Thursday, 8 November 2018

Project A & Project A Part II (1983 & 1987)


It's time for some more knockabout martial arts comedy fun as Eureka releases Jackie Chan's colourful period adventure pictures in a special limited edition two-disc hardbound boxed set.


PROJECT A sounds like it might be science fiction, or possibly a political thriller, but in fact it's a pirate adventure set at the turn of the century. (The title was apparently Chan's attempt to stop other studios copying him before his film had been released).


This time, our Jackie is Sergeant Dragon Ma, a member of the Hong Kong Marine Police Force. Pirates have been attacking and raiding ships in the area and it's up to our hero, with the help of Sammo Hung, to get into as many highly (and possibly sometimes dangerously) choreographed fight scenes as possible. For those of you interested in Chan's stunts, this is the one where he pays tribute to silent comedian Harold Lloyd by hanging from a clock before plummeting (several times in the out-takes) to the ground, without the aid of a net but with the aid of some canopies to break his fall.


PROJECT A PART II followed four years later. Dragon Ma is still busy up against pirates, again in lengthy, sometimes breathtakingly choreographed fight scenes. This time we get a tribute to the Marx Brothers' A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and perhaps even more famously, a tribute to the classic scene in Buster Keaton's STEAMBOAT BILL JR where a house falls onto our protagonist and he escapes unscathed. 


Eureka's transfers for PROJECT A PARTS I & II are absolutely gorgeous - bright and colourful, they've done a very fine job indeed with these 2K restorations. Both films have both Cantonese & English dialogue tracks. There's an absolute stack of interviews (ten altogether), some of them new and some archival. You also get an archival featurette, Jackie's introduction to the film for the lunar new year 1984, behind the scenes footage, alternate out-takes from the Japanese version of PROJECT A, behind the scenes footage and deleted scenes. Exclusive to the box set are booklets for each film, featuring both new and archival material.


Jackie Chan's PROJECT A & PROJECT A PART II are out in a limited edition set now. 

Monday, 5 November 2018

Long Weekend (1978)


"Classic Downbeat Ozsploitation Eco-Horror"

Colin Eggleston's 1978 Ozsploitation When Animals Attack picture gets a welcome UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight.
Bickering, shrill, annoying couple Peter (John Hargreaves) and Marcia (Briony Behets) decide to try and patch up their failing marriage by spending a long weekend in the country. They lose their way but end up near an isolated beach. Showing nothing but disdain for the wildlife around them, they leave a trail of casual vandalism and destruction in their wake, including the deaths of some of the creatures they encounter. But nature has decided it isn't going to take this sort of treatment from humankind any more.


A remarkable movie that is at once low-key and yet manages to achieve levels of claustrophobic hysteria unsurpassed in a subgenre that includes George McCowan's FROGS (1972), and William Girdler's DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977). However, where those movies had some sympathetic human characters, LONG WEEKEND has none, and the viewer finds themselves rooting for nature pretty much from the start. 


Second Sight's Blu-ray looks great and comes with some excellent extras, with more on here than on the US Region A disc from Synapse. The commentary track from Executive Producer Richard Brennan and Director of Photography Vincent Monton on that disc has been ported over. Nature Found Them Guilty - Examining Long Weekend is a very good panel discussion moderated by Lee Gambin who talks in depth about the film with Alexandra Heller-Nichols, Emma Westwood and Sally Christie. 


You also get interviews with star Briony Behets, DP Vincent Monton and screenwriter Everett de Roche, taken from Mark Hartley's excellent Ozsploitation documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. There's also an archival audio interview with star John Hargreaves.


Finally you get a stills gallery and trailer. A couple of sound options are offered, the 5.1 mix giving you the feeling that you're in the middle of the nowhere with the leads for added discomfort. 


Colin Eggleston's LONG WEEKEND is out on Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 5th November 2018

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)


"When Comic Book Movies Go Bad"

Oh yes, the movie that has passed into legend in terms of how much it cost compared to how rubbish the final outcome actually was gets a re-release from Fabulous Films. But is it really as bad as people claim?


The film starts with an interesting bit of action. Or at least it would be if someone hadn't decided to put the credits over it. Then we get to feel very sorry indeed for David Hemmings (the actor not the character) before we are introduced to the very very expensive indeed Sean Connery.


Sean is playing H Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain & he's been chosen (although goodness knows why) as the leader of a bunch of nineteenth century literary characters to defeat the evil scheme of the lead singer of Metallica who has presumably been injured in an amp feedback accident.


Richard Roxburgh plays 'M' (oh dear) and plays him as if he's forgotten to stop being the Duke in Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE (oh dear oh dear). He introduces the other members of the team. These include token female and Jess Franco tribute Mina Harker (a vampire who can see herself in a mirror, walk around in daylight and she wears a long red scarf. If she's not meant to be a tribute to Soledad Miranda in VAMPYROS LESBOS this film is even less interesting than I thought); a rights issue (presumably H G Wells' estate wouldn't let them use his Invisible Man); Captain Nemo (because they need a ridiculous boat that won't fit up the canals of Venice but somehow does anyway) and...oh I've forgotten the others already. Let me have a look at the picture.


Oh yes! Dorian Gray who is immortal and so are his clothes, it would seem. Dr Jekyll who can turn into the most Looney Tunes version of Mr Hyde ever shown, and Tom Sawyer because, you know, America or something (that last bit the actual words from a script conference I suspect).
Off they go to Venice!
Metallica is busy destroying the city. They save it by destroying even more buildings. But wait! One of them is a spy! And there's even more dastardly work afoot! An evil plan to...
Now this is where I began to lose track of what was going on entirely. I'm not going to spoil it for those who want to watch the film, mainly because I'm not sure if anyone really knew what was going on anyway. But there's snow and a castle and a truly daft looking monster.


Is the graphic novel any good? I don't know as I haven't read it. Is this film any good? Sadly not. In fact it's depressing to see something that looks as if a fortune was spent on every shot, every set and every costume, but not a penny was spent on sorting out a decent rip-roaring story to tell. This is not LXG's only problem - there's a real lack of enthusiasm on the part of some of the cast and some genuinely startling overacting from others. 


Fabulous Films' disc also contains some featurettes and a number of deleted and extended scenes if you really want to see more of this once the film has actually finished. 

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is out on DVD & Blu-ray from Fabulous Films now.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Gateway aka Alpha Gateway (2018)


"Intriguing SF Thriller"

After a successful festival run, John V Soto's new science fiction film comes to VOD as either THE GATEWAY or ALPHA GATEWAY depending on where you live.


Jane Chandler (Jacqueline McKenzie) is a particle physicist researching a method of contacting parallel universes. She eventually succeeds, transporting an apple that is returned with a bite taken out of it, along with a handwritten message of greeting. When Jane and her colleague Regg (Ben Mortley) send a video camera across they get a recording back showing that the universe they have contacted is very much like their own, right down to it being populated by their doubles.


Jane's husband Matt (Myles Pollard) is killed in a car accident. Jane sends herself into the parallel universe to find the Matt over there still alive. She brings him back to her world. But New Dimension Matt isn't quite like Old Dimension Matt, as Jane soon finds out to her and her family's cost. 


Belonging to the same SF movie subgenre as Nacho Vigalondo's Spanish TIMECRIMES (2007) and this year's MEGA TIME SQUAD from New Zealand, here director John V Soto gives us an Australian take on the theme of messing with realities one should leave well alone. He does a very good job as well, working within what must have been a low budget. In fact along with the above movies, THE GATEWAY feels very much like a superior episode of the late 1990s OUTER LIMITS TV series. 


I reviewed John V Soto's NEEDLE on here a few (six!) years ago, & it's good to see he remains a film-maker interested in pursuing thought-provoking genre projects. Ideally what he needs is Hollywood studio backing with the kind of budget that would allow him to more widely explore the ideas raised in THE GATEWAY. 


In the meantime, catch up with THE GATEWAY (and NEEDLE for that matter) so you can say you were there before John V Soto hit the big time. 

John V Soto's THE GATEWAY aka ALPHA GATEWAY is out
 on various VOD platforms now, including Amazon Prime in the UK).  

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Sony's Halloween Horrors

Sony have brought out three low-budget pictures as their 'Halloween Horrors' package and they range from the intellectually stimulating to the outright brain-numbing. They're available now on DVD & download. Let's start with the good one, shall we? 

UFO


        By far the best of Sony's October batch is this, an interesting and intelligent look at how aliens might try and communicate with us. Heavy on the maths and the dialogue, this feels like a decent television play (or perhaps an extended episode of the X Files - it's even got Gillian Anderson in it). If you're okay with just the tiniest glimpse of a flying saucer, lots of chat about mathematical sequences, and a climax that's essentially a chap standing in a field in the rain I'd certainly recommend this one as it's surprisingly cerebral and certainly felt worth the 89 minute running time.

Patient Zero


        Those of you who offer up a prayer every night that what you really want to see is Natalie Dormer having sex in the toilets with an ex Dr Who will think they've died and gone to heaven.The rest of us will assume we have just died and entered some kind of weird purgatory in which we have to watch this derivative piece filmed pretty much on a single set and involving a "scientific" team trying to find a cure for another one of the those pesky zombie viruses of which there must now be as many variants as E Coli. Stanley Tucci is some kind of lead zombie and is John Bradley (Samwell Tarly from GAME OF THRONES) really the most expensive actor in this? I hope that doesn't give away what happens to him early on. 

Lake Placid: Legacy


       Or LAKE PLACID 6 for anyone who is counting or cares. This one has a group of eco-warriors being dared to come to an isolated island by a rival, who is already there. It's surprising they take him so seriously as he seems to have prepared for his exploration of this allegedly hostile environment by dressing as an extra from Happy Days. No sooner have they arrived than they are menaced by an unseen giant crocodile / dinosaur mutation which looks absolutely terrible when we finally get to see it. Joe Pantoliano gets dragged on (literally) to explain why the dinocroc is there. There's also a handy digger lying around for JCB enthusiasts that gets to take part in the CRATER LAKE MONSTER inspired (but again perhaps not) climax. It's going on my Top 10 List of monster movies that feature diggers, but probably not very near the top.

My Top 10 List of Monster Films With Diggers In Them will be coming soon, but not as soon as my Top Ten Movies Featuring Frogs. You have been warned. 


Sunday, 14 October 2018

Down a Dark Hall (2018)



"Ambitious YA EuroGothic That Nearly Gets 
It Right"

I think that about covers it. The 18 certificate you can see on the box cover up there is certainly unwarranted - if I was the BBFC I would have given this a 12. Perhaps the girls' school setting and classic EuroHorror feel to this one had the particular censor in question reminiscing for older, ruder and gorier times. 


So yes, DOWN A DARK HALL is neither sexy nor gory (in case you were wondering and now hopefully you won't be disappointed if / when you watch it). The story concerns naughty teenager Kit Gordy (AnnaSophia Robb) who gets sent to an out of the way boarding school where she discovers the only other students are four girls of around the same age.


The headmistress is Madame Duret (Uma Thurman at her most Alida Valli-esque) and she encourages them in their studies of music, maths, art and poetry. Pretty soon each girl is starting to excel at one of these disciplines, with Kit becoming a surprisingly good pianist.


Are the constant references to a talented composer who died before finishing his masterwork relevant? Why is another girl driven to paint masterpieces and sign them with someone else's initials? And are those ghosts that we're seeing in a corner of the retina kind of way actually real?


DOWN A DARK HALL boasts a screenplay that's lots of good old gothic supernatural fun and an intriguing cast with some familiar faces including Rebecca Front (BBC comedy stalwart), Pip Torrens (A View From a Hill), Jim Sturgeon (71) and Rosie Day (every Paul Hyett film). It's also got a fabulous old-school classical music score courtesy of Victor Reyes (GRAND PIANO).


Unfortunately the one problem the film has is the direction. DOWN A DARK HALL is a film that would really have benefitted from a Dario Argento approach, because the story is daft enough and the setting glorious enough that a considerable degree of stylistic panache is needed to put all that together to best effect. Sadly Rodrigo Cortes (BURIED) does a thoroughly reasonable workmanlike job, but that's about it, and that's a shame because with a truly mad film-maker this could have been a work of genius. 



As it is, DOWN A DARK HALL is still worth a look, if only to imagine what might have been. Lionsgate's UK DVD is bare bones.

Rodrigo Cortes' DOWN A DARK HALL is out on DVD from Lionsgate on Monday 22nd October 2018

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Schlock (1973)


"John Landis' Monkey Business"

A few years (well, eight) before they collaborated on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, writer-director John Landis and special effects maestro Rick Baker combined their talents to make this low budget comedy, which is now getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow.


The Southern Californian police are baffled by a spate of murders that now total in the hundreds. At the site of each massacre the only clue is the large number of banana skins left strewn around. 


It soon becomes apparent that the killings are the work of a primordial ape man dubbed the Schlockthropus (Landis himself in a Rick Baker suit). The Schlock goes on the run and a series of comedic encounters ensue. 


These include Schlock visiting a cinema (which is showing executive producer Jack H Harris' THE BLOB), meeting a blind girl who thinks he's a dog, and joining in on a piano duet.


It's all fairly lowbrow, silly fun. A lot of the set pieces spoof scenes from classic films - Kubrick's 2001 and James Whale's 1931 FRANKENSTEIN are just two, and the film ends with the predictable KING KONG-style climax on the roof of a gymnasium.


If you're a John Landis fan you'll want to see this. If not, be warned this is probably more of historical interest now than actually funny, especially as the idea of spoofing other movies has been done to death. In 1971 (when the film was actually shot) it must have seemed fresh and new, though.


Arrow's 4K transfer looks great. Extras include a Landis / Baker commentary, a 2017 interview with John Landis, a new talking head piece from Kim Newman and an archival interview with Director of Photography Bob Collins. You also get trailers and radio spots, a reversible sleeve and a booklet with new writing on the film by Joe-Bob Briggs. 


John Landis' SCHLOCK is out on Blu-ray from Arrow on Monday 15th October 2018