Blu-Ray Review: Nikkatsu Diamond Guys

Arrow Video are planning to release a new series of budget Japanese genre movie box sets, beginning with Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Vol. 1. I’m feeling lazy this morning, so rather than explain the set’s title in my own words, I’ll just borrow the blurb from Arrow’s press release:

‘Nikkatsu, the oldest film studio in Japan, inaugurated a star system in the late 1950s, finding talent and contracting to their Diamond Line for a series of wild genre pictures. This collection celebrates these Diamond Guys with three classic films from directors Seijun Suzuki (Branded to Kill), Toshio Masuda (Rusty Knife) and Buichi Saito (Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril).’

The films included in the set are Voice Without a Shadow, Red Pier & The Rambling Guitarist. Below are my thoughts on the individual films.

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DVD Review: The Fear of 13

Director: David Sington
Starring: Sammy Silverwatch, Nick Yarris
Country: UK
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15

I got into the Serial podcast late in the game, just before the second season came out in December last year, so I’m a new addict to the true crime boom that has been spreading with that and some recent hit TV series. Because of this, my ears perked up when I was sent a press release for The Fear of 13 as it featured a quote from Empire magazine, stating it was “guaranteed to reel in those recently obsessed with Serial and HBO’s The Jinx”. Added to the fact that I’m a huge documentary fan in general, The Fear of 13 sounded to be the perfect fix I needed after Serial, particularly as I don’t have access to Netflix or Sky to watch anything like The Jinx or Making a Murderer.

Well, The Fear of 13 ended up being quite a different kettle of fish to Serial, but in no way did it disappoint.

The Fear of 13 opens with a statement saying that; ‘after more than 20 years on death row, convicted murderer Nick Yarris made a final petition to the Pennsylvania courts. He requested that all appeals cease and his sentence of death be carried out. He agreed to be interviewed about the decision. His story has been independently verified.’ After this text appears on screen, the rest of the film consists solely of Yarris telling his own story to the camera. And what a story.

I don’t want to say too much as the power and joy of this film is hearing this tale play out, so apologies if this review ends up being a little short. All I can say is that it’s utterly captivating. I literally found my jaw agape towards the end and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen. Listening to just one man talk for an hour and a half sounds tedious, but I can’t think of a more gripping film I’ve seen in recent years.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Director: Peter Yates
Screenplay: Paul Monash
Based on a Novel by: George V. Higgins
Starring: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15

I love American cinema from the 70’s and I’m a fan of Peter Yates’ classic cop thriller Bulllitt, so it was a no-brainer for me to accept an offer to review Yates’ 1973 crime drama The Friends of Eddie Coyle. I must admit I hadn’t heard of the film prior to Eureka announcing their new Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray/DVD, but it sounded very much like my cup of tea and skimming online suggested that it’s highly regarded.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle tells the story of a group of criminals and a federal agent whose lives are intertwined around a low-rate crook named Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum). He’s looking at some jail time, but is advancing in years, struggling to make ends meet at home and doesn’t want to leave his wife and kids on welfare. His hope for redemption comes in selling guns to a busy group of bank robbers to keep the cash coming in, whilst shopping in his gun-runner contact Jackie Brown (Steven Keats) to convince the federal agent on his back, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan), to drop his prison sentence. Unbeknownst to Eddie though, Dillon (Peter Boyle), the bartender who set up the deal that got Eddie arrested in the first place, is also talking to Foley. So things can’t end well.

This is further proof, if it were needed, of what was great about 70’s American cinema (even if it’s from a British director). Gritty, dark and grim, it thrives on its characters rather than a particularly involving story or exciting set pieces. It was surprising for me to see such a low key drama after only knowing Yates for Bullitt, which is famous for its mind-blowingly good car chase climax. There are a handful of tense scenes in Eddie Coyle too, such as the cold and calculated bank heists and a stake out at a train station which ends in a brief flash of Yates’ car chase handling skills, but these aren’t what really make the film shine.

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Blu-Ray Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Roger Ebert
Based on a Story by: Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett
Country: USA
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 18

Russ Meyer is an unusual character in the history of American cinema. His first feature film as a director (after working as a combat cameraman in WWII) was The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). Widely acknowledged as the first commercially viable American ‘skin flick’ (or softcore porn as the films are more commonly known these days), it grossed more than $1,500,000 in the US at the time of its release from a budget of a mere $24,000. This success spurred Meyer on to make a name for himself as the ‘king of the skin flicks’, producing dozens of successful exploitation films that always featured incredibly buxom female stars, even when his films started to mix in other genres and become wild action-packed romps.

What’s interesting and unusual about Meyer is that, despite his reputation for making what were pretty much porn films, he actually became respected as a filmmaker in many circles. One of the key reasons for this was that he showed all the traits of being a true auteur. He worked as director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and film editor on many of his films, giving him a huge amount of control over the end product. His films had a recognisable style because of this. As well as the large-breasted stars, his films had a punchy editing style and bold, well composed cinematography. He made exploitation movies that actually looked good and were well put together, unlike many of the ‘skin flicks’ that would follow in his wake.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls represents an unusual point in Meyers career though. After Easy Rider, which was cheaply produced by a bunch of young ‘hippies’, became a huge unexpected success for Columbia Pictures, the other studios wanted in on the action. A number of the companies believed that giving money to young directors, fresh out of film school, would produce exciting counter-culture movies that the nation’s youth would flock to see (which is what kick-started the 70’s New Hollywood movement). 20th Century Fox’s plan though was to give a large budget to an already successful indie director with a reputation for making commercially successful genre films for very little money. The director they chose was Russ Meyer and the film he made was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Ninja Trilogy

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Cannon Films documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films in the middle of last year and despite the fact that the film doesn’t treat the production company’s output with much respect, there were a few titles that caught my interest. First and foremost was their Ninja Trilogy, a tenuously linked collection of bonkers action movies featuring ninjas. I may spend much of my time reviewing world cinema classics and the like, but I’ll always have a place in my heart for a good ninja flick, so I was over the moon when I heard the wonderful people over at Eureka were releasing the entire set on Blu-Ray. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this would happen, so there was nothing that could stop me jumping at the chance to review a set of screeners for it.

The films included in the trilogy are Enter The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja & Ninja III: The Domination. Below are my thoughts on the individual films.

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Blu-Ray Review: Hiroshima Mon Amour

Director: Alain Resnais
Screenplay: Marguerite Duras
Starring: Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas
Country: France, Japan
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: 12

My hit and miss relationship with French cinema (particularly the New Wave) has left a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the country’s filmic output. One of the major titles that had passed me by, which is often cited as one of the greatest films of all time (it just missed out of the top 10 in Sight and Sound’s greatest films lists in ’62 and ’72), is Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour. Given its reputation I didn’t hesitate to request a screener when one was offered, but my occasional dislike of the French style made me approach the film with caution.

Hiroshima Mon Amour is quite sparse in terms of up front narrative. An unnamed (although IMDB calls her Elle) French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is having an affair with a Japanese architect (Lui on IMDB, played by Eiji Okada) whilst shooting an anti-war film in Hiroshima. Her time there is limited, but Lui is desperate for her to stay and the two spend the day or so they have together discussing the war and delving into Riva’s tragic past of lost love and the ensuing mental suffering. We visit these memories through brief flashbacks throughout the film.

I was a bit torn in my feelings about this. The first 15 minutes are made up of a montage of footage of Hiroshima around the time of the bombing and the present day (late ’50’s) whilst the two leads muse about the war. Elle describes things she’s seen and Lui keeps saying that she’s “seen nothing”. This is the sort of poetically philosophical dialogue that has turned me off many French films in the past, so the film didn’t set off on the right foot for me. However, I found Resnais’ shots of Hiroshima (some of the footage in this sequence is stock from the war) particularly striking which kept me on board and the subject matter interested me (I’ve always found the idea of nuclear weapons terrifying and don’t feel the bombing of Hiroshima is discussed enough in the West).

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Blu-Ray Review: What Have You Done to Solange?

What Have You Done to Solange? Blu-RayDirector: Massimo Dallamano
Screenplay: Massimo Dallamano, Bruno Di Geronimo, Peter M. Thouet (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Edgar Wallace (uncredited)
Starring: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger
Country: Italy, West Germany
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 18

I‘m not hugely knowledgable about the giallo subgenre (in a nutshell – Italian murder mystery thrillers), but I’ve been slowly working my way through some of the more famous titles over the last few years. I usually quite enjoy them, being a fan of thrillers in general and a great appreciator of stylish cinematic technique (which the subgenre often displays). However, I rarely find them perfect, with either style over substance coming into play or the complex plots getting tangled in a mess of red herrings and side-stories. The infamously ropey Italian ADR (or dubbing) can be a turn off too. So I approached What Have You Done to Solange? (a.k.a. Cosa avete fatto a Solange? or Terror in the Woods) with a little apprehension, but enough interest to have me take up the offer of a screener.

The film sees students picked off one by one at an all girls school in London. The crimes seem to be sexually motivated, with death coming from a knife through the victims’ genitalia. The first of the murders is briefly glimpsed by Elizabeth (Cristina Galbó), a fellow student. However, she didn’t quite see the killer and at the time she was cavorting with one of her teachers, Enrico (Fabio Testi), who doesn’t want her to tell anyone about it, in fear of losing his job and reputation (she’s just about old enough for him to avoid arrest). The leading inspector (Joachim Fuchsberger) cottons on to their relationship soon though and tries his best to get Enrico to talk. When Elizabeth herself is killed half way through the film, Enrico then becomes the prime suspect. He’s cleared, but becomes fixed on solving the mystery himself, teaming up with his semi-estranged wife Herta (Karin Baal) who takes solace in the fact that Elizabeth died a virgin. Together they unravel a disturbing plot involving sex and dark secrets.

What Have You Done to Solange? 2

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Blu-Ray Review: A New Leaf

A New Leaf Blu-RayDirector: Elaine May
Screenplay: Elaine May
Based on a Story by: Jack Ritchie
Starring: Walter Matthau, Elaine May, Jack Weston, George Rose
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: U

There’s been a lot of talk in the press about Hollywood’s gender bias. Even after one hundred years of filmmaking bringing us into today’s supposedly enlightened times, the industry is still dominated by men. The vast majority of directors and producers (particularly those handling larger budgets) are men, male stars earn more money than their female counterparts and observations/studies and the oft-mentioned Bechdel test give a painful view of the unnecessarily sexist viewpoint of most films’ content. So it was refreshing to see the credits list of my latest screener from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. A New Leaf was written by, directed by and stars Elaine May. OK, so Walter Matthau is the main star, with Elaine showing up about a third of the way through, and the film wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test, but it’s still good to see a film from this period (the early 1970’s) being creatively driven by a woman.

I won’t get bogged down in a feminist discussion though as I’m woefully uneducated in that field to comment, instead I’ll dig into how I felt about the film at hand.

A New Leaf begins with the aristocratic Henry Graham (Matthau) discovering that he is in fact flat broke. He’s spent his life living at the ludicrously high standard he’s accustomed to, but never earned a penny, instead eating through the estate left to him by his now dead father. His only hope is to ask his uncle Harry (James Coco) for money, but he laughs in his face. Graham approaches him with an idea his butler Harold (George Rose) suggested though, that Harry lends him a few thousand dollars which he will pay back once he finds himself a rich woman to marry. Harry accepts this, on the grounds that if he doesn’t pay it back within 6 weeks he will take absolutely everything Graham owns, which amounts to ten times the amount being loaned.

So Graham accepts this offer and goes about hunting down the perfect wife. He finds her in Henrietta Lowell (May), a clumsy, socially dysfunctional but hideously rich botany-loving heiress. She falls for his charms/tricks very easily, but her conniving attorney (Jack Weston) tries to make life difficult for Graham. They eventually do marry though and Graham, who has no interest in being a married man, plots to kill Henrietta and claim her fortune. As he enters Henrietta’s life and finds himself improving it, becoming a better man in the process, there might be a glimmer of hope that he won’t go through with the act though.

A New Leaf 2

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Weekend of Trash XIX

The Weekend of Trash is back for its 19th (recorded) celebration of all things gore-soaked, bullet-ridden and sleaze-imbued (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive). After a poor showing last time round with only 6 films watched, we decided to go all out this weekend and hit double figures for the first time in a while. It might be the last weekend for a good 6 months or longer too (due to my wife and I expecting another baby next year) so we thought we’d make the most of it.

So as usual, here are the reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of gratuitous nudity, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes whilst watching movies featuring dog-headed aliens) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value as much as quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

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