APPLE TREE YARD, Jessica Hobbs, director/Arrow Blu-Ray When Louise Doughty’s novel first appeared, it was not treated as a study of mature female sexuality – but that has undoubtedly been the case with Amanda Coe’s well-crafted television adaptation with Emily Watson’s 50-ish scientist engaging in what turned out to be a dangerous affair with an enigmatic stranger. In fact, the erotic element of the drama is handled with some sensitivity (despite it being mostly hurried vertical encounters in public places), although it might be argued that there is a tacit assumption reminiscent of 1940s Hays-Code Hollywood movies: any sexual dalliances that leads a woman (or a man, for that matter) away from the marital bed is going to end badly. But thankfully, such tendentious morality is not stressed here, and we are invited to identify with the beleaguered Watson character (which we most certainly do, not least for Watson’s exemplary playing). The four episodes of the psychological thriller based on Doughty’s best-selling novel garnered 7 million viewers on BBC One, and the impressive cast also includes Ben Chaplin and Mark Bonnar.
THE IDEALIST, Christina Rosendahl, director/Arrow Films. Over my years of writing about and talking to Danish writers, directors and actors in the Nordic Noir genre, I’ve encountered one recurrent theme: a certain wry attitude on the part of the Danes to the fact that they are often considered smug or regard themselves as ‘blessed’. It’s a theme that has surfaced in Danish fiction, and is given a thoroughgoing treatment here. In January 21st 1968, an American B-52 bomber carrying nuclear warheads crashed on the polar ice near the US military Air Base in Danish controlled Thule, Greenland. A few days later, responsible governments classified the crash as a ‘Broken Arrow’ scenario (i.e., a nuclear accident) but proclaimed the situation being under control. No cause for concern in relation to radioactive contamination or violation of foreign power’s sovereignty, nuclear policy. Hundreds of Thule workers are set to work, helping in the gigantic clean-up operation. After eight months, all traces of the crashed aircraft and the plutonium-contaminated snow are gone. The case is closed. But18 years later, while covering a local workers compensation story, reporter Poul Brink suddenly runs into suspicious circumstance linking back to the concealed 68’ nuclear accident. Apparently the full and true story about the crash lies under the Thule Bay’s ice cap and deep down in the classified archives in the US. The reporter launches an uncompromising investigation. Christina Rosendahl’s film stars Peter Plaugborg (with Søren Malling and Thomas Bo Larsen, among other familiar faces), and it’s very much territory that viewers have been taken to before, with the reporter characterised only economically. But the director marshals her material rigorously, carefully excluding any extraneous sentiment.
EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, Robert Aldrich, director/Network Sometimes a film director can achieve both popular success and respectable auteur credentials. The great action filmmaker Don Siegel pulled off the trick, as did his single-minded colleague Robert Aldrich – and films such as the latter’s impressive Emperor of the North, now handsomely reissued by Network, show just why. Set among the railroads of the depression era, Aldrich’s tough film pits two of his most iconic actors against each other: Lee Marvin as a dogged rider of the rails, and Ernest Borgnine as his nemesis, a brutal train guard. The film works on a variety of levels, principally as an action thriller, but also as an intriguing commentary about divisions in society – as relevant today as in the era in which the film was set.
WOODY ALLEN: SEVEN FILMS: 1986 – 1991, Woody Allen, director/Arrow Films Blu-Ray There was a time when film buffs such as this writer would routinely go to each new Woody Allen film as a matter of course, until we all began to uneasily sense that he had, sadly, lost his Mojo (it’s now a cliché to say with every other new Woody Allen film that he’s got it back – and then query that judgement). Perhaps the ideal way to experience the director’s films these days is on Blu-ray box sets such as this one, which give us a chance to see a batch of the films in context – and which make it easier to judge the difference in levels of achievement. Arrow Films continue their love affair with Allen as they celebrate the release of their third collection, Woody Allen: Seven Films – 1986 – 1991. The Blu-ray box set includes seven of Allen’s most acclaimed films, all of which feature Mia Farrow. Hannah and Her Sisters is a family drama that returns to Allen’s beloved Manhattan, with scene-stealing turns from Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest –– who were both awarded Oscars for their roles. Radio Days, meanwhile, is a nostalgic look back at the golden era of radio that defined Allen’s childhood. September and Another Woman, offer a more serious outlook from the auteur, while Crimes and Misdemeanors, is probably his greatest work, a multi-layered and almost Dostoyevskian reflection on guilt that also finds room for some of his funniest one-liners. Finally, the box includes two of his more controversially received films, Alice and Shadows and Fog.
THE RIVER, Mark Rydell, director/Final Cut Blu-Ray Mark Rydell was one of the most underrated directors in Hollywood history with a creditable string of movies to his credit. The River may not have been amongst his most distinguished, but it’s still a very solid and engaging piece of work. Struggling East Tennessee farmer Tom Garvey (Mel Gibson) is forced to break a picket line to earn extra money as a scab labourer. Reviled by the striking workers, Tom has to rekindle a sense of community spirit when all their livelihoods are subjected to a twin threat: the speculations of an unscrupulous property developer (Scott Glenn) and a river that is about to burst its banks. Sissy Spacek co-stars.
A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, Fred Zinnemann, director/Eureka Blu-Ray For those who have not seen the original stage versions of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and Peter Schaffer’s Amadeus, it is sometimes a shock to see (on acquaintance with them) how structurally different they are from the subsequent films. But let’s face it, most people will know Robert Bolt’s play from its glorious cinematic incarnation, and it was (and is) hard to see how much more justice can be done to it, not least in the impeccable casting. Winner of six Academy Awards, and starring a legendary cast that includes Paul Scofield and Orson Welles, the film is now on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK in a special Dual-format edition as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. Ranked as one of the finest British films of all time, director Fred Zinnemann’s film was lavished with awards and critical praise upon release for its opulent mise en scène and the distinctive performances from its cast. Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield), England’s Roman Catholic Chancellor, is forced into a difficult position when King Henry VIII ( a flamboyant Robert Shaw) demands his approval to divorce his wife and marry his mistress. Torn between his conscience and duty to the crown, Sir Thomas chooses to say nothing, sparking the rage of the king. What unfolds is a battle of wills packed with palace intrigue, political brinkmanship and the fate of man, church and country.
MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, John Ford, director/ Arrow Academy Blu-ray There was a time when John Ford was incontrovertibly regarded as the greatest of all Western directors, but of late there has been something of a reaction against the attitudes behind his work, and the edgy, neurotic quality of the Westerns of Anthony Mann seem more in tune with the 21st-century. The latter’s signature films with the actor James Stewart have now achieved pole position. Nevertheless, such films as Ford’s My Darling Clementine justify their classic status with every frame. This new Blu-ray rooms special edition showcases Ford’s first Western since Stagecoach and starred Henry Fonda in a nigh- definitive performance as Wyatt Earp. This release showcases the film in a striking 4K digital restoration, as well as hosting an array of special features such as a documentary on Ford’s love affair with Monument Valley, and a 1988 episode of Channel 4’s Movie Masterclass, dedicated to My Darling Clementine.
COVER GIRL, Charles Vidor, director/Eureka Blu-Ray It’s interesting to note that Rita Hayworth is top-billed in this classic musical, still mesmerising today (in an impressively colourful Blu-ray transfer). However, most viewers will be watching the film for the contributions of Gene Kelly, now seen as one of the two greatest dancers that the cinema ever produced (you don’t need me to tell you who the other one is) Charles Vidor’s dazzling 1944 Technicolor film was one of the most lavish and successful Hollywood musicals of the 1940s. Nightclub dancer Rusty (Hayworth) has a happy life performing at her boyfriend Danny’s (Kelly) club in Brooklyn, but her whole world changes once she wins a prestigious Cover Girl contest arranged by a wealthy magazine editor (Otto Kruger). Rusty soon becomes a Broadway sensation, but is fame and fortune a substitute for true love? Needless to say, the implicit message here is very much of its time. Also starring Sergeant Bilko himself, Phil Silvers and the recipient of 5 Academy Award nominations (winning for Best Musical Scoring), Cover Girl was Columbia studio’s first Technicolor musical.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, John Kent Harrison, director/Second Sight This children’s favourite has enjoyed a variety of adaptations over the years, but most viewers will find LN Montgomery’s enduring novel efficiently served by this workmanlike adaptation, with Ella Ballantine making a good fist of the doughty heroine. Sterling support is provided by Martin Sheen, as reliable as ever.
WE ARE THE FLESH, Emiliano Rocha Minter, director/Arrow Blu-Ray Not for every taste – and certainly not for the shockable — We Are the Flesh is a bizarre Mexican arthouse film which plunges the viewer into a surrealistic post-apocalyptic world. Although I’m not among the shockable, its indulgences didn’t work for me, but it’s a challenging film that will find an audience. Outrageous and explicit, it sees a brother and sister taken in by a strange hermit who uses them as he acts out his own depraved fantasies. The longer they stay, the more they find themselves slipping into the darkness, despite their better judgement. A visionary and bizarre slice of Mexican art house cinema, We Are The Flesh is an unsettling film experience, a sexually charged and nightmarish journey into an otherworldly dimension of carnal excess, as well as an allegory on the corrupting power of human desire.