Sunday 30 April 2023

65 (2023)

"Adam Driver Vs. Dinosaurs! Well, a Bit."

After its cinema release back in March, writer-directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods' new science-fiction picture (they co-wrote A QUIET PLACE with John Krasinski) gets a digital rental and download-and-keep release from Sony.

En route from his home planet with a cargo of cryogenically frozen passengers, pilot Mills (Adam Driver) encounters a freak asteroid belt that hits his ship and sends it off course, crashing into the earth. The catch is that this is the earth of 65 million years ago, with all the prehistoric threat that implies. 

Most of the passengers are killed, the only survivor being nine year old Koa (Ariana Greenblatt). During the crash the emergency escape ship ended up at the top of a mountain so that's where Mills and Koa have to go. The problems are that they don't share a language, monsters who want to eat them might be in the way, and that cluster of asteroids looks headed towards the earth.

65 sounds great, doesn't it? The trailer makes it look pretty good as well, almost as if we're going to get a variation on THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT or some other Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired adaptation that back in the day might have starred Doug McClure as the stranded pilot.

Unfortunately, that's not what 65 is like at all. Instead it's like a script was pitched about a man who has to escort a little girl through a threatening wilderness while at the same time dealing with his own emotional pain and somebody said 'You know what would improve this? Spaceships and dinosaurs!' Sadly when we do get to the all-too-infrequent dinosaur encounters they're put together less with any emphasis at attempting suspense and more on trying to carbon copy scenes from other films, especially JURASSIC PARK.

So 65 ends up being a lot of interaction between Mills and Koa, and not a lot of scenes of Adam Driver fighting dinosaurs, which is a great concept and one worth paying to see, but it's not really this film. Anyway, if you fancy some highlights here's the (actually pretty good) trailer:

65 is now out on Digital Rental and Download-and-Keep from Sony

Saturday 29 April 2023

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)

"Superb UHD presentation of a Classic of World Cinema"

One of the best films ever made, Peter Weir's breakout Australian classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is getting the Second Sight whistles and bells treatment, and what a treatment it is, with double disc UHD and Blu-ray releases and a special limited edition containing both UHD and Blu-ray transfers of the film and a bunch of extra goodies as well.

If you've never seen PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK then prepare yourself for one of the most elegiac, perplexing, mystifying, beautiful films ever made, one which is so open to interpretation the finite answers some demand from the questions it asks will never (one hopes) be answered. Instead just revel in a film that offers us the environment of a private girls' school in Australia in 1900, in which the event of the disappearance of three of the girls and one of their teachers during a St Valentine's Day visit to the titular landscape feature causes repercussions within the surrounding community that the film then covers in detail. 

Second Sight's presentation is second to none, and one of the best UHD disc presentations to hit the format, so much so that if you don't own a UHD player then this one release is a reason to get one - it really is that good. But whether you plump for UHD or Blu-ray what you will get is the film and its extras spread over two discs, so let's take a look at what you get:

Disc One

This has a new 4K restoration of Peter Weir's director's cut of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, which runs about two minutes shorter than the original cinema release. For those unfamiliar, the cuts are mainly a sequence about 90 minutes in when Irma (Karen Robson) comes to visit Michael Fitzhubert (Dominic Guard). I'm not going to contextualise that in case those reading this haven't seen the film. 

        Disc One also includes a commentary track from Alexander Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, as well as the ported over Umbrella Entertainment two hour making of documentary. This is excellent features interviews with many of the cast and crew, and goes into plenty of detail.

Disc Two

The main feature is a new 4K restoration of the original theatrical cut, so if you want those extra bits Peter Weir cut out then go for this one - it looks just as gorgeous as the version on disc one. 

Extras here are mainly new ones by Second Sight and the supplement Disc One's Umbrella documentary very well. There's a new 11 minute interview with director of photography Russel Boyd and another 7 minutes with camera operator John Seale. Actress Karen Robson, unavailable for the Umbrella making of, is interviewed for 11 minutes, and Thomas Caldwell gives us a 23 minute visual essay on the film. 

Archival elements on disc two include executive producer Patricia Lovell's own 25 minute making of from 1975, and a 15 minute interview with Joan Lindsay (author of the novel on which the film was based) from the same year. Finally there are 12 minutes of out-take footage. 

The limited edition also includes a soft cover book with new and archival writing on the film, as well as the original novel, six art cards, and rigid slipcase to house everything. Second Sight's edition of PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK in one of the company's best releases so far. The 4K restoration is superb and the wealth of extras make it a must have. One of the releases of the year.

Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is out in two disc UHD and Blu-ray editions, and a limited edition with both formats and extras, on Monday 1st May 2023 

Saturday 22 April 2023

Swallowed (2022)

Writer-Director Carter Smith (THE RUINS) returns to the big screen with this noirish tale of smuggling gone horribly wrong. Benjamin (Cooper Koch) is about to leave his sleepy little town to become a gay adult film star in Los Angeles. His best friend Dom (Jose Colon) has an idea to make some money to give Benjamin to help start him off in the big city. 

        Unfortunately that idea involves ingesting a number of small packages for Alice (Jena Malone) so they can be smuggled across the Canadian-US border. The two get to the other side only for Dom to receive a blow to the stomach that causes one of the packages to rupture. Alice isn't pleased and neither is her boss (Mark Patton). The pair are dragged out to a remote shack in the forest where the nature of the bizarre packages is revealed.

SWALLOWED combines noir crime with another genre that might be a spoiler if I was to name it, suffice to say that this is a tense, tight little piece with excellent performances from everyone. Jena Malone is always a welcome sight (and often a mark of quality when it comes to outré cinematic subjects) while Mark Patton, still best known for playing the lead in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2) is quite excellent as a psychopathic murderous version of Joe Exotic. In fact if they ever do the Tiger King biopic he absolutely deserves a crack at the audition. Let's have a trailer:

SWALLOWED is out from Blue Finch Releasing on Digital Download on Monday 24th April 2023

Friday 21 April 2023

Full Circle (1977)


"Superb Presentation of a Previously Hard to See Classic"

After a near seven year journey on behalf of film historian Simon Fitzjohn, FULL CIRCLE, Richard Loncraine's film of Peter Straub's excellent first novel Julia gets a UHD and Blu-ray release on the BFI Flipside label. 

After a family tragedy in which their daughter Kate (an early role for Sophie Ward) chokes to death, Julia Lofting (Mia Farrow) separates from her manipulative husband Magnus (Keir Dullea) and buys a big old house in a posh part of London. Still trying to come to terms with her grief, Julia allows one of her friends (Jill Bennett) to bring a seance group to the house for a meeting. The medium (Anna Wing) claims she sees the ghost of a boy in distress but delving into the house's recent history reveals that the only child to live there was a little girl called Olivia.

More digging reveals that a little boy did die many years ago, not in the house but near it, and that Olivia may have been involved. Contacting Olivia's surviving playmates, Julia realises that she may be in the middle of a ghostly revenge plot.

Apparently the backers of FULL CIRCLE wanted a British version of THE EXORCIST. What they got instead was a measured, atmospheric, almost ethereal ghost story with bite, set in the moneyed-but-stagnant environment of Kensington, with a bunch of murders and a downbeat ending. It's a testament to Loncraine's skill and restraint that the film only occasionally erupts into full-blown melodrama and on the whole the film grips through subtlety and a lead performance that is at least the equal of Farrow's turn in Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY.

The BFI's Blu-ray is admirably packed with extras. These include a commentary track with the director and moderated by Simon Fitzjohn. 'A Holland Park Haunting' is 25 minutes with Richard Loncraine in which he discusses his life, career and the making of the film, explaining that he chose the 2.35:1 aspect ratio because 'that's how we see things'. 'What's That Noise' has Colin Towns giving us his life and career history and his involvement with the film. No piano solo from him, though, which would have been the ideal end to the 25 minute piece. 

        'The Fear of Growing Up' has actress Samatha Gates (who plays Olivia) discussing her career, while Simon Fitzjohn explores the locations of the film in 'Park Life'. Kim Newman discusses the film (and the novel) in 'A Haunting Retrospective' and there are also interviews with actor Tom Conti and associate producer Hugh Harlow. Finally, there are two still galleries, one with a commentary from Simon Fitzjohn. The release of this film has obviously been a labour of love for him and he can be justifiably pleased that it has finally had such an impressive presentation, which is easily one of the releases of the year.

Richard Loncraine's FULL CIRCLE is out in a dual format UHD and Blu-ray release on the BFI Flipside label on Monday 24th April 2023. It will also be available to watch from that date on iTunes and Amazon Prime. 

Monday 17 April 2023

Linoleum (2022)

"Touching Story of Discovery & Revelation"

That's about the best way I can think of to describe this one without spoiling it. Colin West's LINOLEUM has been described by other sources as a comedy, science fiction, surreal and as undefinable, all of which are just as appropriate. Having premiered at least year's London Film Festival it's now getting a digital release from 101 Films.

Cameron (Jim Gaffigan) is the 50 year old presenter of not-so-popular children's science programme Above and Beyond, now consigned to a late night slot. Cycling home one day a car falls out of the sky and a man crawls out bearing a startling resemblance to him. It turns out the man is his replacement for presenting the show.

Then a small rocket crash lands in Cameron's back garden. The authorities declare his house a no-go zone but Cameron sees it as his chance to rebuild the rocket and become the astronaut he has always wanted to be. Meanwhile his scientist wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn) is filing for divorce, and his teenaged daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) is having problems at school.

Things get stranger and stranger until the climax when everything is pulled together nicely and the story ultimately becomes very moving. LINOLEUM is reminiscent of Richard Kelly's DONNIE DARKO and if you liked that you'll definitely want to give it a look. Here's the trailer:

Colin West's LINOLEUM is out on digital from 101 Films on Monday 17th April 2023

Friday 14 April 2023

Creeping Horror (1933 - 1946)

Eureka continue their excellent work releasing classic Universal horror movies to Blu-ray and making them available to UK buyers with new and different commentary tracks to their US Shout Factory counterparts. This time round we get four films, so let's take a look at what's on the set:

Murders in the Zoo (1933)

A cracking example of early 1930s pre-code pulp horror, here we have Lionel Atwill as a big game collector whose wife, played by Kathleen Burke, only has to so much as look at another man for the unfortunate fellow to meet a horrible fate. Of course with this being pre-code, it's quite possible that Burke's character has been doing more than just looking at other men and may have driven poor old Lionel to his current state of homicidal insanity. 

He delivers his latest shipload of animals to an American zoo, and bumps off Kathleen's latest lover at a charity dinner using green mamba venom. But Kathleen is soon onto him and so the bodies have to start piling up. At just over an hour MURDERS IN THE ZOO is brisk murder-filled fun with Atwill stealing every scene he's in (of course). 

Eureka's print is slightly cut (by Eureka themselves apparently) for animal cruelty. Extras include an image gallery and a commentary track from the always reliable Kevin Lyons and Jonathan Rigby.

Horror Island (1941)

A cracking title for a so-so film and the least of this particular set (partly because all the others range from excellent to extremely watchable). Originally double-billed with MAN MADE MONSTER, HORROR ISLAND is more of a mystery romp than a horror picture. Wooden-legged (just the one, mind) Tobias Clump (Leo Carrillo) owns one half of a treasure map. The other half has been stolen by a mysterious character known only as the Phantom. Soon we have Dick Foran, Peggy Moran and a bunch of others all travelling to an isolated pirate castle where shenanigans ensue. HORROR ISLAND has been bundled in with several 'Universal Horrors' sets over the years but it always feel like the sore thumb of the bunch, as it does here. Commentary duties are again essayed by Kevin Lyons and Jonatan Rigby, who are much nicer to the movie that I have been here, and there's a still gallery. 

Night Monster (1942)

A 'B' movie programmer (the original 'A' was Universal's THE MUMMY'S TOMB, which is nowhere near as good a this) NIGHT MONSTER is a variation on the theme of a group of people being bumped off in an isolated country house location. But it's also rather weird, boasting a mix of mysticism and monsters combined with an excellent cast (Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwill, Ralph Morgan, Nils Asther and Leif Erickson) and a plot that must have had audiences opened-mouthed at the explanation for it all back in the day. I'm not going to say any more about the plot because that would be spoiling it, but NIGHT MONSTER might just be the best film on this particular set. 

Eureka's disc boasts a brand new commentary track by Kim Newman and Stephen Jones who are as enthusiastic as I am for this one, pointing out its unique properties, giving us some good background on director Ford Beebe, and I agree with Mr Jones that Janet Shaw should have had a lot more screen time in a lot more movies.

House of Horrors (1946)

The run of 'classic' Universal monster movies was close to its end by the time they made HOUSE OF HORRORS. Martin Kosleck (the real star of this one even though he's billed quite a way down the list) is impoverished sculptor Marcel DeLange, who receives sufficient bad notices for his work that he decides to drown himself. On the point of doing so he sees someone crawling out of the river. It's The Creeper (Rondo Hatton) whose acromegalic features inspire not just to stay alive but to sculpt again, with The Creeper as the subject. He also gives his new subject a home, but while DeLange sleeps The Creeper prowls, randomly murdering a prostitute before bumping off the critics who had given his new friend bad notices.

HOUSE OF HORRORS does feel a bit like a studio at the end of its inspiration, but it's still an entertaining piece of work, especially for fans. Kosleck is excellent but Hatton is not a great actor, and Universal's attempts to turn The Creeper into a series were not successful, with only one, the prequel THE BRUTE MAN being filmed. 

Eureka's extra for HOUSE OF HORRORS is a new commentary from Stephen Jones & Kim Newman who give the film (and its director, Jean Yarbrough) the enthusiastic appreciation it deserves. There's also a lengthier image gallery than for the other movies.

Creeping Unknown is coming out as a two disc Blu-ray set from Eureka on Monday 17th April 2023. 

Wednesday 12 April 2023

M3GAN (2023)


After its highly successful cinema release earlier this year, Blumhouse's M3GAN is getting a Blu-ray, DVD and digital release from Universal.

When the parents of nine year old Cady (Violet McGraw) are killed in a car crash, Cady goes to live with her aunt Gemma (Alison Williams, best known to horror fans for GET OUT). Gemma is a hot-shot robotics engineer at toy company Funki and is currently working on a modified design of the company's popular robot pet. When Alison finds her new job as a parent more difficult than she had imagined, she speeds up development on a side project she's been working on. A few modifications and M3GAN, a robot girl companion for Cady, is born.

Initially all goes well. Cady loves her new friend and the executives at Funki are happy to pour large amounts of money into a project they see selling for around $10 000 a unit. But M3GAN turns out to be a bit more protective of Cady than anyone might have foreseen.

A highly entertaining killer robot on the rampage picture with a healthy dose of satire, M3GAN runs along the same lines as Lars Klevberg's very enjoyable remake of CHILD'S PLAY from 2019. Whereas that film felt like an extended Black Mirror episode, once things get underway M3GAN is far more interested in being a fun pulpy piece of mayhem, and there's nothing wrong with that, especially as it has a bit more to say about how technology might view us than the average picture of this type. 

Universal's disc release gives you both the theatrical and 'Unseen' ie uncut versions of the film. Apparently the theatrical release had some of the murders trimmed after the distributor was made aware that younger children were copying M3GAN's dance moves on TikTok. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the uncut version gives us a bit more gory detail. Also included are three short (around five minutes each) featurettes - A New Vision of Fear which has interviews with cast and crew; Bringing Life To M3GAN which reveals that there was a lot more complex puppeteering work than you might have thought; and Getting Hacked which is gives more details on the making of the movie.

M3GAN Unseen Edition is out from Universal on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 17th April 2023 and it's already available on Digital Download

Friday 7 April 2023

The Invisible Man (1975)

"Blast From the Past SciFi TV"

Fabulous Films are releasing all 13 episodes of Universal's 1975 TV 'adaptation' (now there's a very loose use of the word) of H G Wells' novel as a Blu-ray or DVD box set.

Dr Daniel Westin (David McCallum) works at the Klae Corporation, a scientfic research think tank where he has been working on matter transmission. So far his work has had an interesting side effect wherein inorganic matter to be transported has instead been rendered invisible. The next step? Living tissue, of course! Next up is a rabbit. "You seem fine," says Dr Westin as the bunny reappears and before you can say 'Brundlefly' he's putting himself through the process.

It works, as does the serum he's developed to bring himself back. But it turns out there are plans for his research to be used by the military so he turns himself invisible once more, destroys his lab and goes on the run. He becomes visible again for only a short time before the process becomes permanent and he has to call on the expertise of colleague and plastic surgery specialist Nick Maggio (Henry Darrow) who creates a mask and hand-gloves for him. The pilot episode concludes with Westin uncertain about his future.

Presumably creators Harve Bennett (Six Million Dollar Man) and Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues) were also uncertain if their show would get picked up. It also explains why each episode of the subsequent series opens with a caption explaining Daniel Westin is now a sort of secret agent acting on behalf of the Klae Corporation with only his wife (Melinda Fee) and boss (Jackie Cooper in the film, Craig Stevens in the show) wise to his 'superpower'. While the pilot is dead serious, some of the TV episodes are played for laughs, almost as if the makers got bored  with the possibilities of the concept almost as soon as it was out of the gate. Fans of 1970s TV will get to see some familiar faces (Nancy Kovack, Roger C Carmel, John Vernon), a couple of episodes are written and / or produced by Leslie Stevens of Outer Limits TV fame, and the engaging TV series theme tune is by Henry Mancini. The show was a bigger success in the UK than the US, where Bennett and the gang had another go the following years with Gemini Man. Fabulous Films' set has all 13 episodes over three discs with no extras. 

The Invisible Man is out from Fabulous Films in a three disc DVD or Blu-ray set on Monday 10th April 2023

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Lola (2022)

After its hugely successful premiere at Frightfest in London last year, (and one of my favourite movies of 2022) Andrew Legge's unique and affecting science fiction movie gets a cinema release from Signature.

England 1941. Two sisters build a machine that can pick up broadcasts from the future. They christen the machine LOLA after their late mother, the first date they tune it to is 1973, and the first thing they see on LOLA's screen is David Bowie. The country is currently at war and it's not long before they are using LOLA to save lives, accurately predicting where and when air raid strikes are going to occur. Pretty soon the British military get in on the act and, with their cooperation, huge disasters are averted and thousands of lives are saved.

But there's a problem. By saving people who would have otherwise been killed LOLA is now altering the course of the future, with everything from music to the very future of the UK itself ending up radically changed. With the UK under German rule and very different recording artists to the ones with which we might be familiar now popular (singing some decent compositions courtesy of Neil Hannon) is there any way things can go back to the way they were?

LOLA was shot in black and white in 4:3 aspect ratio on hand-cranked grainy 16mm film. It's combination of the sisters' personal log, plus CG-altered newsreel footage of the time makes for a unique and effective way of telling this particular kind of SF story. Performances are excellent, particularly the two leads, and the story is so economically and skilfully presented that you'll feel you've watched something lasting rather longer than the running time of 78 minutes. LOLA is clever, creative, thought-provoking and extremely moving, and well worth catching on its cinema release. Here's the trailer:

Andrew Legge's LOLA is released by Signature Entertainment in UK cinemas on Friday 7th April 2023