We've Been Watching...

Here at the Digital Fix we don’t simply watch the films that we write about. Of course, the review discs take priority so as to keep our readership informed of the latest releases, but still we find the time to satisfy our various tastes and predilections. As such we’ve come up with a new fortnightly feature in which to share some of our off-duty viewing. Every other Wednesday we’ll be asking the reviewing team to highlight some of the films they’ve been watching, whether it’s on a big screen or small, an ancient title or brand new…

GARY: Last time I mentioned I, Claudius, currently two thirds of the way through a repeat run on BBC Four. There’s not much I can say about this that Graham Nelson doesn’t say in his excellent DVD review for this site. Last week, we got to Part 7, Reign of Terror, dealing with the downfall of Sejanus, featuring torture, the rape of his daughter before being killed so that she did not die a virgin, and much use of the ketchup bottle by the make-up crew. This was first broadcast on 1 November 1976, four weeks after my twelfth birthday, and it kept me up half the night and so I was not allowed to watch the rest. I didn’t see the remaining episodes until ten years later, when the BBC repeated the serial after Robert Graves’s death, by which time I had read the two novels the serial was based on. Part 8, Zeus, By Jove!, was repeated tonight as I write this, and it’s easily the most controversial episode of the serial, for its final scene where Caligula (John Hurt) murders his sister and lover Drusilla (Beth Morris) and apparently emulates Saturn’s feat of infant-swallowing. After hearing so much about that scene, what I saw on screen in 1986 did not live up to my imagination of it and I didn’t bat an eyelid. That said, the friend I was watching with was squirming in his seat. By all accounts, some gory detail which was shown on first broadcast has been edited out (there’s no "End of Part 8" caption) and remains missing and apparently lost to this day.

Other than that, I rewatched Cate Shortland’s Somersault for the first time after seeing it in the cinema eight years ago. It stands up very well as a film about character and nuance rather than plot in the usual sense, with a stunning performance in the lead from Abbie Cornish. (My cinema review is here and Richard Booth reviewed the UK DVD here.) Shortland’s second feature, Lore, gets a Blu-ray and DVD review later this month, and I will be reviewing it for this site.

I watched Somersault via Lovefilm Instant. Remember the Paul Cox films I mentioned as being available a while back? Well, they’re not there anymore. I wonder how many, or how few, people watched them? Some of them are still available on Curzon Home Cinema, though.

DAVE: Out this week on UK DVD is The Tower, a 2012 South Korean disaster movie with more than a little in common with the 1974 Steve McQueen thriller The Towering Inferno. Truth be told I’ve not seen the McQueen film but the always spoilerific Wikipedia plot description tells me the setups in these movies are very similar. More concerned with providing luxury to their high profile guests and throwing a headline grabbing Christmas party, a high-rise apartment building’s ruling body are guilty of cutting corners and leaving the building vulnerable to a fire should one break out. When the inevitable happens all hell breaks loose and it’s left to a few brave survivors and the fire fighters who join them to help get everyone to safety.

The production levels here put this squarely in blockbuster territory, with some really impressive sets and some great special effects work which really helps sell the danger the characters find themselves in. The minute-to-minute action is often predictable, as is the fate of most of the characters, but there are some surprises along the way and thanks to a lengthy introduction to the main cast before they’re put in harm’s way I found myself caring about their plight more than most. If there are any problems worth highlighting, then it would have to be the general superficial blockbuster nature of the film, but as long as you know that going in there’s plenty to enjoy here. It blends action and comedy well, overdoes the drama on numerous occasions and throws a spanner in the works here and there (some class commentary that is underdeveloped and some gratuitous moments of horror when the disaster first strikes) but it manages to entertain and excite throughout and that’s all I really wanted from the film so job well done.

JOHN: Chief on my films to look forward to in 2013 was the return of Wong Kar Wai. Turning his back on America and returning to Hong Kong, I like many saw the teaser for The Grandmaster and just hoped it wasn’t a false dawn. Well, I am pleased to say it isn’t and that underneath all the wire-fu, there beats a heart lost in romance, the tricks of time and pop culture. The western influences seem obvious; Once Upon a Time in America is actually echoed in the score and there’s more than a scintilla of Doctor Zhivago too. Hurrah, our foremost film-maker is back.

On a Lance Henriksen tip, I recently took in the triple bill of Jennifer 8, Johnny Handsome and It’s in the Blood. I’ll wax lyrical in this site’s upcoming podcast but suffice to say Lance is so cool he even reclaims his name from plonkers and imbeciles. Other revisits have included Kiss Kiss Bang Bang as I wait for Iron Man 3, and Johnnie To’s The Mission, a masterpiece without a decent English friendly DVD or Blu-ray release.

Returning to the small stranger who squats in my living room, Castle did an excellent clips show, Defiance has found its feet and Hannibal is shaping up nicely. Veep’s second series is being handled by the likes of Chris Morris and Chris Addison as directors, and The Mentalist may finally, hopefully, probably and surely be about to face down Red John. When Simon Baker hangs up his blue suit, I’ll miss him- his charisma has kept a dull format fresh but can it really go for another season?

JONNY: Desperately strapped for cash recently, I somehow found a crisp twenty pound note in my drawer and obviously raced down to the local film store; perusing the aisles for £2 films is weirdly stimulating and exhilarating. Nevertheless, I stumbled upon some surprisingly modern titles, including Artificial Eye copies of Le Havre and Amour. Considering the shop, the word surprising doesn’t quite cut it as to how on earth they had these two copies stocked. I’m not one to pass up a good opportunity though.

Amour is probably a more familiar title than Le Havre, and is notably the most recent Haneke work. Starring Emmanuelle Riva, of Hiroshima, Mon Amour fame, it’s the study of relationship as two people so intertwined in each other’s life go in opposite directions; Riva’s Anne gradually deteriorates as she’s stricken by illness that Georges, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, can’t fathom and process what the right thing to do next should be. At his best, Haneke is the kind of auteur that lends towards the gritty, moody, often depressing cinema that we lap up, and this is quite possibly his best, in that its perfection derives from his harsh, but honest approach to an excruciating subject matter.

Le Havre, whilst not as accomplished as Amour still finds itself in my eyes, to be a great film. True, its ambitions seem small on the outside, but having been to Le Havre myself and experienced the strange, almost ancient docklands and surroundings; Aki Kaurismäki does a genuine service in exploring the occasional depravity of it, with all the grey and washed out colours that exude from around town. The story is quaint, charming, never overbearing and ultimately endearing as a whole.

As far as television goes, I found myself once again swept up by the Game of Thrones craze and endeavoured to watch the latest episode. As a staunch “The book is better” kind of guy, I’ve never been as enamoured with the series as some have but there’s no doubt that it’s head and shoulders above most things on TV at the moment. The set pieces are immense, the gruesomeness is of the shuddering variety and the writing is spot on. Give me a more infuriating character than Joffrey and I’ll give you my crossbow!

CLAIRE: For the past few weeks I have been catching up on some television. First of all the final episode of The Following aired, starring Kevin Bacon as Ryan Harding the stereotypical, run down detective, and charismatic psychotic serial killer Joe Carroll played by James Purefoy. Over 15 episodes the FBI try to track down Carroll after he escapes from prison with help from his cult following. The show kept me interested throughout every single episode and brilliant performances from Shawn Ashmore (X-Men’s Iceman), Valorie Curry (who I loved to hate), and Natalie Zea as Claire, the focus of Carroll’s, and Hardy’s obsessions, only made the show more gripping. The final episode had me on the edge of my seat and I am hoping for a second series due to the shock ending!

To fill the gap left by The Following, I have started watching new series Revolution. After all the world’s power is shut off, militia take over a post-apocalyptic world. A group of revolutionaries try to take on the authoritarian regime, 15 years after the power goes out. Revolution interested me as it looks like a zombie-free version of The Walking Dead crossed with Lost. This theory was only strengthened by the appearance of Elizabeth Mitchell (who played Juliet Burke in Lost). It also stars Billy Burke otherwise known as Charlie Swan from the Twilight series. I am playing catch up on episode four of Revolution so far, the story hasn’t gripped me fully yet as the dialogue in each episode is starting to get repetitive, however the death of an integral character sparked my interest again and I will probably see this one through to the end.

ANTHONY: Another fortnight, another traipse around the forgotten corners of British cinema. Grim, a 1995 horror, was made for the US video market and so has everyone speak in American accents despite the Forest of Dean setting. At times it plays out like a forerunner to The Descent, only much, much worse. (Some nice effects work on the central monster though.) Just as bad, but in a very different way, was Queen of the Blues, a 1979 slice of erotica set in a Soho striptease club that bulks out much of its hour-long runtime with compere chatting and various routines. The rest is a barely thought-out (and barely acted) tale of gangsters and blackmail involving the instantly recognisable screen heavy and professional wrestler Milton Reid.

Speaking of gangsters, I also endured Shadow Run, a 1998 Michael Caine crime flick that stayed on the shelves for years before sneaking out onto video, plus there was Dealers, a 1988 attempt at a British Wall Street starring Paul McGann and Rebecca DeMornay. Not that it was all bad news. Don’t Talk to Strange Men, a quota quickie from 1962 in which teenaged Christina Gregg is groomed via a public telephone box, ratcheted up the tension nicely, and I finally got around to Artemis 81, the three-hour BBC oddity from David Rudkin (Penda’s Fen) that brought together Hywel Bennett, Sting, Ingrid Pitt and Daniel Day-Lewis for an epic story of good versus evil that is staggeringly ambitious and really quite audacious. The Beeb screened it in one massive chunk during the Christmas of 1981, though you imagine they’d never do the same again.

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