THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (André Øvredal, director) Arrow Blu-ray The very fact that this acclaimed chiller features – with nothing spared — the virtually complete autopsy that is promised in its title marks it out as not for the squeamish. But those of hardier disposition should find themselves encountering an unusual experience in the genre. An ordinary autopsy turns into a nightmarish ordeal for father and son morticians, played by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, in a macabre horror thriller that delivers the goods. Experienced coroner Tommy Tilden and his son Austin run a family-owned morgue and crematorium in Virginia. When the local Sheriff brings in an emergency case – an unknown female corpse nicknamed ‘Jane Doe’, found in the basement of a home where a multiple homicide took place – it seems like just another open-and-shut case. But as the autopsy proceeds, these seasoned professionals are left reeling as each layer of their inspection brings frightening new revelations. Perfectly preserved on the outside, Jane Doe’s insides have been scarred, charred and dismembered – seemingly the victim of a horrific yet mysterious ritualistic torture. As Tommy and Austin begin to piece together these gruesome discoveries, an unnatural force takes hold of the crematorium. While a violent storm rages above ground, it seems the real horrors lie on the inside… Director André Øvredal burst onto the scene in 2010 with his extraordinary cult horror comedy Trollhunter and his follow-up film is very different(but equally persuasive) fare.
THE FABULOUS BARON MUNCHAUSEN (Karel Zeman, director), Second Run Terry Gilliam may have failed in his attempt to make his Baron Munchausen film, but here we can see at last one of his key inspirations that a film that has been virtually impossible to view for many years in the West, although its reputation continued to grow. It is in fact a remarkable piece of work, as visually stunning as we have heard it was, and this new Blu-ray and DVD release proves that the recognition was overdue. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil, 1961) is released on both Blu-Ray and DVD. Often described as the ‘Czech Méliès’, visionary filmmaker Karel Zeman has been a profound influence on whole generations of film artists from Jan Švankmajer to Tim Burton, the Quay Brothers to Terry Gilliam, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Wes Anderson. His ground-breaking innovations in the use of live-action and animation mark him as one of the great masters of 20th Century fantasy cinema, ranking alongside his more celebrated Western counterparts Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. The Fabulous Baron Munchausen is perhaps Zeman’s most beloved achievement.
BOCCACCIO ’70 (Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Vittorio de Sica, Mario Monicelli, directors) Cult Films Blu-ray A very welcome Blu-ray from the new label Cult Films. As I noted in Italian Cinema, when the film first appeared, many were enticed by the publicity for Boccaccio 70, anticipating a generous helping of cleavage from Anita Ekberg, Sophia Loren and Romy Schneider, which they got, although the contributions of the distinguished directors were less obvious. The three sizable segments of this promising anthology were directed by Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica. Fellini’s episode, ‘The Temptation of Dr Antonio’, was unpretentious and agreeable enough, but the satirical squib seemed like a watered down version of La Dolce Vita’s derisive onslaughts. Visconti was his usually impressive visual self (and provided the most serious entry), but the sombre mood of his sketch struck the wrong note in what was essentially a film of satirical squibs. And, alas, De Sica seemed to have been drained of all that made his work impressive, and ‘The Raffle’, while being superficially absorbing, was somewhat arid. However, the final effect of the film was agreeable enough, and notably diverting in the Fellini episode. After some strikingly designed credits, Boccaccio 70 opens with Fellini’s ‘The Temptation of Dr Antonio’, which features Ekberg in an unlikely tale which devolves on narrow-mindedness and puritanical bigotry. Antonio (amusingly portrayed by Peppino De Filippo) is a vehemently radical self-appointed censor who objects to anything that conveys the suggestion that sex can be an enjoyable experience. His protests are generally ineffectual but cause much chaos. Antonio’s moral indignations are inflamed when a massive hording depicting Anita Ekberg is constructed outside his apartment. Ekberg is seductively encouraging the public to ‘drink more milk’ (the lactation joke is similar to the one made by Frank Tashlin with Jane Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It) and the episode concludes with a 40-foot Ekberg stepping out of the poster and clutching the terrified Antonio to her breast, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman-style. The second episode is set in surroundings of velvety opulence and elegantly suffocating décor. This is Visconti’s episode, ‘The Job’, which tells of a pampered young countess who discovers that her husband is involved in a call girl scandal. Visconti accentuates the heavy, oppressive beauty of the countess’s cloistered existence. He shows how her every need is satisfied by hovering servants and how she has become incapable of any profession in the world but prostitution, which she despairingly takes to at the end of the episode. Visconti’s characters are dwarfed by the lushness of their surroundings, forever drifting through doors that lead to yet more lavishly furnished rooms, and their suffocating comfortable cages are impregnable. Fine performances by Schneider and Tomas Milian fail to give the episode more significance. De Sica’s colourful sequence with Sophia Loren as a fairground girl who raffles her body to drooling admirers is rewarding, but is a long distance from Bicycle Thieves. Parcelled together, the three episodes are a pleasant enough divertimento, with several incidental voyeuristic frissons. Ironically, the final effect of the film is less erotic than the more reigned-in sensuality of more serious movies, such as those of Antonioni. The Cult Films issue features new special features a previously unseen documentary Sophia, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, a candid, intimate interview with Loren with exclusive contributions from Woody Allen, Giorgio Armani and other close friends and collaborators.
THE VISION (Norman Stone, director) Network This once-acclaimed television drama has completely dropped from sight, and deserves re-evaluation — particularly as the religious right (the theme here) is on the march again in America. Dirk Bogarde, Lee Remick and Eileen Atkins head an impressive cast in this TV drama from William Nicholson and the creative team behind Shadowlands. Originally screened as part of BBC2’s Screen Two strand and featuring an early TV role for Helena Bonham Carter, The Vision is a disturbing reflection of an era of televangelists, burgeoning satellite channels and ruthless media manipulation. Bogarde plays James Marriner, a faded, unhappily married former TV presenter who is persuaded to front the People Channel – a right-wing, evangelical satellite network poised to launch in Europe; determined to recruit “Gentle Jim” as a reassuringly familiar anchorman, the network’s steely, seductive boss Grace Gardner (Remick) proves hard to refuse. As the network’s first live transmission looms, Marriner, whose personal life is now under surveillance, has become deeply uneasy about its aims. But Gardner makes it clear that any attempt to alert viewers to her organisation’s true agenda will bring about a devastating retribution.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (Sam Wood, Director) Fabulous Films The finest screen version of the Hemingway classic, For Whom The Bell Tolls stars a stolid but charismatic Gary Cooper and a luminous Ingrid Bergman. This newly restored version includes footage that was cut after the original theatrical premiere in 1943.The title of the book and the film is, of course, taken from a passage by John Donne: “No man is an island, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; … therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” Within three days of the book’s publication, Paramount bought the screen rights for $150,000. For Whom The Bell Tolls became the top box-office hit of 1943, earning $7.1 million. It was nominated for nine Oscars, winning one (Katina Paxinou for Best Actress in a Supporting Role). Victor Young’s film soundtrack for the film was the first complete score from an American film to be issued on record. The film is far more politically neutral than the book. The studio depoliticized most of the film’s content probably to avoid box-office boycotts, rendering it more or less like a generic adventure story. Nowhere is General Franco mentioned, although he leads the Fascist movement depicted in the story. Director Sam Wood explained “It is a love story against a brutal background. It would be the same story if they were on the other side.”
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, Dario Argento, director/Arrow Blu-ray Readers will, I hope, forgive me quoting once again from my own Italian Cinema. Usually to the throbbing, high-decibel accompaniment of the music of Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin (his long-time collaborator), the early and mid-period films of the energetic Italian Dario Argento were once breath-stopping rollercoaster rides of painterly visuals and graphic horror. Argento’s feature film debut, the poetically titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1970), augured well for his career – a commercial success in 1970, it looks a fascinating dry run for many ideas to be more fully developed in later films. Tony Musante plays an American writer in Italy who witnesses a murderous assault through glass (prefiguring David Hemmings in the later Deep Red (Profondo Rosso, 1976); he is trapped between sliding glass doors while attempting to aid the bleeding victim (Eva Renzi) – and this sequence seems to be the one people remember over the years – probably because Musante’s subsequent tracking down of the black leather-clad murderer is handled with rather less panache than Argento was to develop in subsequent films. There are of course visual delights galore – a marvellously Hitchcockian chase of a yellow-jacketed hired killer (one of several loose ends not really tied up) that ends with a joke worthy of North by Northwest: a murder by razor that utilises sound as chillingly as Polanski did in Repulsion (a word would be in order here about Ennio Morricone’s mesmeric score, cleverly used throughout) and the suspenseful siege of Musante’s girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) in her flat – the murderer’s knife cutting through the door invites another comparison: the demolition job done on a similar door in Hitchcock’s The Birds – but this doesn’t prevent the sequence from being claustrophobically pulse-racing. Quibbles apart, the film is essential viewing for admirers of the director – but I would suggest only after seeing his later, more assured features. Deep Red is stunning evidence that Dario Argento’s delirious visual talents have been consistently in evidence from his earliest films to Inferno (1980). A tortuous Hitchcockian thriller (with a relatively unguessable denouement), it is better constructed than Suspiria (1977) – the film it has most in common with – and the plot-spinning between the big, operatic set-pieces is better throughout. However, it is obvious that the director’s real interests lie in the heady exploration of baroque architecture in front of which his characters are gorily dispatched. David Hemmings, in a nod to his Blow Up persona, is almost witness to a murder, and, with the ambiguous aid of a young newswoman, threads his way through several menacing expressionist settings before, inevitably, confronting the deranged killer. The murders along the way are highly imaginatively staged – the death-by-boiling-water makes the similar sequence in Halloween II look thin stuff indeed. Several frissons are provided by Carlo Rambaldi’s effects – the most shocking being decapitation by necklace and lift (not exactly a hackneyed demise.) Argento’s debut is released here in a striking, brand new 4K restoration from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio,
ONE-EYED JACKS, Marlon Brando, director/Arrow Blu-ray Over the years, many well-thought-of but elusive films have been difficult to see in decent versions, but few have been so hard to catch as this remarkable, deeply flawed film, the sole directorial credit of the temperamental actor Marlon Brando. Those who have only seen washed-out, panned-and scanned versions of Brando’s leisurely revenge Western may be very surprised just how amazing it looks in this splendid widescreen restoration. The film itself, while not entirely free of actorly indulgences, demonstrates that Brando had the talent and vision to bring off such a project had it not been for his indecisiveness – his typical dilatoriness (going massively over-budget) unsurprisingly ensuring that he never made another film as a director. One-Eyed Jacks (whose other assets including Karl Malden’s threatening performance and Hugo Friedhofers’s orchestral score) is presented here in a beautiful 4K restoration so that the film may be seen as Marlon Brando originally intended, and with a wealth of special features delivering new and fascinating insight into this unusual, baroque Western.
DOBERMAN COP, Kinji Fukasaku, director/Arrow Blu-ray Those who have seen and enjoyed the operatically violent ‘Streetfighter’ series of films starring Sonny Chiba may be tempted by this one, but be warned: it is a very different kettle of fish, and much more comic (in a fashion that will not be to more sophisticated Western tastes). In fact, the film has a lot in common with early Bruce Lee movies, inasmuch as the martial arts-dispensing hero is initially presented as a naive country bumpkin, and Chiba is even saddled with a ludicrous pet pig — a crass decision by the filmmakers that the film barely recovers from. But Chiba fans will still be interested, and aficionados of bizarre Japanese cinema will find the release of Kinji Fukasaku’s film intriguing. Never before released on video outside Japan, this oddity is based on a popular manga and was released just as the popularity of the yakuza movie was waning.
HITLER: THE LAST 10 DAYS (Ennio De Concino, director) Fabulous Films There is one key reason for seeing this film: the redoubtable Alec Guinness, who gives a masterly performance in the title role, even triumphing over what appeared to be an almost impossible task — making his Hitler persuasive, even though at times his performance suggests some of the many parodies we have seen over the years (and inevitably, it suffers in comparison with that of Bruno Ganz in Downfall). The other problem is that the film is a bit of a multi-national Euro-pudding, with several of the foreign actors unconvincingly dubbed –.Adolfo Celli, with that famously thick Italian accent, never spoke English as impeccably as he does here. Hitler: The Last 10 Days is based on the book Hitler’s Last Days: An Eye-Witness Account written by German Army Officer Gerhard Boldt. Boldt was in the Führerbunker for 8 of the last 10 days with Hitler. Boldt was the production technical advisor for the film. Guinness worked closely with Boldt perfecting his portrayal of the dictator: “He showed me–and most beautifully– Hitler’s behaviour and idiosyncrasies during those last days. His mannerisms, the sound of his voice, every gesture and stance was described to me.” An accurate replica of the Führerbunker was constructed at Shepperton Studios, with the rooms designed to their original dimensions.
THE FOUR MARX BROS various directors Arrow Blu-ray Four classic Marx Bros movies from the earlier days of their success, showcasing – to hilarious effect – everything from the brothers’ perfectly timed slapstick to Groucho’s sardonic wit and impeccable delivery. Many of the great set pieces are to be found here, and the Blu-ray spruce-up admirably enhances all of the films.
MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (Vittorio De Sica, director) Cult Film Blu-ray Marriage Italian Style reunites Italian screen giants Sophia Loren & Marcello Mastroianni in a new HD transfer of a now-neglected film. Director Vittorio De Sica examines the Italian marriage with Mastroianni playing Domenico, a businessman who is used to being in control until he meets former prostitute Filumena (Loren). Sparks fly and she becomes both his mistress and the manager of his pastry shop. All is well until Domenico begins courting another, younger woman, and flaunts his new relationship in front of her… Adapted from a stage play by Eduardo de Filippo, this Italian melodrama was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress at the 1964 Academy Awards the same year for Best Foreign Film. This release also features Vittorio D, a tribute to the multi-awarded maestro filmmaker De Sica, with contributions from Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach.
TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (Joseph H. Lewis, director), Arrow Blu-ray if you have in your mind an image of Sterling Hayden, striding towards a gunfight with a whaling harpoon slung across his shoulder, then you will have seen Joseph H Lewis’s highly unusual, Western, as this is its most memorable image. Lewis was not as consistent as other cult directors such as Don Siegel and Anthony Mann, but could deliver the goods when required. Another plus here is the self-loathing, black-clad villain played by Nedrick Young.
DEATH IN THE GARDEN/La mort en ce jardin (Luis Bunuel, director) Eureka Death in the Garden [La mort en ce jardin] is atypical Luis Buñuel – more in the nature of an adventure film, but is unmissable for aficionados of the director. It is now released as part of The Masters of Cinema Series in a definitive Dual-format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition. After the relatively commercial Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Luis Buñuel returned to the surrealist and political style of his earlier works with Death in the Garden [La mort en ce jardin] the middle film in what has been described as his “revolutionary triptych”, a trilogy of films that “study in the morality and tactics of armed revolution against a right-wing dictatorship” Filmed in stunning Eastmancolor, Death in the Garden is both a rousing adventure film, and a surrealist tour de force. This hard-to see film appears here for the first time r on Blu-ray in a new Dual Format edition.
PULSE (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director) Arrow The director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, once again proves why he deserved his award-winning status with this unsettling entry in the j-horror cycle of films which uses as a background the burgeoning Internet and social media scene in Japan. As well as delivering the requisites tension, the film make some keen societal points.
PUBLIC ENEMY (Mathieu Frances & Gary Seghers, directors) Nordic Noir & Beyond How often does a new crime series from abroad sample elements fairly shamelessly from several of its predecessors? In the Belgian Public Enemy, we are given the sociopathic heroine who finds it difficult to interact with her colleagues (shades of both and The Bridge and The Killing), a highly intelligent, hyper-manipulative serial killer who is able to get inside the minds of his those he encounters (Hannibal Lecter, anyone?) and a variety of situations which will be familiar to any aficionado of Scandi and Eurocrime. In fact, we are able to forgive Public Enemy. these cheeky borrowings, as the results here are comprehensively gripping – and the central performance as the damaged copper by Stéphanie Blanchoud completely holds the attention. After 20 years in prison Guy Béranger (an ice-cold Angelo Bison), a dangerous child murderer, is released on parole to the custody of the monks at Vielsart Abbey. This leads to an outcry from the small village nearby and to the rest of the country. When a young girl disappears on the outskirts of the abbey, the entire village is in uproar. Chloé Muller (Blanchoud), a young inspector based in Brussels, is assigned to the investigation to protect the despised Béranger. Her investigation brings her face-to-face with the fears and secrets of the seemingly peaceful local community. The Nordic Noir & Beyond’s DVD Box Set release of the Belgian thriller has crisp, well-defined picture quality.
STORMY MONDAY, Mike Figgis, director/Arrow As I wrote in British Crime Film, Newcastle was to prove a useful locale for the British crime narrative. After Get Carter, Mike Figgis’ ambitious first feature, Stormy Monday (1988), is a deftly constructed crime thriller on the perils of associating with criminals (familiar territory, yes, but given a certain shaking up). Adroitly mixing gangsters, seductive women and jazz, and relocated piquantly to Figgis’ native Northeast (perhaps the film’s most successful strategy), Stormy Monday cannily balances innovation and social commentary with a loving homage to film noir. The singer Sting (coaxed, for once, into something that actually resembles a performance) stars as Finney, a laconic Newcastle jazz-club owner who crosses the path of crass American entrepreneur Cosmo (the ever-reliable Tommy Lee Jones). Cosmo wants to involve Finney in a land development deal – if only he’ll give up his club. Entering into this increasingly dangerous game of brinkmanship is Kate (Melanie Griffith), a part-time upscale prostitute trying to put her past behind her. Could a relationship with the club’s innocent young apprentice (Sean Bean) offer a shot at redemption? With striking cinematography by Roger Deakins, Stormy Monday makes one willingly forgive its frequent missteps.