Thursday, 31 January 2008

POLL DONE AND DUSTED

Thanks to those who took time to vote in my first poll, nominating the country who they felt had generated the greatest number of classic films
The final results were:
France and the USA 5 votes each
UK 3 votes
Italy 2 votes
Germany 2 votes
Japan 1 vote
Canada 1 vote
Sweden 1 vote
Australia 1 vote
Tomorrow, I'll be starting a new poll concerning a certain Italian gentlemen.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

COMING SOON

September 2008 will see the release of Tom Twyker's latest film, THE INTERNATIONAL, starring Clive Owen, Naomi Watts and Armin Mueller-Stahl (the latter hugely impressive in Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES). The film is being billed as a throwback to those wonderful political thrillers of the 70s, with Owen taking the role of an obsessive Interpol agent who is convinced a series of murders and disappearances can be traced to the world's 3rd biggest bank. With Watts' assistant DA in tow, Owen follows the money trail to Istanbul, Milan, New York and Berlin, aiming to establish a link between high finance and illegal arms trading. We're promised 5 huge set-pieces, which I trust will compliment an engrossing story. Look out for this one in the Autumn.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

HARRY, HE'S HERE TO HELP

Just a quick mention for an excellent new blog by Jeremy Richey, who also writes the MOON IN THE GUTTER and NOSTALGIA KINKY blogs. HARRY MOSEBY CONFIDENTIAL is devoted to the sights and sounds of the 70s: a decade which delivered some truly wonderful movies and many fab albums. You'll find the link to this site on the right, amongst my favourite blogs list. Well worth checking out on a daily basis.

Monday, 28 January 2008

STIFF LITTLE FINGERS: STILL FLYING THE FLAG

If there were such a thing as a 'Keep On Keeping On' award for Punk Rock, the name of Stiff Little Fingers would surely be etched on the trophy. Despite many changes in personnel, the name lives on and the current incarnation are about to embark on a 16 date UK tour between 28th Feb - 17th March. SLF were formed in 1977, after starting out as a schoolboy band called Highway Star (taken from the name of a Deep Purple song). Soon, this outfit answered the clarion call of Punk and began with a set that included songs by Dr. Feelgood, Eddie And The Hotrods, The Clash, The Pistols and The Ramones (the latter inspiring them to perform a 10 minute version of BLITZKRIEG BOP). Inspired by a local journalist, the group decided to write a song based on the conflict in their native Northern Island, and their first single - SUSPECT DEVICE - was born. As was so often the case, a Radio 1 DJ named John Peel was responsible for giving the record generous airplay, and the band started gigging in earnest as they began to build a loyal following.


'Don't believe them Don't believe them Don't be bitten twice You gotta suss, suss, suss, suss, suss out Suss suspect device'


Even in those heady days of umpteen classic singles releases each and every week, SUSPECT DEVICE stood out as an angry, politically charged slice of pure adrenalin, with Jake Burns' raw vocals backed by a rabble-rousing volley of white noise that had you by the balls and refused to let go. Soon, fans were assaulted by the bands debut album, INFLAMMABLE MATERIAL; a blistering 12" slice of political commentary that's married with big dollops of inky black humour. IF caught the band in their raw infancy, with tracks such as ALTERNATIVE ULSTER, HERE WE ARE NOWHERE and the magnificent BARBED WIRE LOVE (complete with do-do-do-do Beach Boys harmonies) launching their careers as album classics and live anthems. For me, best of all is still JOHNNY WAS; an 8 minute reggae-ised story of a man who had been 'shot down in the street and died from a stray bullet'. Live, this song was transformed and many of us looked forward to its rendition in the same way as we waited with bated breath for Joe and his boys to lock down POLICE AND THIEVES. A time to put a hold on songs delivered at breakneck pace and (almost) chill out to a marriage between two musical forms that melted together like they belonged for all eternity.


So very often, punk bands would deliver grade A classic albums and fail to deliver with their follow-up. SLF? Well, in my opinion, the second album - NOBODY'S HEROES - was even better, boasting 10 tracks of which at least 7 could fairly be termed classics. Here, Burns' vocals seemed even angrier, rising to the challenge and emerging with honour. WAIT AND SEE, AT THE EDGE, TIN SOLDIERS and GOTTA GETTAWAY were played and sung with passion, emerging not as anthems for doomed youth, but a call to arms in respect of changing your own life and kicking back against those who sought to control it. Probably the pick of this kicking-and-screaming litter is FLY THE FLAG where Burns demands 'a Britain that's got back the Great, a race of winners not cramped by the state'. Blistering doesn't even begin to describe it! One year later, the band released their 3rd album - GO FOR IT - which kept their loyal fan base on track with at least three songs which soon became SLF standards. Check out NOT FADE AWAY, PICCADILLY CIRCUS (which rivals The Jam's STRANGE TOWN for it's harsh condemnation of life in London) and ROOTS, RADICALS, ROCKERS AND REGGAE which took on even greater power onstage. Add to this a wonderful live album titled HANX, and you had a band who could really kick out the traces on vinyl and in concert halls.


Sadly, their fourth studio album (NOW THEN) led to a parting of the ways for many of their fans who were unable to get along with a slightly poppy approach to their music. In 1983, one year later, the band broke up with personal and musical differences amongst the time-honoured reasons for their demise. Since then, SLF have reformed and split, seen various musicians come and go (including Bruce Foxton, who I saw many times with the immortal group The Jam) and now here they are again, gigging once more in the wake of a DVD (STILL BURNING) directed by the great Don Letts.


I was fortunate enough to see Stiff Little Fingers play live on a dozen occasions, travelling miles to see their high octane punk melt the walls and send concert halls into a seething frenzy of bodies, punching the air as they sung along to the lyrics of SUSPECT DEVICE. Probably my best memory goes back to 1977 when they played at the Ajanta Theatre in Derby. This rundown club played hosts to the likes of Crass, Joy Division, Bauhaus, The Fall and many more. SLF headlined here with (I think) support provided by Robert Rental And The Normal, and were especially suited to this small, dingy hall where their raw power seemed truly at home. Later, SLF moved onto bigger and better venues and still kicked back with venom, but that night at The Ajanta was an event in the truest sense of the term. Now, over 30 years later, the band will soon be treading the boards at a venue only 30 miles from where I currently live. Unfortunately, money doesn't permit me to make the journey, but rest assured I'll be there in spirit.

FULCI'S KILLER THRILLER # 2

ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER


Jean Sorel,Marisa Mell,Elsa Martinelli, John Ireland, Alberto De Mendoza, George Riguad, Faith Domergu, Jean Sobiesky, Riccardo Cucciola


Lucio Fulci's 'Zombie Quartet' may well have won him a place in horror's 'Hall Of Fame', but it's the giallo branch of his career that contains his best work. Sublime thrillers such as Don't Torture A Duckling (1972), A Lizard In A Woman's Skin (1971) and Seven Notes In Black (aka The Psychic - 1977) have now made the leap from VHS to DVD/DVD, offering greatly improved clarity: all the better to display their twisted webs of malice and murder.Una Sull' altra was Fulci's first giallo: an impressive declaration of future intent which, while lacking the violence of his later efforts, is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat as its delicious plot unravels.Brothers Geroge and Henry Dumurrier (Sorel & De Martino) run a private clinic where the former makes false claims about the practice in order to generate publicity. Away from the clinic, George leaves his sick wife, Susan (Mell), to be cared for by her sister (Domergu) while he conducts an affair with Martha (Martinelli), the wife of a business contact. When George receives a call informing him of Susan's death, his shock is only matched by the subsequent discovery of an insurance policy that will make him some $2 million richer.During a visit to a nightclub, George and Martha are transfixed by a gorgeous blonde named Monica Weston (Mell) who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife. While George pursues the enigmatic Monica, word reaches him that traces of poison have been found in Susan's body. Death by natural causes has now become murder, and George is the only suspect. As the police and the insurance company strive to discover the truth, George must uncover the real identity of his new lover and trace the whereabouts of the elusive woman who can prove his innocence.To the uninitiated, a brief synopsis of this film will likely suggest standard insurance scam, with a pretty blonde thrown in to liven up proceedings as and when necessary. Yes, there are elements of the screenplay that inevitably produce sparks of recognition and Mell is certainly guaranteed to raise the temperature by a good 50 degrees, but she plays with the script rather than alongside it, clearly relishing her role as femme fatale: think Vertigo as reference to her is-she-or-isn't-she character, while her married surname is a clear nod to the author of..... Rebecca.Our first glimpse of Weston is a real show-stopper, treating her club audience to an incendiary striptease, with motorbike as prop. Later in the film, she displays more of that fabulous body than was the case in (surely her best known role) Danger:Diabolik, though Mell's best scene occurs after leaving George Dumurrier high and dry. Elsa Martinelli also scores high marks for her performance, as Martha uses her feminine wiles to search for the truth and to explore the dark side of her nature during a memorable attempted seduction of Monica. The rest of the cast are all more than acceptable, with special mention going to Riccardo Cucciola's Benjamin Wormser; Monica's downtrodden partner-of-sorts, whose words will eventually come back to haunt the perpetrators of a brilliantly conceived crime.For the lions share of its running time, Una Sull' altra comes over as an exquisitely crafted thriller, methodical rather than slow-moving, and mostly utterly absorbing. The camera work - from Alejandro Ulloa who shot Franco's Diabolical Dr.Z - compliments Fulci's splendid direction, and would have been even more effective had the brief split-screen photography been used in scenes that contained some of the more dramatic moments.Una Sull' altra is now available on DVD from the splendid Severin in the form of the French theatrical cut, and has been newly transferred from a negative element. In France, this film was released under the title PERVERSION STORY and this cut contains scenes never seen before in any English language release. Fulci-ites will find the bonus of a CD featuring Riz Ortolani's music to be a nifty addition.

Monday, 21 January 2008

FULCI'S KILLER THRILLER



While I remain a big admirer of Lucio's 'Zombie Quartet', my admiration of this director increases even more when it comes to his thrillers. DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER and LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN - for my money - show Fulci at his best and THE PSYCHIC is part of this group. Severin have just released the aforementioned gem on Region 1 DVD and while I'm currently unable to order a copy, it's a fairly safe bet that it's the best home video version currently available.


This 1977 thriller begins on October 12th, 1959 (dates are vitally important in this movie) as a young woman commits suicide by throwing herself off a cliff-top in England. At exactly the same time, her daughter 'witnesses' this horrific death while thousands of miles away in Italy. 18 years later, Virginia Ducci (O'Neill), now a woman in her mid-twenties, drives through a long, dark tunnel and this time is besieged by a series of visions that include; a broken mirror, a red light, a hole in the wall, a big yellow taxi, a limping man and a blurred magazine cover depicting a beautiful woman. Virginia enlists the help of paranormal expert Dr. Fattori (Porel) in an attempt to make sense of these indistinct snapshots, and is astonished to find many images from her visions come to life in a house previously owned by Francesco (Garko), her new husband.Driven by her psychic flashes, Virginia takes a pickaxe and proceeds to demolish part of a wall, discovering human remains. When the skeleton is linked to the disappearance of a young woman who had an affair with Francesco some four years earlier, the police investigation results in his arrest on suspicion of murder.With its central character struggling to recall and decipher fragmented pieces of visual and verbal information, The Psychic does occasionally run the risk of being labelled an Argento copyist; an understandable reaction, given Fulci's reputation as a dedicated follower of fashion. Still, the uninitiated can rest easy and continue their search for this film as it's a long way from being a tired rehash of Dario's greatest hits.First and foremost, there's a remarkable performance from Jennifer O'Neill. Fulci attracted much criticism regarding his treatment of certain female stars and his portrayal of their on-screen characters, but there's no denying he brought out the best in a succession of our favourite Euro ladies: Marisa Mell, Catriona McColl, Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Edwige Feneche, Dagmar Lassander, Anita Strindberg.... the list goes on, and O'Neill is arguably the pick of the bunch, delivering a performance to savour. Bewilderment, fortitude, courage and when the script demands, extreme fright: O'Neill meets each challenge, turning her emotions on and off like a tap and when those visions and flashbacks occur, it's almost as if a gun had gone off directly behind her. The script - a collaboration between Fulci, Roberto Gianviti and Dardano Sacchetti - must have been a joy to work with, involving a stolen painting, a mysterious call from a woman who claims to hold "a winning card", cigarettes with distinctive giallo paper and a musical watch: a truly labyrinthine plot, full of twists, turns and red herrings galore which demand to enthrall a wider audience than is currently the case. Perhaps Fulci should have devised a more user-friendly title ("Seven Corpses For The Coroner"?) and used our old friend the black-gloved killer, despatching victims amidst gallons of the red stuff? Then again, such a by-the-numbers approach probably wouldn't have made this one of his very best films, where damn near every scene and each line of dialogue turns out to be a scattered piece of the jigsaw.The OOP American video (Avid Home Entertainment) serves as a good introduction to this film, and now prayers have been answered with Severin coming to the rescue. Needless to say, I'll be adding this one to my collection in the very near future.

POLLING TIME

I've decided to run a monthly poll here on THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, and you'll find the first one on the right. I'd like to thank everyone who stops by to visit this blog, and I hope you'll take time out to vote. Future polls will be cinema, music or book related and I hope you all enjoy taking part and viewing the results.

Friday, 18 January 2008

GRINDHOUSE GOES LARGE

It's been a long wait, but Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF finally hit Region 2 DVD earlier this week, while PLANET TERROR is due 10th March. As someone who was unable to catch the cinema screenings, I've been eagerly awaiting the chance to see these films. Now, if I had a bit of extra cash, I may well have been tempted to spring for this bad boy. Check out the stuff on this Japanese 6 disc package.


Disc 1: Death Proof (Extended Film)
Japanese Theatrical/TV trailers
Staff/Cast Profiles (Text)
What is Grindhouse? (Text)
English DTS, English DD, Japanese dub
Japanese subtitles

Disc 2: Planet Terror (Extended Film)
Audio commentary with Robert Rodriguez
International/Japanese trailers
Staff/Cast Profiles (Text)
What is Grindhouse? (Text)
English DTS, English DD, Japanese dub
Japanese Subtitles

Disc 3: Death Proof bonus materials
Special Message to Japan from Tarantino
Staff and Cast interviews on Death Proof
Stunts on Wheels: The Legendary Drivers of Death Proof (20:39)
Introducing Zoë Bell (8:59)
Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike (9:34)
Finding Quentin's Gals (21:14)
The Uncut Version of "Baby, It's You" Performed by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (1:48)
The Guys of Death Proof (8:16)
Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke (4:38)
Double Dare Trailer (2:36)

Disc 4: Planet Terror bonus materials
10-Minute Film School (11:52)
The Badass Babes of Planet Terror (11:50)
The Guys of Planet Terror (16:32)
Casting Rebel (05:34)
Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror (13:18)
The Friend, The Doctor and The Real Estate Agent (6:42)

Disc 5: Grindhouse (191 minute theatrical cut including the fake trailers)
English DD, Japanese dub
Japanese subtitles

Disc 6: Japan exclusive Grindhouse bonus disc (106 minutes)
Grindhouse - US Trailer
2006 San Diego Comicon
Tarantino Interview (About the homages in Death Proof, About Planet Terror, Use of Music, Possible Sequel to Death Proof)
Staff/Cast comments
The Directors of the Fake Trailers
Comments on past Grindhouse Films
Making Of Planet Terror

Earlier on, I kidded my wife that I had actually ordered the above package and, for just a few seconds, we almost had a real Grindhouse situation on our hands. Still, it's not bad for just £53!

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

INTO THE VOID


11th February sees the Region 2 DVD release of Anton Corbijn's CONTROL; a biopic covering the all-too short life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. For many of us, JD were a vital band, with their cold, intense music often reaching incredible heights; both live, and in the studio. The DVD will include a commentary track from Corbijn, a making-of featurette, Joy Division's 'Atmosphere' music video (directed by Corbijn) and a photo gallery and trailer. I've just started reading 'Touching From A Distance'; a book written by Curtis' widow Deborah upon which the film is based, and will be taking a look at the DVD, the book and JD in general through February. I'll also be remembering the two occasions I caught Joy Division live; the second of which was the penultimate gig before Ian Curtis committed suicide. It's a heartbreakingly sad story, but also one of celebration, as we remember a band who were often touched by greatness.

I'll always remember Pete Murphy from Bauhaus explaining that on certain nights, it felt like there was an extra band member on stage whose presence could be felt when everything gelled and the band were on fire. Bauhaus had that certain something, along with The Jam, The Clash, The Banshees and a select number of other bands I was privileged to see. Joy Division were one of those groups. To be continued...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

THE MAGIC OF DAY FOR NIGHT

Francois Truffaut's DAY FOR NIGHT is still awaiting a Region 2 DVD release here in the UK. While I've long been mystified as to the absence of recognition for this thoroughly entertaining film, there is a Region 1 DVD available for those who love this film and for folks who have yet to savour its delights.

LA NUIT AMERICAIN

Where does make- believe end and reality begin? On the big screen, this often finite line has been examined by a number of great directors: Godard, Fellini, Lynch, Ferrarra, Billy Wilder and François Truffaut are just a few of the famous names to lengthen the boundaries of the film-within-a-film sub-genre. Truffaut's contribution won 'Best Foreign Film' at the Academy Awards, just one decade before his death.La Nuit americaine (American Night) refers to the process of shooting a night scene in daylight by means of a special filter, and is a particularly apt title for the two films on offer which often merge into a single viewing experience.Truffaut himself takes the role of Ferrand, a dedicated movie director who must harness the talents of cast and crew to negotiate the successful shoot of his latest project, "Meet Pamela". His screenplay concerns a recently married woman who falls in love with her father-in-law, during a visit instigated by her husband. Back in the 'real world', various members of the entourage also succumb to temptation and it's a job in itself to keep pace with who's sleeping with whom, not to mention the trials, tribulations and internal politics associated with the world of high profile cinema. For all that, La Nuit americaine is an extremely likeable film, populated by a host of dispirate spirits who all seem to draw inspiration from Ferrand's passionate affair with his art: Jean-Pierre Leaud (star of Truffaut's five Antoine Doinel films) who keeps script girl Lilane (Dani) on the boil, before falling for American actress Julie Baker ("I remember her in that movie with the car chase".), played by the radiant Jacqueline Bisset. Baker arrives on the set some 39 minutes in, with baggage that includes a recent nervous breakdown; a state of affairs that provides Ferrand with another insurance headache to go with his 35 day completion deadline. While Ferrand attempts to get his vision in the can, helped by loyal continuity assistant Joelle (Nathalie Baye in her feature debut), we are privy to an ageing lead coming to terms with being gay (Aumont); an actress (Stewart) whose pregnancy throws an unexpected spanner in the works; a cat that's either unable or unwilling to act and, best of all, Valentina Cortese as Severine ("She never comes to rushes."), a loveable, lively piece of work whose love of alcohol matches her directors' passion for film. While Ferrand's direction of Baker (the candle scene) are possibly the most memorable moments in the film, Cortese figures in the funniest, fluffing lines, continuously opening the wrong door for her maids exit and generally breaking every rule in the book before opting for some extremely radical improvisation ("I'll use numbers. The way I do with Fellini.") An absolute joy to witness, as indeed is the rest of this film. Admirers of Truffaut were no doubt delighted by the opportunity to watch him work and showcase a few tricks of the trade, with even the stop-start rhythm of the shoot commanding our most earnest attention. Complimented by a beautiful Georges Delerue score ( think Greenaway and Nyman), La Nuit americaine may not be Truffaut's best film but it's certainly his most entertaining.Warner Bros. DVD is far and away the best home video version of this film, exhibiting strong, stable colours. The softness of image is still present, as with all other versions, but this is doubtless due to the film stock and should not be seen as a failing of the transfer. While it would have been nice to have the option of an audio commentary (Bisset in tandem with film critic Annette Insdorf would have been a good choice), the inclusion of several featurettes does help to soften the blow. Indeed, the 9 minute interview with Bisset is alone worth the admission price. It's long been one of life's mysteries as to why Bisset failed to reach the very top of her profession. She's certainly one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the screen, and her acting ability is beyond reproach. Perhaps it was a combination of a life punctuated by the failing health of loved ones (never was there a more devoted daughter) and so often being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her performance here suggests she was more at ease in quality European productions than the lightweight fare which traded on her looks and little else: shame on all those gutless filmmakers who never found the time to commission the type of roles that would have made her star burn even brighter. Still, it's nice to listen to the obvious affection she still feels for this film and rather humbling to hear her voice concern regarding the merits of her beautiful French accent; a needless worry that's shared in the film by Julie Baker.The rest of the featurettes do veer towards 'puff piece' territory, but are still worth checking out. We get to listen to Annette Insdorf, Todd McCarthy and Bob Balaban hold forth on the magic of Truffaut, while lamenting the fact that he died at an absurdly young age, and there's a most welcome appearance from Brian De Palma.Warner Bros. also include an English language trailer; an interesting choice which serves to heighten our appreciation of the original French audio track.

Hopefully, a Region 2 DVD release is not too far away.

Friday, 11 January 2008

SHOTGUNS IN ESSEX


One of the best British crime dramas in recent years came steaming into our shops at the fag-end of 2007, in the form of a very smart 2 disc DVD. RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER repays multiple viewings with its no-holds barred account of the infamous Range Rover murders, centering on the bloody escapades of Carlton Leach. Disc 1 features a splendid commentary track from director Julian Gilbey and his brother, co-writer William, holding forth on the making of their film. Their talk really is a pleasure to listen to as they duly highlight some terrific performances; explain their choices regarding cast selection, and are honest enough to acknowledge a handful of scenes which slightly deviate from the true story. The majority, of course, is based on solid fact, making this film even more powerful. The pair also - quite rightly - take their critics to task, quoting from reviews by writers who couldn't (or didn't want to) understand exactly where the film was coming from. Optimum Pictures were well aware of the impending backlash from the UK broadsheets (and certain tabloid papers) and warned the Gilbey's it would be a tough ride, but the people who really count went to the cinemas and purchased the DVD, proving that Joe Public doesn't listen to a bunch of elitist writers.Here, Gilbey proves himself to be an intelligent director who goes to painstaking lengths to ensure authenticity. It's worth pointing out that Julian discounts one of the theories included in the RASHOMON-style finale regarding police involvement, though he does reveal why many people at the time believed this possible. I'll leave you to check out the commentary to hear why this belief surfaced. I came out of this sitting with increased respect for their accomplishment, and went straight into the 2nd disc where the top-notch featurette was waiting. 'Filming The Footsoldier' (77 mins) tells us damn near everything we need to know about the making-of process, with input from cast and crew. As you would expect, praise from both sides of the camera is forthcoming, but instead of the usual guff, there's genuine respect in the air. Leach was lucky to enlist the services of some prime actors who perfectly suited their gritty roles, and the cast were amazed by Leach's attention to detail which perfectly captured the mood and scenery of the 3 decades in question. The football scenes in particular were just like being taken back in time, with not a frame looking out of place. The disc also contains some 29 minutes of deleted and extending scenes. With the exception of a road rage incident involving Leach and his meeting with Turkish mobsters, there's nothing here which would have improved the film but it's interesting to see what was left out of the final cut. Of greater value is the inclusion of audition clips, and watching Rici Harnett and Coralie Rose taking raw, formative steps is an education. For me, this DVD would be incomplete without the presence of the man himself, and Optimum have thoughtfully arranged for a 21 minute video interview with Carlton Leach. Here, Leach tells how his book was translated into film as he slowly came to trust the Gilbey's and shook off his initial negative response to the casting of Harnett. Leach looks on the film as a documentary of his life and while he's not shy to highlight areas he felt could have been better, he does feel that the film is a major success. It's crystal clear the film also opened up a lot of old wounds, and Leach expresses the hope that one day the truth will come out: It's a chilling thought indeed that even the murdered trio may not know the indentity's of their killers.

RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER has everything that a DVD should have. Great documentary, articulate commentary track and input from an informed collaborator. It's also destined to be a major cult movie for many years to come. True stories are not always covered with such honesty and realism, so it's refreshing to see that someone has the brass balls to do exactly that. Oh yes, and Gilbey reveals that he'd like to tackle the Horror genre at some point in the future!

Monday, 7 January 2008

BLU MONDAY?

The high definition strategies of Toshiba and Microsoft were thrown into disarray on the eve of The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. A decision late last week by Warner Bros to release hi-definition DVDs only in Sony's Blu-ray format may go a long way to deciding the winner of this format war. Indeed, many folks are predicting that Blu-Ray - long regarded as the clear favourite - will soon be celebrating in style. Although there are dissenting voices coming from the opposition camp, it seems likely that Blu-Ray will indeed clean up in the near future. Of course, many will have mixed feelings about this; particularly those who plumped for HD and the ability to select films that were not region coded. Once the dust has settled, punters will have the choice to continue for SD DVD or jump straight into a new format. To be honest, I wasn't especially thrilled by the new technology. First of all, a new TV would be required - either LCD or Plasma- followed by a new DVD player. Fine if you have deep pockets, but financially prohibitive if your spare income is limited.

My wife and I went shopping earlier today, and I just had to stop at the Sony Centre when something caught my eye. There, on a 52" LCD TV, was a Blu-Ray film in all its glory. Wow! PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST looked amazing, and now I want one of those, even though I know the closest we'll get is winning some hardware in a competition. The delights of DVD collecting can be an expensive business, and I'll be posting on this subject later this week.

A FEW DROPS OF CLARET HERE

Reviled by a considerable number of UK film critics, Julian Gilbey's RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER is actually one of the best British crime flicks since THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. There's a scene right at the beginning which serves as a striking declaration of intent for what lies ahead, as we see three shotgun-blasted bodies lying in the morgue. Suddenly, a mobile phone on a nearby table begins to ring and the answer machine kicks in to reveal a shaky voice exhorting the owner of the phone to return the call. The voice belongs to one Carlton Leach; a nervous man in a four thousand dollar room who is beginning to fear for the safety of his pals. Later on, we get to see him make that phone call, but there's an awful lot of blood to flow under the bridge before we reach that point. Gilbey's film builds on this thoroughly downbeat opening, moving like an express train through three decades, as a cast of wholly unlikeable individuals are steered by top-notch performances. Ricci Harnett is chillingly convincing as Leach, while Roland Manookian, Terry Stone and Craig Fairbrass are just as good in their portrayals of the murdered trio: Craig Rolfe, Tony Tucker and Pat Tate. Add Bill Murray as Essex drug smuggler Mickey Steele, Frank Harper, Neil Maskell and talented females such as Emily Beecham (28 WEEKS LATER) + Laura Beaumont (THE WAR ZONE) and you have a cast that's ready, willing and able to carry off a very demanding script. A good number of the cast will be familiar to those of you who caught THE FOOTBALL FACTORY, and they're tailor-made for this graphic foray into the frightening world of organised crime. While the characters they portray are odious and terrifying in the extreme, Gilbey does go some way towards compelling us to root for them at certain points in the film; particularly during a horrific torture scene where Turkish gangsters inflict appalling injuries on Leach's colleagues in an attempt to discover exactly who was responsible for a missing case of heroin valued at £10million. It's no mean feat to elicit sundry feelings of sympathy for such a worthless bunch, but Gilbey takes us there, while never losing sight of the fact that their actions and way of life spell danger for even the innocent members of society. It could be argued that the involvement of foreign gangsters invading 'home turf' places the likes of Carlton Leach in a slightly different light, and it's not too hard to see why he could be viewed as the lesser of two great evils and become a legend. Go back to the time of the Kray Brothers who were romanticised by many people for different reasons: sure, they helped the old and the poor with hard cash and there were very few rapes or child molestations on their manor (crimes the brothers took great exception to), but look at the other side of the coin and you'll see a world of fear and pain. Here, the violence meted out is probably the most graphic of any British feature: vicious fights on tube trains as football hooligans battle it out; scenes of torture involving stabbings, graphic bodily abuse (flesh-biting, anyone?) and extreme beatings (look out for a bloody one-man war against the fast-food industry, which starts out funny and ends up in hell) are often the order of the day. That little lot has been accused of glamorising violence by learned film critics, but there isn't a moment of glamour in the entire film. Even relationships with beautiful women are tense and largely unfeeling, prompting one to question why the hell they stay with these men? Sorry, but I couldn't find any glamour in a moody undercurrent of simmering violence which frequently erupts, slamming you into the ropes and onto the canvas. These are people you never want to encounter but, in order for their stories to have a high degree of accuracy, it's necessary to show the kind of things that went down. If this film is a bit too close for comfort, Carlton Leach has gone on record as saying that the actual events he witnessed and took part in were even bloodier!

I'll be taking a look at the 2 disc DVD release later this week, but it's worth a reminder here that the two men imprisoned for the Rettendon Land Rover Murders may well be innocent. Could those responsible be Turkish gangsters, local drugs rivals or even the 'Old Bill' who possibly organised the murders with the hope that three of the thorns in their side would be out of the picture? One day, we may learn the truth but for now, RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER exists as an extreme record of the evil that men do, and as a sombre warning to anyone who may be close to sliding down the same slippery slope.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

HOOLIGAN. BOUNCER. GANGSTER. LEGEND

"You've got to be able to take a good hiding as well as dish it out. I've had my nose rearranged and I've been kicked in the face by Arsenal and Chelsea fans, stabbed in the back by Millwall fans but all I wanted to do was get back into the fray the next week and get my revenge."

HOOLIGAN

Julian Gilbey's RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER charges through three decades of organised crime, beginning in the mid 70s as football related violence became part of life for many young (and not-so young)men. Carlton Leach was one of those involved, participating in open warfare as a member of West Ham United's hooligans. Eventually, football's armies of combatants would be streamlined into regiments known as 'firms' and West Ham's Inter City Firm would establish a reputation as being one of the most feared in the UK, leaving 'calling cards' on the bodies of victims. I first encountered West Ham as a 15 year old and learned some valuable lessons, emerging bruised but a lot wiser. In those days, it was difficult not to get involved, and Leach's own activities are recounted in this film through a series of incidents which will doubtless prompt nods of the head from many a viewer. Violent confrontations with Man Utd's Red Army, altercations filmed at Leyton Orient Football Club (the first ground I got thrown out of) and an extremely bloody (and realistic) tube train battle with Millwall's Treatment mob are shot with unflinching acurracy, taking this film above GREEN STREET and THE FOOTBALL FACTORY in the football violence stakes. Using hi-def, 16mm, 35mm and super 8, Gilbey captures these violent encounters with a keen eye, often matching those old 70s news footage to provide added realism. Leach eventually bowed out of football violence - due in part to police success in partially controlling these activities - but violence in a different form was beckoning. Soccer violence was often a soft drug, that could lead to the harder stuff and Leach did indeed progress, becoming a doorman at local clubs en route to the dangerous world of true organised crime.
BOUNCER
Moving through the 80s Rave Scene - where football hostilities were temporarily shelved as rival gangs mingled to enjoy the fruits of clubland - RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER follows Leach into the security business. Here, streetwise doormen are involved to serve the interests of the general public, keeping a watchful eye on potential troublemakers. In reality, many bouncers used their status to distribute drugs amongst the punters and gleefully knocked seven bells out of those who stood in their way; particularly rivals seeking to cut themselves a larger slice of this lucrative cake.
GANGSTER
Given the kind of things going down in the Essex clubs, this was almost a natural progression for wayward doormen, and art reflects life here in the most savage way imaginable. Vicious beatings, extreme (and I do mean extreme) torture and gangland slayings were the order of the day, and Gilbey's film rightly pulls no punches with regard to showing us exactly what these men were capable of.
LEGEND
First we had Leach's book, 'Muscle', and now we have a new film (forget the inferior ESSEX BOYS) which has been slated by many writers who accuse Gilbey of glamorising violence. My next post will take a look at the film itself.

MY TOP 10 DVD's OF 2007



Like many of you, i was unable to afford even 5% of the discs I'd have liked in my collection. So, BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ, THE TWIN PEAKS GOLD BOX , BREATHLESS, IF..., OH LUCKY MAN!, TWO-LANE BLACKTOP and MIKIO NARUSE VOL 1 BOXSET will just have to wait. My choices are made up of retrospective fare, and a few titles that were 'blind' purchases of films that I was unable to see at the cinema. I haven't listed in order of preference, but hope my choices will strike a chord with some of you.


1/ THE LIVES OF OTHERS. Region 2

2/ INLAND EMPIRE. Region 1

3/ THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLS 1 AND 2. Region 1

4/ PERFORMANCE. Region 1

5/ BLADE RUNNER 5 DISC BOX SET. Region 2

6/ NOSFERATU. Region 2

7. PAN'S LABYRINTH. Region 2

8/ CRUISING. Region 1

9/ THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN. Region 2

10/ RISE OF THE FOOT SOLDIER. Region 2

We were certainly bombarded with an embarrassment of riches, mixing the old and the new. It was great to see DVD releases for CRUISING (one of the 80s darkest films) and PERFORMANCE (which has been crying out for the spiffing transfer it duly received) while fans of Mario Bava were blessed in triplicate with volumes 1 and 2 of the Mario Bava Collection, and Tim and Donna Lucas' magnificent Bava book which seemed more like a gift than a purchase. As for BLADE RUNNER.... well, I'm still having a whale of a time checking out all the extras which are adding considerably to my enjoyment and understanding of a landmark film. It's pleasing to note that the newer films amongst my choices have been generally well received. INLAND EMPIRE,I think, is a staggering work and may well be hailed as Lynch's finest in the fullness of time, while THE LIVES OF OTHERS is nothing short of a triumph, but tinged with a great sadness as Ulrich Muhe passed away on 22nd July last year. The last 3 words of dialogue in this film are especially poignant, both in art and in life. My biggest regret here is not being able to find a place for Stephen Frears' THE QUEEN. None of us can be sure how close Frears got to exactly what was said between members of the royal family and the government, but we can all remember the events of that terrible week when the Queen went into hiding and left the country in darkness. This is an extremely moving work, with a clutch of stellar performances including Helen Mirren's Oscar winning turn and Michael Sheen's excellent portrayal of Tony Blair. All in all, 2007 was a fine year for the shiny discs. Let's hope 2008 is just as kind to us.