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.