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Monday, 28 December 2015

Battles without Honour and Humanity box set from Arrow Films

It seems that I am often my own worst enemy in making things far more harder for myself than they should actually be. However, in all honesty it would probably help just a little if I could resist temptation just once or twice in my life. Take the last week or so, as stressful times in my day job were leading me to look forward to the Christmas and new year break as an opportunity to chill out and catch up on some seriously neglected 'fun' reading. The blogging I thought would take a back seat for a start, I remember promising myself that at least....... well that promise to myself didn't last long at all.

Firstly, I was informed by my son that the fabulous new 5D website was going to be ready at last and in time for a Christmas release on an unsuspecting world. Notions of taking it easy soon departed as I looked  and played with the wonder that is my new website - mouth watering indeed. If you don't believe me then you can see for yourself at           

The second thing was receiving an email from the lovely people at Arrow Films who mentioned that they were thrilled to announce the release of a new limited edition box-set featuring Kinji Fukasaku’s iconic Yakuza film series Battles Without Honour and Humanity. THEY were thrilled???!!! - well that's nothing compared to how I felt when I read the information because I was positively catatonic with uncontrolled excitement. This feeling further increased another tenfold when I learnt that the whole five film series, shot within just two years, Battles Without Honour and Humanity, Hiroshima Death Match, Proxy War, Police Tactics and Final Episode, were all being included in one sublime package.

I first came into contact with Fukasaku's seminal work a few years ago when a friend and I were extolling together on the genius of a certain Quentin Tarantino who had recently released Kill Bill. Volume 1. My good friend advised me that if I love Tarantino (who incidentally, I do so as much as ever) then I would simply adore a director who, along with the likes of Sergio Leone and Akawa Kurosawa, were undeniably the three greatest influences on good old Quentin's work. Now, my friend was, and still is, the font of all great knowledge and so I took him at his word and immediately tried to get my hands on the works of Kinji Fukusaku, regarded by many in the know as Japan's answer to The Godfather. By god, when I found the films, I was hooked.

I'm not really really sure what effected me most the very first time I watched Battles Without Honour and Humanity - whether it was the sheer pulsating vigour and energy of the camerawork and direction, the adrenaline-fuelled plot line or the myriad of characters who were each as complex and textured as the other. 

There was no clean cut square jawed one dimensional hero who stood steadfast and true against the big bad nasty one dimensional villain. No sir, in this story the heroes have their dark side, with the villains equally textured and layered in terms of character and motivation. 

And boy was it violent - deliciously so in fact in terms of it's documentary style realism which serves makes it at times a sublimely shocking viewing experience. 

The five films (remember, all produced over a staggering two year period) are quite simply one masterpiece after the other and often regarded as a Japanese answer to The Godfather Trilogy - well I have news for you, the saga is far better. Fukusako may have been influenced by Coppola, but that Tarantino guy certainly knows how to choose his influences too.

The limited edition collection, with only 2,500 copies being made available, will also include The Complete Sagaan English-subtitled premiere of the 224 minute composite edit of the first four films, alongside various new documentaries, interviews, featurettes and a 152-page hardback book featuring writing on the history of the yakuza film genre, films and filmmakers. The set was to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 7th December 2015.

Special Features

·         Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection (2500 copies)
·         High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of all five original films
·         Original Mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
·         Optional English subtitles for all five films
·         Limited Edition packaging and reversible sleeves for all five films including original and newly commissioned artwork by Reinhard Kleist


·         Brand new audio commentary by critic and author Stuart Galbraith IV
·         Yakuza Graveyard – a new interview with Takashi Miike about Kinji Fukasaku and the yakuza film genre
·         Original trailers for all five films


·         Man of Action – a new interview with series fight choreographer Ryuzo Ueno
·         Original Trailer


·         Secrets of the Piranha Army – a new documentary about the troupe of supporting actors who appeared throughout the series, featuring interviews with original Piranha members Masaru Shiga and Takashi Noguchi, plus second-generation Piranha, Takashi Nishina and Akira Murota
·         Tales of a Bit Player – a new interview with supporting actor and stuntman Seizo Fukumoto
·         Original Trailer


·         Remembering Kinji – a new featurette about director Kinji Fukasaku and his work, featuring interviews with Kenta Fukasaku and film critic and Fukasaku biographer Sadao Yamane
·         Fukasaku Family – a new interview with Proxy War and Police Tactics assistant director Toru Dobashi
·         Original Trailer


·         Last Days of the Boss – a new interview with Final Episode screenwriter Koji Takada
·         Original poster gallery for the series
·         Original Trailer


·         English-subtitled premiere of the 224-minute compilation edition of the first four films, previously screened only as part of a limited Japanese theatrical release in 1980 and on the Toei cable channel
·         Introduction by Complete Saga editorial supervisor Toru Dobashi


·         152-page hardback book featuring writing on the history of the yakuza film genre, including a newly-reprinted and fully annotated edition of Paul Schrader’s classic 1974 Film Comment essay Yakuza-Eiga: A Primer, a new, exclusive English translation of screenwriter Kazuo Kasahara’s 1974 Scenario magazine essay on his writing process for the first four films, as well as new essays and interviews from Chris D., Grady Hendrix, Patrick Macias, Tom Mes, Mark Schilling, and Jasper Sharp


Release Date
Monday 7th December 2015
Running Time
93/100/102/101/98 mins
Aspect Ratio
Blu-ray Cat Number

You find out more about this release and others from Arrow films from their Facebook page RIGHT HERE

They can also be found on Twitter via their handle @ArrowFilmsVideo

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Safe Haven (2015)

In moments when my mind begins to wander away from whatever task I may be doing (washing the dishes, walking my dogs, driving my car......), I often ponder some of my many entertaining 'What would happen if............?' scenarios. One particular favourite of mine is the 'What would happen to us all if the world did actually succumb to hell and a hand-basket?' The optimist in me would like to think that society would still find a way, not only to survive (with me as its heroic leader), but also to keep hold of some element of decency and humanity. Who knows, in the process possibly even learning from its illogical past mistakes and evolving into a fresh utopia? However, the realist in me thinks otherwise. I don't think it will actually matter what the reason is for the world going to crap; religious fundamentalism, nuclear war, social revolution, disease or a full-blown Zombie apocalypse, the result will be the same - we'll last about 20 minutes (with me as the heroic leader) before we start eating each other...... and I don't mean in the good way.

It seams that I'm not the only one who wonders what the future holds for humanity, be it a free loving Utopia or a free eating dystopia. After all, this theme has been something of a common staple for much of science fiction and Horror lore probably since time began, as well as occupying much of the cultural zeitgeist. This theme has seemingly been on the minds of group of filmmakers just down the road from me in Scotland because earlier this week I received a request from filmmaker Stuart Gilmartin asking if I would like to watch his short film from TACHY studios that contains a distinctly dystopian feel - Safe Haven.

Well it was the week leading up to Christmas and as my loyal reader will know, I'm a goodwill to all women sort of guy - yes I know that's not how the saying goes but I damn well know what I mean.... though unfortunately, so does the local magistrate. So regardless, I put aside the annoying factor that Stuart Gilmartin isn't a girl and decided to watch said film, and then do that thing I do so well. Unfortunately due to certain restraining orders I couldn't do that, so I instead watched the film and the put some thoughts on it onto my blog.

So what is the story I hear you ask - well, its a........

........dystopian story set in an unspecified time or place, that introduces the character of Jo, an inhabitant of one of many undisclosed bunkers that were built for children from privileged families after the world began to tear itself apart. 

Wanting to encapsulate the hope for the future survival of mankind within these children, the government envisioned that one day these children would rebuild the world around them, saving mankind from the ultimate extinction. 

Having been sheltered from the outside world for the greatest part of her life however, when Jo is released from the bunker, she quickly discovers that the role she has been preparing for, is very much irrelevant in this new world."

At around 25 minutes running time, Safe Haven is a hugely enjoyable slice of dystopian Scottish film making, nicely walking the line between some interesting philosophical considerations and some very good action set pieces. This episode is the first part of a larger story and thus serves as the introduction of both character and narrative - the second of those being something I found particularly interesting. Here webare introduced to a society where the world that we once knew is gone, seemingly forever. The reason for this dystopic occurrence is never fully explained, but merely hinted at, which in truth is always something I especially enjoy. A little mystery never hurt anyone, no matter what the 'The story needs a clear narrative and resolution' brigade would have you believe.

Safe Haven clearly wears its heart and influences on its sleeve with the odd nod and a wink to a number of origins whilst still remaining distinctly original in it's own thematic approach. Yes there some clear philosophical elements about both the individual and the role of elements of society, but don't worry those of you who like your dystopian narrative not to be overly preachy or ambitious because there are a number of genuinely atmospheric and exciting set pieces - for example, the scene where the two girls first encounter the marauding tribe is especially tense and exciting.

In truth, there is very very little to dislike about this film and a whole lot to like - it looks great and makes full convincing use of Fife's wonderful landscape. It is also genuinely atmospheric at certain points and the action scenes are suitably tense and violent - and a good dose of violence never hurt anyone.......right?

The two leads are very good, with Clare Ross excellent as Jo, effectively conveying her journey from initial optimism after being introduced to this brave new world, only to slowly realise the pain and horror that  in fact awaits. Chris Capaldi is good too as the enigmatic stranger who enters Jo's life - however, he is far too good looking for his own good and I'm pretty sure that i feel more than a little threatened by him.

I would recommend that if you get the chance to watch Safe Haven, then do so as soon as you can. I'm looking forward to seeing what Stuart and TACHY studios do with the rest of the story, whether it continues as a feature length film or a further series of shorts. In fact I enjoyed the film so much I decided to see if the man himself would be yet another in the long production line of individuals who have buckled under the pressure of a 5D interview. He foolishly agreed.

Another of the Interview bits........

Q) Before I ask you about Safe Haven, tell me about what set you on the road to film direction?

Hmmm, I'm not sure what exactly set me on the path, I always had an interest in stories more so than other things. As a kid I was always reading or listening to audio tapes or watching films. when I finally got my hands on a video camera I knew film making was what I wanted to do. Admittedly I tend to lean more to the Camera side of production than directing, although I have had my fair share of directing. As I often work with a small group of the same people it becomes easier as we all have particular skills that we can trust in and everyone pulls their weight. It's a great bunch.

Q) What inspired the story of Safe Haven?

I never actually came up with the story, that was Craig Wallace, we both met on the set of another production and hit it off and quickly started working together, when he showed me the concept stuff I really like it, for me it didn't feel like it was a story that too far apart from a plausible future and it stemmed from a younger generations frustrations at the mess that was being made by those in power and feeling generally quite hopeless. To really answer the question though I've asked Craig to step in.

(Craig Wallace) - What Stuart has said pretty much says it, for me it was frustration seeing how bad the world was getting, politics, environment, religion, false ideals just being surrounded by so much crap that only seemed to get worse. safe haven was a glimpse of how I saw the world eventually going if we continue on the path we are on. In a way it was my way of venting these frustrations by writing a story set in the world I had seen. The character of Jo is almost a more naive version of myself, coming into a world she hasn't experienced much of, being made promises of security by people who quickly turn there backs on her when she no longer served a purpose. She is very much a pawn in someone else's game. I feel that's reflected in the story where everyone is out to get you, everyone has a secret and what passed as some level of society, is all built on lies and deceit.

Q) How much did the film cost to make & how was the money raised?

The film was made on about £500 and a lot of goodwill, the money was raised by the main crew, Myself, Craig Wallace, Allan Price and Simon Forrester all chipping in a bit of our own money. Most of the cash went on food for the week long shoot, as well as petrol for cast and crew, stuff for make up, it didn't go far. The pre production really made such a small budget plausible as we had scouted all the locations in advance, we had been and almost blocked things out before even turning up with actors. We spent months talking and story-boarding, doing the odd test shoot, rewriting and a lot more talking. We were lucky in that we managed to pull together all the kit we needed from stuff we already had so there were no hire costs to worry about.

Q) Some of the film locations are stunning? Where was it filmed?

I've got to say, we were really lucky with the weather, it was sunny almost all of the time, except when we came to shoot the stuff with the Tribe's camp. We shot the whole film in Scotland, mostly all in Fife, we shot at the Wemyss Caves, that supplied us the location that Dan and Jo take shelter in, as this is also right right beside the River Forth we were able get some nice locations there as well. The river was handy as we passed off as the sea. We also shot on an old abandoned railway line and Alva Glen in Alloa, the derelict buildings are a place that I've wanted to film in for a while so I'm glad to have ticket that off my list and we also set up camp in Townhill Woods for some of the stuff at night as well as the final setting for the films ending.

Q) What specific challenges & problems did you face while filming?

We had many, the film was originally meant to be a web series, and we actually began filming in November 2013 only for the whole thing to be scrapped when we lost our lead actor. So we ended up going back to the drawing board, rewriting and then re planning for a feature film, but we simply couldn't raise any funds, so finally settled on shooting the first 20 or so minutes in a hope we could get enough interest from the opening of the film to get people to invest in the project. Other issues, like other filmmakers trying to sabotage the production, that's a bit of a long story but a week before the shoot we almost had to pull the plug on it.

The toughest parts were shooting everything on location in environments that were over grown with no access to power or completely run down buildings that were falling to pieces. Scenes at night with very minimal equipment. But I think these are issues most filmmakers experience, the pre production was meticulous so we knew exactly what we were after and were able to flow quite well when the cameras began to roll. Sound was a massive issue as it was summer, a lot of our locations were in the countryside and it was right in the middle of harvest time, so we had loud beeping farm vehicles all day long, noisy planes over head, cars, etc. The entire film had to have ADR done on it.

Q) Hopefully it's not giving too much away when I say that the ending is somewhat open-ended. Is this the first of a series?

I touched on it briefly, but yes, this is essentially the first 20 odd minutes of what we had hoped to be a feature film, or three twenty five minute episodes. This part is very much an introduction to a lot of the characters and themes of the story and we hope it leaves people asking a lot of questions and wanting to see more. If it does well and gathers some momentum and a fan base, we'd like to think off the back of that we could find enough support to raise enough funding to go ahead and shoot the remaining parts of the story.

Q) What are your plans for the future?

Right now we have a feature film being developed along with one short film called “Smile” in post production, that should be out by the end of January. We also have another short film about to start pre production. We are hoping 2016 will be a busy year for us as we look to complete several of our own projects and hopefully work with other filmmakers around the country on their films as well. It's going to be an exciting year. 

I would like to thank Stuart Gilmartin for giving me some of his valuable time.

So, I hear you asking once again, just who are these TACHY studio people that you mentioned? Well I thought it best to let them answer for themselves.....

"TACHY Studios is a film & media company based in Scotland. To create, and collaborate on new and interesting projects and help to raise the bar of Scottish film. We are proud Scots, and we know that Scotland is filled with insanely talented people. We want people around the globe to realise this too, and if we believe that someone has an interesting story that deserves to be told, we want to be part of bringing those stories to fruition. :)"

So there you go.

You can find TACHY Studios on Facebook RIGHT HERE

The Facebook page for the film itself can be found RIGHT HERE

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Clearing (2015) from IronStar Films

This week I was fortunate to experience four and a half minutes of pure enjoyment. Now before you go assuming that this experience probably resulted in yet another addition to my extensive collection of restraining orders, well you can go and clean your dirty presumptive minds. If you must know, my legal team is still fighting the last restraining order. I mean, who knew that writing 145 emails a week to Helena Bonham-Carter in which one suggests that she meet me at a Travel Lodge hotel of her choice while wearing her Bellatrix Lestrange outfit, actually constitutes a criminal offence? No not me either!

However, once again I digress. No, the four and a half minutes of pure enjoyment came from the running time of a rather fine piece of film making - The Clearing. Some time ago I was asked by nearby (ish) Scottish film company, IronStar Films, if I would like to watch and review (as best as my lack of discernible would allow) their debut short feature......and so I did. The film was BloodLoss, which is remarkable a tale of retribution and redemption among a group of friends who find themselves in too deep. These friends are forced by a local criminal to sort out a potential problem, their plans end in a horrific accident destroying their lives forever.

If you want to read the full review and my usual personal envious rantings then you can find it RIGHT HERE

It seems that the good people at IronStar Films weren't overly put off by my attempts at a review and so earlier this week I was contacted by Dean Pearson, writer, producer, director, cinematographer and tea-maker at the company, who asked whether I would like to view his new five minute short film. I thought about it for a moment over my early evening (1st) glass of red wine. I then spent a few more minutes pondering while I had my second glass.

"Ah", but I said......"You'll need to tell me a little more about the film first before I commit myself"

It seems that Dean was expecting this clever line of interrogation from me as he cunningly had a reply in readiness.... very sneaky.

 "The Clearing runs for 5.5 minutes and is a visual narrative which explores the very essence of life and death. Without giving to  much away here is a brief synopsis. After waking up in a strange and otherworldly place called "The Clearing," Chris soon realises he is not alone and must unravel the mysteries that have lead him to this point before its too late."

"Hmmm, that's all very well and good", I replied. " But being the consummate blogging and reviewing professional that I am, I would appreciate a little more detail. For instance, how much did the movie cost and who made it?"

For some reason there was a slight delay in Dean's response to my question. In fact there seemed to be some sound disruption or even a crossed line as all I could hear was some faint muffled delirious sounding laughter each time somebody tried to say the word 'professional' ....... very strange. 

Once the disruption finally eased Dean managed to give me an answer.

"The Clearing was done for £120 and half of that went on the rental of a van! The rest of the budget went on some wood for making the doors and a few other bits and pieces as the scales and table which were bought from an awesome local yard sale called Steptoes. Any other props etc that were needed were either borrowed from friends and family or we had had ourselves."   

I always tend to think that calling a film maker a bloody great liar might not always be the best thing to do, so I managed to stifle my reaction of "120 Quid???!!! You must be bloody well joking mate, you can't tell me that's all it cost because looking at the film stills I just don't believe you!!!" So I slightly amended my actual response.

"Wow, £120 that's impressive, just how did you manage to do that!"

"We had a small but effective crew of 6 on the day including myself. We had Graeme Carr as first AD, Peter Birnie as a production manager. Allan Jennings who recorded the production sound and assisted Peter. Martin Groves was the drone operator and production assistant and our actor Chris who got stuck in and helped when he could!

Bugger, it's almost as if Dean had an answer for everything. I desperately needed to come up with a question to regain my innate need for a feeling of superiority. I decided to fall back on my legendary cutting wit.  "Erm, what about the film equipment that you used, I bet it wasn't exactly an iPhone was it?!"

Once again there was a pause, though this time there wasn't any laughter. Again the line became a little distorted and I could swear the person on the crossed line was muttering about some blogging fool of a buffoon. Blimey, it's a small world, I thought..... Another blogger, I'm glad that I don't know him as he sounds a bit of an idiot though. 

Dean managed eventually to reply. "The main equipment we had on the day was a BlackMagic Cinema Camera 2.5k on a shoulder rig which could easily be broken down to go on the Manfrotto 501 Fluid head and tripod. Our lenses consisted of a Tamron 24-70mm f2.8 as our work horse lens and a tonika 11-16mm f2.8 for the wide shots. We had the privilege of using the DJI Inspire 1 drone which was owned and operated by Martin Groves. We also had one 650 Watt fresnel and a custom made dolly and tracks."

I really didn''t understand a single word of that technological mumbo jumbo, so it was at that point that I decided to cut my losses and so found my way to the super secret online link that Dean gave me and watched the film for myself. The thing is, by the very nature of the length of the movie's running time, it's not particularly easy to review a film that lasts a little under five minutes......but I'll give it a go.

In truth, The Clearing provided a totally unexpected richly visceral experience, both on a visual and auditory level. For a start it looks wonderful with a rich tone of colour, texture and lighting which all serve to very nicely enhance the atmospheric narrative. The quality is such that visually the film completely belies the fact that it cost so little to make, it simply doesn't look cheap at all. In fact, so impressive is the visual element that I've now watched the film a couple of times without the sound and the overall effect is still striking. 

In terms of the sound, well the quality is quite simply superb. When I told Dean that I was about to watch the film he advised me to listen to it with head phones or good speakers for the full immersing experience - and boy was he right! The soundtrack and acoustic effects combine beautifully to provide a haunting and evocative texture that completely envelope the auditory senses. The result is to transport the viewer along the same confused path as the protagonist himself. The music, by Mattia Cupelli ' You'll be live a man can fly' - is simply beautiful.

As for the plot? Chris O'Mara who was in the company's previous short film, Bloodloss, does a fine job of carrying of carrying the sole acting responsibility. He nicely portrays the sense of confusion at finding himself in this strange situation and the choice he has to make to escape - or simply to just simply progress. Having watched it now a few times I will readily admit to sharing some of the same confusion as the protagonist in fully explaining what is taking place. 

There are distinct elements of fantasy and horror that continually simmer just under the surface; there are hints of a fantasy world, or maybe of a space and time between worlds, or even symbolic connotations of the after-life. In all honesty, after numerous viewings of The Clearing, I've thought about it a lot and I'm still not 100% sure of what is actually going on - and do you know something? I like that, I like that a lot!

IronStar films, are an independent production company set up in 2014 in order to produce a variety of media content. As a team they are passionate about film making and are working hard to reach their goal of producing their first feature film. You can find their website at!about/cee5

You can find the Facebook page for IronStar Films RIGHT HERE

Their Twitter handle thing is @IronstarFilms