Review: John Carpenter Restorations out on Blu-ray and 4K

Studiocanal is going to release some of director John Carpenter’s considerable back catalogue, including The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Prince of Darkness (1987) and They Live (1988).

These films will also get shown at UK cinemas over the next 7 days.

For more information visit: https://www.johncarpenter4k.co.uk/films


THE FOG (1980)

After the cult crime drama Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), followed by a massive breakout success of low-budget horror Halloween (1978), he came out with The Fog. A spooky film about sailors who use the weather to enact ghostly retribution for crimes past.

Whilst it doesn’t have full-bore intensity of his early work, it is notable for a cameo by John Houseman (mentor of Orson Welles) and the real life relationship of Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) and her mother Janet Leigh (Psycho), both performances are nice ironic nods to previous horror classics.


ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

One of the great cult films of its era, this futuristic tale of a dangerous criminal (Kurt Russell) forced by a prison commissioner (Lee Van Cleef) to rescue the US President (Donald Pleasance). Whilst the setting (1997) has long passed, some of the ideas leave their mark: Manhattan run as savage open prison; a police force run like the special forces; a city surrounded by an enormous wall.

This features some great production design by Joe Alves, and some notable actors in the cast: Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac  Hayes. Some of the set pieces are brilliantly arranged and a lot of burnt out New York was actually filmed in St. Louis, which had suffered a devastating fire. Carpenter and his team (including a young Jim Cameron) presented a chilling vision


PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)

One of the more underrated films of the Carpenter canon, this came after some perceived studio failures, The Thing (1982), Christine (1984) and Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Carpenter seemed determined to have his own vision back by teaming up with independent companies and the result was a chilling film about strange things going on in an abandoned LA church.

With scientists recruited by an old priest (Carpenter favourite Donald Pleasance) they seem baffled by the on set of an infectious green fluid, which leads to possession and demonic chaos. Perhaps some will dismiss this as hokum, as they did on first release – but this has interesting ideas complemented by some clever visuals.


THEY LIVE (1988)

The most ardently political film made by Carpenter was also his funniest. Featuring the wrestler Roddy Piper, this damning satire of Regan era was filled with inventive twists. Principally the idea that the ruling classes of America were ugly aliens controlling a blind public through hidden slogans. Only by wearing specially made sunglasses can he see the difference.

This might sound like hard work, but it is so shrewdly crafted and features some savage political humour, now especially pertinent in the era of Trump.  But it is also features some hilarious scenes, especially towards the climax. These four films represent some of the highlights of Carpenter’s career and to seem them remastered in 4K is a delight.

> More about John Carpenter at Wikipedia
> More about John Carpenter on 4K

The Lion in Winter (1968)

Peter O’Toole portrayed Henry II twice in the 1960s, in tales of medieval politics and strained relationships.

The other was Becket (1964) and although this later work remains inferior, The Lion in Winter remains a classy affair.

Garnering Oscar nominations, a healthy reception from audiences and critics, it would become one of O’Toole’s signature roles.

Set in 1183 AD, it depicts the dynastic crisis of an ageing King Henry II (O’Toole), as he struggles amidst a nest of intrigue and paranoia.

There is an estranged queen (Katherine Hepburn); an elder son (Anthony Hopkins) and two ambitious brothers, plus the King of France (Timothy Dalton) ready to pounce on any internal strife.

Director Anthony Harvey has an assured grip on proceedings, the lensing by Douglas Slocombe is exceptional and the art direction evokes the appropriate time and place.

There is also a raft of quality acting – not only the screen debut of Hopkins but the chemistry of O’Toole and Hepburn as they feud across emotional and political lines is one of the major highlights.

In retrospect, the tumultuous year of release (1968) seems prescient with America torn apart by the Vietnam war and widespread dissent across Europe.

As a footnote, at that year’s Oscars, Hepburn was tied with Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl – the only time this has happened in Academy history.

Special Features:

  • New restoration of the film
  • New interview with John Castle
  • New interview with John Bloom
  • Anthony Harvey audio commentary (this is very good)
  • O’Toole on Hepburn: 5 min excerpt from TCM interview in 2012
  • Original Trailer
  • Restoration comparison

The Lion in Winter is out now from Studiocanal UK

> Buy The Lion in Winter on Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Find out more about The Lion in Winter on IMDb and Wikipedia

 

A Monster Calls (2016)

With just two films to his credit – The Orphanage (2007) and The Impossible (2012) – Bayona has established himself as one of most interesting filmmakers to emerge from Spain in recent years.

So this project, based on a novel by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd) was much anticipated.

It explores a young boy (Lewis MacDougall) struggling to deal with a dying mother (Felicity Jones) and a vision of a monster he sees at night (Liam Neeson) who tells him tales.

A lot rests on MacDougall’s shoulders here, being centre stage throughout, and he delivers a remarkable performance, convincing in conveying a number of emotions, spanning anger, grief, frustration and terror.

Indeed, the most affecting aspect of the film is the sense of human confusion at the brutal events life can throw our way and how complicated it can be to resolve them.

The interplay between him and his loving mother (Jones), absent father (Toby Kebbel) and strict grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is central to why most of the audience will be moved at the end.

Yet while the human plane is handled with a sensitive and subtle touch, the monster’s – rendered by a multitude of visual effects – is somehow less impactful. A curious case of more ending up as less, with a CGI character leaving too little to the imagination.

Of more note is the animated fairytale sequences, which the monster narrates. Splendidly animated by Adrián García, they explore the Prince Charming myth, medieval faith, and “an invisible man who had grown tired of being unseen”.

The flaws don’t derail A Monster Calls, which still deserves plaudits for boldly confronting dark issues inside the framework of a ‘family fantasy’.

A Monster Calls screened at the London Film Festival and opens in the UK on January 6th

> Official site for the film
> London Film Festival

The Almodovar Collection (1983-1995)

Spanning eleven years of his career, these six films provide a rich snapshot of the Spanish filmmaker’s work throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Dark Habits (1983): When a nightclub singer (Cristina Sánchez Pascual) gets on the wrong side of a criminal gang, she flees to a convent where the nuns have secrets too. The title has a double meaning for what the holy women wear and what some do in their rooms. Treading a fine line between satire and serious critique of the Catholic church, it manages to keep both irons in the fire. Pascual is excellent in the lead role and there are some fine supporting performances from future Almodovar regulars, such as Marisa Paredes and Carmen Maura. After debuting at the Venice film festival it caused considerable controversy, put its director on the European festival map.

Extras:

  • New Around Dark Habits – Featuring interviews with: Marisa Paredes, MercedesGuilamon, Anabel Alonzo, Lluis Homar, Felez Martinez, Alaska Miguel, Angel Silvestre and Augustin Almodóvar
  • Introduction by critic José Arroyo

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984): The setting is an overcrowded Madrid apartment, with all manner of characters orbiting around a stressed-out housewife, Gloria (Carmen Maura). There is her vile husband (Ángel de Andrés López); her mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave), curious children and a prostitute next door. The plot involves murder, intrigue and even a pet lizard, as part of an outrageous patchwork weaved by the director. Amongst an already impressive cast, Maura is the standout performer here, and it is fairly obvious why she became a regular part of Almodovar’s creative ensemble. More was to come, but this was a marker for his later works.

Extras:

  • New Around What Have I Done to Deserve This? – Featuring interviews with Mercedes Guilamon, Javier Camara, Carlos Areces and Anabel Alonzo
  • Trailer

Law of Desire (1987): Containing his trademark blend of profane tragic-comic thrills, this was perhaps his boldest film yet when Almodovar was cementing his position as a flamboyant soothsayer for post-Franco Spain. Stylishly flaunting social and sexual mores, it explores a love triangle between a famous director Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), his long-term lover (Miguel Molina) and a young actor, Antonio (Antonio Banderas). Parallel to this, is a sub-plot involving Pablo’s sister Tina (Carmen Maura) which interlocks with the main narrative. Although the plot may resemble something Fellini may have done, it still packs a considerable thematic and stylistic punch.

Extras:

  • New Around Law of Desire – Featuring interviews with Esther Garcia,
    Alberto Iglesias, Elena Anaya, Javier Camara, Rossy di Palma and Victoria Abril
  • Introduction by critic José Arroyo
  • Trailer

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988): Another international breakthrough was this brilliantly realised surreal farce. A heady brew of infidelity and insecurity involving a voiceover artist (Carmen Maura), her extramarital lover (Fernando Guillen), his wife (Julieta Serrano) and an anxious friend (Maria Barranco) who has fallen for a terrorist, a synopsis for this film is difficult. But as usual with Almodovar he pulls all these strings together, with the help of what by now had become almost a stock company of actors.

Extras:

  • New Around Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Featuring interviews with Pedro Almodóvar, Loles Leon and Rossy di Palma
  • Introduction by critic José Arroyo
  • Trailer

Kika (1993): Regarded by some observers at the time as something of a creative and commercial disappointment, in retrospect this holds up very well. Another riotous and colourful affair, it sees the aforementioned Kika (Veronica Forqué), a make-up artist living in Madrid with a philandering American writer (Peter Coyote). Circling them are a manic kaleidoscope of characters including: drug addicts, serial killers, porn stars and transexuals. Perhaps at times it does spin out of control, but that is part of Almodovar’s skill. One of his hallmarks is an ability to juggle outrageous comedy with darker themes – a controversial rape scene being a case in point – makes him a rare talent in world cinema.

Extras:

  • New Around Kika – Featuring interviews with Victoria Abril, Rossy di Palma and Anabel Alonzo
  • Introduction By José Arroyo
  • Pedro Almodóvar interview
  • Cast and crew interviews
  • The Characters
  • The Music
  • Trailer

The Flower of My Secret (1995): The last film in this box set marks a transition for the Spanish filmmaker, with a more toned down approach. A superbly layered portrait of a writer (an excellent Marisa Paredes), who wants to focus on the melancholic realities of pain and loss, rather than cliched happier endings. Though it retains the energy of his previous work, it is channelled in different ways. Fine supporting performances from Juan Echanove, Carmen Elias, Rossy De Palma and Chus Lampreave are a treat (with the latter two a fine double-act) and the end result points towards the masterworks to come in the late 90s and new millennium, such as All About My Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002).

  • New ‘The Flower of my Secret’ (featuring interviews with Rossy di Palma, Augustin Almodóvar, Pedro Almodóvar and Marisa Paredes)
  • Cast and crew interviews
  • Introduction By José Arroyo
  • Trailer

The Almodovar Collection is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal UK

> Buy The Almodovar Collection on DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> Pedro Almodóvar: 13 great Spanish films that inspire me at BFI
> Find out more about Pedro Almodovar at Wikipedia

The Fallen Idol (1948)

The first collaboration between writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed is a classic in its own right, despite being overshadowed by their masterful second team-up, The Third Man (1949).

Based on a Greene story and told from the perspective of a French diplomat’s young son (Bobby Henrey), who idolises his father’s butler (Ralph Richardson), it explores what happens after he witnesses a serious incident in the London embassy where they live.

A highly impressive blend of mystery, thriller and suspense, it features many delights, including a raft of fine performances, principally Henrey and Richardson, but also a supporting cast including Sonia Dresdel, Michele Morgan, Dandy Nicholls (as well as future Bond stalwarts Bernard Lee and Geoffrey Keen).

Greene’s familiar themes are here – betrayal, moral ambiguity – but what made this first collaboration with Reed so special was the realisation that they both seemed to find their creative soul mate in each other and no director has managed to portray the Greene’s works so well.

The post-war London setting is superbly evoked with Vincent Korda’s excellent production design and Georges Perinal’s deep-focus photography emphasising the gulf between the innocence of childhood and the often murkier business of adults.

But it also underscores themes such as appearance and reality, the difficulty of telling the truth (as well as finding it), and the dangers of putting too much faith in those we admire.

Fans of The Third Man might like to note the recurrence of certain motifs: spiral staircases, the importance of light and darkness and the complexities of human behaviour in foreign lands.

It is interesting to note that all three of Reed’s works with Greene feature a displaced protagonist in another country: Phillipe in this film (a French boy in England); Holly in The Third Man (an American writer in Vienna); and Wormold in Our Man in Havana (an English spy in Cuba).

Their working relationship would mature over the course of the late 1940s and 50s, but there remains something magical about this film – due in large part to the chemistry between Henrey and Richardson – and it remains one of the classic British films of the post-war years.

Studiocanal have released it on DVD, Blu-ray and Download with the following extras:

  • Guy Hamilton remembers The Fallen Idol
  • Locations featurette with Richard Dacre
  • Interview with Charles Drazin
  • Interview with fan Richard Ayoade
  • Restoration comparison
  • Kevin Brownlow interviews Robert Henrey

> Buy the DVD or Blu-ray from Amazon UK
> The Fallen Idol at the IMDb
> Criterion essay on The Fallen Idol by Geoffrey O’Brien
> Find out more about Graham Greene and Carol Reed at Wikipedia