DVD Review: Cohen & Tate

Director: Eric Red
Screenplay: Eric Red
Starring: Roy Scheider, Adam Baldwin, Harley Cross
Country: USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 15


Cohen & Tate was a bit of a shot in the dark viewing for me. I had a vague memory of someone (Blueprint: Review’s Justin Richards I think) mentioning the film to me in the past, which is why the press release piqued my interest, but the reviews (from the few I could find) were a bit mixed. I figured I’d give it a chance though as it sounded interesting and Arrow are generally dependable for selecting titles worth watching.

I’m happy to say I’m glad I gave it a shot, but happy isn’t the right word to describe Cohen & Tate. It’s a pitch black thriller which opens with the brutal murder of the parents of 9-year old Travis Knight (Harley Cross). He’s the only witness to a mob hit and the gangsters responsible are keen to get hold of him. So, after dispatching Travis’ parents and a couple of FBI agents keeping them all ‘safe’, two hitmen, the titular Cohen (Roy Scheider) and Tate (Adam Baldwin), take the boy on a long drive to Houston to see their employer. His future looks bleak, but Travis doesn’t give up trying to escape and, in the strained relationship between the mismatched hitmen, he sees a chance to turn them against each other to gain his freedom.

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Blu-Ray Review: Napoleon (1927)

Director: Abel Gance
Screenplay: Abel Gance
Starring: Albert Dieudonné, Vladimir Roudenko, Edmond Van Daël
Country: France
Running Time: 332 min
Year: 1927
BBFC Certificate: PG


Abel Gance’s Napoleon is a late silent feature that is famed for being a masterpiece of cinematic invention, but it has endured a troubled history. You should look it up to get the full story (or watch the well stocked set of features included with the Blu-Ray/DVD), but basically, although Gance had high hopes for his epic film (9 and a half hours long in its fullest form), planning on it being the first part of a 6 film series, it performed poorly on its initial release and pretty much disappeared for many years. In the 50’s and 60’s some reels were found and released, but it wasn’t until the late 70’s, when film historian Kevin Brownlow presented a restored version, that interest was reignited. He’d bought a couple of reels of Napoleon as a boy and had been obsessed with it ever since. His work didn’t stop in 1979 either, he’s continued to work to reconstruct the film as fully as possible and now we are finally presented with (probably) the most complete version of the film we’re ever likely to see. The BFI have screened this at festivals and special screenings over the last few years and now it is finally being made available on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK.

As you might imagine, the film is a biopic of the French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Being originally intended as part of a six part series though, the film focuses solely on his early years, beginning with Napoleon as a boy, leading a large scale snowball fight and being bullied for his stony countenance. It follows his movement up the ranks in the military and politics during the birth of the French Revolution, up until he is put in charge of the French army of Italy and advances towards taking the country for the French.

I mentioned Napoleon’s reputation as a cinematic masterpiece and this is largely down to the extraordinary volume of groundbreaking techniques Gance throws into the mix. Multiple exposures are used for various effects, including creating a split screen kaleidoscopic look a few times. There’s some wildly kinetic camera movement aided by a substantial number of handheld shots, which were little used at the time. There’s some stunning editing on display too, from rapid cutting techniques, thrillingly fast paced action scenes & some striking use of intercutting. The best example of the latter sees political upheaval cutting with Napoleon on a small boat in a mighty storm (which utilises a French flag as a sail).

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Blu-Ray Review: Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Ronald M. Cohen, Edward Huebsch
Based on a Novel by: Walter Wager
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Richard Widmark, Burt Young, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Roscoe Lee Browne, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten
Country: USA, West Germany
Running Time: 144 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 15


I loved the last Robert Aldrich film I reviewed, The Flight of the Phoenix, and I’m a fan of some of his other classics, such as Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen, so it didn’t take much to convince me to review one of his last films, 1977’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming. It wasn’t particularly successful when originally released and has hardly grown to be a classic, but it has picked up favour along the way, enough at least for Eureka to add it to their Masters of Cinema roster.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a thriller which sees a former USAF general, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster), head a team of escaped convicts on a mission to take control of a nuclear silo housing 9 warheads. They quickly succeed (helped by Dell’s inside knowledge) and put America to ransom, making an unusual demand. On top of the standard large amount of cash and flight out of the country, Dell wants the president to release eye-opening information about America’s involvement in the Vietnam war to the general public. He feels the people must know what happened and will press the ‘big red button’ if they aren’t told. Unfortunately, the President (Charles Durning), or at least his staff, aren’t happy about releasing the incriminating document as it will likely cause utter chaos. Nuclear armageddon is hardly an improvement on this though, so the President is stuck between a rock and a hard place, particularly since he is as horrified by the revelations as the public might be, due to not being in power during the war. As time ticks away and several tactics are attempted to talk Dell and his team out of it or physically stop them, we draw ever closer to a climax that can’t possibly end well.

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Blu-Ray Review: Body Double

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: Robert J. Avrech, Brian De Palma
Starring: Craig Wasson, Melanie Griffith, Gregg Henry, Deborah Shelton
Country: USA
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 18


With the recent documentary De Palma and labels like Arrow re-releasing some of the director’s earlier work on Blu-Ray over the past few years, it seems like there’s a lot of love for Brian De Palma going around. The films he made since the turn of the millennium haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but he made enough great thrillers and cult classics in his heyday that it would be foolish to dismiss him. I must admit there are far too many of his films that I’ve not seen, but I’m a big fan of some of his most well known titles, such as Carrie and The Untouchables (although I haven’t seen the latter for a long time). So I was particularly interested in reviewing Powerhouse Films’ new Dual Format release of Body Double, aided by the fact the film had been recommended to me by a fellow film blogger.

Body Double sees the not-particularly-successful actor Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) come home early from set one day (after a panic attack due to claustrophobia) to find his wife having sex with another man. He’s devastated of course, but the incident also causes a practical problem in that he has nowhere to stay (the house was in her name). An actor acquaintance Sam Bouchard (Gregg Henry) takes pity on him and lets him house-sit a luxury apartment he was watching for another friend. The apartment is first rate, but Sam shows Jake something that makes it extra-special – it has the perfect view (with the assistance of a telescope) into a neighbouring apartment housing Gloria (Deborah Shelton), an incredibly attractive young woman who performs a semi-naked erotic dance at the same time every night.

Jake soon becomes obsessed with Gloria and when he spots a suspicious looking character also spying on her and a late night visitor abusing her, he follows Gloria to make sure she’s safe, as well as to find an explanation for her unusual behaviour and unpleasant company. To give too much away following this would be spoiling the fun, but the film takes some drastic twists and turns through its just-under two-hour running time.

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DVD Review: A Special Day

Director: Ettore Scola
Screenplay: Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Maurizio Costanzo
Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon
Country: Italy, Canada
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 12


CultFilms’ second release heralding their entry into the boutique home entertainment label scene, after Two Women, is A Special Day. Another Italian award-winner starring Sophia Loren, yet otherwise quite a different film, A Special Day is a 1977 period drama directed by Ettore Scola. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before being offered a screener to review, but looking the film up, it seemed to have received fantastic reviews and was deemed strong enough to be included as part of the Criterion Collection, so I figured it must be worth a shot.

A Special Day, as the title suggests, is set over one day in Rome in 1938 – the day Adolph Hitler arrived in the city on his visit to Italy, which was still a fascist dictatorship at the time (and WWII was yet to kick off), so the German dictator was hugely popular in the country. After a newsreel introduction setting the historical scene, we are introduced to Antonietta (Loren) and her family. The tired housewife has six children and an ungrateful husband (John Vernon), who are all preparing to join the huge parade in honour of Hitler’s visit to the city. They all rush out the small apartment, along with most of the inhabitants of the block of flats, leaving Antonietta to tidy up after them and trawl through her usual list of household chores. When the family’s pet bird escapes out the window and lands outside a neighbouring apartment though, Antonietta heads over there to try and catch the bird, seeing that the inhabitant has also stayed at home during the celebrations.

The neighbour is Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni), a persecuted ex-radio presenter who is contemplating suicide. Antonietta’s arrival brightens his mood though and he tries to keep her from leaving him alone. She’s reluctant at first, nervous about what the neighbours would think of her fraternising with a man other than her husband, but soon warms to him, glad to be distracted from the drudgery of her day to day life. As the two get to know each other better we discover an important difference of opinion as well as a revelation as to why Gabriele is so troubled

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Blu-Ray Review: Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Bill Phillips
Based on a Book by: Stephen King
Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton
Country: USA
Running Time: 110 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: 18


Sitting down and struggling to think about how to open this review, I realised something surprising. This will be the first time I’ve reviewed a John Carpenter film (other than some mini reviews as part of a festival or Weekend of Trash). This is surprising as I’m a big fan of the director (anyone who listened to me guest on the Carpenter Retrospective LAMBcast will have learnt this – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2015/11/blueprint-on-the-lambcast-john-carpenter-retrospective/). He may have struggled to match the quality of his earlier work since the late eighties (1994’s In the Mouth of Madness is his only post-80’s film I’ve seen that stands up), but for the first 14 years of his career he knocked out classic after classic (cult or otherwise), with greats like Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China and possibly his finest hour, The Thing. The latter, although now considered a horror masterpiece, was considered a misstep at the time though, doing poorly at the box office and receiving criticism for its levels of gore. Carpenter was disappointed and it caused him to play it safe for his next film, following a number of well known directors in adapting a novel from best-selling horror author Stephen King for the big screen. Where De Palma set the ball rolling with Carrie and Kubrick took on The Shining, Carpenter’s producer got his hands on an early manuscript of Christine, the story of a killer car, possessed by supernatural forces.

Carpenter and writer Bill Phillips decided to make a number of big changes to the hefty 500-odd page tome though. Rather than have the ghost of the previous owner be the source of the car’s evil, they decided to keep it more vague, much like in Halloween where the villain’s motivations are kept a mystery.

Backing up a bit then (forgive the pun), the film opens with uber-geek Arnie (Keith Gordon) struggling with life as a 17 year old. He’s getting bullied at school, is given grief by his dominant mother and, worst of all, hasn’t got laid yet. His best friend Dennis (John Stockwell) tries his best to help break him out of his rut, but something else ends up doing it for him. The two guys pass a shack where an old man is selling a busted up old Plymouth Fury named Christine, and Arnie falls instantly in love. He buys the car there and then, despite Dennis trying to talk him out of it. Arnie spends his days and nights fixing Christine and, as he does, his personality completely changes too. His milk bottle glasses are thrown aside, his hair and outfits become styled on The Fonz, he picks up the hottest girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul) and he starts to act like a real asshole to everyone in his life, beginning by standing up to his parents who don’t want his car crowding their driveway. His new attitude and mounting obsession over Christine get too much for Dennis and Leigh though, who fear their friend has crossed over to a strange dark side. This is made worse by the fact that Arnie’s enemies, particularly those who didn’t treat Christine so kindly, are starting to drop dead in freak automobile-related accidents.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Shining

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on a Book by: Stephen King
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Country: USA, UK
Running Time: 146 min
Year: 1980
BBFC Certificate: 15


With Halloween just around the corner it’s about time I got in on the horror film blogging action, which tends to take place throughout October. And what better horror film to review than Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining. As part of their Premium Collection, Warner Bros. have released the film on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital HD/UV in its original US theatrical form. 25 minutes were cut from the film when it was released in the UK (for time rather than censorship, so gorehounds out there needn’t get excited) and we’ve been watching the truncated version ever since. Back in 2012, the BFI released the US cut in selected cinemas, but it’s not until now that it’s been available for home entertainment. To make the release extra special, they’ve also included plenty of special features too and I’ll talk about those at the end of the review as per usual.

Now, if you haven’t seen The Shining what the hell’s wrong with you? Sorry, I mean, the story (based on a novel by Stephen King) sees Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) get a job as the caretaker of a remote mountain hotel whilst it’s closed for the winter. He brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) and the three of them stay in the vast building, all alone. Jack sees this as a chance to work on a writing project, but the isolation, existing family problems and possible evil spirits living in the hotel prove too much and he gradually goes insane, threatening the safety and lives of his family.

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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.

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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.

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