Blu-Ray Review: Bunny Lake is Missing

Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer, Ira Levin (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Marryam Modell
Starring: Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier, Noël Coward, Martita Hunt
Country: UK
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1965
BBFC Certificate: 12


As a lover of classic cinema, I’m ashamed and a little surprised to say that this is the first Otto Preminger film I’ve ever seen. He has several classic titles to his name. Anatomy of a Murder, Laura and The Man With a Golden Arm are the three most famous, but all have somehow passed me by (although I own two of them on DVD, so I’ll hopefully get to them at some point). Bunny Lake is Missing wasn’t quite as successful or universally acclaimed as those, but it’s a bit of a cult favourite with some and as such I’ve heard its name bandied around here and there, so it didn’t take much to talk me into reviewing it.

The title neatly explains the setup, although there’s a little more to the story than that. Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has just moved to England from America and we see her head to collect her daughter Bunny from her first day of nursery school, but she’s not there. As Ann desperately tries to find her, enlisting the help of her protective brother Steven (Keir Dullea) and police Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier), we begin to doubt whether the child ever existed in the first place. With Ann and her daughter only arriving in the country a day or two previously, along with the nursery being a chaotic madhouse with a worn out newly appointed headteacher struggling to keep on top of things, there’s little evidence that Bunny isn’t just a figment of Ann’s imagination.

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Blu-Ray Review: Train to Busan

Director: Sang-ho Yeon
Screenplay: Sang-ho Yeon
Starring: Yoo Gong, Soo-an Kim, Yu-mi Jung
Country: South Korea
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve been enjoying a glut of East Asian genre movies of late with Creepy and The Wailing both impressing me. I hoped to continue this winning run with the South Korean zombie film Train to Busan, which has been gathering a lot of acclaim from critics and horror fans alike. I’m a bit tired of zombie movies these days to be honest, but I have faith in the Koreans to inject a bit of fresh blood into the genre and from what I’d heard, Train to Busan had done just that.

The film sees a zombie outbreak tear through South Korea after a leak at a biotech site. We don’t witness the beginnings though, instead we follow the hard-working hedge fund manager Seok Woo (Yoo Gong) as he takes his young daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) on the train to Busan to see her mother. The two parents have separated and Seok is struggling to spend enough time with Soo-an, so she wants to go live with her mother. Circumstances around the pair cause Seok to have to step up as a father though when the undead start attacking in hordes and the two are trapped on the train along with a few other survivors and the hungry remnants of the less lucky passengers.

I’m not sure it quite lived up to all the hype, but I did enjoy Train to Busan quite a lot. Pitching closer towards action than horror to some extent, the film played more towards my tastes in that aspect. Instead of jump scares and a reliance on gore (this is bloody, but not gross-out) we get pulse-racing chases as waves of zombies launch at our protagonists. This style of fast paced zombies attacking in great numbers is reminiscent of World War Z, but the scale is kept just about small enough and less CGI-heavy to seem more realistically threatening.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cul-De-Sac – Criterion Collection

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: PG


I, like many film fans I imagine, have a chequered relationship with Roman Polanski. His controversial private life is something I won’t get into here, but it has tarnished his work to many over the years. I’ve never liked how he comes across in interviews either, but I don’t usually let my opinion of a filmmaker’s personality or private affairs get in the way of the quality of their work. Unfortunately though, I’ve found the quality of Polanski’s work a little hit and miss over his lengthy career. Tess for instance, which I reviewed here a while back, bored me to tears, whereas Chinatown has long sat in my list of favourite films of all time. There are plenty of Polanski films I’ve yet to watch though and because I regard one or two of his films so highly, I’m always happy to give new ones a try. Cul-De-Sac was his third full feature film in the director’s chair and it’s being re-released on Blu-Ray as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection in the UK, so an offer for review came my way and I thought I’d give it a shot.

Cul-De-Sac sees two injured gangsters (Richie – Lionel Stander and Albie – Jack MacGowran) stuck on Lindisfarne (a.k.a. Holy Island) in Northumberland when their stolen car breaks down in the middle of a road which is regularly submerged under the sea due to the shifting tides (this is indeed true to the location – I’ve been there myself). They seek refuge in a nearby mansion inhabited by the care-free couple George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac). Taking advantage of the remote location and his ‘hosts’ weaknesses, Richie, the muscle of the operation, essentially takes them hostage whilst he waits for his boss to show up and sort out the mess they got themselves into after their botched heist. So begins a blackly comic fight for power as Teresa attempts to force her cowardly husband George into taking control of the situation.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mildred Pierce – Criterion Collection

Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Based on a Novel by: James M. Cain
Starring: Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Bruce Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1945
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve got a confession to make – one that I only just realised when I started to write this review. Other than a viewing of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? when I was too young to remember it, I’ve never seen a Joan Crawford film. I think that might be a crime for someone like me who claims to love classic cinema. Probably her most famous role and the one that snagged her her only Oscar, was playing the title character in Mildred Pierce. Being a highly regarded film noir, a genre I love, it’s long been on my radar but I’ve never got around to actually watching it. Partly I think I was worried by the fact I’d heard it’s more of a melodrama than a noir. Nevertheless, when I was offered a chance to review the forthcoming Criterion Collection Blu-Ray release of the film, I never hesitated to take it up.

Mildred Pierce opens in spectacular fashion, with the gunning down of Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott), whose last words are “Mildred”, the name of his wife and presumed killer. Soon after, Mildred lures an old friend, Wally Fay (Jack Carson), to the scene of the crime and tries to frame him for the murder. As she’s questioned by police however, she learns that they’ve arrested her first husband Bert Pierce (Bruce Bennett) instead. So she decides to tell them (and the audience) the story of what led to Monte’s murder and why Bert couldn’t have done it.

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Blu-Ray Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 15


What’s been great about reviewing a handful of Arrow’s re-releases of Woody Allen’s back catalogue is that it’s made me realise how much I love his work. I’ve largely been cherry-picking supposed ‘on-form’ Allen movies, but they’ve never failed to impress or entertain me. I watched Cafe Society the other week and was less enamoured by it, but perhaps watching all of these upper tier Allen titles mere days previously raised my standards a little too high. It certainly didn’t put me off exploring more unwatched titles from his hefty filmography though. Crimes and Misdemeanors was next up and I’d heard very good things about it, so expectations were high.

Crimes and Misdemeanors tells two stories. One sees happily married ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) tormented by threats from his mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) to tell his wife about their affair. Judah has grown weary of Dolores and realised he loves his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), so he doesn’t want her to be hurt and leave him. When it all gets too much for Judah and the threats get more serious, the solution suggested by his mobster brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) is to have Dolores killed. The film’s second central story is that of Cliff Stern (Allen himself). He’s an unhappily married, unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who’s offered a chance to make some money making a film about his successful TV comedy writer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda). He hates the job, but is consoled by the fact that he meets a woman he falls madly in love with, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). Having recently got divorced, she’s reluctant to start another relationship though. Undeterred, Cliff stays close to her as a friend and gets her involved with the more respectable documentary he’s trying to produce on the side, with the hope that she’d be swayed eventually into his arms.

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Blu-Ray Review: John Carpenter’s Vampires & Ghosts of Mars

I love John Carpenter. He makes the sort of quality genre movies I adore and is responsible for a number of my all time favourite films. However, even a fan like me can’t deny his career went off the rails further down the line. The 80’s were a little wobbly with cast-iron classics like The Thing rubbing shoulders with enjoyable but flawed films like Prince of Darkness and Christine. Then in the 90’s things really started to go wrong. In the Mouth of Madness aside, which is very good, his output in the decade was not great and his output slowed down after that. Since the turn of the millennium he’s only directed two features and a couple of episodes of Masters of Horror. He is advancing in years so maybe he’s just too old to put the legwork in to making movies anymore, but you get the feeling he maybe just ran out of creative steam after a while or couldn’t get to make what he wanted anymore.

So, it’s interesting (and brave) that the cool new kids on the UK physical media block, Indicator/Powerhouse Films, have decided to add two late-period Carpenter films to their early slate, Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Neither film has a great reputation, but, being a fan of the director, I was willing to give them a chance and took the plunge. The films are being released separately, but I figured I’d review them together for obvious reasons. My thoughts are below.

Vampires

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Don Jakoby
Based on a Novel by: John Steakley
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 108 min
Year: 1998
BBFC Certificate: 18

What both of these films have in common is that they seemed to be jumping on a bandwagon when they were released. The film Vampires looks to be cashing in on is From Dusk Till Dawn. Like Robert Rodriguez’ film, it roughs up the vampire myth and sets it in the American desert (New Mexico here instead of Texas and Mexico in the earlier film). Jack Crow (James Woods) heads a team of hard-drinking tough guys, commissioned by the Catholic church to kill vampires who are quietly terrorising the world, little known to the general public. When all but one (Anthony Montoya – played by Daniel Baldwin) of Crow’s crew are massacred by the super-powerful master vampire Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), he sets out to get revenge, as well as to stop Valek retrieving an ancient Catholic relic that’s set to give him the power to be immune to sunlight.

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Blu-Ray Review: Creepy

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Chihiro Ikeda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on a Novel by: Yutaka Maekawa
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryôko Fujino, Masahiro Higashide
Country: Japan
Running Time: 130 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Japanese cinema was in vogue among cineasts. J-horror was making big waves with Ring and Ju-On leading the pack and Takashi Miike was blowing our minds with his array of wild and disturbing films. Somewhere along the way, not helped by the devastating earthquake in 2011, the crowd of Japanese titles thinned out though and audiences started looking towards Korea and elsewhere for their foreign language fixes. Some directors have remained relevant though and one of these is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He gained fame during the Japanese film boom directing horror films like The Cure and Pulse and crime thrillers such as Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider. Then, as many of his contemporaries struggled to stay relevant in the West, he found acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, entering into the various competitions numerous times and winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2008 for Tokyo Sonata and the Un Certain Regard – Directing Prize for Journey to the Shore. The two titles mentioned showed he was as adept at writing and directing drama as he was thrillers. Last year however saw him return to his roots to co-write and direct Creepy, an unnerving thriller about not trusting your neighbours and family dynamics. Eureka have added it to their Masters of Cinema collection, so I thought I’d check it out.

The film opens with an exciting face off between police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and a psychopath who escapes from his interrogation. The stand-off ends messily with Takakura getting stabbed, a bystander possibly being killed and the suspect having to be taken down in a hail of bullets. We then fast forward a year and find that Takakura has moved out of the city with his wife to lead a peaceful life teaching criminal psychology rather than practising it. However, when a colleague at the university and a former partner of his on the force approach him about a missing persons case that went cold 6 years ago, Takakura is drawn into a dangerous investigation once again. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) is struggling to settle into the new area as her neighbours aren’t very approachable, particularly Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a creepy characters who lives with his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and wife, who is always mysteriously absent. As we follow both storylines, you get the sneaking suspicion they’re going to converge somewhere along the way.

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Blu-Ray Review: Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Screenplay: Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson
Based on a Story by: Sam Peckinpah, Frank Kowalski
Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernández, Kris Kristofferson
Country: USA, Mexico
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘ve long been a huge fan of The Wild Bunch, but I’ve not seen much of the director Sam Peckinpah’s other work. I can remember watching Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid when I was a youngster, but I didn’t get into it and the mixed reviews some of his other work received put me off a bit. I’ve matured since then though, so I feel I might appreciate Pat Garrett more these days and I’m keen to venture further into Peckinpah’s filmography after a recent rewatch of The Wild Bunch reminded how fantastic it is. Arrow Video have helped me along by releasing his follow up to Pat Garrett, the unambiguously titled Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.

The film opens powerfully with a pregnant Mexican teenager, initially relaxing by a river, being taken in shackles to see her crime lord father (El Jefe – played by Emilio Fernández), who demands to find out who the father of her baby is. She refuses to say, until she has her arm or finger broken by some thugs and she cries out “Alfredo Garcia”. This leads to El Jefe making the titular order to his gang of hired heavies and crooks. Two cold-hearted, business-like men on the hunt for Garcia end up in a small bar where Bennie (Warren Oates) plays the piano. He’s heard of the man and is willing to find him for the right price. His girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) had been sleeping around with Garcia and claims that he recently died in a car accident. Undeterred, Bennie takes Elita on a road trip to find Garcia’s body, chop off the head and deliver it to El Jeffe’s goons. This poor decision begins a domino effect though and Bennie sinks lower than it seems one man is able to descend.

It’s a grim and grimy film. Most of the characters are pretty reprehensible, even Elita has her flaws. There’s plenty of nudity, violence and general degradation as Bennie makes his bloody road trip. It certainly shares the grit and nihilism of The Wild Bunch as well as the strange sense of melancholy. The film supposedly plays like a metaphor for Peckinpah’s life and work. Like his endless problems with studio heads interfering with his films and never getting final cut on them (this was the first and possibly only time he got it), Bring Me the Head sees its hero get constantly shat on, particularly by those in positions of authority. Bennie also tries to drown his sorrows in drink with little success and loves his girlfriend but treats her poorly. You get the sense this is a surprisingly personal film then, despite the seemingly outlandish premise, so it is quite a bleak and angry affair.

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Blu-Ray Review: El Sur

Director: Víctor Erice
Screenplay: Víctor Erice
Based on a Short Story by: Adelaida García Morales
Starring: Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, Icíar Bollaín
Country: Spain, France
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: PG


I can remember seeing Víctor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive crop up in a couple of ‘greatest films of all time’ lists back when I was first getting into films, so it was something I’ve long wanted to see. It never appeared on TV though and although it was released on DVD it was always very expensive so I never got around to buying it. The disc has since gone out of print so has become even more expensive and difficult to find. My desire to see the film hasn’t diminished and it’s remained high on my wish list, but no one seems to want to pick it up. Some sort of consolation has appeared though now as the BFI have decided to re-release Erice’s follow up, El Sur, on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK and offered me a screener to review. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before receiving the press release, but I felt it was as close to watching Beehive as I could get without forking out a small fortune, so figured I’d give it a shot.

El Sur has the voice of Estrella (María Massip) tell us the story of her childhood, in particular her relationship with her father Agustín (Omero Antonutti) who disappeared from her life when she was 15. We spend most of the film in the late 1950’s when Estrella is 8 though (and played by Sonsoles Aranguren). At this time she adores her father. He’s an unusual man who practises divination, but, having grown up with this strange behaviour all her life, Estrella sees him as completely normal. As the flashbacks move forward we see Agustín grow more distant and haunted by the love of a former partner, but Estrella doesn’t understand what’s happening to him or how much he needs help. Only when she becomes a teenager (and played by Icíar Bollaín) does she seem to guess what went wrong and realise that even though he showed great love to her, he was never open or honest, so she never got to actually know him as a person or help him with his problems, to create a true bond between them.

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