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The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. (PG.)
Directed by Terry Gilliam. 1988.
Starring John Neville, Sarah Polley, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Uma Thurman, Oliver Reed and Robin Williams. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 121 mins.
To quote Oscar Wilde, “The play was a great success, but the audience was a disaster.” Scarred but triumphant (sort of) after the battles with the studio over Brazil, Terry Gilliam decided to spin the wheel again, venturing off to Rome’s Cinecitta studio to make a thrilling adventure fantasy film about the famous liar. The result is one of the great pre-seegeeye spectacles: wild and opulent; joyously silly but just sombre enough to give it a bit of an edge. And what does everyone remember about it? It went wildly over budget and was a flop. Which it did, but what is that your business? It wasn’t your bloody money it lost. Now, at least, this brilliant Baron gets a modicum of justice through this tremendous Criterion double-disc Blu-ray release (triple, if you want a 4K UHD disc as well) which lets you revel in the wonders of the film and marvel at the chaos of its creation.
City Lights (U.)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin. 1931
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee and Harry Myers. Out on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. Black and white 86 mins.
Of all the idiocies contained in the recent Sight and Sound Asleep poll of the greatest films of all time, (and what would a Sight and Sound Asleep poll of the greatest films of all time be without its idiocies) one of the more minor ones was the placing of its only two Chaplin films, with City Lights above Modern Times. Modern Times may be his masterpiece but City Lights is his most loved, probably because it is the quintessential Chaplin film: a mix of very funny slapstick and shameless melodrama.
Silent Running. (U.)
Directed by Douglas Trumbull. 1972.
Starring Bruce Dern, Jesse Vint, Cliff Potts and Ron Rifkin. Out on Limited edition UHD Steelbook, dual format UHD and Blu-ray edition, UHD and Blu-ray from Arrow Video. 90 mins.
Never mind ET, Silent Running is Sci-fi’s biggest weepie. The story of a lone man, Dern, trying to save the last of the earth’s natural habitat and wildlife, it has everything you need to tug the heartstrings: cute robots; rabbits and tortoises in a domed forest deep in space; the blind stupidity of mankind's destruction of the environment; Joan Baez singing about gathering your children to your side in the sun and an eco-fanatic who murders anyone who threatens his plants. When I saw this as a kid in the seventies it ripped me in two and had me blubbing away at the end. Watching it fifty years on though, it's not quite the film I remember.
The Draughtsman's Contract. (15.)
Directed by Peter Greenaway. 1982.
Starring Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne Louise Lambert, Neil Cunningham and Hugh Fraser. 107 mins.
In cinemas from November 11th. Part of the BFI’s Frames of Mind: The Films of Peter Greenaway season throughout November and December. https://www.bfi.org.uk/framesofmind
Out on Blu-ray from the BFI on November 14th. https://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-draughtsmans-contract-blu-ray.html
Not before time, the BFI has gotten around to doing a full retrospective of the films of Britain's greatest living filmmaker, Peter Greenaway. His work is cold, difficult, priggish, precious, maddeningly contrary, parched and not-for-the-likes-of-you elitist, though no more so than Jean-Luc Godard and you all went into a tizzy when he died in September. Like Godard, Greenaway is capable of subjecting audiences to the most unutterable tedium (though, as a percentage, much less so than JLG) but when he hits on something, when he is on it, he sees possibilities that no other filmmaker does. Of course, that doesn’t stop one wishing he wasn’t such an anally retentive, stick-in-the-mud, but there you go.
Lost Highway. (18.)
Directed by David Lynch. 1997.
Starring Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Gary Busey, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Richard Pryor, Jack Nance and Robert Blake. Out on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection on October 31st.
Lost Highway is David Lynch’s lost masterpiece. It’s perhaps not quite on a par with Eraserhead, Blue Velvet or the third season of Twin Peaks but it’s damn close. That it resides in comparative obscurity astounds me more with each viewing. To some degree, I guess this is due to it being made in the nineties when Lynch was suffering a critical backlash after the popular success, initially, of the TV show Twin Peaks and the Cannes triumphs of Wild At Heart. But, the film he made before this, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, has been the subject of a sweeping critical re-evaluation (actually a critical U-turn) after its hostile reception. So why not this? It’d be a much more worthy recipient. How can Mulholland Drive be held up as his best film when it’s, to some degree, just an inferior remake of this? Lost Highway is inscrutable and perplexing, compelling and seductive, crazy sexy and that bit nastier than his usual.
Hearts and Minds. (15.)
Directed by Peter Davis.
Featuring Daniel Ellsberg, Georges Bidault, George Coker, Charles Clifford, Khanh Nguyen, Robert Muller, J. W. Fulbright, Randy Floyd, William C. Westmoreland, Walt Rostow. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection on September 26th. 112 mins.
This astonishingly good documentary is that rarity, a Vietnam film made during the war. It’s Vietnam before the fall. During the two years that Davis and his team were compiling and assembling the footage, President Nixon was deescalating American involvement but the war was very much ongoing. When producer Bert Schneider went up in his white tuxedo to collect the Oscar for Best Documentary at the 1975 Oscars and delivered a message of peace from the North Vietnamese ambassador, the fall of Saigon was still three weeks away.
Identification of a Woman. (18.)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. 1983.
Starring Tomas Milian, Daniela Silverio, Christine Boisson, Lara Wendel and Veronica Lazar. Subtitled. Released on Blu-ray by CultFilms. 123 mins.
Personally, I don't mind a bit of ambiguity, but I want my ambiguity to be clear. I don't like my ambiguity ambiguous; I like to know what I don't know, I don't want to be constantly wondering if I'm supposed to not know what's going on, or if I haven't grasped something. Which is my big issue with this late-era Antonioni. It appears to tell a relatively straightforward story about a film director looking for a lead actress for his next film and having a couple of frustrating love affairs. But it does it in such an oblique style that it seems like every time the film cuts to the next scene at least three others are being skipped.
The Saphead (U.)
Directed by Herbert Blache. 1920.
Starring Buster Keaton, William H. Crane, Beulah Booker and Irving Cummings. Black and white. Silent. Out on Blu-ray from Eureka Masters of Cinema from August 22nd. 84 mins
The Saphead is Keaton's first full-length film role, but not the first full-length Buster Keaton film. In 1920 he was just emerging from supporting roles beside Roscoe Arbuckle and had only made one short, two-reeler comedy of his own: The “High Sign” which he thought so little of he refused to release it. Instead, he was given a starring role in this adaptation of a Broadway comedy hit, when the original star of the play, Douglas Fairbanks, turned it down but recommended Buster. This is the first of his innocent rich idiot roles. Bertie Van Alstyne is a simple man rolling in unearned cash and preposterous privilege but somehow remaining largely untouched by it. The story of an appalling load of old melodramatic toss and I’m not going to pretend that Keaton makes it worthwhile but he does move through it with considerable grace and elan.
Get Carter. (18.)
Directed by Mike Hodges. 1971.
Starring Michael Caine, Ian Hendry, Bryan Mosley, Alun Armstrong, Britt Ekland, George Sewell, Tony Beckley, Rosemarie Dunham, Geraldine Moffat, Bernard Hepton, Terence Rigby, Glynn Edwards and John Osborne. A new 4K restoration. Out on 4K Ultra UHD and Blu-ray from the BFI on August 1st.112 mins.
The similarity between myself and the film Get Carter is that more than five decades have passed since our creation, but we both improve with each passing year. There are very few films that always seem to find new ways to impress you with each viewing but every time I’m caught a little off guard by how great this is. When it first came out, this tale of a London gangster (Caine) going up to Newcastle to investigate the death of his brother was seen as excessively nasty, even grubby, with its relentlessly bleak and cynical view of human motivation. Now, this exercise in taking a coal-black sensibility to Newcastle stands as a genuine classic of British cinema; this nation’s saving grace.
Round Midnight. (15.)
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
Starring Dexter Gordon, Francois Cluzet, Herbie Hancock, Gabrielle Hacker, Sandra Reeves-Phillips, Bobby Hutcherson, Christine Pascal, Lonette McKee and Martin Scorsese. Out on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. 133 mins.
Tavernier’s splendid immersion into the world of bebop jazz musicians in the late 50s has acquired a certain infamy as the beneficiary of one of the Academy's most egregious miscarriages of justice: the award of the Oscar for the best original soundtrack to Herbie Hancock for this, rather than the
overwhelming favourite Ennio Morricone’s score for The Mission. The Maestro stormed out of the ceremony after the announcement by Bette Midler. There are a number of reasons why it was controversial. The first of these being - it’s Morricone’s score to The Mission. Even among his endless back catalogue of excellence, The Mission stands out, a gust of celestial wind that swept up a donkey of a film to not quite greatness. You’ll probably never watch it again, but you’ll never forget that film because of its music. Secondly, this “original soundtrack” is mostly arrangements of other people’s work. Plus, of course, it’s bloody jazz.
Nineteen Eighty-Four. (12.)
Directed by Rudolph Cartier. 1954.
Starring Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Yvonne Mitchell, Leonard Sachs, Campbell Gray, Wilfrid Brambell and Donald Pleasance. Out on Blu-ray from the BFI. 114 mins.
While the BBC mutely celebrates its centenary and NetFlix coincidently on purpose screens a documentary about Jimmy Savile, the BFI at least is banging the drum for one of this country’s great cultural institutions by giving a blu-ray release to one of its landmark achievements, one whose notoriety would usually be an essential part of celebrations of the institution reaching a notable anniversary. In the past, whenever the corporation would do a special night to mark 50, 60 or 75 years of itself there would always be a mention of its production of George Orwell's classic novel and the horrified reaction to it: the thousands of complaints; the tabloid rage, the questions in Parliament.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Javier Bardem, Dave Bautista, Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgard. Available on 4k UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and VOD. 155 mins.
Dune wasn’t the first post-pandemic global box office blockbuster – that would be Spiderman 3.3 – but it might be the first event movie whose performance wasn't hampered, indeed may even have been enhanced, by the big C. The adaptation of Frank Herbert’s esteemed sci-fi novels was a chancy proposition when it landed in cinemas; four months on, Dune arrives on the various physical formats as a triumph.
The Thin Red Line. (15.)
Directed by Terrence Malick. 1998
Starring Jim Caviezel, Ben Chaplin, Adrien Brody, Elias Koteas, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Dash Mihok, Woody Harrelson, John Cusack, George Clooney, Tim Blake Nelson, Jared Leto, John Savage, John C. Reilly and John Travolta. Out now on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection. 164 mins.
Though Badlands is his masterpiece, a flawless work of art conveying complex and profound ideas, this is the one, the Malick film to be cherished above all others, the one that justifies his genius tag, the one that keeps us holding out for him even after all the crappy films he's subjected us to over the last decade. The world is not short of war films but this and Apocalypse Now stand above them all. It's not so much that they are better than all the others, rather that they reach something beyond all the others. Coppola found in Vietnam and Conrad an intoxicating madness; in his version of James Jones account of the battle for Guadalcanal in World War 2 Malick concocted a vision of war as hell, and heaven.
The Cat and the Canary/ The Ghost Breakers. (PG.)
Directed by Elliott Nugent/ George Marshall. 1939/ 1940
Starring Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard. Black and white. Out on Blu-ray from Eureka Classics. 73/ 85 mins.
The Cat and the Canary is the archetypal old dark house movie. There were old dark house movies before it, and old dark house movies after it, but this is the one that covers the territory most thoroughly. It's a compendium of everything you expect of these movies: there’s the portrait on the wall whose eyes can be used as peepholes; the secret panels that retract to allow a menacing hand to move towards the sleeping heroine; the bookcase that slides back to reveal a secret tunnel; the creepy servant; the will that has to be read at midnight.
The Great Dictator. (15.)
Directed by Charlie Chaplin. 1940.
Starring Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Henry Daniel, Billy Gilbert, Maurice Moscovitch, Reginald Gardiner and Jack Oakie. Black and white. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 125 mins.
Heavy-handed and grossly sentimental is a horrible combination, but if you are making a satire about a fascist dictator at least their use can be defended as an appropriation of the subject’s stock in trade. Chaplin's send-up of Hitler is possibly one of those films that are praised more for its intentions than its achievements and perhaps in this case that’s a valid judgment. His first talkie is not his best: a lot of the humour misses and that thick spreading of sentimentality seems particularly inappropriate here. But it was the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t always done right. And, if nothing else, it's one of the more striking examples of the original putting the rip-off artist in its place: this will teach you for nicking my moustache. Would that Bill Hicks had lived long enough to do something similar to Dennis Leary.
Ingmar Bergman Volume 3 (15.)
The Devil's Eye (1960)/ Virgin Spring (1960)/ Through a Glass Darkly (1961)/ The Silence (1963) Winter Light (1963)/ All These Women. (1964)/ Persona (1966)/ The Rite (1968.). A five-disc Blu-ray box set from the BFI.
The BFI four-volume Bergman selection arrives in the swinging sixties, at which point Ingmar decides to put away the lighthearted fripperies of films like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, stop messing about and really get serious. The BFI is choosing to release this in the early autumn but surely the winter would be more appropriate; attempting to watch Through A Glass Darkly in the afternoon I kept having to adjust the curtains to try and repel any chink of light. These are mediation on darkness that brook no levity. Persona and the Faith trilogy - Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence - are the films that really put the -esque into Bergman.
The Big Chill. (15.)
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
Starring Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly and JoBeth Williams. Out on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. 101 mins.
Back in February, I was listening to Paul Gambaccini’s Pick of the Pops on Radio 2. He had alighted on the corresponding Top 20 from that week in 1969, which included both I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye and Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell, surely two of the greatest ‘45s in American pop history. And alongside them were For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder, Albatross by Fleetwood Mac, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling by The Righteous Brothers and Dancing In The Streets by Martha and the Vandellas. An amazing selection of classics for a single week, but sprinkled among those were some crackers from Diana Ross and The Supremes, Sam and Dave, Dean Martin, Nina Simone and The Isley Brothers. And by listing those I’m turning my nose up at tracks by Amen Corner, Move, Engelbert Humperdinck and Cilla Black, as well as that week’s No 1, Where Do You Go To My Lovely by Peter Sarstedt. There are whole subsequent decades that couldn’t match the output of that one week in the Sixties. Which I think shows that the proposition put forward by Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill that we have lost something since the Sixties, isn’t entirely idle nostalgia.
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Tilda Swinton, Jeanne Balibar, Elkin Diaz, Juan Pablo Urrigo and Daniel Gimenez Cacho. Partly subtitled. 137 mins.
Sometimes I might get to the end of a film and be left with a feeling that I’ve missed it; that there was something there but it slipped past me. Probably, that’s because I wasn’t bright enough to get it or got off on the wrong foot with it or wasn’t quite paying attention. I think this was the case with Memoria, though I did have a bit of an excuse. For its theatrical release, the distributors sent me a top-secret, highly confidential, screening link which had my name watermarked across the middle of the screen in big white letters, just so I couldn’t tap into that lucrative black market for Apichatpong Weerasethakul bootlegs and didn’t forget my own name while watching the film. (Always an issue.) I’m not necessarily the biggest Tilda fan but I think she deserves better than to have her face obscured by the big white H of Michael.
Running Out Of Time. 1&2 (15.)
Directed by Johnnie To. 1999
Starring Lau Ching Wan, Andy Lau, Shui Hung Hui, Yo Yo Mung, Waise Lee, Ruby Wong and Lam Suet. Subtitled. 93 mins
Part 2. (PG.)
Directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai. 2001.
Starring Lau Ching Wan, Ekin Cheng, Kelly Lin, Shui Hung Hui, Ruby Wong and Lam Suet. Double disc Blu-ray from Eureka Masters of Cinema. 96 mins.
According to the IMDB hive mind, the first Running Out Of Time is rated as Hong Kong master Johnnie To's best film, or at least the best of the ones I've seen. It gets a 7.3 rating which puts it ahead of such classics as Throw Down and PTU and Sparrow which all rate somewhere around 6.7 or 6.8. Most of his films fall into that zone with just a few sneaking above 8. Quite why the DeeBees are so grudging in their acclaim for the magnificent Mr To is one of that site’s many mysteries, though they are quite right that the 2001 sequel is nowhere near as good, even if the 5.9 rating seems well harsh.
Directed by Robert Bresson. 1959
Starring Martin La Salle, Marika Green, Dolly Scal, Jean Pelegri, Kassagi and Pierre Leymarie. Black and white. Out now on Blu-ray from the BFI. 76 mins.
What one so admires in Bresson is the intense rigour and discipline which he applied to his filmmaking; the thoroughness with which he sucked the joy out of cinema. This film, among his most celebrated, opens with the line, “This is not a thriller,” lest any viewer was getting their hopes up. The film is true to its word, but just to make sure the written prologue then goes on to give away the entire plot, including its ending. Oh Oui, ce n’est pas un thriller.
Directed by Gordon Parks. 1971
Starring Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi and Christopher St John. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 100 mins.
Shaft is a landmark in American cinema, the first black film with a black hero to breakout and become a massive hit, the start of the blaxploitation series of films. But, come on, be honest: we’re here for the song, Isaac Hayes’ marvellous Theme From Shaft, not the cultural significance. In the last episode of Father Ted, Crilly restores a suicidal priest’s love for life by playing him a few minutes of it, and that seems wholly believable. (Sadly, in the next scene all of its good work is undone when the bus driver puts on a Radiohead track.) If you look at a list of films with title songs that have eclipsed the movie they come from - Electric Dreams, Superfly, Car Wash, Trouble Man, A Summer Place, What’s New Pussycat, Against All Odds, White Christmas, even Scorsese’s New York, New York – generally the films aren’t that great. Shaft is actually a very decent film but The Theme From Shaft (like the theme from Mission Impossible) is so unrelentingly exciting and thrilling piece of music it’s almost impossible to live up to.
Dead Man. (18.)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch. 1995.
Starring Johnny Depp, Gary Farmer, Lance Henrikson, Michael Wincott, Eugene Byrd and Robert Mitchum. Black and White. Released on Blu Ray and DVD by The Criterion Collection. 121 mins.
After some faltering early attempts, Jim Jarmusch really hit his stride as a filmmaker in the mid-80s with Down By Law and from there went off on one of those ferocious hot streaks a film-maker might fall into. Such streaks are incredibly rare; his would last till the end of the millennium. From Down By Law he progressed onto the magnificent Mystery Train, to the slightly hit and miss Night on Earth before this. Along with 1999's Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai, this is probably JJ at his most sublime, a man in casual mastery of his art. He's lost it a bit in this century but in the nineties, he was up there with the very best.
The Funeral. (15.)
Directed by Juzo Itami.
Starring Nobuko Miyamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Manpei Ikeuchi and Chishu Ryu. Out on Blu-ray from Criterion Collection.
We’re here because this is the debut film of Juzo Itami, the one he made before the wonderous Tampopo. That was a global hit that gave him, or more accurately the partnership between him and his wife and permanent leading lady Nobuko Miyamoto, a worldwide following. A ramen western, Tampopo was a marvellous freewheeling delight that piled on all kinds of satirical diversions while still delivering a satisfying central story. The Funeral isn’t. It is quite different and nowhere near as good, but once you get past it not being Tampopo it offers its own satisfactions.
Enter the Void. (18.)
Directed by Gasper Noe. 2009.
Starring Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander, Masato Tanno and Sara Stockbridge. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. Director’s Cut. 154 mins. UK theatrical cut. 137 mins.
This was my third time around with Noe's should've-been-masterpiece, a hallucinogenic swirl of life, death, love, pain and the meaning of existence fuelled by drugs, squalor and sex, set in a toytown Tokyo, and I still can’t get it to fly for me. The start of the film always gets you, thrilling you with its formal daring but the world of possibilities it throws open soon close up into the same old, same old. Most of your initial enthusiasm will likely have been used up by the halfway point.
Lux Aeterna. (15.)
Directed by Gasper Noe.
Starring Béatrice Dalle, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Abbey Lee, Karl Glusman. Out on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. 51 mins.
It’s difficult to pin down what exactly Gasper Noe’s half-length film is. It’s a little bit Me Too, a little bit meta examination of cinema, a little bit backstage film set drama and a study of the history of the demonisation of women through accusations of witchcraft. More than anything though it is an upping of Noe's ongoing assault on people with epilepsy. It begins with a quote from Dostoevsky on how he envies the epileptic the moment before they have a fit and culminates with an extended sequence featuring strobe lighting and throbbing sound effects. Most of his films have at least one of these sequences but the final one in this film is so prolonged, so intensive that it is almost like an audience interrogation, a thinning of the herd, trying to weed out any hidden epileptic tendencies in the viewers.
Directed by Mike Leigh. 1993.
Starring David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Peter Wight, Claire Skinner, Greg Cruttwell, Gina McKee and Ewen Bremner. Out on Blu-ray from the BFI. Also in cinemas as part of a BFI Mike Leigh retrospective. 131 mins.
Down in that London, nobody talks to you. Well, not since Naked they don't. During its 131 minutes various Londoners, or itinerant inhabitants thereof, strike up conversations with young Johnny (Thewlis), down from Manchester in a stolen car to avoid a beating, and soon come to regret it. Johnny is garrulous, well-read, highly educated, sarky and believes that humanity is inherently flawed and that the world will end in 1999. He's living proff of how a lot of learning and a little bible will mess you up. He constantly berates southerners for their coldness but turns on anyone who does show him kindness.