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The House That Jack Built. (18.)
Directed by Lars Von Trier. 2018.
Starring Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Sofie Gråbøl, Jeremy Davies and Riley Keough. 152 mins. Out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Artificial Eye.
Who owns the house that Jack built, was the question posed by Paul Weller protégé Tracie on her Respond Records 80s hit. The answer, it turned out, was we owned the house that Jack built and now you can own the Lars Von Trier's House That Jack Built. And yes, I know that was a torturous opening but I've had that damn tune in my head ever since the disc for this arrived and torturous openings are the order of the day in LVT's grisly American set serial killer epic, which manages to be somehow jeering, contemptuous and yet meek, even defeated. It is some kind of career culmination for the Danish provocateur: he's finally scraped the bottom of his barrel. A disappointment if you are an admirer, though I guess Lars may derive some satisfaction from finally making it there after all those decades of trying.
Tokyo Drifter. (15.)
Directed by Seijan Suzuki. 1966.
Starring Tetsuya Watari, Chieko Matsubara, Hideaki Nitani, Tamio Kawachi, Ryûji Kita, Eiji Gô. 82 mins. Out of Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
The gangster thriller Tokyo Drifter, the film of a popular song from the time, is about a Yakuza family that is trying to go legit and the noble foot soldier Tetsuo (Watari) who is fanatically loyal to his boss. But this is not a film where you need worry too much about the plot; the filmmakers surely didn't. It's all about the look, and the look is incredible. It's a Bobby Dazzler, no doubt about it. That said, while watching it I did a bit of Tokyo drifting myself: wowed by the visual but alienated by the narrative incoherence my mind did occasionally wander. It's a perverse achievement. While you are watching it you will probably become increasingly distant from it. Then, when it is finished, you want to go right back and it again to be overwhelmed by that colour scheme.
True Stories (PG.)
Directed by David Byrne. 1986
Starring David Byrne, John Goodman, Annie McEnroe, Swoosie Kurtz, Spalding Gray, Jo Harvey Allen, Tito Larriva, John Ingle, Matthew Posey, Alix Elias. 87 mins. Out on Blu-ray as part of the Criterion Collection.
More than thirty years ago David Byrne, singer and songwriter with Talking Heads, (in case that is no longer common knowledge,) made a film. It was A Film About A Bunch Of People In Virgil, Texas, in which Byrne, wearing a cowboy suit and driving around in a red Chrysler convertible, narrates and interacts with various local characters as the town prepares for the sesquicentennial (150 years) celebrations of the founding of Texas. Byrne presents everything with wide-eyed innocence and a sense of wonder that may well be less arch than you assume it to be. It's marvellous: original, funny, wise, prescient and moving. Its style is wry and detached, yet incredibly warm. It's a true one-off. And after it, Byrne never made a film again. I guess that was all he had to say about that.
The Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion (18.)
Directed by Luciano Ercoli. 1970
Starring Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Susan Scott, Simon Andreu and Osvaldo Genazzani. In Italian with subtitles. Out on Blu-ray January 14th from Arrow Video.
I believe that if you ever meet Ennio Morricone, he only answers to maestro. And I wouldn't want to address him in any other way. I'm not sure cinema is a form that has yet to be graced by genius but if you had to pick a genius of cinema his contribution surely outstrips that of any director, producer, writer or actor. Since 1960 he's banged out over 500 soundtracks and, though I'm sure there are a few duffers and half-arsed efforts in that little lot, the majority are exceptional. And the great thing about him is that he has spread his gifts far and wide, without pretension or airs and graces. He's provided scores for great directors and classic films but also for horror, pornos and exploitation. And he doesn't just save the good stuff for the classy, prestigious productions. Any old hack or chancer had a shot at immortality if the Maestro chose to devote a few of his precious notes to their little production.
Directed by Orson Welles. 1952 (European version)/ 1955 (US/UK version.)
Starring Orson Welles, Michael MacLiammoir, Suzanne Cloutier, Michael Coote, Dors Dowling and Michael Laurence. Black and White. Out on two-disc Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection
The traditional line taken by any dramatic piece that seeks to expose the horrors of racism is that we are all the same deep down, and colour is only skin deep. This is certainly illustrated in Orson Welles' interpretation of the Moor which is black only on the outside, and even then not consistently so. His face may be daubed in varying layers of black paint but this is pure, classic Orson, a classical actor delighting in performing the verse with no concession to ethnicity. You may choose to view his blackface as a piece of hideous racial insensitivity but it does lend support to those of us that suspect that the work of the bard is peopled not so much by carefully drawn characters but a selection of declamatory windbags who are largely interchangeable.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Carol. (15.)
Directed by Paul Mazursky. 1969
Starring Robert Culp, Natalie Wood, Elliot Gould and Dyan Cannon. 105 mins. Released on Blu-ray and DVD by Arrow Academy. 101 mins
I'm not sure I have anything much to say about Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice; but then I'm not sure the film has much to say about them either. It does though have a lot to show you about them but it doesn't really want to pass comment. With era-defining satires you generally expect some kind of value judgement to be delivered but Mazursky's debut is very opened minded about these two affluent Los Angeles couples who want to dabble in the sexual freedoms allowed them by the sixties. Their attitudes and affectations are mildly ribbed, but the film doesn't have any great issue with them.
De Niro & De Palma. (15.)
Directed by Brian De Palma. (obviously)
Available as a two disc Blu-ray box set from Arrow Video.
“Greeting, Greetings, Greetings, would you like to go away?” Now that's a lyric. After the nine films he's done with Scorsese, the director De Niro has worked with most is Brian De Palma. Prior to The Untouchables, they teamed up three times in the 60s before either of them were famous. Grim experience has taught us that the early, pre-success artistic expressions of directors are generally best avoided but both Greetings and its sequel Hi Mom are both vastly entertaining as well as being a great record of late 60s counter culture. The Wedding Party is definitely the weak link, but even that is pleasant enough without being very interesting. Hi, Mom though is one of my favourite De Palma films and it contains the first great De Niro performance.
The Wedding Party
Directed by Steve McQueen.
Starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson. 128 mins. Out on Blu-ray/ DVD on 18th March.
It was 2018's best thriller but audiences shunned it when it was released last November, and their reasons for doing so have been an issue of much debate. Is there no longer an audience for proper grown-up crime dramas? Did audiences fear that a film from the director of an Oscar winner, with females in the main roles, was going to be preachy? Or was it perhaps that, however entertaining, a film this open about how utterly corrupt American society has become was going to be all a bit too much for audiences in the states, even if there was a bit of bang-bang gunplay included.
Shoah The Four Sisters (E.)
Directed by Claude Lanzmann.
Featuring Paula Biren, Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman and Hanna Marton. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Eureka Masters Of Cinema. 273 mins
The final film of esteemed documentarian Lanzmann, was a surprising change of pace, a light-hearted reminiscence of young love. No, of course, it isn't, it's another Shoah. Like Edgar Reitz with the Heimats, once embarked upon the process of compiling a verbal history of the Holocaust, Lanzmann couldn't escape. The Four Sisters is four full-length interviews with Jewish women who made it through the Holocaust. They were filmed for, but not included in, the original nine and half hour Shoah. It is less a movie than it is a very comprehensive Extras feature. Or, if you prefer, it's testimony from four highly committed "crisis actors" who have stuck to their stories with unusual commitment and consistency.
Directed by Gasper Noe
Starring Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Claude Gajan Maull, Giselle Palmer. Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video, February 11th. 96 mins.
The devil has all the best tunes, and the misanthropes have all the best tracking shots. Gasper Noe is a man for whom the glass isn't just half empty, it's spiked. Climax is another tale of misery, destruction and despair but made with such exuberance, such style, such Joie de grief, that it is more uplifting than a thousand heavenly choirs. Or it would if you could drown out all the women and children screaming in the second half.
Texas, Adios (12.)
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi. 1966
Starring Franco Nero, Cole Kitosch, Jose Suarez, Elisa Montes, Livio Lorenzon, Jose Guardiola. 93 mins. Out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
That this early Franco Nero Spaghetti western is being reviewed here is down to the influence of a fine friend of mine named Phil. He's a western fanatic. You go to his home and there is a whole wall of shelves covered in cowboy blueys and divvies and books about westerns. Well, it's a hobby and as good as any other I guess, but the last time I saw him he told me he had just ordered a box set of the complete Little House on the Praire. Not even second hand, but brand new off Amazon. He said it was a good deal because it worked out at just over £1 a disc. I said: "It's the Little House on the Prairie: you're never ever going to sit down and watch them." I'm wondering if its time for an intervention.
They Shall Not Grow Old. (15.)
Directed by Peter Jackson. 99 mins. Available now on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros.
When classic black and white films were first colourized there was outrage. Adding colour to Laurel and Hardy or Casablanca was, quite rightly, seen as a piece of cultural vandalism. But when Lord of The Rings director Peter Jackson did it to some First World War footage the Imperial War Museum had stashed away in its archives, everybody fell over themselves to shower it with praise. When it premiered at the London Film Festival it was treated with sombre reverence and was shipped out to schools and shown on the BBC in November as part of the commemoration of the hundred years since the armistice. World War I, and in particular the trench warfare of the Western Front, has become a fixed point in culture, the default expression of the futility and ugliness of war. The sanctity of the remembrance of the Great War will never grow old.
Escape From New York. (15.)
Directed by John Carpenter. 1980.
Starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau and Isaac Hayes. 95 mins. New 4K restoration. Back in Cinemas for one day November 22nd. Out on Blu-ray and Dvd October 26th.
Optimism is in short supply these days so let's draw comfort from John Carpenter's 1980 sci-fi action romp Escape From New York. Just imagine, less than four decades ago the island of Manhattan, that 23 square miles of prime real estate, was such a lawless, crime-ridden hellhole that the idea of just throwing up some walls around it and turning it into one great big prison could be put forward as a premise for a vaguely satirical entertainment. That such an idea wouldn't play these days is a sign that however bad things seem, things do sometimes get better.
The Prince Of Darkness. (18.)
Directed By John Carpenter. 1987.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper. 101 mins. A 4K restoration out on EST, Blu-Ray, DVD, BD and 4K UHD on November 23rd.
Of all the big name Hollywood film directors - the ones that real people know, not just film bores - none are as ramshackle as John Carpenter. Outside of The Thing, which is a phenomenal technical achievement, most of his films, even the relatively big budget ones, have a DIY, make-do-and-mend feel; and Prince of Darkness is prime example. I can imagine the uninitiated sitting down to watch this and thinking, "This, this crappy little horror film is what the 'experts' think is great filmmaking." For them this is probably more PoS than PoD.
Directed by Hal Ashby. 1975.
Starring Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Tony Bill, Carrie Fisher and Jack Warden. 112 mins. Released on Blu-ray on November 5th as part of the Criterion Collection.
Is Shampoo a shallow, narcissistic, self-portrait that gullible people take as a deep and penetrating look at America's spiritual and political rot setting in? Or, is it a shallow, narcissistic, self-portrait that gullible people can't see past to appreciate how it works as a deep and penetrating look at America's spiritual and political rot setting in. Damned if I know. Still Warren Beatty eh? He's so vain he thinks the spiritual and political decline is all about him.