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FEELING ANIMATED
StudioCanal has been putting out Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki’s output on DVD and Blu-ray over the last couple of years. The latest titles to be released are Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), which he wrote the screenplay for, and Grave of The Fireflies (1988), which is not a Miyazaki film but was made by his company Studio Ghibli. Let’s start with Kiki’s Delivery Service, a sweet film about a young witch, the Kiki of the title, who goes off to a big city to find herself and runs an air courier service to support herself financially. The film has all of the Miyazaki trademarks (a visual sense of wonder, a slightly unusual female protagonist) and is heartwarming and feels very Japanese. The choice of a white witch as its central character works well and this is a film that can’t help but make you smile when you watch it…
Grave of The Fireflies is a very different beast indeed. It deals with a young boy and his sister, Setsuko and Seita, and how they try to survive during the Second World War in Japan without parents and without anywhere proper to live. They are forced to live in a cave when their home is destroyed and they become itinerants when they have no-one to support them. It is a very sad and moving film with a very downbeat conclusion and it has a very serious message about the impact of war on ordinary people.
Both films are worthy additions to the StudioCanal Blu-ray and DVD library.

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A NEW DIMENSION IN HORROR
Evil Dead II is a classic horror film. Released back in 1987, Sam Raimi’s follow-up to The Evil Dead (1981) took the horror genre and turned it on its head. Evil Dead II is a horror comedy and the expert fusion of the two genres shows that Raimi is an extraordinary director. This restored Blu-ray starts off a little bit ropily with the picture quality a little bit grainy but it does improve after a few minutes. Bruce Campbell plays Ash, a chancer who brings his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) to a cabin in a woods but he soon finds himself embroiled in a battle between the living and the evil spirits of the dead. Visually it is very impressive as Raimi uses a mix of animation, prosthetics and more traditional special effects to show why he has had such a long career in movies. It also managed to build on its more primitive progenitor, showing real technical development. Its script is suitably subversive too with its cartoon violence well handled. Campbell is manic, funny and charismatic on screen and the balance between the horror and the comedy is well-maintained. Clocking in at under 90 minutes, Evil Dead II is a smart, funny modern horror film with some nice touches and it certainly deserves a Blu-ray release…

Studio Canal

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BRITISH INSTITUTION
Ealing Studios was a British institution and it’s easy to forget that they didn’t just make comedies. This month, Studio Canal have three of their films released (Nowhere to Go, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Dance Hall). Nowhere to Go and Dance Hall have been issued on DVD whereas The Titfield Thunderbolt, tying in with its 60th anniversary, is getting a Blu-ray and a DVD release.
Nowhere To Go is a great British noir film, based on the novel by Donald McKenzie and scripted by Kenneth Tynan, made in 1958. This is an uncut version of the film which has never been released before. Canadian conman Paul Gregory (played by George Nader), has come to London to steal the rare old coin collection of old woman Harriet Jefferson (Bessie Love). He does this successfully but ends up going to prison, sentenced to ten years. The spivvy Victor Sloane (Bernard Lee, playing against type here) helps to break Gregory out of prison but despite the fact he does escape prison, his journey to flee the country is hindered by a number of double crosses and accidents and so he finds himself on the lam with young socialite Bridget Howard (a very young Maggie Smith). Director Seth Holt, who also went on to make Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb and The Nanny, moves the action on with panache and Nader is very good as its protagonist and it’s refreshing to see Lee in a role that’s quite different. Nowhere To Go is an exciting slice of fifties noir with a very British feel and it’s certainly worthy of a new home cinema release…
The Titfield Thunderbolt, which was made in 1953, deals with a classic Ealing preoccupation: small town vs big business. A group of railway enthusiasts decide to run their own train when British Rail decides to cancel their service. The restored cut does look lovely on screen but The Titfield Thunderbolt does feel rather lightweight these days. Director Charles Crichton (Lavender Hill Mob) does manage to make the journey entertaining though, with his lightness of touch and bringing the bucolic Titfield to life, and the cast, which includes Stanley Holloway, John Gregson and even a cameo from Sid James, do bring an infectious liveability to what is a very slight film. It’s not up there with Ealing’s classic output but it is definitely worth a watch…
Finally, Dance Hall, which predates The Titfield Thunderbolt by three years but was also directed by Charles Crichton. This is an odd film: a drama about four factory girls and their romances at the local dance hall. Alexander Mackendrick, who went on to direct The Ladykillers, is one of the screenwriters here and Dance Hall does have its own naive charm. We get to see a young Petula Clark and a youngish Diana Dors as two of the girls, although Dors was never much of an actress. It is interesting to see London in 1950 but much of it feels very artificial. There are some nice moments though: the fight between the two men caught in a love triangle, Alec (Bonar Colleano) and Phil (Donald Houston), is surprisingly well orchestrated and there are some well-delineated relationships between the characters. Natasha Parry as Eve is also stunning and magnetic on screen. It doesn’t compare to Ealing’s classic films either but it is worth watching if you’re an aficionado of British cinema. Dance Hall is a curio but still worth checking out.

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THE GREATEST ESCAPE

Before Goldfinger and Funeral in Berlin, Guy Hamilton directed The Colditz Story, which arguably created the template which every other POW camp film followed. Released in 1955, and based on PR Reid’s account of the prison in Germany which was designed to hold Allied prisoners of war who had attempted to escape from every other prison they were held in, The Colditz Story is released at last on Blu-ray thanks to Studio Canal. A phenomenal cast that includes John Mills (as Reid himself), Lionel Jeffries, Bryan Forbes and Anton Diffring, Hamilton displays the deft hand he has with actors and script that he showed to great effect in his later work. The tension between the various Allied camps (British, French and American) is palpable and it is well paced and exciting. The members of the cast acquit themselves well although perhaps it is John Mills who stands out here. Accompanying the film is a fascinating documentary about the real Colditz, a menacing German castle, and the various escapees over the years, which makes you realise that, despite the fact that some of the escapes in the film seem outlandish, the truth is sometimes even more unbelievable. The Colditz Story is an important and seminal British film which deserves its Blu-ray release and the transfer is crisp and clear. For anyone who has seen The Great Escape, the TV series Colditz from the early seventies or anything else that covers similar ground and wants to see the progenitor of the Second World War POW camp movie, this is the grandaddy of them all…

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WELL SUITED
The Man In The White Suit is the latest Ealing film to get a Blu-ray release from Studio Canal. The story deals with biochemist Sidney Stratton (the brilliant Alec Guinness) who appears to have created a fabric which resists wear and stains in a textile mill up in the North of England. But he finds himself increasingly marginalised when he finds himself isolated and without allies when both the manufacturers and the factory workers want to bury his invention. Directed by American Alexander Mackendrick (The Sweet Smell of Success), The Man In The White Suit is more of a bittersweet drama than an out and out comedy, with Stratton first introduced on screen as a factory janitor rather than a fully fledged scientist. Guinness is the stand-out here but it also has an excellent supporting cast including British cinema staples like Cecil Parker as mill owner Alan Birnley and the mesmerising Joan Greenwood as his daughter Daphne. It has dated a little but it is still a wonderful snapshot of Britain in the early fifties, albeit a slightly artificial feeling North of England. It deserves a Blu-ray release just as much as The Ladykillers, Lavender Hill Mob and Kind Hearts and Coronets and if a viewer hasn’t seen this film and they’re an Ealing aficionado, they’re in for a treat.
http://www.studiocanal.com/

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MASTERING ANIMATION
StudioCanal has just released two more Hayao Miyazaki films onto Blu-ray, The Castle of Cagliostro and My Neighbour Totoro. I’ll start with the older of the two, The Castle of Cagliostro, which was originally released in 1979. This is subtitled rather than dubbed and deals with master thief Lupin and his team, who rips off a Monte Carlo casino only to discover that the money is all counterfeit. He traces the bills back to the European country of Cagliostro, ruled by an evil Count. Lupin was a very popular anime series and this is an instalment in that series. It is very spotty visually and a little bit primitive both in terms of animation and its script, which sometimes feels like a poor attempt to ape American cinema. But Miyazaki was still learning his craft so there are still a few of the visual flourishes that have become his trademark. It is nice to see that it’s on Blu-ray at last. The Castle of Cagliostro is only really for Miyazaki completists as it can be hard work in places…
My Neighbour Totoro was released in 1988 and it is far more accomplished than Cagliostro. It deals with a family who move to the country in Japan to be closer to their ailing mother. Their new house happens to be near the home of a group of friendly trolls and the two girls go on a series of adventures. It is a very sweet children’s film, displaying the depth of imagination and invention that Miyazaki has become renowned for and is able to shift tone effortlessly in its script. It’s dubbed rather than subtitled and this is less distracting for animation than subtitles and makes it a far more immersive experience than if it were subtitled. My Neighbour Totoro is unquestionably a classic and deserves a Blu-ray release. You can see why Miyazaki is called the Japanese Disney as this film matches the best of Disney. For aficionados of animation, My Neighbour Totoro is a must-buy…

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A DARKER SIDE TO LONDON

It Always Rains on Sunday is a little-known Ealing Studios film, released in 1947. Directed by Robert Hamer, who went on to helm Kind Hearts and Coronets, and based on the book by Arthur La Bern, this film, juts released as a restored BFI version on Studio Canal Blu-ray, is a British noir about housewife Rose Sandigate (Googie Withers) who is put in an impossible position when her former lover, criminal Tommy Swann (John McCallum) escapes from prison and turns to her to hide him from the police. It paints an interesing picture of post-war London and the cast especially Withers, McCallum and Jack Warner as Det. Sgt Fothergill are very watchable on screen. Director Hamer keeps the action moving well, keeping the various elements of the plot engaging including a sub plot about record shop owner Morry Hyams, played by Sydney Tafler and his infidelities. Of course, noir films only end one of a few ways and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this concludes but it is an interesting curio, showing that Ealing could tackle more than just comedies. It’s not a classic in the vein of the best Ealing work like Kind Hearts and Coronets or The Ladykillers but if you’re a fan of their films and would like to see some a little bit different, you wouldn’t go far wrong with It Always Rains on Sunday…


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A HOST OF HAMMER

People forget that Hammer was more than just Dracula and Frankenstein. This month there’s a raft of new Hammer releases from StudioCanal on DVD and Blu-ray, one of which reminds you that they weren’t just a house of horror.
Hell is A City, directed by Val Guest, is a police drama set in Manchester which was made in 1960 and is getting its DVD debut. Made like a British version of a US cop drama, Stanley Baker plays Inspector Martineau in pursuit of America criminal Don Starling (played by John Crawford). Baker, who went on to things like Zulu, makes for a good central protagonist and the rest of the cast, including cameos from a young Billie Whitelaw and Donald Pleasance, are very consistent indeed. Director Guest, who also directed films like The Day The Earth Caught Fire and The Quatermass Experiment as well as Expresso Bongo, acquits himself well here. A little bit of a hidden curio, Hell Is a City is worth checking out if you’re an aficionado of Hammer or 1960s British police films…
And there’s also three more typical Hammer films out on Blu-ray this month too. First up is The Devil Rides Out (1968), which is apparently Christopher Lee’s favourite Hammer film he appeared in. Based on Dennis Wheatley’s novel, and with a screenplay by none other than Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson, this film is arguably one of the studios’ best efforts. Lee plays against type as the Duc du Richelieu, who is concerned that his friend Simon Aron (Patrick Mower) has become embroiled in a satanic cult led by the malevolent Mocata (Charles Gray chewing up the scenery). Lee is very good as is Gray and it is still a slice of classic English pulp, directed with aplomb by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher. It is good to see The Devil Rides Out make the transfer to Blu-ray as it deserves it and they have done a very nice job with the picture…
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) is a strange film. Starring Christopher Lee in the eponymous role, it isn’t typical Hammer fare as there are no monsters or supernatural creatures. But it does still have that pulpy Hammer feel to it with Lee an interesting choice as the Russian historical figure. As with many of their films, it was shot in Buckinghamshire, which doesn’t always convince as Russia but Lee is always watchable on screen and director Don Sharp moves proceedings on with style and panache. The rest of the cast can’t really compete with him though and so Rasputin The Mad Monk feels like a minor Hammer film, worth watching but more of a hardcore fan’s delight. Again, StudioCanal have done a nice job with the transfer…
And finally, we have The Mummy’s Shroud (1967). No Lee this time but we do have Andre Morrell, from The Plague of The Zombies. This was Hammer’s attempt to resurrect another of the classic Universal Monsters after Dracula and Frankenstein and Morrell is good value. But it does feel very much like a second-string Hammer production, more like The Reptile than The Plague of The Zombies or the superior Dracula or Frankenstein efforts. It’s a bit of pulpy fun though and the mummy effects are decent. It’s a decent addition to Hammer on Blu-ray and worth watching with reasonably low expectations…
These four films show the range of Hammer over the years and it is heartening that they are attracting a new audience…
www.studiocanal.com

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A TRIO OF CANAL CLASSICS
The StudioCanal Collection is intended to offer some of the most influential films in their back catalogue on Blu Ray. This month sees another three titles added to their list.
First up is The Trial, based on Frank Kafka’s novel of the same name. Directed by Orson Welles and starring Anthony Perkins, this film from 1962 is a little bit of an interesting curio. Perkins plays Josef K, an office worker who is arrested and made to stand trial but the charges he is accused of are never spelt out. So he spends the film attempting to get to the bottom of proceedings, being forced to go through a series of scarily bureaucratic episodes. Welles was a great director but Perkins feels out of his depth here. However, a supporting cast that includes Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Akim Tamiroff and even a small cameo from Welles himself, means that The Trial is a cinematic surrealistic snapshot of early sixties film with some exceptional performances, great visuals and strong directing. While it doesn’t hold up to Welles’s best (Third Man, Citizen Kane), it is still appropriate it should be in the collection and made available on Blu-ray…
The second film is Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, from 1977. There is no question of this movie’s iconic status as it is undoubtedly one of Buñuel’s best efforts, a look at the odd relationship between wealthy middle-aged sophisticate Mathieu and his former chambermaid, Conchita. Casting two actresses to play Conchita, the gorgeous Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina, was a stroke of genius, as this reflects the duality of the character and women in general and Fernando Rey as Mathieu has real screen presence. But someone decided to issue this as dubbed rather than subtitled and this lessens its impact. The transfer to Blu-ray is very crisp but it does make you wish that it was subtitled. It’s a worthy addition to the Collection as it’s certainly one of the most important European films of the period…
Finally, Quai Des Brumes (1938) brings Marcel Carné’s adaptation of the Pierre MacOrlan novel to Blu-ray at last. Deserter soldier Jean (Jean Gabin) finds himself in Le Havre, looking for somewhere to flee to. He finds himself among an eclectic mix of gangsters, a painter and a young girl called Nelly (Michele Morgan). What he doesn’t realise is that his tragic destiny has already been written for him. Quai Des Brumes possesses a wonderful dream-like quality to it, and the transfer to Blu-ray really enhances this. Gabin is excellent as is Morgan and Carné really makes the setting like a character in the story. This film is a classic slice of French noir, with a great cast and a beautiful painterly quality to its visuals. Jean is an iconic French film protagonist and Gabin invests him with real empathy. Quai Des Brumes should be seen by true cineastes…
All three of these films are worthy additions to the StudioCanal Collection and are out now…
Studio Canal

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LIFE IN MARS?
With the release of remake starring Colin Farrell out this month, StudioCanal has put out 1990’s Total Recall onto Blu-ray. Paul Verhoeven took Philip K.Dick’s short story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale and fleshed it out for a big screen. When it hit the cinema twenty-two years ago, it made a very big impact as Arnie was a huge star and Verhoeven was a director with a big public profile thanks to Robocop although this was before Basic Instinct. Some of Total Recall has aged pretty well while other aspects look a little bit dated now. Schwarzenegger was never a particularly convincing actor but you do mostly empathise with protagonist Douglas Quaid here and Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside, who both worked with the director on Robocop, are good value on screen. Sharon Stone as Quaid’s ‘wife’ Lori shows why she really isn’t much of an actress. Total Recall was never as subtle a film as Robocop but there are still some nice touches. Mars looks like a giant, degraded shopping mall here but then so does Earth so it would make sense that the humans would try to replicate their life on Earth on the red planet. And Verhoeven tackles the whole ‘is it real or is it just a dream?’ question well. But it suffers from overly protracted fight scenes, something which was very in vogue in the Eighties. There’s no denying its importance in modern mainstream cinema and it is only correct that it has been issued on Bluray and the transfer does sharpen the visual impact of this film which arguably cemented Schwarzenegger’s place as a screen icon for the Nineties…