My DVD Films: Back to the stacks

Last year, I posted six articles in this series about random selections from my DVD collection. I just slide out six films from the many stacks, and give them a short review. Towards the end, I also included short clips or trailers, where available. This is nothing like my current series ‘Unforgettable films’ as it includes films that may well not be very good, and others that were purchased on a whim. I thought it might be time to start this off again, as the last entry was way back in December, 2015. So here goes.

***Spoilers included***

King Arthur (2004)

I couldn’t bring myself to go to the cinema to watch this, but was intrigued enough by the new treatment to buy the DVD. Directed by the man who made ‘Training Day’, and with a stellar cast, I expected quite a lot from this film, despite lukewarm reviews elsewhere. This is a big-budget epic, and released by Touchstone Films, with a cast including Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ray Winstone, and the usually excellent Stellan Skarsgard. Even Mads Mikkelsen is in it! The film sets the story of the legendary King Arthur back in Roman Britain, where some believe it might well have its roots.
The Romans are getting ready to leave Britain. They have had enough, and the empire is falling apart anyway. The country is being invaded by brutal armies of Saxons, and the Picts are still rebelling. The band of cavalry led by Arthur is about to get their long-promised leave, but they are compelled to complete one last task before they are allowed to go. They have to venture into the dangerous country of the Picts, face the chance of encountering the Saxons, and all to save the godson of the Pope.
From there, it plays as a by the numbers bunch of hard men story. Ray Winstone plays his gritty Roman soldier as an East End London gangster who just happens to be armed with swords. Others in the group are worthy, but so familiar it becomes very hard to take them seriously as 5th century warriors.
Despite some well done set piece battles, and Skarsgard chewing up the script as the Saxon warlord, it is all very dated, and only worth watching if you have nothing else to do. Even the talented Keira Knightley manages to come across as a Kensington debutante, despite brandishing a bow and arrows, and wearing fierce blue make-up.

Southern Comfort (1981)

Walter Hill has directed some good films, and the underrated Powers Boothe has acted in some too. Add Keith Carradine, Fred Ward, and a marvellous soundtrack from Ry Cooder, and right there you have the makings of a great film. Well, almost. I saw this at the cinema, and later bought the DVD, though I have never actually watched it. It also throws in some familiar ingredients. Louisiana bayous, alligators, and those mysterious Cajun people who are often shown as backward and quaint in films from that era. (Think ‘Deliverance’ and you get the idea)
The story is a little different though. A group of part-time soldiers from the local National Guard are on a weekend exercise, training in the seemingly limitless swamps. Boothe portrays Corporal Hardin, who has transferred across from Texas, so is unknown to the rest of the soldiers. Naturally, they are wary of him, and he is content to be a loner, apart from the rest of his squad. The men discover what appears to be an abandoned camp, with some canoes. The leader decides to take the canoes, to make life easier getting across the swamps. From then on, events take a downward spiral.
When they see that they are being observed by the Cajuns from the riverbank, one of the soldiers thinks it will be amusing to open fire on them with his heavy machine gun. He knows he is only firing blanks, but they don’t. Firing back, they kill one of the soldiers, who get into a panic and get into cover.
One of the men confides that he has brought along real ammunition, and divides it up so that they can defend themselves. Then they hear dogs, and the Cajuns begin to hunt them down.
I recall finding this film both tense and enjoyable at the time. I expect that it still is.

Assault On Precinct 13 (2005)

Film fans will note from the date that this is a remake of the original 1976 film by John Carpenter. I tend to hate remakes, and as the original was one of my favourite films of the 1970s, I expected to hate this more than most. However, they wisely chose to considerably alter the original story, and bring in a thrilling tale of police corruption, very loosely based on the claustrophobic atmosphere and sinister feel of Carpenter’s film. By making these changes, we are left with a film that feels very different, and is able to stand on its own two feet because of it.
And the cast is good too. Lawrence Fishburne as the villain, Gabriel Byrne as the corrupt cop, and the ever-reliable Brian Dennehey, more or less playing himself. Add a sexy turn from the good-looking Drea de Matteo (well known from The Sopranos) together with a square-jawed Ethan Hawke as the honest cop, and the mix is a good one. Trapped by bad weather in a police station that is closing down, the disparate group of prisoners, police officers, and staff find themselves under siege from unknown assailants. It seems that they are trying to rescue the kingpin gangster (Fishburne) who is currently held there.
With lots of action, and some good twists and turns, this film is a lot better than you might expect it to be. That said, the 1976 original is much better…

Ma Mere (2004)
(Foreign language film, with English subtitles)

I read some rave reviews of this film at the time it was released. Considering that the film has serious sexual content, not least the still-shocking subject of incest at its core, I was surprised to see it taken so seriously, so I bought the DVD some years later. Perhaps the cast, including the always magnificent Isabelle Huppert, helps to lift this film above the undeniably seedy subject matter. The location on the sunny island of Gran Canaria provides an interesting backdrop to what is an essentially French film, but the dark recesses of sexual perversity and everything associated with that cannot be overlooked. It was a hard watch, even for someone as hardened as me. Because of scenes that I won’t go into here, which many people will find decidedly unpleasant, I cannot recommend it. If you ever decide to watch it, that has to be your decision.

Le Samourai (1967)
(Foreign language film, English subtitles)

Back when I was a teenager, I thought that this was one of the coolest films I would ever see. I am a lot older now, but I still think it is just great. In fact, I wrote a review of it for a film website, which you can read from this link, if you are interested.
Le Samourai (1967) – Jean Pierre Melville (Pete Johnson)
I also wrote about it on this blog, in 2013. This is the short review from that post.
‘This 1967 film, shot in Paris, gives you two of the best; the director, Jean-Pierre Melville, and the lead actor, Alain Delon. In this production, they are both seen at the very top of their game. The moody direction and lighting from Melville, the coolest acting style of ‘less is more’ from Delon. The clothes, the hats, the cars, all scream 1960’s, and urban cool. The very good-looking Alain Delon out-cools every actor of his time, in the role of the lonely hit man. It is not about Japanese Samurai, as I fear that the title may mislead. This is merely a euphemism for the rigid rules that Delon’s character lives by, in the shady underworld of Parisian low-life he inhabits. He even drives a Citroen DS, so I admit to bias. Stylish, minimalist, and with an excellent Jazz soundtrack, this is one of my favourite films of all time.’
No more to say really, except to suggest that you watch it.

Novecento (1976) Also known as ‘1900’
(Foreign language film, English subtitles)

I have always liked the films of Bernardo Bertolucci, and this is no exception. An epic on a huge scale, running to 317 minutes long, (yes, almost five and a half hours) it is generally shown in two parts, so the DVD has two discs. This film covers the life of one Italian village and its inhabitants, rich and poor, from 1901 until the end of WW2, in 1945. This is a considerable undertaking, yet Bertolucci manages it to perfection. The multi-national cast reads like a who’s who of modern actors. Burt Lancaster, Donald Sutherland, Gerard Depardieu, Robert De Niro, Sterling Hayden, alongside a huge list of Italian talent too. The film is in Italian, and though subtitles are offered of course, the non-Italian actors are dubbed. I wouldn’t normally watch films with dubbing in this fashion, but it worked well enough.
Anyway, I was so soon caught up in the sheer rapture of this film, that I forgot about the dubbing almost immediately. This is not only a film of scope, it is beautifully shot, with some scenes as captivating as paintings. The events include involvement in WW1, the depression that follows, and the slide towards the divisive politics of Fascism and Communism during the 1930s. To complement the stunning visuals, there is a marvellous score from Ennio Morricone. This is film making as it should be. I was so excited by finding this DVD today, that I may well watch it again, next weekend.

So there you have six more from my collection. I hope that you find something to enjoy.

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25 thoughts on “My DVD Films: Back to the stacks

  1. I remember Southern Comfort. That scene with the pig blood letting scarred my mind. I can still see the scene. It was a creepy thriller, for sure. SC and Deliverance utilize their settings to create a horror story. Very compelling for me. I like this series, Pete.

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  2. In the 1980s I did some pro bono work with the Detroit Police Department. I asked about Precinct 13. The reply from the then Deputy Chief, “There is no 13th Precinct.” Regardless I enjoyed the movie and the remake. I also enjoyed your review.

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    1. Thanks, Theo. I had always presumed that there would not be any Precinct 13, because of its unlucky associations. However, there is one in New York. It even has its own Twitter page!
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  3. I really enjoyed the King Arthur, daft as it was. Phil saw the ’76 version of precinct 13 but wouldn’t watch it again, the rest are unknown to me and I’m not really a fan of subtitles. I do like hearing about movies so keep it up!

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    1. I’m sorry that Phil didn’t think much about John Carpenter’s original. I loved it, and the soundtrack was great too. Shame about the subtitle thing. You are missing some of the best films ever made.

      I will keep it up, as requested.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  4. If it weren’t for a TV mini-series I have on DVD that, unlike Luc Besson’s secular film starring Milla Jovovich, embraces the religious slant of the story of Jeanne d’Arc, I would not be familiar with Powers Boothe.

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      1. Oh, I do have “Tombstone” on DVD. I’d forgotten he was in that film. I haven’t watched it for a while. As for “Joan of Arc,” it’s quite good. I love Milla Jovovich, but I didn’t care for Besson’s film.

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  5. Ah, Le Samourai! I watched it years ago, and thought I had recorded it, alas, I never did….so I must search this out on DVD. Alain Delon is one of my film heroes, über cool and very stylish. Novicento looks worth seeking out, too. Thanks for these reviews, a good read

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    1. Le Samourai is available from Amazon, but for some reason, it is unusually expensive. (£17) I did find a copy on Ebay for £7 though, if you have an account. Novecento is a real delight, but try to see the full uncut version if you can. There is a two-disc version on Amazon, for less than £5.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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