I‘m a big fan of Ang Lee. On top of the modern classics he’s directed like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, I also like the Oscar winning Life of Pi a lot and I’m even a supporter of his underrated comic book movie, Hulk. In particular, I’ve always been impressed by how diverse his output is. His career didn’t start that way though. His first three features form an unofficial trilogy, often known as the ‘Father Knows Best’ trilogy, due to their thematic similarity. These three low key comedy dramas were quite well regarded on release, but somehow they’ve never been available on DVD in the UK. Thankfully, Altitude Film Distribution have taken it upon themselves to rectify the situation. I set aside some time to watch these three films I’ve waited to see for a long time, to give my verdict.
Director: David Cronenberg
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Starring: James Woods, Deborah Harry, Sonja Smits
Running Time: 89 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
David Cronenberg is a director whose work I’m not as familiar with as I’d like. I’ve seen a fair few of his films, but largely when I was a teenager, so I can’t remember much about them other than the more famous scenes. I’ve not seen a couple of his classics at all in fact and only just got around to seeing his take on The Fly last year. In terms of his later work, I keep missing most of that too. The latest of his films I’ve seen is A History of Violence, which came out ten years ago.
So I’ve been keen to delve into Cronenberg’s career properly now that I’m a more experienced film lover and Arrow answered my call by releasing a ridiculously extensive 4 disc set of Videodrome. It’s one of the films I’d not seen for about 15 years, so was on my list of titles to watch.
It’s hard to sum up the plot of Videodrome as it’s quite a surreal film, particularly in the second half, and part of the pleasure of watching it is getting caught up in its nightmarish world. The first half seems more straight forward though, tricking the audience into thinking they know what they’re signing up for.
James Woods plays Max Renn, a TV executive working for Civic-TV, a cable channel that shows seedy low-rate programmes and films. Max is getting tired of the usual softcore crap that he peddles though. He thinks audiences want harder and more extreme entertainment and thinks he’s found it when a techie associate manages to access a mysterious broadcast called Videodrome. Basically just a series of violent torture scenes, the show grabs hold of Max and won’t let him go. After he gets more obsessed with it, he starts to experience hallucinations and gets drawn ever further into a twisted, bizarre world of sex, violence and television.
Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Based on a Story by: Dwight Taylor
Starring: Richard Widmark, Jean Peters, Thelma Ritter, Murvyn Vye, Richard Kiley
Running Time: 80 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
I‘ve reviewed a few Samuel Fuller films here, one not too long ago in fact (Forty Guns) and I have a habit of feeling a little disappointed after getting excited before seeing them. That’s not the case with Pickup on South Street. This isn’t a first time watch and I think my love for the film is partly why the last couple of titles I watched let me down a little.
Pickup at South Street is a classic film noir that opens on the subway where pickpocket Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) snatches the purse out of the handbag of Candy (Jean Peters). It turns out he stole more than just a few dollars though. Candy was unwittingly on her way to give a top-secret government microfilm to a Communist agent and Skip ends up with this in his stash. Helped by professional stool pigeon Moe (Thelma Ritter), Candy, the police and the Commies all end up on Skip’s doorstep, demanding the microfilm. Realising what it’s worth, he tries to shake them all down for as much cash as possible. This gets him deeper and deeper into trouble though.
I love a good film noir and this has all the key ingredients of the genre that I can’t get enough of. On top of the moody high contrast photography and seedy back street setting, you get sharp dialogue throughout. It’s real hard boiled gutter talk in this case, with a wonderful streetwise poetry to it.
Director: Georges Franju
Screenwriter: Boileau-Narcejac, Jean Redon, Claude Sautet
Based on a Novel by: Jean Redon
Starring: Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Edith Scob, Juliette Mayniel
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 90 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Due to my interest in classic film, I’ve often reviewed titles here that I’ve wanted to watch for a long time after hearing a lot of praise for them. Eyes Without a Face (a.k.a. Les yeux sans visage) is a curious twist on this though. Back in the early days of my blossoming love of film, I’d heard much about this and at some point I did get a chance to see it (if I remember correctly I’d taped it off TV). Now, this is where my memory gets hazy (it was a long time ago); I remember starting to watch it, but not getting very far and giving up. I’m not totally sure why. I have a vague notion that it wasn’t what I was expecting and looked a bit dull and pretentious. Watching the film in its entirety now, I’d be surprised if that was the case, but for whatever reason I never got further than the first 10 minutes or so.
15 or so years down the line, I’d forgotten why I didn’t get into Eyes Without a Face and my urge to watch the film had grown again. The BFI offered me a screener of their new re-release of the film on Blu-Ray and I snapped up the chance. Of course I watched the whole thing this time, but was I still disappointed?
Eyes Without a Face follows the brilliant surgeon Dr. Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) and his assistant Louise (Alida Valli) as they kidnap young women in the night. The ladies are brought to the doctor’s secluded house where he lives with his daughter Christiane (Edith Scob). Her face has been severely disfigured in a car accident when her father was driving. Feeling guilty for this, the doctor vows to give her back her beautiful face. The kidnapped women are to provide this for him, as he uses them to provide facial transplants. After the first is unsuccessful, the doctor becomes ever more determined and the death toll and psychosis increases.
In the meantime, Christiane becomes ever more desperate to leave the house she has become trapped in. Her father had faked her death using the body of one of his victims, so Christiane must remain in hiding. Her dilemma becomes one of deciding which she wants more, her face or her freedom.
Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Screenplay: Kornél Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi, Kata Wéber
Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth
Country: Hungary, Germany, Sweden
Running Time: 117 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
My friends and Blueprint colleagues Darren and Chris saw White God in Cannes back in 2014 and their description of it and positive review on our podcast put it high up my ‘want to watch’ list. It’s taken a little while to finally come out, but Metrodome picked it up in the UK and it’s just made its way to DVD. I grabbed myself a copy to see if it was worth the wait.
White God sees twelve year old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) go to stay with her estranged father while her mother goes away to a conference overseas. Due to the circumstances and being on the verge of becoming a teenager, she isn’t happy about her dad’s fairly strict rules. The worst of these however, concern her mixed breed dog Hagen. Her dad doesn’t want a dog in his apartment, particularly a mutt like Hagen, so after some heated arguments and an incident at Lili’s orchestra practise he sets the dog free in the backstreets of the city.
So far, so straight forward. However, from this point in the film we split our focus between Lili’s coming of age story and the dog’s own adventure. This is where the film really becomes something special. Hagen struggles to look after himself on the streets, but befriends a feisty terrier (maybe – I’m no good with dog breeds and they’re all mixed anyway) who takes him to join a group of the many strays roaming the city. He manages to evade capture from the pound, but ends up getting picked up by a vagrant and gets passed on to a man who trains fighting dogs. This man sees something in Hagen’s eyes and brutally toughens him up, thinking the dog will be a great success on the cricuit.
Director: W.D. Richter
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
Running Time: 103 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension is a cult classic from the 80’s that I’d never seen, but always wanted to. I didn’t really know much about it, but I found the title strangely appealing and was aware of its status as an oddball cult classic. Luckily for me, Arrow came to the rescue once again and offered me a chance to review their new feature-packed Blu-Ray re-release. So I strapped myself in for a trip across the 8th dimension.
Buckaroo Banzai (played by Peter Weller) is a half-Japanese, half-American brain surgeon, daredevil scientist and rock star. He and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, his band of hard rock scientists (as described in the opening crawl), are famous around the world, with their own branding and even a comic strip and arcade machines.
After successfully removing a tumour from a patient’s brain, Banzai heads to the salt flats to test a jet powered car which houses an Oscillation Overthruster. Banzai manages to use this device to open a door to the 8th dimension in the side of a mountain. He sees some crazy stuff in there before re-appearing out the other side with a strange creature/thing attached to the car.
This test is celebrated as a great success, but it draws the attention of the Red Lectroids, an alien race (led by Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli) who have teamed up with the deranged Dr Lizardo (John Lithgow). In the past, Lizardo had worked with Banzai’s scientist partner Professor Hikita (Robert Ito) on the prototype Overthruster, which went wrong and let the Red Lectroids escape from their inter-dimensional prison. Lizardo and the Red Lectroids now want to get their hands on the Overthruster so they can regain power over the world they were originally banished from, which is currently in the hands of the Black Lectroids. The Black Lectroids meanwhile, although friendly to the humans, feel their only hope of survival is to blow up the Earth if the Reds aren’t stopped in time. Banzai, with his team of agents/band members, The Hong Kong Cavaliers, must stop both sides before it’s too late!
Director: Robert Hossein
Screenplay: Dario Argento, Claude Desailly, Robert Hossein
Starring: Michèle Mercier, Robert Hossein, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas
Country: France, Italy, Spain
Running Time: 90 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I‘m a huge fan of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. I class Once Upon a Time in the West as my all time favourite film, let alone western. Because of this I’ve been keen to watch more films from the sub-genre, away from Leone’s work, but unfortunately very few have made their way to UK DVD/Blu-Ray. Perhaps due to the success of Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western homage, Django Unchained, some titles are finally coming out of the woodwork though. Arrow have released a few and their latest acquisition, Cemetery Without Crosses (a.k.a. The Rope and the Colt or Une corde, un Colt) isn’t a 100% spaghetti western, more of what Alex Cox called a ‘baguette western’ (it had a French director and stars), but it’s very much influenced by the Italian films of the era.
The film opens with Ben Caine (Benito Stefanelli) getting chased on horseback and then murdered in front of his wife Maria (Michèle Mercier). The killers are part of the notorious Rogers family and generally get away with their crimes due to their strength, power and influence over the local sheriff. Maria is out for vengeance though and enlists her old friend Manuel (Robert Hossein) to act it out for her. Much like in A Fistful of Dollars, Manuel begins by gaining his enemy’s trust, infiltrating the gang. This doesn’t last however as he kidnaps the beautiful daughter/sister of the family. Maria uses this hostage to exact her revenge.
I will say this before I start going into what I liked and didn’t like about the film; I was extremely tired when I watched it and in a particularly bad mood. So although I did like the film, I imagine I might have liked it even more given a better viewing situation.
Anyway, onto my critique.
Director: Bryan Singer
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Based on a Graphic Novel by: Chris Claremont, John Byrne
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage
Running Time: 142 min (Rogue Cut) 126 (Theatrical Cut)
BBFC Certificate: 12 (although the commentary is rated 15)
I like to moan about super hero movies. There seems to be an endless stream of them nowadays with these extended universes and such, so I’ve grown very tired of hearing about them. 90% of online chatter seems to surround the latest super hero movie trailer or casting news. Personally I couldn’t give a s**t about most of it and become a snob hiding in the corner with my indie movies and classic re-releases. However, despite my grumbling, I’ve actually enjoyed most of the super hero films I’ve seen during this decade-and-a-half boom.
One of last year’s super hero movies that I liked quite a lot was X-Men: Days of Future Past. So when I was offered a chance to review the new Rogue Cut of the film, I decided to break away from my usual snooty high-brow/classic/cult posts to join the mainstream.
I won’t go into too much detail about the plot for X-Men: Days of Future Past as most of you will already have seen it. Basically, in the future, the world is a bleak and desolate place, particularly for mutants who are being hunted and killed by the all powerful Sentinels (big evil robots that can take on mutant powers). The X-Men have a plan though. They send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back into the subconscious of his 1970’s self to change events surrounding Mystique/Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X, played by James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender) which led to the development of the Sentinel programme, spearheaded by Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage).
What The Rogue Cut adds in its 16 extra minutes, alongside a couple of minor changes here and there, is, as you might have guessed, a role for Rogue (Anna Paquin). She was a major character in the first couple of films, but was left on the cutting room floor when Days of Future Past hit cinemas. In these re-instated scenes she is saved from experimentation by Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Bobby/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) so that she can help the wounded Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) keep Wolverine in his former subconscious.
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone
Starring: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Cameron Rhodes
Country: New Zealand
Running Time: 107 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
New Zealand seems to be leading the way in horror comedies of late with What We Do in the Shadows and Housebound both doing well on the genre festival circuits. I enjoyed the former quite a bit even if I was slightly disappointed after the hype. Nevertheless, it whetted my appetite for more kiwi horror comedy, so I was more than happy to check out Housebound on its UK DVD release.
Housebound opens with a botched cash machine robbery by a young woman, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly). We hear in court that it’s not her first arrest and attempts at rehabilitation have failed, so the judge orders her under house arrest at her mum Miriam’s (Rima Te Wiata) house. Kylie isn’t at all happy with this, since she thinks her mum is an absent minded, gossiping bore. Miriam claims the house is haunted, which Kylie scoffs at until she starts to experience spooky goings on herself. Once these start to really unsettle the pair, they call upon Kylie’s probation officer, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who happens to be a keen paranormal investigator on the side. Together they discover a mystery behind the house that must be unravelled before the dead can be at peace.
Housebound is a very different beast to What We Do in the Shadows. Where that took horror characters and presented them in a distinctly non-horror fashion for laughs, Housebound is more of a classic horror story with humour more naturally integrated within it. Because of this, the film is less obviously fresh or attention grabbing as a lot of popular recent horror films.