Blu-Ray Review: The Big Knife

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: James Poe
Based on a Play by: Clifford Odets
Starring: Jack Palance, Ida Lupino, Wendell Corey, Rod Steiger, Jean Hagen, Everett Sloane
Country: USA
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: PG


Robert Aldrich is a director I’ve admired a great deal in the handful of his films I’ve seen (although the less said about The Frisco Kid, the better – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/09/gates_of_video_hell_frisco_kid/). So I was keen to check out Arrow’s re-release of The Big Knife, a film I must admit I’d never heard of until now.

It tells the story of Charles Castle (Jack Palance), a popular movie star who’s grown unhappy with his position. He’s stuck in a rut of making low rate Hollywood trash, when he longs to make something more meaningful. Unfortunately, he’s held firmly under the thumb of tough studio head Hoff (Rod Steiger), who is pressuring Castle to stay there, using a potentially scandalous incident as leverage against him. Adding to Castle’s troubles is a crumbling relationship with his wife Marion (Ida Lupino), who is fed up of her husband’s inability to stand up against Hoff. The only chance Castle has of saving his marriage is to refuse to sign Hoff’s latest contract, but the boss’ blackmailing tactics prove too strong. Hoff’s later insistence that Castle helps with some darker studio ‘business’ is the last straw though and events reach boiling point in a powerhouse of a final act.

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Blu-Ray/DVD Review: Endless Summer & On Any Sunday

I’ve never been a surfer (I never lived near the sea, which didn’t help), but I’ve always had a thing for surfing films and surfing culture. I love the excitement of seeing people riding the waves, always on the brink of being wiped out. I also love the laid-back attitude usually demonstrated out of the water and the music synonymous with the sport/pastime. The most famous surfing movie is probably The Endless Summer, which has somehow passed me by all these years, despite my interest in the subject matter. So you can imagine my excitement when Second Sight announced they’d be re-releasing the classic documentary on Blu-Ray with all the spit and polish and special features you expect from their releases. Added to this, they have released director Bruce Brown’s later documentary, On Any Sunday, this time focussing on motor biking. I must admit I hadn’t heard of this before reading the press release, but it sounded good, so I thought I’d make my Endless Summer review a double bill. My thoughts on the two films are below.

The Endless Summer

Director: Bruce Brown
Screenplay: Bruce Brown
Starring: Robert August, Michael Hynson, Lord James Blears, Bruce Brown (narrator)
Country: USA
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: E


Bruce Brown had been making surfing documentaries since the late 50s, but it wasn’t until The Endless Summer in 1966 that his films, or any surfing films for that matter, hit the mainstream (the film was actually finished in 1964, but it didn’t get a worldwide release until 2 years later). After showing the skills of some Californian and Hawaiian surfers in the first 10 minutes or so, The Endless Summer shifts focus to follow Mike Hynson and Robert August as they embark on a year long tour of beaches around the world, in a bid to experience the titular ‘endless summer’ (i.e. being on a beach during summer time all year round by travelling across several continents). Along the way they bring surfing to people who have never experienced it before and try to find the ‘perfect wave’.

The film managed to live up to my expectations thankfully, although I was a little put off at first by the film’s presentation. By that, I don’t mean the surfing footage, which is as great as I’d hoped and I’ll talk about later, but I mean in how the film is constructed. I expected interviews with surfers and more of a modern style of documentary, but it actually follows a more classic format where footage is supported by only voice-over narration and music. This simple approach took a short while to get used to, but luckily Brown (who provides the narration himself) is a great speaker. He’s very good at explaining the skill involved in what we’re watching on screen as well as filling us in on the surfers’ backgrounds, particular styles and the current locations. He also injects a great deal of humour into the film, which I wasn’t expecting. This, when added to some pre-planned goofing around by the surfers or sped-up footage, can be a bit silly at times, but it keeps the tone light and prevents the film from getting dry.

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Friday One Sheet: Human Flow

World famous Chinese activist-artist Ai Wei Wei makes his film debut with Human Flow, and not surprisingly it is interesting from a visual point of view. My experience of Ai Wei Wei is limited to the pair of documentaries I’ve seen on the man, and the bicycle art installation he did in Toronto a couple years back, but one simple take-away, beyond the political, is that he like stacking, scattering or placing a lot of little things to make a big point. And that is exactly the design philosophy of this poster. The film itself is a documentary and has been selected for competition in the 2017 edition of the Venice Film Festival.

Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Affair

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Paul Dehn
Based on a Novel by: John le Carré
Starring: James Mason, Maximilian Schell, Simone Signoret, Harriet Andersson, Harry Andrews
Country: UK
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: 12


Indicator are a fairly new label who are doing a wonderful job of giving some little known or largely forgotten films a new lease of life, particularly ones that have things going for them that seem to betray their obscurity. With The Deadly Affair, which I hadn’t heard of previously, you get numerous selling points in the talents behind the film. Directed by Sidney Lumet, based on a novel by John le Carré and starring luminaries like James Mason, Maximilian Schell, Simone Signoret and Harriet Andersson, watching the film was a mouth-watering prospect and I was more than a little surprised that it isn’t better known. It was rather well received on its release, but unfortunately the reviews didn’t translate into ticket sales, possibly due to the glut of spy thrillers around at the time, riding in the wake of the Bond franchise’s success.

The Deadly Affair is based on famed spy-novelist (and actual MI6 employee) John le Carré’s first novel, ‘Call for the Dead’. The novel’s protagonist is none other than George Smiley, a character featuring in many of le Carré’s most famous books (including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People and his latest novel, A Legacy of Spies). Funnily enough though, back in the mid-60s Smiley wasn’t the near household name he is now, so in this film adaptation his name was changed to Charles Dobbs (played by James Mason).

The film opens with Government security officer Dobbs meeting Foreign Office civil servant Samuel Fennan (Robert Flemyng) about an anonymous tip that had been received, claiming that Fennan had been, and may still be, a practising Communist. This doesn’t seem to bother Fennan, as it was a long time in the past and Dobbs put his mind at ease about the situation. However, Dobbs receives a call early the next morning to say that Fennan committed suicide and a note he made out prior to this claimed he couldn’t live with the situation. Most seem to accept this as a clear cut case, but Dobbs refuses to believe that Fennan took his own life after the fairly relaxed conversation they’d had the day before. So he decides to investigate, even though he is forced to step down from his position due to the situation. Running alongside this, Dobbs also struggles with his relationship with his wife (Harriet Andersson) as he can no longer stand by and let her openly cheat on him as he had for the last year or two.

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Review: Good Time


 

“Don’t be confused, it is just going to make it worse for me.”

This might be the line that best sums up Good Time, a high stress ultra-stylized sprint through the nether regions and institutions of New York City at night. The picture is shot in gloriously frenetic close-ups imbued with a unique pulse. A rhythm that builds its own kind of character-based mood. Kaleidoscopic colours, and film grain rendered via capture on analogue stock, hold up magnificently even when projected digitally. But sit close to the screen at your own risk.

With the exception of the opening and closing scenes, and a brief breather when two characters sit down on the couch and watch a few minutes of COPS on television, things are brilliantly dense in the handling of urgent and fucked up situations. There are layers upon layers (physically echoed in the wardrobe of the lead character) of things happening at any given moment in the frame. And these are happening at speed. Characters talk (and shout) over top of one another, and yet the exquisite sound design and superbly executed camera work never leave the audience behind.

The soul of the picture is the knotty relationship between two brothers. Constantine ‘Connie’ Nikas is wholly inhabited by Robert Pattinson; a performance brimming with surprises. Pattinson’s recent run of work has demonstrated many talents that have been set free after the actor was freed from the mopey shackles of the Twilight franchise.

Connie is a gifted and clever criminal, at in an improvisational sense, at the street level. With his bipolar girlfriend (a terrifyingly wonderful Jennifer Jason Leigh) or his special needs brother, he finds himself surrounded by people who simply cannot keep up with his penchant for being in the moment. His brother Nick is somewhere on the spectrum, mostly deaf, and clearly requires an empathy and structured environment that Connie in incapable of ever providing.

Nick, played wonderfully by Ben Safdie, one of the two directors, is introduced in extreme close-up (naturally) in the quiet opening minutes of the film. He is in the office of a social worker who is trying to provide said empathy and structure at the request of his grandmother, who has had it with her grandsons petty criminal activities.

Minutes into the assessment he is forcibly dragged from the corner office by Connie to participate in an ill advised bank robbery to finance a trip and possibly a life out of poverty in Queens. At this point Daniel Lopatin’s (Oneohtrix Point Never) propulsive score kicks in and the chaotic energy of the film really never lets up.

Good Time is the ultimate pop-arthouse show-don’t-tell drama cum thrill ride. Fifty years ago, nobody would be able to follow a movie with so much going on at the same time. Our media processing sensibilities have arrived to this moment when the Safdie Brothers are wrestling editing and film-grammar to the ground – building upon moments from their previous picture, Heaven Knows What). They do so for our viewing pleasure without ever leaving our hearts or minds behind.

Using a combination of actors and real cops, prison guards and even gangsters, Good Time ratchets up the stress over (more or less) an all night odyssey of bad choices. In the tradition of After Hours (or Tchoupitoulas or Night On Earth) the bulk of film takes place over a short span of time, where anything can and will happen. Indeed when you put Jennifer Jason Leigh and Pattinson in a scene sparks o’ crazy fly off the screen. There is a scene in a bail bond office that is destined to be studied for years for its sheer chutzpah and craft.

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Blu-Ray Review: A Day in the Death of Joe Egg

Director: Peter Medak
Screenplay: Peter Nichols
Based on a Play by: Peter Nichols
Starring: Alan Bates, Janet Suzman, Peter Bowles, Sheila Gish, Joan Hickson
Country: UK
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15


The latest under-seen curiosity to be given a new lease of life by Indicator is A Day in the Life of Joe Egg. Based on a play by Peter Nichols, which in turn is based on his own life experiences, it charts a day in the life of a married couple, Bri (Alan Bates) and Sheila (Janet Suzman), who care for their daughter Jo, who is almost completely brain-dead (for want of a more scientific or PC description). Being unable to speak or voluntarily move for herself, the couple have to do everything for her, with no return of love. As such, it’s a tough life they lead, and the only way they get through it is to use humour. They create a personality for Jo and speak for her, as well as make blackly comic jokes about their situation throughout the day.

However, Bri has had enough. He’s reached the conclusion that all this work they put in to look after Jo is for nothing and she should be put away somewhere for professional care, or possibly just be allowed to die. Sheila however, hasn’t given up hope that Jo’s abilities may improve by some miracle and refuses to cast her away just to make their lives more comfortable.

It was and, to be honest, still is bold subject matter for a film. There aren’t many films that deal with care for someone with that level of physical/mental illness and particularly not in such an honest and blackly comic fashion. Most Hollywood films that deal with illness or disability use it to offer messages of hope or merely to wring tears out of an audience, but this is no feel good film or weepie. Instead it’s brutally frank about the subject matter. You can tell that the writer, Nichols, had lived in that situation himself (his daughter was brain-dead and they looked after her until she died aged 11) as someone who hadn’t would never be able to tackle the topic in the same way.

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Blu-Ray Review: Le Trou

Director: Jacques Becker
Screenplay: Jacques Becker, José Giovanni, Jean Aurel
Based on a Novel by: José Giovanni
Starring: André Bervil, Jean Keraudy, Michel Constantin, Raymond Meunier, Marc Michel
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 132 min
Year: 1960
BBFC Certificate: 12


Jacques Becker is a director whose name seems to have passed me by, until I received a press release about the forthcoming re-release of a handful of his films. I almost forwarded the press release straight on to the rest of the site’s writers, but I had a quick look on IMDb and realised how well received his work has been, particularly the four Studiocanal are putting out on Blu-Ray and DVD – Edward and Caroline, Casque D’Or, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and Le Trou. So I picked one to review that sounded most my cup of tea, (Le Trou – a.k.a. The Night Watch) and let some of my associates handle the rest.

Le Trou is based on the true account of a prison break from La Santé Prison in France in 1947 and adapted from a novel (called ‘The Break’) about the incident written by an inmate of the prison, José Giovanni. Claude Gaspard (Marc Michel) is transferred to a new cell in the prison, joining four other men, Jo Cassine (Michel Constantin), Roland Darban (Jean Keraudy), Manu Borelli (Philippe Leroy), Vossellin/Monseigneur (Raymond Meunier). They seem a little hesitant about Gaspard’s appearance at first, but once they warm to him, they decide to tell him about their intended jail break and get him involved in it. From then on, we observe the work done by the inmates to dig their way out of the prison, whilst trying to keep it a secret from the guards. There are also some worries about how trustworthy Gaspard is, as some unexpected twists arrive later on.

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Cinecast Episode 494 – Broken Soundtrack

Art should push buttons. Bigelow does just that with her latest, criminally underseen, “masterpiece” (copyright Kurt Halfyard of RowThree.com), Detroit starring John Boyega, Will Poulter and Anthony Mackie et. al. It’s an intense couple of hours that is frustrating in the best possible way – kind of like this show. On The Watch List this week we talk about Jimmy Iovine’s involvement with DeathRow Records in “The Defiant Ones” as well as the crime thriller, drama, “Ozark”, which is “the best thing Jason Bateman has ever done” (copyright Andrew James of RowThree.com). For a tight show, we pack in a lot of conversation – including an apology to site visitors and listeners.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

We’re now available on Google Play!

 

 
 

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Friday One Sheet: Logan Lucky And White Boxes

Usually reserved for thrillers, the ‘white border’ dividing photos design (See Heist, Triple Nine, Homefront, Red) a classic poster cliche. But as with many things Soderbergh, repurposing that cliche with a bit more care. For instance the borders here in some cases split a single image, rather than just lazily putting in on-set stills or head-shots of the movie stars (a major pet peeve of mine when it comes to poster design).

The black and white mix with sunset colours also really works, and is a stand out in a year of pink posters.

Further points for the side-mountain credit block to accomodate the race-car and drifting cash under the title.