Thursday 16 February 2017

What We Become (2017)

“Slow Burn Danish Zombie Picture”

And it very much IS a slow burn, but that’s actually the main reason I liked director Bo Mikkelsen’s suburban drama, which is getting a UK DVD release from Soda Pictures.

In a small suburb of the city of Sorgenfri, people are starting to become ill, exhibiting flu-like symptoms that won’t settle. Otherwise it’s middle class life as usual. Teenager Gustav (Benjamin Engell) is keen to befriend the girl who has just moved in next door, seven year old Maj (Ella Solgaard) loves her lop-eared bunny Ninus, and their parents Dino (Troels Lyby) and Pernille (Mille Dinesen) are coping with the everyday problems of family life.

Then the army moves in, the area is cordoned off with massive concrete blocks, and every family is warned to stay in their homes prior to being subjected to health checks. If they don’t pass they get carted off in big container trucks. The houses are sealed and food and water is brought to them as a quarantine process begins. No-one is allowed to leave, but Gustav is determined to find out what is going on.

The zombie bit of WHAT WE BECOME is really confined to the last twenty minutes or so. Prior to that, it does a very good job of building characters, developing a sense of insidious unease, and making what is happening feel very realistic indeed. It’s a bit like episode one of a good TV series, where you know the rest of it’s going to be quite different but you’re impressed at how they set it all up. Fans expecting non-stop zombie action will be disappointed, but this one’s actually not bad at all if you fancy something a tiny bit different (and well made and well acted).

Soda Pictures’ disc gives you two soundtrack options (both Danish with forced subtitles) plus a trailer. There are no other extras. 

WHAT WE BECOME is out on DVD from Soda Pictures on Monday 20th February 2017

Wednesday 15 February 2017

A Man For All Seasons (1966)

“As Fine a Slice of 16th Century Political Intrigue As You Can Get”

Fred Zinnemann’s excellent film version of Robert Bolt’s play about the political and religious intrigues that led to the execution of Sir Thomas More gets a dual format UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Eureka.

         England, 1530: King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) is married to Katherine of Aragon but wants a divorce as she is ‘barren as a brick’ according to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (Orson Welles). When the cardinal dies he names Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) as his successor as Lord Chancellor. Unfortunately Sir Thomas is a staunch Roman Catholic, refuses to support King Henry’s wishes, and when the monarch makes himself head of the church in England refuses to accept that as well.

Needless to say the king is displeased, and plans are made to discredit and despatch Sir Thomas. Unfortunately for everyone, More is not just honest and conscientious, he also happens to be well trained in the law, and thus begins a lengthy stay in the Tower of London, culminating in his trial for high treason.

         Historical movies are always a bit of a juggling act between avoiding going full Cecil B DeMille in an attempt to keep an audience interested, and getting your facts right. Faced with both this challenge and the fact that A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS was originally a play, Zinnemann did all the right things in getting Bolt to adapt his own script, breaking up the dialogue scenes with some interesting, almost dreamlike visuals (I especially liked his obsession with showing old buildings reflected in water) and, of course, recruiting a bunch of top-notch actors to keep those dialogue scenes interesting (the above plus Leo McKern, Wendy Hiller, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport and a young John Hurt amongst others). 

A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS deservedly won six Academy Awards (film, director, best actor for Scofield, screenplay, photography for Ted Moore and costumes  for Elizabeth Haffenden and Joan Bridge) and possibly deserved more - the music by Georges Delerue is sparse but effective, with the same lyrical quality as some of the imagery, especially the opening titles.

Eureka’s Blu-ray looks excellent, and we get a number of extras, including a feature length commentary from film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Lem Dobbs, a thirty minute highly informative talking head piece from Neil Sinyard, a documentary on Thomas More from 2007 if you want to know a bit more about him, and a booklet with new writing on the film from James Oliver. 

The dual format Blu-ray and DVD release of Fred Zinnemann's A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS is out from Eureka on Monday 20th February 2017

Tuesday 14 February 2017

I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016)

“Cracking Left-Field Quirky Original Indie Horror That's Well Worth Your Attention”

A British-Irish coproduction filmed in Minnesota, Billy O’Brien’s quirky, original and rather different horror picture gets a UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Spirit Entertainment.

Seventeen year old John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is worried he’s on course to become a serial killer, exhibiting as he does many of the traits that mark out sociopaths who then go on to kill. He’s still at school, but in his spare time he helps out his mum (Laura Fraser from BREAKING BAD and the BBC’s NEVERWHERE) at her mortuary.

The family business is especially busy at the moment because someone is killing people off in the small Mid-West town where they live. That someone is also mutilating the victims and removing organs. John decides to go on a hunt for the killer himself, but is what he discovers the truth or part of his irreversible slide into madness?

Billy O’Brien made the underrated ISOLATION (2005) which I reviewed here. While it would be difficult to say these two films are undoubtedly the work of the same man, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER does display the same quirky imagination, mixed with a fascination with the gloopier side of death. It’s difficult to say too much about the plot without giving things away (and this is one movie you need to discover for yourself), but the performances are all great, especially from Christopher Lloyd who plays one of John’s neighbours and may have something to do with what’s going on.

The movie is photographed in 16mm by DP Robbie Ryan that, coupled with the fashions and general atmosphere, gives the movie the cold, grim and grainy look of early Cronenberg. As well as being reminded of RABID (1976) you might also get a bit of a PHANTASM vibe as well, especially from the interesting Hammond / Wurlitzer organ music score from Adrian Johnston (which I’ll freely admit I loved).

Extras on the disc include ‘Mood Cut’. which is the short film O’Brien and team made five years ago (and also starring Max Records) in order to raise funding. You also get a comparison scene between that and the feature, deleted scenes, storyboards, and some special effects bits that would be giving the game away if I told you too much about them.
         Easily a candidate for one of the ten best films getting a disc release this year, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is best watched without knowing anything other than what I’ve told you above. The UK cover does a nice job of not giving anything away (unlike one of the posters out there) and if you’re a fan of movies that play things a little differently this one's definitely worth your time. 

Billy O'Brien's I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER is out on UK 
Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 20th February 2017

Monday 13 February 2017

Cover Girl (1944)

“Top-Notch Gloriously Colourful Musical”

All kinds of stuff drops through the letterbox here at House of Mortal Cinema, and here’s an item that was an unexpected treat as Charles Vidor’s vibrant, gorgeous 1944 picture for Columbia (with Gene Kelly on loan from MGM) gets a sparkling UK Blu-ray release from Eureka.

Rusty (Rita Hayworth) works as a dancer at a nightclub in Brooklyn owned by her boyfriend Danny (Gene Kelly). She enters a competition to be the cover girl for the anniversary issue of Vanity magazine, doesn’t get it, but eventually does because she reminds Vanity editor John Coudair (Otto Kruger) of his long lost love. Cue flashbacks (and songs) to John Coudair forty years previously (not Otto this time but Jess Barker) and Rita again, this time playing her own grandmother.

The cover shoot is a fabulous success and Broadway beckons. But should Rusty marry impresario and Julian McMahon lookalike Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman) but be unhappy forever, or go back to Gene and his happy dancing? Will anyone for even one minute not know what’s going to happen? Of course not, because this is a Hollywood musical made when they really knew how to. 

Even bearing that in mind, COVER GIRL is still hugely impressive. The costume design is stunning, making full use of the colour revolution but coming up with some seriously trippy outfits into the bargain. Kelly was given a fair bit of freedom to put together some of the dance routines, with the result that they’re more ambitious than you might expect for a film of the period. Kelly dancing with himself is innovative enough, and there’s a fabulous tracking shot during a routine that foreshadows what Kelly would do in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. Fans of Robert Greenwald’s XANADU (1980) will spot that Kelly’s character in that and this share the same name of Danny McGuire.

Eureka’s Blu-ray is stunning, preserving the original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, with colours so vibrant they virtually leap off the screen with the dancers. Blacks are rich and there’s a good level of grain but no picture noise. Extras are sadly mininal. It’s great having Baz Luhrmann talk about the picture but his piece is only four minutes long. Other than that you get a trailer and an isolated music and effects track and that’s it.

I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much from a mid-1940s musical but COVER GIRL really was a revelation. While the plot isn’t anything to crow about, the design and choreography are (Rita Hayworth’s descent on the Broadway stage set looks like it could have come from a mega budget version of THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI). Well worth a look even if you’re only slightly interested in movies of this type & this period. 

Eureka's Blu-ray of Charles Vidor's COVER GIRL is out on Monday 13th February 2017

Thursday 9 February 2017

The Crying Game (1992)

“Arguably Neil Jordan’s best. Inarguably a beautiful Blu-ray presentation”

Neil Jordan’s 1992 tale of sexual intrigue against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, and the final (co)production from Britain’s Palace Pictures, THE CRYING GAME gets a lovely dual format Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of the BFI.

Despatched to Northern Ireland, British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker) gets seduced by Jude (Miranda Richardson) as part of a kidnap plot by the IRA. He strikes up a relationship with his captor, Fergus (Stephen Rea), asking that, should anything happen to him, Fergus should seek out Jody’s girlfriend Dil (Jaye Davidson) in London.

When the abduction ends in gunfire and explosions, Fergus leaves for England and ends up in a curious love triangle with both Dil and the memory of Jody (at least that’s how I read it). But the past (and Jude) catch up with him and Fergus soon finds himself being coerced into resuming his old life. But will Dil let him? Assuming she finds out about it in the first place? 

Britain’s Palace Pictures, headed by producer Stephen Woolley and executive producer Nik Powell, gave us some of the best films of the 1980s, and helped cement the reputation of Neil Jordan by making THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984), MONA LISA (1986) and this. Well, part of this. Anyone familiar with the documentary about Palace Pictures shown on the BBC many years back will remember that the phones in their office were being cut off due to unpaid bills just as the first bits of THE CRYING GAME were being shot. Consequently, Woolley and Powell had to cobble the financing together from all over the place. Miramax turned it into a hit, but it was too late to save Palace.

Ah, the irony of the movie business. Arguably Palace’s best film was the one they made just slightly too late to save them. And 25 years later THE CRYING GAME is still a great picture - an engrossing love story with great performances, careful, sensitive direction, and a fine screenplay that deserved its Oscar win.

The BFI’s new release comes with a Neil Jordan commentary, a 51 minute making of, the alternative ending that was shot to keep the money men happy and then binned (plus commentary track), trailers, a booklet and the short film Northern Troubles. The transfer looks fantastic, the lush countryside of the first act contrasting with the brighter, gaudier, almost ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS-style look of the Metro pub where Dil sings. THE CRYING GAME is arguably Neil Jordan’s best, and this presentation absolutely does it justice.

Neil Jordan's THE CRYING GAME is out from the BFI in a dual format edition on 20th February 2017. There's also a screening of the film at BFI Southbank on 15th February 2017 with Neil Jordan, Stephen Woolley, Stephen Rea and possibly others in attendance for a Q&A

Wednesday 8 February 2017

We Are The Flesh (2016)

“Either Unmissable or Unwatchable Extreme Hard Core Art House Horror”

         That’s my attempt to sum up WE ARE THE FLESH in a single sentence. It’s a very peculiar, very intense Mexican movie that’s getting a presumably (and surprisingly considering everything that goes on in it) uncut UK Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Arrow Films on 13th February, when you can find out for yourself which you think it is. I don't imagine there's going to be much middle ground. 

         We open on heavy breathing as we see the very strange Mariano (Noe Hernandez) distilling something (?paraffin ?drugs ?life itself) from a mixture of mouldy bread and goodness knows what else. He lives in a squalid building into which wander down on their luck brother and sister Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (Maria Evoli). 

         Mariano offers to take them in as long as they’ll help build his massive cardboard cavern. Oh, and have sex with each other, graphically. Indeed, the sexual activities and lingering shots of various nether regions in this made me wonder if director Emiliano Rocha Minter was ever sent home with a school report that said ‘Emiliano is getting along well in art, even if he does exhibit a somewhat unhealthy preoccupation with genitalia’.

         Things become even more outrageous and insane as a Mexican soldier is captured and slaughtered in between lots of arty shots and lots of sex. The film ends on a note of outrageous, extrovert craziness leaving you wondering quite what you’ve watched.
         Not everyone is going to get on with WE ARE THE FLESH. In fact I think I can safely say the audience for this one is going to be limited. Minter has an interesting directorial style and a warped imagination to go with it. The only previous movies this reminded me of were the more insane scenes in hell from the Jose Mojica Marins ‘Coffin Joe’ movies from Brazil, and if you found those to be too much then you should stay well away from this one.

Arrow’s Blu-ray looks great and includes interviews with the director and the principal cast members. You also get two of the director’s previous short films - DENTRO and VIDEOHOME, as well as a new video essay by Virginie Selavy, stills and a reversible sleeve. The first pressing also comes with  a collectors booklet featuring new writing on the film by Anton Bitel. 

Emiliano Rocha Minter’s WE ARE THE FLESH is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Arrow Films on Monday 13th February 2017

Saturday 4 February 2017

Rings (2017)

“In which Samara's Well Has Truly Run Dry”

The poster for this one hanging in our local cinema right now claims an October 31st release date for this one. The poster up there also seems to think this should have been released at another time. Having watched RINGS this afternoon I would have to say that a better alternative release date for this one would be never, rather than its actual UK release date of 3rd February 2017.
Yes, sorry everyone but RINGS is rubbish and, if nothing else, proves that screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is still capable of ruining a franchise all these years after his crap-stained fingertips starting hitting the keyboard to give us the bag of noisy confusion that was BATMAN FOREVER (1995).

A more fun thing to do than watch RINGS
I may be wrong in blaming Mr Goldman for RINGS being the uninspired tedium that it quickly becomes, but that’s only because as you watch this one, there’s the definite feeling that there are at least two other, vastly more entertaining, movies struggling to emerge from the mire.
RINGS opens with a cracking prologue set on a plane that makes you think it’s going to be the FINAL DESTINATION 6 some of us are still hoping will get made someday. Then we get about twenty minutes of a promising idea where it seems mad scientist Johnny Galecki is trying to get his entire university class to watch the cursed videotape in some bizarre leapfrogging experiment that’s bound to go wrong and lead to the world being invaded by a horde of Sadakos...sorry...Samaras.
Isn’t it?
Isn’t it?

Stop watching it, Johnny!
A third of the way into RINGS everything... just... stops, and it turns into one of those horrible, generic, cliched, and worst of all extremely dull ‘laying a ghost to rest’ plots that kills any interest or enthusiasm you might have been harbouring for this one stone dead. The plot is hackneyed, the dialogue is terrible, Vincent D’Onofrio turns up as a blind cemetery caretaker and his identity is probably meant to be a twist to people who have spent the last forty years safely closeted away from any kind of film ever. The leads are dull as ditchwater, the only interesting and watchable performance coming from Galecki who isn’t in this anywhere near as much as he should be.
RINGS is crap. Even SADAKO VS KAYAKO, Japan’s own misjudged monster bash between two scary characters whose main selling point is lurking rather than actually saying or doing anything very much, is better than this. I’m not suggesting you watch that either, by the way, but I am saying you should definitely spend your money on something other than RINGS.

RINGS is out in UK cinemas now. Go and watch something else.