Blu-Ray Review: The Day of the Jackal

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Screenplay: Kenneth Ross
Based on a Book by: Frederick Forsyth
Starring: Edward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair, Derek Jacobi
Country: UK, France
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: 15


The Day of the Jackal is a film I haven’t seen since pre-DVD days when I had it on VHS. I saw it a couple of times back in the day and have fond memories of it, so I was more than pleased to hear Arrow announce they were giving it their thorough spit and polish treatment and unleashing it into the HD world.

Based on the bestselling novel by Frederick Forsyth of the same name, The Day of the Jackal tells of a fictional attempt in 1962 on the life of French President Charles de Gaulle. He had many detractors at the time (in reality) due to his handling of the Algerian War, so many failed assassination attempts were made, usually by the OAS (Organisation armée secrète – “an underground organization formed mainly from French military personnel supporting a French Algeria” according to Wikipedia). In the book/film, in a final bid to successfully kill the president, the OAS secretly hire a professional assassin known only as ‘The Jackal’ (Edward Fox) from overseas to do the job alone, so that informers/spies can’t put a stop to it as had been the case previously.

The film follows the Jackal’s careful work planning and implementing the assassination. This is intercut with the police efforts to find him. They call up “the best detective on the force”, Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), who works day and night to track down the Jackal with the help of his assistant Caron (a young Derek Jacobi).

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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: The Guyver

Director: Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang
Screenplay: Jon Purdy
Based on Characters by: Yoshiki Takaya
Starring: Jack Armstrong, Vivian Wu, Mark Hamill, David Gale, Michael Berryman
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 15


With the live action remake of Ghost in the Shell just around the corner, I thought it might be appropriate to look at an earlier Hollywood adaptation of a popular manga and anime, The Guyver. Back in 1991, cult horror producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, From Beyond and director of Society) gave two special effects/make-up masters, Screaming Mad George (Society) and Steve Wang (Predator), a chance to direct their first film together. Supposedly each took on different scenes themselves rather than working together on set. The result is this action sci-fi oddity, which Arrow Video have re-released on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD.

The Guyver opens with the scientist Dr. Segawa (Greg Joung Paik) on the run. He’s taken a secret biomechanical device known as the Guyver from the lab to keep it out of the hands of his evil boss Fulton Balcus (David Gale), who has been experimenting on humans to develop military secrets. Segawa is killed by Balcus’ henchmen, but not before he hides the Guyver with the intention of giving it to detective Max Reed (Mark Hamill). A young loser called Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) finds it first though, and, after a run in with some thugs, it fuses with his body, turning him into The Guyver. So from then on, Balcus and his goons (who are mutants that can turn into powerful monsters at will), along with Reed and Dr. Segawa’s daughter Mizky (Vivian Wu) all want their hands on Barker to unlock the device’s secrets.

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Friday One Sheet: The Girl On The Train

A simple, but quite lovely, design for the upcoming adaptation of the novel, The Girl On The Train. I have not read the book, but clearly the designers are aimed at ‘you will not see what is coming’ with the zipper/train motif on a woman’s back, as she faces away from us. They used the stylized type from the cover of the source novel, fine, but why use a different font (and colour) everywhere else? Not entirely sure. It’s a quibble in an otherwise pretty striking, yet delightfully minimal poster.

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Ran

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide
Based on ‘King Lear’ by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu
Country: Japan, France
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 12A


There are only a very small number of directors who have a fully ‘clean’ track record in my eyes (not including newcomers or those who died young). Even filmmakers like Spielberg or Scorsese, whose films I largely adore, have the odd clunker here and there or seem to have lost their touch over time. Akira Kurosawa however has blown me away with every film of his I’ve seen. Admittedly I’m far off watching everything he’s released, so I’m sure one or two of his lesser known titles won’t have the same impact, but I’ve watched a fairly healthy 8 from his filmography and haven’t been disappointed yet.

Ran, often considered his final masterpiece, is a film I first and, until now, last saw at least 15 years ago. At the time I did like it, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated it as I can remember feeling ever so slightly disappointed. I think it was the weight of expectation behind seeing it. I’d heard great things and from stills I was expecting an epic action extravaganza, but the battle scenes only make up a relatively small portion of the running time. What also probably didn’t help is that I saw it on VHS (probably in pan & scan) as DVD’s were only just beginning to grow in popularity at the time and high definition home viewing was but a dream. So I was delighted to be offered the chance to review Studiocanal’s new 4K restoration of the film, which is coming to cinemas, Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK. It gave me a chance to revisit the film with a more mature and clearer eye.

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Review: Paper Towns

Dramatic romantic moment
Dramatic romantic moment

Director: Jake Schreier (Robot & Frank)
Writer: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber, John Green (novel)
Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Starring: Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Austin Abrams, Justice Smith, Halston Sage, Jaz Sinclair
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 109 min.


There’s a moment in the third act of Paper Towns where I felt like looking away, rolling up into a tight ball, putting my head to my knees and just rocking back and forth until the pain of the truth went away. I remember being a teenager confronted by the reality of one sided love. It took me longer than a few hours to get over the rejection and realization that there was more to the world than being turned away by long-time crush. In that moment, during that confrontation between Quentin and his best pal Ben, that memory came rushing back like it had just happened yesterday.

You may never have read a John Green novel but chances are your teenage daughter has. Green has turned into the unlikely voice of a generation or perhaps more accurately, a guy in his late 30’s who can talk to a generation of teens in a way they can both understand and relate to (or as The New Yorker put it “The Teen Whisperer”). That has translated into success at the box office and while Paper Towns doesn’t induce an emotional breakdown complete with tears and snot, it does hit home in a more poignant way. At least for adults. I’m not sure how well a movie set in today’s high school climate but which makes zero reference to social media, will play with teens.

Paper Towns feels a lot like a John Hughes movie. In familiar teen movie trope style, the kids can be boiled down to one label; the jock, the geek, the pretty one. They’re all characters we know or knew in our day and the way they come together is both ludicrous and charmingly believable. Who doesn’t want adventure in their last weeks of high school? In this case, the adventure unfolds as Quentin and his friends go on a two day road trip to New York State in search of Margo Roth Spiegelman; one of the most popular girls in school and Quentin’s long time crush, who has simply vanished. The movie takes a bit of time to get going – the set-up of Quentin and Margo’s history and their last night together spreads over the first half in a sprawling, mildly interesting way but once the crew decides on the road trip, Paper Towns really finds its groove.

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VIFF 2014 Review: Elephant Song

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ElephantSong

If there is one person winning at VIFF this year, it’s got to be Canadian bad boy Xavier Dolan. Not only has he impressed the crowd with his stunning directorial effort Mommy but he’s appeared in no less than two other films screening at the festival. The first, a middling drama from Daniel Grou (the only memorable part of that film are the performances, particularly that of Dolan) and now Elephant Song, a period drama based on a play of the same name.

Directed by Charles Binamé, Elephant Song stars Dolan as Michael Aleen, a troubled young man committed to an asylum and his afternoon chat with Dr. Toby Green (Bruce Greenwood). Dr. Green isn’t Michael’s regular shrink but he’s been asked to speak to the boy to try and find out where his regular doctor has disappeared to. In the two hours that follow, Dolan and Greenwood banter back and forth, mostly in circles, and Michael slowly shares personal details about his past. Apparently Greenwood can’t just read the file because he left his glasses at home…yeah.
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Review: The Fault in Our Stars

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Director: Josh Boone (Stuck In Love)
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Webe, John Green (book)
Producer: Brendan Prost
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Laura Dern, Sam Trammell, Willem Dafoe
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 125 min.


Cancer sucks and generally speaking, movies about cancer suck. They’re saccharin and overtly manipulative of emotions and show you beautiful people dying and those around them suffering and in the end there’s a moment of happiness when you remember the dead soul who so deeply touched the life/lives of the central characters in the short time they knew the sickly person. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly that movie. The only difference here is that this features such charismatic performances that it doesn’t feel like emotional manipulation but more like some sort of catharsis.

Emerging writing superstars Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber are starting to corner the market on touching teen dramas starring Shailene Woodley. Last year they were behind the script for the much loved The Spectacular Now and here they are again adapting from John Green’s best selling novel about cancer kinds falling in love. Hazel (Woodley) is really sick and Gus (Ansel Elgort) is in remission. The pair meet at support group and immediately strike up a friendship that later develops into romance before tragedy strikes. After all, you can’t have a movie about cancer without some sort of tragedy (because having cancer isn’t tragedy enough).

The thing is that in the case of The Fault in Our Stars, the tragedy and emotion that goes with it works. Part of it is the fact that Green’s novel has a streak of bluntness running through it. It’s not all good moments and bad moments but a mix of the two, comedy hand-in-hand with tragedy, and Hazel and Gus tackle life with a sarcasm and sense of mortality that is refreshing. They talk about death, about what comes after (if anything) about the limitless living one can do in our limited time on earth and rather than feel sorry for the sick kids, I couldn’t help but think about what I’m doing with my life. Nothing like seeing young people suffer and possibly die to make you consider if you’ve done enough with your 30 years on earth.

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Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Director: Bryan Singer (Valkyrie, Superman Returns, X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United)
Screenplay: Simon Kinberg
Producers: Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker, Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 131 min.


One would think that after successfully re-launching the X-Men with a new A-list cast a couple of years ago, the studio would stick to that cast but as is common with comic books, it seems that creators are always jumping around timelines, characters and stories, it’s only appropriate that a sequel that brings director Bryan Singer back into the fold would not only involve time travel but also include nearly every member, past and present, of the X-Men movie franchise. Looking on the surface, you’d think this is the movie to end the entire franchise rather than a next step.

X-Men: Days of Future Past opens somewhere in the 2020’s in a future that is dark, ugly, foreboding and just generally unpleasant. Kitty Pryde and her team of mutants are fighting apparently unstoppable robots who are able to adapt to the mutants they are fighting. Most of the mutants die. Except they don’t because jump forward a while and Pryde is now meeting up with Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine and Storm to explain her time-travel tactic. Everyone on screen seems to follow the explanation (though I still don’t really get it) and a plan is hatched to send Wolverine back to the 70s to change the past which will also change the future – they hope – for the better.

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Trailer: Gone Girl

David Fincher is back after a hiatus with TV (the first few episodes on House of Cards Season 1) with Gone Girl, the movie adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel of the same name. The film stars Ben Affleck as a man who becomes the prime suspect in a murder when his wife vanishes. The signature urine-yellow lighting, dwarfing the characters in architecture and media spaces are all present, but I am not alone in finding the musical choice here to undermine instead of underscore the mood. Your mileage may vary. You know my bum is in a cinema seat the moment this comes out, when the director finds himself in that Zodiac kind of mood.

Further question, is the final shot of the trailer a spoiler, or a red herring? I’ve not read the book, but it seems a daring thing to do and an easy thing to play coy with the non-book readers. Please consider the question rhetorical and withhold spoilers.

Trailer: Venus In Fur

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Though I really enjoyed Roman Polanski’s Carnage some thought the movie to be a bit soft around the edges; not quite biting and funny enough to really make it work. As if in response, Polanski’s new movie takes a similar play-to-screen story, this time with only two characters, and really appears to have sharpened the edges to laser fine precision.

Based on David Ives’ play (and previously Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel), Venus in Fur stars Emmanuelle Seigner (likely best known as the caring nurse from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) as an actress trying to convince the director of an upcoming production that she is the best performer for the role. She is re-teamed here with Diving Bell co-star Mathieu Amalric though this time, they seem more at odds with each other than caring.

The trailer looks rather promising; I love one room dramas with bite and this one looks like it will deliver nicely.

Venus In Fur opens, according to the distributor, in April though I can’t find an exact date of release.