Blu-Ray Review: Day for Night – Criterion Collection

Director: François Truffaut
Screenplay: François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard, Suzanne Schiffman
Starring: Jacqueline Bisset, Jean-Pierre Léaud, François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese
Country: France, Italy
Running Time: 115 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15

Films about filmmaking always tend to be popular with critics and I must say I’ve always been a fan of them myself. From the razor sharp satire of The Player, to the noirish brilliance of Sunset Boulevard, to over the top daft takes on the genre like Bowfinger, there’s a lot to enjoy from the film industry poking fun at or shining a mirror on themselves. French new wave legend François Truffaut turned his hand at making a film about making a film back in 1973, Day for Night. It was hugely popular at the time, winning numerous awards, including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and The Criterion Collection have chosen it as their latest release on Blu-Ray in the UK. I haven’t seen it since I was a teenager, but I had fond memories of it, so was keen on giving it a rewatch.

Day for Night charts the production of ‘Meet Pamela’, a soapy-looking drama about a young woman who’s torn between her fiancée and his father. Truffaut plays the on-screen director who tries to keep the machine rolling during a shoot fraught with problems. The cast are divas, the crew are getting off with each other left-right and centre and little goes to plan. Mid-production things start to level off, but several disasters towards the end lead to some wild compromises.

It perfectly captures the madness of making a film – the problems; major and minor, the fakery and the beauty. Despite so much going wrong during the fictional production, it still made me desperate to get out on set, being a filmmaker myself. This is a testament to the great balancing act Truffaut pulls off between poking fun at the industry’s inherent absurdity and writing it a love letter at the same time. A closing bit of dialogue perfectly sums it up, when a reporter asks the prop-man (the only person willing to talk to the press) if the shoot was difficult, and he answers “no, it went fine and we hope audiences enjoy watching it”, despite the multitude of catastrophes they went through.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg
Based on a Novel by: Walter Tevis
Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
Country: UK
Running Time: 139 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 18

The pop star vehicle tends to be a dirty word in cinema. From the cheesy Elvis movies to Britney Spears in Crossroads and Madonna in Swept Away, it’s fair to say a great many megastar musicians have failed to ignite the silver screen in the same way they have a stage. One pop star who managed to collect a number of interesting, if not always successful, acting roles throughout his career though was the late, great David Bowie. From fun cameos in films like Zoolander and TV shows like Extras, to a fine turn as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, Bowie used his chameleonic abilities to great effect in a handful of work away from his music. His first starring role in a feature film was in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and, to many, this remains his finest on-screen performance. I’d never actually seen it, so, being a big fan of Bowie’s music, I was keen to get my hands on Studiocanal’s new special edition re-release of the film on Blu-Ray.

The Man Who Fell to Earth sees Bowie play Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who arrives on Earth to find water for his dying planet. He shows up at the door of patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry), asking him to help set up a company to launch some technology decades ahead of what is currently available. Newton wants to earn enough money to build himself a new space craft to get back home, and indeed his company, World Enterprises, proves a huge success. However, he gets distracted by sex, alcohol and TV, moving in with working class girl Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) whilst rival businessmen plot to muscle him out of the picture.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Odds Against Tomorrow

Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky (as John O. Killens), Nelson Gidding
Based on a Novel by: William P. McGivern
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley, Gloria Grahame, Shelley Winters, Will Kuluva
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: 12

Robert Wise has had a fascinating and hugely successful career. He may not be the household name some of his director contemporaries are, but if you look back at his CV, you’ll see how we cut his teeth as a sound effects editor on some classic mid-thirties films such as two Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicles, The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat, as well as John Ford’s The Informer. He then moved up to the role of editor, cutting classics such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939) and the great Citizen Kane. After being drafted in by the studio to direct some additional sequences for Orson Welles’ butchered The Magnificent Ambersons, Wise went on to direct his own films. Starting off with B-movies, he proved his worth with classic genre films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. Throughout his career he worked on a bizarrely diverse series of films, many of which were immensely successful, from Somebody Up There Likes Me, to West Side Story, The Sound of Music, The Andromeda Strain and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s interesting that he’s not as highly regarded as you’d think someone with that many hits under his belt would be. He’s not a director with a clear signature style, so perhaps he’s seen more as a director-for-hire than an auteur, but it’s hard to push him aside when he made films as cherished and popular as he did.

Odds Against Tomorrow is another interesting addition to Wise’s CV. Seeing the director tackle the film noir genre, it’s also especially interesting as it tackles issues of race alongside the usual noir/heist movie tropes. Executively produced by and starring the pop-singer/actor Harry Belafonte, it’s clearly a labour of love for the star, who wanted to make something important and powerful (he was very politically active at the time, supporting the Civil Rights Movement and other humanitarian causes later in life). This makes the film a perfect addition to the BFI’s Black Star season, a selection of films celebrating the range, versatility and power of black actors.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Two Women

Director: Vittorio De Sica
Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini
Based on a Novel by: Alberto Moravia
Starring: Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Raf Vallone, Carlo Ninchi
Country: Italy, France
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1960
BBFC Certificate: 15

Nouveaux Pictures and Argent Films have recently merged together to form a new distribution company in the UK, called CultFilms. According to their press release, they “will create luxury releases of quality foreign and arthouse films. Every title will be a high end, collectible product, and extras will feature one or more in-depth documentary.” This sounded exactly up my street of course, so as soon as I heard about CultFilms I asked if I could help promote their releases by reviewing them. The first films they’re bringing out are two Italian classics starring Sophia Loren; Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women, which I will review here, and Ettore Scola’s A Special Day, which I will get to at a later date.

Vittorio De Sica was a director and actor who is most famous for being one of the leading figures in the Italian neo-realist movement. Two of the films he made as part of this during the 1940’s, Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, both won honorary Academy Awards and he went on to win another couple of Best Foreign Language Film awards later on in his career as well as being a regular fixture at Cannes. So he was certainly in favour with critics around the world.

De Sica’s 1960 film, Two Women, was another Oscar winner, taking home the Best Actress award for Sophia Loren. This was particularly special in fact, being the first time an acting Oscar had been given to a non-English language speaking part. I must admit, it’s not a film I was particularly aware of, although I’m no expert in Italian cinema. I liked Bicycle Thieves a lot though and the acclaim garnered on this later film piqued my interest.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Don’t Look Back – Criterion Collection

Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Screenplay: D.A. Pennebaker
Starring: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuwirth
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15

The phrase ‘don’t meet your heroes’ might go somewhere to explain my approach to the musicians I admire. Although I consume music to an exhaustive degree, listening to it whenever I have chance and spending far too much time reading reviews, compiling playlists and shopping for CD’s/downloads. However, I’ve never been one to read/watch many interviews with musicians. I do occasionally, but don’t make a habit of it like I do checking their latest reviews. I think I prefer to let their work do the talking as I often find if their natural personality rubs me up the wrong way it casts a shadow over my opinion of what they do.

For that reason, I’m occasionally dubious about watching documentaries about artists I love as I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment of their work. Some Kind of Monster for instance is a great documentary about Metallica, but makes them look like pricks (pardon my French) and has made me a little more hesitant over checking out their latest albums.

One film I’ve never seen until now, a good twenty years since falling in love with Bob Dylan’s work, is the most famous documentary surrounding the musician, D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. It might simply be chance that I haven’t got around to seeing it, but I think a worry that I’d find the famously elusive artist a pretentious wanker had always loomed in the back of my mind. Thankfully The Criterion Collection is re-releasing the classic film on Blu-Ray in the UK with a phenomenal amount of extra features, so I couldn’t resist finally giving it a chance after all these years.

And thank God I did, because I loved it.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986) Director’s Cut

Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Howard Ashman
Based on a film written by: Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Bill Murray, Levi Stubbs
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min (theatrical cut) 103 min (director’s cut)
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: PG

I think I’ve mentioned this in a review before, but I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. I love music and love films, but putting them together too blatantly doesn’t always work for me. I think it’s mainly the stereotypical squeaky clean Rodgers and Hammerstein style that I don’t go for though as there are a couple of musicals I truly adore. Singin’ in the Rain is one of them and another is Little Shop of Horrors. The more often I watch it, the more I come to feel it’s my favourite musical. Yet it’s a film that’s largely only ever been available to watch in a form not originally intended by its director. Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors was written and first shot with a particularly downbeat ending in line with the original short story, non-musical Roger Corman film and off-Broadway stage version. However, the bleak finale didn’t go down well with test audiences and the producers forced Oz to re-edit and reshoot the ending to be much more sugary.

Now I’ve never had a problem with the happy ending I’d seen several times previously, even though I was aware of how it originally concluded. Nevertheless, I was always intrigued to see Oz’s intended version of the film and my wish has been granted by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment who have released Little Shop of Horrors in a Premium Collection version, complete with the director’s cut, which is what I chose to watch for this review.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Diner

Director: Barry Levinson
Screenplay: Barry Levinson
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, Kevin Bacon, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, Paul Reiser, Ellen Barkin
Country: USA
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 1982
BBFC Certificate: 15

I tend to review screeners of interesting films I haven’t seen before here, but when I’m offered Blu-Ray special editions of old favourites it’s hard to say no. Warner Bros. have recently introduced a new Premium Collection series, exclusive to UK HMV stores, and the first batch of 10 titles include three films I’d class as particular favourites of mine, alongside several other classics. The three dear to my heart, which I’ll be reviewing over the coming weeks, include Little Shop of Horrors (1986), The Shining (the Extended Edition, not previously available in the UK) and Diner. Kicking off my reviews will be my thoughts on the latter.

Barry Levinson’s Diner follows a group of college-age friends in 1959 Baltimore as they hang out, primarily in the open-all-night Fells Point Diner. Each man is at a pivotal point in their life, be it about to get married, stuck in a marital rut already, facing impending parenthood within a strained relationship, on the verge of getting in trouble with the law or the wrong crowd, or simply not knowing what to do next with their lives as they prepare to dive headlong into adulthood.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Early Murnau – Five Films

Friedrich Wilheim Murnau is one of the most celebrated directors of the silent era. He’s most famous for Nosferatu and Sunrise, but was the mastermind behind several classic pieces of early cinema before his untimely death in 1931 at the age of 42. Although the two reviews I’ve previously posted of his films haven’t quite perched them on the high pedestal others have placed them (I gave Nosferatu 4 stars and Tabu 3), I still class myself as a fan of his work as I was blown away by Sunrise when I first saw it a couple of years ago. It fully deserves its status as one of the greatest films of all time. So when Eureka announced they were packaging five of his early films in a Blu-Ray set, I didn’t hesitate to take them up on the offer of reviewing it, particularly as it includes one of his most highly regarded works, Der Letzte Mann.

Included in the 3 Blu-Ray set are Schloß Vogelöd (1921 – a.k.a. The Haunted Castle), Phantom (1922), Die Finanzen des Großherzogs (1924 – a.k.a. The Grand Duke’s Finances), Der Letzte Mann (1924 – a.k.a. The Last Laugh) and Tartuffe (1925).

My thoughts on all titles included can be found below.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Cat People

Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen
Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 73 min
Year: 1942
BBFC Certificate: PG

CCat People is a film I saw a long time ago and have vague fond memories of, so I was keen to check out The Criterion Collection’s UK Blu-Ray release. I thought it might also get me in the mood for the usual October horror movie celebrations we film bloggers like to partake in.

From the title, Cat People sounds pretty silly and trashy, and, by all accounts, it was originally intended to be a cheap crowd-pleasing fright-fest. RKO Pictures were in trouble after Citizen Kane proved an expensive commercial failure on release (which is surprising to hear now). So they hired writer Val Lewton as a new producer for the studio, strictly to make low budget horror movies to help recoup some cash. His first film was Cat People and, although he did keep it under budget as promised and it made a lot of money, he turned a potentially daft concept into something quite poetic, subtle and intelligent.

The film sees the beautiful Serbian fashion sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), now living in New York, meet and quickly fall in love with Oliver Reed (not the booze loving actor, but a character played by Kent Smith). The couple get married soon after, but cracks soon appear in their relationship as Irena refuses to consummate the marriage. She believes in an old legend from her home town about the ‘cat people’ – those who had turned to witchcraft, devil worshipping and other wicked sins through their slavery to the Mameluks, who were driven out by King John. John had these sinners killed, but some escaped to the mountains, to become cat people. Supposedly these half human, half feline creatures kill those that they kiss, so, believing she is one of their descendants, Irena is afraid of the consequences of taking her new husband to bed.

The waters are further muddied when Reed’s work colleague Alice (Jane Randolph) confesses her love to him and, aided by the cracks appearing in his new marriage, he reciprocates. As Irena begins to suspect something going on between the two, her jealousy unleashes a dark, possibly cat-like side.

Would you like to know more…?