Films I’m Excited About – Autumn/Winter 2014

There are quite a few films in dying to see at the moment. Here are a handful of them: Big Hero 6, Bayonetta: Bloody Fate, Interstellar, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Enemies and Shoah.

Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014)
Release date: 7th November 2014
This came out in Japan earlier this week. It’s an interesting prospect. Disney have capitalised on their purchase of Marvel Studios and raided their vaults for untapped stories and potential franchises. The first one, Big Hero 6, concerns a child genius Hiro, his self-designed personal robot Baymax, their team of crime fighters and a sinister plot they fight to get to the bottom of. So not really classic Disney. This will enter as 54th on the list of Walt Disney Animated Classics, and I suppose Disney are hoping it will do well both at the cinema and in merchandising. For me, I’m really excited about it. I am, however, cautious. There is a huge risk that it pitches itself right in the middle of everyone who could like it, alienating all of them in the progress. It certainly won’t be as successful as Tangled or Frozen, and films traditionally aimed at boys (gender stereotyping alert but you know what I mean) tend to be less successful – even excellent films like Meet The Robinsons often get overlooked and then forgotten. However, with solid reviews and a hilarious trailer it could hit the ground running next month.

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Bayonetta: Bloody Fate / ベヨネッタ ブラッディフェイト (Fuminori Kizaki, 2013)
Release date: 24th November 2014
Okay so it has been out for over a year in the Asian markets, but Bloody Fate will finally see an English-language release next month courtesy of Funimation. It has received mixed reviews so far, but the trailer shows off just how over the top it is and it promises to be of a similar tone to the games. Unfortunately we’ll have to settle for a Blu-ray release as I don’t know any cinemas that will show it.

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Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014)
Release date: 7th November 2014
Because… Have you seen the trailer?! Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest filmmakers of out generation and keeps turning out films in new genres that challenge and excite audiences the world over. Having been linked for a long time with the upcoming Star Wars trilogy, it’s almost intentional that he has made a film set in outer space, like he’s pointing out the downside of getting involved with an already established franchise whilst making a mind-blowing one-off that is sure to be a huge success. This is one that has to be seen at an IMAX, apparently. To be fair, I wholeheartedly believe this is the case with Gravity, so I can fully see why people are saying the same about this one.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Enemies
Release date: 12th December 2014
I think by now we’re all in agreement that this trilogy should have been a maximum of two films. There has been a thorough exploration of everything in the book, but perhaps this came at the expense of a faster pace and a set of films that grips viewers from start to finish. That said, they have been a visual spectacle and I’ve enjoyed seeing a great collection of fine British actors uniting on the big screen to tell such a fantastical story. I’ll be there on opening weekend making sure I don’t miss out on the fun.

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Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)
Release date: January 2015
Released in the middle of the 1980s and clocking at a huge nine hours and twenty-three minutes long, Shoah is not a documentary to be entered into lightly. It has a controversial reputation but on a critical level the film has always been highly rated. Now seeing an HD release courtesy of the Masters of Cinema, now is your chance to see this masterpiece in the comfort of your own home – crucially with ultimate control over when you take a break from the action.

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Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986)

When I first saw Big Trouble in Little China, it would have been as a rental from my local video store The Ritz in Burnley. I’m going to guess it was either 1991 or 1992. At this time, children across the UK had been gripped by Turtle Power and, if you were really lucky, you might also have a home video games console with a copy of Street Fighter II. Martial arts were a hot property, and re-watching this film I can see what the immediate appeal was.

Less than ten minutes in we’re treated to a large-scale Kung Fu gang fight. As the film progresses, the battles become more over-the-top, with characters flying, using impressive magic, attacking our heroes with lightning and telekinesis and then there’s the unforgettably dread-inducing lazer eyes. It’s the live-action version of all your favourite parts of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II, the film that neither franchise managed to pull off. It just keeps getting better and better and I can well see how amazing that would have seemed to my 8-year-old self.

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The story itself is a little confused. It kicks off with an office scene where the Chinese bus driver Egg Shen (played by Victor Wong) is sat telling his lawyer that Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) was a “real hero”. In the extras we learn that Carpenter was forced to make this addition as the studio wanted Kurt Russell to be the sole main hero. As the film plays out though it is quite obvious that he’s the sidekick to Wang Chi’s cause (played by Dennis Dun). It is his girlfriend we are following the kidnapping and attempted rescue of, not Burton’s. Indeed Burton’s eventual love interest Gracie Law, played by a young Kim Cattrall, is part of the rescue party. In my opinion it’s a shame that the studio forced this change as it’s quite a bold move to cast a reasonably famous Caucasian actor as a sidekick to a Chinese lead star. As much as I’d love to see it recut, I don’t think it will ever happen.

The visual effects are to be applauded. I’m used to watching B-Movies, especially those made in the 1980s when people were getting creative with very low budgets. I am quite good at using my imagination to compensate for any subsequent substandard segments, especially if the director’s ambition is evident. Yet there was no concessions required here. There are several monster costumes that stand out as both unique and memorable. The electric storm effects and lazer effects both deliver as well. It doesn’t seem to have aged at all, much less so than some of John Carpenter’s efforts from the 1990s (and yes I’m looking directly at 1995’s Village of the Damned there).

And there lies another pleasant surprise. I had no idea this was a John Carpenter film. I watched it too early to remember either the actor playing the lead character or even the lead character’s name itself. I was never going to commit the director’s name to memory. It was great to realise a legend of cinema was on the reigns and it reassured me that it was indeed a high quality film.

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A word on the package. The version I’m reviewing is the Arrow 2014 Blu-ray re-release. The transfer is unbelievable. The bonus features on the release cover every angle you could possibly want. You’ve got commentary from Russell and Carpenter, trailers, an alternative extended ending. There are extensive interviews with the cast and crew. There’s a short documentary about the stuntmen. Even the menu page looks astounding. I know this is typical of Arrow releases but it’s reassuring that this is the first thing you see and you know a lot of care has gone into covering every aspect of the user experience.

So if you’re needing an 80s nostalgia hit and you’ve worn out your cheap Goonies DVD, try this one instead. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

Big Trouble in Little China is out now on a Blu-ray and DVD dual format package from Arrow Video in the UK.

Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)

Having recently watched McCarey’s excellent Make Way For Tomorrow, I thought I’d dig below the surface and watch some of his other films. I came into Ruggles of Red Gap nothing about Charles Laughton and the other members of the cast, and very little about McCarey. I have to say that on first impression, I am very disappointed.

Laughton portrays Ruggles, an English valet who is working in Paris but is transferred to America to work for a brash American (confusingly portrayed by Charlie Ruggles). Once in Washington, our valet develops as a character and grows in confidence, going from obedient servant to full independence, eventually deciding to open his own Anglo-American restaurant.

Laughton biographer Simon Callow, in a key bonus feature on the UK Masters of Cinema release, discusses in great detail his opinion on the performance and his disappointment having watched it. In context, he was comparing him to his great performances as the Hunchback of Notre Damme and as Henry VIII, to name a couple. I have not seen these, but I wholeheartedly agree with everything he says. I’d got further – as an Englishman, the whole thing is utterly insulting.

The Ruggles that is portrayed is a bumbling Brit that would leave any aristocratic servant-employer worried for their own safety. Indeed, I’d probably ask for a different waiter if I was served by Ruggles in a restaurant. The portrayal leaves the viewer with an air of discomfort. There’s something going on between his flickering eyes and his awkward body language that made me want to look away. In hindsight, I think it was Laughton’s attempt at comedy. Perhaps it was “of the time”, but it really hasn’t aged well.

That he can’t find any route out of servitude until he goes to America, which is patriotically portrayed here – unashamedly – as the land of the free, is undermining of Britain. With very little knowledge of Laughton as a person, I’m willing to guess that he must have been very anti-British to accept such a role.

The film was hugely popular amongst American viewers and very much not popular in Britain, and for the reasons just mentioned I can understand why. Having listened to Callow speak so fondly of Laughton and McCarey, I’m really keen to seek out something that justifies their enduring popularity. I’ll gladly welcome any suggestions!

Ruggles of Red Cap is available now in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD.

Susuz Yaz [Dry Summer] (Metin Erksan, 1964)

Susuz Yaz is the first film to be released in the UK as part of the World Cinema Project, as founded and chaired by Martin Scorsese. Released in 1964 and directed by Metin Erksan, the film was immediately banned by Turkish authorities and was thus not enjoyed by the wider audience it deserved, despite winning the Golden Bear at the 14th Berlin Film Festival and the Biennale Award at the 29th Venice Film Festival. It has been a long time coming, but it is finally seeing a high definition official home video release.

The film charts the story of two brothers – Osman and Hasan Kocabas – who own a tobacco farm on which a water spring that serves a community is sourced. It is a drought summer, so Osman decides to dam the supply and keep the water for himself. Hasan opposes the idea, seeing the potential for arguments, starvation and unhappiness in the community. It’s the classic tale of conflict from within family, the choice of doing what’s right by the community or what’s right by your family.

There’s only one catch. Osman is a complete asshole.

Osman is a guy that is screwing over his neighbours solely for his own benefit. A guy that peeks through a crack in the wall to see his brother having sex with his wife. A guy that kills a man that tries to dismantle a dam that shouldn’t have been there in the first place, then forces his brother to take the blame. There are so many despicable acts as the story progresses and I don’t want to ruin them for you if you’re looking at watching this film. Just trust me that the character is up there with Nurse Ratched the great assholes of cinema list.

He’s part of a triangle of lead characters that drive the film forwards at a fantastic pace. The beautiful Hülya Koçyiğit is great as the oppressed housewife Bahar, whilst Erol Taş gives a great turn as the brother determined to do right by the community. Yet it is Ulvi Dogan as Osman that keeps us enthralled and captivated right to the end. He’s truly disgusting and pulls out every stop to make your skin crawl. At no point does Erksan attempt to court sympathy for him, which is refreshing to see nowadays.

The film comes in a box-set of three forgotten works of art along with an extensive booklet with short essays on the respective films. It’s a fantastic package that is similar in design to the recent Late Mizoguchi boxset, also from Masters of Cinema. The three films (this one plus Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances and Ermek Shinarbaev’s Revenge) all have introductions from Martin Scorsese himself. Having not got to the other two discs yet, I can only comment on the Dry Summer disc. The five-minute introduction doesn’t really critically analyse the film and also offers no insight into it, though it is nice to see Mr Scorsese chat about something he’s clearly passionate about. Perhaps I’m just information hungry these days but I was certainly underwhelmed by the lack of bonus features. I guess the sheer fact that we get to see the film in any form is bonus enough and I can’t complain too much!

Delving into the Phil Coldiron essay into the booklet, we find out a small amount of info about the film and the context in which it is set, and it offers a perspective on why the film was so risque at the time that is found itself being banned. Certainly by today’s standards, the things I suspect it was banned for – the point of view upskirt shots of the desperately unhappy Bahar, the passionate sex scenes, etc – all seem very tame indeed. The more horrific scenes come in the form of animal cruelty and, later on, the fight scene between the brothers that is so convincingly acted out that it leaves the viewer feeling almost sympathetically exhausted for them.

All in all, if you have even a passing interest in the history of world cinema and want to support the great cause of film restoration then you should consider buying this release. I was nervous that it might stray from the high standards that have been set by the Masters of Cinema series but that just isn’t the case. It’s not a film I’ll be rushing back to watch again (I have two more from the same box first!), but I won’t be forgetting the great asshole Osman any time soon.

Martin Scorsese Presents World Cinema Project Volume One is released on Blu-ray and DVD dual format on 25th November 2013.

Susuz Yaz film poster from the 14th Berlin Film Festival

Susuz Yaz film poster from the 14th Berlin Film Festival