LA NOTTE Michelangelo Antonioni, director/Eureka Blu-Ray Fairly early in La Notte, Marcello Mastroianni makes a rather weak attempt to resist a voracious, mentally disturbed girl in a hospital who gives every indication of nymphomania as pulls him (she is naked) towards her bed. It was a scene that gave the censors trouble in its day, and it is only now in the 21st century that viewers are able to see (courtesy of a splendid Eureka Blu-ray restoration) the things that would clearly have totally destroyed our moral compass had we been permitted to view them on the film’s release. Continue reading
SIMON KILLER Antonio Campos, director/Eureka Blu-Ray Uniquely unsettling and informed by an extremely personal vision, this is a film that has arrived loaded with praise. The acclaimed second feature by Antonio Campos (starring Brady Corbet and Mati Diop) features rising indie-star and director Corbet, of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Corbet plays Simon, a recent college graduate full of promise and potential, who goes to Paris to begin a trip around Europe following a break-up with a long-time girlfriend. An outsider adrift upon a profound sense of loss, Simon takes solace in the company of Victoria (Diop), a beautiful, young, and mysterious prostitute — and their fateful journey begins. Highly individual fare.
MAISON CLOSE: SERIES 2 Various directors/Arrow Blu-Ray The second series of Maison Close maintains the polished standard of its predecessor. If the much-vaunted eroticism now seems relatively restrained after what viewers have become used to, it is nevertheless still incandescent stuff – and, of course, the series is as much about power plays as it is about joyless sexual couplings. From Canal+, the makers of other prominent French programmes such as The Returned and Spiral, Maison stars Anglo-French actress Jemima West and is set in a late-nineteenth century Parisian brothel. The series has a loyal fanbase, not just in the UK and Europe, but all over the world. Such is the show’s appeal that network giant HBO have commission an American remake.
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER Roger Corman, director/Arrow Blu-Ray In terms of its deceptively sumptuous-seeming production values, House of Usher (made on the slimmest of budgets) is something of a minor miracle and looks as handsome as ever today in this Blu-Ray restoration. It is distinguished by Roger Corman’s incisive direction, the intelligent screenplay by Richard Matheson and a charismatic, relatively restrained, performance by Vincent Price. Corman’s first Edgar Allen Poe adaptation wears its years well (Daniel Haller’s impeccable cinematography, as throughout the series is also a considerable asset). When Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) visits his fiancée Madeline Usher (Myrna Fahey) in her crumbling family mansion, her brother Roderick (Price) tries to talk him out of the wedding, explaining that the Usher family is cursed and that extending its bloodline will prolong the agony. Les Baxter’s dissonant score is unnervingly effective.
THE COURTNEYS OF CURZON STREET Herbert Wilcox, director/Network Watching films such as this — the kind of fare which once packed British cinema’s before falling decisively out of favour for its twee middle-class artificiality — requires a certain adjustment of expectations, but such films remain fascinating today, not least as a snapshot of a vanished era, soon to be swept away by the British New Wave with films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Part of Network’s British Film collection (and directed by Herbert Wilcox), this is a drama of love across the social divide. The Courtneys of Curzon Street here enjoys a new transfer from original film elements. Originally released in 1947, the film starred Anna Neagle (with unlikely Irish accent) and Michael Wilding; it was a massive box-office success, and chronicles the changing fortunes of three generations of the aristocratic Courtney family – from the close of the 19th century, when Edward Courtney’s marriage to his mother’s Irish maid scandalises Victorian society, to the final days of the Second World War.
DERANGED Alan Ormsby and Jeff Gillen, directors/Arrow Blu-Ray For those (such as this writer) who saw this gruesome and controversial film based on the real-life murders of Ed Gein on one of its first London showings at the National Film Theatre, its very title evokes an era when films could be perceived as dangerous (think: Last House On the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, etc.), and which the moral guardians of the day felt it necessary to cut to ribbons – or ban altogether. But here it is, totally uncensored in a pristine Blu-ray transfer. This dual edition release of the film is festooned with special features and bonus material, including exclusive featurettes, interviews, behind-the-scenes images, trailers, collector’s booklet and reversible sleeve artwork.
IKARIE XB1 Jindřich Polák, director/Second Run What is perhaps most interesting about the stately Czech science fiction epic Ikarie XB1 today (apart from its intelligence and still impressive production design) is the film’s clear influence on later adult SF, such as famously, Kubrick’s 2001 — several shots look like templates for the later film — but there are other pleasures, such as the wry unintentional humour to be gained from the Soviet-era vision of the ‘corrupt West’ (as seen in a bizarre space encounter with dead, once-partying Westerners) — but this is hardly agitprop stuff – apart anything else, the idealised astronauts are given Anglo-Saxon rather than Russian or Czech names. Second Run’s DVD of Jindřich Polák’s pioneering 1963 Czech sci-fi film is adapted from Stanisław Lem’s 1955 novel The Magellanic Cloud, and predates both Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek and Kubrick’s 2001, both of which it anticipated.
THE FLAW/WITNESS IN THE DARK Terence Fisher, Wolf Rilla, directors/Renown For aficionados of British B films, the bijou distribution company Renown is treasure trove, offering neglected early works by cult directors – such as this cherishable duo (on one disc) of hour-long features by Terence Fisher and Wolf Rilla. The Flaw, directed by Fisher (of later Hammer celebrity), is a 1955 British production starring John Bentley, Donald Houston and Rona Anderson. Sleazy but seductive racing car driver Paul Oliveri (Bentley) plans to murder his wife for the insurance money. Her attorney, who is in love with her, discovers the plan and a savage fight on a boat has grim results. Witness in the Dark is directed by Wolf Rilla just before he directed the SF classic Village of the Damned and stars Patricia Dainton as a blind girl who “witnesses” the thief-turned-murderer of her upstairs friend and neighbour. The film is considerably bolstered not just by Rilla’s imaginative direction, but by the presence (as the villain) of the terrific character actor Nigel Green.
SLEEPWALKER Saxon Logan, director/BFI Blu-Ray This is truly scarifying stuff and its neglect is unaccountable — a neglect remedied by this authoritative BFI release. The 27th title in the BFI’s pioneering Flipside series, which is supported by the director Nicolas Winding Refn, is Saxon Logan’s long-unseen horror satire Sleepwalker from 1984. It is remastered from the only surviving print and presented for the first time on any home video format. This Dual Format Edition (Blu-ray and DVD) also contains two short films by Saxon Logan and the rare 1971 mid-length fantasy, The Insomniac, directed by Rodney Giesler. When wealthy couple Richard and Angela visit Marion and Alex in their decaying family home, an evening of drunkenness and sexual rivalry turns bloody as the guests fall victim to an unhinged attacker.
CONVOY Directed by Sam Peckinpah/Arrow Blu-Ray This is a very welcome opportunity to reassess Sam Peckinpah’s final film — his most successful commercially but hardly his best, and something of a disaster during the making; certainly a personal disaster for the addictive, self-destructive film-maker. As ever with Arrow, the extras here are truly first-rate, with a lengthy documentary on the making of the film which is perhaps even more interesting than Convoy itself, showing Peckinpah coming apart in a cocaine-induced haze (several shots show him wearing the razor blade he carried round his neck for cutting a line). It’s absolutely fascinating stuff. Starring Kris Kristofferson, Ernest Borgnine and a struggling Ali MacGraw, the film focusses on a rebel convoy of trucks heads for a State line in South-West America, led by legendary trucker Martin Penwald, AKA “Rubber Duck” (Kristofferson), who accrues an army after running up against police corruption and slippery politics.
MIT: MURDER INVESTIGATION TEAM – THE COMPLETE SERIES Various directors/Network Bearing conspicuous evidence of solid research (former Metropolitan DCI Jackie Malton acted as story consultant) with high-profile guests, this CSI-style spin-off was executive-produced by The Bill’s Paul Marquess and ran for two series. Heading the team for Series One is forthright DI Vivien Friend and her more intuitive second-in-command, Rosie McManus; Series Two sees old-school copper Trevor Hands taking the reins under DCI Anna Wishart. Their approaches sometimes clash, but all are polished professionals whose work demands a meticulous process of profiling, forensics and reconstruction – tracing the most intimate details of a victim’s life to identify motive and murderer.
LIFEFORCE Tobe Hooper, director/Arrow Blu-Ray Perhaps best known for the erotic presence of French actress/dancer Mathilda May (spectacularly naked virtually throughout the film), the SF epic Lifeforce has always been a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess, with all its heterogeneous elements making for a terribly ill-focused but completely diverting film (Henry Mancini’s stunning orchestral score is the exception to this judgement). Blu-ray & SteelBook editions of Tobe Hooper’s film feature an extensive amount of extra features and boasts a restoration of the movie that was overseen by the director himself. Originally released in 1986, Lifeforce followed Hooper’s massively successful Poltergeist and his most famous movie, 1974’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Lifeforce adapted Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires: a space shuttle crew finds a mysterious spacecraft containing three human-looking creatures in a state of suspended animation and bring them back to Earth for further investigation, with gruesome results.
The Ultimate Breaking Bad Experience comes to Blu-ray from Sony on Nov 25. The Collector’s Edition Full Series Set Features an All-New, Two-Hour Documentary and More Than 55 Hours of Special Features in a Collectible Replica Barrel with Commemorative Memorabilia from Creator Vince Gilligan. The Addictive, Emmy Award®-Winning TV Drama Starring Emmy Award® Winners Bryan Cranston & Aaron Paul. Breaking Bad: The Complete Series and Breaking Bad: The Final Season also Arrive on Blu-ray™ & DVD with UltraViolet™ November 25
I’ve started plucking passages from British Gothic Cinema (Oct) for various reviews: here’s the new Blu-Ray of the opulent-looking The Brides of Dracula, with the non-pareil Peter Cushing:
Music from the Iron Man Trilogy Various composers/Silva Screen The highly enterprising soundtrack specialist Silva Screen have made a particular speciality of the anthology (they have previously issued a compendium of music from the Batman films), and here provide a useful compendium of music from all three films featuring the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Don Heck superhero in the red-and-yellow armour. The first film in the sequence eschewed bracing symphonic music in the John Williams vein for a more heavy metal-oriented score (metal = Iron Man, get it?) But by the time of the third film in the sequence, Brian Tyler is delivering a more straightforwardly orchestral score. Film journalist Michael Beek makes a good point about this, suggesting that as Tony Stark takes on the mantle of a legitimate superhero in this third film, it is logical that a more traditional score is required. As usual, the sound picture provided by the Silva Screen engineers is dynamic and wide-ranging.