Friday, 31 December 2010

A YEAR TO FORGET

2010? Most certainly a year to forget, punctuated by illness and severe financial problems. Unfortunately, Meniere's Disease has continued to dog my every step right up to the end of this year, with new medication certainly helping stem the tide, while at the same time sapping any strength that remained from my day job.
Like many folks, we found the effects of the recession extremely hard to shake off, and just managed (by inches) to avoid financial meltdown. During that worrying period, most of my DVD collection had to be sold: the Argento's; the Fulci's and the Franco's. All gone now.

While I didn't get to the point of never wanting to see a film again, my leisure activities took a good few bullets, with even a trip to the cinema out of bounds due to lack of cash. To be perfectly honest, a blog was often the last thing on my mind.
But, we have a new year on the horizon and while I appreciate that 2011 is going to be just as tough, one of my resolutions is to get this blog moving once again.

I'd like to thank everyone who visited in 2010, left comments and kindly offered their support. I greatly appreciate this, and would like to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.

Friday, 22 October 2010

RIP ARI-UP

Greatly saddened to read that Arianna Forster (aka Ari-Up) passed away on Wednesday after a battle with cancer. Ari is justifiably highly regarded for her time with The Slits who were one of the best of the British punk bands. I first encountered The Slits in the '70s at a small club, after hearing a session of their music on the late, great John Peel's radio show. Of course, their debut album "Cut" was eagerly anticipated and did not disappoint, emerging as one of the very best slices of vinyl of the decade. Later, I was lucky enough to see The Slits supporting The Clash at Derby's Kings Hall in '78, and the presence of Budgie on drums helped elevate their performance into something truly special

Ari had real stage presence; something you are born with and not something to be cultivated. Ian Curtis, Joe Strummer, Iggy, Pete Murphy, Siouxsie, John Lydon... they all had that certain something and like them, Arianna was absolutely mesmerising to watch.
Now, she's free from pain and doubtless enjoying a drink with dear old Joe in that great bar upstairs.
Thanks for some great music and wonderful memories.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

SHUTTER ISLAND BLU-RAY


Based on Dennis Lehane's novel, Shutter Island follows two US marshalls who are dispatched to Ashcliffe Hospital; an institute for the criminally insane, which is located on a remote island. Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are charged with the task of investigating the disappearance of one Rachel Solano (Emily Mortimer) who vanished from her cell some 24 hours earlier. Solano - incarcerated for drowning her three children - left no clues as to her whereabouts, save for a cryptic message found by Daniels. Before long, our intrepid duo encounter solid opposition from the medical wing of the institute, as Dr John Cauley (Ben Kingsley) and Dr Jeremiah Naering (Max Von Sydow) refuse access to documents which may contain fragments of evidence. Add to this Daniels' grief-stricken past and the use of psychotropic drugs on already unhinged patients, and the scene is set for a debilitating excursion into a world haunted by the past and fuelled by the present terrifying locale.

If Shutter Island is really a B-Movie with A-list ingredients, it succeeds on both levels, working as a loving homage to '40s/'50s noir cinema, and as a glowing testament to the skills of an exceptional cast and crew.
Here, DiCaprio excels with what may just be his best performance to date, battling the ghosts of his part in a World War II liberation of Dachu alongside unbearable personal loss, whilst Kingsley and Von Sydow present a formidable barrier to exactly what is going on in their institute.
For Martin Scorsese, this is territory that suits his directorial skills down to the ground, full of Hitchcockian sensibilities and - fittingly - a love not just of noir-ish nightmares, but also of the inky black horror from a genre he greatly admires. Indeed, Shutter Island is often reminiscent of Sam Fuller's Shock Corridor and Brad Anderson's bone-chilling Session 9, with less out-and-out shocks than the former, but perhaps a greater sense of depth and purpose.

By combining a series of flashbacks, hallucinations and real-time terror, Scorsese has fashioned one of his best films since that golden '70s period, and is even audacious enough to leave a liberal sprinkling of clues before our eyes and ears.
With a high replay value, Shutter Island will doubtless prompt many return trips, whether or not you believe the mystery has finally been solved. One major criticism relates to the secret becoming obvious far too early (a problem many of us encountered with the likes of THE SIXTH SENSE) but this should in no way impair your enjoyment of how they get there in the end.

The Blu-ray transfer looks impeccable, with a fine film of grain, deliciously inky blacks and colours verging from vibrant to subdued while always well rendered.
With just a couple of featurettes, we're infuriatingly light on the extras front and the inclusion of least a director's commentary track would have been a step in the right direction. I guess that will happen with the inevitable 'special edition'

POSTER MAGIC




Always been a big fan of movie posters, so thought I'd post some of my favourites every now and then.

Here's the Russian poster for SHUTTER ISLAND.

Monday, 13 September 2010

MOVIE MEME: FILMS I COULD HAPPILY WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN!


The basic idea is that you post the films you can happily watch multiple times. The rules are as follows:

1. Provide a non-exhaustive list of films you’ll happily watch again and again.
2.There is no rule 2.
3. Reprint the rules.
4. Tag three others and ask them to do the same.

Ian Smith tagged me, so here are my own choices.

THREE COLOURS: RED
Irne Jacob and Jean Louis-Trintignant at the top of their game in this intricate tale of lives governed by fate and numeracy. Possibly the most magnificent directorial swansong ever. Watch it and weep at the fact that Kieslowski left us way too soon.

HEAVEN'S GATE
The film that sunk United Artists, and attracted massive criticism inside and outside the industry. Happily, time has been kinder to 'Cimino's Folly' and quite right too. Full of great performances, glorious visuals and heart-rending dialogue, HEAVEN'S GATE doesn't drag for a minute and you'll love David Mansfield's celestial score.

DEAD RINGERS
David Cronenberg's absorbing tale of brotherly love and terrifying separation has long haunted me, and each viewing strengthens its spell. Jeremy Iron's has never been better, and it remains a disgrace he didn't get the Oscar he so richly deserved.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
My favourite De Niro, whose performance is almost matched by James Woods. A sprawling tale of love, jealousy and betrayal, AMERICA is sometimes almost unbearably brutal and yet it's a film with almost unrivalled heart and soul. Do make sure a hankie is within reach.

HANNIBAL
Oh my!! Red face here, as I had hardly anything good to say about this film when I caught it at the cinema. Since then, Ridley Scott's continuance of the Lector saga has grown on me to the point where I rate it as his best to date. For me, Julianne Moore upstages Jodie Foster as Starling and the script - throwing in a renegade cop and a disfigured Gary Oldman - is a constant delight. Love everything about it, including that firework display which you just know Lector arranged, coldly confident about the outcome.

INFERNO
Dario Argento's follow-up to SUSPIRIA moves from Witches in Frieburg to alchemy in New York, with Leigh McCloskey on the trail of 'The Three Mothers'. By turns, poetic and bloody in the extreme, INFERNO is so much more than a triumph of style over substance. A horror masterpiece, no less.

KILL, BABY... KILL!
Mario Bava's sublime ghost story has lost none of its power down the years, taking the unquiet spirit of Melissa Grapps and embarking on a journey through mist-shrouded locales where the line between the living and the dead is wafer thin. Unfortunately, a big-screen airing of this classic was let down by a less-than-stellar print, but the existence of an excellent DVD does convey much of its power to chill.

LOST IN TRANSLATION
Bill Murray does Tokyo, with a luminous Scarlet Johansson in tow. Grab a bottle of hooch, sit back and savour every moment, right up to that scene where the two leads grab a heartfelt farewell... or do they? As with Lynch's THE STRAIGHT STORY, it's not for our ears.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST
Two from Leone? Well, this hymn to the power of cinema has made me break my usual meme rule of not including more than one film from a particular director. Gorgeously shot, and laced with some terrific performances, WEST is often spellbinding in its beauty. Just like AMERICA, we have another swirling Morricone score which suggests the music surely came from someone/somewhere other than mortal man.

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
Terrence Davies' stately production features an outstanding cast, lead by Gillian Anderson's amazing turn as a woman in search of a wealthy husband and the social standing such a position will bring. As Edith Wharton once wrote, "Next to death, life is the saddest thing there is".

MAGNOLIA
For me, this is the one of the best American films of the last couple of decades. Multi-layered, beautifully acted and it's a genuine privilege
to watch its story unravel. My favourite scenes/performance and lines of dialogue change with every viewing. A considerable achievement from a director at the top of his game.

THE HAUNTING
Robert Wise's take on Shirely Jackson's novel is - like stablemates THE INNOCENTS and THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE - delightfully ambiguous on the posibliity of supernatural phenomena. The director's less-is-more approach pays dividends here, and I still go away thinking I've seen more than I actually did.

DAY FOR NIGHT
Not Trauffaut's finest, but Bissett has rarely looked so beautiful and has never been so well cast. This is a splendid film-within-a-film experience. Watch it with Ferrara's DANGEROUS GAME for an entirely different take on what can happen when cameras are whirring.

VENUS IN FURS
Jess Franco's wonderfully delirious jazz-infused trip, and the film which will almost certainly force detractors to admit he can make great cinema when the mood takes him.

THE ADDICTION
Once again, Chris Walken comes alive for Abel Ferrara in a vampire film for the ages. Feral, and often extremely moving, THE ADDICTION puts most bloodsucking movies well and truly in the shade.
"To find rest takes real genius".

Many thanks to Ian for tagging me in a meme which was kicked off by Good Dog

Due to pressure of work, Ian hasn't had much time of late to work on his excellent Shiny Discs website but make sure all you Blu-ray owners bookmark his site. Ian has some exciting additions to introduce in the near future. Just click HERE

Finally, I'll tag Michael over at Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer

Nigel at Italian Film Review

Keith over at Sugar And Spice

Friday, 10 September 2010

Saturday, 24 July 2010

SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL


Born 12th May 1942, Ian Dury contracted polio at the age of 7, and went on to academic success after spending time in hospital and a school for disabled children.
Matt Whitecross' film takes us through Dury's formative years via a series of flashbacks, intermingled with the twin chaos of his stage act and personal life.

Shot in the style of BRONSON via 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, this is an entertaining and thought provoking account of a tortured artist who had the punk attitude coupled with genuine music hall appeal. Dury always saw himself as a "lurker", rather than a pop star, and his 'tough love' upbringing encouraged him to stand up for himself and create an example for a group of people who are most assuredly capable of great things. Here, Andy Serkis becomes Dury both in sight and sound, alienating his nearest and dearest, pissing off the establishment throughout his life and fashioning some wonderfully memorable tunes. By turn, moving, infuriating, fast paced and funny, SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL rarely misses a beat, painting a colourful and haunting picture of someone I'll always remember as a national treasure.

With Olivia Williams, Naomie Harris and Ray Winstone as wife, lover and father, the cast is always solid but it's Serkis who really delves into the extraordinary, taking me back to the Stiff Records tour and Dury's gigs with the likes of Elvis Costello and Lena Lovich (unfortunately absent here). Happily, Dury's Kilburn & The High Roads days are also chronicled, culminating in a true punk rock gig at a dingy London pub before the Blockheads were formed a little later.
Fans will lap up the live stuff and be taken back to those heady days when "Sweet Gene Vincent" soared out of concert halls and into the streets where it belonged. Credit to Serkis who does an amazing job, leading the old Blockheads band without lip- synching and delivering a mesmerising performance.

Ian Dury left us on 27th March 2000. His songs live on and this film will undoubtedly bring a new generation of fans to some great music.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

THERE'S ALWAYS VANILLA


A determination not to be pigeonholed as a horror director, coupled with the success of low-budget fare such as Hi, Mom!, prompted George A. Romero to follow up Night of the Living Dead with this almighty blot on his otherwise impressive cv.

There’s Always Vanilla started life as a half hour promotional vehicle to highlight the 'talents' of Ray Laine; a would-be actor who stars here as an irritating boy-in-a-man’s-body. Rudolph J. Ricci wrote and directed the short film, and fell out with Romero over the latter’s plan to expand the script to feature length.

In this 94 minute version, Laine and Judith Ridley fill out the roles of Chris and Lynn, who meet when Lynn is on the way to a tv commercial shoot for toilet bowl cleaner. Following an exchange of views regarding her suitability for such exposure, the pair become an item for a season but drift apart when Lynn discovers she’s pregnant.

Previously glimpsed as a 15 minute clip on the Night of the Living Dead laserdisc and DVD releases, There’s Always Vanilla is now one half of a Romero DVD double-bill with Season of the Witch. Anchor Bay's Region 1 disc includes a featurette – Digging Up The Dead: The "Lost" Films of George A. Romero – where the great man admits he doesn’t really care for this film and declares it worked better as a short. I’m sure he’s right because this extended version of what was, after all, a promotional short is a long haul, full of dire acting, though not without its moments.

The opening resembles a Sunset Boulevard-like narration where a dead man tells his story, just as a member of the living dead might do. There’s a clever scene which jumps between Chris and Lynn making love and a tv commercial shoot, anticipating Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now; a hilarious job interview where Chris includes pimping on his short cv, and a tense chase sequence during which Lynn flees from the advances of a backstreet abortionist. There’s Always Vanilla points the way ahead for future Romero projects where the world in focus is heavy on consumerism and light on self-awareness but it’s a distance from being the 'lost' gem that many of us were hoping for.

Prior to the main feature, Anchor Bay state the transfer is below their usual high standards due to the quality of existing elements. I’ll concur with that, although the film looks way better than it deserves. At any rate, you should see it if only for the fact that the better half of this double-bill really is a must-see

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

COMING SOON TO BLU-RAY



I'm sure many genre fans were eagerly awaiting the first Mario Bava film to hit Blu-ray. Thanks to the enterprising Arrow, BAY OF BLOOD will make its hi-def debut late September in the UK. Hop over to their forums where you'll find a friendly and knowledgeable bunch of like-minded individuals, and make sure you vote in THE BEYOND poll while you're there. Arrow are seriously considering a Blu-ray release for Fulci's classic, providing the elements pass muster. Just click HERE

You can also vote for cover artwork for both of the aforementioned releases.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A WEEK OFF.


In just under 24 hours from now, I'll be starting a week's holiday from work.
A break from the daily haul is always nice, and getting away from your hometown to somewhere different can be a valuable added bonus. Unfortunately, my health has been poor of late, so straying even as far as nearby Derby for our 1st movie experience in over a year would perhaps not be advisable. In any event, the next few years are riddled with doom and despair as our new government seem hellbent on laying waste to the UK while telling lie after lie as they do so. That's another reason for not spending money we'll almost certainly need a little later on so that seaside holiday will just have to wait.

So, I aim to view the entire contents of Arrow's wonderful CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD Blu-ray and listen to both commentary tracks; finish reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO; rent the aforementioned movie; start reading THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and read a study of Dario Argento by James Gracey. All this and the company of my wonderful wife will make for an enjoyable week. Health permitting, I'll accomplish all of the above and share my thoughts with as soon as possible.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

COMING SOON

Terrific news that SPIRITS OF THE DEAD will be released on UK Blu-ray at the end of August. Enjoy this trailer!

Monday, 12 July 2010

THE RED SHOES BLU-RAY


"Dreaming is a luxury I've never permitted in my company."

Boris Lermontov. THE RED SHOES.

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger collaborated on 22 films, but their most creative period came via The Archers production company. From 1942 - 1951, The Archers were responsible for some of the finest British films; A CANTERBURY TALE, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING, BLACK NARCISSUS, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and, of course, THE RED SHOES which marked the film debut of Moira Shearer, the rising star of The Royal Ballet.

THE RED SHOES script, written by Pressburger and based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, spins a cautionary tale of just what can happen when life imitates art as two men unwittingly help to destroy the most precious thing in their lives. The gal in the middle is Victoria Page (Shearer), a young ballerina who seems to love dance more than life itself. To her left stands Julian Craster (Marius Goring), the young composer who will eventually steal her away from the stage and also from this film's most imposing figure. Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), a cold manipulative impresario is the other man in Vicky's life, though for entirely different reasons. Lermontov is only concerned with the pursuit of excellence, forbidding his dancers from enjoying a life outside the stage. There are times when we almost believe that Lermontov may be carrying a torch for his star performer but, ultimately, the cruel side of Andersen's tale holds sway.

Overall, THE RED SHOES cannot be termed a 'feel good' film, but there are several performers who will surely bring a huge smile to your face: Leonide Massine, Robert Helpmann and the entirely wonderful Ludmilla Tcherina (the latter being another victim of Lermontov's obsessions) are a real pleasure to watch, along with some delightful ballet sequences.
You don't have to be a 'Balletomane' to love this film - just sit back and marvel at the style and imagination of Powell & Pressburger; at the startling images guaranteed to haunt you for months after; at the mesmerising use of colour, beautifully captured by Jack Cardiff's magisterial photography. Then frame-by-frame, the superlative presentation of The Red Shoes Ballet will surely engulf your senses and convert even the most hardened sceptic.
At least, that's how it usually swings with TV and DVD screenings. Now, we have a wonderful presentation, courtesy of ITV's Blu-ray disc, which brings THE RED SHOES to life in a way we could only have dreamt of.

Here, the colours truly pop, and the exquisite detail of this production is reproduced to a staggering degree. There's a point during the extras of the UK SUSPIRIA Blu-ray where Dario Argento explains how he watched THE RED SHOES prior to shooting his nerve-jangling exercise in terror:another disciple of this endlessly inventive film.
Criterion have just released THE RED SHOES in the USA on Blu-ray but for those of you in Europe with no all-region hardware, I strongly suggest you move with due haste to bag yourself a copy of this superb ITV release. Mumblings on the net indicate that copies are in extremely short supply.

Monday, 31 May 2010

COMING SOON


Hers are the specs for Arrow's forthcoming Blu-ray release of Dario Argento's INFERNO which will also be available in SD.

Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned art work

- Double-sided fold out Poster

- Collector’s Booklet featuring brand new writing on Inferno by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento

- High Definition Presentation of the film (1080p)

- Optional 7.1 DTS-HD/2.0 Stereo Audio

SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Introduction to Inferno by star Daria Nicolodi

- Dario's Inferno (16 mins interview with Dario Argento)

- Acting in Hot Water: An Interview with Daria Nicolodi (18 mins interview)

- The Other Mother: Making the Black Cat (16 mins) In 1989 director Luigi Cozzi (a long time friend and collaborator of Dario Argento) decided to make the unofficial follow-up to Inferno and 'complete' the Three Mothers legacy. This feature looks at the torrid history of The Black Cat, with plenty of clips too!

- Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror (57 mins) Mark Kermode narrates this documentary on Argento’s career including interviews with George A. Romero and John Carpenter

- The Complete Dario Argento Trailer Gallery [18 films]

- Easter Egg (5 mins of Dario Argento in English, with random memories of Inferno)

VOTE FOR THE BEYOND


Euro cult movie buffs should head over to The Cult Lab Forums where aficionados are invited to vote for their format(s) of choice for a release of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND. The forums are packed with a friendly and enthusiastic fanbase, and here you will get the lowdown on the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases from the wonderful Arrow who have just released a feature-packed Blu-ray of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD which is already shaping up to be one of this year's finest.

Why not sign up and cast your vote for one of Lucio Fulci's finest films. Just click HERE

Friday, 21 May 2010

HAPPY 2OTH ANNIVERSARY VIDEO WATCHDOG


It was 1990 when I first caught sight of Tim & Donna Lucas' VIDEO WATCHDOG. I was in London's Forbidden Planet, killing time before some gig/football match/ film, when I found myself picking up a magazine in the movie section. Three minutes later and I exited FP, clutching the very first issue Of VIDEO WATCHDOG. I recall settling down in one of London's watering holes, and read this debut issue from cover to cover, enthralled by Tim's article on a Spanish filmmaker named Jess Franco. I'd previously viewed 3-gen boots of the likes of VENUS IN FURS and SUCCUBUS, and promised myself I'd devote more time to Franco's wonderfully perverse world.

Although I never got round to becoming a VW subscriber, I began to collect this magazine on a regular basis, obtaining copies from various UK stores and specialist indie retailers.
From VHS to Laserdisc, from DVD to Blu-ray, from monochrome to full colour issues. It's been one hell of a ride and still is. Tim and his wonderfully gifted band of reviewers offer informative and entertaining reviews and features, which are graced by Donna's layout and design expertise.

Along the way, we've enjoyed special editions, a VW book and Tim & Donna's Mario Bava tome, "All The Colours Of The Dark". This is simply the finest book on film I've ever read (it's much more than a study of the great man), and I'm proud to see my name included amongst its patrons.
While every single issue has much to enthuse over, like anyone else I have my favourites. For me, the following are 10 of my firm favourites.

1/ Issue # 1. Franco and Venezuelan Video.

2/ Issue # 6. The Exorcist special!

3/ Issue # 13. Manhunter and Rampage. We need a loaded spec ed DVD for the latter.

4/ Issue # 19. A marvellous Dracula special.

5/ Issue # 29. Robocop.

6/ Issue # 38. Living Dead Dawn/Night.

7/ Issue # 81. If you doubt the greatness of Ridley Scott's HANNIBAL, you should read this!

8/ Issue # 121. Terrific Renfield article.

9/ Issue # The Wallace Krimis.

10/ Issue # 142. The Prisoner.

For devotees of Fantastic Cinema, VW is not only a publication that increases appreciation of the films we love, but also for discovering new delights.
Tim and his writers share the ability to engage the interest of their audience about films they may have previously dismissed after just one viewing, or maybe even highlight a genre that may have held little interest. It's the way they write about film that seduces their readers into giving movies, books and soundtracks a second (or maybe first) chance.

So, as we await the publication of issue # 157 which marks the 2oth anniversary of VW, we can reflect on the enormous changes that have taken place regarding how we watch films and how we see them.

Let's raise our glasses to Tim & Donna.

Friday, 7 May 2010

MARTIN



Now, how does the song go? "No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977". Well, some of you may be tempted to add vampires to the list when considering George A. Romero's Martin. Here, the titular character (played by John Amplas) is a young man who becomes a victim of his deranged uncle Cuda (Maazel). Forced to work in Cuda's store and placed under a night-time curfew, Martin is befriended by cousin Christine (Forrest), who spends her time railing against Cuda's outdated beliefs and dealing with her unreliable boyfriend (fx supremo Tom Savini). Cuda believes Martin is one of nine family members marked by the curse of Nosferatu: a theory substantiated by his predeliction for female flesh and blood. As Martin slowly gets into character, he exhibits a greater degree of confidence when dealing with his (mostly) female victims, and becomes a regular caller to a late-night radio chat show, claiming he's an 84 year-old vampire. As the body count increases, Martin begins to harbour very real doubts regarding his ability to continue evading the law.

So, where does fantasy end and reality begin? Romero's film is peppered with stark monochrome flashbacks showing Martin being welcomed by his victims and hunted by those who wish him dead.While it's open to debate whether these are replays of past events or simply feverish daydreams, the latter seems far more likely, given the somewhat (intentionally?) fractured staging of some of the scenes.

Romero originally pitched a running time of 135 minutes for this film, which leaves us some 40 mins adrift for this truncated version. Unfortunately, the gaps show. Martin's relationship with an attractive older woman (Nadeau) simply cries out for extended screen time, making his transformation from a virtual necrophiliac into a capable lover seem more like an eleventh-hour re-write, rather than a considered character development. Similarly, Cuda's meeting with a priest schooled in 'the old ways' and their subsequent attempted exorcism are too close together to really gel, and leave one yearning to see the director's original cut: a disconcerting state of affairs, because there are moments when Martin comes very close to representing Romero's best work. The opening scene where Martin creates terror on the tracks - attacking a young woman (Middleton) in her train carriage - works wonderfully well, combining past and present by imaginative use of the flashback device. Martin's encounter with an unfaithful housewife and her lover scores even higher, with Romero stoking up on suspense and letting the scene run to a dramatic conclusion. This particular set piece, coupled with a scene in a children's playground, is the flip side of Carpenter's Halloween, but coming several months earlier: one can't help but wonder what would have happened if Romero's film had enjoyed the same breaks as Carpenter? Martin VIII: 'Blood On The Net'? Maybe not, but this slow-burning account of mental illness and its cause and effect remains an important work. If the hugely under-rated Jack's Wife is Romero's feminist film, then Martin explores the male psyche with just as conviction.

Arrow's Region 2 DVD is a huge shot in the veins for those who missed out on Anchor Bay's Region 1 disc (now OOP). Although Arrow's disc does not include the Romero/Amplas/Forrest commentary track, it remains an absolutely essential purchase for any self-respecting Romero buff.From a presentational viewpoint, this is the best looking version of Martin I've seen though it's never been a film that's stood out in terms of eye-popping colour. In 2003, there's still a grainy look to the film ( due to the photography, rather than any failing with the disc) but colours look a lot more stable than we're used to.

Arrow have also included a 14 minute documentary - with German audio and English subtitles - which contains footage from Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, The Crazies and Martin, together with Romero's thoughts on the aforementioned films. While we don't learn a great deal that's new, it's nice to watch Romero at work on his Dawn set and the picture quality of the clips offer a nostalgic glimpse of life before DVD. Also included are a couple of radio spots, and the splendid original theatrical trailer shot from a different perspective than is normally the case for these '3 minute wonders'.

Romero's legendary 3 hour director's cut - stolen from him many years ago - will likely never be seen, leaving us with an uneven film which, nontheless, does hit the heights on several occasions. Maybe it's best to let the 'real' Martin rest in peace and attempt to make sense of what's left.

At the beginning of June, we have a new release of MARTIN to look forward to from Arrow Films here in the UK;

Features include: the original theatrical cut of the film with 5.1 and Stereo audio options plus a choice of 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratio presentations; ‘Wampyre’ – the Italian cut of the film, featuring Italian dialogue (with optional English subtitles) and musical score by Goblin; ‘Making Martin: A Recounting’; Documentary on George A. Romero; TV and radio spots; original theatrical trailer; photo gallery; four sleeve art options; double sided poster; exclusive collector’s booklet; six original poster art postcards.As far as I'm aware, the Wampyre cut has some scenes shuffled round. Unfortunately, the materials aren't good enough for a Blu-ray release, but this loaded DVD will do nicely.

LET THE WRONG ONE IN




So, it seems we are on the verge of 'enjoying' either a minority government, or an administration borne out of deals struck with Nick Clegg; a man whose political party failed to build on little more than optimism.

Welcome to David Cameron: a man who believes that Great Britain was the only country in the world to be struck by recession, and who clearly intends to look after the wealthy and to hell with everyone else. I'll certainly add my voice to those who believe our electoral system needs a major overhaul and lament the fact that -for some - things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

HARRY BROWN

England 2009. Gangs of feral teens rule our streets, with guns, knives and alcohol-fueled acts of violence creating abject misery for those unlucky enough to merely breathe the same air.

Meet Harry Brown: ex Marine and old aged pensioner who visits his comatose wife in hospital, and enjoys a pint with close friend Leonard (David Bradley) just to remind himself he's still alive.
We're in the East End of London here, and it soon becomes apparent that the low life scum who see the area as their 'manor' are making life hell for the residents of a squalid council estate.

When Brown (beautifully played by Michael Caine) receives an urgent call summoning him to his wife's bedside, his decision not to take a shortcut through a nearby subway costs him the chance to bid his spouse one last goodbye.
Soon, Harry's life is blighted a second time and something inside him snaps, compelling him to wage a one-man war on the hoodlums who frequent the shadowy depths of the subway, and regularly invade the homes of frightened citizens.

HARRY BROWN has, inevitably, drawn comparison with Clint Eastwood's powerful GRAN TORINO and it's a worthwhile comparison with Eastwood's film more measured but not necessarily more passionate. Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER may also be a nostalgic line of reference; particularly the scene where Brown is shown an array of weapons during a tense encounter in a drug dealers den.
While some of the characters in this film are none too well drawn - particularly the forces of law & order - HARRY BROWN is ultimately a hard-hitting account of the way things are in a country crying out for a drastic change in the way we deal with what are quite simply monsters. Michael Caine excels as the OAP vigilante, inspiring a whole range of emotions and, I strongly suspect, a widespread fervent wish that more Harry Brown's would rise up and conduct a much-needed spring clean of our streets.
Yes, the violence is explicit at times and the language is way past industrial but there's a real humanity in evidence that is extremely moving.

Monday, 19 April 2010

BACK SOON (HAHA)

Even lighter on posting than usual at the moment.
Unfortunately, Meneieres Disease has been up and about lately doing its absolute worst, and a back injury sustained at work makes doing pretty much anything very painful.

Just when things seemed to be improving very slightly, Meneiere's struck again. This time, a dizzy spell knocked my off my feet and sent me toppling backwards into the bathtub. Ouch!! End result being my back is even more f***** than it was before.

So, I'm still managing to go to work but that's about all. Back here soon as I heal up a little.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

RIP Malcolm McLaren


Born on 22nd January 1946, Malcolm McLaren had his fingers in a good many pies, ranging from retail to music, television and even considered throwing his hat into the ring for the Mayor Of London 'contest'.
Of course, Malcolm will be best remembered for his role as the former manager of the Sex Pistols. In the 1970s', the music scene in the UK had become stale and monumentally boring. Without really knowing it, we were crying out for some excitement. For someone to stand up and deliver the rallying cry of "Fuck You" to politicians, musicians and the bosses who ripped us off in search of yet another holiday in the sun. A few kindred spirits sensed the mood, did the decent thing and formed bands. Others followed. Cue "Anarchy In The UK". First time I encountered this call to arms was on the late, great John Peel radio show and it damn near took my head off. A rabble-rousing introduction to one of the greatest bands ever to come out of the UK.

History records that McLaren and one John Lydon ended up in court, following accusations of unpaid revenues and sundry misdemeanours.
There'[s no doubt that McLaren was an expert at building up the hype and seemed to take pride at the fact that many local councils actually banned The Pistols from playing, thereby denying punters the chance of seeing the group onstage. Yes, he was a canny businessman - a bit to canny, I'd say - but he seemed to have a sharp mind, always searching for the next big thing and then moving on when a project went belly up. Love him or hate him, MM was there at the start and played an important part in a true musical revolution.

Malcolm died earlier today in New York and will be buried in London's famous Highgate Cemetary.

RIP I'll miss you.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

DRAG ME TO HELL. BLU-RAY



This frenetic, endlessly entertaining film sees Sam Raimi going back to his roots and having an absolute ball doing what many would say he does best.
DRAG ME TO HELL opens in Pasadena, where a Mexican couple take their young son to a medium. Following the theft of jewelry from a band of gypsies, the little boy has been plagued by sights and sounds of a demonic nature, and the power from beyond the grave is sufficient to defeat his would-be saviour.
40 years later, ambitious loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is vying for promotion with her backstabbing co-worker, and hopes to demonstrate she's as tough as nails by turning down a mortgage extension by a down-on-her-luck gypsy who begs her for another chance. Christine just about survives a terrifying assault when the gypsy mounts a revenge attack, and finds her problems have only just begun as a series of physical and visual manifestations propel her towards the medium who must once again do battle with the forces of darkness.

With a multitude of 'JUMP' moments, and a nice mixture of gross-out horror and pure slapstick, DRAG ME TO HELL scores highly on entertainment with its breathless style rampaging through a remarkably quick 99m running time. Depending on your mood, you'll either be rooting for the main players or hoping they get their just deserts as almost every member of the cast is driven by greed and self-advancement. I have to say I enjoyed every minute, and we even get a nice old school nod to the classic NIGHT OF THE DEMON towards the end.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray contains 2 versions of this film, including the 'Unseen'version which adds several snippets not seen at the cinema; mostly extra blood during the scenes where she squirts blood from her nose, and is covered by the gypsy's brain matter.
Overall, this is one of the best Blu-ray transfers I've seen to date, and it's hard to find any problems regarding picture quality. Fleshtones are wonderfully vivid, and colours repeatedly pop, while night-time scenes reveal bags of detail.
Fingers crossed it won't be too long before Raimi hooks up with horror again.

Monday, 15 March 2010

THE HURT LOCKER BLU-RAY



Kathryn Bigelow first came to my attention by way of NEAR DARK: a modern day interpretation of things that go bite in the night that - for me- is right up there with other genre heavyweights from Ferrara, Romero and Jordan.
Since then, she's moved onto far more populist areas of cinema, en route to the ultimate accolade for any director.

Set in Iraq, THE HURT LOCKER centres on bomb disposal in one of the most dangerous places on earth, with Bravo Company facing one more month in their tour of duty.
William James (Jeremy Renner) arrives to replace a colleague he never knew,who died attempting to diffuse an explosive device. James quickly demonstrates his ability and courage, whilst also exhibiting a reckless spirit that may well put more than his own life at risk.

Of course, just about every Oscar success story has its own band of detractors and while Bigelow's film has received much critical acclaim, there have been a good number of pointed fingers signaling this film is over-hyped and delivers a disappointing ending.
For me, THE HURT LOCKER is absolutely solid on the acting front, and beautifully paced with nerve-shredding situations punctuating the comaderie and tensions that exist between the troops: just like the hell hole it depicts, an attack can come at any time in Bigelow's film and careful deployment of the savage fire of conflict or the carnage caused by explosions make them hit home all the harder. As far as the ending is concerned, all the information you need has played out in the preceding 2 hours and makes perfect sense.


Having reluctantly missed this film during its theatrical run, I plumped for a rental copy of the UK Blu-ray release, and found the transfer to be first-rate. Skin tones are realistic, there's bags of detail in the night-time scenes, while colours pop when they should. In fact there's little or nothing to criticise here, but the same cannot be said for the paucity of additional material. One would hope that a more loaded special edition will surface in the not-too-distant future, and I'm sure that will indeed be the case.

Friday, 12 March 2010

More artwork from Arrow





Takes you back to the golden age of UK video sleeves.
Nice job, Arrow.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD: CHOOSE YOUR OWN DESIGN


Arrow's forthcoming CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD Blu-ray will offer 4 alternate cover designs. The above is my current favourite.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

THE FIRM REMAKE


Released in 1989, THE FIRM would prove to be Alan Clarke's most personal film, and would also turn out to be his last. This is a hard-hitting portrayal of a group of football hooligans who contemplate joining forces with rival gangs for the upcoming European Championships. With a fine central performance from Gary Oldman, THE FIRM certainly raised a few hackles from the authorities who were considering the introduction of id cards for those attending games, as well as providing an authentic account of the so-called 'Hoolie Wars' that took place all over the country.

Now, we have a remake on our hands - directed by Nick Love - which was recently released on DVD & Blu-ray. Here, the role of gang leader Bex is played by Paul Anderson, who acquits himself well in Oldman's role. Once again, the possibility of rival firms teaming up takes centre-stage, though there's also a very strong message concerning the dangers of hero worship that should ring warning bells for those engaged in similar pursuits.
Dom (Calum McNab) first encounters Bex in a nightclub and after being firmly put in his place, makes strenuous attempts to get noticed and gain acceptance by West Ham's notorious 'Inter City Firm'. Before long, Dom finds himself on the front line of violent confrontations, but a series of pre-arranged meets and violent off-the cuff ambushes leave him on the back foot in an attempt to get out.

Overall, THE FIRM captures the 80s' with a high degree of accuracy, bolstered by Love's own experiences, with the rival gangs' 'face-offs' recalling the sort of things that occurred every weekend in every city. Those who simply write this film off - sight unseen - as just another mindless hooligan flick should be aware that Love has delivered a film that's as much about friendship - lost, regained and ill-advised - as football violence.

The Blu-ray release is as image-sharp as one would expect for a recent release, and some worthwhile extras are included, together with a director's commentary track.

Monday, 1 February 2010

COMING SOON



Both Blue Underground and Arrow will be releasing CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD in April.
Stay tuned for a review.

Friday, 29 January 2010

ITALIAN HORROR IS ALIVE AND WELL


As a keen supporter of Italian Horror, it's always nice when new DVD releases and rare cinema screenings are announced. In the last two days, a trio of Italia-related news items have come to my attention ; the first concerning Lucio Fulci's CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Fulci's wonderfully atmospheric film will be released in the UK on both SD and Blu-ray formats, in April. Extra features will be announced shortly. I know Blue Underground will also be releasing a Blu around the same time, in the US, which will be region-free.

Staying with Fulci, and moving onto the Glasgow Frightfest bash which will be held Feb 26th/27th. Fulci fans will surely be excited by the promise of fully-restored, re-mastered and LONGER cut of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN.

For me - a lot closer to home - the news of SUSPIRIA on the big screen is just as enticing as the above news. 26th Feb sees Argento's classic playing at Derby's excellent Quad Cinema just 13 miles from where we live. This screening will be introduced by my good friend Darrell Buxton. Unfortunately, an 11.00pm start time and the prospect of a costly cab ride back means we won't have the money to attend, but will be there in spirit.
Good indie cinemas are few and far between, so if you are lucky enough to have one nearby and can afford to visit, I do urge you to support them.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

SUSPRIA BLU-RAY


American student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) arrives at The Tanz Akademie school of dance in Frieburg, Germany, during a torrential rainstorm. Before she's even got inside the door, a frightened young woman exits the building uttering words that are mostly drowned out by the thunder. The next day, Suzy's induction is blighted by news of a murder. Soon, Bannion must face the powers of darkness who use the Akademie as a front for witchcraft.

Right from the word go, SUSPIRIA drags us headlong into a fairytale world, punctuated by bloody murders, and the terrifying thought that there truly is "magic all around us". Of course, Argento detractors often label this as a case of a little style over no substance, but many of us have never had a problem buying into this eye candy world of bright lights and the darkest of shadows. Bolstered by the presence of such luminaries as Joan Bennett and Alida Valli, SUSPIRIA benefits hugely by the presence of Jessica Harper who impressed Argento with her performance in PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. Harper - an iconic image of 70s' cinema - is perfect as the wide-eyed heroine whose very existence is threatened by the legend of 'The Three Mothers'.

Up to now, the Anchor Bay R1 DVD has been the most faithful home viewing version of this classic film but does the release of a UK Blu-ray mean we can put the old Anchor Bay set into retirement? Actually... no!
While parts of the Nouveaux disc look simply wonderful (witness the opening minutes as Bannion exits the airport and takes a cab ride to the Akademie), there are numerous problems related to colour timing, contrast levels and footage that displays a huge drop in picture quality. Unfortunately, there are several scenes blighted by the aforementioned problems and it's hard to know where the blame lies. While its acknowledged that Nouveaux had no control over the master they were given, we were led to believe this would be a new HD transfer.
Happily, the sound has been restored to the former glory of the old Image Laserdisc (my copy went the way of ebay a few moons ago) and damn is it strong? While stories of the music being played on the set of this film are somewhat exaggerated, I've always adopted the mindset that Goblin's awesome soundtrack was not only designed to totally disorientate the viewer, but also the actors and prefer to imagine that thunderous score playing to thoroughly rattle Jessica Harper and co: an extra weapon in the armoury of Helena Markos.

Those of you who own THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE DVD will already have been privy to a superb commentary track from Alan Jones & Kim Newman. The good news is that the pair are back in harness to take the mic for another enjoyably informative talk. With nary a pause for breath, Jones and Newman give us the lowdown on this film, offering a proper historical perspective and great insight with regard to the reputation this film continues to enjoy. There's also a great documentary - "Fear At 400 Degrees" - which takes an academic look at SUSPIRIA, with Norman J Warren, Claudio Simonetti, Xavier Mendik, Patricia McCormack and Argento himself amongst participants, plus "Suspiria Perspectives" which consists of extensions of the same round of interviews as 'Fear'.

While there are undoubtedly major gripes over parts of this transfer (a bright pink Tanz Akademie?), I would urge Argento buffs to hand over their hard-earned for this release. There really is much to enthuse over, and I seriously doubt we'll see a truly definitive release anytime soon.

For those of you residing outside of Europe, you should be aware this release is region-locked.

Friday, 22 January 2010

ANTICHRIST BLU-RAY


For some, it may be decidedly uncomfortable to admit to being hugely impressed by this much-maligned film, given the widespread outrage directed at Lars Von Trier's latest work.
Unfortunately, several extremely stomach-churning scenes have prompted many critics to jump on the bandwagon, with walkouts at Cannes and calls for the film to be banned outright. No matter that this film contains two exceptional performances and deals with the grief experienced following what can only be described as every parents worst nightmare.

Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg - He and She in the credits - play a couple who retreat to a cabin in the woods, following the death of their only child.
While She attempts to find solace through sex, He decides exposure therapy may well be the answer; a method which comes crashing down following discovery of his wife's thesis paper, written during her last summer at the cabin. As the forces of nature gather - most memorably in the guise of 'The Three Beggars' - ANTICHRIST moves from grief, pain and despair to a truly gruelling sequence of events that will test even the most jaded viewer. These highly controversial scenes have been talked about enough elsewhere, which is a good enough reason for not focusing on them here, though I will say that, for me, the most harrowing scene occurs right at the beginning. The death of a child is just about the worst thing that can happen to a family, and the tragic death in ANTICHRIST - shot in monochrome while a beautiful score from Handel's Rinaldo accompanies the falling snow outside - will haunt you for weeks after.
It's inspired filmmaking, yet so damnably hard to watch, and the same can be said for Von Trier's direction of his two leads and their performances.
Although Gainsbourg's descent into violence becomes astonishingly brutal, it's entirely possible that her character will be viewed as more sympathetic than her husband who reacts to their son's death in an entirely different way, as is so often the case with the death of an infant. Here, Gainsbourg reaches incredible heights and Dafoe also excels with looks, gestures and actions that are so strong and yet ultimately helpless. Dafoe and Gainsbourg both carry the huge weight their director placed on their shoulders and deserve way more credit than they've been given.

The UK Blu-ray transfer of this film is a thing of savage beauty, and it's hard to find any area that falls short. Colours are bright and bold, with bags of detail and this disc stands as the perfect home viewing vehicle for Anthony Dod Mantle's stunning cinematography.
Those interested in knowing more about the making of this film will find a more than worthwhile bounty of extras, with valuable input from cast and crew: do look out for the Cannes footage, which includes a laughable self-styled 'friend of the stars' journo who makes a complete prat of himself.

ANTICHRIST offers cinema of the most challenging kind. Look deep inside, and it will stay with you for the right reasons.

Friday, 15 January 2010

KREATIVE BLOGGER


Many thanks to Kimberly over at the wonderful Cinebeats for awarding me a Kreative Blogger award. In order to follow the rules, I need to:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated

So, here are 7 things about me that you probably won't find interesting, but here goes.

1/ I married my American wife just 3 days after we'd met for the first time.

2/ It's approximately 5 years since I last had a beer. An ongoing battle with Meiniere's Disease means medication and hooch just don't get on.

3/ I once had a ticket to see a Sex Pistols gig, only for the local council to play a large part in the gig being cancelled. After that, nearest I got was a Public Image gig where John and the boys did 'Anarchy' as a encore.

4/ I was present at the penultimate Joy Division gig at Derby's Ajanta. All too soon, poor Ian was gone.

5/ I don't drive. Never have, never will.

6/ My ideal place to live would be London. Spent a ton of time there, and love the place. Have a feeling my wife and I will probably end up in America at some stage, which is fine by me.

7/ My nickname as a young lad was 'Spike'. Nowadays, I'm known as 'The Butcher' at work. An English version of Malcolm Tucker? Nah, not me.

Now, this is the one where I nominate.

Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer
Beautifully varied blog, and one to visit daily.

Radiator Heaven
This time, JD casts his eye on Criterion's CHE 3 discer. An essential stopby, always.

Moon In The Gutter
Now, this one is responsible for launching many of us into blogdom and remains an imformative and friendly blog with a wonderfully electic mix of reviews and so much else.

Italian Film Review
For films Italiana, this really is a must-visit.

Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience
Essential for fans of the French auteur. Another one from the man who brings you Moon In The Gutter.

Only The Cinema
Great writing, great screenshots. THE COMFORMIST is amongst this weeks treats.

Out1
Another proflific blog, laced with quality writing. Check them all out, if you don't already.

IN THE LOOP


Could Armando Iannucci's tv series successfully translate into a feature-length vehicle? The answer is a resounding "yes", as THE THICK OF IT is transformed into a hugely enjoyable big-screen gem that ranks as one of the very best British comedies in recent years.
Once again, spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) finds himself bang in the middle of another political shit storm, as British and American governments edge ever closer towards conflict with the Middle East.
Following an off-the-cuff remark that "war is unforseeable", Secretary Of State Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) is courted by the US administration who - just like the Brits - have both pro and anti war factions within. When Foster is dispatched to Washington on what he is led to believe is a fact-finding mission, the scene is set for a non-stop bombardment of political chicanery and the foulest of language as Tucker joins his colleague in America.
Those of you yet to encounter this Scottish sultan of spin will surely find IN THE LOOP to be a magnificent introduction. Here, Tucker goes into expletive meltdown, handing out 24 carat bollockings to Hollander, the exquisite Gina McKee ("This is a government department, not a Jane fucking Austin novel!")and anyone else within earshot, including the US contingent who match their British counterparts stride for stride.

From James Gandolfini's hilarious Lt General to Mimi Kennedy's Dep Secretary Of State, the cast are uniformally excellent, trading insults, leaks and red herrings in a winning formula.
Of course, the subject matter is uncomfortably close to home for both countries - particularly during the final act - but if the main point of this film is to make us laugh and think, then IN THE LOOP certainly succeeds.

The Blu-ray is pretty much what one would expect from a recent release, boasting a sharp-as-a-tack transfer. Extras include several interviews (including Capaldi and McKee) and 25 minutes of deleted scenes. Given that the original cut ran for some four and a half hours, it's a matter of regret that further outtakes were not included; particularly as the additional footage is of such high quality.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

MY TOP TEN FILMS FROM THE NAUGHTIES


A little bit late, but it's the thought that counts...

10/ SESSION 9
This supremely unsettling gem got under my skin from umpteen different directions, taking us on a terrifying tour of the Danvers State Mental Hospital where a group of men are charged with the task of asbestos removal under strict time constraints. As the hospital's evil past is slowly unravelled, Brad Anderson ramps up tension and suspense en route to a truly chilling finale.

9/ ALMOST FAMOUS
Cameron Crowe's wonderful coming-of-age tale about life on the road and the relationships between musicians, fans and the press. An absolute joy from start to finish and still one of my fave big-screen treats from The London Film Festival.

8/ LOST IN TRANSLATION
For me, this film did not miss a beat, right up to the beautiful ending which kept a private moment private in the same way as Lynch's superb THE STRAIGHT STORY.

7/ IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE
Exquisite, hypnotic and featuring two captivating performances, ITMFL goes far beyond its simple plot to capture period and situation with a delicacy that slowly envelopes the senses. Always gorgeous to look at, and a triumph for all involved.

6/ CONTROL
This one brings back so many memories, and it's good to report that Anton Corbijn's absorbing biopic is a resounding success on every level. At the time, we all recognised just how good Joy Division were, and this heartbreaking look at a life that ended way too soon has brought a new generation of fans to some sublime music.

5/ HIDDEN
Michael Haneke's multi-layered film encroaches on private lives in the most terrifying way. One to admire ,even as it nudges many deep-seated fears.

4/ TALK TO HER
For me, Almodovar hasn't experienced a drop in form for years (and years) so one of his films was always going to end up on this list. I chose TALK TO HER because it came over to me as possibly his most challenging script and laced with some great performances.

3/ THE LIVES OF OTHERS
A remarkable feature debut which focuses on the German Democratic Republic's secret police, and the involvement of a Stasi captain played by the late Ulrich Muhe. Book this with HIDDEN for a most disconcerting double-bill.

2/ UNDER THE SAND
In which Charlotte Rampling slowly falls apart following the disappearance of her husband at a local beach. An astonishing career-best turn from Rampling who inhabits damn near every frame.

1/ MULHOLLAND DRIVE
If a film totally knocks me for six, I tend to wait a long time for my return visit, just in case the film in question fails to cast its spell a second time round. Not so with MULHOLLAND; a dizzying affair that mixes dreams with reality and demand multiple viewings to even attempt to decipher. 4 cinema screenings and several DVD sessions later, and this film still throws up fresh delights.

Friday, 8 January 2010

COMING SOON: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE BLU-RAY


On 25th January, Artificial Eye will release THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE on Blu-ray.
The disc will include:

■Conversation with Kieslowski
■Interview with Irène Jacob
■‘Kie´slowski, Polish Filmmaker’ Documentary
■Short Films:
■‘The Musicians’ (1958)
■‘Factory’ (1970)
■‘Hospital’ (1976)
■‘Railway Station’ (1980)

All the above extras will be in SD, and this release will initially be an HMV exclusive until 22nd March.
This beautifully directed film concerns two young women who, despite never having met, are aware of the other's presence and share physical, artistic and emotional traits. THE DOULBE LIFE OF VERONIQUE is one of Krzysztof Kieslowski's finest works, and I'll be reviewing the disc here.

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009: Number One. LE MEPRIS


Jean-Luc Godard's LE MEPRIS is a fine addition to the famous Criterion Collection, delivering a features-packed special edition of this absorbing tale of a disintegrating marriage.
The relationship between a scriptwriter and his wife (Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot)conflicts with a project concerning a celluloid version of Homer's Odyssey, and Picolli's character is forced to battle betwixt reality and fiction as his life slowly falls apart.

Full marks to Optimum for their reverential treatment of this important work. Although the Blu-ray does not include all the features that can be found on the Criterion release, it does feature over 2 1/1 hours of extras (including the 8-part conversation between Godard and Lang and a 20-page booklet.
While there are some problems with the image quality (mostly due to the film stock, and varying colour palette), it's the best home video incarnation currently available and well worth an upgrade.

The forthcoming Blu-ray releases of BREATHLESS, UNE FEMME MARIEE and PIERROT LE FOU promise to be real treats for Godard buffs in the next few months, destined to stand proudly alongside LE MEPRIS on your shelf.

Friday, 1 January 2010

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009: THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY

There's a ton of stuff that I've yet to see, for various reasons. Unfortunately, the likes of THE HURT LOCKER eluded me via cinema screenings and are still on my 'soon come' rental list. Then we have David Fincher's FIGHT CLUB which would possibly have made it into the top ten if either one of two copies would have actually played in my 'no firmware update' Bush Blu-ray player.
Sam Raimi's breathlessly entertaining DRAG ME TO HELL just missed out, as did STAR TREK XI and HANNIBAL (great film, could do better transfer).
GLADIATOR? copious extras but the transfer... this one has inspired wars on various forums. Guess it's in the eye of the beholder, and possibly bearable if you have a smaller size screen. My own take is that those responsible did a poor job, and I'm still surprised there wasn't a recall.

So, here's a rundown on my top ten Blu's of the year:

10/ THE DAMNED UNITED

9/ THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE

8/ NORTH BY NORTHWEST

7/ DAWN OF THE DEAD

6/ THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE

5/ WATCHMEN

4/ FRANKLYN

3/ MOON

2/ LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

And number one on my list is...

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN


And so we come to the other vampire love story, and a film that actually exceeds all the positive word-of-mouth reports and critical acclaim.

On Blu-ray, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN benefits from an outstanding transfer. The snow-laden landscape looks of the purest white, while the colour ranges from vibrant to dull reflecting the narrative shifts. As much of the film takes place at night, solid blacks are important and that's just what we get. A worthwhile commentary track is included, together with 4 deleted scenes. While it's likely their addition would not have significantly improved the film, it's good to be able to watch them here.
of course, a remake is underway and that's good news if it prompts newcomers to watch this beautifully told tale.

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART EIGHT: MOON


Featuring a terrific shift by Sam Rockwell as an astronaut whose three-year stint on the moon is coming to an end.
Set in a future where fuel is mined from outer space, MOON is of the old school sci-fi canon but constantly belies a £5 million budget to amaze with the director's sheer creativity. There is a spoiler I don't intend to give away, except to say that I don't believe it came too early in the film; indeed, it's so refreshing to encounter a film that doesn't rely on the 'big reveal' and instead goes on to examine its implications with a generous amount of running time.

The Blu-ray transfer is sharp and colourful, and you'll find a nice selection of extras to enjoy.
Another great directorial debut.

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART SEVEN: FRANKLYN


Set in the parallel worlds of contemporary London and the futuristic fantasy locale of Meanwhile City, Gerald McMorrow's feature debut has inspired many derogatory comments ("losing the plot" is one that springs readily to mind) but this one stood out for me as a brilliantly conceived tale of four individuals whose personal crises connect in a stunning final act.

I'm pleased to see the Blu-ray release - though light on extras - delivers a crisp transfer, with different colour schemes for each of the four main characters.
Full marks to McMorrow for his ambition, guts and talent which make this a film to savour over multiple viewings.