FALSE TRAIL (from Arrow’s Nordic Noir strand) is a belated (but welcome) sequel to the earlier Scandinavian hit by the same director (Kjell Sundvall), The Hunters, and the new film was originally called The Hunters 2. It is distinguished for some striking cinematography of its beautiful locales, but its principal virtues lie in the players: the reliable Rolf Lassgård, a mesmerising Peter Stormare and Annika Nordin. Despite the beauty of the settings, this is an uncompromising and unpredictable Scandinavian thriller. Fifteen years before, Erik (Lassgård) was obliged to leave the Norrland Police Department. He has subsequently become the National Murder Commission’s most respected interrogator. Ordered by his boss to return to his home town to solve a savage killing, he reluctantly returns fighting shy of destabilising memories waiting for him. Erik’s nemesis is Torsten (Peter Stormare), and a grim duel of wits ensues.
The film career of Joe Dante has been lively and enjoyable, with all of his films bristling with the director’s own personal love of the film media (he first came to public attention of the age of 12, writing a precocious set of critiques of horror films for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland), but PIRANHA (second Sight) is really his first movie calling card, and precedes such later hits as The Howling and Gremlins. In this spruced-up Blu-Ray edition, it remains good grisly fun.
AMOUR (Artificial Eye) is a harrowing but immensely affecting film. The director Michael Haneke is noted for his utterly uncompromising films, and he is one of the world’s great directors – as this unflinching portrait of a relationship between two elderly people proves. Needless to say, there is not an ounce of sentimentality in the relationship between the music teachers played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, as the latter begins a heart-breaking slide into mental confusion. But for all the virtues of the film, its most conspicuous assets lies in the playing of the two principals, acting as rich and nuanced as that to be found in the films of Ingmar Bergman. Riva, in particular, gives a quite astonishing performance – and a very brave one, many years after her groundbreaking appearance (as a young and beautiful woman) in Alain Resnais’ classic Hiroshima Mon Amour.
From Simply Media, there is a welcome batch of vintage films, several of which have not been available for quite some time. The range is wide, from the Bing Crosby semi-musical SING YOU SINNERS (in which a distinctly plump Bing surprisingly plays against type as a (not particularly sympathetic) wastrel) to the more conventional (but equally entertaining) DIXIE. Other titles include the powerful (and strongly cast) war drama REDBALL EXPRESS (helmed by cult director Budd Boetticher), but perhaps the real find of the batch is the striking and powerful drama THE OUTSIDER with Tony Curtis as the Native American who fought at Iwo Jima. The film was much remarked upon in its day as proof positive of just how good a film actor Curtis was (not a given back then), and it remains a brave and striking effort even when viewed in the 21st century.
From a new label, MediumRare Entertainment, viewers of cult moves are offered a provocative quartet of films which are not for easily shocked. All are being released in January 2013 in the UK on DVD for the first time. THE BLOODY JUDGE, directed by the legendary (and massively over-prolific) Jess Franco has Christopher Lee, no less, in the title role, playing the notorious Judge Jeffreys, the 17th century witchfinder whose ruthlessness shades into sadism when he becomes obsessed with a local girl (Maria Rohm). More flesh-filled fare is Joseph Sarnos’ ramshackle but diverting VAMPIRE ECSTASY, with two young girls turning up at an ancient castle and encountering a German countess who seeks to restore her youthful beauty by bathing in the blood of virgins (it is, of course, a version of Ingrid Pitt’s Countess Dracula). Back to Jess Franco, but with lighter fare: the frequently maladroit THE GIRL FROM RIO intriguingly casts the very English Shirley Eaton and the saturnine George Sanders (very much at the end of his career) in a swinging 60s comic-strip espionage caper. And a horror legend to match Christopher Lee, the irrepressible Vincent Price, headlines HOUSE OF 1,000 DOLLS, directed by the uninspired Jeremy Summer, but with Price considearbly enlivening its eclectic cast. The four films represent a solid launch for MediumRare.
There was time when the films of René Clément were considered passé. The once-celebrated director was dismissed as part of the old guard by the French New Wave – ‘yesterday’s man,’ it was said, rather as the work of Terence Rattigan was banished in this country by newer playwrights such as Harold Pinter, and John Osborne. But just as Rattigan’s work has been reassessed and has regained its former glory posthumously, similar excavation work is being done for the films of Clément. And the process of restoring the director’s reputation will be considerably enhanced by the welcome reissues (courtesy of StudioCanal) of several of the director’s key films. The releases include FORBIDDEN GAMES on DVD and Blu-Ray and (on DVD only) GERVAISE, THE DEADLY TRAP and the lesser-known AND HOPE TO DIE. In these handsome-looking reissues in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the birth of René Clément, they make a collectible group. Clément, one of his country’s most significant post-World War II era directors, originally studied as an architect but at the Ecole-des-Beaux-Arts considered becoming a filmmaker. His career had many prestigious successes, and he twice won Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, notably for Forbidden Games, a moving evocation of childhood innocence under threat. Very differ is The Deadly Trap, a tense Hitchcockian mystery thriller starring Faye Dunaway and Frank Langhella. And Hope To Die has the contrintuitive casting of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Robert Ryan. All desserve a second (or first?) look.
The UK DVD premiere of a newly digitally remastered British classic, DANCE HALL (from StudioCanal) is a welcome chance to see a collaboration between Alexander MacKendrick (who wrote the screenplay and subsequently directed The Ladykillers, The Man in the White Suit and Whisky Galore!) and the film is directed by Charles Crichton (of The Lavender Hill Mob and The Titfield Thunderbolt). Dance Hall is a lively melodrama focussing on the life and loves of four working-class women who spend their Saturday nights at the Chiswick Palais dancing to the music of Ted Heath’s Big Band. It’s one of the Ealing Studios most beguiling neglected films.
Stanley Kubrick’s FEAR AND DESIRE makes a welcome appearance as part of Eureka Entertainment’s MASTERS OF CINEMA series on Blu-ray & DVD. This is the first UK release for Kubrick’s debut feature, and while the rough edges are undeniable, Kubrick’s nascent genius is clearly in evidence. This issue signals the fact that every one of Kubrick’s films is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. This edition contain the director’s complete early shorts (Day of the Fight, Flying Padre and The Seafarers) – of academic interest more than anything else, but still useful to have.
As with False Trail, Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir label is continuing to make available the very best in the Scandicrime field, and now adds to their lustre with the UK DVD box set debut of one of Denmark’s grittiest crime series, UNIT ONE. The fast-moving drama utilises real-life crimes for its scenarios, and focuses on the eponymous elite mobile police force, helping out of variety of local police forces. The actor Mads Mikkelson is becoming one of the best-known Nordic actors for such films as The Hunt and the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, but the whole cast is a fascinating sampler of some of Denmark’s most talented performers, familiar from such series as in The Killing, Borgen and Wallander. In fact the series is reminiscent of the dark and fast moving French crime series Braquo; not as pitch-back but fairly uncompromising. The earlier neglect of this trenchantly made series (principally written by Peter Thorsboe) is particularly unfortunate, given that far less authoritative crime dramas have found a ready audience in Britain and the United States. What is most celebrated here is the clear sense of purpose with which the filmmakers have shaped the sometimes intractable material, and there is nary a wasted word or scene, though the protagonists are (admittedly) cut from a familiar cloth.