Blu-Ray Review: The Creeping Garden

Directors: Tim Grabham, Jasper Sharp
Starring: Mark Pagnell, Heather Barnett, Bryn Dentinger
Country: UK
Running Time: 84 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: E


Although they’re both documentaries, I couldn’t have picked a more different film than The Creeping Garden to follow up Gleeson to watch and review. Where the latter was a moving, very human film made up from raw, home movie style footage, The Creeping Garden is an unusual, cerebral and stylish affair. As such it was a bit of a shock to the system, and I still haven’t quite settled my thoughts on it in my mind. I’ll give it a go here though as I write my review.

Co-directed by Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp (who I’ve met a couple of times through a festival I help organise), The Creeping Garden is a documentary that explores the study of plasmodial slime mould. It sounds like an unusual and dull subject for a feature length documentary, but although I’d agree that it’s unusual, there’s more to slime moulds than you might imagine. Although they look like and were originally classified as fungi, they are in fact organisms which can move, eat and have a surprising level of intelligence for their appearance.

The film interviews and looks at the work of a number of scientists, amateur enthusiasts, musicians and artists who all deal with or take inspiration from slime moulds. As such, the film is almost about them as much as it is about slime moulds. A little like Room 237, part of the hook of the film is how unusual the work is from this incredibly niche group of people and how deeply they delve into it. The studies here are less crackpot than those of Room 237 though of course, so the filmmakers are in no way poking fun at or exploiting the strange habits of these slime mould experts. In fact Grabham and Sharp seem as interested and obsessed as they are, as the camera thrives on shots of the organisms.

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Blu-Ray Review: Bunny Lake is Missing

Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: John Mortimer, Penelope Mortimer, Ira Levin (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Marryam Modell
Starring: Keir Dullea, Carol Lynley, Laurence Olivier, Noël Coward, Martita Hunt
Country: UK
Running Time: 107 min
Year: 1965
BBFC Certificate: 12


As a lover of classic cinema, I’m ashamed and a little surprised to say that this is the first Otto Preminger film I’ve ever seen. He has several classic titles to his name. Anatomy of a Murder, Laura and The Man With a Golden Arm are the three most famous, but all have somehow passed me by (although I own two of them on DVD, so I’ll hopefully get to them at some point). Bunny Lake is Missing wasn’t quite as successful or universally acclaimed as those, but it’s a bit of a cult favourite with some and as such I’ve heard its name bandied around here and there, so it didn’t take much to talk me into reviewing it.

The title neatly explains the setup, although there’s a little more to the story than that. Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) has just moved to England from America and we see her head to collect her daughter Bunny from her first day of nursery school, but she’s not there. As Ann desperately tries to find her, enlisting the help of her protective brother Steven (Keir Dullea) and police Superintendent Newhouse (Laurence Olivier), we begin to doubt whether the child ever existed in the first place. With Ann and her daughter only arriving in the country a day or two previously, along with the nursery being a chaotic madhouse with a worn out newly appointed headteacher struggling to keep on top of things, there’s little evidence that Bunny isn’t just a figment of Ann’s imagination.

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Review: The Wailing

Director: Hong-jin Na
Screenplay: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Do-won Kwak, Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim
Country: South Korea, USA
Running Time: 156 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I caught Hong-jin Na’s debut feature The Chaser at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2008 and was very impressed. He followed that up with The Yellow Sea in 2010 and although I had a couple of issues with it (my review can be found here: http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/10/the-yellow-sea/), I still thought it was exceptionally well made. So when his next film, The Wailing finally emerged, it sat high on my wish list of films to see. Luckily for me a screener link was sent my way to review the film, so I can let you all know whether it met my high expectations.

Before I do that though, let me tell you more about the film. The Wailing sees a rural South Korean village plagued by violent murders committed by villagers who seem to have turned savage. Incompetent local cop Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) tries to get to the bottom of what’s causing his neighbours to lose their minds. The authorities think it’s a dodgy mushroom tonic being sold, but Jong-goo and several other locals suspect a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods has something to do with it. When Jong-goo’s young daughter (Hwan-hee Kim) becomes inflicted by the psychosis and dark supernatural forces seem to be to blame, he enlists the help of a shaman (Jung-min Hwang) to eradicate the problem. This only makes things worse though as the bodies begin to pile up and nobody knows who’s to blame or who they can trust.

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Blu-Ray Review: John Carpenter’s Vampires & Ghosts of Mars

I love John Carpenter. He makes the sort of quality genre movies I adore and is responsible for a number of my all time favourite films. However, even a fan like me can’t deny his career went off the rails further down the line. The 80’s were a little wobbly with cast-iron classics like The Thing rubbing shoulders with enjoyable but flawed films like Prince of Darkness and Christine. Then in the 90’s things really started to go wrong. In the Mouth of Madness aside, which is very good, his output in the decade was not great and his output slowed down after that. Since the turn of the millennium he’s only directed two features and a couple of episodes of Masters of Horror. He is advancing in years so maybe he’s just too old to put the legwork in to making movies anymore, but you get the feeling he maybe just ran out of creative steam after a while or couldn’t get to make what he wanted anymore.

So, it’s interesting (and brave) that the cool new kids on the UK physical media block, Indicator/Powerhouse Films, have decided to add two late-period Carpenter films to their early slate, Vampires and Ghosts of Mars. Neither film has a great reputation, but, being a fan of the director, I was willing to give them a chance and took the plunge. The films are being released separately, but I figured I’d review them together for obvious reasons. My thoughts are below.

Vampires

Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Don Jakoby
Based on a Novel by: John Steakley
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 108 min
Year: 1998
BBFC Certificate: 18

What both of these films have in common is that they seemed to be jumping on a bandwagon when they were released. The film Vampires looks to be cashing in on is From Dusk Till Dawn. Like Robert Rodriguez’ film, it roughs up the vampire myth and sets it in the American desert (New Mexico here instead of Texas and Mexico in the earlier film). Jack Crow (James Woods) heads a team of hard-drinking tough guys, commissioned by the Catholic church to kill vampires who are quietly terrorising the world, little known to the general public. When all but one (Anthony Montoya – played by Daniel Baldwin) of Crow’s crew are massacred by the super-powerful master vampire Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), he sets out to get revenge, as well as to stop Valek retrieving an ancient Catholic relic that’s set to give him the power to be immune to sunlight.

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Blu-Ray Review: Creepy

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Chihiro Ikeda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on a Novel by: Yutaka Maekawa
Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yûko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryôko Fujino, Masahiro Higashide
Country: Japan
Running Time: 130 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Japanese cinema was in vogue among cineasts. J-horror was making big waves with Ring and Ju-On leading the pack and Takashi Miike was blowing our minds with his array of wild and disturbing films. Somewhere along the way, not helped by the devastating earthquake in 2011, the crowd of Japanese titles thinned out though and audiences started looking towards Korea and elsewhere for their foreign language fixes. Some directors have remained relevant though and one of these is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. He gained fame during the Japanese film boom directing horror films like The Cure and Pulse and crime thrillers such as Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider. Then, as many of his contemporaries struggled to stay relevant in the West, he found acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, entering into the various competitions numerous times and winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2008 for Tokyo Sonata and the Un Certain Regard – Directing Prize for Journey to the Shore. The two titles mentioned showed he was as adept at writing and directing drama as he was thrillers. Last year however saw him return to his roots to co-write and direct Creepy, an unnerving thriller about not trusting your neighbours and family dynamics. Eureka have added it to their Masters of Cinema collection, so I thought I’d check it out.

The film opens with an exciting face off between police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and a psychopath who escapes from his interrogation. The stand-off ends messily with Takakura getting stabbed, a bystander possibly being killed and the suspect having to be taken down in a hail of bullets. We then fast forward a year and find that Takakura has moved out of the city with his wife to lead a peaceful life teaching criminal psychology rather than practising it. However, when a colleague at the university and a former partner of his on the force approach him about a missing persons case that went cold 6 years ago, Takakura is drawn into a dangerous investigation once again. Meanwhile, his wife Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi) is struggling to settle into the new area as her neighbours aren’t very approachable, particularly Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa), a creepy characters who lives with his daughter Mio (Ryôko Fujino) and wife, who is always mysteriously absent. As we follow both storylines, you get the sneaking suspicion they’re going to converge somewhere along the way.

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Blu-Ray Review: El Sur

Director: Víctor Erice
Screenplay: Víctor Erice
Based on a Short Story by: Adelaida García Morales
Starring: Omero Antonutti, Sonsoles Aranguren, Icíar Bollaín
Country: Spain, France
Running Time: 95 min
Year: 1983
BBFC Certificate: PG


I can remember seeing Víctor Erice’s The Spirit of the Beehive crop up in a couple of ‘greatest films of all time’ lists back when I was first getting into films, so it was something I’ve long wanted to see. It never appeared on TV though and although it was released on DVD it was always very expensive so I never got around to buying it. The disc has since gone out of print so has become even more expensive and difficult to find. My desire to see the film hasn’t diminished and it’s remained high on my wish list, but no one seems to want to pick it up. Some sort of consolation has appeared though now as the BFI have decided to re-release Erice’s follow up, El Sur, on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK and offered me a screener to review. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before receiving the press release, but I felt it was as close to watching Beehive as I could get without forking out a small fortune, so figured I’d give it a shot.

El Sur has the voice of Estrella (María Massip) tell us the story of her childhood, in particular her relationship with her father Agustín (Omero Antonutti) who disappeared from her life when she was 15. We spend most of the film in the late 1950’s when Estrella is 8 though (and played by Sonsoles Aranguren). At this time she adores her father. He’s an unusual man who practises divination, but, having grown up with this strange behaviour all her life, Estrella sees him as completely normal. As the flashbacks move forward we see Agustín grow more distant and haunted by the love of a former partner, but Estrella doesn’t understand what’s happening to him or how much he needs help. Only when she becomes a teenager (and played by Icíar Bollaín) does she seem to guess what went wrong and realise that even though he showed great love to her, he was never open or honest, so she never got to actually know him as a person or help him with his problems, to create a true bond between them.

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Blu-Ray Review: Call of Heroes

Director: Benny Chan
Starring: Sean Lau, Louis Koo, Eddie Peng, Yu Yan, Jiang Shu Ying, Wu Jing
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 120 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


My love of martial arts movies has been suffering these last few years. When I first properly developed a love of the genre, I was spoilt by the wealth of classic and new titles being released by Hong Kong Legends, a DVD label that started in 1999 which specialised in Hong Kong action movies. They distributed Drunken Master, which was the first kung-fu film I saw after Enter the Dragon and kick-started my swift trawl through most of the kung-fu movies available to the British public. The label seemed to flourish in the early 2000’s, with Hollywood action movies like The Matrix being famously influenced by their Hong Kong counterparts. However, this trend slowed down as the decade drew on and Hong Kong Legends was discontinued in 2007. Luckily, the mantel of Hong Kong action providers in the UK was passed on to Cine Asia. They continued to release new martial arts movies over here and began to re-release some of the Hong Kong Legends back catalogue. However, Cine Asia’s output slowed down over the next couple of years too and in 2012 they disappeared, much to the disappointment of martial arts fans like me, who relied on them to bring the best of Hong Kong action to the UK.

Just when I thought all hope was lost though, I got an email from one of my trusted PR contacts announcing that Cine Asia was back! Five years after their last new release, they’re re-entering the scene by releasing Benny Chan’s action blockbuster Call of Heroes. I snapped up the chance of reviewing a screener of course, and as you might imagine my excitement and expectations were high. Could it possibly live up to them?

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Blu-Ray Review: The Guyver

Director: Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang
Screenplay: Jon Purdy
Based on Characters by: Yoshiki Takaya
Starring: Jack Armstrong, Vivian Wu, Mark Hamill, David Gale, Michael Berryman
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 15


With the live action remake of Ghost in the Shell just around the corner, I thought it might be appropriate to look at an earlier Hollywood adaptation of a popular manga and anime, The Guyver. Back in 1991, cult horror producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, From Beyond and director of Society) gave two special effects/make-up masters, Screaming Mad George (Society) and Steve Wang (Predator), a chance to direct their first film together. Supposedly each took on different scenes themselves rather than working together on set. The result is this action sci-fi oddity, which Arrow Video have re-released on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD.

The Guyver opens with the scientist Dr. Segawa (Greg Joung Paik) on the run. He’s taken a secret biomechanical device known as the Guyver from the lab to keep it out of the hands of his evil boss Fulton Balcus (David Gale), who has been experimenting on humans to develop military secrets. Segawa is killed by Balcus’ henchmen, but not before he hides the Guyver with the intention of giving it to detective Max Reed (Mark Hamill). A young loser called Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) finds it first though, and, after a run in with some thugs, it fuses with his body, turning him into The Guyver. So from then on, Balcus and his goons (who are mutants that can turn into powerful monsters at will), along with Reed and Dr. Segawa’s daughter Mizky (Vivian Wu) all want their hands on Barker to unlock the device’s secrets.

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Blu-Ray Review: Fright Night

Director: Tom Holland
Screenplay: Tom Holland
Starring: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys
Country: USA
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 18


Halloween might have been and gone and Christmas is around the corner, but Eureka have gone against the grain to choose the Holiday season to re-release a cult classic horror favourite, 1985’s Fright Night on Blu-Ray (with a dual format edition to follow in April). Written and directed by Tom Holland, it was popular enough to not only spawn a sequel in 1988, but also a remake in 2011 starring Colin Farrell, Richard Tennant and the late Anton Yelchin. When the remake came out I wanted to see the original first, but never got around to it, so never saw either. So this re-release gave me the perfect chance to play catch up.

Fright Night sees typical teenager Charlie (William Ragsdale) grow suspicious of his new next door neighbour, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon). After seeing him and his lodger Billy (Jonathan Stark) carrying a coffin into their house in the middle of the night, he’s sure something isn’t right. Then he sees a fanged Jerry seducing young women who turn up dead and thinks he spots him turning from a bat into a man. So Charlie is certain his neighbour is a vampire. Unfortunately no one believes him of course, so it’s up to him to put an end to his reign of terror. His girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) and friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) don’t believe him either, but are worried about his sanity and what he might do to his ‘innocent’ neighbour. So the two team up to help prove Jerry is human and the only way they can think of to do this is to enlist the support of washed up horror star Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), of whom Charlie is a massive fan. Meanwhile, Jerry and Billy do their best to mess with Charlie and take the three youngsters and cowardly old actor out of the equation.

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