Blu-Ray Review: Cat People

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 73 min
Year: 1942
BBFC Certificate: PG


CCat People is a film I saw a long time ago and have vague fond memories of, so I was keen to check out The Criterion Collection’s UK Blu-Ray release. I thought it might also get me in the mood for the usual October horror movie celebrations we film bloggers like to partake in.

From the title, Cat People sounds pretty silly and trashy, and, by all accounts, it was originally intended to be a cheap crowd-pleasing fright-fest. RKO Pictures were in trouble after Citizen Kane proved an expensive commercial failure on release (which is surprising to hear now). So they hired writer Val Lewton as a new producer for the studio, strictly to make low budget horror movies to help recoup some cash. His first film was Cat People and, although he did keep it under budget as promised and it made a lot of money, he turned a potentially daft concept into something quite poetic, subtle and intelligent.

The film sees the beautiful Serbian fashion sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), now living in New York, meet and quickly fall in love with Oliver Reed (not the booze loving actor, but a character played by Kent Smith). The couple get married soon after, but cracks soon appear in their relationship as Irena refuses to consummate the marriage. She believes in an old legend from her home town about the ‘cat people’ – those who had turned to witchcraft, devil worshipping and other wicked sins through their slavery to the Mameluks, who were driven out by King John. John had these sinners killed, but some escaped to the mountains, to become cat people. Supposedly these half human, half feline creatures kill those that they kiss, so, believing she is one of their descendants, Irena is afraid of the consequences of taking her new husband to bed.

The waters are further muddied when Reed’s work colleague Alice (Jane Randolph) confesses her love to him and, aided by the cracks appearing in his new marriage, he reciprocates. As Irena begins to suspect something going on between the two, her jealousy unleashes a dark, possibly cat-like side.

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Blu-Ray Review: Paths of Glory

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Calder Willingham, Jim Thompson
Based on a Novel by: Humphrey Cobb
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG


Stanley Kubrick is considered one of the greatest directors of all time, but most discussions and plaudits these days tend to focus on his mid to late work. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining for instance are regularly hailed as pinnacles of the sci-fi and horror genres respectively, as well as cropping up on general lists of the greatest films of all time, and rightly so, but I feel not enough attention is given to his 50’s output. His little-seen first feature, Fear and Desire (which I reviewed a few years ago) is no masterpiece and Kubrick was openly embarrassed about it once he grew more successful. His follow up, the film noir Killer’s Kiss, is a bit clunky, but shows promise in a couple of great set-pieces. However, after these shaky first steps, Kubrick knocked it out of the park with two incredibly sharp and assured films, The Killing and Paths of Glory. Neither made much of a commercial splash on release, but they gained enough critical acclaim for Kubrick to get attached to the big budget Spartacus, which was the beginning of the director’s rise to becoming a household name. These two late 50’s titles are well reviewed, but I don’t tend to see them crop up on as many ‘best of’ lists and neither have been packaged with the big Kubrick box sets that have been released (although this is a rights issue more than favouritism). Well, in early 2015, Arrow gave us a great Blu-Ray package containing The Killing alongside Killer’s Kiss and now Eureka have turned their attention towards Paths of Glory, delivering the wonderful Blu-Ray release it deserves.

Paths of Glory is based on a true story, set on the front line in France during World War I. A troop of soldiers are ordered to take a German position known as ‘the anthill’. It’s pretty much a suicide mission, which General Mireau (George Macready) is aware of, but his superior, General Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou), insists and dangles the carrot of a promotion if he carries it out. Mireau gives the order to the regiment’s Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), who is even more reluctant, but has no choice in the matter. When the day of the attack comes, the first wave out of the trenches takes heavy casualties and the second refuse to go over the top, so the mission is abandoned. Mireau is furious about this and orders each of the three companies involved to pick one soldier to be executed to make an example of the regiment. Dax is furious about this and, being an esteemed criminal defence lawyer before the war, he requests to defend the three soldiers in the court martial.

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Blu-Ray Review: From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years

Director: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Writers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Starring: Shahid Ahmed, Rich Alpin, Brian Bagnall
Country: UK
Running Time: 152 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: E

A year or so ago I reviewed a crowd-funded documentary about the birth and growth of the British video games industry, called From Bedrooms to Billions. I was impressed by the film, which was much more than the fluffy nostalgia piece I expected. So when I heard they were releasing a follow up, focussing on the Commodore Amiga, I was eager to get a copy to review. It wasn’t only the quality of the previous film that attracted me to From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years though. Like a lot of Brits around my age, my introduction to video games didn’t come in the form of the Nintendo or Sega consoles. These tended to come out a lot later in the UK and weren’t the be all and end all that they were in the US. We had an alternative, and that was the Commodore Amiga. I had an Acorn Electron computer first, but the games on this were very basic and I was very young. Our family replacement to this was the Amiga 500 though and it opened the floodgates to video gaming for me. The graphics were great, many of the games fantastic and it was modelled on a PC in design, so was more flexible than a pure games console in terms of offering word processor or paint programs etc. I loved it and the computer/console has long held a special place in my heart.

The documentary opens by describing the early history of home video game consoles, particularly those offered by Atari and Commodore (with some mention of what Apple were doing on the home computing front). Some designers working with these companies at the time grew unhappy with the way things were moving and decided to branch out on their own to form a new company, called Amiga. They had plans for a console/computer that would blow their competitors out of the water in terms of power and capabilities, yet cost a fraction of the price of the expensive PC’s available at the time. They struggled for a time, coming up with brilliant ideas, but not having the backing to pull it off. After a successful demonstration at an important trade show however, Amiga got thrown in the middle of a bidding war between Atari and Commodore. This war was made even more messy by the fact that Atari had been taken over by Jack Tramiel, formerly one of the bosses at Commodore.

After the dust had settled and Commodore became the company to release the first Amiga, the computer was launched. The initial system, the Amiga 1000, came out in 1985 (though not widely released until 1986) and struggled to find a market. 1987’s cheaper model, the Amiga 500, was a huge success though (in Europe at least). The graphics and sound capabilities were groundbreaking, allowing for near arcade-quality games at a fraction of the price. The documentary goes on to praise the importance of some of the machine’s innovations and how they helped shape today’s video games industry.

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DVD Review: Nostalgia

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Andrei Tarkovsky, Tonino Guerra
Starring: Oleg Yankovskiy, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano
Country: Italy, Soviet Union
Running Time: 125 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘m approaching the end of my Tarkovsky marathon. There’s still one to go (The Sacrifice) and I’m running out of ideas for my opening paragraphs. I’ll sum up my journey at the end of the month when I tackle Tarkovsky’s final film, so all I can say about my approach to Nostalgia is that, after working through most of the rest of the director’s oeuvre these past two months, I’ve come to expect a slow, thoughtful, dreamlike style with striking visuals. Nostalgia (a.k.a. Nostalghia) is no different, although I felt it worked better and worse than the other titles in various aspects.

Now, I won’t lie, and this is going to add to some of my comments on previous Tarkovsky reviews that suggest I’m not up to film-buff scratch to be reviewing such lofty titles, but I had to look the film up to put together a short synopsis. It’s not a complicated film, by any means. Scenes and on-screen activity are rather minimal, but, possibly due to writing notes during a key bit of exposition or simply being far too tired to take it all in as usual, I managed to miss the film’s setup and some of the later details were a bit sketchy. From what I gathered afterwards, the film’s protagonist, Russian poet Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy) is visiting Italy with a guide/interpreter Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) to research the life of an 18th century Russian composer who had killed himself (this aspect of why he was there is what I missed). In a small rural town he comes across a seemingly crazy man called Domenico (Erland Josephson), who is famous (or rather infamous) for having imprisoned his family in their house for seven years for fear of impending apocalypse. Andrei is strangely drawn to this man, sensing a link between them. Andrei’s dreams of his home and family that he deeply misses become intertwined with dreams of Domenico’s past and when the older man gives the Russian an unusual task he feels duty bound to carry it out.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Flight of the Phoenix

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller
Based on a Novel by: Trevor Dudley Smith
Starring: James Stewart, Richard Attenborough, Hardy Krüger, Peter Finch, Ronald Fraser, Ernest Borgnine, Ian Bannen, George Kennedy, Dan Duryea
Country: USA
Running Time: 144 min
Year: 1965
BBFC Certificate: PG


Watching Robert Aldrich’s 1965 film The Flight of the Phoenix for the first time last night presented me with a fairly unusual situation where I’d seen a remake prior to the original. I saw the 2004 Flight of the Phoenix (one of the changes was to drop the ‘the’) a few years ago and quite enjoyed it, but didn’t think it was anything special (incidentally, the making of documentary on the UK DVD made more of an impact, as I felt it was one of the best I’d seen for a modern release). This underwhelming response didn’t stop me from showing interest in watching the original though. On top of the fantastic cast, which I’ll come to later, having Robert Aldrich in the director’s chair appealed to me. I’ve not seen many of his films, but those I have, particularly Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen, are very much in line with my tastes – i.e. thrilling entertainment with a dark edge. The Flight of the Phoenix wasn’t one of his most commercial successes, but it has garnered a fair amount of respect and acclaim over the years, so it was a title of his I had on my radar and I was keen to get my hands on a screener when my friends at Eureka offered me one.

The Flight of the Phoenix sets things up very efficiently, with a group of oil men and British soldiers sharing a flight across the Sahara desert, which soon comes into trouble (stylishly during the credits) as it hits a sandstorm and crash lands in the sand. Most of the passengers and crew make it through the crash alive, with only two deaths and one severe injury, but the survivors are left stranded in the harsh, unforgiving landscape of the Sahara, with little chance of rescue due to being 130 miles off their due course. Nevertheless, the group try to stay alive as long as possible and wait for a plane to pass by. A young German passenger, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Krüger), has another suggestion though. He’s an aircraft designer and claims that another plane can be constructed from the remains of the aircraft that dropped them there. This is dismissed as madness at first, but the cold and calculated Dorfmann eventually convinces the desperate crew and they get to work, using what little strength and resources they have, to build ‘The Phoenix’ and fly back to civilization.

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Review: The Closer We Get

Director: Karen Guthrie
Screenplay by: Karen Guthrie
Starring: Ann Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Karen Guthrie
Country: UK, Ethiopia
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m very much a family man at heart. I obviously care greatly for my wife and kids (although I spend far too much time watching, reading and writing about films when I could be spending more time with them), but I’m also quite close to my extended family. I see my parents regularly and although my wife’s family and the rest of mine live further afield (mostly in different countries), we find time to visit them whenever possible and are always more than happy to see them. This may sound common and I’m sure it is, but many people grow distant from their family and know little about their aunts, uncles and cousins as they grow older. These days, more and more families are broken up too, fractured or made more complicated at least by divorce. Director Karen Guthrie’s family have an unusual history in which they seem to be simultaneously distant and close and she explores this in her documentary The Closer We Get.

Karen’s parents, Ann and Ian, fell in love, got married and rushed out four children in five years. Family life seemed pretty normal at first, but when the children were still young, Ian began to travel to Ethiopia to work (or volunteer, I missed that detail). This seemed admirable as the country needed support, but he would spend very long periods of time there, only returning once or twice a year for holidays, when he would often just take Ann away somewhere exotic. He just couldn’t seem to settle at home. This seeming lack of interest in family life, on top of a shocking revelation that I won’t reveal here, caused the couple to split, leaving the children with Ann.

In more recent years however, Ann suffered a devastating stroke which left her unable to care for herself. So her grown up children came back home to look after her. In an unexpected twist though, Ian also returned, after 15 years of divorce, to lend his support. Karen, who had been documenting aspects of her family life before the stroke, uses her probably vast amount of footage to craft a film that tries to find out just what happened between her parents and explore the unique dynamic now present in their family home.

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DVD Review: Stalker

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy, Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy
Starring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 155 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


My trip through the work of art-house/world cinema heavyweight Andrei Tarkovsky continues with Stalker, from 1979. Like Solaris, this is one of his films I was simultaneously most looking forward to and most wary of. It’s highly regarded (as are all of his films) which got me interested, on top of the sci-fi focus, but it also sounded like it might be the slowest moving and most bleak title of his oeuvre. So, although I had no doubt that I wanted to watch and review the film, I was a bit hesitant to put it on once I’d received the screener. As is too often the case these days (due to having two young children) I was far too tired to take on such a heavy film and ended up watching it in two parts, but I made it through though and managed to appreciate the extraordinary work Tarkovsky had done.

Stalker is set some time in the future when a large area of the country (presumably somewhere in The Soviet Union) has been cordoned off with barbed wire and armed defences. Known only as The Zone, this area is off-limits to everyone and believed to be highly dangerous. Gifted individuals known as Stalkers have special abilities to be able to navigate it though, to take people to what is special about The Zone, The Room. The Room is believed to be a place that can make true the inner most desire of those who enter. Our protagonist is an unnamed Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy), who has been hired to guide The Writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and The Professor (Nikolay Grinko) to The Room. As they make the long, treacherous journey out of the city and across The Zone, the three of them argue about the meaning of their lives and the importance of faith, among other things, culminating in a dilemma as they reach the threshold of The Room.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cry of the City

Director: Robert Siodmak
Screenplay: Richard Murphy
Based on a Novel by: Henry Edward Helseth
Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Conte, Fred Clark, Berry Kroeger, Shelley Winters
Country: USA
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1948
BBFC Certificate: 12


After moaning about a lack of film noir releases in the UK a couple of months ago, I’m now being spoilt by a wealth of them. I even passed on the chance to review a couple Arrow are releasing soon (largely because I already own them on DVD though). The latest noir offering to take a spin my Blu-Ray player is Richard Siodmak’s 1948 film, Cry of the City. The director was one of the many German directors who fled the country when the Nazis came into power in the mid-thirties. After living with Billy Wilder in Paris for a few years and making films there, he left for America in 1940. There he grew to become one of the most famous film noir directors during the genre’s heyday, responsible for classic titles such as The Spiral Staircase, The Killers and Criss Cross. Cry of the City wasn’t as successful as those at the time, but these days its reputation has grown, so I was keen to check it out.

Cry of the City opens to show us Martin Rome (Richard Conte) at death’s door in a hospital. As his family hold a tearful vigil by his bedside, two policemen – Candella (Victor Mature) and Collin (Fred Clark), and a lawyer – Niles (Berry Kroeger) are skulking around, wishing to speak to him before he dies. For one, he died in a shoot out with the police which ended in the death of one officer, but also Niles wants to get him to confess to a crime his client is due to go to the chair for, the DiGrazia murder. Rome manages to survive the night and is transferred to a prison hospital, where Candella and Niles continue to hassle him to get answers. Rome keeps his mouth shut, but is concerned for the safety of his innocent girlfriend, Teena (Debra Paget), so breaks out of the hospital to try and get her to safety, whilst getting to the bottom of the DiGrazia case. There’s little chance for a happy ending for Rome though as the driven Candella closes in on him and his life-threatening wounds aren’t given chance to heal on the run.

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Blu-Ray Review: The In-Laws – Criterion Collection

Director: Arthur Hiller
Screenplay: Andrew Bergman
Starring: Peter Falk, Alan Arkin, Richard Libertini, Ed Begley Jr., James Hong, David Paymer
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


This was a blind watch for me. I didn’t know anything about the film before the press release was sent. I’d heard of, but not seen, the remake and didn’t realise that was based on another film film anyway. Criterion can generally be trusted to release quality titles though and the cast was appealing, so I took a gamble which I’m happy to say paid off.

The In-Laws is a comedy about two father-in-laws to be; uptight Jewish dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin) and crazy Italian American criminal/government agent Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk). The film opens with a daring open air robbery of some federal reserve plates (stamps used to print money), which soon make their way into the hands of heist mastermind Vince, who rushes straight from the scene to have dinner with the parents of his son’s fiancée. Here, Vince’s wild mood changes and crazy stories about giant, baby-carrying flies don’t impress potential in-law Sheldon, who wants to call the wedding off. His daughter talks him out of it, but the next morning Vince shows up at Sheldon’s surgery asking for a favour. He wants him to break into his own safe and bring him the contents. Sheldon is somehow talked into it and from then on his life is thrown into a ridiculous spiral of chaos, taking the duo all the way to South America where Vince plans to sell the plates to a crazed general. Vince claims he’s a CIA agent and this is all part of an elaborate plan to bring the general down, but Sheldon (and the audience) aren’t convinced.

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