An American Werewolf In London


Viewed – 31 October 2020 Blu-ray

Director John Landis’ 1981 classic remains one of my all-time favourite movies. It’s the perfect balance of horror with comedy and also works as a particularly tragic love story. it also has (still) the best werewolf transformation ever commuted to film, and in this age of CGI overdose I doubt it will ever be beaten. Telling the story of David, an American backpacking in England with his friend Jack, who following a strange encounter with the locals of the ‘slaughtered lamb’, wonders onto the moors, and gets attacked by a werewolf. Sometime later he awakens in a London hospital and begins to have strange dreams and visits from beyond the grave warning him he’s destined to become a hairy beast next full moon.

Beware the moon…

The setup is stuff of horror legend, and is a sort of loose remake of those classic werewolf movies from the 1950s, given a modern twist that still works today, almost 40 years later. The fact the effects work still stands up is very much down to the sheer skill of makeup wiz Rick Baker (who got an Oscar for his trouble). Jenny Agutter is here as a (particularly attractive) nurse who befriends and quickly falls for David and her relationship with the would-be monster is convincing and quite touching. It’s also a snappily paced ride, skilfully jumping from one event to the next, and when it’s funny (the bumbling cops, Jack’s deadpan line-delivery “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”) it never feels out of place. The same goes for when it delivers the horror – somehow it just all works. The music should also get a special mention, with each song title having some mention of the moon, and they are all delivered memorably. This is Landis’ best movie, the tone, those classic sequences (the tube station scene) and a simple concept brilliantly put together makes for not just a great horror movie – but one of the ‘great’ movies.

The Blu-ray limited edition I picked from Arrow Video is a collector’s dream. Housed in a hard case and with specially created artwork, a fold-out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet – that’s just the start. The movie, although grainy boasts a new restoration and is in great shape – with impressive detail along with good colour vibrancy and depth in dark scenes. The soundtrack in a choice of the original mono and 5.1. DTS Master Audio has clear dialogue and especially showcases the music cues. Surrounds also come alive during the climactic Piccadilli Circus sequence. Extras consist of two commentaries; one from actors David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and the other with filmmaker Paul Davis. Add to this several making of/behind the scenes featurettes and interviews with John Landis and Rick Baker, story boards, outtakes etc and this is one impressive package.

Verdict:

(the movie) Essential

(the Blu-ray) Essential

Eraserhead


Viewed – 21 October 2020 Blu-ray

And the award for strangest movie I’ve ever seen goes to… yes, I’ve finally watched surreal genius director David Lynch’s bonkers 1977 debut. I went into this prepared for a strange and unique experience – but wasn’t expecting how entrancing an experience it was. Jack Nance (credited as John Nance) plays Henry, an oddball character in a rather awkward relationship with a girl, who has a baby who turns out deformed and premature.

Strange days…

Yeah it’s a weird story filled with surreal images that cover anxiety, nightmares and hallucinations. This is shot in eye-catching black & white, emphasising lingering shots, a creepy industrial setting and a constant soundscape of exaggerated effects from steaming radiators to grinding of teeth (and one unnerving moment of puppies suckling on a dog). Lynch’s eye for bizarre imagery, uncomfortable character interactions (including a very strange dinner table scene) foreshadow where he went with movies like Blue Velvet and Lost Highway. Clearly he was a unique voice in movie making from the start.

Not as scary as some of Lynch’s other work and a simpler concept overall, but the imagery is mesmerising, strangely amusing at times and quite revolting at others. An interesting, bizarre and strangely entertaining debut.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Colection has a brand new 4K restored image, that although in black & white looks clean and atmospheric. The uncompressed stereo soundtrack especially showcases the often unnerving sound effects. However it’s in the extras where this release excels; archival footage with cast and crew, an 85 minute documentary from 2001, directed by David Lynch, and there’s also several of Lynch’s suitably strange short films, along with a second documentary from 2014. The release also comes with a comprehensive booklet that includes an interview with David Lynch, taken from filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book ‘Lynch on Lynch’. As a long time fan of the director, this is solid gold.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Easy Rider


Viewed – 10 October Blu-Ray

Everyone knows the song… ‘Born To Be Wild’ by Steppenwolf – it’s probably the most famous thing about this 1969 classic road movie, and along with its cast of Hollywood rebels like Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson – the movie was destined for the history books. Yet does it deserve to be there? Fonda & Hopper play Wyatt and Billy, two bikers travelling across America to New Orleans to watch the Mardi Gras festival. Along the way they bump into hippies, smoke a lot of pot, annoy the locals and muse on life on the road.

Get your motor running…

There’s no real story here. It’s just two guys driving around, not really encountering much of significance, doing drugs and meeting folk. In fact I found it rather boring. I’ll admit some of the outback scenery is beautifully shot, the camera work is occasionally creative, the soundtrack has some memorable songs and Fonda & Hopper (who also directs) are likeable. An appearance by Jack Nicholson is a fun diversion but short lived and the ending pretty much makes everything that comes before rather pointless.

It’s frustrating as this is regarded as a classic, but there I found little evidence on screen to support that status. I’d heard it was one of a bunch of movies made outside of the ‘Hollywood system’ and is clearly all done on a shoestring budget – which I can appreciate, but when the movie looks like it barely has a script, I have to ask … why bother?

This release, from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection boasts a decent, newly restored image quality, that whilst grainy is colourful and has depth. The movie is presented in DTS HD Master Audio in both 2.0 and 5.1 options, and there’s also an uncompressed mono soundtrack. Dialogue is generally clear and the various music cues sound great. Extras as with many Criterion releases are plentiful: two documentaries, footage from Peter Fonda & Dennis Hopper’s appearance at Cannes, as well as trailers. The cream of the crop though is two commentaries, one from Dennis Hopper, the other from Hopper, Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis. The release also comes with a fold-out booklet with a new essay from Matt Zoller Seitz. Pretty great for a movie that has a fascinating history which for me was more worthwhile looking into than the movie itself. This release is therefore a must for fans and probably still worth picking up for enthusiasts of cinema history. Yet, if you’re neither I’d give it a miss.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Tootsie


Viewed – 05 September 2020 Blu-ray

I have vague memory of enjoying this, catching it on TV many years ago. However following rediscovering Dustin Hoffman recently with his memorable turn in Midnight Cowboy … when I saw this 1982 movie had been given the Criterion treatment, I thought I’d give it a go. Hoffman plays a struggling actor, who despite obvious talent can’t seem to land a job. However when he decides to disguise himself as a woman in order to land a role on a daytime soap opera, he realises his troubles are only just starting.

Directed by the late Sidney Pollack (Out of Africa) this is an enjoyable, charming and at times quite touching comedy-drama. Hoffman pulls off a surprisingly convincing woman in the form of ‘Dorothy’ and makes for an entertaining character. The movies shares similarities with Mrs Doubtfire but isn’t as zany, preferring a more earnest story over comedy set pieces. Although it’s still funny in places. Teri Garr is on hand as a ditsy friend and sort of love interest and resembles very much Jennifer Anniston in her personality. Bill Murray is also here but doesn’t add much. Jessica Lang, an actress I’ve always found creepy, however is very likeable here, and her scenes with Hoffman are some of the best in the movie.

At times it’s look and feel is a bit ‘TV movie’ and I can’t say I like the title or that cheesy theme … but it still throws an ahead-of-its-time spotlight on female empowerment, exploring misogyny and sexism that’s shockingly, still relevant. It’s also just a fun story with solid performances.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. branch of The Criterion Collection boasts a nicely detailed and colourful image from a new 4K restoration. The sound, whilst only in its original uncompressed mono is very clear and does a good enough job. Extras are of course plentiful with a commentary from director Sidney Pollack as well as an archive making of and a newer making of from 2007 with interviews from both cast and crew. There’s also deleted scenes, test footage and an interview with Hoffman in-character as Dorothy. The included fold-out poster also has a new essay from critic Michael Sragow. Solid treatment for an 80’s comedy well worth re-visiting.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Midnight Cowboy


Viewed 22 August 2020. Blu-ray

This 1969 Oscar winner had a bit of a backlash at the time of release and was one of the few ‘x’ certificate movies to get nominated let alone win. I’d always been aware of it and heard it was a classic but only now gotten around to seeing it. Jon Voight, screen legend and father to Angelina Jolie … plays a naive, sort of man-child from Texas who travels to New York to find his fortune as a hustler / gigalo. However reality soon comes crashing down after various encounters leaves him desperate for money. At the same time, he befriends Ratso, a streetwise conman and petty thief, played by Dustin Hoffman.

Living the dream?

Gritty and at times moving, this tale explores loneliness and the harsh realities of life with a semi-whimsical vibe, with strong turns from both Voight and Hoffman. Direction from British filmmaker John Schlesinger (Marathon Man) is occasionally surreal and other times psychedelic, whilst not shying away from sex, gay culture, the drugs scene etc. despite not being the movie’s focus. Instead, this is an exploration of unconventional friendship, following one’s (hopeless) dreams which proved very effective – especially in the closing moments. The various side characters also stood out, and the setting of New York, the period and the music, with a score by John Barry and that timeless ‘Everybody’s Talking’ by Nilsson all added to the charm.

I’d have liked to know more about Hoffman’s character and his mystery illness, and other details like Voight’s troubled background I’d have liked explored further – although the flashbacks do a decent job. Overall a surprisingly powerful and rather enjoyable experience.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection has a very interesting commentary from the director as well as producer Jerome Hellman. We also get several featurettes that offer interviews (new and archive), behind the scenes footage, as well as a photo gallery and a fold-out booklet with a new write up on the movie by critic Mark Harris. The movie, a new 4K restoration retains that grainy, at times overly-soft late 60s / early 70s look but offers vibrant colours and depth to the image. Sound is in the original mono or a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Decent treatment for one of the few ‘classics’ worthy of the title.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended