Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978)

"Grim, Uncompromising Classic of Australian Cinema"

Fred Schepisi's remarkable, disturbing, moving depiction of life in early twentieth century Australia gets a UK Blu-ray release (with the shorter Shout Factory US Blu-ray 'International' version as an extra) from Eureka.

Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is half Australian aborigine and half white. Raised by a methodist preacher and his wife, Jimmie plans to 'better' himself by getting a job, making some money, building his own home and diluting his bloodline by marrying a white girl 'of good stock'. 

But all his plans are scuppered by the racism and abuse he meets everywhere he goes. Despite doing his best to maintain an optimistic outlook, eventually Jimmie is overcome by the prejudice and deception of a society that considers him little better than an animal, and a wave of bloody violence follows.

I may be wrong, but Australian cinema seemed to completely bypass the 'Heroic Hollywood Cowboy' era of frontier cinema and instead went straight to the 'Brutal Exploitation of Native Races' theme. And what a brutal film this is, not that you expect it from the first act. Consequently Jimmie's explosion into violence is even more shocking so be prepared for it. 

As he and his brother go on the run as outlaws there's mention of them becoming national heroes but there's nothing heroic or enviable about the situations they find themselves in, and the film can end in no other way but grimly.

Eureka's transfer runs for 122 minutes and is taken from the Umbrella Entertainment release, with the 'International Version' (Shout Factory) clocking in at 117. There are two commentary tracks, one from screenwriter-director-producer Schepisi and the other from critic Alexandra Heller-Nichols. 

There's also a Schepisi interview, a making of, an hour-long conversation with Schepisi and DP Ian Baker, an interview with star Lewis, a Q&A with Schepisi and Geoffrey Rush from the 2008 Melbourne Film Festival, a documentary on the casting of the aboriginal leads and the usual still galleries, trailer, reversible sleeve and booklet with new writing on the film plus Pauline Kael's original review.

THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH is one of the best (and arguably the best) film of one of the most important decades in Australian cinema, and it's a delight to report that Eureka have done it proud.

Fred Schepisi's THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH is out on dual format Blu-ray and DVD from Eureka on Monday 19th August 2019

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Kaleidoscope (2017)

"Excellent Grim & Squalid Psycho Thriller Worth Watching Twice"

Toby Jones excels in the unnerving, enigmatic, downbeat beast that is his brother Rupert Jones' KALEIDOSCOPE, coming out on VOD and DVD from Sparky Films.

Carl (Toby Jones) lives in a squalid apartment in a block of flats. He meets a girl, Abby (Sinead Matthews) online and brings her back to the flat after a night out. The morning after there's a broken chair and bloodstains and Carl has only vague memories of what (might have) happened. 

Newspapers report a girl as having been murdered. Abby has disappeared. What has happened to that suitcase Carl used to own? That you could fit body parts neatly into? The arrival of Carl's hated mother, Aileen (Anne Reid) further complicates issues, and what's so important about the kaleidoscope he keeps in a drawer, the one where he hears his father's voice every time he looks through it?

A project that feels like a 1970s British film noir by way of David Lynch (some of the sound design, weird camera angles and 'slips' in reality reminded me of LOST HIGHWAY amongst others) by the time you get to the end of KALEIDOSCOPE you'll be wondering which bits you've seen actually happened, which are hallucination, and how the whole story fits together. 

It's also a pretty grim movie. We hardly leave Carl's horrible flat (and therefore presumably his mind). The interior design and front door don't match what we can see exteriorly, and as the movie progresses things inside the flat change. As to what exactly has happened is left to the viewer to work out. I'll admit that while Rupert Jones is an excellent director stylistically, he probably needs to tighten up his storytelling skills as certainly things could have been made clearer here and there.

Nevertheless, KALEIDOSCOPE is very good. Ambitious, stylish, and with excellent performances all round (and especially Toby Jones), if it's your kind of date movie you'll be talking about it for hours afterwards. Recommended. 

Rupert Jones' KALEIDOSCOPE is out on VOD from Sparky Films on Monday 12th August 2019 and on DVD on Monday September 23rd 2019

Friday, 9 August 2019

Used Cars (1980)

"Zany 1980s Screwball Comedy"

Before director Robert Zemeckis gave us BACK TO THE FUTURE, and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT he made USED CARS, a wacky comedy from 1980 that starts broad and gets broader in every sense. 

Two rival second hand car dealerships exist opposite each other on a street in Phoenix, Arizona. One is run by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), assisted by wide boy Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) who has plans to run for senator, Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and Frank (Frank McCrae). The other is run by Luke's brother Roy (also Warden) who is determined to get his hand's on his brother's property.

When Luke dies it's up to Rudy and his team to pretend the old man is still alive while ramping up their increasingly outrageous (and illegal) ad campaign to sell more cars. When Luke's daughter Barbara (Deborah Harmon) arrives, a potential legal minefield of a misquote from her on one of the the ads sets the scene for an increasingly ludicrous final act.

A fast paced comedy that never lets up for its 113 minutes (most comedies of this kind clock in at under 90 just because it's so difficult to maintain the tone), USED CARS is the kind of abrasive, silly, politically incorrect and just outright rude comedy that doesn't get made anymore, and depending how much you yearn for / despise films like that will dictate whether or not you'll get on with it. 

If you do, it's actually a very funny, well-made comedy, well acted by a cast of familiar faces (some of them painfully young - stand up Michael MacKean). With its car chases, lowbrow humour and sense of knockabout fun USED CARS comes across as a more intellectual version of a Hal Needham film (CANNONBALL RUN, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT).

Eureka's Blu-ray comes with a Zemeckis / Russell / co-writer & producer Bob Gale commentary track, two isolated score tracks (one being the unused Ernest Gold score), a making of, Kurt Russell radio interview, out-takes, gag reel, radio spots and still galleries. You also get a booklet with new writing on the film by Scott Harrison and Phil Hoad if you get the first pressing. 

Robert Zemeckis' USED CARS is out on Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 12th August 2019

Monday, 5 August 2019

Heavy Trip (2019)

Heavy Metal Comedy From Finland That Gets Funnier & Funnier”

The latest entry in a somewhat unlikely subgenre of cinema - one that includes THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984), DEATHGASM (2015) and on TV The Comic Strip’s BAD NEWS TOUR (1983), gets a digital release from Sparky Films.

Turo (Johannes Holopainen) is the lead singer in a heavy metal band in the tiny Finnish town where he lives. The band have been ‘rehearsing’ for twelve years but have never played a gig. When an accident at lead guitarist Lotvonen’s reindeer slaughtering plant gives him an idea for a riff, the boys finally have their first demo track.

A chance visit to the reindeer plant by a Norwegian heavy metal festival impresario means the band get the chance to pass on the tape. Soon they are being hailed as celebrities by the townsfolk, even though plans for them to play at the festival are still up in the air (not that anyone but Turo knows that).

They come up with a name (Impaled Rectum), take a band promo shot (I’ll leave you to find out how) and everything is looking up. Until, that is, they actually have to perform in front of an audience.

An utterly charming, endearing, and most important of all, frequently hilarious comedy that gets crazier and more outrageous as incident is allowed to pile on incident, HEAVY TRIP has been likened to Rob Reiner’s classic SPINAL TAP but it some ways it’s a funnier, tighter, and much more economical version of John Landis’ THE BLUES BROTHERS (which even gets referenced in the dialogue), most obviously in the way the climax builds and builds.

It looks as if HEAVY TRIP is only getting a digital release in the UK but I hope someone, somewhere puts out a disc with a gag reel as extras, and perhaps even a commentary track from directors Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren. I’d love to know if all those track titles quoted and bands referenced are real. As to if the creative talents behind this are metalheads it's almost impossible to believe they’re not and like SPINAL TAP, I certainly hope fans of metal take this with the knowing affection I’m sure its intended to convey. 

Charming, endearing, and very, very funny, HEAVY TRIP is highly likely to be one of the comedy highlights of the year.

HEAVY TRIP is out on digital download from Sparky Films from Monday 5th August 2019

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Asylum (1972)

"Standout 1970s British Horror"

It's time for that overly bombastic (and to my mind best ever) arrangement of Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain courtesy of arranger-composer Douglas Gamley to start hammering through the speakers as one of the best anthology films ever made gets a whistles and bells limited edition Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

When Dr Martin (Robert Powell) attends Dunsmoor Asylum to interview for the vacant SHO (that's senior house officer) post, he finds himself set an odd task by acting head Dr Rutherford (more wheelchair acting from Patrick CLOCKWORK ORANGE Magee). He has to interview four patients and decide which of them is Dr Starr, the former head of the asylum who has undergone a state of 'hysterical fugue', allowing 'a new personality to take over', and also allowing us to enjoy a smashing British horror film.

Yes the four patients lead us into four Robert Bloch short stories, except, that unbeknownst to Dr Martin he's already in one of them. Oh yes, the quality of an anthology picture can often be measured by the strength of its framework story and ASYLUM has the best of the lot, one in which Bloch reworked one of his stories ('Mannikins of Horror') to link the action.

ASYLUM is an example of where everything comes together to create something very special indeed. The first story, 'Frozen Fear' (which traumatised your reviewer on its first BBC showing back in the 1970s to such an extent I swore off watching any horror films ever again) works because of stellar, soapy, sleazy performances from Richard Todd, Barbara Parkins and Sylvia Syms, deliciously horrid production design, and Roy Ward Baker's sensible decision to let everything build with sound before we actually see anything. It was meant to be the third story but I've always agreed with producer Max Rosenberg to put it first because it gives you enough of a jolt you wonder what on earth the rest of the film is going to be like.

Because of that the second story 'The Weird Taylor' is a quieter affair but works better because your anxiety levels have been pumped up by the first story. Consequently you feel much more weirded out by Peter Cushing and his empty house except for that coffin than you might otherwise be.

'Lucy Comes to Stay' is a bit of 1970s posh suburban horror with casting that helps the story immensely. Britt Ekland has one of her best roles as she gets to bounce off Charlotte Rampling's drug-addicted Barbara while James Villiers and Megs Jenkins add character colour.

And then the finale. Is Herbert Lom and his army of killer mannikins actually Dr Starr? If you haven't seen the film I won't tell but I will say I think ASYLUM has possibly the best ending of any Amicus anthology.
If you have Severin's US region-free Blu-ray of ASYLUM then you don't need to double dip as this is essentially the same, including the same grainy transfer (although who knows if it's possible to make ASYLUM look any better?). Extras are also the same, including the ported over Roy Ward Baker / Neil Binney commentary track from the Anchor Bay DVD. You also get David J Schow on Robert Bloch, Fiona Subotsky talking about her producer husband, the 'Two's Company' set report from 1972 and the Inside the Fear Factory Featurette.

Exclusive to the Second Sight Limited Edition is the rigid slipcase featuring excellent Graham Humphreys artwork, which is reproduced on one side of the fold out poster (the other side is the UK quad design but portrait-orientated). You also get a perfect bound book with essays by Allan Bryce (more history of Amicus that's different to the essay for HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD), Jon Towison (concentrating on the Bloch stories used here) and Kat Ellinger (a considerably more general piece this time around that doesn't really address the film at all).

ASYLUM is a great British horror film. In fact it may well be one of the greatest. If you're a fan then this is definitely the set to get.

ASYLUM is out on Blu-ray in a Limited Edition from Second Sight on Monday 29th July 2019

Saturday, 27 July 2019

A Young Man With High Potential (2018)

"Portrait of a Serial Killer - in the Making"

Originally shown in the Discovery Screen strand at last year's London Frightfest, the latest release in the Frightfest Presents series from Signature Entertainment is this grim, dispassionate, never less than fascinating piece from German director Linus de Paoli. 

Piet Carnell (Adam Ild Rohweder) is a brilliant computer sciences university student. He's also painfully shy, agoraphobic, completely socially inadequate and has no experience whatsoever of the opposite sex.

So it's a recipe for disaster when Piet's professor suggests to fellow classmate Klara (Pauline Galazaka) that she becomes his partner for a forthcoming project. Because besides being a girl, she's also attractive, vivacious, and has already been "admired from afar" by Piet.

All goes well at the beginning and the two start to get on. Just when you think our story might be veering towards something other than utter horror Klara spurns Piet's advances and by means of an accident she ends up unconscious at his place. 

       Things go from bad to worse to truly, nerve-tinglingly awful as first Piet undresses her, then gives in to his desires, with terrible consequences. But working out how to deal with what he has done is just the beginning of a long night of self-discovery for our young anti-hero.

A film that refuses to take sides but rather lets you ruminate on the outcome, A YOUNG MAN WITH HIGH POTENTIAL certainly suggests that as a result of the atrocity he commits, which then require him to face and overcome his many neuroses, Piet actually becomes better able to cope with the world at large. That message alone, along with the cold, clinical eye with which the movie observes certain proceedings, means it may be too much for some viewers, but if you're able to stay with it until the end you'll find yourself thinking about this one for long after it's over. I found it fascinating. Whether or not you now want A YOUNG MAN WITH HIGH POTENTIAL in your own head is up to you.

A YOUNG MAN WITH HIGH POTENTIAL is out now on VOD on the Frightfest Presents label from Signature Entertainment

Friday, 26 July 2019

The House That Dripped Blood (1970)

"Beautiful Presentation of a Horror Classic"

One of the finest anthology movies to be made by England's Amicus Films gets a gorgeous limited edition release from Second Sight.

Horror film star Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee) has disappeared. Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) discovers from a local police sergeant (John Malcolm) and an estate agent called Stoker (John Bryans, completing the framework story 'trilogy of Johns') that the house Henderson rented might have had something to do with it.

Using the title location as an excuse to package four Robert Bloch short stories, HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD achieves the admirable quality of swinging between psycho-crime thriller ('Method For Murder'), Peter Cushing & Joss Ackland being threatened by the really rather weird ('Waxworks'), Christopher Lee being upstaged by witchy four year old Chloe Franks ('Sweets to the Sweet') and comedy (the quite marvellous Pertwee facing off against an equally excellent Geoffrey Bayldon going full Ernest Thesiger in 'The Cloak'). 

There aren't many horror anthologies that can put their funny episode last and pull the entire thing off with such aplomb, but director Peter Duffell makes it all look easy.  Each episode very much has its own character (and facet of the house) but that doesn't detract from HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD working as a stylish, well made whole. It's one of the best of these kinds of movies Amicus made and while one can understand why Duffell didn't want to make any more one still wishes there could have been.

Second Sight's Blu-ray transfer looks absolutely wonderful if you've only seen the old Anchor Bay DVD, otherwise it sparkles in the same way the US Scream Factory Blu does. Extras are on the whole similar to that disc as well. The Troy Howarth commentary track which was new to that release has been carried over, as well as the Peter Duffell / Jonathan Rigby one from the DVD. There's an interview with second assistant director Mike Higgins and an archival featurette featuring interviews with Duffell, Franks and Bayldon. You also get radio spots, trailers and a still gallery.

Second Sight's Limited Edition also comes with a rigid slipcase showcasing some lovely Graham Humphreys artwork, a fold-out movie poster featuring the Humphreys artwork on one side and the US one-sheet poster art on the other, and finally a nice little book containing essays by Allan Bryce (an overview of Amicus and the film in question), Jon Towison (a nice piece on Robert Bloch, one of my all-time favourite writers) and a very decent essay by Kat Ellinger that gave this reviewer, who has watched THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD more times over the last forty years than I dare to count, a new angle from which to examine the film - great stuff. 

        THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD Limited Edition is a top quality package of a top quality 1970s British horror film. Well done to Second Sight for going the extra mile. Fans should snap this up, while those new to 1970s UK horror could do worse than start here.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD - Limited Edition is out on Blu-ray from Second Sight on Monday 29th July.