Just released new Blu-Ray/DVD pack of the Corman/Price Shakespearean vehicle Tower of London…
Find my review over at Flickering Myth and below…
What’s the best way to liven up a bit of Shakespeare? Get Roger Corman and Vincent Price involved of course!
Following the pair’s successful experiments with film adaptations of stories and poems by Edgar Allen Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror) the idea seemed like a pretty good one. It’s certainly one which details many of the reasons why classic chiller fans are so devout to Corman’s genius ability to wring dramatic action out of every available space and dollar, alongside Vinnie Price’s wonderfully entertaining mixture of camp and maniacal performances.
Shot in a sharply focused black and white, the film is a loose remake of the 1939 film of the same title and the English playwright’s Richard III. There’s a bit of the Scottish play in there as well, as Price’s Richard of Gloucester – brother of a dying king – sets about taking out all of his rivals for the throne while also dodging the ghosts of those already slain. Price is, of course, the prime selling point of this movie with the actor at his nefarious best in this ‘drive-in Shakespeare show’.
But does it work? Well yes and no. The film does indeed feature a transfixing Price who is always worth watching and the pace is (usually) high tempo – which was presumably something of a priority when re-imagining Shakespeare. However, some of the scenes seem a bit rushed and conversely far too much time is given over to a disturbing rack torture scene that doesn’t sit too well with the tone of the rest of the film. Horrible yes, and it does set out the ruthlessness of Richard’s pursuit of power but doesn’t fit too well with the pace and takes up a large segment of the total running time.
That aside, much of the film is better judged and aside from a fairly abrupt ending and the scene already mentioned, Tower of London is another release from the Corman/Price stable well worth seeking out for anyone fond of devilish literary inspired goings-on in not so merry olde England.
Whether it be
Fake or Real
Seems to be a reasonable choice right now
As it’s certainly better for the general head-space
But is it a form of ignorance
Of blocking out
To try and pretend
That things are not happening?
Is it just
That we already know
Need to be done?
“Free tissues, sir?”
I glance across the huddled throng of pedestrians to take in the smiling face. I accept the proffered brightly coloured package and nod distractedly.
Sitting amidst the blank office walls I studied the pack of free tissues. It was a slow day. 11am Friday. Nothing much to do.
The neon green packaging was lettered in a disturbingly bold font detailing the following message:
Sick of the sneezing?
Tired of the dripping?
I gave it no more thought and clicked back to the frenzy rating feed.
Work went by and things happened on screen. They gradually changed. Things happened. And then other things happened.
I went to get a coffee. I noticed that the whole office was empty apart from Gordo from Accounts. He was dancing and humming to himself near the photocopier. He was crying. I mumbled “Gordo… are you … ok ?”
He whispered something inaudible so I went back to my desk to get the tissues. I hurriedly opened up the pack and offered him one. He took it and dabbed at his eyes and whispered again. And then the change happened.
Gordo was instantly transformed into a monster. A three headed dragon type thing previously only witnessed in dreams, nightmares, Japanese anime or a sterling combination of all three. Blue flames erupted out of Gordo’s three mouths and that was enough for me. I ran like hell fire.
Out on the street it was mayhem. Upturned cars, burning buses and specific symptoms of death. Thousands of free tissue wrappers lined the road. I could feel a sneeze forming in my snout.
LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/LONG LIVE/
Wiener Dog review below and at Flickering Myth.
A Weiner-dog (or sausage dog in the UK) is another name for a dachshund, and the variously monikered creature is the common feature in this anthology film of four overarching chapters. Brought to the screen by indie-stalwart Todd Solondz, known for acerbic dark comic dramas Welcome to the Dollhouse and Happiness, Wiener-Dog is an oddly unfulfilling affair. Given the themes of depression and disillusionment, this is not entirely surprising, but the project also has the sense of being slightly under-cooked. Without giving too much away, for many the ending will leave a bitter taste, which again, is not too much of a surprise given Solondz’s previous work. It also leaves questions about how much is shock factor and how much is there for its own sake. In response to this, Solondz could simply show the film’s opening credit sequence which displays a Wiener-Dog alone and dejected in a dog pound cage. It’s not as if things started out too well for the character, is it, he may well ask…
In the first chapter, the lonely dog is momentarily freed from her physical imprisonment by a wealthy suburban family looking to offer their terminally ill son Remi (Keaton Nigel Cooke) a new playmate to aid his well-being. Stressed out mom (Julie Delpy) is terrified of the dog messing up their home, which leads dad (Tracie Letts) to soon insist that the dog is kept caged in the basement. Remi is just as imprisoned by his illness as Wiener-Dog is, and the two form a bond of companionship that is bitter-sweet to witness. On a rare release from their cages – Wiener-Dog’s physical and Remi’s emotional – they dance around the smartly decorated home with abandon. Unfortunately, a wrongly proffered granola bar leads to Wiener-Dog getting extremely ill and eventually put down.
In the second act, a nurse, Dawn Wiener, (the protagonist of Solondz’s 1995 film Welcome to the Dollhouse, played this time by Greta Gerwig), brings Wiener-Dog back to health and takes her home. She meets up with an ex-schoolmate/bully Brandon (Kieran Culkin)who convinces her to go on a country road trip with him to visit his brother and brother’s partner. This is the most successful part of the film to my mind, with great performances from Gerwig and Culkin bringing a believable and genuine disjointedness to interpersonal relationships. Dawn decides to leave Wiener-Dog at the sweet couple’s Ohio ranch and moves on with Brandon down the interstate and the rest of their lives.
The third act follows Danny DeVito’s bored and unfulfilled screen-writing professor as he tries to get his own creative work together. DeVito is great as the pained Dave Schmerz, someone who for whatever reason never got what he was looking for. Instead of artistic success, he gets the sack from his workplace after getting poor performance ratings from his students. In response to life’s unfair treatment he looks to make an artistic statement in the wildest of ways; by blowing himself and his dog up to smithereens.
Finally, the fourth act features another case of unfulfilled ambition provided by Ellen Burstyn’s crotchety old Nana. Always in the company of her own Wiener-Dog, lovingly named ‘Cancer’, she is visited by her granddaughter (Zosai Mamet) and her boyfriend – a visual artist named Fantasy (Michael Shaw). It soon becomes clear that her welfare is not top of the youngster’s priorities and Nana is eventually left alone again (with Cancer) assessing her own missed opportunities and life choices.
A difficult melange of the serious and sarcastic, Wiener-Dog ultimately comes across as an interesting idea that outstays its welcome, like a dinner guest trying to impress with self-consciously ‘weird’ jokes and depressing scenarios. Worth watching for the second act, which strikes the right balance of profundity and touching humour, but otherwise the film plays out like much of the characters’ lives; somewhat disappointing.
Review of His Girl Friday below and over at Flickering Myth.
His Girl Friday marks something of a turning point in the movies. Howard Hawks’s adaptation of a play (Hold the Front Page) exploring the dynamic world of newspaper journalism took the genius idea of changing the gender of the originally male ace-reporter character and transforming him into Rosalind Russell’s vivacious Hildy Johnson. Her portrayal of a smart and determined journalist trading razor-sharp quips and put-downs with her charismatic ex-boss and ex-husband Walter Burns (Cary Grant) is a truly wonderful creation, bringing a whole new dimension to fast-talking character driven screwball comedy.
Hoping to draw Johnson back into the non-stop life of the newsroom, Burns offers her the chance of a dramatic scoop of a much-talked about execution. At the same time, he also attempts to create doubts in her mind about her upcoming marriage to the reliable but dour insurance man Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Johnson, displaying an insider’s knowledge of exactly how Burns’s mind works, gives as good as she gets, with a blistering display of rapid-fire argument and counter-argument. The mixture of the dramatic tension and drive of the newsroom is brilliantly balanced with honest , wry and often scathing give and take verbal exchanges, providing an absolute dramatic comedy standout in classic Hollywood.
The new Blu-ray release from Criterion lovingly restores the movie to its full glory, with a massive selection of extras to further highlight the timelessness and overriding appeal of His Girl Friday.
- New high-definition digital restoration of His Girl Friday, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New 4K digital restoration of The Front Page, made from a recently discovered print of director Lewis Milestone’s preferred version, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
- New interview with film scholar David Bordwell about His Girl Friday
- Archival interviews with His Girl Friday director Howard Hawks
- Featurettes from 1999 and 2006 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell, and the making of His Girl Friday
- Radio adaptation of His Girl Friday from 1940
- New piece about the restoration of The Front Page
- New piece about playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht
- Radio adaptations of the play The Front Page from 1937 and 1946
- His Girl Friday trailers
- Plus: An insert featuring essays on His Girl Friday and The Front Page by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow
Review of Black Orpheus over at Flickering Myth and below…
Featuring an energetic burst of colour, vibrancy, music and dancing, Marcel Camus’ exhilarating take on the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a pure joy to experience. Winner of the 1959 Academy Award for best foreign language feature as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro) was a huge success and created a surge in popularity for the Brazilian music style the Bossa nova. The film is filled with beautifully choreographed dance pieces and the whole picture is one of festivity and party. This enchanting energy translates wonderfully well to Blu-ray, with Criterion issuing a restored and enhanced release completely worthy of this dream of a film.
Focusing on the favelas of Rio and the upcoming famous carnaval, the film tells the story of Orfeo (Bruno Mello), a local bus driver and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) who arrives in Rio on the run from a man who is pursuing her. Orfeo, also an accomplished singer/poet and something of a ladies man, falls for Eurydice immediately and vows to protect her. In the process, he risks the anger of his quick tempered fiancee Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), a woman easily provoked and thankfully for Orfeo, also easily distracted. An even greater risk to the potential happiness of the two new lovebirds is the individual stalking Eurydice, portrayed in the film literally as Death himself. Any one who knows the original myth – and countless tragic love stories the world over – can be pretty sure this isn’t going to end too well.
But even with this figure of Death hanging around though, there is nothing remotely bleak about the picture. It is firmly optimistic, as even with the inevitability of death, life, and the dance always continues. Life affirming is a phrase seemingly created for such a film as this. Eminently beautiful and profound.
Criterion have put together a whole host of features for this release including:
New restored high definition digital transfer.
Optional English dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn
New interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, Jazz historian Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
Looking for Black Orpheus documentary about the film’s cultural roots in Brazil and its continued relevance today.
The birds are not singing for you
The birds are not singing for World Peace, an end to oppression or a return to the Godhead
The birds are not singing for workers rights, libertarian values, social mobility or true sexual equality
The birds are not singing for a slap-up lunch, a boozy weekend away or a 2 for 1 deal at the supper club
The birds are not singing for hacked elections, the virus in your hard-drive or the End of all of these Days
Review of feature documentary Francofonia at FM and below…
Francofonia from writer and director Aleksandr Sokurov (Russian Ark) is an inspiring and deeply affecting study of the meaning of art, humanity and memory. Making use of a strikingly original narrative template, the story veers around the entire structure of the Louvre museum in Paris, taking in its history, and specifically, but not exclusively, the building’s experience of Paris’s Nazi occupation during World War 2.
As with Russian Ark, that famous one-take feature, this is art that is not enabled by a quick pitch or solid beginning, middle and end. This is culture and life ringing out as clear as day, and Sokurov’s personal ruminations on the subjects of art, war and society sound out like one of the most fascinating lectures you were ever fortunate enough to receive at college.
The theatrical pieces of French museum curator Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) and German Count Franz von Wolff-Meternich discussing the ideas of protecting works of art in the occupied museum offer a chillingly dreamlike sense of heightened realism to the film, which is made only more odd by the spirit of Napoleon Bonaparte roaming around the halls providing an 18th Century commentary on just how things are going.
Sokurov’s personal obsessions are also provided within a strange conversation between him speaking in Russian and an ocean going ship Captain talking in English caught in a trans-Atlantic storm. These sections are presumably telling us something about Sokurov’s ideas about time and space, but the meaning is unclear. What is for sure is that they add to the over-arching weirdness written all over this avant-garde and beautiful film. As with his earlier film, the majesty of the visual flair on show is impressive and allows the audience into the sheer spectacle of great architecture.
Much of what Sokurov appears to be telling us seems to come down to the fact that the best of humanity, kept within museum walls such as the Louvre’s is ultimately extremely vulnerable and open to all sorts of base elements. Francofonia ultimately succeeds as a lyrical paean to art and how in order to survive as humans we must respect it and keep it safe. At times when nothing is quite certain, keeping what’s best safe and sound can offer more comfort than most. With a haunting other-worldliness about the whole thing that is curiously frightening and at time wryly humourous, Francofonia more than deserves its place in the Museum for the Curious.
Review of The Unspoken over at FM and below…
While confusion and mystery is at the heart of all good horror stories, clumsiness and disjointed narrative is not. With this in mind, the question at the root of the many problems The Unspoken has will be voiced and not left silent. It is this – if you have spent building up most of the film to hope for some kind of payoff and are then left wanting, do you have the right to feel disappointment? When viewing this perplexing mishmash of a production I would be forced to say yes, indeed you do.
Focusing right away on the haunted house style of horror film, the story shows us a strangely portrayed sequence of a family’s disappearance from the stock eerie looking homestead. 17 years later a mother and son move into the house, and a teenage care assistant (Jodelle Ferland) agrees to help look after the mute and seemingly troubled boy, Adrian (Sunny Suljic).
What follows never manages to invoke any scares or anything much of any interest. The writing seems to have ignored most advisory rules for a good quality script with banalities rebounding across the boards. The mother truncated figure seems to have been transported from a soap opera with none of the surreal terror that this could have brought in a more trustworthy hand. In actual fact, the performances and most of the scenes feel forced and clash in an irritating and strangely dull manner. Oddly enough it seems to have been put together without any reasonable knowledge of any horror genres at all (which again is strange as the executive production team have credits on Insidious and Paranormal Activity, so someone involved should know their way around a modern horror film).
In any case, the film also involves a strangely truncated lesbian romance story that does not go anywhere and does not serve any purpose as such. As with the disappearance of the family in the past, the writing again draws attention to something and then just leaves it hanging. This seems to go against pretty much all forms of basic creative writing advice. Only Jodelle Ferland in the lead manages to get anything much out of this mess, with her tough but vulnerable lead offering the tiniest shred of light in this turgid plunge into the worst of commercial horror.
Review of Abbey Grace over at FM and below…
Effectively acting as a merging of two classic forms of horror story – the haunted house and the possession – Abbey Grace is an enjoyable piece of home spun terror. Bringing out good performances from its cast, most notably the two leads of Sheridan and Hobbs, the movie is worth a look for fright fans after something a little different. The film plays with different genres and manages to make some solid points about sibling relationships and psychology, while also building up a reasonably tense atmosphere of unease and fear.
Debbie Sheridan (actor and also the casting director) plays Stacey, a successful psychiatrist who returns home to look after her agoraphobic brother Ben (Jacob Hobbs) following the death of their mother. Ben has not left the family home in over twenty three years, and is pretty difficult to deal with to say the least. Our early introductions to the brother and sister’s relationship is one of animosity and mistrust, often centered on Debbie’s pet dog Duke. As an OCD sufferer, Ben is not overly taken with the lively canine, and makes his feelings on the subject known in great depth.
After Stacy finds a strange headstone marked as the burial place of a child named Abbey Grace and Duke digs up the mystery items of a shoe and a box, the tension between the siblings becomes even more fraught. When Ben’s behaviour starts to become unmanageable and he complains of seeing a strange girl around the house, Stacy seek help from friend and co-worker Bridget (Amber Gallaway). She helps the two delve deeper into the history of the house and the eponymous Abbey who, as an unquiet soul has plans for all of them…
Overall, the film manages to pack a decent amount of scares in within its low-budget horror construction. It also allows a nice line of dark humour to be drawn out in the bickering siblings dialogue, something that marks it out as slightly different from a purely run of the mill shocker.