Friday 21 July 2023

May (2003)


Director Lucky McKee's feature debut gets a whistles and bells Blu-ray release from Second Sight.

May (Angela Bettis) has always been socially awkward, not helped by her suffering a lazy eye as a child which led to bullying. She's desperate to make at least one friend but doesn't know how to go about it. Getting a job as a veterinarian's assistant introduces her to Polly (Anna Faris), and soon she's also beginning a stuttering relationship with film-maker Adam (Jeremy Sisto). But her awkwardness and inability to deal with the complexities of human behaviour leads to gory tragedy.

MAY is a sharp, smart, decidedly quirky piece which premiered at Sundance in the US and Dead By Dawn here in the UK. Its success is rooted in a strong central performance from Bettis, ably assisted by the actors around her. McKee's direction lends the film a (seemingly unknowing according to the director in an interview on this disc) sense of sick, uncomfortable humour that, combined with all the above, means MAY deservedly fits the appellation of cult classic.

Second Sight have served the film well in terms of extras, giving us no less than three commentary tracks - one academic from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and two featuring cast and crew including McKee on both.

Other extras include interviews with McKee (25 minutes), Sisto (11 minutes), actor James Duval (17 minutes), coeditor Rian Johnson (yes KNIVES OUT Rian Johnson - 19 minutes), DP Steve Yedin (13 minutes), composer Jammes Luckett (24 minutes) and coeditors Chris Siverton (21 minutes) and Kevin Ford (17 minutes). From Frankenstein to May is a 21 minute video essay by Miranda Corcoran and you also get 15 minutes of behind the scenes footage. Finally there's a 70 page book, art cards, and a rigid slipcase to keep it all in.

Lucky McKee's MAY is out in both limited and standard edition Blu-ray sets on Monday 24th July 2023

Monday 10 July 2023

9 (2009)

"Rather Marvellous, Actually"

Shane Acker's feature length version of his Oscar-nominated animated short gets a Blu-ray and DVD release from Fabulous Films.

We're in a post-apocalyptic future where humankind has been wiped out by the machines they created. Before he died, a scientist created nine small creatures of cloth and metal, and tasked them with saving the earth's future. To do so they have to overcome their differences and take on giant metal creatures far more powerful than they.

With a plot that sounds like average kiddie matinee animated fare (or maybe I've just made it sound like that) regular readers will be pleased to learn that the animated classic 9 reminded me of most was Martin Rosen's classic 1978 version of WATERSHIP DOWN. Here we have another movie where all the lead characters are not human, where not all of them survive, and where there are plenty of bits to terrify the average five year old and shock the average older kid into sitting up and paying attention. 

The CGI animation is well-rendered, giving a delicious Phil Tippett-style stop motion feel to the mechanical monstrosities, and was that a Kurt Vonnegut reference I spotted about halfway through? 

Voice talents include Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connolly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Crispin Glover in the role you'd most expect Glover to take in this. It's all very good, very creative stuff and I'm actually quite surprised this passed me by back in the day.

Extras on Fabulous Films' disc include a commentary track with co-writer and director Acker plus animation director Joe Ksander, Head of Story Ryan O'Loughlin and editor Nick Kenway. All of them turn up again on the making of featurettes. You also get the original ten minute short which is well worth a look after the main feature, and there's a commentary track for that as well. There are seven minutes of deleted scenes (as animatics and storyboards with dialogue) and you even get a tour of the Starz animation studios by an enthusiastic Acker. All good stuff.

Shane Acker's 9 is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 10th July 2023

Sunday 9 July 2023

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Writer-producer-director plus fashion designer (seriously - he's been the creative director at both Gucci and Yves St Laurent) Tom Ford's most recent feature gets a Blu-ray and DVD release from Fabulous Films.

Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) runs a successful business and is married to handsome Hutton (Armie Hammer) but still feels her life is empty. She received a package from writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), her ex-husband of nineteen years ago. It's an advance copy of his new novel Nocturnal Animals, dedicated to her and accompanied by a note claiming she inspired its plot.

As Susan begins to read she becomes immersed (as do we) in the tragic and violent tale of Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal again) and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) who are set upon by three thugs on a stretch of lonely road in Texas. Only Tony survives the night and he ends up working with a cancer-riddled lawman (Michael Shannon) to track down the men and exact bloody revenge.

Switching via a number of clever transition devices between 'real' life and the novel, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS does a fine job of depicting Susan's world as empty and listless while Tony's world is filled with colour and energy, albeit of a most violent kind. So vivid (and violent) are the scenes from the novel that's it's often difficult to remember that we are being presented with fiction as it's a far more engaging narrative than Susan's. 

Casting is excellent, with some welcome turns from Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, Jena Malone and Laura Linney, with Aaron Taylor-Johnson a standout as a memorably terrifying villain. All these performances plus Ford's skill mean that NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is an intense and at times gruelling watch, all in the very best way. Fabulous Films' disc has an 11 minute making of with interviews with cast and crew. It's brief but worth watching.

Tom Ford's NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is out on Blu-ray and DVD from Fabulous Films on Monday 10th July 2023

Friday 7 July 2023

Sisu (2023)


"If John Wick Fought in World War II"

After its cinema release a little while ago SISU, a blood-drenched action-packed war movie from Finland, gets a digital release from Sony.

SISU isn't a person, by the way. From the off we are told (and again later on in case we didn't catch it) that 'sisu' is an untranslatable Finnish word that describes white-knuckle determination despite all hope being lost. Which is pretty much what the following 90 minutes delivers.

It's 1944 and the Nazis are under instruction to clear out of Finland. Aatami (Jorma Tommila) has turned his back on the war and ekes out an existence in the wilderness as a gold prospector. But that's not going to be for much longer because one day he strikes it rich. 

Unfortunately, having dug a large quantity of gold out of the ground and packed it in his saddlebags, he runs straight into a Nazi military convoy headed out of the country. The soldiers know they are losing the war, and may well face execution for their crimes. Aatami's gold just might provide a means of escape. All they have to do is take it from him, which proves to be rather more difficult that they could ever have anticipated.

SISU feels like a cross between JOHN WICK and RAMBO, but with a much older but no less resourceful and resilient central character. Like both of those action heroes, Aatami has a past, which the Nazis discover too late, and after many of their number have already been despatched by knife, machine gun, and even a few mines thrown through the air for good measure. It's all ridiculous but utterly entertaining stuff, with some gorgeous landscapes as a backdrop. If seeing Nazis being blown to pieces for the best part of 90 minutes is your thing (and if not why not) then SISU is just the ticket. Here's the trailer:

SISU is out on digital to buy or rent from Sony on Monday 10th July 2023

Thursday 6 July 2023

The Gates (2023)

 A British horror film set in the Victorian era? With something nasty haunting a prison? Let's take a look, then, as Stephen Hall's THE GATES gets a digital release from 101 Films.

It's 1892 and notorious serial killer (at least 28 victims) William Colcott (Richard Brake, turning in a decent bit of villainy as usual) is interrupted during the latest of his attempts to bring his dead wife back to life, arrested, banged up in Bishopsgate Prison and sentenced to death in the electric chair, a device 'on trial' from America prior to its 'permanent use in Pentonville prison.'

Well if you say so.

Meanwhile Fredrick Ladbroke (John Rhys-Davies) and his niece Emma (Elena Delia) make a living from photographing the dead. They've also invented a machine they claim can summon spirits from the afterlife. When they are summoned to take Colcott's death image they become embroiled in supernatural goings on and end up working with spiritualist Lucian Abberton (Michael Yare) to take on the horror that is permeating the prison.

Doesn't that all sound great? So it's a shame to report that, the two lead performances aside, THE GATES is a solemnly dull affair with stilted direction and stagey acting. Rhys-Davies and Delia are excellent, have splendid chemistry, and I would pay to see these same characters in a different film having a different adventure made by different people. The film never works up any suspense, is far too long at nearly two hours, and is in desperate need of something like a good music score to push things along. It doesn't have one of course. Instead it's one of those dull, grating soundscape things that some people seem to think can pass as an excuse for movie music these days. 

Having put my stick away I'll add that the locations are excellent and the opening fifteen or so minutes are reasonably executed, promising far better than what actually transpires. With its setting, story and great lead characters I really wanted to like this one. Instead I had trouble staying awake. 

THE GATES is out on digital from 101 Films on Monday 3rd July 2023

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Missing (2023)

"Riveting Cyber Thriller Best Watched Cold"

Which is why I'm not going to tell you too much about MISSING, the new thriller from executive producer Timur Bekmambetov (the man behind IT-inspired pictures like SEARCHING (2018), HARDCORE HENRY (2015) and the UNFRIENDED pictures) that's out now on both download and keep and digital rental from Sony. 

June (Storm Reid) is eighteen and is still having trouble coming to terms with the death of her father many years previously. Her mother Grace (Nia Long) jets off to Columbia with new boyfriend Kevin (Ken Leung) with instructions for June to pick them up from the airport when they come back.

Except they don't come back.

Using a combination of webcam footage, hacked email accounts and even the help of a friendly Columbian handyman (Joaquim de Almedia from the FAST & FURIOUS franchise) via WhatsApp June slowly begins to trace her mother's last known footsteps, uncovering at the same time what seems like a murky past her mother has never told her about.

The original story for MISSING is by Sev Ohanian, who also came up with the story for SEARCHING. Nicholas D Johnson and Will Merrick provide screenplay and directorial duties and they, too worked on SEARCHING (as editors). It's not surprising, then, that MISSING looks and feels a lot like a follow up to that 2018 film,  and in fact if you're familiar with it you may find yourself trying to guess what's going on and finding the creative team have blindsided you, as I'm sure was their intention. Apart from a climax that's a little contrived, MISSING is riveting stuff and if you're a fan of the movies listed in the opening paragraph then MISSING is going to be a must-see as well.

MISSING is out on both download and keep and rental digital from Sony now