled by broadcasters due to what was seen as overtly graphic violence, THE KILLERS, is the film which established Lee Marvin: achingly cool, unnervingly relaxed and menacingly brutal. He went on to star in a slew of hits including another sixties seminal outing POINT BLANK. Clu Gulager provides sophisticated contrast as his venal partner in crime, together with a strong support cast of Angie Dickinson as the frosty blond, John Cassavetes and Ronald Reagan.  Not surprisingly, Lee Marvin won a BAFTA as Best Foreign Actor (1966) for his portrayal of Charlie Strom.

EXTRAS: ARCHIVE INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR, DON SIEGEL

COLLECTOR’S BOOKLET FEATURING NEW WRITING ON THE FILM

 

 

Wooden Crosses (1932) Les Croix de Bois | Dual format DVD/Blu

Director/Writer: Raymond Bernard   Roland Dorgelès

Cinematography: Jules Kruger and René Ribault

Cast: Pierre Blanchar, Charles Vanel, Antonin Artaud, Paul Azaïs, René Bergeron, Raymond Cordy

One of the greatest wartime films LES CROIX DE BOIS is a work of staunch realism filmed in sombre black and white and re-launched to commemorate the onset of the Great War in 1914. Released in 1932, it provided a stark contrast to other Hollywood fare that year: Tarzan, Shanghai Express, Blonde Venus and I Am a Fugutive from a Chain Gang. The impression its simple message of truth and tragedy made was overwhelming. Today it remains a valuable record of heroism: thrilling, pitiful but above all, sincere.

Adapted closely from the literary work by Roland Dorgelès, (who served as a corporal in the 39th Infantry Division), even down to the dialogue passages, WOODEN CROSSES is expertly-crafted to present a searing account of one regiment’s experience of the battlefield, without the romanticism of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930); Hearts of the World (1918) or A Farewell to Arms (1932) or the glory of King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925); Howard Hughes’s Hell’s Angels (1930) or Howard Hawkes’ s The Road to Glory (1933).

WOODEN CROSSES tells it like it was, without melodrama or exaggeration yet still expressing the poignancy of simple acts of martyrdom as the soldiers share cheerful bonhomie and dark humour, keeping their emotions in check with courage despite the awfulness of it all. And although the story is seen from a French perspective, the appeal is universal and evergreen. It is the true account of a soldier who is, in essence, Everyman. Set in 1915, in Northern France, the film depicts the dark months of the 39th Battalion that ended in tragedy for all concerned. A call to arms that started with the hope of success and triumph, ends in a row of wooden crosses. Pierre Blanchar plays law student, Gilbert Demachy, who signs up to join the war effort along with other ordinary men: bakers; farmers and manual workers. After a gruelling series of events depicting courage and loyalty in the face of endless defeat, Gilbert Demachy ends his life alone in the mud of the battlefield, as the parade of surviving soldiers marches on, each carrying a wooden cross. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON DUAL FORMAT DVD AND BLU/RAY COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA SERIES FROM 30 MARCH 2015

 

 

NWR (2012) | Nicolas Winding Refn | 2nd Nordic Film Festival 2013 | DVD release

Director/Writer : Laurent Duroche

With Mads Mikkelsen, Peter Peter, Ryan Gosling, Mads Brugger, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Gaspar Noe, Zlatko Buric, Mat Newman

65min     Biopic on NICOLAS WINDING REFN     France

An informative  ‘behind the scenes’  insight into the world of Nicolas Winding Refn who is revealed here as a visionary filmmaker who relies on sound, Tarot readings (from Alejandro Jodorowsky) and guidance from omens and the stars for before starting work on his films.  Interviews with his mother and stepfather reveal that, as a boy, he was obsessed by television and focussed on their facial expressions during emotional outbursts to help him visualise his future film ideas.

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Two of his biggest collaborators give absorbing commentary: Mads Mikkelsen tells how they never talk between movies as their interests are completely different (Sport and Filmmaking respectively). Ryan Gosling is fascinated by the director’s focus on listening to music during rehearsals, often ignoring his cast, dissolving into tears and wearing headphones during onset conversations.

Born in 1n Copenhagen in 1970, Nicolas Winding Refn grew up in New York with his mother and stepfather only moving back to Copenhagen in his late teens.  In his heart, he claims to be a New Yorker. The move back to Denmark was a negative in his life and he subsequently rejected places offered at prestigious film schools preferring to ‘go it alone’.  Initially finding success with the breakout hit BLEEDER, his xenophobic urban love story, he later went bankrupt and his wife tells of their moments of poverty until eventually finding fame on the international stage, winning Best Director at Cannes 2011 for DRIVE.  Obsessed with robots and toys, he still claims that apart from filmmaking, the most important things in his life are family.  For fans of this inventive director, and for film buffs interested in the craft of filmmaking, this is an engaging and entertaining documentary. MT

DVD AVAILABLE ON AMAZON.COM

 

 

Tommy (2014) | DVD blu release

Director: Tarik Saleh

Writer: Anton Hagwall

Cast: Moa Gemmell, Lykke Li, Ola Rapace, Johan Rabaeus, Alexiej Manveloj

93min  Thriller   Sweden

As dark and intransigent as a Swedish January, Erik Saleh’s TOMMY is a moody crime drama which is really all about a brave and beautiful girl and some very nasty men. The girl in question is Estelle, played by Nordic beauty, Moa Gammel, who plays a resilient but vulnerable gangster’s Moll in search of her husband’s share of the loot in one of Sweden’s biggest robberies. For all its arthouse creativity and sumptuous cinematography, Saleh has made an extremely brutal thriller where scenes of terrible torture (involving electric hobs) and sudden violence rupture the dreamlike quality of its atmospheric camerawork in and around a snowswept Stockholm. That said, TOMMY works best in these moments of tension in contrast to the softer scenes with Estelle and her daughter which often slow the pace, making it feel longer than its 93 minutes of running time.

Estelle is on a journey back to Sweden with her husband Tommy’s ashes – in the opening moments we see him being murdered on a beach in Sri Lanka, the victim of his own crime spree. Searching out his co-conspiritors for a share in the proceeds, Estelle pretends to all and sundry that Tommy is still alive and coming home to collect his winnings. But despite her shrewdness and cunning, she cannot compete with the murderous intentions of Steve (chillingly portrayed by Johan Rabaeus) and Bobby (Skyfall’s Ola Rapace) who are hardened criminals with no intention of playing by the rules. Best known for her Swedish TV work and films such as SUDDENLY and LAPLAND ODYSSEY, Moa Gammel’s portrait of fragility contrasting with the venality of the criminal underworld, is compelling from start to finish, marking her out as a sparkling star in the Nordic Noir firmament. MT

OUT ON DVD courtesy of ARROW FILMS

 

Serena (2013) | DVD release

Director: Susanne Bier   Writer: Susanne Bier, Christopher Kyle

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, Sean Harris, Ana Ularu

109min  Pyschological drama

After a long wait, Susanne Bier’s elegantly-crafted, depression-set retro noir makes for an enjoyable watch: there is sparkling chemistry from leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence who flesh out their roles with aplomb, yet feel way too starry for their characters; a glorious setting in the smoky mountains of North Carolina (actually, its the picturesque Czech Republic); darkly humorous turns from the Brits, Rhys Ifans and Toby Jones, hamming up their Southern drawls, and a thoughtful storyline that will appeal to art house audiences but has got caught up in Hollywood spin: as in A SECOND CHANCE Susanne Bier explores the corrosive force of childlessness on a power couple, but wraps it in a rather unconvincing storyline about bribery and corruption, penned by Christopher Kyle from the novel by Ron Rash.

This old-fashioned melodrama has the sinister vibes of Cold Mountain and even The Dark Valley. Bradley Cooper is screen dynamite as a debt-ridden timber pioneer, George Pemberton, who marries for money and falls in love. What he lacks in financial probity he makes up for in style and verve. Kitted out in his well-tailored hunting attire (designed by Signe Sejlund), he glows with vitality, bringing a suave masculine presence to the harsh mountainside community where everyone is down on their luck, until he fetches up with his stylish bride and heiress Serena (a luminous Jennifer Lawrence). Serena is not just a pretty face either: with her business acumen, gleaned from her father’s timber dynasty, she quickly gains respect amongst the locals and also has a winning way with birds; taming an eagle to control the snake population. But her glamour is too much for some: Pemberton’s partner Buchanan (David Dencik) feels threatened, for reasons other than business. Buchanan has a soft spot for George Pemberton, and it’s one that could go hard, given the chance. And a strange dark woman (Ana Ularu) with a baby, keep giving her menacing looks. Rhys Ivans (Galloway) is deliciously sinister as a wayfarer who comes to Serena’s aid when she saves his life in an accident, Toby Jones plays Toby Jones the Sheriff who has an implausible plan to turn the timber yard into a local amenity, but you keep wishing he’s just go away.

Ostensibly the Pemberton’s is a marriage made in heaven: until, that is, she tries her hand a child-bearing. Woody Allen was right when he said: “a relationship is like shark – if it doesn’t go forward, it dies”. And the Pemberton’s inability to create a family is ultimately their downfall. A power couple, figureheads of the community, their fragility and potent egos bound up in success and, in the Twenties, that still meant procreation. George Pemberton is similar to Andreas in A SECOND CHANCE (Bier’s film that releases here in January): they are both masculine men but there is also a vulnerability to them, and that vulnerability is their overriding need to be fathers: Their love for their offspring eclipses that of their wives. But due to his mysterious past, George Pemberton here holds the key to his wife’s undoing: and it’s alive and kicking in the same row of huts, right under their noses.

What fascinates Susanne Bier in this story; how a seemingly perfect love can not only be threatened but also de-stabilised when a woman feels let down by her biology and falls prey to mistrust and nagging self-doubt. And that is really what is crucial to understanding Serena, both the film and woman. The back-story concerning financial fraud is really just window-dressing. With Morten Soborg’s sumptuous camerawork and some great performances from the assembled cast, this is not a weak film but it is film that fails to concentrate and its crucial premise: that the pain and desperation of childlessness can cause mental instability. A that is the stuff of melodrama. MT

SERENA IS ON DVD FROM FRIDAY, 23 FEBRUARY 2015

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The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927) | The Great War Anniversary (1914-18)

Director: Walter Summers    Screenwriter: Frank Bowden, John Buchan

With Roger Maxwell and Craighall Sherry

111mins    Silent Historical Drama    UK

Silent films rely heavily on facial expression, mood and musical score to convey their message in a meaningful and dramatic way, quite apart from their cinematography. Directed by Walter Summers, this exhilarating 1927 war film, restored by the BFI to celebrate the anniversary of the The Great War (1914-18), tells the story of a naval battle that ends in resounding victory for Britain against the Germans following on from the appalling British defeat at Coronel, off the Chilean coast, in 1914.

Summers’ epic conveys not only a  sense of derring-do, but also of palpable terror evoked in the magnificent seascapes and roaring waves as big as mountains, as the enemy onslaught is depicted in mammoth ships seen on the attack in remarkable battle sequences. The courage of the soldiers and integrity of their leaders is the result of clever casting and masterful performances, making The British Navy something we can still be proud of to this day. A fitting tribute to our Naval forces. MT

NOW ON DVD

 

 

 

Life Itself (2014) | DVD release

imageDir.: Steve James; Documentary; USA 2014, 118 min.

When documentary filmmaker Steve James (Hoop Dreams) started to shoot the portrait of Chicago film critic Roger Ebert in December 2012, he was not to know that he was about to document the last five months in the life of Ebert. True, the critic, who was diagnosed in 2002 with thyroid cancer, and lost his speech as well as part of his face after many operations during the next ten years, was again hospitalised for a broken hip, but his will to live and his work output were undiminished.

LIFE ITSELF, named after Ebert’s autobiography, quoted often in the documentary, is, in a way, the story of two marriages: when he was fifty, Ebert met Charlie “Chaz” Hammelsmith, an Afro-American attorney, whom he married after years of meeting “the worst women in the world”, as a friend testified. The marriage softened Ebert personally and also professionally (even though he would have disputed the latter), for the first time as an adult he experienced family life with his wife and her children and grandchildren. For many decades, before joining AA, where (according to one source – he met his wife), Ebert was heavily dependent on alcohol, his friends from the “wild” days” painting a not very complimentary picture of the younger Ebert. After visiting the University of Illinois, he started writing at the “Chicago Sun-Times” (the ‘scruffier’ of the two Chicago dailies) being their film critic from 1967 until his death; his last review being published two days after his passing in April 2013.

His second “marriage” was to his TV partner Gene Siskel (1946-1999). Since 1978 they appeared together on the PBS TV show “At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert”, later changing to Disney’s “Buena Vista Channel”. Their trademark was the “Thumbs up – Thumbs down” judgement on the films they reviewed. The two had a love-hate relationship, Ebert feeling inferior to the Yale man Siskel, a lean and patrician figure, presenting a much more sophisticated image, compared with Ebert’s rather ungainly overweight appearance. Ebert retaliated, reminding Siskel more than once publicly, that he had won a “Pulitzer Prize” in 1975. As Marlene Iglitzen, Siskel’s widow, mentioned “Roger was very full of himself” – but she too admitted that they fed of each other, whilst another witness confirms “that they fought like two little boys on the playground”. Interesting to know, that Siskel, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour, did only tell his wife about his terminal condition “giving his children another happy year, instead of one counting the clock down” as Iglitzen remembers fondly. Roger Ebert on the other hand, has lived his out his illness and terrible disfigurement in the public glare – being only too glad to share.

LIFE ITSELF mentions Ebert involvement with Russ Meyer, the critic wrote the script to “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”, about the same time when Siskel was part of the Hugh Hefner circle, we can see him on the famous “Big Bunny Jet”. The excerpts from their TV shows are hilarious, and directors like Scorsese and Herzog pay tribute to Ebert. Spike Lee and Michael Moore were two of many directors, whose career took off after Ebert’s “Thumb’s up”.

Whilst not really being a “hagiography”, LIFE ITSELF is sometimes too kind and polite to its main subject. James does not dig deep enough into Roger Ebert’s working-class family background  where an alcoholic, vengeance-seeking mother must have done considerable damage to the future critic, affecting his chances of entering Harvard. All this might explain, whilst Ebert, with some exceptions, was a champion of popular, mainstream cinema. Quite the opposite of a Pauline Kael, who did not needed the “on-stage” personality of Ebert. Still, as a document of its time, LIFE ITSELF is worth watching.

NOW ON DVD courtesy of Dogwoof

Eastern Boys (2013)

image007Director/Writer: Robin Campillo

Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Daniil Vorobyov, Edea Darcque, Camila Chanirova, Beka Markozashvili

128mins  French with subtitles   Drama

Transeuropean migration and the nature of homosexuality are the themes that coalesce in this genre-bending French thriller that cleverly draws you into a web of intrigue from opening its opening sequences. EASTERN BOYS is the slick and provocative second feature from writer-director Robin Campillo, a long-time collaborator of Laurent Cantet (Vers Le Sud, The Class).

Eastern Boys copy

In the Gare Du Nord in Paris, gangs of Eastern European migrants hang around looking for opportunities for work and sex. One of them is the alluring Marek (Kirill Emelyanov) who catches the eye of Daniel (Olivier Rabourdin), a middle-aged business-man who is cruising for company.  What follows is a shocking and thought-provoking thriller, an immersive love story and a disturbing police drama with shifts in tone that feel entirely plausible yet at the same time highly innovative. EASTERN BOYS succeeds both as a cracking drama with gay and art house sensibilities and a sinister thriller with mainstream appeal. MT

EASTERN BOYS WON BEST FILM in the Orizzonti section at the 70thVenice Film Festival. MT

READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH ROBIN CAMPILLO

EASTERN BOYS IS NOW OUT ON DVD/Blu on 9 MARCH 2015

 

Mr Turner (2014) | DVD blu release

MR_TURNER_still_2 copyMr Turner | Best Actor – Timothy Spall | Cannes 2014 | Biopic |149mins

Director: Mike Leigh

Cast: Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Joshua Maguire

Mike Leigh’s ambitious biopic of J M W Turner’s last twenty years serves as a worthy and painterly tribute to a national treasure. In a performance of some complexity, Timothy Spall portrays the ‘painter of light’ as a romantic gruffalo with a heart of gold but a curious style of love-making. The film opens in 1826 in a magnificent Dutch landscape where Turner is visiting to develop the impressionist style of his later years. A solid British cast works to the ‘Leigh family method’ fleshing out contempo social history: At the Royal Academy we meet arch rivals John Constable (a haughty James Fleet) and other Leigh ‘staples’ (Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen). At home in his studio, Dorothy Atkinson plays his obliging house-keeper, a willing recipient of his sexual abuse. All are carefully worked into the narrative along with a humorous vignette from Joshua Maguire as a geeky live-wire John Ruskin. In Margate, Turner finds peace amd contentment with a local landlady (a luminous Marion Bailey). Victorian England is very much a character, proudly flying the flag of the Empire at its peak but Leigh, in a apposite twist, is keen to underline that Turner left his works to the Nation and not the homes of the rich Victorian industrialists who had funded him. Although this is a departure from his usual subject matter; in casting his usual collaborators it all feels very ‘Mike Leigh’. MT

REVIEWED AT CANNES 2014

MR TURNER IS now on DVD blu

Maps to the Stars (2014) | DVD blu release

Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: Bruce Wagner

Cast: Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Olivia Williams, Evan Bird

101min Canada   Drama

MAPS TO THE STARS is a bitter and snarky LA-set satire with Cronenburg’s classic brutal flourishes and scripter Bruce Wagner’s witty one-liners mostly delivered by John Cusack as a self-centred, self-help guru, Dr Stafford Weiss. Julianne Moore works her wonders as a hard-bitten, neurotic bitch Havana Segrand, relentlessly chasing fame and celebrity in a performance that won her Best Actress at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

In Hollywood, the Weiss family live in a bland, modernist house  – Dr Stafford’s books have made him a fortune, and his odious wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) spends her time over-parenting their thirteen-year old son, Benjie (Evan Bird), an obnoxious and self-possessed child star. Their estranged daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital after setting fire to the family home. Agatha is now back in circulation as Segrand’s PA and desperately seeking a reconciliation with the family who understandably disowned her. She’s also in a liaison with Robert Pattinson, who mumbles his way through as a wannabe star cum chauffeur. Segrand

This is Film Noir at its bleakest and most weird and, apart from the odd stab of humour, should carry a Government Health Warning: two hours in the presence of this spiteful smorgasbord of characters who parade their sordid lives before us like human incarnations of the World’s Most Venomous Creatures could well send you into detox therapy. As we gradually we sink with them into their sad morass of selfdom, Cronenberg’s signature frigid interiors and unfriendly locations complete a cool-lensed picture of Hell. If this is contempo LA, then take my advice and catch the first plane home. MT

NOW ON DVD BLU

 

In Order of Disappearance (2014) ****

Dir: Hans Petter Moland | Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson | Bruno Ganz, Stellan Skarsgard, Goren Navojec, Pal Sverre Hagen, Peter Andersson | 116min  Action comedy  Norway/Denmark

The late Bruno Ganz and Stellan Skarsgard star in Hans Petter Moland’s outrageously absurd follow-up to A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010). The film competed for the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2014 and went home empty-handed but its an honest and enjoyable crime caper and offers some of the best snowscapes of the year so far, and some arch political incorrectness.

Skarsgard plays Nils, a dour but appealing Swedish immigrant, who drives a snow plow and has just been awarded ‘Best Citizen’ by the local community. But when his son dies in a drug overdose, Nils turns vigilante to find out who is responsible.  That said, the tone is light-hearted and upbeat: Moland wanted s narrative reflecting what happens when society’s attributes of decency get mixed up with the baser instincts that kick in when we are threatened: “Norway has a history of being generous to people in need, but now this is being challenged” he said at the press Berlinale conference. “The comedic style was the best way to deal with this theme positively: Violence lurks within us and occasionally erupts in normal, well-adjusted people like Stellan’s character.”  What ensues is an unfeasibly violent chase to track down the two rival gangs of traffickers: one Serbian (lead by Ganz as Papa), one local (led by Pal Sverre at Greven).  There are some great gags arising out of ‘ad-libbing’ rather than sticking rigidly to Kim Fupaz Aakeson’s script that give this piece a fresh and authentic feel, although 115mins is stretching it for a comedy caper. MT.

Available on Amazon Prime

 

 

Thief (1981)

Dir.: Michael Mann

Cast: James Caan, James Belushi, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky

USA 1981; 122 min.

For his feature debut THIEF Michael Mann (Manhunter, Miami Vice) delivers a perfect action movie and a philosophical discourse on the unattainability of the American Dream. Frank (Caan), a middle-aged professional safe breaker who has honed his skills in jail and now wants to press a button and settle down to a ready made family and a financially secure life. To remind him of his goal, he carries a postcard with cut-out motives of middle class happiness. In order to achieve this, he has to do a last caper. But instead of working with his own crew, he agrees to work with Leo (Prosky), a big crime lord.

Frank’s choice of a woman, the vulnerable, disillusioned and poorly paid Jessie (Weld), demonstrates his powers of projection: he wants to save her as much as himself. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. Frank’s personal life changes in 24 hours: he loses a father figure, who “told him everything about the job”, who dies of a heart attack after spending too much time in jail – Frank can’t make good his promise to spring him loose. His substitute father figure, Leo, procures a baby for the couple, after they are turned down at an adoption agency. The preparations for the job take Frank’s mind off family life; his trust in Leo is unshakable, as is his near religious belief in a happy, carefree life after crime.

The success of the heist brings in millions of dollar in form of small diamonds, but then Leo presents Frank with just $85000, the amount missing a zero at the end of his agreed share. Strangely, Leo presents an intact family life as an excuse for cheating Frank, who, after watching one of his men killed by Leo’s hired men, goes into an all-out war with Frank and his numerous enforcers. Even though action scenes dominate through pure force, Frank’s loneliness is the central aspect of THIEF. Even in the company of his men, he is the lone wolf – he takes his responsibility for them very seriously, a sort of “Pater Familias” in the crime world. His relationship with Jessie is founded on his wishful thinking, that they can both escape their past. Leo turns from a benevolent godfather into a brutal killer, whilst still keeping his identity as a family man – Frank, so skilful at work – is too naïve to see Leo’s game right from the beginning. Frank is the real outlaw, fit for any Western.

Well-cast and fabulously crafted, Donald E Thorin’s camera-work is brilliant, long shots show the city of Chicago as a decrepit background, Kentish Town on a bad night. It never really gets light, and the night drives are exceptionally emotive. Caan and Weld are a couple lost in their dreams for a future they were never made for, and Prosky’s Leo is one of the best all-time baddies. Frank Hohimer’s novel is the basis for this sleazy chronicle of unobtainable respectability. AS

A LIMITED SLIPCASE EDITION OF THIEF IS NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY INCLUDING TWO VERSIONS OF THE FILM, THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL CUT AND AN EXTENDED DIRECTOR’S CUT. £19.99 COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS. 

 

Violette (2013)

Dir.: Martin Provost; Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Sandrine Kiberlain, Olivier Gourmet, Catherine Hiegel | France 2013, 139 min  Drama

After his sparkling bio-pic of the French painter Seraphine Louis (2008), Provost successfully tackles another woman artist whose humble background helped and hindered her literary career in different ways: Violette Leduc (1907-72) was a protégé of Simone de Beauvoir, who valued her writing paid her for many years a generous allowance (pretending it came from the publisher Gallimard), Evenutally years later, in 1964, Leduc made the breakthrough with  her passionate and painfully honest memoir  ‘La Batarde”.

Violette unglamorously, but brilliantly played by Emmanuelle Devos, is the illegitimate daughter of a kitchen maid. At the beginning of the film she is living with the homosexual writer Maurice Sachs in Nazi-occupied France. After marrying her as a ‘cover, he mistreated her but encouraged her to write), in Nazi occupied France. She survives by trading luxury food items successfully on the black market, a ‘profession’ she continues after the end of the war in Paris. After reading a book by Simone de Beauvoir (a strong portrait by Sandrine Kiberlain ),  she visits the writer and develops an unrequited crush on her.

De Beauvoir channels her emotional feelings into serious writing but encourages Leduc whose first book “L’ Asphixie” is published by Gallimard, through de Beauvoir’s literary contact. The lack of success of her next books, coupled with de Beauvoir’s stardom, drives Leduc into a deep depression, but the restrained and outwardly frosty de Beauvoir, supports her and even  pays for her stay in a sanatorium, where Leduc is – against De Beauvoir’s will –  treated with electro shocks.

Violette-003 copy

Leduc whose writing was at least as revolutionary as de Beauvoir’s (she was the first to describe lesbian sex), suffered most of her life from lack of self-esteem, she felt unloved by her mother (Catherine Hiegel). Sets and lightning reflect Leduc’s self-image: before moving to Faucon, she lives mostly in squalor, the colours are washed out, grey is dominant. Paris is anything but the city of light for Leduc, she sees Paris more like tunnels, in which she gets lost. Her temper tantrums seem to reverberate from the shoddy walls of her rooms, she dresses with little elegance believing in her own modest background (only making an effort when meeting De Beauvoir). Leduc is always shown as coarse and unattractive  – the total opposite of her status as a literary icon and taboo-breaker who is regarded now by some as on par with De Beauvoir.

NOW ON MUBI | DVD

Night Train to Lisbon (2013) | DVD release

Director: Bille August   Writers: Ulrich Hermann, Greg Latter

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Jack Huston, Melanie Laurent, Martina Gedeck, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, Tom Courtenay

115min   Thriller

Train journeys have always been romantic and especially those at night: a sense of intrigue and expectancy as you hurtle through dark tunnels in the depths of the countryside. Here, Danish director Bille August has adapted Pascal Mercier’s novel NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON  into an enticing art house treat with widescreen visuals and a starry cast.; or so it looks from the posters. So what could go wrong? Jeremy Irons puts his best foot forward as Raimund Gregorius, a buttoned-up boffin in search of himself in Bern. Having missed the boat on love, can he catch up by train?

On his way to work one day the jaded Gregorious meets a woman (Sarah Spale-Buhlmann) who obviously shares his ennui of life. Taking things a stage further, she is attempting suicide by jumping off a bridge, but eventually, due to his powers of persuasion, she agrees to follow him home. Before he can establish any facts, she disappears leaving her red coat and a book of musings by a certain Amadeu de Prado, who lived during Salazar’s dictatorship in seventies Portugal (Salazar, romantically, died falling off a deckchair). Inside, there’s a ticket for the night train to Lisbon..

Lost in the musings of de Prado (some of which is heard in voiceover), we’re all set for a train journey fraught with noirish strangers, cloaked villains and clanging bells. What we get is a tedious narrative that plods along occasionally rousing us from our slumbers as it hits another plothole in the tunnel of Gregorius’s own late-life crisis. Luckily the sympathetic figure of Marian (a compelling Marina Gedeck) shares his carriage and they bond instantly as the story unfolds.  Told mainly in flashback, it features resistance spies, love triangles and the talents of Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Bruno Ganz and Christopher Lee, all doing their utmost to breathe life into this ambitious but rather stodgy affair that teases us with promises it never actually delivers. Unfortunately the train is soon derailed by the (self-confessed) bore Gregorius whom nobody can galvanise, least of all the nubile charms of Mélanie Laurent (as Estafania) or Jack Huston (as Amadeu himself). Do see it, if you’ve got an indolent afternoon with nothing to do, it might wile away a few hours but it won’t transport you to anywhere other than your cinema.  MT

OUT ON DVD from 2 FEBRUARY 2015

 

 

 

 

Manakamana (2013) | DVD | VOD release

Dir.: Stephanie Spray, Pacho Velez; Documentary; USA 2013, 118 min.

A ride in cable car is always special and produces unique reactions from these delightful Nepalese pilgrims in a cable ride car over the lush verdancy of Trisuli valley, on their way to visit the temple of the goddess Manakamana, high up in the mountains to the west of Kathmandu. Stephanie Spray has lived in Nepal since the 90s and, with Pacho Velez, she has filmed the ten minute journey up and down the mountain.

Their static camera concentrates on the travellers, recording their experience of the trip with startling individuality and never leaves the cable car station once it reaches the summit or at the bottom. These little miniature otherworldly vignettes, like documentary poems, are accompanied by a sixties score from Pink Floyd, yet recall John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

The first visitors are an elderly man and a young boy who are completely silent during the whole journey, it’s as if the directors wanted to show us the hardest part first. All the other travellers are much more vocal than the first duo and one instinctively felt sympathy for the goats – very noisy – fearing that they might end up being sacrificed. The loudest ensemble were three male members of an Asian heavy metal band, who travelled with a cute little cat: they were the closest to anything from the modern World in this spiritual place. There was harmless fun; slapstick even, provided by two elderly women who ate their melting ice-cream amidst continuous giggles. Two sarangi players talked about the difficulties of travelling up the mountain before the cable car was built. Then they tuned their instruments and played. Three elderly women talked nostalgically about their lives, they had seen hard times when they were young but the past was still very vivid for them. Two American-sounding women were silent for half the ride, than suddenly talked like old friends. Someone remarked “Nature is a flower pot from the cable car”, and this seemed a statement that all the travellers – apart from the young musicians – could agree on.

MANAKAMANA makes you curious yet holds a remarkable tension; what to expect next: everybody on board brings new surprises. It is like looking at a Rorschach test, but with beautiful photos of the landscape instead of shapes: we try to guess their backgrounds, even history. In the peaceful spaces, our mind wanders and muses, putting together whole life stories from just ten minutes with the passengers. MANAKAMANA doesn’t paint an idyllic picture apart from the exotic vibrancy of their clothes colours, most of these pilgrims have had hard lives but they also possess a certain dignity. Their bearing shows pride but at the same time humility. An inner life transcends and most of them are untouched by any consumerism. What emerges is how this documentary touches us with so little to work with and how each of us will bring our own associations into play. With MANAKAMANA you can ride the cable car too. AS

ON DVD – VOD from 9 February 2015

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Leviathan (2014)

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev | Writers: Andrei Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin | Cast: Aleksei Serebyakov, Elana Lyadova, Roman Madyanov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov | Russia Drama |141min

Small, large, small, large: that’s the pattern of canvas sizes on which Andrei Zvyagintsev seems to be working. The Russian filmmaker’s tight debut feature THE RETURN (2003) was followed by sprawling sophomore effort THE BANISHMENT (2007), while taut masterpiece ELENA (2011) is succeeded now by suitably named LEVIATHAN, his most ambitious work to date. Taking its inspiration from the Book of Job, Zvyagintsev and co-scriptwriter Oleg Negin’s big, bleak statement on contemporary Russia won the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes, and held a capacity audience rapt for its 141 minutes this week at the 14th edition of T-Mobile New Horizons in Wrocław, Poland.

Melding the domestic and the social, the personal and the political, LEVIATHAN tells the northwest Russia-set tale of vodka-swigging Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), whose beautiful inherited beachside home – shared with his younger wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and his son from a previous marriage Roma (Sergei Pokhodaev) – is under threat when the corrupt local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) purchases the surrounding land. Kolya enlists good pal Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a lawyer from Moscow, who arrives in town to scare Vadim off with some canny research of his own, and to rekindle a sexual fling with Lilya.

To say any more is to ruin Zvyagintsev’s most narratively complex work to date. What makes this tremendous film so rewarding, however, is the director’s retention of previously employed ambiguities, which he puts to use in an unprecedently expansive storytelling style. As such, the Russian, who for many has been a kind of successor to Tarkovsky (claims and comparisons that appear now to be unhelpfully lazy), is pushing the boat out here into new territory not unlike how Nuri Bilge Ceylan did with ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA – which ranks alongside Zvyagintsev’s ELENA as one of this decade’s best films.

LEVIATHAN now surely joins such ranks. Before anything else are the familiar strengths. Regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman shoots with a reliance on the natural light of northwest Russia’s late summer/early autumn, giving the whole thing a pallet at once unhealthily under-lit and richly blue. Elena Lyadova, a less central performer in ELENA, is here elevated to key player: in her, Zvyagintsev has found an actress whose hardened beauty betrays all the hurt and disappointment that an ordinary life down on the lower rungs can bring. In so much as a glance here, she conveys a woman caught between the rock of an unhappy marriage and the unbearably hard place of a doomed affair. Philip Glass’s music also returns: ‘The Ruins’, from his 1983 opera Akhnaten, bookends proceedings over sequences of harsh, foreboding cliff faces and crashing, ominous waves.

Does the film overreach? Though such passages as that just mentioned are vivid and gripping in themselves, they do suggest a director who’s possibly too eager to imbue his work with an air of thematic significance. All the more refreshing, then, that the film is also Zvyagintsev’s funniest by far. Never settling for any one simple tonal register, it at times reaching levels of black satire, most notably in its early depictions of Vadim the mayor, a shark in a small pond whose office boasts a framed portrait of Putin, to whose shady Machiavellianism he palpably aspires (other framed leaders, from Lenin to Gorbachev, feature in another scene). As Vadim, Madyanov steals the show, resembling a fluffy teddy bear dowsed in vodka one moment and a ruthless, no-nonsense brute the next.

In a key scene, this cartoonishly disgusting villain seeks sympathy from the church – and comes away with an unspoken blessing to destroy the lives of ordinary and largely decent folk. And, on the beach not far from the domestic space eventually demolished with brutally undiscerning abandon by a bulldozer, is to be found an avatar of Russia today: the sad, giant skeleton of a beached whale. MICHAEL PATTISON

NOW ON DVD/Blu from

 

The Great Museum (2014)

Director/Writer: Johannes Holzhausen

94min   German

Panning over the majestic Viennese capital, Johannes Holzhausen’s well-paced and elegantly cinematic doc is as ambitious and proud as its premise: to share with the World the exquisite beauty of this house of treasures and priceless artefacts all of which can be enjoyed for the princely sum of 29 euros a year. (in contrast The Royal Academy’s annual sub is £48). This presents great value for a museum that houses not only Austrian art but also some of the Austro Hungarian Empire’s most valuable artistic heritage.

Recently subject to an extensive refurbishment, the film opens with the svelte figure of director general, Sabine Haag, strutting her stuff through the gallery (sporting a very recherché animal-printed corsage) in conversation with one of the planners. Later we see her explaining how the re-branding of the museum will create funding to allow it to compete on an International scale with similar cultural institutions. At an internal meeting, we also discover that the museum is flourishing with annual turnover of €38 million (by comparison The Royal Academy grossed £36.3m). Panning through the magnificent showrooms, the camera showcases the grand proportions of the buildings as well as its pristine and expertly designed archive facilities. White-gloved employees work tirelessly on the intricate job of curating the many treasures: amongst other priceless items the museum houses Emperor Franz Joseph’s sword and his uniform pre 1916. The documentary is very much in the style of Armstrong and Miller’s comedy vignette of St Francis Assisi “Fioretti” and makes a excellent companion piece to Frederick Wiseman’s documentary National Gallery (2014) and also Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours (2012). MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 FEBRUARY 2015

Foyle’s War (2015) | DVD release

Cast: Michael Kitchen, Honeysuckle Weeks, Ellie Haddington, Tim McMullan, Jeremy Swift, Rupert Vansittart, Daniel Weyman.

This quietly gripping post Second World War series, written by Anthony Horowitz, has been a firm favourite since 2002 with around five million TV viewers at the last count. Series 8 finds reliable stalwart Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), now working as a highly professional M15 detective tasked with investigating three cases both on the home front and abroad relating to past real-life Wartime events packs a particularly relevant punch as is possibly why the series, which some find rather too sedate, appeals to more mature audiences.

Slow-burning but superbly acted by a Sterling British cast, Kitchen portrays Foyle as breviloquent, gently sardonic and certainly no fool when it comes to dealing with wrongdoers: flushing out suspicious characters in these three new stories. Meanwhile his feisty assistant, Samantha Stuart (Honeysuckle Weeks), is going to great lengths to conceal another big secret, her pregnancy.

HIGH CASTLE: Corrupt Nazi businessmen come into the spotlight when a University Professor is found brutally murdered in a London Park after working as a wartime translator in Nuremberg linked to Global American Oil. Foyle’s boss, Sir Alex Myerson, is desperately trying to defend the American ‘good guys’ who run the energy company, but it’s clear to see that young executive, Clayton Del Mar, is as slippery as a barrel of West Texas Intermediate. John Mahoney saves the day in a serious role (no sign of Eddie, sadly).

TRESPASS: Ensuring an exciting international flavour, Foyle is tasked with ensuring security and uncovering a potential bombing threat at a high level Palestinian conference.

ELISE: Foyle’s colleague Hilda Pierce has a knack of being both unpleasant and indomitable. After surviving a point blank shooting, it appears that the shots were fired by a traitor within the ranks of the Special Operations Executive and Foyle is forced to examine his own inner sanctum to expose the truth.

DVD includes interviews with Anthony Horowitz and extensive coverage of the truth behind the stories.

OUT ON 19 JANUARY 2015

 

 

 

Under The Skin (2013) | Mubi

Dir: Jonathan Glazer Wri: Walter Campbell | Cast: Scarlett Johanssen, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Paul Brannigan | US/UK  Existential Thriller   107min

Promos director Jonathan Glazer’s two previous features have been exceptional: Sexy Beast was one of Ray Winstone’s best performances, launching his distinctive talent onto the big screen. Birth, was a drama of subtlety and resonance not least because of Nicole Kidman.

Under the Skin is a twisted, art house mind-jammer with echoes of Species and the creepiest soundtrack since Snowtown. But this is no ordinary fantasy drama. Jonathan Glazer claiming he felt threatened at the film’s premiere at Venice 2013 where the film was greeted with scepticism for its groundbreaking ideas. Based on Michael Faber’s acclaimed novel is sees an alien seductress in the shape of Scarlett Johansson who fetches up in Scotland where she turns predator on a series of unsuspecting men. Striking as a mysterious vamp with blood red lips, ‘The Female’ has a subversive agenda aimed at derailing the male of the human species. Under the Skin is a deliciously creative visual masterpiece that certainly gives us a run for our money, courtesy of cinematographer Daniel Landin.

 

Provocatively teasing the imagination, the film opens with some luminous images of refractive light and lenses- suggesting a different interpretation of seeing things from the alien POV. Glazer then offers up a portrait of a outwardly timid but skanky looking young woman who silent cruises around the Scottish countryside and the urban backwaters of Glasgow in her black land-rover. Occasionally stopping to ask directions from random male passers-by (a cast of non-pros keeps things edgy) who are only too happy to be led astray when offered a lift.

For the first half of the film our cold-eyed provocative heroine is very much the daylight succubus: welcoming men in dark recesses of empty properties where they slowly undress at the thought of what may follow. They sink into a pitch-black viscous void as she turns to nothingness before their eyes. On a beach, she watches vacantly as a whole family drown. Without a scintilla of anguish or interest, she drives away. On meeting a deformed young stranger, she seduces him and abandons him naked on the Moors. With another, she switches to a more submissive modus operandi; or is this just a ruse to appear vulnerable in order to gain control? Having gleaned some insight into the male psyche, she learns how to control men through lust, while remaining a siren like cypher. Is she an alien with a mission to learn about feelings, or just a random psychopath to mimicking a human response? We are sucked in; mesmerised; looking for clues; hoping to make some sense of the images floating across the scenery of this sinister landscape with its haunting and unsettling soundtrack from Mica Levi.

UNDER THE SKIN morphs between horror and sci-fi; drawing you into its bewitching spell with some deliciously inventive images (some poetic, some horrific). Jonathan Glazer is a visionary artist seeing the World through different eyes; those of an unworldly being. The voyeuristic camera makes no verbal judgement as it roams the High Streets, focussing on random individuals, making us see ourselves from a new perspective, exploring human behaviour through the eyes of an alien, until everything starts to look weird. With its bewildering narrative and intense visual experience this is certainly one of the most challenging and exciting films of the past decade . MT

Attenborough Award 2015| Best British Film UNDER THE SKIN is on MUBI

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Sunflower (1970) | DVD release

Igirasoli_film_posterSUNFLOWER (I GIRASOLI)

Dir.: Vittorio De Sica; Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Lyudmila Savelava; Italy/USSR 1970, 107 min.

Perhaps not de Sica’s most intense drama, SUNFLOWER is still a moving film. Written by Tonino Guerra and Cesare Zavattini, mainstays of Italian neo-realism, the film tries successfully to get away from the pure melodrama that the plot might initially suggest.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Antonio (Mastroianni) marries Giovanna (Loren) on a whim and we are left in no doubt that for him the twelve days leave he gains is more important than Giovanna. Having failed to convince the military board of his insanity, Antonio is a very reluctant soldier and is drafted to the Russian front.

SUNFLOWER is strictly anti-war in its ideology, avoiding any glorification of the hostilities. After a particularly gruesome battle, Antonio is left for dead but nursed back to health by Mascia (Savelava). They marry and Antonio adapts surprisingly well to the rural environment. Meanwhile, back in Italy, Antonia cannot find out what happened to her husband and sets out for Russia to look for him. After finding the couple, she corners Mascia: “If he really lost his memory, how do you know that his name is Antonio?” Antonio is shown as weak, oscillating between the much stronger women. De Sica splays up his opportunism to the full and on his return to Italy Antonio is in for a very rude awakening.

Naturally Loren dominates the film (produced by her husband Carlo Ponti) as she did in nearly all her collaborations with Mastroianni – the latter being a particularly sordid weasel, who does not deserve either of the women. But the images of veteran DOP Adriana Novelli, who would shoot de Sica’s masterpiece The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in the same year, remain most powerful along with HD elements from Giuseppe Rotunno, who lit most Italian headliners, including The Leopard. AS

SUNFLOWER DVD VOD re-master and widescreen format release on 26 January 2-15 with optional Italian audio.

 

 

Southern District | Zona Sur (2009)

Director: Juan Carlos Valdivia

Cast: Ninon del Castillo, Pascual Loayza, Nicolas Fernandez, Juan Pablo Koria, Mariana Vargas

104min  drama  Bolivia

According to SOUTHERN DISTRICT, Bolivia is still trapped in the dark ages. But despite an overriding tone of misogyny, it remains a firmly matriacal society full of tradition and firmly in the thrall of Catholicism.

In a luxurious home in La Paz, a well-to-do family lives a cloistered existance: their staff very much part of the intimate family. Wilson (Pascual Loayza), the family butler and handy man is a benign and gentle soul who tolerates his boss Carola (Ninón del Castillo) who hasn’t paid him for months. Having been abandoned by her husband, Carola relies heavily on Wilson’s capable support. The children are typically undisciplined and play fast and lose, taking advantage of their mother’s weakness and Carola dotes on her vapid son, Andrés (Nicolas Fernandes), spoiling him and offering him a poor role model of the female of the species.

Essentially a chamber piece, SOUTHERN DISTRICT is sparsely written, resorting to cliche in a narrative that fails to be meaningful or convincing, perhaps due to the English translation of the Spanish. Occasionally there are flashes of Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown in its female-centric plot, though whether there is an attempt at black humour it’s difficult to judge and certainly fails to come across. Despite its delicately muted aesthetic and elegant, almost magical setting and tentative classical piano/folkoric score, the film feels very much like an upmarket Bolivian soap opera, gradually charting the financial down-spiralling of this once affluent family.

Wilson is the pivotal character in the piece, demonstrating how men are still relied upon for support and protection, whatever their class or background, and he is vital in providing a paternal role model in all their lives and standing by his middle-aged mistress of the household.

The intimate camerawork captures the stiffling and claustrophobic lives of these people whose world implodes in on them once the male figurehead has left them stranded without financial backing to maintain their status in society, as gradually the sinster class system is exposed. A small film but a clever one. MT

DVD Release Date: 26 January 2015
Retail price: £15.99
BBFC: 18
Running Time: 104 minutes
Catalogue no: AXM617
Region: 2
Country: Bolivia
Language: Spanish, Aymara with optional English subtitles
Genre: Drama
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Audio: Stereo 2.0 and Optional 5.1

Palo Alto (2013) |DVD release

Director: Gia Coppola  Writer: Based on the ‘Palo Alto Stories’ by James Franco

Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Val Kilmer, Nat Wolfe

100mins  Drama US

Who is really interested in the vacuous lives of spoilt kids in Southern California? Well, perhaps the vacuous spoilt kids of Surbiton or any other affluent teenage neighbourhood in the Western hemisphere. But Gia Coppola’s debut is resonant and meaningful for its heroine, an inexperienced kid on which the story focuses. You can almost hear Francis Ford saying to the younger members of his clan “if you want to make a film, make it about what you know”. And this is the result. The 27-year filmmaker has adapted James Franco’s 2010 short-story collection ‘Palo Alto’ (inspired by his Personal memoirs of growing up in this wealthy city) and it seems genuinely to echo the lives of the other students who attended Palo Alto High School.

There’s nothing particularly new or even fresh about Palo Alto, other than the latest crop of ‘in’ words and phrases that she uses in her story of April (Emma Roberts)…..Larry Clark and Auntie Sophia have made similar inroads into the genre: teenagers ducking and diving in their natural habitat where adults are neither respected nor welcomed – nor were they every teenagers themselves; these kids get into the usual scrapes involving drugs and alcohol and sex. Franco gets a chance to massage his oversize ego and equally well-developed pecs as the local football coach, Mr B, letching around the young and perfectly-formed girls (is this wish fulfillment or fact on Franco’s part?). Emma Roberts is the standout here as his naive and inexperienced love interest, who is actually lusting after a more appropriate crush her own age in the shape of Jack Kilmer. She brilliantly evokes the pent-up confusion and bottled-up hormones of her nubile years, ready to run riot and potentially ruin her chances of a decent education – but it’s unlikely to ends in tears here in affluent West Coast Wonderland. This is a small but perfectly-formed niche drama and maybe Gia will spread her wings to pastures more inventive in her next outing when she has more life experience. For the moment this is her reality. MT

Courtesy of Metrodome Home Entertainment release date with be 9th February 2015

 

 

 

The Circle (Der Kreis) 2014 | DVD release

Dir.: Stefan Haupt

Cast: Matthias Hungerbühler, Sven Schelker, Anatole Taubmann, Stephan Witschi, Marianne Sägebrecht, Ernst Ostertag, Röbi Rapp;

Switzerland 2014, 100 min. Docu-Drama

THE CIRCLE informs us, rather surprisingly, that Zurich once was the European capital of the gay scene. In the 1950s, every Friday plane loads of Germans arrived for the weekend because in Switzerland – contrary to Germany – homosexuality was not a crime. In Stefan Haupt’s engaging docu-drama (Switzerland’s Oscar® hope for 2015) we soon discover that gay men and lesbian women were under constant threat of police harassment and censorship.

Haupt (Utopia Blues) tells the story of “The Circle”, a gay community group formed in 1942 in Zurich by the actor Karl Meier (Witschi). We join the action in 1956, when the 18 year old hairdresser Röbi Rapp (Schelker) met the young teacher Ernst Ostertag (Hungerbühler) at the organisation’s yearly shindig, that become a magnet for gay men from all over Europe. The film follows their story, intercut with the usual talking-head interviews with Rapp and Ostertag themselves, which interrupt the rather well-constructed period narrative.

“The Circle” published a magazine of the same name which was tri-lingual for a good reason: whilst the police and censors were able to interfere with the French and German versions, none of them spoke English, so that the more daring parts were printed only in English, and omitted from the other versions. It was with regard to the contents of this magazine that Ostertag and Rapp had their first argument. Rapp felt inferior to the well-educated teacher, who came from a upper-middle class family (who would have been mortified by the knowledge of his sexual orientation), and whilst Rapp’s mother (Sägebrecht) was an immigrant from Germany (who coped well with her son being gay), she worked as a lowly cleaner. After their argument, Ostertag gave Rapp his poems, which his lover, a gifted singer, put into rather moving songs, which accompany the film.

At school Ostertag had other problems: he wanted to read Camus’ “L’ Etranger” with his all-girl class but Siebert, the head teacher, also a member of “The Circle”, told him to choose “some classical French text”: he himself had perfected a way to fly under the radar in all areas of his life. But after a gay composer is killed in Zurich, police harassment of the gay community worsens, and when Sieber’s name is mentioned after a raid on the club’s premises, the head teacher takes his life, after his wife leaves him with the children.

For the next decade, until the student riots of 1968 deflected the police from harassing the gay community, “The Circle” group was under surveillance: whenever a gay member was beaten-up or killed, it was often the perpetrator who was seen as the victim in the media, not the real victim. Ironically, 1968 meant the end for the “Circle” and its publication: magazine imports from Denmark were much more daring, and the younger members left the group because Meier had, in their eyes, made too many comprises with the police.

Haupt crafts a bold and lovingly detailed period-piece enriched by contemporary newsreels underlining the staid and bourgeois  atmosphere in the city, making it even more surprising that gay life was at all possible in such a reactionary social setting. The ensemble acting is convincing, and the social divisions between Ostertag’s and Rapp’s family are still alive and kicking even today, provoking intense debate between the (real) couple over the delay in Ostertag inviting Rapp to meet his posh family for the first time.AS

DER KREIS won Berlin’s Panorama Audience and Teddy Award and is now available on DVD from January 29, 2015

 

The Overnighters (2014) | DVD release

Writer/Director: Jesse Moss

With Keegan Edwards, Jay Reinke

102min  US Doc

Never has a film about the devastating effects of economic migration managed to be so haunting and visually appealing. In his effecting and humanistic Sundance-awarded documentary, Moss examines the men who have been disenfranchised in their search for honest work. But this exposé of victims of the oil industry boom also develops into a morally complex study of the issues surrounding religious and community guidance, elevating it above its seemingly mundane subject-matter.

In a small town called Williston, the population has doubled since 2010. Drawn here by the promise of jobs in the oil-related side of fracking, those who have arrived are caught between the soaring costs of local housing and the need to have a local address to satisfy employment regulations. Moss choses the sympathetic figure of Paster Jay Reinke to illustrate the plight of these people. Converting his Church to a makeshift sanctuary, each night he accommodates the vulnerable and homeless, despite bitter opposition from his congregation on the grounds that many of the ‘Overnighters” are petty criminals, addicts and even sex offenders – according to a local rag.  But Moss is non-judgemental in his approach, it is Reinke who provides the caring but controversial standpoint as he champions those who have somehow lost their way, seeming to alienate his existing parishioners in the process. And the problem doesn’t go away: the pastor is forced into defence mode in distancing himself from his new protegés, giving this engaging piece dramatic tension along with its engaging ethical and moral dilemmas. Themes of xenophobia and community leadership are teased out as the doc unspools, shining a light on the the pastor’s validity as a religious man of God and also questioning his responsibilities to his wife and family.

Moss remains pragmatic in his stance through all of this, despite including an emotional scene between the pastor and his wife. The final segment of the documentary is testament to the human qualities of our moral and religious counsellors showing them also to be occasional victims of judgement and subject to the vagaries of real-life events and people which are, by nature, beyond their control. With an atmospheric score by T Griffin giving the film a tangible sense of place and Jeff Gilbert’s superb visuals blending hard industry with the astounding natural beauty of North Dakota, The Overnighters makes for an absorbing and moving piece of filmmaking.

ON DVD FROM 9 FEBRUARY 2015

 

Wakolda (2013) The German Doctor | DVD

Director: Lucia Puenzo

Cast: Alex Brendemuhl, Diego Peretti, Guillermo Pfening, Alan Diacz, Natalie Oreiro

98min  Argentina  Drama

The name of Dr Mengele (‘The Angel of Death’) always strikes fear into anyone familiar with his Wartime medical experiments on behalf of the Nazis.  Writer-director Lucia Puenzo first published the story as a novel about an unsuspecting Argentine family who offer hospitality to a suave Germany doctor, in return for medical care.

Her rather stolid drama instills an unsettling feeling right from the outset but places the story in the wider context of Argentina’s history of giving sanctuary to war criminals during the Second World War.

From the moment they all meet on the road to the family guest house in a cold and remote mountain region of Patagonia, a strange chemistry develops between the middle-aged doctor and the attractive but undeveloped 12 year-old daughter Lilith (Florencia Bardo), whom he calls “a perfect specimen’ – immediately giving the game away to anyone paying attention. 

Alex Brendemuhl as Josef Mengele 2

What they don’t realise is that Dr Josef Mengele was one of the Nazi’s most celebrating geneticists responsible for medical experiments which ended the lives of countless prisoners during the Second World War.  But with an ailing business and a wife experiencing a difficult pregnancy with twins, what could be more comforting for the family than the presence of a mature and capable physician around the house?

As Mengele (aka Helmut Gregor – his pseudonym), Alex Brendemuhl evokes a subtle portrayal of a man with a sinister, mysogynist satisfaction in ministering to the needs of Lilith and her bewildered mother.  Inculcating a sense of fear and hypochondria in the women, prior to offering them highly dubious medical solutions to their imagined problems, feels rather like reading the ‘Femail’ pages of the Daily Mail.

In a unsettling twist, husband Enzo (Diego Peretti),  runs the family business making morbid porcelain dolls (the one belonging to Lilith is called Wakolda) and is trying produce one with a mechanical beating heart. The doctor suggests glibly they should be mass-produced in an interesting metaphor for the soulless Aryan race he is employed (by Hitler) to create.

Everyone looks either permanently worried sick or lascivious and scheming (as in the doctor’s case). And well they might, because apart from performing his sinister experiments with growth hormones; Mengele is also an exploitatively messing with their minds and their relationships with each other.

Unlike The Boys From Brazil, the 1978 horror outing which Gregory Peck plays the notorious Mengele, Puenzo’s narrative cleverly only hints at Nazism and is actually set in the early sixties (20 years before Mengele’s death), giving the piece a more generalised sinister (using original war footage) feel rather than one solely focussed on the War.  This serves to make Wakolda feel like a film about an evil serial killer who evades capture through his charm and skills as a sociopath – a brilliant conceit, giving it both universal and contemporary art house appeal. MT

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WAKOLDA IS ON DVD

The Way He Looks (2014) |dvd/blu release

Director: Daniel Ribeiro

Cast: Tess Amorim,  Fabio Audi, Ghilherme Lobo,

This upbeat story of two teenagers is the feelgood coming-out debut from Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ribeiro who came to fame with You, Me and Him in 2008. Pristine visuals and a winning script (Fipresci and Teddy awarded at Berlinale) ensures a watchable experience that centres on Leonardo, a blind college boy, managing his burgeoning sexuality and desperate to move on with his life in an upmarket part of Sao Paulo where he lives with his supportive, if overprotective, parents.

Extended from a short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone filmed to finance the feature, Ribeiro develops his narrative extremely capably with this original premise, casting blind newcomer Ghilherme Lobo as his lead. Tess Amorim gives a thoughtful turn as his hopeful girlfriend Giovana, with well-concealed competitiveness for rivals in the school room.  But when Gabriel Fabio Audi comes into the picture, Giovana is pushed out amid much jealousy, as a palpable spark develops between the boys.

Lobo as Leo captures the sensitivity of gay love made even more poignant by his blindness and tentative approach to taking matters further with Gabriel.  Although for the most part uninventive visually, with the Brazilians looking very pale despite the sunny poolside life – there are some great sequences such as one in the nightclub. That said, it’s a brave attempt at handling a tricky story that comes off well and provides a strong and moving tale for young gay teens hesitant at coming out,  to feel encouraged by. MT

THE WAY HE LOOKS IS BRAZIL’S ENTRY TO THE 2015 ACADEMY AWARDS. It is available on dvd/blu from 9 February 2015

 

 

Adieu au Langage 3D | DVD/blu

Dir.: Jean-Luc Godard; Cast: Heloise Godet, Kamel Abdeli; France 2014, 70 min.

The old provocateur is back: JLG is 83, but still out to re-invent cinema as we know it. This time, his main challenge is to subvert 3D into his universe of chaos, quotes and role-plays. And a dog, no less than the master’s very own Roxy Mieville, is the co-star. Before we get too carried away by the master’s latest innovations, let us not forget that some of the great ‘revolutionary’ ideas came about by chance: his famous editing style, which made his debut Breathless so wonderfully new and vibrant, was the result of his producer wanting the original two hour version cut. JLG, instead of taking whole scenes out, as it was the norm in those days, simply cut his scenes, leaving a more open ending to many of them. And how much did we admire actors reading ‘political’ news from the newspapers of the day – like in Bande à Part. Only to be told by DOP Raoul Coutard, that JLG did not have enough script material to shoot the daily quota asked for by the producer – and simply improvised by said readings. Just to remind us all that what we might admire today as just another sign of greatness, may well have had a much more down to earth origin.

Having said his ADIEU TO LANGUAGE is full of verve, and not so overloaded with quotes and allusions as Film Socialism; it is in a way a return to the “old’ Godard of the 60s. To start with, a couple (and a dog) are the centrepiece, we even get a sort of a narrative: they are discussing, fighting, mostly naked and trying their best to look like the couple in Une Femme Mariée, not only because she is married and he is single, but even their playfulness camouflages deep unrest. Their dog Roxy steals the show often, and Godard, not overly fond of humans, pays the mutt the compliment “the dog is the only creature, who loves others more than himself”.

We get the usual quotes, Aragon, Faulkner and Sartre among them, and see old movie clips (Peck and Gardner in Kilemandjaro and Miriam Hopkins in Jekyll & Hyde); JLG’s own costume drama – Mary Shelly is writing “Frankenstein” at Lake Geneva and lots of music by Schoenberg. There are witty (but ultimately empty) remarks like “Solzenitsyn did not need Google’ or “Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality”. And when we deconstruct the title, we end up with “Ah God” and “Oh Language” – very clever indeed!

But he main assault is saved for the visuals. Apart from the usual multiple video formats, colour saturated HD and grainy video shots; JLG ‘invents’ his own 3D version, where we get different images for each eye, the third dimension making the 2D version look like old fashioned theatre backdrops, the superimpositions such creating another dimension. These images of the background create another film all together, Godard showing the chaos we live out in our visual double world, where the pictures, words and feelings don’t go together any more. The many fragmentations of modern life have rarely been shown so impressively on image, sound and context level.

GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE proves that JLG still wants to do things his own way – he’d rather show a dog’s view of the world: barking mad he might be, but there is nobody else left who dares. AS

DVD/Blu released December 2014

Cult classic | DVD | Blu | Box Sets for the holidays 2014

Q: What do David Lean, Claude Lanzmann, Kurosawa, Spike Lee, and Katharine Hepburn all have in common?
A: They all come in box sets and any one of them could make the perfect Christmas presents for film lovers…just click through and buy. But if you’re just looking for a small stocking filler, the following may appeal to any film buff.

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French cinema always springs to mind when people talk about ‘arthouse’ film and one timeless French classic is Maurice Pialat’s A NOS AMOURS. (1983) Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, it explores the life of a sexually precocious young woman contrasting sensual escapades with those of her violent experiences at home. If you fancy something meatier, Raymond Bernard’s screen version of Victor Hugo’s classic novel LES MISERABLES is a slightly substantial drama (on Blu-ray/DVD) for those long afternoons by the fire. Both are available from Masters of Cinema.

Stanley Kubrick is sure to be a big hit with any film aficionado. Those who’ve recently seen the new print of Sci-Fi classic 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY would be pleased to add imagesFEAR AND DESIRE (1953) to their collection of classic titles. Perfect to celebrate the Centenary of the Great War – this low-budget indie film takes a raw and occasionally surreal glimpse at War from the perspective of those fighting and dying. It also explores the psychological impact it has of four soldiers. Makes a superb companion piece to FULL METAL JACKET.

The-Last-of-the-Unjust-002 copy

Staying with the Wartime theme, Claude Lanzmann spent twelve years spanning the globe for surviving camp inmates, SS commandants, and eyewitnesses of the “Final Solution”. Without dramatic re-enactment or archival footage – but with extraordinary testimonies – the filmmaker’s landmark documentary about the Holocaust, SHOAH, renders the step-by-step machinery of extermination, and through haunted landscapes and human voices, makes the past come brilliantly alive.

Alongside the four films he made through 2013 on the subject, SHOAH is out in January. So why not start with a sparkling blu-ray Lanzmann taster: LAST OF THE UNJUST – before the series launches in January 2015.  All the EUREKA films have fabulous SPECIAL FEATURES such as booklets and interviews with key talent, making them really worth their weight in gold.

On a lighter note – and simply called ‘Spike Lee’ this set contains nine of Spike Lee’s best, that’s 2,000 minutes of film for £25.00, Mo’ Better Blues, Crooklyn, Inside Man, Clockers, School Daze, She Hate Me, Do The Right Thing, Get On The Bus and Jungle Fever . That’s Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Mekhi Phifer, Jodie Foster, Alfre Woodard and John Turturro, Harvey Keitel, Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra et al, either in store at HMV or online at Amazon.

Cary Grant Boxset

For lovers of mellow Hollywood classics, the ‘Cary Grant Box Set’, at £49.00 the most expensive of a selection of Cary Grant Box Sets, but this one contains 21 (count ‘em) films, whereas many of the others only three or four… Blonde Venus, Bringing Up Baby, Charade, Father Goose, The Grass Is Greener, Gunga Din, The Toast Of New York, I’m No Angel, Indiscreet, The Last Outpost, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, Mr Lucky, None But That Lonely Heart, My Favourite Wife, Once Upon A Honeymoon, In Name Only, Operation Petticoat, She Done Him Wrong, Suspicion, Sylvia Scarlett and That Touch Of Mink. That’s a whole lot of suave for one lucky girl. Amazon.co.uk

Staying with Hollywood greats: ‘Screen Icons, Katharine Hepburn’ offers you six top films for a paltry £15.00. Rooster Cogburn, State Of The Union, Bringing Up Baby, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Holiday and Suddenly Last Summer. Teaming her up with Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Angela Lansbury, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Sidney Poitier and John Wayne. I’m not sure your screen is wide enough. The films form part of a major retrospective that runs from 1 February 2015 at the BFI, London.

Moving to Japan: Three box sets to mull over for the Kurosawa aficionado:- The ‘Kurosawa Classic Collection’ at £39,99, released by the BFI was always going to feel less of an immediate bargain, but no less of a genuine treat for any true cineaste; Ikiru (1952); I Live in Fear (1949); Red Beard (1965); The Lower Depths (1957); Dodes Ka-den (1970). A couple of previously impossible to obtain here, in Red Beard and Dodes Ka-den.

At £35.79, ‘Akira Kurosawa- The Samurai Collection’ has Seven Samurai, Throne Of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro. Nothing amiss there then.

Finally, for £37.00, there’s ‘Early Kurosawa’, Sanshuro Sugata (1943), Sanshuro Sugata No 2 (1945), The Most Beautiful (1944), The Men Who Tread On The Tigers Tail (1952), No Regrets For Our Youth (1946) and One Wonderful Sunday (1947). His early work, before he hit his métier then, but if they do like Kurosawa, they won’t have seen these and will also appreciate the fledgling canon.

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Over at ARROW FILMS there is a re-mastered British eighties classic WITHNAIL AND I: out on DVD/Blu-ray along with a fabulous collection of NORDIC NOIR boxsets to while away long Winter evening. From Eureka: WAKE IN FRIGHT, Ted Kotcheff’s Australian outback drama starring Donald Pleasance. Both is edgy cult classics that will delight any film lover worth his salt and bring some welcome heat into the cold nights.   

Now also digitally remastered, ‘The David Lean Centenary Collection’ of 10 films for £20.00, either at HMV or online at Amazon, is some sort of bargain of the season. Lean is of course best known for Dr Zhivago, Bridge On The River Kwai and Lawrence Of Arabia, but this Centenary Collection boasts some of his perhaps lesser-known works, but no less fabulous for it: The Sound Barrier, Hobson’s Choice, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Madeleine, The Passionate Friends, This Happy Breed and In Which We Serve. Those are some stonking films for the price of one arthouse DVD at a boutique stall.

David Lean

Stocking fillers all. That’s not to say there aren’t a basket load of other choices, from Ealings finest to Mizoguchi, Ozu to Bogarde, Judy Garland to Tarantino… if not your stockings, then fill yer boots at Amazon.co.uk and BFI, online stores.

Intolerance (1916)

Dir.: David Llewelyn Wark Griffith

Cast: Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Robert Harron, Lilian Langdon, Constance Talmadge, Miriam Cooper

USA 1916, 168 min. SILENT

Premiering on September 5th 1916, when the First World War was raging in Europe, D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE had cost $2.5 m (the equivalent of $46 m today) and was a colossal flop at the box office. What might have been the first “auteur” film in history ran originally for three and a half hours and combined four different narratives which were intercut. Griffith had started with the ‘modern’ episode of INTOLERANCE, “The mother and the law” – which was sometimes shown on its own – and featured a fight between workers and management, with strike-breakers and police involved in deadly fighting. This episode was finished before BIRTH OF A NATION was shown for the first time. Griffith then wanted to put this modern drama into historical context adding three historical events: Jesus becoming the victim of a power-mad Jewish religious establishment; the St. Bartholomew Night in France (1572) when the Protestant Huguenots were slaughtered by Queen Catherine of Medici; and the defeat and death of the Babylonian prince Balshazzar at the hand of the Persian king Cyrus, as a result of a religious conflict of followers of two Babylonian deities in 539 BC. As a form of interlude, Lillian Gish is shown rocking a cradle, representing the positive symbol of humankind. But Griffith ends the film with apocalyptic scenes of the destruction of New York.

Griffith employed no fewer than six assistants, among them the future directors W.S. Van Dyke, Erich von Stroheim, and Tod Browning. The massive towers of Babylon had a height of 70 m, at Belshazzar’s feast more than 5000 extras mingled in the huge hall. And one of battle scenes in this episode was filmed from a balloon, featuring 16,000 extras.

Even the critics of the time preferred the rather racist BIRTH OF A NATION to INTOLERANCE, failing to understand the narrative structure of the film, which was strictly non-linear. Later, Pudowkin and Eisenstein would copy Griffith’s parallel montage in their classic films of the Russian Revolution, and Cecil B. De Mille would employ the luckless Griffith to direct action scenes for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS and THE KING OF KINGS. In spite of founding “United Artists” with Chaplin, Pickford and Fairbanks in 1919, Griffith would stop directing in 1931, after a long series of mediocre productions, among them ISN’T LIFE WONDERFUL, which forced him to leave “UA”. Long forgotten, Griffith died lonely and embittered in a hotel room in Los Angeles in 1948; very few of his stars and co-workers attended his funeral. AS

INTOLERANCE is available on Masters of Cinema www.eurekavideo.co.uk from 8th December 2014

 

Night Moves (2013) | DVD | Blu release

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Writers: Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt

Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Fanning, Jess Eisenberg,

USA 112min  Thriller

Kelly Reichardt’s last film Meek’s Cutoff was a poetic rendering of the classic Western. NIGHT MOVES  is billed as an ‘environmental thriller’ and set in contemporary Oregon following a trio of eco-warriors raising awareness of energy consumption in the local Rogue Valley.

The tone is sombre, but don’t expect to wade through endless environmental issues: Reichardt’s treatment offers little sympathy for these characters from the outset as we watch them jostle for position and power in ‘committee’ meetings. It soon  emerges that Dena (Dakota Fanning), Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) are not the nicest people or the closest of friends either.

The first half deals with the meticulous planning of their offensive in a local beauty spot where they are at pains to keep the operation clandestine. After an unsettling start to proceedings, they complete their mission and return to their normal lives.  This is where it gets interesting and shifts in tone from drama to psychological thriller as unforeseen circumstances unleash a wave of media attention provoking unexpected reactions in Dena and Josh. While Peter Sarsgaard’s excellently chilled performance as Harmon recedes into the background, the focus switches to Dena and her gradually disintegrating personality as she draws her friends and family into the picture very much against the wishes of the others, who attempt to distance themselves with dramatic results. Tension is heightened by a skilfully taut original score from Jeff Grace (We Are What We  Are).

Reichardt weaves plenty of texture into her narrative with astute observations on the current state of American politics while her characters play out their  acutely-observed and increasingly edgy existence. Night Moves is an immersive thriller and Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Josh stands out as a well-crafted study of paranoia and the corrosive effects of guilt.  Whether it will remain in your memory to same extent as Gene Hackman’s 1975 film of the same title, remains to be seen. MT

VENICE REVIEW 2013

NIGHT MOVES comes to DVD/Blu  on 11 January 2015

Tagebuch einer Verlorenen (1929) (Diary of a Lost Girl)

15396619231_ef32ee9cd2_zDir.: G.W. Pabst

Cast: Louise Brooks, Fritz Rasp, Edith Meinhard, Andre Roanne, Valeska Gert

Germany 1929, 94 min.

G.W. Pabst (1885-1967) was one of the main proponents of what Kracauer called “Die Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivism) and was called the “red Pabst”, because he was the most left-wing of the established directors of German Cinema during the Weimarer Republic.  It is hard to believe that between 1925 and 1931 he directed classic productions like Die Freudlose Gasse, Geheimnisse einer Seele, Die Büchse der Pandora, Westfront 1918, The Three Penny Opera and Kameradschaft. His return to Nazi-Germany in the late 30s came as a shock, and ruined his post-war career.

All the modern heroes of his films: the engineers, students, workers and clerk, are fighting for their existence in the inter-war years, they don’t need war as an excuse to die. Everywhere machines seems to gobble them up; even nature, in the mountain world of “Piz Palü“, is deadly. He will be remembered for his female heroines: Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo in Die Freudlose Gasse and Louise Brooks in Pandora and TAGEBUCH EINER VERLORENEN.

Pabst opens TAGEBUCH with a close-up: Thymian is looking at her diary, a present from an aunt. Later on, Thymian (Brooks), daughter of the pharmacist Henning, is seduced by his assistant Meinert (Rasp). After falling pregnant, her family puts the child up for adoption and punishes Thymian with a stay in a strict reform school. Together with her new friend Erika, Thymian escapes, but when she finds her child, it is already in a coffin. For a short time she lands in a bordello before an inheritance (which she rejects in favour of her half-sisters), leads to a marriage with a nobleman – and a visit to her old reform-school where she liberates Erika, who had been re-admitted.

Needless to say, censorship was strict: in September 1929 the film was shown with cuts of arount ten minutes, in December a higher inspecting authority (“Oberprüfstelle”) had all copies confiscated and cut a further three minutes before the release in January 1930. Among the cuts where the scene in the bordello because “It is corruptive to watch when the girls go with one gentleman after the other into bedrooms, where the exchange of money is shown”. One of the most brilliant moments of TAGEBUCH, when Valeska Gert as the manic directress of the reform school is gyrating in a sexually agitated way (the Weimar equivalent of ‘twerking’), was also a victim of the censors: “It is impossible to show the scene in the reform school as a mixture of Christianity and sadism – it is clearly seen as a violation of religious feelings”.

Whereas the writer Carl Mayer was the leading figure of early 20s German cinema; G.W. Pabst dominated the latter half. Every detail in his films has a presence which does not allow metaphysical association. Lighting, the movement of the objects, the wild camera and eclectic angles, all this was changed by Pabst and formed into something new: there is nothing but the scene itself, the present dominates through intensity. Pabst seems only to show the surface, but in such a way as to allow us to delve beyond and below: exposing the workings of society. AS

SPECIAL DUAL-FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD EDITION ON 24 NOVEMBER 2014, AS PART OF THE MASTERS OF CINEMA COLLECTION

 

Boy Meets Girl (1984) | The Leos Carax Collection | DVD/BLU

Director: Leox Carax

Cast: Denis Lavant, Mireille Perrier, Christian Cloarec

100mins  Fantasy drama   French with subtitles

Maverick French auteur Leos Carax tells an autobiographical story of doomed love in Paris for this stylish black and white debut. Set in 1984, it has the look and feel of the fifties and early sixties. A mood piece, slight in narrative and dialogue but rich in atmosphere and visually stunning, Boy Meets Girl is an exploration of his central characters’ dysfunctional insecurities that emerge in the fumblings of first love and the first flourishes of characteristic Carax eccentricity.

Denis Lavant stars as Alex, an insecure 24-year-old who has just split up with girlfriend Florence (Anna Baldaccini) who immediately falls for Thomas (Christian Cloarec). Distraught and frustrated by the break-up, film student Alex sets off to roam the nocturnal streets of Paris, stealing some records which he leaves at Florence’s door with a love letter.  The action is scored by musical interludes of piano and jazz music and, at one point, an unknown couple talking about their preferred styles of love-making. Eventually Alex finds his way into a strangely sedate soirée, welcomed by a middle-aged woman who becomes his hostess.  There he meets and falls in love with a mysterious but alluring actress Mireille (Mireille Perrier) who is aloof and self-absorbed. Boy Meets Girl has a weirdly detached and unique ambiance marking out Carax’s distinct talent to amuse. MT

OUT ON DVD/Blu COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE. The box includes HOLY MOTORS and THE NIGHT IS YOUNG

EXTRAS: INTRO BY DENIS LAVANT/ON SET IN THE KITCHEN

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Bronco Bullfrog (1969) | Bfi Flipside Releases |DVD Blu

Director/Writer: Barney Platts-Mills

Cast: Del Walker, Anne Gooding, Sam Shepherd, Roy Haywood

86min   UK Drama

There was once a working class street style known as ‘suedehead’ that was influenced by skinhead and mod culture, but still allowed you to have longer hair, Doc Martin boots and Combe coats. Fashion is one of the many pleasures of Barney Platt-Mills’s 1970 film BRONCO BULLFROG. Yet Bullfrog isn’t a dated costume piece but a poignant and funny drama of bored, inarticulate young people, with narrow horizons, little money, into petty crime and trapped in working class East End London. “Not much to do round here?” moans young Del Walker (as Del Quant) an apprentice welder who’s in a street gang and desperately trying to escape, with his girlfriend Anne Gooding (as Irene) to Newhaven and the countryside.

BRONCO BULLFROG has a slight plot. It’s all about character, feelings and atmosphere. The kids might be inarticulate but they’re likeable, vulnerable and well observed. Speech rhythms, long pauses and body language are delivered with a great spontaneity by Bronco’s cast and director. The film is influenced by Italian neo-realism and creates a series of sketches (beautifully photographed in black and white) that keeps its reality honestly lived, and never pulled into obvious melodrama. One scene has Del and Irene driving, on his motorbike, into the West End to see a film. When they get to the cinema (showing ‘Oliver’) they see that the seat prices are far too expensive. The next scene has them in a Wimpey Bar where Del says that it was a shame that they couldn’t get into the pictures, to which Irene replies that it would have been a waste of money anyway. This all takes about two minutes of screen time, has minimal dialogue and yet says volumes about youthful frustration, making do, class and aspirations.

None of the young cast had acted before. They were taken under the wing of the now legendary theatre director Joan Littlewood and encouraged to get involved in theatre work. Director Barney Platt-Mills, who worked with Littlewood, managed to raise £18,000 pounds, to shoot a partly improvised and scripted film in six weeks. Bronco Bullfrog was the result. A film that the critic Alexander Walker said would still be spoken of very highly in years to come. If you want to decide for yourself then ask the NFT Southbank to screen it again soon, or buy the BFI dvd / blu-ray issued in their British Flipside series. And why is this film called Bronco Bullfrog? Well that’s the name of the ex-borstal guy who Del, and his mates, meet up with to do a railway holdings robbery. Coming back to fashion you just have to see Sam Shepherd (as Bronco Bullfrog) wearing his late sixties floral shirt and tie!

Bronco Bullfrog is a film unlike any other production of its time. My only possible comparison might be early Ken Loach, without the tragedy, or early Truffaut with all his generosity. For me, it’s a classic. Alan Price©2015

Alan Price is a poet, short story writer and scriptwriter. His collection of poetry, OUTFOXING HYENAS (Indigo Dreams 2012) can be sampled on the website

DEDICATED TO REDISCOVERING CULT BRITISH FILMS THAT MIGHT OTHERWISE BE FORGOTTEN, THE BFI’S FLIPSIDE RANGE FLESHES OUT OUR NATIONAL FILM HISTORY WITH A SERIES OF DVD/BLU-RAY EDITIONS (NOW 26 TITLES STRONG) FROM FILMMAKERS IN DANGER OF BEING FORGOTTEN. Available on amazon.co.uk

Nekromantik (1987) | DVD release

Director: Jorg Buttgereit   Writer: Franz Rodenkirchen

Cast: Bernd Daktari Lorenz, Beatrice Manowski, Harald Lundt, Colloseo Schulzendorf

75min   German  Horror

The problem with Nekromantik, a cult horror flick from 1987 by German director Jörg Buttgereit, is that it neither looks appealing nor has any really engaging storyline. It is vile to watch rather than shocking: and to clarify – witnessing a fatal car crash is shocking whereas watching human entrails being loaded into black bin liners is just downright unpalatable: Nekromantik is the latter. To our 21st century gaze, the horror outing with its weird ‘om Pah pah’ score, is a tawdry and off-putting way of spending just over an hour, but some (particularly schlock horror fans) will find this exciting. With its tagline ‘Death is Just the Beginning”. Nekromantik was considered one of the most controversial films ever made and was banned in many countries, and still is in Singapore, Iceland, Norway and Malaysia. The film was unailable on DVD in the  UK. Until indie distributors Arrow Films has decided to re-release the uncut version in November.

In terms of genre Nekromantik is a mix of schlock, exploitation and softcore pornography, serving both as a macabre study in necrophilia and an attack, back in 1987, on German middle class prudishness. When one considers the outlandishly foxy, sensual films of the Weimar years 60 years earlier, this attack seems rather misguided and somewhat innaccurate.

Essentially a two-hander, the film centres on Rob, (Bernd Daktari), who is depicted as a member of the German ‘working-class’. As a public sector worker, his day is filled with routine tasks such clearing up human roadkill for the council. In a mad moment, he decides to bring one such corpse home for a threesome with his wife Betty (Beatrice Manowski), who rather enjoys the attentions of the rotting cadaver that Rob fixes up with a steel phallus, to add spice to her enjoyment (is poorly endowed?- we never find out) . Strangely, Betty enjoys the dead body rather than that of her husband, signalling the end of their romance. In a fit of pique, Rob kills the cat and takes a bath under its bleeding body…

The exterior of their grimy apartment block is contrasted with the ludicrous scenes taking place behind its walls, recalling the German word often applied to horror outings ‘unheimlich’. The direct translation of this is ‘unhomely’ but it actually means “uncanny’ appropriately here. And she argues that this is an evocation of the ‘uncanny’ in Freudian terms: Rob owns a miniature version of The Glass Man. Created in 1930 by Franz Tschackert, it was a life-size model of a male figure with transparent skin. Several shots of specimens of internal organs in jars, add a further horrific twist to their activities.

Quite why anyone would want to kiss a putryfying corpse is beyond mainstream comprehension: apart from being akin to licking a festering pork chop and contracting campobylactor or even paralytic worms, it’s neither artistic nor a turn-on for most people but this is nevertheless is the general thrust of Nekromantik‘s rather slim narrative, which, in common with its cadaver, doesn’t have much flesh on its bones. It takes all sorts. MT

NEKROMANTIK is available on Blu-ray & DVD from 15 December 2014, a perfect stocking-filler.

THE 3-DISC SET COMES LOADED WITH EXCLUSIVE DIRECTOR-APPROVED CONTENT INCLUDING THE MAIN FEATURE AND THE DIRECTOR’S PREVIOUS SHORTS HOT LOVE (1985) AND HORROR HEAVEN (1984).

Boyhood (2014) |DVD Blu

Writer/Director: Richard Linklater

Main Actors: Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Ethan Hawke

165 mins Origin: US Drama

It has to be said, Boyhood is an unusual beast: a 165 minute, high-concept coming-of-age drama. Filmed in annual instalments over a twelve-year period, there was a serious danger that the concept could overpower the screen, and that the extended runtime could prove ill-fitting to director Richard Linklater’s often loose-knit style. Thankfully, Linklater has managed to skilfully circumnavigate these pitfalls and create something which is not merely atypical, but truly extraordinary.

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The runtime might seem dauntingly extended, but it allows for an expansive scope: the film may be called Boyhood, but it is so much more than a story of adolescence. Linklater marks the passing of time not through title-cards or voiceover, but through the changing styles of fashion, music and technology: it is not only the character of young Mason that grows, changes and matures, but the world itself. Linklater has said that he wanted the film to flow like memory, like snatches of a remembered past – this is life as a series of moments. At times, it feels like the swirling ruminations of Slacker and Waking Life have been grafted onto the teen drama of Dazed and Confused and then blended with the returning rise and fall of the Before trilogy. With its epic scope and prolonged gestation (during which time he made other eight features), it’s possible to see the film as something of a summation of Linklater’s work to date (and a fitting one at that).

As ever in a Linklater film, the performances shine. If the phrase is a cliché, it seems necessary never-the-less to say that Ellar Coltrane doesn’t so much portray Mason, as inhabit him. Indeed, it’s like the actor that grew from the young six-year-old performer was custom-built to play a Linklater protagonist, and one can’t help but speculate on the influence (or should that be impact?) that growing up under Linklater’s careful directorial gaze must have had. Meanwhile, Ethan Hawke (as Mason’s Dad), reminds us what an enjoyment he is to watch – but it’s Patricia Arquette (as Mason’s Mum) that steals the show. As the film progresses, she weathers and ages, a woman beaten down by life, but one who finds the resilience to carry on. If Boyhood is about a child becoming a man, it is equally about a mother growing old and emptying her nest. It’s perhaps no surprise that Boyhood ultimately becomes a film about parenting, given that Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei, plays Mason’s sister in the film. 

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There’s an air of quiet tragedy that rings throughout Arquette’s storyline, and the film is by turns touching, tender and terrifying. But it’s also funny throughout, and it ends on a note of hope which offsets the sadness and melancholy that we’ve felt along the way. Only time will tell if Boyhood ends up being regarded as one of Linklater’s best – but for now I certainly feel safe declaring it to be one of his most heartfelt. Alex Barrett

SILVER BEAR WINNER 2014 (BERLINALE) Available on DVD|Blu

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In Their Room (2013) |London|Berlin|San Francisco

Director/Writer: Travis Mathews

113min  US Docudrama

So you thought INTERIOR LEATHER BAR was explicit? In some way, Travis Mathew’s latest project is even more so. Here, he takes his voyeuristic camera to reveal that the most intimate part of gay men’s lives is probably their bedroom. This is where hearts are opened and desires are divulged in a raw and sometimes moving exposé of gaydom that offers insight and food for though, even to mainstream audiences.

This latest docu-drama is cobbled together from a series of videos that have now been aired under the title IN THEIR ROOM, that wanders peripatetically through the boudoirs of eight urban men starting off in Mathews’ hometown of San Francisco back in 2009. Some men are open and candid; others more coy and clandestine; one or two even flirt openly with the camera but they all bare their souls and their bodies to provide us with fascinating thoughts centred mainly on their views of sex, relationships and love. In Berlin, the second and most provocative segment focuses on their online lives as they trawl the internet for dates and hook-ups. A couple compare notes and discuss their findings and, in common with any sexual orientation, the fear of loneliness looms ever present, surfacing as one of the most haunting fears: seemingly more worrying than contracting AIDS or other diseases.

Eventually we arrive in London for the third and most recent part filmed in 2013. Roaming through tawdry bedsits it feels that this capital city is really where gay men feel most isolated and fearful for the future. But, there again, London is the hardest, most competitive place for almost anything or anyone and this factor filters through quite alarmingly amongst the gay community. Ageism is mentioned as one of the ongoing fears of gay men. But isn’t that also a fear in the heterosexual community as relationships break-up more easily than ever before due to the pressure of modern life but also the availability of alternatives and the apparent ease of moving on with our lives due to the internet.

Whatever your orientation, Mathews provides a thought-provoking and engaging set of interviews thats probes the innermost thoughts of men stripped bare, quite literally. MT

OUT ON DVD FROM 8 DECEMBER 2014

 

Les Miserables (1934) | Blu-ray DVD release

A mammoth undertaking that puts the latest version to shame is Raymond Bernard’s 1932 adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel LES MISERABLES which followed rapidly in the wake of his epic First World War drama LES CROIS DE BOIS (WOODEN CROSSES (1932). With a screen time running to nearly five hours, Bernard’s epic version reflects the original source matter in all its breadth and glory: this is not a film for the faint-hearted but well worth it when time and leisure permits.

There is much to admire about Bernard’s version which followed the style of the historical spectacle; skilfully blending his dramatic narrative with ambitious set design by Lucien Carré and Jean Perrier, cinematography by Jules Kruger and a cast of over fifty characters. Told against the background of 19th France, it traces two decades in the lives of Jean Valjean, the central character, played by the superb Harry Bauer (who sadly was to die in the Second World War) as he attempts to evade the clutches of the unscrupulous Inspecteur Javert (Charles Vanel – The Wages of Fear). Told in three parts: ‘Tempest in a Skull’, ‘The Thenardiers’ and ‘Freedom, Dear Freedom’ , it was filmed in and around Antibes and Nice on the Côte d’Azur.

SPECIAL FEATURES including:

• New presentation of the film in its complete length from the new Pathé 4K digital restoration
• 40-PAGE BOOKLET with new and vintage writing, rare archival material, and more!
• A host of additional extras to be announced

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AVAILABLE FROM 8 DECEMBER 2014 Amazon (Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/1BD7oS1    Amazon (DVD) http://amzn.to/1pKUxGC

The Killers (1946) | Blu-ray release

image014Newly restored High Definition (1080p) presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by Universal

Dir.: Robert Siodmak

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien, Albert Dekker, Sam Levene, William Conrad, Charles McGraw

USA 1946, 102 min.

Based on the short story by Ernest Hemingway, THE KILLERS was one of many classic film noirs by the German born director Robert Siodmak (1900-1973). He was one of the team of filmmakers of “Menschen am Sonntag” (1929); his fellow creators and emigrants Edgar G. Ulmer and Billie Wilder would, like him, excel in directing noir-movies in Hollywood, as well as another couple of ex-UFA directors: Fritz Lang and John Brahm. Robert’s brother, Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), also became a busy Hollywood script-writer in Hollywood involved in noir-films so clearly all these emigrant directors transferred the traumatic displacement they had suffered in Nazi-Germany to their new environment creating films in which everything, from the role of capitalism to gender roles, became questionable.
Robert Siodmak’s list of noir films he directed between 1941 and 1949 is quiet staggering: Flight by Night; Conflict; Phantom Lady; The Suspect; The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror; Cry of the City; Criss Cross and Thelma Jordan. Apart from being aesthetically original, these productions were often great successes at the box office and Siodmak had enough clout with the studio bosses to cast an unknown debutant in the leading role for THE KILLERS: Burt Lancaster.

The film opens with two psychotic killers Max (Conrad) and Al (McGraw) entering the small town of Brentwood in New Jersey at night, where they start at the local diner enquiring about Pete Lunn, called “The Swede”. They get a dusty answer and terrorise  the owner and staff in frustration before turning their enquiries elsewhere. Finally, they track down Lunn’s (Lancaster) boarding house and shoot him in cold blood. Jim Reardon (O’Brien), an insurance inspector investigating a life-insurance claim (Lunn had a life-insurance policy, a motel maid in Atlantic City being named the beneficiary), is puzzled as to why Lunn never ran away, despite being warned by one of the guests in the diner about the arrival of the killers. With the help of police detective Sam Lubinsky (Levene), who knew Lunn when he was a young boxer (putting him away in jail after Lunn took the rap for a jewel theft for his secret love Kitty Collins), Reardon tries to uncover the truth behind Lunn’s suicidal behaviour. But the more Reardon learns, the less sense it all makes…

The narrative is told at first as a series of flashbacks portraying Lunn’s life before the two killers from the opening sequence make another appearance, this time trying to get rid off Lubinsky and Reardon, setting in motion a series of shootouts. The acting is near perfect: Lancaster’s “Swede” is a naïve, emotionally immature man who does not even know that Lilly is in love with him – she promptly marries Lubinsky – whilst Lunn obsesses about the unobtainable Kitty from afar, only confronting the rough Colfax once before the heist. When Lunn meets Gardner, she is “the little girl lost” in the company of gangsters, begging Lunn to save her, and Lunn is only too happy to oblige, even if it costs him three years of his life. Their meeting in Atlantic City, when Kitty tells him of Colfax treachery, is the high point of the film: one literally feels the burning lust. Dekker’s Colfax is steely and arrogant – Ronald Reagan would play him in Don Siegel’s remake of 1956 – and Conrad and McGraw are truly frightening in their unrestrained violence. DOP Elwood Bredell plays it masterly with shadows and light, creating an atmosphere of violence and repressed lust. The male protagonists are all severely damaged, even Lubinsky is just shown as a cop who easily sells his friend Lunn out, even though he had the chance to save him. Reardon is just a stupid insurance agent who risks his life to maximise the profits of his company. Siodmak creates a totally corrupt and amoral world in this near perfect cult classic. AS

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OUT ON 8TH DECEMBER ON BLU-RAY COURTESY OF ARROW FILM

Original uncompressed PCM mono 1.0 audio
Isolated Music & Effects soundtrack to highlight Miklós Rózsa’s famous score
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
Frank Krutnik on The Killers, a video piece by the author of In a Lonely Street, which introduces the film and offers a detailed commentary on four key scenes
Heroic Fatalism, a video essay adapted from Philip Booth’s comparative study of multiple versions of The Killers (Hemingway, Siodmak, Tarkovsky, Siegel)
Three archive radio pieces inspired by The Killers: the 1949 Screen Director’s Playhouse adaptation with Burt Lancaster and Shelley Winters; a 1946 Jack Benny spoof; the 1958 Suspense episode ‘Two for the Road’ which reunited original killers William Conrad and Charles McGraw
Stills and posters gallery
Trailers for The Killers, Brute Force, The Naked City and Rififi
Reversible sleeve featuring one of the original posters and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Sergio Angelini and archive interviews with director Robert Siodmak, producer Mark Hellinger and cinematographer Woody Bredell, illustrated with original production stills.

AVAILABLE FROM MONDAY 8TH DECEMBER COURTESY OF ARROW FILMS

Withnail and I (1987) Remastered on DVD Blu

Writer/Dir: Bruce Robinson

Cast: Richard E Grant, Richard Griffith, Paul McGann

107min UK  Drama

Withnail and I was Writer-Director, Bruce Robinson’s debut. And what an extraordinary debut it is. Yet the elements that make it into possibly one of the best British comedy dramas of the 20th Century are simple: A brilliant script, convincing characters; superb acting. In late sixties Camden squalor, it centres on two ‘resting’ actors on the verge of alcoholism who embark on a trip to the country where they find more squalor in Uncle Monty’s cottage.

With a script full of quotable gems and a unique chemistry of Richard E Grant in a subtle but ‘on the nail’ performance as a sneering upper class luvvie, and Paul McGann as his more down to earth flat-mate they contrast perfectly with the over-blown grandeur of the kindly but predatory Richard Griffiths as Monty (“I mean to have you even if it must be burglary”). Ralph Brown joins them as a nefarious drug-dealing hustler.

Set on location in a Victorian terrace squat complete with crumbling walls, dusty paraphernalia and a sink so foul it spawns its own eco-stystem, the pair decamp briefly to Uncle Monty’s chintzy Chelsea pad in search of hand-outs and sherry, then head to Cumbria for a rain-soaked bucolic dress-down by the local farmer and his randy prize bull. More drinking ensues and a hilarious interlude in the local tea-shop where the pair pretend to be film producers and Grant utters the famous phrase: “We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now”.

Watch it, enjoy it and treasure its solid breeding. MT

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ON DVD/BLU COURTESY OF ARROW FILM AND VIDEO.

 

Competition | Win a copy of Boris Vian’s book L’ECUME DES JOURS (Mood Indigo)

L_ECUME_DES_JOURS_18 copyMichel Gondry’s poetic and surrealist French drama MOOD INDIGO is based on BORIS VIAN’s fantastical novel L’ECUME DES JOURS (Froth on a Daydream). The story has captured the imagination of various feature filmmakers since the book was written in 1947 and has also been made into an opera by the Russian composer Edison Denisov.  It tells how Colin, a romantically idealistic young man, falls in love and marries Chloe, a beautiful Parisian girl. Romantic love turns to tragedy when Chloe develops a weird and inexplicable illness, turning their lives upside down.

The exciting news is that we have three copies of the book to give away. To be in with a chance of winning one, please answer the following question:

Q. Boris Vian was a famous French writer, poet and translator but he was also influential in which field of music during his lifetime?

a. Opera

b. Jazz

c. Orchestral

Please send your answer to filmuforia@gmail.com by the competition deadline: Midday on 5 DECEMBER 2014.

Grand Central (2013) | DVD release

Director: Rebecca Zlotowski        Writers: Gaelle Mace, Rebecca Zlotowski

Cast: Tahir Rahim, Lea Seydoux, Denis Menochet, Olivia Gourmet, Johan Libereau

94min  Romantic drama   French with English subtitles

Grand Central’s nuclear decontamination unit provides the sinister backdrop to this tense drama of friendship, love and divided loyalties from French director Rebecca Zlotowski.

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Gary (Tahir Rahim) and Tcherno (Johan Libereau) are two young men who become friends as they travel to find work at the plant, set in the heart of verdant countryside. Accidents here are an everyday occurence rather than a risk factor but they are desperate for the chance to be earning some money. The mood is hopeful and upbeat at dinner on their first night, meeting colleagues Toni (Denis Menochet) and his fiancée Karole (Lea Seydoux) who unexpectedly kisses Gary in an effort to convey the feeling of radiation sickness.

But it doesn’t end with a kiss. Gary and Karole are a natural fit exuding a convincing onscreen chemistry as they drift into al fresco lovemaking sparked by their instant attraction and although Gary’s allegiances are initially to Toni (who has helped him out with a loan) he gradually falls for Karole’s magnetism and seductive powers.

Zlotowski handles the story well with her collaborator Gaelle Mace, cleverly weaving the narrative between the illicit love affair in the lush, bucolic surroundings and the unsettling conditions inside the stark nuclear unit and there is a judicious use of a throbbing, futuristic score to ramp up the tension.

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But after an incident at the plant the tone grows darker as the naively romantic Gary falls deeper into a web of fear and deceit caught between his feelings for Karole, his friendship with Toni and the pressure of working in the radioactive conditions at the plant. But nature takes its course.

Despite their skilful performances, the character arcs of Karole and Gary are never really given a chance to fully develop although their love scenes are believable and heartfelt. That said,  Zlotowski’s elegantly composed  widescreen visuals and skill at authentic modern storytelling certainly make this an absorbing drama not to be missed. MT

GRAND CENTRAL IS NOW ON DVD

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The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

15030343977_006f14eaee_zDirector: Raoul Walsh  

Writers: Lotta Woods and Douglas Fairbanks

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Anna May Wong, Sôjin Kamiyama

155min  Silent Adventure Family Drama   US

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD was Douglas Fairbank’s pet project after success with The Three Musketeers (1921), The Mark of Zorro (1920) and Robin Hood (1922) had cemented a Hollywood career. His powerful physique and athletic prowess that was later to make him the inspiration for Superman (despite being only 5.7”) fits well with this swashbuckling role that required him to scale walls stripped to the waist as the charismatic and infamous Arabic ‘Thief’ Ahmed. Based on one of the ‘1001 Nights’ tales, Ahmed uses his powers to win the heart of the Princess, but his father The Caliph (Brandon Hurst) forbids the marriage so the couple to embark on an exciting adventure involving a crystal ball, a magic apple, an invisibility cloak and, of course, a magic carpet. But vying for her hand is also the deceitful Mongol Prince (Sôjin Kamiyama) who also has a few more tricks up his sleeve. The first Chinese American star, Anna Way Wong has a role as the Mongol slave.

Under the direction of Raoul Walsh this is a dreamy and visually seductive fairytale affair that glistens with all the mystique of Araby and must have enchanted audiences young and old on its release in 1924. Today it’s still mesmerisingly beautiful to watch. and its silent format adds to its magnetic allure with Julanne Johnston as a simply luminous Princess. Her delicately romantic costumes were the creations of Mitchell Leisen, who was known for his elegant designs worn by Olivia de Havilland. After training under Cecil B De Mille he went on to work on The Thief. With its gorgeous technicolour sequences by Arthur Edeson and sumptuous sets by William Cameron Menzies transporting us to a distant world of make-believe, it was one of the costliest outings of the silent era and also the most lush, even by Hollywood standards. Carl Davies’ atmospheric score adds to the magic making this an ideal film for Christmas for all the family. MT

DUAL FORMAT DVD BLU RAY RELEASE AVAILABLE FROM EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT FROM 24 NOVEMBER 2014

Spione (1927) | DVD release

15213276627_8978af3e0a_mDir.: Fritz Lang; Cast: Fritz Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Lien Deyers, Willy Fritsch; Germany 1927, 144 min.

SPIONE, whilst directed by Lang, is much more a Thea von Harbou film, co-written by her, based on her novel of the same name. It has long become fashionable to put all the blame for the weaknesses of Lang’s films before his emigration on von Harbour – after all, she stayed in Germany, being a convinced national socialist. But it is not so easy: Kracauer rightfully criticises that “SPIONE could have been a true forerunner of the Hitchcock thrillers if Lang had not fashioned it after the pompous manner of METROPOLIS, with empty sensations taking on the air of substantial revelations.” But to say that its “virtuosity alienated from the content”, and later alleging that Lang only found his true ‘style’ in Hollywood, is simply going too far and forgetting that Lang’s Hollywood B-movies were much leaner because of restricted budgets. But one should not forget that on his return to Germany in 1958, Lang’s last films again could be put into the category of “form above content”; mainly for the reason that he could command a much higher budget – using scripts co-written by von Harbou (who had died in 1954) and himself based on her novels for “Der Tiger von Eschnapur” und “Das Indische Grabmal”.

In many ways SPIONE is a more rational version of Lang’s earlier “Dr. Mabuse” films from 1921/2. The main protagonist, Haghi (Klein-Rogge, who also featured as Mabuse), has a triple existence: he is leader of a powerful spy ring; the (crippled) president of a bank and the circus clown Nero. But whilst Mabuse was driven by lust for power alone, Haghi is much more a protagonist of the “Neue Sachlichkeit” (New Objectivism). He does not want power, he wants to have a better organisation than his opponent, the boss of the state run counter-espionage. Being a pragmatist, he underestimates the power of emotions: Haghi’s agent Sonja (Maurus) falls in love with her opposition agent no. 326 (Fritsch), and after Haghi fails to kill 326 off in a wonderfully staged railway accident, he flees into the circus world, but is even cornered there: he commits suicide on stage, the audience clapping, wildly believing it to be the highlight of his performance.

As usual, in most films from Kracauer’s so-called “Stabilised Period” in German cinema (1924–1929), neutrality is the order of the day. Whilst Mabuse was seen as the enemy, Haghi and his opponents are just competitors – like police and underworld in M (1931). In Lang films of this era, technology is perhaps the most dominant factor. Haghi’s spies use planes, which are much quicker than the trains used by the agents of the state. (A copy of SPIONE was taken by Zeppelin to New York for its US premiere). And all the walls in Haghi’s banking empire have spy-holes, as in Metropolis: so he could spy on his workforce. Spying is the central idea of many Lang films, SPIONE morphing without little transition into MINISTRY OF FEAR sixteen years later. AS

RELEASED AS A DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY AND DVD ON 17 NOVEMBER COURTESY OF MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

Breaking The Waves (1996) | DVD release

Breaking-the-Waves_DVD_2DDirector: Lars von Trier

Cast: Emily Watson, Katrin Cartlidge, Stellan Skarsgard

158min  Romantic Drama  Denmark

Breaking The Waves must surely be one of the art house films of the century. And although Lars von Trier’s career has often proved controversial, his innovative visuals, ground-breaking ideas and ability to elicit remarkable performances from his world class acting talent certainly make him one of the all time greats in the history of indie film. In Breaking The Waves, his third feature, he uses an effective formula focusing on a vulnerable central character caught up in momentous events beyond her control. The lead was Emily Watson, who had never had such a great role since.

Set in a remote Scottish fishing port in the early seventies, Watson plays a gentle and vulnerable God-fearing girl, Bess McNeill, is married to Jan Nyman, a hard-bitten offshore oil rigger from Scandinavia. Their love for each other is as cerebral as it is sexual but when he is badly injured in an accident, their relationship is put to the test as she is forced to prove the real strength and depth of her love for him. In a career-defining performance (for which she won Best Actress), Watson evokes our empathy as the desperately smitten young wife driven to distraction as she tries to meet the increasingly extreme demands of Stellan Skarsgard’s broken older man. Robby Muller ‘s disorientating wide-screen visuals and intense close-ups add to the feeling of low level hysteria as Bess digs deep into her spiritual beliefs to satisfy her man, giving her a martyr-like quality. Trier elevates her suffering to an art form in this poignantly observed and trenchantly agonising drama that manages to transcend melodrama, awarding Bess with a purity and innocence not seen since his fellow Dane, Dreyer directed Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).

A soundtrack of hits from the likes of Mott the Hoople and Deep Purple leavens matters placing the action truly in the seventies along with a plethora of built-up collars, sideburns and some legendary beards that provide a welcome break from your tears. MT.

OUT ON DVD/BLU-RAY FROM 10 NOVEMBER COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE

 

 

Mystery Road (2013) | DVD release

Director: Ivan Sen

Writer: Ivan Sen

Main Actors: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten

121 mins Australian. Thriller

At the beginning of Mystery Road, a truck driver stops by the roadside in atmospheric silhouette and, walking further into the darkness of the ominously titled ‘Massacre Creek’, finds the murdered corpse of a teenage Aboriginal girl. Finding the girl’s murderer becomes the first big case for indigenous Australian detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pedersen), freshly returned from a jaunt around the ‘big city’. But tracking down the killer within a small community where everyone knows everyone proves surprisingly tricky – not least because no one seems to want the crime solved, not even Swan’s fellow police colleagues. Are they really as understaffed as they make out, or are they part of some conspiracy involving the girl’s death? Or is it simply the case that, for them, life only matters when it’s white?

Mystery Road may be a sun-drenched noir in which an outsider works alone to try and solve a crime, but at its heart there lies some taut social observation. At times, Writer-Director-Editor-Cinematographer-Composer Ivan Sen cuts away as characters talk, showing us other people nearby going about their business. Sometimes these people return later in the story, sometimes not – but the effect is always an increase in texture. It’s at moments like these when the film is at its most interesting, when it feels like the nuances will build to a compelling whole. But, unfortunately, they never do.

In addition to its exploration of ingrained racism, there are flirtations with themes of time, memory and absence, but too often it feels like neither these themes, nor the police procedural plot, are enough to keep interest afloat. Things are buoyed along by some skewered humour, an off-kilter tone, and an excellent supporting performance from Hugo Weaving, but somehow, despite it all, the film simply feels a little too slight to sustain its two-hour runtime. It’s not so much that attention flags, but more that one starts to question the point – something not helped by the film’s unsatisfying conclusion.  With a little more weight to balance our engagement, Mystery Road could perhaps have been great. But, as it is, I fear it may prove to be an enjoyable but all-too-forgettable experience. Alex Barrett.

NOW AVAILABLE ON DVD

 

 

 

20,000 Days on Earth (2014) | DVD release

Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard

With Nick Cave; Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone

Documentary UK

Far from being a vanity project for musician Nick Cave, this is very much a tribute to the visually inventive talents of British filmmakers, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. Brighton is also a prominent character seen through lowering skies as angry clouds drift by giving the piece a tormented and even impressionistic feel. Quite rightly so: it’s what you might expect from the life of an prodigiously creative (song)writer who has seen years of drug abuse and soul-searching finally to have come to rest in this prosaic Sussex coastal town with his wife and twin boys.

Thankfully, this is not a talking heads documentary. Most of the time the camera follows Cave: waking up in bed (fully clothed); venturing out in his comfy Jaguar; driving to his recording studios in a windswept seascape; performing and writing in the company of his fellow band members. Through confessions to his analyst a great deal is learnt about his formative years in Australia, his relationship with his father, who appears to have been a strong influence in his idyllic sunny childhood. One of the most memorable episodes is a magical sequence of dreamy prose where Cave describes his ‘love at first sight’ meeting with his wife, who remains an enigmatic presence.

20,000 Days of Earth feels like an intimate stream of consciousness from the musician himself: a biopic film noir with Cave as the charismatic villain. With his Goth hair and ghoulish persona, Cave emerges as both intellectual and rakish; outlandish yet extremely down to earth. But even if you haven’t heard of him or fail to appreciate his music: this is a film to watch and to enjoy. By the end we really enter his world and feel a understanding: and that’s the success of this watchable rockumentary. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 19 – 27 SEPTEMBER 2014

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 SEPTEMBER 2014 and from 20 October on DVD

 

 

Belle (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Amma Asante

Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Emma Watson, Sarah Gadon, Miranda Richardson, Sam Reid

UK 2013, 104 min.  Historical Drama

Based loosely on the life of Dido Elisabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of an English Naval Admiral and a black slave, who grew up in Kenwood, London with her uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), then the Lord Chief Justice, BELLE has more than its fair share of conflicts and confrontations. Apart from the permanent struggles of the title heroine to adjust as a bi-racial woman in an overwhelming male-dominated racist society (less than one third of the black population in London were free, slavery was only abolished in 1833), her status in the household was ambiguous to say the least. Whilst her relationship with her cousin Elisabeth (Sarah Gadon) is that of personal equality, this stops when the outside world arrives at Kenwood: Belle is closeted away till after dinner when the “informal” part of the evening begins. And when Elisabeth is introduced to London Society to find a suitable husband, Belle is kept away – even though her inheritance from her father will change even that in the end. And, to cap it all, there is a great judicial case to be decided: Lord Mansfield had to rule in the case of the “Zong”, a slavery ship, whose owners wanted compensation from the insurance company for dead slaves who were killed because they were too sick to work, due to lack of water. Meanwhile, Belle has fallen in love with the young vicar’s son John Davinier (Sam Reid), who is a radical opponent of slavery and has fallen out with Lord Mansfield, his ex-employer, over the issue of abolition.

There are so many fine supporting performances, particularly that of Emma Watson as Lady Mansfield, and Miranda Richardson, whose Lady Ashford is so eager that her son Oliver should marry a rich woman, that she is even prepared to overlook Belle’s ethnicity.  Why then is the end product so underwhelming? Well, first there is the formulaic structure of the narrative, which leaves little to the imagination. The solemn deliverance of speeches does not help either – the turbulent political landscape in England in question during the film covers mostly 1778-1793 and deserves vivid images, not mildly heated intellectual duels. And perhaps we have all seen enough of upper-class splendour, the rigidity of their lives and their repressed emotions – the BBC has the monopoly here. BELLE was inspired by a portrait painting of Dido Elisabeth Belle and Lady Elisabeth Murray, most certainly created by Zoffany, portrayer of royalty, in 1779. One can say, that the technical perfection, but also the lack of originality and the beautiful superficiality has found its way into the film. Covering so much turmoil, it still remains a resolutely limp and tepid drama. AS

BELLE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JUNE 2014 | from 24 October on DVD

 

 

 

Zabriskie Point (1969/70) |IMAGE © WARNER BROS

Dir.: Michelangelo Antonioni; Cast: Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor: USA 1969/70, 111 min (IMAGE © WARNER BROS)

Zabriskie Point was an unmitigated commercial failure at the box office but has since become somewhat of a cult classic largely due to its atmospheric, otherworldly score by Pink Floyd complimenting ravishing widescreen visuals of Death Valley. Along with Blowup (1966) and The Passenger (1975) it completes a trilogy of English-language films made by Michelangelo Antonioni. Critics were not very kind at the time of the premiere: Pauline Kael wrote: “Antonioni has always been a clumsy director and has never had much luck at solving the mechanical problems of how to get his characters in and out of places”. But when you realise the Americans, as a nation, didn’t like themselves at the time, why should they like foreigners holding up a mirror?

ZABRISKIE POINT is not a masterpiece, but a rather misunderstood film poem that became at important signpost in US counter-culture of the time. Since everyone wanted to see action and revolution, nobody was happy: neither the European art house audience nor the American counter-culture brigade. Strange to think that anybody could expect ‘action’ from Antonioni; and his sort of revolution was mainly an internal process, slow burning and with a lot of self destruction. The only point worth making is that Antonioni himself tried too hard to please the audience – just leave out the fireworks and shoot in black and white and all what would have worked out much better. But then, he could have stayed in Italy. This way, he fell between two stools, but there is still a lot to admire about ZABRISKIE POINT.

The narrative is sparse: Mark (Frechette) is at a student’s meeting in LA “willing to die, but not of boredom”. Later he nearly shoots a police officer during a violent demonstration, steals a small plane, circles in the desert over a Buick, driven by young, naive pot-smoking Daria (Halprin). Later the two meet, make love in the desert, “Zabriskie Point” being the lowest one in the whole of the USA, before Mark paints the plane full of political slogans and psychedelic colours, and on landing is shot dead by the police in LA.
ZABRISKIE POINT is predominantly a road movie, with some Western thrown in. But is not political, let alone revolutionary. Yes, what we see about America is rather ugly and violent, not much change there, but Mark’s actions come from the heart: he wants fun, sex and travel. Sure, the police are in way way, but not as a collective political force.

In the end, ZABRISKIE POINT is just about a man lost in the vastness of LA, needing another point of view (like most of Antonioni’s heroes), finding Daria in a sort of no-mans-land, where happiness can exist, before choosing to go back to the city and death, spurning his second chance. Alfio Contini’s camera paints both the vast city and the valley in the desert as a melancholic death dance. AS/MT

RE-RELEASED FROM 24 OCTOBER AND AVAILABLE ON DCP FOR THE FIRST TIME – IMAGE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT OF WARNER BROS ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Two Days, One Night (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne, Simon Caudry

Belgium/France/Italy 2014, 95 min.

The Dardennes brothers began their filmmaking activities in the late seventies and have hugged the limelight at Cannes since their Palme d’Or win with Rosetta in 1999. Success continued with wins at Cannes for Le Fils in 2002, L’Enfant in 2005, Le Silence de Lorna in 2008 and Le Gamin au Velo in 2001 but this year they were not so lucky with Two Days, One Night.

It stars Marion Cotillard as Sandra, who has been off work with depression. When she returns to her workplace in small company producing solar panels, Dumont, the owner, gives his staff an ultimatum: they can either get their 1000 Euro bonus, with the result that Sandra will be sacked (since the foreman Jean-Marc has decided that the production line can work without her), or they sacrifice their bonus and Sandra can keep her job. Apart from two close friends of Sandra, the fourteen others vote for their bonus. Since Jean-Marc has wrongly informed the workers, that one of them will be sacked, if they vote for Sandra to keep her job, Dumont gives Sandra a last chance: she has the weekend to convince the majority of her co-workers to change their mind for the new ballot on Monday morning.

Sandra is anything but a heroine: she pops her anti-depressants like candy, permanently attacks her supportive husband Manu (Rongione), oscillating between self-pity and passive-aggressive behaviour, she is often her worst enemy. The Dardenne brothers show that victims of society, like Sandra (and her colleges) are not nice, simpering waifs who suffer in resplendent silence, but show their hurt in an unpleasant, sometimes obnoxious way. But there is a reason: Sandra and Manu know that without Sandra’s salary, they will fall down the social ladder unable to pay their mortgage, and have to go back to social housing. A fate they would like to avoid, particularly for their two young children.

In spite of herself, Sandra gets through to some of her co-workers on her weekend odyssey around the local houses, where every encounter is a small story in itself: one worker breaks down in tears, ashamed of himself that he voted for his bonus, even though Sandra had saved his job in the past. Another starts a violent fight with a college, who is open to Sandra’s argument and a wife leaves her abusive husband, because he wants to use the bonus money for a patio. A Black worker is equally afraid of God and his foreman at work, suffering from his dithering. But in the end they are all put in this position by the management: the choice they have to make is inhuman and nobody should be made to make an inhuman choice, according to Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne.

Even though this is the first time that the brothers have worked with a real star, a brilliant Cotillard, they have spurned a Hollywood like happy-end. Instead we get another measured, sober but not at all depressing solution. Apart from Cotillard, the camera (who follows her every subtle emotional nuance) is as always the ‘star’ of a Dardenne film: un-intrusive, non-judgmental but chronicling nevertheless every detail. Somehow the directors avoid repetitiveness and the Belgian hinterland is not shown as an uniform downtrodden landscape of no-hopers, but a vibrant place of struggle. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT is a hopeful, against-the-odds message, like the hero in De Sica’s Umberto D, Sandra often stumbles, but always regains her dignity to go another step further. AS

Coming soon on DVD

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Moebius (2013) | DVD release

Director: Kim Ki-duk

Cast: Lee Eun-woo, Cho Jae-hyun, Seo Young-ju

Drama  Korea

After his triumphal Golden Lion win (in 2012) with Pietà, a vile drama about maternal incest – Korean maverick, Kim Ki-duk, again shocked audiences with another stomach-turning and frank tale of familial dysfunction in the shape of Moebius. Kim took the knife several times to his own film, in order to obtain a release certificate. Digging deep into the dark, obsessive side of the Korean psyche, Moebius is certainly a difficult film to watch and several viewers found it too much to bear, leaving in disgust. Suffice to say, it involves genital mutilation (0f a teenage boy) and incest (again) by his mother (Lee Eun-woo). The boy in question (Seo Young-ju) is castrated by his mother in a strange act of revenge after she discovers her husband’s infidelity.  Quite how the mother’s female thought process come to inflict this vicarious punishment on her son, is difficult to fathom. But feeling guilty on both counts, the appalled father (Cho Jae-hyun) offers his own member for a transplant. Not only is this possibly the most strident form of self-sacrifice, it’s also the most painful one, but remember, we are in Korea. The father then begins an obsessive trawl through internet sites in order to instruct himself in methods of ‘self-surgery’, or, in this case, self-mutilation.

The operation is a success but the patient becomes the unfortunate object of his mother’s sexual attraction. Not only this, but, in a voracious twist, she also plays a supporting role as a shopkeeper who then sleeps with the father and his son. Sexual arousal is very much the prime focus of this drama, but not in a good way. Entirely silent (apart from the odd distraught howl) the film feels like an endurance test made all the more effective in its mental torture by its almost complete wordlessness.  Not recommended for the feint of heart. MT

Now on general release. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival 2013

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Sofia’s Last Ambulance (2012)| DVD release

Dir: Writer: Ilian Metev

Cast: Mila Mikhalilova, Plamen Slavkov, Krassimir Yordanov, Ilian Metev

75min   Doc   Bulgaria

Director Ilian Metev joins a stressed-out and under-funded medical team of Mila, Krassi and Plamen as they race around Sofia in their clapped-out ambulances, ministering to the needs of a growing population and remaining cheerful to the last against all odds. A story full of humour and humanity making us glad of our own National Health Service in the UK.

The Bulgarian capital is one of Europe’s poorest and has just over 2 million inhabitants and only 13 operable ambulances in a health care system that’s fit to bust. Chain-smoking their way through endless casualties, inured to the tiredness and despondency that threaten to dog and denigrate their medical expertise. Thankfully we are spared the blood and gore, but what emerges more saliently here is the gruelling nature of the work that takes its toll on their own well-being and, by the end of it, we too appreciate their pain. MT

VOTED BEST DOCUMENTARY AT KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012.

 

Camille Claudel, 1915 (2013) | Mubi

Dir/Wri: Bruno Dumont | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Jean-Luc Vincent, Robert Leroy, Emmanuel Kauffman, Marion Keller | France Drama 97mins

An austere and pared down portrait, though nonetheless beautiful for its ascetic treatment, of a woman artist who is denied her creativity due to confinement in a mental institution by her family in 1915. She would remain there for the rest of her life (29 years).

Camille_Claudel_-_003 copy

This was Bruno Dumont’s first outing with an international star and Juliette Binoche dominates the screen with the mesmerising power of a real artist portraying another one.  Commanding our attention with her myriad facial expressions that range from abject misery to joy and – even disdain, she has a tender and taciturn relationship with the deranged inmates who are her only companions.

It’s not an angry performance but more a vulnerable one, borne out of depression and despair at being abandoned by her resentful artist lover Auguste Rodin and her brother Paul, (Jean-Luc Vincent) who is going through a  ‘religious re-birth’ inspired by Rimbaud’s poetry, and corresponds with her by letter. On hearing of his intention to visit, she is reduced to tears of joy.

Shot on the widescreen and within the confines of pale-stoned abbey near Avignon by Guillaume Deffontaines, the film is scored by a single classic Bach’s “Magnificat” that seems entirely appropriate for its Catholic moralism.  This is an intellectually challenging piece and not for the faint-hearted but for those looking for arthouse excellence Camille Claudel 1915 will not disappoint. It brings Belgian director Bruno Dumont centre stage after abstract outings with Hors Satan and Hadewijch. MT

NOW on MUBI

The Great Train Robbery: A Tale of Two Thieves (2014)

Director: Chris Long

75min  Documentary UK

Speaking from his sunny home of Majocar, Southern Spain, where he lives with his attractive young partner, a rather chipper Gordon Goody (85) attempts to ‘shed some light’ on his side of the robbery that netted the equivalent of £45 million in today’s money, from a Postal train at Sears Crossing, Buckinghamshire on 8th August 1963. He reveals that his collaborator Patrick McKenna (The Ulsterman”) was a Catholic postal worker who was never punished for his part in the crime and who died a decade ago leaving very little money (he purportedly left it to the Church). Goody is given a easy ride of things by director Chris Long who fails to prize anything really new from the lanky, dissipated thief who put his capture down to the fact that he “stood out in a crowd” (or, in the words of Paul Whitehouse “I’m a little but werrr, a little bit weyyy. I’m a geezer. I’ll nick anything”). The most interesting part is listening to the findings of erudite private investigator, Ariel Bruce, as she describes profiling McKenna. Goody served a 12-year prison sentence for his part in the robbery and it now looks rather like he is chuckling into his San Miguel beer and possibly all the way to bank as well. Twas ever thus. MT

The Great British Train Robbery: A Tale of Two Thieves is in cinemas on 3 October, on DVD, Blu-ray and Download 6 October
at Amazon. 

 

 

 

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) Directors’ Fortnight Cannes 2013

10256133_644728415615814_4241118433756481874_oDirector: Frank Pavich

With Alejandro Jodorowsky, Nicolas Winding Refyn, Michel Seydoux, Brontis Jodorowsky

88min   France     Documentary

Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ is reputed to be the most awe-inspiring science-fiction novel ever; even according to Nicolas Winding Refyn.  Cult Chilean filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky had plans to shoot a big-budget adaptation of the seminal work which are revealed here in Frank Pavich’s long-awaited documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.

Very much the stuff of dreams for fans and geeks alike, Jodorowsky acquired the rights to the work and reveals his extravagant ideas to recruit the ‘spiritual warriors’ needed for his project. From casting Salvador Dali as the Emperor and approaching Pink Floyd to provide the score, he also wanted sci-fi artists HR Giger, Moebius and Chris Foss to mastermind the aesthetics. He even trained his son Brontis for a role, as he did in his latest outing La Danza de La Realidad.  Michel Seydoux is happy to back the successful director who first came to fame with 1967 Fando Y Lis, a surrealist project that was banned in Mexico. El Topo followed in 1970 and Holy Mountain in 1973: all breakout hits in the Cult firmament.

After preparing a storyboard with Jean Giraud (Moebius), Jodorowsky started writing the script in a French chateau.  Mick Jagger, Amanda Lear and Udo Kier were approached to join the party.  Then Hollywood studios were invited to see a copy of the “Dune book” and although many were impressed and the financing was deemed workable, none became attached to the project.

Combining interviews and live footage, this is a fascinating insight into the world of the maverick Jodorowsky, unsurprisingly revealing him as not only a highly creative individual but also a man of great charm, wit and exuberance. A shame, then, that his project never reached fruition and finally gets taken up by another well-known filmmaker with surprising results and reactions from the auteur himself. Jodorowsky’s Dune will appeal to fans and sci-enthusiasts alike. MT

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

 

 

 

Frank (2014) – DVD | Blu

Dir: Lenny Abrahamson  Writers: Jon Ronson and Peter Staughan

Cast: Domnhall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy

94mins UK  Drama

Based in his native Dublin, Lenny Abrahamson’s latest film was inspired by scripter/journalist Jon Ronson’s time in a band with comic and musician Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom).  Here, with fellow writer Peter Staughan, he imagines working with the idiosyncratic character through the eyes of a budding composer called Jon (Domnhall Gleeson).

FRANK kicks off to an upbeat vibe as we meet Jon, a likeable wannabe musician who can’t seem to find his groove, until a random meeting with a travelling band ‘Soronprfbs” seems to offer potential. Led by Frank (Michael Fassbender in a fake paper-mache head), they are a motley, offbeat crew but Jon embraces them innocently and without question. Amongst the players is bank manager Doug (Scoot McNairy) and Frank’s hostile lover/groupie Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who takes an instant dislike to Jon, motivated by jealousy of losing Frank’s attention rather than Jon’s musical talent.

On a whim and with nothing else to do, Jon follows the band to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the story takes a darker tone, changing from major to minor, as they attempt to record an album in the claustrophobia of a cabin in the woods.  With the help of Twitter, Youtube and financing from his ‘nest egg’, Jon develops the band’s exposure to the outside world but potential success exposes cracks in the facade of Frank’s creativity and mental fragility and the strain of living together in confinement. When the band finally gets a break in SXSW’s discovery strand, things really start to crack up (quite literally) for Frank, his love-in with Clara and his musical career.

Frank is an enigmatic film that wants to be funny, and, at times, succeeds but also drifts aimlessly into darker territory when it attempts to convey the true nature of creative talent and the volatility of public following. It doesn’t quite work tonally, despite a compelling performance from Fassbender, who carries the film with the sheer force of his personality even with an expressionless disguise.  Jon is an endearing character but doesn’t posses the charisma needed to provide dramatic punch to lift Fassbender and Gyllenhaal’s dark duo, Frank and Clara.  That said, Lenny Abrahamson has made a brave attempt to distill the ups and downs of creative output without being judgemental and is a filmmaker watching for his the strength and scope of his ideas.  MT

OUT ON DVD and BLU-RAY FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2014

 

Blanche (1972) – DVD release

Dir.: Walerian Borowczyk

Cast: Michel Simon, Ligia Branice, Georges Wilson, Jacques Perrin, Lawrence Trimble

France 1971, 92 min.

Thirteenth century France: An old baron (Simon) lives with his beautiful, pure wife, Branice, in an old gloomy castle. When the King (Wilson) comes to visit, he and his page Bartholomeo both immediately lust after the countess, who has to defend her honour against both of them. When the King, wearing Bartholomeo’s coat as a disguise, tries to enter Blanche’s chamber at night, he is injured by a man holding watch: Nicolas, Blanche’s stepson, who is secretly in love with his stepmother. The King pretends to the old Baron, that his page is to blame, but does not give up his quest to conquer Blanche. He sends his page away with a sealed message to his army commander, ordering him to attack the baron’s castle and keep Bartholomeo prisoner. The page, attacked by Nicolas, finds out what the King had planned for him, but gets walled in a room by the suspicious baron, after Blanche swears that nobody is in the chamber. On the King’s return, he is liberated, but has to fight a duel with Nicholos, who lets himself been killed. After leaving again, the King returns with his army, Blanche takes poison and the baron falls on his dagger, after chaining Bartholomeo to horse, which drags him to a slow death.

There are many elements of Borowczyk’s short film in BLANCHE: monks hide in wall cupboards, a dwarf runs amok, a white dove (symbol of Blanche’s innocence) flatters around the castle. Based loosely on Byron’s “Mazeppa”, the surrealistic elements in BLANCHE echo Buñuel, particularly of Viridiana, where a young woman also has to defend herself against old men, lusting after her. Setting and story also have their roots in Chaucer’s “The Millers Tale”, with the same theme dominating. Lastly, Blanche has also much in common with Bresson’s title heroine of Une Femme Douce, based on a story by Dostoevsky. Borowczyk begins by showing the castle as an idyllic backdrop, but he ends up with a portrait of a slaughterhouse. The King and his page are shown as vile, aggressive intruders, whilst Blanche and Nicolas (the true, but chaste lovers), die as victims of male lust and jealousy. Blanche wanders around dressed in white or grey, as if she is already mourning for herself.

The camera frames the action in a way that’s full of ambiguity: the locations are never what they seem to be; a simple room becomes a prison for the page and the dove. But Blanche wanders around naïve and trusting: Ligia Branice portrays a being from another world with subtlety and elegance. The men, apart from Nicolas, who seems to be too underwhelming, are brilliant in their lying schemes resorting to violence, when their plans fail. The music, played on contempo Medieval instruments, creates a poetic atmosphere, often contrasting with the brutal machinations played out. The final scene, shot from the POV of the dying Bartholomeo, dragged through the autumn landscape, is unforgettable. BLANCHE is a masterpiece, not only in Borowczyk’s oeuvre. AS

NOW ON DVD in a brand new restoration

 

 

 

Heart of Glass (1976) from The Werner Herzog Collection – DVD/Blu

Werner_Herzog_Collection_BD_3D_packshot_SMALL copyDirector: Werner Herzog

Cast: Josef Bierbichler, Stefan Guttler, Clemens Scheitz, Sonia Skiba

94min   Germany  Gothic Horror

Based on a story by Herbert Achternbusch, HEART OF GLASS offers a distopian vision of the future. In tribute to his beloved Bavaria, Herzog set most of his film here in a small village in the depths of the forrest, at the beginning of the 19th century. In the opening sequence a mesmerising time-lapse sequence of clouds moves slowly through the valley like a velvet river, portending gloom (the scene took Herzog 12 days to shoot). The downfall of humanity and the industrial revolution is encapsulated in this gloom-filled microcosm in the Black Forest, uncannily predicting the demise of the manufacturing industry: it is a narrative with universal implications; both ancient and contemporary.

To achieve the otherworldly atmosphere and trance-like performances, Herzog put most of the cast under hypnosis including the shepherd who delivers doom-laced prophecies to the locals.

The story is unremittingly grim, enigmatic and inconclusive and the atmosphere give us all we need to know and understand about this simple tale of woe that concerns the backbone of the community: a glass factory. The talented craftsman and foreman, Muhlbeck, has just died and with him dies the secret of the famous ruby glass. All efforts to recover the special ingredients fail. The local baron becomes obsessed with the ruby glass and its purported magical properties and gradually goes mad and the villagers are plunged into utter despair and depression, gradually losing the will to live as a result of their aimless existence, they turn into zombie-like creatures. Hias (Joseph Bierbichler – the only cast member not hypnotised) remains positive but predicts events that appear to mirror those of the 20th century and beyond.

Mesmerisingly slow and weirdly hypnotic: this is a powerful yet somniferous film that grips from the opening sequences, particularly the scene where two friends quarrel and fall drunkenly from a hayloft, where one dies. As the other dances with his friend’s body, he sings out the extraordinary line: “I’ll sleep my hangover off on your corpse” With its dismal interiors and shadows, it paints a bleak and desolate community. The performances are ghostly, evoking an uncanny ambiance not similar to that of Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932). 

The final scene was shot in Skelling, Ireland and shows a man looking out to see from the mountains. Men are seen rowing furiously out to sea with birds following them but gradually they lose sight of the land. Whether this is positive or negative is difficult to fathom. Should we recklessly embrace the future (doom or success) or wait silently for it to come and get us. Herzog is a filmmaker of infinite ambition who embarks on projects with the gusto and tenacity of Stakhanovite (both Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre spring to mind), so no doubt he would chose the former. MT

Herzog - Fata Morgana copyFATA MORGANA Germany | 1971 | colour | 74 mins
Even for Herzog, the master of the surreal, FATA MORGANA was an out-of-this-world experience, literally. Based on a sci-fi novel, this documentary is shot by “aliens” who visit our planet – East Africa, to be precise. We see many animals; dead and alive – planes starting and landing and people doing everything people do. The film historian Lotte Eisner (a close friend of the director) reads the Mayan version of the history of creation, and the music of Johnny Cash and Leonard Cohen helps to transcend reality even more. All the images shimmer, nothing seems real, Herzog’s earth is home to an enigmatic species. All shot with a stolen camera, as the director proudly admits.

LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS | Germany | 1971 | colour | 81 mins 

Shot with a static camera, this documentary introduces us to the world of the Deaf/Blind; centred around Fini Straubinger (56), a woman who after an accident in her childhood lost her sight and hearing. After learning the Lorm alphabet, a manual alphabet and only way of communication for these suffering from this double-impairment, she teaches others and takes her students out into the world – even on a plane journey. She shows Herzog how much enjoyment is still possible, but also the limits of their existence: “If you let go of my hand, it seems that are thousands of miles between us”. Extremely moving.

STROSZEK | Germany | 1977 | colour | 133mins

More or less the real-life story of the main protagonist Bruno Schleinstein (1932-2010), an actor and musician with mental health problems, who was earlier the star of Herzogs’s “Kaspar Hauser” feature film in 1972. Here Bruno S. plays a Berlin musician who lives on the margins in Berlin (and even sounds like Kaspar Hauser) and plans to rob a bank with friends. Finding the bank closed, they rob a hairdresser instead, spending the money at the supermarket opposite. Fame did not last long for Bruno S. and he complained later “that everybody abandoned me”. He never acted again but started painting.

WOYZECK | Germany | 1979 | colour | 77mins is the third of five Herzog films featuring the actor Klaus Kinski between 1972 and 1987. WOYZECK was shot more or less directly with more or less the same cast and crew after NOSFERATU: Phantom Der Nacht. this was the most peaceful co-operation between the director and the star who had a permanently strained relationship,. Perhaps everybody was too exhausted (particularly Kinski after his magnificent portrayal of the vampire), or perhaps the short shooting schedule (18 days) asked for discipline, but Kinski played the proletarian victim of a class-ridden society with great restraint. Strangely enough Herzog scores the film of Büchner’s play of the same name with music by Beethoven and Vivaldi – very much at odds with scenes like when Woyzeck’s doctor is throwing a cat out of his second floor window, who, caught by Woyzeck, promptly empties her bowls on him.

 

Fitzcarraldo_pic_2 copyFITZCARALDO | Germany | 1982 | colour | 152mins | is based on the life story of the Irish business-man and adventurer Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, who tried to introduce opera to Peru in the 1890s. Jason Robards played the title role, but was taken ill after forty per cent of his scenes had been shot. After recovering from a heavy bout of dysentery, Robard’s doctor forbid him to resume working. Herzog tried to hire Jack Nicholson for the part, but he declined. Against his better judgement, Herzog went back to cast Kinski, who is on his best behaviour, entranced by his co-star and on screen lover, Claudia Cardinale. But behind the scenes Kinski soon became engaged in fights with the film crew and the native Indians, who worked as extras. The native chief even offered to kill Kinski, to protect the director but the Herzog declined. In one scene, the natives are watching the white men at meal-times, and their angry comments are particularly candid in their aggressiveness, since they are directed at the despised Kinski.

Cobra_VerdeCOBRA VERDE | Germany/Ghana | 1987 | colour | 106min |  is the last of Herzog’s collaborations with Kinski. Based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin, it tells the story of a deranged Brazilian rancher (Kinski), who collides with the law and turns into the fearsome bandit Cobra Verde (Green Snake). He is later commissioned to re-open the slave trade with Ghana. Not surprisingly, Herzog and Kinski fell out even before shooting started: Herzog chose Ghana as one of the locations, whilst Kinski travelled to Columbia and insisted on that as a location: “Herzog does not know that I give life to dead scenery”. During the shooting, Kinski openly attacked Thomas Mauch, the DOP, who left the production and had to be replaced by Victor Ruzicka. Twelve years later Herzog would release a documentary charting heir creative but tumultuous relationship in MY BEST FRIEND (My best frenemy)

The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz (1967;

Last Words (1968);

Precautions Against Fanatics (1969);

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Handicapped Future (1970);

Fata Morgana (1971);

Land of Silence and Darkness (1971);

Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972);

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974);

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner (1975);

Heart of Glass (1976);

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck (1976);

Stroszek (1977);

Nosferatu_2-e1374580350877Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979); – alternative German and English versions

Woyzeck (1979);

Huie’s Sermon (1980);

God’s Angry Man (1980);

Fitzcarraldo (1982);

Cobre Verde (1987).

SPECIAL FEATURES

Cobra_Verde_pic_1 copyBurden of Dreams (Les Blank, 1982) 

Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980);

Guardian Lecture with Werner Herzog (1988);

South Bank Show: Werner Herzog (Jack Bond, 1982, 56mins

THE WERNER HERZOG COLLECTION IS RELEASED ON DVD AND BLU-RAY FROM 25 AUGUST 2014 BY THE BFI – AN 8-DISC BLU-RAY BOX SET AND A 10-DISC DVD BOX SET

 

 

 

 

 

Madame DuBarry (1919) – DVD

image003Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch

Cast: Pola Negri, Emil Jannings, Reinhold Schünzel, Eduard von Winterstein, Harry Liedtke

Germany 1919, 85 min.

Madame Dubarry was the favourite mistress of King Louis XV, so it would seem fitting that Ernst Lubitsch’s drama of her amorous adventures MADAME DuBARRY should premiere on the 18th September 1919 to celebrate the opening of  the “UFA Palast am Zoo” in Berlin: the Marquise cinema of the film production corporation of the same name, which had been founded during the war years and would dominate German cinema until 1945. The cinema was, symbolically, destroyed in the same year.

To this day, it is still surrounded in controversy – Kracauer lambasted it in “From Caligari to Hitler” as a soap-opera, stating “it reduces the [French] revolution to a derivative of private passions”. Other critics saw MADAME DuBARRY simply as a German version of the Italian cinema of the period, whilst another interpretation saw “a reckoning with every form of power”. It was indeed ironic that at the same time the French revolution was being depicted in the local cinema, Berlin (and other German cities) were experiencing riots between rival political organisations, as well as hunger marches. Right-wing critics saw parallels in the drama to the demise of the German monarchy of the House of “Hohenzollern”. Lubitsch himself wrote thirty years later: “At the time, I tried to make my films less like operas, and attempted to humanise the historical protagonists. I showed that their intimate details were equal in importance to the role of the mass movements, and tried to make them co-exist.”

Lubitsch set great store in the importance of intimate details of his drama, the main characters are shown with all their foibles – but the masses are depicted as characters straight out of Le Bon’s “Mass-Psychology”: they are either totally passive or terrorise the aristocrats – said intimate details are just left to the latter. Not that Lubitsch shows any sympathy with them: Jannings Louis XV is shown a fool, unable to lead a nation, just interested in young women, making a fool of himself in the process. Even his death of smallpox, is not dramatic, just another macabre accident. Pola Negri plays Jeanne/Dubarry as a naïve coquette, just interested in making her way to the top – saving her love only for her cousin Armand (Liedtke). Dubarry’s end, unlike the one of Louis XV. – is particularly gruesome: she is guillotined, her head thrown into the jubilant masses, who fight for it like souvenir hunters at a football match.

Lubitsch would follow MADAME DuBARRY with equally monumental productions like Anna Boleyn (1920), Sumurun (1920) and The Loves of Pharaoh (1922), all sold with profit to the USA – before he himself would follow to Hollywood by the end of 1922. His confidence in the Weimar Republic seems to have been minimal, a point he stated often enough. Pola Negri beat him by a few month – The Flame (1922) was the last of their three UFA films. AS

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This is the first ever blu-ray release of Lubitsch’s epic history, and will be accompanied by Lubitsch’s earliest surviving film, Als Ich Tot War. MADAME DuBARRY will feature as part of Eureka’s award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series and will be released on 22 September 2014.

SYNOPSIS:

Before Ernst Lubitsch created his eminently sophisticated Hollywood sex comedies, he was at work in Germany perfecting his earliest entries into the genre, alongside sweeping ironic dramas based on historical events and often set in exotic locales. One of his earliest successes merged elements of both modes: Madame DuBarry.

A recounting-à-la-Lubitsch of the torrid affair between the title character (Pola Negri) and France’s King Louis XV (Emil Jannings, who would go on to portray Henry VIII in Lubitsch’s Anna Boleyn of the following year – a film that neatly bookends Madame DuBarry), the picture spans scandalous intrigue at the court and the ring of the guillotine among the riotous mobs of the Revolution.

Also included in this edition is Lubitsch’s earliest surviving film, the 1916 Als ich tot war [When I Was Dead], which stars the director himself in a lead role that involves his faked suicide and (prefiguring the later Die Puppe.) an infiltration of the domestic space whilst in disguise (not as an automaton, but as a servant). The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present Madame DuBarry and Als ich tot war in a special Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD) edition for the first time.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

• New high-definition 1080p presentation of the main feature on the Blu-ray, and progressive encode on the DVD
• Original /French / German intertitles with newly translated optional English subtitles
• Lubitsch’s earliest surviving film, Als ich tot war [1916]
• 36-PAGE BOOKLET

The Informant – Gibraltar (2013) – DVD

image004Director: Julien LeClercq

Writer: Abdel Raouf Dafri  Novel: Marc Fievet

Cast: Tahar Rahim,  Gilles Lellouche, Riccardo Scamarcio, Raphaelle Agogue

107min   French    Thriller

Inspired by true events, Julien Leclercq’s dramatic follow-up to his intense action thriller The Assault, falls rather short of expectations kindled by its predecessor and an action-packed, smouldering first half.  An atmospheric opening sees the morning mists rising on the sunny, drug-addled Mediterranean port of Gibraltar, where a French expat is stuck between the devil (drug traffickers) and the deep blue straits (corrupt customs officials), adapted for the screen by scripter Abdel Raouf Dafri (A Prophet).

Gilles Lellouche (Point Blank) leads the action as Marc Duval, a struggling French bar-owner who lives in the Rock with his wife (Raphaelle Agogue) and child.  He strikes a deal with a local customs officer (a bearded Tahar Rahim) to prop up his ailing finances as an informant; a trade that soon escalates into a nice little earner of which his wife thoroughly disapproves. But Duval is not really up to the job of international espionage and Leclercq’s initial skill in engaging our sympathies for this ordinary guy stuck in a web of intrigue and sculduggery against his better nature, eventually wears thing, especially when he tricks an Irishman (Aidan Devine) who’s worse off than himself.  Matters deteriorate further (both cinematically and plot-wise) when Duval gets mixed up with seedy Italian crime Claudio (Riccardo Scamarcio) further risking the lives of his wife, child and promiscuous younger sister (Melanie Bernier).

Instead of keeping the suspense on tenterhooks with tightly-plotted action-driven scenes, the narrative become dialogue heavy and over-complex (tough, especially with sub-titles) and starts to lose the will to live, despite a sinister soundtrack and some convincing turns from Rahim, who remains suave and sure-footed in his role and Scamarcio, superb as the venal trafficker; but Lelouche is gauche, to put it mildly.  Thierry Puget’s bleached visuals and chiaroscuro interiors lend sophistication to the proceedings portraying Gibraltar as a sunny place for shady people. THE INFORMANT fits the bill as a respectable crime drama, but feels slightly drugged-up in the final stages. MT

THE INFORMANT IS ON DVD

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Tom at the Farm (2013) -DVD

Director/Writer: Xavier Dolan

Cast: Xavier Dolan, Evelyn Brochu, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy

102min  Canada/France  Drama

Quebec wild child Xavier Dolan roared into Venice 2013 with this screen adaptation of a play by Michel Marc Bouchard. Set in the wide open prairies of Canada’s farmland, Dolan also plays the main character, Tom (sporting a curious corn-like mop of blond hair), a gay man who turns up at his lover Guillaume’s funeral not only to discover that the family is unaware of his existence but also unwilling to accept Guillaume’s sexuality).  With a great support cast that features Evelyn Brochu (Cafe de Flore) and Pierre-Yves Cardinal, this visually exciting and unpredictable thriller follows a linear narrative but otherwise challenges perceptions and reality at every step of the way as Tom becomes caught up in a web of lies, deceit and homoerotic desire. MT

REVIEWED AT 70TH VENICE FILM FESTIVAL – NOW OUT ON DVD

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Die Frau im Mond (1929) – Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD

14204120840_ae69f54fd1_z copyDIE FRAU IM MOND/WOMAN IN THE MOON

Dir.: Fritz Lang

Cast: Willy Fritsch, Gerda Maurus, Gustav von Wangenheim, Fritz Rasp, Klaus Pohl;

Germany 1929, 170 min.

DIE FRAU IM MOND is Fritz Lang’s last silent movie, and his last one for the UFA. The film is not only a composite of Nibelungen (1922/24) and Metropolis (1925/6), but also forward looking to Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1932), Lang’s last film which was banned by the Nazis, before his emigration. It is a melodrama like Nibelungen, belongs to the science-fiction genre like Metropolis, and shares with his second ‘Mabuse’ film the same political implications, wherein powerful individuals are seeking to undermine progress for their own good.

Helius (Fritsch) is interested in space travel, and he seeks out Professor Mannfeldt (Pohl), who believes, that there is gold on the moon. But a clique of super-rich business men hire the assassin Walter Turner (Rasp), to profit from the planned moon landing. Turner blackmails Helius to let him fly with the crew, which is completed by Helius assistant Windegger (v. Wangenheim), who is secretly in love with Helius’ fiancée Friede (Maurus), another assistant. During the flight, they discover Gustav, a young boy, who has travelled as a stowaway. After the moon landing, Mannfeldt goes out with his diving rod (!) to find the gold he has dreamt about in the caves. His success is short lived, since Turner has followed him and kills him. Turner then tries to fly alone back to earth, but he is killed in a struggle, but one of the bullets has hit the oxygen tanks, which means, that one of the remaining crew has to be left behind. Windegger and Helius draw lots, and Helius, who is (not without reason) jealous of Windegger, looses. But Windegger sacrifices himself, after teaching Gustav how to fly the rocket back to earth, he puts sleeping pills in the drinks of Helius and Friede, and watches the rocket blast off. But when he turns in despair, Friede embraces him.

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Lang actually invented the count-down to blast-off for real space travel, counting backwards to zero before the rocket ignites. But DIE FRAU IM MOND is often very uneven particularly towards the end, when the ménage-a-trois takes all our attention, reducing the meaningful main conflict to a side-show. Somehow Lang’s relationship with his wife and script writer Thea von Harbou (1888-1954), might be the cause for this. Having married in 1922, the couple lived in an exotic flat in Berlin, their relationship driven by work (Von Harbou wrote the scripts to all ten films Lang directed from 1920 to 1932). But whilst Lang was a left-wing Jew, von Harbou had joined the Nazi party already in 1931, and whilst shooting “Dr. Mabuse der Spieler” in the same year, Lang found his wife in bed with Ayi Tendulkar, an Indian follower of Ghandi, whose hatred of the British made him welcome in Berlin. (Von Harbou married Tendulkar secretly in 1938 because the Nazis did not approve of a “mixed-marriage” of this kind, particularly for a very prominent party member).

But there is still much to be admired about DIE FRAU IM MOND: the sets for the rocks and craters of the moon, the secret meeting rooms of the conspirators, and Mannfeldt’s attic, surreally plastered not with wallpapers but newspapers. The acting is brilliant, particularly Rasp’s Turner, who is a man “of thousand faces”. Von Harbou’s influence is seen in the Helius character, who is shown as a weak intellectual, who cannot stand any tension – a coward who looses his girl for a man of action. The camera is very inventive, and, like in all Lang films, the design dominates through sheer brilliant details. A tour-de-force, not without its sarcastic humour. AS

OUT ON 25 AUGUST 2014. RELEASE INCLUDES ORIGINAL GERMAN INTERTITLES WITH NEWLY-TRANSLATED OPTIONAL ENGLISH SUBTITLES.

ALSO INCLUDES A 36-PAGE BOOKLET WITH MICHEAL E GROST’S ANALYSIS ON FRITZ LANG’S WORK AS A WHOLE.

AVAILABLE THROUGH MASTER OF CINEMA

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Calvary (2014) – NOW ON DVD

Director:  John Michael McDonaugh

Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly O’Reilly, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen

John Michael McDonagh’s perfectly-pitched follow-up to THE GUARD (2011) has another tour de force from Brendan Gleeson as a contemporary country pastor, Father James. Despite flashes of gentle humour, this story is darker and more contemplative as it combines elements of recent child abuse scandals and the current malaise with The Church in general and particularly its inability to connect with the local community.

Father James parish has an entourage of disenfranchised Irish lambs (Aidan Gillen, Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Dylan Moran) and one of them, a victim of sexual abuse, hands him a death sentence over confession one day, giving him seven days to put his life in order before ‘paying for the sins of the father’ with his own life.

Although we’re not au fait with his murderer’s identity, Father James is, but takes a sanguine approach to matters continuing to support his local community and his messed-up daughter, a well-cast Kelly O’Reilly, on a visit from London. This is a drama to savour, along with its magnificent setting that create a wonderful sense of place in the small Sligo village in the Emerald Isles. McDonaugh’s well-written script is full or subtlety and wise insight. Immersive and unpredictable, the narrative goes down familiar pathways, often taking the road less-travelled and delivering some welcome surprises and some engaging vignettes (particularly from Dylan Moran, as a wealthy local landowner).

Brendan Gleeson is a joy to watch and his performance is one of integrity and gentleness, befitting a true man of the cloth. Seven days later the end comes unexpectedly but somehow predictably, but that only adds to the poignance of the piece and the strong message that it puts across. MT

ON DVD from AUGUST 22 2014

 

FAUST (1926) Dual format Blu-ray DVD

FAUST – EINE DEUTSCHE VOLKSSAGE

Dir.: F.W. Murnau

Cast: Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Yvette Guilbert, William Dieterle

Germany 1926, 107 min.

Initially it was Ludwig Berger (The Thief of Baghdad) who was supposed to direct the 2M Reichsmark production (200 M in current currency), but Emil Jannings, who was cast as Mephisto, insisted on F.W. Murnau, the man who made him world famous in the The Last Man two years previously. It would be Murnau’s last German film, before he went to Hollywood, where he would direct Sunrise a year later.

Hans Kyser’s script for the film was based on texts by J.W. Goethe, Christopher Marlowe and an old German folk legend. Faust was already a favourite topic for film makers: Louis Lumière was first in 1896, Georges Melies followed a year later and the first American version of Faust was directed in 1900 by Edwin S. Porter. In Murnau’s version, the conflict is a straightforward fight for supremacy between God (represented by an archangel) and Mephisto (Jannings). Their wager is the first: if Satan could win the soul of one person, he would rule the earth. Mephisto chooses Faust (Ekman), an old alchemist, trying to make gold from metal. He lives in a small town, where a huge cloud turns everything into dark: Mephisto has arrived to punish the citizens with pestilence. Faust is unable to find a cure, and Mephisto seduces him into a bargain: he will grant Faust a cure in return for his soul, the original deal lasting a day. But whilst Faust succeeds at first, the citizens find out about his connection with Satan, and hound him out of town. After being promised eternal youth, wealth and power, Faust kidnaps the Duchess of Parma on her wedding day, and after returning to his home town, he seduces the virgin Gretchen (Horn). After Faust kills Gretchen’s brother, the pregnant woman is accused of being a whore and put to the stocks. Going mad, she mistakes a pile of snow for a cradle, killing her baby child. She is condemned to burn on the stake, but Faust at last sees his guilt, joining her in the flames, though loosing Mephisto’s wager.

In spite of the many aesthetic tricks Murnau used, he was very keen on realism: Horn, for whom Gretchen was her first main part, never stopped telling journalists how close she came to be really consumed by the fire. Dissolves are dominating the film, and dancing letters like in Caligari, help to create a super natural atmosphere. When Mephisto and Faust are flying over world on a carpet, Murnau uses a camera on a roller coaster. Faust’s change from an old to a young man (and vice versa) are impressive, and the riders of the apocalypse are truly frightening even today. Jannings dominates the film, his Mephisto is truly evil, but not in a superficial way – he really seduces Faust. Horn is very aptly cast, and Guilbert is a great Marthe Schwerdtlein. We also re-encounter the German expressionist design and architectural flourishes of Caligari with its spiky gables and narrow alleyways – unsurprisingly, since Walter Röhrig was again in charge of the design. A new harp score by Stan Ambrose (there is also an orchestral option) underlines the phantastic atmosphere, transcending images and words into a glorious poetic realism. This is an absolutely enchanting visual experience.   AS

AVAILABLE AT MASTERS OF CINEMA FROM 18TH AUGUST 2014

COMPLETE WITH FULL-LENGTH AUDIO COMMENTARY BY CRITICS DAVID EHRENSTEIN AND BILL KROHN

40-PAGE BOOKLET WITH A ESSAY BY PETER SPOONER, WRITING ON THE FILM BY ERIC ROHMER, AND RARE ARCHIVAL IMAGERY.

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Swallows and Amazons (1974) – DVD re-release

1913-3 copyWatching Arthur Ransome’s children’s classic “Swallows and Amazons” makes you realise just how much the world has changed, even since the seventies, when Claude Whatham’s screen adaptation was made. Those simple summer days of innocent childhood adventure now seem almost otherworldly forty years later, somehow summing up the quintessence of Britishness.

A group of children go on a summer escapade with their mother (that classic feminine icon of Englishness,Virginia McKenna) where they sail off to an island in the Lake District and pretend to be pirates. Here the story is set in 1929 and Virginia’s husband is an Officer away in the Navy. The children:John, Susan, Titty and Roger (Simon West, Suzanna Hamilton, Sophie Neville and Stephen Grendon) take their family dinghy ‘Swallow’ and set off to an uninhabited island in the Cumbrian lake district. But when they get there, they discover a rival gang (the two Blackett sisters) are also exploring Wild Cat Island and so the holiday adventure begins, not with computer but a real experience. swallows_3 copy

Claude Whatham’s adaptation stays faithful to the original with its simple and uncomplicated narrative structure and fictional characters such as an old pirate Uncle Jim (Ronald Fraser) who rather hams things up in contrast to the naturalistic performances of the others that feel almost unscripted thanks to clever writing on the part of David Wood.  So although the piece feels dated there’s considerable charm, nostalgia and fun to be had for all ages in a story where kids let their imaginations run wild to create their own incredible world of adventure. MT

OUT ON DVD/BLU 4th August 2014 WITH A NEW RESTORATION SCREENING AT HASTINGS PIRATE DAY, THE ELECTRIC PALACE CINEMA ON 20 JULY 2014.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) DVD-blu-ray

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL ****   SILVER BEAR, GRAND JURY PRIZE

Writer/Director: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric,  Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan.

100min   US   Comedy Drama

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Ralph Fiennes is pure magic as Monsieur Gustav H, a legendary lothario and eloquent hotel manager in this witty, whimsical and very European tale within a fairytale, inspired by the Gorlitzer Warenhaus on the Polish/Czech border (which is currently being renovated) in a fictional Republic of Zubrowka.

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This fairytale for adults, written and directed by Texan Wes Anderson, is probably his finest film to date: well-scripted; beautifully acted by a fine assembled cast of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Jude Law, Matthieu Almaric, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan and newcomer Tony Revolori (as the young Zero M): Fiennes and Tilda Swinton are particularly good as sweethearts and sparring partners in a comedy double-act; it’s also gorgeous to watch with its candy-coloured aesthetic, fairytale sets (with stylishly interwoven animation) and costumes that would make even swoon with envy. Appealing to all ages, despite moments of brutal violence, it tells the story of how the hotel came to be handed down to Zero Mustafa via a rich and riotous history. Wes Anderson has made a film that’s both cinematic, intelligent and playfully Wentertaining. MT

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL IS ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 28 February 2014

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Branded to Kill (1967) Koroshi no Rakuin

Director: Seijun Suzuki

Cast: Jo Shishido, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Koji Nanbara

Japan, 1967, 98 min.

Born in 1923, Suzuki, albeit a B-picture director, has found a great following in Europe particularly in Italy, where he has had two retrospectives. The man who said he could edit a film in one day (and shoot five a year, as he did in 1960), was fired from the “Nikkatsu” studio in 1967, after he delivered BRANDED TO KILL, having been told to “make something more conventional” after the wild excesses of TOKYO DRIFTER (1966). BRANDED TO KILL was anything but conventional, and the studio fired him. Whilst his followers (among them Nagisa Oshima) protested and organised screenings of Suzukis films, the studio “confiscated” his films. Suzuki later went to court and won, but he was blacklisted for ten years and could only work for TV. In 1977 he returned to his still prolific cinema output.
BRANDED TO KILL is the story of Hanada (Shishido), who is ‘Number Three’ in the Japanese hierarchy of professional killers. This being upwardly-mobile Japan, Hanada wishes nothing more than to become the ‘Number One’, and when he is approached by the mysterious, beautiful Miskao (Mari), with a kill-or-be-killed contract, he is only too happy to oblige. But when he misses his target, because a butterfly nestles on his gun site, Misako orders Hanadas wife Mami (Koji Nanbara), to kill her husband. But somehow Hanada gets there first, killing his wife and then meeting the mysterious ‘Number One’ killer, who challenges him to a duel for the top spot. When they take a break from plotting to kill each other, the two are bound literally together: eating, sleeping, etc. After he learns that No. 1 has killed Misako, Hanada is looking forward even more to the duel in a boxing ring, when Misako, on crutches, but very much alive appears…..

The wonderful monochrome scope photography alone is enough to fall in love with this film (never mind the narrative), using light and shadow, as in the best American noir-pictures. The jazz music background reminds of Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold, and some of he philosophical exchanges between husband and wife (“We are both beasts, and will die together as beasts”) are existential Antonioni. The original re-framing of conventional shots (due to lack of budget and time) remind of the young Godard. The action scenes are surrealistic absurd (Jarmusch used them later for “Ghost Dog”). Everything about BRANDED TO KILL is eclectic, not on purpose, but equally by choice and chance. Luckily for us, in spite of his ban, Suzuki returned to his old form in the 80s, shooting Pistol Opera in 2001, a sequel to BRANDED TO KILL.

IN SELECT CINEMAS- 25th JULY 2014

DUAL-FORMAT RELEASE BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE – 28th JULY 2014

The Assassin (1961) l’Assassino

image011THE ASSASSIN (L’ASSASSINO)

Dir.: Elio Petri; Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Salvo Randone, Christina Gaioni; Italy 1961, 105 min.

This is the first feature film of Elio Petri (1929-1982), who would become famous for Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (1970) and The Tenth Victim (1965). He tells the story of the antique dealer Nello Poletti (Mastroianni), who is one day accused of murdering his former lover Adalgisa de Matteis (Presle). During the investigation we learn that Nello has exploited Adalgisa, who is much older than him. She has set him up with a luxury antique-shop, but he still has debts and a new lover, the young Antonella Nogara (Gaioni), daughter of a rich industrialist. On the night of the murder, Nello had visited Adalgisa in a hotel near the coast, where he slept with her for the first time in a very long time, wanting her to pay a huge loan he owned the bank. Whilst we learn a lot about Nello (all rather damning) during the course of the investigation, led by the enigmatic inspector Palumbo (Randone), he is cleared of the murder, and for a time Nello seems repentant. But when we meet him again a year later, he sleeps with the now married Antonella, and is back to his old semi-criminal existence, calling himself laughingly ‘the Assassin’.

The monochrome photography shows a realistic portrait of Rome, far away from the splendour of Fellini or Antonioni. Nello is a real sleaze bag, and Mastroianni fills his shoes perfectly. With a chip on his shoulders, because of his upbringing in a poor quarter, he exploits everyone and everything around him; mainly woman, who fall for his boyish charm. But behind the façade, Nello is a perpetual schemer, using his glib tongue to seduce for cash. He is an empty vessel, waiting to be filled with the goods belonging to others. Adalgisa is rather a sad case: whilst looking right through Nello, she stills wants him in perverse way, even if it means paying his debts whilst he sleeps with Antonella, whom she introduced him too for exactly this purpose. Nicoletta is just a younger version of Nello himself: playing him at his own game, and soon to tire of his antics. Inspector Palumbo is the most sophisticated character: world weary and tired, he plays the game more than being a policeman. Sated with a life in the world of crime, he is just waiting to retire. We see a lot of storylines and characters of later Petri films, they are invariably studies of men being guilty, even if not in the eyes of the law. AS

ON ON DVD FROM 21ST JULY 2014

Arrow Academy is proud to present the first ever UK video release of L’Assassino in a gorgeous high-definition restoration created by the Cineteca di Bologna.

This deluxe package will be full of special features and bonus material including:
· New 2K digital restoration from the Cineteca di Bologna

· Uncompressed Mono 2.0 PCM Audio

· Elio Petri and L’Assassino, an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone

· Tonino Guerra: A Poet in the Movies: Nicola Tranquillino’s documentary about the great Italian screenwriter

· Theatrical Trailer

· Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw

· Booklet featuring new writing on the film by Elio Petri expert Camilla Zamboni, Petri’s own critical analysis of 1950s Italian cinema, plus a selection of contemporary reviews

 

 

 

Pulp (2014)

Director: Florian Habicht

Starring: Jarvis Cocker, Nick Banks, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, Mark Webber

91min   UK   Music biopic

Jarvis Cocker’s quirky personality shines through this warm-hearted biopic that follows his indie rock band Pulp, in a final home town concert in 2012. Jarvis describes the film as a ‘tidying-up exercise’, after the band’s informal departure from the music scene in 2002, but acknowledges this is ‘not a very rock n roll concept’. Sheffield is very much a part of the story and the reason for the open-armed welcome the band receive for its swan song. Jarvis has maintained a low-key presence on the music scene since he put the band to bed, quietly pursuing other creative projects while living modestly in a Victorian semi; vehicle maintenance and feeding the ducks are also part of his routine.

Sheffield is a town where superlatives don’t exist. But most locals (interviewed in vox-pop) were looking forward to the big night and seemed to think the band was “alright” (meaning fantastic in ‘Sheffield-speak’). The Yorkshire town is nothing to write home about according to Jarvis; but if he did write home, it would be a love letter and a heart-felt tribute to the humdrum comfort of the city and to ‘Pulp’, as well.  German-born New Zealander, Florian Habicht, handles his subject with artful aplomb, capturing a palpable sense of place and bottling it for all to savour, not only diehard fans.  Pulp is a collaborative effort with the locals: the paper-seller, the knife-maker, kids, the old and the down at heel.

1379597_426245800808751_1995528444_n copyJarvis Cocker cuts a geeky figure as a rock God but, strangely, that’s what he’s become – with his fine line in tailoring and ‘lifts’ – odd to see on a man of 6ft 2 – and a natural sense of highly intelligent humour: he never takes himself too seriously and makes fascinating viewing with his self-deprecating charm, Fame has never suited him, feeling like a “bad nut allergy’. A teenage lack of confidence with the girls led to much  introspection as to how he could get the girls, and it was largely with this in mind (or so he claims) that writing music came about; although success came much later. Candida Doyle claims she helped finance the band in the early years, but still plays keyboard despite her arthritis – not a cool disease for a rock chick, she admits. For his part, Jarvis feels happier sharing emotions with his concert audience than face to face and his gawky movements on stage are unselfconscious because during gigs, he thinks of ‘absolutely nothing’. Some of his lyrics are as darkly funny as Morrissey’s: the misery of love and loneliness; the grey sadness of the industrial landscape epitomised in bleak despair of the tortured artist, tinged with bitter irony.

But it’s the fans and locals who provide the most laugh-out loud moments. Frank, salt of the earth characters are unfazed by his fame but deeply fond of his music. And the band, strikes a deep empathy with everyone. With songs such ‘Common People’ and ‘Help the Aged’  he has truly bonded with the underdog, the disenchanted and the disappointed; buying into the Nation’s psyche with the engaging power of Britpop and the National trait of deeply engrained stoicism.  It’s always sad to say goodbye but there are good ways to do so, and Habicht has found a rousing, warm and honourable one.  MT

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PULP IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6 JUNE 2014  and on DVD from 14th July 2014

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) DVD/Blu dual format

HARD_DAYS_NIGHT_QUAD_FINAL copyDirector: Richard Lester

87min:  Blu-ray LPCM mono, stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio £19.99

87min DVD: Mono, Dolby Digital

Indisputably the biggest and best band of the sixties, the Beatles ushered in an era of change in a Britain still emerging from Post War austerity and tradition. Their groundbreaking talent came to the big screen in A Hard Day’s Night, in which four fresh-faced lads from Liverpool changed the face of music forever and created the phenomenon that was Beatlemania. Richard Lester’s exhilarating biopic features all the best tunes including the title track, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” paving the way for the era of music videos.  A Hard Day’s Night follows the Beatles, John, Paul, Ringo and George, through a typical day as they’re mobbed by fans on the way to London (by train) with their manager Norm (Norman Rossington) accompanied by tracks such “And I Love Her” and “If I Fell”.

New 4K digital film restoration, approved by director Richard Lester, with two audio options—a monaural soundtrack and a new 5.1 surround soundtrack;

– A new piece combining 1964 Interviews with the band members and behind the scenes photos and footage.

– You Can’t Do That – a documentary by produced Walter Shenson including an outtake performance by The Beatles

– Things they Said Today – a documentary about the film featuring director Richard Lester, music producer George Martin, and cinematography Gilbert Taylor

DVD release out on 4th July and Blu-ray release 21 July 2014 through Second Sight DVD.

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Celebrity – Small Time Crooks – Deconstructing Harry DVD

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997) this comedy construct, in which Allen also stars as a writer looking back over his career, has some nastily neurotic revelations that often feel disturbingly personal.  In a star-studded cast led by Judy Davis (in her usual crisis-mode), Demi Moore, Billy Crystal (who transcends the gloom) it emerges that Harry Block dislikes women and tells them this even in the throws of sex. Looking back over the characters in his novels (who he treats like his ex-wives and children), he pops pills and loses his inhibitions. The writing are as sharp as broken glass and the humour just as mordant.

CELEBRITY (1998) plays like a typical Woody Allen satire with a string of Hollywood regulars (Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Famke Janssen) performing in a revue of cameos. Regular collaborator Judy Davis (Robin Simon) is married to Kenneth Branagh (Lee Simon) but all is not well. Branagh plays Woody Allen’s alter ego (faultlessly) and after leaving Davis, becomes a raging lothario attracting the beguiling Nola (Winona Ryder); the gorgeous (Charlize Theron) and then Famke Janssen – all competing for his geeky charm. Meanwhile Judy Davis plays her usual neurotic role but manages to lurch from crisis to crisis. A fun and entertaining look at the vacuity of stardom with a fabulous vintage soundtrack. As in Deconstructing Harry, Allen seems fascinated by the ins and outs of sex including polymorphia. 

SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000) is far and away Woody Allen’s funniest film.  Pack to the gills with wit and wisecracks you can play it over and over again and still find more gags to enjoy. Upbeat, in contrast to, say,  Sweet and Lowdown” it’s more along the lines of his first outing Take the Money and Run, with a heart of gold and a genuine message of hope to round off the silliness. There’s not a trace of the bitterness invaded Husbands and Wives and Deconstructing Harry, this is Woody at his most naive and genuine as a comedian. He stars along with Tracey Ullman as an ordinary couple from Coney Island who can only dream of the glamour of Manhattan, who turn out to to be much richer in humanity than the wealthy snobs they end up amusingly rubbing shoulders with. Starts out with a half-baked idea for robbing a bank proposed by Ray Winkler (Allen) and his ex-stripper wife Frenchy (Ullman). Renting the store next to a bank they set up a bogus biscuit bakery that surprisingly takes off with hilarious and lucrative results. Frenchy is transformed by their new-found wealth into a social climber of the worst type who falls into the charming but unscrupulous hands of Hugh Grant’s art wheeler-dealer. Some of the funniest moments lie in Ray Winkler’s attempts to bring the story back down to earth assisted by Frenchy’s stupid sister May (Elaine May) in a superb turn, as they become collaborators in a scheme to steal Elaine Strich’s jewellery. The sheer silliness and light-hearted feel to this satire cum sitcom makes it a watchable delight from start to finish.  MT

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Dvorak – In Love? (2014) – DVD

Dir.: Tony Palmer; Documentary with Vaclav Neumann and Julian Lloyd-Webber

CSSR 1988, 52 min.

Produced in 1988, the same year as his Shostakovich biography “Testimony”, Tony Palmer’s DVORAK- IN LOVE? is set on three levels: the major part consists of a a filmed recording of Antonin Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B-minor, which he wrote in 1894-95 in the United States. Conducted by the great Czech conductor Vaclav Neumann (1920-19995), with a very young Julian Lloyd-Webber as soloist, it is a detailed study of musical collaboration, which goes into producing a now classical recording. A voice-over forms part two of this project: Dvorak’s letters tell about his undying love for Josefina Kaunitzova, sister of Dvorak’s wife Anna, who was gravely was ill when Dvorak returned to Prague from the USA in April 1895; she died in May of the same year. Dvorak changed a cadenza of the cello concert in her memory. Whilst Dvorak concedes, that “his wife made him famous, managing his affairs”, he never got over Josefina, his first (and only) love; despite having six children with Anna.

Finally, the third element got the TV production into hot water with the communist authorities: set off by Dvorak’s complaints of being repressed by the Austrians in his own country. Palmer includes a compilation of newsreel images from Dvorak’s time to Chamberlain’s surrender to Hitler, Germany’s occupation of Czechoslovakia from 1939 to the end of WWII, and finally the brutal suppression of the “Prague Spring” in 1968 by Soviet troops. The film was not shown before the end of the Soviet Empire, one of the first documentaries broadcasted on independent Czech TV.

Neumann speaks mainly German, Czech only with his orchestra (the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra), the recording manager (who has as an astonishing amount of power regarding repetitions of parts of the music, he is not too happy with) speaks English and German and Lloyd-Webber tries bravely to communicate as much as possible. Clearly, it is a triumph of music over languages. Dvorak’s letters are deeply saddening: he seemed only have married Anna to keep in contact with Josefina, who married a Count. This unrequited love might have driven him on as an artist, but it must have blemished his whole personal life – and most certainly that of his wife. The newsreel clips tell the sad story of a small European country, being occupied by bigger, neighbouring countries for centuries. It hardly matters which language they had to speak, Czech was for private use only. As Dvorak put it so succinctly: “What is an artist without his country?” DVORAK – IN LOVE? is an essay on ‘Heimat’, Love and Music, the way Palmer connects the three is masterful. AS

On DVD for the first time on the 7th July 2014, courtesy of Firefly. RRP: £12.99’

Exhibition (2013) Bfi Player DVD

Dir: Joanna Hogg | Cast: Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick, Tom Hiddleston | 104′ UK Drama

In her portrayal of the English middle-classes Joanna Hogg has a unique voice. And she particularly understands the women.  We’re not talking about the huntin’ and shootin’ brigade: her characters are writers, artists, and creative types often played by untrained actors.

Hogg found her way into the film world after a chance meeting with Derek Jarman and her first film Caprice featured (the then unknown) Tilda Swinton.  Her first big screen release UNRELATED (2007) tells the story of a childless woman who joins her married friend’s house party in Tuscany and feels “fated to spend the rest of my life on the periphery of other womens’ families’. It won the FIPRESCI prize that year. Her follow-up ARCHIPELAGO (2010) witnesses the disintigration of a family on holiday in the Scilly Isles where the visual language speaks louder than the embittered dialogue between them.

EXHIBITION takes place in a fabulous modernist house in London (Kensington?), which is on the market. Newcomers to acting D and H (played by Turner prize nominated artist Liam Gillick and onetime punk musician, Viv Albertine) love living here but feel the need to move on with their lives and the house is full of bittersweet memories. Essentially a two-hander, it has Hogg’s regular collaborator Tom Hiddleston, as the estate agent tasked with the sale.

The house is very much a character and a part of who they are; embodying not only their artistic personalities but enforcing the pain of the past and embued with the story of their married life. Full of hope, they moved in after marrying with plans for a family and all the happiness that couples wish for, sadly not for them. But in their own way they still love each other.

Exhibition-001 copy

Communicating via intercom from their respective offices in the house, they evoke the typical nature of ego-driven but insecure artists: permanently at work – sometimes avoiding contact; sometimes welcoming reassurance of each other’s existence and commitment.  Competitive, independent yet needy of affirmation and understanding. Sex has died but H’s libido is still dormantly waiting for male excitement.

This is an urban London film and Hogg absolutely nails the minor and major irritations of life here: the estate agent’s glib patter; dinner parties talking about other peoples’ children; the street noise, parking problems and alarms. Here again Hogg elicits a strong visual language from her actors that requires minimal dialogue evoking their individual dynamic in the relationship: H is an appeasing mother figure, D is controlling, anal, looking for comfort.

Leaving the house, can they leave the ghosts that haunt them behind? Joanna Hogg offers up another subtle masterpiece.  Poignant and absolutely authentic. MT

EXHIBITION IS now on BFIplayer | READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH JOANNA HOGG HERE

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Her (2013) -DVD

Director/Writer   Spike Jonze

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and Rooney Mara.

US Drama

Spike Jonze is best known for Being John Malkovich and Where the Wild Things Are.  Her is his first outing with an original script of his own. Looking into the future it imagines a pastel-coloured dreamscape of downtown LA,  where a lonely Hobbit-like dweeb (Joaquin Phoenix), bereft from his marriage break-up,  falls hopelessly in love with his laptop’s artificially intelligent operating system voiced by the dulcet tones of  Scarlett Johansson.  Well which red-blooded man wouldn’t?

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In Jonze’s film, the online world and reality collide providing a parallel universe where educated and polite characters interact sweetly with each other in high-waisted trousers. This premise is both plausible and unsettling, but more importantly, underscores the increasing laziness of social communication, where physical interaction is limited to the minimum and everyone relies personally tailored menus run by online personal advisors.  This is a world where all human needs are met inclusively online – well almost exclusively. This sounds practical until it creates a society where brains become hard-wired to rely on screens and buttons rather than real faces and human chemistry and social and emotional intercourse starts to become alien to the human race.

But let’s not get too morose.  Jonze’s drama is a light and fluffy affair enveloping a heart of glass,  As his characters tailor their online information to reflect personal preferences, eliminating undesirable elements at the stroke of a finger, so their real relationships go down the tubes.  Chilling and scarily believable, Jonze captures the zeitgeist of this future perfectly but, in doing, inadvertently creates a film that can have no heart or soul. In one scene, Phoenix’s character tries to make love to a call-girl sent by his advisor, while she talks him through the motions with fascinating results. Like candy-floss, HER looks appealing and but is forgettable several hours later.  Or maybe it’s just not all of us are ready for this type of existence.  MT

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NOW ON DVD

The Sea (2013) – DVD

Director: Stephen Brown

Writer: John Bamville (novel)

Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Ciaran Hinds, Natasha McEhlone, Rufus Sewell, Sinead Cusack, Karl Johnson, Bonnie Wright, Matthew Dillon

Stephen Brown directs John Bamville’s screen adaptation, loosely based on his novel about a bereaved man (Ciaran Hinds) who returns to the seaside resort of his childhood, to get over the death of his wife (Sinead Cusack). Often feeling as chilly as its Irish coastal setting, a stellar cast of British stalwarts keep this grim drama afloat on the shifting sands of Brown’s direction.

Charlotte Rampling is superb as Mrs Vavasoor, the restrained and elegant hostess at the seaside hotel who offers tea and empathy (“Solitude is a thing you learn…”).. while suffering the effects of delayed bereavement Max (Hinds) hits the bottle in a toxic mixture of grief, ennui and an adverse reaction to her geometric prints. Visions of his dying wife (a stoical Sinead Cusack) provide comfort but plunge him further into grief.

Even the idyllic sun-filtered flashbacks to his repressed fifties childhood feel unsettling and remote, as he remembers some kids he used to play with on the beach. His mind is filled with fantasies of their libidinous (and bisexual) mother Connie (McElhone) whose marriage to Rufus Sewell’s Carlo, although outwardly buoyant (think ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’), appears to be have hit the rocks. A series of weird subplots involving Connie’s lesbian nanny and Carlo’s coquettish dalliance with a shopgirl feel gauche and implausible under Brown’s direction, and work much better on the page. And when the plot finally unravels, it’s so underwhelming we almost what to cry into our ginger beer.  MT

THE SEA IS ON DVD from 23 June 2014

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Lone Survivor (2014) DVD/Blu

Director/Writer: Peter Berg

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Yousuf Azami, Ali Suliman, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig

121min   Action Drama    US

Inspired by the novel by Marcus Luttrell

Peter Berg’s  hard-hitting Afghanistan drama, LONE SURVIVOR,  is based on the true story of Navy SEAL,  Marcus Luttrell.  In 2005, he was the sole survivor of Operation Red Wings when 20 soldiers were killed in a mission to take out a Taliban leader. If you’re wondering whether you need to see another film based on this intractable conflict, the answer is resoundingly – Yes. Apart from being set in some of the World’s most captivating mountain scenery (Afghanistan’s Kunar Province); it also has some of the most technically skilful fight sequences that have ever been filmed.  And after his rather glib outings in 2 Guns, Pain + Gain and Broken City, Mark Wahlberg’s performance as Marcus Luttrell’s evokes his inherent moral decency and integrity as a soldier, making it a moving portrait of camaraderie and courage in battle.

The story opens as the Navy SEALs are being put through their paces on the training ground, where they are encouraged to be aggressive, pugnacious and above all, to win.  Arriving in the mountain location, dialogue stuffed full of cheesy male bonding chat about wives and kids back home and the usual war-mongering cant along the lions of ‘America is great’, soon subsides when a chance meeting with a shepherd leads to their wooded hideout being uncovered, leaving them exposed to high-skilled local guerrillas in a Taliban stronghold.

Lone Survivor is a brutal body-blow of a film with some devastating gun and aerial battle scenes.  Subtle and moving performances from Mark Wahlberg (as Mark Luttrell) and Ben Foster (as Matthew “Axe” Axelson) also make this an immersive account of real-life warfare which engages our sympathies, while keeping us on the edge of our seats – some scenes are gruesomely difficult to watch.

LONE SURVIVOR shows how the might of the American War Machine is not a match for the deftness, skill and local knowledge of the Taliban fighters. And despite their high-level military strategising, this makes the American forces look embarrassingly inadequate, using a mallet to crack a pine-nut.

Berg’s screenplay here is far and way superior to previous outings Battleship and Lions for Lambs,possibly because in being inspired to rise to the challenge of committing the glory and ultimate sacrifice of these courageous men to perpetuity on celluloid, he speaks from the heart.  There are digs at the American government on military funding and the subject of budget cuts and lack thereof.  As war movies go, LONE SURVIVOR is a meaningful film that deserves attention. MT

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The Armstrong Lie (2013) DVD

Dir.: Alex Gibney

Cast: Lance Armstrong, Betsy Andreu, Frankie Andreu, Michele Ferrari

USA 2013, 124 min.

In 2005 Alex Gibney (Mea Maxima Culpa) had started a documentary called The Road Back about Lance Armstrong’s comeback, which led to him trying to win a record eighth Tour de France title. The film was finished but not publicly screened, when Armstrong confessed on TV in an “Oprah Interview” on January 17th 2009 that he had taken drugs all along. Gibney, who had fallen for Armstrong’s denials like most people, had to start over all again, finishing with THE ARMSTRONG LIE, which showed the ex-hero as callous, cold and manipulating.

Obviously the film’s structure suffers from these events, because Gibney himself was taken in by Armstrong’s hero image. As a result, Gibney is not hard enough on the ‘post Winfrey’ Armstrong; in showing the corruption which governed the International Cycling Union (ICU), whose ex-president Hein Verbruggen (he served from 1991-2005 and is still honorary president) was a good friend of Armstrong, the filmmaker tries to distance himself from being duped himself by pointing to the bigger picture. Doubtless doping is – in all sports – still a major problem, but never has one person benefited so much and over such a long time from cheating. And never has a (wo)man convicted for doping described their crime as “having an advantage over competitors” like Armstrong.  Armstrong sued, or threatened to, everyone who claimed to have knowledge of his doping abuses, destroying the lives of his competitor Frankie Andreu and his wife Betsy in the process.

There are many character flaws in most athletes competing in single sport events, which require a ‘tough’, insensible and egocentric personality structure (team sport participants are usually more interactive in their approach), but Armstrong’s calculating nature is still unique: he built himself into a hero who conquered cancer. establishing a fundraising empire; gaining a ‘trophy wife’ in form of the singer Sheryl Crow (leaving his wife Kristen and mother of his three children in a public spat) and never ever said sorry for anything – instead he portrays himself now as the ‘tragic’ hero. There is no tragedy about Armstrong; he is nothing short of a criminal – and the failure of this film is that even Gibney fails to shame him.  AS

THE ARMSTRONG LIE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 31 January 2014

 

The Rocket (2013)

Dir.: Kim Mordaunt;

Cast: Sitthiphon Disamoe, Loungnam Kaosainiam, Thep Phongam, Bunsri Yindi, Sumrit Warin, Alice Keohavong

Australia/Laos/Thailand 2013; 96 min.

Laos: Ahlo was born a twin, his sibling died at birth. According to the Animist religion this can bring bad luck for the family. Ten years on and the prediction appears to have some truth to it: The family has to move to make way for a big dam and Ahlo’s village is one of many which will be flooded by the Australian company responsible. Ahlo insists on taking a boat to Paradise, a new housing settlement that is anything but.  But it is this boat which causes an accident, killing his mother Mali. For Taitok this is proof enough that Ahlo is indeed the “evil one”. Ahlo makes friends with the orphan Kia, a very headstrong and enterprising nine-year-old. She lives with her uncle “Purple”, a member of the Hmong tribe, who was enticed by the CIA to fight for the Americans in the Vietnam War. More tragedy ensues. The only hope is  on the horizon is the ‘Rocket’ festival: a dangerous venture that rewards the builder of the highest flying rocket (causing the long awaited rain to start) free land and housing. ‘Purple’, who is drinking himself to death, advises Ahlo to build a magic rocket.

THE ROCKET is  Mordaunt’s first feature, but he has shot numerous documentaries, among them Bomb  Harvest (2008), a film about Australian bomb disposal specialists, clearing Laos from the unexploded American bombs, still littering the country; together with cluster bombs, designed to look like fruit. Children, who sell both types of bomb as scrap metal, are often the victims of a war that was over nearly forty years ago. Ahlo and Kia have two narrow escapes, the ground is still  littered with these deadly weapons. ‘Purple’ is still living in the past, still adoring US culture, modelling himself on James Brown. Foreign engagement past and present meet in THE ROCKET: The socialist government is opening the country up to foreign investors, but so far it has created too many displaced people, who have had to leave their villages and end up, like Ahlo and his family, in refugee camps. Traditional life has suffered and although the Loatians are a resilient people, they are ill prepared for survival in the 21st century.  

Mordaunt’s camera work is exceptional: long panning shots and panoramic views of the beautiful landscape entrance the viewer, without suffocating the content. The acting is superb, even (or because) the two lead actors are newcomers bringing a fresh enthusiasm to the drama. THE ROCKET is moving, but never sentimental,  keen like a debut film should be, but never over-emphasising the point. But the greatest strength is its faithful documentation of everyday life, showing care in even the smallest details. AS

THE ROCKET is on general release from 14th courtesy of EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT.

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Carrie (2013) DVD

Director: Kimberly Peirce   Writers: Lawrence D Cohen, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa   FROM THE NOVEL BY STEPHEN KING

With: Julianne Moore, Chloe Grace Moretz, Gabriella Wilde, Portia Doubleday, Alex Russell, Zoe Belkin, Ansel Elgort, Judy Greer

100min   Horror/Drama    US REMAKE

Sissy Spacek is synonymous with the 1976 horror classic CARRIE  just as Beatrice Dalle was with Betty Blue or Vivien Leigh with Gone With Wind, so ‘re-imagining’ Brian De Palma’s seminal horror outing was always going to be a challenge.  How could this classic story of a bullied, outsider possibly be improved upon?  Strangely, Kimberly Peirce’s CARRIE overhaul manages to be a well-paced and mildly appealing tragedy, as prom flicks go and a great improvement on the TV remake of Carrie that outstayed its welcome at a running time of well over two hours.

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And it has a starry cast to help it along with Julianne Moore as mother  Margaret – a religious nutter if ever there was one – she excels in the role with her straggly hair, wild eyes and discretely quivering lips.  But Chloe Grace Moretz is cute and adorable rather than weird and tortured as Carrie, and never captures the frail erratic eerieness of Spacek’s Carrie.

For  a start, dressed as a prom-queen she’s a babe with pouty lips and a cute smile that even Dracula would fall in love with.  As an emotionally damaged child, she displays none of the angst that Sissy Spacek brought to the role.  Even in the hammed-up shower scene (one of the worst tributes to womanhood ever to be made apart from Powder Room), her performance feels fake rather than authentic (in a scene that really goes on far too long), but has the contempo feel of being recorded on an iPhone, to give it that fatal modern twist.

Peirce has used the same screenwriter as Brian De Palma: Lawrence D. Cohen, working with Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa in an attempt to bring respect to the outing, even re-hashing some of the original dialogue. Best know for her 1999 feature, BOYS DON’T CRY, Peirce’s remake is more faithful to De Palma’s film that it is to Stephen King’s novel, and there is also clearly a attempt to examine Carrie’s toxic relationship with her mother that was central to his original story.  But none of this is really dealt with in depth. There is no terror here only special effects, and heightened melodrama replaces the lyricism that existed in the original.   Another contemporary twist is the use of a middle class father to attempt to threaten the school with his legal expertise in support of his vile daughter Chris (Portia Doubleday) but this feels out of place and irrelevant to the drama.  Gabriella Wilde (Sue Snell) and Ansel Ansort (Tommy Ross) although competent in their roles seem like plastic characters as the teen lovers who try to save the day, piqued with guilt over their shabby treatment of Carrie and Ansel Ansort’s Tommy feels almost too much chemistry for Moretz’s Carrie at the prom.

CARRIE-2215 copyThe only character to stand out with any real personality or human warmth is Judy Greer as the gym mistress.

And the Carrie here comes across as a thoroughly nice and well-adjusted teenager.  It’s only really when she discovers and develops her latent power of telekinesis that proceedings turn sinister.   But the tragedy of the prom night evokes only pity and then unbelievability with its final absurd meltdown. Up to this point, tragedy is the only emotion evoked. Never terror or even fear.

Special effects are confined to the apocalypsis, where we’re rooting for Carrie in her final hour of glory as she fights back with the lethal conviction that only a child from a broken, abused background can muster.  That said, Peirce goes into overgear as almost touching drama turns to manic melodrama as Carrie takes control.  If nothing else, let’s hope that this pale remake will resurrect interest in re-visiting the true cult classic that rocked our teenage collective consciousness in the hot summer of 1976.

CARRIE IS OUT on DVD/BLU

 

Looking for Light: Jane Bown (2014) DVD release

UnknownDir.: Luke Dodd, Michael Whyte

Cast: Jane Bown, Don McCullin, Polly Toynbee

UK 2014, 90 min.

Jane Bown, born in 1925, was a staff photographer on The Observer from 1949, retiring only when well into her nineties. Whilst millions all over the world are familiar with her portraits of the in/famous like Samuel Beckett, Boy George or Liza Minnelli; her identity, in spite of many books and exhibitions (one is running from the 22.4. to 31.5 at the ‘Observer’), remains mysterious: few people could identify the photographer behind these haunting black-and-white images.

This documentary traces her life from Herefordshire, where she was born into a well- to-do family, unfortunately “on the wrong side of the blanket, in the kitchen” – meaning that she was illegitimate: her father, the Lord of the Manor was in his mid-sixties, her mother a young nurse who looked after him. She was supposed to be given up for adoption, but one of her father’s sisters intervened, and she ended up being brought up by two of them in Dorset. She only learned of the identity of her mother when she was 12, having a very strained relationship for the rest of her life with her, something she regrets: “My family played ‘Pass the Parcel’ with me”.

Jane Bown spent the War years in Liverpool as a “Wren” cartographer and, after studying photography at Guildford College, the future Observer Photo editor, Mechthild Nawiasky (an emigrant from Austria, who was a famous lion-tamer), asked her to take a photo of Bertrand Russell in 1949. This was the start of a long career as a portrait photographer. Apart from the famous, Bown loved shooting ordinary people, her photos of strikes in the 70s are particularly evocative. She married the fashion executive Martin Moss and the couple had three sons. One of them, Martin, talks about the split life of his mother: she was Mrs Moss during the weekends in the family home in the countryside, and Jane Bown during the week – even having two different bank accounts.

Bown always shot in black and white, mostly with a manual SLR. For her, “digital is a dirty word”.  Education establishments who worked with her, describe her putting her subjects at ease, “they were not afraid of this nice old lady”. Her most famous photo, the one of Samuel Beckett, was shot at the Royal Court Theatre on a chance meeting; the camera shy Beckett obviously not too happy about the encounter. Bown also captured the images of three very famous colleges: Cartier-Bresson, Martha Gellhorn and David Bailey – the latter, cuddling his dog, following her instructions with “I know exactly what you are doing”.

Pop stars like Mick Jagger, The Beatles and Cilla Black loved her, as did the Queen, who asked to shoot a second roll of film. And her portrait of Anthony Blunt, the “fourth Man” looks straight like out of a thriller of the 40ies. Her photos are passionate – but never sentimental – studies in light and shadows, showing that she “loved her subjects”. One of her colleges said, that Jane was so unhinged by her childhood experiences, that she would change bedrooms every month – her only true home being The Observer, where she still visits in her wheelchair. AS

LOOKING FOR LIGHT: JANE BOWN IS NOW ON DVD FROM 26 MAY 2014

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Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) DVD release

Directors/Script: Joel and Ethan Coen

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake Garrett Hedlund

105mins       US   Music Drama

Joen and Ethan Coen won the Grand Prix at Cannes 2013 for this atmospheric story of a struggling folk singer in early sixties Greenwich Village. Exuding style, charm and nostalgic appeal; Bruno Delbonnel’s desaturated velvet visuals coalesce with a gently humorous script and  subtle performances capturing the era that was JFK and Peter, Paul and Mary and gave way to the edgy voice of Bob Dylan (whose bent figure is seen haunched over his guitar in a bar the final seconds) and his anthems of US civil rights and anti-war sentiment.

_MG_0793_RT copyThe central character, played by Oscar Isaac, is both flawed and self-defeating but fascinating to watch as he suffers perpetual bad luck, living at the mercy of friends and people he meets along the way.  In the winter of 1961, after leaving Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan) pregnant from a one-night stand and now living with successful duo partner Jim (Justin Timberlake), Llewyn heads off with his cat to forge a solo career; his duo arrangement having fallen apart. As he is walks along the highroad, collar drawn up to the biting New York winds (much like Dylan on the cover of ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’), we know the die is cast and his latest single “Inside Llewyn Davis” will gather dust in a box on his agent’s floor.

Isaac carries the role well bringing to his character a brooding resentment tempered with restrained charm. A disillusioned romantic resigned to failure, he is darkly handsome with Byronesque curls and and a full beard.  The episodes with his neighbours, the Gorheims, are particularly amusing and apposite with their New York, Jewish humour. Justin Timberlake and Garrett Hedland have small but appealing cameos. At one point Jim and Lleywn perform an original (imagined) chart single dedicated to JFK which is exhilarating and upbeat.  But most of the folk music played in smoky locales by Isaac is soulful and the overall soundtrack is pleasant thanks to T-Bone Burnett. His other singing friend is Al Cody played exultantly by Adam Driver.

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On the way to Chicago for an audition he hitches a lift with John Goodman’s bitterly sardonic jazz pro, providing delicious comedic texture, as the film turns road movie through the freezing late winter of 1961 with widescreen visuals of snowswept landscapes; early motorways; classic Chevies; dim-lit offices full of dusty, resilient characters redolent of an era where people still spoke in straightforward sentences and meant what they said.  “I don’t see a lot of money here” – is the bathetic response from his Chicago agent when Llewyn finally auditions there.  No words could express a more simple truth about an artist who isn’t going anywhere, despite his creative talent.  This is a tale about trying hard and not succeeding; about gradually acknowledging and accepting defeat that dawns somewhere down the line marking mediocrity from bankable talent. And this is the deeply-sad crux of this impeccably-crafted, bittersweet masterpiece and possible its universal appeal.  MT

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NOW ON DVD

 

 

Suzanne (2013) Now on DVD

Dir.: Katell Quilléveré;

Cast: Sarah Forestier, Adèle Haenel, François Damiens

France/Belgium 2013, 94 min  Drama

After the death of their mother, sisters Suzanne (Sarah Forestier) and Maria (Adèle Haenel) grow up with their father Nicholas, a truck driver (Francois Damiens).  Suzanne is impetuous from the beginning, living in a dream world, whilst her sister is less self-centred, helping  her sister adjust to life’s problems. At seventeen, Suzanne gets pregnant, an absent father means that Maria has to help out. But soon she is the sole provider for little Charlie, since Suzanne has fallen for Julien, who goes from robbery to drug smuggling during the course of the film. Suzanne, helping him in the first stage of his criminal career, acquires a criminal record.  But the death of her sister catapults Suzanne (finally) into adulthood, and for the first time she takes responsibility – not only for herself.

Katell Quilléveré (Love Like Poison) crams a quarter century of the life of Suzanne into just over 90 minutes of her second feature film: When we see her at first, Suzanne is playing innocently with her little sister near the grave of her mother. When we leave her with Leonard Cohen’s song of the same name, we either love or hate her – and the same goes for the film. Quillevéré does nothing to make her heroine sympathetic, on the contrary, Maria and (sometimes) her father carry the emotional load Suzanne leaves them with. But still, we fall for her all or nothing approach to life. Somebody once said, there must be more than everything to life, and this is exactly Suzanne’s motto. She lives purely for the day, emotionally driven: she is a wild child-woman. And absolutely oblivious to reality or duty, she races through life on self-centred emotional roller-coaster, often at the expense of others.

Sarah Forestier as Suzanne carries the film, which could have easily been an awkward mixture of TV drama and sentimental story-telling. But her Suzanne is real, and so are the settings: the ugly hotel rooms, the father, who is king of the road but lacks emotional understanding, and the dullness of prison life. The camera is lively, bordering on hectic, showing a realism, which sometimes reminds us of the Dardenne brothers. Nothing is artificial, we get what we see. It is Suzanne trying to transcendent an ugly life by sheer emotional force. There are obviously gaps in the narrative, but such is real life and Suzanne is such an emotional tornado, that we soon forget the missing parts. The second film is the most difficult, but Quillevéré storms, like her heroine, through all obstacles with an overpowering emotional and aesthetic force. AS

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SUZANNE IS NOW OUT ON DVD

 

 

 

 

Bastards (2013) DVD

Dir.: Claire Denis

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Chiara Mastroianni, Julie Bataille, Michel Subor, Lola Creton

France 2013, 100 min. Drama   French with English subtitles

BASTARDS is a much darker re-working of Claire Denis’s 2008 family drama 35 Shots of Rum. Whilst 35 Shots had more positive than negative characters, most of the characters in BASTARDS are exactly are very damaged people, who damage others even more.

Marco (Lyndon), captain of an oil tanker, abandons ship and returns to Paris to help his sister Julie (Bataille) whose husband Jacques has just committed suicide. Meanwhile, their daughter Justine (Creton) is roaming the streets of Paris naked, high on drugs and alcohol. Marco moves into an apartment building where he meets Raphaelle (Mastroianni), who happens to be the ex-mistress of Edouard Laporte, a business tycoon who has lend Julie and Jacques huge sums of money. Laporte still visits Raphaelle, who lives with their son, Joseph. Soon Marco and Raphaelle become lovers, Marco is at first unaware of the connections between his sister and the tycoon – let alone the reasons for Justine’s depraved life style.

The neo-noir element of the film is underlined by Agnes Godard’s photography (both director and DP work first time with digital equipment): shadows intrude even in daylight, and the night scenes are truly claustrophobic. Even the love-making seems brutal and often sadistic. Marco, who starts the film as an innocent, is soon dragged into the circle of deceit, exploitation and power games. Neglecting his own children, who live with his estranged wife, he soon forgets that he came to help his sister and abandons himself in his pursuit of Raphaelle. When the sad truth of the relationship between Justine, her parents and Laporte dawns on him, Marco becomes vengeful, and when he confronts Laporte violently, he is leaving Raphaelle with his revolver, having to make a choice….

Few films are so unremittingly negative, even nihilistic. The power of money is used to buy sex; parents neglect their children or worse pimp them, everybody is concerned most of all with upholding a bourgeois front. None of the characters is interested in anything but their own (even if only perceived) advantage. In this free-for-all, Paris comes off as a very cold place where there is no warmth, just consumerist facades. This dystopia seems dislocated, displaced and bereft of all inner values. The protagonists all act like teenagers, merely looking for excitement. It is a world dominated by male values, in which women have to submit (Raphaelle), participate (Julie) or be totally victimised like Justine, who in spite of all, still remains the most decent woman in BASTARDS – which is an indication of the vast wasteland this film portrays.

BASTARDS IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 FEBRUARY 2014 in CURZON CINEMAS AND NATIONWIDE and from 28 April on DVD

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Afternoon Delight (2013) DVD

Director: Jill Soloway

Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch

USA  99min   Comedy Drama

Very much prescribed viewing for any affluent and intelligent women who give up work to focus on kids, Jill Soloway’s whip-smart feature debut is fearless and refreshingly frank in its expose of what can happen to those that hunger for interest outside the normal routine of family life.

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This is Silverlake, an upmarket suburb of LA where creative and vivacious Rachel (Hahn) and successful husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) live in modernist, low-key charm.  Very much part of the local Jewish community of fund-raising wives and workaholic partners, Rachel confesses to her unprofessional analyst (Jane Lynch) “I know I shouldn’t complain, there are women going to fetch water in Darfour and getting raped”. She’s witty, urbane and full of compassion with a loveable tot called Logan.

And it’s very much Kathryn Hahn’s film and her first real chance to dip her toe in a full dramatic lead which she handles with considerable complexity bringing humour and likeability to a woman who, on the face of it, is spoit and bored.  Faced with Jeff’s disinterest in their sex life and a dwindling libido, she decides to spice things up with a visit to the local lap-dancing club on the advice of her close friend Stephanie (Jessica St Clair) who claims it works wonders for her own relationship with husband Bo (Keegan Michael Kee).

Here she bonds with McKenna (Juno Temple), a local sex worker who manages a appealing mix of honesty and coquettish charm, very similar to that of her previous roles.  Juno’s vulnerability brings out the protective side in Rachel and she invites her to be their live-in childminder. Josh Radnor as Jeff, accepts grudgingly, settling for his stock boho Jewish guy with with tousled sex appeal, much like those of Liberal Arts and How I Met Your Mother.

The dialogue is so engaging and spot on you hardly notice a gradual shift in tone from comedy to serious drama as the social dynamic gradually turns dark during an evening with friends.  with coruscating consequences all round. But all is not lost. AFTERNOON DELIGHT may have its detractors but for those who buy into its inventive and edgy appeal and Hahn’s authentic portrayal of female disillusionment, the rewards are plenty. MT

ON DVD MAY 4th 2014

 

The Double (2013) DVD LFF 2014

Set in a back-to-the-future dystopia, this doom-filled drama, based on Dostoyesky’s short story, is suffused with all kinds of influences from Kafta to Orwell to Polanski.’s The Tenant.

Richard Ayoade’s follow-up to Submarine, features a similar cast but the main reason to see it is Jesse Eisenburg’s double-act as a troubled young man (Simon) struggling with his identity. Tortured by a mindless existence pushing paper in a faceless organisation and further traumatised by a suicide in the building; he’s then thwarted by a supercilious doppelgänger (James) who appears on the payroll, stealing his professional limelight, threatening to win the heart of his crush and female colleague Hannah (Mia Wasikowska).

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The tone throughout is brooding and unsettling. Suspicion, doubt and fearfulness are constant themes that fuel its edgy narrative. In the same vein as Polanski’s Trelkovsky; Simon’s neurosis morphs into full blown psychosis as he loses control of reality or, at least, of what reality is imagined to be in this warped and sinister storyscape.

Despite touches of brilliance, largely due to Eisenburg (whose angst-ridden persona was pre-honed to perfection in Night Moves 2013), and a suberb cameo from Paddy Considine; The Double feels as cold and uninhabited as a Edward Hopper painting – intriguing to look at but emotionally unable to involve.

THE DOUBLE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 4 APRIL 2014

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Like Father, Like Son (2013) DVD

The theme of paternity and nature versus nurture has captured the imagination of directors and filmgoers of late: Place Beyond the Pines, It’s All So Quiet and While I Lay Dying are some recent outings. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s films tend to focus on family life and Like Father, Like Son is no exception, looking at the question of whether paternity is a genetic issue or one connected to the ties that build up gradually between parents and their offspring as mutual affection bonds them over time.

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Here Japanese TV and Music star Masaharu Fukuyama brings a touch of glamour and a great of insight to the role of Ryota, an emotionally distant but sophisticated architect and father who seems to have the perfect life with submissive wife Midori (Michoko Ono) and adorable little boy Keita. Perfect, of course, until we discover that due to a grave error, his son is actually not related to him at all.  On the other side of town, his real boy is being raised by Yudai (Frank Lily), a warm-hearted shopkeeper who has completely different priorities about parenting from Ryota; prioritising shared experiences with his family and three kids.

Naturally, when the hospital admits the error, a switch at birth, the parents’ lives are blown apart in ways that seem entirely plausible. As the predictable issues gradually surface, it becomes increasingly apparent that there can be no satisfactory outcome for anyone concerned in this gentle, almost wistful story with its soft and sympathetic visuals, atmospheric classical score and moments of idiosyncratic humour that lift the unleavened tone of sadness as the tragic fallout send ripples through their lives.

There are some lovely naturalistic performances here from the children and despite a rather schematic storyline this is a sweetly moving and deeply heartfelt drama that will resonate with fathers everywhere. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

Nebraska (2013) Mubi DVD

Dir.: Alexander Payne; | Cast: Bruce Dern, Bill Forte, June Squibb, Stacey Keach | USA 2013, 115 min.  Drama/Comedy

Bruce Dern won Best Actor at Cannes for his portrayal of Woody Grant in Alexander Payne’s sixteenth outing NEBRASKA. In common with all his features this is a dry comedy, and a road movie. But this time there is nothing to explore, nothing to find.  Anyone with ageing parents will appreciate the banal humour that can be found in simple exchanges between close members of a family who have grown up together and found their roles evolving from son to parent, lover to carer. Bob Nelson’s spare screenplay captures the caring, sympathy of David Grant (Will Forte) for his father’s predicament and the occasionally snarling ridicule that Bruce Dern’s Woody has for his youngest son.

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The vastness of the countryside and the broken emptiness of the towns during the journey from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska are captured meticulously in the black and white landscapes: this not a journey into any future, but a glum portrait of the past and, in some ways, America’s past glory now reflected in the desolate urban spaces.  But also a lack of hope for the future, both socially and economically, as seen through the younger generation’s lack of real substance. And, like the main protagonist, the ageing alcoholic Woody Grant, this America is dying. The vastness of the abandoned land and the dilapidated streets and ramshackle buildings of small town America are dying a slow death. NEBRASKA is close to The last Picture Show, only even more moribund.

Woody is married to Kate, and their marriage is full of nagging (from her side) and blatant egoism from his. As Kate, June Squibb is hilarious without intending to be so and captivates with her strength of personality and self-belief. They live a small flat that looks like a night shelter. Sons David and Ross, are decent and kind men, the latter being more adjusted to modern life than his brother, who is in a dead-end job, can’t commit to his girlfriend and living in a bed sit that makes his parents’ place look grandiose.

Woody, like most men in his late eighties has reverted to a kind of childhood: hearing and memory are selective  – he stumbles around on the foothills of dementia – with a yen for booze. One day he gets hold of a flyer telling him that he has won a million dollars – he only needs to collect it with a company in Lincoln, Nebraska. Whilst Kate is dead against the idea; David, out of empathy and partly selfish reasons – agrees to take his father – hoping (in vain)  for increased bonding and a chance to get away from his own depressing life . On the way there they meet Woody’s family and friends in Woody’s hometown Hawthorne, Neb. Here David learns about his father’s youth, his trauma in the Korean War, and also about the greed of his so-called friends, lead by Ed Pegram (Keach), who suddenly remember vast amounts of money Woody’s them in the light of his prospective fortune. The money is a scam but the trip offers catharsis; laying bare all the hidden hopes, aspirations and desires between father and son.

NEBRASKA is never sentimental, the bleakness is unrestrained. It’s a world where parents have now proved more successful than their children in every way and despite a positive ending we know how short-lived that will be. The narrative is driven forward by sublime camerawork, intense images staying with us longer than the simple but rewarding plot. Acting veteran Bruce Dern as Woody is tough yet vulnerable and Will Forte’s David has just enough naivety to make himself believable and appealing. But the star is the camera. When panning over the presidents at the monument of Mount Rushmore, (looks unfinished – says Woody) we see a desperate yearning for a past long lost and a people interested only in religion, guns and cars. MT

NEBRASKA IS NOW ON MUBI

 

A Brutal Game (1983) Un Jeu Brutal DVD

image005Director/Writer: Jean-Claude Brisseau

Cast: Bruno Cremer, Emmanuelle Debever, Albert Pigot, Liza Heredia

89min    Drama/thriller    France

Jean-Claude Brisseau’s brooding psychological drama works both as a Chabrol-style thriller and a strangely-sensitive coming of age drama.  Bruno Cremer plays Tessier, a mentally disturbed sadistic father who brutalises his rebellious crippled daughter, Isabelle, while moonlighting as a serial killer. Both are unsympathetic characters, but Brisseau evokes our pity for both Isabelle and Tessier, who is as much a victim as the perpetrator of his crimes, brought on through depression and dissatisfaction with his life. Emmanuelle Debever is suburb as Isabelle, a bitter and disillusioned romantic spirit. Magnificently set in the scorching heat of the Midi countryside, this disturbing character study is spiked with poetic and surreal flourishes; its sinister undercurrents heightened by Jean-Louis Valero’s atmospheric soundtrack.  MT

A BRUTAL IS NOW ON DVD FOR THE FIRST TIME COURTESY OF AXIOM FILMS

Philomena (2013) Now on DVD

Director: Stephen Frears         Writers: Stephen Frears    Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope

Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Ruth McCabe, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sophie Kennedy Clark

UK//France  98min  Drama

Stephen Frears’s latest outing, Philomena, was greeted with great enthusiasm at Venice Film Festival last month and is set to be one of the highlights of the London Film Festival where it plays next week.  Starring Judi Dench in an unexpectedly moving performance as a mother searching for her long-lost son, it tells how he was taken away at birth by nuns in the convent she was forced to live in. Steve Coogan plays the journalist who helps her in a search for the truth, injecting much-needed humour in a performance of integrity and emotional intelligence showing his considerable flair in a wide range of fields from acting to producing.

Judi Dench copyAs former political journalist, Martin Sixsmith, he suddenly finds himself on the market and decides (sneeringly) to try his hand at a ‘lifestyle’ piece on adoption for a national newspaper, based on his 2009 book ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’.  Striking up an appealing ‘mother-son’ chemistry with Dench, the two head off to America in search of clues on her missing offspring, now in his early fifties, who was purportedly given away by the nuns to an American couple.

Philomena is a touching drama of considerable heart and soul as Judi Dench goes into full comedy ‘mother’ mode while also pulling off a touching sensitivity as a calm but resolute Philomena Lee.  Sixsmith also starts to learn a thing or two he didn’t know about himself as he launches forth in a new direction.  Whether Philomena will make it to the Oscars is still in the balance, but it’s the sort of tear-jerking, crowd-pleaser that stands every chance of being a winner at the box office. MT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klown (2010) Prime

Dir: Mikkel Nørgaard | Cast: Frank Hvam, Casper Christiansen, Mia Lyhne, Iben Hjelje, Marcus Jess Petersen| Denmark, 89min  Comedy

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Dont’ listen to the po-faced critics who tell you this is ‘crass, unfunny or outrageous’ – it’s a bit of adult fun, even Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian’s  trusty critic, was seen laughing out loud. You might think this Danish road comedy is going to be dire, then you’ll start to enjoy the ludicrous humour that touches on The Hangover – but much more ridiculous and real:  A trip into strictly grown-up territory – so don’t take the kids – for once they can stay at home!

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Frank (Frank Hyam) makes a geeky and unfanciable boyfriend for Mia (Mia Lyhne), prancing around in his y-fronts and a baseball cap. But when she discovers she’s pregnant, the time has come to settle down. Before making the final commitment, Frank plans a boys’ weekend of fun with his womanising married friend Caspar (Caspar Christiansen): A spot of canoeing and then canoodling with the local talent at a music festival and, to round off the trip, a visit to a friend’s upmarket brothel located in a fairytale castle.  The only problem is that Frank has been left in charge of Bo, Mia’s 12-year-old nephew.  This may be a chance to prove his fatherhood potential, or it could be a complete disaster.  No prizes for guessing which one it turns out to be.

Apart from the totally inane humour, Klown is imaginatively set in the idyllic Danish summer countryside and there are some gloriously cinematic moments as they navigate the waterways of this beautiful part of Scandinavia. The brothel setting is like something out of Festen – location-wise, promising an evening of upmarket naughtiness and nastiness too. It’s watchable and convincing, written by Hyam and Christiansen: two of Denmark’s most popular stand-up comedians.

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So off they go with one mishap leading to another. There’s not much of a storyline but instead you get a good hour of politically incorrect shenanigans and arch ribaldry on the river. With themes of male-bonding and female-bonding, the only bonding that doesn’t feature is bondage itself but there is a little scene that really hits the spot – you’ll either love it or hate it – but see it before the Hollywood re-make! MT

KLOWN IS OUT on PRIME VIDEO

 

 

 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) NOW ON DVD/BLU

w311_4133335_blueisthewarmestcolour7311x311Directors: Abdellatif Kechiche

Writers: Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche

Main Actors: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Jérémie Laheurte

179 mins  French with English subtitles  France   Drama

On her way to meet her would-be boyfriend Thomas, Adèle passes a girl with bright blue hair in the street. The world seems to slow around her: Adèle is transfixed. In class, she has been discussing a passage in a book relating exactly to such fleeting glances, to love at first sight. Could this be what Adèle is experiencing? It certainly seems like it. It’s one of the weaker moments in Abdellatif Kechiche’s heart-breaking romantic drama, but it’s also a defining moment for Adèle.

During lunch with Thomas, Adèle will question whether it’s better to study books in class, or read them alone for pleasure. She likes to read, Thomas doesn’t. But later, when Adèle reconnects with the blue-haired girl – Emma – in a gay bar, we learn that her knowledge doesn’t extend to art. In fact, the only artist she knows is Picasso, in sharp contrast to Emma’s expansive knowledge as a Fine Art student. Their meeting in the bar seems, perhaps, a little too coincidental – but Emma doesn’t believe in chance, and maybe we shouldn’t either.

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As a relationship begins to form between the two women, Adèle becomes uncomfortable around Emma’s friends, feeling she is not their equal culturally. Adèle might know literature, but not art or philosophy, and Emma’s knowledge in the latter area allows the girls a cover story: to Adèle’s parents, Emma is a friend who is helping her learn philosophy. There is truth in this alibi. Emma is broadening Adèle’s horizons: sexually, culturally and socially. Emma’s values, and her sense of freedom (both as a lesbian and as an artist), come from Sartre, who has taught her that humans are defined by their actions.

Sartre’s ideas, then, become the philosophical underpinning of a tale about the journey into womanhood, sexual awakening and the construction of human identities. Adèle’s reaction to Emma’s cultured friends mirrors her earlier conversations with Thomas, but with the tables turned. Culture and society form a part of who we are, who we become. As Adèle grows, becoming a woman, the film’s protracted duration allows Kechiche to leisurely build a detailed portrait, both of her personal development and her relationship with Emma – which Kechiche portrays with warmth, humour, drama and sex.

Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, has condemned the explicit nature of the sex scenes, labelling them ridiculous and unconvincing – and there’s certainly no denying that they are graphic and prolonged (their duration often seems excessive). At times, too, the camera lingers or pans over bodies in a gratuitous manner. When Emma teaches Adèle to enjoy the taste of shellfish, one can’t help but wonder if it’s all a cheap, sleazy metaphor.

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But, the sex scenes aside, the film is a convincing and moving exploration of romance. Kechiche’s camera catches much of the action in close up and, if the visuals themselves at times seem rather unexceptional, the sterling work of lead actors Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma) more than makes up for it. The film’s original French title translates literally as Life of Adele: Chapters 1 + 2, and the thought of seeing further parts would be extremely tantalising, were it not for the reports of the ‘horrible’ experiences that Kechiche put his actors through on set. In response, Kechiche has even said the film shouldn’t be released, that it’s ‘too sullied’ – but that’s too far. The shoot may have been gruelling, but the results speak for themselves. Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a film that deserves to be seen. ALEX BARRETT

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NOW OUT ON DVD BLU COURTESY OF ARTIFICIAL EYE

Boys on Film 11 – We Are Animals Now on DVD VOD

84e040bcadc723713d42a52df4d598f3BOYS ON FILM is an ongoing DVD series offering a selection of daring and diverse LGBT drama shorts from all over the World. These pithy and poignant peeks attempt to challenge and explore sexuality from differing points of view.  The eleventh bumper edition is particularly interesting on trans-generational relationships. THREE SUMMERS: a daring and unlikely love story emerges when a divorced woman gets to know a teenage boy developing over the course of three years (Denmark, 28min);  the groundbreaking issue of physical disability is tackled in FOR DORIAN: that deals sensitively with the nascent sexuality of a Down’s Syndrome boy, seen from the perspective of his father  (Canada, 16min) and LITTLE MAN; a physiological drama that centres on 30 year-old Elliot and his track record of emotional avoidance and uneasy relationships with his older brother and the strange man next door (by award-winning Israeli director Eldar Rapaport (AUGUST).

OUT ON DVD FROM 10 MARCH 2014

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Interior. Leather Bar (2013)

Directors: James Franco/Travis Mathews    Writer: Travis Mathews

Cast: Val Lauren, Christian Patrick, Brenden Gregory, Brad Roberge

60mins  US     Docu-fiction

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INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR was inspired by William Friedkin’s original drama CRUISING (1980) that saw Al Pacino’s rookie policeman ‘going underground’ in search of a gay serial killer in New York.  In order to pacify the censors, Friedkin cut 40 minutes of salacious footage from CRUISING and this has never been seen in a public screening.  So this experimental collaboration between Franco and Mathews attempts to re-imagine the missing footage with a  look at how male gay sexuality is portrayed in film.  The resulting docu-fiction outing mixes reality with fantasy in contemporary LA.  The piece has a loose and laid-back vibe to it as Franco tries to coax his lead and friend (the very heterosexual) Val Lauren, into a gay bar to help him in his mission to scope out the full spectrum of gay behaviour from cruising to sex within a committed relationship. His reactions to overt gay males all butched-up to the nines in leather bondage gear  are revealing as he states after the first day’s filming “I’m not the same guy as I was this morning”.

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Naturally Val Lauren is rather back-footed by the whole project and this comes across in spades, as is intended by Franco. The two engage in endless banter and displacement chat about his role as a straight man entering such a premises in the 1980s. He seems uneasy about it all and chats to his girlfriend on the mobile, for re-assurance.  Allegedly this dialogue is scripted but it has such an authentic feel to it that one can’t help thinking that most of it was ‘ad lib’.  The essentially waffly dialogue is intercut with stylishly ‘re-created’ scenes of how Franco imagines the lost 40 minutes of original film footage may have played out back then and offers a provocative and erotically-charged twist to the proceedings with some ‘no-holds-barred encounters between cruisers and a couple who are in committed relationship.

At just 60 minutes this latest Franco outing is not long enough to merit a full theatrical release but nevertheless merits a watch if it comes to a film festival or one-off screening near you. MT

SHOWING AT HACKNEY PICTUREHOUSE AND GREENWICH PICTUREHOUSE ON 9TH DECEMBER AND ICA ON 15TH DECEMBER 2013

DVD ON SALE 9TH DECEMBER WITH EXTRAS: FEAST OF STEPHEN – A SHORT FILM BY JAMES FRANCO

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mister John (2013) Now on DVD

Directors: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy

Writers: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy

Cast: Aidan Gillen, Claire Keelan, Zoe Tay, Michael Thomas

95 mins    English  UK Drama    MISTER JOHN 2012 - DAY 03 _ 164 - 2nd grade copy copy

In their acclaimed debut Helen (2008), writer-directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy probed into the mind of a passive protagonist whose desire to reinvent her life slowly manifested itself as she took part in a police re-enactment of the last known movements of Joy, a college classmate gone missing. In their follow up, Mister John, another passive protagonist (Gerry, played by Aidan Gillen) travels to Singapore after the death of his brother (the eponymous John). Upon landing, Gerry finds that his luggage has been lost, and John’s widow later lends him one of John’s shirts to wear – and, much like Joy’s distinctive yellow jacket does for Helen, John’s shirt seems to offer Gerry the first step towards a possible reinvention of the self. However, despite the many similarities between the two projects, Mister John never feels like a repetition: a continuation, perhaps, or a development (both of style and of themes), but never a repeat. If anything, the similarities could be offered as proof of the distinct, singular vision of the directing duo.

Img2052HGgraded (3) copy copyWith its lush images, languid pacing and heavy, brooding soundtrack, Mister John is a film thick on atmosphere, and relatively thin on plot. At times, its dialogue feels clipped and overly minimal, and there are occasional slips into cliché – Gerry sitting on his bed, rubbing his face in his hands; a frustrated woman cutting up her lover’s clothes – but none of this detracts from the alluring, beguiling success of the film. In fact, it all feels like a part of the overall design, a deliberate play with convention on the part of the filmmakers. The film is, after all, a kind of anti-thriller (in this there is, perhaps, an obvious comparison to be made to The Passenger, Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic identity-swap anti-thriller – but the similarities feel superficial. The tone, the mood and the ideas all seem different here, even if the filmmakers have publicly acknowledged Antonioni’s influence).

Another element of Mister John which shouldn’t go overlooked is the rich vein of humour which runs throughout. That the film’s scariest moment leads to one of its funniest, shows again the mastery of Lawlor and Molloy’s control of the medium. If Helen was, as many claimed, an outstanding debut, Mister John is most certainly a worthy follow-up. ALEX BARRETT

MISTER JOHN IS OUT ON DVD FROM FEBRUARY 24 2014 COURTESY OF CURZON ARTIFICIAL EYE

A Map for Love (2012) DVD

Director: Fernandez Constanza

Cast: Andrea Moro, Francisca Bernardi, Francisco Pizarro, Mariana Prat

81min   Drama   Chile

A subtle and sophisticated story of emerging lesbian love and generational conflict that navigates choppy waters, exploring the relationship of three woman: a mother, her daughter and girlfriend, embarking on a sailing trip on the Chilean coast.

Using water and the shifting weather patterns as a barometer for the myriad emotions that emerge during the trip is a clever metaphor for confusion, calm and conciliation in this immersive debut feature from writer and director Fernandez Constanza.

Roberta (Andrea Moro) wants to develop her relationship with her actress girlfriend Javiera (Francisca Bernardi) but is concerned about her conservative mother Ana’s (Mariana Prat) approval.  As the three get to know each other more deeply during the holiday, initial awkwardness gives way to a raw intensity as intimacy develops and sins of the past emerge to complicate matters.  Set against a backdrop of  stunning seascapes and scenery in Santiago de Chile, the trio are gradually divested of artifice; personalities and thoughts laid bare to the elements.

Rich and full of interesting insight and dramatic punch, this is a film worthy of its subject-matter and should appeal to both LGBT audiences and the art house crowd.    MT

A MAY FOR LOVE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD  from 10 FEBRUARY 2014  RRP £14.99

The Patience Stone (2012) DVD/VOD

Director: Atiq Rahimi  Writer: Jean-Claude Carriere and Ariq Rahimi

Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat

102min   Drama    FARSI with English subtitles

This poetic follow-up to EARTH AND ASHES  is Atiq Rahimi’s second feature and based on his book which won the French literary equivalent to the Booker Prize.  Essentially a chamber piece, filmed in a dusty house (putatively during the Afghan conflict), a woman is tending to her wounded older husband who has been shot.  Golshifteh Farahani gives a magnificent portrait of vulnerability and desperation in the central role. Recounting her memories and feelings to her comotose husband, she tells her story in an extended monologue that serves as a quiet backlash to their unsatisfactory time together.  The couple met when she was only 17.

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The ambient sound is of war: the only visits from men.  A Mullah who comes to pray for her husband, aggressive incursions from soldiers, one of whom rapes her then pays her to have sex (providing valuable income for the household).  It’s a drama very similar in form to that of Jafar Panahi’s recent CLOSED CURTAIN.  As ‘the woman’ talks she remains focused on the medical needs of her husband, and he represents a  “Patience Stone” (from Persian folklore), an absorbing ‘oracle’ that is reputed to shatter when it can take no more of the unburdening.

The woman is strengthened by this therapeutic, low-key, rant about his lack of lovemaking skills and her fear of doing the right thing.  She expresses and shares her new experiences of sexual awakening with her soldier pupil, who she’s ashamed of enjoying.   Her worldly and more sophisticated aunt (Hassina Burghan) also provides comfort although we only meet her once. More of Hassina Burghan’s input would had added texture and cinematic contrast to the narrative. She is evidence that more urbane women do exist in this closed society.

With its muted visuals and themes that focus on womens’ issues in a society of religious and social repression and bigotry, this is a brave and controversial drama.  Golshifteh Farahani now lives in Paris and is one of the most important and well known actresses working in Iranian cinema.  Her delicately sensual role in THE PATIENCE STONE shows how this repressed comes full circle from the submissive teenage virgin to a finale of sexual realisation where she gains control of her life, all within her husband’s earshot.

Golshifteh has previously given strong performances in Chicken With PlumsAsghar Farhadi‘s About Elly and Ridley Scott‘s 2008 Body of Lies. 

THE PATIENCE STONE IS OUT ON DVD AND VOD FROM 3 MARCH 2014 COURTESY OF AXIOM FILMS

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For Those In Peril (2013)

Director/Writer: Paul Wright

Michael Smiley, George MacKay, Kate Dickie, Brian McCardie, Nichola Burley

92mins   UK Thriller

This low budget britflic has a brilliant central performance from George MacKay who plays Aaron, a bereaved brother and the lone survivor of a fishing trip in Scotland. Part ghost-story, part psychological thriller, its atmospheric visuals and pervading sense of sadness and loss mark it out as a stunning feature debut for writer director Paul Wright.       agatha a. nitecka-000037540015 copy

Aaron is caught in a fog of amnesia surrounding the fishing expedition which has blighted the small Scottish community of which he is part.  Haunted by guilt and caught with the notion that he may have somehow been responsible, he heads out to sea, searching aimlessly in a makeshift raft in the hope of jolting his memory or communing with his fellow crew and brother who may have survived the cruel waves against the odds.

Moral is low in the village and Aaron feels keenly that his life  has angered some of the locals who have lost their loved ones while he remains a tragic reminder of their loss.  Cathy (Kate Dickie) has lost her partner in the accident and provides an emotional shelter for Aaron, although their friendship is viewed with suspicion by the others, further exacerbating his pain.

agatha a. nitecka-000075160006 copyPaul Wright’s drama is shot through with Scottish folklore and the traditional culture of seafaring. His Super-8 camerawork has a grainy indie feel to it, saturated in a palette of marine blue and washed-out turquoise and teal.

Watching Mackay’s anguish and bitter despair, it’s impossible not to be affected by the strength of this heart-rending performance.  And while he appears to be a lost and lonely presence, the sheer force of his acting carries the narrative forward  offering an immersive and haunting experience that remains in the memory. MT

 

FOR THOSE IN PERIL IS ON DVD and there will be a screening followed by live broadcast Q&A on February 13th 2014 with Danny Leigh at the BFI

Last Passenger (2013) DVD

Director: Omid Nooshin

Cast: Dougray Scott, Kara Tointon, Iddo Goldberg, David Schofield, Lindsay Duncan, Joshua Kaynama

90 mins   Thriller    UK

This Britflic is part drama, part thriller with a touch of horror thrown in. It’s also the debut feature of shorts director Omid Nooshin and a technically ambitious one that he surprisingly pulls off with some success.

Set in the confines of a commuter train from Victoria, it ambles along uneventfully for the first 40 minutes where we meet a crew of cut-out characters who fail to engage our interest further than an average trip on the Gatwick Express. A jowly, knackered Dougray Scott is believable as the stressed Dr Lewis Skolar heading to an A&E emergency with his cute little boy (not unlike Danny from The Shining). Flirting with Kara Tointon’s chirpily flirty events manager; he locks horns with a taciturn accountant played by Brian Schofield in his usual sinister style, but here with no real depth. Then there is a caricature Polish LT worker (Iddo Goldberg) who turns nasty and threatens the guard (as if: Poles are disciplined and respectful of authority?). Meanwhile, Lindsay Duncan plays the ‘token’ older woman sitting winsomely with her knitting, the epitome of the smug grandma.

But the real baddie appears to be the mysterious driver who seems to be sealed into his carriage; never to appear. And as the train gathers breakneck momentum, the passengers are unable to work out what’s going on. LAST PASSENGER is a well-meaning thriller that lives up to its tagline: One Train. Six Passengers. No Chance.  It tantalises us with some scary moments and the promise of exciting things to come, but then fails to deliver its goods.  Ultimately this vehicle that has momentum but never really takes off. British Rail: eat your heart out. MT

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LAST PASSENGER IS ON DVD FROM 27 January 2014

 

Kelly + Victor (2012) DVD Blu-Ray

Director/writer: Kieran Evans

Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, Stephen Walters

90mins    UK-Ireland  ***  Drama

Kelly and Victor meet on the dance floor and the attraction is instant. Both are struggling to make their way in contemporary Liverpool where their close friends are all involved in drug dealing and prostitution. Kelly has learnt a few tricks from a dominatrix friend leading to some sparky chemistry between the sheets but she also has a few dark secrets from the past up her sleeve.  Best known for FINISTERRE, his music biopic that featured in the recent URBAN WANDERING FESTIVAL,  Kieran Evans’s second feature is based on the eponymous novel by Niall Griffiths and has strong and convincing performances from leads Antonia Campbell Hughes as Kelly and Julian Morris as Victor.  Liverpool is very much a character in the film: Evans’s well-crafted direction shows us the city as an attractive and vibrant cultural centre surrounded by verdant countryside; not just as a large shipping port as seen in so many film treatments. Kelly + Victor  also confirms Kieran Evans as an exciting and talented filmmaker with this first outing into fiction. MT

Kelly + Victor is out on DVD  and Blu-Ray from  January 13 2014

The Act of Killing (2012) DVD Open City Docs Fest 2013

Director Joshua Oppenheimer

Uncut version 159min

Docu-Drama   Indonesian with subtitles

Joshua Oppenheimer is gentle and unassuming as he presents the uncut version of his bold and provocative documentary, on stage at the Open City Docs Fest in London.  It brings to light one of the most cruel episodes of state-sponsored genocide that took place in Indonesia in 1965 following an abortive coup, presenting the narrative as a recreation of the killings from the viewpoint of the killers, in a subversion of Augusto Boal’s ‘theatre of the oppressor’.

Garish in both style and content with its rich reds, earthy browns and vibrantly incandescent Sumatran setting, the film focuses on these perpetrators of violence like a chamber of tropical horrors.  These ‘gangsters’ are former death-squad bosses who ‘re-enact’ their crimes before our eyes, in the vain hope that they may regret their actions during a cathartic process.  Clever idea but does it actually succeed?  In a process that took seven years from start to finish, Oppenheimer began by interviewing victims of the massacre.  Not surprisingly, many did not want to revisit the horrors of the past so he turns his camera on those responsible befriending them and getting them on board for a gore-fest in which nobody actually gets killed.

The murderers emerge as vain and ego-driven men who are buoyed up by their reputations as tough guys, still feared in the local community and enjoying continued government protection.  Anwar Congo, a particularly unpleasant piece of work, has no qualms about the past and still thinks himself attractive to the opposite sex, having his teeth whitened in a beauty parlour before demonstrating his garotting techniques. Blithely, he recounts how he perfected them to avoid having to deal with all the bloodshed caused by the ‘machete method’.  In a bizarre twist, he also attempts to garner sympathy with a tearful episode on returning to the scene of the crimes. Sensibly Oppenheimer plays this down.

The Act of Killing is not an easy film to watch or to listen to not least because of its subject matter.  Indonesian is a highly fricative and percussive language and the English subtitles, often set on a pale background, are often difficult to read.  At over two hours, the middle section rambles and becomes laboriously repetitive and without a clear editorial voice or clearer historical context, it’s easy to disconnect.  That said, it’s still a mind-blowing piece of filmmaking that revisits a regrettable period of Cold War history.  However, there’s no real closure here apart from mild regret from Anwar Congo, who is still at liberty, and one wonders whether the whole chapter would have been better left in the dark. MT

THE ACT OF KILLING is NOW ON DVD/BLU

Rush (2013)

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Peter Morgan

Main Actors: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde

123mins   English  USA, Germany, UK  Biopic, Drama, Sport

There’s a moment near the beginning of Rush, Ron Howard and Peter Morgan’s new biopic of racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, when the owner of Hunt’s Formula Three racing team proclaims: ‘Men love women, but even more than that, they love cars’. Coming, as it does, after a loud opening sequence featuring extreme close ups of engines, tyres and grass being torn in two by the speed of racing cars, and a scene in which Hunt swiftly seduces a nurse, it would seem that the filmmakers also revel in these same objects of desire. Thankfully for those who want for more than female nudity and fast cars from films, their interests don’t end there.

rush_8 copy copyAs the Rush progresses, it builds a detailed and engrossing portrait of two men connected by an obsessional, almost self-destructive need to drive (and, one could say, to perform – and, in this, the film traces a cinematic vein harking back to Raging Bull and The Red Shoes). As the film charts the parallel rise of Hunt and Lauda to the Formula One big-time, it often seems at pains to point out the connections between the two men (not least the fact that their parents each wanted more ‘respectable’ careers for them). But the film also delights in highlighting their differences: where Hunt is an impulsive hot-head, Lauda is a cool, methodological thinker. This may be the story of a so-bitter-its-a-friendship rivalry between two sporting legends, but it’s also an exploration of the dual nature of being, of the Apollonian and the Dionysian tendencies that dwell within us all. And, in fact, the associations that notion brings with it resonate further through the film: at times, Rush almost feels like a myth of fearless heroes who face death in pursuit of the higher glories of fame and fortune.

It’s something of a shame, then, that Lauda is never really made to be likeable. We’re constantly reminded that other drivers, even his own teammates, think he’s an arsehole. At one point, he’s even shown looking like the devil incarnate – as reflected flames lick up and down his body he complains: ‘Happiness is the enemy. It weakens you…Suddenly you have something to lose’. While Lauda ultimately becomes a sympathetic figure, one can’t help but feel that a more nuanced characterisation throughout might have been beneficial. In a sense, the story is Lauda’s tragedy, but it is presented as Hunt’s victory. The filmmakers, it would seem, favour the Dionysian – even if the factual coda perhaps shows fate leans otherwise. This isn’t the film’s only misstep (there’s a questionable use of voiceover, and a final scene which feels the need to spell out the film’s subtext in case the audience missed it), but ultimately it feels a little churlish to dwell on the negative. Taken as a whole, Rush succeeds in being an intelligent, entertaining and exciting ride. Alex Barrett.

RUSH IS ON DVD from 27 January 2014 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL.

Computer Chess (2013) MUBI DVD/BLU-

Dir: Andrew Bujalski, Cast: Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz | USA 2013, 92 min.  Comedy

Andrew Bujalski’s latest film COMPUTER CHESS defies any genre classification: sounding a death knell for human discourse as we know it, this is simply on its own. Set in a sleazy, low class hotel in Texas at the beginning of the 80s, it features two group of humans (the computer chess group of the title and a New-Age cult meeting) and an overwhelming horde of Persian cats who seem to take over the hotel; at least at night. Whilst all the humans are awkward and geeky, the cats are full of themselves marauding the place in a quest for domination.

 

The fuzzy black and white of the 4:3 format (shot with a Sony video camera from the 1960s, but not in a gimmicky way, gives the film its sci-fi element: pioneers from another world, creating a an almost surreal otherworldly atmosphere  in which all three tribes vy for supremacy is both absurd and unsettling. The unintended ludicrousness of the situation engenders an atmosphere of alienation, the participants existing in their own bubbles, where words are lost as a means of communication, and emotions have yet to be invented.

The annual chess meeting has a long tradition and the winner wears a glittering crown at the end and takes on the chess Grand Master Paul Henderson, who has met a bet that he will successfully beat all computers until 1984. The players – in their thirties – are humourless and emotionally inhibited (the only female competitor, Shelly, is no different), the term ‘nerd’ could have been invented for them. The youngest of them Peter (Riester), is oblivious of Shelly, even though she gives him tame encouragement. Peter wanders into the next emotional trap when he visits an older couple in their room: they want to seduce him into a ménage-a-trois, but he literally runs away, like the frightened boy he is.

One of the programmers, Papageorge (Paige) roams the hotel at night, trying to find a room to sleep in. He is brazen in his attempts, but everyone is too polite to point this out to him. The New Age group members are very accommodating to start with (putting their fingers in freshly baked loaves of bread and “replaying” their birth to re-engage with their inner beings), but when the chess congress overruns into Monday, they insist on sharing the meeting room with them, in spite of Henderson’s loud protests: he senses their intrusion may disrupt his concentration. A unique, enigmatic, unique and innovative masterpiece. AS

COMPUTER CHESS IS on DUAL FORMAT BLU-RAY ON 20 courtesy of www.eurekavideo.co.uk | and also on MUBI

Unit One: Series Three DVD

Unit-One_3d_DVD1 copyCast: Mads Mikkelsen, Charlotte Fich, Lars Mikkelsen, Trine Pallesen, Soren Malling, Lars Brygmann

UNIT ONE is possibly the most hard-hitting of the Scandi-Noir TV series based on real-life crimes that have ravaged Denmark. Series Three is out on DVD as a box-set that could make the January blues more bearable. So pull up an Arne Jacobson chair, pour yourself a nice Aquavit chaser and settle in for the evening…

Featuring some of Denmark’s well-known actors Trine Pallesen (as foxy blond, Gaby Levin) and Soren Malling (A Hijacking), Charlotte Fich (Headhunter) plays Ingrid Dahl, the first female homicide boss who is on the warpath against sexism as well as a string of rather nasty murders not to mention comforting her female staff through miscarriage.  Mads Mikkelsen stars as Allan Fischer, a detective with a fine line in black leather and womanising but plausibly gritty in this contemporary series that’s intimate in feel but gets out and about in Denmark’s windy landscapes, historic centres (Kalundborg) and modernist architectural homes to giving it a uniquely Danish flavour.  Dahl could be Sarah Lund’s sister, she also has a listless marriage and a nerdy son.

Like a Volvo, Unit One has that calm, assured handling occasionally breaking out into a fast-moving thriller but always well-paced and underpinned with believable characterisations of the trusty ‘Elite Force’ as well as the psychopathic perps they pursue.  So if you like your crime dramas classy and watchable in the same mould as Wallander, Borgen and The Bridge then Unit One will appeal.  It’s not as slick as The Wire or Luther but this Emmy-Winner has class and breeding (it first came out in 2000) and that goes along way. MT

UNIT ONE: SERIES THREE IS OUT ON DVD from 6 January 2014

 

 

What Maisie Knew (2012) DVD

Dir.: Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Cast: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile

USA 2012, 99 min. DRAMA

In this cliché-ridden but timely drama from Scott McGree (Suture) (taken from a Henry James novel) every move of the narrative is telegraphed long before it happens. 6 year-old Maisie (well-played by Onata Aprile) is caught up in a custody battle between her parents who shower her with gifts. Mum Susanna (Moore) is a highly strung singer, often on drugs and/or alcohol, whilst her Dad, Beale (Coogan) is a businessman, always between deals in New York and the rest of the world. Enter two young ‘replacements’: new hubby Lincoln (Skarsgard), a bartender, is soon been shouted at by Susanna, and Beale treats his young wife Margo (Vanderham) to the same permanent absence like his ex-wife.  Maisie becomes the football between her bitter parents, who soon use their new spouses as surrogates to fight their war. Life for Maisie doesn’t improve with these new parents.  Despite competent performances, especially from Julianne Moore and decent camera-work, this modern adaptation of a novel written over a 100 years ago fails to bring anything new to the modern-day parenting story.

OUT ON DVD 6 JANUARY 2014

Muscle Schoals (2013) Coming to DVD

Director: Greg “Freddy” Camalier

108min  Music Documentary    US

Muscle Shoals is a town in Alabama where a particularly magical alchemy is at play. In the ambience, the soil and the river there’s an magic ingredient that allows for some of America’s most creative and defiant music to be made and recorded in the internationally acclaimed ‘Fame’ recording studio.

Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s passionate documentary charts the success of the studios and the artists who have recorded there seen through a tale of one man, Rick Hall. His determination and sheer dogged perserverance in the face of his tragic family background, got the whole phenomenon off the ground.  Despite setbacks, he placed the studio squarely in the firmament of stars of popular musical history as a haven for Black and White musicians to come together and make original music, backed by The Swampers, a caucasian band with a Black sound (“There was a misnomer that they were all Black, but they weren’t”).  This helped to sooth racial hostilities in a time where working together was considered unthinkable with ‘Blacks and Whites’ being segregated in the community.

Rick Hall started as a musician who was rejected by his band for being an “all work and no play” type of guy. So he set up FAME in the late 1950s and hit the jackpot over night with the success of breakout hit “You Better Move On”. As a music producer, he’s the equivalent of Stanley Kubrick: his thoroughness, inscrutable attention to detail and meticulous editing skills are at the heart of his success but occasionally make working with him a difficult process: “I thrived on rejection”, “I know that if they put the phone down unimpressed, they would never take another call from me.”

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Combining startling original footage, intercut with candid commentary from the likes of the ubiquitous Bono, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, a particularly engaging Keith Richards, Candi Staton and Steve Winwood and legendary producer Jerry Wexler. This is a thoroughly enjoyable music documentary and Anthony Arendt’s photography conjures up a real feeling for the natural beauty of the place set quietly on the Alabama River, Tennessee. Called the “Singing River” by Native Americans and it’s easy to imagine how this soothing setting can induce a positive effect on all who visit. He is also responsible for the visuals in Avatar, Larry Crowne and music vids for Lenny Kravitz and Elton John.

Camalier has never attended film school so Muscle Schoals is born from is own instinct and visual sensibilities as well as from an appreciation for the art form.

So enthused is he with his theme (he spent four years on this project) that he occasionally gets over-excited and introduces inappropriate forays into Hall’s ersonal life which, while adding insight, feel rather maudlin and incongruous with the otherwise upbeat tone of the piece.  The last half hour or is a tad repetitive as he literally runs through a litany of artists who’ve recorded there.

That said, this debut doc is so  brimful with effervescence and charm it seems churlish to to criticise Camalier’s endeavour which brings storytelling and music together in a cogent and informative piece of filmmaking that charts iconic sounds of R&B, Pop and Rock from the fifties right up to the present day with classic hits such as “Brown Sugar”, “Mainstreet” and “When A Man Loves A Woman”. MT

MUSCLE SHOALS IS ON DVD from 10 February 2014

Leviathan (2012) DVD

Directors: Lucien Castaing Taylor and Verena Paravel

87min   Documentary

Visceral and frightening: Watching LEVIATHAN feels like witnessing some kind of public execution – for fish. Bleak but also beautiful in parts, this debut documentary from Canadian helmets Lucien Castaing Taylor and Verena Paravel evokes the vast and terrifying world of the deep-sea commercial fishing industry, from the perspective of the victims – fish.  Submerged in darkness with a clanging, mechanical score and the distant sound of voices, gradually in the gloom the camera pans over the deck on board a gigantic trawler where shoals of fish are sucked into their deaths in a gigantic steel slaughterhouse of the trawlers and spat out again into their watery graves by some anonymous force, if they’re not suitable for the the insatiable mouths of a mammoth human predator.

Face to face with floundering fish, molluscs and the watery blood of slaughter, their camera takes no prisoners or feels no pity for the fate of these poor creatures. Exhilterating and horrifying in equal measure, the fear of execution becomes palpable  (although thankfully not to us as we are swept along mercilessly in this cruel sea of shameless killing spree.  Fast-moving and fickle, we watch helpless as fish are gored and gutted and spewed out in a hellish brew of blooded scales and staring eyes.

The diurnal battle rages but by the end even the fishermen are exhausted by their fresh-air and ozone overload, gently nodding off in the warmth of the hold, preparing for the next onslaught.  This is a job, like any other for them. But for the animals, from whose perspective the camera fight in an unfair war MT

LEVIATHAN was shot in North Atlantic.  The doc is on general release from 29 November 2013 nationwide.

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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

 

Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1921) DVD/Blu

securedownloadDir.: Fritz Lang; Cast: Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel, Aud Egede Nissen, Gertrude Welcker, Bernhard Goetzke, Robert Forster-Larrinaga, Paul Richter;

Deutschland 1921/2, 270 min (2 Parts)

Scripted by Lang and his wife Thea van Harbou together with the author of the original novel Norbert Jacques, this is the first of Lang’s trilogy of Mabuse films. In 1932 he filmed Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, which was banned a year later by the Nazis, whilst Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse (1960) was Lang’s last feature, produced in Germany after his return from the USA.

Looked at superficially, DR MABUSE DER SPIELER is a sensationalist movie: Dr. Mabuse is is a man with many faces (literally), he slips easily into different identities, he can be an expert of the stock market, lectures about psychoanalysis and is equally at home as an scientist. But all he wants is power and money, and he uses his girl friend, the dancer Cara Carozza, to get to the moneyed Hull, whom he puts under hypnosis and robs him of millions at an illegal gaming club. Later he puts Count Todd under hypnosis, to make him cheat in the same club, than he kidnaps his wife. In the second part of the film, Dr. Mabuse is a psychoanalyst, hounding his rich clients into suicide. In the end, he acts as a magician on  stage, and tries to lure Wenk, his arch enemy and public prosecutor, onto the stage, to hypnotise him too.

Dr. Mabuse is not so much interested in wealth or status, but we wants to denounce the state and all it stands for. He sees himself as a creator, even though his actions are destructive. He is an evil romantic, trying to become the “Übermensch”. He is the star of his own great play, but not interested in power itself, but only in permanent destruction. This way he has to prove himself over and over again, continually finding new ways to show his superiority. He is fascinated by himself, by his status as a super star, inventing permanently a new stage for dramatic appearances. He does not really wear masks, he is one.

Aesthetically DR MABUSE DER SPIELER is somewhere between ‘Dr, Caligari’ and ‘M’, meaning that the expressionism of certain shots is reigned in by an overall feel for realism. The trap doors and theatrical tricks are very much make-believe, but the reality of the Weimar Republic, the fear of total chaos, the poverty and the political rivalry are very much real. It is interesting in this context, that Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou was an early Nazi sympathizer (she would work actively in Nazi Germany, whilst Lang emigrated to the USA), the director himself being somewhat on the left.

The film if often seen as an allegory on the early days of fascism, seeing the Mabuse character as an early incarnation of Hitler, but knowing about the different political leanings of the film’s creators, one wonders how much of this is true. Nevertheless, DR MABUSE THE SPIELER is a monumental work, which entertains and surprises the viewer at every turn – like the enigmatic Mabuse himself, the film is never quite what we think it is. AS

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Available to pre-order from:

Amazon (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/16CPmGh (Blu-ray) http://amzn.to/19PbNEh

The Hut (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://tidd.ly/4c81fee3 (Blu-ray) http://tidd.ly/d84bd855

MovieMail (SteelBook Blu-ray) http://bit.ly/1bVvOxL (Blu-ray) http://bit.ly/16CPqWi


SPECIAL FEATURES

• New, officially licensed transfer from restored HD materials

• New and improved optional English subtitles with original intertitles

• Exclusive feature-length audio commentary by film-scholar and Lang expert David Kalat

• Three video pieces: an interview with the composer of the restoration score, a discussion of Norbert Jacques, creator of Dr. Mabuse, and an examination of the film’s motifs in the context of German silent cinema

• 32-PAGE BOOKLET featuring vintage reprints of writing by Lang

Looking for Hortense 2012 DVD/BLU

Director: Pascal Bonitzer

Writers: Pascal Bonitzer and Agnès de Sacy

Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Isabelle Carré, Marin Orcand Tourrès

100min Drama  French with subtitles

CHE0193small-e1375791190106Kristin Scott Thomas and Jean-Pierre Bacri star in this intelligent Parisian drama about a married couple who’ve lost their spark and are slowly drifting apart.

Billed as a comedy, it’s not quite up there with Bacri’s previous outings Le Gout des Autres or On Connait Le Chanson but will satisfy the arthouse crowd who enjoyed Scott Thomas’s performance in François Ozon’s recent In The House.

CHE0056small-e1375791128710Here Bacri leads as Damien, a middle-aged professor of Japanese Civilisation whose relationship with his father is also causing him grief and diminishing his masculinity as a fully-fledged adult. Having discovered to his chagrin that theatre-director Iva (Scott Thomas) is contemplating an affair with one of her young actors, his ego is boosted by the delightful Aurore (Isabelle Carré), who he meets in a nearby restaurant. The local Asian community is also drawn in with a humorous subplot that offers a contemporary nod to multiculturalism.

Jean-Pierre Bacri is as sullen-faced as usual here and the script doesn’t quite give rein to his signature deadpan humour that has made previous outings so engaging so it’s a shame Bonitzer doesn’t give more time to Kristin Scott Thomas’s sublime acting skills and the development of her romantic story. But if you’re looking for solid and sophisticated French fare, well-acted and skillfully told then Looking for Hortense will fit the bill . MT

LOOKING FOR HORTENSE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9TH AUGUST 2013 AT WATERMANS ARTS CENTRE, BRENTFORD AND OUT ON DVD ON 2ND DECEMBER 2013

 

2 Guns (2013) DVD/Blu-Ray

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Script: Blake Masters

Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Bill Paxton, Paula Patton,

109min    Action/Thriller/Comedy

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s last outing was the Iceland-based documentary The Deep.  Buddy cop caper, 2 Gunscould not be more different.  But hopes of it following in the well-loved footsteps of Midnight Run rapidly fade despite a stellar cast, whipsmart script and superb production values.  Why, when it has all the right ingredients to be an action comedy winner?  I guess it all comes down to the lack of real charm.

Mark Wahlberg is larger than life as Stig Stigman, an undercover agent who goes on the run after a botched attempt to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel with a side-line in bull farming. Aided and abetted by slick DEA exec Denzel Washington as Bobby Trench, they join forces, each unaware of the other’s uncover status. And they certainly make an impressively butch pair: Wahlberg’s rippling muscles and Washington’s glistening gold tooth adding a touch of macho fun to the proceedings with Kormákur’s slick direction mostly avoiding CGI.

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Getting off to a cracking start, the film gradually loses interest enmired in gratuitous violence despite the easy chemistry of the leads. A touch of mysogyny is thrown in with a lingerie-clad love-interest (Paula Patton) for Washington that doesn’t quite wash, particularly as she’s supposed to be of the same professional rank. Bill Paxton saves the day, giving a rock solid performance as dodgy CIA agent.

So although not quite up there with Kormákur’s previous indie fare, 2 Guns is a mainstream, respectable but glib gangster movie; well-crafted if slightly underpowered tension-wise, but sure to replenish the coffers for his next arthouse treat. MT

2 GUNS IN ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16TH AUGUST 2013 and ON DVD/BLU FROM 9TH DECEMBER 2013

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Circumstance (2012)

Director Maryam Keshavarz

Cast: Nikohl Bosheri, Sarah Kazemy

105mins  Drama

Circ4Politics and sapphic desire go hand in hand in this coming of age drama from Iranian director, Maryam Keshavarz.  It starts off as a fairly formulaic affair focusing on a group of friends kicking against the system of contemporary Iran but soon edges towards a strikingly sensual and provocative story of forbidden love between two lesbians.

Atafeh (Nikohl Bosheri) and Shireen Sarah Kazemy) are clearly in love. Both coming from enlightened backgrounds of affluent Tehran society, Shireen’s parents were victims of the strict regime, Atefeh’s are a professional couple.  Thirty years ago they would have had the glamorous lifestyle of young Westerners but that was pre-revolution and nowadays they could be arrested for holding hands. But when Atafeh’s brother Mehran (Rezo Sixo Safai) turns fundamentalist as a throw-back from addiction and starts laying down shariah law with predictable consequences for all concerned, the picture becomes darker.

Strong images of female discrimination drive the narrative forward and the girls are subtle and convincing as friends and lovers but the standout performance comes from Rezo in his slow and and sinister transformation from sensitive musician to controlling religious bigot.

Meredith Taylor ©

DVD release on 24th September 2012.

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Student Services (2010) Mes Cheres Etudes Out on DVD

Student Services joins the recent slew of dramas surrounding student prostitution along with François Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie and Malgorzata Szumowska’s Elles.

Student Services

Probably the least glamorous and certainly the most sexually graphic of the three, it is also the most disturbingly real thanks to a  convincing turn from Belgian actress Déborah François (Populaire) who plays 19-year-old Laura.

Dating fellow student Manu (Benjamin Siksou) but desperately strapped for cash, she hooks up with an online site offering cash for bedroom services, and soon she’s earning good money from a variety of pervy men.

Although Student Services is slightly underwritten in character development, what makes it ultimately so appealing is the fabulous chemistry François develops with one of the punters, Mathieu Demy (as Benjamin) who gives a performance of considerable depth and allure as the two fall in love.

Student Services reveals the unexpected side of student prostitution and the fragility and vulnerability of teenage prostitutes is subtlely evoked here by François as she gradually becomes submerged in a low-life existence so distant from the one she hoped for.  With an atmospheric soundtrack from artists The Walkmen and Soap&Skin, Student Services is a moving and engaging drama.

The Director Emmanuelle Bercot originally came to fame when her directorial debut Clément, in which she also starred, was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2001.  Her most recent film Elle S’En Va, starring Cathérine Deneuve premiered at Berlin 2013. MT

STUDENT SERVICES IS OUT ON DVD ON THE 8TH JULY 2013 COURTESY OF AXIOM FILMS complete with interviews and casting sessions.

 

Broken (2012) DVD/BLU-RAY

NOW OUT ON DVD/BLU-RAY FROM 8TH JULY 2013 including INTERVIEWS WITH CAST AND CREW 

Director: Rufus Norris Script: Mark O’Rowe Novel: Daniel Clay,

Prod: Dixie Linder

90mins  Drama UK

Cast: Tim Roth, Roy Kinnear, Cillian Murphy, Zana Marjanovic, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Clare Burt, Denis Lawson.

“Thoughtlessness and unnecessary cruelty always catch my mind” Daniel Clay, author, Broken

Broken is a contemporary tale of class warfare set in North London. But is it only a London story?. Once you scratch beneath the surface of our ‘Great Britain’ with its recent Olympic success and ‘caring’ society, repercussions of the 2011 riots and social turmoil seep through. And it’s from this stark reality that Broken emerges.

In the shires and suburbs you’ll come up against the characters of this smart debut from theatre director Rufus Norris. It has Mark O’Rowe’s sparkling script adapted from the original novel and presents the lives of three neighbouring families seen through the eyes of a diabetic 11 year-old called Skunk. She’s quite an old-fashioned little girl and played endearingly here by Eloise Laurence. With an upbeat soundtrack and touches of wit that lift it out of its gloomy premise, Broken kicks around themes of single parenting, the class system, teenage pregnancy, care in the community and bullying.

Skunk and her brother Stephen are the products of a middle class family. Their dad Archie is a local family solicitor and Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) is their Polish nanny. Although Norris had originally intended Roth for another character, once Tim read the script he was determined to play Archie and has really made the part his own. As Archie, he represents the positive attributes of decent citizen, ideal parent and loving partner all rolled into one, and does so sensitively and with humanity.

Neighbours Mr and Mrs Oswald are sadly in denial of their mentally disturbed son Rick (Robert Emms). The Buckleys also inhabit the J B Priestley-esque cup-de-sac.  As Mr Buckley, Rory Kinnear gives a perfectly pitched performance as a foul-mouthed but misunderstood father of three horrible girls, one of whom accuses Rick of rape. In  a dynamite opening sequence Shunk witnesses Mr Buckley giving Rick a thorough drubbing  and this violence seems to take away her childhood innocence setting the scene for a story that’s authentic and newsworthy.

Cillian Murphy is convincing in an amusing side plot as Skunk’s teacher and Kasia’s sometime boyfriend. But Skunk’s budding love interest although cute, doesn’t quite ring true..

Despite tonal differences which shift from social realism to raging melodrama by the end, Broken is a gripping piece of social satire not be missed. Ingenious, unexpected and absolutely on the button of Britain today. MT

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

Tabu A Story of the South Seas (1931) DVD Blu-Ray

Director/Writer: F W Murnau and Robert Flaherty

Cast: Matahi, Matahi Hitu, Jules, Kong Ah, Anna Chevalier, Jean Jules

80min   German  Adventure Drama

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The south sea Island paradise of Bora Bora is the setting for this picturesque lyrical love story of a Polynesian legend. F.W. Murnau invited leading documentarist Robert Flaherty (Man of Aran) to collaborate on an experiment featuring a cast of island natives (“and a few half-castes and Chinese”!!!). It won an Oscar for Best Cinematography thanks to the efforts of Floyd Crosby who delicately captures the exotic and untouched feel of this untainted territory in black and white.  It turned out to be a labour of love for the director as well as those depicted in the film. In a weird twist of fate, F W Murnau was killed in a car accident before the film premiered having financed it himself and fallen out with Flaherty over script issues.

Bathed in sunshine under the sheltering palms, TABU plays like an exotic thirties travelogue with its lilting Hollywood soundtrack composed by Hugo Riesenfeld. A sultry native girl, Reri, (Chevalier) is declared ‘tabu’ and untouchable by her fellow tribespeople and promised to the local deity. But a pearl fisherman, Matahi, falls for her charms and they escape to a nearby French colony where they are forced to adapt to Western life with tragic consequences.  ‘Tapu’ is a Polynesian word from which we get the English ‘Taboo”.

In 1994 The film was declared “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  Scenes of nudity that had been previously banned by Paramount were reinstated in the DVD transfer which includes:

– Commentary with R Dixon Smith and Brad Stevens;

– 15-minute Germany documentary about TABU by Luciano Berriatua;

– Newly presented outtakes from the original shoot;

– An interview with Floyd Crosby;

The original story treatments written by Murnau and Flaherty for TABU

RELEASED ON DVD AND BLU-RAY FROM 24TH JUNE 2013 AT MASTERS OF CINEMA

 

13 (2010) | DVD release

Writer/Director Gela Babluani

Cast Sam Riley, Jason Statham, Ray Winstone, 50 Cent, Mickey Rourke, Ben Gazzara

87 mins 2012 US remake Suspense thriller

13 Tzameti was originally made by Georgian filmmaker Gela Babluani in 2005, starring his brother and located in his native Georgia. It went on to win World Cinema Jury Prize the following year at Sundance and also won two awards at Venice. Despite not having seen this original, one cannot but help think that it must have been far better, retaining a raw edge and energy that this poor remake lacks, to have propelled it so far, earning the attention of Hollywood.

Despite a very good performance by Sam Riley, this so-called suspense thriller lacks much suspense and is less than thrilling. The movie is chock full of testosterone, but lacks cold logic; a requisite ingredient, if one is to believe the story as it unfolds.

It also fails to divest enough of its low-budget predecessor in terms of making it big screen and not small screen; it comes across rather as a late night schlock TV movie, rather than a big screen outing.

One is constantly aware of the star turns and therefore never really enter into the world the film is trying to create, as these stars just get in the way. So one finds oneself just looking at Mickey Rourke or Ray Winstone, rather than the characters they are meant to be portraying. This of course would not have been the case with the original, where one also feels a syndicated game of Russian Roulette might also be more plausible in the first place in a desperate, twilit, Mafia-run Georgian underground.

I sincerely hope for his sake that the filmmaker Babluani hit paydirt when he got the greenlight to do this all-star remake but, as with so many remakes these days, it simply falls far short of majestic and rather begs the question ‘why?’

There was far too much showboating and a reliance on assumed ‘cool’, but in the cold light of day, I didn’t buy into the game; it was meant to be the ultimate in super-organised, high-end bet-chic, but was demonstrably wide open to sleight of hand, to cheating. Critical detail was lazy- they dish out the same type of bullet to at least five different gun types and none of the character stories really ever rang true. If you’re going to do it, at least do it properly. All of this fakery exemplified by the gun hammers clearly not having firing pins either. No wonder it failed to go off. Andrew Rajan.

NOW ON DVD and Blu-ray 8th October

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