Blu-Ray Review: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Director: W.D. Richter
Screenplay: Earl Mac Rauch
Starring: Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1984
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!

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Blu-Ray Review: Cemetery Without Crosses

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
Year: 1969
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.

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Blu-Ray Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut

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
Country: USA/UK/Canda
Running Time: 142 min (Rogue Cut) 126 (Theatrical Cut)
Year: 2014
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.

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DVD Review: Housebound

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
Year: 2014
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.

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Blu-Ray Review: 3 Women

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Robert Altman, Patricia Resnick (uncredited)
Starring: Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Janice Rule, Robert Fortier
Country: USA
Running Time: 124 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: PG


1977’s 3 Women came at the end of Robert Altman’s ‘golden age’ in the 70’s. Prior to that he’d found success with the surprise hit M*A*S*H* at the start of the decade and followed it up with classics like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye and Nashville. There were a few curiosities in between, such as Buffalo Bill and the Indians, but largely he could do no wrong. 3 Women was divisive (usual Altman champion Pauline Kael wasn’t a fan), but it still won a fair few awards (mainly for the performances) and had its followers. After that, he began a decline into his ‘troubled’ 80’s period when he fell totally out of favour before coming back with a few masterpieces in the 90’s (alongside some more clunkers).

I wouldn’t necessarily say that the production or reception of 3 Women caused his decline, but it’s a very unusual film, even by Altman’s standards. Perhaps it shows him getting frustrated and trying to do something completely new. His previous films had notable differences, but most of them had an ‘Altmanesque’ style and feel, with anarchic overlapping dialogue, often quite large casts and a need to subvert film genres or American ideals. There are hints of some of these characteristics in 3 Women, but it feels more like an art film from a European director. Supposedly Altman was influenced by Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and there are certainly similarities in style as well as content.

3 Women opens with Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) starting a new job in a rehabilitation spa in California. Millie (Shelley Duvall) is asked to show her the ropes and you see Pinky quickly develop an obsessive admiration or possibly desire for the woman. Millie is lonely and deluded. She acts like she’s living the perfect existence of a modern woman with her designed apartment and her regular dates and dinner parties that never actually happen.

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Blu-Ray Review: A Letter to Three Wives

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Vera Caspary
Based on a Novel by: John Klempner
Starring: Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1949
BBFC Certificate: U


The romantic drama A Letter to Three Wives isn’t the usual sort of film I’d volunteer to review. However, I’m a big fan of All About Eve, which is also written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, so I was intrigued and anything released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series is worth a watch.

A Letter to Three Wives has quite a simple premise. Three friends, Deborah (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae (Linda Darnell) and Rita (Ann Sothern) get a letter from a fourth ‘friend’ (the three are always bitching about her), Addie Ross, stating that she has run away with one of their husbands. She doesn’t say which one however and, as the three are away at a children’s picnic, they are left to grow increasingly more anxious about whether their husbands will be at home waiting for them. The rest of the film is largely made up of flashbacks, telling the wives’ stories. All of them have suspicions about their husbands, who all had their own interests in Addie, and all three relationships are growing strained in different ways.

It’s an interesting concept which is simple to describe, but paves the way for a rich and involving look at love and marriage. It’s refreshing to see an adult drama surrounding women. It’s well documented that films these days are far too male-centric. OK, so the stories here are about relationships with men so it might not pass the Bechdel test, but it makes a change from the typical damsel in distress or arm-candy roles too regularly dumped on women.

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Terracotta Classic Kung Fu Collection

Being a martial arts movie fan in the UK is tough. When I first really got into the genre at the turn of the millennium, when I was at uni, a DVD label called Hong Kong Legends appeared and it was like mana from heaven. They released 101 classic martial arts films in total, largely from the Golden Harvest vaults. Through their beautifully remastered DVD’s, usually packed with features, I was able to work my way through the early films of Jackie Chan, discover the joy of Sammo Hung’s master works and uncover a wealth of classic action movies from Hong Kong. Unfortunately, as the decade moved on, key members of the Hong Kong Legends team left to work for Dragon Dynasty in the US and the label’s output dwindled and eventually it folded completely. The Cine Asia label formed during this time, bringing out a number of modern Asian action films and even eventually re-releasing most of the big name Hong Kong Legends releases. They never delved deeper into the wealth of old school kung fu available in East Asia though and eventually they too fell by the wayside.

The biggest martial arts gap in UK home entertainment is the lack of Shaw Brothers films. Momentum Pictures started bringing out a few, but gave up before they really got going. Momentum have disappeared now too (although they were bought up by eOne), so these days fans of old school kung-fu are left with that one bunch of Hong Kong Legends releases, floating around in various formats, and little else to quench their hunger for retro kung-fu violence.

Praise the high-kicking Lord then for Terracotta distribution. Just when all hope was lost, they have introduced their very own ‘Classic Kung Fu Collection’. Since the end of last year, Terracotta have been gradually treating UK fans to some rare old school kung fu classics. They’ve only got four out so far, but as my brief reviews of them all below will attest, they’re well worth a watch and, fingers crossed, hopefully we’ll be seeing more in the future.

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Review: Orson Welles Centenary Releases

To celebrate what would have been Orson Welles’ 100th birthday, Mr Bongo Films are releasing a collection of much sought after and rare films from the acclaimed director, including a brand new restored 50th Anniversary Edition of Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight. I was lucky enough to get my hands on screeners for three of the films in their lineup. I must admit I’d only actually seen three of Welles’ films prior to this week; Citizen Kane (of course), The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil. I love all three (Shanghai to a lesser extent), so I was keen to dig further into his filmography. Below are my thoughts on the films I was sent.

Too Much Johnson

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Play by: William Gillette
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Virginia Nicolson, Edgar Barrier
Country: USA
Running Time: 66 min
Year: 1938
BBFC Certification: U


I was always under the impression that Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’ debut feature, but three years earlier back in 1938 he’d directed Too Much Johnson. This was meant to be integrated with Welles’ stage production of the play of the same name, by William Gillette. The venue didn’t have any projection facilities though, so the film was never screened. It was believed to be lost for decades after a fire in Welles’ home in 1971, but a work print was rediscovered back in 2008 and has now reached British homes through this DVD release.

Too Much Johnson is a silent comedy in which Augustus Billings (Joseph Cotten) is caught in bed with another man’s wife. He escapes out the window before the husband Leon Dathis (Edgar Barrier) gets his hands on him, but this sets the scene for an epic chase across the city and eventually all the way to Cuba.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Kikumi Yamagishi
Based on a Film by: Kim Jee-woon
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda
Country: Japan
Running Time: 113 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 18


There was a wave of fairly successful Asian films which reached the West in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. One of the directors that rose to prominence during this time was Takashi Miike. The title of his that caught the world’s attention, after churning out largely direct to video fare, was Audition. A slow drama that suddenly turns into gut churning horror in the final act, the film was a critical success and it helped boost the popularity of J-horror, which had reached Western shores with Ringu (a.k.a. The Ring). Miike didn’t sit back and rest on his laurels though. One of the most prolific recent directors I’ve ever come across, he continued (and continues) to churn out film after film. He’ll be 55 this year and he has 98 directing credits to his name from his debut in 1991 (that’s an average of around 4 films a year!) according to the IMDB.

2001 was a big year for the director. Eight of his films were released that year and four of them made it to the UK that I’m aware of and received a mixture of acclaim and notoriety. This really cemented his reputation as a fearless master of extreme cinema with the unbelievably violent Ichi the Killer, the seriously f*cked up Visitor Q, Yakuza drama The Agitator and the comedy horror musical The Happiness of the Katakuris.

The latter title is being re-released on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK by the ever dependable Arrow Video label. Although I was rather smitten by the wave of Asian cinema released in the early 2000’s when I was a student, I never got around to watching The Happiness of the Katakuris, so I was keen to see what the fuss was about.

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