After Life (1998)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
Among the first of the more modern titles to drop into BFI Player’s Japan 2020 online collection is this second feature from Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters). It’s not the kind of domestic drama for which he’d become famous but a high-concept fantasy, albeit one delivered with his customary calm and naturalism. The idea is that the newly dead arrive at a posthumous waystation where they must choose one treasured memory from their time on Earth to be re-enacted ad infinitum in their bespoke heaven. After Life came out of Japan in the same year as the sensational Ringu, but its vision of the spirit world could scarcely be more different. It’s more like a docu-realistic recasting of 1940s classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Matter of Life and Death in which the moment of death affords a chance to rake over a lifetime’s worth of experiences and weigh their balance. There’s a Blu-ray version coming in August too.
The Big Country (1958)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Sunday, 1.40pm
The bigger your TV the better for this one. BBC2 are offering to fill your Sunday afternoon with this epic, near-three-hour western from the era when films were getting grander and grander in scope in a bid to tempt TV-loving audiences back into cinemas. Filmed in the now defunct Technirama widescreen process, it sees Gregory Peck playing a retiring sailor who travels out west to live on a huge ranch with his fiancée (Carroll Baker) and her father (Charles Bickford), and quickly gets collared into a dispute with neighbouring ranchers over cattle watering rights. Charlton Heston lends support as the ranch foreman, a year before he’d reteam with director William Wyler on an even bigger scale for Ben-Hur (1959), and Talking Pictures documentaries on both Peck and Heston are screening before and after the film. Jerome Moross’s score rivals that of The Magnificent Seven (1960) as Hollywood’s most famous western theme.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Where’s it on? Netflix
Love it or hate it, Netflix has often proven almost supernaturally attuned to the times with its exclusive releases. It had a whole series called Pandemic ready to roll in February this year, just as the coronavirus crisis was escalating around the planet. And now it’s ready to meet the moment of the global fury over the death of George Floyd with nothing less than the premiere of a new Spike Lee film – and one that dives right into the thicket of American race relations, specifically the sacrifice of African-American soldiers on the field of battle in Vietnam. Its Tarantino-ish title refers to four vets who return to ’Nam in search of both their dead comrade’s body and a secret treasure trove of gold bullion. Lee’s film was due to be unveiled at the now cancelled Cannes, but arrives for streaming as the jewel in the crown of Netflix’s new Black Lives Matter collection.
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Making its high-definition debut this week from Criterion, Husbands is John Cassavetes’ raw and rambling account of three New Yorkers on a transatlantic bender – a furlough of spontaneous midlife combustion after the funeral of a close friend reminds them of life’s ticking clock. It’s his first film in colour, featuring Cassavetes himself, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk in close quarters across a sprawling 142-minute running time as they drink, carouse and grapple with manhood in middle age – first in suburban New York and then during a debauched trip to London. For British viewers, this affords the side-serving pleasure of seeing this renegade of US independent cinema filming in local locations – albeit mainly inside the hotel and casino where the volatile three hook up with a trio of women gamblers.
The Vanishing (1988)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray
Another Blu-ray debut this week is this infamous Dutch thriller, which carries a sting in its tail that nobody who’s seen it could likely ever forget. It’s an anxiety-inducing missing-person mystery that follows a Dutchman’s desperate hunt for his girlfriend, who suddenly disappears without trace after they stop off at a service station during a road trip through France. The Vanishing is based on a novella by journalist and chess champion Tim Krabbé, whose chilling story culminates in just about the most terrifying checkmate it’s possible to imagine. Director George Sluizer channels the perfect tenor of escalating dread to bring it all to the screen, though notoriously came undone when called upon to direct the film’s inevitable Hollywood remake in 1993. Stick with the original, but be warned: The Vanishing preys on your worst nightmares, twice.