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Archive for October, 2012

Rosemary’s Baby Blu-Ray Review

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Stars: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, Victoria Vetri, Maurice Evans

Director: Roman Polanski
1968                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Released by Criterion

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Almost everything that Ira Levin wrote became a hit movie. His books, A Kiss Before Dying, The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil, Sliver and his play Deathtrap all received first class productions on the screen. Two of them even got the remake treatment. When Roman Polanski set out to adapt the book, it’s no wonder that so much of Levin’s rich cinematic descriptions and dialogue wound up almost verbatim on the screen. In one of Ira Levin’s essays about the movie he wondered if Polanski even knew that he was allowed to make any changes when he adapted it. The other element that contributed so much to the enduring success of the movie was the casting. Polanski states in his recent interview included with the disc that with the exception of the leads, he drew sketches of all the characters and Paramount’s casting department sent him actors that looked just like what he had in mind. Mia Farrow turned in a performance as Rosemary that became the highlight of her career. Ruth Gordon who walks away with any scene she is in won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for her memorable role as Minnie Castavets.

The other bit of casting that stands out so strongly from the movie was the decision to use the landmark New York City building The Dakota as Ira Levin’s The Bramford. This very old Upper West Side edifice dates back to the late 1800s. Most people associate it with John Lennon, his life with Yoko there and his tragic death at the entrance. However The Dakota for many years served as a residence for lots of actors and artists. The huge imposing gothic building hold courts at the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. The Germanic influence can be seen in the marvelous architecture. But most important to horror movie fans was the fact the Monster himself, Boris Karloff maintained an apartment there. Many of the old apartment houses there had small fenced in cubicles for storage in the basements. A trip to do the laundry would go through a maze of these until the laundry room was discovered in yet another wire fenced housing. Lots of films are shot in New York but to get that kind of detail into one of the first scenes in the film while Rosemary talks to Terry as she does laundry is the mark of the kind of fantastic and thorough production design that permeates this film. While The Dakota served for the exteriors intricate sets were constructed to portray the large and spacious apartments found inside. The very first person that Polanski asked for for his crew was the production designer Richard Sylbert who just came off of The Graduate and Cool Hand Luke. Sylbert would work with the director again on Chinatown. His design here accounts for so much of the feel of the film. Those old hallways, the decorations and furniture in the Castavets apartment and that creepy passageway that Rosemary discovers are all his work.

Rosemary’s Baby is a stunning horror film. The book was a huge bestseller that seemed to tap into the public’s fear of witches and the devil. The occult and Satanism became a big hook for the story. The young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodehouse move in and in short order the peculiar old couple Minnie and Roman Castevets have them over for dinner. They become fast friends. Guy’s acting career suddenly picks up and Rosemary gets pregnant. Only she begins to suspect that something is going wrong with her baby.. That’s where the story works its real magic over the audience. We’re left to try and figure out if there really is a coven of witches in the Bramford that has chosen Rosemary to carry this child for them. On the other hand, Rosemary has grown incredibly paranoid. Does her body belong to her anymore? Is she descending into a psychological nightmare of her own making? The ending works so well, no matter how you choose to take the story. The insidious ways that Ruth Gordon’s character Minnie controls things are a delight to behold. She is one of the kookiest characters. She dresses in bold outrageous colors, her hair often tied up in some kind of a Pebbles bow. She is so nosey, so pushy and so charming all in one infectious bundle of energy. Gordon has always been a great actress, but Minnie Castavets outshines all her other roles. That image of her as Rosemary sees her through the peep hole in the door, with that thing in her hair is priceless. And you know she is coming in no matter what, if only for a moment.

The pacing of the film is very well done, drawing you in slowly and surely into Rosemary’s terror. We see the happy young couple setting up house in the Bramford. There’s a tender scene as they have a romantic picnic dinner on the floor of an empty room. John Cassavetes as Guy starts to become obsessed with his acting career as event after event plays out in his favor. Ralph Bellamy as the best doctor in New York keeps reassuring Rosemary through her pregnancy that everything is alright. She gets a book from an old friend that traces the exploits of a satanic coven leader who was chased into the Bramford’s courtyard by a desperate crowd. As her concern grows into abject fear the film keeps us on her track with no deviation. She can’t escape and neither can we. Editor Stan O’Steen is relentless. At one point Rosemary runs in a dead panic down the beautiful sunny streets alongside Central Park. She is literally trapped in a phone booth desperately calling her old doctor. Producer William Castle in a cameo stands impatiently outside. The horror of the devil is loose on the streets of New York City. The maelstrom of evil is palpable. Pregnant Rosemary is under siege whether by her own inner demons or a very real demon. That very last scene in the Castavets apartment is chilling. There is the black bassinet. An old woman is rocking the baby, Rosemary’s baby. Poor shell shocked Rosemary delivers the most unsetting line in the film when she says, “You’re rocking him too fast” Is that truly the devil’s spawn, a miscarriage, or something completely in her head.

Mia Farrow is completely compelling in the film. Her expressive eyes carry so much. She projects a cute very sixties perkiness that contrasts remarkably with her later breakdown. The entire cast is on the money. Director Polanski was apparently at odds with Cassavetes’ improvisation driven acting style, yet the performance works for the film. We start to mistrust him a little and then a lot, as it should be. Sidney Blackmer as Roman is so soothingly seductive. It’s a perfectly realized motion picture. The mainstream success of this occult driven horror film made the entire industry take notice. It has been said that horror films move in cycles. With Rosemary’s Baby that late sixties cycle that eventually begat The Exorcist got a roller coast style jolt. Cult movie fans will be quick to spot Film Noir regular Elisha Cook as the building manager, cigar chomping horror producer William Castle and Hammer film star Victoria Vetri as the doomed Terry. Bonus points go to those who can identify the voice of Baumgarten (the actor who went blind) when Rosemary calls him on the phone. The cover touts that this new Blu-Ray special edition was director approved. It is a very satisfying presentation on all counts. As William Castle himself would have said, Step Right Up!

Video –
1.85:1 Criterion’s new 4K resolution presentation taken from the original 35mm camera negative is satisfying on all counts. Colors are richer. The first time we see Minnie and Roman on the street their outlandishly loud clothes stand out like beacons. Mia Farrow’s Mod style costuming comes across wonderfully revealing both color and texture. .I did a quick A/B comparison with the previously released DVD from Paramount and the upgrade is immediately apparent. As Mia Farrow grows paler you can really see her skin tone change. The darker gothic tones of the building both inside and outside still hold a strong filmic quality.

Audio –
LPCM Mono track in English, subtitles offered in English. Dialogue is very clear. Sound effects play fine with nothing receiving any undue escalation, as it should be. The music by Komeda has that sweet lullaby and a more traditional horror theme. It’s a nice juxtaposition as the lullaby become more and more unsettling as the film goes on.

Extras –
Booklet with essay and some of Ira Levin’s character sketches and a floor plan as well as his afterward from the 2003 book release. Komeda, Komeda about the jazz artist’s score.
Audio interview with author Ira Levin. The best is a new interview with Polanski, Mia Farrow and producer Robert Evans. Each of them is very articulate and contributes fascinating information and stories. Robert Evans looks like he’s been bronzed but has such a captivating voice and is a great storyteller. Fans of the film will find this feature to be richly rewarding.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Movie – Classic

Blu-Ray – Excellent

247 F Blu-Ray Review

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Stars: Scout Taylor-Compton, Travis Van Winkle, Christina Ulloa, Michael Copon, and Tyler Mane
Directors: Levan Bakhia and Bega Jguburia
Released by Anchor Bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Two couples take off for a weekend getaway at a secluded cabin in the woods. It’s a very fancy cabin that gets rented out for a considerable amount, but the owner is the uncle of one of the boys. On arrival the uncle played by a tall and imposing Scout Taylor-Compton who was Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remakes greets them with shots of his home made brew. One of the boys proceeds to get very trashed. One shy girl is getting over the loss of her boyfriend so is kind of hesitant about everything. The nephew is the level headed one. The other girl whose boyfriend is getting drunker by the minute kid is starting to get pissed about it. The uncle goes off to ready the big fireworks celebration in town. He encourages them to make sure and catch the display.

There is a newly installed state of the art sauna with fine wooden walls and a heating element filled with all those heating rocks. Everyone strips down to their underwear and gets in for a little relaxation before the fireworks. Then they go out and jump in the lake. Afterward they warm up in the sauna only this time the drunken kid goes out to take a pee but accidentally knocks a ladder down which wedges itself against the door. He wanders off to find the uncle guy and they get high. Meanwhile back at the sauna the three kids are stuck inside. Everyone freaks out. They yell. They try to break out. They talk about the thermostat. The nephew thinks they should not touch it otherwise the heater will go into overdrive.

After a lot of yelling they manage to break the tiny window in the door so they can get a few breaths. Then they talk about the thermostat some more. It’s very tedious going with this group. We watch them get hotter and hotter. There’s a discussion about heat prostration and how the body breaks down under the strain. There is some more yelling, freaking out and another round of opinions about that thermostat. At least we’re all cramped in that one little room. There has to be an official sub genre now of people trapped in harrowing situations. Open Water had the couple stuck in the ocean, drifting helplessly. The sequel Open Waster II had a bunch of people stuck in the water next to their yacht that they could not manage to climb back onboard. Then there was Frozen about the threesome trapped on a ski lift that was shut down at night leaving them stranded and alone up in the air. 247 F is not a good film to get trapped with.

Video –
2.40:1 Everything looks fine with the nice crisp detail you’d expect to find in a new movie.

Audio –
Dolby True HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in Spanish and English. All dialogue is easy to understand.

Extras – Commentary with Producer/Director Levan Bakhia, A few deleted scenes

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Movie – Poor

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Nobody Else But You DVD Review

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Stars: Jean-Paul Rouve, Sophie Quinton, Olivier Rabourdin, Guillaume Gouix, and Clara Ponsot
Director: Gérald Hustache-Mathieu
Released by First Run Features
French Title: Poupoupidou

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In a very out of the way bucolic town in France frustrated crime novelist David Rousseau is finishing up some dreary family business concerning someone who died and a will that doesn’t quite offer him anything after such a long ride. His publisher chides him about being late with material. He seems to have lost his muse. He drives by a crime scene. The local celebrity, a blonde bombshell actress named Candi Lecoeur has committed suicide. He sees her stunning figure gracing a billboard advertisement for Belle de Jura Cheese. She looks a little too damn sexy to be advertising just cheese. The play on the Bunuel film title for the name of the cheese is more than a sly wink, too. Since her body was discovered in a legal no man’s land there will be no investigation.

In short order the writer is well beyond obsessed with the death of this girl. Jean-Paul Rouve plays the writer as always seemingly well beyond his abilities. He sneaks into the hospital to have a look at her body in the morgue. The writer is later found by the police snooping around her apartment where he finds her diaries before they show up. The top policeman indifferently threatens him while the second in command decides to offer him some help. As the crime writer reads her diaries, we hear the voice-over of the lovely Candi Licoeur. He muses to himself that she writes better than he does as he falls under her spell. Echoes of the film noir Laura are not at all misplaced.

Candi used to be Martine Langevin until she changed her name at the urging of a photographer. She also does a series of very sexy weather reports for the local station, though she is continually tough to work with on the set and descends into depressive funks. She has a doctor who is sick of her continual calls for attention. Rousseau finds out from the doctor that Candi was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe and the more he looks the more closely he sees she has patterned her life after the famous actress. He constructs a mural on his hotel wall that matches all her real life lovers to counterparts in Monroe’s life. He draws compelling parallels to JFK and Bobby Kennedy, Arthur Miller, and Joe DiMaggio. The soundtrack is peppered with cover songs the most effective of which is Joe Feliciano’s rendition of the Mamas and Papas’s hit, California Dreamin’ which plays a few times as Rousseu drives over the snow covered countryside. His car breaks down and he uses the cute little motor scooter that belonged to Candi though he is afraid to give it full throttle. The similarities pile up as it starts to become clear that her death may not have been by her own hand.

Director Gérald Hustache-Mathieu has constructed a charming idiosyncratic story with plenty of offbeat appeal. Sophie Quinton does a nice turn as the Marilyn obsessed actress. She has that effortless sex appeal down pat as well as the pouting bouts of depression. The scenes of her doing the ads for the cheese company show how much she revels in the exploitation, even as she rankles at the way she is treated. The film is full of covers. Events and people are in a perennial masquerade. The French title is clearly a play on the, I want To Be Loved by You song that Marilyn Monroe sang in Some Like it Hot. Only the line was Boop Boop a Doop, just Like Betty Boop sang in those cartoons in the thirties. Another change, the film is full of them. Quirky and enjoyable.

Video –
2.35:1 The film has a very smooth look to it. The snow covered outdoor locations look lovely. Skin tones as realistic. Bright and breezy.

Audio –
Dolby track in French w/English subtitles. All dialogue is clear. Subtitles are easy to read. The songs on the soundtrack are well chosen and sound sweet.

Extras – None.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Movie – Good

DVD –Excellent

Black Sunday (1960) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

Stars: Barbara Steele, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani, John Richardson and Arturo Dominici
Director: Mari Bava
Released by Kino

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Mario Bava helmed his first film as a full fledged and fully credited director with Black Sunday (1960) also known of Mask of Satan. It’s a helluva debut that is dripping with style. It served to put both him and actress Barbara Steele on the map forever winning them a large cult following. Bava generally gets the nod as the one who fathered Italian Cinema’s rich horror and Giallo tradition. Looking at Black Sunday one can easily see why. It’s a beautiful film with much to recommend it both to the cult fan as well as anyone who loves a good horror film.

Bava kicks things off with a truly lurid and atmospheric opening sequence. Barbara Steele and her lover are being prepped for a burning at the stake by a group of hooded men who wade through the thick fog. The fog carpets the dark night woods as far as we can see, making it seem like a nether world or something from medieval times which it is. Before Asa (Steele) and her lover, Javuot (Arturo Dominici) are put to the torch a steel mask with pointy spikes will be hammered over their faces. We see an executioner type lift the mask. Bava shows us the mask coming toward Asa as week look through the eye holes getting closer and closer. We then see the reverse from Asa’s point of view until the mask get too close. He then cuts to a man lifting up and hefting a huge mallet before he swings. Just before she goes Asa promises sweet revenge no matter how long it takes. It’s a harrowing opening that is both beautiful with its gothic look but also pretty horrific for 1960.

The story picks up 200 years later. Bava brings in so many recognizable trappings of the traditional horror film, He draws from the stark black and white images of the early Universal films of the thirties as well as the rich look of the fifties Hammer movies. He even starts with an image that can be found in so many films, including Roger Corman’s. A horse drawn carriage rides by in the creepy desolate countryside. It looks like that distinctly European area that may be the Carpathians or any number of Bavarian villages. Inside is a young man fresh from completing his University studies with a much older professor who is his mentor. On the way they stumble upon an underground mausoleum and while wandering the dark catacombs they find a coffin that is protected by a cross. While dodging an attack from a bat the Professor unwittingly break the glass covering the corpse and lets some blood drip inside from his fresh wound. Christopher Lee’s Dracula was awakened by the same method in at least one Hammer film. Naturally that’s Asa’s tomb and once she starts to fully awaken we know the 200 year old revenge promise is on the way.

In one of the film’s most famous scenes Asa’s lover Javuot claws his way out of a grave and rips the pronged mask from his face. Bava intercuts this with a young girl lost in the woods for a very suspenseful turn of events. Much of the film takes place inside a dark castle-like house with its secret passages and underground tunnels. The dark woods and creepy tombs are revisited frequently. We also see the small village tavern with its loutish drinkers and barmaids. We know in one look that they all have ready access to torches and would be happy to storm the castle. Barbara Steele plays descendant of the ancient Asa named Katia. When we first see her she is holding a pair of huge threatening dogs. It’s a strangely beautiful sight to behold. As the film unfolds it’s not clear if Asa is a regular old witch looking to get even or some kind of vampire. The script seems to float from one set of rules to another as well as making up a few of its own. The plotting and rules are not really the attraction here. The acting while carried visually can be very captivating at times, particularly in the way we see the actor’s eyes. Italian cinema at the time Black Sunday was made was not known for shooting sync sound so the dubbing of actor’s voices was very much the norm. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear anyone’s performance.

The real strength and indeed allure of Black Sunday is in its look. Even though there are individual horrific images and shocking sequences Bava succeeds in presenting a hypnotic whole that is very seductive. So many of the shots are nicely framed old school gothic horror tableaus that have a rich contrast of deep blacks and chalky whites. He moves his camera very nicely, too. Only once or twice does a hasty zoom shot betray him. The photography is so strong throughout that the simple zoom seems a poor choice for a man of his visual talents. Black Sunday is a landmark film in Italian horror. Its reputation is very well deserved. This new Blu-Ray showcases that stunning photography very nicely. There are occasional bits one can complain about but overall the improved detail is captivating. There is a fireplace with a finely carved mantle surrounding it. We can see all of that as well as the old school European style in the cabinets, doors and the intricate trim. The catacombs have an appeal that will take you right back to those old Universal films. However Bava always seems to add a little flourish to the proceedings as if to sign his signature to the visually driven scenes.

Video –
1.66:1 B&W. This is the original Italian version of the film. The print sourced is in very good shape. Kino has provided a very faithful transfer that preserves and showcases all its merits. There is the occasional fault but nothing stands out as egregious. The added detail is strong. When some areas of the frame at times seem to be swallowed in an inky blackness, there is a sense that some of the grey scale has been sacrificed. However it may very well be that it wasn’t there to begin with. This is a very satisfying presentation. The publicity pictures used do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray Image.

Audio –
2.0 Mono. This track is not the transfer’s strong point. Some of the dialogue particularly in the beginning is a bit muffled. None of the vocal tones seem to have been recorded with any real precision, though a lot of that is down to the original dubbing process. Effects and music are not always mixed in quite the right blend. Again that tends to be the result with many films of this heritage…

Extras –
There is a commentary from Tim Lucas, trailers for Black Sunday and other Bavas to wet your appetite, just as a good trailer should.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Movie – Good/Excellent

Blu-Ray –Excellent