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Blu-ray Review – 3 Women

My review of Robert Altman’s 3 Women is at Flickering Myth and appears below:

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3 Women is a memorably disturbing film with its heart set firmly on the art house. Said to be inspired by a dream, Robert Altman’s (M.A.S.H., Short Cuts, The Player) feature is also strongly reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s beautifully nightmarish Persona. Indeed, both films focus on the transient nature of behaviour and psyche, and reveal the unlimited potential for personalities to rebuild and redevelop.

Taking a look at the mysteries of femininity through a male filmmaker’s hazy vision is something else both films have in common. This fear of pre-judged emotional unpredictability and instability has been something of a constant in horror stories since well before the development of cinema. But, as the title of the film suggests, it was even rarer in 70’s Hollywood to contain more than one female lead and no male star than it is today. For this fact alone, the film was breaking plenty of ground.

The ancient male view of femininity represented as the mother, the virgin and the whore are all present in the three shifting characteristics of the women. And it is this sense of gender politics and psychology framed within a fairytale like quest for meaning that provides much of the film’s valuable commentary. As with all the best creative works, it tells us just as much about the artist as it does its subjects.

Pinky Rose (Spacek) arrives for work at a Californian desert town spa and soon grows dependent on colleague Millie Lammoreaux (Duvall). The two couldn’t be more different – Pinky’s awkward and furtive looks around the work place are in marked contrast to the outspoken Millie’s constant attention seeking.

Millie is extremely talkative, but she talks at people, rather than with them. During the first part of the movie Pinky doesn’t say much of anything at all, satisfied to watch Millie and draw in as much of her energy as she can. Or that’s certainly how it seems.

The two spend more and more time together – becoming room-mates in the process – and Pinky sees more of Millie’s somewhat limited social life. This largely consists of hanging out in the theme bar of ‘Dodge City’ with off-duty cops, dudes and dirt bikes. It is in this typically male environment that Pinky briskly downs her beer, providing the first indication that she may not be quite what she seems.

The two are joined in this game of mental hide and seek by Willie Hart (Janice Rule), a local artist and wife of a faux-cowboy (Robert Fortier) who Pinky finds in bed one night with Millie.  This discovery of the sexual act culminates in a suicidal dive into the apartment’s communal swimming pool. From then on Pinky – whose real name just happens to be Mildred – and Millie start to switch places in a constantly shifting and surreal series of events.

Unclear as to where one character begins and one ends, 3 Women is a challenging film to say the least. It brings an outlandish shadow-play of neuroses and unreadable motivations out to the fore, in what is a film to savour and ask difficult questions of.

As a side note, is also interesting to see Millie’s initial nonchalant question to Pinky ‘haven’t you ever seen twins before?” given what Duvall would experience in Kubrick’s The Shining a few years later. Disquieting!

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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Review of the new Blu-ray release for The Manchurian Candidate is over at Flickering Myth now and below…

Exploring the extremes of cold war paranoia in a stylish cloak and dagger format that must have raised more than a few eyebrows on its release in 1962, The Manchurian Candidate is a film that takes a look beyond the usual political invective.

Following the terrifying experiences of Korean War veterans as they attempt to settle back into ‘normal’ American life, the film is a supremely dark portrayal of influence and control. Laurence Harvey (Room at the Top, Darling) as Raymond Shaw creates a magnificently understated performance as the pawn in the games of the political elite. Specifically, his character is controlled through the use of code words and stimuli – in his case the card game of Solitaire – and can be used to do, or kill, anything .

Also into this mêlée of confusion where everyone has another side or identity is Frank Sinatra’s Major Bennett Marco, a troubled ex-crew man of Shaw’s. Ol’ blue eyes injects a memorising intensity into the role and is at all times fully believable. His scenes – particularly the abstract and vaguely surreal not so small-talk lines delivered by him and Janet Leigh (Psycho) in their first train line meeting – bring a raw power and almost improvisational strength to the proceedings.

The film also captures one of the most controlled sinister performances of all time from Angela Lansbury (still best known to many for Murder, She Wrote) as Elenor Shaw Iselin; the poor Raymond’s mother. Her ability to express so much beyond the picture is one of the many reasons why the film deserves continued reanalysis and consideration. The film is firmly rooted in the dynamics of  political intrigue and is at once a sharply turned thriller and a deeply unsettling appraisal of what might be going on in the corridors of power…

The original The Manchurian Candidate arrives here elegantly delivered by Arrow Films in a Blu-ray/DVD combo package. The film – which was out of circulation from 1963 to 1988 due to fears surrounding the assassination of JFK – gathered a new generation of fans when it was finally re-released. Here, a full examination of the implications and quandaries expressed in the film also receive a full airing. This alongside superb remastering and redefinition brings forth another way to enjoy this mind-wrangling film. In effect, another excellent package from Arrow.

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
  • The Directors: John Frankenheimer, an hour-long portrait from 2003, including interviews with Frankenheimer, Kirk Douglas, Samuel L. Jackson, Roy Scheider, Rod Steiger and many others
  • Interview with John Frankenheimer, Frank Sinatra and screenwriter George Axelrod from the film’s 1988 revival
  • Queen of Diamonds: an interview with Angela Lansbury
  • A Little Solitaire: an appreciation of the film by director William Friedkin (The Exorcist)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
  • Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Knight (Conspiracy Culture) and Neil Sanders (Your Thoughts Are Not Your Own), illustrated with original production stills

Thief (1981)

My review of Michael Mann’s ‘Thief’ is over at Flickering Myth and below.

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The limited Blu-ray slipcase edition of Michael Mann’s theatrical film début Thief (1981) comprises a whole host of insightful features.  Offering an in-depth study and analysis of the starkly morally ambivalent crime thriller, the release is a timely reminder of what a fantastic introduction it was to the stylish and iconic world of Mann. Provided by Arrow Films as another in their series of cult classics, the release shows off the film as a true original and a remarkable piece of inspired visualisation.

Focusing on the professional safe-cracker Frank’s (James Caan) attempts to navigate the modern world after a young adulthood spent in prison, the film itself is a classic of ethically ambiguous and philosophically challenging storytelling. As we learn from the in-depth interviews and analysis offered by the extras, first time actors who used to be cops would play crims (Dennis Farina, started out this way) and vice versa.

This constant shifting of expectations and norms has become something of a hallmark of Mann’s work. This plus the redolent scenes of materialistic beauty and wealth gained through dubious channels immediately brings to mind Mann’s executive producer credit on the TV series Miami Vice. Indeed, Thief, as the extensive commentary that this release makes perfectly clear, can be seen as something of a blueprint for the high powered glamorous exploits that much of cinema and TV of the 1980s tapped into.

Special Features

The best of the features include a new interview with Caan filmed exclusively for this release. Entitled Stolen Dreams it is a look back at the aspirations and ideas behind the project. A much older interview with the man  is included in Hollywood USA – an episode of the French TV series devoted to the actor, filmed shortly after Thief had finished production. Capturing Caan at his most brashly charming the episode is an entertaining look at the film and the man. On the academic side two documentaries provide a rich detailing of Mann’s specific goals for the feature. The Directors: Michael Mann –is a 2001 documentary on the film-maker, containing interviews with Mann, James Belushi, William Petersen, Jon Voight and others. While The Art of the Heist is an examination of Thief with writer and critic F.X. Feeney, author of the Taschen volume.

The Blu-ray also includes:

  • Audio commentary by writer-director Michael Mann and actor James Caan
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm
  • Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Brad Stevens

The Killing (1956)

My thoughts on the new Blu-ray of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is over at Flickering Myth and appears below.

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Kubrick’s third feature was something of a make or break for him. Given what happened following its release that may sound somewhat ridiculous, but in the film world of the mid-1950’s Kubrick, even at the incredibly young age of 28, truly needed a project that would show off his clear-eyed vision and premium levels of creativity and storytelling. His previous two features, Fear and Desire(1953) and Killers Kiss (1955) (also included as an extra on this release) had met with limited success, both financial and critical. The master-waiting-to-happen had to have a project to really put everything at his disposal into.

He found that project with an adaptation of the noir crime novel Clean Break by Lionel White. Along with the hard boiled plot plotter Jim Thomson, Kubrick set about taking the novel’s action packed reportage style and placing it as a supremely morally ambiguous heist movie.

The actual plot of The Killing is relatively straightforward. A group of guys want to get rich quick by holding up a racetrack. Things go wrong and people fall out (to put it mildly!)In effect, it is full on film noir. But being something of a pulp story seen through Kubrick’s eyes it is much more concerned with the overall impression. This impression, both real and imagined, of the brutality of organised crime life contrasts neatly with the relationship trauma of the husband and wife pairing of Elisha Cook Jr (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep) and Marie Windsor (The Narrow Margin).

The feelings and build up of tension that emanates from the looks of terror, the various bits of grimness  that are alluded to just off camera (this was the 1950s, audiences couldn’t see everything spelled out and were in many cases better off for that…) and the tightly wound dialogue put this more into a psychological drama type of territory. As with all Kubrick films, a point riffed on by Ben Wheatley in the extras, these aren’t really genre films, they’re Kubrick films.

The closing chapters of the movie could in a sense be seen as opining that crime is ultimately futile. On closer inspection however Kubrick looks like he is saying absolutely everything is futile… and with that stark message, close credits.

This deluxe Blu-ray package includes features looking at Kubrick’s output of the 1950’s with the critic Michel Ciment, an interview with lead actor Sterling Hayden, plus Kubrick’s second feature the romantic crime movie Killer’s Kiss. Also included is the previously mentioned appreciatory interview with filmmaker Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers) plus trailers for both films.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

My review of the Mario Bava early giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much is over at Flickering Myth now and also appears below…

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Part of the considerable charm of this discerning Blu-ray release is that it shows exactly how two different releases of the same film can offer remarkably diverse experiences…

Bava’s original Italian release with the Hitchcockian inspired title takes in a far darker sense of impending dread and horror. After all, as the excellent extra features from various genre experts inform us, this title can in many senses be seen to be one of the first true giallo films, mixing elements of murder mystery with the modish cinematography and stylistic elements that would go on to inspire the next generation of blood-red drenched dream weavers.

The other take on this story is the re-edited and re-dubbed American release, complete with a voice-over and a far greater impetus placed on the romantic element of the story. In effect, the two films offer a very different feel. Personally I felt that the original Italian cut fares much better in treatment that the American one, and there are some truly disturbing sequences. What’s more is that Letícia Román’s Nora Davis character is far stronger, more of a daring private investigator of teen fiction style than the somewhat more doe-eyed counterpart presented in the American take.

Both films are agreeable enough and present a stylish look at the roots of giallo and Bava’s own gifts for experimentation.  With all of this kept in mind, an interesting and intriguing double-bill can take place with the same core film…

Extras include:

High Definition Blu-ray and Standard DVD presentation of two versions of the film: The Girl Who Knew Too Much – the original Italian version; and Evil Eye – the re-edited and re-scored US version.  Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Luca, introduction by writer and critic Alan Jones, All About the Girl documentary on Mario Bava’s classic giallo. International and US trailer.  Illustrated collector’s booklet

Rabid Dogs (Mario Bava, 1974) – BluRay/DVD out now

My review of Rabid Dogs (Cani Arrabbiati) is over at Flickering Myth