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30 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - The Ipcress File (1965)


Genre: Drama, Spy
Distributor: Network
BD Release Date: 28th July 2014 (UK)
Rating: PG
Running Time: 109
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Cast: Michael Caine, Nigel Green, Gordon Jackson
BuyThe Ipcress File Blu-Ray

The Ipcress File was the film that made Michael Caine a superstar. It was partly a downbeat response to the James Bond films, which the producer Harry Saltzman produced as well as The Ipcress File. Over the years it has become something of a British classic and has spawned many sequels, all of which star Michael Caine.

Harry Palmer is a cockney counter espionage agent who has a knack for gourmet food and has to deal with government bureaucracy. He is moved to investigate the kidnapping and reappearance of scientists who have been brainwashed. He also on the way accidently kills a CIA agent and now the CIA and the kidnappers are after him.

Michael Caine’s portrayal of Harry Palmer is decidedly unglamorous; he wears NHS Glasses and lives alone in his Notting Hill flat and cooks for himself. It’s as far from the playboy lifestyle of James Bond as you can get. His performance got him the starring role in Alfie and made his star rise even more.

The film is a vastly different to the Bond films of the time and almost has the seriousness of John le Carré spy novels of the time. However it still has this air of coolness and the film has a sense of humour, the name Harry Palmer itself is a masturbation joke. It’s however a lot bleaker than the Bond films of the time, the morality of the characters are greyer than the very overt black and white characterizations in the Bond series.

It has aged surprising well which is probably down to the way the film was shot which makes it look like Palmer is always being followed. Sidney J. Furie also perfectly balances the more over the top spy elements with the reality of Palmer’s domestic life. The score by John Barry has also became a classic in its own right and remains of his finest scores in a long career of great scores. The disc has lots of bonus features including commentary from Sidney J. Furie, interviews and a vintage documentary on Michael Caine among much more.

★★★★
Ian Schultz

  

29 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Victim (1961)


Genre: Drama
Distributor: Network
BD Release Date: 28th July 2014 (UK)
Rating: 12
Running Time: 105
Director: Basil Dearden
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Slyvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock
BuyVictim Blu-Ray

The year is 1961 and homosexuality in the UK is still a crime, this was also the year that filmVictim was released.  It became famous for being the first film in the English language to use the word “homosexual” and one of the first films with a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man. It is also widely believed to have played a role in the eventual overturning of the law banning homosexuality.

The police are after a young man named Jack Barrett who has stolen money from his employer and is on the run. He tries to get in contact with the barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) who is married but in reality is gay and had an affair with the young man. Barrett commits suicide after he is caught but Melville is blackmailed.

Dirk Bogarde was widely known to be gay but rarely spoke about his own sexuality even in his own autobiography. It took him astonishing courage to take up the part in Victim in 1961 and gives a wonderfully paranoid performance throughout the film. It was a game changer and an important film for Bogarde’s career and for cinematic history.

The cinematography has a slight noir tinge which suits the material very well; Otto Heller who photographed many of the finest British films ever made such as Peeping Tom, The Ladykillers and The Ipcress File shot it. Basil Dearden-who did some of the most unique films to come out of the 50s and 60s British industry, directed it.

Network has done a very impressive disc for such an important film. The transfer is clean and has the right amount of contrast and grain. The features include a half an hour interview with Bogarde shot during the release of Victim and it also includes publicity materials like the original trailer and stills.


★★★★
Ian Schultz

28 July 2014

DVD Review- Hunting the Legend (2014)

Genre:
Horror, Thriller
Distributor:
Image Entertainment
Rating: 15
DVD Release Date:
21st July 2014 (UK)
Director:
Justin Steeley
Cast:
Christopher Copeland, Hannah Wallace, Jeff Causey
Buy:Hunting The Legend [DVD]

Bigfoot, Yeti, and Sasquatch, all different variations of the same age-old terror: a gargantuan primate thought to roam the wilds of Earth’s mountain ranges and forests. Of course, little evidence exists, but a quick google search can prove that plenty people claim to have seen these elusive terrors. In fact, so many people claim to have seen them, it seems ignorant to totally dispel the rumours. Where Bobcat Goldthwait’s recent Willow Creek is an enthusiastic venture into the mysterious territory, and 2012’s The Lost Coast Tapes plays with what the legend might be hiding, Justin Steeley’s debut feature Hunting the Legend is every bit a gonzo bigfoot film.

Christopher Copeland plays himself (as do the rest of the cast), a young man out to discover the mystery behind his father’s mysterious disappearance on a hunting trip. Setting off into the woods with his best friend, girlfriend and two camera technicians he hopes that he can once and for all prove the existence of the legendary Bigfoot.

The film successfully sets up a kind of road movie vibe, having the group collect weapons and even a defensive dog before their venture. The early parts of the film superbly relay the effect bigfoot has on local communities, splitting them into believers and non-believers whilst glazing the whole community with an ominous kind of deniability. Steeley expertly manoeuvres his crew into a similar structure throughout the film, slowly toppling each character into a state of disbelieving belief. Special mention goes to the townsfolk who seem to be genuine locals with genuine stories. Half way through, Stan Copeland’s threatening forest hermit appears and delivers a much needed breath of gusto and menace to the laggy first half.

Though the film spends too much time running wildly about in the woods with hysterical people, it works because Steeley is so stingy with what he actually shows, but even then your still failry spooked. In those moments when he might actually present us with a Bigfoot (we are told there are many) your brain kind of scrabbles to make sense of the sheer size. There’s a density to these beasts that lets them drift out from hearsay, but enough shadow to keep everything veiled.

In the end, Hunting the Legend has perhaps too much reliance on the viewer’s own innate discomfort with a camera pointed into darkness. Other than that there’s plenty suspense and enjoyment to be found in one of the most rounded and terrifying Bigfoot features of recent years.

★★★☆☆
Scott Clark


27 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Rapture


Genre: Drama
Distributor: Eurkea
BD Release Date: 28th July 2014 (UK)
Rating: 12
Running Time: 105
Director: John Guillermin
Cast: Patricia Gozzi, Melvyn Douglas, Dean Stockwell
Buy:Rapture (Dual Format) [Blu-ray]



Rapture is directed by John Guillermin; one of those old Hollywood directors for hire who is perhaps best known for The Towering Inferno, The Blue Max and the King Kong remake with Jeff Bridges. The head of 20th Century Fox Daryl F. Zanuck wanted to produce a European art house styled film and Rapture was the outcome.

Rapture tells the story of a lonely teenage girl, Agnes (Patricia Gozzi), who is constantly told she might be sent off to the insane asylum and has an over bearing father played by Melvyn Douglas. She is stuck on a farmhouse on the island in Brittany, France and everything changes when she, along with her father, witness the getaway of a convict (Dean Stockwell). He eventually hides out in their farmhouse and Agnes becomes infatuated with him.

The film’s European feel is also down to the collaborators Guillermin assembled for the film. It was co-written by Ennio Flaino who also co-wrote most of Fellini’s greatest films such as 8 ½ and La Strada. The cinematography is by Marcel Grignon and is never boring; it has tons of fantastic shots and strange angles which is at times reminiscent of The Night of the Hunter. The use of black and white and cinemascope only heightens this likeness.

The whole film has an otherworldly quality; the setting itself is so remote it lends itself to a fantastical quality, and it shares some similarities to Ingmar Bergman’s island-set chamber dramas of that period. However, it doesn’t have the coldness associated with Bergman- instead it’s full of life and Patricia Gozzi gives a performance of a lifetime, which has echoes of the young girls in Pan’s Labyrinth and Spirit of the Beehive. She quit acting in early 20s and seemingly disappeared off the radar. Dean Stockwell and Melvyn Douglas are typically brilliant in their roles.

It’s a lost gem that will be rediscovered due to the beautiful Blu-Ray by Eureka. The only feature on the disc is a commentary by film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redmon, but it also has a booklet with an essay, vintage stills and more.

★★★★
Ian Schultz


24 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Tati Collection


Genre: Comedy
Distributor: Studiocanal
BD Release Date: 21st July 2014 (UK)
Rating: PG
Running Time: Various
Director: Jacques Tati
Cast: Jacques Tati
BuyTati Collection Blu-Ray

Jacques Tati is best known for his comedic character Monsieur Hulot, who is featured in the great majority of the films in the new Tati boxset. The films included are his 6 features Jour De Fête, Les Vacanes De M. Hulot, Mon Oncle, Playtime, Trafic, Parade and a disc that compiles his short films.

Tati’s first films are very nice but insubstantial comedies, and it wasn’t until Mon Oncle when he really came into his own. To understand what Tati did is to also understand that he made extensively silent films but with sound. The films have dialogue, but the dialogue is often inaudible or not that essential to the film’s action. From Mon Oncle onwards, and more famously in Playtime, the use of dialogue was very minimal. His films tend to use slapstick but in a more subtle way than that of his obvious influences like Charles Chaplin or Buster Keaton, who said “Tati began where we finished”.

Mon Oncle and Playtime are both satirical films about technology and the modern world not unlike Chaplin’s seminal Modern Times. In Mon Oncle he plays Hulot, but like the majority of the films in the set he becomes a role model for his sister’s son, much to their resentment. They are much more obsessed with their futuristic home than their son who is bored with their way of life; Hulot brings excitement into his life.

Playtime is easily his more ambitious, daring, expensive and ultimately best film. Hulot arrives in a futuristic Paris to try to get a job, but after he runs into some female American tourists, it becomes a farcical fest of brilliant slapstick and visual gags. It’s very much in the vein of Modern Times and even pre-dates some of Terry Gilliam’s dystopian vision of the future in Brazil. Tati built the entire futuristic Paris, which escalated the budget and become known as “Tativille”. The cinematography and production design is to kill for and it even predates the rise of office cubicles!

Playtime was followed by Trafic, which was a troubled shoot and got a mixed response at the time. It is, however, a very fun absurdist film with Hulot as an automobile designer who is trying to get to Amsterdam from Paris for an auto show, but every obstacle that could happen he faces on the way there. It’s lesser Tati but it has the charm of his previous films.

The set features lots of bonus features from commentaries and many analytical featurettes by Stéphane Goudet and a interview from Jonathan Romney. It’s also nicely rounded off by Parade; a live circus film that Tati made in the mid 70s, which sadly was has his last film.

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

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