Monthly Archives: September 2010

DVD Round-up 14 September: Breathless, Modesty Blaise, Last Night and Mother

What’s the coolest film ever made? Ask anyone who’s seen Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1960 Film Noir-inspired Breathless (À bout de souffle) (Optimum Home Entertainment) and the chances are you’ll have your answer right there.

Taking place on the streets of cooler-than-cool Paris, Goddard takes actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seburg on a magical mystery tour through the rues of Paris as the former goes on the run from the police and the latter wonders if she’s in love with him.

Shot guerilla-style on the French streets, there’s an electricity about the performances and a carefree attitude from the stars which is infectious. Breathless feels like it’s one of the reasons cinema was invented, or at least the reason the rules of cinema were invented, just so Goddard could smash them against the Champs-Élysées into millions of petit pieces.

There’s really no reason that anyone who enjoys film shouldn’t take a punt on either the impressive-looking new Blu-ray, complete with a lengthy documentary which tries to explore how the film came to be by revisiting its haunts, or the DVD.

You owe it to yourself to fall for Jean Seberg and be charmed by Belmondo like so many before.

The 60s were also responsible for director Jospeh Losey’s Modesty Blaise (Second Sight), a kitsch offering which fuses comic book escapism (it was based on a newspaper strip of the same name) with the decade’s obsession for all things spy-related to produce a giddy treat for those who don’t take their espionage too seriously.

Monica Vitti is international ex-criminal genius Modesty Blaise, a woman can be hired by whoever is willing to pay for her services. With her trusty sidekick, Willy Garvin (Terence Stamp) at hand, Modesty is soon wrapped-up in conspiracies, heists and double dealings which reach into the upper echelons of British Government.

Dirk Bogarde may be a reliable presence in many Losey films, but here, complete with blonde wig and an attitude to death which is played for laughs, he’s not really the reason to watch.

Instead, the madcap humour, ludicrous death scenes and sketchy script combine to create a film which doesn’t really seem to know why it exists (one scene makes it clear that this is probably set in a universe where the Modesty character is also a comic strip) but has fun anyway. Don’t expect coherence or anything resembling reality and you should be fine.

It’s the end of life as we know it in Don McKeller’s low-key global disaster movie Last Night (Park Circus), perhaps the least showy film to depict the last day of life on Earth you’re likely to see.

McKellar stars as Patrick, an architect determined to spend his final few hours on his own as the planet comes to an end at midnight.

En route to his destination, and after stopping off at his parents’ house, Patrick meets various people trying to find their own peace with themselves and the world, including Callum Keith Rennie’s sex-mad Craig and the confused Sandra (Sandra Oh).

Last Night isn’t big or brash but it does have brains, something a larger Hollywood effort would extract in place of explosions and cod scientific explanations. McKellar is a restrained lead who gives depths to the quiet Patrick, Sandra Oh helping to complete the odd coupling with a sadness behind her eyes.

Add to the mix appearances by Canadian talent such as Genevieve Bujold, Sarah Polley and David Cronenberg, and this becomes a welcome curio which might make you think twice before watching the next FX-laden disaster flick: this is how it should be done.

Finally, we come bang up-to-date for Korean thriller, Mother (Optimum), Bong Joon-ho’s revenge tale which takes the mother of the title and sends her on a mission to clear her son’s name after he’s sent to prison for a crime she’s certain he didn’t commit.

Hye-ja Kim plays the mother of the title with both compassion and steely determination, her love for her son, Yoon Do-joon (Bin Won), so strong that she’ll do anything to help him, even if that means putting herself in the sights of the law.

With a quirky opening sequence, a gorgeous colour palette and a script which drifts between hilarious and creepy, this is unique drama which defies easy labelling. The fact it’s subtitled really shouldn’t put you off sampling its charms, which linger long after the end titles roll.

A making-off documentary is part of the extras here, a refreshingly open look at filmmaking from Bong Joon-ho and his team.

Forget the blockbusters for a moment and head back to the Swinging Sixties

It’s the time of year when blockbusters, CGI, 3D and overpaid movie stars can be put to one side, the cracks in the floorboard of British film history opening up just enough to let two more forgotten gems escape from the dark as the BFI Flipside returns. 

Bronco Bullfrog (1969) and Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968) will be in the shops on Monday in dual format DVD/Blu-ray editions, two films which depict coming-of-age in 1960s Britain, but with very different styles and outcomes.

Barney Mills-Platts’ Bronco Bullfrog is the story of Del (Del Walker), a young man with little ambition who hooks up with a 15-year-old girlfriend, Irene (Anne Gooding), before trying to find some meaning to his life on the streets and with his old mate, Bronco Bullfrog (Sam Shepherd).

Del and his gang roam the streets of London with barely a care in the world, but it doesn’t take too long for the realities of trying to make a living while still having fun with the lads start to hit home for the teen.

Shot in black and white and with a script that’s semi-improvised, this is a darkly humorous story which feels just a step away from reality, the rough edges of the amateur actors working in its favour.

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush is at the other end of the spectrum, embracing the swinging nature of the 1960s in its gaudy colours and fantastical dream sequences as Jamie (Barry Evans) tries to chat up as many birds as possible in the less-than-glamorous environs of Stevenage.

Jamie barrels his way around town on his bicycle, getting complaints from his bored father and encouragement from his mates, including future James Herriot, Christopher Timothy.

There are also plenty of glamorous women, Judy Geeson and Adrienne Posta among them. Even the great Denholm Elliot makes an appearance as the constantly sozzled father of one of the girls.

Pre-dating the bawdy Confessions series by a few years, this is very much of its time, but there’s a hint of morality in the closing moments which set it aside from its contemporaries.

Both films come with a bundle of extras, mainly shorts related to the main features which add some context, but the films themselves are the best reason for buying these discs.

Of the pair, Bronco had more of an impact on me, but they’re both well worth sampling.