Archive for the ‘Blu-ray’ Category

  • Blu-Ray Review: Violent Saturday


    Director: Richard Fleischer
    Screenplay: Sydney Boehm
    Based on a Novel by: William L. Heath
    Starring: Victor Mature, Richard Egan, Stephen McNally, Virginia Leith, Tommy Noonan, Lee Marvin
    Producer: Buddy Adler
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 90 min
    Year: 1955
    BBFC Certificate: PG


    The booklet included with this new Masters of Cinema release of Richard Fleischer’s Violent Saturday comes up with an interesting set of modern counterparts for the director in Ron Howard and Ridley Scott. Like they have over the last couple of decades, Fleischer directed a wildly varied number of Hollywood films to equally varied success. He moved from film noirs like Narrow Margin to family adventure movies (Fantastic Voyage) to war epics (Tora! Tora! Tora!) and sci-fi thrillers (Soylent Green). He even made a couple of Schwarzenegger’s 80′s sword and sandal flicks, Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. Some might call him a director for hire with such a collection under his belt, but like Scott and Howard he hit a couple out of the park far enough to prove he had talent and help his name remain relevant.

    Violent Saturday is one of his less famous films (even Fleischer barely mentioned it in his autobiography according to the booklet), but over time it has become known as a hidden gem in his oeuvre. It certainly must have caught someone’s attention as it has received the royal Masters of Cinema treatment and director William Friedkin is a big enough fan to have provided a 20 minute interview on it, included in this set.

    The film is set in the quiet mining town of Bradenville in Arizona, where three criminals (including a relatively young Lee Marvin) arrive to carefully plot and carry out a quick and supposedly easy bank robbery. Whilst the plan is being refined, we watch the lives of some of the residents of the town and learn that these soon to be victims aren’t all that squeaky clean either. From the peeping Tom bank manager (Tommy Noonan) to the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. Fairchild’s (Richard Egan and Margaret Hayes) philandering, the locals have plenty of dark secrets. The film’s only ‘hero’ is Shelley Martin (Victor Mature) and he’s considered a coward by the local children due to staying at home to work rather than fighting at Iwo Jima. The bank job sets things straight for all of them though, one way or another.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: Seven Samurai


    Director: Akira Kurosawa
    Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
    Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima
    Producer: Sôjirô Motoki
    Country: Japan
    Running Time: 207 min
    Year: 1954
    BBFC Certificate: PG


    My name is David. I’m a 31 year old film fan and before today I’d never seen Seven Samurai.

    I’ve lived with that shame for so long. It may seem over the top to call it shameful but it’s not just the fact that it’s considered one of the greatest films of all time and is one of the films long set in the prescribed viewing ‘canon’. I’ve been a lover of Asian cinema since I was a teenager, especially samurai films (although admittedly I haven’t seen that many) and a fan of action films for as long as I can remember. I’ve seen a number of Akira Kurosawa films too and hugely enjoyed every one of them. So the fact that his most famous, well respected title, which also happened to be his most action-oriented, managed to pass me by all this time is baffling. I taped it off TV when I was younger but never got around to watching it, I even bought it as part of a Kurosawa Samurai Film DVD set, but still it gathers dust on my shelf. My sole poor excuse has always been the length of the film. Anything over 3 hours long seems a daunting prospect to me. I don’t know why, as a number of my favourite films are particularly lengthy and this was clearly the sort of film I would enjoy. I just have the habit of checking running times whenever I’m picking out films to watch, as though my life is in a constant hurry.

    Well thank God for the BFI. When I got emailed a press release for their newly remastered Blu-Ray edition of Seven Samurai, asking if I fancied a screener, I literally yelled out loud for joy. Not only would I finally have no excuse not to watch this film which had passed me by for so long, but I would be viewing it in the best possible home video format, as close to catching a print screening as is easily possible these days.

    So please excuse this review for being largely about my personal background of not watching the film, but lets be honest, hundreds if not thousands of people have written about and expressed their love for this film in the past, so I’m not going to add much new to the pot. I’d just like to say that even with around 20 years of hype (the length of time I was probably aware of the film), Seven Samurai fully lived up to expectations and I’m going to point out a few of the reasons why I loved it. I’ll try not to ramble on as I imagine many of you will have already seen it and if you haven’t, please don’t wait as long as I did.

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  • Blu-Ray/DVD Review: Wake in Fright


    Director: Ted Kotcheff
    Screenplay: Evan Jones
    Based on a Novel by: Kenneth Cook
    Starring: Gary Bond, Donald Pleasence, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson
    Producer: George Willoughby
    Country: Australia/USA
    Running Time: 109 min
    Year: 1971
    BBFC Certificate: 18


    Getting a prestigious Masters of Cinema re-release on the same day as White Dog seemed fitting for Wake in Fright, as it reminded me of that film in a number of ways. Both are brash indictments of states/institutions as well as humanity in general and both had a difficult history which caused them to be pretty much forgotten for a number of years. Wake in Fright got off to a better start, not only gaining critical praise, but playing at the Cannes Film Festival. Like White Dog it didn’t play so well at home though (Australia in this case) and understandably so, as it doesn’t cast the country in a good light at all. Nevertheless, the film proved a pivotal piece of Australian film history. Along with 1971′s Walkabout it helped kickstart the Australian New Wave, bringing the country’s film industry back to life after decades of despondency following its groundbreaking early years (Australia produced the world’s first ever feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang back in 1906).

    Largely due to its poor performance in its home country I imagine, Wake in Fright became a famously “lost” title though. Good quality prints of the film had pretty much disappeared, preventing any sort of home video release for decades. Thankfully, in 2004, one was found in storage somewhere, spotted just in time as it was labelled “for destruction”. The print wasn’t in great shape, but the film’s editor, Anthony Buckley, headed a restoration project, re-releasing it in 2009 to great acclaim. It was even screened at Cannes again in the Cannes Classics selection, making it only the second film (after L’Avventura) ever to play twice at the festival. After this, the film has been able to grow in stature once again and is considered a classic of Australian cinema (although it must be said the director was Canadian and the production was a collaboration between America and Australia).

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  • DVD/Blu-Ray Review: White Dog


    Director: Samuel Fuller
    Screenplay: Samuel Fuller, Curtis Hanson
    Based on an Article & Book by: Romain Gary
    Starring: Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives
    Producer: Jon Davison
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 90 min
    Year: 1982
    BBFC Certificate: 15


    White Dog is a film with a chequered past. Telling the story of a dog that has been trained to attack black people, the film picked up controversy before it was even released. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) caught wind of the production early on and requested a visit to the set. Rumours that the film was racist and could incite racial hatred and copycat dog training spread fast and the film was pretty much shelved on completion in the US. It had a small release in Europe and picked up some decent reviews, but in its home country it was hidden away for years. After watching the film myself I’m rather baffled as to why it was deemed racist though. That couldn’t be further from the truth and it seems clear that the detractors hadn’t actually watched it.

    White Dog begins with bit-part actress Julie Sawyer (Kristy McNichol) hitting a dog in her car late one night. She takes it to a vet and nurses it back to health at her home whilst she waits for someone to pick it up. When no one comes, she decides to keep it. She soon discovers however that the German Shepherd has been trained as an attack dog, and not just any attack dog, but a ‘white dog’, one that has been conditioned to specifically go for black people on sight.

    Julie’s boyfriend and others try to convince her to put the dog down as well as a renowned Hollywood animal trainer (Burl Ives) who spots its evil mindset. However, a black trainer at the same site, Keys (Paul Winfield), vows to do everything in his power to un-train the beast. Julie agrees to let him do his work and the film follows the difficult process to see if this hatred can be eradicated.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: Mouchette


    Director: Robert Bresson
    Writers: Robert Bresson
    Based on a novel by: Georges Bernanos
    Starring: Nadine Nortier, Jean-Claude Guilbert, Paul Hebert, Maria Cardinal
    Country: France
    Running Time: 82 min
    Year: 1967
    BBFC Certificate: 15


    Robert Bresson is a director whose work I’ve only slightly dabbled in (along with a lot of French directors to be honest). Prior to watching Mouchette, I’d only seen one of his films, Pickpocket, of which I can remember being impressed by the construction of some of its scenes, but can’t remember much more about it. I’d watched it late at night on a laptop so the situation wasn’t ideal, so I was very much looking forward to viewing Mouchette on a big(ish) screen in its newly remastered Blu-Ray format from Artifical Eye.

    The film follows the titular character, a young girl played by Nadine Nortier (an untrained actress with no prior experience). Mouchette is living in poverty with her bed-ridden mother, abusive alcoholic father and baby brother. She works hard to look after her family, but gets little love in return. Everyone from her teacher, her fellow pupils, to the boys from the village all make life difficult for Mouchette. To be fair she isn’t particularly nice to them either, being a feisty young thing who purposefully muddies the floor at church and throws dirt at the other girls at school. She spends most of her time alone, wandering the local woods. It’s here where she gets into more serious trouble. She finds shelter from a storm and runs into Arsène (Jean-Claude Guilbert), a man caught up in a sort of love triangle with a local barmaid and her wannabe suitor Mathieu (Jean Vimenet). He believes he has killed the man and uses Mouchette to build an alibi to shocking results.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: Classe Tous Risques


    Director: Claude Sautet
    Writer: Claude Sautet, José Giovanni, Pascal Jardin
    Based on a Novel by: José Giovanni
    Starring: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo
    Country: France & Italy
    Running Time: 109 min
    Year: 1960
    BBFC Certificate: PG


    When you’ve been a bit of a film buff/lover for a long time, it’s rare that older titles can come out of nowhere and surprise you. There are of course thousands upon thousands of films out there for people to discover, but most of the classics which are still available to audiences have been so well discussed that you’ll often know what to expect from a film before you get around to watch it. When my friends at the BFI sent a press release over for Classe Tous Risques, I must admit I hadn’t heard of it though. Other than supporting actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, none of the names in the cast and crew jumped out at me either. I gave it a quick scan on IMDb and it sounded right up my alley so I took the plunge and luckily it resulted in that rare thing, a true ‘pleasant surprise’. Not that ‘pleasant’ is the right way to describe a hard boiled film noir like this.

    Classe Tous Risques, which was based on a novel by actual jailbird José Giovanni (who also helped adapt it for the screen), tells the story of Abel Davis (Lino Ventura). Aided by his right-hand man Raymond (Stan Krol – a former cellmate of Giovanni), Abel pulls off a daring daylight robbery and attempts to flee to France. The perilous chase results in tragedy and Abel ends up stranded in Nice with his two young sons in tow. He asks his old gang for help in getting back to Paris and hiding him and his family, but gets snubbed. A friend of Raymond’s, Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), shows up to take Abel to Paris though and the two become partners as Abel attempts to redress the balance and do best for his boys whilst evading the police.

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  • Fantastic Mr. Fox is out on Criterion BLU


    While I got shut out today at Bay St. Video when I went to grab a copy (something about a flux in Canadian distributors) I shall be ordering it online, as I should have in the first place. Here are my kids wanting to remind you all that this Fantastic animated film is very, very, very re-watchable. (And, yes, it is shameless that I post this video so often in these parts…)

  • Blu-Ray Review: John Dies at the End


    Director: Don Coscarelli
    Screenplay: Don Coscarelli
    Based on a Novel by: David Wong
    Starring: Chase Williamson, Rob Mayes, Paul Giamatti, Glynn Turman
    Producers: Brad Baruh, Don Coscarelli, Andy Meyers, Roman Perez
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 99 min
    Year: 2012
    BBFC Certificate: 18


    Adaptations of novels are a tricky business, especially when the source material is well loved. If something is changed the fans create an uproar but if nothing is changed it can make the film bloated and ineffective. On top of that the films are rarely judged on their own merits as critics are often familiar with the source material so comparisons are inevitable.

    Well, I’m afraid I’m going to be writing that kind of review for John Dies at the End, which is based on the cult novel by David Wong (whose real name is Jason Pargin). I made the classic mistake of reading this quite recently before watching the film. I’ve done this a couple of times before and regretted it. Never Let Me Go was a film I felt was very well made, but because I’d read it a couple of weeks before, it struggled to match up and the experience of watching it was too strange as my own vision of the story seemed so fresh in my mind. I read Cloud Atlas just before the film came out too, but that was a slightly different experience as I had some problems with the book. The film actually addressed these problems so in some ways was a great adaptation, but on a scene by scene basis the film was flawed so on a whole it still felt disappointing.

    Which brings me to John Dies at the End. I won’t try to explain the plot too much as it’s bat-shit crazy and the real ‘truth’ behind the madness isn’t explained until near the end. What I will say is that it’s the story of David (Chase Williamson), a loser whose life gets flipped upside down and ripped to shreds as he and his slacker friend John (Rob Mayes) come across a mind-expanding drug known as soy sauce. The ensuing chaos includes (among other things) a TV mystic/psychic who’s actually real, a demon made up of the contents of a freezer and a swarm of tiny insects that take over people’s bodies.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: Filth


    Director: Jon S. Baird
    Screenplay: Jon S. Baird
    Based on a Novel by: Irvine Welsh
    Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Joanne Froggatt
    Country: UK
    Running Time: 97 min
    Year: 2013
    BBFC Certificate: 18


    Trainspotting ripped onto the British film scene in 1996 at the centre of the ‘cool Britannia’ movement, showing the world that the British film industry could make something bold, exciting and stylish, not just period dramas and grim social realism. As well as making a better name for British cinema it also helped boost the popularity of the work of Irvine Welsh, whose novel the film was based on. Another attempt to bring his wild, unvarnished view of Scottish life to the screen came soon after with The Acid House, but this was a relative failure. Although Welsh’s books continued to sell, filmmakers seemed to steer clear of trying to pull off Danny Boyle’s balancing act of managing the madness alongside the central character arc and impact of the social side of the writing. There have been numerous rumours of a film adaptation of Porno, Welsh’s sequel to Trainspotting, but these have never become more than mere rumours.

    Fast forward 17 years (God that makes me feel old) and Jon S. Baird has brought Welsh’s Filth to the screen. James McAvoy takes the lead as Bruce Robertson, a racist, homophobic, drug taking detective sergeant in Edinburgh. He’s desperate to win back his wife and daughter (the reason for their disappearance is held back through most of the film) and the only way he feels he can do this is by beating his colleagues to a forthcoming promotion. Desperate, he will do anything to get it and treats the whole operation as a cruel game in which he will crush even his last few friends to win.

    Right from the offset it’s obvious we’re in the mind of Welsh with Scotland’s seamy underbelly being ripped open by the staggeringly offensive Bruce. Unfortunately Baird doesn’t have the same handle on it as Boyle did. The first half in particular is of wildly varying quality. There are a number of cutaways to short fantasy sequences, either for gags or to bring us into Bruce’s warped mind and these often fall flat. The tone and presentation of these scenes take outrageousness too far into campy territory and because of this the film seems more silly than sharply pointed.

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  • DVD Review: The Selfish Giant


    Director: Clio Barnard
    Screenplay: Clio Barnard
    Starring: Conner Chapman, Shaun Thomas, Sean Gilder
    Country: UK
    Running Time: 91 min
    Year: 2013
    BBFC Certificate: 15


    I get a bit fed up with the British film industry sometimes. We have plenty of homegrown talent and produce some fantastic films, don’t get me wrong, but we have a habit of being rather ‘samey’ with what we choose to make. We have a particular tendency to jump on bandwagons for instance. We had a glut of modern British gangster movies in the 90′s/00′s following Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as well as dozens of titles whose posters claimed they were “the next Full Monty” or “this year’s Four Weddings”. This was just the industry cashing in though of course and every country does it (especially the USA). What bothers me more are our longer-lasting filmmaking habits. The big two that stand out are period dramas and gritty social realism. A number of them are great of course, but there are so many made and they all share so many attributes that I groan every time a new one comes around.

    Saying that, the last couple of years have brought us some great takes on the social realist drama, namely Andrea Arnold’s fine double act of Red Road and Fish Tank. So, although I was a bit dubious about the prospect of watching another dreary tale of how grim it is oop north, I still had high hopes for The Selfish Giant, especially given the incredible reviews it’s been receiving.

    Very loosely based on an Oscar Wilde short story of the same name, The Selfish Giant tells the story of two young teenage boys from a council estate in Bradford. Arbor (Conner Chapman) is badly behaved and struggles to control his tantrums brought on by an unnamed condition (possibly ADD). His best friend, the more thoughtful and grounded Swifty (Shaun Thomas), is the only one who can calm him down and the two are inseparable. One night they manage to get their hands on some stolen cabling and make some money from it at a local scrapyard. The owner, Kitten (Sean Gilder), notices Swifty’s skill at handling horses and takes advantage of the two boys and their desire to make easy money so that he can better his chances of winning the local illegal street horse races (?!). Of course things get out of hand and events continually take a turn for the worse for the boys.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: Computer Chess


    Director: Andrew Bujalski
    Screenplay: Andrew Bujalski
    Starring: Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary
    Producers: Houston King, Alex Lipschultz
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 92 min
    Year: 2013
    BBFC Certificate: 15


    The ‘mumblecore’ genre appeared around the turn of the 21st century. It was coined to describe the work of writers and directors such as the Duplass brothers and Joe Swanberg who make lo-fi American indie films. In essence, a mumblecore film is, to quote the fountain of all lazily acquired ‘knowledge’ Wikipedia, “characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialog”. To me, this style could be attributed to a number of films produced since the 60′s (or even John Cassavetes’ Shadows back in 1959), yet it seems curiously attached to this more recent collection of independent films. I guess another characteristic which unites them over some of the earlier films would be their tendency to focus on the slackers and other more subdued outcasts from society.

    Andrew Bujalski is thought to have brought us the first ‘true’ mumblecore film with Funny Ha Ha back in 2002 and after 11 years of quietly acclaimed low-key releases he’s made it onto Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label with his latest film Computer Chess. The prestigious home entertainment distributor doesn’t often add new releases to their roster, but now and again they’ll pick out something they feel deserves their world renowned spit and polish treatment.

    Computer Chess is an unusual, mildly comic look at the world of computer chess programming back in the early 1980′s. Set during an annual competition to find a program that can beat a human chess master, the film drifts among the contenders as they struggle to victory in a low rate hotel they share with a touchy feely ‘encounters’ group. The film focusses largely on Bishton (Patrick Riester), a young programmer whose system is glitchy, seemingly wanting to commit chess suicide, and Papageorge (Myles Paige) a less talented but outspoken entrant who’s having problems with his room booking at the hotel.

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  • Blu-Ray Review: World Cinema Foundation: Volume One


    Near the end of 2013, Eureka’s Masters of Cinema label treated film buffs to a box set of three little known cinematic gems from the World Cinema Foundation. Set up by Martin Scorsese, the Foundation is best described by the man himself:

    “The World Cinema Project [was] created to help developing countries preserve their cinematic treasures. We want to help strengthen and support the work of international archives, and provide a resource for those countries lacking the archival and technical facilities to do the work themselves.”
    Martin Scorsese, WCP Founder and Chairman

    You can find out more about their work here:

    It’s really quite an honourable and exciting venture. I love to work my way through the classic film canon, but it’s easy to forget that there are over 100 years worth of releases from around the world left to discover. Many of these are equally as worthy as those ‘cast iron classics’ too, they just didn’t get enough press in the right places to keep them in the public consciousness. Unfortunately an astonishing number of these forgotten titles have been lost over the years. It’s expensive and time consuming to restore old prints so, as the years go by, thousands more films are disappearing. So it’s great to see filmmakers like Scorsese helping keep a number of interesting titles alive.

    Included in ‘Volume 1′ (hopefully meaning there are more to follow) of the Martin Scorsese Presents: World Cinema Foundation set is Dry Summer (Susuz Yaz), Trances (Transes) and Revenge (Mest). Below are my thoughts on the films themselves:
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