Saturday 22 June 2024

Withnail and I (1987)

Bruce Robinson's eccentric, semi-autobiographical, melancholic comedy classic gets a 4K UHD release from Arrow Films.

Camden Town in the late 1960s. Two unemployed actors - Withnail (Richard E Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) share a disgusting flat. Their days revolve around boozing, visits from a drug dealer called Danny (Ralph Brown) and increasing despondency about their lack of job offers.

They decide a holiday is needed and con Withnail's Uncle Monty (Rochard Griffiths) into letting them use his holiday cottage in Penrith. It turns out to be even more horrible than their London flat and pretty soon they realise they've come on holiday 'by mistake'. Only a visit from Uncle Monty could possibly make things worse, so of course that's what happens. 

One of the extras on Arrow's excellent 4K disc is a piece from Peepshow co-creator Sam Bain who sums up well what it is that makes WITHNAIL AND I such an enduring classic. It helps if you see it at the right age of course, but the mixture of eccentric characters and situations, a vast amount of eminently quotable dialogue, and likely the fact the film was based on part of writer-director Bruce Robinson's life of twenty years prior to the film being made (he's McGann's character whereas Withnail was inspired by actor Vivian MacKerrell who died aged 50. Readers of this site will know him for Stephen Weeks' 1974 GHOST STORY) gives the film an integrity and uniqueness that makes it feel almost timeless. It's a little bit like the TV series THE YOUNG ONES for the late 1960s and you can see characters like Danny and Presuming Ed returning in future episodes if this had been commissioned for television. 

As well as the Bain piece Arrow's disc has two commentary tracks, one from Robinson and another from Withnail expert (he wrote the BFI guide) Kevin Jackson. There's a new interview with production designer Michael Pickwoad and an archival interview withe Robinson, as well as four 'Withnail Weekend' documentaries that Channel 4 screened in the late 1990s - The Peculiar Memories of Bruce Robinson (39 minutes), Withnail and Us (25 minutes), I Demand to Have Some Booze (6 Minutes) and Withnail on the Pier (4 minutes). 

Finally, the set comes with a perfect bound book with a bunch of essays on the film from Vic Pratt, Anthony Nield, Martin Jones, Neil Mitchell and Mike Sutton. 

Bruce Robinson's WITHNAIL AND I is out on 4K UHD from Arrow Films on Monday 24th June 2024

Friday 21 June 2024

Mute Witness (1995)

Writer-director Anthony Waller's remarkable Hitchcockian debut gets a 4K UHD release from Arrow Films.

Billy (Marina Zudina) is a mute makeup artist working on a zero budget slasher movie being filmed by Americans in Moscow. One night she's accidentally locked in the studio and witnesses a snuff film being made. The police don't believe her, but the killers do, and as she spends the rest of the night avoiding them it soon turns out that the murder she witnessed is part of a much larger conspiracy.

Stylish, well-plotted and quite the achievement for something filmed on such a low budget and under less than ideal conditions (Waller's commentary on this disc is filled with anecdotes and well worth a listen), MUTE WITNESS manages some stylish set pieces in amongst the twisty-turny plot. Zudina is fine in the lead (she spoke no English at the time but it doesn't matter) and there's a surprise turn from Alec Guinness, who had filmed his scene ten years earlier, and for free. The film also features an early role for Fay Ripley who would later become well known to UK TV audiences for appearing in 52 episodes of Cold Feet.

As well as the Waller commentary, Arrow's disc gives us another with Wilbert Hirsch and production designer Matthias Kammermeier, moderated by the late Lee Gambin. Alexandra Heller-Nichols provides an 11 minute visual essay on movies that feature snuff films while Chris Alexander gives us 23 minutes on 'films within films' in a piece which has finally convinced me to catch up with Ulli Lommel's BOOGEYMAN 2. There's a trailer, a teaser, an image gallery, seven minutes of location scouting and all three minutes of the Alec Guinness footage.

Finally, Arrow's limited edition set comes with a reversible sleeve, foldout poster and a booklet with new writing on the film.

Anthony Waller's MUTE WITNESS is out on Limited Edition 4K UHD from Arrow Films on Monday 24th June 2024

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Sorcery (2024)

"Art House Folk Horror From Chile"

After its UK premiere at this year's Glasgow Film Festival, Christopher Murray's 19th century tale of witchcraft and persecution in Chile (and based on actual witchcraft trials according to the press release) gets a cinema release.

Rosa (Valentina Véliz Caileo) works as a serving girl at the farm of a German colonialist. When all his sheep die, the farmer blames Rosa's father, and kills him by getting the farmer's two pet dogs to tear him apart. Finding no justice by appealing to the mayor of the town, Rosa first visits the community's Christian church for guidance before embarking on a quest for revenge.

She eventually travels to the remote house of a man rumoured to be the king of the sorcerers. Through him and his group, the two young sons of the German farmer are turned into dogs. The witches are caught and put on trial but presiding over it is the unhelpful mayor who happens to have a wife undergoing a difficult pregnancy that only the witches may be able to help her with.

SORCERY is a measures, languidly-paced piece of work that, as you might expect from the above, is on one level about the persecution of natives by colonisers and on the other about whether or not the powers Rosa comes into contact with are actually real. The opening half of the film develops nicely with the gloomily sombre landscape of Rosa's travels photographed nicely and some good character development.

Unfortunately, as the film goes on its starts to meander and lose focus, such that by the end you wonder exactly what the intentions of the film-makers are. It's an interesting piece of work and if you're an art house folk horror fan it's certainly not one to miss. Just don't expect too much. Here's the trailer:

SORCERY is out in UK cinemas  from Sovereign Releasing on Friday 14th June 2024

Saturday 1 June 2024

Lisa Frankenstein (2024)

"Tries Just a Bit Too Hard"

The latest from screenwriter Diablo Cody (JUNO and JENNIFER'S BODY) gets a disc release from Mediumrare Entertainment.

It's 1989 and Goth girl Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton from the worst ANT MAN film and the much better ABIGAIL) spends her days pining amongst the tombstones of a long-neglected cemetery. A chance collision of events results in the reanimation of a handsome Byronic corpse. But he's missing a few parts and so together they set out to remedy that, with plenty of murders and laughs along the way.

Well, that's how it should play out. Unfortunately there aren't that many laughs to be had and by the halfway mark LISA FRANKENSTEIN starts to feel like very hard work indeed. Part of the problem is in the static TV sitcom-like direction of Zelda Williams. Whereas Karyn Kusama brought dollops of style to the far superior JENNIFER'S BODY, here the least is made of the comedy potential of Diablo Cody's script.

It's a shame because the acting and the production design here are very good, and there's an excellent music score from Isabella Summers. Sadly the pacing and execution let this one down. It all feels too much like a sub-Tim Burton wannabe, but if you're an undemanding fan of 1980s tribute comedies in this vein it may help pass a quiet evening.

Mediumrare's disc comes with a commentary track from Zelda Williams. There's also a two minute gag reel that's about as funny as the film, three minutes of deleted scenes, and three short (four minutes each) making of featurettes.

LISA FRANKENSTEIN is out on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 3rd June 2024

Thursday 30 May 2024

Nightsiren (2022)

Writer-Director Tereza Nvotová's powerful and visually arresting new provincial horror drama gets a limited edition Blu-ray release from Arrow Films.

When Sarlota (Natalia Germani) was a little girl she witnessed (and may have been responsible for) her younger sister falling from a cliff. Years later she is summoned back to the tiny provincial village of her birth to discuss an inheritance from her late mother.

She finds the house next door burned out and her own empty, the villagers unfriendly, and too long in the city has made her forgetful of the misogynistic practices of the menfolk and the passive acquiescence of the women. There are accusations of witchcraft, both of old and currently, and some of these are levelled at Sarlota herself. With the help of Mira (Eva Mores) Sarlota finally discovers the truth behind her family's history while having to deal with the shocking attitudes and presumptions the villagers still harbour.

NIGHTSIREN is beautifully filmed, with some jaw-dropping compositions against a background of the lush Czech landscape where the movie was filmed. It's also not afraid to venture into arthouse territory with some scenes of strangeness, while all the time pushing its grim, bitter and extremely vital message regarding the abuse of women in an extreme patriarchal society. Consequently some of NIGHTSIREN isn't easy viewing, but then it shouldn't be. It's a moving film, skilfully put together and if you like your European art house cinema grim and confrontational then this one's definitely for you.

Arrow's limited edition Blu-ray comes with a commentary track from Kat Ellinger, and there's a video essay from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on the idea of witches and 'sisterhood', as well as another video essay from Justine Smith that addresses the issues raised in the film directly.

Finally you get a trailer, a reversible sleeve, a double-sided foldout poster, and a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film from Anton Bitel, Cerise Howard and Alexandra West.

Tereza Nvotová's NIGHTSIREN is out on limited edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 3rd June 2024

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Pandemonium (2023)


"Nihilistic French Art House Horror Anthology"

After its UK premiere at Grimmfest, the interestingly-named Quarxx's new film gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow.

Two men wake up at the scene of an accident on an isolated mountain road. Pretty soon they realise they're dead. Two doors appear, one of which has lilting music coming from it, the other screams.

Nathan (Hugo Dillon) finds himself in a hellscape that will be familiar to fans of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND. Examining some of the bodies gives him visions of how they ended up there, which takes us into two stories. The first is about a little girl who killed her family (with the possibly help of imaginary friend Tony the Monster), the second is about a mother who has neglected her suicidal daughter's cries for help. Then we're back in Hell and things turn even grimmer for Nathan.

The beginning of PANDEMONIUM is remarkably light considering what follows, so much so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking that, for a change, here's a piece of French horror cinema that's not going to be relentlessly (and endlessly) nihilistic. But be warned - this gets very grim. Fans of French horror cinema will, of course, love it.

Extras on Arrow's Blu-ray include a 20 minute interview with the writer-director, a 23 minute making of, and an interesting piece on the real birth scene that's included in the picture. There's also 17 minutes on creating Tony the Monster, as well as a trailer. The limited edition set also comes with reversible cover, poster and a booklet with writing on the film by Anton Bitel, plus more from the director. 

Quarxx's PANDEMONIUM is out on Limited Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Films and ARROW on Monday 27th May 2024

Friday 24 May 2024

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

"Contains No Trains"

At the same time as the classic TRAIN TO BUSAN comes out on 4K in the UK, Studio Canal are releasing its sequel on the same format. There are no trains but there is a boat and some lorries. As for zombies, read on...

The action starts one day after the events in TRAIN TO BUSAN as a family make their way onto a refugee boat headed for Hong Kong. Unfortunately an infected has made it on board, but just when you think this is going to be like the first film but set on a boat (which could have been a lot of fun) we jump forward four years.

The two survivors from the prologue are now illegal immigrants in Hong Kong and get roped into a scheme to recover a lorryload of money from the Korean peninsula (aha!). The baddies have a ship laid on and the team have satellite phones to say when they've located their target and are ready to bring it in. But the place is teeming with infected, plus a community of soldiers who have gone rogue and now play macabre games with anyone they kidnap.

As PENINSULA progresses there are scenes and sequences reminiscent of Neil Marshall's DOOMSDAY, Lamberto Bava's DEMONS 2 and Zack Snyder's ARMY OF THE DEAD. At no point is there anything especially reminiscent of the original TRAIN TO BUSAN. Whether or not you enjoyed those other films will give you a good idea of if you're going to enjoy this. Either way at 116 minutes PENINSULA is about half an hour too long and has a climactic chase that goes on for ages. 

Unfortunately this all allows plenty of time for your attention to wander and start asking questions like why haven't the zombies rotted away to nothing over four years, and how is the little girl in this is so chipper and giggly when all she has known in her short life is a harsh and violent apocalyptic wasteland.

Studio Canal's 4K disc comes with four featurettes on the making of the film, which total just over eight minutes, plus a trailer. 

TRAIN TO BUSAN PRESENTS PENINSULA is out on 4K UHD from Studio Canal on Monday 27th May 2024