Blu-Ray Review – Rollerball (1975)

IN THE FUTURE! Sport has evolved; they’re not just kicking balls over goals and slapping pucks into nets! They’ve now got ROLLERBALL! It’s like Mad Max meets Roller Derby inside a pinball machine! The face of Rollerball comes in the form of John E. (James Caan), a season pro who leads the Houston team to Tokyo for the Semi-Finals. Or so he thinks…

Rollerball seems to have some shady background politics, the man behind Rollerball Mr. Bartholomew (John Houseman) believes Johns retirement from the sport is best for business. It will also be the edge that they’re looking for with an upcoming television special on John’s career. When John shows resistance against Bartholomew’s master plan people around him suffer…

Rollerball is a great look into the life of a star player becoming a broken man by the increasing pressure of the company that made him famous. James Caan is excellent, he’s got that great look on him, he knows something shady is going on, but he can’t help but think about the people missing from his life and who took them from him.

The seventies interruption of the future wasn’t as horrific as you can image, yes we’ve got plenty of very brightly coloured corridors (the colour orange must have been on offer) and even Mr. Bartholomew’s office, white as snow and surrounded by long icicle like sheets of glass hung from the ceiling.

The actual Rollerball matches are superbly choreographed, these poor stuntmen having to weave in and about men on motorbikes, but the bikers aren’t any safer – you get to see some great shots of players delivering dropkicks to the men on bikes! They take some nasty spills, but it’s totally engrossing to watch. Over the course of the film we witness three Rollerball matches and as you can expect the finale when Houston take on New York turns into utter chaos! It’s ace!

One of the best quotes that should have been over all of the marketing materials comes from the final match as they’re dragging bodies off the track; “Game? This wasn’t meant to be a game. NEVER.”

Blu-Ray Features

For the Arrow Blu-Ray release of Rollerball (almost 40 years later) we’re given an excellent selection of special features. There’s half a dozen featurettes that date back from interviews filmed on set comparing rollerball to the Roman gladiators. There’s original Making of Rollerball feature from 2001 – where a majority of the crew tells tales of the production, casting etc.

More recent features include; Blood Sports with James Caan – a ten minute interview on James experiences working on Rollerball, his thoughts on the films message and how he trained for the role. The Fourth City is another near ten minute feature which was filmed for this release of the movie, production scouts returned to the original filming locations in Munich and give you a history of the building and how they adapted the building to create their arena and the lengths they had to go to fill the building! How many Asians do you expect were in Munich during the seventies?

Of course we’re given original theatrical trailer and television spots. Both lackered with J.S. Bach’s; Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

We’re given two audio commentaries, one from the director Norman Jewison and a second commentary from the films writer William Harrison.

Overall, a excellent release of a stand out futuristic sci-fi classic, ranked amongst the greats!

4.5/5

Blu-Ray Review – Return to Sender (2015)

Miranda is a practising nurse who lives in a small sleepy town, spending her days keeping her father company. Friends determined to get her back out on the dating seen she finds herself set up on a blind date. In a unfortunate turn of events Miranda is brutally raped in her, the man who assaulted her is arrested and imprisoned.

Unable to reconnect with the her world, Miranda starts writing letters to the man who assaulted her. William Finn, the recipient of these letters doesn’t want reminded of the crimes he’s committed and returns the letters to the sender. Not one to give up easily, Miranda starts visiting William and manages to win him over, much to the horror of her father. Miranda calms him claiming – I know what I’m doing. And bloody hell, she knows what she was doing!

Hot ‘aff the heels of Gone Girl Rosmund Pike stars alongside Nick Nolte in a startling rape revenge thriller from the director of Operation: Endgame. Return to Sender is a decent little thriller. Yes it is now a given that Rosamund Pike can play scary crazy, scarily easy! She’s calculating and she’s a practising surgeon! Yikes! Shiloh Fernandez the man behind William Finn assaulted the wrong woman.

Fernandez does a decent job, he has some intensity when he’s in prisoned – but that’s because he’s in the jungle, you can’t show any weakness in the jungle! When out of prison he’s a dog with a bone, just itching to bury it! Remember that’s how he ended up in prison. He goes good, but all the characters suffer in comparison to Pikes.

Nick Nolte’s character as the grief stricken father who has lost his wife and only seems to have mans best friend as his crutch. Nolte does great, he’s always managed to pull across great tragic performances.

When the film reaches its climax, it is pretty nasty! Obviously you can’t give any sympathy for the characters involved. The scenes following that will catch the audience off guard with a sudden abrupt ending.

Overall it’s a decent little film, it’s polished, it’s freaky and it’s a one watch wonder.

Blu-Ray Special Features

The UK Release from Arrow includes one single special feature a Behind the Scenes feature that lasts for around ten minutes. It’s your standard segment, cast members express their thoughts on working with the likes of Rosemund Pike and their director. Pike tells us how she came across the script and how she was left disturbed, but engrossed in the characters and the paths they go down.

It’s a shame that there’s only this one segment, a directors commentary track would have been a nice touch or maybe some deleted scenes to emphases the closing scenes of the film, but alas we can only take what we are given and I give the Arrow Films release of Return to Sender a strong…

3/5

Blu-Ray – Retaliation (1968)

Retaliation tells us the tale of Jiro a former yakuza mobster who has just been released from prison after an eight year sentence. Whilst imprisoned, his clan has collapsed; the only remaining member is his elderly boss, the godfather. His godfather was looked after by the powerful Hasama clan. In debt to the Hasama clan, Jiro takes a job with them to settle a favour owed to them.

For many years a rival clan have tried to occupy precious farmland owned by the villagers, Jiro is hired to settle the feud between the gangs, he assembles a group of part time mobsters from the Hasama clan and sets up a business and in hope that the farmers will sell the land to him and then turn it over to Hasama…debt settled, right?

Yasuharu Hasebe blows my mind with my first introduction to some vintage yakuza movies from the sixties. I’ve never seen the likes before; I spent years engrossing myself in the age-old kung fu movies coming out of Hong Kong. Seeing what the Japanese equivalent of movies from this time was actually quite appealing, especially about how violent it turned out to be!

The story is smart, the violent is bloody and the film does get a little naughty at times as well. The cast are great, all of these clean cut actors being shot through soft lenses – having to do the dirty and get knee deep in the yakuza.

Leading man, Akira Kobayashi was excellent in his role as Jiro – he had a great screen presence and this menacing stare that just lets you know could turn primal and scrap his way out of any situation. Even after the opening credits, he’s released from prison and waiting for him on the outside is a man he’s wronged and he’s waiting with a knife and a besotted wife begging Jiro not to hurt him.

Blu-Ray Special Features

The special features include two interviews, a trailer for the film and a selection of over a dozen excellent black and white lobby cards / stills taken during the films production. The first interview is a 30 minute discussion with British screenwriter and Eastern Cinema historian Tony Rayns. Rayns gives us a run down of the studios history behind Retaliation and Massacre Gun, he covers the work of the director and the leading men. It’s surprisingly informative for those uninitiated with yakuza movies (myself included).

 The second interview is with one of the sole surviving cast members – Jô Shishido! Now in his early eighties he still has a razor sharp memory of his expensive career in cinema. The interview runs for almost ten minutes.

3/5

Blu-Ray Review – The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

The Happiness of the Katakuris tells us the story of the close knit Katakuris family, a family who quit city life and opened a guest house in the countryside. The family is made up of a couple who worked in a shoe shop, their siblings, their granddad and their little niece. Business is slow at first; they do their best to drag in any passing trade.

One man they manage to rescue from adverse weather conditions, they treat him like a king, bed, board and a hot meal. How does their guest repay them? He commits suicide in their suite. In order not to ruin the name of their business the family decide to bury the body in the woods. It’s soon revealed that all of their guests seem to have suicidal tendencies/terrible luck when booking into the White Lover Motel. Oh and this film is also a musical!

Happiness of the Katakuris, I first came across this film maybe 10 years ago. Knowing that I’ve seen this film already gave me a vague expectation of what to expect when refreshing myself with this viewing. But man! How bloody weird is this film, remember this is a remake of The Quiet Family, a dark comedy from South Korea, take that film and look at it through the kaleidoscope perspective of master director Takashi Miike

From the opening clay-animation short of a small creature being digest by various animals in the food chain, only to be reborn at the end AND then eaten again – you have to relax and let the weirdness wash over you. Happiness has clearly accrued a cult following to warrant it a re-release from Arrow. It does have some fun gags and the musical numbers cover all genres (karaoke to electric guitar solo!).

That final sequence we’re treated to another clay stop motion animation snippet! Probably because it was cheaper than CGI and getting to see that family dog Poichi surfing down a landslide was worth it alone.

To summarise I’ll repeat myself, it’s fecking weird, but the up-beat musical numbers makes Happiness of the Katakuris surprisingly watchable.

Blu-Ray Special Features

We’re spoiled! Arrow have decked the halls of this release with several features. We’ve got everything from The Making of… to not one, but two audio commentaries! Here’s our run down of the features.

In Animating the Katakuris we’re show footage of the clay animation directors arranging shots, occasionally knocking all his shit over in the process! Miike is also there look busting balls joking with the crew whilst factoids are scrolling across the screen in Japanese.

Dogs, Pimps and Agitators is a new feature from Arrow, the segment is mostly a slide show of movie posters and brief clips of Miikes work, whilst Tom Mes narrates the career of Takashi Miike. Mes credited as an author focusing his essays on the work of Miike – so he’s right guy to cover this subject. He does a good job managing to cover a large majority of Miikes very colourful career in cinema.

When it comes to the audio commentaries they’ve went to lengths of including the Audio Commentary from Takashi Miike and one of the leading actors. We are given two viewing options, listen to the commentary in Japanese, accompanied with English subtitles OR listen to an audible translation of the Japanese into English read out by two boys speaking as Miike and the others! That’s a first for me, it’s weird!

3.5/5