Blu-Ray Review: The Party

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, Frank Waldman
Starring: Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Herb Ellis, Denny Miller, J. Edward McKinley, Steve Franken
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: PG


The Party is a film that has a strange personal relevance to me. I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it fully before watching this screener (although afterwards I felt pretty sure I had), but it’s a film I know best from some catchphrases (particularly “birdy num nums”) that my uncles used to quote with my dad. Due to this, I felt I had to take up the offer of reviewing the film, to better know this title that obviously had a big impact on my family.

The Party takes quite a simple premise and simply lets it play for the duration of its running time. Peter Sellers stars as Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian bit-part actor working in Hollywood whose clumsiness ruins a film shoot. The director (Herb Ellis) rings his producer Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) to ask him to make sure Hrundi never works in Hollywood again, but Clutterbuck’s secretary accidentally takes Hrundi’s name as being down to invite to the producer’s exclusive party. The bulk of the film takes place at this party where Hrundi gets into all manner of trouble and social faux pas, helping the gathering degenerate into chaos. During all of this, Hrundi falls for aspiring actress Michèle Monet (Longet), who’s also having a hard time at the party due to her rude and aggressive date.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Howling

Director: Joe Dante
Screenplay: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Based on a Novel by: Gary Brandner
Starring: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens
Country: USA
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1981
BBFC Certificate: 18


Hollywood has a history of releasing two similarly themed films to fight for an audience in the same year (memorably, 1998 had a double bill of double bills with A Bug’s Life competing against Antz and Armageddon up against Deep Impact). Back in 1981 it was the battle of the werewolves, with three films released that featured the mythological creatures – An American Werewolf in London, Wolfen and The Howling. Wolfen was the most expensive of the three but bombed and is largely forgotten these days. An American Werewolf made the most money, but The Howling hit theatres first and was still fairly successful (particularly as it cost far less to make than the other two). It certainly went on to spawn the greater legacy, with its seven sequels and a remake coming soon. That said, it’s always stood in the shadow of An American Werewolf, especially since both films take a humorous approach to the subgenre. I couldn’t help but compare the two either, so my review is definitely affected by the fact that I’m a fan of John Landis’ film and have seen it quite a few times, whereas this viewing of The Howling was a first time watch.

The Howling opens with newswoman Karen White (Dee Wallace) being tailed by police as she goes to meet a possible serial killer, Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo), who is obsessed with her. The killer is shot dead whilst he tries to sexually assault Karen, who is left disturbed by the experience. It affects her marriage and work, so she is sent to a retreat called The Colony by her TV station’s resident doctor, George Waggner (Patrick Macnee), who runs it. Once there, her husband Bill (Christopher Stone) gets bitten by a wolf and starts acting strangely. Meanwhile, a couple of Karen’s colleagues, Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), investigate Eddie for a story, but find his body missing from the morgue and uncover links between him and the Colony, so Terry heads over there to warn Karen. As more werewolves crop up, it becomes difficult to say who’s in danger from who.

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Blu-Ray Review: Mindhorn

Director: Sean Foley
Screenplay: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby
Starring: Julian Barratt, Simon Farnaby, Essie Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Coogan, Russell Tovey, Richard McCabe
Country: UK
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


For some reason I don’t watch many new comedies these days (other than animated family films I watch with my kids). I’m not sure why, I love a good comedy. I think it’s because I don’t go out to the cinema as much as I used to, so when I do it’s restricted to big visual spectacles or critically lauded films. The films I choose to review tend to be acclaimed classics or dark and violent cult films too, so my film watching habits of late tend to be rather serious. So, it was a breath of fresh air to be offered a copy of Mindhorn to review. I’m a fan of much of the work of Baby Cow Productions, the company who produced it, and a collection of their regular troop of British comics were involved, including Steve Coogan as well as the writers/stars Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby. Most of the talent are better known for their TV work, and it can be difficult to make the transition to the big screen, but Coogan and Baby Cow’s recent upgrade of their Alan Partridge character to feature length worked pretty well so I was willing to give this a chance.

Mindhorn sees Barratt play Richard Thorncroft, an actor who found fame playing a detective called Bruce Mindhorn on a cheesy 80s cop show set on the Isle of Man. The film is set in the modern day though, and we learn that Thorncroft blew it all after the show fizzled out, hitting the bottle and badmouthing his colleagues when he believed he’d got a shot in Hollywood. Now he’s doing adverts for compression stockings and girdles, and is deluded in thinking people still recognise him from his heyday. A chance to be back in the public eye appears though when a serial killer who calls himself ‘The Kestrel’ leaves a message for the police saying he’s only willing to deal with detective Bruce Mindhorn. Thorncroft is called up to help deal with the situation and he grabs the opportunity to get his face on TV once again. The case brings him to the Isle of Man though, where the past comes back to haunt him. Most notably his ex-girlfriend Patricia DeVille (Effie Davies) still lives there with her husband, Thorncroft’s former stuntman, Clive Parnevik (Farnaby) and her daughter, who Thorncroft believes is his. Whilst dredging up the past, the murder case takes a few twists and turns, which throws Thorncroft into some real life danger.

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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: Tampopo – Criterion Collection

Director: Jûzô Itami
Screenplay: Jûzô Itami
Starring: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Ken Watanabe, Kôji Yakusho, Rikiya Yasuoka
Country: Japan
Running Time: 114 min
Year: 1985
BBFC Certificate: 15


I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Tampopo. I’d heard mention of it, always in a positive sense, so I was keen to see it. I was aware that it was a film about food too, but other than that I hadn’t a clue what I was in for when I put this fantastic new Criterion Blu-Ray into my player. I’m glad I didn’t know much either as this glorious offbeat film blew me away.

The core of the film sees truckers Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) head into a ramen shop late one rainy night. They are unimpressed by the ramen, but Goro is fascinated by the attractive and determined owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). So when she asks Goro to help improve her cooking and bring new life to the shop she inherited from her dead husband, he accepts. He can’t do it alone though, as he’s no expert, so enlists the help of Gun and several other quirky characters he knows and meets in the city.

Alongside this story, the film oftens heads off on various tangents as the camera follows characters walking past our main protagonists. These lead to short scenes/skits surrounding people’s love of food, how it plays a part in their lives and unusual aspects of food etiquette. These are generally led by fresh new characters, but the mysterious Man in the White Suit (Kôji Yakusho), a gangster type with a sexual fetish for food, reappears several times.

In fact, this character opens the film. He and his food-sex loving mistress (Fukumi Kuroda) enter a cinema, followed by an entourage who lay out a gourmet feast. The man then talks directly to us, the audience, about eating during a film and his annoyance at those making too much noise, before waxing lyrical about the ‘short film’ you see in your dying moments.

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Blu-Ray Review: Drunken Master

Director: Woo-Ping Yuen
Screenplay: Hua-An Hsi, See-Yuen Ng
Starring: Jackie Chan, Siu Tin Yuen, Jang Lee Hwang, Dean Shek, Linda Lin, Kau Lam
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 111 min
Year: 1978
BBFC Certificate: 15


Regular readers will know I love martial arts movies. My interest in the genre began back when I was a kid and I saw a cut version of Enter the Dragon on TV (nunchucks weren’t allowed to be shown in films/TV in the UK back then). I was already a fan of action movies, but the athleticism of the hand to hand combat blew me away. For some reason though (possibly because at the time I watched nothing but obvious classics and anything that got 5 stars in mainstream magazines like Empire) I didn’t think to delve further into the genre to find more titles that elicited such excitement. When I was 17 though, The Matrix came out and once again I found myself amazed by martial arts on film and not long after I finally picked up an old classic of the genre, Drunken Master. Well, as much as I enjoyed the other two films I mentioned, Drunken Master truly made my jaw drop. From then on there was no satiating my appetite for kung-fu movies and there still isn’t. It truly opened the doors to classic kung fu films for me and the film will always hold a special place in my heart because of it. Plus, few martial arts movies have bettered it in terms of action these near 40 years on. So, of course when Eureka announced Drunken Master was to be added to their prestigious Masters of Cinema label, I practically jumped for joy.

The film’s lead character, played by the incomparable Jackie Chan, is the Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. Still an arrogant teenager, his martial arts skills are pretty good, but he’s not quite the master he is set to become in later years and wastes his talents on goofing around, picking street fights and making unwanted advances on young women. After getting into trouble one too many times, his father Kei-Ying (Kau Lam) sends him away to be set straight by his uncle, who’s nicknamed Beggar So (Siu Tin Yuen). This master of the 8-Drunken Genii kung-fu is notorious for crippling his students, so Fei-Hung tries his best to escape, but ends up having to endure So’s brutal training regime. When both of them are humiliated though and Fei-Hung discovers the true strength of drunken boxing, the young master must prove himself against the highly skilled assassin Yim Tit-sam (Jang Lee Hwang).

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Review: Going in Style

Director: Zach Braff (Garden State, Wish I Was Here)
Story: Edward Cannon
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi
Producer: Donald De Line
Starring: Joey King, Ann-Margret, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Christopher Lloyd, Matt Dillon, John Ortiz, Kenan Thompson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 96 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


Hollywood has truly hit a point now where basically anything is ripe for a remake or reboot or revival, whatever they decide on calling it, with the end result ultimately being dredging up some title from the vault for a new coat of paint on the same old shell. We’ve gotten now to the extreme of seeing remakes of remakes, like last year’s Magnificent Seven and the upcoming Scarface. Instead of using acclaimed, still popular and widely seen sources like those though, which tend to give off the stench of being made primarily for monetary reasons, the more enticing remakes (which is admittedly a bit of an oxymoron) are ones of films that had solid concepts that maybe didn’t reach their full potential, or ones of films that have been long forgotten and aren’t known these days by the large majority of viewers. Going In Style would be an example of the latter, remaking the 1979 Martin Brest film starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg, which was a minor hit in its day but has faded from the public awareness in the decades since.

The tale of three down on their luck pensioners who plot to rob a bank, this version stars Oscar winners Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, and is quite bizarrely directed by Zach Braff of all people, from a script by Hidden Figures writer/director Theodore Melfi. Thankfully, Braff holds off on the whimsy and indie cliches that have defined his previous directing efforts, instead delivering a straightforward and feel good little comedy that banks on the appeal of its starring trio more than anything else. In that regard it works in spades, as all three actors bring a different flavor to the mix that makes for a pleasant concoction, and they have wonderful chemistry with one another. Freeman brings his sage wisdom and gravitas, Caine is the suave gangster with dry British wit, and Arkin (who oddly starred in the similarly themed Stand Up Guys a few years back with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken) is the boisterous wild card who gets all of the biggest laughs.
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Blu-Ray Review: Swiss Army Man

Director: ‘The Daniels’ – Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Screenplay: Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
Starring: Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Country: USA, Sweden
Running Time: 97 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


Swiss Army Man is a film that rode in on a wave of hype after several festival screenings, but I feel it’s hype that both helped and hindered it. Becoming known as ‘the farting corpse movie’, or variations of that, helped give the film a great amount of publicity, but I think many might have dismissed it due to this over-simplified description. Sounding like an even lower brow version of Weekend at Bernies, the film can’t have appealed to the more ‘sophisticated’ cinephiles out there. But, having now watched the film, I’d say they’re missing out on something truly special.

Swiss Army Man opens showing Hank (Paul Dano) stranded on a desert island, preparing to kill himself as he’s given up hope of rescue. However, just as he’s about to do it, he spots a dead body (Daniel Radcliffe), washed up on the shore. This is no ordinary body either. It’s rather flatulent, which initially merely distracts Hank from his suicide attempt. When the farts get more powerful though, Hank realises this ‘wind’ can be harnessed more effectively and uses the corpse as a jet-ski to reach a neighbouring lush island which is littered with rubbish, suggesting it may be inhabited.

Once on the island, Hank struggles to find any more signs of civilization, but develops a great bond with the corpse (named Manny), who miraculously comes alive (if not mobile) after a while. Manny has no memories of his life before though and has many questions about the world around him. This prompts Hank to teach him, using the limited resources around them, whilst simultaneously altering his view of his own miserable existence. In particular, the two of them discuss the subject of love, as they tackle how to approach the elusive girl on the bus, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seems to be a part of one or both of their memories.

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Blu-Ray Review: Cul-De-Sac – Criterion Collection

Director: Roman Polanski
Screenplay: Gérard Brach, Roman Polanski
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Françoise Dorléac, Lionel Stander, Jack MacGowran
Country: UK
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: PG


I, like many film fans I imagine, have a chequered relationship with Roman Polanski. His controversial private life is something I won’t get into here, but it has tarnished his work to many over the years. I’ve never liked how he comes across in interviews either, but I don’t usually let my opinion of a filmmaker’s personality or private affairs get in the way of the quality of their work. Unfortunately though, I’ve found the quality of Polanski’s work a little hit and miss over his lengthy career. Tess for instance, which I reviewed here a while back, bored me to tears, whereas Chinatown has long sat in my list of favourite films of all time. There are plenty of Polanski films I’ve yet to watch though and because I regard one or two of his films so highly, I’m always happy to give new ones a try. Cul-De-Sac was his third full feature film in the director’s chair and it’s being re-released on Blu-Ray as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection in the UK, so an offer for review came my way and I thought I’d give it a shot.

Cul-De-Sac sees two injured gangsters (Richie – Lionel Stander and Albie – Jack MacGowran) stuck on Lindisfarne (a.k.a. Holy Island) in Northumberland when their stolen car breaks down in the middle of a road which is regularly submerged under the sea due to the shifting tides (this is indeed true to the location – I’ve been there myself). They seek refuge in a nearby mansion inhabited by the care-free couple George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac). Taking advantage of the remote location and his ‘hosts’ weaknesses, Richie, the muscle of the operation, essentially takes them hostage whilst he waits for his boss to show up and sort out the mess they got themselves into after their botched heist. So begins a blackly comic fight for power as Teresa attempts to force her cowardly husband George into taking control of the situation.

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Blu-Ray Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors

Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1989
BBFC Certificate: 15


What’s been great about reviewing a handful of Arrow’s re-releases of Woody Allen’s back catalogue is that it’s made me realise how much I love his work. I’ve largely been cherry-picking supposed ‘on-form’ Allen movies, but they’ve never failed to impress or entertain me. I watched Cafe Society the other week and was less enamoured by it, but perhaps watching all of these upper tier Allen titles mere days previously raised my standards a little too high. It certainly didn’t put me off exploring more unwatched titles from his hefty filmography though. Crimes and Misdemeanors was next up and I’d heard very good things about it, so expectations were high.

Crimes and Misdemeanors tells two stories. One sees happily married ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) tormented by threats from his mistress Dolores Paley (Anjelica Huston) to tell his wife about their affair. Judah has grown weary of Dolores and realised he loves his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom), so he doesn’t want her to be hurt and leave him. When it all gets too much for Judah and the threats get more serious, the solution suggested by his mobster brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) is to have Dolores killed. The film’s second central story is that of Cliff Stern (Allen himself). He’s an unhappily married, unsuccessful documentary filmmaker who’s offered a chance to make some money making a film about his successful TV comedy writer brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda). He hates the job, but is consoled by the fact that he meets a woman he falls madly in love with, Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). Having recently got divorced, she’s reluctant to start another relationship though. Undeterred, Cliff stays close to her as a friend and gets her involved with the more respectable documentary he’s trying to produce on the side, with the hope that she’d be swayed eventually into his arms.

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Review: The Wailing

Director: Hong-jin Na
Screenplay: Hong-jin Na
Starring: Do-won Kwak, Jun Kunimura, Jung-min Hwang, Woo-hee Chun, Hwan-hee Kim
Country: South Korea, USA
Running Time: 156 min
Year: 2016
BBFC Certificate: 15


I caught Hong-jin Na’s debut feature The Chaser at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2008 and was very impressed. He followed that up with The Yellow Sea in 2010 and although I had a couple of issues with it (my review can be found here: http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/10/the-yellow-sea/), I still thought it was exceptionally well made. So when his next film, The Wailing finally emerged, it sat high on my wish list of films to see. Luckily for me a screener link was sent my way to review the film, so I can let you all know whether it met my high expectations.

Before I do that though, let me tell you more about the film. The Wailing sees a rural South Korean village plagued by violent murders committed by villagers who seem to have turned savage. Incompetent local cop Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) tries to get to the bottom of what’s causing his neighbours to lose their minds. The authorities think it’s a dodgy mushroom tonic being sold, but Jong-goo and several other locals suspect a mysterious Japanese man living in the woods has something to do with it. When Jong-goo’s young daughter (Hwan-hee Kim) becomes inflicted by the psychosis and dark supernatural forces seem to be to blame, he enlists the help of a shaman (Jung-min Hwang) to eradicate the problem. This only makes things worse though as the bodies begin to pile up and nobody knows who’s to blame or who they can trust.

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