Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fringe

We've just finished watching the whole of the series Fringe and it was an interesting experience. We'd heard a lot about the show from friends, mostly raving about it and saying how amazing it was ... and so we thought we'd see for ourselves.

The series follows the exploits of a small group of people who comprise the FBI's Fringe division - investigating strange events which normal methods cannot explain. In this way it's a little like The X-Files in it's set up, but it takes a completely different direction to that show.

Fringe is headed by Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), a no-nonsense officer who acts very much as the voice of reason. He is often seen striding with the others to the scene of the event, explaining everything they need to know. In this respect, he's a little like the caricature which Sergeant Asap portrays in the Touch of Cloth comedy crime series. Then there's Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv). Blonde, beautiful, but haunted by her past (and so she should be, as we discover). She's the perfect, logical, FBI agent looking into these strange happenings. Helping her, and in many ways the mastermind behind Fringe, is Walter Bishop (John Noble). Old, bumbling, forgetful, and with a penchant for red liquorish sticks, Walter knows all the science and the tech and pulls random things from his fragmented memory which helps them to understand what is happening. Walter's assistant is Astrid Farnsworth (Jassica Nicole), a sassy girl, who passes him his test tubes and generally dotes on him. Completing the Fringe 'family' is Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Walter's son, a fairly serious young man, who helps out with the investigations.
The Fringe team. L to R: Astrid, Walter, Peter, Olivia,
Broyles, Nina

So as the series starts, and with Seasons One and Two, each episode, the Fringe division investigate some strange happening: all the passengers on a plane have been infected with some flesh-dissolving toxin; a baby born fully developed and then aged to death in a matter of minutes; a man able to channel electrical energy; genetically engineered parasites; all are fair game for the Fringe team. All this strange activity seems centred around a lake, and there is a 'pattern' to what is taking place. This also seems to lead back to a massive conglomerate company called Massive Dynamic, and the CEO there is Nina Sharp (Blair Brown).

These investigations also often seem to point back to Walter's past, and the things he can't remember - he spent a long time in an institution as he was deemed insane, but then Peter rescued him. And this starts to form the backstory.  It seems that Walter was working with another man, William Bell (Leonard Nimoy), and that Billy might still be out there ...

This basic idea forms the backbone of most of the seasons. But at the end of the first season, we learn that there is more to all this than meets the eye. There is an alternate and parallel dimension, with equivalents of the Fringe team living there ... in fact it's an almost duplicate of our dimension (but they have airships and a gold Statue of Liberty!). But sometimes the dimensions can touch, and bleed through, and this accounts for several of the Fringe events. But there's more than this ... it is revealed that Peter is actually from the parallel dimension, and that Walter, having lost his own son, arranged to travel between dimensions to steal Peter away.

September
And so the scene is set for conflict ... But then we have the Observers. A strange, bald man seen and pictured at many of the Fringe events (apparently he appears somewhere in every episode of the series in which they are investigating an event), and indeed at many significant events throughout Earth's history. He never seems to change, never ages, but is always there. As we discover, the Observers have been watching us through time, making sure that significant events happen when they should, and that the balance of time is maintained. But this was until Peter is rescued from drowning in a lake by one of the Observers - a creature called September (Michael Cerveris) - and in doing so, he changes the course of history.

Thus Season Three follows the two parallel universes as they each try to understand what is happening and why. There are parallel Olivias and Walters and Astrids and Broyles', and the two sides investigate similar Fringe happenings ... and of course they can cross over, one to the other as well. There's an element here too of distrust, that each side thinks the other is behind everything. We found that Series Three dragged terribly for the first half, not seeming to know what it was doing or where it was going, then it settles down to being more shenanigans from William Bell in trying to disrupt the dimensions.  Added to which Faux-livia (the Olivia from the alternate dimension) swaps places with our Olivia, and has an affair with Peter while spying for her side ...

Series Four starts when the Observers decide that to get time back on track, they have to remove Peter from existence, so they do this, but Peter is too strong, and keeps bleeding through. Thus Season Four is a confused mess ... the Fringe Team don't remember Peter at all, and as time has been reset, some of the Fringe events and characters which we had previously seen and dealt with reoccur ... Peter comes back properly and Olivia regains her memory.

L to R: Broyles, Nina, Peter, Olivia, Walter, Astrid
One of the episodes is set in the Eighties, and has a suitably retro title sequence ... and another is set in the Future, where the Observers have taken over and are running Earth like some military state. And indeed, this is then what is used for the basis of Season Five. The Fringe team were all trapped in Amber (a gaseous substance which hardens instantly to an amber crystal. This had been used in the parallel universe to block off areas where the universes were bleeding together to keep both universes safe) for twenty one years, and now are released by Peter and Olivia's daughter Etta (Georgina Haig) to help in the resistance against the Observers.

But there are issues with all of this. The Observers could time travel and appear at any time, so why do they have a base in a fixed time, and why do they want to take over anyway? (It says on Wikipedia: Numerous Observers from the 27th century, having made the Earth uninhabitable in their own time, travelled through time to take over the Earth from humanity, instituting a Purge to kill off a large fraction.)  Battles with them would be pointless as they could just step back ten minutes and disable any plans that humanity tries against them ... but all this seems to be forgotten. Also, Peter gets an Observer chip and puts it in his neck ... not sure why, but the implication is that he is becoming like them - he can move fast, and loses his emotions and hair ... but part way through Season Five this is forgotten about and never mentioned again ...

The two Olivias, both played by Anna Torv
Unfortunately this inconsistency with the back story hampers the ongoing series. There are some great characters and ideas here, but if people and things are going to change their operating models from one episode to the next, there's something wrong. Season Five also starts off with Walter, 21 years previously, recording on video tapes all the steps to defeat the Observers, and then sealing them all in their lab with Amber so they can't be seen. So the team have to re-access their lab (which is in the middle of Observer Central, so very unlikely), and get the tapes out one by one with a laser ... but then they are obscure and obtuse ... so the team manage to do about three missions to get the elements they need, but then it's all forgotten again, and for some reason September is now a normal human living in hiding (again from Wikipedia: now more human due to his 'biological reversion' by other Observers for aiding Fringe), and he comes and builds the machine that they have been trying to create ... this leads to the endgame (there are only 13 episodes in Season Five) where they have to somehow change history to stop the Observers taking over. But as noted, these creatures can time travel themselves, so I can't see how this could possibly work ...

Peter, Astrid and Etta beside the Amber which held
the Fringe team.
There's some great conceits all the way through. The title sequence changes depending on which reality we're following - Blue for ours, Red for the Alternate Universe, Orange for both, and Black for the Observer-controlled future. The characters are all brilliant, with Anna Torv's Olivia Dunham, John Noble's Walter Bishop being the stand outs. Especially when they get to play their alternate universe counterparts, who have different body language and approaches. It's all very well done indeed.

Overall, I'm very glad we spent the time to visit with the Fringe team. The show is original and fast paced as you might expect from J J Abrams, and the acting and scripting is usually first rate. There are some brilliant episodes, and even a partially animated one! The show manages to stay bright and relevant and compelling pretty much all the way through, but as mentioned, it does have its issues, and for Season Three especially, you need a little perseverance to get through the first half! The series is very complex, and it has taken me some time to pen this little piece, trying to ensure I get the facts right, and realising that I missed several elements of the show as we went through!

It feels that after the first three Seasons they started to run out of ideas (but there are so many ideas and concepts in the show - far more than I have mentioned in this quick review - check out the Wikipedia pages for a more detailed summary of the seasons and their themes and backstories) that this must be wrong ... there is a sense of sameness creeps in though, not helped by the characters being taken back and 'reset' at various points both in our and the alternate universe), but kept getting renewed and so had to come up with reasons and plots to keep it all running. The individual episodes of investigation mostly stop around Season Three, and the show becomes all about the characters and backstory, as common with nearly all genre shows, and as I have said in the past, it suffers for it.

If you'd like to see all the different title sequences they used, well here they are ...

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Review: Contamination (1980)

Contamination is well known as a 'rip off' of the film Alien, whereas in fact, the two films actually have very little to do with each other. Even the director admits that he was 'inspired' by the Ridley Scott film ... but it's hard to see where that inspiration touched on Contamination. The alien-flick Inseminoid is far more of a pastiche on Alien.

Contamination starts with a ship arriving in New York, but the crew are all dead, torn apart by something. Then a cargo of strange egg-like objects are found, and one of them, being heated by some pipes, explodes, spreading an acid-like substance all over those investigating the ship, and they promptly explode from within.  Quite why all this happens is glossed over - the eggs are not eggs as they don't contain any life form, instead harbouring some sort of alien fungus/infection which makes people explode.

Cue Ian McCulloch as a drink-soaked ex-astronaut Hubbard who apparently encountered similar eggs on a trip to Mars ... they track the ship back to South America, where McCulloch, and a scientist lady, Stella Holmes (Louise Marleau) head to try and find the source. They find a plantation full of eggs, and a warehouse full of them too. Holmes is nearly killed when an egg is placed in her bathroom and the door locked (who has a lock on the OUTSIDE of the bathroom door? And she does everything but maybe cover the egg up to stop it exploding all over her).

In the end, an alien creature is located which is the source of the eggs, but it sits there in all its rubbery goodness and does very little, mesmerising others to come to it so it can eat them. It is set on fire and the world is saved.

Unfortunately it's never clear just what threat the eggs pose, or why they are being sent all over the world. They don't hatch alien monsters, just explode, making those humans who are in the way explode as well. All seems a little pointless.

As always with these Italian films, the dubbing is poor to unbelievable, and the acting (aside from McCulloch who is rather good) is pretty sub-par as well. I love Marina Mase as a NY Cop boogieing with dancing natives when they arrive in South America.


Fans of this particular Italian genre of rip-off films will love this, and there are a host of great extras to enjoy as well. Interviews with the director Luigo Cozzi, with Maurizio Guarini from Goblin (who provide a fairly poor soundtrack to the film) and features on this particular area of 'Mockbuster' Italian film.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
  • Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature Commentary by filmmaker, Fangoria editor and Contamination super-fan Chris Alexander
  • Luigi Cozzi on the Creation of Contamination – an archive documentary hosted by the director and including behind-the-scenes footage
  • 2014 Q&A with Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch
  • Sound of the Cyclops: Goblin’s Maurizio Guarini on the music of Contamination – the Goblin keyboardist discusses Contamination’s dark, progressive rock score and a lifetime of making music for Italian terror
  • Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery – A critical analysis of the Italian “Mockbusters” trend of filmmaking which sought to capitalize on the success of Hollywood blockbusters
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gary Pullin
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Chris Alexander, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
  • Monday, June 22, 2015

    Review - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

    Hammer Films were the staple for so many nightmares ... and yet the Horror films they made were supplemented with other films ranging from comedies (On the Buses anyone?) to psychological thrillers and dramas. They also dabbled in Sherlock Holmes, and their presentation of the classic tale The Hound of the Baskervilles has to be one of the best and most memorable.

    Now Arrow have pulled the films from the vault, cleaned them up, and given them a smart new release on Blu-Ray, along with their usual panoply of extras.

    The first thing to say, though, is that the film seems a little dark and murky. Certainly not as clean and sharp as I might have expected. I hope this isn't a fault or something.

    But overall the film is more horror than some of Hammer's horror fare. The opening sequences make great use of Hammer's staple of historically-based tales, with a group of louche gentlemen, led by Sir Hugo Baskerville, tormenting a peasant - in this case, they throw him through a window into a moat/lake, half drown him, and then drag him back and kill him by roasting him on an open fire! Then a girl - of course it's all about a girl - escapes into the night and onto the moors, chased by the crazed Sir Hugo, who is then set upon and savaged by some monster ... a perfect opening ...

    But it's in the casting of Peter Cushing as Holmes, against Andre Morell as Watson, and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville in the 'present day' where the film succeeds. All three are perfect in their roles, and so, so watchable as they play out the tried and trusted plot. The Whodunnit is well established ... is it the faithful Baskerville retainers, the Barrymores (another piece of great casting with John LeMesurier as the Butler), or perhaps the Staplefords (and here is the film's only mis-step in casting Marla Landi as Cecile Stapleford, as she has a very obvious European accent. Why would Stapleford's daughter have such an accent? There's no reason and no explanation.). What has the escaped prisoner on the moors have to do with it? And why is Holmes absent for the first half?

    Of course all the answers come, and it's a genuine pleasure to see the cast perform the material. It's a great film, which hasn't really dated at all, and which has all the hallmarks of Hammer. Possibly the greatest Horror film they never made!

    As mentioned, there are a host of extras on the disk:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) feature presentation
  • Original uncompressed Mono 1.0 Audio
  • Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • New audio commentary with Hammer experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
  • Release the Hound! – a brand new documentary looking at the genesis and making of the Hammer classic, featuring interviews with hound mask creator Margaret Robinson, film historian Kim Newman, actor/documentarian and co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock Mark Gatiss, and others
  • André Morell: Best of British – a featurette looking at the late great actor André Morell and his work with Hammer
  • The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes – a 1986 documentary looking at the many incarnations of Conan Doyle’s celebrated character, narrated and presented by Christopher Lee
  • Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee – an archive interview in which the actor looks back on his role as Sir Henry Baskerville
  • The Hounds of the Baskervilles excerpts read by Christopher Lee
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Extensive Image Gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by former Hammer archivist Robert J.E. Simpson, illustrated with original archive stills and posters


  • Friday, June 05, 2015

    Review: Society (1989)

    Unlike the previous 'horror' film I reviewed here, Society is a bona fide horror classic which is an absolute pleasure to watch!

    For whatever reasons, I'd never seen Society before. I'd heard of it, and seen photographs from it, but never seen the actual film, so it's a double treat to put that right. As a horror film, it ticks all the right boxes and presents a great little small-town mystery. In a way, there are echoes of Dan O'Bannon's Dead and Buried here, with something rotten being hidden in the heart of a small town, where everyone is in on the 'joke' except for the hapless outsider who is trying to figure it all out and to escape with their life at the end.

    With Society, though, the secret is part and parcel of the town's very being, and the 'outsider' is actually the son of the leading family, the Whitneys. He's just not really part of the family, being adopted, and thus his Mother, Father and Sister's behaviour seems mysterious at first, and then just darn strange as we peel back the layers to reveal what is hidden beneath.

    Brian Yuzna does a great job of directing, presenting things as almost-normal to start with, but then becoming increasingly strange as deaths occur, and young Billy starts to discover things about his family which he wished he hadn't known ... but then the facts change, a tape with incriminating dialogue on is different when listened to again ... and Billy is left out on a limb. There is an effective paranoia at work here which is compounded and enhanced by small elements, like his friend's death and the face of the corpse crumbling in the church (is he really dead?) He finds another friend dead, but when he goes to get the authorities, there is no body when he returns ... is Billy going mad?

    All this is building to a climactic ending: his sister's coming out party, where all the town turns up to celebrate. Billy also finds himself there, captured, and told that you have to be born into society to be a part of it ... upon which, his supposedly dead friend is also served up, and the townspeople fall on him, morphing and mutating into something totally inhuman as 'the shunt' begins - a pseudo sexual orgy of slime and blood and twisted flesh ...

    Of course for the horror fan, this is simply awesome, and seeing the name Screaming Mad George on the credits for effects should be enough to let most fans know what sort of thing to expect. George is a master of the twisted body horror, and the film does not disappoint, with visuals ranging from the memorable 'butt face' to a massive hand where a head should be, to bodies being turned completely inside out ... it's an incredible visual array of horror, perhaps only matched by the work of Rob Bottin in John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing. (It's interesting that George cites both Landis' American Werewolf in London (1981, effects by Rick Baker) and Joe Dante's The Howling (1981, effects by Rob Bottin) as films which influenced him.)

    The action comes thick and fast at the end and our hero Billy escapes with the rather lovely Clarissa, but she of course might be part of the strange Society herself ... but in great eighties fashion, the film just ends when they escape, so we never find out what happens.

    Overall it's a great slice of eighties paranoia, infused with a horror sensibility, and some original and still startling effects. Arrow have provided a smashing set of extras as well - including a discussion with Screaming Mad George about the effects, interviews with cast and crew as well as much more besides. A great package, and highly recommended.

    Special Features

    ·         Newly remastered 2K digital transfer of the film, approved by director Brian Yuzna
    ·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation
    ·         Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
    ·         Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
    ·         Brand new audio commentary by Yuzna
    ·         Governor of Society – a brand new interview with Yuzna
    ·         The Masters of the Hunt – a brand new featurette including interviews with stars Billy Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell
    ·         The Champion of the Shunt – new featurette with FX artists Screaming Mad George, David Grasso and Nick Benson
    ·         2014 Q&A with Yuzna, recorded at Celluloid Screams Festival
    ·         Brian Yuzna in conversation backstage at the Society world premiere
    ·         ‘Persecution Mania’ – Screaming Mad George music video
    ·         Limited Edition Digipak packaging featuring newly-commissioned artwork by Nick Percival
    ·         Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Alan Jones, illustrated with original archive stills and posters

    ·         Society: Party Animal [Limited Edition Exclusive] – the official comic sequel to Society, reproduced in its entirety in a perfect-bound book

    Wednesday, June 03, 2015

    Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Miss Osbourne (1981)

    The synopsis of this film reads: 'It’s the engagement party for brilliant young Dr Henry Jekyll (Udo Kier) and his fiancée, the beautiful Fanny Osbourne (Marina Pierro), attended by various pillars of Victorian society, including the astonishing Patrick Magee in one of his final roles. But when people are found raped and murdered outside and ultimately inside the house, it becomes clear that a madman has broken in to disrupt the festivities – but who is he? And why does Dr Jekyll keep sneaking off to his laboratory?'

    Why indeed? This film is one of those which can be examined in detail, the meanings and interpretations pored over ... and yet as a film, it is really not that enjoyable, mainly because it doesn't make much sense, eschewing style and interpretation over actual plot. Much of the film seems to consist of people running about an old house, along corridors, up and down stairs, and opening and closing doors. The director has a habit of focussing the camera on certain apparently unimportant elements in shot rather than actually trying to create a meaningful narrative, and so the viewer is left wondering what is going on.

    When you add to this a soft porn element, such that the women are beaten and abused sexually, with the camera lingering on blood on flesh, buttocks and pubic regions, then the film starts to move from being a horror film (which perhaps it purports to be) into some other genre of voyeuristic and tacky film making.

    Watching the film, the plot is pretty impenetrable, and the above description is about all you can discern. There are some great characters, in particular Udo Kier as Dr Jekyll who manages to just about stay serene and above it all, and also Patrick Magee as a somewhat mad general, who bizarrely gives a sheaf of poisoned arrows, and bow, as an engagement present (lucky that these become useful later in the film to kill off most of the characters), but who also has a daughter who suddenly decides to be ravished by Mr Hyde in front of her father, and he then whips her and kills her (perhaps for her act of decadence, it's not clear).

    As with most Jekyll/Hyde films, there's the transformation element, and here it is quite cumbersome. It seems that to transform into Hyde, Jekyll needs to bathe and submerge himself orgiastically in a bath of some sort of mysterious salts ... emerging as the transformed Mr Hyde (played by another actor, Gerard Zalcberg). This takes place over several minutes while Jekyll's fiancée Fanny (Marina Pierro) watches from a hiding place in the bathroom. He then heads off to indulge in a mania of destruction and killing throughout the house, until Fanny decides to transform herself, despite the fact that to change back, Hyde needs some sort of potion provided by the doctor (Howard Vernon), and there is none of this left. So she bathes in the red waters, followed by Jekyll, and then both Hyde and a contact-lensed Fanny head away from the house in a coach, ravishing each other as they go.

    It's a strange film indeed. As I say, very hard to follow as the plot is obscure, and full of long, meaningful shots and portentous camera work. The sexual elements are not enjoyable, and sit uneasily with the horror stylings, and things seem to happen just because they can, eschewing plot and logic.

    There are some aspects which I liked. The incidental music is electronic and atonal, and works to highlight the action well. Kier is very good as Jekyll as I say, and some of the camera work and lighting is very nicely handled. Overall for me, though, it's a thumbs down. Not a film I suspect I will be watching again.

    As usual, Arrow have included an impressive package of extras, including two short films by the director, interviews and documentaries exploring his work.

    Special Features

    ·         Brand new 2K restoration, scanned from the original camera negative and supervised by cinematographer Noël Véry
    ·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film, released on both formats for the first time anywhere in the world
    ·         English and French soundtracks in LPCM 1.0
    ·         Optional English SDH and English subtitles
    ·         Introduction by critic and long-term Borowczyk fan Michael Brooke
    ·         Audio commentary featuring archival interviews with Walerian Borowczyk and new interviews with cinematographer Noël Véry, editor Khadicha Bariha, assistant Michael Levy and filmmaker Noël Simsolo, moderated by Daniel Bird
    ·         Interview with Marina Pierro
    ·         Himorogi (2012), a short film by Marina and Alessio Pierro, made in homage to Borowczyk
    ·         Interview with artist and filmmaker Alessio Pierro
    ·         Phantasmagoria of the Interior, a video essay by Adrian Martin and Cristina Alvarez Lopez
    ·         Eyes That Listen, a featurette on Borowczyk’s collaborations with electro-acoustic composer Bernard Parmegiani
    ·         Happy Toy (1979), a short film by Borowczyk based on Charles-Émile Reynaud’s praxinoscope
    ·         Introduction to Happy Toy by production assistant Sarah Mallinson
    ·         Returning to Return: Borowczyk and Early Cinema, a featurette by Daniel Bird
    ·         Reversible sleeve with artwork based on Borowczyk’s own poster design

    ·         Booklet with new writing on the film by Daniel Bird and archive materials, illustrated with rare stills


    Sunday, May 31, 2015

    Review - Rollerball (1975)

    Rollerball is one of those iconic films from the seventies ... something that most people have heard of, even if they haven't seen. And now Arrow Video have a lovely new remastered DVD and Blu-Ray release to remind everyone of this minor classic.

    The overall plot is pretty simple. It's the future (well a future as envisaged in the 1970s, so all chrome and 'futuristic' design), and the populace enjoy an entertainment called Rollerball - in which two teams compete to score points by getting the 'Rollerball' - a silver metal sphere - into a net. But both teams are on rollerblades and ride motorbikes and circle an arena. The Rollerball is shot around the arena at speed, making it le

    thal if it hits you, and anything seems to go in the game. Players can barge and attack each other, knocking them over and into the path of the ball, and fatalities are expected. However there is a deeper theme at play, one of the futility of individual effort. The game is designed to keep the populace subdued by showing that you have to work as a team to win - the individual means nothing. However, in terms of the film,James Caan is playing an individual, Jonathan, who is determined to succeed, even when corporate 'powers' want him to fail, bribing him with the return of his wife. The film ends with Caan becoming a hero, the opposite of what the corporation wanted.

    It's a very impressive film in many ways. Visually rich and splendid, the futuristic trappings are well done. It opens in a very documentary way, showing the game as though it were a sports reporting programme, with cinema veretie trappings and realism seeping from every pore. As we progress, the film starts to show its age with some incredibly slow sequences containing lots of talk. I guess these are adding the character into Caan and his struggle with the all powerful corporation, but with today's eyes, these drag the film down, and you can't wait to get back into the Rollerball ring for more action. Perhaps this was the point.

    The transfer and presentation of the film is excellent, with the colours rich and sharp and the picture quality brilliantly presented. Caan is superb in the lead, and it was good to spot John Hausman with his very distinctive voice as the representative of the corporation.

    As with all the Arrow releases. it comes with a great selection of extras:

    SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film from a digital transfer prepared by MGM Studios
  • Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
  • Isolated Music and Effects Soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio Commentary with director Norman Jewison
  • Audio Commentary with writer William Harrison
  • Blood Sports with James Caan – A brand-new interview with the Rollerball star
  • The Fourth City: Shooting Rollerball in Munich – Unit manager Dieter Meyer and others revisit the Audi Dome and other original locations
  • The Bike Work: Craig R. Baxley on the Motorcycle Stunts in Rollerball – Stunt artist Baxley on the challenges and dangers of being one of the Rollerball bikers
  • Return to the Arena: The Making of Rollerball
  • From Rome to Rollerball: The Full Circle – original EPK bringing together interviews and on-set footage
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Theatrical Teaser
  • TV Spots
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Paul Shipper
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film, illustrated with original archive stills and posters.
  • Thursday, May 28, 2015

    The Killing (1956) / Killer's Kiss (1955) - Review

    ARROW BLU-RAY, RELEASED 9 FEBRUARY 2015

    The movies

    Killer’s Kiss and The Killing were two of the very earliest movies to be written and directed by future screen legend Stanley Kubrick, both of them in the film noir style that was nearing the end of its classic period by the time of their release in the mid-1950s.         

    The Killing is the more acclaimed, well-known and influential of the two productions – it was an important touchstone for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) for instance – and is presented as the main feature on this recent Arrow Blu-ray release, with Killer’s Kiss relegated to the status of an extra. Although Kubrick took sole on-screen credit for The Killing’s excellent screenplay, its dialogue was actually written by noir fiction icon Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me, A Hell of a Woman, After Dark, My Sweet, The Getaway, The Grifters etc), and it was based on a novel, Clean Break (1955), by another accomplished noir author, Lionel White. However, in terms of both storyline and presentation, The Killing has a lot in common with Robert Siodmak’s similarly-titled The Killers (1946) – the Arrow Blu-ray release of which I guest-reviewed for this blog a few months ago – and it seems likely that this was also a significant source of inspiration.

    Like The Killers, The Killing centres around a heist plot – in this case, involving the theft of racetrack betting money – and is told by way of a series of out-of-sequence flashbacks, through which the viewer has to piece together the action almost in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle. These are classic film noir ingredients and techniques; and Kubrick reinforced the movie’s noir credentials by casting in prominent supporting roles two of the genre’s most recognisable stalwarts – and, as it happens, two of my favourite actors – Marie Windsor and Elisha Cook Jnr, both arguably a little past their prime by this point. Windsor plays a typical brassy femme fatale and Cook her milksop husband, and their bickering interplay is, for me, one of the great highlights of this movie.
                
    Other earlier heist movies often said to have influenced The Killing are John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1955). The most obvious parallel with The Asphalt Jungle is that both movies star Sterling Hayden as the boss of the criminal gang, giving near-identical performances in near-identical roles; and Kubrick’s taut, documentary-style shooting of The Killing’s racetrack heist certainly recalls Rififi’s famously tense 30-minute dialogue-free sequence depicting in almost forensic detail the carrying out of a jewel robbery.
                
    Often rated as one of the greatest crime movies ever made, The Killing is one that no fan of the genre can afford to have missing from their collection. That said, though, and at the risk of courting considerable controversy, I have to confess that, in my eyes, Killer’s Kiss is actually the better and more interesting of these two early Kubrick works.

    Killer's Kiss
    While some film noir aficionados might consider this heresy, the advantages Killer’s Kiss has over The Killing are, for me, twofold. First, it tells a smaller-scale, more intimate story, which is altogether more emotionally involving than The Killing’s rather cold, clinical approach. Likewise structured in a series of flashbacks, it tells of a burgeoning romance between washed-up boxer Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) and his neighbour Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who works as a dancer in a seedy dime-a-dance joint – a kind of more chaste 1950s equivalent of today’s lap-dancing club. The challenge with which they have to contend is not The Killing’s logistics of planning a perfect robbery, but simply how to avoid the attentions of Gloria’s lecherous boss Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera), who is strongly implied to have raped her and has then dispatched two thugs to murder Davey. The only false-seeming note in this gripping narrative is its rather incongruous happy ending, and it is no great surprise to learn that this was added in a reshoot at the behest of studio United Artists, who stumped up the majority of the movie’s modest budget.

    The Killing
    The other great merit of Killer’s Kiss is Kubrick’s fantastic direction, which is even more gripping and inventive than in The Killing, making brilliant use of extensive location shooting in New York, including in the run-down streets and alleyways of the Brooklyn waterfront and Soho areas. Some of these sequences – such as a desperate fight between Davey and Rapallo in a warehouse storing shop window mannequins – are incredibly striking and memorable, and benefit from some very unusual and effective camera angles made possible by Kubrick’s decision to dispense with on-location microphones and dub all the dialogue and sound effects in post-production.

    All in all, Killer’s Kiss is an underappreciated gem of a movie – and one that, unlike The Killing, is likely to be a previously undiscovered one to many of this Blu-ray’s purchasers.

    Blu-ray presentation

    Arrow have again done a fine job with this Blu-ray release. The high-definition transfers of both The Killing and Killer’s Kiss are the same ones that formed the basis of the Connoisseur Collection’s acclaimed equivalent Region A disc, and are excellent. There is also a strong package of added extras, including:

    ·         The Evolution of a Master – critic Michel Ciment discusses Kubrick’s 1950s output;
    ·         An extract from the French television series Journal de la Cinéma featuring an interview with Sterling Hayden;
    ·         An appreciation by filmmaker Ben Wheatley;
    ·         Theatrical trailers for both films;
    ·         Collector’s booklet containing new writing by Peter Kramer, Barry Forshaw and filmmaker Ron Peck, illustrated with original archive stills.

    Very highly recommended.


    Stephen James Walker