DVD Review: Cohen & Tate

Director: Eric Red
Screenplay: Eric Red
Starring: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross
Country: USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 15


Cohen & Tate was a bit of a shot in the dark viewing for me. I had a vague memory of someone (Blueprint: Review’s Justin Richards I think) mentioning the film to me in the past, which is why the press release piqued my interest, but the reviews (from the few I could find) were a bit mixed. I figured I’d give it a chance though as it sounded interesting and Arrow are generally dependable for selecting titles worth watching.

I’m happy to say I’m glad I gave it a shot, but happy isn’t the right word to describe Cohen & Tate. It’s a pitch black thriller which opens with the brutal murder of the parents of 9-year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross). He’s the only witness to a mob hit and the gangsters responsible are keen to get hold of him. So, after dispatching Travis’ parents and a couple of FBI agents keeping them all ‘safe’, two hitmen, the titular Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), take the boy on a long drive to Houston to see their employer. His future looks bleak, but Travis doesn’t give up trying to escape and, in the strained relationship between the mismatched hitmen, he sees a chance to turn them against each other to gain his freedom.

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Blu-Ray Review: Napoleon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance
Screenplay: Abel Gance
Starring: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daël
Country: France
Running Time: 332 min
Year: 1927
BBFC Certificate: PG


Abel Gance’s Napoleon is a late silent feature that is famed for being a masterpiece of cinematic invention, but it has endured a troubled history. You should look it up to get the full story (or watch the well stocked set of features included with the Blu-Ray/DVD), but basically, although Gance had high hopes for his epic film (9 and a half hours long in its fullest form), planning on it being the first part of a 6 film series, it performed poorly on its initial release and pretty much disappeared for many years. In the 50’s and 60’s some reels were found and released, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s, when film historian Kevin Brownlow presented a restored version, that interest was reignited. He’d bought a couple of reels of Napoleon as a boy and had been obsessed with it ever since. His work didn’t stop in 1979 either, he’s continued to work to reconstruct the film as fully as possible and now we are finally presented with (probably) the most complete version of the film we’re ever likely to see. The BFI have screened this at festivals and special screenings over the last few years and now it is finally being made available on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK.

As you might imagine, the film is a biopic of the French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Being originally intended as part of a six part series though, the film focuses solely on his early years, beginning with Napoleon as a boy, leading a large scale snowball fight and being bullied for his stony countenance. It follows his movement up the ranks in the military and politics during the birth of the French Revolution, up until he is put in charge of the French army of Italy and advances towards taking the country for the French.

I mentioned Napoleon’s reputation as a cinematic masterpiece and this is largely down to the extraordinary volume of groundbreaking techniques Gance throws into the mix. Multiple exposures are used for various effects, including creating a split screen kaleidoscopic look a few times. There’s some wildly kinetic camera movement aided by a substantial number of handheld shots, which were little used at the time. There’s some stunning editing on display too, from rapid cutting techniques, thrillingly fast paced action scenes & some striking use of intercutting. The best example of the latter sees political upheaval cutting with Napoleon on a small boat in a mighty storm (which utilises a French flag as a sail).

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Blu-Ray Review: The Hired Hand

Director: Peter Fonda
Screenplay: Alan Sharp
Starring: Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, Verna Bloom
Country: USA
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: 15


Any regular readers will know I’m a big western fan and may or may not know I’ve got a soft spot for 70’s American cinema too. So when I was asked if I’d like to review Peter Fonda’s 1971 western The Hired Hand I didn’t have to think twice, even though I’d never heard of the film before being handed the press release.

In the film, Harry (Fonda himself), his friend Arch (Warren Oates) and a young man are cowboys roaming from town to town. Upon reaching a dead end town, his associates decide to move on to the California coast, but Harry, fed up of the nomad life, decides to head back home to his estranged wife and child. Arch, who’s been travelling with Harry for several years, at first decides to let his friend go alone, but when their young companion is ‘accidentally’ killed by a man named McVey (Severn Darden), he decides to go with him. Once there, Harry’s wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) isn’t too happy to see him though. It’s been many years and she’d assumed he was dead and told their daughter as much. Harry talks her into letting him stay as a hired hand on the farm though, with a hope of reconciliation over time. When he finds out Hannah has been sleeping with the hired help whilst he’s been away though, the relationship becomes even more strained. This and the spectre of the cowboy life hanging over Harry, not helped by Arch’s presence, cause a slow and uncertain path to rebuilding his family.

As this brief synopsis shows, The Hired Hand isn’t your typical western. It’s one of the revisionist or anti-westerns that began to emerge in the 60’s. They sought to steer away from the stereotypes of the classic westerns and deconstruct the myths of the wild west. The Hired Hand shows the cowboy lifestyle to be an unglamorously dangerous, lonely and miserable existence; with poor food, little comfort at night and far too much time spent unwelcome in tiny, middle of nowhere towns. Harry’s young companion for instance, who is full of enthusiasm for his travels to the coast, comes to a grisly, unromantic end for little to no reason (though we never quite find out the truth behind it).

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Blu-Ray Review: Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams – Criterion Collection

Director: Akira Kurosawa, Ishirô Honda (uncredited)
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Akira Terao, Mitsuko Baishô, Toshie Negishi, Martin Scorsese
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 1990
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m not a huge fan of anthology films. This is partly down to the fact that they can be a mixed bag, with some great short films mixed with some not-so-great ones. It’s also because I’ve never been all that interested in short films in general. Animated films are the exception to this – I love a good animated short, which might explain why Memories (1995) is probably my favourite anthology. For whatever reason though, I rarely get excited about short live action films so I’m equally unenthused when presented with a few of them in the package of a feature film.

However, when I came across Dreams, an anthology film directed by Akira Kurosawa (although IMDB claims Godzilla’s director Ishirô Honda lended a hand) I was instantly interested. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews how Kurosawa is the director I’ve found most consistent in terms of quality. I’d seen 8 of his films prior to Dreams and loved them all, so if I see Kurosawa has directed any genre of film or subject matter, no matter how unappealing it may be to me, I’m always going to be more than willing to give it a shot.

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Blu-Ray Review: Kes

Director: Ken Loach
Screenplay: Barry Hines, Ken Loach, Tony Garnett
Based on a Novel by: Barry Hines
Starring: David Bradley, Brian Glover, Freddie Fletcher
Country: UK
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: PG


Ken Loach is one of the most respected British directors of all time. He just won his second Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake and has enjoyed critical success throughout his career, beginning in 1966 with his groundbreaking TV film Cathy to Come Home. However, I’ve never been his biggest fan. I haven’t seen a huge number of his films, but I haven’t had a great track record with them so I tend to give them a miss. I found his first Palme d’Or winner The Wind Who Shakes the Barley quite forgettable and overrated, and a couple of others, Looking For Eric and Route Irish, were downright poor. I find the political messages can take over his films, making them feel terribly heavy handed. Plus there was a time when Britain made far too many Ken Loach style ‘grim up north’ political kitchen sink dramas for my liking, and I think I blamed him for their popularity when I was a budding film fan, longing for British films to break out of stereotypes.

However, my introduction to Loach was Kes, which I first watched as a teenager and loved. I haven’t seen it for a good decade or two though, so when I was offered a copy of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema re-release of the film to review I was worried my shaky recent run-ins with Loach were a sign that I just don’t have a taste for his films.

I needn’t have worried.

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Blu-Ray Review: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Ronald M. Cohen, Edward Huebsch
Based on a Novel by: Walter Wager
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Richard Widmark, Burt Young, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Roscoe Lee Browne, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten
Country: USA, West Germany
Running Time: 144 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 15


I loved the last Robert Aldrich film I reviewed, The Flight of the Phoenix, and I’m a fan of some of his other classics, such as Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen, so it didn’t take much to convince me to review one of his last films, 1977’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It wasn’t particularly successful when originally released and has hardly grown to be a classic, but it has picked up favour along the way, enough at least for Eureka to add it to their Masters of Cinema roster.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a thriller which sees a former USAF general, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster), head a team of escaped convicts on a mission to take control of a nuclear silo housing 9 warheads. They quickly succeed (helped by Dell’s inside knowledge) and put America to ransom, making an unusual demand. On top of the standard large amount of cash and flight out of the country, Dell wants the president to release eye-opening information about America’s involvement in the Vietnam war to the general public. He feels the people must know what happened and will press the ‘big red button’ if they aren’t told. Unfortunately, the President (Charles Durning), or at least his staff, aren’t happy about releasing the incriminating document as it will likely cause utter chaos. Nuclear armageddon is hardly an improvement on this though, so the President is stuck between a rock and a hard place, particularly since he is as horrified by the revelations as the public might be, due to not being in power during the war. As time ticks away and several tactics are attempted to talk Dell and his team out of it or physically stop them, we draw ever closer to a climax that can’t possibly end well.

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Blu-Ray Review: Body Double

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Robert J. Avrech, Brian De Palma
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton
Country: USA
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 18


With the recent documentary De Palma and labels like Arrow re-releasing some of the director’s earlier work on Blu-Ray over the past few years, it seems like there’s a lot of love for Brian De Palma going around. The films he made since the turn of the millennium haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but he made enough great thrillers and cult classics in his heyday that it would be foolish to dismiss him. I must admit there are far too many of his films that I’ve not seen, but I’m a big fan of some of his most well known titles, such as Carrie and The Untouchables (although I haven’t seen the latter for a long time). So I was particularly interested in reviewing Powerhouse Films’ new Dual Format release of Body Double, aided by the fact the film had been recommended to me by a fellow film blogger.

Body Double sees the not-particularly-successful actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) come home early from set one day (after a panic attack due to claustrophobia) to find his wife having sex with another man. He’s devastated of course, but the incident also causes a practical problem in that he has nowhere to stay (the house was in her name). An actor acquaintance Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) takes pity on him and lets him house-sit a luxury apartment he was watching for another friend. The apartment is first rate, but Sam shows Jake something that makes it extra-special – it has the perfect view (with the assistance of a telescope) into a neighbouring apartment housing Gloria (Deborah Shelton), an incredibly attractive young woman who performs a semi-naked erotic dance at the same time every night.

Jake soon becomes obsessed with Gloria and when he spots a suspicious looking character also spying on her and a late night visitor abusing her, he follows Gloria to make sure she’s safe, as well as to find an explanation for her unusual behaviour and unpleasant company. To give too much away following this would be spoiling the fun, but the film takes some drastic twists and turns through its just-under two-hour running time.

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DVD Review: A Special Day

Director: Ettore Scola
Screenplay: Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Maurizio Costanzo
Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon
Country: Italy, Canada
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 12


CultFilms’ second release heralding their entry into the boutique home entertainment label scene, after Two Women, is A Special Day. Another Italian award-winner starring Sophia Loren, yet otherwise quite a different film, A Special Day is a 1977 period drama directed by Ettore Scola. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before being offered a screener to review, but looking the film up, it seemed to have received fantastic reviews and was deemed strong enough to be included as part of the Criterion Collection, so I figured it must be worth a shot.

A Special Day, as the title suggests, is set over one day in Rome in 1938 – the day Adolph Hitler arrived in the city on his visit to Italy, which was still a fascist dictatorship at the time (and WWII was yet to kick off), so the German dictator was hugely popular in the country. After a newsreel introduction setting the historical scene, we are introduced to Antonietta (Loren) and her family. The tired housewife has six children and an ungrateful husband (John Vernon), who are all preparing to join the huge parade in honour of Hitler’s visit to the city. They all rush out the small apartment, along with most of the inhabitants of the block of flats, leaving Antonietta to tidy up after them and trawl through her usual list of household chores. When the family’s pet bird escapes out the window and lands outside a neighbouring apartment though, Antonietta heads over there to try and catch the bird, seeing that the inhabitant has also stayed at home during the celebrations.

The neighbour is Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni), a persecuted ex-radio presenter who is contemplating suicide. Antonietta’s arrival brightens his mood though and he tries to keep her from leaving him alone. She’s reluctant at first, nervous about what the neighbours would think of her fraternising with a man other than her husband, but soon warms to him, glad to be distracted from the drudgery of her day to day life. As the two get to know each other better we discover an important difference of opinion as well as a revelation as to why Gabriele is so troubled

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Blu-Ray Review: Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Bill Phillips
Based on a Book by: Stephen King
Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Country: USA
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 18


Sitting down and struggling to think about how to open this review, I realised something surprising. This will be the first time I’ve reviewed a John Carpenter film (other than some mini reviews as part of a festival or Weekend of Trash). This is surprising as I’m a big fan of the director (anyone who listened to me guest on the Carpenter Retrospective LAMBcast will have learnt this – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/11/blueprint-on-the-lambcast-john-carpenter-retrospective/). He may have struggled to match the quality of his earlier work since the late eighties (1994’s In the Mouth of Madness is his only post-80’s film I’ve seen that stands up), but for the first 14 years of his career he knocked out classic after classic (cult or otherwise), with greats like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China and possibly his finest hour, The Thing. The latter, although now considered a horror masterpiece, was considered a misstep at the time though, doing poorly at the box office and receiving criticism for its levels of gore. Carpenter was disappointed and it caused him to play it safe for his next film, following a number of well known directors in adapting a novel from best-selling horror author Stephen King for the big screen. Where De Palma set the ball rolling with Carrie and Kubrick took on The Shining, Carpenter’s producer got his hands on an early manuscript of Christine, the story of a killer car, possessed by supernatural forces.

Carpenter and writer Bill Phillips decided to make a number of big changes to the hefty 500-odd page tome though. Rather than have the ghost of the previous owner be the source of the car’s evil, they decided to keep it more vague, much like in Halloween where the villain’s motivations are kept a mystery.

Backing up a bit then (forgive the pun), the film opens with uber-geek Arnie (Keith Gordon) struggling with life as a 17 year old. He’s getting bullied at school, is given grief by his dominant mother and, worst of all, hasn’t got laid yet. His best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) tries his best to help break him out of his rut, but something else ends up doing it for him. The two guys pass a shack where an old man is selling a busted up old Plymouth Fury named Christine, and Arnie falls instantly in love. He buys the car there and then, despite Dennis trying to talk him out of it. Arnie spends his days and nights fixing Christine and, as he does, his personality completely changes too. His milk bottle glasses are thrown aside, his hair and outfits become styled on The Fonz, he picks up the hottest girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul) and he starts to act like a real asshole to everyone in his life, beginning by standing up to his parents who don’t want his car crowding their driveway. His new attitude and mounting obsession over Christine get too much for Dennis and Leigh though, who fear their friend has crossed over to a strange dark side. This is made worse by the fact that Arnie’s enemies, particularly those who didn’t treat Christine so kindly, are starting to drop dead in freak automobile-related accidents.

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