Month: March 2011

[dvd review] Doctor Who: The Ark. ★★★ (with cameo from Bill Hunter)


Doctor Who: The Ark – is a four part serial from 1966; showcasing William Hartnell (Doctor Who), Peter Purvis (Stephen Taylor) and Jackie Lane (Dodo Chaplet) as they land on a spaceship
in the 57th Segment of Time.  The spaceship is carrying tiny molecules of 1 million human beings, and is govern by humans and Monoids – one eyed monsters.


[DVD FEATURES] –  rated from Best to Worst.


Normally, the least looked at special feature on a DVD, these subtitles, which appear along the bottom of the screen, reveal original, eye-opening information about the cast, crew and design of the film.
The information is revealed regualarly (every 20 seconds or so) and is relevant to the image on the screen.
Key bits of information revealed that was surprising for me include;

  + the appearance of Australian Bill Hunter, uncredited, in the serial.
  + Inigo Jackson, who played Zentos, starred opposite Peter O’Toole in ‘Becket’.
  + this episode was Doctor Who’s lowest ever rating
  + identifies bloopers on set – Eric Elliot walking the wrong way , a stage hand moving out of shot, Kate Newman losing her shoes on the ladder , microphone shadow on the wall, incorrect camera setups.
 + Michael Sheard who plays a doctor in this episode, would go on to play Hitler in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’.
It is so far the best onscreen Production Information subtitles feature I have seen on any DVD release.



Commentary by Peter Purves, Michael Imison (director) and Toby Hadoke (radio host).

They give personal insight into the difficulties of filming the serial and the professional releationships with the main charcters.
Peter Purves talks about acting opposite Eric Elliot (The Commander) and his difficult with long speeches (but strangely Peter doean’t talk much about his on set memories himself)
Most are very critical of the design of the Doctor Who monsters, and the matte paintings.
They keep the commentary free flowing and interesting and keep a controlled discussion that is enlighting.

I recommend to get the most out of this DVD, to activate the Production Information Subtitles at the same time the Audio Commentary is activated.


A 15 minute look at the studio the serial was shot in.  Contains a really enjoyable history of studio filming by the BBC.  Also includes interviews with directors, historians and Peter Purves as they give critical
feedback about William Hartnell’s performance.



A very brief 5 minute look at Doctor Who monsters who never made it past one serial.  Contains interviews with University researchers – but ultimately is a feature that gives little insight.



A look at the influence of H G Welles on the Doctor Who series.   Quite a blrand documentary, with many talking heads who offer opinions on the level of Welles influence. Most contradict each other, and this feature seems strangely disconnected from the serial.


Running Time: 2 hous 18 minutes
Black and White.  Remastered.
Aspect 4:3

Overall, this is a strong DVD release by ABC DVD and Roadshow.  The Production Information Subtitle feature is worth the price of the DVD alone.   The image is as expected for a TV serial on tape in 1966. The audio is clear and the Menus are easy to navigate.




[dvd review] ‘The Lady Vanishes.’ Great print. Not so great features. ★★★

‘The Lady Vanishes’ , Hitchcock’s 1938 thriller set mostly on a train , receives a ‘Madman Entertainment’ DVD release this month.
Clocking in at 96 minutes, it tells the story of the disappearance of Miss Froy, a charming elderly lady with an ear for music.
With the central performance by Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, along with supporting performances by Dame May Whitty, Paul Lukas and in a small role Googie Withers.



The ‘Surrealism’ of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) by Ken Mogg author … ‘The Alfred Hitchcock Story’  is a 14 page booklet inside the DVD case.  
The back of the DVD case doesn’t indicate that this extra is actually the booklet, so you may find yourself trying to locate it on the DVD Menu screen.
Credit must be given to Mr Mogg – his booklet rightfully indicates at the top of page 3 that the ‘following essay contains spoilers’ …  and as such must only be read after viewing the film.
Several pages are spent documenting background and key plot points from the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ which was adapted as ‘The Lady Vanishes’.  Mr Mogg then moves into key motifs used by Hitchcock in this film, and in previous and future films.

I feel Mr Mogg’s contribution would have been further benefited if he had provided an accompanying DVD Commentaries.  His insights into motifs (ie: monogram) and Hitchcock’s apparent references to earlier films (ie: Cabinet of Dr Caligari) would have come across stronger to the audience in visuals rather than in print.
Often one can get lost in Mr Mogg’s precise dissection of ‘The Lady Vanishes’ , and as a result I found myself wandering around the page for information a bit more tangible.


The ‘Original Theatrical Trailer‘ is a nice addition.  It has audio, although the image is somewhat worn, but it does give a good insight into the way British Films used trailer to entice viewers in.  I would have liked either the booklet, or subsequent DVD Commentary to address Hitchcock’s trailer for this film – at no stage does Miss Froy  (Dame May Whitty) appear in the trailer – a smart plot device.  It would have been interesting as well to investigate the use of graphics in the trailer over key scenes of the film.
This was a missed opportunity by MADMAN to delve a bit deeper with the Theatrical Trailer. 


The Audio Commentary by Dr Brian McFarlane, Adjunct Associate Professor, School of English, Communication and Performance Studies, Monash University , is a hit and miss affair, that should have focussed on some key Hitchcockian trademarks a bit further.
Dr McFarlane starts off the audio commentary by narrating what is happening in the film, rather than identifying key themes or production information.  However it must be said as the film progresses that he does reveal his insights into character development, but does miss key opportunities to tell us more about the actors in the film or in particular key crew members (information about editor R.E Dearing, or uncredited composers Louis Levy and Charles Williams would have been of interest).
I often find that commentaries focus too much on revealing what the plot is or character motivation, rather than enlightening the viewer with information about future career decisions by actors, directors, crew members, or production information.
As a result, Dr McFarlane’s commentary is rather dry, and unfortunately does not reveal much information that is enlightening to the viewer.  

I would like to note, that I felt MADMAN had a chance to include further extras to the DVDs.
As is noted by Dr McFarlane in his commentary – Googie Withers is the last surviving cast member (at time of DVD release) from the film – and she now resides in Australia.  
I felt that perhaps brief photos or text relating to Googie Withers career would have appropriate with this release.
Infact, research by me indicates that Googie Withers (aged 94 at time of this DVD release), conducted an oral history interview about her film career on 27 February 2001 for the Film and Broadcast Industries Oral History Group in Sydney.
It may have been appropriate for MADMAN to have investigate the possibility of playing extracts from that Oral History in some capacity on the DVD. 




Madman must be congratulated on obtaining a near perfect print of ‘The Lady Vanishes’.
The picture never loses focus, or becomes grainy and maintains a clear, strong image throughout the whole film. 
Below is further technical aspects provided by Madman. 


16/03/2011Release Date:

1938Year Of Production:


ComedyMystery / ThrillerGenre:

96.0 minsRuntime:

DVD, Region 4 (PAL)Format:

4:3 Original Aspect RatioAspect Ratio:




Not one of Hitchcock’s finest productions.  ‘The Lady Vanishes’ lacks the necessary thrills that Hitchcock had grown accustomed to in earlier films like ‘The 39 Steps’ and ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’.
It does take a long time for the story to get going, however Hitchcock manages to use the train setting quite well and keeps an interest to viewers.
If you haven’t got ‘The Lady Vanishes’ on DVD, this release is a suitable choice in terms of a strong, clear print, but the additional features are overly great.   



[opinion]: This man deserves an Honorary Oscar.

Each year, I get excited by the selection of the Academy Board of Governors for the Honorary Oscar.
I think removing the Honorary Oscar acceptances from the main Oscar telecast into their own private celebration was a masterstroke, as it now allows multiple recipients of the Award each year, and a true appreciation of the body of work.

Lately, the Board of Governors have been very brave in their selection of recipients.
Take for instance, Jean Luc Godard – the French-Swiss film director who stubbornly refused to come to America to accept his award, in part because of the lack of recognition by the Academy in the past (they have never bestowed to him a competitive Oscar)

And then there was the recipient Kevin Brownlow. The man who finally brought a voice to the silent films. Who himself stubbornly refused to accept other peers criticisms (that still occurs today) around the lack of value silent films have in the film industry.
In particular, his award was one of the bravest decisions of the Academy, and to me, one of their proudest.

So in early preparation for the Honorary Oscar come 2012 – I wanted to reveal who I think the Academy should consider.
And across the coming months I will continue to post my thoughts on who should receive the award.

My first selection is a man who has received five Oscar nominations across four decades, and never won.
Albert Finney.

Finney has been an actor who has provided the screen with some wonderful performances, and manages to leave an imprint in our mind with each of them.  Lately, playing strong supporting roles, he went through the 1960’s and 1970’s giving strong lead performance, that deservedly received critical acclaim.

His performance in the Oscar Best Picture Winner , Tom Jones as the title character is endearing, charming and witty.
He won the New York Film Critic’s Best Actor, received an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe nomination and won the Venice Film Festival award.


In ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ , he became the first actor to date , to receive an Oscar nomination for his role as Hercule Poirot.
Finney injected his own style into the character, full of flair and bravado – a fair cry to the older tottering style of Peter Ustinov, or the precision of David Suchet.

In 1983, Finney received his third Best Actor nomination in the (now little seen) ‘The Dresser’, a backstage look at theatre.  This film demands a second viewing from film lovers, as both Finney and Tom Courtenay command the screen, balancing compassion and sadness with the rigours and strain of theatre life.  Finney himself won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival.

The following year Finney received his fourth Oscar nomination, as the alcoholic former British consul in ‘Under the Volcano’ , another film in the Finney canon that requires more recognition from the industry.

It took another 16 years, but Finney made it back into the Oscar spotlight, as the lawyer who learns more than he bargains for in ‘Erin Brokovich’.  This is the film that brought Finney but into the minds of movie goers.  He reinvented himself in his fifth decade on film.
Now he could play supporting roles in other quirky films, like the underrated ‘Big Fish’ , and the very underrated ‘Another Year’ opposite Russell Crowe.
Consider as well appearances in
The Bourne Ultimatum, Traffic,
The Browning Version (for which he received a Boston Society of Film Critic Awards), Shoot The Moon (a BAFTA and Golden Globe nomination) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning – the film that started his career, garnering the National Board of Review Best Actor.

In every film Albert Finney has been in, he has reinvented himself and left a lasting imprint in your mind.
The memories of his scenes seem to always involve just himself. My thoughts of him, are never as part of an ensemble.
Here he is as the solo actor, delivering the soliloquy, standing up for what he believes is right or saying a tearful goodbye.  Even his supporting roles overshadow the lead role, because he that damn good. 

And it is for that, for his six decades of service to the screen, for his five failed attempts to take home the Oscar statuette, for being a BAFTA, Venice Film Festival, National Board of Review, Berlin Film Festival, Golden Globe, Boston Film Society, London Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics and New York Film Critics winner, that Albert Finney, now in his 70’s, deserve an Honorary Oscar.





– Rhett Bartlett

twitter: @dialmformovies

[review] ”Heartbeats” is a film that will break your heart. ★★★★

Heartbeats is a film that broke my heart.
Xavier Dolan’s look at lust, obsession and the pain that comes with that, is so real as it permeates from the eyes of all three of the main characters.
Set in present day, but with visual cues harking back to early French New Wave film, Heartbeats tells the story of two very best friends Maria (Monia Chokri) and Francis (director Xavier Dolan), whose obsession with their new found friend Nicolas (Niels Schneider) will test their relationship.
Each of them lust after Nicolas, and as such, each of them in their own superficial way, attempt to lure him, slowly cutting into their own relationship deeper and deeper.

The casting of this film is extraordinary. Niels Schneider is perfectly cast as the Adonis-Cupid-like Nicolas who sweeps into the film with charm, and beauty rarely seen on screen before. His look and performance blends together characters from Derek Jarman’s masterpiece ‘Sebastiane‘  and Visconti’s ‘Death in Venice’.  It’s hard to resist Nicolas, and as such that makes the film that more painful.


Monia Chokri, as Maria, a sophisticated girl who seems the need to reinvent herself in every scene, hoping to catch the eye of Nicolas, is wonderful. But for me, it is Xavier Dolan himself who gives not only the standout performance of the film, but one of the best of the year.
Rarely has someone on film been able to express his grief, sadness and yearning with a tilt of his head or a nervous tick, quite like Xavier did. I found myself sympathetic for his character as the film progressed, all the while, hoping that his dreams and wants were fulfilled.

The film is shot so beautifully by Stephanie Anne Weber Biron, rich colours harking back to 50’s fashion, along with slight out of focus
slow motion scenes. The soundtrack grows with luscious tracks such as ‘Bang Bang’ by Dalida  and ”Pass this on” by The Knife.

And collectively, the film is a dream bubble, fragile and precious, that lingers over your head and heart, until bursting with the final scenes.

Heartbeats is one of the best films you will see in 2011.
It is screening at ACMI from 7 April – 1 May
Tickets: $14 concession  $11 ACMI member.
Screener DVD supplied by ACMI 

 4 stars out of 5.
 [A nominee for my best film of 2011, best supporting actor of 2011 and best director 2011]


[phone interview] Animal Kingdom’s David Michod talks Film, Crime + Weaver.


In December 2010 I had an opportunity to talk to Director David Michod about the amazing debut feature film ‘Animal Kingdom’.

This interview took place before the Academy Award announcement, however includes David discussing where the concept for this film came from, his film influences and that wonderful onscreen line
by Jacki Weaver.  ”You’ve done some bad things Sweetie.”