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Directed by Tobias Nölle.
Starring Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejcí, Yufei Li, Koi Lee, Sebastian Krähenbühll, Sebastian Krähenbühl. German with subtitles. 91 mins. Available on Dual format Blu-ray/ DVD from Eureka.
A genuine original is hard to find, and harder to market. A disc of this Swiss oddity has been languishing in my To Watch pile for over a year. I'd always thought it looked intriguing but given the lack of stir caused by its release I always assumed that probably it wouldn't amount to much.
Flesh + Blood. (18.)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven.
Starring Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlinson, Jack Thompson, Susan Tyrrell, Ronald Lacey, Brion James, John Dennis Johnston, Simón Andreu, Bruno Kirby, Jake Wood and Fernando Hilbeck. 128 mins. Uncut version released on Blu-ray in the UK for the first time in a special dual format edition from Eureka Classics.
Sex + Violence. There's a lot of it about, but somehow it's never quite as entertaining as it's supposed to be. Few directors have devoted themselves to the dual topics with such dedication, such glee, such a cack hand and so erratically, as Verhouneven. And none have done it in so many languages. After making a name for himself in Holland, this bludgeoning tale of medieval soldiery would be his first film in English.
Birdman of Alcatraz (PG.)
Directed by John Frankenheimer. 1962.
Starring Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville Brand, Edmond O'Brien, Betty Field, Telly Savalas and Whit Bissell. 145 mins. Black and white. Out on Blu-ray from Eureka's Masters Of Cinema series.
Birdman of Alcatraz is a long and serious film about a sweet old man who looks after birds and has to stay in prison just because he killed a couple of people when he was young.
It has to be said it is a very fine film about a sweet old man who has to stay in prison just because he killed a couple of people. Right from the striking opening credits sequence (incredibly for a striking credit sequence from this period NOT done by Saul Bass), this is a quality production. There is some beautiful black and white photography by Burnett Guffey, the script has some sharp dialogue and the cast is tremendous.
The Navigator (PG.)
Directed by Vincent Ward. 1988.
Starring Bruce Lyons, Chris Haywood, Hamish McFarlane, Marshall Napier, Noel Appleby, Paul Livingston. 88 mins. Partly black and white. Released on Blu-ray by Arrow Video.
The Navigator is a film that has left an indelible mark on film history: it's the reason Alien 3 is full of monks. New Zealand director Vincent Ward made enough of a noise with this tale of time travelling medieval peasants trying to save their Cumbrian village from the Black Death, that he was given the job of following up James Cameron's Aliens. His idea of setting in on an entirely wooden monastery planet was ultimately a little too far out for Fox, but a lot of his vision survived in David Fincher's version. (If you see the director's cut, or whatever they call it, on the Alien Quadrilogy box set, you will Fincher made a pretty decent Alien film.)
The Piano (15.)
Directed by Jane Campion. 1993.
Starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker and Genevieve Lemon. 25th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD release from Studiocanal. 120 mins.
As we are celebrating an anniversary, maybe we can start with a trip back to the summer of 1993. Just back in the country after six months abroad, there were two films I was bursting to see based on the fevered hype that had built up around them: Reservoir Dogs and The Piano. Reservoir Dogs was everything I could've hoped for; this didn't really grab me though. If I'm honest, I suspect I felt it was a waste of a great Michael Nyman score. It may be significant that while Tarantino's debut has since been widely copied and homaged, The Piano is more likely to be parodied or sent up. It is fearless and puts itself right out there. Like its protagonist it is awkward and unyielding. It has no backup plan, no defence if the viewer doesn't choose to go right out there with it. And now, twenty-five years on, I went all the way with it, and was exhilarated by the experience.
The Life Aquatic (15.)
Directed by Wes Anderson. 2004
Starring Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Bud Cort, Seu Jorge and Seymour Cassel. 118 mins. Out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
This is like the snazziest zombie movie ever made. The production design is rigorous, everything is just so, but it is set decoration around a void. There is no life here, aquatic or otherwise. It is a curiosity shop full of wonders that offers up nothing to take home with you. And, worst of all, like most Wes Anderson films, it leaves you feeling that somehow the fault is with you.
The Dam Busters. (PG.)
Directed by Michael Anderson. 1955.
Starring Richard Todd, Michael Redgrave, Basil Sydney, George Baker, Derek Farr, Ernest Clark, Nigel Stock, Robert Shaw and Bill Kerr. Black and White. Out on DVD/ Blu-ray/ EST from Studiocanal Vintage Classics. 122 mins.
It is appropriate that the anniversary being celebrated with this release is that of the 1943 military action itself, rather than the 1955 film. Over the years it has gone from being a film version of a landmark wartime action to something interchangeable with the actual act. It's a piece of pageantry, a state occasion. It even has its own march. Which is a testament to the realism and honest with which it is filmed. You can accept that the actual events were very much like this, only with more realistic explosions.
Patrick Melrose. (18.)
Directed by Edward Berger.
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hugo Weaving, Anne Madeley, Pip Torrens, Indira Varma, Jessica Raine, Prasanna Puwanarajah, Celia Imrie, James Fleet, Holliday Grainger, Sebastian Maltz, Blythe Danner and Harriet Walter. 290 mins. Out on DVD from Acorn Media.
Of all the 21st century's many crimes I suppose the stratification of TV watching is a minor one, but it follows the principles of the major ones. Telly used to be a communal practice, something we all did together, a shared experience. Now it has become aspirational and competitive and materialistic: where style gurus and influencers once spoke of Must Have accessories, now they extoll the Must See boxsets. You don't have to enjoy it, but you need to be seen to be seeing it. True, most of these can be downloaded for free off of that there internet, but the edge of competition remains. Being a couch potato used to be shameful; now binge watching is culturally acceptable.
The Quiet Earth. (15.)
Directed by Geoff Murphy. 1984
Starring Bruno Lawrence, Alison Routledge and Peter Smith. 87 mins. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Academy.
Everybody has that film you remember seeing decades ago, and remember being really good, but can't really remember why. You are keen to see it again, but fear that it won't be anywhere near as good as you remember it was. In fact, you rather fear it might be rubbish. I saw The Quiet Earth on BBC 2 sometime in the 80s and the title and the Pavlovian reflex that it was a really good film has stuck with me as a faithful, but largely inert, companion all the way down the years. Well, now that Arrow have stuck it out on Blu-ray, the time has come to find out the truth.
The Endless (15.)
Directed by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead.
Starring Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, James Jordan, Tate Ellington, Lew Temple and Justin Benson. 109 mins.
The pricking of your curiosity at the start of The Endless is so sharp it is almost painful. The directors Benson and Moorhead play brothers who ten years previously escaped from a UFO Suicide Cult, and are still struggling to adjust to life in the outside world. So much so that the younger one Aaron wants to go back for a visit, feeling nostalgic for the healthy outdoor life they had and resentful that despite his brother's promise, the Suicide Cult are all still alive. Indeed, everybody looks indecently young. As they slowly build up the mystery you are on tenterhooks hoping that they aren't going to mess it up.
The Shape Of Water. (15.)
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, and Doug Jones. 123 mins
Anyway, the subject of hysterical anti-Trump propaganda brings us to the home release of The Shape Of Water. When last it was featured on this site it was as a charming little film that was quickly becoming a big deal. Now it is a Big Deal Oscar Winner that seems like a very small film, pitifully insubstantial to support the load placed upon it.
My Generation (12.)
Directed by David Batty.
Featuring My Name is Michael Caine, David Bailey, Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney and Marianne Faithfull. 84 mins
People try to shut them up talking 'bout their generation, just because they go and on talking 'bout their generation and the things they say are such awful crap and none of them die before they get old. Gathered around the central figure of Michael Caine this documentary, or if you will dodderermentary, is a tedious rehash of every story you've heard a hundred times already about the 60s. Like Red Buses if you miss one cliché another one will be along in second: black and white 50's Britain, Swinging London, city gents in bowler hats disapproving of mini skirts, hippies in Hyde Park, clips of Vietnam, David Bailey photoing Jean Shrimpton, Marianne Faithful getting arrested in a fur rug, Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, Piccadilly Circus. If it isn't Caine, another familiar face is employed. All the Old Dudes, carry the news. Caine definitely doesn't get to say Not A Lot Of People Know That in this film.
Midnight Cowboy. (18.)
Directed by John Schlesinger. 1969
Starring Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Brenda Vaccaro, Sylvia Miles, John McGiver, Barnard Hughes, Jennifer Salt, and Bob Balaban. 113 mins. Out on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
Things people remember about Midnight Cowboy in order of proximity. “Hey, I'm walking here.” Nilsson's Everybody's Talking At Me. The final scene. John Barry's Wah...wah, wah...wah, wah....wah, wah theme. Most distantly, that it was the first "X" rated movie to win the best picture Oscar, just a year after that bauble had been presented to Oliver! Most people probably assume that there is a substantive movie behind it but that's not entirely the case.