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Archive for February, 2015

Love and Death (1975) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 28th, 2015

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Stars – Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Harold Gould, Alfred Lutter, Olga Georges-Picot
Director – Woody Allen

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Love and Death may have been the last purely funny Woody Allen movie. His next film Annie Hall (1977) won four Academy Awards and was a beautifully realized production.  Hence forth he has made close to a movie a year, at least 35 films and counting. He has used many other actors in the leading role rather than himself. Allen has gone out on a few artistic limbs, often alienating his initial audience. He has managed to work with a huge array of name talent in his highly personal films. Occasionally the sun, the moon and the stars will align and he’ll create a film like Midnight in Paris (2011) with broad appeal and plenty of his own stylish quirks still intact. However back in 1975 it seemed like all of his comedic influences were on full display. There was one clear goal; to make you laugh. That may have dated a bit but by and large this is still a very funny picture. The brisk 85 minute running time is just about the ideal length for a comedy.

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Set in czarist Russia Woody is a poor schmuck named Boris. Diane Keaton is the attractive, vivacious and terribly unsatisfied Sonja. Boris wants Sonja. She doesn’t notice him. In between Boris’ romantic overtures there is a full plate of recognizable period happenings for Woody to satirize. There is a war with Napoleon, a duel at dawn, a cornucopia of bizarre relatives and even a village idiots convention. Allen is on fire.  We are treated to visualizations of the kind of witty humor found in his popular essays and short stories. An old man whose only goal in life is to have a piece of land literally carries a crumbling clump of it in his shirt. Thee are plenty of blackout style sight gags. During the massive (well not too massive) battlefield scenes there is the Woodman with two cheerleaders and a megaphone urging us to root for the Russian Army. Allen and Diane Keaton engage in several comic asides that feel like an improvisational duet. They shoot rapid fire quips at each other with classic timing. There is a scene where they impersonate a Spanish brother and sister in order to gain entrance to Napoleon’s castle. When they are stopped at the door and asked who they are, they riff on not being recognized as the countess and the count. It is exactly the same kind of banter they did in Sleeper (1973 ) when they impersonated two doctors who must close the Leader’s nose.

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The other kind of humor that runs blatantly through this film is the kind of farce that Bob Hope excelled at. It is clear that much of Woody’s cinematic persona, at least at that point, owes a great deal to the kind of period set films that Bob Hope made. He makes comic asides to us as we watch him. He’ll throw himself into a dance where he has no technique whatsoever. Just like those vehicles did for Hope he’ll write some plot lines that have him trying to save the world and get the girl but we know he is barely capable of tying his own shoe. That loveable ineptness is charming in the right hands. You can almost feel him channeling the seemingly effortless breezy style of Bob Hope in Son of Paleface (1952), Monsieur Beaucair (1946), Cassanova’s Big Night (1954) and others.  In that respect the period costumes and set pieces all fit nicely into the plan. Whether some of the laughs have lost a little of their power or not Allen got this style of film down pat. For many this would be something of a swansong to the films of his that were just out and out funny stuff.

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Even at this stage though there is a bit of a paradox going on. He’ll use a shot of a soldier’s cracked bloody eyeglasses to get a chuckle as we recognize the classic shot from  Sergei Eisenstein’ Battleship Potemkin that he is parodying. He’ll set up that stylized Berman split face of a woman’s profile from Persona with Diane Keaton. Again it’s just a visual pun as we see it. Yet, when Keaton watches Woody dancing with Death at the end the shot is clearly a very European inspired type of composition. The comedy is in the way Woody dances and jokes with Death. The shot of Diane inside the house, behind the large window frame may have some humor to it but really, to me I think he’s beginning to like that kind of shot for what it is. As smartly done as his films have become there will always be a welcome place for those early ones. No matter how clever or inspired the humor the goal was clear and appreciated. Love and Death is not as uproarious as others but Boris and Sonja are more than enjoyable. The Village Idiots convention is hilarious.

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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks better that I have ever seen it on home media. There is still grain, which is fine. Colors are good and the source material looks to be in good shape. The look of the film was ambitious then and that still comes across nicely.

Audio – DTS-HD MA 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
Sergei Prokofiev’s classic themes fit perfectly with the film.

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

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

TOME OF TERROR now available !

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

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TOME OF TERROR
by Christopher Workman and Troy Howarth
8 1/2 X 11, apx 300 pages, filled with photos
From the earliest days of cinema to the contemporary excesses
of the Cineplex, the horror genre has exuded a fascination for audiences
across the globe. Authors Chris Workman and Troy Howarth have undertaken the
ambitious prospect of examining the evolution of the horror film from its
origins in this multi-volume series. Things kick off with volume one, which
is devoted to the 1930s. From Universal monsters to King Kong and forgotten
obscurities from Europe and beyond, THE TOME OF
TERROR: THE 1930s provides a comprehensive and in-depth examination of the
horror cinema in the 1930s. The second volume, devoted to the 1920s, will
follow in 2015.

Available at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Tome-Terror-Horror-Films-Volume/dp/1936168499

Or direct from Midnight Marquee’s website:

http://www.midmar.com/Historytome30s.html

MIDNIGHT MARQUEE PRESS | BOOKS
www.midmar.com

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Dark Haul Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

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Stars -Tom Sizemore, Rick Ravanello, Kevin Shea and Evalena Marie

Director – Daniel Wise

Released by Scream / Shout Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Dark Haul is a SYFY Channel original film that premiered in the fall of 2014. The premise is very attractive but gets muddied by too much archaic detail and some poor creature effects. However what’s good is still a nice enough ride. We get an opening set in the days of pilgrims and superstitions. A woman dies giving birth to the 13th child of a 13th son. The child is actually a brother and sister. The boy is a bat like creature that comes out in his own induced Caesarian delivery, Alien style. He flies around killing most of the people in the small cabin until someone traps him. The girl looks normal but she has a tail. For hundreds of years these two hell spawn are kept under lock and key. They are tormented. The girl has her tail chopped off. After years of captivity under the watchful eye of a complex set of semi-religious rules they are being transported together to their final prison. One of the guards, Tom Sizemore is hell bent on killing them both. The officer in charges trusts the girl to keep her wild creature brother under control. He gives her some room as long as she complies.

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The winged brother is crated and loaded into an 18 wheeler truck. This looks like a great hybrid of William Friedkin’s Sorcerer meets Jeepers Creepers. Naturally there is a crash and the brother gets out. He picks off the guardians as they try to track and trap him. That part is fine. Unfortunately the script elects to give the creature the power to project false visions to people. Now we have soldiers shooting each other thinking they are seeing the creature. Ultimately this just lets us see less of the creature. There is a neat trick that the sister does by placing her hand on the ground and listening for her brother. We see CGI circles oscillate from her hand as she communicates with him. The battle ensues as the leader tries to trap the creature with the help of the sister that he trusts. Tom Sizemore just looks for ways to kill them both.

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The lean and mean simplicity of the script gets undermined by all the hard to follow rules that govern the guardians and creatures. When the sister is shot she can dig the bullets out of her with a knife and heal. But there is a special age old knife that will really cut the siblings. The duo is also part of a prophecy that may or may not spell the end of mankind. This just serves to dilute the urgency of the story. The brother creature has its problems too. On the DVD cover and in silhouette or shadow this thing is magnificent. He is a tall gargoyle like demon. Sometimes though, especially when we see him fly or move too much in the light the effects are a big let down. The three leads are fine though. Sizemore can project a seething malevolence that is really frightening. Naturally we tend to side with the brother and sister who have been tortured and imprisoned. Evalena Marie does a nice job as the sister. We trust her.

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Thee are a few nods to the concept of a Jersey Devil. There was a SYFY movie done in 2009 called Carny that featured another winged monster. This one was indeed the Jersey Devil and was being used as a carnival attraction. The presentation of the creature and the mayhem it caused worked quite well. The Dark Haul is hampered by a needlessly complicated set of cryptic hokum. Further the monster is alternately really neat and a big disappointment. You’ve simply got to have a good monster in your monster movie. The old TV Movie Gargoyles from 1972 got that right. Tried and true monster fans may get a kick out of this but not the kick they could have.

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Video – 1.78:1
While sometimes harsh the picture in uniformly fine throughout. Colors, details and black levels are all strong.

Audio – DTS HD Master Audio Stereo
All dialogue is fine. Effects and music are on the tame side in the mix.

Extras – None

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movies – Fair

Island of the Living Dead (2007) / Zombies the Beginning (2007) DVD Review

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

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Stars – Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo, Jim Gaines, Alvin Anson

Director – Bruno Mattei

Released by Severin, Intervision.  Each film is available as a separate disc.

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The last two films of Bruno Mattei were this zombie duo. They were made back to back with many of the same cast, locations and crew. Mattei is a true schlock filmmaker with a cult following that appreciates his low budget trappings. To fault the horridly dubbed dialogue, poor camera work or over zealous acting is besides the point. This is simply the way the guy works. He borrows freely from whatever movies he chooses without regard for copyright or originality. You’ll find some elements of John Carpenter’s The Fog in the first one and copious amount from James Cameron’s Aliens in the second one. Zombies The Beginning feels like he just substituted zombies for Aliens and shot the film based on his favorite recollections of that film. When you look at the female leads, it’s clear that everyone wants to be Vasquez.

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Island of the Living Dead strands a group of ship wrecked treasure hunters on an island.  As they look for the treasure, there are encounters with regular zombies, vampire zombies with fangs and ghostly zombies. There are ample amounts of gore and blood. It is well done? It’s enjoyable and suitably over the top. Yvette Yzon is the one we root for as most of the cast gets munched out of the film. There’s a period opening with conquistadors that Bruno references when Yvette finds the treasure. This one is a lot of fun. It’s paced like a Three Stooges short. The film rarely stops for any plotting or narrative. The cast just goes for the treasure, finds too many zombies and tries to get the hell out of there before they all die.

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Island of the Living Dead is a fun watch while Zombies The Beginning pushes it a bit too far. There is recycled footage from the first one. It’s a bit too wobbly on its feet. Maybe if you put some time between the viewings it would work better. Both films are uncut and uncensored. The breakneck pace of the first one and overall sense of fun comes through. You can see extras that have been recruited and pasted with zombie make-up all over the place. Some are seen in some rather revealing costumes. Both films look quite good in these new presentations.

Video – 1.78:1
Each film looks very good. Colors are fine especially the copious amounts of fake blood. Detail holds up pretty well despite much of these films being set in dark passageways and caverns. Source material had no apparent damage either.

Audio – Dolby Stereo
This is a dubbed mess of a track presented in all its glory. Levels are all over the place. Actors’ voices pitch high and low. This is all just as expected.

Extras -
Island – Bungle in the Jungle featurette, trailer
Zombie – Zombie Genisys featurette, trailer

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

DVD – Good

Movies – Fair