BOUND Wachowski Brothers, directors/Arrow Blu-Ray As one of the directors has now changed sex, the subtext of the Wachowski duo’s Bound, the mid-90s neo-noir which marked the debut directorial feature of the siblings (Lana, formerly Larry, and her younger brother Andy), becomes even more provocative with its lesbian motif. Opening in late 1996 in the USA and early 1997 in the UK, Bound looks today like a film that was waiting for its time to come. On its initial opening, it was noted as one of an edgy group of low-budget Indie film demonstrating an unusual vision. With its crime-based plot, Bound was bracketed with such films as Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, but the Wachowskis actually appeared to be channelling crime films of the 1940s and 1950s, specifically the hardboiled genre. The actor Joe Pantoliano was instructed by his directors to base his performance as the mobster Caesar on Humphrey Bogart’s character in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the Violet character played by Jennifer Tilly has the fashion sense of the femme fatales of the past. The scenario references James M Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice with its murderous dynamic within a trio of protagonists. But no 1940s film could have directly addressed the erotic same-sex couplings here – and the fact that the lovers with an inconvenient partner in the way were now two women. What made Bound so unusual was its foregrounding of these female characters and their desire: more specifically, the unapologetically lesbian theme allowed the directors to tacklesex and gender and issues in uncompromising fashion. The film also sports sharply-etched performances from Gina Gershon, Tilly and Pantoliano. Gershon (a survivor of the outrageously kitsch Showgirls) plays Corky, a young woman recently released from a five-year jail term for robbery. After a brief lift encounter with her sexy, uninhibited neighbour Violet (Jennifer Tilly) the pair begin a steamy love affair under the nose of Violet’s brutal Mafia boyfriend Caesar (Pantoliano). Soon the two women are concocting a plot to steal $2 million from Caesar and his associates – with, inevitably, messy results. Unsurprisingly, it was the frankly-shot lesbian sex scenes that caught press attention, and the British tabloids attempted to work up an indignant protest against the film (as also happened with David Cronenberg’s film of JG Ballard’s Crash), but the criticism didn’t stick. What has had more traction are feminist criticisms that the film had a ‘male gaze’ concerning the sexual encounters of the two women in the film; it would be interesting to hear how Lana Wachowski retrospectively regards her ‘male gaze’ when she was Larry Wachowski.
VIOLENT SATURDAY Richard Fleischer, director/Eureka Blu-Ray While the American director Richard Fleischer has long been recognised as one of Hollywood’s most reliable professionals, not all of his films have received the attention they deserve– such as this neglected crime classic which might be called a latter-day film noir if it were not shot in such relentlessly sunlit territory. Violent Saturday is a curious hybrid: tough heist thriller married to a Peyton Place-style melodrama with a small town simmering over with various tensions. The cast includes such stalwarts as Lee Marvin, J Carroll Naish and Ernest Borgnine, and demonstrates the director’s complete mastery of the CinemaScope frame. More than anything else, the film is something of a showcase for the Blu-ray medium and looks absolutely astonishing.
BRANDED TO KILL Seijun Suzuki, Director/Arrow Blu-Ray Both parody of and celebration of the crime film, Branded to Kill is eccentric indeed. “Time and place are nonsense,” the director Seijun Suzuki once said of his films, and Branded to Kill, frequently incoherenthas been described as the cinematic equivalent of an art collage. However, cinéastes apart, the film received a lukewarm response on its initial release in June 1967, and Kyûsaku Hori, the president of the Nikkatsu studio that produced it, fired its director, claiming that his films ‘didn’t make sense and didn’t make money.’ But the film affords a unique if infuriating experience (with more than a few longeuers), from its initial blast of gunfire beneath the Nikkatsu logo which heralds the start of chubby-cheeked hitman Gorô Hanada’s efforts to rise to pole position in the underworld ranking of contract killers. The characters are completely one-dimensional, but Suzuki knows exactly what he’s doing. Arrow’s dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition boasts a host of extras, including a newly restored digital transfer and newly translated English subtitles. The disc also features interviews with both director Seijun Suzuki and star Jo Shishido.
THE GANG’S ALL HERE Busby Berkeley, director/Eureka Blu-Ray Looking phenomenal in its new Blu-Ray incarnation, this classic musical is directed by Busby Berkeley, one of the most influential choreographers and directors in Hollywood history. The first ever Blu-ray release of one of the most beautiful Technicolor films ever made is one of the label’s award-winning The Masters of Cinema Series. The iconic director-choreographer Busby Berkeley’s first full-length film in Technicolor is well established as being perhaps the most visually stunning spectacle of any Hollywood musical, even if it’s a million miles away from the more substantial musicals with real characters as practised by Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein. A young soldier’s speedy love affair with a New York City nightclub singer, despite his long-standing betrothal to a wealthy childhood friend, provides the catalyst for this dizzying parade of home-front melodrama, comic set-pieces and mind-boggling musical numbers (including ‘The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat’ and ‘The Polka-Dot Polka’). Featuring some of the most popular musical stars of its day, including Alice Faye, the outrageous Carmen Miranda, and the legendary Benny Goodman, along with supporting turns from Edward Everett Horton, Eugene Pallette, and Charlotte Greenwood, The Gang’s All Here is an outlandishly surprising classic from one of the Hollywood dream factory’s most influential innovators.
L’ASSASSINO Elio Petri, director/Arrow Blu-Ray A welcome release for Petri’s L’Assassino, making its UK home entertainment debut on both Blu-ray and DVD formats in a striking new restoration by the Cineteca di Bologna. Petri, who would become become one of the major Italian political filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, made his feature debut with L’Assassino. The subject is the police investigation of Alfredo Martelli (a young Marcello Mastroianni), a sleazy thirty-something antique dealer accused of having murdered his older mistress, the wealthy socialite Adalgisa De Matteis (Micheline Presle). At first glance, the film is a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s; the director often stated that he had always had “a predilection for mystery novels,” especially when they provide a chance to scrutinise contemporary society. L’Assassino synthesises crime elements with a Kafkaesque threat ,and the film crtically addresses the Italian “economic boom” of the 1950s. The disc, a Blu-ray and DVD combo, features a host of special features, including a 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the screenwriter who not only co-wrote L’Assassino but also many other celebrated examples of Italian and world cinema such as Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
JOE David Gordon, director/Curzon Film Group Nicolas Cage may have been frustrated in his attempts to play Superman (perhaps not a bad thing for that franchise), but is proving to be one of the most reliable character actors in the modern American cinema, as this compelling saga of violence and redemption in the South proves, with Cage excellent as the short-tempered ex-con John Ransom whose attempts to keep a low profile are inevitably doomed to failure.