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.

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Blu-Ray Review: Paper Moon

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Based on a Book by: Joe David Brown
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: PG

Peter Bogdanovich had a remarkable start to his directorial career. After training as an actor in the 50’s, working as a film programmer for MOMA and a film journalist, he eventually turned his hand to directing with the well received Targets, produced by Roger Corman. We’ll ignore Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (when Bogdanovich worked under the pseudonym Derek Thomas) and say that the next three films he made were all critical and/or commercial successes. In 1971, The Last Picture Show (which I shamefully have yet to see) wowed everyone and the following year he made the hit comedy What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, then in 1973 he released the Oscar-winning Paper Moon. Bogdanovich was box office gold and a darling with the critics (although Paper Moon had a few detractors), but from then on his career made one of the most spectacular nose dives in cinema history. Everything since has been mediocre or a curiosity at best and it’s hard to see how that happened. From the extra features included with this new re-release of Paper Moon it doesn’t sound like Bogdanovich had a hard time and the success shouldn’t have harmed him, but for whatever reason, he never regained his momentum.

Rather than lamenting the director’s decline though, let’s celebrate one of his cast iron classics.

Paper Moon sees low rent con man Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) saddled with a newly orphaned girl, Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), who may or may not be his daughter. He is to send the girl to her aunt in Missouri, but after the sharp 9 year old cottons on to Moses’ scam which earned him $200 from the death of her mother, Addie demands he repays the money to her. Having spent it already, Moses is forced to tow her along whilst he swindles the money out of local widowers through his bible salesman shtick.

Addie isn’t as dumb and innocent as you’d think of a girl her age though and it soon becomes clear that she can teach Moses a thing or two about grifting. So the two become a con double act, robbing the American public (who are suffering from the effects of the Great Depression) along their trip across the state. As well as improving his less honourable skills, Addie gradually helps Moses become a slightly more responsible and honest man too, which leads to a final dilemma as to what to do with the young girl.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Train

Director: John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn (uncredited)
Screenplay: Franklin Coen, Frank Davis
Based on a book by: Rose Valland
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau
Country: France/Italy/USA
Running Time: 140 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: PG

A fairly underrated director, John Frankenheimer has been behind a number of classic movies, such as The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and Seven Days in May as well as some thrillers and action movies that are underrated themselves, such as Ronin and 52 Pick-Up. He was one of the few directors to get on with the notoriously difficult Burt Lancaster and the two of them made five largely well received films together. The Train was one of these, although Arthur Penn was the original director before Lancaster (supposedly) fired him.

Frankenheimer promptly changed the film to better suit his sensibilities (or perhaps to better give Lancaster a much needed hit). Whereas Penn’s film was set to be a more thought provoking look at the willingness of the French to risk their lives for art, Frankenheimer dampened the focus on art to instead produce a rip-roaring action film which occasionally stopped for breath to examine the price of war and the sacrifices made. Whether or not this was for the best we will never know, but we’re sure as hell left with a bloody good film.

The Train is based on a true story set in occupied France in 1944, where a German Colonel (Paul Schofield) loads a train full of priceless art from a Parisian museum to send over to Germany. He and everyone else at the time knows that the end of the war is coming and France will soon be handed back to the French, so this is his last chance for the Germans to keep the valuable items for themselves. The museum curator can’t let this happen though so calls on the Resistance to help. A handful of members work at the station housing the train, including station master Labiche (Lancaster), so they’re asked to take this task on. Initially Labiche turns down the job, but circumstances gradually sway him to put his and his fellow soldiers’ lives on the line to keep what belongs to the French in France.

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Blu-Ray Review: Retaliation

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Screenplay: Yoshihiro Ishimatsu, Keiji Kubota
Starring: Akira Kobayashi, Jô Shishido, Hideaki Nitani
Country: Japan
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: 18

Hot on the heals of releasing Yasuharu Hasebe’s Massacre Gun on Blu-Ray last month (which I also reviewed), Arrow Video have polished up the director’s follow up, another violent gangster thriller, Retaliation. I enjoyed the previous film a lot, but couldn’t help comparing it to the superior work I’d seen from Seijun Suzuki. This time around is a similar story, although I was comparing it to Massacre Gun more than anything else.

Retaliation sees gang member Jiro (Akira Kobayashi) come out of prison after serving 8 years for killing a member of a rival gang. As soon as he sets foot outside the gates he’s approached by Hino (Jô Shishido), who vows to kill him to avenge the death of his brother (which was the cause of his incarceration). This first attempt is thwarted by his girlfriend, but Hino is still hellbent on carrying out his actions.

When Jiro gets home to his Godfather, he discovers that his once powerful gang has all but disbanded. The Don of another gang, the Hazama family, has been supporting his ageing leader though. The once rival Don offers Jiro a job, to gain control of Takagawa City for his family. In doing so, he would be able to run it as he likes. Seeing this as a way to make his own family name relevant again, Jiro accepts the offer and proceeds to play two rival gangs off against each other. Once rid of them he hopes to go legit and run a construction company in the area. However, as is often the case in these gang warfare films, nothing quite goes to plan and the bodies pile up and loyalties are tested.

In amongst all of this, Hino is forced to side with Jiro by his employers, but he vows to carry through his vengeance once the job is done. The two become closer as things go on though, so what will happen by the end?

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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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