Archive for the ‘DVD’ Category

  • Blu-Ray Review: Ace in the Hole


    Director: Billy Wilder
    Screenplay: Billy Wilder, Lesser Samuels, Walter Newman
    Based on a Story by: Victor Desny (uncredited)
    Starring: Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur, Porter Hall, Richard Benedict, Ray Teal
    Producer: Billy Wilder
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 111 min
    Year: 1951
    BBFC Certificate: PG


    I‘ve been ploughing through a lot of films from my ‘hall of shame’ over the last few weeks. By that I mean classic films that I haven’t seen for whatever reason and feel I should have. Finally getting around to watching Seven Samurai (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) was the pinnacle of this and I’ve been chain watching dozens of films recently as my family are away for a fortnight, giving me full control over the TV (and office cinema set-up). Most of the films watched have been DVD’s gathering dust on my shelves for far too long (I buy more films than I have time to watch), but Ace in the Hole is something all together more exciting for me.

    When I was a teenager and first properly getting into films I also had a desire to be a journalist. So, after falling in love with a couple of Billy Wilder’s most popular comedies (Some Like it Hot and The Apartment) and discovering he’d made Ace in the Hole, a film about journalism, I knew I had to see it. Unfortunately, the film has never had a DVD release in the UK that I’m aware of and the popularity of VHS waned as my love of cinema grew. So this film that I was so desperate to see as a teenager became a sort of holy grail. Over the last few years I gave up giving it much thought to be honest, but when Masters of Cinema announced Ace in the Hole would be joining its illustrious collection, I practically jumped for joy.

    The film sees Kirk Douglas play Chuck Tatum, a newspaper reporter who has been sacked from every respectable big city periodical so ends up in the back end of nowhere in Albuquerque, New Mexico, writing for a local rag about such joys as the annual rattlesnake hunt. After a year there he’s desperate for a big story to break him back into the big leagues. This comes in the form of Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict), a man trapped in a mine thought to be haunted by Native American spirits. In itself the story is of mild interest to the local populace, but under Tatum’s watch it becomes a behemoth which reaches across the nation. A good story needs to be sustained for just the right amount of time and hit all the right notes though, so Tatum manipulates everyone from Leo’s wife, to the local sheriff, to the men in charge of getting him out of the mine. This last manipulation uncovers the truly dark side to Tatum’s intrusion as he talks the workers into drilling Leo out from above, a much slower process than the quicker and cheaper method of going in through the main shaft, propping up the walls along the way. This gets Tatum the circulation he’s after, but comes at a great cost.

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  • 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.

    » Read the rest of the entry..

  • 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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  • DVD Review: Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Communion)


    Director: Alfred Sole
    Writer: Alfred Sole, Rosemary Ritvo
    Starring: Linda Miller, Mildred Clinton, Paula Sheppard, Niles McMaster, Brooke Shields
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 102 min
    Year: 1976
    BBFC Certificate: 18


    The 70′s saw horror films really hit their stride. There were great titles made in the genre since the beginning of cinematic history, but the 70′s were when the barriers were broken in terms of truly shocking an audience and when horror really became popular. Films like The Exorcist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre sent weaker audience members fleeing in terror and those boasting a stronger disposition came in droves. This new generation of films shocked not only through higher volumes of realistic gore, but through more disturbing themes and content which didn’t always hide in the shadows.

    Alice, Sweet Alice (a.k.a. Communion or Holy Terror) came in the middle of the decade to reasonable acclaim but never quite gained the ongoing momentum of some of its peers. Director Alfred Sole went on to helm only two more films before becoming a production designer for the rest of his career, which is a shame because on the strength of Alice, Sweet Alice he had a lot of talent.

    As mentioned, the 70′s breed of horror films were often quite disturbing and Alice, Sweet Alice is no different, largely due to its focus on murderous acts carried out on and by children. The title character Alice (Paula Sheppard) is an unpleasant 12 year old girl that constantly taunts and threatens her younger sister Karen (a young Brooke Shields in her debut film role), an overly perfect little ‘darling’ to their separated parents. During her first communion, Karen is brutally murdered and all eyes turn towards Alice as the culprit, especially those of the audience who are the only witnesses to the crime. The girl’s parents (Linda Miller & Niles McMaster) refuse to believe that their precious daughter could do such a thing though and whilst the seemingly deluded mother hides away from the truth, the father decides to do some investigating of his own.

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  • 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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  • Odd Thomas Comes to DVD March 25th


    Anchor Bay and Raven Banner have just announced the Canadian DVD release of Stephen Sommers’ Odd Thomas. The adaptation of Dean Koontz’s bestseller will be available on March 25, 2014.

    The film played at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival to mixed reviews, but was widely loved by fans of Koontz’s series on the oddball detective. It’s a fast-paced film, that would keep anyone engaged. Though it relies far too heavily on shoddy CGI, the film is a gem if for no other reason than its cast. Anton Yelchin as Odd Thomas himself is absolutely wonderful, and elevates the film to the highest calibre. For him alone, this is one not to miss.

    In a California desert town, a young cook Odd Thomas (Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin) with a unique ability to see supernatural forces at work encounters a mysterious man with a link to a darkness that threatens to destroy the people around him. The mysterious man comes to town with a voracious appetite, a filing cabinet stuffed with information on the world’s worst killers and a pack of hyena-like shades following him wherever he goes. Who the man is and what he wants, not even Odd’s deceased informants can tell him. His most ominous clue is a page ripped from a day-by-day calendar for August 15.

    Today is August 14. In less than twenty-four hours, the town of Pico Mundo will awaken to a day of catastrophe. As evil coils under the searing desert sun, Odd travels through the shifting prisms of his world, struggling to avert a looming cataclysm with the aid of his soul mate and an unlikely community of allies. His account of two shattering days when past and present, fate and destiny converge is the stuff of our worst nightmares—and a testament by which to live: sanely if not safely, with courage, humor, and a full heart that even in the darkness must persevere.

    Odd Thomas will launch the newest program of Sinister Cinema this Thursday, February 13th in select cinemas across Canada.

  • DVD Review: Prince Avalanche


    Director: David Gordon Green
    Screenplay: David Gordon Green
    Based on a Film by: Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson
    Starring: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, Lance LeGault, Joyce Payne
    Country: USA
    Running Time: 94 min
    Year: 2013
    BBFC Certificate: 15


    David Gordon Green has had an unusual career. He made a name for himself in 2000 with his debut feature, George Washington. This was a small indie drama with no name actors which picked up a lot of acclaim and he followed this up with a handful of other fairly low key independent features which also got fairly well received by critics and festivals. However, in 2008 he made a surprising diversion into broad stoner comedy territory with Pineapple Express starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Green’s old college friend Danny McBride. The success of this prompted another couple of low-brow excursions in Your Highness and The Sitter. These weren’t anywhere near as successful though and I think a lot of fans of Green’s early work thought his career was stumbling down a weed-hazed spiral (there are fans of these later films though it must be said).

    However, word of Green’s next film, Prince Avalanche, suggested a U-turn back to his indie drama roots, albeit with hints of his ‘second phase’ as a comedy writer/director due to its star Paul Rudd being part of the Judd Apatow stable. Prince Avalanche sees Rudd play Alvin, a man that has taken on a job painting lines on the long remote country roads cutting through the forests of Texas in 1988, a year after fires ripped through the state. Joining him for the summer is his girlfriend’s brother Lance (Emile Hirsch). The two have vastly different personalities. Alvin is a self-confessed outdoorsman who strives to “reap the rewards of solitude” whereas Lance is a horny youngster who has no interest in sleeping under the stars and counts the hours until the weekend comes around when he can try to get some action with the local ‘talent’. Of course they clash during their summer together and cracks start to appear in Alvin’s facade of satisfaction and superiority as we learn his relationship with his girlfriend is crumbling.

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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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  • DVD Review: The Great Beauty


    Director: Paolo Sorrentino (Napoli 24, In the Mirror)
    Screenplay: Paolo Sorrentino
    Starring: Toni Servillo, Carlo Verdone, Sabrina Ferilli
    Country: Italy
    Runtime: 147 minutes
    Year: 2013


    The Great Beauty opens with an Asian man cheerfully taking pictures of the beautiful scenery before suddenly dropping dead. While it may seem unrelated at first, its intention becomes clearer as the film moves towards the main protagonist; hedonistic writer Jep Gambardella (played with delectable swagger by Toni Servillo). We know not of our time here on this earth, let’s hope we fill our minds with beautiful things. Let us wish to be inspired.

    What a joy The Great Beauty is. An Italian production with more than one foot in the country’s cinematic past; it’s hard not to watch The Great Beauty without thinking of the works of Fellini. An obvious reference it may, but Paolo Sorrentino’s film is not only filmed with the same type of elegant, flowing cinematography that reminds an audience of Gianni Di Venanzo’s work for 8 1/2, but the film also touches on the same passions that appeared within Fellini’s work. From the incessant narcissism that underlies the “sweet life” of Rome, to its looks and insight to Catholicism, which is shown to be decaying much like the ruins that set themselves as the films background.
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