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.

Would you like to know more…?

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.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Chuck Norris vs Communism

Director: Ilinca Calugareanu
Screenplay: Ilinca Calugareanu
Starring: Irina Margareta Nistor, Ana Maria Moldovan, Dan Chiorean
Country: UK, Romania, Germany
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: TBC

Chuck Norris vs Communism is the perfect companion piece to a documentary I reviewed only a few weeks ago, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. Whereas the latter revelled in poking fun at the low budget trashy output of Cannon Films in the 80’s, the documentary I’m reviewing here shows how some of those films and other similar titles from the era helped inspire a revolution.

Romania fell under Communist rule after WWII. In 1965 Nicolae Ceaușescu came to power and remained the party’s leader for almost 25 years, developing an autocratic control over the people. As Romania moved into the 1980’s, its foreign debt hit an incredible $10 billion and Ceaușescu pushed forward extreme austerity measures that shattered the economy and impoverished the population (the Conservatives in the UK should take note of that). In a desperate bid to keep the public on his side, he imposed a nationwide cult of personality – using propaganda and mass media to create an idealised, heroic depiction of himself.

Part of this process, alongside Ceaușescu’s general tight grip on the population, involved extreme censorship. The national television network was stripped down to just one channel, showing only two hours of content a day (all strictly positive towards the country and Ceaușescu). Films were practically banned, particularly those from outside Romania (I believe a few select titles which promoted the right values were allowed to be shown if they passed the strict censors). Whilst the rest of the world was enjoying the VHS boom, video players/recorders couldn’t be purchased in the country and the public were forbidden to enjoy the cascade of blockbusters coming out of Hollywood at the time.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Forty Guns

Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Dean Jagger, Gene Barry, Robert Dix, John Ericson
Country: USA
Running Time: 80 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG

As regular readers will know, I’ve been enjoying working my way through the classic westerns over the last couple of years. Eureka added Anthony Mann’s Man of the West (my review can be found here) to their Masters of Cinema lineup not too long ago and I was delighted to hear that they were mining the genre once again by releasing Samuel Fuller’s Forty Guns this month.

Forty Guns stars the great Barbara Stanwyck as Jessica Drummond, a wealthy landowner in Arizona. She’s a powerful woman who has control over the ‘forty guns’ of the title, a band of riders who help her maintain her dominant position over the area alongside her ability to pay off anyone she needs. When ex-hired gun Griff Bonnell (Barry Sullivan) and his two brothers ride into town and put a stop to her brother Brockie’s (John Ericson) drunken bullying, Jessica begins to lose her tight grip. This isn’t helped by the fact that she falls in love with Griff. Brockie isn’t about to let the Bonnells get away with what they did though and Jessica becomes torn between both sides whilst Griff’s life is put in danger.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Milano Calibro 9 (a.k.a. Caliber 9)

Director: Fernando Di Leo
Screenplay: Fernando Di Leo
Based on a Novel by: Giorgio Scerbanenco
Starring: Gastone Moschin, Barbara Bouchet, Mario Adorf, Philippe Leroy
Country: Italy
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 18

The Italians spawned a number of subgenres that have remained popular amongst lovers of cult and genre cinema. I love a good spaghetti western myself and I’ve been starting to work my way through more giallos recently. One Italian subgenre I wasn’t particularly aware of until watching Arrow’s new release of Fernando Di Leo’s Milano Calibro 9 (a.k.a. Caliber 9) though is the poliziotteschi. This is a form of crime and action film that came from Italy in the late 60’s and 70’s, cashing in on the success of tough American cop thrillers like Bullitt, Dirty Harry and The French Connection. Although Di Leo’s film wasn’t the first in the subgenre, it was a critical and commercial success and helped boost the popularity of the poliziotteschi and the director. I’d heard of Milano Calibro 9 through a podcast and I’ve been keen to see it ever since, so I was very happy to hear Arrow Video got their hands on the title.

The film opens with a classic money/drugs exchange which goes wrong, resulting in some gangsters being out of pocket by $300,000. They quickly take their anger out on all those who could have done it, in a spectacularly violent fashion. They find nothing, although they didn’t quite get to everyone. Ugo Piazza (Gastone Moschin) was sent to prison shortly after the deal. Mobster nutcase Rocco (Mario Adorf) is waiting for him as soon as he sets foot outside the prison gates, and harasses him for the money. Ugo claims he doesn’t have it, but Rocco tells him that he has to pay the money back to his boss The Americano (Lionel Stander) or there will be devastating consequences. The police believe Ugo has the money too and also give him a hard time. Ugo does his best to keep both sides at bay, enlisting the help of his former gangster ‘family’ Chino (Philippe Leroy) and his Don. As expected, things don’t quite go to plan though and the bodies begin to pile up.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Society

Director: Brian Yuzna
Screenplay: Rick Fry, Woody Keith
Starring: Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Evan Richards
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 18

After producing Stuart Gordon’s first few films (Re-Animator, From Beyond and Dolls) and having trouble retaining control over their script for what would become Honey I Shrunk the Kids (yes the pair behind Re-Animator wrote the story to this family favourite!), Brian Yuzna decided to direct his own film. A script he’d been sent, combined with some of his own ideas as to what he wanted to make, resulted in the controversial cult classic Society.

It’s a film about Bill (Billy Warlock) who, like most teenagers, feels he doesn’t fit with the rest of his family. His wealthy socialite parents care for nothing but social status and have a disturbingly ‘close’ relationship with his sister (although Bill’s intentions towards her veer in this direction too). When a classmate presents him with some shocking evidence as to what really happens at one of the upper class ‘coming out’ parties, Bill begins to think that his fears are more than just the usual adolescent rebellion. After doing some digging himself, Bill finds himself more and more worried as to the nature of not just his family, but the whole of the upper classes around him. When he gate crashes one of their soirees, he finally learns the disturbing truth.

I’d heard so much about Society before watching it this week, that it was strange to finally see it. It’s a film that’s notorious for its shocking finale which must have absolutely fried people’s minds on release and sent them running for a sick-bag. Unfortunately I’d seen so many images and clips and read a fair few reviews of the film over the years that I knew pretty much exactly what was going to happen. Because of this I felt like I spent most of the film just preparing for the climax.

Would you like to know more…?

Weekend of Trash XVII

I got together with the guys once again this weekend just gone for the 17th (recorded) Weekend of Trash (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive). I was too lazy this time around to do haiku reviews on top of my standard ones, but I still put together reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of sleaze, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes whilst watching action movies with my mates) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value rather than quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

Would you like to know more…?

Review: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Director: Mark Hartley
Screenplay: Mark Hartley
Starring: Menahem Golan (archive footage), Yoram Globus (archive footage), Sam Firstenberg, David Paulsen, Luigi Cozzi
Country: Australia/USA/Israel/UK
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 18

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films was one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Yes I’m excited about some of the big name films coming out (particularly the new Star Wars of course) and couldn’t wait to catch Mad Max: Fury Road a couple of weeks ago. However, those are/were all still risky ventures. They could quite easily be a huge disappointment, but given the subject matter of Electric Boogaloo and the excellent job writer/director Mark Hartley did of the fairly similar cult movie doc Not Quite Hollywood, it was highly unlikely I wouldn’t enjoy this documentary and, what do you know, I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As the title clearly points out, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films looks at the history of the notorious film studio, Cannon Films (or Cannon Group for the wider corporate title), that battered its way through the movie world during the 80’s before coming crashing down and dissolving in the early 90’s. The company was actually formed in the late 60’s by youngsters Dennis Friedland and Chris Dewey, but it’s better known as being run by its 80’s owners, Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, and this film largely focuses on their work in making the Cannon brand notorious among cinema-goers and eventually running it into the ground.

For those not familiar with Cannon Films, they were a company that got a name for themselves by producing a veritable stream of trashy movies. Operating a production line mentality, they made low-rate genre films on the cheap and threw everything into the mix (particularly sex and violence) to try and appeal to every possible lower common denominator. They helped boost the career of Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme as well as drag out the career of Charles Bronson. This was their public image at least, for actually they backed a few respected directors when they were struggling to get work financed (e.g. John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Franco Zeffirelli) and they also made a few underrated gems such as Runaway Train, 52 Pickup and Barfly. Unfortunately their terrible reputation made them a source of ridicule and their over-eagerness to make as many films as quickly and cheaply as possible, among other problems, caused everything to implode.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Falcon Rising

Director: Ernie Barbarash
Screenplay: Y.T. Parazi
Starring: Michael Jai White, Neal McDonough, Laila Ali
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15

The release of The Expendables and its sequels helped give direct to video action movies a bit of a popularity boost over the last few years. This seemed to be a double edged sword though in my opinion. It rejuvenated the careers of a couple of nigh on forgotten action heroes like Dolph Lundgren and helped keep Schwarzenegger and Stallone still relevant as on-screen ass-kickers. However, in dragging out the careers of these men now in their late 50’s and 60’s (Stallone will be 70 next year!), I feel as though some deserving new action stars are being held back. One of these is Scott Adkins, whose film Ninja: Shadow of a Tear I reviewed a while back and enjoyed a lot. He was in the second Expendables film, which likely helped his career, but he’s still not quite risen to top billing in any notable successes or theatrical releases (although the days of cheesy action movies playing in theatres has pretty much been and gone).

The second (not necessarily meant in that order) DTV star I always feel deserves more recognition is Michael Jai White. He had top billing in Spawn back in 1997, but the film hardly set fire to the box office and he spent most of the film in OTT make-up, so his face never became a part of the public consciousness. In 2006 he received acclaim in action movie circles with a starring role in Undisputed 2 (alongside Adkins) and this helped give his career a boost. Since then he had a small role in The Dark Knight and made a few great DTV gems like Blood and Bone and the wonderful blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite (which White co-wrote).

Action aficionados might know him then, but once again he hasn’t starred in a big commercial success yet. Hoping to change this and create a whole series of action vehicles for White is Falcon Rising.

Would you like to know more…?