Archive for April, 2009

Requiem For A Vampire

1971, France, Directed by Jean Rollin

Colour, Running Time: 88 minutes

Review Source: DVD, R1, Redemption; Video: Letterbox 1.60:1, Audio: DD Mono

Two young females with a propensity for thieving are forced to escape into the countryside by themselves after their male partner is shot during a high speed chase. Removing their clown make-up, and therefore rendering themselves unidentifiable, they rob a motorcycle before stopping off at a hotdog stall to steal some food (talk about kleptomania!). However their travels seem to be destined to take a turn for the mystical when they stumble across a desolate graveyard in the middle of nowhere. Catching up on some sleep (and nearly getting buried alive in the case of one of the girls) they head off on their meandering journey only to discover an isolated castle that initially seems deserted. Taking up camp inside one of the oddly inviting rooms they get down to a bit of lesbian skin-rubbing before it becomes apparent to them that they are not alone: the castle is inhabited by a number of vampires and their human minions, all ruled over by a dying vampire who needs new ‘blood’ in the family to keep the demon gene alive. The girls are soon infected and dragged into a world of amorality and debauchery.

The beautiful gothic trappings of a vampire castle

Jean Rollin’s fourth feature length film continued a development of the themes that he would eventually become renowned for amongst the small pockets of cult fans around the world who remain devoted to his work to this day. Rollin’s approach here appears to be fairly relaxed as the film rolls on with little sense of urgency, stretching out a minimalist plot to create a dreamy fantasy world populated by unusual people whose behavioural patterns will barely be recognisable to the likes of us. Absorbed in the right way Requiem… can be an immersing experience, constructing around the viewer an enticing supernatural domain where sex and death collide without regard for the heavily religious construct that we generally find ourselves trapped within. Conventional film-making is no point of comparison when it comes to analysing the works of Jean Rollin, as many of his fans would surely attest, therefore there is little here that will attract followers of the mainstream. A film such as this is more like a forbidden treasure appreciated by just a few, whilst the rest of humanity remains blissfully oblivious to what’s really there. Not aiding any commercial appeal, Requiem… plays almost like a silent movie for much of its running time, telling its story by the actions of the two girls, rather than words. With the first half of the movie playing almost completely without dialogue, the script itself must surely have used up no more than a few pages. Breaking up the barren silence our attention is maintained partly by occasionally insane music punctuated by more melodic interludes, making this movie feel like an epic prog rock track reconstructed visually, and the soundtrack truly comes into its own during the show stopping dungeon orgy/rape sequence where several of the vampire’s human minions force themselves on a group of chained women, spiralling intensity towards near fever pitch. This was the scene that really caused a problem for the BBFC and even Rollin himself has claimed that it went on for too long (several screen minutes), but call me a perverted crazy man, I love it! It’s surreal, sexy, violent, un-PC, and completely mad. The more macabre elements of the movie are not spine-tingling in the slightest, but there is a skewed gothic edge which keeps one leg rooted in horror, an innate genre acknowledgement common to most of Rollin’s non-pornographic outings - it’s unlikely to satisfy those more accustomed to the conventional slasher or torture films that proliferate these days. One of Rollin’s other strengths is demonstrated here in abundance: great choice and photography of natural (i.e. non-set based) locations. The castle, cemetery, and surrounding countryside is quite a feast for the eyes. Finally the protagonists are typical for this director - two nubile young women with a tendency towards physically relating to one another, making their way through an alien world which they have no real inclination to question. Nobody made films like Jean Rollin and this one - shot in his prime - is one of the best examples of his work.

Look, we're best friends, okay?!?

This old US Redemption/Image DVD has been superseded with better quality discs from Encore and more recently Redemption themselves. Its non-anamorphic transfer is a mess with interlacing issues, haze, moiré effects, and some digital problems that I’ve never even seen anywhere else. It is better than VHS but only marginally (which itself I was glad for at the time I bought it due to the old UK tape being heavily cut). I once spoke to Marc Morris who was one of the people involved in this transfer, and he told me the problems were dependent on what equipment it was viewed on, but I’ve looked at this using several DVD machines, different VDUs, and a PC, and none of them produced a satisfactory result. Thank heavens they eventually reissued it (although now I’m waiting for something in hi-def). Sound is appreciably provided in original French language with good subtitles, and no other way should it be viewed.

Posted on 26th April 2009
Under: Horror | No Comments »

Cars

2006, US, Directed by John Lasseter

Animation, Running Time: 116 minutes

Review Source: Blu-ray, RB, Disney; Video: 1080p 24fps 2.39:1, Audio: DD TrueHD

When I originally caught a preview trailer of Cars on one of Pixar’s earlier DVDs (long prior to the film’s production completion) I thought it was a bit of a dunce idea to be honest. There was little there that looked appealing beyond the attractively designed graphics, so it was not on the priority viewing list. Alongside favourable reviews, some unbelievably competitive pricing by Amazon on the region B Blu-ray Disc, however, forced me to reach for the credit card. The story arcs in a similar fashion to most of the Rocky movies actually: Lightning McQueen (a nicely cast Owen Wilson) is a ‘dashing’ race car who’s pretty sure of himself and the film opens with him taking part in an exciting race where he ends up effectively crossing the finish line at exactly the same moment in time as a couple of his competitors, resulting in an indisputable tie. A rematch is scheduled for a week later but on a routine cross country trip the sleeping McQueen rolls out of his trailer, ending up in the middle of the desert. Realising his predicament he speeds on to catch up with the trailer but attracts the attention of a small-town police car, this resulting in a chase that wrecks half of the town and McQueen’s consequential court appearance. The locals decide that the race car should repair damage to the road as his sentence before he’s permitted to leave, so with time against him (his showdown race takes place in mere days) McQueen sets about putting right his accidental wrongs as quickly as possible (after escape attempts prove useless of course).

Taste the dark matter from my ASS!

What happened to animated feature running times? They used to be so short, partly because of the vast work involved and partly because target audience (children) attention spans are notoriously limited. Over time I suppose companies such as Pixar have realised the appeal of their work spreads to adults as well as their offspring, plus their famed storytelling abilities could probably carry films beyond a conventional 80 or 90 minutes. That’s the case with Cars: an endearing story fills out a near two hour running time seemingly without effort, and there is little in there that’s worth ditching. Of course it’s about super confident McQueen being brought down a peg or two along the way, in addition to him learning that ‘winning’ isn’t the only thing that matters (something that no doubt conflicts with his ‘genetic’ foundations, being a race car and all that). There are a few other morals built in there, typical of Pixar movies certainly, and you can take or leave that side of things when there is so much else in there to revel in: animated anthropomorphism is absolutely world class, and no opportunity here for cheating motion capture either; dialogue is consistently smart and often amusing; pacing is maintained with periodic bouts of frantic activity - the races themselves are surprisingly rousing for example. Oh, of course there’s a bit of a love story built in for good measure, although a reasonable standard of taste is upheld - we don’t actually get to see the cars snogging at any point… Despite my initial reservations Cars surprised me by proving to be a first rate movie experience. One final point that must be expressed: the visuals are absolutely stunning throughout, and this presents a perfect opportunity for Blu-ray to show off what it can really do (given an appropriately sophisticated system of course). Colours are vivid beyond anything you could have hoped for in home cinema, while detail is unquestionably extensive. Standing a couple of feet away from a 70+ inch screen you realise that this transfer could be blown up to the size of a wall and still look sumptuous - this has to be one of the most gorgeous films ever crafted (animated or not), and with Blu-ray you damn well know it! Supporting the pictures is a thundering soundtrack courtesy of Dolby’s lossless audio codec, the likes of car revs vibrating your very skeletal structure. Extras seem to be pretty comprehensive (including a couple of shorts, serving Pixar tradition), though I’ve not had time to trawl through these at time of reviewing. With A/V quality this thrilling the price is already justified.

Posted on 17th April 2009
Under: Other | No Comments »

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