Blu-Ray Review: Daughters of the Dust

Director: Julie Dash
Screenplay: Julie Dash
Starring: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao, Adisa Anderson, Trula Hoosier
Country: UK, USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: PG


I‘d heard the title Daughters of the Dust crop up a couple of times not long before the BFI announced its re-release on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK. Everybody’s favourite source of film lists, Taste of Cinema, included it on their ’10 Totally Awesome 1990s Movies You May Have Missed’ lineup in May, which caught my attention. Plus I’d heard mention of it when Beyonce’s acclaimed Lemonade film/album came out last year. So, although descriptions of the film didn’t make it sound like my typical cup-of-tea, I was eager to give the film a look and what better way than in a shiny new Blu-Ray edition, spruced up by the BFI.

There’s not much of a story to describe as I typically like to do in my second paragraph. Some opening text explains how in South Carolina’s Sea Islands, certain communities of former west-African slaves lived alone, away from the rest of American society and adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions. The film is set in 1902 and sees members of the Gullah community on the islands struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while preparing for a migration to the mainland, even further from their roots.

This struggle takes place with little on screen incidence. A couple of tragedies and scandals have struck the community, but these have happened in the past and are referred to, but never shown. We do however see mystical visions of the future as a child possibly born from her mother’s rape narrates and fleetingly visits the film’s scenes. A couple of former islanders and their friend who come to visit from the mainland also offer some unrest to proceedings and remind the community and the audience how the two worlds differ.

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Blu-Ray Review: Doberman Cop

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Screenplay: Kôji Takada
Based on a Gekiga by: Buronson
Starring: Shin’ichi Chiba, Janet Hatta, Eiko Matsuda, Hideo Murota, Hiroki Matsukata, Ryûji Katagiri
Country: Japan
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 18


Arrow Video continue to delve into the Japanese genre movie vaults with Doberman Cop, a film that brings together two stalwarts they’ve previously featured, director Kinji Fukasaku (Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Battle Royale and Cops Vs Thugs, which I reviewed recently) and actor Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba (The Street Fighter, Kill Bill and Wolf Guy, which I reviewed recently). It’s not a film that saw much success when it came out and as such it’s never been released on video outside of Japan, so it’s great to see Arrow taking the effort to bring such an obscure, but nevertheless interesting title out over here. The two names I mentioned being behind the film were enough to get me interested, so I was keen to see if it was any good.

Doberman Cop is an action thriller based on a gekiga (a more story driven and adult form of manga) written by Buronson (better known for creating Fist of the North Star). Chiba plays Joji Kano, a cop who has recently moved from an Okinawan village in the country to the bright lights of Tokyo. A true country bumpkin, arriving with pet pig in tow, Kano is a fish out of water but tough enough to handle the mean streets of Tokyo. He falls quickly into trouble as he investigates the murder of a young woman in the nightlife district. Her body has been badly burnt, but the victim appears to be from Kano’s home town, which gives him added impetus to solve the crime. The plot further thickens as Kano believes the body was only made out to look like that of his neighbour and that the gangster Hidenori (Hiroki Matsukata) has something to do with it, along with Miki (Janet Hatta), a singer the gangster is grooming for success.

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Blu-Ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Director: Marlon Brando
Screenplay: Guy Trosper, Calder Willingham
Based on a Novel by: Charles Neider
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Larry Duran
Country: USA
Running Time: 141 min
Year: 1961
BBFC Certificate: PG


The 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks is a curiosity for numerous reasons. Most notably perhaps is the fact it was the one and only time the great Marlon Brando worked behind the camera as director. This wasn’t always set to be the case though. The production began life as a script written by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which Peckinpah would later turn into his own film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Brando’s production company, Pennebaker Productions, got hold of it and Brando wanted the then relatively young Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Kubrick agreed, but insisted on a new script by Calder Willingham. The three of them worked on it at Brando’s home, but various clashes caused Willingham to leave the project (to be replaced by Guy Trosper), followed by Kubrick. With filming already set for a month’s time, Brando stepped in and Paramount agreed. Some believe this was always Brando’s plan, but by all accounts the job was too much for him as the film spiralled rapidly over budget (it reportedly ended up costing $6 million dollars, from an original budget of $1.8 million) and he lost interest during post-production, leaving the studio to edit his 4 hour 42 minute cut down to a more manageable length.

As with a lot of troubled, lengthy and expensive productions, the film was released to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. In more recent years though, some critics have called for a reappraisal of the film and last year a new 4K digital restoration was completed by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s this polished version that now reaches our homes with Arrow Academy’s new dual format release. Being a western fan, I donned my cowboy hat and took this curious pony for a ride.

One-Eyed Jacks opens with Rio (Brando), Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and their accomplices robbing a bank in Mexico. Whilst stuck in a hilltop siege with the Mexican law, Rio sends Dad off to get new horses to aid their escape. He instead chooses to run off with the loot, leaving Rio to get caught and rot in a Mexican jail. He escapes 5 years later and seems hell bent on exacting revenge for what happened. Rio finds his chance when he happens upon Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who is planning a bank job in Monterey, California, where Dad is currently sheriff. Rio joins Bob’s gang and soon comes face to face with Dad, but rather than shoot him down straight away, he plots a slower route of cruel vengeance. Part of this involves or is possibly waylaid by Rio forming a relationship with Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Further complications ensue as the audience wonders just what Rio plans to do to his former partner in crime.

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Blu-Ray Review: Headshot

Director: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Screenplay: Timo Tjahjanto
Starring: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Sunny Pang
Country: Indonesia
Running Time: 118 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 18


For decades it was Hong Kong that dominated the martial arts movie scene. From the genre’s beginnings, to the vast catalogue of the Shaw Brothers studio, to the success of Golden Harvest in the 80’s and 90’s, Hong Kong led the way in the genre and few other areas/countries managed to capture their success or level of quality. Hollywood had long tried, and although there are some great American action films, their depiction of martial arts has rarely felt as convincing or spectacular. As the new millennium moved on though, a boom in martial arts cinema caused by the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix eventually led to Hong Kong’s action output growing tired. Too many releases tried to copy the formula of those hugely successful titles, but there was rarely the talent or money behind them to achieve their level of quality. As such, the Hong Kong martial arts scene has dried up somewhat, at least in terms of finding critical or commercial success overseas, bar one or two exceptions (the Ip Man films did quite well and have a lot of fans).

With Hong Kong’s martial arts crown slipping, one country has made a few great steps forward to snatch it from them, or rather leap through the air, shatter their skull and wrench the crown from their twitching, dying body. That country is Indonesia. They’ve been making action movies for a long time, but nothing all that notable until a Welsh director named Gareth Evans made his sophomore film there, Merantau (a.k.a. Merantau Warrior) alongside native Indonesian actor/action choreographer Iko Uwais. That film wasn’t a huge success, but it turned a few heads amongst action fans and paved the way for Evans and Uwais’ follow up, The Raid. That martial arts masterpiece blew the doors open with its brutal, intense action sequences and taut, visceral direction. Evans and Uwais returned three years later with The Raid 2, which many felt managed to improve on the first, by upping the scale and adding a more elaborate plot. Personally I slightly prefer the first film, but The Raid 2 is still undoubtedly one of the finest action films of the last twenty years, if not ever.

Eager to show he’s equally as important to that illustrious pair of films than Evans after his frustratingly wasted cameo in The Force Awakens, Uwais joins the ‘Mo Brothers’ (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto) for Headshot. Like in the Raid films, Uwais acts and choreographs the action with his Uwais Team and certainly proves his worth, as Headshot is one hell of a badass martial arts movie.

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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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