DVD Review: The Salesman

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay by: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
Country: Iran, France
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman got a lot of attention earlier this year when the film’s cast and crew boycotted the Academy Awards in protest over US President Donald Trump’s order which blocked entry of citizens from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries to the U.S. This boycott also prompted a free screening of the film in Trafalgar Square in London in a sign of solidarity. Following this, The Salesman went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The cynic in me felt the film maybe won the award due to the stand made, but, having loved Farhadi’s A Separation from 2011, I thought I’d better see for myself whether or not it deserved the accolade.

The Salesman sees married couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), who are currently acting together in a production of ‘Death of a Salesman’, forced to move to a friend’s apartment temporarily after their apartment block is badly damaged and deemed dangerous. In this new accommodation, Rana is assaulted after she mistakenly buzzes someone in, thinking they’re her husband. She is deeply affected by the attack, but doesn’t want to bring the police into it, afraid of the shame that will come upon her when asked to speak of the incident and testify about what happened. Emad is out for revenge though and investigates himself. He discovers the apartment’s previous tenant was a prostitute and the attacker was likely one of her clients expecting his usual treatment. He also finds they left their pickup truck outside so locks it in the block’s garage, in the hope of catching the owner when they return to pick it up. As Emad gets closer to finding the culprit, he drifts further away from his wife, who doesn’t want the man found. She just wants Emad to be there for her and help her come to terms with what happened.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mulholland Drive

Director: David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch
Starring: Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Robert Forster
Country: USA
Running Time: 146 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 15


Last year, BBC Culture ran a survey of 177 film critics from around the world to determine what they felt were greatest films of the 21st Century. The well-publicised results found David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive claiming the top spot. It rejuvenated interest in the film, particularly as Lynch’s continuation of his Twin Peaks series was announced around the time. Studiocanal jumped on this by giving the film a new restoration and re-releasing it on Blu-Ray with a few added special features. I haven’t seen the film since the early 2000s, shortly after its original home release, so I’ve been keen to give it a rewatch, particularly with all the Lynch love going around with the new series of Twin Peaks starting last night. This gave me the opportunity I was after then, so here are my thoughts on the film.

Giving a synopsis of Mulholland Drive is a tricky business, as it might depend on your interpretation of the plot and the latter third in particular gets pretty surreal. However, to avoid spoilers or debatable interpretations of the film, I’ll focus on the basic setup in the first half. Here we see an actress, later referred to as Rita (Laura Harring), escape being shot when she’s involved in a car accident on the titular Hollywood road. She’s left with amnesia and wanders into an apartment currently occupied by wannabe actress Betty (Naomi Watts), who just arrived in town. Betty wants to help Rita, so the two set about investigating, to find out who she is and what happened to her. Meanwhile, film director Adam (Justin Theroux) is struggling to get his latest project off the ground as some shady mafia types seem to have a stranglehold over production, forcing him to hire an actress as the lead against his will. His life is further troubled by the discovery of his wife in bed with another man. His path converges with the two actresses later on, as their journey takes increasingly dark and puzzling turns.

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Blu-Ray Review: Housekeeping

Director: Bill Forsyth
Screenplay: Bill Forsyth
Based on a Novel by: Marilynne Robinson
Starring: Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill
Country: USA/Canada
Running Time: 116 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: PG


Bill Forsyth is a Scottish director who’s fairly well known (in the UK at least) for two of his early 80s releases, Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. The rest of his career is little known to me though and, looking at his filmography on IMDb, his career seemed to thin out after the 80s and his last few releases in the 90s were commercial and critical flops. Right in the middle of this unusual career however, is a film called Housekeeping. I must admit I’d never heard of it before being sent a press release about this forthcoming Indicator Blu-Ray/DVD re-release. Scanning the reviews it seemed to be worth watching though and I do enjoy Gregory’s Girl (I’ve seen Local Hero too, but it’s been decades, so my memory is hazy), so I took a chance on it.

Housekeeping is based on a novel by Marilynne Robinson and follows the troubled lives of two sisters, Ruth (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) in 50s rural America. They never knew their father, their mother commits suicide when they’re young and they live with their grandmother for seven years until she dies too and they’re left with their formerly transient aunt, Sylvie (Christine Lahti) who they hadn’t met since they were babies. The girls are initially excited to be with her as she can help them discover more about their mother, but she’s an unusual woman, with no standard motherly instincts or discipline, and Lucille in particular grows tired of and embarrassed by her eccentricities. As such, the sisters, after being inseparable from childhood, gradually grow apart and Ruth is forced to choose between the freewheeling yet isolated existence of being with Sylvie or the stereotypical nuclear family and teenage experience Lucille craves.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cops Vs Thugs

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara
Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Mikio Narita
Country: Japan
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 18


Reviewing Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity box set opened my eyes to the talents of Kinji Fukasaku beyond Battle Royale. Thankfully, the label is digging deeper into the Japanese director’s oeuvre with a handful of titles coming our way, including a set containing the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from being able to review that, but I did request a copy of Cops Vs Thugs to review, which is another crime thriller, made and released in between episodes of New Battles…

Cops Vs Thugs is actually based on true life crime stories researched by Kazuo Kasahara whilst he was writing the first Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. He’d heard accounts of police and yakuza becoming friends and wanted to put this idea in a film, but didn’t feel it fit into the world of the already convoluted saga he was initially creating. So, he ended up putting together a separate script, which Fukasaku would once again direct, called Cops Vs Thugs.

Set in Kurashima City in Japan in the early 60s, the film finds two yakuza gangs at loggerheads. The Kawade family are trying to build some political connections to make a lucrative business deal, but the Ohara family don’t like to see their rivals establishing a bigger stranglehold over the city than them, so use their strong connections with the police to put a stop to Kawade’s growth. Currently running the Ohara family whilst their boss is in prison, is Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata). Fairly young and aggressive, he has no time for the political or business leanings of his enemy and has his eyes on permanent leadership over the Ohara family. He also shares a close friendship with Kuno (Bunta Sugawara), a police detective who helps him work his way up the ladder. Kuno may seem corrupt (and he is in the eyes of the law), but he believes that developing a bond with the yakuza and letting them get on with their own thing is the best way to keep the peace. His newly appointed superior disagrees though as gang warfare erupts and Kuno’s assistance with the yakuza causes more problems than its worth.

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Blu-Ray Review: 12 Angry Men – Criterion Collection

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: Reginald Rose
Based on a Story by: Reginald Rose
Starring: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1957
BBFC Certificate: PG


12 Angry Men has long been a favourite of mine, so you must forgive my review if it gets too gushing. It’s a popular classic, so much has already been written about it and I can’t compete with the more intellectual or eloquent writers out there. As such, I’ll try to keep this write-up brief. I imagine most people interested in classic cinema will have already seen the film, so you should probably just skip to the section in bold at the end to see how Criterion’s Blu-Ray release stacks up. Suffice to say, it’s excellent and easily replaces my bare-bones DVD copy.

For those of you not aware of the film, the setup of 12 Angry Men is a rather simple one. 12 jurors are assigned to a seemingly cut and dry murder case, where an eighteen year old hispanic boy is thought to have murdered his father. The film starts after the case has been put forward and the jurors are asked to deliberate over the evidence and decide whether or not the boy is guilty. It’s clearly iterated that if there is any reasonable doubt that he didn’t do it, the boy must be deemed not guilty. If he is found guilty, he will be sentenced to death.

The 12 men enter the jury room on a hot summer’s day and soon take a vote. 11 of them are quick to declare the boy guilty, but one man (Henry Fonda) isn’t so sure. He isn’t confident of the boy’s innocence necessarily, but wants the reluctant men to at least discuss it and not rush into sending the boy to die. The decision must be unanimous, so the 12 men break down all the facts of the case and argue the ins and outs, which slowly begins to turn the decision around.

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Blu-Ray Review: Melody

Director: Waris Hussein
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: PG


I opened my review of My Life as a Dog this morning by professing my love for coming of age dramas, and what do you know, the other title I had to review today is another coming of age film. What’s that old saying about buses?

Rather than telling a period tale of burgeoning adulthood in rural Sweden though, Melody (a.k.a. S.W.A.L.K. – what a hideous title!) is set in present day (early 70s) London and follows Daniel (Oliver himself, Mark Lester), a middle class boy starting at a mixed comprehensive school with a range of likeminded young rascals. Daniel befriends a naughty but likeable lad called Ornshaw (Jack Wild, also of Oliver! fame). The two are from very different backgrounds, which cause a few issues, but generally they’re inseparable as they get into mischief at school and home. That is until Melody (Tracy Hyde) comes on the scene.

Melody is a good natured dreamer who lives in a council flat with her mother, grandmother and father, although the latter spends more time at the pub than home. Daniel falls madly in love with Melody when he spies on her dancing at school. He stalks her (in a well meaning 12 year old sort of way) until eventually Melody falls for his charms too. All is peachy with them, but Ornshaw isn’t too happy about his friend being otherwise occupied so friction develops between the two boys and the couple get in trouble with their family and the school when they demand to be able to get married now, not in the future as the law demands.

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Blu-Ray Review: My Life as a Dog

Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay: Lasse Hallström
Based on a Novel by: Reidar Jönsson
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman
Country: Sweden
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve always had a soft spot for coming of age films. I don’t know whether it’s nostalgia for my own childhood or wish fulfilment for what I would have liked to have done back then, but I’ve always enjoyed watching tales of teens on the brink of adulthood, finding themselves through some sort of adventure or crucial experience. I’ve got several favourites, but the one I come back to again and again is Stand By Me. The quotable dialogue, camaraderie between friends and thrill of going off on a ‘mission’ together out in the wilderness all help make it one of my personal all time favourite films. So when Lasse Hallström’s critically acclaimed Swedish coming of age drama My Life as a Dog was offered up to review, I was keen to see if it lived up to the similar films I have a fondness for.

My Life as a Dog centres around and is narrated by Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12 year old boy living in Sweden in the late 1950s with his older brother and sick mother (Anki Lidén). The two boys get into so much trouble, particularly Ingemar, that their mum is forced to separate them, sending her youngest son to live with his uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren) far from home. She’s too ill to deal with both herself and their father is abroad with work and doesn’t seem to have the ability or interest to come back. Whilst living with his uncle in a rural town, Ingemar struggles to control his developing teenage hormones. His young mind is confused as to what to do about an attractive local woman who uses him as a defence against an artist making a nude sculpture of her, as well as a sporty tomboy, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), who falls for him. All the while, he is troubled by the fact that his beloved mother wants to get rid of him and is dying, a fact he pretends to ignore.

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Blu-Ray Review: Tampopo – Criterion Collection

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country: Japan
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 15


I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Tampopo. I’d heard mention of it, always in a positive sense, so I was keen to see it. I was aware that it was a film about food too, but other than that I hadn’t a clue what I was in for when I put this fantastic new Criterion Blu-Ray into my player. I’m glad I didn’t know much either as this glorious offbeat film blew me away.

The core of the film sees truckers Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) head into a ramen shop late one rainy night. They are unimpressed by the ramen, but Goro is fascinated by the attractive and determined owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). So when she asks Goro to help improve her cooking and bring new life to the shop she inherited from her dead husband, he accepts. He can’t do it alone though, as he’s no expert, so enlists the help of Gun and several other quirky characters he knows and meets in the city.

Alongside this story, the film oftens heads off on various tangents as the camera follows characters walking past our main protagonists. These lead to short scenes/skits surrounding people’s love of food, how it plays a part in their lives and unusual aspects of food etiquette. These are generally led by fresh new characters, but the mysterious Man in the White Suit (Kôji Yakusho), a gangster type with a sexual fetish for food, reappears several times.

In fact, this character opens the film. He and his food-sex loving mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) enter a cinema, followed by an entourage who lay out a gourmet feast. The man then talks directly to us, the audience, about eating during a film and his annoyance at those making too much noise, before waxing lyrical about the ‘short film’ you see in your dying moments.

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Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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