Blu-Ray Review: The Offence

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: John Hopkins
Based on a Play by: John Hopkins
Starring: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Ian Bannen, Vivien Merchant
Country: UK/USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15

Sidney Lumet was responsible for a handful of cast iron classics. His debut feature 12 Angry Men and several films he made in the 70’s (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Serpico) are all considered some of the finest films ever made. If you look on the IMDb though you’ll see he has an astonishing 73 directing credits to his name. Granted the first 20 or so are TV shows, but he’s still got quite a large volume of work under his belt. Because of this, he has made a huge number of films that have been forgotten over the years despite his pedigree. Some were probably forgotten for good reason (Gloria for instance), but I imagine there are a good few gems lurking in there waiting to be discovered. It’s that thinking that got me excited about checking out The Offence, which is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of Eureka’s superb Masters of Cinema series.

The Offence stars the legend that is Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson, who is part of a team of policemen on the hunt for a child molester in an English suburb. Shortly after a fourth victim is found, a suspect is brought in for questioning. The slightly fey Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen) is this suspect, who gives nothing to the police detectives who question him. Johnson, who is hell bent on catching the deviant and plagued with memories of previous cases, is convinced Baxter is his man though and locks himself in the interrogation room with him to knock out the truth. He knocks too hard though and beats the man possibly to death. Johnson himself becomes the offender at this point and the spotlight is turned on him and his demons.

My opinion on this film veered this way and that, and after reading a couple of other reviews (not something I generally practise) I seem to have the opposite opinion to everyone else, so please don’t take my thoughts as gospel.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood and Black Lace

Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Marcello Fondato
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner
Country: Italy/France/Monaco
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: 18

Mario Bava is one of the most highly influential directors in genre cinema. His films are rarely listed as the greatest of all time, but his work kick started a number of sub genres as well as inspired numerous more famous directors. Bava’s first credited feature, Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) in 1960, was a sumptuously gothic horror which looked beautiful (he began his career as a cinematographer) but was laced with violent imagery, including an incredibly gruesome opening sequence where a spiked mask is hammered into a suspected witch’s face. This caught people’s attention and is still considered one of Bava’s best films. A few years later, he directed what is considered the first real giallo (violent Italian ‘whodunit’ thrillers to put it simply), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (a.k.a The Evil Eye) in 1963. He is also believed to have created possibly the first slasher film with A Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve) in 1971. His violent, stylish brand of filmmaking, which often set plot aside to let the mood, tone and visuals replace/provide the substance, was hugely influential on numerous horror and thriller directors, particularly other Italian masters such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Blood and Black Lace came shortly after The Girl Who Knew Too Much and a few years before A Bay of Blood but is equally as important. It more clearly defined the giallo genre than its predecessor and also contains a number of the tropes of the slasher movie, meaning it could also be considered one of the films to forge that sub-genre. The importance of this film certainly must have been felt by the genre-loving folk over at Arrow Video as they have just released a gorgeously well remastered and loaded dual format blu-ray/DVD set. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review so below are my thoughts on the film and extra features.

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Blu-Ray Review: Midnight Run

Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: George Gallo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano
Country: USA
Running Time: 126 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 18

The majority of films I review are first time watches or at least films that I haven’t seen for a while. This is largely due to the fact that I mainly just review screeners and don’t often take discs offered that I already own. However, when a Midnight Run press release reached me recently I went against the grain, reviewing something I own and saw (for the first time) only a few months ago. I decided to go with it partly because the original DVD release was terribly presented (see the bottom of the page), but also because I really enjoyed the film and couldn’t resist an excuse to watch it again.

Midnight Run is not quite a ‘cult classic’ in the Rocky Horror sense of the phrase. It’s more of an under-appreciated gem that picked up some strong reviews on its release and made a bit of money, but wasn’t really the hit it was expected to be (it came out on the same day as Die Hard which didn’t help) and kind of disappeared from people’s radars over the years. It has picked up a bit of a following though so the fine people over at Second Sight deemed it worthy of a brand spanking new Blu-Ray release.

The film stars Robert De Niro as bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who is hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to track down and bring in former Mafia accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), who has embezzled $15 million from notorious mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). Jack finds The Duke straight away, but the journey back to prison isn’t so simple because Serrano’s goons are hot on their heels as well as the FBI and another bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) who wants in on the action. The unlikely central pair clash during the long journey across the country, but a friendship slowly develops despite their differences and the obvious elephant in the room of Jack’s job and The Duke’s crime.

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DVD Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenplay: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Country: New Zealand/USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15

Being a fan of Flight of the Conchords and hearing a lot of early buzz about What We Do in the Shadows, the latest film project by one half of the Conchords team, Jemaine Clement, I was desperate to catch it when it was released late last year. Unfortunately it only screened in a handful of theatres so I missed it, but luckily Metrodome have just brought the film out in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray so I snapped up the chance to review it to see if it lived up to the hype.

Written and directed by Clement alongside Eagle vs Shark director Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary looking at the day to day lives of four vampires, Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). They share a flat together in Wellington, New Zealand and leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, a huge annual event for the local undead, the group live out their fairly dull extended lives, sleeping during the daytime and feeding from victims in the evening. During such a night, the guys add another member to the household, when Petyr turns young Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire too. This allows the audience to witness the teething troubles (bad pun intended) of making the transformation as well as adding his human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) into the equation.

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Blu-Ray Review: Massacre Gun

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Screenplay: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryûzô Nakanishi
Starring: Jô Shishido, Jirô Okazaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Hideaki Nitani, Takashi Kanda
Country: Japan
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15

Similarly to my last review, of Wooden Crosses, you’ll have to excuse me comparing the film I’m reviewing to a similar one seen recently. Back in October I watched and reviewed Youth of the Beast and was blown away by how stylish and mind-bogglingly cinematic it was. Massacre Gun isn’t by the same director (the great Seijun Suzuki), but it’s got the same star and is from the same studio sub-genre, Nikkatsu Noir. These are crime or gangster thrillers in a film noir vein, produced by the famous Japanese studio Nikkatsu, who made a number of these in the late 50’s and 60’s.

Massacre Gun starts with a bang. Mob hitman Kuroda (Jô Shishido) is sent to kill the woman he loves. He dutifully carries out the task before the credits have finished rolling. However, after his youngest brother, aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), has his hands smashed in after standing up to mob boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda), Kuroda tells his employer that he wants to quit. Akazawa won’t accept this and makes Kuroda’s life as difficult as possible, prompting him to join his two brothers and take on the mob boss at his own game. This of course has violent consequences.

As that brief synopsis demonstrates, Massacre Gun is a more conventional film than Youth of the Beast and especially Suzuki’s other famous gangster films Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. The revenge and gang warfare angle has been well mined over the years. However, director Yasuharu Hasebe does a decent job and it’s still a great example of the genre. There are a couple of unusual over the top moments too, such as a body rigged with explosives and some unusual scenery such as having one scene set against a beach covered in burning boats.

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Blu-Ray Review: Wooden Crosses

Director: Raymond Bernard
Screenplay: Raymond Bernard, André Lang
Based on a Novel by: Roland Dorgelès
Starring: Pierre Blanchar, Gabriel Gabrio, Charles Vanel
Country: France
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 1932
BBFC Certificate: PG

I‘ve always been surprised by how few ‘true’ World War I films there are and by that I mean ones that follow troops in battle and aren’t more concerned with something else happening at the same time. There are countless WWII films, with more cropping up year by year, but ‘The Great War’ is often ignored. Maybe it’s the fact that the US weren’t quite as heavily involved until the last year (although they still sent a hefty 4.7 million soldiers over) or maybe it’s just too far past for modern writers and producers to mine it for inspiration. Whatever the reason, I’ve always found it a little sad that this horrific conflict gets little cinematic recognition when compared to its ‘big brother’.

Last year’s centenary of the start of the war brought it back to people’s attention though and we saw a lot of TV programmes and web resources cropping up to remind us, although notably not a high profile feature film. The commemoration made we want to track down something to watch though and I realised I had a notable blind spot from the classic movie canon, 1930’s All Quiet on the Western Front. I had a copy gathering dust on my overcrowded DVD shelf so finally gave it whirl. Why I’d waited so long I’ll never know. I was blown away by how brutal and powerful a film of its age could be.

So, a few months down the line, Eureka announced one of the latest additions to their impeccable Masters of Cinema series would be Wooden Crosses. Charting a new recruit’s entry into the European front lines during WWI, the film sounded like the French answer to All Quiet on the Western Front and was originally released only two years later, so I had to see how it compared. Due to this, you’ll have to forgive me bringing up the earlier film far too often in my review.

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Blu-Ray Review: Sweet Smell of Success

Director: Alexander Mackendrick
Screenplay: Clifford Odets, Ernest Lehman
Based on a Novella by: Ernest Lehman
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison, Martin Milner
Producer: James Hill
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: 12A

I recently moved house and with all the unpacking and DIY to do I’ve been building a bit of a backlog of screeners to review. In hindsight I should have been sensible and not taken any on over this period, but I struggle to turn down the opportunity to watch some of the interesting and exciting titles I get offered from my PR/distributor friends. If we’re talking about being sensible, I certainly shouldn’t have said yes to Arrow Academy’s new re-release of Sweet Smell of Success, as the offer came late when I was already very busy and it’s a film I’ve seen before and actually own on DVD. However, it’s such a great film which I haven’t seen for a long time and the chance to watch a nicely remastered Blu-Ray from the ever reliable Arrow family is very hard to turn down. So I didn’t.

The under-appreciated director Alexander Mackendrick made his US directorial debut with Sweet Smell of Success after a string of well-loved Ealing comedies in the UK (and the drama Mandy, a.k.a. Crash of Silence). The film follows slimy press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) as he worms his way through New York City’s nightlife, attempting to appease the all-powerful Broadway columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster). This brutish journalist has the power to have a man “sentenced to death” (professionally speaking) and he has given Falco an important task, to break up the burgeoning relationship between Hunsecker’s sister, Susie (Susan Harrison), and the jazz guitarist Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). You see, although Hunsecker is a hateful and frightening person, he is incredibly protective of his younger sister and won’t let anyone else get close to her, particularly a lowly jazz musician. Steve is a good man though and the two are very much in love. This doesn’t stop Falco, who hatches has a plan to use Steve’s integrity to his advantage. As he puts it, integrity is “a pocket fulla firecrackers – looking for a match!” Once this is set up (pretty quickly), for the rest of the film the audience sits back and watches Falco put his devious scheme into action.

‘Sits back’ probably isn’t the right word though. Although the plot isn’t particularly dense (the film is largely made up of a lot of acid-tinged conversations), it’s an exhausting watch. The immensely quotable dialogue fires out like a machine gun (check out the IMDB quotes page) and the camera never stands still as we are whisked from nightclub to office to bedroom. It’s quite a dizzying trip into the depths of depravity one man will go to find what he calls success.

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Blu-Ray Review: From Bedrooms to Billions

Director: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Writers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Starring: David Braben, Peter Molyneux, Shahid Ahmad, Nigel Alderton, Nick Alexander, Fred Gray, Geoff Crammond, Jeff Minter, Jon Hare, Matthew Smith
Producers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Country: UK
Running Time: 150 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: E

From Bedrooms to Billions is an independent documentary looking at the birth and growth of the British video games industry, funded by an Indiegogo campaign run by its producers/directors/writers, Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. Speaking to a vast number of those involved, the pair tell the story of how young geeks figuring out how to make basic games on the first home computers like the Sinclair ZX80, Spectrum and BBC B/Micro went on to build a small cottage industry out of nothing which went on to be an important driver of what is now the biggest entertainment industry in the world.

When I first saw the film advertised I thought it looked like your standard nostalgia trip, the likes of which you see filling gaps in TV schedules, but being a child of the 80’s who grew up alongside video games (although I’m a little young for the Spectrum, I came in with the Acorn Electron then the Amiga), I couldn’t resist going along for the ride. However, I quickly came to realise that this is actually an exceptionally well researched and constructed documentary which truly charts the history of the movement. It’s not a throwaway piece simply glazing over and making do with playing clips over quotes saying how great all these games were. This is especially apparent in the sheer number of contributors the directors managed to interview. The list is exhausting, taking in well known figures such as David Braben (co-creator of Elite) and Peter Molyneux (Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, etc.) as well as those involved in video game music and art design.

It’s a fascinating story too. I was well aware of how games and consoles have developed over the last 30-odd years, but I hadn’t thought about where it all came from. The film makes you realise just how wild and avant-garde it was. When the first systems came out, there weren’t any games available. You didn’t have shops in every high street stocked to the roof with them. You had to programme your own games by typing lines and lines of code. Many of the first home games would be found in magazines that would publish the coding for them. The people who developed the industry were largely youngsters barely out of school (some still in it), who had no business knowledge, so it was a crazy mess in its infancy. It all began of course in the pre-internet days so it was truly underground at first and grew through magazines and word of mouth. The film does an excellent job of appreciating how this happened.

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Blu-Ray Review: Man of the West

Director: Anthony Mann
Screenplay: Reginald Rose
Based on a Novel by: Will C. Brown
Starring: Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord
Producer: Walter M. Mirisch
Country: USA
Running Time: 100 min
Year: 1958
BBFC Certificate: 12A

I‘ve been enjoying my own mini western renaissance over the last couple of years. I’d always held a handful of westerns in high regard, with probably my all time favourite film (Once Upon a Time in the West) being from the genre, but I hadn’t considered myself a ‘fan’ until recently. My love of Leone was possibly part of the reason, steering me away from Hollywood westerns and towards the Italian ones, most of which are woefully unavailable in the UK. However, the last few years have opened my eyes to a number of true American greats and now I can proudly call myself a fully fledged western fan.

The film which began my new love affair with the west was Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73. I adored it and was pleased that most of the rest of the director’s collaborations with James Stewart were in same the DVD box set that housed it. My run of westerns since then has taken in classics from a variety of stars and directors too and I still haven’t been disappointed (other than with one or two less respected spaghetti westerns). I’ve been gathering whatever titles I can, whenever I see any on offer, and, looking up Mann’s filmography, I also liked the sound of one of his last westerns, Man of the West. I hadn’t got around to it though, until the PR guys behind the ever trustworthy Masters of Cinema series offered me a Blu-Ray screener of their new release of the film.

Man of the West stars Hollywood legend Gary Cooper as Link Jones, who enters a bustling town to take a train to Fort Worth, where he is to hire a teacher for his much smaller town. There’s a sense that he’s not the quiet do-gooder he claims though or so the local sheriff suspects. When the train gets hijacked by bandits and Link, motor-mouthed salesman Sam Beasley (Arthur O’Connell) and attractive bar-room singer Billie Ellis (Julie London) are thrown off and left to walk to the nearest town, we learn the truth about the mysterious man. He takes his two companions to his old home, where they find the gang of bandits that includes a couple of Link’s cousins and is led by none other than his uncle, Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb). And so begins a tense power play between the ‘bad guys’ and Link, who wants to continue to go straight as he had been doing for many years, but has no choice but to play the hard man to avoid getting himself and his innocent friends killed.

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