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Archive for May, 2014

Gang War in Milan (1973) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

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Stars – Antonio Sabato, Philippe Leroy, Antonio Casagrande, and Marisa Mell
Director – Umberto-Lenzi

 
Released by Raro / Kino

 
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 
Umberto Lenzi gives us an escalating game of tit for tat between two crime bosses in his Gang War in Milan aka Milano Rovente. Antonio Sabato plays Salvatore. He’s got a seventies mack daddy mustache and enough garish slick clothes to fill a small store. He’s got a good thing going with his bevy of prostitutes in Milan. Salvatore has plenty of mustachioed henchmen is bad leisure suits and one dependable right hand man. As the film opens one of his favored girls is found dead in a swimming pool. Then a whole passel of them are kidnapped. We see the girls in a park gathered around burn barrels to keep warm. They are all dressed in that familiar mix of fake fur and stockings that screams I am a working girl to any car that passes with fifty yards. The girls are taken and then released to get Salvatore’s attention.

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The other crime boss here is The Captain or Le Capitaine. He is French and he deals smack. Basically he wants to extend his operation into Milan by having Salvatore’s girls offer the drugs to their johns. Forget that the economics of either operation don’t; seem to support the large organizations behind them. Over a polite conversation the captain offers Salvatore a very low percentage to become partners. Salvatore refuses. The bulk of the film is one side taking a running shot at the other and then the response. There are no wild car chases along the narrow streets or scenic highways. Don’t expect any gun battles or shoot outs either. The gang war we see here is strictly you hit one of my girls I hit one of your guys. While none of the violence is portrayed in a particularly graphic way these two men do get carried away. Some of the women are cut across the chest. One girl has acid thrown in her face. Salvatore’s right hand man gets his privates zapped with electric wires.

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The two leads play it over the top. The macho posturing and threatening are what these guys are all about. Lenzi is certainly better known for his horror flicks like Cannibal Ferox but he made a few of these gangster crime films, too. The mustaches and outlandish clothes come standard with Italian crime films. The genre usually features some daring car chases and shoot outs but this time the pyrotechnics are between the two big bosses who shove each other’s gangs around. Towards the end there is some clever jockeying for power. Salvatore brings in an expert and falls for a gorgeous lady. That neither of them are what they seem will come as no surprise to fans of any country’s crime films. Gang War in Milan is not one of the greats but is still a fun ride with some amusing performances.

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Video – 2.35.1
Colors come off nice and loud and it suits them well. Detail is fine though not strong. That’s very likely due to the original film. The cinemaphotography is not noteworthy. The materials are in very decent shape giving the film a nice outing in general.

Audio- LPCM Mono in English or Italian. Subtitles are offered in English.
The whole thing us dubbed anyway as was the style of filmmaking there then so you never get to hear any voice performances that match the acting. The music in several places toward the end of the film speeds up and slows down causing it to go off pitch and warble at bit. It’s what Paula Abdul used to call getting a bit pitchy on American Idol. You’d think it would but none of this detracts from the film at all. It’s part of the charm and style along with the outrageous suits.

Extras -
Italian and English trailers. Introduction to the film from Mike Malloy. Mike cleans lots of weapons as he talks. He goes from rifle to knife as he covers the familiar aspects of the genre while pointing out things of note in this film. He knows his stuff and shares it willingly.

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

Movie – Good

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

The Firm (2009) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

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Stars: Paul Anderson, Calum MacNab, Daniel Mays, Doug Allen, Joe Jackson
Director: Nick Love

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

There is a small collection of films made about football (soccer) hooligans. The first one to really tackle the subject was Alan Clarke’s powerful British made for TV movie The Firm (1989). Clarke regularly pushed the envelope with his early films. They were politically charged critiques of the system filled with powerful young men who could barely be contained by society. The Football Factory (2004) was a solid film with some very violent fight scenes. Green Street Hooligans (2005) with Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings) took an American overseas for the treatment. These young men cluster in tight knit groups to support their local football team. Their behavior at the matches and brutal clashes with fans of opposing teams caused them to be referred to as hooligans. However they call themselves firms. There is a dress code and a palpable sense of belonging. They are different from other gangs like the skinheads in that they ostensibly structure their lives around the matches. They walk or ride en mass to the local and away games with a devotion that is scary.

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The Football Factory was directed by Nick Love. He also made this remake of Alan Clarke’s film. That raises the question, why would a director of one of these films choose to remake another one of them. He appears to love it. In the making of extra Love comes off as a tremendously enthusiastic director who really knows the details of the mid eighties and the setting of this piece. It seems he also has a penchant for giving all around him nick names. The realistic camaraderie seen on screen seems to have been a natural extension of the atmosphere that Love created on the set. There is no doubt that he makes this his film his own though. He makes one very significant change that is apparent from the start.

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In Alan Clarke’s film Bex played by Gary Oldman is a strong character who thrives on leading his mates. He gets a real kick out of the confrontations with the other firms; but more than that he needs to be followed. In Nick Love’s film the emphasis is on the young man Dom who desperately wants to belong rather than on the charismatic leader. More than anything Dom wants to follow, to be part of something bigger that gives him a way to define his life. We see the way he transforms himself in order to fit in. He goes to the local sports clothing shop and convinces his parents to buy him an expensive track type suit just like Bex wears. He saves up and buys a pair of very stylish training sneakers. Later we see him and one of his new friends from the firm at the very same store. Dom distracts the sales clerk while his buddy stuffs the trendy suits into a travel bag.

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Never once do we see an actual football game. We barely glean which team they support. There are no team scarves or banners. There are a few posters and pictures taped to the walls of some of the characters. But they don’t read the sports pages of the newspapers. They do not gather around the TV at the pub and watch any games together. The game is just an excuse. These boys are after something much more dangerous than cheering a victory by someone like David Beckham. Nick Love sets this film very solidly in the mid eighties. The attention to detail is terrific. The Adidas sneakers, the training and track suits, the sweaters and jackets are all perfect. The music is spot on.

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Calum McNab plays Dom. He conveys his desperate need to be just like his newly found hero Bex so well. Just how far will he go to be one of the guys? That’s really what drives the story here. Bex and his counterpart with another firm Yeti call each other on the phone and trade insults. When the groups gather they taunt each other and hurl garbage and empty bottles. These are not small groups at all. There is a concrete sense of menace as they saunter through the row houses and block style developments. They both seem to thrive on the brinksmanship. There is real blood boiling below the surface and Dom can sense it. Others in the firm feel it too after a horrible confrontation when Yeti’s group brings hammers and wooden clubs to a rumble. One man gets his face cut open. Cars are smashed up. We know, just like in the old western films that high noon is fast approaching and that the game has suddenly changed. The stakes are higher and the boisterous posturing must give way to something more deadly. In that scary atmosphere we will see just what really drives Dom and Bex. It’s a powerful story. Love’s film is more personal and less political than Clarke’s. He gets a good result though and his picture can stand right alongside the other on its own merits.

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Video – 2.35:1
The film looks wonderful and has some nice variety to it. We see the colorful trendy track suits and training gear that the men in the firm wear. There is a drab sameness to the working class neighborhoods. The nightclub scenes buzz and shine with the lights. Even though the camera may bob and weave a bit too much for this reviewer’s taste in the fight scenes the sense of out of control mayhem is nicely realized. It reminded me of the way the riots were presented in the superb docudrama, Bloody Sunday (2002).

Audio – DTS HD 5.1 in English
Some of the characters have pretty thick accents and there is a lot of slang thrown around. It is a shame that there are no subtitle options. Given a few moments you may well get used to the dialogue and be fine with it.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature Isolated Music Track, Commentary with director Nock Love, The Making of The Firm, Deleted and Alternate Scenes, Anatomy of the Fights, Trailer. Be sure to catch the Making Of short that features director Nick Love in action. That he cares deeply about the film and is out to have a great time making it are both readily apparent. He’s got a potty mouth, too.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Thunderbirds Are Go 1966) / Thunderbird 6 (1968) Blu-Ray Review

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

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Stars: Peter Dyneley, Shane Rimmer, Sylvia Anderson, Jeremy Wilkin and Cliff Richard and the Shadows
Director: David Lane

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 units
Available at screenarchives.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This is Supermarionation. It is not the stop motion animation like Ray Harryhausen did, nor is it like the old Davey and Goliath or Gumby TV shows. These are actual marionettes with facial features that do not move save for the lower jaw, eyebrows and eyes. Gerry Anderson pioneered his method by taking the current state of marionettes and puppetry into the future with two very successful TV series, Supercar (1961–62) and Fireball XL5 (1962). These did very well and were on TV sets all over particularly in the lucrative American TV market. In the swinging mid sixties in London Anderson hit it even bigger with his Thunderbirds series. His production partner Lew Grade thought this was such a hit that he commissioned two feature films to be made from the series. While the Television show was a smash the premiere theatrical film failed to light up the box office at all. At the time audiences were not used to seeing their favorite TV shows on the big screen and this may have accounted for the paltry turn out. Why go to the cinema when you can see it at home? Thunderbirds was not picked up for a television run in the United States. For whatever elusive reasons the feature films did not find an audience then but they certainly have plenty of charm.

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You don’t watch these films for the characterization and the witty dialogue. This is all about the effects. The miniature work here is fabulous. The closest cousin to it is some of the work that Toho effects superstar Eiji Tsuburaya did on the Godzilla series and other films. The sets are rich in detail. The costumes are cool. However it’s the way that all the rocket ships and vehicles move that get your attention. There are explosions, too. Things are always crash landing into the water. The characters get around in spaceships and souped up futuristic cars. Even their chairs zip backwards down the hallway into another room or descend down a shaft into the basement. Anderson goes to great lengths to avoid having to show us these guys actually having to get up and walk around. It becomes a fun game to see if you can spot even one instance where they walk on their own volition or strings. All that zipping around and riding and gliding gives the cast a unique feel.

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This is a pretty obscure sub-set genre. But it’s got more fans than you night think. Trey Parker and Matt Stone the guys from South Park made Team America: World Police in 2004 which sent up and satirized the whole marionettes with cool rocket ships and weapons genre. Cliff Richard was a big rock n roll star in England. When he and his group The Shadows agreed to be transformed into marionettes for the show that was a cool acknowledgement of the Thunderbirds popularity. We see them in the film in a very trippy sequence. One of the marionettes dreams that he rides a Jetsons type space car to a futuristic discothèque that is floating in space. Cliff and the band perform an instrumental and a song. It is shot and presented in a wonderfully imaginative and sixties mod style. Stanley Kubrick was also a fan of the series. Far out!

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Every once in a while when you see a close of up of one of the crew having to work on a console or start up a car you can tell that a real person has been suited up and costumed just so they can use a shot of their hands. Other than this show belongs to the marionettes and the vast array of super cool cars and rockets. There is almost a fetish with the blast off sequences. The caption is always getting everyone ready to go for the count down. It’s is all very well done and quite entertaining.

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They have been lots of puppet type shows like The Muppets and Fragile Rock but again the effects not the characters are the real stars here. The intricate painting and tiny little knobs and control switches are marvelous to look at. The mechanics of the shows are fascinating. You know this is being done live action with people crawling around on the floor and hanging from the rafters or up in catwalks to operate everything. This is almost like a small boy waking up one morning to find that all his battle toys and action heroes have suddenly started to move like they were real. The second film, Thunderbirds 6 is also included. That one though very similar does not have quite the same charm factor. The sense of wonder that carried me through the first one may have been taped out. If you’ve an appreciation for effects work or space toys at all this is tough to resist.

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Video – 2.35:1
This looks simply stunning. One of the reasons that this looks so good is that the entire movie is basically table top photography. Everything that is shot is treated like a product shot in a slick magazine style catalogue. It has to be lit so bright to show off all the intricate detail. With that much light the color and detail pop off the charts

Audio – DTS HD 5.1 and 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is perfectly clear. Music and effects are all mixed in well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature Isolated Music Track, Commentary with producer Sylvia Anderson and director David Lane, Lady Penelope Building better Puppets, Tiger Moth, Photo Montage, A call from Stanley Kubrick, Television tribute, and trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic
Movie –Good

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Ravenous (1999) Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

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Stars -  Guy Pearce, Robert Carlyle, David Arquette, Jeremy Iron, Jeffrey Jones, John Spencer
Director – Antonia Bird

 
Released by Scream / Shout Factory

 
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

 
If you’re hungry for an intelligent and creative horror film that doesn’t pull any punches then Ravenous should be your next meal. Combining several genres this refreshing story feels like an old school period piece until it breaks taboos without a thought. Guy Pearce (The Proposition) is a reluctant war hero during the Mexican American conflict. His heroism is celebrated at formal steak dinner with all the well dressed military men chowing down, expect for Pearce. Following the dinner the General played by John Spencer (The West Wing) tells him he thinks he is a coward and sends him to the most useless remote outpost so he can find so he can stay out of the way with nothing to do but stay there. It doesn’t turn out that way.

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Once Pearce arrives at the fort director Antonia Bird wastes no time in setting up the characters. It is a small group and each one gets a brief down and dirty look. One is a drunk, one a religious fanatic, once fancies himself a real warrior while another spends his time getting high with one of the local Indians. It is a motley crew led by a commander who’d just as soon spend his days cracking walnuts and rereading his collection of literature until he is relived of duty. One evening a man stumbles his way to the fort. He is half frozen to death. After they thaw him out he tells is ghastly tale of survival. He and his party were stuck in the deep wilderness and their food supply ran out. It feels like the tale of the Donner party who were forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive. It is an historic and harrowing tale that Robert Carlyle tells from behind a long think mountain man beard. Carlyle fled leaving one crazed man behind who was holding two of the party captive in a cave. The commander rallies them for a rescue mission to save the last two before they are consumed. Carlyle leads them deep into the winter woods.

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Everything looks so realistic. It is freezing cold. The detail in the costumes and the naturalistic way the men interact with each other is spot on. The film works in two acts like an old fashioned play or novel. The first part is the hellacious journey to the cave and what they find there. The second part is what happens back at the fort when they return. The twists and turns in the plot are frequently unexpected. Like a good revisionist horror tale we get a new set of rules that govern cannibalism. Once the human flesh is consumed there is an exuberant almost intoxicating feeling. The health of the victim is transferred with the meat. Along with this craven nourishment comes a cure for ailments. Even serious wounds are cured. Three have a taste. One embraces it, one abhors it and the other waffles trying to find his moral compass. Once one accepts this change the sourcing of the food becomes a difficult task. There is much bloodshed and butchery in this film. I’ll not go into any detail so the surprises are fresh for those who have not seen this.

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Ravenous is a genuine cult treat. For whatever reason the film did not do that well. Though well regarded by many who have seen it the film still does not have a large following. Perhaps the period setting made people think it would be too literate and not vicious enough. I can assure you that is not the case though it does have a very polished look to it. For what must have been a lesser budget the period detail and photography are very strong. The performances are all wonderful. Each one of the main characters has their own set of quirky traits. Director Antonio only made three others theatrical films, nine of which are near as well done as this one. She did some work in TV after this but never made another feature. There is a very nice balance here between the drama, the horror, the period detail, the blood shed and some very lightly done dark humor that suits the story perfectly. That’s a difficult thing to do. Ravenous is well done indeed. Enjoy it if you’ve never seen it and if you have it’s time for a second helping with this solid release from Shout Factory.

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Video – 2.35:1 There is a purposeful look to this film that works very well. It certainly feels like a costume drama from a long time ago yet retains enough of the trapping of a solid horror film to keep you reassured you are in good hands. There are a lot of exteriors in the wilderness and on cliffs that have a natural majesty to them. Some of the interiors are not as strong but it’s all handled so well you’ll enjoy the whole ride immensely.

Audio – DTS HD 5.1
The music has a haunting beauty to it. Much of it feels like it is performed on age old instruments with some modern arranging. Strings are plucked. It feels like a hammered dulcimer is struck, too. The only cue that feels a bit off is the overly joyous almost reel like tune that is played under the first chase scene. That’s bit aside this is a very nicely scored track. It suits the film and is very creative.

Extras –
Commentary with director Bird and composer Damon Albarn.
Commentary with screenwriter Ted Griffin and actor Jeffrey Jones.
Commentary with actor Robert Carlyle. Deleted Scenes with commentary by Bird.
Trailer, TV Spot, Still galleries on costume and production design. New interview with Actor Jeffrey Jones. The Jones interview is great. He is fun to listen to and has a real appreciation for the film they made.

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

Movie – Excellent

Blu-Ray – Excellent