Boy (2015) dir. Taika Waititi

The year is 1984, and 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) welcomes us into his “interesting world” as he stands before his classmates and recounts who he is, what he likes (Michael Jackson), and who he shares his life with. There’s Nan (Mavis Paenga), cousins Miria, Kiko, Che, Hucks and Kelly, Aunty Gracey (Rachel House) who’s a tennis coach, the “mailman”, school bus driver and manager of the local shop; a pet goat named Leaf and a six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). Rocky thinks he has superpowers. Bless him, he doesn’t.

Boy’s interests include art (cue desk graffiti), social studies (getting picked on by older boys) and Michael Jackson. His other idol is his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, captain of the rugby team and holder of the record for punching people out with a single fist. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth but in Boy’s world, reality isn’t really the mainstay, he is a kid after all.

After Nan leaves to attend a funeral, he’s the man of the house and so he ensures all the younger children wash, eat and generally thrive, until Alamein Sr returns to Waihau Bay, fresh out of prison, seeking a “treasure” he buried in the field opposite the house. It gives him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his estranged sons as long as they stop calling him Dad… it’s “weird”. Boy, initially thrilled by his father’s return, soon comes to the painful realisation that his father isn’t the hero he imagined. In complete contrast, Rocky’s reluctance to accept the man he has never known comes full circle and his doubt and suspicion turns to respect. The moment all three boys reach the point of transformation is a deeply moving and beautiful thing, and harks back to that opening quote perfectly – “You could be happy here… we could grow up together” (E.T., 1982). 

Boy is a thematically rich film and one which comments upon rurality, poverty, childhood, adulthood and grief while using magical realism, animation, mythology and a free-spirited style which also incorporates intertextuality and 80s popular culture to bring Waititi’s approach to identity and masculinity to the screen. That very specific form and unique Aotearoa voice has been so prevalent since those couple of Taika-written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords.

While including visuals of the sublime landscape, hostile terrain and open roads that have long been associated with New Zealand cinema, Waititi also gives us a Māori film rich in culture and beautiful hues of colour via a nostalgic trip to the eighties. The absentee father within a Māori family is just one of the thematic links Boy has to Once Were Warriors (1994) and Whale Rider (2002), however, here the comedy and pathos, drama and fantasy is – as one has come to expect following Eagle vs. Shark (2007), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – charmingly measured.

Rolleston is wonderful in the titular role, however, one can’t help but fall in love with the largely mute and thoughtful, cape-wearing Rocky as both boys shine in this endearing and magical coming-of-age drama. Waititi is equally adorable as the misunderstood big boy of the trio, Alamein, a man who has yet to truly face his responsibilities or fully embrace adulthood but whose little men will help him pull his socks up. Boy is a big-hearted film – possibly even Waititi’s finest – poignant, funny, an effortless joy. Oh, and that Haka hybrid is genius.

Advertisements

Moana (2016) dir. Ron Clements & Ron Musker

In the beginning there was only ocean…

For the inhabitants of Motunui, that ocean is vast, and while once conquerable, it now serves to separate rather than unite, and to provide food. For Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), it calls to her. From infancy, she has a special relationship with it, hell, it’s even the translation of her name. Her beloved Gramma Tala (Rachel House) regales her with tales of myths and legends; amongst them, that of Te Fiti, Te Kā, and Maui.

Moana is fearless and yet torn – as she matures – between her birthright, of becoming Chief or giving in to the niggling voice within and setting sail beyond the reef. She’s at odds with who she is and who her people need her to be. When circumstances change and her village starts to suffer, she summons her courage and determination, along with hapless stowaway Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), and restore the heart of Te Fiti. Her heart previously stolen by Maui (Dwayne Johnson) – chump, braggart, all hubris and hair (and moko). Moana must persuade the demigod to help her reverse the damage he has caused.

Disney’s last dabble with Polynesian culture was in 2002 with the Hawaii-set Lilo and StitchMoana – although the period of time is never established – is most definitely the pre-cursor to Lilo… – the island of Hawaii still to be discovered by the voyaging canoes of the master navigators using star constellations to guide them to lands old and new.

A non-white cast certainly makes a refreshing change. In fact, only the gormless chicken is voiced by a non-Polynesian with the remainder of the cast made up of Hawaiian, Samoan, Māori, and Tahitian natives, this authenticity makes all the difference. Yes, it’s a Disney-fied version of history but oh what a beautiful one with the music making it. Moana’s songs are written and composed by the trifecta that is Opetaia Foa’i, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Mark Mancina. They are heartfelt, incredibly catchy and above all memorable with highlights including ‘Where You Are’, ‘How Far I’ll Go’, ‘We Know the Way’, ‘You’re Welcome’ and the Bowie-inspired, Jemaine Clement solo, ‘Shiny’. This soundtrack is up there with Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) for standard, originality, and (eventual) longevity.

In keeping with the recent trend, there isn’t a romantic slant to the narrative. Just like Merida in Brave and Elsa in Frozen, the love story element is reframed within a pre-existing relationship, i.e. Merida and her mother, Elsa and her sister, and their respective narrative drives stem from finding their place in the world. By comparison, Moana is about a girl and her grandmother and celebrating tradition, embracing heritage, and restoring balance. Like an animated, musical, slant on Niki Caro’s Whale Rider (2002).

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements having previously helmed The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), and The Princess and the Frog (2009) have, with Moana, created an incredibly respectful window into a previously untouched culture, certainly by Disney standards. This not only gives young vahines a voice but recognisable onscreen figures to identify with. Moana embraces her independence to venture and veer from her expected path, assert herself and listen to that voice within. What’s not to love about that?

The film is a sheer joy from beginning to end; 113 glorious minutes in which to be engulfed, immersed, and swallowed by an entire oceanic culture.

 

 

A Man Called Ove (2015) dir. Hannes Holm

Time is a curious thing. Ove Lindahl (played respectively by Viktor Baagøe, Filip Berg and, of course, Rolf Lassgård) is a particularly cantankerous curmudgeon. Everybody is an idiot whose existences only serve to inconvenience him and his. He has worked the same job for 43 years, until two babyfaced executives take away his livelihood and present him with a gardening shovel as a token of service. Ove makes his rounds following his enforced retirement – he’s the worst (best) kind of neighbourhood watch in which he keeps his small Swedish community safe with his often impolite reinforcement of the block association rules. After his short walk, he puts on his best blue suit, empties the fridge, cancels his phone contract and attempts to hang himself in his living room, only to be interrupted by a crash outside his window. New neighbours: heavily-pregnant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), Patrick (Tobias Almborg) and their girls, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün) have moved in and they’re far from quiet. And so, Ove is coaxed back to giving life another go (until his next attempt) by the delightfully feisty Parvaneh, her family and his neighbours who – despite the grump’s failure to notice – actually like having him around.

Grief is a strange thing. Putting one foot in front of the other until your time is up and you can see your loved ones again (if you believe in that kind of thing). For Ove, living for those six months following his wife’s Sonja’s (Ida Engvøll) death is intolerable. It’s the one aspect which immediately warms the viewer to the largely unsympathetic moaning git. We can relate and as we get to know Ove through a series of flashbacks over the 120 plus minutes, there’s a very human reason for the doom, gloom, and defensive booming voice, and that’s testament to Rolf Lassgård’s performance. The one-time Wallander and veteran of Swedish film and TV brings a gentility and resolute grace to the character albeit in a slightly bad-tempered way. Despite being the same age as Ove at the time of filming, he underwent a bit of a physical transformation via prosthetics which age him greatly. This adds an additional layer of melancholy; this is a man who has had a hard life. Yet, he has such an old fashioned clarity of belief and a sense of morals, duty and unnerving conviction about how the world should be that one can’t help but admire him.

Love is a strange thing. It often takes you by surprise, and family comes in many forms and guises. A Man Called Ove is a heart-warming meditation on love, loss, family and life, and learning to follow and then disregard the rules. It reminds us the importance of community and the inclusion of the aged, experiencing joy alongside tragedy amid the blue, grey and beige phases of life. Oh, and that friendships can be forged and broken upon the type of car you drive. Hannes Holm’s adaptation of Fredrik’s Backman’s bestselling novel is warm, touching and moving. It treads a measured line between humour and sorrow and does so extremely well given how maudlin a film containing failed suicide attempts could’ve been. Instead, its regal music including triumphant strings does a really lovely job at elevating its purpose, and making a colourful, sweet and life-affirming film.

My Life as a Dog (1985) dir. Lasse Hallström

Lasse Hallström seems to have an affinity with pups, currently in cinemas with A Dog’s Purpose andbefore that, there was the utterly heartbreaking Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009). It all began, however, with his first feature 1985’s My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund) which has now been transferred from original film to High Definition Blu-ray by Arrow Academy.

Based on Reidar Jönsson’s autobiographical novel, the film is set in late fifties Sweden and centres upon Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius); a gentle soul, if a little eccentric. He’s ‘married’ to a local girl (by cutting his thumb and having her suck the blood), gets his penis stuck in a bottle during a sex education class, and displays a slight tremor when drinking. Ingemar is twelve. He’s also attempting to live life as normally as possible while his terminally ill mother (Anki Lidén) screams bloody murder at her two sons, and fades slowly awaiting her final days.

Ingemar likens himself to Laika – the Soviet dog that was sent up into space, launched on a one-way trip aboard Sputnik 2, and ultimately left to die. Big feelings for a child who’s convinced things could be worse and one day he’ll be happy as he is packed off to spend the summer with Uncle Gunnar (Tomas von Brömssen) and Aunt Ulla (Kicki Rundgren), and the wonderfully unconventional cast of characters who inhabit Småland. There’s Manne (Jan-Philip Hollström), the boy with green hair, Saga (Melinda Kinnaman) the girl obsessed with boxing and football whose burgeoning breasts are tightly bound so she can stay on the team. Ailing Mr Arvidsson (Didrik Gustavsson) who lives in the basement of Gunnar’s house and likes to be read the lingerie catalogue, in order to silence the persistent roof-hammering of Fransson (Magnus Rask). He’s convinced the noisy neighbour wants to finish him off via the knock-knock-knocking of the metal head against wood. Even Uncle Gunnar with his cleavage obsession and his old vinyl copy of ‘I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts’ (which he plays on repeat) is a tad awkward and sweetly peculiar.

Regardless of their character traits there’s warmth and sincerity and real affection for our young protagonist despite being left at kennel after kennel, never completely wanted by anybody. It’s a remarkable performance by Anton Glanzelius) whose range, sensitivity and affecting depth belies his age and impish grin. While not as dark a piece as Cría Cuervos (1976), it does deal with a lot of the same issues and rests on the young shoulders of its lead(s), as the loss of innocence hits profoundly and they find themselves thrust somewhat prematurely into adulthood. Cinema Paradiso (1988) would follow – and would nicely round off this highly recommended triple-bill – even the US-produced October Sky (1999), clearly took some of its cues and hues from this Academy Award nominated Swedish film.

Hallström has made many pictures since 1985 and there has always been a gentility to his oeuvre, whether he’s dealing with ABBA, cider, chocolate, or Grapes and this bittersweet film extolling the virtues of rural communities and growing pains is no different. This is a warm, whimsical, funny and moving tale of a boy and his search for family; a place he can call home. Canines aside, My Life as a Dog is Lasse’s masterpiece.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939) dir. Howard Hawks

Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) disembarks the San Luis after it docks in the small South American port of Barranca. An unemployed showgirl and looking for company, she falls in with two fellow countrymen, Les Peteres (Allyn Joslyn) and Joe Souther (Noah Berry Jr) – American airmail fliers who frequent the, seemingly, only bar in town. Ran by ‘Dutchy’ (Sig Rumann), the bar/restaurant/general store/hotel/gathering place and headquarters of Barranca Airways is the place to be, where a toss-of-a-coin can get you a steak or the chance to be in the air.

Geoff Carter (Cary Grant), steely boss and general chauvinist makes his presence heard and seen; dressed flamboyantly in high waisted trousers, a gun belt and a large Panama hat worn on a jaunty angle, think saloon-dwelling Indiana Jones type. It is a quintessentially glamorous and sensitive Grant, however; there is an underlying darkness which is rare. A man, as the film’s original trailer declares, who has a “propeller blade for a heart and an eye for a pretty girl.” The pretty girls in question, although as per the Hawks way far are from just that, are Arthur and Rita Hayworth (looking far less Spanish than she had previously) and they are ably supported by Thomas Mitchell (Gone With the Wind, It’s a Wonderful Life) and Richard Barthelmess (Broken Blossoms, The Dawn Patrol).

If anybody can make an aviation adventure-dramedy with real levity and musical numbers blend in such a way it is Howard Hawks. The plot is slight but the dialogue; pacing and verbal wit, superb special FX and lighting (oh how Hawks could light a movie) flesh out the otherwise simple story, accompanied by a wonderful score by Dmitri Tiomkin. What carries it is the maverick machismo of these high flying men, their friendships, loneliness, camaraderie and even love. Love for each other and love for the air, there is little glory in what they do and certainly no flag flying but they are there day-in-day-out regardless of the peril. Not unlike all of those other men preparing to forge their own close barracked friendships following the Only Angels Have Wings release in 1939. 

The Criterion Collection launches in the UK on April 18th with a small, yet defined, assortment of filmic goodies on Blu-ray for the discerning cinephile. Grateful for the restoration, both visual and aural, and availability, Only Angels Have Wings is the Hawks not often discussed; a hidden treasure made all the more valuable by the love and attention shown by Criterion. The crisp sound and perfect transfer/picture quality will make an audience believe they are in that South American Port of Barranca.

 

Criterion Supplements detailed here

Men & Chicken (2015) dir. Anders Thomas Jensen

Although renowned for the nordic noir insurgence of recent years – it is fair to say that – not only are the Danes prolific filmmakers and masters of tension but they appear to have a dark, very specific sense of humour and especially in the case of writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen.

Jensen has, over the last sixteen years or so, created a wonderfully weird little world with Flickering Lights (2000), The Green Butchers (2003) and, Adam’s Apples (2010). Men & Chicken fits perfectly into this twisted little village of well, not to put too finer point on it, weirdos. These are incredibly simple stories told at the periphery of the societal norm and are deliciously transgressive with the filmmaker gathering a supreme ensemble fronted by Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and Nicolas Bro who feature in all four features. These fine actors, usually known for their dramatic roles clearly relish the opportunity to play, and play they do.

image

The film opens fairy tale-like with two small boys walking hand-in-hand down a brightly lit corridor, Frans Bak and Jeppe Kaas’ score is wonderfully dreamlike, melodic ominous strings give way to piano and woodwind. The voice-over narration illicits a sense of whimsy which is almost immediately undermined as Gabriel (David Dencik) visits his dying father. His brother Elias (Mikkelsen) is at a therapy session/date at which he reveals aspects of his rapey subconscious, he’s overbearing, has possible incestuous leanings and, what we will soon discover, a chronic masturbatory “issue”. Physically, the only indication that the two are brothers is a harelip, although, only a scar in Gabriel’s case, and once their father passes they discover a VHS taped confessional which serves to reveal the truth behind their real parentage.

Somewhat reluctantly, they set off on a road-trip in the hope of meeting their real paterfamilias Dr. Evelio Thanatos, a Danish/Italian medical researcher whose fancy-sounding name literally translates into “he who gives life” and “death instinct” (stopping along the way for Elias to relieve himself). Their journey takes them to the Island of Ork – population 38 – where they find more brothers living in a crumbling sanatorium amid peeling paint. Francis (Søren Malling), Joseph (Bro) and Gregor (Lie Kaas) share their home with a variety of animals, have an indoor badminton court, and a room full of cheese, they all possess the distinctive harelip, beak-like noses, and unfortunate hair/facial tics and like Elias, large prominent teeth. One doesn’t need to imagine too hard the smells permeating from the dilapidation and general uncleanliness, especially amid the palette of nude, taupe, brown and orange, or eggshell-manure chic if you will.

image

Understandably, Men & Chicken won’t be to everybody’s taste. It is The League of Gentlemen by way of The Three Stooges, a slapstick social satire combining hilarious horror with pitch black humour, and while there is something quite grotesque and melancholic about the whole thing, it’s actually fairly moving as the notion of what constitutes as family is questioned and civilisation, religion, philosophy and social etiquette is introduced to the three hovel-dwelling brothers.

imageBy the time the family’s full parental history is revealed, the pay-off is well worth the wait. Ridiculous yes, but a testament to the acting prowess and writing to deliver something so ludicrous, yet bizarrely emotive and begs the question, what is normal? To the Thanatos boys, family comes in many forms surrounded by lots and lots of chickens and cheese.

Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) dir. Alain Resnais

 

To my knowledge; I have never seen an Alain Resnais film – a filmmaker who has a weighty reputation within the French New Wave. I suppose I have to start somewhere, so beginning with his first feature, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), seems conducive.

The film opens with a close-up of entwined limbs, disembodied voices accompany the body parts which glisten with perspiration then are covered with atomic ash and glitter. It’s an evocative image which serves as a haunting reminder of the bomb. The score (composed by Georges Delerue and Giovanni Fusco) is affecting, particularly the inclusion of a flute but then the addition of a piano accompaniment adds a jauntiness which is at odds with the next slew of images: petrified rocks, specimens of skin, hair, footage recollecting the devastation; people writhing in pain and bloodied. It seems almost inexplicable to set a love story against this desolate and damaging backdrop, and yet when dealt with the passage of time and evocation of memory, it makes perfect sense. Like a Phoenix rising from flames, life and hope must continue and the ‘new’ Hiroshima is slowly being rebuilt and appears thriving as the Architect (Eiji Okada) and the Actress (Emmanuelle Riva) fall in love.

The passage of time and power of memory are strong themes throughout Marguerite Duras’ oblique script and the juxtaposition of her poetic dialogue alongside the images of horror is highly emotive. The non-linear narrative with its use of flashbacks, ellipses, and jump cuts must have been particularly original in ’59 and clearly influential as they continue to be used today. The repetition of history and the atrocity of genocide with the emphatic nuances of love in Riva’s performance are quite stunning; personal pain, public humiliation and the beautiful mesmeric shots of Sacha Vierny’s cinematography make for a quietly devastating film about the human condition and lost love. Having viewed it at a time when it would be appreciated, the melancholic beauty of Hiroshima mon amour leaves a lasting impression.

Note to self: must make the rest of the Resnais oeuvre a priority.

Details of disc extras here 

The Ones Below (2015) dir. David Farr

Motherhood is supposed to be an exuberant time; one filled with expectation, apprehension and, above all, joy. Throw in the loneliness of London and the new neighbours who have moved into the downstairs flat and it will fast become something else entirely. Following his recent adaptation of The Night Manager, David Farr not only writes his own screenplay for The Ones Below but makes his directorial debut and no stranger to suspense, he makes a fairly entertaining job of it.

image

Kate (Cleménce Poésy) and Justin Pollard (Stephen Campbell Moore) met at University and – after (some) reluctance on Kate’s part – are expecting their first child. In fact, Billy is the first character we meet, at least in ultrasound form accompanied by Adem Ilhan’s haunting lullaby. Okay, so it may be a bit of a sledgehammer in terms of freeze-framed set-up and foreboding but Farr has our disconcerted attention.

The Pollards have a substantial income made apparent by their Saab™ and home in North London, everything is very drab and beige in their world, well, until the bright green AstroTurf lawn is laid in the garden below. Their new neighbours arrive; banker John Baker (David Morrissey) and his pretty pregnant Finnish wife Theresa (Laura Birn). Almost immediately, the petite blonde child-bearers bond and are fast becoming firm friends, quite an achievement for the quiet, introverted Kate. However, following an intimate and incredibly awkward dinner, tragedy strikes and relationships unravel.

Taking his visual cues from the likes of Polanski and Hitchcock – there’s even a Haneke starkness to the set design – first-time director Farr creates an interesting film, particularly assisted by the nifty camerawork courtesy of cinematographer, Ed Rutherford. It’s not a wholly original story, and we’re still delivered a female focussed narrative about a gender-specific biology via a male amid very privileged and homogenised surroundings but the differences between the couples and their environments are fascinating. It does try and make a quirk out of people who remove their shoes before walking into a house (hygiene, people!), there’s a brief fumbling over a spare key and why indeed would a wealthy banker move into a one-bedroomed flat? Yet, all-in-all, there is much to admire, not least the detachment and isolation a city scape can project.

imageThe Ones Below covers a lot of hard-hitting themes and subjects, from maternal instinct and domesticity, to the very real issue of post-natal depression and the anxieties surrounding parenthood. Poésy does a particularly convincing job at giving Kate scope beyond the vanilla victim she could have become; her character and Birn’s Theresa are inextricably linked not only by hair colour and circumstance but entwined as if facets of the same person. Any similarity diminishes as the film progresses, culminating in a real distinction between the contrived and the verisimilar. For the most part it works efficiently as a drama/ psychological thriller, even a bloodless horror. That said, nothing quite prepares you for the devastating conclusion and creepy final scene. The grass is definitely not always greener and if it appears to be, it’s a trick of lighting or all for show and probably rotten beneath the surface.

 

The Apartment (1960) dir. Billy Wilder

The New York City skyline is our establishing shot as The Apartment opens and a voice belonging to C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) – “C. for Calvin, C. for Clifford, however most people call me Bud” recounts some statistics. Bud is a bit of a know-all when it comes to facts but only because he works for insurance company Consolidated Life, up on the nineteenth floor where he processes claims. Baxter has a charming apartment situated in a pleasant area – just right for a bachelor – however, he is rarely home and not always by choice. He stupidly lent his key, once, to a work colleague and word quickly spread. Now his apartment has become the venue of choice for a selection of insurance big-wigs to wine, dine and bed their mistresses without the knowledge of their wives. It’s not that Baxter is happy to encourage men to cheat but rather is a compromised loner who allows himself to be manipulated and is just too nice to argue.

His neighbours, Dr and Mrs Dreyfuss (Jack Kruschen and Naomi Stevens) – the benevolent parental figures, Jewish, unpretentious and in the case of the good Doctor, a mensch – believe him to be a “good-time Charlie” over-consuming liquor and indulging in far too many women. Baxter is the embodiment of the typical Wilderesque protagonist, and Lemmon plays him as an affable well-meaning fellow, not hyper-masculine but boyish and funny; a general outsider to society, an honest every man who is forced into a situation beyond his control.

Although often alone, a highlight of Baxter’s day is the morning elevator ride up to the nineteenth floor when he gets to see and talk to lift attendant Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). His face lights up when he sees her and he is the only man in a sea of suits polite enough to remove his hat when in her company. Fran is sassy and sharp, not prone to suffer fools and certainly the men of Consolidated Life, regardless of stature or job title, get a tongue lashing if they act inappropriately. There is a sadness to Fran and like a lot of the characters in this movie, she is flawed. prone to heartbreak and circumstances unfold where, without giving too much away, both Baxter and Kubelik have to prove their mettle with and without the other’s help. Needless to say the man responsible for the running of the company, Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) finds out about the apartment situation and requests the key for himself. He, unlike his other Consolidated Life employees, is willing to foster capitalism (the others only make empty promises) and offers Baxter a promotion including a new office allowing him to climb the corporate ladder in record time. It is only when our hero has an epiphany near the film’s closing is the disenchanted and sardonic socialist worldview restored as per Wilder’s ideology.

The émigré director always maintained that the best mise-en-scène was the one the viewer didn’t notice. However, his European sensibility is evident throughout his expressionistic cinematography and impossible point-of-view shots. In, practically, all of his oeuvre there are a series of habitual motifs specifically, the inclusion of Eastern European characters (an obvious reference to his and Iz Diamond’s respective homelands) the resident game of cards, and the use of the mirror – often utilised as the exposure scene where both the character and viewer make a discovery at the same time. Here, it’s Fran’s mirror compact which she won’t replace because the cracked glass shows her how she feels. Also included are telephone calls, surfing television channels (although that’s more of a dig at TV content) and making dinner as examples of the mundane (however, one would argue straining spaghetti through a tennis racket is anything but humdrum) in which the added realism enhances the wonderful story unfolding before the audience.

The Oscar-nominated and BAFTA award-winning performances given by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in the lead roles have a lot to do with the film’s success. Their chemistry makes it a real joy to watch specifically as the viewer roots for both characters equally on their journey in life, it’s a road often tinged with the blackest comedy and world-weary cynicism. At one point Miss Kubelik declares “Oh God, I’m so fouled up” and fearlessly asks pondering questions like: “Why do people have to love people anyway?” without a hint of cliché, sentimentality or overt romanticism. There is no archetypal plot formation and it is not in the least bit predictable but contains subtle plot points and exposition which intelligently enforces the narrative where nothing is left up to chance. Wilder was a master of detail and restraint. Which makes the initial critical response all the more baffling: “[a] tasteless gimmick”, “dirty fairy tale”, “immoral”, “dishonest” and “without style or taste” are just some of the by-lines from 1960, which leads me to think that some critics just didn’t get it.

The Apartment is perfect, film-wise.

It is a true classic which celebrates disenchantment, love and the flaws of humanity through its acerbic dialogue, intelligence, wit and heart. There are more comedic elements to the screenplay than romantic, and however dark it gets there is real pathos. Arrow Academy has produced a beautiful celebration of it with a flawless 4K restoration, the process of which can be viewed in one of the many extras in this glorious box set which lavishly does one of Mr. Wilder’s masterpieces (he had a few) justice.

Disc Extras reviewed in detail here

Carrie (1976) dir. Brian De Palma

School is the worst place to hide in plain sight when you’re different and bullies are unforgiving and relentless, it’s one of the reasons why Stephen King’s first novel has stood the test of time and why Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Carrie still remains the best of its kind and resonates with an audience. Released just in time for Christmas (a Carrie White Christmas, no?) Arrow Video has pulled together a pretty decent limited edition boxset complete with a new 4K restoration from the original negative, replete with a whole host of new and archival extras, and new writing on the film.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is the only child of a religiously maniacal Gothic seamstress mother. Margaret (Piper Laurie) is a woman who insists on spreading the word of the Lord whether others like it or not. Her daughter wants nothing more than to fit in and be a regular teenager, however, the girls at school: Helen (Edie McClurg), Norma (P.J. Soles), and Sue (Amy Irving) led by Chris (Nancy Allen) have no intention of letting that happen. Even the teachers are mean. From that opening scene on the volley ball court in which our eponymous heroine is isolated and invited to “eat shit” after missing the ball to the following in the changing room. As Carrie’s pleasurable moment in the shower is interrupted by the violent and visceral experience of her first period. The original mean girls are at their most feral in their vicious hysteria as they launch sanitary pads and tampons at their vulnerable and terrified peer.

This girl is crying out for a mother and when she returns home it should be a place of comfort, somewhere she can feel safe, not a place where she has to repent in a closet for a biological function. However, with an abusive mother like Margaret – school is respite for her. A maternal figure comes in the unlikely form of gym teacher Miss Collins (Betty Buckley) and then the unexpected happens and Tommy Ross (William Katt) – who is supposed to be going with Sue Snell – asks her to Prom. Sue feels, that by asking Tommy to take Carrie to the biggest night of the school year, it will assuage her guilt for attacking the timid girl in the shower. Tommy, much like the majority of the males in this film (and there aren’t many) is a pawn; a conduit for the girl(s) to use to get their way. See also Billy (John Travolta) and Chris’ relationship and her pig of a plan for Carrie. The women are the ones in control – Carrie just has extra ability to play with.

De Palma’s adaptation bypasses the epistolary structure of the novel entirely and combines the weighty issues with satire. While there are brief moments which homage Psycho – some references are subtler than others – the score which should have been Bernard Herrmann’s instead went to Pino Donaggio who created a wonderfully atmospheric accompaniment and found the best way of repurposing the late Herrmann’s work (by isolating individual notes from the shower sequence and using the high-pitched shrill strings during the times when Carrie loses control). It is in those moments the film comes into its own – although, Arrow really missed a trick not including the soundtrack.

Carrie was not the first (or last) to conflate questions of femininity and the supernatural. If anything it paved the way for more male filmmakers to attempt to get their heads around the abject notion of menstruation. The text also subverted the idea of the American home as a safe space, instead its white picket fence and asymmetrical visage became a place of dread, fear and anxiety. Helped immensely by the religious iconography and paraphernalia invading the oppressive domestic space and aiding the sexual repression enforced my mother – there’s that Psycho link again.

The film created a bit of a feminist backlash too, particularly in relation to the shower scene and the alignment of pigs blood and women’s blood – women as pigs (?) and the monstrous female body as the site of transgression. Certainly, there are some interesting readings in relation to Carrie and it will, of course, depend on your perspective. Carrie is “othered” (like almost every other monster in horror) because, as Alexandra Heller-Nicholas states (citing Carol Clover) during her audio commentary: “horror is a female genre” – our protagonist is the literal outsider and yet we are invited to identify with her. Her fury at the world and those who punish her is fully justified, as frightening, irrational and uncontrollable that power is in its force; Carrie stands up to her bullies, and well, there’s something rather empowering in that.

The Prom, its framing, use of space, split screens, Dutch angles, colour filters and the composition of each shot is superb (and a nice nod to Argento). Those blue and red filters and the scenes they colour are the greatest aspect to come from the restoration, they are visually amazing and, for me, the peerless part of the film. Even 40 years on, it holds up as one of the filmmaker’s best, if not the best (although, I’ll have to rewatch Sisters and get back to you on that). Carrie still resonates, we’re aligned with the “monster” of the piece and identify completely with this girl and her need/want of acceptance. Despite the fact that we know how the film ends, it’s easy to watch and still wish for a different outcome.

Disc Extras reviewed in detail here: