Blu-Ray Review: The Sinbad Trilogy

Being a big Star Wars fan from a fairly young age, I used to think of that trilogy as being what turned me into the obsessive lover of film I am today. However, a few years ago when I watched Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan I realised there was a set of films I fell in love with before I discovered George Lucas’ world of lightsabers and space battles, and those were the fantasy films featuring the work of the great stop-motion legend Ray Harryhausen. Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans and the Sinbad trilogy were mind-blowing to me as a young pre-teen and I made sure I watched all of them whenever they showed up on TV, which was quite often back in the late 80s and early 90s. Nostalgia can be a cruel beast though, so although I was thrilled to hear that the amazing team at Indicator were set to release Harryhausen’s Sinbad Trilogy on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD, I was slightly worried that the films wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. There was only one way to find out, so I marathon watched the three films over three nights on a borrowed projector to get the full big screen experience.

Here’s what I thought of each film:

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Blu-Ray Review: The Sorrow and the Pity

Director: Marcel Ophüls
Screenplay: André Harris, Marcel Ophüls
Starring: Georges Bidault, Matthäus Bleibinger, Charles Braun, Maurice Buckmaster, Emmanuel d’Astier de la Vigerie
Country: France, Switzerland, West Germany
Running Time: 249 min
Year: 1969
BBFC Certificate: E


Choosing to request a copy of the documentary The Sorrow and the Pity to review was a case of feeling I should watch the film rather than me wanting to watch it. The title for starters doesn’t suggest you’re in for an easy night in front of the TV. Then you’ve got the length. At a little over four hours, it’s a hefty slab of documentary and not easy to get through in one go (I watched it over 3 nights, but only because I was far too tired to concentrate the first night – 2 would have been fine and the film is split in 2 parts to accommodate this). Nonetheless, I’d heard it often called one of the greatest documentaries ever made so, being a fan of the genre, I felt I ought to have seen the film, so I semi-reluctantly asked for a copy.

What also didn’t help my low level of enthusiasm was that I thought the film was about the Holocaust, which doesn’t make for easy viewing and is a subject that has been well covered elsewhere (particularly in the even lengthier Shoah). However, I was misinformed (or rather hadn’t read into it properly). The film is about France during WWII, so the Holocaust does feature and much time is spent on the subject of the Nazi’s anti-semitism. The core subject matter however, is the examination of Germany’s occupation of France between 1940 and 1944. Once I realised this was the case (shortly before finally putting the film on), I became less reluctant to watch it. A lot of films and documentaries have covered WWII and various aspects of the war over the decades that followed. However, other than Casablanca and the TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo, which are hardly documentaries or even ‘based on true events’ for that matter, I’ve personally never seen the occupation covered in much detail on film.

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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: The Fisher King – Criterion Collection

Director: Terry Gilliam
Screenplay: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Mercedes Ruehl, Amanda Plummer
Country: USA
Running Time: 137 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 15


The Fisher King is a film I thought I’d seen before, but wasn’t sure. After watching it again for this review I found myself remembering several moments, but I’m still not sure I’d seen it from start to finish. Regardless, I’m glad I definitely got through it all last week as I thought it was great.

The Fisher King centres around Jack (Jeff Bridges), a self-centred and cruel ‘shock-jock’ DJ whose career is on a high as he’s set to take the lead role in a TV sitcom. However, when he gives some insensitive advice to a listener, causing the man to gun down several people in a restaurant, his world comes crashing down and he retreats into a depression. One night, when he’s drunk and feeling particularly low, he decides to commit suicide, but before he attempts to do so, a couple of young thugs attack him. He’s saved by a group of homeless people led by Parry (Robin Williams), a particularly unhinged man who thinks he’s a knight on a quest to recover the Holy Grail, which he believes is kept in a ‘castle’ in New York. Jack tries to get away from Parry as quickly as he can at first, but learns that Parry’s wife was shot and killed in front of his eyes, during the massacre caused by Jack’s poor on-air advice. This shocking incident is what caused Parry’s current mental state, so Jack feels responsible and wants to help the man somehow. Initially he tries to solve the problem with money, but Parry doesn’t care about that and it doesn’t make Jack feel any better about the situation either, so he sets about trying to make a better life for Parry in other ways, which in turn he hopes will improve his own mental stability. The primary goal is to set Parry up with the woman he’s fallen in love with from afar, the mousey, socially awkward and clumsy Lydia (Amanda Plummer).

Terry Gilliam is a director who has famously had problems getting films made (or at least released) the way he wants them, or in some cases even made at all. He’d had particularly bad luck with the two films he made prior to The Fisher King, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. These were both quite ambitious projects, involving a lot of special effects and elaborate production design, which might explain why The Fisher King was more grounded in reality on a relatively more intimate scale. It seems to have been a relatively smooth production and post-production process for Gilliam too. That’s not to say the film plays against the director’s usual style though. Gilliam visualises Parry’s Arthurian fantasies, most notably the Red Knight, his nemesis. This frightening creation, always on horseback, covered in red flowing material and breathing fire, represents Parry’s inner demons and is used highly effectively, particularly in a key scene towards the end which also features some shocking flashbacks of the restaurant massacre where Parry’s wife was killed.

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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: Diabolique – Criterion Collection

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Screenplay: René Masson, Frédéric Grendel, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jérôme Géronimi
Based on a Novel by: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Starring: Simone Signoret, Véra Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel
Country: France
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 1955
BBFC Certificate: 12


Diabolique seems an odd film for Criterion to choose to release in the UK as part of their collection of exquisite Blu-Ray re-releases of classic films. That’s not to say Diabolique doesn’t deserve to be part of the Criterion Collection. It’s a highly respected film from an equally respected director. However, another boutique Blu-Ray label, Arrow Academy, turned their hand to it only three years ago (albeit under the film’s alternative title, Les Diaboliques). I haven’t actually watched that release, so can’t compare, but knowing Arrow’s reputation, it’s probably equally as well remastered and seems to have a couple of equally as decent special features included. Nevertheless, it’s a film worthy of attention and I’d not seen it for a few years, so I didn’t hesitate to request a copy to review for you all here.

In Diabolique, Christina (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole (Simone Signoret) are an unlikely pair who plot to kill Christina’s husband, a cruel headmaster named Michel (Paul Meurisse). They’re an odd couple because Nicole was Michel’s mistress and Christina is perfectly aware of this. The twisted Michel makes no secret of it and this, on top of his constant belittling and humiliation of Christina, drive the women to the drastic measure of committing murder. Their plan, driven largely by the cold and calculated Nicole, seems to go relatively smoothly until Michel’s body goes missing. As Christina’s fear of being caught builds on top of her mounting guilt, her sanity and already weak heart are tested to their limits.

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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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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales


Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki, Bandidas)
Writer: Jeff Nathanson
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, Paul McCartney
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 129 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Remember 14 years ago when there was a movie coming out based on the Pirates of the Caribbean theme park ride and everyone thought it was going to be terrible and then it ended up being pretty darn good? And now all these years later the fifth one has been released and everyone assumed it would be terrible and it really, really is? Funny how that works. There are so many reasons why Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is one of the worst movies of the year, and the absolute nadir of this franchise that has milked the goodwill of its one good entry to death and very far beyond. There’s the diminishing returns of seeing the exact same procedure of some new mythical MacGuffin that suddenly every pirate on the seas is determined to get. The equally diminishing returns of the endless parade of over-elaborate and drastically over-long action sequences that start dumb and end maddeningly dull.

Of course there’s also the bitter taste of watching professional scumbag Johnny Depp sleepwalking his way through another bland performance on his way to reclaiming his title as the most overpaid actor in Hollywood. The unfortunate pain of seeing Javier Bardem continue to squander his talents on roles that turn him into a joke in movies that sully his filmography. The cruelty of Golshifteh Farahani following up her delightful role in one of the best movies of last year (watch Paterson if you haven’t) with a wasted part in one of the worst movies of this one. The hilarious realization that in casting the son of Orlando Bloom’s character, the makers of this movie somehow managed to find an actor even more boring than Orlando Bloom (in ten years everyone will have trouble remembering who Brenton Thwaites was). The hilariously dumb and ridiculously convenient reveal that could only be considered surprising by taking into account the fact that the audience would surely never think that this movie would pull something so random and silly out of its ass, and then they double down by immediately trying to milk it for maximum sentimental value (it doesn’t work).

Dead Men Tell No Tales is a movie with no shortage of flaws, and really no existence of positive qualities, but the biggest offense of all is the way that they cheaply teased the audience with the promise that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley would be returning in this movie. After the sour reception to the fourth movie raised a black cloud above the franchise, they knew they needed a reach like bringing back the fan adored lovebirds to build some goodwill here. The return of the two was hyped up plenty, and even featured in the marketing. Which makes it an egregious insult when you watch the movie and discover that Bloom only appears in a flashback scene that opens the film and then not again until the very last scene. As for Knightley? Well, I hope you enjoyed her brief appearance running up that hill in the marketing campaign for the movie because that’s literally the only appearance she has in the movie. I struggle to think of any way that a movie this year will be able to insult its fans more significantly than Dead Men Tell No Tales has, but in 2017 I won’t put it past anything. They’ve certainly set a high bar, though.