Sunday 21 January 2018

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

"Arguably the Best Sherlock Holmes Film Ever Made"

Eureka continues its releasing of Billy Wilder films on UK Blu-ray (hooray!) with his marvellous Sherlock Holmes picture from 1970 starring Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson.

A locked strongbox at a London solicitors contains the Holmes adventures Dr Watson wrote about, but never submitted for publication on account of their delicate nature. First off is the attempts of famous Russian ballerina Madame Petrova (a fairly terrifying Tamara Toumanova) to get Holmes to be the father of her child. Less a 'case' and more an excuse for Clive Revill (as Madame Petrova's manager) to do some entertaining mugging as he and Stephens engage in some of Wilder and I A L Diamond's crackling dialogue, it's perhaps understandable that audience of the period were befuddled as to what the mystery of this story was intended to be (of course, there isn't any).

The second, much lengthier, tale takes the Conan Doyle story A Scandal in Bohemia as its jumping off point, but again things aren't straightforward as Holmes and Watson investigate submarine skullduggery off the coast of Scotland. There should have been other tales but the movie was cut down from its original run time of 200 minutes to the 125 minute print we have now.

A flop on its initial release, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES  is far less about Holmes solving cases and far more about Holmes and Watson the men. As such the lead performances are marvellous. Robert Stephens plays Holmes as brilliant but almost constantly exasperated, with the suggestion of deep emotional scars being to blame, while Blakely plays Watson as a marvellous, down to earth and good-natured rugger bugger of a doctor.

Eureka's Blu-ray transfer is in 1080p. The print looks sparking in places but rather faded, worn and speckled with dots in others. One presumes a restoration of this is not on the cards any time soon. Extras include a new 20 minute interview with Neil Sinyard, plus stuff ported over from previous Region 1 MGM and Kino releases. These include 50 minutes of The Missing Cases - a mixture of audio, script pages, stills and surviving footage, an interview with Christopher Lee (who plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft), an interview with editor Ernest Walter, audio of the deleted epilogue and a trailer. You also get a booklet with new writing on the film from Philip Kemp. 

Billy Wilder's THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES is out on UK Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 22nd January

Thursday 18 January 2018

Phenomena (1985)

"Great Transfer of an Argento Classic With New Extras"

Arrow Films strike again with a 4k transfer of Dario Argento's 1985 thriller that mixes schoolgirls, a crazed killer, a chimp called Inga and a Great Sarcophagus fly who is never named.

Jennifer Connolly is Jennifer Corvino, who has the curious ability to be able to communicate with insects. She's sent by her film star father to one of those private girls' school we only ever see in Italian films, so we shouldn't really be surprised when it turns out there's a killer who is bumping off the pupils. Jennifer uses her ludicrous skill to find the ludicrous killer leading to a finale so utterly ludicrous one can only conclude that PHENOMENA is a film that is nothing short of genius.

Poorly received on its initial release, PHENOMENA was cut to bits in the UK and retitled CREEPERS. Shown (in London cinemas only) only the bottom half of a double bill with Tom Holland's FRIGHTNIGHT, it was reviewed on the BBC's Film programme with the comment that 'Donald Pleasence should use his salary from this movie to buy up every copy and burn it'. When it hit VHS on the Palace label it did very well, of course, but it was many years before UK audiences got to see it as nature (and Argento) intended.

And pretty much all those opportunities have been courtesy of Arrow Films, who now present PHENOMENA in a brand new 4k restoration of the original 116 minute Italian cut of the film (CREEPERS came in at under 90). So does it look better than Arrow's previous Blu-ray release, also issued in a very nice limited steelbook which is the edition we have here at HMC? All I'll say is that if you're a PHENOMENA nut you will want the upgrade, but otherwise Arrow's previous Blu is perfectly adequate.

Extras are different. Here we get a feature-length making of, plus the Jennifer music video. There's still no sign in the UK of the Argento / Stivaletti / Simonetti commentary track recorded for the US Anchor Bay release. At least we do get a commentary track this time (previous releases have had none), with Troy Howarth doing the honours and telling us all about the movie.

Soundwise there's a new 5.1 DTS-HD surround mix for the Italian version, plus a new English / Italian hybrid soundtrack in lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo. This is a very nice package from Arrow & if you've never seen PHENOMENA on Blu-ray then this is the one to get. Those who have the previous release will hopefully now have a better idea of if they want to get this version or not.

Dario Argento's PHENOMENA is out on dual format from Arrow in a new release version from Monday 15th January 2018

Sunday 14 January 2018

Kills On Wheels (2016)

Thoroughly Entertaining Hungarian Wheelchair-Based Action Thriller

Here's something different, and if you fancy a change from the usual Hollywood multiplex fare this is well worth checking out. Attila Till's gritty, brutal and yet ultimately uplifting thriller is getting a dual format release from Eureka.

Best friends Zoli (Zoltan Fenyvesi) and Barba (Adam Fekete) both suffer from congenital physical developmental abnormalities that mean they spend their dull days in a long-term rehabilitation facility. Zoli needs life saving surgery because his spine is starting to curve to such an extent that his internal organs are beginning to crush one another. 

Zoli's long-absent father is willing to pay for the operation but Zoli doesn't want him to. Enter wheelchair-bound hit man Rupasov (Szabolcs Thiroczy, looking like an older Jeremy Renner) who has just been released from prison and who still has connections to various crime syndicates. He has a scheme to help make Zoli the money he needs - by the two friends helping him bump off the hits he gets assigned. 

Gritty and grim, and pulling no punches as regards the abilities (and disabilities) of its three leads, KILLS ON WHEELS does a marvellous job of giving centre stage to the kind of characters that are too often only on the sidelines in movies, if present at all.  

A lot of the PR for KILLS ON WHEELS calls it a comedy. I didn't find much of it very funny, which is not to do the film down at all - it's really very good indeed - but don't go in expecting barrels of wheelchair-based laughs or you're going to be disappointed. 

Refreshingly uncategorisable, the film swings from downbeat to funny to blood-soaked to incredibly emotionally warm and moving by turns with never a mis-step. Eureka's disc only has the trailer as an extra but don't let that put you off getting this - I wouldn't be at all surprised if this turns up on best of lists in years to come, although best what I'll leave to the list compilers to decide.

Attila Till's KILLS ON WHEELS is out on dual format DVD & Blu-ray from Eureka on Monday 15th January 2017

Sunday 7 January 2018

Wind River (2017)

"Excellent, Gripping and Surprisingly Moving Crime Thriller"

That warm feeling that we're only a couple of days into the year but already I can start my 'Best Of Year' nominees list has been triggered this year by WIND RIVER, a crime thriller set in snowy Wyoming and getting a digital download, DVD & Blu-ray release from STX / Sony this month.

Jeremy Renner is Cory Lambert, a tracker whose main job is to keep local predators under control. While hunting a family of mountain lions who are killing cattle, Cory happens upon the frozen body of Native American Natalie (Kelsey Asbille). Rookie FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in. She soon finds investigating a murder on an Indian reservation with few law enforcement officers and resistance from the local white workforce to be a challenge she will need all of Cody's tracking skills to help with.

Very much a character piece (althought there's action when the plot demands it), WIND RIVER offers us measured performances, careful direction, and some stunning location photography. The film is not so much a whodunit as an observation piece on how and why such crimes happen, and the reaction of the society in which they do. The leads are excellent and writer-director Taylor Sheridan offers a fine comparison between the stark landscape and the stark brutalities those who live there are capable of.

The one mis-step in WIND RIVER, if only from my point of view, is that quite a bit of the dialogue is mumbled to the point of being unintelligible, especially early on. Sony's Blu-ray does have subtitles, but of the kind that lets you know there is 'ominous music' on the soundtrack, or that the 'ominous voices continue' which does detract a bit from the atmosphere. 

The movie looks stunning on Blu-ray, and extras include a couple of deleted scenes and three short behind the scenes featurettes with Renner, Olson and Sheridan. 

Very good indeed and surprisingly moving, WIND RIVER is an excellent gloomy crime piece that's deserving of a look when it's out later this month. 

Taylor Sheridan's WIND RIVER is out from STX & Sony on digital download on 8th January 2018, and on DVD & Blu-ray on Monday 22nd January 2018

Monday 1 January 2018

Felicity (1978)

“Bumper Package of John D Lamond Ozsploitation Classics”

       If the term Australian Erotica sounds like a bit of an oxymoron then it’s unlikely your opinion is going to be changed by this package of three (!) movies from the late 1970s, all produced by John D Lamond and now getting a UK release on Blu-ray for the first time courtesy of Severin Films.

The ‘A’ feature here is FELICITY. Shot in the same bright travelogue style as Just Jaeckin’s EMMANUELLE, it details the adventures of its title character (played by Glory PREY Annen), starting off in a girls' boarding school run by at least one nun who can’t mime playing the piano. Felicity spends her time reading The Story of O and getting up to beneath the sheets fumbling with her classmates in the grimmest-looking girls’ dormitory ever committed to film.

A birthday gift from her father sees Felicity travelling to possibly the wettest, most miserable version of Hong Kong ever depicted in a film of this type. She stays with an older couple who take her to a pool party where it’s so cold you can see everyone’s breath. Felicity gets seduced on the bonnet of his car by a gentleman with an enormous moustache (it's not the moustache that does the seducing before you get excited). Then she gets taken on tour of what look like the backstreets and ghettos of Hong Kong by a Chinese girl she befriends, culminating in one of those bathhouse-type scenes where you feel relieved for her to finally be inside somewhere warm.

       Numerous sexual encounters later, Felicity falls for a nice Australian bloke (Aha!) and the final act of the movie is about them breaking up and getting back together again. If you’re a fan of 1970s sexploitation you’ll probably want to see FELICITY as it seems to be considered by some as one of the classic softcore films of the period.  

The same might not be said of the two other films on here. ABCS OF LOVE & SEX: AUSTRALIA STYLE starts off very strangely with some animation before launching into a terrible song and dance number for its opening titles. After that the film plummets downhill as it shambles through the alphabet. AUSTRALIA AFTER DARK is a pretend-documentary that tries to suggest the country has a dark side full of oddball / sexy / sleazy goings on but is best viewed with your best comedy hat on and plenty of coffee to keep you awake.

       You have to hand it to Severin, though. As well as all the above you get commentary tracks on all three films, plus interviews with Glory Annen, John D Lamond and cinematographer Gary Wapshott. A terrific value bundle if this is your sort of thing.

FELICITY is out on Blu-ray now from Severin Films