DVD Review: The Salesman

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay by: Asghar Farhadi
Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
Country: Iran, France
Running Time: 119 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 12


Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman got a lot of attention earlier this year when the film’s cast and crew boycotted the Academy Awards in protest over US President Donald Trump’s order which blocked entry of citizens from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries to the U.S. This boycott also prompted a free screening of the film in Trafalgar Square in London in a sign of solidarity. Following this, The Salesman went on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The cynic in me felt the film maybe won the award due to the stand made, but, having loved Farhadi’s A Separation from 2011, I thought I’d better see for myself whether or not it deserved the accolade.

The Salesman sees married couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), who are currently acting together in a production of ‘Death of a Salesman’, forced to move to a friend’s apartment temporarily after their apartment block is badly damaged and deemed dangerous. In this new accommodation, Rana is assaulted after she mistakenly buzzes someone in, thinking they’re her husband. She is deeply affected by the attack, but doesn’t want to bring the police into it, afraid of the shame that will come upon her when asked to speak of the incident and testify about what happened. Emad is out for revenge though and investigates himself. He discovers the apartment’s previous tenant was a prostitute and the attacker was likely one of her clients expecting his usual treatment. He also finds they left their pickup truck outside so locks it in the block’s garage, in the hope of catching the owner when they return to pick it up. As Emad gets closer to finding the culprit, he drifts further away from his wife, who doesn’t want the man found. She just wants Emad to be there for her and help her come to terms with what happened.

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Blu-Ray Review: Housekeeping

Director: Bill Forsyth
Screenplay: Bill Forsyth
Based on a Novel by: Marilynne Robinson
Starring: Christine Lahti, Sara Walker, Andrea Burchill
Country: USA/Canada
Running Time: 116 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: PG


Bill Forsyth is a Scottish director who’s fairly well known (in the UK at least) for two of his early 80s releases, Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero. The rest of his career is little known to me though and, looking at his filmography on IMDb, his career seemed to thin out after the 80s and his last few releases in the 90s were commercial and critical flops. Right in the middle of this unusual career however, is a film called Housekeeping. I must admit I’d never heard of it before being sent a press release about this forthcoming Indicator Blu-Ray/DVD re-release. Scanning the reviews it seemed to be worth watching though and I do enjoy Gregory’s Girl (I’ve seen Local Hero too, but it’s been decades, so my memory is hazy), so I took a chance on it.

Housekeeping is based on a novel by Marilynne Robinson and follows the troubled lives of two sisters, Ruth (Sara Walker) and Lucille (Andrea Burchill) in 50s rural America. They never knew their father, their mother commits suicide when they’re young and they live with their grandmother for seven years until she dies too and they’re left with their formerly transient aunt, Sylvie (Christine Lahti) who they hadn’t met since they were babies. The girls are initially excited to be with her as she can help them discover more about their mother, but she’s an unusual woman, with no standard motherly instincts or discipline, and Lucille in particular grows tired of and embarrassed by her eccentricities. As such, the sisters, after being inseparable from childhood, gradually grow apart and Ruth is forced to choose between the freewheeling yet isolated existence of being with Sylvie or the stereotypical nuclear family and teenage experience Lucille craves.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cops Vs Thugs

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kazuo Kasahara
Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Tatsuo Umemiya, Mikio Narita
Country: Japan
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 18


Reviewing Arrow Video’s Battles Without Honour and Humanity box set opened my eyes to the talents of Kinji Fukasaku beyond Battle Royale. Thankfully, the label is digging deeper into the Japanese director’s oeuvre with a handful of titles coming our way, including a set containing the New Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented me from being able to review that, but I did request a copy of Cops Vs Thugs to review, which is another crime thriller, made and released in between episodes of New Battles…

Cops Vs Thugs is actually based on true life crime stories researched by Kazuo Kasahara whilst he was writing the first Battles Without Honour and Humanity series. He’d heard accounts of police and yakuza becoming friends and wanted to put this idea in a film, but didn’t feel it fit into the world of the already convoluted saga he was initially creating. So, he ended up putting together a separate script, which Fukasaku would once again direct, called Cops Vs Thugs.

Set in Kurashima City in Japan in the early 60s, the film finds two yakuza gangs at loggerheads. The Kawade family are trying to build some political connections to make a lucrative business deal, but the Ohara family don’t like to see their rivals establishing a bigger stranglehold over the city than them, so use their strong connections with the police to put a stop to Kawade’s growth. Currently running the Ohara family whilst their boss is in prison, is Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata). Fairly young and aggressive, he has no time for the political or business leanings of his enemy and has his eyes on permanent leadership over the Ohara family. He also shares a close friendship with Kuno (Bunta Sugawara), a police detective who helps him work his way up the ladder. Kuno may seem corrupt (and he is in the eyes of the law), but he believes that developing a bond with the yakuza and letting them get on with their own thing is the best way to keep the peace. His newly appointed superior disagrees though as gang warfare erupts and Kuno’s assistance with the yakuza causes more problems than its worth.

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Blu-Ray Review: Melody

Director: Waris Hussein
Screenplay: Alan Parker
Starring: Mark Lester, Tracy Hyde, Jack Wild
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1971
BBFC Certificate: PG


I opened my review of My Life as a Dog this morning by professing my love for coming of age dramas, and what do you know, the other title I had to review today is another coming of age film. What’s that old saying about buses?

Rather than telling a period tale of burgeoning adulthood in rural Sweden though, Melody (a.k.a. S.W.A.L.K. – what a hideous title!) is set in present day (early 70s) London and follows Daniel (Oliver himself, Mark Lester), a middle class boy starting at a mixed comprehensive school with a range of likeminded young rascals. Daniel befriends a naughty but likeable lad called Ornshaw (Jack Wild, also of Oliver! fame). The two are from very different backgrounds, which cause a few issues, but generally they’re inseparable as they get into mischief at school and home. That is until Melody (Tracy Hyde) comes on the scene.

Melody is a good natured dreamer who lives in a council flat with her mother, grandmother and father, although the latter spends more time at the pub than home. Daniel falls madly in love with Melody when he spies on her dancing at school. He stalks her (in a well meaning 12 year old sort of way) until eventually Melody falls for his charms too. All is peachy with them, but Ornshaw isn’t too happy about his friend being otherwise occupied so friction develops between the two boys and the couple get in trouble with their family and the school when they demand to be able to get married now, not in the future as the law demands.

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Blu-Ray Review: My Life as a Dog

Director: Lasse Hallström
Screenplay: Lasse Hallström
Based on a Novel by: Reidar Jönsson
Starring: Anton Glanzelius, Tomas von Brömssen, Anki Lidén, Melinda Kinnaman
Country: Sweden
Running Time: 101 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘ve always had a soft spot for coming of age films. I don’t know whether it’s nostalgia for my own childhood or wish fulfilment for what I would have liked to have done back then, but I’ve always enjoyed watching tales of teens on the brink of adulthood, finding themselves through some sort of adventure or crucial experience. I’ve got several favourites, but the one I come back to again and again is Stand By Me. The quotable dialogue, camaraderie between friends and thrill of going off on a ‘mission’ together out in the wilderness all help make it one of my personal all time favourite films. So when Lasse Hallström’s critically acclaimed Swedish coming of age drama My Life as a Dog was offered up to review, I was keen to see if it lived up to the similar films I have a fondness for.

My Life as a Dog centres around and is narrated by Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12 year old boy living in Sweden in the late 1950s with his older brother and sick mother (Anki Lidén). The two boys get into so much trouble, particularly Ingemar, that their mum is forced to separate them, sending her youngest son to live with his uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren) far from home. She’s too ill to deal with both herself and their father is abroad with work and doesn’t seem to have the ability or interest to come back. Whilst living with his uncle in a rural town, Ingemar struggles to control his developing teenage hormones. His young mind is confused as to what to do about an attractive local woman who uses him as a defence against an artist making a nude sculpture of her, as well as a sporty tomboy, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), who falls for him. All the while, he is troubled by the fact that his beloved mother wants to get rid of him and is dying, a fact he pretends to ignore.

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Blu-Ray Review: Experiment in Terror

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Based on a Novel by: The Gordons – Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon
Starring: Glenn Ford, Lee Remick, Stefanie Powers
Country: USA
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 12


I always thought of Blake Edwards as a comedy director, and looking at his CV on IMDB, he did pretty much solely direct comedies (at least away from his early TV work). However, somewhere in between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, he made the mystery thriller Experiment in Terror as well as the drama Days of Wine and Roses. The former is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD by Powerhouse Films as part of their excellent new Indicator label. Intrigued, and being a fan of a good thriller, I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Experiment in Terror stars Lee Remick as Kelly Sherwood, a bank clerk who is terrorised by an asthmatic assailant (later revealed to be Garland Humphrey ‘Red’ Lynch, played by Ross Martin). He wants her to steal from the bank where she works. If she doesn’t, he says he will kill her and her younger sister, Toby (Stefanie Powers). Despite a physical attack when she first attempts to contact the police, Kelly secretly enlists the help of the FBI and G-Man John ‘Rip’ Ripley (Glen Ford) is put on the case.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Lady From Shanghai

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Novel by: Sherwood King
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: PG


Orson Welles blew everyone away with his ‘official’ directorial debut Citizen Kane (he made Too Much Johnson before that, but it was only originally produced to be integrated into a stage show and was never screened in cinemas until its rediscovery decades later). OK, it didn’t particularly make waves at the box office, but it was critically acclaimed and made people sit up and take notice of the precocious young director. However, Welles didn’t have much luck following that. From his follow up The Magnificent Ambersons onwards, his productions were plagued by interference from studios and he never managed to strike gold in the same way due to this. In an early review – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/11/touch-of-evil/, I argued that Touch of Evil might be a better film than Citizen Kane, but I saw the ‘director’s cut’ which had been re-edited in the 90’s from the original studio released version.

The Lady From Shanghai is one of these studio tampered films, with the original cut presented to the producers coming in an hour longer than the version we have today. Welles was also particularly vocal about his dislike for the score by Heinz Roemheld (a 9-page memo he wrote detailing changes which were never made can be found in this handsome dual-format set). Nevertheless, the film is regarded as one of the better studio films he made, so a Blu-Ray re-release like this is more than welcome. I’ve seen the film once before, but couldn’t remember a lot about it so was keen to revisit it.

The Lady From Shanghai opens with Irish rogue Michael O’Hara (Welles) happening across the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and soon after saving her from the hands of some muggers. They share a sexually charged horse carriage ride, following which Elsa offers O’Hara a job on her yacht. He initially refuses this as he discovers she’s married, and to a criminal lawyer to boot. However, her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) comes to see O’Hara and persuades him to take the job. O’Hara and the audience can smell something fishy, but the hard-headed Irishman decides to risk it and heads along on the couple’s cruise. Of course, he gets into a mess of trouble as Arthur and his associate George Grisby (Glenn Anders) drag him into a faked murder plot.

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Blu-Ray Review: Brotherhood of Blades

Director: Yang Lu
Screenplay: Yang Lu, Chen Shu
Starring: Chen Chang, Shih-Chieh Chin, Dong-xue Li, Shi Shi Liu, Yuan Nie, Qianyuan Wang
Country: China
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


Decent new martial arts films from China or Hong Kong have been getting thin on the ground of late after the boom they enjoyed in the early 2000’s. That’s why I got very excited when the recent Call of Heroes ended up meeting my high expectations. Hot on its heels (in terms of a UK release date at least) is Brotherhood of Blades. Directed by Yang Lu, a newcomer to action movies, and featuring none of the big martial arts stars, I was nonetheless excited to check it out, as word of mouth was good and the marketing made it look impressive.

Brotherhood of Blades is set in late Ming Dynasty China and follows three friends, Shen Lian (Chen Chang), Lu Jianxing (Qianyuan Wang) and Jin Yichuan (Dong-xue Li), who are skilled members of the Imperial Assassins. All three of them are struggling with personal problems which could be solved with a large amount of money. Well, luckily for Shen Lian, when the three assassins are assigned with the mission of killing Wei Zhongxian (Shih-Chieh Chin), Shen is offered the chance of taking bags full of gold away with him in return for faking Wei’s death. When he takes up the offer however, he makes life incredibly difficult and dangerous for himself and his two friends as their honesty is put into question and they realise they’re being used as pawns in a much larger game.

This film didn’t impress me quite as much as Call of Heroes did unfortunately, but it’s still a solid entry to the wuxia genre. It’s handsomely presented – lit and shot beautifully with some lavish period production design.

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Blu-Ray Review: Swiss Army Man

Director: ‘The Daniels’ – Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Country: USA, Sweden
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


Swiss Army Man is a film that rode in on a wave of hype after several festival screenings, but I feel it’s hype that both helped and hindered it. Becoming known as ‘the farting corpse movie’, or variations of that, helped give the film a great amount of publicity, but I think many might have dismissed it due to this over-simplified description. Sounding like an even lower brow version of Weekend at Bernies, the film can’t have appealed to the more ‘sophisticated’ cinephiles out there. But, having now watched the film, I’d say they’re missing out on something truly special.

Swiss Army Man opens showing Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island, preparing to kill himself as he’s given up hope of rescue. However, just as he’s about to do it, he spots a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe), washed up on the shore. This is no ordinary body either. It’s rather flatulent, which initially merely distracts Hank from his suicide attempt. When the farts get more powerful though, Hank realises this ‘wind’ can be harnessed more effectively and uses the corpse as a jet-ski to reach a neighbouring lush island which is littered with rubbish, suggesting it may be inhabited.

Once on the island, Hank struggles to find any more signs of civilization, but develops a great bond with the corpse (named Manny), who miraculously comes alive (if not mobile) after a while. Manny has no memories of his life before though and has many questions about the world around him. This prompts Hank to teach him, using the limited resources around them, whilst simultaneously altering his view of his own miserable existence. In particular, the two of them discuss the subject of love, as they tackle how to approach the elusive girl on the bus, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seems to be a part of one or both of their memories.

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