DVD Review: Ivan’s Childhood

Directors: Andrei Tarkovsky, Eduard Abalov (uncredited)
Screenplay by: Vladimir Bogomolov, Mikhail Papava, Andrey Konchalovskiy (uncredited), Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Story by: Vladimir Bogomolov
Starring: Nikolay Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Evgeniy Zharikov, Valentina Malyavina
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 90 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: PG


Andrei Tarkovsky is a director whose name has become a byword for the kind of ‘high-art’ cinema that critics tend to love, but your average viewer would gladly distance themselves as far as possible from. I have a hit and miss relationship with that style of filmmaking so you might have thought I would have been hesitant to offer to review his work, currently being remastered and re-released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by Curzon Artificial Eye. However, I’ve only actually seen one of Tarkovsky’s films before, Andrei Rublev, and that blew me away with its spectacular set pieces and striking cinematography. So I’ve been desperate to dig further into his oeuvre ever since and practically leapt at the chance to review Ivan’s Childhood, Tarkovsky’s debut feature and the first of his films to receive the re-release treatment by Curzon Artificial Eye. I’m planning on reviewing the whole set (other than Andrei Rublev due to time constraints and the fact I’ve already seen it not too long ago), so watch this space.

Ivan’s Childhood is set during WWII and tells the story of a 12 year-old orphan, Ivan (Nikolay Burlyaev), who works for the Soviet Army as a scout. His size and seeming innocence make him a perfect candidate for the job, so his three pseudo-guardian officers keep him operating as such, despite their misgivings about sending such a young boy out on such dangerous missions. They do try to send him to military school at one point, but Ivan is too determined to allow this. After his mother and sister were killed by the Nazis he spends his nights dreaming of vengeance.

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Carlos’ Review Round-Up

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Good Movies.

 

Love and Friendship (2016)

Directed by: Whit Stillman
Country: Ireland / other

In “Love & Friendship”, Whit Stillman (“Damsels in Distress”) presents us a witty dramatization of Jane Austen’s epistolary novel ‘Lady Susan’, dated from 1871.
In this period romantic comedy, he pragmatically takes the first minutes to introduce the characters one by one, giving us, at the same time, a well-adjusted orientation in order to proceed with this funny tale.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a widow of questionable reputation, arrives in Churchill to stay some time with her in-laws while beginning a campaign in order to find a wealthy husband for her daughter, Federica (Morfydd Clark), and for herself.
She feeds the spreading rumors that her personal choice falls on Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), her sister-in-law’s attractive brother, with whom she engages in long conversations and strolls. He ends up deeply infatuated but is promptly rebuked by his father who is concerned about the family reputation and future.

» I can handle the truth...


In the meantime, and invoking the fifth commandment: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’, which she mistakes by the fourth, the charming but scheming Lady Susan literally forces her daughter to accept marrying to the silly, chatty, wealthy, and hilarious Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), who aids his future mother-in-law with money and a new carriage. ‘Nobody knows the embarrassment of a young girl without a fortune’, she says. However, the bashful Federica is anguished with the idea and seeks Reginald to take the weight out of her chest.

The story takes a spin and evolves into unexpected directions, always carrying flattering tones, beneficial seductions, and polite conversations.
Moreover, the amusing “Love & Friendship” is brilliantly acted (Ms. Beckinsale and Mr. Bennett truly excel) and shot, under the attentive direction of Mr. Stillman who knows how to consciously place delicious characters within irresistible frames. The pic is constantly adorned with warm colors and the right props of the period.

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Land and Shade (2015)

Directed by: Cesar Augusto Acevedo
Country: Colombia / other

Coming from Colombia and deserving special attention worldwide, “Land and Shade” was distinguished with 4 prestigious awards at Cannes (Golden Camera, France 4 Visionary Award, SACD Award, Grand Golden Rail) and also conquered other trophies in Mumbai, Thessaloniki, and San Sebastian. I must state that it justified all of them.

The writer/director, Cesar Augusto Acevedo, did a staggering work and is already marked as the next man to watch out due to this astounding debut feature.
The incisive drama gradually attains high emotional levels at the same time that catches the viewer with its powerful, well-guided storyline and striking imagery. Joining the celebrated Ciro Guerra, who has been the summit of the Colombian modern cinema with gems such as “The Wind Journeys” and “Embrace of the Serpent”, Mr. Acevedo assures a place in the podium of the country’s cinematic creators, together with William Vega, artisan of another outstanding debut, “La Sirga”.

» I can handle the truth...


Don Alfonso (Haimer Leal), an old local farmer, returns to the secluded land he had abandoned many years ago when he was told it would be gradually discontinued of its landscape and factories to be turned into a huge sugar cane plantation. After 17 years, he agreed to go back in order to take care of his dying son, Gerardo (Edison Raigosa), a former sugar cane worker who has trouble breathing due to the continuous inhalation of dust and ashes along the years, consequence of the daily burn of the fields, which is a regular practice of the harvesting.
Besides his bedridden son, Alfonso meets his sweet 6-year-old grandson, Manuel (Felipe Cárdenas), and his sympathetic daughter-in-law, Esperanza (Marleyda Soto), and re-encounters his embittered ex-wife, Alicia (Hilda Ruiz), who keeps stubbornly refusing to leave the property she was able to save. In a cold way, she gives Alfonso all the instructions about the tasks to perform in her absence. While he’ll stay home cooking, cleaning, washing, and keeping an eye in Gerardo and Manuel, Alicia and Esperanza are going to the fields to work and bring some money home. This is an extremely tiresome and underpaid job, which clearly starts exhausting the women.

Realistic and constructive, “Land and Shade”, is made of dualities and doubts.
It’s simultaneously sad and vitalizing, portraying the dim indoors as gloomy and suffocating while some outdoor scenes, regardless the real circumstances, often pulse with light, a kite, and chirping birds. The doubts had to do with the choices of each character. Everyone ponders: staying or leaving? That’s the question.
To balance the agony, sacrifice, and misery of this broken family suddenly united by an imminent death, the film counterpoints with solidarity, humanity, and forgiveness.
This is one of the most intense movies I’ve seen lately, and both director and cast consciously and confidently paddle toward the right direction, escorting the film to a triumphant realm.

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King Jack (2015)

Directed by: Felix Thompson
Country: USA

“King Jack”, an independent drama written and directed by the debutant Felix Thompson, shows enough good attributes to deserve a look.
The film isn’t flawless, but its characters are well shaped and the story tries to withdraw something positive from a set of negative experiences endured by a fatherless 15-year-old boy.

Jack (Charlie Plummer) is known in his modest little town as ‘Scab’, a nickname earned very early thanks to his big brother, Tom (Christian Madsen), with whom he maintains a distant and often strained relationship.
Jack has been terribly bullied along the years by Shane (Danny Flaherty), an older local who, together with his friends, chases him everywhere and beats him up hard.

» I can handle the truth...


Despite trying to avoid Shane, Jack sticks to a rebellious attitude and answers back to the provocations through unimaginable ways. To give you an idea, the film opens with a scene where he writes in big letters the word ‘c**t’ on the home of the bully.
Apart from this persistent distress, Jack’s time is spent at school, where he fantasizes with the indifferent Robyn, or in the company of Harriet who has a crush on him.

The real adventure starts when his unfamiliar 12-year-old cousin, Ben (Cory Nichols) arrives to stay for the weekend. Jack immediately makes very clear he’s no babysitter, and smoking a cigarette with a stylish superiority, gives Ben all the instructions on how to behave and who not to talk to. Soon, they become buddies but their friendship is put to a test when Ben is made hostage and ‘tortured’ by the ignoble Shane. In the course of this extreme situation, he ultimately resorts to Tom to save his cousin. Anyway, he knows he’ll have to deal with brutal retaliation.

Mr. Thompson’s efforts in drawing something truthful were achieved thanks to a solid camerawork and the young Plummer’s performance. Even if no particularly fresh ways were used to examine the topic, there’s something that deserves to be explored in this coming-of-age film, this year’s audience winner at Sundance.

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Honor Thy Father (2015)

Directed by: Erik Matti
Country: Philippines

“Honor Thy Father” is a pertinent Filipino drama/thriller about a family involved in a fraudulent financial scheme that unexpectedly puts their lives in danger. It also addresses religious fanaticism and deception, the gap between social classes, and criminal activity with a sharp eye, only to wobble slightly as it reaches the last part.
The director, Erik Matti, who already had shown favorable capabilities in the 2013 crime thriller “On the Job”, wrote the screenplay together with Michiko Yamamoto and gave the proper instructions to the popular Filipino actor John Lloyd Cruz who played the leading role.

Mr. Cruz gives an earnest performance as Edgar, a modest former miner who recently has been living in the city in great style and surrounded by luxury. Not because he did great at work or won the lottery, but because his wife, Kaye (Meryll Soriano), is thriving due to an elusive financial scheme launched by her father, that forces her to drag more investors into swampy ground.

» I can handle the truth...


Kaye seems to have been born for that job. She loves to feel active when convincing people to invest, and superior when in the presence of large amounts of money.
Besides leading the scheme, Kaye is a fervent devotee of the Church of Yeshua whose header, bishop Tony (Tirso Cruz III), tries to extract as much money (in the form of donations) as he can get from the parishioners.
The only one who attends the gatherings with suspicion and indifference is Edgar. However, he goes with the flow just to please his whimsical wife.

The couple’s happy days come to an end when Kaye’s father is assassinated and the money disappears. Naturally, the situation provokes the chaos among the wrathful villagers who claim their money back.
Since Kaye doesn’t have a solution for the problem, the crowd opts for looting her house. Not satisfied, a threatening couple takes further action, kidnapping their daughter, Angel (Krystal Brimner), as a warning, and then Kaye, as a guarantee that they will receive the six million they’re asking for.
Edgar has to think and act fast to retrieve his beloved wife alive. After a failed attempt to rob a bank, his only chance is to break into the church that had denied the financial help he needed.

“Honor Thy Father” is a claustrophobic tale that conveys all the distress felt by its characters, a punishment for their atrocious greediness. It’s also timeless because, sadly, scheming people and churches like the one described here are still spread around the world.
The pace increases as the intensity grows, but the film loses something in its last act where the action assumes preponderance, and the climax shows us how ignominious life can be sometimes.

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Eye in the Sky (2015)

Directed by: Gavin Hood
Country: UK

Helen Mirren gives another remarkably centered performance in “Eye in the Sky”, where she plays Col. Katherine Powell, a military officer in command of an operation to capture terrorists in Kenya.

The intelligence has strong reasons to believe that a dangerous woman called Susan Helen Danford, a British citizen now radicalized by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab, is hidden with her radical husband in Nairobi where they lead terrorist attacks from a well-identified house.
From the Northwood Headquarters in the UK, Powell supervises the delicate multinational mission, counting on the information provided by the American drone surveillance team that operates from Nevada, and Farah (Barkhad Abdi), a Kenyan undercover agent who is stationed in Nairobi and controls a spy insectothopter (a miniature drone with the form and size of a dragonfly) that is intended to invade the terrorists’ refuge.
Besides confirming Danford’s identity, the drone also shows that a suicide attack is about to be carried out. This particular circumstance impels Col. Powell to modify the mission’s classification from ‘capture’ to ‘kill’.

» I can handle the truth...


After a complicated process to get clearance from her superiors, Powell proceeds with the mission, instructing the USAF pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) to advance with his Reaper drone and destroy the target.
However, Watts sees a little girl selling bread right in front of the house and refuses to obey the orders.
Negotiations begin in order to minimize collateral damage, but assuring that the terrorists don’t escape. Question: Does the life of an innocent child worth more than the death of these priority targets?

Slightly better than “Good Kill”, Andrew Niccol’s 2014 drone thriller, “Eye in the Sky” is imbued of a tension that is already familiar.
Director Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”), working from a screenplay by Guy Hibbert, seemed to have planned everything so that the ending could reach our hearts. Despite this sensation, the film succeeds by presenting two valid sides: one didactic, which shows today’s modern technology and warfare clinical procedures; and another, far more unsettling, that shows little respect for human lives.

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The Ones Below (2015)

Directed by: David Farr
Country: UK

The effective thriller, “The Ones Below”, deals with two neighbor couples expecting their first child and the terrible happenings that follow the loss of a baby.

The Londoners Kate (Clémence Poésy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore), after giving it a good thought, are going to have a child and are feeling great about it. When not working, they carefully plan every detail while moving into the upper flat of a townhouse that was divided horizontally into two.
The ones who live below are the English-Finnish Theresa (Laura Birn), and her successful husband, Jon Baker (David Morrissey). They’re living a dream since she’s finally pregnant after seven years attempting to conceive.
Kate develops a strange curiosity for Theresa, who seems very sympathetic, carefree, and enjoying a stupendous phase in her marriage and life.

» I can handle the truth...


The women eventually become closer, but the first meeting of the couples comes draped in tragedy. Kate invites the Bakers to dinner, but the couple doesn’t seem so happy as before. Theresa shows to be unstable and drinks a few glasses of wine, despite forbidden by Jon, who in turn, adopts a judgmental posture that visibly bothers the hosts. He acts violently after Theresa falls down the steep stairs. This anguishing incident makes Theresa lose the fetus.

From this point on, the couples cut relations and the Bakers depart to Germany. They return a few months later, willing to forget what happened and ready to make amends with their neighbors. Theresa even shows availability to take care of Kate’s newborn, Billy. However, abnormal behaviors and frightening occurrences put Kate and Justin alert, as the story grows creepy in its conclusions, embracing an impenetrable darkness.

Even without blowing your mind with his statement, David Farr, who co-wrote the screenplay of “Hanna” five years ago, had a favorable directorial debut. This slow-burning thriller was able to cause a good impression and got my attention from start to finish, also thanks to the consummate performances of the well-selected cast.

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Honeyglue (2015)

Directed by: James Bird
Country: USA

“Honeyglue”, a lugubrious romance written and directed by James Bird, got trapped in its own melodramatic tones and couldn’t free itself from that sticky viscosity.
Fastidiously overstaged, the film never manages to convince and takes a steep decline after just a few minutes.

Morgan (Adriana Mather) and Jordan (Zach Villa) introduce themselves through video footage, adding that what we’re seeing is a digital love letter to each other and a farewell statement. Both have their heads shaved and they convey both assurance and a weird sense of fate.

» I can handle the truth...


The narrative immediately winds back to tell their peculiar love story.
The couple met at a nightclub where Morgan, who was only given three months to live due to a galloping brain tumor, gets super curious about Jordan, a boy dressed as a girl. It was her birthday, and he seemed as much attracted to her as she was to him. Despite the instant chemistry between them, she gave him the wrong phone number while he stole her wallet. The next day, Jordan regrets the bad deed and pays her a visit to return her belongings. However, her parents get shocked with the way he dresses and talks.
Despite this prejudice, the couple falls in love and decides not only to get married, but also live the three months left doing everything that might come to their minds. The enthusiasm leads them to rob a little store, to pay a visit to Jordan’s estranged mother, and to become the center of the attention in a bar – the most contrived scene of the film.

I can’t find a good reason to recommend “Honeyglue”.
If a story of this nature doesn’t touch you in the heart is because something is wrong with it. The ideas of tolerance, acceptance, and love are conveyed with a deplorable lack of freshness, likely because Mr. Bird has never found the adequate bright tones to do better than overload us with predictability and tedium. Actually, here, the word bright can only be associated to the tonality of its cinematography.

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Couple in a Hole (2015)

Directed by: Tom Geens
Country: Belgium / France / UK

“Couple in a Hole”, Tom Geens’ directorial sophomore feature, is a haunting experience somewhere between the mystery and the psychological drama, whose tones are absorbed with a certain apprehension.

Doing much with little, the Belgian writer/helmer invites us to peek at a Scottish couple, John (Paul Higgins) and Kara (Kate Dickie), who live like two cavemen, secluded in a French mountain, after they had lost their son in a tragic accident.
Apart from the civilization, which is not so far from the hole they inhabit, the couple barely eats to survive and is considered in danger with the approximation of the winter, which always brings an agonizing cold and devastating hunger.
John pursues rabbits and picks herbs, mushrooms, and occasionally worms that his wife gobbles up with pleasure. Kara does the opposite. She rarely leaves the hole because of anxiety and panic. However, she’s making an effort to get out more with the help of her forbearing husband whose true will is to get back home, abandoning that place forever. Lucid of their situation, John is visibly tired of that life, but the highly traumatized Kara, who refuses any help from strangers and often suffers from hallucinations, stops his intentions. She says she feels the presence of her son and can’t leave. The anguish took her mind.

» I can handle the truth...


When happily celebrating a rainy day outside, Kara is bitten by a poisonous spider, a situation that requires an urgent application of medicine. This setback forces John to look for an antidote in the village, getting the desired help from Andre (Jérôme Kircher), a stubborn but generous local farmer who had tried to establish contact with him before. After that, Andre keeps coming to the mountain in order to offer them food. Famished, John tries to cast him away, but ultimately cannot resist the homemade delicacies. The two men become friends but their wives, for different reasons, oppose vehemently to this connection.

The film pulsates with uncanny vibes, thanks to the stimulating performances and the ominous woods that overload even more the shadowy story.
The revelations and disclosures are a bit too predictable for us to elevate this indie thriller to a superior category. Nevertheless, mysterious energies are successful emanated from the scenes and a fair watch is made certain.
Mr. Geen is a director to keep an eye on.

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Blu-Ray Review: Here Comes Mr. Jordan – Criterion Collection

Director: Alexander Hall
Screenplay: Sidney Buchman, Seton I. Miller
Based on a Play by: Harry Segall
Starring: Robert Montgomery, Claude Rains, Evelyn Keyes, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton, Rita Johnson
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1941
BBFC Certificate: U


Here Comes Mr. Jordan is a film from 1941, based on a play called Heaven Can Wait, that spawned not only a sequel (Down to Earth in 1947), but a remake in 1978 (Warren Beatty and Buck Henry’s Heaven Can Wait), another in 2001 (Down to Earth starring Chris Rock) and even a remake in India in 1968 called Jhuk Gaya Aasman (English: The Skies Have Bowed). Some suggest it also helped kick start the mini-boom of guardian angel films in Hollywood during the 40’s and early 50’s, such as It’s a Wonderful Life and Angels in the Outfield. With the original film hitting the UK list of Criterion Collection titles today, the question is, does it still hold up today?

Here Comes Mr. Jordan tells the story of Joe Pendleton (Robert Montgomery), known as ‘the flying pug’ in his burgeoning career as a boxer. Whilst living up to his name and flying himself to his next fight, Joe crashes his plane and dies. His spirit is taken by messenger up to a cloudy runway to be flown up to heaven, but Joe complains to the angels that it isn’t his time and it turns out it isn’t. The messenger picked him up too early as Joe would have survived the flight and lived another 50 years. On learning that Joe’s body has been cremated, the angels, led by Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), try to make up for the clerical error by allowing him to enter the body of someone else recently deceased.

They pick out a crooked, wealthy businessman, Bruce Farnsworth, who’s just been murdered by his wife (Rita Johnson) and her lover. Joe is reluctant to take over this identity at first, until he meets Bette Logan (Evelyn Keyes), an attractive young woman who pleads to Bruce to help her father who he had sold worthless bonds to. Joe promptly chooses to become Bruce and pays the money back to all the small business owners he’d screwed over. This angers his business associates of course, but also his wife, so Joe has to work to keep this new body alive whilst wooing Bette and also trying to kickstart his boxing career in his new body.

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Review: The Neon Demon

NeonDemon

One of the many striking things about Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest film, The Neon Demon, is how heavily it builds itself on the fusion of soundtrack and imagery. It is the first indication that we are in Only God Forgives or Valhalla Rising territory where static framing with and sonic force reign supereme, more-so than Drive or The Pusher Trilogy, although to be fair, both all of his films show a wonderful proficiency on setting a distinct rhythm to the storytelling.

The Neon Demon is a foremost a mood piece first. Refn’s fellow countryman, Lars Von Trier is fond of abstract filmmaking challenges informing his cinema, and here Refn seems to want to take one of the most blunt storytelling cliches, “Hey, the fashion industry sucks the life out models and turns human beings into sickly ghouls,” and the challenge is to apply such brilliant cinematic craft to the proceedings, like the make-up and gemstones constantly being brushed onto Elle Fanning’s visage, to make it appear more than what it is, even, and this is important, if the raw talent has always been there. With this film, appearances are not the goal it is the raison d’etre.

And through an delightful alchemy of influences – David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick and Dario Argento are all distinctly quoted – Refn not only pulls it off, he makes it look both inevitable and easy. It is as if the films glittery closing credits (highly reminiscent of the best of the James Bond title sequences, or David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opener) are saying, “Yea, all movies are made this way, aren’t they?”

Forgive the gushing, The Neon Demon was more than a bit of a balm after a pre-summer warm-up of sequels extruded at great cost with the aim mainly to tease for the next installment in the franchise. The few exceptions, Fury Road, Ex Machina and Chi-Raq, in isloation, serve as reminders that pop-entertainment does not have to be vanilla or focus grouped; it can be ghastly, challenging and visceral. Refn practices what he preaches, with all the one liners in the film espousing the theme of, ‘Everything worth having is worth a little pain.’ If the movie is pulling you out with its juvenile dares, stick with it, the back nine is a jaw-dropper. He is being both earnest and ironic such that down is up and up and down. To live in the recent films of this filmmaker is to live in a world that is too intense and too abstract to be real. In other words: Cinema. But unlike typical offerings from the dream factor, this is cinema where life lessons and morality (and definitely good taste) are un-tethered.

I wonder if this is what John Boorman was striving for with Zardoz before it collapsed under the kitschy weight of Sean Connery in a big red diaper and fuck-me boots? Refn borrows the prism of the mind sequence from that film, But I digress.

Back to the soundtrack. After two seasons of The Knick, Martinez’s retro-future-current-right-now jangle of electronic sounds and instruments haunts my dreams. I am not sure if the goal was for Vangelis-on-Ecstasy or KMFDM-on-Quaaludes, but it is somewhere in that space, and it sure hits the spot. Combined with the framed-tableaux cinematography – surely The Neon Demon started as a feature length expansion of that weird shot in Drive of all the fashion models motionless in their underwear in a weirdly lit nightclub that Ryan Gosling purposefully strides through – it is an immersive experience that transcends any semblance of Hollywood business-as-usual.

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DVD Review: Evolution

Director: Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Screenplay by: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, Alante Kavaite, Geoff Cox
Starring: Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Country: France, Belgium, Spain
Running Time: 78 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Nothing to do with the 2001 sci-fi comedy of the same name, Evolution is an art-house horror film of sorts from Lucile Hadzihalilovic, the director of Innocence. I usually like art-house genre crossovers, so I thought I’d give this a shot.

Giving a synopsis is tricky as this is a highly unusual film. It opens with a young boy, Nicolas (Max Brebant), swimming in the ocean where he sees the dead body of a boy under the water. No one believes him, but we soon begin to realise that all is not what it seems in this seaside community and something suspicious is going on between the inhabitants. Speaking of which, for reasons never explained, the only residents of this village seem to be young boys on the brink of puberty and their ‘mothers’, who mainly seem a little too young to be so. The boys just play on the beach all day whilst the women tend to their needs, giving them ‘medicine’ at regular intervals and preparing their suspect looking meals. The plot thickens further when Nicolas and some of the other boys are taken to a hospital where they are treated for an unnamed ‘illness’.

I won’t go in to too much more detail about the plot as that would be spoiling things and, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what the hell was going on half the time. It’s a most unusual film. On one side this plays to the its strengths, presenting an incredibly mysterious story which you can’t second guess. On the other side, it makes the film quite difficult to maintain a grip on. This isn’t helped by the minimal dialogue and cold, expressionless performances. The presentation is art-house with a capital A in that sense.

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Blu-Ray Review: Too Late for Tears

Director: Byron Haskin
Screenplay: Roy Huggins
Starring: Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Kristine Miller, Don DeFore, Arthur Kennedy
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1949
BBFC Certificate: PG


As promised, here’s my review of Too Late For Tears, Arrow Academy’s other recent film noir re-release, alongside Woman on the Run. Like the latter, Too Late For Tears was not a financial success at the time of its original release and its production company later went bankrupt. This lead to the film being relatively lost, hovering around only in poor quality public domain copies. Luckily, the UCLA Film & Television Archive got their hands on a French 35mm nitrate Dupe Picture Negative (where the film was named La Tigresse), the only preprint element known to survive. They polished up the film and Arrow Academy are releasing it to us lucky folk in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD.

Too Late For Tears opens with a preposterous but nevertheless enticing premise. Husband and wife Alan (Arthur Kennedy) and Jane Palmer (Lizabeth Scott) are arguing whilst driving down a windy road at night. They almost crash into someone then get a mysterious bag thrown into their back seat. They soon realise the bag is filled with cash and decide to drive off with it, shaking off the rightful owner’s car that quickly appears behind them. Once home, Alan thinks they should give the money in to the police, but Jane disagrees. She’s clearly not happy with the way her life is going at the minute, but the surprise arrival of all this money revitalises her. Determined to a frightening degree, she will stop at nothing to keep the money. Even the arrival of Danny Fuller (Dan Duryea), whose car the money should have fallen into, doesn’t dissuade Jane. In fact, she manipulates him into helping her get the money from Alan, who has put it away in a locker for safe keeping before calling the police.

Of course, it’s not going to end well for anyone…

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Blu-Ray Review: Woman on the Run

Director: Norman Foster
Screenplay: Alan Campbell, Norman Foster
Based on an Original Story by: Sylvia Tate
Starring: Ann Sheridan, Dennis O’Keefe, Robert Keith, Ross Elliott
Country: USA
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1950
BBFC Certificate: PG


I love a good film noir. So much so I didn’t scour my usual sources to see what the reviews were like for Woman on the Run before requesting a copy to write my own, I just asked for a screener because I knew I’d enjoy it to some extent due to the genre. Also, I wanted to help promote Arrow Academy’s release of this (and Too Late For Tears which I’ll also be reviewing soon) because I feel like the UK have had a bit of a raw deal for classic film noir releases over the years. I rarely see any titles other than the big names show up in my local HMV and many haven’t made an appearance on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray, other than in horribly transferred cheap releases from those films now in the public domain. So I hope if Arrow sell a few copies of these they’ll mine the vaults for more gems to polish up to their usual high quality.

Woman on the Run was released in 1950, right in the midst of the genre’s heyday. It begins with Frank Johnson (Ross Elliott) taking his dog out for a walk when he comes across an argument in a parked car. The argument soon becomes a murder and the trigger man takes a couple of pot shots at Frank before he drives away. Frank gives the police a brief statement on the scene, but when he learns that the man killed was due to testify against the notorious gangster Smiley Freeman, he gets scared and runs away. The police, on top of wanting his statement to help lock up Freeman, are worried for his safety so go to Frank’s wife, Eleanor (Ann Sheridan), for help in finding the man. She’s not keen on doing the police any favours though, as it’s clear the couple aren’t enjoying a happy marriage. However, she does want to find him herself, so heads off into the heart of the city (San Francisco) to track him down. The police of course put a tail on her and the tabloid journalist Dan Legget (Dennis O’Keefe) tags along to get a big scoop. The latter ends up helping Eleanor out as she gets further along in her investigation, but his intentions gradually become rather suspect.

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Blu-Ray Review: Overlord – Criterion Collection

Director: Stuart Cooper
Screenplay: Stuart Cooper, Christopher Hudson
Starring: Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball
Country: UK
Running Time: 83 min
Year: 1975
BBFC Certificate: 15


I must admit I’d never heard of Overlord before receiving a press release about its Blu-Ray release as part of the Criterion Collection in the UK. Generally only the crème de la crème gets selected for the collection (other than the odd exception – Armageddon?!) and the fact that it was shot by regular Kubrick DOP John Alcott piqued my interest, so I decided to give it a whirl and review a copy.

Overlord follows a young man, Tom (Brian Stirner), as he’s drafted into the British army during World War II. We follow him through basic training and the agonising wait to be deployed into battle. He’s convinced he’s going to be killed during this time, so a sense of impending doom builds up to him being sent to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. During the wait he befriends some of his fellow comrades and falls in love with a young woman, Janie (Julie Neesam) at a local dance.

It may sound like your typical war movie, but Overlord is refreshingly different from your usual flag waving or ‘horrors of war’ affairs. One major aspect of its production and presentation that marks it out from the rest is the fact that a large proportion of the film is made up of archive footage, shot during the war. The film isn’t a documentary though, it’s a fictional account of a soldier’s life during the war, but through the footage supplied by the Imperial War Museum (culled from a phenomenal amount of material) and by basing Tom’s experiences on those described in letters written by real front line soldiers, the film is infused with a powerful naturalism.

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Review: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

neighbors2-poster
Director: Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement, Neighbors))
Writers: Andrew Jay Cohen, Brendan O’Brien, Nicholas Stoller, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
Producers: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Beanie Feldstein, Clara Mamet, Selena Gomez, Hannibal Buress
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 92 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


As a pretty big fan of the original Neighbors, even I can admit that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is one of the more unnecessary sequels to come out in recent years, which is saying a lot given how quick studios have been to hit the greenlight on continuations of any movie that makes them a couple bucks lately, no matter how unwarranted they actually are. Thankfully, they were smart enough to get the ball rolling on this one quickly and have it released just two years after its predecessor, rather than risking a longer wait that would have resulted in its release being met with a lot of, “Wait… what was Neighbors again?”. Instead, the response is more, “… why are they doing a sequel to that?”, and it’s a pretty justified question. The truth is money. Certainly from watching the movie, you can tell that there’s no artistic or creative reason behind putting all of these people back onto the screen together to play out more or less the same scenario that we saw two years ago. It is worth mentioning that they at least brought back the entirety of the cast from the original, as well as Nicholas Stoller in the directing chair, something which doesn’t often happen with sequels these days, and helps it feel more like a return than a cash-in, even if that is ultimately what it is.

This time, instead of moving into their home with their new baby, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) have just sold their house in order to move into a new one with their soon to be born second kid, and instead of being tormented by a fraternity led by Zac Efron’s Teddy Sanders, they are up against a new sorority led by Chloe Grace Moretz’s Shelby, who is helped out by Teddy because obviously they had to figure out a way to get him back in the game (via a quarter life crisis that’s actually pretty amusingly played by Efron). That’s the ridiculous setup that tries to wring the same jokes from the same well, and surprisingly a lot of it does actually work the second time around. Everything about Neighbors 2 feels like you saw it already, because you did, but the reason the first film was so well-received is because the gags really worked, and so seeing them again with very slight variations is still pretty amusing a lot of the time. If you sit down and think about it for too long, it’s easy to get dismayed by the utter laziness in plugging tens of millions of dollars into doing the same exact thing. Fortunately, the movie makes sure that you’re having too much fun to really concern yourself with any of that.
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