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…
CLYDEFRO: Of late I've had the pleasure to enjoy some relatively recent Blus of older films. Only two companies seem actively interested in bringing such pictures to the U.S. marketplace so I've chosen to highlight one offering from each.
The Criterion Collection's edition of 3:10 to Yuma has drawn a few concerns among internet chatter for not necessarily being stacked with supplements. Criterion historically tends to spoil its clientele with relevant bonus material so any perceived shirking can raise concern. But the thing is, in this instance, the worry is somewhat misguided. For one thing, the mere release of the film brought new attention to a magnificent work and its oft-unheralded director Delmer Daves. There's a raw intensity present here, as well as some magnificently enthralling cinematography, that impressed me. The two leads Glenn Ford and Van Heflin play off each other with animalistic commitment. They go back and forth sizing one another up to the point of confusing exactly which is the hunted and which is the prey, and it's marvellous. The two included on-disc interviews, one with Elmore Leonard - whose story provided the basis for the film - and the other with Glenn Ford's son, are both easy, informative watches and the Kent Jones booklet essay makes for a quite nice appreciation that also rounds out the supplements in worthwhile fashion.
Meanwhile, Olive Films has quickly made itself into a major player by doing one thing and doing it reasonably well. Olive typically just releases its titles, most of which are classic Hollywood movies culled from the Paramount library of holdings, in separate DVD and Blu-ray editions and denies any kind of extras whatsoever (even subtitles!). It can be frustrating certainly but simply getting the features being put out tends to trump the accompanying lack of anything else in the release. It's about $12 or $13 to see a retrospective title on the big screen in New York City so paying maybe $20 or so for a nifty Blu-ray of something semi-obscure doesn't seem so outrageous.
What I spun most recently from Olive was The Enforcer, starring Humphrey Bogart as a determined district attorney in an unnamed big city. He wants to convict an organized crime figure but loses his only major witness. The film, credited to Bretaigne Windust but often unofficially attributed to Raoul Walsh, makes generous use of flashbacks as Bogart tries to find someone else to testify against the mob figure, played by Everett Sloane. It's good, in the noir mould, but especially interesting for the way it peels back layers one by one of the criminal operation on display. It never goes too far down the docudrama path that some of its contemporary pictures did. The newness of contract killings and their participants gives the film a still-sharp edge which is no doubt aided by the presence of Bogart.
NICK: The new season of Mad Men doesn’t reach the show’s usual high standards. I sense that if Stan was to present one of the newer episodes to Don Draper, he’d throw the script in the bin and spend all night drafting something that isn’t a rehash of existing ideas. It’s still the best thing on TV, though, and its characters are too strong to produce any weak storylines. The same can be said for the return of Arrested Development which, after a shaky start, regains its rhythm. But only after you accept it’s intangibly different; slower, clumsier, and possibly with more heart than before.
I rewatched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which I still find mesmerising. Also impressive was Capturing the Friedmans, a similarly engrossing documentary that touches upon the same themes of identity, fractured relationships and memory manipulation, yet couldn’t be more different. Built from home videos dating back to the 1980s, it couldn’t really exist in the YouTube era when even an innocent photograph bears traces of self-awareness. It’s fairly unpleasant to watch, but essential viewing: a meditation on the legal system and how to cope with losing everything.
MIKE: The weekend saw my annual viewing of a great guilty pleasure - the ludicrously entertaining Who Dares Wins which glamourises the SAS to an almost fascist degree but does so in such a ridiculous way that it's impossible to take it seriously. Unexpected delights abound from the unintentionally hilarious screenplay which spells out everything in triplicate to the bizarre accent of Norman Rodway, not forgetting the jaw-dropping anti-nuclear dance routine. Wonderful cast, bravura photography from Phil Meheux and a performance from Judy Davis which is almost unnecessarily good in the circumstances. Arrow's Blu-Ray is pristine and beautiful but makes me slightly nostalgic for my ratty old pre-cert ex-rental VHS.
I followed this up with the next Euan Lloyd production, Wild Geese II, which I apparently saw in the cinema. It can't have made much of an impression on me then and it didn't this time either although I did enjoy Scott Glenn's embarrassed non-acting, not to mention Edward Fox being given LSD by Charlie Fairhead from Casualty. The best thing about the film is Roy Budd's score while the worst is probably the vaguely unsavoury use of an obviously very ill Laurence Olivier as Rudolf Hess.
On a more serious note, the post brought me Blu-Rays of Robert Altman's peculiar That Cold Day in the Park, a film I watched for the first time with a certain incredulity but an undoubted fascination, and Lewis Teague's Cujo, a vastly underrated monster movie with a superlative central performance from Dee Wallace Stone. I also finished my lonely vigil with Ben Elton's sitcom The Wright Way, never finding it as bad as everyone said but not finding much good about it either. David Haig is a splendid comic actor but he worked so hard to so little effect in this that I kept worrying for his health.
JOHN: We all like to be in on something big before the bandwagon gets rolling. People will boast of buying the first Adele album or of watching Mean Streets at the cinema, but most of us get there after everyone else has. Exhibit one for me is now Firefly, I avoided this due to my lack of love for Buffy the Vampire Killer and now I find myself having loved Fillion in Castle and with some spare time revisiting this minor miracle. A western in space, an ensemble piece relying on good dialogue and good actors - how did this ever get cancelled?
Well Star Trek 2 was very weak wasn't it? I am very unfond of stories that have such a way of bringing people back to life only to not apply it to everyone who is dead and hope we all forget before the next film. Also Chris Pine - he's not Mr Charisma, is he? Much better was a return to Paul Andrew Williams’ The Cottage with Andy Serkis, triads and farming cannibals - could the same man have made Song for Marion? Another step into the recent past was Vildspor with Mads Mikkelsen and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau - an intriguing small drama for two actors who now front big and small screen projects in the US.
And finally, a farewell... Matt Smith's Doctor is coming to an end, and I must say I am sorry. Smith was a very good actor when he started with the time traveller and he has got better and better. Many wanted Tennant back but Matt Smith will sit with Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee as my favourite actor in that role.
ANTHONY: A fortnight of oddities – here’s three of them…
Ricochet (1984) If you watched the Beeb’s recent David Bowie doc, Five Years, and was wondering where much of the Let’s Dance-era footage came from, well here’s your answer. Released onto VHS by Virgin in the mid-eighties, this documentary sat alongside the official Serious Moonlight tour video and provided an insight into the South-East Asian leg. Always looking dapper, Bowie wanders around Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong like a tourist from another planet. Meanwhile, a local band knock out a cover version of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and try to gain tickets for the very last gig of the tour, in Hung Hom, Kowloon. Bowie performs too, with a track or two from each stopover including a particularly abrasive take on ‘Look Back in Anger’.
Eversmile, New Jersey (1989) A forgotten entry in the Daniel Day-Lewis filmography and an early film from Carlos Sorin, the director of Bombón El Perro. Much like that later movie this is a South American road movie with the three-time Oscar-winner playing an Irish travelling dentist who encounters love and vaguely surrealist vignettes. The LoveFilm commenting crowd have placed a lot of hate on this picture, but it’s strangely endearing if not quite on a par with Bombón.
No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1948) Massively controversial at the time (it prompted the BBFC to apologise for “failing to protect the public”), this British attempt at making an American-style film noir is now mostly forgotten. Adapted from James Hadley Chase’s novel of the same, it maintains the US setting and sees most of its cast – including an uncredited Sid James – attempting New York accents despite having brought up in places like Johannesburg or County Durham. (Lead Jack La Rue was the sole native.) This strange facsimile makes for fascinating viewing, but it’s the violence which really lodges the film in the memory – a climactic suicide and a particularly vicious razor attack being the standouts – causing one critic to declare it “nauseating muck”.