Blu-Ray Review: The Offence

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: John Hopkins
Based on a Play by: John Hopkins
Starring: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Ian Bannen, Vivien Merchant
Country: UK/USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15


Sidney Lumet was responsible for a handful of cast iron classics. His debut feature 12 Angry Men and several films he made in the 70’s (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Serpico) are all considered some of the finest films ever made. If you look on the IMDb though you’ll see he has an astonishing 73 directing credits to his name. Granted the first 20 or so are TV shows, but he’s still got quite a large volume of work under his belt. Because of this, he has made a huge number of films that have been forgotten over the years despite his pedigree. Some were probably forgotten for good reason (Gloria for instance), but I imagine there are a good few gems lurking in there waiting to be discovered. It’s that thinking that got me excited about checking out The Offence, which is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of Eureka’s superb Masters of Cinema series.

The Offence stars the legend that is Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson, who is part of a team of policemen on the hunt for a child molester in an English suburb. Shortly after a fourth victim is found, a suspect is brought in for questioning. The slightly fey Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen) is this suspect, who gives nothing to the police detectives who question him. Johnson, who is hell bent on catching the deviant and plagued with memories of previous cases, is convinced Baxter is his man though and locks himself in the interrogation room with him to knock out the truth. He knocks too hard though and beats the man possibly to death. Johnson himself becomes the offender at this point and the spotlight is turned on him and his demons.

My opinion on this film veered this way and that, and after reading a couple of other reviews (not something I generally practise) I seem to have the opposite opinion to everyone else, so please don’t take my thoughts as gospel.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood and Black Lace

Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Marcello Fondato
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner
Country: Italy/France/Monaco
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: 18

Mario Bava is one of the most highly influential directors in genre cinema. His films are rarely listed as the greatest of all time, but his work kick started a number of sub genres as well as inspired numerous more famous directors. Bava’s first credited feature, Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) in 1960, was a sumptuously gothic horror which looked beautiful (he began his career as a cinematographer) but was laced with violent imagery, including an incredibly gruesome opening sequence where a spiked mask is hammered into a suspected witch’s face. This caught people’s attention and is still considered one of Bava’s best films. A few years later, he directed what is considered the first real giallo (violent Italian ‘whodunit’ thrillers to put it simply), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (a.k.a The Evil Eye) in 1963. He is also believed to have created possibly the first slasher film with A Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve) in 1971. His violent, stylish brand of filmmaking, which often set plot aside to let the mood, tone and visuals replace/provide the substance, was hugely influential on numerous horror and thriller directors, particularly other Italian masters such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Blood and Black Lace came shortly after The Girl Who Knew Too Much and a few years before A Bay of Blood but is equally as important. It more clearly defined the giallo genre than its predecessor and also contains a number of the tropes of the slasher movie, meaning it could also be considered one of the films to forge that sub-genre. The importance of this film certainly must have been felt by the genre-loving folk over at Arrow Video as they have just released a gorgeously well remastered and loaded dual format blu-ray/DVD set. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review so below are my thoughts on the film and extra features.

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Some Thoughts on Ex Machina

The great science fiction writer-philosopher Stanislaw Lem wrote, “We do not want other worlds, we want mirrors.” And to that extent, writer-director Alex Garland’s ominous take on A.I., Ex Machina is just that. It is far less about the potential birth of a new form of intelligence and far more an allegory about how men fear and control women. It demonstrates this both with Oscar Isaac’s recluse inventor, Nathan, and his billion dollar bachelor pad to Domhnall Gleeson’s sensitive young programmer, Caleb, who is clearly in over his head talking to AVA, the artificial woman, or rather woman void of agency, played by Alicia Vikander and some impressive CGI, in her glass cage.

Despite all the dialogue about Prometheus and Turing, and a score by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow which echoes the notes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the film is best exemplified by how Nathan remembers Ghostbusters – as that movie where the ghost gives Dan Aykroyd a blow-job. Other remarkable scenes include a bit of spectacular discotheque dancing of Nathan with his mute Japanese assistant-servant-slave girl to establish dominance and intimidate Caleb as well as a secretive whisper between Ava and said assistant at a moment of weakness for both of the men which crystallized my reading of the film.

As an act of design and the distance between design and emotion, Ex Machina would make a very good double bill with Spike Jonze’s Her, albeit, Jonze’s film is more optimistic and warm, certainly less grim and grisly (and cool) than Garland’s take. Blade Runner, along with Soderbergh’s Solaris remain, remain, for me, the master-class entries on capturing the ‘feeling’ of it’s subjects consciousness, but Ex Machina more prosaically examines consciousness with a session-debrief narrative structure, and in-text nods to Wittgenstein’s Blue Book, along with discussion of several iconic thought experiments on consciousness. It’s a film and a primer and both work pretty well.

Ex Machina styles itself as a chess match between two men of different ideologies, but really it’s a sex match of dominance for the right to decide the fate of AVA. What makes it is a good bit of science fiction, because it shows just how much our impulses and biology bring out the worst in us, no matter how much technology, concrete or glass we put in between them. Well, that, and the inevitability that women will rule the earth.

MSPIFF 2015 Review: The Keeping Room


There have been hundreds of films about life after war. Dozens about life after The American Civil War. But the consequences of war from the women’s perspective seems few and far between when it comes to the flicker show. Painting a picture of post Civil War America in the south, from the point of view of the women left alone is a wonderful concept. The world depicted is a dreadful hardship and almost surreal in nature. Not all of the parts in this machine work as well within the general idea but it’s competent enough to make a person stop and think about what they saw. And if nothing else, it’s got some tense and exciting (and brutally gruesome) action/thriller moments with muskets and revolvers.

Looking at the image above you might think you’re about to stumble into yet another zombie movie. But you’d be wrong… but in a way, you’d be right. America had ripped itself apart at this moment in time and what was left in some of the country was an utter wasteland. The men in the area were all dead or captured, fled or on some sort of political mission. The women were left fending for themselves. What men are left are drifters, scoundrels and drunkards; looking to kill, loot, rape and burn anything they come across. Which of course is partly due to being exposed to the horrors of war first hand and suffering from a then undiagnosed PTSD. They don’t know how to stop killing.

“War is cruel” opens the picture. This is of course nothing new to audiences but war can be equally cruel to the innocents left behind and the Confederacy left standing (or not standing) feels just like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Straying too far from home might get you killed. Keeping a fire lit or firing a rifle shot might attract unwanted attention from roughians. But the worst scenario is that you’re a woman. Wearing a red shirt in a “Star Trek” episode would be safer than not having a “Y” chromosome upon this landscape. Partly because you’re a vulnerable target, but also because you’re alone. It’s not uncommon for a woman to just shoot herself or throw herself into a river than try to struggle through a seemingly never ending tribulation.
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Blu-Ray Review: Midnight Run

Director: Martin Brest
Screenplay: George Gallo
Starring: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano
Country: USA
Running Time: 126 min
Year: 1988
BBFC Certificate: 18


The majority of films I review are first time watches or at least films that I haven’t seen for a while. This is largely due to the fact that I mainly just review screeners and don’t often take discs offered that I already own. However, when a Midnight Run press release reached me recently I went against the grain, reviewing something I own and saw (for the first time) only a few months ago. I decided to go with it partly because the original DVD release was terribly presented (see the bottom of the page), but also because I really enjoyed the film and couldn’t resist an excuse to watch it again.

Midnight Run is not quite a ‘cult classic’ in the Rocky Horror sense of the phrase. It’s more of an under-appreciated gem that picked up some strong reviews on its release and made a bit of money, but wasn’t really the hit it was expected to be (it came out on the same day as Die Hard which didn’t help) and kind of disappeared from people’s radars over the years. It has picked up a bit of a following though so the fine people over at Second Sight deemed it worthy of a brand spanking new Blu-Ray release.

The film stars Robert De Niro as bounty hunter Jack Walsh, who is hired by bail bondsman Eddie Moscone (Joe Pantoliano) to track down and bring in former Mafia accountant Jonathan “The Duke” Mardukas (Charles Grodin), who has embezzled $15 million from notorious mob boss Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). Jack finds The Duke straight away, but the journey back to prison isn’t so simple because Serrano’s goons are hot on their heels as well as the FBI and another bounty hunter, Marvin Dorfler (John Ashton) who wants in on the action. The unlikely central pair clash during the long journey across the country, but a friendship slowly develops despite their differences and the obvious elephant in the room of Jack’s job and The Duke’s crime.

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MSPIFF 2015 Quick Thoughts: In Order of Disappearance


Stellan Starsgard stars in In Order of Disappearance, an amusing Norwegian gangster tale, written by Kip Fupz Aakeson and directed by Hans Petter Moland. This is the fourth successful collaboration between the director and the actor (Zero Kelvin, Aberdeen, A Somewhat Gentle Man – this last one also written by Aakeson), but only this time it’s Pål Sverre Hagen as the eccentrically neat Mafia boss, who becomes one of the best motives to watch this flick.

Set in Norway, the film opens with the exemplary Nils (Starsgard), a respected Dane who owns a company that provides snow removal services, proudly preparing himself to be awarded the Norwegian ‘Citizen of the Year’ prize. In the same breath, his son Ingvar, employee in a small airfield, is mistakenly kidnapped and forced into a van by two thugs, and then killed with an induced overdose. Unconvinced that his son was a drug addict, the modest Nils leaves the gentleness behind and becomes a merciless hitman, when he finds the gang responsible for his pain. One by one, he starts to eliminate the members of the gang as he tracks them down, but the main goal is to reach the inaccessible mad header, Greven (Hagen), a ruthless man whose only torment is the mother of his bullied son. Soon, Nils realizes that the best to get to him might be through the latter. His successive executions also trigger a gangster war between the local mob and the Serbs with whom they had an agreement to share the airfield for illicit businesses.

Death is the word of order here; you will find so many that will be hard to count them all. Sometimes the film seems to get out of track, but the sarcastic humor (have you heard about Norwegian prisons?) and Greven’s immaculate figure, keep holding out the enjoyable levels.

 

DVD Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenplay: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Country: New Zealand/USA
Running Time: 86 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


Being a fan of Flight of the Conchords and hearing a lot of early buzz about What We Do in the Shadows, the latest film project by one half of the Conchords team, Jemaine Clement, I was desperate to catch it when it was released late last year. Unfortunately it only screened in a handful of theatres so I missed it, but luckily Metrodome have just brought the film out in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray so I snapped up the chance to review it to see if it lived up to the hype.

Written and directed by Clement alongside Eagle vs Shark director Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary looking at the day to day lives of four vampires, Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). They share a flat together in Wellington, New Zealand and leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, a huge annual event for the local undead, the group live out their fairly dull extended lives, sleeping during the daytime and feeding from victims in the evening. During such a night, the guys add another member to the household, when Petyr turns young Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire too. This allows the audience to witness the teething troubles (bad pun intended) of making the transformation as well as adding his human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) into the equation.

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MSPIFF 2015 Review: Slow West


Sadly, American audiences refuse to embrace the western genre as they once did. But don’t tell that to the people of Minneapolis flocking to a packed full screening of John Maclean’s directorial debut, starring the great Michael Fassbender as well as Noah Taylor, Kodi Smit-McPhee and… The Hound; who is likely the harriest man I’ve ever seen. But I digress.

Slow West will offer very little to change the minds of modern day audiences; even if it does attempt, on some levels, to gain their trust and admiration. Clocking in at a cool 85 minutes certainly doesn’t hurt and hiring fairly big names or up-and-comers for the main characters further bodes well. Moments of levity and a simple tale all equal perfect escapist fodder for the modern movie goer. And yet they will resist.

But for fans of the contemporary western, there is a lot to love. The film’s title is apropos of the languid pacing the film has to offer. Despite coming in under an hour and a half, it certainly is in no hurry to get anywhere – and I suppose even if they were in a hurry, horseback through rough terrain and scoundrels would be a tricky thing to maneuver quickly. The plot is ever so simple, yet ever so clever that it’s difficult not to be sucked into the slow build of mayhem sure to come as layers of plot reveal.

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Blu-Ray Review: Massacre Gun

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Screenplay: Yasuharu Hasebe, Ryûzô Nakanishi
Starring: Jô Shishido, Jirô Okazaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Hideaki Nitani, Takashi Kanda
Country: Japan
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15


Similarly to my last review, of Wooden Crosses, you’ll have to excuse me comparing the film I’m reviewing to a similar one seen recently. Back in October I watched and reviewed Youth of the Beast and was blown away by how stylish and mind-bogglingly cinematic it was. Massacre Gun isn’t by the same director (the great Seijun Suzuki), but it’s got the same star and is from the same studio sub-genre, Nikkatsu Noir. These are crime or gangster thrillers in a film noir vein, produced by the famous Japanese studio Nikkatsu, who made a number of these in the late 50’s and 60’s.

Massacre Gun starts with a bang. Mob hitman Kuroda (Jô Shishido) is sent to kill the woman he loves. He dutifully carries out the task before the credits have finished rolling. However, after his youngest brother, aspiring boxer Saburô (Jirô Okazaki), has his hands smashed in after standing up to mob boss Akazawa (Takashi Kanda), Kuroda tells his employer that he wants to quit. Akazawa won’t accept this and makes Kuroda’s life as difficult as possible, prompting him to join his two brothers and take on the mob boss at his own game. This of course has violent consequences.

As that brief synopsis demonstrates, Massacre Gun is a more conventional film than Youth of the Beast and especially Suzuki’s other famous gangster films Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. The revenge and gang warfare angle has been well mined over the years. However, director Yasuharu Hasebe does a decent job and it’s still a great example of the genre. There are a couple of unusual over the top moments too, such as a body rigged with explosives and some unusual scenery such as having one scene set against a beach covered in burning boats.

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