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 (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 →
Peccadillo’s REAL BOY, its first VOD release, is available now on all platforms including BFI Player, FilmDoo, Amazon Instant, Sky Store, Vimeo On Demand, and Google Play. Directed by Shaleece Haas, an LA-based documentary filmmaker, the film is an intimate story of a family in transition. It’s already proven to be a favourite of BFI Flare and winner of Iris Prize Best Feature Award .2016.
In the impressive thriller Numb (Strike Media) Husband and wife, Will (Jamie Bamber: Battlestar Galactica) and Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten: The Man in the High Castle), are in financial crisis after learning the job Will was counting on to salvage their financial future has disappeared in the midst of a market collapse. They set out to drive home on the winter highway back to their city, and in a moment of altruism, pick up siblings Lee (Aleks Paunovic: Van Helsing) and Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos: The Inbetweeners, The 100), a pair of hitchhikers on their way to start a new life. In the midst of the night they nearly collide with an old man wandering on the snowy highway, hypothermic and horrifically frostbitten. While searching for his ID they discover a wad of cash, a hand drawn map with GPS coordinates, and a single gold coin inside his coat. Will and Dawn reluctantly go along with Lee’s plan to report him to the police as a John Doe and pocket the money. In an attempt to save their financial struggles, all four venture off into the snowy wilderness in search of the buried gold, but will they survive what is out there…
Numb will available to watch on Digital Download from 13th November
It’s a nice piece of synchronicity that the next film I saw after Blade Of The Immortal was God Of War, a Chinese wuxia war drama based on historical events of the 16th century. The film opens with Chinese soldiers under General Yu Dayou (Sammo Hung) being defeated by Japanese pirates who are preying on the coast of China. Yu is stymied by a lack of tactical imagination, inferior troops, and the politics of the Ming dynasty. Young General Qi Jiguang (Vincent Zhao) arrives to take charge, and wins the chess game against the pirates, driving them away. So far, so simple. The battle scenes are done well, and the tensions within the Chinese camp have a nice parallel with the Japanese invaders: the ‘pirates’ are largely ronin, battling for plunder and women, being supervised by samurai. The young Lord Yamagawa (Kaisuke Koide) is offended by this affront to the samurai ethos, but the commander, his sensei Kumasawa (Yasuaki Kurata) is playing his own chess game with a sort of zen patience which General Qi visually is shown to echo.
With the battle won, General Qi eventually wins his argument to recruit and train his own army, why General Yu is arrested by the Ming government. And when the Japanese return in force, Qi is put in a dilemma of having to defend three towns, including the one where his army’s families have been left behind, against a vastly superior force. Fans of non-stop action will be disappointed, not least because Sammo Hung plays such a small part (in fact I was half-convinced he would be released from prison and ride to the rescue in the final scenes). He and Zhao get one scene, in the prison cell, where they display their individual fighting skills, but Hung’s presence, his calm acceptance of his political fate is somewhat wasted here. That kind of fighting is not the point, however, because God Of War is a real historical drama, and so intent on proving the superiority of the Chinese to the Japanese it resembles wartime propaganda. That it was scripted by four writers reflects a somewhat disjointed structure, as it veers between action, intrigue, and even domestic drama. But at its best it reminded me of John Ford and his cavalry trilogy. Not only are there distinct echoes of Fort Apache in the training scenes (borrowed by Kurosawa for The Seven Samurai, then again by John Sturges for The Magnificent Seven), but it’s easy to see Capt. Kirby Yorke in General Qi. I might be stretching things to suggest a brief homage to Chariots Of Fire in one training scene, though without the Vangelis.
I found the historical backdrop fascinating, and the Ming subplot intriguing. Even more compelling is a subplot which recalls Ford’s Rio Grande: General Qi’s petulant and impulsive wife hen-pecks the great leader, before his men (including the leader of the miners Qi has recruited to form his new army) but when the Japanese attack comes, and his base city has to be defended by its population, Lady Qi (Regina Wan) stops being Maureen O’Hara and turns into a warrior as well. The battles are exciting, with new technologies introduced, three-eyed muskets and multi-pronged lances disguised as tree branches, as well as a ‘Crouching Tiger Cannon’ which is a bit deus ex machina, but for all the explanation, cheerleading, and historical details, what makes God Of War work is the interplay of characters, and the final showdown between Qi and Kumasawa reduces the vast scale of the drama down to great man. It’s effective. Zhao is hamstrung somewhat by his need to play humility, but Kurata is outstanding as the Japanese sensei, and Wan, who is the centre of virtually every moment she’s on screen, is worthy of O’Hara in her fiery scenes, and dynamic in her fight scenes. Ryu Kohata gets to have fun as the leader of the ronin, and the leader of the miners is played by Sammo’s son Timmy Hung, which ensures another individual fight with Qi.It’s uneven, and fans of non-stop action might be bored, but God Of War is a sort of thinking man’s wuxia, a return to form for director Gordon Chan, and a showcase for some personal conflicts within an epic backdrop.
GOD OF WAR is released on blu-ray, DVD and digital on 16 October.
This review appeared first at Michael Carlson’s Irresistible Targets (http://irresistibletargets.blogspot.com)
The Farthest: A Film by Emer Reynolds, describes one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Twelve billion miles away a tiny spaceship is leaving our Solar System and entering the void of deep space – the first human-made object ever to do so. Slowly dying within its heart is a plutonium generator that will beat for perhaps another decade before the lights on Voyager finally go out. But this little craft will travel on for millions of years, carrying a Golden Record bearing recordings and images of life on Earth. In all likelihood Voyager will outlive humanity and all our creations. It could be the only thing to mark our existence. The story of Voyager is an epic feat of human achievement, personal drama and almost miraculous success. Launched 16 days apart in Autumn 1977, the twin Voyager space probes
have defied all the odds, survived countless near misses and almost 40 years later continue to beam revolutionary information across unimaginable distances. With less computing power than a modern hearing aid, they have unlocked the stunning secrets of our Solar System on a journey as revolutionary as the first circumnavigation of the globe and mankind’s first footprint on the moon.
The Farthest: A Film by Emer Reynolds is a Screenbound release