Two films new to DVD from a distinguished British director, a cool comedy and plenty of cinematic cheese are in this week's DVD review column.
The Films of Michael Powell
Michael Powell is one of the greatest film directors you've not heard of. Granted, many serious film fans are aware of the string of British classics he and his creative partner Emeric Pressburger made in the 1940s and '50s. These include "Contraband" -- a great WWII spy film with Conrad Veidt in a rare sympathetic role -- "The 49th Parallel," "Black Narcissus," "The Red Shoes" and "Tales of Hoffman," among others.
Powell's directorial career was ruined by his solo effort "Peeping Tom" in 1960, a film not unlike "Psycho." While "Psycho" was a hit, Powell's film was so hated it literally cost him his career. It has since been re-evaluated as a horror film great.
This two-film set shows Powell at the height of film making success with "A Matter of Life and Death," and at the end of his career with the second to last film he directed, "Age of Consent."
These are two wildly different films in tone and style. "A Matter of Life and Death" is a lush WWII romance. Davis Niven plays a British pilot whose plane has been badly damaged. In his last moments, he contacts an American air traffic controller (Kim Hunter) and amazingly the two fall in love in the minutes before his crash. Although he was supposed to die, Niven's character survives, causing a major upset in the afterworld.
This 1946 film is beautiful to behold and has a very involving story, although the end sequence is a bit long and has an odd British versus American theme.
This DVD release is the first time the film has been presented in this country uncut and with its original title. It is well worth seeing.
"The Age of Consent" is a film that held my interest until the last scene when the story took an illogical turn. James Mason plays an Australian painter whose life in the New York City art scene has made him successful but jaded. He returns to his native country and sets up a studio on a small island just off the coast to rediscover his muse.
She comes in the unlikely form of a young woman who gathers lobsters and oysters to sell to a store on the mainland and drams of saving her money to become a hairdresser. Mason sees her strictly as a model, not as a sex object or romantic partner, although the girl's grandmother has other ideas.
Helen Mirren, in her film debut as the girl Cora, easily distracts your attention from some of the holes in the script. The film is unrated, but its nude scenes would probably give it an "R" today.
Although Mason and Mirren give solid performances, the film wanders around quite a bit and wastes time on a sub-plot involving a friend of the painter's hiding out from his ex-wife.
Still, I'm glad I watched both of these films.
The IT Crowd
"Father Ted" is one of my favorite British comedies and I was eager to see what writer and director Graham Linehan had done with a completely different concept: a group of technology support people who work in a large company.
The result is a very funny series that I think would become a hit if enough people were able to see it. So far, the series has been bought in this country by cable channel IFC.
This DVD presents the first season of six episodes -- the show finished shooting its third season last November -- and each of the six shows has a lot of solid laughs.
The three main characters are the two slacker IT guys and their newly acquired boss who instead adopts the title "relationship manager," as what these guys need is someone who can be a go-between for them and the non-IT world.
It broke me up that one of the IT guys, passive aggressive Roy (played by Chris O'Dowd) answers the phone with "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" instead of "Hello." The other member of the IT team, Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade), may be a genius but carries a spray can of water with him to cool down his ear which becomes inflamed when he panics.
This is a great show and any fan of smart, contemporary comedy should seek it out.
The Exploitation Cinema Collection
Ah, remember the Airline, the Red Rock and the Parkway? Those fabled names of drive-ins long gone? Well, the passion pits of Western Massachusetts may be shopping centers or parking lots today, but the awful, dreadfully entertaining movies are still around thanks to VHS and DVD. There is now a new 20-film collection -- "The Exploitation Cinema Collection" -- that presents the film in double features complete with vintage coming attractions and an intermission.
This new boxed set features moves from Crown International, a company that was arguably a couple of notches down from American International Pictures. Crown bankrolled some films itself, but mostly served as a distributor for films from independent producers.
This set actually presents a pretty fair representation of the kind of films one would find at your drive-in 30 and 40 years ago. There are martial arts films, horror flicks, a women in prison film, crime drama and soft-core naughtiness. All of the films are rated "R" so this collection isn't for the kids.
So far I've viewed a cop drama ("Policewoman"), a caper film ("Las Vegas Lady"), a fairly ludicrous war movie that rips off "The Dirty Dozen" ("Hustler Squad") and a movie that is part sex comedy, part crime drama and part feminist manifesto -- really -- ("Superchick").
You can view these films on plenty of levels -- as guilty pleasures; as films so bad they're good; as time capsules of a different time; and as both good and bad examples of the art of low-budget filmmaking.
They're not for everyone and I'm sure many folks would ask why they should waste their time with this kind of film when they can watch something really good. I have no defense other to say sometimes I really enjoy a cheese sandwich.
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