Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960

Indicator continue their Blu-Ray re-releases of the great Ray Harryhausen’s work with this volume containing three of the films he made between 1955 and 1960. It includes glorious HD prints of It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, curiously skipping Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (which has previously been made available on DVD in a set with the first two titles). In my earlier review of the Sinbad Trilogy, I professed my love for Harryhausen’s stop motion creations and how they played a key part in my cinematic upbringing, so I was thrilled to be offered another set of his films to review, particularly since I’d only seen one of them previously (It Came From Beneath the Sea). My thoughts on the three films are below:

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: White God

Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Screenplay: Kornél Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi, Kata Wéber
Starring: Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Lili Horváth
Country: Hungary, Germany, Sweden
Running Time: 117 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15


My friends and Blueprint colleagues Darren and Chris saw White God in Cannes back in 2014 and their description of it and positive review on our podcast put it high up my ‘want to watch’ list. It’s taken a little while to finally come out, but Metrodome picked it up in the UK and it’s just made its way to DVD. I grabbed myself a copy to see if it was worth the wait.

White God sees twelve year old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) go to stay with her estranged father while her mother goes away to a conference overseas. Due to the circumstances and being on the verge of becoming a teenager, she isn’t happy about her dad’s fairly strict rules. The worst of these however, concern her mixed breed dog Hagen. Her dad doesn’t want a dog in his apartment, particularly a mutt like Hagen, so after some heated arguments and an incident at Lili’s orchestra practise he sets the dog free in the backstreets of the city.

So far, so straight forward. However, from this point in the film we split our focus between Lili’s coming of age story and the dog’s own adventure. This is where the film really becomes something special. Hagen struggles to look after himself on the streets, but befriends a feisty terrier (maybe – I’m no good with dog breeds and they’re all mixed anyway) who takes him to join a group of the many strays roaming the city. He manages to evade capture from the pound, but ends up getting picked up by a vagrant and gets passed on to a man who trains fighting dogs. This man sees something in Hagen’s eyes and brutally toughens him up, thinking the dog will be a great success on the cricuit.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Lotta Woods, Douglas Fairbanks, Achmed Abdullah (uncredited), James T. O’Donohoe (uncredited)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Sôjin Kamiyama, Anna May Wong
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks
Country: USA
Running Time: 149 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certificate: U


Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford were thought of as the king and queen of Hollywood back in the 1920’s. As well as finding great success as two of the earliest true movie stars (Pickford in particular is often thought as one of the very first), they set up United Artists (UA) alongside Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith in a bid to have more control over film production, away from the powerful commercial studios. Through UA they were able to create the films they wanted, hiring the best collaborators available to make the finest films they could. Indeed, UA were responsible for many of the most famous films of the era and beyond. The company in fact still produces films now, although they’ve been a bit thin on the ground during the last few years and the company is now in the hands of MGM.

Anyway, I won’t delve into the complicated history of UA, but with this pivotal move, Fairbanks showed he was clearly more than just an actor. He was passionate about film and would go to great lengths to produce work which met his high standards. A lot of his work, as with a disturbingly large number of films from the silent era, has been lost or forgotten. Even his most famous films such as Robin Hood, The Black Pirate and The Mark of Zorro haven’t been given a decent upgrade to modern home video formats (in the UK at least), only showing up on ropey independent releases from companies that have capitalised on their public domain status and plonked any old print onto a disc. Possibly Fairbanks’ most critically successful film (it didn’t totally win over audiences at the time), The Thief of Bagdad has finally been given the release it deserves in the UK though, with Eureka releasing it on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their prestigious Masters of Cinema series. I must admit, largely due to the poor distribution of his work in this country, I’ve never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film before, so I was very excited about checking this one out.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Princess Bride

Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: William Goldman
Based on a Novel by: William Goldman
Starring: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, André the Giant, Fred Savage, Peter Falk
Producers: Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman
Country: USA
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 1987
BBFC Certificate: PG


In the 80’s (and just into 1990), director Rob Reiner had one of the greatest runs of films in the history of filmmaking (in my opinion at least). Being of the generation that experienced them pretty much first hand (on their VHS and first TV runs – I’m a little too young to have caught them on cinema), these were films that helped shape my love of film and still stand up incredibly well. This is Spinal Tap and Stand By Me will probably always be in my top 10-15 films of all time for sheer quality as well as pure enjoyment and nostalgia. Add When Harry Met Sally, Misery, the underrated The Sure Thing and this, The Princess Bride and you’ve got six ‘modern’ classics that all have a huge fanbase. A Few Good Men came next, which a lot of people love too, but for me it wasn’t on a par with those aforementioned titles.

After that, his films steadily declined in quality. I keep hoping for a comeback, but I’m not holding my breath. However, we still have those six greats to go back to time and again – their re-watchability being among many strong points. So that brings us to the well-loved The Princess Bride, which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year with a new feature-packed Blu-Ray edition.

For those of you that haven’t seen The Princess Bride, before you march straight to the nearest shop to buy yourself a copy in shame, here’s a summary of the plot. We open on a young boy (Fred Savage of The Wonder Years fame) who is a bit poorly and bed-bound for the day. His grandfather (Peter Falk of Columbo and A Woman Under the Influence fame) hears of this and comes round to comfort the boy by reading him a story that his own father used to read when he was ill. The video-game loving youngster reluctantly allows this. The story that follows is of Buttercup (Robin Wright), a beautiful young woman whose true love Westley (Cary Elwes) is supposedly murdered at sea by the Dread Pirate Roberts. In her misery she does little to stop the cruel Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) from claiming her for his wife. Whilst awaiting the big day though, she is kidnapped by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn) and his assistants, the sword-master Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) and the giant Fezzik (Andre the Giant). Hot on their trail however is a mysterious masked man who is revealed to be the Dread Pirate Roberts himself. Or could he be someone else entirely?

Would you like to know more…?

Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) HuluPlus (US only) or just on You-Tube, we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Moscow-Cassiopeia

1973 USSR. Director: Richard Vicktorov. Starring: Misha Yershov, Aleksandr Grigoryev, Vladimir Savin.

Clearly, in the early 1970s, episodes of Star Trek, The Prisoner and prints of 2001: A Space Odyssey were sneaking through the Iron Curtain and finding their way into the impressionable minds of filmmakers. Every strange in-camera technique – from the Alien3 Wide-Dolly shot to the kaleidoscopic lens to a fish-eye shot (actually from a fishes eye in this case) – was used in conjunction with some pretty spiffy production design to yield a fun feast for the senses. The film is aimed at children, as the protagonists are 15 year old kids trained up on earth and sent on a 50 year space mission to the star system Cassiopeia such that they will be 40(ish) when the vessel arrives. But these kids are smart, and the script is smart; Einstein’s Space-Time relativity is discussed at length (maybe too much), as is the concept of folding space, and Star Trek’s Holodeck and Q are both effectively used here 16 years before the ST: THe Next Generation Show even was made! It may be a kids adventure, but it is never dumb-ed down. Even sweeter is that the thrust of the character development of this young space crew centres around a folded sheet of paper love note passed around in school. It’s a superbly acted (by actual 15 year olds) and well told story that a lot of care and money were invested – the soundtrack alone is wonderful – and very much worth your while looking up the DVD or watching in 8 parts on Youtube.
-KURT

YouTube

Adolescents in the Universe

1974 USSR. Director: Richard Vicktorov. Starring: Misha Yershov, Aleksandr Grigoryev, Vladimir Savin.

Not wasting any time, and arriving with clearly a lot more money and strange ideas, the sequel to Moscow-Cassiopeia finds our 15 year old crew accidentally breaking the barrier to faster-than-light travel (a fortunately placed worm hole, or the films “Q” – named ASA – meddling again) and arriving at their destination 25 years too early. Here they discover more The Prisoner references (those white security balls), but also a race of albino-bipeds that have been conquered and ousted by their own created machines. The machines want to make their creators so happy that they relieved them of responsibilities, creative impulsiveness, and eventually, the will to live. Looking like Daft Punk (with bell bottoms, and freaky dance moves to boot) the machines split up our intrepid adolescents until they can figure out a way to escape and thwart the fascist/Cylon/AgentSmith regime. Something tells me the production design team for David Lynch’s DUNE spent as much time with Adolescents in the Universe as they did with H.R. Geiger’s concept art. For all the remake-itis going on in Hollywood (in TV land), nothing makes a stronger case for a modern update in long-form TV than Vicktorov’s pair of films. It could be made into the greatest ‘smart-kids’ television, period! As it stands this is a true cult-kid-cinema experience. Watch for the ‘defective obsolete robot ‘husband and wife’ in this one, they are great.
-KURT

YouTube

Would you like to know more…?

Review: AT WORLD’S END

This ridiculously fun adventure flick that combines 1980s style comedy-adventure film a la Romancing The Stone with the mannered deadpan sensibility of Danish comedy. That At World’s End is a Anders Thomas Jensen screenplay is immediately obvious despite the grenades-and-jungle clothing. Shot all over the world, from Copenhagen to Jakharta to Sydney, it is an enthusiastic reminder of why we (I say that as those who grew up in the eighties era of Lucasfilm and Golan-Globus) loved these films, but with more than a few surprises in where it goes and how the story plays out. Deep in the Sumatra jungles, there is a rare flower that (legend has it) provides eternal life for those who consume the pedals on a regular basis. The living proof of the legend is Severin, a European man born in the 19th century (making him 129 years old) living in jungle-isolation with Hedvig (his name for the plant) until a team of BBC documentarians accidently discover the prized possession. Severin is perhaps a bit over-enthusiastic in defending the source of his immortality, and it is not long before there is an international incident between the local government and the Danish consulate. Enter Adrian, (Nicholaj Lie Kaas here a bundle of anxieties and nervous tics) a meek psychologist in mid-career crisis and a closet smoker who was just informed that his mother is dying of lung cancer (a taste of the films humour), is volun-told by his boss to go (along with his pretty, blonde secretary, Beate) down to Jakharta to assess the Severin’s sanity, declare Severin mentally unstable and get the loopy possible citizen (the jungle-man is bearing a 1906 Danish passport) shipped out and away from further bad press. Meanwhile, the local authorities are hell-bent on getting their hands on this miracle-plant.

Would you like to know more…?

DVD Review: Time Bandits

Time Bandits

Director: Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus )
Writers: Michael Palin & Terry Gilliam
Producer: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Craig Warnock, John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, Jim Broadbent
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 116 min.

Though children’s films are still being produced (perhaps in higher numbers than before thanks in large part to the advent of VOD and Direct to DVD releases), the quality of kid friendly fare seems to be on the downward trend. Sure, occasionally something really good comes up (How to Train Your Dragon was a great surprise and Pixar continues to dominate the field – Toy Story 3 (review) being the latest of the studio’s wins) but the 80s has left a plethora of great child friendly entertainment from The Goonies to The Princess Bride. What makes these films that much more special is that they are, for the most part, extremely re-watchable and appealing to both children and adults.

Time Bandits Movie StillOne of the earliest of the bunch is Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. Originally released in 1981, it continues to be the director’s most successful film to date but beyond that, it hints at many of the visuals and even a few ideas that later came to permeate through films like Brazil and Twelve Monkeys.

The story of a young boy who is drawn into the adventures of a band of dwarves as they use a magical map they have stolen from the supreme being to jump from time to time in search of treasure to steal, Time Bandits is a gem even if you’re seeing it for the first time (as I did) nearly 30 years after its original release.
Would you like to know more…?

Ben Kingsley Goes Epic

BenKingsleyI love period epics, especially those that incorporate romance with action over a sweeping story from some period of time I’m not familiar with and it looks like Sir Ben Kingsley is about to fulfill that void.

According to Variety, Kingsley and his gorgeous wife Daniela Lavender are on board to star in one such epic. Taj is the story of Shah Jahan, a 17th century Indian Mughal emperor and his rocky relationship with Persian princess and wife Kandahari Begum. Jahan is best known for building the Taj Mahal as a gift to his beautiful wife and if the building is any indication of their relationship, this is new project is bound to be a glamorously gorgeous epic (plus the budget of $25 to $30 million doesn’t exactly suggest this will be shoestring budget though for an epic it’s also not a whole hell of a lot of money).

There’s no word on who’ll direct the project but Kingsley is on board to star and produce and British playwright, novelist and actor David Ashton has written the script which, I assume, will also be directed by a Brit.

Can’t wait to see who they rope in for directing duties!

Danny Boyle Tackles the Self-Amputating Mountaineer Story

DannyBoyleThere’s a lot to love about Danny Boyle but the thing that keeps me coming back is the simple fact that Boyle is a chameleon, constantly trying his hand at new stories, often in different genres.

The Boyle camp has been relatively quiet since the release of last year’s feel good hit Slumdog Millionaire but that all changed earlier today when Variety ran news of a new project from Boyle and once again, it surprises. This time around, Boyle will be directing 127 Hours which will tell the story of mountaineer Aron Ralston. So who is this Ralston and what has he done to garner an entire film? Ralston was 27 and hiking in the Utah wilderness when an accident left him trapped with one arm pinned under a 1,000 pound boulder. After five days of immobility, he made the ultimate sacrifice and tying a tourniquet on his arm, he started to slice away just above his elbow with a dull knife. Ralston eventually cut through and escaped into the wilderness where he was found by a family and eventually rescued by helicopter.

It sounds like a great story but I’m not sure how this is going to work as a film. A guy trapped under a boulder for 5 days? He can’t move so there’s no exploration of nature, there’s no one to talk to so what’s left? You can only show a guy slowly cutting his arm off for a short period of time before the audience gets bored so what’s left? Ralston talking to himself? Some wicked pain induced trips? I’m not sure but I’m curious to find out.

127 Hours will start shooting next year for a release in late 2010.

So who’s going to jump at the opportunity to work with Boyle? The role of Ralston is a good one for a young actor with acting chops or a new comer looking to break into the business. The Variety Blog points to rumours that Ryan Gosling may be in the running for the role and he’d certainly be a good choice. Anyone else care to through a name into the hat?

VIFF 09 Review: Wah Do Dem (What They Do)

viff09bannerReviews

WahDoThemMovieStill

I’m still not sure what inspired me to see Wah Do Dem (What They Do). Was it the odd sounding title? Norah Jones’ name in the credits or the interesting sounding synopsis; take your pick as any one of those may be correct. As the film opened, I started to think that perhaps I’d made a grievous mistake. The characters were a little too hipster for me, the music wasn’t what I’d expected and the acting even less but already comfortable in my seat, I thought to give the film a try.

Max wins a Jamaican cruise. For a year he and his girlfriend have been planning the trip which will give them free access to Jamaica aboard a liner which will provide all the food they can eat and the R&R they may need except a few days before the trip, Max gets dumped. After unsuccessful attempts to convince any of his friends to go with him, the lure of Jamaica is just too good to pass up and he decides to take the trip alone. When the ship finally arrives, Max takes off for the tourist free areas of the city, meets a few locals, goes to a beach and loses his stuff. If that’s not bad enough, he also misses his ride back to the US and ends up with no money and no clothes or shoes (other than the swim trunks he’s wearing) on a trek to the American embassy in Kingston, four hours away.

Would you like to know more…?

VIFF 09 Review: The Girl

viff09bannerReviews

TheGirlMovieStill

Fredrik Edfeldt’s feature debut is the type of film I long for and rarely get: a beautifully shot film which captures as much emotion and story from silence as it does from any dialogue.

The Girl is a simple story of a 9 ½ year old girl that through a series of events ends up alone while the rest of her family goes on a mission to Africa. But this is noHome Alone full of comedic adventure instead, it’s the story a look at the worlds we create as children, the observations, choices and mistakes we make all of which help shape the adults we later become.

Would you like to know more…?