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Archive for December, 2014

Bad Turn Worse DVD Review

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014


Stars – Mackenzie Davis, Jeremy Allen White, Logan Hoffman, Mark Pellegrino, William Devane
Directors – Simon Hawkins, Zeke Hawkins

Released by Anchor bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In the second scene of the film we get a very cool quote from the cult crime author Jim Thomson. A boy and girl are having breakfast and shooting the breeze over biscuits and coffee. They are about to get out of the one horse town they grew up in and head off to college. This is apparently a rare occurrence there. The cute short haired girl Sue (Mackenzie Davis) is a voracious reader of mystery novels. She tells Bobby (Jeremy Allen White) that Jim Thompson wrote that there are thirty-two ways to tell a story but only one plot: Things are not what they seem. He is impressed and retorts with a rumination over whether biscuits and gravy shouldn’t be called a biscuit and gravy. Should it be bacon and an egg? It’s a great scene that sets them up as intellectual equals and also shows a clear attraction between them.

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The first scene shows Sue’s boyfriend robbing his boss’ safe. B. J. (Logan Hoffman) tells Bobby it was so easy since the guy uses the same number for everything. The boyfriend takes Bobby and Sue out to celebrate their leaving. It’s party time for his best friend and his best girl. They drink and go swimming at a hotel. B.J. offers a girl at the bar five hundred then over fifteen hundred dollars in cash to blow his friend. Both Bobby and the girl turn him down. We can see that Sue is getting tired of him. Cute as he it, he is just not enough for her. They are moving on and he is clearly clinging and unable to deal with the perceived desertion.

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When B.J. and Bobby get to work, the boss Giff (Mark Pellegrino) has discovered he has been robbed and is taking it out on a Mexican who works for him. He is kicking the man to death. Bobby intervenes saying he took the money but Giff shoots the man anyway. With a pistol to their heads the boys admit that they and Sue spent the money so Giff reasons they can help get the money back. He sets them up to rob a big mob money laundering drop at a local farm equipment office. Giff is in debt to the area mob kingpin Big Red (William Devane) so he figures he can square his own money and stick it to the guy at the same time. Dutch Southern’s script twists that set up around nicely. He initially uses Giff’s greed and simple mindedness to lay out the plan. B.J.’s jealously and growing suspicions over Bobby and Sue give it another turn. Giff puts the screws to Bobby and Sue in a particularly vicious scene to make sure they do not get cold feet. All through this we remember Sue’s comment from Jim Thompson that things are not what they seem.

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Echoes of the films At Close Range, Blood Simple and even Near Dark run through this rural crime drama set in the windy and empty landscapes of Texas. The film has a decidedly dark hue to it. There is a crushing sense of impeding doom that rides all through the second half of the movie. While the look at the film and desolate setting works in its favor what really sells this is the believable relationships that are set up between the characters. The four leads nail their roles down tight. Each one is at the emotionally fraying point. We do not get a great deal of back story to anyone of them.  The narrative wisely keeps its focus on the tightening grip of the few days in which the story takes places. Mackenzie Davis does a splendid job here. There is a wall to ceiling shelf in her tiny room that is crammed with paperback mystery novels. It would have been nice to get a closer glance at some of the titles. At one point B. J. is so infuriated with Sue that he looks about to strike her. Instead he locks eyes with her and randomly pulls some books off the shelf letting them tumble to the floor. William Devane is effective in a cameo. Mark Pellegrino (Lost, Dexter) plays Giff with such confident stupidity. He is a dangerous and violent threat. When we see him actually trying to think things out in front of us it is scary. The original title was, We Gotta Get Out of This Place. Once things get going Bobby and Sue have plenty of excuses to just run for their lives – but they don’t. It’s that kind of picture. The characters in these Noir-ish stories must walk their own roads all the way to end. While not quite on a par with the work that so obviously inspired it Bad Turn Worse is a solid little thriller.


Video – 2.35:1
The film looks perfectly fine. All the compositions are good. Depth of field is fine. Black levels are solid. My only rankle is that currently popular favoring of a desaturated look. Colors appears drained at times. This is on purpose and while it certainly fits the mood of the film it would have been nice to see what the talented camerawork of Jeff Bierman could have done with a bit more of a palate.

Audio – Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles offered in English SDH and Spanish
All dialogue is clear. The music is effectively supportive.

Extras – None

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

DVD – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

Inherit The Wind (1960) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, December 22nd, 2014


Stars – Harry Morgan, Gene Kelly, Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, Dick York, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Florence Eldridge
Director – Stanley Kramer

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com

We’re always told to keep politics and religious out of it. Be nice. Here’s a film that tackles these subjects head on. Religion vs. Science. Creationism vs. Evolution. Based on a play about the infamous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trail in which a teacher is tried for teaching Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in a public school. The play is still taught in most schools in the country. This is heady drama. A student looking at this may well fear he will be subjugated to a lot of long monologues. Isn’t this really two characters in courtroom that acts as a boxing ring? Don’t they just use words as jabs and paragraphs as body shots? This sounds like it will be way too many words. Several of the characters are clearly drawn from the real life historical figures William Jennings Bryant, Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken. That’s not going to connect with all that many people. There is indeed a great deal of speechifying however it comes down to one sentence uttered by Spence Tracy during the proceedings. “What is on trail here is man’s ability to think for himself !” What is so damn impressive is that director Stanley Kramer takes this story that is overstuffed with ideals and makes it entirely palatable even enjoyable. These are very important points of view but without his marvelous cast and carefully molded script it would just be a bunch of bigots and people yelling.

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As the film begins we see Dick York who anyone with a television will recognize as Darrin from the Bewitched TV series being handcuffed and taken from his classroom. The locals are up in arms that he would dare to go against the bible and their laws that stridently prohibit the mention of Darwin in the classroom. With the speed of a tornado their town has become a flashpoint. People are marching in the streets and singing “Gimme that old tyme religion” The famous attorney Matthew Brady has come to town to champion what’s right and to smote this Bertram Cates teacher down. Claude Akins plays a preacher who inflames the townsfolk into a frenzy. He has even damned his own daughter for going out with this teacher. The couple meets a reporter in the courtroom, His paper will pay for an attorney to represent Bertram. Hornbeck played by Gene Kelly is educated, smart as a whip and quick with a phrase. At first we are so glad to see someone who is above the rabble outside in the streets. But he is a jerk and a completely conceited ass. He knows it and doesn’t seem to mind at all. He tells the young couple, “I may be rancid butter , but I am on your side of the toast” What a great line. It’s full of cynical swagger.


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Frederick March plays Matthew Brady. He grandstands at every opportunity. He is constantly giving speeches and pontificating. Frequently we see him literally stuffing his face with fried chicken that the townsfolk bring him throughout the picture. He’s a legend, a former presidential candidate and a real life hero in their town. He is so assured in his opinions and righteousness it is scary. Poor Bertram has not a chance in hell against this behemoth. In what has to be one of the best casting choices in film the opposing attorney Henry Drummond is played by Spencer Tracy. While Frederick March could blow your house down with one shout Tracy is so casual, so relaxed and easy going. Their styles are complete opposites, a yin and yang of characters. Though they are on different sides of what purports to the be trial of the century, we find that these two are friends with a long history. As the trial starts the two men are center stage giving a master class on acting with some marvelously written dialogue and passages. They are so convincing as you watch the trail grow from being about one school teacher to becoming a battle of beliefs and then finally man’s right to choose what he believes for himself.

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Clause Akins’ zealous preacher is dangerously judgmental. At times the crowd can look threatening as they sing about hanging Bertram from an old tree. It is easy to see how the groundswell of public opinion can turn into a tidal wave of hate. Bertram’s girlfriend confides in Matthew Brady and is then shocked to see Brady use what she said against Burt in the trail. When she goes to confront him, she finds his wife Sara instead. In a beautifully written scene Sara turns the tables on her shaming her for blaming him when it was she who should have kept her mouth shut in the first place. At dinnertime we see a big table of supporters with Matthew Brady holding court. Then over at a small table there is Drummond and Sara so comfortable with each other. She is so friendly, so concerned. Sara Brady is not larger than life and her character continually serves to let us know that these are not giants they are just men. Florence Eldridge does a remarkable job with this role. In real life she was married to Frederick March for many long years.

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There are nice bits of humor on display during the trial. Even though the bulk of the film is made up of March and Tracy in the courtroom, we never feel cramped or stuck there. The camerawork emphasizes depth and in many instances will single someone out in the back of the courtroom or in the seats to focus on. There is no doubt that this is a serious subject and a powerful drama yet there is an accessibility to this one that makes it so approachable. Spencer Tracy has such an affable nature. He loafs over to the stand and seems to almost slouch against the witness stand. He is not sloppy at all just comfortable with people. His character genuinely seems to like everyone. Yet he gets his ire up and gets up on his high horse when he needs to. This is a battle of ideas. At a little over two hours the film still packs a nice punch. There is some melodrama and a few character twists and turns that may feel a bit manipulated. They are but it really doesn’t matter. We’ve seen two titans stand toe to toe and argue for the better part of the picture. Facts give way to feelings. While things get heated and overheated the reasoning that is on display in Drummond’s questioning of Brady while he is on the stand is first rate. Inherit the Wind will get you to thinking. Bravo all around. This is a classic that has rightfully endured.


Video – 1.85:1
This was done in B&W at a time when color was the norm. It gives it a gravitas that’s fitting. Cinematographer Ernest Lazzlo does a magnificent job. His skilled use of contrast recalls his work in earlier Film Noirs, DOA and Kiss Me Deadly. His extreme angles make those nighttime preaching sessions with Claude Akins truly terrifying. Characters will frequently appear right in the forefront of the shot. They’ll be in crisp focus with the background yielding to a softer look for them. The use of depth stretches out the rooms we are in. The other thing that really stood out for me was the proper wide framing. Having seen this on TV many times it was great to take in the full compositions. Thanks to this wonderful transfer we can see the little wrinkles around Spencer Tracy’s eyes when he flashes that smile. Both he and March have expressive faces that hold up well to the close shots in the courtroom.

Audio – DTS-HD 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
The first thing I noticed was how clear Leslie Uggams’ vocal was at the beginning of the film. Her singing soundbeds the opening sequence setting just the right tone. All dialogue, and there is a helluva lot of it here, sounds fine. The group sing-a-longs get a nice treatment, too. Supporting music fits well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Classic

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995 ) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, December 21st, 2014


Stars – Tony Todd, Kelly Rowan, and William O’Leary
Director – Bill Condon

Released by Scream / Shout Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Say his name five times in the mirror and he will appear. Cool premise. This is much more of a stand alone film than a sequel to the previous Candyman. This is based on the Clive Barker story, The Forbidden. Neither film’s screenplay was written by Mr. Barker who wrote and directed several adaptations of his works. This time out a malevolent spirit has descended on New Orleans. A man has been slaughtered in the city. His daughter played by Kelly Rowan is on the scene to unravel the mystery. Her brother appears to be nuts. An opportunistic writer has written a book about the Candyman. Legend claims that a brutalized black man had his hand lopped off for courting a white woman. Now armed with a vicious hook for a hand he will wreak his vengeance on any who summon him by calling his name five times in a mirror. The writer does this at the end of his reading. A hook rips through his promotional poster and grabs him by the throat. The crowd gasps but it was all stunt. Later the writer is savaged by the real Candyman in a bathroom. The brother is the number one suspect since he heckled the writer. Now it is up to Annie (Kelly Rowan) to save her father’s reputation and her brother from the cops. Soon though she’ll be fighting to save herself from the Candyman.

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With a strong back story the film works pretty well as a modern gothic ghost story. Tony Todd is a tall striking presence as the Candyman. His acting style comes from the theatre. Todd moves well. He leers menacingly. However more than that he brings out the pain that has driven him to become the haunted visage. Director Bill Condon gives us a very clear sequence where we see a mob surround Todd as a young man. He is chained to a tree stump outside while the father of the girl he loves saws his hand off. He was an artist. He painted her. They cover him with honey and unleash thousands of bees to have at him. It is a startling scene especially since it is done in broad daylight and everything is easy to see. When Annie gets closer to the truth she finds a room filled with paintings. These huge works are plenty creepy and give us a strong link to the painter who became the Candyman. It’s clear that there is a connection between the two. At times it reminded me of the various mummy movies with Kharis coming back from the dead to find his princes Ananka.

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It is nice to see Veronica Cartwright as Annie’s well to do prejudiced mother Octavia. She is instantly recognizable from the first Alien (1979) picture. She also played Rod Taylor’s daughter in The Birds (1963). Philip Glass contributes the score for the film. The music works well with the New Orleans setting. In the sequence where we get to see the collection of large lurid canvases in the abandoned house Glass’s music compliments very well indeed. Fans of Clive Barker may miss the more phantasmagorical elements and imagery in his storytelling. Director Condon does manage to work in a very brief glimpse of a couple making love on a balcony and on the streets during the Mardi Gras celebration. It is a strong fleshy image. I’m not sure what is has to do with the story but it’s very much the kind of thing that Mr. Barker would approve of. This ghost story is more gothic in nature driven by a hidden family secret. The origin and expansion of the Candyman’s legend is the film’s strongest suit.


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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks very satisfying here. Colors are all strong. The many nighttime and dark sequences are all pleasing with good black levels.

Audio – DTS-HD Stereo with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is clear. Philip Glass’ soundtrack flows nicely with a good balance coming from the front end speakers. This is a stereo mix and a nice one.

Extras – Commentary with director Bill Condon, The Candyman Legacy – a new interview with Tony Todd (25 mins), Down Memory Lane – a new interview with Veronica Cartwright (12 mins), Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

Emerald Forest (1985) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, December 13th, 2014


Stars – Powers Boothe, Charley Boorman, Meg Foster
Director – John Boorman

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Director John Boorman has made quite a few films that go for the unexpected. Not counting the film he made with the British rock band The Dave Clark Five (Catch Us If you Can, 1965) his first film was Point Blank (1967). This was based on a book by Richard Stark who wrote a series about a super cool thief named Parker. In this one Parker’s wife and partner leave him for dead after a job and run off with the loot. Parker survives and relentlessly pursues them for his cut of the job.  There are some very strange sequences that challenge the viewer visually and cognitively. Not only does Boorman jumble the narrative he manipulates the imagery so we and Parker feel way off kilter at many times. It’s creative, artful and not at all the kind of thing you’d expect to encounter in a tough crime film about revenge with Lee Marvin. Hell in the Pacific (1968) reunited Marvin with legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune in a tale of two opposing WWII soldiers marooned on an island together. It is practically a silent film with almost no dialogue. Zardoz (1974) with Sean Connery and some connection to The Wizard of Oz confused everyone. His take on the classic Arthurian legend, Excalibur (1981) mixed magic, brutal fights and a sexually charged energy in a alluring picture with jaw dropping visuals. He is best know for Deliverance (1972) which is easily one of the most magnificent pictures made in the seventies.

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Emerald Forest is based on a true story and largely shot in an actual rainforest. Powers Boothe is an engineer preparing a large section of the jungle in the South America Amazon for development. While having lunch at the edge of the forest with his wife and two children, his son disappears, taken by tribe called The Invisibles. As the child plays we see the natives all around him, blended into the scenery with the expressive paint on their bodies. The father continues to work there dedicating himself to searching for his son year after year. Ten years later the father journeys up a remote river with a journalist in tow. Meanwhile Tommy has grown into Tomme. He goes through a ceremony to become a man in the tribe that has raised him. Sent off on a sacred journey, powered by a hallucinatory drug Tomme searches to find his spirit animal. He pledges himself to finding the strange green stones they use to paint themselves the color of the jungle. Boothe and the other man are attacked by The Fierce People, cannibals. Boothe though wounded manages to escape. He is chased through the jungle. As he dodges through part of a waterfall he sees a young man in the water, his son. They recognize each other. After a battle with the Fierce People Tomme takes his dad back to this village to be healed by his father. Tomme seems to have no trouble making the distinction between the father that raised him in the jungle and the dad that lives in his head who is now standing before him.

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This may be an adventurous tale of a man searching the jungles for his kidnapped son. However Boorman brings both father and son into the deep jungles for a mystical transformation. Both of them partake of a powerful drug. Each is healed by the tribe. Tomme is rescued from a life the tribe feel would rob his soul. The father recovers from a savage arrow wound. There are two fathers who care deeply about this boy. At one point they sit side by side at Tomme’s wedding ritual. Each swells with their own pride as the young couple dance their way through the ceremony. It is so moving that the father from The Invisible People makes no judgment. He is confident that Tomme will do the right thing. It is Dadde, as they call his other father who grows and comes to a new awareness about the jungle.

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The plight of the real tribes people who dwell in the rainforests is made clear. The fact that civilization is cutting in on their land and way of life is hammered home. Yet most of the time there is an emphasis and genuine appreciation of their way of life that is far more moving than any kind of indictment of the evils of the construction crew. We see the Invisibles running along the edge of the forest, blending into the tree line as surely as a razor cuts the beard but leaves the skin untouched. Messages aside it is very easy to be seduced by the gentle beauty of The Invisible People and their pure way of life in the rain forest. It is also easy to see the two fathers as a yin and yang portrait of who we are and who we can be. Perhaps a bit obvious but very nicely done.

em fourteen  Director John Boorman and his son Charley who plays Tomme

Video – 2.35:1
“Newly Re-mastered in HD!” This is a huge improvement over the older MGM DVD. Many of the outside daytime exteriors look fabulous. We are treated to a vast array of colorful vines, huge plant leaves and creeping vegetation that try to fill in every part of the screen. Much of the film delights in the intense greens and variety of shades in the forest. Boorman dials that back for some portions to give us a more subdued atmosphere. The only places where the transfer lets you down are in some of the night time and darker scenes. At times the grain appears too heavy in the darker spaces giving the overall picture a strained look. However it is not enough to stop my enjoyment of the disc as a whole. It is great to have this on Blu-ray for much of it truly lives up to expectations.

Audio – DTS 2.0 Stereo track.
This is not an aggressive surround track. The sound effects do not truly envelop you however the music blends in wonderfully with the imagery. Whether we are seeing the gentle village of the Invisible People, the cascading waterfalls or the cheap jungle bordello the music supports the film at all times. Much of the instrumentation is in keeping with the indigenous musical styles from the Amazon. There is a lot of varied percussion used.

Extras – Trailers

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Excellent