Sunday, 11 August 2013

A Move To Wordpress

I have come across some issues with Blogspot recently that have not been resolved.  Due to this I have decided to continue my blog on Wordpress.  You can follow me here:

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Thin Red Line - Review # 5

Spine # 536
Available on DVD & Blu-ray
Special Features
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by director Terrence Malick and cinematographer John Toll, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary by Toll, production designer Jack Fisk, and producer Grant Hill
  • Interviews with several of the film’s actors, including Kirk Acevedo, Jim Caviezel, Thomas Jane, Elias Koteas, Dash Mihok, and Sean Penn; composer Hans Zimmer; editors Billy Weber, Leslie Jones, and Saar Klein; and writer James Jones’s daughter Kaylie Jones
  • New interview with casting director Dianne Crittenden, featuring archival audition footage
  • Fourteen minutes of outtakes from the film
  • World War II newsreels from Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands
  • Melanesian chants
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic David Sterritt and a 1963 reprint by James Jones 
  • New cover by Neil Kellerhouse

Director Terrence Malick recommends that The Thin Red Line be played loud.

Those were the words that greeted me from the Blu-ray menu when I hit "play" and I can understand why, war is not quiet, it is loud, it is in your face, it is all around you, it gives you no peace.  All these words can be used to describe this film.

The opening part of the film is idyllic, you may think that is a contradiction to my comment above, but still, it is not quiet.  It is more loud in its sense of visual beauty, the laughter of the children as they play, swimming in the sea, the peacefulness of the village.  Throughout the film we have several character speak voice-over narration, a commentary of their thoughts.  We hear the character of Pvt Witt (Jim Caviezel) talk about death and immortality, trying to make sense of all the chaos he has experienced.

It seems that the experiences were a little too much as soon we come to realise that Pvt Witt and another character are actually AWOL from the Army.  They are found and returned to their Company.  We are here introduced to the rest of the cast.  The ship is heading towards the battle of Guadalcanal. The top brass survey the deck, talking about the importance of taking the Guadalcanal, how it will give control of a vital route through the Pacific.  Their language is almost too simple, we do this, we do that, job done.  Do they realise people will die?  Or is it easier for them to not think about that side of the plan?

Below deck, in the claustrophobic living quarters, there are plenty of people thinking about dying.  All these men can do is wait until they reach their destination and that means plenty of time to think.  Some lounge around on their bunks, reading, writing, thinking.  Others talk endlessly about the event ahead, will they die? Another man even steals another's pistol as a souvenir.  Throughout the film we hear voice-over narration from various characters, all trying to deal with the situation in their own way.  For some the battle is not only the enemy in front of them but also in the mind.  The mundane waiting is soon broken by the siren blaring out, it is time to deploy ashore.

Again, we are taken to a location of breathtaking beauty, a sandy beach, lush green grass and clear sky.  The beauty soon turns to horror as two dead soldiers are found, or I should say, bits of them.  There is soon more bloodshed as the battle commences.  Its bloody, its violent and its realife.  Men are blow up, shot and some who survive are almost shellshocked by the events.  You see men being brave whilst they draw their final breath, you see men to scared to even move.  These events are played over and over in the film as many battles are waged.  During a close combat fight when the Company raids the Japanese camp you see the tortured faces of the enemy, you have men screaming whilst running aimlessly, not attempting to defend themselves, people on their knees praying.  Are they praying for survival or death to take them from the madness?

Whilst this film is indeed harsh and bloody the overpowering force of nature is never far from the screen.  During a battle with bombs exploding and bullets flying through the air we see a butterfly, only for a few seconds but it is there, there to remind us that nature carries on.  Bats hang down from the trees above the soldiers, an owl sits, watching, a lizard lounges on a branch, birds are flying in the sky.  All examples of beauty versus horror on the island.

Another voice-over narration during the film tells us "Nature is cruel"  The only thing I see as cruel in this film is man, not only against his fellow man but against nature.  Destroying the landscape to build bunkers, littering the land with corpses and bullet casings as well as the black smoke from the warship engines billowing into the sky.  During the final scene Mother nature shows us that everything returns to the Earth.  The battles are over yet even after all the death and destruction, new life is born, here in the form of a plant, its shoot reaching up into the sky.   A symbol of the circle of life?

The Thin Red Line it is beautiful, it is savage and it is real.  Nearly 3 hours long but time is forgotten as you emerge yourself into the film.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Shock Corridor - Review # 4

Spine #19
Available on DVD & Blu-ray
Special features:
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New video interview with star Constance Towers by film historian and filmmaker
    Charles Dennis
  • The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, Adam Simon’s 1996 documentary on director Samuel Fuller
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: Illustrations by cartoonist Daniel Clowes and a booklet featuring a new essay by critic and poet Robert Polito and excerpts from Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting, and Filmmaking    
  • New cover by Daniel Clowes

The Pulitzer Prize, a prestigious award given in the world of journalism by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.  The award has many categories but I do believe Shock Corridor focuses on the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.  Whilst this award is seen by some as the pinnacle of journalistic status, how far would you go to win?  The character Johnny Barrett thought it was worth risking his sanity.

A murder has been committed at an unnamed mental Institute.  The police have not been able to identify the killer so Barrett and his Editor see this as a chance to solve the crime in the hope of claiming a Pulitzer Prize.  The plan is for Johnny to be declared insane and committed to the Institute in question.  The opening frame of the film is the famous quote "Whom God Wishes to Destroy He First Makes Mad" The first words we hear are "My name is Johnny Barrett.  I'm a reporter on the Daily Globe.  This is my story... as far as it went"

Quite a start!

The first scene, as the credits roll, is of a long, forever reaching corridor, this is the corridor where much of the film is set.  This is the corridor the inmates pace, play and live out their lives.  The scene switched to an office and we see Johnny, sat in a chair, answering question by a Doctor.  After making an error with an answer we realise, whilst the Doctor is real, the setting is fake.  This is a dress rehearsal before Johnny is sent to the Institute for assessment and committal.  The "fake" session introduces us to the characters behind the idea, Johnny, his Editor "Swanee" and Dr Fong.  Also there is Johnny's girlfriend Cathy.

The character of Cathy, with a twist, is used as the reasoning behind Johnny's "madness"  He has unnatural desires for Cathy but not as his girlfriend, but as his Sister.  The trick works and soon Johnny is in his Institute uniform and walking the corridor.  There are 3 potential witnesses to the murder of Sloan:

Stuart:  Originally from Bible Belt, now convinced he is a Confederate General named Jeb Stuart.  He spends all his time re-enacting Civil War battles.

Trent: The only Negro student at a southern University.  He collects pillowcases and believes he is the founder of the KKK.

Dr Boden:  Brilliant scientist and Nobel Prize winner after his work on the atom bomb.  Now has the mental age of 6 and likes to draw whilst sat on the floor.

As you can see, each witness comes with his own problems, ones in which Johnny has to navigate in order to try and determine what, if anything, they actually saw, what is real and what is fantasy.  We see Johnny interact with these, and other inmates, as he tries to piece together the events that led up to the death of Sloan.  All the while keeping up the pretence of being mad, answering the endless questions of the doctors, partaking in group therapy (and being rugby tackled to the ground by a group of sex starved women, LOL ) and undergoing shock treatment (not so LOL).  We see Johnny start to hallucinate as reality blends into madness.

I must mention Cathy, whilst her character is the focus of the lie that enables committal, she is not a central figure.  She visits Johnny in the Institute, is questioned by the Doctors etc but she has to be living her own life on the outside whilst the investigation continues.  She is a striptease artist, a job which, by her own admission is only done for the monetary value.  We see her in the workplace, usual on the telephone decrying the whole sorry situation, from the start you see her objection but she is put on the spot by the three and goes along with the story.

The film plays out at a reasonable pace, not too long and enough time given for you to develop an understanding of the people involved.  This all leads to the final scene of the film, which I will not reveal.  It is both fascinating and heartbreaking, to see what becomes of Johnny, to see the reward for all his effort, having given everything he had, for a Pulitzer Prize. As I asked at the start, what is chasing the ultimate prize worth?  It is up to each person to decide.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Criterion Collection Purchase # 3

July 9 2013, this was the date it all started to go crazy!  This was the start of the Barnes & Noble 50% Criterion sale (runs until August 5).  By this time I had completed my look through the Criterion catalogue so was ready to buy buy buy!  I managed to show some restraint and only purchase 10 films.  Here is a list of what I bought:

The Ruling Class (DVD)

Ministry Of Fear (Blu-ray)

Life Is Sweet (Blu-ray)

Big Deal On Madonna Street (DVD)

Paddle To The Sea (DVD)

Following (Blu-ray)

Red Beard (DVD)

Days Of Heaven (Blu-ray)

3:10 To Yuma (Blu-ray)

The Red Shoes (Blu-ray)

Anatomy Of A Murder - Review # 3

Spine # 600
Available on DVD & Blu-ray
Special features:
  • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New alternate 5.1 soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray edition
  • New interview with Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch
  • Critic Gary Giddins explores Duke Ellington’s score in a new interview
  • A look at the relationship between graphic designer Saul Bass and Preminger with Bass biographer Pat Kirkham
  • Newsreel footage from the set
  • Excerpts from a 1967 episode of Firing Line, featuring Preminger in discussion with William F. Buckley Jr.
  • Excerpts from the work in progress Anatomy of “Anatomy”
  • Behind-the-scenes photographs by Life magazine’s Gjon Mili
  • Trailer, featuring on-set footage
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Nick Pinkerton and a 1959 Life magazine article on real-life lawyer Joseph N. Welch, who plays Judge Weaver in the film
  • Cover based on a theatrical poster by Saul Bass

It has been over a week since I watched this film and I am still uncertain about my thoughts.  The overwhelming feeling is that I enjoyed the film but I don’t agree with morals of the story.  I guess it is hard for me to explain why without giving away a large chunk of the plot and outcome. 

The star of the show is Jimmy Stewart, who put in an Oscar nominated performance (one of 5 in his career).  In total the film was awarded 7 nominations but failed to pick up any statues. 

When the film was first released it caused controversy due its use of graphic (by 1950’s standards) terminology to describe sex, rape and ladies underwear!  The film is based on a true story and developed from a novel by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker (alias Robert Traver).  Largely set in the actual Marquette County Courthouse we follow the trial of an Army soldier accused of murdering a man. 

Everyone in the film puts in decent performances and it has the feel of a real trial.  A character I really did enjoy was the sharp-witted Secretary to Paul Biegler (James Stewart).  You will probably recognise her as the Principal McGee from Grease. 

From the near start of the film you get to see how easy it is to manipulate the law to your own needs, and this is the part of the film I did not like.  I don’t like liars and this is what I feel the defence is based around, a lie.  That said, it does throw up an interesting question in regards to taking the law into your own hands.  Can you ever be justified when a serious crime has, allegedly, taken place prior?

The extras that come with the Criterion were helpful in understanding more about Otto Preminger, the Director and Producer of this film.  He had already had run-ins in regards to censorship of his films so the content of Anatomy Of A Murder did not come as a huge surprise to some.  I also enjoyed the theatrical trailer of the film, this starred Otto as a judge swearing in all the actors.

So that is Anatomy Of A Murder, a film very well acted and one which leaves you with a few questions about what is right and wrong.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Criterion Collection Purchase # 2

My 2nd purchase was a few weeks later, though this time via  The previous 50% sale had ended and not all sellers on will ship internationally and if they do you are stung nearly $15 a film for shipping!

This time I picked up two titles:

Shock Corridor (Blu-ray)

Hobson's Choice (DVD) (review here)

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Hobson's Choice - Review # 2

Criterion Collection Spine # 461 

Available in DVD 

Special features:
  • New high-definition digital transfer from a restoration by the BFI National Archive, funded by the David Lean Foundation and StudioCanal
  • Audio commentary featuring film scholars Alain Silver and James Ursini, co-authors of David Lean and His Films
  • The Hollywood Greats: Charles Laughton, a 1978 BBC documentary about the actor’s life and career, featuring interviews with his family, friends, and colleagues
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A new essay by critic Armond White 
  • New cover by F. Ron Miller

The opening shot of this film is so typical of northern England, row after row of terraced houses. Add in other cinematography such as chimneys billowing smoke into the sky, children playing in the street, their Mothers sweeping the front step whilst talking with the neighbours and you have the backdrop of old Edwardian life. When you mix in the language used, the old British class system and the local pub it brings together a setting that makes this film so real life. 

Our attention is soon turned to Henry Hobson and his family, which consists of himself, a man who thinks he runs the household, and his 3 Daughters. Together they run the family boot-making store in Salford, Manchester. Two of his Daughters, Alice and Vicky, are in secret relationships and waiting for the right moment for their suitors to approach their Father. Henry Hobson learns, via his friends down the pub (a place he likes to frequent) that he would have to pay a “settlement” when any of his Daughter’s marries. The sum is an outrageous amount so he decrees that there will be no marriages for anyone. During this conversation it becomes apparent that Henry is only speaking of Alice and Vicky. Maggie, the eldest Daughter, enquires as to why she is not involved; the response is “you’re too old”. 

This sets in motion a chain of events that leads Henry on a downward spiral. Along the way he managed to land himself in a cellar, receive a lawsuit and face a serious health issue. He hits rock bottom as his Daughters move away and has to revaluate his life in order to survive. All actors in this film play their part to the max, another reason for its success. 

Overall this is a bloody hilarious British comedy and being a Northerner myself I could relate instantly to this film. The extras received included a very insightful documentary on the life and career of Charles Laughton. I also found the audio commentary to be very helpful in helping me understand the film better.