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Archive for November, 2014

Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

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Stars – Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Noel Coward, Martita Hunt, The Zombies
Director – Otto Preminger

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This is a terrific thriller with a bit of a bumpy ending. Anne has just dropped her four year old daughter off for her first day at nursery school. We see her asking the cook some questions but we do not see the daughter. In a matter of short minutes the girl can not be located. Anne gets more and more nervous. The school staff can’t find her and the cops are called in. No one has actually seen the daughter that Anne calls Bunny. Anne’s brother Stephen arrives to give support. We do not know whether the girl has truly gone missing or if Bunny exists at all.

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It was adapted from a novel by Merriam Modell writing as Everlyn Piper. The 1957 novel is set in New York City. Anne is an unmarried mother and the judgment associated with that plays heavily on her. Novelist Modell also wrote The Nanny which became a Hammer movie with Bette Davis that came out the same year. The setting was changed to London, Anne was given a brother and the ending was changed. The direction, photography, Saul Bass credits and casting elevated this story into a first class shocker. Otto Preminger brought his noir game (Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends) and his fascination with the more controversial and seedier side of life (Man With The Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder) to the table. His camera is frequently on the move here searching for either the missing child or some other mysterious bit of business. The blocking of the actors within the frame and the careful compositions all show a real professional and artistic hand at work.

b seven

Carol Lynley is so natural and believable as a woman just falling apart at the seems. Is she cracking up because she is actually crazy and filled with delusions since childhood or has she been driven round the deep end with worry over her missing child? We are given plenty of reason to believe the former. Keir Dullea (David and Lisa, 2001) is one of those actors like Klaus Kinski and Michael Shannon that will always come across as off kilter and strange no matter what role they play. They are brother and sister. She is unmarried with a child. Their relationship is without a doubt way too close for comfort. At one point he comforts his sister by caressing her neck and letting his hand linger to smooth her skin. It makes you wonder what kind of games they played as kids, and what kind do they play now? We learn that Bunny was the name of a make believe playmate that Anne created as a child. If Bunny is truly alive, is her brother Stephen the father? The script frequently has us considering all kinds of bizarre behavior. That central conceit, is Bunny missing or just make up, runs through everything. We are always guessing and trying to interpret information as we get it.

b four

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Anne’s new landlord in London is performed by Noel Corward as a smarmy lothario. He is frequently drunk. He makes a very crude pass at her offering to do his irresistible recitations for her in a private performance. There is a former old teacher who lives in the top floor of the school. She plays taped recordings of kids telling their dreams and nightmares to her. She is a very strange bird. When the police detective questions her she is obviously one step ahead of him joking at his interrogations technique. She is very smart and very twisted, but is she harmful? The detective Newhouse belongs to Laurence Olivier. He’s an incredible actor and always a joy to watch. Newhouse is very affable and unflappable. Olivier makes him almost invisible the first time we see him. He is so polite and unassuming. The first thing he does, that we notice is swiping one of the bowls of pudding off the kitchen table in the school. He borrows a spoon and mumbles that he figures they would never mind him taking one bowl. Everyone else in the film seems so agitated that Detective Newhouse with his even keel is the only one we can trust to evaluate the proceedings correctly.

b six

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When the brother and sister return from the school to their rented flat they discover that all of Bunny’s possessions have been stolen. There is nothing that shows she ever was there. The police raise their collective eyebrows to that. Without being able to find a single person who has actually seen her daughter Anne desperately keeps offering up things she bought for her to the police as proof of her existence. Clearly she could have purchased any of these things whether she had a child or not. That does not enter her mind as she relentlessly searches for anything that had belonged to Bunny. Preminger gives us a very spooky scene with Anne visiting a doll hospital in the middle of the night. The door is open. Upstairs an elderly man toils away. He treats the dolls as real, placing them in recovery rooms and such after he repairs them. Anne takes an old fashioned lamp down to the basement. The dolls are everywhere in various stages of surgery. It is shadowy and truly creepy however the music is light and shows an affection for the toys. This is so at odds with what we see. This is not a music cue mistake but someone again asking us if what we see is the same as what the character sees on the screen, and whether we believe that or not. The events are played out in one night with a surging urgency to them.

b five

b eight

For those who have not seen this, I’ll not say a word about the ending. I initially saw this on television late one night and many of the images have stayed with me till this day. This is a strikingly good looking transfer full of great photography. The acting is very impressive across the board with a naturalness to it. Director Preminger has a very sure hand. If you choose to pay attention to his shots and the way he moves both his camera and the actors within the frame you’ll be richly rewarded. Though the eventual totality of the narrative may not sit well with everyone, there is no question that the bulk of the film is an incredible thrill ride. The dark character twists and hints of an unusual sexuality add a nice nuance to the tale.

b ten

Video – 2.35:1
The B&W photography looks stunning throughout. The carefully composed framing looks great here. Plenty of detail is on display with solid black levels. The frequently moving camera is presented well.

Audio – DTS-HD 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
Dialogue is clear. There is a bit of an echo in some of the interiors at the school in the beginning but that has to be down to the actual sound of the room. Music and effects are treated well in the mono mix. Be sure not to miss the Zombies paying on the television in the pub scene with Olivier and Lynley.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature Isolated Score Track, Commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman, Three trailers

You have to see the trailer with The Zombies singing a song that reminds you to get to the theatre on time to see the show, with harmonies yet. “Come on Time !”

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Holiday in Spain (Scent of Mystery) (1960) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

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Stars – Denholm Elliot, Peter Lorre, Paul Lucas, Diana Dors
Director – Jack Cardiff
Released by Redwind Productions

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

You can look at this film two ways. Taken as a regular movie it falls well below par however if you regard it as a rescue of a film that by rights should never even be around in any form anymore it can be quite an interesting adventure. This was the brainchild of the son of one of the most chest thumping bragging showmen in film. Please understand right from the get go that this was not the typical great story that had to be told or the project of a driven director. The showcase rather than the show was always front and center in the mind of Michael Todd and his son, Michael Todd, Jr. Todd was most well know for two things. Cinemascope or true widescreen films come in a variety of formats from VistaVision to Techniscope. Todd created his own process know as Todd-AO. He was also married to Elizabeth Taylor, the most beautiful woman in the world. Todd was a producer, an impresario who had much more in common with P.T. Barnum than any film director you’d care to name.

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With the advent of Television coming into so many households in the fifties Hollywood would from time to time put out a new kind of film that you would never be able to see on the small TV set in your house. 3D films, all of William Castle’s gimmicks and the enveloping widescreen process were all touted as a unique experience you had to come to the theaters for. At that time The Roadshow presentation took hold. Instead of just going up to the box office and buying a ticket you had to reserve your ticket in advance just like going to a concert or a play at the theatre. Also like going to the theatre there would be a full blown overture that would play before you even saw the feature. You read your program as the music played. Then there would be a series of curtains that would open and be drawn up until finally an enormous screen was revealed. You’d get an intermission with music playing and even exit music. Not to be outdone Todd got involved with Cinerama. This process required three separate projectors to show the film, one lined up next to the other. The edges of the outside screens seems to curve entirely around you drawing you into the vision like never before. They took cameras up and down roller coasters in This is Cinerama (1952).

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So now in 1960 Todd Junior outdoes everyone by going a huge step in a direction that no one had gone before. His advertising slogan was, “ First (1893) They moved , Then (1927) They Talked , Now (1950) They Smell”. Scents and smells were piped into specially equipped theaters. As the film showed a rose, you smelled a rose. Fresh bread, the scent of the ocean breeze and others filled the theatre. When the film premiered only a very few places could accommodate this process. The story goes that the pipes fitted with the smells sounded so loud when they jetted the scents out that people could not hear the film. Some complained that the smells hung in the air too long. The whole thing was a well publicized failure. Todd had the film which was originally called Scent of Mystery recut and re-titled Holiday in Spain. The hastily retooled re-release still flopped. It remained a curio that until now very few had been able to see.

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What we have here is Holiday in Spain presented in a Smilebox format that was used so well on the How The West Was Won Blu-Ray special edition. There are no smells, just the film. In 1981 John Waters made his film Polyester with “Odorama“. Theatergoers were given a scratch and sniff card and prompted to sniff along with the film. Rather than the unique olfactory experience Todd Jr. had envisioned what we have is a weak spy type film combined with a travelogue. There are also many shots that linger on things that smell. Denholm Elliot stars as a novelist on holiday who suspects that a pretty woman he follows is about to be murdered. Despite some of the ads’ proclamations the film is a far cry from Hitchcock. It’s ever a far cry from the derivative but well made Charade (1963). Denholm Elliot was a replacement for David Niven. He seems to emulate Niven even recalling the later Niven film, Where the Spies Are (1965). He drags taxi driver Smiley played by Peter Lorre into his quest to find the girl. At that point in his career Lorre was doing lots of supporting roles and many of them like The Raven (1963) were very funny. Lorre had a real knack for comedy and was a killer improviser on set. Since this film had so many scenes that were dubbed in post-production Lorre could not improvise on set and was bound by the limited confines of the script. Had the film been shot sync sound he would have had opportunities to play more.

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What does work well in the film is the photography. Thanks to the Smilebox formatting sequences like the opening are breathtaking. As the credits roll we fly over a villa in Spain dipping left and right and soaring over the landscape. There is an animated butterfly that dances with us in the air. Similar scenes that take to the air or take advantage of a location like the steps that were built into a cliff side later in the film look amazing. There are times when the camera will pan around the room in an interior causing an almost vertigo effect to take hold on the viewer. The film works best with the very interesting commentary track on, so you can enjoy the stimulating visuals for the treat they are.

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Video – Smilebox
A new 1080P re-mastering from 65 & 70mm elements. They call it a reconstruction in the extras but it more rightfully should be named a rescue. It is truly amazing what has been brought back from a poorly stored negative and two less than adequate prints. Even with all the tender care applied flesh tones in particular feel very off in a lot of scenes. There is an anemic look to some portions of some sequences. They are softer than the rest of the film and still show some signs of that magenta fading that is familiar to all of us who have seen faded prints. However by and large this is an heroic effort that boosts colors and detail that had to have been long gone.

Audio -Dolby Digital 2.1 and 5.1 audio restoration from 6-channel original
The music tracks sounds great. Orchestrations are light and bouncy. Much of the dubbed dialogue sounds flat to my ears. The decision to have Denholm Elliot record a narration track comes off very poorly. He makes quips to the audience. The asides are not humorous nor do they help us follow the shreds of a plot. Further he is very difficult to understand any time he does this. For such an expensive film the entire dialogue track is a real disappointment. Fortunately the visuals are the film’s strong suit, complimented nicely by the soundtrack.

Extras – Stereo music CD of Mario Nascimbene’s score, Cinerama Trailers Gallery, Stills Montage, Holiday In Spain Locations short, Missing Scenes from Scent of Mystery version, Rare film elements including “rushes” found in the Cinerama vaults, 36 page miniature Reproduction of the original 1960 Scent of Mystery program, Interviews
With actress Beverly Bentley and Susan Todd daughter of the producer, Remastering of Holiday In Spain short, Commentary With historian Bruce Kimmel, Sandra Shahan, and remastering director David Strohmaier.

The remastering short is terrific as is the commentary that includes David Strohmaier who headed up the remastering staff.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent rescue

Free Fall Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

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Stars – D.B. Sweeney, Malcolm McDowell, Sarah Butler, Adam Tomei, Coley Speaks,
Director – Malek Akkad
Released by Anchor Bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

An executive leaps to his death from a high rise office building, only it’s a murder. Jane Porter is next in line to take his place at the aggressive financial firm only she suspects foul play. The CEO of the firm played by Malcolm McDowell comes in to express his concern over the former colleague. He wishes Jane the best with her new opportunity saying he can spot the qualities in her she needs for the job. Later that day Jane finds evidence on the deceased executive’s computer that implicates the CEO and others. She works late into the night on this. Right about that same time one of the crooked members of the firm and his tough guy partner come in to the almost deserted office building. D.B. Sweeney plays the chief bad guy. He gets rid of the other executive and eliminates the nice security guard who was on duty that night. Now it’s down to just Sarah and Frank the crisis manager.

f three

Earlier in the film we see Sarah Butler who plays Jane working on her Thai boxing skills with her boyfriend. Forget that it looks more like cardio kick boxing moves, we know this will come in handy later in the film. This is basically a cat and mouse game in an empty office. It is very cheaply done so don’t expect the kinds of pyrotechnics that drove the Die Hard series. Sarah’s big move is to hide in one of the elevators. That’s gets kind of dull in short order. When Frank calls in the elevator repairman to get her out at least we have another character on the scene. The final clash between Sarah and Frank is the best action in the whole film. Their fight on top of the elevator is not bad but it’s too little way too late. The only other thing this movie has going for it is the sleek set design of the office which features lots of glass walls. Malcolm McDowell is suitably evil and smarmy in what amount to a cameo. Sarah Butler doesn’t exhibit the character necessary to carry us through the whole film.

f two

There was a TV movie called Trapped made in 1989. No, not the one with James Brolin trapped in a department store with the ravenous Dobermans. This one had Kathleen Quinlan and a man trapped in a high rise office building with a dark clothed killer. This killer favored a heavy metal mallet and an axe as his weapons of choice. The chases between the various stairways, elevators and offices were handled with enough B movie style thrills to make it enormously entertaining. This was surprisingly brutal and scary for a TV Movie. It was directed by Fred Walton who did When a Stranger Calls. That is one obscure film now, but if you want to see how a cheap budget can really succeed in an empty office building that’s your film.

f one

Video – 2.40:1
The film has that ultra clean HD look to it. There is good detail throughout.

Audio – Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles offered in English SDH and Spanish
There are times when the elevator gets rocking that show some nice use of the surrounds. There is some strong assistance from the subwoofer but it is the directionality that will get your attention.

Extras – Free Fall: Behind-the-Scenes

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair

Lord of Illusions (1995) Blu-Ray Review

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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Stars – Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O’Connor, Famke Janssen, Joseph Latimore, Susan Traylor, and Ashley Tesoro
Director -Clive Barker

Released by Scream Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In the third film directed by horror novelist Clive Barker he adapts a story from Books of Blood Volume Six, The Last Illusion. The star is a character that appears several times in his works. Harry D’Amour is a throwback to the kind of detectives that appeared in lots of pulp magazine stories, paperback novels and more than a few movies. Harry’s specialty is occult cases and problems of a supernatural nature. Scott Bakula fresh from his run staring in Quantum Leap (1989-1993) TV series brings an easy going affable presence to the role. Though the film is set in the present day he dresses with an almost forties sense of sharp. Often the locations in the film are reminiscent of an art deco style. He looks so at home wandering through the famed Magic Castle, a Los Angeles nightclub that doubles as the exclusive members only club for The Academy of Magical Arts. Harry fits in well with the old Hollywood style that dominates the interiors of the famed club.. The film is a sometimes confusing mix of that character, magicians, illusionists and a lot of people in serious trouble.

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Barker draws a distinction between those who perform illusions on stage for a paying audience and those illusionists who have dedicated their lives to a darker form of magic.  The film opens with a strange fellow named Nix (Daniel von Bargen) who has a sizable collection of crazed followers. He can float in the air, juggle flame from hand to hand, throw people about with ease and “get inside people’s heads”. Some of the people arriving at his desert hideout seem to be a group of magicians who sense he has gone too far and must be stopped. The rest are just nuts. There is a fantastic confrontation that ends with a young girl chained to the wall as some kind of sacrifice shooting this Nix dead. The leader of the magicians, Swan bolts a series of metal masks to his face and we fast forward to thirteen years later.

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Harry D’Amour follows a case to a man that gets tortured to death by a fortune teller. The man was one of those that invaded Nix’s hideout years before. All of them seem to be targeted by a man who is dead. The leader of that group Swan is now a famous magician living in a huge old Hollywood style mansion in Beverly Hills. He is married to Dorothea the girl who shot Nix, all grown up now and played by Famke Janssen. Keeping track of who is who and who is after who and why is frankly confusing. There are good magicians, bad magicians and those who could go either way. There is a marvelous set piece staged at The Pantages Theatre. Swan has a spectacular magic show there featuring scantily clad dancers and parts of the scenery that move. Two stage hands marvel at how Swan gets ready just before the curtain goes up and he is announced. He collects his thoughts, concentrates and then floats high up into the rafters. One stage hand says to the other it must be wires and the other remarks, “ I don’t see any wires”. It is clear that this magician has a lot more than the normal prestidigitation up his sleeve. That he would use these talents for a magic show rather than something more worthwhile is touched on.

l one

 

Harry D’Amour forms an allegiance with Swan’s wife to investigate the murders that have been going on. A force larger than life is picking off the old crew that silenced Nix. From there we enter in a kind of true life comic book world of Dr. Strange. Impressive illusions are dismissed in favor of the truly dangerous and foreboding stuff that the real masters can affect. The creepy followers sit in a sacred circle cutting off locks of their hair and throwing them in the fire. Many of them look like they have been scalped. This is for the resurrection of Nix. You can tell from the beginning of the film that Nix will come back and have to be stopped again. The rules of the game are not always clear. Some of the plotting and narrative seems to drive off the rails. Those misgivings can be tossed aside if you get caught up in the impressive and very strange visuals. Clive Barker has a vivid imagination. As a director he strives to realize these sights for his audience. The word phantasmagorical comes to mind. It is more of a showcase than a show at times. There is plenty of blood and a large quotient of gore on display. Many of the faces presented are beyond scary as they venture into the grotesque. The goal seems much more subversive than to merely gross you out. Barker definitely tries to take his horror to another level. At times he succeeds though not with enough consistency to drive the whole film.

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Clive Barker shows a much surer hand at directing many of the scenes of Lord of Illusions but they don’t tie together well. His first effort adapting the short story The Hellbound Heart into what became the successful film Hellrasier was, to me his best screenwriting effort. He is overreaching here. However that doesn’t mean that doesn’t make for a very stimulating if not wholly satisfying ride. Clive drives a crooked roller coaster. Come aboard for some genuine thrills.

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Video – 1.78:1
This is a terrific looking film on Blu-Ray. Colors and hues are strong. Black levels are solid. Facial and flesh tones look realistic. Even when the colors are blasted at you they hang in there. Scream Factory gives us both the theatrical version at 109 minutes and a director’s cut at 121 minutes. Each one gets their own disc.

Audio – DTS Master Audio in Stereo
All dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Music fits in well. There are times when the effects track swells up underneath some of the more bombastic explosions and transformations. It is a pretty dynamic track.

Extras – Commentary by director, A Gathering of Magic, Original Behind the Scenes Footage, Deleted Scenes, Photo Gallery, and New Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good