Archive for September, 2013

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Once upon a time horror films were a much more guileful proposition, gently ensnaring the audience before creeping up on them with the thrills and spills. From Nosferatu to The Innocents to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the best horror films tended to rely on a sense of dread and foreboding. Compare that to the majority of today’s fare, which seems to rely solely on crude music cues and extreme gore. You can’t imagine a film like The Wicker Man, which has just received a brand new 2K restoration and re-release, being made in today’s environment.

The Wicker Man must go down as one of the most unusual and distinctive horror films ever made. One could easily re-cut the film as an ode to some idyllic rural British past, a promotional video for 70’s hippies. It’s this mix of sun dappled rural landscapes and eerie paranoia that makes the film such a beguiling, memorable piece of cinema. It’s a fairly simple story; puritanical police officer Howie (Edward Woodward) goes to investigate the disappearance of a girl on a remote Scottish island and finds that the oddball locals aren’t ready to help him.

Writer Antony Shaffer relishes placing the devoutly Christian Howie into a hotpot of wayward pagans and their frequent orgies. Walking out into the night, Howie stumbles into a throng of youths fornicating in the grass, while the pub landlord’s daughter (Britt Ekland) makes gratuitous advances towards the tempted officer. Elsewhere the sanctity of the graveyard has been tainted by the remains of last year’s harvest strewn across the graves. All that Howie holds dear in life is being challenged by these ‘heathens’.

The film itself plays out a little like a murder mystery; Howie perusing houses and records for the missing girl. There is a delicious air of conspiracy running through the narrative, as if Howie is playing a game that he doesn’t know the rules to. The locals are strangely ambivalent to the girl’s welfare, which incites a new kind of terror for the audience. The introduction of Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) spices up proceedings. His louche, idealistic leader adds to the sense of strangeness emanating from top to bottom.

Robin Hardy’s direction is unusual for a horror film, almost ponderous. At times his wandering camera is like a documentary of the community, studying the faces and symbols of this tightknit world. Hardy utilises a fair number of ethereal folk songs, which in any other horror would seem mind boggling. It conjurs up a slightly fairytale atmosphere, but with an ominous edge. He also elicits a strong performance from Woodward; we get a solid sense of righteousness and angst from his Howie.

Any chance to see this classic horror on the big screen should be taken, but this time the film has been enlivened by a lost cut and a 2K restoration. Hardy had originally devised a longer version which was later cut down for a commercial release. This recovered cut embellishes Christopher Lee’s role and provides more context for the harvest narrative. Personally I feel the leanness of the original commercial cut had a greater sense of mystery and propulsion to it, but it is intriguing to see what Hardy had really envisaged in the beginning.

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut is out in cinemas September 27th and out on DVD/BD Oct 14th.

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The Great Beauty might well be the finest film released this year. Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian writer-director, excelled himself with previous efforts such as The Consequences of Love and Il Divo, but this is perhaps his greatest achievement so far. Known for his lavish mise en scene, pumping soundtracks and audacious camera work, The Great Beauty takes all of Sorrentino’s tricks and turns them up to 11.

The story is a modern day throwback to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita; Jep Gambardella is a jaded playboy journalist who has just mourned his 65th birthday. Surrounded by politicians, artists, writers and reality TV personalities, Jep begins to question his purpose in life as the champagne begins to go flat and the last guests have stumbled home. His existential malaise is heightened by the news of an old flame’s passing- the only love of his life.

The Great Beauty is not your typical Hollywood film; there is no great journey, no moment of realisation, but a series of small happenings. We observe Jep as he observes his beloved Rome, wandering through stone courtyards, catching glimpses of the precocious local nuns, a flock of birds from his balcony. It is clear he is in love with the sights and the sounds of the city, as well as the parties, but is that enough to live on for Jep?

The film is so rich in its sound and imagery that it is almost overwhelming. We are immediately thrown into a raucous party that would make Berlusconi proud (indeed the film is partially inspired by the excess of his tenure), with throbbing euro trance and glistening, swooping camera movements that captures every shuffle of the party’s lurid clientele. Every frame in the film is a delight; a fruit grove littered with orange baubles in the morning, a prodigious child artist creating a swirling masterpiece.

Although the film could easily drown in its own beauty, it is glued together by Toni Servillo’s marvellous performance as Jep. A Sorrentino mainstay, Servillo has a chameleon quality which allows him to move from grinning charisma to hangdog pathos in a moment. In one sense Jep is cruel, snobbish and spoiled, and yet there is an inherent charm and humanity to him. We believe that this is a man who wants to change and be loved. The tragedy running through the film is the feeling that this will not come to pass.

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To celebrate Studio Canal’s 4K cinema and home entertainment release of René Clément’s classic 1960 thriller Plein Soleil (starring Alain Delon as Tom Ripley), we are giving away a Blu-ray bundle consisting of the newly restored Plein Soleil, Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley and Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

To enter the competition simply answer the following question correctly:

Which of the following film actors has not played Patricia Highsmith’s recurring character, Tom Ripley?

  • Matt Damon
  • Brad Pitt
  • Dennis Hopper
  • John Malkovich

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

Terms and Conditions:

UK residents aged 15 and above only.
Competition deadline: 16th of September.
One entry per person.

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Newly restored for 4K digital projection, René Clément’s 1960 thriller Plein Soleil has aged well. With its bold Mediterranean colours and deviously charismatic central performance by Alain Delon, it feels as raw, gripping and cool today as Clément must have originally intended. The film, which is based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley (which Anthony Minghella adapted with Matt Damon in 1999) also possesses a lifelike moral ambiguity, often missing in overly literal literary adaptations.

Plein Soleil tells the story of Highsmith’s recurring American protagonist Tom Ripley. At the beginning of the film he is sent to Italy to encourage his friend Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet) to return to the US, so he can acquire his father’s company. After a breezy and humorous opening that establishes the pair’s roguish friendship as they buy a blind man’s walking stick, the film takes a sinister turn; Ripley develops an infatuation with Greenleaf’s long suffering and attractive girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforêt), initiating a chaotic sequence of events in which friendship counts for nothing.

Set partly on Greenleaf’s yatch the film plays like a precursor to Roman Polanski’s excellent 1962 drama Knife In The Water. Highsmith’s tense love triangle is filmed within the yatch with a flexible, innovative and claustrophic camera style. Clément achieved this by craning the roving camera into the moving set, which rocked back and forth, creating the illusion of waves. While Polanski’s film was a fierce political and social critique, probing issues of class, gender and age, Clément’s film is more concerned with the singular mania of its central character and Delon’s (undeniably French) Ripley is sufficiently gripping.

Clément proves himself as inspired a director above deck, as well as he is below, allowing for some brilliant physical acting from Delon. In the film’s most thrilling scene Tom Ripley navigates genuinely choppy waters in Greenleaf’s yatch whilst dodging the boat’s precarious, windswept boom. When Plein Soleil returns to land however, it feels no less treacherous, as Ripley navigates a dubious set of circumstances that only he can claim responsibility for.

While not as heavily existential as Wim Wenders’ Highsmith adaptation The American Friend (adapted in 1977 from her 1974 novel Ripley’s Game), Plein Soleil does possess an indeterminate morality that feels authentically drawn from its source material. As we witness Ripley’s perilously unethical decision making, Clément’s camera refrains from moralising judgement. Perhaps this unsettling indifference was the veteran director’s contribution to the then developing French New Wave; Plein Soleil is a slick, important film well worth revisiting.

Plein Soleil is out in UK cinemas from the 30th of August and on DVD & Blu-ray from the 14th of September.

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