Color Out of Space (2019)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray/DVD/digital download
After more than two decades of absence from fiction filmmaking, cult director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) made a heroic comeback with this trippy cosmic horror tale. An update of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic short story of the same name, it stars Nicolas Cage on volcanic form as the father of two who moves to a New England farm only for the family’s new rural life to be interrupted by a meteor landing in their garden. That’s when things start to get strange: the surrounding vegetation starts to mutate, the family’s behaviours become increasingly erratic, and woe betide the farm’s barn of alpacas. Like Panos Cosmatos’s recent Mandy (2018), Color Out of Space is a horror film that matches big Cage theatrics blow for blow with bold, lysergic colours and inventive effects. It all stays just about the right side of barmy, and if it hits you in the right mood, proves fairly irresistible. There’s more Lovecraft to come from Stanley, whose career just got spectacularly reanimated.
Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
Where’s it on? BFI Player
One of the most famous and celebrated of all Australian films, Peter Weir’s enigmatic drama remains as unsettling as ever. It takes place on Valentine’s Day in the year 1900, when a group of seminary girls go on a school trip to an outcrop known as Hanging Rock, after which some of them are never to be seen again. Weir contrasts the oppressive, civilising influence of the girls’ school with the primordial strangeness of the ancient landscape, offering an oblique take on white colonialism down under. The film has some of the airy, unsolvable mystique of Michelangelo Antonioni’s arthouse puzzler L’avventura (1960), with a haunting panpipe score and gauzy cinematography that seems to pick up the aura of flustered hysteria. Now added to BFI Player, it makes for mesmerising viewing.
The Conversation (1974)
Where’s it on? BBC2, Saturday, 11pm
Not content with delivering that duo of mafia masterpieces The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974) in quick succession, Francis Ford Coppola filled the time in between by making one of America’s great paranoid thrillers. The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as the surveillance expert who believes he’s stumbled upon evidence of murder and possible conspiracy after bugging a conversation between a young couple. A set text for getting to grips with how the anxieties of the Watergate era manifest in cinema, Coppola’s neo-noir is doggedly downbeat yet utterly compulsive viewing, putting us claustrophobically inside the headspace of Hackman’s Harry Caul as he obsessively runs and reruns the same recording to get at its mystery. It’s the second of this week’s recommendations to have borrowed something from Antonioni, with Coppola acknowledging the Italian director’s existential thriller Blowup (1966) as the key influence.
The Fifth Seal (1976)
Where’s it on? filmarchiv.hu
For internet seekers looking to explore the riches of Hungarian cinema, there could hardly be a better time than now. Hungary’s National Film Institute has made 39 homegrown classics available to watch for free on their website for the lockdown period – all in high definition and most with English subtitles. Perhaps the most famous of these on these shores is Miklós Jancsó’s masterful revolution drama The Round-up (1966), but a better kept secret is Zoltán Fábri’s gripping The Fifth Seal from 1976. It begins on a dark night in occupied Budapest in 1944. A watchmaker, a bookseller and a carpenter are sitting around drinking in a bar, when a stranger enters and is soon setting them a moral quandary. Fábri’s claustrophobic drama should appeal to anyone who thrilled to the close-quarters debate of something like 12 Angry Men (1957), though events take an increasingly disturbing turn after the conversation is interrupted by a fascist patrol. We’re here for any film that starts with a five-minute conversation about the best way to cook brisket.
The White Sheik (1952)
Where’s it on? Blu-ray/DVD/digital download
It might now feel like a lifetime ago that we were all celebrating 2020 as the centenary of that don of Italian cinema Federico Fellini, but his 100th birthday bash has continued unimpeded this month with the release of two of his early films on disc and for download – both remastered and ravishing to behold. Nights of Cabiria is the acknowledged classic of the pair, giving Fellini’s wife Guilietta Masina her finest role, but Fellini’s debut film The White Sheik presents a similar clash between romantic ideals and downtrodden realities in modern Rome. A honeymooning couple has arrived there from the sticks. They’ve sights to see and family to pay respect to, but the husband is left tearing his hair out when his new wife disappears suddenly, having found her way onto the shoot of a new film starring her idol, a Valentino-style screen hunk. From Nino Rota’s typically jaunty score to Fellini’s ebullient way of choreographing crowds in front of the camera, it’s thrilling to see the maestro’s style taking shape so early.
Also out on Blu-ray/DVD
The Cranes Are Flying (Criterion) A welcome Blu-ray release for this Soviet winner of the 1958 Palme d’Or from future I Am Cuba director Mikhail Kalatozov. It’s a story of lovers torn apart by the Second World War, shot in a rhapsodically fluid, virtuosic style.