Tuesday, 30 April 2019
A Bava And Beyond
The Call Of Duty
All The Colours Of Giallo
USA 2017 Severin Films Blu Ray Zone A
There’s a moment during Kat Ellinger’s commentary track for a giallo trailer on Severin Films’ new release All The Colours Of Giallo, where she says “Thanks God for multiregion and bootlegs.” I’m so grateful someone finally said this because, for people who are accustomed to passing time in the shadowy world of the predominantly Italian giallo thriller, this is often the only way such films can be seen. If this kind of black market, cinematic contraband didn’t exist then I suspect the giallo film wouldn’t be experiencing the kind of popular resurgence that it has, internationally, since the dawn of the DVD age... for a number of reasons.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
All The Colours Of Giallo is a new, three disc Blu Ray set from Severin which you can/could buy either as a stand alone title or, as I did, with a special double slip case release (with a cool t-shirt and accompanying pin badges... always wanted an Edwige Fenech pin badge) housing both this and their newly restored, two disc edition of Sergio Martino’s All The Colours Of The Dark. I’m not cracking into the Martino film and accompanying soundtrack CD (which I hope is a remaster or is in some way different from the previous Digitmovies release) yet because I need to start watching and revisiting the genre with a fair few giallo Blu Ray upgrades from the last year or more but, I couldn’t resist breaking into the All The Colours Of The Giallo release before I watched anything else.
Imagine my surprise when I found out the main reason I was buying this set was, actually, the extras and not the main part of the release (although, frankly, that’s debatable because the extras are where the main meat of these discs are). The main attraction, so to speak, is supposed to be a feature length documentary about the genre which... I watched with interest but I certainly didn’t feel I was the target audience. I must have hundreds of these kinds of movies lining the shelves by now and I think the documentary from which this set gets its title is more for those viewers less experienced in the form and who would like a little more info about the history of the genre.
The documentary is predominantly one guy, Fabio Melleli, telling the audience about the history of the genre with a few other, ‘hands on’ talking heads from various movies of the time. Some of the usual suspects plus a few others. This includes discussing the meaning of the term giallo, which means yellow, coming from the yellow covers of the Mondadori thriller reprints in Italy and then goes on to cover some... but not all.. of the major players that were making these things. So, yeah, if you’ve been hanging around in the world of giallo for a while then you’re probably not going to have much of a takeaway from the documentary itself as you’ll already know it inside out but this piece, indeed the whole set, would be an absolute essential purchase for people who are only just starting to explore the field. Yes, there are some translation short cuts in the subtitles and, bearing in mind I know no Italian whatsoever, even I could see the damage done when the subtitles translate a very specific word, 'giallo', at one point as the resident expert uses it to illustrate a point, as 'gialli'... which is the plural and implies other films within the same genre, which isn’t what the guy was getting at in this particular instance. Even so, though, it’s a pretty good documentary for people who are new to this stuff and it also touches briefly on the influence of the German krimi movies of the time (okay... I’ll come back to that point a little later in this review).
I must admit, the documentary for me was a little disappointing but I didn’t mind that so much because the stuff I was after listed as extras was the real main course. However, before that main course there was another little starter, which is a mini documentary on the same topic called The Giallo Frames, an interview with John Martin, editor of The Giallo Pages and it’s something I found much more palatable but also a more or less compressed version of the other documentary on this disc. Again, like all the stuff here, this is an excellent introduction to the genre and I’m sure a lot of people who are just starting out watching these films will find it very informative.
And then we have 'the main course' of the first disc... the thing I was actually buying it for... the Giallothon. Which is 82 giallo trailers comprising just over four hours of viewing time. Now this is where the fun really begins... I’ve bought giallo trailer compilations before on DVD but this one, although it only has one trailer for each film it presents here, by far surpasses all of those previous trailer selections. Why? Well the reason is two fold. Surprisingly, two fold, in my case.
Firstly the quality of these trailers is amazing. I’ve never known some of these trailers to be in as good a shape as this and I can only assume the people at Severin have spent some time lovingly restoring them all... which is great. There are still a couple which are a of a slightly, dodgy quality but I suspect that speaks volumes about what terrible shape the material was in, in the first place. Seriously folks, the quality of these trailers is phenomenal.
Secondly, the whole four hours comes with an optional, continuous commentary track by Kat Ellinger. Now, I’ve read some of Ms. Ellinger's work in a couple of print venues and, I have to admit that in the past I have sometimes found her writing style a tad dry and academic for what she’s trying to say but, I have to say, after hearing this fantastic commentary I’m willing to give her another try and buy some more stuff with her writing in it (maybe her new book on Sergio Martino, one of my personal favourite giallo directors). Asides from the comfort issue of someone who sounds, just a little bit, like Eileen Daley... she really seems to know her stuff and comes across as quite chatty and knowledgeable about the subject. I was properly impressed because I’ve only seen about 70 of the movies Severin chose to showcase here (a few of my favourites were not included here, either) but Kat seems to know them all fairly well and, bizarrely, I found myself agreeing with almost everything she says on this track (yeah, that almost never happens).
Now, I have to admit, in regards to this commentary, I was expecting the subject to be about the trailers themselves and the way the companies were marketing the films but, no, this is actually Ellinger diving into various facts and figures about each giallo in question and giving a fairly good, informed critique of each one... not an easy thing to do with some of the shorter trailers and, I did note, that on a few of the promos she ran into the next one too, when she got really passionate about a subject. She also seems to have the same kind of knowledge of the home video industry of the last couple of decades that I have too so, there were some refreshing observations about availability of prints on here that I really appreciated.
Which brings me back to her brilliant “Thank God for multiregion and bootlegs” because, yeah, I suspect the popularity and availability of a lot of these movies over the years has increased because of these kinds of supplies, as people finally got to see the films and were able to appreciate them and look for better quality sources and transfers. So good for her and, again, if you are just starting out to explore the genre then you will find Kat Ellinger’s commentary track absolutely indispensable here. There were a few films trailered here which I personally didn’t think quite belonged in the giallo genre (and I suspect if I were to ever meet Ms. Ellinger we might come to verbal blows as to the validity of The Perfume Of The Lady In Black as a giallo... as great a film as it is... although that’s also not included here, either) but that just opens up people to seeing other Italian genre movies too so no real complaints from me here on that score. I would say that you might want to not try and watch all four hours (with or without commentary) in one straight sitting but, if you do attempt that, make sure you have a bottle of J&B by your side.
Okay so, after the main course of this set, as it were, we are given two discs of really great dessert...
Now the second disc is great for me because the subject matter is something I am a complete novice in... the German krimi. There’s a short, fairly informative documentary called The Case Of The Krimi which is presented by an interesting guy called Marcus Stiglegger and which does a similar thing to the documentaries on the other two discs. He talks about the origins of the Krimi in the red covered paperbacks of authors like Edgar Wallace, Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and, of course, as a giallo fan, I could immediately see the parallel. He also talks about the way the krimi and giallo films kind of overlap by influencing each other at a certain point in their respective cycles, which I also found fascinating. And then, of course, there’s the really great feature of this second disc... 32 beautifully restored Krimi trailers. No commentaries this time, which is a shame but, as someone who’s never had the bulk of these available to watch in my home country, I found the whole slew of trailers both fascinating and, in many cases, hilarious. And, my gosh, these krimi films must have kept the young Klaus Kinski in steady employment for years, by the looks of it. And Karin Dor, who Bond fans may remember from You Only Live Twice, is in a fair few of these too. And there’s even a couple which feature a young Christoper Lee here. I loved the fact that almost all of these were based on Edgar Wallace films and were almost all set in London which, as Stiglegger explained in his mini documentary, were almost always shot in places like Hamburg with English signs going up and cars imported to ‘do London on the cheap’, as it were. I absolutely loved this stuff and I’m so glad Severin included these because I would have never had known to bother to explore this strand of films until now.
Oh... and the third disc in this package is another thing I was highly anticipating. It’s a CD called The Strange Sounds of the Bloodstained Films... presumably as a mixed gialloistic, parody/homage of the title What Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body? (which was an alternate title for The Case Of The Bloody Iris) and The Bloodstained Shadow. It’s basically a musical compilation of tracks from various gialli and, while I love this, I have to confess I was slightly disappointed because I have already got the full score CDs to all but one or two of the films represented here and I was hoping for some more obscure, previously unreleased tracks, truth be told. Still, that being said, it’s a lovely compilation and something people unfamiliar with some of the famous giallo scores outside of Argento’s collaborations with Goblin and Ennio Morricone might use as a kind of music sampler to allow them to go off and explore the full albums at some point.
So yeah, all in all, All The Colours Of Giallo is a blisteringly good release from Severin, who have really gone ‘a bava and beyond’ the call of duty to bring us this beautifully packaged set (I love that double slip case) and it’s something which should be on any cinephile’s movie shelves, as far as I’m concerned. Especially if they’re not into this material in the first place. This is an excellent place for newbies to start and I wish I’d had something like this to hand a few decades ago when I started being drawn into the genre. An absolutely first class release and something which shouldn’t be ignored. Try and grab one of these if you can... it’s one of the best releases of the year, so far.
Sunday, 28 April 2019
Avengers - Endgame
2019 USA Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
UK cinema release print.
Pre Spoiler Warning Warning: Okay, so it’s not going to be that possible to point out at least one of the glaring faults with this movie without going into fairly mild spoiler territory to do with the story solution of this one but I’ll put a big warning sign up before the relevant paragraphs.
Okay so... I really loved the last Avengers movie, Infinity War (which I reviewed here) and was kinda looking forward to seeing the resolution to the ten years of Marvel Cinematic Universe which it’s all been leading up to. Alas, my best hope for this movie now is that, somehow, I flip flop on this film once I’ve processed all the information for a subsequent viewing. I’ve done this before in my reviews of Star Wars - The Force Awakens and Avengers - Age Of Ultron, where I didn’t much care for the films in question at all on the first watch but then loved them on subsequent viewings. So my fingers are kinda crossed that I can find something good in Avengers - Endgame on any further revisits but, in all honesty, my anger has been growing steadily since I watched this one.
I don’t understand how a creative team responsible for Avengers Infinity War, one of the most dramatic, hilarious and beautifully put together films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, can make a follow up movie which... well... is the opposite of all those things. Now I’m going to try and give as little away as possible until I get to the really unforgivable stuff, which I’ll put a warning on, but I’m going to try and find some nice things to say about this first.
Okay, so here goes with the nice things.
Um... performances were mostly good, which I’d expect from actors of this calibre who are used to these parts. However, I must say that the path they’ve gone down with both Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Banner character and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor character really didn’t amuse me. I thought their dialogue and story development was awful, considering how great these characters have been in the past... especially in movies like Thor Ragnarok (reviewed here) and the aforementioned Avengers - Infinity War.
Another nice thing was the opening of the movie (pre-title) and also the quick culmination of events to the Avengers finally doing some actual 'avenging.' The expected resolution to events is over within the first half an hour but, this brings its own consequences and I thought this was a brilliant piece of dramatic misdirection from the film-makers. Alas, this set of consequences kind of dictated a specific kind of solution so, pretty early on, you get a bit of an idea which direction this story is going to take. And take that option it does... failing quite spectacularly on the way.
Okay, onto the bad stuff...
Well I thought the character development between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Banner was selling both of these people short. There has been a set up to their story arc in Avengers - Age Of Ultron and this has not been honoured, as far as I’m concerned.
I know a lot of audiences coming out of the initial screenings of this were saying it was a good film but with not very much action and, I’d have to say I do agree with the second part of that sentiment. Infinity War was filled with spectacle and action... Endgame, wasn’t. And when audiences did get to see the battle royale they had been expecting to turn up in the previous Avengers movie, it was quite badly edited, I thought. It was not put together nearly as well as the two, simultaneous conflicts that ended Infinity War and consequently, some pretty heroic and dramatic moments, which I’m sure looked great on paper, just felt a bit numbing. They didn’t want to make me cheer and, similar, certain moments in the film which people have said had them crying didn't affect me at all because I was already quite cross with the film by the time these scenes arrived. And I cry easily in movies, usually.
And a troubling loose end which seems to be left unanswered from Infinity War is this... Why does Thor's new axe Stormbreaker still have a handle when the rest of Groot turned into oatmeal after the finger snap in the last movie?
OKAY... SPOILER WARNING TIME.
EVERYTHING IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS COULD BE SEEN AS A SPOILER...
Okay, so if you guessed from the opening half hour that the rest of the movie must therefore involve time travel... yeah, you’d be right. And rather than bothering to think about things logically, these people make the same rudimentary mistakes to do with temporal mechanics that Back To The Future 2 famously did. If you stop a past version of someone from doing something that they will do by changing their path before they even do it, you can’t both have your cake and eat it by having that event still have taken place in the past. It’s impossible and it’s not rocket science. And, no, badmouthing the Back To The Future trilogy on screen in your movie does not give you carte blanche to make exactly the same mistakes in your own film, hoping people won’t notice. It’s preposterous. Even if you place certain key objects back the way you found them in the past... the focal point never gets to happen because that person is no longer around at that time. So immediately we have a paradox.
And the idea of a person killing a past version of themselves when that past version comes into their own future? The person who killed that person would never have been there to pull the trigger and live to tell the tale because she never got to that point in the first place... her future self had already killed her. So, yeah, this movie really is a catalogue of schoolboy errors and I wish that was the only thing putting me off the movie because I’m more than happy to throw common sense out of the window for a bit but... the movie was so humdrum, especially the bulk of the dialogue which was nowhere near as sparkling and witty as Infinity War, which had me laughing a lot). This film kinda failed big for me, I’m less than happy to say.
OKAY, THAT”S THE END OF THE SPOILER ZONE. NORMAL SERVICE MAY NOW RESUME.
Alan Silvestri’s score was nice at some points but it didn’t have the emotional impact, for me, of the heroic version of his original Avengers theme which he used in the Scottish Train station scene in Infinity War. I am hoping to get to listen to this as a stand alone CD when it’s released in a while but I’m not that fussed about hearing it again at the moment, truth be told. But hopefully the score CD will be a bit of a revelation when I hear it without the distracting sound effects in the mix.
And... yeah, that’s me done, I think, on Avengers Endgame. I was really hoping this would be a good follow up to Infinity War but even Captain Marvel, who debuted only last month in her own feature film (reviewed here) was totally wasted in this one. She has, what amounts to a couple of basic cameo scenes, as far as I’m concerned and I was really expecting the Russos to make more of her in this. Alas, it was not to be and her status as a character seemed much diminished in this, I thought. There’s not much point in me saying steer clear of this one because this has a built in audience who wants to see what happened after Infinity War and, rightly so, is what I say. Personally I don’t think this movie is anywhere near top tier Marvel and if I was ranking these films it would be way down the bottom of the list along with the likes of Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America - The First Avenger, Captain America - Civil War and Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2. As in... films I can tolerate to give me a greater appreciation of the better Marvel movies in the ‘three phases’ to date. It’s just a shame that such a major, concluding piece of the puzzle turned out to be a little more wanting in most departments than was usual, it has to be said.
Thursday, 25 April 2019
Hands Held And Greta
Directed by Neil Jordan
UK cinema release print.
I’d never even heard of this film, Greta, until sometime last week when I saw... gasp... a poster up at my local cinema promoting a movie starring one of the greatest French actresses of our time in the title role, Isabelle Huppert. I was pretty much up for anything with her in it so I watched a trailer on YouTube and, although it looked vaguely like one of those bad and tediously predictable serial stalker movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s (the likes of Fatal Attraction and Single White Female, you know the kinds of films I’m on about, I’m sure) I was pretty much up for even going to see one of those because, with Huppert in the role of a psycho, I assumed this would be very special indeed.
If I’d had bothered to check the credits to see who had directed this I might have hesitated briefly because I find Neil Jordan mostly misses for me but, even then, his last film was an absolute beauty (the amazing vampire film Byzantium, reviewed by me here) so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have steered clear of this one. I also quite like Chloë Grace Moretz, who plays main protagonist to Huppert’s smouldering antagonist so, yeah, there wasn’t much question about me going to see this one.
Alas, there are some things about this which worked for me and other things which... really didn’t.
The performances were all pretty good... even though the writing was kinda clichéd throughout. Huppert plays a standard Hollywood style psychopath with style and relish but there doesn’t seem to be much else to distinguish her character from dozens of other such characters since cinema began. She does it very well but I kinda felt this great actress didn’t have enough to get her teeth into, to be honest. Similarly, Moretz plays a pretty good, slow burn of a victim and Maika Monroe, who played the lead in the excellent modern virus/curse horror It Follows (reviewed here) does a pretty good job as her flat mate.
The set up hook is pretty good too. Instead of the main antagonist slowly building up an obsession with someone they already know, we have a crazy lady who is baiting possible victims by leaving handbags on subway trains, waiting for each one to be returned so she can start a twisted relationship with them (you know all this anyway, from the trailer). So far so good but, alas, the course of the film rapidly strays into familiar territory which, frankly, I’ve seen too many times. It’s done well and I am often the first to point out that just because something is a cookie cutter template of others of a certain genre, then that doesn’t matter as long as it’s done competently. I think for me though, even as much as I like a decent thriller, this particular kind of overdone Hollywood sub-genre is just something I’m not that into. Other people who are into this kind of thing, though, will eat this one up, I suspect.
And, to be fair, there are some nice moments in the movie. There’s a sequence where we are slowly zooming in on a cup of coffee being heated in a microwave and then, as it pings to an end, the background music cuts off and we are left with just a shot of a dark microwave door. Alas, rather than holding that shot for a while, the director chooses to immediately go into something else after a second... I wish he’d have rested on that shot aftermath for just a little longer, though, because it was one of the more effective moments in the film for me.
Another thing he does is a nice thing with a dream sequence and, though what he does is not exactly original to the movies (I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment by mentioning what he does here) it did take me a little while into the scene before I figured out he’d deliberately entrusted that the audience would decode the visuals in a specific way before pulling the carpet out from underneath their feet. Alas, I was still sufficiently ahead of the game here to realise what was going on way before it happened but it was still quite skillfully handled and I have to applaud him for that.
Another nice thing about this one is Javier Navarrete’s very appropriate score and it goes way over the top into the jagged, chaotic, almost atonal territory of a horror movie but, used in a thriller like this, the style of music proves very powerful and certainly adds significantly to the tension created in some of the scenes, I think. Also, it’s quite well 'spotted' and so the absence of music in certain scenes is just as good an artistic decision as when the score cues enter and exit the movie. Jerry Goldsmith would have applauded that, I think.
And... yeah, I don’t have much more to add to this, I’m afraid. The cast were good but I felt they were kind of wasted here, to a certain extent. Ditto for Neil Jordan who had held me spellbound with Byzantium but here just disappointed me with the sheer ‘yuppie Hollywoodland’ feel of the entire movie. Bottom line, I probably wouldn’t recommend this to any of my friends but certainly most people who like these kinds of thrillers, even those who can see the cookie cutter nature of the scenes, not to mention, the nature of the ‘cookie cutter’ scene (no, I won’t explain, you’ll see it coming before it even happens), will probably get a lot more out of this one than I did. So, certainly not a pan from me but something I don’t personally have to watch again at any rate. Greta wasn’t a great film but it was well put together for what it was. I’ll leave it at that.
Tuesday, 23 April 2019
La Llo Land
The Curse Of La Lllorona
2019 USA Directed by Michael Chaves
UK cinema release print.
There came a point in The Curse Of La Llorona, which I saw a couple of weeks early due to a preview screening in my home town, where I saw one of the actors playing a priest and thought to myself, he always plays this kind of role. Well, when the actor, Tony Amendola, returns a little later on in the film he brings with him a reference cameo of an iconic figure from four other films and it made me realise, Amendola was playing exactly the same character he played in one of those movies. That is to say, although it’s a small cameo from a demon haunted artefact and, specifically for this other object, totally in flash back, it’s made quite clear that this film is firmly part of The Conjuring universe. Specifically, if peripherally in this case, linked in to The Conjuring (reviewed here), The Conjuring 2 - The Enfield Case (reviewed here), Annabelle (reviewed here), Annabelle Creation (reviewed here) and The Nun (reviewed here).
So, given the track record of these previous linked movies (the only one I didn’t like too well was the first Annabelle stand alone), it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to find that this new movie is actually pretty well put together. I mean, yes it’s very clichéd and there’s nothing that’s really going to take you by surprise... story wise at least, it has the occasional okay jump scare... but this is one of those films where the timing of the scares and build ups to those with all the creeping dread going full on is actually handled pretty effectively.
There’s some nice photography in this including, after the initial plot set up, a really amazing, high speed moving camera powerhouse of a shot introducing the main protagonist of the film, played by the wonderful Linda Cardellini (who played my favourite character in Avengers - Age Of Ultron) as she gets her daughter and son ready for school. It’s a frenetically paced shot and it must have been well rehearsed to get everybody caught at various points in the sequence with the right timing and I really appreciated it. There’s a lot of smooth movement and a lot of static shot sequences filling the screen at various points. Alas, there is quite a lot of telegraphing via the camerawork in the film also... you kind of know that, when things shift into hand held territory (and when there’s a different, almost inaudible background bass ambient sound suddenly faded onto the foley), something pretty scary is about to happen. But, like I said, it’s all done very competently and works pretty well for what it’s supposed to be achieving.
I mentioned the children in that last paragraph as this is what the film focusses on as the objective of the supernatural entity known as La Llorona, who comes from a Mexican folktale and is apparently pretty well known outside of the story elements of this movie. A weeping woman who comes after the children to help replace or make amends for her own two children, who she drowned in an act of jealousy centuries ago. She also, in this version of the myth and, obviously, to make the film both more exciting and to give story follow through on certain dramatic elements of the plot, burns your flesh when she touches you.
The set up of this one is that, once she has taken the children of Cardellini’s neighbour, played here by beautiful model and actress Patricia Velasquez (you may remember her as Anck Su Namun in The Mummy movies), in an uncharacteristically unglamorous role, La Llorona turns her attention to Cardellini’s children, for reasons which I won’t spoil here but, there’s a definitive story beat revealed much later in the film as to why this is happening to her children specifically. We also have another cliché of a character in the outsider shamen who turned his back on the church who can help exorcise La Llorona using his ‘questionable methods’, played here with much charisma (in a kind of negative charisma kind of way) by Raymond Cruz. I actually liked this character so much that I’m now hoping he will return in one of the other Conjuring related movies at some point but, I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
The other big star of the movie is, of course, Joseph Bishara’s fantastic score which hits all the usual, atonally distressed horror points you would want in such a movie. It provides a good deal of the jittery atmosphere during the key scare sequences and I’m looking forward to hearing this in isolation away from the film (thanks to the powers that be for putting this one out on CD, even if you can only get it as an ‘on demand’ CD from American Amazon... still keeping my fingers crossed we’ll get a CD release for Insidious - The Last Key at some point).
And that’s... a very short review but there’s not much more to say other than The Curse Of La Llorona utilises the usual camera tricks of things seen at the periphery of the screen to make it more frightening so... yeah, that modus operandi is still very much in practice here. One thing I might add would be that the special effects are quite well done and, in this case, the inevitable demise of the demonic presence is, actually, quite spectacular (it would be true to say that she gets a bit cross) and, in a way, harkens back to the old days when Hammer Horror were churning out Dracula movies. So, yeah, not much else to add other than... it’s a solid, modern horror movie which will best be enjoyed by fans of the same. Looks and sounds pretty good with some believable performances from all involved. Go take a look if this genre is your thing.
Sunday, 21 April 2019
Mary, ‘Cross The Fair Sea
Directed by Garth Davis
Universal Blu Ray Zone B
I was always lead to believe that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute and I’ve seen that alluded to a fair few times in films over the years. Not so, apparently. According to the end of this film it was some pope who spread such stories many centuries ago. Now, I can’t say if this is a great adaptation of certain sections of The Bible or not, to be honest. The last time I read it... or, you know, a version of it... I was very young (maybe four or five?) and, frankly, I’m not a religious person. That’s not to say I don’t believe in God or some kind of Godly presence... if I can give consideration to the possibility of aliens and ghosts I can certainly believe in the possibility of that too... but I certainly don’t think any organised religion is going to have some kind of true, unvarnished story of what did or didn’t happen all those years ago. So, if you want to know what hill I’m sitting reviewing this from... it’s from the one where I’m not necessarily ungodly, just not prepared to decipher my way through a lot of man made, rabble controlling nonsense disguised as any of the religions of the world.
The reasons I wanted to see Mary Magdalene, as I missed it on the one week it was available at my local cinema last year, are two fold. Firstly, I quite like Rooney Mara and think she’s a great actress who possesses a certain quality that makes her kinda unique. Not necessarily better than all the others, just unique and... I haven’t been let down by her yet. I enjoy her work. Secondly, I knew the musical score was by Hildur Guðnadóttir and Jóhann Jóhannsson, which means this must have been one of the last scores that Jóhannsson worked on before he was found dead in a hotel room in Germany and I wanted to hear what he had done with it. So those are my reasons and the viewpoint from which I am approaching this film.
Now, it has to be said that this movie got my back up right away because, even though I’m not a religious person, the caption at the start informs us that it’s set in the year 33CE. Well, I’m sorry but I don’t agree with CE as something useful as anything other than a stupidly politically correct and possibly cowardly stance so as not to offend people of religious sensibilities believing in something other than what some people would mistakenly have you believe are, ‘the right religious sensibilities’. I know the term CE is, in fact, many centuries old but, frankly, I’ve have had BC and AD in my life for a long time and they outdate the alternate terms by around 1600 years. So I’m not having any of it. I may not be religious but it’s BC and AD or nothing, as far as I’m concerned. Have some respect for the past is what I say (not to mention the future).
Okay so, in spite of that, this is a quite a nice if, mostly, joyless take on the story of the last days of Jesus Christ. Christ is played by Joaquin Phoenix but everything in this film is seen through the eyes of Mary, played so interestingly by Mara, so we don’t even get to Jesus until a good twenty minutes or so into the film. Which is a bit of a double edged sword in terms of getting across the oft told story from the source material but, in all honesty, it makes a nice change.
Now, the director has gone for a lot of muted colours and, aside from the built in gravitas which seems to mostly be an inherent trait of the way this material is always handled, we also have a fairly sedate and less than colourful series of shots which add to the effect, despite some big smiles from Phoenix, that this is not a fun film in some respects. Although, if you believe in what the bible says then I can understand that a certain section of the audience will get more of a happier experience out of the content of the movie... just don’t look for it in the mise en scene.
That being said, and while I am on the subject of mise en scene... there is some nice photography and shot design in this movie. Although the cliché of the ‘very slightly moving hand held camera for shots that would normally be static’ methodology is applied during a lot of the film, there’s some nice shot design on hand too. I was especially impressed with a shot towards the end with Rooney Mara’s veiled, white head in close up as she’s telling the other disciples that Christ has risen. One particular shot where her head in the veil is splitting the screen vertically is great because the blurred background behind her head is full of dark texture on the left and light texture on the right... so her head becomes the focal point that the rest of the shot leads the eye too. That was a nice piece of work there and I wish they’d gone back to the that shot set up later on in the conversation because it was more effective than some of the other stuff they were doing in that scene.
Mara and Phoenix are both good in this, as is the always Chiwetel Ejiofor who pays Peter and some guy called Tahar Rahim, who plays Judas with wide eyed enthusiasm which helps the character come across as a somewhat naive person, it has to be said. So no problems on the acting front although, truth be told, I found the early parts of the movie... Before Christ (BC), so to speak... a little more gripping than the rest of the story.
In fact, the rest of the story does, in fact, kinda play out like a ‘selected highlights’ or ‘greatest hits’ compilation of famous set pieces of Jesus’ final days and, to a certain extent, you can’t blame the writers and directors from taking that approach. Especially since it’s pretty much the same approach that most films over the last 100 years have taken. However, the director and writers have, perhaps a little too conveniently, used the guise of having the narrative switched to Mary as a focal point, so they can skip a whole load of stuff which either a) she wasn’t allegedly to have been witness to or b) would have taken a lot more time and money to produce, I suspect. I don’t mind that so much myself and was somewhat relieved, since the film does drag a little at two hours, to not have to sit through things like the trial before Pilate and some other noteworthy bits of the various accounts of the events during the already longish running time.
Though, I have to say that this means it was only watchable to me, in terms of the coherence of the story content, because I already knew the basic tale of Jesus in the first place. Something I’m sure a certain percentage of the audience will have to fall back on but, I have to say, without this prior knowledge of the ‘between the lines’ of the events depicted on screen, I would have had a pretty hard time trying to piece together what was going on if I was new to this particular set of religious ideas. So, I can’t help but feel that the built in nature of audience expectation on the part of the film-makers here is a little arrogant and a smidge irresponsible/optimistic. It might, of course, promote further research for some of the audience or... you know... may not. Which is in itself a bit of a challenge unless you’re willing to take things that have been passed down through the years as ‘gospel’... so to speak.
At the end of the day, Mary Magdalene is a little dull in places but the performances of the leads are electric and if you have a prior knowledge of the source material on which this tale is being based and that stuff doesn’t offend you, then you will probably have an okay time with this one. I quite enjoyed it and, although it did drag a little in places, as I said, it never really outstayed it’s welcome and I was glad I chose this film to watch as my Easter Sunday viewing this year. I always like to have some kind of Easter connected film to watch over this period and so that was today’s choice.
Oh... and in case you were wondering, the music didn’t let me down. A nice score which I’m happy to see is on CD and which I will probably listen to a fair few times over the years. Not the best material any of the leads or principal movers on this movie could have chosen but glad to have followed them on their journey. Check this one out if you’re so inclined as it’s certainly not the worst film I’ve seen on the subject.
Thursday, 18 April 2019
Foot Im Himmel
The Man Who Killed Hitler
And Then The Bigfoot
2018 USA Directed by Robert D. Krzykowski
UK cinema release print.
Wow... this movie is absolutely phenomenal. I love it when something you thought might be pretty good turns out to be something even greater than you were expecting. I mean, for a film with the title of The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot, you kind of expect it to be quirky and kind of fun but, well... lets just say that unless Avengers Endgame And Star Wars Episode IX - The Rise Of Skywalker are absolute masterpieces, then I suspect this film will be the best one I see all year. Certainly it will probably be the most moving.
The film starts off with the back story mission of young Calvin Barr, played in the 1940s by Aidan Turner, as we see him infiltrate a building which houses Hitler, as he goes to kill him. We then cut to the ‘present day’, older version of Calvin, as played by the one and only Sam Elliot, as he remembers all of this. And when I say present day... it’s not really made completely clear in the text what decade this film is set in but I did notice that a grocery clerk in the movie is reading a copy of the Heavy metal Presents, square bound graphic novel adaptation of Ridley Scott’s Alien so, yeah, I guess that dates the movie to 1979 as to when the events depicted are supposed to be taking place (I still have my copy of that sitting in a box behind me as I write this review).
We then get a classic style ‘four thugs try to mug the lead character’ scene which is used to show that, while Calvin is fairly old now, he’s still more than enough of a match against knives and guns when push comes to shove. When Calvin parks his car up on the way back to the home he shares with his labrador, there is a perfect freeze frame with the title of the movie superimposed across the shot with a vertical strip down the middle to separate The Man Who Killed Hitler And from Then The Bigfoot... and the whole thing looks and feels like it’s straight out of a low budget, 1970s US made exploitation movie. It's absolutely spot on with that vibe but to dismiss this film as an homage to that would definitely not be 'on the mark' as this movie far exceeds the capacity of the majority of those old movies in terms of the drama and pathos which is injected through the character of Calvin Barr by both actors who play him here. As you would expect, Sam Elliot rules in this (doesn’t he always... such a contrast from the last thing I saw him in, Frogs, which I’ll put up on here as a review at some point soon, after my Easter reviews go up) but, I have to say, so does Aidan Turner as the younger version of him, who you will also see a lot more of in flashback throughout the course of the movie.
The basic plot is that, Calvin has become an almost mythical (behind closed doors) person after he managed to perform the task mentioned in the first half of the film's title and, because of a certain very rare quality he possesses, which I’m not going to go into here, he is sent to kill the bigfoot because, for more reasons I won’t go into here for fear of spoiling your appreciation of this wonderful piece of art, he’s pretty much the only person who can do it. And he has to go in and do it on his own, for even more reasons which will become clear to you with one of the slow build reveals which this movie uses to keep the audience engaged, in suspense and very much rooting for Calvin.
Calvin’s tragedy, as depicted in the movie, is that he’s a man alone (apart form his trusty dog), through his own choice... haunted by the memories of what he has done and all the things that have happened throughout his life. And, just like a good Sergio Leone movie (which this film in no way harkens back to stylistically), the story is one of memories and the person shaped by those memories, as the narrative goes back and forth between the two time periods, allowing both actors to shine and build up a picture of the man who is Calvin Barr.
The director plays with time in another way too. Asides from the wonderful segues between periods, he also does some amazing things which lull the audience into the film before, often quite gently, pulling the rug from under us in terms of where things are heading. For instance, when Elliot takes a pair of shoes off, the camera takes a slow, deep dive into those shoes before cutting to a moment which isn’t, as you might be expecting by this point, just another jump back through the decades but is instead used as a hard edit to visually punctuate a cut to a scene a few minutes later and draw attention to the importance of the slow contemplation of a certain closed box at some point soon.
Or there’s the wonderful moment where we see Calvin alone and standing at the threshold of the terrain where the bigfoot is going to be located where we are suddenly, by way of the edit, thrust into action with the titular creature, who is out of the frame again before we even get a chance to properly register that it was even there. Our first glimpse of the Bigfoot of the movie is, therefore, such that we only have a vague impression of the creature before the hunt is back on. And it’s this whole way the director has of pulling the audience in with slow and beautiful cinematography before a quick, almost aggressive edit pulls you into something that you aren’t necessarily expecting, that seems to be an underlying modus operandi for the movie. And it works wonderfully well, it has to be said.
The film is beautiful and quite poignant regarding the main character but the ponderous nature of the main protagonist and his past relationship with a woman, played here by Caitlin FitzGerald, in no way dilutes the wonderful action sequences which also, along with some brilliant scoring, pep up the pace at various key points in the narrative. The Bigfoot featured in the, somewhat, slow build to a surprise of a showdown, the writing of which seems to exactly mirror the intent of the editing style in this film, is a wonderful creature when you finally get to focus on it for long enough and the confrontation, coming before a long and brilliant wind down of a false ending followed by... stuff I can’t tell you about without spoiling things... is appropriately violent and intense. There’s also a nice element in the movie which is basically a red herring in that we never get to find out what a specific artefact is but, I have to say, the dramatic melancholy invoked by what Hitchcock would have called a McGuffin works really well and is on the level here, somewhat, of the final whispered words of Bill Murray to Scarlett Johansson in the last moments of Sofia Coppolla’s Lost In Translation.
All this is supported by a brilliant score by composer Joe Kraemer, who does some really great and subtle writing here, along with some deliberately not so subtle, propulsive music which helps pep up the pace in those scenes where ‘stuff’ is about to go down. It all kind of fits in with that 1970s vibe too. In fact, there’s one sequence in the film, where Sam Elliot reaches the peak of a mountain he’s been climbing, where Kraemer’s score sounds like early to mid 1970s John Williams at his best. It’s that great a score and I’m so glad I managed to somehow snag one of the first 100 of the limited edition CD releases out of the gate from La La Land records because it’s been signed by the composer and, frankly, I can’t wait to hear this cue again (hope it’s on there). I’m going to spin this thing right after I’m done writing this thing... which is pretty much now.
I think by now you’ve probably figured out just how much I love The Man Who Killed Hitler And Then The Bigfoot and, frankly, I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cinema, the technique of how you put together narrative without having to rely solely on dialogue and, frankly, anyone who’s interested in how you can construct a compelling story and not just a bunch of post-modernistic references strung together to look like one. An absolutely wonderful movie which you should all go and see. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a while.
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Bride of DVD/Blu Ray Couture
My 1600th Post
It’s almost 9 years since I published my DVD Couture Remixed - Multiregion In The Boudoir listing (which you can read here) and, honestly, I really didn’t think I’d have to revisit it quite so soon. It was intended to be a helpful listing of some of the best boutique labels on the market for discerning multiregion DVD player owners (and now, multizone Blu Ray player owners) and of the labels I picked out, literally less than a handful are still in existence or, at least, not that relevant to the list anymore. And, much to my surprise, there has been a wealth of UK DVD/Blu Ray distributors that have hit the ground running over the last half a decade or more that more than challenge the US labels that used to make up the majority of that list. So once great labels like Anchor Bay are no longer to be found here, although some of their old DVD editions are still very cool and are superseded only by Blu Ray transfers of more or less the same product on different labels.
And talking of Blu Ray... I guess I was wrong about it in some respects... or at least wrong as to the direction it’s taken. I no longer see it as just another con to get more money out of the same product from repeat custom. Early on that was probably very much the case but now the transfers that some companies are putting out, especially the smaller boutique labels like the ones that make up the majority of this list, are actually... well... not only better than the DVD versions but, in the case of some movies, better than the original cinema release versions (check out the restoration feature on MGM's big Bond box set from a few years ago for more information on how and why that can be the case with the right materials and the right people on the job).
So, yeah, I figured it was high time this list was updated so, here you go. Caveat Emptor time though... nobody is ever going to agree with anybody else’s list but, if there’s a cracking good label that isn’t a mainstream company that you know of (I’ve left Warner Archives off, even though they gave the world Blu Rays of Doc Savage and Dracula AD 1972), then please mention it in the comments section below and I can check them out when it comes time to write Son of DVD/Blu Ray Couture in 5 to 10 years. Anyway, if you’re a connoisseur of home cinema, I hope you enjoy this list.
I was in two minds as to whether I should leave Alpha Video on this list as they primarily deal with just DVD and streaming but, looking at their website, they are still very active and, frankly, you’re going to be hard put to find a lot of the films and serials they have on here anywhere else. Invisible Avenger, for instance, which is a TV pilot film based on the adventures of The Shadow. Or the 1950s Fu Manchu TV series. Or the, admittedly quite terrible and not a patch on the old 1930s serials, Flash Gordon German/US co-production TV show from the 50s. There are a lot of gems at this site and lovers of old movies and TV shows from the past would do well to check them out.
For a while now I’ve been referring to Arrow Films as the UK equivalent to Criterion in terms of pushing the boat out and getting a slew of quality extras to put with some beautiful Blu Ray and DVD restorations. True, they have made a few mistakes which irate fans have caught over the years and, yes, their Cult Films book project was a really badly designed product. I will get around to putting my review up for that at some point... I just hope they aren’t going to be reading it (to be fair, it does seem to be a generally well complained about tome elsewhere, it has to be said). However, these people obviously have a love for film and some brilliant product over the years. Recent releases which have stood out are things like the initial Ringu trilogy boxed edition or the boxed set of Blood Hunger: The Films of José Larraz. They also have several sub labels to their name such as Arrow Academy, where you can get a lovely Blu Ray set of the five films The Marx Brothers made at Paramount (basically, their best five movies). A couple of their acquisitions I’ve singled out here as separate labels (because I believe they once were) but I’ll mention their connection to Arrow when I talk about them. They seem dedicated to giallo, horror and slasher films... not to mention an increasing interest in the spaghetti western genre, with some stellar releases like their Sartana box set from last year enriching Western fans lives. I continue to reserve the right to say bad things about them when they make silly decisions or mistakes on the occasional release but, honestly, I think they really are probably second only to Criterion now, with the amount of care and love they put in to their titles. Hopefully the drain of streaming media culture won’t be slowing down their output anytime soon.
Artsploitation is a relatively new label to me and I only have two of their titles. I found out about them when they were pretty much my only source to buying a subtitled Blu Ray of last year’s amazing ‘sexorcist’ movie Luciferina (reviewed by me here) and as I looked over their product listings I realised this was quite a unique label. They seem to be the place to go for sexual kink and horror dressed as high art and, of course, that middle ground where those two things merge so well together. It’s a label I definitely need to explore more because these are very specialised films which, it seems to me, aren’t being given a chance to survive on any of the other labels. And looking at the plots and premises of some of these things... that would be a great shame if these shiny movies were not given the chance to project their twisted light out into the world. Check them out if you want to see something a little different.
The British Film Institute have their own label and, as you would expect, it’s full of classic cinema from the silent period up to the contemporary scene. As well as all the usual, very welcome suspects they also have a sub label called BFI Flipside which has a lot of rare gems you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see released in a Blu Ray format... especially not by them, at any rate. So you have José Larraz’ Symptoms available there and also stuff like Deep End, London In The Raw and Primitive London. Lots to look out for.
Blue Underground are still on this list because they are still around and, if you check out their website, they are still releasing important genre works on US Blu Ray. I guess they are much less a blip on my radar these days because some of the UK labels on this list are also putting out a lot of the same product and, more often as not, they’re doing it at least as well as Blue Underground, if not better. Once the natural successor to the once legendary and... now not even on this list, Anchor Bay, they can still come up with the odd surprise and for US readers they are probably still a fairly essential label. So, yeah, they made the list again.
Well what can you say about the Criterion Collection. Since the days of laserdisc they’ve been the gold standard against which all other movie releases on home video are released. Yes, they’re usually a fair bit pricier than the others but they go out of their way to give you the absolute best, restored transfer of their titles and try to sprinkle as many interesting and informative extras as they can. Also, check out some of the cool video articles they run on their website such as their brilliant ‘Criterion Closet’ videos, where famous names from the world of film are allowed into their stock cupboard to greedily grab free DVDs and Blu Rays and to say exactly why they are picking out certain titles. They also seem to have swallowed some territory from one of their sister labels which used to be on this list the last time I had a label roundup... so HVC titles like the Zatoichi and Lone Wolf & Cub series of movies are now in beautiful, restored Blu Ray boxed collections. Criterion are still the best label out there and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.
Okay, so I’ll include the new UK arm of Criterion here, even though I’d recommend their US label more. They don’t have anything like the titles the US have yet but they do have some cool ones like the box sets mentioned above (damn, I could have waited a few years for the cheaper, UK versions!) and some nice alternatives to the UK Tarkovsky releases put out by Artificial Eye. Speaking of Tarkovsky.... here’s why I trust the Criterion label a lot more than some of the more interesting labels which didn’t make this list. Last year they were due to release their full, uncut version of the great director Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece Andrei Rublyev on Criterion UK. It’s about an hour longer than any version released in the UK and I own their old US DVD of this because, well, why the heck would you want a heavily truncated movie in your collection. So I own no UK versions on Blu Ray and was chomping at the bit to get this thing uncut on the UK region. But here’s the thing... it got pulled and only released in the US (yeah, I’ll be getting that one at some point, for sure). Why it got pulled was not made known but I suspect it would be because the BBFC were bound to want Criterion to cut out the horse fall sequences in the movie. Why? Because British movies are not supposed to be allowed to have horse falls in them (don’t get me started). My theory is that, instead of cutting this incredible artist’s great work, not to mention shelling out more time and money to get a print the BBFC were happy with, Criterion must have done the honourable thing and refused to cut it. Good for them. Who wants vandalised art? If my theory is correct then shame on the BBFC for even existing and censoring any art ever! The BBFC are truly adversaries of cinematic and artistic expression, there’s no question about that. Meanwhile, the result is that if a UK inhabitant wants to see a copy of this incredible film and they don’t have a multi-zone player, well... it’s going to be about an hour shorter than it should be. So while the BBFC should be hanging their heads in shame, I have to congratulate Criterion on doing the right thing here. Plus, on Criterion UK you can get a really nice copy of The Lure on Blu Ray so, you know, not a label to be sniffed at.
Okay... I have absolutely no time for anyone or thing that continues the myth that there is such a thing as a ‘cult film’ but, while this label’s name is a huge turn off for me, you have to admire them for what they are starting to do over here in the UK. They’ve only been a blip on my radar for maybe less than a year but when they start putting out restored, uncut UK editions of films like Dario Argento’s Opera (and also one of the better transfers of Suspiria) then I am definitely sitting up and taking notice. I think their star is definitely in the ascendant so keep an eye on these people.
A nice label very much in the Arrow style with a wide range of genre and exploitation classics including some amazing, uncut UK Blu Ray editions of various gialli such as A Black Veil For Lisa, Eyeball and The Bloodstained Shadow. Also very good if you like Hong Kong martial arts and Shaw Brothers classics. They also are more than reasonably priced if the titles you want aren’t limited or slip case editions. A good label which you can use to fill up your shelves nicely.
Eureka - Masters of Cinema
Eureka, much to my surprise when I started researching this list, are still going strong. A nice label which has given us some invaluable films over the years such as a much recommended Buster Keaton boxed set and a truly beautiful looking 90th Anniversary print and full restoration (yes, full in every sense of the word... they’ve more or less got the whole, full length cut now) of Fritz Lang’s classic gift to cinema, Metropolis.
FrightFest used to have a really good label not so long ago bringing us quirky, independent horror movies on DVD (and occasionally Blu Ray) that were possibly the only way a lot of these films were ever going to see a home video release in this country. And some of them were truly great, such as Aaaaaaaah! (which I reviewed here) and Night Of The Living Deb (which I reviewed here). Then they kinda disappeared for a bit but now they’re back, rebranded as... um... no just repeat branded it seems but with a completely different slew of new and upcoming releases replacing their old catalogue such as the truly excellent Videoman (which I reviewed here). Definitely a very useful label for getting to watch some interesting films which other companies might not be willing to take a chance on.
I first became aware of Indicator, a British label, a couple of years ago when they released their limited edition Blu Ray box of the Harryhausen Sinbad trilogy. Since then they’ve had some amazing releases including box sets devoted to some of the more obscure Hammer Films, a couple of Ray Harryhausen boxes, a couple of William Castle boxes and even a Sam Fuller boxed edition. They also have old treasures like the John Carpenter scripted Eyes Of Laura Mars on their books... and all of these released in immaculate, restored Blu Ray or dual format editions with some ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ extras. A really great little label, again putting out stuff that’s much better presented than what other labels who have had some of this material in the past have done with the content.
Yes, US label Mondo Macabro is one of the few labels hanging on from the last version I did of this listing, although a lot of their old titles are no longer in print. However, they still have some really cool movies on their books and if you want Blu Rays of things like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin, The Fan or Perversion Story (aka One On Top Of The Other) then these are the people you need to get them from. Definitely still a vital label in the war against mediocrity.
I only discovered 101 films when they had a sale earlier on in the year but, wow, what a sale. Again, these people have some cool movies in Blu Ray editions that you might not get anywhere else in the UK. Films like Truck Turner, The Mole People, Tarantula, The Alligator People... they’re all here.
Redemption US (Salvation)
Well, the old UK Redemption label was a dead loss in the end with a load of their film releases being sliced and diced at the whim of the BBFC. However, their US Blu Ray label has some really great little gems which are worth picking up, including a lot of uncut Jean Rollin, Mario Bava and Jess Franco titles along with British movies like Burke & Hare and Zeta One.
US label Severin are still, very much a vital label and they’ve been releasing some extraordinary, if expensive, Blu Ray titles lately such as their wonderful Blood Island box, All The Colours Of The Dark, All The Colours Of Giallo and a groovy Hemisphere Films set out this month. They also produce some beautiful looking t-shirts and pin badges to accompany some of their releases nowadays. Definitely a very hot label right now and one to keep an eye on.
I ummed and ahhhd about whether to keep Shameless on the list. The fact that a few of their films are cut and that there’s no warning on the boxes works against them but the majority of their stuff is uncut and, frankly, they are still here for outstanding services to giallo and horror in the UK. They have some really great titles on their books and their new partnership with Arrow should yield some interesting results.
Still a force to be reckoned with in US Blu Ray stakes... Shout Factory continue to put out some nice looking genre films, loaded with extras such as Star Crash, Someone’s Watching Me and Humanoids From The Deep. It’ always worth checking if there’s a Shout Factory version of a film before deciding on your purchase.
I’ve talked about Vinegar Syndrome before on here in reference to the owner actually rescuing a lot of the films that are released and saving them from... well... the state of film decay the label takes its name from. I only have one film by them, Vixens Of Kung Fu (reviewed here) and a lot of their stuff is sleazy porn or bottom of the barrel exploitation but nobody else is going to touch this stuff. Nor indeed save the final existing prints from oblivion. Which is exactly what makes this such a great label worthy of your support. Check out their catalogue if this sounds like your kind of thing.
I wasn’t sure about still including Wild East on here as they’re not that active these days. However, my friend @cultofthecinema really wanted me to so I’m grudgingly leaving them here with the one positive thing in that Spaghetti Western fans around the world do owe them a lot of gratitude for a number of their past releases... some of which are still available from their website. I’m not sure how long they will still be relevant, however, with labels like Arrow beginning to get into the Spaghetti Western market.
And that’s my 1600th Blog Post done. If you have any other cool, boutique labels you want to bring to my attention, please leave them in the comments section below and I will check them out. All the best and thanks for reading.
Sunday, 14 April 2019
The Man Who Hell To Earth
Directed by Neil Marshall
UK cinema release print.
You know, I thought a lot of the last two Hellboy movies, especially the second one so, frankly, the idea of doing a new, rebooted version of the character which didn’t involve the original dream team pairing of director Guillermo del Toro and actor Ron Perlman was pretty much anathema to me. I really wasn’t looking forward to this movie and even more so when I heard pretty much every critic weighing in with headlines saying it was one of the worst messes of a film out there. However, I thought I should witness the train wreck for myself and I had one slightly bright spark of a fact at my disposal which should have tipped me off that, maybe, this was worth a watch after all. That bright spark being director Neil Marshall, who made two of the best modern horror movies going... Dog Soldiers and The Descent.
I got lucky when I went and saw this because, honestly, this is an awesome film and I thoroughly enjoyed it... way more than I thought was possible. So I guess the bottom line from that is... don’t trust the professional critics, even if they all agree on something. This film is a great slice of exploitational horror which is not afraid to blend elements of epic, grandiose plotting with a true pulp/exploitation sensibility. In a way it felt a little like it had a kind of stylistic kinship with movies like Hansel And Gretel - Witch Hunters (reviewed by me here) and The Last Witch Hunter (reviewed here). Two movies which I think were less than enthusiastically received by audiences and which deserved more love.
As does this latest incarnation of Hellboy. I don’t think there were even ten people in the screening I went to and that’s a shame because it’s a solid and fun movie with some outstanding visual flourishes. There was even a jump scare moment which I didn’t see coming at one point.
Now, nobody can really fill the shoes of the mighty acting legend that is Ron Perlman in the role of Hellboy but David Harbour, who plays him here, actually does a really good job with the character and he manages to assuredly bypass the legacy of the role, giving us a nice interpretation of creator Mike Mignola’s comic book character. Both him and his ‘dad’, played by Ian McShane here (it was John Hurt in the last two movies), are totally brilliant and they are, pretty much, the only two regular characters carried over from the last two movies (which suits me fine as I never really got on with the Abe Sapien creature, although he is teased near the end). Instead with have a totally new support team who are working together for the first time here, played by Daniel Dae Kim and the truly beautiful Sasha Lane. They are also pretty awesome and, to round it off as the icing on the cake, we have Milla Jovovich playing the lead villain of the movie. And she does some pretty good work here too.
Now this movie is a complete reboot and is not associated with the del Toro movies. Which is a shame in a way because there was a definite direction for a third part which the director of that last one was clearly heading for. The question posed in Hellboy - The Golden Army was... just how was the title character going to bring about the apocalypse and, well, its a shame that never got resolved by del Toro. Except, it kinda does get resolved, somewhat, because I suspect, having not read the original comics, that this film is based, at least partially, on the same source material that would have gone into that third part that was never made. So, yeah, some of the questions posed by that last movie are, I think, answered here.
And the movie had me right from the start. Opening with a flashback and narrative provided by Mr. McShane which takes us back into Arthurian legend and upping the gore factor right from the outset, the film pulled me in very quickly. This is soon followed by a scene where Hellboy has to fight a masked luchador wrestler with vampire powers and, frankly, by this time I was already hooked on this movie, it has to be said. The action sequences are well put together, solid and, frankly, surrealistic, giant demons completely trashing London in the last reel really put a smile on my face. This is, as I said before, an epic piece of pulpy exploitation and it goes over the top in all the right places it needs to over the course of the story. And the special effects are handled really well too with my favourite being the ectoplasmic undead who are channeled physically from the mouth and into 3D representations via Sasha Lane’s truly epic character. I enjoyed her performance best, I think and her on-screen chemistry with David Harbour goes a long way towards selling this film and giving the emotional weight it requires at certain story beats.
Add into what is an already seductive mix, Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, which is a real corker and gives the movie a solid backbone. Can’t wait to hear this one as a stand alone listen when the CD is released in a few weeks.
And that’s really all I’ve got to say about Hellboy 2019 other than... some of the little reveals are a bit too obviously telegraphed but the frenetic pacing and post-modernistic tone more than make up for the lack of subtlety in the writing. This is a fun and entertaining movie and I would expect that, if you liked the last two Hellboy movies, you should have a good time with this one. And no one is more surprised than me that I would be delivering such a positive review of this movie but, there you have it. A little masterpiece of bloody excess and another winner, as far as I’m concerned, from director Neil Marshall.
Thursday, 11 April 2019
Bill Death Do Us Part
The Kill Bill Diary
by David Carradine
Methuen ISBN: 9780713687781
Well this is a really breezy book and, as a result, this is probably going to be a really short review.
It’s not breezy because it has no substance... although, to be fair, in terms of full on details about the shooting of Kill Bill (Parts One and Two as it came to be), there’s isn’t a great deal of substance to be found in details of the actual production of the film. But that’s not the reason it’s so.... well... as I said, it’s just a pleasurable breeze to read through. No. The reason is because David Carradine is such an accomplished writer and has one of those useful writing styles that feels like you’re just sitting in a bar next to him, listening to the man talk. It’s a joy to read and... oh yeah... not without some interesting observations and stories, for sure.
This journal is split into a prelude, followed by a long Part One and then a shorter Part Two. I’m guessing the structure is meant to mirror the release pattern of the movies to some extent. In the prelude, Mr. Carradine tells us how he met Quentin Tarantino (the writer and director of Kill Bill, should anyone here be in doubt) and how he wandered into a long courting session in terms of chance meetings over the years to gain the role of Bill, the man everyone is talking about in the movie and who remains mostly absent from the first film. Or half of the film, depending on your opinion of the number count listed on the various Tarantino posters over the years.
And that’s the thing, this isn’t just about the shooting of Kill Bill... it’s also about the preparation for Kill Bill such as the rigorous, all day training sessions lasting many months that some of the cast, including Carradine, were put through to get in shape for the picture. It also looks at Carradine’s daily life throughout the whole period from pre-shoot to a gruelling selection of worldwide publicity tours for both films and shows him as someone who is, it has to be said... a bit of a cool cat.
Now I’m not someone who is that familiar with Carradine’s work. I never used to watch his famous TV show Kung Fu when it was on in the early 1970s but I do remember having a Kung Fu magazine with a big, fold out poster of Carradine that hung on my wall during that period. I don’t exactly know why my parents got it for me but... I suppose they used to like the show so, there it was in my room and the man used to watch over me while I slept, I guess.
I was aware of him, though, in a very interesting film I saw on television in the 1980s called The Silent Flute. I remember I really liked it and, decades later, I bought a Region 1 US DVD release of the film by Blue Underground under an alternate title, Circle Of Iron. Carradine remarks on the title changes of that film himself in this diary and, as it turns out, the man was a bit of an artist and all round free spirit. He made that flute in that film, as he has made a fair few over the years. He used to play them with his group until his untimely death a few years after Kill Bill and I was startled to discover, via this book, that the flute he uses in Kill Bill is, indeed, the same flute from The Silent Flute. In fact, as I discovered from reading this, one of the things Tarantino does to get people settled into his movies, especially when they are written for a specific person, is to have his art and costume department go around to the actor’s house and borrow loads of stuff from said actor's rooms and wardrobes in order to get everything reproduced by the various studio people. This is so that the actor will feel comfortable on set, half of which will be replicas of what he already has laying around... and be able to get into the role. I suspect Tarantino doesn’t do that with everyone mind but, it’s certainly what he seemed to be doing with Carradine.
And, like I said, its a very relaxing read and I learned a lot about Carradine. Enough, certainly, to make me want to read the autobiography he wrote many years before this one. I’ll have to get myself a copy of that at some point in the future. He comes across as a man very much at peace with himself and very much in love with his wife Annie, which makes his death a little down the line even more tragic and regrettable. He also had a very honest and straight forward attitude towards life, at least that’s how he came across in this book and not as the ‘crazy person’ he quotes from another famous writer/actor who read his earlier autobiography. Although I suspect that’s also true. Also quite witty at times such as when he describes one of a few times his car dies when he’s on the way to somewhere...
“Then I start to smell burning Bakelite, one of my favourite aromas. Especially in the morning. Smells like... expensive repairs.”
I’m sure most of my readers will have no trouble placing the movie quote Mr. Carradine is paraphrasing here.
As far as insight into Tarantino himself goes... well, he comes off fairly well, if a little demanding of his crew. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Tarantino myself in that, I really like a lot of his films and think many of them... Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds especially... are great works of art. However, whenever I see him interviewed he always comes across as way too full of himself and arrogant to the nth degree. Having said that, every time I read a first hand account from some actor or director or musician who has spent time with him, it always comes across that they always click straight away and fall in love with the charm of the guy right off the bat, using the common language of movies. So I think the only way I’m ever going to find out what this guy is really like is to hang out with him and have a conversation sometime. So, yeah, that’s probably never going to happen so I shall continue to admire his art from afar and, probably not have much good or bad to say about him other than what I can see from what he puts on the screen. Carradine, of course, absolutely loved him and it's evident on many a page that he believed (and he was possibly correct) that he was working on the best film of his career. And I’d probably have to take Carradine at his word in terms of how Tarantino is because Mr. C comes across so well in his words.
There are also, as you’d expect, encounters with other celebrities of the movie world and he has a lot of good things to say about many of his co-stars on Kill Bill. Uma Thurman and Michael Madsen both come across incredibly well, for instance. And Harry Knowles gets a few mentions (not to mention some reprints of his Kill Bill set reports from Aint It Cool News in this tome) too. There’s an interesting sentence at the end of one of the chapters about Knowles and I can’t tell if Carradine meant it in a joking way or if it was a bit of a put down of the man but, I guess I never will know now. Also, there are a few instances in the text where, obviously since the film was made by Miramax, Harvey Weinstein gets a mention. It’s interesting how a general 'off the cuff' remark made by Carradine describing people present on a night out can now, in retrospect, be seen in something of a different light since the whole ‘me too’ movement got going but it seems pretty clear to me that Carradine was certainly unaware and, possibly, naive to some of the things going on during those years. If he had been aware... no telling what he might have done, I guess.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about The Kill Bill Diary except, oh look, it didn’t turn out to be too short a review after all. I think you’ve probably go the gist of what I’m trying to say here though. As in... David Carradine, with a witty and laid back observational style that cuts through life sharper than a Hanzo sword, wrote a very ‘easy on the eyes and intellect’ journal of his experiences in making Kill Bill with Quentin Tarantino. It’s entertaining, fun and definitely worth some of your time if you are into such things. Definitely pick this one up if are. Read it.
Tuesday, 9 April 2019
Out Of Blue
Directed by Carol Morley
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Spoilers by implication here.
There’s a moment relatively early on in Out Of Blue when the lead protagonist, detective Mike, played by Patricia Clarkson (exactly why she has a boy’s name and wears men’s clothing is never really addressed), answers another character by saying that she hates the word ‘closure’. Well, I have to say that this film might have been a little more interesting if it had been lacking exactly that. Instead, we seem to have an abundance of closure comprising the DNA of the movie when, honestly, I think we’d have all been better off with a little restraint shown towards the constant spelling out of something which the writer/director Carol Morley still seems to want to play like it’s something of a twist by the end. I’d blame Martin Amis who wrote the source novel, Night Train for the sloppy plot structure here but, a brief summary of the plot of the novel which I looked at (I’ve not read the actual novel myself) suggests that the movie version is a far cry from the original and has not much business being compared to it.
Now, the main reason I wanted to see this movie is because I really like the actress Patricia Clarkson (since first seeing her at the cinema in High Art back in 1998) and I don’t see too much of her in enough films. So a movie where she’s actually playing the lead rather than a supporting part was something I really wanted to have a look at. And I was not let down.... by that element of the film at least. Clarkson is absolutely electric in this... as she always is... and she really does carry this film, it has to be said. Even when she shares screen time with such phenomenal actors here such as James Caan and Toby Jones, she’s still the person you are looking at throughout the entire movie and... that’s exactly what I was expecting from her.
And there are a lot of other cool things about the movie too. The cinematography, shot design and even set dressing is all pretty amazing. The real problem lays in the plot of the film, I believe. Clarkson’s character works homicide for the New Orleans Police Department and she is called in to find out who has killed an astrophysicist (played by Mamie Gummer) and, even from the start of the film, Clarkson’s character is both empathising obsessively with the victim and, also, having these little funny turns where she is either hallucinating or fainting. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for characters or objects to disappear from a scene, literally winking out of existence like David Hemming’s character at the end of Antonioni’s Blow Up, if she’s not keeping an eye on them.And sometimes even when she is.
Meanwhile, the visual syntax of the movie is shot through with a metaphor of the old ‘multiverse’ theory and, frankly, my disappointment doubled when, at the end, this 'image grammar’ didn’t really have much of a pay off and instead was merely being used as a distraction for the audience to try and fox us from cutting to the truth too quickly. There was a movie out earlier in the year called Destroyer (I reviewed it here) which absolutely relied on the audience misinterpreting the narrative structure of that film and, because of the way the director of Destroyer deceived the audience, we really did get an ending we couldn’t see coming. Alas, the visual elusiveness of a totally coherent shot ebb and flow in Out Of Blue isn’t nearly clever enough to distract the audience for long and the damage is already done when, very early on in the movie, the amnesiac element of Clarkson’s back story is mentioned and alarm bells begin to ring. Then, when an old case of linked, unsolved serial killings from a number of decades before is thrown into the mix with regards to the latest crime, it’s really not a very large step for the audience to figure out that this old case will in some way turn out to be of significance, on a personal level, to the main protagonist.
That’s the main problem here, I think. Not only is it easy to figure out both the identity of the killer on the original case and also Clarkson’s character’s link to it that, well... you just assume there’s going to be something more. The way the clues are fed to the audience is so heavy handed, in fact, that there was a point twenty minutes before the end when I thought the film was over as they’d deliberately revealed everything already... or so I assumed. Then we have an almost entirely redundant final 20 minutes or so... nicely shot and interesting to look at but completely superfluous, where we lead up to a big reveal which... yeah, I honestly thought it had been revealed already, much earlier in the film. Quite early in the film, in terms of one of the elements of that twist.
Now that I’ve said all that, however, I would like to reiterate that the film is extremely interesting in terms of both visual design and editing, not to mention Clarkson in a truly captivating performance. So, despite the weak plot and terribly disappointing closure in the movie, it’s actually worth taking a look at if there’s nothing better playing at the cinema. There are even some nice attempts at visual metaphor where a recurring image of some rolling marbles representing planets makes you realise, at one point, that this is because the lead character is probably losing hers. It’s a nice enough movie and certainly not as terrible as some of the more recent cinematic offerings currently doing the rounds but I couldn’t recommend this one if you are after a more mysterious and ultimately thought provoking cinematic experience. There are good movies out there which use astrophysics as a metaphor at the heart of their inherent mystery but, sadly, Out Of Blue isn’t one of them.