Sid and Nancy (1986)

Alex Cox’s film about the turbulent relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, gets released on DVD & Blu-ray today as part of its 30th anniversary

Alex Cox’s film about the turbulent relationship between Sid Vicious and partner Nancy Spungen, is out now on DVD & Blu-ray as part of its 30th anniversary.

Although initially praised by critics on its release in 1986, the film badly underperformed at the box office and was further tarnished by a stinging condemnation from John Lydon.

Furious at both his and Sid’s portrayal, he wrote in his 1994 autobiography:

“To me this movie is the lowest form of life. I honestly believe that it celebrates heroin addiction…”

Yet, although one can understand Lydon’s discomfort at the film, the fact is that it is a convincing portrait of addiction and a fateful, doomed love affair.

This is in large part down to the two lead performances from Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, who manage to come across as soul mates as their relationship spiralled out of control into alcohol and heroin addiction.

Cox’s direction and screenplay (co-written by Abbe Wool) is solid and greatly enhanced by Roger Deakins’ cinematography, which are given an extra lift on the restored Blu-ray edition.

Although your appreciation may depend on how much you like the music and brief career of The Sex Pistols, time has been kind to it.

For many it remains a cult classic and an imaginative reconstruction of a significant chapter of rock history.

Sid and Nancy is out today on Blu-ray and DVD

> Find out more about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen at Wikipedia
> Buy the Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK

Highlander (1986)

The cult sword and sorcery epic gets a handsome UK Blu-ray release to mark its 30th anniversary.

The cult sword and sorcery epic gets a handsome UK Blu-ray release to mark its 30th anniversary.

Although a relative disappointment at the box office in the mid-1980s, Highlander found a much bigger audience on VHS before establishing itself as a cult favourite on home video.

Set in 1985 New York, it explores a fantasy underworld where, since the dawn of time, several immortal warriors have been fighting each other until a final battle (“The Gathering”) will establish one final winner (“There can be only one!”).

It explores this narrative through Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), a New York art dealer by day and swordsman by night, who since the 17th century has encountered many characters on his journey.

There is a Spanish-Egyptian mentor (Sean Connery), a mortal enemy (Clancy Brown) and many others, as his backstory is discovered through flashbacks by an expert in antiquities (Roxanne Hart).

Directed by Australian director Russell Mulcahy, then famous for landmark music videos such as The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” and his debut feature Razorback (1984), it is a mixture of fairly wild themes but also styles.

Mulcahy brought to his videos for Duran Duran, Elton John and various other 1980s acts was a sense of grandeur on a lower budget, which you can see in Highlander through the lensing of Gerry Fisher and an epic score by Michael Kamen.

Added to all this, the presence of Queen on the soundtrack just adds to the bombast. Most of the actors seem to be having a lot of fun (especially Connery) and although there are lapses in logic (if the warriors are immortal how can they be killed by being beheaded?) if you give it a certain licence then there is much to enjoy here.

My first experience of this film was in the VHS era and watching it now Blu-ray (from a 4K transfer) shows how far film technology has developed. Highlander already had a cult status in the analogue past and that looks likely to continue in our digital present and future.

The extras are plentiful, including:

  • Newly Remastered in 4K for the Anniversary Release
  • New interview with director Russell Mulcahy
  • New interview with actor Christopher Lambert
  • Making of documentary in 4 parts
  • Deleted scenes
  • Audio commentary with director Russell Mulcahy
  • Original theatrical trailer

Highlander is out now from Studiocanal UK

> Buy the film at Amazon UK
> Find out more about Highlander at Wikipedia

Room (2015)

One of the highlights of last year was this deeply impressive drama about survival and the bond between a mother and son.

The setup of Room, a disarmingly interior story from its claustrophobic first half to the surprising second half, is how a mother (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay) have to survive in a confined space.

An unusual opening sequence gradually establishes a narrative framework of kidnap and incarceration, not dissimilar to those in films such as The Collector (1965) and Michael (2011).

But director Lenny Abrahamson and screenwriter Emma Donoghue (adapting from her own novel) opt for a different approach.

To fully reveal what that is would unleash all kinds of spoilers, but there is an emphasis here on survival, complex emotions, trauma and readjusting to environments.

Whilst the story could have descended into daytime mush, Abrahamson and his team skilfully tread a fine line of raw honesty, then lace it with knots of fear, anger, grief, hope and love.

Larson impressed in Short Term 12 (2013), but here she really excels and was well deserving of her Oscar for Best Actress. Yet, even she was slightly upstaged by the young Tremblay, who gives one of the greatest child performances of recent decades.

Not only does he manage the difficult nature of the project with considerable aplomb but shows astonishing maturity for his age, without resorting easy sentiment, which the script and direction never allow.

In supporting roles, Joan AllenWilliam H. MacySean Bridgers and Tom McCamus are all solid, but the chemistry between Larson and Tremblay is what ultimately powers this film.

In a year of quality dramas (Spotlight, The Big Short, The Revenant and Brooklyn), this was perhaps the most emotionally draining. Yet, there was a redemptive quality about Room that made it particularly special.

Room in out now on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD from Studiocanal

> Buy Room on Blu-ray or Amazon Video
> Reviews of Room at Metacritic

Ran (1985)

A new 4K restoration of Akira Kurosawa’s classic reworking of Shakespeare’s King Lear is released on DVD and Blu-ray after showing in UK cinemas.

A new 4K restoration of Akira Kurosawa’s classic reworking of Shakespeare’s King Lear is released on DVD and Blu-ray after showing in UK cinemas.

One of the great films of the 1980s, this samurai version of the Bard’s bleakest tragedy still ranks as one of the great Shakespeare adaptations and one of the defining works of the famed Japanese writer-director.

Kurosawa established himself as one of the great figures of world cinema in the early 1950s, with influential masterworks such as Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Yojimbo (1961).

With its flashback narrative structure Rashomon influenced generations of filmmakers; Seven Samurai was remade as The Magnificent Seven (1960); Throne of Blood was a startling reworking of Shakespeare’s Macbeth; The Hidden Fortress was a big influence on the Star Wars trilogy (1977-83) and Yojimbo was virtually remade as Fistful of Dollars (1964).

By the 1980s his global fame was already established, but he directed two further classics, both of them epics. The first was Kagemusha (1980), the tale of a common thief who must impersonate a dying ruler in 16th century Japan.

The second was Ran (1985), whose various translations into English can mean ‘chaos’, ‘revolt’ or ‘confused’, and this would be a worthy tribute to arguably the Bard’s bleakest play.

Transferred to feudal Japan, it charts the hell unleashed when an ageing warlord (Tatsuya Nakadai) experiences a dream that causes him to divide his kingdom among his three sons (played by Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu and Daisuke Ryû) with predictably tragic consequences.

If you have never seen Ran before, the astonishing scale of the film is absolutely stunning. In the current digital age it is hard to image how many of the sequences were actually captured without the use of CGI.

Although the extraordinary battle sequences are incredible to behold, repeat viewings reveal Kurosawa’s subtle handling of the ruling family dynamics and how the arrogance of a single ruler can trigger brutal carnage and destruction.

The late, great Sidney Lumet (himself a master of American cinema) was very perceptive about Kurosawa and Ran:

Obviously Shakespeare’s play remains shockingly relevant, but Kurosawa brought his own distinct flavour to proceedings reimagining the essential elements story into a different culture and time.

In his best work, and this ranks among his finest, Kurosawa also had a knack of connecting inner emotions, such as pride and envy, with larger scale themes of war, betrayal and destruction.

He then used these as a rock solid foundation for crafting one of the great cinema epics, laden with startling visuals, intricate period detail and tremendous performances.

The new 4K restoration, courtesy of Studiocanal and ICO (Independent Cinema Office), renders this masterpiece in new levels of detail and comes with the following extras:

DISC 1
– The Film
– Film Restoration at Éclair

DISC 2
– Ak
– Akira Kurosawa : The Epic and the Intimate
– Akira Kurosawa by Catherine Cadou
– Art of the Samurai
– Interview with the Director of Photography – Mr Ueda
– Interview with Ms Mieko Harada (As Kaede)
– Interview with Michael Brooke
– Stage Appearance at Tokyo International Film Festival 2015
– The Samurai

Studiocanal release Ran today (May 2nd) on Blu-ray and DVD

> Find out more about Akira Kurosawa at Wikipedia
> Akira Kurosawa’s Top 100 Films

DVD & Blu-ray Picks: February 2016

Including Godard, Sicario, The Martian, Spectre, Taxi Tehran, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead and Brooklyn

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

> DVD & Blu-ray picks for January 2016
> The Best DVD and Blu-rays of 2015