News

Ambitious Release Programme from Powerhouse/Indicator

The newish Blu-Ray company Indicator/Powerhouse is issuing a remarkably eclectic selection of films in an ambitious new programme, and its initial batch includes a very collectable Hammer Films box set (which is temptingly described as volume 1), containing neglected Hammer films such as Maniac and The Gorgon. The set is to be reviewed in the next DVD Choice.

 

Second Run to release Vávra’s WITCHHAMMER

Second Run’s next release – on both Blu-ray and DVD formats – will be Otakar Vávra’s WITCHHAMMER on October 30. A powerful and often shocking allegory of life under totalitarian rule, Witchhammer, co-written by Ester Krumbachová (Daisies, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders), chronicles a series of notorious 17th Century Czech witch trials, using genuine court transcripts from the forced confessions of those accused of sorcery and collusion with the Devil. With echoes of Bergman, Dreyer and František Vláčil, and with literary antecedents in Arthur’s Miller’s The Crucible and Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon, it is a disturbing political fable; and like Ken Russell’s controversial, expressionistic adaptation of Huxley’s text, The Devils (1971) and other films of the period such as Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968) and Michael Armstrong’s Mark of the Devil (1970), it serves as both grim genre film and compelling historical drama.

OUR LAST TANGO due from Celluloid Circus

OUR LAST TANGO (Un tango más) executive produced by Wim Wenders (Pina, Buena Vista Social Club, Wings of Desire) and directed by German Kral, will be released in the UK on 22nd September by Celluloid Circus in partnership with the Argentine Film Festival, London. Continue reading

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING 3D and other new Blu-Rays Barry Forshaw

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, Jon Watts, director/Sony Blu-ray 3D  The sheer pleasure afforded by this second reboot of the Spider-Man franchise came as a surprise to many – surely every possible permutation had been explored in the earlier five films? But as the character’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War proved, Marvel has plenty of new ideas for its signature character – although, as seen in the new film, these new ideas dated back to the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko conception of Peter Parker’s alter ego. Closer in fact, than any earlier version. And apart from a clever screenplay, with its perfectly judged humour and character beats (not to mention crowd-pleasing action sequences) it is the casting of the British actor Tom Holland that sets the seal of success on the enterprise. As for the 3D aspects of the Blu-ray, they are stunningly realised.

THE APARTMENT, Billy Wilder, director/Arrow Academy Blu-ray  If it’s some time since you have seen The Apartment, it’s time to do yourself a favour and make a re-acquaintance. Looking better than it ever has in a fresh Blu-ray spruce-up, Billy Wilder’s bitter-sweet comedy drama stars a matchless Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Oscar-nominated performances. The duo play a couple who start an unlikely romance in late-1950s Manhattan. A note perfect production that went on to win Best Picture at the 1961 Academy Awards, many regard this as the cynical Wilder’s best work.

DEMONS OF THE MIND, Peter Sykes, director/StudioCanal  Inspired horror film work was being done in the decade of the 1970s. The achievement of the late Christopher Wicking as a screenwriter was generally (as the writer wryly admitted to me) generally compromised and altered in some way, but almost invariably something of his highly individual and unorthodox skills remain in the finished films – which is the case with Demons of the Mind (1972), a later Hammer outing directed by Peter Sykes in which a doctor finds discovers that two children are being kept held captives in their house by their father; his probing uncover incest and supernatural possession. that occasionally has glimmers of some of the visual style of the late Michael Reeves, but the plot (a sort of Gothic reworking of Forbidden Planet’s ‘Monster from the Id’) is sabotaged by acting that is either overblown (Robert Hardy, Patrick Magee) or blank and indifferent (Paul Jones, Gillian Hills). But Wicking’s customary interest in investigating the darker recesses of the human psyche still leaves its imprint on this flawed but interesting film.

THE CREMATOR, Juraj Herz, director/ Second Run   If your taste is for the unorthodox in cinema, Juraz Herz is unquestionably a directive whose work you should sample . It is not for every taste, but it is safe to say that this is a filmmaker whose vision is quite unlike that of his contemporaries, and his work offers a strange and disturbing experience. Presented from new HD materials, Second Run has issued a Blu-ray edition of a film that has been described in many ways – as surrealist-inspired horror film, as an expressionistic political allegory, a pitch-black comic satire and as a dark and disturbing tale of terror. It’s a brilliantly chilling film, a unique mix of Psycho, Dr Strangelove and Repulsion, and is set in Prague during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. It tells the story of Karl Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský), a professional cremator, for whom the political climate allows free rein to his increasingly perverse and deranged impulses for the ‘salvation of the world’…

WHITE PALACE, Luis Mandoki, director/Fabulous Films Blu-ray  Another example of the Blu-ray revolution giving a new lease of life to some films well worthy of rediscovery. Susan Sarandon and James Spader give powerful performances in this steamy, critically acclaimed love story from director Luis Mandoki. Max Baron (Spader) is a successful St. Louis advertising executive who’s been in mourning since the death of his young wife. A chance late-night encounter introduces him to Nora Baker (Sarandon), and unexpectedly turns his life upside down. An earthly, vibrant and fiercely independent woman, Nora works in a hamburger joint, lives on the wrong side of town and has at least 15 years on Max. Yet despite the differences, Max finds himself hopelessly in love in this touchingly offbeat romance, co-starring the ever-reliable Eileen Brennan.

THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA, Matt Cimber, director/Arrow Blu-ray  Sometimes, directors have one remarkable and individual film in their CV, with other, subsequent work far less impressive. A classic case of this syndrome is the director Matt Cimber, whose one cult classic this bizarre, sexually-charged film is. His other work shows very little of the vision and imagination to be found here. Molly Perkins in a career-best performance is a woman whose strange and violent fantasies involve tying up male victims before killing them with a razor. But how real are her fantasies? The film’s reputation has grown over the years, and this new Arrow disc looks splendid.

THE ERIC ROHMER COLLECTION, Eric Rohmer, director/Arrow Blu-rays  A cherishable box set, featuring some of the best films by this utterly unique and highly-influential auteur, who was a leading light of the French New Wave. The collection of films is released in a collectable Limited Edition Blu-ray box set, beautifully packaged and loaded with extras, including a lavishly illustrated booklet with new writing on the film.

RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER 3, Zackary Adler, director, Signature Entertainment  The all-out bare knuckle prequel to the Britcrime thriller Rise Of The Footsoldier comes to home video starring Craig Fairbrass and a strong cast in a brutal and bloody real life story of Essex, drugs and rock and roll. Ruthless Essex gangster Pat Tate blazes a path from Marbella to the Medway in the late 80s, peddling pills and snorting coke and crushing anyone who gets in his way, in his quest for cash and power. Double- crossed by an ex-pat drug baron, Tate ends up in prison. Undeterred, he establishes himself as top dog inside, and gets himself in shape in preparation for his release – when he plans to reclaim his turf the only way he knows how – with violence, and no mercy.

HOUSE 1-5, various directors/Arrow Blu-rays  If the first movie in this comedy horror series was to your taste, you will be pleased by this impressive Blu-ray transfer and some intriguing extras (it’s always instructive – if a little sobering – and see what changes time has wrought on the actors in current interviews). For those coming anew to the series, the rubbery prosthetic creatures may be a little hard to take; it goes without saying that CGI effects have rendered these puppets more than a touch on the obsolete site. But those with fond memories of House will have a fun time.

THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM, Juan Carlos Medina, director/Lionsgate  Peter Ackroyd’s chef d’ouevre Hawksmoor was inexplicably passed over by filmmakers, so I suppose we should be grateful that the writer’s Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem enjoyed a creditable film adaptation, although it is one that did not in the end quite do justice to the source material. The vengeful monster of Jewish mythology has a human equivalent in 19th-century London as refugees arrive in Britain from Europe. Detective Inspector John Kildare (nicely underplayed by Bill Nighy in a film full of larger-than-life characterisations) is tasked with tracking down the serial killer of the title. Visually stylish and full of the kind of Victorian music hall exuberance found in the novels of Kate Griffin rather than Ackroyd’s novel.

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box  In splendid new Blu-ray transfers, here’s a tempting collection of lesser known Hammer films, including Fanatic, Maniac, and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. But perhaps the most interesting film here is the one the studio (and its makers) were ambiguous in their reaction to. Almost everyone connected with The Gorgon (1964) was prepared to admit – in rueful retrospection – that a key element of the film has simply not been up to scratch — and disappointment of audiences had seriously hurt the film’s prospects. It was, in fact, the vision of the titular monster — the same syndrome, in effect, which had sabotaged another Hammer project, the distinctly non-frightening devil dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which had similarly drawn audiences’ attention away from the excellences to be found elsewhere in the film (notably, in both films, the nonpareil acting).

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box

HAMMER: VOLUME 1: FEAR WARNING, Various directors/Powerhouse Blu-Ray Box  In splendid new Blu-ray transfers, here’s a tempting collection of lesser known Hammer films, including Fanatic, Maniac, and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb. But perhaps the most interesting film here is the one the studio (and its makers) were ambiguous in their reaction to. Almost everyone connected with The Gorgon (1964) was prepared to admit – in rueful retrospection – that a key element of the film has simply not been up to scratch — and disappointment of audiences had seriously hurt the film’s prospects. It was, in fact, the vision of the titular monster — the same syndrome, in effect, which had sabotaged another Hammer project, the distinctly non-frightening devil dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles, which had similarly drawn audiences’ attention away from the excellences to be found elsewhere in the film (notably, in both films, the nonpareil acting). If this seems a touch unfair given the limited screen time these creatures were given, it was nevertheless short-sighted of Hammer executives not to see that cheeseparing and haste in this crucial respect would not be forgiven by audiences – not least because the build-up to the appearances of the eponymous monsters was so appetite-whettingly staged. But the compromise goes deeper than that, given the iconographic value of these particular ghastly apparitions.

The setting chosen for the Hammer Gorgon (Megaera rather than rather than the better-known Medusa) to wreak her petrifying havoc on those unlucky enough to cross her path was a period Prussia, some distance from the historical antecedents of the mythological Greek monster. As ever, Terence Fisher was aware that he could rely on the copper-bottomed production design of the inventive Bernard Robinson – and that the public would cut him some slack for his performers. But the fires were burning lower than usual: while Christopher Lee’s performance (for once, in a sympathetic savant role) seems less engaged than usual, Peter Cushing, as ever invested his character (a university professor) with the understated authority that was the actor’s stock in trade – and which lent such verisimilitude to so many of the films he appeared in. Nether, however, invested their role with quite the customary authority.

But the film has one other key asset – another actor quite as reliable Cushing: the luminous Barbara Shelley, lending to her role (as always for Hammer) a plausible inner life that granted a flesh and blood reality to her crinolined, corset-wearing heroine. In most of their films, Hammer’s head honchos Michael Carreras and Anthony Hinds were canny enough to promote the pretty innocuous blondes who invariably served as juvenile-leads-for-the-menacing, but both men were also well aware that an actress of Shelley’s calibre was required for key female roles, such as Shelley’s in The Gorgon (and it should be noted that there is an assumption here that the reader will be familiar with the film and not disturbed by revelations). Shelley’s reined-in, self-conscious character is (as contemporary viewers of the film no doubt guessed) capable of transforming herself into the snake-headed monstrosity whose gaze can transform her victims into stone, and viewers – then and now – might speculate on how much more effective the film’s tentative mythological charge might have been had the actress herself been permitted to play the eponymous Gorgon ( the part was in fact played – to no great effect — by the actress Prudence Hyman); the fact that the creature’s face is merely that of a middle-aged woman with sinister lighting and a head full of immobile plastic snakes might be compensated for had we been allowed to see Shelley as Megaera. But while the film’s incidental pleasures are many (staging, mise-en-scène, acting), it isn’t just the fact that Fisher seems less galvanised by the project than usual – it is the writing (by John Gilling) which has not discerned any creative spin for the scenario. The interpolation of the Gorgon legend into a potentially militaristic Prussian setting is not fruitful, and even popular entertainment film such as this might have done something with the confluence of a society dedicated to war and a central character whose image is nothing less than the face of death, but that was not on the agenda here. Part of the problem is that Terence Fisher and John Gilling don’t quite know to do with their petrifying Greek monster, other than conform to what the E.M. Forster once dismissively said of several Dickens characters: simply appear in order to do the action is expected of them and then retire, with no particular development. The various quadrilles executed here by the characters between castle, asylum and other settings have a formal rigour, but insufficient eerie charge, though Fisher’s restrained but expressive romantic instincts infuse the material, through the often startling visuals, full of lustrous colour and atmospheric lighting effects. All of this hardly makes up for the fact that Hammer’s most accomplished actress, Barbara Shelley, isn’t really a given enough to get her teeth into (but to some degree that is dictated by the exigencies of the narrative, which has to withhold certain facts).

American Assassin from Lionsgate

From Lionsgate: an explosive start to the new year… the fast-paced thriller AMERICAN ASSASSIN starring DYLAN O’BRIEN and MICHAEL KEATON will be available to download and own from January 2018. After the death of his girlfriend at the hands of terrorists, Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) is drawn into the world of counter-terrorism, mentored by tough-as-nails former U.S. Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Keaton). Enlisted by the CIA the pair investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on military and civilian targets and discover a pattern to the violence. Their mission is to stop a mysterious operation intent on starting the next World War. Also starring DAVID SUCHET and TAYLOR KITSCH and based on the best-selling Vince Flynn series of novels AMERICAN ASSASSIN is a brutal espionage thriller full of epic action scenes guaranteed to get your heart pumping.