Barry Forshaw’s DVD Choice
Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest DVDs on offer
Abbas Kiarostami, director/Artificial Eye
The fact that the star of Certified Copy, Juliette Binoche, won the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival demonstrates that there is some justice in the world, as this is a truly luminous performance in a film which makes considerable demands on its two leading players. Binoche’s affecting, nuanced playing is more than matched by the British opera singer William Shimmell, who demonstrates the same casual skill at film acting technique as he does when dealing with the music of the great composers. The film takes place over the course of one day in the Tuscan countryside and describes the growing relationship -- both real and imagined -- between two people who have just (it appears) met. In this splendid Blu-ray transfer, the image is both luminous and forensically detailed.
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Rodrigo Cortes, director/Icon
The word of mouth on this claustrophobic thriller has been remarkable - and the clammy tension generated by director Rodrigo Cortes is palpable. For those impatient for Ryan Reynolds’ turn wielding the power ring of Green Lantern (due later this year), here’s a reminder of what a capable actor he is – particularly as he has to carry the film alone.
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Dario Argento, director/Arrow
Arrow continues its welcome sprucing-up of the amazing oeuvre of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento with this beautiful new version of one of his more controversially received films. This visually stunning edition won’t change your view of the film, but Phenomena (and its star, Jennifer Connelly) has never looked more ravishing.
THE HARD WAY
Michael Dryhurst, director/Network
Given that it is one of the most stripped-down, nihilistic crime dramas ever filmed (the executive producer is John Boorman) – and that it stars a particularly charismatic and challenging actor, Patrick McGoohan, it’s something of a surprise that The Hard Way functions only fitfully. But there is a John Buchan-like vision of dangerous landscape and moment of bleak effectiveness not least concerning the edgy interaction between two hard-bitten hit men, the Irish Conner (McGoohan) and his American contact, McNeal (played by aging genre stalwart Lee Van Cleef). The interaction between McGoohan and his estranged wife (played by the Irish novelist Edna Obrien) is non-existent; they have one wordless, cold scene together – as he packs her off to safety when she is in the line of fire – and it’s hard not to discern McGoohan’s well-known catholic aversion to any kind of emotional or sexual involvement with women in his work (a stance, rigorously maintained in his two cult TV series Danger Man and The Prisoner). But this hole at the centre of the narrative (admittedly justified by the withholding Conner’s solitary personality) is further emphasised by the ill-judged direct-to-camera monologues Obrien is obliged to deliver about her absent spouse – and the fact that, as an actress, O’Brien is an excellent novelist. Nevertheless, Dryhurst’s paring down of narrative, dialogue and performance to a bare minimum pays divided, and the film has a cold, affectless sheen which commands attentions.
And now, a quartet of treasurable titles from an enterprising DVD company...
A BLONDE IN LOVE
Milos Forman, director/Second Run DVD
Second Run DVD has long put lovers of the best in world cinema in its debt by making available some of the most celebrated art films from past decades, but few titles are is likely to give such unalloyed pleasure as this much-loved early film by Milos Forman, made in his native Czechoslovakia before he achieved Hollywood success with such films as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. With affectionate humour and sharp observation, Forman tells the story of a shy factory girl whose romantic ideals are strained, living as she does in a small town bereft of men. A visiting pianist takes her fancy, but when she follows him to Prague, she finds that there is a major problem -- his parents. After the success of the director’s first film, Peter and Pavla, this is another example of the director’s unerring eye for the quirkier byways of human nature.
DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT
Jan Nemec, director/Second Run DVD
The director Jan Nemec’s debut feature, this is one of the most original and innovative products of a glorious period of Czech filmmaking from the 1960s. Using little dialogue, the narrative describes the terrifying journey of two teenage boys attempting to survive when they escape from a German train on the way to a Nazi concentration camp. Both the impeccable use of stark cinematography and soundtrack create a disturbing masterpiece.
THE THIRD PART OF THE NIGHT
Andrzej Zukawski, director/Second Run DVD
A strikingly surreal work by one of the most unorthodox (and neglected) talents of European cinema, this is a film that has gleaned many awards. Its unsettling vision will not be to everyone’s taste, but the picture of Nazi-occupied Poland is both acutely-observed and – most memorably -- unlike anything audiences had seen before. The digital transfer ensures that the film (made in 1971) comes up as fresh as paint).
Miklos Jancso, director/Second Run DVD
The 19th-century. A group of peasants are corralled by the members of the Austro-Hungarian army. Ruthlessly, using torture and brutal interrogations, the soldiers make an effort to discover the leader of the partisan group in the Kossuth revolution. This powerful and involving film was something of a calling card for its director Miklos Jancso, whose now-famous use of the tracking shot invests the film with an uncompromising directness. The material here is pared down to the minimum, but is all the more effective for that. One of the glories of world cinema.
Kevin S Tenney, director/ISIS/Eureka
With tongue very firmly in cheek, this is a wildly-over-the top smorgasbord of sex (much removing of tightly-stretched sweaters) and gore (much bloody sundering of bodies) delivered with great enthusiasm (and absolutely no finesse) by a director who has no aspirations to being a serious filmmaker – just to delivering the goods.
A TASTE OF EXCITEMENT
Don Sharp, director/ Odeon Entertainment
Don Sharp is widely regarded as one of the minor unsung glories of British commercial cinema; a director who could take conventional genre cinema and wring something individual and iconoclastic from it – while still delivering the imperatives for those who were paying his wages. This crime drama is perhaps his most neglected and little-known film, but is further proof that Sharp could take shop-worn material and give it a bracing transformation.
BRIGHTON ROCK Blu-ray
Roy Boulting, director/Optimum
As the remake appears, the original Brighton Rock (with Richard Attenborough making an indelible impression as Graham Greene’s murderous Catholic thug Pinkie) makes welcome reappearance, looking better than ever in Blu-ray. As the small time hoodlum running a protection racket at a Brighton racecourse, Attenborough has never been bettered. After the murder of a visiting journalist, Pinkie becomes involved with Rose (Carol Marsh) a caf� waitress and potentially dangerous witness. Marrying her seems to ensure her silence, but events escalate and eventually lead to Pinky’s undoing and a thrilling and memorable climax. Equally memorable are Hermoine Baddeley and William Hartnell. The screenplay was written for the screen by Greene himself – who famously changed his own novel’s original ending.
THE VALLEY (OBSCURED BY CLOUDS),
Barbet Schroeder, director/BFI
A memorable excavation, The Valley (Obscured by Clouds), the striking second feature from Barbet Schroeder (whose career includes such films as Barfly, Reversal of Fortune and Single White Female), appears from the BFI in one of their welcome Dual Format Editions (DVD and Blu-ray). Famously, the film’s spiritual and physical journey is scored to Pink Floyd’s cult soundtrack, later released as the album Obscured by Clouds. What is interesting is the fact that the film (when seen in the 21st century) is no drug-addled embracing of spiritual enlightenment, but a crushing denunction of the hippie dreams and its idealising of more primitive cultures.
SERJEANT MUSGRAVE’S DANCE
Stuart Burge, director/Network
With John Thaw and Patrick McGoohan in the leading roles, this is the powerful television production of John Arden’s celebrated play; the adaptation here was by Arden himself, and was originally broadcast in 1961 as one of Granada’s Plays of the Week. Serjeant Musgrave (Patrick McGoohan) and his small band of men arrive in an impoverished northern coal town, ostensibly on a recruiting drive; the residents also suspect them to have been sent to break up a strike. The truth is something else. Well worth seeking out, with indelible performance from the principals.
SHOCK LABYRINTH 3D
Takashi Shimizu, director/Chelsea Films
Japanese horror talent Takashi Shimizu, responsible for the influential Ju-on/The Grudge franchise, tackles eye-popping new territory with Shock Labyrinth 3D, which features both the 2D and 3D versions of Shimizu’s film, complete with two pairs of 3D glasses. Shimizu’s film is inspired by the world’s largest walk-through ‘haunted house’ (The Haunted Hospital at the Fuji-Q Highland theme park) and is the first Japanese film to be shot in HD Digital 3D.
H�l�ne Cattet and Bruno Forzani, directors/ Anchor Bay Films
The bloody delights of the Italian ‘giallo’ movie genre are splendidly referenced in Amer, the eye-opening debut feature created by co-writing and co-directing team of H�l�ne Cattet and Bruno Forzani. Having already gleaned a bushel of international film awards, it is a film that arrives awakening high expectations – but which delivers as promised. A homage to the visual style, of Italian directors such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, Cattet and Forzani’s striking piece largely eschews dialogue-free, in its erotic tale of sex, obsession and violent death.
THE FLYING SCOTSMAN
Castleton Knight, director/Optimum
Newly restored, here is a chance to see what is arguably the first full-length British feature film to use sound (most likely this was added later, in 1930). The Flying Scotsman showcases daredevil stunts performed on the eponymous locomotive (which traveled the London to Edinburgh route), and features the screen debut of Ray Milland (later to go on to Hollywood success in such films as Wilder’s The Lost Weekend and Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder). The new digital restoration looks splendid.
THE CROWDED DAY/ SONG OF PARIS
Various directors/BFI/Adelphi Collection
The third release from the BFI’s The Adelphi Collection is a cherishable double bill of vintage drama and comedy from celebrated British director John Guillermin (who later helmed such Hollywood epics as The Towering Inferno), released in a Dual Format Edition with Blu-ray and DVD discs of both films. The Crowded Day (1954) centres on five young women’s lives in a shop-floor drama, while Song of Paris (1952) is a charming romantic comedy.
THE OPEN DOOR
Doc Duchamel, director/Second Sight
High school actress Angelica wants to turn her life around, and when a new pirate radio station opens, she spots an opportunity. But she is to travel down the corridors of nightmare in this pulse-raising effort from a director who appears to be fully in control of his material.
RETRO – ACTION! VOLUMES 1, 2 AND 3 Blu-ray
Fascinating compendia of some striking vintage actions shows from television’s Golden Age, looking astonishing in High Definition. The sets are available exclusively from www.networkdvd.co.uk. All three volumes – retro-Action!, Volumes 1, 2 and 3 - contain iconic programmes from the ITC library,with standouts being those featuring Patrick McGoohan: an episode of Danger Man, No Marks For Servility, and the pilot episode of The Prisoner, Arrival.