PHANTASM COLLECTION, Don Coscarelli et al, directors/ Arrow Video Everybody remembers the flying metal sphere with the claws that dug into the cranium of anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path, but there are other ideas in this lively film and its successors. The whole enterprise is ridiculous, of course, but Coscarelli and his associates nevertheless give their material all they’ve got. Re-appearing in a limited edition dual format release form Arrow Video, this is the first time all five Phantasm films have been brought together on Blu-ray — including a new 4K restoration of the 1979 original (still the best of the hunch); the first film is overseen by Star Wars and Star Trek helmer J.J. Abrams, no less. Spanning 37 years, Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm series is as iconic as it is entertaining. With its killer flying spheres, undead dwarf minions and The Tall Man himself, it’s both absurd and packed full of memorable images and moments that have made it a cult horror series. It’s rare to find a horror franchise that not only deftly blends gothic horror traditions with science fiction and mind-blowing special effects.
DECLINE AND FALL, Guillem Morales, director/ Acorn/RLJ Entertainment This diverting Evelyn Waugh adaption was shown – to great success — on BBC One. There were those who felt that the novel with its bitter black comedy simply couldn’t be filmed (and an earlier cinema adaptation sank without trace), and some of Waugh’s more caustic jokes don’t survive the transition, but, that said, this is a highly entertaining take on a classic English comic novel. Adapted for the first time on TV, Decline is cast from strength, with Jack Whitehall (Bad Education), Hollywood’s favourite Desperate Housewife Eva Longoria (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and one of Britain’s greatest stage and screen actors David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot). Set for a quiet life of contemplation as a priest, Paul Pennyfeather (Whitehall), is shocked when he is unceremoniously expelled from Oxford University through no fault of his own. Without a private fortune to fall back on, Paul is forced to take up a teaching position at a substandard boarding school in rural Wales. But it soon becomes apparent that Paul is not a natural disciplinarian and he finds scant comfort in drinking – to excess – with the other teachers. When Paul meets Margot Beste-Chetwynde (Longoria), a wealthy widow and mother of one of his pupils, things start to look up. Disaster, of course, follows.
UMBERTO D, Vittorio de Sica, director/Cult Films I wrote of de Sica’s masterpiece in Italian Cinema: After Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves, De Sica presented his other great neorealist testament in Umberto D (1952). This was the director’s own favourite film, which he financed himself, and its box office failure was a tremendous disappointment to him. At the time, it was viewed as sentimental and a falling off from the ideals of neorealism. But its reputation has subsequently grown considerably, and it is now regarded as one of his great works. Pensioner Umberto (Carlo Battisti) is living a quiet and uneventful life until the series of disastrous events that we are shown in the course of the film. In a remarkable performance, Battisti presents the old man’s life in a series of well-observed tableaux with both his pet dog and a youthful maid who lives in the same apartment. Battisti was a Florentine who had been a university professor, but such is De Sica’s direction of this non-professional that it is impossible to think of him as a non-actor. The theme of the film is the position of the old in modern society, and it remains as pertinent in the 21st century as when it was made – particularly as De Sica keeps in check the sentimentality that occasionally creeps into his films. This strategy is most marked in the presentation of Umberto D himself, who is often unsympathetic and bad-tempered character.
NAKED CITY – THE COMPLETE SEASONS ONE AND TWO, Various directors/Acorn Digital If, like me, you have long wanted to catch up with this iconic series, we are now given the chance — although I have to admit that its digital-only format is restricting. Nevertheless, here is one of the most famous and influential of American crime shows. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Dianne Ladd, Dennis Hopper and many more — and released exclusively on Digital — Naked City – The Complete Seasons One and Two, is now available download-to-own on iTunes and Amazon courtesy of Acorn Media International. “There are eight million stories in the naked city…” this will be 71 of them. Yes, with Season One running a whopping 39 half-hour episodes from 1958 to 1959, and Season Two following hard on its heels with a further 32 hour-long episodes from 1960 to 1961, these great collections offer an exciting and unmissable look back in time to a place where the streets were hot and your blood ran cold. Inspired by Jules Dassin’s 1948 movie The Naked City, these semi-documentary TV dramas, filmed both in the studio and on the gritty streets of New York, ran on the ABC network to great acclaim, enticing a host of unparalleled guest stars in these seasons including Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Dianne Ladd, Dennis Hopper, Jack Klugman, Vic Morrow, Rocky Graziano, Eli Wallach, Peter Falk, Al Lewis, Leslie Nielsen, Claude Rains, Telly Savalas, Walter Matthau, James Caan, Bruce Dern, Robert Duvall, Ed Asner, Sylvia Miles, Roddy McDowall and many more.
LUDWIG, Luchino Visconti, director/Arrow Films – DVD + Blu-ray In an era of short attention spans (Nordic Noir TV notwithstanding), it will be interesting to see what modern audiences make of this lengthy and demanding peace. Will its extravagant beauty and strong performances compensate for the close attention required – not to mention the extremely stately pace? With a string of masterpieces behind him – including Ossessione, Senso, The Leopard and Death in Venice – the great Italian director Luchino Visconti turned his attentions to the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1972, resulting in an epic of 19th century decadence. Dominated by Helmut Berger (The Damned, The Bloodstained Butterfly) in the title role, Ludwig nevertheless manages to find room for an impressive cast list: Romy Schneider (reprising her Elisabeth of Austria characterisation from the Sissi trilogy), Silvana Mangano, Gert Fröbe and Trevor Howard as a definitive Richard Wagner. As opulent as any of Visconti’s epics – Piero Tosi’s costume design was nominated for an Academy Award – Ludwig is presented here in its complete form in accordance with the director’s wishes.
BIRD ON A WIRE, John Badham, director/Fabulous Films One of the pleasures of the DVD industry is the opportunity to revisit films we perhaps did not pay sufficient attention to the first time round. It’s fascinating to see how well (or ill) time has treated them – and here’s another opportunity for a reassessment. Double Oscar winner (not for this, obviously) Mel Gibson and Academy & Golden Globe winner Goldie Hawn team up in this non-stop-action comedy directed by John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames). The picture debuted in the No.1 spot at the American box-office in 1990 and went on to gross over $138.6 million in theatres worldwide. The 10 minute climax to the movie throws the stars into an indoor zoo, constructed at a cost of $1.3 million. The zoo houses among others a lioness, one baboon, an iguana, a seven foot monitor lizard, a twelve foot python, three jaguars, four alligators, six tigers, six chimpanzees, twenty-five kinds of parrots and pools of piranhas both real and robotic. Hiding under the FBI Witness Protection Program, Rick Jarmin (Gibson) gets nervous when old flame Marianne Graves (Hawn) recognises him. But before he can assume a new identity, the man he put in jail is released and comes to pay his respects. Rick and Marianne find themselves thrown together on an exhilarating cross-country scramble, barely evading the gangsters, police and an amorous veterinarian. Their whirlwind travels eventually lead to a climax in an elaborate zoo exhibit.
DEAD OR ALIVE TRILOGY, Takashi Miike, director/Arrow Films- DVD and Blu-ray If you’ve ever seen a film directed by Takashi Miike before, you’ll know exactly what to expect. It goes without saying the squeamish need not apply. But those with a taste for visceral, kinetic cinema and safely get on board. Beginning with an explosive, six-minute montage of sex, drugs and violence, and ending with a phallus-headed battle robot taking flight, Takashi Miike’s unforgettable Dead or Alive Trilogy features many of the director’s most outrageous moments set alongside some of his most dramatically moving scenes. Made between 1999 and 2002, the Dead or Alive films cemented Miike’s reputation overseas as one of the most provocative enfants terrible of Japanese cinema, yet also one of its most talented and innovative filmmakers. In Dead or Alive, tough gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and his ethnically Chinese gang make a play to take over the drug trade in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district by massacring the competition. But he meets his match in detective Jojima (Show Aikawa), who will do everything to stop them. Dead or Alive 2: Birds casts Aikawa and Takeuchi together again, but as new characters, a pair of rival yakuza assassins who turn out to be childhood friends; after a botched hit, they flee together to the island where they grew up, and decide to devote their deadly skills to a more humanitarian cause. And in Dead or Alive: Final, Takeuchi and Aikawa are catapulted into a future Yokohama ruled by multilingual gangs and cyborg soldiers, where they once again butt heads in the action-packed and cyberpunk-tinged finale to the trilogy.
WE STILL STEAL THE OLD WAY, Sacha Bennett, director/Platform It’s hard to remember at this juncture how well Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels was received as the subsequent flood of Mockney movies pretty well put paid to this jokey strand of East End gangster films. Your tolerance for that idiom will dictate whether to pick up We Still Steal the Old Way, which is diverting enough, but clearly falls into the Mockney idiom — even having the impeccably upper-middle-class actor Ian Ogilvy play East End, much as the similarly middle-class director of Lock, Stock, Guy Ritchie, tried to present himself as a Cockney ‘Diamond Geezer.’ The Archer gang return in this follow-up to We Still Kill The Old Way, as Ian Ogilvy and an all-star cast of old school criminals attempt to pull off an audacious robbery… in order to get themselves thrown into prison. The old school Archer gang are back, led by the charismatic Richie Archer, who hatches a plan to pull off an audacious robbery. Halfway through the heist, the gang get caught, and they’re sent down. So far, so good – now they’re in prison they can put into motion their plot to spring fellow inmate George, who desperately needs to get out before his wife dies. Trouble arises when Richie’s arch enemy Vic Farrow gets himself transferred into the prison, wanting to settle some old scores.
THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, Joe McGrath, director/Fabulous Films Terry Southern’s satirical novels have been less lucky on film than his contribution to such superb screenplays as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. The film of his erotic parody Candy was a celebrated debacle, but still oddly fascinating – and that verdict applies equally well to this bizarre take on his novel about a demented philanthropist, transplanted from the US to the UK with Peter Sellers as the eccentric Sir Guy Grand. Ringo Starr’s performance is every bit as toe-curling as the one he gave in the other Southern adaptation Candy, and there is evidence (as on so many later Sellers films) of his ill-advised tampering with the screenplay. But having said that, there is still much to enjoy among the wreckage here, not least a cameo from Christopher Lee as ‘Ship’s vampire.’
FOLLOW THE MONEY Season 2, Various directors/Nordic Noir & Beyond Even its most dedicated admirers could not claim that Follow the Money is in the upper echelons of Nordic noir thrillers, but it is certainly made with efficiency and intelligence. The complete second season of the Danish financial crime thriller premiered on British television on BBC Four. In the second season, a seemingly insignificant investigation into a small carpentry business that went bankrupt under mysterious circumstances catches Mads’ (Thomas Bo Larsen) attention, and soon he gets wind of a huge case involving a major bank. Claudia (Natalie Madueño), who has paid dearly for her involvement in Energreen, is now given an opportunity to atone for all the wrong choices she made, whilst Nicky’s (Esben Smed Jensen) unique skills earn him an exciting job, albeit at a high price. Follow the Money is sturdy — if strictly non-innovative — fare.
CALTIKI: THE IMMORTAL MONSTER, Riccardo Freda & Mario Bava, directors/Arrow Blu-ray Initiated by Riccardo Freda and completed by his protégé Mario Bava, this is a superb transfer of a fascinating, little-seem curio. This Italian take on The Quatermass Xperiment (and other gelatinous monster films) has never looked better – and for all its many flaws, it is a fascinating, difficult-to find link in genre cinema. Bava’s classic Black Sunday was just around the corner – and there are copious hints here of where it came from.
C.S I. CYBER, Various directors/DVD/Entertainment One The CSI sequence is now so prolific that there must be an episode playing somewhere in the world at any moment of the day. This set undoubtedly has an interest in that it is the final season of the crime thriller, starring Academy Award winner Patricia Arquette, James Van Der Beek and Ted Danson and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. This show is based on the real-life work of pioneering cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, and brings criminal forensics into the 21st Century and beyond… CSI: Cyber follows the work of Avery Ryan (Arquette), as she and the team welcome D.B. Russell (Danson), a Las Vegas veteran Crime Scene Investigator recruited by Ryan to direct the FBI’s Next Generation Cyber Forensics Division. Still grieving the loss of his best friend, and following a recent divorce, Russell decides to take on new challenges by studying how crimes play out in the real world, combining old school forensics with new school tech. The second and final season of CSI: Cyber is a five disc box-set with many extras.
THE INNOCENT/ L’INNOCENTE Luchino Visconti, director/Arrow More Visconti, and to some degree, the remarks I made above about the director apply once again; the film is visually stunning, but demands viewer patience. This is Visconti’s grand finale; the sensual and epic portrayal of a diabolical marriage is finally restored and released in HD on Blu-ray.
THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN, Stuart Burge, director/Network One can’t really call Norman Wisdom a prophet without honour in his own country, as his films were very popular among undemanding audiences, even though they were (and are) dismissed by the more sophisticated. But there are parts of the world where the comedian is still revered, and this DVD of a typical Wisdom film (playing a naive explosive experts) will appeal to his fans. The most curious thing in the film is the sight of the diminutive Norman kissing a very young Susannah York — but then all the up-the=social-scale actresses Norman was invariably paired with in his films provoked the question: why are they interested in this maladroit figure?
Chilling supernatural drama THE ENTITY from EUREKA
Documentary: IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO TODAY! THE BEATLES: SGT. PEPPER & BEYOND from VIRGIN MEDIA
Criterion Collection: 12 ANGRY MEN from Sony