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Safety Last. (U.)
Directed by Fred Newmeyer/Sam Taylor. 1923.
Starring Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davies, Bill Strothers, Noah Young and Westcott B. Clarke. Out on Blu-ray as part of The Criterion Collection from September 14th. Black and white. 73 mins.
“Hooray for Harold Lloyd/ Dear Old Lloyd/ Black and White/ Dig That Style/ A Pair of Glasses and a Smile.” The guiding belief of the (very impressive) extras on this Criterion release is that Harold Lloyd is the forgotten third genius of silent film comedy: unfairly overlooked while Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin are revered as master filmmakers.
Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. (U.)
Directed by Stephen Herek. 1989.
Starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Tony Camilleri, Dan Shor, Hal Landon Jr., Bernie Casey and George Carlin. Out on 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Steelbook and Digital download. 86 mins.
“Bill and Ted! Party Time! Excellent!" No, hold on, I've got that wrong, haven't I? Bill and Ted is the film that Wayne's World (and Harold and Kumar and the Dude, Where's My Car crowd) got their ideas from. In Excellent Adventure, two Californian high school students are sent off across history in a telephone box to find famous historical figures to help with their History report, which they must not fail for the future of humanity. It's like Time Bandits but in a Tardis that is as big on the inside as it is on the outside.
Directed by Sidney Lumet.
Starring Richard Burton, Peter Firth, Colin Blakely, Joan Plowright, Harry Andrews, Eileen Atkins and Jenny Agutter. Out on Blu-ray from the BFI. 137 mins.
Of all the great British thespians, Peter O'Toole was the only one whose movement between the stage and screen appeared effortless. All the others needed to modulate their style to a degree, but O'Toole could stride up to a camera and flap his arms around and project to the gods and be as inherently cinematic as some Stella Addled mumblefish who'd spent a week in his vest getting into character. But wait, you say, what of Richard Burton, a major movie star who could swing between playing war with Clint to treading the boards at the Old Vic with as much ease as the 100 fags and a bottle or two of scotch a day would allow? To which I'd reply, wasn't Burton fundamentally an on-screen narrator? Burton was all about The Voice. He had a rough but decent enough face to go with it, which just required being kept straight while he was talking.
The Story of a Love Affair. (PG.)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. (1950.)
Starring Lucia Bosé, Massimo Girotti, Ferdinando Sarmi, Gino Rossi and Marika Rowsky. In Black and white. Italian with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray from Cult Films. 102 mins.
The first film by Antonioni, the legendary Italian director of films like L'Avventura and The Red Desert, opens with a mystery. And because it's his first film, there is the likely expectation that this mystery will be resolved. Once he had established his reputation as a tip-top arthouse auteur he would never have to bother himself with answering audiences' questions ever again. But in 1950, when he was just getting his start making an Italian take on Hollywood film noirs, he would not be allowed to get away with leaving those post-war audiences guessing. Oblique was not a luxury he could be afforded at that stage.
The Game. (15.)
Directed by David Fincher. 1997.
Starring Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Peter Donat and Sean Penn. Out on limited edition Blu-ray/ DVD from Arrow Academy. 129 mins.
That David Fincher is such a master filmmaker that even his rubbish films are exceptional. The Game is a cunning, edge of your seat thrill ride; audiences are caught up in the suspense of wondering if the film is going to actually drop the h-bomb of stupidity that hangs over its every moment. And Sorry, but this review is going to be full of spoilers and will be giving away the ending. Sorry again, hate to do it, but the whole film rests on its last few minutes.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi.
Starring Rosamund Pike, Sam Riley, Aneurin Barnard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Katherine Parkinson and Simon Russell Beale. Streaming now. Limited cinema release. Out of Blu-ray/ DVD. 110 mins.
It may be radioactive but this Marie Curie biopic doesn't generate much electricity; though, were you in need, it could provide a quantity of firewood. It is remarkable how quite so many talented elements can be combined to produce something so thoroughly stilted and lifeless. Rather than some magical element, the film seems to have uncovered a thespian lurgy that strikes down everybody in cast.
Takeshi Kitano Boxset. (18.)
Directed by Takeshi Kitano.
Violent Cop. (18.) 1989. / Boiling Point. (15.) 1990. / Sonatine. (15.) 1993.
This Blu-ray boxset was released by the BFI at the end of last month as part of their Japan season, but some thieving postie nicked my review discs on route, so I'm doing this belatedly from links.
You couldn't do a Japanese season without some contribution by Beat Takeshi, a remarkable and unclassifiable figure in Japanese culture: comedian, game show host, presenter, pundit, poet, painter, novelist and actor, who originally found fame as half of a double act, The Two Beats. (Catch them on Youtube in their smart suits, they look like they're following Mick Miller on The Comedians.) In Japan he’s Bill Murray, Vic Reeves, Buster Keaton, Ant or Dec, Noel Edmonds, John Cooper Clark and Rolf Harris, rolled into one. To the rest of the world though he's a filmmaker going by the name Kitano.
Life is a Long Quiet River. (15.)
Directed by Etienne Chatilliez. 1987
Starring Benoit Magimel, Helene Vincent, Valerie Lalande, Tara Romer, Jerome Floch, Sylvie Cubertafon, Emmanuel Cendrier, Daniel Gelin. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy on July 20th. 89 mins.
You always have a shot if you have a good title. When I saw the phrase, Life Is A Long, Quiet River on the release schedule I felt an instant pang of recognition – I know that title, I know that title. Couldn't place it with a film but I knew that title meant something. To be honest, I thought something Eastern European, maybe a broad satire from the former Yugoslavia; something a little more exotic than a French comedy from the mid to late 80s. It was a big, loud hit over there and, if I recall correctly, passed through with barely a ripple over here. Probably because, at least to viewers over here, this is short, ugly film that manages to be simplistic and inexplicable.
Britannia Hospital. (15.)
Directed by Lindsay Anderson. 1982.
Starring Leonard Rossiter, Graham Crowden, Brian Pettifer, Fulton Mackay, Jill Bennett, Joan Plowright, Robin Askwith and Malcolm McDowell. Out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Indicator Powerhouse Films on June 29th. 112 mins.
Lindsay Anderson's last British film, a scathing satire in which an NHS hospital is a microcosm of our nation's failings, was reviled on its releases during the Falklands War but may seem timely now.
Rossiter (magnificent, obviously) is the chief administrator running a chaotic, crumbling hospital gearing up for a visit from the Queen Mum as striking unionists picket the gates to protest about an African dictator staying in the private wing. Meanwhile, in a lavishly financed research wing, a mad scientist (Crowden) is working on his world-changing project, and journalist Mick Travis, (McDowell, playing the character he'd previously portrayed in Anderson's If and O Lucky Man,) tries to sneak in and find out what he's up to.
Throw Down. (12A.)
Directed by Johnnie To. 2004.
Starring Aaron Kwok, Louis Koo, Cherrie Ying, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Cheung Siu-fai and Lo Hoi-pang. Released on Blu-ray/ DVD by Eureka as part of their Masters Of Cinema series. Subtitled. 95 mins.
Throw Down sounds like the title of a Sylvester Stallone film made in the 80s for Cannon; he's a cop on the edge chasing a serial killer or an arm-wrestling truck driver trying to win back the affections of a 12-year-old daughter. It is not the name you'd expect to be attached to a tribute to Akira Kurosawa. But then you wouldn't expect a beautifully shot free-wheeling Hong Kong action comedy set in the Judo underground to be a tribute to the Japanese master.
The Man Who Laughs. (PG.)
Directed by Paul Leni. 1928.
Starring Conrad Veidt, Mary Philbin, Julius Molnar, Olga Baclanova, Brandon Hurst and Cesare Gravina. Black and white. Silent. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Eureka Masters of Cinema.
Probably the highest praise I can give this silent melodrama/ horror/ swashbuckling is that I bothered to watch it all the way through. Outside of the comedies, I have a terrible time with silent films. Other than Abel Gance's Napoleon, which is a phenomenal cinema experience, all the masterpieces of the silent age have bored me rigid. So when the nice people at Eureka sent me a disc of this it took a bit of will power to slot it into the player, and only then with the intention of giving it a go for ten minutes just to see what it was like. What it was like was pretty damn brilliant.
Buster Keaton: Our Hospitality, Go West, College. (U.)
Starring and Directed by Buster Keaton. 1923/ 1925/ 1927. Available on limited edition three-disc box set from Eureka Masters of Cinema
Our lockdown summer of Keaton concludes with Eureka Masters Of Cinema's last boxset selection of the full-length films he made in the 20s for his own studio. In the late spring, they released Vol 2 of their Buster collection, having previously released a set of his three most celebrated films in 2017. Then Criterion chipped in with The Cameraman, the first film he made at MGM and his last classic. The cinema release of the documentary celebration The Great Buster got lost in the confusion of late March but the Blu-ray/ DVD of that is coming out next month. Now, we finish off with a final collection of three more of his 20s' feature films. Eureka has also released an exhaustive 11-hour compendium of his short films, so you pretty much now have Buster covered.
Bela Lugosi in Three Edgar Allen Poe Adaptations. (15.)
Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932)/ The Black Cat (1934.)/ The Raven (1935.) Directed by Robert Florey, Edgar G. Ulmer and Lew Landers. Out on a special 2-disc blu-ray edition as part of Eureka's Masters of Horror series. 189 mins total.
Three films featuring the cinema's most famous Bela; three classic 30's Universal horror pictures; three Edgar Allen Poe adaptation; two appearances by Boris Karloff, then history's most terrifying Boris. Hungarian Lugosi made his name as the definitive Dracula in the first sound version. These are some of the major films that cemented his stardom in the years immediately after.
Flash Gordon. (PG.)
Directed by Mike Hodges. 1980.
Starring Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow, Ornella Muti, Topol, Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed. A 4K restoration. Released on a 5 disc Blu-ray boxset on August 10th from Studiocanal. 107 mins.
Flash, arrr ah. With the death of maestro Ennio Morricone a few weeks ago the cinema lost perhaps its only true genius. I doubt you could find many among the 500 films and TV projects he provided scores for that weren't markedly improved by his music. Many are only remembered because of his music. The integral importance of music to film is emphasised by the re-release of Flash Gordon. Do you think anyone would be celebrating its 40th anniversary if it wasn't for the Queen's score? For Flash arrr ah, king of the impossible, he for every one of us, stands for every one of us? The music works perfectly and it works so perfectly because it exactly matches the film it accompanies: you can't help but like it, despite your better judgement.
The Lady Eve. (U.)
Directed by Preston Sturges. 1941
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette, William Demarest and Eric Blore. Black and White. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 92 mins.
This glorious Preston Sturges romcom with its charm and sophistication and hilarious patter and real stars is the epitome of They Don't Make 'em Like That Anymore. It comes from an era when people wanted to see people who were smarter and wittier versions of themselves up on the big screen, rather than ripped, indestructible, super-powered, smarter and wittier versions of themselves.
Toto The Hero. (15.)
Directed by Jaco Van Dormael. 1991.
Starring Michel Bouquet, Jo Van Backer, Thomas Godet, Mireille Perrier, Gisela Uhlen and Sandrine Blancke. In French with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy. 91 mins.
Arrow Academy might want to consider a two for one offer on this and their July release Life Is A Long Quiet River because they have a number of overlaps. Both are in French. Both centre on a pair of babies that were swapped at birth. And, made within three years of each other, both are examples of films that were big deals three decades ago but whose great appeal seems to have worn off on the journey through the years.
The Wrong Box. (U.)
Directed by Bryan Forbes. 1966.
Starring John Mills, Ralph Richardson, Michael Caine, Wilfrid Lawson, Nanette Newman, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers and Tony Hancock. Out on Blu-ray from Indicator Films on July 27th. 106 mins.
The star-studded cast is the cinema's most enduring and effective scam. However many times you've been stung, when you see a cast list full of big names you just have to check it out: if all those good people are in it, it can't be all bad, can it? Bryan Forbes' Victorian farce The Wrong Box doesn't just have a good cast, it has an absurdly good cast: the young Michael Caine; the old Mills and Richardson; Pete'n'Dud on the big screen for the first time; Hancock for the last. And there's even music from John Barry. With that level of talent involved it's just got to be good. And it is: not as good as you'd like, but good enough.
The Cameraman (15.)
Directed by Edward Sedgwick. 1928.
Starring Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracy, Harry Gribbon. Available on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection. 74 mins.
I have to say I approached this Buster Keaton with some trepidation. His second-to-last silent/ first for MGM movie is viewed either as the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. Back then MGM was like the Jose Mourinho of comedy: they'd sign up all the most freewheeling and inventive talents and punish them for it. Laurel and Hardy and to some extent the Marx Brothers would have their wings clipped by these chartered accountants of creativity. Nobody had their careers or lives wrecked by them as completely as Buster. But in his first film for them, he's at his peak. It doesn't have the kind of epic set pieces of his previous films – no hurricanes, no runaway steam trains or boats, no house fronts falling around him – but it rattles along and is consistently amusing, arguably more so than the classics. In fact, I think I prefer it to the masterpieces.
Scorsese Shorts. (15.)
Directed by Martin Scorsese.
What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? 1963. Black and white. 10 mins/ It's Not Just You Murray. 1964. Black and white. 15 mins/ The Big Shave. 1967. 5 mins./ Italianamerican. 1974. 49 mins/ American Boy. 1978. 55 mins. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
This collection offers a portrait of America's most acclaimed working director as a 60's film student and a 70's documentarian. The shorts are a lot of fun and The Big Shave, in which a man cuts himself shaving - a lot - just to make an allegory about Vietnam, is perhaps his first noteable work. You'll probably find the two documentaries more rewarding though.
Directed by John Cassavetes. 1970.
Starring Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk, John Cassavetes, Jenny Runacre, Jenny Lee Wright, Noelle Kao, John Kuller and Meta Shaw. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 142 mins.
When I was a teenager it seemed like Husbands, Cassavetes' rambling tale of three middle-aged men going on an extended bender after the suicide of a friend, was the Friday late film on BBC1 at least once a year. And I would always switch over to it once the rest of the family had gone to bed in the vague hope of some adult content. A false hope: Husbands is grown up in all the worst ways. Possibly so much so that it goes all the way back round to childish. The review on that day's TV page would invariably mention “indulgent” and “tough slog,” but as I never lasted more than 15 minutes before getting bored I didn't get to appreciate just how much that was the case.