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22 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Too Late Blues (1961)

Genre: Drama
Distributor: Eureka
BD Release Date: 21st July 2014 (UK)
Rating: 15
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens, Seymour Cassel
BuyToo Late Blues (1961) Blu-Ray

Too Late Blues is a fascinating film from the filmography of John Cassavetes. It was his second directorial effort after his pioneering independent Shadows; Paramount hired him with the idea of making him the American art house answer to the numerous European auteurs of the early 60s. In many ways he was, and it showed incredible foresight by Paramount, but things weren’t quite as hunky dory for Cassavetes.

Too Late Blues is about a leader of a jazz band played by Bobby Darin. He meets a young singer (Stella Stevens) who he becomes infatuated with, she joins his band but his ego is too strong and everything falls apart for both of them. The film’s main theme is the idea of selling out, which for a film in the early 1960s is quite startling; Bobby Darin’s bandleader is forever being asking to compromise his music for commercial success. It’s not hard to see the parallel between this and Cassavetes himself.

Casssavetes dismissed the film as a commercial experiment but his singular personality certainly shines though the film. It has enough interesting aesthetic choices akin to that of his later more independently minded films. The drain shot near the end, for example, doesn’t quite work but it is beautiful in its faults. It also contains a subject matter close to his heart: commerciality vs. art and the world of jazz. 

The performances are the film’s biggest strong points; both Bobby Darin and Stella Stevens are electrifying. It’s a shame Darin died so young because he could have easily had the film career Sinatra had, if not more so. The rest of the cast is mostly Cassavetes’ stock cast- most notably Seymour Cassel as one of the band members who is still working in films today.  


Overall it’s a fascinating attempt by Cassavetes at more commercial filmmaking so early in his career, but it doesn’t quite work. The first half is far superior to the second, although the performances and interesting stylistic approaches Cassavetes takes makes it’s far from being a failure.

★★★1/2

Ian Schultz

21 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - A Hard Day's Night (1964)



Genre: Comedy, Music
Distributor: Second Sight
BD Release Date: 21st July 2014 (UK)
Rating: PG
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Director: Richard Lester
Cast: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
BuyA Hard Day's Night (1964) Blu-Ray

A Hard Day’s Night is the debut film featuring the mop top haired lads from Liverpool known as The Beatles.  It came out in 1964, which was the height of “Beatlemania” and was directed by Richard Lester who became a very interesting director in his own right.

The “plot” of A Hard Day’s Night is basically an absurdist take on a day in the life of the fab four. The film starts with John, Paul, George and Ringo being mobbed by fans as they catch a train down to London so they can get to a show there. The rest of the film is a string of absurdist skits strung together not dissimilar to what Monty Python did later in the decade.

The film subverts the whole idea of The Beatles, which makes something much more than a “British pop film”. The Beatles knew that were hopeless as actors and they play along with that throughout. It influenced The Monkees (who I will always prefer to The Beatles) TV Show and Slade in Flame among countless others.

The film’s greatest strength and arguably what has made it last the test of time is the editing. Lester took as much influence from his time making TV adverts as from the French New Wave, so it is has the vibrant feel that the early Godard and Truffaut stuff has. It seems fresh even 50 years after its release. The “Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence is a textbook example of how to edit music and image together and has often been called the first example of music video style editing.

The restoration is exceptional; it’s from the same master as the recent Criterion release. It also includes the majority of the same special features as the Criterion release, which makes it a vital purchase for anyone interested in film.

★★★★

Ian Schultz

21 July 2014

DVD Review -Visitors (2013)


Genre:
Documentary
Distributor:
Metrodome
Rating: 15
DVD Release Date:
21st July 2014(UK)
Director:
Godfrey Reggio
Buy:Visitors [DVD]

Visitors, the latest work by Godfrey Reggio, the celebrated director of the 'Katsi trilogy', is said to transport audiences to the far side of the moon where they are confronted by themselves, the feature holding up a mirror to what it means to be human. Well, this is how the thin narrative that holds Visitors together is explained in the introduction that accompanies Metrodome's release, an explanation that has, at the very least, stopped me wondering what the purpose was of those slow tracks over the moon's surface. Reggio treads much of the same ground here as he did in the 'Katsi trilogy' with technology being a central concern. What does differ is the approach he adopts this time out. Instead of the film standing as an obvious critique of our society's reliance on technology, he holds a mirror up to his own reliance on technology through the techniques he deploys, which this time includes the use of 4K rendering alongside his trademark use of slow motion and time-lapse photography. Perhaps this is what Reggio is implying when he says, "The meaning is in the form." Visitors is visceral cinema at its finest and is an experience to savour. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful black and white photography on show.

★★★1/2
Shane James


20 July 2014

EIFF 2014/Film Review : Joe (2014)


Genre:
Drama
Distributor:
Artificial Eye Film
Rating: 15
Screened/Release Date:
25, 28 June 2014(EIFF)
25 July 2014 (UK Cinema)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Director:
David Gordon Green
Cast:
Nicholas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Ronnie Gene Blevins, Adriene Mishler


Arguably the most impressive proof of a director’s versatility at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Joe is the latest offering from David Gordon Green. It’s a striking kind of American film, miles away from the dark Gothic Americana of Jim Mickle’s Cold in July but still very much a Deep South film of dusk and misery, redemption and family, desperation and control. The cyclical nature of violence is only too well understood by Joe, an ex-con struggling with his own demons when he meets Gary, a young boy living in poverty with his abusive alcoholic father.

Cage gives a heart-felt and powerful performance in a role apparently made for him, balancing the raw and somewhat barmy nature of Joe’s pain with a truly tender understanding of genuine charity. The Cage-isms are here, but directed in such a potent way they lend gravitas to a character we come to genuinely know, love, and fear.

The film feels very much like Cage’s performance: brief flurries of madness, violence, and utter anguish keep the film on edge, but the rest of the film is in no way filler. Here lies a simple melodrama of complex characters expertly put together. Green speaks loud and clear in a voice so consistently brutal and beautiful the film can be nothing less than involving. At any moment the already morbid tone of the feature could nose dive thanks to any one of its foul characters, or soar with Gary and Joe’s unabashed content with simply being. Special mention goes to the late Garty Poulter who champions his scenes, giving a truly disgusting yet hurt performance as Gary’s father, a man slave to his own disgraceful behaviour.

In the end this is an optimistic, touching, yet entrancingly dark drama riveted into place by Green’s eye for detail, Cage’s performance, and Tim Orr’s laconic cinematography. A pleasure to behold.

★★★★
Scott Clark


19 July 2014

DVD Review - Times Square (1980)



Genre:
Drama, Music
Distributor:
Network
BD Release Date:
14th July 2014 (UK)
Rating:15
Running Time:107 Minutes
Director:
Allan Moyle
Cast:
Robin Johnson, Trini Alvarado, Tim Curry
Buy:Times Square (1980) DVD


Times Square was one of the first films by Canadian filmmaker Allan Moyle in 1980. It was produced by the same guy who did Saturday Night Fever who thought he had a “Punk Saturday Night Fever” but in reality he had a very different beast on his hands.

It’s the tale of these 2 girls, Nicky (Robin Johnson) and Pamela (Trini Alvarado), from New York City who come from a different side of the tracks. They meet after they are both admitted to a Neurological hospital to be treated for mental illness. They bond; Nicky is a streetwise punk rock kid and Pamela feels misunderstood as the daughter of a wealthy man who is trying to clean up “the filth” of Times Square. They escape the hospital and run away together and eventually start a punk rock band called The Sleez Sisters. Tim Curry also appears as a Radio DJ who supports the Sleez Sisters after he finds out Pamela is the “Zombie Girl” who writes into the show.

The film’s genesis is fascinating; Allan Moyle found a diary of a mentally disturbed woman in a second hand sofa he bought which inspired him to write the treatment. It caught the attention of producer Robert Stigwood who was the man behind Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Stigwood took control of the film after he didn’t like the gritty approach Moyle took with it and the lesbian content between the 2 girls, which was ultimately removed from the film. Despite this, Times Square still has a quite obvious lesbian subtext, but originally the two young girls were explicitly lesbians. Moyle eventually left the project near the end of filming, but over the years has warmed to the film and admits it’s a good document of Times Square that isn’t around anymore.

The film is a mess to say the least and the pacing is off but it remains one of the best punk films of it's time. Both of the young actresses are fantastic and Robin Johnson should have been a star; they tried to market her as “the female John Travolta” and it’s not hard to see why. The film is grittier than many “teen films” and the on location photography is excellent. Moyle would later direct the fantastic Pump Up the Volume, which has similar themes of teen rebellion and the neglecting of society’s norms and the later along with the silly but fun Empire Records.

The punk and new wave soundtrack is excellent with classic cuts from Talking Heads, Ramones, Patti Smith, XTC, The Cure, Lou Reed and Gary Numan. There are some songs that were obviously added to the film after Moyle left, particularly the cheesy disco. It’s been long rumoured that David Bowie re-recorded “Life on Mars?” for the soundtrack, but it’s not in the film and he performed a new wave inflected version on the Johnny Carson show which puts fuel in the rumour. However, the rumour goes that his label RCA blocked its inclusion on the soundtrack, but Desmond Child says he collaborated with Bowie on a version of the song “The Night Was Not” which is included on the soundtrack but performed by Desmond Child’s band so it remains a mystery.

The film has become a minor cult classic in the years since its small release. It found its audience on VHS like the similar Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. It was an influence on the band Manic Street Preachers who covered one of the songs performed by Sleez Sisters, and on the Riot Grrl movement of the 1990s. It was also long out of print on DVD and VHS which makes Network’s re-release all the more important so they can preserve this fascinating film.

★★★★1/2
Ian Schultz


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