Split (2015) | James McEvoy displays incredible range in M Night Shamalayan’s twisted psychological thriller

Split (2016)

I have always been wary of M Night Shyamalan’s films as they always hold so much promise, only to disappoint in the final reel. So I went into Split with much trepidation. But, as the twisted psycho thriller unfolded, I found myself totally entranced – thanks to James McAvoy’s incredible turn in the lead role(s).

Split (2016)

McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and possesses 23 distinct personalities – which are at threat of being dominated by a 24th, called The Beast, which is currently beginning to manifest itself.

The mystery starts in a shopping mall car park where one of Kevin’s personalities, uptight germaphobe Dennis, abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an unspecified underground bunker. Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), whose own back story of being molested as a child is told in flashbacks, clicks to her captors’ different personalities, which include lisping nine year-old Hedwig, gay fashion designer Barry, and ice maiden Patricia.

With the help of her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), Casey tries to play off the personalities in a bid to escape…

Split (2016)

Watching McAvoy is an acting master class in itself, as he displays great range, moving from childish charm to menace and pathos using an array of facial expressions and voices. And this certainly helps to paper over the cracks in Shyamalan’s pseudo psychological ideas that dissociative identity disorder is able to cause physiological changes in the body (it reminded me of Cronenburg’s rage-fuelled psychoplasmics concept in The Brood).

Posing the bizarre theory is Kevin’s shrink Dr Karen Fletcher, marvellously played by Betty Buckley, who scored a Saturn Award for the role. Imagine Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher fused with Oliver Reed’s psychotherapist Hal Raglan from The Brood, but played like Peter Cushing’s Lorrimer Van Helsing. She’s just a fantastic creation.

The final scene features a cameo from Bruce Willis as his Unbreakable character, and sets the scene for Shyamalan to complete his superhero thriller trilogy, with the next film being entitled Glass (based on Samuel L Jackson’s unbreakable character).

Split is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures UK from 5 June, and to Buy & Keep from 22 May and rent from 5 June on Sky Store

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Stake Land II (2016) | An uninspired post-apocalyptic vampire western

Stake Land II (2016)

Directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen take the helm of this sequel to Jim Mickle’s 2010 indie horror, in which they plunge viewers back into the post-apocalyptic world of the Berserkers, as Martin (Connor Paolo) sets out to find legendary vampire hunter Mister (Nick Damici) after his wife and daughter are murdered by The Mother (Kristina Hughes). But the hideous crone and her bloodsucker brood are the least of his concerns as he comes up against a cannibalistic couple, a vicious gang overseeing a death fight contest, and a deranged religious cult…

From the synopsis, you’d think this would be a gripping, gory thrill ride, but its execution is plodding and uninspired. Shame, as the creature effects are genuinely scary and some of the minor characters showed a glimmer of hope (especially the brave gay couple).

Stake Land II is out on DVD from Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment

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The Eye of the Storm (2011) | A stylish adaptation of the acclaimed Patrick White novel

Eye of the Storm
In director Fred Schepisi’s 2011 adaptation of the acclaimed 1973 novel by Australian author Patrick White (who was born on this day, 28 May, in 1912), Charlotte Rampling, plays dying Sydney matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, whose final days are being spent in the care of a dotty housekeeper and two no-nonsense nurses.

When her uptight French socialite daughter Dorothy (Judy Davis) and struggling London-based actor son Basil (Geoffrey Rush) arrive and make plans to put her in a home, Elizabeth’s iron will comes to the fore, causing her children to take stock of their lives…

Eye of the Storm
Boasting three captivating performances from Rampling, Rush and Davis and one incredibly poignant one from Helen Morse Lotte, this is a faithful and stylish adaptation of one of White’s most-admired literary works.

Strip away the trappings of wealth and privilege and you’ll find a universal theme here about family and death as Rush and Davis’ siblings desperately seek closure with their mother before she expires, only to discover a hidden depth in the woman whom they blame for their barren lives.

Schepisi’s tauntly constructed drama is a biting yet witty exploration of that journey of redemption and forgiveness, and once you have seen it, it will only make you reach out for the original source novel again.

Out on DVD in the UK from Munro Films

 

 

 

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Universal Pictures unveils a new world of gods and monsters – Dark Universe

Welcome to a new world of gods and monsters…

Universal Pictures has announced that its series of films reviving the studio’s classic monster characters for a new generation will be known as Dark Universe. The motion logo for the new initiative features a musical theme composed by Danny Elfman and will debut in theaters preceding The Mummy, which will be released on 9 June.

Dark Universe was begun by core creatives Alex Kurtzman, who also serves as director and producer of The Mummy, the inaugural film in the new classic monster series, and The Mummy producer Chris Morgan, who recently saw The Fate of the Furious, the sixth film he wrote for the Fast & Furious franchise, claim the biggest opening in history at the global box office when it opened on April 14. Also joining the enterprise to inspire and entertain a new generation are such visionary talents as Oscar winner Christopher McQuarrie and David Koepp.

“When Universal approached us with the idea of re-imagining these classic characters, we recognised the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures,” said Kurtzman and Morgan.

In another exciting development, Oscar winner Bill Condon will follow his worldwide smash Beauty and the Beast, one of this year’s biggest hits—which crossed $1 billion at the global box office and became the most successful musical of all time—by directing Bride of Frankenstein, from a screenplay by Koepp, which will be released on Thursday, February 14, 2019.

“I’m very excited to bring a new Bride of Frankenstein to life on screen, particularly since James Whale’s original creation is still so potent,” stated Condon. “The Bride of Frankenstein remains the most iconic female monster in film history, and that’s a testament to Whale’s masterpiece—which endures as one of the greatest movies ever made.”

Dark Universe films will be distinguished by performances from some of the most talented and popular global superstars stepping into iconic roles, as well as electric new talents whose careers are starting to break through.  The Invisible Man and Frankenstein’s Monster will be played by Johnny Depp and Javier Bardem, who appear together later this summer in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Those actors join Tom Cruise as soldier of fortune Nick Morton and Russell Crowe as Dr Henry Jekyll, who lead the all-star cast of The Mummy, along with Sofia Boutella, the actress who embodies the title role in that film.

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The Naked Civil Servant (1975) | John Hurt’s Bafta-winning turn as gay icon Quentin Crisp restored in HD

The Naked Civil Servant (1975))

Originally broadcast on UK TV in December 1975, this Bafta-winning adaptation of Quentin Crisp’s best-selling autobiography, The Naked Civil Servant, boasts a career-best performance by the late John Hurt as Crisp – a flamboyant south London engineer’s tracer turned artist’s model living an openly gay lifestyle during the intolerant pre-war years, where he proudly challenges the authorities that seek to suppress him and his kind.

Blackly comic, poignant and yet also life-affirming, this courageous story about a very unconventional British eccentric is masterfully directed by Jack Gold (The Medusa Touch, Escape from Sobibor), from a screenplay by Philip Mackie (TV’s Raffles), and executive produced by Doctor Who’s Verity Lambert.

It also boasts some colourful turns from the likes of Shane Briant as a cross dressing male prostitute called Norma and Patricia Hodge as an Isadora Duncan-styled ballet teacher. But kudos go to Stanley Lebor as the tragic Mr Pole (his descent into madness will have you reaching for some tissues).

One of the most significant LGBT British-made TV dramas of all time, the Thames Television production gave Hurt his first Best Actor Bafta and turned Crisp into an instant international celebrity and a gay icon.

The self-proclaimed ‘Stately Homo’ was hailed as a modern-day Oscar Wilde due to his aphoristic witticisms which led him into creating a successful one-man show and publishing further works including 1996’s Resident Alien (which inspired 2009’s An Englishman in New York, also with John Hurt). Crisp died, aged 91, in 1999.

Check out his archives here: http://www.crisperanto.org/index1.html

Voted fourth in BFI’s Top 100 TV programmes of 20th Century, The Naked Civil Servant has been restored in high-definition from the original film elements.

With 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, it’s the perfect time time revisit the film, which also gets a special cinema screening on 28 May at a number of selected venues nationwide part of Picturehouse Cinemas’ Criminal Acts season. For more information go to: https://www.picturehouses.com/film/the-naked-civil-servant

Out on Blu-ray and DVD from Network on June 5 2017

THE NETWORK RELEASE
• HD feature version (HD Blu-ray exclusive), restored from the original film elements and presented in its original 1:33:1 picture ratio with the ad-breaks removed
• Commentary with John Hurt, director Jack Gold and executive producer Verity Lambert
Seven Men: Quentin Crisp – a Granada profile from 1971
Mavis Catches Up with Quentin Crisp: an interview from 1989
• Image gallery
• Philip Mackie’s original script (PDF)

ALSO… CHECK OUT THIS UNRESTORED VIDEO OF QUENTIN CRISP’S ONE-MAN SHOW

 

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Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid | Steve Martin’s film noir spoof was released on this day in 1982

Paying homage to classic Forties film noirs, 1982’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid starred Steve Martin (giving one of his best performances) as the Philip Marlowe-styled gumshoe Rigby Reardon, who is hired by Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward) to investigate the death of her father, a noted scientist, philanthropist and cheesemaker…

Originally released on 21 May 1982, the film is irresistibly silly and very funny (aside from the misogyny of course, which was typical of films of the era). But the best thing about the comedy is how it cleverly intercut 19 classic movies into its spoof adventure. Whilst writing the film, Carl Reiner and George Gipe spent countless hours looking for specific shots and ‘listening for a line that was ambiguous enough but had enough meat in it to contribute a line’, while 85 sets were constructed in order toe edit in and merge the old film footage.

Then, of course, there was that amazing cast of Hollywood greats who ended up being Martin’s co-star. Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Eva Gardner, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Laughton, Joan Crawford Veronica Lake, Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred McMurray, James Cagney and Vincent Price.

Check them all out here.

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Available on Blu-ray in the UK from Fabulous Films, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid really makes you want to revisit the classic films spliced into the light-hearted spoof. And here they all are.

Suspicion (1941)
Johnny Eager (1941)
Keeper of the Flame (1942) (uncredited)
This Gun for Hire (1942)
The Glass Key (1942)
Double Indemnity (1944)
The Lost Weekend (1945)
The Killers (1946)
Deception (1946)
Humoresque (1946)
The Big Sleep (1946)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Notorious (1946)
I Walk Alone (1947)
Dark Passage (1947)
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Bribe (1949)
In a Lonely Place (1950)

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The Lords of Salem (2012) | His satanic majesty Rob Zombie spawns a trippy nightmare journey into pure evil

The Lords of Salem (2012)

In 1692 Salem, as her coven of witches are put to death by judge John Nathaniel Hawthorne for creating satanic music, Margaret Morgan curses the judge’s female bloodline, promising that Satan will be spawned…

In the present day, Hawthorne’s descendant Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie) is living in a Salem boarding house run by overly protective landlady Lacy (Judy Geeson) and working on a late night show at a local radio station.

When Heidi listens to a record by a band calling themselves The Lords, she awakens Morgan’s spirit and triggers the curse. With the gates of Hell now opening up in room number 5 of her boarding house, it looks like Heidi is destined to bear Satan’s child…

The Lords of Salem (2012)

Heavy metal icon and Halloween rebooter Rob Zombie gleefully sticks two blood stained fingers at Christianity with this trippy nightmare journey into pure evil. Taking its cue from 1970s devil worshipping films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Michael Winner’s The Sentinel, Zombie has fashioned a supremely intelligent satanic shocker that certainly doesn’t hold back on its blasphemous intent.

The Lords of Salem (2012)

Metal fans expecting a Zombie-inspired feature-length music video will be disappointed as the director saves his trademark stage show visuals for the film’s climax. However, The Lords of Salem is a very visual experience.

From the décor of Heidi’s bedroom (adorned with giant murals from George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon – an obvious visual joke) and the 1970s flock wallpaper in a corridor of the boarding house that leads to the dreaded room No 5, to the film’s big set piece – an ornate staircase where Heidi meets Satan (inspired by the masque ball sequence in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera), Zombie lets his fevered imagination take full flight, with a host of visual film references guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of classic horror buffs.

For example, Mario Bava’s Black Sunday is paid homage to during the burning of the witch Morgan, while Brian de Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise is alluded to in the film’s theatrical climax.

The Lords of Salem (2012)

Zombie also brings together veteran British actress Judy Geeson, Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Patricia Quinn and The Howling’s Dee Wallace as the satanic midwives put in charge of Heidi’s care. The presence of this unholy trinity got this fan boy excited, and they certainly do bring class and kudos to the proceedings, plus they help to paint over some of the cracks in Zombie’s dark canvas (like the naff Chewbacca-looking monsters in room no 5).

The Lords of Salem (2012)

The Lords of Salem is worth repeat viewings just to get all the visual cues – if you are a horror fan. But Rob Zombie films are like Marmite (just look at his latest, 31). Luckily, I love the stuff. But you might have to make up your own mind on this one.


 

 

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Universal’s Complete Legacy Collection | Four Classic Monsters Blu-ray Box Sets featuring 22 HD firsts

Universal Classic Horror Legacy Collection

Universal Pictures’ stable of classic monsters featuring Frankenstein (and his creature), Dracula (and his kin), the Mummy (and his tanna leaf-chewing disciples) and the Wolfman (and his brood) have all been unleashed again onto Blu-ray in the UK in four new box sets containing 27 classic creepies, (*22 of them Blu-ray firsts) and all digitally restored so that fans, both old and new, can witness just why this monster club remains one of cinemas finest creations.

Now, back in 2012, I rushed out and bought the Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection featuring 8 classics and a host of bonus content. It was a beautiful release featuring all my old favourites gorgeously restored. This one includes many of those special features (all marked ! below), but the big plus is including ALL of the sequels of each of the four monster legacies.

Mind you, there’s no Invisible Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon or Phantom of the Opera this time round, but hopefully Universal will eventually release them under their Complete Legacy Collection banner – which will be most welcomed by film completists like myself.

So here’s what you get… (*) is new to Blu-ray

The Frankenstein Legacy Collection

Frankenstein (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Son of Frankenstein* (1939), Ghost of Frankenstein* (1942), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• The Frankenstein Files: How Hollywood Made A Monster!
• Karloff: The Gentle Monster!
• Monster Tracks (subtitle file, interactive pop-up facts about the making of Frankenstein)!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)!
• Frankenstein Archives!
• Boo!: A Short Film!
• Feature Commentary With Film Historian Rudy Behlmer!
• Feature Commentary With Historian Sir Christopher Frayling!
• 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics!
• She’s Alive! Creating the Bride of Frankenstein!
• The Bride of Frankenstein Archives!
• The Bride of Frankenstein commentary with Scott MacQueen!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Dracula Legacy Collection

Dracula (1931), Dracula’s Daughter* (1936), Son of Dracula* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Dracula (1931) Spanish Version!
• Introduction to the Spanish Version by Lupita Tovar Kohner!
• Dracula: The Restoration!
• The Road To Dracula!
• Lugosi: The Dark Prince!
• Feature Commentary by Film Historian David J. Skal!
• Alternate Score By Philip Glass with the Kronos Quartet!
• Four Unrestored Trailers!
• Dracula Archives!
• Monster Tracks Pop-Up Facts (subtitle file)!
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein commentary With Film Historian Gregory W Mank

The Wolf Man Legacy Collection

The Wolf Man (1941), She-Wolf of London* (1946), Werewolf of London* (1935), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man* (1943), House of Frankenstein* (1944), House of Dracula* (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein* (1948)

Special Features
• Centennial Trailer
• 100 Years of Universal: The Lot!
• Monsters By Moonlight!
• The Wolf Man: From Ancient Curse to Modern Myth!
• Pure In Heart: The Life and Legacy of Lon Chaney Jr.!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• The Wolf Man Archives!
• Feature Commentary with Film Historian Tom Weaver!
• 100 Years of Universal: Unforgettable Characters
• Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters
• Abbott And Costello Theatrical Trailer
• Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein Commentary with Film Historian Gregory W. Mank

The Mummy Legacy Collection

The Mummy (1932), The Mummy’s Hand* (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb* (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost* (1944), The Mummy’s Curse*, (1944), and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy* (1955)

Special Features
• The Mummy Feature Commentary with Film Historian Paul Jensen!
• Mummy Dearest Featurette!
• He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce!
• Universal Horror (narrated by Kenneth Branagh)
• Unravelling the Legacy of the Mummy!

 

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Dragon Wasps (2012) | Get out the repellent as these giant bugs take flight

Let’s face it! Unless you have an allergy or phobia, ants, bees, wasps and flies just don’t look that scary on the big screen. That’s why, ever since Them!’s paper mâché ants back in the 1950’s, film-makers have super-sized creepy crawlies in an attempt to frighten and entertain us filmgoers.

2012’s Dragon Wasps, is a schlocky Tomb Raider meets Predator adventure set in the jungles of Belize where an entomologist encounters armed soldiers, a drug cartel and a hive of monstrous flying bugs. And just like those other cheesy monster mash-ups Mega Piranha and Dinoshark, Dragon Wasps has a totally OTT idea about how to combat the fire-breathing CGI beasties – rubbing yourself with coca leaves and getting high in the process.

Available on DVD from Chelsea Films in the UK

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Melody (1971) | This enchanting tale of first love and youthful rebellion is no longer a forgotten gem

Melody (1971)

‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ Wes Anderson

Set against the backdrop of a 1970s south London comprehensive school, Melody was director Alan Parker’s debut screenplay and his first film collaboration with producer David Puttnam, and it reunited Mark Lester and Jack Wild, who starred in the 1968 musical film adaptation of Oliver!, alongside 11-year-old Tracy Hyde making her acting debut.

Melody (1971)

Quiet, well-behaved Daniel (Lester) and cheeky troublemaker Ornshaw (Wild) could not be more different but they become the best of friends. That is, until Daniel spots Melody (Tracy Hyde) at the school disco.

The boys’ friendship becomes jeopardised, as Ornshaw grows jealous when his Daniel seems more interested in a hanging out with a girl. Initially embarrassed by the attention, Melody comes to return Daniel’s feelings, and the couple announce to their parents, teachers and friends that they want to get married and now.

The adults attempt to dissuade them, but Daniel and Melody’s determination leads Ornshaw to have a change of heart. He and their classmates gather together at one of the children’s hideouts to ‘marry’ the couple, with their discovery leading to a final riotous, no-holds-barred showdown where the children stick it to the grown-ups…

Melody (1971)

The film was the brainchild of Puttnam, who had secured the rights to five Bee Gees songs and wanted to craft a movie around it. Drawing on the lyrics of those songs, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hit ‘Teach Your Children’, Parker’s script captured what it was like to be a kid on the brink of adolescence in 1970s Britain, drawing inspiration from his and Puttnam’s own school experiences, and these are brought to vivid life by Warris Hussein (Doctor Who) and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky (A History of Violence), who make excellent use of the Lambeth and Soho locations.

Melody (1971)

While it scored huge success in Japan and South America when it was released in 1971, Melody – which would not have been made if not for some unlikely support in the guise of Joan Collins – got a lukewarm reception both at home and in the US (mostly on account of its poor promotion and being given the awkward title of S.W.A.L.K. (aka Sealed With A Loving Kiss).

But it has since grown into something of a cult, with director Wes Anderson using it as the inspiration for his film, Moonrise Kingdom, while Gravity director Alfonso Cuaron cites the film as the inspiration for him going into film-making.

Melody (1971)

Having finally watched in myself, I can guarantee that your heart will swell and you’ll have tears in your eyes as you see the world again through the eyes of these youngsters. It might paint a rosy view of inner city London life in the 1970s, but it will nevertheless bring much joy and contemplation about a much more innocent time. And the songs are so catchy, I went out and hunted down the original soundtrack.

Melody is available now on DVD, Blu-ray and EST as part of Studiocanal’s Vintage Classics Collection, and includes as special features, interviews with Lord David Puttnam, Sir Alan Parker, Waris Hussein and Mark Lester; plus a stills gallery.

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