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Archive for December, 2012

The Blue Lagoon (1980) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Stars: Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins, Leo McKern
Director: Randall Kleiser
Released by – Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available through www.screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Blue Lagoon caused created quite a stir when it was released in 1980. Movies about puppy love were usually much tamer than what was being promoted for this film. This was an R rated film about two teenagers running around naked in a tropical paradise that have a baby. Whoa, there. Over the years films like this had been made and they became must see date movies for the then “tween” set. But though there was a good deal of hand holding and even some kissing no one ever had a baby! And they most certainly did not run around naked for most of the picture. This bordered on the salacious, yet many who saw it say it was a very innocent film full of love and beauty. Some were charmed and some were offended. The controversy served to give the film far more publicity than it deserved and drove those ticket sales to make it one of the top ten grossers the year of its release. Other films before The Blue lagoon hit that same audience squarely on the head by pulling its collective heart strings.

Melody (1971) a British film starring the two teen sensations from Oliver (1968) Jack Wild and Mark Lester with Tracy Hyde was a lovely film. Music was provided by The Bee Gees well before their Saturday Night Fever set in. There were some very sweet scenes as the two youngsters rode the railroads into the countryside from the city. The film was known as SWALK – Sealed With A Loving Kiss – in England. 1971 also saw the release of the American Film, Friends. This time out a young boy from England runs away with a French girl. They set up house in a secluded area eventually having a baby and trying to cope with the many complications that follow. Elton John provided the music which became a hit soundtrack album. Friends was a very big hit and had the baby story well before the Blue Lagoon. Clearly puppy love could mean big box office but there was nothing attempted like The Blue Lagoon before. At least according to the publicity surrounding the film. There was a tremendous amount of tease associated with this film. Brooke Shields was 14 years old and the film had an R rating.

The film is based on a 1908 novel, the first part of the Blue Lagoon Trilogy by Henry De Vere Stacpoole. There was an earlier largely forgotten version made in 1949 with Jean Simmons and Donald Houston cast much older as the leads. Randall Kleiser’s last directed film was the immensely successful adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. The Blue lagoon was never intended to have the kind of adolescent awakening or dark edge that the Australian set film, Walkabout (1971) did. In this story set in the early nineteen hundreds two seven years olds are shipwrecked on an island after their schooner catches fire and capsizes. At first they have the lovable old sailor Paddy played with affection by English character actor Leo McKern. He teaches them how to survive and plays dress up games with them. He warns them to never cross to the other side of the island where the boogey man lives. He dies and the two seem to manage just film gorging themselves on fruit, vegetables and fish. They even have a huge two story oceanfront penthouse. One afternoon as the two playfully swim in the beautiful blue lagoon and tease each other they morph from kids into the lithe bodies of two teenagers. It’s a pretty scene.

Just as you’d expect they progress from a bother and sister like relationship into an adolescent sexual tug of war. Less the proceedings get too prurient anytime the couple approaches any kind of lingering affection, Kleiser cuts to the natural beauty of the island paradise. Each caress brings another look at the radiantly colored cockatoo birds or one of the varieties of tropical fish on display. This serves to make it all very sanitized and Disneyfied. Clearly there was a very conscious attempt made to keep things from getting smarmy or untoward. We learn that Ms. Shields used a double for the fleeting nude scenes. In fact if you follow any of the shots with Ms. Shields you’ll see that she is covered or blocked by trees, fawns or Christopher Atkin’s arm or out of focus hair. It’s like an Austin Powers ballet of hide the chest. The times she has to stand upright in full unobstructed view or run around her long thick hair is affixed to her chest with glue and adhesive. Atkins is on display though again everything is done to keep things from getting prurient in any way.

It should be noted that the tropical paradise depicted in the cozy lagoon looks fabulous. Nester Almandros who won the Academy Award for his work on Days of Heaven (1978) works the natural light like a master. Almost the entire film is shot outside. He plays the sunlight and shadows to create a bucolic atmosphere that is stunning. Colors, skin tones and the textures of the water are just breathtaking. However for almost two hours there are just two people in this film and neither one is much of an actor. They look great. The locations in the Fiji Islands are gorgeous. Unfortunately any kind of believability in the story is strained too much. The fair skinned kids never burn just tan. We never see them show any kid of survival skills. They live in a two story jungle penthouse that does not even have any of the rudimentary comforts that Tarzan had. What do they do for days, weeks and years? We see that the people on the other side of the island commit human sacrifices to some stone god yet they never meet and it is a very small island. The couple hears them and their drums clearly though the natives never hear them, not even when Brooke is screaming her head off during childbirth. It is a very idyllic life that they lead. It is purely a fantasy that seems to play more to the dreams of the puppy love crowd than anything else. One gets the feeling that Kleiser has brought his own idealized version of his youthful dreams to bear on this film. It’s a nice daydream; just don’t know that anyone but him would believe it. Still it does look wonderful.

Then ending is very contrived and implausible, but then this film is not about reality. It’s a dream. If one can take it as a sweet adolescent daydream maybe that’s the way to go. Unfortunately the spell gets broken far too often by the poor acting, wafting direction and disappointing script. It’s interesting that most of the puppy love films never seemed to have garnered enough of a reputation to keep them relevant over the years. Even nostalgia has passed them by. Maybe puppy love is just a daydream we had long ago. To be that young, in that kind of doe eyed fascination with a beautiful girl and then to be dragged to the movies – what do you think she wants to see?

Video -
1.85:1 The ocean paradise presented in The Blue Lagoon looks fabulous. Colors, skin tones and the lush tropical plant life shot in the Fiji Isalnds all look realistic. Detail is crisp. The vibrant coloring of the birds and various sea creatures is captivating. Nestor Almandros’ cinematography was justly nominated for an Academy award. His use of natural light complements the film wonderfully since the entire movie takes place outdoors. The team of Valerie and Ron Taylor (Jaws) did the underwater scenes. This is a stunning looking disc. Fans of the film will want to bask in its luster.The publicity pictures do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray.

Audio –
5.1 DTS HD. The sole option is an English track that shows up Basil Poledouris’ lush orchestrations. His work here easily fits with the picture postcard perfect photography.
Together with Mr. Almandros they have created what a dreamy perfect tropical paradise could look and sound like.

Extras –
Twlight Time presents their isolated soundtrack for fans of the film to enjoy on its own. Commentary with the director and Brooke Shields. There is another commentary with the director this time covering the film with Christopher Atkins. We also get a vintage making of featurette, An Adventure in Filmmaking: The Making of The Blue Lagoon. Trailer and teasers.
It is nice to see Twilight Time including some additional extras with their releases. These were ported over from a previous DVD edition and they are a nice addition to their usual exemplary transfers.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair

Wild Geese (1978) Blu-Ray / DVD Review

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Stars: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger, and Jack Weston
Director: Andrew McLaglen
Released by – Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Wild Geese is a great old school action team film. Made in the late seventies it follows squarely in the tradition of The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Professionals (1966), The Guns of Navarone (1961) The Magnificent Seven (1960), and the granddaddy of them all, The Seven Samurai (1954). These films all adhered to a recipe, adding their own spices and flavors to create a solid manly meal of a film that will stick to your ribs long after the table has been cleared. Things begin with the mission. Stewart Granger (King Solomon’s Mines) plays a very wealthy business man who offers mercenary Richard Burton (Villain) a considerable sum to extract a prominent African leader from captivity. Most believe him dead and his reappearance will allow Granger to exploit the copper mines in Africa. The politics of the day and the unstable revolutionary air in Africa get some traction here particularly when we see Idi Amin Dada’s face flashed during the credits. Burton names a princely sum. It is accepted and the second part of the show falls into place as Burton calls upon an old friend Richard Harris (A Man Called Horse) to plan the mission. He refuses at first but then gets draw in. He is the one with the big heart and dreams of spreading freedom. There is a nice side plot that allows us to see Harris with his son who is at a boarding school. It is played tenderly. Roger Moore (The Saint) joins in too and here begins the third part of the formula – the assembling of the team. They hold auditions. We see a parade of battle scared veterans who are just itching to get back in the action. Retired Sergeant Sandy (Jack Weston) gets rescued from pruning roses at his house. Throughout there is a very British look and feel that we see in the locations and nature of all these personalities.

The no holds barred training sequence follows next with Sergeant Sandy putting them through their paces. He’s a right bastard of a drill master breaking them all down and building them up. True to the genre’s form the mission date gets moved up and the team boards a plane to take them to the Zembala prison. We’re at least an hour into the film maybe more before all hell breaks loose. The build up is handled wonderfully. You know the major players well and have a smattering familiarity with the rest. After a terrific rescue with Hardy Kruger firing off cyanide tipped arrows with a crossbow into the guards in the towers to take them out silently, It’s amazing how many of these films have an expert with a bow and arrow; from Burt Lancaster in The Professionals all the way to Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games, the bow is one very cool weapon. Again adhering to the recipe things go badly wrong and the team knows they have been double crossed. They have to scramble with Harris improvising a new plan to get them out of Africa. Along the way comrades fall and the thirst for revenge builds. Kruger has a change of opinion about the leader they have rescued and goes from calling him kaffir to bloke as he carries the wounded president on his back. It’s hokey but it works all the same.

Director Andrew McLaglen delivers solid action as surely as he builds that cavalier bonhomie between the mercenaries. McLaglen has made lots of westerns and TV series plus he directed John Wayne several times. Being a later seventies film the blood flows pretty freely here. There are some severe deaths by way of knife and machete. The plethora of explosions and gunfire meet and exceed the standard of the times. It’s worth noting that many of these actors have tremendous skills. With relatively little screen time many of them manage to define strong characters that you care about. Burton and Harris, no matter what kind of film they are in always bring something interesting to the part. Roger Morre’s suave style fits his part nicely. Jack Weston essays the tough sergeant who endears himself to Burton, the team and us. The casting across the board is terrific. It’s also de rigueur with these kinds of films to recognize so many of the cast, even if you can’t name them. The Wild Geese is a very entertaining action romp. The scenes with Richard Harris and his son build to a touching closing scene with Richard Burton.

 

Video -
1.85:1 The transfer is very faithful to the source and looks wonderful here. Colors are strong. At times the photography is a bit soft but that is the way it was shot. Sometimes the faces look a bit ruddy. Burton will occasionally have redness in his facial tone; however the detail is strong enough that you can make out the veins in his blood shot eyes. The exteriors scenes that were shot in South Africa look wonderful with lots of natural color in the skies, the water and the surrounding plant life. The Blu-Ray is sharper and has a much more vibrant treatment of color but he DVD holds it own nicely.

Audio –
An English track is presented in 5.1 and Mono. All dialogue is clear. The explosions will not overpower your system. The music is a bit too jaunty for the film at hand. The orchestration have a bouncy touch to them that seems out of place here, however we can hear them all fine.

Extras –
New interview with Director Andrew McLaglen, The Mercenary interview with advisor Mike Hoare, The Last of the Gentleman Producers about Euan Lloyd, Commentary with Lloyd, Roger Moore and others, The Flight of the Wild Geese, Charity Premiere footage and Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Good/ Excellent

Movie – Good/ Excellent

Silent Night Blu-Ray / DVD Review

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Stars: Malcolm McDowell, Jamie King
Director: Steven C. Miller
Released by – Anchor Bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Silent Night is not really a remake of the 1984 film, Silent Night, Deadly Night but is does succeed in getting that eighties slasher movie vibe right. It is Christmas Eve in a small Mid Western town. There is no snow on the street but it is cold. Jaime King plays a deputy that has yet to prove herself in the eyes of the cynical old sheriff. She will get her chance and then some tonight. Malcolm McDowell plays the sheriff. He’s got white hair and a mustache. They’ve stuffed him into a police outfit and he’s managed to mostly lose his English accent. He’s an excellent actor but feels miscast here. He’s either playing it way too straight or the writing and direction don’t quite know what to do with him. The bulk of the picture is carried by Jamie King who has done a lot of series work in TV. She’s not bad but is not compelling enough to shoulder the film the way a grizzled veteran or a hungry newcomer out to make their reputation would. She does get to wear a fur police hat just like Frances McDormand did in Fargo though. That doesn’t hamper the film though because the psycho in the Santa Claus suit is the one we’re all watching this for. Director Miller supplies plenty of quality kills with enough frequency that things move along just fine.

The small town is presented nicely. Christmas decorations are hung as far as the eye can see. Holidays Santas are everywhere. That’s a nice touch as we know that the killer will blend in easily once the body count starts. There’s a fun bit later on with the cops rounding up a variety of not so jolly old St. Nicks in the police station. Deputy Jamie King has to answer a call about a particularly obnoxious holiday Santa that’s been scaring the little kids in the town square. Meanwhile the star of the show is beginning to dispatch those who have been naughty. There are quite a few in the quiet little burb including a very perverted preacher. We see him ogling the pretty Christmas Carolers who are dressed in some rather skimpy skirts for the winter. He asks to take their picture for his church parish blog but keep taking snaps of their chests. He gets his but good.

The real attraction here is the rampage of retribution that Santa has come to town to exact. We see him put on a mask and then the costume so we don’t know who he is. Whether he is really the embodiment of an old town legend fulfilling a legacy is never made clear but the flashbacks are fantastic. Easily the high point of the film is a scene of a man in a Santa suit rushing to the outside of a church with a flame thrower. He stands on the steps and lights up a few folks. The flashback scene remains in black and white while the Santa Suit gets the red color treatment. It looks beautiful. The other kills will recall some popular genre films to fans. The wood chipper from Fargo gets a very nice scene. Someone is impaled on a deer antler rack on the wall in Salem’s Lot fashion. There’s a nice nod to the original Silent Night, Deadly Night. We even see a character fall from a second story window only to be gone in the next shot leaving something behind just as The Shape did in Halloween. There are a few others to be spotted, too. While the film is short on the suspense department it does give us a lead villain with a real mean spirit. The stalk and slash vibe from those old eighties films is strong here. The kills are plentiful and inventive. Whether by flame thrower, axe, electrocution or wood chipper the hits keep on coming. Love that tag line on the cover, “He knows who’s been naughty”  Go get ‘em, Santa.

 

Video -
2.40:1 All detail is strong as would be expected from a recent film. Of note are the night scenes with the flamethrower that look very strong. The way a good Blu-Ray can handle flame continues to impress.

Audio –
True HD 5.1 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH and Spanish. Dolby 5.1 on the DVD A serviceable but unremarkable track.
Extras –
Deleted scenes, Silent Night: Behind the Scenes – a very quick buzz through featurette.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

The Pete Walker Collection Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Stars: Susan George, Lynne Frederick, Jack Jones, David Doyle, Sheila Keith
Director: Pete Walker
Released by – Redemption, Kino Lorber

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Die Screaming Marianne (1971), House of Whipcord (1974), Schizo (1976)
The Comeback (1978)

Pete Walker made over a dozen thrillers mostly in the seventies in England though few of them are well known in the United States. His films were generally given second tier distribution in the United Kingdom and played throughout many other European markets. They all had suitably salacious and marketable titles. In most cases they did not have much recognizable star power to drive them like some of the Italian horror films that imported American film stars. There were plenty of horror, crime and seedy dark films coming out of England that made strong impressions everywhere. Walker’s works have kept a low profile these many years with the occasional release popping up without much fanfare. However fans of horror, slashers, thrillers and all manner of exploitation fare can takes advantage of this opportunity to see a good helping of his work in excellent shape.

Die Screaming Marianne (1971)
Long years ago there were a few films that played on late night TV. They centered on some poor unfortunate but gorgeous go-go girl who was being stalked by an unsavory character. The most infamous of that genre was the Sal Mineo cult classic, Who Killed Teddy Bear. Ever once in a while, like fools gold gleaming in the night, this title would flicker by. It had an unbelievably cool credit sequence with Susan George dancing in a bikini with chains. She was most well known from the Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs that featured a very controversial rape scene. There was a vague feeling that the “good parts” were cut out of this film for TV and that this one was a real doozey if you could ever get the uncut version. She does indeed play a dancer in this film but the credits are where she does all her dancing. People are after her for her inheritance and some incriminating documents. There’s a lot of riding around in sports cars and changing into very cool outfits, but not much action. The plot is a bit convoluted but mostly the film just kind of drags along. There is no sex or violence. If you saw only this film you’d never guess the kinds of films that director Pete Walker usually made. The conversations are plentiful but there is not much of a pay off for those who hang in there. Still it’s a helluva credit sequence.

House of Whipcord (1974)
Apparently Peter Walker wanted to make one of those women in prison pictures that were starting to become a staple in the exploitation world. He and a writer came up with this plot that gave him his prison disguised as a mansion hidden in the nether regions of England. Within its dark foreboding walls a secret society collected women whose values were deemed indecent for society. Once inside they were judged and punished. The inmates, and there are very few, are subjected to degrading treatment by the two matrons and an old judge that run the facility. The governess in charge takes particular delight in her duties and behaves just the way a warden should in these kinds of films. There are some brutal punishments doled out but the whipping and hangings take place off screen. We hear some screams and are left to imagine the title whipcord inflicting its pain. Though the level of exhibitionism is much tamer than the WIP (women in prison) films that came out from New World in the United States, Walker does create an atmosphere of fear, isolation and abandonment in his house. There is a dreariness that pervades the film. There is no outward humor or tongue in check behavior here to lighten the proceedings. Walker admits to wanting to take a shot at the high and mighty moralists who would  pass judgement on certain behavior when they themselves were in fact riddled with their own evil. Though some of the judge’s lines may smack of a right wing nut job, the film is not overly political at all.

Though this is clearly a low budget film, Walker uses good locations and gets major mileage out of the sets he is able to wrangle for the film. The actors are well chosen and all turn in good performances. Though it runs a bit long House of Whipcord is a decent exploitation picture. It’s a different sort than the types that played double bills in the sleazier parts of town most people are familiar with.

Schizo (1976)
With this one Walker seems to be making much more of the kind of film he is known for. He gets better as he goes along in terms of his craft, too. The beginning of the film concerns a very ruddy rough looking character in a shabby raincoat. He checks into a sleazy hotel and scans the local newspapers. He spots an article about a star ice skater. He takes a pen and circles her face. The camera moves in for a close up of the paper as the pen begins circling over and over tearing into the paper. Walker cuts to the blade of an ice skate circling and spewing up a spray of ice. It’s not an art house cut but he does these kinds of image associations when he can in this one and the next, giving the film a bit more style. Lynne Frederick is the young skating star. Frederick married Peter Sellers after this film and then David Frost after he died. The skating star gets married and all we see are less than a dozen people coming out of a nice doorway onto the street as the couple gets into a car. It’s good to see that budget mindset at work. Why bother showing the wedding?

With this one we get lots of killings, bloodshed and the sense that the killer could be anyone of a number of possible cast members. Walker favors a very bright red blood and throws lots of it in the face of any victim. He’s got one kill here with a knitting needle through the back of the head that comes out of someone’s eye that is a real show stopper. Despite this he’s more after atmosphere and the sense of danger and growing paranoia than gore. The film builds like a who-done-it with a twist ending. With Lynn Frederick he’s even able to throw in some nude shots. Schizo gets a good level of fear going and plays it out well. It feels a bit long and paced more like a drama than a typical horror outing. The opening ten minutes or so are beautifully done. There is a nicely unsettling séance sequence later on that sends the members of a hereafter club running into the streets.

The Comeback (1978)
This is another one that feels like it came off just the way it was intended. Jack Jones plays a singer who is looking to make a comeback after six years out of the business. Jones himself had his biggest chart hit with Wives and Lovers by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. He can really sing but it’s more in that MOR light romantic crooning style. What he’s likely most recognizable for is doing the vocal on the theme from TV’s The Love Boat. He does a very nice job here even with that seventies hair cut and sideburns. His manager, Web is played by David Doyle who is instantly pegged as Bosley from TV’s Charlie’s Angels. Every time he speaks you keep waiting for him to say, “Angels.”  His assistant and the love interest for Mr. Jones is played by Pamela Stephenson who did a stint on Saturday Night Live in the mid eighties. Jones is moved into a huge mansion in an out of the way part of the country so he can concentrate on his new album. Sheila Keith who we saw as one of the evil wardens in House of Whipcord is back as part of the husband and wife caretakers of the mansion. She’s got a snide remark for everything this ex teen idol does. Jones has a very creepy right hand man that can’t be trusted. We even spot his manager hiding upstairs all by himself putting on women’s make up. Again we’ve got a rogue’s gallery of red herrings to choose from.

Jones’ ex-wife is brutally murdered by a loon in a mask with some kind of wickedly sharp blade and left on the stairs in his penthouse in the city. Her hand gets loped off in the attack. Walker leaves her there on the stairs and cuts back to the decaying corpse every so often. There are a series of incidents in that mansion with Jones seeing or hearing a ghost. He even thinks he sees his wife’s head in a hat box. We’re left to wonder if someone is actually moving that dead body and head around to drive him off the deep end or is he really seeing a ghost? Walker uses the creepy basement entrance to the city penthouse and the large mansion to amp up the growing fear factor. He’s very good with the atmosphere. The Comeback has a good level of violence though any sex scenes are reduced to soft focus glimpses through a car window and the fleeting glimpse of a bare shoulder or two. This one works well for what it is. The casting is  good and they all look the part.

The Collection
Pete Walker certainly knows how to pick his locations. The times he needs to shoot on the streets he finds desolate alleys and swank side streets. He makes the most of a generally very small cast. His low budget training is apparent throughout. There is a scene in a hospital hallway shot at a corner with a man walking way off in the distance. He creates activity with only three people in the shot. However all of his films feel about twenty minutes too long. He favors a pace that feels far more suited to getting the drama and melodrama out of a narrative rather than going straight for the jugular. Again, that is just a different set of choices made by a director. The first two felt off beat to me, but by the third and forth I was used to his rhythm and enjoyed them much more. He’s definitely got a penchant for big out of the way mansions in the country side. The man knows how to exploit a location. Walker always favors red herrings. At one point during The Comeback you could make a very good case that anyone in the film could quite easily be plotting to kill almost anyone else in the picture. There is not much humor in his films. He offers up some lightness  though it’s far less apparent than one would expect.  He’s got a slower pace and less outright exploitation than most exploitation directors in the genre. However Walker’s films fit right in with the rest.  It’s good to have a little different taste in the old palate once in a while.

Video -
All widescreen format. Die Screaming Marianne 1.77:1, House of Whipcord 1.66:1, Schizo 1.78:1, The Comeback 1.78:1.
The films all look excellent. Detail is very strong. Facial tones and Mr. Walker’s favorite shade of stage blood look great. That red blood may very well be the brightest thing in all of the films.  Contrast is generally on the  low side. The features here particularly the later ones do not have a real film-like presence. At times they lean too far into a flat look for this reviewer’s taste. But that is a matter of choice. Since these are sourced from the original negatives one would reason that’s the look that was intended.  For budget fare these all look very good indeed.

Audio –
All films are presented in their original English tracks in LPCM mono. No subtitles are offered. All dialogue, music and effects come across clear.

Extras –
Three audio commentaries with the director. Trailers for all except Schizo. What’s best is a series of all new interviews with the director spread across each disc. Each one is focused on the film it accompanies. Pete Walker has a great memory, is candid and comes off very likeable indeed. He’s easy to listen too and appears genuinely flattered that his films have garnered this level of appreciation. We also hear from Jack Jones for The Comeback.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Die Screaming Marianne – Poor
House of Whipcord – Good
Schizo – Good
The Comeback – Good