Blu-Ray Review: Youth of the Beast

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Screenplay: Ichirô Ikeda, Tadaaki Yamazaki
Based on a Novel by: Haruhiko Ôyabu
Starring: Jô Shishido, Misako Watanabe, Tamio Kawaji
Producer: Keinosuke Kubo
Country: Japan
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve been aware of Seijun Suzuki in the Japanese cult cinema landscape for some time. I’ve seen his two most famous classics, Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, but I haven’t ventured beyond those yet, which is a bit mad seeing as I enjoyed both quite a lot and he’s directed over 50 films so far. His career has been an unusual one though which resulted in (supposedly) quite a hit and miss collection and his story is possibly more well known than his films have actually been seen.

In the mid-50’s, the Japanese entertainment company Nikkatsu started producing films again after a hiatus which began during WWII and, in a bid to keep productions fresh and exciting, they hired a number of young assistant directors from other studios, promising to promote them quickly to full director status, which was unheard of in the traditional Japanese studio system back in those days. Among those directors were Shōhei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki. Whereas Imamura started making his unique glimpses of the underbelly of society pretty much straight away, Suzuki found himself churning out cookie-cutter releases for the studio by the dozen, largely yakuza/gangster pictures. By all accounts, most of the 20-odd films he directed in his first 7 years or so at the studio weren’t particularly memorable. However, growing tired of this workmanlike practise and getting jealous of the freedom allowed to his peer Imamura, he finally tore off his shackles and made what is considered his breakthrough film with Youth of the Beast in 1963. It didn’t make much of a mark at the time, but in retrospect, it paved the way for his most highly regarded period which culminated in Branded to Kill which may have got him fired from Nikkatsu, whose head thought it was “incomprehensible”, but cemented his name in the pantheon of cult classic cinema.

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DVD Review: Two Days, One Night

Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione, Pili Groyne
Producers: Denis Freyd, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
Country: Belgium
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


(maybe add half a star if you’re not familiar with the Dardenne brothers’ previous work)


I had the pleasure to review The Dardennes Collection back in 2012, which consisted of 6 of the brothers’ most famous films, including their latest from that year, The Kid With the Bike. I hadn’t seen any of their work previously so I received a crash course in their brand of no frills yet perfectly balanced filmmaking and fell in love with it. I may not have given every title top marks, but they were of such a high standard I found myself being quite harsh on the slightly less mind-blowing films in the set even though I adored the collection as a whole. So understandably my expectations were very high for Two Days, One Night, the Dardennes brothers’ latest film, especially since it’s been picking up universal praise amongst critics, many of whom are calling it their best work.

Like most of their other films, the story here is quite simple, in fact this could probably be their most sparse narrative. Basically, Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a young mother with a history of depression, is told that her work colleagues have opted to take a €1,000 bonus rather than keep her on as an employee. Feeling the staff had been pressured into making this decision, Sandra manages to talk her boss into running another vote and she has just the weekend to convince her colleagues one by one that they should give up the money to let her keep her job.

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Blu-Ray Review: Le jour se lève

Director: Marcel Carné
Screenplay: Jacques Viot & Jacques Prévert
Starring: Jean Gabin, Jacqueline Laurent, Arletty, Jules Berry
Producer: Jean-Pierre Frogerais
Country: France
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1939
BBFC Certificate: PG


The best thing about being sent screeners of old classics to review is that it can open your eyes to films which you’ve not heard of as well as those that have passed you by. My most recent discovery, Le jour se lève (a.k.a. Daybreak), falls into the latter and appears to be fairly unknown or at least unseen by critics and film buffs in general, despite its director Marcel Carné enjoying decades of success with Les Enfants du paradis. Supposedly Le jour se lève was very well received on release and has been considered the equal to, if not better than, Renoir’s La Règle du jeu which was released in the same year. You only have to look at Sight and Sound’s highly regarded Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time Poll, run every decade, to see how their paths have since veered. In the first poll in 1952, Le jour se lève was placed at joint 7th, higher than La Règle du jeu at joint 10th. As the decades went on though, Renoir’s classic jumped to number 3 and has never left the top 4 since. Carné’s film, on the other hand, dropped out straight away in the 60’s and has never returned. It wasn’t even in the top 50 of the 2012 poll. Part of the reason may be because the film was almost lost in the late 1940’s, when RKO acquired the rights to the film so that they could remake it and sought to buy up and destroy every copy available. It re-appeared in the 50’s though. The critics of Cahiers du cinéma, who would come to make up the French New Wave movement, are known to have dismissed Carné, claiming his writing collaborator Jacques Prévert was the real genius behind his work, so perhaps they were to blame. Whatever the reason, Le jour se lève has become a distant memory in cinema’s history books.
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Blu-Ray Review: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

Director: Robert Wiene
Screenplay: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover
Producers: Erich Pommer, Rudolf Meinert (both uncredited)
Country: Germany
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1920
BBFC Certificate: U


As with a number of the classic titles I’ve reviewed here over the last couple of years, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari if you couldn’t translate it yourself) is one of the major ‘canon’ titles which has been on my ‘to watch’ list for far too long. Once again, Eureka’s wonderful Masters of Cinema Series has come to the rescue though and released an immaculately restored Blu-Ray (and DVD) of the film, complete with an abundance of special features so that I can finally sink my teeth into this dark and twisted classic of silent cinema.

The film opens with a young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), telling an older gentleman of the horrific events he endured with his fiancée Jane (Lil Dagover) over the past few months. Francis and his good friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) both fell for Jane on meeting her, but both stated that the other shall be satisfied with the choice she would ultimately make. However, that night they went to the local carnival and entered the tent of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist (a sort of sleep walker) Cesare (Conrad Veidt). The mysterious zombified figure awakened to tell Alan that he would die that night and lo and behold he did. Francis vowed to find the killer, especially seeing as the local police force wasn’t effectively dealing with the situation. Of course the chief suspect was Cesare, but Francis struggled to prove his guilt and various events along the way turned the story in surprising directions, bringing the power and identity of the mysterious Dr. Caligari to the fore. Even when we return to the ‘present day’ there are more twists in store for the audience though and there are still debates as to exactly who played what part in this mystery.

This narrative isn’t always handled brilliantly, rarely making perfect sense and feeling quite muddy at times, but after the whole thing plays out you realise that could well be the idea. Featuring perhaps the first ‘unreliable narrator’, the majority of the film plays out in the mind of the possibly deluded Francis who may or not be being manipulated by the evil (or possibly not evil) Dr. Caligari so a lack of clarity works very effectively in a subtextual sense. The film’s fairly unusual and messy development (inexperienced writers with an experimental idea, the first choice of director – Fritz Lang – being unavailable, and some changes imposed by the producers etc.) may suggest a happy accident though. Whatever the case, the film is certainly more interesting than most from the era due to its structure and twists and these have led to almost a century of discussion among critics and theorists. The film plays havoc with the auteur theory though due to the never fully resolved debate of authorship over the film. The writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, designer Hermann Warm, producer Erich Pommer and director Robert Wiene have all claimed or been given credit for the film’s success.

I don’t want to get bogged down by that too much though as, in my mind, a review should be more focussed on how well a film works rather than who was responsible for it doing so.

And Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari still works extremely well. I think the decades of hype and expectation I had coming into the film perhaps prevented me from giving the film top marks, but the reasons for why it has remained so well respected for so long are blatantly clear. Front and foremost is the film’s extreme expressionistic style. Caligari is cited as being hugely influential on film noir, horror movies and more, but, as a few critics and theorists have pointed out, very few, if any, films have actually copied its daring visual-art-infused approach. Rather than simply playing with lighting and camera angles to make dark and unsettling visuals, the sets are crafted in bizarre angles and shapes, and shadows and light patches are literally painted on to the walls. Even the make-up and costumes are exaggerated by strong blacks and whites. This all creates a creepily disorientating and surreal atmosphere, acting as a construct of Francis’ mental state. The closest modern filmmaker I can think of who adopts a vaguely similar style is Tim Burton, but even he doesn’t push the boat out as far as Weine (or whoever was in charge) did. I imagine he’s seen the film a few times though.

What’s interesting about the style is that if you take individual elements of the sets and production design they look rather crude and simplistic, but when presented as a whole within the construct of the film they help create a hugely effective and stunning vision. In fact, I found several shots so bizarrely beautiful I wanted to freeze the frames and hang them on my wall.

Perfectly complementing the bold style are two big but perfectly measured performances from Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, playing the chief ‘villains’. Krauss is the archetypal evil scientist character for the most part as Caligari, coming across as genuinely unpleasant and fiendish, before presenting a wholly different side after a revelation in the film’s later scenes. Veidt grabs your attention from the moment Caligari opens his cabinet (or rather coffin) and Cesare’s eyes slowly flicker open. He’s a great presence in the film, especially during his still quite shocking abduction of Jane. Like Veidt, he also gets a chance to subvert his character in the final minutes.

Although it might not feel as perfectly formed and fully gratifying as some of the other silent greats like Sunrise or The Passion of Joan of Arc, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari remains a daring and hugely influential (even if was never fully copied) visionary masterpiece. It was possibly the first (successful) true art house feature, pushing the boundaries of what cinema could mean and how it could be presented. Don’t let that put off those who favour more mainstream fare though, as this is also unsettling and pacey enough to keep modern horror fans thoroughly entertained despite the lack of gore or action. So do yourself a favour and tick this off your ‘to watch’ list like I did. You’ll probably want to see it again too, which is more than can be said for a number of the textbook ‘required viewing’ titles.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari is out on 29th September in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. I watched the Blu-Ray version and I must say, it looked spectacular. There’s a caption at the beginning stating that the first reel was originally lost so was reconstructed from various sources, but even this portion of the film still looks pretty damn good for its age. The rest of the film is astonishing though. The picture is so clear and detailed it practically feels as though you’re there on set. Colour tinting is kept as it is believed to have been intended and works effectively to my eye. The score comes through very nicely too, I watched the 5.1 mix, but you can also listen in stereo.

On top of a magnificent transfer, you get a whole host of special features too. One featurette is on the restoration process itself, which lets you fully appreciate the work that went into it. The end of this places the new restoration side by side with a previous one and an original print to show the difference, which is remarkable.

Also included is a new and exclusive audio commentary by historian David Kalat, which makes for a fascinating and detailed listen, Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War, a new 52-minute documentary on the cultural and historical context of the film, You Must Become Caligari, a roughly made but informative and mildly quirky video essay by David Cairns, and a reissue trailer.

Plus, being a Masters of Cinema release, you get a hefty booklet which includes a collection of stills, an essay from Lotte H. Eisner, the original Variety review of the film and restoration notes and credits.

DVD Review: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry

Director: John Hough
Screenplay: Antonio Santean, Leigh Chapman
Based on a Novel by: Richard Unekis
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow
Producer: Norman T. Herman
Country: USA
Running Time: 93 min
Year: 1974
BBFC Certificate: 15


I used to be quite into cars when I was a youngster. I wasn’t a full on petrol head interested in engines and things, but I used to collect models and enjoyed car racing of any variety and absolutely loved car chase movies. The Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run films were some of my favourites as a pre-teen and as I got more into film as I grew older I discovered and adored the classic chases from Bullitt and The French Connection. Over the years my interest in cars and racing has withered away though. You’ve only got to look at the various models I’ve owned over the years to realise I’m not bothered about flash motors any more. I haven’t lost my love for car chase movies though.

It’s not an obsession I talk about much in my reviews, like I do my martial arts and action love. This is largely because they don’t really make car chase movies any more. A few action films over the last decade or so have featured some great chases, although other than The Raid 2, I can’t remember any particularly notable ones since Matt Damon’s stint in the Bourne films. These aren’t even true car chase movies though. The Bourne films are close because they are one long chase sequence in a way. I’m talking about purely road set movies which live or die by their driving sequences though. These became popular in the 70’s with counter culture films like the original Vanishing Point, the stripped down Gone in 60 Seconds and my all time favourite The Driver, before being turned into goofier fare with the two Burt Reynolds series I mentioned earlier.

In 1974, while the genre was in its prime, 20th Century Fox decided to capitalise on it by taking one of the most iconic road movie stars (Peter Fonda) and stick him in the odd couple car chase caper, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. The film has a bit of a cult status, but it’s largely been forgotten over the years. Luckily for chase hungry folk like myself, Odyssey DVD decided to include it in the opening lineup of their re-emergence in the UK and I got hold of a screener to give my thoughts.

Larry (Peter Fonda) and his friend/mechanic Deke (Adam Rourke) pull off a supermarket robbery to fund their dream of entering the NASCAR championships. It’s all going to plan until Larry jumps into his getaway car and finds last night’s one night stand, Mary (Susan George), sat in the passenger’s seat. Refusing to budge, the fugitives are forced to add her to their criminal lineup and the three of them race out of town to evade the police. Meanwhile, Sheriff Everett Franklin (Vic Morrow) is put in charge of chasing them down and he’s determined to do so after his superior seems keen on them failing so they can use the incident as an excuse to buy new police cars.

There’s not a lot else to the story of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and that’s just how I like it. In fact, the few moments when the film flounders are when they try to inject too much of a backstory to its characters. This only really happens quite late on in the film too, when it feels too far down the line to be important anymore. A bleak ending which pops out of nowhere, added presumably to give some Easy Rider/Vanishing Point message/mystique, also feels out of place and unnecessary.

But we’re not here to talk about the film’s narrative or depth though are we. Like me, I imagine you’re interested in this film for the car chases. There aren’t a huge number of actual ‘chase’ scenes and these don’t feature until about 40 minutes in, which is a shame. However, spread throughout the film are some brief but wild stunts involving a number of close (and too close) shaves as well as a nice jump thrown in for good measure. When the chases do kick in during the second half, they’re great too. The climax involving a helicopter tailing the trio’s car is particularly impressive and must go down as one of the most daring and exciting stunt scenes I’ve seen in an American movie. The film is full of cool and inventive camera angles too, which is one of the things I love about car chases in the movies. It’s easier these days with GoPro’s and the like, but I’m always amazed by how they pulled off half the things they did back in the 70’s.

As for the film’s ‘mismatched duo’ aspects, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Fonda is great, oozing cool and delivering some wonderfully insulting comments. A particular favourite is “try another stunt like that and I’m going to braid your tits”. I wasn’t always a huge fan of Susan George though. She’s quite annoying, especially in the first half. I realise she’s supposed to be, but I found her delivery a bit stilted and I didn’t find her as funny as I think she was supposed to be. The banter between the two of them is entertaining enough though and keeps the film moving along when the motors aren’t firing up.

So although it did satisfy my lust for burning rubber for the most part and features a few great set-pieces, it’s not quite as action packed as I’d hoped and other aspects of the film prevent it from being one of the best entries in the car chase genre. It’s worth checking out though if you’re a fan of 70’s road movies and makes for a fun hour and a half.

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is out on DVD in the UK on 15th September, released by Odyssey DVD. The screener I was sent didn’t even have a menu so I can’t comment on features and things, but the picture and sound quality were decent.

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Review: We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Director: Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins
Writer: Dutch Southern
Starring: Jeremy Allen White, Logan Huffman, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Pellegrino
Producer: Justin X. Duprie, Brian Udovich
Country: USA
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 15


I love a good ‘noirish’ crime thriller, both in novel and film form. From the full on film noir of the 40’s and 50’s to neo-noir such as L.A. Confidential and No Country For Old Men, I’ve always been drawn to the dark, elaborate plots and hard boiled dialogue and content. So, when the press release for We Gotta Get Out of This Place popped up in my inbox, I jumped at the chance of reviewing the film.

The chief influence of this debut feature from brothers Simon and Zeke Hawkins isn’t really The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon or anything like that though (books or films). Barely 5 minutes into the film, when one of the characters is discussing the latest crime novel she’s reading, she pulls out and recommends South of Heaven by Jim Thompson. With this love of the author’s work coming back into the film a couple of times later too, it’s clear that We Gotta Get Out of This Place is an ode to the hardboiled American author. I must admit I haven’t read any of his books (even though I should have given my penchant for the crime genre) so I’ll probably have missed further references to them, but it didn’t stop me from appreciating the style the filmmakers were trying to recreate.

The plot of the film concerns the trouble three friends get into just as they approach a turning point in their lives. Living in a small town in Texas, cut off from the more forward thinking world of the city, two of the teenagers are keen to “get out of this place” as the title puts it. Having just finished school and being pretty bright, Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) and Sue (Mackenzie Davis) are all set to achieve this by going to college, with Sue’s boyfriend B.J. (Logan Huffman) due to be left behind to tread water in the backwards town. This doesn’t seem to phase him (at first) and he wants his friends to leave in style, so he takes the two of them out for the night of their lives. Not having enough cash to do so, B.J. foolishly steals a whole lot of money from his boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino) to fund the evening. Giff isn’t the most forgiving of people though and, when Bobby takes the blame and the others are implicated too, he threatens them into stealing back a larger amount of money from his own boss, Big Red (William Devane), or face the brutal consequences.

This setup got me totally hooked. You could see things were going to spiral out of control and the mismatched characters alongside some other complications (blossoming from the fact that Bobby and Sue clearly have the hots for each other) all pointed towards a film that would tick all of my boxes.

For the most part this was true and the film delivered the crime/noir tropes that I know and love as well as offering its own twist on them. However, I couldn’t help feeling that it never lived up to the strength of the opening third. Once the idea of the forced heist was set up and the love triangle started to take centre stage I felt the film dwindled a bit, leading to a less engaging mid-section. The performances are decent, feeling fairly natural (Huffman was a little over the top, although this was more due to the writing than the actor’s delivery) but the relationship problems weren’t really interesting enough to excite me like some of the initial ideas did.

B.J’s ways of dealing with the revelations get quite nasty, but ultimately the end result of this as well as the film’s finale in general felt a bit predictable. I was expecting a number of mind-boggling twists and turns, but instead there’s just (SPOILER) a predictable double-cross and a bog-standard ‘villain showdown’. (END OF SPOILER).

That said, the film is undeniably well made. In terms of mood and style, everything is handled brilliantly. There’s a first person perspective sequence in the middle which, although stylish and clever, sticks out like a sore thumb, but for the most part this is a dark and moody thriller/drama with some beautifully gloomy cinematography and a cool soundtrack.

There’s a nice hardboiled edge to things too, largely whenever Giff is involved. His scenes always demand your attention, partly due to a great performance, but also down to how downright evil his character is.

As good as a number of elements were, I couldn’t help feeling that We Gotta Get Out of This Place could have been that bit stronger though. It just lost a bit of momentum for me and then ended in a fairly uninspired manner. I’d still recommend the film to fans of Thompson and crime/noir in general, but don’t expect a Coen Brothers level reimagining.

We Gotta Get Out of This Place is out in UK cinemas on 15th August and on DVD on 8th September, released by Metrodome. I saw an online screener so can’t comment on the quality or features of the DVD release.

Weekend of Trash XIV

Being too busy at work to go on holiday for a fortnight, my wife and daughter jetted off without me the other week. This meant that yours truly was left a lonely man with only an ever expanding movie collection for company. There was an easy fix to this dilemma though – pack up a bunch of those movies and head across the country to get together with the guys for a Weekend of Trash! (previous write-ups can now be found in the category archive).

So as ever, here are the reviews of everything we watched over the weekend. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes and getting analytical whilst chain-watching women in prison and kung-fu movies) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value rather than quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

Enjoy!

Friday

L.A. Crackdown (a.k.a. L.A. Crackdown II)

Director: Joseph Merhi
Screenplay: Joseph Merhi
Starring: Pamela Dixon, Anthony Gates, Joe Verroca
Year: 1988
Country: USA
Duration: 83 min

Eurgh… Not a great start to the weekend. This ultra low budget ‘thriller’ sees a female police officer work under cover (briefly) as a ‘dime a dance’ girl to catch a psychotic killer who’s also involved in a bank job. It sounds like the perfect setup for a decent serial killer flick, but the inept director instead uses it to setup an hour and a half of filler.

I’ve never seen a more padded out and poorly edited film in my life. Every shot is overdrawn, the background sound lurches in volume horribly and conversations are ridiculously stilted. The plot is simple yet still doesn’t make sense as both the criminals and cops seem to always know what the other is doing for no good reason. I’d forgive a lack of plot if the film was fun or exciting, but instead of having any expositional scenes to aid the narrative the film throws in totally unnecessary pool playing or shopping scenes (seriously).

So yeah, this is bottom of the barrel stuff. I found it strangely more watchable than Roller Blade Seven and Strike Back but it’s still a steaming pile of crap.

One of the few actual action set-pieces in the film:

The whole film should you feel like torturing yourself:


Mind Killer

Director: Michael Krueger
Screenplay: Curtis Hannum, Michael Krueger, Dave Sipos
Starring: Joe McDonald, Wade Kelley, Shirley Ross
Year: 1987
Country: USA
Duration: 84 min

Attempting to tap into a Cronenbergian vibe, Mind Killer doesn’t quite manage to match the brains or class of the Canadian director, but it works well enough as an icky horror romp.

It starts quite slowly with a first half leaning more towards comedy than horror as our protagonist struggles to hit it with the ladies until he finds a mysterious manuscript giving him powers of telekinesis and mind control!

This goofy opening leads towards a fairly creepy and gooey climax. The effects are hardly realistic but still effective, prompting a few ‘ews’ from this reviewer.

It’s a lot of campy nonsense at the end of the day, but as trashy low budget horror it was well worth the watch.

A fan-made teaser trailer:

The whole movie:

Saturday

Foxy Brown

Director: Jack Hill
Screenplay: Jack Hill
Starring: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown
Year: 1974
Country: USA
Duration: 94 min

Pam Grier is at her badass best in this blaxploitation classic. The film rides on her charisma really. The plot is fairly standard revenge stuff involving Grier’s Foxy Brown getting back at those that killed her boyfriend, but the lead actress brings it alive.

It’s quite a brutal film which doesn’t flinch from some of the nasty stuff that goes on in the world of drug dealing and sex trafficking. It has a social conscience like a lot of the blaxploitation movies too, but really the draws are Grier, plenty of cool quips and some bloody violence here and there. Solid stuff.

Trailer:

In the Mouth of Madness

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Michael De Luca
Starring: Sam Neill, Jürgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen
Year: 1994
Country: USA
Duration: 95 min

I’ve always been a big John Carpenter fan (before he went crap) but somehow this had passed me by all these years. Luckily for me it was the ‘established favourite’ pick of the weekend.

Sam Neil stars as an insurance investigator looking into the disappearance of a hugely popular horror writer. This begins a terrifying descent into, you guessed it, madness.

I really liked this. It’s Carpenter at his best, crafting an engrossing story and supplementing it with great cinematic visuals and a good dose of scares.

It maybe gets a bit garbled by the end and isn’t as out and out terrifying as say The Thing or Halloween, but overall this is classy psychological horror from the king of genre cinema.

Trailer:


Narco Dollar

Director: José Mari Avellana
Starring: Leo Damian, Marcia Karr
Year: 1989
Country: Philippines

A cop that doesn’t play by the rules is caught in between a drug war. You know the deal – people get killed, the police chief gets angry and a kid/wife gets kidnapped.

This was a classic example of what most bad genre movies get wrong. There’s a healthy amount of action with dockland and warehouse gunfights a plenty, but there’s nothing else to engage you so that you give a toss.

The main problem is that it’s really hard to follow. The people you think are heads of each side of the drug war keep getting killed so you’re never totally sure who’s who. Add a dull lead character and you’ve got an action packed film which is still a slog to get through.

* I’d like to note that this film can’t be found on IMDB. It always feels like a great achievement when we manage to track down and watch a film this obscure. It’s just a shame it was crap.

Trailer:


Sunday

Cain’s Cutthroats

Director: Ken Osborne
Screenplay: Wilton Denmark, Ralph Luce, Ken Osborne
Starring: John Carradine, Scott Brady, Robert Dix
Year: 1971
Country: USA
Duration: 95 min

In this 70’s American Western with a Spaghetti feel, Scott Brady plays a former Confederate captain out for revenge after his former soldiers rape and murder his wife and kill his young son. Helping him is John Carradine, playing a preacher come bounty hunter.

This is grim stuff, not shying away from violence or any other nastiness, but at the same time has a lot of dark humour. It doesn’t quite have the style of the great spaghetti westerns and the soundtrack is gleefully inappropriate but it’s a solid down and dirty western nonetheless.

Trailer:


Nam Angels

Director: Cirio H. Santiago
Screenplay: Dan Gagliasso
Starring: Brad Johnson, Vernon Wells, Kevin Duffis
Year: 1989
Country: USA/Philippines
Duration: 91 min

This film by low budget action legend Cirio H. Santiago promises one of the most awesome exploitation concepts and delivers on every level.

When two soldiers are captured deep in enemy territory in Vietnam and there’s only a 1 week window to save them, Calhoun (Brad Johnson) uses a secret weapon to get them out: a group of the Hell’s Angels!

With plenty of explosions, gunfights, motor biking and very little filler, this is one of the rare exploitation titles that lives up to its promise. It never takes itself too seriously, the action is decently enough handled for its type (i.e. lots of machine gun strafing and exploding huts) and the pace never lets up. Perfect video weekend fodder.

Trailer:


Gamera: The Giant Monster (a.k.a. Daikaijû Gamera)

Director: Noriaki Yuasa
Screenplay: Nisan Takahashi
Starring: Eiji Funakoshi, Harumi Kiritachi, Junichirô Yamashiko
Year: 1965
Country: Japan
Duration: 80 min

I’m very new to the kaiju genre having only seen the original Godzilla and the American attempts at joining in the fun, but I’m trying to sample more of their joys.

This, the first of the Gamera series, saw Daiei Studios attempt to cash in on the international success of Toho’s Godzilla series by creating their own monster, the fire eating and breathing turtle Gamera. You know the drill; he appears due to an atomic accident, he wreaks havoc on the world (particularly Tokyo) then he is stopped through some crazy trap by scientists.

I enjoyed this. It’s not as classy as the original Godzilla, which is rather bleak and displays a bold political message, but Gamera is entertaining enough and looks quite nice with its black and white photography and cool scenes of destruction. It’s all a bit silly though and the quality of the models is pretty inconsistent. It’s a little slow too, but in general this is a fun piece of early kaiju history.

Trailer:

Gamera on MST3K!


Skills

Director: Johannes Pinter
Screenplay: Tomas Amlöv, Johannes Pinter
Starring: Josefin Ahl, Emil Ahlqvist, Tomas Amlöv
Year: 2010
Country: Sweden
Duration: 86 min

This Swedish parkour martial arts movie sees a teenager try to take revenge for the shooting of his dad and uncover the mystery of a secret tournament which he was investigating before the incident.

Skills was pretty disappointing. The parkour and fight scenes are cool and there’s a decent amount of them. Unfortunately the rest of the film falls flat on its face. Everything is very po-faced, forcing big drama out of plot points which don’t feel like they justify it. The whole idea of the tournament doesn’t seem all that evil or wrong so it doesn’t make sense why it’s kept so secret and the bad guys go to such lengths to find fighters and keep things under wraps.

On top of this core problem, there are also a number of poor performances. The main leads aren’t that bad, but they lack charisma so aren’t interesting to watch.

That said, it has its moments and when the action takes centre stage it’s fun to watch. The finale is clumsily handled though which makes the sense of disappointment linger, which is a shame as it could have been a really cool action movie.

Trailer:

DVD Review: The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

Director: Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Writers: Bruno Forzani, Hélène Cattet
Starring: Klaus Tange, Ursula Bedena, Joe Koener
Producers: François Cognard, Eve Commenge
Country: Belgium/France/Luxembourg
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 18

Expectations are a strange thing. More often than not, a film is overhyped by its marketing machine or the blogosphere, so feels disappointing once you watch it, even if it’s good. Enjoying a film that you had low or no expectations for is great, although it doesn’t happen often for someone like me who spends far too much time reading about movies.

When thinking about writing my review of The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears I realised something unusual about my feelings on the film. It was pretty much exactly what I expected it to be. You may think this isn’t an unusual feeling as it often happens, especially in the world of cookie cutter Hollywood blockbusters. But that’s the point. The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is anything but a cookie cutter blockbuster. It’s a bafflingly surreal headf**k with the slightest of plots and lashings of stylised gore.

I knew exactly what to expect because I’d seen husband and wife writer/director team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s previous film, their debut feature Amer, which I reviewed back in 2010 as part of the Celluloid Screams festival.

Like their debut, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears is a hyper stylised homage to the Italian giallo genre; mystery thrillers/horror films most prevalent in the 70’s in the work of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Mario Bava. Cattet and Forzani do more than simply make cheap imitations of cult classics like Deep Red and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin though. Instead, they distill them down to their most memorable and effective qualities – their stylish and violent set pieces. There is a bit of a story stringing things together though. Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange) comes back from a business trip to find his wife missing. The police detective he calls over isn’t much help, suspecting the husband was to blame through foul play or failing to satisfy her needs. Dan therefore is left to his own devices, asking his unusual neighbours for help in the creepy apartment building in which they live. In doing so he uncovers some strange tales of murder and sex, mainly surrounding a mysterious woman known as Laura.

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Blu-Ray Review: Nashville

Director: Robert Altman
Screenplay: Joan Tewkesbury
Starring: Michael Murphy, Keith Carradine, Ronee Blakley, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Shelley Duvall, Henry Gibson, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Barbara Harris, Karen Black
Producer: Robert Altman
Country: USA
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


In 1970, M*A*S*H finally got Robert Altman noticed after two decades of mainly director-for-hire TV work. The film was a smash hit and due to the sudden emergence of young talent leading Hollywood in a more exciting and director-led direction, the 45 year old could finally begin to make the kind of films he always wanted to. Over the next 5 years Altman made another 6 films including classics such as McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye before putting together the character-loaded epic Nashville. It’s one of his most well respected films, winning great critical acclaim and making fairly decent money for the time. For some reason however, Nashville has never been released in the UK on home video – VHS, DVD or otherwise. Thank God for the ever wonderful Masters of Cinema Collection from Eureka then, as they’ve brought British audiences the film in a dual format DVD & Blu-Ray edition.

Nashville is possibly the quintessential Robert Altman film, demonstrating the styles and techniques he is most famous for all in one huge package. Running at 160 minutes, the film follows a vast number of characters (24 key players) over several days in America’s music capital of the era, Nashville, Tennessee. There isn’t one core narrative as such, just a number of small stories to be told as the cast cross paths along the way. At the centre though is the political campaign of Hal Phillip Walker. We don’t meet the man himself (other than in a wide shot towards the end), but his campaign manager John Triplette (Michael Murphy) is getting to know the members of the local music scene so that he can bring them together to put on a big show as part of the election campaign.

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