My Content

Black Narcissus: A cinematic masterpiece makes a stunning transfer to DVD

A quick mention must be made of this extraordinary DVD which, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve only just caught up with although it was released late last year. Network’s new ‘Black Narcissus’ has to rank as the best DVD transfer of a technicolour film I’ve ever seen. Obviously it helps that I’ve been in love with the film for years, but anyone who appreciates sublime visuals thrillingly realised on DVD cannot fail to be stunned by this disc. The fact that I’ve been in love with the film may actually have made me more critical than someone new to it; having seen this movie in several different formats, I came to Network’s release with a critical eye. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Rich, natural colours, awesome detail, astounding, almost hallucinatory clarity, this DVD has the lot and no evidence of the ‘combing’ apparent in places on the Criterion. When you consider this film is nearly 60 year old, the quality of this transfer is genuinely hard to believe. Granada has struck a new interpositive directly from the original 35mm YCM and extensively restored the image in HD, removing dirt and defects. The soundtrack has also been digitally restored, a relief to anyone who has suffered the synch problems inherent in the Criterion. Features include the same 1988 commentary with Powell and Scorsese and ‘Painting with Light’ Cardiff documentary available on the Criterion, with the addition of the 24-minute ‘A Profile of Black Narcissus’ doc. All this, and it’s R2 too, and available online for approx £14. The only caveat is that there’s no subtitle option, so hard of hearing viewers may want to hold onto their Criterions while adding the Network to their collection when they feel like bathing purely in visual splendour. For my money the best DVD of 2005 and a must-own title at any rate, please avail yourself of this extraordinary opportunity now and purchase one of the best British films ever made on what is without doubt the best-looking transfer of a film of this era I’ve ever seen.

Night Moves Review

Rated by many critics as one of the defining films of the 70s, Arthur Penn's 'Night Moves' stars Gene Hackman, James Woods and an extremely young Melanie Griffith. Nat Tunbridge takes a look at this acclaimed movie, the first of two little seen Warner Bros 70s films to make their debut on R1 DVD this month.

Scarecrow Review

The second of two R1 Warner Bros. DVDs accorded an R1 release this month, 'Scarecrow' has Gene Hackman and Al Pacino in their only onscreen pairing, as two drifters making their way across the U.S. Nat Tunbridge appraises this little-known film. <br/>

Center Stage Review

Stanley Kwan's 1992 biopic of 30s Chinese silent movie star Ruan Ling-yu garnered awards on its initial release - including the Silver Bear for leading actress Maggie Cheung - and comes to DVD in fine form thanks to Fortune Star.

12 Monkeys Review

Terry Gilliam's mid-90s masterpiece '12 Monkeys' gets the R1 Special Edition treatment from Universal. What does this mean? Nat Tunbridge goes back to 1990 to find out, or is it 1996...? <br/>

Get Shorty Review

With its sequel 'Be Cool' recently in cinemas, Nat Tunbridge reviews the MGM Special Edition of Barry Sonnenfeld's 1995 'Get Shorty'.

Tarantino-a-go-go

Quentin Tarantino is a kind of mutant off-shoot in the film-making universe, like the product of some bizarre experiment, cooked up in the lab of a secret Army film school to wreak havoc on the world of cinema. With extraordinary acuity, he's assimilated the visual language, thematic quirks and atmospheric stylings of a whole slew of cinematic genres, including martial arts epics, Hong Kong crime thrillers, French ephemera and decades of Hollywood blockbusters. Appropriation ain't the half of it; he's swallowed the lot, mixed them in the blender of his own hyperactive adolescent imagination and regurgitated them back onto the screen in new, bloody forms.But in perfectly reshaping these disparate genres in his own image, Tarantino has captured none of their essence, nor contributed anything genuinely worthy to the canon. He's absorbed the outward form of a hundred masterpieces, but failed to understand the implicit emotional depth that motivates such works in the first place. It’s a case of new packaging, old content. Tarantino is ALL surface, ALL imitation, ALL artifice, the architect of a perfect cinematic simulacrum, infinitely wide and shiny but only a hair's breadth deep. By definition, this shallowness lacks humanity. To put it simply, he hasn't written one genuinely likeable, three-dimensional character. Ever. The only film of his to feature anything resembling sympathetic human beings was 'Jackie Brown' and they were largely the work of Elmore Leonard (which Tarantino adapted from his novel 'Rum Punch'). It's no coincidence that the film he was conceptually least involved in is also his finest.That's not to say that Tarantino isn't an accomplished, compelling director, he is. He's a gifted stylist whose punchy dialogue and idiosyncratic grasp of narrative have had a tremendous influence on a generation of young directors. He's arguably the most influential American film-maker to emerge during the 90s. He's also overrated, highly derivative and ultimately shallow and unaffecting. His movies, on repeated viewings, prove to be an empty assembly of hip glibness, flashy visuals and contrived ultra-violent set pieces. Neither are they as original as they first seemed to be in the mid-nineties flush of ‘Pulp Fiction’ mania. Anyone with a reasonable body of film knowledge will be able to spot the many influences he’s drawn on; there’s nothing wrong with being influenced of course, everyone is, but it’s hard to call someone a ‘genius’ for writing (or co-writing, as the case may be) ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ if one has first seen ‘The Killers’, ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, Kubrick’s early classic, ‘The Killing’ or a dozen other key noir/crime features, let alone ‘City on Fire’. The question of attribution also raises its head: in Sharon Waxman’s fine overview of the 90s indie-scene, <I>Rebels on the Backlot</I>, Tarantino is revealed as a blatant plagiarist who stole ideas not only from films but from close associates, refusing to give credit where due.Unlike most of the other significant 90s American film-makers, such as Soderberg, Russell and Anderson, Tarantino isn't interested in Life and the awkward, strange and wonderful interactions of real human beings. Amongst his contemporaries, he's almost unique in this regard. The quirky machinations of the characters of Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, however idiosyncratic, are at least conducted with enough verve to make us feel that their creators love them. Even Fincher, a highly stylised film-maker with an exceptionally dark outlook, populates his grim scenarios with characters whose offscreen lives seem possible. They are, to a substantial degree, 'real'. By comparison, Tarantino's creations are wafer thin, day-glo cartoon cut-touts whose passing we barely register, let alone mourn. It's not simply a question of the length, or the violence or depravity in Tarantino's films; 'Traffic', 'Boogie Nights' and 'Three Kings' are all sprawling, intermittently violent films where people often behave despicably. But their actions take place within a moral universe, one which bears at least a passing relationship to the one we know. By comparison, Tarantino's films are revealed to be a case not of style over substance, but style instead of substance.Nowhere has Tarantino's spiritual vapidity been more apparent than in his charmless, vulgar and over-long two-part 'come back' film 'Kill Bill'. A shallow exercise in kung-fu revisionism and manga-styled pyrotechnics, 'Kill Bill' was even more denuded of meaning than his previous efforts, offering an aimless mish-mash of brightly-coloured set-pieces, retro flashbacks and casual brutality. Nowhere was the film's utter paucity of spirit more evident than in its treatment of children. Near the beginning of the first film, Uma Thurman, playing the chief protagonist 'The Bride', executes Vernita Green in front of her young daughter, who watches her death silently and without any response. The child's inhuman reaction is scripted - she's just a mute object there for Thurman to deliver the pay-off line to. Similarly, at the end of the second film Thurman curls up happily with her daughter in front of the TV. The fact that Thurman has just executed her father and taken her away from a life she's been happily part of for years is not brought into the equation. In Tarantino's universe, it couldn't be, because the values needed to represent that degree of human response don't exist. The child is just a youthful, nutrition-free plot motivator - a MacMuffin - for the next big fight scene. Their smiles in the final frame of the film have all the authenticity of a toothpaste commercial.Authenticity, and what it represents, is at the heart of why I don't like Tarantino's films. Perhaps this is fitting, since Tarantino is regarded by some as the quintessentially post-modern director and I have very little time for the absurd determinism of that so-called 'movement'. The fact is that all cinema, pretty much, uses its characters and manipulates its audience, but how it uses them and why it manipulates them is all important. Scorsese's thugs in 'GoodFellas' and 'Casino' mow down innocents and torture rivals, yet they still operate within a moral framework defined by their allegiance to family and lingering, vestigial respect for the conventions of a Catholic upbringing. Scorsese's motivation in bringing these films to the screen is a personal one, in that the stories he tells reflect his own experience of growing up in an Italian American New York family in the 50s. Sin and redemption are the twin poles that his bloody epics revolve around and his connection to these themes is genuine.Tarantino's stories, on the other hand, reflect nothing more than a childhood spent watching TV. He's absorbed life at second- and even third-hand and offers recycled, manufactured blood operas that ape the structure and content of great films as if, in doing so, he hopes they will attract the same sense of importance. Behind the funky names, groovy soundtrack and slick visuals, Tarantino's films operate with the relentless determinism of a trash compactor, the mechanics of the script as soulless as gears. Does this invalidate them as entertainment? No, of course not. Does it make them ultimately disposable, ambivalent works? Yes. They are adolescent constructions, devoid of empathy, compassion and understanding, captivating for a moment, but ultimately empty, garishly painted shells which crumble upon close, steady scrutiny.

The Philadelphia Story: Special Edition Review

One of the best romantic comedies to ever grace the screen, 'The Philadelphia Story' boasts the stellar cast of Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart as well as a superlative technical team at work behind the camera. Nat Tunbridge reviews the excellent new 2-disk Special Edition from Warners.

Heat (Special Edition) Review

Michael Mann's acclaimed 1995 crime epic 'Heat' has been issued in a 2-disk R1 Special Edition from Warners. Nat Tunbridge reviews a disappointing DVD of a fine film.

Ice Age: Extreme Cool Edition Review

With 'Robots' currently in theatres, Nat Tunbridge looks at the previous movie from Blue Sky Studios, 'Ice Age', available in a 2-disk 'Extreme Cool Edition' which looks suspiciously like the Special Edition from three years ago...

Malcolm X: Special Edition Review

Malcolm X was one of the most controversial public figures of his time, an outspoken black activist whose life was finally made into film by Spike Lee in 1992. Nat Tunbridge reviews Warners' R1 2-disk Special Edition of 'Malcolm X'.

Carmen Review

A modern classic, Carlos Saura's 'Carmen' brilliantly combines incendiary dance sequences with a thrilling flamenco soundtrack and an unusual narrative style, to create a film of exhilirating theatricality. Nat Tunbridge reviews Momentum's R2 DVD of this superb film.

Tango Review

Nat Tunbridge looks at the Second Sight DVD of 'Tango', the last in a series of three reviews of the films of Patrice Leconte.

Yvonne's Perfume Review

In the second of three reviews, Nat Tunbridge looks at Second Sight's DVD of Patrice Leconte's classic slice of French nostalgia, 'Yvonne's Perfume'.

The Hairdresser's Husband Review

Second Sight has released three films by the acclaimed French director Patrice Leconte on R2 DVD. In the first of three reviews, Nat Tunbridge looks at the highly acclaimed 1990 film 'The Hairdresser's Husband'.

A Letter to Three Wives Review

Often passed over as simply being the film Joe Mankiewicz wrote and directed before 'All About Eve', 'A Letter to Three Wives' has much of that film's wit and elegance, if not quite rising to its stratospheric level. Nat Tunbridge reviews one of the latest releases in the excellent Fox Studio Classics series.

Return to Peyton Place Review

The 28th entry in the fine Fox Studio Classics series is a shocker: Return to Peyton Place. Nat Tunbridge reviews a good disk of a terrible film.

10 Rillington Place SE: leave the light on...

Crikey, just finished watching this and am attempting to recover my wits. I want to write a proper review of this when I get time, but for now just want to enthuse about what a terrific film it is and what a superb treatment it’s received on this Columbia Tri-Star DVD, around now for nearly a year.The horrific story of John Reginald Christie is known to many, a serial killer who between 1943 and his execution in 1953 murdered at least six women, including his own wife. What made the story even more horrible (as if it needed it) was that Christie allowed a semi-literate tenant, Tim Evans, to be convicted and hung for the murder of his infant daughter, even though Christie was almost certainly responsible for it.It’s a grim story and director Richard Fleischer (‘The Boston Strangler’, ‘The Vikings’, ‘Soylent Green’) shows admirable restraint throughout, keeping the soundtrack quiet and letting the eerie ambience of the house seep through (the film was actually shot at 10 Rillington Place where the murders had occurred). He’s aided by two brilliant leads: Dickie Attenborough is quite unnervingly realistic as Christie, inhabiting the character from within in a way that somehow brings this awful man to life onscreen. John Hurt tears up the screen in an early role as Tim Evans, the brash Welsh fantasist who was wrongly convicted of murder and hung. Judy Geeson also excels as poor Beryl Evans, the doomed 20-year old whose murder was attributed to her husband.One of the closing scenes is particularly disturbing. The West Indian tenant moving into 10 Rillington Place after Christie has vacated it peels back a papered up alcove and shines a flashlight into the dark space within. What he sees there I will not attempt to describe, except to say that the image will haunt me for a long time.A terrific, creepy film with great performances is given a true Special Edition by CTHE: the 1:85:1 anamorphic transfer is superb, immaculately clean, a joy (as much as it can be in a film like this) to watch, the colours, the lighting and texture of the film reminded me of the restored ‘Straw Dogs’, perhaps unsurprisingly, since that film was made the same year as this one, 1971. It’s a film that features a lot of darkness, many scenes in pure black, but I couldn’t see a thing wrong with it, aside from a few flecks at the beginning.There’s plentiful Special Features: a full commentary by John Hurt (“I’ve played quite a lot of victims in my time,” he says, “and this, you could say, was the ultimate victim,”), an illuminating interview with Dickie Attenborough, a timeline, ground plan of 10 Rillington Place, vintage lobby cards and the usual filmographies and trailer.I suggest, even in my traumatised state, that you snap up this DVD immediately as it’s available for £5 in the shops. Brrrr.

O-Genio: Ray Charles Live In Brazil 1963 Review

Following hard on the heels of Jamie Foxx's astonishing performance in 'Ray' comes this DVD featuring the man himself live in concert. Nat Tunbridge reviews a brilliant performance on a flawed DVD.

The Ox-Bow Incident Review

During the 1940s Henry Fonda starred in four of the greatest American movies of all time, roles that not only made him a screen icon but helped establish the American cinema as an artform. 'The Ox-Bow Incident' was the second of these, a tough, noir-Western with an unfashionably complex moral core. Nat Tunbridge reviews the superb Fox Classics DVD of this exceptional film. <br/> <br/>