Blu-Ray Review: Man Hunt

Director: Fritz Lang
Screenplay: Dudley Nichols
Based on a story by: Geoffrey Household
Starring: Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett, George Sanders, John Carradine, Roddy McDowall
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1941
BBFC Certificate: PG


I haven’t seen a Fritz Lang film I haven’t liked, in fact I’ve flat out loved most of them, so it didn’t take much convincing for me to choose to review this Signal One re-release of his war time thriller Man Hunt. A few years into his career in the US after leaving his home country of Germany, the film is a blatant indictment of Hitler’s actions there during the early years of WWII.

The film opens in bold fashion by following our hero Captain Alan Thorndike (Walter Pidgeon) as he creeps up on a secret military compound with a sniper rifle in hand, taking aim at Hitler himself. With his first ‘shot’ we realise he hasn’t loaded the rifle, but after he loads a bullet for the second attempt, he’s seen and jumped on a fraction of a second before pulling the trigger. He’s captured, beaten and taken to Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), who demands that Thorndike sign a confession stating he was sent by the British government to kill Hitler (which would spark war – the film is set just before WWII). Thorndike refuses, claiming he was acting alone and didn’t intend to kill the führer. He only wanted to prove he’d be able to do it, as he’s a master game hunter, so famous in his field that Quive-Smith was already aware of his name. With Thorndike’s refusal to sign the document, the Major is forced to throw him off a cliff, faking a suicide. Thorndike survives though and makes a perilous journey back to England. Even when he makes it, the Germans are hot on his trail though, intent on getting him to sign the false confession before killing him. Along the way, whilst he keeps a low profile, Thorndike enlists the help of a young cockney woman named Jerry Stokes (Joan Bennett) who takes a shine to him.

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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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DVD Review: A Special Day

Director: Ettore Scola
Screenplay: Ruggero Maccari, Ettore Scola, Maurizio Costanzo
Starring: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, John Vernon
Country: Italy, Canada
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1977
BBFC Certificate: 12


CultFilms’ second release heralding their entry into the boutique home entertainment label scene, after Two Women, is A Special Day. Another Italian award-winner starring Sophia Loren, yet otherwise quite a different film, A Special Day is a 1977 period drama directed by Ettore Scola. I must admit I hadn’t heard of it before being offered a screener to review, but looking the film up, it seemed to have received fantastic reviews and was deemed strong enough to be included as part of the Criterion Collection, so I figured it must be worth a shot.

A Special Day, as the title suggests, is set over one day in Rome in 1938 – the day Adolph Hitler arrived in the city on his visit to Italy, which was still a fascist dictatorship at the time (and WWII was yet to kick off), so the German dictator was hugely popular in the country. After a newsreel introduction setting the historical scene, we are introduced to Antonietta (Loren) and her family. The tired housewife has six children and an ungrateful husband (John Vernon), who are all preparing to join the huge parade in honour of Hitler’s visit to the city. They all rush out the small apartment, along with most of the inhabitants of the block of flats, leaving Antonietta to tidy up after them and trawl through her usual list of household chores. When the family’s pet bird escapes out the window and lands outside a neighbouring apartment though, Antonietta heads over there to try and catch the bird, seeing that the inhabitant has also stayed at home during the celebrations.

The neighbour is Gabriele (Marcello Mastroianni), a persecuted ex-radio presenter who is contemplating suicide. Antonietta’s arrival brightens his mood though and he tries to keep her from leaving him alone. She’s reluctant at first, nervous about what the neighbours would think of her fraternising with a man other than her husband, but soon warms to him, glad to be distracted from the drudgery of her day to day life. As the two get to know each other better we discover an important difference of opinion as well as a revelation as to why Gabriele is so troubled

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DVD Review: Two Women

Director: Vittorio De Sica
Screenplay: Cesare Zavattini
Based on a Novel by: Alberto Moravia
Starring: Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Raf Vallone, Carlo Ninchi
Country: Italy, France
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 1960
BBFC Certificate: 15


Nouveaux Pictures and Argent Films have recently merged together to form a new distribution company in the UK, called CultFilms. According to their press release, they “will create luxury releases of quality foreign and arthouse films. Every title will be a high end, collectible product, and extras will feature one or more in-depth documentary.” This sounded exactly up my street of course, so as soon as I heard about CultFilms I asked if I could help promote their releases by reviewing them. The first films they’re bringing out are two Italian classics starring Sophia Loren; Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women, which I will review here, and Ettore Scola’s A Special Day, which I will get to at a later date.

Vittorio De Sica was a director and actor who is most famous for being one of the leading figures in the Italian neo-realist movement. Two of the films he made as part of this during the 1940’s, Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, both won honorary Academy Awards and he went on to win another couple of Best Foreign Language Film awards later on in his career as well as being a regular fixture at Cannes. So he was certainly in favour with critics around the world.

De Sica’s 1960 film, Two Women, was another Oscar winner, taking home the Best Actress award for Sophia Loren. This was particularly special in fact, being the first time an acting Oscar had been given to a non-English language speaking part. I must admit, it’s not a film I was particularly aware of, although I’m no expert in Italian cinema. I liked Bicycle Thieves a lot though and the acclaim garnered on this later film piqued my interest.

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Trailer: Fury

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #a9a883;”] B [/dropcap]rad Pitt has headed back to WWII combat duty, this time with with director David Ayer and co-stars Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and Jason Isaacs. Fury offers a straight up story with handsome production values, but if the trailer is any indication, not much else. Ayer is most known for his morally ambiguous big-city cop dramas such as Harsh Times and End of Watch (he also wrote Training Day and Dark Blue) all of which I have found easy to skip, I don’t think I ever seen an Ayer film directed by Ayer; maybe it will be this one.

As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, the men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.

Cinecast Episode 350 – Nanobot Jesus

 
Do you want to have a long, loving conversation about the state of the art in comic strips? A lengthy tangent in this weeks show does that at more: Schulz, Watterson, and even Keane come into the mix along with Penny Arcade, The Oatmeal and XKCD as two recent documentaries on the subject are available VOD. But before that, Kurt and Andrew find very little to say about Dom Hemmingway that Jude Law hasn’t already shouted at you for 100 minutes. Matt Gamble joins midway through a lengthy recount of the recent episode of Game of Thrones (S04E03) in which Kurt continues to marvel at both the density of information in any given episode, as well as the lengths for which HBO is willing to go for gratuitous nudity (the former is astounding, the latter is getting tedious).

We go back to 1984 with the story of racism, the military and the awesome voice of Adolph Caeser in the Roshomon-esque A Soldier’s Story. In the Watchlist, Andrew gives us the lowdown on TV’s Fargo before continuing to working his way through the Minneapolis/St. Paul Film Festival. His favourite film of the year thus far, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood should be put on your radar. Andrew also pours some sugary-love on the rare Thomas Hayden Church starring film, Whitewash. Kurt does his own gushing with William Friedkin’s restored and glorious remake of Wages of Fear, the 1977 hidden gem, Sorcerer as well as his bafflement with 2013 Best/Worst type cinematic oddity, Fateful Findings. Matt digs deep into the first few episodes of Mike Judge’s Silicone Valley and then sweet, sweet comic strip love.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 


 

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Full show notes are under the seats…
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DVD Review: The Purge

Director: Antti Jokinen
Screenplay: Antti Jokinen, Marko Leino
Based on a Novel by: Sofi Oksanen
Starring: Laura Birn, Liisi Tandefelt, Amanda Pilke, Krista Kosonen, Peter Franzén
Producers: Jukka Helle, Markus Selin
Country: Finland, Estonia
Running Time: 120 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 18


Accepting an offer to review a screener of Finnish drama The Purge (a.k.a. Purge or Puhdistus) was a no brainer for me. My wife is a proud Finn and insists on watching any film/concert/event that makes its way over to the UK. Usually it’s her that tracks these down so I get extra brownie points for finding and obtaining them myself. Add the fact that she’s read the book this is based on and given that I can’t always talk her into watching my usual choices of film, I replied as soon as the email from distributors Metrodome hit my inbox and requested a copy to cast my critical eye over.

The Purge opens with a bruised and battered Zara (Amanda Pilke) seeking refuge in a remote farmhouse in Estonia. Living alone in the house is the elderly Aliide (Liisi Tandefelt) who reluctantly offers her shelter. The two get talking and we learn that Zara has escaped from enslavement and abuse at the hands of a group of sex-traffickers (shown through flashbacks). A possible connection between the two women as well as familiar aspects to her story flashes Aliide back to her youth (where she’s played by Laura Birn). Whilst the Communists cracked down on Fascists in Estonia during World War II, Aliide fell in love with her sister Ingel’s (Krista Kosonen) fiancé Hans (Peter Franzén). In a bid to win him for herself and to survive the ongoing atrocities, she makes some painful yet selfish decisions which put her sister and niece’s lives in jeopardy and haunt her several decades down the line. However, when Aliide discovers Zara’s full background, she finds a way to seek redemption for her past crimes.

As is to be expected from the source material (and most Finnish dramas for that matter), The Purge is an extremely bleak film. With both women enduring some horrific sexual abuse and mental anguish, it’s a tough film to get through. The grim tone is relentless and there are no moments of light to alleviate the oppression shared by the characters and audience. This of course fits the film’s content, but I actually felt it maybe went a little too far. The film is so consistently brutal through its two-hour running time that it actually loses its power to shock and move as it gets into the latter third. By the end I was quite numb to it all and what was theoretically quite a powerful and affecting finale didn’t really get to me as it should.

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DVD Review: In Darkness

Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenplay: David F. Shamoon
Based on the Novel by: Robert Marshall
Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska
Country: Poland, Germany, Canada
Running Time: 145 min
Year: 2011
BBFC Certificate: 15


In Darkness is a Holocaust drama from Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who brought us Europa, Europa as well as acting as a writing consultant/collaborator on the Three Colours Trilogy. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year, this powerful drama heads to UK homes this summer on a wave of hype, but for the more cynical viewers out there do we need another Holocaust movie? What else is there to be said on the subject?

Luckily, Holland’s film focusses on a rather unusual true story from Poland during the atrocities of the Second World War rather than the well-told tales of the concentration camps (as obviously important and powerful as they are). In Darkness tells the story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) a Polish Catholic sewer worker in the Nazi-occupied city of Lwów. When he comes across a group of Jews planning to use the sewers as a refuge he offers to help them, for a hefty fee. Once the Nazis start to put the ‘Final Solution’ into place though the group is forced to live down there and Socha faces the dilemma of whether or not he should turn them into the Nazis, who also pay well. His conscious gets the better of him, but the situation gets more trying as his wife urges him to leave them be and an officer friend who is helping the Nazis starts to snoop around.

In Darkness is a finely mounted drama with a lot to recommend. Spending much of it’s running time in the dark, dank recesses of the sewage system, the film has a grimy look, but the cinematography makes the most of it, with handheld camerawork adding a sense of being there and low key lighting providing a beauty beneath the filth. The music and sound design are strong too, especially during an astonishing climax where a heavy storm threatens the lives of the protagonists. The set-pieces in general are powerfully portrayed. Holland’s depiction of the Nazi push to clear the Jews out of the slums is another standout. The violence is swift and harsh and often only briefly glimpsed as the camera tracks characters in long shots. Nothing is glamorised or lingered upon, instead the scene is powered by a manic, intense energy making for a terrifying experience. Speaking of glamorising, the film thankfully refuses to canonise any of its characters either. Even Socha is shown to be a bit of a bastard, especially in the first half of the film.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Complete Humphrey Jennings Volume 2

The Complete Humphrey Jennings Volume 2: Fires Were Started brings together the short films and single feature that were made by Humphrey Jennings between 1941 and 1943. Thought by many to be his most fruitful period (in terms of quality), these films include The Heart of Britain, Words For Battle, Listen to Britain, Fires Were Started and The Silent Village.

Produced for the Crown Film Unit during the Second World War, these five films were all commissioned by the government to boost moral and spread a positive message about Britain and all it stood for at the time. These films have much more value than mere curiosity in their propagandist qualities though. Humphrey Jennings is often thought of as one of Britain’s greatest and most influential documentary filmmakers, but unfortunately he died in 1950 aged 43 and he never got to produce much outside of the GPO and Crown Film Unit and only made one feature length film (Fires Were Started), so we can only imagine what he could have been capable of outside of the constraints of these state-led organisations.

What he did produce is still of great value though and I’ll run through the gems available in this collection.

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Trailer #2 for Gus Van Sant’s Restless

 

Wow has it seriously been over half a year since we last had a trailer for Gus Van Sant’s latest, and the film hasn’t made it into the cinema yet? Restless is getting released in the USA on September 16th and yes, here is the second trailer for the quirky looking film (Mia Wasikowska as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl?) about a terminally ill teenage girl who falls for a boy who likes to attend funerals and their encounters with the ghost of a Japanese kamikaze pilot from WWII. Imaginary Friends, Ethereal dying girlfriends, a riff on the soundtrack of Badlands, earnest medical melodrama. My head just exploded with twee, but I still want to see this. (It will still likely be better than Good Will Hunting…)

The trailer is tucked under the seat.

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