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The Firm – BFI Blu-Ray Release Review

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The Firm

 

Release Date: On Sale Now

Director: Alan Clarke

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davies

Reviewer: Stu Laurie

 

 

Ah Gary Oldman. British acting royalty, a diverse character actor who has graced small screen, big screen and stage as a variety of characters. What do you know him for? Harry Potters brave yet undoubtedly troubled Godfather Sirius Black? Batman’s police insider Commissioner Gordon? Maybe you remember his earlier roles as Sid Vicious in the biopic Sid and Nancy or Drexl in True Romance?

Whatever role you know Oldman for there is no denying his status as an actor. And yet, one of his most acclaimed roles has gone largely unseen due to the controversy that surrounded it when it was released onto our TV screens back in the 80’s. That film is The Firm.

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The Firm stands to this day as one of the finest pieces of film on football hooliganism to date, yet due its TV release and late (1996) release onto VHS and DVD the film does not always gain the recognition it deserves, despite its cult following.

The Firm follows a number of football hooligans who form a ‘firm’. They live to fight, they embrace the violence that comes with the role. The head of the firm is Bex, played by Gary Oldman. Married to wife Sue (Lesley Manville, his real life wife at the time) with a young son Bex has a respectable Monday to Friday job as an estate agent. Yet come the weekend he meets up with his friends and causes havoc, arranging fights against other ‘firms’.

As Bex gets involved further within this world he begins to lead his firm to the fight of their lives in Europe. What is interesting is that as the film progresses it becomes evident that this lifestyle has little to do with football. In fact, here is no football in the film, other than the opening scene. This lifestyle has nothing to do with the sport. It’s to do with a love of the violence, of the adrenaline rush and this is identified perfectly within the film.

The Firm mirrors the firms of the time, where members were respectable, working family men during the week but turn the tables come the weekend. They have good jobs, good incomes and loving families, but something is still missing. A hole still needs to be filled, and there is only one way to fill that void.

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Whilst the film has a strong supporting cast, Gary Oldman shines brightly throughout the film. He utterly embodies the character and the nuances of both dialogue and body language in his performance are astounding. He bounces brilliantly off Leslie Manville and the rest of the cast and his future as a character actor is evident.

The British Film Institute have released a Blu Ray remastered version of the film with added extras. These extras include the Directors Cut of the film, with all the scenes that were cut for the Theatrical Cut. This brings in a strong violent aspect, and it adds in to the grit and brutal honesty of the film. The added scenes are obvious as they appear much more washed out and fuzzy compared to the original high definition footage, and whilst this may detract slightly from the film it doesn’t ruin the experience.

As with many DVD releases, there are commentaries including one from Gary Oldman. The commentary offers some insights into the production and some behind the scenes nuggets, yet it seems to taper off towards the end. Oldman appears to lose interest as the film progresses and so the commentary begins to become less frequent.

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The BFI release also includes Elephant, director Alan Clarkes final film before his death. This film depicts the troubles in Northern Ireland and despite the violence that is present is in stark contrast to The Firm. Whilst The Firm has a strong influence from its dialogue, there is no dialogue in Elephant. The film moves from one murder to another with no explanation and no dialogue The film itself is desensitised to its violence, not recognising it or marking it but simply moving on, much as the country became desensitised to the murders and the violence at the time.

There is also a short interview with director Alan Clarke on his choices in terms of the content and direction of his work, and in particular The Firm and Elephant. An interesting look at how the projects developed and his thoughts on their reception.

The BFI remastered release provides audiences with the opportunity to obtain one of Gary Oldmans finest performances, and a film that could easily be a pre-cursor for films such as Green Street. A brutally honest look at the football hooliganism of the time and the people that took part. The extras provide an insight into the behind scenes life of the film, and a sneak peak into the directors mind set when developing the film.

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The Firm has developed a cult following within the British cinema scene, with this BFI release we can only hope it gets the wider recognition it deserves as a piece of cinema.

This BFI release can be found on the following link;

http://shop.bfi.org.uk/the-firm-director-s-cut-3527.html#.V1bra751jIU

Have you seen The Firm? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

DVD/Blu-ray

God’s Own Country (DVD/Blu-Ray Review)

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Released: 29th January 2018

Directed By: Francis Lee

Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu

Reviewed By: Barry Levitt

Last year may have been unbearable in many facets, but for queer cinema, 2017 was a landmark year. Starting the year with Moonlight winning Best Picture, a number of LGBT films were released around the world including the critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman and Princess Cyd. But perhaps the finest of them all was Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country, a story of a young farmer in Yorkshire whose way of living is permanently altered when a Romanian worker comes to work at the farm for lambing season. The film is out via Picturehouse Entertainment on DVD, Blu-Ray and VOD on the 29th January.

Johnny (Josh O’Connor) spends his evenings drinking and searching for casual sex with other men in an effort to escape his own mundane existence. He lives and works with his father and grandmother on a quiet Yorkshire farm, though due to his father’s ailing health, Johnny is forced to take care of the day to day operations. As lambing season approaches, the farm is in need of extra help as Johnny’s drinking has prevented him from doing the work necessary to keep the farm afloat. Johnny’s father Martin (Ian Hart) hires a Romanian worker named Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) during the busy lambing season to help keep the farm going.

God’s Own Country has been often described as a British Brokeback Mountain, and while the film’s similarities are worth noting, they are remarkably different in approach. The main romance in question in Francis Lee’s film is warmly embraced. The sex scenes in particular are dealt with beautifully: free of mystery and shame, the scenes are explicit without being pornographic, and bursting with passion. Sure, the resistance is there – Johnny is deeply frustrated sexually, and his sexuality is kept secret from almost everyone, and he does not exactly instantly warm to Gheorghe’s presence. The film’s power comes from Lee’s excellent script and calm, patient direction. As a viewer, Johnny’s loneliness is almost palpable, making his motivations clear and as a result it is easy to empathise with him.

Lee also does a tremendous job bringing the Yorkshire farmlands to life. His camera evokes an almost tactile response, and it is as if you could feel the grass and the mud; this film is simply full of raw and unflinching moments. There is a particularly touching sequence which Gheorghe tends to a newborn lamb that wonderfully evokes everything that God’s Own Country represents, things that seem broken can be reborn and renewed with tender love and care.

The film’s beauty also comes down to tremendous performances from the principal cast. O’Connor and Secareanu bring a wonderful vulnerability that is vital to the film’s beating heart. Ian Hart and Gemma Jones, who plays Johnny’s grandmother, are both utterly exceptional. God’s Own Country is a tender, quiet and moving meditation on love and loneliness, and wouldn’t be half as powerful without these great performances.

The home entertainment release of God’s Own Country comes with a series of deleted and extended scenes. Though it is easy to see why they were cut down or removed entirely, there is some interesting stuff here that fleshes out some of their characters. The film looks and sounds great, but it is a shame that such an excellent film wasn’t given more bonus material. Still, for fans of the film and for those who have yet to see it, one of the best films of 2017 absolutely deserves a home in your collection.

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The Small World Of Sammy Lee – DVD Review

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Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Ken Hughes

Stars:  Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, Wilfrid Brambell, Warren Mitchell, Roy Kinnear

Certificate: 12

Released 14th November 2016

 

In 1958, Ken Hughes’ half hour play, ‘Sammy’ appeared on British television.  It attracted huge acclaim and turned its solidary actor, Anthony Newley, into a star.  Several years later, he returned to the same part, this time in the much-expanded ‘The Small World Of Sammy Lee’, written and directed by Hughes and released in cinemas in 1963.  The response wasn’t so warm.

Now described by some as a lost gem of British cinema, it returned to the big screen in a newly restored version at the London Film Festival and is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week.  Time for a re-assessment.

The Sammy Lee of the title (Newley) is the compere at a Soho strip joint and a fast talking chancer.  He’s also up to his neck in debt with the local bookie and has just five hours to raise the cash that will prevent paying up in a more painful way.  It’s a race against the clock for him to find the money, through all manner of dodgy deals.  At the same time, he has to cope with a major complication in his life, the young Patsy (Julia Foster) who fell for his showy offer of a job and has left home to pursue him. 

Right from the opening shot, this is a period piece and a large chunk of nostalgia for anybody familiar with the London of the 60s, Soho especially.  The early moments show streets that are empty, except for the bin men collecting the remains of the night before.  Them aside, there’s hardly anybody around, but all that changes as the day progresses.  You find yourself picking out street names and locations – Berwick Street market for one – while the black and white photography introduces the inherent seediness of the area, such as the strip club interior both back stage and front of house, the snooker halls, the pokey bed-sits.  It extends to the characters as well, from Sammy with his stock of hackneyed, vaguely smutty gags straight out of the Archie Rice joke book to the pathetic Harry (Wilfrid Brambell) who runs his errands and, inevitably, falls down on the job.

All of which makes the more law-abiding characters stand out.  There’s a one-scene portrait of Sammy’s family, his hard working brother Lou (Warren Mitchell) who runs a Whitechapel delicatessen and wife Milly (Miriam Karlin), dripping in costume jewellery and lacking any sympathy for Sammy when he arrives on the scrounge.  So much so, that you suspect there may have been something between the two before she settled for his brother.  And there’s the naïve Patsy who sees him for what he is but still adores him and finds promotion from waitress to “dancer” in the club upsetting and humiliating.

The scenes in the club give away the film’s 30 minute original, there’s one too many scene of Sammy running through the Soho streets and the Patsy love interest feels like padding, but why should a film with so much in the way of character and location fall so flat when it was released?  One reason could be timing.  It didn’t fit with the move towards “kitchen sink dramas” – it came out in the same year as ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ and ‘This Sporting Life’, while ‘A Kind Of Loving’ had been released in 1962.  Sammy’s story isn’t a thriller either and doesn’t make the most of the dramatic potential of his limited time for raising that money.  Nor is it a comment on society.

But, despite its shortcomings, there is much to enjoy, particularly among the performances.  Newley is suitably nervy to the point of hyper as Sammy, while the oil positively drips off Robert Stephens’ club owner.  And it’s littered with cameos from other familiar faces, like Derek Nimmo, Roy Kinnear and even Linda Baron (Nurse Gladys Emmanuel from ‘Open All Hours’).  The street scenes in Soho are so evocative you can almost smell the garbage and the club interior is always viewed through a fug of cigarette smoke.

It adds up to a film rich in curiosity value for today’s audience, something of a love letter to the Soho of the 60s, but one that misses the dramatic target by a whisker.  Second time round, it seems destined to appeal to a limited audience all over again, one that treasures older, unsung British films.

 

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One Million Years BC – DVD Review

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Reviewer:  Freda Cooper

Director:  Don Chaffey

Stars:  Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick

Certificate: PG

Released: 24th October 2016

 

Cinema history may be littered with bikini moments, but only a few have achieved true iconic status.  Ursula Andress in ‘Dr No’ (1962) for one, followed by numerous other Bond girls who tried to re-create the moment, most notably Halle Berry in ‘Die Another Day’ (2002).  And there was Bo Derek in ‘10’ (1979).  But only one actress had the dubious honour of sporting a fur bikini.  She was the almost-unknown Raquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’ (1966) and the garment, with its remarkable adhesive properties, made her an international star. 

The film makes its return in a newly restored version on DVD to mark its 50th anniversary.  And, while Welch in her bikini is easily its best known image, it also overshadows the film’s other achievement.  Not only was it the most successful film ever to come out of Hammer Studios, it was also the big screen’s most famous dinosaur epic until the arrival of ‘Jurassic Park’ some 26 years later.  And much of that was down to the creations of the legendary Ray Harryhausen.  While some of them aren’t up to his usual standard – little more than enlarged versions of a lizard and a turtle – there’s a great dinosaur battle which shows the maestro at his best.

The audiences queuing to see the film in ’66 certainly didn’t go along for the plot.  It’s pretty basic stuff, all about two tribes.  The Stone People are a vicious lot, living in the mountains and regularly knocking seven bells out of each other.  They kick out Tumak (John Richardson), one of their leader’s sons, and he finds his way to the coast where he discovers the Shell People, who show him a different, more peaceful way of life.  It’s not long before the two tribes come into conflict, but then they eventually have to come together in a battle for survival.

Unsurprisingly, the dialogue isn’t up to much – the occasional word and a few grunts – so the demands on the cast are more physical than anything.  And, once director Don Chaffey has exhausted the appeal of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs, he throws the kitchen sink at the film in the shape of the final sequence, a volcanic eruption and earthquake, all of which is pretty spectacular for its day.

The restoration has certainly sharpened up the look of the film and the DVD comes complete with a variety of extras, including interviews with Welch and her co-star, Martine Beswick.  But comparisons with today’s special effects are inevitable and, while Harryhausen’s monsters are seriously impressive for their day, both they and the film are more of a period piece, laden with nostalgia for fans of the 60s.

 

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