Friday, 30 May 2008

BLUE GOES BLU

A friend of mine asked me to log onto to Blue Underground's web site after I finished work today, and suggested I check out the Blu-Ray section. No further information was volunteered. I'd known for a while that BU intended to release selected titles on this new format and last checked their site just over a week ago. So, I headed over there and saw the Blu-Ray section had been updated. You can check out the list of opening titles by clicking on http://www.blue-underground.com/blu-ray.php
I'm certainly excited by the likes of MANIAC, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME appearing on Blu-ray and look forward to future announcements. While we are unable to afford a Blu-Ray player at the moment, our new television at least means we are one step closer .
The TV my wife won in the radio comp arrived one week ago. Although it wasn't a Pansonic (as we'd been lead to believe), we are delighted with our new set. It's a 32" Samsung - a perfect size for our small one-room flat - HD ready, and the picture quality is way better than our old secondhand TV. The sound is also a massive improvement which is particularly nice as I suffer from Meniere's Disease which has taken away a chunk of hearing from my right ear; a condition which will likely get worse and not better, so I'm advised. Now, I can make out dialogue a lot better than before, and this makes the DVD experience a lot more pleasurable. As for the Sky HD prize.... well, we could not get permission to have a dish installed on the building but Sky have agreed that my mother can have the receiver for one year's free viewing, which will replace her old Sky box for that period and enable her to record programmes onto the built-in hard drive(and save around £360 on subscriptions in the process). Now, I just have to see if the missus can win a comp for a Blu-ray....

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

MAGIC ALL AROUND US: LA TERZA MADRE/THE THIRD MOTHER

An urn dating back to 1814 is discovered at the cemetery in Viterbo in modern-day Rome, and taken back to the Museum Of Ancient Art. Restoration student Sara Mandy (Asia Argento) and her colleague Giselle ( Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni) decide to open the urn, with catastrophic consequences. A split drop of blood resurrects Mater Lachrymarum: The Mother Of Tears who is the sole surviving member of a triumvirate of evil. Soon, Rome is gripped by a savage wave of murders, suicides and a massive increase in cases of demonic possession. Pursued by Lachrymarum's minions, Sara must defeat the most beautiful and cruel of the three sisters, using the combined forces of the living and the dead.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a most satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, as Argento spins a twisted web of murder and malice with truly eye-popping set pieces and a doom-laden oppressive atmosphere, where the stench of ancient evil hangs heavy in the air. This really is a mix of the old and the new, with scenes and imagery harking back to the golden days of 70s cinema when exploitation filmmaking was an honest vocation. Cannibalism, sexual perversion, extreme eyeball abuse and graphic murder make this the most brutal entry in a marvellous trilogy, with a script that keeps things moving at a fair old lick. As there are many people who have yet to see this film, I'll hold back from mentioning plot specifics but there's plenty here for Dario's loyal band of followers who will doubtless be pleased by the appearances of Daria Nicolodi and Udo Kier; a namecheck for Susie Banyon; a very different score from Claudio Simonetti (driven by the spirit of Goldsmith and Herrmann, and close in places to Keith Emerson's INFERNO soundtrack) and there's a cab ride nodding to the films illustrious predecessors. A word too for Frederic Fasano's photography. Fassano - who shot DO YOU LIKE HITCHCOCK? and SCARLET DIVA - does an excellent job here and if there's an absence of camera pyrotechnics, he catches the mood well with several 'jump' moments that add much to the atmosphere. Do look out for the 'Ghost Powder' scene as that famous 'Magic all around us' statement is explored more fully here, and I think the relevant scenes work well within this theme.

Like THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, this is likely going to prove a slow-burner and my two viewings to date point to a fuller appreciation as time moves on. For now, I'd label this a brilliant addition to the Italian maestro's filmography, and a major return to form.

Full marks to Optimum for getting the Region 2 DVD out so quickly. The film has been treated to a very nice transfer, although those hoping for a throwback to those eye candy colours from yesteryear may well be disappointed. Optimum's DVD has been passed uncut by our old muckers at the BBFC and really should be at the top of your list of imminent purchases.

Friday, 16 May 2008

COMING SOON: THE DAMNED UNITED



David Peace's essential book The Damned United was published in 1996, and has been hailed as one of the best books ever written about sport. This is a fictionalised account of the turbulent 44 day reign of Brian Clough as the manager of Leeds United football club. This remarkable man had made his name at Derby County where he had formed a great double act with his assistant Peter Taylor. Before their arrival, Derby had languished in second division obscurity and were a club going nowhere. After a shaky start, Clough and Taylor built a team which gained promotion to the first division, and went on to win the title in their third season in the top flight. Fabulous European nights led to a semi final against Juventus where many of us still believe The Rams were cheated out of a place in the final. Sadly, the in-fighting at the club led to the duo resigning and, after a spell at Brighton, Clough ended up at Elland Road, Leeds. This seemed a strange decision - particularly given Clough's previous comments about Leeds United - and the whole affair seemed doomed before it had even begun. The two teams had been fierce rivals (the fans even more so), and the Leeds players were determined not to co-operate with a man who had openly criticised them. After just 44 days in charge, Brian Clough left Elland Road and would be reunited with Peter Taylor at Nottigham Forest where he took their team to even greater glory. It's been acknowledged by the late Mr. Clough that leaving Derby was the biggest mistake he ever made, and this is a view I concur with. Having been lucky enough to see his Derby side play on many, many occasions, I honestly believe we would have won the lot if he had stayed. Derby did win a second title under Dave McKay just a few seasons later but the Clough years were simply dynamite.


Now, we have a film on the horizon, and it remains to be seen what sort of spin it will contain. For sure, none of the Leeds team will emerge with any credit but it should prove fascinating for fans of both clubs. Michael Sheen (brilliant as Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) will play Brian Clough, and Timothy Spall will portray the much-missed Peter Taylor. Jim Broadbent will also star although his role has not yet been divulged. Shooting begins on 25th May and should run until 2nd July, with locations based in Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Europe. Tom Hooper will direct this film which has a £10 million budget. Expect a late 2008/early 2009 release, and I would not bet against a trolley load of awards for Sheen.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A LARGE SLICE OF LUCK

If any of you resident in the UK were listening to Virgin Radio at 6.40am this morning, you may have heard an American lady explaining why Sean Connery is her hero. Well, that was my wife. She was chosen to compete head to head in a competition with a fellow listener, and talk for 30 seconds which went exactly like this.
Sean Connery is number one in my league of extraordinary gentlemen. His smouldering accent leaves me shaken, not stirred, and that smile puts me in double O seventh heaven. I'd give a lot more money than a penny to be in his company, but my Doctor might say no. Ah well, he's just another medicine man, and you only live twice after all. Sean is a real gem and, just like diamonds, he's forever.
As she's been blessed with a glorious singing voice, she sang the last five words and was delighted to hear the DJ declare, "Brilliant! You've won" So, we will soon be taking delivery of a 32" Panasonic LCD TV which will be a very nice replacement for our second hand 28" Samsung tube TV which was about on its last legs. She also won a year's subscription to Sky HD which we won't be able to take advantage of as we live in a 'listed' building, which means that absurd regulations state we are not allowed to put a satellite dish on the building. Anyway, I'm thrilled by her success and winning an HD ready set means I will be able to hook up a Blu Ray player when cash flow (and price reductions) permit.
Today also saw the arrival of my rental copy of THE THIRD MOTHER; a film which seemed to carry its own curse as this title was lost in the post when my rental company despatched a copy to me last week. Unfortunately, work commitments and various chores make it likely that it will be Friday or Saturday evening before I get chance to view it (and even that depends on how much sleep I get, thanks to noisy tenants in the apartment just two foot above our heads). Needless to say, I look forward to watching Dario's latest film and also to finally reading what others think of it.

Monday, 12 May 2008

PAUL WELLER KEEPS ON KEEPING ON








In just over half an hour from now, Paul Weller will take the stage at the Derby Assembly Rooms which is around 14 miles from where I live. In 12 days time, Weller will be 50 and yet it only seems like 5 minutes ago since he made his onstage debut in Derby with The Jam. In fact, it was the fag end of 1977 , just 6 months after their debut album IN THE CITY. Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler had been together as a group since the early 70s, playing cover versions from the likes of Little Richard and Chuck Berry. When Punk arrived, the group stood out from the majority of 'one chord wonders', displaying Mod sensibilities and a love of classic 60s rock. If IN THE CITY was indeed their 'punk album' (fast and loud), it also showed their roots were elswhere.




Their second album, THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD, was hailed by many as a disappointment, but I found it to be confirmation of an exciting band who were really getting into their stride. The rabble-rousing title track, the brilliant 'Life From A Window' and 'In The Street Today' showed us the group were moving at a pace towards a real humdinger of an album. After a few hiccoughs with regard to would-be album tracks failing to make the grade, Paul Weller caught fire. The result was the mighty ALL MOD CONS; one of the finest records to have come out of these fair isles. Thank God Polydor didn't pull the plug when things were on top because we would have been deprived of an absolute classic. Even what seem like lesser tracks ('To Be Someone', 'It's Too Bad') drag you into the mix , refusing to relinquish their grasp while the real meat is.... simply awesome. The Kinks' 'David Watts' ("I am a dull and simple lad. Cannot tell water from champagne") is a joy on vinyl and live onstage, with Weller spitting out the lyrics like a lizard on heat while 'A Bomb In Wardour Street' is even more relevant today than in 1978 when this album slapped us across the face. Here, Weller's lyrics warn us of a place where "the streets are paved with blood" as his Rickebacker drops depth charges in tune with the venomous delivery of those highly charged words. Even better, is their anthem: "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight"; a song that I've always had in the front of my mind when travelling on the London Underground late at night. Told from the POV of a victim of violence, this is an extremely potent account of the lawless breed that shatter the lives of others . Weller's slow storytelling, marking with an entirely vicious condemnation of racism and violence, magnificently culminates in a breathless conclusion as the victim realises that "They took the keys and she'll think it's me". One of the most chilling songs ever penned, and the one they always closed on live before the always magnificent encores. For me, The Jam never quite topped this album, but they did go on to record some truly stunning cuts with SETTING SONS, SOUND AFFECTS and THE GIFT all containing some great Jam standards.




Yes, the albums were all excellent, but The Jam on 45rpm were quite simply magnificent. From the nostalgic 'When You're Young' to 'Strange Town' (still the finest song ever written about the loneliness of London) to the socio-political 'Going Underground' ("It's the kidney machines that pay for rockets and guns"), the sublime 'That's Entertainment' ("A police car and a screaming siren, pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete, a baby wailing, stray dog howling") with its account of YOUR childhood, right through to the swaggering 'Precious' and the wake-up call that is 'A Town Called Malice' ("Stop dreaming of the quiet life, cos it's the one you'll never know"). Perhaps 'The Eton Rifles' was close to being their best? "Sup up your beer and collect your fags, there's a row goin on down near Slough" served as a call to arms for many an impressionable young man who dreamed of taking on the upper-classes and going to bed with a charming young thing. Together with The Clash and The Banshees, The Jam were probably our finest singles bands and, like the aforementioned groups, they were quite superb live. I was lucky enough to see them on 14 occasions, and they never let me down. I remember being almost heartbroken when they split up, but, years later, can see exactly why that decision was taken.




So, it's back to the present. We couldn't afford to buy tickets to see Mr. Weller's concert tonight and, to be honest, I haven't really been a fan of his solo career. He did do a short interview in our local paper and declared there would never be a reunion of The Jam with the original three members. "I just think certain things are best left as they are, so you have a sweet taste in your mouth and a good memory". I think he's absolutely right. Tonight, my mind won't be at The Assembly Rooms. Instead, I'l be back in a smaller venue called The Kings Hall, which was situated just 200 yards down the road from tonight's venue. That's where I first saw The Jam in 1977, and revelled in the sounds of a great band. Paul Weller, genius. Take a bow and enjoy your show!




Monday, 5 May 2008

THEY'RE HERE! THE ENFIELD POLTERGEIST

A recent Channel 4 documentary grabbed my attention, prompting me to tune in to Interview With The Poltergeist. I'd heard snippets about the controversial 'Enfield Poltergeist' case and this documentary filled in the gaps nicely.

The story begins in August 1977, and took place at a property in a north London suburb. The tenants - the Hodgson family - began to experience unexplained knocking and banging sounds, and called their neighbour who happened to be in the building trade. After a thorough check, nothing untoward could be found but the knockings persisted. Margaret Hodgson decided to call the police who arrived at the scene and heard the noises for themselves. One of the pair - a WPC - saw a chair rise above the floor and move four foot across the room. At this point, Margaret was gravely concerned for the wellbeing of her children and phoned the Daily Mirror newspaper who despatched two reporters to take a look. After spending several uneventful hours, the reporters left to begin packing their equipment away. Suddenly, the neighbour came dashing out of the house to call them back. The two men were greeted by toys flying across the room; one of them being hit in the face by a leggo brick. Despite attempts to capture this event on film, none of their photos showed any of the disruption. Of course, the journalists were shell shocked and suggested calling in the experts. The Society For Psychlical Research called upon one Maurice Grosse (who had lost a child in a road accident one year earlier) to assist. After witnessing the heavy banging, Grosse contacted Guy Lyon Playfair who would stay in the house for the next 14 months. The publicity machine went into overdrive, with BBC Radio conducting their own investigation which culminated with reporter Roz Morris witnessing a chair moving across the room. By late October, activity in the house had escalated with the knocking and banging switching from wall to ceiling and back again. Grosse also witnessed a heavy gas fire being ripped out of the wall. The experts agreed that one of Margaret's teenage daughters - Janet - seemed to be the focus of the alleged paranormal activity, and cameras regularly caught her being seemingly pulled out of bed and flung across the room. In late November, Janet was injected with 10mg of valium underwent hypnosis during which she told about being pulled out of bed and flung across the room. On 14th December, two local tradesmen were delivering bread and looked up at the house to see Janet floating in front of her bedroom window, with her body subsequently moving up and down. A lollypop lady on duty at a nearby crossing also witnessed this incident.

Many detractors have accused the children of being responsible for the loud knocking and also of manufacturing the visual manifestations. While it's true they were caught red-handed in a number of pranks (which included hiding recording equipment), what happened next is not easily explained. The investigators decided to try to prompt the ghost to speak, and tried to start a conversation with recording equipment at the ready. The tape captured a deep male voice which proceeded to give his name and declared there were two spirits in the house. Regular conversations took place over the next few weeks, where the spirit would spout obscenities, talk gibberish and eventually declare he had previously lived in the house and went blind and died of a haemorrhage in a chair downstairs. Once again, Janet was accused of trickery by adopting a gruff voice to fool the investigators into believing they were talking to a ghost. This particular theory was discounted by a speech therapist who used a larynx graph to prove the voice was not coming from the usual vocal chords, but from the second set of vocal chords which actors are sometimes trained to use. These 'false' chords can produce a deep gravelly voice which can be very painful if used for more than half an hour at a time, and result in a severe sore throat. The voice on the recordings talked for up to 3 hours at a time and Janet's voice (or that of her sister) never displayed any signs of stress.

In early 1978, a man named Terry Wilkins came to the house in the wake of all the publicity. Although the details of the spirit tape had not been made public, Wilkins explained he was interested in the case as his father had rented the house until he died there. From a haemorrhage in a chair downstairs.

Was this property truly haunted? While Janet and her younger sister were responsible for some of the minor events, it's almost unreasonable to assume that they could somehow manufacture the voice and indulge in conversation, and some of the more violent phenomena was surely beyond two young girls? Having listened to passages of those recordings, I have to say a shiver ran down my spine and it really did seem like I was privy to a voice from another world.

Janet Hodgson was eventually admitted to a London hospital for extensive tests, and was deemed to be 100% normal and healthy. Her return to the house saw a marked decrease in activity until the day arrived when nothing else was seen or heard. To this very day, she remains adamant that the events really took place and that, for a short time, she was resident in a haunted abode.

STONED IN AUGUST: GIMME SHELTER HITS R2


Rolling Stones buffs will be pleased to hear that GIMME SHELTER will be released in the UK on 11th August. The long wait is almost at an end as we're promised fully restored picture and sound, together with a 40 page booklet crammed with photos and essays concerning the infamous events at Altamont. The DVD - released by Warner Home Video - will include a director's commentary track and backstage outtakes of The Rolling Stones when they played New York's Madison Square Gardens.

I used to own the wonderful Criterion edition of this documentary but had to sell it on when we needed a little extra cash. Needless to say, I'm delighted to be able to have the opportunity of viewing it again and look forward to renting it later this year.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

JENNIFER LYNCH AND THE GLORIOUS 61ST



It's been 15 years since Jennifer Lynch made her directorial debut with the much criticised BOXING HELENA. This film seemed doomed from the word go, with Madonna backing out of the lead role, swiftly followed by Kim Basinger who would be sued for $8 million for breach of contract. My memory tells me (from a week of release theatrical screening) that Lynch's film did reveal a few promising flourishes but, at the time, not enough to prompt me to take a second look. Now Lynch has a new feature which will premiere at the 61st Cannes Film Festival. SURVEILLANCE stars Bill Pullman and Julia Ormond in a tale of an FBI agent who tracks a serial killer with the help of three of his would-be victims - each of whom have different stories to tell. The trailer for this film suggests that Lynch may have a more than decent psychological thriller on her hands.


The Cannes Festival runs from 14th-25th May, opening with Fernando Meireille's BLINDNESS which sees Julianne Moore as the only person to retain her sight in a city cast into darkness. Barry Levinson's WHAT JUST HAPPENED is the closing film and we're promised a Hollywood satire starring Robert De Niro and Sean Penn.


This year's lineup seems as promising as ever with in-competition titles including Atom Egoyan's ADORATION, Wim Wender's THE PALERMO SHOOTING and Clint Eastwood's CHANGELING. Fans of extreme cinema will be looking forward to Abel Ferrara's CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS, and there will also be new offerings from James Toback (TYSON), Kyoshi Kurosawa (TOKYO SONATA), Woody Allen (VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA), Terence Davies (OF TIME AND THE CITY) and Emir Kusturica (MARADONA). Wong Kar-Wai will also be showcasing his ASHES OF TIME REDUX which is a mouth-watering proposition in itself. I'm sure most of us will get the chance to see these films in the next 12 months, but it must be a magical experience to actually be at the Cannes bash and take in the glamour, the glitz and the movies. Let's hope for a successful festival and best of luck to Jennifer Lynch for her return to feature directing.




After getting in from work a little earlier this evening, I did hope to be watching Dario Argento's THE THIRD MOTHER as my DVD rental list told me a copy had been dispatched to me yesterday. It's almost unheard of for a title not to reach me the following day but this is one occasion when it didn't. As I have 2 days in a row off work (another rarity), I planned to indulge in a couple of viewings and post my thoughts on Monday, but the best laid plans....


I've continued to steer clear of reviews and web forums so I can view with a completely open mind. I'm always nervous when a new Argento film comes out as THE STENDHAL SYNDROME was the last of his efforts to scratch my itch for a fullfilling work from the Italian maestro. Ah well, I'll just be patient and try to enjoy Monday's public holiday with Tuesday on my mind.