21 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - A Hard Day's Night

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

20 July 2014

EIFF 2014/Film Review : Joe (2014)

Artificial Eye Film
Rating: 15
Screened/Release Date:
25, 28 June 2014(EIFF)
25 July 2014 (UK Cinema)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
David Gordon Green
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)

Drama, Music
BD Release Date:
14th July 2014 (UK)
Running Time:107 Minutes
Allan Moyle
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.

Ian Schultz

11 July 2014

EIFF 2014 Film Review : Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case (2013)

Rating: 15
Running Time:
87 minutes
24, 27th June 2014 (EIFF)
Andreas Johnsen
Andreas Johnsen, Ai Weiwei

Last year I was lucky enough to catch the tale-end of a Toronto exhibit of Ai Weiwei’s work. It was the first time I’d laid eyes on the renowned Chinese artist’s stuff but even then you can see the acidic commentary on the Chinese government clean off the bat.  Andreas Johnsen’s insightful documentary proves an educational look at the inspirational man behind the work, but most of all a disturbing glimpse into what fuels his message.

From the beginning of The Fake Case, Weiwei is a picture of composure: dignified, friendly, wise, considerate, a family man. It is unsettling then to learn of his incarceration at the hands of a totalitarian government who kept him isolated for 80 days in a blank room with 3 guards, then released him unceremoniously to continue persecuting him. The intended message is clear: no one fucks with the Chinese government.

Yet, Weiwei does.

Struggling against the titanic force of a 1984 caricature, a party so villainous it’s a real life version of Orwell’s dystopian nightmare, Weiwei remains zen and considerate, even mischievous, finding a few opportunities to stand defiant in front of his persecutors. Johnsen’s camera shows much of the enigmatic artist, his family, his life post-prison, the ominous control the government still exerts on Weiwei and his supporters, but the overwhelming amount of support he garners from the world and his fellow countrymen alike. The sounds of the Hong Kong cityscape play loud and ominous through distressing segments of the film, most notably during a display of Weiwei’s work at the end of the film.

This is a film that has to be seen, not simply as a fantastic account of Weiwei and his methods, but as a frankly terrifying look at the corruption inherent in an empire and the potential turning of a tide against it.

Scott Clark

11 July 2014

EIFF 2014 Review : Aberdeen( Heung gong jai,2014)

Drama, World Cinema
Rating: 15
20, 22nd June 2014(EIFF)
Ho-Cheung Pang
Miriam Yeung, Louis Koo, Gigi Leung, Eric Tsang, Ng Man-tat, Carrie Ng

Though Pang Ho-cheung’s Aberdeen is very much a Chinese film about Hong Kong, it refuses to alienate its audience by making its focus specific issues of Chinese life. Aberdeen is essentially a film about relationships in the contemporary world told through the parallel and intertwining lives of the people in one family. On each level of the family’s infrastructure the camera picks out key details: a lonesome daughter’s midnight snacks, a father’s gender-centric obsessing, an uncle’s indifferent cheating, and a grandfather’s bliss in later life. Here the family is its own source of anxiety and its own salvation.

Ho-cheung’s Hong Kong is one of colours and life, a buzzing hive of activity where events collide and erupt to produce new scenarios. Here, family life spirals out of control and is ,time and time again wrenched close to some kind of epiphany only for life to inevitably stumble in the way. All of this is shown in a gorgeous Technicolor palate which, along with the fantastic pace of the story, produces an odd travel documentary feel to some of the film. At other points the camera floats through a miniature of Hong Kong shot in hues of purple, red, orange and green, a weird dreamscape where the camera retreats at points of transition. As with most details in the film, even this space plays an important narrative role later in the film.  Ho-cheung utilizes a zany sense of fate to keep all events integral to the story at some point or another.

In the end the film proves it has some slightly backwards ideas about its resolution, yet overall it’s a heart-warming story of life, love, and family. Ho-cheung seems to want the audience, like the family, to understand that equilibrium is an impossibility but that’s not a bad thing at all.

A ponderous cross-section of life in contemporary Hong Kong, spinning through the realities of everyday life whilst tackling some hefty ideas on what family means. Aberdeen is clean and colourful, inquisitive, and honest to the end.


Scott Clark

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