Monday, November 30, 2020

Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor (2020) Uncut Blu Ray Review

 Possessor (2020) Well Go USA 12/8/2020

Directed By: Brandon Cronenberg

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott,Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean, Jennifer Jason Leigh 

Disclaimer: Well GO USA  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Summary: From the visionary writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, Possessor is an arresting sci-fi thriller about elite, corporate assassins Tasya Vos. Using brain-implant technology, Vos takes over other people's bodies to execute high profile targets. As she sinks deeper into her latest assignment Vos becomes trapped inside a mind that threatens to obliterate her.     

    If I had to think of maybe the most anticipated movie this year, it would be without a doubt Brandon Cronenberg's film Possessor. I must admit I was  kind of was leery about any kind of body-horror at this moment in time, as I feel like we are living in a kind of scary Cronenberg-like world of sickness and uncertainty.  Having said that I am glad I bucked up and dived deep into Brandon's utterly insane world of blood, flesh and machine. I will say right off the bat that Possessor is a film that your casual movie goer, or someone not use to a more challenging watch narrative wise might feel alienated. But, if you are firmly a fan of more gonzo, outings in the vein of Brandon's father David Cronenberg, well that you are in for a treat.   

      One thing I really love is high-concept science fiction and Possessor is a cerebral nightmare made of skin, blood and moving parts. It's style is seriously jaw-dropping in execution and much like an Argento film, the murder set-pieces are filmed like sex scenes, loaded with passion and grand gory-money shots. And while the film is brutal, its aim is more in totally adsorbing you into this world. Its nothing short of incredible how Brandon can take the concepts of parasitic human hosts taking over and assassinating high profile targets and, not only is it believable but it's endlessly fascinating. It's also mind blowing how he not only thought of a way to explore this premise in a grounded way but also work out how visually it would look when syncing in and out of one's host body. That is such a abstract concept but, for me it's something that is perfectly and cleverly realized. This seems like a good time to discuss the the film's surreal, acid-trip like feel. Fittingly this movie feels very much at home with early David Cronenberg with a mix of David Lynch and a dash of the cyber-punk flesh-machinery of Shinya Tsukamoto. Brandon clearly thrives in a purely visual medium and the world he conjures is cold, detached and is as methodically executed as the story. DP Karim Hussain shoots the film like a modern art piece that is equal parts grand and beautiful and upsetting. Andrea Riseborough (Mandy) gives what I think is maybe my favorite role of hers to date. Riseborough perfectly fits into this mad-cyber world like a black rubber glove and she gives a layered and most importantly subtle  performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh also shines in the supporting role.  Brandon will always be compared to his father who in my mind is ranks among the most important filmmakers of the latter 20th/21st century. But I think that Brandon has proved with Antiviral (2012) and now Possessor that he is using his fathers building blocks but crafting his own magical, moody and  grotesque works of art. Possessor is the gory afterbirth of high concept sci-fi insanity. A Must See.  

Picture: As I stated in my review Possessor is a visually stunning film. The 1080p presentation is equally stunning and, retains a lot of detail and wild color palette. Darkly lit scenes really highlight the upgrade to HD.  

Sound: Possessor, like it's visuals has a very strong sound design which enhances the films mood. It's why I am thankful we have a nice robust DTS 5.1 track. In my opinion this soundtrack offers a big punch and a nice amount of depth to presentation. Really well done. 

Extras: Possessor's extras include: Deleted Scenes (Three scenes, no optional commentary) Three behind the scenes featurette's: A Heightened World (10mins) the cast and crew talk about the look and feel of the film.  Identity Crisis (14mins) Bringing Possessor to Life. The cast and crew talk about the core themes of the film and the seeds of the film.  The Joy of Practical (12mins) A really interesting look at the practical effects. As someone who loves practical effects I loved this featurette about the makeup and FX. Over thirty minutes of great behind the scenes which is a nice companion to the film. Three different trailers for the film round out the extras. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Warner Archives Two Disc Special Edition Blu Ray Review

Curse of Frankenstein (1957) Warner Archives 12/15/2020

Directed By: Terrance Fisher 

Starring: Peter Cushing, Hazel Court, Christopher Lee, Robert Urquhart 

Disclaimer: Warner Archives has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    If there was one classic horror film fans have been asking for over and over, it would be the original Hammer Horror outing The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). In this re-telling of Frankenstein Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) uses his lifelong obsession with science to create a perfect man. But, of course what he creates is a creature that lashes out on the towns people.  The film is considered groundbreaking for being not only the first color re-telling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein but, it pushed the envelope in terms of blood. Now, its not to say this movie is ultra-gory but it certainly wasn't as tame as the other horror films released that year. My plot summary is kind of vague because I honestly find doing plot summaries tedious but also, because the films outline is pretty basic. However, thats not to suggest that the film is basic. And, I think in terms of quality TCOF holds up because of it's stellar screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, it's direction by Terrence Fisher and, of course the cast that brings it all together. Peter Cushing truly is among my favorites to portray Victor Frankenstein. No disrespect to Colin Clive who is dazzling in the role in Frankenstein (1931) but, for me Cushing injects more nuance and personality into the character. Whereas Clive's Frankenstein was a mad Doctor that spent too much time locked up in his windmill laboratory Cushing's Baron is charming and, thinks all of his work is for the greater good. And you have to talk about the Monster. Christopher Lee does a fantastic job with the role and, is also helped by some amazing makeup. In fact I think for my money it's second only to Karloff's in the original Universal cycle. Hazel Court, Robert Urquhart and Valerie Gaunt all shine in their supporting roles. On the technical side the film is beautifully shot by Jack Asher, who would go onto do a lot of classic Hammer films such as Dracula (1958), The Mummy (1959) etc. I wont go on about Asher because there is a feature on his talents that sums it up much better than I could. Curse also features a wonderful score by James Bernard who would also go onto do other great Hammer scores. And, as always Hammer's production designers create on a budget a world that feels real and lived in. This is an aspect of a lot of Hammer films (especially their period Gothic films) that just doesn't get mentioned enough. 

    It's funny how when I first saw this movie as a teen I didn't like it. After all, the monster doesn't show up into nearly an hour into the film. But, as an adult I of course realized this movies were never really about the monster but the person that creates them.  After that clicked for me I really was able to fully appreciate this movie. If you look at other movies that were released in 1957 you`d honestly be hard pressed to find one that has had this kind of shelf life. This is because so many talented people worked hard and brought to life a interesting and chilling re-telling of a classic in Gothic lit. If you are a lifelong fan this is the perfect time to re-visit this or, if your new it's not too late to see what all the fuss is about. I am a huge Hammer horror fan and in my opinion this is among their best efforts. 

Picture: Curse of Frankenstein boosts a brand new 4k! I am happy to report that the movie has never looked better. The image retains a lot of detail whereas previous home video offer an image that is flat slightly muted. The uptight in color and sharpness really shows off the great production design and Jack Asher's amazing photography. Its cool that you get a option to play the film in either the 1.85 version or the 1.66. The second disc also includes the newly remastered 1.37 Open Matte version. All three formats are viewable for the first time in North American home video. 

Sound: Curse of Frankenstein has a nice DTS 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely along with Bernard's excellent score. 


Disc 1 Features a new commentary with historians Steve Haberman and historian and filmmaker Constantine Nasr. Without a doubt among the best commentaries of 2020. Historian Constantine Nasr is able to get his hand on previous drafts of the film which offers some great new insights. And, as my regular readers will know I am a big fan of Steve Haberman. Both historians and fans will shine and the commentary is engaging, informative and never feels dull or boring. Really stellar stuff. 

Curse of Frankenstein is FILLED to the brim with extras. Included on disc 2 is the following:

Disc 2: The 1.37 "Open Matte" Version of the film.  

And a series of Featurettes (with a Play-All option

The Resurrection Men: Hammer, Frankenstein and the Rebirth of the Horror Film (21mins)

Hideous Progeny: The Curse of Frankenstein and the English Gothic Tradition (22mins) w/film historian Sir Christopher Fraying discussing the films roots from Gothic novels. 

Torrents of Light: The Art of Jack Asher (15mins) David J. Miller Cinematographer of Veep and The Good Place talks about Asher's work and career. Very insightful and interesting. Not just Curse of Frankenstein but Asher's other films are touched on. 

Diabolus in Musica: James Bernard and the Sound of Hammer Horror (17mins) Christopher Drake Composer of The Dark Night Returns talks about Bernard's music work.  Again, much like the talk about Asher's work as DP this is an engaging and well researched deep dive in the work of James Bernard. 

Rounding out the features is the original Theatrical Trailer

Over an hour of brand new features are included in this release! You really cannot ask for more. 

The Video Attic Presents: The 2020 Gift Guide Part 1!

The Video Attic Presents: The 2020 Gift Guide! 

Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted all items included in this gift guide we're received for free for purpose of review from their respective labels. All reviews contained within reflect my own honest opinion. 

2020 has been a rough year but, at least it has given us some truly stellar home video releases! Here is my list of my personal favorite releases of the year and what, in my opinion should be considered a must-own. Without further ado here's the list! 

Please note all Review links will pop up in a new window. Therefore if you do not see it you might have to adjust your pop-up blockers. 


Daughters of Darkness (1971) Label: Blue Underground UHD 3 Disc

Full Review HERE. Blue Underground has really knocked it out of the park with this new edition. Not only does the film look and sound stunning but it includes the soundtrack as well. 

The Golem (1920) Label: Kino Studio Classics 

Full Review HERE. Kino Studio Classics is no stranger to bringing silent classics to life in stunning presentations. Golem ranks up their with the best horror silent films and this is a great edition of the movie to own! 

Blumhouse of Horrors 10 Movie Collection (2013-2019) Label: Universal Studios

Full Review HERE. Though the studio divides horror fans one thing is clear, Blumhouse has been blazing a trail within the genre. Includes is 10 horror films that across the board look and sound great and various movies have extras.(See my review for details). 

The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection (1954-1963) Label: Universal Studios

Full Review HERE.  Universal has re-released four legendary Hitchcock film's on UHD. The set includes Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, The Birds and includes Blu Ray editions in addition to the UHD discs. This set also includes for the first time in North America the uncut version of Psycho (1960). Ported over is all the features on the previous editions of these four films including trailers,  featurette's and commentaries. It's amazing to see four of Hitchcock's best films in one set on UHD looking and sounding incredible. 

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) Label: Warner Archives

Full Review HERE. I'm always very excited when a studio dips into their vaults and brings back to life a classic film. This is exactly what the incredible Warner Archives did with their stunning re-release of the Pre-Code Horror film Mystery of the Wax Museum. Clearly a lot of time and resources went into this restoration which was done by the UCLA Film Department. For horror fan's this is a simply a must-own and, the more it sells the more likely we fans will get more great classic horror titles from this era in sleek new editions. 

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Label: Mill Creek Entertainment

Full Reviews HERE and HERE. This huge 20 film collection unites the previous released Hammer titles released by Mill Creek along with titles that make their North American HD debut in this set. Not only this but the set contains new features including commentaries and featurette's. 

The Black Cat (1989) Label: Severin Films

Full Review HERE Black Cat is one those rare movies that floored me by just how bonkers it is. For that reason I think that it's a must own. Certainly not the most well known film on this list but I think its so worth while that I wanted to include it on this list. Check it out! 

Friday the 13th Boxset (1980-2009) Scream Factory

The only Blu Ray that I didn't officially review. But, honestly I would be insane not to include this in my Gift Guide for 2020. Easily probably one of the most anticipated horror releases of the year this boxset has all the bells and whistles you`d want from a Scream Factory release whilst also providing stellar looking presentations. For the first time we get the fully uncut Friday the 13th (1980) completely restored in 4k (other versions of the uncut edition has poorly quality inserts of uncut footage). 

The Untold Story Label Unearthed Cinema 

Full Review HERE. In terms of a crazy Category III film, Untold Story may not be the goriest or the most disturbing film of its ilk, it certainly swings hard for those titles. A truly insane and sometimes hard to watch outing that has some of the best extras of any release this year. The real gem is the documentary on Hong Kong Exploitations.  

Classic Films (Non-Horror)

Madchen in Uniform (1931) Label: Kino Studio Classics

Full Review HERE. This ground breaking LGBTQ film from 1931 is a moving tour-de-force and Kino Studio Classics provides a wonderful edition for film buffs. A must see. 

Roman Holiday (1955)  Label: Paramount Pictures

Full Review HERE. Included in the Paramount Presents line, Roman Holiday (1955) get's an amazing re-release that looks and sounds amazing (among the best transfers of a classic film this year) and includes a wealth of extras that cover the making of the film. 

Full Metal Jacket (1987) UHD Label: Warner Brothers

Full Review HERE. Each year Warner Brothers has re-released a film from their Kubrick library in UHD and this year we get Full Metal Jacket (1987). Like the other titles in their Kubrick collection this is a real stunning disc and has a nice array of extras as well. 

Sgt. York (1941) Label: Warner Archives 

Full Review HERE Another classic from the Warner vaults, Sgt. York from 1941 is another classic Howard Hawk's film to get the HD treatment! If you are a fan of Hawk's work or a newbie this is a must own. 

Mallrats (1995) Limited Edition Label Arrow Video 

Full Review HERE. Arrow is one of those labels that's exciting because they do a cross section of weird b-grade movies to mainstream offerings, and treats both with a lot of love and care. Kevin Smith fans rejoice this is the ultimate edition of the '95 cult film Mallrats

RoboCop (1987) Label Arrow Video

Another gem from Arrow. RoboCop is one of my all time favorite movies so it was beyond exciting when a proper special edition when news broke a deluxe edition would be released by Arrow. I reviewed the 2 disc LE but Arrow has a nice standard edition. For fans of this movie its in my opinion a must own. 

Beetlejuice (1988) UHD Label: Warner Bros Entertainment 

Full Review HERE. Warner Brothers has been doing an amazing job with their UHD releases of modern classics. Beetlejuice is a stunning looking film that celebrates the visuals of Tim Burton. Consider this a must own if you are a fan. 

TV Boxsets 

30 Rock: The Complete Series Blu Ray Label Mill Creek Entertainment 

The landmark show landed on Blu Ray in April of this year. Included is all Seven gut busting seasons looking pretty great on 1080p. Provided in this set is an awesome array of features including Behind the scenes featurette's, Deleted Scenes, Bloopers, Audio Commentaries, Table reads with the cast and more! As far as television goes this is a must own! 

12 Monkeys Complete Series Blu Ray Label Mill Creek Entertainment 

Another series coming from Mill Creek is the complete four season run of 12 Monkeys. First off, the show itself is defiantly one of the more interesting and entertaining sci-fi to come out in recent years and had interesting characters engrossing plots and a sleek visual style. The episodes look great on 1080p and sport a well balanced DTS 5.1 track. Extras include Deleted Scenes, Cast Auditions, Gag Reel and Podcast episodes. 

The Flintstones Complete Series Label Warner Brothers

Yabba Dabba Do! The groundbreaking series The Flintstones 'rocked' animation fans when it was announced that the entire series was landed on HD this Fall. All six seasons are included as well as two feature films on SD. Also included is the original pilot as well as some really charming featurette's. A must own, especially for animation buff's. 

Look for part 2 next week!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Robert Altman's Popeye (1980) Paramount Blu Ray Review

Popeye (1980) Paramount Pictures 12/1/2020

Directed By: Robert Altman 

Starring: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul L Smith, Ray Walston, Paul Dooley 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    I seriously never thought we would get a brand-spanking new HD version of Robert Altman's Popeye (1980). The film has gained a loyal cult following  Why? Maybe it's because it remains an oddity in Altman's career? Or, maybe it's the endearing Robin Williams performance? Maybe it's how perfectly cast Shelley Duvall is as Olive Oil. Whatever the reason this wild colorful film has found a new audience. The movie starts out with the old introduction that would proceed every Popeye cartoon in the '30's-'40's with an animated Popeye making a nice fourth wall breaking joke about being in the wrong movie. It's worth mentioning they got the original voice actor Jack Mercer to voices Popeye in this brief scene. I already loved this being a big fan of the Fleischer cartoons. Thus starts our strange voyage. The plot sees  a sailor Popeye (Robin Williams) drift into the town of Sweethaven where he meets Olive Oil (Shelley Duvall) and of course, the big brute Bluto (Paul L. Smith) in his wild re-telling of the classic cartoon series. 

     So, part of the reason why I wanted to review this besides being a Altman fan and a huge fan of Robin Williams, was that I recall liking this a lot as a kid, but, remember very little about it. Altman swings big here doing his best to capture the cartoon magic of Popeye in the '30's and '40's. In this I think he is incredibly successful and, as a big fan of the original cartoons Williams portrayal of Popeye feels like he leaped right out of a old Max Fleischer animation and into his live-action world. Though, as a straight-forward narrative the film starts to enter some choppy seas as it feels more like a series of vignettes threaded together to form a plot. It also comes in at almost two hours and, even though I do enjoy this movie a lot I think it could have easily used a 20 minute or so trim. 

    Despite some short comings it was hard for me to not be dazzled at the films big bright colors, incredibly detailed set designs (not to mention being filmed in beautiful Malta) and of course that cast. When people talk about a perfectly cast film I think this movie deserves to be right up there with the best of them. Popeye marks Robin Williams first feature and, wow, he really nails this iconic character. From looking like him to the subtle mumbles facial expressions and movements, it's not hard to see Williams would be a comic genius (Yes, I realize he was already on Mork and Mindy prior). And, of course you have  Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil. Not only does Ms. Duvall look like the character but, like Williams really understands her mannerisms and brings her to life. Paul Dooley makes an amazing Wimpy and Paul L. Smith (which most horror fans will remember from the 1982 cult film Pieces) is stellar as Bluto.  Ray Walston and Donald Moffat (The Thing '82) round of a fantastic cast. It's also a movie that with its bright palate, big broad comedy and whimsy works for kids but Altman also works in content that adults will connect with as well. The film has its issues but as a cartoon fan it was a treat to watch such craftsmanship at work bringing this legendary character to vivid life. This movie is a musical which will turn some people off but I happened to think the tunes are solid. With a little research I found out that this film indeed did not bomb at the box office, having earned over 60 million on a 20 million budget and was critically praised. Hell, Roger Ebert even lavished the film with praise. So, how this movie got a bad reputation is beyond me, and it certainly did not hurt anybody's career. If you`ve slept on this film because of this rep I beg you to give it a try. It's not perfect but I was enthralled with this version. Set sail with this misunderstood Altman film which showcases the late great Robin Williams. 

Picture: Popeye turns 40 years old this year and I have to say I was very impressed by the look of the film. Grain level is very low and consistent throughout. The picture retains a lot of detail in costumes, textures and locales. This movie is a big bold cartoon come to life and boy, oh boy, does this look fantastic. The locations and sets really are done justice in this transfer. There are moments that look a bit on the blurry side but nothing that is remotely distracting, especially if you arent looking for it. Overall, a very nice presentation. 

Sound: Popeye's DTS 5.1 must have downed some spinach because, in my opinion it packs a big punch! Sound design and music are robust and adds to the overall experience. 

Extras:  For me, the real selling point of this disc is it's not a bare-bones release. This includes three  new featurettes Return to Sweethaven: A Look Back with Robin & The Altman's (13mins). This is a real gem featuring vintage interviews put together in this featurette. We hear from Robert Altman (filmed in 1999), Robin Williams (filmed in 2014) and Stephen Altman (prop master/Rob Altman's son) Hearing from Williams himself is amazing but also so bitter sweet. This is a really interesting peak into the making of the film as told by the cast/crew. 

The Popeye Company Players (9mins) A inside into the film with the prop master Stephen Altman (recorded this year for this feature) with vintage interviews from Robin Williams and Robert Altman about the cast and crew. 

Popeye's Premiere (2min) This 2 minute photo montage featuring what I'm assuming is some rare personal photos play out. A really nice touch and a great addition to this disc! The highlight is Dennis Christopher wearing a t-shirt for his movie Fade to Black (1980). Also Hugh Hefner for some reason. 

The Sailor Man Medleys- This really cool feature allows you to jump to a musical number in the film. That's a nice thing to provide. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Michael Mann's Collateral (2004) Paramount Pictures UHD Review!

Collateral (2004) Paramount Pictures 12/8/2020

Directed By: Michael Mann

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    Michael Mann has had an a interesting career. In the '80's he would come out of the gate swinging with films like The Keep (1983), Thief (1981) and Manhunter (1986). In the '90's he would hone his skills with Oscar winning films like The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and the acclaimed Heat (1995), which is considered among the best film of the decade. But the 00's seems to be not as kind as Miami Vice (2006) and Public Enemies (2009) and Blackhat (2015) didn't fare as well. Currently, Mann hasn't made a film in five years. 04's Collateral is considered his final film that earned the kind of critical praise of his heyday. Max (Jamie Foxx) is a typical cab driver when he picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise) a seemingly normal fare. However, Vincent is a high-level hit man and Max soon finds himself way over his head in this early '00's crime thriller. One thing that Mann is famous for is his unique sense of style which, is gritty and violent but also has a air of cool to it. Collateral strips away the neon Miami world of Michael Bay for a darker more realistic take on L.A, yet it still has something alluring about it. As cliched as it sounds Mann makes the city a character in how he shots it and uses locales to set the mood. When talking about perfectly cast movies I don't think this ever gets mentioned but I really cannot see anybody else in the two lead roles. Once you strip away the antics there really is no denying that Tom Cruise has that razzle-dazzle of a movie-star. Cruise plays Vincent with just the right amount of charm, menace and conviction that, dare I say brings with it a lot of sub-text to his character. On the flipside, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx also brings a wide range of acting talents and, like Cruise, brings so much more than what's on the page in terms of Max. Bringing this pair together is really something special and the two perfectly play off of one another. Shout out to an amazing supporting cast including Jada Pinkett Smith and a pre-MCU Mark Ruffalo with chivalrous slicked back hair.

     I honestly think the plot is not really the most ground breaking or being more brutally honest even that interesting yet it works despite this. This is because the action is really a MacGuffin for the real driving force, which is two polar opposite characters colliding one fateful night. And (though Vincent to a lesser degree) both men shape the other's worldview. It's really Max that has the best arc and I like how his role is written. For example, I like how Max is a character that could have easily ended up just drifting along with the plot (seeing how he literally drives Vincent around) yet the Mann gives him a lot of agency not just in the finale but throughout the film. He makes choices that inform his personality but also charts his growth as passive to take charge. Couple this with Mann effortlessly crafting cool action-set pieces (which never go full Michael Bay) and grounded world building and you have a pretty good film. Not without it's flaws but overall a solid watch and a refreshing spin on the crime-thriller genre.

Picture: Mann certainly as a style and Collateral's UHD release shows it off. The films opening scene is incredibly grainy yet, I'm happy to report this seemed to smooth. Overall the grain is really smooth and consistent throughout. Images are razor sharp and retails a great deal of detail and texture in clothes, hair, locales etc. This movie takes place mostly at night and I think this is really where you start to see the full strength of this upgrade. Things also thankfully never feel over-processed.

Sound: Collateral sports a DTS 5.1 track. I have to say that this was a really well handled sound experience. Sound effects and sound design have, in my opinion a layered robust quality. Dialogue comes through nicely with no drop out issues. Overall, a stellar sound track. 

Extras: Collateral has a nice collection of bonus features. Such as: Audio Commentary with Michael Mann, Some featurettes: City of Night: The Making of Collateral, Special Delivery. Also included is Deleted Scenes (w/ commentary), Shooting on Location: Annie's Office, Tom Cruise & Jamie Foxx Rehearse and Visual FX: MTA Train. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

HBO's Perry Mason Blu Ray Review

Perry Manson Season One Blu Ray 12/1/2020

Created By: Ron Fitzgerald, Rollin Jones 

Starring: Mathew Rhys, John Lithgow, Juliet Rylance, Chris Chalk, Shea Whigham, Tatianna Maslany 

Disclaimer: Warner Brothers has provided me with a copy of this series free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

     File the new Perry Mason under a gritty reboot I never knew I wanted but cannot live without. I`ll be up front and say that though I am very much aware of the original Perry Manson series, which ran an impressive nine seasons and a whooping two-hundred and seventy one episodes, I have never seen it. Therefore I will be judging the new series under its own merits and won't be comparing it with the original. Set in early '30's Hollywood, a down and out defense attorney named Perry Mason (Mathew Rhys) is investigating the brutal murder of a child. Of course, Mason unearths a web of lies, murder and corruption as he works the dirty underbelly of tinsel town. I think when you reboot a show especially one from the '50's it's important to right off the bat firmly establish the tone. Perry Mason does just that with the first episode which is teeming with sex, nudity, violence and, a dead baby with his eye's sown open. Clearly this isn't your grandfather's Perry Mason. I've heard other reviews saying that the show takes a little while to really get going, which, I think is a bit unfair. This series is as much about the characters as the crime itself so, I don't mind when we take some time to unfold Mason's backstory all whilst moving the mystery forward. This balancing act is not easy, as any screenwriter could attest to. For the record, I think it does a great job at introducing and developing characters all while never letting the story drag. Honestly, I don't think I found a filler episode this season. Every episode furthers the plot while also giving us ever growing insights into not only Mason but the supporting players as well. And while were on the subject, the acting is fantastic. Matthew Rhys plays the titular character and is really an inspired choice. Rhys Mason best known for The Americans is somehow likable even though he is clearly a troubled even cynical person. John Lithgow is always a delight to see in anything. The two time Oscar nominated and Emmy winning actor brings class to the affair. Gaye Rankin, Juliet Rylance and Lili Taylor are among the stellar performances that make this show a must-watch. The one aspect that seems to never get discussed is how great this film looks both in a realistic '30's design and how interesting camera angles and shot compositions are. It's something I think a lot of people take for granted but this is beautifully photographed and makes the most of lighting and style (without going over board). 2020's Perry Mason is a wonderful and frankly at times very dark outing but one that I think is very much worth exploring for yourself. 

Picture: Perry Mason is the kind of detailed show that is a must-see on HD. And, this 1080p presentation does not disappoint. Locales and set designs as well as the film's color palette are highlighted nicely and overall there is a richness in detail. Skin tones look natural. 

Sound:  Perry Mason has a DTS 5.1. This track offers a robust and complex sound presentation. Sound design is well handled and gives a full 3d sound experience in my opinion. 

Extras: Disc 1) The Characters of Perry Mason (2mins) A brief look at the characters within the show as told by the cast and crew including Juliet Rylance, Matthew Rhys, Joh Lithgow, Tatianna Maslany 
Chris Chalk 

Under the Fedora (4mins) Another short featurette on the show and characters as told by the director, writers and actors. Features some really nice behind the scenes footage. 

Disc 2)  Robert Downey Jr. & Matthew Rhys Conversation (4mins) a Zoom interview with Robert Downey Jr who serves as the shows Executive Producer and lead actor Matthew Rhys. This is a really fun and engrossing featurette. 

Susan Downey & Robert Downey Jr.  (4mins) Both Executive producers talk about the show from the origins as a scrapped feature film to television show. Really interesting and well worth a watch. 

HBO's Chernobyl 5-Part Mini Series UHD Review

Chernobyl Limited Series HBO/Warner Brothers 12/1/2020

Directed By: Johan Renck 

Starring: Jared Harris, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard 

Disclaimer: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this series free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    2019 was a stellar year for both cinema and television and, Chernobyl was a really stand out mini-series that will likely go down in history as a stunning and disturbing work of art. For those of you living under a rock or in a deep dark bunker Chernobyl tells the story of the 1986 explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear plant. It would go onto be the worst disaster of it's kind. It's made all the more tragic in how it was handled by the Soviet government.  Director Johan Renck and writer Craig Mazin (who actually started his professional career writing goofy comedies) crafts a truly stomach frightening series, yet, and this is key, it never once feels disrespectful or exploitative.  Yes, it shows some gruesome stuff but it's always in the service to the story and never in a shock-value kind of way. Of course, the 5-episode series is directed with stunning pin-point precision by Johan Renck  with DP Jakob Ihre giving a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere with images that have been, for better or worst burned into my gray matter.  Also, we get a memorable score by Hildur Guonadottir who would go onto win an Oscar for her score for The Joker (2019). This is by no means an easy watch, but it's not suppose to be. However, it's well worth remembering that something this tragic and ultimately preventable actually did happen and, not all that long ago. I know that something a show this heavy is maybe a big ask because, viewing this in 2020 is very different and governments mishandling a big disaster is eerily familiar. It's a stellar series and truly pushes what a Limited series can achieve. I think that this will go down as a defining moment in television history and it's really a must-watch. 

Picture: As I said in my review Chernobyl is a series that has a provoctative visual style. It straddles the line between grounded and hyper-stylized which is not an easy thing to do. This film is dark and I mean not just in subject matter but also visually. Colors are often muted and things have a sickly tint to them. The upgrade to 2160p really celebrates the series and is certainly in my opinion the way to go if you want to see this series as it really is intended. The overall images and in my opinion are sharp and retain a lot of detail in clothes, sets and locales. As I said this series isn't a big bright colorful outing so you may not knock your socks off. However, I think it's in the subtle details that makes this set shine. 

Sound: Chernobyl has a DTS 5.1 soundtrack. The show has some amazing sound design and score which come through incredibly in this track. Sounds have a complex 3D sound which I think really sets the right tone. 

Extras: Chernobyl has a nice array of bonus features. Included are Inside the Episodes a short but really worth while look into the making of each episode and the core themes explored within. 

Behind-the-Curtain Featurette-Director Johan Renck goes into the creation of the series. 

Meet the Key Players: Cast members Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgard discuss bringing these characters to life.

What is Chernobyl Cast and crew discuss the real life tragedy that inspired this series.

Pivotal Moment -The Trial In this short feature the trial scene is explored. 

Script to Screen Featurette Highlights the making of some of the more harrowing moments from the series. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Castle Rock Season 2 Blu Ray Review

Castle Rock Season 2 Warner Brothers  7/21/2020

Created By: Sam Shaw, Dustin Thomason 

Starring: Lizzy Caplan, Elsie Fisher, Tim Robbins, Barkhad Abdi, Paul Sparks 

Disclaimer: Warner Brothers has provided me with a copy of this series free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) get stranded in Castle Rock with her daughter Joy (Elsie Fisher). Things start to get weird however when an old evil is awakened turning the entire town into mindless soulless fiends. 

   I'm assuming everybody is firmly familiar but: Castle Rock the series takes place in the fictional world created by Stephen King and was meant to act as a bridge between various King novels and short stories. Sadly though, it was recently announced that the series got the axe after only two seasons despite garnering much critic praise. This is a real shame because I felt that season two was the point where the series was just finding it's footing. I will be honest I wasn't a big fan of season one. While it was no doubt well directed and had a high level of writing skills clearly at work it was just hard to connect with it. This was largely due to a overly convoluted plot which seemed to raise more questions rather than answering them. 

     Season two on the other hand was complex but the story was more streamlined and felt less like a frustrating web to navigate through. It also had an emotional center that helped hold some of the more fantastical threads together. While this season did connect slightly to season one, for the most part it's focused on an entirely new set of characters and situations. Despite teasing a Shining theme (at the end of season one), the main thread is a re-telling or rather an origin story for Annie Wilkes (Lizzy Caplan) and also worked in King's Salem's Lot. It seems like two stories that might not go together yet it actually works really well. Annie Wilkes proves to be a fascinating character and I think it was wise to give this fictional person a fuller, richer backstory. The core theme of the season cleverly ties in not only Annie trying to protect her daughter but mirror's Pop Merrill (Tim Robbins) a tough no nonsense guy that is also, when all's said and done is just trying to raise his adopted kids. It's the credit to the amazing writing that the Annie Wilkes plotline, Salem's lot  and the Pop Merrill and his kids all fold into the larger story in a way that feels organic and believable. I really don't want to spoil anything, which is why I kept the plot and details vague. I will say the finale is probably one of the most satisfying bit's of television I have seen in a long time. It's very odd that Hulu would cancel this series so early in it's run. It's really a shame because as I said I think it was just starting to find it's groove. Maybe with the popularity of Stephen King at a high another platform will produce a third season. Heck, maybe HBOMAX could fold it into their platform. 

Picture: Castle Rock Season Two looks fantastic on 1080p. The images have a nice sleek clear look which is most likely thanks to filming on digital. A show like this has so much details in costumes, locales and set design so it's important that you see all of that in all it's HD glory. Colors are well maintained throughout. 

Sound: Castle Rock Season Two features a DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue, score and sound design all come through nicely. This show has a lot going on in it's audio track and it's a very robust and in my opinion complex audio presentation. 

Extras: Mother of Sorrow (16mins) This 16min featurette talks with cast and crew about psychology of Annie Wilkes and also various core themes of this series. Unlike a lot of these produced featurette's I really found this interesting and worth a watch. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Big Bully/Wrongfully Accused Mill Creek Entertainment Blu Ray Review

 Big Bully/Wrongfully Accused Mill Creek Entertainment 10/6/2020

Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Big Bully (1996)

Directed By: Steve Miner

Starring: Rick Moranis, Tom Arnold, Carol Kane, Jeffery Tambor, Julianne Philips, Don Knotts, Blake Bashoff

     Ever see a movie when you were really young and one line of dialogue stuck with you? I had this happen to me with Steve Miner's late '90's comedy Big Bully. The line in this case comes from a harrowing moment when Tom Arnold's character recounts being locked up saying, "I bunked with a child that set his Mom on fire because she was vacuuming during Lost in Space". More on that later. A nerdy author named David (Rick Moranis) is invited back to his hometown to teach a creative writing class following the publication of his novel. Feeling like he needs a change and a better environment for his son Ben (Blake Bashoff). What seems like a fresh start is crushed when he is again confronted by his childhood bully Rosco (Tom Arnold) who is now the shop teacher. Now it's a battle of wits and wills as the adult Rosco is aiming to make David's life Hell. 

    Screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson has an interesting career first by penning family friendly comedies some of which lean heavily into the sappy (Simon Birch, Jack Frost) and later making the strange leap to failed Marvel movies and then back to sappy family films with Christopher Robin (2018). Johnson was coming fresh off writing the screenplay for both wildly popular Grumpy Old Men films to write this film. Johnson clearly is in love with these stories of idyllic small towns and being a child in such a place. This features in a lot of his screen work. The opening is a fairly brisk lean bit of storytelling and helps set up the rest of the film. However, the film starts to break down in the second and third act with big gaps in logic and plot holes. Also, Bully has some tonal issues, first playing out like light hearted comedy but this clashes with the  jarring mood swing to in the finale. I think that Johnson and Miner should have taken this into a similar area as The Cable Guy (1996) and just went fully darkly satirical. Horror fans will recall that Steve Miner directed films like Friday the 13th part 2,3 and House (1985) as well as the criminally underrated Halloween: H20 (1998).  You can tell Miner had directed horror as the latter half of the finale is shot like one with weird Dutch angles and atmospheric lighting. The film plays it just a little too safe to be truly memorable. I will say Johnson does inject some clever set-up's and pay-offs that, while predictable and petty hooky do help give the film a richer more layered feel. Bottom line though, its a middle of the road comedy that is really just known for having the second to last performance by Moranis before he went to voice acting and later retired until his rumored comeback in a Honey, A Shrunk the Kids reboot. The big issue is it doesn't have anything really interesting to say about bullying and plays it safe. 

Picture: Big Bully looks really sharp in 1080p. Details in costumes, sets and locales really retain a high clarity level. Grain is present of course (being transferred from film) but is smooth and consistent throughout. Clearly, Mill Creek has sourced this from a nicely re-mastered print. 

Sound: Big Bully has a robust DTS 5.1 track and offers in my opinion a great sound with dialogue, music and sound design coming through nicely. 

Extras: None 

Wrongfully Accused (1998)

Directed By: Pat Proft 

Starring: Leslie Nelson, Richard Crenna, Kelly LaBrock, Michael York

    Writer/Director Pat Proft has an a shall we say interesting resume. Some notable credits include The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), yes, the infamous special so bad Lucas himself has actively worked to bury it. Yet, Proft has also had some classics or at least beloved hits like Real Genius (1985),Police Academy (1984), Hot Shots! (1991) and more recently the less than successful Scary Movie sequels 3-5). Wrongfully Accused is the one and only time that Proft directed a film. He also of course wrote the screenplay. Unless you`ve been living under a rock Leslie Nelson has been making spoof movies since the '80's, in fact Proft himself wrote The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad (1988) which further cemented Nelson (who earlier had the 1980  hit Airplane!) as a comedy legend. So, it would seem really fitting that Proft and Nelson should reunite for this late '90's comedy.  As far as movies goes, I mean you pretty much know what your in for with a '90's Nelson spoof, a flimsy plot that is thinly hung together for outrageous set-pieces and sight gags. This form of humor is very specific and one that you either enjoy or don't. I happen to really enjoy his other outings like Spy Hard (1996), and the Naked Gun series. It's very silly and at times corny as hell, and yeah, some of the jokes haven't really aged the best. But, I am happy to report that for the most part the jokes land and had me giggling to fully belly laughs. Of course, I think that the jokes are OK but Nelson with his charm to spare really sells the jokes. As I said the plot is really secondary and wisely Proft knows and embraces it. This is really the perfect movie to watch when you need a mindless bit of entertainment that knows exactly what it is. It's certainly not on par with the earlier Nelson comedies but, I still found it funny. Again, you know what your getting with these kinds of outings. 

Picture: Much like Big Billy (both being mid-late '90's films), Wrongfully Accused looks really nice on 1080p. Colors have a nice warmth and retain a great deal of details in clothes, sets, and locales. Grain is again kept fine and smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Wrongfully Accused has a nice 2.0 track. Not the most complex sound but does the trick and offers a solid track. Dialogue and sound design comes through nicely. 

Extras: None

The Other Side of Madness (1971) The Film Detective Blu Ray Review

The Other Side of Madness (1971) The Film Detective 11/24/2020

Directed By: Frank Howard

Starring: Brian Klinknett, Erica Bigelow, Paula Shannon, Debbie Duff

Disclaimer: The Film Detective has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

   In 1969 the world was rocked by the savage murders of Tate-LaBianca. The ghastly deeds were committed by a cult worshiping a hippie named Charles Manson. The media frenzy spawned a book Helter Skelter and, in the decades to come a series of films. The earliest film is Frank Howard's The Other Side of Madness (1971), also retitled The Helter Skelter Murders. 

    As pointed out in the booklet provided with this Blu Ray, Madness was filmed within months of the murders, therefore Howard was able to actually film at the Spahn Movie Ranch. Other films would have to recreate this as Spahn Ranch was burnt to the ground. Not only does this make for an important historical artifact but really adds to the films creepy and unnerving aura. The other thing that makes this feel a stand out from all the other Manson film's is how it's more about mood and tension, whilst also putting the viewers in the twisted mindset of Manson and his "family". This is achieved by wonderful Expressionistic and eerie black and white photography, the use of voice-over's and a stark documentary-like feel. Those expecting a paint-by-number version of the events of the Manson murders will likely be disappointed as the film takes a less splashy approach yet, Howards really builds a level of suspense and dread leading up to the crimes. Like, I really am gob-smacked in a good way that the filmmakers took a stylized angle and the film is disturbing not because of the blood or any shock value, but rather from steeping the film in atmosphere and a sense of thick dread. There is a moment in the movie where the camera pans in on a pregnant woman's (who is Tate but no names are mentioned) bloody belly and it is such a simple yet effectively bleak image without being super graphic. Madness has a kind of raw look and feel similar to George Romeo's Night of the Living Dead (1968), which no doubt was an inspiration at least visually. If I had to lobby a complaint I would say the actor playing Manson looks a bit genetic, and doesn't have display the erratic behavior he was known for. At first I didn't know if I really even wanted to review this movie. I understand people being fascinated by serial killers but, I also find it shall we say kind of stomach turning that so many people have make a folk-hero out of Manson, whose influence let to the murder of innocent people including a pregnant mother and her baby. But, having read this was the first film of it's kind peaked my interest and, though I still don't wish to glamorize Manson and his followers I decided to put that aside and focus merely on the film as a piece of art. In the end I'm glad I was able to take this movie on it's own terms because it's actually pretty interesting. Other bigger budget, more graphic films have been based on the Manson-murders and, I think sadly has over shadowed this film. It's worth checking out and, as I said it approaches the material in a wholly refreshing angle that doesn't just aim to gross out its audience. Check it out! 

Picture: Sadly, there is no info on this restoration but I can tell it's been sourced from original film elements. You can also tell the source they we working from was probably on the rough side. This is because as crisp and clear as the film looks there are some artifacts and scratches throughout. It's kept to a minimum though, and, as you can see by comparing this to the unrestored trailer (included as an extra) it looks much better by comparison. And honestly, the somewhat rough look of the film, coupled with its moody photography enhances the gritty doc-quality. 

Sound: Madness has a DTS 2.0. Dialogue comes through nicely. Some even so slight background distortion heard but not enough to be distracting. 

Extras: Extras include: The Other Side of Madness: An Interview with Wade Williams (15mins) This audio interview with producer Wade Williams and how he met director Frank Howard and more in depth info about the making of the film. A really worth while and interesting featurette and a valuable artifact for film fans and historians alike. 

The Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson (4mins) Another audio interview with Wade Williams. As the title suggests the featurette is about Williams meeting Manson. It's a really wild story about the Wade getting music rights for two of Manson's songs for the movie. 

Also included is two original trailers The Other Side of Madness (1min 48sec) and The Helter Skelter Murders (1min 55 sec) which is the alternate title trailer. 

Includes a CD of actual songs recorded by Charles Manson. Also includes a booklet with a great essay by historian Alexander Tuschinski.

Overall/Final Thoughts: I typically only do the "final thoughts" on bigger releases but I felt like this release impressed me so much I wanted to express it further. Other Side of Madness is by no means a perfect film, its woefully low budget and, because of legal reasons (since the trial was still on-going as the film was being shot) nobody but Manson is identified by name. But what the film has a lot going for it.  It is  both rough and ready yet, is incredibly well shot and crafted. As an artifact it features some of the last location footage of The Spahn Movie Ranch before it was burnt to the ground. Hell, it even features maybe the only footage of the elderly owner of Spahn ranch. It's also worth repeating that this is the ONLY movie to film at the actual location where Manson and his family hung out. Taking this realism a step further actual Manson family members make cameos at the infamous ranch. B-roll footage of California also offers a rare glimpse of a bygone era that could have been ripped right from Tarantino's  Once a Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). This movie really is an oddity from the other Tate/Manson murders that would come before it, because it not only was first but, is the only movie to really take it to different areas. This is a really important Grindhouse film that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Shout out to Daniel Griffith and the Bollyhoo crew for crafting some great extras for this release. Well worth picking up in my opinion. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Mill Creek Blu Ray Review Part 2 (Movies 11-20)

Hammer Films: The Ultimate Collection Mill Creek Entertainment 11/17/2020

Films Within This Set: The Revenge of Frankenstein, The Camp on Blood Island, The Snorkel ,Yesterday's Enemy, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Never Take Candy From A Stranger, The Stranglers of Bombay, The Terror of the Tongs, Cash On Demand, Scream of Fear, Stop Me Before I Kill!, These Are The Damned, The Pirates of Blood River, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, The Old Dark House,  Maniac, The Gorgon, The Devil-Ship Pirates, Die! Die! My Darling, Creatures the World Forgot

Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Click HERE for part one of my review. Window will open in a new browser. Make sure pop-up blockers are turned off. 

Movies 11-20 

Disc Five) Die! Die! My Darling (Reviewed in part 1), Stop Me Before I Kill! 

Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis, Bernard Braden 

    Alan Colby (Ronald Lewis) is a race car driven that, after a bad accident is left shaken. It's decided that Alan and his wife Denise (Diane Cilento) should go on holiday. While there he discovers that he's got a short temper and, worst yet an urge to kill his wife. Alan seeks help before he does something awful. Hammer released a slew of psychological thrillers in the wake of Psycho and Peeping Tom (both released in 1960). Stop Me Before I Kill! is a prime example of a great title for a not so great film. Indeed, if I had to sum it up in word one it would be overwrought. Val Guest doesn't seem to know exactly how to play up the film's suspense nor are the characters that exciting. It also bogs itself down in so much dialogue and very little action. Stop Me doesn't even really pick up until well into the third act. The horrible pacing and melodramatics are not helped by all the actors giving performances more akin to a big Broadway show rather than acting for cinema. Stop Me feels like it probably would have made a better episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents instead of stretching things out to feature length. 

Picture: Stop Me looks really good in 1080p. The black and white photography has a clean sharp look to it. Very little in the way of scratches or artifacts in the print itself. Grain is of course present but looks smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Stop Me has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely. No background noise or audio drop outs. There are some moments where the audio echoes but I've only counted two short instances this happened.  

Extras: None

Disc Six) Never Take Candy From a Stranger, Scream of Fear 

Never Take Candy From a Stranger (1960)

Directed By: Cyril Frankel 

Starring: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Janina Faye, Felix Aylmer

Trigger Warning: This movie deals with the subject matter of children in danger and also contains the subject of pedophilia. 

    Peter Carter (Patrick Allen), his wife Sally (Gwen Watford) and their nine year old daughter Jean (Janina Faye) move to a new town to start a new life. Everything seems idyllic until Jean casually mentions one evening that the she was lured to an older man's house and was made to strip in exchange of promises of candy, along with her other new school friend. Clearly upset the parents go to the law only to discover that the man that did this heinous act named Clarence Olderberry (Felix Aylmer), is apart of a powerful family within the community. Never Take Candy From a Stranger is certainly one of the more unnerving in Hammer's cycle of psychological outings. It's not hard to see why the film was so shocking at the time as the subject of pedophilia was never talked about let alone the driving plot of a film. Though, of course these events are never depicted, it's an unsettling watch and one that will make most people squirm in their seats. There really are moments that are legit harrowing, especially for those parents watching this. Things like the townsfolk not believing or worse yet victim blaming is really harsh stuff but sadly, seems believable for the time period. The movie is not without it's issues and I think the narrative could have been a little more focused though. It's seemingly building to a court-room drama only to abandon that pretty quickly. There are some tense moments but I think it could have somehow played up the thriller elements. The movie does have some interesting ideas at play such as how this town thrives off of and insolates creeps like Clarence but, sadly they never take this far enough. It's a shame because factors like shady police and officials could have been used for more tension and drama. At the end of the day it feels like a movie built around it's daring premise, instead of masterfully folding in a thriller around it. I will say though, the finale however is really well handled and, actually really bleak. In fact, it may be the bleakest of all Hammer films I've seen. I think it's worth repeating if this subject matter messes with you, you might want to skip this movie altogether. It's by far not a great film with some what under developed script but, I will give the filmmakers credit for boldly tackling this subject. A movie that is still disturbing but drops the ball in the story department. 

Picture: Never Take Candy is a really nice looking 1080p film. The image is sharp with very little in the way of scratches or artifacts within the print. Overall, everything retains a nice amount of detail. Some grain but it's very smooth and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Never Take Candy has a 2.0 track. No issues with the audio with dialogue coming through clear. 

Extras: Never Take Candy features a brand new commentary by filmmaker/historian Constantine Nasr. Nasr provides a really engaging commentary track that gives us the audience a lot of background on the film and the players involved. 

Scream of Fear (1961)

Directed By: Seth Holt

Starring: Susan Strasberg, Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis, Christopher Lee

    Scream of Fear from 1961 is one of the better psychological thrillers to come in the wake of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Indeed, I think its the best of the psycho-thrillers Hammer ever produced. Penny (Susan Strasberg) is a wheelchair bound woman who returns home after ten years to see her father. But is he dead or alive? Thats the question in this twisty mystery thriller. Seth Holt who would later go onto to do the sorely underrated gem The Nanny (1965) directs this tight little film and really makes the most out of Jimmy Sangster's (Horror of Dracula) tightly focused and twist filled screenplay. Holt is clearly channeling the great Hitchcock in the best way and provides the film with a lot of style and a rich Neo-Gothic vibe. I cannot stress how great this film looks. Providing the look of the film is the legendary Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lion in Winter) and gives Scream of Fear it's tense, moody and at times darkly beautiful black and white photography. This film also includes a score by the underrated Clifton Parker (Curse of the Demon). Susan Strasberg heads up a very solid cast that includes Ann Todd, Ronald Lewis and the late great Christopher Lee, in a small but memorable role. Lee boldly stated that out of all his Hammer movies Scream of Fear was the best and his favorite. What makes the film work outside of the amazing talent in front of and behind the camera is how engaging the mystery is and how Holt and Sangster makes us the audience always feel uneasy and unsure of what's really going on. Obviously, no spoilers here but will just say that the film races to a brilliant and clever finale. 

Picture: This is a visually stunning movie so I am happy to report Scream of Fear looks great on 1080p. The print retains a nice clear look with no artifacts or scratches that I could notice. Grain is faint and well maintained throughout.  

Sound: Scream of Fear has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through clear with no background hiss or audio drop outs. 

Extras: Scream of Fear has a brand new commentary by Author and film historian Steve Haberman. I've been a long time fan of Haberman and, as always, his commentaries are extremely well researched and engaging to listen to. It's a really great addition to a very well done thriller. Certainly well worth the listen to. 

Disc Seven) The Stranglers of Bombay, The Terror of the Tongs

The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) 

Directed By: Terrance Fisher

Starring: Guy Rolfe, Allan Cuthbertson, George Pastell, Jan Holden, Marne Maitland 

   Set in 1800's an East Indian Trading Company headed by Capt. Lewis (Guy Rolfe) investigates a cult of thieves and murderers in this adventure outing from Hammer. This is the first adventure movie I encountered on this set and, also one of the other film's that's making its North American HD debut. Bombay is a bit of a mixed bag. To Fisher's credit the film is for the most part a nice action adventure given a big scope by way of Arthur Grant's (Quatermass and the Pit, The Damned) expressive black and white photography. I also have to give the filmmakers props for really pushing the envelope with the sadism and violence. And, though it is incredibly tame by today's standards I think it still packs a punch. Most of the brutality is done off screen but, in my opinion, not showing it is actually worse. Guy Rolfe also really helps give this movie a sense of class to, what is admittedly a pretty hooky, almost B-Serial affair. So, Bombay is kind of an odd film because I can't say it doesn't have a lot of action going on but it feels like the actual narrative could have used an over haul nonetheless. Characters feel flat and motivations are sketchy at best. Also, there is no getting around the cultural stereotypes are on the cringe-worthy side. There also features a scene (I believe inserted nature/stock footage) of a snake mongoose fight. Same with Italian cannibal films, these scenes make me extremely uncomfortable and scenes of that ilk honestly add nothing to the story. At the end of the day though, for all it's shortcomings and dicey cultural depictions I found this to be a breezy action adventure outing that is well photographed and for the most part well acted. It also features a nice score by James Bernard. Hammer Horror fans will know Bernard for his countless scores.

Picture: For the most part Stranglers of Bombay looks sharp in 1080p. The photography of Arthur Grant is really showcased well here and has a nice level of clarity. I will say the print at times did some it's age but I gather that they did the best they could with the material they sourced the transfer from. Though, surprisingly I saw very little in the way of scratches or artifacts. Overall, a solid print. 

Sound: Bombay features a solid 2.0 track and dialogue and score come through nicely. No background distortion or other issues like audio drop out. 

Extras: None

The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Directed By: Anthony Bushell 

Starring: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone, Brian Worth 

      A British captain named Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) seeks revenge on a crime ring called The Red Dragon run by the Tongs. The Terror of the Tongs (1961) is one of only three feature length films directed by Anthony Bushell, someone more known for his acting. I will say at the outset this movie leans in on the Chinese phobic films that surged in the wake of WWII. It's not that I'm saying that this attitude reflects anyone involved with the film (obviously I would have no way of knowing that) but it's hard to not get a uncomfortable feeling in the way people of Chinese heritage are portrayed. Not to mention the fact that White people including Lee perform as Asian characters. If you cannot get passed this fact, I dont blame you, I myself found it hard to put this aside. Besides the mountains of cringe-worthy moments the film is kind of a by-the-numbers pulp crime story that, much like The Stranglers of Bombay (1959) pushes the envelope when it comes to violence and features a few legit disturbing deaths. Disturbing not so much in graphic deaths but innocent characters you think wouldn't meet such fates. Probably the movie I was least looking forward to, not only because of the cultural issues that is injected into every fiber of this movie but, it's also kind of forgettable. 

Picture: Terror of the Tongs is a fairly good looking film on 1080p. Colors for the most part are nice through there are some uneven moments. At times things look a bit muted. Some scenes though really do have such rich vibrate pops of color. Grain is nicely maintained and consistent throughout. 

Sound: Tongs has a 2.0 track. Dialogue and sound come through clear with no audio drop out or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: None

Disc Eight) The Pirates of Blood River, Sword of Sherwood Forest 

The Pirate of Blood River (1962) 

Directed: John Gilling

Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corbett, Christopher Lee, Oliver Reed

    A group of blood thirsty pirates lead by Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee) invade a small settlement in search of treasure. I was pretty excited for an action adventure pirate movie starring Christopher Lee. The results are not as fun as one might hope though. While Blood River has some fun moments the film feels a bit stuffy and worst yet aimless. Scenes go on for far too long and the film seems to lose narrative focus. It strangely take's itself a bit too seriously  and Gilling forgets just to showcase a fun adventure outing. I give the film credit for trying to have some emotional stakes but it's just not well written enough to  feel satisfying. I do like the pirate iconography being leaned in, I just wish the entire thing didn't feel underdeveloped and lackluster. I guess we should also talk briefly about Christopher Lee donning an eye patch and French accent as LaRoche. Lee has a commanding presents and though it's not what I would call a good performance it is certainly a memorable one.  

Picture: Pirates of Blood River was filmed in color. The 1080p print is clear but doesn't really retain the kind of sharp details you might want from a color epic. There is some blurring and I noticed some noise levels in certain scenes. On the plus side the colors do pop, especially in lush outdoor scenes. Also, while not perfect the film has very little in the way of scratches or artifacts. 

Sound: Pirates has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no drop out or background noise. 

Extras: None

Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

Directed By: Terrence Fisher 

Starring: Richard Greene, Peter Cushing, Nigel Green, Niall McGinnis, Oliver Reed

        A 1960 re-telling of Robin Hood (Richard Greene) an outlaw. Much like Blood River, Sherwood Forest is baffling as it sucks out all the fun to be had in an action adventure romp. Instead, Fisher bogs the movie down in boring politics, side quests and really awkward humor. Oddly, the movie focuses a big chunk of the movie to justice for a character that we hardly know or care about. Sherwood has all the trappings of a Robin Hood movie but unlike the '38 version The Adventures of Robin Hood, this lacks focus and fun. Also, I think Richard Greene tries his best as Robin Hood but I honestly don't buy it. In fact, I think Nigel Green who plays Little John would have made a much better Robin Hood. Speaking of cast, Peter Cushing relishes his role as the villain the Sheriff of Nottingham. Cushing as always is so effortless in his acting and though he could play the good guy, he, in my humble opinion, always played the villain the best. An over-dubbed Oliver Reed also has a small but memorable role. It's so weird how you can not simply tell a breezy adventure re-telling of Robin Hood yet Fisher and screenwriter Alan Hackney manage to make this a tedious affair. I came to learn that this was based upon the popular British Robin Hood television series The Adventures of Robin Hood (not to be confused with the '30's film version of the same name) which ran from 1955-1960. Perhaps being unfamiliar with the show left me with confused and underwhelmed. Missed out on just being a straight forward enjoyable adventure film. 

Picture: Like Blood River, this film is also shot in color. Colors really pop, especially in outdoor scenes and make the costumes and sets stand out. Though, having said that, there are some scenes that are wildly uneven when it comes to tones and some scenes dont retain the kind of sharp detail you`d want them to. Overall, its a good but not great transfer but I think outside of experts causal viewers will be content.  

Sound: 2.0 Sound is nicely done. There is one slight instant of a weird echo but only occurs once for a split second. Otherwise a solid soundtrack. 

Extras: None

Disc Nine) The Camp on Blood Island, Yesterday's Enemy 

The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Andre Morell, Carl Morell, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Walter Fitzgerald

    The first of two WWII era films in the collection The Camp on Blood Island (1958) tells of the last days of the war in a POW camp. It seems that even though the war is over the camp is still very much active. In the wake of the Vietnam war there were a slew of movies depicting WWII some classics and some pretty forgettable. Blood Island is by no means a classic but it's ambitious enough with a decent story, good action scenes and some tense moments. For a film with the name Blood Island the violence is pretty tame with most the deaths taking place off screen. DP Jack Asher gives the film a polished Noir-like look. Asher as some of you may remember photographed a lot of great films for Hammer. My biggest issue with Camp Blood is the story could have used streamlining and at just 81 minutes the film has some dull moments. And, as you may expect the cultural portrayal of the Japanese are not at all flattering. 

Picture: Camp Blood seems sourced from a decent print and the transfer to 1080p is clear with heavy grain but it's consistent. The black and white photography retains a nice amount of detail throughout. It's by far a perfect print however and is plagued with some artifacts and slight scratches in the print. Casual fans may not even notice as these issues are faint but still present. 

Sound: Camp Blood has a nice 2.0 track. Dialogue is clear and no issues with unwanted background noise or audio drop out. 

Extras: None 

Yesterday's Enemy (1959)

Directed By: Val Guest 

Starring: Stanley Baker, Guy Rolfe, Leo McKern, Gordon Jackson 

     Captain Langford (Stanley Baker) is a heartless commander that executes two Burmese POW's in this riveting WWII drama. Out of the two movies Camp Blood and Yesterday's Enemy, (both directed by Val Guest) on this disc, I prefer Yesterday's Enemy. Both films have well directed action yet, I think the latter film has a better handle on story and the emotional center. The central conflict is provocative and raises some really interesting moral questions which I think makes this movie more interesting. In a big ay this feels very much like an anti-war film released during America's conflict in the Vietnam war. It doesn't demonize the Japanese which I also thought was a good way to go. Though, having said that I don't think that Guest really digs as deep as he could and, much like Camp Blood, the story could have used a tighter focus.  There are war movies that seem to transcend the genre and are so well made that even non-war film lovers will enjoy. This movie however is not one of those and, for all of the interesting concepts. Well directed, beautifully shot with production that is next level. Worth a watch but could have been stronger narrative wise. 

Picture: Yesterday's Enemy was shot in black and white and looks decent on 1080p. The overall picture is clear yet doesn't retain high def details in some shots. Some background details are a bit on the blurry side. Some scratches are artifacts are present. On the plus side the grain level is fairly well handled with consistent throughout. 

Sound: Yesterday's Enemy has a 2.0 soundtrack. Dialogue comes through nicely with no audio drop out or background distortion. 

Extras: None 

Disc Ten) Creatures that World Forgot, Bonus Features

Creatures that World Forgot (1971)

Directed By: Don Chaffrey 

Starring: Julie Ege, Tony Bonner, Robin John, Sue Wilson

    Fun Fact: A clip from Creatures that World Forgot is featured in Kubrick's seminal A Clockwork Orange (1971). In a harsh unforgiving prehistoric world it's a tight for dominance over a small tribe of cave people in this early '70's Hammer offering. So, remember the caveman scene from History of the World Part 1 (1981), well this is like that, only played straight and, ugh, for ninety minutes. First let me say, Don Chaffrey does a really good job at directing this film yet, it's doomed to fail. For me there was a reason why these cave-man movies we're never that popular. Outside of maybe One Million Years B.C (1966) which had Raguel Welch to make it noteworthy, these were largely forgettable films. The biggest issue for me is the characters grunt and groan and with no dialogue I found it hard to really connect with any characters on any kind of level. The action is also kind of difficult to follow and, again it doesn't help that it never really retained my interest. As I said this film isn't bad from a technical level and as I said Chaffrey is a solid filmmaker and the film features some decent action sequences and photography. Though, everybody having perfectly maintained '70's hair is pretty amusing. Other people's mileage may vary but I've never been big into these prehistoric drama's yet, other people seem to dig them. 

Picture:  Creatures retains a nice look in 1080p. The film, which was shot in color looks great. When the film goes into a more lush green environment is where I think the colors and detail really shine. Being a fairly newer film in the set comparatively there is very little in the way of artifacts of scratches in the transfer. Colors also remain consistent throughout.  

Sound: Creatures has a 2.0 track. Dialogue comes through nicely with no drop out issues or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: None

Bonus Disc:  Hammer At Columbia Pictures (11mins) This featurette talks about the history of Hammer Studios and their partnership with Columbia Pictures. Features interviews with Author and Film Historian Courtney Joyner. Courtney really knows his stuff and provides a clear engrossing history of this era in Hammer's history. This featurette is well produced and features clips, photos, and promo along with Mr. Joyner's interview. Produced, directed and edited by Daniel Griffith this is a great companion piece to this set.  

The Actors of Hammer Film (8mins) Historian David Del Valle provides an amazing over view of the actors of Hammer during the Columbia Pictures era. Like Courtney, David not only knows his stuff but is wildly engaging and fascinating to listen to. I really enjoyed his talk about the actors on Die Die! My Darling! Also produced, directed and edited by Daniel Griffith

Curse of the Mummy's Tomb Retrospective (7mins) this featurette is a nice overview of Curse of the Mummy's Tomb as told by Richard Klemensen author and Hammer historian. Klemensen provides a lot of background information leading up to Mummy's Tomb as well as the filming and legacy. 

The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll Retrospective (9mins) Another featurette with Richard Klemensen author and Hammer historian. Like Mummy's Tomb, this retrospective is an engrossing and well produced. Klemensen is incredibly well researched and I enjoyed this piece. 

Overall/Final Thoughts: Let me first say that I was a little taken back (but sadly not totally surprised) by how a few "fans" had trolled my part 1 of Hammer Films review when I posted it on Twitter. They just dismissed Mill Creek as a bargain basement label and, how dare they try and compete with the big boys. But, here's the thing: Mill Creek Entertainment has been working hard on upping their game and, we as supporters of physical media should give them another chance. Now, the big question is:  Is the Hammer Collection worth your hard earned money? Yes! As somebody who actually watched all twenty films in this collection, this set offers a nice cross section of what Hammer was producing in the late '50's through the '70's. Not only do you get some great horror titles but also: action, adventure, psychological thriller, war and crime. This set pushed me to watch a couple films that I might not have otherwise. Die! Die! My Darling, for example is one such film that will now be firmly in my film rotation. Some fans might bemoan the fact that this isn't just horror but I love how other genres are explored. Overall, they seemed to have sourced from nice prints. Some people have higher standards but I think the transfers are solid and the sound a crossed the board was satisfying. Wisely though, Mill Creek didn't stop there and provided brand new commentaries and retrospectives on selected titles. This set also includes some titles to make their US HD debt. I don't know about you but that is really exciting. Hammer films are firmly my jam but I've only seen mostly their horror films. This boxset was a nice crash course in exploring the other genres the studio was tackling. But, of course for horror fan's they also have some great horror outings. Well worth picking up! 

Finally: I wanna mention the following people who made this set awesome (Also, if you too are reviewing this please give them a shout out! Also, forgive me if I missed anybody) Daniel Griffith, the Bollyhoo crew, Steve Haberman, David Del Valle, C. Courtney Joyner, Richard Klemensen, Constantine Nasr, Joshua Kennedy, Mark Jordan, Phoeff Sutton, James Gonis, Shawn Sheridan, Larry Strothe, Matt Weinhold 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Pre-Code Film The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) The Film Detective Blu Ray Review

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) The Film Detective 7/29/2020

Directed By: Phil Goldstone 

Starring: Zita Johann, John Miljan, Alan Dinehart, Paul Cavanagh 

Disclaimer: The Film Detective has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

    It's always really interesting to see Pre-Code films and how studios could push the boundaries of the art form. The Film Detective has provided a 4k restored print of The Sin of Nora Moran from 1933. Nora Moran (Zita Johann) is awaiting her execution for the murder of a man. But there seems to be more to the story in this drama. 

     Nora Morgan is, when boiled when down a pretty-by-the-numbers melodrama yet ,the screenplay and directing offers a few interesting tricks up it's sleeve. The first is that the film goes through different character points of view, and, these flashbacks tell the story in fragments. Nora's flashbacks come in the form of fever-dreams while she awaits her execution. It's here we get her side of the story but also surreal images in the context of her dreams. Also, Philp Goldman film's what basically could be a stage play yet gives it a lot of flare. He does this with interesting camera tricks and angles as well as over-lapping images. I will say if I had to lobby a complaint the film is certainly more style over substance, which isn't bad per se but the narrative I think suffers. Because we get different points of view on the murder it tends to get a bit confusing. The doe-eyed mysterious looking Zita Johann, best known to horror fans for her role in the original The Mummy (1932) plays the titular role. Johann was not only a good actor but had such a far-away exotic look to her. One cannot help be spellbound by her. Nora Moran is a very interesting film that has a very provocative visual style and this helps gloss over a so-so plot. 

Picture: Nora Moran is sourced from the original 35mm print and re-mastered in 4k by UCLA. As a film buff it's always amazing how someone can take a movie that is nearly one-hundred years old and make it look almost brand-spanking new. Overall, there is a nice depth of detail and clarity considering the films age. There are some scratches and a few artifacts but, nothing too distracting and, I'm sure it's a huge improvement on previous prints. As I said this film has a refreshing and interesting visual style and this print really celebrates that. 

Sound: Nora Moran has a nice 2.0 track. The sound is overall well maintained with no issues by way of audio drop out or unwanted background noise. 

Extras: Sin of Nora contains: The Mysterious Life of Zita Johann (17mins) This featurette is about the life of Zita Johann as told by filmmaker and film historian Sam Sherman. This is a really interesting overview of Johann career as well as the film Nora Moran. Also includes a booklet with an essay by Sam Sherman.