Showing posts with label john cassavetes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label john cassavetes. Show all posts

13 March 2015

DVD Review - Child is Waiting (1963)

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Simply Media
DVD Release Date:
16th March 2015 (UK)
Rating: PG
John Cassavetes
Burt Lancaster, Judy Garland, Gena Rowlands, Steven Hill, Paul Stewart,
Buy:A Child Is Waiting [DVD]

John Cassavetes is considered by many to be the father of American Independent cinema; he isn’t in my opinion, as Roger Corman and Sam Fuller predate him, amongst many others. He is however a pioneer in the fact he made these rich, character based dramas that he wrote, directed and put his own money into them. He had a couple years in the early ‘60s before he made his groundbreaking Faces where he almost became a studio director with films like Too Late Blues and A Child in Waiting.

The noted director Stanley Kramer produced A Child is Waiting and they butted heads over the final cut. Despite the post-production turmoil, Cassavetes (who disowned the film), admitted it wasn’t too bad, just a bit overly sentimental for his own taste. It’s a fascinating film for many reasons. Firstly, as a historical depiction of disability on screen, uncommonly (even shamefully today), most of the disabled children are played by actual disabled children which is in tune with Cassavetes’ realistic, improv style.

Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster star in the film, and both gives some of their finest performances in their respective, extraordinary film careers. Lancaster plays the head of the school, Dr. Matthew Clark, and clashes with Garland’s Jean Hansen over his strict teaching methods. Hanson also becomes emotionally involved with one of the kids who Clark considers to be one of their big failures, and they battle over how to education him. Lancaster brings the physicality that he always did due to his background in the circus. Garland also really shows off her acting chops, something that was rarely on display in other films she did.

A Child is Waiting deserves to be re-analysed as one of Cassavetes’ finest films and of his two “Hollywood” films it’s certainly his best, despite obviously being toned down from Cassavetes’ original intentions. Cassavetes had an extremely forward thinking take on the material, stating in the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes, “My film said that retarded children could be anywhere, any time, and that the problem is that we're a bunch of dopes, that it's our problem more than the kids. The point of the original picture that we made was that there was no fault, that there was nothing wrong with these children except that their mentality was lower." The finished film, which Kramer edited, had a bent that was more of it’s time, basically saying the kids are better off in the institute than in the main population.

Ian Schultz

22 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Too Late Blues (1961)

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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.


Ian Schultz

22 February 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Killers (1964)

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Thriller, Crime
Arrow Academy
Rating: 18
BD Release Date:
24th February 2014 (UK)
Don Siegel
Lee Marvin, Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes
Buy:The Killers [Blu-ray]

Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers has been adapted into 3 films for the silver year, first by Richard Siodmak in 1946, the second by Andrei Tarkovsky as a student film and finally by Don Siegel in 1964. They were all masters of cinema in their own way and all 3 films are very different. The Siodmak version is noted as the only adaptation of his work Hemingway admired before his eventual suicide.

The plot is about as basic as you can get: two hit men - Charlie (Lee Marvin) and Lee (Clu Gulager) - are hired to kill a teacher Johnny North (John Cassavetes). They are shocked when he tries to flee the scene and accepts his fate quite calmly. The two hit men investigate to find out why he accepted his fate and Johnny’s story is told in a series of flashbacks.

The Killers is probably most well known for two reasons. The first is it was set to be the very first TV movie and Arrow has kindly included widescreen and full screen aspect ratios in this release. The Killers, however, was deemed too violent for television so it was originally released theatrically in Europe where it was a bit of hit; Lee Marvin won a joint Bafta for his work on this and the overrated Cat Ballou. It was eventually released in the US but a few years after Europe.

It’s also widely known for being Ronald Reagan’s last ever film before he decided to go into politics which eventually lead to his election as President. Reagan plays a mobster and absolutely hated the fact he agreed to be in the film because he slaps Angie Dickinson’s character. In reality it was basically the only role Reagan could get because everyone realised he was a pretty woeful actor then. During the early to mid 80s, a famous shot of Reagan with a gun was used numerous times for flyers and posters for loads of hardcore punk gigs.

The early 60s to mid 60s in American cinema was a fascinating time for film despite what many critics might say. The remnants of film noir were still in the air and it can be argued that it didn’t fully stop till the death of JFK. It is rumoured that Angie Dickinson heard the news during the shooting of The Killers and she supposedly had a bit of a fling with him as well. Films were starting to become more violent and explicit and The Killers was one of the first before the so-called ground zero moment of Bonnie & Clyde in 1967, along with some films such as Shock Corridor, Seconds and the work of Roger Corman.

Lee Marvin had been in supporting roles for most of his career before The Killers so he was eager for a meatier role and he considered it one of his best. It can be said his great performance in this could be considered a dry run for his cooler than ice character of Walker in the 1967’s masterpiece Point Blank. John Cassavetes, who had already started directing his independent films that he became better known for, gives one of his finest on screen performances as Johnny North.

The Killers has become something of a minor cult classic over the years and rightfully so: it’s a great slice of neo-noir coming at the tail end of film noir. Lee Marvin is as cool as you can get. Don Siegel’s direction is spot on as usual and it’s always a riot to see Ronald Reagan’s performance as mob boss Jack Browning. The disc also includes 3 interviews - one on Lee Marvin’s career, one on Reagan’s acting career and archive one with Mr. Siegel himself.


Ian Schultz

31 January 2014

Vintage Wilder, Altman, Ashby, Casavettes Make Up The April - July Masters Of Cinema Line Up

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When it comes to their fantastic Masters Of Cinema Imprint Eureka Entertainment never disappoint. Today Eureka! have have announced via their twitter feed their forthcoming releases in The Masters of Cinema series for the months of April, May and June 2014.

The slate for 2nd quarter of 2014 has an big focus on American cinema The latest slate of films from  The Masters of Cinema Series brings together some of the most heralded masterpieces of the 20th century. Their is some real gem of releases coming  starting off with some vintage Billy Wilder with a Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD) edition of Ace in the Hole , an electrifyingly dramatic critique of society and the media starring Kirk Douglas in one of his very best roles in a career already filled with highlights. Also released in April is the long awaited Blu-ray UK debut of Lindsay Anderson's Palme d'Or-winning If...., which stars Malcolm McDowell in the role that made him famous, as the leader of a rebellious group of youths fighting back against the oppression of their boys' boarding school. 

May sees the long-awaited Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD) debut of one of the great classics of the American screen: Robert Altman's stunning, freewheeling Nashville, an epic ensemble tour de force depiction of the Nashville music industry and American society at the end of the Sixties that is as hilarious as it is powerful. Another Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD) edition comes in the form of Elia Kazan's 1947 noir-inflected crime drama Boomerang!, starring Dana Andrews and Lee J. Cobb in powerhouse performances anchoring a gritty procedural rife with murder and corruption.

Hal Ashby's 1971 counter-culture comedy Harold and Maude arrives on Blu-ray this June, and tells the tale of the burgeoning relationship between a 20-year-old and an 80-year-old: it's a razor-sharp, and moving masterpiece that has become considered another of the great classics of the American screen. June also brings the first entry into the Series of a film by American master John Cassavetes in a Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD) edition — his second-feature, the studio-backed Too Late Blues, which stars Bobby Darin as a jazz musician down on his luck; it's one of the most explosive films of the late studio era.
In addition to the new titles being added to the Masters of Cinema Series, Eureka! have also announced the blu-ray release in April of The War Lord, one of the finest historical adventures ever made and starring Charlton Heston  and Richard Boone. May will see the release of Violent Saturday, a coolly riveting crime saga from director Richard Fleischer, available on blu-ray for the first time ever on home video. And June sees the home video release of The Rocket, the multi-award winning debut feature from Kim Mordaunt about a ‘cursed’ twin who guides his family to a new life in Laos. Released in cinemas on 14 March, The Rocket will be released on DVD and Blu-ray formats on 2 June 2014.

As usual we're massive fans of Master Of Cinema releases from Eureka! Video and will cover the great films reviews nearer release dates.You can also catch a special screening of The Rocket at Glasgow Youth Film Festival on 11th February purchase your tickets here

15 July 2013

The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie Blu-Ray Review

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BD Release Date:
15th July 2013
John Cassavetes
John Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Timothy Carey, Seymour Cassel
Buy: (3-Disc Limited Edition)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was my introduction to work of John Cassavetes many years ago. It’s probably his most accessible film in a way; it’s inspired by film noir (which John Cassavetes acted in a handful in his time) but it’s a very arty and gritty take on it. Its much more story focused than most of his work that certainly helps its accessibility. It also came near the end of his golden period of filmmaking, which was from Faces to Gloria.

The film stars frequent Cassavetes collaborator Ben Gazzara who plays Cosmo Vittelli. He is a strip club owner and is making his last payment of his gambling debt to this sleazebag loanshark (played by the film’s producer/cinematographer Al Ruban). He celebrates this by taking his 3 favourite dancers out and it eventually ends in another poker game and he looses $23,000. The mob uses this against him so he will do a hit for them. He believes it to be some small-time Chinese bookie but in reality it’s a capo of the Chinese mafia “the heaviest cat on the West Coast”. He manages to perform the hit but soon realises he is double-crossed.

The film not unlike many of his other films was originally released in a much longer cut. It was originally released in a 135 minute cut but he pulled it after a week and Ben Gazzara hated this version and said it was too long. It was eventually recut in a much more accessible shorter cut of 108 minutes. It mostly cut the strip club routines but true to Cassavetes’ form he ordered the scenes in the new cut. The BFI Blu-ray includes both cuts.

The film is a great piece of cynical neo-noir 70s filmmaking in the vein of Chinatown or Night Moves. It’s boosts a wonderful performance by the always great Ben Gazzara (I’m sure the Coens watched this before they cast him in The Big Lebowski due to his role in this). His performance really makes the film, which is not unlike most of Cassavetes’ films where the leading actor or actress makes the film like for example his wife Gena Rowlands in many of the films. It’s different cause it’s male protagonist when a good majority of his films have a female one.

It’s one of John Cassavetes’ best films partly due to its accessibility. If you’re a fan of Scorsese’s early films and other noir inspired films of the 70s it’s very much worth your time. BFI has released a 3-disc special edition, which includes the film on both Blu-ray and dvd and a bonus disc with a feature length doc on John Cassavetes, a short, a interview and the film itself includes scene selected commentaries by the producer and Cassavetes’ friend and contemporary Peter Bogdanovich.


Ian Schultz

11 June 2013

BFI To Release John Casavettes' The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie On DualPlay This July

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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, released on 15 July 2013, is the fifth and final title in the BFI's John Cassavetes Collection. Presented on Blu-ray for the first time, it is released in a Dual Format Edition (containing both DVD and Blu-ray) in both its original 1976 cut and Cassavetes’ re-edited shorter 1978 version. Also available on the same date will be a Limited 3-Disc Collector’s Edition which has a bonus DVD containing the documentary Anything for John (1993), the short film The Haircut (1982), and an interview with Tamar Hoffs, director of The Haircut.

In an absorbing performance, Ben Gazzara plays small-time Sunset Strip entrepreneur Cosmo Vitelli, owner of the Crazy Horse West night spot. An obsessive showman, Cosmo navigates a murky world of loan sharks and crooks to keep his club afloat, but, when a gambling debt spirals out of control, he is blackmailed into accepting a murderous commission.

Featuring standout turns by Seymour Cassel and Timothy Agoglia Carey as the underworld racketeers out to fleece Cosmo, John Cassavetes' portrayal of one man's hubristic descent subverts the conventions of its plot to explore the darker regions of the American dream.

Arguably the most plot-driven of all his films, Cassavetes withdrew The Killing of a Chinese Bookie shortly after the initial release and subsequently cut a new version which features different scenes.

Check out this funny clip from the documentary Anything For John, in which actor Ben Gazzara talks about the time he and Cassavetes discussed the film's title. The documentary the clip is from is included as a bonus on the BFI's 3-Disc Collector's Edition of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

Special features
• Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition
• Includes the original 1976 cut of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
• Selected scenes commentary on 1976 version by Al Ruban and Peter Bogdanovich
• Illustrated booklet with a newly commissioned essay by Tom Charity

Limited 3-Disc Collector's Edition - Dual Format - As above, plus:
• The Haircut (Tamar Simon Hoffs, 1982, bonus DVD only): John Cassavetes stars as a busy music executive sidetracked by a haircut in Hoffs' delightful directorial debut
• Anything for John (Doug Headline, 1993, 91 mins, bonus DVD only): feature length documentary tribute to John Cassavetes, featuring interviews with Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands and Al Ruban
• Tamar Hoffs interview (Doug Headline, 1993, 6 mins, bonus DVD only)

Pre-Order/Buy The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie:Dual Play (DVD + Blu-ray) / 3-Disc Limited Edition (DVD & Blu-ray)

26 May 2013

John Cassavetes' Opening Night Blu-Ray Review

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Opening Night is the latest John Cassavetes film BFI being re-released on a dual format blu-ray/dvd combo. They started they’re reissues back in April 2012 with the landmark films Shadows and Faces (which I just picked up the other day). One of the very first reviews I did for the people’s movies / cinehouse was Shadows which to this day remains my favourite Cassavetes directorial effort.

Opening Night is a later Cassavetes film in that golden period of American cinema known as the New Hollywood of the 1970s. Cassavetes was one of the first truly independent American directors of feature films (sometime mistaken as the first but Sam Fuller was a decade before). John would act or sometimes direct Hollywood films so he could fund (and distribute) his more personal improvisational melodramas. John Sayles would later do a similar thing but in that case screenwriting.

Opening Night is very much A Woman Under the Influence (one of Cassavetes’ best films and most well known) goes Broadway. Like A Woman Under the Influence it’s stars John Cassavetes’ real life wife Gena Rowlands who plays the central character Myrtle Gordon, a actress who is rehearsing for her latest play. The play is about a woman unable to admit she is aging and it has many parallels to her own mid-life crisis. Myrtle witnesses a young woman who gets killed after trying to meet her after a preview of the play and this deeply troubles her and she feels responsible for her death. Her feelings of guilt start to interfere with her professional work but she also has a serious drinking problem as well. The film deals with her very complicated relationships with the stage director (played by frequent Cassavetes collaborator Ben Gazzara) producer, fellow actors (including one played by John Cassavetes) etc. She also starts having hallucinations of the dead girl near the end of the film, which reminds you of Black Swan, a similar themed film about the parallels of a stage life and personal life and the eventual merging of the 2.

Like many of Cassavetes films he could certain use with some reigning in during the editing process (many of his films have went though many cuts and released and then withdrawn and re-released) and the film suffers from many way too long. It’s round the 2 hour and 30 minute mark with many scenes of the play wasting the running time and being pretty obvious with it’s parallels with Myrtle’s life. Cassavetes was first and foremost an actor and all his films are very much actor’s pieces and he is great and bringing out great performances but they can become too actory and stagey (most evident in this film for obvious reasons). Cassavetes has always struggled with pacing in his films and this is no exception but it has a great performance by Gena Rowlands. I would recommend seeing A Woman Under the Influence before you see this, which is the superior film and performance.


Ian Schultz

DVD/BD Release Date:27th May 2013 (UK)
DirectorJohn Cassavetes
Cast:John CassavetesGena RowlandsBen GazzaraJoan Blondell

Buy: Opening Night (DVD & Blu-ray)

18 April 2013

John Cassavetes Opening Night To Get BFI UK Home Release This May

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The latest release in the BFI’s John Cassavetes Collection, out on 27 May 2013, is the award-winning Opening Night (1977), starring Gena Rowlands, John Cassavetes and Ben Gazarra.

Released on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK, it is presented in a Dual Format Edition (also contains a DVD disc). Numerous extras include an audio commentary, a documentary – Memories of John and Peter Falk (Columbo) talking about John Cassavetes.

Broadway actress Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) rehearses for her latest play about a woman in denial at the onset of her autumn years. When Myrtle witnesses the accidental death of an adoring young fan, it leads to a crisis of confidence in both her professional and her personal life which threatens to undermine the whole production.

Featuring a startling and compelling performance by Gena Rowlands, which won her the Silver Bear for Best Actress in 1978, Opening Night is arguably one of John Cassavetes’ most self-reflexive works and offers an insightful and intriguing evocation of the theatrical experience from both sides of the proscenium.

Click here to see Peter Falk talking about the director, along with a short clip from the film:

Special Features

• Presented in both High Definition and Standard Definition;
• Audio commentary by Tom Charity, Mike Ferris and Bo Harwood;
• Memories of John (DVD only, 29 mins);
• Falk on Cassavetes: the later years (DVD only, 14 mins);
• Illustrated booklet featuring interviews and essays from Tom Charity, Al Ruban and Peter Bogdanovich

Pre-Order/Buy: Opening Night (DVD & Blu-ray) 1977