Saturday, 25 March 2017

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Samantha Morton, Dan Fogler, and Colin Farrell

Director: David Yates  

133 minutes (12) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner blu-ray region B
[Released 27th March]

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Back in the 1920s, fantastic beasts could be found all over the place, apparently. Hiding underground or flittering about in plain sights that nobody would believe you ever saw. This is a lively prequel to Harry Potter and one that’s hatched - with a perfectly judged timing to chime loudly with Marvel’s first venture into sorcery - from the Rowlingverse of wonders just waiting to be discovered far beyond the ken of unsuspecting muggles.

Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything, and the sneering space villain of Jupiter Ascending, plays Newt, a British eco-wizard who travels to New York and gets involved with secret investigations into magical creatures and what to do with them, if they are considered even vaguely dangerous. In WW1, Newt “worked mostly with dragons” but now he struggles valiantly, against a largely uncaring world and the mostly sinister authorities of this colourfully esoteric realm, to preserve the secrets and existence of various strange creatures of vastly differing sizes and temperaments. Not really a traditional fantasy variation of Doctor Strange, this movie owes a substantial debt to Damian Kindler’s Sanctuary, a Canadian TV sci-fi series that also offered a fairly impressive medley of wondrous pseudo-crypto-zoology, but Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them presents its creatures for cutesy laughs and modest Disneyesque charm, with only mildly chilling menace that emerges from a smoky darkness.

Of course, this being a franchise addition to 21st century world-building, the conservation of werediversity is in direct conflict with its own secret society of Men In Black fabulation promoting a conspiracy to weaponise weirdness and, there’s no doubt, enslave many of the other dreamland critters. There’s an especially troublesome demiguise - an endearing platypus shoplifter that’s escaped from Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase, to wreck havoc in places wherever sparkly merchandise is displayed. Larger beasts provide the main spectacle and there are some carefully wrought urban fantasy sequences to challenge the best imagery that any of the current superhero cinema can deliver. A sequel is in the works for 2018. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

Property Is No Longer A Theft

Cast: Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Daria Nicolodi, Salvo Randone, and Mario Scaccia

Director: Elio Petri

126 minutes (15) 1973
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Arrow Academy Blu-ray regions A+B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Steven Hampton

The 19th century’s protest by a French anarchist aside, the notion that possessions only belong to a few by right is tested and restated in this Italian comedy of ill-manners, new to 2K hi-def in the UK since its 2013 restoration and re-mastering from the production’s original negatives.

Property Is No Longer A Theft concerns the misadventures of a small cast of fairly symbolic characters. Suffering from acute social and philosophical envy in a European class war, a bank accountant named Total (Flavio Bucci) suddenly resigns and starts a brand new life of crime in Rome. Targeting a local butcher (Ugo Tognazzi), Total steals a knife, a hat, and then quickly escalates to burglary. Overnight, he graduates from cars to kidnapping.

Total prefers his women passive for a kinky fetish, and says “lie down... like a steak.” His captive, Anita (Daria Nicolodi), remains chatty while naked but seems willing to play dead for him. Total’s spree of reckless defiance of convention and order continues with a series of increasingly farcical episodes inciting a serious risk that “thieves become revolutionaries.” But, the underdog’s rebellion aside, “What’s there to laugh about?”

There is a lot of talking to the camera, in scenes that reveal and revel in characteristic foibles. The movie looks askew at the differences between the haves and the have-nots, and spends time (that most precious human commodity!) conjugating the Italian verbs of   possession and possessiveness. In a vividly surrealistic sequence about home defences, director Elio Petri concocts a display of hardware that’s like a cross between a modern art exhibit and security trade show.

“Arresting people is a wonderful thing,” enthuses the police brigadier put in charge of the investigation into Total’s misdeeds. Having introduced the police, the narrative expands to focus upon career crook Albertone (Mario Scaccia), who leads a gang on a heist which Total interrupts, but he’s only there to help complete the robbery while his own capacity for violence and self-destruction increases - along with twitchy habits of scratching every annoying itch.

Soon, raucous cries of “Stop thief!” wake up the wealthy residents of a block of swanky flats, from where a twisted love-triangle develops. Yet there’s no honour among thieves. Betrayal is inevitable when corruption spreads over every side of the law. Total remains quite stubbornly resistant to exploitation by his betters and would rather steal a gold pen than accept a blank cheque specially written just for him. Underworld crowds gather to mourn a dead master-thief and, after one amusingly forthright speech, the really brutal antagonist wrings the scrawny neck of this political satire.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Sole Survivor

Cast: Warren Otteraa, David Leeming, and Alana Tranter

Director: Christopher Jacobs

87 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Miracle Media DVD Region 2

Rating: 4/10
Review by Andrew Darlington

It’s no use hunting on the excellent and usually-reliable IMDb for Sole Survivor, because it’s not there. But track writer-producer-director Christopher ‘Chris’ Jacobs through to its previous identity as Lone Wolves and there’s all you need. His debut project is re-issued misleadingly with a new title and DVD cover showing hovering alien motherships strafing burning cities – which is entirely inaccurate. There are no alien motherships. No alien invasion fleet. For this is an entirely different kind of apocalypse. No zombies or runaway viral pandemic either. Just the world made strange. Filmed around Melbourne, using the Wurundjeri aboriginal tribal lands – to whom thanks are duly extended, ‘no actual science was harmed (or used) in the making of this motion picture’, despite its muffled lunges into relativistic particle physics.

We are living amidst a very healthy upsurge of indie movie-productions, as vigorous and gloriously-flawed as all that implies, with new faces and new low-budget spins on themes, pivoting only on the invention and ingenuity of their creators. Here, surly crop-headed Private James Conroy (Warren Ottera) of the Second-Division West has anger-management issues, and plays paramilitary games with guns in the forest, always alert, always preceded by his four-barrel shooter. His voice-over narrative drifts within an over-obtrusive soundtrack, with a debris of occasional indistinct phrases surfacing. “Date unknown. I’m still here. Lost track, still don’t know what happened...” Maybe the imprecision is deliberate atmospherics to imply dislocation? “It looks like everything’s the same, but it’s not... everywhere, things are out of place.” It’s the apocalypse, James, but not as we know it. Everyone vanished – or killed, “a few survive; I survive.”

A glimpse of a devastated city... There’s been no bomb, but there’s radiation, and red-flashes on his RUN life-detector alert him to mutant creatures, horned skull-face red-vision monsters in flickering distortions, what they are, or where they’re from, is unknown. He’s haunted by flashbacks of lost domesticity with his ex, and it’s only when his mobile blips – he answers it “Suzy?”, that things begin to fall into place.

On the down-link is bespectacled Gary Freeman (David Leeming), marooned as Space Shuttle ‘Polaris’ attempts to dock with his 426 orbital station. Both the retro-Shuttle – already made long obsolete by NASA, and the station itself are convincingly modelled by Jacob Matyr, enhanced with visual effects by Leo Flander. The word ‘Laika’ on the bulkhead also hints at affection for earlier space race ephemera. But Freeman is a ‘spaceman’ with a failing life-support system, on the brink of hitting the ‘Purge Atmosphere’ button to hasten the end, when contact with the ground revives hope. They’ve gone from Lone Wolf… to Sole Survivors.

At first he’s suspicious, can he believe Freeman? Was the Moon-landing fake? Conroy sets out to locate a signal-boosting sat-dish to amplify the link which so far equates to “pissing on a coin from the top of the Eiffel Tower.” He meets a thought-projecting monster in the shape of a cute little girl, but realises the subterfuge in time to blast it to messy pulp. He descends into a suitably-dark effluence channel where he meets... himself, or at least, another self, impaled and dying. Then, under Freeman’s direction, he instead erects a makeshift array himself, out of wired-in colanders. It picks up Dr Elizabeth Harding (Alana Tranter), and more bits tumble into place. From a two-hander, two becomes three as the action neatly vaults into triple-hazard threat. If the dialogue is occasionally stilted, and the nasties are Doctor Who aliens come adrift, attacking too fast for clear detail, the action carries its own effective momentum.

Elizabeth is a theoretical physicist, appropriately seen against a revolving vortex of spinning sub-atomic particles. She’d been working with fanatical Dr Edward Fischer (Dan Purdey) on “the bleeding edge of possibility,” opening overlapping inter-dimensional portals with no regard for consequences. The consequence being that Earth is part-sucked through a singularity-portal, part-“trapped in a parallel dimension.” The idea of ‘tearing holes in space and time’, punching wormholes into new worlds, provides a certain uniqueness, but in truth, not much more than a regular Doctor Who storyline. “We have the key,” explains Dr Liz helpfully, “but not the door.”

In a high-tension climax, Freeman’s in orbit, donning his spacesuit to conserve diminishing life-support. Conroy battles his bloody way across dereliction through converging monster-packs to reach her bunker, while Elizabeth packs a pistol across the hi-tech installation to hunt down the mad scientist (who, incidentally, was also responsible for ‘terminating’ her astrophysicist parents!). By the time they blast their way through to Fischer he’s midway into horror-transfiguration, and they must neutralise him before they all mutate into a broken world. Needless to say, the ensuing mega-explosions re-set “the nature of space of time” back onto its correct path, allowing Space Shuttle Polaris to safely dock with Freeman’s orbital habitat, and offering a new chance for Conroy to reclaim his flawed life. While only she chooses to pursue the infinite and ‘move on’ through the portals.

Inventive and playful in the kind of way that, say, early Roger Corman was, this movie is further evidence of a vigorous and gloriously-flawed upsurge of indie movie-productions, whether you call it Lone Wolves or Sole Survivor.