Poetic noir from Criterion

Temple (Miriam Hopkins) suddenly finds herself in a world stripped of security in Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933)

Although separated by fifteen years, the Depression and World War Two, Stephen Roberts’ The Story of Temple Drake (1933) and Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1948) have quite a bit in common, stylistically and thematically; each centres on an outsider character brought low by guilt, who ultimately finds redemption through self-knowledge, and each uses richly Expressionistic black-and-white photography to create a feverishly claustrophobic atmosphere to trap its protagonist in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Camp Losey

Liz Taylor as wealthy widow Sissy Goforth clinging to life in Joseph Losey's Boom (1968)

In the middle of a career striving for artistic seriousness, Joseph Losey took a diversion into camp with three movies in the late 1960s. Gorgeously photographed and rife with scenery-chewing, one s a dud, one a great Gothic psychodrama and the third … well, it’s simply unclassifiable.

Smart Sci-Fi

The space elevator carries passengers and cargo to the transport ship Aniara in Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja's Aniara (2018)

Quiet, contemplative character-based science fiction movies feel like a refreshing oasis in a desert of big, loud, empty franchise blockbusters. James Gray’s Ad Astra (2019), Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja’s Ad Astra (2018), Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star (2015) and Alex Rivera’s Sleep Dealer (2008) provide satisfaction on many levels.

Three Fantastic Journeys by Karel Zeman:
Criterion Blu-ray review

The Count's men head out to ransack a recently sunken ship in Karel Zeman's Invention For Destruction (1958)

A new three-disk Blu-ray from Criterion showcases three fantasies by the great Czech animator Karel Zeman, whose unique, inventive style creates a child-like sense of wonder in even the most jaded viewer. The superb restorations provided by the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague are supplemented with some terrific extras, including an excellent feature-length documentary about Zeman’s career and four of his early short films.

A Kino Lorber miscellany

Everything begins to look suspicious to Jane (Pamela Franklin) in Robert Fuest's And Soon the Darkness (1970)

In the past few years Kino Lorber has become one of the most prolific disk producers with a remarkably varied catalogue representing every imaginable genre. Here, I look at a half dozen KL releases by a range of interesting directors – Robert Fuest, Ken Russell, Alain Robak, Harold Becker, Don Siegel and Sam Peckinpah.

Indicator’s Hammer Vol. 4: Faces of Fear

... at the perfect body (Michael Gwynn) the Baron (Peter Cushing) has fashioned for him in Terence Fisher's The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

With Hammer Vol. 4: Faces of Fear, Indicator continue to prove themselves one of the finest companies producing exceptional Blu-ray editions of a wide variety of genres. This new set includes three of the studio’s finest features, each very different from the others, plus an interesting misfire. As always, there’s an almost overwhelming quantity of supplementary material to provide background and critical assessments for each film.

Back to the ’70s

Waldo and Axel (Bo Svenson) practive wing-walking in George Roy Hill's The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Revisiting movies from the early 1970s, I recently watched Howard W. Koch’s rather ugly cop feature Badge 373 (1973), with Robert Duvall as a rule-breaking, racist misogynist NYC detective; Willard (1971), Daniel Mann’s adaptation of Stephen Gilbert’s dark horror novel Ratman’s Notebooks; and two features by George Roy Hill, his faithful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) and his most personal, and best, film The Great Waldo Pepper (1975).

Seeing in the New Year

Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) finds setting zombies on gangsters enormously amusing in Paul Maslansky's Sugar Hill (1974)

This year’s New Year’s Eve movie binge with my friend Steve spanned from ’50s 3D Red Menace sci-fi to ’70s blaxploitation horror to a political thriller about right-wing apocalyptic political paranoia which, while dating from 1972, suggested the atmosphere of the coming 2020 presidential election year.

Year End 2019

Ahmad (Babak Ahmadpour) searches for his friend in an unfamiliar village in Abbas Kiarostami's Where is the Friend's House? (1987)

The usual year-end round-up – not necessarily the best movies or disks, but some of the ones I most enjoyed, from high art to entertaining trash. The sheer range of what’s available should lay to rest any lingering rumours about the demise of physical media.