Film DVD Reviews

BOX SET THE FILM NOIR COLLECTION (12) 375min (BFI DVD retail) ●●●●●

Having come to America in 1936 to direct his first love, theatre, on Broadway, Otto Preminger became one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers following the FILM BOOKS

success of his 1944 film noir, Laura. Although the notoriously irascible, but terribly talented Austro- Hungarian émigré went on to make all kinds of films, it’s the half dozen noirs he made concluding with Angel Face in 1952 upon which Preminger’s reputation rests today. This four-film box set collects three of the best of them: Fallen Angel (1945), Whirlpool (1949) and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950). Watching them together, what’s striking is less the chiaroscuro visual styling that defined the look of the film noir and more the focus on the

psychology of the flawed protagonists respectively, Dana Andrews’ drifter gold digger, Gene Tierney’s kleptomaniac and Andrews’ bad cop which gives these great looking films real dramatic clout. The Preminger noirs

are complemented with a fourth, the excellent London-set Night and the City (1950), made by American director Jules Dassin, who, in a reversal of Preminger’s fortunes, made his most memorable films in Europe. Good extras include an illustrated booklet of essays. (Miles Fielder)

Before he spawned America’s most famous Irish Catholic presidential dynasty Joseph P Kennedy was a Hollywood player. It could be said he was Hollywood’s prototype player. Between 1919 and 1928 he treated the burgeoning movie business like the gold mine it was and made a fortune. He also had decent and indecent friendships with some of the biggest female stars of the time, among them Marlene Dietrich, Anne Fontaine and Gloria Swanson, as a well as wrecking the careers of some of the men who thought he was their friend. Kennedy’s glamourous and sordid story is laid out in painstaking detail in film historian and writer Cari Beauchamp’s fascinating Joseph P Kennedy’s Hollywood Years (Faber) ●●●●●. Beauchamp’s thorough account of the pioneer days of Hollywood highlights that, in terms of power in America nothing satisfies the hungry quite like showbusiness and politics, or maybe they are one and the same thing. William J Mann follows up his excellent Hepburn biography Kate: The Women

Who Was Katherine Hepburn with the more ruminative but no less fascinating How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood 1941–81 (Faber) ●●●●●. Mann grapples with the decadence and madness of the girl who became a woman under the spotlight. It’s a book of incidental pleasures, dizzying anecdotes and attempts to skewer the cultural zeitgeist that was Taylor in those years. It is also the closest anyone has come to capturing the essence of this troubled screen queen.

Having released the huge collection of film essays Have You Seen . . . ? in the run up to Christmas last year, the great writer and film historian and chronicler David Thomson delivers up something far more stocking friendly this year. The first four of his muted Great Stars (Penguin) series of slender book/essays are now available. Bette Davis ●●●●●, Gary Cooper ●●●●●, Humphrey Bogart ●●●●● and Ingrid Bergman ●●●●● are his initial subjects and Thomson brings his distracted, hyper connective gaze to all of them with the charm of an old dagger-carrying friend. Give this man a knighthood now, for services to great cinema. (Paul Dale)

58 THE LIST 5–19 Nov 2009

HORROR GHOST STORY (15) 83min (Nucleus DVD retail) ●●●●● assassin Leon’s initially reluctant and finally euphoric relationship with 12-year-old orphan Mathilde starring Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. With or without the new footage (which mostly centres around Leon and Mathilde’s growing relationship), Leon remains a remarkably smug, sentimental and

cynical actioner, albeit one buoyed up by technical expertise. Still morally

reprehensible and lacking in the kind of levelling meditative space needed when dealing with such ethical ambiguities, the elongated Leon is disappointing at best. Good extras, however, include Gary Oldman and Danny Aiello interviews and a ten- year retrospective ‘making of’ documentary. (Tony McKibbin)

BIOPIC/ADVENTURE IP MAN (15) 106min (Showboat Blu-ray/DVD retail/rental) ●●●●● Wilson Yip’s historically revisionist action film takes martial arts back to basics with the story of the titular grand master of the ‘wing chun’ fighting style and mentor of screen legend Bruce Lee. The film focuses on the mid- period of the life of master Ip (Donnie Yen), when the mild- mannered family man was forced into poverty

Long overdue DVD release of writer/director Stephen Weeks’ rarely seen 1974 chiller about a bunch of college friends in the 1920s who meet up in an old mansion house with regrettable results. Weeks, who had made his name with post hippy era oddities as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and proficient Hammer horror I, Monster, enlisted the help of future Beatles biographer Philip Norman and a host of fine British character actors including Penelope Keith, and the enigmatic Vivian Mackerell (the inspiration for Bruce Robinson’s creation Withnail, seen here in his only major screen role). Renaissance girl of the moment, Marianne Faithfull even pops up as an insane spirit. For those who like their cult films plummy, overwritten and sadistically surreal, Ghost Story is a whole load of fun. Also the soundtrack from Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin is a peach. This two-disc set comes with excellent extras including a booklet, a ‘making of’ featurette and seven of Weeks’ previously unseen short films. (Paul Dale)

THRILLER LEON: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (15) 133min (Optimum DVD retail) ●●●●●

Luc Besson adds 24 minutes of material removed from the original release for this re-release of his commercially successful 1995 film about hired

during the Sino-Japan war of the late 1930s and eventually rebelled against the nation’s invaders in the way he best knew how. That story

essentially several bouts of combat with the occupying army climaxing with a one- on-one between Ip and a brutal Japanese general karate expert is used to celebrate the southern Chinese fighting style and to commemorate Chinese resistance to Japan. It’s a far too simplistic a representation of historical events to take seriously, but the combat sequences, choreographed by action director Sammo Hung, who started out playing the villain in Enter the Dragon, are splendid. (Miles Fielder)

DRAMA LISBON STORY (PG) 100min (Axiom DVD retail) ●●●●●

Wim Wenders’ little seen 1994 film is a sequel of sorts to his 1982 work The State of Things with characters (played by the same actors) re-emerging 12 years later on another enigmatic quest in the Portugeuse heartland. Wenders regular Rüdiger Vogler plays sound engineer Philip Winter. Winter receives a cryptic phone call to come to Lisbon. He goes and moves from enigma to enigma, only stopping to record the sounds of the city and fall for the charms of a young singer. Odd, elliptical and deeply revealing about the collaborative perceptions of modern day filmmaking, Lisbon Story is a film that deserves patience and rediscovery. Extras include exclusive limited edition collector’s booklet. (Paul Dale)