Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Olivia (1983) Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review

Olivia (1983) Vinegar Syndrome April 28th 2020

Directed By: Ulli Lommel

Starring: Suzanne Love, Robert Walker Jr, Jeff Winchester

     Ulli Lommel has had a very interesting career, having worked as an actor in over ninety projects and has worked with icons like Andy Warhol and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He was also a director with over sixty directing credits to his name. Thanks to Vinegar Syndrome his '83 film Olivia comes to HD Blu Ray for the first time. At age five Olivia (Amy Robinson) witnesses her Mother being brutally killed by John in a kinky sex act gone wrong. Now all grown up Olivia (Suzanne Love) meets a American engineer named Mike Grant (Robert Walker Jr) who is working on the London Bridge. The two have a hot affair but Olivia is also in a abusive relationship with another guy. Five years passes and Mike finds Olivia living as an American real estate agent having dropped her accent. The two pick up where they left off but it seems like her past is about to catch up with them both. Ulli Lommel presents a naughty thriller and while its sexy, the thriller aspects are weak and confusing. Olivia as an adult kills a John pretty early into the film and I was expecting this to follow her carnage- as a way of turning the tables on what happened to her mother. Yet strangely this murder is never brought up again. Instead the film turns shifts right into a steamy affair/romance with a dash of revenge at the finale. Characters are set up and dropped at will, leaving the audience feeling unsatisfied. Its a film that feels like big chunks of it are missing, with plot holes and threads that are left totally unexplored. Like why did Olivia disappear for five years, did she kill more people? Why did it take so long for her ex to come after her? Ulli isnt very interested in any of this and one is left more questions than answers. Son of the legendary actor Robert Walker plays Mike Grant and is great given the silted lines he has to work with. Sadly though, Walker Jr is not given anything very interesting to do and is unceremoniously exited out of the film. Olivia seemed like it was going to have the main femme fatal act as a murderous spider-woman but sadly this isnt really the case. The entire movie feels aimless and could have used some major re-writes both in plot and dialogue. I will give the director credit for some spicy scenes with Love.

    Vinegar Syndrome presents this film using the best possibly elements. The new 4k transfer is incredible looking with colors that pop and skin tones that look natural. At the out set VS warned that the elements they had to work with was not the greatest but I still think it looks great. Night scenes for seems like they benefit the most from this cleaner, sharper print. The film sounds great as well with a nice clear 2.0 Mono track. As always VS puts a lot of love with their bonus features as much as they do with the look and sound. First off we get FOUR brand new interviews including star Suzanna Love and cinematographer Jon Kranhouse and writer and asst. director John P Marsh and editor Terrell Tannen.  All are very entertaining and shed light on not only the film but the legendary Ulli Lommel. Rounding out the features is an ultra rare 8mm behind the scenes footage narrated by John P Marsh and the original trailer. It also includes a reversible cover artwork.

Syndrome always is so exciting in what the release and though I wasnt a huge fan of this movie, some of you might be and this disc is jammed PACKED with great bonus features.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Hell Riders (1984) Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review

Hell Riders (1984) Vinegar Syndrome March 31st 2020

Directed By: James Bryan

Starring: Adam West, Tina Louise. Ross Alexander, Frank Millen

    Every wonder what it would be like if Batman's Adam West and Ginger from Gilligan Island fame starred in a crappy '80's biker film? Well like it or not Hell Riders from 1984 answers that question and more. A woman named Claire (Tina Louise) traveling from Las Vegas breaks down only to discover a savage gang called The Hell Riders. The thugs assault her but she is able to flee. She travels to the nearby town for police aid but they are no help. After that she is patched up by the local doctor named Dave (Adam West) the gang invade the tiny town. Um...Yeah. So where to even begin. I've seen a lot of bad movies in my day and Hell Riders may not be the worst but certainly a mess. James Bryan is no doubt a fan of biker mayhem films but the film lacks any kind of cohesive story. We dont really understand why things happen and there is also this weird sub-plot about a local wedding which James really leans into and has no real bearing on the story. It also has a really jarring tonal problem which ranges from lighthearted hi jinks to hard to watch sexual assault/murder. This really reminded me of an early over-the-top Troma film with the people that inhabit it acting more like cartoon characters.Not to mention you can tell this was made on a dime.

     Thankfully James Bryan knows he's making a z-grade film and is clearly having a lot of fun with it. Its what kept me from actually hating this movie because despite some legit hard to watch rape, the film maintains a b-film charm and its local color in the form of the small town adds a hickspoltation flavor to the mix. West and Louise play everything straight while everyone around them either way over or way under acts. I will say the action scenes are pretty solid with some great Grind house style balls-to-the-walls stunts. And while not overly gory there is plenty of splatter and nudity if thats your bag. Hell Riders is no doubt a bad movie but Bryan seems to bask in the films low budget exploitation charms and has a lot of mean-spirited enjoyment with it all. This sense of tongue-in-cheek awareness helped gloss over the many issues this film has. If you want a mindless bit of junk food cinema you could do worse-and thats not a back handed compliment.

The film sports a great new 2k transfer from original 35mm camera negatives. Digital artifacts are scarce and colors are clear and vibrant. Its not without some flaws but overall it looks damn good, especially for an over thirty year old obscure film. I wager that this is the best this film has ever looked and probably will ever look. Nature and outdoor scenes really showcase just how clear this new print is. The sound is great as well with a nice 2.0 Mono soundtrack. As always Vinegar puts some love into each release and we get some fun extras. The main feature is a really entertaining interview with director James Bryan entitled "Straight to Hell" which runs just over fifteen minutes long. Say what you will about Byran's filmography but I think its awesome as hell that we VS has taken the time to interview and record a artifact like this. Rarely seen original story board gallery is also included. The movie is a limited edition of 3,000 and includes a great fold out poster with reversible cover art (same with the cover on the Blu Ray). I actually found this is to be a really fun bad movie and as always the good folks at Vinegar provides a great release. Worth owning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Kinetta (2005) Kino Lorber Blu Ray Review

Kinetta (2005) Kino Lorber March 3rd 2020

Directed By: Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring:Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos

     In just a short amount of time Yorgos Lanthimos has emerged as one of the boldest and interesting directors to come onto the indie scene. Needless to say I am a big fan of his raw and devastating character driven films. So, imagine my excitement when Kino Lorber has released his second film to Blu Ray. A filmmaker, a Chambermaid and a detective form a weird group, their goal, to recreate murders based off a local serial killer. If you are looking to get into the films of Yorgos Lanthimos I woulds say this is probably not a great one to start with. Kinetta is extremely slow paced and it has the feeling of a budding filmmaker that is more interested in playing around with the conventions of the medium rather than crafting a narrative. As I stated above this film is almost mind numbing in its pace and often times we see characters just doing their day-to-day stuff like eating or just sitting in complete silence. I dont mind a slow burn film as long as its entertaining and I find myself engrossed in the world the director and actors have created. I struggled to connect with Kinetta though I will say you can still see his raw talent in how he crafts shots and directs. I did find some aspects to be worth while. Yorgos employs hand held cameras and, since this film is about a filmmaker I liked this meta-approach.  But the thing I think I found most interesting is how there is very little in the way of dialogue or music. Its not to say its totally silent but we get very long stretches of no talking, which only adds power to when he chooses to have his actors speak.

      This film is one of the rare times I think a director remake would be a brilliant idea. At the core there is a very cool concept and he could take that and build upon what he has learned since the early '00's as far as pacing and storytelling. The result would no doubt be an intoxicating and engrossing psycho-sexual thriller. Kinetta premise seems to get lost in the directors glacier pace and experimenting within the medium. I have seen five our of seven of the directors films thus far and narrative wise this is so different as its not even super clean if you hadn't read the plot summary. I enjoyed seeing this despite not enjoying it nearly as much as his later work because its always great to see how a filmmaker grows and matures. Worth while for die hard Yorgos fans but probably way too slow for the casual film fan.

The film looks great and Kino has taken care to provide a print that looks clean and sharp. Face tones look natural and outdoor scenes dont look washed out or overly bright. The transfer truly highlights the work of Yorgos collaborator DP Thimoios Bakatakis (Dogtooth, The Lobster). Despite its pace the film is certainly visual and Kino celebrates that this with release.  The sound mix is a healthy 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue comes through crystal clear. The bonus features includes a commentary by film critic Amy Simmons. Simmons is very engaging and I actually walked away listening to with a greater understanding for this film upon my second viewing. Rounding out the features is a series of trailers for this and other Kino releases.

Deadline (1984) Vinegar Syndrome Blu Ray Review

Deadline (1984) Vinegar Syndrome March 31st 2020

Directed By: Marlo Azzopardi

Starring: Stephen Young, Sharon Masters, Cindy Hinds, Jeannie Elias

    Nothing lights a fire under a writers ass like the dreaded 'deadline'. Having authored two books I know all too well that stress is part of the business. So, when I learned there was a horror movie that dealt with this very premise I knew I wanted to see it. At the time I learned of this movie it was not widely available but now thanks to Vinegar Syndrome it is, in HD! Steven (Stephen Young) is a horror author and screenwriter that is controversial but popular. Despite making a good living Steven's life is anything but idyllic, with a horrible wife and a bad case of writers block on this latest project. His fantasy life and reality begin to blur as he struggles to keep his grip on his sanity.

      Made while the genre was still riding high on slashers, Deadline attempts something a little different with the genre, but is it successful? Despite  being a very basic premise I think its strong because its something a lot of people can relate to on one level or another. Sadly though the concept is feels woefully wasted. I dont often come a crossed this but I found the films narrative flow to be its biggest issue. For example, and without giving anything away Steven suffers a tragedy which feels like a perfect set-up  for the second act. Yet strangely this comes at an hour into the ninety minute run-time. Its incredibly baffling as at this point it feels too little too late. Deadline suggests a thriller but plays more like a soap-opera style drama intermixed with over-the-top horror scenes (that mostly are only in the writers head or current film production). It also doesn't help that all the characters are extremely unlikable especially the writer Steven (a not so subtle nod to Stephen King). Azzopardi attempts some humor but it too falls flat. A film of this ilk suggests it would be tailor made for social commentary about horror and societal ill's, and while it touches upon this briefly I felt like it never goes far enough to be effective or meaningful.  All of this might have been forgivable but the film takes itself far too serious for its own good. The end result is a dull melodrama that only kind of flirts with the horror genre. I think that had the story been streamlined with a tighter focus on plot I could see this having the makings of a great psychological horror film. I hate to trash all over a movie like this but it seems like it lacks even the basic story structure. Whats worse yet the characters are all awful and not engaging and therefore making it difficult to invest in them or the lack-luster story.

At the start of the film Vinegar Syndrome states the following:

The following presentation of DEADLINE is sourced from producer Henry Less' personal 35mm print. The original negative is believed to be lost. Although extensive image restoration and color correction work was performed, certain instances of damage were unable to be repaired without causing digital artifacting, and were therefore left intact. The soundtrack on the print also suffered some damage and was poorly printed, resulting in some inherent hiss and crackle. 

While has there are times when damage is noticeable its honestly not enough to be distracting in the least. The film probably will never look as good as it does now and the new 2k transfer looks sharp and clear despite the issues mentioned above. I know the kind of love and hard work VS puts into their releases and so I dont fault them for issues out of their control. Having compared this to the un-restored trailer the difference is night and day. I think overall they did a great job and should be proud of their work on this. The sound is good as yes, as mentioned above there is some distortion in the soundtrack but again, its not bad enough to be distracting. Dialogue and music comes through clear. The extras include two brand-new interviews with producer Henry Less and cinematographer Manfred Guthe. They share some interesting insights into the production.

Great release for a obscure horror film, which is what Vinegar Syndrome is known for.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Connecting Rooms (1970) Kino Classics Blu Ray Review

Connecting Rooms (1970) Kino Classics April 21st 2020

Directed By: Franklin Gollings

Starring: Bette Davis, Michael Redgrave, Alex Kanner, Richard Wyler, Leo Genn, Kay Walsh

    I adore classic Hollywood films and its legendary children it produced. Grand movies and even grander movie stars is what fuels my obsession. After the Golden Age most out of work actress's (and some actors) turned to the horror genre kicked for work. This trend was kicked off by Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) which starred Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. This was both a blessing and a curse as it gave Davis and others a jump start in their career but it also type casted them. Davis jumped at the chance to take a break from the horror genre with Connecting Room (1970). Connecting Room tells the story of a cellist named Wanda (Bette Davis) living in a ruin down boarding house in early '70's swinging London. She regularly interacts with a fellow lodger named  Mickey (Alex Kanner) a shady musician who often tries to use her for money. A down-on-his-luck disgraced teacher named James (Michael Redgrave) moves in next door and the two find a special bond.

    Despite being a huge fan of Davis and Redgrave I had never even heard of this film before. I later learned I was far from being alone. Connecting Room is....really something. This was Gollings first and only film and it shows. It lacks polish in its direction and worst yet certain important plot points seem confusing and ill-handled. Franklin has a hard time keeping the emotional core of the film intact while juggling needless sub plots. For example you get a weird tug-of-war with this film being told through the lens of a care free swinging youth played by Kanner and the quiet moody drama that no doubt drew Davis and Redgrave to the film. Gollings isn't seasoned enough to marry these two themes in a successful way. Had they ditched Mickey and his entire sub plot it would have streamlined everything nicely. Also important information regarding James is woefully, even laughably mishandled to the point of confusion. (More about this in the commentary). It also hasn't aged well and even at the time critics labeled Connecting Room as old fashioned. This goes double as the film leans way in on swinging 60's (it was filmed in '69) vibe. What saves the film and makes it watchable is the camp appeal and the film has some so-hammy and bad its kinda great. Davis does her best to give pathos to Wendy but sadly she over-acts a lot. On the flip side Michael Redgrave gives arguably his greatest performance  as the tossed aside teacher. He brings with James a heavy heartbreak which hangs heavy in his eyes and the way he carries himself and delivers his lines. His character and acting gives the film the emotional weighty it sorely needs. Alex Kanner probably best known for The Prisoner is also very good despite his character being pointless. Kay Walsh also gives a very fun turn as a nosy bitchy landlady. Connecting Room (1970) is a very odd and up until now a very little known movie. There is a very good film in here but it gets lost because of its lack of story streamline and tonal coherence. Had this been in the hands of a better director this could have easily been a classic in the twilight of Ms. Davis's career. Still, I find it weirdly endearing mainly due to its incredible cast especially its two leads and its so-bad-its-enjoyable nature. Not a classic, even in a cult arena but worth checking out for the morbidly curious.

Kino Classics has given this under-seen movie a new life with its Blu Ray release. The picture looks great and the big bold colors (especially in the '60's era club) really pop with this new transfers. Skin tones look nice and natural and details come through crisp and clean. The sound is also nice with a health 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. The film has a gem of an extra in the form of the commentary.The legendary film historian David Del Valle provides the track and if you are familiar with Valle's other commentaries you know they are fun, lively but most importantly packed to the hilt with amazing information. He knows his stuff from a wealth of research but also his personal relationship with Room co-star Richard Wyler.  You just cant help but hang on his every word. Overall this is a strange film that, misguided as is was is worth while even if its for its campy retro quality.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pre Code Horror Supernatural (1933) Kino Classic Blu Ray Review

Supernatural (1933) Kino Classics April 7th 2020

Directed By: Victor Halperin

Starring: Carole Lombard, Alan Dinehart, Vivienne Osborne,Beryl Mercer

     1933's Supernatural is an odd-duck of a movie that stars Carole Lombard in an early role and comes from the director of White Zombie (1932). What makes it odd, outside of its zany plot (more on that later) is that Lombard was known, not for horror but light screwball romantic comedies. In fact she was known as the Queen of the Screwball Comedy. A woman serial killer named Ruth Rowen (Vivienne Osborne) is finally paying for her ghastly murders via executions. A man named Dr. Carl Houston (H.B Warner) has this theory that Rowen's spirit will possess another person thereby compelling them to also kill. Its never explained how he knows this but with a lot of this movie we just have to take the word of the good doctor. Meanwhile we are introduced to Roma Courtney (Carole Lombard) who is now an heiress when her brother dies. A shady spiritualist named Paul (Alan Dinehart) contacts Roma in order to to con her out of her money. It just so happens Paul has a connection with Ruth. As Houston predicted when Ruth dies she possess Roman. Now inhabiting Roma, Ruth sets out to take her revenge on Paul.Whew! Okay, typically I try not to go into great detail with plots but it seems important with this review. As you can probably no doubt tell the writing is rather sloppy and the entire affair goes from one plot convolution to another leading to a finale that is not very satisfying. It pretty much just peters out. Having said that there was some nuggets of brilliance. Most supernatural films of this era were often presented as legit but later debunked as some sort of a scheme and Halperin's film does this but then also presents a very real supernatural entity which I thought was cool. I also enjoyed the weird characters like the drunk landlady played to the hilt by Beryl Mercer. And because this is a pre-code horror film we get some more provocative outfits and subject matter. There are other aspects of the film that helps sort of gloss of the lack-luster writing.

     Technically Supernatural is a pretty interesting film. Halperin dips into his bag of spooky-tricks and pulls out a palpable mood and aided by DP Arthur Martinelli does some very  invention camera work and nicely done tracking shots. For a lower budget production the look has a bigger scope than you might expect and the filmmakers were clearly working with a very solid production designer.

And while the cast is solid its of course Carole Lombard who steals the show. Not only do we get a rare straight dramatic role but also a sexy vamp's turn when the mousy Roma is inhabited by the evil Ruth Rowen. Vivienne Osborne is also great as the murderous Rowen and she chews every bit of scenery possible. Supernatural had glimmers of brilliance both in its performances and technical side, however the hopelessly bad writing sinks this film to the bottom of the cinematic barrel.

Kino Classics has released this obscure horror thriller on Blu Ray in a stunning 2k release. For a film that is over eighty-years old Supernatural looks great. Its not totally artifact free but its clear that this film has never looked better. Definition is sharp and showcases the good production values. The sound is also great with a nice clear 2.0 Mono track. Extras include a commentary by writer Tim Lucas as well as an original trailer. I love Pre-Code horror and this is a rare gem that, while it doesnt exactly hit the mark is still worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Angel (1937) Kino Classic Blu Ray Review

Angel (1937) Kino Classics April 7th 2020

Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch

Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Melvyn Douglas, Herbert Marshall

      Ernst Lubitsch was so legendary for his style that the term 'the Lubitsch' touch was coined to describe his trademarks. His films often showcase lavish production values, grand stars and he reviled in sophisticated wit. Though he worked in many different genres the director is no doubt best remembered for his romantic comedies. Angel (1937) is one such film that sparkles in his filmography. Based on a play by Melchior Lengyel the story tells of a woman named Maria Barker (Marlene Dietrich) who meets a mysterious handsome stranger named Anthony (Madelyn Douglas). The pair fall in love but of course Lady Maria is married. Romance and comedy ensues as the two men find themselves under the same roof. I adore romantic comedies from the '30's and '40's that depicts a grand almost non reality form of melodramatic love. Lubitsch with the aid of screenwriter and frequent corroborator Samson Raphaelson (Alfred Hitchcock;s Suspicion, The Shop Around the Corner) pens a funny, witty romantic comedy that zings and tugs at the heart strings in equal measures. Cheeky double innuendos also seemed to just squeak by the Production Code.

      The cast is great and of course the Goddess Marlene Dietrich steals the entire film. She displays the kind of talents and beauty that cemented her as iconic. Herbert Marshall and Melvyn Douglas are equally wonderful and as always walk a fine line between the dramatic yet and comedic timing when called for. All three leads seem to feed off each other and its spellbinding to watch them act and interact with each other. Angel features beauty black and white photography by legendary cinematography by Charles Lang.  Lang photography absolutely makes love to Dietrich. With his skills he uses his lights and shadows to fully capture the wild alluring and sinfully seductive aspects of her persona. While were on the subject, Lang also does an interesting thing by using shadows on faces in certain scenes to give a moody, almost haunting look that sets the scene for the more weighty moments of the film. Truly brilliant work and its not hard to see why Lang was and still is regarded as one of the best DP of the Golden Age of Hollywood. We the audience are also treated to an underrated score by Oscar nominated composer Friedrich Hollaender. Fast paced, well written and features the top talent both behind and in front of the camera, Angel is a gift to classic film lovers from heaven.

    Kino Classics and their other subsidiaries have set a very high standard with their 2k and 4k releases. I know when I get a Kino release its going to look and sound its best and Angel does not disappoint.  Lang's gorgeous and lavish photography is truly celebrated with this new 4k release and its clear to see a lot of time and resources have gone into it. Almost every bit of dirt or artifact has been scrubbed and the result is a clear and stunning picture. Its safe to say that this is the best this came has ever looked and most likely will ever look. Along with WA's Dodsworth this is a incredible achievement in film restoration. They truly did Ms. Dietrich proud on this one! Equally well done is the sound and features a nice healthy 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue is clear and crisp and it showcases Hollanders score. Special features include a great feature length commentary by How Did Lubitsch Do It? author Joseph McBride. Engrossing and interesting, this commentary track gives a lot of great information and context behind the film and its power house director. Rounding out the features is a trailer. If you are a fan of Classic Hollywood this is a must own!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Stalking Moon (1968) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

The Stalking Moon (1968) Warner Archives March 17th 2020

Directed By: Robert Mulligan

Starring: Gregory Peck, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Forester, Frank Silvera

     By the late '60's the American Western genre was dying out just as Sergio Leone was creating the more violent count-culture inspired Spaghetti Western or Italian Western. By the late '60's and throughout the '70s's  parody/comedy films like Blazing Saddles (1974),Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) and Shakiest Gun in the West (1968) flooded the market with Stalking Moon being one of the rare exception. Retired Army scout Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) agrees to take a white woman Sarah (Eva Marie Saint) and her half Apache son (simply known as boy) to the city of Silverton. Varner takes a liking to her and agree's to give them lodging at his country home as a cook. It seems the husband of Sarah is tracking her down, wanting to take her and his son back. While this is a Western Mulligan makes it more about the drama and character leaving the action set-pieces as the cherry on an already well developed cake. Towards the end of the film things to start to play out like a cat-and-mouse thriller which puts an altogether different spin on the genre. Mulligan somehow manages to build a great deal of suspense in the daylight isolated mountain wilderness.  The pin-point perfect directing of Robert Mulligan and his attention to detail is further elevated by an incredible cast. George Peck is an inspired choice having worked with Mulligan on the classic film To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). His leading man charm mixed with his rough and ready looks and voice like gravel velvet fit perfectly within the world Mulligan has crafted. I mean Peck just looks like a worthy companion on any Eastwood/Leone project. Eva Marie Saint probably best known for films like On the Waterfront (1954) and of course Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959) also turns in a solid performance as a strong yet tortured woman aided by Peck's character. She gives Sarah a quiet pathos and she never downplays or overplays the role. Cult actor Robert Forester gets some screen time as well.

       The Stalking Moon also boasts impressive and awe inspiring cinematography by Oscar winning DP Charles Lang. Lang was considered one of the greats of the Golden Age of Hollywood and worked on such classics as Sabrina (1954), Some Like it Hot (1959) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947). Lang really brings out the hypnotic beauty of the harsh and at times unforgiving landscape. His work gives the film further polish but also a scope that feels incredible epic. Fred Karlin provides the films score and it's quite a effective and understated score. So any time you are dealing with a movie about Native Americans its almost always problematic for one reason or another. While Mulligan keeps this cringe to a minimum you still cant deny the fact that the hero is white and the villain is Native American. Having said that I don't think Mulligan intended any hate with Stalking Moon and while yes some of it is unfortunate I still found myself enjoying the film but it makes me very thankfully we've come a long way fifty-plus years later.  I had actually never heard of this film despite starring one of my favorite classic Hollywood actors. Moon may be a bit of a relic as its a Western film made when the genre was already dying out but Mulligan manages to make it feel fresh by injecting a top notch cast, gorgeous cinematography and a great score. This movie is extremely underrated and I hope that with this release it starts to get a bigger following.

Warner Archive has dusted off this film and once again provided a great transfer. Lang's photography is brought to life and we get a cleaned up look at his breathtaking work. Scenes which are darkly lit benefit greatly with this new restoration. Artifacts, dust and dirt have been digitally removed and what we are left with his a clear, bright picture that pops. A healthy 2.0 soundtrack brings Fred Karlin off-beat soundtrack to life and dialogue is crisp and clear. The theatrical trailer has been provided. Overall if you like Westerns or like rich drama and thrillers wrapped up in a coating of a Western this is worth while film.

If you are interested in more movies from Robert Mulligan, Warner Archives also released his film Summer of '42 in 2017. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Alice Guy Blache Vol 2: The Solax Years (1911-1914) Kino Classic Blu Ray Review

Alice Guy Blache Vol 2: The Solax Years (1911-1914) Kino Classic March 17th 2020

Released alongside Vol 1: The Gaumont Years Kino Classics has released the second volume which showcases the period of work of Alice Blache between 1911 through 1914. These are the years that the maverick filmmaker was given more freedom and she used that to experiment with longer forms of storytelling

Films included:

Starting Something (1911)
Parson Sue (1911)
Broken Oath (1912)
A Comedy of Errors (1912)
The Detective's Dog (1912)
Frozen on Love's Trail (1912)
The Girl in the Arm Chair (1912)
His Double (1912)
Making an American Citizen (1912)
A Man's a Man (1912)
The Sewer (1912)
The Strike (1912)
A Terrible Lesson (1912)
Cousins of Sherlocko (1913)
The Thief (1913)
Mr. Bruce Wins at Cards (1914)

In volume 2 we get to see how Guy has took what she learned starting in the early 1900's and expanded his craft, this time experimenting with more narrative driven stories. In just over a decade you can really see how she is fine tuning some of the rough edges while also retaining her style and voice as a filmmaker. Some of the work includes Guy dipping into melodrama, something we didn't really see in Vol 1. Probably most interesting is the drag-queen comedies included. Looking at all these films together you really start to get a bigger picture of the work of this talented trailblazing woman director. 

Like in Vol 1 Kino Classics have got done themselves with 2k and 4k restorations from materials provided by: The Library of Congress, British Film Institute, FYE Film Institute,  Lobster Films, George Eastman Museum etc. As with the first volume Brett Wood walks us through the Restoration Comparisons. As I said in my last review I found this very engrossing and Wood is an unsung hero with restoring important films in addition to his film-making career.  A booklet is included  by film curator Kim Tomadjoglou. Its so interesting to follow the evolution from her work from 1896 to 1911 and I hope we get more volumes in the future. A worth addition to any filmmakers collection. 

Also available is the Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection (released Sept 2019), Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (1911-1929), Alice Guy Blache Vol 1, The Intrigue: The Forgotten Films of Julia Crawford Ivers 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) Arrow Video Blu Ray Review

The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) Arrow Video March 24th 2020

Directed By: Philip Ridley

Starring: Ashley Judd, Brendan Fraser, Viggo Mortensen, Loren Dean, Lou Myers,Grace Zabriskie

     I am a huge fan of Philip Ridley's feature film debut The Reflecting Skin (1990) a incredibly creepy and unsettling take on the vampire lore. If you havent seen it I  highly recommend it. Ridley's second feature The Passion of Darkly Noon (1995) has made its way onto Blu Ray from Arrow Video. A country girl named Callie (Ashley Judd) takes in a young man named Darkly Noon (Brendan Fraser) who seems injured and confused. She learns that Darkly was part of a religious cult that was raided by the government (very much a reflection of Waco) where he witness's his parents being shot and killed. Despite the two being very different they form a strange bond and she and her boyfriend Clay (Viggo Mortensen) seem to adopt him. Things seem idyllic until Darkly meets a woman in the woods named Roxy (Grace Zabriskie) who tells him some disturbing news about the people he is living with.

    Similar to Reflecting Skin Philip throws us the audience into a world that looks and feels real but there is always something off, rotten even just under the surface. Characters are sometimes realistic and other times over-the-top giving everything a sort of dream like quality. Adding to this is the film's visual style. Ridley uses a lot of natural lighting and everything is so bright at times the picture almost washes out. This works to films advantage as it helps give this hot oppressive feeling to the outside scenes but also adds to the other worldly feeling. Everything is given a bigger scope by the use of a lot outdoor scenes and the end result is the backdrop to something beautiful but also eerie. Its a testament to the directors genius that he can take a paper thin premise yet elevates the entire thing with a sharp visual style , a brilliant and moody soundtrack with a sprinkle of vague supernatural happenings. There is a mention of a possible witch which given the forest setting lends to a adult fairy tale vibe.

The film also boosts an impressive cast of up and coming stars.
Brendan Fraser stars as the titular character. Fraser coasts a lot on his his country boy 'awe shucks' charm and innocent look but still  gives a compelling performances that is at times sympathetic and heartbreaking and spirals into down right terrifying. Not long after this he would later go onto more family friend films like George of the Jungle (1997) and of course headline The Mummy (1999) franchise. Here however we get to see a raw and daring performance  and we get a rare glimpse of his acting abilities when he is given something challenging and dark to work with, While I think his personality works best within the context of high flying action or comedy its great to see this side of the actor. Its a shame we never got to see other unhinged roles from the actor. Also turning in an early performance is Ashley Judd. Judd is equally as good and while I think she holds her own with her co-stars I think her acting has improved since this film. And of course Viggo Mortensen in a role that is great especially when you consider he hate to play the character mute. Twin Peaks actor and all around national treasure Grace Zabriskie also has a small but unforgettable role.

Strange, poetic with a finale that is hard to forget The Passion of Darkly Noon makes a wonderful follow up to The Reflecting Skin and both are worth not only seeing but owning.

    I am obsessed with Arrow Video because they not only do A-title releases like Robo Cop but also smaller indie films like Darkly Noon and treat both with equal amounts of love. Picture wise the film is remastered in 2k and looks great. Its also worth noting that the picture was approved by the director himself. I mentioned the film has such a interesting visual style so I am happy to see Arrow involved the director in the look of the film. Sound wise is also very strong with both a 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD track. This really helps highlight the great sound design and incredible score by English composer Nick Bicat. I was also very pleased to see the extras include a lot of new material. Of course the highlight being a brand-new commentary by the director Philip Ridley. Also included is a new interview with Nick Bicat and editor Leslie Healey. Rounding out the features is a great 2015  featurette with interviews with Ridley, Nick Bicat and Viggo Mortensen. Rounding out the features is a isolated soundtrack (includes new and extended music cues and two songs cut from the film) as well as an image galley and trailer. Also included is a booklet with a career retrospective by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.

Should be considered a must own!

Hopefully Philip Ridley's third and so far final film Heartless (2009) has yet to make a appearance on Blu Ray in the states but hopefully that will change soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Alice Guy Blache Vol 1 The Gaumont Years Kino Classics Blu Ray Review

The Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers: Alice Guy Blache Vol 1 The Gaumont Years (1897-1907) Kino Classics March 17th 2020

     Kino Classics released Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (1911-1929) in 2018 and now has expanded on that that with three new releases: Alice Guy Blache Vol 1, 2 and The Intrigue: The Forgotten Films of Julia Crawford Ivers all of which I will be reviewing. First off I will say my knowledge of early female directors are woefully limited. But thanks to Kino Classics thats all about to change with their newest collection showcasing the works of filmmaker Alice Guy Blanche. The French born Alice worked as a typist at the Gaumont company (hence the Gaumont years) and later on would make a series of short films. The films we're well received and she was made head of production for the studio.

The following films are broken up like this:

Part I: Babies, Cabbages, and Gender          
The Cabbage Patch Fairy
Midwife to the Upper Class 
Madame Has Her Cravings
The Hierarchy of Love
The Results of Feminism 
The Coming of Sunbeams (Bonus)

Part II: Phonoscenes
Alice Guy Films a Phonoscenes 
The Trottins Polka 
In a Bamboo Hut
Indiscreet Questions
The Anatomy of Draftee 
Five O' Clock Tea 
The True Jiu Jitsu 

Part III: Comedies
A Sticky Woman
The Glue 
The Drunken Mattress
The Rolling Bed 

Bonus Films: Bathing in a Stream
Bathing in a Stream
Serpentine Dance by Mme. Walter
Turn-of-the-Century Blind Man
At the Hypnotist's
Illuisonst Scene
At The Cafe
Wonderful Absinthe
At the Photographer's 
Automated Hat and Sausage-Maker
Aveune De'l Opera 
Dance of the Seasons Winter Snow Dance
Turn-of-the-Century Surgery
Serpentine Dance by Linda Esbrard 
How a Monsieur Takes His Bath 
What is a Flag
The Birth, The Life, and the Death of Christ
On the Barricade
The Race of the Sausage 
The Banknote 
The Standing Clock

    Kino Classics have curated some incredible pieces of film history from a name that has for too long gone unknown. It's hard to choose a favorite as each piece has its own special magic. I was stunned at not only how innovating the film techniques were but also the wide range of subjects that Blache covered. Its not hard to see just how ahead of her time she was and truly helped blaze a trail for other women in cinema. Its great that Kino gives you the option to view the entire collection together (run-time 75 minutes and thirty seconds) or individual short films. The select films option is also broken up into three parts (as listed above) further giving audiences a convenient guide. Its these little touches that puts Kino into a class of their own. 

The films have been lovingly restored using the original negatives that thankfully survived after all these years. To give you a better idea just how stunning of a transformation Kino has, as a bonus included a short feature on the process. This segment lasts over three-minutes in length and has a running commentary by Bret Wood the man behind this restoration and many others. I found this really enjoyable and I suspect other film buff's will as well. To help put the films into its proper context we a booklet besides including the films in the order they are presented as well as a highly interesting article by film curator Kim Tomadjoglou.

Kino is a label that has always championed early cinema but also the amazing films women have made. This set was totally engrossing and I am excited to tackle the second volume of Alice Blanche's works. 

Also available is the Ida Lupino: Filmmaker Collection (released Sept 2019), Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers (1911-1929), Alice Guy Blache Vol 2, The Intrigue: The Forgotten Films of Julia Crawford Ivers 

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Robert Altman's Kansas City (1996) Arrow Academy Review

Kansas City (1996) Arrow Academy March 3rd 2020

Directed By: Robert Altman

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Miranda Richardson, Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi, Harry Belafonte

     Arrow Academy is no stranger to releasing the films of Robert Altman: Previously they have released special editions of Gosford Park (2001) and Images (1972) with Kansas City (1996) being their latest Altman offering. Set in '30's depression era the film tells the story of a girl named Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who kidnaps a solitaire named Carolyn (Miranda Richardson). She does this in order to get her thug boyfriend Johnny (Dermot Mulroney) from the clutches dangerous gangsters. While this film spit critics upon its release Kansas City remains a sorely under-loved film from the '90's. Altman who was originally from Kansas City sets his crime-noir love-letter/period piece in the smokey high flying world of '30's nightclubs and dark streets. The main center piece to KC is of course the Hey-Hey-Club which Altman stocks with living legends to provide the film with an epic soundtrack and on-set-performance. The musicians are of course really playing and it gives the film a earth-shaking energy as well as a depth of authenticity rarely seen in films of this ilk. Kansas explores themes of race and class and while its very in your face it doesn't seems reek of exploitation or done for shock value. Its honest and blunt and yes uncomfortable at times but it makes the world feels rough and lived in. I also loved how the film is not over-stylized like some period films. From the rich set pieces to the costumes and an moody atmosphere this movie demands to be seen and heard. Altman's world is of course populated with some incredible actors. Jennifer Jason Leigh gives a knock-out performance as the street wise Blondie. She knows exactly how far to go without playing it like a cartoon. Equally great is Miranda Richardson, Harry Belafonte, Steve Buscemi, Michael Murphy and Dermot Mulroney. One thing you have to say is Altman worked with the best actors of any generation.

      I guess if I had to raise an issue I had with this film it would be that Altman has a lot of lofty and ambitious ideas for this film and I dont quite think it hits the marks all the time. Like there are story threads that could be a movie all by themselves and sometimes we lose focus on the main plot. If you enjoy wry, gritty and sometimes darkly humorous period drama's Altman's over looked Kansas City is one hot ticket with a epic jazz soundtrack and on par with his other classic works. Arrow Academy's release sports a lovely looking 2k transfer. The print is great looking overall and helps highlight the films smokey, gritty atmosphere. I found small details that really give a lot of credit to the production design. As I mentioned in my review the soundtrack is great and Arrow provides both a 2.0 and 5.1 track. Dialogue is crisp and clear and of course the music really pops with both tracks (especially the 5.1). This release ports over older extras like a commentary by Robert Altman as well as a visual essay by critic Luc Lagier filmed in 2007. Highlights is also a 1996 promo featurette which includes cast and crew interviews. Rounding out the features is a brand-new film appreciation by critic Geoff Andrew as well as trailers, t.v spots, image gallery and electronic press kit. The first pressing also includes a booklet featuring new writing by Dr. Nicolas Pillai as well as the original press kit notes and an expert from Altman on Altman. As always Arrow provides a stunning collection of extras.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Vibes (1988) Mill Creek Blu Ray Review

Vibes (1988) Mill Creek Entertainment Feb 11th 2020

Directed By: Ken Kwapis

Starring: Jeff Goldbloom, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Lerner, Peter Falk, Steve Buscemi, Julian Sands

Vibes (1988) is a film that has a fierce cult following despite being a commercial and critical bomb when it came out in '88. It makes its HD premier from Mill Creek Entertainment. The plot centers around two physics Nick (Jeff Goldbloom) and Sylvia (Cyndi Lauper) that are duped into using their abilities to find a lost city filled with treasure.  Vibes is an action adventure comedy that is weirdly low on all three counts. The film takes a long time to get into the meat of the adventure-and by long a mean an hour into the scant ninety-nine minute run-time. No doubt this is meant to pad out the already thread bar plot. Once the film does finally get going its too-little-too late and feels just as hokey and corny as you would expect from a Lauper/Goldbloom '80's adventure comedy. And if you dont like Lauper or Goldbloom -Oh Boy settle in because both actors play up their respected on-screen traits to the max. Kwapis tries to weave a romance element but the pair of strong personalities have zero chemistry together. Cyndi is not terrible in her role as a kooky physic but she tends to get a bit much at times. And Goldbloom is, well the same as he is in every movie. Adding to the cheese fest is Peter Falk. Falk seems to be playing a cartoon character hamming and chewing his way through every bit of scenery he can. Seriously Cyndi Lauper gives a more subtle performance and thats really saying something. I really think Falk is my least favorite thing about this film.

     Plot wise the film is disjointed and there are a litter of story holes and things just just smack of lazy writing. This film is meant to be a rousing adventure but the stakes feel incredibly low and I never felt like the characters were in any real danger, just inconveniences. I both understand and am baffled by this films rabid cult following. Perhaps its a strong sense of '80's  nostalgia (Lauper and her neon outfits are practically a billboard for fashion of the decade) and no doubt adults recall this movie from their childhood. Also Cyndi Lauper has a huge fan base as well as Jeff Goldbloom so that might add to it. Real talk I  felt the film lacks the charm and comedy its suppose to have or maybe others see in it. The comedy falls flat and the performances are all over the place, by either under playing or over playing a situation. And I think I could have forgiven this had the story being compelling and enjoyable. Its like the studio execs merely built the story around the two zany characters rather than fitting them organically into an engaging situation. We spend the entire film with some not very likable characters- Goldblooms being the most bearable or somewhat relate-able. To sum up the film isnt funny and lacked a genuine heart.

For fans of this film Mill Creek has provided a pretty good looking Blu-Ray. Colors for the most part balanced and vibrate. This is no doubt a transfer from a previous edition. Its not the greatest print but honestly nobody expects 2k or 4k transfers from this company. The sound is also good with a clear 2.0 Mono track. No features are included on this disc. Overall I think for fans of '80;s movies this is hit or miss depending on how much you love both stars. Regardless Mill Creek has re-packaged this film in a decent looking transfer and at a cost of less than ten dollars its worth picking up if you are a fan.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Beau Brummell (1954) Warner Archives Blu Ray Review

Beau Brummell (1954) Warner Archives March 10th 2020

Directed By: Curtis Bernhardt

Starring: Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, James Donald, Noel Willman,Robert Morley

      Based on a play written by Richard Mansfield Beau Brummell tells the story of the outspoken Captain George Brummell (Stewart Granger) whose brash and forward nature lands him in some hot water with none other than the Prince of Wales (Peter Ustinov). The head strong Brummell is fired by the Prince but the pair strike up an unlikely friendship and Brummell is given the post as his personal adviser. What follows is a love affair with Lady Patrica (Elizabeth Taylor) and his navigating politics and his friendship with the Prince. Beau Brummell is one those lavish big budget technicolor film that feels slightly outdated even in the '50's.  With a, for the time big budget of over a million-dollars it was not a hit with audiences but has gained a cult following due to showings on channels like TCM. But is it worth seeing? There is no doubt that the film is filled to the brim with talent as it was written by Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur) . Tunberg clearly knows how to write a solid and layered script and I found myself engrossed by Brummell and his relationship with Ustinov's character. The finale with the two I wont spoil but ill just say its bitter sweet farewell. Beau also enjoys a very big and expensive scope aided by the Oscar winning DP Oswald Morris (Lolita, Fiddler on the Roof). Not to mention some very splendid production design and costumes which is no doubt why the film was so costly.

      Needless to say if you love grand lavish historical romances -this is the movie for you. However if you find those elements tedious you might find it a bit of a slog to get through. I found some of this movie to be a bit boring and it does lean way into its dialogue heavy scenes which is always hard to make interesting. Also if I am being totally honest I found Stewart a bit dull as the titular character. Indeed Granger himself was not a fan of this role, though it would become the character he is best remembered for. It pains me to think that Kirk Douglas was at one time considered for the role instead. Douglas would have been by far the better choice. Dont get me wrong I think Granger was a fine actor but the issue is he seems to be out shown his co-starts Peter Ustinov (later to be knighted in real life) and of course Taylor who sparkles as Lady Belham because well...she was Liz Taylor a brilliant actor and force of nature. Robert Morley best remembered by horror fans in the film Theater of Blood (1973) also has a small but very fun  role as the mad King George the III.
As I stated above the film has its loyal fans so your mileage of this kind of film my go further than mine.

Warner Archives has cleaned up this sixty-plus year old Technicolor film to its former glory and beyond. Colors and rich and pop out and showcase the big budget splendor and great cinematography of Oswald Morris. Small details really stick out especially within the detailed costumes and production design.  The sound design is great as well boosting a healthy 2.0 Mono track. Dialogue is clean and clear. No features are included on this release.