DVD Review: Mirror

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Aleksandr Misharin, Andrei Tarkovsky, Arseniy Tarkovskiy (poems – uncredited)
Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovskiy, Ignat Daniltsev
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 105 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: U


My planned journey through the work of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky continues with his fourth feature, Mirror (a.k.a. The Mirror or Zerkalo). I skipped Andrei Rublev because I’d already seen it and with its epic length I figured I had enough on my plate with the other six of his films Artificial Eye are re-releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK. I should hopefully be covering Solaris soon – it was made after Mirror, but I’m reviewing these in the order in which they’re being re-released.

Mirror unfolds as a series of memories, as a dying man, Aleksei (voiced by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy), recalls his childhood, particularly time with his mother, as well as his relationship with his wife/partner and son, and other moments in his life which stood out. It’s supposedly quite a personal work for the director, touching on some aspects of his own life. His father provides the poetry read out over various scenes too. The history of Russia during the time of his life is supposedly examined, but my knowledge of this is minimal so this aspect was lost on me.

So, as the description probably alludes, the film reminded me a lot of Tree of Life. Like Terrence Malick’s film, this eschews an obvious narrative for a collection of fragments of life in all its forms – love, fear, sadness, joy, albeit without the dinosaurs and big bang sequences. In particular, Mirror examines how those around us (largely our parents) help make us what we are, possibly more than we do ourselves, and how our actions affect our children’s lives and personalities. These themes are particularly prevalent due to the fact that the focus of most of the scenes seem to be on Aleksei’s mother, wife and occasionally son, more than on the man himself.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Ox-Bow Incident

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Based on a Novel by: Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Mary Beth Hughes, Marc Lawrence
Country: USA
Running Time: 75 min
Year: 1943
BBFC Certificate: PG


Back in the early days of Hollywood, up to the end of the 30’s, the western was primarily a B-movie genre. They tended to be cheap, throwaway bits of fun with a clean cut hero saving the girl or town from outlaws or Native Americans. Films like John Ford’s Stagecoach brought them out of the shadows though and they started to be big business, even if they were still fairly straight forward in terms of plot. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943 helped usher in a new era though. Bringing in darker themes, mirroring modern issues in this period setting, the film is thought to have been the first ‘psychological western’. It didn’t make much money at the box-office, but The Ox-Bow Incident received critical acclaim and helped pave the way for films that took ideas and storylines from film noir and transposed them to the wild west. Examples of this can be seen in Station West in 1948 and The Furies in 1950.

The Ox-Bow Incident opens with two cowboys, Gill Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan), riding into the quiet Nevada town of Bridger’s Wells. They enter the local saloon and hear from local ranchers that there have been a spate of incidents of cattle-rustling recently and the culprits are still at large. After a bit of a drunken dust-up between Carter and one of the locals, a rider rushes into town to say that one of the townsfolk has been murdered and his cattle stolen. It seems clear which way the killer/s will be travelling, so the local men (and one not-so-feminine woman named Ma) come together to form a lynch mob to chase him down and put him to their own brand of ‘justice’. The local judge (Matt Briggs) and a good man named Arthur Davies (Harry Davenport) think the matter should be handled through the courts, but the mob won’t listen. Davies joins the group to try and steer them away from anything drastic, as do Carter and Croft, although they might only be joining to avoid any blame being put on them, being outsiders. Also joining the mob is ‘Major’ Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his soft-hearted, possibly homosexual son Gerald (William Eythe), who is being dragged along by his father to “make him a man”.

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Blu-Ray Review: All Night Long

Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Nel King, Paul Jarrico
Based on a Play by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Keith Michell, Betsy Blair, Paul Harris, Richard Attenborough
Country: UK
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 15


I may spend much of my free time writing about films and work for a production company who make them, but film isn’t my only passion in life and, depending on my mood, isn’t necessarily my biggest either. My first love was music and it remains a vitally important part of my life. I’m an avid album collector and have been ever since I got a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette for my 6th or 7th birthday. I’ve also played the piano since the age of 5 and had short stints learning the saxophone, training my singing voice and self-teaching myself some basic guitar chords. Films are hugely dear to my heart too of course, but they’ll never fully replace the joy I get from listening to or playing my favourite songs or albums.

I pride myself in appreciating a wide range of music, from classical to metal, but one particular genre has long been my go-to and that’s jazz. The whole reason I learnt to play the saxophone as a teenager was because I’d discovered jazz music and artists such as Charlie Parker who brought the instrument to vivid life. I often go through phases of different types of music I listen to more frequently than others, but jazz is always there in the background.

So what better way to combine my two life passions than in a film about jazz? I’ve been looking for some good ones recently as my jazz love has been in overdrive, but there aren’t that many good ones available. I tracked down a couple of documentaries, such as Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz TV series, but feature films on the subject tend to largely be biopics and I’ve never been a fan of biopics, so tend to avoid them. Network have recently come to my rescue though, asking if I’d like to review Basil Dearden’s spin on Shakespeare’s Othello, All Night Long, which is set in the 60’s London jazz scene and features jazz luminaries such as Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. Needless to say, I took them up on their offer.

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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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