20 August 2014

Blu-ray Review - Branded To Kill (1967)

Crime, Action, World Cinema,Cult
Arrow Video
rating: 15
Seijun Suzuki
Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa
buy:Branded to Kill [Dual Format DVD & Blu-ray]

Seijun Suzuki is often called the Japanese Samuel Fuller. He is best known for his surreal Yakuza films in the late 60s such as Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. He made 40 films for the Nikkatsu studio between 1956 and 1967 and they got increasingly surreal with time. The studio eventually fired him, but he won a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal and was blacklisted but has been making films since the 80s. He is better known as a director in the west, but is also known in his native Japan as an actor due to numerous roles on TV and film.

Branded to Kill is his best-known film due to American directors like Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino citing it as a big influence on their own work. It’s about a Number Three hit man Hanada who gets a hard-on from sniffing boiling rice (I’m not making this up) who messes up his latest job. His wife turns against him after his career goes down the drain and he meets a femme fatale who likes dead butterflies and birds that tries to kill him but falls in love with him instead. The mysterious number one hit man is planning to assassinate Hanada.

It’s a rip-roaring absurdist surreal bit of Japanese New Wave of the 1960s. Suzuki’s influences were Manga, Pop Art, Early Godard and Film Noir. Suzuki has always said he just tried to make his films as entertaining as possible; it’s full of satire and humour as well. It partly satirizes the conventions of 50s noir and, even to an extent, the early Bond films. The film’s cinematography is breathtaking; Suzuki even used animation to get past the censors by animating on top of the prohibited imagery.

The film was hated, and on its release it was called “incomprehensible” by the critics and even the boss at the studio who never got the film, even at its script stage. Despite that, the film has become a cult classic in the 40+ years since its release; Jim Jarmusch described it as “Probably the strangest and most perverse 'hit man' story in cinema." Arrow Video has released the Blu-Ray debut of Branded to Kill in the UK, it has a beautiful HD transfer and features short interviews with Suzuki and the film’s star Joe Shishido, and even a 70s porno remake. 

Ian Schultz

19 August 2014

Blu-ray Review - Bound (1996)

Crime, Drama,ThrillerCult
Arrow Video
Rating: 18
BD Release Date:
18th August 2014 (UK)
Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Joe Pantoliano, Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon
Buy:Bound [Dual Format Blu-ray + DVD]

Bound was the directorial debut film by the Wachowskis, a few years before they changed the face of cinema forever with the first Matrix film. It remains one of the most impressive debut films of the 1990s. It’s also one of the most fascinating takes on neo-noir to come out after Quentin Tarantino’s early films during the ‘90s noir revival.

The rather rudimentary noir plot is about stealing a bunch of money from the mob. What makes it unique is that it’s about two lesbians, played by Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon. Jennifer Tilly is Violet, who is sick of her mobster boyfriend Caesar (Joe Pantoliano). Caesar also happens to have $2 million of the mob’s money, which he needs to return. Gershon plays Corky, an ex-con who is getting her first job outside of prison, fixing up Violet and Caesar’s next-door neighbour’s place. Violet and Corky soon start an affair and hatch the plan for a robbery.

The Wachowskis’ go to director of photography Bill Pope shot the film. It’s full of interesting angles, long takes, lighting and other touches that give it a very stylish look. Despite the obvious stylised nature of the film, it’s really the chemistry between the two leads that makes the film. They are very believable in their roles and have rarely been better in the parts they have played since then. In the supplementary material, both actresses say they consider it one of the highlights of their careers. The always-great Joe Pantoliano gives a performance that borders on being a leading role, which is rare considering his knack for character acting.

Like the Wachowskis’ other films, Bound wears its influences on its sleeve but never feels like it’s ripping something off. The directors borrow what they need from previous films, novels, comics, books etc. and create their own thing out of it. Its most obvious influence is the Coen Brothers’ debut film Blood Simple, but it’s more about stylistic similarities and both films being such assured, noir-inflected debut films.

As usual, Arrow has released what seems to be the definitive package for Bound. It includes the old commentary, it has a ton of new interviews with cast and crew which are all very good and insightful, and some old EPK featurettes along with more promotional material. It’s time for people who haven’t seen Bound before to discover it, and for those who already are fans to rediscover a somewhat forgotten gem of 90s neo-noir.

Ian Schultz

18 August 2014

Masters Of Cinema DVD/Blu-ray Review - Faust (1927)

Fantasy, Horror,Classic
Rating: PG
BD/DVD Release:
18th August 2014(UK)
F.W Murnau
Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn
Buy:FAUST (Masters of Cinema) (DVD & BLU-RAY DUAL FORMAT)

In 1926 F.W. Murnau, the silent-era master of macabre, released what would be his final German film before moving on to the Western market and stepping into the era of the “talkie”. Faust, seems an apt farewell, not only to Murnau’s own golden years, but to the entire movement of silent cinema.

Based on the classic tale by Marlowe, Faust tells the story of an elderly professor who is manipulated by the Devil to renounce God, and science, in favour of Satan’s own aid. Unbeknownst to Faust, he is part of a wager for the sake of all humanity: if Mephisto can truly corrupt Faust’s soul, the angels in heaven will allow his dominance over Earth.

Combining staunch Gothic storytelling with Murnau’s sometimes nightmarish, sometimes dreamlike expressionism, is a formula for perfection. Faust is stunning, a genuinely impressive feature of such weight and ingenuity that it rarely slips into the narrative and technical pitfalls of its contemporaries. When we watch silent films now, there is always an element of recalibration, a second to reset our heads to a different form of storytelling, but Murnau’s vision is as fresh as it ever was, impressively so

The continuity of the tone, the aesthetic, and the visual make this the perfect rendition of the classic story. Every shot is concrete in terms of technical accuracy and creative flare, Murnau’s composition feels fresh, considerate, every frame is carefully calculated, every image considered for what it may and may not show. The expressionist mind trap of the silent-era town is here utilised in such a gorgeous and frankly grand way that the film has a beautiful range of depths. Your eye strolls through the foreground and is ultimately meandered through an asymmetric architectural gobbledygook. Here every rooftop and pathway collide to squash characters into some kind of physical representation of Faust’s erratic life.

Special mention must be reserved for the production design of Faust, particularly Emil Jannings’ dastardly turn as Mephisto. One particular scene sees Jannings standing with his giant wings wrapped around a small town as the terrified townsfolk run to and fro away from the plague. The scene is gorgeous and actually served as the inspiration for Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain sequence. The town miniatures, especially the ones seen when Faust and Mephisto fly across the world, are shot so seamlessly that it becomes fairly difficult to maintain grasp on what’s real and what’s not. Skilful layering of images grants everything a weightiness rare in the digital age.

The 1080p clean-up is obviously the best way to view this masterpiece, maintaining as much sharpness and detail as possible in the film’s original format. On the new DVD/Blu-ray release there are a few different versions of the film: alternative scenes, a choice to watch the film with either harp or orchestral scoring, and a couple of great wee features. The harp scoring works better in the second half of the film, particularly the scenes between Faust and the girl, but to really get the Gothic grandiose of the more intense sequences, the orchestra does just fine.

1927 saws the mainstream embrace of the spoken word film and Murnau himself died just five years after the release of Faust at the age of 42, making this film oddly loaded with cultural and cinematic significance. Faust stands as a proud, ingenuous, and often breath-taking marker of a bygone era. Trully great cinema.

Scott Clark

18 August 2014

Blu-Ray Review - The Quiet Ones (2014)

Release Date:
18th August 2014 (UK)
Rating: 15
Running Time:
98 Minutes
John Pogue
Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke
Buy:The Quiet Ones [Blu-ray] [2014]

Hammer productions, the British heavyweight in horror, has a varied and vivid history spanning some 60 years. Continually resurrected and sent out to terrorise the world not simply as a distinctly British brand of haunting tales, but as a worldwide brand synonymous with cult following. In 2007 the company was again brought back from the dead and has since released five features (including the acclaimed Let Me In and The Woman in Black), The Quiet Ones is the studio’s sixth film.

The Quiet Ones, directed by John Pogue, is based on the infamous ‘Philip Experiment’ of 1972 wherein a group of Canadian parapsycologists attempted to literally create a ghost through intense expectation and visualisation. The experiment worked to some degree, with insinuation and the human mind colliding to allow for supposedly supernatural occurrence. Pogue’s film is, like many horror films based on true events, only lightly skimmed from a loose framework of the base tale. Here, Jared Harris’ Professor Coupland attempts to prove that a young girl’s supposed possession is the product of negative mental energy, through non-traditional methods of psychiatric care and parapsychiatric investigation.

The Quiet Ones feels like an old school Hammer film but perhaps not in the best way. Rather than coming out like one of the studios better executed classics, it feels like one of the back alley flash-stops used to keep Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing in contract. Harris makes an undeniably good modern-day Lee, his trademark charm and eloquence keeping attention from start to finish, even impressing amidst the generally flat vibe exuded by the other cast members. But apart from that, the modern Hammer feature maintains only the misfired attentions of its classic counterparts, not their ingenuity or resourcefulness.

Its creeps and spooks aren’t exactly legion, and when they do pop up they are either too tired or void of originality to elicit any kind of response. Which is a shame considering the potential of a period setting, here reduced to occasional “vintage” hand-held. Olivia Cooke spends most of the film acting mopey and playing with her creepy doll. It’s all a bit textbook. Weird old toys. A manor of some kind. Loud noises, followed by quiet noises. More loud noises and shaky camera work. What was that?  Who knows? The power inevitably cuts and the hapless band of para-people are forced to perform the most ingratiating of found-footage clichés: the pitch-black ramble. Here, the group must run to and fro in a space void of light searching for a hitherto ticking-time-bomb of a threat, usually a creepy girl.

The film should have remembered its title, and what that means in the story, it should have abandoned half-assed group politics and taken up its own invitation to live with potential supernature. Instead what we get are a group of ultimately flat characters going through the motions of change but not actually enacting them. What we are given is superficiality. Even though the Blu-ray of this film looks great, it’s got nothing to do with the actual camera work or visual element which is, for the most part, fairly uninspired. Instead, The Quiet Ones is an under-average ghost story in possession of a beginning middle and end, but not very much else.

A disappointing latest from Hammer and a step backwards from The Woman in Black, The Quiet Ones is bare, not particularly frightening, and just kind of…happens to you. Harris keeps the whole parade afloat until it chokes on its own tedious nature.

Scott Clark

16 August 2014

Struth! Mick Taylor Returns As Wolf Creek Gets A September UK Home Release

Struth! The deadliest killer of the outback has returned and he’s more sadistic, more twisted and more violent than ever before. From the director of Australia’s most terrifying horror film, Wolf Creek comes this brand new sequel that’ll grip you by the throat and have you screaming in fear.

Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) is back on the hunt and it’s not wild pigs or crocs that he’s after. Out for the kill, this outback psychopath continues to add to his staggering body count as he mutilates, dismembers and tortures anyone and everyone he lays his eyes upon. When two young backpackers venture into the wilderness, they soon find themselves face to face with evil, begging for their lives and bringing a wake of death and gory destruction with them as they attempt to flee. Armed with his trusty knife, sniper rifle and unquenchable thirst for murder, Mick butchers and crashes his way through the wasteland, loving every bloody moment of the violent carnage.

The original “Wolf Creek” still gives us nightmares and “Wolf Creek 2” manages to crank up the terror to a whole new level. This frantic slasher will leave you stunned with terror as the kills come thick and fast with plenty of shocking and gruesome set pieces.

We caught that Mongrel Mick upto no good when Wolf Creek 2 made it's UK Premiere a way back in February at Film 4 Frightfest Glasgow, you can read our review here. Wolf Creek 2 is out on DVD, Bluray from 15th September however next week is Film4 Frightfest in London and those Frightfesters who missed Glasgow can now enjoy London premiere from 22nd August.

Read our review for Wolf Creek 2.

Pre-order Wolf Creek 2 now on [Blu-ray] or [DVD]

16 August 2014

Film Review - God Help The Girl (2014)

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