Blu-Ray

The latest winner in the format wars, we look at both television and movies that are hitting the shelves in this pristine new technology.

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Sunday, 03 July 2011

We are at a time when Blu-ray is coming of age – classic films, and even the occasional stand-out TV series, are being redefined thanks to their upgrade to this new format. “Don’t Look Now” is the latest of these iconic titles to make the transition. I have to admit to having not seen the film since early adolescence, when the promise of an explicit sex scene saw it become essential late night television viewing, rather than any for any exposure of near-unique directorial abilities.

Even at the time, despite the billing, the sex scene featuring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as the tragic married couple felt a little incongruous, almost there to provide a little titillation to provide a lure to other potential audiences. You are in essence watching various elements of a jigsaw puzzle – in isolation seemingly disconnected from each other, then gradually coming together as a whole when you are exposed to the equivalent of the ‘box lid’.

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Monday, 13 June 2011

It’s over five decades since television first brought us a fifth dimension, one that lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge; a dimension of imagination that is now released on Blu-ray, a format that has now made the impossible actually happen – the episodes being so pristine that they are undoubtedly a better quality than that seen on their original transmission. This is the benefit of having filmed on 35mm - now all that depth of field can be put onto a shiny disc for home viewing.

The Twilight Zone: The Original Series – Season One includes some of the show’s most celebrated episodes and stars, including “Time Enough At Last” (Burgess Meredith), “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street” (Claude Akins), “Walking Distance” (Gig Young), “The After Hours” (Anne Francis), “When The Sky Was Opened” (Rod Taylor), “A World Of Difference” (Howard Duff) and “A Stop At Willoughby” (James Daly).

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Monday, 30 May 2011

After a couple of films about Bruce Lee’s martial arts mentor (the “Ip Man” duology) and 1993’s noteworthy “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story” comes “Young Bruce Lee”. This movie covers the period from his birth in 1940’s San Francisco to his hasty departure from Hong Kong back to the United States in 1959. The film concentrates on Bruce’s upbringing in a large family, his burgeoning friendships and girl problems. Having survived the brutal Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War 2, life in the Lee household becomes more relaxed and prosperous.

The prepubescent and teen Lee and his mates are constantly getting into trouble for being boisterous kids, despite some strict parenting from his father Chuen (Tony Leung Ka Fai – “The Myth”, “Election”). Bruce follows his father into the world of entertainment as a child actor. Long before his meteoric rise in status later on he becomes a more local, minor star in his own right. Once he reaches young adulthood, the title role thereafter is played by Aarif Rahman, an actor with a reasonable physical semblance to Lee.

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Monday, 23 May 2011

Released in 1970, “Plumage” was Dario Argento’s first feature and has been seen as the forerunner to the giallo horror genre in which he has received so much acclaim. That said, it is primarily a thrilling murder mystery, not a gory slasher flick. The film centres on American nature writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante – “The Yards”, Oz), who interrupts a chilling attempted murder, only to become one of the killer’s prime targets.

Due to leave Italy, the police withhold his passport. Sam is the only witness to one of several potentially linked murders and he is also a suspect. That suspicion quickly turns to trust as the murders continue, and Sam’s own investigation into the crimes results in several attempts on his life. Something critical about the incident he witnessed is gnawing away at him but he cannot fathom it out. Until he does, he will not give up.

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Monday, 09 May 2011

At Cult TV Towers, The Green Hornet television series of the 1960s, starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee, is one of the shows we’re always making time to re-watch when the mood takes us. Much like the Adam West Batman series, getting a commercial DVD or Blu-ray release of it is proving problematic, due to some complicated rights matters which mean that, whilst they can be repeated on TV, it’s going to be some time yet before you can own a copy.  A shame this cannot be the case for the recent “Green Hornet” movie.

I avoided reviews of the film, so as not to spoil the experience. I had to avoid seeing it at our local Showcase cinema as they refused to show it in anything but 3D (not my cup of tea – when I emailed Showcase to complain that no 2D screenings were happening, they told me to wait for the Blu-ray release, which I have dutifully done – anyone think that this attitude of my local cinema is barmy?). We finally got to watch it this week. Was someone at the studio going to keep Seth Rogen under control so the result was a pleasurable experience?  Er ... no.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

If you are going to do a movie about an alien invasion, chances are that the potential backers will look at you and think twice, simply because of the costs involved.  Step forward new auteur Gareth Edwards, who found a way to script and direct a production in such a way that the costs are kept to a minimum, but the drama and suspense is cranked up to cover the budgetary shortfalls.

“Monsters” is an unqualified success on all fronts.  There are just two major roles in the film, with the end credits making play of the fact that everyone else is just supporting the leading duo. The story is told from their point of view, and even when the male lead has a one-night-stand, all we see of his conquest are her ankles and thighs beneath a sheet. And it’s only in retrospect that you realise where the corners and costs have been cut.

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Monday, 04 April 2011

Being a refugee from the worlds of marketing and advertising myself, and one of the last of the baby boomer generation, I should have instantly been drawn to Mad Men, set in the early to mid 1960s and concerning the world of a Madison Avenue advertising bureau. Although the show has gone on for four seasons, and the fifth is coming later in the year, it was only a few months ago when we started a catch-up via Blu-ray releases.

And so we come to season four, just out for purchase, and we are into the world of 1964-65. The focus is still on Jon Hamm’s character, the high-flying Don Draper, with a dark past that keeps challenging to surface in his manufactured new life. Mind you, this ‘new life’ by this time has him divorced from his petulant spoilt wife, and turning increasingly to ‘Canadian Club’ as a prop to help him get through the day.

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Saturday, 12 March 2011

Infamous video nasty revisited as cult horror classic? We have heard it before, but in Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond”, it might just be true. One thing is for certain, though: this movie features very vivid, gory visuals. They might not always be entirely realistic by today’s standards but they still require a pretty strong stomach. If that warning has not put you off (or actually appeals to you), step this way for a very messy treat!

Liza (Catriona MacColl – “Hawk the Slayer”, “City of the Living Dead”) buys a tatty old hotel in Louisiana. She intends to do it up and make it a going concern, but unfortunately the premises are built on top of one of the seven gateways to Hell, and an awakening army of zombies has other ideas. With the aid of Dr McCabe (David Warbeck – “The Black Cat”, UFO), Liza must battle against the overwhelming forces of darkness.

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Thursday, 10 March 2011

Donnie Yen explodes back onto our screens as Ip Man, aka Bruce Lee’s real-life martial arts master and chief Wing Chun exponent. Following events from the first movie (reviewed here), Master Ip and his impoverished family move to post-WW2 Hong Kong. He struggles to establish interest in his new kung fu school until a cheeky would-be student (Huang Xiao Ming) challenges Ip to a fight. Naturally, Ip wins and soon the lad, his friends and then their friends sign up.

Success brings Ip’s business to the attention of rival clubs and their masters, particularly the underhand and much feared Master Hong (Samo Hung – Martial Law, “Dragons Forever”), who oversees all of the region’s schools and acts as liaison to the Imperialist ruling class. Their schools’ rivalry grows ever more heated and violent, but an even greater threat stands before them in the shape of the bigoted, occupying Westerners.

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Wednesday, 09 March 2011

In the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, Lord Lew Grade of Elstree had one goal in mind for his ITC filmed-TV series empire – crack America at every opportunity.  To do this meant investing in the best production values money could afford – originally on 35mm monochrome stock, and sooner than colour TV was available in the UK he switched to 35mm colour film. What that little history lesson means is that the shows of that era are now able to be given an amazing spit-and-polish, and be upgraded to Blu-ray with amazing results.

And so we have “Retro Action 1” from Network – five of the best series from the ITC vaults given their 21st Century makeover. And, in fact, one of these, Strange Report, was filmed on 16mm stock, a change made when Grade realised that only American syndicated markets, with smaller budgets, would play the game and buy his product. The excellent news is that this show has also benefited from its Blu-ray transformation, and although you’ll no doubt be tired of me saying this, looks like it was filmed yesterday, not some 40 years ago!

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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Road movies as a rule tend to follow pretty much the same premise – a couple of people (sometimes more) are planning on travelling from one side of the USA to the other, but are forced by a series of unfortunate events to share a vehicle and make the journey together. Of course, they are all from different walks of life and they initially hate each other. Then, as the journey progresses, and a further series of unfortunate events unforlds, they find they have new found respect for each other, and by the time their journey is over and they have reached their destination, they are Best Friends Forever. Simples.

“Due Date” follows this premise to the letter, and it is, in our humble opinion, way out of its depth! The usually always-watchable Robert Downey Jr plays the rich, arrogant architect Peter Highman, and finds himself having to share a car with bearded weirdo, and aspiring actor, Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifiniakis).

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Monday, 14 February 2011

“Black” is a plucky French action movie from first-time director Pierre Laffargue. If you imagine a bizarre blend of the guns, gangs and swaggering humour from “Lock Stock”, crossed with a dash of freaky tribal voodoo, you will have a vague grasp of what this film is about. It starts as a straight heist story set in Paris but veers wildly onto the rough (and into Senegal) towards the end. MC Jean Gab’1 (“District 13” I and II) is Black, a seasoned bank robber with a bit of a lucky streak.

As the movie opens, he and his crew are taking down a security van. The job goes horribly wrong when armed police turn up, and Black is the only survivor. Suffering from guilt-ridden nightmares, our anti-hero’s prospects improve when his cousin calls from Dakar with news of the job to end all jobs - 3KG of uncut diamonds! As security at the African bank concerned is notoriously poor, and the job offers a way to escape the heat of the bungled van heist, Black departs from Paris immediately. 

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Monday, 14 February 2011

At this year’s Golden Globes awards junket, “The Social Network” was named best film drama, winning additional prizes for its direction, screenplay and music. At the BAFTAs, it won Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing.  At the Oscars, it could be a head to head battle with “The King’s Speech” as to who carries home the most gongs.  This means “The Social Network” already has my back up, as I tend to think that films that win these sorts of accolades actually never live up to their hype.

It’s a tough call to say whether this film pulls off its challenging premise, as it tells the tale of the moment when social media juggernaut Facebook was invented, and how its overnight success and wealth changed the lives of the students who created it. Its star, Jesse Eisenberg plays the character of founder Mark Zuckerberg with no holds barred – he’s seen as socially inept and often misled, but that’s the human jungle for you!

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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Christopher Nolan was the writer-director who restarted the Batman franchise with “The Dark Knight” and “Batman Begins”. These were huge tapestries of character and action, so it comes as no surprise what one of the self-proclaimed best films of 2010, “Inception”, has the same fingerprints all over it.  This is a tale of how psychotropic drugs can be used to create a form of mental rape, where your dreams can be manipulated for nefarious purposes.

Leonardo DiCaprio is Dorn Cobb, who has an unusual job – that of an ‘extractor’, where he and his team can intrude into a victim’s psyche and either discover valuable information, or implant facts, figures and experiences that will influence that person’s actions in the real world. The movie is engineered as a pleasant spin on the mind-control MK Ultra programming that’s been a dark secret behind the scenes for years.

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Sunday, 09 January 2011

Set in 1949, in an alternate reality where World War II never happened, “K-20” is an action-packed caper that shares much in common with “The Rocketeer” and “Spider-man”. Flitting nimbly about the Japanese capital city of Teito, K-20 is a mischievous masked thief whose incredible ability to mimic others has earned him the title of “Fiend with 20 Faces”. He may look like Zorro, but his motives are purely selfish.

K-20’s master plan is to steal Nikola Tesla’s hidden device, designed to wirelessly energise devices. In the wrong hands, it could destroy entire cities. The masked criminal frames Endo (Takeshi Kaneshiro – “Red Cliff”, “House of Flying Daggers”), a poor but gifted circus acrobat and illusionist, tricking the authorities into a case of mistaken identity. Endo must clear his name, evade the police and locate the device before K-20, in this release on both Blu-ray and DVD.

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Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Originally released in way back in 1971, Mario Bava’s “A Bay of Blood” has reputedly been a massive influence on the slasher genre, especially the likes of “Friday the 13th”. They certainly have a lot in common, including a remote waterside location visited by care-free youngsters, a high body count, nerve-wracking tension and lashings of over-the-top gore. In the case of “Bay”, however, the plot is more elaborate and devious.

When disabled Countess Federica is horrifically strangled, the sham suicide sets in motion a sinister and unpredictable battle between family and locals for the rights to her sizeable bay-side property. Though it has rather gone to seed, plans are afoot to transform the cove into a hip new holiday resort. Standing in the way is a fiercely territorial entomologist, and everyone is desperate to snatch a piece of the pie. In common with the slasher genre, the cast is picked off in a variety of horrible and very bloody ways.

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Thursday, 02 December 2010

Remakes, revivals, reinventions, reimaginings.  Whichever way they are described, taking an old TV series format and updating it for “today’s audience” is becoming a common occurrence. Some are incredibly successful, and a few even manage to not alienate fans of the original concept. Doctor Who did both these successfully. Battlestar Galactica did not.  So, which way does the new A-Team movie go?

As a huge fan of the original – it was one of the first shows I taped with our new video recorder back in 1983 – I am happy to say that it is highly unlikely that any fans of the original show will have a problem with this rebirth of the adventures of Hannibal, Face, Murdock and BA Baracus. It has everything that was a staple diet of the 1980s series, but takes its source material seriously. The late, great creator Stephen J Cannell would see this as a suitable memorial.

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Wednesday, 01 December 2010

Once considered a despicable ‘video nasty’ but now a bit of a cult classic, “Shogun Assassin” is a bloody martial arts action movie that leaves dozens of corpses in its fearless wake. Eureka Entertainment presents a brand new 1080p, high-def restoration of the complete film, bundling Blu-ray and DVD discs in highly desirable, limited edition steelbook packaging.

Essentially a re-scored, English-dubbed blend of the first two films in the “Lone Wolf and Cub” series, the movie stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as Itto Ogami, a noble (and slightly podgy) samurai warrior framed for disloyalty by his mentally fragile Shogun master. A bounty is put on Ogami’s head so he flees with his three-year-old son Daigoro (Akihiro Tomikawa). Incredibly, the body count starts building up before they have even got through the front door!

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Monday, 22 November 2010

They say that most art is not appreciated in its time.  Certainly this was the case with the 1927 movie “Metropolis” – with the budget in the millions, its takings were in the tens of thousands.  The two and a half hour epic was drastically trimmed in an effort to claw back some of the cash in foreign markets. This too failed, and the dystopian vision of the future became a warning of what happens when you try to show the general public what’s coming down the tracks right at them ... they choose to ignore you.

Not much has changed, then, in the 83 years since “Metropolis” first saw the light of day. What is patently obvious when people awaken to the reality around them, rather than the propaganda drip-feed they get from the mainstream media, has never been more crystal clear than in the storyline to this classic. And for the first time in decades, audiences can now at last see the entire story unfold before their eyes.  And it was all down to a film vault in Argentina!

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Monday, 08 November 2010

After his emotional regeneration, Matt Smith took on the mantle of the Eleventh Doctor, awakening to discover his TARDIS is about to crash. Crawling from the wreckage, he meets young Amy Pond – the breakthrough performance for Karen Gillan, one of the sassiest assistants for many a year. Still wearing the remains of David Tennant’s outfit, the new Doctor, disorientated or not, in his dishevelled state promises to take the very young Amy to the stars.

As usual, things in this universe aren’t as easy as that; before our new dynamic duo can begin their journeys, they become embroiled in an alien plot that could destroy the Earth. Many of the David Tennant Fan Club was no doubt absent without leave from watching any of the new stories, but then again they had originally joined the fun not for the concept, but because of their raging hormones. A shame, as although the series had an entirely different rhythm, it was still highly watchable.

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Monday, 25 October 2010

Back in 1975, the year 1999 seemed a long time in the future. While American television science fiction had tended to paint a rosy picture of what was just around the corner for us, the British take on the genre was always more circumspect, taking the attitude that mankind wasn’t quite up to being able to safeguard itself from the dangers of the burgeoning technology it had created.

Indeed, the issue of nuclear waste from power stations was just coming into focus – it was a more innocent time before the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters.  However, step forward Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. The solution to storage of dangerous compounds with a half-life of thousands of years was to pack it off to the Moon.  And that’s when the problems begin in Space: 1999, now released on Blu-ray.

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Monday, 25 October 2010

From the creators of Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom comes The Big Knights, a show that I have to admit that before this release I had actually never seen before.  Here we have a series whose lineage can only be described as an ‘adult’ Cloppa Castle, in much the same way that The Magic Roundabout was a bridge between children’s programmes and the BBC Six O’Clock News for years on end.

This is a rib-tickling animation series, now available for the first time in a combined Blu-ray & DVD pack. It has a cartoon style somewhere between Bod and Roobarb in its execution, but that’s not a bad thing. So, saddle up to join Sir Boris (the finest swordsman in the World) and Sir Morris (not the finest swordsman in the World, but the most enthusiastic) and their trusty, armour-clad pets Horace the dog and Doris the hamster!

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Thursday, 07 October 2010

Dutch director Tom Six came up with his outlandish, sickening idea for this movie whilst musing over ‘suitable’ punishments for pedophiles. What if, he thought, the perpetrators had to have their mouths surgically attached to the rectums of large, sweaty truck drivers? That disquieting idea germinated into a tale about a surgeon with delusions of godhood who creates a man-made siamese triplet with a single digestive tract.

As it opens, Dr Heiter (Dieter Laser) sits patiently in his car in a German motorway lay-by. A truck driver pulls up behind him for a toilet break, and soon afterwards Heiter is calmly shooting the man with a tranquiliser dart. Cut to two beautiful women, dolling themselves up for a night of clubbing. They get lost, suffer a blow-out, and chance upon the doctor’s house whilst stumbling through the woods.

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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Nicolas Cage (he of “Ghost Rider” and “Leaving Las Vegas” fame) delivers a powerful performance as Terrence McDonagh, a New Orleans cop who by all conventional logic would be considered a bad guy, but that doesn’t stop you actually rooting for him. Having bravely taken part in a rescue that has left him in permanent back pain, McDonagh is now a slave to the drugs, legal and otherwise, that treat his condition.

Eva Mendes, she of “Training Day” and “Hitch” is Frankie, a dysfunctional cocaine-snorting lady of the night, who has a soft spot for McDonagh – quite literally! With his illegal habits spiralling out of control, McDonagh finds that he has to team up with Big Fate, a local drug lord (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner, previously in “XXX2” and “Gridiron Gang”), as he moves further and further away from the line in the sand he once vowed to protect at all costs.

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Friday, 13 August 2010

Well, would you believe it? A new release of a couple of episodes of Space Patrol on Blu-ray, available as a web exclusive from the Network website. This is a series that has been intertwined with the history of the Cult TV organisation. As part of the Student Union society at Wolverhampton University, we managed to get hold of a copy of an episode to screen. In 1994, in the run-up to our first Festival, we sought to find the original prints to encourage a video release. In 1998, those initial video releases were celebrated at our Festival that year. And now, through the miracles of technology, here it is given a new lease of life.

This is Earth. The year is 2100. And here we see this 1963 series in a quality you would have never thought possible, especially as it hasn’t been seen on British television since 1968. Only two episodes remain in their original 35mm film format and these have been freshly transferred in High Definition and restored especially for this release.

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