New Blu-rays from Eureka & Arrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

SALVADOR, Oliver Stone director/Eureka Entertainment Blu-rayHow would Oliver Stone’s much-acclaimed political drama look in the 21st century, I wondered, when I was preparing to write an essay for Eureka’s spruced-up new Blu-ray issue? Would it still have the almost physical impact that viewers remembered from seeing it in 1986? Mere minutes into watching the film, however, any doubts were swiftly allayed– time has not dimmed its visceral charge, and it remains as edgily involving as when it was made. And the achievements of the film are many: there is the cinéma vérité feel that Stone and his cinematographer Robert Richardson give to the action; the quirky characterisation of Stone’s continually endangered characters; the continuing sense of sweaty reality (at the cost of filming at some dangerous locations where people were dying) — and the solid achievement of James Woods’ remarkable method performance. But there is another plaudit to be handed out here: the fact that Stone cannily manages to involve us totally in the plight of his distinctly unlikeable protagonists; there are no easy appeals for sympathy. Set during the Salvadorean Civil War, Salvador affords us a hellish vision of conflict as seen through the lens of a real-life gonzo photojournalist Richard Boyle (Woods in an Oscar-nominated role), whose career and life are in the doldrums and who is to journey to hell and back. Also starring Jim Belushi and John Savage, Salvador bristles with Stone’s anger at the US role in the Central American crisis and its support for the right-wing military government. The film makes its UK debut on Blu-ray as part of The Masters of Cinema Series in a dual format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. Watched on a large screen, the brightness and clarity here make this disc the only way to encounter the film. Most viewers will be full of admiration for the visual impact of this high-definition transfer. There is also a feature-length audio commentary with director Oliver Stone.

FLESH + BLOOD, Paul Verhoeven, director/Eureka EntertainmentOne of the great virtues of the DVD and Blu-ray era has been the chance to reappraise several films that were under-regarded in their original unimpressive issues — particularly so as in the case of Paul Verhoeven’s lively medieval epic, when we are given the chance to see material originally cut for censorship reasons. And while not everyone will be persuaded that this is as impressive as such films by the director as Starship Troopers, we are finally given the chance to see exactly what he intended here. Verhoeven worked with the Dutch actor Rutger Hauer in his early work, and the latter gives a spirited performance as the leader of a small group of mercenaries avenging themselves on a corrupt nobleman and his son. The director makes no attempt to sugarcoat the brutality and licentiousness of the era and of his ruthless antihero. Also starring an often-nude Jennifer Jason Leigh, the film appears in a dual format edition featuring a limited edition O-Card slipcase and collector’s booklet (the latter in the first pressing only).

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, Jean Cocteau, director/BFI Blu-ray  The days when an artist of Jean Cocteau’s stature might work in film as well as other more ‘artistic’ media are rarer today (although there are exceptions), and the cinema is never likely to see again anything as magical and haunting as this definitive version of the Beauty and the Beast theme, with its surrealist vision brilliantly realised by the director/writer. La Belle et la bête is a landmark feat of cinematic fantasy in which Cocteau conjures spectacular visions of enchantment, desire and death. The BFI presents the original film version of this fairy-tale masterpiece in High Definition for the first time in the UK, released on Blu-ray on 6 August 2018. Special features include a commentary by Sir Christopher Frayling, an animated short, documentaries, trailers and deleted scenes, along with an illustrated booklet. Josette Day is luminous yet feisty as Beauty and Jean Marais gives one of his best performances as the Beast, at once brutal and gentle, rapacious and vulnerable, shamed and repelled by his own bloodlust. Henri Alekan’s cinematography combines with Christian Bérard’s masterly costumes and set designs to create a magical piece of cinema: a children’s tale refashioned as a stylised, highly sophisticated dream. Special features include Newly presented in High Definition from the French 4K restoration (by SNC and the Cinémathèque française) and a Feature commentary by cultural historian Sir Christopher Frayling.

THE CHANGELING, Peter Medak, direct/Second Sight  I have to admit that when I first saw this film, I was bemused by much of the praise – but I was wrong, as this new edition proves. This is one of the most intelligently made and efficiently chilling supernatural films of its era, and it has never looked better than here. ‘A child’s ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was enough to scare the daylights out of me’, said Stephen King, and The Changeling is cited as a huge influence by renowned film-makers including Martin Scorsese and Alejandro Amenabar and lauded by horror aficionados. The new disc features newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy. One of the last classic horror films to finally be released in high-definition, Peter Medak’s The Changeling arrives with a slew of newly created special features such as a commentaries, interviews and featurettes.

FILMWORKER, Tony Zierra, director/Dogwoof  Following its critically acclaimed theatrical release, Filmworker is the remarkable story of Leon Vitali, the up-and-coming actor who gave up fame and fortune to serve for decades as helpmeet for the legendary director Stanley Kubrick. Filmworker is a compelling documentary charting Vitali’s work with the maestro and their unique relationship. As a long-time admirer of Stanley Kubrick’s work, it was Vitali’s dream come true when he landed the role of ‘Lord Bullingdon’ in Barry Lyndon. His performance was highly acclaimed and a wealth of prestigious film, television and stage offers flooded on, but they weren’t to be. Having become enthralled by the director’s all-encompassing process of creation, the actor sacrificed his flourishing career to take on the humble role of assistant to the master filmmaker. For more than two decades, he played a crucial role behind-the-scenes helping Kubrick make and maintain his seminal body of work – at some cost, as we observe, to himself.

Barry Forshaw
 

The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy Tom Weaver et al

Tom Weaver has long been recognised as the doyen of commentators about the classic (and not so classic) science-fiction films of the 1950s and 60s, and he is the perfect guide here to one of the most fondly remembered film sequences in horror cinema. When Universal Studios made one final addition to its memorable roster of movie monsters, they chose wisely with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the ‘gill man’ quickly became as almost as iconic as Frankenstein and Dracula had been before it. Of course, much of the success was down to the fact that the first two films were directed by the greatest of all 1950s SF filmmakers Jack Arnold, while the last entry was handled by Arnold’s protégé John Sherwood. Almost every contribution is given forensic and fascinating attention in Weaver’s over-sized book – and it’s particularly refreshing to see an unsung heroine behind the creature design, Millicent Patrick recognised; despite credit grabbed by others, she was actually responsible for look of the creature. Her contribution – and that of everyone else connected with the films — is examined in loving fashion, With a new Blu-ray set is in the offing – in which the first two films will both be available in their original 3-D versions (Revenge of the Creature has not been previously seen in this format in home video, apart from an authorised edition, while the final film will be shown for the first time on DVD in the correct widescreen format) – Weaver’s fascinating labour of love could not be better timed.

Barry Forshaw

The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy by Tom Weaver et al is published by McFarland

 

Final Season and Complete Set of The Bridge from Arrow TV

Admirers of the mesmerising Scandinavian crime drama The Bridge (and they are legion) had been on tenterhooks waiting for the final season of this most accomplished of Nordic Noir shows. And now those who did not see the recent showing of the BAFTA-winner on BBC TWO — or those who want a permanent memento of their favourite female Scandinavian detective (The Killing’s Sarah Lund notwithstanding) — will be pleased to hear of Arrow TV’s release the DVD & Blu-ray of Saga’s final outing.

Ill-matched partners – and sometime lovers — Saga Noren and her troubled police colleague Henrik find themselves engaged in a series of a series of macabre killings that begin when a high-ranking government officer, the director general of the Immigration Service, is discovered stoned to death – the method favoured in theocracies. Do the deaths have a personal connection with the Danish police team that Henrik (still seeking his missing daughters) is part of? The fourth series cleverly plays on elements that have been introduced in earlier series, building inexorably to the final poignant scene with the damaged Saga (and if you haven’t heard about it, I promise you will not be reading about it here). But now is perhaps the perfect time for revisiting the entire series, and Arrow have obligingly also issued a box of every season, starting from the first series from 2011.

The British taste for dramatised Scandinavian crime was piqued by The Killing, and, to a large degree, the momentum of this UK enthusiasm was maintained with this later cult series. The first season of Björn Stein’s The Bridge acquired a dedicated following, not least for its infuriating but likable sociopathic heroine. The series, with one caveat, is one of the quirkiest and most intriguing entries in the field, utilising familiar themes but giving them an idiosyncratic twist. A body is discovered on the Oresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark (two bodies, in fact – in gruesome fashion, the torso and legs belong to different victims) and the ill-assorted female/male cop duo with equal jurisdiction obliged to work together on the case (one Swedish, one Danish) are wonderfully played by Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia. Helin’s eccentric Saga Norén certainly possessed the capacity to become as much of a cult figure as The Killing’s Sara Lund – though she takes the latter’s lack of interpersonal skills to almost cosmic levels, sporting a hilarious inability to relate to other human beings; in this area, she makes Lisbeth Salander looked like an agony aunt. Saga, for instance, takes Erica Jong’s conception of the ‘zipless fuck’ to hilarious levels – sex for her is an itch that simply need to be occasionally scratched, with zero emotional commitment. There are a slew of mystifying plot strands thrown up in the early episodes which will kept viewers comprehensively hooked – for instance, who was the scarred, half-dressed homeless girl who is poisoned in the second episode? Sofia Helin, an actress whose own slight facial scarring points up her own powerful appeal balance the schizophrenic elements of her character with total understanding, while Kim Bodnia – functioning as the viewer’s eyes (though which we review his eccentric partner) – does quite as well with a far less showy part. The caveat? The super-intelligent, super-ingenious villain – when finally revealed – perhaps lack the final ounce of evil charisma his character calls for.

The Bridge: Complete Season IV & The Bridge I-IV DVD & Blu-ray, various directors/Arrow TV

 

 

Second Run to issue the stunning 1966 Slovak feature THE MIRACULOUS VIRGIN

Presented from a new 2K transfer, Second Run presents Štefan Uher’s stunning 1966 Slovak feature THE MIRACULOUS VIRGIN (Panna zázračnica). Released on August 20, THE MIRACULOUS VIRGIN is one of Slovak’s cinema’s most admired and controversial works. Adapted by The Sun in a Net director Štefan Uher from the renowned 1944 novella by Dominik Tatarka, the film is an exquisite, surreal odyssey through the Slovak art scene of the 1960s. The Blu-ray and DVD editions also features Uher’s breathtaking 1959 short film Marked by Darkness, plus all-new documentary The Story of ‘The Miraculous Virgin’,  an exploration of the film, the talents behind it and its legacy, produced by the Slovak Film Institute.

Death Line by Sean Hogan /Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Maura McHugh/Theatre of Blood by John Llewellyn Probert/Martin by Jez Winship

 

There is now a sizeable library of books about films of the macabre that could rival the wildest imaginings of a Jorge Luis Borges, with every possible tributary of the genre examined in forensic detail. There is, however, one area which is yet to be explored in such profusion: books about individual films. But a remedy is at hand – the enterprising Midnight Movie Monographs from PS Publishing are to be commended for beginning to plug this gap, commissioning volumes on some of the most intriguing examples of the genre – and, what’s more, marrying the subject films to the perfect writers to address them. All of the books listed above are treated by their authors with enthusiasm (although, of course, you would expect nothing less), but also with a clear analytical frame of mind that addresses the subject with an appreciation of context: the background to the making of the films and the degree of intelligence (or ghoulish fun in the case of Theatre of Blood) with which the films are made. The contributors are from a variety of backgrounds (the writer Maura McHugh has done intriguing work in the comics field), but all are in command of their subject movies. In fact, one of the most striking entries is written by a filmmaker who works within this very genre…

 

Recently, British horror films and younger directors have touched on different sources of evil and menace than the Gothic. It is that an index of the low esteem in which both politics and big business are held in the early 21st century that there is often a metaphorical conjoining of evil with the great and good of society; it is a recurrent theme in the hybrid horror/crime films such modern British directors as Ben Wheatley and Sean Hogan. Evil in the modern age is no longer located in foreign aristocracy or supernatural creatures — but in the pillars of the establishment. Or – how about the London underground? Sean Hogan has chosen Gary Sherman’s cult horror film Death Line – and Hogan’s taste for urban horror in his own work as filmmaker makes him the perfect fit for this study. Hogan once said to me (when I was interviewing him for my British Gothic Cinema): ‘Certainly, if you’d have asked me what I wanted to emulate when I was first setting out to make films, I would have said the 70s new wave of US horror. Those films made a massive impact on me when I was younger, and I imagine that I might have dismissed a lot of the Gothic tradition as old hat at that point. But it’s all part of the same road you end up travelling along.’ Gary Sherman, an American in London, managed to synthesise the gothic tradition with a very modern urban setting, and produced (as the study notes) an anomaly in British cinema made on the slenderest of budgets, its critique of the English class system rendering the subject very British, as does its quotidian setting: the London underground plagued by cannibalistic monsters. Hogan is the perfect guide to Death Line (and produces his own metafiction inspired by the film),

 

Maura McHugh is a writer with a pronounced taste for the bizarre and the off-kilter; her books include Twisted Myths and Twisted Fairytales, while her comics work (sometimes co-authored with Kim Newman) shows a similar predilection for the pleasingly unorthodox. All of which makes her the perfect author for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, David Lynch’s cult film continuation of his groundbreaking television series. McHugh has the full measure of the director’s surrealistic vision, and in prose that is always cogent and expressive, she executes a double task: analysing material that resists analysis and obliging readers to pick up the DVD of Lynch’s film once again. And what more should a film book do?

 

A similar degree of commitment to the films they are writing about may be found in Jez Winship’s thorough study of George Romero’s neglected modern-day vampire project Martin and John Llewellyn Probert’s celebration of the camp Vincent Price favourite Theatre of Blood, a film that functions as a parody of the genre while delivering the requisite frissons.

 

The news that Tim Lucas (whose arm-straining volume on Italian horror maestro Mario Bava is absolutely definitive) has delivered a forthcoming volume on the underrated portmanteau movie Spirits of the Dead (with its delirious Fellini episode derived from Poe) is welcome news indeed. It goes without saying that this is a series that belongs on the bookshelves of every aficionado of the macabre.

 

Death Line by Sean Hogan /Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me by Maura McHugh/Theatre of Blood by John Llewellyn Probert/Martin by Jez Winship are all published by Midnight Movie Monographs/PS Publishing