Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Hero Never Dies Library: Sergio Leone Once Upon A Time In Italy

Sir Christopher Frayling's Sergio Leone Once upon a time in Italy, is a completely different book to his Leone biography Something to do with death. This book is more of a coffee table style book, heavy with graphics but still with plenty of Frayling's wonderfully detailed and insightful writing on Sergio Leone and his films.

The first section of the book is entitled Sergio Leone and the western, before covering each of his westerns in turn.This section also includes a fascinating list of the influence of specific American westerns on Leone's movies. After this are a series of interviews including Leone himself, Ennio Morricone, actors including Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, crew members and writers including Bernado Bertollucci. We also have an essay written by Leone on John Ford, a look at Leone's legacy and an afterword interview with Martin Scorsese.

Frayling's writing is worth the cost of the book alone, while not as detailed as his Leone biography, this book really packs the facts, insights and anecdotes into it's 240 pages. The main reason to buy the book though, even if you already own Frayling's other books is the incredible wealth of behind the scenes photos, international posters and ads, production sketches etc.

A great read and a book you will return to time and time again to drool at the posters you will never have (or is that just me?). Highly recommended for any spaghetti western fans and certainly for fans of Il Maestro.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Criterion Hard Boiled Bootleg Dvd

The Criterion edition of Hard Boiled was the very first dvd I ever bought, it quickly went out of print and shot up in value on the second hand market. Where money can be made, unfortunately bootleggers will take advantage and with the Criterion versions of The Killer and Hard Boiled some excellent quality fakes have surfaced. Can you tell which is the real deal from the pictures above? The top photo is the real one.

I picked up my bootleg version today as part of a lot of dvds purchased from ebay, and I have to say it's very hard to tell the difference between them. If you were choosing between them in a store, from the outside the differences are absolutely minimal. The Criterion collection ribbon across the top of the front cover is slightly taller on the bootleg version compared to the real one.

It barely shows up in the photos above but you can just see a difference, that is how hard they are to tell apart. The top one is the real version. Aside from this the only difference I can see is the red and black speckles on the back cover are slightly different, I didn't take a photo of this as I'm not sure it would even show up.

Inside the case the disc comes with the same insert that looks like a perfect replica. The real differences are with the dvd itself. If you look at the photos below the top disc is the real one, they look closer than the photos suggest (problems with lighting when taking the picture!) notice how you can see a little more detail in the picture printed on the top disc compared to the bottom one.

Again though they are so close as to be very difficult to tell apart, the easiest thing is the inner ring which on the real disc is mirrored (which doesn't show up very well in the photo) whereas the ring is clear on the bootleg version.

If you flip the discs around, the information printed onto the ring is quite different. Again the top photo is the real disc. Notice the barcode is missing from the bootleg version.

Another difference between them is the paper the cover is printed on is much thinner on the real version, which seems odd really as i would have expected it to be the other way around.

Whoever was responsible for the bootleg did an amazing job of it, I guess they made a lot of money from them as the original dvds were apparently selling for up to $300 at one time, so I guess it was worth them putting the effort in!

I will be contacting the seller to report this, but to be fair the seller may have been completely oblivious to the fact it was a bootleg he was selling.

Does anyone else have this dvd and is it real or have you been ripped off too?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Children Review

Imagine the scene, you take your family to your sisters for a Christmas party. The kids play like young children do, while the adults chat and drink. The kids succumb to a mysterious illness, leading to a life or death battle with your own children.

This is the premise of Tom Shankland's The Children, the rarity that is a modern British horror film. Preying on the fears of harming your own child, the film goes all out in exploring the concept. It's a ballsy idea that for the most part really works, thanks to the conviction of the writing and direction.

The first third of the film is a little slow moving with perhaps too much time taken setting up the characters, which would be fine if they weren't so nauseatingly upper middle class. It's pretty well set up and it's clear what's going to happen, you're just left waiting for it. When the shit hits the fan it's worth the wait, the film has some pretty nasty moments as well as an interesting psychological edge.

The most alarming thing about the film from my perspective, not being a parent, is that I found the scenes in the first third with the children running amok, screaming and crying far more frightening than when they were on their killing spree! That's probably just me though, based on looking after my two young nephews a few times, so don't let that put you off a refreshingly brave and nasty little film.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Hero Never Dies Library: The Hong Kong Filmography By John Charles

When I first got into horror movies, the reference book to have was Phil Hardy's Aurum Horror film encyclopedia. John Charles' The Hong Kong Filmography 1977-1997 is every bit the equal of that book, it  covers 1100 movies and is THE reference tome for the golden age of Hong Kong cinema. John Charles will be familiar to you if you are a reader of Tim Lucas' Video Watchdog, having contributed to that publication for many years.

Each film covered is given a variable length review, with extensive credits and (understandably out of date)  information on the movies availability on home video. While you may not agree with all of Charles' opinions (although I find I am in agreement with many!) as a reference book this is pretty much as close to perfection as will ever be published on the subject. Published by McFarland and available in Hard and paperback editions, The Hong Kong Filmography may not be cheap but it's worth every penny and an absolute must buy for fans of Hong Kong cinema.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Herman Yau's All Of A Sudden

All of a sudden is an "adult thriller", the kind of direct to video movie that was all the rage in the mid 90's after the success of Basic Instinct et al, following a formula of plot twists, violence and most importantly sex and nudity. The film was directed by Herman Yau, most famous for his works in the category III genre, and stars Simon Yam and Irene Wan, with Yam being no stranger to category III movies either and the salacious dvd artwork, you could be forgiven for expecting something really trashy and fun.

The film starts off promisingly, with Yam's wife taking a dive from a building onto the roof of a car. It turns out she was having an affair with her boss, Alfred Cheung. Yam attacks Cheung outside the family home he shares with Irene Wan and their baby, Yam accidentally kidnaps the wife and child as he steals Cheung's car to get away. So far so good, however the film rapidly goes down hill from here with twist after convoluted twist and some frankly stupid and unbelievable behaviour from all the characters consigning the movie into pure potboiler territory. Aside from the writing, the movie is also handicapped by featuring Dayo Wong as one of the most irritating cops in any film ever.

While there are one or two brighter moments in the second half, given the pedigree of director and star with this type of material, not even a fair amount of nudity can save the movie from becoming tiresome, and unforgivably for a Herman Yau film, just plain boring. Simon Yam puts in one of the least convincing performances I've ever seen from him, he just looks like he wishes he was doing something else entirely, and after the first twenty minutes or so, I was with him all the way!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Amazing Spider-Man Teaser Trailer

I became a Spidey fan during my childhood through comics and cartoons and while there have been many highs and lows in the Spiderman universe throughout those years, I'm still a fan. At his best, few superheroes can match Spidey in terms of pure fun and enjoyment.

Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spiderman movies was a bit of a mixed bag, a solid opening chapter followed by a truly excellent sequel (still for my money one of the best superhero movies ever.) and a hugely disappointing final chapter (although perhaps not quite as bad as some people would have you believe).

The disappointing reaction to that movie brought about a re-think for the franchise and a reboot was decided as the way forward. Marc Webb, director of 500 days of summer was chosen to direct the new movie with Andrew Garfield to star as Peter Parker/Spiderman. The first trailer has just been released to coincide with this weekends Comic-Con.

Trailer available in HD here

I've tried to avoid spoilers for this movie, so I've deliberately not researched it as a result these thoughts are just gut reactions.

1. Andrew Garfield, as young as he looks, strikes me as too old to play Parker. This is not a deal breaker by any means but I had it in my mind that they were going for a more Ultimate Spiderman style and he seems to old.

2. I don't like the first person view for the action sequences, I just think it's a terrible idea. The film is still a year away so it's feasible this could change based on the reaction to the trailer.

3. The costume looks cool, I like it much more than the previous film versions.

4. Emma Stone looks way better as a red head!

It's hard to gauge much more, although the trailer is pretty long it doesn't give much away. I'm still excited for the movie but overall I found it a little underwhelming. I'd love to know what anyone else thinks, please leave a comment.

A cool fan art poster

Bizarre Referring Urls And You

I just happened to be looking at the referring URLs where visitors to my humble blog were coming from, when I saw this link

Now as far as I know, before now I've never mentioned the mighty Montel, talk show host and actor extraordinaire and I've never covered anything he's been involved with, but hey that's the internet.

It got me thinking, what's your strangest url or google search referral to your blog?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Joe Wright's Hanna Review

Hanna is a rarity, a Hollywood action movie with heart and soul to go with all the sound and fury. The film has a strikingly different feel to it than most recent action movies, most likely due to it being directed by Joe Wright of Atonement fame, a director who is not normally associated with action films.

Teenager Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is unlike other teenage girls, for a start she lives in seclusion in the arctic and hasn't seen another person other than her father Erik (Eric Bana) since she was a baby. Her education is mainly based around self defence and survival techniques, yet she is fluent in many languages. All these are tools Erik has decided she will need to survive when her inevitable curiosity about the world gets the better of her. Once the time arrives, the CIA led by Marissa (Cate Blanchett) is quickly on the case, capturing Hanna and chasing Erik. It doesn't take long for Hanna to escape the compound she's held in and she then attempts to reach the rendevous point arranged with her father, with Marissa in pursuit.

As I said before Hanna has a very different feel to your usual action fare coming out of Hollywood. Many elements of the film are familiar, from the globe trotting locations to the use of high tech surveillance and tracking, even the fight sequences are nothing really new and yet feel remarkably fresh at the same time. Why? Well, for starters despite the flashy direction you can see what is actually happening, the framing and editing of the action is an example to other Hollywood directors on how it should be done. In addition to this the film has the feel of a fairy tale story. One of the few books Hanna has access to is a battered copy of Grimm's fairy tales and this is used to great effect throughout the movie with Blanchett as either the Big bad wolf (her obsession with her teeth) or more pertinently the wicked step mother, as the physical resemblance between her and Ronan is remarkable.

The performances are excellent, Ronan is amazing as Hanna. Her blue eyes stand out from her incredibly pale skin, this gives her a fantastic stare that can look like wonder one moment to dangerous malevolence the next as her brain works out the survival strategy for the current situation. She really sells the little girl coming into the world, unprepared for anything except violence. Bana is the heart of the movie, with the juxtaposition of a fathers love and tenderness with the fact he's training her to be a potentially ruthless killer. You can feel his pain and pride at what he's done to the little girl he has raised and is having to let go. Blanchett has a great time and makes for a really fun villain, it's an eccentric part for her in a film full of eccentricities. Speaking of which, Tom Hollander's leisure-suited euro-trash henchmen is a bizarre addition to the film along with his two skinhead accomplices.

Hanna also marks the debut score from The Chemical brothers and it's awesome, it sounds unlike any score I can remember. Scenes appear to be edited to the rhythm of the score and it makes for an exciting and hypnotic effect, and while not a new technique it works very well here.

Hanna isn't perfect, I had a couple of issues with the plot, mainly how easily Hanna finds the information she needs by googling it, when we are supposed to be in the middle of a story about a CIA cover up. The middle section of the movie is a little overlong, I suppose you could argue it was necessary but maybe just five minutes trimmed could have really made a difference.

Going in I had pretty high hopes for Hanna. I'm happy to say that my expectations were exceeded. Hanna is an excellent action thriller, it has some great performances, it's beautifully shot and is exciting. On the strength of this I hope Joe Wright dips his toes into the action film pool again sometime soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmasters Teaser Trailer And New Stills

The first real teaser trailer for Wong Kar Wai's The Grandmasters has been released as well as a few new stills from the movie. It's hard to say if the footage is actually from the film or if it's specifically made to show how the fighting style will be and to get something out there.

I really don't like the green tinge to everything, and hope the film looks more like the stills which look amazing. Compare them below.

720p version available here, this looks much better

Does this mean the film is closer to a release? I doubt it, it is Wong Kar Wai after all, but you never know!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Once Upon A Time In The West Blu Ray Review

Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece makes the journey into high definition with Paramount's blu ray release. Featuring the 165 minute theatrical version previously released on dvd and a restored version that runs 1 minute longer.

Cutting straight to the chase, the image quality is stunning, this release is what I hoped blu ray could and would be. The 1968 film looks completely unmolested by digital processing methods and the result is an image that has a wonderfully healthy and natural looking grain that looks truly film like. The colours are rich and warm, with solid black levels and excellent shadow detail. The image is a little soft, certainly compared with most modern films released on the format but this has always been the case with this film due to the technical choices made when originally shooting the film.

The sound is available as either a restored mono dolby digital track or as a fantastic sounding DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. The DTS track was my preferred choice, with a huge sound field to match the movie's magnificent widescreen vistas. The result is a mix that manages to perfectly juggle the use of ambient sound, dialogue and Ennio Morricone's superlative score.

All of the extras from the dvd release are ported over to the blu ray, with the film's trailer receiving a bump up to high definition resolution. The highlight is a documentary split into three parts that runs for around an hour altogether, this covers just about every aspect of the film. I would have liked it to have been a little more in depth though, in particular more about the score would have been good.

A near perfect film gets a near perfect treatment on this blu ray release, an excellent example of how to release a catalogue title. I hope some of the other companies follow Paramount's example with this title in treating older films with the respect they deserve. An absolute must buy and my choice for release of the year so far.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Recent Buys July

It's time for a round up of recent buys again. Not much in the way of Hong Kong movies again this month, maybe next time will be better. I do have some great stuff to share though from Italian horror classics to anime and what must be for me, the most unintentionally funny film ever!

Kicking off with the first of two HK movies, Michael Hui's Games gamblers play. I've already reviewed this here

Herman Yau's 1996 film All of a sudden, an approaching Cat III thriller and starring Simon Yam, a review will follow soon.

Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse, I haven't seen this since my initial fascination with the video nasties and Wes' coverage at Plutonium shores piqued my interest in seeing it again. Love me some Saxon!

I already have the Bava collection volume one but for some reason I never picked up the second one, thought I'd better get it before it goes OOP. My favourite Bava's are in the first box but there are still some great titles in this set.

Rounding out the Italian horror titles for this month we have Argento's Inferno on blu ray, I was never much of a fan of this film until I saw the blu ray of it late last year, when it blew me away. The Blue underground release may have the edge image wise but the package here is excellent, that artwork aside (Thankfully you can change it!)

Complete series of Eden of the east blu ray, I didn't know much about this show but having seen the first episode it looks very interesting, looking forward to the rest, if I like it I will post about it.

Mamoru Hosoda's The Girl who leapt through time blu ray, a wonderful anime film, if you haven't seen this I highly recommend it.

Hosoda again this time with Summer wars, another fantastic anime movie again on blu ray. The film looks incredible.

Robert Aldrich's Emperor of the north, picked this up as a recommendation from Phantom of pulp, he's a huge Lee Marvin fan, and so am I but I've never seen this. It sounds amazing from the synopsis.

The latest re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes comes from the BBC, and it's really fun. All three episodes of season one and an unaired pilot are included in this blu ray.

Finally for this month, the funniest film I've seen for years, yes it maybe unintentional comedy but that doesn't make it any less amusing. I've been waiting for the blu ray to come down to a price I could pay for a film this bad and still respect myself the next day. Honestly is there a funnier display of acting than Mark Wahlberg's classroom scene in The Happening? I love Zooey Deschanel in everything but what the fuck was she thinking here? So many questions but I can't think straight when I'm laughing so hard.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises teaser poster and trailer UPDATED with HQ version

Cool teaser poster, no?

How about the teaser trailer?

It doesn't show much (as you would expect for a film a year away) but it's good to know it's on it's way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Thing Prequel, Remake Or Whatever They're Calling It Trailer

The first trailer for the prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing has been released online. I don't think it looks too bad from first impressions, of course that isn't a great reaction but we are talking about The Thing here, one of my favourite movies ever. It just makes me nervous, and I'm not sure why! It's not the remake issue that bothers me, as obviously John Carpenter's film was a remake itself and regardless of how good or bad this film maybe we will always have MacReady. The other thing to point out is the film is from the producers of the Dawn of the dead remake and that turned out pretty well against my expectations.

The casting looks solid, and while I doubt anyone could ever fill Kurt Russell's shoes, Mary Elizabeth Winstead looks like she could be pretty good as a Ripley style character. If anything it's probably the CG that makes me doubt the film, after all the Carpenter film had practical special effects that have yet to be bettered even to this day both in ambition and execution. Given the proliferation of CG now, Rob Bottin's work looks unlikely to ever be surpassed.

The movie opens in the US on October 14th.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

From the Ashes

As a child up to the age of eight or so, I absolutely hated cricket. During the summer when I wanted to be watching kids tv, my dad would have the cricket on all day and I would moan and moan like kids do when they don't get they're own way. Eventually I gave in and asked my dad to teach me the rules and to explain what was happening every ball, I must have driven him mad! A love of cricket was born and by the time the Ashes of 1981 came around my excitement was at an equivalent to Christmas level.

James Erskine's documentary film about the superhuman heroics of Ian Botham during the 1981 Ashes series covers both the English and Australian sides of the story as well as grounding it in the social context of the time. Namely Margaret Thatcher's attempts to strangle the unions of Britain and the by product of taking down the working classes with them. The disharmony and riots that followed are covered, and the film talks of the need for a feel good event for the English to take their minds off their troubles and celebrate. As well as the Ashes series, the event of that summer was the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and the two in tandem are shown as changing the feel of the nation.

Botham was England's best player, a young belligerent and no nonsense player of immense talent who the snobbish English cricket establishment couldn't ignore. A rebellious man who did things the way he wanted, Botham was made captain of the England team and things went pear shaped from there. By the time the Australians arrived many people were calling for Botham's head and when the first two games of the series didn't go to plan he resigned/was sacked. One-nil down in the series, for the third game at Yorkshire's Headingley ground England brought back Mike Brearley as captain. Brearley was never a good enough player to be in the England team but yet made a fantastic captain, due to his man management skills. More importantly the removal of the burden of captaincy from Botham allowed him to play with freedom again and play he did! From a position in a game of bookies offering 500/1 against odds against an England win, Botham took the game by the scruff of the neck and through a combination of skill and a fair amount of luck battered the Australians and got England back into a game they should have been hammered in. Bob Willis provided his own heroics with as long and intense a spell of bowling as you could ever see. England had won!

In the next game the Australians bounced back and were coasting towards victory. Brearley, with one last throw of the dice asked Botham to bowl. An unbelievable spell of 5 wickets for 1 run from 28 balls gave England a second win from the dead in two successive matches and completely destroyed the Australians spirit.

Erskine's film is a very entertaining and enjoyable 90 minutes, with the sporting aspects being much more successful for me than the social aspects which feel a little clumsily intergrated. The Australian side of events as told by captain and vice captain at the time Kim Hughes and Rodney Marsh is fascinating and is a story worthy of a film on it's own.

The structure of the film has a mixture of archival and contemporary interviews and plenty of footage from the actual games, combined with narration from Tom Hardy and music from the around the time (including New Order's Ceremony, one of my favourite songs ever.) It's a must see for anyone interested not only in cricket but any sport. It's a truly inspiring story of myth and legend.

From the Ashes does a fantastic job of showing why Botham became a hero to a nation. It serves as a reminder of how important sport can be in shaping the memories of a time and how every now and then an event such as this can create a true legend that can transcend the world of sport.
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