Blu-Ray Review: From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years

Director: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Writers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Starring: Shahid Ahmed, Rich Alpin, Brian Bagnall
Country: UK
Running Time: 152 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: E

A year or so ago I reviewed a crowd-funded documentary about the birth and growth of the British video games industry, called From Bedrooms to Billions. I was impressed by the film, which was much more than the fluffy nostalgia piece I expected. So when I heard they were releasing a follow up, focussing on the Commodore Amiga, I was eager to get a copy to review. It wasn’t only the quality of the previous film that attracted me to From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years though. Like a lot of Brits around my age, my introduction to video games didn’t come in the form of the Nintendo or Sega consoles. These tended to come out a lot later in the UK and weren’t the be all and end all that they were in the US. We had an alternative, and that was the Commodore Amiga. I had an Acorn Electron computer first, but the games on this were very basic and I was very young. Our family replacement to this was the Amiga 500 though and it opened the floodgates to video gaming for me. The graphics were great, many of the games fantastic and it was modelled on a PC in design, so was more flexible than a pure games console in terms of offering word processor or paint programs etc. I loved it and the computer/console has long held a special place in my heart.

The documentary opens by describing the early history of home video game consoles, particularly those offered by Atari and Commodore (with some mention of what Apple were doing on the home computing front). Some designers working with these companies at the time grew unhappy with the way things were moving and decided to branch out on their own to form a new company, called Amiga. They had plans for a console/computer that would blow their competitors out of the water in terms of power and capabilities, yet cost a fraction of the price of the expensive PC’s available at the time. They struggled for a time, coming up with brilliant ideas, but not having the backing to pull it off. After a successful demonstration at an important trade show however, Amiga got thrown in the middle of a bidding war between Atari and Commodore. This war was made even more messy by the fact that Atari had been taken over by Jack Tramiel, formerly one of the bosses at Commodore.

After the dust had settled and Commodore became the company to release the first Amiga, the computer was launched. The initial system, the Amiga 1000, came out in 1985 (though not widely released until 1986) and struggled to find a market. 1987’s cheaper model, the Amiga 500, was a huge success though (in Europe at least). The graphics and sound capabilities were groundbreaking, allowing for near arcade-quality games at a fraction of the price. The documentary goes on to praise the importance of some of the machine’s innovations and how they helped shape today’s video games industry.

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DVD Review: Nostalgia

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Andrei Tarkovsky, Tonino Guerra
Starring: Oleg Yankovskiy, Erland Josephson, Domiziana Giordano
Country: Italy, Soviet Union
Running Time: 125 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘m approaching the end of my Tarkovsky marathon. There’s still one to go (The Sacrifice) and I’m running out of ideas for my opening paragraphs. I’ll sum up my journey at the end of the month when I tackle Tarkovsky’s final film, so all I can say about my approach to Nostalgia is that, after working through most of the rest of the director’s oeuvre these past two months, I’ve come to expect a slow, thoughtful, dreamlike style with striking visuals. Nostalgia (a.k.a. Nostalghia) is no different, although I felt it worked better and worse than the other titles in various aspects.

Now, I won’t lie, and this is going to add to some of my comments on previous Tarkovsky reviews that suggest I’m not up to film-buff scratch to be reviewing such lofty titles, but I had to look the film up to put together a short synopsis. It’s not a complicated film, by any means. Scenes and on-screen activity are rather minimal, but, possibly due to writing notes during a key bit of exposition or simply being far too tired to take it all in as usual, I managed to miss the film’s setup and some of the later details were a bit sketchy. From what I gathered afterwards, the film’s protagonist, Russian poet Andrei Gorchakov (Oleg Yankovskiy) is visiting Italy with a guide/interpreter Eugenia (Domiziana Giordano) to research the life of an 18th century Russian composer who had killed himself (this aspect of why he was there is what I missed). In a small rural town he comes across a seemingly crazy man called Domenico (Erland Josephson), who is famous (or rather infamous) for having imprisoned his family in their house for seven years for fear of impending apocalypse. Andrei is strangely drawn to this man, sensing a link between them. Andrei’s dreams of his home and family that he deeply misses become intertwined with dreams of Domenico’s past and when the older man gives the Russian an unusual task he feels duty bound to carry it out.

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Review: The Closer We Get

Director: Karen Guthrie
Screenplay by: Karen Guthrie
Starring: Ann Guthrie, Ian Guthrie, Karen Guthrie
Country: UK, Ethiopia
Running Time: 87 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘m very much a family man at heart. I obviously care greatly for my wife and kids (although I spend far too much time watching, reading and writing about films when I could be spending more time with them), but I’m also quite close to my extended family. I see my parents regularly and although my wife’s family and the rest of mine live further afield (mostly in different countries), we find time to visit them whenever possible and are always more than happy to see them. This may sound common and I’m sure it is, but many people grow distant from their family and know little about their aunts, uncles and cousins as they grow older. These days, more and more families are broken up too, fractured or made more complicated at least by divorce. Director Karen Guthrie’s family have an unusual history in which they seem to be simultaneously distant and close and she explores this in her documentary The Closer We Get.

Karen’s parents, Ann and Ian, fell in love, got married and rushed out four children in five years. Family life seemed pretty normal at first, but when the children were still young, Ian began to travel to Ethiopia to work (or volunteer, I missed that detail). This seemed admirable as the country needed support, but he would spend very long periods of time there, only returning once or twice a year for holidays, when he would often just take Ann away somewhere exotic. He just couldn’t seem to settle at home. This seeming lack of interest in family life, on top of a shocking revelation that I won’t reveal here, caused the couple to split, leaving the children with Ann.

In more recent years however, Ann suffered a devastating stroke which left her unable to care for herself. So her grown up children came back home to look after her. In an unexpected twist though, Ian also returned, after 15 years of divorce, to lend his support. Karen, who had been documenting aspects of her family life before the stroke, uses her probably vast amount of footage to craft a film that tries to find out just what happened between her parents and explore the unique dynamic now present in their family home.

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DVD Review: Stalker

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy, Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy
Starring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 155 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


My trip through the work of art-house/world cinema heavyweight Andrei Tarkovsky continues with Stalker, from 1979. Like Solaris, this is one of his films I was simultaneously most looking forward to and most wary of. It’s highly regarded (as are all of his films) which got me interested, on top of the sci-fi focus, but it also sounded like it might be the slowest moving and most bleak title of his oeuvre. So, although I had no doubt that I wanted to watch and review the film, I was a bit hesitant to put it on once I’d received the screener. As is too often the case these days (due to having two young children) I was far too tired to take on such a heavy film and ended up watching it in two parts, but I made it through though and managed to appreciate the extraordinary work Tarkovsky had done.

Stalker is set some time in the future when a large area of the country (presumably somewhere in The Soviet Union) has been cordoned off with barbed wire and armed defences. Known only as The Zone, this area is off-limits to everyone and believed to be highly dangerous. Gifted individuals known as Stalkers have special abilities to be able to navigate it though, to take people to what is special about The Zone, The Room. The Room is believed to be a place that can make true the inner most desire of those who enter. Our protagonist is an unnamed Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy), who has been hired to guide The Writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and The Professor (Nikolay Grinko) to The Room. As they make the long, treacherous journey out of the city and across The Zone, the three of them argue about the meaning of their lives and the importance of faith, among other things, culminating in a dilemma as they reach the threshold of The Room.

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Review: Sid & Nancy

Director: Alex Cox
Screenplay: Alex Cox, Abbe Wool
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Andrew Schofield
Country: UK
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: 18


I‘m not a huge punk fan. The original movement came and went a few years before I was born and later punk iterations never did much for me. However, The Clash’s London Calling album has long been one of my all time favourites and when I was a teenager I also got a lot of play out of my CD copy of the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. It was and still is a powerful album, full of youthful exuberance and fiery anger at the damaged establishment, which spoke to me back when I was a youngster. I never really looked into the history of the band though. Although I’ve long been a music lover, I’ve rarely paid much interest in the private lives of the artists involved. I tend to let the lyrics and music do the talking and leave the rest a mystery. Some of the Sex Pistols’ history is unavoidable though and I was aware of their troubled and brief existence, even if I didn’t know all the details.

My love of the band’s sole studio album helped pique my interest in reviewing this 30th Anniversary re-release of Sid & Nancy then, along with an interest in its director, Alex Cox, who wrote and directed the rather excellent punk movie Repo Man. Sid & Nancy dramatises the relationship between the Sex Pistols’ bass player Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and sometime prostitute Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The two met in early 1977 and quickly formed a very destructive relationship, based largely around heroin. Nancy was already a user before she met Sid and it’s reported (and suggested in the film) that she introduced him to the drug. The two grew heavily dependent on one another, as well as the drugs, and their lives inevitably both came to tragic ends. In October 1978, Nancy was found dead with a single stab wound to her abdomen in the bathroom of the infamous Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, with Sid laid in a drug induced stupor on the bed across the room. After being arrested for Nancy’s murder, Sid died of a heroin overdose a few months later. The film opens with the discovery of Nancy’s body by the police and flashes back to their first meeting to tell the story of their brief time together.

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DVD Review: Solaris

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on a Novel by: Stanislaw Lem
Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 12


The next port of call in my journey through the work of Andrei Tarkovsky takes me to Solaris. It’s probably the director’s most well known and popular film, but at the same time it seems to be his most divisive. Some critics have cited this as the film where Tarkovsky’s style began to get too philosophical and slow for its own good, with a couple claiming the philosophies lean towards the cod end of the spectrum. It’s views like these that made me a little apprehensive about watching the film (and reviewing it for that matter). However, I’m determined to work through all of his films being re-released and would like an opinion on them, even if it’s a negative one, so the other night I found myself sitting down in front of the projector to check Solaris out.

The film sees psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. It is believed the crew has gone insane and he is sent to confirm and find out why, possibly destroying the station afterwards if it is irredeemable. Once on the station, he finds that one of the crew members has committed suicide and the other two seem emotionally unstable. The problem on board soon becomes apparent when a woman appears in Kris’ quarters who seems to be his recently deceased wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). This isn’t a mere ghost or dreamed memory though, she’s physically there in the station with him and the others can see her too. This embodiment of his wife doesn’t share Hari’s memories though, or at least not more than a few fractions to make her seem like Kris’ wife. She isn’t a mere shell either – although not human, she has her own thoughts and feelings, which Kris’ fellow crew members give little regard to. They refer to her and the other ‘guests’ on board as things they should cut up and analyse, even when Hari is in the room with them.

Kris realises this isn’t his wife straight away of course and initially tries to dispose of her, tricking her into a rocket and firing her off the station. However, another version soon appears so he realises he can’t get rid of this painful memory and instead learns to embrace it, mentally and physically. He grows too attached though and neglects his duties on the station, instead suggesting he stay on Solaris with Hari (3.0) forever.

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DVD Review: Mirror

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Aleksandr Misharin, Andrei Tarkovsky, Arseniy Tarkovskiy (poems – uncredited)
Starring: Margarita Terekhova, Filipp Yankovskiy, Ignat Daniltsev
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 105 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: U


My planned journey through the work of the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky continues with his fourth feature, Mirror (a.k.a. The Mirror or Zerkalo). I skipped Andrei Rublev because I’d already seen it and with its epic length I figured I had enough on my plate with the other six of his films Artificial Eye are re-releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK. I should hopefully be covering Solaris soon – it was made after Mirror, but I’m reviewing these in the order in which they’re being re-released.

Mirror unfolds as a series of memories, as a dying man, Aleksei (voiced by Innokentiy Smoktunovskiy), recalls his childhood, particularly time with his mother, as well as his relationship with his wife/partner and son, and other moments in his life which stood out. It’s supposedly quite a personal work for the director, touching on some aspects of his own life. His father provides the poetry read out over various scenes too. The history of Russia during the time of his life is supposedly examined, but my knowledge of this is minimal so this aspect was lost on me.

So, as the description probably alludes, the film reminded me a lot of Tree of Life. Like Terrence Malick’s film, this eschews an obvious narrative for a collection of fragments of life in all its forms – love, fear, sadness, joy, albeit without the dinosaurs and big bang sequences. In particular, Mirror examines how those around us (largely our parents) help make us what we are, possibly more than we do ourselves, and how our actions affect our children’s lives and personalities. These themes are particularly prevalent due to the fact that the focus of most of the scenes seem to be on Aleksei’s mother, wife and occasionally son, more than on the man himself.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Ox-Bow Incident

Director: William A. Wellman
Screenplay: Lamar Trotti
Based on a Novel by: Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Starring: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Frank Conroy, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Mary Beth Hughes, Marc Lawrence
Country: USA
Running Time: 75 min
Year: 1943
BBFC Certificate: PG


Back in the early days of Hollywood, up to the end of the 30’s, the western was primarily a B-movie genre. They tended to be cheap, throwaway bits of fun with a clean cut hero saving the girl or town from outlaws or Native Americans. Films like John Ford’s Stagecoach brought them out of the shadows though and they started to be big business, even if they were still fairly straight forward in terms of plot. William A. Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident in 1943 helped usher in a new era though. Bringing in darker themes, mirroring modern issues in this period setting, the film is thought to have been the first ‘psychological western’. It didn’t make much money at the box-office, but The Ox-Bow Incident received critical acclaim and helped pave the way for films that took ideas and storylines from film noir and transposed them to the wild west. Examples of this can be seen in Station West in 1948 and The Furies in 1950.

The Ox-Bow Incident opens with two cowboys, Gill Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan), riding into the quiet Nevada town of Bridger’s Wells. They enter the local saloon and hear from local ranchers that there have been a spate of incidents of cattle-rustling recently and the culprits are still at large. After a bit of a drunken dust-up between Carter and one of the locals, a rider rushes into town to say that one of the townsfolk has been murdered and his cattle stolen. It seems clear which way the killer/s will be travelling, so the local men (and one not-so-feminine woman named Ma) come together to form a lynch mob to chase him down and put him to their own brand of ‘justice’. The local judge (Matt Briggs) and a good man named Arthur Davies (Harry Davenport) think the matter should be handled through the courts, but the mob won’t listen. Davies joins the group to try and steer them away from anything drastic, as do Carter and Croft, although they might only be joining to avoid any blame being put on them, being outsiders. Also joining the mob is ‘Major’ Tetley (Frank Conroy) and his soft-hearted, possibly homosexual son Gerald (William Eythe), who is being dragged along by his father to “make him a man”.

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Blu-Ray Review: All Night Long

Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Nel King, Paul Jarrico
Based on a Play by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Keith Michell, Betsy Blair, Paul Harris, Richard Attenborough
Country: UK
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 15


I may spend much of my free time writing about films and work for a production company who make them, but film isn’t my only passion in life and, depending on my mood, isn’t necessarily my biggest either. My first love was music and it remains a vitally important part of my life. I’m an avid album collector and have been ever since I got a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette for my 6th or 7th birthday. I’ve also played the piano since the age of 5 and had short stints learning the saxophone, training my singing voice and self-teaching myself some basic guitar chords. Films are hugely dear to my heart too of course, but they’ll never fully replace the joy I get from listening to or playing my favourite songs or albums.

I pride myself in appreciating a wide range of music, from classical to metal, but one particular genre has long been my go-to and that’s jazz. The whole reason I learnt to play the saxophone as a teenager was because I’d discovered jazz music and artists such as Charlie Parker who brought the instrument to vivid life. I often go through phases of different types of music I listen to more frequently than others, but jazz is always there in the background.

So what better way to combine my two life passions than in a film about jazz? I’ve been looking for some good ones recently as my jazz love has been in overdrive, but there aren’t that many good ones available. I tracked down a couple of documentaries, such as Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz TV series, but feature films on the subject tend to largely be biopics and I’ve never been a fan of biopics, so tend to avoid them. Network have recently come to my rescue though, asking if I’d like to review Basil Dearden’s spin on Shakespeare’s Othello, All Night Long, which is set in the 60’s London jazz scene and features jazz luminaries such as Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. Needless to say, I took them up on their offer.

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