Don’t Breathe and other new Blu-rays & DVDs


DON’T BREATHE, Fede Alvarez, director/Sony Blu-ray  If you think you’ve seen virtually every thriller premise, think again. Fede Alvarez’s highly original film — which has more than its fair share of audience jolts — may utilise certain familiar elements but manages to come up with something bracingly fresh and unusual. In Don’t Breathe, a group of young burglars break into a house and discover that it’s the worst mistake of their lives. Sam Raimi is one of the producers here, and the leading star Jane Levy was in the recent remake of the director’s classic The Evil Dead. But while there is no supernatural element here, there are lashings of the kind of filmic acumen that distinguished Raimi’s film. What’s more, the careful distribution of culpability between the ostensible ‘heroes’ (one of whom is a particularly nasty – and stupid –piece of work, urinating on the carpets of the houses he is robbing) and the putative ‘villain’ (about which no reviewer should say much) gives the film a welcome and unsettling moral queasiness. Turn the lights down low, turn your home cinema sound up, and be prepared not to breathe.

THE BUREAU Various directors/Arrow  With the recent success of the British le Carré adaptation The Night Manager, it’s instructive to see this low-key but compelling French version of an espionage thriller in which the individual details of spycraft are treated with intelligence and skill. The French political thriller The Bureau begins with the return of one of the DGSE’s top agents, Guillaume Debailly aka Malotru (Mathieu Kassovitz), after a six-year undercover mission in Syria, the department gets hit with a major crisis: An undercover agent goes mysteriously missing in Algeria. Additionally, The Bureau must also maintain a close eye on promising new recruit, Marina (Sara Giraudeau), who needs to complete a full test of her abilities before infiltrating Iranian nuclear activity. The many lives Malotru has led as an undercover agent are now beginning to haunt him. When he discovers Nadia (Zineb Triki), the love of his life is in Paris, he breaks The Bureau’s number one rule and secretly continues to live by his previous legend in order to reunite with her.

THE WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION, Julian Jarrold, director/RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn  Given the success of the last Sarah Phelps Agatha Christie adaptation, And Then There Were None, it was inevitable that there would be a follow-up – and it was equally inevitable that the level of darkness freighted into that last adaptation would be matched. In the event, it is not only matched but even surpassed, as writer and director are doing their damnedest to make sure this is not the kind of cosy Christie which has provided many a Sunday evening with undemanding escapism. Phelps, Jarrold and their exemplary cast have other fish to fry though(it should be said) there are those who felt that the grimness is too heavily underlined. I920s London. Society figure Emily French (Kim Cattrall) has been found brutally murdered in her luxury townhouse. When a young, attractive chancer, Leonard Vole (Billy Howle), is accused of the crime, it seems like an open and shut case. His penniless solicitor, John Mayhew (Toby Jones), clings to the hope that Leonard’s wife Romaine (Andrea Riseborough), an enigmatic chorus girl, will provide the alibi that can save his life; but she soon proves to be a far from reliable witness. A Two By Christie DVD Box Set featuring The Witness For The Prosecution and And Then There Were None is also available.
MODUS, Various directors, Arrow  This is the first adaptation to reach these shores of the work of Norwegian Crime Queen Anne Holt, and while Modus does not represent her more astringent books (those featuring the crippled lesbian detective Hannah Wilhelmsen), it is still a solid introduction to her work, even though there is really nothing here that viewers have not seen before. Nevertheless, the familiar elements have a certain adroitness here, with the central protagonist Melinda Kinnaman efficient and low key. As ex-minister of justice for her country, the forthright Anne Holt hardly paints a roseate country of Denmark’s urban areas and outer reaches in her novels; Her first book was published in 1993 and she has since developed two series: the Hanne Wilhelmsen series and the Johanne Vik series (as in Modus)

FRIGHT NIGHT, Tom Holland, director/Eureka Entertainment Blu-Ray  Most people will be familiar with Fright Night from its being cut VHS incarnation and there is no denying that Tom Holland’s lively, slightly tongue-in-cheek thriller looks infinitely better in this Blu-ray presentation – and, generally speaking, the film wears very well. A particular pleasure is Roddy McDowall as a reluctant vampire hunter, a mix of Vincent Price and Peter Cushing (as his name, Peter Vincent, suggests). This is the first Blu-ray issue of the film in the UK, arriving in a Dual-Format SteelBook.

THE HAMMER BLU RAY COLLECTION ~ 5 DISC SPECIAL EDITION, Various directors/Final Cut Entertainment  To the horror of the prudish in the 1950s and 60s, the most seductive (and most commercially successful) purveyor of a new breed of unabashed gruesomeness and eroticism was, the bijou-sized Hammer Films studios, nestling in genteel Bray just outside London. And while the studio’s then-sensational products initially inspired loathing of passionate intensity in mainstream critics and commentators, such disapproval was counterpointed by massive commercial success. While the audiences who flocked to pulse-racing (though often sedately paced) films directed by the likes of Terence Fisher were unlikely to be aware of the antecedents of the Gothic product they were consuming (apart that is, from the monochrome Universal Studios adaptations of the same literary material 20 years earlier), the vehement establishment disapproval was grist to the commercial mill of the films. And how durable the films look in the 21st century – particularly in a tempting box such as this! This set includes four classic Hammer films plus a disc of extras, Brides of Dracula, Kiss of the Vampire, Captain Clegg and Curse of the Werewolf. Special features include The Making of The Brides of Dracula narrated by Edward de Souza and featuring interviews with Yvonne Monlaur and Jimmy Sangster, plus Censoring the Werewolf, a new 13-minute documentary directed by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn and Past Masters: The Hammer – Universal Classics – is a new 50 minute documentary examining Hammer’s relationship with distributor Universal. It’s directed by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn and features Alan Barnes, Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, Sam Peckinpah, director/Arrow Blu-Ray  The director’s most idiosyncratic movie, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is generally considered the self-destructive filmmaker’s last great masterpiece, concluding the period in which he also made The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. A love story playing out against a backdrop of brutality, Peckinpah’s unsparing, unpolished film is released by Arrow Video in a brand new 4K restoration

DONNIE DARKO, Richard Kelly, director/Arrow  If you’re unpersuaded as to why Richard Kelly’s cult film deserves such a dedicated following, now is the time to find out with this splendidly done restoration. While the gaps in the narrative – undoubtedly intentional – remain as egregious as ever, there is no denying this strange dreamlike hold that the film exerts, and the performance by Jake Gyllenhaal remains fascinating.

Dark Knights, Men of Steel: The Comic Book Film Adaptation

In any discussion of film adaptations of comic books, there are other issues then who was the most impressive Dark Knight or Man of Steel. Liam Burke’s info-packed book, subtitled ‘Exploring Modern Hollywood’s Leading Genre’, is academic in tone but accessible as it addresses the way in which the re-jigged creations of Siegel & Shuster, Stan Lee & Jack Kirby and Bob Kane & Bill Finger (Superman, The Avengers and Batman, respectively) laid siege to the orthodoxy of modern cinema and comprehensively won the battle. Burke is adroit at examining the transformative process from page to screen, and manages to examine nuances of character (which do exist in the genre – one of the reasons it so successful, alongside the spectacular special effects) while also dealing with the statistics. Burke is also perceptive when talking about why some franchises (e.g. the Batman films) have been so successful, while others (e.g. Lee and Kirby’s Fantastic Four) have struggled. If there is a caveat concerning The Comic Book Film Adaptation, it is that there is some degree of repetition in the study, but it is nevertheless a fascinating read, both for aficionados of the comic book and students of modern film trends.The Comic Book Film Adaptation by Liam Burke is published by University Press of Mississippi/Jackson/9781496809704