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Archive for March, 2015

The Bounty (1984) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

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Stars – Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis
Director – Roger Donalson

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

When Orion pictures released The Bounty in 1984 it claimed to be the most historically accurate telling of the famous mutiny at sea. It was based on different source material than the other two more famous movies with Clarke Gable in 1935 and Marlon Brando in 1962. This version is based on the book Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian (1962) by Richard Hough. Right from the start the difference is apparent. Fletcher Christian is having a ball at a party when Bligh approaches him about this voyage to collect some bread plants. It is clear they are friends. We even see Mel Gibson as Fletcher playing with Bligh’s kids. Bligh apologizes that he can not give him a higher station on the crew as he has already appointed Daniel Day-Lewis that position.

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The costumes all look period specific. The elaborately constructed boat looks terrific and is filled with all kinds of minute details. The way the crew scampers up and down the mast and rigging to sell sail is truly impressive. It’s a wonderful sight to see the ship set sail off to sea, though much of the voyage takes place on board.  In fact most of the shots keep us right on the ship either on or below deck. Only rarely do we get to see the Bounty breaking waves on the open waters. Anthony Hopkin’s captain Bligh is vastly different than the vindictive portrait of oppressive power that Charles Laughton famously played. Hopkins appears to take the task of running the ship and the job of finding and delivering these bread plants very seriously. His previous experience at sea and his upbringing as a fine gentleman demand he establish a proper decorum. At one point we see him insisting the crew take a daily dance break to keep fit. He’s even gone to the trouble to see that a talented musician was on board. This is not the portrait of a cruel man at all.

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When the ship anchors off the beautiful island of Tahiti in order to trade for the bread plants the story takes a turn. All of the previous versions show the effect that this tropical paradise has on the crew that has been locked on a ship at sea for months on end. But none of them has been able to present it like this one. The bevy of topless island women that virtually swarm the ship is an incredible sight. These women have smiles that could stop a ship and they are all drop dead gorgeous. Save for some grass skirts they are naked, too. For all its might MGM couldn’t show women like this in the thirties or early sixties. This is how it is supposed to look. The crew settles in to a lovely lifestyle at this island resort waiting for the bread plants to become hearty enough for the delivery voyage. While the plants grow there is nothing for the crew to do except have a great time.

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This shore leave is what appears to unhinge captain Bligh. The open sexuality and hedonistic lifestyle is just too threatening for him. His interpretation of the abandonment of morality offends him to his core. The wanton behavior demands his redress. As he begins to insist the men curb their behavior the seeds of mutiny are sewn. Once back aboard the ship with the bread plants he becomes more and more dictatorial. The movie starts with him on trail for loosing his ship to the mutineers. From the start we know there is a mutiny, though that has to be obvious. However we also know that when Bligh is set adrift on a small overcrowded boat that he makes it back to England. He must have been an incredible captain to have brought his crew all the way back to Britain in that flimsy boat. Those scenes are harrowing and mightily impressive.

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Mel Gibson’s Fletcher Christian seems a good guy right from the start. He is jovial with his friends and likes kids. However once on the ship the rigidity of the class system is telling. The captain and a few elite officers eat fine food in nice quarters. They have private rooms below deck with nice beds. The manager level mates have lesser food in lesser quarters. The rest of the ship’s crew swing back and forth on makeshift rope bunks and eat swill. Even though the romance of Fletcher and his island lady is romantically told the impression slowly creeps in that he may just be thinking of himself. Does he agree to the mutiny because he feels the crew is in anger or does he just want to get back to his barefoot girlfriend? The weight of the class system that is carried from England onto the ship is made clear. Bligh’s change is clear. Even his prodigious talents as a leader under stress are easy to appreciate. Yet we are uncertain about Fletcher’s real motivations. That last quarter of the film gives us a comparison of Bligh and Fletcher as leaders of men in dire straits.

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Roger Donaldson’s telling of the story feels like the most believable. This is a grand scale entertainment with more than a little well thought out texture to the characterizations. It also looks fabulous. Never before has the Tahitian paradise felt this alluring. We know that those island ladies are doing more than putting flowers in the crew member’s hair. Liam Neeson looks so young and earnest in his role here. Day-Lewis plays a right bastard that you can spot from the start. He handles it well. Director Donaldson does a fine job with the cast as he conveys the adventurousness of the story telling. He never lets any of the effects or tropical setting take our focus away from the changes these characters go through. I remember being very taken with this version when it came out. For many the Gable and Brando versions trump this one. Nevertheless The Bounty is a very solid film that deserves a fresh look from those who may have dismissed it. It stands as a fine picture and a far more accurate telling of the mutinous tale than its predecessors.

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Video – 2.35:1
The film looks very fine. Though it does not appear to have gone through any restoration the source materials look in good shape. Colors are all strong. Detail is good. Flesh tones are natural. The depth of field in the exteriors comes across fine. Black levels suffer a bit in some of the interior cabin scenes.

Audio – DTS-HD MA 5.1 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear. The Musical score and sound effects get fair play from the DTS track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams, and production designer John Graysmark, Commentary with historical consultant Stephen Watts, Original Theatrical Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Interstellar Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

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Stars – Matthew McConaughey, John Lithgow, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, William Devane, Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, Jessicsa Chastain, Ellen Burstyn
Director – Christopher Nolan

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan have shown that as writers they are very familiar with film noir movies, mystery stories and a huge variety of genre films. The writing and construction in their first two films Following and Memento demonstrated that not only were they firmly steeped in the mystery traditions but that they could spin wholly original and creative takes on the genre. Those two films were an absolute delight for mystery fans. Chris Nolan made the move to big budgeted films in one of the fastest tracks ever. In just a few years he was shooting 3-D IMAX HD sequences for the second of his Batman movies. Lest anyone think he forgot his genre roots just have a look at that Joker in The Dark Knight. Now with several huge blockbusters under his utility belt Nolan has made a more personal film, however it still carries a humongous budget. I have been a big fan of the Nolan brothers writing team. This time out however the innovation is stuck in second gear. Anyone who has grown up with a steady intake of science fiction books and films will easily recognize the set up of this film. The twist is also familiar ground for those who know their Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond TV series. Interstellar is done very well. Production values are all outstanding. It’s just that the narrative story that is usually the Nolan brothers strong point falls short.

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Nolan has always shown a talent for combining the past and the future. Set many years from now the earth is at risk. It seems the government has let the space program and scientific research die in favor of riding out the last years in a desperate agrarian society.  Coop played by Matthew McConaughey is a former NASA pilot who now has to wrestle with modern day machines and futuristic harvesting robots to get his crops in. Almost everyone has to dedicate themselves to being a farmer lest the rest of the world starve. This is just like the tragic dust bowl setting of The Grapes of Wrath. Coop is like Pa Joad who just wants to take the ones he loves and move on to a better place to get through the depression. There is a terrific sequence where his family sets the table for diner. All the plates and glasses are set face down otherwise they will fill up with the constant dust that hovers everywhere. There are occasional dust flare ups that look and feel like major hurricane level storms. Coop and his family are so used to them that when caught in one while driving they just pull up scarves over their noses and put on goggles. This way they look just like those turn of the century pictures of a family out for a Sunday drive in their brand new fliver car. Coop’s daughter Murph, named after Murphy’s law is a lot like him. They are both fiercely independent and we see a powerful connection between them. That connection, that bond proves to be stronger than all the science and math we encounter in the rest of the film.  Will Coop’s bond with his daughter save the day? There is a not a doubt.

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Once we get into space for me the film lagged quite a bit. Those who loved Kubrick’s 2001 will find much to like in the second half of the film. We see a tremendous amount of detail in many aspects of space travel There are two robots that exhibit a great deal of personality. Some will be reminded of Hal in 2001, others will think C3PO and R2D2 however the real antecedent for these guys in my book was Huey and Dewey from Silent Running. In that one Bruce Dern traveled through space carrying a forest that will rejuvenate the human race if he can find a hospitable planet. There is nothing wrong at all with Nolan drawing on the rich history of films and stories that saught to save the human race after some kind of disaster.  The storyline just feels less of a challenge than it might have to me.  Additionally and through no fault of the film’s the fact that it came out so soon after Gravity the sight of another astronaut in realistic peril can’t help but feel a bit well traveled.

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The ending works well for what it is. Many have found it immensely moving and satisfying. For my taste the first third grabbed me more. The relationship between Coop and Murph and the fact that neither quite fit in with anybody’s else’s plans was charming.  Their shared vision of the world came across just fine. Combining that with the plight of the planet was both an intriguing invitation and a bit of a let down in execution. Either way it does not have the distinctive clever plotting that the Nolan Brothers usually put into their scripts. Whether you liked The Prestige or not, that was one hell of a tricky bit of plotting. Inception also was full of many imaginative twists and turns and totems. Interstellar boasts an outstanding cast with many recognizable starts turning up in small but very significant roles. McConaughey continues his great run of parts that began with Lincoln Lawyer (2011). His acting really has come up a considerable notch. He’s got an uncanny ability to pick scripts that have parts he can really shine with.

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Interstallar looks and sounds simply fantastic. All production and technical values are stellar in every aspect. This is one home video experience that will make your system look like a million bucks. A big screen TV and solid sound system will make this disc soar like a rocket around your house.

Video –  2.39:1 / 1.78:1
This is a visual treat in very way. Colors and black levels are right on the money. There is a crispness to the details on screen. Amidst all the fantastic looking equipment and galactic landscapes the faces of the actors look wonderful, too.

Audio – DTS 5.1 Dolby Digital in English, Spanish and French. Subtitles are offered in English SDH as well as French and Spanish.
The surround sound is so effective in this that when that first dust storm hits you’ll be looking to clean up your house afterwards. You can fell that dust swirling and getting into everything. The space travel scenes also exhibit a wonderfully immersive soundscape.  Your subwoofer will get a solid workout too. It should be noted that sound is mixed on the loud side. If you turn the volume down on the powerful effects scenes you’ll have to notch it back up for the dialogue. Clearly the folks who did the sound for this want you to be rocked.

Extras – There is an entire second disc chock full of extras. A third disc contains a DVD copy of the film. That second disc covers the science behind the film, the various production challenges as well as interviews with everyone you’d want to hear from. It’ll take a while to get through. This is a huge helping for fans of the film.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

One Step Beyond (1959-1961) DVD Review

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

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Stars – Charles Bronson, Ross Martin, Werner Klemperer, Warren Beatty, Robert Blake, Suzanne Pleshette, Cloris Leachman, Robert Loggia
Series host and director – John Newland

Released by Film Chest

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The anthology format in TV had its most successful run with Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone. Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Outer Limits also developed a strong following. Short stories and tales from fantasy, science fiction and horror lent themselves to this programming style. Whether in a half hour or hour time fame these self contained narratives allowed one to get in, get scared and get out. They got right to the point. The twist endings that were often employed were a real treat for viewers. Perhaps this was a carry over from the tremendous popularity of the hundreds of short stories that ran in the pulp magazines. Lots of these stories made their way to paperback anthologies and several wound up on some of these TV series.

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A lesser known favorite was Thriller hosted by Boris Karloff. Some were out and out horror that were indeed real thrillers. Some were crimes stories that fell short of the mark. The one series that had a very unique premise was One Step Beyond. The idea here was that these were not works of fiction dreamt up by a team of writers like Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. No the stories here were all taken from actual real life cases of paranormal activities. Some were set in modern day while others played out in many different time periods. In each instance the hook was the paranormal powers of an individual or a supernatural occurrence. Many were very spooky although quite a few featured people being saved by the intervention of someone with psychic abilities. They were all shown in a half hour time slot running about 25 minutes in this DVD set.

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The series was hosted by John Newland. He had an incredible and very sincere voice. He’d introduce each tale and give it a bit of a set up before returning to invite you back at the conclusion for more on the next episode. Newland was also a writer and director. He worked mainly in TV directing episodes in such series as Man From Uncle, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Star Trek. He really had the ability to drawn you in to the possibility of the strange and very unusual stories. ESP, Hypnosis and all kinds of psychic investigations were gaining popularity in the mid to late fifties as this series began its run from 1959 – 1961. It didn’t take more than a little coaxing to get folks to think that just maybe all of this might be true.

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With the cheap sets and rushed shooting schedules these shows lived and died by the performances of the actors in them. With the advent of TV and the increasing demand for actors casting agents brought a whole boat load of talented up and coming actors into shows like this. One of the real kicks here is to spot actors you know from movies and TV series. If you watch a few it won’t be long before you say hey there’s Colonel Clink from Hogan’s Heroes (Werner Klemperer) or Artemus Gordon from The Wild Wild West (Ross Martin). Charles Bronson turns in a wonderful performance as a boxer on his last legs haunted by the ghost of a fighter who died in the ring in The Last Round. Even though we have a double sided episode guide included in the set there is no mention of any of the guest stars in each episode. That would have been a real asset to have as you decide which show to watch.

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The shows are pretty uneven. Some are incredibly creepy and downright scary. A few have a nice bit of pathos to them while others cross the line into mawkish sentimentality.  We get 70 episodes in the set. There were 97 made during the show’s original three season run. There are a few good ones left out which means you won’t get to see the one (Sorcerer) with Christopher Lee. However amongst the six discs are many terrific shows.  If you are familiar with The Twilight Zone and enjoyed it this is a cheaper side show version that is definitely worth giving a look to. Fan of the series will appreciate the large helping of shows. It must be noted though that the picture quality is not in keeping with the usual remastered collections of TV series we are used to seeing. This is more in keeping with the lower budget box sets that give you a huge wealth of material with visual quality that is a very small step up from the days of VHS. Some of these episodes look pretty good while others are dark and a bit too much on the fuzzy side. I’ve been having a great time with the set. I had initially seen this on a local TV station that ran syndicated prints that looked like they had been through the mill. However late at night while watching with the lights out and a not too demanding mind set, John Newland can still get under my skin and freak me out.

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Video – 1.33:1 – 4×3
The picture is framed just like a black and white TV series from the fifties should be. The picture quality runs the gamut from not too bad to pretty bad. Some shows are just too dark. There are quite a lot of scenes that are fuzzy. Some bits are a bit too washed out and have the look of a dupe of a dupe. However everything is watchable and certainly on a par with the budget mega sets that are still available with a ton of genre movies. Know what you are getting into and don’t expected archival quality here.

Audio – English
Sometimes the sound level varies but everything is easy enough to understand. It is a typical mono mix that was designed for a small speaker on a TV. That familiar theme music still sets the scene so well for the creepy show.

Extras – None

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

DVD – From Poor to Fair to Fair/ Good

TV Series – Good

Muck Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

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Stars – Bryce Draper, Jaclyn Swedberg, Kane Hodder, Lachlan Buchanan,  Lauren Francesca
Director – Steve Wolsh

Released by Anchor Bay

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

When the film starts it feels like you came in late and sat down in the theater after it had already begun. A group of friends is running out of the marsh. Apparently two have been killed, one is wounded and one is down to her underwear? Huh? What did we miss? They spot a lone house up ahead but instead of running for the shelter they stand there and argue about it. They finally break in to get out of the cold weather. The film has that cold harsh ultra HD look to it. Much of the camera work is so close in on the actors that it is hard to get a sense of where you are in a scene or the location. What follows is lots of blood and confusion.

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Once inside the house they are set upon by a collection of shirtless bald headed guys in jeans. They are covered in a gray ashen muck. They do not speak but prefer to chop people up with fire axes. The available weapons to fight back with are a pitchfork and a shovel. After a lot of mayhem the middle of the film is spent at two roadside bars. One of the guys from the house is in there very slowly looking for help. He really takes his time. While at the first bar we get an almost constant parade of women going into the bathroom and checking themselves out. One of them changes her bra like she is shopping and trying it on in a dressing room. Eventually we get back to the house with all the bald guys killing everyone. A couple of them have marks on their faces like war paint.

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Almost all of the action features bits that are shot way too close and cut up in way that you can barely discern what you are looking at. To be fair there is a much better staged fight in the marsh at the end. Two of the guys take on one of the creepers in what looks like a TV wrestling match in the water. This creeper is much bigger. He picks one of the guys up and hurls him through the air into the water. One of them has his trusty shovel that he relentlessly beats the big guy over the head with. Again this is far from great but it is easily the best scene in the picture so far. So what happens next? The film abruptly stops, the main title comes up and we are ejected from the theater. At least it starts and stops the same way.

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The acting is way below average. The direction and camerawork are terrible. The narrative is incoherent. There is no reason to waste your time with this film. The blurb on the cover reads, “The Lucky Ones Are Already Dead.” The real lucky ones are the ones that avoided this mess.

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Video – 1.85:1
Shot in Ultra HD this film has a cold harsh almost antiseptic look to it. Everything is very sharp. Colors are fine though they appear fiddled with. The fire that backlights one of the characters does look cool but it stands apart from the rest of the film. The majority of the compositions are perfunctory.

Audio – Dolby HD True 5.1 with subtitles offered in English and Spanish
Dialogue is mostly easy to follow.

Extras – None

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent transfer of a Fair looking film

Movie – Poor