Barry Forshaw’s DVD Choice

Barry Forshaw’s pick of the latest DVDs on offer

EMPIRE STATE Blu-ray

Ron Peck, director/Network

There is a growing cult interest in this intelligent, flawed, colourful and over-ambitious 1987 effort (shot through with a distinct homoerotic strain) from director Ron Peck. The film is an attempt to synthesise elements of The Long Good Friday (notably the latter’s scabrous political commentary on the voracious acquisitiveness of Thatcherism) and Mona Lisa in a stylised and vivid eighties clubland thriller which is finally compromised by its stretched resources; Ron Peck (who made an impact with the gay-themed Nighthawks in 1978) simply doesn’t have the cadre of acting talent to meet his narrative ambitions; pros such as Martin Landau (at his most oleaginous) and Ray McAnally hold their own, but throw into stark relief the struggling, lesser-known principals who simply lack the acting chops for the demands Peck makes on them. The film utilised the resources of a British Screen Film Finance/Film Four production budget, and sets its gangster action and bare-knuckle fighting in the sexually-charged camp of the eighties East End club scene (as represented by the Empire State nightclub, which despite its elaborate trappings, has, in the film, a distinctly pop-up nightclub air). Peck is at his most trenchant on the complaisance of dockland entrepreneurs, focused on sweeping away the seediness of the run-down East End that is clogging up potentially remunerative real estate -- even though there is little nuance in his picture of yuppie venality (the speculators – to a man and a woman -- are an unappetising bunch).

London’s then-to-be-developed Docklands are the focus for the strip-mining of Britain’s colliding social strata, in as setting where disparate lives uneasily intersect. The Thameside area has possibilities for both social groups (playground of the rich, and an escape from poverty and squalor for the impoverished working class inhabitants, but it’s the latter who are shown getting screwed) This is also the battleground for a primeval conflict between the hard men who have ruled the East End for decades, and – set against them -- the ruthless new breed of racketeers. The interaction between these groups and the moneyed incomers is encapsulated in the smooth, viperous Chuck, an American with �3 billion to spend (and a taste for rough stuff with cockney rent boys). Chuck manipulates his eager business colleagues with promises of potential investments, while the young, blond, heavily-accented and none-too-bright Pete from the regions comes to find a friend in London (anywhere beyond the Watford Gap is seen here as hinterlands to be fled from as quickly as possible) to find a friend, who has disappeared in the glossy corridors of the Empire State. Chuck and Pete, though, are only two of the film’s large ensemble cast, none of whom are concentrated on at the expense of others. The film’s problem is encapsulated in the performances here: Martin Landau, supremely understated and persuasive as the American money man, while the non-acting Jason Hoganson is totally unable to create any kind of character for the bottle-blond young visitor from the sticks. Hoganson is cast for his looks – though, strangely, despite the clearly gay-oriented agenda of the director, the erotic effect of the film is negligible. Peck is at least equal opportunity in his erotic gaze -- although there are close-ups of the hairy crotches of male strippers, the director’s use of nudity incorporates buxom female breasts and buttocks which are shown being enthusiastically soaped in showers.


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There is also the problem of the presentation of the nightclub itself, which, while being accoutred by the production designer with the perfectly plausible trappings of a trendy nightclub, never really convinces as the real thing. But the key preoccupations of Peck and his co-writer Mark Ayres are the challenges thrown up by the redevelopment of the Docklands area (an astringent metaphor for eighties Britain), with the director remarkably even-handed in his criticism of the various groups squabbling over the spoils: the corrupt East End gangsters (with their bloody bare knuckle bouts -- another of the film’s metaphors) and the soign� property developers -- a judicious mix of races and sexes, but all presented as venal and superficial. Ironically, given the director’s sympathies, it is interesting that the Martin Landau character is encapsulated in his unpleasant treatment of a spivvy East End male prostitute; homosexuality in this film might be said to have the same connotation of moral corruption as it did in such films as Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train -- except that Peck casts plagues on every house in this film, whatever the sexual predilections of the characters.

THE BEYOND

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Lucio Fulci, director/Arrow

Lucio Fulci’s grisly chef d’ouevre with its unsparing horror (including bloodlusting zombies) is given an amazing wash-and-rinse in this beautifully re-engineered Blu-ray from a company committed to revivifying (zombie-style) horrific Italian gems from an earlier era. Liza (Catriona MacColl) is keen to make her New Orleans hotel work, until bizarre events begin happening. People disappear and she is haunted by a spectral blind woman – the harbinger of fractured reality and blood-boltered fear. Sumptuous extras include a collector’s booklet featuring an introduction to the film by director Eli Roth, reprints of original lobby cards, stills and behind-the-scenes photographs from the collection of the star, David Warbeck. What’s more – there is the original Italian audio with subtitles, showing the respect accorded the film here.

LA SIGNORA SENZA CAMELIE/LE AMICHE Blu-ray

Michelangelo Antonioni, director/Eureka

The second feature film by Michelangelo Antonioni already demonstrates the highly individual personal vision that was to be his trademark; with its tale of shopgirl Clara (played by the alluring Lucia Bos�, who had appeared Antonioni’s debut feature, Cronaca di un amore) who sees her casting in a small movie role parleyed into a bigger career as a screen star – until her dominating husband intervenes. Essential viewing for admirers of the director, as is a key film of Antonioni’s middle-period, Le amiche/The Girlfriends, which has the discreet transforming traditional narrative cinema in this tale of contemporary women.

DAMNED BY DAWN

Brett Anstey, director/Momentum

Grisly fun which pleased the crowds at the Film4 FrightFest in 2010. Horror movie aficionados are drawing analogies with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy for the debut feature from writer-director Brett Anstey, Damned By Dawn keeps things lively and kinetic.

LAND OF THE GIANTS – THE COMPLETE SERIES ONE

Various directors/Revelation

There will be a ready market for this 7-disc set, making available for the first time in the UK all 26 episodes of the cult (if repetitive) SF series, plus some cherishable special features. Not highbrow SF (it is Irwin Allen, after all), but colourful fun as Steve Burton and his crew and passengers are forced to fight for survival on a hostile planet of giants.

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA – THE COMPLETE SERIES ONE

Various directors/ Revelation

More Irwin Allen TV SF with this spinoff of his highly successful feature film of the same name. Admiral Harriman Nelson, Captain Lee Crane and the crew of the futuristic submarine Seaview meet a variety of unlikely (and sometimes absurd) menaces, and grip the controls as the Seaview lurches -- twenty times per episode. Nostalgic pleasure; and the set include the never-before-seen pilot, Eleven Days To Zero.

BEDWAYS

RP Karl, director/Crabtree Films

Once taboo, male erections and graphically shown female genitals are now appearing in relatively mainstream fare. Bedways is a challenging and erotic film, which, despite its (relatively brief) controversial material, will not be for casual viewers. Berlin; film director Nina Bader is keen to shoot a film about love and sex and invites her actor-friends Hans and Marie for screen tests for a couple of days. The results are incendiary.

ALTITUDE

Kaare Andrews, director/Anchor Bay

The debut feature from award-winning comic book writer and illustrator Kaare Andrews, the Donnie-Darko-style supernatural thriller Altitude features Jessica Lowndes in a fitful character-driven adventure that sees a group of teenagers getting much more than they bargained for on their way to a Coldplay concert, with a nightmare plane trip in the offing.

MOVE OVER DARLING

Michael Gordon, director/Second Sight

Diverting romantic comedy outing with the number one box office star of the time, Doris Day, supported by practiced comic playing from the underrated James Garner. Although often requested, the film has never been available on DVD until now.

ISLAND OF DEATH

Nico Mastorakis, director/Arrow

Utterly outrageous (and often massively maladroit), this previously banned and notorious oddity is restored to all its unblushing glory, with every moment of carnal excess, nudity and grisly violence on view.

AN UNFLINCHING EYE

Richard Woolley, director/BFI

Between 1970 and 1988, British filmmaker Richard Woolley created much challenging and innovative work, occasionally seen in cinemas, on television and in international film festivals, but difficult to see since. Seven of his films have been collected here in a four-disc DVD box set

FINALE

John Michael Elfers, director/Crabtree Films

Another homage (like the recent Amer) to the phantasmagoric style of Italian horror maestro Dario Argento. Finale is an energetic horror outing with the word ‘cult’ the principal aspiration.

SHADOW SQUAD

Various directors /Network

A hard-to see crime show from the late 1950s, Shadow Squad initially featured the adventures of Detective Vic Steele who, tired of being boxed in by rules and regulations, quits his job to form his own detective agency with the help of crafty Cockney Ginger Smart and their stalwart cleaning lady, Mrs. Moggs. Steele subsequently disappeared on a mission to Australia and running of the Squad was then taken up by ex-DI Don Carter…

THE STRANGE DOOR

Joseph Pevney, director/Odeon Entertainment

The legendary British character actors Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff in a baroque horror classic -- what more need be said? Resistance is futile...

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