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Directed by Terry Gilliam. 1977
Starring Michael Palin, Max Wall, Deborah Fallender, Warren Mitchell, John Le Mesurier, Harry H. Corbett, John Bird, Bernard Bresslaw, Brian Glover and Graham Crowden. 105 mins. Available on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. Available November 20th
For such a way out and unruly creative talent, Terry Gilliam has a very cliched, stereotypical Yank adoration for our British history. After Monty Python and The Holy Grail, and presumably working on the assumption that that would be the Python's swansong, he decided to strike out on his own, with another comic trawl around through the muck and squalor of the Dark Ages; another low budget trudge to various castle and historical locations, not at the point racketed to the protection of National Trust.
George A Romero: Between Night and Dawn. (18)
There's Always Vanilla (1971)/ The Season Of The Witch (1972)/ The Crazies. All directed by George A Romero. Out on a dual format Blu-ray/ DVD boxset from Arrow Video.
The title screams zombies but the living dead are entirely absent from this collection. These are the films Romero made between his first classic The Night of the Living Dead and his last Dawn Of The Dead, or rather the first three of them. He also did a few things for TV and made the feature Martin, a pretty decent drama (as I remember) about a teenager who thinks he may be a vampire. Those, and the films collected here are significant because if any of them had been hits he may well never have gone back to the Zombies, or become increasingly stuck on a Zombie treadmill.
Buster Keaton - 3 Films (U.)
Sherlock Jr (1924)/ The General (1926)/ Steamboat Bill Jr (1928.) Available on Blu-ray from Nov 6th in a Limited Edition Boxset from Eureka! as part of their Masters of Cinema series.
Up on the top shelf of the bookcase where I keep all the DVDs and Blu-rays is my Laurel and Hardy – The Collection 21 disc boxset. I had been circling this product for around a decade, from the time in the nineties when they were still asking something in the region of one hundred notes for it, gradually watching the price relent, adjust itself to harsh financial realities. Finally when the price had been hammered down to something like a pound per disc I made my move. And there it sits, because although I did firmly intend to make my way through the entire thing, whenever I feel like a bit of Stan and Ollie I never seem to be able to reach for anything other than Sons of The Desert. Its 68 minutes are such a perfect representation of their genius, so utterly and timelessly hilarious, nothing else is needed.
The Thing (18.)
Directed By John Carpenter. 1982.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat. 109 mins. Out on Limited Edition Blu-ray and Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook from Arrow Films on October 23rd.
Of all the now classic films that were commercial and /or critical flops when they came out – Kane, Oz, Darko, Blade Runner, Wonderful Life, Fight Club, etc – no film's rejection by both the audience and reviewers is quite as baffling as that of The Thing. Not only did it get hammered by the critics of the day, but audiences shunned it too. (In America it did come out just two weeks after ET, so there was an element of bad luck there.) You watch it today, 35 years later, in sheer disbelief that people couldn't see it as being one of the great horror movies. I could; my conscience is absolutely clear on this: I still remember walking home from the cinema on a dark, rainy Saturday afternoon, still a little peaked at being able to get into X rated movies aged 15 and still dropjawed at what I had seen, and jumping out of my skin when a cat sprung out of the dark in an alleyway. I knew then that this was something special. This was the film that made Alien look silly.
The Untamed. (18.)
Directed by Amat Escalante.
Starring Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Fernando Corona, Jesús Meza and Eden Villavicencio. Spanish with subtitles. In Spanish with subtitles. 96 mins. Out on blu-ray and DVD from Arrow films.
None the wiser can be a blissful way to be. After this strange dreamy and drudgy Meixcan soap opera about women and men who are drawn toward a tentacle sex monster who lives in a hut in the woods, I had absolutely no idea what the director intended us to take from it, but was happy in my ignorance.
Desert Hearts. (18.)
Directed by Donna Deitch. 1986
Starring Helen Shaver, Patricia Charbonneau, Audra Lindley, Andra Akers, Dean Butler, Alex McArthur, Gwen Welles, Jeffrey Tambor. 89 mins. Avaialble of Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
Lesbianism was a big deal in the mid 80s. So much so that a film about it was seen as something bold and challenging when in truth it is something simple and truthful, a period love story, a moment in time that has been captured in preserved. It's really no big deal, and that's much of its charm.
The Philadelphia Story (PG.)
Directed by George Cukor.
Starring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey and John Howard. Black and White 112 mins. Out now on Blu-ray as part of The Criterion Collection.
It may not be Towering Inferno extensive, but in quality over quantity terms this is probably the greatest movie cast ever: three of the very best, at their very best. (The support is top notch too.) Philadelphia Story may also be the finest demonstration of star power in Hollywood history. A sparkling and sophisticated comedy centered around a high society wedding, much of its sparkle and sophistication has gone astray as it has been passed down to each new audience over the last seven decades but the Grant/Hepburn/Stewart magic is just as potent as if ever was, perhaps even stronger. Watching it today is like seeing a Jurassic Park of movie stars: you marvel that such mighty and majestic beings ever stalked the earth.
Miracle Mile (15.)
Directed by Steve De Jarnatt. 1988
Starring Anthony Edwards, Mare Winningham, John Agar, Lou Hancock, Mykel T. Williamson, Kelly Minter. 88 mins
They didn't call it MAD for nothing. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction hung over the leaders of the superpowers, forcing them to be sane. The rest of us though, it made a little crazy. Miracle Mile has an absolutely cracking premise. A man picks up a ringing phone in a booth at four in the morning on an LA street corner and hears that a nuclear war has started and that he has just over an hour until the bombs start to hit. What will he do? Well in this film, a whole bunch of stupid things.
The Voice of The Moon (12A.)
Directed by Federico Fellini. 1989
Starring Roberto Benigni, Paolo Villaggio, Nadia Ottaviani, Marisa Tomasi, Angelo Orlando. Out on dual format blu-ray/ DVD from Arrow Academy on October 30th.
Fellini/ Benigni. Of all the Inis in all the world (well, predominantly Italy) you could put together Federico and Roberto would seem to be the most perfectly match, a great pairing for what would be Fellini's final film. But almost as soon as it starts you can see that they are going to bring out the worst in each other: the director will be at his most indulgent and unfocussed while the performer will be at his most ingratiating. The result is like a plot less Fisher King.
The Party (15.)
Directed by Blake Edwards. 1968
Starring Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Steve Franken, Denny Miller and J. Edward McKinley. 99 mins. Released on blu-ray for the first time from Eureka Classics.
The Party is a silent comedy with dialogue, in which a bit part player (Sellers) is accidentally invited to a lavish Hollywood party and causes chaos. It is one of the finest Hollywood comedies from the sixties, an inspired balancing act between precision slapstick and comic improvisation. It has one incy winsy, teeny weeny little drawback – Peter Seller's decision to brown up to play an Indian leading character.
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. (U.)
Directed by Henry Levin. 1959 mins
Starring James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Alan Napier. 129 mins. A 4K Restoration out on Blu-ray from Eureka Classic.
This is a journey back to a time when you had to work for you pleasures, when children looking for a fun fantastical romp were expected to wade through the stodgy prose of a Jules Verne translator, and even the movies made you sit and wait for the good bits. This Verne adaptation takes around 45 minutes to get its protagonists under the surface of the earth, and even then it doesn't allow itself to get carried away with all that adventure stuff. But, its straight face is always offering up at least a hint of a smirk. It's a bundle of fun, but with dignity.