Blu-Ray DVD Roundup – ‘Chinatown,’ ‘Iron Sky,’ ‘A Room with a View’

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

The product of four brilliant individuals, screenwriter Robert Towne, producer Robert Evans, star Jack Nicholson, and director Roman Polanski, Chinatown bounces the auteur theory on its head. Jake Gittes (Nicholson) is a Private Investigator specialising in divorce cases who is duped into exposing an apparent affair between Hollis Mulwray, chief engineer of the local water company and a young woman. When the real Mrs Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) turns up armed with a lawyer Gittes realises he has been used and starts to do some real detective work. Much of the film is spent observing Gittes as he puts his case together, visits locations, and slowly pieces together the truth. It may borrow the form of the classic detective movie but Chinatown is so much more than a genre pastiche. Instead of a lost object being sought after as in The Maltese Falcon the city itself is up for grabs. Gittes is a tarnished knight in the Marlowe mould but more fallible.
Chinatown is not just one of the great American movies but one of the great movies about America. Towne based his screenplay on real-life double dealings in the city of Los Angeles and a conversation with a cop who worked Chinatown and described minimalist approach to law enforcement in a place where nobody was quite sure what was going on. Polanski brought in by Evans to direct and lured back to Los Angeles for the first time since Sharon Tate was murdered brings an embittered eye to the city. No director has ever been less interested in sentimentality or more aware that terrible things can happen to people than Polanski and he was right to insist the film should end as it does. Sad that while the USrelease has a wealth of extras including a commentary track by Towne and David Fincher the UKdisk is vanilla flavoured. Paramount seems to be saying forget it Jake, its Chinatown. Or possibly just fuck you.

Iron Sky (2011, Timo Vuorensola)
Much more fun than expected Iron Sky mixes a killer premise with a campy satirical tone. In fact it reminded me a lot of the final season of the cult science fiction show LEXX (1997-2001) which hid its intelligence behind its outrageous storylines and weird humour. In 1945 Nazi’s went to the moon and have been there ever since just waiting for the opportunity to return and finish what they started. They have a new Fuhrer (Udo Kier) but their technology is hopefully outdated. Only when they capture a USastronaut/male model (Christopher Kirby) and realise his mobile phone is more powerful than their computer do they realise they have the power to return to Earth. Towering soldier Klaus Adler, played by Gottz Otto (Tomorrow Never Dies), is sent down to prepare for invasion. Tagging along for the ride are Renate (Julia Dietze) who has been indoctrinated to believe Nazism is peace-loving and The Great Dictator (1940, Charles Chaplin) is a short film about how nice Hitler was. It’s funny, takes a welcome aim at US self-interest, and for a low budget movie Iron Sky looks great. There are a few perfunctory extras and a digital download.

A Room with a View (1985, James Ivory)
It is unfashionable these days to admit you like a Merchant/Ivory film but A Room with a View is the team’s best work. Based on E.M. Forster’s novel, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham-Carter) is the young Englishwoman whose passions are aroused by a holiday in Italy and an encounter with the handsome but odd George Emerson (Julian Sands). There’s a great performance from Daniel Day-Lewis as her pompous but ultimately sympathetic fiancé Cecil, who personally I always had more time for than the impulsive George. He might be a snob but at least he has a sense of humour. There’s a decent set of special features here. BBC Breakfast Time interviews with Simon Callow and a giggly Day-Lewis, an archive report on the film’s success in America also from Breakfast Time, and a report from ‘Film 96’ on the Merchant/Ivory pairing. There is also a rather dry tribute to E.M. Forster aired by the BBC after his death in 1970. It is interesting to watch Forster being talked about before his revelatory posthumous novel ‘Maurice’ was published a year later. 

The Grey (2011, Joe Carnahan) – DVD Review

“Once more into the fray…”

I’m in the minority but I quite liked Joe Carnahan’s The A Team remake. Nothing he has done before however prepared me for this stripped down tale of a motley group of oil workers battling against the elements. Wrongly advertised as a film about Liam Neeson punching wolves in the face The Grey divided audiences with its downbeat approach and ambiguous ending. The Grey is an entry into the nature’s going to fucking eat you genre of films, the daddy of which is Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and so far has included predators as varied as crocodiles, piranhas, alligators, lions, and anacondas, yet it stands apart from all of these with its melancholy, and its doomed machismo is closer in spirit to the bleakness of Walter Hill or Sam Fuller. 
Working amongst the roughnecks at an oil drilling refinery Ottway makes his living shooting wildlife for the company. At the beginning we see him writing a letter to his dead wife and almost joining her by putting his rifle in his mouth. Oddly enough the howling of the wolves in the distance seems to be the thing that pulls him back from the brink as if they are telling him not now, come to us. Animal rights activists have claimed the depiction of timber wolves is not entirely accurate and these animals rarely attack humans. Fair enough then but while Carnahan aims for realism in every other aspect of the film the wolves are fantastical. They are merciless antagonists, their eyes glowing in the darkness as they circle their prey. These wolves are more akin to the monsters lurking in the forest in a fairytale than real animals.
Usually humans are treated as sport in these kinds of movies as we watch them picked off one by one until the hero saves the day. Carnahan and his co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers screenplay is an odd mixture of the perfunctory and the poetic as they balance the thrills with sequences where the men reveal details about their lives. “Who do you love? Let them take you there,’ Ottway (Neeson) says in comfort to a dying man which is essentially what the film is about. What do these men have to live for if anything at all? Carnahan’s existentialist approach justifies his handling of the ending; the emphasis on what has been lost rather than the confrontation between the human alpha male and his wolf counterpart.
It is a film of haunting power aided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s beautiful photography and Marc Streitenfeld’s score. Neeson’s tough soulful performance is outstanding, a natural leader of men the film makes great use of his physicality and his understated delivery of dialogue. Whether threatening to kick the shit out of somebody or reciting poetry there is no doubt he is contemporary cinema’s finest Alpha Male.
Deleted scenes which to be honest I never watch, I’d rather not see what didn’t make the cut, and a director’s commentary with Joe Carnahan. 

Shame (2011, Steve McQueen) – DVD Review

“If I left I’d never see you again. Don’t you think that’s sad?” 

A second viewing of Shame and what fascinates more than the subject of sex addiction is the fractious relationship between two troubled siblings. Brandon’s (Michael Fassbender) life is free of any emotional connection of any kind. That’s how he likes it. When Brandon’s sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) turns up to stay for a while his perfectly ordered existence begins to unravel. There is a hint of some shared trauma in their past that simultaneously ties them together and tears them apart yet director Steve McQueen and his co-writer Abi Morgan never offer any easy explanations for their behaviour.
Sissy is first heard as a message on his answerphone calling to him, “Brandon, where are you?” Like a little child playing hide and seek who knows the person she is looking for is somewhere nearby. Brandondoes not want to hear this voice from his childhood and ignores her. Sissy is over-emotional, incapable of looking after herself and unpredictable. She stands too close to the platform at the Subway station, and clambers into his bed like a frightened child. She can’t hide what she is or how broken, unlike her brother who can go through the pretence of everyday life and never let on there is damage there.
Brandon seems to have the perfect life. He has a good job as an executive, a fancy New York apartment, and a way with the ladies. In fact he has his way with as many ladies as he can. Be they pick ups, prostitutes, or casual flings. If he’s not having sex, he’s thinking about having sex, or watching porn on his laptop, unless he’s at the office where he will use his work computer then finish himself off in the gents. He’s on a downward spiral though, his obsession beginning to interfere with the façade he puts on in public. This all leads to a somewhat melodramatic dark night of the soul on the streets of New York.
As you would expect from somebody with McQueen’s artistic background Shame is visually stunning though at times a little heavy on symbolism and occasionally overblown. In its quieter moments though and accompanied by Harry Escott’s yearning score it is a powerful study in urban loneliness with affecting performances from Fassbender and Mulligan.
Special Features

Sadly not much. There are a trio of Q & A’s; one with Fassbender after a screening at the Hackney Empire in London, and another two done during production, and a trailer. 

The House by the Cemetery (1981, Lucio Fulci) – DVD Review

I’ve never paid much attention to Lucio Fulci having seen Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) as a teenager and dismissed it as crap. Other Italian legends like Mario Bava, Argento on his day, and Michele Soavi caught my attention but I’ve avoided Fulci films ever since. So I wasn’t expecting much from The House by the Cemetery. I may well have been wrong about Fulci. This is an often very subtle tale with a touch of Henry James about it. The final part of Fulci’s unofficial ‘gates of hell’ trilogy after City of the Living Dead (1980) and The Beyond (1981), it also features a plot where the dead cross over into the world of the living. 
Dr Norman Boyle (Paula Malco) and his wife Lucy (Catriona McColl) plan to move the Massachusettscountryside. Yet the house they are moving into looks very much like the one in the photographs hanging on the wall in their city apartment in which their young son Bob (Giovanna Frezza) claims he can see a young girl (Silvia Collatina) at the window warning him never to go there. Norman hasn’t told them but he intends to investigate the murder/suicide of an old friend who had been researching the mysterious Dr Freudstein whose experiments many years ago were aimed at prolonging the lifespan of human beings.
The House by the Cemetery will satisfy anybody looking for gore but it is the atmospheric otherwordly feel of the film which makes it a success. It is admittedly not entirely coherent. It has the logic of a dream. Time and time again the locals tell Normanthey have seen him before though he insists he has never visited this place at all. This ambiguity works in the film’s favour though and adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.
Sergio Salvati’s cinematography brings an Autumnal feel to this sombre downbeat film. Italian exploitation films shared with their American counterparts a bleak worldview. Though this despair would give way in the United States to the cheap if not un-enjoyable thrills of the horror-comedy it never really left the Italian genre film at least until the industry began to fall apart in the 90’s.
Fulci regular Catriona McCall is an effective scream queen but poor Giovanna Frezza is lumbered with horrendous dubbing on the English language version. It sounds like a fifty-four year old woman is imitating a nine-year old boy. Best stick with the original Italian language track. There is an interview with both stars on the disk in which both discuss the movie and their other work in Italian horror, as well as a wealth of extras, documentaries, commentaries, and written work to accompany the movie.

Also out today from Arrow is Forbidden Zone, a cult curio from Richard Elfman and his brother Danny who draw their inspirations from the same kind of pop culture Americana as early Sam Raimi and Tim Burton but with less interesting results.

 Made as a showpiece for their band The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo its demented college boy humour wears thin, but there are some catchy songs, and Hervé Villechaize turns up playing a trumpet.  

The Deadly Spawn (1983, Douglas McKeown) – DVD Review

While this low-budget horror movie never quite manages to fulfil its promise it has a certain charm. Made in the same cheap and cheerful fashion as Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) by a bunch of amateur filmmakers in New Jersey, The Deadly Spawn features intergalactic carnivorous aliens munching on the local population. A cult favourite on VHS the film is very much of its time. It has the bleakness often found in American horror films from George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) onwards and the gross out comedy horror of the 80’s in which death is treated as an elaborate joke. The Deadly Spawn has a knowing sense of humour and is clearly made by people who love horror films and science fiction. The most resourceful character in the film is a kid who is obsessed with horror and is able to adapt when his own life turns into a scary movie. The creatures when they appear are suitably disgusting, tadpole-like with layers of teeth. Not nearly as frightening as the décor though. It’s terrifying, a mixture of garish colours and unholy shades of brown which might well inspire intergalactic visitors to think human beings are of little use except for eating or tearing into pieces. The film was a minor sensation today but now looks as hokey as the B-movies of the 1950’s. Fun though. 

Credit to Arrow Video they never stint on the extras. Doesn’t matter if the film is an arthouse classic like Ashes & Diamonds (Andrzej Wajda, 1958) or a daft homemade horror film like The Deadly Spawn Arrow respectfully takes the same care when putting the DVD extras together. In this case the special features are far more interesting than the actual movie. An accompanying booklet contains written work on The Deadly Spawn by film experts Calum Waddell and Tim Sullivan. Producer Ted A. Bohus provides two commentaries, one of which is a conversation with Editor Marc Harwood and basically involves them describing whose house they are filming in at that particular moment. This really was DIY filmmaking. The archive footage provided in a trio of features emphasises this. It is like watching a hairy grown-up version of Super 8 (2011, J.J. Abrams). John Dods IMDb page credits him with providing Matt Dillon dummies on A Kiss Before Dying (1991, James Deardon) and being Grace Jones Corpse Creator on Boomerang (1992. Reginald Hudlin). Since then he’s been off the radar, maybe Grace Jones got him, but there is an amusing documentary filmed in his workshop. There is also an audition reel which includes actors who didn’t get the parts they were reading for which is perhaps cruel, but not as cruel as it is funny. There are also interviews with Bohus on various low-rent TV channels, a comic strip prequel which attempts to give the film a backstory but seems more like an afterthought, and the original trailer for the film’s cinema release. 

Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen) – Programme Notes

‘Things are sweetest when they’re lost’
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and the Damned

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s most financially successful film to date and picked up an Oscar for Best Screenplay last Sunday. Not bad for a director who was considered a busted flush in the United States and had to seek out funding in Europe. Allen has made four films in London and one in Spain since 2005, but his writing style felt incongruous outside of his regular New York surroundings. Paris has been in so many movies the city comes with its own set of clichés giving a writer of Allen’s abilities plenty of material to play around with. Allen pays homage to the City of Light in a beautiful extended opening sequence and this confidence extends to the rest of the film which is funny and charming and handled with a lightness of touch not seen in his work since The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). 
Like the earlier film Midnight in Paris has an element of the fantastical. Gil (Owen Wilson) feels alienated from his fellow American travellers. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her rich right-wing parents have little interest in the city beyond its material comforts. Worse still is Paul (Michael Sheen) an academic in town to deliver a speech at the Sorbonne, whose interest in culture has more to do with showing what impeccable taste he has than enjoying it. Gil wanders away from them one night and gets lost. 
As the clock strikes midnight he accepts a lift from a group of revellers dressed in an antiquated car and finds himself amongst another group of expatriates, the ‘Lost Generation’ of writers and artists who flocked to Paris in the 1920’s. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill) are taking their first steps towards drink-fuelled oblivion, Cole Porter (Yves Heck) provides the musical accompaniment, while Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) muses on what it means to be a man; “have you ever shot a charging lion?” Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) is as you would expect a bit strange. 
It’s all terrific fun and the film’s message; live for the moment, don’t get distracted by thinking things were better once upon a time, suggest Allen has no interest in recapturing his own glory days but would rather move forward and try to create something new. 

‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ – DVD Review

Francesco Dellamorte has an unusual problem in the cemetery he watches over in the small town of Buffalora; the dead have a tendency to rise again within seven days of their original demise. Dellamorte has no interest in finding out why they are coming back. Indeed, he is baffled by why anybody would want to come back. Dellamorte is a misfit. Nobody really listens to him. The little old lady who visits the cemetery every day calls him Engineer, even though as he keeps explaining he is not one. The mayor is politely inattentive, praising Dellamorte’s work, while paying no attention to what he has to say. A group of young locals mock him for his rumoured impotence, although Dellamorte later admits he started those rumours so people would leave him alone. He has only two friends, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) his assistant, who can only communicate by grunting, and Franco (Anton Alexander), a clerk at the post office in the village.
Reclusive, while also longing to escape from Buffalora, Dellamorte’s closed-in world is thrown into crisis when he is drawn towards a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi). She has no interest in Dellamorte until he shows her the Cemetery’s Ossuary and it arouses her. Unfortunately their tryst is interrupted by her dead husband, whose bite seemingly causes her death. Yet Falchi returns to in various guises later on in the film as Dellamorte becomes increasingly disturbed. 
Unusually for a horror-comedy with gore and sick humour, Dellamorte Dellamore takes loss and grieving quite seriously. Sure, there’s exploding heads and killer dialogue and Rupert Everett bludgeoning a zombie-nun’s head in with a blunt object, but there is a mournful aspect to the film. Everybody has lost or loses someone. Dellamorte Dellamore operates on the same level as a fairytale, or a dream, in which strange happenings are possible, but they have a deeper psychological meaning that is open to interpretation. Death appears to Dellamorte, taking form out of burning rubbish on a bonfire and asks Dellamorte to leave the dead alone. Given that the ‘Dylan Dog’ comic books take place in a world where reality and the supernatural exist side-by-side it is entirely feasible that Death does visit Dellamorte. Maybe however Dellamorte is just losing his mind. 
.Michele Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here. A gifted comedy actor Everett makes the most of the dialogue and has a sadness to him which renders the absurdist elements of the film more believable. It is a great performance, one of the best you’ll see in a horror film and it’s a shame the film has never found a wider audience though maybe this will change with this new DVD release. Sadly even Everett undersells it, the only mention of Dellamorte Dellamore in his autobiography ‘Red Carpets and other Banana Skins,’ is a small photograph.
Watch the English language track rather than the Italian version. Genre films in Italy have traditionally used American or British stars to attract funding and shoot scenes in English. Everett’s deadpan delivery is preferable to hearing him being dubbed into Italian.The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray later this month and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore
Special Features
Part of the fun of Shameless releases is going through the trailers for there other releases. Highlights include Who Saw Her Die? (1972, Umberto Lenzi), a giallo starring former 007 George Lazenby, the haunting reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ The Designated Victim (1971, Maurizio Lucidi) with Tomas Milian, and Dario Argento’s underrated Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). 
There’s also an Italian trailer which emphasises the Dylan Dog connection and a photo gallery. The commentary with Soavi and screenwriter Gianni Romoli is interesting and gives an insight into their approach to the material. Soavi says the film is about a man who can’t face reality, who refuses to grow up, who “doesn’t want to leave his garden, his enchanted world.” Film journalist and author Alan Jones has also provided writing on the film’s production and photographs for an accompanying booklet.