DVD Review: Ivan’s Childhood

Directors: Andrei Tarkovsky, Eduard Abalov (uncredited)
Screenplay by: Vladimir Bogomolov, Mikhail Papava, Andrey Konchalovskiy (uncredited), Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Story by: Vladimir Bogomolov
Starring: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy Zharikov, Valentina Malyavina
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: PG


Andrei Tarkovsky is a director whose name has become a byword for the kind of ‘high-art’ cinema that critics tend to love, but your average viewer would gladly distance themselves as far as possible from. I have a hit and miss relationship with that style of filmmaking so you might have thought I would have been hesitant to offer to review his work, currently being remastered and re-released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by Curzon Artificial Eye. However, I’ve only actually seen one of Tarkovsky’s films before, Andrei Rublev, and that blew me away with its spectacular set pieces and striking cinematography. So I’ve been desperate to dig further into his oeuvre ever since and practically leapt at the chance to review Ivan’s Childhood, Tarkovsky’s debut feature and the first of his films to receive the re-release treatment by Curzon Artificial Eye. I’m planning on reviewing the whole set (other than Andrei Rublev due to time constraints and the fact I’ve already seen it not too long ago), so watch this space.

Ivan’s Childhood is set during WWII and tells the story of a 12 year-old orphan, Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev), who works for the Soviet Army as a scout. His size and seeming innocence make him a perfect candidate for the job, so his three pseudo-guardian officers keep him operating as such, despite their misgivings about sending such a young boy out on such dangerous missions. They do try to send him to military school at one point, but Ivan is too determined to allow this. After his mother and sister were killed by the Nazis he spends his nights dreaming of vengeance.

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Blu-Ray Review: Here Comes Mr. Jordan – Criterion Collection

Director: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller
Based on a Play by: Harry Segall
Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Rita Johnson
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1941
BBFC Certificate: U


Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a film from 1941, based on a play called Heaven Can Wait, that spawned not only a sequel (Down to Earth in 1947), but a remake in 1978 (Warren Beatty and Buck Henry’s Heaven Can Wait), another in 2001 (Down to Earth starring Chris Rock) and even a remake in India in 1968 called Jhuk Gaya Aasman (English: The Skies Have Bowed). Some suggest it also helped kick start the mini-boom of guardian angel films in Hollywood during the 40’s and early 50’s, such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Angels in the Outfield. With the original film hitting the UK list of Criterion Collection titles today, the question is, does it still hold up today?

Here Comes Mr. Jordan tells the story of Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), known as ‘the flying pug’ in his burgeoning career as a boxer. Whilst living up to his name and flying himself to his next fight, Joe crashes his plane and dies. His spirit is taken by messenger up to a cloudy runway to be flown up to heaven, but Joe complains to the angels that it isn’t his time and it turns out it isn’t. The messenger picked him up too early as Joe would have survived the flight and lived another 50 years. On learning that Joe’s body has been cremated, the angels, led by Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), try to make up for the clerical error by allowing him to enter the body of someone else recently deceased.

They pick out a crooked, wealthy businessman, Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover. Joe is reluctant to take over this identity at first, until he meets Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), an attractive young woman who pleads to Bruce to help her father who he had sold worthless bonds to. Joe promptly chooses to become Bruce and pays the money back to all the small business owners he’d screwed over. This angers his business associates of course, but also his wife, so Joe has to work to keep this new body alive whilst wooing Bette and also trying to kickstart his boxing career in his new body.

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DVD Review: Evolution

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Screenplay by: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Country: France, Belgium, Spain
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Nothing to do with the 2001 sci-fi comedy of the same name, Evolution is an art-house horror film of sorts from Lucile Hadzihalilovic, the director of Innocence. I usually like art-house genre crossovers, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

Giving a synopsis is tricky as this is a highly unusual film. It opens with a young boy, Nicolas (Max Brebant), swimming in the ocean where he sees the dead body of a boy under the water. No one believes him, but we soon begin to realise that all is not what it seems in this seaside community and something suspicious is going on between the inhabitants. Speaking of which, for reasons never explained, the only residents of this village seem to be young boys on the brink of puberty and their ‘mothers’, who mainly seem a little too young to be so. The boys just play on the beach all day whilst the women tend to their needs, giving them ‘medicine’ at regular intervals and preparing their suspect looking meals. The plot thickens further when Nicolas and some of the other boys are taken to a hospital where they are treated for an unnamed ‘illness’.

I won’t go in to too much more detail about the plot as that would be spoiling things and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on half the time. It’s a most unusual film. On one side this plays to the its strengths, presenting an incredibly mysterious story which you can’t second guess. On the other side, it makes the film quite difficult to maintain a grip on. This isn’t helped by the minimal dialogue and cold, expressionless performances. The presentation is art-house with a capital A in that sense.

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Blu-Ray Review: Too Late for Tears

Director: Byron Haskin
Screenplay: Roy Huggins
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Kristine Miller, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1949
BBFC Certificate: PG


As promised, here’s my review of Too Late For Tears, Arrow Academy’s other recent film noir re-release, alongside Woman on the Run. Like the latter, Too Late For Tears was not a financial success at the time of its original release and its production company later went bankrupt. This lead to the film being relatively lost, hovering around only in poor quality public domain copies. Luckily, the UCLA Film & Television Archive got their hands on a French 35mm nitrate Dupe Picture Negative (where the film was named La Tigresse), the only preprint element known to survive. They polished up the film and Arrow Academy are releasing it to us lucky folk in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD.

Too Late For Tears opens with a preposterous but nevertheless enticing premise. Husband and wife Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) are arguing whilst driving down a windy road at night. They almost crash into someone then get a mysterious bag thrown into their back seat. They soon realise the bag is filled with cash and decide to drive off with it, shaking off the rightful owner’s car that quickly appears behind them. Once home, Alan thinks they should give the money in to the police, but Jane disagrees. She’s clearly not happy with the way her life is going at the minute, but the surprise arrival of all this money revitalises her. Determined to a frightening degree, she will stop at nothing to keep the money. Even the arrival of Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), whose car the money should have fallen into, doesn’t dissuade Jane. In fact, she manipulates him into helping her get the money from Alan, who has put it away in a locker for safe keeping before calling the police.

Of course, it’s not going to end well for anyone…

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Blu-Ray Review: Woman on the Run

Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Based on an Original Story by: Sylvia Tate
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott
Country: USA
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I love a good film noir. So much so I didn’t scour my usual sources to see what the reviews were like for Woman on the Run before requesting a copy to write my own, I just asked for a screener because I knew I’d enjoy it to some extent due to the genre. Also, I wanted to help promote Arrow Academy’s release of this (and Too Late For Tears which I’ll also be reviewing soon) because I feel like the UK have had a bit of a raw deal for classic film noir releases over the years. I rarely see any titles other than the big names show up in my local HMV and many haven’t made an appearance on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, other than in horribly transferred cheap releases from those films now in the public domain. So I hope if Arrow sell a few copies of these they’ll mine the vaults for more gems to polish up to their usual high quality.

Woman on the Run was released in 1950, right in the midst of the genre’s heyday. It begins with Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) taking his dog out for a walk when he comes across an argument in a parked car. The argument soon becomes a murder and the trigger man takes a couple of pot shots at Frank before he drives away. Frank gives the police a brief statement on the scene, but when he learns that the man killed was due to testify against the notorious gangster Smiley Freeman, he gets scared and runs away. The police, on top of wanting his statement to help lock up Freeman, are worried for his safety so go to Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), for help in finding the man. She’s not keen on doing the police any favours though, as it’s clear the couple aren’t enjoying a happy marriage. However, she does want to find him herself, so heads off into the heart of the city (San Francisco) to track him down. The police of course put a tail on her and the tabloid journalist Dan Legget (Dennis O’Keefe) tags along to get a big scoop. The latter ends up helping Eleanor out as she gets further along in her investigation, but his intentions gradually become rather suspect.

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Blu-Ray Review: Overlord – Criterion Collection

Director: Stuart Cooper
Screenplay: Stuart Cooper, Christopher Hudson
Starring: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball
Country: UK
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


I must admit I’d never heard of Overlord before receiving a press release about its Blu-Ray release as part of the Criterion Collection in the UK. Generally only the crème de la crème gets selected for the collection (other than the odd exception – Armageddon?!) and the fact that it was shot by regular Kubrick DOP John Alcott piqued my interest, so I decided to give it a whirl and review a copy.

Overlord follows a young man, Tom (Brian Stirner), as he’s drafted into the British army during World War II. We follow him through basic training and the agonising wait to be deployed into battle. He’s convinced he’s going to be killed during this time, so a sense of impending doom builds up to him being sent to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. During the wait he befriends some of his fellow comrades and falls in love with a young woman, Janie (Julie Neesam) at a local dance.

It may sound like your typical war movie, but Overlord is refreshingly different from your usual flag waving or ‘horrors of war’ affairs. One major aspect of its production and presentation that marks it out from the rest is the fact that a large proportion of the film is made up of archive footage, shot during the war. The film isn’t a documentary though, it’s a fictional account of a soldier’s life during the war, but through the footage supplied by the Imperial War Museum (culled from a phenomenal amount of material) and by basing Tom’s experiences on those described in letters written by real front line soldiers, the film is infused with a powerful naturalism.

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Blu-Ray Review: L’Avventura – Criterion Collection

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Screenplay: Michelangelo Antonioni, Elio Bartolini, Tonino Guerra
Starring: Gabriele Ferzetti, Monica Vitti, Lea Massari
Country: Italy, France
Running Time: 143 min
Year: 1960
BBFC Certificate: PG


Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 film L’Avventura is one of the most highly regarded films of all time. It’s one of the few titles to have been in Sight and Sound’s prestigious top ten greatest films list three times – second in 1962, only two years after it’s release, fifth in 1972 and seventh in 1982. It still stands in the longer most current list at #21 in the critics list and #30 in the director’s poll. However, it didn’t get off to the best of starts. Premiering at Cannes, the first screening was met with boos and jeers from the audience. However, the critics loved it and the film ended up winning the Jury Prize. Following its worldwide release soon after, the film became hugely popular too and helped revolutionise art house cinema across the globe.

Now I’ve never seen L’Avventura, but I’ve been aware of its reputation so it’s been on my radar for a while. Needless to say I jumped at the chance of reviewing this new Blu-Ray re-release as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. The question is, will I side with the critics or the audience at Cannes?

L’Avventura sees a group of wealthy Italian socialites head off on a yachting trip together. One of the group, Anna (Lea Massari), is having doubts about her relationship with Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti). She’s had a month alone and this trip is supposed to be their reunion, but she’s not convinced she wants to be with him anymore. Part way through the trip, on visiting a small island where the two have an argument, Anna goes missing. The group are all distressed at first, but most give up caring quite soon. Her friend Claudia (Monica Vitti) and Sandro remain troubled by what happened though and set out to try and find her. After a while however, the two grow closer together and form a relationship as they gradually forget their friend.

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Blu-Ray Review: Outlaw: Gangster VIP The Complete Collection

Not content with being the go-to label for cult and classic American and European cinema, Arrow Video have started to mine the more obscure depths of Japanese genre movies recently, in particular gangster/crime films. After releasing a shiny new disc for Seijun Suzuki’s relatively popular Branded to Kill and the full Battles Without Honour and Humanity collection, as well as a couple of vaguely known titles like Massacre Gun, they surprised everyone with a set of little-known crime dramas under the Nikkatsu Diamond Guys banner. This has now been followed up by the expansive Outlaw: Gangster VIP The Complete Collection, a series of violent Yakuza dramas, also produced by Nikkatsu and based on the writings of real life ex-gangster Goro Fujita.

Go on the IMDB and you’ll find little information on the six films in this set (although due to my review being a little late, some more might have accumulated by now). So it’s great to see a Blu-Ray/DVD label daring to venture into unknown territory like this. Of course, being genre films, there’s always a bit of a safety net and the Japanese gangster angle was what sold the set to me, but I’m glad to see films that would otherwise be lost get the treatment they deserve.

The films in the series are Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro the Assassin, Black Dagger and Kill!. My thoughts on the individual films follow:

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Blu-Ray Review: Victoria

Director: Sebastian Schipper
Based on a Story by: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz
Starring: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski
Country: Germany
Running Time: 138 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Hype can be a dangerous thing. When you hear too much praise for a film you’re almost destined to be disappointed. Very few films can live up to the expectations mounted through countless five star reviews and personal recommendations. Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is one film I’d read several glowing reviews for and heard friends rave about surrounding its cinematic release here in the UK. With Curzon Artificial Eye releasing the film on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, I got my hands on a screener to finally watch the film for myself and I can safely say it has lived up to my very high expectations (although I think I might have given the film 5 stars if I’d have watched it ‘cold’).

Victoria follows (quite literally) the titular character (Laia Costa), a young Spanish woman living in Berlin, as she leaves a nightclub and befriends Sonne (Frederick Lau), a ‘native’ Berliner. Blatantly flirting with her, Sonne shows her the after-club night life with his three male friends. Victoria is a fairly innocent ‘good’ girl, but these boys are wild and mischievous, breaking into cars and stealing beers. Victoria seems to enjoy joining them and embracing this ‘bad boy’ attitude, but as the crimes they’re involved in suddenly get much more serious, she realises she’s in too deep, but is forced to go along with it.

If you’ve read anything about this film I imagine you’re aware of the fact that the film is presented entirely as one long, unbroken shot. It seems to be the film’s main selling point, particularly as this is no ‘hidden’ cut job like Birdman. No digital trickery made this merely look like a one shot, real time experience. It was all done for real. Supposedly it took 3 attempts, but the crew eventually managed to keep everything working as it should for the fairly hefty running time of the film.

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